Tag Archives: breakfast

Good Morning, Orange Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake!

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I’m gonna keep this brief (for me).

Some Saturdays, you wake up and just want to laze about. You don’t want to put on pants. You don’t want to shower. You don’t want to cook, and you barely have the patience or energy to make a pot of coffee. All that you want to do – and in this scenario, you have the same cultural tastes as I do – is sit around in your pajamas, eat a slice of leftover pizza, drink that coffee you just barely mustered the strength to make, and stream The Hunger Games on Netflix. Needless to say, you’re not likely to cook anything. You’re not really likely to contribute anything to the betterment of your world. That’s okay. That’s for Sunday.

Then, there are Saturdays when you wake up and the world is your oyster, an oyster that you’re prepared to go out, catch, bring home, wash, prepare, and eat. You leap out of bed, get into your workout clothes, run a few miles, make some coffee, cook breakfast, clean the house, do your laundry, go shopping, meet up with your friends for some frozen yogurt, put in some volunteer hours, bake a cake, make a few dinner courses, host a potluck dinner party, and spend the waining hours of your day sipping wine and chatting with your guests.

Okay, so I’ve never really had one of those latter Saturdays. But for weekend days that you’re feeling a tad more productive than the former kind of Saturday mentioned, this coffee cake is for you.

I adapted a recipe from one of my favorite go-to sources for breakfast and brunch foods, Vegan Brunch by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. I was worried that the orange and coffee flavors of the loaf would contradict, but the key is to limit the amount of each so as to achieve a flavor balance. Plus, chocolate!

This is an incredibly simple coffee cake to make, so feel free to give it a try even on those mornings where you really can’t be bothered to change into real person clothes.

Ingredients
– 1 cup non-dairy milk
– 1 tablespoon instant coffee crystals
-1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
– 2 cups all purpose flour (or 1 cup all purpose, 1 cup whole grain for a healthier option)
– 1/2 cup sugar
– 1 tablespoon baking powder
– 1/2 tsp salt
– 1/2 cup canola oil
– 1/2 tsp orange extract
– 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
– 1/2 cup chocolate chips

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a loaf pan OR 9X9 pie dish.

In a 1/2 cup of the milk, dissolve the coffee crystals. Stir in the rest of the milk and vinegar and set aside.

Stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the milk mixture, oil, vanilla and orange extracts. Mix together until batter is just moistened, then fold in chocolate chips.

Pour batter into loaf pan or dish and bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. (Bake about 2-3 minutes longer for a crumblier cake.)

Allow to cool. Queue up your favorite series on Netflix, grab a cup of coffee, and enjoy the rest of your Saturday!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good Morning, Vegan Cinnamon Espresso Chocolate Chip Cookies!

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I am exceptionally lucky to have met my partner, James, but I am also incredibly lucky that, as part of the package of falling in love with this great guy, I get to spend occasional time with his terrific folks. Down-to-earth, witty, loving, and considerate, it’s no wonder great parents like them produced such a lovable kid.

James’s mom, Nancy, is an awesome cook (as well as a phenomenal knitter). A lot of moms, when confronted with a child’s decision to adopt a vegan diet, might freak out or panic about what to serve them. Any trepidation Nancy might have had about James’s vegan tendencies have long since been eschewed in favor of veganizing old favorites, as well as seeking out new recipes to throw into the mix. Her efforts have delivered delicious vegan dish after delicious vegan dish. (Just goes to show you that you don’t have to live a diet to cook for the diet. All you need is a willingness to try out new ingredients and adapt what you already know about cooking and baking into an unfamiliar realm. The basic skills still apply.)

On a recent visit, Nancy showed me a new addition to her cookbook collection: Chloe Coscarelli’s Chloe’s Kitchen. Don’t know who Chloe Coscarelli is? Neither did I, but apparently she took the top prize on the Food Network’s Cupcake Wars. Her stuff is all vegan, thus her success on a Food Network reality cooking competition has allowed her to leap-frog other established divas of the vegan cookbook scene.

Okay, I wasn’t exactly being fair-minded when I first started looking at the book. Cookbooks from TV stars tend to disappoint. Either the recipes are fairly simplistic dishes with exotic touches (usually hard to find or rare ingredients) or they’re extraordinarily complicated (more complicated than I suspect they even have to be). There’s also an incredibly annoying tendency to put the persona of the chef before the food itself – so instead of mouth-watering photographs of dishes you can’t wait to recreate, there are irritating shots of the smiling, doe-eyed cook laughing with friends, holding a cupcake or cookie, or standing near food that one presumes she has just whipped up, in between photo shoots and loving life.

Yes, I’m simply not a fan of this type of cookbook. Chloe’s Kitchen, however, offers more than a cursory glance at its contents might suggest. Yes, there’s the requisite ‘wholesome girl-next-door chef’ shots, plus a pretty grating introduction and bland writing throughout…

BUT I am always willing to overcome my prejudices to try out a promising recipe. Having long searched for an appropriate vegan replacement for my favorite meatloaf recipe, Chloe’s tempeh loaf recipe was too tempting not to attempt.

I’m a fan of the policy that one good recipe can make a cookbook worthwhile. If that policy holds, then Chloe’s Kitchen should be on every vegan’s cookbook shelf, based off that tempeh meatloaf alone. The result was so delicious, it warranted another round with the cookbook. Because Chloe is first and foremost known as a vegan baker, I decided to give one of her desserts a try.

I changed some of the proportions on this cookie recipe. Most notably, I was not able to easily locate instant espresso powder, so I used instant coffee instead. It worked just as well and added a little extra buzz to a sugar-packed, delicious cookie. Plus, when a baked good has coffee in it, you can practically call it breakfast. At least I did.

Cinnamon Espresso Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients– 2 cups all-purpose flour
– 1/2 tsp baking powder
– 1 tsp ground cinnamon
– 1/4 tsp salt
– 1 cup vegan margarine
– 2 tbsp instant coffee (Finely ground, if possible. Cheap is OK – I used Taster’s Choice packets from Family Dollar)
– 1 cup powdered sugar
– 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
– 1 1/2 cups vegan chocolate chips
– Granulated sugar for sprinkling

– Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet (or two) with parchment paper or foil. (Note: aluminum foil will brown the bottoms of the cookies faster.)

– Whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.

– Using a mixer, beat together margarine and instant coffee until well combined, then add powdered and brown sugars. Beat until blended thoroughly. Mix in flour mixture 1/2 cup at a time.

– Stir in chocolate chips.

– Scoop dough by the tablespoon and roll into semi-round disks. Roll each disk in granulated sugar. Place on baking sheet 2-3 inches apart.

– Bake cookies about 12-14 minutes or until edges are browned.

CSA #10 and the Wonderful World of Tempeh

It was a hectic Thursday of CSA pick-up and more sad goodbyes. Everyone is leaving town and I’m swimming in beautiful farm-fresh vegetables, not a terribly opportune moment to have a kitchen so plentiful, but so be it. James and I have somehow managed to get the stuff eaten, even if a few items end up sacrificed.

And I’m getting better and better at using what we have on hand. Just a quick (and unfortunately photo-less) recap:
– The Swiss chard ended up in another vegan frittata
– The carrots and summer squash went into a salad of shredded red cabbage
– The beans and broccoli were steamed and eaten as a late-night snack
– One tomato was used in the production of TLTs. The others were diced up and served on pasta, along with fried zucchini and summer squash.
– The Chinese eggplant was sliced, sauteed, and eaten over rice.
– The array of small tomatoes made their way into various pastas and salads
– The onion and garlic were used throughout the week, portioned out over various dishes.

We’ve eaten pretty darn well thanks to the CSA subscription. I’ve been holding onto the beets, but I’m thinking a beet and spinach salad might be in order for later on today. With the fair amount of cooking done over the weekend, the simpler the better for this rainy Monday afternoon.

I didn’t get time to take pictures of the entire CSA bounty for this past week, but among the highlights:
– Another robust eggplant
– Kale
– A beautiful assortment of tomatoes
– Braising greens
– Carrots
– Potatoes (all were promptly eaten the next morning)
– Purple beans
– Zucchini
– Garlic
– Onion

Last week also marked a transition for me as I went from casual to utterly devoted fan of tempeh. While I eat tofu at least five out of seven days a week and have even tried my hand at making my own seitan more than a few times, I have only worked sparingly with tempeh. The earthy, slightly nutty, slightly mushroom-y flavor has always been something I was hesitant to work with, not so much in regards to my own palate as others. No matter what you do with tempeh, it’s always going to have those underlying flavors. The trick to working with it is to use it in dishes where its primary qualities play into the overall flavors of the dish. Tempeh doesn’t change, it changes you.

Tempeh has been a staple of Indonesia for thousands of years. Soy beans are plentiful, the production method is fairly simple, and the result is a versatile substance that is a protein powerhouse. Seriously, in a nutritional battle between tempeh and its Southeast Asian soybean brother, tofu, tempeh wins every round. The traditional starter for the fermentation process even boosted the B12 levels of the tempeh to ridiculously high proportions, although production stateside tends to be without this property.

While tofu is available in nearly every supermarket now, tempeh is still mostly relegated to specific larger groceries (Whole Foods) and specialty food stores. Its stunted availability is probably one of the reasons why many vegetarians and vegans don’t acquaint themselves with tempeh right away. Getting to know tempeh allows one to adjust to its unique flavor properties. Learning the intricacies of the food allows you to better utilize its strong points in the dishes where it is incorporated.

Unlike tofu, which is a veritable flavor sponge, tempeh has restrictions, but not as many as you might think. The nutty flavors play well against most basic sauces and its texture makes it easy to use for sandwiches, stir fry, pasta, etc. The best way to get to know tempeh early on is to grill it. Grilled tempeh toughens up the texture to a chewy, meaty consistency, and accentuates the smokey qualities. It also takes to a marinade really well, so there’s no excuse for lack of flavor.

Because most of my cookbooks are still packed, I’ve been steadily working my way through the indispensable Vegan Brunch. For months, I have been eyeing up “Tempeh Sausage Pastry Puffs,” thinking two things: 1) “What a great way to use tempeh!” and 2) “Holy shit, puff pastry!” When I had my family over for brunch to break in my new residence, I figured now was the time to shoot for something a bit more advanced than pancakes and scramble and potatoes.

Given all the skills I have developed over the past few years, surely I could make something as simple but sophisticated as these lovely little puffed squares. Surely something this manageable was within my purview. I could even make a decent vegan gravy to match. It was all going to be so simple.

Of course I screw it up. Not having ever worked with puff pastry, I didn’t exactly interpret the instructions correctly. Or maybe I did but became convinced that I hadn’t. Not really sure, but either way, I had to abruptly alter plans. That’s how square pastry puffs turned into pastry puff pinwheels. The rest is quickly devoured history.

Note on the recipe: The original called for at least an hour of marinading the tempeh, but I suggest overnight for full flavor. And don’t skip the fennel. It really brings together the sausage flavor of the filling mix.

Tempeh Sausage Puff Pinwheels

Ingredients
– 8 oz. tempeh, crumbled
– 1 package puff pastry (as recommended by Vegan Brunch, Pepperidge Farm puff pastry is vegan)

For the marinade:
– 1 cup vegetable broth
– 3 tbsp soy sauce
– 2 tbsp lemon juice

For the tempeh filling:
– 2 tbsp olive oil
– 1 red  bell pepper, finely chopped
– 1 small onion, finely chopped
– 2-4 garlic cloves, minced
– 2 tsp fennel seeds, chopped
– 2 tsp dried basil
– 2 tsp dried rosemary
– 1 tsp red pepper flakes
– Salt and black pepper to taste
– Extra olive oil

– Combine the ingredients for the marinade in an airtight container. Toss in the crumbled tempeh and seal. Keep in the fridge overnight.

– Prepare the a large pan over medium heat. Saute pepper and onion until the onion is translucent, then add garlic and spices and saute until garlic is slightly browned. Add drained tempeh and turn the heat to medium high. Cook for up to 15 minutes, stirring often to prevent burning.

– Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Apply a fine layer of olive oil to a large baking sheet.

– You should have two sheets of puff pastry. Cut each sheet into nine squares. You should have a total of eighteen rectangles.

– To assemble the pinwheel, take a rectangle and unfold it so that it is a single layer. Brush a little olive oil on the inside, then apply some of the tempeh filling. Gently roll up the dough around the filling. Whatever falls out can be stuffed back in once the edges are sealed. It does not have to look perfect, but the edge should be sealed with your fingers or a fork so that it does not fall apart while baking.

– Repeat steps until you have all eighteen filled or have run out of filling. Line the finished pastries on the baking sheet about an inch apart.

– Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until the pastries are puffed and golden. Serve warm.

(Recipe adapted from Vegan Brunch by Isa Chandra Moskowitz)

Good Morning, Vegan Southwest Quiche!

Are you a quiche eater?

A 1982 bestselling book, Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche, firmly defined the egg, cream and cheese savory pastry as feminine and therefore beneath the standards of masculinity for any man who didn’t want to been seen as some namby-pamby New Age sort. The book goes on to describe this man as the sort who refers to his significant other as “life partner,” and who likely make the quiche, serve it to his partner, and wash up afterward. Needless to say, this man is not to be aped but to be despised and dismissed.

Due to the book’s 55 weeks on the bestsellers chart, “quiche eater” became briefly synonymous with a person too fancy to get his hands dirty. Having made more than a few quiche crusts, I find the insult to be a little ironic, considering how quickly the hands get floured, crummy, and sticky while forming the dough. But maybe the idea is that the quiche eater doesn’t make the crust.

Actually, going even further on this line of thought, the book admits that it’s perfectly masculine for a man to eat an egg and bacon pie that his spouse might offer him, but to make it himself would be deemed less than masculine. So it’s somehow less dainty to be waited on? Bruce Feirstein, you’ve got me thoroughly confused.

Anyhoo, there are many good vegan quiche recipes among my collected cookbooks, but for Sunday morning’s pie, I used what I had on hand and made a sort of Tex-Mex, Southwest pie with red onion, red bell pepper, mushrooms, and some of the field garlic we received in our CSA this week. Filling in for the egg and cream, I mashed in a pound of extra firm tofu. You can take or leave the turmeric in the recipe, but I think it gives the overall look a nice, rich color.

Word to the wise on tofu-based quiches: I don’t mind mine being a little loose and crumbly, but if you want a tighter, more gelled pie, use a food processor to blend the tofu smooth before adding it to the sautéed veggies.

Southwestern Quiche

Ingredients
– 1 9″ vegan pie crust
– 1 medium red onion, chopped
– 1 small red bell pepper, diced
– 5 or 6 fresh mushrooms, chopped
– 1 stalk field garlic, finely chopped (optional – but tasty)
– 1 pound extra firm tofu
– 2 tsp chili powder
– 1 tsp garlic pepper seasoning
– 1 1/2 tsp cumin
– 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
– Turmeric (optional)

– Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

– Saute the onions in oil until translucent. Add the bell pepper and continue cooking for three minutes. Add mushrooms and seasonings and saute until everything is tender.

– Crumble in tofu and turmeric, then stir briskly with a fork until everything is well combined and fairly smooth, adding a tablespoon or two of water if needed. Pour into pie crust.

– Bake the quiche for 40 minutes in the oven, until the edges are browned. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 20 minutes before eating.

Chicago: Day Three

In which reach heaven via homemade tostadas... and then we go home.

Our third day in Chicago was really more of a half day, since we had to drive home in the afternoon. Despite having a whole lot left on our respective to-do lists, we couldn’t shake ourselves out of bed early enough to get in anything besides a decent breakfast. We hopped a train and a bus over to our final eating destination, Handlebar.

I may not be a bicyclist, but I seem to be endlessly fond of their dining establishments. Handlebar shares a lot in common with OTB Bicycle Cafe in South Side, a place I used to frequent when working in the South Side Works a few years ago. The focus of both bars is squarely on the cycling lifestyle, whether it be for intensive sport or for everyday getting around town. Unlike OTB’s biking-themed menu, however, the Handlebar leaves the theme to the decor and general philosophy of the establishment.

Both are exceeding vegetarian and vegan friendly, however, something that appealed to James, especially when Anna Sophia gave us a sterling recommendation of the place.

“Huevos Diablos,” she told us. I took it very, very seriously.

Handlebar on Urbanspoon
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Good Morning, Rabanada!


I’ve tried many of Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s cookbooks, but in the short amount of time I’ve owned Vegan Brunch, I’ve utilized it more than the nearly six months I’ve owned Veganomicon or the many years I’ve turned to Vegan with a Vengeance. Aside from the Sarah Kramer cookbooks, which I have turned to on a regular basis since 2008, Vegan Brunch has been the most prolific presence in my kitchen since I purchased it in early April.

Part of the reason is that it has a perfect blend of savory and sweet foods that work well for any meal. But the biggest reason by far is the simple fact that the recipes are damn good. They’re inventive but casual, not requiring a vast array of ingredients or a large prep time. There are some more advanced recipes, but for the most part, these are dishes that are easily prepared in an hour or less and that serve a whole host of functions, be it a lazy Sunday afternoon brunch with my partner or a potluck or even, on the rare occasion where I actually make something special for myself, a solo treat.

Because of my particular affection for pancakes and French toast, I’m always on the lookout for good vegan variations of these dishes. [Of course, the definitive list of pancake options appears in the fantastic Eat Me, a collection of recipes and general retrospective of Shopsins in New York, which features tremendous feats of pancakery such as the macaroni and cheese pancake. But more on Shopsins another time.] Browsing through the options in Vegan Brunch, one recipe caught my eye.

In Brazil, rabanadas is prepared to celebrate the birth of a child, as well Christmas, Easter, etc. The tradition of preparing rabanadas is so ingrained in the culture, bakeries sell special loaves around holiday time, called “Pao de Rabanada.” The prep includes soaking the bread in milk or water to soften, then dipping the slices into egg and frying in a small amount of oil. So, yeah, not much different from how French toast is prepared stateside.

Vegan Brunch‘s recipe offers a few very innovative (and tasty) vegan changes. Instead of egg, the stale bread slices are soaked for twenty minutes in a banana-almond milk custard. I made a few slight changes to the recipe, but basically prepared it as specified in the book. So, thanks in advance, to Isa Chandra Moskowitz, and this great recipe that made me and my partner pretty darn happy this past Sunday afternoon.

Brazilian Rabanadas

Ingredients
– 1 stale loaf of bread (she specifies baguette, but I used a stale Italian loaf and it worked fine)
– 2 ripe bananas
– 1 1/2 cup almond milk
– 3/4 tbsp Xanathan gum
– 1/2 tsp almond extract
– Vegetable oil for frying
– 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
– 1 tsp cinnamon
– Strawberries (or other fruit) for garnish

– Slice stale loaf into eight thick slices. Lay out slices on a flat baking pan.
– In a food processor or blender, combine the bananas, almond milk, Xanathan gum, and extract. Process until mixture is smooth, then pour mixture over the slices. Allow to soak for ten minutes, then flip slices and let sit for ten minutes more.
– Once slices have soaked for twenty minutes, heat oil on a pan and prepare as normal, keeping the cooked slices in a warm stove or microwave until all are finished.
– Combine the cocoa powder and cinnamon in a sifter, if you have one, or if you’re like me, use a small measuring cup and hope for a steady hand. Lay out finished slices on plates and dust with the cocoa/cinnamon mixture. Top with berries and add syrup and vegan margarine.

Saturday Morning Sweet Treats from Colangelo’s


One of the best things about talking food with other food enthusiasts (apologies for using that term in overabundance, I just hate the term “foodie”) is the resulting recommendations that come from discussing where you love to eat. There’s a look in the eyes – a widening, a sparkle – that tells you all you need to know.

I get that look about many, many things that I have eaten. After Chicago, I couldn’t talk about the food at Chicago Diner without getting a little misty eyed. I speak in similar ways about the taco stand at Las Palmas, the Shakshuka at Sababa Middle Eastern Grill, the buffalo seitan wings at Spak Brothers.

Sylvia, from Burgh Bits and Bites, had that look when she talked about the meles at Colangelo’s. The question, “Ooh, what’s a mele?” nearly sent her teetering off her chair. Meles, apparently, are one of the most delicious pastries invented by man, and Colangelo’s offers some of the best.

“You must try it.”

I take recommendations fairly seriously, and when it’s a real rave review, I make a point of adding the place or item onto my mental list of things to try. So, on a short trip through the Strip on Saturday, I happened by Colangelo’s and decided to make good on her recommendation and my curiosity.

Sylvia, if you’re reading this: HOLY CRAP! WHAT HAVE I BEEN DOING ALL THESE YEARS WITHOUT THESE MELES IN MY LIFE?

I ordered an apricot mele, and hoo boy… I’ve never had a pastry where the least impressive thing about it was the filling. And the apricot filling was very good, just not as spectacular as the pastry. Lightly sugared to give it a sweet crunch, it was still chewy and soft in all the right ways. Despite all the sugar, it wasn’t overpoweringly sweet, like a cheap danish or pastry. It had the slightest essence of vanilla that blended smoothly into the burst of citrus flavor from the apricot preserves.

About the size of my (admittedly small) hand, it was almost too much for me to handle alone. I split it in two and shared with my friend, Mo, whose reaction matched my own. How have we not tried this before? All the time I’ve spent in the Strip District and I never once tried this amazing little treat?


I meant to buy two meles, but the clerk misheard me. Flustered by the noise and crowd building around the counter, but still determined to get two pastries, I asked for something a bit more familiar to me: Sfogiatelle.

The Italian name means “many leaves” or “many layers” so it’s easy to understand how the treat got its name. The shell shaped pastry is comprised of flaky pastry layered one on top of the next. The inside is a slightly creamy, almost cheesy filling, but it’s so subtly worked into the pastry, you barely notice it until after the bite.

Because Colangelo’s was a bit crowded, I took my treats to my favorite eating spot: The walkway outside of the Pittsburgh Public Market. There I enjoyed my pastries, the first cup of coffee of my day, and a nearly perfect sunny Saturday morning.

Colangelo's Bakery on Urbanspoon

Chicago: Day One

They could be playing "Stormy Weather" all night...

The weather on Friday was a dance between cold, wet, colder, and wetter. Every time we stepped outside the conditions seemed to have changed for the worse without somehow changing very much at all. We were colder with every new trip, or the rain struck us harder.

This did not make ideal weather conditions for taking photographs, but that’s alright with me. To tell the truth, I’m not much of a picture-taker when on vacation. I wish I was. I envy people who come back from long trips with a mile of photos glorifying their travels. They have pictures of everything they did, everywhere they went, everyone they saw. Drank a pint with friends? It’s in the pictures. Car got stuck in the mud? It’s in the pictures. Ate an amazing dinner at a famous four star restaurant?… Well, it would be in my pictures as well. But you get the idea.

As a result of the crappy weather and how it restrained us to our hosting neighborhood- Lincoln Park – and the surrounding territory, I don’t have much photographic record to share. The picture above was taken a few doors down from one of my favorite stores in Chicago, Shake Rattle and Read, on Broadway in Uptown. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the Green Mill Jazz Club is a famous Chicago venue, opening in 1910 as a roadhouse complete with indoor and outdoor dining and dancing areas. In the twenties, Jack “Machine Gun” McGurn, henchman of Al Capone, took over a large percentage of the club’s ownership, and the place became a favorite mob hangout. The story of McGurn’s takeover is best described in the historical summary on the Green Mill Cocktail Lounge website:

“Manager Danny Cohen had given McGurn the 25% stake to “persuade” comedian/singer Joe E. Lewis from moving his act south to the New Rendezvous Café at Clark and Diversey. McGurn managed to convince Lewis by slitting his throat and cutting off his tongue. Miraculously, Lewis recovered, but his songs never regained their lush sound.”

Ah, isn’t history wonderful, kids? I’d love to be a school child on a walking tour of jazz clubs in the city. Way more blood, booze, and broads than an average Pittsburgh field trip to the zoo.

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Good Morning, Apricot Coffee Cake!

I used to make a killer sour cream coffee cake. The original basis came from AllRecipes.com, but as I returned again and again to the dish, I put my own tweaks on it. I toyed around with extra flavors, zests, extracts, fresh and frozen fruits. I got the cooking time just right. I knew when to use icing and when to use a crumb topping, and I knew exactly how much to use.

And they always came out perfect. Soft, but substantial, sweet but not overpowering, absolutely great for either breakfast or dessert. Provided there were any leftovers, they even stored well and could keep for up to three days if packed properly. I ran through every idea I had and the best turnouts- chocolate chips and cocoa powder, cardamom and orange zest, cream cheese and blueberry preserves – more than made up for the few failures. I never got tired of making them and no one seemed to be tired of eating them.

Then I moved.

The new apartment had a rented stove that was about fifteen years older than the one I had during my coffee cake renaissance. When I cooked my first coffee cake in my new kitchen, I was shocked by the way it had turned out. Where was the fluffy, moist cake? Why was the crumb topping so dry and flavorless? Why was everything so flat? And how did it get burned?!?

I was dispirited. Even my failed experiments had never been this bad. This was barely edible (in fact, after bravely eating a piece, most of the remains did find their way into the trash). I tried to learn from my potential mistakes: I must have been careless about the amounts of flour, baking powder, and sugar. It must have baked too long. I must not have greased the pan enough.

So I tried again. But even with the tweaking of cooking time, the careful attentiveness to ingredients and prep, and a watchful eye while the cake sat in the oven, it still failed. It wasn’t the horror show that the prior failure had been, but it was still a failure. I had to face facts.

The magic was gone.

So, flash forward to the present. Since my coffee cake heartbreak, I have made a total of zero coffee cakes. Like any jilted lover, I moved onto other culinary distractions. I had brief flings with cupcakes, dabbled casually with muffins, and settled into a nice routine with the dependable and delightful cookie, a relationship that satisfies me to this day. But sometimes, when I’m craving something that I can’t quite name, I know what I’m actually yearning for.

I was tempted by the coffee cake recipes in Sarah Kramer’s books, as well as the sure-to-be delicious recipe in The Joy of Vegan Baking, but I was always afraid to attempt them. For one, I didn’t want to come back to coffee cake baking after such a long absence just to fail once more. In addition, I had never tried a vegan coffee cake recipe, so I was worried about botching not only my comeback cake, but my first attempt at a vegan one at that.

Sunday, however, after a week that was rich in both pain and healing (a story that I will come back to another time), I was looking for a distraction and picked up my recently purchased copy of Vegan Brunch by Isa Chandra Mokowitz. Thumbing through the recipes, I was about to try out the tomato-rosemary scones when one last courtesy flip through the pages landed me on her recipe for “East Coast Coffee Cake.” And I thought, well, why the hell not?

For my first time back to coffee cakes, I stayed fairly true to Isa’s recipe, tweaking just a few ingredients to match my own tastes. Her basic recipe does include fruit preserves, but she includes handy directions on including any number of ingredients. The recipe turned out to be a cinch to make, and while the results weren’t perfect, they were far from the disasters of my last coffee cake attempts. I’m not sure we’ll ever be as close as we once were, but it looks like me and coffee cake are on the redemption road to a casual friendship.

Apricot Coffee Cake

Ingredients

For the topping
– 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
– 1/3 cup brown sugar
– 1 tsp cinnamon
– 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
– 1/4 cup veg oil

For the cake
– 3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
– 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
– 1/3 cup sugar
– 1/2 cup veg oil
– 1 tsp vanilla extract
– 1/2 tsp almond extract
– 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
– 2 tsp baking pwoder
– 1/2 tsp salt
– 1/2 cup apricot jam

– Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Grease an 8×8 square pan. Add the apple cider vinegar to the milk and set aside to allow for curdling.

– For the topping: Mix together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Add the oil by tablespoons, mixing it into the dry ingredients with your fingers. Keep mixing until you’ve got a mixture of large and small crumbs. Set aside.

– For the cake, mix together the milk-vinegar mixture, sugar, vegetable oil, and extracts. Sift in flour, baking powder, and salt and mix until smooth.

– Pour the batter into the pan. Pour the 1/2 cup of apricot jam over the batter, then swirl it with a knife or fork. Sprinkle topping over the batter and lightly pat down.

– Bake for 35 – 40 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool, add powdered sugar if desired, then slice and serve!

Good Morning, Brunch Feast!

Despite the time invested in this pile of delicious breakfast, this post is going to be exceedingly brief. I spent Sunday evening in glorious doom and gloom entertainment, first watching the final performance of Next to Normal Downtown [capsule review: Could also have been titled Depression! The Musical], then after post-show drinks, rushed home to watch the 11:00 pm re-run of the latest episode of The Killing on AMC.

I spent Sunday evening enjoying the most downbeat offerings stage and TV could possibly provide, which starkly contrasted with my midday minor vegan feast and the pure joy I felt throwing it together.

The meal was this: Roasted Cajun potatoes, scrambled tofu, navy bean gravy, and tempeh bacon. All delicious items when eaten apart, but as America knows, best when it can be collected in a big sloppy pile. The potatoes are easy enough – sliced and roasted with Cajun seasoning – and the tofu was just your typical scrambled tofu – turmeric, a little bit of vegan margarine, a little bit of liquid smoke, some salt and cayenne pepper – so the real stars here are the tempeh bacon and the amazing navy bean gravy, a vegan gravy so good, it could easily run for the same affections currently claimed by beef and chicken gravy devotees. And it’s incredibly easy to make.

Navy Bean Gravy

Ingredients
– 1 15 oz. can navy beans, drained and rinsed
– 1 tbsp oil
– 1 half onion, chopped
– 3 garlic cloves, chopped
– 2 tsp dried rosemary
– Black pepper (I tend to think more is better than less, but the actual quantity is a matter of taste)
– 1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
– 1/3 cup flour
– 3 tbsp soy sauce
– 1/4 cup water

Saute the onions and garlic. Add the rosemary and black pepper and cook until the onions are translucent and garlic is fragrant. Combine the broth and flour and stir vigorously with a fork until there are few lumps of flour left.

– In a blender or food processor, combine the stock mixture, beans, soy sauce. Blend until smooth, then add the onions and garlic. Puree again until mostly smooth.

– Pour the pureed mixture into the stove pot and simmer until bubbling, stirring frequently. Add water to desired consistency.


Tempeh Bacon

Ingredients
– 8 oz. package of tempeh, sliced widthwise into 1/4 inch strips.
– 3 tbsp soy sauce
– 1 tbsp liquid smoke
– 1 tbsp maple syrup (I used honey)
– 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
– 1 tbsp grapeseed oil
– 1/2 cup vegetable broth
– 1 tsp garlic salt
– 1/4 tsp black pepper

– Combine all ingredients (except for the tempeh) into a large bowl. Mix until well combined, then add the tempeh strips. Marinate for 1 hour (can be done overnight as well).

– When tempeh has marinated long enough, heat some oil in a large frying pan. Fry the slices for six minutes on each side, or until both are browned sufficiently.

 (Adapted from recipes in Vegan Brunch by Isa Chandra Moskowitz)