Cranboozlement!

When I was a kid and anyone asked me what was my favorite fruit, I happily replied, “Grapefruit!” While most children preferred the more conventional apple or maybe a banana, I’ve always been a fan of all things sour. Perhaps, then, it’s no surprise that I share a similar, if recently cultivated, love for cranberries. I sort of forgot they existed for a while, partially due to having a low-key Thanksgiving, but then I remembered, and now I can’t get enough of their tart, juicy selves (twss?). It’s appropriate, I think, because I have now officially been a Wisconsin resident for a year (!), and – guess what? – Wisconsin is the #1 cranberry-producin’ state in this here nation! So these ruby-red morsels of delight are local. Win!

I find it a little puzzling that so many cranberry-centric baked good recipes ask you to chop your cranners. I think there’s something enjoyable about keeping them whole and having big cranberry chunks in your bread or your muffin, ready to explode into bright-red bursts of tartness on your tongue. That (and, fine, my lack of a food processor) leads me to keep mine whole in most recipes, and I was pleased to see that the wittily-titled Cranboozy Cake (or, in my case, Giant Muffins) from 500 Vegan Recipes also calls for whole berries. Cranberries, vodka, triple sec, and orange juice? Sign me up!

Festive cranboozlement!

I’ll be honest – I wasn’t head-over-heels crazy about these at first. I tend to be a little leery of baked goods sweetened solely with agave, partially because it’s quite temperamental during the baking experience and partially because I find the flavor lacking a certain something (but maybe that’s the sweet tooth talking). However, by the time I ate the third muffin (not in one sitting!), I was properly cranboozled. I appreciated the muffins for what they are – a sophisticated baked good with a blend of flavors that leaves no room for overly sugary sweetness. And the liquors add a little somethin’-somethin’ extra, a pleasant smoothness that lingers on the tongue. Yep, I’m a fan.

If you don’t own 500 Vegan Recipes, never fear! Celine has the recipe available on her blog. Do you have any favorite cranberry recipes (sweet, savory, or something in between the two)? I’m in the market!

And don’t forget to enter my giveaway for a chance to win some fun crafty goods and a cookbook!

Fibertastic Pumpkin Muffins (or, how I learned to suck it up and use my pumpkin pie mix)

Remember when my inner food snob reared her ugly head, inspired by an accidental purchase? I showed my true colors and disparaged the accursed can of pumpkin pie mix that made its way into my grocery basket one day when I mistook it for the far more acceptable pureed pumpkin.

Sneaky devil!

Well, I still stand by my opinion that pumpkin pie mix has no place in my kitchen cupboard, thank you very much. However, I still had to use up the rest of the mix, so with a little creativity, I came up with another place for it: muffins. Yeah, I totally ignored every recipe in the whole wide world that says, “Be sure to use pumpkin puree, NOT pumpkin pie mix OR ELSE YOUR BAKED GOODS WILL EXPLODE AND YOU WILL DIE.” Pshhh, whatevs. I purposely used this sucker in a batch of muffins. And you know what? It worked. SO THERE.

Nobody suspects the s3cR3t iNgR3d13nT!1!!!11!!

Fibertastic Pumpkin Muffins
Ingredients
1 flax egg (1 T ground flax + 3 T warm water)
1 C pumpkin pie mix
1/3 C nondairy milk (I used almond)
1/3 C applesauce
2 T oil
2 T molasses
Heaping 1/4 C raw sugar
1 t vanilla
1 C whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 C toasted wheat bran
1/3 C old-fashioned oats
1 T baking powder
1/4 t sea salt
1/2 t cinnamon
1/8 t allspice
1/4 t ginger
1/4 t nutmeg
1/8 t cloves

Preheat your oven to 350˚.

In a medium bowl, combine the flax egg, pumpkin pie mix, milk of your choice, applesauce, oil, molasses, vanilla, and sugar until well mixed. In a large bowl, sift together the dry ingredients. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir until just combined. Pour spoonfuls of the batter into greased muffin tins and fill them about 3/4 full. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.

Et voila! Healthy, fiber-rich muffins that use up a good portion of your ungodly-sized can of pumpkin pie mix. You could also make this with regular canned pumpkin and just up the amount of milk you include, and maybe add some more spices. This recipe is loosely based on the Pumpkin Bran Muffins from Vegan Brunch, but I changed a fair few ingredients and adapted it for my own nefarious needs. By which I mean (obviously) my need to use up the mix.

I’ve still got a bit left, but I’ve discovered another use – as an addition to oatmeal. I’m accustomed to adding regular pumpkin to my oats, but I won’t lie – the additional sugariness of the mix adds an undeniable bit of sweet yumminess to my breakfast.

Anyway, that’s all I’ve got for ya today. I hope I survive this crazy windstorm the Midwest is battling, because one of my best friends is visiting this weekend, and we’re going to geek it up and hang out with Neil Gaiman at the House on the Rock. Yeah, no biggie. ;) Anyway, my posts might be sparse for the next few days, so have a great weekend and a fantastic Halloween! Do you have Halloween plans? Will you dress up? And – more importantly – do you like Neil Gaiman?!

Yummy Things That I Have Made

Okay, that’s it – I’m officially retiring the whole “I just moved to a new city and started a new job and therefore have no time to blog!!1!111!” excuse. I mean, I’ve been here for a good two and a half months, for crying out loud!  Now that I’m all settled into my new life, I’ve been doing lots more baking and cooking than I was at first. So I hereby promise to post more regularly from this point forward.

…and now let me show you a few photos with minimal text. What? I’ve had a busy weekend, by which I mean I went ice skating for the first time in some fifteen years in a misguided attempt to replicate all the fantastic feats of athleticism seen in the Olympics. Yeah… fail. I ain’t no Apolo Anton Ohno. Anyway, these are some photos that’ve been hibernating in my iPhoto for a while now, so I’m going to show them a little bit o’ love. Totally less than they deserve, but c’est la vie.

Peanutty, eggplanty goodness.

A while back, I bought an eggplant and wanted to do something exciting and new with it. As any self-respecting vegan would do, I headed over to the PPK in search of inspiration. Inspiration came in the form of an intriguing recipe for Spicy Peanut Eggplant and Shallot Stew, a combination of ingredients too bizarre to pass up. Despite the fact that I had no shallots, peanut oil, roasted diced tomatoes, fresh ginger, chilis, green beans, or cilantro, the recipe was very forgiving – I replaced the green beans with peas and improvised for the other missing ingredient, and the results were surprisingly tasty. I still have a serving of this in the freezer, waiting to be brought to work for a yummy lunch one day soon. Two thumbs up!

Samosas... and beyond!

There’s a lot going on here. Let me draw your attention to the foreground – those are some damn tasty Potato-Edamame Samosas from VWaV. I whipped up those beauties for a Super Bowl party a co-worker held, and they were well-received by everyone except her two-year-old, who took one bite and immediately spat it into his hand before dumping the soggy samosa-bit onto a plate. I learned that he later developed a fondness for the samosas and actually enjoyed them – score! Anyway, this is a really excellent recipe. The samosa filling has a great blend of flavors, and I had so much of it left over that I ate it straight-up, as you can see in the photo. This huge dinner featured samosa filling, actual samosas, baby carrots, and roasted cauliflower with so-called Indian Barbecue Sauce. Nom to the zillionth power!

Check out those exposed apple bits! Shocking!

Last but not least, check out this amazing Apple Pie-Crumb Cake Muffin, also from VWaV. I don’t think you can tell from the photo, but this is one giant muffin – for Christmas I got one of those tins that makes 6 big ol’ muffins, and this was my first time using it. Oh my gosh, guys – these muffins are absolutely spectacular. They’re moist and amazingly flavorful, even though I used plain ol’ apple juice instead of apple cider. I also replaced some of the oil with applesauce to cut down a bit on the fat content. And even though I used some seriously old and mealy apples in these guys, they were seriously delicious.

Aaand that concludes my sad little return to srs blogging. Coming soon: a post filled with the fruits of rampant consumerism. Ooer.

Lemon Poppy Seed Letdown

I love the Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins from Vegan Brunch. I may have only made them once before today, but that one time was enough – I was sold at the very first bite. These muffins wowed my family; my omni dad in particular raved about them for days. Although he’s nothing but supportive of my vegan ways, I know that he was slightly wary of vegan baking for a while. But these muffins totally destroyed that wariness. In fact, they pretty much crushed it into tiny crumbs of lemony, poppy seedy deliciousness. So when my friend and I made a Saturday morning tea date, I thought I’d whip out the ol’ recipe and make up another batch of these delightful nuggets of tastiness.

These came together without a hitch. In an amazing feat of preparedness, I set out my ingredients last night, so everything was at my fingertips this morning. The batter came together quickly and tasted divine. I even managed a quick shower while my muffins were baking. I thought nothing could go wrong, especially when I saw how wonderful my muffins looked after I removed them from the oven.

Looks can be deceiving.

But the best laid plans of mice and men… sometimes yield tough, slightly overcooked muffins. I was SO disappointed when I broke one of these guys in half and noticed that the crumbs weren’t as moist or tender as I’d remembered. A taste test revealed the sad truth – they were overdone.

Now, I know that it’s not exactly difficult to mess up muffins; either over-mixing the batter or overcooking the muffins can lead to unfortunate results. But I definitely did not over-mix this batch; I stirred until the wet and dry ingredients were just combined and then promptly removed my spoon from the batter. So the fatal error must have occurred in the oven. And that really grinds my gears, because I always set my timer for less than the recommended baking time. I know my oven, and I’d rather have undercooked than overcooked baked goods – you can always put ’em in for another minute, but you can’t take away baking time! For these puppies, I set the timer for 22 minutes. Isa recommends 23 – 27 minutes of baking time, and I assumed 22 would be the perfect time to check them and judge whether or not they needed another minute or two. I also remembered that the first batch I made could’ve used another minute, so I thought I was all set.

Obviously I wasn’t. When the timer sounded and I opened my oven, I was alarmed to see that the tops of my muffins had already browned. When my handy muffin-testing toothpick came out clean, I pulled that pan out of the oven quicker than you can say Isa Chandra. At that point I thought they were probably fine, but… I was wrong. Sigh.

In the grand scheme of failed baked goods, these muffins are really not that bad. The average taster probably wouldn’t even think to comment on their slight toughness; in fact, my friend and my brother said they were perfectly fine. But since my point of comparison was pretty much a perfect batch, I’m judging these guys rather harshly. They don’t have the lovely, moist crumb I remember so fondly, and the lemon flavor is a little lost beneath the toughness, but those really aren’t dealbreakers. It just bothers me that I couldn’t replicate my initial success. I think that next time I make them, I’ll use a 350˚ oven instead of the 375˚ recommended, just so I can better control the baking process.

In the meantime, I’ll just have to “suffer” my way through a batch of slightly overcooked Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins… ahh, the difficult life of a vegan baker!

Five Minute Photoshop: Banana Muffins

Okay guys, I am being a big lame-o today.  I had a fun and enlightening time at my little bro’s frat party last night, but we didn’t leave his college until 3:30 this afternoon, and then the family went out to dinner, so… I’m feeling a little lazy and uninspired for this MoFo post. However, I will tell you that I made some kick-ass banana muffins the other night, based on this recipe. I modified it a bit and will continue to tweak it until it’s perfect, but I loooved the results of my initial experimentation. And I’m not even much of a banana muffin type of girl! But these were fantastic. I’ll definitely share my modifications next time I make them, but for now, here is a “photograph” of a yummy muffin.

EAT ME.

…yup, I am that lame. And generally my Photoshop skillz are way more advanced, but like I said – lazy and uninspired. I’ll do better next time, I promise.

Sweet Potato Muffin Love

In an act of crazy VeganMoFo intertextuality, tonight I made the Maple-Kissed Sweet Potato Muffins posted on Happy Herbivore earlier today. Because this day has been quite chilly and autumnal, I figured that firing up the oven to bake a batch of hearty muffins would be the perfect way to warm up the house and fill up my tummy.

Nom.
(Sorry for the cruddy photo quality!)

I’m glad to report that my hunch was correct – these are wonderful autumn muffins. They’re sweet and slightly spicy and wonderfully rich. My only complaint was that they came out just the teensiest bit gummy; perhaps I should have baked them longer. Overall, though, they’re a fabulous stand-in for the traditional pumpkin muffin, and I enjoyed using a few more of the locally-grown sweet potatoes we picked up a week or so ago.

Now I’m off to grab another muffin and plop myself in front of the telly – it’s Office night!

Zucchini for You, Zucchini for Me…

Given the fact that spiralizers are also known as “saladaccos,” I’ve christened my brand new spiralizer “Sallie.” A few days ago, I tested Sallie’s capabilities by making perhaps the most obvious spiralizer dish possible – zucchini “pasta” noodles.

My spiralizer test started off with a minor hitch. I thought we had a zucchini in the vegetable crisper, but apparently cucumbers are easily confused with zucchinis when viewed through plastic refrigerator drawers, and I got a nasty surprise when I attempted to remove my “zucchini” from the fridge. This minor setback was remedied by an impromptu trip to the grocery store, where I was pleased to discover locally grown zucchinis on sale. Score! I picked up a few lovely specimens and headed home.

The poor little zucchini didn’t know what hit him – Sallie’s blades made fast work of the little devil and reduced the sucker into a surprisingly large pile of gorgeous green noodles. Needless to say, I was quite pleased with the results. Although I’d wanted to make a raw marinara sauce to top my pasta, necessity (and a lack of certain ingredients) proved once again to be the mother of invention and I instead came up with a fairly tame broccoli pesto-type topping for my pasta. Mixed with some fresh cherry tomatoes straight outta the garden, this was one of the tastiest and simplest lunches I’ve had in a while.

Zucchini loveliness.

Holy delicious vegetables, Batman! Doesn’t this look so pretty? And the broccoli-basil pesto was super simple to make. I love having basil plants sitting on the backyard deck; I can go harvest basil whenever the need strikes! :) I’m going to include the “recipe” for this pesto, but it’s super simple and could definitely benefit from any sort of spice you’d like to add.

Super Simple Broccoli-Basil Pesto (makes a large batch, more than enough for one bowl of zucchini noodles!)
Ingredients:
2 heads broccoli
1 large handful basil (adjust to taste)
~1 T olive oil (again, adjust to taste)
Salt and pepper to taste

First, steam your broccoli for about a minute or two, just to soften it up a bit and to give it that lovely bright green color. To keep this recipe 100% raw, I’m sure you could skip this step and still have it turn out just fine. Then put your broccoli in a food processor and give it a few whirls until it’s in noticeably smaller pieces. Add your olive oil and basil and process it ’til everything’s pretty finely chopped. Add spices to taste and pulse the whole shebang a few more times to mix it up. And that’s it. Super simple!

Now, you’d think I would’ve gotten my fill of zucchini at lunch time. But oh no, I couldn’t leave well enough alone, especially with those gorgeous local zucchinis sitting pretty in my fridge. So that night I whipped up a batch of the St. Patrick’s Day Zucchini Muffins from Fat Free Vegan Kitchen.

Muffin love.

Susan never steers me wrong. These were moist, flavorful, and delicious. They’re completely fat free since I didn’t include the crumb topping; I just sprinkled them with a little bit of cinnamon sugar. I also used a flax “egg” in place of the Ener-G, since I don’t have any egg replacer.

These muffins went fast. My decidedly non-veg*n brother was home for the weekend, and when I caught him munching on a muffin after lunch, he told me that he actually prefers my vegan muffins to “regular” muffins! I’m not gonna lie; that made me feel a little melty inside. Three cheers for delicious vegan baking!

Rhapsody in Blue: my love affair with blueberries

Happy Sunday, folks!

Guess what? It’s time to solve some math problems! Yep, you heard that right – Kelly the English major is breakin’ it down elementary school style for some word problems. So, in honor of my impending registration for the GRE (gag), I’d like to present a couple of math problems to you.

Question: If Kelly has 13 lbs. of handpicked local blueberries, how many bags does it take to hold them all?


Answer: 3 big ol’ bags!

Question: If Kelly has a boatload of blueberries and a copy of Vegan Brunch she won in a Twitter contest by the fabulous folks at Da Capo Cooking, what happens when she combines the two?


Answer: Bakery-Style Berry Muffins, of course! I like to make big, fluffy muffins to make ’em seem even more bakery-esque, and this recipe yields 10 good-sized muffins. My mom loves when I make these; she constantly compliments my baking in a blatant attempt to flatter me into making more. And honestly, I’m happy to oblige when the results are so yummy.

Question:If Kelly’s in the mood for something a little healthier than oil-rich muffins and and still has bundles of blueberries, what can she make?


Answer: What else but Susan‘s Blueberry-Oat Bars? I’ll admit, my version doesn’t look nearly as presentable or as scrumptious as Susan’s, but hey, I never claimed to be a fat-free kitchen goddess! And at least they tasted good, right? Next time I’ll be a better judge of my batter and distribute it more evenly between top and bottom.

Question: If Kelly’s getting a little tired of baked goods and is curious about exploring new flavor combinations, how can she use corn and blueberries together to create something delicious?


Answer: She can make the Cornbread Waffles from Vegan Brunch and top them off with a sweet blueberry sauce! I’ll admit that these waffles didn’t turn out as fabulous as I’d expected, but I think that’s because I used very coarse cornmeal. I froze the leftover waffles and LOVE popping one in the toaster and munching on it as a handheld brekkie snack.

Bonus question: If Kelly’s family is hungry for blueberry-laden baked goods and Kelly wants to mix up the flavor profile in her blueberry muffins, what can she use?


Answer: Orange juice! She can make delicious Blueberry Orange Muffins from Have Cake, Will Travel. Although I cheated and didn’t use fresh orange juice, these muffins were still quite tasty. I used a mix of white and whole wheat flour instead of the whole wheat pastry flour called for in the recipe, and it worked out just fine.

And the easiest problem of all – if Kelly has 13 lbs. of handpicked local blueberries and just wants to have a delicious, simple, snack, what must she add to her blueberries to enjoy them? Answer – absolutely NOTHING. A bowl of fresh berries has got to be one of the greatest pleasures on earth.

I knew blue was my favorite color for a reason. Blueberries are the quintessential summer fruit for me. I love spending a couple of hours at the local U-pick farm with my mom and sister, feeling the hot sun on my arms and letting my mind wander as I scour the already picked-over bushes for hidden troves of berries. I love coming home with heavy bags bursting with the tiny blue orbs and going on a baking frenzy for a few days before calming down and freezing the unused berries in the hopes that they’ll last through the winter. In short, I love blueberries.

But, for the love of seitan, please don’t call blueberries “bloobs.” My mind works in strange ways and “bloobs” conjures up images the descriptions of which I will spare you. Just trust me on this one. ;)

The Not-So-Humble Carrot

Sometimes it seems that the most ubiquitous foods are the most under-appreciated. I’m pretty sure that if you were to ask someone to think of a vegetable off the top of her head, the likelihood that “carrot” would come up first is pretty high. But who really gives carrots a second thought? I mean, yeah, they’re orange and kind of phallic, but I think most of us take them for granted despite these two rather special characteristics. And that’s a darn shame, because carrots are wonderful for so much more than dipping in hummus as a tasty afternoon snack.

You probably know where I’m heading with this, but allow me to give you a brief bit of background info before I get to the good stuff. First, for your healthy body, carrots are chock-full of carotenoids, and a diet high in carotenoids (both alpha and beta carotene) has been shown to decrease the incidence of certain cancers. Beta carotene also keeps your immune system strong and helps to promote cell growth. Carrots are bursting with vitamins A, K, and C, and they’ve got respectable amounts of fiber and potassium to boot. Plus, the potency of carrots’ antioxidants has been shown to increase when cooked! That last bit is good to hear, because although I love raw carrots, I also love using them in baked goods. ;) So let’s get to that, shall we?

Last night, to do his part in our clean-out-the-fridge attempt, Dad grated up all our remaining carrots and threw together a carrot salad as a side dish for dinner. But there were a few cups of leftover grated carrot left after he made the salad, so Dad turned to me to do away with the remainders, and I knew just what to make.

Immediately I thought of the Carrot-Raisin Muffins from VWaV. I remember these little suckers fondly. Last winter when I was still at school, I whipped up a batch and froze a couple of them for my big comps exam weekend. During the first weekend in April, I took my comprehensive exercise exam and wrote a bunch of essays on a predetermined list of literature; Carleton requires students to take ginormous exams or write long papers to prove that we’ve actually learned something during our four years. ;) I did almost all my essay writing in the Libe, and prepared a big snack tray of delicious brainfoods to keep me going. I took along a couple of these muffins, and they helped me not only to pass the exam but to achieve distinction on my comps. Needless to say, I now associate carrot muffins with grreaaatt successss. ;)

So last night I made a batch of Carrot & Cran Muffins, replacing the raisins with dried cranberries because, as I’ve said before, raisins remind me of bloated insects and I am rather stubborn when it comes to including them in my baked goods. I think cranberries make a delicious substitution, personally.

Carrot & cran numminess!

Yum! Healthy and delicious. I love the fact that these muffins contain two whole cups of grated carrot. They’re so hearty and fresh tasting. But I didn’t stop with muffins. I turned to Isa and Terry – as I so often do – and decided to make a batch of Carrot Cake Cupcakes for a not-so-healthy dessert.

More carroty deliciousness.

Color me seriously, seriously impressed with these cupcakes. Although VCTOtW has yet to fail me, this might be one of my favorite recipes. I know this picture doesn’t actually show the cupcake’s crummy innards, but trust me – these babies had that sort of smoothness that makes a great carrot cake, and the flavor was phenomenal, even with my minor moderations. Although I know that “classic” carrot cakes contain nuts, my sister is allergic to all nuts, and I never bake anything that I can’t share with everyone! So I replaced the walnuts with sunflower seeds to retain the crunch that nuts give to the cake, and I think it added a really interesting textural change (not to mention some extra protein). I also failed to find soy yogurt at the supermarket (ugh), so I hit up Google for an alternative. I found this recipe for soy yogurt replacer from Celineyum, but I think I used too much cornstarch because my soy “yogurt” was quite gummy. This in turn led to some rather gummy batter, but after adding a little extra soy milk, I think I fixed it. Once baked, the cupcakes teetered on the edge of being the tiniest bit gummy, but not enough that anyone would really notice since they were so darn tasty and moist. They were a huge hit with everyone, especially after I totally de-healthified them by adding the vegan cream cheese frosting from VCTOtW. Mmm.

While Googling nutritional info on carrots for this post, I came across some interesting (ahem) websites. First, Oprah tried to tell me that I should “hide” carrots in her recipes for Italian meatloaf, brownies, and cranberry sauce. Thanks, Oprah, but no way – I want my beautiful bright carrots where I can see them, out in the open and sharing their gorgeous color with the world! The last thing I want to do with carrots is stow them shamefully away in a hodgepodge of ground-up animal flesh. No sirree, no carrots in meatloaf for me. Then I discovered the World Carrot Museum, which isn’t an actual museum but an online devotional for people even more obsessed with carrots than I am. And if you’re interested in juicing – something I don’t do nearly often enough – you should check out this site for some carrotastic juice recipes.

Bottom line? Carrots are amazing and delightfully multifunctional. I love love love veggies in desserts; zucchini bread is one of my all-time favorite quickbreads. And carrots cake? You just can’t beat it. Plus, look how colorful these suckers can be!

Colorful carrots!
(Yeah, I borrowed that photo from here.)

So do yourself a favor and go give those orange veggies in your crisper drawer some lovin’! Your body (and tastebuds) will thank you for it. :)

Ciao!