Sunday, 28 October 2007

granola bars

So of course when Tanner and I decided to go camping, what I was most excited about was planning the menu. How would we sustain ourselves out in the middle of nowhere fighting freezing temperatures and scaling down mountains? When we are huddled around the fire mending small wounds and re-telling the story about the giant bear, what would we desire to munch on? What's light and tidy and small and requires no preparation so we can eat and run? It has to be tasty. And it has to be healthy.

With a little cooperation and team work, we worked out some food solutions. A couple of dehydrated "dishes" such as onion bread and veggie patties. A raw cocktail sauce for dipping and cinnamon- almond truffles for dessert. Fresh fruit and 5 gallons of water. The only thing we cooked for the trip were granola bars. They were a last minute decision on my part. Tired and cranky from a long week I was looking for the easiest way to make more food for the trip. I really just wanted to throw a bunch of stuff in my mixer and hope for a miracle. And for the most part, that's what I did.

This is like one of those everything but the kitchen sink type things where anything goes. I made these late at night, randomly grabbing ingrdients off the shelf, and while I measured all my ingrdients so I can give them to you, that's not necessarily what you have to do. Just pay attention to the consistency of the batter. You want it full of goodness, but there needs to be a binder so they don't crumble and you end up eating it as cereal (which would not be such a bad thing..). Peanut butter, tahini and agave nectar worked for me. Maybe try another nut butter or date paste. Nice and sticky.

As Tanner and I approached the fierce mountain, we passed a cute little campsite on the way and decided just to stay there. How can you not camp somewhere named "Piney"? And while all of our friends and family insisted we would freeze to death, instead we built a nice fire and sat there comfortably in our jeans and sweatshirts. We munched on granola bars not while mending wounds, but while drinking cheap red wine and listening to our neighbors radio play Dolly Parton, Robert Johnson and Johnny Cash. We were too hungover to scale the mountain, however, we felt just fine to take a peaceful 5 mile hike through the woods and carve our intials in a tree. I'm going to be honest here. We stuck to our menu just fine, but we had to taste the local flavor and try the all you can eat fried catfish buffet. Which completey satisfied my soul, but made me even more grateful I had yummy, healthy snacks for the rest of the night. I should really mention if I didn't before that yes, they are healthy, but better than that they taste superb!

you will need these:
one large mixing bowl
wooden mixing spoon or electric mixer
9 x 13 inch baking dish
rubber spatula (handy, not necessary)

2 C rolled oats (the instant kind)
1/4 C each, pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries, dried dates, shredded coconut, cacao nibs
1/2 C natural creamy peanut butter
1/4 C tahini
2 T olive oil
1/4 C +3 T agave nectar (if you are not vegan a little honey might be nice too)
pinch of salt (optional)

pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees

place dry oats and pumpkin seeds in your baking dish (ungreased for now) and let them toast for about 8-10 minutes or until oats are golden brown.

meanwhile, cream peanut butter, agave nectar, tahini and olive oil together until nice and creamy

add the oats first then add all other dry ingrdients and mix until well combined

grease the baking dish with olive oil and plop the mixture in and press down until it's flat and tightly packed

bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until oats are very golden and browning on the edges

when it comes out of the oven press down with spatula one more time to make sure it's as tight and flat as it can be

cool completely (i know, this is hard) and cut into little squares for a handy little snack

Monday, 8 October 2007

baked pumpkin donuts

These donuts had very high expectations to live up to. All week long at work my friend Carrie and I had been talking, emailing, and sharing recipes for baked donuts. When conversation was at a lull during lunch we would cheer each other up by talking about our big day of making pumpkin donuts. When work got a little too stressfull, we reminded ourselves- with a precise countdown- of how long we had until we made donuts. This week was all about the pumpkin. And donuts. And why not, really? We planned an entire pumpkin afternoon. First we made the dough and left it to rise while we walked to a nearby taproom and drank pumpkin beer and ate a delicious lunch. On the walk home we discovered a local vegetable stand with tables upon tables devoted to pumpkins and squash. As we walked home in the bright (hot) sunshine, we discussed several icing combinations for the donuts as well as what different shapes and sizes we prefered our donuts to be. Pure bliss.

The anticipation for the donuts did not leave us dissapointed when the final product came out of the oven. As soon as we came into the house we dawned our aprons and got to work. Silently, we created a working assembly line from rolling out the dough, to cutting the shapes, to moving them onto pans, to cutting out the center holes. So many pans of dough left for a second a rise! When they were nice and fluffy once more, we started the baking and icing. The first batch could not get iced fast enough. Actually, the first one we iced got torn straight in half and devoured immediatley. Ahhh....the stressfull week, the waiting, the anticipation, the doubt- whatever it was was completely washed away with one bite of pumpkin donut. I'm not saying pumpkin donuts will solve your problems or anything. Okay, maybe I am.

Inspiration and recipe adaption comes from one of my favorite cooking blogs, 101 cookbooks. All of Heidi's recipes are fool proof and she manages to make elaborate, tasty dishes from simple whole foods. I read her baked donuts recipe a while ago and kept coming back to it when trying to figure out how I was going to make vegan pumpkin donuts. I finally decided to stick with it and am oh-so glad I did. Click on the first blog listed, 101 cookbooks, over to the right under "other cyber-spaces". If your are curious about her donuts, type in "baked donuts" into the search box to see her recipe and gorgeous picture.

Make these when you have time to spare and plenty of friends around to share them with. And if you can talk a close friend into sharing the kitchen space with you, it's all the better.

you will need these:
large bowl
electic mixer with dough hook or your two arms and hands- pumped up and ready for action
clean tea towels
wooden spoon
big and small donut cutter or make do with house hold objects. for instance, a to-go container and shot glass, different sized coffee cups or biscuit/cookie cutters
parchment paper
baking sheets

for the dough:
1 packet yeast (2 1/4 tsp)
1 1/3 C warm soy milk (or other vegan milk) or water
2/3 C unrefined sugar
2 T vegan butter (Earth Balance makes a good product)
1 15 oz can organic pumpkin puree or bake your own pumpkin (squash works too) using about 1 1/2-2 C flesh
5 C unbleached all purpose flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp salt

for the icing:
1/2 C vegan butter, melted
1/4 C (or more) unrefined sugar
3 T brown sugar
1 T cinnamon
dash of nutmeg

first, warm the soy milk until it is warm to the touch, not hot though. pour 1/3 C milk into your desired mixing bowl and sprinkle in the the yeast stiring to make sure it is incorporated. set aside for 5 minutes.

after 5 minutes lighly mix in the sugar, butter, pumpkin, the remaining 1 C milk, salt and spices until just barely combined.

start adding flour one cup a time. when you get to about 5 cups start paying close attention to the dough. at this point either turn on the dough hook and let it do it's magic, or throw in a little more flour and plop out onto a floured surface. keep adding flour to the mix until dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl, or ceases to stick to your fingers. overdoing it with the flour is OK; just add some more milk or water to the mix if it seems dry. if you are doing this by hand, really give it a go. work out some frustration. throw it, pound it, punch it. i promise it likes it. with either method work the dough until it has a wonderful elastic feel. it's a ta-da! moment. i promise you will know. if using the mixer, plop the dough onto a floured surface and knead a couple of times. no punching or pounding for you though. all of this should take about 5-10 minutes depending on kneading method, temperature and how shy the gluten in the flour is being.

grease a bowl with either oil or vegan butter. i like to wash out the bowl (with warm water) i just mixed in to give the bowl some warmth which will give the yeast a little kick start.

place in a warm spot (like your oven on very, very low) covered with a clean tea towel until the dough roughly doubles in size. about an hour or so.

preheat oven to 375 degrees

when you have a beautiful mound of dough give it a good punch and let all the air escape. this is really fun, by the way. turn out onto a floured surface and roll out until it is about 1/4 inch thick. use donut cutter or make-do cutter (see "you will need these" list above) cut the large circles then place them onto a parchment lined baking sheet. then proceed to cut out the smaller holes. attempting to do this in one step will make moving them a real pain and will probably deform the beautiful circles.

again, cover the dough with clean tea towels and set to rise about 45 minutes. i like to put my baking sheets on top of my oven while it pre-heats.

when dough is nice and puffy again start baking away. bake them while you are standing right next to the oven. they should cook for about 8-10 mintues. No longer!!

let them cool for a few seconds them dip the tops in the melted butter, then into the cinnamon/sugar mixture. eat right away. share with friends. make some coffee and eat more.

Monday, 1 October 2007

chocolate covered almond cookies

These cookies were created on a sleepy Sunday morning; part dream, part reality. By the time my kitchen was filled with the smell of yummy goodness, I was awake and completely excited by what I had created. It was a very domestic feeling. Domestic because of the use of almonds in the cookies. Now, don't freak out on me and resolve to never make this recipe just because it means making your own almond milk and meal. Making your own nut milk is perhaps one of the most rewarding domestic tricks out there. It sounds weird/hard but is completely easy and satisfying...on many levels. There is no subsitute for homemade nut milk- none! And you don't need fancy tools to do it either. See recipe and instruction below.

The almond flavor is really captured in this recipe due to all the true to almond elements. It's not extrememly sweet and gives a nice crunch- leaving bits of almond in your teeth, just like biting into a chocolate covered almond! It reminds me of those chocolate oatmeal drop cookies of my childhood- the kind my dad used to make by heating the ingredients on the stove, dropping them on the cookie sheet and waiting (very impatientely) for the cookies to harden. Most of the time we ended up burning our fingers and/or eating liquidy cookies because they were irresistable. But those cookies involved copious amounts of butter, sugar, milk chocolate and hydrogenated peanut butter. Good for carelfree children, not good for health minded adults. But since these non-vegan/non-healthy/artery clogging flavors developed my palete, I cannot stand to eat a mediocre, tough, tasteless, rock hard cookie just because it's "healthy". I would rather eat butter than that crap. Since I really don't want either the "crap" or the "butter", I must slave away in my tiny kitchen developing flavors reminiscent of my childhood that also meet my high standard of what a vegan sweet should be. All this said, it is not always my goal to try and copy flavors of those less desirable fattening confections. I like to develop new flavors, one's that are less shocking than tooth throbing sugaryness and an overall oiliness. I like to eat whole foods, using what nature provides to create a more balanced personal universe. Well, whatever your approach is, I bet you would like these cookies. When my personal food critic (aka, boyfriend Tanner) woke up this particular morning, shaggy haired and sleepy eyed, and popped one of these cookies into his mouth- I knew I had made bloggable and keepable cookies when his eyes light up (in a good way). He said many nice things, never taking his eyes of the cooling rack, then said, "It sure didn't make very many".

Tanner is right, this recipes yields a dozen little gems. Not nearly enough for households with at least one raging sweet tooth (that would be two in mine). However, I'm keeping the recipe as is becuase I think for a regular batch of cookies to be enojoyed with friends or at home, this amount is perfect. And remember my little post about the small yield to make yourself feel better when you have eaten all the cookies in one day! And if you don't agree with my minimalist rantings- double it!

homemade almond milk:
1 1/4 C raw and unsalted almonds
4 C filtered water
pinch of salt
*if you want more of a sweet milk, try adding a couple T's of agave nectar, cinnamon for spice, or do it up with some cocoa powder. add these elements when blending.
strainer with a square of cheesecloth
1 quart pitcher

easy, easy....just soak the almonds in a bowl with a lot of filterd water (covering several inches above almonds) for 8 hours

drain and rinse almonds and place in a blender with the 4 C water and salt. add sweeteners at this point. blend for a minute or two.

pour the mixture through the cheesecloth lined strainer putting a pitcher underneath to catch liquid.

that's it. you are ready to use that milk on cereal, in tea, or in chocolate covered almond cookies! the "meal" that is leftover in the cheesecloth needs to be squeezed and either toasted in the oven (200 degress,spared out on a pan, until dried out and crumbly) or in a dehydrator for several hours. store in a glass container in the fridge.

milk will go bad quick. if you are not going to drink it within a couple of days, i recommend freezing it in ice cube trays to be thrown in with smoothies or even made into popsicles.

the meal however will last a while if dried out properly. perhaps try throwing it in with some homemade granola??

for the cookies:

you will need these:
2 medium mixing bowls
wooden spoon
cookie sheet, greased

flour mixture:
1 C almond meal
1 C unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3 T cocoa powder

liquid mixture:
1/2 C unrefined organic sugar
1/4 (scant) C brown sugar
1/4 C canola oil
1/3 C almond milk
1/2 tsp almond extract

pre-heat oven to 350 degrees and grease your cookie sheet

combine together the meal, flour, baking powder, salt and cocoa powder. set aside

blend together both sugars and oil. slowly pour in milk as you are stirring and add the almond extract at the last second

make a well in the dry mixture and pour in the liquid mixing until just combined

dough will be stiff. using a spoon or your hands (best method) roll cookies into 1-2 inch in diameter disks. flatten slighly

bake for 10 minutes and 10 minutes only!! cookies will be very soft and you will tempted to bake them longer. trust- they will get firm on the baking sheet, or on the cooling rack and you will be very glad you took them out when you did because the fudgy texture is absolute perfection.

*this would be very ambitious for you, no? some of you probably won't even read this far, giving up at the almond milk part of the blog. if you are not convinced to make nut milk and meal, i guess (sigh) you could lightly blend up some cooking oats in place of the almond meal. however, that would make them oatmeal cookies instead of almond cookies....this is my desperate attempt to make the recipe usable for all.

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