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But, Saint Patrick’s Day was last week!

24 Mar

I was very set on creating a Saint Patrick’s Day food post and publishing it a week prior to Saint Patrick’s Day so that people could actually follow my recipe this year, but unforeseen car trouble and car shopping took my attention away quite quickly.  I almost scrapped the idea entirely, but then realized, I could post now and just be totally ready for next year!!

Having lived in several regions of New Jersey, I consider myself fairly acquainted with various Jersey-isms and can attest to the fact that within our small state we have many differences in food, language, and even (or especially!) driving etiquette.

To quickly address the latter two differences, I can say there are at least four to five distinct accents in New Jersey and that the most whiny, annoying, and stereotypical one is actually limited to a very small area of the state.  As for our roadways, I recently read that we rank as the number one worst state for road conditions, with 47% of our major roadways in need of repair.  Yet a few years ago I also remember reading something along the lines of us spending an average $48,000 per year per linear mile of road statewide while Wyoming only spends $2,000.  And if you drive in Jersey there is always construction, so the roads don’t look like they do for lack of trying.  But with such a densely populated state and winters becoming increasing worse, our roads just can’t keep up with the wear and tear.  With that said, driving in the northeastern and central regions of New Jersey can be traumatic for the uninitiated with our jughandles for making left turns from the right side, crazy network of several intersecting major interstates, and gridlocked traffic.  On the other hand, there’s South Jersey, with it’s occasional traffic due to large tractors and not one jughandle — or even citizens who know what a jughandle is…

But I digress.  Food is my focus, of course, and what I wanted to introduce to both Jersey and non-Jersey readers is a sweet Saint Patrick’s Day treat called Irish Potatoes.  But here’s the catch — they aren’t actually potatoes.  Essentially, they are small candies that appear brown on the outside and white on the inside, not unlike potatoes.

I had never seen them until living in South Jersey, and apparently, that’s because they are originally from Philadelphia (not Ireland!) and just spread to the surrounding area.  In fact, it seems to be an obvious rule of thumb that in the northern half of New Jersey is influenced by New York cuisine (bagel shops every where, “subs,” black & white cookies in most bakeries, and New York-style Pretzels) and the southern half is influenced by Philadelphia cuisine (cheesesteaks, “hoagies,” and Philadelphia-style pretzels).  In fact, my local Acme supermarket featured Irish potatoes this past month, while the one by my mother’s house did not.  Unfortunately, the ones at Acme included dairy ingredients as well as corn syrup and something else unpronounceable.  So in all honesty, I never had an Irish potato until three years ago when a colleague brought a homemade vegan batch to work.

The following recipe is the one I used this year, based loosely on what my old co-worker told me as well as a modified non-vegan recipe I found on the Internet.

Ingredients:

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) Earth Balance, softened

6 ounces Tofutti cream cheese, softened

2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract

6 cups organic or vegan confectioners’ sugar

2 cups finely shredded coconut

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon cocoa

Preparation :

First, I use the whisk attachment of my mixer to cream together the Earth Balance and Tofutti cream cheese. Then, I added the vanilla and almond extracts.

Gradually (to avoid a white cloud of dust covering my kitchen), I added the confectioner’s sugar about ½ cup at a time, scraping down the sides when needed, and continued beating it until the mixture started to harden and form lumps.  Initially, it appeared creamy, and eventually stiffened around the whisk. 

A lot of people I know don’t like coconut, or more specifically — it’s texture — so I ran mine through the food processor in small batches first, then gradually added it to the mixture.  Some people still picked up on it, so next year I may try coconut flour to avoid that texture problem.

To keep the sizes of my potatoes equal, I used a small cookie scoop to measure before rolling the chunks of the mixture between my hands to form small balls about the size of walnuts.  This roundness made the next step easier.   

Next, I made the mix equal parts cocoa and cinnamon into a small bowl, and rolled each lump around until it was completely coated.

Finally, I took this perfectly round ball and started to sculpt with my fingers to make dents in bumps in my “potato.”  They are edible immediately, since they require no baking, but it is better to refrigerate them for at least an hour to harden them.  This year, my batch yielded 61 potatoes I shared with family and friends.

So there you have it.  Irish potatoes, without the actual potatoes.  Well, but there’s always next year — I intend to try incorporating real potatoes as others have.  Here is the recipe I’ll be trying next year.

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Vegan Thanksgiving Potluck

14 Nov

Thanksgiving… rich and decadent foods, full tummies, great laughs, and good company.  For most vegans, however, we may not get to indulge in all the foods when with our families.  Thus, our local vegetarian/vegan group had a 100% vegan meal with traditional foods.  We were a total of 10 people and all brought different foods, which we planned earlier this week.

My contribution:  a Tofurky roast with potatoes, carrots, onions, and fennel with a basting of soy sauce, agave nectar, maple syrup, walnut and sesame oil, as well as rosemary, sage, cumin, salt and pepper.

“Three sisters” salad:  corn, lima beans, and zucchini with tomatoes, dill, cilantro, salt, pepper, olive oil, apple cider and red wine vinegars.

Roasted red pepper hummus and chips.

Butternut Squash soup.

Pasta salad with broccoli, olives, beans, corn, and tomatoes.

Creamy mashed sweet potatoes

Cranberry relish with crystallized ginger and orange zest.

Stuffing with three different mushrooms.

Homemade vegan gravy

Vegan cheesecake with apples and pecans.

My plated butternut squash soup.

The beautiful and satisfying entree!

Desserts!  Cheesecake, chocolate cake, and sweet potato pie.

Three Minute Vegan Ice Cream

10 Nov

At a Veg Meetup a few weeks ago, I described my vegan ice cream recipe that I’ve been making for a few years.  To some, it seemed to involve a lot of work, but to me it only takes about five minutes, or three minutes if I rush.  The trick is to always have the ingredients on hand, of course, and multi-task the preparation and clean up.  Today, I actually set my stopwatch and finished the whole job (with pictures) in 2 minutes, 58.2 seconds!

Very often, I have an insatiable desire for chocolate, and sometimes it’s in the form of ice cream.  In the summer, it’s every day!

Vegan Ice Cream does exist and is available for sale in both health food stores and regular grocery stores like Shoprite — however, it still has fat and sugar comparable to cow’s ice cream.  As much as I love Coconut Bliss, So Delicious, and Purely Decadent chocolate ice creams, I can’t afford to eat the calories (or pay the price) every day.

But a banana, ice cubes, almond milk, and hemp powder can be a surprisingly rich stand-in for these higher-calorie ice creams, and very easy to make.  As I mentioned in my smoothie post, I always keep frozen overripe bananas on hand.  I usually buy them at Acme, where they sell them for $0.25 / lb. in paper bags.  Before they get mushy, but after they are very yellow and have quite a few black spots on them, I peel them and freeze them in a plastic ziplock bag.  Provided I have these bananas, some cocoa powder, and almond milk on hand, I’m set!  You don’t need the hemp powder, but I have been adding it ever since I discovered that I’d much rather have chocolate ice cream after a workout than a protein shake.  Thus, I put my hemp powder in the ice cream, with the added bonus that it does add a subtle nutty flavor and some body to the ice cream.  Now I add it all the time, even when I haven’t worked out.  All in all, the result is a delicious ice cream eating experience that really amounts to no more calories or regret than having eaten a banana!

Following a recipe based loosely on Alissa Cohen’s Living on Live Food and in observing banana whips in progress at Bashful Banana (Great veg-friendly food!) in Ocean City, New Jersey, I devised a strategy using the tools and resources I have.  Bear in mind, as pictured, my food processor has a hole on the top of the lid with a removable cup.  Once the machine is running, I safely add most of my ingredients through there to avoid wasting time, but you might want to stop yours in between ingredients (today I had to stop it in order to take pictures).  I also suggest washing some of the tools while the food processor works, but for the first time, you may want to keep your eyes on it instead.

1. Set up and plug in food processor.

2. Put 3-4 ice cubes in the processor and start running it.

3. While the ice is chopped up, grab a knife, cutting board, and a banana from the freezer.  Cut it into round slices about 3/4-inch thick.

4. Add these slices to the food processor (I actually throw them in through the hole on top and keep the machine running).

5. While these get chopped up, wash off your knife and cutting board, and grab the almond milk, hemp protein (if using), and cocoa powder from the fridge.

6. Pour in about 3 tablespoons of the almond milk (eyeball it) through the hole on the top.

7. Add about 2 tablespoons each of cocoa powder and hemp protein.

8. Put the hemp protein, cocoa powder, and almond milk in the fridge while the food processor is running.

9. When the mixture is thick and smooth but not liquified, stop the food processor.  Immediately wash the food processor lid.

10. Remove the food processor bowl and careful take out the blade.  You can use a small rubber spatula to push off the ice cream.  Immediately wash this blade too.

11. Don’t waste time or dirty any more dishes!  Take that same small spatula and eat your ice cream right out of the food processor bowl!

12.  When finished, wash the bowl immediately to avoid sticking.

Mmmmmm!!!  Tastes great, and if you multi-tasked, you really don’t have dishes to wash or stuff to put away.  Five minutes later, it looks like nothing happened in your kitchen — nope, no sneaky snacks at all!

However, the only catch is that you really do need to eat it on the spot before it melts, and it won’t keep the same texture if you freeze it.  Thus, for real vegan banana ice cream, you’d have to use an ice cream maker and more ingredients.

Here are some suggested add-ins I’ve used in the past (add to the finished ice cream and pulse the blade a few times to incorporate it):

1.  Almond or peanut butter (be sure it is room temperature).

2. Ghiradelli semi-sweet chocolate chips.

3. Vegan Graham Crackers, Sweet and Sara Marshmallows, and chocolate chips (My response to the Phillies Graham Slam flavor put out by Turkey Hill).

4. Coarsely chopped Oreos (I usually get Newman-O’s).

5. Peanuts or almonds.

6. A teaspoon of agave nectar and a drop of vanilla extract (especially if your bananas weren’t that ripe and sweet).

7. Chunks of brownie or cookie dough if I happen to be making some.

8. Carob powder instead of cocoa powder.

Substituions, if needed:

1. Frozen chunks of mango also work as well as bananas, but I wouldn’t put cocoa powder in it.

2. Almond milk is my favorite for this recipe, but really any non-dairy milk will do.

3.  You could always skip the cocoa if you don’t like chocolate.

****If I get a Flip video camera for Christmas, I promise I’ll repost in the future with a video to prove how fast this recipe can be made!  In the  mean time, enjoy!

World Vegan Day and the Scoop on Scoops

1 Nov

My first official blog post!  I chose to start today in honor of World Vegan Day as well as the first official day of VeganMoFo (Vegan Month of Food).  What better way to kick off my blog writing, than with a month-long challenge to write about food and cooking every day?  Perfect!

The Scoop on Scoops

Since all good activism is enhanced with food, I baked chocolate chip cookies (from Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s The Joy of Vegan Baking)  to share at my friend Christine’s presentation tonight at the Millville Public Library.  Christine’s discussion was called “Compassion – Why Love Some Animals and Eat Others?” which she presented to a group that raises money and awareness for low-cost spaying/neutering of dogs and cats.

In preparing the cookies, I realized I only had enough organic sugar to make one batch.  Having no idea how many people would attend the presentation, I was hoping for at least four dozen cookies.  And so I thought to make my cookies smaller…

In making the cookies smaller, some questions came up.  Would the temperature and timing of the baking be the same? Would there be enough chips in each cookie or would there be a few lacking chips?  Would they be chewy or crunchy?

When making cookies, I love using scoops rather than spoons so that each of my  cookies are the same size, and I need not get my fingers messy while scooping them on cookie sheets.  Cookie scoops, along with parchment paper, are my two favorite tools for making fast, easy cookies.

My three cookie scoops

I have three scoops, as pictured.  The smallest is a Pamper Chef (bout 3/4 Tbsp.), the medium is a Chefmate (about 1 Tbsp.), and the largest has no distinguishable brand name (about 2 Tbsp.)   Have a scoop, but not sure it’s size?  Click here for instructions.  Some companies label them by inches, millimeters, ounces, or even just “small, medium, large.”  But if you have different brands, as I do, it may be good to get uniform measurements so you know to what to expect.

Out of these three, the Pampered Chef is the best one.  The metal is thicker, the mechanism is stronger and smoother in its motion, thus delivering a quick, well-formed cookie dough ball usually in one squeeze.  Unfortunately, the other two are not as great in quality and have actually fallen off track several times, requiring a pause in my baking, a dash to the tool closet, and the use of pliers to set them back.  I know that I might be squeezing too hard or too repetitively, and I have tried dipping the scoop in water between cookies to prevent sticking.  However, with a tool that is meant to speed up my baking, I expect to scoop, squeeze, drop, and move on, which is why the Pampered Chef Scoop is my favorite.  Oxo and Martha Stewart apparently also make cookie scoops that have received good reviews, but I have never tried them.

Three scoops; three cookies

I managed to stretch the limited amount of cookie batter to three cookie sheets — one with each scoop.  The pictures show the sizes of my cookies.  The largest scoop yielded a 3″ inch diameter cookie that was definitely the chewiest and tastiest, enjoyed in about three or four bites.  It require about 1 minute, 30 seconds more of baking time.  I followed the standard recipe time for the medium scoop tray, which produced a 2.5″ diameter cookie that was still chewy and tasty, eaten in about two bites.  For the last cookie tray bearing the small scoop dough, I subtracted 1 minute of time as I could see they were getting brown faster.  Interestingly enough, many of these cookies measured 2.25″ diameter, almost the same width as the medium cookies, but were much flatter, crispier around the edges, and not as chewy.  They could be eaten in one or two bites.

Yummy, no matter what size...

In conclusion, the best cookies were both the larger and medium scoop cookies.  The smallest scoop probably would require modification to the recipe since they had spread so fast on the parchment, thus resulting in a different texture.  In the future, I might just make the largest cookies and cut them into quarters for bite-sized portions at potlucks or community events, or leave them intact for gifts.

In the end, the cookies were a success at the presentation, receiving many compliments including the always-surprised, “These are vegan??” and “You mean there’s no butter or eggs in these?”  All in all, a great way to open up people’s hearts and ears to a message of compassion, with a little help from their taste buds.