Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Chocolate Eggnog Cake

I've never been an eggnog guy. The name alone is enough to gross me out. Maybe it's all the "g" sounds. What is nog, exactly? Aren't you just drinking french toast batter? How is that okay?

Doug is a big eggnog fan and was initially bummed about having to give it up when we went vegan. It turns out that there are some pretty good vegan eggnogs out there. There are also some strange ones that taste nothing like eggnog. I used a rice milk variety for this cake and it turned out fine. For drinking, it's a different story. He loves the coconut milk eggnnog, which isn't always easy to find. He's been drinking a soy variety that's just so-so. He took a swig of the kind I used in this cake and said it tasted nothing like eggnog at all. I think you'll be fine no matter what kind you use, honestly. There's so much going on in this cake that the type of "nog" won't be noticeable.

This is a big cake, as you can tell from the frosting ingredients. I originally made a single cake (basically half of each recipe), which just didn't seem right. It's a holiday-themed cake and should really look special, right? I say this in the notes below, but want to reinforce it here: don't skimp on the frosting. This makes much more than you'd think, so really pile it on to that first layer. If you worry about running out and skimp on it, you won't be able to go back later and put the excess in the middle. Throw caution to the wind and really frost that first layer!

For the cake:
2 cups vegan eggnog
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups sugar
2/3 cup canola oil
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp rum extract
2 1/2 cups unbleached flour
2/3 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp nutmeg

For the frosting:
2/3 cup Earth Balance buttery stick (11 tablespoons), softened
2/3 cup vegetable shortening (I used Earth Balance for this as well)(11 tablespoons), softened
4-4 1/2 cups powdered sugar
6 tbsp vegan eggnog
1/2 tsp rum extract
3/4 tsp nutmeg

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Prepare two round cake pans by lining the bottoms with cut-out circles of parchment paper and spraying the bottom and sides of the pans.

Make the cake: Combine the eggnog and vanilla and set aside for a couple of minutes. Combine the eggnog mixture, sugar, oil and extracts in the bowl of a mixer. In a separate bowl, sift or whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, salt and nutmeg.

With the mixer running, add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, a bit at a time to give them time to incorporate. Divide the batter evenly in the cake pans and put them in the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.

Set the finished cakes on a wire rack to cool. Try not to accidentally dent the top of the cake like I did.

Make the frosting: Using a mixer, cream the butter and shortening together until they're smooth and well incorporated. Add the powdered sugar a bit at a time (I do a 1/2 cup), allowing time for the mixer to incorporate it. It won't really look like much while you're doing this, but don't panic. Add the eggnog, rum extract and nutmeg and then let the mixer do its thing for 4-5 minutes. It'll start out looking kind of limp and dull, but once it's done, it'll be fluffy and white. Take a taste and see if it needs more nutmeg.

Assemble the cake: Once the cakes are fully cooled, run a butter knife around the edges of the pan and invert it onto a plate. It should come right out, but if it doesn't a gentle, but firm, shake should do the trick. Turn it right side up and frost the first layer.

Be generous with the top of that first layer! I was afraid of running out of frosting and skimped a bit. I ended up having a ton of leftover frosting and middle layer in the cake that was a bit wimpy. Add the top layer and frost it, making sure to fill in gap between the two layers with frosting.

If you're feeling extra fancy, you can slice the rounded top off the bottom layer so the alignment is more professional-looking. I'm not a professional, so I wasn't worried about that. You could also pipe the frosting on and do some cool things with it, or lightly dust the top with nutmeg or colored sugar. The sky's the limit, really.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Mole Chick'n Chili

If you're a chili purist, you might want to look away. My approach to this classic dish would probably be considered apostasy to those who take their chili making seriously. It's not that I don't take it seriously, I do. I just don't have the options that they do. First, no meat (obviously). I usually use the soy beef crumbles in my chili and they're perfect for it. Second, no beans. We're pretty much a bean-free household, so the standard recipe for 3-bean vegetarian chili is not an option. Third, there are all sorts of weird spices and ingredients in it. This happened by accident one time ages ago when I wasn't paying attention and dumped a bunch of cinnamon into the pot instead of cumin. After it cooked a while, I found that I really liked what it did to the chili. After a while, I was adding other things, like chocolate and honey (or, as a vegan, agave nectar). I came to really appreciate the sweeter possibilities of chili.

One final indignity that might cause a chili champion to faint: Until now, I've never written the recipe down. In fact, there really is no recipe. I just wing it and it turns out a little different every time. Maybe there are mushrooms, maybe there aren't. Same thing with bell peppers, ketchup or beer. It just depends on what kind of mood I'm in.

Since I am now writing it down, I'm pulling together some of my best old ideas and some new ones. This is definitely an upgrade from the way I usually do it. I never really use chick'n in my chili, for example. Since this is more of a mole sauce, chick'n is a better fit than the beef crumbles. Gardein's Chicken Scallopini is well-suited for this kind of dish and is pretty easy to find in the freezer section at the store. Once it's browned up and cooked into the chili, it's hard to tell that it's not the real thing.

I can be a wuss when it comes to heat, so feel free to throw in a jalapeno or something with some more kick if this doesn't do it for you. I found it to be plenty hot, but not uncomfortably so.

3 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 large sweet onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 yellow bell pepper, diced
1 poblano pepper, diced
1 medium butternut squash, peeled and diced
2 cans fire-roasted diced tomatoes, with juices
2 tbsp chipotle chili powder
1 1/2 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
1 package of vegan chicken or homemade chicken seitan, and diced
8 ounces dark beer
1 cinnamon stick
3 strips of orange peel (no pith)
1/2 cup dark or semi-sweet vegan chocolate chips (I use Ghiradelli)
guacamole or sliced avocados

In a large pot, heat 2 tbsp of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook them for about 3 minutes. Add the garlic, bell pepper and poblano pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, for another 5 minutes or so. Stir in the chili powder, cumin and oregano and cook for another minute or so, until everything is coated in the spices.

Add the squash and stir it around to get it coated as well. Then add the tomatoes, beer, cinnamon stick and orange peel, along with a teaspoon or so of salt and a few good cracks of pepper. Stir it together and put the lid on. Bring it to a boil, then reduce it to a simmer and cook, covered for about 20-25 minutes, or until the squash is tender.

While that's simmering, heat the remaining 1 tbsp of oil in a skillet and add the diced chick'n pieces. Cook it over medium heat, stirring it around until it's browned on all sides. Remove it from the pan and set it aside.

When the squash is tender, stir in the chickn' and cook it for a few minutes. Stir in the chocolate and add some more salt and pepper to taste. Fish out the orange peels and cinnamon stick before serving (or don't. I bit into an orange peel and it was actually kind of nice).

Garnish with a big dollop of guacamole or some avocado slices. Serve with lime wedges, vegan sour cream, tortilla chips, whatever floats your boat.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Potato and Broccoli Soup with Mock Parmesan

Be advised: I'm going to get a little soup crazy this winter. The weather has now shifted from fall to winter (about 3 weeks early) and it just feels right. I've never been a big soup person, but that seems to be changing for some reason. I started out thinking that this particular soup would be a creamy one, but at the last minute decided against running it through the blender. This was partly because my blender can be a pain to use and partly because chunky veggie soup is kind of underrated. I struggled to get a "pretty" picture of it, but trust me, this is a great soup. It's also easy and has only a handful of ingredients, which is always nice.

The flavor of this soup really depends on caramelizing the onions, so don't rush them or pull them off the heat too early. It's worth the wait.

I used a mock parmesan for this to give it some "oomph" at the end, but also to thicken the broth a bit. This parmesan is really easy to put together and, like real parmesan, goes well on all sorts of dishes. Try it on spaghetti, pizza or anything else you would normally shake a little parmesan over. The look and texture are perfect and the flavor is pretty close as well.


For the soup:
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tbsp Earth Balance, divided
1 large sweet onion, julienned (about 2 cups)
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 cups diced Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled or unpeeled
2 1/2 cups broccoli florets, with little or no stem
3 1/2 cups veggie stock
6 basil leaves, roughly chopped
Sea salt and ground black pepper

For the mock parmesan:
1 cup almond meal
1 tbsp nutritional yeast
1 tbsp white miso paste
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder

To make the parmesan, combine all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse it 3-4 times. Set 1/2 cup aside and keep the rest refrigerated in a sealed container.

To make the soup, combine the olive oil and half the Earth Balance in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, add the onins and season them with a pinch of salt and pepper. Saute the onions until they become caramelized. This will take some time, so resist the temptation to turn the heat up or to move on before they're really ready. It could be 10-15 minutes, depending on how hot the pot gets.

They'll start like this:

You're looking for this:

When they're about done, add the garlic and cook it until fragrant, about a minute.

Add the potatoes and stir them around to coat. Let them brown up for a couple of minutes and then add the brocolli and do the same thing.

Add the stock and bring it all to a boil. Simmer the soup until the brocolli and poatatoes are tender, about 10-12 minutes. Add the parmesan, the rest of the butter and the basil and stir to combine.