Saturday, March 29, 2008

Butternut Bounty Contest - the Round-Up

Let me start by apologizing for making you wait for so long for this round-up. Since you are probably not interested in hearing all my excuses about stress and work and so on let's get straight down to the purpose of this post:

When I first asked people for their favorite way to prepare butternut squash the majority advised me to just roast it. Apparently the simple things in live are sometimes the best! But then I did get some real recipes and therefore I am excited to present to you a proper round-up of this very first Bounty Contest:

"Butternut Squash. Who doesn't love this veg? It is dynamite in flavour and its versatility is much appreciated by this little vegan", writes VeganCowGirl and submitted two recipes that make me drool when I read them:

Sweet Squash Puff Packets: squash, apples, and sweet potatoes wrapped in puff pastry and baked until golden and flakey. I must admit that I find the combination of squash with apples intriguing and puff pastry is absolutely irressistible anyways. VeganCowGirl writes she had never worked with puff pastry before, so it was an exercise in discovery-cooking. Judging from the photos it was a successful experiment!

Next up are her Squash Sushi. Sushi, well, of course. Vinegared rice, tasty crunchy nori and tender squash - that must be one divine combo. I love sushi and was glad to discover that vegans can still enjoy it, with veggies. I had never thought of making it with butternut so this is a great idea.

Jennifer of Veg*n Cooking and other Random Musings sent me an email with her favorite ways to prepare butternut: "I tend to go a different way with things than most people. My favorite way to have butternut squash is in Mexican food." She submitted a recipe for "Spicy anasazi bean and quinoa stuffed roasted acorn squash". Quinoa is one of my recent favorite discoveries and the spices she uses do sound enticing.

The second recipe she suggested was "Vegan veggie enchiladas". Another great idea, and so simple when I think about it. Enchiladas rock! I must try them with butternut squash. Do contact Jennifer and request the recipes - they sound amazingly delicious!

And lastely Stonie of Dr. Stonielove's Bewildered Beast provided proof that, yes, it is possible to make squash gnocchi that do not fall apart when cooking. She submitted a mouthwatering recipe for Butternut squash gnocchi - with chili pepper for extra pizzazz - and an even more mouthwatering photo. Man, Stonie, you are a genius - photo and cooking-wise.

So, a total of five recipes that make me want to start cooking right away. Five recipes, each different and creative, each sounds delicious. I should not have labelled this a contest because now I have to single one out and proclaim it the winner. Believe me, this is hard and all of you are my winners.

So (drum-roll) after some deliberation with the co-host (my husband) we decided that the crown in this Bounty Contest goes to (more drum-roll) VeganCowGirl for the Sweet Squash Puff Packets. I had promised you a surprise prize but I didn't specify one before since I wanted to tailor it a bit to the winner. Since Vegan Cow Girl lives practically around the corner (Belgium) I decided that my favorite vegan fair-trade, 70%-cocoa chocolate is going to survive the trip across the border. Congratulations to VeganCowGirl and thank you to all of you for participating and making the bounty on our table even more delicious thanks to your great recipes.

Edit: O blush, o shame... There was another entry I just discovered, in the comments section of the original post. Vinelady of Cooking Aboard submitted this amazing, mouthwatering Thai Squash Soup, a soup she cooked aboard a sailboat! A beautiful dish with my favorite Thai flavors: coconut milk, curry paste, and lemon grass. I love Thai food so this competition might have taken a totally different direction had I not missed this great entry. Go and check out this great soup. I deeply apologize to Vinelady for not including her. I feel so bad I'm giving out another prize which Vinelady totally deserves: more of my favorite vegan, organic, fair-trade, 70%-cocoa chocolate. Congrats!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Rhubarb Fool

As promised, I'll let you in on the secret of yesterday's dessert. When I came across some forced rhubarb the other day I started craving rhubarb fool. Hmmm, the thought of tangy rhubarb with Soyatoo and something crunchy...

3/4 pounds forced rhubarb
4 tblsp brown sugar

Wash the rhubarb and slice it. Cover with water, add the sugar and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and cook until tender (approx. 10 minutes). Do not stir. Easy as pie :-) Serves four.

Serve in a nice glass topped with loads and loads of Soyatoo. To turn it into a real rhubarb fool, gently fold the rhubarb pieces into the Soyatoo, but then you need to serve it ASAP, because the Soyatoo melts fast.

So I had rhubarb, Soyatoo, but still needed something crunchy. And sure enough, Susan had a recipe for spicy crunchy biscotti. I went for the gluten-containing version of her recipe, and it turned out delicious. The biscotti's spiciness perfectly complemented the tanginess of the rhubarb and the creaminess of the Soyatoo. My father in law requested seconds and thirds - of the biscotti.

Unfortunately, the Soyatoo melted so fast in the heat of the lamp it was all melted before I got a chance to photograph it with some biscotti on the side. So, if you are still looking for a dessert for Easter Sunday consider this, it was the star of our meal.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Butternut Bounty Contest

This is just a reminder that I'm curious about your favorite way to prepare butternut. Post a fingerlickin' mouthwatering good recipe on your blog (or use one you've posted before), link here, and send me the link to aprilday AT web DOT de. Or just send me an email, as some have done already. Remember, there will be a small surprise present for the recipe me and my husband like best :-)

We've had my hubby's parents over for an early Easter get-together, and yes, I cooked, but with three hungry people waiting I didn't have time to take pictures of the food we had. I managed to get a shot of the dessert, though, so stay tuned.

So, happy Easter and happy cooking :-)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Yes, we can!

Yes, vegans can indulge. Sure, most of the time most of us try to keep it as healthy as possible. But whenever we want to, we can eat cookies, and ice cream, and chocolate, and even the worst, greasiest, most artificial fast-food at times. Here is proof of our latest indulgence: french fries and faux gyro with ketchup. Since I got last-minute pangs of conscience I made some green peas and edamame to go with it. (Please excuse the blurry, weird photo - I was ravenous).

Apparently vegans can never stop thinking about how to make their food a little more healthy. So, this meal included beans. And, thinking of it, those were organic fries with nothing added when I bought them, not even salt. At least there is nothing I can say in defence of the faux gyro. Except for that it tasted great, actually the texture and taste were so "real" it was creepy.

I once made a fries + burger dinner for my parents: french fries and a soyburger - pan-fried tofu glazed with soy sauce and put on a bun with everything you could wish for on a hamburger. They were speechless. They never thought vegan food could be this good/evil/tasty/fast-food-like. But as I was saying: Yes, we can!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Swiss Chard in Spicy Peanut Butter Sauce

No, this dish is not the prettiest of all. It's not all neat and shiny, no, it's smothered all over, smothered in peanut butter sauce. But don't let appearances fool you. Hmmm, the goodness of tender Swiss chard enveloped in the peanuts' creaminess, here and there a nutty, crunchy splinter, and then a hint of chili heat... Together with your favorite pasta this is comfort food in its purest form.

Try it and you will love it :-)

Swiss Chard in Spicy Peanut Butter Sauce
serves two

1 thumbsize piece ginger, peeled & minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups Swiss chard, sliced
2 cups very light vegetable broth
3-4 tblsp crunchy peanut butter (get one without hydrogenated oils)
a generous dash cumin
a dash cayenne pepper (or as much as you like)
1 tblsp balsamic vinegar
2 tblsp shoyu

+ your favorite pasta for two, cooked al dente

Heat a large skillet. Lightly spray it with olive oil, and add the garlic and the ginger, cover with a lid. Cook for a minute, make sure it doesn't burn.

Add the Swiss chard, together with the rest of the ingredients and cook until the chard is as tender as you like it - I like mine with A LOT of crunch left.

Add over your favorite steaming hot pasta and dig in :-)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Very First Bounty Contest

Ladies and Gentlemen, the time has come for the very first bounty contest. I'm looking for your favorite butternut squash recipe. And this is how it all began:

Growing up I do not remember pumpkins being sold in supermarkets. There were people who grew them in their backyards, but I only knew them as sweet&sour pumpkin pickles and I must say I did not crave them ever.

When I lived in Japan I got introduced to kabocha, and a gentle love affair started to unfold. Once back in Germany, I noticed that pumpkins were making their appearance on farmers markets. I started trying halloween pumpkin (uh, not my favorite) and acorn squash (wow, can't believe I missed that for the first 30 years of my live). And then last week I got a beautiful butternut squash. And now I'm at a loss as to what to do with this beauty.

I've tried a couple of pumpkin recipes so far. Some were a big hit with me and my hubby. And some... I've tried making pumpkin gnocchi with acorn, and failed miserably. Failed with flour, with potatoes, and with semolina. Acorn probably contains too much water. But roasted acorn - hmmmm. I wouldn't want to live without it. All in all more successes than failures and in the process I've turned into a pumpkin lover.

Now with this new baby I thought it is time for some inspiration. I've never had or cooked butternut squash so I need some help here. So send me your favorite pumpkin recipes, old or new, that have appeared on your blogs or that you post for this occasion. It does not need to be a butternut recipe, any type of pumpkin is fine as long as it will work with butternut, too. The recipe me and my hubby like best will be the winner, and there will be a little surprise prize :-).

Send me your recipes by Easter Sunday, March 23 midnight your time, to aprilday AT web DOT de, with Re: butternut (so I can tell your mails from spam). Now it's your turn, I'm looking forward to your creativity ;-)

PS: Yes I am aware of the fact that the season when everybody is crazy about pumpkins is over already. But doing unseasonal things sometimes is much more fun. So, fill me in on your butternut secrets already :-)

Edit: I'm afraid my directions were a tad bit confusing, so here a clarification: The recipes you submit do not need to be new, however, they need to be posted on your blog, so I have somewhere to link to (Still thanks, chocovegan. The simplest things are sometimes the best :-)).

Additionally, in case of something you've featured before it would be great if you could just briefly repost your recipe and link to this post, if that doesn't mean too much trouble, just to give it the look and feel of a contest :-)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

E for Excellent and Nice Matters Awards

Recently I've been awarded the "Nice Matters Award" by Vaishali of Holy Cow! and the "E for Excellent" by Veggie of So what do vegetarians eat anyway?. Girls, I am speechless! I feel so honored because I only started blogging a little over two months ago and it feels good to be recognized in the blogging world already. Thank you girls, you made my day :-). And now it's my turn:

Amanda of Walking the Vegan Line definitely deserves a Nice Matters Award for her numerous nice activities to spread the message of veganism in Texas, "the land of barbeques and rodeo". Not the easiest place, it seems.

Second, I admire Chocolatecoveredvegan for giving up time to volunteer in an animal shelter to walk dogs. There's a well-deserved Nice Matters Award.

Third up is Vegan Dad who does a wonderful job of making a nutritious, healthy, and yummy vegan dinner every single night for his boys. Now, what is nicer than really taking a lot of time to make sure your kids grow up on a healthy diet when fast food is so easily available and socially accepted. Amazing job, vegan dad!

The E for Excellent is a little bit harder. I'm still relatively new to blogging and most of the blogs I know have received the E already. However, one of my favorite blogs which happens to be a non-food blog (albeit with a vegan sister blog), is What do I know. The author introduces herself as "an American living in Britain, a beautiful island in the North Atlantic. I often write about my adventures on the island, which is populated by friendly, dog-loving natives." I love her blog for its witty, pointed writing and good measure of irony so it's a clear E for KathyF.

The blog I probably adore most is Lucullian Delights. However, this blog is of a quality that I hardly dare award it anything cause that makes me feel like an ugly duckling assessing the beauty of a swan. Lucullian Delights features excellent, creative recipes, most of them veggie-based, and stunning, stunning photos. The most excellent blog I know!

So, congrats to all who recently have received one or the other award through me or somebody else. All your blogs are excellent and all of you inspire me so much with your cooking styles and your photos. And lastly, thank you again to Vaishali and Veggie who considered me for the awards.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Five a day

One of my resolutions for this year had been to eat more veggies. It is so easy to start living on bread, pasta with cream sauces, sandwiches... Especially during the week when I have two of my three meals away from home and have to make do with what I can find, and that's usually bread, rice, bland lettuce and bananas.

So at least for the weekends I want to make veggies a priority and boy, me and my husband seem to do a great job. When I came home from grocery shopping Friday evening my husband asked me if we were expecting guests. I had bought a ton of fruits and veggies. But only 48 hours later, we had managed to chow down on all of the following:

1 pound green beans
1 pound potatoes
1 pound bell peppers
1 pound savoy cabbage
1 pound lambs lettuce
1 pound spinach
1/2 pound zucchini
1/2 pound brown portobellos
1/2 pound cherry tomatoes
1 eggplant
1/2 cauliflower
1 avocado
1 beautiful nameless lettuce

1 pound oranges
2 pounds strawberries
1 pound apples

That's 8 pounds of veggies and 4 pounds of fruits, or 2 pounds of veggies and 1 pound of fruits per person per day. Maybe there are raw-foodists who easily top this but for us this is a lot. Hehe, I guess this weekend we came close to changing the interpretation of the slogan "five a day".

We turned this into: roasted veggies, savoy cabbage with quinoa, braised eggplant, spaghetti with creamy spinach sauce, and vegan pizza topped with a lot of veggies.

More veggies and fruits? Mission accomplished, at least for the past weekend.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Oatmeal with almonds and raspberries

Oatmeal is another food I didn't grow up with. I first got to know it when I went to high school in the US, sadly only out of a box with way too much sugar and artifial flavors that overpowered any other aroma. Yikes. Then during my time at university I spend some time in Scotland, the motherland of all oatmeals and porages. At least this is what they say there. It makes sense, though. The Scottish climate is kind of harsh, too cold for wheat and rye, and potatoes have been around in Europe only for the past 200 years or so. People had to eat something before then and in Scotland this happened to be oats and kale.

In Scotland I also learned the "proper" Scottish way of preparing porage, as they call oatmeal there: steelcut oats cooked in water with a pinch of salt, and served with a little cream or sour milk. I thought this must be gross, but then a Scot made it for me and I actually liked it. He told me that "in the old days" Scots would cook a huge pot of oatmeal in the morning, let it cool, cut it into chunks and take it with them for lunch.

Since going vegan, this is the way I usually make my oatmeal now (minus the cream, of course). But sometimes, I have this craving for a rich, creamy oatmeal, sweet and satisfying. And then I get out my soymilk and my quick cooking oats. This morning I also added almonds for added nutrients and frozen raspberries for fruitiness. I cooked the almonds with the oats to soften them a bit and added the frozen raspberries to the hot porage just before serving. The heat thawed them in no time and this way they didn't discolor the whole dish, even though pink oatmeal would probably have been pretty as well.

Lastly, I didn't add any sugar. I'm trying to avoid sugar as much as I'm trying to avoid fat - mostly but not religiously. I used "Alpro plus Calcium", it already contains as much raw cane sugar as cows milk contains lactose - sweet enough for me.

And this beautiful bowl? My husband gave it to me for my birthday last year. It is handpainted Meissen china, and to the right of the cherrie blossoms (how very Japanese) you can see the painters interpretation of my name in Japanese kana characters. See, best husband in the world :-)

1 cup soymilk
5 tblsp quick cooking oats
a few almonds
1 handful of fozen raspberries

Bring the soymilk together with the almonds to a boil. Stir in the oats, lower the heat and simmer until the oats are tender. Stir frequently. Add the frozen raspberries just before serving.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Cranberry-blood orange jelly

I love February. Not because of the weather - definitely not. But February is blood orange season. In Germany, all oranges must be imported (pre-climate change climate provided... this winter would totally have been warm enough for orange trees to prosper), and more often than not their quality doesn't live up to my standards. But come February and all this changes. Blood oranges are always juicy, aromatic, tangy, and fragrant. I devour them by the pound.

Then the other day I found a leftover bag of cranberries in my freezer, and an idea started to form in my head. I'm the biggest fan of bitter orange marmelade, something you can only homemake with proper bitter Seville oranges - not marketed here. But how about a blood orange-cranberry jelly? Yes, gotta try that.

The verdict? Itsh hard to shpeak wish my moush full of bagel wish jelly... O my goodnesh, thish ish gooooooooood :-)

I used the frozen cranberries and juiced what seemed like 6 pounds of blood oranges. I brought the cranberries together with the orange juice to a boil, let it gently simmer for a while, covered with a lid to avoid boiling it down. I then strained it, pressing the pomace to squeeze out as much liquid as possible, and then measured 1 liter (4 cups) of liquid. I let it cool (important), then mixed this with 25 g of pectin, brought it to a boil again, stirring very frequently, added 300g sugar (1 cup), brought it back to a rolling boil and let it boil for approx. 3 min, stirring constantly.

so totals of:
cranberry juice + blood orange juice + juice of 1/2 lime, together a total of 1 liter (4 cups)
300g sugar (1 cup)
15g pectin (1/2 ounce) (use according to instructions on package!)
I'm giving the totals in metric values since they are a bit more precise.

I filled the hot hot hot jelly into scalded glasses with a twist-off lid. It is important to work quickly here, the jelly must be filled while it is still piping hot. Caution: the glasses get VERY hot. Use a clean towel to handle them, do not touch the rims with the towl. Since the glasses are too hot to hold while filling them, I always place them on a deep plate and then hold the plate.

I closed the lid tightly, and placed the glasses upside down. The remaining air in the glasses contracts as the jelly cools and produces a vacuum, thus tightly sealing the glasses. If I did it again I'd probably use less sugar, though, since the oranges were pretty sweet already. However, since the sugar acts as preserving agent I didn't want to cut it back too much. Still, if you use this ratio, your jam will still only have an added sugar content of 23% and a fruit content of 77%. Compare this to shop-bought jelly.

The key is to work as sterile as possible. Do not lick the spoon you are stirring with, do not touch the inside of the glasses or lids after scalding, do not wipe the glass rims with a cloth you used before for washing dishes or the like. Take a new cloth! Try to keep things surgically clean and the preserve will keep forever in a cool pantry - provided you don't eat it first. I've been making jams and jellies all my live and I've never had a batch go bad.

Homemade jelly is much much softer than store-bought brands (use mor pectin for firmer results). It is also much much yummier. Also, it usually is much much fruitier as well, preserving this typical pizzaz and tanginess missing in most store-bought brands. Plus, on one Sunday afternoon you can make a year's supply of jelly and jam of the fruit that's in season. So start peeling already :-)

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Easy Marble Loaf Cake

I have always wanted a silicone baking pan but was always too price conscious to actually buy one. Then the other day my husband surprised me with the cutest little silicone mini bundt pan and loaf tin. Hehe, he was probably just speculating on his favorite cake, marble loaf cake.

I count myself lucky that the cake he likes best is seemingly such an easy thing. But then, after going vegan it took me forever to find a recipe that always worked. After some fiddeling and tweaking, this is the one I'm always using now with only a handful of ingredients, and it's never failed me.

Easy Marble Loaf Cake

2 cups cake flour (300g)
1/2 cup sugar (150g)
1 heaping tblsp baking powder (20g)
pinch of salt

1/2 cup vegan margerine, melted and cooled (150g)
1 1/3 cup soymilk (300ml)

2 tblsp Dutch-proces cocoa
4 tblsp. soy milk

Combine the dry ingredients. Mix in the soy milk and melted, cooled margerine, and briefly mix till combined. Spoon half of the batter into a well greased loaf pan or ungreased silicone loaf pan.

Mix the cocoa into the remaining batter and add approx. 4 tblsp. soymilk to achieve the same consistency the white batter has. Add over the white batter. Now take a fork and lightly swirl it through the batters to create a marble pattern.

Bake in a loaf pan for 60 minutes at 350°F. For my silicone mini-pan, I halved the recipe, and baked it for 40 minutes. Let cool compeltely before slicing it, though. Tough, I know... Feel free to jazz it up with vanilla, cinnamon, or ginger, or throwing in dried fruits, chocolate chips, nuts, granola....

Marble cakes also turn out especially beautiful in bundt pans!

Baking in silicone pans was a novelty for me. For one thing you don't need to grease it. Also the sides of the loaf remained very soft which I really liked. However, I found the silicone increased the baking time considerably, probably due to lower heat conduction. So, in addition to baking time varying with stoves, it also varies according to how big your loaf is, and what form you use. Seriously, what's the point in indicating baking times... I've indicated my normal baking time for a normal metal loaf pan, but be sure to check your cake for doneness by inserting a toothpick in the center of the cake to avoid underbaking or overbaking it.

Standard note on sugar: I realize that there are cultural taste differences. I like my desserts not overly sweet, both for health and taste reasons. Therefore, the amount of sugar I use may not satisfy your palate. Feel free to use more sugar, I've found this does not affect the baking properties / baking time at all.