I’m in Vegan Tamale Shock!

Let me start with this statement: I love tamales.

(Hopefully that will serve to explain the existence of this long, rambling post.)

As with mole and pan dulce, the first time I can remember having eaten a tamale is August of 2006, in Mérida, Mexico.  In the state of Yucatán, (where the city of Mérida is located) tamales are slightly different than those you find at most Mexican restaurants in the US.  In Yucatán, traditional restaurants and cocina económicas (small restaurants or individuals who cook a different type of food each day of the week) sell a special variety of tamales, called vaporcitos.  Vaporcitos are cooked in banana leaves instead of corn husks, which give them a slightly different flavor.  Throughout my time in Mexico, Saturday was tamale day.  My host mom would go to a nearby cocina económica and bring me home two delicious tamales.  They were so flavorful and moist that I didn’t even add sauce to them, except for a little bit of super-spicy salsa de chile habanero.  (I should add that, during my semester in Mexico, I temporarily took a break from eating vegetarian, which I was at the time, so that my host family wouldn’t need to make me my own special meat-free food.)

Since then, I’ve tried vegetarian tamales at Mexican restaurants.  I never liked them much because they were drowned in sauces and cheese.  I did quite enjoy Trader Joe’s Cheese and Green Chile tamales, before I decided to start eating vegan.  However, these very cheesy tamales tasted nothing like the tamales I remembered from Mérida, which had been filled mostly of some sort of meat and sauce.

So, when I saw recipes for vegan tamales in Terry Hope Romero’s Viva Vegan, I was excited.  Not just a little bit excited, but very excited.  Very, very excited.

It took me a while to work up the cooking-confidence to give it a try, but that time finally came.

Of the several varieties she has recipes for, I chose to make the Red Chile-Seitan Tamales.  These tamales, she said in the book, would fairly closely resemble traditional red chile tamales.  Cooking the tamales actually required four different recipes, all from Viva Vegan.  First I made the Steamed Red Seitan (to act as the meaty filling).  Then I made the Red Chile Sauce.  Next, I prepared the Savory Vegan Masa Dough.  Last, I was ready to follow the directions for the tamales themselves.  It was a multi-day, many-hour process.  But in the end, I can unequivocally say that it was worth it.  These tamales may be the most delicious things I have ever eaten.

This post is going to be image-heavy, because tamales are beautiful.  Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, I’m not sure), I dropped my camera and ended up loosing some pictures.  (And, by dropped I actually mean: walked into the cord attaching it to the wall while the battery was charging and ended up flinging the camera across the room and onto the floor).  The camera still works (it is a hearty little camera – approaching its eight birthday), it’s just that some of the files became corrupted during the camera’s failed attempt at flight.

Okay, onto the tamales.

First, I made the Steamed Red Seitan.  While I had previously made seitan sausages, I had never just steamed a loaf of seitan to use in cooking.  I had bought the water-packed kind at the store a few times.  It was expensive.  I was ready to make my own.

Steamed Red Seitan ingredients

Steamed Red Seitan ingredients.

The ingredients are fairly basic (if you already happen to have vital wheat gluten and garbanzo flour, as I did).

Cubed Steamed Red Seitan

Cubed Steamed Red Seitan.

After you mix it all together, knead it, wrap it in tinfoil, steam it, cool it, and cube it, it looks like any store-bought seitan!

Next, I made the Red Chile Sauce.

Dried ancho and guajillo chiles.

Dried ancho and guajillo chiles.

After removing the stems and deseeding the chiles, they were ready to be cooked together with onions, tomatoes, vegetable broth, and spices.

Red Chile Sauce, cooking.

Red Chile Sauce, cooking.

The next step was to puree the sauce.  Unfortunately, I did not heed the directions on my food processor, and filled the bowl much higher than the fill line.  There was sauce pouring out of every part of the food processor.  It was a pretty impressive mess, and I now know to not put liquids above the fill line on my food processor.

A few days later, I got ready to mix the masa and assemble the dough.  I was a little overwhelmed and basically just threw everything onto the table in a big mess of ingredients.

Tamale-making ingredients.

Tamale-making ingredients.

I have the broth, the vegetable shortening, the Earth Balance, the baking powder, the garlic powder, the salt, and the masa for the dough.  I have the sauce already made in the tupperware containers, and the seiten already made and cubed.  I have the onion and red peppers sliced and ready to saute for the filling.  I also have way too many corn husks.  (I wanted to be prepared!)  And, the most important part – the Viva Vegan cookbook!

Earth Balance and vegetable shortening.

Earth Balance and vegetable shortening.

First, I started by creaming together the Earth Balance and the shortening.  Even though I use non-hydrogenated organic shortening, it still sort of grosses me out.  It’s just so greasy (which makes sense, since it’s oil…)

Creamed Earth Balance and vegetable shortening

Creamed Earth Balance and vegetable shortening.

Then I added the dry ingredients to the creamed fat.

Dry Masa Dough

Dry masa dough.

After the dough reached a “sandy” consistency, I added the vegetable broth and mixed until smooth.

At this point, I had all the components ready.  All I had to do was assemble.  The assembly process was surprisingly easy, though it did take quite a while.  But it was enjoyable mindless work, and pleasant enough.  By the time I ran out of masa, I had 21 gorgeous tamales, wrapped in corn husks and tied shut with little strips of cornhusk.

Tamales, ready to be steamed.

Tamales, ready to be steamed.

After I finished wrapping the first tamale, I was flabbergasted that it actually looked like a tamale! Like, the kind you’d buy from somewhere.  And I had just made it.  From scratch! A real, live, (well, not live since no animals were harmed in the making of these tamales) tamale!

Tower of tamales.

Tower of tamales.

I started snapping photographs left and right.  These tamales have been more photographed than most celebrities.

Then, I lined the steamer basket with extra corn husks, and piled the tamales in.

Tamales: Moments before steaming.

Tamales: Moments before steaming.

My 21 tamales just fit in the steamer.  I think it’s a good thing that I didn’t make 24 like the recipe stated I should – I don’t know that they all would have fit!

The next thing I knew, 65 minutes were up, and the tamales were ready to be removed from the heat.  Then, after another excruciating 15 minutes, they were ready to be eaten.

I took one out of the steamer basket and laid it on a plate.

Tamale, still wrapped in corn husk.

Tamale, still wrapped in corn husk.

It still, surprisingly enough, looked like a tamale.

Wrapped Red-Chile Seitan Tamale.

Wrapped Red-Chile Seitan Tamale.

This tamale had a jaunty side-tied knot.

Wrapped Red-Chile Seitan Tamale, tunnel view.

Wrapped Red-Chile Seitan Tamale, tunnel view.

It’s like playing peek-a-boo with the tamale.  Or else, perhaps the tamale is going to jump out and attack.  I can hear the Jaws theme now… (Only, no shark would eat this tamale, because it’s meat-free!)

After all the dramatics of admiring the husk, I was ready to open it up and find out for certain if it had turned into a tamale.

So, I cautiously opened it, and found inside, a perfectly formed tamale!  I poured on some more red chile sauce.

Perfect Red-Chile Seitan Tamale, angle one.

Perfect Red-Chile Seitan Tamale, angle one.

Amazing.

Perfect Red-Chile Seitan Tamale, angle two.

Perfect Red-Chile Seitan Tamale, angle two.

Fabulous.

So, at this point I knew that it looked like a tamale, and smelled like a tamale, but the biggest question was, did it taste like a tamale.

I will let this g-chat conversation, between me and my sister and occurring moments after I tasted my first tamale, answer that question:

Me: i just took a bite and it is SO GOOD. YUUUMMMMM
Sister: haha. nicee
Me: i want to eat all 21 RIGHT NOW.
Sister: you would not be happy
Me: no…i would not. but still. they taste like TAMALES!
Sister: good
Me: they taste like meaty tamales because of the seitan and spices. THEY ARE SO GOOD. i can’t believe it.
Sister: hah
Me: i’m in tamale shock. TAMALE SHOCK.
Sister: calm down. deep breaths
Me: i just finished the second one.
Sister: nicee
Me: i don’t ever want to eat anything else ever again. only these tamales.
20 minutes later…
Me: i just ate my third.

.

As you can see, I loved these tamales so much that apparently I forgot how to appropriately use capital letters. (And I’m a teacher. Teachers are always supposed to follow capital letter rules.)  While I was on a tamale high, my sister was substantially less impressed.  Of course, that’s only because she didn’t have any gloriously amazingly scrumptious vegan tamales to eat.

Overall, the tamales were quite a process.  They took a long time.  A long, long time.  They created a mess.  Quite a mess.  But they are delicious.  So, so, delicious.  They are sweet and meaty and saucy and masa-y and everything else that tamales should be.

I think the next tamales I make will be Chocolate Brownie Tamales.  I found the recipe on Terry’s (the author of Viva Vegan) website and they look great.  Chocolate and tamale?  They aren’t exactly traditional, and I never would have thought the two could be combined…but now that I know they can, I need to make them.  And I do have two extra bags of corn husks, along with most of a package of masa.  Look for pictures of these chocolate tamales within the next few weeks… I don’t think it will be long before these are made.

Thanksgiving Seitan Roast

I had been wandering around the Internet, looking for a good loaf-like thing to make for Thanksgiving.  I hadn’t found anything that looked good, and decided to just make tamales, instead.

Then, on Wednesday morning I woke up to find that Isa of The Post Punk Kitchen had cracked the magical code she’d been working on, apparently for 20 years, and had come up with a perfect seitan loaf to be filled with mushroom stuffing and baked in tinfoil.

In writing her recipe, she lamented that it was probably too late for most people to make for this year’s Thanksgiving.  But, I’m not most people, and I am a master of last-minute impulse cooking.  (It’s like impulse buying, but involves looking in the pantry instead of down the grocery store aisle.)

Seitan loaf

Seitan roast stuffed with shiitakes and leeks.

I started by prepping the ingredients:

Seitan Loaf Stuffing Ingredients

Stuffing ingredients.

I had never used shiitake mushrooms or leeks before, so both of those were chopping adventures for me.  I have to admit that mushrooms creep me out a bit.  They’re just…weird looking.  And a little dirty, maybe?  I don’t know.  Regardless, I rinsed the mushroom, removed the stems, and sliced them.  Then, I sliced the shallots into half-moons as the recipe said to.  (I think I did, at least.)  The poor lemon had suffered through a fairly unsuccessful zesting earlier in the day, so it was starting to look a little pathetic by this time.  But, it was still up for a juicing for the stuffing.  I also struggled a bit with the thyme.  I don’t know if there’s a better way to remove the leaves from the stems than the one I used, but the leaves just kept sticking to my hands and fingers and it was driving me nuts.  Eventually, I got the required amount of thyme off the stems.  For the bread crumbs, I used panko, because that’s what I had.

Seitan Loaf Ingredients

Seitan loaf ingredients.

The loaf ingredients required no chopping or cutting, which was nice.  (Of course, if I actually used real garlic instead of the lazy garlic-from-a-jar, there would have been more to do than measure.)

So, I started by making the stuffing.

Seitan loaf stuffing

Seitan loaf stuffing; mushrooms, leeks, and thyme.

Every time I sauté vegetables, I’m surprised by how much they reduce.  Every. Single. Time.

Completed seitan loaf stuffing

Seitan loaf stuffing: Completed.

I finished the stuffing and was pretty satisfied.  It smelled good, and I’d successfully cooked shiitakes and leeks for the first time.

I set the stuffing aside, and started with the seitan loaf.

First I put the beans and broth (and assorted other ingredients) into the food processor.

Beans and broth in food processor

Beans and broth in the food processor.

This is only exciting because I just bought this food processor.  Previously, I did all my blending and processing in the Magic Bullet, which, while magic in many ways, is quite small.  Unfortunately, even though I followed the “don’t fill with liquid above this line” rule, the food processor still leaked liquid.

Beans and broth in food processor, processed

Slightly leaky, but the job got done.

Even with the leakiness, it was probably less messy than having to do this blending in two or three Magic Bullet cups.

Next, I mixed the dry ingredients for the seitan.

Seitan loaf: dry ingredients

Seitan loaf: dry ingredients

I love looking at all the different spices together.  It makes me happy.  Spices (and herbs) make food delicious.  This is a fairly recent discovery for me.  (Also, while the Magic Bullet is too small for big food processing jobs, it is wonderful at chopping herbs, like fennel seed.)

Then I slowly poured the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.

Pouring, one

Pouring wet ingredients into dry ingredients (action shot one).

And I continued pouring.

Pouring, two

Pouring wet ingredients into dry ingredients (action shot two).

And I poured some more.

Pouring, three

Pouring wet ingredients into dry ingredients (action shot three).

The first time I used vital wheat gluten, I had no idea what would happen when it mixed with liquid.  I was in total shock when it got all thick and stretchy!  (Now though, I know what to expect.)

I kneaded the dough and stretched it out onto some tinfoil.

Seitan loaf: dough

Seitan loaf: dough.

Then, I scooped the stuffing out of its pan and dropped it onto the seitan loaf dough.

Seitan loaf: stuffing on dough

I wasn't expecting the stuffing to be as moldable as it was.

I rolled it all up.  This process was surprisingly easy!  I thought it would be messy and/or difficult, but I rolled it up without any problems.

Rolled and ready to bake.

Seitan loaf, rolled and ready to bake.

I baked it for 50 minutes like the recipe said, but when I peeked at it, it didn’t seem done yet, so I baked it for five more minutes.  I took it out of the oven again, let it cool for a while, and looked again.  It looked like the edges were starting to brown a bit like Isa’s pictures showed, but the middle still seemed pretty raw.  So, I put it in for about ten more minutes.  By this time, I think it was more done.  But, I’m not entirely sure.  Regardless, when I reheat the leftovers, I will be reheating it in the oven, so it will get a few more minutes of baking time then.

After making this (and the various other things I made that day), I was too tired to make any gravy.  But, I did eat the loaf together with an applesauce based fruity thing that I made.  The sweet fruit sauce made a good accompaniment to the seitan loaf.

Seitan Loaf: Final Product

Seitan loaf slices with mixed-fruit sauce.

All in all, it was pretty successful!  The people I shared Thanksgiving with were a little weary of this “weird” vegan food.  A couple people ventured to try a bite, but no one ate more than a few bites.  Whatever – that just means more leftovers for me!  It was pretty delicious and way more appetizing looking (not to mention healthier and with fewer preservatives or chemicals) than the creepy Tofurky loaves that you can buy at the store.  (Appologies to anyone who enjoys the Tofurky loaves.  I have never eaten one, but the picture on the box sort of grosses me out.  I don’t know why.)

I was really happy with how this turned out, and will definitely make it again for big food-centered events that require loaf-shaped food.

My ode to pan dulce

When I first became vegan, I was concerned about missing two things.

One, sort of obvious, was cheese.  I mean, cheese is kind of magical.  I had an obsession with string cheese.  There were some days when my consumption would reach three sticks of cheese.  I would buy these huge 48 packs of string cheese at the store and go through them quickly.  String cheese was the perfect portable protein source (love alliteration!).  It fit in a pocket, a purse, or a lunch bag.  I also loved to eat queso Oaxaca, which is closely related to string cheese/mozzarella cheese, but slightly different.  I first was introduced to it in Mexico, and found that you can buy it at any Mexican market here in the desert.  Aside from those cheeses, I also occasionally enjoyed a nice creamy goat cheese.  I guess my cheese love wasn’t wide, but it was deep.  However, interestingly enough, I haven’t craved cheese at all since I stopped eating dairy.  I also have absolutely no desire to try any of the vegan cheeses out there.  Any cheese-like concoction that I can create at home is good enough for me, right now.

However, in addition to the cheese, I was very concerned about missing Mexican pan dulce.  Pan dulce is an all-encompassing name for a wide variety of sweet Mexican pastries.  While there are a lot of different kinds of pan dulce, they are all bread-based, and they are all sweet (hence the name; pan=bread, dulce=sweet).  In many cases, the name of the pan dulce describes its appearance.   My favorite varieties of pan dulce were always las conchas (shells), las orejas (ears), and las banderillas (a dart stuck into a bull).  There is a panadería (bread store, or, Mexican bakery) near my work that I used to stop at every other Friday, or so.  I would buy three or four pieces of pan dulce, and eat them with hot chocolate or coffee throughout the weekend.  Just walking through the door of the panadería reminded me of my time living in Mexico, and the many wonderful panaderías there, ubiquitous on every major corner in the city.  Unlike bakeries in the United States, in Mexico you enter the panadería, you take a large metal tray and a set of tongs, and walk through the bakery smelling the breads and using the tongs to select what you want.  The panaderías in the US work the same way.  I’ve been to US panaderías in Chicago, Omaha, Rural Iowa, and Phoenix.  No matter where you go, there are the ever-present dented metal trays, the metal tongs, and the trays and trays of fresh, delicious, sweet-smelling Mexican pan dulce.  Sometimes, it’s a mystery as to what you’re buying.  The label might say that an empanada is filled with piña (pineapple), but when you take a bite, you discover that it’s actually filled with crema (sweet custard-like creme).  Whatever you end up eating, the pan dulce experience is always a sweet one. (Ha ha.  Get it?)

So, this is to say, that while cheese may have seemed like my biggest “sacrifice” when going vegan, in all actuality, it was really pan dulce.  The only times in four months that I have contemplated eating anything non-vegan were the occasional Friday afternoon as I was driving past the turn off to go to the panadería, or Monday mornings when I would go make photocopies at work, and be offered sweet pan dulce by the parents who volunteer at the school.  Cheese, I have never craved.  Pan dulce though, I’ve dreamed about.

So, I went on a search for vegan pan dulce.  No matter how I googled it, only one recipe appeared: Vegan Explosion’s Conchas.  This recipe was posted way back in 2008, but both the recipe and the photographs looked great.  So, I decided to give it a try.

I was so excited to finally eat pan dulce, for the first time in six months, that I measured out the dry ingredients the night before, so I could get right to work with the mixing and rising and making and baking and eating the next morning.

Pan Dulce - Pre-measured dry ingredients.

The ingredients on the left are for the dough, the ingredients on the right are for the topping.

I made a few modifications*, but mostly followed the recipe as posted on Vegan Explosion:

Ingredients for the dough:

  • 1 Tablespoon yeast
  • 2/3 cup water, warmed
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup non-hydrogenated vegan spread (like Earth Balance)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 Tablespoon ground flaxseed + 3 Tablespoons water (since ground flaxseed goes bad so quickly, I always grind it myself in the Magic Bullet)
  • 2 1/2 cups AP flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm soymilk, warmed up and then cooled in the freezer for 3 minutes

To make the dough, I first dissolved the yeast in warm water, and mixed the ground flaxseed with water (these two mixings happen separately).  I allowed both to sit for a few minutes to do their thing.  (That is, the yeasties needed to wake up from their long slumber, and the flaxseed needed to get thick and gooey in the water.)  While the yeast and flax were busy at work, I warmed the soymilk on the stove.  Unfortunately, I got distracted and the soymilk burned and boiled over and made a mess.  I washed out the pot and tried again – the second time experiencing liquid-warming success.  As I put the soymilk in the freezer to cool, (I’m not sure what the reason for the warming and cooling are, but the recipe said to do this) I sifted together the flour, sugar, and salt, and poured in the Earth Balance, yeasty water, flaxseed mixture, and the now-cooled soymilk.  I mixed and kneaded everything until it was pretty smooth.  Then, I rolled it into a ball, put it on a piece of parchment paper, and covered it with an upside-down bowl.  I let it relax for about two hours.  (I would have done 1.5 hours, but my kitchen was pretty cold and I wanted to make sure it rose enough.)

The dough that took over Manhattan.

The dough that took over the city. (Or my kitchen. Or maybe just that piece of parchment paper.)

Then, I punched down the dough, kneaded it a tiny bit, and rolled it into 12 balls which I put on two parchment-lined baking sheets.

Next, I prepared the topping.

Ingredients for the topping:
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup non-hydrogenated vegan spread (like Earth Balance)
  • 1/2 cup AP flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 teaspoon orange extract

I put the sugar, Earth Balance, and flour together in a bowl and mixed until they were well combined.  Then, I divided this mixture into three separate balls.  With one ball, I kneaded in the cinnamon until it was well incorporated.  With the next ball I kneaded in the vanilla until it seemed mixed in.  With the last ball I kneaded in the orange extract until it was well mixed.  (In the original recipe, it said to add a drop of red food coloring in with the orange flavored topping, but I didn’t have any food coloring, so my orange topping, like my vanilla topping, is white.  The cinnamon topping is brown.)

I divided each of the balls of topping into four tinier balls.  The original recipe said to put each ball between two sheets of plastic wrap, roll them flat under the plastic wrap, and then drape them over the balls of dough.  I, being too lazy to get out the plastic wrap and rolling pin, chose to just flatten each ball as best I could without having too much of the topping stick to my hands, and then draped these sort-of circles over the dough.  It was messy, but it worked out okay.

Finally, it was time to transform these from just balls of dough into real conchas.  I carefully used a knife to cut a shell pattern into the topping.  There are different ways to do it, but I just made three or four cuts in one direction, and then three or four more crossing over in the other direction.  Really, you can make any design or pattern you want.

I then covered the trays of dough and let them rise for another 40 minutes.

Pan dulce - risen and ready to go in the oven.

Pan dulce - risen and ready to go in the oven.

Then, into the oven for 15-17 minutes (that’s what the recipe said to do, though I think I baked mine for more like 18-19 minutes).  During these loonnnggg 15-17 minutes, I sat in my kitchen and smelled the delicious aroma of baking bread, cinnamon, orange, and vanilla.  It’s almost as good as actually eating the conchas!  Then, to pass the time, I took out a small pot and warm up some soymilk.  In a mug, I mixed together a spoonful of unsweetened cocoa powder with an equal-sized spoonful of turbinado sugar and and the same amount of soymilk, to form a paste.  Once the soymilk on the stove was warm, I poured it into the mug containing the chocolate paste, and mixed again until everything was well combined.

By this time, the conchas were done.

Conchas!

Cinnamon, vanilla, and orange conchas.

First, before doing anything else, I just sat and admired them.  They’re beautiful.  And they smell wonderful.

Then, I took one off the pan, put it on a plate, and sat down with my mug of hot chocolate.

Concha with Hot Chocolate

Pan dulce con chocolate!

I took a bite.  I sighed.

It’s settled.

I can continue being a vegan.  As with everything else, these conchas are even more satisfying than the kind from a panadería, because I know exactly what went into them, and I did it all myself.  And, they’re delicious.

(*Some of the modifications I made may have contributed to a slight texture difference.  The recipe called for all AP flour, instead of the mixture with whole wheat pastry flour.  Also, the recipe said to use egg replacer, (like ener-g egg replacer) but I prefer to use the flaxseed mixture, which also may have contributed to a slightly less smooth texture than traditional pan dulce, as well as a slightly “healthy” taste.  The texture was surprising at first, but after I finished eating the first concha, it didn’t bother me at all, and I might even increase the whole wheat pastry flour next time I make these.)

One Hundred and Eleven Apples

One hundred and eleven apples.

That is how many apples were recently massacred in a medium-sized town in the desert, and turned into applesauce.  One hundred and eleven apples.

It would have been one hundred and twelve, but one of the apples was bad.  One bad apple out of one hundred and twelve.  That’s a 99.1% apple success rate.

It all started when a friend called me up the other day and suggested that we make applesauce.  I like apple sauce, I’ve been using it a lot recently in baking, and I love a nice warm bowl of applesauce when the weather is cool.  I decided that the applesauce sounded like a good idea, and agreed to join in on some apple festivities.

Little did I know that when my friend said “make some applesauce,” she really meant “make 51 cups worth of apple sauce.”  (Well, actually probably more like 60 cups, but more on that later.)

I arrived at my friend’s house to find one hundred and twelve lovely organic Costco apples.  She reassured me that we didn’t have to make them all into applesauce.  In fact, she wanted to keep one flat of apples (14 apples) for her and her husband to eat throughout the next two weeks.  I accepted that, and we began the process.  (It turns out that she was a big liar.  We used ALL of the apples.)

First, we washed the apples.  Then, we peeled the apples.  I, unfortunately, seem to be a klutz with the apple peeler, and could not remove any skin from the apple.  I decided to try just doing it with a knife, and that went even worse.  In the end, I peeled zero apples, and my friend peeled one hundred and eleven apples.

The apples are NAKED!

The apples are NAKED!

She was very good at it and wins the award for most apples peeled by hand in one day, within my presence.

Apple peels - Nature's own crunchy snack!

Apple peels - Nature's own crunchy snack!

I on the other hand became an expert at slicing the apples into quarters and cutting out the core.  I’ve had a lot of practice with this, seeing as how I eat apples almost every day, and usually slice and core them ahead of time for easy snacking.

Quartered and Cored Apples

Quartered and cored apples - My personal contribution.

I got so good at this.  I’m thinking of going pro.

Next, we put the apples in a pot with a little bit of water, brought it to a boil, and then let them simmer for a long while.  Somehow, magically, the apples turned from looking like this:

Apples in a Pot

Apples in a pot.

To looking like this:

Applesauce?!

Applesauce?!

We did very little to help the apples turn into applesauce.  There were no mashers involved, no blenders, no food processors.  We did use a whisk to mix the apples,and that helped them to mush up a bit.  But really, in the grand scheme of things, once we finished peeling and cutting and coring, the apples did all the hard work themselves.

Though…when I studied one of my photographs…I am inclined to think that there was some sort of applesauce ghost involved in the process.  Look!

The Ghost of Applesauce Past, Present, and Future

The Ghost of Applesauce Past, Present, and Future

Do you see right there in the middle of the boiling apple steam?  I think that is The Ghost of Applesauce Past, Present, and Future.  I think the Applesauce Ghost helped to mush the solid apples into post-dental-work friendly applesauce!

Since we were making eighteen thousand pounds of applesauce, we decided to can it instead of just freezing it.  (Which is a good thing because my freezer is already full of homemade food!)  This was my first canning experience, but my friend had done it once before.

Mason Jars

Mason Jars

The jars are so cute.  I felt like I was ready to go build a house out on the prairie, with all the wholesomeness of cutting apples by hand, boiling them, and then canning them.  I hope we did it correctly, otherwise we’ll soon have 51 cups of poisonous applesauce.

We did pretty well considering this was our first experience with mass-produced apple sauce.  I made applesauce when I was little with my grandparents, but I don’t think we ever made nearly this much.  Aside from that, we always just froze it, which removes the time-consuming step of boiling the jars.

Despite our success, we did have one small failure.  Or, not a failure so much as a roadblock to complete success.

Applesauce Pot Casualty

Applesauce pot casualty.

One pot of applesauce did not survive.  Even after a good soaking and scrubbing, the pot still had a massive scar.  The entire contents of the pot got thrown away.  Had this pot not suffered a severe burning, we probably would have had about 60 cups of applesauce altogether, in the end.  But, the loss of a few cups of applesauce in contrast with the overwhelming success of the remaining cups isn’t a huge disappointment.  We still had plenty of applesauce.

Rows and rows of applesauce.

Rows and rows of applesauce.

Rows and rows of applesauce.

So much applesauce.

More applesauce.

Jars and jars of applesauce.

So much applesauce.

I am the newest member of the Chickpea Cutlet Fan Club!

So, I finally succumbed to the hype, and made The Post Punk Kitchen’s Chickpea Cutlets.  (I actually made the Doublebatch of Chickpea Cutlets, even though it was my first attempt, because the hype was so positive.)

Upon reading the recipe on The PPK, my hope was that these would taste something like the Morningstar Farms Chik Patties or the Boca Chik’n Patties.  I had long had an embarrassing obsession with these (I think I liked the Morningstar ones more, but I could never really remember, so I always just bought whatever was on sale.)  Since going vegan and working to eliminate chemicals and preservatives from my eating habits, I haven’t bought these “vegetarian junk food” items, as my roommate and I used to refer to them.   In my pre-vegan days I would cook up one of those chick’n patties and top it with tomato sauce and cheese and have a lovely little veggie chick’n parmesan.  Or, I would put on some salsa, jalapeños, and cheese, slice it up, put it in a tortilla, and serve it up Mexican style.  Or, I’d mix together some honey and mustard, and serve it with a honey mustard sauce.  Or, I’d put on catsup and mustard and eat it on a pita like a chick’n sandwich.

In the past, I’ve sort of had possibly unhealthy streaks of chick’n patty overdose.

Now, though, I was ready to move on and be a healthier person.  I was ready to try the famed Chickpea Cutlets.  They’re originally from Veganomican, but I used the recipe off the website (see above).  Of the 167 comments posted about the recipe, nearly all of them are positively glowing.  Much like when I made the heavenly delicious Mac and ‘Shews recipe a few months ago, I didn’t believe that the hype could be true.  But, much like 234 commenters couldn’t be wrong about the Mac and ‘Shews, those commenters erecting monuments in honor of the Chickpea Cutlets are pretty much right.  The Chickpea Cutlets are a winning food all around (unless you can’t eat gluten, sorry.)

These delicious patties are made mostly of chickpeas, vital wheat gluten, veggie broth, and spices.  That’s it.  So quick, so easy, so perfect.

I do have to admit that I had a bit of trouble, though.  The recipe says to mash the chickpeas, which I tried to do, but I don’t think I mashed them enough.  When it came time to mix everything together, the chickpeas had a really hard time incorporating into the rest of the dough.  This was such a problem, that I ended up loosing a good deal of them in the process – I just could not get the chickpeas to mix in with the rest.  When I divided up the dough to make into patties, I ended up with about 1/2 cup (maybe more) of chickpeas sitting sad and alone at the bottom of my mixing bowl.  Next time I make these (and there WILL be a next time, probably really, really soon), I will make sure to smoosh the chickpeas even more.  Hopefully that will help them to incorporate into the dough more fully.

Also, instead of pan frying the patties, I baked them in the oven.  They came out absolutely lovely and delicious.  (I sprayed the baking sheet with olive oil, then sprayed the top of the patties with olive oil, too.  I flipped the patties after about 20 minutes, and let them cook ten more minutes after that.)  I should add, though, that when I say “lovely,” I simply mean that they weren’t burned and they tasted good.  They weren’t quite round, or oval, or any recognizable shape.  But they tasted like I wanted them to, and that’s what mattered.

As luck would have it, I think I have finally found my homemade substitute for those preservative-laden store-bought chick’n patties.

Chickpea Cutlet

Close up of the chickpea cutlet.

I didn’t get any pictures of the chickpea cutlets alone, but that’s okay.  They are pretty boring looking.  Here, though, is a close-up of a chickpea cutlet covered in tomato sauce and nutritional yeast.  So yummy!

Chickpea Cutlet Parmesan

Zoomed out a bit, with a view of some pasta beside the chickpea cutlet.

I usually don’t eat much pasta, but I made an exception here.  I felt that a chickpea cutlet just begged to be eaten beside some whole wheat pasta, with everything drowned in nutritional yeast.  (And really, who am I to deny the chickpea cutlet what it wants?)  It was good!

Perhaps I became a vegetarian all those years ago because I just didn’t like having to cut meat.  One of the selling points of the chickpea cutlet for many people is that you need to eat it with a steak knife.  Well, I don’t want to eat it with a steak knife.  I’d rather eat it with a fork and nothing else.  So, I tore a chickpea cutlet into bite-sized pieces and mixed it in with some pasta and sauce (and a good dousing of nutritional yeast).  This method worked wonderfully.  No knife, no fuss!

Chickpea Cutlet in Pasta

Pre-cut chickpea cutlet with pasta.

The next day for lunch I had my last serving of Mac and ‘Shews that I made months ago and froze in individual containers.  I though, ‘why not tear up a chickpea cutlet and add it to the Mac and ‘Shews?!’  So I did, and it was perfect.

I also ate a chickpea cutlet with catsup and mustard in a pita bread.  Delicious.

I had half of a leftover sweet potato sandwich that I was going to eat.  I wondered what would happen if I added a chickpea cutlet to the sandwich.  So, I tried it and it was great!

I would like to officially become a member of Chickpea Cutlet fan club.  I plan to make them many more times, and devise many more ways to eat them.

It really does look like fall outside today.

In honor of Veteran’s Day (as a public school teacher, this means a day off of work) and the fact that it is actually cool and cloudy in the desert, I woke up wanting pancakes.

I rolled over in bed, and grabbed my copy of Vegan Brunch (from its special place on my bedside table).  I flipped through to the pancake section, and there I saw it.  A recipe for Pumpkin Pancakes.  It called for 3/4 cup of pumpkin puree, which was perfect since I had 3/4 cup left over from last weekend’s Chocolate Pumpkin Nut Muffin extravaganza.  I looked through the rest of the ingredients, and, wonder of wonders, had all of them!

Then, I read through the narrative (because Isa always gives great narrative along with her recipes) and saw that she suggested making a Ginger Cranberry sauce to accompany the pancakes. Again, due to some sort of recipe magic, I had all the ingredients required for the sauce!  (Every autumn, when cranberries are sold constantly everywhere, I buy up about four bags to keep in my freezer.  One year, I needed cranberries for an activity with my students in February and I couldn’t find them ANYWHERE!  Ever since then, I have vowed to be well prepared when it come to cranberries.)

I started with making the Ginger Cranberry Sauce.  It begins with a basic cranberry sauce recipe (cranberries, water, sugar.)

Cranberries

Cranberries are so bright and cheerful!

Then, you end up adding ginger and maple syrup.  I failed to take a picture of that.  But don’t worry, you’ll see the whole thing in a minute.

Next, I started with the pancakes.  Instead of all purpose white flour, I used whole wheat pastry flour (or, like, 95% WW pastry flour.  I ran out and needed to use a little bit of AP flour).  I also upped the pumpkin spices a bit (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves).  Aside from that, I followed the recipe as written.

So, my first pancake started out looking adorable.

Pancake Cooking 1

Cute little pancake.

I flipped it and thing were still going okay.

Pancake Cooking 2

Flipped pancake, still pretty cute.

But then when I tried to get it off the pan, something weird happened.

Pancake Cooking 3

Weird wrinkled pancake.

I figured it was just “first pancake” syndrome, and went on to make the next pancake.  Unfortunately, the next pancake looked like this:

Pancake Cooking 4

Charred pancake. Not quite deliciousness.

I lowered the temperature and tried again.

Pancake Cooking 5

I don't even know what happened here...

I was about to give up, but decided to try a different pan, a newfangled ceramic pan.  Maybe they just didn’t like the cast iron (although the recipe said to use cast iron).

Pancake Cooking 6

Things are starting to look up for my pumpkin pancakes!

Unfortunately, by the time I got to the last pancake, things were still quite unreliable.  And this happened:

Pancake Cooking 7

Basically, I'm a pancake failure.

I’m not quite sure what I was doing wrong with the pancakes.  The outsides kept burning while the insides were super mushy.  They tasted good, and since there wasn’t any egg, I wasn’t worried about salmonella with them being unevenly cooked.  I just am not sure what I was doing wrong.  (I kept increasing and lowering the temperature.  Nothing quite helped.)

In the end, I did have a pretty delicious fall pancakey cranberry-y breakfast.  Afterward, I was stuck in a pretty severe pumpkin pancake coma, and couldn’t seem to get up to get dressed and get on with my day.  That was an unfortunate side effect.

Final Pancake

Cute little pancake with delicious ginger cranberry sauce on top.

The sauce was really delicious, and aside from the second pancake (the super burned one), all the others seem to be edible.  In the cooking process, I ate two pancakes (they were just too destroyed to eat on a plate!) and afterward I ended up eating three with the sauce.  So, I think I’ve had my pumpkin pancake fill for the day.

Happy cloudy day.

More Chocolate Pumpkin Muffins

I didn’t mean to.  It just sort of happened.  All on its own.  I looked up from doing some Very Important work on my computer (um, probably checking my personal email or reading web-comics) and there, sitting on the counter, I saw this:

Magically Appearing Chocolate Pumpkin Muffin Ingredients

Magically Appearing Chocolate Pumpkin Muffin Ingredients

I said to myself, “Self?  What is sitting there on your counter?”

Well, in the Pyrex measuring cup I discovered 3/4 cup of white AP flour, 3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour, a tad more than 1/2 tsp cinnamon, a tad more than 1/4 tsp nutmeg, a tad more than 1/4 tsp ginger, a tad more than 1/8 tsp cloves, 3/4 tsp baking soda, and 3/4 tsp salt.  In the next bowl I found 1/2 cup of chocolate chips and 1/2 cup of chopped pecans and walnuts.  In the front bowl, I found a bit more than 3/4 cup of turbinado sugar.

On the left side, I saw some canola oil (and felt compelled to measure out 2 tbs of it) and some vanilla (I had an inkling that I really needed 1 tsp of that stuff).  In the measuring cups I discovered 1 cup of pumpkin puree, 1/3 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder, and a little more than 1/2 cup of apple sauce.  Also, out of the corner of my ear, I heard the tea kettle boiling 1/3 cup + 2 tbs of water.

While the chocolate chips and nuts would have tasted good alone, as would the apple sauce, the pumpkin puree would have tasted okay (if a bit bland), and the boiling water would have been fine with a tea bag, all of the other ingredients really needed to be combined in some way.

So, I took the apple sauce, the oil, and the cocoa powder and mixed them together in a large bowl.  Then I added 1/3 cup of the boiling water and mixed it in with the chocolate mixture until it made a thick chocolaty paste.  Next, I added the pumpkin, sugar, and vanilla and mixed everything together well.

After that, I sifted in 1/2 of the flour mixed and mixed for just a few seconds, added 1 tbs of boiling water, and mixed for a few more seconds.  Next, I sifted in the other half of the flour mixture, mixed for a few seconds, added another 1 tbs of boiling water, and mixed for a few more seconds until the flour had just incorporated into the batter.  Then I carefully folded in the nuts and chocolate chips.  I lightly greased a muffin tin, poured the batter in, and cooked it at 350 degrees for about 23 minutes.  I took them out and had perfection.

Chocolate Pumpkin Muffin

Look at the beautiful insides of that muffin!

The cocoa powder and pumpkin give it a lovely brownish orange hue.  The chocolate chips and nuts are distributed throughout.  The incorporation of whole wheat pastry flour gives it a little more fiber.  The deliciousness factor makes me eat three-at-a-time.

These muffins are pretty much perfect.

(See the original recipe at The PPK.  I added nuts, decreased the sugar (and used turbinado instead of white granulated), increased the apple sauce, increased the spices, and substituted half the flour for whole wheat pastry.  I also made these muffins (with fewer modifications) a few weeks ago.)

Empanadas and Tres Leches Cake

A few weeks ago I was browsing the Internet, and came upon Viva Vegan, by Terry Hope Romero, co-author of Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, my cookie book of choice.  I went to the bookstore the next weekend, looked at the recipes, and started drooling right there in the cookbook section.  The book has hundreds of recipes of foods from around Latin America; stews and sauces, tamales, empanadas, deserts, and Sweet Corn Ice-Cream (a recipe I have been searching for since I first ate it in Southern Mexico in 2006!).  Everything sounded SO GOOD.  I bought the book and just read it for a few weeks before actually making anything.

We were going to celebrate a coworker’s birthday at work one day, and someone else volunteered to make a tres leches cake (a yellow cake soaked in three different milks).  I immediately jumped up and decided that I would take that duty with the Viva Vegan Coconut Tres Leches Cake.

Traditionally, the cake is soaked in three different dairy milks (sweetened condensed milk, cream, and evaporated milk).  For the vegan version you use almond milk, coconut milk, and coconut cream.

At first, I was just proud of myself that my cake came out of the oven looking like a cake.  I had not yet ever made a vegan cake, so that in and of itself was quite the success.  Then, I started making the soaking liquid.  It was surprisingly complicated, and resulted in my liquidy pot of milks and sugars boiling over into the burner.  (Oops.)  But, eventually the liquid had thickened and was ready to be poured onto the cake.  One of the fun parts was poking the cake with lots and lots of holes so that the liquid would soak better.  Maybe I’m just a violent person at heart, but I really liked attacking that cake with hundreds of tiny toothpick stabs.

But, the hard part was yet to come – the frosting.  This frosting marks my first experience with agar agar.  (And the procurement was a whole obstacle itself.  First I went to Whole Foods, balked at the price, and decided to go to my regular grocery store, as I had remembered seeing it there a few months ago.  So, I went to the other store, looked around for a while, asked an employee who went to go check, and found out that they had stopped carrying agar agar.  Then I had to go back to Whole Foods again, and buy the expensive agar flakes.  But, I guess the package will last me a really long time, so it’s not too bad.)  Agar helps to gelatinize foods, without regular gelatin.  Like gelatin, you dissolve it in hot water, and then add the sugar and flavoring.  I did this and poured it onto the cake to let the frosting gel.  The recipe said to sprinkle coconut flakes on the top, which I did.

Coconut Tres Leches Cake

Coconut Tres Leches Cake, Under Plastic Wrap.

Above is the somewhat unimpressive top of the cake.  It pretty much just looks like white pudding.

Half-eaten Piece of Coconut Tres Leches Cake

Half-eaten Piece of Coconut Tres Leches Cake

But here is the delicious detail.  It was really very good, but very sweet.  I ended up taking a lot back home with me, and couldn’t eat it fast enough.  With all the milks and sugars, it went bad quickly, even in the refrigerator.

 

Next, I decided to make empanadas.  Empanadas!!  Viva Vegan has several different recipes for empanadas, but I chose the one that looked the simplest: Empanadas Humitas (corn-filled empanadas).  It is fairly preparation-intensive, but I just considered it a practice session for when I get around to making tamales.  You have to make the dough, and then let it chill in the refrigerator for at least four hours.  Then you carefully roll the dough, and cut out six-inch circles (I think mine ended up being five inches.  I just used a round tupperware dish with sort of sharp edges as a cutting tool).  Then you have to put it back in the fridge for a bit longer.  While you do that, you make the filling.  The corn filling is actually little more than corn, soy milk, and spices.

Next comes the difficult part – get the filling to stay in the dough circles.  The recipe said to use 1/3 cup of filling.  I tried that and it was way too much.  So then I tried just 1/4 cup.  Still, it overflowed my dough, and I couldn’t fold it and seal it.  Eventually, I just put sort of a small dollop of corn filling on the dough circle, and forced the dough to fold over it.  Then I crimped the seal with a fork, and brushed on some soy milk to help the dough brown.  (I have been eating the leftover corn-mush filling all week: on crackers, mixed into my vegan mole, warmed inside pita bread, with a spoon…)

I was worried that they wouldn’t work for some reason, but they came out wonderfully.

Trays of Empanadas Humitas (Corn Empanadas)

Trays of Empanadas Humitas (Corn Empanadas).

I wasn’t even hungry anymore by the time they were done cooking late in the evening, but I still ate a few of them.  (How many is “a few”?  I think that’s best kept a secret.)

Empanada Humita (Corn Empanada)

Close-up of a delicious empanada humita.

I didn’t know that soy milk can work as a “crisper”.  That is, you can put it on top of baked goods as a glaze and it will make hem brown and crisp a bit on top.

I can’t wait to make more empanadas.  I used to love going to one of the panaderías (Mexican bakery, literally, bread store) near my work and buy sweet piña (pinapple), crema (sweet cream), or manzana (apple) filled empanadas.  Viva Vegan doesn’t have recipes for those fillings, but I’m going to look around and try to figure out how to make some sweet empanada fillings.  Yum, yum, yum!