Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Convenience Store Challenge!

I love a good fun challenge and when I came across this post on Vegan Soapbox I knew I wanted to participate. It would be a fun challenge and with my cookbook addiction the chance to win my choice of cookbook to add to my library was just too much to resist.

The rules of the game are simple. Go to a convenience store with $10. Get vegan ingredients. Make them into a meal. It doesn't have to be a well balanced or healthy meal which is good considering the selection available in most convenience stores. There does seem to be a theme though. If you have a little quick stop type store that sells slightly more then chips, soda and candy then it will have pasta, sauce, and an array of nonvegan items. If you're lucky you will find a few more vegan goodies but no such luck for me. My choices for meal items were spaghetti, mac, veg oil, tomato soup and tomato sauce. Crap. I made my grabs and had a look at what was available for snack items. I left the store with this:
-1 lb elbow macaroni
-8oz can tomato sauce
-3oz bag of salted cashews
-5.25oz sleeve of Oreos
Spending a grand total of $8.06. Sweet, two rules complete - shop at a convenience store and spend only $10.
Now I have to make a recognizable meal. I made my way home and got cracking. We can only add herbs, spices and nutritional yeast. First I opened the nuts and covered them with water, sloshed them around a bit and drained. I repeated this a couple times because there is enough salt in that tomato sauce already, no more will be needed. After rinsing a couple times I left the cashews to soak while I got a pot of water on the stove to boil.

In a blender jug (or you could do this in a food processor), I dumped:
-the can of tomato sauce
-about 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
-1 tsp dried basil
-1/2 tsp dried oregano
-1/2 tsp dried garlic powder
-the cashews, drained
Process this all together and get it as smooth as possible. The cashews just add to the creaminess, they could be omitted and you would still have a slightly cheezy sauce. Set this aside until your pasta is done.

I went ahead and cooked all the pasta. Why the hell not! Maybe you'll need to feed a crowd on your convenience store gourmet skills. I'm ready.

Once the pasta was ready I simply drained it, dumped it back into the pot, poured on the blender sauce (scrape out every last bit you can) and stir it all around. The ratio of sauce to pasta was perfect for me but if you like more sauciness just cook less than a pound of pasta or make more sauce. Easy.

Now, the moment of truth.
I sprinkled a little more nooch and oregano on top for added flair. This was actually pretty good. Because I usually make a whole grain pasta this was kinda junk foodie but it was quite tasty if I do say so myself. Although not balanced it does offer your carbs, fat, and protein. And because no meal is complete without dessert, enter the Oreos. I actually wanted to take this one step further and make chocolate covered Oreos but there wasn't even a smidgeon of vegan chocolate to be found in this forlorn little gas station. They did have a fair amount of premade sandwiches and hot coffee ready to go. Not a bad place to stop if you are on the road and need a fuel fill up for both your car and your tummy . . . but not for a vegan.

I have plenty to share. Stop on by and have a taste!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

All about the bechamel

This month's challenge was a familiar favorite but still had it's challenge. First I want to have a little rave about the Daring Baker's new look. They have the new site up and running so check out The Daring Kitchen! And how awesome are the new logos?! Here is the whole new crew of Daring Kitchen mascots. I can't decide who to use.
Anyway, back to the challenge. The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge. I am a Splendid Table listener. I used to try and catch The Splendid Table at it's scheduled time on NPR but I am usually working so it was a fairly rare occation. Then I discovered podcasts and haven't looked back since. Of course now I'm addicted to podcasts but there are worse things to become addicted to (isn't it funny we use this line everytime we find ourselves spending too much time with something, "There are worse things to be addicted to.")

Moving right along. The first thing you need for a good lasagne is the noodles. This brings us to the part of this challenge that was the challenge. I have never made pasta from scratch before and the Lynne's recipe calls for eggs so taking the suggestion of other alternative Daring Bakers I tried out Bryanna Clark Grogan's recipe. This was a good move. Pasta came out fantabulous and I highly recommend it for any of your pasta needs. Even me, who usually screws up these things on the first try, got it to turn out well easily the first time.

After the pasta I just needed to decide on sauce and cheeziness. I kept it simple. I find the simplier the better for the taste and for my time management. I wanted to stay within the components of the original recipe which included something I have never used in a lasagne before, Bechamel Sauce. I've never heard of this. Has anyone else? Is this a wonderful secret that has been kept from me all these years? It's pure genious! So smooth and creamy. I happened to have Veganrella in my fridge from a friend but in the future I don't think I'll be using any cheese sub at all. The bechamel is perfect for that creamy factor.

Bechamel Sauce

4 tablespoons Earth Balance vegan margarine
4 tablespoons all purpose unbleached (plain) flour, organic stone ground preferred
2&2/3 cups nondairy milk of choice (I used almond)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste

Using a medium-sized saucepan, melt the margarine over low to medium heat. Sift over the flour, whisk until smooth, and then stir (without stopping) for about 3 minutes. Whisk in the milk a little at a time and keep the mixture smooth. Bring to a slow simmer, and stir 3 to 4 minutes, or until the sauce thickens. Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until the sauce thickens. Season with salt, pepper, and a hint of nutmeg.

I kept the marinara sauce simple. I'm not even sure you'd call this a recipe. Just heat a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add a little oil or water just to prevent sticking. Add a chopped onion and 4 minced cloves of garlic. Cook 5ish minutes. Add a large can of diced tomatoes. Add some oregano, basil, a little salt if you like. That's pretty much it. To add some extra protein to the mix I rehydrated some soy/tvp chunks I happened to have around but you could use cooked lentils, tvp mince, veggie crumbles, crumbled tempeh, whatevs.
To assemble this beautiful masterpiece (ok it doesn't look that beautiful but I never claimed to be a photographer). I boiled a layer of pasta at a time and applied the fillings as the next layer was cooking. So first add a little bechamel sauce to the bottom of your pan (I used a 9x13"), then noodles, then a little more bechamel, then tomato sauce, grate vegan cheeze if using, fleck a bit more bechamel on there, another layer of noodles, bechamel, tomato sauce, cheeze & bechamel. Continue this wonderful cycle as long as you can finishing with cheese and bechamel on top. Bake about 30 mins covered with foil and uncover and bake a bit more to brown up the top a bit.

I'm pretty damn excited to have successfully made my own vegan noodles and I will definitely be doing this again because it was so easy and it feels great to have a much better understanding of what exactly is going into your food.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

It's about time for another ice cream

No, it's no longer February but I needed to get this challenge behind me and look to the new challenge this month. For February the word came come down from our hosts:

The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE's blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef.
We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.

I decided to go raw for this challenge. Well mostly raw. These recipes aren't vegan to start with so modifications would have been necessary anyway. Is this raw version just like the original? No. Maybe I could, with lots of work and the Vitamix I might work out the right consistency. Maybe in a couple months time when I might possibly find myself with free time on my hands this is something I might work on . . . . who knows what the (my) future holds.

I apologize for the slightly blurry picture. My dessert pictures always seem to come out this way. I just can't hold still. I get too excited!

Raw Flourless Chocolate Cake (take 1)

1/4 c raw cocoa nibs
1/4 c cashews

1/2 c walnuts

5 pitted dates

1 vanilla beans or 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Add cocoa nibs to food processor and process until well broken up. Add nuts (you can replace these with any nuts you prefer really, they all go well with chocolate) and process again until nuts are finely ground. Add dates and vanilla. Process this until mixture comes together in a pasty dough. Press this mixture into a small tart pan or shape with your hands however you'd like. Enjoy!

I decided to pair this with an ice cream that I've been meaning to make for a while. A simple creation to carry over the cocoa nib deliciousness. I would like to try some raw ice creams at some point. When young coconuts aren't ridiculously expensive maybe.

Stracciatella Coconut Ice Cream

1 can coconut milk
2-4 Tb agave nectar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 c raw cocoa nibs

Stir together coconut milk, agave to taste and vanilla. Place in ice cream maker and follow manufacturers instructions to freeze ice cream. 5 mins before freezing cycle is complete add cocoa nibs. Place completed ice cream in freezer to firm up more until ready to serve. You may need to set out homemade ice cream a little ahead of when you need it as it tends to harden more then comercially made ice creams.