Sunday, December 8, 2013

Sugar and Spice Candied Pecans

I've been surprised to find that a lot of candied nut recipes call for egg whites. They definitely don't have to be made that way, though. I've adapted this recipe for candied pecans from epicurious. It uses corn syrup and my son is allergic to corn. At first, I thought I would make a simple syrup and try to make it with those, but in the end, I thought, "What about using Steen's?"

Steen's is a sugar cane syrup made in Louisiana and all the best Southern pecan pies I've ever had are made of it. I've yet to attempt a vegan pecan pie yet (hello, four eggs?!) but my sister-in-law introduced me to these nuts and said, "You know, it's like the best part of the pecan pie." I agree. That hard, candied layer of pecans on top is definitely the best part and really the only part I need. Who needs to veganize a whole pie when you can just eat the top?

Usually this calls for cayenne and pepper, but I've made it now using a variety of spices and it turns out great each time. Sometimes, I even use more spice than called for when I like a particular flavor. The Steen's syrup is a dark syrup with some of the molasses still in it, so it goes great with fall and holiday spices like ground ginger, cinammon and cloves. I even made a batch with Chinese Five Spice powder and they were terrific.

The original recipe called for less nuts, but after making this a bunch of times, I've found you can make a bigger batch and they still are coated enough. I've also raised the temperature a little since sometimes the batches would come out chewy at the original time and temp and you want them to be crunchy. Still, even the chewy batches disappear quickly!

Sugar and Spice Candied Pecans

  • 3 tablespoons Steen's Cane Syrup
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vegan sugar (organic white, turbinado, etc.)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon spice # 1*
  • 1/4 teaspoon spice # 2*
  • 2 cups pecan pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a rimmed cookie sheet with foil and then spray the foil with oil.

Mix all ingredients except nuts thoroughly and then add nuts and stir until they are well coated. Pour onto your cookie sheet and flatten into a single layer.

Cook for 7 minutes and then use a fork to stir the pecans and continue cooking for another 7-8 minutes. The coating should be bubbling in the middle at the end of your cooking time. If it isn't, let it go a minute or two more but keep checking on them to make sure the nuts don't burn.

Spray another piece of foil with oil and place on the counter. Remove the nuts from the oven, pour onto your prepared foil and QUICKLY separate the nuts with two forks so that none are touching. (If you don't get them all separated quickly, you will have something more like brittle.) Allow to cool completely before storing in an airtight container at room temp.)

*Spice combos I've tried: Coarse ground black pepper and cayenne, Chinese five spice powder and cayenne or coarse ground black pepper, ginger and cinnamon, white pepper and ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg, curry powder and cayenne.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Chocolate Chip Pecan Cookies

A while back I was referring to my significant other and I called him my "other half." I didn't call him my "better half" and the person I was talking to (can't remember who it was at the moment) thought that was pretty funny. I didn't mean anything by it, except that we are equals perhaps. At any rate, today I will say that my "better half" is not with me and was not able to take pictures of my food in the spectacular way that he usually does. You will have to live with me and my shitty phone snapshots. Although, he just got this awesome new camera and he already has to send it back to be recalibrated or something anyway, so even if he was here it might not have gone well in the picture department.

My son has been going nuts for the baked goods lately and even though I said I was swearing off white flour and sugar, I guess I lied. Things have been a little stressful at our household -- both good and bad stress -- and I feel like eating cookies, damn it. So, the book I chose is 100 Best Vegan Baking Recipes by Kris Holechek.

I think I'm going to just start at the beginning and plow through. (Maybe I should call it a plowthrough, then?)

These cookies are the Chocolate Chip Pecan Cookies on page 30. The author of this book plays it pretty fast and loose with the ingredients. She just says things like "milk" or "margarine" and you can choose your own favorites or whatever is easiest for you to get. Mix and match, do what you wish. I like that since I never know what the flavor-of-the-week is going to be in milk around here. Currently we're on an almond milk bender, but I did manage to find some soy that needed to be used up for this recipe. Then I thought to myself, "When did I open this thing?" and couldn't remember, so I settled on using almond milk anyway. I also ended up using Earth Balance in the tub. I try finding it in the sticks (I mean, not out in the country, but stick-shaped product rather), but I just don't go to Whole Foods that often and that's where they have it. Even so, the tub stuff is cheaper, just more of a pain to measure. Oh well.

Ingredients. Pretty simple and luckily it was all stuff I had sitting around the house, otherwise this whole thing would have been delayed because I do not feel like going to the grocery store today. And yeah, I like Costco, okay? I am a Kirkland product junkie as you can see. It's very Idiocracy of me, I know.

I have been using Ghirardelli chips for a long time because they have some that are dairy-free. But, lo and behold, what did my little eyes see right before Christmas this year at Costco? Only this metric friggin' ton of dairy-free chocolate chips. They are tasty, too.

Also, I know that some vegans won't even eat things that are made in factories that share machinery with dairy and eggs, but I am not that kind of vegan. Commence pearl-clutching right away.

My son has a corn allergy and this recipe called for corn starch. Usually in baked goods, I use arrowroot powder because tapioca starch can sometimes give off a funky flavor when it's heated. I was all out of arrowroot, however, and this was only a teaspoon, so I figured it would turn out all right. This starch, mixed with 2 tablespoons of almond milk replaced the egg usually found in a cookie.

Not enough pecans to warrant getting out my Slap-Chop. Ha. I do have one, though. Well, I had one that was one of those that came out before the infomercial. A Zyliss or something. I got as a door prize at a Pampered Chef party. Then we got another one as a gag gift at a gift swap. They're actually kind of fun for some things and great for kids. But in this case, will stick to the Henckels. I got some new ones for Christmas this year and have already cut myself like a hundred times. My old ones need to be sharpened and I didn't realize how badly till I started handling the new ones the same way as the old ones. Ouch.

Eleven damn cookies. I'm not great at spacing and am always afraid I'm going to end up with one giant cookie blob on my stone.

But as you can see, I would have been fine and probably could have squeezed that last sucker in somewhere, Tetris-style. This recipe called for the cookies to bake for 8-10 minutes on a parchment-covered cookie sheet. Parchment is expensive and I am loathe to use it except when the cookie batter is really low-fat or high-syrup. Otherwise, I use a baking stone. I also usually add about 5 minutes to the cooking time, especially on the first couple passes because the stone needs to heat up. The cookies above are at the 8-minute mark and are nowhere near done enough for me.

The longest part of making cookies is not the 20 minute prep time. No. It is the time from cooling rack to mouth that is like watching grass grow.

Ta da. I started out with all chocolate chips since my other better half doesn't like getting nuts all in his teeth. Then, when I'd made about half the batch, I added pecans to the rest of the batter. Nuts on the left, please.

These turned out great and I will definitely make them again. It made 46 cookies (rather than the stated 30 which is always a bonus in my book, although I probably don't make huge cookies). The starch added a really light texture to them and the edges were crispy but not at all hard. Not "crunchy" or anything. The tapioca starch didn't funk up the flavor at all, either, so corn-allergic folks can adapt this easily.

I am not the only one to make these cookies and live to tell the tale:

You can also visit the author of this cookbook on her blog nom! nom! nom! or on her Facebook page where she is pimping a new cookbook based on vegetarian stuff you can get at Trader Joe's.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Baking Vegan Bread Every Day

I've been really unhappy with store-bought bread and it's sometimes hard to find brands that are 100 percent vegan. I've been seeing a lot about no-knead breads lately, so I thought that I would give it a try, but never got around to it last year. Then I was researching a couple of cookbooks to give to my boyfriend's sister for Christmas. One of them was Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking.

I decided to go with a different book for her, but was still intrigued by this book. I mean, hell, if I added up all the time I spend looking at the list of ingredients on bread packaging at the store, it could easily add up to more than five minutes a day. I roamed around the Interwebs and found several links to the "master boule" recipe (including this one at Mother Earth News and this one with videos at Instructables) and it seemed easy enough. The steps are basically:

  • Put four vegan ingredients in a big container with a NON-AIRTIGHT lid: 6.5 cups of flour, 1.5 tablespoons yeast, 1.5 tablespoons kosher salt, 3 cups lukewarm water.
  • Stir it up like you would a brownie batter (just till the flour disappears).
  • Let it sit on the counter for about 2 hours (more if you have a cold kitchen).
  • Pop the whole container in the fridge.
  • When you want bread, flour a spot and then dip your hand in to grab a grapefruit-sized piece and snip it off. Quickly shape into a ball and throw onto a floured pizza peel or an old AirBake aluminum pan that you never use anyway because it's such a piece of crap and makes you waste so much parchment paper because everything sticks to the damn thing. (YMMV on that one.)
  • Let rest for about 40 minutes.
  • About 20 minutes into that resting period, preheat the oven to 450 degrees and pop a pizza stone onto the middle shelf and the bottom of your broiler pan onto the bottom shelf.
  • After 20 minutes, flour the top of the dough gently and make some slits in the top of the bread about 1/2 inch deep and then slide it onto the stone. Pour 1-2 cups water into the broiler pan and shut the door.
  • Bake 30 minutes.
  • Watch family devour loaf and rejoice that they will have fresh bread every day.

Take that, honey, Sodium stearoyl lactylate, l-cysteine and mono / diglycerides! Get outta my bread basket!

And it may seem complicated, but compared to kneaded dough, it's really not. Once you do that first part, you've got four or five little loaves before you do those first steps again. Then, once you get the hang of the order of the last steps, it's super simple. And you don't even have to clean the container when you make a new batch. It kind of gets all sourdoughy if you don't. Even if you don't make bread every day, the dough is good for two weeks. After that, it won't rise so well.

Other thoughts regarding this method:

I ended up buying the 24-cup version of this Sterilite Ultra Seal Container thinking that if all goes awry, I still have a container to store cereal or something. It has a little flap on the top for you to pour stuff, so I just leave that part unsnapped so gases can escape. When I was at the store, I looked at all sorts of other containers, but decided that I wanted something tall that could fit on the top shelf of the fridge and not take up a lot of other real estate in there.

The part about making the slits in the bread is imperative. Otherwise you get a hard log that you need an axe to cut through. The slits help the bread expand in the oven. That's where it will do most of its expanding, by the way, so don't be alarmed when your bread has been sitting on the peel for 40 minutes and hasn't done much of anything.

I used a wooden spoon to mix the dough. It's really wet and the spoon worked, but as I read about people making bread this way, I came across this utensil that is called a Danish Dough Whisk and this one is now on its way to my house because I am a kitchen gadget whore.

I have not read the entire book, in fact, I have only made this one recipe and checked out some other bits on the authors' blog. There are a couple other books from them, too. One has 100 more recipes and one is about pizzas and flatbreads. My library has all three, so being the library girl that I am, I'm going to check them out and see if they're worth adding to my permanent collection. I'm aware, too, that some of the recipes are not vegan (egg, milk, etc. are common bread ingredients, especially for sweeter breads) so maybe I can make some modifications to make them vegan and talk about them here.

In other news:

Speaking of library girledness, I apologize for the time away from the blog. The last few semesters I have been in school and working on my internship at a library. Two of those semesters I was taking 18-hours (plus home schooling my high-schooler) so I didn't find much free time for writing and really, cooking took a back seat, too. I just found I was so tired I didn't care and we ate tofu scrambles about twice a week and canned beans quite a lot. Nothing too exciting there, but luckily we're past that and I now have this to show for it:

Cum Laude! How about that?! What a long journey it's been. Now, on to grad school... and job hunting. Now that school is over and the holidays are past, I have been waking up every morning kind of directionless. The house is getting really cleaned out and organized, though. And I am cooking a lot! Now I just need to keep writing about it. :)

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