Whatever Happened To Sunday Dinners? : Chow Baby, Divine Lemon Scones & an Award!

I am once again swooning but for the deliciousness of Ms. Joni’s “food courtesque” Chinese-style recipes! Be still my beating heart (and growling stomach) we have Chow Mein, or Mein Chow if you prefer, action happening here :

chow-mein

The most effortless and versatile vegan chow mein ever! Here we have carrots, onion, green beans, mushrooms, mung bean shoots…but baby corn, broccoli, and faux duck (aka seitan) would also be excellent choices. This was a perfect one-wok meal, and as always, I love you both Celine and Joni, as weekly meal planning is a no-brainer for me, and you all are going to love 500 Vegan Recipes! There are some fabulous photos at the 500 Vegan Recipes Cookbook Flickr group, too. But warning : don’t go on an empty stomach!

But let’s get onto the scones, shall we? As many of you know, since my little accident in November, my Sunday routine has been drastically altered. I loved Sunday mornings because they meant me sneaking out of the apartment before Guppy and Monsieur Fish were awake, greedily soaking up the warm smells of baking croissants and baguettes wafting from the boulangeries as I made my way through the streets of my still-sleeping French city… then on to the forest trails, where the morning mist was still hanging heavy, and save the occasional company of a fox, rabbit or (yikes!) wild boar, I was free to spend one and a half to two glorious hours of me time : the long run.

There was nothing like coming home after my long run, feeling both spent and refreshed at the same time (though not smelling so fresh, gotta admit!). After some stretching and showering, it was time for a decadent Sunday brunch with my little family. While I’m sad (and frustrated) to say my foot/ankle is still not letting me do much other than dream about running, I woke up Sunday morning with that basta! feeling we get when enough really is enough and damn it if I can’t go run at least I’m going to make a fun Sunday brunch treat!

And the Divine Lemon Scones were born. Out of necessity. Because I wanted something citrus, something sweetish (as opposed to Swedish, though, that would have been a good idea, too) and I have a sac of lemons that Monsieur Fish bought last week because they were 1E and he just knew I could use them for something.

divine-lemon-sconeI might have gotten a little carried away with the glaze on this one…what do you think?

These scones have a lovely lemon cakesque groove going on which is perfect for the lemon-lover in me. If, however, you are not as lemon crazy as I am, you may want to use less lemon juice or extract for the glaze, or just skip the glaze all together, though I would think you mad because it’s so good!

Divine Lemon Scones

Because I didn’t feel like washing a million cups, this is a metric measure recipe. Sorry Imperialists Imperial-measure folks. This makes about 12 scones.

  • 300 ml non-dairy milk (I use soy)
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 350g AP flour plus 100g AP flour
  • 60g sugar
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • pinch salt (but not hard)
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • zest from 3 lemons

Preheat your oven to about 200c.

Mix the vinegar and “milk” and set aside. Sift together the 350g flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Now add the oil, zest and curdled soy milk mixture. Stir until just combined, adding flour from the 100g as needed to achieve a powdery, not-even-a-little-bit-sticky dough.

At this point I usually divide the dough into two or three as it’s easier to work with. Knead a piece a few times and flatten it into a bit of a disc-shape. Now cut wedges, about six if you divided the dough in two, and get those babies on a parchment or silplat-lined baking sheet. Bake them for about 10-15 minutes (my oven is psycho, so sometimes it’s more like 10, sometimes 14ish).

While they are on the cooling rack, make your Divine Glaze:

  • about 180g powdered/icing sugar (give or take, depending on the consistency you like)
  • the juice of three lemons (you know, the ones you just scalped for the zest)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract (optional, this really gets things lemony)

All you need to do is mix this up until the powdered sugar dissolves. When the scones are mostly-cool just drizzle this all over them. Setting them on parchment paper is a good idea to help with easy clean-up since this glaze could also double as tasty super glue I think. If these don’t float your sconey-boat, you could also try the Rose & Almond Scones I made for BBD last May – delicate rose flavoured almond scones – yum!

Speaking of lemons, look what I got!

lemonade-award2One of my favourite blogger buddies, Jumbleberry Jam, passed along the Lemonade Award which goes to bloggers who show great Attitude and/or Gratitude. My wise and witty Jumblefriend loves gourmet vegan food, wine, dark chocolate…wait a minute, I think that this describes the majority of my readers! Anyway, thank you so much for this much-appreciated distinction. While I’m to pass this on to 10 other bloggers, I am incapable of choosing because there are so many of you that I just LOVE, so consider yourself awarded if you meet at least one of the following criteria :

1. You can’t wait to read your favourite blogs, and are incapable of keeping up with your “Reader” which makes you crazy!

2. You feel a genuine connection to your favourite bloggers and refer to them as “friends you met on the Internet” when talking about them to non-blogging people (as opposed to just calling them “bloggers”).

3. You’re eternally grateful for the fabulous recipes and food ideas you find in blogland and have no idea how you’d plan your weekly meals without them.

There you go! Do let me know if you’ve been tagged!

Tuile We Meet Again… Vegan Tuile Cookies! Tuiles Végétaliennes! It’s the Daring Bakers January Challenge

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What a fun and easy challenge! I loved it! The Daring Bakers were baking Tuile (pronounced tweel) this month and it was pure joy!

I’d bookmarked Vegan Yum Yum‘s recipe for Tuile Cookies back in April, but never got around to making them. What a sillyfish I was! These cookies came out perfectly : light, crisp with a hint of chew…I served these with a luscious maple-lemon custard (and of course with sprinkles, because that’s Guppy’s signature touch) and they were just heavenly. Vegan Yum Yum’s recipe is a slam-dunk, her directions clear and her style impeccable, so really I cannot take much credit for this culinary success – it’s thanks to Vegan Yum Yum!

Here’s what I did (per VYY’s instructions ) :

trace

I traced three circles in some cardboard. She’d suggested not baking more than three at a time because they cool quickly and shaping would be tricky. I followed her advice and had no problems.

tuile-mould

Using my lil’ knife and self-healing mat I cut out the circles.

dough

I put a few dollops of dough in each circle, then using a butter knife I leveled things out.

first-shaping

For a more traditional shape, I used my rolling pin. But the their traditional shape doesn’t lend itself well to filling, so I decided to use espresso cups.

cooling

Right out of the oven I would slide them onto the outside of the cup, then one by one I would pinch them into a taco shape and slide them into the cup. They retained their shape as they cooled.

taco

Here’s a cooled tuile just waiting for some maple-lemon custard…

filledtaco

Notice how the custard opened the taco just a smidge? The key is not to fill them before you’ll be eating them as the filling can lead to soggy tuiles…

stuffedtuiles

Notice how the ones on the left are all perdy and the one on the right is creeping open…it was filled about a half hour before the picture was taken. So, be sure and wait until just before serving to fill your tuiles!

This month’s challenge is brought to us by Karen of Bake My Day and Zorra of 1x umruehren bitte aka Kochtopf. They have chosen Tuiles from The Chocolate Book by Angélique Schmeink and Nougatine and Chocolate Tuiles from Michel Roux. Thank you both for a great challenge!

Be sure and visit the Daring Baker’s Blogroll to see all the tuile-y goodness!

Whatever Happened To Sunday Dinners? : Wild Rice, Mushrooms & Flageolets Verts Au Vin Blanc

In our continuing series of Sunday Dinners, I bring you some earthy yummieness I cooked up today. Born from the need to use the mushrooms and leeks that were in my fridge, this delicious dish was of the “stick to your ribs” type.

If you don’t care for or have a difficult time finding flageolets (which are a French green kidney bean), you could easily sub any mild-tasting bean like cannellini beans (which are the white Italian version of the same bean!). You can play with the proportions of wild rice to whole rice – I used my extra special wild rice stash sent to me from Libby in America! Lucky me.

Oh, and did I mention the wine? It sounds a little classier to say “au vin blanc” than to say “hey, there’s wine in it!”, right? Now pour yourself a little vino and get cooking!

thiswildmushroom

Don’t be deterred by the rather drab-looking photo, this is a flavourful dish with lots of depth and a hearty, toothsome texture thanks to the mushrooms. I tried to remember to write this down, but it’s not as precise as it could be so if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to let me know! I’m here for you!

Wild Rice, Mushrooms & Flageolets Verts

  • 1 cup wild rice
  • 1/2 cup brown/whole rice
  • 1 leek, top & tail removed and sliced into thin half-moons
  • 400-500g mushrooms I used crimini, cleaned & roughly chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves sliced thinly
  • 2 cup dry white wine 1 cup for you to sip while preparing your meal, the other is for the recipe (or veg broth would work, too if you’re sans vin.)
  • 2 cups cooked flageolets
  • salt, pepper, dried herbes de provinçe
  • a little olive oil
  • pine nuts (optional)

Cook your rice – if you’re rather organized you could rinse and soak over night, but if you’re not, don’t sweat it. I wasn’t that organized today, trust me.

While your rice is doing its thing, get to the veg prep. Heat a splash of olive oil in your pan and add the garlic, and when it’s fragrant add the leeks. Stir that around, and in a few minutes, add your mushrooms. If things seem a little dry you can add a few splashes of water. When the mushrooms are tender lower the heat and add the wine and spices and let this simmer – I think this was about 5 minutes or so. Now add your rice and your beans and cover. I had the heat on low and just let things simmer to share their flavours.

While this is happening you can toast your pine nuts in a dry frying pan – if you’ve never toasted your own pine nuts you’re missing out on one of the easiest and gratifying little tricks in the kitchen. Just add your pine nuts – I used a handful – and with a wooden spoon or spatula just shiggle them around so they don’t burn – you can lower the heat if you need to, don’t worry, you can always turn it back up. They’ll get all toasty and smell yummy.

And voila! In the interest of nutrition you should serve this with a green salad or a bowl of soup, but I didn’t do that. Today was one of those “feeling sorry for myself because I’m still not able to run or do much else” days. I’m also feeling helpless and terrible about the horrible war crimes happening in Gaza. My heart just breaks when I think about the families who have no water, electricity, can’t bury their dead with dignity…not even aspirin or antibiotics to give the wounded. I cannot help but feel embarrassed to be human.

We all stayed in our p.j.s all day and watched movies and I did a little crafty sewing. We were salad-less and I wasn’t up for making soup. Be a better vegan than I was and have a little something with this, ok?

Smashing Grain Casserole (It’s got red wine in it!) & PIF Update!

Oh the glory of casseroles! I love them because they mean : less dishes to do, left-overs to eat (or freeze), and let’s not forget the fact that they are oh-so-low maintenance, which is vital when you’re busy, or hobbly, or both! This one is particularly fun because it calls for wine. Now, you can totally use that fond de bouteille (last of the bottle) that’s been hanging out in your fridge for an embarrassingly long time (promise, it’ll be ok), or you can seize the occasion to go buy some wine and just pour a little into your dinner! How fun!

wine

Gratuitous Wine Shot

I know I’m spoiled because we can get quite fab wine for cheapo – like 3E a bottle, but if you’re not concerned about drinking the wine, just buy a cheapy bottle for cooking!

I tend to make hearty casseroles as my post-long run fuel because of their perfect protein/carb ratio, and because of how easy they are to prepare. After a long Sunday run I can throw everything (gently) into the roasting pan, and have time to shower, dress, stretch and rehydrate. Without rushing or much effort, I can have a warm, hearty meal for lunch. A crunchy, fresh green salad would be so perfect with this, too!

Granted, my long Sunday runs have been temporarily transformed into long Sunday sits, but that doesn’t negate the ease and practicality of the casserole!

close-up

Blurry Close Up…Must Be The Wine

This combo is one of my favourites for the autumn and winter months because it’s “earthy” (in a good way) and satisfying. And it has wine in it. I love wine. Don’t you? Have a little glass as you prepare your casserole…red is good for your health as well as your soul. It also has fonio, an African super-grain which is so good for you, and good for communities on the African continent who are trying to build up a sustainable economy (difficult to do after hundreds of years of colonization, when will we learn?). Some people are turned off by its strongish taste, which is why I don’t use much here. If you don’t have any fonio, or are reluctant to use it, just skip it or replace with bulgur or cracked spelt or whatever makes you smile!

Smashing Grain Casserole

*In an effort to make this accessible to Imperial and Metric users alike, I carefully noted the conversions in cups…and totally forgot to write down the Metric measures. Sorry guys.

Set your oven for 350F and put all of the following except the veg broth in a large roasting pan or casserole dish with a lid:

  • 1 cup brown rice (dry)
  • 1 cup cooked garbanzo beans
  • 1/4 cup fonio (or bulgur or just skip) – dry
  • 3/4 cup frozen peas
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • 1 red pepper, peeled & roasted
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 3/4 cup red wine
  • approx. 2.5 cups veggie broth or bouillon & water (possibly more, it will depend on how much is absorbed)
  • 1/2 cup fresh chopped parsley
  • Cumin
  • Salt & Pepper

Give it all a good stir and add about 1/2 cup of the veg broth. Put it in the oven for about 45 minutes or so. Take it out, stir, and add more broth. Basically, this will need to stay in the oven four about 90 minutes, so I just take it out & check it every half hour or so, it’s pretty forgiving. You just don’t want it to dry out too much.

Great add-ins are sautéed mushrooms or chopped tomatoes, anything goes, really!

Check it out! People are Paying It Forward!

pay_it_4ward1

Go visit Tacha and Natalia for more chances to win some handmade love! I would just be so excited to have something from them…I may have to re-enter myself!

HAPPY HALLOWEEN! Vegan MoFo Day 31 – Mushroom & Spinach Risotto

Happy Halloween! I know I’m getting this in under the wire (it’s already after midnight here in France…but it’s still the 31st in North America, right? Right!). I really wanted to get one more MoFo post in before the end…

It’s been such a crazy trip! This is my 24th post this month, about twice what I usually do. I admit that it’ll be much easier to keep up with my favourite vegan food blogs now that it’s over and my Blogger reader will no longer be screaming triple digits at me, but how fun has this been? Spreading the Vegan gospel all over the blogosphere…Amen!

For my last MoFo post, I’d like to share one of our preferred recipes here at the Fish household. It’s not a quickie by any means (recipe you freaks), but it’s delicious and healthy :

Mushroom & Spinach Risotto

This is from a recipe I veganized from one of my monster-in-law’s Femme Actuelle magazines. The original called for beef stock, and rather than spinach you were to add sautéed duck. Yuck. If you’ve ever made risotto before, you know it falls into the “good things come to those who wait” category. This is just bursting with flavour and makes for a lovely main dish with a crispy salad to start, or a satisfying accompaniment. Just be warned, you’ll be standing in front of your stove stirring for a nearly half an hourish…

  • 2 cups sliced button mushrooms
  • a bit more than a pound (300g) fresh spinach, washed & destemmed
  • olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 generous cups red wine
  • 5 cups veggie stock (or water with a veggie bouillon cube if your me)
  • 1.5 cups Arborio rice

Pour one cup of the red wine in a lovely glass. Take a sip. Continue sipping throughout the preparation of this recipe. Now reserve the other cup for the risotto.

Sautée your mushrooms in a frying pan until they begin to shrivel up a bit (I don’t use oil here, as they’ll be swimming in their own juices soon enough. Just keep an eye one them.). Add a little salt and pepper, and once they are cooked through add your spinach. Stir from time to time to be sure that it all wilts a little, but not too much. Once it is a bright green color turn off the heat and set aside.

Have your veggie stock or bouillon water handy and warm. You’ll need it in a minute. Heat a little olive oil and sautée the onion until it’s translucent. Now add your garlic and maybe a little pepper or some herbs. I toss in some crumbled herbs de province. Add the red wine and let it reduce for a minute or so (you might have to turn the heat up here). Now add your rice. Here comes the labour-intensive part : get ready to stir! Keep stirring the rice until most of the wine is soaked up, and now just keep adding the veggie stock, about 3/4 cup at a time or so, continually stirring. Add more stock as the rice soaks it up. You’ll probably be waiting about 5 to 10 minutes before each addition, depending on how hot your burner is (turn it up if it’s not soaking fast enough). This can be boring, but it’s so delicious you’ll be glad you spent the time on it. Don’t get all worried if at the end it seems rather creamy – risotto is creamy! Once you’ve added all your liquid, turn off the heat and give it one last stir, then let it sit for about 5 or 10 minutes. And voila!

Bon appétit! I think I’m going to spend the next few days trying to catch up a little on my blog reading!

Vegan MoFo Day 9 – The easiest meal in the world…

I’m about to share with you a 20-minute meal that is so fast, easy & healthy that I’m almost embarassed to post it, but I will, because in my quest for Vegan MoFodom I have no shame…

But first, look what was sent to the United States today :

Go back to your Arizona ranch McCain – this is Obama’s Game!

My collegues are all rooting with me. We’ll be drinking champagne Wednesday, November 5th after my morning classes together. I doubt I’ll be getting much sleep on the 4th. Damn time difference…

And now, I will present you with one of the embarrassingly easy things I throw together when I have no meal plan, and will give you the tools you need so that you too can feign suave sophistication serving healthful foods to your friends and family…

Yes, even the picture is a total schlep job – but it works kids! Seriously! You’ll be loving it!

Here’s what you’ll need to make this dinner :

2 cups lentils & 4 cups H2O – yellow, green – whatever color you want, because even though the textures are different, it’ll all be ok in the end. If you’re in a big hurry go with the red or pink ones because they cook a little faster. Get them boiling. Yes, they’ll take more than 20 minutes to cook, but just start them up & check your email, comment a few blogs, then go back into the kitchen.

1 cup quinoa & 2 cups water – get that simmering in a pot, cover it, check it from time to time to be sure it isn’t burning, and add a little water if things get too dry. This should take about 15 minutes give or take.

1 Onion, 1 can crushed tomatoes, some cumin, salt, pepper, olive oil – While your pots are bubbling away on the stove top, chop your onion. Put it in a frying pan with the oil & spices and brown it up. Add the crushed tomatoes.

Stop! Your quinoa is done! It’ll burn if you don’t get it off the stove! Fluff it and cover it and leave it alone.

Stop! Drain your lentils, they’re done! Chances are, they soaked up all the water and that’s just fine. Now dump them in with the onion and tomato and stir it up. You may want to add some hot sauce or some more spices. I like to add some chili paste, you know, because I’m hot like that. Once it gets a little thick and yummy you can turn off the burner.

2 soy yogurts, a small bunch of fresh chopped coriander leaves, a little lime juice, salt – Mix these up in a bowl together. With a spoon. Lick the spoon. If you don’t like the way it tastes you can add a fresh chopped tomato, maybe half of a diced cucumber, more salt…you get the idea…

Voila! You have a balanced meal chock full of protein, fibre and vitamins! If you want to be super-cool you can wrap it up in a flat bread or tortilla or just pile it up in a bowl as I did above. Personally, I love the juxtaposition of the hot, spicy lentils and the cool, fresh yogurt sauce with the mellow and zen quinoa making peace and love in between. That’s just the kind of girl I am.

Vegan MoFo Day 8 – Gratitude…and a secret family recipe to share my gratefulness with you!

There are days when I am overwhelmed by waves of gratitude. I am able to look beyond the artifice of the superficiality our consumerist-bulimia so often imposes upon us. This shallow egotism, to which we are unwittingly yoked, is so often subversive and hidden… just discreetly clouding to the corners all that is really who we are… our substance, our essence. Who we are is of course the decisions we make, the choices which delineate diets… our politics, really. The life we live is the best suited spokesperson for what we believe in, and there are moments of serendipity where we can feel that what we’re doing is in harmony with what we want to be.

I’m so grateful for …

twirling through the forest trails

the last of the summer berries

some of the last tomatoes I’ll be buying before next Spring

the amazing aroma of garlic frying in olive oil, just waiting for the above tomatoes…

Very gratefully feeling better, I was able to set aside some time to enjoy my family, make a few litres of what my family calls “Garlic Gravy”, which is just the most amazing and most simple tomato sauce. I’ve got a good amount in our deep-freezer for Winter cooking. I never buy jar sauce, ever. I do, however, during the winter months, buy canned tomatoes. But my great-grandmother Antonia’s “Garlic Gravy” needs fresh tomatoes to really shine. This is our family recipe, but it is so terribly basic that you might be thinking, “she’s got to be kidding, this isn’t a tomato sauce recipe…”. Oh yes, it is. Let me reassure you…

Great Grandmother Antonia’s Garlic Gravy

this is for just a normal amout of sauce, for lasagne or for a pasta dinner…

  • 2 to 3lbs vine-ripened tomatoes
  • 1 bulb of purple or pink garlic, or just normal if you can’t find them
  • fresh parsley
  • about 30cl or a 1/4 of homemade ketchup or a few tablespoons of tomato paste
  • salt and pepper to taste

Now here’s the deal kids – cut up your garlic and tomatoes BEFORE you do anything else. Seriously. I have begun this thinking I could chop tomatoes like the wind, only to find that my garlic is burned and that my haste made nothing but waste.

So, once everything is all cut up & ready, cover the bottom of your pot with olive oil and heat it on high until it’s just terribly hot. Add your garlic, and while stirring it, *very* slowly begin lowering the temp, being very careful to not burn your garlic. If it looks even a little brown, get your pot of the burner NOW! Continue sautéing your garlic until you just know it’s about to brown on you and add your tomatoes. Now turn that heat back up until it begins boiling. Don’t forget to stir from time to time. Bring the sauce down to a simmer, and let it go, uncovered, for about a half an hour. Add your ketchup, parsley, and add your salt and pepper if you need, and let it go for a few more mintues. That’s it. Sometimes I leave it with the chunks of garlic and tomato, sometimes I blend it up and it looks just beautiful. The taste will bluff you, because you’ve done nothing incredible, but your sauce will taste as if you did.

I’ve never met my great-grandmother. She passed away before my parents were married – she was in her 80s, outside working in her garden (she chopped her own firewood until the end) when she suffered a what would prove fatal stroke. Despite all her talents, she never quite mastered English (she was Croatian), and she took coins from her pocket to communicate to the paramedics that my mum worked at “Penny’s” department store, and that’s how they knew to call her there. I feel very close to her despite never having seen her – genetic memory? – and feel so greatful that she shared this recipe with my mum, who shared it with me when I began making my own food, about two years ago.

What are you grateful for?

I’m so thankful to be a vegan, and to have wonderful, nutritious vegan foods to eat, and fabulous blogger pals like you!

Vegan MoFo Day 5 : Making Dogs & Sausages & Seitan!

Thank you all for your sweet comments on my embroidery & such yesterday. I feel like a 5 year-old showing my parents my scribbles – those first tentative steps towards art, and the encouraging words validating the effort…

Since some of you were asking about what recipes I use to make homemade doggies I thought this would be a great MoFo post :

I have been bursting at the seams to tell you’all about this seitan recipe which is the most amazing seitan I’ve ever made in my entire life! Sworn to not propagate “blogiddity”, mum was the word for her testers, until the super-cool Kittee posted this recipe for her Basic Gluten Log. Now you too can be in on the best (and easiest to make) seitan ever! I have a large three-tray steamer, and I make the log in that and it works just fine. I’ve made this a few times, and frozen it up for other meals – it’s really amazing.

He’re a really terrible, over-exposed picture of a sandwich, slathered in Dijon mustard!

One of our favorite ways to eat it is just to brown it up in a dry frying pan, but I have also made mini-logs, more like hot-dogs, and they are just too perfectly cool! It slices up really thin, so you can do so much with it! Kittee is so cool!

Another great seitan sausage recipe is of course Julie Hassons’s which is just yum, and let’s not forget Celine’s Fauxsausage – Celine is trop douée! too talented! Love her! I’m a hot & spicy kind of gal, but little Guppy, well, not so much, so I usually tone down the spices for her, and M. Fish and I drown things in mustard or hot sauce later.

So free yourself from buying soy dogs with lots of unpronouncables and preservatives and other random things. Yes, gluten needs to be used sparingly (or not at all by some), but once you start playing with your spices, you’ll find that you can make some really yummy home-cooked, homemade dogs! How liberating (and fun) is that?

I’m just crackers for the Inaugural “Alternative” Daring Bakers Challenge!

Don’t forget to leave a comment here to be entered into my little drawing for a felty-love pouch! You have until Oct. 1st!

This has been my most exciting Daring Bakers Challenge yet! Why, you ask? Because I got to be a “hostess-with-the-mostest!” (Have any of you seen Spinal Tap? Oh, wasted youth, how I miss thee…). Oh, and because we got to chose our recipe, I wasn’t confronted with subbing 27 eggs, because the recipe was VEGAN! Ha! It was also possible to do a Gluten Free variation, because darn it, we’re Alternative, and we’re worth it! :

When the gracious and talented Natalie of Gluten A Go Go asked me to co-host with her I was wonderfully surprised and terribly flattered. I’m a baby Daring Baker, and my inaugural Challenge, veganizing Dorie’s Perfect Party Cake, was my first real brush with a baking disaster (luckily my second attempt at Daringness was a success and my Tofu Cheesecake Pops rocked the casaba). It was during this second challenge that I “met” Natalie (during our Alternative Bake-Along) and started visiting her blog on a regular basis.

Working with Natalie on this project was pure joy! We were in sync from the very beginning, knowing we wanted to move away from the sticky-sweet challenges we’ve seen of late (though I love sweet, and I can’t wait for the next sugar-filled challenge!). There was also this bread vibe that passed between us, and from the beginning we moved towards baking bread or crackers, and Natalie suggested adding dips and spreads to the mix. We also knew that we wanted an easily convertible recipe so that our GF and Vegan Bakers wouldn’t have to re-invent the wheel!

Natalie mentioned Peter Reinhart, and I took advantage of my State-Side vacation to pick up his phenomenal (IMHO) book The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, which was, without exaggeration, life-changing for me! I couldn’t put it down, and fell deeper and deeper in love with the glossy photos of his venerable chef d’oeuvres. As a very new baker, I was reminded of my early ballet career and seeing the Bolshoi Ballet for the very first time – W-O-W! Once the two of us were armed with Apprentice, we were baking to beat the band : trying different recipes for their GF or Vegan-friendliness, trying to find the perfect fit between a clear, structured recipe, and the possibility to bake outside of the box and add one’s own creative stamp to the Challenge.

After baking many a bread, we decided on the Lavash Crackers (recipe at the end of this post), for their adaptability, their deliciousness, and their utility (everyone should make their own crackers at least once, right?). We sincerely hoped that because of the different toppings possibilities, the dough add-ins such as herbs or spices, and of course the multitude of GF and Vegan dips or spreads to accompany them with, that this challenge could truly be yours, so that it would be a pleasure to make as well as to eat!

I want to thank Natalie for allowing me this opportunity for culinary collaboration, something I’d never done before. I felt like I was in school again working on a project with a friend, and the many emails we shared over the summer months fine tuning our ideas were rich and entertaining. It’s thanks to my fellow Daring Baker that I discovered Reinhart and his fabulous book, and I’ve learned so many new things and become all the richer for it. Thanks also go out to our co-founders Lis and Yvonne, who gave us the green light for our idea, and who have made the blogosphere a much more tasty place to be! Thank you!

I’ve made these crackers five times since we decided on the recipe. I have made savory and sweet versions, once adding dried basil and rosemary to the savory dough and another time I added all spice and vanilla for a sweet version. I’ve rolled the dough thicker for a pita-like bread, and much thinner, more crackly crackers. I broke them apart to make shards, cut them into pita triangles, and used cookie cutters. I’m thrilled to have this recipe in my repertoire, and I hope you are, too!

You might be wondering why there are no pictures of my dips? Well, mostly because I just forgot to take them! I’m sorry, I was so concentrating on the cracker-aspect of the Challenge! I made hummus, homemade salsa, Thai Almond dip, Smokey Black Bean dip, and I don’t remember what else. I think because I make these things so often, they just didn’t seem very photo-worthy…?

I think what I most enjoyed (besides eating the crackers), was this Challenge (hopefully) helped dispel some of the clichés surrounding what “Vegan” means – often people have a rather reductionist vision of what we eat, and they think we dine on soy 3 times a day, and supplement with twigs and berries (ok, maybe not!), but my family doesn’t really eat much soy at all, and when we do, it’s usually in the form of tempeh (so less processed). Our diets consist of a vast variety of foods, mostly veggies, fruits, and grains…and desserts, too! So many of what are considered “comfort foods” in North America are vegan – chips & salsa, PB & J, and if you’re ever in France, stop by my place for a vegan apple pie – you’ll NEVER know the difference! There was a spirit of curiosity buzzing about the forums, and I was so proud to be a member of this Daring community where my fellow Bakers took the Challenge to heart and sincerely moved outside of their comfort zones (the way the Alternative Bakers do, too!).

Lavash Crackers from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice

Here’s a simple formula for making snappy Armenian-style crackers, perfect for breadbaskets, company and kids…It is similar to the many other Middle Eastern and Northern African flatbreads known by different names, such as mankoush or mannaeesh (Lebanese), barbari (Iranian), khoubiz or khobz (Arabian), aiysh (Egyptian), kesret and mella (Tunisian), pide or pita (Turkish), and pideh (Armenian). The main difference between these breads is either how thick or thin the dough is rolled out, or the type of oven in which they are baked (or on which they are baked, as many of these breads are cooked on stones or red-hot pans with a convex surface)…

The key to a crisp lavash,…is to roll out the dough paper-thin. The sheet can be cut into crackers in advance or snapped into shards after baking. The shards make a nice presentation when arranged in baskets.

Makes 1 sheet pan of crackers

* 1 1/2 cups (6.75 oz) unbleached bread flour or gluten free flour blend (If you use a blend without xanthan gum, add 1 tsp xanthan or guar gum to the recipe)
* 1/2 tsp (.13 oz) salt
* 1/2 tsp (.055 oz) instant yeast
* 1 Tb (.75 oz) agave syrup or sugar
* 1 Tb (.5 oz) vegetable oil
* 1/3 to 1/2 cup + 2 Tb (3 to 4 oz) water, at room temperature
* Poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, or kosher salt for toppings

1. In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, salt yeast, agave, oil, and just enough water to bring everything together into a ball. You may not need the full 1/2 cup + 2 Tb of water, but be prepared to use it all if needed.

2. For Non Gluten Free Cracker Dough: Sprinkle some flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Knead for about 10 minutes, or until the ingredients are evenly distributed. The dough should pass the windowpane test (see http://www.wikihow.com/Determine-if-Bre … ong-Enough for a description of this) and register 77 degrees to 81 degrees Fahrenheit. The dough should be firmer than French bread dough, but not quite as firm as bagel dough (what I call medium-firm dough), satiny to the touch, not tacky, and supple enough to stretch when pulled. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

or

2. For Gluten Free Cracker Dough: The dough should be firmer than French bread dough, but not quite as firm as bagel dough (what I call medium-firm dough), and slightly tacky. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

3. Ferment at room temperature for 90 minutes, or until the dough doubles in size. (You can also retard the dough overnight in the refrigerator immediately after kneading or mixing).

4. For Non Gluten Free Cracker Dough: Mist the counter lightly with spray oil and transfer the dough to the counter. Press the dough into a square with your hand and dust the top of the dough lightly with flour. Roll it out with a rolling pin into a paper thin sheet about 15 inches by 12 inches. You may have to stop from time to time so that the gluten can relax. At these times, lift the dough from the counter and wave it a little, and then lay it back down. Cover it with a towel or plastic wrap while it relaxes. When it is the desired thinness, let the dough relax for 5 minutes. Line a sheet pan with baking parchment. Carefully lift the sheet of dough and lay it on the parchment. If it overlaps the edge of the pan, snip off the excess with scissors.

or

4. For Gluten Free Cracker Dough: Lay out two sheets of parchment paper. Divide the cracker dough in half and then sandwich the dough between the two sheets of parchment. Roll out the dough until it is a paper thin sheet about 15 inches by 12 inches. Slowly peel away the top layer of parchment paper. Then set the bottom layer of parchment paper with the cracker dough on it onto a baking sheet.

5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit with the oven rack on the middle shelf. Mist the top of the dough with water and sprinkle a covering of seeds or spices on the dough (such as alternating rows of poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, kosher or pretzel salt, etc.) Be careful with spices and salt – a little goes a long way. If you want to pre-cut the cracker, use a pizza cutter (rolling blade) and cut diamonds or rectangles in the dough. You do not need to separate the pieces, as they will snap apart after baking. If you want to make shards, bake the sheet of dough without cutting it first.

5. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the crackers begin to brown evenly across the top (the time will depend on how thinly and evenly you rolled the dough).

6. When the crackers are baked, remove the pan from the oven and let them cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. You can then snap them apart or snap off shards and serve.

Daring Bakers Challenge – Faster Than A Vegan Éclair!

I LOVED this challenge!

Naked Éclair

Yep, the incredibly delicious Vegan Éclairs that were the August Daring Bakers Challenge disappeared “faster than lightening” or faster than an éclair, if you will. This month’s ever-so-lovely hosts Tony Tahhan and Meeta K of What’s For Lunch Honey? gave us a little French flavah by proposing Chocolate Éclairs by Pierre Hermé from Chocolate Desserts by Dorie Greenspan.

These little gems were so amazing…I can’t remember the last time I had an éclair, but if my memory is at all correct, they were right on! Mr. Fish who is an éclair expert, proclaimed that I should probably make another batch for him to taste to be sure of their authenticity… because the first batch just sort of disappeared! He loved them, Guppy loved them, and I loved them. They were light, flaky, and just perfect! I know I’ll be making these again…

I know, they look way more like profiteroles than éclairs, mais ça m’est égale! I don’t care! I wanted to make bite-sized éclairs, which explains their look. There had to be at least one chocolate component, either the glaze or the pastry cream or both. I’ve never been a big fan of chocolate pastry cream, so I opted for lemon custard instead. Rather than pipe in the scrumptious pastry cream, I sliced them in half to allow for generous helpings of cream, and made little éclair sandwiches. For the glaze I made a chocolate-lemon royal icing, and the lemon and chocolate really paired well together.

I would like to extend a huge thanks to Catherine of Food Snob for sharing the vegan éclair recipe she found – Merci Catherine! Tu es adorable! The recipe which follows is so fast and easy. I made the pastry cream and the glaze while the éclairs were in the oven and I think the entire challenge took me a mere hour and some change (with the “help” of my 3-year-old) which was a nice little break from the very elaborate challenges we’ve had of late (which I also like, but hey, quick & delicious is good, too, right?).

Don’t forget to check out the Daring Bakers Blog Roll to see all the éclair goodness out there!

Vegan Éclairs

1 batch custard or pastry cream (I used the recipe from The Joy of Vegan Baking).

1 batch chocolate glaze (I used the Royal Icing recipe also from TJOVB but added 3 tbsp of dutch processed cocoa powder)

Ingredients (use vegan versions):
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar (or baking powder) – I used 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons margarine
equivalent of 4 eggs (2 tablespoon Ener-G Egg Replacer whipped until stiff with 1/3 cup water)
1 cup soy milk

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare baking sheet–either parchment paper or a non-stick pan. Prepare egg-replacer. Stir together flour, vegan sugar, salt, cream of tartar. In a sauce pan (non-stick works well), bring the soymilk and margarine to a boil, stirring constantly. Add the flour all at once, and reduce heat to low. Stir constantly until the dough forms a ball that pulls away from the pan and the spoon and is glossy and smooth. Working quickly, remove from heat and add the Ener-G Egg Replacer, about a third at a time, beating well after each addition until the dough is glossy, smooth, and pulls away from the pan.

Shape the puffs as desired–I made mini-puffs about a rounded teaspoon each. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, then lower heat to 350 for another 10 minutes, then turn off oven and allow to cool, with door slightly cracked for another 20 minutes, then cool completely on wire racks before serving or filling.