Valentine’s Day Cupcake Love or Adventures in Valentine’s Day Baking With The Guppy!

Happy Valentine’s Day Everyone!

I wanted to make something sweet and tasty for Valentine’s Day to share with my collegues at the school where I teach, but I also wanted to have some extra “whatever” for our little family. Still recovering from the cookie extravaganza over the holidays, yet needing something easily portable, the logical thing to do was to go with cupcakes (actually, “when in doubt, go with cupcakes” is one of my many little mottos, along with “What would Xena do?” and “If it ain’t rainin’, you ain’t trainin’!”).

The Guppy and I set to work to make some special Valentine’s cup cakes. We get very excited about cupcakes as I’ve mentioned before, and I know I will have to aquire a copy of Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World. I tell myself I’ve been resisting because I just can’t have too many sweet recipes lying around…mind strong, body weak…must make yummy treats…but in reality it’s the over-seas shipping that’s been keeping me from ordering it. I have, however, made the “fauxstess cupcakes” from her Vegan With A Vengeance and even though I didn’t do all the steps, found them to be just perfect. We frosted them with her “Coconut Heaven” icing last time, but I wanted to decorate somehow involving the Valentine’s Day theme, so I went ahead– oops! I mean we, the Guppy and I that is, and made the chocolate ganache icing and the “Royal Icing for Squigglies” but at the risk of totally offending cupcake-loving Moskowitz, used it to make (un-intentionally) funky-looking hearts. Don’t tell her, please.


Guppy helping mum

Doing a little math (I hear friends and loved ones snickering. That’s not nice.) I realized that the yeild of 12 cupcakes would be a bit juste if I was to share cupcake love with collegues and the fam, so I decided ever-so-spontaneously to double the batch. No problemo. Moskowitz even assures me in her super-book that this recipe doubles really well. Yeah, I bet it does, when you’re not baking with a 2-year-old.


Finger Lickin’ Good Batter, Mum!

Truth be told, the Guppy is really into cooking, baking and of course, tasting. She’s very easy to have as a helper, you just have to be sure to continually give her jobs to do. The only trick with that is making sure that the jobs will last long enough to distract her while I finish the task at hand. It all worked out pretty well, the only real problem was that my individual cupcake doses of batter weren’t as equal as I’d have liked, so they came out with varying heights.


No Food Worries With Vegan Beaters!
No Food Worries With Vegan Beaters!
So I would assign varying tasks to the Guppy such as “put all these measuring cups in this big bowl” or “please help Mumma count all these apples in the fruit basket”.
Have you ever been to the circus? Seen one on television? Are you familiar with the Chinese Plate Spinners? No matter how talented you are, eventually you’ll have so many pates spinning that you’ll just have to let a few fall in order to tend to those in front of you.
Some plates did indeed fall. But no one was hurt.
When I decided to double the batch I forgot to do the most basic of baking protocols- make sure I had enough of everything to do the double (as I’ve said before, I’m new to this). I didn’t. I had to substitute brown rice syrup for the maple syrup for the ganache icing. No biggie. Other tiny problem? My tablespoon dissappeared. No biggie. Just double-up on the half-teaspoon. Ok, but when you’re already doubling the recipe that means you’ll need 20 half teaspoons of soy milk for the ganache or 28 half-teaspoons of cocoa powder for the cupcakes…do you see where I’m going with this? (I again hear family and loved ones chortle as they picture dyslexically-inclined Shellyfish counting cocoa powdered spoons while counting apples with the Guppy. You shouldn’t make fun of me.)
The good news is, the cupcakes, while I cannot vouch for their actual cocoa powder content, were splended, the ganache very thick but in a good, decadant-fudgy way, and I found the tablespoon later in the evening when sweeping up the kitchen.
The only sour note is my poor Guppy woke up in the middle of the night with a 104f fever, so I had to call in sick to work and thus not share cupcake love with collegues. The best laid plans of mice and men… oh well, more cupcakes for us as Mr. Fish declared!




How about some RIZ AU LAIT NOUVEAU? Or some Vegan Leftover Brown Rice Pudding if you prefer…

As I mentioned in Monday’s post, I made a little too much brown rice for dinner. I never seem to make too much basmati or jasmine or just plane old boring white rice, so how does this happen with brown rice? One big reason is Mr. Fish. He loves white rice (and refined sugars, pastas, etc.) and there is generally none left, regardless of the initial amount made. Brown rice, or riz complet or whole rice as we call it here, has a much more difficult time winning his heart. Or his stomach.

I think that Mr. Fish has a thing for rice pudding or riz au lait. It had not escaped my attention that his mom often stocked her fridge with store-bought two-serving sized containers of rice pudding prior to our visits when we still lived in Paris and came down for weekends, but it wasn’t something we’d ever really talked about openly. By the end of the weekend they’d be gone, mysteriously, thought I never once saw him indulge. He’d never slipped any in our cart while grocery shopping, never proposed we make some or more aptly that I make some; it remained a non dit. And at the beginning of our relationship I was in a lacto-ovo period, so I totally could have made some, or at least bought some, I digress.


I decided to make some pudding with this leftover rice taking up room in my tiny fridge, but the problem is that my childhood memories of rice pudding were anything but compatible with my vegan lifestyle. After a few cursory searches on-line I found that whole eggs, cream and milk were rice pudding’s best friends. There were some vegan options out there, but most all of them called for white rice, cooked or uncooked. So I did what I do best, I improvised. I went to a few culinary Frenchie blogs and websites hoping to find something close to what Mr. Fish loved, noted the recipes, omitting the obvious animal components, and set to work, the Guppy at my side “helping” me. This is what we came up with:

  • Riz au Lait Nouveau or Vegan (leftover) Brown Rice Pudding*
  • 3 cups non-dairy milk (I used plain soy)
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup rice syrup
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/3 cup raisins (I used half golden, half regular)
  • 3 cups cooked brown rice

Add all the ingredients and stir over medium heat until the rice syrup is dissolved, then add the rice and raisins. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes or until most of the milk has been absorbed, stirring occasionally. I’m a fairly novice cook, so I wondered if I’d have to add a little arrow root or kuzo to thicken things up, but the rice broke down nicely and made things starchy enough and after cooling it was thick and creamy. I used a blend of raisins because neither Mr. Fish nor the Guppy like raisins, and because the Guppy is practically a fruitarian right now, I’ll try just about anything I can to get trace nutrients into her. It worked!! The golden raisins just sort of blended into the mix and looked like rice.

The real test was Mr. Fish- would he indulge sans restraint, as if it were the real deal, or would he taste it and turn up his nose as he often does at my “healthy” versions of things. I intentionally was generous with the sweet content to help convince him it could be yummy without whole cream and eggs. He was rather surprised by the color because it was a bit less chemically-induced white than the store-bought counterparts he’d grown to love, but I told him it was the vanilla and he reluctantly tasted…and…SUCCESS! He loved it, and after his first bowl asked me if he could have another without it being too decadent. He didn’t even diss the raisins as he usually does. There was no riz au lait to be found in our fridge the next day. Now, I was sure to make it clear as I often must that cruelty-free is sadly not synonymous with calorie-free, but it was cholesterol free and nearly fat-free, so a healthier indulgence.

*As I typed the title for today’s entry, I couldn’t help but think how terribly unsexy that sounded “Vegan (leftover) Brown Rice Pudding”. Huh. Thanks, but no thanks, missy. It’s true, adding the word “leftover” to nearly anything moves it to a sort of second class position, because hey, were it delicious in the first place, well, there would be none left, right? Thanks to the grace of the French language it has become riz au lait nouveau, and that, my friends, sounds soooo much better, n’est ce pas?

The Foodie Blogroll

Being new to the blogosphere, and a newbie Foodie to boot, I felt a bit lost as I was first roaming about the net, looking to make a connection with other Vegan and Vegan-Friendly Foodies out there. Lurking around the web, I found this great Foodie site: The Leftover Queen – WOW!

Jenn is one busy lady- she’s got this great food blog which isn’t veg, but believes we can all blog in harmony, she organizes lots of great foodie events, has forums and has created The Foodie Blogroll which is a great way to visit other Foodie blogs, meet other Foodies, and help other Foodies to find you! It’s free, and Jenn is very helpful, so give her a click and get on the blogroll!

Tofu Loaf, Oven-Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Mighty Miso Gravy & Brown Rice: Now Whatever Happened to Sunday Dinners?

Wanting to make a special dinner for Mr. Fish yesterday (it was his fête, or Saint Day, I told you, holidays, albeit little ones, all the time!), I felt a bit strapped for ideas. I try very hard to be an organized person, properly rotating dishes to vary the nutrients and tastes, eating in season, having the correct ingredients on hand…but frankly, it’s a bit of a full-time job to do it all 100%, so I just do what I can (that being said there is a great little article in the recent VegFamily newsletter/website on meal planning
which describes a great idea, which I just might try).

When I went to the marché on Friday with the Guppy we bought about 500g/1lb of brussels sprouts because they looked so tasty. We eat brussels sprouts fairly often, but I would like to point out that before living in France I could not stand brussels sprouts: their geeky-pallor, hideous aroma- YUCK! Alas I was, as are many, victim of boiled-sprouts syndrome, which is unfortunate, because fresh brussels sprouts are amazing, and so good for you. Frozen just can’t compare, though I am not against frozen veggies at all, on the contrary they are often better and more accessible than fresh, but frozen sprouts lose part of their delicious soul, which is dommage. My favorite way to cook sprouts is to roast them, which is sooo easy it’s crazy, and they are so darn good you’ll be nibbling them off the serving dish. Yes, you will. Vegan With A Vengeance (one of my favorite cookbooks) has a nice simple recipe for roasting them with garlic so you could opt for that to begin. Once you start, you’ll be making them all the time and your friends will threaten to no longer eat over if you don’t make something else.

Yummy Tofu Loaf with oven-roasted brussel sprouts
Yummy Tofu Loaf with oven-roasted brussel sprouts

Anyway, needed to cook the sprouts, which left me thinking, “OK, great, you have your vegetable, but where is your MEAL???”, which is when I had this sort of magic infinity-moment where all was right with the world, I saw myself sitting down to a Clever family Sunday dinner and tried to envision what would be served next to the steaming platter of brussels sprouts and then it hit me- meatless loaf! Hourrah! I love tofu loaf! It’s such an easy main dish to throw together in a flash, and makes you feel like you’ve invited an old friend to your table (even if you’ve never been partial to loaf!).

A good tofu loaf is really a subjective thing- a good base-loaf recipe for you to use if it’s uncharted territory is the “Tip-Top Tofu Loaf” from Sarah Kramer’s La Dolce Vegan!. Recently a friend asked me for my tofu loaf recipe, and because it is never the same I suggested this recipe (because I just sort of do it “by ear” or au pif, by nose). I’m glad I did because it gave me cause to flip through it- I’m just not a big fan of this book because of its presentation. I get weirded out by all the pictures of Kramer prancing about. I don’t know why. There are, however, some great basic recipes for newbie vegans trying to find good transition comfort foods- or for folks like me who often make vegan meals for omnivores.

Tofu loaf, oven-roasted brussels sprouts, brown rice & Mighty Miso Gravy

Tofu loaf, oven-roasted brussels sprouts, brown rice & Mighty Miso Gravy

Rather than go with the traditional mashed potatoes usually found lurking around loafy-dishes, I made some brown rice, and no loafy-meal would be complete without a delicious gravy, so I made my family’s favorite “Mighty Miso Gravy” from How It All Vegan. Delish!

I did, however, make too much rice, so I’ll be searching for a good rice pudding recipe later today…

(In a moment of incredible dorkiness, I found that if you look quickly at the above picture it looks like a man wearing a monocle is smiling at you!)

Vegan Crêpes: Vive la fête de la Chandeleur!!

You just have to love a country where there is a holiday dedicated to crêpes!

Having grown up in the United States, I have always associated February 2nd with Groundhog Day, the ridiculous holiday where we’re supposed to hover around the groundhog hole, watching with bated breath to see whether or not the almighty groundhog with his super powers will grant a reprieve of spring, or scurry back into his hole condemning us to further endure blizzards and sub-zero temps…yeah, let me tell you a little something: where I grew up the groundhog would have had to do some serious winter weight lifting in his snug little den before trying to somehow clear a path through the four feet of snow covering his doorway.

As a young child I found this holiday to be completely unfair because we all knew that the groundhog wouldn’t whip out his sunglasses and SPF 15, but that in other parts of the world it was indeed beginning to look like spring. I felt somehow robbed of a holiday with this bogus excuse of an event. I am now, however, happy to report that I have been vindicated, and I now await the arrival of February 2nd impatiently, and even circle the day on my calendar- heck, I even put little hearts and smiley faces next to the 2nd now!

Why? Well, because my dear readers, here in France, we love a party. Our divorce rates are among the lowest, and we also have less heart disease, obesity and other yuckies when compared to other comparably economically-developed countries (whatever that means). It’s not simply due to the red wine my friends (though that must play a part!), it’s the joie de vivre. There are frequent holidays, vacations, fêtes- you name it, and it helps reduce your stress level when you know something fun is on the horizon, and really, what can be more fun than a big ‘ole crêpe party? (OK, there are obviously things which are far more fun than chowing down on crêpes, but bare with me…)

La Fête de la Chandeleur (pronounced like the first name Chandler in English, but with a sh sound in the beginning, like shandler) was the clever work of a Kabylie-born pope, Pope Gélase, in the 5th century. At this point I just have to say, wow! an Algerian-born Catholic pope- who knew! (for the record there have been three popes born on the continent of Africa. And no, I’m not Catholic.) So good Pope Gélase was really quite a trail-blazer as far as popes go, a sort of PR guy if you will. You can read up on him on-line as I did, and you’ll find that much of his decision making became a bit of a template for decisions to be made later down the line. He realized, as did many other important peeps in the Catholic religion such as St. Martin de Tours, that if you wanted to get the new converts to stop celebrating their pagan holidays and buckle down and get with Catholicism, you had to give them a good reason. This usually meant slightly shifting actual Christian holidays so that they would coincide with the pagan ones, in this case Lupercales. (There were actually three or four pagan holidays celebrated on February 2nd here in France and in Europe, but you hungry folks want the crêpe recipe already so I’ll make this brief.) These early February holidays were all about light, luces, chandelles, candles, et. all- help us to feel like the light will return after these hard winter months! In fact, la Chandeleur is actually considered the last of the “Christmas Feasts”, and in many villages the traditional holiday Nativity scene isn’t taken down until after this holiday. So there you go, a pathetically cursory lesson in history to prepare you for the crêpe feast!

My big let-down with the majority of vegan crêpe recipes I have tried is that they are either 1) too fragile to be eaten like real crêpes and must be rolled and filled and placed in a casserole dish and served up as a sort of dish; or 2) they are too greasy. Well, I’m sorry to say that the recipe I’m about to share with you falls into the second category. They are a wee bit slishy, but they are very, very yummy. Real, authentic crêpes are almost paper-thin and much less shiny than these puppies, but I attended a little crêpe soirée to celebrate the 2nd of February and brought along my batter, and the non-vegans vouched for the yummy factor. Also to note, this is a sucrée or sweet batter, so leave out the agave, sugar and vanilla if you want to start with some salée or salty crêpes with sautéed mushrooms and onions for example. Or, if you’re feeling spunky and have a little free time you can be truly authentic and substitute the all-purpose unbleached white flour for buckwheat flour to make what we call here galettes, the usually salty crêpes which precede the sweet ones.

Shellyfish’s Vegan Crêpes

  • 2 cups “milk” (if going with the sweet crêpes you can use vanilla-flavoured. If making the galette variation, you will probably need more here. )
  • 1/4 cup buttery vegan spread, melted or veg oil
  • 1 tablespoon organic sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons agave syrup (you can also use maple if you prefer)
  • 1 cup all-purpose unbleached flour (again, substitute buckwheat for galettes, and leave out the sugar & vanilla.)
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt

You can be all technical and make a little mound with the flour and then try to put everything in the middle like in a little well and then try to mix, but that is entirely too time-consuming for me, and with these ingredients, makes no difference at all. Once things are nicely mixed, but your bowl in the fridge for at least two hours. Yes. Do this. If you don’t, you’ll be all upset that they are sticking to the pan and they are too thick and blady-blah-blah. Another little trick is to be sure that your pan is nice and hot, and put way less batter than you think you need, swirling the pan around to nicely cover the bottom. Remember, these aren’t pancakes, so really, you don’t need much batter.

The batter doesn’t keep, so if you have too much make your crêpes, then pile them together on a plate and cover with cling-wrap and put in the fridge, they’ll keep rather nicely there, but generally the are gobbled up before you’re forced to such extreme measures! Monsieur Fish likes to sprinkle sugar on them, true gourmands will enjoy spreading Nutella or a chocolaty spread on them- but watch vegans, these are not for you! There are some yummy vegan alternatives depending on where you live, though. We also like thinly-sliced banana and vegan whipped cream- the possibilities are only as limited as your pantry (and the room in your tummy!).

Enjoy your crêpes!

Vegan Baking Powder Biscuits

I have shared with you my love of a good biscuit- they are just such a treat. I know that they have huge comfort-food value, and they are a great compromise when you’re trying to put together a healthy meal (like soup & salad or a ‘healthy’ veggie casserole) and you need to make your table look a wee bit more fun. If there is a steaming basket of fresh-from-the-oven biscuits on the table next to the broccoli & mushroom casserole, Mr. Fish is less hesitant to dig in.

That being said, the true baking powder biscuit- light and fluffy being the key words- is a tough thing to make without animal products. I have tried various recipes, and while I’m still not 100% convinced that this is as good as it gets, I have to admit that the recipe for baking powder biscuits in Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s Vegan With A Vengeance is really yummy (as are all the other recipes I’ve ever made from that book!).

The biscuits I made were delicious, but a wee bit salty, so I think next time I’ll back down on the salt using only a 1/4 or a half a teaspoon of salt rather than the teaspoon of salt called for in the recipe. The other difference was that the recipe calls for non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening, and well, that just could not be found! I know state-side it is easier to get ahold of, but I only had the choices of using either hydrogenated veggie or animal shortening, and so opted for doubling up on the non-hydrogenated margarine. They seemed to hold up really well, so I’m not sure that was a problem. Really, the only complaint I had was the salt factor- even Mr. Fish who sadly had a tendency to drown his food in salt (sometimes even before tasting), commented on how salty they tasted.

In-A-Snap Hummus

I don’t know about you, but I love hummus. It was love at first taste, really. I grew up in a fairly meat-and-taters family, and things exotic like hummus, well, didn’t see too much of that until I ventured out into the world on my own. Wow! I had no idea what I was missing.

Middle Eastern fare is so wonderful for vegans because it is usually well balanced with lots of yummy protein, fresh veggies, great grains- you name it! And generally there are plenty of super-easy dishes you can make, often in advance, making it a great choice for busy days & dinner parties. Despite the facility of many Middle-Eastern dishes, well, I often go without. One of the biggest reasons I used to go for long stretches of time sans hummus was because I don’t like buying veggies & fruits out of season for obvious ecological & nutritional reasons. When I was living in the desert south west of the United States, lemons, limes, etc. literally grew on trees (sometimes in my yard!). Citrus was very easy to find, and the travel time was nil, bursting with Arizona-sunshine-freshness. Now that I’m near Paris, well, not so much. I also eschew canned beans. I think canning is an amazing invention, don’t get me wrong, and there are tons of circumstances where cans have saved lives (or meals), but there is just no comparing boiled dried beans with canned. There is such a difference in the flavour & texture… but I really had a hankern’ for some hummus yesterday.

What to do?

Ignore your craving…

Yeah, well, that worked for a while, but dinner time was approaching and I had no plan, and no energy after a very full day. What to do? I pulled out one of my favorite cookbooks to consult one of my tried-and-true hummus recipes, and feigned surprise when I saw I didn’t have some of the most basic ingredients, notably lemon and lime juice. Huh. I glanced at the glass jars containing all our dried grains and beans, and felt tired just thinking about boiling up the beans, and I realized that it would take at least and hour and a half to have fresh-cooked garbanzos (I no longer soak, it’s totally not necessary- and I never, ever would have believed that, I was a die-hard bean soaker. I’ll share that little secret in another post). I started digging through our pantry, and low and behold, I came across a few deserted cans of garbanzos, just longing to be used in something tasty and delicious.

I started throwing together a bit of this and a bit of that, fully aware that it was a rather dangerous enterprise without lemon juice, etc., but hey, I threw caution to the wind, and am I ever glad I did! Last night we had the best hummus we’ve ever! It was so good, really, and so basic. Because I’m a hummus lover I’ve had them all: green olive hummus, sun dried tomato hummus, etc., but I guess sometimes we get so bogged down in the extras we forget the subtly of the most basic pleasures.

Here is my hummus recipe. The total preparation time was under 8 minutes, and that was with 2-year-old guppy helping me.

In A Snap Hummus

  • 7 cloves garlic, diced
  • 1 heaping teaspoon paprika
  • about 1 lb./500g cooked garbanzo beans/chick peas (if you pour them into a big bowl & fill with water & swirl around with your hand, you’ll loosen many of the skins, making them much easier to digest)
  • 1/3 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/2 sesame tahini
  • 2 or 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon cumin (more or less to taste, for me it’s more)
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cups plain soy milk
  • salt to taste

Throw it all in your food processor, adding the soy milk as you go to help get the right consistency. My food processor is in food processor heaven, so I was using the world’s smallest food processor last night- it only holds about two and a half cups of stuff, so I did mine in shifts. I would mostly empty the bowl into a larger bowl, then add more beans & soy milk & salt, then repeat. Once it was all blended I just used a spoon to mix the various batches together. It was amazing! And like I said, under 10 minutes!

We set out a plate with carrot sticks, cucumber hunks, green olives, red pepper slices, pita triangles, and red grapes, and it was fantastic!


With all my heart…

Heart Trio
Heart Trio

I had a very difficult time taking our holiday decorations down this year. They usually make their appearance between Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving, and the rule is they get to stay up until at least my birthday which is the beginning of January. This year, though, they were still up until nearly the end of January.

It seems to me that my hesitance was due in part to my super-cute daughter and her love for all that is holiday decoration. She still asks from time to time where the “Spiders” are, and then tells me with authority that they are sleeping (for information the spiders are some fuzzy plush toys that decorated our apartment at Halloween and which the Guppy just adored to the point of sleeping with them when we let her).

The second reason is I’m feeling a bit homesick. I haven’t had a real holiday with my family since December of 2002 (the operative word being my family, because we have indeed spent the holidays with members of Mr. Fish’s family). Somehow by leaving the tree and tinsel up, well, the hope that I’d be home for christmas was still in an admittedly rather sentimental and cheesy way, alive.

But whatever the reason, his heart or his shoes…uh, I mean the Guppy or my missing my family, the decorations had to come down. People were beginning to notice our décalage with the rest of the world, so it was time to move on, yet, as I was boxing up and tucking away I saw the void I was leaving, and wanted to do something…

Red on white heart
Red on white heart

I actually got the idea to make the felt hearts as Valentines for friends and family members when I was making these adorable cupcake-tree orniments for our holiday tree, an idea which came from this great blog called Bittersweet (and no, I’m not simply a fan because we have the same theme for our blogs!). Ms. Hannah seems like a very talented chica who must not sleep much, but anyway, she shared this great idea for the cupcakes, and being a tempered cupcake fan, I threw together some felty-cakes for our tree and they were really cute. It was the first time I’d done anything vaguely ‘crafty’ since my late teens, and they were so fun and easy I got to thinking about how cute some felty-hearts could be.

White on black felt heart
White on black felt heart

After doing a quick search on Google for heart patterns, I printed out a few and bought some felt at my local mercantile and there you go. The red on white heart is really the cutest I think, though it’s difficult to tell with the grainy photos.

Black on red felt heart
Black on red felt heart

I have made some various little hearts to send out as Valentines using different color combinations like red on pink with multi-colored sparkles, pink on red with white…once I get them all done I’ll probably get some photos up. If you are not terribly sewing-inclined, really, this is a simple and fun project that anyone can do (before doing this the most sewing I’d ever done was attaching my ribbons & elastics to my points & ballet slippers!).