Thursday, February 24, 2011

Fast & Easy Biscotti

 Biscotti. A coffeehouse indulgence. Or from a box at the grocery store. Or homemade--but gosh, what a hassle! I've made biscotti from scratch a few times and although these twice-baked cookies are actually pretty simple, they seem intimidating. Get the dough just right. Add ingredients. Hope they hold together okay when they're finished. Geez.

I made these biscotti recently, for a presentation where I was supposed to bring some sort of snack. The original recipe doesn't call for chocolate--but chocolate goes so well with coffee. If you're not a chocolate person, leave it out. The base for these biscotti allows you a lot of flexibility with your ingredients, so work with what you have. I happened to want to make my biscotti tropical, since cinnamon and nutmeg are already tropical flavors (so is vanilla, for that matter), so I added papaya, semi-sweet chocolate chips, and sesame seeds.

When I worked my dough, it came out a bit drier than I would have liked so I added some cold coffee (about 1 tablespoon) to the dough. Why coffee instead of water? Extra flavor -- specifically an earthy flavor that would blend well with tropical flavors I was already using.

Fast & Easy Biscotti (with papaya, chocolate, and sesame seeds)
1 (16.5 or 18-ounce) roll refrigerated sugar cookie dough

2/3 cup all-purpose, whole wheat flour
1 ½ cups chopped papaya, coarsely chopped semi-sweet chocolate chips, and sesame seeds*
2 tablespoons grated orange zest
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (a few drops of orange extract can be added as well)
1 tablespoon cold coffee, or water**

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly spray a cookie sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Break up the cookie dough into large bowl; let stand for 10–15 minutes to soften.

Add flour, cranberries, orange zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla extract to the cookie dough; mix well with your fingers, the paddle attachment of an electric stand mixer, or a wooden spoon. Add coffee/water if needed so that the dough just holds together.

Divide dough into two equal halves. On the cookie sheet, shape each dough half into a 12 x 2-inch rectangle, 3/4-inch high, spacing the dough halves about 3 inches apart.

Bake for 26–28 minutes or until the logs are deep golden brown and spring back in the center when touched. Remove sheet from oven; keep oven on. Let cool for 3-4 minutes and then using two pancake turners, lift logs, one at a time, from the cookie sheet to a cutting board. Using a sharp knife, cut one of the logs into 3/4-inch wide slices. Note: for longer biscotti, cut at a deep diagonal; for shorter biscotti, cut log crosswise. Repeat with second log.

Place slices on the same cookie sheet (do not worry about the spacing). Bake slices for 5 minutes; remove from oven and turn over all of the slices. Return cookie sheet to oven and bake for 5 minutes longer. Turn off oven and let biscotti sit in oven for approximately 15 more minutes.

Remove sheet from oven and let cool for 10 minutes and then transfer biscotti to a wire rack; cool completely.

Makes 28 biscotti.
*Other fun combinations might include:
  • Cranberries, chocolate chips/white chocolate chips, pistachios
  • Cinnamon chips and white chocolate chips
  • White chocolate chips and pecans
  • Pecans and dried apricots
**You'll want the dough to hold together just enough to form it into two logs. You do not want sticky dough. Add additional liquid only if needed.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Reese's Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting

Not long ago, I was baking with my friend Annie of Simple Gifts. We were in the mood to experiment and we wanted something we could decorate. We finally decided to make cupcakes. We set our friend Lauren on the task of finding a straight-forward cucpcake recipe that we could stick Reese's miniatures in and when I vetoed chocolate cupcakes, Lauren decided on a simple vanilla cupcake--an Amy Sedaris recipe.

Amy Sedaris is the author of Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People -- this is a super-fun (and somewhat snarky/humorous) book and I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence, among others. The cupcake recipe we used comes from I Like You and your can find the recipe here.
Beating up the Cake Batter--it always feels so good!
Nestle in a Reese's Cup (Mini)
Cover wiht more batter until cups are 2/3 full
We placed a miniature Reese's cup in each of the cupcake tins after we'd filled it halfway with batter, and then covered the Reese's cup with batter, until each cup was about 2/3 full. We used a combination of mini-cupcakes and regular-sized cupcakes and with the mini-cakes we cut the miniature Reese's cups in half.

Once the cupcakes baked and cooled, we topped them with the peanut butter frosting found modified from the recipe found here. Our changes appear below.

Peanut Butter Frosting
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup creamy peanut butter (we used reduced fat, because that's what we had on hand)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup skim milk

We piped the frosting onto the cupcakes and then sprinkled the top with chopped dark chocolate--and we couldn't resist adding M&Ms to a few of them.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Honey-Wheat Bread

On Monday, I went to watch Northern Exposure at a friend's house. When I walked in, the house smelled of bread--lovely!--and another friend and I talked about how nice it would be to make bread. I didn't know if we'd follow through--there are so many things that can get in the way of a simple afternoon of baking.

But yesterday, after we worked in the local food co-op for a while, we went to my place and made a modified version of the Honey-Wheat Bread from The All New Good Housekeeping Cookbook. I looked through several recipes before landing on this one. I wanted one that was at least 1/2 whole wheat. I wanted one that made more than 1 loaf. I wanted one that didn't use 7-10 cups of flour because I didn't have a big enough container for it to proof in. I wanted one that didn't need a sponge since I hadn't started one on Tuesday. And I wanted one I wouldn't have to go buy additional ingredients to make.

I substituted in some bread flour because it has a higher gluten content. The original recipe also calls for slightly less yeast and coating the loaves with flour instead of oatmeal. I finished a bottle of honey with this, so my bread has a little extra honey.

I also used white whole wheat, because it seems to work better in soft bread recipes than regular whole wheat, which works fantastically in really hearty bread recipes.

My friend and I got the basic set of ingredients together, kneaded the dough, and then worked and chatted in my living room while the dough rose the first time. By the time the bread was finished, about 3 hours after we'd started, the entire house smelled absolutely lovely and I wondered--again--why I don't make bread more often.
I served this with a carrot-ginger soup for dinner. We made open-faced hummus and grilled baby Swiss cheese sandwiches. It stood up quite nicely to the garlicky-hummus (which blends well with baby Swiss) and the sweet-richness of carrot-ginger soup.

Honey-Wheat Bread
1 1/2 cups warm water (105-115 degrees)
5 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup honey
1/3 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup bread flour
about 2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon oatmeal, for topping (old-fashioned or quick, not instant)
Olive oil

In a large bowl, combine 1/2 cup warm water (about the temperature you'd give to an infant, if you don't have a food thermometer), yeast, and sugar. Stir to dissolve. Let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes. Stir in remaining 1 cup of warm water, honey, butter, egg, salt, and whole-wheat flour until smooth. Gradually stir in 1 cup bread flour and 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour.

Turn dough onto lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 7-10 minutes, working in enough of the remaining 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour to form a slightly tacky dough. (A slightly sticky dough is desirable in most bread recipes).

Shape the dough into a ball; place in a bowl coated with olive oil and turn the dough to cover with oil. Loosely cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a tea towel (not terry cloth) and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 1/2 hours.

Punch down the dough. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and cut in half; cover and let rest 10 minutes. On a large ungreased cookie sheet, shape each dough lump into a 6" x 4.5" ovals. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 30 minutes. With a serrated knife, cut three 3-inch-long and 1/4-inch deep diagonal slashes across tops of loaves.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Sprinkle oatmeal on top of loaves. Bake until loaves sound hollow when lightly tapped on the bottom, about 40 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Vegan White Chili

The Midwest has gotten blasted by cold air (again!) this week. We're seeing highs in the single digits (gasp!) before the wind chill for the first part of this week. This seemed like the perfect excuse to make a hearty chili. A while back I purchased some white chili blend from Pendery's Spices, but I hadn't experimented with it. Chili generally feels heavy to me--but I know it'll feel even heavier when the weather starts getting warm again.

The basic recipe comes on the chili-blend package and calls for chicken. I use seitan instead. You can make your own seitan--there are a lot of recipes available on the internet, or you can buy a mock chicken product. There are many varieties of mock chicken products out there and in this recipe, I use one made by White Wave.

I keep telling myself one of these days, I'll make seitan. But then I keep telling myself one of these days, I won't be a poor, time-crunched student. Maybe.

You could also make this chili gluten-free by increasing the number of beans and withholding the seitan altogether. Seitan is made from vital wheat gluten and therefore can't be given to people with wheat or gluten intolerances/allergies.

My vegan version of white chili(double everything, if you want) is below:

Vegan White Chili

1/2 pound baby lima beans (or other small white bean), soaked 6-8 hours or overnight and then cooked, according to package instructions, approximately 1.5-2 hours, depending on the type of bean you use.

While the beans are cooking, prepare the rest of the chili:

3 tablespoons olive oil, vegan margarine, or a combination
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 4-ounce can drained, chopped green chiles
2-3 fresh jalapenos, or to taste, chopped*
4 ounces seitan
1/2-1 cups low-sodium vegetable broth, depending on how thick you like your chili
1.5 tablespoons white chili blend
Freshly cooked brown rice, quinoa, or wheat berries

Heat the oil in a medium pan, over medium heat. Add the onions and saute 2-3 minutes, until translucent. Stir in the garlic and cook one minute more. Add in the canned chiles and jalapenos. Saute 2-3 minutes, until the jalapenos start to get limp. Stir in the seitan and cook 3-4 minutes. Add the cooked beans, along with 3 cups vegetable broth, and the chili blend. Simmer for 15 minutes. Adjust salt, if necessary, and serve hot over brown rice.

*If you slice the jalapenos in half and take out the seeds and veins with a spoon, you can reduce the heat. Be sure to carefully wash your hands with soap and water you handle peppers.

It's also probably important to note that many traditional white chilis are topped with a mild white cheese, such as Monterrey Jack. I haven't found a vegan cheese I like well enough for this purpose--but perhaps you know of one? If you're feeding a lacto-vegetarian, you might top this with a mild, grated white cheese--or at least put the cheese in a bowl on the table.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Product Review: Trader Joe's Almond Butter with Roasted Flaxseed

Okay, so I don't normally go for product reviews on other blogs and so the fact that I'm writing one speaks to how much I love this stuff. I found this almond butter about a year ago at a Trader Joe's in Charlotte, NC and have been hooked ever since (if only there was a TJs closer to me!).

But for a while the almond butter disappeared from shelves and it seemed people everywhere were posting on the Internet trying to figure out when it would be back or where they could order the name-brand equivalent (as far as I could tell, no one knew a name-brand equivalent).

Why was there so much commotion? This almond butter has actual flavor, unlike some I've tried, probably because it contains salt. The flax seeds are an interesting touch (but probably don't really add that many Omega-3s if we're all honest with ourselves). I appreciate the slightly crunchy texture and the rich almondy-ness of the butter. Even refrigerated (which it needs to be once you've opened it and stirred in the oils), this almond butter remains soft enough to actually spread on most breads without ripping them. It offers a nice alternative to peanut butter--(so does TJs Sunbutter, made from sunflower seeds)--and it bakes beautifully into cookies.

I prefer this almond butter for nut-butter sandwiches over peanut butter because of the richer flavor I feel like it provides (and I must disclose that I think I have a pretty decent source of peanut butter from my local foods co-op). Since I don't currently have a bottle of TJ's almond butter (the nearest TJs is a dedicated drive away), I used a picture from this blog, Hangry Pants! I certainly hope they don't mind--which is why I want to make sure I give them credit.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Gluten-Free Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes with Buttercream Frosting

Okay, so my friend Gen's birthday was Monday. She's gluten-intolerant and less than thrilled with the GF cupcake mixes available on the shelves (though apparently some are better than others). For her birthday though, she wanted cupcakes--well, okay, she's been wanting them for a while now. Chocolate cupcakes.

Well, why not? Using a GF flour mix, most things are easy enough to convert even if they still taste GF. But here's the thing. Gen's boyfriend is vegan. I actually enjoy cooking/baking vegan things for this guy though (he's always incredibly grateful when someone makes him--especially bakes him--something vegan), so making the decision to accommodate them both wasn't too hard.

What was hard: finding a cupcake recipe I liked. My friend Annie directed me toward this one from Love & Olive Oil--which had the advantage of already being vegan. I substituted in Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour (hooray for compound nouns!) and the appropriate amount of xantham gum (it helps gluten-free things bind), as well as garbanzo bean flour in place of the almond meal (mostly because I can't afford almond meal!). I got the cupcakes in the oven and then began working on the frosting.

Well actually, my friend and Gen's roommate Brenna started working on the frosting. With her boyfriend. We used French Vanilla soy creamer instead of regular soy creamer with a vanilla bean. You could also use some of the coconut milk instead of the soy creamer, if you wanted coconut-flavored frosting. We should have added a little more powdered sugar so the frosting would hold up better when I piped it on. Pictures will follow soonish! Brenna was my photographer.

When we tried these, they were better than I expected--they were great (and I hate, hate, hate chocolate cake). They didn't taste gluten-free or vegan.

Here is the modified recipe (including the increased sugar in the frosting):

Gluten-Free Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes with Buttercream Frosting
Yields: 12 regular or 48 mini-cupcakes
1 cup coconut milk
1/3 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup sugar**
1 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon xantham gum
2 tablespoons garbanzo bean flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder (I used Extra dark)
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

For Frosting:
1/2 cup vegan margarine, room temperature
3-4 cups confectioners' sugar**
2 tablespoons French Vanilla soy creamer

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line muffin pan with paper liners.
Whisk together the coconut milk, sugar, oil, and vanilla extract until incorporated. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, xantham gum, garbanzo bean flourl, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Make a well in the center of dry ingredients and pour in coconut milk mixture. Stir until just smooth (do not overmix).

Pour into liners, filling each with 3 tablespoons of batter (cups should be no more than 2/3 full). For mini cupcakes, fill each with 1 tablespoon batter. Bake 18-20 minutes (or 10-12 for minis), or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely.

For frosting, cream butter until smooth and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Add 1 cup powdered sugar and beat until combined. Mix in the soy creamer. Continue adding sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, mixing well after each addition (depending on the temperature of your butter, you may need more or less sugar/creamer to achieve the proper consistency). Continue beating until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. Spread or pipe onto cooled cupcakes.

**A quick note about sugar and veganism. A number of vegans won't eat regular, refined (white) sugar because of the way it's processed. My vegan friend doesn't really care--but if you're making this for a vegan who does, you should probably talk to them about alternatives or visit any number of vegan blogs that will discuss alternatives.