vegan » Wonderland Kitchen
Browsing Tag

vegan

The Returned: How to Cook a Wolf

Tomato Soup Cake from How to Cook a Wolf

If I’m making amends for the sins of abandonment committed against my cookbooks here, it seems extra appropriate to do right by a book that isn’t even actually mine but rather one I borrowed from a neighbor and then proceeded to bury under an ever-growing pile of unread Lucky Peach issues. (Okay, I have a problem. We’ve clearly established that at this point.)

If you’re unfamiliar, How to Cook a Wolf (published originally in 1942) is a quick read, part rallying cry and part cookbook designed to aid and inspire home cooks in a time of stress and limitation. When I started the book, I was immediately struck by how much the ideas M.F.K. Fisher had about economics, nutrition, and making do had to say (adjusting for inflation and accounting for the proximity of war) to me sitting in my living room arm chair in 2014. My appreciation for her outlook only grew as the pages turned, as did my trust in her advice and appraisals after acknowledgements such as this one, crediting her sources for a “Cream of Potato Soup” that follows a bit of a tirade on doing things “correctly” vs. “eating according to your own tastes.”

However, there are compromises that can be admitted, whether you approve of them or not. Here is a recipe, a combination really of Escoffier’s Soupe à la Bonne Femme and one I found in a calendar published by the gas company in the Canton of Vaud in Switzerland.

Hear, hear! That’s a world-aware outlook and a flexibility of approach I can get behind. (It’s also probably why I can’t really hang with the Cook’s Illustrated folks, but that’s a convo for another post.)

Canned Tomato Soup

Think of it as adding a little Warhol pizzazz to your baking?

I’m personally satisfied to report that I have now finished the book and returned it to its rightful owner, along with a portion of a cake from its pages that I just had to try out: Tomato Soup Cake. Also known as Mystery or Conversation Cake due to its surprising secret ingredient (which I doubt any taste tester would be able to ID), this is one of those recipes that seems to trace back for a lot of people to grandma’s special version and holiday family gatherings (and probably an advertising pamphlet produced by Campbell’s Soup!). It’s a spice cake that uses no eggs and only three tablespoons of fat, making it easy on the pantry and easily vegan to boot. You can dress it up with the mix-ins and spice combinations that best suit your guests and top it (maple cream cheese frosting, anyone?) however you like. I’ve included my version below, but as Fisher says, you should make yours “to you own tastes!”

Tomato Soup Cake: Ready to Bake

Tomato Soup Cake
from How to Cook a Wolf

3 tablespoons shortening (or butter)
1 cup sugar
1 can condensed tomato soup
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups AP flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon mixed spice (I used 1/4 teaspoon of each of the following: ginger, allspice, cloves, and nutmeg.)
1 1/2 cups nuts and fruit, roughly chopped (I used 1/2 cup of each of the following: raisins, walnuts, and dates.)

Optional topping:
3 tablespoons powdered sugar dusted over top

Heat oven to 325°F. Butter and flour a 9-inch cake pan (line bottom with parchment if you are extra nervous about cake removal—I did and don’t regret it, but it was perhaps overkill for a cake of this texture). Set aside.

Measure flour and spices into a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.

Using a hand or stand mixer, cream shortening and sugar together until well blended and fluffy.

Stir baking soda into the soup and mix well. Add this and the flour/spice mixture to the creamed sugar in several alternating portions, mixing until fully incorporated. Fold in nuts and fruit.

Spoon into the prepared cake pan and smooth the top (batter will be quite thick). Bake for 45 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool for ten minutes in the pan and then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Top as desired.

Cake stores well and pleased even my non-spice-cake-liking friends, for what it’s worth.

Tomato Soup Cake from How to Cook a Wolf

Of Vegan Cheese, Paleo Pizza, and the Best Laid Plans

Vegan Cheese

I had grand plans this past week, but you know what they say about plans. Instead, life events have me reflecting on everything I still don’t know, as well as everything I want to get much better at. Some of these skills are basic: Listen more, talk less. That kind of thing. Maybe I need to meditate; maybe I just need to pay attention.

Ultimately, however, I’m reminded how much education requires not just doing, but doing again. I actually pulled out my violin the other day, mostly to look it over and make sure the wood was handling the stress of radiator winters and high humidity summers as gracefully as possible. I thought about putting on the new strings I had ordered, but ended up just closing the case. Still, the message from the past was clear: once upon a time, I dedicated years to perfecting what I offered the world. I don’t do that any more and it bothers me. Even more perplexing: I’m not sure where I’d pour that dedication, even if I manged to dredge it up.

JCPenney sewing machine

So meanwhile, I will learn and I will practice. Next to my violin was my sewing machine, so I decided I might as well begin there. It was my mom’s–a beast of a thing, metal, from JC Penney, that I adopted when she gave it up. It took me three tries before I remembered how to wind a bobbin and thread the thing correctly. (Helpfully, I have found a chart explaining tension that will not require me to actually read the user manual!) But after an hour and some serious eyebrow scrunching, I had a new tote bag for the market! If the stitching was a little uneven, well, I will use large kale leaves as a distraction. The pattern is both easy and lovely, available from Craft Buds here.

Market Tote Bag

I’ve also been trying to spend less time at my desk staring at a blinking cursor (I have nothing to say, and I am saying it) and a lot more outside, chatting with the neighbors and making faces at their baby, getting filthy and mosquito bit in the garden, sitting on the porch with the cat patiently observing the passersby. So it was that I picked up this simple dishcloth pattern to mindlessly work in the evenings. Mindless knitting actually leads to concentrated thinking in other areas, I find–my own kind of mandala. After I finished a handful of rows, I realized I was looking at the same pattern my Aunt Helen would knit when we camped up at the lake in the ’80s. Seekers (of nostalgia or introspection or just a simple washcloth pattern) can find this one featured in an Artful Homemaking post here.

Knitted dishcloth

At the end of the day, I can tell you that vegan cheese is not the answer you think it will be. Part of the aforementioned grand plan–before the freezer broke and things started to slide–was a cauliflower crusted pizza with vegan cheese. Gluten free! Non-dairy! Paleo! (I think?–So hot right now.) I mentioned this to my mom, and she just laughed (at me? with me?). I considered how far I had moved from anything she would ever consider making in her own kitchen. That wasn’t necessarily a good or bad place to be, but it was something I thought warranted some personal consideration. The pizza ended up going into the oven with real cheese, though that was still a bridge too far for my cauliflower-despising spouse. And the vegan cheese attempt was…interesting. At first, I thought it simply wasn’t for me, but I let it stick around in the fridge for a bit and finally decided it was definitely odd but strangely addictive. Much like the cauliflower crust pizza, it was about managing expectation, trying something a little crazy, and then just going with it. So I’m going to practice that.

Vegan Cheese

Well, the sentiment at least. Not the vegan cheese making; that’s definitely not my calling. If you want to try it for yourself, the recipe is here. (A proportionally smaller–but plenty big–and agar powder vs flake version of this one.)

DIY Soy Milk

DIY Soy Milk

During my vegan yogurt experiments, I read a lot about making coconut, almond, and rice milks at home and sorted out my own preferred methods. (Key ingredient across the board? A nylon straining bag.) Now, whenever I find myself standing in front of those Tetra Pak boxed beverages at the grocery, I consider for a second if it’s worth it for me to DIY it at home; even in the chaos of an average week, it usually is.

The one experiment I’ve avoided is soy milk. Basically, I’ve come across headlines espousing the “evils of soy” just often enough to shy away from using it as one of my alternative milk ingredients. I had no nutritional research to back up this decision; rather, it was strictly a case of “Well, I haven’t read anything bad about almonds this week. Let’s just use those!”

Still, I have long been curious about making my own tofu or vegan cheese, so when I came across a bag of soybeans at the Asian market I love exploring, I decided to finally try out boiling up a batch of my own soy milk on the “all things in moderation” philosophy. (And once you start looking, I think there may be just as many articles espousing the “many benefits of soy!”…so, I can only encourage you to make your own judgment call.)

Early research on methods led me quickly to some stunning soy milk makers, an appliance I had never seen before but one that might interest high-volume producers of any type of alternative milk. In my house, a blender and an efficient hand straining method get the job done simply and quickly enough.

DIY Soy Milk: Before and after soaking the beans

DIY Soy Milk: Before and after soaking the beans

Similar to my experience with rice milk that didn’t taste like commercial rice milk, there were plenty of posts lamenting that DIY versions of soy milk just didn’t match what the family was used to from the store. I read a lot about how to avoid a bitter, beany-tasting soy milk (hot water when blending, cooking after straining), and picked up a tip to add a couple tablespoons of oats to the blender to make a creamer product. I didn’t remove all the skins before blending nor did I soak the beans in water fortified with baking soda, though these are also variations out there. Like many of these DIY projects, personal preferences will lead you to your own best practices.

When I first removed the lid off the blender carafe after pureeing the soaked raw beans, I worried over the smell–something about it had a character that had me flashing back to the days I spent oil panting in the ’90s. The milk will also have a raw, beany taste at this stage. (It reminded me of eating a pea or green bean seed right out of the garden.) However, after cooking, the milk will be rich and tasty. I ended up thinning it a bit to get the consistency I was after–an extra benefit to DIYing your own. When I do it again, I will take more care to source a certifiably organic, non-GMO bean.

DIY Soy Milk: Ready for blending

DIY Soy Milk: Ready for blending

If you’re concerned about wasting the pulp (often referred to as okara ), worry not! This byproduct has recipe applications all its own. The skin that can form on the milk when cooking (yuba) also has myriad culinary uses.

Do you make soy milk in some other fashion? Tips and tricks that you’ve picked up that will improve results? I hope you’ll share them in the comments!

DIY Soy Milk

DIY Soy Milk

1 cup dried soybeans
4 cups water just off the boil (plus additional for thinning milk to desired consistency)
2 tablespoons old fashioned rolled oats
1/8 kosher salt
sweetener and/or flavorings such as vanilla or almond extract (optional)

Rinse soybeans, drain, and soak in a generous amount of filtered water overnight. Drain and rinse again, removing any floating loose skins. Drain well and transfer beans to blender.

Add oats and boiled water to beans and secure lid. Puree thoroughly, being cautious that lid remains tightly closed.

Strain puree through a nylon nut milk bag into a 4 qt. pot. (I also tried straining the milk through a cheese cloth-lined strainer, but this was much more difficult to manage in my experience.) Bring the milk up to a gentle simmer, skimming off any foam or skin that forms. Continue to cook, stirring regularly, for about 20 minutes. Add salt and any sweeteners or flavorings desired. Taste and adjust flavorings as needed.

Fresh soy milk can be enjoyed as a warm beverage. Otherwise, transfer it to a glass container with a lid and allow to cool. Refrigerate to store.

http://wonderlandkitchen.com/2013/05/diy-soy-milk/

DIY Tomato Powder/Paste/Instant Soup

DIY Tomato Powder/Paste

Admittedly, February is probably the least sensible time for a Mid-Atlantic resident to deal with tomatoes. Still, with pretty much everyone I know battling some form of cold/flu/sinus travesty and I myself popping cough drops and drinking mugs of broth for the past couple weeks, I started daydreaming about DIY instant soups free of questionable additives and shocking sodium content. Being a vegetarian, these thoughts leaned towards vegetable-based options rather than chicken and noodles, and the dehydrator I was gifted over the holidays this year suggested all kind of possibilities.

The best course, it seemed to me at the time, would be to start with dehydrated tomato powder to which I could add other seasonings. The local grocery’s produce section offered a depressingly unripe and waxy selection of the fruit, so I settled on some decent-looking plum tomatoes, figuring I’d at least get the most flesh for my dollar that way. I swallowed the $2.29/lbs. price tag; it would have been $3.99/lbs. if I had selected organic fruit.

I cored and de-seeded (but did not peel) two pounds of tomatoes, slicing them in 1/4-inch rings and fitting about a pound per tray in my dehydrator. Unlike the garlic drying, the smell that filled the kitchen was much less overwhelming. Ten hours later, I had a lovely looking pile of perfectly crisp tomato slices, and after popping most of them in the blender I had…1/4 cup of tomato powder. In my heart I had known all along this was an August project, when tomatoes are available by the bushel for under $20. Clearly the math on this DIY project was not really going to work out at this winter rate. I would be much better off buying it.

However, the concentrated flavor of the powder was amazing and not to be wasted. I can see adding this to all kinds of soups, sauces, dips, and dressings, kneading it into bread dough, or sprinkling it on top of pizza along with some garlic powder. And for those concerned about acidic tomatoes and BPA in packaging, it’s a great way to store a large quantity of the former within a small pantry footprint and have “just add water” access to everything from tomato paste to tomato sauce and juice.

Do you use tomato powder? What are your favorite applications?

DIY Tomato Powder/Paste

Tomato Powder: The Method

Wash, core, slice, and de-seed plum tomatoes. Spray dehydrator racks lightly with oil and evenly spread out slices. They can touch but should not overlap. Dehydrate at 135°F for five hours and flip slices. Continue dehydrating until completely crisp, about five hours more.

Allow slices to cool completely and check again to make sure they are completely crisp. Then, using a blender or coffee grinder, reduce the slices to a powder. If grind is uneven, sift powder though a mesh sieve and regrind larger chunks. Store in an airtight glass container in a cool, dark place. Rehydrate portions of the powder to desired consistencies as needed.

The Verdict

I loved the tomato powder itself: versatile, storage-efficient, and delicious. However, it doesn’t make sense to DIY this project in any quantity without access to fresh local tomatoes in bulk. Until then, I will either wait or purchase powder online, where even organic options are available for about $20 per pound.

DIY Instant Tomato Bell Pepper Soup

DIY Instant Tomato Bell Pepper Soup

Note: I experimented with both instant nonfat dry milk and dry whole milk and–when powders were pre-mixed–couldn’t prevent either milk type from curdling upon heating. Non-dairy powdered coffee creamer did work, but a read through the ingredient list pretty much negates the DIY effort if keeping hydrogenated oils and artificial additives out of the soup is a motivator. However, using only the vegetable powders made for such a rich and tasty broth, I didn’t find myself missing the cream.

All of the vegetable powders and dried herbs can be made using a dehydrator at home. Diced onion and rings of de-seeded red bell pepper can be dehydrated and powdered in a similar fashion to the tomato powder above.

2 tablespoons tomato powder
1 teaspoon red bell pepper powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder (or more to taste)
salt and pepper to taste
pinch of dried dill, parsley, or basil (optional)
1 1/4 cups boiling water

To make single-serving portions, measure vegetable powders and spices in proportions above into sealable plastic bags. When ready to serve, add 1 1/4 cups boiling water and stir until all powder is dissolved.

*

This recipe and post were created for my “DIY vs. Buy” column on Serious Eats.

DIY Dairy-Free Coconut Yogurt

DIY Dairy-Free Coconut Yogurt

My first attempt at dairy-free yogurt earlier this fall was a disaster. Admittedly, I was feeling a little cocky since I’d had a run of really great batches of Greek yogurt. I was so confident, in fact, that I didn’t even hunt around online ahead of time for tips. This was especially dumb since I’ve never needed to adhere to a dairy-free diet myself and was quite inexperienced. I simply dove in with my Tetra Pak of coconut milk beverage and my vegan yogurt starter. The result: a nauseatingly curdled liquid that was immediately fed to the drain in the kitchen sink.

Appropriately chastened, I started reading. There are myriad ways to make traditional yogurt, and going dairy-free only increases the number of variables. I played around with sweeteners, thickeners, and styles of coconut milk to land on the version I liked best, and used a method for incubating that works for me. Your preferences may vary, of course, and I hope you’ll share them in the comments.

Not All Coconut Milk Is Created Equal: First off, I have found the “milk” sold in those convenient Tetra Paks–often specifically labeled as a “beverage”–to be too watered down to make a good yogurt. Canned is a viable option, and initially I thought I’d go this direction–especially when I thought the idea of “fresh” coconut milk was going to require finding a coconut supplier and a hammer. Ultimately, however, I found that using unsweetened dried coconut flakes provided a workload I could handle while still delivering exceptional taste. It also allowed me to control how much water was added to the milk. The resulting yogurt was fresh and bright, thick enough to hold a spoon but not so gelled that it broke up in my mouth like jello.

Canned: Light vs Regular Coconut Milk: Before I decided to go the (partially) DIY coconut milk route, I tried out both regular and light versions of the canned option. For the record, coconut milk has a high level of saturated fat, and there is much debate over the health risks and benefits of this food. Assessing things purely on taste, I liked the regular well enough, but found the reduced-fat option to have an odd taste, quite chalky with very little hint of actual coconut.

Since the milk was already fortified with some thickeners, I got a solid set with just the addition of 1/2 teaspoon agar agar powder dissolved into a half cup of boiling water to four cups milk. A second batch fortified with two teaspoons of gelatin with the same quantity of milk produced a thinner though tasty yogurt, similar to a kefir. However, canned milk, even full fat, still had a somewhat chalky taste to me, which is why I ultimately settled on making my own milk with coconut flakes.

Dairy-Free Coconut Yogurt: Process

Sweeteners: This is another area where I should have read before I leapt into non-dairy yogurt making. Unlike cow milk, alternatives require additional sugars in order for the cultures to have enough to eat during fermentation. With so many variables already in play, I decided to stick with traditional sugar. Honey and maple syrup also seem to be popular among cooks.

The Verdict:

I was surprised to see that even though the yogurt shelves at my local grocery have exploded in recent years, there were no non-dairy options. At the larger grocery a few miles away, I could pick up a six-ounce cup of coconut yogurt for $1.89. At this same location, I could purchase a bag of thick, high-quality unsweetened coconut flakes (more like chips) for $3.49–enough for six cups of milk (and therefor six cups of yogurt). While that’s not accounting for the other additives in the recipe, some of which require special sourcing, it’s still not close to the $15.12 it would cost to purchase the same quantity commercially. Plus, you’re controlling the ingredient list. Whether this is all ultimately worth the work involved is, of course, only something you can judge.

Coconut Yogurt: Thick and Creamy

I ordered vegan yogurt starter from Cultures for Health. Their website also offers a wealth of advice that I found extremely helpful while experimenting.

DIY Dairy-Free Coconut Yogurt
make approximately four cups

4 cups unsweetened dried coconut flakes
4 1/2 cups water, divided
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon agar agar powder
2 tablespoons tapioca starch
Direct-set vegan yogurt starter

Place dried coconut in blender carafe and add 4 cups just-boiled water. Allow to soak for 30 minutes and then blend on highest speed for two minutes. Set aside until cool enough to handle.

Once cooled, strain through a nut milk bag or fine sieve into bowl. Add sugar and stir to dissolve. If not ready to proceed right away, milk can be stored, covered tightly, in the refrigerator. Otherwise, continue with next step.

Place milk in a saucepan and heat over medium-low flame. Add tapioca starch and whisk until well dissolved. Meanwhile, in a second saucepan, bring 1/2 water to a boil and add agar agar powder. Whisk and simmer until well dissolved, then pour into the heated coconut milk.

Allow to cool, whisking occasionally, to 110°F (check package directions on your starter for alternate instructions/variations). Add starter, whisking again to evenly distribute, and pour milk into a glass container and incubate at 110°F using the method of your choice. (I like the cooler method discussed here.)

When incubation is complete (using the method above, mine took about seven hours), move jar to the refrigerator to chill and halt culturing, at least six hours. Yogurt is now ready to eat.

*

This recipe and post were created for my “DIY vs. Buy” column on Serious Eats.

DIY Rice Milk

DIY Rice Milk

When my DIY column over at Serious Eats was still just an idea, my soon-to-be editor encouraged me to go exploring. Sure, homemade soups and baked goods are generally tastier than their store-bought cousins, but what about the stuff it might not occur to many home cooks to make from scratch? As a result, I now find myself wandering the aisles of my local grocery store and pausing to wonder: Hey, could I make that?

Obviously, I’m not alone in this instinct: the internet is filled with inventive cooks trying to hack all kinds of products. Some are motivated by health issues, others by political or environmental concerns. Generally it’s a mashup of all of the above. I enjoy the process, so I make what I can and still buy (without guilt) what I don’t have the time, energy, or ability to produce. And while I can’t walk things all the way back to growing my own soybeans or pasturing a cow on my city lot, it’s been excitingly educational to see how far I can get. Case in point: after the post on DIY-ing Greek yogurt, I had a reader request a non-dairy version of the same treat. I thought I’d get to work on that one this week, but once I started thinking about how I would approach it, I decided I might as well begin by making some non-dairy milks. (Also, I just got a real blender that needed to earn its counter space.)

Of all the many milk alternatives out there, I don’t think I’ll be using rice milk to make yogurt, but this does seem like the one with the most financial bang for the DIY effort. Here’s what I learned:

Soaked vs Leftover vs Over Cooked: If my internet research can be trusted, the most popular way to make rice milk at home seems to be to boil the grains into oblivion with many times the amount of water you would normally use. I’m the odd woman out here because I found this milk to have an unpleasant mouth feel, gummy and almost slimy, even when diluted to match the consistency of the commercial version. (I used a plain version of Rice Dream as my control.) I also tried cooking a 1/2-cup of rice traditionally and then blitzing that in the blender with cold water and straining. That was closer to what I was going for, but still not quite it.

However, uncooked grains soaked overnight and then blended and strained (as if I was making a batch of horchata) got things very close—much lighter and brighter on the tongue. There was something a bit “raw” about the taste that bothered me just slightly, and this version of the milk separated more easily (quickly corrected with a firm shake), but soaking seemed the best method for getting a thin, drinkable “milk” similar to what’s sold in the Tetra Pak at the store. The thicker versions might make for better baking applications (I’ll have to test that down the line), but I wouldn’t want to sip them or pour them on my cereal.

Brown vs White: I tried both kinds of rice and felt a strong preference for brown rice. There was something rounder and more complex about the flavor it brought to the milk.

DIY Rice Milk: Toasted?

Toasting: As I mentioned above, I didn’t like using the overcooked rice, but there was still something off about the raw rice to my palate. I found that a quick toasting (left, above) in a dry skillet hit the happiest medium.

Sweeteners and Flavorings: Commercial rice milk does include oil, which some have suggested adds a creamier mouth feel. I was not a fan, particularly due to the tendency of the homemade milk to easily separate. However, some sweetener and/or flavoring seems needed if it’s going to be used as a beverage. Honey is good, but I like a couple teaspoons of maple syrup even more. White sugar results in a sweetness that’s the closest to the commercial variety. And no matter which you choose, a half teaspoon of vanilla extract is a lovely addition as well.

Do you have a favorite method that I missed or a special flavoring combination? Any tips or tricks you’d recommend?

DIY Rice Milk: Flavorings

The Verdict

Brown rice at my local grocery is selling for 99¢ for one pound, which will make the equivalent of about two and a half 32-ounce boxes of commercial rice milk (retailing for $2.49 each), so—depending on what else you like to add—the economic savings seem obvious. The operation also takes very little active time or effort. When all is said and done, the real question is probably one of taste. While similar to the commercial options, this DIY recipe is not an exact replica of what’s on grocery store shelves. This homemade version tastes more like, well, rice. If you’re looking for a cost-saving option that you are free to flavor to suit your own preferences, however, this is a great way to go.

DIY Rice Milk

DIY Rice Milk
Makes two cups (easily multiplied to match volume needs)

1/2 cup brown rice
2 cups water
Honey, maple syrup, white sugar, or other sweetener to taste (optional)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
pinch salt

In a dry skillet over medium heat, toast rice grains until fragrant and coloring, stirring regularly, about four minutes. Transfer to a bowl or jar and add 2 cups water. Set aside to soak ten hours.

When soaking in complete, pour rice and water into blender pitcher, add any additional sweeteners and flavorings, and blend at highest setting until rice grains are no longer visible, about 2 minutes.

Using a nut milk bag or similarly fine strainer, drip milk into a clean glass storage jar. Chill rice milk thoroughly before serving. Shake well before each use.

Variations: Add a bit of cocoa powder or cinnamon or nutmeg to the rice and water before blending.

*

This recipe and post were created for my “DIY vs. Buy” column on Serious Eats.