Friday, February 26, 2010

V-Day Food

And by V-Day, you know I mean Vegan Day.

I know, I know: by this point, this little Valentine's Day cliché is much overused among vegans, but who can blame us for trying to shine some more light on the vegan lifestyle by shifting the significance of the V initial? Even better, making V stand for something else makes people who hate Valentine's Day hate it a little less, or not at all: Vampire Day (I like this one!), Vanilla Day (vanilla cupcakes, anyone?), Vanessa Day (for the Vanessas in your life) are but a mere sampling of possible V-Days.

But I digress, as I usually do.

I used to be one of the Valentine's Day haters. I didn't like the overconsumption it encouraged, nor did I care for the pressure it puts on couples or the loneliness and bitterness it stirs up in singles. But for the same reasons why I came to love Christmas, I can see myself growing to love Valentine's Day. You see, any occasion that offers an excuse to cook and bake above what is normal and, maybe, reasonable offers yet another reason to feel joyous. So, silly as it might sound, when Matt offered to take me out to dinner for our Valentine's Day meal, I was a bit dismayed because that would mean that I wouldn't get to cook. Wait a second, though: V-Day fell on a Sunday this year. Why not go out for dinner on Sunday and, on the Saturday evening preceding the lovely 14th, cook up a dinner chez moi?

Matt said that he would take me to ChuChai, Montreal's premier fine cuisine vegetarian Thai restaurant. How could I complain? Reservations were made, and because we make a point to eat two appetizers, two meals, and two desserts between the two of us (and my appetite is smaller than what might be considered normal, I might add, and not without dismay, because I love to eat), I decided to make my planned V-Day meal a little lighter than the decadent meal I'd initially conjured in my head.

I chose to make a mixed-greens salad with miso dressing (recipe courtesy of the lid on the Cold Mountain Red Miso paste); a warm and comforting garlic-and-greens potato soup (recipe courtesy of Colleen Patrick-Goudreau from her book The Vegan Table), because I had tons of potatoes that needed to be used; and wild rice with raisins, slivered almonds, ginger and other spices, also from The Vegan Table, but modified to use wild rice instead of the quinoa used in the recipe. I had wild rice on hand because I needed it to test a recipe for Lindsay, and I'd been so impressed with it that I wanted to use it in Colleen's recipe, too. Wild rice really is one of Mother Nature's treasures: it starts off black and cooks to reveal a variety of shapes and colours. I marvelled at it for a long moment before adding it to my recipe.

I usually don't put much effort into presentation, but I felt like being fancy. I pulled out the classy candleholder, the single wine glass (I don't typically drink), and cloth napkins (which I use every day anyway, but of course they're more sophisticated than paper napkins).


Don't forget the requisite cinnamon hearts!

Potatoes should be in every dish.

Wild rice with raisins, slivered almond pieces, and spices, one of which was ginger. The problem with that arose in this little piece of dialogue:
Matt: "This is... interesting. It's herby. Is there ginger in here?"
Kris: "Yes, there is! You're good, being able to pick that out amongst all the spices."
Kris: Oh, crap! I... I completely forgot that you don't like ginger!
That's right, folks: leave it up to me to cook my fiancé a Valentine's Day meal especially for him that contains his least favourite ingredients. It's a good thing that I made two desserts.

Lindsay, aka Happy Herbivore, came up with a brilliant recipe for a single-serving brownie (for the discipline- or ingredient-deficient) for her upcoming cookbook. All I did was double the recipe for this, because there was no way I was going to share one. (See my first-month-as-a-grad post about my unapologetic greediness with regards to desserts.) I really wanted to make these brownies, but I'd also promised Matt that I would make him this recipe for home-made Pop-Tarts I'd found on the blog that introduced me to Cookie Cake Pie. So I made both and ate both.

Dear reader, I introduce you to Vegan Pop-Tart.

I didn't think the icing would solidify that quickly, so the only sprinkles present are the ones I mashed in. These were absolutely delicious. The flaky dough recipe was supposed to produce six pastries, but I somehow ended up with only three, with some dough I ended up throwing out because I got frustrated. The third Pop-Tart contained vegan Nutella, thanks to a recent trip to Italy. I ate the chocolate one the night before, just to make sure it had turned out (oh, the excuses we bakers get to make! "I had to eat it to make sure it was edible!"), and oh my goodness--it tasted just like chocolate Pop Tarts! Thank you, CakeSpy and Peabody!


Now, on to the meal at ChuChai.

Our reservations were made for 7:30 p.m., a time a little tardy for my continuously-hungry tummy. We showed up on time and were told that our names didn't appear on the list, but that was not a problem. The fun thing about ChuChai is that the service is always friendly, courteous, and professional. They fit us right in but not amongst the packed restaurant: they sent us just outside and up an outdoor flight of stairs lined with battery-operated candles, and then up another indoor flight of stairs lined with real red candles, all the way up to their private loft, opened just for Valentine's Day weekend to accommodate the extra patrons. We were in awe of the decor that greeted us upon our arrival.

This was just behind our table. Since we were the first couple to be seated in the loft, we had the privilege of choosing our table. I love to be huddled in a corner, so I chose the most secluded spot.

Patrick, the amicable, courteous, passionate, and knowledgeable owner of ChuChai told us that this centrepiece was actually from a church. He painted it black and brought it in to ChuChai to be part of the dark decor.

This was just to the left of our table. Fake rose petals are strewn across the tablecloth along with ChuChai's business cards.

Like tourists, we had our picture taken in front of the pretty heart. And, by the way, every article of clothing that I'm wearing, minus the socks and tank top, is from high school; someone please teach me how to dress! Don't laugh at my socks, though: it was cold, and I needed cloud socks (they're so soft and fluffy that it feels like you're walking on clouds) to keep me warm. Don't forget that I live in "The Great White North!"

This is a happy girl in her happy place, looking disheveled from the revelry.

Red was the theme, naturally. This place is just so classy!

And the most important part of the dining experience: the food. On the left, we have breaded mushrooms with crispy basil leaves. A friend of mine once said that they tasted like sesame beef or something like it, but I honestly would not know. What I do know is that they are absolutely scrumptious, and it's hard to identify that there are mushrooms inside the crispy exterior. We order this appetizer every time. On the right, we have the peanut-butter dumplings, once only vegetarian but now 100% vegan! We literally slurp up the sauce at the end. Okay, I literally slurp up the sauce because Matt leaves it for me. Now that's love.

Vegan shrimp, anyone? Matt ordered the exact same dish but with vegan chicken. We really do love peanut butter sauce, with crispy spinach and brown rice. Patrick even remarked that we were getting the same dish with different types of protein. "No sharing?" he asked with a smile. No sharing: the more peanut butter sauce, the better.

Seriously, though, does that not look like shrimp? It's freaky, and super delicious. (Oh, wait! I spot a piece of vegan chicken lurking on the very left. Matt must have dropped that into my plate.)

And, of course, the requisite red roses for Valentine's Day, on display in my kitchen. Thank you, Matt!

Hope you all had a pleasant V-Day, no matter what your V stood for.

Thanks for reading, and have a great weekend,

Vegan in Suburbia

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Superbowl food and the greatest idea for a cake EVER

Greetings, dear friends,

I figured it was time to blog about food I've prepared recently in order to avoid hitting you with a barrage of photos and text like I did in my last post. I know this month will be spent testing lots of recipes for the Happy Herbivore, and today I'll be making dinner for my lovely love for Valentine's Day, and Sunday my lovely love is taking me out to dinner for Valentine's Day (I think we love to eat more than we love Valentine's Day. Holidays, in essence, are an excuse to go all out with food, no?). Those three things will amount to lots of food in themselves, so I'll spare you (somewhat) the barrage and dive in to what I've prepared over the last little while.

Yet I still feel as though one cannot be forewarned enough when it comes to this beast:

It looks innocent enough, does it not?

Don't be fooled! Let that part of the cake that has cracked and sunk serve as the element of foreboding.... Trust your instincts and mistrust the sunken cake.

This is what this seemingly harmless beast turns into:

Cookie Cake Pie!!!!!

(Sheesh! Really, Blogger? That's the scariest font you've got? Well, I tried.)

All drama and magenta highlighting aside, let me provide you with a bit of background: one day, after a pleasant supper with Momma, Jess, and Matt, I decided to show Jess and Matt around (pure hilarity and absurdity). After holding back gags when viewing cupcakes topped with bacon (I'll spare you the links--the cupcakes are pretty gross), we happened upon this cake. It was called the Triple Threat Cookie Cake Pie, and it was pure genius and, like I said, pure absurdity, all in one cake. We went back to the maker's blog, one lovely Cake Spy, and checked out the process. Sure enough, it would be a piece of cake (har har) to veganize. It's composed of four layers: a pie crust, a layer of cookie dough, vanilla cake, and then vanilla frosting. We did, the three of us, agree that we'd have to make it one day. Nevertheless, I didn't think that it would be sooner rather than later.

Superbowl weekend rolled around, and my sister had planned a potluck with some of her lady friends. Although I was planning on making some brownies, my sister insisted that I make the cake.


To cut a long story short, as you have beheld, I made the cake. I ate 1.5 pieces and was in sugar heaven. I have the sweetest of sweet teeth, and although this cake was too rich to allow my sister to get through more than a few bites, I would have been happy to eat the rest of that half a piece (the only reason it was half a piece is because my mum couldn't get through the other half).

I promised myself that I would never make it again; as my best friend's parents put it, it really is a once-in-a-lifetime cake, because our bodies probably could not survive a second time. This cake was sugary proof that vegan does not always equal healthy! But vegan does equal delicious. And sometimes ridiculous. :-)

Now, for your viewing pleasure, vegan desserts and other foods served at the potluck.

Oh, and if for some crazy reason you'd like to replicate the vegan cookie cake pie, check out Cake Spy's blog, and you can get the recipes for each layer from Colleen Patrick-Goudreau's The Joy of Vegan Baking. For the pie crust, I used the shortbread crust; for each recipe, I used mostly whole-wheat flour. Yeah, I attempted to put something healthful in all that decadence. And when I say decadence, I mean it! There's at least 1/2 cup of Earth Balance in each layer. I did blind-bake the crust for 5 minutes, and I let the entirety (that is, three layers) bake for about 50 minutes. The top was a bit hard, and as you can see, it sunk, but it was perfectly edible. I was just paranoid that all the layers wouldn't bake properly since, separately, they required different temperatures and baking times.

Without further ado, here are the photos.

I made mini vanilla cupcakes and whatever cookie dough was not eaten raw (aww yeah) was placed into the remaining mini-muffin spots. I must say that they were almost as much fun to eat as and less guilt-inducing than eating the cake.

I'd never thought of baking cookie dough in a muffin tin, and I'm happy that I gave it a shot. They look adorable! This guy kinda reminds me of Toad from Super Mario World :-)

Ok, I sigh just looking at this. But of course you end up with leftover batter! This thing could be made to be only so high--unless, of course, there's a pie pan made especially for obscene pies. If there is, well, I don't want to know about it.

Halfway through the beastliness

The nerdy beast herself (yes, I am wearing a Battlestar Galactica t-shirt emblazoned with the words "What the frakk?")

Ooooooh, heaven.

This is my sister's yummy gluten-free take on Peanut Butter Chocolate Pillows (outside is chocolate; inside is peanut butter) in Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero.

Every year, my sister makes a football-shaped cake (in a football-shaped cake pan). Her good friend was just diagnosed with a sensitivity to gluten, so we did our best (well, minus my cake, unfortunately) to make gluten-free foods. This is a gluten-free banana cake that she whipped up after I did some research for her. We don't have any experience whatsoever with gluten-free baking, and we didn't know that you had to mix flours and add xanthan or guar gum to get the desired consistency. I did do some research for her and came upon this recipe by Gluten-Free Goddess after searching for "gluten-free vegan bundt cake" (thank you, Google). After a "GF CRISIS!!!1!1!" tweet on Twitter, the darling indiacarless came to my rescue, referring me to GonePie, a vegan gluten-free bakery. (Thank you!) My sister picked up all-purpose gluten-free flour, I had an unlabelled container of xanthan gum (at least we think that's what it is) at home that I've never used, and we were set! It had a consistency and taste that I wasn't used to, but we're just going to have to experiment some more with gluten-free baking.

My favourite muffins in the world: the top is crispy and can be ripped off, and the bottom is moist and oh-so-scrumptious. My best bud in the whole world made these, and I am eternally grateful that everyone at the party was too full from my cake to touch most of the other desserts (because, of course, that meant I got to keep these to myself).

My cousin Erica, whom I had not seen in over two years, brought over these vegan gems. Mmm, mmm!

Oh, hello, beauties. You come to make another appearance?

Oh, bless Michelle for having made this amazing dish of pad thai. I totally went for seconds and put some in a container to eat later before everyone finished it. This was definitely the dinner hit.

Last but certainly not least are the polenta fries, the recipe for which I got here, at the Vegan Lunch Box blog. I'd never had these before, and they were super easy to prepare. The polenta needs to be prepared a day in advance, though, but the rest of the process is super easy. And, like I did with the pad thai, my mum took some of these bad boys and stashed them in the fridge, though they are not nearly as good the next day, I must admit.

Before closing, I just want to point out that there were other foods that my sister's friends bought, like chili, salsa, and home-made chips, and though my sister was the one throwing the party, every single one of her friends made a point to make the foods vegan, because I was attending. How cool is that? I am so touched that her friends were that generous, conscientious, compassionate, and open-minded, and they did a delicious, excellent job on their dishes. Veganism is making great strides--people know that vegan food is great food. So thank you, Jess's friends!

So that's it for now. It's Valentine's Day weekend and about to become the Year of the Tiger (my year!). Remember what I said about holidays: they're a reason to cook and bake and, of course, share your food with loved ones.

All the best,

Vegan in Suburbia

P.S. I have tons of photos that I can't wait to share of recipes I have tested for Happy Herbivore Lindsay Nixon, so stay tuned! :-) And thanks for reading.