Friday, July 03, 2020

Red velvet cookie sandwiches

June 27, 2020

Red velvet cakes don't turn up too often around here, much less red velvet cookies. I think the main appeal for me is actually the cream cheese icing that they typically come along with, and there's plenty of that in the centre of these cookie sandwiches from Crazy Vegan Kitchen. I wondered if I could enjoy a vegan version as much as a dairy-based one. The answer is yes, and better still it doesn't even require soaking and grinding my own cashews.

I don't really enjoy the flavour of Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese, and it's currently scarce on the local supermarket shelves anyway. Instead I tried Made With Plants for the first time and liked it more - it's made from both cashews and tofu, and the soy flavour is subtler. It has that velvety, not-completely-smooth texture that many cashew-based cheeses and sauces do. That texture had the icing looking a bit sloppy and curdled when I first whipped it up, but it settled right down after I assembled and refrigerated the cookie sandwiches overnight.

As for the cookies themselves, they're full of red food colouring so I'd recommend taking care of your clothing and cooking tools as you bake! I got a bit lazy about sifting my dry ingredients and, while it wasn't disastrous, I reckon it's worth it to avoid clumps of cocoa and bicarb soda. These cookies rise and spread a lot as they bake, and retain a light, cakey texture after they've cooled.

The first cookie sandwiches we ate, just after I'd iced them, were just fine. But as the recipe author Amrita promised, they really come into their own after some time in the fridge. Not only does the icing firm up, but it melds with the cookies, the bicarb soda mellows, and the small dose of cocoa low-key complements the cream cheese. There's more going on than just that bold splash of artificial colour.

Red velvet cookie sandwiches
(slightly adapted from a recipe on Crazy Vegan Kitchen)

125g margarine
1/4 cup caster sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon cornflour
1/3 cup soymilk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 tablespoons red food colouring (I believe Queen Pillar Box Red is vegan!)
1 1/2 cups plain flour
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

220g vegan cream cheese (I tried this one and liked it!)
55g margarine
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup icing sugar
1 tablespoon cornflour

In a large bowl, beat together the margarine and sugars until fluffy. Stir together the cornflour and soymilk in a mug until the cornflour is dissolved, then beat the mixture into the margarine bowl. Beat in the vanilla and red food colouring. Sift over the flour, cocoa, bicarbonate of soda, and salt; beat until just combined. Cover the bowl and refrigerate the dough for at least 2 hours, ideally overnight.

When the dough is ready, prepare a baking tray or two by lining them with paper and spraying them with oil. Preheat an oven to 175°C.

Retrieve the cookie dough from the fridge and scoop tablespoons of the dough onto the baking tray(s), leaving lots of space between them to spread. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Allow the cookies to cool completely. Match them up into pairs of similar shape and size.

To make the filling, beat together the cream cheese, margarine and vanilla until fluffy. Sift in the icing sugar and cornflour and beat everything together until well combined. Spoon the filling onto one half of each cookie pair and gently sandwich the second cookie on top. These cookie sandwiches are at their best after they've had a day stored in the fridge in an airtight container.

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Rachel Ama's peanut stew

June 27, 2019

This stew has been popping up on my social media a bit lately - it seems like it's kind of the recipe of the moment, replacing Alice Roman's famous (and slightly probbo) 'The Stew'. Versions of this seem to be a staple in a number of West African countries, and this vegan version is really great. It's a very simple recipe - whiz up the sauce ingredients and then cook everything in a big pot. I was a bit too trusting of the recipe - make sure your sweet potato is cooked through before you add in your greens. Ours was still way too firm when I added them, which meant that the spinach and herbs kind of cooked down to mush by the time it was actually ready. Luckily it still tasted fantastic. We served it up with quinoa, but it would go equally well with rice, couscous or even straight up.

The key is in the complex spice paste. We toned things down by using regular supermarket red chillies rather than the hotter Scotch bonnets in the recipe (if only because we couldn't easily find them). I was a bit frustrated by how I mucked up the timing, but it was great - we'll definitely make this one again.

Rachel Ama's peanut stew
(slightly adapted from this recipe by Rachel Ama)

spice paste
2 onions, roughly chopped
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground fenugreek
1 red chilli, seeded and roughly chopped

2 tablespoons peanut oil
500g sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
400g tin black-eyed beans (we couldn't find them easily, so just used mixed beans)
3 tablespoons tomato paste
400g tin chopped tomatoes
500ml veggie stock
2/3 cup smooth peanut butter
200g spinach leaves
juice of a lemon
small bunch of coriander, stems removed, roughly chopped
1 red chilli, seeded and chopped
salt and pepper

Pop all the spice paste ingredients in a food processor and whiz to a smooth paste.

Heat up the peanut oil in a big pot over medium heat and then scrape in the spice paste, cooking for 10 minutes or so. Add more oil if things dry out.

Add the sweet potato, beans and tomato paste - stir thoroughly to combine with the paste mix. Once it's all combined, add the stock, canned tomatoes and peanut butter. 

Cover the pot, reduce the heat a bit and simmer everything until the sweet potato is tender (the recipe says 25 minutes, but it took us closer to 40).

Once the sweet potatoes are cooked, kill the heat and stir in the spinach, coriander, chilli and lemon juice. Once the greens have wilted, check the seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed. 


Sunday, June 28, 2020

Orange, yoghurt & cardamom cake

June 14, 2020

The Lab Farewell Cookbook project is over, but we're still largely at home and I have a weekly baking habit to keep up. Of course I still have abundant cookbooks and bookmarked online recipes to draw from! The orange flavouring and cream cheese icing on this cake caught my eye when I saw it on The Back Yard Lemon Tree a few years ago, although it's originally from Hetty McKinnon's Neighbourhood. (We have another one of McKinnon's excellent books, Community.)

I'm always a fan of cake batters that don't require room temperature butter and electric beaters. But between the melting butter, wet ingredients and dry ingredients here, I did manage to dirty a good number of dishes regardless. I sought a soft, moist cake and so I aimed for the lowest recommended baking time; the cake passed the skewer test then but later revealed itself to be a bit underdone in the centre, with the cake sinking as it cooled. (You'll spot the indentation in all of these photos once you start looking for it!)

That sinking centre proved a challenge with my cream cheese icing later, as the icing was runnier than other cream cheese ones I'm familiar with. I think I'll reduce the orange juice quantity to the bare minimum if I make this again, and rely on some extra orange zest for flavour.

As for the flavour more broadly, it was a lot subtler than I was anticipating from an ingredient list including oranges, orange blossom water and cardamom. I reckon a bit of extra blossom water or cardamom would be a closer match to my preferences. I'll also be tempted to sneak a bit of lemon in; this time around I got the smoothness and sweetness of the cream cheese and oranges, but not the tang I was looking forward to. The one tweak I did attempt on this first batch was a garnish of pepitas (which we have a bucket of) instead of pistachios. They were a pleasant and pragmatic substitute, but not better than pistachios.

For all these tweaks that I'm forecasting, this is a lovely cake. Its texture is quite dense by very silky, no doubt thanks to all the butter and yoghurt involved, and we ate it in large slabs in a matter of days.

Orange, yoghurt & cardamom cake
(a recipe found on The Back Yard Lemon Tree,
where it's credited to Hetty McKinnon's Neighbourhood)

2 cups plain flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 cups raw sugar
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
250g butter, melted and cooled
1 cup Greek yoghurt
2 eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla
zest of 1 orange
3 tablespoons orange juice
2 teaspoons orange blossom water

125g cream cheese, at room temperature
3/4 cup icing sugar
dash of vanilla
2 tablespoons orange juice
1/2 teaspoon orange zest

2 tablespoons pistachios, chopped, to decorate (I used pepitas)

Preheat an oven to 160°C. Line a springform cake tin with paper, and spray it with oil.

In a medium-large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, sugar and cardamom. In a second large bowl, whisk together the remaining cake ingredients, from butter through to orange blossom water. Gradually add the dry ingredients, and stir everything together until just combined. Pour the cake batter into the cake tin, and bake the cake for 50-60 minutes, until it passes the skewer test. Allow the cake to cool.

In a medium bowl, beat together the icing ingredients until smooth. (My icing was quite runny, and I'll use less juice in future.) Spread the icing over the cooled cake, and sprinkle it with pistachios.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Fennel & walnut pie

June 7, 2020

For the second post running, here's a recipe that's been sitting in my bookmarks for a solid decade, waiting for the right moment to be properly appreciated. The impetus here is the multiple batches of fennel turning up in our vege deliveries, including a single bulb the size of a melon! What better way to prepare it mid-winter than in a pie?

I was introduced to this recipe via the blog Nourish Me, which always had a relaxed handful-of-this, maybe-some-of-that style. I've laid out the recipe a bit more formally below simply so that I can copy the ingredient list faster for future shopping trips. Although the ingredients list runs a little long, there is indeed a lot of flexibility here to skip or substitute herbs, spices and vegetables (and even veganise the 'custard' element). Still, it's been very helpful in its original form for guiding me through baking some fennel with subtle, complementary orange and walnut flavours, and scrunching over a contrasting crunchy filo top.

This would be lovely with a salad on the side in sunnier weather, and perhaps some other baked or steamed vegetables at this time of year. But actually, we just transferred large expanses of this pie to our plates and enjoyed it on its own.

Fennel & walnut pie
(a recipe from Nourish Me,
where it's credited to Leiths Vegetable Bible)

2 large (or 1 enormous!) bulbs fennel
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 heaped teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
zest of a lemon or orange
small handful fresh parsley
1 egg
1/2 cup plain yoghurt
1/3 cup milk
3 tablespoons walnuts, roughly chopped
40g butter
200g filo pastry

Preheat an oven to 180°C.

Wash and trim the fennel, and slice it as thinly as you can. (Reserve the leaves!) Pour the oil into a frypan over medium heat, and add the fennel and a pinch of salt. Gently saute until soft, and just starting to brown a little. Add the garlic, fennel seeds, paprika and citrus zest. Spread the fennel mixture across the base of a high-walled baking tray. 

Roughly chop any fennel leaves, and also the parsley. In a small-medium bowl, whisk together the egg, yoghurt and milk. Stir in the fennel and parsley leaves, then salt and pepper. Pour the yoghurt mixture evenly across the fennel in the tray, without being too fussy about it. Sprinkle over the walnuts.

Melt the butter, and get the filo pastry unrolled and protected with a lightly damp tea towel. Crumple sheets of pastry over the tray of fennel and brush in between layers with butter. Messy is good! Bake for about 30 minutes, until golden brown and crispy on top.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Gnocchi & radicchio gratin

June 4, 2020

We've been getting veggie boxes from Theodores and The Local Drop over the past few months, which has been great for prompting us to mix up our dinners a bit. This week's box had a small radicchio and a small bunch of kale, which Cindy thought would fit well with this old Serious Eats recipe she'd bookmarked years ago. The original recipe uses a big red cabbage, but our veggies substituted perfectly.  It's a super easy, super cheap, winter meal - cook the veggies down and then bake. It's delicious as well - the bitterness of the radicchio gets milder after it's cooked down and pairs well with the rich gnocchi. We didn't have easy access to breadcrumbs so we replaced them with crumbled up crackers, which worked surprisingly well.

Gnocchi & radicchio gratin
(based on this recipe from Serious Eats)

1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, sliced thinly
1 small bunch of kale, stemmed and sliced
1 small radicchio, sliced
salt and pepper
500g store-bought gnocchi
1 cup breadcrumbs (or in our case crushed crackers)

Heat the olive oil in a large pot. Add the caraway seeds and, after 30 seconds throw in the butter. Once it's melted, add the onion, kale and radicchio and stir everything together. 

Lower the heat, cover the pot and cook for about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally - you want everything to get really soft. Stir through a generous amount of salt.

While the veggies are softening, preheat the oven to 200°C and then cook the gnocchi as per the instructions - if anything, cook them for less time than you're supposed to. They're gonna bake for a while too.

Spread about 3/4 of the veggie mixture over the base of a 20cm x 30cm baking tray. Arrange the gnocchi on top and cover with the rest of the veggies. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs on top and top with a few twists of ground pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, until it's all crispy and golden on top. Serve!