Smells Like a Barbecue Pit, Baking, and Recipes

Sigh…my apartment smells like a barbecue pit. Why? Well, it’s my fault and it’s a funny story (which I will get to in a moment)…

First, I must admit that my boyfriend Tim and I rarely go out for dinner. I would guess that we take a night off from cooking once every few months, if that. Saturday just happened to be one of those rare occasions when we didn’t feel like cooking. Where did we go? To a small place called Blossoming Lotus. The restaurant (a cafe really) is located in the hipper/trendier section of Portland called the Pearl District. We don’t hang out in the Pearl District much because we are far from hip. Anyways, Blossoming Lotus is inside a yoga studio, so the environment is very calming. You don’t actually see the yoga classes in action, but you do have to take off your shoes in order to access the potties.

The cafe has an open kitchen and a 100% vegan menu that includes raw foods and desserts. So far so good, right? Hmpf. That’s what we thought too. We were seated promptly next to a window (making for awesome people-watching) and given menus. I forgot my camera, so there are no photos, but the website has pictures! The cafe was out of both the Eight Herb House Iced Tea and the Lavender Lemonade, so we had water. We ordered the Heavenly Hummus with raw flax crackers as an appetizer. Unfortunately, our hummus arrived after our main courses (and only when we politely asked our server for the second time “Where is our hummus?”). For the main meal, I ordered the Monk Bowl which had beans, rice, steamed kale and my choice of spicy peanut sauce or a ginger sauce…so hard to choose…until my server said I could have both! Cool. When my meal arrived, it only had the ginger sauce. Tim ordered the BBQ Tempeh Platter (which came with black bean chili, green salad & spicy corn bread). Both of our meals were good, Tim’s perhaps a bit more.

Since we were seated right next to the dessert case, it was hard to resist some vegan soft-serve and a piece of Live Strawberry Shortcake. The soft-serve had a lovely lemony-vanilla flavor which paired nicely with the shortcake. All in all, the food was decent, but the service was very slow and we were pretty much ignored. Maybe the servers sensed we never eat out? We aren’t hip enough? We don’t do yoga? I don’t know. Maybe we will give it a second chance…

Now the reason why our apartment smells like a barbecue pit:

After our dinner, a thunderstorm rolled in. Portland never gets thunderstorms. Tim and I both grew up along Lake Erie where thunderstorms are very common, so we really enjoyed listening to and watching the storm. It seemed like the perfect night for baking, so I made mini chocolate cupcakes (recipe halved from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World) with chocolate cream cheese frosting. While I was getting the ingredients out of the cupboard, I managed to knock over a bottle of liquid smoke seasoning. The bottle didn’t break, but the lid did, spilling liquidy yellow smoke flavor all over the floor. If you have ever used this stuff, you know that a wee drop will do…an entire bottle is extremely potent! We ended up having to mop the kitchen, wipe down cupboards, drawers and ourselves. To make matters worse, we couldn’t open the windows because the rain was falling sideways. The smell is slowly fading a day later…

I also made a Lemon Currant Granola with Sliced Almonds (recipe follows). I created this recipe after being intrigued by ATXVegn’s Earth Day post where she mentioned buying a bag of Lemon Currant Granola. Who doesn’t love lemons?! I have not had this with soy milk yet, but I did snack a bit on it, and it tastes very good!

Lemon Currant Granola with Sliced Almonds

2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/6 cup canola oil
1/4 cup agave nectar
1 T maple syrup
1 1/2 t lemon extract
1/2 t vanilla extract
1/2 t fresh lemon zest, optional
1/2 t cinnamon
pinch of salt
1/2 cup dried currants (or cranberries)

1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.
2. Stir together oats and sliced almonds. Add canola oil, agave nectar, and maple syrup. Add in extracts and lemon zest if using. Stir in cinnamon and salt.
3. Spread mixture onto a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for about 20-25 minutes, or until the granola is golden. It might be wise to stir/rotate pan halfway through baking.
4. Stir in the currants once the granola has been removed from the oven. Allow to cool before transferring to an airtight container.

The rain continued through Sunday morning and afternoon, so I made something I have been wanting to make for a long time: homemade graham crackers! Yep! I adapted this recipe from a backpacking/trail foods cookbook I borrowed from the library years ago called Simple Foods for the Pack. These are so tasty and simple to make. They take some time because you need to roll out the dough, but they are worth it! I promise.

Cinnamon Graham Crackers (I halved this recipe, and they turned out just fine)

3/4 cup vegan margarine
1/2 cup agave nectar
1 1/2 t vanilla extract
3 cups graham flour (or whole wheat flour)
1/2 cup raw wheat germ
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t baking powder
3/4 cup water

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
2. Beat margarine, agave nectar, and vanilla until fluffy.
3. Combine dry ingredients in a small bowl. Add dry ingredients alternately with water to the creamed mixture.
4. Roll out onto a floured surface to about a 1/4″ thickness. Cut into desired shapes and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment. Prick with a fork. I sprinkled mine with cinnamon-sugar, but you don’t have too. They just taste yummier this way!
5. Bake for about 20 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack.

Lastly, I baked bagels. I used a recipe from Happy Herbivore. These bagels were incredible! Seriously. The recipe is perfect because it makes four bagels, just right for two people. I made two sesame seed and two cinnamon-sugar bagels. Try this recipe! Go do it now! They are easy and have little rising time, so you can eat them faster. I have made several batches, including the everything bagels from the photo below:

That’s it. I need another graham cracker anyways!

Pico Cupcakes

What is a pico cupcake you might be wondering? Well, it is simply my term for a pineapple-coconut combination! I am still waiting for spring to fully arrive here in Portland, and this cupcake made me think I was someplace sunny (for the three or four seconds it took me to eat one!). I must admit, fresh pineapple as opposed to canned would have made a much prettier treat (and tastier too), but I shop on budget…

Anyway, these are adapted from the Golden Vanilla Cupcakes from the one and only Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. I made a few changes: (1) instead of 1 cup of soymilk, I used a 1/2 cup of soymilk and a 1/2 cup of pineapple juice, and omitted the apple cider vinegar; (2) I added a 1/2 cup of crushed pineapple to the cupcake batter; (3) I added a 1/2 cup of unsweetened shredded coconut to the Vegan Fluffy Buttercream Frosting recipe; and (4) I substituted light coconut milk for the soymilk in the frosting. It would have been nice to add some coconut extract as well, but I didn’t have any on hand. These are not frosted fancy at all, but I did garnish them with a wee pineapple slice!

One Crazy April

Well, the weather here in Portland, OR has been a blend of four seasons over the last few days. This seems to be a worldwide trend, and I kinda like it…I know, I know, who likes hail, snow, rain, sun, wind, and cold all in one day? I do. I grew up less than a mile away from Lake Erie in Pennsylvania, and this is a welcoming memory of childhood…Anyway, weather that is as temperamental as my mood leads to lots of fun in the kitchen! So that’s good…

First up, I made a huge batch of granola. The recipe is adapted from The Big Book of Vegetarian, which happens to have a ton of yummy vegan recipes (and veganizable vegetarian recipes). This is the Spiced Vanilla Granola, made with considerably less sugar than the recipe calls for. This is a very versatile granola, you can add any combination of nuts and dried fruit, and it still turns out perfect every time!

After the granola, I made pita dough (again). I think I’ve become a pita fanatic. Pita is awesome because one batch makes enough dough for at least 16 pitas, and you can freeze the unbaked dough balls for later! This pita dough is for tomorrow night’s dinner: FALAFEL!!!! My favorite part of making any yeast dough is watching the yeast get all foamy! As I have mentioned in a previous post, talk to your yeast! Say things like “Hey lil’ yeasties, it’s time to go for a swim!”…

Once the pitas were finished baking, I was hungry. So, I made a snack with a chickpea spread from The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook (my very first vegan cookbook!), and cut a pita into triangles. This is one of the most addictive spreads around, and my pita was psyched to not be naked anymore.

Once I finished my snack, I went on to making more jam, with the last of my berries in the freezer (picked…2 summers ago!!!!). Lemon juice is essential to jam-making.

A Strawberry-Raspberry Jam:

Next up: Tuscan White Bean Soup, also from The Big Book of Vegetarian. This is a hearty, healthy, delicious soup (especially on a day when the weather keeps you indoors).

Maybe you are wondering, where’s the dessert?! Well, I can’t go a day without some sort of tasty treat, so today (and many days) I made Chocolate Pudding, courtesy of Fat Free Vegan (my oh my, this is sooooo gooood!!!!).

And lastly, on Wednesday I received a little package in the mail from Hannah (aka Bittersweet). I was lucky enough to be one of the winners in her bunny contest. So, you don’t have to guess who was hiding in the envelope! That’s right! A sweet little pink bunny, who I have named Krames (after a sneaky spider who lived in the hallway of my building, until he ran off with another spider named Willis, who lived in my apartment…). Thank you Hannah! As it turns out, Krames loves vegan cupcakes (go figure!). On Friday night, my boyfriend and I were desperate for a treat, but I had no sugar anywhere! I did have some soy sweetened condensed milk. I ended up making vanilla cupcakes without a recipe (a little of this and a little of that), and topping them with some homemade hot cocoa mix I had in the cupboard. They actually turned out very well, not too sweet, with a lovely texture and crumb. But the “recipe” only made three cupcakes. One for me, one for Tim (my boyfriend), and one for Krames. Perfect!

Agave Love

Before I went vegan, I was not a huge fan of honey. Occasionally I would have some spread on toast or stirred into a cup of tea, but those times were rare. When I discovered agave nectar as a vegan, I wasn’t super eager to try it, but curious enough…and guess what? I liked it! So, when I noticed I had all but a few tablespoons of sugar in my cupboard and a craving for cupcakes, I turned to my lil’ squeeze bottle of agave nectar and Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. It also helped that I had recently received as a gift a lovely product from Love Street Living Foods: raw chocolate spread.

This organic raw chocolate spread is sweetened with agave nectar and is delightfully rich and dark. Sooooooo gooooood. I thought to myself…”Hmmmm, this would be nice in the center of an unsuspecting cupcake.” And luckily, there is a recipe in Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World that suited my sugarless needs: Simple Vanilla and Agave Nectar Cupcakes. These were indeed super simple and super tasty. When filling the cupcake liners, I added a small dollop of the chocolate agave spread between layers of batter (with the hopes that it would produce a surprise chocolate center-it did!). After baking, I frosted them with the Vanilla Buttercream Frosting (also from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World) and garnished them with sprinkles. Easy.

Growing into Veggies

Growing up as a child, I was an insanely picky eater (and very unruly as well)…the worst. If my mom put a vegetable (almost any vegetable) on a plate in front of me, I can guarantee you I didn’t eat it. In fact, the kitchen table at my parent’s house still has dents on it that I left from bashing a spoon against it, in protest of eating mashed potatoes (repressed memory creeping up on me here). My mom once made me sit at the dinner table with peas smeared on my cheeks because I wouldn’t eat them (my mom isn’t mean…trust me!). But, nothing…NOTHING, compared to my dislike for the lovely onion. In college, I put tomato sauce through a sieve to remove onion, and I would dissect every meal until each little bit of onion was safely piled up on the opposite side of my plate. Gag. My point? Well, I am proud to say I am no longer so terribly fussy. I actually love veggies! I am still working on the onions…but I certainly do not throw fits at the dinner table anymore!

With that unnecessary intro, Easter dinner (and dessert) both contained veggies! Since my family and my boyfriend’s family all live back east, we have spent the last seven or so Easter holidays by ourselves…which is still very fun!

On to some food!

Our dinner consisted of the Tempeh and Green Beans with Mushroom Miso Gravy over Quinoa (from one of my favorite cookbooks, Vegan Express), and a side of mashed sweet potatoes. This meal had plenty of mushrooms, red pepper, green beans, carrots, and… mashed potatoes (see mom? I love potatoes!).

For dessert, I made the Carrot Cake Cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. Oddly, I only had enough batter for ten cupcakes…yummy regardless of quantity though! My cupcakes also sank a bit in the center, but that’s where the frosting comes in. Frosting hides all cupcake flaws. Speaking of frosting, there is never enough…

And finally, in keeping with the adoration of veggies, tonight’s dinner: the Asparagus and Spinach Pizza with Sun-Dried Tomatoes from…ummm…Vegan Express! Yes, this was very tasty. I changed the recipe a bit to flavor-up the silken tofu-based sauce by adding oregano, basil, cayenne, and a bit of Follow Your Heart cheese. The crust was homemade.

Speaking of asparagus, here’s a joke I made up (answer appears after photos):Q: What kind of weapons do Veggie Cops carry?

A: Vee-guns (get it?!) and Aspara-guns! Hahahahahaaa!

Alright. Enough.