Vegan Matzoh Ball Soup

In honor of Chanukah, and the first day of winter, Jane made the matzoh ball soup recipe from Vegan with a Vengeance. This is the second time she's made this recipe. The first time, the matzoh balls disintegrated.  The recipe suggests refrigerating the matzoh ball mixture one hour to overnight.  We were both excited about the soup and so, after the hour was up, Jane made the balls and then the soup.  What we got was not-so ball soup, or rather a gelatinous mess at the bottom of the soup bowl.  That was very disheartening as we both loved matzoh ball soup in our pre-vegan life.  We'd been rather hopeful about this recipe since many people have expressed real enthusiasm over this recipe.

Fast forward to yesterday in the grocery store.  Jane grabbed a box of matzoh meal.  I asked what she was planning on making with it.  She replied, "I think it's time to try the matzoh ball soup again."  This time she used extra firm tofu and refrigerated the mixture over 24 hours.  (We decided the previous failure was due to the 1 hour refrigeration.)  As they were cooking the matzoh balls floated; they sank when we removed the lid from the stock pot... as expected.  But even though the matzoh balls held together, we were both unimpressed with the taste.

Over time, I've learned there are just some things you can't veganize.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining... perhaps that would have been a complaint last year when I was trying to acclimate to my new way of eating.  But over this last year and a half, Jane and I have discovered some really wonderful dishes we might never have tried otherwise.  I'm just not sure we'll be trying to veganize matzoh ball soup any time in the near future.

Anyway, we wish a happy Chanukah to all of our readers who are celebrating tonight.

Veganomicon — Mac ‘n Cheese

2008 04 - VCon Mac n Cheese (1)Smokey Grilled Tempeh and Cheater Baked Beans. The tempeh and baked beans were okay, but we both decided there was no need to make the tempeh again. The beans were tasty, and worthy of a second try (and very easy to boot).

There's so much positive buzz about this cookbook that we figured we'd do well with one of the more popular recipes. Unfortunately, we're now one for three here. The mac 'n cheese just didn't work for us. Though I thought it was alright, I wouldn't ask Jane to make this again. She actually disliked it, so much so that she said she won't eat the leftovers. To put that in perspective for you, we don't typically throw food away in this house. I didn't have that strong an aversion to the dish, but something didn't work for us, perhaps it was the large quantity of nutritional yeast. 2008 04 - VCon Mac n Cheese

I hate to take such a contrarian stance, but so far this cookbook isn't living up to it's hype, for us at least. Last time we posted about the tempeh, everyone who commented said they loved it. So we're left to wonder if our taste buds are out of sync with the rest of the world, or perhaps Jane's having trouble following recipes lately? So far, we're much happier with Vegan Planet and the Real Food Daily cookbooks.

We're not ready to give up on this book just yet. It's a great big cookbook, and you all seem to love it so much. Next, Jane's going to try the Chickpea Cutlets which the authors state is their signature dish. If we dip below the Mendoza Line (one for six), we'll have to hang up our Veganomicon cleats.

Lentil Loaf – Day Two

phpk3slSZIt was lentil loaf for dinner again tonight. As I mentioned in last night's post, not my favorite meal. However, it was better tonight. Jane made my favorite iteration of brussel sprouts to accompany the loaf. This is the same recipe for brussel sprouts that we use at Thanksgiving. When I tucked into my plate, I knew that at least one portion of my meal would be worth eating.

But as much as I hate to admit it, the loaf was somewhat tasty. Still, I've asked Jane not to make it again. And I'm not the terrible husband that request makes me out to be... Jane didn't care for it either. Since it's not inedible, we will finish it off tomorrow night. You all should be thrilled too. An uninspired meal makes for an uninspired post.

Traditional Vegan Fare

phpYF5MBPFor dinner tonight, Jane tried a new recipe. She made us a lentil loaf. It started out as lentil stew, which was quite tasty, so we both had high expectations.

The loaf wound up reminding me of my early experiences with vegetarianism back in the eighties. It seemed like everywhere I turned the only vegetarian option was a pepper stuffed with rice. In case you can't tell from the tone of my writing, I abhor stuffed peppers. That meal is one of the reasons I re-introduced meat into my diet.

When we were talking about going vegan I revisited my previous vegetarian experiences with Jane. She commiserated with me, but we both knew that things would be better this time around. We knew that there would be commercial products readily available in our local grocery stores. I would never have to resort to the ubiquitous stuffed pepper. So when I took my first bite of this Lentil Loaf, visions of stuffed peppers were unhappily dancing in my head. Needless to say, it wasn't wonderful. But it's far from the worst thing I've ever eaten.

Jane made the full recipe so there's still plenty of loaf left. Yay?

Yule Log — Daring Baker’s December Challenge

Once upon a time, in my pre-vegan life, I used to love to bake. I'm not an expert baker, but I've always enjoyed it and feel I've met with a certain level of success. I'm often asked to bring a baked dessert when Lane and I are invited to dinner. Suffice it to say, I was confident in my baking abilities.

Then we became vegan and things changed. There is something about creamed butter and eggs and sugar that I have not been able to duplicate with vegan products. My confidence waned, and now baking intimidates me. My Kitchen Aid mixer has been gathering dust, and Lane has been missing homemade desserts. So when I stumbled upon the Daring Baker's, I thought it might be something that would help me recover my baking skills, or at the very least, get me back into the kitchen and baking again.

This month's Daring Baker's Challenge was my first official challenge. I was accepted into the group at the end of November so I wasn't officially eligible to participate in the November challenge, however, the recipe looked so intriguing, I tried it anyway. It was the Tender Potato bread which I blogged about here, and it was yummy. I'm so glad I took that challenge because this one was an utter disaster (for me), and might have dampened my enthusiasm for this endeavor.

We Daring Baker's are issued a challenge at the beginning of the month. We're all supposed to make the same recipe and compare results. You can learn a lot reading about how others interpret the recipes. Part of the challenge allows for individual creativity and it is very interesting to see what people can do! Then we are all supposed to post about our experiences on our blogs on the same day. This month it was the 22nd, however, Lane and I have been having some problems with our DSL over the last two weeks and I simply couldn't get my act together to get to the library to publish this post. At any rate, here is my tale of woe, a little late, but no less pathetic for being so!

The challenge was a Yule Log. Ok, I've made yule logs in the past, and jelly rolls, and had been successful, so this wasn't some strange new thing. All I'd have to do is replace a few key ingredients and I'd be fine. The rules require that you use the recipe as written, with a few exceptions; being vegan I'm allowed to substitute the non-vegan ingredients.

The Yule Log had three components:

  • Meringue or Marzipan mushrooms
  • A genoise cake
  • A coffee buttercream frosting

The meringue was out, of course, so I attempted the Marzipan Mushrooms. The recipe looked easy enough and was vegan friendly. I followed the recipe exactly and to my dismay I ended up with a liquid, not a paste. What to do????? First I added some more powdered sugar, but that didn't help much and the mix was getting very sweet. I didn't think to also add cornstarch as someone subsequently suggested. I had used all my almond meal, but had slivered almonds on hand, so I threw those into the food processor, without grinding them up first! I have no idea what I was thinking, but it was a foolish mistake. Ultimately, I wound up with a crunchy almond slurry, not suitable for much. Someone suggested that I could use it in a dessert creation with apples, etc. But decorative mushrooms... nope! The slurry would have worked well as mortar on a gingerbread house! In my defense, I wasn't the only person to have trouble with this recipe. But still, it wasn't an auspicious start.

So now I was very frustrated as this was my only weekend to work on the challenge, and one component was not going to work out. Next was the cake. I'd been looking for egg-replacement powder for a while and hadn't found it in my local Whole Foods or Trader Joe's. The health food store that we shop at burned down in September and still hasn't reopened. I'd done some research on egg replacers. The recipe called for 3 eggs, 3 egg yolks, ¾ C sugar, ½ C flour, ¼ C cornstarch and a pinch of salt. Clearly replacing the eggs was going to be an issue.

My first thought was to use Mark Bittman's suggestion of 2 Tbs water, 1 Tbs neutral oil (I used grapeseed), and 1 tspn cornstarch (I used arrowroot). That didn't work.

For my second and final attempt (time constraints) I used silken tofu in place of the eggs. I wound up with something resembling a cake. So I proceeded to make the buttercream, using Healthy Start Shortening and Good Earth Soy Spread in equal proportions, in place of the butter. The "buttercream" actually came out swell. I was hopeful. I slathered the buttercream on and began to roll my log. It cracked. I used some of the almond slurry as mortar to hold things together. I managed to roll up the log and cut off the ends which were supposed to be used as decorative accents on the log (stumps and nubs). Lane walked into the kitchen at that exact moment and we decided a taste test was in order. That was the end of the December Challenge. I was out of time. The cake tasted gritty(the tofu?). The buttercream was edible, but we're not huge coffee fans so it wasn't worth saving. And you already read about the marzipan!

Yule Log

So, I failed my challenge, but at least I tried! I leave you with a lovely picture of a yule log at one of the bakeries we passed by this holiday season.

Here's to next month's challenge!

How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, or Not

Jane has Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian" on loan from our local library. She likes to test drive new recipes prior to buying a new cookbook. This cookbook looks very promising. It's almost 1,000 pages and seems quite comprehensive. The recipes we've read sound appealing. So we're pretty excited to try a few.

Recently, we went to our favorite local Indian restaurant and had a delicious, new-to-us, eggplant dish. As Jane was going through the Bittman Cookbook she found a recipe that looked similar to that dish. She actually called me to tell me about it and that she was going to prepare that recipe for dinner tonight. In response to "what are we eating tonight" I usually hear "dinner." Jane has long since stopped telling me what I'm getting since, on rare occasion, I might have suggested I'd rather eat something other than what she was preparing. So I knew she was pretty excited about this recipe since I was hearing about it in advance.

Unfortunately, the dish didn't live up to what we had at Akbar, the Indian restaurant I've been referring too. We were both pretty disappointed in the results. The dish looks pretty, and smells good, but it was kind of, well... not what we had at Akbar. So, this recipes not a keeper. But we're not through with this cookbook just yet.

Cream of Tomato Soup with a Surprize

It' s been cold here again. That always makes me think of soup. Luckily, Jane thinks the same way, so we've been having a variety of soups and stews lately. In our pre-vegan life, one of our old standby meals was cream of tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, with a green salad. The only possibility left from that meal is the green salad.

This week's foray to the library resulted in us borrowing The Taste for Living Cookbook by Michael Milken and Beth Ginsberg. It's not a vegan cookbook but it promotes itself as a collection of recipes for fighting cancer, so that got our attention (Jane's family history of cancer being one of the primary reasons we're vegans now). The book is fresh looking and attractively laid out, and a number of the recipes are vegan, and sound interesting. And lo and behold, one of the first recipes in the book is for Cream of Tomato Soup.

So, last night Jane made their version of cream of tomato soup. Cream? you might ask. Well in place of the cream it comes with a surprise... Their note states that oats can be used as a cream replacement in any pureed soup. (Huh?) To accompany the soup, Jane made grilled cheese sandwiches with vegan cheese. (Woo hoo, old standby!) And, as usual a green salad, this time topped with Chili Lime Dressing (recipe from the aforementioned book).

To recap: new cookbook, two new recipes. The salad dressing was outright awful. Thankfully, Jane only made half the recipe, so dumping the rest down the drain wasn't as wasteful as it could have been. The soup wasn't awful, but didn't hold up to the grilled cheese at all. We had leftover soup tonight with the last of the Tender Potato Bread Focaccia; it was better the second day. I don't know whether that's because the flavors had a chance to mature overnight, or if the bread was a better compliment than the grilled cheese.

Stew… Boo!

Dinner tonight was some kind of stew: Black eyed peas, yams, spinach, and soy-chorizo (a Mexican spicy sausage). When I used to cook, Jane and I would have discussions about whether cooking is a science (my opinion) or an art (her opinion). I used to follow recipes exactly. Jane will modify recipes at the drop of a hat; if she doesn't have something on hand, she'll substitute something she feels is logical. Often, she'll eyeball the amount of an ingredient, and if it's something she likes, she'll add more of it to the pot. Most of the time this works out just fine. Every once in a while it is a complete disaster.

The recipe she used tonight called for sausage and red pepper flakes. She had soy-chorizo in the refrigerator that was nearing its expiration date. Since the chorizo is spicy, Jane figured she could use that minus the pepper flakes and all would be well.

Muy spicy! Our first few bites were not promising at all, but as we continued eating our dinner, it grew on us. This iteration of this dish will not be a repeat, however! Jane promised she'd try it again, as the recipe specifies.

Our First Clunker

So far we've been fairly pleased with our vegan diet. The products have been mostly good. The recipes we've tried have, for the most part, been things we'd make again. Although I didn't love the peach cobbler, and there was a cabbage salad that we won't be making ever again, we haven't run across anything that we've found inedible or completely unpalatable... until now.

One of our vegan cookbooks suggests Umeboshi Paste, which is a Japanese pickled plum puree, makes for a really wonderful alternative to butter on your corn on the cob. Since we had always loved corn on the cob dripping with butter and a sprinkling of salt in our pre-vegan days, we figured this would be a great vegan replacement.

WRONG!!! It's horrible. It's tart and tangy and overwhelmingly salty, and we only used the tiniest bit to taste. I'm sure there are people who love this stuff, but it won't be making it over the threshold to our home again. Ick. It's a shame too, because this little container was just under $9 at our local Whole Foods.

Peach Cobbler

Jane often gets the urge to bake when it cools down. Our vegan diet has kept that pretty much in check. The first week we were vegans she made the chocolate cake out of the Real Food Daily Cookbook. It's amazing what you can do with tofu.

Anyway, the cake cost about $20 to make (and that's not including electricity), and Jane didn't love it, so we haven't had much in the way of prepared desserts. It's mostly been cut up fruit and the occasional soy dessert from Trader Joe's. Nice summer desserts that we really enjoy.

But it's been unseasonably cold here. We're actually experiencing autumn! OK, not a real New England type of Autumn, but there's been a nip in the air and it's great to crawl into bed at night - perfect sleeping weather. So tonight, Jane broke out the vegan cookbooks and made a pear cobbler. Normally I love her cobbler. She's always having to dole it out so I don't eat the whole thing in one night. But I've got to say, this wasn't spectacular. I missed the butter. Or maybe I didn't care for the ginger in this recipe. In any event, this one wasn't a winner, although it looks good!