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Lush Chocolate Mousse – Vegan & Gluten-free

February 4, 2012

Lush Chocolate Mousse

My friend/then-roommate M introduced me to this recipe back in college/Uni and it’s been a staple ever since. Even our non-vegan roommate P started making it all the time because it’s the easiest, lushest chocolate dessert to make. It takes more time to clean the blender than to actually make the dessert. If you’re saddened by this and want to spend half the day in the kitchen, feel free to go crazy with homemade biscuits, tuiles, coullis or a side of sorbet but as-is, it’s done in a cinch.

This used to be the filling for a pie (poured into a pre-made graham cracker crust) but to keep it healthier I’ve found other ways to get that crunch and keep it gluten-free.  Oh, and keep the ingredients secret until your guests have tried it… they’ll never guess what’s in it!

Ingredients: (serves 4-6)

  • 1 package silken firm tofu
  • ~160-200 g dark chocolate (as dark as you like – I’m an 85% gal myself) – I used Willie’s which can be found at Waitrose or here. (For those with dairy allergies, I met him at a food fair and though tipsy, he assured me the factory is fully dairy-free.) In the US 1 heaping cup of semi-sweet and/or dark chocolate chips works well. The more chocolate you use, the faster and harder it will set. If you want to keep it lighter and fluffier, use a bit less.
  • 2 tsp agave nectar, maple syrup or golden syrup (if needed- if using less intense chocolate this isn’t needed)
  • For garnish: sliced strawberries, whole raspberries, chopped almonds and/or popping candy (a la Heston) for some excitement! (The look on S’s face was priceless – “Am I going mad or can anyone else hear this too?”)
Directions:

Place the block of tofu in a blender or food processor. Place the chocolate in a thick glass bowl. The shortcut is to microwave it on a low power, stirring occasionally, but to prevent burning the chocolate it’s best to use a ‘bain marie’ – a fancy way to say placing the glass bowl over a pan of gently simmering water, stirring occasionally, until molten. Pour into the blender along with the sweetener. Blend. If the mixture is too thick, a splash of olive oil can lighten it up. An alternative is to add fresh raspberries into the mix.

Nice silky texture...

Pour the mousse into the desired serving bowls (I used margarita glasses), cover and let set for about an hour.

Just before serving, sprinkle your desired garnishes over the mousse. And believe me, a little mousse goes a long way.

Vietnamese Summer Rolls – Vegan & Gluten Free

January 30, 2012

Vietnamese Summer Rolls

I’m trying out this whole gluten free experience, and as being mostly-vegan limits my ingredient choices so much already, I wasn’t sure what to make for our friends V&N who were coming over. N is vegetarian, so they’re both happy with meatless meals, but what can you serve beyond an unimpressive weekday stir-fry? The hubby and I tussled on a few ideas until we found one that made both our mouths water: Vietnamese. In addition to lovely noodle soups (see below), this underrated cuisine is the home of the summer roll (aka Vietnamese spring roll). A non-deep fried and naturally gluten-free version of the ubiquitous Chinese spring roll, these starters are divinely fresh and crisp. They take a bit of practice, but that’s part of the fun ;o) We were lucky that V & N had taken a cooking course on their Vietnamese holiday, so N helped me hone my rolling technique!

Part 1: The Summer Roll

Ingredients:

  • firm tofu
  • oil for frying
  • bowl of warm water
  • Vietnamese rice paper wrappers – big or little depending on your mood and availability; I like the little ones
  • 1 carrot, julienned into thin strips (a mandolin is ideal, and much faster than chopping by hand!)
  • 1/2 cucumber, julienned into thin strips or cut into long thin rectangles
  • 2 leaves Chinese cabbage, cut into thin strips
  • fresh coriander/cilantro leaves
  • fresh thai basil leaves (normal basil will do)
  • fresh mint leaves

Directions:

Wrap the tofu in a clean cloth. Place in a pan or skillet to prevent water seepage. On top, place a saucepan filled with a few cans or bags of beans. Leave for several hours or overnight. This will drain the water from the tofu, making it more firm.

Slice the tofu into very thin strips (1/8 – 1/4″) and shallow fry until golden. Place on paper towel/kitchen paper to blot the excess oil.

Fill a wide bowl or baking pan halfway with warm water. Dip the rice paper wrapper in, turning it clockwise like a steering wheel until the entire wrapper is translucent and soft.

Place the wrapper on a plate. In the center of the wrapper, layer the tofu, carrots, cucumber and herbs. Fold one side in, fold the bottom up, fold the other side, then roll the whole thing upwards until the whole wrapper is sticking together around the filling. (It helps to watch a Youtube video first.)

If the wrapper folds in on itself or starts to get too sticky/stiff, just wet your finger, wet the folded section and separate it as needed.

These rolls are best eaten fresh, but can be prepared a few hours early if needed. It would be a fun interactive dish to make with kids, eating as you go! On their own they can be dry, so dip them in a sauce – recipe below.

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Part 2: Peanutty Dipping Sauce

There are a few options for dipping sauces, including sweet chilli sauce and fish-based sauces. Maybe I’m biased, but I think this peanutty sauce is the king of all summer roll dipping sauces. A sticky, warm-flavoured, bold contrast to the cooling freshness of cucumber and herbs in the roll, it’s a match made in heaven. One issue though: I usually throw the ingredients together and adjust quantities as needed, so do feel free to fiddle with the amounts!

Ingredients:

  • 1 small/medium clove garlic
  • 1/2 or 1 chopped red chili pepper (depending on the spice of the chili and the tolerance of diners!)
  • 1 Tbsp tamari (this is usually wheat-free, but if you’re not anti-gluten soy sauce is just fine)
  •  1/3 cup smooth natural peanut butter (try to avoid hydrogenated oils)
  • small sprinkle of sugar (if the PB is unsweetened; not needed if there’s sugar in it already)
  • 2 tsp sesame oil (may need more)
  • small splash of lime juice
  • small splash of rice wine vinegar
  • extra oil and water as needed to adjust consistency & flavour concentration

Directions:

Blend the ingredients together in a food processor. Tweak quantities as needed until it’s a tiny bit tart, a tiny bit sweet, not too salty and very peanutty. Dip the rolls in and enjoy 🙂

Faux pho – My vegan take on Vietnamese noodle soup

January 30, 2012

Pho

There’s nothing more comforting in the dead of winter than a steaming hot bowl of pho, Vietnamese noodle soup (pronounced like the first 2 letters of “the F word”, to the amusement of Southeast Asian friends with fond memories of an LA joint called ‘Pho King’). The reason pho is simply better than other noodle soups is the plate of fresh herbs and chillies bursting with flavour served with the soup, which is torn up and mixed in by the eater. I first discovered pho with these friends in Harvard Square, but since then have struggled to find really tasty vegetarian versions. In London there’s ‘Pho,’ but after my initial excitement I lost interest in the oily stock. I’m a firm believer in trying to reinvent my favourite restaurant food to tailor it to my taste, and just in case the place goes bust or changes the menu! So here’s my veg version on Pho.

I made the stock myself, which is unbeatable in terms of flavours and scents wafting through the kitchen, but in a pinch some veg stock boiled with a bit of lemongrass, peppercorns, coriander seed and shitaake mushrooms would work quite well.

Part 1: Asian Vegetable Stock

Ingredients:

  • splash of oil (I use olive)
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled
  • about 3″ ginger root, peeled & roughly chopped into 1/2″ cubes
  • 1-2 tsp peppercorns
  • 1 – 2  Tbsp coriander seed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 star anise
  • 3 stalks celery
  • 2 carrots
  • 150 g fresh shitaake mushrooms (or 1/3 cup dried)
  • 2 stalks fresh lemongrass (or 2-3 Tbsp dried)
  • 2 sheets fresh dulse or dried kombu
  • 9 cups water

Directions:

Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion, garlic, ginger, peppercorns, coriander seeds, bay leaf, star anise and stir, cooking on medium heat for about a minute. Add the carrots, celery and shitaake mushrooms (if fresh) and saute for 3-4 minutes. Add the water, lemongrass and dulse (and shitaakes if dried). Bring the pot to a boil then lower the heat, cover and simmer for 45 min to an hour. When finished, strain out the solids and keep the liquid stock. (It helps if the stock is cool at this point!)

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Part 2: Assembling the Pho

Ingredients:

  • buckwheat noodles (King Soba makes a yummy buckwheat & sweet potato noodle – one bunch is enough for 4 people)
  • 1 block tofu, cut into 2 cm cubes
  • A variety of mushrooms: shitaake, enoki, bunja shimeji, portabello, oyster etc. Sliced shitaakes, portabellos and oysters give lots of flavour to the soup, while enokis provide a fun textural element.
  • Chinese cabbage – about 4 long leaves, sliced crosswise into 1″ thick strips
  • Optional: kaffir lime leaves
  • Asian greens – water spinach, pea shoots, pak choi or similar; a handful roughly chopped
  • 1 carrot, cut into thin strips
  • a splash of sesame oil
  • 1 lime, sliced
  • fresh cilantro/coriander leaves, a handful
  • fresh basil leaves, a handful
  • fresh mint leaves, a handful
  • red and/or green chillies, sliced

Directions:

Heat the stock along with the tofu, mushrooms,  cabbage and, if available, lime leaves, for ~3 minutes.

Boil the buckwheat noodles in water and a splash of oil in a separate saucepan until almost al dente. Gluten-free noodles cook much more quickly, so be vigilant! Drain and add to the stock along with the greens, carrot, and any other vegetables you’d like. Continue to heat until greens are cooked. Ladle into bowls and top with a tiny splash of sesame oil.

Herb platter

Arrange the lime slices, herbs and chillies on individual side plates or on a platter for the table to share. (Note: there are usually bean sprouts on the platter as well, but I’m not the biggest fan so I’ve skipped them.) Diners are free to tear, squeeze and toss in herbs, lime and chillies into their soup bowls as desired. Bon apetit!

Matcha & Almond Desserts – Gluten-free and Dairy-free cookies

January 30, 2012
tags: ,

Matcha

I love matcha. I still remember my first thrilling encounter with this delicate ingredient, Japanese powdered green tea. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was so enamoured by a visiting Japanese artist that they offered to build her a whole house of her own if she would only stay. So in the midst of cornfields and cow pastures, Japan House was built – an oasis of feng shui and exacting Eastern order and propriety. Students at the university could take courses in ikebana flower arranging, kimono draping and the Japanese tea ceremony, but those with less flexibility in their timetables could arrange to experience the tea ceremony as a once-off occasion. My friends and I knelt on the woven mats, watching with fascination as the host performed an elaborate series of napkin folds and unfolds to wipe clean every piece of pottery without reusing the same section of cloth. We obediently observed the delicate designs on our teacups, then respectfully turned the cup the opposite way so as to not sully the design with our lips. The hot water, kept in a sunken receptacle, was ladled into cups then with a magical flick of the wrist and an ingenious whisk, the matcha was lathered up into a beautiful frothy stupor. We were warned beforehand of the divided opinions evoked by this tea – what is commonly known in the UK as the “Marmite effect” – either you love it or you hate it.  I loved every warm, bitter, comforting sip. I felt a rush as the antioxidant-filled leaves travelled down my throat, leaving a delicate film of foamy joy in my mouth.

Since that first delightful taste, I have often plotted to buy a full Japanese tea set – whisk included – but, well, never really got around to it. After a brief love affair with matcha-flavoured soy ice cream, I haven’t indulged my taste buds enough in this lovely ingredient. So when we decided to cook an East Asian-themed dinner for some friends, I decided to slip my matcha powder out of its long hibernation in the freezer and have some fun with it. Ideally, I would make matcha ice cream, but without an ice cream maker I realised it could be disastrous. The next best, matcha sorbet, was possible but required an endless schedule of ‘stirring every 30 minutes’ so I decided to copy some TV cheffiness and settled on Matcha Granita. Almond seemed to me like a nice complimentary flavour, so I added gluten-free almond cookies and for a bit more of a challenge, some matcha cookies as well.

Here is the Trio of Desserts (said with some sarcasm as it’s not really that fancy…)

Trio of Desserts

Part 1: Matcha Granita – Vegan

Almond Cookie with Matcha Granita

(Recipe adapted from: http://www.houseofjapan.com/cuisine/matcha-green-tea-sorbet)

Light and fluffly, this could be an incredible palate cleanser, especially if you added a twist of lime. As a dessert, it’s too airy to eat alone but it delivers that lovely flavour with very little substance, so may be good for dieters who want to have a taste of dessert without overdoing the sugar. The initial prep is simple, but the shaving takes a bit of elbow grease, so beware! (Thanks to V who graciously helped out, despite being our guest!)

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp matcha (green tea powder)
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 cups water

Directions:

Mix the sugar and matcha in a bowl.

Matcha and sugar

Pour this mixture, along with the water, into the saucepan. Warm gently while stirring until the mixture has dissolved.

Dissolved matcha mix

Remove from the heat and immerse the pan in a bowl of cold water until the mixture is at room temperature. Pour into a freezer-safe container and leave until frozen. (I left mine overnight.) Remove approximately 15 minutes before serving to soften. Using the back of a spoon, scrape the surface to obtain shavings. Serve immediately.

One drawback is the granita melts VERY quickly so if you’re not careful, you could end up with a watery mess! Chilling the plates beforehand would help. The other drawback of course is the exercise you get scraping enough granita for everyone! On a positive note, it helps you digest the main meal, leaving more room for dessert. As a wise man once said, “Always look on the bright side of life.” 😉

Part 2:  Almond Cookies – Gluten-free and Dairy-free (not vegan as-is)

Almond Cookies

(Recipe adapted from http://glutenfreeday.com/?p=96)

These cookies are delightfully soft and delicately flavoured. They don’t at all seem like a ‘compromise’ to gluten-free baking. As the ‘flour’ is ground almonds, you also avoid the ‘gluten-free flour’ trap of a very high GI, insulin-rush-inducing dessert. I’ve also substituted the sugar for agave nectar, and I imagine using Stevia would have a similarly pleasant result. The happy coincidence is that I hadn’t even realised that our guest N has turned gluten-free, so my own endeavours to minimise wheat have been useful!

Ingredients:

  • 1 heaping cup almonds
  • 50 g unsalted butter or butter substitute (Look for non-hydrogenated alternatives! They don’t melt well, but they’re much healthier than trans-fat-filled margarine!)
  • 1/6 cup agave nectar (or the equivalent of ¼ cup sugar) – just fill a 1/3 cup halfway
  • 1 egg (I haven’t tried egg substitutes yet, but this will be my next adaptation experiment. If you do make this recipe with an egg substitute, let me know how it turns out!)
  • 1/8 tsp ginger powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • a pinch of salt

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 170 C/340 F.  Grind the almonds into a fairly fine meal. They should give you 1 cup of almond ‘flour’.

If using butter, melt it then let it cool slightly. Mix all ingredients together. Place one heaping teaspoon of batter at a time onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Bake for 15-20 minutes until the edges are golden brown. Place cookies onto a cooling rack. Devour.

This is a fantastic recipe, and kudos to whoever initially dreamt it up. Unfortunately it wasn’t perfect with the granita, as the granita melted so quickly, but the flavours were lovely together. These cookies would make a phenomenal ice cream sandwich though!

Part 3: Matcha Cookies – Gluten-free and Dairy-free

(Recipe adapted from http://fortwoplease.blogspot.com/2010/11/matcha-green-tea-shortbread-cookies.html)

I went out on a limb and decided that since I had two perfectly good dessert options already, I’d make more of an experiment out of the next. So I took a normal recipe for matcha cookies and just switched out the flour. Unfortunately I left them in the oven for a touch too long (oops!!), but the unburnt middles tasted nice. They have a really strong matcha flavour and the flour seemed to make little difference as they held together nicely! To be perfectly honest, I’d still choose the almond cookies any day, but if you need a change of scenery these are a fun option.

Ingredients:

  • 1/6 cup agave nectar (or the equivalent of ¼ cup sugar)
  • 50 g butter or butter substitute (once again, avoid trans-fat-laden hydrogenated varieties!)
  • ½ heaping cup chestnut flour
  • 1 egg yolk (once again, I haven’t tried with egg substitute, but do let me know if you do!)
  • ½ Tbsp matcha powder (I added a touch more for extra flavour)
  • granulated sugar for coating

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 150 C/300 F (I put it at 170 C, but  I’d lower the heat to reduce the chances of burning!).

Mix the matcha and agave (or sugar) – agave takes some time to mix by hand but it does come ‘round and incorporate the green tea powder into it. Matcha is so light that a mixer isn’t recommended, but a closed food processor might work well.

Matcha and agave

Use a mixer (for me: a normal food processor worked fine) to combine the butter and matcha mixture until fully blended. Add the chestnut flour and egg yolk until fully incorporated. Put the dough in the center of cling film and roll with your hands into a cylinder about 2 ½” in diameter. Close up the cling film around the dough and chill for at least 30 minutes.

Remove the dough from the cling film and cut disks of about ½” height. Toss the disks in a bowl of granulated sugar to coat. Place these on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes until they are slightly golden (Not brown! Learn from my mistakes!) around the edges. (The recipe suggests forming a disk before refrigeration, then rolling the dough out and cutting out pretty shapes, but I have no non-Christmas-related cutters so I took a shortcut!)

Although I’ve never tasted the original recipe, I was surprised at how well the substitution worked! Not bad for my first gluten-free attempt at a normal recipe! The flour may have contributed to the burning issue, but judging by how well the centers fared, I’m sure a little less heat & time in the oven will fix that bug good and proper! One addition I’d like to make next time is to add a teaspoon of vanilla extract to boost the sweetness.

I’ve learned a few lessons along the way but it’s been a fun adventure – my first cookies in years, and my first foray into gluten-free baked sweets! I’m looking forward to more experimentation… any guinea pigs? 😉

Spicy Black Bean & Quinoa Pizza with Jerusalem Artichoke Sauce – Vegan & Gluten free

January 29, 2012

I adapted this recipe from Brenden Brazier’s book Thrive, which I highly recommend to vegans/vegetarians. Brazier is a pro triathlete who happens to be vegan. This gives his book a leg up in the health stakes. His recipes are lower carb and higher on good fats. It’s not the quickest recipe but it’s tasty and healthy and feeds 2-3 people (or lasts for 2-3 meals!) The only downside is that the crust is still a bit mushy, so it’s not a pizza in the normal sense of the word… more of a loose interpretation.  😉

Ingredients:

Crust –

2 cloves garlic

1 cup cooked black beans (or black-eyed peas – the latter does make the crust a bit less mushy and more… well, crusty)

1 cup cooked quinoa

1/2 cup chickpea flour

1/4 cup coconut oil (or another oil)

1 chili pepper, roughly chopped (or chili flakes/chili powder)

1/2 tsp black pepper

salt to taste

Sauce –

olive oil for sauteeing

500 g Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and diced

1 sprig rosemary

1/2 tsp black pepper

salt to taste

optional: soy or milk-based cream

Topping –

I used a red pepper, a fennel bulb and some curly kale this time, but sweet potatoes work well too

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 170 C/300 F. Blend together all of the ingredients for the crust, spread into a 9×12″ pan and bake for about 20-30 minutes until the base is slightly dry.


Meanwhile, sautee the artichoke for 1-2 minutes, cover with water, add the rosemary and seasonings and cook until the artichoke is soft. Blend (optional: with cream).

Chop the toppings and toss them with oil.

Spread the sauce over the base, add the toppings and bake for a further 15-20 minutes. Enjoy!

Baking fun! Part 3: Chocolate Bundt Cake

January 27, 2012

Ok, so what fun is it having people over if you can’t have a bit of fun with desserts as well? I miss baking sweets, and I jump on any excuse I can get. So, without further ado, I give you cake.

Recipe 3: “Lower Fat Deep Chocolate Bundt Cake”

Recipe from the Veganomicon by Moskowitz & Romero. Tasty and super moist, and loved the depth of flavour brought in by the coffee, but it was more effort than the normal recipe (see my ‘Super-Moist Chocolate Cupcakes’) so I’ll probably stick to that in the future in a pinch.

Ingredients:
1 3/4 c fresh brewed coffee
2/3 c unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 1/2 c granulated sugar
1/3 c oil (It says canola, I used a mix of olive, flaxseed & hemp. I’m trying to avoid extracted oils.)
1/3 c applesauce
1/4 c cornstarch
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
2 c all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp powdered sugar

Directions:
Preheat oven to 325 C. Lightly grease an 8- or 10-inch Bundt pan. Bring the coffee to a simmer over medium heat, then turn down the heat and stir in the cocoa powder until dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool to room temp.

Whisk together the sugar, oil, applesauce and cornstarch until the sugar and cornstarch are dissolved, about 2 minutes. I only have a teeny hand whisk meant for hot cocoa, so the sugar didn’t dissolve but it’s absolutely fine b/c the coffee mixture dissolves it. Add in the extracts. When the chocolate is cool, mix that in too.

Sift (or mix) in the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Beat (or hand-whisk) until relatively smooth, about 1-2 minutes.

Pour the batter into the Bundt pan and bake for about 45 minutes, until a toothpick or butter knife through the centre comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool about 20 min. Invert onto a serving plate to cool completely. (At this point you’re meant to dust with powdered sugar. I forgot. Still tasted good.)

It’s super moist and gooey and looks purty in the Bundt pan. Great with ice cream. Enjoy!

Baking fun! Part 2: GF LC ‘Paleo’ bread

January 27, 2012

As I mentioned in Part 1, I’m no longer vegan and have incorporated free range eggs into my larder. This is my first attempt at low-carb baking. It’s an easy recipe, other than the whisking, but if you have a machine that should be easy. (Instead, I get exercise using my tiny whisk meant for use in a mug of hot cocoa.) The result: light, fluffy and moist, very lovely texture, but very very eggy smelling! The smell puts me off, but otherwise it’s a fantastic and supremely enjoyable alternative!

Recipe 2: ‘Paleo’ bread – gluten free and low-carb

Recipe from http://www.elanaspantry.com/gluten-free-bread-20/

Ingredients:

Directions:

  1. In a medium bowl, combine almond flour, arrowroot, flax meal, salt and baking soda
  2. In a larger bowl, blend eggs 3-5 minutes until frothy
  3. Stir agave and vinegar into eggs
  4. Mix dry ingredients into wet
  5. Scoop batter into a well greased 7.5″ x 3.5″ loaf pan
  6. Bake at 350º for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center of loaf comes out clean
  7. Cool and serve

Makes 1 medium sized loaf

It’s much more filling than normal bread, so slice it thinly, and enjoy the fact that a little goes a long way.