Summer fun, food nerd edition: canning and jamming

Over a month ago, two food-loving friends, Adrienne, Roxanne and I were discussing jam-making and canning and the fact that both Roxanne and I hadn’t done either. We both love jam and have an appreciation for homemade food, but were both intimidated by the process of making it at home, (and I was admittedly fearful of botulism).

Thankfully, Adrienne is a pro at canning and jam-making, and even made homemade jam for each of the guests that attended her wedding last year – about 150 people! When she offered to teach Roxanne and I the basics of both of these activities at her home, we jumped at the opportunity. Who can say no to wine, good company, a new/educational food experience, and lots of delicious leftovers? Not this guy.

So we met up this past Sunday at Adrienne’s in Tacoma, armed with lots of strawberries and vegan-friendly sugar to make Blue Chair Fruit’s Strawberry Jam with Aged Balsamic and Black Pepper (and one batch without pepper too). The combo of sweet strawberries (and the classic nostalgia of this jam flavor), richness of balsamic and the kick that black pepper promised all sounded like an excellent mix to me, and I was excited to experience the results.

Once we arrived, we got to work quickly! Adrienne had Roxanne and I hull four pounds of strawberries for the first batch. In case you’re wondering, that’s a lot of strawberries:

After hulling, we put them in a large pot and added sugar, balsamic, and lemon juice. And then we got to stirring. One thing I learned about jam-making? It’s a mega arm workout. I could stand to make more jam.

Technically this is the beginning of batch two, but just wanted to show the beginning of the process.

Keep stirring until juice began to form on the bottom, and so that the fruit doesn’t stick to the bottom. The pot is heated to a boil at this point, so be careful. Skim away any excess foam you see if you don’t want it in the jar (we did this step, but it’s optional).

Me taking a photo of Roxanne photographing the process. Slightly meta.

Adrienne teaching/stirring away.

The jam we made was pectin-free, so we had to test to make sure that it had “jelled” by placing some of the jam on a refrigerated plate. It did, woo! Then it was time to fill the jars. Here’s all the quarter-pint jars we started with:And then we poured jam in through the funnel, filling the jars most of the way. No photos of this as we were busy learning by doing. Next the jars were tightened and put into boiling water for processing. And then…

…we had jam! It had to cool first, but you know, it was definitely jam at this point.

My sweet haul.

I had such a great time getting together with these ladies (who I sorely miss now that I’m a few cities away) and catching up, drinking lots of white zin and of course, dishing about how much we love food and all the summery things we were enjoying. If Adrienne does start teaching jamming classes soon and you’re in the South Sound, I highly recommend taking one. I’m much less intimidated by the whole process now. I’d love to get into canning right away but alas, this hobby will have to wait until I have more space.

One of the very best parts of this class happened the next morning: the tasting!

Needless to say, it’s delicious. The strawberry flavor was perfectly sweet – not too sweet like I feel most jams are, and it was enhanced and brightened by fresh lemon juice. The balsamic added a depth of flavor to this combo that was effortlessly natural. Balsamic isn’t something I think of when I think of sweet things, but I’ve always been impressed by how well it melds with them. That was definitely the case here. I couldn’t taste the pepper in the first jar we’re on, but I think we erred on the side of not pepper-crazy. If I were to do this again, I’d be more liberal with the grinder because I love some spice.

And here’s past Sunday’s breakfast: Ezekiel bread toasted, and slathered with this perfect homemade spread. We’re slowly enjoying it, and I’m also currently thinking up other ways to utilize it. If you have ideas/recipes/suggestions, please mention them in the comments.

For the teacher’s perspective of this class, the full recipe and much more precise directions, check out Adrienne’s excellent post.

Sunday Brunchin’ V: Pumpkin French Toast + Sizzling Tempeh Bacon

Yesterday I woke up cranky, not quite sure what I wanted to eat for brunch. I felt like we’d tried some great new brunch items, and switched up some old standards, and yet I remained stumped. I knew I had the remnants of an opened can of pumpkin in my fridge, and well, since October’s almost over…that sealed the deal.

We’re a little low on ingredients (it’s grocery week), so we chose the Orange-Ginger Pumpkin French Toast and Sizzling Tempeh Bacon recipes from what’s quickly becoming a favorite in our apartment, Blissful Bites.

To say that I followed the French toast recipe to a T would be a blatant lie. I made some changes because we were out of things and I wanted to use what we had on hand. It kind of made the recipe a bit of a challenge, but I take full responsibility for that. Here are a few things I did differently/proof of me being difficult in the kitchen…

One unique aspect of this recipe is that it calls for baking the French toast prior to cooking it in the pan.

The recipe called for orange zest but we didn’t have any oranges on hand, so I left that out and added in almond extract instead, just because. It also called for a sturdy bread, but we didn’t have that either so we substituted with Ezekiel slices. I soon found out why Christy used a loaf-style bread instead!

The recipe uses a whole can of pumpkin but I used one minus a few tablespoons that I used for pumpkin oatmeal the morning before. Even though I used less than called for, I still felt like the ingredients yielded way more than enough for the 3-4 servings the recipe said it’d make. We made 4 servings and still had a ton of leftover pumpkin-French-toast-dip (?), so next time I will definitely halve the ingredients so I won’t have extra.

First batch on the pan. Another mistake I realized while these were cooking – next time, use a non-stick griddle! Though they did inevitably stick to the pan each round, I was able to flip them and they dried out enough while cooking. I had to scrape off the burned bits in between batches (with a plastic spatula), but it worked out. Some of the slices broke a part a bit while cooking, but that’s evidence of why you should use a thicker bread when making this recipe. Learn from my mistakes, people!

The tempeh bacon, on the other hand, were a breeze to make and I followed the recipe as indicated.

Hands down, this was the easiest and greatest tasting tempeh bacon recipe I’ve ever used. This is not hyperbole, friends. I’ve tried a few recipes that friends/other vegans have sworn by for years, but I don’t think they hold a candle to this one. Christy got the flavor just right, so right it was kind of disturbing. Very smoky, even without the requested liquid smoke, flavorful and because they were baked and not pan fried, they had a superb texture and color. If you have this book, make these for your next breakfast or brunch, I implore you! If you don’t have the book, this is one of many reasons why you should consider adding it to your vegan cookbook collection.

Despite my mishandling of the original French toast recipe, the end result was great. Slightly sweet, filled with autumnal spices and providing the perfect crunch you expect from this dish. With a little cinnamon on top, Earth Balance and maple syrup, the toast and tempeh bacon were a brunch match made in heaven.

This concludes my Vegan MoFo 2011 posts! This was my first year participating, but I’m so happy that I did because I truly tested myself – in terms of my creativity, ability to write five times a week in spite of life and responsibilities and in terms of overcoming a few cooking fears. I feel like I learned a ton and am so proud that I ended up writing everyday that I said I would. I’m also so proud to have been a part of this year’s amazing roster of vegan bloggers who also took up the challenge! I continued to be inspired and entertained everyday for the month of October, found so many new-to-me blogs that are wonderful, and have an arsenal of bookmarked posts filled with recipes that I want to make soon. Thanks everyone for your comments and for reading, and I am already pumped thinking about next year. For now, I have lots of catch up to do!

 

 

Pumpkin Peanut Butter Smoothie

(Editor’s note: this post has been edited to add one ingredient that I forgot about – lost the note card that I wrote all the ingredients on – and to acknowledge the other food blog that inspired the recipe. Make sure to add the last ingredient if you wrote the recipe down on Wednesday. Thanks!)

Look at me, asking if you guys are sick of pumpkin yet, then posting two pumpkin-related posts in a row! All I can say is: ’tis the season. Pumpkin is tasty and, as many of us are learning, also incredibly versatile. So I’m going to share another way in which pumpkin can do backflips and splits and astound in your kitchen: in smoothie form!

Monday afternoon I got home from work and was in a snack-y mood. I went through my usual snack choices and decided I’d make a smoothie, but thought I might switch it up from my normal green (and typically breakfast meal) smoothie. I knew I recalled seeing a few recipes for pumpkin smoothies popping up in the MoFo feed, so I did a quick search to see what came up. All of them looked great and very similar, but I knew I wanted mine to also include another element that usually rounds out at least one meal a day, and sometimes my snacks, too: peanut butter.

After learning the pumpkin can join forces with other strong meal elements after making the Pumpkin-Daal Soup, I believed that peanut butter could only enhance the smooth and sweet flavor or pumpkin by balancing it out with a salty, unrefined crunch. The rest, my friends, is sweet smoothie history.

Pumpkin Peanut Butter Smoothie

Yield: 1 serving

Adapted from For the Love of Food’s Pumpkin Spice Smoothie and The Simple Vegan‘s Pumpkin Pie Smoothie

Ingredients

3/4 c. almond milk
1/2 c. canned or fresh pumpkin
1/2 banana (frozen is particularly great here)
2 ice cubes
1 T. flax seed meal
2 T. oats
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. allspice
1/4 tsp. ginger
1 T. peanut butter (any kind will do, but I use crunchy salted – aka, crack)
1.5 tsp. agave nectar, maple syrup, or an equivalent amount of stevia

Directions

Add all ingredients to your blender and blend until it reaches desired consistency.

Serve immediately, and maybe go crunch through some leaves down your block, carve a pumpkin or watch “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” after enjoying it. I promise it’ll just feel right.

And one last shameless plug: my giveaway for a copy of My Sweet Vegan ends tomorrow, Thursday, Oct. 20 at 9 p.m. PST. In order to enter, comment on the original giveaway post letting me know what your favorite vegan baked good to give non-vegan friends is. For extra entries, follow me on Twitter (@veganmoxie) and tweet about the contest, or linkback to the post on your blog. I’ll pick a winner at random tomorrow night, so get your entries in soon!

 

Sunday Brunchin’ III: Basic Scrambled Tempeh + Roasted Butternut Squash

Hello all, and welcome to week three, (and post 11 on my blog, for those counting at home) of Vegan MoFo! The month is flying by and I can’t believe there are just two weeks and some change left of October. I hope you all are enjoying the posts here and all of the amazing things also being made by vegans all around the world on the MoFo RSS feed. I continue to be amazed and inspired by it! Today is Monday, and that means we pick up with the third installment in my Sunday Brunchin’  series.

I knew when I woke up yesterday that I wanted to switch gears and have a savory meal for brunch this week. The Pumpkin Spice Pancakes were great, (and fed us for about 5 more meals – they are the gift that keeps on giving!) but I’m mostly a savory brunch girl at heart. In my head I imagined we’d be making my tried and true scramble recipe, but the boyfriend picked up our copy of Vegan Brunch while I was feeding the cats. I said that we should probably start pressing tofu, but then he suggested we try making Isa’s Basic Scrambled Tempeh recipe. We both love the nutty taste and easy-to-cook-ness of tempeh yet had never scrambled it before, so this seemed like a home run. But what to serve it with?

I read the dish description and it recommended serving it with Roasted Butternut Squash, a side recipe in the book. Bingo! I’ll be honest with you guys: I have a fear of roasting fall/winter squashes. I’d tried to roast a butternut for the first time last year and it was a disaster. A huge mess and an inedible root vegetable. Since then I’ve been scared to touch another, but I thought I may as well try to right that wrong. So the boy went off to get the squash and some tempeh, and I started prepping.

When he got back, I checked the recipe and realized that we didn’t have enough tempeh, but improvised with the same amount of tofu, so this recipe could be called Basic Scrambled Tofu Tempeh. I am the queen of recipe improv.

I started making the squash, because it took three times the amount of time the tempeh recipe did, (which makes it such a quick breakfast recipe).

Our tools.

Peeled and sliced down the middle…

And chopped into a million pieces! I rinsed and saved the seeds, for a role in a future post.

The recipe said to line the pan with parchment, but I didn’t have any so I used foil. I was concerned it might ruin the recipe, but you have to use what you have around! Onto the tempeh/tofu.

There were very few vegetables (and ingredients, really) in this recipe, which is one reason why I loved it. It also didn’t have a lot in the way of seasonings/herbs, which is something I appreciated. I tend to err on the side of over-seasoning, so I love when recipes ask me to scale it back some.

Everything getting cozy in the pan.

Look, they came out perfectly! Crispy, browned and slightly sweet. I’m thankful I found a recipe that helped me conquer my fear of cooking fall/winter squashes! Well, at least butternut.

And here’s the plate I enjoyed with my mug of coffee.

Both recipes were relatively foolproof, and if you have yet to try either but own the book, I highly recommend them. I don’t have a cast iron skillet which would’ve worked perfectly to get both the tofu and tempeh nicely browned, but inevitably I’ll invest in this already-should’ve-owned kitchen tool, (along with many others). As Isa said about the combination of these two dishes, they “blend earthy and sweet,” and I agree that the combination is perfect for a cozy fall brunch at home.

Sunday Brunchin’ II: Pumpkin Spice Pancakes

Here were are, at week 2 of Vegan MoFo! Week 1 went by in a flurry of brunching, cupcake wars and reading, but after a fun weekend of geeking out, eating out and relaxing, I’m all pumped up for this week’s posts. And today we continue my theme of Sunday Brunchin’ recaps on Monday!

At Vida Vegan Con, I was lucky to have the chance to meet a ton of people and some wonderful cookbook writers. One of them was the sweet and inspiring Christy Morgan of The Blissful Chef. Christy is a vegan macrobiotic chef, cooking instructor and most recently, cookbook writer. We met and chatted at the Con, but it wasn’t until a few days after the con in Seattle that a few of us local bloggers got together for a meetup when I had the chance to get Christy’s book, Blissful Bites for myself.

A few days after I purchased it, I breezed through the book in a few days, (which is something I normally don’t do with cookbooks) and loved it. The wonderful photos, great tips spread throughout, meals separated out by season and ever-present focus on wholesome, rich and delicious healthy vegan food all hooked me from the first page, and I started keeping a mental list of all the wonderful recipes I wanted to try immediately. The first meal I tried was the Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho, to make good use of these sweet, seasonal fruits right before summer ended and fall hit. It was fabulous paired with pita bread and tofu spread and some quickly whipped up sangria.

Fast forward to yesterday morning. I sat up in bed and thought, “I want pancakes.” And then a few minutes later, confirmed in my head, “Pumpkin pancakes!”

I started searching through my monstrous cookbook shelf and wasn’t finding what I wanted. Finally, I picked up Christy’s book, and the recipe in my head popped out at me: Pumpkin Spice Pancakes. So serendipitous! And then I got to work.

Dry ingredients. I’ve never owned pumpkin pie spice, so I improvised with my most pumpkin-y/fall seasonings on hand: cinnamon, ginger, allspice.

And wet, whisked to a gorgeous orange thanks to canned pumpkin.

Flipped, and doing their thing.

Pumpkin breakfast success! I served ours up with chopped walnuts, Earth Balance, drizzled them with pure maple syrup and enjoyed it all with warm cups of coffee.

The recipe was a simple yet satisfying twist on a standard pancake recipe. I had some problems with the first batch I put on the griddle and felt the batter was a bit runny, but that could’ve been me adding in too much of one wet ingredient or not having the stove on a high enough temp to start. The following batches firmed up a lot faster, so I think upping the heat fixed it. The result was flapjacks that were soft, fluffy, perfect for October mornings and that had just the right amount of sweetness. The boy proclaimed, “mmm, tastes like pumpkin pie,” after first bite. Mission accomplished.

Vegan MoFo: Sunday brunchin’

Though it officially started on Saturday, Happy Vegan MoFo, all! I’ve seen a few numbers running around but the general consensus is that there are over 700 vegan bloggers writing about food everyday (or close enough) for the month of October. How amazing is that? How amazing are we?! Pretty damn, if you ask me. In case you’d like to keep track of all these bloggers at home, check out the Vegan MoFo RSS feed, and you will probably be hungry throughout October.

I’m starting out my Vegan MoFo posts with one of my favorite meals: brunch. Almost every Sunday the boy and I make a big, hearty meal to celebrate having a day off together, sleeping in and the fact that we want something different than what we have on weekdays for breakfast. We have a few staples that we rotate through, but sometimes we throw curveballs, and that was the case this past Sunday.

On Saturday I met up with a few friends at Tacoma’s Oktoberfest for pumpkin/fall ales, German-style pretzels and community, and we all had a great time (and managed to not get rained on!). While there I met up with my friend Clare, and she told me that she and her bf just made seitan sausages to throw into biscuits and gravy, among other things. I thought, ‘biscuits and gravy, man that sounds great – it’s been a while.’ I’ve loved biscuits and gravy for as long as I can remember, and often order them out (Wayward in Seattle offers up great b&g, btw). I always forget about them, though, so little did Clare know she’d be my brunch inspiration yesterday.

We used two of my favorite recipes for this meal: the White Bean and Tempeh Sausage Gravy from VWAV and the Herbed Whole Wheat Drop Biscuits from Vegan Brunch, (recipe can be found here). I subbed Tofurky Italian sausages for tempeh because we were out and used incredibly expired vegetable shortening for the biscuits, but apparently shortening doesn’t expire! This meal cooked up plenty fast, was delicious and we rounded out our plates with loads of kale – and some nooch and Sriracha for me.

Every Monday of MoFo I’ll do a recap on what we brunched on the Sunday before, as it’s always a guarantee we will brunch at home or out.

Go-to green smoothie

I’m not sure what the weather’s like where you are, but today I woke up and read that it was going to be 80 degrees. Now, here in the Pacific Northwest that’s strange for the first day of fall, but as someone who loves summer, I’m soaking it up as much as I can.

This morning I did have a more fall-like breakfast (pumpkin oats – that recipe will come soon, too), but I almost always have a green smoothie for breakfast. I know, they’re the “thing” these days, but I’ve started to realize why. Nutrient-dense, tasty, customizable, easy to transport and refreshing, this drink is a meal that is perfect for warmer days, but also something that you can switch up to suit your tastes and the seasons as they both change.

Green smoothies aren't always green! One ingredient change in this recipe can turn the smoothies from a purplish brown to...

more of a proper green smoothie. The first included blueberries and for this second one I switched them out for raspberries. Smoothies are like snowflakes, guys!

I’ve made a few smoothies in my day, but for breakfast, I like one that has protein, fruit, greens and a little caffeine in the form of chocolate, so I came up with my own standard. I know that some of you may think greens in a drink sounds scary, but trust me, you won’t even taste them. It’s not just good for breakfast, but also serves as a good anytime meal or post-workout snack. In the morning I love to have it with sprouted grain toast with peanut butter and a cup of coffee, but it also keeps me satisfied and full on its own for hours. I’ve mentioned it on Twitter and have gotten a few requests for it, so here it is:

Green chocolate smoothie

Yield: 1 serving

Ingredients:

2 ice cubes
2 green leaves, chopped (You can feel free to use spinach, kale, lettuce, whatever. It doesn’t matter which kind, but certain ones will give a different texture. If using spinach, the amount is a handful. I’ve been loving Lacinato kale lately.)
1 scoop/serving of chocolate protein powder  (I use Sunwarrior raw vegan brown rice protein in chocolate flavor, but any will do. If you don’t have protein powder or a chocolate flavored one, substitute 1 Tbsp cocoa powder.)
1 Tbsp chia seeds or flaxseed meal
Half a banana
1/2 c. fresh or frozen blueberries
1/2 c. almond milk
1/2 c. water
Few drops of stevia or agave, if not accustomed to the flavor of greens

Directions

Toss everything in a blender (I use a Vita-Mix but if you don’t have one, you may have to chop things up a bit more first) on high speed and serve in a glass.

Notes: This recipe doubles/quadruples perfectly. The smoothie comes out pretty smooth, but if you like a thicker smoothie, leave out the water, and use your tamper to make sure everything gets blended evenly.

What are your favorite smoothie recipes?