Hello everyone. It’s been a while. I am happy to say that I feel like I am back on the cooking track after a couple of months of floundering due to health issues. I had a procedure that should take care of the worst of my symptoms, and while I’m still slowly recovering, the recovery is progressing as it should and I am feeling a little better every day. So let’s talk about delicious, vegan food here again, shall we?
First, look at this BUCKET of guacamole.
This right here is almost exactly 3 kilograms (6.6 lbs) of homemade guacamole. We know this because we actually weighed it before digging in. Did I make this for a party or gathering of some sort? No. I made this because we were gifted practically an entire case of ripe avocados and my family and I are guacamole maniacs. The first night of this bowl’s existence we (the four of us) ate close to half of it in bean & Daiya “cheese” wraps while we watched the movie about Gandhi’s life. Yes, there was something oddly shameful about sitting there watching this amazing man starve himself in the name of human rights while we were cramming as much delicious, tangy, spicy, creamy guac into our gullets as we could; but it didn’t stop us. (The other half of the bowl was polished off over the course of the next few days.)
For Valentine’s day I generally make some sort of fancy dessert to share with the family. This year I was just one week post-op and didn’t have a real lot of energy or physical wherewithal to get jiggy with the sugar, but I did want to do something. A friend of mine keeps posting on FB about these cheesecake brownies she makes (non-vegan) and I just happened to have the ingredients on hand to try veganizing them, which is lucky because I hadn’t actually been to a store that carries Tofutti products in a couple of weeks. Anyway, I didn’t even bother looking at a non-vegan recipe for cheesecake brownies because I felt confident enough in my baking skills I could come up with something good. And I did!
That’s what I was talkin’ about, y’all. A nice fudgey brownie bottom and a super luscious, creamy cheesecake-style topping. What I really like about this recipe is you get that cheesecake satisfaction without having to drop a money-bomb at the natural foods store on the fake cream cheese. I mean, when I make a vegan cheesecake I end up using four or five tubs of the stuff and at $5 to $6 a container – well, that there is some bourgeoisie dessert, y’know what I’m saying? But these brownies only use 1 1/2 tubs – which leaves 1/2 a tub for you to enjoy on your bagels or celery sticks or whatnot.
Hey, why don’t you try making these yourself?
Vegan Cheesecake Brownies
Preheat your oven to 325 F. Prepare a 9″ x 13″ pan by lining it with parchment paper.
1 1/2 containers of Tofutti’s “Better Than Cream Cheese”
1 box of firm silken tofu, pureed until smooth (about 12 oz)
1/2 cup sugar
3 tbsp tapioca starch or arrowroot powder
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp lemon zest (optional)
In a large mixing bowl, beat the Tofutti with the sugar until well-mixed. Add in the tofu and vanilla and mix. Add in the starch, zest (if using), and salt and beat to combine. Scrape this mixture into a separate bowl and set aside.
You can clean your mixing bowl now if you like, but I don’t bother. Instead I mix up the brownie mixture. (If I did the brownie mixture first, I’d end up with chocolate-coloured cheesecake topping, which isn’t what I want.)
2 cups dark brown sugar
2/3 cup oil (canola, corn, sunflower, something light-tasting like that)
2 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups whole grain flour (I used spelt, because I love the taste and texture, but anything will do)
1 1/4 cups fair-trade, organic cocoa (I use Cocoa Camino brand)
1/2 tsp salt
up to 2/3 cup of non-dairy milk
Beat the sugar & oil together until well-combined. Add the vanilla and beat. Add the flour, cocoa and salt and begin mixing on low speed. Once that’s incorporated, start adding the non-dairy milk a little at a time. This is where you have to use your judgment. The final consistency of the batter should be somewhere between a cookie dough and a cake batter. You shouldn’t be able to pour it out of the bowl, but it should be wet enough that it will slowly spread out when plopped into the pan. Once you’ve got it the right consistency, scoop the brownie batter into the prepared pan, reserving about 1/3 of a cup. Use a spatula to spread and pat the brownie batter out into the corners and get it nice and even along the top.
Next smooth the “cheesecake” topping over the brownie bottom, using a clean spatula to get it into the corners and spread it out evenly. Finally, take a butterknife and plop the 1/3 of a cup of reserved brownie batter into the cheesecake topping. Use the knife to create streaks, swirls and stripes of chocolatey goodness through the creamy whiteness of the cheesecake topping.
Slide this into the pre-heated oven and bake for 45 – 55 minutes. The sides should look firm and dry but the middle should still seem a bit jiggly (don’t bother with a toothpick test on these babies). Turn the heat off the oven, crack the oven door open a bit, and let the brownies cool to the touch. Remove them from the oven and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight. Once they are completely chilled, you can use the parchment to lift the entire batch out of the pan and cut them into appropriately-sized bars. (I’ll leave it up to you to determine what an appropriately-sized bar is.)
Yum, right? We vegans are so deprived.
Next up….warm, soft, delicious, freshly-baked “cheese” and onion bread.
When I have the energy, I just love making bread by hand. There is something so meditative about it and the feeling of accomplishment, when the bread rises as it should and bakes up into something so soft and warm and delicious is arguably unmatched. The really nice thing about baking your own bread is you can flavour it and shape it anyway you like. Last night I was planning to make something with these giant beets I had lingering in the bottom drawer of the fridge. Normally I would make a borscht – it’s a favourite soup around here – and so when I still felt like I was gonna do that I realized a nice, freshly baked bread would complete the meal perfectly. Of course, I changed my mind about the borscht, but not before I’d already started on making the bread. Anyway, here’s the recipe.
Vegan “Cheese” and Onion Bread
This is a fairly quick-rising bread – you’ll be savouring it within a couple of hours of mixing the first few ingredients together.
This recipe yields one large loaf, but I usually double it because it goes so fast and makes excellent toast and sandwiches the next day.
3 – 4 cups whole grain flour
1/2 cup nutritional yeast (this is, in fact, optional – but really brings out the ‘cheesy’ flavours if you do use it)
1 tbsp dry, active yeast
2 tbsp dry sweetener
1 tbsp dried parsley flakes
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup warm water
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 cup finely chopped white or yellow onion
1 bag (227 g) Daiya cheddar-style shreds (or other vegan “cheese”)
Mix 1 cup of the flour with both the yeasts, the sugar, the parsley, garlic powder, cayenne, and salt. In a seperate bowl, whisk the water with the olive oil and vinegar. Add this to the flour/yeast/spice mixture and stir with a wooden spoon to make a slurry. Let this sit for about 15 minutes to allow the yeast to activate.
Next, stir in the chopped onion and shredded vegan “cheese”. Then begin adding the rest of the flour, first stirring with the wooden spoon, then switching to your (clean) hands once it gets harder to mix. As soon as the dough reaches an earlobe-like consistency, turn it onto a wooden board and knead it for at least five minutes, maybe more like ten. This is the part where you sing songs and/or meditate and get all zen thinking about the simple pleasures in life.
Transfer the kneaded lump of dough to a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a clean dishtowel. Let rise for about 30 minutes. Take it out of the bowl and knead it a few times, then shape it into a loaf on a baking sheet, or put into one large or two smaller loaf pans. Cover and let rise another 45 minutes to an hour, or until it’s nearly doubled in size.
Preheat your oven to 350F and bake your bread for 25 – 30 minutes, until it’s golden and sounds hollow when you tap it. Let stand for ten minutes before slicing, even though I know that’s hard.
So, if I didn’t serve this scrumptious, savory, warm fluffy spelt loaf with borscht, what DID I end up serving it with? Well, I was in the mood for roasted beets, see? But roasted beets and bread don’t a meal make; that’s more like two side dishes than a main course. So I thought and thought about how I could incorporate the beets into a main dish without making them a soup or salad, and then it hit me. I could try stuffing them!
Oh hell, yes.
Sexy Stuffed Beets
Plump and pink and full of it. Just like this vegan food blogger.
6 medium- large beets, whole and unpeeled
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped (about 2 cups)
4 large carrots, coarsely grated
1 cup coarsely ground walnuts (I actually used raw sunflower seeds because I realized at the last minute I was out of walnuts)
1 cup minced fresh mushrooms
1/3 cup nutritional yeast (optional, but really. It adds so much. Don’t skip it if you can help it).
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp smoked paprika
2 tsp dry, rubbed sage
salt and black pepper to taste
1/3 cup vegan “cream cheese” or “sour cream” to garnish (optional)
Scrub your beets. Bring a huge stock pot of water to a full boil. Drop the whole, unpeeled beets into the boiling water and let them burble away for 45 minutes to an hour, or until a sharp knife can slide into the side of one with little to no resistance. Drain them, then fill the pot with cold water and add them back in. Let the sit in the cold water while you prepare the filling.
Preheat the oven to 450F.
In a large skillet, heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Add the onions and saute for a few minutes to soften. Add in the carrots and mushrooms and cook, stirring occassionally, for a few more minutes. Add the garlic, vinegar and all the seasonings and mix well. Stir in the ground nuts and remove the pan from the heat.
Once the beets are cool enough to handle, rub off their skins and cut off their tops and tails. Cut them in half . (Because beets can vary so much in size and shape, I’ll let you decide which way to halve them – lengthwise or widthwise. Basically you want to cut them in whatever way will maximize the cup-shape you want in order to stuff them.) Use a soup spoon or melon baller to hollow out the beet halves, leaving at least an inch of beet flesh all around the sides and bottoms. Reserve the flesh you remove to be used in other recipes*.
Once all the halves are hollowed out, place the them in a well-oiled baking dish. Sprinkle them generously with the balsamic vinegar and a bit of salt and pepper. Put them in the hot oven and let them roast for about 10 minutes. Turn them over and roast another 5 minutes. Remove them from the oven and reduce the oven temp to 375. Turn the beet halves back to cut-side up, and fill with the stuffing mixture. Top each of them with a dab of vegan “cream cheese” or “sour cream” and then put them in the oven to bake just until they’re hot all the way through – about 15 – 20 minutes.
Serve on a bed of dressed or undressed greens, with a side of that freshly baked “cheesy” onion bread and you’ll be sitting in the catbird seat.
Until next time, my little puddings.
*I put the beet flesh into a container with a little oil and more balsamic vinegar and salt and let them marinate in the fridge. These are really nice just on their own or tossed with a big green salad.