Monday, June 24, 2013

Neiman Marcus Cookies

leaves and flours vegan neiman marcus oatmeal chocolate chip cookies

I first went vegan in college. I had a lot of friends who were also vegan, so I learned a lot about cooking by observing them. Making dinner was easy. Most of the time I just wanted salad, soup, or a stir-fry anyways. But I didn't really know much about baking. I remember browsing lots of "easy, vegan recipe" type pamphlets and learning about substituting eggs with apple sauce or mashed bananas. I didn't really think about it too much past that. Until there was a boy coming over. One that I wanted to impress. So I decided to make a batch of the infamous Neiman Marcus cookies, but vegan. These were the cookies I grew up. One of the only recipes that I remember my mother making from scratch frequently. I knew they were good enough to woo a boy.

leaves and flours vegan neiman marcus oatmeal chocolate chip cookies

What I didn't know then was that eggs serve a lot of purposes in baking. And that mashed bananas and applesauce don't generally work very well for cookies, where eggs generally bind things instead of just adding moisture (Side note: I did study biochemistry, I should have realized that it applied to my food the same way it did in my textbooks). I remember making the dough and thinking that it tasted delicious out of the bowl. I scooped them and put the trays in the oven. I ran upstairs to check my outfit for the fifteenth time. I came back down when the timer went off to find a soft mess. The cookies didn't really bake for the most part. The edges were a little firm, but you couldn't pick them up off the tray without them falling into pieces. Inedible, but at least the house smelled like fresh baked cookies instead of Cher's dilemma a la Clueless.

leaves and flours vegan neiman marcus oatmeal chocolate chip cookies

After my attempt went so badly, Neiman Marcus cookies sort of slipped out of my mind. I have made many cookies since then. Chocolate chip, sugar, thumbprint, pignoli… I didn't think those oatmeal chocolate chip cookies again until I saw this recipe for Vegan Marcus Cookies on Namely Marly. I needed to redeem my self of that terrible cookie failure right then and there. I couldn't wait until I had gone to the grocery store to buy the rest of the ingredients I needed, so I switched things out & halved the recipe to boot . They turned out so well. I am so happy she reminded me of that silly night and how much I have learned since then. You should make her recipe. I will let you know what tweaks I made, since my cookies look a little different than hers. Since I had run out, I replaced the corn starch with potato starch. I omitted the nuts (I just can't get behind pieces of nuts inside my cookies) and pared down the chocolate a little to make them a tad less sweet. I also used more grated chocolate than chocolate chips, since I had a small block of fancy chocolate in the cabinet for far too long.

leaves and flours vegan neiman marcus oatmeal chocolate chip cookies

Is there a recipe that has defeated you before that you have recently revisited or are planning to whip into shape soon? I'm always curious what confounds people. I had a friend recently tell me that her first cheesecake somehow exploded and potentially caught fire in the oven. But I know she is going to remedy that soon. I'm always stumped by the simple things, like perfect pudding & not-to-sweet vanilla buttercream. Here's to mastering it all, one recipe at a time.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Chocolate Frozen Yogurt

In the summer, I have a tendency to keep the bowl for my ice cream machine in the freezer as often as possible. This allows me to make ice cream as soon as the urge hits. Which happened late at night this past week. It was too hot in the house to even consider turning on the oven, and a popsicle or smoothie wasn't going to cut this craving. The fro-yo place closest by was already closed, and I knew it was time to learn to make it myself. I made chocolate, because that was the ingredient that I had on hand. But I am going to make it again with fruit (Raspberry with dark chocolate chunks?! Top of the to-do list).
I have been trying to eat a little less sugar at home while my recipe development at work is at a recent high. I have been working on a new gluten free product line, and while that's really exciting, it has led to several stomach aches from constantly nibbling on cookies and quick breads that I am in the process of tweaking. So this recipe has just enough sugar to take the bitter edge off the yogurt, but not enough to give you a sugar buzz.

leaves and flours vegan chocolate frozen yogurt
Chocolate Frozen Yogurt
makes 1 quart

1 cup almond milk
9 ounces chocolate (I used Agostoni Gianduia)
1/4 cup sugar
2 cups yogurt (I used Amande almond yogurt)

In a small pan combine almond milk, chocolate, and sugar. On medium heat, stir frequently until the mixture is totally melted and smooth. Allow to cool several minutes and whisk into the yogurt. Chill batter before adding to your ice cream machine, freezing as directed.
If it is the middle of the night and you need your frozen yogurt now, then you could take a shortcut by simply throwing the almond milk, chocolate, and sugar in your blender and pureeing until as smooth as possible. Then you could add the yogurt and pulse is briefly before throwing this mixture directly into your ice cream machine. It will not be as smooth as the melted version, but you will save an hour or two & the little chocolate chunks you end up with aren't so bad. Not that I know from experience.

I used an unflavored almond yogurt which tastes much less sweet to me than the coconut yogurt I normally eat for breakfast. If you opt to use coconut yogurt in your fro-yo, you might not need to add any sugar at all. It's all about personal preference, but I like mine fairly tart. Also the chocolate that I used is hazelnut flavored, which lends a bit more kick to the yogurt. I am sure that it would be equally delicious with plain dark chocolate, but you could add some chopped hazelnuts to replicate the flavor I enjoyed & add a bit of texture. If it hadn't been near midnight when I was making this, I probably would have stirred in a few teaspoons of instant coffee to enhance the chocolate flavor.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Somebunny Wants Marshmallows

leaves and flours vegan kerfluffle marshmallows

If you know Jenna then you are probably already sick of our love affair. Unfortunately for you, I am not. My best friend is finally coming to visit me in DC next week, and it is all I can do to continue to focus at work and not shout it from the rooftops. I am going to take her to all the very best spots (here's lookin' at you Malcolm X park) & encourage her to eat more food than humanly possible. I have a list going of all the things we have to do, but I also know that there is an 80% chance we will be too busy laying on my bed talking about all the little things we have missed in each other's live the last few months to actually accomplish them all! If you have ever been here, I am curious to hear what your favorite things about the District are. And if you are nearby but haven't visited the monuments after 10pm, then you are sorely missing out. Consider that fair warning.

leaves and flours vegan kerfluffle marshmallows

Jenna happens to work for a lovely little all natural marshmallow company called Kerfluffles. Now that they have created endless magical flavors like strawberry shortcake and dreamsicle, they are working on their vegan recipe! I was so excited to get a sample of their first successful test batch. Keep in mind that these are purely experimental & could be totally different from where they end up in a few months, but they were delicious none the less. I had to remove the bag from Greg's hands so that I could save a few to melt in my hazelnut hot chocolate. I drank a cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows made by my best friend, on my porch in a cool summer evening's rain storm. Things can't get much more dreamy than that.

leaves and flours vegan kerfluffle marshmallows

I will be really excited to see more vegan marshmallows for sale. It's always nice to have multiple options! It's a luxury that I sometimes forget exists. Also can we talk about how cute their branding is? I couldn't help but break out my bunny bowls. It's the only thing I thought could rival their postcard in "aww" factor. Ya know, aside from all the disgusting pictures Jenna and I are gonna take together next week.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Cherry Cheesecake

leaves and flours vegan cherry vanilla bean cheesecake

I have been incredibly nostalgic these last few weeks. Ever since I graduated college it feels like time just slips by at a faster & faster pace. It was just winter, and all of a sudden I can't walk outside without smelling honeysuckle. Every time I catch a breath of it I am reminded of growing up in Tennessee, reading books in little swings made of grapevine hooked between the trees & playing in the the ravine we affectionally called FernGully. I grew up in a place very different from my friends. For most of the life that I remember we lived on a 20 something acre piece of land that mostly consisted of forest. I went to a public school that had less than 300 children enrolled. The kindergarteners were just down the hall from the high schoolers. I was always a little out of place in that school, and though I wasn't really bullied or tormented by anyone, I also didn't have very many good friends.
Once I got to college and was surrounded by more people, it wasn't difficult to find my niche. But I often think about how much quieter and more solitude my growing up was and how that has probably shaped me to have different expectations of life than most people. I am quite comfortable being alone. I really only need a book or a kitchen at my disposal, and I will be content for most of the day.

leaves and flours vegan cherry vanilla bean cheesecake

In college it seemed so easy to fit it all in. I took fifteen or more credit hours a semester, worked part time in a laboratory, and still managed to spend an indecent amount of times with my friends. These days I feel like no matter how little I sleep it's never quite enough to do everything I want. I am sure that a fair part of it is being "an adult". There's always errands to run. There's doctor's visits to schedule & bills to pay. But goodness do I miss having a whole summer to just do whatever I wanted to. I didn't think twice about buying a place ticket to visit a friend in another state or hopping into a bus with ten of my friends to drive across the country. How do we find the balance in that fun spontaneity and the responsibility of keeping up with our lives? Even though I love my job, spending so much of my life working is also a fairly disappointing thing.

leaves and flours vegan cherry vanilla bean cheesecake
Cherry Cheesecake
filling adapted from Emily Manquist's Sweet Vegan

13 ounces graham crackers or speculoos cookies
1/2 to 3/4 cup Earth Balance margarine.
Crush the cookies to crumbs in a food processor. While those are being pulsed, melt the Earth Balance in the microwave. Pour over the cookie crumbs and mix with hands until the butter is fully incorporated. Start with 1/2 cup of melted Earth Balance. If the cookie crumbs still aren't wet enough to hold together when you squeeze it in your hands, then add the remaining spread. Press into the bottom and up the sides of a 9 or 10" springform pan.

Cheesecake Filling
24 oz non-dairy cream cheese, I prefer Tofutti
3/4 cup sugar
1 tbl vanilla bean paste or scraping from 3 vanilla beans
2 tbl Ener-G beaten into 1/3 cup hot water
Make your cheesecake filling by beating the cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and Ener-G together until smooth. Pour into crust filled pan. Bake at 350 for 45-50 minutes until the cheesecake appears set. Allow to cool for at least 4-6 hours before attempting to slice the cake.

Tart Cherry Topping
24 oz tart cherries
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup cherry juice
1/4 cup cornstarch
In a sauce pan combine cherries, 1/2 cup of cherry juice, and sugar. Allow to come to a boil over medium heat. In a small bowl whisk together cornstarch and remaining juice to create a slurry. Whisk the slurry into the boiling cherries and reduce heat to low. Allow to cook until mixture is thickened. Allow to cool before spreading on top of cheesecake

leaves and flours vegan cherry vanilla bean cheesecake

One of my favorite things about baking at home is taking time to do everything. I am not worried about multi-tasking in the way that I normally am. Instead of sifting powdered sugar while Earth Balance is creaming in the mixer and and whisking something every few minutes as it cools, I can really focus on what I am doing and enjoy it. I can look at the patterns the vanilla bean makes as it is stirred into the batter. I can anticipate actually serving the food to people I care about & seeing them enjoy it too. Those are the things we remember in a few years, the things we become nostalgic for.