Friday, April 19, 2013

Everything but the Kitchen Sink

My house has been without internet for fifteen days. I believe this is the longest time I have gone without a solid internet connection since I acquired a computer for the first time in high school. For the first week I thought it was really nice. The weather was completely beautiful, and I was spending more time with friends than putzing around the web. It was a wonderful detox from all the ridiculousness that constant internet access allows. The second week, I started feeling much differently. I became increasingly bitter that I couldn't watch Game of Thrones. I became frantic when I tried to check my Google Reader at a coffee shop where I only had fifteen minutes to spare. Fast forward to today, three Comcast technicians and two enraged phone calls later, and we still don't have the internet. So I am yet again at a coffee shop trying to update this ignored little blog while my boyfriend is running an errand.
We were suppose to fly out to Chicago for a quick vacation, but the city was in a state of emergency from all the rain they got and our flight was canceled! We are gonna try again today. Hopefully I will be drinking milkshakes at the Chicago Diner in T-minus 6 hours. Until then, I will let you know about a few things I have done in the last few weeks.

leaves and flours vegan worldwide bake sale
leaves and flours vegan cupcakes leaves and flours vegan cupcakes

I have been organizing an event at Roots Market for Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale this year. I am always super excited to participate in this awesome event. So if you are local to the area, you should head out next weekend and support Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary! I also started creating a Cupcake of the Week, to make my daily work routine a little more interesting. I've had the chance to make a few fun flavors, above are Almond Joy and Banana Split. I am sure there are tons more to come. If you have any suggestions, I am all ears. I have a spreadsheet I have been keeping track of all the potential flavors for each season in.
In the craziness that has been the last month, I kept forgetting to eat breakfast and had a bunch of overripe bananas. Though I would normally make banana bread, I decided to switch it up. I tried a baked banana cake donut with a PB2 peanut butter glaze. They were good, but I definitely need to make a few more batches to tweak the recipe before I share it.

leaves and flours vegan baked banana peanut butter cake donuts

After I wrote the blog post on the white chocolate eggs I found, Charm School Chocolates sent me the peanut butter eggs I missed out on! What amazing people! They even sent me samples of some of their other chocolates, which were both to die for!

leaves and flours vegan charm school chocolates leaves and flours vegan charm school chocolates

Hopefully by the time we return from our vacation the internet will be restored and I can work on more fun kitchen things! I need to tweak those donuts and still haven't made the baklava I was so set on last month. There is just never enough time in the day! If there is a place in Chicago, I need to visit this weekend, let me know! I know about the obvious like the Chicago Diner, Pick Me Up, Handlebar, etc. But are there are any places that I can't miss out on?!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies

I feel like I have been competing in some sort of gauntlet all week. Everything has been non-stop in the best way possible. Yesterday I got home after ten hours in the bakeshop, which somehow was already almost one hundred degrees even though it's barely April. I laid down on the couch and passed out for 30 minutes. I think it has been the most restful sleep I have gotten in weeks. There were no dreams, no worrying about how soon I have to wake up. It was perfect. Lately I have been experiencing the most bizarre nightmares about burning pies and running out of chocolate and all sort of kitchen mishaps.

leaves and flours vegan White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies

White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies
Makes 8 large cookies

1/2 cup Earth Balance margarine
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1 Ener-g or flax egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup macadamia nuts, chopped roughly
1/2 white chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Make your egg replacement and allow to set for a few minutes. Cream the Earth Balance and sugars. Add the egg replacer and vanilla extract and beat until fluffy. Add flour, baking soda, and salt and beat until a thick dough forms. Fold in nuts and chips until dispersed fairly equally. Using a 2 tablespoon scoop, portion dough onto baking sheet with a fair amount of room to spread. Bake for 10-12 minutes until the edges of the cookies are golden and firm.
This is a chunky cookie with a lot of add-ins and a little less dough holding them together. If you prefer less rustic-looking cookies, than simply reduce the nuts and chocolate chips to 1/4 cup each (they will more closely resemble the cookie in the top photograph.

leaves and flours vegan White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies leaves and flours vegan White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies leaves and flours vegan White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies

Does anyone have tips for calm sleep? I have tried various things over the years, like melatonin and valerian, and chamomile. None of those seem to overpower my chronic worry-wort status. I can try to count sheep or chant a mantra, but after a few minutes I always end up diverting back to thinking about things I need to do and bills I need to pay. Going to the gym everyday doesn't seem to help either. Especially if I got past 5pm, then I am just wired and can't sleep at all. Something so vital to my health shouldn't evade me so easily.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Peanut Brittle

Double double toil & trouble. Fire burn and cauldron bubble. Candy making might not be magic, but it does feel super witchy. There's nothing like stirring molten sugar with a wooden spoon to make me feel powerful & seductive. You start with a few boring, simple ingredients and end up with a kitchen smelling of vanilla & several bags of candy to give to whoever you so please.

leaves and flours vegan peanut brittle
Peanut Brittle
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 cup peanuts
2 tbl Earth Balance margarine
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

You need a candy thermometer to make this recipe! It's a great investment and will allow you to make all sorts of neat stuff in the future like caramel & lollipops. I have this thermometer by Maverick, but if you are looking for a digital one, I hear this is a solid option. It also helps to pre-measure all the ingredients! I keep my peanuts in one bowl. And then I combine the Earth Balance, baking soda, and vanilla in a separate bowl so I can add them to the hot candy as quickly as possible. Most recipes will tell you to cook the candy to 300 degrees, but I cook mine to 290. I prefer it to be a tiny bit softer. It will still crunch when you bite, but I feel a little less worried about breaking a tooth.
Lightly grease a cookie sheet. In a heavy bottom, 2 quart sauce pan combine sugar, corn syrup, and water. Place on medium heat and add your candy thermometer. Stir frequently, until the temperature reaches 240 degrees. Add the peanuts and stir continuously until the temperature reaches 290 degrees. You will see the sugars start to brown, and if you don't stir quickly enough the peanuts will burn. Remove from heat and immediately stir in the margarine, baking soda, and vanilla extract. Pour onto your greased cookie sheet and tilt the pan to allow the candy to spread as much as possible. Allow to cool to room temperature before breaking into pieces.
If you are worried about using corn syrup, you might be able to replace it with maple syrup, brown rice syrup, or the elusive tapioca syrup. I am not sure how it will affect the taste, and I haven't tried it myself. But I do think it's an option if you are actively avoiding items that may be GMO.

leaves and flours vegan peanut brittle

Last week, I was hoping that April would be a little more easy-going for myself, but it's hasn't proven true quite yet. I filed my taxes last week, to find out that a document I didn't really pay much attention to when all my tax forms came in, was going to cause me a bit of a pinch. A bank that I had an undergraduate loan with was consolidated into a much larger bank, and they forgave my loan. It's great that I don't have to pay $6000 back, but I did have to pay taxes on it all at once unexpectedly. As soon as the accountant told me I owed the government $1500 in a week, I started tearing up. I even publicly embarrassed myself and cried the whole walk from the tax office. After a few days of panicking, things are starting to resolve themselves a little. As my mom phrased it "it's like a gift horse kicked me in the mouth."
I do finally feel like things are turning around. It's been beautiful out the last few days. Tonight I am going to a baseball game. I have lots of friends coming in to town over the next few days. April is packed full of exciting things. I might be a little sleep deprived for the rest of the month, but at least I will have a lot of fun!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Local Favorites: Charm School Chocolates

leaves and flours vegan charm school chocolates white easter egg crackle

On Sunday, I told you that I have been having a rough month. I also wrote that post shortly after having a really rough morning. I intentionally didn't buy bagels or oatmeal or any breakfast foods, because I knew I had a loaf of bread that needed to be eaten. I woke up and made my coffee, got out the strawberry jam, and then realized some sneaky culprit had snatched my loaf of bread. I was livid. I walked around the kitchen for ten minutes trying to formulate some satisfactory breakfast options from the empty cabinets. The effort was futile. I wake up HUNGRY. And not eating within thirty minutes of getting out of bed, that feeling quickly turns into HANGRY. I put on jeans and shoes as quickly as possible to head to the nearest coffee shop for a bagel. While waiting in the brunch traffic to order my bagel, I saw these white chocolate crunch eggs. They were too cute, and I deserved a treat for being so patient while my stomach was grumbling so loudly.

leaves and flours vegan charm school chocolates white leaves and flours vegan charm school chocolates white

I have seen Charm School Chocolate's products popping up in little baskets on the counter at Sticky Fingers for a few months now. I finally had a sugar craving that could only be satiated by a chocolate bar, and splurged one one. The white chocolate bar surpasses all vegan white chocolate I have had, including the stuff I have made at home. It's creamy and smooth without even a hint of waxiness. And in true form, there are flecks of vanilla bean dotting the bars. The eggs were the same chocolate as the bars, but contained brown rice cereal to add a layer of crunch that was really satisfying. And beautiful! They apparently also had chocolate peanut butter eggs earlier in the week, but I was too late to the party on those. I know a few people who got the Valentine's chocolate boxes they made and were blown away, you can see how beautiful they were for yourselves here. I can't wait to see what Charm School Chocolates comes up with next. I have been pretty keen on all their seasonal & holiday items, so I am sure there is much more to come.

leaves and flours vegan charm school chocolates white easter egg crackle