Sunday, September 21, 2008

French Toast!

One of my favorite childhood breakfasts was french toast, afloat on a veritable sea of butter and maple syrup. This was sort of a special event, since we weren't really a sit down breakfast family; on an ordinary day, a cup of tea and an English muffin would probably be it, but on a weekend or holiday we'd get something more exciting. Anyway, as an adult, I find that the combined flavors of vanilla, cinnamon and maple summon up all sorts of comforting associations, especially now that autumn is here and the mornings are cool. Yesterday was one of the first days we reached for the warm, fuzzy robes before heading downstairs, and since it was Saturday, I thought: "Hmmmm...(vegan) french toast and (tempeh) bacon!"

There are a number of good vegan french (or, as they are often called, "fronch!") toast recipes out there; the common denominator is chickpea flour, which does something miraculous to the batter. If you've never tried it, I guarantee you will be astonished at the way it helps ordinary bread achieve the magical, crispy texture of those cozy childhood breakfasts. The following recipe is the way I do it, but the quantities are probably pretty forgiving; I like a fairly thick, gloppy batter and whole grain bread, while you may prefer it thinner, or want to use white bread, or French bread, or even raisin bread, you crazy nut. It's also possible you may not share my cinnamon/vanilla jones (although I find that incomprehensible), so go ahead and tinker around until you get the french toast of your dreams. Then again, you may decide that it's perfect, just the way it is!

French Toast

~ 6 slices toasted whole grain bread (I like the Ezekiel sesame variety)
~ 6 oz. vanilla soy yogurt (or plain, but more vanilla is always better!)
~ 1/2 cup soy or other non-dairy milk
~ 1 tbsp. maple syrup
~ 1 tsp. vanilla extract
~ 1 tsp. cinnamon
~ 1/2 tsp. salt
~ 1 tbsp. corn starch
~ 1/4-1/3 chickpea flour, depending how thick you want your batter

~ Preheat oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit.
~ In a relatively shallow mixing bowl, combine all ingredients except the toasted bread. The batter doesn't have to be totally smooth, but everything should be well combined. Place one slice of toasted bread in the batter and let it sit for a minute or two.
~ Heat a large skillet over medium heat, and coat with cooking spray or about 2 tbsp. canola oil.
~ Add the soaked bread to the pan and cook on each side for about 2-3 minutes, until miraculously brown and crispy; as you cook each soaked slice, put another dry one in the batter to await its turn in the pan.
~ Adding more oil or cooking spray as necessary to prevent sticking, continue until all the bread is cooked, transferring the finished slices to a baking sheet to keep warm in the oven.
~ Serve with vegan margarine, maple syrup, sliced fresh fruit and tempeh bacon for a breakfast (or brunch, or even dinner, what the hell!) that will fill your tummy with a warm, happy feeling on a chilly fall day.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Twin Pizzas!

Double, double, toil and trouble...well, not really. But aren't they cute? Even their mother couldn't tell them apart! Don't be fooled by the ancient, skanky baking sheets upon which they are so ignobly displayed, these were some seriously quality pies. I say "were" because after strutting and fretting their (brief) hour upon the table, they were...well, no more. Alas.

But I digress. It's been awhile since I posted, since everyone at my house is busy with classes again (except the dog and the cat, who are home-schooled), meaning less time to mess around in the kitchen. On the one hand, this makes me kind of sad because I really love to cook; on the other, it makes the time I do have seem more valuable, since it's a welcome opportunity to do something creative while giving certain parts of my brain a rest. This weekend, my Big Plan was to work hard all day on Saturday, in order to justify spending Sunday afternoon at the PetRock Festival, an annual local event in support of a number of animal welfare agencies.

You can read their mission statement here, and should definitely check it out next year if you're in or around New England: It's a ton of fun in a very worthy cause; if nothing else, you've probably never seen so many or such a variety of hounds and greyhounds, mongrels, spaniels, curs, shoughs, water-rugs and demi-wolves clept all by the name of dogs in one place, unless you hang out at Westminster!

Anyway, I did spend most of Saturday immersed in paper writing, despite the cat's Big Plan to nap directly on top of the article I needed. By late afternoon, I just wanted to unwind in the kitchen, and had been thinking about pizza all week. Ordinarily, I'd make my own pizza dough (see above in re: less time to cook), but in this case a prepared whole wheat version, from a company called Rustic Crust, was just fine. And really, it's all about the toppings, anyway, isn't it? This time I used fire-roasted tomatoes, baby spinach, caramelized onions, sliced olives and--this is what catapulted it into the stratosphere of pizza yumminess--an adaptation of the cashew ricotta from Veganomicon (Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero, Da Capo Press, 2007), using cashews and pine nuts. This stuff is completely addictive: the first batch I ever made barely survived long enough to get into the casserole for which it was intended, because we were eating it straight out of the food processor. It adds a wonderfully creamy, substantial quality to this pizza that guaranteed its speedy disappearance and made me very glad that I'd made two.

Pizza with Caramelized Onions, Spinach, Olives and Cashew Ricotta
The Onions
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 3 cups thinly sliced onions (about 2 large ones)
~ 1 tbsp. minced garlic
~ ½ tsp. salt
~ Fresh black pepper

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, salt and pepper and stir to combine. Cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring often, until the onions are becoming brown and crispy. Set aside.

The Cashew Ricotta
~ 1 lb. firm tofu
~ 1/2 cup raw, unsalted cashews
~ 1/2 cup pine nuts
~ 1/4 cup lemon juice
~ 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 tbsp. dried basil
~ 1 tsp. each salt, dried rosemary
~ Fresh black pepper

In a food processor, mix all ingredients to form a smooth, delicious paste.

The Other Stuff
~ 2 prepared pizza crusts (I like whole wheat)
~ 1 28 oz. can fire-roasted tomatoes, drained in a colander
~ 1 cup sliced black olives
~ 3 cups baby spinach leaves

The Assembly
~ Preheat the oven to 450 degrees fahrenheit.
~ Coat the pizza crusts with about 1 tbsp. of olive oil; just smear it on with your hands.
~ Divide the drained tomatoes between the two crusts and distribute evenly.
~ Drop the cashew ricotta by big spoonfuls on top of the tomatoes. You can spread it around a bit, but try not to actually mix it in with the tomatoes.
~ Place the spinach, caramelized onions and olives (in that order) on top of the ricotta layer.
~ Lower the oven to 425. Transfer the pizzas to lightly oiled baking sheets, pizza pans, or directly on to the oven racks if you like (just keep an eye on them so they don't burn!).
~ Bake for 20-30 minutes, until the crust is firm and the toppings are beginning to brown. Allow to sit for 15-20 minutes before slicing.