Monday, October 29, 2012

Loaded Sweet Potatoes

This dish has become a staple dinner item in my house. It is so simple yet I find that I look forward to it every time I make it. It is a great meal to have towards the end of the week when you may have random leftover veggies or leftover beans etc. that you are looking for something to do with.
In this edition of "Loaded Sweet Potatoes" I have done a fresh mex sort of potato, and this is probably my favorite to date. The fun part is that you can make this a variety of ways... either with leftovers as mentioned above, or with a theme. Spanish, Thai, Mediterranean, which ever flavors you choose. I find that it is best to mix textures for best results: a creamy sauce, beans or seitan for protein and bite, onions, nuts or seeds for crunch. The basic technique is as follows:

1.) Select a nice, medium sized sweet potato for each person that you are feeding.
2.) Preheat the oven to 375.
3.) Put some seasoning on the outside of the sweet potato. I take about a teaspoon of oil per potato and mix it in a small bowl with a pinch of salt and whichever spices might go best with the "theme" of that evenings potato. In this instance I used cumin, garlic, and chili powders for the the fresh mex potatoes. Once you have mixed your spices with the oil, brush the outside of the potato with the seasoned oil. Then take a fork and make a couple of holes in the potato for steam to escape. They will look like this:
The amount of time that you bake them will depend on the size of the potatoes. These guys took about 35 -40 minutes. After about 30 minutes check them to see if they are fork tender all the way through. If not, let them go another 10 minutes and then check again. You want them to be fork tender but not mushy. While your potatoes are baking you will want to have the remaining ingredients prepared.
4.) Remove the potatoes from the oven and let them cool slightly.
5.) Use a fork and knife to gently split them open most of the way, lengthwise.
6.) Load your potatoes! In this case I did the following:
- I put a "cheeze"sauce in first to get all melty into the potato.
- Then a layer of warm seasoned black beans
- A few strips of sauteed seitan
- Fresh tomatoes
- Homemade guacamole
- Daiya cheese
- Scallions
- Sunflower seeds

This dish is fun to eat because you get to deconstruct your potato while getting to enjoy all of the flavors in each bite. I find that I can eat this all year round, and I don't think I have made it the same way twice. This dish is also husband approved!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Pumpkin Bars... Veganized!

Ahhhh.... Fall. My favorite season has finally arrived! Here in Sacramento the weather stayed hot well through September and the beginning of October and I have been dying for the temperature to drop a little bit, those leaves to fall, and for the first day that would  require a sweater and a scarf. And it finally came this week!! So I decided to celebrate by busting out the pumpkin pie spice and bake something truly pumpkin-y delicious.
This recipe was one that my mom got from one of her friends when I was in elementary school. The original recipe relies heavily on eggs, and is topped of with a cream cheese frosting. As delicious as it was, it was not vegan, and therefore needed to be revamped. The original recipe is a dense, incredibly moist bar rich in pumpkin and spice, best eaten with a fork. I knew that it would be tricky to get that same quality without the eggs. As I started to think about all my egg replacing ideas, I knew that many of them (flax seed, banana, ener-g egg replacer) wouldn't work either due to texture or flavor. The original recipe calls for 4 eggs, so I would need something with bulk. So I did something that I have never done before, and I am happy to say that it worked! I replaced the eggs in this recipe with Cashew Cream. It offered the moisture, some binding qualities, and a pleasant delicate flavor that wouldn't over power the pumpkin like say, a banana would. Instead of going with the traditional cream cheese frosting, ( I didn't feel like going to the store for tofutti and preferred something a little healthier) I decided to use the remaining cashew cream to make a glaze, and it turned out very well) If you are more of the cream cheese frosting type, you could easily whip some tofutti cream cheese with powdered sugar, almond milk, vanilla and a hint of lemon juice to make a rich vegan cream cheese frosting. I am so happy to report that my vegan rendition of this recipe worked. I shared some with my parents who know the original recipe well, and received rave reviews.  Before I delve into the recipe, I would like to highlight other fall joys of my week...We took the baby to Apple Hill for the first time! Yay! Here is the lil pumpkin patch kid herself:
Apple Hill has been a family tradition of ours for as long as I can remember. It is a beautiful collection of Apple Orchards with a variety of activities and apple related goodies and treats. Each orchard offers special activities and everything from fresh apple cider, to pies, breads, caramel apples etc. Although I love all of those things, most of what you find at Apple Hill is not vegan, except for well, the apples (duh :) apple cider and thankfully, apple butter!! I bought us a lovely jar of apple butter that is vegan and scrumdidilyumptious (sp?). I also bought lots of apples, pumpkins and asian pears. A great trip. And the next morning for breakfast, I enjoyed a wonderful breakfast panini of maple almond butter (see previous post) and apple butter on toast. When heated panini style everything got ooey gooey delish. I will be eating this probably every other morning from now until Christmas. It was that good. 
So, I am thrilled fall is here, and I plan on savoring each day because it always goes by too fast. 

Pumpkin Bars with Vanilla Cashew Glaze
1/3 cup Earth Balance (or other vegan margarine)
2 C. evaporated cane sugar
1 15 oz can organic pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix)
1/2 cup prepared cashew cream (recipe below)
1 tsp vanilla
2 C. whole wheat pastry flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice (original recipe calls for cinnamon- I prefer the pumpkin pie spice mix)
1/2 tsp sea salt

For the Cashew Cream::
1 cup raw cashew pieces (soaked for at least 30 minutes and drained)
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon agave nectar
pinch of sea salt

Vanilla Cashew Glaze:
Remaining Cashew Cream (after 1/2 cup has been used in the bars)
1/2 tsp vanilla
juice of 1/2 small lemon
1/4 C agave nectar
2 T coconut milk
1 tsp arrowroot powder

Preheat oven to 350 or 325 if you are using a convection oven. Lightly grease a 9 x13 pan and set aside.
For the cashew cream:
Using a high speed blender, add cashews, water, agave and sea salt to the blender and blend on high until very very smooth, approximately 1-2 minutes. Measure out 1/2 cup for use in the bars and then leave the remaining in the blending carafe until needed to make the Frosting. 

For the bars:
In a large bowl cream together the Earth Balance and the sugar until light and fluffy. Add in the cashew cream, pumpkin and vanilla and continue beating until well mixed and smooth. 
In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, spices and salt until combined. Add half of the dry mixture into the wet and mix until well combined. Then add the remaining dry ingredients to the wet and continue mixing until well combined again. 
Pour this mixture into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 38-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Set aside to cool.

While the bars are cooling, make the glaze by adding the vanilla, lemon juice, agave nectar, coconut milk, and arrowroot powder to the carafe of the blender and blend very well. Once the bars are mostly cool, you can gently poor the glaze over the top. The light heat of the bars will help the glaze to spread evenly. 
Transfer the bars to the refrigerator to continue setting up for at least 2 hours. These bars should be served chilled.