The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

And  gluten-free, no less! The first time I made these chocolate chippers, I knew that a special place in my plant-based heart had been filled. They were the best. Not the best gluten-free; not the best vegan; but the best chocolate chip cookies I’d ever had, period.

This was my second time making these precious morsels of chewy-crispy-chocolate-vanilla bliss. Being wintertime, canned pumpkin seemed more fitting to me than the applesauce called for in the recipe (it also didn’t hurt that I hadn’t the tiniest dollop of applesauce in my pantry, despite having six – count ’em, six – different types of seaweed in there). So pumpkin it was! It could just be my mind playing tricks on me, but I could swear, it endowed the cookies with an even lovelier golden hue. If the first time around had produced the so-called “best” chocolate chip cookies, then I didn’t even know what to call this batch!

These cookies are crispy and caramelized around the edges and soft and chewy in the center, with that rich, buttery flavor that your mommy’s chippers always had, thanks to a healthy amount of coconut oil. They spread and crinkle perfectly.

So, for the gluten-free child inside you, here’s the recipe for the famousBabycakes Chocolate Chip Cookies, with my adaptation included:

Chocolate Chip Cookies
(Adapted from Babycakes)
Makes 36

1 cup coconut oil
6 tablespoons canned unsweetened pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups evaporated cane juice
2 cups Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free All-Purpose Baking Flour
1/4 cup flax meal
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons xantham gum
1 cup vegan chocolate chips

Preheat the oven the 325 F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, mix together the oil, pumpkin, salt, vanilla, and evaporated cane juice. In another medium bowl, whisk together the flour, flax meal, baking soda and xanthan gum. Using a rubber spatula, carefully add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture and stir until a grainy dough is formed. Gently fold in the chocolate chips just until they are evenly distributed through the dough.

Using a melon baller, scoop the dough onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing the portions 1 inch apart. Gently press each with the heel of your hand to help them spread. Bake the cookies on the center rack for 15 minutes, rotating the sheets 180 degrees after 9 minutes. The finished cookies will be crisp on the edges and soft in the center.

Let the cookies stand on the sheets for 10 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack and cool completely before covering. Store the cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

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Happy Vegan New Year!

I hope all you vegans have a wonderful 2011, full of kabocha, tempeh, kale, quinoa, mashed cauliflower, and a hell of a lot of peanut butter. :)

Omnivores, vegetarians, and other non-vegans: I hope you go vegan this year! What could be a better new year’s resolution? Seriously.

We’re busy preparing for our “New Delhi New Year” party tonight, which is basically my attempt to spread the pyaar (“love”) for India that I gained on my adventure there in October.

My mom made Chana Samosas with peas; I plan on making Cranberry Cashew Biryani and 2nd Avenue Vegetable Korma (from Isa’s new Appetite for Reduction book). Oh, and there will be rum-spiked mango lassis.

I can’t wait to ring in the new year with bright colors, bindis, and Bollywood. How are you greeting 2011?

The Best Mashed Cauliflower

Yes, I know I’m not the inventress of cauliflower “mashed potatoes,” or even one of the first people to reinvent this nearly calorie-less comfort food, for that matter. However, I can safely say that my rendition of this totally legit dish might just be the best one.

I have dramatically improved upon the mashed cauliflower I made for Thanksgiving, and will now proceed to impart said miracle to you all.

Cauliflower “Mashed Potatoes”
Serves 4

2 medium-sized heads of cauliflower, washed and chopped into florets
1-2 tablespoons melted coconut oil*
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Fresh black pepper to taste
Herbs to taste (I like rosemary and thyme)

*Note: I say go for two tablespoons of coconut oil – it’s practically the only calories in the whole dish, and coconut oil is comprised of medium-chain fatty acids that your body metabolizes instead of storing as fat. Of course,  you can also use another fat like Earth Balance or olive oil if you prefer, but I’ve found that coconut oil gives these “potatoes” the buttery, crave-worthy flavor that sets my recipe apart from all other iterations.

Steam the cauliflower florets until very tender (I’m talking almost-dissolve-at-your-touch tender…). Puree cauliflower in a food processor or high-speed blender until smooth, occasionally scraping down the sides. Add in coconut oil, nutritional yeast, sea salt, pepper, and optional herbs. Continue pureeing until desired consistency is achieved (a couple minutes). Add any additional salt and pepper to taste.

A food processor is probably the best option for this recipe, as most blenders will have trouble pureeing the cauliflower without additional water (not the end of the world – I sometimes add a couple tablespoons of water to assist in blending anyway – but you shouldn’t have to do so). If you have a high-speed blender such as a Vitamix, which I used for the batch pictured, it works great, and results in an almost unreal silky-smooth texture. I like it both ways, so experiment!

Post-pureeing, you can also pour the cauliflower  into a casserole dish and stick it in a 350° oven for 20 minutes, or until golden-brown on top. Not only does the cauliflower develop a nice, crispy top to play off the velvety texture, but it looks pretty to boot! If you’re not serving it immediately after preparing, you’re going to have to reheat it anyways, so what have you got to lose?

Let it be known: I have nothing against the humble potato. Potatoes are rich in vitamin C, vitamin B6, and copper among other things, and, prepared healthfully, they’re relatively low in calories. Sometimes though, you just want to eat a giant bowl of “mashed potatoes,” or a similar comfort food, without feeling like a bloated toad, and this recipe is perfect for that. :)

As good as cauliflower “mashed potatoes” are, everything in moderation! I made them a little too often while perfecting my recipe, and now need a break. I suppose you guys will just have to eat extra on my behalf for a while!

Thanksgiving Leftovers

Even being the master of denial that I am, I can’t help but think that, in this case, leftovers are symbolic of a bit more than the excess of Thanksgiving; this post itself is a bit of a leftover, seeing as Thanksgiving was over two weeks ago. The fact is, I’ve been a bad blogger, and I know it. I got crushed under the weight of 700+ India photos and sort of crumpled into a sad little heap – but I’m back! (And that India post is soon to come). I’m so back, that I’m actually making a casserole as I write this, my left hand checking its progress in the oven as my right hand commandeers the keyboard.

My family Thanksgave in Philadelphia this year with my dad’s side of the family. The first Thanksgiving I can remember away from home – I instantly told myself that I’d only be making the vegan main course, some gravy, a vegan dessert, and maybe, just maybe, one side. After all, I was going to be in someone else’s kitchen, without my trusty cookbooks, equipment, and stockpile of somewhat exotic ingredients (okay, I don’t think they’re exotic, but someone who’s not a foodie might…).

Of course, the vegangelical master chef in me reared her overachieving head, and all of a sudden, I was packing seven photocopied recipes – Faux Turkey Breasts, Rosemary Mushroom Gravy, Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Caramelized Onions and Toasted Pecans, Candied Sweet Potato Discs and Apple Slices, Cauliflower Mashed “Potatoes,” Pumpkin Pie, and Apple Crumble – and multiple plastic bags worth of pre-measured and labeled spices, herbs, flour, and sugar into my suitcase. So much for sitting back and contentedly watching the parade.

This was my third Thanksgiving as a vegan and I knew I wanted to make a special main course. Year one, hosting my friend Chelsea and my visiting mom, dad, sister in my tiny Edinburgh University student flat in Scotland, I’d made a peanut-based nut loaf from a box mix because I was having trouble finding away to churn out a feast’s worth of food with little to no counter space and an oven the size of an Easy-Bake. It was good, but, c’mon, it was from a box. Year two, we just did the Tofurky Roast, which was pretty decent; but now, in my third year of veganism, I’m almost too vegan for those things. I try to avoid processed faux meats and pretty much stick to whole foods.

These Faux Turkey Breasts from the Real Food Daily cookbook are what the Southern California restaurant itself serves  for Thanksgiving. After combining shredded tofu and tempeh with sautéed onions, miso paste, mustard, and spices galore,  the mixture is shaped into breast-like patties, brushed with olive oil, and baked in the oven. The whole ingredients make for a delicious texture – almost like “turkey” and stuffing in one! As I said on Twitter at the time, “you know you’re a level-7 vegan when your homemade faux turkey contains three different types of soy, two of which are fermented.”

The Rosemary Mushroom Gravy from Get It Ripe was the perfect light topper for the “turkey,” and it also went pretty darn well with the Mashed Cauliflower I made. I used a recipe (see link), but it was more of a template than anything. My family loved it, and, I’ve become unpardonably obsessed with it. Proof: since Thanksgiving, I’ve made it almost every day and developed my own superior (in my opinion) iteration of it, the recipe for which I plan on sharing in my next post! I apologize in advance for making you “that person” who shows up at the Whole Foods check-out line with 6 heads of cauliflower.

Thanksgiving’s not Thanksgiving without Brussels sprouts. Roasted, they are truly the candy of the vegetable kingdom. But Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Caramelized Onions and Toasted Pecans? Outrageous.

The recipe’s from The Vegan Table, with pecans subbed for pistachios; I’m all for being “alternative,” but pistachios at Thanksgiving just doesn’t fly with me. (Yeah, I’m looking at you, people who had Mac ‘n Cheese – vegan or not – at your holiday table. Pardon my language, Auntie Jane, but what the hell is up with that? You have 364 other days to have it.)

For the obligatory sweet potato side, I chose the Candied Sweet Potato Discs and Apple Slices from Vegan Soul Kitchen. We’ve made these before – you can’t really go wrong with layered apples and (pre-roasted) sweet potatoes, drenched in a spiced agave-lemon-orange-apple cider syrup. Plus, can someone please tell me what’s more fun than using a baster? I really have no idea.

The desserts Liv and I made were just mediocre, so I’m pretending they didn’t happen because I only publish the best. :)

Despite our Thanksgiving being a potluck with 25 extended family members and friends, all assigned to bring something, at the end of the day, my contributions turned out to be pretty necessary. My grandma had no idea I was making as much as I did, but if I hadn’t, there literally would not have been enough food for everyone. We hardly had any leftovers!

However, there were some leftovers. And like many before me, I enjoyed them for breakfast the next day even more than the original meal. I like them cold, after a long morning of Black Friday sales (okay, Liv and I just hit one store, but it took a while).

We had a little of everything, including the sweet potatoes my aunt made, whipped with coconut milk and topped with shredded coconut and toasted almonds, and a green bean dish contributed by my uncle.

I’d say it was a pretty successful T-day. Not only did I spend a lovely evening with family who I don’t see anywhere near often enough, but I got 25 people – many of whom know fairly little about veganism – to eat a meal that was at least 50 percent vegan. Making the world less cruel, one sweet tater at a time!

Happy Halloween, Babycakes

I can’t decide which is scarier: Halloween, or how long it’s been since I last posted.

For once, I have a valid excuse though. I’ve only just returned from a two-week long adventure (and I mean adventure) in India – the first trip organized through the cooperation of VegNews and VegVoyages!

Of course, I have an epic Indian food post in the works, but in the meantime, allow me to show you how magical gluten-free vegan bakeries celebrate everyone’s second favorite autumnal holiday. (We’re all on the same page about Thanksgiving, right?!)

Like most of you, I celebrated “All-Hallows-Even” with my friends on Saturday night; I mean, Sunday’s not exactly the most convenient night to have a ghoulishly good time, is it?

Come the evening of true Halloween, I found myself facing a lonely six-hour drive back to Tempe (did I mention that my friends live in LA?). Being the strict observer of holidays that I am, this plan posed a bit of a problem. I wasn’t about to let a long drive get between me and a good time.

So, I did what any self-respecting, gluten-hesitant vegan would do. Donning my baby-pink piggie hat, I headed over to Babycakes NYC in downtown LA to stock up on sugary treats for the road.

A chocolate “cake ball” here…

A powdered blueberry donut there…

And a few spookies (spooky cookies, of course!) to bring home to share…

By now, you probably have an image in your head of me, sitting in my car, wearing a pig hat, and stuffing my face with a dinner’s worth of gluten-free baked goods. That is actually a pretty accurate description of how I spent my 385-mile-long Halloween. I assure you, the irony of the situation was not lost on me.

Oink oink oink.

Leftover Almond Butter Shake

I presume you are all familiar with “oats in a jar” (if not, see the bottom of this post). The idea is to use your steaming hot oats as a convenient means of melting and absorbing the hard-to-get nut butter at the bottom of the jar.

Well, what about when you make homemade nut butter – in this case, roasted almond butter? Perhaps the only thing more frustrating than nut butter stuck at the bottom of a jar is nut butter stuck at the bottom of a blender, cached on the bottom of the blades. And if you didn’t want to waste the dregs of your store-bought nut butter, you sure as hell don’t want to waste your homemade dregs!

Spare your rubber spatula a blade-induced beating and let your trusty blender do the hard work! You just sit back, relax, and work on that cushion you’ve been embroidering. Or if you don’t live in an Austen novel, you can just stop at relax.

“Bottom of the Barrel” Nut Butter Shake

Frozen banana
Cinnamon
Non-dairy milk/water
A few ice cubes
Nut butter-coated blender or food processor bowl

Just throw your ingredients in and blend away. This isn’t so much a recipe as it is a template for a fun way to save your precious nut butter, so throw in whatever (and as much) you want. Berries, pumpkin, coconut, chocolate, whatever! The important part is that you’re being resourceful.

Note: drinking your leftover nut butter shake from a glass dharma straw makes it taste better. Just like eating oats out of a jar makes them taste better. Trust me.


Testing in the Raw

It’s not as intense as it sounds, I swear – actually, it’s pretty warm and fuzzy.

I’m lucky enough to be testing recipes for my favorite cookbook author (and friend), Dreena Burton! (You’ve seen me rave about her soups here…) Well, it turns out, she makes pretty darn good raw desserts too.

I’ve tested two of these delectable delicacies thus far. Chocolate Avocado Mousse, because you’re worth it. Oh wait, is that slogan taken?

I’ve had variations on chocolate avocado pudding before, but I’ve never made it myself; my Vitamix inspires me to reach new heights, what can I say?

I’m not at liberty to disclose the ingredients of this dreamy whipped mousse, but let’s just say it’s simple and healthy! Plus, the mousse is thick enough that it could even work as a frosting, methinks.

If veggies in pudding frighten you – they shouldn’t, but I’m not judging! – fear not. Dreena’s upcoming book will still satisfy your raw taste buds. Only Dreena Burton could create raw, non-dairy cream cheese frosting. Genius.

Raw Banana Nut Squares with Coconut “Cream Cheese” Frosting. These “buttery” bars – on a base reminiscent of graham crackers – are loaded with healthy fats and homestyle taste. With flavors much more complex and familiar than your run-of-the-mill raw dessert, these babies were a hit at the party my mom brought them to. Even skeptical omnis couldn’t resist.

More Dreena testers to come!