Introducing: In the Spotlight [Extra Virgin Olive Oil]

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Olive Oil:

Serving Size- 4 Tbsp daily

The past two times I went to get groceries women of age felt it was necessary to talk to me about the product I was purchasing.  The second woman talked to me about the olive oil I was looking at, and it completely changed what we purchased.  On NPR they interviewed professors of nutrition about the Mediterranean diet and Olive Oil.  It turns out that olive oil is much like squeezing any other fruit, the longer its juice sits out the less potent the polyphenols in the olive oil become.  These and other organic compounds within fresh olive oil give the oil its medicinal properties.

Half of the olive oil imported into the country is substandard, which means that it doesn’t meet the FDA regulations to be considered extra virgin (or even olive oil lets be real).  One of the most important things I learned delving into olive oil is that the peppery flavor in the oil is what you are looking for to ensure that the oil is fresh with many nutrients left in tact.  So get looking for a harvest date on the bottled olive oil in your local markets, and remember after 4-6 months get rid of it!

If you want to learn more check out:

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Garden Fresh Salsa

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There is something so wonderful about getting your hands dirty in the early spring to turn the soil and prepare the garden beds for this years seeds.   It is the work that pays off later when you yield an amazing crop of heirloom tomatoes! I knew with all of the tomatoes from my garden I had to make salsa.  I found the secret to great salsa making is to marinate or pickle your onions in lime juice for the perfect acidity.  I know you may have tried to make salsa before from an online source, but this isn’t just any recipe.  It might not be a salsa recipe from deep in the heart of Mexico, but the 2 quarts this recipe made was gone from my fridge in a couple of days.

Once you make this salsa once you can change it to suit your tastes.  If you like spicy salsa amp up the jalapeno peppers or leave the seeds in the mix. Have fun with it and don’t be afraid to take your own direction.  I used two kinds of tomatoes to bring as many colors to my salsa as possible.  Remember to pick the best quality tomatoes, if not from a home garden, from a farmers market near you. Unfortunately canned tomatoes won’t be the same as fresh in this particular recipe.

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Garden Fresh Salsa:

makes about 2 quarts

  • 1 cup of finely diced red onion
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 2 tsp of salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 4 lbs of heirloom tomatoes seeded and diced  (no need to remove the skins)
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup of cilantro finely minced
  •  2 Tbsp seeded and finely diced jalapeno peppers
  • optional: 2 avocados cut into large dice

1.  Combine the onions, lime juice, salt, and pepper in a non reactive bowl ie glass, stainless steel, plastic. Leave to sit while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

2. Combine the other ingredients and add the onions to them, mix well and eat vigorously!

Coconut milk chocolate ganache tart w/ fig leaves

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First a note about my technology situation. My power cord for my Mac decided to give out so I have been working on my boyfriends iPad… Not a big deal only it’s harder to link from one page to another recipe and get the pictures formatted just right. I am buying a new one on eBay and then I will have the content linked in a simple fashion with an updated look! Until then, bear with me

Vegan or not good pastry is good pastry. As you read in my last post, I created a tart shell that is as perfect as one loaded with dairy. Today I will show you what to put in that shell as a perfect compliment. For me it seems every time I add fig leaves in a dessert it leaves people in awe, most people don’t work with figs or know how to use them. They have a slight coconut flavor that I believe balances out the almost off flavor off canned coconut. To accomplish this tart is easy as long as you have a few simple tools in your kitchen. This is a no bake ganache tart so serve it chilled or pull it out 10 min before you serve it to spare your guests chilled teeth.

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Coconut Milk Chocolate Ganache Tart w/ fig leaves:

serves 10

Ingredients:

1 perfect tart shell (recipe is preceding post)

5 oz of bittersweet chocolate wafers

1-2 fig leaves

1 cup canned coconut milk at room temp stirred well

pinch of salt

1. Make a chiffonade cut by rolling up your fig leaves and then slicing. Make sure to take off the bottom stem before you slice. Place the fig leaf bits into a small pan and plour the coconut milk over them. Bring your mixture to a scalding, just under a boil and then let your leaves steep for 3-5 min or until you like the balance of flavor. If you aren’t using fig leaves pour the hot milk over the chocolate wafers.

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2. If using fig leaves after 3-5 minute strain the milk from the leaves over the wafers.

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3. Place back over a small pan with about and inch of water in it to create a double broiler. Place the chocolate back over and turn the heat to medium. Let sit for a couple minutes to heat the milk and then whisk together. Add a pinch of salt and pour into the prebaked tart shell after well combined.

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4. Place in the fridge for 2-3 hours until set! Enjoy with your neighbors, both vegan and dairy centric!

Perfect Tart Crust

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As I mentioned in my last post, I have been experimenting in the kitchen.  One thing I find difficult to find online is a good tart shell recipe! I have scoured my favorite food blogs and found many shells that perform very differently from the dairy ones I am trying to replicate.  I decided to use some of my homemade Cultured European style butter in this recipe and compare it to Earth Balance Buttery sticks in the same exact recipe, changing only the butter.  What I found was actually surprising.  The Earth Balance sticks worked exactly like the dairy crusts I make at work.  My homemade butter created a very different shell, one that cooked but stayed completely white and had more of a shortbread feel and less of a buttery crumbly tart shell.

I may be posting this recipe prematurely because it isn’t perfect, you can’t just roll it out and plop it into the tart pan it is a bit more fragile than that. To combat this I have been rolling it out to about the width of the base of the tart pan and then pushing it up the sides to finish the shell.  This allows the base to be flat and negates a mess of cracked dough all over your counter. Use this crust recipe in any recipe that calls for a tart shell, and impress your vegan friends with a base that tastes just as amazing as whatever you put in it!

One last note about this recipe: you will need a kitchen scale to make this.  It is too difficult for some measurements not to be in ounces.  I made it this way so when you make it at home your shells comes out the same as mine.

 

Perfect Tart Crust:

makes 3 shells (save 2 in the freezer for later, wrapped well)

1/2 cup sugar

14 oz Earth Balance Buttery Sticks (not to be confused with their tub margarine with a much higher water content than we want here)

1 lb 2 oz flour

1/2 tsp salt

1 Tbsp flax meal with 3 Tbsp water

 

1. First cube the Earth Balance and place it in the freezer.

2. Next combine the flax meal and water and let sit in a small bowl to gelatinize.

3. Place the sugar and Earth Balance in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment and turn on low speed until combined but not whipped. You just want the mixture to be homogenized.

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4. Then add your dry ingredients and mix on low speed until its a corse meal.

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5. Add your flax meal at this stage and watch the magic happen as that little added moisture and the binding power of the flax brings the mixture together.  Mix until combined but take care not to over mix.  There should be no crumbles left. Place on the counter and divide into three equal pieces. Weigh your dough to make this exact. Roll into rough balls.

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6. Then roll into cylinders.

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7. Stand it up.

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8. And flatten:

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This is your tart crust. Place it in the fridge for at least an hour before rolling out, and place the other two in the freezer!

Roll the shell out to a managable base of the 9 inch tart shell and push it up the sides. The only picture I have of an unbaked shell is from a failed tart shell recipe I was working on, but it gives you an idea of what your shall should look like in the mold.

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Bake at 350 until the shell begins to look like it has freckles. It is better to go a bit darker than have an under baked flour taste.  But if you are going to be baking something in it after you par bake it, then bake a bit lighter than the picture below.  I won’t be further baking this shell because it will be a chocolate ganache tart and will set in the fridge. Recipe to come! Good luck and enjoy!

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Golden Flax Seed Egg Replacer

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Of all the egg replacers in the world I think that Golden Flax Seed might just be the most magical.  The chemistry of eggs are quite different as they use proteins to bind, whereas flax uses polysaccharides.  As soon as the polysaccharides are hydrated, in this case with water, a gel begins to form that binds together whatever you are baking.  These polysaccharides are important in many baking applications even dairy related ones as they are found in everything from molasses to rice!

Some notes on flax seed:

  • This egg replacer should not be used for more than 3 eggs as it will give a distinct nutty flavor.
  • Flax meal will create a grainy texture if used in something that should be creamy as it will create flecks of flax within it.
  • Do not use the brown flax seed as it will create a darker coloring in your baked goods due to the darker hull.
  • Works great in tart shells, muffins, etc

 

To replace one egg:

First grind up the golden flax seed. I put about a cup of flax seeds in my coffee grinder and grind until a nice fine meal appears. This can be stored in the freezer for 6 months or in the fridge for about a month.  I take what I need and place it back in the freezer. When grinding in your coffee grinder put something in the grinder first, like corn meal, and grind. This will take away the coffee flavor before you put your flax in and end up with coffee flavoring in all your baked goods!

Take 1 Tbsp Flax Meal + 3 Tbsp water and mix well.  Let sit for 5 minutes until it gels. Your flax is now ready for baking!

Good luck!

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What’s to come

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I’ve been dormant from the blog world for awhile, but only because I have been in the kitchen. I mean I have been religiously baking, even during the west coast heat wave much to the dismay of my boyfriend. I have recently become a professional baker and I am taking what I am learning through conventional baking and applying it to vegan baking.  With baking, chemistry rules the day and I am finding that the more I work with eggs and dairy at work…the more I understand what they do for baked goods. With that knowledge I can work with plant based ingredients to create the same effect. Let’s be clear for a moment: there is nothing that can fully replace cheese or an egg, they are both so unique and multifaceted. The trick comes when you learn how to take a plant based ingredient(s) and use it to mimic eggs binding power and another to mimic its moistness.

We live in a beautiful time where people are experimenting with foods in new and creative ways. My parents collected some ingredients from their local groceries (they made sure to inform me that they had to go to three) for me to cook thanksgiving dinner last year. My dad commented on how many products are out there and how much choice we have compared to when he was growing up. Without these products and pioneers starting with Julia and continuing on with Isa, we would be eating radically different from how we are.

This is all to say I have been experimenting with recipes and manipulating plant based ingredients. I had a failure with vegan white chocolate tart dough (that still tasted amazing). I have also had many successes from fig tarts, chocolate ganache tarts, and croissants. This is all to say get ready for some awesome vegan baking recipes, some simple crowd pleaser sand some intricate detailed oriented recipes. I’m back and I’m bringing it.

I also plan to change the format of my blog, to help with your navigation and accessibility. I love comments and want this to be more of a conversation and less of me dictating recipes into outer space. SO if you like a recipe or hated it, let me know!

I shall leave you with some food porn:

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White Chocolate Vegan Butter

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We have all scoured the vegan section of our local grocer looking for different non dairy replacements for some of our favorite fixes (I am still waiting for vegan cottage cheese ;).  But the honest truth is there are very limited options, EVEN in the bay area.  It’s why I began researching how to make my own vegan butter, I mean… who doesn’t love food science?  A year ago I was making a good amount of money working for a non profit, and every wednesday after my meeting in San Francisco I would rush to Rainbow Grocery Collective to purchase any weird powder I could get my hands on knowing someday I would find a use and be able to utilize my ingredients.

Notes on Xantham Gum:

Xantham Gum is in everything from make up to salad dressing.  It is perfect for gluten free baking because it is derived from sugar, and is a thickener/ emulsifier.  It is created by fermentation of sucrose, glucose, or lactose…so make sure that your xanthan gum is produced by one of the first two.  With regards to this butter it allows it to spread more easily.

Notes on Soy Lecithin:

Lecithins are natural oils found in most plants and eggs. Everyone seems to cringe nowadays when they hear the word soy, it has such a bad rap.  The truth is that, yes, the plant is dangerous but only in the hands of companies like Monsanto.  Soy lecithin like xanthan gum is in most products, especially chocolate. It has emulsification properties which means that it “holds” the chocolate together.  Make sure when sourcing that you are finding soy lecithin that is non gmo. In regards to the vegan butter it helps keep it together.

I have a coworker who is obsessively asking me for vegan croissants, and to be honest, I can’t blame him!  The last time he got vegan croissants was in Paris.  Don’t get too excited as I will not be posting a croissant recipe until I fully understand the fundamentals.  To create the vegan croissants for his order I have been experimenting with various vegan butters, and most of the work has already been done.  There is a man in brooklyn who has created a whole plethora of vegan butters that you can make at home.  I rushed off to the store yesterday so I could make some European style cultured butter with some yogurt, but when I opened the yogurt I found something very different from the creamy deliciousness I was looking for.  In the mood to make butter I switched my game plan to this White Chocolate Vegan Butter, the perfect accompaniment to toast, or inside some danishes.

White Chocolate Vegan Butter:

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Ingredients:

2 Tablespoons + 2 teaspoons soy milk
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
¼ + 1/8 teaspoon salt

½ cup + 1 Tablespoons + 1 teaspoon (115 grams) cocoa butter, melted
2 Tablespoons canola oil, safflower oil or sunflower oil

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract or 1/2 vanilla bean

2 teaspoons amber agave syrup
2 1/4 tsp granulated soy lecithin
¼ teaspoon xanthan gum

1. Mix the soy milk, vinegar, and salt in a small bowl. Whisk with a fork and let sit for 10 min to curdle.

2. Meanwhile melt the cocoa butter in a small saucepan and turn off when you have a few chunks left as to leave the temperature as close to room temp as possible (this will make for a softer butter).  Let sit until all chunks have melted and the mixture is homogenous. Add the cocoa butter and canola oil to a food processor.

3. Add the soy mixture as well as the rest of the ingredients and turn on the food processor for 2-3 minutes scraping down the sides of the bowl twice.

4. Pour into a mold (see above picture) and place in the freezer. The butter should be ready to use in about an hour. Store in an airtight container for 1 month in the fridge or in the freezer for a year! Makes 2 vegan butter sticks.

When I make butter at home, I love to make Danishes. I might just use this butter in a pie crust or a pan au chocolate.  Here are some of my first croissants which will appear later on my blog!

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Oakland’s Cheap Vegan Friendly Eats: Cam Huong

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Situated in the ever claustrophobic China Town in Downtown Oakland lies the textbook definition of a hole in the wall.  As a self proclaimed foodie I nerd out on food next to my boyfriend who nerds out on Ebay car parts.  He half listens to me as I tell him of the various eats I want to try, and I half listen to his banter about all of the cup holders we have to buy for our new car.  Eventually I will find a jackpot and insist we leave the house within 10 minutes to drive to a new spot I have been researching.  Brendon begrudgingly gets away from his Ipad and begins to get ready for our excursion.  Though this is not to say he doesn’ love food as much as I do, in fact he is probably the only person that could stand to listen to me talk about food the amount I do!

Today it was Cam Huong, a Vietnamese Sandwich (Banh Mi) place.  When we pulled up we got a parking space right out front, which was soon blocked by the extreme double parking people we doing specifically for Cam Huong sandwiches.  We ordered 2 sandwiches (I got the Curried Tofu), some sort of eggplant dish one way, Brendon got the pork sandwich, fish patty, and egg fried noodles, ALL for:

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We went to the lake in Oakland and ate our lunch with the sun shinning and the wind blowing.  The food was incredible and we will surely be going back for prices from $2.50-$3 per sandwich.  I only wish there would have been more sauce and fresher bread, but for $3 I wasn’t complaining.  A new staple in my diet Cam Huong has a line out the door for a reason and many options to choose from.

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In the News: UN urges us to go dairy and meat free

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We all come to veganism in a different ways.  Some of us are trying to get healthier, while others have a moral reason. For years it was only extreme PETA spouting a message of equality for animals, which I admire and though have issues with their method. (perhaps in another post) This week however the silence of international collaboration at the United Nations ended. For the United Nations it came down to the effects that factory farming for meat and dairy are having on our climate.  I have read different reports and articles all stating that our livestock is one of the top three big hitters on our global warming.  In fact it is actually worse than all the transportation emissions in the world COMBINED.  The article was written up in the Guardian and can be found here.

This article coincided with an article I read in the Washington Post reviewing the ever growing frozen vegetarian burgers.  As you can see the reviewers found that each and every single brand of “meat free” burger actually tasted synthesized.  For me, eating is a pleasure that if we are lucky we get to do several times a day (sometimes I must admit I over indulge).  But just as the vegetarian market has already been commodified into the same processed foods as meat eaters, I am worried about the direction the vegan market is moving.  Every week I see new vegan frozen foods on the market processed to a pulp.  As we move into this new era where meat will become more expensive, I mean look at Chipotle’s new Northern California addition to their menu: Sofritas. They are using local Oakland based tofu company Hodo Soy, which is actually quite amazing. They stated that due to their rising meat costs it only made sense to put this on the menu (not to mention the huge vegan market in the bay area).  But as this idea spreads and companies like Starbucks, McDonalds, etc begin to commodify the vegan market it may be time to take a stand.  As someone who has dealt with vegan weight gain I know that not all vegan food is healthy, our butter substitutes are pure oil, and we still need to eat the correct food groups leaving the unhealthy stuff in moderation.

So with that, go eat more kale.

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Strawberry Jam without added Pectin

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When it comes to spring and the beginning of summer there is nothing like strawberries.  The farmers market is sparse with them at first only coming from Santa Cruz.  As it warms up the markets fill up with people and the strawberries multiply.  Prices drop as competition rises, and I make jam.

My first batch of jam this year turned out OK, but as I continue my apprenticeship under the most incredible pastry chef I am learning techniques and this is one of them.  Strawberries have barely any pectin as compared with citrus so you have to get creative.  I pan fry these in essentially a single layer and sprinkle a handful of sugar on them, tasting until you get your desired sweetness.  Let’s be honest, there are loads of recipes out there that say they use an 1/8th of the sugar that the balls jars recipes use, and while balls jars recipes do use more sugar than I do, those peoples recipes taste awful.  Jam is supposed to be sweet, and yes, that involves some sugar!

I like my jam a bit chunky and it also allows you to make it without any added pectin!

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Strawberry Jam:

3 pints of strawberries

2-3 handfuls of sugar

1. First wash the strawberries in a colander to remove any dirt etc that might be sticking to the strawberries.  If like me you left yours in the fridge then pick through and remove any of the spoiled strawberries.

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2. Hull the strawberries using a pairing knife by removing the leaves and as little of the strawberry itself.

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3. Line up the hulled strawberries into rows of three, and using a chefs knife cut each strawberry into 3rd or 4ths depending on their size.

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4. In a healthy “single” layer place the strawberries in the pan and sprinkle sugar on them over medium heat.

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5. Pan fry the strawberries adding sugar if you need to sweeten it any further cook stirring to make sure the bottom doesn’t begin to burn.  Cook until the liquid starts to gels and becomes thick and the strawberries are soft.

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6.  If you have anymore strawberries continue to pan fry in single layers until all of them have gelled! Place in a cute jar you have just for strawberry jam and enjoy daily.