Monday, May 8, 2017

Soil Horizons Cake for Earth Day

How better to celebrate Earth Day than with a soil cake? We didn’t just want a boring chocolate “dirt cake” with gummi worms in it; we wanted a proper soil profile with the different horizons represented (see the printout at the bottom of the photo below). In the end we discarded some of our more fanciful ideas and went with a relatively design involving 3 layers plus toppings. Here are the components prior to assembly:
Soil cake preparation

For the bottom layer (E horizon) we wanted “rocks” of different sizes so used the health food store equivalent of cocoa rice crispies and cocoa pebbles in a vegan marshmallow base (basically heterogeneous vegan rice crispie treats), shown at left in the photo above.

On top of that we wanted sort of a tan cake for the leached B horizon, so after considering mocha or spice cake we kept it simple and went with a vegan vanilla cake recipe and just added 1.5 Tbsp of cocoa powder. The cake recipe was terrible though, so this layer came out fairly dry, and next time I’d use a tried and true vanilla recipe before mixing in a bit of cocoa. We put basic powdered sugar icing (with a bit of cocoa to match the color) above and below this layer to help bind it to the other layers (top cake in photo above).

The top layer was a mocha cake (the bottom cake in photo above), lighter than a pure chocolate cake but still a nice rich brown for the A horizon. Then we put a mocha ganache on top of that to hold the oreo crumble on top (we used oreo thins with chocolate filling), and topped with a few sugar cookie “leaves.” We also planned to have pretzel stick “twigs” but the dog got into the bag of pretzels the night before so had to give up on that.

Here’s how it looked once assembled:
Soil cake preparation


Once it was assembled we cooled it in the fridge before cutting the edges flush for a neater look:
Soil horizon cake

Here's an oblique shot from above:
Soil horizon cake

Sadly the time in the fridge dried out the cake a bit, so we had to serve it with vegan Breyer’s cookies and cream, and poured some of the new vegan Bailey’s Irish cream on the cake as well.  But that's not an awful worst case. We had some of the leftovers in glasses as a trifle and it worked pretty well.

We also wanted to make roots / mycorrhizae out of white cotton candy which we could jam into the cake, but couldn’t find it. But a simpler idea would have been to bend up a hangar into a jagged shape, poke several sinuous holes in the cake from above, and fill each with thin white icing, so that when you cut into it you can see the roots. Next time!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Vegan goat cheese (chevré), round 2

It's been a while, so I decided to make the goat cheese recipe from VegNews (a modified version of the one in Miyoko Schinner's book) but without the herbs de provence. It turns out making it in summer is pretty different; it ages a lot faster but thickens more slowly! I decided I wanted a different flavor profile so changed up the herbs. Here's the last of the final product (it was too tasty to wait to eat):

Vegan goat cheese

You need to plan about a week in advance of when you want to eat the cheese.

First, make some rejuvelac:
To make 2 cups of rejuvelac (enough for many cheeses): soak 1/2 cup whole grains (i used quinoa, which makes for a less disgusting flavor than rye or barley or wheat) in 2 cups of water for 8-12 hours. Drain it and fill with more water, changing it 3 times per day, until the grains begin sprouting, then drain again. put the grains and 2 cups of fresh water in a jar and cover with a towel or cheesecloth. Let it sit for 2 days or so, until the liquid turns white, then strain out the grains to have your rejuvelac.

Then soak the cashews (2 cups, raw) for at least 3-4 hours, or overnight.

Then blend until very smooth (I use a vitamix, and even with that it requires a lot of patience and pushing them down, you could also try a food processor):
2 cups raw cashews, soaked
1/4-3/8 cup rejuvelac (I use 3/8 to make blending easier, but if you want it thicker use 1/4)
1/2 tsp salt
1 small clove garlic

When smooth, either add these whole and blend for a bit, or chop them up and mix it in. If you blend them all together you will have green cheese which will skeeve people out, otherwise you have nice green flecks as shown above:
~1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
1 Tbsp fresh rosemary leaves
whatever other herbs / spices sound good

Put it in a bowl, and let it sit out for ~ 24 hours; if it's cool weather you might need 2 days. You want it to start tasting a bit sharp and funky, but not too much. If it looks like this, your bacteria are going nuts (producing those little gas pockets) and you need to move on to the next step:
Vegan goat cheese culturing

Now, mix it together with:
1 Tbsp nutritional yeast
1 tsp lemon juice
more herbs if it's not tasty enough, but it should be already

Now you're supposed to shape this into a log using some parchment paper, but if it's hot and humid, you will find that it got funky fast, but didn't thicken up much. In that event, just spoon it into a rough log shape on parchment paper, smooth it out, and sprinkle on about 1/4 tsp of salt (ideally powdered in a spice grinder first). Alternatively, put it in the fridge for a day to get thick before proceeding. Finally, let it sit out for about 2-3 days until it has thickened a bit and is super tasty. The end!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Thanksgiving!


Thanksgiving 2015 For thanksgiving, between my sister and law and we made (left to right, bottom row first):  stuffing (or dressing), fried tom tofu, "forager's roast" from field roast, two kinds of fresh cranberry sauce (one sweet with bourbon and shallots, one tart with orange and ginger), garlicky collard greens, mashed potatoes, gravy, salad, squash soup, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce from a can, brussel sprouts, roasted squash, salad, roasted asparagus, sugar cookies, sweet potato pie, spicy cinnamon pecans.

 Recipes for the stuffing, cranberry sauce(s), tom tofu, sugar cookies, and spicy cinnamon pecans are at http://food.sciencejon.com

Happy belated holidays!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Vegan brie-off

OK, should you spring for the extra $ involved in buying a commercial brie kit from Druid's Grove (still requiring preparation at home, but it's pretty easy), or spend the extra time required to make it from scratch? It depends! Here are the two contenders:

Commercial brie (we made this twice, once with coconut oil and once with deodorized cocoa butter: Vegan brie from druids grove Homemade brie:Homemade vegan brie
Homemade brie in proper context (on homemade foccacia with broccoli and veggie sausage sautéed in red wine. Damn.): Broccoli and veggie sausage on homemade vegan brie and bread

So, the commercial brie has a clearly superior texture and look. It is super smooth and melts in your mouth. Flavor is very mild, no one who knew what brie tasted like thought this cheese tasted like brie, or even like much of a cheese at all. But it was really good on crackers nonetheless.

The homemade brie (I went with the variant that maximized flavor and let it age extra time to really compare with the milder commercial one) was also good, and had more flavor (closer to real brie, but still distant), but not as smooth a texture. I will say that as it continued to age in the fridge it got a really nice sharp taste, and was good in several dishes. Oh, but the cashews do give it a bit of a sweet taste which is uncool.

Ultimately given the ease and texture, we would go with the commercial brie. But at $20?! We will instead focus on homemade cheeses that came out better at home like the gruyere and gouda (also from Miyoko Schinner's book). One downside of both bries is that they are extra-fatty since they have coconut oil in them for texture, and having it in your fridge is definitely encouraging.

Hopefully sometime soon we will have commercially available premade vegan cheese that actually passes both texture and flavor tests. There are a few aged vegan cheeses on the market, but none of them are great, and they're all pretty expensive. Stay tuned!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Homeade alcohol-free stout beer

We continue to enjoy drinking homemade alcohol-free beer whenever one of us can't drink (most recently while my broken pelvis heals). My friend Emily was intrigued (we were discussing it when she was pregnant) but prefers stouts, and we hadn't done anything beyond the one kind we've made (which is sort of like a session IPA).

But always up for a challenge, here are the tweaks to make stout. First, rather than making the hops extract one batch at a time I've switched to making a big container of it, and then using about 1/2 cup of that plus sweetener and club soda. So for stout, I took the 1/2 cup of cold hops tea / extract, heated it up in the microwave until it was almost boiling, and then put in a fake coffee teabag (Teecino Vanilla Nut flavor). I put it back in the fridge again right away and let it steep and cool for about 4 hours. For sweetener I used Yacon syrup which is a new thing we just bought; it's a tangy and lightly sweet dark brown syrup made from some Peruvian root. I thought of molasses but didn't want that heavy iron flavor molasses has.

Here is the final result being enjoyed, it came out pretty good! It definitely has the roasty malty stout flavor, without any alcohol and with very few calories.
Emily, Steve, and baby Lev with alcohol-free stout
My next step is to figure out two things:
1. If I can soak some additional hops in the extract to add back in the aroma and more complex flavor lost when I boil down the extract.
2. I want to try proofing maybe 1/16 tsp of yeast when the beer is being put together to drink to add in a bit of yeasty flavor, without giving the yeast time to make any actual alcohol.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Soft Food for Sore Mouths Part 2

Gum surgery was so fun I went and had the other side done three weeks later! ;) While Sarah did an amazing job of meal planning after the first surgery, we did want to change it up.

There were several excellent soups we hadn't had yet (African groundnut, creamy tomato, corn chowder, etc.) but we started with simple refried beans. I didn't want to eat them plain, so Sarah had the brilliant idea to serve them over soft polenta!
Beans over polenta

Next was one of our favorite recipes adjusted to not require any chewing. It's supposed to be chickpea crepes with a sweet potato curry, so we skipped the crepes and also just roasted the sweet potatoes whole and blended them rather than chopping them up and eating them as cubes.
Sweet potato curry

Getting more creative, Sarah came up with the idea for  blended Shepherd's pie! Each layer (mashed potato, lentils/mushrooms, carrots, peas) were separately seasoned and blended before being assembled:
Smooth shepherd's pie

For breakfast I mostly relied on blending up oatmeal with some almond milk, peanut butter to help me last until lunch, and thawed frozen blueberries. It comes out kind of goopy and gross honestly but it was easy to drink:

Oatmeal blueberry smoothie

And then I forgot to take photos of the African groundnut stew with red swiss chard in it, but that was also delicious and creamily soft! This definitely made the recovery process much more pleasant! I find that even weeks later I still can't eat cold foods like ice cream, so milkshakes (a frequent suggestion for a soft food) were definitely not going to work as well as these did.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Making an "Alien" themed chestburster cake

Our friend Riley who hosted the epic Jurassic Park-ty for his birthday last year decided to go with a theme from the movie Alien this year. The obvious response was to make a torso cake with the "chestburster" phase of the alien actually bursting from the cake. Here's how that went down. The basic ingredients were 1 cake, black cherry juice, pectin, and official Alien chestburster chopsticks (in lieu of making a homemade one out of flour / water / salt).

Step 1 was to prepare by making the "guts." We were already using pectin and black cherry juice to make alien-head gummies using a mold (the second photo has some with pineapple-cherry juice for better flavor), with the all-cherry ones in particular looking and feeling super creepy like a blood clot or engorged leeches:
Alien head cherry juice gummies Alien head cherry / pineapple juice gummies
so the ones that didn't come out right were just mixed up into chunky blood-red guts.

Note: if making gummies in the microwave in tiny batches because you only have one stupid tiny mold, be sure to watch the juice carefully to prevent this:
How not to use pectin

Step 2 was to make an ordinary carrot cake. We put it on top of a large cardboard box with plastic wrap on top, and a hole cut for the chopstick. We scooped out a shallow divot to make room for some guts. We also adjusted the alien chopstick to the right "resting" height before emerging (you can see the white tip peeking out) so that we could secure it in the box properly:
Chestburster cake before being iced

Step 3: we don't just need the alien head to be just below the cake surface before emergence, we also need it to go to just the right height when it's pushed up so that you see the whole thing but not the boring chopstick part. That's what the sideways chopstick is for, to set the emergent height. The plastic eyedropper full of cherry juice was also carefully aligned so that the nozzle tip is at the cake surface but not high enough to be visible when the alien bursts out. In initial tests the juice shot up about 3 feet, so I played around with plain water to figure out how much pressure to use to get a good spurt without making a huge mess.Chestburster cake from below

Step 4: Ice it up (we used gross icing from the store to save time), and add a plastic-wrapped printout of John Hurt's head to provide a clue as to what's going on here.
Chestburster cake from above, fully iced and assembled

Here's the cake on the box (sides of arms un-iced b/c we didn't have enough) and my hands in the box ready to go, just waiting for Sarah to hit play on my cell phone to start the audio file from the actual scene in the movie with the alien bursting out and screeching"Chestburster cake before emergence

And here's what it looked like after emerging. Sadly our video footage of the event didn't take when Sarah's phone froze up. Also, you can see that there is some cherry juice speckled all over the cake, but unfortunately when the cake was being moved the nozzle tip ended up pressing into the chopstick base such that it was just a gentle spitting rather than a real eruption of fake blood. Also, the extra guts below the alien were applied after emergence when we realized that most of the guts below the icing were invisible. Alas.
Chestburster cake after emergence 2

Chestburster cake after emergence

Despite the minor problems, it was still a lot of fun! Sarah and I went for free costumes by printing out alien facehuggers and taping twisties to the legs so that they would grip our faces and hang onto our glasses:
Jon & Sarah as the facehugged

Most costumes were more impressive, especially the adult alien and power loader exoskeleton!

Power loader Vs Alien