Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Birthday Cupcakes: Kona Mocha and Tropical Coconut

Today is my birthday! I am 24 years-old today and pretty happy about it. I am not where I thought I would be at 24, and that's a really good thing. The most important thing I have learned in my 24 short years of life is to just go with it. Life takes you places you never imagined and the best thing to do is not fight it. If you told me when I was 16 that I would be living in Hawaii pursuing a degree in geology, I doubt I would have believed you. I still don't have it all figured out, but life is more fun with surprises :-) I  would have believed you if you told me I was going to become a vegan though.

I put more thought into what treat I wanted for my birthday than is probably needed because I hardly ever make sweets. It's a real treat when I do. I searched the web, found many yummy options but none really caught my eye. I couldn't decide between something coconut/mango-y or mocha/chocolate-y. Then I realized I could make both! But I didn't want to end up frosting 48 cupcakes all day so I decided to make a normal 24 batch and just split the batter.

I used a box mix because, it's just easier. But, it's organic and does not have tons of scary chemical ingredients. I am not opposed to packaged products occasionally, but they should not be the stable of your diet. But a nice treat on your birthday is fine.

I made two cupcakes from a single box mix, Tropical Coconut and and Kona Mocha. It's not hard to doctor-up a simple box mix with your own variations. The Tropical Coconut have pineapple-mango preserves in the batter, a pineapple-mango buttercream frosting and are topped with coconut shavings. The Kona Mocha have Kona coffee and chocolate added to the batter, chocolate buttercream frosting, and are topped with some coffee grounds. If you want to make full batches of either or both of these, just don't split the batter and add double preserves in the pineapple mango and double the chocolate and coffee in the Kona Mochas.

By the way, Kona coffee is the only coffee that is completely grown and produced in US. Make sure it says 100% Kona coffee on the label for the real stuff.

The Cupcakes
1 box of vanilla cake mix (I used Dr. Oetker)
4 and 1/2 tsp Ener-G Egg Replacer
6 tbs water
1/2 cup soy milk
1/2 cup applesauce (I used cinnamon but plain is fine too)

Pineapple Mango Variation 
3 tbs unsweetened pineapple-mango preserves
1/4 cup soy milk
1/4 tps baking powder

Kona Mocha Variation
1/2 extra strong Kona coffee
2 ounces of dark chocolate, melted

Pre-heat the oven to 325 degrees and spray a cupcake tin with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, add the cake mix.

In a small bowl, whisk the Enger-G Egg replacer and water. Add to the large bowl.

Add the soy milk and applesauce to the large bowl, mix together well, making sure to get air in the batter. If you aren't a broke college kid like me, you can do this in your stand mixer.

Now evenly divided the batter into two bowls.  I only have one cupcake tin so I had to make them one at a time.

For the Tropical Coconut, in one of the bowls add the perseveres, 1/4 cup soy milk, and baking powder. Mix together well again.

Pour the batter into the cupcake tin, filling eat 3/4 of the way full. Bake for 10-12 minutes. They are ready when a tooth inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Let them cool in the tin for bit, then remove from and let cool completely.

For the Kona Mocha, in the other bowl add the coffee and melted chocolate. I added some extra coffee grounds in for an extra kick too. Mix together well again.

Pour the batter into the cupcake tin, filling eat 3/4 of the way full. Bake for 10-12 minutes. They are ready when a tooth inserted into the middle comes out clean. 

Let them cool in the tin for bit, then remove from and let cool completely. 

The Frostings
1 box of vanilla frosting mix  (I used Dr. Oetker)
2 stick soften vegan shortening
1/4 cup soy milk

Tropical Coconut Variation
1 tbs pineapple-mango preserves
unsweetened shaved coconut

Kona Mocha Variation
2 ounces dark chocolate, melted
Kona coffee grounds

If you have stand mixer, use it. It sucked mixing this all by hand. 

In large bowl, beat together the frosting mix, shortening, and soy milk until smooth. 

Divide into two bowls.

For the Tropical Coconut,in one bowl add in the preserves and mix well. 

Frost the cupcakes and sprinkle on some shaved coconut. 

For the Kona Mocha, in the other bowl add the melted chocolate and mix well.

Frost the cupcakes, and sprinkle on some coffee grounds.

I decided to be nice (and it's healthier for me not to eat them all anyways) and share them with the geology department. So UHH geology majors, go check the seminar room today.

I left some out for me to eat tonight of course, but one conveniently didn't fit in the box when I was packing them up last night :-) Oh, the frosting is so good. And I love how moist the applesauce makes the cupcakes. Not as pretty as my mom would have made but delicious nonetheless. Happy Birthday to me indeed!  

PS, When I checked the geology seminar room at 12:30, only a few cupcakes where left. Guessing they were a hit!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Feel Better Vegetable Soup

I've felt kind of crummy all weekend, I think I caught a cold or something. So, I decided to make the best thing for a cold, soup! There is tons of research on the healing properties of vegetable and chicken soups---but since I am a vegan I am only going to talk about vegetable soup. Since soup is largely liquid based, it helps keep you hydrated, which is key to fighting a cold. The vegetables also can act like anti-inflammatories and help lessen congestion and soreness. The protein in the seitan also helps boost your body's ability to fight off sickness as well. I'll post some links at the bottom.
Besides all those wonderful health qualities, who doesn't love a big steaming bowl of soup? That's the main reason I decided to make this. It conjures up happy memories of my mom bringing a bowl of her homemade soup and kissing me on the forehead to make me feel better. It's also proven that thinking of happy memories helps your immunity too (I watched a very good documentary recently called The Science of Healing with Dr. Esther Sternberg on the subject).
I guess this is based on my mom's chicken soup recipe, just minus the chicken. It's pretty much the standard vegetable soup recipe and it's very easy. I wanted more of the seitan I posted yesterday, I made up another batch to add more protein to the soup. I made my own broth because it makes all the difference in the world. Plus, there is way less sodium than the stuff in the box or can. 

Vegetable and Seitan Soup
1 large onion
3 large carrots
4 stalks of celery
2 cloves of garlic
1 half inch piece of ginger
8 cups water
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1 cup seitan

Peal the onion and chop off the ends. Cut into quarters. Cut the ends off the carrots and celery, cut into quarters as well. Peal the finer and chop off the ends. Peal the ginger. Throw everything into a large pot.

Add the water, salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning.

Cover and turn on the heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook for about an hour, until the veggies are tender. 

Remove the veggies. If you strain them, make sure you do not accidentally throw out the broth. Set the veggies aside to cool. Taste the broth and season with salt and pepper as needed.

Once the veggies are cooled, chop into bite size pieces. Some people discard the garlic and ginger, but I chop it up too.

Add the veggies back to the broth.

Add the seitan and turn the heat to low. Let it cook for a few minutes, just to warm everything back up.

I served mine over wild jasmine rice, but noodles would be wonderful too.

I hope I feel better tomorrow. And if not, I have plenty to soup to help me feel better.

Links on Cold Cures:
Today Show: The Truth About Six Common Cold Remedies
Mayo Clinic: Common Cold
10 Simple Ways to Cure Cold

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Homemade Seitan

Seitan is my favorite meat alternative. As much as I love tofu, you can only eat so much soy before it gets old. Seitan is wheat protein that has all the starch washed away. If you have Celiac Disease or any other gluten allergy, it's the exact thing you are allergic to, so sadly this tasty dish is not for you. But, if you have no issues with gluten, give "wheat meat" a try. It has a firmer and chewier texture, reminds me of chicken a little bit. Like tofu, it will take on the flavor of what ever you cook it in. It is sold in health food stores and you can find it in some normal grocery stores now too.

I have a hard time finding it in Hilo, so I decided to attempt to make my own. I actually made this awhile ago, but haven't had the time to post it. I can't remember where I first read about making your own seitan, but the idea stuck around in my head. I looked up some videos on YouTube and found the following to be the easiest to follow. I loved the final outcome but I have to admit, the process was a huge pain. The video says washing the dough takes 15 minutes but it took me more like 45 minutes. She says wash until the water is pretty clear, but trust me, wash that dough until the water is CRYSTAL clear. Any remaining starch (the stuff that makes the water whitish) will make your seitan tacky and gross. I had to make another batch because of that. So wash it more than you think is necessary, because it is totally necessary. 

This is my version of the recipe in the video, it's pretty close to hers though. I made my plain with no spices because I did not know what I was going to use mine in. So I omitted the spices in the actual dough.  But I made sure I jazzed it up when I used it in the my final dishes. 

Homemade Seitan
8 cups white all purpose flour
3 tbs nutritional yeast
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 and 1/2 cups water
Cooking Stock:
4 cups vegetable broth 
1/2 cup soy sauce

Follow this video, she explains everything very clearly and is easy to follow. Like I said earlier, wash until it is totally clear, not just pretty clear. It might take awhile, but it's necessary. I cut mine into two shapes before boiling, steaks and nuggets. 

I used my seitan for all sorts of things.  I fried it up like chicken and had it with some BBQ sauce and green bean casserole one night. 

I sautéed it in olive oil with garlic and basil, then served with tomato sauce. 
I even ate the nuggets plain with some ketchup for lunch one day too. It's always good to know what actually goes into the food you eat. Making your own of something ensures that there are no scary ingredients. Plus, I like the texture of my homemade stuff better than the store bought. 

I think next time I am going to use it has taco filling....

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Forks Over Knives

I finally had the time to watch the documentary Forks Over Knives. It explores the health benefits of a whole food, all plant-based diet. I will spare you all the preaching, but I will just say I am so glad I watched it. It affirms everything I came to believe in about veganism based on my own research. I strongly suggest this film, it's not overly pushy or overly radical. A quote that personally stood out to me was, "I changed my health destiny by not engaging in the same habits," said by a doctor who wanted to counteract her horrible family health history. This is actually why I went vegan, my family health history scared me so much that I knew I had to fundamentally changed.

When it comes to eating good food and staying healthy, just keep it simple. Tonight for dinner I had simple baked tofu and green beans, marinated in shoyu and garlic cloves, and a simple salad with homemade peanut butter dressing. A nice balanced meal, easy to make, and not lacking any dietary needs. Go educate yourself and make your own smart, informed decisions!

No cholesterol, no oil, low in fat, low in sodium, all organic and still plenty of food. 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Go Ducks: Yell-O and Green Nachos

For the past 6 years of my life, every Saturday from September to December is taken over by Oregon Duck football. I am proud graduate University of Oregon and needless to say, I bleed green and yellow. I loved going to the games with my sorority sisters and yelling "O" until we went hoarse. I have sadly had to spend the past seasons and this one cheering from Hawaii. But just because I am in the middle of  the Pacific doesn't mean I don't get all ducked-out. I either go to a local sports bar or watch from home, but regardless I have my jersey on and shout like a maniac.

Today the Ducks face off against LSU, a game that will sure deserve a special blog post. So I decided to make something green and yellow (U of O colors), and finally settled on nachos. I made queso sauce from nutritional yeast and used salsa verde for the colors. Plus some jalapeños for some spice and because they are little O's. I wanted to top it all off with some vegan sour cream, but my store was sold out.

I just realized this is also fitting because our coach is named Chip.

Yell-O and Green Nacho
Queso sauce:
4 tbs vegan butter
1 and 1/4 cup nutritional yeast, divided
3/4 cup vegetable broth
1/2 cup unsweetened, plain soy milk
1/2 tbs garlic powder
1tps cumin
1 tps parkia
1 tps chili powder
1/2 tsp pepper
The rest of the stuff:
1/4 medium onion, chopped
1 cup soy" beef" crumbles (I used Smart Ground)
Tortilla chips
Salsa verde
Vegan sour cream

To make the queso sauce, add the vegan butter and 1 cup of the nutritional yeast to saucepan over medium/low heat. Incorporate the two together to make a sort of roux. It should clump together and get a little golden.

Add the vegetable broth and soy milk. Whisk together so there are no lumps.

Add the garlic powder, cumin, paprika, chili powder and pepper. You can add salt if you like, but mine didn't need it. Mix together well.

Reduce the heat to low. Let it reduce and thicken, stirring frequently. Taste it after awhile, if it need more "cheese" flavor, add some more nutritional yeast.

In skillet, lightly brown the chopped onion. Then add the soy crumbles. Cooked until heated through.

Once the queso sauce is smooth and thicken slightly, it's time to assemble.

On a large plate or platter, scatter desired amount of chips. There is enough sauce for at least 5 serving so be generous.

Next sprinkle on the soy crumble mixture.

Now pour on the queso sauce.

Now add the desired about of salsa verde.

If your store didn't run out of sour cream like mine did, add a few dollops.

Top with desired about of jalapeños so your nachos are yelling "O".

Turn on the Ducks game, open a Widmer (or any other fine Oregon brew) and get ready to cheer! Win the days boys!