July 29, 2008

Sticky Fingers Bakery

Posted in brunch, cupcakes, dessert, eating out, Uncategorized at 7:40 am by veganalects

There are Philadelphia vegans, New York vegans, Portland vegans (of course), Texas vegans, and even Canada vegans. But where in the blogosphere are the DC vegans? I don’t want to say there aren’t any, but I haven’t seen the US capital make more than a cameo appearance on any of the vegan blogs I read. Further, vegan publications consistently overlook DC. Herbivore travel issue, anyone? Milwaukee made the destination list, but we got skipped! (And it’s not like Herbivore was trying to win points for obscure locations—Portland, San Francisco, and NYC all made the list. Who needs a vegan guide to Portland, for god’s sake?)

Anyway, to bring this rant to a point, I live in DC (well, the suburbs thereof) and I think it’s a great place to be vegan. There are plenty of restaurants and markets in the area with wide vegan selections, but what I find really exciting is to look at a menu and realize I can order anything on it. It doesn’t happen often. And what I find really really exciting is when that menu primarily comprises sweets. Enter Sticky Fingers.

Sticky Fingers Bakery has been a DC vegan staple for a few years now, but the old location near Dupont Circle was…well, kind of dingy. It occupied a small, rather dark basement store. One went for the apple tart, not for the atmosphere. But it recently moved to as-hip-as-Dupont-once-was Columbia Heights, and the new place is beautiful. It’s a real café, it’s light and cheery, and I think it may have an expanded menu, too. I don’t normally go for pink, but it works.

I went to Sticky Fingers twice over the course of a week, purely to fulfill my duty to you and DC’s reputation among spoiled Portlanders, and here is what I ate.

Actually, I didn’t eat this chocolate peanut butter cupcake. My friend did. She was craving peanut butter and to the best of my knowledge enjoyed it.

This I did eat. It’s an almond crème cupcake and it was very satisfying. It made me want to go home and bake some immediately, but instead I just went back to Sticky Fingers two days later. Whoo!

After I ate the cupcake it occurred to me to eat breakfast. My friend pointed out the breakfast sandwich. This ain’t your mama’s Egg McMuffin. It’s your vegan aunt’s Egg McMuffin: vegan egg, vegan sausage, vegan vaguely cheesy sauce. That explanation makes it sound kind of shady, but it was actually quite good. (Never having consumed an Egg McMuffin, however, I cannot compare the two.)

Finally, I had to have Sticky Fingers’s signature item, the sticky bun. It’s their trademark for a reason; I can make good cupcakes myself, but this was truly a treat. I recommend putting it in the microwave for ten seconds—it almost feels oven-fresh.

There was a surprise treat in here, too. Can you find it? (Ooh, it’s just like I SPY.) If you said the latte, you win nothing. The latte was one of the best I’ve ever had. Vegan lattes are harder to get right than dairy lattes because both the beans and the soymilk must be good; I’ve found that even good cafés often have inferior soymilk. Yet another advantage of the all-vegan institution—it does not just humor vegans but caters to us. Here’s hoping that this post single-handedly attracts a mass migration of vegans to the DC area, creating a vegan community to rival Frisco’s. Our motto: “Better than Portland.”

July 20, 2008

Green Tea Ice Cream

Posted in dessert, ice cream, recipe, tea, Uncategorized at 7:42 pm by veganalects

Tea, tea, tea. I cannot get enough tea. Everything about it delights me: the wares, the process, the associated foods…not that I’m even very knowledgeable about tea, as became clear to me when I looked at a few tea blogs. But anyway, I decided that for my first foray into ice cream-making I should attempt not vanilla or chocolate but green tea. I had the matcha powder, I now had the ice cream maker, so I had no excuse not to make it.

For ideas about how to proceed I started with Veganomicon. Its one ice cream recipe is based on coconut milk, however, and I wanted to avoid a strong coconut taste in this case. So I turned to the internet, recalling that I’d come across a vegan ice cream blog once before. It’s not too good to be true! I used a template from the extremely useful A Vegan Ice Cream Paradise, with my own add-ins. So while the recipe is mine, the credit is not.

Onto the verdict. The ice cream was really good—the ingredients were well-balanced, the tea came through nicely, it wasn’t too sweet, and (paramount for me) it was satisfyingly creamy. It fulfilled my ice cream needs and I would definitely make it again.

But.

It’s not perfect. The texture is not quite right. It’s not sorbet, which I’ve never cared for much; it is creamy. Yet it’s not quite ice cream either—not full-fledged, silky-smooth ice cream, anyway. It’s sort of 85% ice cream, 15% sorbet. This may be an issue of veganness, but I doubt it: I have had both store-bought and homemade (well, restaurant-made) vegan ice cream that did not suffer from this flaw. My mom also said she remembers having this problem with dairy ice cream, and that the solution was to make a custard first. So I don’t know if cooking it longer would help, or increasing the creamer-to-milk ratio, or what. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Still, I’m posting the recipe because I’m mostly happy with it and I still recommend it to other vegans craving ice cream. I used an ice cream maker, but apparently there are other methods.

Green Tea Ice Cream
Makes about 1 quart

2 tablespoons arrowroot
2 cups soymilk
2 cups soy creamer
¾ cup sugar
2 tablespoons matcha (green tea powder), sifted to remove lumps
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract

1. Stir the arrowroot into ¼ cup of the soymilk until dissolved. Set aside.

2. Heat the remaining soymilk and creamer in a saucepan on medium heat, stirring occasionally. Stir more frequently as the mixture approaches a boil.

3. When the liquid is gently bubbling, whisk in sugar until dissolved, then matcha until dissolved (it will not actually dissolve, but will be in suspension).

4. Remove saucepan from heat and whisk in arrowroot mixture until dissolved. Then stir in the extracts.

5. Chill for several hours to overnight, then make according your ice cream maker’s directions. You may need to freeze it for two hours after it comes out of the ice cream maker if you desire a thicker texture. Store unused ice cream in an airtight container in the freezer; it will be very hard right out of the freezer, but microwaving it for 15 seconds will soften it.

July 18, 2008

Panzanella

Posted in appetizers, recipe, salad at 8:20 am by veganalects

Have you ever had panzanella? I hadn’t until a month ago. In fact, I hadn’t even heard of it, though I guess it’s standard fare for Italian restaurants. What can I say? My restaurant attendance skews heavily toward Asian.

But there I was, at Bar Toto in Brooklyn, desiring lighter fare than a generously oiled panino with a huge plate of fries. And panzanella—bread salad, so said the menu—caught my eye. It was delicious. It didn’t seem complicated. I had to make it.

This dish centers around stale bread, dressing, and tomatoes, and I gather that beyond that anything (or at least a great deal) goes. I made this for the Fourth of July (which, I feel compelled to state, I celebrate purely for celebration’s sake) and it was a hit. It beat the green tea cupcakes! And they’re cupcakes! Perhaps, however, the market for vegan green tea cupcakes is limited. But I digress. My panzanella is inspired by Bar Toto’s, hence the olives. Plus I really like olives. But consider this recipe a guide; feel free to add whatever you have on hand that seems appealing—or subtract whatever you don’t, that doesn’t. Although it looks complicated, it’s really quite simple and could be made even simpler by not roasting the tomatoes.

A note on the bread: ideally it should be stale, but in a tropical D.C. summer leaving it out overnight barely toughens the crust. If it’s still soft, toasting works fine (toast the slices, then break them into strips).

Panzanella
Makes a Big Old Salad Bowlful (Serves Eight?)

1 small-medium loaf stale/toasted Italian or other crusty bread, sliced and torn into strips
1 box cherry tomatoes, roasted (see below)
1 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and halved (measure after pitting)
2 tablespoons capers
¼ cup basil, chopped
½-¾ cup vinaigrette (see below)
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

For the tomatoes
To roast tomatoes, preheat oven to 400˚F. Toss washed and dried tomatoes with olive oil, kosher salt, and fresh ground pepper. Place on a baking sheet and cook 10-15 minutes, until tomatoes are wrinkled and slightly collapsed.

For the vinaigrette
½ cup olive oil
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
¼ teaspoon Dijon mustard
a few dashes salt

Place all ingredients in a jar. Shake vigorously.

And now, the panzanella
In a large salad bowl, combine bread strips, roasted tomatoes, olives, capers, and basil. Toss. Add vinaigrette to taste, a little at a time and tossing in between since the bread will absorb it quickly; you have ¾ cup and may use up to all of it (I recommend ½ cup as a minimum). Add salt and pepper to taste. Dress (the salad, that is) a half hour before you plan to eat it.

July 9, 2008

Vegan Cupcakes Take Over My Birthday

Posted in baking, cupcakes, dessert, VCTOTW at 9:34 pm by veganalects

My girlfriend and I both celebrated our 21st birthdays this summer, two days apart. (I’m older. Ha!) Two birthdays means two parties in our book, and that, in turn, means cupcakes. Lots of cupcakes. Say, five batches of cupcakes.

All of these came from trusty Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, which is now so well-loved that the pages are falling out. (Advice, anyone?) I’ve made many a cupcake from this book before, but these ones revealed new favorites. Actually, one them is a new/old favorite—the Green Tea Cupcakes, pictured above. I’d made and liked them before, but lacked pure green tea powder (matcha); mine was mixed with dextrin. I finally found the good stuff at a small Asian grocery in Ohio. And look at the difference!

Here are the ones I made last winter with the compromised matcha. Pretty, yes, but…

…these ones are, you know, green. Rich, dark green. And they actually taste like green tea, instead of generic yumminess. Now that look at these together I realize the pale ones are prettier, but that can be attributed to my laziness in making the second batch. (Marzipan and I don’t get along.)

While I made the Green Tea Cupcakes my girlfriend made these Margarita Cupcakes. I mean, I’d take tea over tequila any day, but we were turning 21, after all. And these dolls were good. I think the fresh lime juice really makes them, and if you’ve read this blog with any frequency you know there are few things I love more than beverage-themed cupcakes (two so far this post, one to go).

For a pre-birthday celebration we made the Hazelnut Cupcakes with Hazelnut Mocha Creme. I haven’t been able to hunt down hazelnut extract, so we made these with almond extract instead; it also calls of hazelnut liqueur, which we omitted. They were good but not my favorite, though I bet the hazelnut extract and liqueur would make a difference.

I’d been eyeing the Pistachio Rosewater Cupcakes for months, but the rosewater I had is kind of tasteless. As birthdays provide a great excuse for extravagance, we got superior rosewater and beautiful pistachios and set to baking. These are my new favorite cupcakes. The rosewater is delicate and fragrant and complements the pistachios superbly. The only other spice is a bit of cardamom—no vanilla or other flavorings. The texture is perfect, light and moist. These feel far fancier than I thought a cupcake could and they aren’t even hard to make. I made these again yesterday and I’m resisting sneaking into the kitchen right now. (A few tips for those planning to make these: buying shelled pistachios and putting them in a spice grinder or food processor, rather than shelling and chopping them by hand, will cut out the only labor-intensive parts of this recipe. Also, the recipe doesn’t actually say when to add the pistachios to the batter, but putting them in with the rest of the dry ingredients works fine.)

And last, the Mexican Hot Chocolate Cupcakes. I can’t take credit for these, either, as I was busy making the ones above, but I will make them in the future. (With even more cayenne. I like a kick.) The spices in these cupcakes make them more complicated than the basic chocolate ones. Next time I’m in the mood for chocolate, I’d make the Mexican variety first.

July 7, 2008

An Apology, and a Long-Promised Update

Posted in dessert, ice cream at 12:34 am by veganalects

Hi there. Remember me? I enthusiastically reported a Wheeler’s tasting in March, then mysteriously disappeared. Sorry! In truth, my disappearance was not so mysterious; it can be summed up in the word “college.” College has a tendency to swallow people whole and only spit them back out come summer. Summer came, and then I traveled here and there, but I’m finally back home and I’ve been itching to blog.

Please know that during my hiatus I continued to read my beloved vegan food blogs—I was too ashamed to comment—and I continued to cook and photograph the results. So I have a handful of posts for you, and I plan to cook the rest of the summer and even in the fall (with more success, I hope, than I had last semester). Without further ado, onto the three-and-a-half-month-old Wheeler’s tasting.

Although I could only stay long enough to try four flavors of the much-blogged-about vegan ice cream, it was enough to convince me that Wheeler’s is for real. Meaning, as delicious as I’d heard. Pictured above is peanut butter.

This one, peanut butter banana, was my favorite. It was creamy and thick, plus I’m a sucker for ribbons of peanut butter in ice cream. God, how I wanted to ask for another sample, but the Wheeler’s representatives knew my face.

Here’s pink champagne sorbet. It’s made with real champagne and you can definitely taste it.

The last one I had, chocolate baby coconut, is not pictured (it was rather unphotogenic, and I got some weird looks diving under tables in search of decent lighting). It was more sorbet-ish than the other ice creams, which I wasn’t wild about, but it was satisfyingly rich and well-flavored. Asylum, where the tasting was held, is pretty cool, too—I had home fries and vegan sausage and met some great people, including a woman from Compassion Over Killing, the DC-based organization the event benefited.

I just got an ice cream-maker for my birthday, so you’ll be seeing my creations on here, too! Tips welcome; I think I’ll start with the Veganomicon recipes.

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