Vegan For Dummies

Inspired by my recent tasting at a local vegetarian restaurant I decided to attempt some vegan baking. I’ve been working on this post for several months because to be honest everything I made tasted awful!

There’s more to being a vegan than just not eating meat. Going vegan also means no eggs, milk or butter. Not even honey to sweeten things up. No animal products whatsoever, which poses a challenge from a baking standpoint.

Finding an egg substitute was the first order of business. Initially I used an egg replacer which consisted of potato starch and tapioca flour, along with some chemical preservatives. Yuck! The ingredients were a bit of a turn-off. Plus it seemed very un-vegan to use a product that was so processed.

I decided to try a more natural route. With a little more research I found several options. Agar agar was one but way too expensive. And since I know it’s not going to become a pantry staple I decided to go with a more wallet friendly option, ground flax seeds. Ground flax seeds combined with water act as an egg would in most recipes.

So with that decided I moved on to the milk. This was an easy swap. Almond milk, soy milk or even coconut milk would all work. I chose the almond since it seemed the closest consistency to whole milk. The butter was also an easy trade. Vegetable oil or coconut oil are both perfect choices.

Next, the sweet component. I wanted our cupcakes to be low on sugar content so even though granulated sugar passes the vegan test I played around with other sweeteners. First maple syrup, then applesauce. Both created weird textures in the finished product. Then I tried bananas and ended up with some seriously chewy cupcakes. They were good but way too dense. Sticking with the fruit theme I pureed some frozen blueberries and mixed that with a bit of sugar. I think I hit on the perfect combination.

This might not be the best vegan cupcake recipe in the world but it was pretty good for a virgin vegan. And my kids ate blueberries and flax seeds without complaint!

Very Vegan Muffins

Ingredients

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (all-purpose fine too)

¼ cup cocoa powder, unsweetened

1 tsp baking powder

½ tsp baking soda

Pinch of salt

1 Tbsp. ground flax seeds

3 Tbsp. warm water

1/3 cup vegetable oil

½ cup almond milk, or soy

2 Tbsp. granulated sugar

1 cup frozen blueberries, pureed

1 tsp vanilla extract

Method

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a mini muffin tin with paper liners. (Makes about 18 mini cupcakes or six large muffins.

Combine flax seeds with the water and set aside for at least five minutes.

Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl add the oil, milk, flax seed mixture, sugar, blueberries and vanilla extract and whisk until well combined.

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Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir together. The batter will be on the thick side. If it is too thick simply add a little bit more milk.

Spoon cupcake batter into muffin tins.

IMG_2184Bake in oven for about 10-12 minutes for mini muffins, and 18-20 for large muffins. The muffins are done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Let cool completely on a wire rack. Muffins can be stored in airtight containers for several days.

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And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 7): “I wish you didn’t tell us this was vegan”

Liam (age 5): “Too chocolately”

Dylan (age 5): “I like these!”

Blueberries Optional

Coming back from our vacation in the woods the last thing I wanted to eat was peanut butter. On the trail, it was lunch for five days straight. Nothing survives a long hike in the sun like PB&J. Unfortunately it was also one of the few items we had sitting in our fridge when we returned. Just the sight of another jar of jelly made me slightly queasy.

We arrived home from our trip in the middle of the night. After traveling over 12 hours with three kids I wasn’t looking forward to waking up and getting back in the car to get food. If we still lived in Brooklyn, we could have stopped at the closest deli on the way home from the airport. But it doesn’t work like that in the burbs; you’ve got to think ahead. At 2am, there are no supermarkets open in our neighborhood.

Before we left I had baked some muffins and popped them in the freezer. The muffins were actually a happy accident because when I started making them I realized we had no butter or eggs. But as the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention, and I discovered I didn’t even need them, I used ricotta cheese instead. And the lemon was Liam’s idea. So it was muffins for breakfast and no peanut butter in sight!

LEMON RICOTTA MUFFINS– Blueberries Optional (Recipe by Elaine Studdert)

Ingredients (Yield: 24 mini muffins)

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

½ tsp baking soda

¼ tsp fine kosher salt

½ cup vegetable oil

¾ cup sugar

½ cup ricotta cheese

½ cup whole milk

Zest of 1 lemon

1 cup frozen blueberries (optional)

Method

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare muffin tin with paper baking cups.

In a large bowl mix flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl, mix oil, sugar, ricotta cheese, milk, lemon zest until well combined. Add wet ingredients to flour mixture and lastly fold in frozen blueberries. We made half plain and half with blueberries.

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Fill each muffin cup about 2/3 way full.

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Bake for about 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in center of muffin comes out clean.

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Remove muffins from tin and let cool completely on baking rack. Enjoy!

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Muffins can be stored in air-tight container for up to one week or store them in freezer for those days when you have no food in the fridge!

And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 7): “I love the corn muffin one”

Liam (age 5): “Give me plain please”

Dylan (age 5): “These are awesome! Not the blueberry ones”

Plain was the clear winner!

 

 

 

Flour Eggs & Butter

My sister just sent me a great book called Ratio, by Michael Ruhlman. The premise of the book is that cooking is not about knowing thousands of recipes but rather about learning the proportions of one ingredient to another. If you take flour, fat, milk and eggs and mix different combinations of these ingredients they will yield an entirely different result. In one case you will end up with muffins, mix the same ingredients in different proportions, end up with a pancake, add more eggs, and end up with a crepe.

I started with the cookie dough chapter. The ratios were broken down so easily even my kids could follow them. I learned that adding lots of butter would give you a crisp flat cookie. If you change the ratio to 1/2 of the butter then your cookie, although just as tasty, will instead end up as a lumpy mound.  Now I am sure anyone who bakes on a regular basis would know this simple fact but to me it was news.

Next, I tackled the popover. They were so simple to do and one of the most fun things we have ever made. The boys went nuts when they poofed! in the oven. There is a restaurant on the Upper West Side that specializes in popovers and I used to wait in line for them – but now I can just make these at home!

A few weeks after baking popovers we took the boys on a pilgrimage to Popovers Café. I wanted to see if they were as good as I recalled. Funny how your memory works… The popovers were as big as I remembered (the size of Liam’s head) but they were slightly burnt. Amazingly, my little popovers, made in a makeshift popover tin, were just as good, if not better. Would I wait in line for them? Probably not, but luckily I don’t have to anymore.

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Basic Popovers

Ingredients:

8 ounces millk

4 ounces eggs (2 large eggs)

4 ounces flour (a scant cup)

1 tsp salt to taste

2 ounces butter (1/2 stick) melted

Note: If you don’t have popover pans – ramekins or muffin tins work as well.

Method:

Place your popover pan or muffin tin in oven and preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Combine the milk and eggs in a bowl and whisk until combined. Add the flour and salt and stir until combined. Allow the batter to sit for a minimum of a half hour.

IMG_7055Remove the pan from the oven and pour about a teaspoon of butter into the bottom of each cup. The pan should be so hot that the butter will sizzle. Then fill each cup with batter and bake for 10 minutes.

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After 10 minutes, reduce the oven to 375 degrees and continue baking until done, about 20-30 minutes depending on the size of your pan. I used a mini muffin tin so I kept them in for 20 minutes since they were small.

Note: No matter how much you want to look in the oven to check on the popovers – don’t! It is tempting but if you do open the oven they will deflate – trust me on this.

Remove from pan and serve immediately with butter or jam.

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And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 6): “These smell kind of funny”

Dylan (age 4): “Are you sure you didn’t peek???”

Liam (age 4): “Oh, these are so yummy!”

Although not all our popovers looked as pretty as the one in the above picture they all tasted great!

Halloween Train

We are riding the Halloween Express this month. First stop: Party City for webs and tombstones. Once our house is decorated the holiday officially kicks off and we don’t get off the train until the big day, Oct. 31. In between, are parties, scare fairs, parades, pumpkin patches, costumes, all leading up to the main event- trick or treating!

Last weekend the train stopped at the pumpkin patch. An hour was spent evaluating each and every pumpkin; the boys were on a mission to find the perfect three. But out of the hundreds to choose from, amazingly only two were just right. So we made our exit after the wheel barrel races got a little out of control and before we were politely asked to leave.

IMG_6477The train made an unscheduled stop at the pumpkin patch at Trader Joe’s where we made our third and final choice. Thankfully, they only had about a dozen pumpkins so this was a brief stop.

Back at home we got to carving. I usually don’t like pulling out sharp knives around my children but Halloween is one holiday that calls for doing just that. Pumpkin carving worked the way most things do around here – about halfway through the project the boys wander off and Brian and I are left holding the bag. Or pumpkin in this case…

When we were done carving, the boys mysteriously reappeared and were ready to claim ownership of their work. To their credit, they did haul their pumpkins a few yards to display them among our other ghoulish décor.

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That night I got three requests to bake a pumpkin pie. I decided to do a remake of a brownie instead. After the pumpkin risotto fiasco I was happy to go sweet this week instead of savory.

Pumpkin Brownies

Ingredients:

2 eggs

1-cup sugar

1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup pumpkin puree

1-cup flour

1 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp baking powder

1/2-cup chocolate chips (optional)

1/2-cup dried cranberries (alternative option)

 

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 8x8x2 baking pan with foil or parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl whisk the eggs with the sugar and melting butter until combined. Add in pumpkin puree.

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In a separate bowl sift the flour, cinnamon, salt and baking powder together. Mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until combined. Lastly, fold in the chocolate chips or dried cranberries. Or both!

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Pour batter into baking pan and spread to corners.

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Bake for approximately 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the brownies comes out clean.

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Let cool in pan on a baking rack. Lift brownies out of pan in foil or parchment paper and slice into squares.

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And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 6): “A teensy bit better than the chocolate ones”

Liam (age 4): “They look like Halloween brownies – these are yum yum yummy”

Dylan (age 4): “Much better than the chocolate kind!”

Thumbs up all around!

One Year Older – One Year Wiser

This week marks the one-year anniversary of House of Bedlam – hard to believe a whole year and 52 blog posts have gone by so fast. My goal when I started this little project was to get my kids to start eating better and enjoying real food. Looking back over all the new foods they have tasted I believe we made huge strides. Of course, we still have a long way to go but one thing is for sure, my kids have become a lot more fun to cook for. Okay, there are still days when someone screams at seeing a pea on his plate but at least it is not EVERY day anymore. Most nights our family dinners, while still loud, are somewhat less combustible. Another added bonus, the boys have started to set the table!

My very first post was a simple one about apples so I felt compelled to come full circle and try another apple recipe. We always take a trip to an orchard this time of year so we have a huge basket of apples ready and waiting to be turned into something yummy. I found a scrap of paper tucked in a cookbook with an old recipe for apple muffins. They are delicious and if I could remember the person who shared it with me I would gladly credit them. If you are reading this and it is you, please let me know…

So the big question is has all this cooking been worth the effort? The answer is a big fat YES! I look forward to forging ahead with new dishes in the coming year. Thanks so much to all of you who have followed along with us and for the many comments (we love getting those comments!), and encouraging words.

Now on to baking –

Apple Cobbler Muffins

To these delicious muffins I added an oat crumble topping. The crumble is totally optional, but I had a feeling my kids would love it so I made mine with. I also made them mini since they are a bit high on the sugar content.

Ingredients:

Muffins:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking salt

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup butter, softened

1 cup white sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

2 cups finely chopped apples

 

Topping:

1/3 cup packed brown sugar

2 Tbsp whole grain oats

1 Tbsp all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 Tbsp butter

 

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare a muffin pan with paper baking cups.

In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a larger bowl, beat or whisk together butter, sugar and eggs until smooth. Mix in the vanilla. Gently stir in the apples.

IMG_6298 Gradually add in the flour mixture a bit at a time until well blended. The mix will be a chunky consistency. Spoon the mixture into the prepared muffin pan. Note: You can add more or less apples to your mix depending on taste.

For the topping:

In a small bowl, mix the brown sugar, flour, oats and cinnamon. Add the butter and use your hands to mix into coarse crumbs. Sprinkle over the tops of the mixture in the muffin pan. Press down on the topping a little bit so it sticks well when baking.

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Bake approximately 15-18 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin tests clean. After 5 minutes, remove muffins from pan and cool on a wire rack.

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And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 6): “Wow, I love these!”

Liam (age 4): “Did you use the purple apples in these? It tastes like it”

Dylan (age 4): “I didn’t like the fruit part – Can I try another?”

Nothing like a purple apple muffin!

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