Monday, 25 March 2013

Juicy fur and pasta eyes

One ear missing! This is what happens when the photographer is slow and the cookie-lovers are quick.
Easter brunches, lunches and dinners have been invented to impress friends and family with lovely casseroles, cakes, quiches and, of course, cookies. This year get the best compliments for your vegan Easter shortbread cookies.
As mentioned previously, I try to make more vegan choices in my diet these days. When you think of baking, you might wonder how eggs, milk, butter and cream cheese can be substituted by products that do not derive from animals. Well, I have learned so far: they simply can. 
Here is a recipe for my vegan shortbread Easter bunnies and hearts. For about 20 cookies you need:

  • Easter cookie cutters such as bunny shapes, but also hearts and flowers are perfect for the occasion
  • 100 grams (1/2 cup) soy margarine or soy spread
  • 180 grams (2/3) cups of all-purpose flour
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • (add 1/4 tbsp salt if vegan margarine is un-salted)
For icing and decoration you need:
  • 120 ml (1/4 cup) red berry juice  
  • 225 grams (1 cup) confectioner's sugar 
  • for the eyes I used "grattini, a small pasta used for soups, but if you have little sugar pearls, even better
Preheat oven to 350 F/175 C. Line cookie sheet with parchment paper.
In a bowl beat soy margarine or spread with an electric mixer; make sure it's creamy. Slowly add flour and sugar (and maybe salt, see above). Using your hands make a large roll from the dough. Cut off a slice and roll the dough on a floured work surface. Use cutters to make bunnies, flowers and hearts and carefully place them on the cookie sheet. Mix remaining dough with another slice of your roll. Repeat as long as you have dough. Bake for about 12-15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

For the icing pour the red juice in a small bowl. Slowly add confectioner's sugar and mix with a fork until dense. Brush icing on cookies and add pasta eyes. You're done and ready to hear lots of compliments!

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Oat up your morning coffee

During my challenge to integrate more vegan options into my diet and to cut out as much dairy as possible, I was having trouble finding a decent solution for my morning coffee which used to consist of a shot of espresso and about one cup of warm milk. Living in Italy, where it is common to only drink your cappuccino in the morning and at no other time of the day, I have got used to having milk in my coffee only in the morning. Italians drink their afternoon coffee or the one after dinner - always an espresso - either straight up "liscio" or "macchiato" with literally means "spotted" with a dot of steamed milk. Thus, having lived in Italy for about three years, I no longer feel the need to put milk into my coffee after 10 a.m. but before that, I absolutely do.
I have tried rice milk and I found it too sweet, same with almond milk. That's why I have been using soy milk, the one with extra calcium, but it has a tangy taste to it.
Then yesterday, when I was staring at the non-dairy milk isle of the bio supermarket a shop assistant must have seen desperation in my eyes and asked me if she could help me. I explained my morning coffee problem and she simply asked "Have you tried oat milk, yet?". I never had up until then and immediately bought two confections. 
This morning I had a pleasant surprise: I really like my non-dairy coffee with oat milk. I can definitely get used to that. Sometimes it helps to be a bit desperate, I guess.

Friday, 8 March 2013

One egg missing: Vegan muffins

This was easier than I had thought: My goal was to convert a healthy muffin recipe (click here for the original recipe) into a vegan version. I am by no means a vegan, but I am trying to include more and more vegan options in my diet. During my experimentation process and I was surprised to find out that it is pretty easy to convert regular recipes into vegan alternatives. When I looked at the list of ingredients for the healthy raspberry muffins I knew right away that I could easily substitute non-fat milk with soy milk. I only saw one other animal based product: an egg. I did some online research on fantastic vegan recipe and lifestyle websites. Two fundamental tips for substituting eggs in baking are mentioned almost everywhere:

1) add applesauce
2) add ground flaxseed

Since both of those ingredients are already part of the original recipe, I simply doubled the amount of apple sauce and added a bit more ground flaxseed and voilà: the muffins turned out great! Maybe it was my imagination, but I am convinced they are even better than the original ones. Could my impression come from the fact that I know these muffins are animal product free? Since I might be biased I asked my boyfriend V. about his opinion. Without him knowing about the missing egg and the soy milk, he said that the muffins where the best I have ever made!
Okay, I admit that he says this almost every day for anything I cook or bake... but whether they taste better or just the same, these ones are have definitely harmed no animal!
Here is the vegan recipe:

1 1/2 cups (165 g) of oat bran (substitute with wheat bran)
1 cup (250 ml) soy milk
1 cup (200 g) unsweetened apple sauce
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup (60 g) ground flaxseed
2/3 cups (125 g) of brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup (140 g) whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups (240 g) frozen raspberries 

  • Preheat oven to 375 F/190 C
  • Grease muffin pan or use paper liners.
  • In a bowl mix bran and soy milk and let stand for 10 minutes 
  • In a second bowl mix together apple sauce, brown sugar and vanilla, then blend with the bran mix. 
  • In a third bowl combine flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt, then add ground flaxseed. Stir the flour and flaxseed mix into the bran mix. Do not over beat. Mix the lemon zest with your berries first, then blend the fruit in with the dough. Scoop into muffin cups.
The muffins should be ready in 20-25 minutes. You can freeze them individually and pop them in the microwave oven in the morning to have a tasty vegan breakfast. 

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Broccoli with a puff

I love fast lunches and dinners and the puff pastry pie is one of my favourites. I try to make it not too often because the puff pastry has quite some calories. I buy it fresh but it's already made, so I cannot be 100 per cent sure of what's in there. This is a vegetarian (not vegan) recipe that I vary with all kinds of vegetables, according to what I find in my fridge. A variant is a mix of broccoli and cauliflower and made it once with savoy cabbage and even with carrots and zucchini. It is greta because you can use up your leftover cheeses. Here is what I did for this recipe:

You need:
1 sheet of fresh puff pastry (I bought the round pie shaped version, but you can also get the square one)
750 g (8 cups) broccoli (you can use less but I like to use lots of vegetables and little cheese)
50 g (1/4 cup) cream cheese (again, I use just a little, the more you use the better is tastes, but the more calories it has.)
1 small egg
75 g leftover cheese (I used Emmental cheese)
100 g (1 cup) feta cheese
coarse sea salt, regular salt, pepper and nutmeg for seasoning

Step one:  Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius/350 degrees fahrenheit. Place the puff pastry on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. With a fork, lightly poke some little holes into the dough. Bake roughly for 10 minutes just so that the puff pastry has a golden colour. Remember, it will go in the oven a second time, so at this point it needs to be lightly golden, not brown.

Step two: Heat a pot of water, once the water is boiling, add some coarse sea salt, not too much though, the feta cheese you will add later is quite salty on its own. Cook the washed and cut up broccoli for not more than one and a half to two minutes. Strain and let all the water evaporate really well. No worries, the broccoli can get cool, you will heat it again later. 

Step three: In a bowl blend cream cheese, egg and left over cheese with a fork until it's smooth. Add little salt, some pepper and grate some nutmeg. 

Step four: Place broccoli on the puff pastry. Crumble feta over the pie. Carefully pour your egg and cheese mix over the broccoli. Do not worry if it does not cover all of the broccoli, this is a light version that still has a lot of taste - and calories, so do not drain the broccoli in egg and cheese! Bake for another 10-15 minutes or until the cheese is lightly coloured.

Tip: You can eat the puff pastry pie right away or you can take it to work, heat it the next day in the microwave oven or eat it cold. 

For non-veggies: Fry some bacon bits in the pan and sprinkle them on the pie before you place it in the oven. In this case, use less salt.