Monday, February 28, 2011

Healthy (ier) chocolate chip cookies

There's nothing more irresistible than the aroma of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, the only possible thing to do is to bite into them! My first brush with chocolate chip cookies and baking was at DH's cousin's place (they of biscotti fame). His cousin's wife (CK) baked some while our then three-year-old nephew "helped", probably stirring the chocolate chips in. I don't remember the details. But that scene just stuck in my head. Cooking with your kids is such a treat for everyone involved. Not only will the kids be more interested in what they help create, you are creating a lifetime of memories. Seeing how enthusiastic I was about the whole thing, CK gave me a cookie sheet and recipe to take home so I could bake some. So, I got home and a few days later, set out to bake my first batch of cookies. Everything went fine, except I forgot to add the chocolate chips! I was so eager to bake and taste them that I forgot. Anyway, the cookies were okay, and the problem solved when I made the second sheet of cookies. And the love affair with baking had begun!!
These days, of course, everyone's watching what they eat, trying to reduce the amount of sugar they eat, etc, and so are we. This maybe hard to believe when you see my posts since a lot of them are for cookies and desserts, but they are all healthier versions in one way or another. Its the same with these cookies. For one they are made with whole-grain, whole-wheat pastry flour (WWPF) and rolled oats. If you think cookies just won't taste as good if made with WWPF, just give it a try. You will be surprised. Also, I reduced the sugar from 1 and 1/2 cups to 1 cup and you don't miss it because the chocolate chips lend some sweetness too. And they are such a treat at coffee/teatime or even after dinner when you crave a little sweet something. So, don't deprive yourself of cookies, just make these healthy ones and enjoy their freshly baked goodness.

Ingredients (for 36-40 cookies) (recipe adapted from the one on Bob's Red Mill WWPF package)
1/2 cup non-dairy butter, softened (1 stick)
1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup sugar
2 and 1/2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1 and 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup non-dairy milk
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

The non-dairy butter should be at room temp. If its not, just place it in a large bowl and microwave for 15-20s. Add the sugar and oil and cream together using an electric hand mixer or food processor. This should take 1-2 min. Then, add the non-dairy milk and vanilla extract and mix well. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, oats, salt, baking powder and soda. Now, add the the flour mixture to the wet ingredients in batches while mixing at slow speed (you can do this by hand too). Once everything's just combined, fold in the chocolate chips and chopped walnuts. Now, put the cookie dough in the fridge for 20 min. Meanwhile, you can start preheating the oven to 350 F and line a baking sheet with silpat/parchment paper. Once the 20 min. are up, place the dough by rounded tablespoon or cookie scoop onto the baking sheet. These cookies don't spread a whole lot. Bake for 12-14 min. until golden brown on top and the bottoms are browned. Then place the cookie sheet on a wire rack to cool for 4-5 min. After that, transfer the cookies onto the wire rack to cool completely. Then, transfer to an air-tight container. Of course, by this time, the whole family will be in the kitchen waiting for cookies, so maybe you won't need that container after all!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Whole-wheat agave bread

Growing up in a traditional South Indian household, bread was not staple for me until I started living on my own and started to depend on it for a quick snack/breakfast. No, bread was more of a special treat. We would get the softest, pillowy, white, cloud-like bread from the nearby Iyengar bakery (lots of Iyengar bakeries in Bangalore where I grew up). My favorite way to eat it was to toast and spread a generous layer of Amul butter on top. Yummmy!! That bread also had this wonderful, fresh aroma to it. When I moved to the US about 9 years ago, that bread was sorely missed. Packaged breads just don't come close to a freshly baked loaf just out of the oven. So, this weekend, I baked a soft, fluffy bread, made mostly with whole-wheat flour and sweetened with agave syrup. If there's someone in your family who refuses to eat whole-grain bread, this is a loaf that will tempt them at the very least. It was given a thumbs-up by DH (who can be picky about whole-garin bread) and by two toddlers and a preschooler. So, there! Yes, like all yeast breads, it involves some kneading, but its totally worth the effort. And if you have a bread machine or stand mixer, its really, really easy to make. This recipe is an adapted version of the one from "500 Vegan recipes" by Celine Steen and Joni Marie Newman.  This is a super cookbook with all sorts of recipes from granola bars to fake meat to breads and cakes. Every recipe I've tried has been a winner. Okay, so onto the bread recipe now.

3 cups white whole-wheat or regular whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 and 1/2 tsp salt
3 tsp active dry yeast + 1/4 cup warm water + 1 tsp sugar
1 to 1 and 1/4 cup non-dairy milk
1/4 cup agave nectar
2 tbsp non-dairy butter
1/2 tsp canola oil
1/4 cup raisins (optional)

In a small bowl, warm the 1/4 cup water in the microwave for 15-20s. You are looking for warm, not hot water (Yeast needs just the right temp. to grow). Now, add the yeast and sugar and mix well and set aside. In about 10 min. or so the yeast should be frothy and have small bubbles. This indicates the the yeast is in good condition. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the flours and salt. When the yeast is ready, add it to the flour mixture along with the agave nectar, butter and 1 cup of non-dairy milk. Now, stir the ingredients together with a big spoon or just use your hands to form a soft dough, adding the rest of the milk if necessary. The dough shouldn't be too dry since that will result in a hard bread. If it feels slightly sticky, thats okay, just use a little flour to work with it. Now turn the dough onto a clean, floured surface and knead gently for 8-10 min. Just rock the dough back and forth gently, turning it around just a little after each time you rock it. You can knead for 3-4 min., give yourself and the dough some rest and then get back to it. Once kneaded, coat the bowl with the 1/2 tsp oil and place the dough in the bowl. Turn the dough to coat with oil completely and cover the bowl with a towel. Let the dough sit until it doubles in size. This can take anywhere from 60-90 min. or even longer if your kitchen is a little cold. Then punch the dough down gently. You can mix some raisins into the dough at this point if you wish. I did that with half the dough. Now, spray your loaf pan with non-stick spray, place the dough in it and cover with plastic wrap. Most loaf pans are 8"x4" and this dough will be a little big for them, but thats okay, it'll just rise a little higher. Let the dough rise for another 60 min. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Bake the loaf uncovered for 15 min., then cover with aluminum foil and bake for 10-15 min., until the top is browned evenly and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped. Let the bread cool for at least 10 min. before slicing with a serrated knife. Slather with non-dairy butter and enjoy!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Apple cobbler

If you are looking for a winter dessert that won't break your diet and is a breeze to make, then I have the perfect dessert for you. This apple cobbler is reminiscent of apple pie, with the heavenly aroma of apples and cinnamon, while being so much more easier to make.  Its got not much added sugar and uses the natural sweetness of the fruit very well. I used a variety of apples from the farmers market for this and DH and I had a hard time not eating them all as we prepped them for this cobbler. A cobbler is a very easy-to-put together dessert and the name comes from how the topping is casually cobbled together as opposed to a more involved pie crust.  The topping is oh-so-crisp and the soft, spice-infused apples just melt in your mouth. One bite of this and people will think you are a fancy chef serving up fancy desserts. So, don your aprons folks, and lets bake up a cobbler. Umm, an apple cobbler, I mean...
This recipe is a slight adaptation of the one from "The Joy of Vegan Baking".

Ingredients (for 6-8 servings)
For the filling
5 cups apples, peeled and sliced into thin slices (5-6 medium apples)
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup water
1 cup frozen blueberries (optional)

For the topping
1 and 1/3 cups all-purpose flour (I have used whole-wheat pastry flour and it works well too)
1/2 tsp salt
3 tsbp sugar + 1 tbsp for sprinkling on top
5 tbsp vegan butter + 1 tbsp for brushing on top, melted
1 and 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup non-dairy milk

Preheat the oven to 375 F. You will need a 9" square glass/porcelain dish to bake this cobbler. To assemble the filling,  mix all the filling ingredients in the dish and set aside. To make the topping, in a medium-size bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. Now, add the melted butter and mix until just combined. Then add the non-dairy milk and stir until just combined. The mixture might look sticky but thats okay, it will bake up fine. Now, using a tablespoon or a cookie scoop, place the topping on top of the apple filling. Brush the tbsp of melted butter and sprinkle the tbsp of sugar on the topping. Bake for 40-50 min. until the crust looks golden and the juices are bubbling. Serve warm.
I leave you with this picture of DS digging into the cobbler just as I was finishing up taking pictures. Have a great weekend!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Fire-roasted poblano quesadilla

We were out shopping for apples to make apple cobbler (recipe coming soon) this weekend when some vibrant green poblano peppers caught my eye. As did some button mushrooms. And the word, Q-U-E-S-A-D-I-L-L-A just formed in my head!! You might think that your days of eating quesadillas are over when you cross over to the vegan side. But you would be so deliciously wrong. You might think that a good quesadilla should be oozing with cheese, but that is really not the case. Cut out the cheese and you not only cut out a hefty chunk of the calories, but you can actually appreciate the superb flavors of the veggies in your quesadilla. I used onions, poblano peppers and mushrooms in this one and the quesadillas were just out of this world. To fully bring out the flavor of the poblanos, I fire-roasted them. And the wonderful, earthy aroma of the mushrooms perfectly complemented the fire-roasted peppers. The vegan cheese (Daiya brand, mozzarella style shreds) I used here melted beautifully and did a great job of keeping the quesadilla together. A simple chopped salad of lettuce, baby spinach, cucumbers, carrots, jalapeno peppers and cranberries was just the side-dish for this. And the best part, this is a very quick meal. Get someone to help with the chopping and you'll be eating this amazing meal within 30 minutes. Great for a weeknight or a lazy weekend.

Ingredients (for 3 quesadillas)
1/2 medium size red onion, sliced
1 poblano pepper
5-6 button mushrooms, sliced
3 tortillas (I used Trader Joe's whole wheat wraps)
5-6 tsp oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp hot sauce (I used Sriracha brand)
6 tbsp vegan cheese (or more depending on your preference)

Wrap the pepper tightly in aluminum foil. Place over medium high on a gas burner and cook for 5-6 minutes, turning it every minute or so to ensure even cooking. Once cooked, let it rest for 5-10 min. Meanwhile, you can start cooking the onions and mushrooms. Get a non-stick pan on high heat. Add 2 tsp of oil, then add the onions and half the salt.  Keep cooking over medium-high to high heat. After 2 min., add the mushrooms and the rest of the salt. Stir frequently. Now, take the pepper out of the foil, take the seeds out and slice it into strips. After 2-3 min., when the onions and mushrooms have softened, add the pepper and the hot sauce, mix well and turn the heat off. Place a griddle on high heat. Once the griddle is hot, place a tortilla on it and cook it on one side for about a minute or so. Then flip it and spread the veggies (1/4 cup or so) on one half of the tortilla. Sprinkle the cheese on top of the veggies. Now, fold the other half of the tortilla over. Let cook on both sides for a minute. Add a tsp of oil now and let cook for another minute, this will crisp up the tortilla. Let it cool for a minute before cutting into wedges. Serve with your favorite salsa or guacamole. Bon apetit!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Crispy oatmeal cookies

From the moment I saw these cookies on America's Test Kitchen (ATK), I was craving them. ATK is one of my favorite programs on public television. Of course, most of their recipes are non-vegan, but I love watching their shows on desserts. They usually have some tips and tricks and I always learn something new. This recipe promised a thin and crispy oatmeal cookie, and it did not disappoint! All I did was switch out the butter and egg for their vegan counterparts. Now, don't get me wrong, I do like a soft and chewy cookie like an oatmeal raisin or oatmeal chocolate chip, but this cookie will make you see oatmeal in a whole new avatar. The recipe did not call for any additions like nuts or dried fruit and I am glad I kept it that way. It just lets the flavor of the oatmeal shine. To substitute for the egg, I used some egg-replacer and flaxseed. Egg-replacer usually adds crunch to baked goods, so it was my first choice here. To add more body, I added some flaxseed as well.

Ingredients (for 24-28 cookies)
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 and 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (don't substitute the instant kind)
1 and 3/4 sticks vegan butter ( I used Earth Balance)
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar (lightly packed)
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 and 1/2 tsp egg-replacer + 1 tbsp flaxseed + 3 tbsp water

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a large baking sheet with silpat/parchment paper. In a small bowl, combine the egg-replacer, flaxseed and water and whip vigorously with a fork. You could do this in a food processor too. In another bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda and set aside. The next step is to cream the butter and sugars. Ideally, the butter should be at room temperature. I put the butter in a large glass bowl and microwaved it for 15 seconds and it softened up beautifully. Now, add the sugars and using either a stand mixer or an electric hand mixer, cream the butter and sugars for a minute or so. Add the egg-replacer mixture and vanilla extract and mix for 30 seconds. Now, add the flour mixture slowly and mix. Lastly, add the oats, 1/2 cup at at time and mix until well-incorporated. Now, place well-rounded tablespoons of the dough on the baking sheet. Press down on the dough gently with a fork to flatten a little.  These cookies spread a lot, so make sure there is enough room on the sheet. I used an 11"X17" sheet and baked nine cookies on it. Bake the cookies for 12-15 minutes until golden brown on the edges. Let the sheet cool on a wire rack. Cool the cookies completely in the sheet and then transfer to an air-tight container. If you are going to be using the same cookie sheet again, make sure its cool before baking the next batch. Also, these cookies are best baked in one batch. I refrigerated part of the dough and they didn't spread as much the second time around.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Hazelnut biscotti

Just the name is enough to bring you visions of Italy, isn't it? Biscotti.....its got such a nice ring to it.   Though I haven't been lucky enough to visit Italy yet, like many, I have had a chance to appreciate how beautiful the land is thanks to the many wonderful shows centered on Italian cuisine. I was first introduced to biscotti at DH's cousin's house as an accompaniment to the morning coffee, and we've both been hooked ever since. Once I turned vegan though, I started missing them. Veganomicon, the great cookbook, to the rescue! This recipe uses flaxseed (in place of eggs) which lends a great nutty texture to the biscotti, while also adding Omega-3's to your diet.
These biscotti are as simple as they are elegant. Just the wonderful flavors of vanilla and hazelnut, mingling together to create a heady aroma that makes you want to inhale the biscotti before you devour it. They are crunchy, but not so crunchy as to warrant a visit to the dentist, if you know what I mean. They are a great treat to go with your morning coffee or your lunch box. Plus, since they are twice-baked, they will last longer than traditional cookies. So, bake these up on a weekend and they are yours to enjoy for the following week. That is, if they make it past the weekend!

Ingredients (for 18 biscotti) (recipe adapted from Veganomicon)
1 and 2/3 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 tbsp flaxseed powder
2 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup almond milk (or other non-dairy milk)
1/2 cup canola oil
2 tsp baking powder
1tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup hazelnuts

The first thing to do is toast the hazelnuts. To do this, preheat your oven to 350 F. Place the hazelnuts on a baking sheet and bake for 8-10 min.. Watch carefully in the last few minutes, as they will quickly go from toasted to burnt. When they are done, set aside to cool. Once they are cool, you can rub them together to get the peels off. Then, place the hazelnuts in a zipper bag and pound the nuts with a rolling pin, to end up with finely chopped hazelnuts.
Prepare a cookie sheet by lining with silpat. In a large mixing bowl, combine the almond milk with flaxseed and whip with a fork for a minute. Then add the oil, sugar and vanilla and mix well. In a separate bowl, use a whisk to combine the flour, baking powder, salt and cornstarch. Now, add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir until just mixed. Add the hazelnuts and mix well into the dough. Now, shape the dough into a rectangle, about 3-4 inches wide by 10-11 inches long. Bake at 350 for 25-27 minutes, until the sides/bottom start to crisp up and the biscotti log puffs up a little. Now, set aside to cool for  30-40 min..  Meanwhile, increase the oven temperature to 375 F. Make sure to let the log cool. The cooler the log is, the easier to handle it will be. Once cool, use a long serrated knife (I used my bread knife) to make 1/2" wide slices. Lay the biscotti on the cookie sheet and bake for 12-15 min. until they crisp up to the desired level. Then, remove from oven and cool in the sheet for 5 min. Then, transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely and transfer to an air-tight container.