26 January 2013

Chocolate-almond-coconut brownies with caramel-Kahlua glaze

Feeling like some chocolate? Going a little nutty for it, even? It's OK, it happens to the best of us at times. Sometimes, it's best just to give in, especially after a long week of working or studying or writing or whatever it is normal people do. (I clearly have yet to entirely figure this out for myself.) These brownies should prove satisfying to just about any chocolate craving you may be suffering from, no matter how strong. Highly adapted from a recipe from the talented Chloe Coscarelli's Chloe's Kitchen, one of my Christmas presents, I nevertheless tossed some extra ingredients in to make it my own, partly to satisfy another of my cravings: coffee. Hence the Kahlua, a coffee-flavoured liqueur. I also had some coconut flakes and almonds lying around, which made for a delectable and eye-popping garnish. Not content to stop there (sometimes that lily just needs to be gilded, OK!), I made a little caramel glaze, also tinged with some Kahlua, to spread out over top of these. The result: nutty, coffee-flavoured morsels of chocolate heaven, that may even have the potential to get you slightly drunk if you eat enough of them. Score!

One caveat: my pan was way bigger than I estimated (I believe it was 10 by 14 inches, or possibly 9 by 13) and so these didn't spread all the way to the sides, resulting in some brownies that were thinner than others. Part of the problem was that the initial recipe I was working off was designed for an 8 by 8 pan (i.e., a pretty standard-issue brownie pan, which I don't own for some reason), which led me to multiply those ingredients by about 1.75. I would recommend using a smaller pan or multiplying the ingredients (as listed below) by at least 1.5.

to make the brownies:

1-3/4 cup   dark chocolate chips (I use a dairy-free variety from a company called Freddo that I found in the fondue aisle of my local grocery store. You may be able to find different and better varieties.)
1 tbsp   dairy-free margarine or butter
1-1/3 cup   whole wheat flour
7/8 cup   natural cane sugar
3-1/2 tbsp   unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp   baking soda
pinch   salt
7/8 cup   almond milk
1/2 cup   canola oil
1-1/2 tbsp   apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp   vanilla extract
1-1/2 tbsp   Kahlua
3/4 cup   dark chocolate chips, finely chopped (or just buy a smaller version of the kind I used. Yeah that would have been a lot smarter. But it's cold out. So sue me.)
enough for sprinkling   coconut flakes and chopped almonds

to make the caramel-Kahlua glaze:

1/3 cup   dairy-free margarine or butter
1/4 cup   dark brown sugar
1/2 cup   natural cane sugar (The different sugars are just because I ran out of brown sugar. Again, cold out, sue me. If you have enough brown sugar, just use 3/4 cup of that.)
1/4 cup   Kahlua
2 tsp   maple syrup
pinch   sea salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease a pan. (See note above re: size of pan.)

Heat chocolate chips (unchopped) and butter/ margarine in microwave for roughly 1 min, 30 seconds, stopping halfway through to stir.

Meanwhile, stir together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl until evenly combined. In a medium bowl, stir together almond milk, canola oil, vinegar, vanilla, and Kahlua. Pour the wet mixture into the big bowl with the dry and stir just until combined (be careful not to over-stir; this batter will be thick and sticky enough as it is). Once your chocolate's melted, stir that in, along with the chopped chips. Pour the batter into the pan and spread out to the sides (again, it was quite thick for me, so this may require two sturdy, big spoons and/or a spatula). Sprinkle coconut flakes and almond chunks evenly over top. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool.

While your brownies are cooling, prepare your glaze. Over medium-low heat, melt the butter/ margarine in a medium frying pan. Stir in the sugar and salt and bring to a bubble, stirring frequently. Let simmer for about 4 to 5 minutes. Add Kahlua and maple syrup and let bubble away for another minute or so. Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes. With a spoon, drizzle over brownies until fully coated. They're now ready to go!

Yield: ~36 brownies

13 January 2013

Tofu scramble w/ toast

I'm finally, after about nine months of deciding to go vegetarian, climbing aboard the tofu train. This stuff requires some creativity if you're going to cook with it since, by itself, it's pretty bland stuff; however, on the plus side, it's also really versatile, fitting in with savoury dishes like this as well as more dessert-type fare. There are also different types of tofu on offer, from silky and soft to extra firm, and you can often find blocks of it with spices or herbs or garlic pre-added.

This is the best use so far I've found for tofu, though I haven't experimented all that much thus far with the stuff. This recipe has been closely adapted from this invention by VeganFling, who by the way do a bang-up job over there!

Tofu scramble w/ toast

1 block   extra-firm tofu
1/2   white onion, diced
3 tbsp   green onion, chopped
4    pickled jalapeno pepper slices, diced
1 tbsp   olive oil
1/3 cup   Daiya dairy-free cheddar style shreds*
1/4 cup   almond milk
1 tbsp   nutritional yeast flakes
1 tbsp   flour
dash   red pepper flakes
dash   garlic salt
dash   chili powder
dash   salt
dash   black pepper
2 slices   your favourite kind of bread, toasted

*Honestly, the Daiya shreds were an impulse purchase at Maxi & Cie. just to see what they were like and they're not really that good on their own. Mixed in with all this other stuff, they're quite alright, though. If you don't mind real cheddar, toss some of that in there instead. I just might do that myself next time.

Drain the tofu. In a large saucepan, sauté olive oil, white onion, green onion, jalapeno bits, and red pepper flakes over medium heat until the onions soften. Crumble in the tofu and the Daiya shreds and cook until tofu becomes slightly golden-coloured. Meanwhile, in a medium-sized bowl, mix together almond milk, flour, nutritional yeast flakes, and remaining spices until well blended. Reduce heat to medium-low and pour the milky mixture over the tofu and swirl around to incorporate. Cook for a few more minutes until the mixture thickens and it's nice and hot, while the bread is toasting. Transfer to a plate and eat atop or alongside toast.

This was great and honestly it might make you think twice about buying eggs. Tofu scrambles more than do the trick for a nice, hearty, warm weekend breakfast. Enjoy!

06 January 2013

Spicy tomato-garlic-black & white bean pita pizza

So, um, fuck this was good. Seriously. I'm not one to self-promote or gloat, and as you all know, I've said straight-out when some of these recipes had some problems. But just look at this brute. I dare you not to start drooling.

Here's how to make this glorious creation.

Spicy tomato-garlic-black & white bean pita pizza

1 tbsp   olive oil
about 1/3   white onion, finely chopped
1 clove   garlic, minced
6   grape/cherry tomatoes, quartered
dash   thyme
dash   oregano
dash   coriander
dash   cumin
dash   black pepper

Preheat oven to 500 F. Meanwhile, sautée all these ingredients above together in a medium frying pan on medium heat, starting with the oil (don't crank the heat up more than medium because of olive oil's low smoke point), then in a minute adding the onion and the spices, then in another minute the garlic, then the tomatoes. Fry it all together until the onions are golden brown and the tomatoes are soft and just a little squishy.

While that's frying, you're going to want to make your garlic white bean purée. (Oh yeah, did I mention this would replace the cheese? Don't worry, you won't mind. Trust me.)

In a bowl, combine...

1/3 of a 14 oz. can   white beans, drained (or you can use an equivalent amount of dried white beans, cooking them up beforehand according to the directions on the bag... dried beans are tastier but more time-consuming)
2 tbsp   olive oil
1/3   lime, squeezed
dash    garlic salt
2 tsp   almond milk (or some other non-dairy milk) (for a bit of extra creaminess)

until it becomes paste-like. I recommend using a potato masher for this task to speed up the process.

Assembling the pizza!

You're going to need, in addition to the stuff above:

1   medium-sized pita
1-1/2 tbsp (roughly)   canola oil
1/4 of a 19 oz. can   black beans, drained (again, you can use an equivalent amount of dried beans)
6   pickled jalapeno slices, halved
dash   red pepper flakes

Lay out a medium-sized pita on a pizza pan. Spread it all the way to the outer edges with canola oil. Spread out the garlic white bean purée on top of that, but not quite to the very edge of the pita. Sprinkle black beans evenly around the pita. Take a spoon and drop the tomato-garlic-onion-spice mixture onto the pita, spreading it out evenly. Sprinkle the jalapeno slices above that and garnish with the red pepper flakes.

Pop it in the oven for about 8 minutes or until the outer edge of the pita appears to start browning.

Slice into four and serve it up with a cool beverage. Bam! Seriously, here's another picture of this joyous slice of joy.


Les Misérables (Tom Hooper, 2012)

I figure this snippet is long enough to qualify as a full review, so into the blog proper it goes! Hurrah!

Based on a big, bombastic, popular, and really, really long-running musical, which in turn is based on a historical novel from Victor Hugo set in the miserable time of early-19th century France, this is a movie where nothing is small and everything is meant to feel like a cannonball to the stomach in terms of how it tries to blast feelings out of you. For a brief moment early on, this approach actually works like a charm, and we filmgoers can get a welcome taste of the dramatic impact of the play. Anne Hathaway is absolutely spellbinding as Fantine, a downtrodden woman trying to save up for her young child's future (the father is, of course, out of the picture) driven to prostitution and even selling her hair and teeth. The most powerful moment in the movie is her raw and passionate rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream." Unfortunately, this leaves about two, largely Hathaway-less hours left before the movie grinds exhaustingly to its conclusion.

This is truly monochromatic, disjointed, underdeveloped, overwrought stuff, shot by director Tom Hooper & co., for some reason, at extreme close-ups or at 45-degree angles that I guess is meant to heighten the gritty realism and intimacy of it all but instead makes everything just feel intrusive or look like a drunken blur. It's the kind of movie where consistency and plot development fall by the wayside in favour of big, dramatic, emotional moments that, if you actually take a moment to look at them, don't often make a lot of sense or amount to more than a hill of beans. What is the ultimate basis of the rebellion that dominates the second half of the movie? Vague teenage angst? None of that revolutionary spirit rang true in this film version. Why is Javert so singularly focused on capturing Jean Valjean? Doesn't he have other criminals to tend to? Why is Valjean so self-flagellating? The man is a (one-dimensional) saint; don't be so hard on yourself! Why are the broad comic stylings of Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, as crooked inkeepers, so arbitrarily sprinkled in with the action? They seem to hail from a different movie altogether. Why does everyone seem to die not based on any sort of actual disease or natural cause but mainly when the storytellers feel like we are ready again for a big cry?  It's just pure, unbridled (and largely ineffective) manipulation.

Honestly, the music isn't even very good, aside from the aforementioned "I Dreamed a Dream" and "Master of the House," which is kind of fun and bouncy--although Hooper ruins even that number with his antic framing techniques. This is a problem, indeed, with the original stage production, although the stage is better suited for this enterprise's endless crescendoes."The ABC Café—Red and Black" falls particularly flat; it's more a blunt object than a song, with little musical variety or nuance to it, just pointed stabs of "red!!!" and "black!!!" that quickly grow tiresome.

On the plus side, Hugh Jackman, always a generous, winning actor, throws himself into the role of Jean Valjean with admirable aplomb--it's a solid effort. The attractive Samantha Barks as Eponine and Eddie Redmayne as Marius sing beautifully and have some nice moments. Russell Crowe, however, just looks pained and uncomfortable as Javert; it was actually excruciating to watch this normally talented man struggle through this Broadway-style emoting.

Aside from a few poignant moments dominated by the showstopping Hathaway, Hooper's Les Misérables is a glossy, in-your-face, aggresively ingratiating endeavour that is never nearly as powerful as it wants to be. This is a movie that tries way too hard to hit those high notes (both musically and emotionally) without developing its characters or telling its story clearly enough to actually earn the impact it's so eagerly gunning for. At two-and-a-half long hours of vague, often incoherent misery and revolution and teenage angst and romance, it grows so excruciating that ultimately it's the audience who become les misérables. C-

02 January 2013

Strawberry cocoa-coconut pancakes

A heavenly spin on my initial stab at vegan blueberry pancakes, these substitute the sweet-and-tart juiciness strawberries for the joys of blueberries, plus they add some mouthwatering all-natural sweeteners and the glories of coconut! Behold! Great for breakfast, of course, or, if you're anything like me, just dandy any time of day.

Makes 5-6 pancakes

1-1/4 cup   whole wheat flour
7-8   medium-size strawberries, hulled & quartered
2 tbsp   natural cane sugar
2 tbsp   coconut flakes
2 tsp   unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp   baking powder
dash   salt
3/4 cup   coconut milk
1/2 cup   water
1 tbsp   canola oil
2 tsp   agave syrup
1 tsp   vanilla extract

Set lightly oiled (about 2 tbsp) frying pan atop an element cranked to medium-high. Or else, if ya got one, fire up the griddle.
Mix together dry ingredients (including strawberries) in a large bowl until well-blended. In a smaller bowl, mix together wet ingredients. Form a well in the middle of the dry mixture and pour in the wet mixture. Blend it all together until smooth with no lumps or dry powder hanging about on the outskirts.
Use 1/3-cup measuring cup to scoop out batter and drop into the frying pan, flattening (carefully, since the batter will be quite sticky) with a turner. You can fit two into a frying pan at a time if you're careful and if your pan is big enough.
Cook until golden-brown, flip, then cook until the other side is golden-brown.
Serve, ideally, with your favourite margarine/ butter and a decent helping of real maple syrup. So help me, if you put Aunt Jemima on these beauties, I will harm you! Of course, you're free to experiment with other toppings like fresh fruit or fruit syrups. I encourage experimenting. Go (food) science!