Monday, January 18, 2010

Jamaican coffee chocolate brownies

Jamaican coffee chocolate brownies

I know, I know. A month is too much time, even for me. This year I will try to be a better blogger. I promise! I have already written it at the top of my "good intentions for this year" list. I also expect (and hope) that I won't have so much work. If someone tells you someday that working and studying at the same time does not leave you shattered....he or she is lying. It's exhausting.  I think I have never slept so little in my life (and that is to say a lot).

I wanted to post today's recipe for a month, because after the first bite I knew that I had to share it. American desserts are not very popular here: not because they are not tasty, but because they are difficult to find. It's almost impossible to find a bagel and brownies are only sold in Starbucks. I have never tried them because I know they are not vegan, and very expensive anyway. Solution? Bake them yourself: it's cheaper, tastier and healthier.

Jamaican coffee chocolate brownies

It's funny because when I found this recipe with Jamaican coffee, it brought me some memories back. Blue Mountain is considered the best coffee in the world, although I didn't  notice a substantial difference between this and any other fairly good one. It's a pity that the service was awful. I did not use Blue Mountain coffee this time (actually, I have never seen it for sale) but they turned out amazing anyway. After all, this kind of coffee costs an arm and a leg; even if I had some at home, I would prefer drinking it.

Last day I was reading a A-K post about birthday cakes and how what for some people is sad for others is fun (for instance, doing your own cake). I have been cooking all the birthday cakes of my family (including my own) since I became vegan, and I don't think it's something sad at all. The same happens with "veganising" your recipes; "Poor! She can't eat eat eggs and milk", they will think (by the way, I hate when people say that I can't eat this or that. I suppose that they don't understand that it's not an obligation for me, but a choice). Most of people would consider it a pain; I see it like an opportunity for being creative. What can I use this time: apple sauce, mashed banana, tofu, flaxseeds? And what if I substitue that huge amount of butter with olive oil? Of course, it can turn out like a disaster; actually, many of my baked good turn out like a disaster (althoug every time less often) but I am lucky because my family is not fussy at all about it: they will eat any of my creations, including the ones I would label as a categorical failure. Luckily, this was not one of these times :)

Jamaican coffee chocolate brownies

Jamaican coffee chocolate brownies
Makes one 33 cm x 23cm pan (13x9x2-inch)
Inspired in this recipe form Epicurious.

You don't need to use Blue Mountain coffee for this recipe; any coffee will be OK. If you can, use it freshly (and finely) ground. It will add some texture to the brownies, but you won't have the feeling that you're chewing coffee. The original recipe called for cocoa powder, but I run out of it, so I used authentic chocolate instead. Now I think that maybe I should never have cocoa powder at home: (real) chocolate and coffee: can you think about a better combination? I have also omitted the nuts, the chocolate icing and reduced the amount of margarine and sugar. Some people like their brownies fluffy, other almost like a cookie. This one is something in between: dense and hearty, but still very moist and tender. It would do a nice Valentine treat (maybe using a heart shaped tin)

  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 10 tablespoons margarine
  • 40 g chocolate (52%)
  • 3 tablespoons finely ground Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee beans
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 mashed banana
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine sugar, margarine, chocolate (broken in pieces), ground coffee, and salt in large metal bowl or a small saucepan.

Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and whisk until margarine and chocolate melts and ingredients are blended (texture will be grainy). Remove bowl from over water.

Mash the banana and add it to the mix. Sift flour over and fold in. Mix in some nuts (the original recipe called for pecans) if desired. 

Spread batter in prepared pan. Bake brownies until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool brownies in pan.


Friday, December 25, 2009

Raw recipe: Bloody "Green" Smoothie with pears

Bloody "Green" Smoothie with pears

Merry Christmas! I hope you spent a nice dinner yesterday and that you don't have an overdose of relatives and hugs yet (we still have to celebrate New Year, remember?). 

Usually I do, but because this year I am not going to Russia for holidays  at least I will safe myself the relatives who think that I am some kind of teddy bear which can be squashed, squeezed and hugged while I am trying to breath and not to bring up all the food I have eaten. It is already a problem to see friends and family when you are in Russia because every time you pay a visit (even if you told them you only have fifty minutes!) they set a table full of pancakes, tea and all kind of sweet and savory treats. So imagine in Christmas....

Our Christmas table

I remember that my godfather, for who a stack of pancakes is a required element in case of visitors, was almost shocked when I told him that I didn't eat eggs or milk anymore (being a vegan in Russia, where sour cream and butter are as essential as water, is something worse than being an alien).I think that this hospitality with friends and relatives contrasts with the coldness and indifference that Russian people show with strangers (and I don't mean foreigners: I mean other Russian people)

Because I am sure that we all have indulged ourselves more than we should last night, I thought it would be better to post something light (I have a recipe for the coffee brownies I cooked for our Christmas table, but I decided I'm going to save it for later).  I have posted a couple of green smoothie recipes before (see Basic green smoothie and Chocolate green smoothie), but because there are endless combination I feel like I could post dozens of them! 

Bloody "Green" Smoothie with pears

For today's smoothie you will need a juicer (trying to squeeze a beetroot with a lemon-squeezer can be quite unproductive) as well as a blender, but I suppose it's not a big deal (because you must have a juicer! If not, now you know what you should ask for Christmas next year). The process is simple: make the juice, add it to the blender, put first the veggies (cabbage in this case, but you can use spinach or kale) in small amounts and don't add the fruit until it is all completely blended, playing with the proportions until you like the taste. If you are not used to eat greens this way, I would recommend adding more fruit than veggies, but it's up to you.

Have you realized that every day more and more people have green smoothies? It's not only the green smoothies: all the raw movement is trendy, and I think it's great. I especially like the approach of Gena of Choosing Raw: she is what people call "high raw", because she also eat cooked food. I would not be able to go 100% raw, and I would not  like either. I think there are some nutrients we can't get only from raw food and we shouldn't be extremist. In this sense, Gena`s principle is wise: listen to your body. If it's snowing outside and you feel like having a soup, and not kale it! 

I also read in his blog about food combining, and this is the reason why this time I didn't add nuts. She also posted a raw Christmas menu (I know it's a little bit late, but you can use it for New Year)

Bloody "Green" Smoothie with pears

Bloody "Green" Smoothie with pears
Recipe form: ~ original recipe ~
Serves: about 1 liter
This makes about one liter of green smoothie. I don't have any problem with eating it whole on the morning, but most of the people have stomachs that can't hold so much food, especially if you are not used to raw food. So consider halving the amounts or be aware that you will have some leftovers (although if you can eat it all...great! You will have your vitamin and minerals dose for the whole day). I added pear, but you can try with apple too, or even orange. You can also play with the consistency: I like my smoothies rather thick, so they can hold the pieces of fruit or whatever I add after blending. I don't recommend adding water: juicing more of the fruit (or adding some extra) instead of blending it will work much better because you won't lose any flavor.

Juice of :
1 beetroot, small
1 pear, medium
3 carrots
1/2 cucumber
1/2 lemon

5 dried figs 
1 pear
3 or 4 leafs of cabbage
a handful of parsley
1 tsp of tahini
1 Tbsp ground flaxseeds

For decoration:
1/2 avocado
another pear

Put the four first ingredients in the juicer. Add the lemon juice (I do it with a lemon-squeezer)

Put all the juices in the blender. Add the dried figs. Pulse. Add the parsley. Pulse again. Add first the cabbage and at the end the pear, roughly chopped and seeded. 

**I discovered than adding first the harder ingredients (like the figs or the greens, which have a lot of cellulose) makes a better blended and smooth....smoothie (doesn't it sound redundant?) Greens are great, and despite what people think they are tasty, but I don't like finding pieces of cabbage in my smoothies. 

Add the tahini and the ground flaxseeds. Blend and taste it. If it is too strong, add extra fruit or a sweeter of your choice. Chop the reserved pear and half of an avocado in little pieces. Add it after blending. If you don't like "chunky" smoothies, you can blend it too.

4) Enjoy your delicious AND healthy treat :)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Roasted chickpeas and zucchini soup

Roasted chickpeas and zucchini soup

No, I am not dead. I am just overwhelmed with school. Fortunately, Christmas Holidays begins next week (hurray!), so although I will have to work anyway (the last day to finish my research project is getting closer. Tic-tack, tic-tack…), at least I will have time to breathe.

Rain on the window

It has been awfully rainy and cold the past three days because of a Siberian cold front.  It’s not that I hate cold (I love visiting Moscow for Christmas, and that would be certainly a problem). I hate cold without snow.  With that kind of weather, the best you can do is to curly up in your sofa,  cover yourself with a blanket and read a book while sipping your hot tea (or chocolate, if you prefer it).  I am looking forward my school break to do that. Instead of it, yesterday I had to curl up with a geography textbook (I had the exam today), and it lost most of its charm.

Homework + music...I can't work in silence!
I can’t study without music. I don’t know why, but I got used to it….and now I just can’t concentrate in complete silence.

I haven’t cooked too much lately. Some days my mother does baked potatoes with extra ones for me without asking me before, and I can’t say no (could you?). When I have sweet potatoes in the fridge, I don’t need anything more and cooking something else seems just stupid. It’s a pity that a person can’t live just on sweet potatoes.  On other days I just don’t have the time, or I am not at home.  I have school until 14.30 every day except Thursday, when I have a split shift. Because I don’t have time to come back to home, I spend the hour and half I have in a café near school. The place is OK, but you still feel the bitterness of the coffee after adding the two packets of sugar. But some weeks ago I discovered another café (half an hour from school, tough) where you can order coffee with SOYMILK! I know people who live in vegan-friendly places will think it’s nothing out of this world, but apart from Starbucks (which you can only find in Barcelona, by the way) I don’t know any other café who offers it. So sometimes I just don’t come back at home until 6PM or so because I stay there doing homework. It is cozier, not as cold and smells better than the library. The only minus? They have nothing vegan to eat.

Roasted chickpeas

I know it sounds strange, but I concentrate better there than in a library and of course better than at home. I just can’t work at home. My mind seems to go somewhere else when I try to focus on some task. So it worth wait a little bit more to eat because I do twice as homework there.

Books...I love reading, but I have been doing too much lately. And not the books I would liked to...

And talking about coffee, I am working on a special post about this addictive and caffeinated drink. I thought about cooking something with coffee (maybe a dessert. I love how it enhances the flavor any cake!), plus collecting recipes from the web, some graphics (I found such a cute icons!) and extra stuff.   

I know what are you thinking: “Stop pestering me and go on with the recipe” (sometimes I have to remind myself that this is a blog about food). So, for those you dislike chilly and rainy days, I have the perfect recipe today: a smooth, warm roasted chickpeas and zucchini soup!

Roasted chickpeas and zucchini soup

Roasted chickpeas and zucchini soup  - add coconut milk on top too for extra flavor!
Recipe form: ~ original recipe ~

Serves: 3-4
-2 medium zucchinis (or 1 large)
-2 cups water or stock
-2 cups chickpeas
-2 tsp chickpeas seasoning blend
-1/4 cup coconut milk (optional)
-oil (I used olive oil)

I love chickpeas, and I can snack on them like some people snack on chips or candy (which is great, because it’s a healthier addiction).  My family is usually quite skeptical about vegan food, but they all love chickpeas. Some days ago I sautéed them with some chana masala, a spices mix used with chickpeas….and they didn’t leave any leftovers!  It also works great with sweet paprika (here is called pimentón dulce). My father likes chickpeas, but he is crazy about hummus. Especially with a lot of garlic. I love it too, but sometimes you fancy something different, and the zucchini/chickpeas combo works perfectly. Add a little bit of vegetal milk (I strongly recommend coconut), extra seasoning for more spiciness, cover it with more coconut milk, nuts (or even raisins as I did. The savory and sweet combination is terrific!), olive oil and…voilà!

Heat 1 or 2 tsp of oil on a saucepan and add 1tsp of the chickpeas seasoning.
Add the chickpeas and sauté for 5 minutes or until they become golden and crispy.
Set aside.

Put the water (or stock) to boil and add the chopped zucchini, salt, coconut milk and another tsp of seasoning.
Boil until they become tender, about 10 min. Turn off the heat. Let the cool a little bit.

Put the zucchini (stock included) and the roasted chickpeas in a blender. Puree until you get the desired consistency.
Add a little bit more coconut milk, salt and spices if desired.
Serve with chana dal or some nuts, extra coconut milk and olive oil on top.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Sweet potato pancakes

Sweet potato pancakes

The first school term is over, and now I have a five days long break to recover from that horrible invention called exam. Well, actually not: we must give the first draft of a fifty pages long (very important) project we are supposed to have begun in summer. I still have wrote twenty pages so far.

So, instead of apologizing for being during almost a month in hiatus, I think you will appreciate something more….ehm, useful than my excuses and complains about how difficult is a student’s life and blah blah.

Do you like Photoshop? I must confess that I hated it for a long time; it was too complicated, too heavy, with too many things I didn’t understand and I didn’t need. I was already happy with my lighter and less fussy Paint Shop Pro. I suppose I was on safe ground and I just didn’t want to leave it. Now I discovered many of Photoshop’s advantages and I cou ldn’t live without it.  One of the things I learnt some days ago is how to use actions. For example, this one gives to your photo a fresh and original comic style. Compare.

Photoshop is wonderful. We know that. But some people make the mistake of thinking that it can transform a disastrous photo in a wonderful one. First of all, I would recommend shooting in RAW format whenever possible because it gives you much more control over the photo (because the data lost is minimum). Second, NO flash please; natural light is the best you can use, but sometimes is not enough. To solve this problem I use a homemade reflector. Actually, just a cardboard with some silver paper glued on it.

My homemade reflector

And the difference can be substantial. Look at this two photos I took for my previous Cauliflower and green peas dry curry post: in the first one a reflector was used; in the second, not.

And you? Do you love it? Or its huge amount of tools scares you? Do you prefer using natural light or you are lucky and have one of those powerful external flashes (which have nothing to do with the flash included in the camera)?

I have got into the habit of doing everything with music….I even study and do homework with music! Because listening to the same songs one time and another is boring, I had to look for something new (I know it is supposed to be a vegan food blog and has nothing to do with music, but I just wanted to share it with you), and I found it: Evans Blue and Sick Puppies (no Lady Ga Ga for me, please). In case someone is interested, here is two of the songs I have been listening the most (I have just discovered that an embedded music player is trickier than I thought)

Cold (but I'm still here) (Evans Blue) -->

You're going down (Sick Puppies)-->

Ok, what I suppose you were looking for when you entered in a food blog: the recipe. By the way, this recipe is my December’s contribution to Tried&Tasted event (originally created by Zlamushka) which featured one blog every month; this time Closet Cooking by Kevin was chosen as the featured blog and Salt to Taste by Hema as the hostess. You just have to choose one of the many recipes from Kevin’s blog and send the information to Hema. You can use this logo, which I was pleased to design (you know that I am crazy about graphic design) and link it to Salt to Taste blog entry about the event. It would be also nice if you could give me credit and link to this blog too.

Feel free to use this logo (I am the official T&T designer…yay!),but it would be nice if you linked back to Tales of a Spoon ;) It’s the only thing that I ask in return.

Sweet potato pancakes

Sweet potato pancakes
Original recipe form: Closet Cooking

Serves: four large pancakes and lots of small one (sorry, I couldn’t count them because I ate them to quickly)

I don’t know why it didn’t try it before, because the combination is perfect. The sweet potato makes the pancakes dense, giving them a sweet (and unmistakable) flavor. The original recipe had eggs and buttermilk in it, so I had to change some things in order to veganize it:  I used soymilk with vinegar instead of buttermilk (tofu would have worked too. Check Go Dairy free for more buttermilk vegan alternatives), ground flaxseeds instead of the egg and olive oil instead of melted butter. I reduced the amount of sugar, used only whole wheat flour and finally did small pancakes instead of big ones. I froze most of them to enjoy them for breakfast during the next weeks.

-1 cup whole wheat flour
-1 tsp baking powder
-2 Tbsp brown sugar
-1 tsp cinnamon
-½ tsp nutmeg
-1 cup vegetable milk + 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
-½ cup cooked & mashed sweet potatoes (about one small potato)
-1 Tbsp olive oil
-1 Tbsp ground flaxseeds + 2 Tbsp water
-½ tsp salt

Cook ahead the sweet potatoes; I baked them because I love the flavor of the charred skin, which I left for the texture.
Mix the milk and the apple cider vinegar (you can also use lemon juice) and leave it to stand for ten minutes. In another small bowl mix as well the ground flaxseeds and the water and do the same.
Mix the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, spices, salt, sugar) in one bowl and the wet ingredients (butter milk alternative, flaxseeds, sweet potatoes and oil) in another. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ones slowly, mixing well but do not overmixing.
I recommend using a non stick saucepan and no oil at all. You can make a few big pancakes or a lot of small ones; I did the last. The mixture must be dense  but not too much, so you can pour them easily. Cook them on a medium heat and wait until some air bubbles appear on one side before flipping.
Serve with some jam, tahini, lemon juice, or margarine and sugar. I ate them with the compote de pommes my French partner gave as a present when I did the students exchange.  Magnifique
!They freeze very well and can be kept for several month (but I doubt if they are going to last you so long….)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Crazy about Japan (and my first guest post)

Stir-fried tofu with green beans

What do you think about Japanese cuisine? Do you hate it? Love it? Or maybe you have just never tried anything else apart from sushi? I don’t know if I have never mentioned it (if I don’t, I am doing it now), but I am in love with Japan ♥. I love its culture, its language (I have even tried to learn it when I was ten years old. As I suppose you have already guessed, I didn’t succeed) and of course its food.  Contrary to what people thing, Japanese cuisine is a very simple one and it focus on fresh products and the flavor of each ingredients (instead of a concoction where they become unrecognizable)

I have been a big otaku for years ; now I just don’t have time to read manga or watching anime, but I still like it. Actually, two of my biggest hobbies began with manga: drawing and website/graphic design. I could spend all the day drawing the characters of my favorite series. Luckily enough, my teachers didn’t care about the fact that I had all my notebooks full of faces and little drawings. And of course, my first websites were (you guessed it) about manga and anime. I began to design websites when I was only ten years old!

Now, I have too many books from school to read and too many homework to do, so the only way I have to put in practice my interest in Japanese is cooking; I can live without TV (actually, I don’t watch it anymore), cinema, computer games or even without going out on Saturdays nights, but I need doing at least some cooking to relax.  

Well, writing a post (my first guest post!♥) about Japanese culture for some friend of mine (who is even more a lover of Japanese culture than me) is another good way to take a break from schools :) I cooked a Mushroom miso soup and wrote the recipe, which you can read here. By the way, you can visit his blog, NihongoUp: it’s about Japanese language and culture. Philip is a Russian New Media developer & designer (check out his game to learn Japanese!) who has been living for years in Czech Republic. He has got a small section about food and recipes, and I tried one of them: Stir-fried tofu with green beans. Maybe I can’t afford going to Japan, but at least I can eat a tofu with green beans at home :)

Check out this  mushroom miso soup recipe on NihongoUp blog!

Check out this mushroom miso soup recipe on NihongoUp blog!

By the way, I have created a Twitter account (I couldn’t resist it!) Now I have to get the hang of it. What do you think about Twitter? Do you think that it will suppose the disappearance of blogs  (yeah, some people think it will) and that microblogging is the future? Or that it is just a passing fashion? In any case, I succumbed to the temptation, and now I have a Twitter widget on the right side of the blog :)

Follow me on Twitter!

Stir-fried tofu with green beans

By Philip, from NihongoUp Blog(recipe here)
Stir-fried tofu with green beans
  • I have introduced very little changes in this recipe because it’s incredibly easy. It’s the perfect everyday dish: healthy, balanced, tasty and quick.
  • The only ingredients I omitted are fresh minced ginger and mirin because I run out of this ingredients (visiting the Asian store is in my “to do list” since September).
  • The original recipe calls for extra-firm tofu, but mine was frozen. I would say it worked as well as regular tofu. I forgot unthawing it, so I put it in the steamer for five minutes and it turned out perfect. Then,  press it between two plates and something heavy on top as you would do with a non-frozen tofu block (it allows the tofu to absorb better the flavor) and marinate it in the mix of tamari (soy sauce), mirin, sesame oil and maple syrup for 15 minutes.