French Toast

Springing out of my cozy bed at the crack of dawn, I raced downstairs to start preheating my oven and assemble my mise en place for about a dozen new recipes. Time is running short in terms of my summer vacation, and I’m really feeling the pressure now. So many things are left undone, so many recipes left untested- This would be my last chance to just bake my heart out in the comfort of my own kitchen. Banging pots and pans to create the most wretched orchestra one could hope to hear before 8 AM, such a cacophony of cookware was buzzing right in my ear that I didn’t even notice a surprise visitor sitting at the table…

An old friend who must have just flown in from France, he certainly had a way about showing up on short notice! Disappointed that I was not the early bird this morning, beaten by the friend who was now eying my baking preparations hungrily, I figured that I might as well slow down a bit and chat with this unexpected guest. However, it was immediately obvious that this guy was not here for the conversation, as evident by his rumbling stomach and insistent questions about my plans for those sweet ingredients on the counter. Wielding a fork nearly as tall as himself, it was almost comical to think that he hoped to use it just as someone about ten times his size would! Nonetheless, far be it from me to refuse a friend in need, clearly my baking spree would have to wait until his appetite had been taken care of. Searching around in the pantry, there were many shortcuts that I tried to employ, offering frozen waffles, cereal, and fruit salad alike, hoping that this picky guest would be satisfied with an easy, ready to eat meal.

Ha, as if I needed to even ask! Nothing but the best for this breakfast connoisseur. Turning up his nose at the mere thought of eaten something out of a cardboard box, he seemed to become a less gracious guest by the minute. How was I to know what this French bear would want to eat? What do the French typically eat for the first meal of the day anyways? How about something like…. French toast?

As if I flipped some invisible switch with those two words, my friend at the table instantly perked up and grinned madly at the thought of sweet, sauteed toast with some spice and a soft custard-like texture in the center. Forget saving time and my own personal agenda, this French toast project became my one and only focus, my trial recipes temporarily forgotten. Slowly the sweet, cinnamon scent of my tried and true recipe filled the air, and my friend’s eyes grew the the size of saucers, imagining his luck at having such an easily manipulated personal chef, no doubt!  He’s just lucky that this very recipe happens to be one of my favorites, and is also included in my upcoming cookbook, so I’ve had plenty of practice making it.

Hot out of the pan and onto his plate, he didn’t even give it a moment to cool before cutting in and taking a huge bite. Grinning contentedly, I was just relieved that my duties as hostess could be considered fulfilled, even if I wasn’t a willing hostess to begin with. As much as I love having friends drop in like this, I wish he could have warned me in advance, so that I didn’t fall so far behind on my own agenda!

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Pest Control

“Organic” may be the buzz word of the decade, but it’s a concept that’s more than just a trendy fad, doomed to fizzle out just like slinkies, space food sticks, and afros. Actually, the whole conflict of organic vs. conventional foods only began a few short decades ago, as chemicals weren’t always the standard when growing healthy crops. Strange to think about, now that pesticides are practically synonymous with farming and the pros in the business are often dependent on mutant franken-foods, impregnated with fancy growth hormones and antibiotics. In this age of technological advancement, it’s difficult to imagine how life must have been without such convenient short cuts, despite how simple it must have once seemed. I know first hand that critters won’t just turn tail at the sight of a mesh fence, and nothing will faze those virulent weeds and pests that manage to invade no matter what natural preventative measures are taken. Health and environment aside, it’s those days when I’m up to my ankles in invasive sprouts, picking through leaves full of holes and sickly brown splotches, that I can almost understand the argument towards more aggressive measures. Truly, how can one grow food in a conscientious way without surrendering it to the vermin scrounging about for a free meal?

Maybe, just maybe, the farmers of old employed helpful creatures to stand guard while they tended the fields! Absurd to think about, but while I was admiring the little jalapeños beginning to form in the garden, I noticed a cheerful little frog watching my every move, dutifully protecting the young veggies from pesky thieves. Snatching up flies, bugs, and errant sprouts alike, I could have sworn that his sole purpose there was to watch my thriving plants, ensuring their safety. Since this is perhaps the most I’ve ever seen produced by my own soil, I owe this little fellow quite a bit, but I’m betting he already feels as though he’s gotten his reward- With all of the pests that he’s managed to “contain,” he’s had quite a feast, his belly practically bursting with all sorts of buggy goodness. Judging by that wide smile on his face, I would have to say that this is definitely the best solution to organic farming!

Bake Me a Cake

I’ve certainly knit my fair share of cupcakes since the start of my crafty adventures, but when time is short and I get orders for a half dozen yarn-based miniature cakes, pronto, the last things I would look for are my knitting needles. My blog is now becoming dominated by crocheted objects, but don’t get me wrong, I still love knitting- It just takes much more time in general, and who has any time these days? Why not just bust out that crochet hook and be able to finish off a full dozen in a day’s time?

This rendition is nothing new, special, or unique, but it’s getting harder and harder to follow ready-made patterns, as my hands tend to deviate so rebelliously that I usually end up with something entirely different by the time I cut the last thread. Instead, I figured it would be safer to start from scratch and write my own pattern, simply for my own convenience. You’ve got about a million other cupcake patterns to choose from on the wonderful web so be sure to check out all of your options, but here’s how I do them…

Cake:

With brown worsted weight yarn and an F hook, sc6 in a circle
Sc twice into each st (12 sts)
Sc1, sc twice into next st* around (18 sts)
Sc2, sc twice into next st* around (24 sts)
Sc into back loops of each st
Sc around
Sc11, sc twice into next st* around (26)
Sc6, sc twice into next st, sc12, sc twice into next st, sc6 (28)
Sc13, sc twice into next st* around (30)
Sc around
Break yarn

Frosting:

Sc6 in a circle
Sc twice into each st (12 sts)
Sc1, sc twice into next st* around (18 sts)
Sc2, sc twice into next st* around (24 sts)
Sc around
Sc3, sc twice into next st* around (30 sts)
Sc around for 3 rounds
Skip one st, 5 dc into next st, skip one st, sl st* around
Break yarn, leaving a long tail to sew with

To assemble, simply sew bugle beads or embroider multicolored “sprinkles” on top of the frosting as desired, stuff, and sew the cake to the edge of the frosting just inside of the scalloped edge. Now wasn’t that easy? Go ahead and make a baker’s dozen; You undoubtedly have enough time!

Herbivore Loves Me!

…Or at least they’re curious about me! Imagine my surprise when I got an email about a month back asking if I would be interested in answering a few questions by none other than my fellow vegan crafters and foodies, Jess and Michelle, on behalf of Herbivore online- I’m still thrilled that anyone might want to know more about little old me. You can check out the full interview here, but alas, you must have a paid subscription to view it. For all of you frugal readers who have trouble parting with money that could otherwise be spent on good yarn or vegan ice cream, (Don’t worry, I know the feeling!) here’s just a little snippet to tide you over…
Continue reading “Herbivore Loves Me!”

Melting for Sorbetto

Having just downed four pints of insanely good gelato, you would think that I couldn’t handle cracking open another container for weeks, but lo and behold, the very next day found me standing anxiously in front of the freezer, breaking into the remaining cartons. What can I say- I just love frozen desserts! Besides, if there was tempting sorbetto (otherwise known as sorbet) chilling out so nearby, I’m sure few people would leave it there for long, either.

Not one to wait around and waste time, I immediately uncovered the Strawberry sorbetto first, unveiling the most shockingly vivid red color ever seen in natural food. A screaming fire engine red, brighter than strawberries themselves, it was truly a hue worthy of admiration, giving me pause even as my appetite clamored for a taste. Scooping smoothly, straight into my mouth, I was blown away by the bright, clean, and authentic flavor. Tasting just of frozen strawberries but with a creamier texture and a healthy sprinkling of seeds, evidence of the real fruit was found throughout. As someone who prefers textured fruit preserves to slimy, jello-esque jam, it was a refreshing change of pace from those flat, unvaried and artificial offerings more commonly found on grocery store shelves. It’s so easy for a delicate berry like strawberry to translate poorly into other creations, tasting either too watery, weak or terribly fake, so this concoction was quite a delicious feat indeed.

Nestled between frozen peas and aging leftovers sat my next victim, the Lemon sorbetto. Finally clearing out enough room in my freezer to access this flavor, it was like unearthing a wonderful treasure that aroused my curiosity and hunger. White as snow without some false chemical coloring to give it that typical neon yellow tint, I could hardly discern any smell, making it quite an enigmatic, mysterious sorbet from afar. Digging in and letting it melt on my tongue, bright, tangy hits of citrus struck me at once. Sour but tempered by a serious sweetness, it reminded me of those classic Italian ices I used to enjoy at carnivals many years ago. Wonderfully and intensely lemon by all accounts, this mouth-puckering sensation might be too much for the kids, but it is an excellent option for the more sophisticated palate looking for a taste of childhood.

Continuing with the citrus theme, it only made sense to try out the Orange flavor directly afterwards in order to compare and contrast. Noticing that it felt a bit softer and creamier as I scooped out a serving, it was no surprise that it felt a bit smoother than the previous as well. Mellower than the lemon, the citrus flavor was definitely pronounced without any sort of sour bite to speak of. Taking a page more from tangerines than oranges, this light and almost flowery sorbet was a delight to eat. Wonderfully light, it was easy to eat on a hot day or in any other weather for that matter. I’m sure that all members of the family would agree on this flavor as well, catering to a whole spectrum of tastes with a deliciously simple, uncomplicated, and straight-forward fresh flavor.

My tasting menu of frozen desserts was finally coming to an end as only one last container remained. How I wish that I could simply keep pulling new cartons out of my freezer endlessly! Reality bites, and soon enough I went ahead and took a bite out of that final flavor, the Raspberry sorbet. It’s a good thing that I didn’t delay sampling it for too long as this deep, dark red delight knocked my socks off! Seedless unlike the strawberry, there was nothing to distract the tongue from its intense berry flavor. Having eaten my weight in raspberries this season, I think I know a good rendition when I taste it and a spoonful of this stuff was absolute heaven- All that was missing was the experience of picking the berries straight from their bushes. Slightly tart, vaguely floral, and perfectly refreshing, it was the perfect ending to an amazing series of frozen desserts.

If you’re tired of artificial, lack-luster snack foods and are looking for real food that’s really delicious, look no further. Blackwell’s makes some of the best sorbetto that I have ever enjoyed, tasting just like creamy, frozen versions of each individual fruit flavor. Perhaps it’s a good thing that I don’t have such easy access to these products, because I don’t know that I would ever be able to stop eating them otherwise!

[Written for Go Dairy Free]

Melting For Gelato

Ever since world cuisine opened America’s eyes to a whole new culinary realm, Italian food has been one of the most ubiquitous choices in everyday home cooking. Adored by cooks and consumers alike for ease of preparation and vibrant, fresh flavors, these dishes are so versatile that they can be modified to accommodate almost any dietary need. Unfortunately, the communal feasting often ends as the last savory course is polished off, as most traditional Italian desserts are impossible to recreate without copious amounts of eggs or dairy. Take gelato for instance- Rich and creamy, you would never think that this frozen confection could ever be any good in a vegan-friendly format… until now. Raising the bar for vegan products to a whole new level, Blackwell’s seems to have come along at just the right time, riding the wave of increasing interest in animal-free foods, and offering some relief from this sweltering summer heat.

Noting the wide selection of enticing flavors listed online, I could barely contain my excitement as I waited for that fateful FedEx delivery. While this brand is sadly available in only a very few stores at the moment, having that heavy cardboard box arrive at my doorstop was admittedly very convenient. No need to venture out into the heat and humidity when this delightful treat will come to you instead! Quickly unloading the contents directly into my freezer, the sheer number of pints that kept coming from this single package was jaw dropping. No less that eight different flavors in all, four of which being the innovative gelato that had so tickled my curiosity, and another four flavors of their other Italian-inspired sorbettos. Most curious about an eggless, dairy-free gelato, those pints were the first to be opened, and promptly emptied.

Beginning with the basics, it only seemed right that I sample the Vanilla first. Often disregarded as a bland flavor, vanilla is actually amazingly complex, so it’s a good indication of whether or not the producer knows their beans. It is also usually the base of any other ice cream flavors, so you can get a good idea of what to expect from the rest of the line by just this one simple offering. Instantly setting eyes on those beautiful, bountiful flecks of real vanilla bean in this pint, I knew I was in for a treat.

Forcing a spoon into its frozen depths, it seemed a bit hard and icy at first, but given just a moment to thaw, it became the creamiest, dreamiest concoction I could have hoped for. Melting smoothly over my tongue, the vanilla notes were so intense; it was honestly like nothing else I had ever tasted. Forget what you think you know about vanilla before approaching this rendition- This is an entirely different animal altogether. Sweet and decadent but still cool and refreshing this creation does the humble bean justice at long last.

After demolishing that previous pint unaided, I was ready to move on to the next enticing flavor in my frosty freezer. Reaching in and pulling out the incredible indulgent-sounding Peanut Butter Chocolate Swirl, this pint practically leapt out on its own, begging to be eaten. Lifting the lid with high hopes, I have to admit that I was a little disappointed to see a spare, uneven dotting of chocolate, not the grand swirl that I had envisioned. Nonetheless, smelling strongly of peanuts, it was no surprise that its intense nutty flavors shone through brightly. Not so sweet, but as rich as pure frozen peanut butter, deeper roasted notes added to the myriad of complex nuances throughout this sophisticated gelato. With just enough fudge mixed in to add variety, it was easy to just continuously down spoonful after spoonful without tiring of the flavor. My only reservation is that I wish it had a slightly saltier hit, as I simply love a little salt in good peanut butter.

Moving back to the classics, Chocolate was next on my hit list. Uncovering a deep, dark, velvety brown color just beneath the plastic seal, I’m sure my eyes grew to the size of saucers, marveling at the incredible treat that was sure to come. Scooping out with the texture of chilly ganache, standard ice cream, vegan or not, couldn’t even put a finger on the consistency of this stuff.

Quickly spooning a serious mound of it into my mouth, it took me a moment to consider this creation. For once, I wasn’t struck with feelings of adoration for the flavor, and it was hard to pin down exactly what to make of it. An undeniably intense cocoa flavor permeated through every last molecule, but all the same, it seemed a bit… flat. Lacking the round, well-developed components of solid chocolate, there wasn’t any sweetness I could detect, giving it a more 2-dimensional taste, much like plain cocoa powder. Don’t get me wrong, it was still quite good and the pint was finished off all the same, but I might have appreciated a slightly more balanced flavor profile, and just a little bit more sugar.

Finally approaching my usual favorite, I simply couldn’t hold back any long when it came to tasting the creamy tan contents of the container billed as Coffee. As an unapologetic lover of all things coffee, I knew that this would be an instant winner, but it turned out to be so much more than I had anticipated. Mellow enough that those not so fond of the stereotypically harsh flavor would also be able to enjoy it, this was better than any ice latte a coffeehouse might serve. Nothing like the bitter black cups of mud brewed daily, it had a very sweet and almost milky slant to it. As someone who make their coffee with about 1/3 cup of grounds to every cup of water like myself, I found this was still an incredibly delicious departure from the regular morning wake-up call, worthy of the dessert plate even without accompaniment. Although my taste test was a fairly large portion, I found myself instantly going back for more, craving that amazing coffee goodness.

Delicious, cold, and intensely flavored overall, these Italian-inspired frozen desserts were just as amazing as I had dreamed. However, I’m not entirely sure that they are quite as rich as authentic gelato, lacking the thick, heavy texture that is synonymous with cream and egg yolks. That said, it’s definitely in a whole different category from you average soy ice cream, and no matter what you want to call it, the bottom line is that it is damn good.

Stay tuned for notes on the sorbetto, coming soon!

[Written for Go Dairy Free]