Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Cookbook - Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World

I’ve always had a thing for cupcakes. Far less scary than baking a cake, you feel like you’ve achieved so much more (it’s like twelve mini cakes!) and can cover any mistakes with so much less (just a little icing covers all…).  So when I bought Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero’s wee book Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World: 75 Dairy-Free Recipes for Cupcakes that Rule I was very excited to help the little bite sized treats do just that - making myself look fantastically skillful in the process.

Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World: 75 Dairy-Free Recipes for Cupcakes that Rule
When it comes to me and vegan cookbooks there are a couple of things that make all the difference in whether a book becomes either a battered favourite or an untouched addition to my bookshelf.  Firstly, I love pictures - lovely, coloured, glossy pictures.  We’re not living in the 80s anymore, where a sketch of a scone will do the trick – it's all about high definition colour to get me in the baking mood!

Once I'm in that mood attention turns to the recipes themselves - simple steps for a simple girl, nothing to complicated or hard to read and I'm all over it.  And lastly I look at the ingredients - if I have to go gallivanting around for weird ingredients that end up costing a small fortune, the book has a very short life span.

So how does Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World stack up?  When it comes to lovely, glossy pictures, this book is truly a winner.  Nearly every recipe comes with a fabulous shot of what your cupcake should look like -  as opposed to what most of mine turn out like (I’m not so handy with a piping bag…).  The recipes themselves are well laid out with witty little intros, a trademark of the two Brooklyn culinary queens, and handy hints litter the pages, delightfully called ‘sprinkles’ (Queue: awwwww).  

A definite plus for my scale-hating self, all the measurements are in spoons or cups, and while the temperatures are in Fahrenheit, you thankfully only need to remember one.   The girls have really done very well at making the whole book look as pretty as one of their cupcakes, but do the recipes themselves cut the mustard?

Currently munching my way through the many pretty pages of this book – halfway in, my answer is a resounding yes.  With about half a dozen recipes now part of my official cupcake rotation, the Carrot Cake Cupcakes, Gingerbread Cupcakes and the little peanut butter number lurking in the middle (pictured below – looking rather fabulous, if I do say so myself) are definitely worth buying the book for alone.  High on my list to try next are the rather delectable sounding Mucho Margarita Cupcakes, as well as the Toasted Coconut Cupcakes, which I’m going to tackle just as soon as I find out where to buy coconut oil….  

Which brings me to the only, somewhat minor, niggle I have with this book – weird ingredients.  Certainly not as bad as other books I’ve seen, some of the more interesting cupcakes sadly call for things I just can’t seem to find.  Coming from Brooklyn, with the population of a small country, finding things like agar flakes and matcha tea powder is probably not a hassle for the authors, whereas myself, currently living in a small city in Ireland, these such things just don’t exist (or are out there somewhere but I’m too lazy to find them…probably the latter).

Overall though this is a wee gem of a book - smudged and smeared with all sorts at this stage, it takes pride of place in my collection and, even if vegan cupcakes eventually don’t take over the world, they certainly make me look good at parties – and in the end, isn’t that what really matters!?    

Friday, April 22, 2011

Ode to the Golden Coconut Bar

An ode to a chocolate bar I hear you say?  Yes, it is that good.  Am I actually going to write an ode? No, I am not that talented.  What I am going to do though is tell you just how AMAZING this chocolate bar really is.

First discovered when I arrived in Cork, I found this most delicious of bars lurking inside a health food store, hidden beside something made with carob (dry retch) and something else that looked suspiciously too healthy for my taste.  I nearly walked right past it and would never have known the magic that is the Organica Golden Coconut and Dark Chocolate Bar. 

Vegan chocolate bars tend to be limited to super rich dark chocolate, with the occasional hint of orange or mint, if your lucky.  Organica however have taken things a massive step further and added coconut, my most favoured of all chocolate fillings - that's right, they have made the vegan bounty bar, and it's better than the original.  Sweet, delicious coconut wrapped in luscious dark chocolate (that doesn't make you reach for a glass of water with every bite) this is one delectable treat.

In Ireland it can be found in most health food stores or you can buy it online from a number of UK sites.  Venture Foods, who make and distribute the bar, also have a website with more such tasty treats, like vegan white chocolate, oh my!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

I'm the Only Vegan in the Village

An odd thing has happened lately that has caught me rather off guard – I’ve met other vegans.  I had always known they were out there, somewhere.  There were web sites claiming of whole societies of vegans, who had get togethers and ate cupcakes.  Hailing from the middle of nowhere in New Zealand, even in the bigger city where I went to university I never once came across any of these so called vegans, let along whole groups of them. And then, all of a sudden, they were EVERYWHERE.

My first inclination was to feel threatened; I was the only ‘vegan in the village!’. (Refer to: Daffyd, from Little Britain) I mean, did I have to share my dark chocolate now!? 
My second was to be suspicious – vegans in my mind (myself excluded of course) were all tree hugging hippies, obsessed with E numbers and how long they could go without shaving their arm pits.  What if people start associating me with these weirdoes!??

My third was fear.  Not the perfect of vegans, I have a few grey areas when it comes to my chosen lifestyle – would they lynch me for eating potato chips at the pub which I know contain lactose?  And heaven forbid to think what they would do when they find out I work at a café, a normal café, where I secretly experience a buzz of satisfaction when I get the cappuccino froth just right??

And so it was with great wariness that I got to know these other ‘vegans’.  I shook hands with them at a distance, and waited for them to comment on my semi leather shoes.  I sat in silence wondering who was going to regale me first with tales from their latest night time raid on battery hens.  

Much to my surprise however no one smelled like a ten day old sock, and there wasn’t a greasy dread lock in sight.  Everyone drank alcohol like I did and confessed to small grey areas of their own.  Could it be? Could they be normal!??

With great surprise, that quickly turned to delight, I now claim to know a whole host of vegans, and am even part of a vegan group.  More importantly, the prophecies were true!!  We eat cupcakes and go to restaurants together; we share recipes and invite each other over for dinner.   All my fears were unfounded.   The suspicious, stereotyping vegan in me was quashed!  Well, almost… I'm still distrustful of dreadlocks.

Are you a vegan in Cork, Ireland?  There are others like you!  Visit the Cork Vegans Meet.up Group and prepare yourself for cupcake action!  

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Stir Fried Lettuce 炒生菜

The one thing I both love and hate about Chinese food is the variety - if you can put soy sauce on it, you can eat it – nothing seems to be out of the woks greedy reach.   The Chinese themselves have a saying that they’ll  ‘eat anything with four legs besides the kitchen table, and anything that flies that’s not an airplane’, which ultimately leads to some pretty disturbing menu items:  stir fried dog meat, grilled scorpion, hot pot chicken feet, barbecued chicks still in the shell…. (insert dry retch here).

But while a lot of the stranger food items for many people would border on disgusting, there is one little treasure that is so simple and so delicious it’s a wonder no one but the Chinese seem to have thought of it before:  stir fried ice-berg lettuce.

I first came across this wee gem while working at my local Chinese restaurant in New Zealand.  While the customers were busy ordering their Chicken Chow Meins and Black Bean Beefs (which I never saw being eaten in China in all my years there, ever) I was busy munching into some more authentic fare with the boss. And while I was undeniably sceptical at first, I soon came round to his way of thinking.  This is definitely one for the repertoire.

Stir Fried Lettuce 炒生菜

Ingredients (for one large plate):

1 medium head of ice-berg lettuce, roughly chopped
3-4 large cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
1 tsp sugar
Sesame oil
Vege oil


Heat the vegetable oil in a work and add the garlic.

Fry for about a minute before adding in the lettuce, sugar and salt to taste.

Stir-fry until the lettuce just begins to wilt (I like it best still slightly crunchy), add a generous dash of sesame oil, mix a few times and serve with rice.  So simple!

Notes:  Probably not a dish that’s going to really fill you up on its own, it's best served alongside a couple of other dishes, in the classic Chinese sharing style.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Chunky Strawberry Jam

In my quest to become the best vegan house wife (to be) ever, I recently ventured into the realm of jam making and if I’d known just how easy it was, I would have definitely attempted it far sooner.  If you ever wanted to feel accomplished like a 1960s housewife this is the ticket!  Now all I need to do is learn how to darn socks... (I’ve already mastered vacuuming with a martini – I don’t spill a drop).

This recipe uses frozen strawberries…that I bought at Tesco….ahem – but I promise my next batch will be from an organic farmers market, in season (or from my very own garden, in a few years time when I get the itch to become the best gardener EVER – watch this space).    

The best thing about jam though is that the jars look so pretty with a bit of ribbon and some old cloth and make the perfect gift - an excellent excuse to show off just how accomplished you are! 

Strawberry Jam


All you need are frozen strawberries and their weight in jam sugar (or a little less if the fruit is very sweet).  For example, I used 800g of frozen strawberries and 800g of jam sugar (which you can find in the supermarket).


Tip the strawberries onto a pot and defrost over low heat.

Once the strawberries have defrosted, add the sugar and stir gently, until dissolved.

Bring the mixture to the boil and boil until it has reached the setting point (when a wee teaspoon of jam on a cold plate wrinkles if you push it - about 8 minutes for my 800g batch), always keeping an eye on it so it doesn’t spill over.

Once it has come to the setting point, take it off the heat and leave it to cool before popping into jars.

Notes:  I love whole fruit jam, but if you prefer yours smooth, you can always crush the berries before adding the sugar.  For fresh fruit, slightly under ripe fruit works best, because they have more pectin, which helps jam to set.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Northern Style Potato, Eggplant and Peppers 地三鲜

As part of my university degree I spent about a year and a half studying at a language institute in Dalian, a coastal city in Northeast China, where I soon discovered the wonders of Northern Chinese cuisine, and became promptly addicted.   

In the space of two months I had gobbled my way two sizes larger, mostly due to this little baby 地三鲜 (Di San Xian).  Literally ‘earth three fresh’ it's a wonderful mix of potatoes, eggplant and green pepper.   The embodiment of all things good about Northern Chinese food, it’s deliciously oily and loaded with garlic. You won't find this at your local Chinese takeaway.

Northern Style Potato, Eggplant and Peppers    地三鲜

Ingredients (for one large plate):

1 large eggplant
2 medium potatoes
1 green bell pepper
2 spring onions
3 tbs soy sauce
2 tbs sugar
1 tsp salt
3 cloves garlic
¼ cup vege stock
corn starch
cooking oil


Peel the potato and eggplant, and, along with the pepper, cut into rough chunks. 

Heat a good bit of oil in a wok and deep fry the potatoes until lightly browned, followed by the pepper.

Coat the eggplant in corn flour (this gives it a crunchier texture when deep frying) and deep fry until just browned.

Discard most of the oil used for deep frying (I tip it in a jar to use for a different dish) and, using a little of the remainder, fry the garlic and spring onions for a few seconds, before adding the stock.

Into the stock, add the soy sauce, sugar, salt and finally the deep-fried vege and stir.

Mix a few tablespoons of water with a teaspoon of corn starch and add a few teaspoons of this mixture to the wok and fry until it all starts to come together.

Plate up and serve with rice.

Notes: Depending on what kind of stock you use, you may not need a full teaspoon of salt.  I often add just half at the start and taste an eggplant before adding in the starch, just to see if I need to add a wee pinch more.