28 December, 2011

Up OR Down, It Is Wonderful!

I am extremely fond of cake and cupcakes, even more so when there is fruit or chocolate involved.  One of my favorite versions is "Up-Side Down" ANYthing with cake.  Pineapple is the normal choice in our home, but I have a large abundance of apples in the house (still not sure how that happened...hmmmm....) so they must be used.  I couldn't think of a better way to blow through a bag of apples today!

I wanted my cake to be as "deep dish" as it could get, so I used my Pampered Chef spring-form pan and wrapped the bottom in a bit of aluminum foil to avoid any drippage of the melted brown sugar & butter into the bottom of the oven...stinky...

Vegan Apple Upside Down Cake

7 small MacIntosh apples, peeled, cored and sliced
1 c. organic brown cane sugar
4-6 T. vegan buttery spread
2 tsp. lemon juice

1 c. flour
1 tsp. aluminum free baking powder
1/2 tsp. sea salt
3/4 c. organic cane sugar
1/4 c. organic brown cane sugar
2 tsp. egg replacer
6 T. vegan buttery spread, melted and cooled
1/2 c. soured unsweetened soy milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract OR caramel extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Peel, core and slice your apples and toss them into a small bowl; coat them with the lemon juice so they don't oxidize.

If you are using a spring-form pan like I did, wrap the outside of the bottom your pan tightly with foil.  If you are using a regular cake pan you can skip that step of course.  Grease the sides of the can pan lightly, then with a very liberal hand grease the bottom of the pan.  Toss your 1 c. of organic brown cane sugar onto that and scatter it about the bottom of the pan evenly.  Set this aside until the cake batter is ready.

In a small bowl whisk the flour, salt, baking powder and egg replacer then set it aside.  In a large mixing bowl whisk the sugar, brown sugar; then slowly whisk in the slightly cooled, melted butter.  Add the soured soy milk and vanilla or caramel extract and whisk until combined.  Add in the flour mixture and whisk until JUST combined.

Toss about 1/4 c. of cinnamon into a small bowl, roll each slice of apple into the cinnamon, then arrange it in the bottom of the pan in a spiral.  (I am not a huge cinnamon fan, so I skipped this step)

Before batter...
Pour your cake batter over the apples and lightly tap the pan on the counter to make sure that batter gets down to the bottom and into the nooks and crannies of the apples.  Bake the cake for 35-50 minutes OR until cake is toothpick clean.  The spread I gave on the time is allowing for wider, thinner cakes pans to be used.  If you use a regular round 10 inch cake pan the bake time will be approximately 35-40 minutes.  A spring-form is deep and stout...45-50 minutes is more realistic for how thick the cake is going to be.

After baking...

I'll admit, this would probably look more presentable and get you more "Ooo's" and "Aaaah's" if the apples are rolled in cinnamon.  They stand out better against the caramelized organic brown cane sugar after being rolled in cinnamon...really you could roll them in nutmeg, cloves, cocoa powder...anything that stands out and brings an element of flavor that matches with the brown sugar and the simple yellow cake this recipe comes up with.

Do I really need to tell you how fabulous this tastes?  I know, but I will ANYhow!  The cake was beautifully thick and rich and the fruit was just the perfect kiss of sweet on top.  This would be great with ice cream...caramel, cinnamon, pecan....the possibilities are endless!  Have fun!!

26 December, 2011

A New Favorite

I happened to be over in the Vanier area of town last night so my Mister and I decided to head to a place I have been wanting to go to for a long time, Host India.

We first heard about this place way back in June from our realtor when we were looking for a home.  She said they had the best Indian in town and said she ate there daily.  All I could think was that they HAD to make some great food to bring someone back EVERY day.  I was about to find out, they DO!

This is another place that opens EXACTLY at 5 pm.  We are having a hard time getting used to that, but in this case and the others it was worth the wait.  We were seated and got right to work on exploring their large menu.  I asked the waiter what their signature dishes were or the best they had to offer...his answer was it was all good.  I've heard that before, nearly every place I go in this town.  Our order went in for meat samosa, fish koliwada, garlic naan, onion kulcha, Lamb Rogan Josh and my Mister ordered Chicken Madras.  We were given a complimentary plate of pappadum and two sauces.  The Sprout ate all the pappadum...he's in a growth spurt.  While he was busy I took the opportunity to look around.



After my little jaunt around the place I was falling in love.  The soft lighting, the intoxicating smells coming out of the kitchen and the beautifully peaceful atmosphere (minus US of course...the Sprout usually muddies the water on that front) were casting their spell.  When I saw the HUGE buffet against the wall I started to understand how someone could eat a lunch buffet HERE everyday and not get tired of it.  The buffet area was almost the whole wall of one side of the restaurant!  The Sprout was out of pappadum, but it didn't matter....before he had a chance to squawk the fish koliwada and meat samosa were at the table.

Fish Koliwada

Meat Samosa

These fish koliwada were so wonderful and tender, I couldn't believe it.  My husband and I weren't sure if they were salmon or trout, but let me tell ya...it doesn't really matter.  They were perfectly seasoned and had a nice healthy kick.  The Sprout loved them and devoured them accordingly, the spice level didn't phase him for a second.  My Mister picked the meat samosa, normally I enjoy the vegetable samosa more.  These were good, but were were both surprised at how much the meat was seasoned.  It didn't ruin them by any stretch of the imagination, but the amount of seasoning was noticeable in comparison to other samosa we've had.  We were pleased with our meal so far.  My Mister looked past my shoulder and announced that the main entrees and breads were on their way...

Lamb Rogan Josh w/ Lemongrass & Coriander

Butter Chicken

B-F Garlic Naan & Onion Kulcha

Jasmine Rice
We said our prayer and I got some rice with Rogan Josh, rice with Butter Chicken and some bread on the Sprout's plate.  He sat quietly munching away while me and my Mister got to eat our food.  Everything was so fabulous!  The real star of the table was actually the complimentary Butter Chicken the manager sent to the table.  We hadn't ordered it, he just wanted us to try it because it was one of their best dishes.  I kind of chuckled to myself and thought he ought to tell his wait staff that it is one of their best dishes so when a customer asks, they can direct them to the Butter Chicken.  It truly was the best thing on the table next to our breads and fish koliwada.  My Mister and I both agreed (hardly ever happens with food) that it was the best entree of the night, hands down.  Our garlic naan was light and soft and the kulcha had a great snap of onion flavor in every single bite.  I couldn't believe how much more heat there was to my Rogan Josh than in other Rogan's I've had before.  But, I love that.  It didn't over power the flavor of anything else, the lamb shined through bringing a nice mild, savory follow up to the initial spark in the Rogan sauce.  

I was very pleased with our choices....but the Sprout was finished and every parent of a 2 year old knows that means YOU are finished as well.  We asked for the rest of our entrees and breads to be packed and for the bill.  Then I was off, chasing after the Sprout while he went wild.

Host India was a delightful experience on a less than happy night weather-wise.  But the rain and cold didn't bother me half as much walking out of Host India with a happy belly full with savory, tasty food.  I would recommend Host India to even the most discerning palates of Indian cuisine.  They lived up to all the hype that I received before dining....  It is my Mister and I have decided it is our new "favorite" in town.  Go get yourself some butter chicken from Host India tonight!  I promise you won't regret it!  Enjoy... 

Host India on Urbanspoon

23 December, 2011

White Chocolate

Does anyone besides me remember the "Alpine White" bars that Nestle used to sell in the blue and white packaging?  When I was a kid I looked at the white chocolate and thought "Ick...who would eat that?"  It took until me until I was about 9 to try one.  I L-O-V-E-D it!  Too bad for me they discontinued them 2 years later.  *sigh*  Seems to be my dorky lot in life, I catch on to all of the great things juuuuust before they are removed from the market.  Sound familiar?

I know the title of this candy bar is insanely long, but I think it is worth the lengthy description.  It is the ONLY thing about this post that takes a while to do.  They are super easy to make and they don't last long once the chocolate sets....not in my house anyhow.  Let's get on with it, shall we?

Vegan Cran-Orange Almond White Chocolate Candy Bars
2 vegan white chocolate candy bars
1/2 c. organic dehydrated cranberries
1 tsp. organic dehydrated valencia orange peel
1/2 c. slivered almonds
candy bar shaped chocolate mold

Break the candy bars down in to small pieces and put them in a double boiler.  Stir the chocolate as it melts.  When completely melted remove bowl from boiling pot and toss in cranberries, almonds and orange peel.  Mix together until everything is coated and spoon mixture into candy bar mold.  Allow to sit until chocolate has completely solidified again.

White chocolate has a classically mellow flavor, so the cranberry and orange really bring it to life.  The almonds are a really nice compliment to the nuttiness that white chocolate already seems to have.  I wasn't sure that anyone else would be interested in eating these, boy was I wrong.  The Sprout loves them and my Mister doesn't think they are half bad either.  There are a million things you can do like this, play around with it and most of all, have fun!

22 December, 2011

Tummy Love!

Every year at Christmas my family and I go through a baking frenzy like no other family I know.  Our baking traditions include a variety of bars.  When planning my cookie series I had a really tough time not including some of those bars in my bonus posts rather than just the candies.  I went back and forth on whether it was possible for me to make it through the Christmas season without some bars.  The indecisiveness has passed, I couldn't make it and you'll be glad I shared this recipe...I promise!  Chocolate, peanut butter...crisp rice cereal....you just can't go wrong with any of those ingredients.

(I'll take this opportunity to remind my readers again that you don't HAVE to use organic or vegan ingredients for these recipes.  ALL the recipes I make can be evenly exchanged for dairy butter, non organic sugars and chocolate chips with dairy.  My mom sometimes uses a milk chocolate/butterscotch chip mixture on the top...the possibilities with these recipes are endless!)

O'Henry Bars
1 c. organic creamy peanut butter
1 c. vegan buttery spread
1 c. organic light corn syrup
1 c. organic fair trade cane sugar
5-6 c. Erewhon organic brown rice cereal (gluten free, organic rice crispies)
2 pkgs. of Enjoy Life vegan mini chocolate chips
1 1/2 T. Earth's Balance vegan shortening
aluminum foil covered pan or glass cake pan
butter for hands or wax paper

Depending on how thick you like your bars depends on where you put these, but wherever they are going the pan needs to be prepared now.  If you like them thinner (about a half inch thick), cover a large cookie sheet with aluminum foil and set it aside.  If you like your bars thicker (about 1 inch) just grab yourself a large glass cake pan.  No need to cover the glass in foil.  Set your choice of pan aside for later.

Put 5 cups of crisp rice cereal in a large mixing bowl.

In a large non-reactive pot melt together peanut butter and vegan buttery spread.  When completely melted add corn syrup and sugar.  Bring to a boil; stir constantly with a METAL spoon and continue boiling until mixture hits soft ball stage (240 degrees on digital thermometer).  When it is ready, pour mixture over crisp rice cereal, do NOT scrape the pan for sauce.  Stir mixture into cereal until cereal is well coated.  If there seems to be extra "goop" add more cereal in half cup increments until there isn't enough "goop" to be taken out with a teaspoon.

Pour both bags of chocolate chips into a large glass bowl and microwave in 1 minute bursts until chips can be stirred.  Stir until all the chips lose their shape, add shortening, stir until shortening is completely melted.  Set aside.

Turn rice crispie mixture into pan of choice.  Spread out with greased hands or wax paper sheet, pressing firmly as you go.  Pour melted chocolate evenly over the pressed cereal and spread chocolate with a butter knife towards edges; covering cereal evenly.  Set aside to cool for 2 hours OR when the chocolate is no longer shiny and tacky to the touch.

These bars are out of this WORLD yummy and the recipe is quick and easy.  This takes me less than 15 minutes to make start to finish.  The only wait you have is for the chocolate to dry and sometimes lol...you don't "have" to wait...I didn't when I made them!  I wanted to try them right away.  It is almost impossible to screw this recipe up as well, so don't be afraid to try it.  Let me know if you enjoyed it.

21 December, 2011

Chocolaty Marshmallow Goodness!

Do I really need to say a whole lot here?  The name really tells you everything you need to know.  Chocolate and marshmallow in portable form.  Yeah...I know...must be heavenly.  It IS!  The special secret of peanut butter added to the chocolate takes this bar to a whole new level of yum!  Let's get to it!

Vegan Choco-Mallow Bars
1 recipe of your choice of brownies (boxed or not)
1 10 oz container of ricemellow creme
1 1/2 c. of vegan mini chocolate chips
3/4 c. creamy peanut butter
5 c. brown rice cereal (rice crispies)

Prepare your brownie mix as directed in your recipe of choice (or box of choice) BUT bake it in a 9 x 13 pan.  I realize this will make a really THIN brownie, but that's the point.  When they are finished baking, remove from oven to cooling rack and allow to COMPLETELY cool.  At least 1 hour.

After 1 hour, in a medium sized sauce pan melt chocolate chips and peanut butter together.  While you're waiting for it to melt put your 5 c. of rice crispie type cereal in a large mixing bowl.  When chocolate and peanut butter are completely melted together, pour over rice crispies and stir until every speck of cereal is well coated.  Set aside momentarily.

Spread your ricemellow creme over the cooled brownies now.  Try to do it as evenly as possible.  When you are finished, pour your coated rice cereal over the ricemellow layer and spread the chocolaty covered goodness out.  Allow this to sit at room temperature for 1-2 hours or until the chocolate is set again.

*This recipe can be made non-vegan quite easily.  I adapted it to vegan to suit my purposes.  If you want to make this with bagged mini marshmallows simply bake the brownies as indicated, remove them from the oven when finished and then pour the mini marshmallows into a single layer (about 1/2 a bag of mini marshmallows) over the brownies.  Toss back in the oven until they expand enough that you can't see the brownie bottom through the marshmallows.  Remove from the oven and allow the pan to cool 1 hour before adding the rice crispie topping to the pan.

20 December, 2011

Not Yo' Grandma's Fruit Cake!!

I can't tell you how many times I have heard the word "fruitcake" and cringed.  The nasty candied fruits, that otherwise would have been perfectly wonderful, an over spiced or sometimes under spiced cake filling barraged with an over abundance of NUTS.  Not just any nuts...walnuts.  Walnuts have never been my favorite and they seem to end up in EVERYthing around the holidays.  Fudge, cookies, breads...you name it, someone finds a way to get walnuts in there.

Fruit cake SOUNDS good when you hear the name, unless you have what most people do candied citron, fruits and...the dreaded walnuts.  There are two main types of fruit cake; dark and light.  I prefer mine dark and I find dark is more moist than the light and retains its moisture longer than light fruit cake does.  Since I really hate all the things I just mentioned that you'd normally find in cake...we'll talk more about what you WILL find in my fruit cake.  Bing cherries, raisins, dates, pecans, molasses....sounds great already right?  Well, lets not prolong the agony...let's get to work!

Fruit Cake
1 1/4 c. pitted, chopped dates
4 T. unsweetened apple cider
1/2 c. unsulphered molasses
1 c. dried Bing cherries
1 c. raisins
3 1/2 c. unsweetened apple cider
1 c. chopped pecans
3/4 c. vegan buttery spread
1 1/4 c. organic fair trade brown cane sugar
4 large eggs
4 tsp. cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
2 tsp. baking soda
1 3/4 tsp. sea salt
4 c. flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

*Whatever you have decided on to bake this in, grease and flour the pan now.  If you use a bundt pan it needs to be large enough to hold 11 cups of batter.  I used my Pampered Chef mini loaf pans, in my case I only lightly greased my pans.  Normally they don't require it at all but mine are not very "seasoned" yet.

In a large saucepan, bring to boil 4 c. of unsweetened apple cider.  Once boiling toss in your cherries and raisins.  Remove from heat to rehydrate.  At least 10-15 minutes.

In a very large mixing bowl stir together flour, pecans, cinnamon, ginger, soda and salt.  When mixed well, set aside.

In a medium sized saucepan allow dates and 4 T. of unsweetened apple cider to simmer.  Simmer until dates loose their shape.  Stir in sugar and allow to come to a boil so sugar can caramelize.  Remove from heat and add molasses and butter.  The date mixture should be much cooler by the time the butter melts, just warm to the touch; not hot.  Add in the 4 eggs.  Completely incorporate them.

Now comes the easy part.  I can do this with a large wooden spoon and I find it works better than using a stand mixer.  Pour the date mixture into the flour and stir until MOSTLY incorporated.  Add in the cherries, raisins and the juice it was rehydrating in.  Stir until your batter is nice and smooth.  Pour into your pan.  If you use mini loaf pans or individual small aluminum ones, only fill it about 2/3 of the way.  This batter rises beautifully, so overfilling will be a mess!

For a bundt cake, bake 75 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.  For mini loaves 25-30 minutes or until toothpick clean.  Pay attention to smell and color.  With this recipe, when you smell it, its done or VERY close!  When finished baking, remove to cooling rack and allow to cool for 10-15 minutes before removing from the pan.

The bread comes out soft and VERY aromatic; reminiscent of gingerbread cookies.  If you aren't a fan of ginger there is NO problem leaving it out of this recipe.  But the best secret to this whole thing is keeping the bread moist by rehydrating the fruits and rehydrating them with unsweetened apple cider rather than just boiling water.  It adds another element in the background that brings "rustic" to mind in the flavor the apple brings out.  I hope this recipe makes you LOVE fruit cake again if you were hating on it.  Or if you've always liked it, that this new updated, refreshing, slightly healthier version finds its way into your cookbook as a new favorite! 

19 December, 2011


One of my favorite bars during the Christmas season has always been Date Bars.  Not many people in my family share the sentiment so I am able to revel in my small pan of bars every year with just my step mom for competition help.  The wonderful thing about this recipe is that it takes very little time and effort on your part and you end up with a fabulous pan of yumminess to share with the family!

Vegan Date Bars

3 c. chopped, pitted organic dates
1 c. unsweetened cider
1 tsp. vanilla
1 c. organic fair trade brown cane sugar

2 c. organic quick oats
1 c. organic flour
3/4 c. organic fair trade brown cane sugar
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
1 c. vegan buttery spread

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

*Glass cake pans work best for this recipe due to the stickiness of the filling

In a medium sized sauce pan, on medium heat simmer your dates, apple cider and vanilla together until dates are stirrable, add brown sugar.   Allow to boil for a minute or two so the sugar can help the mixture caramelize a bit.  Remove from heat and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl add oats, flour, brown sugar, soda, salt and cinnamon and stir together with a wooden spoon.  Cut your butter into 1 T. pats and toss them in the bowl with the dry ingredients.  With a pastry cutter or a fork, blend the butter into the dry ingredients until it is crumbly.  Spread 2/3 of the mixture into the bottom of your pan.  Pour the date filling over the bottom crust, then sprinkle remaining crumble mixture over the top.

Bake for 30-40 minutes or until crumble top is golden brown.  Remove from oven to a cooling rack to cool.

These are SO decadent and the vanilla really pushes the date flavor front and center.  You COULD play around with this recipe, but I love it just the way it is.  Hope you do as well!

18 December, 2011

Vegan Fruit & Oat Bars

With all the chocolate my family is fond of, we regularly look for ways to inject fruit into our Christmas goodies, without making it the "same old, same old".  We found a recipe about a decade ago that we make every year now.  A crust that is mostly oat and brown sugar, a filling of really ANY fruit you want and sprinkled on top is a little kiss of the crust from the bottom.  The original recipe was strawberry jam with almond extract, this year I made filling out of organic Moreno Cherry jam and paired it with the almond extract, then for an extra visual boost and flavor enhancer, I tossed a 1/2 c. of sliced almonds in with the crumble topping at the end.  There are endless combinations to the filling, I will list them at the end.

Vegan Fruit & Oat Bars
I c. vegan buttery spread
1 c. organic fair trade brown cane sugar
2 c. uncooked quick oats
1 c. organic flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. sea salt
3 c. jam, jelly, preserves or your favorite pie filling
1/4 tsp. extract of your choice
1/2 c. nuts of your choice (optional...I added this element)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

With a mixer blend butter, brown sugar, oats, cinnamon and salt.  When well incorporated add flour and soda to the bowl and blend well again.  Spread 3/4 of the mixture in an ungreased 9 x 13 cake pan (glass works best here for releasing the bars after baking) pressing into an even flat sheet.  Bake for 20 minutes.  White that is baking put your filling choice in a glass bowl or measurer and warm in the microwave for 1 minute or until pourable.  When fluid/loose add your choice of extract to the filling and blend thoroughly.

When the timer goes off for the crust, remove from the oven and starting from the edges, working your way in, pour the filling over the crust.  Mix your nuts into the remaining crumble and sprinkle crust mixture over the top of filling, then return to the oven to bake for 10-15 more minutes or until crumble top is golden brown.

You can serve at room temperature by itself or hot with a scoop of ice cream, either way they are amazing!

Apple pie filling with walnut oil instead of extract, 1/2 c. chopped walnuts with the crumble topping.

Apricot jam with macadamia oil instead of extract, 1/2 c. crushed macadamia nuts in crumble topping.

Raspberry jam with pecan oil instead of extract, 1/2 c. chopped pecan with crumble topping.

Blueberry jam with almond extract, 1/2 c. sliced almonds with crumble topping.

Strawberry jam with peanut oil instead of extract, 1/2 c. chopped peanuts with crumble topping.  (Kids LOVE this...tastes like a really awesome peanut butter & jelly bar!)

3 bags of chocolate chips melted, stir in 1.5 T. vegan shortening with chocolate hazelnut oil instead of extract, 1/2 c. chopped hazelnuts with crumble topping.

*You can purchase nut oils at most baking/cake shops that sell cake decorating supplies and chocolate molds.

17 December, 2011

Burger 'n' Fries

I get a number of ads in the mail that have coupons on them for restaurants all over Ottawa.  I'll be honest, most of them are for Italian food.  I have always assumed that places that do that either have a waning base of regulars or are new and trying to build a list of regular clientele.  Either way, when I come across a place that doesn't have an Italian name or a huge plate of pasta on the ad, I take notice.  Once such ad was in the last bunch we got, for Vera's Burger Shack Express.  Their deal was buy 1, get 1 free on burgers...I of course forgot my coupon running out the door to get their before 5:30....lol....but it was the effort that counts right?  Of course right!

 They share a storefront with a meat and deli place called The Butchery.  I am familiar with them because they are the closest place in the Kanata area where I can get my andouille sausage for my homemade Jambalaya.  The sausage is excellent by the way...  It is important to note that this particular Vera's IS an "express".  I looked at Vera's menu online before I went and had my heart set on onion rings and an organic beef burger...neither of which are available at this Vera's because it IS an express.  It wasn't the end of my world, but I had to reevaluate my "game plan" after I showed up.

It is pretty self explanatory here, you walk in and grab a little clipboard, write your name on it, what you want and hand it over.  They cook, you grab a seat and wait for your name to be called.  When they call you, you pay, grab your grub and chow down.  I was liking that way of ordering because it kept a lot of mistakes out of the mix...pretty much all of them, except "first timer" stuff like ordering TWO large fries.  Oops...

 While we were waiting for our stuff my Mister chased the Sprout around and I explored the deli and meat section.  This place wasn't very large, so there aren't too many things to see as far as the eating area.  What you see is what you get.  For a place with "express" in the title..this is perfectly acceptable to me.

 There wasn't too long of a wait for the food we showed at about 5pm which seems to be the sweet spot in Ottawa for getting your order in before the dinner rush starts.  I, however, couldn't believe my eyes when we went to the counter and saw the fries...when they say "large" they mean GINORMOUS.  There were at least 3 cups of french fries in that sucker.  My Mister took one look them all and said "Why did you order two?"  If you've ever been to McDonald's and had 3 people that liked french fries...you know why I ordered 2 larges for 3 people.  At Vera's there is NO need for this!  1 large is plenty for 3 people.  Totally!

Huge Boat of Fries...AKA "Large Fries"

My Burger

 I think I had them put everything but the kitchen sink...and ketchup...on mine.  It was FABULOUSSSS!  The meat was tender and juicy, cooked perfectly all my veggies were crisp and I loved the snap that the banana peppers added to my burger.  It was so big I could barely fit it into my mouth, to most people this would be a complaint...but I don't care about things like that.  It is all about taste!  I really loved my burger, the Sprout was diggin his chicken fingers...and between the 3 of us we BARELY made a dent in those 2 large orders of fries.  It was a good meal, we got it fast, it wasn't too expensive and the staff were very kind.  It started getting busy at 5:30 and the Sprout got antsy, so we headed home.  If you are in Bells Corners and jonesin' for a burger and fries head over to Vera's Express...they'll fix ya up!

Vera's Burger Shack on Urbanspoon

14 December, 2011


I decided I was going to make dinner easy on myself the other night...the operative phrase here was "going to".  What this means to me is that at least one element of my dinner wasn't made by me.  I was in the mood for flavor, we had chicken...and the wheels started turning.  Mu Shu Chicken and Vegetable Fried Rice sounded pretty good to me.  I've had Mu Shu Pork one time in my life; it was good.  I loved the concept more than I loved how the dish turned out with the pork though.  So I switched it up.  

I talked to a couple Mandarin friends of mine to get a good idea of what direction to go in and my plan came to a screeching halt.  Apparently different families in different Mandarin regions will put their own special stuff into the mix at will.  Talk about confusing!  But two things should always remain in their opinion, the "mu" (cloud/wood ear fungus) and the "shu" (lily bulbs).  Lucky for me, I already had that stuff.  Whew!  *wipes nervous sweat from her brow*  But, the list and differing opinions of what can be used here is astounding.  One person told me cabbage, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, "Chinese mushrooms", egg and green onion.  Another person insisted on cabbage, lily bulbs, cloud ear fungus, red bell pepper, eggs, green onion...their list was a might bit longer.  They won my vote.  

Let's get started this meal can be a bit fiddledy farty if you're not getting your veggies prepped in the right time frames for the Mu Shu and the fried rice.  

Mu Shu Chicken
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, julienned
4 eggs
1 red bell pepper
1 ounce of rehydrated lily bulbs
1 ounce of rehydrated cloud/wood ear fungus
1 small head of cabbage, cored and cut into shreds
1 bunch of green onion, julienned
1 T. minced garlic
1 T. soy sauce
vegetable oil for cooking

Marinade for Chicken
4 T. soy sauce
2 tsp. organic cane sugar
2 T. cornstarch

Hoisin Sauce
Wei-Chuan Mu-Shu Shells
(my store bought, pre-made contributions for the meal) 

Vegetable Fried Rice
1/2 small white onion, chopped
1 c. frozen peas
1 c. coined carrots, mostly cooked
3 eggs
2 T. soy sauce
2 tsp. vegetable oil
1 tsp. salt
3 c. cooked rice

The first thing you need to do is get your meat marinating.  Mix the cornstarch, sugar and soy sauce with a whisk until well blended then pour into a gallon size plastic bag with the strips of meat.  Set it aside to mingle.  The lily bulbs and cloud/wood ear fungus need to be rehydrated before being cooked.  Put 1 ounce of lily bulbs in hot water and set aside.  Do the same with 1 ounce of the cloud/wood ear fungus; both will take about 8 minutes.  (Once rehydrated, they may still have some rough ends.  Cut them off before adding to wok.)

Mu Shu Prep

Now, get your carrots cooking.  These need to be about half-way cooked before you add them to the rice.  Once those are cooking, get the veggies prepped for both the rice and the mu shu.  Keep your cabbage, peppers, garlic and green onion in one bowl and the peas, carrots and white onion in another.  Once ALL the veggies are prepped beat your 4 mu shu eggs with a fork.  Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat with 1 T. of vegetable oil.  Pour eggs in and let them cook without disturbing them.  I have no doubt this is normally a scramble, but if you're julienning and shredding everything else, might as well julienne the eggs as well.  Let the eggs cook like you would an omelet.  Make sure it is cooked through before removing from heat.  Transfer to a cutting board and use a pizza cutter to slice in half, then cut each half into thin strips.  Set aside.  Remove lily bulbs and fungus from their soak.  Trim off any rough edges.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  If you haven't already, remove your carrots from the boiling water and set them aside for the fried rice.

This part goes pretty quickly and easily...  Heat 1 T. of oil in your wok.  Toss in half your green onion strips and your garlic, saute for 2 minutes to release some of the juices; drain your chicken and toss in the strips.  Stir fry until there is no longer pink showing, then add in the red peppers; stir fry with chicken for 4 minutes.  Add the cabbage and allow it to cook down; about 3 minutes.  When the cabbage looks about half wilted add lily bulbs, fungus, egg strips and remaining green onion.  Finish with the 1 T. soy sauce.  Set aside in serving bowl and cover.

Mu Shu Chicken
Toss your mu shu shells into the oven now.  Let them heat for about 5 minutes, then turn the oven off.

In the same wok heat 1 T. of vegetable oil over medium-high heat.  Beat your 3 eggs with a fork and stir fry them, when they are scrambled remove from the wok and set aside.  Add 1 T. of oil to the wok and saute the onions.  Toss in your mostly cooked carrots, peas, 1 tsp. salt, 2 T. soy sauce, 2 tsp. vegetable oil and cooked rice.  Stir fry and combine well; incorporate your scrambled eggs.

Vegetable Fried Rice

 Now comes the FUN part...the EATING!  Grab one of your mu shu shells and put about a 1/2 cup of your Mu Shu Chicken inside.  Drizzle with a healthy amount of Hoisin sauce...serve it with some of your fried rice and you're GOLDEN.

Not bad for a boring Tuesday night at home with the Mister and the Sprout.  Everything tasted great.  My Mister said that he enjoyed it more than the restaurant we tried Mu Shu Pork at way back in September.  If you know my Mister...you know that couldn't possibly be a lie lol...  If he thought it sucked, he'd have told me; he's not shy about it because he knows if he doesn't like it and doesn't say something he just MIGHT be eating it again.  Smart guy.  I'd rather know the truth anyhow, I'm just that way.

For those die hard authentic folk....

Mu Shu Shells
2 cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup boiling water
1 tablespoon of canola or vegetable oil placed in a small dish

Place the flour in a large mixing bowl and add boiling water. Mix with a fork until combined.  When the dough is cool to the touch, knead the dough in the bowl by hand for 1 to 2 minutes. The dough should be soft and smooth.  Form the dough into a rope and divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a uniform ball and then flatten with the palm of your hand.  Take two pieces, one in each hand, and dip one side of each in the oil. Press oiled sides together and again with the palm of your hand, flatten into a 3 inch circle.  Use a rolling pin, roll each circle into a thin, larger circle approximately 8 inches in diameter. Repeat, making three more pairs of two pancakes each.

Heat a 10 inch, non-stick frying pan over low heat until the pan is hot. Place one of the four (paired) pancakes in the pan. Cook for 1 minute on each side (keeping them back to back).  Place in a covered casserole dish and set aside on the counter.  Repeat above steps with the three remaining pairs of pancakes.  Allow to cool approximately 5 minutes at which point they should be soft, moist and easy to peel apart. Keep them covered (to retain moisture) in warm oven until ready to serve. 

I just didn't have it in me to make these...the store bought ones are just as good if reheated properly and kept moist.

12 December, 2011

12 Days of Christmas Cookies, Day 12

I'm sure you know the expression "save the best for last", don't you?  These cookies actually are baked in our home MORE than just at Christmas...mostly because people just can't live without them.  Tons of our family friends have already adopted this recipe as their own and make it every year.  These cookies are rich and soft...they are a slight challenge for some to make, but SO worth it!

1 box organic cake mix, chocolate fudge
1 box organic cake mix, yellow
1 c. butter flavored Crisco
2/3 c. vegan buttery spread
4 egg yolks or 3 tsp. egg replacer
1 tsp. vanilla

 For each box of cake mix use:
1/2 c. butter flavored Crisco
1/3 c. butter
2 egg yolks or 1 1/2 tsp. egg replacer
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees 

Beat Crisco & butter together. Add vanilla and egg yolks or egg replacer. Gradually SIFT in ONE box of cake mix (cake mixes are notorious for lumps...so SIFT in the cake mix). It will be sticky (mom says that's an understatement). Repeat the process with the other box of cake mix.

Roll each dough ball out between TWO LOOONG sheets of wax paper with a rolling pin. You do each color separately. After both are rolled out to about 1/4 inch in thickness, remove the top sheet of wax paper off of the yellow and chocolate fudge doughs.  Then put the yellow dough on top of the chocolate fudge dough (this can be tricky, don't be afraid to ask for help). Smooth over the wax sheet facing you a bit to help the yellow dough to marry to the chocolate fudge dough.  S-L-O-W-L-Y take the wax paper off of the yellow dough. Then, start at the end furthest away from you and roll the dough towards you.  Make sure you roll them semi tightly so there are no gaps in the spiral when you cut the roll later.

When the roll is completed, roll the whole thing in wax paper and refrigerate for at least 3 hours. My Mom does it over night and as long as two days is okay as well.  When it is time to bake, remove from wax paper cut into 1/4 inch slices. Place on a greased cookie sheet. You can use cooking spray...less mess than butter will be.

Bake for 9-11 minutes or until lightly browned....WATCH them closely. Burned pinwheels taste like crap.

This recipe makes about 5 dozen. Depends on how thick you end up slicing them.


11 December, 2011

12 Days of Christmas Cookies, Day 11

I have no idea what year these made their way into our regular list of "must haves" for Christmas cookies but I don't know a single person yet that doesn't like them.  The cookie has such a nice buttery flavor and the mini chocolate chips are JUST the right amount of chocolate.  They are rich and soft...unlike most snowballs that may have met your gut at light speed.   

1 1/2 c. Earth's Best vegan buttery spread
3/4 c. organic powdered sugar
1 T. vanilla
1/2 tsp. sea salt
3 c. flour
2 c. Enjoy Life vegan mini chocolate chips
extra organic powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Beat buttery spread, sugar, vanilla and salt in a large mixing bowl until creamy.  Gradually beat in flour and then stir in the mini chocolate chips.  Shape level tablespoons of dough into balls and place them on pan.  I use my Pampered Chef medium scoop.  This makes a semi large cookie.  If you'd like them smaller, make them smaller.  The cook time will only be marginally different.  

Bake tablespoon sized cookies for 10-12 minutes or until cookies are set and beginning to brown on the bottom edges.  For smaller teaspoon sized cookies shorten time to 8-10 minutes, but always watch for the golden brown factor.  Remove from baking sheet and allow to completely cool.

With a large gallon sized freezer bag shake all the cookies in powdered sugar.  Voila...they are ready to devour!  Hope you love 'em!



10 December, 2011

12 Days of Christmas Cookies, Day 10

When I was taking a small poll to try to get an idea of what sort of cookies people would like to see in this series, one sister friend of mine said it just wasn't Christmas without gingerbread cookies.  That's pretty easy to believe.  Everywhere you look there are kits for gingerbread houses, when you look for clip art under "cookies" in Microsoft Word the only pictures that come up are gingerbread people, sugar cookie shapes and chocolate chip cookies....with gingerbread people clearly winning the race.  I wanted to do something different with mine though, no houses...no people.  I have seen those massive sugar cookie Christmas trees made out of star shaped cookies a bajillion times and decided that this year the giant tree is getting a ginger makeover...  This one's for you Shelly!!

Gingerbread Poinsettia
1 1/2 c. vegan buttery spread
3/4 c. organic brown cane sugar
3/4 c. unsulphured molasses
1 T. ground cinnamon
1 T. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. sea salt
2 T. unsweetened soy milk
3/4 tsp. baking soda
3 c. flour
rolling pin
extra flour for rolling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Cream butter and sugar together; add in molasses and mix thoroughly.  Add in all the spices, salt, soda and soy milk.  Blend well.  Add in flour and blend until completely incorporated.  Divide your dough into three equal portions.
Roll out each dough portion with a healthy amount of flour then press star shapes into dough, starting with the smallest and working your way up...in case you run out of room on the sheets.  Then no matter what the graduation of the stars will be correct even if you don't get all 10 cranked out.  But really, you should be able to make 2 trees out of this much dough.  So even if you screw up a sheet...there is still hope!

Place each star shape about 1 1/2 inches apart on the cookie sheets....especially the large ones, spreading isn't usually a problem with gingerbread but it really depends on the brand of butter you use.  Some butters have a higher water content than others.  Vegan buttery spread is a safe choice...and its vegan.  (SO is this dough by the way!!)  Bake for 8-11 minutes.  I advise to you bake the first 5 stars on their own sheet and the larger 5 on other sheets.  The smaller ones will bake faster of course...watch the points of your stars!  They will tell you when the cookies are done in that time range.

Vegan Buttercream Frosting
1/2 c. Earth's Balance vegan shortening
1/2 c. vegan buttery spread
3 1/2 c. organic powdered sugar
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 c. soy creamer

Cream together butter and shortening; add in powdered sugar 1 cup at a time until all in.  Add vanilla and soy creamer.  This is white frosting, for colors use food coloring as desired.  I used green, red and yellow.

This is THE best gingerbread recipe I've ever had in my LIFE.  The bottom and tops kind of form this thin, crispy armor around an incredibly soft inside that you try to believe...  All you have to do is make a recipe of buttercream frosting, color equal parts red and green and a small amount of it yellow.  I completely frosted each star shape with its respective color and put a dollop of yellow frosting in the center of each start for a bit of "cement" for the star that went on the top of it.  Of course as you go up the flower the dollops should be smaller.  (This dollop of yellow is important only if you care about presentation...as you remove stars off and eat the flower there will still be a beautiful round yellow dot in the center of your flower.)  Then you pipe 3 or 4 little yellow dots in the middle and you're golden.  I'm not a professional, I'm sure you can tell...but the BIGGER deal is that you KNOW what you're looking at, and that's all that matters and all that will matter to anyone lookin' at yours.  The real deal is in the taste...and it IS fabulous!  Enjoy!!