Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Natalia's Chocolate Cupcakes (Vegan)

I know you're thinking... isn't it a bit early for halloween? My friend recently had an orange themed birthday party (don't ask) and I knew she would kill for some chocolate cupcakes with real buttercream frosting. She's far from vegan, but who better to trust your cupcakes to than Isa and Terry? I followed their Basic Chocolate Cupcake recipe almost to the letter. I wanted to keep these pretty sinful, but I did sub whole wheat pastry flour (all I have on hand, and you'd never notice in a chocolate cake) and applesauce for half the oil (I had just made gallons of it, and it always makes for a nice moist cake) and a tad less sugar so that it wouldn't be sickeningly sweet complete with frosting. I doubled the recipe and came out with exactly 25 cupcakes, half plain and half with the crumbled cookies as suggested. YUM! Perfectly moist, perfectly chocolatey. Topped with orange buttercream and crumbled cookies, it was just the thing. They were devoured.

I had never made a buttercream before, as I'm not a big fan of frosting. But it was quite easy and delicious in moderation. This is, err, more loosely adapted from Isa and Terry's vegan recipe. We have loads of Strauss unsalted organic butter, so I subbed that for the margarine and shortening, added some salt to compensate, and threw in almost a whole bottle of natural anatto coloring. I'm halving the recipe here because as written it was waaay more than what I needed even for a double batch of cupcakes.

Perfect Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes

1 cup soy milk
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1/2-3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup sunflower or other high heat oil (or substitute applesauce)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon hazelnut extract (or any other extract)
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Whisk together the soy milk and vinegar in a large bowl, and set aside for a few minutes to curdle. Add the sugar, oil, vanilla extract, and other extract, if using, to the soy milk mixture and beat until foamy. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add in two batches to wet ingredients and beat until no large lumps remain (a few tiny lumps are OK).
2. Preheat oven to 350°F and line a muffin pan with paper liners.
3. Pour into liners, filling 3/4 of the way. Bake 18 to 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely. (Preferably far away from your dogs.)

Variation: Cookies n Cream Cupcakes: Mix into cupcake batter 1 cup (about 10 cookies) of coarsely chopped vegan chocolate cream-filled sandwich cookies, like Newman-O’s. Bake as directed.

Real Buttercream Frosting

1/2 cup butter, room temp
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted if clumpy
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup milk or cream as needed
food coloring (optional)

1. Beat the shortening and margarine together until well combined and fluffy. Add the sugar and beat for about 3 more minutes.
2. Add the vanilla and beat for another 5 to 7 minutes until fluffy, adding milk as needed to gain desired consistancy.
3. Pipe or spread on cupcakes. Will harden when refrigerated

Variation: Cookies n Cream Frosting: Stir into frosting 1/2 cup (about 5 cookies) of finely mashed vegan chocolate cream-filled sandwich cookies, like Newman-O’s.

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Midsummer Corn Chowder (Vegan)

I was looking for a light supper to precede Natalia's Chocolate Cupcakes. (Or, as the case may be, to detox after eating too many cupcakes while baking.) I love corn chowder, it's that time of year, and the unusual ingredients were intriguing. Absolutely everything went straight from the farmer's market into the soup. Yummmm. Sweet, sweet summer in a bowl. I thought it might taste a bit too Italian but the tomato and basil were a subtle layer of flavor. Next time I'll increase the fennel, I couldn't taste it here. It easily served 5 with a couple quarts left over. Pictured topped with cheddar, more basil and a slice of whole wheat sourdough (also from the market). Accompanied by a green salad with melt-in-your-mouth pears picked from my friend's yard, walnuts, and blue cheese. Beer and centerpiece optional but recommended.

Midsummer Corn Chowder With Basil, Tomato, and Fennel
from Veganomicon

6 ears fresh corn
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large onion, diced
1 bulb fennel, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 large carrot, diced
1 pound waxy potatos (about 2 medium), diced (I usually use red potatoes and leave the skins on for color variety)
2 teaspoons dried thyme
bay leaf (optional)
2 quarts fresh corn stock, vegetable broth or water
1 pound tomatoes, chopped (the corn turned out to be white, so I was glad that I had picked up yellow heirlooms as well as red!)
1/2 cup basil leaves, chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Remove husks and silk from corn. Carefully slice off the kernals into a large bowl. Break cobs in half and keep to make corn stock or simply add them to the soup while simmering.
2. Heat olive oil in large soup pot over medium high heat. Add onions, garlic, thyme, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir and cover, sweating them for about 5 minutes.
3. Add carrot and celery, stir, cover, and cook for 2-3 minutes.
4. Add the fennel, stir, cover, and cook for 2-3 minutes.
5. Add the potato, stir, cover, and cook for 2-3 minutes.
6. Finally, add the corn, stir, cover, and cook for 5 minutes.
7. Add the water or stock (and optionally the corn cobs and bay leaf, making sure to remove before adding the tomatoes and basil), stir, cover, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium and allow the soup to simmer, covered, for 45 minutes. Stir occasionally.
8. Let the soup cool a bit in the pot and use an immersion blender to blend to desired consistency. Or if you're in more of a hurry, remove 2-3 cups, cool in a bowl, and blend with immersion blender, food processor, or blender, then add it back to the soup. Just avoid blending anything hot, it will splatter.
9. Add the chopped tomatoes and basil and return just to a simmer. (You may wish to cook the tomatoes and basil a bit longer as called for in the original recipe, but it always feels a sin to me to eat them in anything but their full glory. And I'm hardly a raw foodie, but I try to add some ingredients, especially herbs, at the end of cooking whenever possible. It preserves not only the flavor but also the enzymes and assorted nutritional benefits.)
10. Adjust salt and pepper, serve. (I used homemade veggie stock so I had to add a lot of salt. If you use commercial stock you may not need to add any.)

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