Monday, September 27, 2010

Mystery Produce of the Week: Casaba Melon

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Well, I sorta gave that one away, didn't I?

I don't claim to be an expert on anything other than my own neurosis, but I do have some experience living in different climates and enjoying various fruits and vegetables that those locales had to offer. It's pretty uncommon to see something in a supermarket that I haven't eaten at some point or another. So when I saw this monster of a melon at Milk Pail, I dropped the watermelon that I had (gently into the bin, not on the floor; I have manners) and impulsively started to gravitate towards this mystery fruit. For $1.75, I had to try this big ugly fruit.

I had no idea if it's sweet or savory. When VB saw this thing in the fridge, he asked, "Is this a 'melon' or a 'squash' that Chinese people like to call 'melon'?" I said, "Of course it's a 'melon' melon!" Actually, I was bluffing -- I didn't know what that was.

It turns out, casaba melon has creamy white flesh and really delicate melon flavor -- like a mellower cantaloupe. But it is not less sweet than some of the other melon varieties. The flesh is juicy and has a very tender and delicate texture. Mine also had very few seeds and was easy to clean out.  The exterior looked rather tough and leathery. I was prepared to sacrifice a knife or two just to break this open. But it actually yielded really easily when ripe.

I tried something new. And it was delicious!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Five-Spice Banana Cupcakes with Coconut Vanilla Frosting. Yes, They Are Vegan(!!!)

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Vegan and cupcakes go together like an elephant and a pogo stick, which is to say, not at all and a bit absurd. Vegan baking is pretty much the final frontier for vegan cooks. If vegan baking can achieve results that are equal or superior to baking with eggs, butter and cream, then there's no reason not to go vegan. Personally, I've had mixed results the few times I experimented with vegan baking. Just the other day, VB made some vegan cookies using a Duncan Hines chocolate cookie mix. The resulting cookies did not brown because there was no butter and they were doughy and a bit dry. Overall, not necessarily a "fail" but I wouldn't call it a resounding success either.

So. When I saw Chef Chloe Coscarelli on Food Network's Cupcake Wars, I was skeptical. Really? This fair-skinned chocolate-maned fairy princess (seriously, she looks like Snow White) is going to magically make vegan cupcakes that are better than all the butter and cream confections? No way, I thought and switched the channel.

(Off topic, but Food Network needs to stop biting off TLC and Bravo. Cupcake Wars is just a copycat of TLC's Ultimate Bake Off and 24-Hour Restaurant Battle is basically Top Chef's Restaurant Wars challenge minus chefs who can actually cook. Bob and Andrea, you are better than copying other people's ideas. Rant over.)

It wasn't until I read this New York Times piece on that episode that I realized her magical vegan cupcakes had beaten the butter-laden competition. There may be something to this vegan baking after all. I took her vegan cupcake recipes and gave them a different flavor profile. For my vegan cupcake attempt, I made five spice banana cupcakes with vanilla icing. I know this sounds kooky, but the five spice powder adds a bit of warmth to the cupcakes. And it makes you wonder, "What is that? Let me take another bite..."

For these vegan cupcakes, you'll need:
  • 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup of brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 2 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1 cup of soy milk
  • 1/2 cup of canola oil
  • 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon of five spice powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and five spice powder in a large bowl. In another container, whisk to combine soy milk, canola oil, apple cider vinegar and vanilla extract. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients. Add mashed bananas and stir until all the dry ingredients have been incorporated.

Pour into muffin tins lined with paper cups to about 80 percent full. Bake for 15 minutes. If you're a go-big-or-go-home kind of a person (like me) and used giant cupcake paper cups, then bake for 30 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let cupcakes cool before frosting.

For the icing, you'll need:
  • 1/4 cup of coconut oil (It is a white solid and comes in a jar. You can find it at Whole Foods)
  • 3 cups of confectioner's powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup of water
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
First, cream coconut oil with a whisk. It won't look like creamed butter, but it should be softened. Add confectioner's sugar and vanilla. While whisking, pour in the water one tablespoon at a time. By the time all the water is incorporated, you should have icing that has a thick butter cream consistency.

Frost your cooled cupcakes and add some walnuts on top for crunch. You're done!

I was really skeptical about the whole thing, especially the frosting. I had tried to make frosting with confectioner's sugar before and they tasted sickly sweet with a very thin consistency. Make no mistake about it, this frosting is sweet, but the coconut oil makes it so fragrant and thick just like buttercream. The cakes are moist and tender with just a hint of spice. These cupcakes are so delicious, they make me wonder, what other delicious flavors of vegan cupcakes can I make?

    Monday, September 20, 2010

    Rodeo Burger + Eating Right Soy Protein Burger

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    I have to admit that working 8 hours a day plus a 3+ hour commute doesn't leave me a ton of sleep or time to cook. There are days that I can't muster enough energy to make dinner. It's at then that I'm thankful for a freezer full of veggie burgers. VB likes to jazz his burger up in the fashion of Burger King's famous Rodeo Burger by adding onion rings and barbeque sauce. It is definitely a tasty combination.

    This brings me to the next installment of product review, where I eat fake meat and tell you if it resembles the real deal. Today, we have Eating Right Soy Protein Burger. This has to be one of the most disgusting veggie burgers that I've ever eaten. The texture is that of wet saw dust -- grainy and tough. Worse yet, it also tastes like wet saw dust but with a very strong soy flavor that even the cheese, onion rings and barbeque sauce cannot mask. Overall, not much to write home about except just to AVOID it. Just say no. Don't do it. You're better off eating that moldy apple in the fridge. Or a stick of butter with some hot sauce. Or mix some pickles with mayonnaise. Really, just about anything is better than this.

    Texture: 1 out of 5 stars
    Taste: 1 out of 5 stars (I'm feeling charitable today)
    Overall: 1 out of 5 stars

    In A Nut Shell: If you lost your taste buds in some tragic accident, then this is the veggie burger for you.

    Sunday, September 19, 2010

    Intruder Alert!

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    It's been a couple of months since we planted our tomato and pepper plants on the back patio. So far so good! It looks like we're going to have a lot of ripe tomatoes and quite a few peppers as well. The Anaheim peppers got so big and heavy that the stem couldn't support them. So we picked a few even though they're probably not 100 percent ready.

    But I found this creepy crawling intruder on the tomato plants the other day and it sort of freaked me out.

    It looks like it has been making itself comfortable -- a lot of the leaves were half-eaten already. Even though VB is a vegetarian, the no-kill policy has not been extended to any bugs or worms. But the catch is -- I'm the resident bug killer of this house. Generally I have no qualms about crushing a bug or two, but this squishy green thing is the size of my pinky finger and probably has gooey and sticky insides. Ew. I chickened out and just took off the leaf with the bug still on it and tossed it over our fence. Sorry, neighbors.

    I hope no more bugs crash our back patio and we can have tomatoes soon! I'm thinking about canning our bounty or make some ketchup or tomato sauce. So stay tuned.

    Sunday, September 12, 2010

    Labor Day Grillin'

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    Yes, these pictures are very belated, but Labor Day was so much fun! VB always wanted to have a big grill in the backyard. Since we're short on space and saving money, we'll have do with a $30 grill. But that doesn't mean we can't have lots of fun! And good food! On the beach!!! That's right, here are some incriminating evidence of us starting a fire where prohibited.

    Pigeon Point Light House -- Pacific Coast's tallest light house, now in a state of disrepair.

    More views of the Pacific Coast -- sort of rocky and not particularly beach-y.

    Fire on the beach!

    VB got some female compliment on the corn -- goes to show that a man with a grill is irresistible. That's tofu "ribs" on the right, in case you're curious. Just some firm tofu marinated overnight in barbeque sauce and maple syrup.

    Eating a portabella mushroom burger with a spoon.

    More tofu "ribs" and some peaches.

    Mmm, grilled peach with rum sauce...

    This is not related to Labor day or grilling, but here's Raisin photobombin' Tangerine's glamor photo shoot.

    Friday, September 3, 2010

    Zucchini and Corn Mashed Potato Cakes

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    One thing that I really love about VB is that he appreciates my cooking, even the clunkers that I send to the table sometimes (those get quietly eaten without making it on the blog). He always says everything tastes GREAT when I ask, but I know there are some better than others. I can tell that VB truly, genuinely enjoyed this dish, not just merely acting appropriately appreciative of my efforts. But really, how can I go wrong with mashed potatoes with melty Moneterey Jack cheese, sweet corn and shredded zucchini lightly pan fried with salsa on top? It's unpossible, I tellz you!

    I need to tweak this a bit, so no recipe for now. Next time, I may add some flour and liquid so that the patties hold their shape better during the pan-frying process. Maybe some sour cream and avocado on top? Mmmm....

    Tamales with Calabacitas

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    I'm not exactly sure why, but I love to stuff stuff into stuff. Don't believe me? Look here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here aaaaand finally here. That's not even counting all the sandwiches that I made. I also like to make portable handheld food devices, so they go where I go and I can eat them whenever I please. The logical next step, of course, is tamales -- the ultimate portable handheld stuff in stuff... er, stuff. For my first time making (vegan) tamales, these are pretty good!! I do need to practice wrapping them tightly so they don't fall apart on me.

    The filling is made with calabacitas, also known as Mexican summer squash or Mexican zucchini. VB has suggested that next time, we fill the tamales with soyrizo. I also want to add some cheese into the mix. Cheeeessseee......