Veg-friendly Marshmallows

Has anyone seen a bag of vegan marshmallows? The kind that melts, that's good for end-of-summer s'mores, that might be used in a recent baking project I've been daydreaming about? Because I've checked — Sprouts, Central Market, Trader Joe's — and they are nowhere to be found. While I've been known to pretend I don't know what's in conventional marshmallows when sitting around a campfire, I'm lately looking for some more acceptable options. And the best-looking options seem to be mail-order or a 30-minute jaunt to Arlington's Whole Foods Market to get my hands on some Dandies.

Better Banana Bread

A bit of weekend baking had me tinkering with an old family recipe for Banana Bread. Great (great) Aunt Tee might not recognize this, but I imagine she'd approve of losing the Crisco in favor of vegetable oil, replacing bleached white flour with healthier white-wheat (not too heavy here, I promise) and adding chocolate chips, because chocolate makes everything better. The youngest generation showed its approval by fighting over the last piece. 20130318-122010.jpg

Cooking Lessons

I attended the Vegetarian Dinner Party cooking class at Central Market last night, taught by Christine Ilarraza, and in spite of having completed a series of professional pastry classes and many years styling recipes for print, I definitely came away with a few new pointers: How to poach eggs free-form (no poaching cups needed), tips on how to make a very tender pastry by hand (no Cuisinart needed), and that butter makes things taste really, really good (did I need to be reminded of that?). Mostly, I just had a good time. Chris, as she goes by, is fun, and so were the other students; it felt like a dinner party with a purpose. With a 6:30 pm start time, Chris made sure that before launching into longer topics, we prepared the first dish, Frisee with Shaved Red Onions & a Poached Egg, so we would have something to eat. She also talked me through my slight squeamishness regarding eggs, and convinced me to pull mine out of the simmering water before it was hard-cooked. I slid it atop the frisee salad, ate it, and lived. We prepared two free-form pie crusts for this class; although I usually go for richer food when entertaining, I think I'll reserved these two recipes—Herbed Mushroom & Goat Cheese Tart and Mixed Seasonal Berry Galette—for separate occasions. Each was appealing, easy, successful, and delicious, but very rich, as pie crusts tend to be.

While Central Market doesn't host a lot of devoted vegetarian cooking classes, it's worth noting that most of the baking classes in the schedule are appropriate for vegetarians, and menus are available online ahead of time, so you can double-check. Up next: Cake Decorating?

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Vegetarian Cooking Class Tonight

There's still one spot left in tonight's Vegetarian Dinner Party cooking class at Central Market in Fort Worth; be the lucky one to snag it! On the menu: Frisée with Shaved Red Onions & a Poached Egg; Herbed Mushroom & Goat Cheese Tart; Creamy Potato & Chive Soup; and Mixed Seasonal Berry Galette with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream.

Great Granola

It was 8:30 PM. Kids tucked in, dishes done, and a hankering to bake. So I gave my husband the choice: Brownies or granola. You might think he would choose brownies to go with that glass of red wine, but my granola won out. For the past few months I've been playing with the classic recipe, tweaking here and there, to come up with the right combination of ingredients. I've finally hit on a recipe that everyone in the family loves, and which bakes up deliciously, crisping as it cools, to become the perfect breakfast cereal. I shop the bulk bins at Central Market for shredded unsweetened coconut and raw sunflower seeds, which cost hardly anything and add plenty to the recipe. I buy pecans and walnuts in bulk from Costco and keep them in the freezer, so I always have them on hand. We love this granola with organic milk and a handful of fresh raspberries, but of you're going full vegan, a favorite non-dairy milk will also do. Great Granola

3 cups rolled oats

1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans

1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds

1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/2 cup maple syrup

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Combine oats, nuts, sunflower seeds, coconut, cinnamon, and salt in large bowl; toss to mix well. Heat syrup, oil, and vanilla in heavy small saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring just until heated through, about 2 minutes. Pour hot syrup mixture over oat and nut mixture in bowl; use rubber spatula to mix well, folding until mixture is evenly moistened.

Transfer to 13- by 9-inch baking dish and bake, stirring occasionally, until mixture is lightly browned and fragrant and nuts are toasted, about 40 minutes. Cool, stirring granola occasionally as it cools to prevent sticking. Store in airtight container at room temperature up to one week.

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Bacon Cake?

Don't worry—this is not, in fact, a bacon cake. What look like rolled up slices of bacon appear at second glance to be unfortunate-looking, if harmless, party horns. I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a food stylist. When I get roped into styling food for shoots here and there, I'm reminded that what I can do for food visually is limited. However, I know bad styling when I see it. With apologies to Betty Crocker, when I came across this book at Barnes & Noble recently, I was so disgusted and fascinated by it that there was only one thing to do—take a picture: IMG_0068

Molten Chocolate Cakes, Mexican-Style

I've been hard at work on a story for Indulge magazine that has something to do with chocolate (I love my job), to be published in the next issue. So for New Year's Eve dessert, I decided to make one of the recipes from the story, a cinnamon-spiced molten chocolate cake from Lanny Lancarte of Lanny's restaurant. In part, I chose to make his cakes for the holidays because my mother-in-law is trying to follow a gluten-free diet, and this one is free of flour (it has a little cornstarch). Snag a copy of the next issue, if only for this recipe. IMG_2921

Pumpkin Blight

I didn't miss pumpkin over the summer. But then its absence began slowly revealing itself. First, I was testing a recipe from Anna Thomas' new vegetarian soup cookbook, Love Soup, for an upcoming 805 Living column—a recipe for her Great Pumpkin Soup. Central Market had no fresh pumpkins; I chalked it up to being too early in the season (it was August, after all), and made the soup with butternut squash instead; it came out beautifully, and I forgot all about not being able to find pumpkin. A couple weeks later, I went looking for a can of pumpkin puree to make my favorite pumpkin bread recipe—a must for when school's back in session and we're all willing the long, hot summer weather to end. Again, I went to Central Market, and again, no pumpkin. What was left on the shelves seemed more befitting a convenience store than my favorite grocery store: Just a few banged-up cans of pumpkin pie MIX, which is not what I reach for when baking. I pulled aside a Central Market Foodie, and he confirmed my fear: Last year's pumpkin crop failed, so there's no pumpkin to be found—anywhere. They're expecting this year's crop to be in stores later this fall; when it's really pumpkin season again, and I'm looking forward to that. While it's stylish (and smart) to talk about eating seasonally, I'll admit that being forced to follow through stings a little. This year's pumpkin is going to taste that much sweeter. Bring on fall! IMG_2478

Lemon Meringue Pie

I've been busy testing recipes for an upcoming column on lemons. While I was skeptical of the basic crust and the copious amount of cornstarch in the filling, this lemon meringue pie came out incredibly well, worthy of a bakeshop counter somewhere in the 1950s. My husband said it was just like House of Pies in Los Angeles, but given that my most memorable experience there was watching pigeon poop land in my coffee during an al fresco meal, I think I'll go out on a limb and say it's SO much better than that. Sometimes old-school recipes are the best; just check out that smiling face in the background. IMG_2236