Friday Fun, Vegan Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake, and Spinach-Basil Pesto

Today WAS indeed fun, although it is wretchedly hot here. I went for a run – I am totally loving my new Garmin watch, which was a birthday splurge. After running, we had pancake breakfast, and then headed to the courthouse to file some motions, and then we were off to a playdate at a pool. Good times. No coffee shop or library or playground today; we did all of those things yesterday, and will probably do them again tomorrow (my husband is out of town so I took some time off from work to be with the girls).

My birthday was a few days ago. Normally I would make vanilla cupcakes, or the standard vegan chocolate cake (you know, the one that uses vinegar and baking soda as rising agents). However, I had some Trader Joe’s low-fat vegan mayonnaise that I needed to use up, so I made a chocolate mayonnaise cake. I had bought the mayonnaise totally on a whim. Having been a vegan for so long, I just haven’t had mayonnaise in forever. Even before I was a vegan, I don’t think I ever really ate mayonnaise. TJ’s had this great deal on a big thing of vegan mayo, so I completely impulse-bought it. Then, once I got home, I puzzled over what to do with it. I didn’t like it on sandwiches, and it was okay in potato salad, but I still had some left. So, after looking around at various non-vegan recipe, here’s what I came up with:

2 cups flour

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup cocoa powder

salt (1/2 teaspoon or so)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup vegan mayonnaise, low-fat okay

1 cup water

Mix dry ingredients; stir in wet. Spread into a 9 x 13 and bake at 350 for about 30 minutes.

I frosted it with a simple buttercream frosting. I found the cake a tad salty, and not overly sweet, so I think it really benefited from frosting. The cake has a really good texture and is not crumbly. My omnivore mother-in-law really liked it. I would make it again if I had mayo to use up, but I’m not sure I’d buy mayo just to make it. It was definitely good, but it just wasn’t different enough from the standard vinegar cake to warrant the extra expense of vegan mayo.

Yesterday I made my standby spinach pesto, but since a friend had given us some fresh pesto from his garden, I threw that in as well. It was DELICIOUS. The basil mellowed out the bite of the spinach, and the combination of almonds and cashews made it soooo creamy. You can find the spinach pesto recipe under ‘main meals’ and ‘sauces’; it’s basically a bag of spinach, olive oil (about 1/4 cup), a clove of garlic, and 1/4-1/2 cup raw nuts, blended. This time I added about a cup of pesto. Delish.

I’ve been working on two big new recipes. Here’s a picture of one to get you drooling. I’m going to try to have the recipe up early next week.

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Summer Rolls with Peanut Sauce

It has been SO HOT here that it’s been hard to rationalize turning on the stove. A recent favorite meal is summer rolls -basically, spring rolls that are just not fried. These are so easy to make, and really tasty. I am not good about eating raw veggies, so an added bonus of this recipe is that you get a good dose of raw veggies.

We’ve added seitan and tofu to these, but usually we just make them with veggies, served with peanut sauce.

This isn’t a great picture, but I had to include it because of the 1 1/2 year old’s hand coming in for a grab!

Rice paper rolls can be found in Asian stores or Whole Foods, in the dry section (i.e. NOT the egg roll wrappers in the refrigerator section). There are LOTS in a package; one package will last a long time. All you do to prepare the wrappers is put them in hot water for a minute or so, until the wrapper is pliable and soft. They will seem delicate and fussy and first, but trust me – you can’t mess these up. The soaked wrappers are a lot hardier than they appear; even if they do tear, you are going to wrap them anyways, which will reinforce any structural defects.

For veggies, I like zucchini, squash, carrots, and maybe some scallions – all sliced nice and thin. In this round, I also added sesame seeds. Yum.

i don’t slice veggies as thinly or uniformly as my French brother-in-law. His summer rolls are a work of art.

Once your rice paper wrapper is pliable, put it on a plate, pile it with fresh veggies, and roll! The ends will stick together easily.

I like a nice peanut sauce on top. Balsamic glaze is also good on these. For peanut sauce, I just mix about x3-4 tablespoons of peanut butter, a tablespoon of soy sauce, a splash of srirachi (optional), one clove of garlic, a  little fresh ginger, a tiny bit of rice wine vinegar, and a touch of brown sugar – mix all together, then mix in about 1/4 cup hot water, adding more to get to desire consistency. This is a most basic peanut sauce recipe; if you don’t have all the ingredients, try it anyways because it is a very flexible recipe.

Another favorite quick hot-weather recipe is cubed tofu, in the cast iron skillet. It only takes  a few minutes to pan-fry pressed tofu into a delicious treat or main meal.

I am completely dependent on my tofu press. I got it a few years ago as a present for my husband; we’d been using various combinations of towels, canned goods, and plates to press tofu, and finally decided that we ate enough tofu to warrant a press. We. LOVE. It. It is probably my favorite indulgent kitchen appliance. A tofu press is not a necessity, but it sure is nice to have.

What’s your favorite indulgent (i.e. non-necessity) kitchen gadget? A close second for me might be our coffee machine, but that might be considered a true necessity for some….

Friday Fun, and Roasted Tomato Sauce

Today wasn’t as fun as most Fridays, as it was blastedly hot out, and we did not have time for the playground, library, OR coffee shop because the youngest had to get shots and I had to visit a client in jail…..but it was still reasonably fun because it was an office-less Friday! Always good, right? Plus, we are babysitting our friends’ dog, so now we have three dogs in the house, which again is always good! Husband and oldest child did a farmers’ market run while youngest and I were at the doctor’s office, so now we are fully stocked with more fresh veggies. I love summer veggies!

Look at those delicious roasted veggies! All set to be pureed into sauce.

I really need to post about the following: PureFit bars (thanks, www.loveveggiesandyoga.com!), my New Balance loot, including new running sneakers and some fun running clothes, and the totally hip new sandals I got at Okabashi. All very worthy posts. However, my camera is out of batteries so I kind of have to post about stuff for which I already have pictures. Hence, this super simple recipe for roasted tomato sauce. This is based on the tomato sauce recipe that goes with the paella recipe in The Voluptuous Vegan. The paella recipe is pretty involved, but this sauce is easy and SO GOOD. It is a bummer to have to turn on the oven in the summer, but if we have it on for something else – bread, cookies, eggplant for babaganoush (have I told you about our 3-year-old’s obsession with babaganoush?) – then I try to throw in some tomatoes and onions for this sauce. I really hope to freeze some for the winter, but somehow there’s never enough left.

I also thought the tomatoes and onions just looked really beautiful coming out of the oven. I didn’t get a picture of the finished sauce, but it is an interesting orangey/pink/red color – far less red than traditional jarred tomato sauce, which is probably due to the onions and olive oil.

8-10 tomatoes

2 onions

2 cloves of garlic, unpeeled

olive oil

coarse salt

pepper

several sprigs of fresh thyme or rosemary, if you have it

Roughly chop the tomatoes and onions. Place in one or two 9 x 13 pans; it’s okay if they are layered, but you don’t want them totally crowded. Liberally sprinkle olive oil over them, and spinkle with salt and pepper. Throw in the garlic cloves, unpeeled, and the rosemary or thyme, if using.

Heat oven to 375. Roast for about 45 minutes or until the tomatoes are slightly shrivelled and browned, and the onions are also slightly browned.

Let cool so that you can handle the veggies without burning yourself. Squeeze the roasted garlic out of the skin; pick off a few of the leaves of thyme or rosemary; all those to the tomatoes and onions.

Put the tomato and onion mixture in a blender. Be sure to scrape in all of that yummy olive oil…..it has its own flavor, plus that of the onions, garlic, and herb!

Blend until smooth. Enjoy over rice, veggies, pasta, whatever.

On a side note, my husband has been making some fresh-from-the-farmers’ market peach milkshakes, to which he’s been adding Whole Foods animal crackers – sort of like peach speculoss, right? Ground up animal crackers…yum!

Question: I’ve been thinking about changing my blog layout. I didn’t realize how dark it was, and how the posts overlapped on each other in a most annoying way, until very recently when I checked it without signing in. What makes a food blog easy to read? What sort of features should I look for (without leaving WordPress)?

Farmers’ Market Fabulousness and Balsamic-Ginger Reduction

I love veggies. I truly do. Fruit, not so much, but veggies – I could eat them all day long, every day. There’s not a veggie I don’t like, except for peas. I. LOVE. Veggies.

We are fortunate to have a farmers’ market open two days a week about a half-mile from our house. When we first moved here, there were NO farmers’ markets – I figured that we were in such a rural area that everyone knew someone with a farm and there was no need for a market. Lucky for us, that has changed recently. We typically walk up to the market once a week with the girls and stock up on fresh veggies and fruit. I love, love, LOVE fresh veggies. I’m not crazy about fruit but I’m working on that.

Check out the beautiful white eggplant! You can’t really see from this picture, but the yellow squash has green lines on it. Gorgeous!

Veg = beauty

Fresh kale – my favorite!!

Some of the chopped veggies to be used in a recipe

Peaches and blackberries, getting ready to be in a cobbler (recipe posted soon)

Cooking up some zucchini for the girls

Not from the farmers’ market, but another side dish – pressed tofu, cooked in the cast iron skillet with a dash of oil, soy sauce, and a sprinkling of nutritional yeast. An easy favorite, loved by kids and grown-ups!

I thought the produce he bought was so beautiful – individually and all together – that I just had to take some pictures of it.

My husband went to the market with the girls while I stayed home to clean for some guests. He went, in his own words, CRAZY – eggplant, white eggplant, pole beans, zucchini, squash, tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, kale, blackberries, peaces. Almost all of it is gone, just half a week later. We most enjoyed just fresh, raw or lightly cooked veggies. I made kale chips; our guests made some delicious rice-paper rolls with fresh chopped veggies. My brother-in-law made a fabulous balsamic sauce to go along with the rolls. I usually stick to soy sauce/peanut sauce/other Asian-inspired sauces when I eat rice-paper rolls, and I never would have thought of using a balsamic reduction on them, but it was FANTASTIC. He cooks like me – a little bit of this, a little of that – so I couldn’t get him to figure out exact amounts, but this is what he could recount.

1 1/2 cups balsamic vinegar

1 ginger root, peeled and sliced very thinly

2-3 teaspoons sugar

Stir in a small pot; bring to a simmer and cook until it is reduced by about 1/2.  This seemed to take about a half hour. You could probably reduce it less; it just wouldn’t be as thick.

The ginger gives the vinegar a nice, spicy bite, and the vinegar is nicely syrupy without being too sweet. My favorite part, however, was eating the ginger – it was soft and sweet, almost like ginger candy. Delish.

Beautiful in its simplicity