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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Vegan Chocolate Pudding with Coconut Whipped Cream

I have a funny thing I like to do. When I am planning vegan cooking classes I like to give them a theme (Vegan Valentines,  Thai Vegan, Summer Vegan, etc) and next month’s class is a St. Patrick’s Day themed vegan cooking class.
My go to dessert for St. Patrick’s day is this super rich chocolate pudding. Normally I would make it with Bailey’s Irish Cream to up the Irish factor, but it’s not vegan (although there are a few online recipes to make a vegan Bailey’s Irish Cream).
Yesterday spent the day toying with recipes, to convert my chocolate pudding into a vegan recipe. Here is what I found
1)    Please don’t use the recipes on the internet that call for “egg replacer” and “cocoa powder” – they are awful!
2)    Semi-sweet baking chocolate has no dairy and makes a super-rich pudding
3)    Adding egg replacer to my recipe (1 tbsp) makes the pudding super thick (like Jello instant pudding thick), not my favorite to sit down to a bowl of in front of the TV...but would be amazing in a “pudding pie” recipe.
Here is the recipe that I liked best, it taste like thick rich chocolate. You will love it And I topped it with a little Coconut Whipped Cream.

Vegan Chocolate Pudding
Serves 4 to 6
4 oz             Semi-sweet baking chocolate, broken into small pieces
¼ cup          Coconut cream
¼ cup          Agave nectar
2 tbsp          Corn starch
1 cup          Almond milk
2 cups         Coconut milk*
2 tsp           Vanilla
¼ tsp          Instant espresso powder
 Coconut whipped cream for garnish (optional) 
In a double boiler**, over medium low heat, combine semi-sweet chocolate, coconut cream and agave nectar. Melt over barely simmering water, stirring constantly.

Remove from heat while a couple of pieces are still visible.
Whisk together corn starch, almond milk, coconut milk, vanilla and espresso; dissolve cornstarch completely.
Pour almond milk mixture into a sauce pot and heat over medium low heat. Whisk and scrape with a rubber spatula, constantly. If you don't keep on stirring, the mixture will turn clumpy, but you want it to be smooth and creamy.
Once it is thick, turn off heat and add melted chocolate. Pour into serving bowls or cups and chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour, but best if done a day ahead. 
Garnish with coconut whipped cream, and enjoy!

*I recommend Golden Star Coconut Milk
** To heat the liquid for your double boiler- start by placing a small amount of water (making sure that the water does not touch the bowl that will be inserted later) into a sauce pan.Bring water to a boil over high heat.Turn off heat and insert a bowl just small enough to rest inside of the pot. 
Vanilla Coconut “Whipped Cream”
Makes1 ½ cups
1 cup                    Coconut milk, COLD (golden star)
½  tsp                   Vanilla extract
½                          Vanilla Bean seeds, split down the length and seeds removed
2 tsp                     Agave nectar or sugar (optional)
½  tsp                   Agar agar
½ cup                   Coconut milk
2 tbsp                   Coconut milk
Using a hand mixer, whip 1 cup coconut milk, vanilla extract, vanilla seeds and agave nectar; whip at high speed for a minute or two until it becomes fluffy and whipped cream-like.
Cover and refrigerate.
In a sauce pot combine agar agar and ¼ cup coconut milk. Cook over medium heat to dissolve agar agar (or until the majority of flakes dissolve), about 7 minutes .
Remove from heat and stir in 2 tablespoons coconut milk.
Strain coconut milk with agar agar into whipped coconut milk. With a hand mixer, whip together agar agar and coconut milk with the already whipped coconut milk; till light and fluffy. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (best if done the day before).

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Plum Cobbler and Pinot Noir...a match made in heaven

In last nights Wine Country Cooking Class, it was Pinot Noir night. The menu for the evening was

French Country Vegetable Soup
Citrus Cedar Plank Salmon
Cauliflower Puree
Plum Cobbler

The smell where intoxicating. You felt as if you where in a bottle of Pinot. The first thing to hit your nose was the cedar (from the cedar plank salmon),  the the light vegetal aromas of ripe tomatoes from the soup and lastly the velvety aromas of vanilla and plum from the cobbler. It was a night to remember.

I loved the pairing of Chalon Vinyard Pinot Noir, with it lightly oaked flavor and strong jammy fruit notes. I had to share it.

Plum Fruit Cobbler

Serves 4

1/3 cup       Sugar
2 tbsp         All-purpose flour
2 lb             Plums, pitted, peeled (optional) and cut to chunks                   
1  tbsp        Unsalted butter, melted
½  tsp         Vanilla extract
1/8 tsp        Almond extract

3/4 cup                 All-purpose flour
¼  cup                  Cornmeal
1 tsp                     Baking powder
¼ tsp                    Salt           

1 tbsp                   Unsalted butter, cold and cut into small cubes
½  cup + 1 tsp      Heavy cream, divided
2 tsp                     Raw sugar

Preheat oven to 400°F. Butter a baking dish.

Toss together filling ingredients in a large bowl. Spread out in baking dish and bake until just bubbling, 10 to 20 minutes.

Make topping while filling bakes: Whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt, then blend in butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add ½ cup cream and stir just until a dough forms.

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and lightly dust with flour, then roll out with a floured rolling pin into a 1/2-inch-thick round. Cut out biscuits with lightly floured cutter. If necessary, gather scraps and reroll once, then cut out more biscuits.

Arrange biscuits 1/2 inch apart over hot filling. Brush tops with remaining tablespoon cream, then sprinkle with sugar. Bake until topping is golden and fruit is bubbling in center, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool to warm, 30 minutes.

Best if served with whipped cream!!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

My Favorite Wine Books

A few good books to help you expand your wine knowledge and wine pairing skills!

Larousse Wine ; The World’s Greatest Wines, Estates and Regions ; published in 2011 by Clarkson Potter/Publishers New York

Wonderfully illustrated, with beautiful pictures and remarkable representation of wealth of information. This book is not just good looks; it has substance too. An amazingly good read with a vast amount of knowledge about wines, pairings, storing, tasting, history and so much more. If there is anything you ever wanted to know about wine; it is in this book and presented in a beautiful and interesting way. Hands down my favorite book!

Winesof the World; Published by DK Publishing, Inc—
This book is broken into regions of the world, just like your local wine store! I find that this makes purchasing wines very simple.
Step 1: Look up Country…France
Step 2: Region…Loire Valley (The book will tell you the history of the region and what they are known for -Sancerre and Pouilly Fume. If you need more information you can always look up those specific wines/grapes and find any information you need. )
Step 3:  Turn to the “Top Wine Producers” of that region….it will give you the name of the producer, styles of wine that are best, even the years that they produced the best wines.
Step 4: Buy a good wine and enjoy
This book is also great for traveling and exploring local wine regions, with detailed maps and lists of local wine producers.

Wine for Dummies- by Ed McCarthy and Mary Ewing-Mulligan; published by Wiley Publishing

This book has none of the pretty pictures but is packed full of information. And it will answer any question about wine that you have, simply and straight forward. My I recomend a chapter titled “Confronting a Restaurant Wine List”. It is designed to help with the “emotional-vulnerability” that can come with trying to buy wine. With a little knowledge you will have all the confidence in the world to grab the wine list and order for the table.
Please let me know if you have a book you think I should add to this list. I always love an excuse to go shopping.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Health Starts Here 28 Day Challenge...Coconut Covered Brownie Bite

Have you heard of the “Health Starts Here 28 Day Challenge”?

Well to be honest neither had I, until a friend at Whole Foods asked if I would do a cooking class for them.
It is a combination of  Whole Foods Health Starts Here Program and Eat Right America’s 28 Day Challenge. In the simplest terms they are encouraging people to start the New Year off right with healthy food choices and teaching you to eat healthier.

In not so simple terms they would love it if you got your fats from plant bases foods (you have to eat the plant, olive oil does not count). Same with your sugar, only recomended sugars are the ones that come in the form of berries and other fruits. You are encouraged to go wild with your vegetables, whole grains and water.  Take a look at the picture bellow to get a better idea.

Whole Food is offering special on “Heath Starts Here” prepared foods and showcasing foods in the store that have no added fats, sugars, are nutrient dense and contain no processed foods. Don’t let the scary words fool you, I tried some of the products and they are very good!
I have to admit it was a challenge even for me.  As someone who is a very well versed in special dietary concerns, I still struggled with wrapping my head around making a dressing without oil. Or not being able to sautéed my vegetables in oil.

But once I got over the initial shock it was really quite simple.  Using purees or reductions as thickeners for salad dressings.  Or tossing my vegetables in a bit of Tamari before roasting, to get rich color and flavor.

What I am most proud of is the dessert. I had heard forever about this “Raw” “Vegan” dessert that was supposed to be just like brownies. I thought what a crock! But I played with a couple of recipes and shockingly this one tasted like a brownie. And when you eat it right out to the food processor, while it is still warm, it is just like a gooey warm brownie. Even makes the house smell like brownies.

No-Bake "Brownies" rolled in Cocoa and Coconut

Serves 20 (bite sized pieces)

5                  Dates, pitted
5                  Dried apricots, sliced
1/3 cup       Unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup       Raw almonds
1 tbsp                   Vanilla Whey Protein
1 tbsp                   Vanilla Almond milk
2 tbsp                   Unsweetened shredded coconut

Add dates, apricots, cocoa powder, almonds, vanilla whey protein, and vanilla almond milk to food processor and pulse until nuts are ground and the mixture starts to come together.
Run mixer until mixture forms a sticky mass.
Roll dough into small balls with your hands.
Put a tablespoon of shredded coconut into a shallow dish, add brownie balls and shake till coated in coconut.
These can be stored overnight on the counter or in the fridge for a week.
Nutrition Facts
Amount Per Serving 5 balls
Calories 45.1, Total Fat 2.7 g, Saturated Fat 0.8 g, Polyunsaturated Fat 0.4 g, Monounsaturated Fat 1.2 g, Cholesterol 0.0 mg, Sodium 3.9 mg,

Potassium 99.7 mg, Total Carbohydrate 5.2 g, Dietary Fiber 1.2 g , Sugars 2.9 g,

Protein 1.5 g , Vitamin A 1.9 %,Vitamin E 5.0 %, Calcium 1.4 %, Iron 2.6 %