Lately I’ve been really interested in veganism – vegan baking and confections in particular. I suppose what really fueled my curiosity was visiting Babycakes bakery in NYC. I had read all about Erin McKenna, the owner of Babycakes, celiac disease and New York’s newest and hottest vegan/gluten free/sugar free (mostly) bakery before I even stepped inside. But nothing could have prepared me for the moment when I wrapped my lips around the best – no exaggeration here – BEST mother f** cupcake I have ever had. (It was carrot cake, in case you are interested.)
Unfortunately, I don’t have photo documentation of the orgasmic face I probably made while eating this cupcake. However some memories are best if just remembered and not photographed. Anyway, my point is that baked goods made without eggs and butter scared the pants off me in the past, but thanks to Babycakes, that has now changed. However, the experience did do one potentially detrimental thing: it made me a more discerning and discriminating cupcake eater. Before, I was perfectly happy eating a Duncan Hines box cupcake with Duncan Hines frosting – which for a boxed mix is not all that bad. But NOW, now that I have been enlightened and seen what is Cupcake Nirvana, now that I have eaten the food of Siddhartha Gautama Buddha himself, (I think he would have preferred a Babycakes cupcake instead of that rice the little girl offered him after giving up the ascetic life, don’t you?) I will never ever be able to enjoy an ordinary (and most likely non-vegan) cupcake again.
But I digress… You may be surprised to find that I don’t have a vegan cupcake recipe in this post since I’ve been going on and on about cupcakes. You’re probably cursing me right now, “Well, where’s the freakin’ sexy photo of a vegan cupcake Sammmm???” Sorry, but I do have a few humbler vegan recipes for you. I think I slipped into writing so much about cupcakes because I’ve cut a significant amount of sugar out of my daily diet this week and so I have cupcake on the brain. My sincerest apologies.
So yes, veganism is associated with health in general, correct? Jordan and I have been eating vegetarian meals a few times a week for quite some time now because it adds variety, helps the planet, and is just delicious, too. Actually a tradition called “Meatless Mondays” began back in WWI to condition the rationing of meat and today it still exists – not because of war but more-so to encourage people to live healthier and contribute to a healthier planet. Check it out here if you want to participate! I have always considered vegetarianism and I have flirted with it a few times. Ultimately I’ve chosen to eat meat sparingly, trying to ensure I purchase it from local vendors or that it’s certified organic. The consumption of animal products is natural, a huge part of our culture (especially my family’s traditions) and difficult to avoid. And I do enjoy eating meat very much. However, I have always struggled with all the problems that surround animals and animal product consumption and so I find a balance here by eating them only select times a week and trying to eat quality meat that I buy from a person who raised it themselves with care and dedication. On my budget, this is not always possible so when I can’t afford meat of that quality I often opt for vegetarian or vegan versions.
Veganism has always eluded me in some ways because I can’t imagine eating a pizza without fresh goat cheese or buffalo mozzarella. I cannot imagine not eating lemony frozen yogurt during summer. I cannot imagine not splashing rich, velvety cream in my iced coffee. However lots of people don’t consume dairy and for good reason. Read more here. Anyway, I am just grateful that I have this bounty in front of me everyday and all I can do it try to make the best choices for my body, my planet and everyone I share it with, while still finding joy and satisfaction in what I eat.
What really and truly got me interested in vegan baking was the idea of surprise. The first time I flipped through the Babycakes cookbook and read ingredients like, “agave nectar” and “arrow root” I was so intrigued and excited. How did someone create something with such a tender crumb, with such a rich density without any animal products? Similarly, when I made a different version of my chocolate cake and used a banana, a sweet potato and cocoa powder instead of chocolate chips, eggs and butter, (the perfected version of this recipe is coming!) the chocolate seemed so much richer, deeper, earthier. Eating something without any animal products that is satisfying can be one of the most incredible experiences because we are so trained to think plate: meat, starch, veg. And it’s a challenge! How do I use these non-traditional ingredients to make something with a familiar taste and texture?
Well, it’s probably time for some recipes! But I want to say just one more thing: I’m sure you all do this but please, when it comes to recipes that don’t involve baking, don’t feel like you have to stick to a recipe word for word. When I cook, I don’t necessarily measure everything perfectly. And maybe you prefer more pasta to sauce or sauce to pasta ratio. If the amount of something doesn’t seem right to you, change it. Experiment! Personalize! OK, so the first is a sexy little dish that I made myself for lunch yesterday – Oven Putanesca. If you’ve never heard of it, spaghetti alla putanesca literally means “whore’s pasta” in Italian. Kind of a crude name but meh it’s delicious so whatever. Traditionally, the sauce, which consists of tomatoes, garlic, olives and capers, is cooked on the stove in a saute pan. But I decided to make it in the oven since I’m on a roasting kick lately. This is delicious, nutritious AND vegan.
1 1/2 pints cherry tomatoes, halved
2 large cloves garlic, sliced thinly
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 1/2 c pitted kalamata olives, halved
6 oz mixture of plain and whole wheat penne
handful torn spinach leaves (or basil leaves)
kosher salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 400-425 degrees F (depending on how hot your oven gets). Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Toss the tomatoes, garlic, oil, salt and pepper together on the sheet pan. Roast for about 15-20 minutes. Reduced oven to 350-375 degrees. Add the olives, stir mixture together and roast for an additional 10-15 minutes. Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente. Drain. Toss the tomato mixture with the pasta, season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve drizzled with olive oil and torn spinach.
The next is a lovely animal-free breakfast. I was a bit skeptical about making vegan pancakes but Jordan – who is a very honest and particular eater – loved these so I know they have to be pretty good (I didn’t even tell him they were vegan until after they were gone!) And sorry, I feel like I have too many pancake/french toast posts….or do I NOT have enough?? Haha.
Vegan Blueberry Flapjacks
Serves 3-4, or 8 large pancakes
1 1/2 c flour, mixture of unbleached all-purpose and whole wheat
2 1/2 tbsp baking powder (That’s right, tablespoons – don’t be shy. Remember there aren’t any eggs to give lift and heft.)
1 1/2 tbsp agave nectar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 c soy milk
canola oil and vegan butter for frying (or just oil)
1 c blueberries, plus more for garnish
Maple syrup, jam and honey for serving
Sift the flours, baking soda and salt together in a large bowl. Whisk together to combine. Add the agave, vanilla and milk and whisk well. Meanwhile, heat a good tablespoon of oil in a frying pan over medium-medium high heat. Spoon the mixture into the hot oil, about 4-5 heaping tablespoons per flapjack. Sprinkle blueberries evenly over the flapjacks. Cook for about 2-3 minutes on one side and flip. Cook for about 1-2 minutes on the opposite side. Continue adding oil and cooking pancakes until the batter is gone. Serve with warm maple syrup, honey or jam and more blueberries if desired.
Stir by Barbara Lynch
Oustanding in the Field by Jim Denevan
Babycakes by Erin McKenna