Thursday, December 23, 2010

May the Cookies Be With You

well, it's kind of like a religion...

Nothing demonstrates one's complete lack of cookie cutters like the onset of the holiday season. There I was, ready to make gingerbread for us to snack on over the holiday, and I realized that I didn't have any seasonal cookie cutters. At all. No mittens, no little men and women, no snowflakes. Nothing.

Except Star Wars.

Not wanting to give up OR brave the crowded, crazy shops, I forged ahead. Star Wars is kind of like a religion isn't it? And isn't this time of year all about worshiping, uh, something? Regardless of all that, the cookies turned out well. We are well stocked for our much needed week-and-a-bit off from work. Oh, I can not wait.

use the force

Vegan Gingerbread Cookies

1/3 cup vegan shortening (I used Earth Balance)
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup molasses
1 cup water
6 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp nutmeg

In a large bowl, cream shortening (it works best at room temperature) with brown sugar and mix in molasses and 1/2 the water.

In a medium sized bowl sift the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, allspice and nutmeg.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Add the rest of the water slowly, stop when the dough is no longer crumbly and it holds together.

Turn the dough onto a floured counter top and work it with your hands until it comes together in a smooth ball.

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1/2 an hour. It will be easier to work with the dough later on if you cut it into four equal sections first.

Preheat the oven to 350º. Line as many baking sheets as you have with parchment paper.

Remove one section of dough from the fridge and roll it to one quarter inch thickness on a floured counter top with a floured rolling pin. Cut your cookies out and arrange them on your prepared baking sheets about half an inch apart from one another.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes.

Let cool completely and then decorate or don't.

Note! You can use the same sheet of parchment paper for multiple bakings. I rotated between large cookie sheets and smaller cookie sheets and I used each sheet of parchment for three different batches of cookies.

may the cookie be with you

So that's it for me until after the holidays! I am going to take full advantage of my time off work to rest, read, watch movies, eat food, and reflect on the very busy and amazing year that was 2010. Happy Holidays to everyone, thanks for always reading and commenting and trying my recipes in your own kitchens!

J.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Sweet and Sara Peanut Butter Smore Cookie of Deliciousness

yum

Since it is the time of the year when everyone on earth is offering sugary baked goods to their nearest and dearest, I've been trying to avoid sweets. I will fail, but at least the trying will probably cut down on the loads of sugar I'd be eating if I wasn't trying. Or something like that. Anyway, one lovely example of my failure to avoid sweets came when I saw these giant smore cookie things for sale at my local health food store. Expensive, yes, but super fantastically exciting to find, seeing as I didn't even know they existed.

FTW!

This didn't remind me of an actual campfire smore, so much as it reminded me of the time my high school friend Rakhi and I stayed up all night watching videos on Much Music and consuming an entire box of Viva Puffs marshmallow cookies. Oh, to be young and tolerant to incredible doses of sugar again.

J.

p.s. You may have noticed that I've been messing with my header a bit. I get finicky about them and sometimes have to cycle through a few until I land on one that I like. I think this one is here to stay, though.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Dinner and a (Christmas-ish) Movie: Bridget Jones's Diary


Okay, this movie is kind of ridiculous. But, you know, Colin Firth is in it being dashing and dark haired and grouchy and Mr. Darcy-ish, which is actually more than enough reason to watch it. I think I enjoyed it more when I saw it in the theatre, though. Since this time it came on the heels of the much more, uh, subtle comedies The Holiday and Love Actually, it really just struck me as very cartoony. Not always in a bad way, but still. I cringed a lot. And me, I'm dorky and awkward enough in my real life. I don't need to be horrified by someone else's social disasters.


Also, some of the best scenes in the movie are the ones where she interacts with her three good friends and I just couldn't enjoy them! Because you know what? The actor who plays her funny, gay, male sidekick is the same actor who plays creepy, horrible Gaius Baltar on Battlestar Galactica. This may not seem like a big deal, but I could not get over it. I spent four seasons of BSG being horrified by and furious at that character and I'm just not willing to let all that good hatred go to waste.

As we're all learning, nobody eats in romantic comedies. This one, despite Bridget's constant whinging about her weight, is no exception. But after she gets dumped by Hugh Grant's character (dumped, as her friends say, "for a naked American") she does get really into drinking. "I will not be defeated by a bad man and an American stick insect," says our heroine, "Instead, I choose vodka... And Chaka Khan."

penne vodka

Vodka! Bingo! No, I did not just give up on my blog and go drinking. (Tempting.) Instead I made Penne Vodka, a dish I'd been curious about for a while. Does vodka actually enhance the taste of a tomato sauce in a significant way?

In a word, no. At least not when I made it. Though I did veganize a recipe that called for heavy cream and Parmesan cheese, so maybe my Belsoy cream and no cheese just didn't give it the flavour it needed. All was not lost, however, because the tomato sauce recipe I followed was stupendous. And so easy. Why have I never made this kind of tomato sauce before?

shedding their skins

The recipe I used was this one from the Food Network website. The tomato sauce uses regular old canned tomatoes, carrots, celery, onions, garlic, and a few herbs. That's it. It needs to simmer for an hour, though, so maybe make it on the weekend. The only modifications I made were using fresh roma tomatoes instead of canned (you can see them up there in the photo, shedding their skins after being dunked in boiling water), and adding a tablespoon of maple syrup to control the acidity instead of the butter (!?) that the recipe suggests. I would have happily just eaten this sauce on my pasta instead of doing the whole vodka and soy-cream thing as the next step. The final product with all the vodka and cream added wasn't horrible, it was just not super exciting. However, we still enjoyed big bowls of it with the same vegan Caesar Salad as I made to go along with our fettuccine last week. A nice Sunday dinner, vodka or no vodka!

This is my last movie themed post, thanks for all the encouragement, friends! I had fun. I'll continue to post through the holidays (cooking during the day when it's light enough to take photos! Hooray!) though maybe not as regularly as I usually do. I am quite looking forward to forgetting what day it is because they all run together in a blur of cookies, novels, naps, and tea.

J.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Let Nothing You Dismay

comfort and joy

It's very snowy here and my holiday to-do list is making me a little freaky. I wish I could stay home with these two all day.

J.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Treat Me To A (Christmas) Movie: Love Actually


tea and cookies

As many of you mentioned in the comments of my last post, another excellent Christmas romantic comedy set in England is Love Actually. This movie features many actors who I love, namely Laura Linney, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, and the even-more-dashing-than-Jude-Law Colin Firth. (I like Colin Firth because he is dark haired and cranky-yet-good-hearted, just like my husband.)

The movie has many good points. I love the wedding scene with the band, and Rowan Atkinson’s tiny, hilarious role, and the conversation between Alan Rickman’s character and Laura Linney’s character about precisely how long she’s been in love with one of their office mates.


But I do feel that the remarkable Mr. Rickman gets a bad deal with this role as a bland married guy who can’t seem to decide what to do about the (completely creepy) advances of his young secretary. I prefer him in cranky-yet-good-hearted roles (surprise!) like Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility. My only other quibble with the movie is that Keira Knightly seems way too skinny. Perhaps because no one in the movie seems to eat. Ever. There are hors d’oeuvres served at a wedding, and sandwiches delivered to an office, and a few other cursory mentions of food, but that’s pretty much it. Not much for a blogger to go on, really.


The only food related scene that peaked my interest was when Hugh Grant as the Prime Minister asks who he would need to screw* to get a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit. Cue adorable office assistant with a tray of tea and cookies. Even if you haven’t seen the movie, you can guess how that turns out.

The cookies she brings him are chocolate digestives. Just in case you’ve never had them, I will tell you they are dense and oatmeally and gently sweet. The chocolate covered ones are the best. When I was kid my British grandparents would buy them for us from Marks and Spencer. I can still find them at the grocery store, but not in any kind of vegan form. It never occurred to me to make my own until now.

digestive biscuits

I used regular white all purpose flour for these, and I think they would have been even better with whole wheat flour, since the texture is supposed to be kind of dense. The white flour made them a bit puffier than the store-bought version, but I wasn't going to complain. They were still the perfect cookies to have with a cup of tea and I had to put them in a tightly closed container way up high on top of our fridge to keep myself from eating the rest of them immediately.

Vegan Digestive Biscuits

1 3/4 cup flour (white or whole wheat or a mixture)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup quick cook oats
5 tbsp vegan margarine (kept cold until used)
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup soymilk (or other non-dairy milk)
1 tbsp ground flax seeds mixed with 3 tbsp warm water

Sift flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl and then add oats.

With a pastry cutter, two knives, or your fingers, work the margarine into the dry ingredients until you have a coarse, crummy mixture.

Add in sugar, then milk and flax mixture. Add small amounts of milk, bit by bit, if your dough doesn't come together.

Form dough into a round, thick disk and wrap it in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for half an hour.

While dough is refrigerating, preheat oven to 375 degrees and cover two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Flour your counter top and rolling pin liberally. Try not to flour yourself liberally as well.

floured

Roll the dough out to about a quarter inch thickness and use a cookie cutter (or a handy drinking glass) to cut the cookies into circles. You should end up with approximately two dozen cookies.

Place the cookies on your prepared baking sheets and poke them gently with a fork several times to make a pattern of small holes on the tops of the cookies.

Bake for 15 minutes, or until cookies begin to brown.

If you like chocolate digestives, like Hugh Grant does, then melt a big handful of chocolate chips with a teaspoon of margarine and, when cookies have cooled, use a knife to carefully spread of layer of chocolate on top of each one.

snack

J.


*He really does say "screw" that's not me translating the more common British expression "shag". The exact quote is: "Right. Who do you have to screw around here to get a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit?"

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Dinner and a (Christmas) Movie: The Holiday

IMG_8469

Well hello! You may have noticed that I took a little blog vacation after Vegan Mofo. I was just so happy to not have to photograph my food for a few days. Sheer joy, I tell you. And I thank you for all the comments you posted in my absence and I swear I will put in the baking powder amount for those cookies ASAP. Now, back to business.

If you live in my part of the world, you’ve no doubt realized that it is, in fact, beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Here in Ottawa we’ve had three days of the kind of gentle snow that nudges people into the holiday spirit but doesn’t require four hours of digging if you need to get your car out of the driveway. It’s pretty nice.

There are a lot of things that I like about this time of year. Despite the fact that I’m not religious, Christmas traditions touch on a lot of the things I enjoy and/or approve of. There’s charity, and kindness, and singing, and spending time with friends and family and, of course, there’s food. So I tend to put on blinders when I have to walk through stores full of useless crap* and just hustle on home to spend time with my husband and pets while the Jon Denver and The Muppets: A Christmas Together record spins on the turntable.

our little tree

Another thing I like to do is watch Christmas-themed romantic comedies. Especially ones that are set in England. What? I know what I like. I’m planning to watch one a week until Christmas arrives. (And no, if you were wondering, the Man of Science does not partake in this holiday indulgence with me. I happily sob and cheer my way through these films all by myself.) And since I’m always looking for new things to blog about, I’ve decided to make a dish to match each movie. These may not be original recipes, because frankly, it's not an original recipe time of year for me. I get busy, I get stressed, I get very much into making old favourites. Recipes that I know will turn out well every time. And I also like old favourite movies that turn out well every time.

And so we begin with the under-rated gem that is The Holiday.


I love Kate Winslet. Love. Her. She’s a great actress, can be hilarious or tragic, and she’s gorgeous without being painfully skinny or frighteningly underdressed. Some may disagree with the casting of Jack Black as her romantic counterpart in this movie, but I think he plays the character really well and their crushes on each other are totally believable. Plus, the movie is already overloaded with dashing handsomeness because the other male lead is Jude Law playing a funny, weepy, sweater-and-scarf wearing widower and father who sews and has his own cow. Which leaves us with Cameron Diaz. She is a bit too cartoony, but at least she can play goofy and smart. And she also wears great sweaters.


So what do we cook to go along with The Holiday? A movie where the characters largely ignore food and instead spend their time worrying about whether or not their gorgeous English or American crush is going to like them back?

Fettuccine Alfredo.

It’s not English and it’s not American, but it’s one of the very few meals that is mentioned by name in the film. Iris (Winslet) and Miles (Black) eat it after Miles discovers that his girlfriend is cheating on him and Iris relays her own story of unrequited love. I imagine that it made them feel a lot better.


IMG_8465

I got my recipe for the vegan alfredo sauce from the always-reliable Vegan Yum Yum blog. And it was super delicious. I paired the pasta with an appropriately Italian Caesar salad, using the dressing from my own recipe (which contains almost identical ingredients as the pasta sauce, go figure.)

If the Man of Science and I were in a romantic comedy it would be a pretty boring one because mostly we just like each other and get along with next-to-no drama. But there would be a great scene where we ate fettuccine alfredo for dinner on a cold winter night.

J.

*I am a brutal enemy of useless crap. It makes me burn inside.