Goddess of Cake


Up the Channon Road
December 29, 2009, 17:45
Filed under: Drinks, Sweets | Tags: , , , ,

Once upon a time, in the faraway land of Australia, there was a strictly vegan Christmas celebration, up the road leading  from the hamlet of Channon to Protestors Falls (which are indeed named after a group of successful environmental activists). There lived Mel and Jane, my two gorgeous Australian friends, in a house that was perched midway on a hill, like so many houses are in that region.

Northern New South Wales is full of alternative people and back – to – the – landers, colourful markets where hippies try to rip off tourists, ecovillages hidden in the bush and endless parties, with groovy music, vegan chocolate cakes and cuppas of chai. The hills grow other stuff than just eucalyptus, and that is one of the reasons for the prosperity of the local hippies. In Northern New South Wales it is not unusual at all to visit the monthly market dressed in a pair of wings, three layers of colourful skirts and curve – tipped fairy boots. And the parties! How they dance, dreadlocks flying, skirts swinging and the whole house going up and down with the beat of the didgeridoo! And afterwards, you jump with your friends into a van that runs on homemade biodiesel and drive an hour to the nearest beach, to have a plunge in the moonlit waves.

Around Christmastime, I happened to be staying with Mel and Jane up the Channon road. Their house was a vegan sanctuary and they were quite strict not to allow any animal products in the house. They had decided to celebrate Christmas by holding a gathering for their friends, and prepared vegan delicacies for the occasion. There was vegan sushi, vegan mudcake and vegan rocky road on the menu, as well as vegan lasagna, if I remember correctly. Christmastime is full summer in Australia, and extremely hot, so we went with our picnic down to a little creek that runs nearby. That lazy hot afternoon with non – traditional Christmas food is still one of my funniest adulthood Christmas memories, and so since I now happened to get some vegan marshmallows I decided to remake part of the memory.

Rocky Road

There are certainly a thousand different rocky road recipes on net, generally they contain nuts, peanut butter, turkish delight, marshmallows and chocolate in some form. The idea is to drizzle the ingredients on a non- sticky surface and then cover with melted chocolate so that everything will stick together.  Mine was simply accomplished by combining all the ingredients I found in my cupboard. For some reason this chocolate  is really sticky, and I’m not sure whether that’s because of the honey. If you simply melted some chocolate, the end result would certainly be less sticky, and you’d get a pretty surface with all the goodies neatly layed out, instead of boring brown bars like I did.

1 dl vegan marshmallows, cut in halves

1 dl hazelnuts, coarsely chopped

1 dl coarsely chopped dried apricots

1 dl dried cranberries

1 dl toasted pumpkin seed

a small handful of dried chokeberries

a small handful of cocoa nibs

150 g cocoa butter

2 dl cocoa powder

280 g organic honey

a pinch of chillipowder

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp bourbon vanilla powder

2 tbsp cognac

First I sprinkled all the nuts etc. on a greased round oven pan (27 cm in diameter). Then I carefully melted the cocoa butter on low heat, and blended in the cocoa powder, spices and honey. Then I poured this mixture over the nuts and other things, and allowed it to cool down in the fridge  (in a hurry? Just stick it to the freezer for 10 minutes, I have learned from Yaelian).

Chai

Chai is the favourite hippie sweet drink. I’ve never been to India, and I have no idea how the original thing is made, but I’ve learned that there are as many ways to making chai as there are hippies in the world. Basically chai is a very sweet spicy milky tea: you can make it with organic dairy milk, with rice milk, with soy milk, with coconut milk, with or without black tea.  My chai is made with seven heavenly spices: ginger, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper, vanilla and cardamom.  I usually like a bit of black tea in it too, and for sweetening I think honey is just right. Clove is a slightly dangerous spice, so use it with caution!

5 dl water

5 dl rice milk (etc)

3 cm piece of fresh ginger, cut into rounds

5 black peppercorns

15 green cardamom pods

2 cinnamon sticks

7 whole cloves

a dash of bourbon vanilla powder

1/4 of a whole nutmeg, chopped

1 black teabag

1 tbsp honey

Boil the spices in water for a few minutes. Then add the milk, and bring to boil again. Add the black tea, let simmer for a couple of minutes and sweeten.  Sieve through. Enjoy in peace and harmony!

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Lucia’s Saffron Buns
December 22, 2009, 23:05
Filed under: Baking, winter seasonal food | Tags: , , , ,

Picture by Juha Pentikäinen

The 13th of December is the day of Saint Lucia, the only saint that is commonly recognised in Finland and Sweden. Our countries are very Lutheran, which is sparse, strict, no nonsense – path of reformist Christianity. So we don’t know anything of  dramatic saints with their terrifying life – stories, and our churches are quiet places with simple furnishings. But then, why did we take Lucia, an unknown Sicilian saint, to be so dear to us and be part of the Advent celebrations leading Christmas?

Lucia’s Day is widely celebrated in Sweden and in the Swedish speaking part of Finland. Usually a young maiden from the local community is chosen to represent her, looks are not important, but she should have a beautiful voice to sing with. Then she appears on streets and marketplaces, in schools, in old people’s homes, clad in white, wearing a crown of candles and singing the Lucia Song. Often she will bring some “glögi”, a Finnish Christmas drink and some gingerbread to people. Hardly anyone remembers her actual story (I recall she refused to marry because she wanted to lead a Christian life in chastity, and suffered a martyr death because of that) , she is simply the bringer of light in the darkest time of the year. Somehow I think she subconsciously reminds us of the ancient, powerful Nordic goddesses, when she stands there, brave, shining and solitary, crowned with living fire.

What is my personal relationship to Lucia then? When I was five years old and in the Kindergarten, I was not chosen to be Lucia, but instead got to be Virgin Mary in the Christmas play. But who would be comforted by a meek Mary that silently bends her head and accepts her faith, when there was a chance to be Lucia, who fights for her beliefs and leads the glorious procession? I was so bitter! As an adult I actually got to be the Lucia of my school, when I studied weaving in a swedish – speaking small town. I guess it is also slowly dawning to me that somebody who looks strong and solitary from the outside, might feel lonely and isolated inside.

These kind of saffron buns are in Sweden connected with Lucia, but in my childhood home they were simply baked before each Christmas, to be served with other Christmas delicacies. I must admit that I had to consult the internet in order to remember all the different forms they were baked in, but you can use your imagination! All kind of twirls and spirals is the idea. You should reserve about one and half hours to bake this.

Saffron Christmas Buns

About 25 pieces

2,5 water

25 g yeast

2 g saffron

1/2 tsp bourbon vanilla powder

1,25 dl sugar

7 – 8 dl wheat flour

1/2 tsp salt

100 g vegetable margarine, vegan butter or oil

The water should  be about 36 °C warm so that it doesn’t feel cold or hot when you try with your finger. Dilute the yeast to the water, and add the saffron and sugar and mix. Add some of the flour and then the salt. Continue adding flour until the dough has a nice dense consistency, feels heavy to the hand and doesn’t stick to the edges of the bowl. Then add the margarine or oil. The dough should stay quite soft, so don’t knead too much!

Let the dough rise covered in a nice warm spot, until it’s doubled up in size. It takes half an hour or so. Then cut it up to small pieces, and roll it into several bars that are about the thickness of your finger. Then make all kinds of fun twirly shapes, and decorate  with raisins.

Put your buns on an oven plate and let them rise for an additional 15 – 20 minutes. Then bake them in the oven in 225ºC for 10 – 15 minutes, until they are nicely golden brown. Melt some margarine or use a bit of oil to spread on the buns to make them look pretty. And yes, the raisins tend to always pop out, so try to press them firmly into the bun.

Usually these kind of buns are made with eggs and butter, and for the vegan version to succeed, it is important to not use too much flour in the dough, and to be patient enough to allow it to rise properly.

Here is what Tricia wrote about Lucia and Saffron Buns, and a non – vegan recipe for it.



A Rite of Passage
December 21, 2009, 00:50
Filed under: Baking, Cakes | Tags: , , , , ,

Isn’t change always worth a celebration? For better or worse, change is the attribute of all life: matter evolves by the laws of entropy, towards more chaos, and the living things are constantly on their way towards death. No moment is static, transformation is inevitable. A rite of passage is something that prepares us for the change, makes it easier to accept, since we tend to cling to the past with a fierce devotion.

We celebrated the bachelorette party of my friend who was getting married. Marriage is one rite of passage to adulthood, though not as important as it used to be. The Finnish folk poetry describes in vivid detail the sadness of the bride, when she has to leave her sisters and brothers, the safety of her childhood home and most important of all, her dear mother, as sweet as honey or berries in the forest. Waterfalls of tears were shed when the young bride left her home to never return, to be owned by the family of her husband, and be as the daughter – in – law the lowest in the hierarchy of a household.

The ways of marriage have luckily changed quite a bit, and these days marriage is a sign of  mutual love and commitment, not a grim undertaking made in order to keep the human race existing. On this occasion it was indeed the bridegroom who left his sunny country to come to the cold and unhospitable Finland.

That weekend, we didn’t cry (except for me, a little bit), but drank pink sparkling wine, had a lush breakfast with beautiful live music at the cafe Villi Puutarha (” The Wild Garden”, which is one of the few places with vegan things to eat in Helsinki), acquired a pair of pink handcuffs at an adult shop, tried out pole dancing and sung  at the top of our voices in a karaoke taxi. Finally we adorned ourselves with corsettes, beads, plenty of sparkle and make – up and headed for a burlesque party. Our beautiful, not so shy bride won the tassel twirling competition (don’t know what that means? Well find out, I won’t tell you), and the gorgeous bridegroom impressed everyone by an improvised Brazilian street – capoeira – dance show.

The night was ours. We partied and danced with the intensity of people taking part in a transition rite, submerged in a brazilian – burlesque fantasy world. But what does a frilly, mask – wearing, tasseled, lace – and gold – adorned foxy lady or gentleman eat before she or he hits the party? Of course a rosewater – strawberry – chocolate mousse cake, decorated with fresh cherries, figs  and pitahaya..

Rosewater – Strawberry – Chocolate Mousse Cake

Crust:

150 g gluten free vegan cookies ( I used a spanish brand called gullòn)

75 g vegetable margarine

Mousse:

200 g soy cream cheese

6 dl whippable soy cream

500 g soy yogurt

5 tbsp rose water

1 jar Sonnentor Rose Jam

3 dl frozen strawberries

1,5 dl powdered sugar (icing sugar)

2 tsp bourbon vanilla powder

2 dl agar – agar

3 dl water

Chocolate Ganache

100 g dark chocolate

1 dl soy milk or other non – dairy milk

I started the day before by draining the soy yogurt in a sieve that was lined with coffee filters.

The following day I made the crust: I crumbled up the cookies, and melted the margarine. Then I mixed both and patted the mixture at the bottom of a springform pan (diameter 26 cm), which was covered with a piece of baking parchment.

Then I made the chocolate ganache. I heated up the milk in and added the chocolate, mixing until it was melted. I spread this evenly on the crust.

Then I made the mousse. First I blended the strawberries, the vanilla, the icing sugar, the soy cream cheese, the drained yogurt,the rose jam and the soy cream with a handheld blender until it was nice and fluffy. Then I heated up the water and the rose water in a pan, and added the agar – agar. I boiled the mixture, mixing it constantly for a few minutes, until the agar – agar was diluted. Then I hastily poured it into the mousse – mixture, through a sieve and mixing carefully with the blender. Then I poured the mousse onto the crust, and put the cake in the fridge.

Some tips about agar:

– agar is a better gelling agent for mousses than gelatin, even if most people don’t know this. The mousse produced by agar is always fluffy, and never dry like the gelatin mousses sometimes are. And yes, it will set, but you’ll have to use enough agar!

– when diluting the agar it is often easier to start with a bit more liquid and let it evaporate by boiling the mixture a little bit longer, than to start with a tiny amount of liquid, like often is instructed.

– you can dilute agar to other liquids than water, but something like  cream is already too thick for this purpose.

– the agar starts to set right away when you remove the pan from heat, so you have to be fast. Allow it to cool maximum a minute!

– use a sieve when you pour the agar – agar liquid into the mixture you want to make a gelee of. There are anyway always  some lumps in it.

– You will see right away, if there is enough agar in your mousse, because it will start to set immediately. The following day, if there appears some liquid around the cake that probably means that something went wrong, and the mousse has not set.

– This cake that you can see in this picture that was taken in great hurry, hasn’t got enough agar, but the recipe should be allright. I was thinking about other things…



Cooking for Crowds
December 9, 2009, 21:30
Filed under: Cooking | Tags: , , , , , ,

I was recently cooking for a group of young Russian NGO – people. Vegetarian food was quite clearly a new concept for many of them, but the praise I got for my cooking was unequivocal. One of them even said in the feedback round that she shall now became vegetarian and convert her family and friends too! I was so happy to hear that since now I can think that besides some money for me, I may have achieved something much more important: actually a tiny little change in the world towards a more sustainable future. That felt like a great achievement for my fingers that were coarse from cutting veggies and legs that were trembling from too much standing up.

Working in the kitchen, even if it is creative and fun, and a profession where you’ll be loved and praised much, is mostly a lot of hard manual labour. Since I’m no Michelin Star chef, I do my own dishes and chop my own veggies, and spent a lot of time lugging heavy bags from one place to another. For some reason, it is always these more than twelve-hour days you end up doing. By the way, if you want to become my slave, get in touch immediately!

Some tips, if you end up cooking for a crowd of people:

– Reserve enough time, and plan ahead: when one pot is cooking, can you make the salad meanwhile? How long does it take for each thing to boil or bake, and how long does it take you to chop the ingredients? A good cook can concentrate on several processes at the same time.

– Learn to use your knife, and always bring your own. Generally, if you can chop fast, you should be able to cook for many people, no problem. I do like get some help, if I need to make a meal for more than 40 people and the time is limited.

– It’s often hard to estimate how much people will eat. Generally, a meal should be about 300 g, though it depends a lot: men eat more than women, alternative people eat more than mainstream people, people who are active outdoors eat more than people who have spent time sitting in a meeting.

– Usually, I estimate about 4- 5 dl soup as a single course, or for a meal 70 – 80 g grains or 150 – 200 g pasta and about 2 – 3 dl of curry or sauce, and about 2 dl salad. It doesn’t matter how you count, you can also multiply recipes or think how many potatoes each one will eat etc. The important thing though is that you do some kind of an estimation of the amounts that you’ll need, and plan the things on your menu.

– Any kitchen often lacks these: a proper knife, a lemon squeezer and a hand held blender.

– Don’t be shy with spices (there are a few exceptions though, like black pepper and cloves).

– Afterwards, remember to enjoy the praise!

This is the kind of food that I usually make for people: quite a general vegetarian fare, but tasty and wholesome. The following recipes are by Tuija Ruuska, slightly modified, except for the salad which was a moment’s creation. The amounts are enough for 15 – 20 people.

Caribbean Mango Sauce with Kidney Beans

500 g carrots

7 large potatoes

4 onions

2 large bell peppers

1 tbsp grated ginger

5 fresh chillies

3 cans of kidney beans in salt water

2 cans of coconut milk

300 g frozen green beans

150 g frozen mango puree (you could basically use any kind of pureed, unsweetened mango)

1 tsp allspice

juice of one lemon

salt

water for cooking

Start by chopping the onions and the chillies finely, and the potatoes, carrots and the bell pepper into big chunky pieces. Add oil and the onions, chillies and grated ginger to big cooking pot, and fry until the onion is limp. Then add the chopped carrots and the potatoes, and enough water to cover them as well as  salt, bring to boil and let simmer about 10 minutes. Then add the bell peppers and coconut milk, and let boil until everything is tender. As last add the mango puree, frozen and canned beans, lemon juice and allspice, and heat up once more.

Spelt Pilaf with Cashew Nuts

1,5 g broken spelt kernels

water for cooking

300 g green frozen peas

200 g cashew nuts

1 dl canola oil

1 tbsp turmeric

3 onions

salt

First cook the spelt. Two things about cooking grains: wash them first, to get rid of dust,  and always add them to cold water that you then bring to boil, in order to avoid making porridge. So wash the spelt kernels first, generally it is good to change the water a couple of times and really rub the grain, as if you were doing laundry by hand. Then put the spelt, some salt and water into a big cooking pot. The water should come about 5 cm above the level of the spelt. Then bring it to boil and let simmer until the spelt is cooked, about 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, toast the cashew nuts on a dry frying pan, turning constantly, since they burn easily.  Then fry the onions in canola oil, together with the turmeric. Add the peas, the cashews and pour the mixture into the cooking pot with the spelt and mix carefully.

Cucumber and Coconut Salad

4 cucumbers

4 dl mung bean sprouts

1 organic orange

2 dl grated coconut

1 dl canola oil

juice of one lemon

pinch of salt

First wash and cut the cucumbers, and cut up the orange and grate the zest. Mix the coconut, the grated orange zest, lemon juice and the oil and some salt with a blender. Mix the cucumber pieces, the orange, the mung bean sprouts and the coconut mixture.