Orange Mini-Cakes with Bourbon-Pecan Caramel & Orange Buttercream–A Memorial Birthday Cake for Mama

Orange Cake with Caramel Filling and Orange Buttercream Frosting 3Yield: 8 mini-cakes (2 1/2-inch diameter)

[for recipe, skip to bottom]

Monday, the day I went live with The Blooming Platter’s fresh new look, would have been my mother’s 83rd birthday. But sadly, she has passed away suddenly and unexpectedly on October 2.  My mother and I were different enough to challenge and occasionally frustrate each other, but similar enough in some of our views–you should have heard us get going on theology–and many of our passions to have long been joined by the apron strings even across the miles from Virginia to Mississippi.

Even in our shared interests, we often took different approaches.  An illustrated essay I wrote entitled, “The Sacred Canon,” was published by Alimentum in June 2015 and paints a picture of my complex mother and some of her culinary dogma in which I took great delight even as it occasionally annoyed me.

I’m not sure that my mother had a favorite birthday cake.  Besides Creme Caramel,  I think her favorite dessert was ice cream–I remember from my childhood that she voted for Baskin Robbins’ “Jamoca Almond Fudge” for family ice cream outings (my sister and I always begged for Dairy Queen)–and she ate a small dish with Hershey’s syrup every night of her life in recent years, sitting with my father in their bedroom, each in his or her blue chair, watching a British mystery, many of which I sent them on DVD.  She claimed she had to have “food” to take her evening handful of pills.

But, I associate her with citrus flavored cakes, possibly because she used to always make an orange cake with lemon frosting for my sister’s March birthday.  So, this year, I decided to create mini-memorial cakes.  I forwent the lemon frosting, though, for an orange buttercream paired with a luscious Bourbon-Pecan Caramel.  I think Mom would approve because, well, she loved her evening cocktail.  She was from that generation, you know?

Orange Supreme Cake MixThe recipe starts with a boxed cake mix because that’s how I got my start baking.  In those days, there were no canned frostings, but rather boxed mixes as well, and I recall them as being superior.  Still nothing beats homemade frosting which is what I include here along with my simple-as-pie, to mix my metaphors, homemade caramel.

Orange Mini-Cakes with Bourbon-Pecan Caramel and Orange Buttercream Frosting

1-18.25 ounce Duncan Hines Orange Supreme Cake Mix

3 tablespoons flaxseed meal

1 1 /2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

Zest and Juice of 2 oranges + enough water to equal 1 cup (reserve zest of 1 orange for frosting)

1/3 cup vegetable oil

Bourbon-Pecan Caramel (recipe follows)

Orange Buttercream Frosting (recipe follows)

Garnish: 8 pecan halves

Grease and flour a 9-inch metal baking pan.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine all ingredients except caramel, frosting, and garnish.  Beat at low speed for 30 seconds or just until combined.  Increase speed to medium, and beat for 2 minutes, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary.  Transfer batter into prepared pan, gently smoothing top.  Bake for 24-27 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool in the pan on a wire rack.  Using a 2 1/2-inch biscuit or cookie cutter or even a juice glass, cut cake into 16 rounds.  Place 1 in the bottom of 8 muffin liners.  Top each with about 1 tablespoon of the cooled caramel, remaining rounds of cake, another tablespoon of caramel, and piped on or swirled frosting.  Garnish each mini-cake with a pecan half.  Serve or store in refrigerator until serving time.  Remove about 20 to 30 minutes before serving time.

Bourbon Pecan Caramel 

1/2 cup vegan butter

1 cup dark brown sugar

1/2 cup agave nectar, dark corn syrup, or maple syrup

1 tablespoon soy, almond or coconut creamer

1 tablespoon bourbon

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup chopped pecans

Place butter, brown sugar, agave nectar and creamer in a 2 quart saucepan over medium-high heat.  Stir until mixture comes to a simmer and then simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes (and no more!).  Remove from heat and stir in creamer, bourbon, vanilla, salt, and chopped pecans.  Pour into a small bowl, and allow to cool.  Cover with plastic wrap gently pressed into the surface.

Orange Buttercream Frosting 

(You will have leftover frosting.)

1/2 cup vegan butter

1/2 cup vegetable shortening

Reserved zest of 1 orange (or 1 to 2 tablespoons dried orange zest)

4 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar

Approximately 1 to 2 tablespoons soy, almond, or coconut creamer, if desired for consistency

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine butter and shortening and beat on medium speed until fluffy.  Add orange zest followed by 1 cup of confectioner’s sugar at a time, turning off the mixer in between additions, and scraping down sides of bowl.  Thin, if desired with creamer and beat to combine.  Store any leftovers, covered, in refrigerator.

 

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A New Look and a New Beginning for The Blooming Platter

Aprils have never meant much to me, autumns seem that season of beginning….”
                                                                                          ~Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s

A May rose blooming in my garden
A May rose blooming in my garden

Indeed, the autumn of 2015 was a season of beginning like nothing I could have imagined. Both in the loss that precipitated it and in the astonishing expansiveness to which it gave rise.

On July 30, my adored husband, Joe, passed away suddenly and unexpectedly from cardiac arrest, followed within the next two months by my similarly adored dog, my constant companion, and my mother, my kitchen accomplice since childhood.

Almost immediately, food took on the symbolism of a quasi-secular sacrament: an outward sign of inward grace. With my appetite, among other things, dealt a mortal blow, thoughtfully prepared and diminutive dabs of this and tiny tastes of that, matched to various occasions, came to represent deepening dimensions of relationships with people, things, and ideas that flowed around and through me. My scaled back approach to nourishing my body proved to be immensely satisfying and perfectly proportioned as I focused more on nourishing my soul.

While my relationship with food, like just about everything else in my life, underwent a shift, I remain as full of curiosity and wonder in the kitchen ever before. I just find that I tend to cook more for others than I do for myself, and that food is less often my raison d’etre than it is an anointment of various aspects of a rich and full life for which I am unceasingly grateful.

But spring is an undeniably hopeful season. So, forced to rethink many aspects of my life, I decided in early 2016 that a Blooming Platter redesign was in order and launched it on this what would have been my mother’s 83rd birthday.

I hope you enjoy this new beginning in the form of a lighter, brighter, hipper, and slightly more feminine look and feel.

Yours, gratefully,

~betsyleaf

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Vegan Chocolate Chess Pie
with the Flavor and Mouthfeel of the Real Deal!

Yield: one 8-inch pieVegan Chocolate Chess Pie

I don’t know quite why I got such a hankerin’ for this pie, but I did and the first experiment was an epic fail resulting in an epic oven cleaning.

But this?  This is perfection!

Note: several hours before you plan to bake the pie, prepare the cashews:

1 cup roasted and lightly salted cashews or halves and pieces, covered with hot water in a small bowl and left to soak for 3 hours or until softened and most of water is absorbed, drained (you can use raw cashews, but I think the roasted have more of the desired rich flavor for this recipe)

1 1/2 cups natural granulated sugar (I like demerera)

1/2 cup flour

2 tablespoons flaxseed meal

4 tablespoons vegan butter, melted

1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons plain soy or almond creamer

3 1/2 tablespoons cocoa powder (I like to use Hershey’s Special Dark)

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 homemade or purchased 8-inch vegan pie crust, thawed (if frozen), and unbaked  (I used Marie Callender’s for the sake of time, but I much prefer homemade)

Optional accompaniments: powdered sugar, vegan whipped cream, or vegan vanilla ice cream

Optional garnish: whole cashew nuts or pecan halves

Preheat over to 300 degrees.  In a food processor, puree drawined cashews for 3 or so minutes until very smooth.  Transfer mixture to a medium bowl and whisk in remaining ingredients until smooth and completely combined.  Scrape into thawed pie shell and gently smooth top.  Bake for 45 minutes or until set.  Cool on a wire rack, cover, and chill for a couple of hours before slicing and serving plain or with a drift of powdered sugar, a dollop of vegan whipped cream, or a scoop of vegan vanilla ice cream.  Garnish, if desired, with a cashew nut or pean half.

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Day 19: Kale & Sundried Tomato Pizza AND Sherried Mushroom Bruschetta–“Cooking ‘The Blooming Platter Cookbook’ Julie & Julia Style”

Kale Pizza(A sequential installment from Kim Hastings, my photographer friend and, along with her vet husband, owner of Independence Veterinary Hospital, who decided on her own to cook her way through The Blooming Platter Cookbook: A Harvest of Seasonal Vegan Recipes Julie & Julia Style for her omnivorous family as a strategy for more healthy eating.

Today I have a lot to write about, so grab a cup of coffee and get comfy. Tuesday night, Betsy DiJulio, the author of The Blooming Platter Cookbook, came to my house to cook with me!! So excited!!

Of course I did the usual when someone is coming over – vacuum up the dog hair, clean the bathroom (remember I have boys!) and clean my kitchen. But I wanted to impress so I chose an appetizer and a dessert from the book to make beforehand. I chose Orange-Espresso Chocolate Chip and Hazelnut Cookies. I followed the recipe exactly being super careful not to inadvertently put something non-vegan in them. Everything was going well until I went to get my coffee beans out to grind one teaspoon of espresso powder. I could not find them anywhere. I love those beans. I had bought them at a little coffee roasting shop on the way to Luray, VA – but they were nowhere. So I racked my brain to come up with an alternative. Finally I ripped open a little Keurig cup and ran it through my grinder to make it into powder. It worked! One teaspoon of “espresso” done!

Next step was the chocolate chips. That’s when I saw the word “vegan” before the words “chocolate chips”. Noooooo!! I had not even considered that my chips were not vegan. Since I didn’t have any idea where to start looking for vegan chips, I was not going to the store so I divided the dough in half. One half gets real chocolate chips and the other will be Orange “Coffee” Hazelnut Cookies. (Thankfully she brought an amazing dessert so we didn’t need them.) I did, however, bake a test batch before dinner and I must say that these cookies are incredible. I have a hard time believing that this dough does not have eggs. They bake up just like any other cookies. My son looked skeptical and politely declined them but later I found the half empty container on the counter so he must like them too.

Mushrooms with SherryThe appetizer I chose was Sherried Mushroom Bruschetta. I have been looking forward to trying this recipe for a while – it sounded so good! I loved putting this together with the obvious exception that I had to use my dumb food processor. Later in the evening I did learn that silken tofu is different than the refrigerated tofu I used but no matter – I think it came out great. [Betsy’s note: it was perfection!] I got a bit heavy handed with the red pepper flakes but no one seemed to mind. My son only had a problem with the gray color but once he tasted it, he was sold.

So now my preparations are done…until I sat down and read through the recipe we had chosen to make. The pizza dough for the Kale and Sundried Tomato Pizza takes two hours to rise! I decided if I didn’t take this part on by myself we would not be eating til 10 PM. Even though I have never made pizza dough, I put on the how-hard-can-it-be attitude and got busy. And it really wasn’t too hard. I did not cheat either. I really used wheat flour. I had bought this to make dog biscuits a while ago and it was sealed up in the back of my cabinet. Nothing flew out of it when I opened it so we were good to go.

As soon as I got the dough set up to rise, Betsy arrived. She came in with an amazing looking cake roll with salted caramel icing. OK we can skip dinner now! It turned out to be a girl’s night since my husband was out for the evening and my son left for his Krav Maga class. (Oh, before he left, he pulled out a container of pork BBQ leftovers from the fridge and starts eating it out of the container right there in the kitchen. I was cringing, hoping Betsy wouldn’t notice…but she did. She was so cool about though. And that’s my family!!).

Anyway we chose a wine and started cooking. She promised me I would love the kale but I was skeptical watching her cut it up. She insisted I try it raw. She ate hers, but mine ended up in the sink. Sorry! I couldn’t even pretend to like it raw. Not good! Next she started the “cheese.” This was not my area – you know how much I cheat with real cheese – so I stepped back and watched her make it. I loved it! Would I give up my cheese for it? No, but I really loved it.

Betsy Making Pizza CrustWhen the dough was done rising, she showed me how to press it out by hand into a circle. Then we prepared the pan to sauté the kale – I forgot to turn the burner on but that was the only glitch. We put the pizza together and got it into the oven. Then we got to just hang out, she met my turtle, Desiree, and we went outside to check out my herb garden. My dog Allie was already her best friend at this point. Before long the pizza was out of the oven and ready. We took some pictures (of course!) and then served it up.

My son was back from class at this point and joined us for dinner. We loved the pizza! Even with kale!! It was flavorful and salty and the kale was very tender. We agreed later it may have been too salty because I only had course sea salt and no grinder. [Betsy’s note: totally my fault; I cook with coarse sea salt and I just wasn’t careful–must have been the wine and the great conversation.]   My husband was quick to point out the saltiness too when he tried it later – this from a guy who snacks on bouillon cubes?! Really?

The time finally came when I could try the cake she brought. OMG! So good! As soon as she posts that recipe I will be lifting it right off her website.

We had so much fun cooking and laughing together but the time came when she did have to get back home to her puppies. I loved learning so many new ways of cooking healthier. I love that she is so non-judgmental about my family’s food choices and is supportive of how I am incorporating her amazing recipes into my way of life. She is one of the sweetest, most gracious people I know and I am glad I can call her my friend. It really was a great evening.

~Kim Hastings

Kim Hastings

 

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Day 18: Indian Cauliflower with Black Mustard Seeds AND Orange Salad with Cumin Vinaigrette–“Cooking ‘The Blooming Platter Cookbook’ Julie & Julia Style”

Indian Cauliflower(A sequential installment from Kim Hastings, my photographer friend and, along with her vet husband, owner of Independence Veterinary Hospital, who decided on her own to cook her way through The Blooming Platter Cookbook: A Harvest of Seasonal Vegan Recipes Julie & Julia Style for her omnivorous family as a strategy for more healthy eating.)

Today I decided to tackle two recipes. In the interest of full disclosure, my reason for this was that I had doubts about both dishes so I figured if I didn’t like the one then hopefully I would like the other.

So the first one is Indian Cauliflower with Black Mustard Seeds. Because I have put in my time at the grocery store spice displays, I had most of the spices needed…except for the elusive black mustard seed. I went to my usual stores and even went to Kroger which is out of my way, but I did it and got nothing. I even tried Target! I jokingly said that I could turn my own dang mustard seeds black – I’m a pro at burning things! So I ended up with regular mustard seeds. I followed along with the directions and while I am stirring the beautiful and now orange cauliflower (thanks to the turmeric), I was also stirring the “yellow” mustard seeds over high heat in the butter and oil.

I was feeling like a pretty accomplished cook stirring two pots at once and all of a sudden the mustard seeds started popping like popcorn – all over my arm and then all over the stove and counter tops! Who knew mustard seeds could do this?? There should have been a warning label! But seriously who tries popping mustard seeds? I quickly took it off the heat and looked in the pot and the remaining mustard seeds were, in fact, black. Well mission accomplished! There they are – black mustard seeds!

Orange Salad with Cumin VinaigretteThe recipe then said to “drizzle” the mustard seed mixture over the cauliflower – mine sorted of plopped over it in chunks but I spread them out to look like it was drizzled. While this one cooled a little I started on my next recipe – the Orange Salad with Cumin Vinaigrette. I gathered all the ingredients and discovered that the olives I had purchased especially for this from the olive bar at the grocery store were half gone. My husband admitted he just couldn’t help himself. Ok so now I am cutting the recipe in half – not a problem! (I knew they wouldn’t eat it anyway).

This recipe came together with no mishaps in about five minutes. It could not have been easier. The presentation was really pretty with the orange and green together. Now for the taste test. The cauliflower was good but it lacked the pizzazz of the other recipes according to my family. This was totally my fault for not using the correct mustard seeds and then only half the amount seeing as how the other half of the seeds were spread around my kitchen. The orange salad was really good but very intense so I decided I would add spinach leaves and make it more of a traditional salad. My guys would have nothing to do with this one (fruits have no place in their salads) so you’ll just have to take my word on it.

And…if I ever see black mustard seeds I am buying them and trying this again- as long as they are not the price of cardamon or saffron that is.

~Kim Hastings

Kim Hastings

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The Blooming Platter Cookbook in the News

The Blooming Platter Cookbook--The Gift that Lasts All YearThanks to our own Virginian-Pilot epicure, Lorraine Eaton, for sharing some good “eatin” via her “Cook It” piece in today’s paper on Kim Howard Hastings‘ journey through my Blooming Platter Cookbook: A Harvest of Seasonal Vegan Recipes. Lorraine masterfully wove together a glowing book review, excerpts of Kim’s delightfully real and funny posts, and a  couple of recipes in a concise piece with a photo.

Toque’s off to you both, Lorraine and Kim!

~Betsy

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Day 17: Grilled Butternut Squash with White Beans and Olivada–“Cooking ‘The Blooming Platter Cookbook’ Julie & Julia Style”

Grilled Butternut Squash with White Beans and Olivada(A sequential installment from Kim Hastings, my photographer friend and, along with her vet husband, owner of Independence Veterinary Hospital, who decided on her own to cook her way through The Blooming Platter Cookbook: A Harvest of Seasonal Vegan Recipes Julie & Julia Style for her omnivorous family as a strategy for more healthy eating.)

Today’s recipe is the Grilled Butternut Squash with White Beans and Olivada. Spoiler alert: I will tell you now that this recipe got a rating of 4 in my book which is the highest rating possible.

To explain, my husband and I started this rating system during winery visits where we would write a number of 1-4 beside each wine we tasted. (The winery owners would get very excited thinking we were buying that many bottles!) Anyway this dish was so good I even packed up the leftovers to go on a trip so we could enjoy it again.

I always start by reading through the recipe and making sure I have everything. Check. Then I got started on the olivada so it would be ready when needed. I had purchased two tiny cans of olives thinking they were 6 ounce cans but no, they were 1.5 ounces. I have never been very good at estimating weights and measures clearly. So I used both cans but had to cut the other ingredients in half.

I went to my newly reorganized spice cabinet so proud that now I would be able to find everything I needed – but there was no oregano. How is that possible? I always have oregano. I tore through the cabinet from A to Z but there was none to be found. (Now I need to reorganize again.) No problem – I grow oregano in my herb garden. I have cultivated the same plant for 10 years and it has grown to be one of the largest plants I have. The leaves are dry now in winter but I can still use them. I grabbed my scissors and went out and…no oregano plant! Instead there was a huge hole! The dog had dug up my oregano plant and -ugh!!!!- replaced it with a gross toy! Are you kidding me?!! Things are going from bad to worse and I refuse to go to the grocery store for oregano. I finally decided to use a Greek seasoning I had on hand.

Once the olivada was done I took a taste and wow! I got some crackers out and started snacking while I started on the squash. The rest of the preparation was easy until I saw that I was supposed to have roasted the garlic. Too late – we are all hungry. So I just minced it and put it in the pan. One day I will try and roast a garlic but not today.

Arranging as instructed was like designing a work of art. It was beautiful when complete. I even used a cookie scoop to place the beans on the center of the fan of squash. Perfection!! Of course I got joked by the guys for taking the time to arrange a side dish, but one bite and they quickly stopped making fun of me. It goes without saying that this dish will be repeated many times in our household and I will definitely be making the olivada for parties.

~Kim Hastings

Kim Hastings

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Vegan Vanilla Cake Log with Fig Preserve Filling and Caramel-Cream Cheese Frosting

Fig-Filled Vanilla Log Cake with Caramel-Cream Cheese Frosting

Yield: approximately 12 servings

The secrets to a rolled vegan cake revealed…

A rolled sponge cake made with eggs is child’s play, as the protein in the eggs add just the right pliable structure necessary to hold it together as it smoothly spirals like wrapping paper around a spool.

Not so much with vegan cakes.  It took me four attempts to get it right.  In the end, it turned out to be both a matter of ingredients and rolling technique (thank you Martha Stewart via my good friend, Sonya Harmon, who witnessed one of my epic fails).

In terms of ingredients, I ended up adding a couple of tablespoons of flaxseed meal as an egg substitute.  I don’t think you’ll find a single other recipe on this website that calls for flaxseed meal as it simply isn’t necessary or, sometimes, even desirable for most baked good.  For this one (an my other rolled cakes), it is critical.

Also, though I am not a big fan of xanthan gum–it quickly creates kind of a slippery, slimey, glue-like texture if you don’t use a very light hand, and is as expensive as heck–less than a teaspoon is key to the success of this recipe. (Here, a bag costs almost $12 on Kroger’s organics aisle.  I recommend buying a bag and sharing with a gluten-free baker friend.)

And, finally, sprinkling a hand towel with confectioner’s sugar–not granulated sugar as Martha Stewart recommends–turning the cake out onto it, and rolling it up with the soft towel, instead of the crinkly parchment paper used to line the pan, is essential.

Lastly, trimming the edges of the cake–so that even the slightest bit of browning doesn’t create a “crust” that refuses to bend nicely–and  not unrolling the cake completely flat to fill will yield the most satisfying results.

 

Vegan Vanilla Cake Log with Fig Preserve Filling and Caramel-Cream Cheese Frosting

1 cup soy or other non-dairy milk

2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

2 tablespoons flaxseed meal

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour (I use white whole wheat)

3/4 cup natural granulated sugar (I use demerera)

2 tablespooons cornstarch

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon xanthan gum

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup canola or other neutral vegetable oil

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 cup Fig Preserves (or any preserves you prefer), brought to room temperature or gently warmed

Caramel-Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe follows)

Optional garnishes: shredded toasted coconut,, toasted if desired, chopped nuts, etc.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a rimmed 10 x 15″ pan with non-stick spray.  Line with one sheet of parchment paper and spray lightly again.  Sprinkle a tea towel with a little powdered sugar in a 10 x 15″  rectangle.  Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together soymilk, vinegar, and flaxseed meal and set aside to curdle, making a thickened vegan buttermilk.  In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, xanthan gum, baking soda, and salt.  Make a well in the center and pour in canola oil, vanilla extract, and soymilk mixture.  Whisk together for 100 strokes until smooth.  (Whisking for a portracted time like this will develop gluten and, hence, structure.)  Transfer batter into prepared pan and gently smooth into the corners.  Bake for 12 to 13 minutes or just until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Allow to cool in pan for 3 minutes and then invert onto prepared tea towel.  Carefully peel off parchment paper.  With a very sharp knife, trim 1/8 inch of cake from all of the edges.  Working from a long side, fold the excess inch or so of towel over the edge of the cake and carefully roll up like a jelly roll.  Tuck edges under and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.  Carefully unroll, avoiding trying to flatten the cake completely.  Gently spread with preserves.  Reroll and place seam side down on a serving platter, nestling it onto a flattened side from the previous rolling.  Frost with Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting and garnish with shredded cooconut and/or nuts.  Serve immediately or cover, refrigerate, and bring to room temperature before serving.

 

 

Caramel-Cream Cheese Frosting

1 cup vegan butter, divided in half

1 cup packed dark brown sugar

1/2 cup (4 ounces) vegan cream cheese

1 teaspoon vanilla

4 to 5 cups confectioner’s sugar (1 pound box)

Up to 1/4 cup non-dairy milk or creamer (e.g. soy, coconut, almond)

Optional for a frosting with even more body: up to 1/2 cup vegetable shortening

 

In a small saucepan, melt 1/2 cup butter over medium-high.  Stir in dark brown sugar and simmer, stirring, for 2 to 3 minuutes or until a deeper brown with a caramel-y aroma; lower heat if necessary.  Remove pan from heat and pour caramel into a bowl.  Cool and then chill, covered, for a couple of hours or until cold.  Using an electric mixer, beat remaining half cup butter and cream cheese until fluffy.  Beat in chilled caramel mixture and vanilla until well combined.  Beat in powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, thinning with non-dairy milk if desired.  For a frosting wtih even more body, beat in vegetable shortening, a couple of tablespoons at a time, again until desired texture is achieved.

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Day 16: Sweet & Savory Nut Brittle–“‘Cooking the Blooming Platter Cookbook’ Julie & Julia Style”

Sweet and Savory Nut Brittle(A sequential installment from Kim Hastings, my photographer friend and, along with her vet husband, owner of Independence Veterinary Hospital, who decided on her own to cook her way through The Blooming Platter Cookbook: A Harvest of Seasonal Vegan Recipes Julie & Julia Style for her omnivorous family as a strategy for more healthy eating.)

[Betsy’s note: 360 degrees on an accurate thermometer is the correct temperature to which the sugar syrup should be brought.  However, use your eyes and nose too in case your thermometer, like Kim’s, is not properly calibrated.  You want it dark and deep amber, but obviously, not scorched.]

As I write about the events of tonight’s recipe and describe my most epic fail so far, I am sitting beside an open screen door in 40 degree weather trying to air out my kitchen – my eyes watering from the smoke and the smell of burnt sugar.

I chose Sweet and Savory Nut Brittle. I was so excited about this one because I love brittle anything. Everything started out great. I oiled the pans and measured the ingredients. I dug my candy thermometer out of the drawer and brought the sugar mixture to a boil. I was standing there holding the thermometer up for about two or three minutes before I realized it had a clip on the back – how handy!!

Now I have never in my life brought a candy past the hard ball stage so this was new for me. It seemed like a very long way to go to get to 360 degrees but I was patient. Apparently, however, 360 on my thermometer is the just-before-the-smoke-alarms-go -off-and-it-bursts-into-flames degrees. (I vaguely remember now that something went wrong with the thermometer last time I used it.)

Sweet and Savory Nut Brittle RuinedThe sugar mixture was now black but I thought “Well maybe this is how brittle is done or maybe it’s the balsamic vinegar – that’s black.” So I poured in the nuts and chili powder, stirred it and poured it on the baking sheet. I waited a little bit then pressed in the salt and then broke off a tiny piece to try. The burnt flavor was overwhelming, but being the optimistic person I am, I thought that maybe that goes away when it cools a little more. So I waited.

When it was cool enough to break, I got out the hammer and whacked it. It broke like glass and flew in different directions all over my kitchen. As I was picking it up, I tried a bigger piece and it was like scooping up a bite of ash out of my fireplace – awful!! I couldn’t eat it. I wouldn’t let my dog eat this fiasco. No literally! My dog was excitedly all over this one and I turned around and dug a piece of it out of her mouth. I was afraid of the potential carcinogens not to mention the sharp glass like shards cutting her mouth.

I was so disappointed (as was the dog!). I really think I should leave the candy making to someone with more experience in this field. I am positive this recipe tastes amazing when made by someone other than myself.

~Kim Hastings

Kim Hastings

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Day 15: Indian Saag Dip–“Cooking ‘The Blooming Platter Cookbook’ Julie & Julia Style”

Indian Saag Dip(A sequential installment from Kim Hastings, my photographer friend and, along with her vet husband, owner of Independence Veterinary Hospital, who decided on her own to cook her way through The Blooming Platter Cookbook: A Harvest of Seasonal Vegan Recipes Julie & Julia Style for her omnivorous family as a strategy for more healthy eating.)

I thought I would try a little Indian cooking today so I chose the Indian Saag Dip. I read through all of the ingredients (and there are a lot of them!) and checked through my spice cabinet to see what I needed. Well this led to a complete reorganization of my spices because I couldn’t find anything I was looking for even though I could have sworn it was there.

So I lined them up in alphabetical order and was surprised to see what I really had. I needed turmeric and cardamon so I went shopping. Turmeric was no problem to find but cardamon was a whole different story. Since starting this challenge I find myself seeking out spice aisles searching for spices I have never heard of. I firmly believe that some can only be found in a secret vegan underground to which I am not invited. Well I finally found cardamon but the price – wow! I kept searching til I found what appeared to be buds of it for $5 on the Asian food aisle. Jackpot! I will simply grind it down myself. I must say it did look a bit sketchy grinding buds down in my kitchen.

The recipe goes on to tell me to get my piece of crap food processor out again – please can I have a break from this for just one night? I throw in the tofu and soy milk (yes I broke down and bought the soy milk) and it says to scrape down the sides as needed. Well with my processor once you are lucky enough to lock it in, you don’t unlock it til it’s done. My friends don’t believe it can be this bad. They insist I am being a total drama queen about this so I videotaped it tonight. Once you see it you will understand.

Oh and by the way if any of you run into my husband please tell him I would like a food processor for my birthday. Now he will look at you with a deer-in-the-headlights kind of look but that is just because buying women appliances or cleaning equipment is prohibited in this household. He will think this is a trick. I have taught both my boys (and my husband) that unless the woman specifically asks for it, you do not offer it as a gift. This became a hard and fast rule after my younger son let it slip that they were going together to get me a vacuum cleaner for Christmas one year. They really didn’t understand my reaction to this. Needless to say I did not get a vacuum. But just tell my husband this time I really am asking for one ok?

Now moving on…once all the ingredients were in the pan, the aroma was fantastic. The flavors came together so well – it was a nice variation from the dips we usually make. I will definitely try this one again.

~Kim Hastings

Kim Hastings

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