Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Adventures in Veganizing...

The past few months, I've been going a little nuts trying tons of vegan recipes. (I'm still vegetarian, but eat a lot more vegan). All the gorgeous food photos and innovative recipes on Finding Vegan keep inspiring me to try things I've never even thought of before.  But, before I go on with recipes, let's get to the title of the post. Remember the movie Adventures in Babysitting? Yeah. Basically, everything that could go wrong did. Now, the comparison isn't completely correct- it's not like everything with my recent vegan dishes has gone wrong. I've found a ton of great recipes, and posted some major successes (such as polenta stacks, a vegan tart, a kale wrap, maple tofu, and roasted Brussels sprouts). But, there have been a few problems recently.

FIRST, I had huge hopes for the recipe in this post- an acorn squash vegan alfredo pasta- and what with all these amazing pictures, I was bustin' out of my little vegan booties with excitement to try it.

After about 2 hours of cooking, plus the 45 minutes at the store to get everything, this is what I got. It looked awesome. It had white acorn squash in it, which is awesome. There was no way it couldn't taste awesome.

It didn't taste awesome.

It was incredibly much so, that it made me wonder if I had accidentally used 1 Tbsp instead of 1 tsp of red pepper flakes- and while I did have 1 glass (ok, 2) of wine while making this, I don't think I did. But it wasn't just that- the taste of the nutritional yeast flakes used in the sauce was very strong. HOWEVER, I don't think it was a total loss. It actually tasted a lot better the next day- the flavors had settled and cooled down a bit. And with a few tweaks, I think this could have been a lot better. Here are some lessons learned from my vegan alfredo adventure:
  • Don't be afraid to be a little afraid of new ingredients: Nutritional yeast flakes have a strong flavor (some call it "savory" - I call it a little bit of "nutty" with a whole lot of "yeasty"), so it's best to ease into it if you're not used to it. It's ok to use a little less of an ingredient you aren't familiar with (at least in cooking, anyway- not so true in baking). Recipes are often works-in-progress.
  • Taste as you go! If a recipe calls for a range of spices (ie, 2-3 Tbsp), start off with the lower range, taste, and add in as necessary.
  • Don't judge a book by it's cover: If it looks like cheese or cream sauce, and it photographs like cheese or cream sauce.... it must taste like cheese or cream sauce, right? NO. I have always been a little skeptical (and, ok, curious) of things like vegan mac and "cheese". How does that work, really? Well, the idea is usually to use some kind of starch- such as squash or potato, or sometimes flour + vegan butter, and add to it spices, Dijon mustard, and nutritional yeast (for flavor). But the resulting flavor is not identical to what it looks like or is attempting to replace, so be prepared for that. I had a similar experience trying vegan summer zucchini pasta- it looked creamy & rich, but instead was light & zesty. There is also, of course, a texture difference. 
On the more positive side, I also learned:
  • Kamut pasta is good! It's a pasta made from a grain that is high in protein. Great way for veggers to get protein. Try it!
  • White acorn squash is delicious. I'd only ever had regular acorn squash, but I think this may have been even a little sweeter. It was heavenly on its own.
    Here is the link to the recipe updates I would make for this dish next time (assuming I haven't scared you off).

    SECOND, on to vegan pudding. Another curious item. How is such a thing made? What in the world would silken tofu with cocoa powder taste like??

    Answer: It would taste like crap.

    Ok, ok, that's not actually correct- it wasn't that bad. But, here are some lessons learned from my vegan chocolate pudding adventure:
    • Cocoa powder has a chalky and strong taste. Using a melted vegan chocolate, or less cocoa powder, might work better to achieve a smoother texture. 
    • Speaking of texture, vegan pudding is a little grainy. People first switching to non-dairy milks often comment about this - but like the non-dairy milk, I believe that not all vegan puddings are created equal. (Silk soy milk and T.Joe's almond milk, FYI, are not grainy at all). I just need to tweak my recipe a little bit more.
    Now, some of this may be I just need a better food processor- I can't rule that out. On the positive side:
    • Using avocado in the pudding (yes, avocado) is a good way to achieve creaminess. 
    • Pumpkin, chocolate, and maple pair well!
    Again, if I haven't scared you off, here is a link to the chocolate pumpkin pudding recipe, with suggested updates.

    THIRD, wax paper and parchment paper are not the same thing. When making this recipe for homemade oat and fruit bars, I just so happened to use wax paper instead of parchment paper. (I have them both, and grabbed the wrong one). This was totally fine when storing the bars in the fridge; not so fine when I placed them, on the wax paper-lined cookie sheet, in the oven at 325. Not a vegan-specific mishap, but an adventure I had while making a vegan item ;-)

    See that under the bar mix? Yep, WAX paper.
    After the pasta, my husband turned to me and said, "Are you done with this whole vegan thing now?"
    I scowled and didn’t answer. But, I wasn't ready to throw vegan cooking completely out the window. A few not-so great dishes don't cause me to give up. I’m a scientist, after all, and we like to experiment ;-). Furthermore, I don’t believe we can judge an entire cuisine off of one or two dishes.

    These mishaps (at least the first two, anyway) do bring up an overall theme though: in my opinion, the best vegan dishes are those that showcase fresh, natural ingredients; not those that mask them and try to be something they aren't. That's not to say that combinations of natural ingredients with vegan 'tricks' can't (and don't) work well, or that we shouldn't try them, though. How else would we stumble upon innovative new dishes? Somehow, mistakes in the kitchen, as opposed to mistakes in other arenas in life, seem more like adventures than anything else. And I'm all for adventures.

    And let's not forget, she gets the guy at the end of Adventures in Babysitting, and the kids get home safely. Somehow, it all works out. ;-)

    (*UPDATE: this post was written before I had much experience with vegan cooking- it has been a learning process but you CAN make delicious vegan cheese replacement sauces, and puddings...really!)


    1. I\'m so glad you post your "fails". I made pancakes last night, so decided to make a cheese sauce for savoury ones...

      Needless to say, hated the taste of it (never eaten nutritional yeast before), it was WAAAAAAAAAAY too spicy. Next time will definitely add less, then work my way up to a nice flavour.

      1. definitely a good plan! and ps if you are looking for a good cheesey sauce recipe- see the link I have for cheesey sauce under salads, sides & sauces- I really like that one, from Vegan Yum Yum!


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