05 July 2006

Orange Juice: it's what's for breakfast

When I went off to college, my mother strongly encouraged me not to get a credit card. I have a debit/atm card, no debt, and no credit either. Sometime, probably at the end of the summer, I'll sign up for one of those air miles cards, and put all sorts of notes-to-self in my calendar about how much to spend, and when to pay it off, and when to cancel. I need the credit history, because it won't be too long before I actually will want to borrow. And it's possible, given the right circumstances, to make money (or at least air fare) off those cards. But in my case the right circumstances include having parents pay for tuition and bail me out when needed (never more than the cost of books and board bill, which I've been covering out of pocket, although they offered to pay for them).

And they've made it very clear that when I hit grad school, so exactly a year from now, I'm responsible for paying for everything. Rent, food, etc. comes out of whatever salary and stipend I get.

One way to live very well and very cheaply, if you're willing to spend the time and energy on thinking about cooking and eating, is to always cook vegan. Or vegan plus eggs, since eggs are cheaper than soy. Or, rather, it's very easy to spend huge amounts of money on vegan products — soy milks and egg replacers and yummy, unnecessary stuff. But, if you have the pallet, vegetables and beans and soy are cheaper than meat and dairy.

At school, this is a big part of how we cut costs — my quarterly board bill is less than any other eating arrangement on campus. I'll be doing half the ordering for our kitchen, and it's great to buy bulk flours. Our most expensive products are the (organic, free range) dairy: cheese and butter is expensive. It's also high fat, and especially high in saturated fat (is how it stays solid at room temp). It's a constant challenge to try to convince the residents, many of whom have never even tried vegetarianism before, that they don't need cheese and butter to survive. I plan to wow them, early on, with vegan desserts: my brother got me a vegan cookbook that, because of its veganism, is also zero-colesterol, almost zero-saturated fat, and generally very low fat. Silken tofu, my current favorite ingredient, in almost every cake, frosting, and pudding.

Poverty is one of the major causes of American obesity. Eating healthy requires resources: time, energy, education, and money. Whereas McDonalds will sell you all the calories you need in a meal for a dollar and no wait. But if you have the conveniences of, for instance, an academic life, in which the government school provides medical coverage, athletic facilities, something intellectual to do, and a small amount of money, living cheaply and eating well is very easy. The trick is to be a food snob: prefer your own cooking, buy only the very best ingredients, and think carefully about what you eat. And eat vegan. And organic. And local. And, most importantly, be part of the "slow food" push. WholeFoods will happily provide expensive vegan organic premade and packaged products.

Below is my signature dessert, which I usually think of as a vegan gluten-free brownie recipe, but I'll present here as a chocolate raspberry cake (as I had it for my birthday), with commentary on how to modify. As always, check local availability before committing to any particular fresh produce — by varying the fruit, one can make a seasonal cake in almost any season.

Chocolate raspberry cake

Preheat oven 350°F (325 for gluten-free). Grease two nine-inch round cake pans (or one 9x13 pan for brownies), and, for cakes, cut parchment or wax paper into circles to exactly fit on the bottom of the pans (for easier removal), place in, and grease both sides.

In blender, combine wet ingredients until smooth:
  • 1 cup (8 oz) silken tofu
  • 1/2 cup raspberry (or other fruit) jam
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla

In standing mixer with paddle blade, mix dry ingredients:
  • 2 cups sugar (for fudge brownies, use 3 cups)
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (for brownies, use 1 1/2 cups)
  • optional: up to 1 Tbsp instant coffee powder
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (or cake flour, or tapioca flour for gluten-free; if making cake with tapioca flour, supplement with 2 tsp xanthan gum, a gluten substitute derived from bacteria, and 1/4 cup cornstarch)
  • 1 tsp baking soda (for brownies, use less; baking powder also works, and has less leavening power, because the batter is already acidic)

Pour in wet ingredients. (For brownies, also add
  • 3 cups (vegan) dark chocolate chips)
Mix, adding up to
  • 1 cup soymilk (be sure, if making gluten-free, to check the brand — Soy Dream and Almond Breeze are both safe, whereas Edensoy and Vitasoy are not)
if you feel like batter is too dry (at school we don't get silken tofu, so I use 1 cup firm tofu and 1 cup soy milk; at home, silken tofu means that with the soy milk it is often too liquidy). Pour into greased pans, and bake until done. (Gluten free at 325 takes a little over an hour; hotter temperatures burn the edges. Glutinous can go faster and hotter.) Enjoy licking the extra batter off the pan: no eggs means no salmonella.

Frosting and assembly

Tofu generally comes in 16-oz packs, and I usually use about 9 oz in this cake. So the rest, rather than trying to keep it, goes into the frosting. (In theory one would have the presence of mind to do the frosting a day ahead, so that the tofu can set. But I never do.)

Wash and clean standing mixer bowl, and fit with wire whisk. Whip
  • silken tofu
until smooth. (You might decide instead to puree it in the blender, and then move to the mixer, or do it all in the blender or food processor. I've seen recipes calling for any of the three.) Then add, mostly to taste
  • cocoa powder
  • powdered sugar
  • ground instant coffee
  • corn starch and/or tapioca powder to thicken
until you reach a sweet and spreadable consistency. Place in freezer to set (or fridge if you have enough time).

For a raspberry chocolate cake, I also like to acquire fresh raspberries, and to make a raspberry syrup/glaze. This latter is very easy: in a sauce pan, heat raspberry jam with a little water until it dissolves, just before boiling (careful not to overheat and burn the sugar).

Once cakes are done, let cool 10 minutes then remove from pans and let cool completely. To assemble, place one cake face down on plate. Spread a thin layer of frosting, and cover with
  • fresh raspberries, cut in half
and sprinkle on a little glaze. Then place second layer on top, and frost sides and top. Cover top with
  • whole fresh raspberries
and drizzle with glaze.

Serve, and amaze your friends, after they've commented on how moist and rich it is, by revealing its ingredients.

No comments: