Tag Archives: gluten-free

Still here

7 Jun

My my, it has been a long time since I’ve posted, hasn’t it? The past few months have been a fun and eye-opening culinary adventure and I just haven’t had the time or energy for personal baking but I’m baaaack! My adventure has included learning artisan bread baking as well as the opportunity to intern with chef extraordinaire Eric Tucker at Millennium Restaurant. If you ever dined there on a Wednesday night sometime between mid-January through April, you may have even seen me working on the line. Having gotten to witness a true master at work, all I can say is wow, wow, WOW!

Through Chef Tucker, I got a position at Encuentro Cafe and Wine Bar (which he co-owns) and have been working there part-time since March. Though my work had mostly been focused on producing savory items before, I now produce the desserts on the days I do prep. Co-owner Chef Lacey Sher has been extremely receptive to my suggesting new dessert items for the menu, which, as you can imagine, is very exciting for me. One of the desserts I introduced to the menu recently is a raw, vegan strawberry “cheesecake”  that also happens to be gluten-free. The crust is made with almonds, dates and cocoa powder and the filling consists of pureed raw cashews, strawberries, lemon juice, agave nectar, lecithin and coconut oil. We top the cheesecake with agave-sweetened strawberry slices. It’s deeeeelicious, if I do say so myself! Sometimes I even come back to the restaurant after my shift just to share a slice with my honey.

Cheesecake used to be one of my favorite desserts when I was an omnivore, and while the raw, cashew-based version tastes nothing like baked, cream cheese-based version, I think it’s tasty in its own right. The cashews give the cheesecake a rich, creamy texture, the agave and ripe strawberries a light sweetness, and the lemon juice a slight tang reminiscent of cream cheese.

I got four, overflowing baskets of strawberries at a farm and a bag of lemons from a friend’s lemon tree over the weekend so I decided to make a strawberry cheesecake that I don’t have to share with coworkers or customers (all mine!!). This time, I made strawberry-pistachio cheesecake — still a strawberry filling, but with a pistachio crust and no cocoa. Also, instead of making one big cheesecake, I opted for individual-sized versions so I can freeze the extra portions and not tempt myself to eat everything in one sitting.

I’ve gotta say, I’m partial to the strawberry-pistachio flavor combo. The pistachio crust provides a buttery flavor that complements the strawberry filling well. I imagine a bit of cardamom in the crust would also be a delicious addition. Either way, I suggest you give raw cheesecake making a try; it’s truly amazing what you can do with cashews. If you need to satisfy your craving now or are too impatient to make one yourself, go grab a slice at Encuentro while it lasts!

Coconut-Sesame Banana Fritters

7 Mar

Even though I’m vegan, I really enjoy perusing non-vegan dessert books for inspiration. Every so often, I come across a recipe or two that’s already vegan and needs no adjustments, as I did with this banana fritter recipe from Pichet Ong’s The Sweet Spot: Asian Inspired Desserts. Last fall, I served these fritters with a side of cashew-and-coconut milk-based vanilla bean ice cream that I made as one of the desserts for my final for my plated dessert class.

For my final, I had to present a printed menu and four plated desserts–including one “special diet” item–to a panel of four (non-vegan) judges, of whom two are professional chefs. Call it a “vegan complex” or what have you, but I’m always debating whether or not to tell people the dessert I’ve just given them–whether it’s a cookie, cupcake or anything else–is vegan before or after they’ve tasted it. I usually opt to tell the unsuspecting subjects after, so that I can get their honest, unbiased opinion and not have them start imagining that there’s cardboard and alfalfa sprouts in their dessert. In this case, however, I decided to be upfront about it and put it right on the menu that everything was free of animal products.

I really just wanted to show the judges that vegan desserts can not only taste good in their own right, but be presented as elegantly as one would expect in a non-vegan establishment. And that vegans have high standards, too! Since this fritter recipe calls for rice flour, I used it for my “special diet” (gluten-free) dessert. For the plate, I swiped a stripe of pomegranate sauce I’d made to add a little color, and added a lacy rice noodle garnish for height. On the other side of the garnish was the scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. During the judging, I could see that the judges were visibly enjoying them (and none of them could believe the ice cream was vegan!). In the end, I got high marks and positive feedback all around, which was not only a nice ego boost, but reinforced my belief that vegan desserts have a real place in the pastry world.

Anyway, if you’re looking to be inspired by Asian-influenced desserts, The Sweet Spot is worth checking out. And these fritters are truly delicious, so definitely go make them! Right now!

Coconut-Sesame Banana Fritters
from The Sweet Spot: Asian-Inspired Desserts by Pichet Ong (called “Fried Bananas” in the book)

Ingredients
1 2/3 cups glutinous rice flour
1 1/3 cups shredded  unsweetened dried coconut
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp salt
1 3/4 cups coconut milk
1/4 cup white sesame seeds, divided
Canola or veggie oil for frying
16 baby bananas (I cut up 5-6 regular bananas into two inch chunks)

Directions
1. Whisk the flour, shredded coconut, sugar, salt, half of the sesame seeds and coconut in a bowl into a smooth batter and let rest for an hour.
2. Heat oil to 350 F (you can just test it without a thermometer by dropping a little batter in the oil, which should sizzle when ready). While the oil is heating up, chop your bananas into two inch pieces (or just have the peeled baby bananas ready if you’re using those instead). When the oil is ready, coat the bananas with batter and and lower into the oil. Fry for about two minutes on each side, or until golden brown.
3. Sprinkle the remaining sesame seeds on the fritters. Serve warm, with ice cream.