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When it comes to vegan alternatives, it is often difficult to find ones that can even compare to the original. While I avoid the meat alternatives — who wants to eat soy soysauge? — one of the tastes I have missed most since cutting out dairy is butter. I prefer olive oil and never used butter in my meals all that often because of the fat content, but when baking or browning something with butter, I want true butter taste and not a waxy and watery alternative.
One of the first alternatives I discovered was Smart Balance that was that exact and unfortunate combination of waxy and watery. Luckily, while atCentral Market I stumbled upon Earth Balance Natural Buttery Spread and Vegan Buttery Sticks, which are ironically a part of the daughter company of Smart Balance. In these soy bean based, vegan, gluten-free, all natural (with organic options), non-hydrogenated and blended-oil concoctions, Earth Balance found the solution to the vegan butter problem.
Much like its father brand, Earth Balance aims to create a product that is as healthy as it is delicious. On their site, they have a comprehensive explanation on the use of the “good guys” — Omega 3s and HDL Cholesterol — and the harms of the “bad guys” — Trans Fat and LDL Cholesterol.
Ultimately, (along with an overall well-rounded diet and regular exercise) the balance of fats in your diet effects the levels of cholesterol in the body and, if you haven’t figured out already, more Omega 3s and less Trans Fats improves the levels of good HDL Cholesterol and lowers the levels of bad LDL Cholesterol. To achieve this healthy balance, Earth Balance includes good oils that contain Omega 3s and excludes hydrogenated ingredients (which should always be avoided) as the source of Trans Fat. With a few added plant derivatives, like soy and beets, and clever ingredients, they came up with a nutritionally mindful, spreadable, meltable and delicious product.
While I still prefer olive oil and limit my butter consumption to the occasional baked good or tofu stir-fry, I feel better about what I am eating. Without the artery-clogging dairy fat, Earth Balance is already a better alternative. With the addition of healthy fats and lack of hydrogenated ingredients, it might as well be considered a health food — a tasty one at that.
The vegan lemon-blueberry cupcake recipe started off as a very basic vegan vanilla cupcake recipe from a friend. While the basic vanilla version is delicious in its own right, I wanted to change it up to make it even better. One of my favorite flavors in baked goods is lemon and when added to tart blueberries, they make a scrumptious paring. With a few changes, this is what I came up with.
Before you get started, here are a couple recommendations. Use apple sauce in place of the oil to make the cake lighter, and a tiny bit healthier. When making the icing, use a beater to make it extra fluffy. The apple cider vinegar may seem like an odd ingredient but it “curdles” the soy milk to make a kind of vegan buttermilk to act as a thickening agent in place of eggs. This recipe makes 18 cupcakes, so keep that in mind when buying cupcake tins.
• 2 cup soy milk
• 2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
• 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
• 4 tbsp. cornstarch
• 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
• 1 tsp. baking soda
• 1 tsp. salt
• 2/3 cup apple sauce
• 1 1/2 cup sugar
• 4 1/2 tsp. lemon extract
• 1 package of blueberries
• 3 tbsp. Earth Balance vegan butter
• 5 oz. Tofutti Vegan cream cheese
• 2-3 cups confectioners’ sugar
• 1 tsp. grated lemon zest
• 2 tsp. lemon extract as seen fit
1. Preheat oven to 350 and line muffin pan with cupcake liners
2. Whisk the soy milk and vinegar and set aside to curdle
3. In a large bowl combine flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda and salt
4. In separate bowl, beat together soy milk/vinegar mixture, oil/apple sauce, sugar, and lemon extract. Stir the dry ingredients and mix until no large lumps remain.
5. Fill cupcake liners 1/4 full of batter, add a few blueberries then add more batter until about 3/4 full
6. Bake for 20 minutes or until done
7. Transfer to cooling rack and let cool completely before frosting
1. Mix butter and cream cheese until smooth, mix in lemon zest and extract
2. Slowly add sugar until thick enough to spread.
3. Frost and enjoy!
By Amber Genuske, Daily Texan Staff
Published: Thursday, April 1, 2010
Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a bimonthly series looking into the lives of students who help shape the city of Austin.
Adam Avramescu is wandering around the lobby of the Union in neon-striped Adidas sneakers that heavily contrast his ensemble of blue clothing — navy blue cotton blazer, light blue oxford top and blue jeans. He is holding a silver tray full of cookie cake decorated with blue and white icing. Written on the cake is a phrase not often iced onto confectionery treats — “Bite me.”
The rectangular chocolate-chip-cookie cake is a product of Adam’s make-shift baked-goods delivery company, Say It With Cookie Cake.
“We have all had our moments in life where we just want to lash out and say the things that we couldn’t say — and, of course, if you say that to someone’s face, that gets you slapped or fired or … ” he trails off, thinking as he scratches his neck, “Dumped. I just thought, why not just say it with cookie cake? Why not have a venue to say the things you can’t say yourself in this really absurd and delicious way?”
Whether it is ironic, sarcastic or absurd, any message can be iced onto the cakes — with the exceptions of hate speech, because they will not bake a hate crime. The $20 cakes are baked on a made-to-order-basis out of various commercial kitchens and hand delivered by Adam himself. Though he frequently ices the classic “eat me” or typical “I love you,” Adam says his favorite delivery was for a couple.
“My favorite by far was a couple who, without knowing it, both ordered cookies cakes for each other for Valentine’s Day,” he says. “His said, ‘You’re okay I guess’ and hers said, ‘Who farted?’ I said, ‘You are a very lucky couple to have such exquisite tastes in cookie cakes.’”
The interview moves outside to the patio chairs of the Starbucks in the West Mall on a humid but breezy spring night. Adam assumes his position in his chair and barely moves, with the exception of the occasional nose, head or neck scratch. He seems timid, almost rigid, thinking about every single word he says, picking them carefully to reflect his English and rhetoric with English honors and liberal arts honors — a Plan I degree from UT.
He starts talking about the music scene in Denton, a place he often visited with his Colleyville band, Fish Boy. On top of Cookie Cake, which launched a month ago, and Fish Boy, Adam also plays with local band Minorcan and works full time at educational company BancVue as an instructional designer
Before BancVue, Adam worked at Enspire Learning — he notes that he has never been able to hold a job with a company that could spell its name right — where he met his cookie-cake co-pilots, Kristin Kahlich and Alex Kasavin. He says they are “two of the most,” again choosing his words, “fiercely — I don’t even know what adjective I want to put on that — but very fierce.”
It is obvious that these are the people with whom Adam associates most. They share a liking for mockery, often of one another, which is how the company got its start.
After a night of his usual “drunk-and-bitch sessions” with Kristin, they discussed the idea of snide cookie cakes. She showed up the next morning at work with a cake that said, “Suck it.” Instead of taking offense, Adam says he remembers how happy it made him to see an insulting cookie cake delivered to him.
“I think that Say It With Cookie Cake definitely speaks to part of Adam’s personality,” Kahlich says. “He’s oftentimes disarmingly witty, where it takes you a few seconds to even understand the joke. So while you’re uncontrollably laughing, you’re also trying to figure out how he came up with it so quickly.”
Oddly enough, once he starts self-analzying and talking about his lack of sleep, he seems to relax, crossing his feet into a more comfortable position.
When asked if he is sarcastic like the comments on the cake, he questions himself before jumping into a discussion on absurdity and irony.
“I think there are enough people that are in on the joke to see that no matter what you are writing on a hateful cookie cake, that is an act of love. It’s a total love-hate thing, and that is what strikes me as this really absurd thing that I love. It’s ironic more than it is sarcastic, and I think I am ironic more than I am sarcastic … ” he says. After a long pause, he adds, “I don’t know where I am going with this.”
As the interview winds down, he relaxes, allowing himself to laugh. His speech speeds up, and there is less of a thought process about word choice, allowing his bizarre wit to come through.
“We want people to think of us as the go-to place for the birthday when ‘Happy birthday, old chum’ won’t do,” he says, “and for the anniversary where ‘I love you’ isn’t going to cut it.”
To me, pies are the quintessential pastry in baking. There is something charming about the intricately folded dough on top of a mystery concoction of berries, spiced apples or out-of-the-box rhubarb.
Despite the appetizing allure to pies, making the crust always seemed like a daunting task. Consequently, I didn’t get around to attempting crust until recently and it turned out to be a fairly simple task with even simpler ingredients.
After a few tries and tweaks, this is the recipe that I rely on. Some use vegetable shortening in place of the butter, but what is a pie crust without the flaky, buttery goodness? This recipe makes enough dough for two separate crusts for pies with fillings so you can cover the dish and the top.
Here are a few more tips before diving into the sticky task of pie crust baking:
- Make sure you have a large, clean and flat surface that you can roll your dough on to directly.
- Prevent the crust from sticking to the rolling-pin, your hands, the surface, etc. by sprinkling it with a good amount of flour.
- While you can use a fork or two knives to combine the flour and butter, a pastry blender is a good tool to invest in specifically for this task.
- Do not play with the dough too much because it will make it tough and not flake properly. Combine all the ingredients well, but don’t over do it.
- Be ready to get your hands messy because there is no better tool to combine everything.
Vegan Pie Crust
- 3 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup vegan butter (Earth Balance is a good option)
- Around 8 tablespoons ice water
- Combine the flour and salt in a bowl.
- Cube the butter and using the pastry blender (or a fork, or two knives) combine it with the flour and salt mixture until it becomes crumbled.
- Add the cold water a tablespoon at a time and combine into flour, salt and butter mixture with hands until the dough is thick enough to hold together.
- Separate into two sections, one slightly larger (for the dish crust) than the other (the topping crust) and shape into balls.
- On a floured surface and using a floured rolling-pin, roll the larger ball into a circle that is about 1 inch larger around than the pie dish.
- For an easy transfer, roll the circle of dough on to the rolling-pin, then unroll over the dish slowly, pressing it lightly on to the bottom of the dish. With a knife, cut the larger bits of overhang so there is an even amount of dough hanging off the sides of the dish.
- On a floured surface and using a floured rolling-pin, roll the smaller ball into a circle for the top of the pie. You can get creative with this part, just make sure there is some sort of venting so the pie doesn’t burst. My favorite look is the classic criss-cross pattern achieved by cutting 1/2-inch strips and layering them 1/2-inch apart on the pie horizontally across the surface, then perpendicular across the other way.
- Fill with whatever recipe you want, my favorite is a mix of berries like strawberries, raspberries and blackberries.
- Fold the overhang and pinch it closed with the top crust into a high edge.
- Depending on the filling’s ingredients, bake the pie according to the directions.
- Allow to cool and enjoy!
One of the most difficult products to create vegan is ice cream. All of the alternatives can’t match the creaminess and taste of ice cream made with the traditional base ingredient — milk.
Though, Amy Ramm, self-coined the “Mistress of Delicious,” found the best substitute in coconut milk. With a little encouragement from her sister, and some experimentation, Ramm founded vegan ice cream company NadaMoo! in 2004.
Ramm had the chance to speak with me about NadaMoo!, her favorite ice cream flavor and the future of her company.
Austin Appetite: What was the inspiration behind starting an ice cream company that is all natural, organic and dairy free?
Amy Ramm: I started out in traditional baking and pastry arts, but gravitated towards cooking natural foods and healthy alternative diets when my sister Katy had to change her diet for health reasons. The more I learned and experienced, the more passionate I became about creating great-tasting healthy foods.
AA: How do you create the flavors?
AM: I love to experiment in the kitchen and I get a lot of inspiration from going to places like the Daily Juice and seeing what’s new & popular on their menu. Those guys are so creative and adventuresome!
AA: What is your favorite flavor?
AM: A good vanilla will always satisfy me, and our vanilla is exceptional — the vanilla system we use makes me ooooh and ahhhhh every time.
AA: What is the trick to mixing coconut milk, brown rice and agave nectar together to make ice cream?
AM: When it comes to making ingredient substitutions, it really helps to understand the properties of the ingredients you are replacing. In ice cream, for example, the saturated fat in the cream gives a melt-in-your-mouth experience you won’t necessarily get with unsaturated fat, so coconut milk as a perfect alternative.
AA: Other than being catchy, is there a story behind the title NadaMoo!?
AM: It was a stroke inspiration one of our early investors had one night. We were under a very tight deadline to get pints to the grand opening of the Whole Foods Lamar store by March 4 of 2005 and we were struggling to find a name. David called me up one morning and said, “Sit down, because this is it and it’s going to be big: it’s called NadaMoo!” and I loved it!
AA: You seem to be getting a lot of great feedback from your company now, was it like this in the beginning too?
AM: NadaMoo! has always had that special something about it, right from the very first batch I made in May of 2004. But starting a food company from scratch is very risky and the work is all-consuming, whether you succeed or not. On top of that, if you do make it, it can take a long time to pay off. I am so happy NadaMoo! survived the early years, when every day was either a marathon or a rollercoaster — or both! I can’t count the number of times I was ready to give up and then got a love letter from a customer or an order from a store or a pep talk from a friend and everything turned around. The company’s current condition is due to all the wonderful, generous, supportive people who have helped out along the way and the great team I work with. We’re having a lot of fun now.
AA: What do you plan on doing in the future with NadaMoo!?
AM: We’ll be growing; adding new people, stores and sales channels, like restaurants, cafeterias, hospitality and other places where people can buy NadaMoo! by the scoop or in a dessert. I have some new flavors in mind, too, and it is always fun for me to be back in the kitchen. We’re doing bigger events, like SXSW and ACL Fest, and we’re starting to take on causes that matter our customers and us, bringing some smiles and fun to people’s lives and also making a difference. The national conversation taking place around health and diet — particularly for children — is a good opportunity for NadaMoo! to show that healthy eating can include a creamy-dreamy frozen dessert!
AA: Is there anything about NadaMoo! that you would like to say?
AM: I’d like to say “Thank you” to Austin for being such a great hometown and to all our incredible customers and fans who have supported NadaMoo! since that first summer in 2004.
In a small wood plank house turned restaurant on West 34th Street lies Food Heads — one of the best sandwich spots in Austin. This place is fresh, local, homey and delicious all wrapped up into a small, yet perfected, menu.
Recently when my parents were in town, we ventured to this favorite dining spot of my family’s for lunch (my Dad is a fan of the fresh, unprocessed aspect of their food as well). I often eat vegan but when I dine at Food Heads, I always get one of their fish sandwiches to shake up my diet and for an extra boost of protein.
Though I have made my way through the list from the salmon salad sandwich to the fish tacos, this time they had a few sheets of computer paper tacked beneath the chalkboard menu featuring new items. The mahi mahi fish sandwich called out to me with a cabbage, tomato and red onion slaw and pesto (without the Parmesan) all on a hearty white bun.
As always, this sandwich hit the spot. Typically, each meal is served with a side of either coleslaw, potato salad or, my favorite, a cucumber salad made of thinly sliced cucumbers soaked in a white vinegar and sugar mixture.
One of the downsides to dining at a restaurant that provides only the freshest ingredients is the limited amount. Once they run out of the daily delivered bread, that is it for the remainder of the day. However, one of the waiters is typically always happy to suggest another bread that will work well with the ingredients of your desired sandwich.
Now that the weather is warming up, it is time to take advantage of one of the best features of Food Heads — the outdoor space. Between the porch and the rock patio, the outdoor dining area is as large as indoors. With picnic tables, or tables and chair with massive umbrellas, it is a great spot to soak in the sunshine with a great meal.
Food Heads is located at 616 W. 34th St. Sandwich prices range from $6.75 to $8.25 with soups, salads and breakfast served as well.
Imagine a dessert made from only vegetables — no processed sugar, refined grains or dairy. For Treasured Earth Foods, making healthy and tasty desserts is their goal and what better way to do that than using agave nectar in place of sugar and packing each product full of a variety of vegetables from pumpkin to beets.
San Marcos mother-daughter duo Ruth Noel and Ruth Mier co-founded Treasured Earth Foods with their family’s health in mind. All of their products are gluten-free, vegan and tailored for a diabetic diet. Currently, they have Mini Chocolate Brownies and Orange-Coconut and Chocolate cookies called Kikas (kika originated from their son’s mispronunciation of “Lita,” the shortened version of grandmother in Spanish, “abuelita”) available at the Sunset Valley Farmer’s Market in Austin and their online store at treasuredearthfoods.com.
Noel spoke with me about Treasured Earth Foods, their recipes and the importance of a healthy diet.
Austin Appetite: What is Treasured Earth Foods?
Ruth Noel: Treasured Earth Foods’ mission is to make healthy desserts. It started with my Dad being diabetic and we needed foods that wouldn’t spike his blood sugar. My Mom is the master mind behind it, she makes all of the recipes and I cover the business side of it.
AA: How did Treasured Earth Foods start?
RN: I tend to be business inclined. Somehow so many people tasted the cookies and told us we needed to make it available and we wanted to make something that was healthy and [currently] not easily found.
AA: How do you create the recipes?
RN: [My Mother] confessed to me one night that she was up and couldn’t sleep and she was creating recipes by putting different things together. She is a voracious reader of cook books. She has a passion of healthy food, and making things come together. She is very good at it.
AA: What is the importance of eating healthy?
RN: Definitely just good health. The food that the average American seems to consume is so high in unhealthy carbs, grains, sugars, fats, there is a strong imbalance of carbohydrates to vegetables. I am actually astounded when I think that there are so many vegetable growers out there because so many people don’t eat them. When I go grocery shopping I am so amazed at the amount of foods that have high fructose corn syrup or refined grains. That was another aspect, we wanted to have these [healthy foods] readily available to most people.
AA: What is your favorite dessert you make?
RN: It’s one that’s not available left [laughing]. It’s going to be a raspberry kika. The hold has been the source of raspberries. I think I found a source that will work so we are tweaking the recipe for production. Another one is a mock pound cake [that isn’t available yet either] and I can just make myself sick off of those. They are so good. They are my Mom’s creations so I need to tweak them to production.
AA: What is it like experimenting with the recipes?
RN: My family, they are the Guinea Pigs [laughing]. Usually their skepticism is “what is this?” as the new experiment is laid out. Quite a bit is turned down at first when they say it needs this or that. So generally it’s my Mom who does the first round of experiments and once the family approves of it, I take over to make it fit for production. A lot goes to the trash or the dog, it’s just trial and error.
AA: What are the plans for the future of Treasured Earth Foods?
RN: [The plans have] been changing. Aside from people that knew us, we got a very neutral response. I think we were introducing it to the wrong people. So we took it back to [the farmer’s] market and then people showed up and said we need to carry this! The feedback from the customer has helped me direct where it needs to go. I want to be able to make them available at first locally and nationally and maybe eventually global. That is really far fetched thinking, though, way down the road.
AA: What else is there to know about Treasured Earth Foods?
RN: I think Americans are so one-sided in what they eat. It’s meat, potatoes and bread. So what we offer [are products for] someone who has an allergy or if someone is on a diet. We also have something great and it doesn’t have to be what people normally think of as a dessert. It can be that craving of something satisfying that is a little outside of the box. It’s sort of a paradigm shift.
I despise carrots, pineapples are too acidic, pecans are a bit pasty and I am not drawn to coconut. But there is something about my Great Grandma Ginny’s Carrot Cake recipe where all of these ingredients play a major role that hits the spot.
While Grandma Ginny’s original recipe for Carrot Cake is delicious, it does not fit in with my diet. When I found out I was lactose intolerant, it put a brief hold on my baking until I discovered the many dairy-free alternatives available.
Now, I use this hindrance to be able to experiment with non-dairy and vegan treats. I have tweaked the original carrot cake recipe a few times to tailor it to my needs and, after many attempts, have created a recipe (almost) as good as Ginny’s.
This recipe is not vegan, though the eggs can easily be replaced with a vegan substitute like Ener-G that you can find at Wheatsville Co-Op. I use Earth Balance Vegan Butter and Tofutti “Cream Cheese” for the icing. Another alteration that I like to do with all of my cake and cupcake recipes is use unsweetened applesauce in place of the oil. The applesauce makes the cake extra fluffy and moist.
Here is the recipe and pictures of my baking experience.
Great Grandma Ginny’s (Dairy Free) Carrot Cake
- 2 cups flour
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. salt
- 2 tsp. cinnamon
- 1 1/2 cup applesauce (vegetable oil works fine if you don’t have applesauce on hand)
- 2 cups sugar
- 4 eggs (or Ener-G)
- 2 cups grated carrots
- 6 oz. crushed pineapple, undrained
- 6 oz. can flaked coconut
- 3/4 cup chopped pecans
- 1 8 oz. Tofutti “Cream Cheese”
- 1 stick Earth Balance Vegan Butter
- 1 lb. powdered sugar
- 2 tsp. vanilla
- 3/4 cup pecans, chopped
1. Sift dry ingredients, set aside.
2. Mix applesauce and sugar, then add eggs.
3. Add the dry ingredients to this. Mix well.
4. Add carrots, pineapple with juice, coconut and pecans.
5. Pour into two well greased 9 X 13 pans or 3 circular cake pans (I only did two, make sure to cover the top with foil it doesn’t burn before the cake cooks well).
6. Bake in 325 preheated oven for 30 – 35 minutes.
1. Mix the cream cheese and butter well, add vanilla. I would recommend using a mixer or beater for this because the vegan cream cheese and butter need powerful mixing to be the consistency of icing.
2. Add the powdered sugar one cup at a time, mix well.
3. Mix the pecans in all at once.
4. Let the cake cool well before frosting
5. Slice and enjoy!
One of my favorite meals in Austin are the daily vegan pancakes at Kerbey Lane (It doesn’t help that I live a few blocks away from the original Kerbey Lane on Kerbey Lane). This is a well-known dish to fellow vegetarians and vegans, though often overlooked by those who prefer to consume the original pancakes.
Keeping up with the Austin homegrown scene, Kerbey Lane uses local and fresh ingredients in a majority of their menu items. Joel Welch, executive chef of Kerbey Lane, says the ingredients are what make the food. They do not use any artificial flavors or preservatives and incorporate some of the best vegan ingredients and alternatives like 100 percent raw turbinado sugar and organic Earth Balance Vegan Butter.
“There is nothing extremely special about [the vegan pancakes],” Welch says. “Kerbey Lane prides themselves on that – it’s just the combination of good ingredients.”
The best thing about them is the assortment. There is not an option to pick a favorite vegan pancake for your Kerbey Lane visits because they switch up the vegan recipe on a daily basis. Two of my favorites are the blueberry and “buttermilk” though it is a pleasure to be surprised by a new taste like strawberry, banana or raspberry.
“There is a variety of flavors to make it come all together,” Welch says. “We find whatever we have around to give them some extra flavor as opposed to just doing a plane jane pancake.”
I recently cut dairy out of my diet, though I had a chance to taste the original pancakes and they do not match up to the hearty, fluffy vegan mixture. My preferred way to eat them is without the tab of vegan butter piled on top and occasionally dipping a piece of flapjack in syrup. Not only do you get the full flavor of the pancake in each bite, you cut back on calories and sugar intake. Accompanied by a cup of hot, black coffee and this is my favorite meal.
My name is Amber Genuske and I am an avid consumer of vegetarian, vegan and health foods and baked goods. I am going to guide you through these aspects of the Austin food scene and the characters within it as well as introduce you to a few of my own delectable recipes.