Monday, November 24, 2014

Twelve Vegan Mixes for Toy Ovens

Decorating a Children's Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Frosting
Do you know a little kid who has a toy oven, or is getting one for Christmas this year? This is a great gift that can be made by a parent, friend, older sibling, aunt, or grandparent. I think the best way to present the gift is in a gift-box or basket with a few "extras" like little bowls to mix in, measuring spoons, and colored sugar for decorating.  Useful ingredients, such as a little squeeze bottle of oil, and 1/2 cup lunchbox-type packages of Applesauce would also be great additions to the gift basket.

There are 12 (Twelve!) recipes below : )

The Original Easy-Bake Brand Oven was created by an inventor here in Cincinnati! 

I grew up playing with an Easy-Bake Brand oven - I loved it! But, Mom was too smart to buy the replacement mixes, instead she'd mix up a big batch of commercial mix and let us bake till we dropped. But, a lot of it was wasted that way, because little kids don't have a long attention span. And, it lacked some of the charm of mixing up our own tiny mixes. Oh, and it had raw egg in it.

My Daughter's Easy-Bake Brand Oven
As I got older, I discovered the Children's Mixes in the Make-A-Mix Cookbook. I remember making a huge box of them for my Niece for a present when she was little - many years later, she later told me that she never did manage to use all of them! But, they weren't Vegan, and they did have Shortening in them.

This year, for my daughter's birthday I got her an Easy-Bake Brand Oven from the thrift store. They're phasing out the model that uses light-bulbs, and the brand new model is about $50! I got the slightly older model with a light bulb - in pristine condition with all the pans and accessories - for .29 cents!

All I had to do was make the mixes. Of course, I didn't want to buy them at the store - where an assortment of 2 minuscule cake mixes and 2 microscopic frosting mixes costs about $5! Two tiny cakes for $5! And, they're not Vegan, and they probably have who-knows-what kind of preservatives & chemicals. Many internet reviews say that they don't even taste good.

I was in for a bit of a shock when I found out that the pans that came with my daughter's model were significantly smaller than those that I grew up with and that my Niece used.  So even if I wanted to use my old recipes with their shortening, they were too big for my pans.

So, I devised my own new recipes. Super-Easy. Vegan. Allergy-friendly. You control the ingredients.

These are designed to work with my daughter's Easy Bake Brand model, but they should be adaptable to other brands of toy ovens with the same size pans. 

If you want to make these as gifts, I recommend individually packaging each mix in a separate Zippered Plastic Snack Bag, or in its own little lidded cup from the Dollar Store (the little cups come in multi packs in the baby section) for a cute, gift-y presentation. Put the instructions for each mix on its own little package.


The Cakes & Cookies All Use 3 Tablespoons per mix of 
 stuffedveggies Vegan Cake & Cookie Mix

The Frosting & Fudge Mix recipe is below


My daughter and I did several experiments to get these right - I discovered that if the cakes are made without oil, they "work" but are a little less-tender than you might prefer. My daughter didn't notice the difference. With oil and water together (as in the recipes below), they're more tender & more like a traditional cake. So, you make the call.

For the cakes, oil the pans before filling them. Bake according to oven directions with proper adult supervision and/or assistance For our model we preheat the oven for 15 minutes. I bake these for 15 minutes each. 

For Each cake you will need a total of 3 Tablespoons Dry Ingredients and 1 1/2 Tablespoons Liquid. If you choose to omit oil, simply use 1 1/2 Tablespoons water for each mix.

Children's Vanilla Cake Mix
Chocolate & Vanilla Cakes before Frosting

Stir Together, fill Pan & Bake:
3 Tablespoons stuffedveggies Vegan Cake & Cookie Mix
To Make
1/2 Tablespoon Light Flavored Oil (I use Sunflower)
1 Tablespoon Water with a dash Vanilla added.*

*experiment with other flavoring extracts besides vanilla, if you like.

Children's Chocolate Cake Mix
Stir Together, fill Pan & Bake:
2 1/2 Tablespoons stuffedveggies Vegan Cake & Cookie Mix
1/2 Tablespoon Cocoa Powder
To Make:
1/2 Tablespoon Light Flavored Oil (I use Sunflower)
1 Tablespoon Water.

Children's Lemon (or other flavor) Cake Mix

Stir Together, fill Pan & Bake:
3 Tablespoons stuffedveggies Vegan Cake & Cookie Mix
To Make:
1/2 Tablespoon Light Flavored Oil (I use Sunflower)
1/2 Tablespoon Water
1/2 Tablespoon Lemon Juice*

*If you desire, you can use a pinch of a dry drink mix, like unsweetened Kool-Aid, to the dry mix, then use water in place of the Lemon Juice. This allows you to make other flavors, like Strawberry, easily. But, if you're a no-chemical sort of household, the Lemon juice works quite well.


For each cookie, you will need 3 Tablespoons Mix & add-ins for the dry ingredients.
Wet ingredients for each cookie will be 1/2 Tablespoon Oil & 1/2 Tablespoon Applesauce.

Oven Should be preheated for 15 minutes before baking. Each cookie bakes 15 minutes.
I like to line the pan with a circle of parchment paper for easy removal (make sure it only covers the bottom of the pan, and does not extend over the edges for safety sake), but if you have no parchment paper, you can oil the pan instead, and that will work.
To make each cookie, mix the ingredients together well (hands work best) and roll into a ball. Flatten the ball slightly in the pan (so that it is no higher than the top of the pan) to bake.

Just for the record - for any college kids out there without a toy oven, but with a sweet tooth - you can pop these unbaked "cookies" in the microwave for 1 minute or less on a microwave-safe plate (any longer & they'll burn), and have a quick, microwave treat. No, they're not quite as perfect as baked, but they're pretty good! : )

Sugar Cookies:
Sugar Cookie made in Toy Oven by my Daughter
3 Tablespoons  stuffedveggies Vegan Cake & Cookie Mix
To make:
Mix in
1/2 Tablespoon light flavored Oil (I use Sunflower)
1/2 Tablespoon Applesauce
Form in ball & flatten into pan
Sprinkle with Colored Sugar before baking. (or, cool & frost after baking)

Chocolate Chip Cookie Made in Toy Oven by my Daughter
Chocolate Chip Cookies
3 Tablespoons stuffedveggies Vegan Cake & Cookie Mix
6 to 8 chocolate chips
To make
Mix in
1/2 Tablespoon light flavored Oil (I use Sunflower)
1/2 Tablespoon Applesauce

Snickerdoodle made in Toy Oven by my Daughter
3 Tablespoons  stuffedveggies Vegan Cake & Cookie Mix
To make:
Mix in
1/2 Tablespoon light flavored Oil (I use Sunflower)
1/2 Tablespoon Applesauce
Roll dough in Cinnamon-Sugar before baking.

Frostings & Fudges:

Children's Frosting & Fudge Mix
Mix with Electric Mixer
Children's Frosting (no heating required)
1 1/2 Cups Confectioner's Sugar (Also known as Powdered Sugar or XXXX Sugar)
2 Tablespoons Earth Balance
Dash Salt
Store in airtight container in refrigerator
Since ingredients are not measured by weight, you might find occasionally that you need to add a few more drops of liquid than the recipe says when mixing.
As with the fudge, microwaving the frosting briefly will make it creamier & more spreadable, but is not strictly necessary. You can judge whether your little one is ready to handle a potentially hot frosting or not.

The electric mixer I use to make mixes like these
 Vanilla Frosting 
1/4 Cup Children's Frosting & Fudge Mix (above)
1/2 teaspoon liquid (a combination of a little vanilla extract & non-dairy milk)
Mix well with fork.

Chocolate Frosting
3 1/2 Tablespoons Children's Frosting & Fudge Mix (above)
1/2 Tablespoon Cocoa Powder
1/2 teaspoon Non-dairy Milk
Mix well with fork

Peanut Butter Frosting

1/4 Cup Children's Frosting & Fudge Mix (above)
1/2 teaspoon liquid (a combination of a little vanilla extract & non-dairy milk)
1/2 Tablespoon Peanut Butter
Tiny Pinch Salt. Mix well with fork.

When I was a kid, I was always greatly disappointed that our Easy-Bake box said there was a fudge mix, but that it had long since been used by the older kids in the house. My Mom reassured me that the stuff hadn't tasted that good, anyway. This is for some little kid out there in the same boat. This one DOES taste good!

 Chocolate Fudge

Make Chocolate Frosting

Microwave Chocolate Frosting for 10 seconds, until easy to stir, with adult supervision. Stir, Allow to cool before eating.
Children's Fudge

Vanilla Fudge
Make Vanilla Frosting
Microwave Vanilla Frosting for 10 seconds, until easy to stir, with adult supervision. Stir. Allow to cool before eating.

Peanut Butter Fudge
1/4 Cup Children's Frosting & Fudge Mix (above)
1/2 teaspoon liquid (a combination of a little vanilla extract & non-dairy milk)
1/2 Tablespoon Peanut Butter
Tiny Pinch Salt. Mix well with fork.
Microwave for 10-15 seconds, until easy to stir, with adult supervision. Stir. Allow to cool before eating.

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Monday, November 17, 2014

Vegan Holiday Brunch Ideas

Holiday Dinners - whether it's Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year's Day, all have a certain similarity. Families work hard to prepare them, and they're time-consuming to cook. The family spends lots of time together before the big meal is served. Families are either up early to go to Church, or sleep late - either way, by late morning, there are hungry tummies, but dinner is hours away. And, the last thing anyone wants is hunger-inspired grumpiness on a big Holiday!

So, Holiday Brunch to the rescue!

Most of my Brunch dishes come from mixes you make yourself, and can be easily whipped up without a lot of hassle. But, for even greater convenience, and less holiday stress, most of the Pancakes, French Toast, and Waffles below can be prepared in advance and stored in the freezer, and simply toasted in a toaster oven on the big day. Similarly, the Muffins can be thawed and warmed up for serving. The Vegan Sausages can be prepared ahead and stored in the freezer to be microwaved as needed.

If you're looking for Vegan Holiday Dinner ideas, be sure to check out these Holiday Posts:

Fifteen Vegan Thanksgiving Menu Ideas
Happy Hanukkah!

New Year's Day
A Dozen Vegan New Year Holiday Dishes

And, keep an eye out for an upcoming Christmas Dinner post! : )

Here are some ideas for what you can serve:

Pumpkin Spice Waffles

Apple Cinnamon Muffins

Apple Cinnamon Pancakes
(I have not tried freezing these - I always prepare them fresh)

Blueberry Pancakes

French Toast

Grilled Banana Pancakes 
(I have not tried freezing these - I always prepare them fresh)

Vegan Cranberry Streusel Muffins
(I have not tried freezing these - I always prepare them fresh)

Vegan Pumpkin Mini Muffins

Vegan Sausage Patties 
These are surprisingly popular with Omnivores, because they have a great flavor, a spiciness reminiscent of sausage, but don't pretend to be meat. They're great for sandwiches made on Naan with Dijon mustard, Lettuce, Tomato, and Onion.

Scrambled Tofu

Breakfast Burritos 
While Burritos may not be your traditional Holiday Brunch fare, some folks just love a savory breakfast, and this fits the bill.

Simply Fruit Salad

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Pumpkin Spice Waffles (Vegan, Whole Wheat, Oil Free)

Vegan Pumpkin Spice Waffles
These waffles are just perfect! They offer the "best of both worlds" in more than one category.

They're Whole Wheat, Vegan, Oil Free and have a nice bit of virtuous Orange Vegetables. Yet, they taste like dessert. I'm pretty sure I could serve these for company and they would think they had eaten something unhealthy.

They're fancy enough to serve for a fancy Holiday Brunch or Breakfast. But, they can be prepared in advance, stored in the freezer, and popped in the toaster on a busy morning. Or, they can even be prepared in advance and frozen for toasting on the day of that Holiday Brunch!

I thought about calling them "Pumpkin Pie Waffles," but settled on "Pumpkin Spice Waffles." If you serve them at your house, you can call them whichever you like.

Best of all, these are easy to whip up from your own, homemade mix : )

Pumpkin Spice Waffles
Stir Together:**
1 Cup stuffedveggies Pancake & Waffle Mix
2 Tablespoons Tapioca Starch (Cornstarch or Arrowroot Powder substitute well)*
2 Tablespoons Brown Sugar (or your favorite sugar or sweetener)
1 teaspoon Pumpkin Pie Spice
Then stir in:

1/2 Cup Solid Pack Pumpkin from a Can (not Pumpkin Pie Mix)
1 cup water (more or less, to make a good waffle or pancake batter texture)

Prepare according to the directions for your Waffle Iron.

Here are a few tips that work with my Waffle Iron:
I brush the Iron with a little oil from a pastry brush before each waffle is made. A non-stick spray should also work.
I use a 1/4 cup batter per waffle.
I spread the batter around in the form with the back of a spoon before I close the Iron.
I wait until the light has gone off AND the steaming has almost completely stopped before I open the Iron to remove the waffle.

*The Tapioca Starch helps provide a nice crispy edge to the waffle without the addition of oil to the recipe.

**Variation:  All the dry ingredients can be mixed & packaged together for your convenience, or for an item in a  "Christmas Morning Gift Basket" (be sure to include the solid pack pumpkin to be added)- along with other treats like syrup & specialty coffees or teas.

Freezer directions: These are VERY freezer friendly! I let them cool on a wire rack, and put them in a plastic freezer container with a sheet of waxed paper between each one. When I want Waffles for breakfast, I simply remove the desired number from the box, and heat them in the Toaster Oven. They actually are better after toasting than they are fresh out of the Iron!

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Monday, November 3, 2014

MYO: Pumpkin Pie Spice

Often, everyday spices like Cinnamon and Ginger are inexpensive, and can even be found at Aldi's or at a Dollar Store. But a blend, like Pumpkin Pie Spice, can be horribly overpriced - running as much as 6 or 8 dollars for a tiny jar.

If you want to make your own to save money, or simply because you were in the middle of cooking when you realized you were out of it, and don't want to run to the store, here's the recipe I've been using for the last 20 years or so. It makes just the right amount to fill my little jar. If you want a smaller batch, use the same proportions, except use teaspoons whenever
 it says "Tablespoon."

Of course, all spices here are the ground, dry sort.

Pumpkin Pie Spice

2 ½ Tablespoons Cinnamon
1 Tablespoon Ginger
1 Tablespoon Nutmeg

Monday, October 27, 2014

Menu Planning for a Month in 10 Minutes

Menu Planning for a Month can be done in just minutes!

Many home cooks recognize that menu planning has huge advantages- it saves time, money & frustration:

1. Menu Planning saves time, because it saves unscheduled trips to the grocery store. It also allows the cook to do a lot of advance preparation for meals later in the week, thereby reducing time in the kitchen.

2. Menu Planning saves money because a well-planned meal that's ready to go at home makes it a lot less tempting to go out to dinner when we're tired just to avoid cooking. It also makes it a lot less attractive to just throw an expensive steak on the grill to make a quick and easy meal.

3. It saves frustration because, well, there's very little more frustrating than knowing that dinner time is an hour away and I have no idea what to cook!

But a lot of home cooks hate menu planning. 

It can take a lot of time to do, and it's a disruption to sit down once a week and have an undisturbed half hour or forty-five minutes to plan the week's worth of meals. So, it gets neglected, and we "wing it" until we've noticed that every meal for the past week has been fast food or that we've been eating the same "easy" meal day after day. Then, we make ourselves do it again . . . and the cycle starts over.

Well, I have a new system that makes menu planning for a whole month take just a few minutes. I clocked it at less than 10 minutes!

I have a monthly meal chart, with re-shuffle-able menu cards.  At the beginning of each month, I can simply "deal" the cards into the pockets in a sensible order, and I'm done : )

It takes a bit of planning to set up (about the same amount of time as planning a menu the old fashioned way), but then it works perpetually.

An Entire Month of Planned Meals

First, get your supplies:

A Package of Rainbow-Colored 3x5 Cards
A Package of White 3x5 Cards (optional - this is only to give you 6 colors instead of 5)
A Jewelry Organizer Similar to this one
A Marker to Write With.
A Pair of Scissors to cut cards with. 

This is what you do:

1. Make a list of the meals your family eats.

2. Organize those meals into categories. For instance, you could categorize by Ethnicity (Mexican, Korean, Greek, Italian, Indian) or by Main Ingredient (Beef, Pork, Pasta, Beans) or some other way that suits you. You can also sort by preparation method (Slow Cooker, Oven, Stir Fry or Grill, Simmering) Personally, I categorize my Vegan meals by texture (Soups, Stews, Casseroles, Pilafs & Pastas, Burgers & Wraps). I put meat-based meals on the white cards. These meals offer a variety of dishes and are a complete meal for Omnivore and Vegan alike.

3. Assign a Color to each category. This makes it much easier to see at a glance that your menu has a proper amount of variety.

4. Write Each Meal on a 1/2 of a 3x5 card in the Appropriate Color. (They sell pre-cut 1/2 cards if you really hate the idea of cutting them) You will need at least 28 cards. Many American families are said to rotate through the same 9 to 12 meals over and over again. If you're one of those families, you'll want to duplicate your favorite meals onto cards so that you have at least 28 meal cards.If you like, you can even put the names of favorite restaurants on some cards, if that's where you know you'll be going on occasion.

5. Sort your cards into the pockets of your Jewelry Organizer. The top row will be Sundays, the second row Mondays, the third row Tuesdays, etc. Put  Slow Cooker, Easy, or Pre-prepared meals on the nights when you are very busy. For instance, if you have Church on Wednesday nights, you might want to plan all Slow Cooker Meals for Wednesdays.Generally speaking, you'll just want to make every day a different color - the row for Wednesday might all be green, and the row for Thursday might all be pink.

6. Double-Check your family calendar, and see which cards need to be moved or removed. If you're going out for your Anniversary in two weeks, remove that card. If a Lenten Season Starts at the end of the month, move any meat-based menus you might have put there. (I know most people check the calendar first, but then they're trying to think of too many things when they first arrange their menu. I find it's easier to arrange it all, then just make a few small adjustments. I'm a sequential thinker : ) Put any extra cards in the bottom row of pockets, still sorted by color, for next month's planning. Check to make sure you don't have too many similar meals too close to each other (like if every meal all week involves chicken ; )

7. Don't leave any blank, to be decided, family's choice, etc. The purpose of menu planning is to have a plan for every day.  You can always take a card out & change it if your family really wants take-out pizza one night. Similarly, if you decide to try out a new recipe, you can easily move a card from its place. But, if you put a card in for every day, when the time comes to prepare dinner, you have a plan if nothing else came up.


 It's so easy to plan a month worth of meals this way!

Once I have the plan done, this is how I use it:

1. On Shopping Day, I can easily shop for 7 days worth of meals, and know just what to buy. (I'm considering writing a list of non-staple ingredients for each meal on the back of the card for ease of shopping). This doesn't mean that I necessarily have to eat at home for the next seven days, or that I have to follow my plan if I don't feel like it. It just means that I'm prepared.

The Jewelry Organizer - I found it at my Thrift Store : )
2. If plans change - say if a friend invites us over for dinner, I simply move cards around. I take the card out of the day it is not needed, and use it to "bump" a card for which I have not yet purchased groceries. The unused card goes back into the deck for next month's planning.

3.Similarly, if I have a lot of leftovers one night, the next night's dinner can be moved to another day while we eat leftovers. Alternately, the if we have enough leftovers to make another entire meal, then the meal can be frozen and scheduled as an "official" meal at a later date.

4. I glance ahead and pre-cook a few meals, or pre-prepare a few dressings or sauces to make life easy on another night.

5. I can do appropriate meal preparation at the right time this way. For instance, if an ingredient needs to be thawed, or the slow cooker needs to be set up the night before so that I can have an easy morning the next day - that's easy to do! I'm not left struggling to thaw a frozen entree with only an hour to dinner time.

6. For many meals, I just write the entree down - because I know that I serve things like Bread, Salad, Pickles, Olives, Crudites and Dips routinely, as well as fruit for dessert, without having to write that down.

7. Any time I find a new meal I like to cook - I just add it to the deck!

* If you like, you can involve your family on this one- having each family member choose a certain number of meal cards that they would like to see on the monthly rotation. 

 * If you like to plan three meals and one snack for each day, rather than just planning dinner, you can use this same system to make a week's worth of meals. 


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Monday, October 20, 2014

About Capers

A flowering Caper Plant
When you hear the word "Capers," you probably think of the Caper Bud. When American Recipes (including mine) mention Capers, they mean Caper Buds by default.

If you're like I was a few years ago, you never gave any further thought to where Caper Buds come from other than the tiny, overpriced jars at the grocery.

Or, perhaps you know of the more obscure Caper Berries, available from specialty markets here in the U.S. Or the larger, less overpriced jars of the Buds also available at specialty markets.

Caper Buds - When American Recipes say "Capers" this is what they mean.

But, when I went to Cyprus and asked for Capers, I was quite surprised when I was asked "What kind?" (What do you mean what kind? The Caper kind! ; ) Turns out they come in Bud, Berry or Leaf & Stem Varieties!

You see, Capers grow in Cyprus. They're not an exotic food there, any more than a Dill Pickle is an exotic food here in the U.S.

The Caper Plant & Blossom with several visible Buds.

Many Cypriots go out and forage for their own, and then pickle them. Each family has its own special pickling recipe. I'm not aware of Capers being cultivated (although perhaps they are) but rather most of them grow wild and are foraged. Foraging for and preserving them is a traditional craft, perhaps comparable to American customs like making one's own Jam. Some Monasteries also preserve their own, and sell the product to help support the monastery. And, like any other traditional food, they can be purchased from the grocery.
Preserved Caper Plant

But, do you suppose that Cypriots only preserve the buds or berries? Nope. they preserve the whole plant - thorns and all! And they're incomparably delicious! (the thorns soften and don't pierce your mouth, although they are a little pointy)

A Jar of Pickled Capers

Sometimes Capers grow in the strangest places - like weeds!

If you find a Caper Plant in flower, they're quite beautiful. But, be warned! You should always carry a large stick with you when you go to harvest them. For reasons I don't understand, the Caper plant is a favorite haunt of snakes!

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Monday, October 13, 2014

Mediterranean Two Bean Salad

Mediterranean Two Bean Salad
This is a simple, easy salad to make from ingredients that are inexpensive and readily available in fall and winter, but quite tasty year round! I adapted it from the "Mediterranean Green Bean and Potato Salad" that I shared a while back. One day I wanted to serve Rosemary Potatoes AND a salad with these flavors, and I didn't want potatoes twice in the same meal. It turned out so well, that I anticipate that I'll seldom make it with the Potatoes in the future.

In our family, we like Green Beans tender. If you're a crisp-tender sort of person, that also will work well in this recipe (and, does make a prettier salad).

It's so simple to make - and so tasty.

Mediterranean Two Bean Salad
Cook to desired doneness & drain
1 1/2 Pound Frozen Green Beans
2 Cans (or about 4 Cups Home Prepared) Great Northern or other White Beans), drained
1 Can (15oz)  Black Olives, Sliced
2 Tablespoons Caper Buds
A little Scallion or Minced Red Onion may be added if desired.

Toss with Vinaigrette Dressing
Shake together in a jar, and pour over veggies:
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Red Wine Vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon Dressing
1/2 teaspoon minced Garlic
3/4 teaspoon Salt
Dash or two of pepper
Pinch or two sugar
A couple of pinches Oregano

Alternately, for an Oil Free Salad, you can use Simply Greek Dressing

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