Monday, November 28, 2011

Gone (Pecan) Pie and Pumpkin Brownies

Last fall I overdid it with the pumpkin.  Pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin loaf, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin cupcakes.  So much so that when autumn came upon me this time around, I was (practically) immune to the temptation.  That is, until the talented baker at the helm of Gone Pie Vegan Bakery generously sent me a pan of her pumpkin pie brownies to share with my infamously non-vegan co-workers.

At first I thought I could resist (just until the next morning); but when the delivery arrived with explicit instructions to immediately sample, it was only right to follow the direction.

The packaging* was pristine and included an extremely friendly and useful info sheet listing the contents of the package, the ingredients of the items, etc., as well as explicit information regarding serving the pumpkin brownies.  To paraphrase, the icing may get stuck on the lid of the container in transit, but a side of frosting is included for immediate consumption repair.

And sure enough; they know of what they speak:

The trusty repair kit:

And voila; good as new:

Seriously, if I can make it look this pretty, anyone can.  Reward yourself for your hard work by licking using a fork to scrape the inside of the lid and not let it go to waste, i.e., shove it in your mouth!  No matter how you slice it (pun intended), you're ultimately getting extra frosting!  Trust me, this is a very good thing.

In the interest of full disclosure, my personal taste test occurred prior to having addressed the aesthetic frosting issue.  What?  Like you could have resisted.

Know that as soon as the lid is removed, all of the fragrant, autumnal spices waft out.  It was at this, precise moment that it instantly occurred to me that I probably wasn't really over pumpkin.  I knew the first bite would be telling.  In a word?  No.  I wasn't over it.  At all.  I was, apparently, just over my own half-assed pumpkin attempts; this was tasty to the nth degree.  First the spices hit my surprised tastebuds, then the chocolate cake and frosting: the combo created quite the chocolatey/fall powerhouse.  VM insisted she's not a big fan of pumpkin, but I counter-insisted she try it anyway; she loved it.  "These giant chips!" and "This frosting really is something else" were among the litany of compliments that followed.  Poor VM, always being made to taste delicious baked goods against her will.  The horror!

What really gets me about Gone Pie baked goods is the crumb; this was no exception.  I found the pumpkin brownie to be more cake than brownie, and the crumb is perfect.  And this coming from someone who barely knows what that means!  Needless to say, they didn't last long in my office; people know a good thing when they see/smell/taste it.  Add this to the roster of irresistible Gone Pie brownies.

And then there was one.  Look at those giant chips beckoning to whoever will have them.  The chips.  Oh, the chips!!!  Clearly the esteemed tasting panel's favorite part...or was it the frosting?  Who can decide?  Good thing it's a package deal.

The overall office consensus on the pumpkin brownies was as follows:

1) YUM
2) that the pumpkin taste was perfect: not so dominant as to overwhelm the dessert or the dessertee
3) that the frosting is outstanding

Next up, pecan pie.  Yes, PECAN PIE!!  There is just something about pie, isn't there?  Well wait till you get a load of this one.

I especially loved the way the pie was wrapped.  Impressive and impeccably presented, this is a particularly great item for gifting, in my opinion:

Unwrapped, it is an exquisite specimen.  I immediately cut myself a small slice.

KIDDING!!  Okay, only partially kidding.  You have to know what you're sharing, right?

Seriously, the best pecan pie I've ever had.  I didn't even think I was really a fan of pecan pie.  VM definitely wasn't.  Guess what?  We are now.

And let me address the fact that this is gluten-free.  Because I am not, I am often hesitant to try things that are; I blame an unfortunate incident regarding a papery tasting wrap that I won't go into.   But fear not, fellow gluten-partakers; this is a phenomenal dessert with or without the'd never guess.  Gone Pie has proven me wrong time and time again; this too was no exception.  The pecans, the crust, the sweetness: all skillfully proportioned so that each bite is a masterpiece.

But, as far as sharing was concerned, I had to tread lightly.  The OCD employee in me couldn't risk simply placing this gorgeous cake at work for the taking, only to find it quickly desecrated by the gads of "pickers" who insist on slivering their way through office desserts, leaving them in a disrespected, crumby heap (can you tell this drives me nuts?).  So, I was prepared.

I pre-cut the pie into tiny, perfect slivers and watched contentedly as my co-workers said, "I can only have a piece"...and then neatly took a whole, pre-portioned slice.  I am a genius.  What I didn't anticipate, though, was the fact that people would take their slice with their fingers instead of a utensil, which I'd placed right beside.  Baby steps.

My boss, in particular, is a tough cookie when it comes to desserts.  One of the first people to try the pie, she exclaimed something complimentary I can't recall and, I dare say, reached for a second slice before swallowing the last bite of the first.  Others quickly followed suit even before I could send out the invitational email for my department to partake.

Despite the very clear presentation, I still fielded the requisite omni questions posed in accusatory tones, none more irksome than the incredulous, "Are these vegan?".  Too late VM suggested that my response should have been, "Oh no, I used to be vegan.  These are all filled up with cruelty and cholesterol just like you like it; enjoy!"  Of course they were not, I was nice (!), and the goods were not to be resisted.  Everybody wins!

The accolades poured in- general gratitude via email and explicit praise muttered through gratified chews.

  • "What you taste is the nuts; this is done right.  And by right I mean better than any pecan pie I've ever tasted."
  • "How is the crust not soggy?  I have to line my crust with chocolate [(!)] in order to prevent that from happening."
  • "What a pleasure and novel idea- to have a pie filled with pecans and not filler."
  • "Exquisite, European, like a tart"
  • "Pecan pie is usually goopy; this is all the quality stuff, not the goop."

And those are just the quips I was able to scribble down.

So perhaps the lesson to be learned is that it's not necessarily vegan food that scares people, but MY (homemade) vegan food.  Hmm; something to consider.  These items, for sure, were a hit.

More importantly, another thing to take away is that people can identify quality.  And when they do, the fact that it's vegan becomes secondary.  Gone Pie's desserts are the decadent type that are satiating in just a few bites- evident by the accolades from all.  Can you tell I was very popular this day?  Know how to be popular yourself?  Share or gift any and all of Gone Pie's incredible creations.  Just remember to snag a few items for yourself, lest your gifts not all make it to their intended destinations as a result of an unanticipated detour to your belly.

A sincere thanks to Gone Pie for their extreme generosity, startling talent, and exquisite contribution to veganism.

* A word about the packaging and presentation: outstanding.

my iPhone pic orientation has to foil me at least once per post
In high school, an art teacher told another student that her execution and presentation was flawless; I often reflect on that statement and aspire to it.  Gone Pie truly delivers and achieves.

And you know what they say about a well-placed sticker.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Very Vegan Eggplant Rollatini Thanksgiving

Because VM has had so much practice over the years, she has long since mastered the veganization of any and all of her famous Thanksgiving side dishes.  This year has been busier than most, so when I found this terrific new product we agreed that we'd forgo all of the various traditional preparations in favor of one, epic dish.

And by "we", I of course mean "she"; VM cooks, I document.

By the time I showed my face on Thanksgiving morning afternoon, VM was well on her way.  Her sauce was already simmering:

 And the eggplants were mid-peel:


Once I started photographing she really kicked it into high gear and prepared her frying assembly line.

Side one of the first batch:

Side two:

Cooling (would anyone recommend baking the coated eggplant to eliminate or at least decrease the oil, or would that negate their fried flexibility?):

Time to try the Tofutti ricotta.

It came out of the container quite dense, so I fork smushed it.

Parsley, salt, pepper, and a handful of Daiya mozzarella shreds:

Time to assemble:





Sprinkle with Daiya:

Cover with sauce & more Daiya (even more if VM isn't looking):

Bake at 360 degrees for 45 minutes, loosely covered with tin foil.

Some people like it served atop their gemelli:

Others beside:

No matter the placement, prepare to be WOWED!

I ordered an epi loaf for the holiday; it was even more gigantic than usual.

I cut the loaf at the joints, spritzed them with olive oil and coated them with garlic...

and then I smothered them in Daiya mozzarella too: 25 minutes at 360 degrees.

Voila; cheesy bread:

The meal was more than a success.  SO GOOD!!!  The sauce alone deserved (and received) a standing ovation.


And, in honor of Thanksgiving, turkeys!

Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary
Did you know that turkeys are super soft and their heads feel like warm brains?  They also act as mood rings, changing color depending on their mood- from red to blue. 

Farm Sanctuary, Watkins Glen
This is the first turkey I ever met; I was astounded by how beautiful a creature it was.  Please make it a Thanksgiving for all living beings; go vegan.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Justin's PB Cups vs. Go Max Go Cleo's: Who! Will! Win!

My fellow dark chocolate-loving friend and I went on a serious cup-hunt when Justin's first came out with their dark chocolate peanut butter cups; I think it's fair to say we've been hooked ever since.  I've been avoiding the new Go Max Go Cleo's simply because they are milk chocolate, but after recently being impressed by their Snap! bar, I figured I owed the Cleo's a chance.

The peanut butter/chocolate showdown:

The peanut butter
The peanut butter in the Cleo's is really creamy.  This is crucial to note because sometimes the peanut butter in a Justin's cup is contrarily dense and powdery.  Unlike their Reese's ancestors, this apparently isn't a result of staleness, but rather an extreme sensitivity to cold.  I know this because I've induced this phenomenon by putting them in the fridge.  Do not put them in the fridge!  Unfortunately, I've also purchased Justin's cups that were powdery even without a misstep on my part, so it would seem that stores have not necessarily received the "no fridge" memo.  To be fair, this has only happened 50% of the times I've purchased Justin's.  But, at $2 a pack, it's not really a gamble I appreciate.  I will say, though, that when not powdery, Justin's peanut butter is as dense and smooth as it should be.  Cleo's creamy peanut butter, on the other hand, seems impervious to anything you could do to them- consistently. 

The chocolate
I'm partial to the fact that Justin's is dark chocolate, but they are also superior in ingredient proportion.  While every Justin's bite is relatively evenly distributed between chocolate and peanut butter, the Cleo's are seriously peanut butter-heavy in the center, with an extremely thin coating of chocolate above and below, and a considerably thicker shell around the edge and towards the peanut butter.  I don't recall the architecture of Reese's accurately enough to be able to compare the proportion authenticity, but I prefer Justin's to Cleo's.

The bottom line:

While both options are impressive, I think it's fair to say that they each offer a totally different dessert experience to the peanut butter cup loving crowd.  As for me, I'd reach for the Justin's.  Of course this may change if they don't get their powdery problem under control...but, assuming they do, the dark chocolate and even proportion happen to do it for me.  Go forth and enjoy whichever cups float your particular chocolate peanut butter boat.