Pumpkin pecan cupcakes with 5 spice frosting

I wanted to make something festive for tonight's bake sale, and you can't go wrong with pumpkin in October! I used several recipes from VCTOTW as a loose guide to craft this recipe. The cake is smooth, soft, and tastes like fall. I know, there are a gazillion ingredients, but it really isn't complicated and totally worth it.

Pumpkin pecan cupcakes
1/2 c. whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 c. unbleached flour
1/3 c. heaping cup of pecans
3 tbs. cornstarch
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
2/3 c. soymilk + 1/2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
3/4 c. brown sugar, lightly packed
2/3 c. canned pumpkin
1/3 c. canola oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. fresh grated ginger

In a pan over med-low heat, lightly toast the pecans for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Set aside and let cool completely.

Preheat oven to 350F. Prepare a 12 cup tin with cupcake liners.

In a food processor, grind the pecans into a fine meal. You can add a couple spoons of your flour to keep things moving. Remember, you want meal, not pecan butter!

Sift together the pecans, flour, cornstarch, baking powder/soda, cinnamon, and salt.

Mix the soy milk and vinegar and set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, oil, sugar, vanilla, and ginger. Then stir in the soy milk mixture and gently whisk until everything is incorporated. Slowly stir in the dry ingredients and mix until combined.

Pour into your prepared cupcake pan, and bake for 18-20 minutes, or until it passes the toothpick test. Remove cupcakes to a cooling rack and cool completely before frosting.

5 spice frosting
1/3 c. soy milk
1 tbs. cornstarch
1/3 c. shortening, room temp
1/3 c. Better than Cream Cheese
1/2 c. unrefined cane sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. 5 spice powder
1 tbs. powdered sugar

In a cold saucepan, whisk the cornstarch into the soy milk. Continue to whisk over medium heat until mixture thickens to almost a pudding. Pour into a bowl and let cool to room temperature.

With an electric or stand mixer, beat the shortening and cream cheese together. Add the sugar, vanilla, and 5 spice, and blend for a couple minutes. Add the cooled milk mixture in two parts, letting it whip up fluffy in between, then add the powdered sugar. Continue to beat for a couple more minutes. The frosting should be smooth, with no sugar granules left. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Bonus VCTOTW golden cupcakes with vanilla cooked buttercream and shaved dark chocolate:

Show and bake sale!

Come support these bands and buy my cupcakes!

Coconut cake

While an excellent cook, my mom rarely baked. Occassionally, we'd get a treat and she'd decide to buy one of those Pepperidge Farms frozen layer cakes. My sister always wanted chocolate, but I loved the coconut. I wanted to recreate that simple flavor in a vegan cake.

Most coconut batter recipes that I've tried, turn out a delicious, yet dense crumb, and I prefer something lighter. I also had visions of making a 4-layer beauty, but underestimated the amount of batter that would require. If you're feeling up to it, double this recipe and make the cake of my dreams.

Coconut cake
2 1/2 c. unbleached pastry flour
1/4 c. cornstarch
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 c. coconut milk
1/2 c. canola oil
1/4 c. plain soy yogurt
1 1/2 c. unrefined cane sugar
1 tbs. vanilla extract
1 c. + 1 tbs. sparkling water

Preheat oven to 350F. Prepare 2 - 9" cake pans with parchment, oil/flour, your non-stick method of choice, etc.

Sift together the flour through salt and set aside. With a whisk or electric mixer, blend together the coconut milk, oil, yogurt, sugar, and extract well. Stir in the water, then add the dry ingredients and gently mix until all of the batter is moistened. Pour into the two cake pans and bake for about 35 minutes, until it passes a toothpick test.

Remove pans from oven and set on a cooling rack for about 10 minutes, then carefully remove the cake from the pans and let cool on the rack completely.

Coconut frosting
1 c. coconut milk
2 tbs. cornstarch
1/2 c. shortening (non-hydrog), room temp
1/2 c. margarine, room temp
1 c. unrefined cane sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. natural coconut flavoring
~ 1/4 c. powdered sugar
3/4 c. desiccated coconut (unsweetened)

In a cold sauce pan, whisk together the milk and cornstarch. Continue to whisk over medium heat, until the mixture becomes almost as thick as pudding. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

In an electric mixer beat the shortening and margarine until fluffy, then cream with the sugar and extracts. Add the cooled milk mixture (which will now be as hard as jello) in quarters, letting it whisk up fluffy in between each addition. Continue to whisk for a few more minutes until the frosting is super fluffy. Add about 1/4 c. of powdered sugar to increase sweetness as desired (optional, though a little powdered sugar will help stiffen up the frosting nicely.)

Refrigerate until your cake is ready to frost.

Once your cake is cool, set one layer on a platter. You can tuck strips of parchment along the edges, to keep your plate clean. Frost the top of the layer, then place the second layer on top. Frost the entire cake, then sprinkle the top and pat the sides with the shredded coconut. Slide out the parchment strips, and you're set!

Vegan eats in the American Southwest

Shane and I just returned from a road trip through Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada. Our main impetus was to visit his family in Gilbert (suburb of Phoenix) and Albuquerque (or what should actually be a suburb of ABQ since everything is so sprawling and it is nowhere near the city proper), and to hit up Las Vegas, an obvious choice for a couple of vegan, non-drinkers, non-gamblers.

We knew there were a few spots on Los Angeles that we wanted to (re)visit and I thought the rest of the trip would be a struggle to find decent vegan fare, but we discovered quite a few spots.

Our first night in LA, we met up with friends at Real Food Daily(West Hollywood location). I mainly wanted to go for the Coconut Cream Pie/Cake thing, which they didn't have that night. On previous trips, I had found the food somewhat boring, ranging from decent to bland, hit-or-miss-"I can make this at home" stuff. I guess it's the Herbivore of Southern California. I chose the Caesar Wrap this time, and I think I found the winning dish there.

It was very tasty: blackened tempeh and Caesar salad in a spinach wrap. I chose the house salad as a side (over Caesar, since I was getting that already, or potato). The house dressing was weak though. Shane had the Club and enjoyed it. Our friends had the TV dinner, live wrap, and meatball/pasta dishes and seemed content. It was way too dark in the restaurant for decent pictures.

The next morning, we tried to go to Green Leaves, and then Flore, but both were still closed and we wanted to get on the road somewhat early. Instead we went to M Cafe de Chaya, one of our favorites. The food is pretty pricey, but everything we've had there so far has been excellent. Shane had the Muffaletta with a side of lentils.

I had this healthy breakfast:

Green tea pistachio pound cake

Pecan roll

Everything was delicious. We also bought coffee cake to go, but I forgot to get a flick of that.

In Arizona, we found Green: New American Vegetarian in Tempe. From the website, we were expecting to find a somewhat bougie place, but it turned out to be super casual, hip spot in an unassuming strip mall. If it were in the Bay, there would have been a row of fixed gears parked out front.

We started off with crab puffs and spicy buffalo "wings."

The crab puffs ("a house favorite, mock crabmeat, vegan cream cheese and secret spices") were a little disappointing, since the won ton skins were generously stuffed and the center of the filling was still cold after a dip in the deep fryer. I really wanted to like the buffalo wings, which has a really nice texture, but were insanely salty. The cucumber ranch dressing was also really watery.

I had the Texas Moo-shroom po-boy.

Messy but tasty, although again, super salty. Yay for skinny fries, though the menu called them "thyme fries" and I didn't see or taste any thyme.

Shane had the Original G Spicy po-boy, which he thought was ok. "It's like fast food."

The highlight however, were the Tsoynamis: huge servings of vegan "tsoft tserve" stirred with a variety of toppings.

Mine was a coffee coco loco: vanilla soft serve with coffee/ground coffee beans, chocolate syrup, and vegan cocoa puffs. Shane had the vegan s'more, with ricemellow creme and graham crackers. You could also get plain soft serve in 8 or so flavors (fruits, chocolate, vanilla...). Overall it was a nice place: generous portions, good prices. It wasn't the healthiest meal, and way too eager with the salt shaker, but I suppose that fits the bill with their goal of comfort/fast food.

The next day, on our way out of Phoenix, we stopped at Mandala Tea Room in Scottsdale. I have to add that what I saw of Scottsdale looked like Disneyland, or a movie set. Maybe it was the ridiculously hot weather, or because it was a random Thursday morning, but the streets were empty and immaculate. One of the few people we did see was a young man scrubbing an Arabian horse fountain.

The Tea Room is connected to a spa and boutique that sells the type of merchandise that would attract people like the self-proclaimed "wellness educator" sitting a few tables away (white people obsessed with Eastern medicine and philosophy).

None of the entrees on the menu really jumped out at me, so I decided to have two appetizers: Tortilla Soup and a combination of Tempeh Lettuce Wraps and Live Teriyaki Wraps.

Now, I'm all for organic, seasonal produce, and the idea of letting produce shine on its own, but this was essentially hot tomato water with some beans and corn. If it weren't for the salt on the chips that I let soak into the liquid, it would have been difficult to down. The Tempeh Wraps were ok. Tempeh has a very distinct flavor and texture, that I'm not really a fan of unless it's baked or fried, but the dipping sauce was nice. The Live Wraps were excellent, even without any added dipping sauce, which was way too heavy on the shoyu. I wish I had gotten just the Live Wraps instead of the 50/50.

Shane had the Tempeh Fajitas.

He thought the salsa fresca was great, but that they should have been more generous with the tempeh, instead of loading the plate with beans and rice.

For dessert, we had a chocolate cake and a pina colada truffle.

The cake had a creamy tapioca filling, which was really nice. I'm not usually a fan of chocolate cake, but this one wasn't too sweet, which I enjoyed. The crumb was a bit dry, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt that it was from a cake that had been sliced the previous day. The truffle was ok; the pineapple filling was a bit too sweet for my taste.

In Albuquerque, we stopped at the Whole Foods on Wyoming Blvd. NE, to stock up on foods we could prepare on our own. We were excited to find vegan apple cake slices.

Super moist, with nice autumn spices, though a bit too sweet on the frosting. It was mainly refreshing to have something that wasn't Black China, which is great, but a little tired since it's everywhere up here. We ended up going back the next day to get another slice.

In Santa Fe, we ate at Body Cafe, another place attached to a boutique, spa, and yoga studio. (Where would vegans eat if it weren't for hippies?) This place isn't all vegan, but they do have quite a few options.

I had the Asian Curry Bowl.

It was basically an enormous pile of brown rice with some julienned vegetables, firm tofu, and seaweed, and reminded me of college co-op food, with a little fancier presentation. Heavy on the whole grains, greens, and muted tones; light on flavor; and could have been cooked for about 15 minutes less. Probably a nice balance to all of the cake and fried foods though.

Shane had the Tempeh Plate.

The yams were nice, as was the lemon-walnut sauce, but the tempeh and steamed vegetables were in a similar co-op tradition.

Dessert was again a highlight: raw berry "cheese"cake and chocolate torte.

Thankfully we got out of there before whoever had been setting up a PA system on the stage started performing whatever it was he was going to perform.

Vegas was frustrating at first. We spent the first evening walking all over the place, and returned to the hotel when almost everything was closed. We were forced to hike back out on the Strip and settled for overpriced burritos.

The next morning, however, brought the mecca of Ronald's.

Just look at the shiny case screaming my name! The staff assured us that everything except the cake and old fashioned style donuts were safe.

We were disciplined, unlike some people we know, a just had one each.

A plain glazed for me (heaven) and an apple burrito (tasted like a turnover) for Shane. More on Ronald's in a moment.

We found a small natural foods store called Rainbow's End. I swear I was looking at a website of theirs a little while ago, but I can't find it now. The store features mainly supplements and herbs, with a few food items, but we had come for the small cafe that is attached.

I chose the Greek Pizza, with soy cheese instead of conventional, which came with a salad.

Holy crap they were generous with the Follow Your Heart, which made the dish a bit greasy, but it satisfied my pizza craving 600 miles from home and my choice of a ridiculous number of vegan pizzerias.

Shane had Raw Tacos, which he likened to being conned into eating salad with his hands, but he did enjoy the nut-based cheesy filling.

For dinner we went to Burger Bar at Mandalay Bay, which was created by Hubert Keller, of Fleur de Lys in San Francisco fame (and Top Chef!), a man who seems to worship things like Kobe beef and foie gras, yet creates a menu with an item called the "Vegas Vegan."

It's essentially a pile of grilled vegetables (eggplant, zucchini, red peppers, tomatoes) "creatively" stacked between two portobello caps to resemble a burger. I think this can be filed under the "it said vegan, so we had to try it" category. It was ok, I suppose, minus the sogginess and the lack of flavor, except a dash of balsamic on the eggplant. And minus the loud music and being surrounding by flat screens displaying American Football. And my fries were cold. But it said vegan!

The next morning it was back to Ronald's to stock up on donuts to bring back for friends. I even packed plastic wrap, so we could wrap the bakery boxes to delay staleness.

You're looking at: glazed, chocolates, sugar twists, a giant apple fritter, giant nut-covered somethings, jelly-filled, custard-filled, some twist thing, maple bars, chocolate bars, and an apple burrito. We also got a dozen glazed holes, a custard-filled, and a maple bar to eat there.

We stopped at a Whole Foods to get some real food before we left town. It was enormous and I have never seen so much plastic surgery in my life.

I was excited to see this sign:

until I realized it was directly above tubs of hard-boiled eggs and bacon?!

They did have a great number of vegan options, including a chicken-analogue called Gardein. Shane got a piece of jalepeno-lime, and we both got salads. Pictured with the Gardein is something called a "Buddha Ball," which was a ball of tofu disguised with sesame seeds, tricking us into thinking it would be tasty. And they didn't have any vegan cake slices! Boo.

I also had a tempeh tamale, which was a little dry, but pretty flavorful.

Back in LA, we met up with some PPK folks for jackfruit tacos at Pure Luck. Shane was also intrigued by the fried pickles, which should really be called "a couple of pieces of fried pickles on a giant platter of fries." (Shane is requesting I write more details about Pure Luck...they will come when I'm less tired.)

We also went across the street to Scoops for gelato.

Coffee!!!! Without chunks of crap in it!!!

Our final morning, we made one last stop at M Cafe with our friend Ben.


Their focaccia is simply amazing.

We also had a banana-chocolate millefeuille, which has an amazing texture, but I could do without the bananas.

And strawberry shortcake: