Thursday, April 29, 2010

Surprise cupcakes

Remember back in February when I had my play day with Mr. J? Well, today I finally got my date with his big brother, Mr. D!! Mr. D is almost six years old, and is an amazing kid. He is sweet, he is smart, he is funny, and he is just a love! I got to spend the afternoon with him while his mom took Mr. J to a doctor's appointment. The day started when I picked him up from school. Is there anything better than walking up to a playground, telling the teacher who you are picking up, then having him run over to give you a big hug? So, yeah, our date started off with me smiling, and it just kind of kept going from there.

One of the activities I had planned for today with Mr. D was baking cupcakes. I knew he enjoyed baking, and that he was a master egg-cracker, so I knew this would be a lot of fun. He helped me line the cupcake tins, he counted everything for me to make sure we were on track, he measured, of course he cracked eggs, and then he helped with the surprise. The cupcakes themselves were not exactly anything special, Yellow cake (from scratch, but still, yellow cake). But then we made them into surprise cupcakes by hiding a little something in each one. Mr. D even agreed to not tell his mom and dad what was hiding so they would be impressed! (I don't normally condone asking kids to hide information from their parents, but I knew this was not exactly something to worry about, and I made sure he knew that this was something he would share with them very soon!)

By the time the cupcakes came out of the oven, Ms. L and Mr. J had gotten back from the doctor's appointment. Unfortunately for them, though, I wasn't done playing! So Mr. D, Mr. J, Little Girl and I left Ms. L in the apartment for a while and went on a nature walk while the cakes cooled. Because it wasn't enough to have the surprise on the inside, these cakes needed frosting!!

I had actually made the frosting this morning before picking Mr. D up from school I was pretty pleased with how it turned out, and was excited to have help putting it on the cupcakes!

After we came in from our outside exploration (where Mr. D was thrilled to have found a caterpillar!) and washed out hands, it was time to get to work. Mr.s D and J were great frosters. They did very nice work indeed!

Unfortunately, though, all good things must come to an end, and my two favorite boys and their awesome mommy had to go home. I did, of course, send them home with enough cupcakes for everyone to have for dessert, so I hope they all enjoyed the surprise! Thank you so much, Ms. L, for sharing your boys with me!! I love them so much, and I love seeing the fun things that are in store for me as Little Girl gets bigger.

Oh yeah! Wanna know what the surprise is? Check it out...!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Daring to do it: British Pudding

The April 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Esther of The Lilac Kitchen. She challenged everyone to make a traditional British pudding using, if possible, a very traditional British ingredient: suet.

When I read this month’s challenge I was not sure how to feel... Excited, because I had never really thought of making an English pudding. This was something I read about in Harry Potter, or threatened Hubby with withholding a-la The Wall. If fact, I thought pudding was a dessert. Pretty much any dessert. You know, we Americans say “I made a cake for dessert,” I thought it was just a British term, where one would say “I made a cake for pudding.” So the opportunity to make something so new to me was really great. But then there was the part of me that was saying: “Suet? Like, that fatty stuff used in birdfeeders? Really? Really?!” Yes, really. Suet is actually the fat of choice in many (many!) traditional puddings. Now, being both Kosher and vegetarian, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to use real suet. Part of me was relieved about that... Part of me was a little disappointed to know from the get go that my pudding wouldn’t be “right.” Then I remembered – this is the DARING Baker’s challenge. The whole idea is to take an idea or a recipe and make it work for you in a way others might not necessarily think of! So I was back to being excited, and I was ready to embrace this challenge whole heartedly!
I was surprised to find out that there are actually two types of dishes being referred to when using the term “pudding.” The first type is a crust pudding, like a pie. These, from what I can see, are frequently (but not always) savory dishes. Steak and kidney pudding? Really like a pot pie with steak and kidneys. (Yet again, vegetarian/Kosher kitchen “limitations” meant I didn’t even consider this one!) The second type is a “sponge” pudding. This is like a cake. Both types of puddings, though, are cooked by being steamed. Other than vegetables, I don’t think I have ever steamed my food. And I know I had never steamed a dessert before! Yet again, this challenge was proving to be a learning experience, and I was psyched to dive in!
I started with a sponge pudding. It just seemed like it would be easier to me. Using the Pudding Club website Esther provided I found a recipe that looked irresistible (and not just to me – I think a lot of us daring bakers made this one...!): the Very Chocolate Pudding. I used margarine instead of butter, I added a little vanilla extract and cinnamon, and I only made a half batch, but this was AMAZING. Since I don’t have a proper steamer, nor do I have proper pudding basins, I improvised using my biggest pot, my steamer basket and some individual sized Pyrex dishes. The steaming process made this an extremely moist cake, and I knew right then that this was a process I would be using again! I just didn’t know how quickly that “again” would be! Two days later a friend came over for lunch. I decided to make a pudding for dessert! I again made a half batch, but this time I improvised the flavorings. I used the proportions from the chocolate pudding, but used brown sugar, vanilla extract and no chocolate. I put strawberry jam on the bottom of my dish instead of chocolate chips, too. Like the chocolate pudding, this one was REALLY good! There were no leftovers... Again, I thought to myself that this was going to be a keeper!
Now that I felt comfortable with pudding and with steaming I knew I should tackle a crust dish. I have made veggie pot pies before, I figured this would be similar. It was, but it was still different enough to stand out. Since I couldn’t use suet I used vegetable shortening. The crust recipe given was very similar to “my” pie crust recipe, but with a slightly higher proportion of shortening to flour. I figured this was to accommodate the steaming process, so I made sure to stick with that. I also used part whole wheat flour, just because I like whole wheat! I actually made two puddings from this... the second was small, though... I had to make one for Little Girl! The “grown up” pudding had carrot, rutabaga, broccoli, zucchini, lentils and sautéed onions and garlic. Little Girl’s pudding had carrot, lentils and sweat peas. It turned out that my biggest pot was not big enough to steam my big pudding! I used my slow cooker this time, and improvised a “handle” for the bowl using some extra yarn. I also made gravy to serve with the pudding; unlike a pot pie, the pudding filling was just the vegetables, with a little bit of egg to bind things together. I made the gravy with some of the vegetable stock I had made for the Brunswick Stew earlier in the month. It turned out great! Even the leftovers were delicious!

So thank you, Esther, for introducing us silly Americans to new ideas and methods! I never would have tried this were it not for this challenge, and I am really excited to puddings – both savory and sweet, to my kitchen repertoire! I already have ideas for more puddings I want to try… Now that is a sign of a great challenge!!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

General-ly speaking about tofu...

I happen to be a fan of tofu. I know there are many (MANY!) people who aren't but I find it to be a versatile, easy ingredient which can be used in a lot of ways. Usually I make stir fried veggies with sauteed tofu, which is good, and I have even made desserts with it, which was a lot of fun! I had a block of tofu sitting in my fridge which I really wanted to use for dinner tonight, but I didn't want to make my usual stir fry. So I went foodgawking... Using the search feature, I looked for listings using tofu. As is usually the case, I found a bunch of interesting looking recipes. But then I found just what I was looking for...
Hubby and I love Chinese food. We have a local Chinese restaurant from which we get take out pretty much whenever I really don't feel like cooking. (Which, granted, isn't that often, but still...!) One of the reasons this particular restaurant gets out whole-hearted approval is that it has a great selection of vegetarian and mock-meat dishes. And they have been willing to make mock versions of meat dishes that aren't already on the menu. One of our treat dishes is Mock General Tzo's Chicken. So when I found this recipe for General Tao's Tofu I knew it would be dinner.
Of course, I had to make some substitutions. I didn't have green onions in the house, so I used one small (yellow) onion. I also do not keep fresh ginger in the house. It just wouldn't get used. So I used dried ginger powder. I also don't have white wine vinegar... So I used some white vinegar and some red wine vinegar. Then came the substitution I was not expecting to make... Apparently I ran out of soy sauce and never thought to get more... I found a few packets from the Chinese take-out we had gotten a week ago, and I used teriyaki sauce for the rest... Phew... So I guess I can't really say I made this exact recipe, but I tried!
I started by frying the tofu. This step, while not difficult, or even new, really, was the one I was kind of nervous about. I always feel like my fried tofu doesn't turn out right. Not crispy enough or something... But the light flour coating really helped, as did using a little more oil than I usually do. The tofu cubes turned a beautiful golden color and had a great crispy crust.
Then came the sauce. While it took a little more prep than I had anticipated, it really came together quickly and easily. (Really, if I had thought about it before I started, I would have prepped the sauce ingredients before starting the cooking process. That would have made this come together even more quickly and easily!) After the sauce was made and the tofu was simmering in it, I did a little test-taste. I found the sauce to be a little sweeter than I had expected. So I added some "Oriental Stir Fry" seasonings I had on hand. I wish I knew what all was in it, but I don't. It is a premixed spice blend I got as a gift. But it is very good, and it helped to balance the sweetness.

I served the tofu with brown rice and steamed broccoli. Hubby and I were very pleased with the results! He teased that next time he wanted Chinese food he would call me to place his order. I would like to play with the sauce recipe, using a little less sugar and maybe using a few more of the ingredients it actually calls for! But this is definitely a keeper!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Another challah

I wasn't going to make challah this week.

Ok, that's not quite true. Last week I forgot to make challah. And this week I was going to take the two frozen loaves of challah out to defrost and bake those. So there was always going to be challah, it just wasn't going to be made from scratch today. But I got inspired when I was perusing recipes online. (Seriously, it never occurred to me when I started trying challah recipes just how many there are! This is a lot of fun, and I am not sure there is an end in sight!) I found this recipe, and figured, why not?

Originally I was going to make a half batch. As I said, I already have two unbaked loaves in the freezer, and how much challah do we really need? But, for some reason, I made the whole thing... You;ll see how much that made, and you can decide for yourself if that was the right call or not! I did make a couple of changes to the recipe. To begin with, I do not have instant yeast, so I used dry active and let it proof. Second, I did not have as much honey as the recipe called for. So I used some honey and some brown sugar. Finally, I used three eggs instead of four. I know challah is an eggy bread, but when reading the reviews I saw one comment saying the reader had made the recipe forgetting to add the eggs at all, and that the results were still very good. So I figured, if the recipe is that forgiving, I will try one less egg.

The yeast proofed well, giving me hopes for some well risen loaves. Then the rest of the ingredients were added. Oh yeah - I did sub in some whole wheat flour at this point, too... As usual I let the KitchenAid do the kneading for me. I love letting the machine do the hard work for me! (The only drawback - the kneading tends to tighten the bowl, making it hard to remove for washing. If that's the worst, I think I am doing all right!) Into the oiled bowl to rise went the well kneaded dough. I knew I was not going to be ready to bake the dough in the hour and a half it called for to rise. So after an hour I moved the bowl into the refrigerator. When I checked it a short while later, it was already about doubled in size... So I decided to give it an extra rise - I punched it down and put it back into the fridge. Then it was time to meet a friend for lunch.

When I was ready to shape the dough, I took the brave step, encouraged by the recipe writer, and chose to make a four strand braid. I have never done this before. I tried the six strand braid once, remember? I am not sure I am ready to try that one again - not without some pretty patient help! But the four strand braid? Sure, I haven't been scared off of that one yet! (In the interest of full disclosure, I did practice with a little bit of yarn, first, so at least I felt like I knew what I was doing!) I think I even did it right! The braids looked pretty nice! Now, the recipe said that there would be enough dough to make two large loaves. I didn't want large loaves. So I made these two middle sized loaves and three tiny, Little Girl sized rolls. That used half of the dough... I then had enough to make four (yes, FOUR) small loaves which were wrapped up unbaked and put into the freezer. (For those of you keeping track, I now have six loaves of challah in my freezer...)
The challah baked up beautifully. The outside was nice and golden and the inside was smooth and fluffy. That is my kind of challah!! And Little Girl LOVED the roll I gave her with dinner. She ate the whole thing. She would have put it all in her mouth at once if we had let her... So another successful recipe for us... I wonder how many more there will be...!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Pasta for dessert

Several years ago my mother bought me some chocolate pasta. Yes, chocolate pasta. I wasn't sure what to make of it. Or with it, for that matter... I love chocolate, but I just couldn't figure out what I would do with chocolate pasta... Turns out the stuff is a lot of fun to play with! I made chocolate kugel, which was a rich dessert we all enjoyed! So the original packages were used and enjoyed, so new stuff was purchased.

This afternoon I was grumpy and looking for something to do to cheer me up. I found my chocolate pasta and decided to do something with it. I didn't have any ricotta cheese, so I couldn't make a kugel again... And I remembered that the pasta itself actually didn't have too strong of a chocolate flavor, so I knew I would have to make something what would carry the pasta well. Having just made macaroni and cheese, it occurred to me that I could make a cream sauce. True, I had only ever made cream sauces for savory dishes, but I figured I could wing it and come up with something sweet and dessert-y...
I started the sauce as usual. Melt the margarine, add the flour, make a roux.
I then added the milk - well, soy milk. So far, nothing new. But this is where things usually turn savory. Normally I add spices and cheese and turn this into a sauce for mac and cheese. But this was for dessert... I added white sugar, brown sugar, vanilla extract and cinnamon. This sauce looked and smelled amazing! It also thickened up beautifully. I used to wonder what was meant by "coats the back of a spoon." Well, this sauce did just that, and I was very excited!! The only problem now was being patient... I still had dinner to eat. And make, for that matter...

Dinner made, eaten and cleaned up, it was finally dessert time!! I served bowls of chocolate pasta drizzled with warm brown sugar-vanilla sauce and sprinkled with milk chocolate shavings. Wow, was this yummy! Weird as it may seem, chocolate pasta is well worth trying, and makes for a delicious, versatile dessert choice!!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Tiny tortillas

When I make the meal plan for myself and Hubby I always consider what Little Girl will be eating. While she is still not quite up to eating everything we do, (which, partly, is due to my own over-protectiveness...) I want her meal to be as similar as possible. You saw I made her a "Baby Brunswick" when we had our Brunswick Stew, you saw her mini-pizza, mini-quiche... I just want her to be included. So when planning tonight's dinner of nachos (yes, nachos for dinner... beans, cheese... that's healthy!!) I started planning what Little Girl would have. Beans are no problem, she eats those; avocado is something we all love, so she had her "toppings" set. (No cheese or salsa for her yet...) But the tortilla chips. I don't give her chips. The things I love about them are things that aren't good for her! Too hard, too salty... not right for my baby girl. But what could I do? Time to make my own!
I started with plain old corn meal. This is something I keep on hand more for coating pizza pans than anything else. But I do have it, so I used it! I didn't measure. It was a couple of hands-full. To that I added hot water to form a dough. I also added a little (like, less than half a tablespoon) margarine. Not sure why, but I just felt that it should be there. Mix, mix, mix... Once it was a good consistency I rolled the dough into little balls which I then pressed (with my favorite tools - my hands) into flat disks. I put those onto a greased (and foil covered) pie plate and popped them into the oven at 35o degrees. I was winging it here... I didn't know how hot I should have to oven, and I certainly didn't know how long they would take! After about 10 minutes I checked them, and they were definitely baked through but still soft. This was just what I was hoping for!

So now Little Girl had a dinner that was "just like" Mommy's and Daddy's! Tortillas, beans and avocado. Looked good to me! Soon she'll get the yummy, gooey, melty cheese... But for now she enjoys what she's having, and I am loving making sure she gets healthy and yummy meals with us!!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Mac and cheese for big kids!

I am a big fan of casseroles. One dish, all the meal elements, nice and easy! One of my favorites is macaroni and cheese. I did not grow up with home-made mac and cheese. I grew up with the stuff in the blue box. I even like the stuff in the blue box! But once I learned how easy the "real" stuff is, I make that more than the boxed stuff. In the same amount of time it takes to boil the noodles, I make a cheese sauce to go over it. So the idea that the home made version takes longer, is harder, whatever, is just silly.

A standard cheese sauce starts with a roux. Butter and flour. Well, margarine for me, since that's what I have! I started my pan with olive oil, onion, broccoli, zucchini and garlic. Then I put in the margarine and flour. Once the roux was ready I added the milk. I used half skim and half soy. Then came the good part: the cheese! I used close to a pound of cheese in this sauce. There is no point to mac and cheese if it isn't going to be cheesy! I used a combination of cheddar and Edam cheeses. Mostly cheddar, though. The sauce took on a beautiful color, and was thick, creamy and gooey - I was really looking forward to this dinner!

One of the most fun aspects of making your own mac and cheese is choosing your own shape of pasta. Sure, I could have used the standard elbow macaroni. I even had some and thought about it. Instead I chose to use pipette. These were about the same size as macaroni, but a little heartier and, in my silly opinion, cuter. Once the sauce was mixed in I layered some extra slices of cheddar on top (again, it's gotta be cheesy!) and popped it into the oven.

While dinner was baking I made Little Girl her own version. I am holding off on giving Little Girl dairy because of my own lactose issues, so I had to give her something different. But I like for her food to be as similar as possible to ours. So what could I use to make her pasta have the same kind of color and texture as ours? Squash! Little Girl seemed to enjoy her pasta, and it really did look remarkably similar to ours!
And how was ours? It was gooey, it was cheesy, it was just what I was hoping it would be!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Stand tall, shortcake!

Strawberries are coming into season and are readily available these days. Hubby and I bought some, and I was very excited to make strawberry shortcakes! But the opportunity just didn't seem to come up. I had a bunch of other baked goods in the house, and I couldn't really justify baking something else... So Hubby and I sacrificed ourselves and polished off the cakes and such that were holding me back, so tonight I could bake new, fresh and exciting things!

The baked base for my shortcakes was something I had found in a book at the store where I work one evening a week. But not in the traditional cooking section. No, I found this recipe in a children's cookbook, Baking Kids Love. I had found the recipe several months ago and copied it down during a quite moment at the store. I made it once shortly after that, and really liked the way they turned out. I don't remember what I used them for that first time, but I knew that they would make great shortcakes! I highly recommend these Crunchy-Top Vanilla Scones - they are great for breakfast, lunch, dessert, snacking... You name it, they work! (I am also looking forward to trying them in other flavors...)

In order to enhance the vanilla in these scones, I used vanilla sugar and added a bit more vanilla extract, as I usually do. The dough came together pretty well, but I had to add more flour than the recipe called for. I don't know if I used too much milk, if the swap to soy milk had an effect, or if the kitchen was just particularly humid... Whatever the reason, my dough was sticky, and I just kept adding flour to try to un-stick it. The final dough was still a little stickier than I think it should have been, but I felt that I had to stop kneading it or the scones would be too tough in texture. It was a little hard to cut and shape the dough, but I managed to make almost squares, which was better than the first time, so I was satisfied! After a rest in the fridge, the scones were ready to get their crunchy topping. I do not have Turbinado sugar. Heck, I didn't even know what that was before I read the recipe, gotten curious and looked it up! Turbinado sugar is sugar in the raw. Which, as I said, I don't have. But I do have that pretty crystal sugar which I used to decorate the cake pops. I figured that would look nice and add the right crunch, so I sprinkled that on top of the scones, along with a little sprinkling of cinnamon sugar.

Once baked and cooled, the scones were ready to be turned into strawberry shortcakes. I am sorry to admit that I was not ambitious enough to make my own whipped cream tonight... I used a tub of "whipped topping" instead... One day I will be that mom/cook and make the whipped cream myself, but now is not that time!

Real or not, the whipped cream and strawberries were great on the scones! I am pretty sure that the leftovers won't last too long!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Making the best of an oops...

As I mentioned last week, my computer had a little oops. For the second time, water spilled on it. Not a good thing... And, for the second time, the keyboard needed to be replaced. I was sort of letting Little Girl play with the old keyboard, but I had to be right there next to her, as there are pointy edges and some wiring bits that aren't so kit friendly. Much as I love being right there with her, I do sometimes like to do other things while we are playing - make dinner, go potty, you know, frivolous things like that. And as much as I liked having her have her own keyboard to bang on, I knew there had to be some safer way...
So I made it safe.
Using some fabric, some batting, my sewing machine and my hot glue gun, I turned the old useless keyboard into a fun baby-safe toy! First I sewed together the fabric and the batting, folding over the edges. My goal was to size it such that the keyboard would just fit lengthwise, and the top and bottom would allow for the connector bits to be covered up. Then I hot glued the keyboard to the fabric. I used a LOT of hot glue. I wanted to make sure that No one, even Little Girl with her little fingers, could get between the fabric and the keyboard. I then folded the top of the fabric down and added even more hot glue to cover any exposed bits and to keep things together.
The end result looks like this:
I was pretty pleased with it! And Little Girl had a lot of fun banging on it today! The only thing is, she knows that the keyboard isn't connected to a screen with pretty lights... So she still wants to bang around on the real computer... That one will be a little bit harder to baby-proof!!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Pop goes the birthday cake!

Last week was my niece, Little Miss's birthday. She turned four. Crazy... To celebrate, Auntie Twin made treats for her to bring in to pre-school and to ballet class. The treat looked amazing. I wanted to try it for myself! But I needed an occasion... This was the kind of treat that needed to be make for a reason, not just because... (Ok, it absolutely can be made just because... any day is a day to celebrate, right? I guess I just wanted to make this for more that just myself and Hubby...) Well, last week was a friend's birthday. So we invited her for dinner. She wasn't able to come until this week. Yesterday, to be precise. I was psyched. A birthday celebration? The perfect reason for me to make Cake Pops!!

When Auntie Twin said she was making cake pops, I was confused. I didn't quite understand the whole idea. She explained it to me, then I looked at her post, and at her source. It then became not only clear but also irresistible!

I started with a store-bought cake mix and store bought frosting. Not a common occurrence, but I just went for convenience. I used a vanilla cake, but I did add some cinnamon to it, just to make it my own... I cut the cake into cubes, then crumbled it up. I can't wait until Little Girl is old enough to help me in the kitchen, and this is a job that any kid would love!! (I only used about 2/3 of the cake, just to try to keep the quantity of pops at something close to reasonable.) Into the cake crumbs went about half of the can of frosting, then the whole mess got mixed together. Using chocolate frosting made the whole thing look chocolate. At that point I was kind of glad to have use vanilla cake. I love chocolate, but I thought that might have been a little intense. Once the cake and frosting were well incorporated it was time to roll the cake balls. I wasn't quite sure how big or small these should be. But I used the popsicle sticks as a guide for what would be reasonable and just sort of went with it! Once the cake was rolled, I put the balls into the fridge to set. I actually did this a day ahead - partly to give them time to set up well, and partly to make sure I didn't run out of time if Little Girl wasn't napping well.

Cut to the next day.
Time to make these cake balls turn into cake pops! Using milk chocolate candy melts, I employed my makeshift double boiler - a bowl over a pot of water. I started my dipping the ends of the popsicle sticks into the chocolate, then pushing the sticks into the balls. (Please keep your thoughts "G" rated...) I was hoping to avoid any major messes, and wanted the sticks to stay in place! It was then time to dip the whole thing in the chocolate... Sorry there are no pictures of this step - I kind of needed both hands at all times! I used a combination of dipping, rolling, pouring and using a spoon to get a nice coat of chocolate on there... I then finished each pop by sprinkling on some crystal sugar. Just to make it pretty...

Hubby, Birthday Buddy and I were very pleased with the results! The pops stayed together, looked adorable and tasted really good! (Hubby asked how I made the cake so moist... I had to explain that the cake part was actually a combination of cake and frosting...) This is going to be a keeper recipe for when Little Girl gets bigger, and is (as Auntie Twin said) the perfect (albeit time consuming and somewhat labor intensive) treat to bring in for little ones - preportioned and with a handle! This was totally worth the effort, and it will be fun to play with flavors, colors, shapes and sizes! Thanks, Auntie Twin!!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Daring to do it: Brunswick Stew

The 2010 April Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Wolf of Wolf’s Den. She chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make Brunswick Stew. Wolf chose recipes for her challenge from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook by Matt Lee and Ted Lee, and from the Callaway, Virginia Ruritan Club.

After completing the risotto challenge last month, I couldn't wait to find out what the next Daring Cooks' challenge would be. When I saw the posting saying Brunswick Stew, I was stumped. I had never heard of it before. But I know to expect that from the Daring Kitchen. Once I read more about it, though, I was concerned. Brunswick Stew is very much a hunter's dish. It is intended as a way to use fresh game. In a Kosher household, game meats like rabbit and squirrel are not on the menu. And in a vegetarian house? Forget it. At first I was thinking that I was going to have to sit this one out. But I then decided to see what I could do to in making my own version of this challenge.
Wolf, our host, had said that vegetarians were welcome to simply omit the meat. While I was going to have to do that, I knew I wanted to use something as a substitute. I thought about tofu, but wasn't sure the texture would be quite right. That's when I remembered: seitan! This challenge was the reason why Imade the seitan a little while back. I knew it would give a gamey, meaty texture and would absorb the flavors from the stock and veggies nicely. I also added texturized vegetable protien. The recipe called for two meats; I couldn't do that for real, so I faked it! I think it worked out ok...!

The other changes I made (well, the other intentional changes that is!!) had to do with the beans. I didn't know what butter beans were, and I couldn't find them. Then I found out that they are essentially Lima beans. Which Hubby doesn't like. So I stopped looking for them! I decided to use two other types of "beans" which would maintain the Southern flair of the dish. I used black eyed peas and split peas.

Once the ingredients were settled, the stew came together pretty much the way any stew comes together. I decided to use my slow cooker because, hey, I love using my slow cooker! In went the assorted veggies: Yukon gold potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, celery, onions and dried chilis. I next sauteed the seitan, and while the pan was hot I carmalized the tomato paste. This is something I had never done before, but Auntie Twin told me about it, and I thought it would be a good way to add depth of flavor to a vegetarian version of a meaty dish. Finally it was time to add the two kinds of peas, canned tomatoes and vegetable stock. I think I might have filled the slow cooker a little more than I was supposed to... Oops...! Oh well. On with the lid and time for the stew to simmer.

I knew that I wanted to make something to go with the stew. I had thought of making corn bread, but then decided to do something which just seemed more appropriate - cornmeal dumplings. I found a recipe on-line (though I don't remember where... If I figure it out I will add it in!) and added them to the slow cooker for the last hour of cook time.

One of the trademarks of Brunswick Stew is how thick it is. There is so much in it that, done right, the spoon is supposed to stand up straight in the pot! Well, I was worried that the vegetarion version wouldn't quite work out the same, but it did, and I got my obligatory picture of the spoon:

I realized only after the fact that there were a few things I forgot in my final product. I had bought frozen corn to include, but it is still in my freezer... I also forgot to add the lemon juice and vinegar at the end. Yeah... Absentmindedness was the word...
The end result was pretty good. Both Hubby and I agreed that it wasn't so different from other stews I have made in the past. We really liked the dumplings...! So while this was a fun challenge, I think it might have lost some of its specialness in the vegetarian conversion. I would absolutely recommend the recipe to meat eaters - adventurous meat eaters especially, andCheck Spelling hunters for sure!! So thank you, Wolf, for introducing me to a new idea, and I appreciate getting to broaden my Northeastern raised horizons!
And, because I know you were worried, Little Girl was not left out. While she couldn't have the stew as we ate it, I did make her a "Baby Brunswick" with the veggies and dumplings simmered in water. She seemed to like it!!
If you're interested, take a look to see what my fellow Daring Cooks did, too!