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Couscous Cake Contest Results: And the Winners Are…

First I want to thank everyone who entered the Creative Couscous Cake Contest. I was overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and creativity of the submissions. Every one of you is a winner — which presented me with the nearly impossible task of picking a grand prize winning cake among all the delicious-looking contenders. To that end, I brought in an independent panel of judges to help with the voting. We all agreed it was like having a pastry cart wheeled in front of you — how can you choose just one? The judging resulted in two-way ties for both first and second place, as well as a very close third place winner. The Honorable Mention winners are other terrific entries that got lots of votes and deserve recognition.

I hope you will join me in a round of blogospheric applause for the wonderful variety and talent of this amazing group of contestants. Since most of the entrants have posted their recipes on their own blogs, you can go to the blogs indicated to check out the actual recipes. The two Grand Prize winners will each receive a copy of either Quick-Fix Vegetarian or Vegan Fire and Spice. I wish I could send prizes to everyone who entered — many thanks to all of you for making this contest a success.

Tied for First Place are Grand Prize Winners:

Paulina of Veggie Delight for her Vegan Tres Leche Couscous Cake
and

Tami of Vegan Appetite for her Lemon Berry Couscous Cake

Second Place goes to:

Maggie of Magpie707 for her Asian Pear and Date Couscous Cake
and

Bex of How to Feed a Vegan for her Coconut Vanilla Bean Couscous Cake

Third Place is awarded to:

Sharon at To Live and Eat in LA for her Apple Pie Couscous Cake

Here are the judges other favorites that are awarded an Honorable Mention:

Kim’s Chocolate-Almond-Cherry Couscous Cake

Katie’s Cherry-Strawberry Layered Couscous Cake

Lea’s White Chocolate Cherry Couscous Cake

This last set of photos are additional entries from some of our winners — and the photos were just too pretty not to share.

Maggie’s Strawberry Coconut Couscous Cake




Paulina’s Pina Colada Couscous Cake


Tami’s Cherry-Berry Couscous Cake

So, what do you think? I’d love to hear your opinions about the cakes, the contest, and if you agree with the choices of our esteemed panel of judges. Thanks again to everyone who entered this contest — I hope you enjoyed this contest as much as I did!

Seitan for Satays and an Easy Peanut Sauce

I had one of those “aha” moments the other day while contemplating making seitan satays for dinner. Instead of marinating the seitan to infuse it with satay flavors, this time I decided to put the satay flavors directly into the seitan mixture.
To do this, I made a small batch of shortcut seitan —the kind everyone is making these days using gluten flour instead of the traditional (and time-consuming) method made with whole-wheat flour that involves lots of washing and rinsing and kneading. To the basic ratio that is nearly equal parts dry ingredients to wet ingredients (but just a smidge less wet ingredients), I included peanut butter, soy sauce, and garlic powder right in the seitan mixture to give it a rich satay flavor without marinating. I then stretched the seitan into a rectangle and baked it for about 20 minutes. After cooling, I was able to cut it into thin slices and thread it onto skewers. The satays were then arranged on a baking sheet, dabbed with a little spicy peanut sauce and drizzled with a little oil. I then broiled them for a couple minutes, but you could grill them if you prefer.

I served them with my favorite quick-and-easy peanut sauce (the recipe is below), and the satays were everything I’d hope for. I made extra peanut sauce to use later in the week, probably tossed with some noodles and veggies.

Announcement: The Humane Society International (HSI) recently added a section to their website to promote veg food choices, and I’m pleased to announce that they decided to use recipes from my book Vegan Fire & Spice for their launch. Here’s the link for the recipes — many of them have photos, too.

Reminder: The deadline for the Creative Couscous Cake Contest is coming up fast. Don’t miss your chance to win and be immortalized on these pages! It’s simple — just grab a box of couscous and think of your favorite dessert flavors…you may be surprised what you come up with!

Easy Peanut Sauce for Satays and More
Start with this basic recipe and then taste to customize it to your liking: add more water for a thinner sauce, a bit more vinegar or tamari for a more salty/pungent flavor, a pinch more sugar if you like it sweeter, and so on.

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons tamari or other soy sauce
1 teaspoon Asian garlic-chile sauce
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon light brown sugar
1/2 cup water

In a bowl, combine the peanut butter, vinegar, tamari, chile sauce, ginger, and sugar, stirring to blend well. Slowly add the water, stirring, to make a thick sauce. Set aside.
Makes about 1 1/4 cup

Top 10 Recipes on Vegan.com

Erik Marcus over at Vegan.com has accomplished an astonishing feat with a feature article called Vegan.Com Top 10 Recipes of 2008. In it, he has managed to compile a favorite recipe from the authors of 10 recent popular vegan cookbooks, along with a photo of each recipe and commentary by each of the authors. I’m honored to be included in this stellar group with my recipe for Indonesian Coconut Rice from Vegan Fire and Spice. Check out the article and see if your favorite books (and recipes) made the cut.

REMINDER: Don’t wait until the last minute to submit your entry in the “Creative Couscous Cake Contest” – the contest closes on May 10. These couscous cakes are so easy to make, there’s no reason not to enter! (BTW, if you have more than one amazing idea, there’s no limit on how many entries you can enter…)

Enter the Creative Couscous Cake Contest

Everyone’s enthusiasm for couscous cakes has inspired a contest: The Creative Couscous Cake Contest! As I’ve said before, the variations on this recipe are only limited by your imagination. Just prepare a batch of couscous, using fruit juice or other sweet liquid, instead of the usual water, press it into a greased springform pan (I like to make it in a springform pan, but you can use whatever pan or mold you want), and refrigerate (see my April 9 blog entry below). Once chilled, you can add your choice of toppings, slice it up, and serve it for brunch, a snack, or dessert.

So here’s the challenge: come up with your own variation of couscous cake, then send me a description and photo of your masterpiece. The grand prize winner will receive a copy of my Proggy Award-winning vegan cookbook, Quick-Fix Vegetarian,* which contains a recipe for – you guessed it – couscous cake! The top three entries will get the photos of their creations posted on this blog and, undoubtedly, be the recipients of numerous accolades. The contest closes on May 10. Winners will be announced on May 17.

To Enter: Submit your entries by e-mail through the contact page on my website. Just go to http://www.robinrobertson.com/, then click “Contact.” My e-mail link is at the bottom of the page. Good Luck!!

*if the winner already owns a copy of Quick-Fix Vegetarian, I’ll be glad to send a copy of Vegan Fire & Spice or another book you don’t have.

Craving Couscous Cake

I discovered a great post and photo of my Pumpkin Couscous Cake from Vegan Planet on To Live and Eat in LA — a blog that I very much enjoy reading. All the talk about couscous cakes reminded me of how much I like making (and eating) them!
I started making couscous cakes many years ago when I was cooking without flour or sugar. This cake couldn’t be easier to make – it’s basically just couscous and fruit juice. Really. I discovered that, by simply cooking couscous in fruit juice instead of water, it took on a mildly sweet flavor that was both delicious and satisfying. Over the years, I’ve made this cake using apple juice, white grape juice, and pineapple juice. You can also add bits of fruit, nuts, and even melted chocolate to the couscous mixture. When you press the couscous evenly into a springform pan and chill it in the fridge, it comes out looking almost like a cheesecake, although it tastes more like bread pudding. You can garnish the cake with fresh sliced fruit or a pureed fruit topping (or nuts or chocolate, depending on the flavor combination). You can find a recipe for Pineapple Apricot Couscous Cake from Quick Fix-Vegetarian, in my January 16 post.

The first photo shows another variation using mangos (recipe below) — at the last minute I sprinkled some brown sugar on top and ran it under the broiler to caramelize a bit. It was so good! Next time I may use coconut milk and a little palm sugar instead of the mango juice and millet instead of couscous. It’s fun to experiment.


The second photo shows a slice of Couscous Breakfast Cake with Pear and Dried Plum Compote from Vegan Planet. The recipe for this one follows the mango version. A slice of this cake is great for breakfast or brunch. If you like dense bread puddings that aren’t too sweet, you’ll love couscous cakes.


Mango Couscous Cake
This is the easiest version of couscous cake there is, with a minimum of ingredients and a minimum of fuss. To dress it up, you could spread a thin layer of mango puree under the sliced mango and add some finely minced candied lime peel or crystallized ginger to the couscous mixture. It’s also great topped with a sweet cashew-coconut cream sauce or vegan whipped cream.

2 cups mango juice
1 1/2 cups couscous
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 fresh ripe mango, peeled, pitted, and chopped

Bring the mango juice to a boil in a saucepan. Add the couscous, sugar, and ginger and simmer for 1 minute. Turn off the heat, cover, and set aside for 5 minutes or until the juice is absorbed.
Press the mixture evenly into a lightly oiled 8-inch springform pan (or individual springform pans). Cover loosely and refrigerate for at least an hour to firm up before serving.
Serves 6

Couscous Breakfast Cake with Pear and Dried Plum Compote
Couscous cake is great for breakfast or brunch because it can be made the day before. Made with fruit juice, the cake is dense and moist without being too sweet – a great way to start the day. For a sweeter cake, add a little maple syrup or natural sugar. This recipe is adapted from Vegan Planet.

2 1/2 cups apple juice or pear juice
Pinch salt
2 cups couscous
Pear and Dried Plum Compote (recipe follows)

1. Place the juice and salt in a medium saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the couscous. Turn off the heat, cover, and set aside for 10 minutes.
2. Lightly oil an 8-inch spring form pan and spoon the couscous into it, spreading it evenly. Use the back of a spoon or a spatula to press the couscous firmly into the pan. Cover the cake and refrigerate it several hours or overnight to make it easier to slice. To serve, cut into wedges and spoon some of the compote on top.
Serves 6

Pear and Dried Plum Compote
1 ripe pear, peeled, cored, and sliced
4 ounces dried pitted plums (prunes)
2 ounces mixed dried fruit
1/4 cup sugar or maple syrup
Zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
Zest and juice of 1/2 orange
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 cups water
1. In a medium saucepan, combine the pear slices, dried plums, dried mixed fruit, sugar, lemon juice and zest, orange juice and zest, cinnamon stick, allspice, and nutmeg. Stir in the water and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer until the pear slices are soft and the dried fruit plumps up, about 15 minutes.
2. Set aside to cool then transfer to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate for several hours or until ready to use. Remove the cinnamon stick before serving. When ready to serve, return to room temperature for best flavor.
Serves 6

Mini-Marathon: Six Recipes in One Hour


This morning was crazy. I’m up to my eyeballs in work, but a newspaper reporter and photographer were due at my house at 10am for an article about my recent winning of a PETA Proggy Award for Quick-Fix Vegetarian as Best New Cookbook– here’s the link for all the winners: http://www.peta.org/feat/proggy/2008/index.asp

In addition to actually combing my hair and tidying up the kitchen, I needed to prepare some recipes from the book to be photographed for the article. Since I couldn’t decide which one or two recipes to make, I ended up making six of them. Here’s the best part: all six recipes took me only an hour to make. I’d say the “quick-fix” recipes are living up to their name. Here are the recipes I made this morning and their photos.


Artichoke-Hummus Wraps with Spinach Tortillas

Hummus wraps are an ideal fast food lunch idea, made even faster when you have some rich, creamy hummus on hand. Make your own or buy some ready-make at the supermarket. If spinach tortillas are unavailable, regular flour tortillas may be used.

1 cup prepared hummus, store-bought or homemade
4 spinach flour tortillas
1 (12-ounce) jar marinated artichoke hearts, well drained and chopped
2 cups chopped romaine lettuce
1 carrot, grated
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Spread about 1/4 cup of the hummus on each of the tortillas. Top with the chopped artichokes, followed by the lettuce and carrot. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Tightly roll up the tortillas. To serve, cut in half and arrange on plates.
Serves 4


Corn Chowder with Limas

This luxurious corn chowder includes lima beans as an homage to succotash. Because baby limas are smaller than the larger ones, they take less time to cook. To cut cooking time further, heat the vegetable broth in the microwave for 5 minutes while the onion and potato are cooking.

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 white potato, cut into 1/4-inch dice
3 cups vegetable broth
2 cups frozen baby lima beans
3 cups frozen corn kernels
1 1/2 cups soy milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped pimientos, for garnish

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and potato, cover, and cook until softened, 5 minutes.
Add the broth and bring to a boil. Stir in the limas and corn and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Reduce heat to low, stir in the soy milk and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Use an immersion blender to puree some of the soup right in the pot. If you don’t have an immersion blender, transfer about 2 cups of the soup to a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Stir back into the pot. Reheat soup if necessary. Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with pimientos.
Serves 4


Apricot-Pineapple Couscous Cake

This couscous cake is one of those easy and versatile recipes that lends itself to a variety of toppings, from sliced fresh seasonal fruit, to a fruit coulis, to toasted nuts and a drizzle of chocolate.

2 cups pineapple juice
1 cup couscous
2 dried apricots, snipped into tiny pieces
1/3 cup crushed pineapple, drained
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pineapple Apricot Sauce (recipe follows)

Bring the pineapple juice to a boil in a saucepan. Add the couscous, apricots, pineapple, sugar, and cinnamon. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer until the juice is absorbed, about 5 minutes.
Press the mixture into a lightly oiled 9-inch springform pan. Cover loosely and refrigerate for at least an hour.
To serve, cut into wedges and top each slice with a spoonful of the Pineapple Apricot Sauce.
Serves 6

Pineapple Apricot Sauce

This luscious sauce has a glorious golden color and tastes more complex than it is. It’s a perfect match for the Pineapple Couscous Cake (above), but it is also terrific on pound cake or ice cream, or as a dipping sauce for fruit. Instead of apricots, you can substitute dried mangoes or peaches for yummy results.

1/2 cup dried apricots
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup crushed pineapple

In small saucepan combine the apricots and water. Cover and bring to a boil. Remove cover, lower heat, and simmer until the apricots are soft and the liquid reduces slightly, about 15 minutes. Remove from stove and allow mixture to cool slightly. Transfer the mixture to a blender or processor and puree until smooth. Add the pineapple and blend again until smooth.
Makes about 2 cups


Five-Minute Slow-Cooker Chili

Using chunky salsa eliminates the need for vegetable chopping and helps keep the prep time to a minimum. You can literally put this chili together while walking out the door. Come back a few hours later to a luscious meal. Garnish with cooked corn kernels or diced avocado.

1 (24-ounce) jar chunky tomato salsa
2 tablespoons chili powder, or more to taste
1/2 cup tomato ketchup
2 (16-ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 (16-ounce) can dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 1/4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Pour the salsa into a 4-quart slow cooker. Stir in the chili powder and ketchup. Add the black beans, kidney beans, water, and salt and pepper to taste. Cover and slow-cook on Low for 4 to 6 hours.
Serve 4 to 6


Ginger Sesame Noodles with Broccoli

This satisfying dish that is loaded with flavor and nutrients. Instead of making this recipe with sesame paste, try it with creamy peanut butter instead – it’s even more kid-friendly that way! (You can then sprinkle on some crushed peanuts instead of sesame seeds as garnish.)

2 tablespoons sesame paste (tahini)
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
3 tablespoons mirin or sake (or just a little extra soy sauce and water)
1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
1/4 cup tamari soy sauce
2 tablespoons water
8 ounces broccoli florets, cut into 1-inch pieces
12 ounces linguine
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons minced ginger
Toasted sesame seeds, for garnish

Put the pasta water on to boil in a large covered pot. In a small bowl, combine the sesame paste, brown sugar, mirin, and hot red pepper flakes until well blended. Stir in the tamari and water until blended. Set aside.
When the water comes to a boil, salt it and add the linguine. Cook the linguine until it is al dente, about 10 minutes. During the last 5 minutes of cooking time, add the broccoli florets and cook until just tender. When the noodles and broccoli are cooked, drain and rinse with cold water. Toss with the sesame oil and set aside.
Heat the canola oil in a large skillet or wok over medium heat. Add the garlic and ginger and stir-fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the reserved noodles and broccoli, and the sauce, and toss to combine and heat through. Serve hot sprinkled with sesame seeds.
Serves 4
Variation: Substitute asparagus or green beans, cut into 2-inch pieces, for the broccoli.


Chocolate Cherry Truffles

These rich-tasting truffles look adorable when presented in little foil or paper candy cups. Use a high-quality cocoa for best results. Sweetened dried cranberries may be substituted for the cherries, if desired. Peanut butter can be used instead of almond butter.

1/4 cup sweetened dried cherries or cranberries
1/2 cup almond butter or peanut butter, at room temperature
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup pure unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Coating of choice: cocoa, ground toasted almonds, toasted coconut
Place the cherries in a heatproof bowl and cover with 1/4 cup boiling water to soften. Place the cherries and their soaking liquid into a food processor and process until finely chopped. Add the almond butter and process until smooth. Add the confectioners’ sugar, cocoa, and vanilla. Blend well, then transfer to a bowl.
Shape a small amount of the mixture into a ball, rolling with your hands into a 1-inch ball. Repeat until the mixture is used up. Drop the truffles, two or three at a time, into a shallow plate containing either cocoa, almonds, or coconut, depending on your preference. Roll the truffles in the coating, covering completely and pressing the coating lightly onto the truffles. Transfer to a plate and refrigerate until firm. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Makes about 3 dozen