My weekend: Baking with A-K from "Swell Vegan" and Dairy-Free Cream of Turnip and Fennel Soup (vegan, gluten free)

This weekend was lovely.  I had a lot going on, lots of music to play and see, shopping with a friend for a vintage wedding dress, and doing lots of cleaning and housework.  I managed to fit in a lot of cooking too - I canned beets, froze a bunch of pears, made some tasty gluten-free Garlic Kale Waffles (recipe to come!), and made a couple batches of soup: Squash, Parsnip, and Apple Bisque seasoned with homemade Curry Powder, and Cream of Turnip and Fennel.

One thing that made this weekend really special was my baking date with A-K from the über-fabulous blog Swell Vegan !  Yes, A-K and I both live in Minneapolis, and yesterday, cyber life and real life collided in my kitchen for a vegan, gluten free Savory Squash Scone baking experiment.  A couple weeks ago we met for the first time for a raw vegan feast at the Minneapolis restaurant Ecopolitan.  After commenting on each other's blog posts and tweets for ages now, and guest appearing on the same "Fresh and Local" radio show, and living in the same city, we decided it was right time we meet in person.

So, meet we did, at one of the only restaurants in town where a vegan and an allergy-ridden, GF omnivore can order straight off the menu.  Ecopolitan is an organic, raw, vegan restaurant and health care center; their menu is expansive, featuring everything from fresh juices and smoothies, to intriguing appetizers and entrees, to make-your-own salads, to desserts and pre-made goodies like flax crackers and sprouted buckwheat crusts.  They also offer classes, workshops, health consultations, and have various forms of healing therapies, like colonics and this crazy light therapy I don't understand.  I haven't ventured into that realm of Ecopolitan, only the restaurant for me so far - but it is intriguing.

As it turns out, we both brought each other a little gift for our dinner meeting.  I brought A-K some jalepeños from my garden (despite the fact I can't eat them, they grow in my garden, long story). She brought me a copy of swell., her cookzine .  I was thrilled, since I've been meaning to order one for ages.  While many (okay, most) of the recipes in the book are off limits to me as written, A-K's whole foods cooking style allows for easy substitutions and alterations.  I can't wait to try me-friendly versions of the Sweet Potato Black Bean Burgers with Millet and Leeks, or the Coconut Red Bean Quinoa.

Anyway, we'd been talking about how much fun it would be to cook together some time, and that we did.  I had a hankering for some kind of savory squashy scone, so we tried it out, using her recipe for Sweet Potato Cranberry Scones and adapting to be gluten free, savory, and use squash instead of sweet potato.  We decided on a blend of squash, caramelized red onion, fresh sage, rosemary, thyme, and chives, and a blend of GF flours and quinoa flakes, and we threw it all together while talking about birding and other food and non-food stuff.
So, how did our meeting of the minds turn out?  They looked lovely, golden and flecked with purple and green.  And they tasted AMAZING. But the texture?  Darn gluten free, vegan baking, you are a hard nut to crack.  The texture was a bit too gummy; each bite kind of stuck to the roofs of our mouths.  We tried to figure out what we could do better next time, reducing the amount of moisture and maybe changing up some of the flours, baking at a higher temperature.  If only the texture could have matched the success of the incredible flavor! Either way, it was fun, and the scones were totally edible - but the recipe was not a smashing success to post to the blogs.  Stay tuned for more Swell Vegan /Affairs of Living mash-ups in the future.  Next time we'll do something like soup that we know will be a success!
Squash & Caramlized Onion Scones - tasty, bad texture.

Speaking of no-fail soups, I had a stellar soup experience over the weekend.  I had a bunch of turnips to use up, a crisp fennel bulb, and a strong desire for something creamy.  There is something so undeniably nourishing about creamy soups, but it is sometimes hard to get a good, dairy free base.  I've tried various methods of making dairy-free cream of WHATEVER soups, but had not yet found my silver bullet.  Well, I really hit the jackpot with this one, I think.   The rich, creamy base is credited to pureed rice and caramelized onions, an old trick I saw in a Julia Child cookbook I was browsing at a bookstore.  I don't remember what kind of soup she was using it for, but I remembered the technique, and thought it would be the perfect base for something vegan and creamy.  As luck would have it, I was right.   It is almost like potato leek soup, but lower carb and nightshade free.  I roasted the turnips and fennel first to get a richer flavor, which added great depth to the soup. If you've never tried turnips before, this is a great way to start - it thick, satisfying, and a total breeze to throw together.  I managed to eat most of the batch - I ate mine for lunch, dinner, and breakfast the next day!  I did save some for lunch leftovers tomorrow.  But dang, I really loved this soup. Make a big steaming pot and share it with people you love.


yield about 2 1/2 qt

2 lbs turnips, peeled and diced
1 fennel bulb, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed and chopped
1/3 c white rice
olive oil
8 c water/stock + more as needed
1 tsp fennel seeds, ground
2 tsp dry dill
2 tsp dry thyme
salt and pepper to taste

Heat oven to 425* and get out a big roasting pan or cookie sheet. 
Wash and prepare turnips and fennel, and put in baking pan with a little olive oil.  Roast for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until vegetables are golden, tender, and roasty toasty. 
While vegetables roast, heat olive oil over medium-low heat in a large stockpot.  Add onions and garlic, and saute, covered for 5-8 minutes.  Make sure they do not burn, you just want them golden and caramelly.
Add white rice and saute a few minutes, then add about 8 c of water.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, then cook for 20-25 minutes, until rice is totally tender.
Add roasted vegetables to pot, scraping out any caramelly bits from the pan into the pot (add a bit of hot liquid from the pot to the roasting pan and swish around to get out anything tasty you can't scrape out).   Let soup cook about 5 minutes to flavor through.
Using an immersion blender or blender, blend soup in batches until totally smooth and creamy, adding additional water/stock as necessary.
Return soup to pot, and add crushed fennel seeds, dill, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste.  Heat through, then serve.