Sunday, January 12, 2014

Starting With ...

Here's how my 2014 started ...

It started with cardamom cookies, fragrant and soothing, enjoyed with a homemade London Fog on top of a never-ending pile of reporting ...

There were large lattes, giggles and a bit of exciting news shared over waffles and coffee...

There were chewy, homemade granola bars full of spelt flakes, coconut and cranberries ...

And a puckery, herby fruit salad ...

There were also fancy french lentils, perfect, fluffy vegan coconut cupcakes and lots and lots of dill ...

And the most important start to my 2014? Remembering ..

While everyone was looking ahead and planning for the future, I took a moment to remember my first cooking experiment, my first blog post and my first taste of literary freedom ..

I dabbled in the memory of stressing out over marks in high school and university, applying for and accepting my first full time job, and the first time I went into a restaurant alone.

I remembered the tragic loss of a friend and finding his memorial many years later. I remembered singing and playing clarinet in high school musicals, and writing something that I felt was worth publishing. I remembered the first time I went to a concert, my first patio beer, my first road trip as an adult and my first experience voting.

I remembered the first time I felt like I was making a difference in my teaching career, and the time I met a friend who would stand by me, share everyday musings and life-changing-milestones, develop a love and obsession with coffee with me, and allow me to be me without judgement or criticism.

Januarys and first days aren't just a time to look ahead -- they can be the perfect time to reflect, look back and smile about the past so you can finally think freely about the future.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Morning After Salad with Dilly Dressing

Listen: I haven't had a hang-over in many years. After realizing that when I ingest alcohol, my body skips the "nice buzz" stage and goes straight to the throwing up stage, I've stayed away. Last night, while others enjoyed IPAs, specialty porters and ales, and vintage red wine, I stuck to a nice rotation of juices -- mango and local apple cider, to be precise.

But somehow, even minus the hang-over, my body feels like it needs a boost the morning after a party. Around these parts, the 25th of December is pretty quiet -- some family time, a movie with my best friend, and an early turn-in. We save the parties for after Christmas, during the painful lull when you're waiting for New Year's to happen and the inevitable return to the normal schedule. 

We had a little gathering last night -- nothing fancy: just four of us, some crazy laughs and catching up, a couple games of cranium and some good food: pasta, turkey meatballs, marinated mushrooms, the fluffiest homemade gingerbread and some good old salad. For lunch today, I ate up the leftover salad of arugula, spinach, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers and added a bit of tofu for a boost. I dressed it with a lovely, tangy, dilly dressing, inspired by the delicious salad recipes in Isa Does It -- one of my Christmas gifts. 

Really, you can throw this dressing on anything and it would taste good, but if you're plugging through the morning after and can't handle another piece of chocolate, drizzle this over some veggies and your body will thank you.

Maple Dill Vinaigrette
inspired by Isa Does It
1/4 cup of white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of grainy mustard
1 tablespoon of maple syrup
a good grinding of salt and pepper
1/2 cup of loosely-packed dill, chopped finely

Mix up all the ingredients together. Taste and adjust the seasonings to please your palate. Alternatively, you can blend up all the ingredients for a creamy, bright-green dressing.
Enjoy over your favourite, restorative leafy-greens and protein.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Holiday Baking

It's been a wild few weeks, folks. But I finally have my voice back (well .. 80% of it anyway), school is finally out until 2014, and I finally found time to bake. And boy oh boy .. I've been baking. I don't have a recipe for you today, but I do have a bunch of awesome links to where you can found awesome baking.

I embarked on an experiment this holiday season -- a little baketivism. In the spirit of veganism and animal-loving, healthyish and healthier baking, I've made an agreement with myself to only bake vegan treats to give as presents this holiday season.

It's been awesome, and not as hard as I expected -- vanilla custard powder and graham cracker crumbs at Bulk Barn are totally vegan! I'd like to thank my good friends Earth Balance (regular, soy-free AND my new favourite -- coconut spread), apple butter, ground flax (flax eggs are totally easy and totally cool!), maple syrup, and nut butter. Let's rock the hippie vegan lifestyle and make wild, unattainable new year's resolutions that we might .. just .. want ... to keep.

So, Merry Holidays everyone, and here we go with the vegan baking!

Lemon Chewies -- I used extra lemon juice and lemon zest to make them extra lemony.

Chai Spiced Snickerdoodles -- I made a great new friend -- cream of tartar -- that gave these cookies the perfect crispy-outside-chewy-inside texture.

Pignoli Almond Cookies -- I totally failed on these cookies -- they melted and fell apart in the oven, but they tasted so good that I squished them back into shape while they were still warm, and presented them as almond, pinenut fudge. Totally worked.

Vegan Nanaimo Bars -- I made these in honour of my visit to out west this summer where we biked over the Lion's Gate bridge into Nanaimo, BC. There weren't any Nanaimo bars to be found, so I made some of my own.

Rosemary Chocolate Chip Cookies -- This cookie has the perfect classic texture and flavour, with a little added Christmasy flavour from rosemary.

Fudgy Coconut Milk Brownies, veganized -- The original recipe called for eggs and butter, but thanks to flax eggs and Earth Balance, no animals were harmed or enslaved in the making of these delicious, fudgy, chocolately brownies.

 Nutty Jam Thumbprints -- I made these cookies a little healthier by replacing most of the Earth Balance with apple butter and almond butter. They turned out beautiful -- chewy and moist, with a nice rich, nutty flavour. Find the recipe in "Vegan Cookies Take Over Your Cookie Jar" by Isa Chandra (of Post Punk Kitchen!) and Terry Hope Romero.

Chocolate Bottom Macaroons -- No one will guess that there's tofu in these coconutty balls of goodness, but it's the secret to making perfect macaroons without condensed milk.

Crispy, Nutty Cut Out Sugar Cookies -- I usually don't bother with cut-out cookies, but when it's Christmas Eve and you're spending a cozy day indoors, cut-out cookies are so much fun! Spelt flour, almond butter and apple butter make these cookies a little healthier so you and afford to decorate them with a little icing.

We just finished putting the icing on the last batch of cookies. And oh .. we're bringing smoked tofu and swiss chard casserole to Christmas Eve dinner .. everyone is going to fall in love with tofu and millet!

Merry Holidays everyone!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Perfect Soup Day

Winter will come with many perfect soup days and today seems like one. It's a little icy outside, mainly overcast with a peak of sunshine. I'll probably venture out later in the day -- nothing too strenuous -- but it would be nice to come home to a nice bit of weekend puttering about the kitchen.

This soup is perfect for the kind of weekend where you feel like spending all day in the kitchen with the oven on, baking something, cooking something and being relaxingly busy. This soup reminds me of one that I had on a kind of day like this, where the sunshine is deceiving and the wind is sharp and cold. I ordered it at one of our favourite brunch restaurants, and enjoyed it with a large chunk of toasted eggy-bread dipped in home-made ketchup. Since I don't feel like lining up for an hour to have soup at that restaurant, I'll try to make it at home instead.

 This is a easy-going soup, with mellow flavours, pantry staples and vegetables easy to find in the deepest, darkest days of winter. It is imperative that you roast the squash first -- the roasty toasty flavour it gives this soup is hard to substitute, and it would help if you had a nice homemade veggie stock as well. Other than that, it comes together quickly, and is even better the next day. Perfect to come home to after long day at work, and just the thing to make you feel better if you're under the weather, which, let's face it, happens to the best of us.

Stay warm.

Roasted Squash, Leek and Potato Soup
serves 4-6

1 small sweet potato squash or pepper squash
2 stalks of celery, diced
2 small-medium carrots, diced
half large leek, diced
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 large, russet potato, cut into small cubes
1/2 bunch of swiss chard, stems diced, leaves shredded
2 teaspoon of herbes de Provence
1 bay leaf
1/3 cup of red lentils, rinsed
5 cups of veggie stock or water (I used a mixture of both)
salt and pepper to taste

1. Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the halves cut side up on roasting tray and roast for about 45 minutes, or until the flesh is soft. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

2. In a large pot, sweat the the leeks for a minute. Season with salt, pepper and herbes to provence. Add the garlic and cook for another minute, stirring occasionally.

3. Add the celery, carrots, chard stems and potatoes, and stir well. Let the vegetables cook for another few minutes. While you're waiting, scoop out the flesh of the roasted squash.

4. Add the squash and lentils and stir well. Add the veggie stock and bay leaf, stir and turn up the heat.

5. Bring your soup to rolling boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer, and cover. Cook for 12-15 minutes, or until the lentils break down and thicken the soup, and potatoes are tender. Add more liquid if necessary.

6. Stir in the chard leaves and cook for another 5 minutes, uncovered. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Starting Early

Last year around December, I remember being totally overwhelmed. The holidays snuck up on me at the very last second, and I barely had time to enjoy my holiday baking and relax before all the hustle and bustle began. This year, I don't want that to happen, so I've started early.

My favourite part of the holidays (besides getting time off work!) is the baking. I've baked many holiday treats over the years, and this year I have bunch of new recipes I'd like to use. But while in the past, I've baked edible presents for those I love with tried and tested recipes, this year, I'm branching out. But you can't bake a present with a recipe you haven't tried yet .. am I right?

So I'm taking the next three weeks to test all the new recipes I plan on baking for family and friends. I know ... hard job, but it's gotta get done! ;)

I've started with these little cut-out gingerbread cookies. And let me tell you, the dough is a dream. I usually save roll-out cookies for the holidays specifically because they take a lot of time to make. The dusting, the chilling, the rolling, the chilling again .. It's a labour of love. With these cookies, you still have to dust and chill and all the jazz, but the dough is so easy to use that it takes half the work out of it. It doesn't crack, you don't have to take it out of the fridge 30 minutes before rolling and it doesn't even stick that much to counter, provided you give it just a small dusting of flour when rolling out. They also don't need to be chilled right before baking in order to keep their shape, which makes them perfect for using your cute holiday cookie cutters.

And the dough is delicious -- spicy and deep but not too sweet (making them perfect for decorating with icing and sprinkles!) and since it's vegan, you can snack on it without worrying about eating raw egg. It's also perfect if you have left over pumpkin puree that you're dying to use up.

Bake up a batch and don't forget to share. 'Tis the season!

Vegan Gingerbread Cookies
adapted from That's So Vegan
makes about 3 dozen smallish cookies

1/3 cup of Earth Balance
1/2 cup of brown sugar
1/4 cup of pumpkin puree
1 tablespoon of ground flax
3 tablespoons of molasses
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg
1 cup of spelt flour
1.5 cups of all purpose flour
2-3 tablespoons of soy milk as needed

1. In a large mixing bowl, cream the earth balance and sugar until well combined. Add the flax, pumpkin puree and molasses and mix well.

2. Add the baking powder, spices and flour and stir gently. Add soy milk one tablespoon at a time, stirring gently in between, until you get a nice firm dough.

3. Chill your dough for at least an hour, or over night.

4. On a lightly floured surface, working in batches (I divided my dough into 4 batches), roll out the dough to your desired thickness, dusting with flour as needed. Cut out using your favourite cookie cutters and place on a non-stick or parchment-lined baking tray. If you're using sprinkles, press them into the cookies.

5. Bake at 350 for about 10-12 minutes (depending on the thickness). Let them cool completely before adorning with icing.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Hearty Smoked Tofu and Chard Casserole with Millet Topping

It's snowed yesterday. A wonderful, blowy, billowing snow that didn't last too long, but just long enough to me me feel like winter is saying hello. The sky is clear and the air is frosty and chilly and it's the perfect day for a winter adventure, even if it's just a small one. We have somewhat of a winter tradition of warming up during our winter walks with Tim Horton's hot chocolate. I love summer and fall, but I also love winter and everything that comes with it.

I'm all for snuggly, pj days spent watching movies and drinking endless cups of hot drinks, but winter adventures get my blood flowing and bring all the cool, crisp oxygen to my brain -- something that helps me stay focused at work and happy at home. But after winter adventures, it's always nice to warm up to something hearty and comforting when supper time rolls around. This nice casserole fits the bill perfectly. It's filled with hearty winter greens, red lentils, smoked tofu (although you could use any firm tofu) and a unique, creamy and crunchy millet topping. It's kind of like a vegan shepherd's pie -- the kind of stick-to-your-ribs meal that reminds you of all the good things winter has to offer.  It's also the kind of relaxing meal that you can make while the wind howls at your balcony door and you sing along with your favourite album -- lots of chopping and stirring, nothing too complicated.

If you've never cooked millet before, it's pretty easy. I used a 1-2 millet-water ratio, but for a real flavour kick, use some veggie stock instead. Some people like to toast their millet in a dry pan before adding the water, which is totally cool as well. Once the millet is made, the rest of the recipe comes together in a snap. It's made even easier if you have a dutch oven that can go directly from the stove-top to the oven. But if you don't, it's no sweat. Just transfer your beautiful stew to a casserole dish, top with the millet crust and pop under the broiler. And if you can't find smoked tofu, just use regular firm tofu and add a nice sprinkling of sweet smoked paprika. It's a meal that you can make on Sunday and enjoy all snowy week long.

Smoked Tofu and Chard Casserole with Millet Topping
adapted from Project Foodie
serves 4-5, generously

1/2 cup of millet
1 cup of water or stock
1 teaspoon of olive oil

3 small carrots, diced
1 stalk of celery, diced
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 small bunch of swiss chard, stems diced, leaves cut into ribbons
1/3 cup of red lentils, rinsed well
4-6 ounces of smoked of regular tofu, cut into cubes
salt and pepper to taste
1-2 teaspoon of herbes de Provence
1 teaspoon of dark soy sauce
2 cups of vegetable stock

1. In small pot, bring water and millet to boil. Turn down the heat to a simmer, cover and cook for about 15 minutes or until the millet has absorbed all the liquid. Set aside.

2. In a large pot of dutch oven, sweat the onions and garlic in olive oil for about 5 minutes, or until they start to soften and become fragrant. Add the carrots, celery, red bell pepper, chard stems and stir well. Add salt, pepper and herbes to provence. Cook for another 3-4 minutes.

3. Add the lentils, and vegetable stock and stir well. Cover, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Let the stew cook for about 10-15 minutes, or until the lentils start to break down and the vegetables start to soften.

4. Add the chard leaves and tofu. Stir well. Cook for another 5-7 minutes, uncovered to let the liquid reduce a little more. Stir in the soy sauce and taste. Adjust seasoning as desired.

5. Turn off the heat. If you're not using a dutch oven, pour your stew out into a large casserole dish (try to choose one that's more deep and not too wide). Spoon the cooked millet on top of the stew. Drizzle with olive oil.

6. Put your casserole under the broiler for about 5-6 minutes, or until you see a nice brown crust. Remove from the oven and serve immediately.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Pumpkin Everything!

It's that time again when the blog world is flooded with pumpkin posts, and I'm not going to try to be different. Let's go with the flow. Pumpkin everything! Well... I actually used golden hubbard squash for these muffins.  Golden Hubbard Squash everything! No. That doesn't have the same ring to it. Pumpkin everything!

I first came across the golden hubbard squash at the advice of a friend and colleague, whose mom used to make pumpkin pie with hubbard squash because it simply was sweeter and more flavourful than a regular pumpkin. And I can't disagree. Regular pumpkin is perfect for soups and stews, but when I'm baking, the golden hubbard or golden nugget squash is hard to beat.

These muffins are very quick to make, provided that you already have your squash roasted and pureed. In pinch, go ahead and used canned pumpkin puree, but I urge you to give the golden hubbard squash a try, just once this season. You won't be disappointed. A large handful of dried cranberries add a nice burst of tangy flavour. I used fresh Ontario cranberries from the farmer's market when I made these the first time, and they were also lovely. Chopped fresh apple would be a great addition as well. But what makes these muffins special is the pumpkin seed butter. It lends a rich, nutty, hearty flavour to the muffins and combined with the spelt flour and ground flax seeds, you have a protein-packed, energy-filled snack to look forward to in the middle of your day.

The original recipe called for peanut butter which I'm sure is delicious as well, but while I'm a definite peanut butter addict, I would strongly recommend making that trip to the health food store to pick up pumpkin seed butter. The flavour is just too unique to substitute. And despite being vegan, these muffins baked up light and fluffy and held together perfectly.

It's a chilly day out there today which is making me believe all the rumors about winter arriving early. Bake up a batch of these muffins and they will definitely warm up your day.

Vegan Pumpkin Cranberry Muffins
adapted from Crazy for Crust
makes 12 medium-sized muffins

2/3 cup of pureed squash

1/4 cup of brown sugar
1 tablespoon of ground flax + 3 tablespoons of water
1/4 cup of pumpkin seed butter
2 tablespoons of soy milk + 1/2 teaspoon of cider vinegar
1 cup of spelt flour
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/2 cup of dried cranberries

1. In a large bowl, combine the squash, sugar, flax, water, pumpkin seed butter, soy milk and vinegar. Stir well to combined.

2. Sift in the flour, baking soda and cinnamon. Gently mix until just combined. Stir in the dried cranberries.

3. Spoon the mixture (it will be very thick) into lined muffin tins and bake in at 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted comes out clean.