Saturday, March 24, 2012

Vegan Bolognese

I meant to post this recipe last Sunday, but I was sleepy. It was a sleepy Sunday. It was hazy and warm outside and I didn't feel like doing much more than take naps and drink more coffee. Then it got really warm. I mean, unseasonably 26 degree sunshine warm and you all have probably been busting out summer recipes like cucumber and yogurt salad, grilled pizzas, gazpachos and cool guacamole dips. I didn't want to disrupt that at all.

But it's rainy and coolish today, and the forecast calls for single digit temperatures when the work week begins again, so I figured this nice, comforting bolognese would be appropriate for this weekend. It's really easy, pretty quick to prepare once you get all the chopping out of the way, and it's something that just gets better as it sits. So if you make it for supper tonight, it will taste just as good if not even better when you reheat it on Monday when the 5 (feels like -1) degree weather may be giving you the chills.

It's cold weather food, but still hints of spring, with all the nice veggies and tomatoeyness. It's more than a vegetarian tomato sauce for pasta. It's got meaty ingredients like cremini mushrooms, red lentils, kidney beans and chickpeas. The original recipe called for crumble tempeh -- I've never worked with tempeh and didn't have it around, but I'm sure it would have been great in place of the beans. The Italianeque herbs -- dried basil, oregano and crushed fennel really make a difference. I know a lot of people frown upon dried herbs, but they totally made a difference in the sauce and tasted great. I'm sure fresh herbs would be wonderful if you were making this in the middle of the summer when they're plentiful, but for now, dried is fine for me.

I loved eating this up over quick-cooking spinach flavoured Chinese noodles, but the obvious choice would probably be pasta. I've also had it over red rice and quinoa -- both excellent carbs to pair with this chunky stew-like sauce. I'm sure it's nothing like a traditional bolognese, but it's vegan, hearty and satisfying. You can feel good eating it, and I think we need a bit of that, especially during this time of the year.

Vegan Bolognese
adapted from What Would Cathy Eat?
serves lots!

olive oil for sauteeing
1 stalk of celery, finely diced
1 small carrot, finely diced
1 small onion, finely diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small red bell pepper, finely diced
1 handful of cremini mushrooms, sliced
1/2 teaspoon of fennel seeds, crushed
1/2 each of dried basil and oregano
1/4 teaspoon of chilli powder
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 can of tomato paste
1 can of diced tomatoes
1/2 cup of vegetable stock
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup of red lentils, rinsed
1/2 each cup of cook chickpeas and red kidney beans
1 small bunch of spinach, chopped

1. In a large pots, saute the onions, celery, bell pepper and carrots in olive oil over medium heat for about 5-7 minutes, or until the vegetables start to soften. Add the garlic and mushrooms and cook for another minute or so.

2. Add the fennel, basil, oregano, chili powder, salt and pepper and give it a good mix. Add in the tomato paste and stir. Cook until the tomato paste just starts sticking to the bottom of the pot -- about another 3-4 minutes.

3. Add the diced tomatoes, vegetable stock, bay leaf and lentils and mix well. Cook, covered, for about 15 minutes, or until the lentils have softened.Link

4. Add the chickpeas, kidney beans and spinach and mix well. Turn off the heat and let the sauce stand, covered for about 5 minutes.

5. Serve over pasta! Don't forget to remove the bay leaf!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Citrus High

Yup, I'm still on a citrus high from all that marmalade. I have no idea why I waited so long to make it, but I'm so glad I finally did. I'm enjoying my last official day of March break and I'm up to my elbows in chocolate (more later .. I promise!). My taste buds are also craving tangy and sweet and that 2/5$ sale on bags of California cuties at Food Basics is totally egging on my citrus high.

So for lunch, I made a super healthy and delicious salad using my homemade marmalade and newly purchased mandarin oranges. It totally hit the spot -- warm quinoa and kale tossed in a sweet citrus tahini dressing with whole segments or mandarin oranges. I wanted my dressing to be sweet, but you could totally go all tangy by adding lemon juice instead of orange juice. It feels like a cleansing salad and the protein power of quinoa and iron-rich kale are bound to keep you energized. I'm sure it would make a great working lunch salad too .. if you can plan ahead that far.

Ok, I'm going back to my chocolate. I'll be back soon with details, and also a hearty, healthy supper post.

Happy Citrus!

Warm Quinoa and Kale Salad with Sweet Citrus Dressing
serves one!

For the dressing:
2 tablespoons of tahini
2 teaspoons of marmalade
1 tablespoon of orange juice
splash of hot water (if necessary)

Whisk all the ingredients together except the water. If the tahini seizes up (which is normal), add a splash of water and whisk until smooth. Set aside.

For the salad:
1/4 cup of quinoa, rinsed
1/2 cup of water
1-2 kale leaves, stems removed, leaves cut into ribbons
1 mandarin orange

1. In a small pot, combine water and quinoa. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down and cook, covered for about 10 minutes, or until the quinoa is tender and the water is almost all absorbed.

2. Add the kale leaves to the pot, cover and cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Remove the cover, and give it a good mix to toss up the leaves with the quinoa.

3. Pour your greens and grains into a bowl. Peel and segment your mandarin and scatter it over top. Drizzle your sweet citrus dressing over top and toss.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Super Citrus

March break is here! Sorry to all of you that aren't working in the public school system .. but .. March break is here! It's totally exciting, especially since March break this year brought along with it some warmer temperatures and spring-like conditions. Spring-like also means lots of nourishing rain -- totally necessary if we want beautiful stalks of rhubarb, tender asparagus, fiddleheads and early strawberries in just a couple of months. Yesterday was warm and rainy -- a perfect day for an early morning walk before the clouds rolled in, a mug of fragrant and almost decadent Cream of Avalon tea at a local cafe, and a sprint indoors just as the rain started coming down.

Rainy cozy weather is perfect for two things: curling up and relaxing, or engaging in a cooking project. Yesterday, I opted for the latter. Last year during March break, I posted a series of slow food recipes to remind myself that cooking isn't always all about convenience. It can be more about the process of getting the result that leads to relaxation and a wonderful sense of accomplishment. I kept that in mind as I set about making a mixed citrus marmalade. I thought it was the perfect way to say good-bye to winter and hello to spring.

I had never made marmalade before, but I've always loved eating it, especially after I recently discovered that it's delicious as a base for coleslaw dressing. There's also a muffin recipe that I'd love to make with homemade marmalade, and when I saw things like cara cara oranges and meyer lemons at the market, I knew I had to make some. I followed this recipe and method from this cute blog called Apt. 2B Baking Co. It's a bit of work -- not going to lie. You first have to cut off the zests if your fruit (without pith!), cut it up and poach it. Then, you have to supreme your citrus -- that's remove just the flesh and leave the pulpy skins behind. Then, it's genius -- you save the seeds and pulp, tie it up in a cheesecloth bag, and that's your source of natural pectin. Brilliant! And you can use whatever citrus you like! I used meyer lemons, blood oranges and the beautiful pink grapefruit-like cara cara orange. All mixed up, it was like a tart, tangy, floral citrus soup. Nothing like marmalade from the grocery store.

That being said, I don't think my marmalade turned out perfectly. It smells and tastes beautiful -- sweet and tart and bitter, just like marmalade is supposed to taste. But my marmalade didn't gel up like it's supposed to. Maybe I didn't cook it long enough? Maybe I didn't add enough sugar? I did take out about half the sugar (3 cups seems like A LOT for 2.5 pounds of fruit). When I put my marmalade into jars, it was still quite liquidy. It did firm up a bit when cooled, but it's definitely not jelly consistency. But anyway, I think the taste makes up for it. I had never used blood oranges and cara cara oranges before, and had only once played with a meyer lemon, so this was definitely an experiment for me. I'm also excited to open up a beautiful, homemade citrus marmalade in the middle of July .. just like opening my blueberry preserves in December.

Back to the recipe: I used 2 cara oranges, 3 small meyer lemons, and 3 small blood oranges. I used slightly less than 1.5 cups of raw sugar. Those were the only changes I made to the original recipe. But I'd love next time to use just clementines -- those little sweet tangy California cuties .. there WILL be a next time.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Milestone Treat

There are milestone birthdays and milestone events like graduations and first recitals and all that jazz. I've had a few and I've shared a few, namely our 30th birthdays this year. But this milestone is like an ultimate. My best friend is the proud co-editor of a book, an actual book. I can hold it in my hands and flip through the pages. Her name is printed on the cover. Important people have read and reviewed it. It's the milestone of milestones.

I'm so very proud of her, and she knows. But I want to give her a little something to make sure she knows good and well. And this is the perfect milestone gift. Homemade Nutella. We had been talking a few weeks ago about our Nutella cravings, and she even ordered a Nutella latte! So this is the perfect little homemade treat to let her know just how great she is.

So how does it taste? Like heaven. It's like a crunchy hazelnut butter with bittersweet chocolate -- much better than the commercial version. I'd totally put it in a latte, sandwich, cracker ... or just a spoon. And it's not totally sinful either, made with almond milk, organic cane sugar and a lot more than 56 roasted hazelnuts. Yeah, I know for sure. I rubbed the skins off all of them! A LOT more than 56!

Anywhos, go make this homemade Nutella -- keep a jar in the fridge, and give one to someone special, even if there's no milestone event, because friendship is a milestone in itself.

Crunchy Chocolate Hazelnut Butter
adapted from Fueling Endurance Performance
makes about 2 cups

2 cups of hazelnuts
3 tablespoons of organic cane sugar
1/4 cup of cocoa powder
1/2 cup of unsweetened chocolate almond milk
50g (half a bar) of bittersweet chocolate
1 tablespoon of coconut milk

1. Roast the hazelnuts in a 300 degree oven for about 20-25 minutes, or until they start to get fragrant. In batches, put rub the hazelnuts so their skins come off.

2. Place the hazelnuts, sugar and cocoa powder in a food processor and grind until you get a coarse meal.

3. Melt the chocolate with the coconut milk in a saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly.

4. Add the chocolate mixture and almond milk into the nuts. Grind until you reach the texture you like. You can add more almond milk to your liking. Just taste often.

5. Spoon the hazelnut butter into jars and store in the fridge. Don't forget to share.

Happy Milestone Day Mia!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Some Nice Spice

Sometimes mellow and comforting and what you need on an icy cold, cloudy day, and sometimes you need a kick from spice. I've had both moments -- when a bowl of oats can soothe the soul, and when some tangy lemon is in order to shake things up. Lately, it's been the latter. The mix of chilly and balmy, wet and damp and overcast and sunny is making my mood and taste buds do flips and twirls. The other day, we wanted some serious spice and flavour to jazz up our dinner, and the first thing that always comes to my mind is a nice spicy curry.

I love curry. It's one of the flavours I grew up with and still cherish to this day. No one makes better curry than my Dad, so I've stopped trying to compare. I've also stopped trying to mimic the flavour of his curries and started to experiment with stuff he never did. My Dad's curry is usually chicken-based, with lots of ginger, onions and coconut milk. I tend to do veggie curries and mix my Malaysian curry spice with other yummies like cumin, coriander, and lately cinnamon and cardamom. I was inspired by this beautiful, creamy black lentil dish, and thought I'd do a little experimenting.

There were no black lentils to be found at my grocery store, so I settled for green ones, which worked fine. I added crushed fennel seeds and dried chili to my spice mix of Malaysian curry powder, cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, coriander and smoked paprika. The added yogurt made all the difference, as did the 45 minutes that the dish spent getting creamy and yummy in the oven. I served this beautiful dish up alongside a rice pilaf inspired by this one -- the zatar spice really makes a difference! I think it's the addition of sesame seeds in the spice mix that makes it so delicious, so if you can't get a hold of this beautiful mix, use a combination of cumin, cardamom, coriander and toasted sesame seeds.

The ingredient list for this meal is pretty big, and that may be a turn off, but don't be alarmed. Both rice and lentil dishes are super easy to prepare once you have all the spices down, and you'll be rewarded with a wonderfully flavourful and comforting supper. It's pretty chilly out today, and although the sun is shining a little, an evening spend stirring spices doesn't sound too bad at all.

Creamy Baked Lentils with Rice Pilaf
serves lots!
inspired by Food, Football and a Baby, and KitchenLab

For the lentils:

1 cup of green lentils, rinsed thoroughly,
2.5 cups of water
1 bay leaf
5 cardamom pods, crushed

1/2 teaspoon of fennel seeds
1 dried chilli
1 teaspoon of ground cumin
1 teaspoon of Malaysian curry powder
1/2 teaspoon of ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon of smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon of ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1 medium carrot, diced
1 small onion, diced
1/2 inch bit of ginger, minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup of water
1/2 small can of tomato paste
1/2 cup of plain yogurt (I used 2% -- skim yogurt tends to get water when you bake it)
salt and pepper to taste

1. Crush of the cardamom pods and place them in a pot with the water, bay leaf and lentils. Bring to a boil, and then simmer, covered until the lentils are tender. Drain and set aside.

2. Using a mortar and pestle, crush up the dried chilli and fennel seeds. Mix them with the rest of the spices and set aside. Alternately, you could use whole spices and grind everything in a coffee grinder. Your call.

3. In an oven safe pot or dutch oven, saute the carrot and onion in some olive oil for about 5 minutes, or until things start to get soft and fragrant. Season with salt and pepper. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for another minute.

4. Add in all your spices and stir so they toast. When things start to stick to the bottom, add the tomato paste and water and stir well, making sure to scrape the bottom. Add the lentils and give it a nice big mix.

5. Add in the yogurt and stir well. Bring the mixture to a simmer. Cover and bake in a 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes.

Now make the rice!

For the rice pilaf:

1 small onion,
1/4 inch bit of ginger
1/2 cup of basmati rice, rinsed
1/4 cup of yellow split peas rinsed
1 teaspoon of zatar spice mix
4 cardamom pods, crushed
1 1/4 cup of vegetable stock or water
1/2 bunch of spinach, washed and chopped
salt and pepper to taste

1. In a pot, saute the onion in olive oil for about 3-4 minutes. Add the ginger and season with salt and pepper. Add the zatar spice mix and stir so it gets toasty.

2. Add in the rice and split peas and mix well so that everything gets coated with the spicyness. Add in the water or stock, and the cardamom pods and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat, and cook, covered for 15-20 minutes, or until the rice and peas are tender and all the water is absorbed.

3. Stir in the spinach, turn off the heat and let it stand, covered for about 5 minutes.

4. Yum! We're done! Serve the rice with the lentils and pat yourself on the back. Oh! And careful of the cardamom pods!