Thursday, July 25, 2013

Memories of Matchstick

A few days before our trip to Vancouver, when I was in the midst of wrapping up another school year, my partner asked me "What are you most excited to do when we get to Vancouver?" In my foggy brain that was still focused on report cards and marking and cleaning up the classroom, I blurted out "Drink lots of good coffee." And so the search began.

With a few tips and a little research, we developed a little list of coffee shops we wanted to visit while in Vancouver. Although we didn't get to do all of them, we did sample a lot of coffee on our vacation. I had many many iced americanos and countless cups of drip coffee, along with quite a few coffee shop treats. One of the first (and favourite!) places to went to for coffee in Vancouver, was Matchstick. It seemed to pop up out of no where (there's a trend .. finding coffee shops when you least expect it!) while we were trekking downtown on our first day in Vancouver. And it was on the list!

 And we loved it. They roast their beans in many different varieties in house and bake all their goodies right on site. The coffee did not disappoint. The americanos and cappuccinos were smooth and flavourful and the many different varieties of drip coffee available are single-brewed to order. Although there were many many different treats to choose from, we were recommended to try to chocolate almond berry scone. 

Let me tell you about this scone: first, it's vegan (which I didn't even realize until the next day when I actually read the sign) and also, it's made with hearty, nutty spelt flour. It was a dense, flavourful kind of scone, oozing with dark chocolate chips and fresh raspberries and blackberries and I definitely tasted a distinct but not over-powering coconut flavour. It was perfect with our coffee and I made a note to myself to try to re-create it at home.

Check out my drink! It's a home-made iced chai soy latte! You freeze a concentrated chai tea in ice cube trays and add your milk of choice! Recipe here. But I cheated .. and just used chai tea bags instead of regular tea with whole spices.

My scones turned out a little bit lighter but tasted quite similiar. I was sure that Matchstick used coconut oil in their recipe, but seeing as I haven't jumped on the coconut oil craze just yet, I settle for coconut flavoured Earth Balance, which worked perfectly. Ground almonds, almond milk, spelt flour, vegan chocolate chips and of course, fresh-from-the-market raspberries are also in the mix. These scones were a perfect morning and afternoon treat and were gone in no time. I'm already planning a second batch ..

Vegan Chocolate Berry Scones

inspired by Matchstick
recipe adapted from Post Punk Kitchen
makes about 10 medium-sized scones

1/2 cup of ground almonds
1 cup of spelt flour
2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/4 cup of organic cane sugar
1/3 cup of coconut Earth Balance
1/2 cup of fresh raspberries
1/4 cup of vegan dark chocolate chips
1/4 cup of almond milk

1. In a large bowl, stir together the almonds, flour baking powder and sugar.

2. Add the Earth Balance and, with your fingers, rub the mixture together until you get a coarse mealy-textured mixture.

3. Add the berries, chocolate chips and almond milk. Gently stir the mixture until it comes together in a semi-sticky dough.

4. Drop 1/4 cup-sized mounds of dough on cookie tray and bake at 375 for about 15 minutes, or until the tops get nice and toasty brown.

5. Enjoy with your coffee.  Thanks, Matchstick!!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Obsessed with Brunch

I, like most other Torontonians am obsessed with brunch. I don't just mean brunch food -- I mean that act of going out or making brunch and enjoying it with people you love. We've had celebration brunch parties, cozy brunches at home with French-press coffee and goodies just purchased at the farmer's market, and we've had intimate, just-you-and-me best-friend hangouts over strong coffee, egg dishes and toast. Brunch is so much more than a meal -- it's a whole social event.

What was one of the first things I did when I got back to Toronto? Have brunch. And what was one of the first meals we had out when we started our Vancouver vacation? Yup. Brunch. We had cleverly arranged our Vancouver trip so that we'd be there at the same time as my best friend, who was there for a conference. And of course we had to have brunch. And there was no question as to where. We had both agreed when doing Vancouver brunch research, that it had to be the Wallflower, recommended by a very trusted source. And of course it was perfect. Nice, strong coffee, a friendly, chatty server, lots of good conversation and of course, awesome food.

My partner loves classic bacon-egg-hash-brown breakfasts (this one had the addition of a waffle!), and my best friend is partial to eggs Benedict (spiked with smoked salmon and cream cheese), but me, I'm usually a granola and yogurt kind of bruncher. Granola being absent from the menu, I tried their tofu hash special -- potatoes, peppers, onions, mushrooms, spinach and tofu, all messed up together into the one happy plate, served with toast. It was great, and I didn't miss granola at all.

After the heat wave passed and I could safely turn my oven on here in Toronto, I set about to re-create this beautiful breakfast hash -- for dinner!  The way I made it was super simple -- roast the veggies, quickly saute the tofu and spinach with a hit of ginger, and mix it all together. Yum! I don't have mushrooms in my version because I forgot to pick them up, but they would be lovely -- just slice and saute with the spinach and tofu. I also used beautiful purple potatoes which made this meal that much more special. Oh, and you can totally skip the ginger if that's not your thing, and use garlic instead.

Super simple, delicious, and memory-invoking .. ;) You could totally make this for brunch .. TODAY!

Tofu Veggie Hash
inspired by the Wallflower

I'm not putting measurements on this recipe, because, really, it's up to you when you're making hash. The dish that I was served at Wallflower was heavy on potatoes, and while I love potatoes, I chose to balance it out more when I made it at home. But it's totally up to you. Go for it!

red, yellow and orange peppers, cut into strips
new potatoes, cut into eighths (depending on the size of your potato .. make them the same size as the peppers)
onion, sliced thinly
firm tofu (mine was flavoured with herbs)
baby spinach
mushrooms, sliced thinly
ginger, minced
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil
chopped herbs, whatever you like -- I used green and red basil and parsley from my garden

1. First -- roast the veggies. Put the peppers, potatoes and onions in a large bowl. Add a sprinkling of salt, a few good grinds of pepper and about a tablespoon or so of olive oil. Toss to coat. Lay the veggies out on a baking sheet and put them in the oven on broil. Cook for about 25-30 minutes, tossing every once in a while.

2. When the veggies are almost done, heat some olive oil in pan. Add the ginger and cook for a minute or so, until it gets really fragrant and toasty. Add the tofu and mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Cook for about 3 minutes, or until the tofu starts to get a bit brown.

3. Add the spinach and toss to wilt. You may need a little splash of water to help it. Once the spinach is wilted, you're done!

4. Take some of your roasted veggies and mix them in a bowl with the tofu, spinach and mushrooms. Sprinkle liberally with fresh herbs. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Iced Tea Limeade

It's so hot! It's like a sauna out there -- nothing compared to the beautiful Pacific coast and Rocky Mountain air that I took in for two weeks when we were vacationing in Vancouver. Although it's good to be home, I already miss the cool mornings, crisp evenings, cedar-scented air and the comfort of knowing that at any point in the city, all I need to do is look up and I'll see the mountains, so close and beckoning.

Toronto's smoggy summer air welcomed us home. But hey, I'm not complaining too much. I still have more than half of my summer holidays left and lots of catching up to do. I was terrible at documenting my food adventures in Vancouver, although we did have quite a few! So I thought I'd try to re-make some of my favourite things that I sampled while on vacation and re-live the experience all over again.

Let's start with this drink. I had to start with something low-key and easy, seeing as I'm easing back into this Toronto weather. This drink is tart and refreshing and just the thing to keep you hydrated on a day like today. Let me tell you about what inspired this drink. On one of your last city walk in Vancouver, we stumbled upon this cute little coffee shop called Arbutus Coffee that's housed in a beautiful building in a mostly residential area. We literally stumbled on it -- it's in a place you wouldn't expect, much like Le Marché St. Georges which we loved, Union Market (saved for another post!) and the Wilder Snail where we bought juices and power bars, coffees and hot chocolate and sat on a perfect spot across the street in a park on our last day in Vancouver.

But back to the iced tea. When we came across Arbutus, I was a little caffeinated already, but couldn't resist trying the coffee, which was very strong and smooth. My partner took it easy, and ordered a summer special -- iced tea lemonade. I was offered a sip and was very impressed. It wasn't watery and bland like a lot of homemade iced teas can be. It was strong, very lemony and sweet: a perfect refresher on a summer afternoon. Thinking about Vancouver cafes today, I made a batch of my own iced tea, using limes instead of lemons, and brewing a strong white tea berry blend as the base. I sweetened it with some lime-infused simple syrup and drank it up with lots of ice. And although I wish I were drinking this refreshing tea from a straw, walking along a quiet sidewalk in Vancouver, relaxing at home with homemade iced drinks is just fine by me.

Iced Tea Limeade
makes about 5 cups

For the Lime-Infused Simple Syrup
1/2 cup of natural cane sugar
1/2 cup of water
zest of one lime

1. Combine the sugar and water in a small pot. Heat on low, stirring gently, until the sugar dissolves.
2. Turn off the heat. Add the lime zest and let it rest for about 15 minutes.
3. Strain out the zest and store in a jar.

For the Tea
4 tea bags of your choice (something fruity yet caffeinated would be my recommendation)
4 cups of boiling water
1 cup of cold water
juice of 4 limes
4-6 tablespoons of lime-infused simply syrup (taste as you go and add as much as you like)

1. In a pot, bring 4 cups of water to a rolling boil. Add in the tea bags, turn off the heat and let the tea steep. Allow it to cool.

2. Transfer your strong tea into a large jar or jug. Add the cold water, lime juice and syrup. Stir well.

3. Serve over ice and stay cool!