Sunday, August 25, 2013

Molten Tofu: Another Vancouver Next Time

There were so many things we wanted to do in Vancouver and unfortunately, time was limited. We had so many adventures but there are so many more left .. like hiking through Indian Arm Provincial Park, visiting Vancouver island, camping .. and sampling food and drink from places we just couldn't squeeze into our adventure-packed days: drinks at Alibi Room (too big a line-up from when tried), coffee from  Elysian (we always had our mugs full of Matchstick brew when we biked past this place), vegan goodies from Edible Flours, (closed for a vacation when we got there) and a chilled-out dinner at The Foundation.

I really have no excuse for not eating at The Foundation since it was on our way home. But despite my perusing the menu a couple nights while we were there, it just never happened. At one point, I even picked out what I was going to order. Hands down, I had to have the molten tofu, described as "brown and spicy brokly and tofu served on rice." The picture of it, also looked delicious -- comforting and filling. So when we got back to Toronto, and I needed a bit of tofu love to soak up all that excess coffee, I thought I'd make my own version of molten tofu.

It was quite a task at first, seeing as it's kind of hard to re-create something you've never tasted, but a little googling led be to Johnny Hetherington's website (lead vocals in the Canadian band Art of Dying) where he describes making his version of molten tofu -- veggies, fried tofu and a rich, spicy peanut sauce. Awesome!

I'm not too big a fan of hot sauces like tobasco or sriracha, so I don't keep any in the house. Instead, I heated my peanut sauce with lots of fresh ginger and pinch of hot smoked paprika. Other usual suspects go into the mix -- dark soy, light soy, a touch of toasted sesame oil and a big squirt of lime juice. After that, it was just a question of mixing the sauce with the veggies and tofu and eating it up over rice.

This version of molten tofu satisfied me, but I'm still putting The Foundation on my list for our next visit to Vancouver.

Molten Tofu Rice Bowl
inspired by The Foundation, with help from Johnny Hetherington 

For the Sauce:
2 tablespoon of natural peanut butter
juice of a lime
2 teaspoons of finely chopped ginger
pinch of salt and pepper
pinch of hot smoked paprika
1 teaspoon each of dark soy and light soy
1/4 teaspoon of toasted sesame oil

1. To make the sauce, simply whisk all the ingredients together. Taste, and add more lime juice or seasonings as needed. Add in a squirt of hot sauce if that's your thing.

For the Bowl
1/2 cup of brown rice
1 cup of water or stock
1/2 small head of broccoli, chopped into florets
6 oz of tofu, cut into cubes
a big handful of baby spinach leaves
a few good grinds of black pepper
splash of water
2-3 basil leaves, chopped (I used beautiful purple basil)

1. In a small pot, add the rice and water or stock. Bring it up to a boil, stir gently, then turn down the heat and cook uncovered for about 10 minutes.

2. Add the broccoli to steam with the rice. Replace the lid and cook for an additional 10 minutes. The brocoli and rice should be tender and the water should all be absorbed. Separate the broccoli from the rice and set aside.

3. In a pan, heat a bit of olive oil, then fry the tofu for about 2-3 minutes on each side, until they get nice and brown. Add the pepper and the peanut sauce and stir well.

4. Add in the broccoli and spinach leaves. Stir gently until the spinach wilts. You may need to add a splash of water to help it along.

5. Divide your rice among two bowls and top of the molten tofu mixture. Enjoy!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Next Time: Strathcona

Let's chat one more time this summer about cafes. Just one more time. Anyway, it's that time for lamenting when we're all trying to hang on to the last breeze of summer and psyche up for all the pumpkins and apples and squash.

I'm going to lament in this post about a neighbourhood that we casually strolled through in Vancouver, one that I promised myself I would visit again the next time around. It's the beautiful neighbourhood of Strathcona. Beautiful houses, quiet streets, a huge park, cute corner stores that double as cafes, not to mention a beautiful young lady bicycling down the street selling gourmet, Popsicles. It's like a neighbourhood that I dream of living in "when I grow up" whenever that may be. We spent our last day in Vancouver camped out on a bench, napping, re-living our two week adventure that seemed to pass by way too quickly.

We only managed to visit a few places in Strathcona, and sampled only one coffee -- from The Wilder Snail. Our perfect bench was right across from this grocery store/cafe. It kept us caffeinated and satisfied with gourmet, locally-made energy bars and hot drinks, as we waited patiently, our backpacks stuff to the brim, for time to pass so that we could make our way up to the airport and say good-bye to Vancouver. 

We also strolled by Union Market which I've heard so much about -- namely their treats. I had read about addictive chocolate macaroon bars and irresistible cinnamon buns, but seeing as our stroll was later in the day, the only treats to be found were a few sugar-dusted orange cookies. At 75 cents for two, they made for a perfect strolling snack. Cakey and light, with a big hit of orange and slight almond flavour, these treats didn't last too long, and I was wishing that we had bought more. They'll always be next time .. right?

To curb my Strathcona cravings until the next time I visit Vancouver, I made a batch of orange scented, almond cookies. I kicked it up with some ground cinnamon and nutmeg and instead of dusting with powdered sugar, which I didn't have, went for a sprinkling of crunching demerara sugar. If you're in the mood, adorn each cookie with some flaked almonds and powdered sugar like the original recipe. I think I'll try it like that next time.  Perfect way to console a summer longing that will have to wait until next year.

Spiced Orange Almond Cookies
adapted from Shutterbean
makes about 20 smallish cookies

3/4 cup of ground almonds
2/3 cup of brown sugar
zest of an orange
1 cup of spelt flour
1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup of olive oil
1/4 cup of orange juice
demerara sugar, for sprinkling

1. In a large bowl, combine the ground almonds, brown sugar and orange zest. With your fingers, rub the zest into the almonds and sugar to bring out the oils.

2. Add the flour, cinnamon and nutmeg and mix well. Add the egg, olive oil and orange juice and mix to combine. You should get a fairly sticky dough.

3. On a parchment-lined sheet, drop spoonfuls of dough making sure that you leave about 2 inches between each cookie -- they expand quite a bit. Wet your fingers and flatten each cookie. Sprinkle with coarse sugar (or flaked almonds)

4. Bake at 350 for about 10 minutes, or until the cookies get golden brown and your house spells like oranges. Enjoy with your coffee.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

My Favourite Summer Baking with Longing for Marché St. Georges

There are few things I enjoy or remember more about my summer holidays then long afternoons alone or with friends at a cafe. Even if I'm enjoying only one mug of coffee, the act of sitting and drawing out the experience, makes it seem as if I'm drinking coffee "all day." And what could be more relaxing?

We're spoiled here in Toronto -- there is so much good coffee .. here ... here ... here...oh and this one and this one.. this is one of our old stand-bys, where I drank I gigantic up of cinnamon laced coffee served to me in a beer glass and enjoyed and peanut butter and jelly sandwich, all alone. This one is a frequent stop on our bike rides, and this one, just around the corner from me, holds such sentimental value. I've enjoyed solo breakfasts over bottomless coffee here and here, because breakfast treats make the coffee experience that much better, don't you think?

Despite all the wonderful cafes here in Toronto, yesterday, my heart tugged towards to a neighbourhood coffee shop that we went to in Vancouver: Marché St. Georges.  It's tucked away in quiet residential neighbourhood, away from the more stylish, sleek-looking cafes on busier, streets. It's also a market that sells unique products and gifts such as specialty teas, coffees, cookies and an intriguing honey, flavoured with thai chillies. Although the gifts were tempting, we settled on iced coffees and a few treats -- a cherry crumble tart and a butter tart -- and let the late afternoon melt into evening.

But yesterday when I was thinking about Marché St. Georges, it occurred to me that I wanted to have breakfast there, sitting in the patio, slowly enjoying a coffee and something sweet, warm and fruity, in front of some reading material or maybe even some *gasp* planning for September. If anything were to make the prospect of going back to work in a few weeks bearable, it would be breakfast and coffee at Marché St. Georges. But since I'm in Toronto and no longer rambling about the streets and trails of Vancouver, I'll just savour the memories along with my fruity and caffeinated breakfast.

And my breakfast of choice? It would have to be a simple summer fruit crumble. When I got back from Vancouver, there were baskets of sour cherries just begging to be taken home from the farmer's market. Some of them were cooked down and jarred, but most of them went into making this crumble many, many times. In with the cherries, I threw some raspberries, and some chopped rhubarb. A squeeze of lemon would have made sense, but I didn't want to taint that beautiful, almost almond-like flavour of the sour cherries, so I skipped that part. I also skipped the spices I would generally add to a crisp or crumble topping like cinnamon or nutmeg, just to keep things nice and fruity and pure.

I ate this warm, right out of the oven with my coffee, but it was equally as good eaten cold then next day with some yogurt. It was beautiful and the perfect way to wake up on a perfect summer day.

Simple Summer Fruit Crumble
inspired by Joy the Baker
serves 4-6

6 cups of fresh summer fruit, chopped if necessary (berries, cherries, peaches.. go wild)
2 tablespoons of natural cane sugar
1 cup + 1 tablespoon of spelt flour
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons of rolled oats
1/3 cup of brown sugar
2 tablespoons of maple syrup
3 tablespoons of Earth Balance (or butter)

1. Place your fruit in a large baking dish. Sprinke over the cane sugar, 1 tablespoon of flour and 2 tablespoons of rolled oats. Mix well.

2. In a bowl, stir together the rest of the flour, oats and brown sugar until everything is evenly combined. Add the maple syrup of stir gently.

3. Add the Earth Balance or butter and with your fingers, rub it against the flour mixture until you get a nice coarse meal.

4. Spoon the crumble mixture over the fruit mixture and bake in a 350 degree oven for about 25 minutes or so, or until the crumble is golden brown and the fruit is bubbling up.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Tiger Salad

When we were in Vancouver, we hit up a lot of coffee places. but we didn't always have time to eat at all those raved-about restaurants. We did make a list, but sometimes, stuff got in the way. Lunch was more often than not, peanut butter and banana sandwiches eaten during a long out-of-city hike or biking trip, and breakfast was usually cereal with a healthy helping of local berries purchased at a farmer's market. Dinner, well, that was where we got to experiment a little. But sometimes, we were just too exhausted. We sometimes ate take-out or walked a couple blocks and ate at a little Asian-style cafe, and once, we were so tired that we *gasp* ordered pizza.

Buuuuuuuuut, we did get to go out a bit and when we did, it was usually quite awesome. One of my favourite places that we ate at in Vancouver, was from a food truck called Le Tigre. We sampled almost all of the menu, including a pulled pork bao, popcorn chicken, crispy, lemony-parmesany brussels sprouts and cauliflower, amazingly addictive roasted beet fries and the most refreshing, filling, flavourful quinoa salad ever.

This quinoa salad was amazing. First, not only did it have quinoa, but there was brown and wild rice thrown into the mix, along with sweet roasted carrots and parsnips, crunchy cabbage, lots of fresh mint and a rich, tangy miso dressing. Since discovering the joys of miso not so long ago, I had to try making this salad at home.

My version is summered up a bit. I used roasted yellow zucchini and eggplant, some thinly sliced celery for a big crunch, and some left over blanched green beans, just because. I threw in lots of fresh mint and also a big hit of purple basil. And the dressing .. oh the dressing. Just a few teaspoons of white miso and big juicy lemon, but oh, the flavour was so big and bold. Because the miso is so intense there's no salt added to the rest of the salad, just a few big grinds of black pepper. And don't worry if the dressing tastes a little too zippy and salty when you try it -- all that lovely rice and quinoa soaks it all up. And while this salad isn't an exact replica of the one we ate from the truck, sitting by the Lonsdale quay and enjoying a perfect evening after hiking all day, it's pretty darn satisfying in it's own right.

Quinoa Rice Salad with Roasted Summer Veggies
inspired by Le Tigre
makes 3-4 servings

For the roasted veggies:
1 large, yellow zucchini, diced
1 small eggplant, diced
1 tablespoon or so of olive oil

a few grinds of black pepper

1. In a large bowl, toss the veggies with the olive oil and black pepper. Spread them out on a making sheet.
2. Roast (oven on broil), tossing occasionally for about 15-20 minutes, until the veggies get nicely golden brown and tender.

While the veggies are roasting, make the rest of the salad:

1/4 cup of brown rice + 1/4 cup of wild rice + 1 cup of water
1/3 cup of quinoa + 2/3 cup of water
1 large stalk of celery, sliced thinly
a small handful of green beans, trimmed
2 teaspoons of white miso
juice of a lemon
lots of freshly ground black pepper
a big handful each of fresh mint and basil, chopped roughly

1. First, cook your grains. Mix together the brown and wild rice with 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil, then cover and turn down the heat. Cook for about 20 minutes, or until all the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender. Same for the quinoa -- 1/3 cup of quinoa and 2/3 cup of water.

2. Blanch the green beans in water for about 2 minutes, or until they're tender. Cut them in half and put them in large bowl.

3. To the bowl, add in your cooked grains, roasted veggies, sliced celery and black pepper. Toss well.

4. Make your dressing! Carefully whisk together the miso and lemon juice until you get a creamy yummy sauce. Pour it over your salad and add the fresh herbs. Toss well and serve!