Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Pav Bhaji

I was clicking through the archives over at Fat Free Vegan (in my humble opinion, one of the two best vegan blogs on teh interwebz) and found Susan's recipe for pav bhaji. Admittedly, I had no idea what pav bhaji was, I just knew that it looked delicious.

A quick google/wikipedia search concluded that pav bhaji is the Indian response to the Big Mac. A "fast-food" available in metropolitan areas of India, for our purposes pav bhaji can be considered a curry-on-a-bun (although I haven't a clue how accurate this is - could just be my ethnocentrism assuming the filling can be labelled a curry).

Can I just take a minute to give props to India, where decent vegetarian fast food isn't just a dream, it's a reality? Be advised though, if you happen to be hanging out in metropolitan India, that while the majority of pav bhaji are vegetarian, not all are vegan. Butter, yogurt and cheese can sometimes be included among the ingredients.

If you aren't heading to India anytime soon, you can very easily make pav bhaji on your own stove (see Susan's blog for details). It will more than help hit your daily veggie quota (potatoes, green beans, bell pepper, peas, carrots, garlic, onions, cauliflower). It also may require a trip to your local Indian grocer to find pav bhaji masala and red chili powder. While you're there, explore the aisles because everytime I visit I always seem to find something new to add to our kitchen repertoire.

And yes, those are totally whole wheat hot dog buns being used as "pavs". I guess I lose points for lacking authenticity?

The only issue that we had with this is that I thought I'd be adventurous and put a little too much fresh chili pepper in. And it happened to be on a day that it was a sweltering 32C, so we were pretty much on fire for the remainder of the evening. As a result I think I'll save this recipe for the fall and winter months.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Memphis BBQ Tofu with Warm Potato & Black Bean Salad and Grilled Asparagus

The calendar switched over to summer and all of a sudden mother nature cranked up the thermostat. It has been ridiculously hot and humid here this week (not that I'm complaining...well, maybe just a little, because the humidity does horrible things to my hair).

And, when the temperature is 30C with a humidex of 37C the last thing I am going to be doing is turning on the oven or stove.

This means that I turn to the barbeque on especially hot and sticky nights...and really, nothing is quite so lovely as ending a long summer day at work with a barbequed dinner on the patio.

I have no idea why I never thought of grilling tofu before. It seriously never even entered my mind until I saw a post on Vegan Dad's blog. This recipe uses his sweet and sticky bbq sauce recipe, made from scratch (omg, you will never reach for the bottle again!) and is frozen for at least day.

In general, I'm not that big on tofu. I usually prefer tempeh because it is more firm and less "squirmy", for lack of a better word. However, freezing tofu prior to use gives it more of a firm quality and a spongy texture that, when thrown on the grill, is reminiscent of meat - making it great for convincing omnis of the awesomeness that is veganism.

The recipe for the potato salad came from Nava Atlas' Vegan Express. I've never really been able to get on board with cold potato salads, so when I saw this recipe (served warm, but not hot) I thought it might do the trick. And it gave me a reason to use up some of the parsley I have growing in the garden, which is all but fried from the heat.

Paul announced that this is his new favourite meal (sorry polenta and tofurky sausage, you have been demoted!). As you can see, we each ate about four people's worth of food because we just couldn't get enough. I can't wait to use grilled tofu instead of fake meat the next time I make my un-chicken un-caesar, which should be soon as the lettuce in my garden is just about ready to be picked!

P.S. I would like to thank my great friend Rhian for plugging This is Vegan on her blog, There is Purpose and welcome any new readers...any friend of Rhian's is a friend of mine! I also urge you to check out her blog. She is a certified life coach and offers thoughts and guidance regarding total body and soul wellness. Check her out!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Beautiful Spicy Stir Fry

We went to celebrate the marriage of a beautiful couple last night, and low and behold, I was surprised with a special 4-course vegan meal. Vegetable consomme with raw veggies to start, followed by the cutest garden salad that you ever did see (I really wish I took a picture), the deliciously spicy stir fry pictured above, and a fresh fruit plate for dessert.

Weddings and other major social events are a difficult time for us vegans. While I am strong in my convictions, I do worry about coming across as rude and ungrateful when refusing the food that is provided and usually feel horribly awkward when sitting at a table where everyone but me is eating. So, it is always such a wonderful surprise when someone goes out of their way to ensure that I'm included, regardless of these dietary convictions. It is a thoughtfulness that I am so grateful for.

And it's also super awesome when the food they provide is as delicious as it was last night. Congrats to my friends as they begin their journey together!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Cuban Black Beans & Rice

In Cuba, this dish is referred to as "Moros y Cristianos" (Moors & Christians). However, authentic Moros y Cristianos uses white rice, while this healthier version is made with brown rice. So, let's just call it "Cuban Black Beans and Rice".

The little knowledge of Cuban cooking that I have came from the Food Network and Wikipedia and so I can't pretend like I know what I'm doing when trying to replicate traditional Cuban meals. I'm intrigued with Cuban cooking because 1) I've heard people rave and rave about it and 2) the ethnocentric part of me figured it would be like Mexican cuisine, when in actuality it has more in common with Spanish and African styles, based on spice and technique. So, I basically wanted to see what the fuss was about.

Now, traditional Moros y Cristianos typically has pork or beef. I obviously skipped that step, although seitan would make a great substitute. I just used diced tomatoes (which are not usually a part of this dish, but the husband loves them), green bell pepper, carrot, garlic and onion (both sweet during cooking and green for garnish)and a ton of cayenne pepper and chili powder and some hot sauce too. A little bit of cumin. And some fresh parsley from my garden. And, of course, the "frijoles negros" (black turtle beans). Verdict = spicy and all sorts of awesome.

Again, not sure how this stacks up with an authentic Cuban rendition...but in our house it got four thumbs up.

Eat your black beans!

Black beans (like other legumes) are high in cholesterol-reducing fiber. Their high fiber content also prevents blood sugar spikes after meals and rates low on the Glycemic Index, so it is a great meal time addition for those with diabetes and hypoglycemia (or those looking to prevent insulin-related problems). They are a protein powerhouse, so they are great for those working on their fitness, as they boost energy while stabilizing blood sugars, making for more pleasant workouts (especially if you're a girl like me, who feels like she's going to faint after 5 minutes on the treadmill). When combined with a grain (like above) they are a complete protein source and a fat free alternative to other types of protein out there. Finally, they are packed with iron, as one cup of black beans provides 21.1% of your daily iron intake, particularly important for menstruating women who are at risk for iron deficiency and a great alternative to red meat, which is much higher in calories (not to mention gross).

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Chocolate Gluten Freedom Cupcakes

My sister-in-law kindly invited me along to a women's cottage retreat in Lake of Bays, in the beautiful Muskoka region of Ontario. Each cottager was responsible for one meal during our four-day stay, and I was in charge of a light meal for our first night up north. I made tempeh muffaletta and a batch of cupcakes. My original plan was to do up a batch of mucho margarita cupcakes (to go with the theme of way too much alcohol in the span of a couple days), but before we left I learned that one of the women coming along has a gluten intolerance.

While I am not gluten-free myself, I can easily get into that mindset because just like vegans, gluten-free people have to be compulsive label readers and spend meal time answering the "Wait you don't eat WHAT?!" questions from strangers. I'm sure she would have been fine having to sit out on the cupcakes and having something else for dessert, but while becoming vegan I learned the simple joy that comes along with feeling included during meal time activities and the importance of ensuring that everyone at the table is able to enjoy themselves regardless of dietary restrictions or preferences.

And, the truth is, we could all use a little less gluten in our diets and so I'm always itching to experiment with diversity in the kitchen. We cook with a lot of rice pastas, sometimes use rice tortillas for our mexican dishes. Like veganism, gluten-free diets are on the rise and so every month there seem to be more and more gluten-free products on the market - a great alternative to your standard meal plan every now and again to give your digestive system a bit of a break.

I don't know a thing about the science of baking, but when it comes to gluten-free baking, you have to use a bunch of different flours to ensure all the bases of regular wheat flour are covered (thank you Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World). So, these cupcakes use tapioca, rice and quinoa flours and they turned out great (plus you don't have to worry about over-beating the batter because there is no gluten). I just made a cream cheeze vanilla frosting with and added some melted semisweet chocolate for a little colour (the cool designs are all Paul, I can't take credit for that).

Other than being a bit flakier and prone to crumbling than regular wheat-based cupcakes, they were a hit up at the cottage and I'm excited to try the vanilla gluten freedom cupcakes next.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Chili Mac

From Fat Free Vegan.

While I love all-day cooking marathons where I can try and master complicated recipes and reach new heights of deliciousness, these kitchen parties usually only occur on the weekends because I am crazy busy during the week. When I lost my job in the auto industry, I thought I'd have more time. Somehow, I seem to have less. School is crazy hectic, as I am trying to get my thesis done by August (and the estimated time of completion keeps getting pushed back...sigh) and I'm still working at the clinic a few days a week. My days are incredibly erratic...always running to a different place at a different time, and with Paul working real estate hours, dinner can fall anywhere between 4pm and 10pm on any given weeknight.

As a result, I've been cooling it with the super complicated recipes and have instead been focusing on building a collection of 1) easy 2) quick and 3) clean recipes. By clean I mean one or two pots/pans at the most and maybe a stirring utensil. I'm not a fan of this, as I really do love to cook and now that I'm actually getting decent at it (after years of avoiding the stove) I like to be challenged. But, until I am finally, once and for all done my thesis, this is my reality.

Not that it's all gloom and doom...some of my best kitchen concoctions have risen out of the ash of desperation and ticking clocks. The above recipe was semi-stolen from Fat Free Vegan, so Susan gets all the credit...we just mixed it up a bit, as we normally do. I had a bunch of spinach on the brink of going bad, so in went that...we also used a ridiculously spicy arrabiata and so we downed a gallon of water apiece over dinner (so good though). It also uses nutritional yeast, which is a vegan necessity (although as I've recently learned, not all nooch, as us vegans affectionately refer to it, contains B12, so read your labels carefully if you don't supplement - I like Bob's Red Mill). We used gluten free rice pasta as opposed to macaroni, as that's what we had on hand. It took all of 15 minutes to make and other than cooking the pasta, all I had to do was dump everything into one pot and stir it occassionally, which meant I had time to watch a DVD episode of the Office without interruption (er - I mean - write a chapter summary for my thesis).

Monday, June 8, 2009

Wasabi-roasted asparagus

In my quest to support local farmers and eat in season, I've found myself with an abundance of asparagus. Before I was vegan I hated asparagus. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that I hated the thought of eating asparagus because I was so picky back then that I wouldn't even try a nibble. Yes, in those days I lived off thai chicken wings from Wings Up and cheese cappeletti from East Side Mario's (and stayed up at night wondering why I was gaining weight, and why my health was going down the pipe, for reals?) and the thought of eating one of these weird cigar-like contraptions was beyond me. What a little snot I was!

This year is the first time I tried asparagus. That I can recall, anyway. And low and behold - I liked it. This is why I silently chuckle every time someone says they can't be vegan because they would feel too limited .. I didn't lose anything by going vegan, I gained a whole new world of deliciousness that I wouldn't have even thought to try three years ago.

Anyway, we've been doing asparagus up every which way, since it is one of the first warm-weather crops to be in season here in Ontario. I've put it in lasagnas and pastas. We've grilled it on the bbq...and these here I roasted in the oven. Susan from Fat Free Vegan talked about smothering asparagus in soy and wasabi before throwing it in the oven. I didn't have her actual recipe on hand so I macgyvered my way through it a bit..a little soy sauce here, sesame oil there...and of course...wasabi and freshly ground pepper to finish it off. Twenty minutes in the oven and they made a great side to my green cashew pilaf the other night. Yum!

Eat Your Asparagus!
Asparagus promotes good heart health by virtue of its high levels of folate (66% of the daily recommended amount in one serving of asparagus). The folate also contributes to the prevention of birth defects (including neural tube defects like spina bifida) - folate is one of the most common vitamin deficiencies in the world and is particularly imperative for women of childbearing age and asparagus is an easy (and delicious) way to secure it in your diet. It is also a natural diuretic, due to its high amounts of potassium and low level of sodium combined with an active amino acid and has been used to treat many ailments related to swelling, such as arthritis and PMS (courtesy whfoods.com).

Friday, June 5, 2009

Tempeh Burgers, Grilled Vegetables & Chipotle Sweet Potato Fries

You may recall my homemade burger making dilemma and my obsession with obliterating isolated soy from my diet. Well, obliterate is a bit harsh...let's go with limit. I like to barbeque as much as I can in the summer, because winters here in Canada are long and if I don't barbeque enough, I find myself bumming pretty hard in January when the BBQ is buried under 6 feet of snow.

So, in my quest for something to put on a bun and call a hamburger during the summer months I have hit many roadblocks. Making them at home is probably the best bet, but I have had more than one epic fail in this department, even though the avocado ones I've tried are now my favourite in-a-pita ingredient. They just weren't doing it for me on the grill. But, low and behold, as I was grabbing a carton of rice milk and a pack of organic tofu in the green aisle of Zehrs I saw Tempeh Burgers by Green Cuisine. They are the first packaged veggie burgers I have come across that are free of isolated soy.

Now, I don't rightly know how this differs from just grilling a regular slab of tempeh because in my excitement over grilling them I threw out the packaging and now I can't even find a website for them. It could very well be that I've been taken and just paid 50 cents extra for plain old tempeh because it's in a circular shape conducive to placement on buns. I admit, I got a little excited and other than making sure they were vegan I really didn't pay attention to what I was buying.

God, could I get any more lazy. I'm pretty sure I could just grill tempeh and put it on a bun. It's just easier to do them this way, if you're in a rush or if you're planning on taking them on a summer excursion. Plus, they come in BBQ flavour if that happens to suit your fancy and you don't mind the extra calories.

Anyway, they are delicious...the non-vegan husband also enjoyed them so they pass the omnivore test. They require very little work to grill and they pack up nicely if you're going camping or to the cottage (one of the main reasons I wanted something more substantial than those deliciously messy avocado burgers - which would surely be a nightmare to try and cook on the campfire in August).

I put them on a whole grain bun, with tomato, spinach, onion and mustard (my toppings of choice). We grilled asparagus, peppers and zucchini in some italian spice and threw some chipotle spice on a sweet potato because we were craving fries. Ridiculously easy, ridiculously delicious...perfect for when you don't want to spend a warm June day slaving in the kitchen.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Adventures in Cupcakes

I've spent some quality time with my beloved pink Kitchen Aid mixer over the last few days.

Double Chocolate Buttercream Cupcakes - these are the chocolate version of the golden vanilla buttercream cupcakes I made for Paul's birthday a couple weeks ago. Some of Paul's clients moved into their new home on Friday and since they have little ones I thought a batch of cupcakes were in order. They were delicious (how could they not be), but I think I like the vanilla better.

Mucho Margarita Cupcakes - I made these for a grad party we went to on Saturday night...I think I was just looking for an excuse to buy a bottle of tequila. Anyway, they are delicious and seemed to go over well with everyone...definitely a great cupcake for a summer party, as they are kind of refreshing and totally taste like actual margaritas.

Both of these recipes are from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World...this book is amazing, especially if it can get a non-baker like me covered in flour twice in one weekend.

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