Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Scarlet Barley with Mushroom + Cannellini Bean Paprikas

I've been a terrible little blogger lately. My apologies! Life has fallen into extremely busy territory as of late. The realtor husband recently started at a new brokerage, bringing some exciting changes. All the while I managed to get myself into a dental emergency while eating a samosa (of all things) that has now evolved into even bigger dental drama involving a root canal, which has sent my anxiety-prone mind into overdrive, leaving me sleepless with a stomach full of knots. I've also decided that certain home renovations projects that I've put off for seven years not only need to be done, but they need to be done immediately. Like, as quickly as they enter my mind. Which actually compounded the husband's stress way more than it did my own, so I'm not really sure what I'm complaining about, getting at, or what my lack-of-blogging excuse actually is, but the bottom line is I haven't been doing it and I'm sorry.

Blogging has taken such a backseat that Paul and I held a dinner party for ten two weekends ago and I made this really cool potato garlic pizza bread for the very first time and I completely forgot to take a picture. That never happens! Dinners routinely go cold in our house while I try to arrange them and the lights and my poor excuse for a camera in a blog appropriate way.

I didn't forget to take a picture of my table and centerpiece, though! Anyone else as addicted to Pinterest as I am?!

Now, that concludes the "Dwelling on What I Haven't Been Doing" portion of this post. Onto what I have been doing.

The meal you see pictured at the top of this entry is probably my favourite thing to come out of my kitchen this month, and the recipes come from Appetite for Reduction by Isa Chandra Moskowitz.

I love barley a lot, and I'm resolving here and now to cook more meals with it. As much as I love brown rice and quiona, barley is a deliciously earthy alternative every now and again.

There is something new I learned about barley recently that I thought I'd share for those similarly in the dark about this grain - it contains gluten! I'm not quite sure why I automatically assumed that it doesn't. I think it's because I associate it with rice, which is completely gluten-free, more than I associate it with wheat, which is the archetypal glutenous food. It seems I'm not the only one to make this mistake. I can't tell you how many times I've seen something labeled as gluten free, read the ingredients, and spotted barley somewhere on there.

I'm sure this is old news to celiacs and other gluten-free folks, but as someone new to the gluten awareness scene I found it pretty interesting and thought I'd pass it along to other newbies interested in limiting their gluten. Since I'm doing just that - limiting, not elminating - I'm excited to give barley more of its fair share on my dinner plate.

This particular barley gets its beautiful, rich colour from a shredded beet:

I'd never worked with beets before. I wish someone would have told me to wear gloves during shredding portion of this recipe. I felt a bit like Lady Macbeth, "Out Damned Spot!"-ing for an hour afterward. Going out into the world with red-stained hands sure raises some interesting questions.

At Isa's suggestion, I topped the scarlet barley with a batch of mushroom and cannellini paprikas, also found in Appetite for Reduction. Am I the only person that didn't know that cannellini beans and white kidney beans are the same thing?! I've been searching for cannellini beans in specialty stores for months. Thankfully a kind soul on Twitter pointed out that I'm able to find them, under a different name, in the a plain old neighbourhood supermarket. That I actually keep a stock of them in my own kitchen cupboard at all times. Durr!

Here's to hoping you don't come to this blog looking for an experienced chef. Or for someone who can follow a simple recipe. If it's not evident by now, I don't know what the hell I'm doing in the kitchen. I likely have no business even having a blog, but I'm vegan and I love vegan food. Hopefully that's enough because if it's not, we're both in trouble here.

If you haven't already picked up a copy of Appetite for Reduction, I highly recommend it. So many healthy yet filling low calorie vegan meals up for grabs! The recipes for the scarlet barley and the paprikas are also available on Google Books, with author's permission, found here and here.

Friday, February 17, 2012

(Raw) Polenta with Mushroom Ragout

I'm a bit fanatical about polenta. It tends to border on the insane.

As a result, I was a little bit skeptical when I saw a raw-ified version of polenta. All the same, I didn't want to be that girl, sticking my nose in the air in a fit of foodie pretension. If I did that, then what would separate me from the many other that girls (and guys) sticking their noses up at something they've never tried just because someone said it was vegan? I can't get annoyed with these people if I'm doing the same thing, now can I? And I will not relinquish my right to be annoyed at the closed-minded. Never!

Am I ever glad that I decided to forgo the nose sticking in favour of trying something new, because this is one super fun, innovative and delicious raw vegan recipe. It comes from Ani's Raw Food Kitchen.

Polenta is made from cornmeal, so fresh corn kernals are the perfect raw alternative when it comes to flavour. What I really love about this recipe is how Ani mimics the texture as well as the taste, giving the kernals a whirl in the food processor along with some raw cashews. With that you have the corn taste from the fresh kernals and the gritty texture from the cashews. Even a polenta purist like me can appreciate that kind of creative deliciousness.

I wasn't sure how I was going to feel about the mushroom ragout because mushrooms and I don't always play nicely, usually because their texture sketches me out. And that's when they are cooked. I'd never eaten a raw mushroom before and was a bit apprehensive to try it for the first time in a recipe that calls for nearly 3 cups of the creepy little things. Especially when considering that in the past I've not been above picking little mushroom bits out of lasagnas and rice bowls in restaurants.

But look at me, maturing before your very eyes. Not only was I not phased by the raw mushrooms, I was madly in love with them. The whole meal, really. My favourite recipe from Ani's Raw Food Kitchen that I've tried so far, hands down.

I really love that I'm getting into mushrooms. Humble little fungi that they are, their nutritional profile should never be ignored. B vitamins, folate, protein and antioxidants (although it is true that the more fancy mushrooms, like the shiitake and and oyster - which I'm typically to cheap to buy - have the best antioxidant profile). Current research is also honing in on white button mushrooms as a plant-based, inexpensive, non-sunlight source of Vitamin D - the potential of which is especially important to those of us living far away from the equator.

So there it is. I like raw mushrooms!

Further, one of the best things about raw uncooking is that you can do all the prep work in advance and leftovers taste exactly the same the next day. Even the day after. Ani's recipes include a "will keep for __ days" feature, which is a great resource when meal planning. The leftovers are especially perfect for workday lunches, as you don't have to worry about finding a way to warm them up. During the winter months your car might even be enough to keep them fresh, if you don't happen to have a fridge in your workplace. Low maintenance weekday lunches made the world go 'round!

If you don't have a copy of Ani's Raw Food Kitchen, this is one of the recipes available on Google Books. You can find it by clicking here and scrolling down a little bit.

In the meantime I really need to work on my raw food photography skills. It's amazing, really, how good I am at making uncooked food look like such a hot mess.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Strawberry Cream Cheeze French Toast

Valentine's Day is one of those holidays that is as annoying as it is cute. I might claw my eyes out if, just one more time, I see that commercial where the guy surprises the girl with the necklace in that blasted photobooth. But I also think that red and pink are fun colours that are pretty good at brightening up the mid-winter blues.

There's something about the excessively kitschy heart decorations that make my own heart a little happier. Probably because they encourage a little nostalgia. Memories of construction paper-clad brown paper bags taped to elementary school desks.

I hate how Valentine's Day makes people feel bad about themselves, but I also think that any excuse to tell someone you care about them is worthwhile, even if it is forced upon you by some card manufacturer. I don't buy into the "Valentine's Day is stupid because you should tell people you love them everyday" argument not because it's not true, it is so very true, but because I think in addition to telling people you care about them all the time, it can be fun to have an extra special day to do so, too.

In our house, Valentine's Day is a supremely simple affair. No gifts. Lots of delicious food. This year, February 14th falls on a Tuesday. I work longer hours on Tuesdays and by the time I get home I just want to be in my pajamas watching New Girl and not battling the throngs of young lovebirds in the city's restaurants on the busiest night of the year. So we decided to go out to dinner on Saturday night instead, and hit up our beloved Zen Gardens in Cambridge for lots of vegan ham and chick'n balls. They even had vegan fudge for dessert!

I thought the Sunday morning before Valentine's Day was also the perfect opportunity to fit in February's Breakfast-of-the-Month. Especially since I had my eye on an amazing looking recipe for Strawberry Cream Cheeze French Toast in the Spork-Fed cookbook. Paying $9.00 for a small handful of strawberries in the middle of winter is one of the more idiotic things that I've done, but it just doesn't feel like Valentine's Day without them.

There are two things we pretty much never have in our house: White bread and vegan cream cheeze. In honour of cupid, we treated ourselves to both. The white bread is an organic, unbleached loaf - a special order we placed with Grainharvest Breadhouse and picked up on Saturday. The cream cheeze is Tofutti.

The bread is thickly sliced and then sliced halfway through the middle, to form a little pocket in which you stuff the strawberry/cream cheeze deliciousness!

Into the batter and onto the frying pan. Six minutes later you have yourself a fancy and festive take on French toast. Top with maple syrup or powdered sugar, if you have it, which I did not, and serve to your beloved!

In addition to Spork-Fed, you can also find a digital copy of this recipe here. Valentine's Day isn't until tomorrow, so you've still got time to put something together - might I suggest a romantic breakfast-for-dinner feast?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Two Soups from Nava Atlas (Orzo with Roasted Veggies + Spicy Veggie Peanut)

During winter months, I'm normally quite the soup monster. This time of year I'm typically making at least one or two pots of comfort every week. This winter, however, has been superbly mild here in southwestern Ontario. It's been more of a "Let's Grill!" winter than a "Let's Eat Piping Hot Soup!" winter, which is strange, because by mid-February our BBQ is usually buried under thirty million feet of snow. Today is February 10th and there isn't a single fleck of snow anywhere near our backyard BBQ. Truthfully, despite my severe dislike of winter, the lack of snow is making me quite uneasy. I'm having unsettling visions of blizzards in June. Or no blizzards at all ever again, which sounds appealing but is really, really not. At least in terms of our survival as a planet.

Because it's been so mild all winter, I've inadvertently found myself forgetting about soups and stews as dinner options, although I hear there's some snow on the way tonight, which in turn just might spur on some more soup sampling.

Mild weather aside, I did try a couple new-to-me soup recipes over the last month, both by vegan cookbook author Nava Atlas. The first one, pictured above, comes from Vegan Express. A simple, mild soup made of roasted red pepper, celery, carrots, mushrooms and turnip as well as orzo pasta. Orzo are tiny, rice-shaped noodles and they are a perfect way to incorporate pasta into soups without having the pasta taste and texture take over. I am an orzo fanatic, but the one minor annoyance that comes along with it is that I can never seem to find healthier orzo options, such as whole grain or gluten free, here in Kitchener. The only options around here seem to be the highly processed white variety. Hopefully this will change soon, because I really would like to work with orzo more often.

The second soup I tried comes from Nava's most recent book, Vegan Holiday Kitchen. The recipe for this Spiced Vegetable Peanut Soup (which is both gluten and soy free) is listed under the "Thanksgiving" section of the book. Since I will never have enough time to try all of the recipes in the book during their corresponding holidays, I'm using these In-Between-Holidays weeks to sample recipes that I wasn't able to make for Thanksgiving and Christmas. That is, until it's really spring (not this February "Fake Spring") and it's time to dive into the Easter section of the book.

The one concession I did have to make, making this soup in the winter rather than the fall, was substituting a standard issue zucchini in place of the yellow summer squash that the recipe calls for. I'm lucky to even find a zucchini in February that isn't half rotten from a journey to Canada from warmer climates - there's no way I'd have similar luck with yellow summer squash.

I love this soup because it combines three of my favourite things: peanut butter, curry powder and red pepper flakes. Further, like anything featuring curry, it gets better the longer you let the flavours sit and mellow. Make this soup on Sunday night, warm it up on Monday night et voilĂ  - a perfect vegan meal for Meatless Monday without any weeknight stress!

You can find each of these recipes in their respective cookbooks. Nava also has a great recipe program set up via email, and often times she shares recipes that were previously available only in her books. You can sign up for the Recipe-of-the-Week online newsletter here - maybe one of these recipes will be featured soon!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

White Enchiladas + Neapolitan Shake

I have come to purchase/receive an alarming number of cookbooks over the last few months. First came my birthday. Then when Christmas came around and I got a couple as gifts I decided to put a pin in cookbook shopping for a little while, as there is no way that I'm going to be able to make all the recipes that I want to make (from all the cookbooks that I want to own) in my lifetime. I'm only 28 years old, so I hope that "lifetime" is a long time, but unless vegans start living to 200 years (if anyone's going to do it, we will!) there is no way that I'm going to get around to all these recipes.

That being said, I couldn't resist buying just one more cookbook. And I actually had an Amazon gift certificate, so this was really a No-Harm-No-Foul situation. I was just at the point in my life where I really needed to own a Happy Herbivore cookbook.

I learned about Lindsay Nixon, the Happy Herbivore, via Twitter. How 2012 of me!

An active tweeter herself, Lindsay has quite the following over on Twitter and her supporters (the adorably named "Herbies") are always making me drool when they tweet about the amazing meals they're making out of her cookbooks. Once I tried her Peanut Buttercup Smoothie I knew that I had to lift the ban on cookbook buying so that I could include a hardcopy of some of her recipes. And truthfully, a lot of the cookbooks I've recently gotten feature a lot of really delicious vegan meals, but are not anywhere near fat-free or calorie conscious. Of course, I'm by no means a calorie counter, nor am I one to avoid the more natural plant-based fats. But that being said, it was time to balance the themes of my cookbooks out a little bit and include some low-fat and low-calorie recipes in my weekly roster, too.

Once I convinced myself that I needed yet another cookbook, all that was left was deciding between Lindsay's first cookbook, The Happy Herbivore and her more recent "quick-and-easy" cookbook, Everyday Happy Herbivore. After much soul searching I ultimately went with Everyday Happy Herbivore, as I'm not only lacking in the low-fat cookbook department, I am also without a lot of simple, everyday cookbooks. I work until 6pm Monday to Friday and by the time I battle the traffic on my commute, it is often close to 7pm when I finally get home. By that point I'm so ravenous that my aptly named alter ego "HUNGOR" has taken over my brain and time is of the essence when getting dinner on the table.

While I did choose Everyday Happy Herbivore, I'm sure Happy Herbivore will be one of the cookbooks I buy when I'm back to buying cookbooks again. Which will probably be next week.

The first recipe I made from EHH was for White Enchiladas. Dinner was done in 15 minutes, prep time included! I don't think I've ever made dinner that quickly. I also loved it because it gave me an excuse to buy a bottle of salsa verde/tomatillo salsa:

In this recipe, salsa verde is used to liven up slightly blended chickpeas, and together, along with spices, it makes the filling for the enchiladas.

The enchilada sauce for this recipe is a spicy, cheezy number, courtesy of green chiles and nutritional yeast.

Now, the reason this meal is done so quickly is because other than the sauce, it's heated in the microwave. I know that many vegans (and non-vegans alike) are opposed to microwaves and that's cool because I think this would come together deliciously in a toaster oven, too. I myself am not wild over microwaves but I do own one and I turn to it in busy times of need. Furthermore, a microwave is the only cooking appliance I've got at work, and with a little prep ahead of time to make the sauce, this meal is a perfect "Packed Lunch" candidate for me.

For dessert, I made the Happy Herbivore Neapolitan smoothie! Except I likely put in too much frozen banana because it was thick beyond thick - more like a shake than a smoothie. Which actually worked out because a milkshake is what I was craving at the time. I ended up forgoing the straw altogether and ate it like soft-serve ice cream. Yum!

Linday has an amazing blog, found here. A lot of the recipes featured in her cookbooks are also found there. It looks like the recipe for the White Enchiladas is cookbook only (once again, it's found in Everyday Happy Herbivore) but you can find the recipe for the smoothie here.

Anyone else tried any recipes from Everyday Happy Herbivore? Any favourites that I should bookmark?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Vegans Doing Brunch

When I started this blog several years ago, I could never have imagined all of the cool people that I would get to meet and experiences that I would get to have. The response to the blog within my hometown of Kitchener (and Waterloo) Ontario has been so positive and encouraging. I've been approached by so many like-minded people within the area that I likely would not have had a chance to meet had I not had the blog as a catalyst. We vegans are a minority, so in my everyday life it's very rare that I come across another vegan (although when I do, holy crap do I ever freak out.) Sure, I probably pass some in the street now and again - but it's not like we're all wearing "TEAM VEGAN" t-shirts for easy identification. Although that would be pretty awesome.

The blog does, however, kind of give me a chance to wear a "TEAM VEGAN" shirt of sorts, identifying myself as vegan and promoting my cause within my community. As such I think (at least I hope) it encourages other vegans/veg-minded people - regardless of where they're from, but especially from my neighbourhood - to contact me. And they do. And I love making new friends!

Some of these people and I like to get together every now and again and eat a lot of vegan food. One such gathering happened yesterday at brunch, on a beautiful and unseasonably warm February morning. And this is what we ate!

Pictured at the top of this post is what I contributed to the brunch potluck. Fresh fruit and a raw cacao and carob pudding that I made as a dip. I created it by adapting a recipe found in Ani Phyo's Ani's Raw Food Kitchen and you can find the exact recipe here (scroll down, it is listed under Cacao Pudding.)

The changes I made included doubling the cacao nibs and carob powder. I also added an additional two dates and a squeeze of agave nectar to sweeten it up. I don't know if it's the particular raw almonds I was using or what, but when I followed the recipe exactly all I could taste was the almonds. Being a bit generous with the other ingredients helped and made it almost like a rich chocolate mousse that goes perfect with fruit, especially fresh strawberries - what a perfect Valentine's Day recipe this would be!

And here are some of the other goodies we enjoyed:

Tofu scramble!


Sweet Potato Oatmeal Breakfast Casserole! I believe it is this one from my fellow Ontarian vegan blogger Angela Liddon of Oh She Glows.

And finally, the best carrot cupcakes I've ever had!

Pot lucks are my favourite thing ever. They give you an opportunity to sample a little bit of everything, including some things you may not have considered making on your own. It's also nice because there is minimal preparation for each individual person, but tons of food as the end result. Much better than having the burden of a full meal for a big group of people fall on just one person. Many thanks to our gracious host Sarina for putting together the event!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Smoky Red Pepper'n'Beans Gumbo

I'm sad to report that to this point, I've never had the opportunity to visit New Orleans. I'm very eager to do so. Aside from getting a chance to experience the spirit of what is considered one of the most vibrant and resilient cities in America, I've also heard that they have quite the vegan scene out there, too. And I love me some vegans!

Until this Canadian girl gets a chance to board a plane for the Big Easy, I'm exploring the culture via its most celebrated component - cuisine! Now, of course, I don't exactly share in the Louisianan enthusiasm for sausage and seafood. But thanks in part to our southern vegan friends, there are plenty of Cajun and Creole recipes made vegan out there. There are hundreds of vegan gumbo recipes alone!

While some dishes are more tricky to veganize than others, gumbo translates really well - with all those hearty veggies and beans thickened in a roux sticking to your ribs, who needs meat?!

What makes gumbo different from your typical dense veggie stew is the unmistakeable flavour and texture of okra. A vegetable that originated in Africa, it is believed that a version of the word "gumbo" was first used to refer not to a stew, but to the vegetable itself. It was later that the term was applied this traditional southern meal.

Often sketching people out, including yours truly (at first), okra is a slimy little bugger that makes a sticky mess out of your cutting board. But it's precisely this sticky/slimy quality that makes it perfect for soups and stews, easily thickening up broths and liquids.

Another important component of gumbo is the roux, which is a thickening base traditionally made from flour and fat. The fat is usually butter, but down south lard is not frowned upon either. We vegans don't care much for pig fat, so we opt for oils or vegan margarine (which is essentially oil) - although there does appear to be an oil-free movement currently in the works in the vegan community. If you're a part of it, you might not be too fond of this recipe, although I have in the past made roux using water in place of the fat. The resulting dishes have had a little less flavour and were a little more runny, but in the name of health, water is a perfectly fine alternative.

The okra does a pretty good job of thickening things up too!

A lot of vegan gumbos sub in veggie sausages and other faux meats and that would probably be pretty tasty, but I like the simplicity of this one. Always a fan of vegetables, I find that they often get overshadowed by the more intense flavour of veggie meats. In this gumbo, the veggies do the talking - with a little help from a bottle of beer and a few drops of liquid smoke.

One other thing - I'm told that tomatoes are the most controversial ingredient (or noningredient) in gumbo. Cajun gumbo doesn't traditionally have any and I've been warned that Cajun purists get super pissed when you try and put them in. Tomatoes are, however, found in Creole gumbo. And that is as far as my knowledge on the topic goes. Canadian.....remember?

So, I guess we'll call this a Creole gumbo. Not exactly super traditional, but a great way to celebrate the spirit of New Orleans - especially with Mardi Gras just around the corner.

This recipe is found on page 149 of Veganomicon. There is also a slightly modified version of it here.

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