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Tarragon Millet and Pear Stuffed Squash

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Every once in awhile, I cook something that is otherworldly – beyond all expectations and incredibly yummy. THIS is one of those times. The recipe is taken from The Vibrant Table (by Anya Kassoff) – which is a cookbook that I am thoroughly enjoying!!!! Everything that I have made from the cookbook has been amazing, the pictures are tantalizing and they are not difficult. I HIGHLY recommend this book! If I wasn’t restricted by copyright rules, I would post every recipe I have made from it so far! Alas, it must suffice that I give you this recipe and my strong recommendation to actually by the book. Whether you are vegan or not, you will enjoy these recipes. Guaranteed (and no! I don’t receive any commission!!!)

It’s a good recipe to get kids to eat too as they will think it’s pretty cool that they can eat their bowl!

Ingredients

  • 4 TBSP Grapeseed oil, ghee or other oil of choice, divided (I used peanut oil which also has a high smoking point)
  • 2 medium red kuri (or 2 small butternut or 2 medium acorn – I used acorn) squashes, cut in half, seeds removed
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp pink peppercorns (I didn’t have these)
  • 1 TBSP fresh thyme leaves, divided (totally worth buying fresh!!!)
  • 1 leek, white and tender green parts only, thinly sliced
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 1 large fennel bulb shaved with a vegetable peeler (I’m not a huge fan of fennel and forgot to pick it up anyways. I think it would have a strong impact on the taste and I was content without it)
  • 3 medium parsnips, diced
  • 1/4 tsp paprika
  • 1 bunch fresh tarragon, stems removed and leaves chopped (I searched high and low for this and ended up settling for dried)
  • 1 cup millet
  • 2 cups of water
  • 3 ripe but firm pears, such as Bosc, cored (1 sliced and 2 cubed)
  • 1 TBSP freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Zest of one lemon

instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425F
  2. Rub 2 TBSP oil over the squashes and sprinkle the flesh with salt and pepper. Pierce the skin a few times with a fork and bake for 20 minutes. Using a spatula, flip the squash halves over and bake for another 10 minutes or more, depending on the size of the squash, until the flesh is soft and yields when pierced with a fork. Lower the oven temperature to 375F
  3. While the squash is roasting, crush and coarsely grind the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, and pink/black peppercorns with a mortar and pestle. In a large saucepan, warm the remaining oil over medium heat. Add the freshly ground spices with half of the thyme and sauté for 2 minutes, until fragrant.
  4. Add the leek and shallot to the pan and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the fennel, parsnips, paprika, and one-third of the tarragon, then sauté for 2 minutes. Add the millet, followed by the hot water, and salt. Stir together to incorporate and bring to a gentle boil. Lower the heat, cover the pan, and simmer for 20-25 minutes until the millet is cooked.
  5. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the pear cubes and lemon juice and the rest of the thyme, tarragon and lemon zest, reserving just enough for garnish. Fill the cavities of the squashes with the stuffing, building a small mound on top. Slip the pear slices into the stuffing on top of each squash half. Place the stuffed squashes on the baking sheet and return them to the oven for 5-7 minutes.
  6. Remove the stuffed squash from the oven. Garnish with the remaining thyme, tarragon, peppercorns, and lemon zest, and let cool slightly before serving.

ENJOY!!!!

Asparagus and Potato Soup

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I’m so very happy that the spring is here. In fact, I’ve recently heard people complaining about how hot it is. All I can think of is how thankful I am that it is not snowing. A long winter is hard for many people. I find that I get sluggish and more depressed in winter months with the dark, cold, and this winter, the never ending snow. I can’t tell you how many times I would have dreams about waking up to a blizzard.

One of the many things I love about spring and summer is the abundance of fresh produce in its prime. I was at a fruit market near me and asparagus (one of my favourite vegetables!) was on sale for a dollar – so i most definitely had to buy some along with some other ingredients. Today I decided to make an asparagus soup and adapted a recipe from Simply in Season to match what I wanted as well as what was in my kitchen. It is so amazingly good that I needed to share it! Plus – the total cost for a pot of soup was less than $2 as I bought everything on sale!

Asparagus and Potato Soup (an adapted version of the Asparagus Soup in Simply in Season cookbook)

2 bunches of asparagus (chopped into one inch pieces, removing the tough ends)

3 cups of broth

2 large yellow potatoes or about 6 small ones (chopped into bite sized pieces)

1 small onion (diced)

1 full stalk of celery including the leaves (chopped)

salt and pepper (to taste)

Olive Oil

Directions:

  1. Sweat celery and onion in olive oil for 10 minutes.
  2. Add potatoes, asparagus and 3 cups of vegetable broth. Bring to a boil. Let simmer for 20 minutes or until potatoes are soft.
  3. Puree until smooth. add a little salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Serve and enjoy!

Pumpkin Seed-Crusted Tofu with Baked Pumpkin and Cranberry Relish

December 31, 2012 1 comment

A vegan alternative to turkey! This was quite amazing… Also from Vegan with a Vengeance by Isa Chandra Moskowitz.  … Have you bought this book yet? Believe me, everything I try from it is absolutely amazing.

 

3-3 1/2 pound sugar pumpkin

8tsp canola oil plus extra for deep-frying

1/2 cup cornstarch

1/4 cup fresh oregano, chopped (this is worth the extra expense and time…)

1/4 tsp salt

1 pound extra-firm tofu, drained and pressed, sliced lengthwise into eighths

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup water

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.

Carve out the top of the pumpkin with a paring knife and slice the pumpkin in half with a chef’s knife. Remove the seeds and clean them in a strainer under running water. Set the pumpkin aside to prepare as described below. Dry the seeds thoroughly by laying on a paper towel; pat the tops with another towel to remove any moisture. Measure 3/4 cup of seeds and transfer them to a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with 2tsp of oil, toss to coat. Bake for 20 minutes, flipping occasionally. They should be toasted a golden brown to a deep golden brown. Transfer to a bowl to cool. Meanwhile, prepare the pumpkin.

Adjust the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Cut the pumpkin into slices that are about 2 inches wide at the widest point. Lightly oil the slices with canola oil. Place on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for about 45 minutes, until tender and lightly browned.

When the seeds have cooled, transfer them to a food processor and pulse until crumbly; the texture should range from ground to coarse and chunky. In a shallow bowl mix the seeds with the cornstarch, oregano and salt. Place the flour in another bowl, the water in another, and line up your three bowls: flour, water, and the seed mixture.

Heat 1/4 inch of oil over moderate heat in a heavy-bottomed skillet, preferably cast iron. the heat should be between 320-350 deg F. If you don’t have a thermometer test the oil by dropping a pinch of the seed mixture in; if bubbles form rapidly around the seeds, the oil is ready.

 

Dip the tofu on both sides into the flour, then into the water, then into the seed mixture on both sides until the tofu is well coated with seeds. repeat until all eight pieces are ready. Using tongs, lower the pieces into the oil (you may have to do it in two batches). Fry for 3 minutes on one side and about 2 1/2 minutes on the second side. Remove from the oil and transfer to flattened paper bags or paper towels to drain the excess oil. Serve with roasted pumpkin.

Cranberry Relish

2 cups fresh cranberries, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup pure maple syrup

1/2 cup water

1/4 cup fresh orange juice

1 tsp finely grated orange zest

Mix together all ingredients in a small saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil. Once boiling, uncover and let simmer for 15 minutes. Bring to room temperature and serve.

The best sweet potato fries ever!

sweet potato fries

At Camino house, we started to get what’s known as the “good food box” which is an assembly of fruits and vegetables that try to use the season’s harvest. This meant that november through april, we received an abundance of sweet potatoes. We tried many ways to make fries. I was never successful. UNTIL I stumbled across this amazing recipe (it’s actually for russet potatoes but I think the sweet potatoes make it all the more tastier.

One note – when it comes to cooking, I don’t actually measure. But for my many friends who like to see quantities, here you go.

(I can’t recommend enough the vegan cookbook from which this recipe comes…. it is Vegan with a Vengeance by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. Best cookbook ever)

Baked Cajun French Fries

4 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut lengthwise into 1/4 strips

2 TBSP olive oil

3/4 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/4 tsp dried oregano

1/4 tsp dried thyme (I left this out since I didn’t have any)

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

1/2 tsp coarse sea salt

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Very lightly grease a large rimmed baking sheet.

In a mixing bowl toss the potatoes with the olive oil to coat. Mix the spices and salt together and toss with the potatoes to coat. It’s okay if the mixture isn’t coating every part of each potato; as long as there is some of the spice on each one, you’re good.

Arrange the potatoes in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet; if they don’t all fit use a second sheet. Bake for 20 minutes. Use tongs to flip the potatoes, bake for another 12-15 minutes. The fries should be browned. Serve immediately.

Becoming Vegan

 

I recently made a pretty big decision to become vegan. I start officially tomorrow. In preparing people for this change, I’ve had quite a mixture of reactions ranging from cheer leading, suggestions, questions to outright disagreement. Since I can’t explain all the thought that has gone into this or offer my spin on things in just a couple of sentences for a facebook post, I’ve decided to devote an entire blogpost to share the journey of coming to this decision and the enthusiasm in which I am embracing this change.

But first, a disclaimer. Or rather two. First, I am not a health professional and so drastic changes to diet should be discussed with someone equipped to look at your specific needs and advise. Food and health are so intertwined and whether you are vegan or not, you need to be careful that your body is getting what it needs. Second, I think that choices around food are very personal. The purpose of this post is not to convince you to become vegan, to adopt a whole foods diet, to abandon meat or to make you feel guilty for not doing so! Rather, it is my explanation for why *I* am undertaking this journey at this time in my life and some responses to the common questions that I have been asked.

This journey began 4 or 5 years as I was painting my apartment. I listened to “Fast Food Nation” on tape and learned so much about the food industry that made me start to look at what I put into my body and where that food comes from. I tried going vegetarian and reducing processed foods and did a half-assed job of it and made countless excuses for my indulgences.

Then last year, I moved into a community house with two vegetarians. Many many interesting discussions. Over the past year, I have been researching on and off and discussing the problems of our food system.

And then, my doctor gave me recent test results which indicate that my body cannot process fat and sugars in the normal way. She ended my appointment with asking if I could cut these out? I nodded with little intention of abiding.

But then I started to think more about it and think about what I am putting into my body. I started to think about what would happen if I continued eating in the way I do (even though I eat a pretty healthy generally speaking) and about how changing my diet would not only prevent further damage but, according to one of my doctor, might reverse it.

Sold.

In addition, other reasons have been brewing in my head:

1) Health (generally)

I once heard a story of someone who left a McDonalds french fry out to see how long it would take to form mold on it. After months, he through it out – it looked the same as from day one. I used to buy the cheapest breads. And then one day I learned how to make bread from scratch and was shocked at how quickly it turned to mold and noticed that the crusts from the cheap bread that was bought a few weeks before were still not moldy. Animals are pumped with antibiotic and all sorts of chemicals in order to mass produce. The food industry is still an industry – if there is a way to make food cheaper and have people buy more, they will do it. The food industry follows the current nutritional fads of the day and target their products to people stuck in the fads. Meanwhile, healthier options exist beyond what the food packaging slogans say!

I saw a report today on rats that were fed Genetically modified corn and have all developed cancer. When food is tampered with so that it lasts longer and costs the food industry less, there is still a cost – only we, the consumers, pay for it with our bodies. Of course, there are stories of people who smoked a pack a day, ate whatever they wanted and lived to be a hundred. There are also stories of people who went vegan and became so ill they had to compromise their ideals for health. But there is consistent research supporting whole food diets and the costs of eating animal products and processed foods. Researchers are increasingly finding links between diet and obesity, hypertension, cardiovascular heart disease, cancer, diabetes. Some even go so far as to say that these conditions can be reversed. I am not convinced yet on this point though.

Obesity causes problems of its own. A silly example but one I often think of is this: my cat Shalom is HUGE and has been frequently nicknamed the “raccoon”. He could stand to lose a few pounds. As a housebound cat with a unrestricted amount of food in his bowl, he gained weight. And I noticed him snoring every night. The cuteness of his snoring aside, once he began to lose weight, the snoring disappeared, or at least decreased. Extra weight has an impact on our whole system. With the extra weight I’ve gained and having been out of a regular routine of exercising, I’m tired after any exertion.

There is increasing research on food and mental health. Yes that piece of chocolate cake feels pretty good in the moment. And I get a boost of energy thanks to a sugar rush. But after that passes, I often feel sluggish and not as emotionally good.

Clearly the old adage is true: we are what we eat.

2) Ethical issues in regards to animal treatment

So I’ve never really been an animal rights activist even though I’ve hung out with a bunch. But lately finding out how animals are treated in order to provide me with the products that are in the supermarkets literally makes me feel sick to my stomach. Each time I pour milk into my cup of tea, I think of the cows who are kept pregnant and in an incredibly small area. I have not been able to eat meat in a few weeks. One way of dealing with these ethical issues is to turn to organic, free range and whatever the rest of the jargon is. I don’t know about where you live, but organic milk for a 4litre bag costs ~$11 (while a non-organic bag costs about $5. For a student budget, this simply is not practical. The other option is to intentionally cut out animal products completely. If health wasn’t my primary motivation, I’m not sure this reason would be sufficient for me to make a rather big lifestyle shift. But – this is the option that I think is best for me at this time.

3) Food sustainability

This is something I’ve only done minimal research on and is something I am beginning to think about. Meat and animal products are expensive – animals cost money to feed, they are expensive to process, and I’ve seen stats indicating that huge amounts of plant food that are required to create a small amount of animal products and how there might be better and more efficient ways. If you want to know more about the issues around food sustainability I’m probably not the best person (yet!) to ask but stay tuned – I am doing research.

One thing I do know is that we are a culture that is moving farther and farther away from a connection to the earth. It is so easy to go to the local grocery store and pick up whatever we want to eat and not think about where it came from, what it is made from, what the impacts are on people, animals and the environment. Research has shown that people who eat in front of tv eat more in a meal than those who eat and converse with others over a meal. Why? we become so distracted and do not allow food to settle to signal our brains that they are full. Our disconnection from the earth is simply not sustainable for any of us.

So… some popular reactions to my new endeavour and my thinking…these aren’t direct quotes, but summaries of the various responses I’ve received to becoming vegan.

But what about all those nutrients that you get in animal products? Like calcium, B12, and iron?

So this was my biggest concern. So I’ll address this one in the most detail.

Calcium – An important fact that I didn’t know prior to my research is that vitamin D is required in order to absorb calcium from dietary foods. This means half an hour in the sun daily or vitamin D supplements. In addition, excessive protein can reduce the amount of calcium absorption. So just drinking milk doesn’t mean you are getting the calcium you need. Also, there are plenty of plant based sources that provide more than adequate amounts of calcium – here’s a few to get you started. Good sources (amount of calcium) include: 1 cup of kale (200mg), bok choy (350mg), chickpeas (95mg), quinoa (80mg). Compare this with 1 cup of milk (300mg) and calcium deficiency shouldn’t be a problem for me.

Iron – it’s commonly known that meat sources of iron are most readily available for absorption. The Dieticians of Canada suggest that vegetarians (and also vegans) need double the amount of iron in order to compensate for this. Plant sources include lentils, beans and some vegetables (such as spinach) and fruits. This nutrient will probably be the greatest challenge. Interestingly though, my bloodwork shows perfect iron levels when I am off meat, and iron deficiency when meat was a part of my daily diet.

B12 – I was reading about this one today. Did you know that B12 is bi-product of a certain bacteria in animals? Furthermore, we are instructed to wash our meat in order to get rid of the bacteria (and the majority, if not all, of B12). A staple for non-meat eaters is nutritional yeast which adds a delicious cheese-y taste and is the perfect source of B12. Also, many foods now come fortified with B12 due to the difficulty for vegans and non-vegans to get.

Just a word on nutrient deficiency generally – you can eat meat and still be deficient in essential nutrients. White bread, white rice, and white pasta are not very nutrient dense grains while quinoa, rye, buckwheat (to name a few) are. Given the typical North American diet, nutrient deficiency is quite possible for vegans and non-vegans alike. Some people go vegan on a whim or following a fad and think that you just don’t eat meat and animal products. But true veganism is way more than that and requires concious decisions about what you are eating. Variety, variety, variety. An apple a day only keeps the doctor away if you are getting other fruits, vegetables and grains that hold the variety of nutrients that your body needs.

What about protein – you need meat to get your protein!

Quinoa is a complete protein – meaning that you get all the benefits and can absorb them properly without the addition of other foods in the same way that you can eat meat and satisfy protein needs. If you haven’t tried quinoa, you are missing out…. it is incredibly versatile, has a naturally nutty flavour, is easier to cook than rice and is a very nutrient dense “ancient grain”. Lentils, beans, tofu and other legumes combined with grains (whole grains are best) are more than sufficient.

In North America, we eat WAY more protein than any of us need. Actually, we eat bigger portion sizes than Canada’s food guide suggests – this applies across the board – I learned in my nutrition course that a 12 inch sub is actually six servings of bread – SIX!!!! And think of how easy it is to down whole sub in one sitting.

But isn’t vegan food tasteless?

Yes, plain tofu is pretty darn tasteless. If a vegan diet was limited to just tofu then I doubt anyone would stick to it. I personally don’t mind the (mild) taste of tofu. But the key with tofu is in how you cook it – tofu takes on the flavour of what ever you cook it in. Also, texture matters. If you don’t like tofu, I dare you to try one of my recipes – you might be convinced.

Here’s a quote from one of my vegan books (Venturesome Vegan Cooking – bold flavors for plant-based meals):  “Too many people think vegetarian food is dull, that it is rice and broccoli day after day […] The world of food is vast and populated by so many flavours that boredom is inexcusable”

Not convinced? here are some tantalizing recipes that make my mouth water:

  • mango-ginger tofu (i’ve tried this – AMAZING and no it doesn’t lack in flavour at all. Is quite spicy actually!)
  • Potato-Edamame Samosas with Coconut-Mint Chutney
  • Maple mustard glazed potatoes
  • Green Thai curry
  • Pumpkin Seed-crusted tofu with baked pumpkin and cranberry relish
  • citrus cilantro rice
  • vegetarian haggis (just kidding on the ‘tantalizing’ aspect of this dish, but there’s a recipe in one of my books!)

But what about dessert??? You won’t be able to enjoy anything good anymore!

One of the things that I am most excited about this change (besides a healthier me) is being able to enjoy plant foods more and rely on processed sugar desserts less. Last night I ate a mango – I am completely enamoured with this fruit. I don’t think I’ve ever tried it growing up. Every time I bite into it, I am amazed at how something can be so sweet and amazing and yet healthy!

And for those days when I am craving something sweet, I have a compilation of about 50 amazing looking desserts in my two vegan cookbooks alone. There are fancy egg substitutes that one can buy for baking. But did you know that one banana per egg will make your muffins moist and fluffy and be healthier with the added bonus of an all natural banana flavour? There are other easy ways to substitute eggs that don’t flavour the foods all that much.

But it will cost a lot of time and money, won’t it?

Time is not all that relevant to me as cooking is my passion, my creative outlet, my stress reliever and something that is reliably a joy. If my housemates agreed to do the dishes every day, I would have no problem being the chef of this household! Mind you, that would mean they’d all have to switch to being vegan. But nothing excites me more than to create a recipe and to be rewarded with its awesome taste – or better yet – to watch others enjoy the fruits of my labour. (And even if time was relevant, most of the meatless dishes, including vegan ones, have taken me considerably less time)

If you invest in fake meat, veganaise, soy yoghurt, and anything marketed to wannabe vegans, yes a vegan diet will cost you money. But so will buying chips, ice cream and cake.

And truth be told, there is a reason why we can get fruits and vegetables at such a low price – buying organic and fairtrade is ideal, but realistically will probably break the banks of most people I know. The best advice I heard in my despair over the food industry is to “Do what you can and then some. And then pray” My limited student budget is not sufficient to end child labour and undeniably rotten working conditions and underwaged workers. Sometimes it is barely enough to buy food generally. I live and breathe into a system full of corruption. The laptop I am typing on, the ikea furniture in my bedroom, the clothes I wear would cost a heck of a lot more if I paid the labourers their worth. This is not a pitch for apathy – we need to be challenged. We need to address the injustices of our world and to challenge the systems that enforce corruption. We need to move beyond our comfort zone and to bear some of the cost of our lifestyles. But money is a huge barrier and definitely, the more you engage in fairly traded purchases, the greater your grocery bill. But this applies to vegans and nonvegans alike. I think after you’ve done what you can and then some, prayer is the next step. Also, I think we can honour the people who work and toil for our food through gratitude.

You can make being vegan as expensive or as simple as you like. But this is the same for animal based diets. As long as you aren’t buying specialty items, a vegan diet can be way less expensive.

Take for example the following meal:

 

This is a Lebanese dish that I tried to recreate from what my employer shared with me the other day. It is tasty, high in protein, fibre and other good stuff and is incredibly filling. So far I think we’ve gotten 8 servings out of it…. and there are still a few servings left. Cost of the entire meal? ~$3. Yep, you read that right – 10 or so helpings of nutrient dense and delicious food all for approximately three dollars.

If you can come up with a nonvegan meal that is as nutrient dense and feeds as many people for $3 or less, I will eat my hat (provided it’s not made from animal products).

So there you have it – this is why I am making the switch to become a vegan. I invite you to come along for the journey. I’m pretty stoked about about being more aware about what I eat and coming up with creative ways to never get bored with the plants that God has blessed us with.