Friday, May 29, 2009

Vegan Eggplant Stew

eggplant tomato stew

The Man of Science had to stay at work until almost midnight last night so when I returned from my travels in the west, I was on my own for dinner. It has been raining here for days, which is a bummer, and it left me wanting something rich and comforting. I bought an eggplant last week thinking we could grill it but that never happened. I'm no fan of a barbecue in the rain.

I don't cook with eggplant much, but I love to eat it. Especially when it's cooked really well in Indian or Italian dishes. The problem is, if it's cooked badly it tastes like total ass. It was my goal to make a relatively easy eggplant dish with low probability of ass-tasty-ness.


Vegan Eggplant Stew

Part One: Eggplant

1 medium sized eggplant, peeled and cubed
1 tbsp salt
3 tbsp olive oil

See those photos above? The one of the eggplant cubes in the colander and the dirty water on the plate? You need to do this to your eggplant. Cut it up into a bunch of cubes, put it all in a colander, toss it with salt, and set the colander aside on a plate. Leave it there while you prep the rest of the ingredients. When you go back to it, there should be a puddle of yucky water on your plate. This is a good thing. That puddle is the Eggplant Bitterness and you must wash it down the sink. The Bitterness is part one of why eggplant can potentially taste bad.

The second part of the eggplant's yuckiness, comes from the fact that it needs to cook longer than most other vegetables. I solve this problem by pan frying it in a bit of olive oil over medium heat for a few minutes. The eggplant pieces will darken and go a little mushy. This gets them closer to being cooked at the same time as everything else.

Part Two: The Rest of It

1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 can diced tomatoes
1 1/2 cups black-eyed peas
2 tsp basil
2 tsp oregano
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp sugar or maple syrup
salt and pepper to taste

Saute onion and garlic in olive oil over medium high heat until onion pieces are tender. Then add the fried eggplant pieces. Saute for two more minutes.

Stir in the remainder of the ingredients and reduce the heat to medium. Cover, and let simmer for five to ten minutes. When the eggplant pretty much melts in your mouth, you know it's ready.

Some Notes:

-Someone once taught me that the key to choosing a good eggplant is to slap it gently and listen to the sound it makes. It should make a sound similar to the sound you make when you gently slap the inside of your wrist. I'm not sure if there's any science behind this technique, but it has yet to steer me wrong.

-I ate this over a bed of quinoa which was delicious, but rice would work too. And the leftovers make an excellent next-day lunch.

-I just got my copy of Vegan Brunch! This is unrelated to this highly un-brunchy recipe, but I am so excited I had to tell the world! Lots of great Saturday meals in our future!


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Saffron Bistro in Pembroke, Ontario

Saffron Bistro

I had two days worth of work to do in the Petawawa/Pembroke/Deep River area this week so I booked myself a room at the Comfort Inn, Pembroke. I wasn't sure if the trip was going to be a peaceful night away or a gigantic snore. Either way, I was pretty intent on eating well, especially because I can claim a portion of my meals when I get back to the office.

I settled on The Saffron Bistro for dinner. Their menu was small but tasty-sounding, and I knew the desserts would be good because one of the owners is ex of The Three Tarts bakery in Ottawa.

warm vegetable salad

For my appetizer I had a warm salad that was really excellent, though not completely what I was expecting. The asparagus got top billing in the menu, but as you can see in the photo there were two spears on the top of the dish and that was it. No matter, though, since the rest of the vegetables were perfectly done. And the portobello mushroom slices were wildly delicious. They stole the show from the mediocre asparagus.

Sadly, I didn't get a photo of the butternut squash risotto that came next. It was getting dark and risotto is just not the most photogenic of foods. But it was delicious and flavourful, though a tiny bit rich. However, clearly richness was not an issue for me, since I decided to move on to dessert. I spent a long time looking back and forth between the strawberry shortcake and something called "chocolate pate". I decided on the shortcake.

strawberry shortcake

The strawberries were shockingly fresh and delicious, but it was the cake itself, that blew me away. It was made with almonds and the texture was fantastic. I toyed with asking the waitress if the pastry chef would give me a copy of the recipe. Do people do that? Frequent restaurant goers, any ideas? I wouldn't have wanted to publish the recipe or anything, just try it to see if I could actually make something that good with my own hands.

My company for the whole meal was Judith Jones' book The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food. It was a a good choice, since reading books about food always makes me hungry anyway. Like watching Top Chef. Anyway, Jones was the editor who worked with Julia Child to get Mastering The Art of French Cooking published in North America. One of my favourite books of all time is Julia Child's memoir, My Life in France, and Jones' book is the perfect companion for Child's book. The writing style is similar and it is interesting to hear the stories from a different perspective. Highly recommended.

Tomorrow, I have my eye on a diner in Deep River that makes some kind of breakfast potato pancake using steel cut Irish Oatmeal. Yet another thing I'd like to recreate in my own kitchen.

Stay tuned.


Sunday, May 24, 2009

Very Local Food


The garden is in, and as you can see I'm enjoying a much-deserved beer. This is my first vegetable garden, ever, so I have started small and mostly planted things that seem to grow easily.


tomatoes (Campbell, Brandywine, and Bonny Best)
hot peppers
swiss chard
Italian parsley
(and some marigolds to help keep the pests away)


I am so happy to have things planted. Now I just have to not kill the plants that are already growing and talk sweet to my seeds with the hope that they sprout soon.


Friday, May 22, 2009

Homemade Ravioli with Tofu Tomato Sauce

so ridiculously delicious

I was in the middle of making this ravioli when I remembered that I needed to call my mom. Perfect, I thought, I can brag to her that I'm making ravioli from scratch! But when I called my parents' house my Dad answered the phone.

"Your mother's out," he told me.

"Where is she?"

"She's at a car rally with a bunch of guys."

Now, most of you don't know my mother, but let me tell you this. She is a kindergarten teacher. And she is pretty much what you'd picture when you picture a kindergarten teacher, albeit with a bit more sarcasm thrown into the mix. In short, not the type to hang out at car rallies. With bunches of guys.

"Where is Mom, really?" I asked my dad, "And by the way, I'm impressed that you made that up so quickly. Very convincing."

It took my dad about a minute to stop laughing. Turns out, my mother was out at a car rally with a bunch of guys. The car rally being something related to her school, perhaps for fundraising purposes, and the "guys" being her fellow teachers. One of them is a guy from Scotland who likes the Clash and has a big record collection, but he's probably the most edgy of the bunch.

So I told my Dad about my ravioli and he, in turn, told me about the onion soup he'd made after he'd seen Jamie Oliver do it on Jamie At Home. We all love Jamie at Home. I am excited that my Dad is showing an interest in cooking again. I think it's been a while. He cooks the way I cook, with concentration and a reasonable sense of adventure. He had a repertoire of dishes when I was a teenager- curries, homemade pizza, pasta with garlic and olive oil- but to my knowledge he hasn't cooked much in recent years. Thank you Jamie Oliver for getting my dad back in the kitchen! I'm sure my mom will thank you too. When she gets back from her car rally.

So! Ravioli! It started last week when the MoS and I were eating store bought ravioli and pondering the difficulty of making pasta from scratch at home. And then, like a sign from the God of Internet, The Pioneer Woman posted a recipe for make-it-yourself pasta. For which one did not need a pasta maker! Just a bowl, knife, and pot of boiling water. Holy crap, I though, could it possibly be that easy?

Yes. Yes it could be.

Of course the recipe (not vegan, sorry!) was for regular noodley pasta and I thought ravioli would be more fun. So there was a bit of improvising. But wow, was it ever worth the mild will-this-work? anxiety. This was delicious. And simple. Though time consuming, so make it when you have a bit of patience to spare.

ravioli raw

Homemade Ravioli with Tofu Tomato Sauce

First, the filling!

In a food processor or blender combine the following:

1 cup spinach
1/4 cup sun dried tomatoes
3 tbsp nutritional yeast
3 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup fresh parsley
1 tbsp olive oil
approximately one tsp each salt and pepper

Process all ingredients until they form a very thick paste. Set aside

Then, the pasta!

Using the afore-linked recipe, make one big sheet of pasta dough. Roll the crap out of it. Seriously, roll it until it is freakishly thin and then roll it some more.

Using a medium sized drinking glass, cut one circle out of the dough. Place the circle over a spoon and fill the divot up with your spinach filling. Then cover it with another circle. Use a fork to press the sides of the circles together.


Make sure your ravioli are dusted lightly with flour before you put them aside. Otherwise they'll stick in a most unpleasant fashion.

And... Sauce!

2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped small
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 tbsp red wine (optional)
a handful of mushrooms, chopped
1/4 cup tofu, crumbled
1 large can of diced tomatoes
a handful of fresh herbs or 1 tsp each dried parsley, basil, and oregano
2 tsp sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil on med-high heat and saute garlic and onion until onion is tender.

Add mushrooms, tofu, and wine and stir until mushrooms are tender. Then add diced tomatoes, herbs, sugar, and salt and pepper.

Reduce heat and let sauce simmer for five minutes. If you want a smoother sauce you can blend a portion of the sauce and then mix it all back together.

And let's bring it on home!

To the cook the pasta, bring a large pot of salted water to rolling boil and then dump all the pasta into it.

The pasta cooks in about two or three minutes so don't go getting all distracted with the internet or anything.

When your ravioli are floating, they are done. Dump the pot into a strainer, rinse the ravioli, and toss it in a bit of olive oil.

Serve with tomato sauce to your amazed dinner companion(s).

ravioli cooked

Some notes:

-I'm sure I wasn't alone in thinking that one needed fancy pasta making tools in order to make palatable pasta at home. But pasta makers and ravioli molds and the like are just to make the process easier. They are absolutely not necessary. Anyone with basic kitchen utensils and a bit of time could make this. I can't wait to try making fettuccine next. And lasagna with homemade noodles! The possibilities are endless.

-I would like to look into making a vegan version of this pasta. If anyone has a link to a reliable recipe, please let me know.

-I don't even know what a car rally is.


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Pesto of Science

Pesto of Science

Well well. Long time no see. I apologize for my silence this week. Seems I stepped firmly off the food blogging train when I got too wrapped up in my regular life. I was out of the house a lot of evenings this week and that meant quick, simple dinners that, while delicious, weren't worth blogging. If you want to see what else I did (redesigned our back deck, set up my garden, saw Davy Rothbart read, and got a new hair do) you can check out my non-food blog. But over here it's on with a new recipe. Finally!

The first time I ever came to the House of Science for dinner, the Man of Science made this pesto. He asked me to bring wine and bread and I was happy to oblige, though I it meant I had to call my dad in a state of mild panic and ask, "What's a good red wine? I think I might really like this guy!"

The Pesto of Science was a big hit with me, and the MoS has made it many times since then, often tweaking the recipe depending on what herbs we happen to have on hand. It is very simple to make if you have a food processor or a good blender. And you really can't beat the combination of fresh herbs and olive oil.

Pesto of Science

1 bunch of cilantro
4 cloves of garlic
salt to taste
1/2 cup pitted black olives
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup sun dried tomatoes
1/3 cup olive oil
1 package of fettuccine

Combine all ingredients except for oil and pasta in food processor and pulse to combine. Everything should be in fairly small chunks.

Add oil slowly while processor is on a low setting.

Cook pasta according to package directions.

Toss pasta with pesto and serve.

kitchen boyfriend

McSteamy! Snort.

Some Notes:

-The MoS wanted me to note that you can never have too much garlic. Anywhere. In anything.

-Fresh-ish pasta works best with this. We get the store-brand packaged fresh pasta which, while more expensive than dried pasta, tastes a lot better. I was just reading about pasta and sauce in the New York Times magazine today, and the article made the point that cooks used to see pasta as the canvas for a great sauce, but now the trend is to work on the marriage of pasta and sauce, since both can have distinct flavours and textures.

-My vegetable garden is almost a reality. Tomorrow the soil gets prepared and next week my plants/seeds go into the ground. I am so excited and a little worried that it will all go wrong. But oh, if I actually grow a bunch of my own food I will be wildly happy. And someone will have to buy me this t-shirt for my birthday.


Saturday, May 9, 2009

Black Bean Tacos


Oh, the tomatoes! They are starting to smell like tomatoes again. And taste almost like something that was grown in the ground instead of something created in some kind of freaky greenhouse factory. And even the fresh herbs are getting more fragrant. Hooray for spring! I want to dance around and eat things!

I made these tacos for dinner while watching old Jamie Oliver videos on the internet. These are easy to make and require minimal time and concentration, and yet they somehow look and taste all fancy and lovely. I remember the tacos of my suburban Canandian youth, with their stale, crunchy shells, and pale lettuce and tomatoes, plus some kind of meat fried in packaged spice powder.They were considered a treat. I liked them just fine. So you can only imagine how much I loooooove this fresher, more interesting, and less-meaty version. I could eat ten more right now.


Black Bean Tacos

3 tbsp sunflower oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
three cups of cooked black beans
juice of 1/2 a lime
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 cup corn
salt and pepper to taste
6-8 corn tortillas
1 ripe avacado
1 medium sized tomato
salsa and fresh cilantro for garnish

Heat the oil over medium high heat and add onion and garlic.

Saute for a minute or two, then dump in your black beans.

Add spices and lime juice, stir to combine. Reduce heat to medium and let cook for a few minutes.

Add corn and stir again. Reduce heat to low.

Warm tortillas in oven until they are soft (about three minutes).

On a warmed tortilla layer bean mixture, tomatoes, avacado, salsa, and cilantro.

Fold! Eat!



Thursday, May 7, 2009

Tried and True Vegan Banana Bread

vegan banana bread

Bananas and I have a complicated relationship. I abhor them in their natural form. I can't help it, I am a texture person. And the texture of bananas is OhMyGodYuck as far as I'm concerned. However, this does not prevent me from using bananas quite often in my daily life. Because I like their flavour. And their sweetness. And even their texture when they have been frozen and blended into a smoothie with strawberries and almond milk. Or peaches and ginger. Ohhhhh, peaches and ginger. Come into season soon, Ontario peaches. I want to smoothie you.

But I digress. Banana bread gains my approval only if the bananas therein have been thoroughly blended to ensure no banana lumps remain to gag me. I have been using the same banana bread recipe for over a decade now, and have modified it only slightly from its original form in the Compassionate Cook recipe collection. I made this on Sunday and it was received enthusiastically by the Man of Science. He's not normally into baked goods, but he'll make an exception for not-too-sweet fruit based concoctions like this one.

tried and true

Tried and True Vegan Banana Bread (adapted from The Compassionate Cook)

1/3 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup unrefined sugar
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cardamom
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 ripe bananas
1/2 cup vanilla almond milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and grease an flour a regular sized loaf pan.

Mix the sugar into the coconut milk with a fork.

Stir in flours, spices, baking powder, and baking soda.

Thoroughly (I mean it!) blend bananas into almond milk and stir in vanilla.

Mix wet ingredients with dry and pour into loaf pan.

Bake for 45 minutes or until a knife in the centre comes out clean.


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Saturday Night Pizza


My friend Kat can run with an idea like no one I know. This is a woman who, upon moving into her first house, not only painted and decorated, but did wiring and plumbing as well. “I took the toilet apart and put in a new one,” she’d say during one of our weekly phone conversations. “It wasn’t that hard at all. And I’m going to fix the wiring for the kitchen lights so I can install new fixtures. I’ve got an electrician friend I can call, he’ll talk me through it.”

It’s quite amazing to me, really. I am someone who is horrible at following directions. I can be creative, I can think “outside of the box” until the cows come home, but if I tried to install a toilet by reading step by step instructions from a Do-It-Yourself book? There would be water everywhere.

And it’s not just complicated household tasks that Kat takes on. Last year, as a gift to me, she offered to read any book I wanted her to. This is a great free, non-stuff-related gift idea if you ever need one. The book I chose for her to read was Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Kat has always had an interest in food and cooking, but I thought she’d enjoy and benefit from the book’s discussion of local, fresh food.

Kat started the book in the late winter, reading chapters here and there between chasing after her two small children and falling into bed exhausted. Our weekly phone calls became a forum for talking about local foods. We discussed what was in season and what she was finding at the farmers’ market versus what I was getting in my CSA box. Within a few months, Kat had become a fixture at her local farmers’ market and was cooking amazing local vegetables and meats for her husband and kids. And at the end of the summer she canned and preserved like a maniac, learning from her awesome Mom and running with it from there. I was very impressed. I’ve never gotten around to canning anything and I don’t have an autistic three year old and an infant to take up my time.

When I was visiting last weekend, I asked if she still had any of the sauces that she’d “put up” in the fall. She did, and kindly sent me home with a jar of pizza sauce and a jar of applesauce. I haven’t opened the applesauce yet (I plan to use it in some vegan baking when the opportunity presents itself) but The Man of Science and I had one of our rare cheesy pizza nights this Saturday and I was able to sample the pizza sauce. It was awesome. Great to have someone else's well-made food available to me as I get back into the swing of things, kitchen-wise.

So I have no recipe for you, just this story of nutritional epiphany and the making of pizza. I promise I’ll get back to recipes soon. In the meantime, here is the oft-linked-to pizza recipe from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and some lovely pictures of our Saturday night dinner, featuring Kat’s pizza sauce.



P.S. In an entirely unrelated note, readers who want to hear me chatter, giggle, and play a bunch of music should check out my first Razorcake Podcast which went up at their site this week. I play a lot of fun songs by locally grown bands, and talk it up with my friend Todd. The podcast was recorded just a few feet away from the chard pictured in my header!