Monday, August 31, 2009

Vegan Polenta and Green Tomato Salsa

polenta, salsa, white bean puree

This weekend I decided to finally tackle the growing tomato insanity out in my garden. See, I'm new at this gardening thing and I was kind of overwhelmed when my tomato plants grew so tall they started to fall over into each other, creating an impenetrable mess. There was nothing I could do but start tentatively started cutting off some leaves and branches.

When I wrote my first novel, I had to cut eight characters out of the first draft. Eight characters! Deleted, like they'd never existed. It felt almost as bad to cut back those tomato plants. I worked so hard to get them to grow and now I had to hack them right back. The Man of Science was watching me over the fence.

"It gets easier," he said.

He was right, it got easier as I went along. But I got bummed out when I realized that a bunch of green tomatoes would have to be sacrificed in the name of cleaning up the plants. I know I could have fried them up, Fannie Flagg style, but I felt like doing something different. Something salsa related.

The salsa didn't look like much when I initially put it together, but after an hour in the fridge it was bright and flavourful. The green tomatoes are firm enough to keep the whole thing from getting soggy. This was the best salsa I'd ever made. It cried out for some polenta.

I made the polenta using a modified version of this recipe. I used veggie stock instead of chicken stock, left out the cheese, and subbed in Earth Balance margarine for the butter. Oh, and I threw in some chopped up red and green hot peppers too. Delicious. Especially after it was refrigerated, cut into triangles, and pan fried. I served it with the salsa and a side of white bean and black olive dip for protein. The elements of the meal took a while to prepare and led to two minor injuries (a microplaned finger and a burnt hand) but it was worth it. One of my favourite dinners in a long time.

green tomato salsa

Green Tomato Salsa

3 cups green tomatoes, chopped
1 cup red tomatoes, chopped
1/2 a medium red onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced or grated
1 jalapeno, chopped
juice of one lime
2 tsp kosher salt

Mix all ingredients together and refrigerate for at least half an hour.

Makes a whole lot of salsa, five cups or so.

vegan polenta

Vegan Polenta

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced or grated
4 cups veggie stock
1 cup cornmeal
3 tablespoons vegan margarine
1 teaspoon salt
a few grinds of freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Using a cast iron pan or regular saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic, saute until onion is translucent.

Add veggie stock and raise the heat to high.

When the mixture begins to bubble, start adding the cornmeal a little at a time. Stir the mixture with a whisk while you do this.

When all the cornmeal is added, cover the pot and put the whole thing in the oven. Stir it every ten minutes. Make sure you don't pick up the lid by its scalding hot handle if you are not wearing an oven mitt. I'm just sayin'.

After 30 minutes in the oven, take the polenta out and add margarine and salt and pepper. I also added two chopped up hot peppers to mine for colour and a bit of heat.

You can eat it all soupy like that, or you can put it in a cake pan lined with foil and stick that in the fridge for half an hour or so. Once the polenta is set, you can cut it into triangles and pan fry it in a few tablespoons or olive oil over medium heat.

Makes 3-4 servings.

Some Notes:

-The white bean dip was just a cup and half of white beans and 1/4 cup of parsley blended with the juice of half a lemon and then mixed with a few tablespoons of chopped black olives. Easy and tasty

-Top Chef Vegan Watch: One of the chefs made an incredibly complicated vegan tofu dish for the main challenge this week. Perhaps some day when I am feeling wildly ambitious I will try to cook it myself. After all the complaining I've done about Top Chef never tossing a bone (heh) to us vegetarians, it seems only decent to give the recipe a go.

-And now, please admire my ill-advised hairstyle in this clip of my latest cooking demo for Roger's Daytime, in which I try to make like tofu ain't no thing and am met with skepticism.


Friday, August 28, 2009

"There are problems, problems with everything..."

grow your own food

Well, maybe not problems with everything (couldn't resist a good Against Me! quote) but problems with internet, anyway. The Man of Science is currently working to switch around some modems and improve our internet access at home, which up until now has been slightly unreliable. While he does this, my ability to spend time on line doing useful things like posting recipes and unuseful things like watching Camera Obscura videos repeatedly has been supremely limited. Things should be back to normal next week, and I'll have some deliciousness to share with you all. In the meantime I'll have to be content with the charms of the garden and the record player.

If you are desperate for some of my vegan babbling in the meantime, you'll be able to see my second appearance on Roger's Daytime today at around 11 AM. Which is, uh, not long from now. I'd better get chopping. I will post the link to the online video of the show as soon as they put it up.

Have a great weekend, everyone.


Monday, August 24, 2009

Cashew Date Bars


I believe I have blithered about my low blood sugar in this space before. It is a giant pain in the ass, really. If I don't eat every two hours or so I get dizzy, cranky, tired, and my vision starts to blur. And if I eat refined sugar it's even worse. This didn't get officially diagnosed until one day in 2002 when I badgered a doctor at the college health centre to test me because I was hungry, moody, and dizzy all the time. I'm a bit of a hypochondriac, but sometimes there is actually something wrong with me. Not often, but sometimes.

Anyway, because of the low blood sugar I carry snacks and food with me everywhere I go. Just last week the Man of Science watched me pack my lunch bag for the day and said, "Every time you leave the house, it's like you're embarking on a journey to another planet." Nope, just to Kanata, probably. But whether I am going to Kanata or Uranus (snort!) I usually have one of those "Cashew Cookie" flavoured Larabars with me.

Have you eaten one of these before? They are like magic for the blood sugar. My mom once told me that if she feels wonky she just eats a banana and it makes her feel fine again. Those Larabars are like that for me. Unfortunately, they are far more expensive than bananas. However, since there are only a few ingredients in said bars I decided to harness my DIY spirit and make some in my own kitchen.

I sort of suspected that it would be a disaster because my vision of the whole process seemed so straightforward. Things are often more complicated than I think they will be. Luckily, these actually were really easy to make. Who knew?


Cashew Date Bars

2/3 cup mashed dates
1 cup raw cashew pieces
1 tsp cinnamon

(A food processor is very handy for mashing/chopping up the cashews and the dates. Process them separately or you'll end up with an over-processed gloppy mess.)

Mix all ingredients in a bowl using your hands until they turn into a big, slightly sticky blob.

Line a loaf pan with tinfoil and mash the mixture down flat into the bottom of the pan until it is spread evenly. It will probably be just under an inch thick.

making date bars

Fold the tinfoil over the top of the mixture and gently remove it from the pan.

Refrigerate for at least half an hour and then cut into bars of whatever size you like.

Makes about 6 conventionally sized bars.

Some Notes:

-These were Man of Science approved. "I'm still savouring the taste of that bar in my mouth!" he called to me, several minutes after having a sample of the first batch. "I just thought you'd like to know!"

-Hey, guess what? Top Chef in back on! I may have actually marked the date of the premiere on my calendar. Funny that the first person eliminated had cooked seitan for her challenge meal. She wasn't a vegan chef or anything, and even I was perplexed by her choice. Also, the dish didn't look that great on TV. Still, I'm sad to see delicious seitan getting a bad rap.

-Set your TIVOs (do we have TIVOs in Canada? Is TIVO even pluralized with an "s"?) because I'll be appearing once again on Roger's Daytime this Friday, August 28th. I'm excited, but haven't yet decided what to cook. I've had lots of helpful suggestions, but I'm still mulling it over.

Edited to add: For people without food processors (thanks, Sweetpea, for bringing this up) I'm fairly certain you can do this by hand, it will just take longer and be a bit more arduous! I would recommend chopping the dates up as small as possible and then mashing them with all your might. The nuts you can probably process in a blender, or you can put them in a ziplock bag and roll over them with a rolling pin or pound them with something heavy.

Or you could go hang out with a friend who has a food processor and make a big batch to share! ;)


p.s. Blogger spellcheck (which amuses me because it does not have the word "internet" in its dictionary) offered up the following suggestions for the word "seitan": Stan, Satan, Seton, sedan.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Summer Squash Burritos

summer squash burritos

I admit that the only reason I planted zucchini was because they seemed guaranteed to succeed. As much as everything else in my first year don't-have-a-clue-what-I'm-doing garden could potentially fail, I knew that zucchini would probably make it. And while I have yet to encounter the zucchini craziness that other gardeners describe, I can happily say that yes, they are growing, and yes, I have harvested them. So I say, Booyah! And that is not a word one throws around willy nilly.

Once the zucchini has been harvested, one faces the eternal question of "what can I do with all this zucchini?" What indeed? These burritos were a quick, tasty dinner one night when I was facing garden zucchini, pattypan squash from the farmer's market, and a bunch of leftover salsa from the Man of Science's ambitious Tuesday night meal. I threw the black beans in for protein and voila! Yet another use for zucchini was born.

my first three zucchini

Summer Squash Burritos

2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp chili powder
2 cloves of garlic, chopped small
2 shallots, chopped
3 medium sized pattypan squash, diced.
3 small zucchini, diced
2 cups cooked or canned black beans
juice of 1/2 a lemon
4 tbsp salsa
salt and pepper to taste
tortilla for wrapping
cilantro and more salsa for garnish

Heat olive oil over medium high heat, add chili powder.

Add shallots and garlic saute until tender.

Reduce heat to medium, add squash and zucchini, cover, let cook for three to five minutes, depending how tender you want your veggies.

Uncover, stir in beans, lemon juice, salsa, and season with salt and pepper.

Wrap in a tortilla and bake in a 350 degree oven for five minutes, or until edges are brown.

Serve with fresh cilantro and more salsa.

burritos in progress

Some Notes:

-If you are fortunate enough to live in a place where decent vegan cheese is readily available, then some fakey cheese would probably be an excellent addition to these. I melted some jalapeno Havarti on the Man of Science's burritos and he pronounced them delicious.

-I have been eating entirely vegan for a week and a half and I think it's going to continue. I don't know why I was surprised by how much better I feel when I avoid dairy. I also find it much easier to be completely one way or another because it requires fewer tiny decisions on a daily basis. So perhaps I am vegan because I am lazy. Ha! In all seriousness, my morning running has become much easier this week and I have felt happier and more alert.

-I wrote this entire post while listening to Yo La Tengo's album And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out. I forgot how lovely this record is. Yo La Tengo on the record player and a summer night and some sleepy dogs equals a wonderful.


Monday, August 17, 2009

Dragon's Tongue Beans With Garlic

Dragon's Tongues!

Yes, that's what I said. Dragon's Tongue. Really, what else could they be called? I admit I had never even seen these beans until I happened upon them in my local health food store. They were grown locally on a farm nearby in Quebec, and wow, did they ever look cool sitting there in the produce section. When I checked to see what they were called, I was totally sold. These are the closest things to magic beans I've ever found.

They get slightly less dragony looking after they've been steamed, but they made a lovely and delicious side dish for our let's-try-to-cook-with-as-little-heat-as-possible Friday night dinner. (Holy crap it's hot here. In the thirties and sunny and humid until Tuesday. Come on, Tuesday! Before I melt.) Extra tasty with fresh garlic from the farmer's market and fresh basil from my front porch.

Dragon's Tongue Beans in Garlic

Dragon's tongue Beans With Garlic

2-3 cups of beans (it's hard to measure beans. I used the quantity pictured above.)
water for steaming
2 tbsp olive oil
1 clove crushed and chopped garlic
1 handful of fresh basil, chopped (or 1 tbsp dried)
salt and pepper

Steam beans for five minutes until yellowy and not very speckled.

Combine all other ingredients, except salt and pepper, in a bowl and add beans. Toss to coat.

Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Some Notes:

-The Man of Science has taken over Tuesday night dinners because that is my volunteer night and I tend to arrive home tired of prepping and serving food and washing dishes. He plans his meals carefully and in advance (as you'd expect from a scientific gentleman) and so I happily get a preview of what he is going to cook. Last week it was cuban black beans and rice with some spiced tofu and fresh salsa. This week it is Ethiopean food. Most of the recipes he uses come from this cookbook which I got him for his birthday because he mentioned it had been his favourite years ago. Out of print, but highly recommended.

-My garden is a hot mess right now, with tomato plants higher than my head and the gigantic zucchini and squash plants getting more gigantic by the day. I pulled out all the lettuce (it was done) and I have no idea how the hot peppers are going to work out, but it is certainly not dull out there.

-Oh lord, the heat. Pass me another smoothie.


Friday, August 14, 2009

Veganizing The Art of French Cooking (Tofu Salad a la Julia)

tofu salad sandwich

As I mentioned, Megan and I went to see Julie and Julia on its opening night. And, as I also mentioned, I was super excited to see the movie because I enjoyed both of the books it was based on, especially Julia Child's My Life In France. I had never, of course, tried any of Ms. Child's recipes. Because she loves meat. And butter. And milk. And a variety of other very non-vegan and largely non-vegetarian things. Still, it's kind of sad to enjoy someone's writing and, well, spirit so much and not be able to even try some of their creations. Which is why I set about Veganizing The Art of French Cooking.

I started small. This tofu salad is a vegan version of Julia's chicken salad. She suggests serving it with a garnish of hardboiled eggs. I say, gross! So we had ours in whole wheat pita pockets stuffed with lettuce from the garden. Delicious.

This recipe wasn't hard to alter. A good first try. Perhaps in the future I will be more ambitious and try something a little crazier. Or perhaps I will remain satisfied with this, one simple tribute to one complicated chef.


Tofu Salad a la Julia

1 block (usually 1 pound) of firm tofu, cubed
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp olive oil
a few shakes of white pepper and salt
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 tsp dried tarragon
1 cup celery stalks, diced
2 small shallots, minced
3 tbsp vegan mayonnaise (I used Vegannaise)
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
lettuce and bread for serving

Heat olive oil over medium high heat and add tofu cubes, lemon juice, and salt and pepper. Saute for 3-5 minutes until tofu starts to brown slightly.

Place tofu in a bowl and let cool while you prep other ingredients.

When tofu is cool, add herbs and walnuts and mix all ingredients together, Let sit for five minutes.

Add celery and mayonnaise, season to taste with more salt and pepper, if necessary.

Serve on its own or in sandwiches. Even better the next day.

Some Notes:

-Julia says to use freshly ground white pepper, but the slightly crappy grocery store where I got these ingredients didn't have white pepper corns so I used pre-ground white pepper. It smells weird, but tastes very nice.

-The shallots were quite strong and got stronger when I ate this for lunch the day after I made it. I had to beg my coworkers for some breath freshening gum.

-Truthfully, the movie didn't blow me away. Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci were the best part and the scenes of France were lovely (I'll be in Paris in exactly four months! Hooray!). I think the script was good, but there was no way that one film could capture the full impact of Julia's life story. Once again, I highly recommend that everyone read her book, especially if you liked the movie. It will be like the super-great expanded version of the movie!


Monday, August 10, 2009

Blueberry Bundt Cake

new bundt pan

My parents returned from a trip to the United States a-laden with gifts from the Calphalon cookware outlet. Lucky me, with a birthday that coincides with their travels! My dad, as I've mentioned, has recently re-discovered his love of cooking and my mom has a never-dormant love of good kitchen gear. Apparently they visited the Calphalon outlet three times. Besides getting a bunch of great new kitchen items, they also learned that they'd been using the wrong kind of wok for their entire lives. Helpful!

One of the items I was lucky enough to receive was the bundt pan pictured above. I'd asked for one specifically, since it was something that I'd often found myself wishing for when I perused cake recipes. Now that I'm mostly off the sugar, my oppourtunities for cake making have dwindled, but I was still eager to try out the new pan. So when we were invited over to lunch at one of the Man of Science's friend's houses, I leapt into action and made this cake.

I based my cake on this recipe, with a few minor adjustments. (Lemon rind makes me gag, so I automatically leave that out whenever I see it in a recipe.) Having no fancy cake-carrying apparatus in my kitchen (perhaps that's next year's birthday present) I improvised with one of our large Pyrex containers and it worked out just fine. Let them eat cake!

have bundt cake, will travel

Blueberry Lemon Bundt Cake

3 cups all purpose white flour
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup margarine
1 1/2 cups raw sugar
3 tbsp lemon juice
3 tbsp flaxmeal mixed with 9 tbsp water
1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk "soured" with one tsp white vinegar
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

(glaze used was from original linked recipe)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Lightly grease a 10 inch (or so) bundt pan and sprinkle with a few tablespoons of sugar. Set aside.

Sift flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda together and set aside.

In another bowl, cream margarine with sugar, then add lemon juice, flaxmeal and water. Mix well.

Add flour mixture and soured almond milk to sugar mixture, alternating small amounts of each until everything is combined.

Add blueberries and stir just to distribute them throughout the batter.

Pour batter into bundt pan and use spatula to spread it around evenly.

Bake for between 45 minutes and one hour, until a chopstick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Let cool in pan for ten minutes, then turn out onto cooling rack. When fully cooled, drizzle glaze over the top.

Some Notes:

-I sampled a small piece of this and was amazed by how moist and fluffy it was. An excellent cake to make if there are still people in your life who think that vegan baking is dry and cardboardy. I'd make this again in a second.

-My television wish came true this week: there was a vegan challenge on Top Chef. Here are five things I thought about the episode:
1. I understand that Zooey Deshanel has an above average number of food restrictions, but I was a little shocked by her assertion that all she eats is raw vegetables most of the time AND by the fact that she'd never tried gluten-free pasta before, especially since the chef who made the pasta just went and bought a package of quinoa pasta at Whole Foods.
2. Michael Chiarello could stand to be a bit less of a jerk when it comes to his commentary on food restrictions. He came across as wildly unprofessional when he whined about the parametres of the challenge. Man up, mister!
3. I am respecting and admiring Rick Bayliss more with each episode. He was kind and adventurous and accommodating. When I was in Chicago I tried to go to his restaurant, but it was booked solid. I was so disappointed that lately I've been having dreams where I'm trying to make a reservation.
4. The chef who made dessert seemed like a sweet guy, but his rice milk ice cream (storebought) and berry dish was a huge yawn.
5. All in all the food seemed pretty disappointing. I wonder why people who are highly trained chefs with piles of professional experience seemed to just fall apart when pushed outside of their comfort zones. The challenge was tough, yes, but that's kind of the point of a challenge. That it's challenging.

-I made mini chocolate cupcakes as well as the blueberry cake and I just tried a bite of one and boy, were they ever terrible. I am a wildly inconsistent baker.


Friday, August 7, 2009

Spinach Basil Pesto

spinach basil pesto

The Lovely Megan (who is taking me to see Julie and Julia tonight, wheeeeeeeeee!) gave me a pasta maker for my birthday this year. She was going to get me a new kettle, but thought to e-mail the Man of Science first to ask if a kettle had already been purchased. It had, so he suggested a pasta maker instead. Excellent teamwork, friends!

Don't be deceived, making fresh pasta, with pasta maker or without, is an involved process. It isn't hard, it just takes a long time and renders you, your counters, and in some cases your pets, covered in flour. But worth it? Hell yeah. Fresh pasta is so much more delicious than store bought and when you do finally get around to serving it, you get to feel like a fancy chef or a no-nonsense traditional Italian lady, whichever suits you.

pasta and pesto

But this isn't about pasta! Because I just used the same recipe that I did for my homemade ravioli post a few months ago. This is really about the fresh pesto I whipped up to go with the pasta.

This is yet another recipe that I've been making for over a decade, but I just added the spinach in recently. Extra nutritional value! Same great taste! This pesto, combined with some tomatoes and my fresh pasta came together in a dinner so delicious the Man of Science and I finished the entire bowl between the two of us.

Spinach Basil Pesto

2 cups basil leaves
1 cup spinach
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup olive oil
2 cloves of garlic
salt to taste
1 tomato, diced

Place all ingredients, except tomato and salt, in food processor or blender and combine until smooth. Add salt gradually, tasting as you go.

Toss noodles with pesto and add tomatoes.

Some Notes:

-The basil, spinach and tomatoes all came from local farmers at the Byward Market so they were extra fresh and tasty. And cheap! Now's the time people. Get yourselves to your local markets and share the bounty.

-I am so excited about going to see the movie tonight, I can't even stand it. I loved both of the books it is based on, especially My Life in France. I loved Michael Pollan's article in the Times last Sunday about the demise of homecooking in which he talked extensively about Julia Child. I was almost in tears at one point and the Man of Science asked me what was wrong. "I just find the lessons in Julia Child's writing so profound..." I said. He didn't make fun of me too much, probably because it was my birthday. Anyway, here's an old post I wrote about what I took away from her book, just in case it will make you think I am slightly less crazy.

-Pesto freezes well. We currently have surplus from two batches (some parsley pesto the MoS made on Tuesday and mine from last night) in our freezer waiting for a night when we need a quick dinner. They probably won't stay around for too long. I might make larger batches towards the end of the summer and freeze a whole bunch more of it.


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Strawberry Basil Tarts

strawberry basil tarts

It was my birthday on Sunday and since then I have been showered in kitchen-related gifts. Cuisinarts and pasta makers and cast iron casserole dishes and bundt pans! Oh my! Thoroughly spoiled. It's hard to decide what to use first.

So what do I have for you tonight? A quick dessert that required not one of my new kitchen items. Because I'm just crazy like that.

Have you had strawberries and basil together? I was worried. I knew they compliment each other, but I wondered if maybe the boundary of that marriage was somewhere way back in Salad Land. And I was shooting for a trip to Dessert Ville. I shouldn't have worried. These were lovely. I even went further out on a limb and added a bit of black pepper and still they were sweet and a great finish to our evening meal. They would be even better with some whipped cream or cashew cream or custard or whatever creamy, fatty thing you happen to like. I tried to make the sweet cashew cream from Vegan Brunch to go with mine, but I misread the recipe and... well, no need to talk about what resulted. That's between me and the compost bin.

Strawberry Basil Tarts

six pre-made tart shells (I used circles of store-bought puff pastry)
1 cup strawberries, sliced fairly small
1 heaping tablespoon of basil leaves, chopped into tiny pieces (with a few left for garnish)
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Bake the pastry shells, if needed.

Mix strawberries, basil, syrup, and pepper together and let sit for five minutes.

Fill tart shells with strawberry mixture. Top with cream if you choose. Garnish with basil leaves.

Eat promptly.

Some Notes:

-This is one of the many fruit-based desserts I've made as a result of going almost entirely sugar free for the past month. So it's not that sweet. If you're looking for super sweet you'll have to go elsewhere or just wait until I have a special occasion that necessitates the use of my new bundt pan.

-I know, I know. Store-bought pastry? I just haven't mastered crust yet. Leave me alone.

-Apologies if my photos aren't up to their usual standards for the next little while. My camera is in the shop and the chirpy lady at the photo place told me that it could take up to six weeks for it to be fixed and back in my hands. So I'm using a borrowed camera that has fewer megapixels and controls that are foreign to me. That's not to say I don't appreciate the loan, Mom and Dad! I do! I just wanted to explain why the photo end of things around here might be a little different over the next few weeks.