Saturday, January 30, 2010

Radio Radio

Here are some shots from our interview on In Town and Out. I hope some of you were able to hear it!


Friday, January 29, 2010

Roasted Tomato Soup


I just drove for five and half hours through howling winds and blinding snow. Which leaves me with just enough brain power to hug Kat (who I've come to visit), drink beer, and eat some of the Thai food she kindly ordered for me. No brain power left to wax poetic about tomato soup, is what I'm trying to say.

I will just say, this soup is creamy, flavourful, and perfect for the cold snap that is about to descend on those of us who live in Ontario. Cook this up with some crusty bread and get under a blanket close to the fire. Or TV. Or dog. Whatever. Do it. Your mental health will thank you.

Creamy Roasted Tomato Soup

2 cans whole tomatoes (24 ml)
½ red onion, roughly chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
1 cup red lentils
3 bay leaves
3 cups veggie stock
1 cup cashew cream (see notes)
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp basil
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Open cans of tomatoes and take actual tomatoes out of the juice. Keep the juice for later.

Spread tomatoes out on baking sheet with roughly chopped red onion and roast in oven for half an hour.

roasted tomatoes

Heat olive oil over medium heat. Add bay leaves, lentils, thyme, basil, roasted tomatoes and onions. Let cook for five minutes, stirring frequently.

Add tomato juice and veggie stock. Let simmer for approximately 15-20 minutes, until lentils are completely cooked (they'll almost turn to mush). Remove bay leaves.

With an immersion blender (or a regular blender) puree soup until it is completely smooth. Add cashew cream and blend until soup is a uniform texture and colour. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Some Notes:

-The cashew cream is Tal Ronnen's recipe. Reproduced here on Oprah's website.

-Tomorrow morning! CBC radio! Me and Geoff! Reviewing The Conscious Cook! You can listen live on iTunes or afterwards on the CBC radio site.

-More shameless self promotion, I've just been selected to be one of the new contributors to the blog Sew Green. So excited! I'll be posting every once in a while about things that I love that wouldn't work here because they aren't recipe related. I'll let you know when my first post goes up, of course. In the meantime, I highly recommend reading the posts by the other contributors. Lots of great stuff.


Monday, January 25, 2010

Classic Vegan Chocolate Cake

vegan chocolate cake

In my ongoing effort to make friends in my neighbourhood (populated largely by transient university students who roam the streets in sweat pants, hooting randomly) I invited some people I met in the dog park over for lunch on Saturday. Spencer and Isabelle and their terrier named Darwin recently moved to Ottawa from out west and were also in the market for some neighbourly interaction. When I asked them if there was anything they didn't like to eat, Isabelle said "Spencer hates mushrooms and brussel sprouts, and I'm allergic to dairy products." Obviously the no-dairy thing wasn't a problem at all, and luckily my tentative meal plans did not include mushrooms or brussel sprouts.

Still, I fretted a bit about the menu. No one wants to freak out lunch guests, and I think maybe vegan/vegetarian cooks are extra sensitive in this regard, having had historically to prove that our food is not boring, cardboardy, or flavourless. So I stuck with simple food- carrot soup, lentil salad, and fresh bread- that I knew would please almost anyone.

And for dessert? One certainly can't go wrong with chocolate cake.


This recipe is the same one I've been using since my vegany university days. It's scrawled in a recipe notebook I used at the time and the page falls open and lays flat when I open the book. It is smeared with cocoa finger prints and various other ingredient splashes. My roommates and I made this cake a lot. Once, we even doubled the recipe and made it four layers high, with sugary icing between each layer. I had just been shot down by a person I had a crush on, and the cake was supposed to cheer me up. It did. I have a photograph of that cake, stashed away in my archives. On the back of the photo, written in silver marker, is the title "The Nothing-Sucks-Like-Rejection Cake".

The point is, this cake works for almost any occasion. Celebration, consolation, or a low risk dessert for lunch guests.

Classic Vegan Chocolate Cake

1 3/4 cup of flour
4 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup vegan margarine or safflower oil
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 cup of soy milk "soured" with 1 tsp apple cider vinegar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Grease and flour an 8 inch cake pan.

Sift flour, cocoa, baking powder, and baking soda together in a medium sized bowl.

In a large bowl, cream margarine with sugar, then add vanilla extract and applesauce.

Alternately add portions of the cocoa mixture and the soured soy milk to the sugar mixture.

Mix everything well and then pour into the pan and bake for 50 minutes to an hour, or until a knife in the centre of the cake comes out clean.

Some Notes:

-My foolproof, somewhat lazy way to make chocolate icing is this: melt 1/2 a cup of vegan chocolate chips and stir in a tablespoon of margarine or coconut oil. While the mixture is still relatively warm and liquidy, you can use it to ice the cake. It's not light and frothy like a butter cream icing might be, but I've never been big on that kind of icing myself. I also made a batch of our friend Tal Ronnen's whipped cashew cream to go on the side. It was really, really, good. I want to make it again and eat it on everything. The recipe is here if you scroll down.

-Using chocolate soy milk makes this even more awesome, but I only do that if I happen to have come chocolate soy milk on hand.

-I brought a piece of this to Lesley when I met her to see our friends The Banditas play at the Raw Sugar Cafe last night. She licked the tupperware clean, which I think means the cake was good. I had a few beers, enjoyed the show, and then walked home through empty streets listening to a live Against Me! album at top volume on my headphones. An excellent night.


Friday, January 22, 2010

The Conscious Cook Experiment: Part Four

"chicken" salad sandwich and fries

Regular readers know that this month I'll be cooking a bunch of recipes out of Tal Ronnen's new cookbook, The Conscious Cook. At the end of the month I'll be reviewing the book on CBC Radio's In Town and Out. In the meantime, I'm posting about the recipes here.

If you've read my other posts about the book you know that I've gone on at length about the complicated nature of most of the recipes. I thought it would be wise to try one of the recipes that didn't require two days of preparation. In fact, I wanted to try one of the recipes in the book that would come together quickly and see if it tasted as good as the ones that took hours and hours of careful steps.

The verdict? Well, that depends on whose mouth you ask.

"chicken" salad

The recipe I chose was the California Gardein "Chicken" Salad. I should mention that Gardein is a name-brand fake meat, developed by Ronnen himself and necessary for many of the recipes in the book. Gardein is not something I would buy on a regular basis because I tend to avoid processed fake meats in favour of more basic ingredients and foods I make from scratch at home. And also, unless I'm missing something, Gardein doesn't use organic soy, and eating non-organic soy freaks me out.

Anyway, for the sake of reviewing the cookbook I got myself a box of Gardein "chicken" cutlets and got to work on this California "chicken" salad. It took almost no time to make, largely because the ingredients were either quick to chop up (celery, walnuts) or prepared (Gardein fake meat, vegan mayonnaise). I toasted some bread and slapped a large quantity of the salad in between two slices. A side of shoestring oven fries rounded out the meal.

My verdict? Kind of mushy and weird.

The Man of Science's verdict? Amazingly delicious.

When we discussed it further we discovered that in our long ago meat eating days, he loved these kinds of sandwiches and I really didn't like them at all. I am a texture person, and I do not like mushy food. I was never a chicken salad/egg salad/tuna salad sandwich kind of girl. So it stands to reason that I did not like the vegan version of the same kind of food. But the MoS thought it was great and even got over his no-fruit-in-savory-food prejudice and declared that the grapes in this did not bother him. So I may make it again some time for him.

Some of you might remember that I made another vegan "chicken" salad last year when I attempted to veganize Julia Child's chicken salad. I liked that recipe much better, it was less mushy and goopy. Just my opinion. Like I said, the opinion of the blogger is not necessarily representative of the rest of the household.

This month of cooking is winding down now and I have really enjoyed trying all of these new recipes. I'll give my final verdict on the air on January 30th and then it will be time to go back to the easy, tasty recipes I've become accustomed to.


Monday, January 18, 2010

The Conscious Cook Experiment: Part Three

Dinner table

"What the hell is 'chiffonade'?"

Sometimes, my friends, it is good to know you're not alone.

As you know from my last few posts, I'm doing a great deal of cooking this month from Tal Ronnen's super-fancy vegan cookbook The Conscious Cook so that I might review said book on CBC radio at the end of the month. What perhaps I haven't mentioned is that I am one of two food bloggers tasked with the cooking and reviewing. The program's producers wanted to give the book to two different bloggers, one vegetarian and one omnivore. Geoff, who chronicled every dinner her ate in 2009 over at A Year of Supper, was the other blogger selected. He and his partner Nicole generously invited the Man of Science and I over to their place for a Ronnen-tastic feast last night. Do we know how to make great radio or what?


The meal began, with the Fresh-Baked Focaccia with Caramelized Onions. Or rather without caramelized onions. Because I fancied olives instead. Otherwise, I followed the recipe to the letter. I'd never made focaccia before, but it wasn't any more complicated than an average bread recipe. It looked and smelled delicious when it came out of the oven and I was eager to get over to Geoff and Nicole's so we could dig in.

We ate the bread dipped in a mix of olive oil and balsamic vinegar with a delicious bottle of red wine. It was lovely. Crusty on the outside, soft on the inside. And the recipe made a ton. There were enough leftovers for us to bring some home for our Sunday lunches. It was still great the next day after a minute in the toaster.

Geoff's cucumber salad

Geoff and Nicole handled the next course, the delicious Fresh Mint and Cucumber Salad with Tahini Vinaigrette.* This was a perfect illustration of why the dinner party was a good idea. I never would have looked twice at this recipe if left to my own devices. But now that I've actually eaten it, I think I'll make it myself some time. It was fresh and crisp, the perfect mid-meal dish. I can't believe how light the dressing was. I had to be told it was tahini, I wouldn't have guessed.

Geoff's Tofu Cakes

Our main course was Old Bay Tofu Cakes with Pan-Roasted Summer Vegetables, Horseradish Cream, Apples and Beets. Whew! I'd hate to be the waitress rattling that title off to tables of hungry people. This was amazing. I think it was another of Ronnen's epic recipes, since Geoff spent quite a while in the kitchen putting the final touches on the whole dish, hence the shouting about what the hell a chiffonade was. But I would say it was worth the hard work, given how tasty the dish was. Like the meal I prepared in my last post, this one had a great assortment of textures and flavours. We all really, really liked it.

peanut butter chocolate cake

I handled the dessert, choosing the Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cake to end off our meal. Again, I messed with the recipe a bit and left out the berry sorbet that was supposed to go along with the cake. This was not merely a whim. The recipe for the sorbet required an ice cream maker which is one kitchen gadget I do not have. Or want.

I was a bit worried about the cake, frankly, because when it came out of my oven it looked kind of dry. I wondered if maybe the sorbet was crucial for the enjoyment of the dessert. Also, the cake took much longer to bake than the recipe said it was supposed to. The instructions said 25-30 minutes and I ended up leaving mine in the oven for 50 minutes. Regardless, the cake was great. My texture-based fears evaporated with my first bite. This was a very easy recipe and it yielded very satisfying results.

We all agreed that the thing about the book is, though the recipes are complicated and do call for a lot of unconventional ingredients, the food that results is unfailingly delicious. And even though we put away a lot of food we were still able to drink lots of booze (well, everyone else was, I was driving) and play a few rounds of Rock Band (those drums are HARD!) before I drove a rightly hosed Man of Science home for the night.

*It just took me about ten minutes to find that recipe in the book. Here's a complaint! The index is crummy. I looked up "cucumber" and I got a list of about ten page numbers. No other information, like what some of those recipe titles might be. The table of contents does not list recipe titles either. So I had to look at each page listed under "cucumber" to find the salad. Pain in the butt.


Friday, January 15, 2010

The Conscious Cook Experiment: Part Two

agave lime grilled tofu from The Conscious Cook

Well, Tal Ronnen. We meet again. And we spend a lot of time together.

For those of you who missed my last post (shame!) I will say once again that I have been charged with cooking recipes from Tal Ronnen's The Conscious Cook for a month, after which I will review the book for CBC Radio's In Town and Out. On Wednesday night I tackled Ronnen's Agave-Lime Grilled Tofu with Asian Slaw and Mashed Sweet Potatoes. This is the second recipe I've tried and I picked it because it had things I enjoy and eat a lot (tofu, sweet potatoes) and things I almost never eat (daikon, napa cabbage). The dish called for Ronnen's cashew cream, which involves soaking cashews over night. So this required some advance planning. Plus the tofu has to marinate for two hours. Not a dish to look to if you want something quick to throw together for dinner. And you might want to have a bowl of cereal to tide you over before you get started.

agave lime grilled tofu from The Conscious Cook

I have to say, I was very pleased with the way this recipe turned out. Although it was a fairly epic recipe, none of the steps were complicated and the food always behaved the way the recipe said it would. For example, the marinade for the tofu that has to be reduced and used as a glaze? That stuff reduced like nobody's business.

The other thing I really liked was the combination of textures in the meal. Now I truly understand what they're talking about on Top Chef when they mention the right juxtaposition of crunchy and soft foods in one dish. The crunchy slaw was a nice compliment to the chewy tofu and the soft sweet potatoes.

agave lime grilled tofu from The Conscious Cook

So, this one was a hit. It took a long time to make and used a lot of different ingredients, but it came together really well. It would be easy to increase the quantities in order to make this for a dinner party or something and it is not so fancy that you couldn't serve it for a weekend lunch gathering. And, despite my whining, I made this on a weeknight with fairly minimal advance planning. We ate later than normal, and I wouldn't want to spend that much time in the kitchen every night of the week, but it wasn't a big deal for one evening.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Conscious Cook Experiment: Part One


As I mentioned, I've been called upon to review a vegan cookbook for CBC Radio's In Town And Out. And not just any vegan cookbook. Tal Ronnen's much adored volume, The Conscious Cook. I have read countless glowing reviews of this book, so I was eager to get my hands on it. Once I started really reading the recipes, I wondered if all those people who reviewed it so positively had actually done much cooking of the recipes inside.

Because wow, the book is pretty. Well designed, great photos, lots of interesting text laid out in an appealing way. The kind of book you flip through and say, "Yeah! I love this!"

And then, you decide to cook something. And you realize that a large number of the recipes take more than a day to cook. Some take three days. And a lot of them require ingredients that aren't easily procured. Like, say, artichokes.

I must admit, I didn't think artichokes would be what broke me. Not when some recipes call for Red Palm Oil, and a specific brand of flora-only bacterial capsules, and a certain kind of high end fake meat (that Ronnen himself helped to create). No, my friends, it was the artichokes that gave me the most trouble. Because the first recipe I decided to cook was the Artichoke and Oyster Mushroom Rockefeller from the appetizer section of the book. Artichoke leaves stand in for the traditional oyster shells. It seemed like a good place to start. Relatively simple ingredients, a prep time of one hour, and yet enough novelty to interest me. I'd never actually cooked with oyster mushrooms before, though I'd admired them often while reaching past them to stock up on creminis.

conscious cook

The problem was, as you may have gathered, the grocery store had no artichokes. Correction, they had no fresh artichokes. Canned artichokes as far as the eye could see, but not a fresh one in the place. Normally I find grocery shopping very relaxing. Fun, even. But this was not fun. I did a lot of circling the produce section with my cart. The other recipe I'd picked out for the week required two days of advance prep. I needed to make the Rockerfeller dish. What could stand in for artichoke leaves?

conscious cook

Napa cabbage. More specifically, a few leaves of the gigantic head of napa cabbage that I had to buy in order to make the slaw for the second dish I planned to cook this week. The slaw recipe called for only half the cabbage. So I pulled off four leaves and chopped them into pieces that could stand in for the artichoke leaves. Problem solved. And the cabbage leaves had the added bonus of being edible, unlike artichoke leaves. Or oyster shells for that matter.

The recipe wasn't too hard to pull together after I had my artichoke problem solved. My food processor came in very handy when chopping and blending spinach, onions, parsley, and bread crumbs. And the oyster mushrooms? Oh, so delicious.

conscious cook

I don't have permission to rewrite the entire recipe here, but just to give you an idea, this has essentially three layers. Leaves, mushrooms, spinach mixture. I also topped each one with some breadcrumbs because that's how it looked in the photo beside the recipe. And yes, these were delicious. A bit beyond what I could have come up with on my own.

So I'm hanging in there with this book. It has the rest of the month to win me over. Tomorrow night I try a more ambitious recipe. Agave glazed tofu, pureed sweet potatoes, and the aforementioned slaw. I'll keep you posted.


Monday, January 11, 2010

Shoestring Oven Fries

shoestring oven fries

Oh, how I love fried potato products. Chips, french fries, hash browns, whatever. I love them all. Usually, I try to be responsible and enjoy them in moderation, but since these last few weeks have technically been "the holidays" I felt free to indulge with somewhat reckless abandon. And I got sick of fried potatoes. Go figure.

So, while I move ahead into the land of brown rice and kale, let me back up slightly and share with you my recipe for oven fries. I once thought this was a simple thing that everyone could, and did, cook. Then I mentioned it to my boss and she looked at me with incredulity. "You can make FRENCH FRIES in the OVEN?" Now granted, she talks a lot about eating TV dinners so my guess is that, though she is a great boss, she is probably not a great cook.

chop chop

I make oven fries all the time. They are a good way to have a treat without going overboard. And, in this case, they were an excellent companion to some weird vegan "chicken" nuggets that I bought on a whim. Next time I should make my own fake meat. The glories of vital wheat gluten have spoiled me for all bland, supermarket fake meat products (except you, Tofurkey deli slices. I-eee-I will always love yooooooou).

Shoestring Oven Fries

4 medium sized potatoes (white or Yukon Gold)
4 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper

Heat oven to 425 degrees.

Chop potatoes into thin sticks, make sure they are fairly uniformly cut.

Blot potatoes with paper towels or tea towels to remove some of their moisture.

shoestring oven fries

Put potatoes in a large bowl with oil and as much salt and pepper as you'd like. I usually start with a teaspoon of each.

Toss potatoes (I usually just shake the bowl around carefully) until the oil is evenly distributed. Then leave them to sit for five minutes.

Spread the potatoes out on a large cookie sheet and put them in the oven. After approximately 8-10 minutes, take them out and use a spatula to flip them around a bit so they can cook on their other sides.

Don't worry if the potatoes stick slightly to the pan. I find that if they are slightly torn up, it gives them more crevasses in which to get crispy.

Put the potatoes back in the oven and let them cook for another 5-10 minutes, until they are brown and crispy. Taste test the largest potato you can find to make sure it is cooked all the way.

Serves two hungry people or four not-as-hungry people.

Some Notes:

-Hey! Great news! I've been asked to be one of the on air cookbook reviewers for the CBC radio show "In Town and Out"! Each month they give a cookbook to two willing participants and have them cook a bunch of recipes from it, then come on the air at the end of the month and talk about the book. Of course I got selected for the vegan month, and so I'll be reviewing Tal Ronnen's much ballyhooed new book, The Conscious Cook. I'll be blogging about some of my attempts to recreate his somewhat complicated recipes. I've already been thwarted by the supermarket's lack of artichokes. It should be in interesting month.

-If you haven't already, you may wish to join this blog's Facebook Group. I haven't made a whole lot of use of the group yet, but I will be doing some giveaways in the near future and the group will be integral to that. Truth be told, I feel a little wonky about my use of technology. I'm not always super good at it, and often call on Kat or Megan for advice. So if you have any suggestions for how I can be hip and make use of technology, let me know!

-Not food related, but I just finished reading Invisible by Paul Auster and I really loved it. If you like slightly dark, unpredictable novels set in New York and Paris, you should go to the library and get it.


Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Restaurant Adventures of Caroline and Dave

Zen Kitchen party

I was lucky enough to spend last evening at the launch party for the new TV show that features the proprietors of the oft-mentioned Zen Kitchen, Ottawa's own high-end vegan restaurant. I actually heard about this show over a year ago because a woman I was working with told me her husband was a camera man for the production team. The restaurant wasn't even open yet, so I was doubly intrigued. A new vegan restaurant AND a TV show about the vegan restaurant? It was hard to even imagine such a thing. And yet there we were last night, eating excellent tofu skewers and watching The Restaurant Adventures of Caroline and Dave.

The roomful of food bloggers, journalists, and close Zen Kitchen compatriots all got to see the first episode of the show and I have to say, I really liked it. I wasn't at all sure what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised. The show is cute and funny, well edited and engaging. As the episode ended I found myself hoping they'd put on the next one (they didn't. Luckily my mother is recording it on her TV robot so I'll be able to catch up on new episodes whenever I'm visiting). It is fun to see my familiar city on screen, but also great to watch people cook my kind of food on camera. How often does that happen on food shows? Almost never.


Monday, January 4, 2010

Persimmon Ginger Cake

Persimmon Ginger Cake

Do your relatives buy you gigantic baskets of wacky fruit for Christmas? No? That's really too bad. The Man of Science and I got just such a thing from my brother and sister-in-law this year. We've been slowly working our way through the contents of the basket. I am not a huge fruit eater, so I've been trying to come up with creative uses for many of the slightly odd items before they end up past their prime.

I'd never had persimmons before, but they seemed like a safe-ish place to start when it came to creating some recipes. A better bet than a cake made from durian fruit, anyway. My hunch was correct. This ended up being a delicious, moist, not-too-sweet dessert that we both enjoyed. The ginger adds a bit more sweetness and goes well with the other spices. The persimmons add an interesting, slightly citrusy flavour. And I got to use the new cake display plate that Megan gave me! Everybody wins.


Persimmon Ginger Cake

4 ripe persimmons
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup margarine
3 eggs worth of egg replacer
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp ground cloves
3/4 cup crystallized ginger, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Grease and flour the bundt pan

Cut persimmons into quarters and press through a mesh sieve, gathering pulpy juices in a bowl.

persimmon pulp

Add baking soda into persimmon pulp and set it aside.

Beat sugar into margarine.

Add egg replacer slowly, continuing to mix.

Add vanilla.

Sift in flour, salt, and spices, then mix well with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula.

Add persimmon mixture. It will have become a bit jello-like, don't be alarmed. This is fine.

Mix until combined, then add in ginger pieces.


Bake for 45 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the cake comes out clean.

Let cake cool for at least five minutes before turning out onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

Glaze, dust with coconut shavings or just eat plain.

Persimmon Ginger Cake

Some Notes:

-Our New Year's Eve dinner at Zen Kitchen was super lovely. It felt decadent and celebratory to go out for a six course vegan meal, and it was a perfect way to ring in 2010. My favourite dish was the beet "rawvioli" filled with cashew goat cheese. The Man of Science really liked the seitan wellington with gravy and potatoes. We both liked the wine pairings as well. And I was also quite excited by the chocolate pecan tart for dessert. All in all, a great evening. And at midnight we were given champagne and noise makers. Those noise makers have been allowing us to confuse the dogs for many days now. The gift that keeps on giving.

- This weekend involved a lot of long overdue relaxing, but we did also get some things accomplished. The Man of Science shoveled like crazy to get us out of the piles of snow that keep on falling. I put away all of our holiday decorations and also took Oreo on a little field trip to get him a winter coat. The coat we found is fantastic! High quality, easy to put on, super warm, and made right here in Ottawa!

-On Saturday night I brought some pieces of this cake for Adam to try when we went to see Metropolis at the Mayfair Theatre (with a live band playing the score!) He pronounced it delicious.