Wednesday, April 28, 2010

I cuss, you cuss, we all cuss for asparagus.

asparagus soup

Suddenly asparagus is everywhere, and rightfully so. Asparagus is delicious and easy to cook. Sure, as a child I may have called it "braided worms", but I have come around. Now I love it barbecued, broiled, steamed, or made into fantastic soups like this one.

I was at my final Master Gardeners' lecture last night (lectures from master gardeners, not for master gardeners. I've got years to go before I can claim that title) and the lecturer posed the question, do we really need asparagus available fifty two weeks a year? No. No we do not. Part of the romance of asparagus is the fact that it tastes best when in season and that season is fleeting. I have also been told that its deliciousness decreases quite quickly once it's picked, so always eat your asparagus as soon as you buy it if you want to reap the full benefits of its excellence.

And, because I did not take enough photos while making this particular soup, please enjoy this photo of four of our five pets all occupying the same bed. You're welcome.

four corners

Asparagus Soup

1 bunch of asparagus
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 potatoes, peeled and diced
2 stalks of celery, chopped
2 bay leaves
4 cups soup stock
1 tsp dill
1 tsp tarragon
2 tbsp nutritional yeast
salt and pepper to taste

Chop asparagus into 1 inch pieces. Steam these until they are bright green and slightly tender (about 3 minutes).

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until onions are tender.

Add potatoes, celery, and bay leaves, stir to combine, cover pot, and let cook for five minutes.

Add stock, dill, and tarragon. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat slightly and let simmer until all vegetables are tender. You should be able to easily mash the potato against the side of the pot with a fork.

Add aspargus and nutritional yeast. Let cook for five more minutes.

Blend soup using an immersion blender or by transferring it in batches to your blender or food processor. If soup is too think, thin it with water or unsweetened soy milk.

Season with salt and pepper.

Makes four servings.

soup and sandwich

Some Notes:

-I'm not the only one making asparagus soup this week. Check out Haymarket8's version over at The Life.

-When you are adding celery to a pureed soup, make sure you chop up the celery into very small bits. Otherwise you will end up with stringy soup. This tip brought to you by an ex-boyfriend of mine who used to work in a kitchen. One night I made stringy soup for dinner and he quite diplomatically explained to me why it turned out that way.

-My first volunteer shift at the Hope Garden was slightly overwhelming but mostly just wildly interesting. The garden is giant and it is part of an even gianter allotment. It was so cool to see what people do with their plots and to watch the people who have been gardening there for years interact with each other. The Hope Garden plot is actually right next to the plot of the master gardener who provided last night's lecture on vegetable growing. I am excited to be in such good company.

J.

This Time Last Year: Tomato Lentil Soup and Flatbread

Friday, April 23, 2010

Welcome to Ontario, Daiya Cheese

goodies

I apologize, friends, for the lack of new recipes this week. I burned out slightly on the cooking front, given the weekend party food prep and my general state of being busy. I've still been cooking dinner every night, I've just been turning to simpler, tried and true recipes, rather than venturing into the unknown. A bit of a snore, I know. I have been feeling slightly uninspired.

So when Jill from Vegan Backpacker offered to bring me some special vegan treats from the Panacea Shop in Toronto, my answer was a giant YES.

Jill and I had never met before, but we are both from Ottawa and are fans of each other's blogs. Jill and her husband are spending this year traveling (and eating) all over the world, which makes for pretty interesting blog fodder. She came back to town for a few days via Toronto, and brought me the aforementioned, unavailable-in-Ottawa, vegan goodies. Marshmallows, chocolate bars, and, most importantly, some Daiya vegan cheese. We met up at Bridgehead coffee shop so Jill could give me my treats. It was fun to finally meet both Jill and her friend Valerie who came along too. I don't get to talk about food blogging with real live people very often. Very cool.

After that pleasant diversion, I went back to work and left the treats to be effectively refrigerated in my car (it was COLD today!) All the treats that is, except for the Mahalo bar which I tried to have just one bite of before heading to my afternoon appointment. This attempt at moderation failed miserably. That is one awesome chocolate bar. You'll notice the empty wrapper in the photo above.

When I finally arrived home for the evening, I felt the need to try at least a bit of the Daiya cheese before committing to the grilled cheese sandwich I had planned for dinner. With leftover corn chips from the party sitting on the shelf, nachos seemed a logical choice.

pre-melt

The cheese comes pre-shredded so it is wildly convenient to sprinkle it onto whatever you choose. I laid out a handful of chips on a cookie sheet, topped them with salsa and cheese, and stuck them under the broiler for three minutes. The cheese melted really well and the end product looked great.

nacho, nacho (wo)man

More importantly, it all tasted really amazing. I normally don't like non-dairy cheese because most brands end up with a really weird texture and I have to fool myself into eating them without feeling peculiar. Not Daiya. When melted it tasted remarkably like regular old cheese and the texture was perfect. Score!

I talked myself out of a second helping of nachos, but I was very much looking forward to that grilled cheese sandwich. I made some asparagus soup for dinner (recipe to come!) and the sandwich was the perfect accompaniment. Once again, the cheese melted perfectly and tasted great.

soup and sandwich

I predict my future will hold many more grilled cheese sandwiches.

Some Notes:

-Anyone done anything exciting with marshmallows recently? I was excited to eat a marshmallow for the first time in well over a decade, but now I have a whole bunch of vegan marshmallows and not the faintest clue what to do with them.

-I am excited to see vegan zinester and artist Nicole J. Georges when she comes through Ottawa as part of the Sister Spit tour this weekend. I love her pet portraits and I think she could do a great one of Sacha. Maybe someday I will commission her.

-I have switched my volunteer duties with the Shepherds of Good Hope and I will now be helping out in their impressive vegetable garden. The garden produces a whole lot of food for the free meals that Shepherds provides for the city's homeless population. I am looking forward to working with the very experienced gardeners who make up the committee. This summer is all about furthering my gardening education, it seems.

J.

This Time Last Year: Improv Vegan Panzaratti.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Okay, smarty, go to a party.

Games Night Cake

This post is going to be the recipe equivalent of one of those Simpsons clip shows where they parlay a whole bunch of favourite moments into a brand new episode. Except more useful and less likely to make you want to turn it off half way through. I promise.

This weekend the Man of Science and I hosted a games night at our place, which turned out to be a smashing success. We invited a bunch of friends over, set up extra tables, stocked up on snacks and booze, and let the night unfold accordingly. Predictably, there ended up being equal parts game-playing and standing-in-the-kitchen-eating-and-chatting, but that didn't bother me at all. Especially since I'd summoned my inner Martha Stewart and made a whole bunch of delicious food to share in between rounds of Scrabble, XBox Tetris, and some game about zombies that took three hours to play.

vegan BLTs

For a hearty, savory snack I made two baguettes worth of vegan BLTs with my beloved tofu bacon. These went fast when our guests arrived. I marinated the tofu for most of the day, then detoured from the original recipe and baked it in the oven (at 350 degrees) for twenty minutes instead of pan frying. I cut the baguettes into two chunks to make them more manageable, then cut each chunk in half lengthwise, slathered it with vegan mayo and piled on the tofu bacon, lettuce, and tomato. I'm glad I ate one before the guests arrived, otherwise I think I would have been out of luck.

blue corn chips and homemade salsa

I tried to make snacks that people could munch on while talking and playing games, like these blue corn chips (Que Pasa Organic brand) and homemade salsa. I made the salsa following this recipe, but with red tomatoes instead of green. I knew we'd have a few guests who would want both gluten free and healthy low-ish calorie snacks, and this fit the bill.

black bean artichoke dip

Another healthy party snack was the classic black bean and artichoke dip with raw vegetables. We went through a lot of this as well. That dip never fails. What better way is there to make raw vegetables even more attractive?

games night cake

And then, for The Not Healthy At All Grand Finale, my first attempt at fondant. I always see fancy cake decorating supplies at the bulk food store and I leaped at the excuse to make a cool cake for our party. I used my favourite chocolate cake recipe for the cake itself, iced it with my usual melted chocolate chip icing, and then worked hard to make it look like a checkerboard. And who knew that vanilla Oreos were vegan? Perhaps the chocolate ones are too, but I wouldn't know because the chocolate cookies I got were a knock-off brand with the unfortunate moniker "Mr. Creamy".

Also a hit at dessert was my raw, vegan, sugar-free, gluten-free, cheesecake-ish dessert. Just try selling that to people who wouldn't normally eat something of this ilk. However, it was a big hit once people started trying it. My friend Spencer said, "I totally wasn't going to try that, but then you started describing what was in it and I thought, all those things are good, they must be excellent when combined!" Alas, I forgot to take a picture of it before it all got eaten. Bummer. However, it looked just like my vegan cheesecake bites, but in round, cake-like form, with pretty dots of cashew whipped cream dotting its circumference. Because I'm fancy.

games night

I had such a fun night, and I think everyone else did as well. Perhaps this will become a regular thing, though I think the fondant will be reserved for special occasions.

J.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Sweet Potato, Bread Pudding And Other Terms of Endearment

Savory Sweet Potato Bread Pudding

Last weekend the Man of Science and I slept in a bit later than normal on Sunday morning. And by "a bit later than normal" I mean "until 8:45". Yes, we get up freakish early, even on Sundays. No reason for it, really, though it does always afford us the seats of our choice at breakfast, surrounded by senior citizens who think we're cute. And it allows me to have a full day to get other chores done without rushing and still leaves time for, say, a few episodes of Battlestar Galactica before bed.

As I said, last weekend we were slightly off our normal routine which meant our usual breakfast place was full. However, we did head out late enough to eat at The Imperial which has vegan breakfast but doesn't start serving until 10 AM. Despite my lukewarm feelings about the vegan breakfast (which has changed slightly since my first post, happily it is now bananaless) I do love going to The Imperial. Nice atmosphere, friendly staff, entertaining posters on the wall, etc. I just wish they'd jazz up their vegan option the way they've vastly improved their vegetarian plate.

And what is on that vastly improved vegetarian plate, you may ask? It was actually something I'd never seen before: a savory bread pudding made with sweet potatoes, eggs, and sundried tomatoes. The Man of Science said it was delicious. I pledged to replicate it as soon as possible, vegan style.

My first attempt was a bit wacky. I used way too much bread and didn't mix the fakey egg in with the other ingredients well enough. It ended up being an uneven, overflowing, yet tasty dish. The second time I tried proved to be much more successful. I will say that I used roasted red peppers the second time because we were out of sundried tomatoes, but the sundried tomatoes were much better so I'm putting those in my official posted recipe.

This makes quite a big pan full of deliciousness, so it would be an excellent brunch to share. We've also eaten it for dinner with some salad on the side.

bread

Savory Sweet Potato Bread Pudding

2 medium sized sweet potatoes, cubed
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped small
5 pieces of whole grain bread (I used rye) cubed with the crusts cut off
1 tetra pack of firm silken tofu
1 tbsp mustard
1/4 cup chickpea flour
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
tsp salt
shake of pepper
1/2 cup soy milk
2 tsp basil
1/2 tsp tumeric
3/4 cup spinach
4 sundried tomatoes (the kind packed in oil), chopped

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Boil sweet potatoes until just tender, 4-5 minutes. Set aside.

Heat olive oil over medium heat and add onion. Cook for 2-3 minutes, until onions begin to turn transparent, and then add the bread pieces.

Cook until bread begins to brown, then set aside.

Combine tofu, mustard, chickpea flour, nutritional yeast, salt, pepper, soy milk, basil, and tumeric in a blender or food processor. Process until smooth.

Mix sweet potatoes, bread/onion mixture, tofu mixture, spinach, and sundried tomatoes, then pour the whole shebang into a large pie plate or cast iron pan. Sprinkle some extra basil, salt and pepper on top if you are so inclined.

Bake for 25 minutes.

Let it cool, then slice it up.

Serves 4-6 people.

Savory Sweet Potato Bread Pudding

Some Notes:

-I'm excited to announce that my URL just got a bit shorter. I am now the proud owner of itaintmeatbabe.com! Same great blog, now much easier to recommend to your friends. Thanks to Kat for helping me figure that one out. And the good news is you don't need to change your feed or your links. The old URL still works too.

-The Man of Science and I finished watching Battlestar Galactica last night. I didn't hate the ending as much as the internet said I would, but on a personal level it made me uneasy. I'm not the kind of girl who wishes for a totally return to nature, despite my obvious pioneery tendencies. It's kind of like that Talking Heads song where he says, "If this is paradise, I wish I had a lawn mower". And one other thing: for those of you wondering what the Man of Science looks like, well, he looks like Chief Tyrol. In a freakishly separated-at-birth kind of way.

-Did anyone else see Gordon Ramsey get fooled by vegetarian "chicken" on this week's Kitchen Nightmares? What about Ruben Studdard announcing his veganism on American Idol? T'was an interesting week in vegetarian TV land.

J.

This Time Last Year: Fake Eggs and Real Potatoes

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Getting Ourselves Back To The Garden

garden plot 1 week 5

Hello everyone!

Just a quick note to let you know that my very first post over at the Sew Green blog is up today!

My post is not, funnily enough, about sewing. The blog covers all kinds of other "green" topics, so I chose to write about life as an enthusiastic (and slightly terrified) amateur gardener.

I had a lot of fun writing a non-cooking post and I can't wait until it's my turn again over there.

Enjoy!

J.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Delightful vs Disastrous: This Weekend's Adventures in Baking

Walnut Date Cookies

What you see in this photo is a plate of delicious vegan date walnut oatmeal cookies. Crisp on the outside, chewy in the middle, and amazingly flavourful. Also, easy to bake. This is a winner of a cookie and I will give you the recipe for it in just a minute. We all know nothing around here comes without a story. This particular story goes backwards. Like some kind of avant garde indie film.

Event #5: I bake these cookies.

Event #4: Megan and I meet at a coffee shop on Saturday and she buys a nutty, datey, cookie for us to share. She is feeling a bit sicky. I am also feeling a bit sicky, but not as sicky as Megan, which is why she thinks to get the cookie. The cookie inspires me.

Event #3: Megan and I meet at the The Manx on Friday night for dinner and, as it turns out, multiple ciders for her and an equal number of vodka-club-sodas for me. Oh, and one free shot each because Megan's boyfriend, The Guybrarian, has brought along a friend who is celebrating a birthday. And the bartenders like us.

Event #2 I bake brownies, they turn out like this:

brownies of disaster

Event #1 Megan and I are making plans to hang out and I tell her, "I'm baking brownies made with spelt flour! I'll bring you one tonight!"

So, there you have it. Disasterous brownies, fun night, rough morning, good cookies. Megan feels that it was the spelt flour that made the brownies go so terribly wrong. I think she might be right. Also, I blame my unconventional use of a muffin pan instead of a regular baking pan. Either way, I don't think I'll be venturing to Brownieland again anytime soon. I'm going to play it safe with these cookies.

Oatmeal Date Walnut Cookies

1/2 cup safflower oil
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2/3 cup all-purpose white flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp ground flax seeds, mixed with 3 tbsp water
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup pitted dates, chopped
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
1 1/2 cups quick cook oats

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine oil and brown sugar. Stir until smooth.

Sift in flour, baking soda, and salt. Blend well.

Add flax seed and water mixture, vanilla, cinnamon, dates, and walnuts.

Gradually add oatmeal until batter becomes thick but not too crumbly. If it does get too crumbly, just add a tablespoon of water at a time until it is dough, not a mass of crumbs.

Using a tablespoon dipped in flour, plop round blobs of cookie dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Press them down with your fingers. These cookies to not spread much when heated.

Bake for 12 minutes, then cool on a rack for as long as you can stand it.

Makes approximately 2 dozen.

Some Notes:

-So, what did everyone eat this weekend? We had a fairly low key holiday that included a dinner with my family. We had Italian food, since my mom (who was hosting) is vegetarian and not interested in cooking a turkey or ham or whatever for the meat eaters. She bought a meat lasagna and vegetarian manicotti from a local restaurant and I made the Italian Layered Vegetable Casserole from Fat Free Vegan Kitchen. That was about the extent of the celebrating since none of us are religious in any way, and there are no small children in my family who might have enjoyed an egg hunt of any kind. Mostly, I was just excited to have four days off in a row.

hello!

-The garden prep is coming along quite nicely. All my tomato seeds have sprouted and between the Man of Science and myself, we've ripped up all of the useless Ditch Lilies in our back yard to make room to plant all those tomatoes and eventually some beans as well.

-Last night I watched the first episode of Jamie's Food Revolution, which made me about as tense as I'd expected. I agree with everything that he's doing but it makes me cringe to see how unwilling people are to change what they're eating. Though I guess if some British guy who I'd never heard of showed up and started telling me what to do, I'd be wary as well. It just further reinforces my amazement at how strange people's relationship with their food is. Like the guy in my office who was visibly disgusted when I was eating squash as part of my lunch and then told me he only liked "traditional" food, while he was microwaving his TV dinner. I don't know whether to laugh of cry. Anyway, I'm roped in and I'll keep watching to see what Mr. Easy-On-The-Eyes Oliver gets done during his time in America. Fellow Canadians, you can watch it on the CTV site.

J.

This Time Last Year: Cesarish Salad