Sunday, January 30, 2011

Warm Food for Winter: Chili Cornbread Casserole

chili with cornbread

I almost never make chili. Not because I don't like it. On the contrary, beans and tomatoes are some of my favourite things. Vegan chili, however, is one of those dishes that gets over-eaten. It is trotted out at every vegan potluck or dinner party. It's what new vegans first learn to make (and make again, and make again) after deciding to get down with the plant based lifestyle.

(It's kind of the vegetarian lasagna of the vegan world. Did anyone else experience this when still dwelling in Lacto-ovo Land? All of my former boyfriends had well-meaning meat-eating mothers who would buy a frozen vegetarian lasagna for me whenever I came over for dinner. At least they tried, but holy, did I ever grow to hate vegetarian lasagna. Hate! It!)

So yeah, I don't often make vegan chili. However, as our lives settled down and we got over The San Franciscan Plague, I started having visions of a hearty chili, topped with a layer of cornbread. I wrote the idea down on my weekly menu plan and put it off until Saturday night when I had time to skin and chop a bunch of tomatoes*.

And wow! Did this ever turn out well! It was so warming and tasty and ultimately very easy to make. And, as if that wasn't enough, the leftovers tasted even better when I had them for lunch the next day. Bonus. Also, the cornbread is very soft and fluffy, which I liked because dense, grainy cornbread has never been my thing. You know, because I'm not crazy.

chili with cornbread

Chili Cornbread Casserole

For the chili:

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 rib of celery, chopped
1/2 yellow pepper, chopped
1/2 red pepper, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp chili powder
6-8 roma tomatoes, skins removed, coarsely chopped
1 bottle of beer
1/2 cup corn
1 1/2 cups cooked (or canned) black beans
1/2 cup cooked (or canned) chickpeas
salt and pepper to taste

For the cornbread:

2 tablespoons ground flax seeds
6 tablespoons water
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal
3 tbsp sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon table salt
1 cup soymilk
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup canola oil

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

This recipe is going to be one million times easier if you have a cast iron dutch oven or some other kind of large pot that works on the stove top AND in the oven. Otherwise, you're going to have to switch from a stove top pan to an oven-safe casserole dish. Totally doable, but if you're lazy like me you'll prefer to just use the one pot for the whole recipe.

In a large pot on the stove top heat the oil over medium heat then add the onions, celery, and carrot. Let cook, stirring occasionally, for 8-10 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.

Add peppers and garlic, cook for five more minutes.

Add chili powder, tomatoes, and beer. Let cook for five more minutes, or until mixture is bubbling.

Add beans, chickpeas, corn, and salt and pepper. Turn heat down to low.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Set aside

Mix ground flax seeds with water and let sit for a minutes. Add vinegar to soymillk to "sour" it.

Add the flax seed mixture, soy milk, and canola oil to the flour mixture and stir just to combine.

Switch chili to an oven safe dish if you need to.

Spoon cornbread batter on top of chili. It's going to sink into the chili. Don't freak out, it will rise up as it bakes.

Place dish, uncovered, in oven and let cook for 25-30 minutes, or until a knife in the centre of the cornbread comes out clean.

Serves 6-8 people. For real. This makes a ton.

chili with cornbread

*My mother told me all about a book she read which explained how we're all going to die from the chemicals lining cans of food, so I've been effectively cured of canned tomatoes and beans.


Eat To The Beat: Guided By Voices - My Valuable Hunting Knife

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

San Fransicko

my favourite

The Man of Science and I got home from San Francisco at about midnight last night. As we hauled our suitcases through the Ottawa airport, he turned to me and said, "Well, that trip was kind of a bust, wasn't it?"

Yes. Yes it was.

It shouldn't have been, though! San Francisco is awesome. The weather was amazing. Our hotel was really cool. I had a list of great places to eat and things to do. But then? Then the plague befell us. For me it started with a slight fever and cough the night before we left. Which seemed to go away. I had a hard time climbing the hills on our first day in the city, but I attributed that to the fact that I was getting over the minor sickness that had afflicted me. Until that night when I couldn't sleep for more than 12 seconds without waking myself up via coughing fit. By the time the morning of our second day of vacation came around, I could hardly talk without bursting into loopy tears. No sleep, endless coughing, general exhaustion, and freakish fever had turned me into a crazy person. And by then the Man of Science was sick too.

We cancelled out planned trip to Berkeley. We cancelled our reservations for the special "Aphrodesiac Dinner" at Millennium. We cancelled everything. I lay in bed watching bad TV and coughing for the rest of our vacation. Whenever I tried to get up and so something I felt dizzy and sick and had to go lie down again. It was a serious bummer.

All this to say that I don't have tons of glowing tales of San Franciscan foods to share with you, sorry. What I have instead is this quick series of photos of the meals that we did actually get to eat, either before the sickness overtook us or during the rare moments that we didn't feel like death. Please enjoy. And remember to take lots of vitamin C whenever you're traveling. Just sayin'.

Tonga room

Our hotel was old and fantastic and perhaps its most exciting feature was the Tonga Room, a vintage tiki bar that has basically been left unchanged since it opened in 1945. It has a pool in the middle and a live band floats out on a barge. Oh and it rains indoors. And you can get a drink served in a giant pineapple. We had a fairly tasty meal that included miso soup, broccolini, tempura, and noodles with vegetables. The band played pop music and couples danced. I do love feeling like I've gone back in time.

breakfast on the balcony

The next morning we had room service breakfast. The hotel menus all have a note on them saying that they're happy to cater to vegan, gluten-free etc. diets, so it was no problem getting soy milk for my tea and my cereal. We ordered toast, granola, fruit, tea, juice and coffee, which we ate on our awesome balcony.

falafel take out

We spent our first day walking around the city. The Man of Science, having lived in San Francisco for several years, was an excellent tour guide. We got to visit the amazing sea lions, one of whom is pictured above (me: I want to give them a hug! MoS: They probably don't want you to do that.) we went to City Lights Books and then had a drink at the bar across the street where a lot of the beat writers used to hang out. And we had falafel and discussed why all falafel sold in Ottawa is so dry and crappy, when obviously it is not that hard to make delicious falafel. My little take out platter was so great.

Gracias Madre

That night we went to Gracias Madre for dinner. As always with all-vegan restaurants, we had option paralysis, so we asked the waiter to bring us five items from the appetizer menu and we just shared all of them. It was too dark to take good photos, but this is the dish that I found the most exciting. It was a butternut squash quesadilla with cashew "cheese" and pumpkin seed salsa. I couldn't imagine how it was going to taste when I read the menu description, but it was just fantastic. Everything we ate was wonderful. Including the chocolate cake and coconut ice cream that I had for dessert. I see why people freak out over this place.

Millennium polenta

These last two photos are from our meal at Millennium, where we managed to drag ourselves on the night before we flew home. My sickness had kicked the crap out of my appetite, so I wasn't as excited as I would have normally been to try their food, but I was desperate to not waste our last night in the city. The restaurant was really lovely, with great service and beautiful food. We had the tasting menu, which gets you five smaller versions of dishes from the menu, including a dessert sampler. The dishes were mostly great mixtures of all kinds of fresh, seasonal vegetables. Up there you can see one plate I especially enjoyed, which had some pan fried polenta and artichoke hearts on top of greens, beans, and a vegetable puree.

Millennium dessert sampler

The dessert plate was amazing. There was a fruit tart, ice creams, chocolate chip and ginger cookies, an incredible two-tone silky pie thing, a brownie, some truffles, and lots of chocolate sauce and pieces of dark chocolate strewn around. It was a great meal.

Somehow we managed to get ourselves on the plane and get home, and we're now both taking a few days off to rest and recover. I'll be back in this space again as soon as I start cooking again.


Sunday, January 9, 2011

Resolution Recipe: DIY Vegan Soup Stock

soup stock

This week is a small reprieve from the madness of the holidays before the lesser madness of a smaller holiday descends upon us. Yes friends, my delightful husband and I are leaving on a jet plane this Friday bound for San Francisco. Land of vegan delights! We'll only be there for four days, so we're going to try to pack in as much eating as possible. Okay that might be the royal "we". But as I figure it, we don't need to do a lot of sight seeing. I've been to the city three times before (though never as a person with a real job, the kind of job which allows one to afford a meal at Millennium). And the Man of Science lived in San Francisco for several years when he was doing his PhD at Stanford. So neither of us needs to run around jumping on and off cable cars or visiting Alcatraz. No sir. Which leaves plenty of time for eating.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Here in the frozen north, I'm going to be posting recipes this month that will do more than feed you. They will make your life better. I know, it's a big claim to make. But with so many New Year's resolutions focusing on losing weight, saving money, and being more self-sufficient/environmentally friendly/organized/who-knows-what-else, certain kinds of cooking can really make a dent in all those goals. Take, for example, homemade soup stock.


If you make your own soup stock you do the following:

1. Use up vegetable bits that would otherwise go into the garbage or compost, hence reducing your food waste.

2. Control the ingredients, namely the bad stuff like sodium, that end up in your soups.

3. Save money on the purchase of commercial soup stocks, some of which have nasty things in them like MSG, so they're bad for you AND costly.

Ta da! Look at how much goodness comes from something that is basically a half hour spent boiling veggies on your stove.

self portrait stock pot

All you need is a stock pot and a freezable container or plastic ziploc bag (I don't buy Ziploc bags, but I think someone gave me something in the one pictured above, so I washed it out and now it stays in the freezer getting filled and emptied on a regular basis). This is not a exact science, but I'll give you the steps for how I do it.

For a few weeks, months, whatever, keep your unused vegetable scraps in the freezer. I usually end up with an assortment of kale stems, celery leaves, carrot ends, and limp root veggies. It's best to wash the scraps off before you put them in the bag, that way you don't have to worry about grit in your soup.

When the bag is full, empty it into your stock pot. Any large pot will do. The vegetables should take up most of the space in the pot.

Chop an onion in half and add the halves to your pot. Also toss in four or five peeled cloves of garlic, some bay leaves and any sprigs of fresh herbs that you might have hanging around. Toss in a tablespoon of salt, a few grinds of pepper and then add as much water as you can without getting into boil-over territory.

Put the pot on a burner turned to high and wait for it to boil. Then put the lid on and reduce the heat to medium low.

You will want to cook this until the vegetables have almost turned to mush. For my fairly small stock pot that takes around 45 minutes.

When the stock is done, strain it through a large colander to get the big chunks of vegetables out. If you are the kind of person who owns cheesecloth, you can strain it through that to remove the smaller chunks. I just usually strain smaller amounts of it through my wire mesh strainer.

And that's it! Stock can be kept in the fridge for a week or so, but I like to freeze it in easily usable portions and just grab whatever I need from the freezer. A few minutes on the stove top and it melts perfectly.

And this has nothing to do with soup, but it's pretty great:

Sacha and Sam

Some Notes:

-I got an iPhone for Christmas from the very generous Man of Science. It is so fun. My favourite thing about it so far is "Epin Win". If you've seen me in person you probably already know that, because I've no doubt shown you how cool it is that my avatar kicks the crap out of the items on my to-do list when I finish them.

-My camera died right before Christmas (as it always does before special events) and rather than send it away to get it fixed (for the fourth time in three years) I decided to get myself a new camera at the Boxing Day sales. It's a bit more advanced than my old one, so it's taking me a while to figure out all the bells and whistles. But I am relieved to have a camera that won't fall apart right before my trip to Florida, or my trip to France, or my wedding, or Christmas.

-If you like reading things that have nothing to do with food, you may want to check out this new book that I contributed too, These Are Not Movies. It is a collection of un-filmed screenplays and mine is called "All The Single Dragon Slayers". I'm not sure if it's available on line, but those in Ottawa can get it at Collected Works, Octopus Books, or Perfect Books. Anyone else can just e-mail me and I'll hook you up.


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Toronto Edition

Sadi 's
The the Man of Science and I were in Toronto over the holidays I brought him to Sadie's Diner for vegan breakfast. I was so excited to be back there, I kept acting bananas and knocking things over. I had vegan french toast (which is now featured in my blog header up there) a strawberry smoothie, and tea with soymilk. The Man of Science had coffee and the vegan huevos racheros that I had the last time I was there. So good. And they were playing The Undertones on the sound system which basically made me crazy with joy.


Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy Food Year! Some Reflection and My Favourite Recipes from 2010

new camera and me

2010 was an amazing year for me and for this little blog. I feel like I got a real handle on what I want this blog to be and I've loved getting to know internet friends through comments and correspondence and by reading other blogs. It Ain't Meat, Babe is a really cosy corner of my life and I'm hoping it stays that way through 2011, which will be a year of big changes for us around here.

In the spring of 2011 The Man of Science and I (and all of our pets!) will be moving out of our house and in with my parents for about six months while a brand new house is built for us here on this same urban lot. Which means my days in this lacklustre kitchen are numbered. I'll spend six months cooking in my parents' well-equipped kitchen and then move into my new house with a kitchen (and garden!) designed just for me. I can't even get excited yet because such an amazing thing hardly seems possible.

I promise to keep everyone updated in my slightly wild future life. But for now let's talk about the past. Here are some of my favourite recipes from 2010, month by month.

Happy Food Year 2010

In January I did a bunch of cooking from Tal Ronnen's book The Conscious Cook so I could be interviewed about it on CBC Radio's In Town and Out. These were some of the most complicated dishes I've ever cooked and also, thankfully, some of the most delicious. The big hit at the time was the Agave Lime Tofu, but it's the chocolate peanut butter cake that has become a never-fail staple in my baking repertoire. I've also used the cashew cream recipe a bunch of times, but I can't say I've attempted many of the other recipes since first making them.

In February I made some heart shaped cranberry oatmeal muffins to celebrate Valentine's Day. The Man of Science didn't notice they were heart shaped until he'd already eaten a few, but hey, at least I tried to be gastronomically romantic.

In March I continued my awesome breakfast ritual of making pancakes for myself when I have Fridays off. This time I made some sugar-free blueberry sauce to go along with them and took one of my favourite photos of the year. Then I ate them by the window while watching 30 Rock on my laptop, as is my custom.

In April we had an awesome games night party and I made a ton of lovely food for our guests including a big checkerboard cake decorated with fondant and oreos. It was my first attempt at fondant and I totally loved it. Our party guests were pretty stoked too.

In May I started thinking about the upcoming gardening season and thinking about my favourite vegetables. A one-pot-wonder dish with chard and chickpeas was my favourite recipe of the month, and I got great feedback from readers who made it in their own kitchens.

In June I harvested the scapes from my garlic plants and made some awesome pesto. I passed the recipe on to all my fellow volunteers at the Shepherds of Good Hope Community Garden because no one knew what to do with the scapes that we were cutting off all our plants.

In July I started reading more about raw foods, especially raw desserts. I brought a lot of strawberries home from the farmers' market and turned some of them into raw strawberry banana soft serve.

In August, wow, so much happened in August. Most importantly the Man of Science and I eloped to Las Vegas which was the greatest. When we got home I made some wedding cakes for my friends Spencer and Isabel who also got hitched that month. The wedding cakes were the most elaborate baking I've even done.

In September I went to New York for a week to hang out with my friends who live there and to see Pavement play in Central Park. I ate so much good food I did a whole week of posts about it, starting with the most delicious sandwich I've ever had.

In October things started settling down again. I made an amazing Earl Grey Tea Cake and brought it to my friend Michael's house to share with my favourite friends.

November was Vegan Mofo and I posted 27 times in 30 days, which was a lot harder than I thought it would be. I devoted all my posts to vegan comfort food and late in the month posted one of my favourite dinner recipes ever, Creamy Tofu and Wild Rice Casserole.

And then December arrived and the year came to close with me watching my favourite Christmassy romantic comedies and cooking recipes inspired by them. The most exciting of those recipes were the very British chocolate digestive cookies. I bet Colin Firth is sad that I'm already married and I am not available to personally make these cookies for him.

Happy New Year, everyone!