Wednesday, February 23, 2011
My friends, I am so excited. For this week, I conquered pastry crust!
Up until now my crusts have always been kind of bland and chewy. But just last week I made a quiche (carmelized onion quiche from Vegan Brunch) for breakfast with friends and I used vegan Earth Balance shortening instead of margarine for the pastry. Low and behold, a crust of excellence. And then, even more amazingly, I baked my first truly successful apple pie on Monday. Flakey crust! Tender fruit! Perfect balance of sweetness! I am very proud of myself.
(Slightly crappy iphone photo of apple pie because we got excited and ate it before I took a real photo.)
Monday, February 21, 2011
I was very happy to just settle in for a quiet, solitary morning today (it's a holiday in Ontario) because I spent Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday visiting my friend Kat and her family, who are lovely, but certainly not sedate! I really enjoyed hanging out with her two excellent kids and I even enjoyed cleaning her entire dining room. However, a morning alone with CBC radio and pancakes was exactly what I was in need of today.
I am easily annoyed by pancakes. So often they end up being nothing more than a vessel created specifically for the transport of butter and maple syrup. This has led to a culture of bland, floppy pancakes, unable to stand on their own. I am not into this!
I eat pancakes maybe once a month, usually when I have a day off during the week and am eating a leisurely breakfast all by myself when the Man of Science had gone off to work. He is not a pancake fan. And nobody get him started on waffles, please. At any rate, I have been alone in my quest for perfect pancakes. But no matter! As of this morning I am pleased to report that I have finally, after years of arduous research, found my perfect pancake recipe.
I've been experimenting with an almondy pancake for a while now, largely because who wouldn't want to say "marzipancakes" as many times as possible? There is no actual marzipan in these pancakes, but they are slightly sweet and flavoured with almond extract so we're still allowed to invoke marzipan in their name. Because I said so.
The success of these was as much technique as it was ingredients. I made them into quite small pancakes so they were firm and crisp on the outside, which is what I really like. No soggy pancakes here! Nothing that disintegrates as soon as the syrup hits. The sliced almonds are added after the first side of the pancake is cooked, waiting until the last possible second, so when they are flipped and come in contact with the pan, they toast instead of burning, as the rest of the pancake cooks.
In the end this is a very simple recipe, made entirely of pantry-ready ingredients. The spelt flour, flax, agave, and almonds make it healthier than the average pancake and less likely to mess with your blood sugar. I think these would even be great without syrup, they are that good. I'd be perfectly willing to eat them with jam or apple sauce. Or maybe with a light dust of powdered sugar if you're into that kind of thing. Whatever. Just go make them already.
Jennifer's Perfect Marzipancakes
1 1/2 cups light spelt flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp ground flax seed
6 tbsp water
1 1/2 cups unsweetened almond milk
1 tsp almond extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp agave nectar
sliced almonds for tops of pancakes
Put a cast iron or non-stick pan on a burner set to just above medium heat.
Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.
Combine ground flax seed and water in a small bowl, mix vigorously.
To the flax and water mixture add the almond milk, almond extract, vanilla extract, and agave nectar.
When the pan is hot, pour batter in and let cook until tops are bubbling and beginning to dry.
(You can make large pancakes if you prefer, but this worked very well for me with smaller pancakes, approximately two or three inches in diameter.)
Before flipping, sprinkle sliced almonds on the uncooked side of the pancake.
Because you've let them cook for a good while on the first side, the second side shouldn't take long to cook. This will ensure that the almonds are toasted, but not burnt.
Makes about 20 small pancakes. I ate mine with mango and tempeh bacon and tea.
Eat to the Beat: Frightened Rabbit - Swim Until You Can't See Land (quickly become the anthem of my late winter!)
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
The Man of Science surprised me with a box of the special Valentine's cake truffles from Auntie Loo's vegan bakery on Saturday, right after I'd grumbled at him about not putting his laundry in the appropriate basket. Well played, MoS, well played. In return, I offered to make whatever he wanted for dinner on Monday night. We ate a whole lot of chickpea cutlets, brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, and miso gravy. If I hadn't already eaten all the cake truffles, we might have had those for dessert.
Sunday, February 13, 2011
Okay, minestrone is not really particularly romantic. To tell you the truth, I kind of forgot about Valentine's Day this year. Well, as much as one can forget about it when every blog, TV show, magazine, and newspaper is mentioning it in some capacity. However, this year Valentine's Day was kind of like last year's Winter Olympics. I knew it was happening, I just failed to care.
(The Man of Science, by the way, did not forget OR fail to care! You'll see his divine, edible gift to me in this week's Wordless Wednesday post. Worth the wait. Seriously.)
However, I do like the idea of having a fancy meal for Valentine's Day, which coincides nicely with the Italian Dinner episode of Top Chef that I watched last week. I don't think I'd ever learned about the three courses of a traditional Italian meal (antipasti, pasta, meat) until I watched that episode. Carla Hall is one of my favourite chefs on the show this season, and I loved the look of the minestrone soup that she prepared for the challenge. So easily veganizeable. I couldn't wait to make my own.
The minestrone also provided me with a perfect oppourtunity to use the heirloom bean mix that I blogged about last week. These beans are really better than any others I've ever had, so I was happy to have them play a major role in this soup.
The other exciting element here is these new giant white bowls that I bought with a wedding gift card we got for Domus Housewares (which doesn't have a website for some reason). The bowls are perfect for almost anything: noodles, soup, quinoa-vegetable-tofu meals, kale chips. I find myself wanting to cook meals especially to showcase the bowls. There were only two of them in stock when I went to spend my gift card, but I will happily buy a few more when the inventory is replenished. I've never really had new dishes before. This is all very exciting.
8 medium sized roma tomatoes, skinned, roasted and chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
2 ribs of celery, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup white wine or vermouth
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tbsp dried sage
1 tbsp dried basil
6 cups vegetable soup stock
2 cups cooked pasta (I used whole wheat macaroni)
3 cups cooked beans
salt and pepper to taste
In a 350 degree oven, roast the tomatoes. You can slice them in half and put the sliced sides down on a cookie sheet (I covered my cookie sheet with parchment paper). They should be in the oven for at least half an hour, forty minutes if you're extra patient.
In a large pot over medium heat, warm the olive oil and then add the onions, carrots, and celery. Cook until vegetables are slightly tender, approximately ten minutes, stirring frequently.
Add garlic, white wine or vermouth, bay leaves, and other herbs. Let cook for an additional five minutes or until the wine has reduced.
Add the chopped tomatoes and soup stock. Cover the pot, turn the heat to medium low, and let simmer for fifteen to twenty minutes, or until vegetables are soft.
Add beans and pasta, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and let simmer for an additional five minutes.
Makes 4-6 servings.
This recipe makes quite a lot, so if you are not feeding an army, you may want to save some for another day. I had great success freezing two jars of it. This kind of soup is going to do better in the freezer than in the refrigerator, because the pasta won't suck up a ton of water and get all bloated and mushy if it's frozen. I did keep one portion in the fridge overnight, but I ate it for lunch the next day, so it didn't have time to get yucky.
Eat To The (Romantic) Beat: Jonathan Richman - Everyday Clothes
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
These are beans grown locally by Rainbow Heritage Garden. I buy a package every year at the Carp Winter Farmers Market and save them for a special project (more on that next week!) These are all heirloom bean varieties and do they ever taste good. Also, they're damm pretty. It was almost a shame to cook them, because it mutes those nice colours.
Sunday, February 6, 2011
I'm trying to write something witty about this recipe, but all I can think about is this great old Billy Bragg album (Workers Playtime) that I've been listening to all weekend. I first started loving Billy Bragg when I was in high school, and I even went to see him play at The Concert Hall in Toronto, a place which could have been awarded the "Venue Where Small Teenage Music Fans Are Most Likely To Get Crushed To Death" award. It was just a big open room and in the 90's moshing was a big new fun thing to do. I was a skinny, bespectacled, somewhat nervous girl, and as much as I liked going to shows there, I was always mildly terrified as well. It didn't help that all shows were general admission, which meant that us crazy, devoted teenagers would get in line outside at 3:30 PM and wait in the cold for several hours in order to get prime spots at the front of the stage. Now when I go to a show I make a beeline for the balcony and try to find a place to sit where I can still see the band. How times have changed.
Teenage me never cooked and didn't care that much about food. I actually ate the same lunch- a peanut butter and honey sandwich on white bread, one red delicious apple, and two granola bars- every single day for three years in a row. I think teenage me would be shocked to know that I grew up to love healthy food and love cooking. I'd actually like to go back in time and feed teenage me some exciting vegan food. I'd also tell her to learn to cook. As soon as possible.
These butternut squash quesadillas are a good example of food that is amazingly easy to cook, very nourishing, and not boring at all. They are modeled on a wonderful dish we had a Gracias Madre when we were in San Francisco. I used whole wheat tortillas for mine, but they could be easily done with corn tortillas, too. The soft, sweet squash is a really great filling for the tortillas and the pumpkin seeds add a crunchy texture. The whole dish is vastly superior to any yawn-inducing cheese+salsa quesadilla I've ever had. I think even teenage me would have liked it.
Butternut Squash Quesadillas
1 small or (1/2 a large) butternut squash, peeled and cubed
5 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
2/3 cup black beans
tortillas of your choosing (we used 6 small whole wheat tortillas)
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
1/2 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
vegan sour cream-type thing (I used the Cashew Crema recipe from Viva Vegan, it was perfect! But you could use any recipe you like, or use a store-bought product)
a pinch of chili powder
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Toss squash cubes with 3 tbsp of olive oil, then arrange them in a glass baking pan and bake for 45 minutes.
While the squash is baking, heat the remaining olive oil in a pan over medium heat, and add the onion and garlic. Cook for five minutes, stirring constantly, and then reduce the heat to low. Leave mixture cooking for an additional five to ten minutes, stirring occasionally. The onions should start to turn a light brown colour and be very soft.
When the squash is done, place it in a bowl with the onion and garlic mixture, and use a potato masher or large fork to smush it all until it has a very smooth consistency. Stir in black beans.
Heat tortillas in oven until they are soft (not brittle!) then spread squash mixture over one tortilla and cover it with another.
Cut in halves or quarters and top with cilantro, pumpkin seeds, sour "cream" and then sprinkle a bit of chili powder over the whole plate. Eat with salsa or hot sauce, if you are so inclined.
Makes 5 or 6 quesadillas (using two tortillas for each one).
Eat To The Beat: Billy Bragg - She's Got a New Spell
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
Sam has taken to hanging out on top of the cookbooks in our kitchen. I often look over and catch her staring at me while I cook, which is funny because the only human food she's ever been interested in is potato chips. She loves potato chips. Who can blame her?