Thursday, April 28, 2011

Wordless... uh, Thursday.

bread plate

I missed Wordless Wednesday this week. What can I say? I'm off work this week. All days blur together in Vacation Land.

I did, however, really want to post about this bread plate. It was on the table at every family dinner that my maternal grandparents ever hosted. And since they had such a lovely marriage (full of good food and wine!) it will always remind me of them. When my grandfather moved into a seniors' residence recently, he didn't take very many things with him and my mom asked me if there was anything I'd like to have. The first thing I asked for was this plate. It makes me happy every time I look at it.


Monday, April 25, 2011

cupcake fail

Above, you see an abandoned prototype for my entry in the upcoming Ottawa Veg Fest Cupcake Challenge. Yikes. I can bake cupcakes like no one's business, but do I ever need to work on my icing. Good thing I have the coming week off work, I can give myself a frosting crash course.

If you're in Ottawa, maybe you want to come to Veg Fest this year. I'll confess that I've never been, mostly because I don't like crowds. But this year I will brave the crowds in the name of competing with my fellow vegan bakers in the aforementioned cupcake competition. Which is making me tense. This may be my first and last baking competition. Eeg.


Bake Sale - lost locker combo by Jennifer W

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Easy Lunch For One (In case YOUR partner is also busy playing Portal 2*)

Saturday Lunch

My quick no-fail Saturday lunch: heat olive oil, saute garlic, add white kidney beans, squeeze in 1/4 a lemon, add several handfuls of kale, squeeze in another 1/4 lemon, season with salt and pepper, eat with fresh bread. Easy vegan lunch, for the win.


*If you eat all your lunch, there will be cake.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Vegan Gourmet Cooking Class at The Urban Element

dad in action

In a few months, if all goes as planned, the Man of Science and I will be moving in with my parents. I get a lot of freaked out looks when I tell people this, but it's not really a big deal. As I've mentioned before, our house is being rebuilt this year and we'll have to live somewhere while that's happening, which means prevailing on the good will of my parents for approximately six months. My parents' home is more than big enough for the four of us (and our five pets), so that's not going to be an issue. I wonder, though, if my Dad feels slightly unnerved about being the only meat eater of the four humans. Seeing as I've committed to earning my keep through dinner preparation, he's unlikely to see much meat during our stay. I'm pretty sure it will be all right, though. He's a good sport.

dad and caroline

Such a good sport, in fact, that he was delighted when I signed us both up for a vegan gourmet cooking class as my Christmas gift to him this year. I was pretty sure he'd like the gift, seeing as I knew he was a fan of the TV show The Restaurant Adventures of Caroline and Dave and it was none other than Chef Caroline who was teaching the vegan gourmet class. Plus, my Dad really loves to cook, vegetarian food or otherwise, and he is usually pretty excited about learning new recipes.


The Urban Element is a great space in Ottawa that hosts food-related events and cooking classes. It is in a building that used to be a fire station and the owners have kept a lot of that look in the building. It has a kitchen so well equipped it gives me heart palpitations (with a Wolf range that is pretty much my dream stove) and a big counter with stools to seat lots of people who are ready to eat.

hello, lover

The class was really well organized and the Urban Element staff (operator Barbara Legg and chef Stephen Pollock) were exceptionally helpful, friendly, and welcoming. I hardly ever mention my blog to people, but it came up during our go-around introductions (not to be braggy, but Chef Caroline brought it up and sung its praises *grin*) and both Barbara and Stephen were excited about it. Barbara even checked in to make sure that I got some good photos to post (I ended up taking 125 photos total! I edited them down to 60, and you can see them all here on Flickr if you so desire).

check it

The evening started off with an amuse bouche of edamame hummous and corn chips to keep us fueled for the active class ahead. Chef Caroline introduced herself and gave us a run down of the recipes we were going to be learning. The list was as follows:

Wilted Spinach Salad with Orange-Maple Vinaigrette and Spiced Pepitas
White Bean and Garlic Soup
Tempeh Scallopini with a Creamy Mushroom Sauce (served over brown rice and quinoa)
Apple Ginger Crisp with Vanilla Cream

We all got print outs of the recipes and then were set loose in the kitchen to work on the creation of the meal. My Dad and I got assigned to dessert, which I requested because I was curious about the vanilla cream. My experience with vegan dessert creams has been mixed and I was looking forward to some pointers from a professional.


Chef Caroline and Chef Stephen circulated through the slightly chaotic kitchen while we cooked, answering questions and offering pointers. They were very accessible and helpful and I definitely felt like I was learning how to improve my kitchen skills as we went along. I really love hands-on classes. As much as I enjoyed studying English Literature in university, I think I would have actually been even happier if I'd learned to do something more active like cooking or horticulture. (Which is why I spend all my free time doing that stuff now!)

plating spinach salad

Once our actual cooking was finished, all the students got to sit down and drink wine while Chef Caroline and Chef Stephen plated all the dishes and served them to us. It felt kind of luxurious to get to do all the cooking, but to be excused from the drudgery of serving, clearing, and clean up.

Do I need to say that all the food was delicious? I think what impressed everyone the most was the tempeh scallopini. It was really rich and "meaty" and probably the most complicated of all the dishes to prepare. For my part, I was very happy with my vanilla cream, and my Dad was proud of his apple ginger crisp. So proud, in fact, he's already made it at home and my Mom's review of it was very positive.

urban element glass

I heartily recommend The Urban Element for anyone looking to up their skills in the kitchen. I love that they are a local business and that the whole environment is so well organized and warm and welcoming. I would definitely go again. Maybe they have a class that can teach me how to make bread that rises reliably every time. A girl can dream.


Friday, April 15, 2011

It's Pieday, Pieday! Gotta get down on Pieday!

apple pie

Maybe someday you'll all forgive me for that post title. But really, isn't everybody looking forward to the weekend*?

This is the last post about our party food, which you'll notice was heavily weighted in the direction of dessert. Because we all love dessert. And now that I am a pie expert, I just want to make pie all the time. Pie, pie, pie, pie! Of course, I haven't mastered any kind of pie but apple, but all in due time, friends. All in due time.

apple pie

Maybe next I'll try blueberry! Strawberry? Pecan? Who knows? Anyway, this pie was very pretty, tasty, and well received by our party goers.

You can see in the picture below that I also made some chocolate cupcakes which turned out nicely. I'm not posting the recipe for these because they were made with the same chocolate cake recipe that I always use, and the frosting was the same melted chocolate chips with margarine that I mentioned in my previous post. Not fancy, just tasty. Dig in!

pie and cupcakes

Vegan Apple Pie

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

You'll need a 2 piece (uncooked) pastry crust ready before you make the filling. I faithfully use the basic crust recipe from Vegan Brunch except I use Earth Balance vegan vegetable shortening instead of margarine. I find this makes a much flakier crust. It's not healthy, but if you want healthy pie then you should probably just go cry in the corner alone.

6 cups apples, peeled and sliced
1/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1 tbsp arrowroot powder (or cornstarch)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 tbsp whiskey
1 tsp vanilla extract

Mix all ingredients until apples are coated and then pour them into your pie shell.

Top with second piece of pastry. You can do cute cutouts if you want, but this results in some slightly drier apples under the cutouts. I don't mind that, but maybe you do. If you don't do cutouts, just prick the crust with a fork.

Sprinkle a bit of sugar on the top of the crust.

Place pie in oven for ten minutes, then lower temperature to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 50 minutes, or until crust is brown and apples are soft.

Let cool before serving.

apple pie

*Click on that link at your own risk. You will have the song in your head for one million years. But oh, I just love Stephen Colbert more and more every time I watch it. And is it just me, or do those cheerleaders have uncommonly long arms?


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Win Friends and Influence People With Vegan, Gluten-free Cashew "Cheese"cake

vegan, gluten-free cashew cheesecake

My friend Adam and I were out for dinner the other night and we got to griping about being vegans who eat wheat. We're both finding lately that when "special" meals are offered for vegans, the meal often ends up being gluten-free as well. The restaurant (or airplane, or conference center, or whatever) is killing two restrictive diets with one stone, as it were. Which is fair, I guess. But sometimes when people who aren't used to making gluten-free OR vegan meals make something that has to be both, well... it just sucks. I'm sure gluten-free meat eaters feel the same way.

Never fear, my friends! Here I present you with a dessert that is both vegan and gluten-free AND delicious!


This was the first of the desserts I made for the party on Saturday. It's a variation on the cheesecake bites I made a few years ago, but a bit richer and with a slightly different crust. I think I like the walnuts better than the macadamia nuts, anyway.

It's such an easy and delicious recipe to make, and perfect if you're expecting gluten-free or vegan guests who might actually enjoy having dessert (imagine!) All but one piece of this got eaten at our party and I think the last piece was just leftover because people were being polite. Unfortunately I left it out all night when it really should have bee refrigerated, so I didn't think it was fit for human consumption the next day. That didn't stop The Man of Science from eating it though, and he appears to be still alive and well. So maybe I was being overly-cautious.


Vegan Cashew Cheesecake

1 ½ cups raw walnuts
½ cup pitted dates (the softer the better)

1 ½ cups raw cashews
6 tbsp coconut oil (heated until liquid)
¼ cup agave nectar
Juice of one lime or one lemon
2 tbsp almond milk

1/2 cup vegan chocolate chips
1 tbsp vegan margarine (I used Earth Balance)

Soak walnuts and cashew nuts in separate bowls of cold water for at least six hours (overnight works best) in the fridge.

Drain water from nuts. Put walnuts in a food processor and pulse until they are small crumbs.

Add dates to food processor and pulse with walnuts until they're mixed in.

Press this mixture evenly into the bottom of an 8 inch (or so) cake pan. A springform pan works really well here. Also, if you want to eventually take the cake out of a pan and put it on a nice plate for show, you will be happier if you add a layer of parchment paper to the bottom of the pan.

Put remaining ingredients in food processor and blend until as smooth as possible, stopping to scrape down the sides when needed.

IMPORTANT NOTE: One of the most useful things I learned at the cooking class I took a few weeks ago (which I will tell you all about in next week's post) was that cashew cream curdles when it gets mixed with something too hot. So let that coconut oil cool down before you add it or you'll have a mixture that looks like cellulite. Which no one wants to eat.

Spoon cashew mixture on top of walnut mixture and spread it out evenly, then put the pan in the freezer for at least half an hour.

Melt chocolate chips over low heat on the stove, stirring constantly. Add in margarine and stir to combine.

Let chocolate cool for five to ten minutes, then remove cake from freezer and spread chocolate in an even layer over top. Sprinkle with sliced almonds or whatever garnish you like. Place in the fridge until serving.



Sunday, April 10, 2011

Now You Will Make Some Vegan Club Sandwiches

vegan club sandwiches

Last week I had to do a day of driving around with a coworker to handle some work stuff. The coworker I was with is an older guy, who doesn't fully "get" the idea of eating vegan, but is pretty easy going about it. Especially since he grew up on a beef farm. Anyway, we were in a rural area about an hour away from the city and I was pretty certain there wasn't going to be any exciting lunch options for me. "Just pick whatever place you want," I told him. "I'm just going to end up eating french fries anyway." And so it was. I had some french fries and he ordered a club sandwich.

Ahhh, the club sandwich. I'd forgotten such an excellent thing existed. I started thinking about ways to veganize it right away.

Lucky for me, we were having people over for a second annual games night, which meant I needed to get a party menu together. Last year I did vegan BLTs, so it seemed like vegan club sandwiches were the perfect sequel.

vegetables with white bean dip and some vegan club sandwiches

In case you don't know or don't remember, a traditional club sandwich goes like this: bread, tomato, lettuce, chicken, bacon, bread, tomato, lettuce, chicken, bacon, bread. And between all of those things is mayonnaise. Yikes. For my version, I could have easily (albeit expensively) used a bunch of processed fake meats to replace the real meats, but I decided not to go that way. I chose tofu to replace the chicken and decided that avocado would be a tastier and healthier stand-in for the bacon than any packaged fakey bacon on the market.

And wow. This was a Sandwich of the Gods. I got a lot of "I can't believe this is vegan!" and a bit of "What did you do to this tofu?" which are some of my favourite food compliments. And even though I used up an entire loaf of bread to make the sandwiches for the party, the Man of Science said he wished I'd made twice as many. I don't think he actually wanted to share them with our guests.

vegan club sandwiches

Vegan Club Sandwiches

(The labour intensive part of this is the cooking and marinating of the tofu, so we'll start there)

1 1/2 blocks of tofu (using blocks that are approximately 1 pound each)
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1/4 cup soy sauce or tamari
1 tbsp sage
1 tsp rosemary
1 tsp thyme
1 small onion, minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced or grated with a Microplane grater
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
a few grinds of fresh black pepper

You're going to use a technique for the tofu called "dry frying", which makes the tofu suck up marinade like nobody's business.

First, cut the tofu into rectangular slices, approximately 1/4 inch thick, and lay them out flat on a cutting board. Cover them with a tea towel and place other cutting board on top of them, then weigh that down with something heavy- cans of beans, cast iron frying pans, The Riverside Shakespeare- whatever.

After ten minutes or so, heat a non-stick or well seasoned frying pan over medium heat and release your tofu from its crushing bondage. Lay a single layer of tofu slices down on the hot pan and use a spatula to press them slightly. The tofu will release more water and make a hissy, whistley, sizzling noise.

After four of five minutes of cooking and a second pressing with the spatula, flip the tofu. It may stick slightly, but if you're careful you should be able to flip it without calamity. (I do this with my cast iron pan and haven't had any trouble)

Squish the tofu with your spatula again and let it cook for a minute. Repeat. Then remove tofu from the pan.

When all the tofu has been dry fried, spread it in a shallow pan.

Mix remaining ingredients and pour the mixture over the tofu.

I left mine in the fridge all day before serving it, but I've also dry fried and marinated tofu for stir fries in the past and left it marinating for only twenty minutes or so before eating it and it was still delicious.

When your tofu has marinated to your satisfaction, you can start assembling your sandwich. Here's mine:

tofu club

I cut the crusts off the bread (just a regular nine-grain loaf) and toasted it before I started assembling. I also realized that I had no mayonnaise and so shockingly expertly whipped some up from scratch with some soymilk, lemon juice, salt, paprika, and vegetable oil poured very slowly into a blender where all the other ingredients were being swiftly blended. It worked really well and I'm as surprised as you are.

All in all, it was a very fun night and these sandwiches were the belle of the ball. I'll be posting more about party food as the week goes on. Wait until you see the desserts.