Sunday, January 29, 2012

Ratatouille: If It Looks Pretty, You're Doing It Wrong


I'd forgotten that ratatouille existed until I saw a post by Chef Michael Smith on Twitter, linking to his own recipe for the dish. Do you know Michael Smith? He is one of the benefits of living in a house with cable and, more to the point, with The Food Network. Michael Smith is a chef from PEI who looks and talks like John Corbett. It's eerie, really. I bet he has a hard time getting through airports without being besieged by Sex and the City fans. When he's not impersonating John Corbett, Michael Smith makes simple, intuitive dinners on his TV show and blesses us all with recipes that are easy to follow, healthy, and delicious.


So this is my version of his version of ratatouille. It is another one of those easy vegetarian dishes that is a classic and uses no freaky ingredients. Good for serving to non-vegetarians or those who need a bit of vegetarian inspiration. I know it's missing protein, so here are my suggestions for how to remedy that. In mine, I used leftover tomato soup for the tomato component, which was full of white bean puree. You could also serve it with some grilled tofu, or cover your bread with white bean spread. Or, as Chef John Corbett suggests, you could add some basil pesto to the dish, thereby adding some of that excellent nut protein.


3 tbsp olive oil
1 eggplant, peeled and cubed
3 small zucchini, cubed
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
2 medium onions, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 cups of tomato product (you can use canned, strained, fresh... anything. I used tomato soup because that's what I had.)
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs fresh thyme
salt and pepper
1 bunch fresh basil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Toss your eggplant pieces with salt and leave them in a colander to drain while you prep the rest of the ingredients.

When everything is ready, heat 2 tbsp of the oil in a large saucepan or dutch oven over medium-high heat and add the (rinsed!) eggplant and zucchini. Cook until the eggplant is starting to brown. This can take as long as ten minutes.

Set cooked eggplant and zucchini aside and add the remaining 1 tbsp of oil to the same pan. Add the peppers and onions, cook until the onions begin to turn transparent, then add the garlic and cook until the vegetables are tender.

Add the tomatoes and the eggplant and zucchini. Stir well to combine. Add the whole sprigs of thyme and the bay leaf. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Turn the heat down to medium low. Cook until the eggplant pieces are completely tender. Should take about ten minutes, maybe a little longer. Just taste it to see if it's ready.

Remove thyme and bay leaf, season more with salt and pepper if needed. Eat with bread or rice.

Serves four, or six as a side dish.


Some Notes:

-People think they don't like eggplant. I understand. I, myself, want to barf when I bite down on a piece of undercooked eggplant. It's texture is just so horrible. This is why you have to be patient with this dish and really cook it until the eggplant is tender. Then it turns into a flavourful, creamy vegetable that works perfectly in stews like this, Trust me.

-I'm going out of town on business for a few days this week. I am worried about what I'll eat during the day when the conference I'm at will be attempting to feed me, but I'm excited about eating with friends at various vegan places. Should make for a mixed bag of a trip report when I get back.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: In Bed With Oreo


Would YOU want to get up and go to work?


Sunday, January 22, 2012

As Seen On TV: Roasted Squash Soup

squash soup

Confession. I read a lot of "chick lit" novels. I'm picky about which ones I read, but I do plow through them at a steady rate. Even though they're not realistic fiction per se, I can appreciate them, as the amazing Mindy Kaling says, "as a subgenre of sci fi, in which the world created therein has different rules than my regular human world."

Anyway, while I enjoy reading the books, I've never actually desired to feel like I was starring in my own chick lit novel. Especially not in the first chapter's scenes where the heroine is cursed with bad luck and klutziness and being subjected to the pitying/withering glances of more sophisticated women everywhere.

Which brings us to Tuesday morning. Our heroine (me) wakes up feeling cautiously optimistic about her TV spot that morning. All ingredients are prepped and ready to go, she gets up on time, puts on a nice dress, and starts dreaming about how TV spots like this will lead directly to her very own show on The Food Network called "I Can't Believe It's Vegan!". Freezing rain has been falling all night. Her car is caked in a layer of ice which is an inch thick. No amount of chipping away with her plastic scraper can make a dent in it. She races inside, trying not to sweat through her dress, and boils a kettle full of water. It boils with infuriating slowness. She pours the boiled water on her windshield to melt the ice. For some reason, this actually works quite well. Except it has taken a while and now she has 15 minutes to do a 30 minute drive.

More sweating in the car as she drives to the TV studio. Everyone is driving slowly because of the ice. She arrives twenty minutes late. She has five minutes to get set up and ready for her spot. She can't figure out how to work the stove top on set, so she pokes at random buttons in a mild panic until it begins heating up. Within a few minutes she's on camera, trying to appear calm, smile, make eye contact, answer questions... oh, and make soup in four minutes. The hostess is dressed nice, smiley, well made up, wearing heels and a pencil skirt. Our heroine accidentally sprays her with soup when she turns on the immersion blender. Which is too loud. Four minutes go by quickly. She is hustled off set, no one wants to taste the soup. It is still not blended and looks kind of gross. She packs everything in her car and can not drive to her day job fast enough. The End.

See, it could have been a lot worse. I think. I know things are rarely as bad as we think they are. And I know I am hard on myself. And really, the spot got me great feedback from a lot of people and no one seemed to notice the mistakes I thought where glaring. And Erin, who is the producer of the show, is great and seems to like me even if I am a bit of a spaz.

Once I got home and blended the soup a bit more, it was delicious. The Man of Science and I had it for dinner with some fresh bread and I had packed the leftovers in a thermos for lunch the following day. And I mean what I said in the video, this is an easy recipe, perfect for Meatless Mondays, easy to make for people that don't want to use "weird" vegan ingredients. The recipe was a success, even if I need a bit more practice making it on live local television. I guess my Food Network career is still a ways off.

squash soup

1 medium sized butternut squash, peeled and cubed
1 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper

3 tbsp olive oil
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 carrot finely chopped
1 onion finely chopped
4 cups vegetable soup stock
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tbsp lemon juice

1 cup white kidney beans
unsweetened soy milk

Toss the cubed squash with the tbsp of olive oil and a few shakes of salt and papper, and roast on a baking tray at 400 degrees for about an hour, or until squash is soft and starting to turn a golden brown. This can be done ahead of time.

Saute carrot, onion, and celery in 3 tbsp of olive oil until they are tender.

Add roasted squash to celery mixture, saute for a minute or two.

Add vegetable soup stock and nutmeg, plus a bit of salt and pepper and let simmer for 5 to ten minutes.

Puree with an immersion blender or food processor until very smooth.

Put white beans in a 2 cup measuring cup and pour in enough soy milk to just cover them. Puree until smooth.

Add white bean "cream" to soup, stir to combine.

Add the lemon juice, stir well, and serve.

Serves four.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

I Got A Blueberry Pecan Coffee Cake For My Husband and It Was The Best Trade Ever

blueberry pecan coffee cake

Har har. Kidding! My husband is excellent and wonderful and I would never trade him for a cake. A cake can't cuddle me while we watch The Simpsons, or take me on a trip to New York City, or repeatedly tell me that it likes my cooking better than the meals we eat in fancy restaurants. Not even this cake. Though it is mighty in its deliciousness.

I made it on the weekend, mostly for the aforementioned Man of Science who is a big fan of the coffee cake genre. He liked it very much, as did I, and as did my colleagues when I brought the leftovers to the office on Monday morning. The cake is moist and tasty, and the blueberries edge it into breakfasty territory. Who doesn't like having cake for breakfast? It's not healthy, but I won't tell anyone.

blueberry pecan coffee cake

For the cake itself:

1/2 cup Earth Balance "buttery sticks" margarine
1 cup unrefined sugar
2 tbsp ground flax seeds mixed with 3 tbsp water
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup vegan sour cream (I used Tofutti brand)
2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)

For the topping:

1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 tablespoon coconut oil, melted

Preheat oven to 350, lightly grease an 8 by 8 cake pan.

Mix all topping ingredients together and set aside.

Cream margarine with sugar, add vanilla, sour cream, and flax mixture. Mix until smooth.

Sift flour with baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.

Add dry ingredients to liquid ones and fold in blueberries. Don't over mix.

Sprinkle topping over cake.

Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.

blueberry pecan coffee cake

Some Notes:

-We took an airplane to New York and I was feeling short-attention-spanny so I bought some magazines to read while we travelled. In one of them, there was an article about common cooking mistakes to avoid. One that I wasn't aware of was the mistake of using cold ingredients in baking. So, if you make this cake, make sure your ingredients are at room temperature. Apparently, it makes a difference. Science!

-For those of you in Ottawa, you may wish to turn on your television tomorrow morning so you can see me make soup on CTV Morning Live. For those of you not in Ottawa or who are cable-less, it seems they post most of their segments on You Tube, so I will link to that when it happens. Provided I don't make an ass of myself.


Sunday, January 8, 2012

Start Spreading the News: Vegan in New York

New York Trip

So, my real Christmas present from The Man of Science this year was a trip to New York city for the two of us. I've been to New York a bunch of times, but never with him and never with a hotel stay as part of the plan. Don't get me wrong, I love sleeping on my friend Hallie's couch, but having a room at the Ritz Carleton with a beautiful view of the water was nothing to sneeze at, either. Good work, Husband!

We were only in the city for two nights, so I concentrated on enjoying myself as opposed to lugging out my camera to take quality photographs of everything we ate. I did, however, snap a lot of little pictures with my cell phone, and I've turned them into these lovely collages for you. Isn't it just as good as being there?

Up there you'll see the new shoes I got at Moo Shoes. Wheeee! I've always hesitated to order shoes from their website because the shipping/import fees are steep and I am wary of purchasing shoes without trying them on first. So it was great to actually be in the store and to see everything up close. Plus they have three cats! Store cats! After I bought my shoes I went around the corner to Babycakes for a vegan chocolate coconut donut. My last Babycakes experience was somewhat underwhelming, but this donut made up for that. It was stupendous.

Vegan heaven

Of course, I packed a million snacks to keep my blood sugar on the straight and narrow while we travelled. I found these ProBars were the best as far as filling me up and tasting good went. That plus a dose of Emergen C was my pre-breakfast breakfast each morning.

Next you see the menu for Kate's Joint, a place I might never have discovered were it not for a recommendation from erstwhile citizen of New York, my friend Krishna. We went for lunch after walking for hours around the city and I fuelled up with a vegan club sandwich and fries while the Man of Science had a tofu steak covered in vegan gravy and mushrooms. Yum. I really liked this unassuming, fully vegetarian little place.

Another recommendation of Krishna's was S'Nice largely because it opens at 8 AM and I like to eat breakfast as early as possible. Plus all the food is vegetarian and a lot of it is vegan. The Man of Science and I both had their tofu scramble wrap for breakfast with coffee for him and a smoothie and tea for me. This place was also great, with a big menu of vegetarian sandwiches, a reasonable list of breakfast choices, and lots of good space for sitting and reading the three newspapers we'd amassed on our walk over.

New York Trip More

Our hotel was in Battery Park and we had a great view of the Statue of Liberty. I took a bunch of pictures of it at different times of day.

Our first night in town involved meeting my friend Joe for dinner at Dirt Candy. The food was very beautifully presented and the company was excellent, but the actual deliciousness of our dishes varied. The appetizer of jalapeno hush puppies was really good, and my gnocchi entree was tasty, but a lot of the other things we tried were underwhelming as far as flavour goes. I always expect to be bowled over when I go to a fancy vegan place, especially in a big city, but this wasn't quite there.

The next photo is of my aforementioned club sandwich at Kate's, and the following one is the sign from our table for two at S'Nice. I liked that the two-person tables were reserved for non-computer users, having attempted the night before to go have tea after dinner only to be thwarted by a coffee shop with no free tables for sharing. Every single table was taken up by one person and a laptop, leaving an empty seat on the opposite side and no where for our party of three to sit. Boo!

We had our last dinner of the trip at Blossom, which I took absolutely zero photos of because I was trying to have a romantic night and keep my feet pointed at my husband. We had delicious ravioli and pretty good empanadas for appetizers, and then I had the pistachio-crusted tofu for my entree (yum!) and the Man of Science had the port wine seitan, which was weirdly sweet. For dessert he had their housemade ice cream and I had an amazing chocolate ganache cake with peanut butter sauce and vanilla cream.

in Soho

And now we're back at home with the dogs and cats and my mom (my dad is now away on a trip himself). Back to work for real tomorrow.


Monday, January 2, 2012

Best Recipes of 2011: From Shortcakes to Shortstacks


Hello, hello, hello! I hope everyone had excellent holidays. You know what I did with my time off from work? Nothing. Nothing stressful, anyway. I stayed home, wore pajamas, ate lots of food, watched movies, and read books on the couch (with the dog) by the fireplace. It was the best ten days I've had in a long time. And now tomorrow I have to go back to work, which I'm almost completely ready for. Honest.

stocking contents

2011 was a somewhat challenging year for me, but it was a GREAT year for cooking. Here are my favourite recipes from this past year. I can't wait to start a whole new year of cooking, especially because in a few months I'll be in my new house cooking on my dream stove. But before we look forward, let's look back, shall we?

Last January I made a giant pot of chili and baked it in the oven with cornbread batter on top. It turned out to be one of my favourite recipes ever, which was a surprise since I've never been super excited about chili in any form.

In February I tried to imitate the squash quesadillas that the Man of Science and I ate just before we were felled by the dastardly flu during our vacation in San Francisco.

In March I made one of my most popular recipes ever, Maple Pecan Granola. It is the recipe I get the most in-real-life comments about. I love it when people enjoy the blog, but I love it even more when they actually make the recipes and tell me about it!


In April we had a party at our house and I experimented with some vegan club sandwiches. They were slightly more labour intensive than I'm used to sandwiches being, but they were perfect for the party and got great compliments from our guests.

In May I WON A VEGAN BAKING CONTEST! Yes, I'm still very proud. It was a stressful experience but totally worth it. I love winning. I know why people get so elated when they win a challenge on those cooking TV shows.

In June I finally conquered strawberry shortcakes. This is one of those recipes that I want to eat every single time I look back at the photos. It's the first recipe I'll drag out when strawberries are back in season.

vegan shortcakes

In July I made some pecan tofu sliders which were fun and delicious. They've now become a major favourite here in my parents' house.

In August I got a pile of migraines. But also we celebrated our first wedding anniversary! And our fridge broke. Then I made some great pasta with artichokes and kale.

In September I made some oatmeal pancakes. They recipe is simple, but remains my favourite pancake recipe to this day. Also, we moved out of our house and in with my parents so we could demolish our existing (falling apart) house and build a new (much, much nicer) house in its place.

Oatmeal Pancakes

In October I, for the first time, failed miserably when it came to posting every day for Vegan Mofo. But I still gave you all this great recipe for my favourite salad dressing.

In November our CSA vegetable supply dwindled, and I finished up the harvest season with an amazing purple cabbage and apple slaw.

And in December I posted a bunch of links to the perfect vegan Christmas cookie recipes which I used to make my own giant supply of Christmas treats for giving away to loved ones. And for hoarding all to yourself.

vegan christmas cookies

Whew! I hope you enjoyed that. I know I did. If the links pointed you back at a recipe you'd missed and are now intrigued by, please let me know. And good luck to all of you who are dragging yourselves back to work tomorrow.

Happy Food Year!