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Archive for September, 2010

Beans are one of those foods that have a somewhat negative reputation: too mushy, too dry, too bland…and those complaints pale in comparison to the “event” that is basically synonymous with bean consumption…we all know what that is…

I, however, adore beans. I come from a family of bean lovers. I even loved lima beans as a child! As a vegan, I turn to beans quite often for their rich fiber content, the protein boost they give, and for the depth they add to many dishes. As well, they stand up so very well to whatever flavour agent you stir into them. Is there anything nicer than black beans seasoned with cumin? Or chickpeas with curry? Mmmmmmm….

I had a kitchen day on Monday; I spent the entire day in my favourite polka dot apron grating zucchini, soaking and cooking beans, rolling pastry, chopping produce, and spraying flour over every surface. It was magical! Most of the day was spent baking (I had a ridiculously large yellow zucchini that needed to become a bumper crop of dense, delicious bread and a couple of peaches that were destined to warm up and soften in a blanket of flaky pastry); but, I figured I would look really bad in Husband’s eyes if I spent all day in the kitchen and didn’t even make dinner. I figured with all the baked goods coming out of the oven, he’d overlook the simplicity of a bean stew for dinner.

When it was served, though, we both forgot about all the baked goods cooling on the kitchen counters and could concentrate only on the marvelousness that was this humble bean stew. Flavoured with salt, pepper, white wine, and coconut milk, this stew was nothing like the tasty-but-a-little-bland dish I had envisioned. The coconut milk didn’t overpower at all, it was more of a sweet richness in the background. The veggies and beans were in their glory, simply sautéed and then simmered slowly over low heat. The wine…oh, the wine! Why don’t I cook with wine more often?!?! It is a revelation in flavour development!

Served in generous proportions with a wedge of zucchini cornbread on the side, it left us wanting for nothing in a meal. Of course, we still polished off a peach galette for dessert…I’m a slave to my taste-buds…never do I say no to dessert!

Bean Stew with White Wine and Coconut Milk

-1 cup dried white beans, rinsed and drained

-1 T. olive oil

-1 medium-sized onion, peeled and chopped

-1 large clove garlic, peeled and minced

-2 stalks celery, chopped

-3 carrots, peeled and sliced

-3 large cremini mushrooms, wiped clean and sliced

-salt and pepper, to taste

-1 cup white wine (I used a sweet German variety)

-3/4-1 cup coconut milk

Put the beans in a pot and cover with at least 3 inches of water. Cover and bring to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes and then take off the heat. Let sit for 1 hour, and then drain. Put the beans back into the pot with enough water to cover by at least 3 inches. Cover and bring back to a boil; reduce heat and cook till tender, about 40 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, prepare the vegetables. Preheat a large skillet with the oil. Add the onions and sauté for 2 minutes, until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic and sauté an additional 1 minute. Stir in the remaining vegetables and sauté until slightly softened, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the cooked beans, wine and coconut milk. Let it come up to a gentle boil, then reduce heat and let stew simmer till most of the liquid is evaporated, about 25-30 minutes. Serve immediately.

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I was feeling a little adventurous yesterday when I started prepping dinner. I had all these tiny ideas in my head that were all fighting to come to the surface to shine as a meal; but, sadly, not a single one of the ideas had anything to do with each other. I had some left-over homemade(!) Thousand Island dressing in the fridge that was just screaming to top the last of my iceberg lettuce but I really wanted more “oomph!” to our salad. I thought about a rich, creamy roasted garlic sauce and how that could be delicious on some roasted eggplant. I was being dragged along helpless at the idea of adding sesame seeds to my standard, go-to tofu breading.

Suddenly, it hit me: just go ahead and follow through with all my crazy little ideas! Who’s going to judge me anyway? It’s our dinner, after all. It was quite a convincing little pep talk; I set to work immediately. When my oven was preheated, I tossed in thick slices of eggplant sprinkled with salt, pepper, and a pinch of fresh-ground nutmeg and drizzled with some really fruity olive oil. A bulb of similarly treated garlic was thrown in to keep the eggplant company.

Meanwhile, I set a brick of tofu to pressing, chopped salad ingredients, toasted whole hazelnuts, and prepared my tofu breading. Even with only a fraction of dinner prepared, the aroma was intoxicating. The smell of decadent roasted garlic is just on this side of having aphrodisiac qualities. After the eggplant and garlic came out of the oven, the seasoned, breaded strips of tofu went in and I started on the roasted garlic gravy. I added tomato paste for body and just a few drops of fig-infused balsamic vinegar right at the very end. That touch of acidity does wonders for rich gravies.

With all the components complete, I started to plate our meal. I hadn’t intended on stacking the eggplant and tofu; but, at the very last minute, my hands started assembling two towers of chewy, caramelized eggplant, rich creamy gravy, and crispy-crusted tofu. With the very colourful salad on the side, the meal started to sing! It may have been a slightly disjointed performance (almost like listening to a classical orchestra cover popular rock/pop songs) but is was entirely delicious! I served the eggplant tofu stacks with a salad of iceberg lettuce, baby spinach, diced red onion, chopped mango, toasted hazelnuts and Thousand Island dressing…such a yummy combination of flavours and so pretty!

Eggplant and Tofu Stacks with Roasted Garlic Gravy

-1 large eggplant, washed and sliced into roughly 1/2″ slices

-olive oil (for roasting, I use a spray pump so it amounts to far less oil)

-1 bulb of garlic, with the top sliced off to expose the cloves

-salt and pepper, to taste

-pinch of freshly ground nutmeg

-1 package extra-firm tofu, pressed and sliced into roughly 1/2″ slices

-1/3 cup seasoned flour, or all-purpose flour

-1/3 cup plain soymilk

-1/3 cup breadcrumbs

-2 T. nutritional yeast

-1/2 tsp. sesame seeds

for the Gravy:

-2 T. Earth Balance

-2 T. all-purpose flour

-2 cups mushroom stock

-1 tsp. sugar

-1 T. tomato paste

-1 tsp. fig-infused balsamic vinegar

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lay the eggplant slices on to a baking sheet and spray with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with a pinch of nutmeg. Place the garlic bulb on a piece of foil. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Wrap the garlic in the foil completely. Bake the garlic and eggplant for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, flip the eggplant slices and test the garlic bulb. If it is soft, remove it from the oven and let cool. After 10 more minutes, remove the eggplant slices. They should be browned and soft, with caramelized edges. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees and keep the eggplant slices warm.

Meanwhile, prepare the tofu. In three separate bowls, prepare the breading ingredients. In the first bowl, put the seasoned flour. In the second, pour the soymilk. In the last bowl, stir together the breadcrumbs, nutritional yeast, and sesame seeds. Dredge each piece of tofu in the flour, then dip in the soymilk, then coat with the breadcrumb mixture. Lay the tofu on a baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, flip, and bake 10 minutes more.

While the tofu is baking, prepare the gravy. Squeeze the garlic cloves out of the skin, and mash them into a paste with the back of a spoon. Set aside. Over medium heat in a small saucepan, melt the Earth Balance. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring the whole time, for 1 minute or until the mixture starts to darken and the flour smell has cooked off. Add the garlic, stock, and sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently, and then reduce heat to low. Whisk in the tomato paste and let simmer until thickened, stirring frequently, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the vinegar.

To serve, lay a slice of eggplant on each plate, put a spoonful of gravy on top, then 2 slices of tofu, then another spoonful of gravy, then a slice of eggplant. Repeat until you are out of tofu and eggplant. Drizzle gravy over the tops of each stack. You should be able to end up with four complete servings.

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Weather-wise, it has been just dreadful in my neck of the woods the past few days…cold and windy and gray and rainy and just plain blah. I like a rainy day every once in a while (nothing like curling up with a good book and a cup of tea while listening to the rain!); but, I am very easily swayed emotionally by the weather. It’s just another thing that convinces me I should have been born in a warmer climate. However, I am a true Northern girl and could never really be that far away from home. So, I make the best of what I’m given!

When I wake up to a really nasty view from my bedroom window, I generally roll over and cover my head with my (faux) duvet! Once the sulking is over and I must get out of bed, I turn my thoughts to ways to brighten the awful morning…and of course, that means food! I’ve mentioned before that breakfast is my favourite meal of the day and I could (and sometimes do) eat breakfast foods for every. single. meal. Well, this past weekend was a perfect example. Husband and I finally rolled out of bed at a very respectable 9:30am (we’re up by 6:30 all week long so 9:30 is a blessing for us!), and I went right over to my cookbook collection to decide on something exciting for breakfast.

Naturally, the first book I reached for was Vegan Brunch. I’ve been on a bit of a waffle kick as of late, having made them 3 times in the past month. I flipped right to that very section and stopped on the very first waffle recipe: Old-Fashioned Chelsea Waffles. These looked like the exact kind of waffle I was looking for! But, would Husband go for them?

See, we have an interesting dichotomy in our house. Husband does not like condiments. He has this silly (and wrong!) idea that his food should taste like what it is and that if you have to add something to it, you didn’t flavour it correctly. I, on the other hand, could pretty much subsist entirely on condiments. We have a fridge and multiple cupboards full of condiments and I use at least one condiment on everything I eat. Because of this, when I make things like pancakes, French toast, or waffles…you know, vessels for maple syrup, jam, melt-y Earth Balance…I usually have to make loaded versions containing chocolate chips, berries, or other flavourings.

I decided to try them anyway. Isa’s write-up about the waffles was so appealing to me that I took the plunge. I’m so very glad I did. They ended up being just lovely and were the perfect thing to brighten our dreary morning. The texture was right on…soft interior and a much crisper exterior with an almost nutty flavour and a golden colour. Served with fresh blueberries (and plenty of Earth Balance and maple syrup for me), they were stunning! We ended up with almost double the yield that the recipe called for which was fine with Husband…he had waffles for breakfast the following two mornings!

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So, like any remotely health-conscious person, I’ve sunk deep into the vastness that is the Cult of Quinoa. A nutrient powerhouse, quinoa pops onto my menu quite frequently and I am always trying to find new, exciting ways to incorporate it into my diet. I adore quinoa salads because they come together quickly, can vary greatly depending on my mood or what’s available to me, and they are hearty enough to stand up as a solid main course. Not to mention, they make great lunches or potluck dishes because they keep their texture and hold flavours extremely well.

I came across this recipe while catching up on some of my favourite blogs a few weeks ago and bookmarked it because of its bold claims. “Best salad ever”?! I’ll be the judge of that, thank you very much! Well, I got around to trying it a few days ago and I gotta say, I was very, very impressed. Let me back up a moment, though, and tell you all about my attempt at trying this recipe. Pull up a seat, this could take a while…

So, there I was, aimlessly searching the depths of my pantry for something to jump out at me. My quinoa was staring me right in the face…taunting me with its common-ness. It seemed to be telling me: “Just give up, keeryah…you know you’re just going to lightly steam me and then toss me with whatever veggies you have lying around and drizzle in a little olive oil and a squeeze of lemon” and as I was trying to think of a clever comeback for my mouthy quinoa (does anyone else have little conversations with their pantry items?!), I remembered that bookmarked recipe. The poster tried it with bulgur but had called for quinoa as an option in the ingredient listing. Done deal…a plan for dinner!

Of course, the original recipe was just a launchpad. I made some alterations to accommodate our tastes. With the chickpeas soaking, I headed to the grocery store to seek out the 3 items I needed to complete my salad vision. So, I search the entire produce section and cannot find 2 of the 3 items I need…I found the fresh mint; but there was no cilantro and no pomegranate. I know pomegranate is dreadfully out of season up in our neck of the woods; but, my hopes were up. I drove all over the city, going to 4 different stores before finally giving up and making a snap decision…no pomegranate seeds in my salad…I’ll use pomegranate juice-infused dried cranberries instead!

Finally getting home, I put together the rest of our dinner. It certainly looked as delicious as the original recipe…and the aroma was to-die-for! As for flavour, it was killer! What a fantastic salad…I might even have to agree that it is the best salad ever! It had a stunning combination of textures, colours, and flavours. It held up marvelously as lunch the next day, too. I’m so very glad I tried this…it really spices up my quinoa salad repertoire!

I’ve included my version of the salad below. Instead of making a separate dressing for the salad, I used the left-over marinade from the grilled tofu. The tofu I served with the salad was the Curried Tofu from Vegonomicon. Mmmmmm….curried tofu…

Quinoa, Cranberry, and Mixed Nut Salad

-1 cup quinoa, cooked and cooled completely

-1 cup cooked chickpeas

-1 cup baby heirloom tomatoes, halved

-1/4 cup walnuts, chopped

-1/4 cup pecans, chopped

-1/2 cup pomegranate juice-infused dried cranberries

-1/3 cup each fresh mint and cilantro, chopped

-zest from 1 lemon, finely chopped

-left-over marinade from preparing Curried Tofu, or your favourite dressing

Place the nuts on a baking sheet and toast under the broiler until lightly browned and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Keep an eye on them…nuts burn very quickly! Remove from pan and let cool. Toss all the ingredients lightly so the tomatoes do not get crushed. Serve at room temperature or cold, alone or with grilled tofu.

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CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: 1) garlic dills and spicy pickled green beans 2)blueberry jam, wildberry jam, and strawberry jam 3) a plethora of preserved goodiespickled asparagus, pickled carrots, pickled cauliflower, pickle medley (with red peppers from my sis-in-law’s garden!) 4) pickled asparagus, pickled carrots, pickled cauliflower, pickle medley (with red peppers from my sis-in-law’s garden!)

I’m sure I’ve mentioned before how much I adore the idea of having the opportunity to have been a 1950s housewife. I love all things “domestic” and, besides, who could resist a cute little apron and pearls (imitation, of course!)? One of the most appealing parts about housewifery for me is the kitchen quality time…always making meals, trying out the recipe that was printed in that morning’s newspaper for a NEW casserole, and preparing food for storage for the winter. There is something very magical about food preservation…and to me, it’s always seemed a little mysterious and frightening, as well. (I told you all about my previous attempt at canning…remember those sad pickled beets?) Well, a couple of weeks ago, my sister-in-law, her brother, and I got together in the largest kitchen we had available to us and set out on a very ambitious canning project. What started out to be just a simple affair of hoping to recreate these delicious pickled spicy green beans that my sis-in-law bought in bulk from an Ontario company, turned into a very large undertaking…at least for first timers.

We started out by taking a trip to the produce section of no less than 3 different stores to pick up our fruits and veggies, then back to the kitchen to start boiling some water and chopping away. We were armed with a canning bible and the instructions that came in our package of pickling spices, and the jumbled memories of what our mothers and grandmothers used to do. Oh, did I mention it was close to 40 degrees Celsius with the humidity and we had no AC? I’m left wondering how a 1950s housewife could end the day with such perfectly coiffed hair and fresh makeup under conditions such as these!

Well, we got through our task. It took us just over 10 hours and we were giddy with exhaustion by the end of it; but, we really felt like we had accomplished something. And 24 hours later, when we checked the jars, we were elated to discover that every single one was sealed correctly! We learned a lot along the way…and we made a few mistakes. (Who knew you had to cut off the stem end of the cucumber because there’s an enzyme in it that can prevent your pickles from being crunchy?  We do now…after having made 10 jars of pickles with the stem end attached!) The important thing is, we had a blast doing it and are looking forward to next summer when we can do it again…maybe using some more intriguing ingredients and add-ins!

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