Monday, October 3, 2011


Well it's October. Don't ask me how it happened, I haven't a clue.  It's summer, everyone is warm and happy, you look away for one second and BAM! cold, damp, fall swoops in to put an end to sundress season.   Wasn't it only last weekend that I was sweating my butt off hiking through Gatineau Park on a beautiful 25 degree day?  Yep.  That was definitely only 8 days ago.  Regardless of what evil trickery brought it about, it's here now, and we're just going to have to deal with it. Autumn has arrived, and that means it's time to bust out the jackets and scarves, and it's also time to start making soup.

Lookout view over Gatineau park, Sept. 25 - the leaves just starting to turn

The really great thing about autumn (or as I like to call it "soup season") is that the fall harvest brings a bounty of produce to the local farmers markets.  So many soup possibilities await!  All of the produce in this warming, immune-system-boosting soup can be found at the farmers markets now.  You can make this in two ways: soup or stew.  I'll tell you how I made the soup, then what you can do differently to make it a stew instead!

Vegan Groundnut Soup 
Makes about 2 big meal-sized servings, or 4 small "on the side with a sandwich" sized servings

1 onion, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp fresh ground ginger
1 red pepper, chopped
4 plum tomatoes, diced
1-2 sweet potatoes, cubed (1-2 cm cubes)
Enough vegetable broth to just cover the vegetables
Cayenne pepper to taste
1/4 cup peanut butter (all-natural preferred)

In a large pot, saute onions with a bit of oil for a few minutes until they soften.  Add in garlic and ginger and saute for one minute.  Add the tomatoes and red peppers and saute until tomatoes start to break down.

Add remaining ingredients making sure to only put as much vegetable broth in as is needed to cook the sweet potatoes - you can add more liquid later, but it's more difficult to take it away.  Bring to a boil and simmer until sweet potatoes are cooked.

Using a hand blender, pulse soup to form a thick, creamy base while still leaving lots of chunks of vegetables. Alternatively, you can remove 1/3 to 1/2 of the soup and puree in a blender, then return it to the remaining soup.  Add more liquid if needed to reach desired soup density.

Stew form: Chop vegetables into larger chunks, do not puree at the end, and serve over rice.  Top with chopped peanuts and cilantro.  You may also add beans, tofu, or faux chicken to this stew if it pleases you.

Friday, September 30, 2011

World Peace

You'd have to be a fool not to love cupcakes.  I strongly believe that if there were more cupcakes in the world, we wouldn't have all the war and civil unrest, and general bad behaviour that humans seem to be so good at.  It would take a particularly evil person to eat a cupcake and then go blow up a village.  The point I'm trying to make is you need to make more cupcakes.  To do so, and possibly bring about world peace, you will need to pick up a copy of Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World.  Not only can $12 bring you boundless joy, but it will also bring joy to those you bake cupcakes for.  Need proof?

BEHOLD!!  Peanut butter chocolate chip mini-cupcakes with fluffy chocolate buttercream icing!!!

If I believed in heaven, I would also believe that upon arrival you would be served one of these cupcakes.  They're that good.

Peachy Green

I love smoothies.  They're hard not to love - delicious, healthy, filling, and can be consumed on your commute to work (unless you cycle, that would be tough).  But lately I feel like I've been in a smoothie rut, making the same couple of smoothies every day.  I needed to branch out!  Shake it up a bit!  So yesterday, while at the grocery store, I spied the box of spinach and thought to myself - it's time to go GREEN.

No one will argue the benefits of leafy greens.  In them you'll find vitamins A, C, K, folate, fiber, calcium and iron.  Wait a sec.... just what is vitamin K?  It's not one of those vitamins you hear a lot about.  But like all vitamins, it's extremely important.  It plays a major role in healthy blood clotting and it is also vitally important to bone health.  Post-menopausal women who are experiencing bone loss can help prevent fractures by consuming adequate amounts of vitamin K.  Vitamin K also inhibits calcification (aka "hardening") of the arteries that is commonly associated with heart disease.  Vitamin K deficiencies can lead to heavy menstrual bleeding, gum bleeding, nose bleeds, easy bruising, anemia, bone fractures and osteoporosis. [1] The best source of vitamin K?  Leafy greens.

Don't worry, you don't need to gorge yourself on leafy greens for fear that your blood will stop clotting and your bones will break.  One cup of cooked spinach has over 1000% of your required daily intake of vitamin K.  Leafy greens such as spinach, kale, collard greens, swiss chard (you get the idea) all have whopping amounts of vitamin K.  So as long as you make some leafy greens a part of your regular diet, you'll be just fine.

Back to the smoothies.   I have made a green smoothie or two in the past.  Search google for "green smoothie" and you will turn up over 1.8 million hits.  After a little searching and a few of my own attempts I have a few tips for my fellow green smoothie noobs:

  1. Adding berries to a green smoothie will produce an unappealing brown smoothie.
  2. Use well-ripened bananas for creaminess and sweetness.
  3. Spinach has a mild flavour and is a good "starter green"
  4. Blend like hell - you don't want leafy chunks in your smoothie.

Peachy Green Smoothie

1 banana (frozen)
1-2 peaches
1 tbsp ground flax seed
a handful of baby spinach 
Enough water or soymilk to make it blendable

Throw it all in a blender, blend on a high setting for at least a few minutes (or until the leaf chunks disappear)

The verdict: really quite tasty!!  The spinach flavour is barely perceptible, and I have to admit, I enjoy the green colour.  This will definitely join the regular smoothie rotation.

Friday, August 5, 2011

"Blueberries is one of the great forces o'good in the world" - James A. Owens

Late summer - and that's what we're at now, in case you blinked and didn't notice summer whiz by - is my favourite time of year.  There are many reasons why August is such a great month - cicadas are singing in the trees, meadows are in full bloom, back to school supplies are out, and nearly all of Ontario's produce is now available.  All summer long I await the arrival of two fruits more than any other: peaches and blueberries.  

Last week I paid a visit to Canaan Blueberries, which is located east of Ottawa.  It is a lovely, peaceful farm, boasting four varieties of highbush blueberries.  I have always enjoyed picking blueberries, I find them to be the most contemplative of berries.  I used to work on a berry farm when I was in high school, and the blueberry patch was my favourite.  Sitting quietly in the blueberry field, feeling the warmth of the sun pressing against me, listening to the birds chirping and the wind rustling through the trees, was like a kind of meditation.  In the blueberry field, my mind grows still (a rare occurrence), my heart swell with joy, and I am filled with appreciation. 

At Canaan Blueberries, the feelings of peace and happiness found me again.  With the branches bending under the weight of their fruit, picking was easy and plentiful - I came away with about 6 litres of blueberries!  A week later, less than a quart of berries remain.  So what did I do with them all?

Those blueberries lended their antioxident power to blueberry-peach smoothies, pancakes, turnovers, tarts, soy-yogurt breakfast parfaits, and one epic blueberry pie!  The blueberry pie is a combination of three separate from around the web, and let me tell you - it was friggin awesome.  

Epic Blueberry Crumble-top Pie

Flakey Vegan Pie Crust
From Veganbaking. Also what I used to make my turnovers and tarts. Excellent crust!
This recipe would do for a crust topped pie - since this pie uses a crumble topping, you only need to make HALF the recipe.  Or, make it all and use the leftover dough for tarts and other such goodies!

2 ½ cups flour
2 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
¾ cup cold margarine
½ cup cold vegetable shortening
¼ cup cold water
3 Tbsp cold vodka 

Sift together flour, sugar, and salt (I like to cheat-sift by whisking my flour mixtures.  It blends everything really well and breaks up clumps).  Cut the margarine and shortening into the flour with a pastry cutter until crumbly (if you don't have a pastry cutter, a wire whisk also works really well! Whisks ftw!).  Drizzle half the water and vodka and toss.  The original recipe says to use your fingers, but I used a spatula to keep the warmth of your hands from melting the margarine/shortening.  Add the rest of the water and vodka and mix again.  Press the dough into a ball and refrigerate while you get the filling and topping ready.

Why vodka? The alcohol inhibits gluten formation (the protein in wheat flour that causes the stretchy breadiness), and it also provides moisture that will quickly cook off, both contributing to perfect flakiness!

Blueberry Filling
I used the recipe from The Joy of Baking. You really can't ask for a more perfect blueberry filling.

4 cups fresh blueberries
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbsp cornstarch
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp lemon zest

Combine sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice and zest.  Add the sugar mixture to the blueberries and toss to combine.

Chemistry lesson: Pectin is a polysaccharide found in fruit and is used as a gelling agent when making jam.  In the presence of an acid (in this case, lemon juice), pectin chains bind together. Water is bound together by sugar and the pectin chains, creating a thick gel.  Blueberries are naturally high in pectin, thus the addition of sugar and lemon juice makes for a fool-proof pie filling.

Walnut Crumb Topping
I found this crumb topping on Epicurious. I'll be using this recipe for a peach crisp in the near future!

3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
6 Tbsp margarine, melted

Mix together all ingredients except margarine.  Add the melted margarine and mix with your fingers until crumbly.


Place oven rack at the lower third and preheat oven to 375 degrees.  

Roll out pastry.  The crust recipe suggests rolling it out between two sheets of parchment paper (this is a great idea as it won't add additional flour to the crust). I however, have always make pie crusts using the add flour as needed method, and that's what I did here.  It worked out wonderfully.  Pre-bake the empty crust for about 10 minutes.

Fill the bottom crust with the blueberry filling, then top with walnut crumb crust.  PLACE PIE ON TOP OF COOKIE SHEET LINED WITH FOIL!  If you choose not to put a cookie sheet under your pie, prepare for a sticky blueberry mess on the bottom of your oven (and subsequent oven smoke).  If you don't line your cookie sheet with foil, prepare to scrape sticky blueberry mess off your cookie sheet.  Consider yourself warned.

Bake for a good hour or so, or until the crumb topping is doing some serious browning and there's lots of filling bubbling up through the gaps in the crumble (and likely onto your cookie sheet).  Remove from oven, resist urge to shovel scalding hot pie into your mouth, allow to cool, impress your friends.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

There's a new burger in town

Summer is the season of BBQs, and the king of the BBQ is the burger.  Veggie burgers are a staple among many vegetarians and vegans in BBQ season (and beyond) because they are easy - easy to find, easy to transport, easy to integrate into the BBQ scene because you won't find yourself explaining your food to skeptical omnivores because it looks "normal". 

Veggie burgers are not without their problems.  Most veggie burgers found in the freezer section of the grocery store are not vegan, and those that are vegan tend to be quite pricey and they aren't always tasty.  Some of us have tried our hand at homemade veggie burgers to varying success.  The greatest problem plaguing the homemade veggie burger is stability, aka they crumble, therefore making them not suitable BBQ fodder.  Not to mention that they often just taste very... uhh... homemade.

Vegan culinary goddess Dreena Burton has forever solved my homemade veggie burger woes with her Mushroom Pecan Burgers!  I made them exactly as she instructed and they were perfect!  Held together amazingly well (though I might grill them from frozen if I were taking them to a BBQ), and they were mega tasty.  I thought that they were a bit like a yummier version of a Lick's Nature Burger (which I do recommend if you're in a pinch).  My only complaint is that they are too big and too filling!!  Dreena recommends making 6 patties, which I did.  Next time I'll be making them into 7 or 8 patties, because I like to have room for side dishes or dessert.  Four hours after dinner and I still feel stuffed.

We topped our burgers with Daiya cheddar style shreds and No Meat Athlete's Vegan Bacon to create the most amazing VEGAN BACON CHEESE BURGER!!  Om nom nom!!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Vegan Birthday Brownie!

This year I am celebrating my birthday at bluesfest, and I just polished off this decadent vegan (and gluten free!) brownie courtesy of B. Goods bakery. Mmm! Happy birthday to me!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tis the season

Farmer's Market season is well under way, and, here in Ontario, July and August offer the widest variety of fresh local produce for you to plunder.  Don't believe me?  Check out the availability of produce on Foodland Ontario's website. One of my favourite market buys is green beans.  Whether you eat them raw or steamed, green beans are tasty, low-cal morsels of goodness.  A cup of green beans offers 30% of your RDA of vitamin C, 15% of the RDA of vitamin A, and 4g of fiber, among many other vitamins and minerals.[1]

It may surprise you to know that green beans belong to the same species as black beans, navy beans, pinto beans and kidney beans (to name a few).  Phaseolus vulgaris was domesticated in Central America as early as 7000 B.C. [2] .  If you're thinking to yourself "Wait, green beans look nothing like kidney beans!" , that's because green beans are "immature" pods.  Just like pea pods, inside the green bean pod grows the round bean that would one day mature and harden into the "dry bean", which is the seed of the bean plant.  Unfortunately for the hard-working bean plant, and fortunately for us, we harvest green beans long before they mature, while they're still crisp and tender.

July and August is also prime BBQ and picnic season.  Potato salad, often in the form of a mayo-laden mush, is ubiquitous at such events.  But this is neither vegan nor is it healthy (or remotely tasty, in my opinion).   For your next summer potluck event, why not bring a big bowl of Green Bean & Potato Salad?  With local green beans and new baby potatoes available at the markets (or maybe even in your own garden, you lucky duck), it's a fresh and tasty departure from the old standby mayo-mush.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Anniversary Pancakes

Today is my one year anniversary with Rick! (xoxo)  One of the things we have in common is our undying passion for food.  It seems only fitting that this day should be celebrated by creating some truly epic pancakes.  I'm sure I'm not the first person to come up with chocolate pancakes, but maybe those of you reading this blog have never tried to make them. I think there comes a time in everyone's life when you need to have chocolate pancakes for breakfast.  And when that time comes, I hope you'll top them with peanut butter sauce, bananas, and real Canadian maple syrup.

I'd love to give you the recipe for these pancakes, except that I never use a recipe when I'm making pancakes.  I'll do my best to approximate, and you can go from there or just adapt your favourite pancake recipe to add chocolatey goodness. Be warned that this is in no way a precise recipe, but I've included approximate quantities for those of you who like to measure things.

Cocoa Pancakes
makes 2 generous servings
~ 1 cup flour
~ 2 tbsp sugar
~ 2 tsp baking powder
~ 3-4 tbsp cocoa
~ 1 tsp vanilla
enough non-dairy milk to reach desired pancake thickness
(I would also have added ~1/4 cup of minichips if I had some on hand)

Mix, fry, and top with bananas & peanut butter sauce (strawberries/raspberries & chocolate sauce would be pretty awesome too).

Peanut Butter Sauce is a staple in our house for pancakes and crepes because we're both obsessed with peanut butter.  Simply take a few good dollops of peanut butter and thin it out with some soy milk, a little at a time until you get a nice creamy sauce.  Add honey, maple syrup or agave nectar to sweeten to taste.  Yummmm!!!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Beavers and VeganTails

As I've told you before, the Rideau Canal is the world's largest skating rink, and a quintessentially Canadian experience.  In the spring, the snow melts to reveal bike paths that line the canal on both sides, meaning that skating the canal is not exclusively a winter activity.  I recently strapped on my roller blades and skated down the canal to the Tulip Festival (read more about my visit at my new nature blog!).  BeaverTail huts frequently appear at Ottawa festivals, and decided that a good skate always deserves some cinnamon-sugar goodness.  

Cinnamon-Sugar VeganTail!  Now with less guilt!

While awaiting our tails, Rick mentioned to the guy that I was vegan but I cheat for BeaverTails, to which he replies "We can make them without the butter, we make VeganTails all the time!"  As I mentioned in the post "A Tale of Tails and Zen", I e-mailed the nice people at BeaverTails to find out how vegan their products were.  They informed me that only the butter they brush on top right before adding the toppings is non-vegan.  The contents of the actual tail are fully vegan.  Now we can all request VeganTails and no longer make the tough choice between guilt and deprivation!  

While we were on our way home from Major's Hill Park that evening, we spotted this little guy touring the Rideau River in the Vanier area.  Don't worry buddy, I'm a vegan, your tail is safe with me.  :)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Oh yeah.... that

Hey!  Remember when I used to write in here on a somewhat regular basis? Yeah.... sorry blog.  Sometimes life gets in the way, the passion dwindles, and you start asking yourself if you're even interested anymore.  Well I'm determined not to let a good thing slip away, and I will do what I can to reignite the cooking fires!

It's not like I stopped cooking.  Ok, I have been doing less of it lately.  I could make excuses, try to explain away my absences... but lets face it, excuses are lame.  I want to pledge allegiance to my blog, to solemnly swear to update it weekly, but I'm not in the habit of making promises I can't keep.  I learned my lesson during my failed attempt at a "52 week challenge" (quite frankly I'm surprised I made it a whole 20 weeks before I gave it up).  Let's just say I'm going to try harder.

In spite of my apparent lack of ability to commit to a blog, I started a second blog, called "Ash Out of Doors".  This is where I intend to share my outdoor adventures, and primarily, the wildlife I encounter along the way.  Considering that I'm a biologist, this only seems natural.  I'm hoping that being drawn to blogger to show off my latest nature pics will also inspire me to show off my culinary prowess while I'm there.  It's worked so far, since I'm here after having written my latest Out of Doors post.

Ok, enough rambling, onto the food!

Last week I threw together a couscous tabouli that was fresh, bright, and super easy.  If you're not familiar with couscous, you ought to be.  It's just about the easiest thing to prepare and infinitely versatile.  Couscous is essentially tiny little balls of wheat.  Pour a cup of boiled water onto a cup of dry couscous, and in 2 minutes  you've got yourself 2 cups of fluffy couscous.  It's seriously that easy.  Since it's just wheat, it can be flavoured in any way you can imagine.  Use broth instead of water, stir in some fresh herbs, let it cool and mix in veggies, nuts, and dried fruit for a tasty salad, whatever!

Tabouli (or tabbouleh, depending on who you ask) is a Lebanese salad that traditionally made with bulgur, parsley (and often mint), tomato, onion, and lemon juice.  Bulgur requires a half hour to soak and another half hour to cook, and while that's not a lot of time, some days we just want to flick the kettle on and be done with it, you know what I'm saying?  So this is a little less traditional, but still totally delicious.

Lazy Couscous Tabouli

1 cup dry couscous
1 cup boiling water
1/2 bunch parsley, finely chopped (about a cup chopped)
1/2 cucumber, diced
3-4 roma tomatoes, seeds & slime removed, diced
1/2 red onion, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
juice of 3 lemons
1/3 cup olive oil
Salt & pepper

Pour boiling water over couscous and let it sit for a few minutes. Fluff with a fork and let cool.

Add remaining ingredients to cooled couscous, chill in the fridge and allow to marinate for an hour or so, if you want.  To speed up the preparation of this dish and augment the lazy factor, employ the use of a food processor for veggies and especially parsley.  Deviating from tradition once again, I threw cucumbers in here because I love them and think they belong in almost any salad.

Salad Challenge Countdown
Salads made: 21   Salads left: 31

Yeah, I'm still keeping track of the salads, even though the last salad recipe I posted was about 11 months ago.  I insist that 52 unique salads can and will be made.  You just wait and see!