Category Archives: vegetarian

(Wannabe Vegan) Zucchini Bread

My name is Jaclyn and I’m a wannabe vegan.

(Hi, Jaclyn)

Sigh…it’s true.  Sometimes, I flirt with veganism.  In fact, just last night, R* and I had a conversation about it.  It went a little something like this:

Me: I think I’m going to become a vegan.

R: Oh no, not again…(rolls eyes)…why on earth would you want to do that?

Me: Oh, I think it would be good for me. And the environment.

R:  So you wouldn’t eat any dairy, eggs, meat, or fish? Wouldn’t that be difficult?

Me: Well, I’m not supposed to eat dairy, so that’s one less thing to give up.  How hard could it be?

R: True.  But what about bacon and butter?

Me: Good point.  Can I still be considered a vegan if I eat bacon and butter?

R: No.  That doesn’t count. If you eat those things you’re not a true vegan.

Me: Hmm.  Fine.  Guess I’ll be a wannabe vegan then.

*True story; names have been changed to protect the innocent.

In all seriousness, I do think that I could adapt to a vegan diet, or a mostly vegan diet with the occasional slice of double-smoked bacon and smear of fresh creamery butter, of course.  It would be an adjustment, but not an impossible one.

However, as you may have picked up on by now, I love to bake.  I’ve been unsure about how to adapt many of my favourite recipes and create new ones that don’t include eggs or dairy and are still mouth-watering good.  There are many vegan substitutes for dairy (soymilk, almond milk, and the like), but eggs? That’s a whole different animal.  Literally, I suppose.

However, I am never one to back down from a challenge.  I am also never one to allow a 69-cent zucchini perish in my fridge, so I did some experimenting and here’s what I came up with.  Wannabe vegan with me?

Oh good, I was hoping you’d say yes! Here’s what we’ll be playing with today:

Flour (I’m using all-purpose and whole-wheat spelt), baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ground flax-seed, buttermilk, coconut oil, applesauce, brown sugar, white sugar, vanilla, zucchini, winter squash (optional), walnuts or pecans (optional).

In my extensive research on vegan baking over the years, I’ve found that many sources recommend using a “flax egg”.  Essentially, ground flaxseed is mixed with warm water and left to sit for 10 minutes or so until it becomes gelatinous.

Easy enough, right?

I dutifully ground up my flaxseed, using my trusty Magic Bullet.  I used to use my coffee grinder, but after a few rather nutty cups of Pike Place I learned my lesson.

However, I’m a wannabe vegan, not a full-blown one.  I am, however, full-blown Scottish, so I wasn’t going to let the buttermilk in my fridge go bad while I used (gasp!) water.

Buttermilk flax egg? Don’t mind if I do.

I whirled up 3 T of ground flaxseed meal with 9T of buttermilk (that’s 1/2 c + 1T, in case you’re wondering), and began to doubt whether or not I should quickly run to the store for eggs while the oven was pre-heating.

(Side note: maybe this bread should be called “I’m too lazy to run to the store since its raining and too frugal to let my buttermilk go bad and what on earth am I going to do with this zucchini that is knocking on death’s door? bread”.  I think that has a nice ring to it, don’t you?)

One look at my fuzzy slippers and sweats and the decision was easy.  I left the buttermilk and the flax-seed to its own devices, and got started on the dry ingredients.  With fingers crossed, of course.  And toes.

Sorry, true vegans.  I promise the rest of the recipe doesn’t contain any more dairy, eggs, or bacon.  At least, not this round.  Can’t make any promises for (Wannabe Vegan) Zucchini Bread 2.0.

Since I like to complicate things, I figured since I was making something practically vegan, I might as well also make it almost healthy.  So, I used a combination of whole wheat and all-purpose flour, but you can use whatever you have on hand.

I’m trying to deplete my 13 types of flour, can you tell?

In the mix:

1.5 c AP flour
1.5 c whole wheat or spelt flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
¼ tsp ground cloves

Give it a stir and set it aside.

Next, the wet ingredients!

Grab yourself some coconut oil and melt it down – 1/3 of a cup or so.  If you’d prefer, you can use a neutral flavoured oil instead.  If you’re feeling particularly rebellious, you can use melted butter.  Off the record, of course.

Add the oil to a bowl, and then dump in the rest of the wet ingredients:

If you’re thinking that’s not a lot of oil, you’re right – I wannabe healthy, after all! Besides, I had exactly ⅔ c of homemade (cinnamon) applesauce in my fridge that didn’t want to be left out, so I figured I could cut the oil down considerably from a typical quick bread.  I also wanted to be mindful of the sugar, as many quick breads are deliciously sweet but sometimes more cake than breakfast material.  I ended up adding 2/3 c each of brown and white sugar, and found the bread perfectly sweetened for my (terribly jaded) taste buds.  Throw the buttermilk-flax (wannabe) egg in with this, and you’re good to go.

Oh yes, and I also added the about 2 t vanilla. Obviously.  Everything is better with vanilla.

Before I introduced the wet and dry ingredients to each other, I grated up my zucchini – all 69-cents of it.

Houston, we have a problem: apparently I needed $1.38 worth of zucchini, as I could only get 1 c worth and I knew just by looking at it that I probably needed double the amount for the amount of batter I was making.

Kabocha squash (aka Japanese Pumpkin) to the rescue!

I chose this because it’s sweet and mild, and I figured it would blend into the bread well.  And also because it was sitting on the counter and the thought of another bowl of squash soup is about as appealing as going for a 10km run in a torrential downpour.

Just a heads up: the next recipe you’ll see on here will probably be for squash soup.  Consider yourself warned.

However, if you like leaving your house more than me, you could use grated zucchini (2 c total), or a combo of zucchini, butternut, kabocha, or pumpkin. I won’t judge.

Time for the magic to happen.

Love at first sight?

Not quite; still shy.

Everybody play nice now…just because the eggs didn’t show up doesn’t mean you have to rebel.

Ahh, that’s better.

(I’m not going to lie, I was completely nervous at this point. Embarrassing but true.  Had I made a mistake by not running out to the store to get more eggs????)

After about 50 minutes at 350-degrees, I would soon find out.

Hmm….smells delicious and looks promising, but how will they hold up once they’re out of their pans?

Dare I say I’m impressed?!?!

The bread rose just fine, and held together beautifully.  It is perfectly moist with really nice warm spice undertones.  Wannabe vegan or not, this sure is a winner in my books.

Wannabe healthy? Try this bread for breakfast or a quick snack instead of an oil and sugar laden bakery muffin or quick bread.

Wannabe frugal? Experiment with what you have on hand instead of buying more.

Wannabe vegan? Yes please!

Curried Mango Quinoa Salad

I love a good deal.  Whether it’s on clothes, shoes, couches, or books I love knowing that I am saving money.  In fact, my Dad used to tell me that I couldn’t afford to save any more money…but that’s another blog post in and of itself.

So the other day when I was at the store, I came across a great deal on mangoes: a full box (of 12, I believe) for only $5.97! Can you believe it?!?! I know, I couldn’t either! I normally try to avoid buying any produce from the grocery store, but the mangoes mysteriously made their way into my cart and then my fridge.  Imagine that.

My logic went something like this: I bought 12 mangoes for $5.97, or $0.49/each.  Since last week I bought 2 mangoes for $2.99, this deal effectively lowered my cost per mango to only $0.64/each.  Make sense?

The problem with buying 12 mangoes at once (and adding them to the 2 that were already in my fridge) is that they all tend to ripen at the same time.  After eating one a day for a few days in a row, I was getting bored and knew I needed to do something different with the remaining pieces of fruit, lest they start to go bad.  I started pulling things out of my fridge and pantry…a few peppers, some cilantro that was about to knock on death’s door, the last of some black beans, some cucumber, half a lime…and before I knew it I had whipped up a delicious grainy salad to dip into for the week. I hope you do the same.

Wanna see what I made?

Quinoa, mangoes, red pepper, orange pepper, cucumber, red onion, garlic, black beans, cilantro, lime, grapeseed oil, white wine vinegar, mango chutney, honey, curry powder.

Begin by combining 1 c of quinoa and 2 c of water in a pot, and bring to a boil.

Once its boiling, cover the pot and simmer for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, chop up a few peppers.  I used a red one and an orange one because that’s what I had, but feel free to use whatever types you like the most.

Look Ma – no seeds!

I hope you don’t like green peppers the most – they’re gross.

Throw the peppers in a large bowl, then seed and chop about 1/2 of a cucumber.

Throw the cucumber into the same bowl as the peppers, and then chop up a hunk of red onion.

Can’t forget the mangoes!

Add about 1/2 a bunch of cilantro…or however much you have hanging out in your produce drawer.

I had some black beans in the fridge from a different quinoa salad I made earlier in the week, so I threw those in the bowl with everything else and focused my attention on the dressing.

I combined about 1/4 c of grapeseed oil, 3T of white wine vinegar, the juice of half a lime, a big spoon full of spicy mango chutney that had been in my pantry for far too long, about 1 t of curry powder, 1 clove of garlic, and a dab of a fabulous local ginger honey that I am loving these days.

I suppose I could have whisked the dressing together, but I wanted it to be a bit creamier so I blended it in my Magic Bullet instead.

Time to check on the quinoa!

Looks good to me! Fluff the quinoa with a fork and then let it steam with the lid on for about 5 minutes or so.

Once it’s cool, add the quinoa to the veggies/fruit that was prepped earlier, and add the dressing.

Toss it gently, and taste for seasoning.

Does it need more of anything? Salt? Pepper? Curry? A Fork?!?!

You guys.  You seriously NEED to make this salad ASAP. It’s fabulous – bright, fresh, colourful, filling, and healthy.  The curry flavour isn’t very strong – just slight undertones – and is the perfect complement to the other flavours.  And, to top it all off, the whole thing came together in less than 15 minutes.  Bonus!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I hear dinner calling my name…

Jaclyn

Sundried Tomato Pesto

Do you ever find yourself purchasing a large jar of something because it is such a good deal, but then you get home and wonder what on earth to do with it?

Ya, me either.

But hypothetically, if you ended up with a jar of sun-dried tomatoes in your fridge that was large enough to last you until 2025 (expiry date? what expiry date?!?!), and if you hate throwing away perfectly good food just because you’re bored with it, you might need to think of an exit strategy.

Enter sun-dried tomato pesto.  It’s the slightly more riske cousin of regular pesto, and doesn’t require a grow-op of basil to make.  No siree, this just uses up what I bet you already have in your fridge and pantry. And if you don’t, well no big deal – just improvise.  Or go grocery shopping.

sun-dried tomatoes (packed in oil), parsley, dried basil (or fresh if you have it), parmesan cheese, pine nuts, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper.

Over a medium-low flame, toast 1/2 c of pine nuts in a drizzle of olive oil.

Since pine nuts are basically the price of a down payment on a home, I highly suggest you watch them carefully so they don’t burn!  When they’re lightly toasted, take them off the heat.

Oh, and if you don’t have pine nuts kicking around, try walnuts. I think they would work just splendidly.

In a food processor or a really high-speed blender (hello, Vita Mix!), pulse together 1 c of sun-dried tomatoes…

1 c of loosely packed parsley…

And 3 cloves of garlic.

Pulse it several times until it goes from this…

To this!

But wait, there’s more!

Add the toasted pine nuts, 1/2 c of grated parmesan (not the stuff in the can, for goodness sake!), 2 t of dried basil (or a handful of the fresh stuff if you have it), 2-3 T of olive oil, and about 1/2 t salt and 1/4 t of pepper.  If you’re feeling really adventurous, feel free to invite a good pinch of red pepper flakes along for the ride.

Of course, if you haven’t followed my lead by accidentally dropping your beautiful food processor on a cement floor and breaking it, you could add everything at once.

But if not, give it another whirl!

Taste it for seasoning, and adjust as needed.  Transfer to an air-tight container for up to 2 weeks (as if it will last that long)…

…or use immediately.

I am seriously in love with this pesto. It’s complex, fresh, and versatile.  And it’s my favourite colour, which never hurts!

Hmm…maybe that massive jar was a good deal after all!  In fact, I may just have to pick up another later on this week.  You know, for research purposes and all.

(Spicy) Baby Bok Choy

I am a firm believer that our bodies will tell us what they need.  Yesterday, mine was screaming for me to eat something green, so I listened.

In the spirit of transparency, it should also be noted that it often screams for chocolate.   I usually listen, however, even I need a good detox from sugar every now and then.

So, in the spirit of obedience, I picked up some lovely baby bok choy at the market, brought it home, and in less than 10 minutes had dinner on the table. And you know what? It was perfect.

Come cook with me!

Baby bok choy, ginger, garlic, chili paste.

Trim the ends off of the bok choy, and separate the ribs.

Rinse it well, and set it aside for a few minutes.

Chop up some fresh ginger and garlic.  You’re wondering how much? I went with about a 1/2 inch knob of ginger and 2 cloves of garlic, but you should do whatever feels right to you.  If it turns out too gingery, just called it “gingered bok choy” and no one will be the wiser.

I was out of sesame oil (I know, collective gasp) so I had to use good ol’ canola.

I should know better by now.  I need to think of a better kitchen inventory sysem.

Saute the ginger and garlic in your oil of choice for a minute or two until they become softened and fragrant.

Add a spoonfull of chili sauce/paste/whatever you have, and stir it around in the hot pan for a minute to wake everything up.

Add the bok choy back to the pan, along with about a tablespoon of water to help it steam.  Be careful though, it will splatter! This is not the point in time when you want to lean in and inhale deeply, trust me.

Give it all a stir to get the bok choy properly acquainted with the other ingredients.

Cover the whole thing with a lid to allow it to steam for 3-4 minutes, or until it’s tender-crisp.

Sometimes I eat right out of the pan, but this time I decided to use a plate.

I’m classy like that.

I even garnished with some gomashio to make up for my lack of sesame oil.

Spicy baby bok choy? Don’t mind if I do!

Ahh…just what the doctor ordered.  I feel healthier just for eating this, and I bet that you will too.

So, what shall we make next?

Please submit any and all suggestions on the “Ask Martha” tab and I will do my best to deliver.

Until next time…

xoxo

Jaclyn

Butternut Squash, Pear, and Caramelized Onion Pizza

Do you ever find yourself trapped in the same rut when it comes to certain foods? Butternut squash is one of those things for me.  I’ll typically pick one up, come home, and make soup a few days later.  Exciting stuff, no?

Change can be good, though.  So when I stood at one of my favourite markets this evening contemplating what to make for dinner, and then caught a glimpse of a butternut squash out of the corner of my eye that could be (and would be) all mine for the low investment of $1.36, I knew what had to be done.

Yes, the squash had to come home with me, but it couldn’t be made into soup.  What then, should I make?

Well you see, the decision was actually rather easy.  Don’t ask me why, but there seems to be something about the end of the week that just screams “pizza”.  It also screams “spa” and “tropical vacation”, but I’m going to try to stay focused on pizza for your sake.

As you may recall, I have a love/hate relationship with pizza.  I don’t make it often, but then every time that I DO make it I wonder why I don’t make it more frequently since I always like it.  I know what you’re thinking – butternut squash on pizza? Have you lost your mind?!?!

Perhaps.  But if I keep making food this easy and tasty, I never want to find it.

Besides, some of us (who shall remain nameless) might be suffering from a sugar overload.  And also, it beats soup.

For tonight anyways.  I reserve the right to change my mind often and without warning.

Butternut squash, pear, red onion, garlic, brie cheese, puff pastry, sweet & spicy BBQ-type sauce.

Before we get started, it has come to my attention that some of you are frustrated with my lack of specificity with certain dishes.  I’m sorry in advance, but there is no real “recipe” for this.  In fact, part of the reason I tend to share more sweet things instead of savory is that 99% of the time I just grab whatever looks good that day and make something without measuring or weighing, but at least with baking I can give you a firmer idea of how to follow along.  I want you to feel more comfortable just trusting your intuition, so if you’re a strict recipe follower, please give this pizza a try – it’s pretty much impossible to mess up and you might even surprise yourself with how good of a cook you are!

To get things started, peel, slice, and seed the squash.

Cut it into cubes, toss with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.

Yes, this is way more than enough squash for one pizza but I figured I might as well roast it all up – I can figure out what to do with the leftovers tomorrow.

Roast the squash for about 25 minutes at 400-degrees, or until it’s tender and starting to caramelize.

Speaking of caramelization, time to slice the onion!

Slice it rather thin, and then get it going in a pan with a pat of butter, a sprinkling of sugar if you wish, and some salt. Oh, and a clove or two of garlic never hurt anyone!

Low and slow is the name of this game….let the onions do their thing over a low flame for the 20 minutes or so that the squash is roasting.

I usually add a pear to my butternut squash soup, so I figured I might as well throw some on the pizza as well.  Slice it up…and snack on about half of it if you’re hungry.

Now, for the cheese…I used brie cheese because that’s what I had in the fridge, but other kinds of cheese would surely be delightful.  Fontina? Bleu? Asiago? Yes please!

I’m pretty sure you can’t go wrong with cheese.

Except if you put Velveeta on this. Or spray cheese from a can.  Both would be indications that a serious intervention was needed.

Let’s talk about the pizza crust for just a minute. I am on a mission to thin out my freezer, so instead of making pizza dough I just thawed a piece of puff pastry while the squash was roasting.  After being pricked with a fork several times, it was ready to go into the oven – no flour on the floor required.

MAJOR bonus points if you don’t get flour on the floor while making dough.  My housecleaner will be so pleased with me.

Bake the crush for 10 minutes at 400 degrees, or until it is a light golden brown.

Meanwhile, check out the squash!

Is that gorgeous or is that gorgeous?!?!

Gorgeous AND delicious.  I’m pretty sure I ate a good third of it while standing at the oven, waiting for the puff pastry to bake.  So much for leftovers.

I knew this pizza would be pretty sweet with the squash, pears, and caramelized onions, so I wanted to add a bit of heat.  I scrounged around in my fridge, and this is what I came up with:

Cowgirl sweet & hot finishing glaze.  Don’t ask me where I got it, but it was really good.  Something chipotle-esque would also be yummy.

Toss some squash with the sauce – enough to give it a thin coating – and set it aside.

After 10 minutes, remove the pastry from the oven…

Spread the carmelized onions on first…

Then make a pretty design with the pair slices next…

Don’t forget the roasted squash!

And last but not least, the cheese.

Le sigh.

Cheese makes everything better, don’t you think?

After another 5 minutes in the oven…

Let it cool for a few minutes, then cut into slices and serve.

You don’t have to share if you don’t want to, though.

When your better half and gets home and asks what smells so good/what’s for dinner, smile sweetly and say “pizza” while producing a cardboard disc frozen one from the oven.  Hoard the (hypothetical) leftovers in the fridge in an opaque container marked “liver and onions” or something equally unappealing to him or her.

Conversely, if you want to impress your significant other/neighbour/arch nemesis just casually mention that you whipped up a little something for dinner, and then set a slice in front of them. Make up a faux French name for this, use your hands to gesture a lot, and insist that really, there was nothing to it.  They’ll fall in love with you all over again, I promise.

Either way, your secret is safe with me.

Until we meet again…

Jaclyn

P.S. You have my permission to add bacon if you’d like.

P.P.S. If you make this and add bacon, can you please invite me to your house for dinner? Pretty please?

Strawberry And White Chocolate Stuffed Eggnog French Toast

(I hereby give myself an award for the blog post with the longest title – oy vey!)

I am not a fan of breakfast.

There – I said it. I don’t know if it’s the fact that 95% of the time I’d rather be sleeping or if I have a legitimate distaste for the traditional breakfast foods, but the idea of steel-cut oats just doesn’t get me out of bed in the morning.  Or cereal, I’ve never been a fan of cereal.  Soggy grains in milk? No thanks, I’ll pass. In the summer I’ll whip up a quick smoothie, but when I look outside and see snow that is just about as appealing as spending 3 continuous hours on the StairMaster, followed by running a marathon.  Besides, I hate feeling rushed in the morning, and if I actually make myself a “real” breakfast I tend to be more rushed than normal.  Not quite the best way to start my day, if you know what I mean.

Now brunch, on the other hand, is a completely different animal.  I can handle brunch.  In fact, I quite enjoy it!  I think brunch is the new coffee date, and I’m embracing it wholeheartedly.  I love lingering over brunch with a good friend (or 5), catching up, and not feeling any time pressure to be anywhere or do anything else.  Brunch feels special, since those types of days don’t happen super often.

As you may have picked up on by now, one of my favourite things to do is to open up the pantry and/or fridge and just start combining.  After all, it’s how I first learned how to cook and it is what comes most naturally to me.  On top of this innate desire to play, I also hate to waste food.  What can I say – I’m Scottish!

(It all makes sense now, doesn’t it?!)

Unfortunately (or is it?), I get bored pretty easily and so leftovers are often abandoned in favour of their newer, more exciting cousins.  So…when I looked out the window and saw 2″ of snow (which, by Vancouver standards, is enough to paralyze the entire city…CRAZY I know), opened up my fridge and saw eggnog that was begging for one last chance to shine before being dumped down the drain, and a hunk of french bread on the counter I knew what had to be done.

Brunch on a snow day? Yes please!

Eggnog, egg, vanilla, salt, pumpkin pie spice, nutmeg, strawberries, white chocolate, bread.

In a shallow dish, whisk together 3/4 c eggnog, 1 egg, 1/2 t vanilla, 1/2 t pumpkin pie spice, 1/4 t nutmeg, and a pinch of salt.

Bonus points if you can find your nutmeg in the abyss of your pantry and grate it fresh.  If you can’t…while, you’ll just have to make this 3x as penance.

Now, I’d like to provide you with a little MDM-style disclaimer: I am fully aware that it’s January, and that in January most people make resolutions to cut back on their fat and sugar consumptions.  I thought about showing you something healthy and delicious…but when I saw the snow all of my logic went out the window and I started for looking for ways to add more fat and sugar to an already-rich dish.

I’m twisted, I know.  I also know that many of you live vicariously through me, so please don’t send me hate mail.

So I thought to myself, while regular eggnog French Toast is good, why not stuff it with chocolate? So I did.  But I added strawberries too, just for good measure.

Since strawberries that are in the grocery stores taste like cardboard aren’t seasonal, I quickly pureed some frozen ones.

One of the most beautiful aspects of French Toast is that it turns out better when it’s made with stale bread.  Love that!  You could use whatever type of bread you have lying around, but I had the last of a loaf of French bread to play with. I sliced it into thick slices, and then made a pocket in each slice.  Don’t cut all the way or the filling will escape!

Put a spoonful of the strawberry puree into the pocket…

And then stuff some good-quality white chocolate in there too.

And please remember, if you wouldn’t eat the chocolate as-is, DO NOT USE IT FOR COOKING!

I’m sorry for yelling, but I feel very strongly about this.

If you had eaten the same melting wafer that I did, you would understand.

Repeat the bread-stuffing process until you run out of bread, filling, or get bored.

Dip the (stuffed) bread into the eggnog mixture, one side at a time.

And then place each slice into a hot skillet.  Not too hot though – the trick with French Toast is that you want it to brown on the exterior, but also to not taste like raw egg (nog) when you take your first bite.

After a few minutes, gently flip each piece.  Looking good!

When you’re ready to eat, dust each piece with some icing sugar.  This is brunch after all, we might as well get a little bit fancy!

Dip in the leftover strawberry puree, if you feel so inclined.

Or maple syrup.  Up to you.  This is pretty rich, but a nice change of pace from your basic French Toast.  Whatever you do, if only for today, please linger and enjoy.  If there’s one thing that I know for sure, it’s that snow day brunches are a very good thing.

Love and best dishes!

Jaclyn

P.S. Don’t be surprised to see a mango-coconut French Toast in the future…or a blueberry-cream cheese one…or peanut butter and chocolate filled…

P.P.S.  Have more eggnog than you know what to do with? Try these scones – they’re delicious, I promise!

Gingered Rhubarb Jam/Compote/Chutney

How does that saying go – necessity is the mother of invention? I think that applies to cooking as well as it does to anything else.  More often than not, I start pulling random ingredients out of the fridge and pantry and just start playing (and praying that the final result will be edible), often without a clear idea of the end result.  Most of the time it even works out in my favour, so I thought I’d tell you about one of my recent creations.

Remember how I was given a large quantity of rhubarb recently? It’s been precariously perched on a shelf in my fridge for way too long and every time I opened my fridge it threatened to leap to its death.  It had to be used, once and for all, I decided.  But how?  More muffins? No, sick of those.  To braise some chicken? Been there, done that.  What about a rhubarb compote?  Something thick and lucious that could be swirled into yogurt, or put on top of ice cream, or over cheese? Yes, a rhubarb compote would be the perfect final send-off.

So besides the rhubarb, what else should join the party?

Some sugar and orange juice (for sweetness), some candied ginger (because it was in the pantry and I thought it would compliment the rhubarb nicely, and a vanilla bean (because I love me some vanilla).

Check out this rhubarb:

It’s green! Why is that? Does anyone know? I sure don’t. But I chopped up  a few stalks anyways, until I had 2.5 c worth.

Ginger seems to be one of those things that you either love or hate.  I happen to love it, so when I found some crystallized ginger in my pantry I knew it was meant to be a part of this experiment. Rhubarb + Ginger = True Love 4Ever

I gave it a coarse chop, and ended up with about 1/4 c. Perfect!

I’m sick of chopping. Let’s get this party started already!

Dissolve 3/4 c of sugar in 1/2 c of orange juice over medium heat:

Then add the rhubarb:

And the ginger!

And a pinch of salt too, to help bring everything together.

Give it a stir…

Crank the heat to high to bring it to a boil, and then put a lid on the pot and reduce the heat to low so it simmers for a bit.

Ten minutes later, the rhubarb should be tender.

Wanna see?

Hmm. At this point, I decided that there was still too much liquid for my liking so I brought the pot back to a boil to reduce it a bit.

And reduce it I did! Perhaps even too much. I’m glad this is my experiment though, so I get to write the rules.  Check it out now:

Good enough.

Now, let’s talk about vanilla.  I had a jar of vanilla beans in my pantry, and if you’ve never seen one up close and personal, here is your chance.

Slit the bean lengthwise…

And use the tip of your knife to scrape all of the seeds (i.e. everything that’s inside) out.

Behold, the naked vanilla bean. Exposed, raw, and vulnerable.

Do not, I repeat, DO NOT, even think about throwing this out.  Ever wondered how to make vanilla sugar?

Now you know.

Where was I again? I get distracted very easily.

Oh yes – add the vanilla to the rhubarb mixture.

Give it a stir, and a quick taste – be careful, it’s hot!

Hmm. I like the taste, but not the texture.  Apparently I should have chopped the crystallized ginger better.

Magic Bullet to the rescue!

Ahh…silky smooth.  I would categorize this as more of a jam than a compote or chutney, but who really cares what it is as long as its delicious.

Up close and personal:

Check out those flecks of vanilla bean! Yummm…

Don’t you just love it when your experiments turn out?  I sure do.

What shall we make next, blog friends?

Green Goddess Salad

I’m baaacckkk! I know you all missed me, so lets just skip over the pleasantries and get cooking!

A few weeks ago a friend of mine asked me if I ever cook with tofu.  I said yes, because I’m certainly not opposed to it. However, after I said that I realized that I can count my encounters with tofu on one hand – I’ve tried it in smoothies a few times and put it in a stir-fry another time, but that has basically been it.  Speaking of tofu in smoothies, I’d like to just clear the air and reveal to all of you who insist that you cannot taste the tofu in a smoothie, YES YOU CAN!!! Let’s just stop pretending that it magically disappears, ok?  I do not buy for one second the belief that one cannot detect coagulated soy milk in their smoothies. Kudos to those of you who have been brainwashed cannot tell, I’m just not part of that camp. Mind you, I put spinach in my smoothies so I suppose I’m hardly the one to talk.

Wait a minute! This is MY blog and I can talk about whatever I want!!! Mwah ha ha…

So back to the salad.  The other day I was flipping through an old Cooking Light magazine – circa 2005 or 2006 I think – and I stumbled upon a recipe for a quinoa salad with tofu, beans, and a basil vinaigrette.  It jumped out at me because (a) it contains quinoa, which I love, (b) it contains tofu, which means I could blog about my adventures conquering the soy block that often has me tremouring in fear, and (c) it would keep in the fridge for a few days, which would mean less cooking on a daily basis.  How could I go wrong?

(Please don’t answer that, or ask to see the scars on my hands from knife slippage.  I’m sensitive.)

Time to round up the troops!

Let’s see…that would be some quinoa (be honest – how many of you so that one coming?!?!), a carrot, a lemon, some green onions, garlic, tomatoes (grown in my garden, as proven by their stickers), tofu, basil, Dijon mustard, black beans, edamame, olive oil, sugar, salt, and pepper.

First things first: we must cook the quinoa.  Wait – scratch that – we must talk about what quinoa actually is! I could give you the long and drawn out answer, but my guess is that your Google skills are as good as mine and if you are truly curious you won’t pay any attention to what I say because you’ll be Googling like it’s your job.  If you’re not familiar with it, all you need to know is that it is a delicious grain that is a complete protein source.  It’s light and fluffy when it’s cooked – similar to couscous but 100x more nutritious. Oh yes, and in case you’re wondering, it is pronounced Keen-Wah, not Quin-Oh-A. Got that?

Some quinoa needs to be rinsed; mine didn’t. I suggest you read the package on yours before following my lead and ruining your salad.

Is it even possible to ruin salad?!?!?

Sometimes I make no sense. I’m ok with that. Hope you are too.

Dump about 1.5 c of quinoa and 3 c of liquid into a pot and bring it to a boil. You can use water, chicken stock, or vegetable stock. Or – this option is only for the truly adventurous – a combination of the three.

Once it’s come to a boil, stick a lid on the pot, reduce the heat, and let it simmer for about 15 minutes. While you’re at it, stick another pot of water on to boil – we’ll need it for the edamame.

Next, we shall conquer tofu. Together.

I bought the extra-firm tofu for this salad, and you should too.  Do not – I repeat, do not – purchase or use soft tofu. The moisture content is too high, and it won’t fry up properly and would just be plain gross. Even though I’m using the extra-firm kind, I still wanted to drain it. So I did.  It’s just how I roll.

To drain tofu, unwrap it from its package and place on a few layers of paper towels.

Place a few more layers of paper towels on top, and then weigh the whole thing down.

Can you imagine if we were using soft tofu? We’d all be witnesses to tofu being splattered everywhere…think tofuicide. **Shudder** I’m sorry for that mental picture. If you can’t sleep tonight, you can call me and I’ll talk you through it.

Moving on…to the onions!

Green onions, more specifically.  Chop some up – 1/2 c or so, depending on your taste buds and preferences.

I think we need some carrots too, for colour if for nothing else. Once again, a 1/2 c of so should be sufficient.

And tomatoes…3-4, depending on what you feel like.  Remember to remove those pesky homegrown stickers prior to cutting the tomato, unless you are particularly skilled at puzzles.

Throw everything into a large container along with one can of black beans (drained and rinsed please):

Set the veggies aside, and take the opportunity to dump a bag of frozen shelled edamame into that pot of boiling water you put on at the same time as the quinoa. Cooking Light suggested lima beans, but I figured since I was using tofu I might as well go big or go home in the soy department. No quitting at half-time as far as this salad is concerned!

Quick! We only have 3.5 minutes before the edamame is done, and we need to make a vinaigrette pronto.  You know what that means? Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

Oh ya baby…it’s time for the one and only Magic Bullet.

Disclosure #1: the folks at Magic Bullet land have no idea who I am, nor did they pay me to endorse their product. I just like it.

Disclosure #2: writing about the Magic Bullet just made me crave a frappuccino, so I just made one.  Would you be interested in a post exclusively on Magic Bullets? I’ll let you get back to me on that one.

Here’s what went into the bullet…

About a cup of fresh basil, 2 cloves of garlic, the juice of 1 lemon, about 2 T of olive oil, 1/2 t of sugar, about 2-3 t Dijon mustard, and some salt and pepper.

After a few pulses (courtesy of my 4 yr old sous chef), here’s what came out!

Yummy!

If you don’t have a Magic Bullet, have no fear. Just use your blender or food processor, or chop up your basil and whisk everything together. No biggie. I’m just too lazy to do that when there is a perfectly good appliance at my disposal.

I have a nagging feeling I’m forgetting something…

Oh yes! The tofu! Remove it from its drainage station (official culinary term, for those of you wanting to know), and dice it up. I diced it pretty small, because the thought of eating a large cube of tofu is completely unappetizing to me I’m new to the tofu game, but if you’re more experienced than me please feel free to keep the pieces larger. Encourage your sous chef to dialogue with you about what it feels, looks and smells like, and then hide your shock when he pops a cube into their mouth. No clue where he got that idea!

Heat up a drizzle of oil and saute the tofu for a few minutes until it gets nice and golden brown. Don’t forget to season with salt and pepper while it’s cooking – tofu needs all the help it can get in the flavour department.

While the tofu is doing its thing, drain the edamame and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process and help keep it bright green.

Want to see the cooked quinoa? I know you do, so here it is!

All light and fluffy, just the way I like it. And the way its supposed to be, unless you’re into sprouting raw quinoa but that’s another post for another time.

Time to mix everything together…

We’ve got the (cooled) quinoa, the edamame, and the dressing…

…and then everything else that I’ve talked about but forgot to take a picture of!

Once it was all mixed together, here’s what it looked like:

Hmmm…it’s colourful, full of protein and complex carbohydrates, and interesting enough for my palate.  I feel healthier just looking at this, so in my books that makes Green Goddess Salad a good thing. Let me know if you agree!

P.S. Cooking Light Magazine called this salad something else, but I think they should have consulted me – Green Goddess Salad feels more appropriate.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Over and out.

Black Bean & Corn Salad

My dear blog friends, how I’ve missed you! Did you miss me too? I’ve been telling myself that you did, and it’s been what has been sustaining me through the long days and lonely nights.  Please don’t burst my bubble if you didn’t miss me – my heart can’t handle it.  Do we have a deal?

I could tell you all of the reasons for my lack of posting, but lets just put the past behind us and talk about food again, ok?  After all, it IS what I do best.  To thank you for your patience and demonstrate my undying devotion for you, I have a fabulous non-recipe to share with you that I made during my hiatus.  Hope you’re ready cause I’m back and ready to do some non-cooking!

Disclaimer #1:  By non-cooking, I mean I went to the store, bought the things that appeared fresh, and threw them together in about 15 minutes. I highly suggest non-cooking as a way of winning friends and influencing people, but please do not non-cook unless you are prepared for the masses to profess their undying love for you.

You may or may not know this about me, but one of my favourite things to do is go to local markets…bonus points if I get to meet and talk to the farmers who grew the food!  Markets make me exceedingly happy, and this in turn makes those around me happy which means I go often (once again, I must take one for the team). Maybe it’s because I didn’t grow up in an area that allowed me the luxury of going to a store specifically for fruits and vegetables year round, but even thought I’ve been here for a few years now the novelty still hasn’t worn off and I will go out of my way to go in search of the freshest produce.  I have been known to emit an audible, horrified gasp when someone makes a comment in passing about purchasing produce at the grocery store (I’m sorry if I just offended you. I didn’t mean to; you probably just live somewhere different from me). Does this make me weird?

Either way, the other day, this is what I picked up compliments of my farming friends…

…and this is what I did to make some salad:

Cut the corn off a few ears of corn:

Disclaimer #2: I HIGHLY suggest doing this by holding the ear of corn in a bowl and cutting the corn off directly into the bowl as opposed to on your counter.  Of course, if you prefer picking corn kernals off of every surface within a 10m radius of your counter go right ahead and ignore my advice.

Saute up a few cloves of garlic in some oil until they’re fragrant.

Diclaimer #3: “fragrant” is not foodie-speak for burnt, so do not walk away from your stove unless you want to wash your pan and mince more garlic.

Add the corn to the pan, and allow it to cook for 8-10 minutes until it starts to carmelize and until you start craving popcorn like it’s nobody’s business.

So what else should we add to this salad?

How about some grape tomatoes?

Disclaimer #5: Please don’t let the measuring cup in this picture mislead you; I didn’t really measure anything for this salad and neither should you.  It’s SALAD for goodness sake, not rocket science.  Although, if rocket science was on the same level as salad, I’d be considered a true professional.

Let’s also add some red peppers…

Disclaimer #6: You can add any colour of peppers that you like.  Except for green peppers, because they’re just gross.  Does anyone even like them? And how on earth could the $0.50 you save per pound be worth the bitterness that they bring?!?! Seriously people, enlighten me cause I just don’t get it!

How about some red onion?

Disclaimer #7: Would you call this a red onion or a purple onion? I would call it a red onion, even though it is obviously purple.  Am I confused or colour blind? Please help me sleep tonight by clarifying this earth-shattering issue.

Let’s add some cilantro as well:

Disclaimer #8: You can mince your cilantro, or throw it in whole. Doesn’t matter to me.  I minced mine, but the pic was blurry since not everyone knows what cilantro looks like I thought I’d show you.

And what about a jalapeno pepper or 4 for a little bit of heat?

Disclaimer #9: Do not – I repeat, do not – touch your eyes or mouth while mincing jalapeno peppers. I would even suggest wearing gloves.  I didn’t, and my fingertips were burning for several hours.

Am I forgetting anything?

Oh yes, black beans! One cannot have black bean and corn salad without black beans after all.  I soaked the beans for 8 hours and then boiled them for 2 more hours and voila!

Diclaimer #10: I DID make beans from scratch recently, but these came from a can.  I just can’t lie to you!

I think it’s time to check on the corn.

Ohhh hello gorgeous! You’re so sweet that your sugars have carmelized to perfection! Won’t you join our party?

While the corn cools for a minute, make a quick vinegrette.  All good vinegrette’s need a form of acid…

…and oil:

Disclaimer #11: All vinegrettes do not need to have green things floating in them, but they do need salt, pepper, and sometimes a pinch of sugar.  I like my vinegrettes on the sharper side, so I also added a few tablespoons of red wine vinegar in addition to the freshly-squeezed lime juice, but you can make that call based on your taste buds and pantry.  If you want to add a few shakes of ground cumin or oregano, that would probably be nice too.

Toss the whole thing together and taste it for seasoning:

Add some more salt and pepper (you know you want to!) unless you are hypertensive.

Disclaimer #12: If you have hypertension, please do not tell your team of medical professionals that the Modern Day Martha told you to add more salt to your food thus sending your blood pressure through the roof. I am not now, nor will I ever be, a medical doctor by sheer virtue of my love affair with bacon and chocolate.

Once you’ve tasted for seasoning, promptly taste a whole bowl, because non-cooking is a lot of work and you deserve a snack.  Snacks in pretty bowls make everything better, or didn’t you know?

I hope you go to your local farm market and pick what looks fresh and try your hand at non-cooking soon; it sure is a good thing!

Disclaimer #13: This would have been great scooped up with tortilla chips, or with some avacodo or mango or peaches or pineapple added.  Or served on top of fish. Or chicken. Or eaten with eggs. Or in a wrap.  You get the idea! Food should be versatile – buy what is freshest, and make it delicious and personalized based on what you love. The end.

Sun-dried Tomato & Zucchini Risotto

I just uploaded 215 pictures off of my camera and realized just how long its been since I’ve blogged.  Oops.  So sorry, friends, please don’t take my silent treatment personally.  It’s not you, it’s me.  Well actually, it’s my schedule but that is a minor technicality.

Sidenote: has anyone heard that commercial on the radio that says “It’s not you, it’s your metabolism!”? Lies, all lies.

Back to the food, since that’s the only reason 99.9% of you read this blog: I had to make the difficult choice on what to tell you about first, since I have pictorial evidence of approximately 7.4 things I have made in the last 2 weeks (Please don’t ask what the 0.4 is; it’s a sore spot and I’m still not over it).  I settled on sun-dried tomato risotto because, if you are anything like me, sometimes you decide what to make based on what you are trying to use up in your fridge.  Keep reading to see what happened as a result of this delicious experiment.

Let’s begin!

Chop up some onion, and remember, you get bonus points if you don’t cry while doing so.  In the game of Kitchen Stadium, this is very important.

Saute the onion in some butter or olive oil, until it is translucent.

Next, add a few cloves of garlic.

I’d like to take the opportunity to discuss with you WHY I didn’t add the onions and garlic to the pan at the same time.  Was it just because I’m too impatient to do a full mise en place? Partially, yes, but even I sometimes think things through. By adding it after the onions have already gotten started, there is less of a chance of it burning and becoming bitter.  See, I DO know what I’m doing! Sometimes, anyways.

While the onion and garlic are sautéing, bring some liquid up to a simmer. I used chicken stock, but if you’re cooking for a vegetarian a vegetable stock would work just fine.  I think that was about 7 c or so…but I didn’t measure. I’m rebellious like that. If you’re even MORE rebellious than me (I know, hard to believe) you could add some white wine too.

Once everything is good and fragrant, throw a few cups (I used about 2) of arborio rice in with the onions and garlic.  Stir it around to get it nice and coated, and let it get toasty – 2 mins over a medium flame should be sufficient.

Since I like colourful food and a clean(er) fridge, I also threw in a big spoonful of sun-dried tomatoes that were packed in oil and taking up way too much space thanks to their Costco-sized proportions.

Here’s where things get a little confusing.  For YEARS I was under the impression that risotto requires constant stirring for the 1 hr it takes to cook.  This may be good and fine for those of us that have helpers or who are trying to avoid doing taxes, but what about the rest of us? Are we EVER going to be able to make risotto without being a slave to our stove? Yes indeed, there is hope at last, and I’m here to offer it to you!

Ladle in a few cups of the hot liquid into the toasted rice/tomato mixture, like so:

Stir it around a few times, and then put the spoon down and WALK AWAY.  Despite what you may have been (erroneously) lead to believe, risotto does not require constant stirring.  At least my version doesn’t, and my version is delicious so you should listen to me.

After taking the opportunity to make your bed and straighten your shoes, follow your nose back into the kitchen and find this:

Lo and behold, all of the stock has been absorbed and no one had to stir it constantly! I sure hope you’re loving this as much as I am.

Add a few more cups of stock…

Give it a stir, and walk away.

I figured zucchini would be good in this risotto, if only for its colour.  Sorry zucchini but I’m using you.  Asparagus would have been good too, but I didn’t have any and wasn’t about to leave the house.

Chop some up and add it in:

Give it a stir:

And then add a few more cups of stock:

So close I can almost taste it!

Confession: I DID taste it and the rice was still a bit al dente, so I kept it going for a few more minutes.

Since we’re almost done, I figured I might as well get some fresh herbs ready. Basil was my herb of choice, but I suppose you could use anything you like.  I would like to have you believe that I walked out to my herb garden and picked this fresh from the bounty that is mine…

…but that would be a lie, and I have a fear that the 3 of you that actually know me in real life would comment on my inability to keep things alive and my image would be shattered.  I’m delicate, ok? I bought this at the grocery store and I’m proud to admit it.  Sort of.

Regardless of where you get your herbs, they can’t go into the risotto whole.  Since I was using basil, I made a chiffonade – i.e. I rolled it up and sliced it into thin ribbons.  I didn’t even attempt to take a picture of this because I just had the knives sharpened and because value my fingers too much.

Let’s go check on the risotto.  Do you think it’s ready yet? I sure hope so – I’m hungry!

Oooh yes – the rice is tender but still has a bite to it, and is super creamy.  We did it!

Never one to lose out on the opportunity to add some cheese to something, I threw in a big handful of parmesan on top of the risotto in addition to the basil.

Stir everything around, and test it for seasonings.  Does it need any salt? pepper? basil? cheese? Please don’t under-season your food; if you do you will break code 18.92.276 and we won’t be able to associate with each other any longer.

This picture doesn’t do the risotto justice.

This one, however, does:

Rich, creamy, hearty, and satisfying.  sun-dried tomato and zucchini risotto is most definitely a good thing, which is why you should make this for your friends, family, and enemies.

Disclaimer: Ok, maybe not the enemies part – it made a lot though, so scale things down if you don’t want to be eating risotto for the next 3 days.  I don’t mind leftovers though…does anyone else see arancini in the near future???