Tuesday, 8 November 2011

My First Ever Vegan Lasagna, or Vegan Lasagna Even Your Hubby Will Eat

In my Husband's vocabulary spinach is a four letter word. That's why i wasn't surprised when his response to my announcing i was going to try making a vegan lasagna was thinly veiled concern.
"Why are you so skeptical?" i confronted him "isn't everything i make usually pretty good in the end?" 
This didn't completely erase his look of concern, but he nodded, unconvinced. 

White Bean+Ratatouille Lasagna (with Daiya---you gotta love it!) 

Okay, this lasagna is a bit of work, as are most made from scratch meals, and require a few steps in the prep process. 
it consists of three layers of noodles, sandwiching a layer of white beans and daiya, and a layer of ratatouille, and the whole thing is smothered in homemade vegetable tomato sauce and topped with more daiya. 

Step 1. 
vege sauce: ok you're not idiots, make a vegetable pasta sauce. most common vegetables to use would be 
mushrooms (i skipped these for personal ethical reasons, just kidding, there's no ethical reason on earth not to eat a mushroom.), 
2 cans of diced tomatoes (i did one but in retrospect i didn't make enough sauce, so i would say do two of everything--two carrots, two cans of tomatoes, two celery sticks etc...

use a couple table spoons of olive oil an cook vege in a deep pan or pot, or a dutch oven, whatever. add  some spices, parsley is good, basil, oregano, thyme, all good options. salt and pepper, and the two cans of tomatoes but not all the liquid (i save the liquid for use in other things like soups.). let it cook down, add a bay leaf if you want. when it's done i put mine through the blender to make it smoother and easier to use, but this is really a question of preference, not necessary at all. however if you have picky eaters this is a good way to avoid them picking out the vegetables. 
Step 2.
White Bean layer. 
1 can white kidney beans (or whatever white beans you want.)
olive oil, 
lemon juice
almond-milk (or whatever--water will work)

put this stuff in a good blender or food processor and blend til smooth. adjust the flavour and thickness based on personal preference. it's meant to replace the ricotta so it is meant to be a bit on the bland side. you may even want to add a touch of honey to simulate the sweetness of the cheese. but whatever, go wild. 

The Ratatouille Layer.
okay it's a poor excuse for a ratatouille and true blue ratatouille lovers would probably be offended. i don't use peppers, or yellow squash (not that i discourage their use, i just don't eat peppers and small yellow summer squash isn't in season these days).
1 japanese eggplant (or whatever)
1-2 zucchinis depending on the size
six tomatoes (i used half sweet yellow and half roma--i like the roma for this because they are fleshy. 
thyme, parsley, basil salt pepper (or Herbamare--my secret weapon.)

heat water til boiling and blanch the tomatoes. (cut a small X on the bottom of each to make removing the skin easier)
as soon as the skin begins to peel up or spilt plunge into cold water. peel, seed, and dice tomatoes

slice zucchinis and eggplants. 

Okay, now you're ready to assemble. you have your sauce, your beans, your sliced vegetables, and your cheese ready to go. now you need to cook noodles. you've already got a pot of boiling water from blanching your tomatoes, so bring it back to a boil. i like to cook one layer of noodles at time so they don't get all stuck together, but i realize that is overly finicky for most people so just boil your noodles. i use the regular lasagna noodles not the ready to bake ones. i find 6 minutes to be good. they are firm but not too firm, and they cook the rest of the way in the oven so they aren't over cooked by the end.


How I Assembled it:
drizzle of olive oil, first layer of noodles, layer of tomato sauces (me realizing i didn't make enough tomato sauce), second layer of noodles, layer of eggplant, zucchini, (me realizing i'm running out of space so i have to cram more into this layer) white beans and cheese, layer of noodles, layer of fresh tomatoes and a bit of remaining sauce, layer of cheese. 

How i SHOULD HAVE assembled it:
Layer of tomato sauce, layer of noodles, layer of white beans and cheese (add spinach here if you want), layer of zucchinis, eggplant, and fresh tomatoes (drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with herbs and salt and pepper), layer of noodles, more sauce, cheese.  

Bake at 375 F for 40 minutes covered with tin foil, and then for another 20 or so uncovered. or adjust for your oven, mine tends to be a bit hot, so anywhere between 350 and 400 i would say. 

I would say it turned out to be a pretty big success. we eat it over several days and were both disappointed when it was all gone. i suspect that this recipe will probably become a beloved classic around our house. 

Thursday, 20 October 2011

My Favourite "not too clamy" Clam Chowder

Fall and Winter are soup time, and this is one of my favourite soups of all time. I start to crave this rich, salty, chowder when the leaves are starting to fall and we get a lot of cold rainy weather. It originally comes from my mom's friend Jan, but i have forgotten the recipe and reinvented it so many times that 'm not sure how much it still resembles hers. As with most cooking projects the ingredients here are flexible. i've made this without the wine, with water instead of stock, and with white fish instead of clams. but this is my favourite combination of ingredients. Serve with a couple slices of toasted sourdough bread, and a glass of white wine.

1-2 tbsp olive oil
one can baby clams 
1/2 can of diced or whole tomatoes
one garlic clove 
one small to medium sized onion
two celery sticks
one carrot
one potato 
1/2 cup of Clamato juice 
(i buy the small cans cause they save longer that way, one can will do)
one cup dry white wine or dry sherry. 
3-4 cups vegetable broth or fish stock
1-2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper
tabasco (optional)

mince garlic. dice onions, celery, carrots, and potato into small cubes

add olive oil to a dutch oven or soup pot, and vegetables and garlic and salt (remember that clams and Clamato juice are salty so don't go over board, just enough to sweat those veggies.) and pepper and cook on medium heat until onions are soft and beginning to brown.
remove from heat, add the liquid from the can of clams, but not the clams, and the wine or sherry, return to the heat and deglaze the bottom of the pot (scrap the brown bits off the bottom). 
let it return to a boil and allow to cook for a minute or two until reduced a bit. 
add the half a can of tomatoes and juice (if they are whole cut them into pieces). sometimes i add all the juice but only half the tomatoes, depends on how much liquid you have at this point.
add the Clamato juice
add the broth or stock
add Worcestershire sauce 
and the bay leaf
return to a boil then turn down and simmer for about 15-20 minutes 
remove the bay leaf
add the clams
and cook fro about 5 more minutes
taste test, add tabasco now if you're going to. now is the time to adjust salt. 
serve with buttered toast. 


Sunday, 21 August 2011

French Toast with Peaches and Home Fries

At this time of year Peaches are cheap and delicious. i tend to go through a pretty big peach binge, adding them to every recipe for a few weeks. one of my favourites is grilled peach pancakes. but today i went for something a little different and did french toast.

Nothing complicated here folks just a great simple recipe and fresh summery ingredients. 
I made my french toast with big thick slices of belgian loaf.
my egg dip is simply equal parts egg whites only and almond milk, cinnamon and vanilla extract.

made the homefries in my amazing Tefal ActiFry, which cranks out perfectly cooked home fries (among other things) every time in about 20 minutes, with half a tbsp of olive oil and without turning on the oven. can you say convenient!

the trick to cooking perfect french toast:
let it soak for a few minutes to get nice and saturated. cutting thick slices is a necessity so your bread doesn't just fall apart. you need plenty of cooking oil, and you need to get your pan to that perfect medium heat, not too hot (you don't want the egg to burn, and you want it to cook all the way through) and not too cool (you still want a good crust to form and let's face it, you don't want to be standing there forever). 
Let a solid crust form on one side (be patient and don't flip too early, this is a classic rookie mistake) and then carefully flip with a spatula, add more cooking oil or butter or PAM before putting the piece back down on the other side, otherwise the egg will stick on this side. keep flipping and adjusting the heat until perfectly cooked. brown on the outside and firm in the middle. don't over crowd your pan, it is better to do them in batches otherwise flipping gets tricky.

Peach syrup
I did five small peaches.
They were first boiled for a couple of minutes and then plunged into an ice bath to remove the skins. they were then fried with a touch of oil (just to grease the pan to prevent sticking-could be skipped with a good non-stick pan) a squeeze of lemon juice and a spoonful of sugar. 
of course what you could do is simply cook them a bit and then add your maple syrup and warm it up (nothing takes breakfast to the next level like warm maple syrup). i didn't do this for two reasons, the first is being poor and not being able to afford real maple syrup, the second is laziness. 

Monday, 8 August 2011

My Date with John Barleycorn.

As a mostly vegetarian/mostly vegan i eat a lot of grains. recently i've been finding that our selection was getting a little boring, mostly always wheat (wheat bread, wheat pasta) and rice. so i've been on a mission to explore and integrate other grains into our diet. 

Barley and barley drinks have long been a staple of both human and animal diets. One of the first domesticated grains in the near east, it's wild ancestor ranges from north africa and crete in the west to tibet in the east. 

The earliest evidence of domesticated barley occurs in pre-pottery neolithic B sites such as those in Syria. A staple of the both the Egyptian and Greek civilizations, where it was used to make beer, bread, porridge, soup, and as animal feed. Barley was also used in certain forms of divination, as currency at certain times, and as a base of the imperial measurement system (1 inch = 3 barleycorns)

By Roman times Barley had been largely replaced by wheat in most recipes, except in the making of beer, or as animal feed. In medieval Europe barley was considered to be peasant food, whereas the rich ate wheat, but by the 19th century barley in the european "peasant" diet had been almost entirely replaced by the potato. today Barley is the 4th most cultivated grain in the world. 

Barley contains 8 essential amino acids and contains gluten (so it's not for you celiacs). it is also an excellent source of niacin. in it's natural form it is covered in a thick inedible fibrous shell. once this shell has been removed it is called "hulled" or "pot" or "scotch" barley and it is still considered to be a whole grain as it still posses it's bran and germ. Pearl barley has been further processed with steam to remove the bran, and is polished through a process known as pearling. 

With it's history of cultivation in the middle-east it should be no surprise that Barley still figures prominently in many Assyrian, Arabic, Kurdish, and Persian dishes. in scotland barley is still used to make porridge, bannock, and other baked goods. The most common recipes to find barely in today are stews and soups. (thanks to wikipedia for all that info)

On that note, a few weeks ago i saw a salad that inspired me to take the leap and try cooking with barley.

Greek Barley and Watermelon Salad With Heirloom Tomatoes and Sheep's Milk Feta.

To make the Barley:
1 cup Pearl Barley (i used pearl because i cook everything for digestibility, if you have a stronger digestive system than me you could try simply hulled or pot barley as a more "whole grain" version of this salad).
2 cups of stock (i used vegetable stock).
1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp salt 

Heat the stock til it is at a rolling boil. Add the barley, oil, and salt. return to boiling and then turn down to a gentle simmer. cover and cook for approximately 30 minutes. When done allow it to sit off of the heat covered in the pot for 10 minutes. if there is any extra water strain it. (mine ran out of water about 5 minutes shy of 30, i just turned it off and let it sit and it came out fine. you want it to maintain a bit of a crunch (or pop) not mushy like when you put it in soup. set it aside.
* if you are trying this with pot barley (Whole grain) you may want to research it's cooking time, as whole grains usually take longer to cook.

i made the full recipe for the barley but then i only used half of it in the end because it looked like a lot for just the two of us, and i didn't think the watermelon would last well in the salad in the fridge, so i halved the salad recipe. The recipe below has all the quantities i used. it makes a super hardy lunch for 2-3 people or more as a side dish. But if you are going to bring this to an event i would recommend using all the barley you cook and doubling the salad and dressing recipes below. 

The Salad:
1 cup heirloom cherry tomatoes, cut into halves or quarters.
1 purple french shallot thinly sliced
1 cup diced cucumber 
1 cup cubed seedless watermelon (yellow or red)
chopped basil (go with your own instincts here, i like a lot of basil)
3-4 kalamata olives de-pitted and sliced (or do whole olives, your call)
a chunk of feta (more or less depending on what you like) 
1/2 of the cooked barley.

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tbls olive oil
salt and pepper to taste.
(whisk all the ingredients until smooth and pour over salad.)

So i hope this will encourage some of you to try using barley as an alternative to rice or noodle, or potato salads this summer. next stop on my grain train, Quinoa. 

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Ode to Peanut Butter Sandwiches.

so this is my little ode to peanut butter sandwiches. An ode in pictures. may this inspire you to go eat one.

Classic Peanut Butter and Banana with honey.
One of my all time favourites. delicious on a nice seedy bread, lightly toasted. 

Another classic PB & J.

a gourmet twist on Peanut Butter and Raisin. 
Peanut Butter, Apricot, and Walnut Sandwich

Here's a really creative one i found 
Peanut Butter And Green Tomato and Jalapenos Jam Sandwich

Pretty much everyone knows how good peanut butter is on celery. 
Peanut Butter, Celery, and raisin Sandwich.

For something a little more savoury you might want to try a 
Thai Peanut Butter Sandwich, with thai spices, coriander, spring onions and coconut.

For something really sweet, try a 
Peanut Butter, dulce de Leche, and Apple Sandwich

Many people swear by these indulgent 
Peanut Butter, Banana, and Bacon Sandwiches

Okay my last one is more of a gag sandwich, but for the brave (or herbally enhanced) you may want to try your hand at a Grilled Charlie
What is it?
Peanut butter outside, chocolate inside, butter inside, cheese outside.

Well i hope these inspired you to go be creative with peanut butter sandwiches. 
Here's a website with some good ideas

Bonne Appetit.

Friday, 24 June 2011

My Way To Decadent Vegan Afternoon.

So after a failed attempt at attending a Moksha yoga class today, thank you holiday bus schedule, i was feeling the urge to do something equally fabulous. with a house warming party to attend tonight i thought i might whip something up to take with us. of course all the stores are closed for the holiday so i was going to have to make do with what i had, i.e. no easy peasy store bought pre-made anything.
i usually have certain basic ingredients around the house so i figured i probably had what i needed to make a cake from scratch, i found this incredibly easy, and very limited ingredient vegan chocolate cake mix recipe on allrecipes.com  which seemed to be fairly well reviewed. it has no eggs (or egg replacement), and no dairy or soy milk.

they looked pretty good when they came out of the oven. i expected them not to rise too much, and that they would be a bit denser, and i think i was right on the money.

then i got a bit carried away with myself and made this vegan buttercream frosting.
and finally i did some two tone colouring by dying my icing a tad yellow and then painting red food colouring on the inside of my pastry bag before spooning the icing into it and piping it onto the cup cakes.
then i added shredded coconut.
they turned out like this.

 to be honest i'm still not at all sure how they taste, but i hope it's as good as they look.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

"Holy Shit I can't believe how easy they are Dumplings."

So this project started as me having a craving for these amazing little pumpkin pastas that they had a while back at a certain IGA across town, and which i can't find anywhere nearby.

i was looking online for ravioli recipes, since i know that it is possible to make raviolis at home and i thought, screw it, i will try to make my own pumpkin pasta.
it turns out based on what i found that pasta dough and wonton or gyoza wrappers are virtually the same thing (give or take some water). since i've been wanting to try to make wantons, or pot stickers, i was thrilled to see i could combine my two projects into one. and reduce myself the trouble of trying to roll out pasta dough in my tiny kitchen.
turns out huge success! i made butter nut squash, carrot, and rabbit pot stickers, and served them with their own gravy they were unbelievable. i ate easy a dozen in one sitting.

Here's how i did it. (please excuse my camera phone for taking shitty quality images)

scratch the sweet potato, although i think sweet potato would have been good too, it felt like too much food already as it was. the wonton wrappers only take a tsp of stuffing so you need to think about how much you are realistically making. One package of wonton wrappers with enough stuffing to fill them all easily makes a good meal, or a number of appetizers. also the celery was too floppy so it got scratched too.
i ended up with squash, rabbit, carrots, garlic, spring onions, and curry, turmeric,  cinnamon, brown sugar, i don't know some other stuff.
it should have had ginger that would have been good, cashews would have been good too. or maybe raisins. anyway i went kind of east indian inspired for the stuffing though clearly you could really adapt this dish a hundreds ways.
i chopped it all up, cooked the squash and carrots in the garlic with a little olive oil, and a tbsp of vegetable stock paste in a dutch oven. then floured and browned the rabbit quickly and threw it in, and then added enough water to nearly cover all the vegetables, and popped it in the oven with the meat tucked into the water, at 375 for about 45 minutes. the sauce should be reduced and rabbit and vegetables all cooked.
i drained and conserved all the remaining sauce, and squeezed as much of it out of the vegetables as possible. then cut all the meat off the bones, and chopped it up and mixed it in with the finely chopped veg.

lay out your little wanton pappers, which you have thawed to room temperature while everything was cooking. put a teaspoon of your mixture in the center, moisten around the edge with water and seal the two side together.

once you've made then all (this is a bit long, but kind of fun), you heat up a little bit of olive oil in a skillet with a lid (this is crucial) and then pop in enough dumplings that they all lay flat. cook 1-2 minutes or until brown on both sides. then toss in a 1/3 cup of water and cover with the lid. simmer until all the water is evaporated, turning once so that they get evenly cooked.

after they were cooked i drizzled some of the reduced cooking sauce from the oven, and they were fantastic. i tried dipping them in plum sauce, not sure if plum sauce is really the thing for these ones, they are good simply with the their own sauce alone, but i think they would also bet great dipped in some kind of hot sauce, or soy sauce, or peanut sauce.

for dessert i tossed some chopped bananas and chocolate chips into the few remaining gyoza wrappers.

After this experience i would highly recommend trying out making dumplings or potstickers. if you never have before there is really nothing to worry about they are idiot proof. clearly you could dumpling pretty much anything, and why not? wonton wrappers are insanely cheap at your local asian food store. and it turns out they are insanely easy to make too. it seems you can also use them as suitable ravioli noodle replacement, just fill with whatever you want and pop in boiling water instead of frying first. top with sauce.