Sunday, August 30, 2009

Tempeh Cacciatore

I've never in my life had chicken cacciatore, so I'm not exactly sure what prompted me to try making a vegan version of it. I think i saw a picture somewhere and thought it sounded I had a bunch of random stuff in my fridge and cupboards that needed to be used.

It was okay...I don't think I put enough spice in it and I think next time I'll used fresh tomatoes instead of canned diced OR go with canned crushed because I always find canned diced tomatoes to have a bit of a sour taste to them. Could just be me and my weird taste buds.

I like the idea of cacciatore, which involves a mishmash of slowly stewed vegetables (carrots, green beans, onions, bell pepper...anything would probably go, really) this just didn't have as much flavour as I wanted it to. Perhaps a hot pepper and some more oregano and marjoram will do the trick next time because the flavour was good, it just wasn't strong enough.

Plus the fettuccine noodles that I used were not great...they are the PC Blue Menu whole grain. They were on sale and $2 cheaper than the Eddie's Spaghetti brand I usually buy (which is organic, vegetable-based as opposed to strictly wheat-based and so ridiculously awesome) but I found them to taste like rubber even though I cooked them twice as long as I normally cook pasta. I could be doing it wrong, but I don't like my pasta cooking to be too complicated so I think I will pass on this particular Blue Menu product in the future.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Other B.L.T.

BASIL, Lettuce and Tomato!

I tried my hand at organic gardening for the first time this year and the results have been mixed. I'd like to think it partly has to do with the fact that we've had a ridiculous summer weather-wise...super cold and rainy, then super hot, then rain for ten days straight. But I'm pretty sure it's just because I fail in that department.

My beans didn't take at all. My field lettuce was pretty good. My bell peppers have been okay, except for the lot that earwigs decided to make their home. Lesson learned: if there is a tiny little hole in a pepper, do not attempt to cook it...ohh, you should have heard the screaming coming from my kitchen when I cut that sucker open.

I'm not so big on bugs. I am more than willing to coexist with them...but having them in my food really freaks me out. I let him keep the pepper and set him free on the back porch. Earwig: 1, Mary: 0. I did use another one in polenta the other day and he was earwig free and delicious, so I guess I get a half point for that.

My tomatoes are finally starting to come around and they are actually quite wonderful! I have cherry, beefsteak and errr...standard issue? The cherry have been ready for awhile and we've been using them for salads, in tacos and as snacks fresh off the tree.

Yesterday, however, marked the first beefsteak tomato day!

Of course, I had to make a toasted tomato...a favourite in our house throughout the summer (even before we were veg) and I have been simply dying for one using my own tomatoes. It was amazing.

The toasted tomato is an awesome sandwich...IMO it doesn't get the credit it deserves for such awesomeness. Especially when people weigh it down with all that nasty bacon ;P.

If you've got the resource, I'd also highly recommend a B.A.L.T. Yes, a balt. Basil-Avocado-Tomato-Lettuce. That one is my most favourite, but I had devoured the last of our avocado the night before.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Portobello Burger


I marinated two incredibly massive portobello mushrooms in a homemade BBQ-sauce concoction. Smoky BBQ flavour, to be exact. I've recently stopped buying bottled BBQ sauces because of the ridiculous amounts of sugar and even high-fructose corn syrup found in them ( that really necessary?!). Don't get me wrong, my version has sugar...just of the raw cane variety and far less of it. We threw them on the grill for about 10 minutes until they were nice, charred and strangely 'meaty'.

I had never had a portobello burger before, which is weird because it's kind of a vegan staple. And I learned a valuable lesson, something I have known all along but often stray from: enough with trying to mimic non-vegan foods and instead fall in love with what is vegan and natural. Not that tempeh burgers are evil and bad for you in any way; a portobello is just better. It still had dirt on it when I bought it, how's that for natural!

I am so very desperate for veganism to return to its roots (pun): VEGETABLES! Convenience foods will always have their place in the back of our freezers, but there is so much to be said for avoiding them when you can. Grilling mushrooms instead of frozen veggie burger patties is a good start and something I think even omnivores can get on board with.

We topped them with tomato, avocado chunks and red onion, and found that the BBQ flavour elminated the need for any mustard or ketchup. Any burger fixings will do, though. Paired with some baked sweet potato fries and a cob of fresh-picked Ontario corn, and you've got yourself a tasty little late summer meal there.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Peanut Curry from Bangkok Cuisine, Kitchener

B.V. (Before Vegan) we ate at restaurants at least three times a week. The other days we got takeout or some other pseudo-food from the freezer aisle at our local supermarket. It was a different time in our lives and it seemed like a logical response to our lack of time and my outright refusal to try turning on the stove. Sometimes, I don't even recognize those people that we used to be.

Now I get sick to my stomach thinking of 1) all the garbage I ate and what it could still be doing to my body, years later and 2) how much money we wasted on it. The change in our diets coincided with change in careers and as our wallets tightened we had no choice but to stop handing out hundreds of dollars to the restaurants of our fine city. At this same time I looked in the mirror and realized I had packed on a solid 15 pounds since our wedding. I was also heavily involved in various social inequality/rights and environmental issues by virtue of my schooling and my addiction to current events and somewhere along this line, all of these factors amounted in going vegetarian and then a year later going vegan. I cautiously turned the stove on and attempted to make something from scratch...subsequently my health turned around, my pants fit better, my soul felt more at peace, our wallets grew a tiny bit thicker and I even cleaned out our takeout menu drawer. I try to keep my politics out of this blog so I won't press this issue. But, I really and truly have never felt better than I do right now and so whenever anyone asks me how I can give up so much to be vegan, I respond with "Veganism has given me so much more than I could have ever given it".

Part of this has to do with eating fresh, something that is lost on a lot of restaurants since the invention of the deep freeze. I don't hate on restaurants, though. They are a great place to gather with friends and a good resource to throw together dinner when all else fails. I just think that back in the day we abused this privilege and our health and bank account suffered for it.

Nowadays, restaurants can be challenging for me. They are tricky for vegans, because how sure can you be that what they say is vegan is actually vegan? You can't, unless you're at an all-vegan restaurant. Which we don't have here.

A lot of restaurants are coming around to veg, though. There are some all-vegetarian places (fingers crossed for an all-vegan one sometime in my life!!) Even some roadhouses here have vegetarian burgers. They're probably not vegan, but it's a start and I'm appreciative of the effort.

The B.V. restaurants we used to frequent are not as useful to me now, so going vegan gave me the opportunity to venture out of my comfort zone and try new foods, something I was really cautious of my entire life. Veg Guide has been a great tool for locating these off-the-beaten-path places, which are often overshadowed by the neon lights of big money restaurant chains.

Still, we don't go to restaurants much. I'm so cheap, I usually spend the entire meal thinking about how I could have made it better and for cheaper than the $13.99 they charged me. The only times we really go is to gather with friends (which is why restaurants are great and I want to re-iterate that I'm not somehow anti-restaurant lol) or to celebrate something. I don't even remember the last time Paul and I went and just ate together at a restaurant because we both see it as a waste of money (we are so unromantic and lame, I know).

That is until Wednesday, when I decided I had a craving for a peanut curry from Bangkok Cuisine. I needed it immediately.

Bangkok Cuisine is my favourite Thai place, not just because they have awesome food, but because they don't look at you like you have five heads when you tell them you're vegan. The staff is really knows their stuff with regard to what is in things (i.e. egg noodles versus rice noodles, fish oils, etc.) and if they don't know they go to the kitchen and ask. If you go there, you have to have the peanut curry. Bamboo shoots, waterchestnuts and baby corn in a peanut sauce. I usually take the tofu option, but mixed vegetables are good too...and it comes with a side of rice. This peanut curry is by far my most favourite food on the planet (at present - this happens to change a lot).

And yes, Paul and I went, just the two of us. We totally went for lunch though, because it's $10 bucks cheaper than at dinner.

Bangkok Cuisine
1500 Weber St. East,
Kitchener, ON N2A 2Y5

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Udon with Green Beans & Almonds

My friends, we are in those glorious days of mid-summer when just about everything is in season.

The early-summer vegetables are winding down, but there are a few of the last crops of asparagus, scallions and strawberries left to be devoured. And now the late-summer crops are starting..enter diverse squash, cobs of corn and fresh Ontario-grown field tomatoes!

I am also patiently awaiting the fruits of my labour in my own little garden, as I've got dozens of little green tomatoes sprouting all over the place. Late August will be characterized by many a toasted tomato sandwich, I'm sure.

I also tried to grow green beans, and it was an epic fail. The plant produced two beans. Two. One of which was pecked to pieces by a bird. Fail. Big, fat, organic fail.

Have no fear, a local farm has come to my rescue and for a small fee ($3 for 3 meals worth of beans...not too shabby) has supplied our green beans this summer. Although they are easier to come by in June and July, there are still lots of green beans still kicking around here in southern Ontario.

Green beans are my favourite side dish in the summer...boiled a bit but still crunchy, topped with freshly ground pepper and nothing else. So many folks drench them in butter first, but that concept is lost on me. They are good just as they are, with a tiny bit of seasoning...good enough to even replace french fries at bbqs in our house.

Sometimes, we even let green beans be the star of the show. After obtaining a basket-full at the market, I decided to try out this recipe from Nava Atlas' Vegan Express. She suggests using soba, but all I had was really doesn't make a difference, IMO. I just prefer spelt to buckwheat, so I buy Sobaya Spelt Udon and use it for every Asian-inspired noodle dish that we rock in our kitchen.

This is by no means a fancy meal. It uses standard ingredients (soy sauce, hoisin, etc.), nothing crazy or awe-inspiring. But, on lazy summer nights after a long day at work you don't want the crazy. You want tasty, somewhat nutritious and above all QUICK, so you can get back to solving the world's problems. Or a good book. Or, in our case, bad reality tv in the form of Big Brother.

This was done in 7 minutes, and was so tasty that I literally licked my bowl when I was done. Literally.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Scalloped Potatoes

I know that turning on your oven is pretty much the last thing that you should be doing on a hot summer's night. But when cravings gotta answer.

I love summer but when August hits I start to get excited for fall, which is really and truly my most favourite season. We eat a lot of potatoes in the fall...and while I'm still basking in the hazy laziness that is August, I thought I'd jump start the comfort food.

I had this recipe saved from Fat Free Vegan and decided to give it a go the other night. One thing I really like about the recipe is that Susan precooks the potatoes a bit before...which means that the dish only had to be in the oven for about 25 minutes, as opposed to the standard 50-60 minutes needed for scalloped potatoes. Much appreciated on a hot August evening.

I am terrible at slicing vegetables...I'm really sloppy and lose interest quickly. For scalloped potatoes, there needs to be some uniformity among the potato slices. Knowing that my not-so-great knife set could not handle this, I borrowed a mandolin from my mom...a tool that came from another continent and a time long before my birth:

Paul pretty much begged me not to use it. You see, I am clumsy enough when it comes to regular, modern tools...I have cut myself with a butterknife. A BUTTERKNIFE, people. This mandolin is sharp despite having what I can only imagine as 30 years of solid slicing under it's belt (blade?). And there are no grippers or safety features like you find on modern, plastic mandolins. No sir .. this is hardcore, straight from the old country.

Evidently the gene pool is diluted and I am missing the hardcore-ness of my ancestors, because I most definitely sliced my thumb open. On the first potato, actually.

I motored through though...very carefully...wasting a lot of potato because it was getting too close to the end and I thought I might sustain further injury.

While this dish was delicious, I should probably hold off on making it again until I can find slicing equipment that I am more capable of operating. Does anyone know if Fischer Price makes a mandolin? Anyone?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Peanut Butter-Chocolate Cupcakes & Other Campfire Treats

Shockingly, the weather somewhat cooperated for our camping trip this past weekend. I don't think I've been on a camping trip that hasn't had ridiculous amounts of rain since the summer of 2002. Most definitely a welcome change!

I am pretty sure I gained a solid 10 pounds over the last few days, but it's so hard to care. A weekend away was just what my soul needed while I'm in the battle of my life with my Master's thesis.

I made the peanut butter cupcakes in Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World to bring along. And then proceeded to forget about them while the ice melted in our cooler...resulting in extreme sogginess. Truthfully, I wasn't that keen on them to begin with..which is surprising because peanut butter is one of my top five favourite unnecessary condiments. I just didn't find them to be very sweet or very peanut butter-y. There's a good chance I fudged up the recipe though, because I made them at 11pm the night before we left for the beach.

I'll tell you what I did love though ... s'mores!!!! Oh s'mores, where have you been all my life?! Seriously, before this past weekend I had never in my life had a s'more (vegan or otherwise). That I can recall, anyway, but my memory is fuzzy in my old age. Standard issue marshmallows are obviously off the menu because of gelatin but praise vegan innovation, Sweet & Sara make a delicious vegan marshmallow!

Obviously I am slightly biased and may not remember what a regular marshmallow tastes like, but imo these are better. They are not exactly cheap though, and by no means good for you...but a good way to participate in campfire fun. Look at that s'more:

om nom nom nom.

And finally, for those who are wondering, the pinto bean hotdogs I posted about a few weeks ago cooked up wonderfully on an open flame:

Oh man, officially in detox mode for a few days. Good weekend...look at that view!

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