Saturday, April 12, 2008

Testing Recipes

I've spent the last few evenings making spiced pickled cabbage. It's the first time I've attempted this and the process was a bit more time consuming than I originally anticipated since I first had to salt the cabbage for 24 hours, then rinse and drain it for at least 8 hours before I could start canning it. Last night I also discovered that the recipe I was following did not make nearly enough pickling liquid for the amount of cabbage in it. (The second time this has happened to me with this recipe book.) That meant that after filling only half my jars with liquid I had to make a second batch of liquid, but by that point I had used up most of my spices, was so rushed that I forgot to add the sugar, and had no red wine vinegar left so I used the ordinary pickling stuff. It'll be interesting to compare the two 'batches' to see the difference in flavour.

Recipes that don't work are an annoyance of mine; and I suspect cooks everywhere. I often suspect that not all recipes in some cookbooks are actually tested and many are simply recipes collected by the author and included in the cookbook because they looked good and fit the theme. Or perhaps the recipe was created or adapted by the author but he or she wasn't very accurate about writing down what they did. I know I'm often guilty of not taking good cooking notes when I adapt a recipe and then a few months later when I want to make it again I find myself relying or memory for my substitutions or deciphering hastily scribbled notes. When I purposely developing recipes though, I'm very meticulous.

One technique that I've found helpful is to put a sticky note beside the recipe and record my changes on it. At the end of the sticky note I write down whether the modifications were a success or not and my thoughts about what future modifications may work. The next time I make the recipe, I start a new sticky note and repeat the process. This way I can see the modification history of the recipe. Once the recipe works, I then transfer my notes into the original recipe book itself, crossing things out and adding other things in, in a way that I can read both the original recipe and the modifications. If the recipe is one I really enjoy, it gets entered in my own personal book of recipes and cross-referenced (usually) to the original recipe.

I'm sure there are a myriad of other ways of keeping tracking of recipe changes, but this is the one that seems to work best for me. I find it simple and virtually fool-proof.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Vegan Spiced Chai

I love a good cup of Indian spiced tea, chai masala. Not the horridly sweet stuff that is served up in cafes and coffee shops across the country often using chai-flavoured syrups, but the authentic chai masala infused with real spices.

It seems that everyone has a different opinion about what spices should be used in chai masala, and in what quantities. It's also a recipe that varies regionally across the sub-continent. Here is my own recipe that i adapted for a vegan friend a few years ago.

Vegan Spiced Chai
Serves 4

4 tbs good quality Ceylon tea
2 cups vanilla soy milk
green cardamom pods
cinnamon stick
fennel seeds or aniseed
fresh ginger
coriander seeds

Heat about 2 cups of water with vanilla soy milk and desired spices until hot, but not boiling. Add about 4 tbs of good quality loose Ceylon tea and allow tea to simmer for about 5 minutes, or until desired strength. Serve hot in mugs.

I usually use about 1 small stick cinnamon, 4 slices ginger, 6 cardamon pods, 12 pepper corns, 12 coriander seeds, 6 cloves, and about 1/4 tsp of fennel seeds or aniseed; but experiment and see what you like.

I find vanilla soy milk is sweet enough for this recipe, If you want a sweeter tea, add honey.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Just Peachy

Growing up in a diabetic household, we rarely ate desert. And when we did have an after dinner sweet, it was often fruit or recipes that Mum had adapted to have less, or no, sugar. Unlike these days where supermarket shelves seem to be full of sweet-tasting sugar-free products, in the 1970s and 1980s these products were hard to find--if they existed at all! Consequently, I find many deserts too sweet for my not-so-sweet tooth, even those made from scratch following traditional recipes. The sweetness often seems to overpower any other flavours.

This recipe is a delicious low sugar recipe from a favourite Mennonite cookbook of mine: More-with-Less Cookbook. It is sort of like a cross between peach pie and a light cheesecake, and relies on the sweetness of the peaches to tempt the tooth. When peaches are in season, it's heavenly. Even with canned or preserved peaches, it's divine. I usually make it with yogourt instead of sour cream. Sliced peaches work just as well if you don't have halves.

Peach Kuchen
Serves 6

1 ½ cup unbleached flour
¼ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
2 tbsp sugar
½ cup butter or margarine
8-12 peach halves, canned or fresh
¼ cup sugar (or honey or maple syrup)
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 egg beaten
1 cup sour cream or yogurt

Combine flour, baking powder, salt and 2 tbsp sugar. Cut in butter. Pat mixture into the bottom of a 9” pie dish or flan pan. Place peach halves on top of pastry base, open side down. Mix the ¼ cup sugar with the cinnamon, and then sprinkle this mixture over the peaches. Bake for 15 minutes at 400 F.

Mix together the egg and sour cream or yogurt. Pour over baked peaches and bake for another 30 minutes.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Of Squash and Apples

It's been somewhat quiet at Amanda's Kitchen this week. Well, the physical kitchen has been busy preparing family feasts, which ironically means that the blog has not.

I'm still using up my pantry stock, so the food at my family celebrations this past weekend once again consisted of a lot of root vegetables and preserved foods. Browsing through my recipes, I was inspired by my recipe for Apple and Carrot Soup to try a variation with butternut squash instead of carrot. The result was fabulous. It also used up the last of my apples and squash from last season.

Butternut Squash and Apple Soup
Serves 4

1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cubed
3 cooking apples, cored and peeled
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 tsp canola oil
1 T vegan margarine
4 c. water
fresh coriander leaf

Combine the oil and margarine in a large pan. Add the onions and saute for 5 minutes. Add the butternut squash and saute for a few minutes more.

Add 4 cups of water, the apples, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes. Puree the soup in a food processor or using a hand blender until you get the desired consistency. This soup can be served silky smooth or hearty and chunky.

Pour soup into bowls and top each with croutons and fresh coriander.

For an extra rich soup, use 3 cups of water instead of four and after puréeing the soup add in a cup of full-fat milk or soy milk or light cream.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Lola Rosa Café

Last week I had the wonderful experience of having lunch at Lola Rosa Café, located at 545 Milton in the 'McGill Ghetto" district of the city. Despite its presence on the Montreal vegetarian scene for many years, I'd only recently heard about it. I'm not sure how it escape my 'veg-dar,' but it did. I can only assume that it's because I have never been a student at McGill and therefore never really had a reason to venture down Milton street.

The menu at Lola Rosa is a good sampling of world vegetarian cuisine. It's displayed on chalk boards on either side of the small gypsy-esque style dining room and features dishes like boerek, (phyllopastry triangles filled with spinach, feta, pine nuts), curry, chickpea and cabbage ragout, burritos, quiche, lasagna, veggie burgers, salads and sandwiches. It also features a list of mouth-watering deserts, including a vegan chocolate cake.

For my dining pleasure, I chose the polenta and ratatouille. The polenta was very tasty, if a bit on the heavy side, and the ratatouille was a somewhat non-traditional smooth tomato sauce with chunks of zucchini and hints of coriander. It was not quite was I was expecting--my own ratatouille is quite chunky all around--but overall it did not disappoint and was quite filling.

My dining mate was on a special diet. She explained her needs to the waiter and the kitchen had no problem coming up with a special plate for her consisting of black beans on plain rice topped with avocado. It looked and tasted wonderful. Both our meals were served with a side of salad.

At about $10 per plate, lunch is a bit expensive at Lola Rosa. However the food is well worth it and the day we went the place was packed. Dinner prices are the same as lunch. Wine and local beers are available. The cafe has also recently started serving breakfast.

In addition to being a cafe, the venue also features art from local artists on its wall. New artists are displayed every few weeks.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Quiche Glorious Quiche

So here’s my quiche story:

I was working as a prep cook and server in a very busy and quite fancy corporate cafeteria. It was an aggressive sales oriented company with a young, sometimes "over-exuberant" staff (ahem-hem). I had a reputation as being friendly and accommodating but not one to suffer fools.

One day, a huge group of corporate trainees were in the cafeteria creating chaos when over the din, one Irish bloke asked what was being served up. I gave him his choices which included a quiche Lorraine. Thinking he was being funny (and maybe not knowing what quiche was) he trotted out the old joke that ‘real men don’t eat quiche.’ “Fine,” I told him. “How about I do you a ham and cheese omelet?” He thought that would be good so I handed him a quiche plate and said” Here you go; I put it in a pie shell for you. Now &*^# @&&, ya pouf!” After the laughter died, I never had a problem with that group of trainees again. That guy and I are still friendly today!

I have made an awful lot of quiches over the years. They are great for a catering event whether as part of a buffet or as hors d’oeuvres. They can be served hot or cold and so do well for dinner, lunches, brunches, and pic-nics.

I am including here two very basic but nice quiches. Go ahead and make both at once for a dinner party and offer your guests a bit of each. I have also included instructions to turn them into quick and freezable hors d’oeuvres.

Mushroom Quiche

1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 Tbsp butter
1 cup homo milk or light cream*
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
3/4 tsp dried basil
3 eggs, beaten
1 cup grated Swiss or Emmental cheese

Line a 9 inch pie plate with dough.

In a frying pan, melt the butter over a medium-high heat and sauté the mushrooms for about 30 seconds or until they are somewhat browned on both sides. Spread mushrooms and butter evenly in the bottom of the pie shell.

Beat milk or cream, eggs, salt, pepper, basil and cheese together -just to mix- then pour into the pie shell. Bake at 375° F for 40-45 minutes. Do not over bake. Allow the quiche to cool and settle for about 5 minutes before cutting and serving.

Alternatively, you can make 12 -3 inch minis for hors d’oeuvres. I recommend buying the frozen mini pie shells available at any grocery store. Dice the mushrooms finely rather than slice them. Do not mix the cheese into the egg mixture. Place an equal measure of sautéed mushrooms in each of the shells topped by an equal measure of the grated cheese. Mix the eggs, cream and spices in a container with a pouring spout and fill up each shell. Bake at 375° F for 30 minutes. These minis freeze well and can be reheated from frozen at 350° F for about 15 minutes.

Spinach Quiche

1 small onion, minced
2 Tbsp butter
1 cup of cooked spinach, well drained or one package of frozen spinach, thawed
2 eggs + 1 egg yolk
1 cup homo milk or light cream*
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
pinch nutmeg
1/4 tsp oregano
1 cup grated Swiss or Emmental cheese

Line a 9 inch pie plate with dough.

In a medium to large frying pan, sauté the onion in the butter until soft. Add spinach and cook 2 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Beat eggs, milk and spices together. Add spinach and onion and mix well. Pour into the pie shell and bake at 375° F for 40 minutes. Check after 35 minutes as the cooking time for this quiche can vary depending on the size of your eggs.

As with the previous recipe, you can make 12 -3 inch minis for hors d’oeuvres. Do not mix the cheese or spinach into the egg mixture. Place an equal measure of spinach and cheese in each of the shells. Mix the eggs, cream and spices in a container with a pouring spout and fill up each shell. Bake at 375° F for 25-30 minutes. These minis freeze well and can be reheated from frozen at 350° F for 15 minutes.

The more fat in your cream or milk, the better the taste and texture of your quiche. I worked in a restaurant where quiches were made regularly with heavy whipping cream! (Eeeeep! Disgustingly rich, I don’t recommend trying it.) If you are fat conscious you can make quiche with lower fat milk although skim does not produce a nice pie at all. Before using anything below homogenized milk though, you should question whether you really want to eat what is basically a cheese heavy omelet in a pie shell anyway.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Stuffed Zucchini

I love zucchini and incorporate them into many of my meals. Whether as a steamed or fried side vegetable, as fillers in pasta sauces and pizza or in the case of this recipe as a main course dish, zucchini are certainly versatile.

Stuffed Zucchini

2 medium zucchini –about 6 oz (150-200g ) each
1/3 cup finely minced onion
1 small clove garlic
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsps all purpose flour
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/8 tsp pepper
1/2 cup milk
1 beaten egg
1/3 cup Parmesan or Romano cheese

Cut zucchini in half lengthwise. Simmer in boiling water for 3-4 minutes. Scoop out pulp, leaving a 1/4 inch (0.5 cm) thick shell. Set shells aside and finely chop the pulp with the clove of garlic. Set aside. Beat egg in a medium sized bowl and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, cook onion in oil until soft. Add zucchini pulp and garlic and cook 1 minute more. Stir in flour, basil and pepper. Add milk and stir until thickened and bubbly. Cook for about 1 minute longer.

Gradually add zucchini mixture to the egg in the bowl. Stir in Parmesan cheese. Spoon mixture into the zucchini shells and place them in a low-lipped baking dish.

Bake uncovered at 350°F for 25-30 minutes or until filling is lightly browned.

2 halves is a main course or 1 half as a side dish.

This recipe can be made ahead by filling the zucchini and refrigerating up to 1 day. Bake for 30-35 minutes.

Adapted from a recipe on

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Corn Scallop

The period spanning 25 years on both sides of the 20th century was one that marked a profound change in the eating habits of North Americans. This was a time when mass produced processed foodstuffs began to buckle grocers shelves. Many of the brand names and pantry staples we grew up with have their origins in this period; notably amongst many others: Kraft, Nabisco, Kellogg; Oreos, Saltines, and Campbells condensed soups. Home cooks had to learn to assimilate these products into their daily lives. Manufacturers often sponsored recipe contests urging women to come up with ways to use their goods and then published recipe booklets as marketing tools.

If you are old enough, you may remember those horrid casseroles made with condensed cream of mushroom or chicken soup, crackers, canned peas and what not that made regular and justifiably maligned appearances at the dinner table. Chances are that most of those dishes had their origins in the 30s, 40s and early 50s. Few people realise the role that these inexpensive and relatively quick types of meals played in social history. For instance, during the 2nd World War, many women had to work in the factories and fields while the men were off fighting. The advent of processed foods eased the task of feeding themselves and their children not to mention the armed forces wherever they might have been.

The recipe that follows is an example of the type of thing that would have been prepared in many North American homes in the first half of the 20th century. I have modified it to suit more modern tastes. The original called for canned creamed corn (aaaaaaagh!) but I am suggesting at the very least to use frozen organic kernels if not fresh corn in season.

Corn Scallop

3 cups of fresh cooked or frozen corn kernels (thawed)*
2 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp savory or oregano
pepper to taste
3/4 cup crushed whole wheat soda cracker crumbs
2 Tbsp melted butter
1 cup warm whole or 2% milk

Butter a 1 1/2 quart casserole dish. Beat eggs and combine with corn, seasonings and cracker crumbs. Add melted butter and fold in the hot milk. Pour into the dish and bake at 350° F for 40-45 minutes or until well set.

Serve with a salad and fresh steamed veggies.

* You can process the corn kernels briefly in a food processor if you like or leave them whole.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

St. David's Day Fare

St. David's Day is the Welsh equivalent of the better-known St. Patrick's day, which occurs later on this month. It's celebrated by Welsh around the world on March 1st. Having a spattering of Welsh in my blood as well, I often take the day, or the weekend nearest to it, to connect with some of my heritage and cook a bit of Welsh fare. It's always a pleasure since two of my favourite foods, leeks and cheese, feature prominently in many traditional Welsh recipes. This one is no exception.

Anglesey Eggs is a traditional supper dish of mashed potatoes and leeks topped with hard boiled eggs and cheese sauce. Probably not entirely healthy, but definitely tasty. In some ways it could be the Welsh equivalent to Quebecois poutine. While usually served for supper with peas, I think this makes a great brunch or hearty breakfast dish as well.

Anglesey Eggs (Wyau Ynys Môn)
Serves 4

2 oz butter, divided
1 Tbs flour
1 cup hot milk
4 oz cheddar cheese, grated
8 hard boiled eggs, just hard, halved
4 leeks, chopped and cooked
2 cups hot mashed potatoes
2 Tbs fresh breadcrumbs
Grated nutmeg
Salt and black pepper

Heat over to 350F and butter/oil an oven dish.

Make a cheese sauce by melting half the butter in a saucepan and then adding the flour, stirring it for about a minute over low heat before adding the hot milk with a whisk. Then add the cheese and stir some more, simmering until the sauce thickens.

As the sauce thickens, in a bowl, mix together the leeks, mashed potatoes, half the butter, and some salt and pepper. Put the mixture into the buttered dish. Arrange the hard boiled egg halves on top, and then pour most of the cheese mixture on top of that. Keep some of the cheese sauce back and mix it with the breadcrumbs and nutmeg. Sprinkle this crumb mixture on top of the whole thing.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until the top is browned. Don't leave it too long, otherwise the eggs go rubbery.

While leeks may be one of the national plants of Wales (the other being daffodils), they are not always available. If you can't find them, you can use onions instead. It's definitely not the same, but passable.

I sometimes add cooked chard, kale or spinach to the mashed potato mixture. I think once I even layered kale on the bottom, beneath the mashed potatoes.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Shredded Wheat-Molasses Sandwich Bread

Bread: the Staff of Life.

Well, it used to be.

Todays commercial breads are far from being the nutritional cornerstone of a healthy diet. Bread in ancient times was quite fibrous and coarse being comprised of the whole wheat including the germ- the nutritious part of the grain- not to mention bits of straw and stone that passed the milling (grinding) process. Modern milling, combined with newer strains of high gluten content processed wheat allow manufacturers to present us with the airy, glue-like loaves that stock the grocery shelves.

Specialty bakeries are now allowing us to have a greater variety of better breads and thanks be to them! But to understand why the bread of the ancients truly was the “Staff of Life”, try something like Mestemacher rye bread or one of the rival brands which are usually to be found in the deli area of larger grocery stores. Best yet is organic integral rye bread made by Boulangerie D. Dufeu available locally in Montreal in many health food stores.

The following recipe is nothing like that and nowhere near as healthy.

This is more akin to commercial sandwich bread but oh, what an improvement! I have been making this now for 20 years, having learned how from my aunt Patsy who made bread regularly. I assume she got the recipe off the side of a box of cereal.

I have written the instructions out for bread-making newbies. If this is your first attempt at bread baking, be aware that bread is as much an art as a science. Trial and error are the best teachers but don’t worry: this recipe is (almost) never-fail.

The recipe makes three loaves. “But I don’t need three loaves”, I hear you sigh.

Yes; yes, you do. It’s so decadent, I have often given this bread as much appreciated gifts.

Shredded Wheat Sandwich Bread

3 Shredded Wheat Cereal bisquits
3 cups boiling water
2 Tbsp salt
1/3 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 cup cool water
3/4 cup molasses

2 tbsp yeast in granules (not quick-rise)
1 cup lukewarm water
1 tsp sugar

6- 8 cups unbleached flour or more
extra shortening

Have a large portion of your counter or table top cleared and cleaned in preparation for the kneading.

Combine the ingredients from the shredded wheat bisquits through to the molasses, stir together well and leave to cool until lukewarmish; about 20- 30 minutes. Stirring the mixture often will hasten the cooling.

Ten minutes or so before the bisquit mixture is cooled, set the yeast to rise by stirring the sugar into the water in a cereal bowl until it has fully dissolved. Be sure that the water is just slightly warm; too hot and it kills the yeast, too cool and the yeast will not be activated. Sprinkle the yeast over the top of the water. Using a fork, mix it very gently into the water for only 5 seconds or so. The yeast is ready when it creates a large foamy mushroom on top of the water in about ten minutes.

Turn your radio on or whatever- it really helps at this point.

Place 7 cups of flour in a very large bowl- personally, I use my Dutch oven. Make a well or hole in the middle of the flour and pour the risen yeast into it. Use a spatula and blend the yeast into the flour as much as possible. Add the cooled bisquit mixture and with the spatula, start to mix the flour into that mess. At some point, you will have to abandon the spatula and take the dough into your hands, mixing and rolling it around the bowl to incorporate as much of the flour as possible.

When you have most of the flour worked into the dough, turn the whole bowl over and dump the whole thing onto your cleaned counter top. You may want to wash your hands at this point just to clear off all the dough chunks holding your fingers together. Start kneading the dough and crumbly remainders from the bowl together.

Kneading is done by pushing the dough down into the counter top and away from you with the palms of your hands and then pulling it back towards you with your fingers. You should count on kneading the dough a good 10-15 minutes. You will want to give the dough a quarter turn from time to time and fold it over onto itself. Working from your shoulders and center of gravity in your belly will make the effort less tiring and actually feel good.

As the flour becomes incorporated, you will see that the dough ball will start to become tacky and pull up from the counter in a rather ragged way. This is a sign that you should add more flour- usually in small increments; from 2 Tbsps to 1/4 cup. Dust it over the ball and around it on the counter and knead some more. Continue this process until the dough exhibits the following characteristics:

• It is heavy and fairly stiff.
• There is no dry flour showing anywhere.
• The ball holds together well and the surface has a smooth texture. If you see what appear to be stretched out holes, add a couple of tablespoons of flour and continue kneading. That said, this bread dough is not that fussy, so don’t drive yourself crazy if there are just a couple very shallow ones to be found.

If these conditions are met, pat the ball into a nice round ball. Get a very big, clean bowl. (I scrub out my Dutch oven, dry it well and use that.) Grab a scant tablespoon or so of shortening with your fingers and rub it evenly over the dough ball in a thin layer. Place the ball in the bowl and roll it around to coat the sides of the ball with the shortening. Cover the top of the bowl with plastic wrap or alternatively use a slightly damp, clean cloth. If you choose the latter, you may want to gently peel the cloth off the dough every 1/2 hour or so, remoisten and wring it out before replacing it.

Leave the dough to rise in a warm place for 45 minutes to an hour or maybe more until it has doubled in bulk.

When ready, punch down the dough to deflate it. Put it back on the counter top and knead it gently a minute or two, only to press all the gas out of it. Try not to let the dough fold onto itself as the folds at this point will appear in your finished loaves and may make your slices fall apart. Don’t panic if it happens though. All is OK.

At this point, you can make loaves or rolls or portion the dough out for freezing..

For loaves:

Have three 5 x 9 inch loaf pans lightly greased with shortening and at the ready.
Divide the dough into three equal parts by cutting through with a knife. Gently roll each portion into smooth, oblong shapes, trying not to create any folds. Grease your hands with some shortening and rub over the loaves then place them in the pans. Place the smoothest sides up. Cover as before and set aside to rise until doubled again. The dough should have expanded into the corners of the pans and be peeking above the sides by an inch or so.

For rolls:

You can use any size pan you like, (probably not bigger than a 9 x 9 though) lightly greased. With well greased hands, tear off a piece of dough about the size of a small apple or lemon. Roll it out smooth in your hands and then fold it over pushing your thumbs up into its center. This should make a mushroom cap looking ball. Push it together firmly at the sides and place it in one corner of the pan. Continue with the rest of the dough, greasing your hands with each ball and placing them side by side in your pans.

Cover and leave to rise until doubled. The rolls should be all squashed together when ready.

To freeze:

Divide dough into desired portions, grease and wrap in plastic wrap. When fully frozen, wrap again in tin foil.

To bake:

Place the oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat oven to 350°F.

Place risen loaves or rolls in the oven and bake for 1/2 hour, turning the pans around once at about the half-way mark. The tops of the loaves should be nicely brown when ready. Remove from oven and place the pans on wire racks. Rub the tops immediately with shortening on wax paper to make them soft. Leave to cool in pans about ten minutes then turn out and let cool on the racks. Baked loaves can be frozen.

If using frozen dough, allow to thaw completely at room temperature then place in greased pans and let rise until double in a warm place. This may take longer than with fresh dough. Bake as above.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Red Beans and Rice

This recipe has become one of my standards over the last few years. It’s cheap, easy, tasty as left-overs and I am always sure to have the ingredients on hand. I have never really measured anything when I make this but I have written down fairly closely the proportions I use.

Red Beans and Rice

1-2 Tbsps olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1 Tbsp organic Mexican chili powder*
2 tsps cumin seed, ground
1 28oz can tomatoes
2 tsps dried oregano
1 can kidney or black beans, drained and rinsed or 2 cups cooked
1 small zucchini, diced
salt to taste
hot chilis to taste, optional

Heat the oil in a large frying pan on a low flame. Add the onion and fry until slightly softened then add the garlic and stir fry for about a minute. Sprinkle in the ground cumin and stir fry 15 seconds or so then add the Mexican chili powder and fry a few seconds more. Add the tomatoes with the juice, breaking them up with your spoon. Add the oregano and hot chilies if desired then leave on low heat to simmer for a good hour or so, stirring now and then. When the sauce is beginning to thicken nicely, add the drained beans and diced zucchini. Continue to simmer for another 30 minutes or so until quite thick. Season with salt to taste (1/4-1/2 tsp should be plenty.)

Serve on brown rice.
Sprinkle with cheddar cheese, (optional).

Makes 4 servings.

* Organic Mexican chili powder -found in many health food stores- is a radically different product than the commercial type you find in regular grocery stores. Commercial brands often have anti-caking agents, sugar, fillers and dyes added. The taste is quite different as well. Go for the good stuff!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Butternut Risotto

This recipe for risotto with butternut squash and sage is one of my favourite butternut squash recipes as well as one of my favourite risotto recipes. I adapted it from The One-dish Vegetarian and have been cooking it for years.

I'd like to say the recipe is easy, but like any risotto it's quite time consuming and demands a lot of attention. The creaminess in a risotto is created by slowly adding the liquid to the arborio rice over its cooking period and stirring the rice almost constantly. It's a labour intense process but well worth the effort.

For a whole grain version of this recipe, Lundberg short grain brown rice seems to work quite well in place of the arborio rice, although the result is somewhat less creamy and the overall cooking time is considerably longer.

Risotto With Butternut Squash and Sage
Lacto withVegan Option
Serves 4

1 medium butternut squash (1 1/2 pounds)
1 tablespoon olive oil
18 sage leaves, 12 whole, 6 shredded
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
7 cups vegetable broth
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, vegan margarine, or oil divided
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cups arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine or cider
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut squash into chunks and scrape out seeds and strings. Peel with a paring knife or vegetable peeler and cut into 1/2-inch cubes. Toss squash cubes with 1 tablespoon olive oil and place in a baking pan with 12 whole sage leaves and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes, turning occasionally with a spatula, until the squash is tender and starting to brown around the edges. Remove from oven and let cool, discarding any sage leaves that are burned.

While squash is roasting: In a saucepan, bring the broth to a simmer. Keep it barely simmering on medium-low heat while you make the risotto.

In a heavy 4-quart casserole or pot, heat 2 tablespoons butter/margarine and the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and the shredded sage and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes, until the onion begins to soften. Add the rice and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, about 2 minutes to coat rice with oil.

When grains become slightly translucent, add the wine/cider and cook, stirring, until the liquid is absorbed. Add 1 cup hot broth, stirring frequently until the liquid is almost absorbed, then continue adding broth, a little over 1/2 cup at a time, stirring until is almost completely absorbed. Adjust the heat so the risotto is always at a gentle simmer.

After 15 minutes, stir in the roasted squash and continue adding the broth and stirring for another 3 to 5 minutes, until the rice is still firm to the bite but creamy. Stir in the final 1/4 cup remaining broth and turn off the heat.

Add the remaining 1 tablespoon butter or margarine and the Parmesan (optional) and stir to combine. Serve as soon as possible, with additional Parmesan at the table.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Low Fat Buckwheat Pancakes

These delicious pancakes are wheat and gluten free for those with food intolerances. I am not sure where I found this recipe but have been making them for years. Try making extras and keeping them wrapped in the refrigerator or freezer. Pop them in the toaster when you want a quick breakfast without the muss and fuss.

Low-Fat Buckwheat Pancakes

1 large ripe banana
4 egg whites or 2 whole organic eggs
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup milk, soy or rice milk
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup blueberries, optional
1/4 tsp sea salt, optional
1 Tbsp carob powder, optional
1 Tbsp dried coconut, optional

With a fork, mash the banana lightly. Add the eggs, flour, baking powder, milk, cinnamon and vanilla. Fold in the blueberries. Cook pancakes in a lightly oiled pan. Turn when edges become brown and the pancake is pock-marked. Serve with extra banana, blueberries, a light drizzle of maple syrup. Makes 4.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Garlicky Black Bean Soup

I don’t remember where I found this great soup recipe but surely somewhere on the internet. Quick and hearty, this a simple fix on a cold day. The original suggested garnishing each bowl with both cheddar cheese and sour cream but I omit both and find it very satisfying anyway. Feel free to go for it if you like.

Black Bean Soup

2 tsp olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 medium carrot, diced
5 cloves of garlic, crushed and divided in two portions
1 tsp cumin
black pepper to taste
1/2 tsp salt
1 jalapeño pepper, seeds scraped and set aside, flesh scraped of pith and diced
1 can black beans with liquid or two cups with ½ cup cooking liquid
3/4 cup orange juice
2 Italian tomatoes, diced

optional toppings:

grated cheddar cheese
red or green onion, diced, fine
chopped cilantro
sour cream

In a medium saucepan, sauté the onion, carrot and half the garlic in the olive oil over low heat until very tender; about 5-10 minutes. Add the diced jalapeño pepper and seeds with the rest of the garlic, cumin, pepper and salt and sauté another 2 minutes. Add the cooked beans and mix thoroughly.

Add in the orange juice and tomatoes. Pureé some or all of the soup in a food processor then return to the pot.

If you prefer a thinner soup, add a cup of water. Simmer over medium-low heat for 10-15 minutes. Ladle into bowls, add selected toppings and serve.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentine Vegan Sweet

If you're still looking for a quick and decadent-tasting vegan desert to share with a special person this evening, here is one of my favorites: Vegan Chocoloate Pudding. It uses silken tofu (like Mori-Nu brand, available at most grocery stores) as its base, although you'd never know it. (And indeed, it has fooled many.) It's also very easy to adjust how sweet or chocolatey the pudding turns out by increasing or decreasing the cocoa or maple syrup quantities.

Quick Vegan Chocolate Pudding
Serves 4

1 pkge (10 oz) firm or extra-firm silken tofu
1/2 to 1 c. maple syrup (to taste; can substitute honey)
3/4 c. cocoa powder (ad more for extra rich chocolate taste)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth.
Pour into serving bowl(s).
Chill and serve.

Serve plain, with fresh fruit or with a fruit compote.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Red Lentil Soup

This lentil soup is one of my stand-bys for a quick meal when I am not really in the mood to cook. No need of veggie stock, it uses spices to jazz itself up. I add leftover steamed veggies at the end of the cooking just to heat through, giving me a filling, nutritious lunch or supper. This is even better the next day as the lentils thicken further when chilled. Reheated and served over rice, it makes a tasty dhal!

Red Lentil Soup

4 Tbsp butter or ghee
1 medium onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 Tbsp coriander
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground fenugreek
1/4 tsp cayenne
2” piece of cinnamon stick

1 cup red lentils
5 cups water
2 tbsp tomato paste
salt to taste
juice of 1 lemon

In a medium to large saucepan, sauté onion and garlic over low heat until golden. Add spices and cook about 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add washed and drained lentils, water, tomato paste and salt to taste. Cover and simmer 30 minutes.

When ready, mash a few lentils against the side of the pan. Remove the cinnamon stick, add lemon juice and serve.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Cheese Soufflé

If you invite someone over for lunch -or say, a romantic Valentines dinner- and inform them that you are preparing a cheese soufflé, chances are their eyes will light up with respect (and possibly lust) at your apparent culinary genius.

Let’s leave them to believe that, shall we?

I was making this before I hit puberty. Since it was a family favourite it was one of the first things my mother taught me to cook. It’s quick, easy and delicious.

Easy Cheese Soufflé

1 1/2 cups soft white commercial bread shreds- about 1/2 to 1 inch in size.
1 1/2 cups shredded medium-sharp cheddar *
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp dry mustard
1/4 tsp curry powder- yep: the crap commercial kind
1 cup hot milk
3 eggs, separated

Butter a 1 1/2 quart baking dish. Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix the bread shreds, cheese and seasonings.
Beat the egg whites until the form stiff peaks and the yolks until blended.
Pour milk on top of bread mixture and mix.
Add egg yolks and mix.
Very gently fold in the egg whites with a spatula. Don’t overdo it; globs of egg white are ok- just try to have an overall yellowish cast to the mess.

Pour into the buttered dish and bake at 350°F for 30 minutes (and not one minute longer!) until puffed and golden. Soufflés will deflate fairly quickly- you have less than five minutes for optimal appearance. I suggest starting your meal with a nice soup while the soufflé is baking. Serve immediately when done with assorted salads, sliced baguette, pickles etc..

* I’m not a big fan of food additives, even ones like colours but in this case, the orange cheddar makes this soufflé much more appetizing.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Korean-Style Winter Salad

Another vegetable that my CSA is providing to me in abundance this winter is daikon radish. Before my winter CSA, I had never really cooked with daikon radish, and didn't really know much about it except that it was a big, long, white Asian root vegetable from the radish family. Since then I've tried a few recipes that used daikon radish, but this one is by far my favorite. It is liberally adapted from Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian cookbook.

In the original recipe, Madhur Jaffey includes julienned Kohlrabi for this salad. Add it if you have it. The nappa cabbage is my own addition, and once again stems from what comes in my CSA box. The week I originally made this salad I had no kohlrabi, but loads of cabbage that I needed to use up. I must say that I was more than pleased with the results.

Korean-Style Winter Salad
Serves 4-6

2 medium carrots, peeled and julienned
5 inch chunk of daikon (about 1 cup), julienned
2 cups nappa or Chinese cabbage
1 tsp salt
2 tsp low-sodium soy sauce or tamari
2 tsp seasoned rice vinegar
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
2 tsp roasted sesame oil

The carrot and daikon should be julienned to about 2 X 1/16 X 1/16 inch; in other words quite fine. Toss the julienned carrot and daikon with the salt and let the mixture sit for about 30 minutes, until the vegetables are wilted. Drain, rinse with water, and drain again. Pat dry.

While the veggies are wilting, in a small bowl mix together the soy sauce, vinegar, crushed pepper and sesame oil. Set aside to allows flavours to blend.

In a medium bowl, toss together the nappa cabbage, daikon and carrots and the soy sauce mixture. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

This salad makes a nice side to baked marinaded tofu for an evening meal, or as a side to a sandwich for a portable lunch. I also suspect that this recipe would work really well if lightly steamed broccoli was substituted for the nappa cabbage.

Friday, February 1, 2008

About Vegetable Stock

A good, rich vegetable stock is indispensable. Although decent commercial veggie stock can now be bought in most grocery stores, making your own is easy, practical and can even be creative.

In the Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites cook book, they offer this advice: “The only vegetables to avoid are tomatoes, eggplants, bell peppers, asparagus, and all of those in the cabbage family, such as broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. If you scrub the vegetables, there is no need to peel them.”

I would agree with that list and add to it; no bitter veggies like turnip and use beets judiciously depending on whether you want a sweetish (and purplish) stock or not. Barring those listed, you can use a combination of pretty much anything you have at hand. Many people keep their vegetable peelings and cuttings in a bag in the freezer in readiness for the day they will be added to the stock pot.

Personally, I like a very deep flavoured stock and to achieve that end, I often roast some my veggies.

Here’s what I do ( I have a huge stock pot):

In a large roasting pan (with a rack if you have one), place:

3-4 large carrots
2 medium-large white potatoes
2 medium-large sweet potatoes
3 stalks celery
2-3 parsnips
2-3 medium onions
1 whole head of garlic
a package of cremini (coffee) mushrooms

Roasting at 400°F in the middle of the oven for around 20 minutes. You can, if you like, lightly oil the carrots, potatoes and parsnips to help brown them a bit.

When the veggies are starting to get fragrant, remove from oven and place in the stock pot. At this point, you can add any cuttings and peelings you may have stored and/or some green beans, pea-pods, or any other handy green veggies.

Definitely add:
another head or two of garlic
any more mushrooms you have around
some fresh parsley
2 bay leaves
2-4 Tbsp of cumin seeds or more
2-4 Tbsp or more of coriander seeds
1 Tbsp peppercorns

Cover with water by an inch or two. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer 45-60 minutes or as long as three hours, depending on how much water you have used and how concentrated you want your stock to be. Using a slotted spoon, remove all the veggies (give the onions, and garlic a bit of a press with another spoon to extract some of their juices) and as much of the spices as you can. Strain the stock through a tight-weave cloth (I have an unbleached cotton tea-towel for just this purpose). Freeze when cooled or use. Add salt to taste when using.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Myth of Meat

Many people, when they think of food, think of meat. It is the center around which they plan their meals. For many, a vegetarian meal is unthinkable, especially to those who rarely or never eat fruit and vegetables at all. In Western culture, particularly in North America, there is a tendency to think of vegetarianism as an “alternative” lifestyle.

Historically though, meat was not a part of the average Europeans daily diet until well into the modern times when technology and scientific understanding began to reshape farming methods and increase crop yields. In fact, with the exceptions of peoples living in very Northern climates or in hunter/gatherer societies, most settled peoples throughout time have lived primarily on a regionally based variety of grains, legumes, pulses, dairy products and eggs with a bit of meat, fruit and vegetables thrown in when seasonably available. A detailed description of the farming and husbandry practices of the Middle Ages can be found in English Farming Past and Present, 5th Edition, by Lord Ernle.

The following recipe, while not a bona fide Middle Age dish, is certainly one that has characteristics that evoke that era. A grain-based meal with root vegetables, cabbage, nuts and cheese would not have been uncommon at this time of the year.

This has been adapted from Vermont ETV Cooks, a fund raising show that aired many years ago.

Roasted Vegetable and Barley Stew with Walnut Pesto

Stew ingredients

1 cup pot or hulled barley*
7 cups of vegetable stock
1/2 cup leek or onion, diced
1/2 cup carrot, diced
1/2 cup parsnip, diced
1/2 cup turnip, diced
1/2 cup celery, diced
1/2 cup cabbage, chopped
1/2 cup green beans, chopped
2 Tbsps olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper

1/4-1/3 cup tomato paste
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried savoury
1/2 tsp dried rosemary, crushed

Pesto Ingredients

2/3 cup walnuts
1 cup parsley leaves
1 large clove garlic, pressed
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp grated parmesan
1/2 tsp black pepper
2-3 tsps lemon juice

Preheat oven to 375°F. Place rack in the middle of the oven. Spread the barley on a cookie sheet and toast for 5 minutes until slightly browned and aromatic. Be careful not to let the barley burn; shake the pan every minute or so.

Bring the stick to a boil, add toasted barley and simmer covered for 25 minutes. While the barley is cooking, toss together the veggies with the oil and salt and pepper. Spread in a single layer on the cookie sheet and roast for 15 minutes or until lightly golden.

When the barley has cooked for 25 minutes, add the roasted vegetables, tomato paste and herbs and simmer uncovered 20 minutes or until the liquid has reduced to a thick stew-like consistency.

Meanwhile, combine the pesto ingredients in a food processor and grind until well blended but still coarse in texture. Fold pesto into the barley stew at the end of the cooking period, adjusting salt to taste.

* Barley is sold in three basic states; pearl, pot or hulled. Pearl or polished barley is the grain that has had the bran mechanically removed. Pot or scotch barley is somewhat less refined but still healthier and a more flavourful choice than the pearl barley. Hulled barley is the grain that has only had the tough outer husk removed and is very nutritious and a good source of fiber. It is usually only found in health food stores. If you use this form of barley, you may need to increase the cooking time and liquid. I usually use this type but haven’t yet tried in in this recipe.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Again With the Beets!

I'm still working my way through the beetroot from my winter CSA. This week I adapted a recipe for cream of beet, potato and leek soup that I found in Harrowsmith magazine.

For a plant that is believed to have originated in Northern Africa, it certainly has adapted well to harsher climates, and it is actually a very nutritious choice for the winter months. It's an excellent source of potassium and vitamin A, and also s source of vitamin C, magnesium, riboflavin, iron, zinc, and folate. Beetroot is also believed to help keep colds at bay.

Cream of Beetroot, Potato and Leek Soup
Serves 6-8

4 medium beetrot
2 Tbs butter or vegan margarine or oil
2 leeks, white parts only, chopped
1 onion, chopped
4 potatoes, coarsely diced
3 cups vegetable stock
1 cup natural apple juice (or stock)
1/2 cup soy or regular milk (not low fat; cream okay)
salt and pepper
4-6 oz crumbled coltswold, blue or stilton cheese

In a medium saucepan, boil the beets for about 25 minutes or until tender. Drain and cool in cold water. Slice off the tops and bottoms. Slip off the skins and chop the beetroot coarsely.

While the beetroot are boiling, melt the buttter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and leaks. Saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the potatoes and stock. Bring to a boild. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Add the apple juice.

By now the beetroot should be ready. Add it to the potato and leek mixture. Using a hand blender, puree the soup. (If using a traditional blender or food processor, then puree in small batches. This soup is thick.) Add the milk or cream. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Allow soup to simmer until it is hot again.

Ladle soup in bowls. Top with crumbled cheese and serve. Another serving option is to swirl yogourt ot cream in with the soup. (Or perhaps try both!)

The original recipe called for blue cheese. I used Cotswold, because that's what I had on hand. I also suspect that stilton would be fabulous in this recipe.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Michael's Black Bean and Lemon Salsa Burritos

Hello everyone! I thought I would start off my posting career here at Amanda's Kitchen Blog with one of my favorite and most appreciated recipes.

A few blocks away from me on Sherbrooke in NDG is a shoe-box restaurant called "Burritoville" which has a small but excellent menu of vegetarian, organic Mexican food. Owned and run by the ever-friendly Johno and his wife Ruby, Burritoville is a vegetarian oasis in a neighborhood sadly bereft of healthy food options. I often drop in and order a sweet potato burrito on those occasions when I am not in the mood to cook.

Inspired by Johno’s burritos, I developed my own--very different--recipe about a year ago. Unlike popping in to Burritoville, making the sauce is time consuming but well worth the wait. The intense lemon flavour of the sauce combines well with the brown rice, sharp cheddar and refried black beans. This has been a great hit with guests and because everything can be made ahead, reheated and assembled at the last minute, this recipe makes for an easy dinner party meal with a salad, some pickles, hot sauces (la Costena brand chipotle sauce is excellent with these) and guacamole with tortilla chips.

Also, a word about organics; aside from all the health and environmental benefits of organic and natural products, the truth is that not everyone can afford to eat all organic all the time. If you can, please do so. If not, please note that when I suggest that something be organic, it is usually because I have found that the non-organic equivalent is very markedly inferior in taste or texture and changes the over-all character of the recipe.

Lemon-Cumin Salsa

2- 28 oz cans of Italian tomatoes
2 largish onions, chopped (at least 2 cups worth)
2-4 cloves garlic, pressed- to taste
1 ½ cups freshly squeezed lemon juice*
2 medium jalapeno peppers, deveined, and minced with seeds
½ tsp pepper
2-3 tsp cumin seeds or more to taste; pan roasted, and ground finely in a mortar**
1 tsp organic sea salt***
organic sugar preferably sucanat, to taste (to reduce acidity)

Combine all ingredients up to but not including the salt and sugar in a saucepan, bring to a boil then simmer on a very low heat until extremely thick- a wooden spoon should stand in it. This may take 3-4 hours depending on the size pot you use. Stir every 15 minutes or so to avoid burning. Expect the sauce to be reduced by 1/3 - 1/2 in volume. Add 1/2 tsp of salt and taste. Add sugar by the teaspoon and taste after each addition- you just want to reduce the acidity, not make the sauce sweet so go easy. Add remainder of salt if needed. The flavour of the sauce should be bold to stand out in the finished burrito.This sauce does not freeze well- the lemon flavour dies off, but left-over sauce is great with tortilla chips and melted cheese as a snack.

*Use fresh squeezed lemon juice, not the bottled essence of long dead lemons. It really does make all the difference!

** Pre-ground cumin may be used but cumin is one spice that is easy to dry roast in a pan over low heat for 3-4 minutes and to grind yourself. The flavour is much better than store bought spice that has been sitting around awhile.

*** I strongly urge everyone to use unbleached organic sea-salt exclusively in cooking. It must be gray in colour which indicates that the natural minerals are still present. Aside from being denatured, bleached or white salt has an acrid taste which you will notice in everything made with it once you switch to the good stuff.

Sesame Refried Black Beans

1 can (540ml-19oz) black beans, drained with liquid reserved.*
2 Tbsp organic sesame oil (I use Soleil D’Or brand)
1 cup diced onion
3 cloves garlic, pressed
1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds or more to taste; pan roasted, and ground finely in a mortar
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp organic sea-salt- or to taste

Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Add onion and fry gently until well softened. Add garlic and fry 1 minute or so. Add cumin and pepper. Stir in 2-3 times then add the drained black beans and 1/2 cup of the reserved liquid. Add water if there wasn’t enough. Using a potato masher or the back of a large wooden spoon, mash the beans well. Cook over a medium heat, stirring frequently until the liquid is mostly absorbed but the beans are still spreadable. Add salt as desired. A good rule of thumb is when you start to see that the beans do not quickly flow back into place after you have stirred them, they are probably about right.

Use the beans right away in your burritos or if made ahead, reheat gently in a frying pan with a little extra water until bubbling and warm.

* Clic Brand is the only non-organic brand I have found that do not use EDTA in their canned black beans; I recommend them. If you prefer to soak and cook your own beans--more power to you! You will need about 2 cups of cooked beans.

To Assemble the Burritos

You will need:
1 recipe Lemon-Cumin Salsa
1 recipe Sesame Refried Black Beans
Cooked, hot brown rice
Grated medium or sharp cheddar cheese
Large wheat tortillas--I use whole wheat/flax ones
wax paper or time foil to wrap-–optional

Using a large, dry frying pan or griddle, warm a tortilla for a few seconds on each side. Place a large dollop of black beans in the center and spread out in a strip about two inches wide that goes from the top of the tortilla to about 2/3 of the way down it. Add about 1/3- 1/2 cup of brown rice and spread out on top of the refried beans. Cover the rice with a couple of spoonfuls of the sauce- be generous but not so much so that it becomes too slurpy- it will make it too difficult to hold and eat. Top sauce with 2-3 Tbsps grated cheddar.

Note: Try not to go overboard loading the tortillas--if you can’t fold them over enough, eating them will be definitely tricky and messy! Fold the empty bottom of the tortilla up over the layered ingredients. Pull one side of the tortilla over snugly and then the other, wrapping it up gently but firmly. If desired, wrap the bottom half of the burrito in wax paper or tin foil to facilitate holding. You may want to tap the bottoms of the burritos on the counter a couple times to tamp down the filling.

Make sure you have plenty of fixings on hand. Hearty as they are, many people want two.

Live, Love and Be Well!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

New Contributor

I'd like to welcome my long-time friend Michael as a new contributor to this blog.

Michael and I have been friends since we were four years old, and have been cooking together almost as long. Michael shares my love of cooking, eating and creating mouth-watering recipes that are simple to prepare and accessible; and I'm delighted that we can continue to share this life-long passion together on the pages of this blog. Michael's approach to vegetarian cooking is slightly different than mine, so I'm anticipating that this collaboration will also bring a a slightly different perspective on vegetarian cooking than the one I have been offering on my website for almost ten years now (although only recently in blog format).

Welcome Michael!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Mash It Up!

Root vegetable mashes are a staple of mine over these winter months. Root vegetables can be harvested late in the season (some can even over-winter), and they store well in a cool, dark place. Mine are stored in a 'cold room' that I created in my basement stairwell to the outside.

The trick with root mashes is to be creative. My mother layers a root mash of celeriac, turnip and potato with cheese. I added to this to a quick fry-up of black beans, garlic, onion and leek. I layered a casserole dish with mash, bean mixture, cheese, mash and cheese; then I baked it until heated through and the cheese was bubbly.

Mashes can also replace the tops on traditional potato-topped casseroles like shepherd's or shepherdess' pie.

If you cook up an lot of mash and have some left over: Turn it into soup. Simply add some soy milk to it and reheat! Or vary it up by also adding some spinach, kale, chard or cauliflower. Or a bit of curry powder.

So get creative; find some roots; and mix and mash!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

It's All about the Beets

This week was all about beetroot.

I had been accumulating quite a few bags of beetroot thanks to our weekly CSA. This week I tackled it, making pickled beets and Russian borscht. I won't know how the pickles taste for a few weeks, since they need time to marinate. I discovered as I was slicing the beets to put in the jars that some of them hadn't cooked right through, so I'm somewhat curious to see what will happen. The borscht, on the other hand, I could eat right away. Always tasty.

Here are the recipes I used.

Basic Pickled Beetroot
Made 3 20-oz (600mL) jars

4 lbs (1.8 kg) beetroot
3 cups (750 mL) white vinegar
1 cup (250 mL) filtered water
1 cup (250 mL) 'white' cane sugar
3-4 Tbs (45-60 mL) pickling spice mix

Wash jars and lids. Put jars upright into a pan of water so that the jars are completely covered by the water. Bring water to a boil, then reduce to heat to keep water hot but not boiling.

Meanwhile, put whole, unpeeled beetroot into a saucepan of water. Bring water to a boil and cook until the beets are tender. if you have different sizes of beetroot, you may want to sort them by size into different saucepans.

As the beets are cooking prepare the pickling mix. Combine the vinegar, water and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Add the spice mix. (I just add them directly to the liquid, but some people prefer to tie the spices in a spice bag that they can remove before putting the liquid into the jars. The choice is yours.) Cover and boil gently for 15 minutes.

When the beets are done, drain and rinse in cold water. Remove the top and tap root, and slip off the skin. If the skin doesn't slip off easily, scrape it off. Slice or quarter the beetroot.

Put jar lids (not rims) into hot (not boiling water) until ready to use.

Remove a jar from water bath. Using a canning funnel, fill the jar with beetroot to within 3/4 inch (2 cm) of top. Next add hot pickling mix to within 1/2 inch (1 cm) of the top, so that it completely cover the beets. Wipe the rim of the jar if necessary, put the lid on it, and gently screw the rim on. Do not overtighten. Repeat for next jar.

Can by putting the jars back into the hot water (keep the jars upright), making sure that there is at least 1 inch (2 cm) of water above the top of the jars, bringing the water to a boil, and boiling the jars for 30 minutes. Remove the jars, always keeping the upright, and allow them to cool, undisturbed, on the counter for 24 hours. You should here (and see) the lids 'pop' down in the centre, indicating that the jar is sealed.

For more information on canning, go here. Actually, go there and rad the safety info on canning before you start the process.

I used 3 big jars (old pasta sauce jars) for this recipe, but it could easily be done with 6-8 8 oz (250 mL) jars.

Russian Borscht
Serves 4-6

There are as many recipes for borscht as regions in eastern Europe. This is my own recipe adapted from the Moosewood Cookbook based on borscht served to me at a variety of restaurants and the homes of eastern European friends.

1 cup sliced or diced potato
1-2 lbs of beetroot
4 cups water
2 Tbs oil or butter
1 1/2 cups of onion, sliced or diced
1 medium carrot, sliced
2-4 cups of shredded cabbage
1 tsp caraway seeds
salt and fresh pepper to taste
1 tsp dill or 1/2 cup fresh
1-2 Tbs cider vinegar or lemon juice
2 Tbs honey (or maple syrup)
1 cup crushed tomatoes or low-sodium tomato or vegetable juice

Scrub beetroot and place in a pot with the water. Bring to a boil and cook beets until tender.

as the beets are boiling, heat oil or melt butter in a large saucepan. add the onions and caraway seeds. Cook until the onions are tender. Then add the carrots, potato, cabbage and the cooking water from the beetroot. (At this point the beetroot should be cooked.) Cook until the veggies are tender.

Rinse beets in cold water. Remove the top and tap root, and slip off the skin. If the skin doesn't slip off easily, scrape it off. Slice and dice (I use a combination of both) the beetroot. Add to the soup pot.

Add the dill, salt and pepper, vinegar or lemon juice, honey and crushed tomato. Simmer for at least 15 minutes. taste occasionally to adjust seasonings, if necessary.

Serve hot, garnished with yogourt or sour cream and dill.

The quantities on this recipe are pretty loose.If you like a real beety borscht, use more beetroot. If you love cabbage in borscht, use more, if not use less.