Work With What You’ve Got

Farmer’s market fresh! One thing about summertime trips to the market is that (in the words of my grandfather), your eyes can be bigger than your belly. That’s sort of what happened with the basket of fresh peaches we picked up on Tuesday. To be more specific, it was our capacity to consume them before they hit their tipping point. We’re surrounded by overripe fruit, and so there are peaches in every meal. To top it off, we had a surfeit of cheese, left with us by some departing guests. What to do?

When I have a host of items that need to be used, one of my first thoughts is always salad. It’s a go-to when vegetables are in season. This one started with a vinaigrette of homemade red wine vinegar, canola oil, and Kozlik’s Balsamic Fig and Date mustard – in equal proportions. I mixed this in a large bowl, and then began adding veg – greens from the balcony garden, cucumbers, radish, and celery – but use whatever you have, like in this Kitchen Sink Salad. Then I topped it off with some walnuts, sliced peaches, and crumbled Stilton. If you’re a vegan, omit the cheese or use some chopped smoked tofu instead.

Even though I bought too many, I never get tired of too many peaches. We love them, and all the other seasonal bounty, so I’m grateful to be able to have many delicious ideas to use them up.

Granola, Granola, We Love Ya, Granola…!

About five years ago, we went off breakfast cereal entirely. We had been working on our diets, lowering our sodium, increasing fibre, and generally getting rid of things with excessive sugar or additives. Around that time I started experimenting with various recipes – some were too sweet, others were too fatty, but bit by bit I found what works best for us.

I often get asked, “what’s the recipe?”, and the truth is, there isn’t exactly a recipe. Here’s what I do:

Preheat oven to 350F, and line two cookie sheets (whatever size you have, which is why it isn’t a recipe…) with parchment paper. This eases cleanup and makes sure nothing sticks.

On each sheet, put a layer of large flake, old fashioned rolled oats. Not the quick cooking kind! Sprinkle with some dried fruit, probably half a cup or so is enough. Some recipes suggest you stir it in at the end, but I like the toasty, caramel-y flavour it gets if you bake it in. Next, add a sprinkling of nuts or seeds. In these photos, the top one has raisins and pumpkin seeds, while the bottom one has dried apricots and walnuts. Sometimes I’ve added coconut or dried bananas; these up the calories but it’s your call!

Drizzle each sheet with 2T (30ml) of pure maple syrup (not pancake syrup, please!) and 2T of canola oil. Other oils will work but this oil is Canadian and doesn’t change the taste. Sprinkle each sheet with cinnamon and stir all of it together. I’ve made this in a bowl before, but I’m lazy about doing extra dishes, even with a dishwasher. You could make a single sheet, but if the oven is going I figure I  should use the energy wisely.

Put the sheets in the oven around the middle rack (not too high, not too low…but you know your oven best). Set the timer for 10 minutes and stir. Depending on humidity and lots of factors, the granola will take more or less time. You want  a nice toasty golden colour.

Cool this, put in mason jars and store. You don’t need a lot – a serving is about 30g or an ounce if you’re watching your calories, topped with a banana or some berries. We use soy milk on ours. It’s also lovely sprinkled on ice cream or yogurt.

Enjoy!

 

Start your day colourfully!

Delicious smoothies hide tasty produce inside. We endorse Natur-A products.

Purple Smoothie Everyone can benefit from more fruits and vegetables – and one way to get them on-the-go is by starting the day with a delicious smoothie. Today’s version turned out to be a gorgeous purple colour, but a word of warning: sometimes the results are surprisingly unappetizing in their appearance, despite amazing ingredients. For this version, for two smoothies, I used a carrot, chopped, an over-ripe banana, a cup of blackberries (mine were fresh but frozen are just as good), a shake of cinnamon, and filled the blender to the 32oz or 1l level with unsweetened, low-sodium soy beverage. The brand we always use is Natur-a.  They’re Canadian, organic, and low-sodium, which can be very hard to find in plant “milks”. Unsweetened is even more difficult, so your healthy beverage can actually be quite a sugar bomb. These taste great to drink, on cereal, and also work as a one-to-one substitute for dairy milk in most recipes.

Better For You Bread

If you’ve been following my posts for a while, you’ll remember my obsession last year with sourdough. I still love it, but the care and feeding of an infant dough all the time can be kind of time-consuming. I still follow my “no store bought loaves” rule pretty well all the time (even hamburger buns, although I don’t know the last time I actually used them for burgers). Yet I will admit to using store-bought yeast as it does speed up the process.

I’ve made lots of changes to bread that really help it be healthier than what we buy in the store. Of course, eliminating salt really helps. Yes, salt can be a regulator of the rise, but frankly, with modern yeasts, that is really rarely an issue. Keeping the amount of sugar down is just plain good for you, and using something more natural, like maple syrup, is better than a refined version. What else can I do to make the break healthier?

Recently I needed chickpea flour for a recipe – and in my neighbourhood, we have lots of neighbours from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the Middle East – all of whom rely on this staple in their cooking. That means we can get it in huge bags, very cheaply. But what to do with the rest? I tried an experiment a couple of weeks ago with my bread, and it turned out really well. The texture was not compromised; if anything it was better, and the added bonus was to increase both the fibre and protein content of the bread.

Here’s what I did:

I always start with water that has been boiled then cooled to lukewarm, because that gets rid of some of the chlorine, which can inhibit the yeast. Begin with 3 cups.

I added a tablespoon of maple syrup and sprinkled on two tablespoons of traditional yeast, not the breadmaker or instant kind. This should sit in a warm place for about 10-15 minutes until it is good and foamy. Stir it with a fork and add to a large bowl. You can mix this bread with a mixer and dough hook, or by hand with a spoon and your hands, but the batch is a little large for a food processor. You could cut the recipe in half, but it seems a waste to heat the oven for a single 8″ loaf

Many traditional recipes have fat – butter, lard, or oil, but I added none to this. I did add a cup of chickpea flour, and then 5-6 cups of 100% whole wheat flour. Add the flour a cup or two at a time, with the machine running, or with the spoon, stopping to knead in by hand when it becomes difficult. About halfway through add tasty treats if you want – this batch had sunflower seeds, but I’ve also done raisins and cinnamon or other kinds of nuts or seeds.

Knead until the flour is incorporated and you’ve used just enough that it feels elastic and not sticky – or if using the mixer, until it cleans nicely away from the sides of the bowl. Remove it from the bowl, spray the bowl with cooking oil or wipe gently with cooking oil, and put the dough back in, turning to coat. Let it rise, covered with a clean tea towel, for an hour or so (not much more, or it will deflate).

Then shape it into two loaves, or a loaf and a cookie sheet with 12 buns (divide the second half of the dough into 12 even pieces, and press or roll into discs, about 4″ or 10cm across). Cover with clean cloth and let rise for another hour. This is a great project for when you are also making soup, when you are snowed in, or when you have a long project you’re working on at home.

About 20 minutes before the end of the rising time, heat the oven to 400F. Bake your loaves about half an hour; if you make rolls, check them about 20 minutes in. Tap on the bottom and listen for a hollow sound to be sure they are done. Remove from the oven and take them out of the pans to a wire rack immediately.

The “no store bread” rule has meant I can enjoy my bread without eating too much of it, and that’s a compromise I’m willing to work for.

Alterations and substitutions: 

I have also substituted 1c/250 ml old-fashioned oats, soaked in an equal measure of hot water, for 1-1/2 c/375ml of the wheat flour.

I have used 1 c/250 ml of dark beer instead of the same amount of the water – this can make a very light loaf with a lovely flavour.

Any kinds of nuts, seeds or dried fruit can be added, about a cup or 250ml in total. Herbs, olives, or sundried tomatoes also make a very interesting bread.

 

Veggie Mushroom Chili, Step-by-Step

I love a traditional, spicy chili, slow-simmered. This is a vegan-friendly version, designed to simmer in the oven while you watch a movie, chase your kids around, or finish that report you need to get written. I hope you enjoy it. Since I get requests for recipes, I’ll walk you through it. You can most definitely adjust the proportions – this makes a large Dutch oven full, which is dinner, plus lunch, for two, and several more meals’ worth for the freezer, or just enough for a big crowd for dinner.

You’ll need:

Olive or canola oil (I am using canola these days because it is produced in Canada)

2 onions

2 cloves garlic

3 stalks celery

2 large carrots

1 green and 1 red bell pepper

1 jalapeno

2 cans or l large bowl of cooked beans, as you like (kidney are traditional, but we had chickpeas and black-eyed peas on hand)

2 cans diced tomatoes stewed without salt (large cans, 28oz.)

1 T/15ml each of chili powder, oregano, smoked paprika

1 chopped chipotle in adobo (or another jalapeno and a bit more smoky paprika)

1/4c/60ml red lentils (split peas will also work, but take longer to cook)

If you’re working alone, chop everything, then start. If you are working as a duo, chop the onions and garlic, and the other can stir and manage the cooking while one chops.

Heat the oil over medium heat. Turn the oven on to 350F

Add the onions and garlic:

Stir and sweat these until they start to get shiny, then add the celery:

 

 

 

 

 

You can use a machine to chop, but honestly, the time to chop each vegetable gives just about the right gap for the prior one to cook a little. Now for the carrots – these aren’t a traditional chili vegetable, perhaps, but they have the tremendous effect of adding a little sweetness to the chili, as do the onions as they sweat down more and more.

 

After the carrots, the peppers, the most tender of the vegetables, come last. Use any colour, but red and green give a great combination. Continue to cook until this mixture of vegetables (the “holy trinity plus” or a mirrepoix) have begun to soften nicely. Now you’re ready for the rest of the ingredients.

Tomatoes come first, then the beans. Stir everything well so you get a good mixture.

Canned beans are easy and fast, but they often have a lot of added salt, which most of us don’t need any more of in our modern diets. We get enough naturally. In the EAT section of this blog you can find a recipe to cook your own; they can also be prepared very nicely in a pressure cooker.

Adding a few red lentils will help it thicken and contribute to the meatier texture some people prefer. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bring this to a simmer over medium heat, then put it all in the oven uncovered for at least an hour. 

 

It will cook down and thicken considerably; you can let it carry on for as long as it takes until you are ready to serve. Sometimes we will make a batch of cornbread on the side, but it really didn’t need anything else. Enjoy!

I’m always grateful for the opportunity to cook together with friends or family and to have a warm, low-maintenance dinner at the ready. Freeze whatever you don’t need, and remember it’s always better on the second day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Salad Season Means To Me

Two great things for me about salad season are (a) variety and (b) surprises! We do our best to eat local produce when we can get it, and we are at the height of the #Canadian season, with lots of delicious things in abundance. I have no trouble buying lemons, or spices, or coffee, or even avocadoes from afar. But oh, the glorious greens, the field tomatoes, the cukes…who could resist?

Combine that with my efforts to eat more plant-based meals, leading to new and interesting mixtures of veg – and I’m having the best time! Today I had a Greek-salad-inspired dish with an Asian flair. That’s a real Toronto meal if I ever saw one.

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Drink Your Veggies!


There are SO many opportunities to sneak in some extra veg – like this delicious smoothie. It features red cabbage (with some peaches, mangoes, strawberries and blueberries for good measure). I topped up the blender with almond milk, a few sunflower seeds, and some cinnamon, and we were all set.

Never Underestimate the Power of Green…

If you’ve been following me for awhile, you know I am a great promoter of buying local. However it’s often darkest before the dawn, and at this time of year, when fresh local produce is just barely trickling into our stores, I have been known to give in to a moment of weakness. I had just such a moment yesterday, when I bought kale that had been trucked in, all the way from Texas. This entire smoothie is as un-local as it gets, with the kale, avocado, almond milk, frozen peach-mango-strawberry mix, cinnamon, and turmeric. 

Despite all this, and the perhaps unappealing colour, it’s delicious. In fact, it has already transformed my day. I could have been grumpy at the freezing temperature, but instead, I’m starting with a spring in my step and a smile in my tummy.

Let's root, root, root for the team!

Spring is coming, we believe, although the weather is being uncooperative. Here’s a grest dish for the last of those winter veg.

  
This is a lovely vegetable gratin. The directions are unspecific…yet easy. 

Heat the oven to 400F.

Spray a casserole dish with olive oil spray. 

Now begin…

Slice some vegetables thinly, by hand or with a mandolin or food processor.  Layer them in the bottom of the casserole. Sprinkle with herbs, pepper, nutmeg, or other tasty bits. Grate or crumble on a scanty bit of cheese (this is not a cheap discount pizza)!

Repeat for 4 to 6 layers. At learn every second layer should be a root veg, to give body to the thing. Ours was purely potato, carrot, beet and parsnip. But kale, tomato, onion or beans are great additions as long as there are sliced veg on the top and bottom.

Press the top layer down. Then, grate on some real grated Parmesan – it adds a richness that no other cheese can match.

Bake for 45 minutes with a cover, the remove the cover and give it 15 minutes more. Let it cool 5 minutes before serving. Also great served cold the next day.

On Top of Old Smokey…

We were in California this week, where roadside stands were selling avocados ten for a dollar. (Grapefruit, too!) With the skyrocketing price of produce here in Canada, this is hard to even imagine.

Friends know I am a keen “eat local, make it yourself” advocate. So I’m not going to buy a Brussels sprout that has travelled halfway across the continent when we grow them right here. On the other hand, I have no illusions that the world is going to give up coffee, tea, or spices. So today, I propose a delicious compromise.

On top of a slice of homemade wheat bread, toasted (Canada is a huge provider of wheat to the world), some locally-made Kozlik’s Old Smokey mustard. Then, an avocado (yes, even at $1.29 each, one makes two affordable breakfasts). Finally, local eggs, nicely poached. 

That’s a compromise I can live with!