Savour the flavour…

Yesterday was an absolutely stunning day here in Toronto; we took a nice long walk (about 5.7km) through the city, taking in the sights and eventually making our way to St. Lawrence Market for produce. We stopped in along the way to take in the awesome Gothic Revival Cathedral Church of St. James, with memorial plaques commemorating many of Toronto’s noted citizens. We were intrigued by the very contemporary Stations of the Cross.

To the south, we swung by Berczy Park’s new dog fountain enroute to the market. Kids and pets alike were enjoying the spraying water. We had fun finding the one cat statue amongst the dogs, and to discover just what she was looking at. (We won’t tell just now – you should check out the mystery yourself!)

The sun was blazing and hot, so by the time we arrived home, we were in the mood for something quick and cool, that wouldn’t overheat the kitchen. We put some potatoes on to cook while we enjoyed a cool beverage on our balcony and took in the sights of the neighbourhood. When they were cooked, we let them cool in the fridge while we prepared the rest of this tasty curried salad. For two, as a main course:

For the dressing, whisk in a large bowl:

3 tablespoons (45ml) mayonnaise

1/4 cup (60ml) cider vinegar

2 tablespoons (30ml) curry powder – more or less, to your taste

3 boiled potatoes, cooled and peeled, and cut into chunks

1 red pepper, diced in bite-size pieces

2 cups cooked chickpeas (or one can)

1 cup frozen green beans

1/4 cup (60ml) chopped unsalted peanuts

3 leaves basil, sliced finely

Mix all the vegetables into the salad, including the chickpeas. Divide between the plates and sprinkle with peanuts and basil. You can easily scale up this recipe to serve more people, and it keeps well in the fridge, gaining flavour as it sits. Enjoy!

Love it when a plan comes together 

It’s great to see that holiday weight coming off – and three things are responsible: planning, effort, and patience. The planning part is twofold: meal plans, and scheduling daily exercise into the routine (and pushing that with extra weights and stretching). Those who know me already know that I am an avid walker, daily, but I may forget to include weights…but then I saw a photo of how great my arms looked a couple of years ago!

Meal planning is truly the centre of it all. It keeps me from buying what I don’t need, and I double-check for things that are key to health: calories, fibre, low sugar, low sodium. This no-salt vegetarian pea soup is a great example. Breakfasts are similar most days: smoothies, oatmeal, homemade granola, and sometimes eggs. Lunch? Leftovers, soup, or salad.

Here’s the dinner menu we’ve been eating this past week – the tofu is a new try from Vegetarian Times. It’s important to incorporate new choices that fit your new lifestyle, but wholesale swings to an unfamiliar diet are frequently a recipe for disaster. Take your time, and make good changes every day.

Bok Choy with Spicy Tofu Triangles

Lentil and mushroom vegan shepherd’s pie

Black bean, corn, and zucchini enchiladas

Mom’s burger casserole

Country captain chicken 

Cashew cream pad Thai

Miso glazed salmon and bok choy

We are not vegetarians, nor vegans, but we recognize that a plant-based diet is the way to better health, better use of the Earth’s resources, and it’s absolutely better for the animals. We have slowly migrated from one vegetarian day a week to alternate days, and planning four plant based dinners helps keep us on track.

While I have your attention, don’t forget that #BellLetsTalk day is this week – let’s be sure to make time for self care on the mental health front everyday also – and please reach out to someone today and let them know you’re there for them.

What changes have you made for better physical and mental health in 2017?  

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Old Recipes, New Tools

Hummus and VeggiesHave you ever purchased a new appliance, and found yourself looking for every possible way to use it? Last year it was the spiralizer (I admit the novelty wore off just a little, although I do have a spiral meal planned very soon); this year it’s my new blender from Blendtec.

I’ve been making homemade hummus for years, using my food processor. The processor is heavy and cumbersome to get out of the cupboard, but there isn’t room for it on the counter. In the old recipe, I started by mincing a couple of cloves of garlic and the zest of half a lemon in the processor. The Blendtec didn’t do much of a job of that – not enough volume, I guess. However since I had already started the job, I decided to press on.

To that I added:

3c cooked chickpeas (drain, but be sure to reserve the cooking water) – I cook a big batch without salt and I add cumin and garlic instead, then freeze them to have on hand whenever I need them.

The juice from the 1/2 lemon

More cumin to taste – about 10ml

10ml or a heaping teaspoon of tahini

I processed this at a medium-high speed in the blender, and then added most of the reserved cooking water until I got the consistency I liked.

It was creamy, smooth, and just the way our guests expected it to be – no perceptible difference in the end product, and I’ll be able to skip a step in the process.

It keeps very well in the fridge, has a fresh taste (no salt!) and can be frozen for up to 3 months if you have more than you can use.

It’s great served with veggies, pita slices, or spread in a sandwich with some sprouts.

 

Like this, but with a local twist…

One of the most important ways to contain your food costs is to never waste. This week, we bought local produce. Yes, the cheese is imported, but we could just have easily used a local variety, if we hadn’t had to use this kind up.

Here’s a link to the original recipe – although practically every ingredient is changed. For the turnip, we used its larger purple and yellow cousin, the rutabaga. We also swapped out the beans for kidney beans we had on hand – in our case cooked without salt and a little chili powder. Red cabbage was swapped for green, and pecorino for Manchego. Even the vinegar was subbed with our homemade wine vinegar.

The result? Every bit as delicious. Vegans can easily use soy cheese,  and although the recipe suggested this as a side, it’s so good, full of fibre and colour that the two of us split it as a main.

  
Stay tuned as we find more ways to make our limited supply of local produce look fresh and exciting!

Spring Forward and Wake Up!

Adjusting to the time change? Start the day with a spicy breakfast that will wake up both you…and your taste buds. With a busy week ahead, we need to make sure we are fueled-up and energized to make the most of every opportunity.

On the plate, a healthy and budget-conscious combo – leftover olive, onion and mushroom whole wheat pizza is topped by a poached egg. We sprinkled two salt-free spice blends on top; one lemony and the other with a hint of chipotle. Sliced blood orange add a few extra vitamins and enhance flavour with a citrus note. After a week of “road food”, we’re especially grateful for a taste of home.

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With a salad, this would also be a great dinner time combination for those of you who have given up eating meat for Lent.

Secrets of the Freezer

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It’s the time of year when you really feel the urge to de-clutter…lots of household “sprucing up” projects. And then one day you look in the freezer.

So many things have accumulated over the winter. One of them, a bag of roasted beets, another, the remains of a package of phyllo. A few mushrooms, a bit of goat cheese, and voilà! Beet Wellingtons.

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Spicy Squash Soup is Hot!

This sumptuous soup started with some spicy roasted squash, adapted from a Jamie Oliver recipe. We took a hubbard squash and cut it into wedges, rubbing them with a mixture of olive oil and some delicious spicy peppers (pureed) from the farmer’s market and a bit of ground fennel and coriander. Roasted for about an hour at 400F, or until soft, we used some of them for dinner and chilled the leftovers in the fridge.

The next day, we took some of our homemade veggie broth from the fridge, and blanched half an onion and a carrot. Then we tipped in the remaining squash and let it simmer til the veg were tender, about 10 minutes. A quick blend with an immersion blender (or a potato masher will do, not quite as smoothly, in a pinch) and it was nearly ready. A cup or so of milk (we used 1% – choose your fat according to your preference) lent a creamier colour. Then we drizzled with a little fat-free Greek yogurt, and decorated with some chopped garlic chives from the urban farm. It warmed us through and through.

Smokin' Bean Salad with Sprouts

Many years ago, when our kids were young, I copied a recipe from Lucy Wing for a delicious bean salad. Over the years, it’s been changed, adapted, and adjusted (and lost!) to the point where it doesn’t even resemble the original recipe any more. But I think fondly of the days when we were discovering our “family foods”. This one gets tweaked a little every time. Here’s today’s version:

Whisk together in  a large bowl, 15ml Dijon mustard (1T), 30ml cider vinegar (2T), and 15 ml olive oil (1T). Trim and blanch very slightly, a good handful of green beans. Plunge into cold water, and cut into bite-sized piecees. Rinse about 500ml (2c) of bean sprouts and add to the bowl. Then dice a large tomato and put that in. Pit and chop (large or small, your choice) some black olives. Add 500ml (2c) of cooked white beans (I used Great Northerns, which I had cooked with onion and rosemary, earlier in the week). Lastly, cheese. something sharp. Feta works, or an aged cheddar. In this case, Plank Road had some delicious applewood smoked cheddar. For a large bowl of salad, you don’t need much – 60g (a couple of ounces) will do. Grate it in. Stir everything together, and let stand in the fridge for about 1/2 an hour (although it gets better overnight!). You can serve it as a side, but it’s really a meal. Add some homemade wholegrain bread, and you’re set!

We did have a little trouble finding bean sprouts on short notice. Next time I might just pick up some mung beans or lentils from Better Bulk and sprout my own.

You Can Never Have too Much Curry

Really, you’re thinking? Didn’t we just have curry yesterday? Well yes, that’s true. But today’s curry is a far cry from yesterday’s cousin.

In this case, it’s a “use it up” curry. There were a few veg going begging in the fridge, that needed to be used up. Sometimes the amounts you can buy at the grocer do not equal what you need for your meal plan, and you just have to recalibrate.

In the beginning, we got some brown rice cooking. We like to make a big batch and then portion it out in the freezer where it can be reheated by steam or microwave, when we don’t have a lot of time on our hands.

The curry began with a pot, a little oil (olive, in our case) an onion and some garlic. Then 4 or 5 button mushrooms, quartered. They were about to go over the edge, but still edible. We broke up the stalks of asparagus that had been sitting around for a day or two longer than absolutely ideal, and pared and chunked in a carrot.

To this, a tablespoon of the same Patak’s curry paste we used for the lamb yesterday. A little bit of white wine (also something that doesn’t register as a leftover in some households) went in the pot next.

We had two cups of cooked kidney beans and a cup of cooked chickpeas (all from Better Bulk, see our blogroll) which we tossed in. You can also check our recipes page to see how to cook dried beans of all kinds. These tipped in, juice and all.

The whole thing was set to simmering until it looked stew-y or curry-ish. Served over rice, it was awesome, vegetarian, and tasty!