Saturday, January 31, 2009

A cake that cures!

Tonight we are invited to our friends for dinner and a movie. I was thinking what to bring as a hostess gift and considered purchasing some Greek loukoumades (honey balls) from the Greek bakery. But given that we already brought some over to them during the holiday season, I decided to bake a homemade offering instead.

I had been scouring recipes on-line and decided to see what my fellow blogger 'kickpleat' had in her recipe index...I decided that the orange crumb cake sounded just perfect for this season. And, I had all the ingredients to boot! With plenty of Vitamin C - it's the perfect cake to cure what ails you!

What also excited me about this cake was that it calls for olive oil instead of butter or traditional sunflower / canola oil. If you know me, you'll know that A) I'm Greek and B) that I really enjoy olive oil and use it often in my cooking. It is not uncommon to find traditional Greek cakes made with olive oil, like this variation of an orange cake and this apple cake.

Vitamin-C Crumb Cake taken from "Everybody Likes Sandwiches"

2 c flour
1 1/2 c brown sugar
zest of 1 large orange
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t cardamom
1/4 t nutmeg
1/2 c olive oil
3 T orange juice
1 c yogurt
1 egg
1 t vanilla extract
2 t baking powder
1 t baking soda

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly butter and flour a 8 or 9 inch round or square pan. I used a springform cake pan. Set aside.

2. Stir flour, sugar, orange zest and spices in a medium sized bowl. Add oil and orange juice and stir lightly until mixture forms clumps. Remove 1 cup of this mixture for the topping and set aside.

3. In another bowl, combine the yogurt, egg, vanilla, baking powder and baking soda until blended. Add the flour mixture to the yogurt mixture, stirring until batter is smooth.

4. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 40 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean.
Now here is where my recipe differs from kickpleat's. I suggest holding off on adding the crumble topping to the cake until perhaps the last 10-15 minutes. When I added the crumble topping from the beginning, the crumb topping disappeared and sunk into the cake batter. If anyone can explain to me why this occurred, I would be very grateful.

Baking the cake released a fragrant, citrus-y aroma, which reminded me of Spring. If only Spring was near. With over 4 feet of snow on my front lawn and February 1st being tomorrow, Spring just seems light years away. Drowning your mid-winter woes in a slice of orange cake seems like the perfect way to ring in a new month.

UPDATE: I sampled the cake and it was dense and sweet with a very moist interior and a chewy exterior. The taste had a subtle orange flavour. Our hosts served the cake with ice-cream and it was the perfect accompaniment.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Fast and furious creamy spinach pasta

I usually cook a huge pot of something on Sundays and package it up for the week to have for lunch and/or dinner. It makes the start of the week easier to handle. This weekend, I did not get around to making my usual standby of assembly-line meals.

I was out most of the day on Monday and when I returned home I was famished. There was nothing to warm up and nosh on. After I devoured a can of smoked oysters with some bread, I began to think about what to make for dinner. I had less than an hour to make something before I scooted off to my Pilates class.

I decided to make spaghetti because it is fast and I had a hankering for carbs. I found this recipe for pasta with creamy spinach walnut sauce posted by eat me, delicious who adapted the original recipe from the "Moosewood Restaurant Low Fat Favourites."

Did I have any walnuts? No, but that didn't stop me. I used pine nuts instead.

The sauce, or pesto, as I like to call it was...delicious!

This is a forgiving recipe because although I only used 1 cup of cottage cheese (instead of 2 cups) and dried basil, rather than freeze-dried (not sure what that is), the sauce was not lacking in flavour or thickness.

Furthermore, I had no broccoli in the fridge so I skipped that part entirely.

But I did add a few glugs of extra virgin olive oil because I enjoy olive oil and it tastes great on pasta dishes. I guess since I added oil to this dish it can no longer be considered "low-fat."
Who cares? Let's move on...

So without further delay, here is my version to this recipe below:

3 cups packed fresh spinach
1/4 cup toasted pinenuts
1 cup low-fat cottage cheese
2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup dried basil
1/4 tsp salt
ground black pepper to taste
1/2 lb pasta

Wash and clean the spinach. Steam the spinach on medium heat for about 4 minutes. Do not over cook. Remove spinach from steam basket. Shake off excess moisture or water from spinach.

In a food processor, add the spinach, pine nuts, cottage cheese, garlic, Parmesan, basil, and salt and puree until smooth. Add pepper to taste and set aside.

Make the pasta according to package instructions. For 'al dente' cook less. For softer pasta cook longer. Drain pasta and rinse under cold water to slow down the cooking process and to keep the pasta from sticking.

Transfer the cooked pasta into a large bowl and add a few more drops of olive oil. Then ask your sous chef, er...your husband/wife/partner to add the creamy spinach pesto to the pasta as you scoot out the door for Pilates, or whatever else you are in a hurry to get to. Oh! and ask them to also take a photo of the finished meal for your blog.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Lemony Hummus Soup for the Big Baby

There is a cold bug going around and I plan to keep it at bay. My husband "J" came home early today from work saying that he wasn't feeling well.

Well, that solves the dilemma of what to make for dinner. Soup!!

The next question was what kind of soup? Well, it MUST have garlic in it. And also a good source of Vitamin C in the the form of lemon juice. And a of course a protein source like chickpeas. Perhaps a vegetable or two of some kind...onions, peppers. That's it folks! Aside from the veggie stock and the seasonings, this is the makings of a thick and creamy, lemony chickpea soup. Once you puree it, of course.

I don't know about you, but I like to have some crusty bread with my soup. I had part of a stale baguette on the kitchen counter, that I thought I would slice into little crostinis with which to scoop up the soup. I grabbed a serrated knife to slice through the very hard bread and ended up slicing my finger in the process. Ouch! I dropped what I was doing to see the wound. Once I inspected the cut and saw that it wasn't too serious, I wrapped up the finger and went back to slicing the hard bread.

At the dinner table, I dove into the soup hungrily. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the soup was good. Really good! Tasty with a pronounced lemony twang and a thick and creamy consistency and...well, really good! J agreed with me too. He quickly devoured the soup between sniffles. We decided to re-name the soup, "hummus soup" (original name being Chickpea Lemon Soup) because it was almost like eating a bowl of piping, hot hummus. In the process of talking about this soup, I had almost forgotten about my throbbing, sore finger.

And what about the bread, you ask? Well, I dunked the stale bread into the soup and allowed the steam and the heat from the soup to soften it up. Yum! I was quite content.

How could such a simple sounding soup, taste so good? I only used a short list of everyday common ingredients. Nothing fancy. And it was fast to make also. Aside from the sliced finger, I would say making this soup was a painless experience.

This is the perfect meal for a cold day, a impending cold, a finger boo-boo and a big baby. Who's the big baby? I'll let you figure that one out for yourself :)

Lemony Hummus Soup (taken from David and Rachelle Bronfman's cookbook "CalciYum!")

3 cups cooked chickpeas or 2 cans, rinsed and drained
3 cups vegetable stock
1 red bell pepper, chopped
3 small onions, chopped (I used 1 large onion)
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf (I used 2 leaves)
3 tbs lemon juice (I added more lemon juice at the end)
2 tbs chopped parsley (I omitted the parsley)
2 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper

1. In a large pot with a lid, combine all ingredients, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

2. Remove bay leaf. In batches, with a blender or food processor, puree soup until smooth (or semi-smooth in my case), returning pureed soup to pot. Heat for another 5 minutes and serve.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

In Pursuit of Warmth

As the west side of downtown Toronto is without power today, I consider myself very fortunate to be living in the east end. The weather here in Toronto for the past few days has been bitterly cold. Today is no exception with a current low of -10 degrees Celsius and dropping. As a result, I have had hearty stews on my mind lately.

I scoured the web the other day trying to find a recipe that I could prepare, and hoping that I would have all the ingredients on hand. No such luck. Then, I picked up my trusty Calci-Yum! dairy-free vegetarian cookbook that I bought over the summer. And bingo! there was THE perfect recipe staring right at me: Vegetarian Chunky Chili.

Just what I wanted: A steaming bowl of savoury, tangy chili with plenty of calcium, protein, fiber and iron. Perfect for this deep freeze we have been having in Toronto lately.

I have made this particular vegetarian chili recipe at least half a dozen times so far and I make it slightly different each time. In the past, I've used a combination of either black beans, or chick peas or red kidney beans. This time however, seeing that my pantry supply was dwindling, I used 2 cans of kidney beans only. No mix and mingle.

This chili is very tangy (as it has lots of various tomato sources) and not at all spicy - well to me it isn't. But you can always up the spice intensity, if you so desire. If you manage to have leftovers, which chances are you will (unless you are cooking for a family of five) it tastes even better the second and third day.

This recipe also calls for a block of firm crumbled tofu but again, I was out, so I used a block of silken soft tofu, which mostly dissolved in the liquid. However, there is a smattering of tiny white flecks of tofu still visible to the eye. Firmer tofu will thicken up the stew more, which I happen to prefer. Oh well. As long as the calcium is in there, I'm happy.

I also use canned tomatoes rather than fresh tomatoes because using fresh tomatoes in the dead of winter is just wrong on many levels. I find that canned whole, diced or crushed tomatoes taste better and are less acidic than fresh tomatoes. Sometimes, I also add a few plops of ketchup to sweeten things up.

On this particular occasion, making this chili was another case of 'use what you have in your pantry' recipe. Below, I've posted the original recipe straight from the cookbook, but I will also write out my substitutions, just so you can have that option should you choose to improvise. Improvising is always fun. Especially when the end result is still quite tasty.

Vegetarian Chunky Chili (taken from David & Rachelle Bronfman's book "CalciYum!")

1 (5.5 oz.) can tomato paste ( I used ketchup)
1/3 c dry red wine (I used red wine vinegar)
2 tbs Dijon mustard (I used 1 tsp powdered mustard and 1 tsp Dijon)
2 tbs soy sauce
1 tbs dried basil
2.5 tsp dried oregano
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1.5 lbs firm tofu, crumbled (I used a small block of silken soft tofu)
2 cans plum tomatoes with juice, chopped ( I used 1 can whole tomatoes and 1 can crushed)
2 tbs chili powder (feel free to increase this amount)
1 tbs olive oil (I'm Greek, so I like to use around 4 tbs olive oil)
2 small onions chopped (I used half a red onion and one leek stalk)
2 cups cooked black beans or 1 can rinsed and drained (I used 2 cans of kidney beans)
1.5 cups cooked chickpeas or 1 can rinsed and drained
1/2 cup chopped parsley
2 tbs dried coriander

1. In a bowl combine tomato paste, red wine, mustard, soy sauce, basil, oregano, and garlic; mix well. Stir in crumbled tofu. Set aside.

2. In a large pot, combine tomatoes and chili powder. Simmer over low heat, covered, for 5 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, in a large nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and saute 2 minutes. Add tofu mixture and cook for 1 more minute. Transfer to tomato chili mixture in pot; simmer stirring occasionally, for 40 minutes

4. Add beans, chickpeas, parsley and coriander. Simmer 10 minutes.

This chili definitely took the chill out of my bones.

To the thousands (nay, hundreds of thousands) of Torontonians without power for the past 12 hours, I feel your pain.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Roasted Tempeh with Creamy Dijon Sauce

When I first made the switch from meat to eating tofu and tempeh, I had no vegan/vegetarian cookbooks or friends to tell me how to properly prepare it. Through much trial and error, I believe I have finally mastered it.

I have learned a great deal about cooking by reading recipes from cooking sites and other food bloggers. For instance, I never used to press my tofu before marinading it until kickpleat from Everybody Likes Sandwiches suggested it in one of her posts.

With this tempeh recipe, the blogger mentions boiling the tempeh for 10 minutes to remove the 'bitterness', which I had never done before. Tempeh (like tofu) is an acquired taste but if properly prepared you can have a delicious high protein dish that will have even the most avid meat eaters...ahem...husband...asking for seconds.

sorry for the bad photo, but the taste of the tempeh makes up for it

I found this recipe on Vegan Yum Yum's blog who had linked to the recipe from l. a. kitchen's blog, so whoever was the original creator of this recipe, I apologize in advance if I did not reference you.

Sometimes, as a recipe makes it's way around the blogworld and others re-create it, they will use ingredients not mentioned in the original recipe, but rather whatever they happen to have on hand. This actually happened to me today, when I was preparing this. I did not realize I was out of apple cider vinegar and soy milk and fresh rosemary, so I used my own substitutes which seem to have made no difference in sacrificing taste at all.

Roasted Tempeh with Creamy Dijon Sauce

Marinade for the Tempeh:
1 lb. tempeh, cut into 4 portions ( I used a thin slab which is probably 1/2 lb)
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock
1/2 cup wheat-free tamari
1/8 cup rice vinegar
2 bay leaves
2 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary ( I used 1 tbs dry)
3 garlic cloves, minced

NOTE: I found that the marinade for the tempeh yielded too much liquid. I only used a slab of tempeh as opposed to 1 lb., so if you make this, you might want to halve the amount of tamari and/or veggie stock unless you are using a lot of tempeh to begin with.

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil and drop in the tempeh. Cook for about 10 minutes. (Tempeh has a mildly bitter flavor that boiling will remove.)

Meanwhile, mix together the vegetable stock, tamari, rice vinegar, bay leaves, rosemary, and garlic.

Place the tempeh in a baking pan and pour the liquid mixture on top. Bake, uncovered, for 30 to 40 minutes in a 350°F oven, turning once halfway through. Remove from the oven but leave the tempeh in the pan to soak up the remainder of the liquid while it cools to ensure moist tempeh.

After the liquid is absorbed (or pour it off if there is too much left), reheat in the oven until slightly browned on the edges, about 10 minutes or so.

For the Dijon Sauce:
1/2 cup grainy Dijon mustard
1/2 cup cider vinegar (I used rice wine vinegar)
1/4 cup soy milk ( I used almond milk)
2 Tbsp. maple syrup (I used 2 tsp)
2 Tbsp. honey (I used 2 tsp)

Mix together all the ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat and bring to a simmer.
Cook for 20 minutes, until slightly thickened, stirring frequently.

Serve the tempeh with your preferred choice of sides. I had my tempeh with baby potoatoes roasted in the oven with paprika, salt, pepper and garlic powder and some slices of grilled fennel bulb with olive oil, salt, pepper and a few small dabs of Earth Balance vegan margarine.

The creamy dijon sauce was very delicious and tangy and the mustard flavour was not too overpowering considering I reduced the amount of honey and maple syrup. As for the the tempeh, the texture was firm (and less mushy) and I found, not as 'earthy' tasting after the boiling process. So, all in all, boiling tempeh might be a good thing to do if you dislike that mushroom-y flavour that tempeh naturally has. This was seriously a good dish and I will be making the creamy dijon sauce again to add to other faux-meats.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

It's a passion.

So, here we are. One of my favourite topics. Food!
Food and the practice of eating food always brings people together. No matter what language you speak or which country you are from, food is a universal language (yes, just like love).

So without further ado, let's talk food. And our love for it.

If you are a fan of sweet potatoes then you came to the right place. I love sweet potatoes! Mashed, fried, in a stew. Whichever way it is cooked, I'm game.

Imagine my surprise when my husband came home from picking up some groceries this afternoon and presented me with a bag of these:

Have you tried them? If not...Well, I think you should.

Crunchy and light tasting. Lightly salted and not at all greasy.

I found these sweet potato chips delicious just on their own. However, you can also try them with your favourite salsa - which I did - and they were just as tasty and crunchy without losing their sweet potato/corn flavour.

The company is called 'Food Should Taste Good' and boy do these folks deliver on taste.

There are several other flavours available for those who like to try new things:

Multigrain, Jalapeno, Olive, The Works!, Buffalo, and get this...Chocolate!!

If you are tired of traditional potato chips and nacho chips but are still looking for a crunchy, slighly salty, snack that's actually healthy and big on flavour...try these chips soon.

And if the great flavour alone wasn't going to convince you to cheat on your news year's resolution, perhaps these added benefits will:

no trans fats
no cholesteral
good source of fibre

I'm already thinking about which flavour to try next, although I am quite smitten with the sweet potato. By the way, the bag is now empty.