Let me share with you the best way to travel.
I am not talking about priceline or other websites which have lower prices on hotels. Been there, done that. I have never liked hotels, anyways. Without a kitchen and other homely accessories, I still feel out of my element.
Last week, I was in Calgary for a conference. Fortuitously, only half the cost of the hotel room would be covered by my employer, and I could not find another person to share a room. So I looked for alternatives.
I discovered Air BnB (and no, I get nothing to shamelessly promote this). A site where people rent out their homes just like a hotel room. Granted, each listing is bound to be different, but I really lucked out in Calgary. For half the price of the conference hotel room, I rented out an entire 2 bedroom bungalow that was not too far from downtown. It had a well-stocked kitchen, a living room complete with board games and oodles of books to read, if I actually had the time. Of course, I was drawn to the kitchen, so I could easily whip up my routine breakfast oatmeal and other healthy meals. With an Asian grocer a few blocks away, I had access to cheap groceries as well.
While I think of travel as a vacation from blogging as well, I was wrong. I desperately wanted to share some of the quick and easy meals that I pulled together. I brought quinoa with me so that I could turn any vegetable stir fry into a quick main meal but I ended up going more elaborate with this curried tomato and kidney bean bowl. The results were worth it and have already been incorporated into repeater meals in my own kitchen.
The ingredients seem so simple, so the bulk of flavour comes from the high quality curry powder. When I spotted a local Artisan curry powder (Bridget’s) at Community Natural Foods, it was then that I decided to make this. Shallots (or onions), ginger and garlic are sautéed and added to the curry powder. A can of tomatoes turns this into a great sauce that simmers with some kidney beans and quinoa. I added chopped baby bok choy for some greenery and crunch. Susan originally made this as a lettuce wrap with chickpeas. I have since made this since my return with chickpeas and more quinoa; it is a very forgiving recipe. Like most curries, this was great as leftovers. And yes, I was thrilled that my kitchen in Calgary also had plastic containers for me to tote my meals to the conference.
Who would have thought I’d eat so well away from home?
When I suggested recipes for my Mom to make over Christmas, she was a bit shocked when she found out a few were new recipes. One of the cardinal rules of cooking for guests is to never try a new recipe on unsuspecting guests. I have long abandoned that rule, though.
Truth be told, sometimes it can be difficult to munch on a dish you’ve already made yourself but made by someone else. Sometimes, it will taste the same. We repeatedly return to our favourite hummus recipe (this one, too) because it is so reliable. But in the flash of a pan, a dish can taste different.
Therefore, I figured I would give my Mom all of the glory from a few fabulous new dishes.
The Chickpea Piccata, was a definite hit. I didn’t want to share any of the leftovers!
The second hit was this Pumpkin Chili. I originally spotted it on Isobelle’s site, but the recipe came from Ashlae. While I have made other chilis before, this is definitely my favourite so far. A savoury saucy chili, filled with beans and vegetables. Flavourful, not spicy despite using jalapeno peppers. The pumpkin puree adds a touch of sweetness but doesn’t leave you with a pumpkin flavour. The TVP plumps up to look just like ground meat, it is almost confusing. What isn’t confusing is how great it tastes: delicious.
When we trying to decide what to do with the leftover chili, I suggested my Mom freeze it and save it for the next time I visit. This way, there would be a surefire Janet-friendly meal already waiting for me.
However, after I went home, I called to make sure I had the right recipe for the tantalizing chili. Only minor changes using canned tomatoes and beans. She even used jalapeno peppers! However, my Mom had bad news. There was no more chili left: my Dad had polished it all off! Vegan chili so good it could fool the unsuspecting omnivore: I consider that a success. My Mom makes a tasty chili and I can’t wait to have it again.
This weekend, I was planning a menu since I was hosting guests. I initially thought my challenge was finding something I could make or reheat in a kitchen devoid of all my usual ingredients and utensils.
No, that was not my challenge.
“I don’t like vegan food,” said one guest.
Oh my gosh, what to do?!
I would obviously have to figure out a way to appeal to everyone’s palates with our limited kitchen possibilities.
If meat was somewhat prominent, perhaps a vegan dish could be stealthily incorporated into the menu.
In the end, we opted to use the barbecue for some quick meals with side dishes I made at home earlier. We served barbecued wild boar sausages with a side of (vegan) coleslaw. For dessert, we made mango shrikhand or simply unadorned Alphonso mangoes for those averse to yogurt. The following day we went entirely vegan with mango BBQ beans, leftover coleslaw, cucumber slices wrapped inside a tortilla, or with a side of multigrain bread.
I heard the sausages were nice, but there were resounding compliments for the mango BBQ beans. Red kidney beans are simmered in a tomato sauce spiced with coriander, allspice, liquid smoke and mango. Smoky, sweet, zippy and saucy. A perfect combination for barbecue flavours. Don’t be fooled by the mango, though. It adds sweetness as opposed to authentic mango flavour, although some of the frozen mango chunks were still present within the sauce. While the original recipe from Appetite for Reduction calls for red kidney beans, I think pinto beans would be better next time. This way, it would be more similar to baked beans. Or black beans since they pair so well with mango.
The great thing about these beans, though, is that they are easy to whip up in advance. After an overnight sit, they tasted even better. Just reheat prior to serving and you’ve got some smokin’ mango BBQ beans!
I bit my tongue as my guest said these were one of the best baked beans she’s eaten. They were vegan and she knew that, too. I just won’t label anything in advance to ward off any undue prejudice.
One of my friends has a sulphite allergy. In short, she could have an anaphylaxis reaction (ie, really bad difficulties breathing) if she consumes sulphites. Sulphites are a commonly used preservative and found in a whole host of foods (processed food, beer, wine, dried fruit, etc). Canada is very good at making food producers label their products with any sulphites used, so I always check labels when I know my friend will be over.
In reality, though, I don’t make many things from processed foods, so I should be ok, right? Well, as it turns out, I have been cooking with a few sulphite-laden ingredients – vegetable broth (not homemade), coconut milk and even dried fruit were among the many culprits I have found in my recent dishes.
So when we needed an emergency girls night in, and when it was -28C outside (with the wind), I scoured for recipes I could make without venturing to the grocery store AND that had no sulphites AND that would taste best the next day as leftovers (since I wasn’t going to cook after work). A pretty onerous task, if I may say so myself!
I narrowed my choices to two options: The New Spanish Table‘s Lentil and Pumpkin Stew with Roasted Garlic OR the Chili Fest Chili from Moosewood Restaurant Cooking for Health. The chili was rife with savoury flavours like cinnamon, cloves, cumin, coriander, paprika and oregano. Oh, and molasses! Considering it was so cold outside, the chili won out instantly.
I modified the original recipe by increasing the onions, red bell peppers and carrots while omitting the celery. I used the sweet paprika and Aleppo chili flakes for the heat (and omitted the chipotles in adobo sauce). I mixed up the bean variety by using both red kidney beans and black beans. But, the best addition, the secret ingredient, was bulgur! (I realize that my title gave it away….)
The result was a hearty chili with the mix of savoury flavours. Not my favourite chili, as something was a bit off and I prefer my chili with a bit more robust tomato flavour. Next time I might add some tomato paste. The bulgur, though, was excellent and a healthy way to get the mouth-feel of ground meat, without any meat at all. Other grains – millet, spelt, etc – could also be used. TVP is also an option. In any case, this is a nice way to warm up during the winter. Pair it with a leafy salad, some crusty bread, or just eat the chili plain. The original recipe called for a yogurt-cilantro topping to help with the heat. Personally, mine wasn’t a spicy chili but that’s because I didn’t put in the chipotle peppers!
I will have to find some more red peppers to make that lentil and squash stew, though…
As a Canadian, I don’t like to get confused with being an American. So, I wonder whether it is offensive to call this an African dish? I mean Africa is a big place, with a lot of variation from country to country, and here I am lumping this dish with the whole continent. I am not worried about offending anyone because this dish was so delicious that every country should be fighting to claim it as their own.
Despite recently travelling to Morocco (more about that later!), I am no expert in African cuisine. I didn’t come across any peanut stew in Morocco. A bit of research tells me peanut (or groundnut) stews are typical of sub-Saharan cuisine. I recently made an African pineapple, kale and peanut stew, and was intrigued to try peanut butter in a savoury dish again. Adapted from Vegan Planet, this is a delicious vegetable stew. Again, we have a nice mixture of sweet from the sweet potatoes and tomato, with the salty and smooth from the peanut butter, with a touch of heat from chili flakes, ginger and garlic. Cumin and cinnamon make this a savoury dish indeed. Red kidney beans add substance and I enjoyed their mouth feel (I had forgotten how much I like kidney beans – it has been too long!).
In fact, with only 2 tbsp for the entire dish, the peanut butter is not a dominant flavour. I felt like it was more to add creaminess but occasionally I would get a hit of the peanut butter. I don’t think it mixed in as well as I had thought. My advice is to add to taste, mix it well, but you don’t need much. Another nut butter could easily be substituted.
One thing I liked about my cooking class, was that I experimented with recipes and ingredients I likely would not have tackled alone. I even cooked with celery (only after peeling it) but this post is all about red wine. Before my mom showed me, I didn’t know that red wine was a magic ingredient in the succulent braised beef rolls (rouladen). It wasn’t soon after that we made braised steak with red wine during cooking class, and I declared anything braised in red wine must be good! Little did I know that my least favourite dish from the class would be coq au vin, also cooked with red wine. Our chef instructor explained that chicken doesn’t always pair well with red wine and coq au vin is supposed to be made with rooster, which therefore must taste better.
I have cooked with red wine once before, making a sinfully delicious mushroom bourguignon with spaetzle, and what I loved about the vegetarian dish is that the mushrooms didn’t need that much red wine for the braising. With only 1 cup of red wine for the mushroom bourguignon, the rest of the bottle was enjoyed by others at the dinner table. Whereas the more authentic boeuf bourguignon required the whole bottle to braise the meat.
This brought me to this recipe with kidney beans stewed in red wine with tomatoes (erm, tomato paste) and fresh herbs, adapted slightly from Cooking Books who adapted it from Peter Berley’s The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen. The simplicity of the dish appealed to me, with a list of fresh and healthy ingredients leading to a delicious stew of red beans. I had to wait for the weekend to be able to afford so much oven and stove time for the beans, though. It didn’t take much effort, but I needed to be around during those hours. It was a nice way to warm up my apartment with delicious smells and the subsequent beans tasted great. Served with a crusty bread, it was a filling meal. The leftovers weren’t as good, but not much lasted that long.