Rob likes to have dinner themes for his birthday parties. Last year, it was Japanese.
We had planned on going Ethiopian this year, as it is the theme of our current neighbourhood. However, we changed our minds at the last minute because I wasn’t in the mood to cook up 5 different cooked dishes.
While I can dream up menus for days on end, they involve vegan dishes. Rob knew that some of our guests might balk at the lack of meat, so he offered to make a Southwestern Pulled Brisket in the slow cooker. With his meal chosen, I crafted the remainder of the menu with it in mind.
Therefore, this year it was a hodge podge of Southern US and Mexican dishes, foreshadowing our next, next move to Texas in 2013. My (not so) discerning palate can’t tell the difference between Texan and Carolina BBQ styles, but I can tell you how delicious everything turned out.
I was initially hesitant, but Rob encouraged me to try my hand at jackfruit carnitas. We had all the fixings for great tacos for the brisket, so why not have another filling, too?
I eventually settled on a recipe for Carolina BBQ-inspired pulled “pork” from Jessica.
Jackfruit is a fruit from Southeast Asia. Rob tells me it tastes like bubble gum. While the ripe fruit is sweet, you can buy canned young jackfruit in brine, which is quite flavourless. It has been used as a meat substitute due to its texture. After being cooked, it pulls apart into stringy bits akin to pulled pork and beef brisket.
While Rob’s brisket took 8 hours in the slow cooker, my BBQ jackfruit pulled “pork” took an hour, tops.
They key of the recipe is the spice blend, and here we used a plethora of spices to capture a Southern BBQ flavour: sweet smoked paprika, Aleppo chili flakes, mustard, tomato and red pepper pastes, tamarind and vinegar for some tang and sweetness from the maple syrup (yes, that’s 4/8 of my favourite ingredients in one sauce!). Such a glorious BBQ flavour with a bit of a kick. Chile heads, again, feel free to use the suggested cayenne, but I though it was plenty spicy without it. Dry frying brought out the flavours from the dry spices, then a slow simmer expanded the saucy flavours. Baking it firmed up the jackfruit so that it was more akin to pork.
As the jackfruit bakes, or if you are more inclined to make the brisket (it had rave, rave reviews, btw, and Rob loved its sheer simplicity to prepare), make some pickled red onions. I know many people shun fresh red onions, and a quick marinade in vinegar with some salt and sugar can really bring out their flavour. We used the recipe suggested by Deb.
Both the brisket and BBQ jackfruit pulled pork was served with an assortment of toppings – shredded Romaine, chopped tomatoes, alfalfa sprouts, sliced cabbage, avocado and the pickled red onions. While we had roti and pitas for guests, I opted to make wraps with Romaine lettuce leaves. The jackfruit was so flavourful that you didn’t need so much per wrap. While Rob’s 3 lbs of beef brisket easily fed 10 people, my 20 oz of jackfruit served more like 2-4 people, depending on how many toppings you added.
Here we go, another salad with roasted beets!
I just can’t get enough of them.
This time I used red beets. There are a few differences between red and golden beets:
1) Golden beets are more mild and taste sweeter.
2) Red beets bleed. They make me look like I’ve been bleeding. Golden beets don’t bleed.
3) Red beets make my pee turn red. Golden beets do not.
Please don’t be alarmed at the red pee side effect of loving beets. In the summer, my pee turned red but I couldn’t recall eating any beets. I was worried something was wrong. Until I remembered that I had ordered an apple, ginger and beet juice at the restaurant. That was the culprit! Sure enough, by the next day, my pee was back to normal.
Beets work well with a lot of different flavours, but they definitely pair well with orange. I really enjoyed my chilled Orange and Beet Soup with miso, dill and carrots, and thought this rice-based salad sounded great. Adapted from Appetite for Reduction (original recipe posted here), beets and brown rice (wild rice would be good, too!) are coated in a zippy Asian-inspired orange sesame vinaigrette. Freshly squeezed orange juice is key to keeping this a light, flavourful dressing. The salad is spiked with currants for additional sweetness. Pile it overtop your favourite greens for a lovely meal-sized salad.
Keep all the components separate to maintain freshness… and keep the beets sequestered, else they will turn everything pink. Pink rice, ok, maybe do it just for kicks.
Who doesn’t love a good massage? Veggies love them, too. Show them your love. They will love you back.
But have you heard of massaging your mushrooms, too?
I like non-button mushrooms, but only if cooked. I will shun all raw mushrooms you throw at me. But now I know how to enjoy them raw. Massage your love into them with a delicious marinade.
This recipe is courtesy of Ani’s Raw Food Asia and I think it is pretty ingenious. She replicates Korean bulgogi, which describes the way Korean cuisine uses an open flame to cook their food. The food is usually marinaded in a Korean-style BBQ sauce. Ani does this all without turning on a flame.
A salty-sweet marinade is combined with meaty king oyster mushrooms. Massaging them allows the marinade to permeate the mushrooms but also tenderizes them. Slightly chewy, sweet-salty shrooms. Oh yeah. As king oyster mushroom are fairly meaty, when chopped into non-mushroom shapes, you could possibly fool mushroom haters completely. The marinade is that masking. They won’t think it is meat but they may not know it was a mushroom.
Next, you make a Korean hot chili pepper paste, but mine was more of a salty-sweet paste as the main component was miso with toasted sesame oil. I tamed the paste to my palate by using Aleppo chili flakes but definitely add to taste.
To complete the lettuce wraps, fill the wrap with julienned cucumber, carrots, raw garlic, a smidgen of the Korean chili paste and of course, your marinaded bulgogi mushrooms.
Wrap and roll, guys!
This is my submission to this month’s Simple and in Season, to this week’s Raw Food Thursdays, to E.A.T. World for Korea, to Ricki’s Wellness Weekends, and to this month’s My Kitchen, My World destination Korea.
Eating corn as a simple side is delicious right from the cob, but my specialty is one-pot meals. Preferably with beans. I have started to feel that a meal isn’t complete if there are no beans. I miss them that much.
I already knew this was going to be the year of the bean, but I have been slow on trying out my heirloom beans. I have a hard time using up an ingredient that will be nearly impossible for me to replenish. But after reorganizing my kitchen into a virtual bean library with rows of Mason jars housing my beans, it became apparent just how many beans I have! Lots! And I should really start to cook with them. It will be ok, even if I love them to bits. It will just give us an excuse to wander back to New York or San Francisco.
Imagine how excited I was to find a salad for both corn and heirloom beans. Martha called for Jacob’s Cattle Beans. I went downstairs to soak them.
Except I couldn’t find Jacob’s Cattle Beans. My beans are organized by use, and the heirloom beans by colour… not alphabetically. I scoured my list of beans I bought from Kalustyan’s and turns out I don’t have Jacob’s Cattle Beans. Drats! I googled a bit and figured Anasazi beans could substitute as they are a sweeter, mealy bean similar to Jacob’s Cattle Beans. Colourfully dappled when dry, they sadly loose their fun colours after cooking. Anasazi beans are quick cooking, and apparently don’t need any pre-soaking (although I did anyways). Pinto beans could easily substitute if you are heirloom-less.
Now that we had our bean selection under control, I got the beans simmering the next afternoon. Each component of the salad was meant to shine, so meanwhile, I toasted the corn kernels in a skillet over the stovetop. Next, I cooked down some cocktail tomatoes with thyme. I tried to cook the tomatoes in a non-stick wok without oil but they stuck anyways. If you add oil it may not be a problem for you, but to capture all those browned bits, I deglazed the pan with some the broth from the cooked beans. I threw in the beans and corn to help meld the flavours. The dressing was simple, with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, chili flakes and salt and it rounded out the salad nicely. Served on top of your leafy green of choice, you have a typical one-pot Janet bean salad.
My Mom had suggested serving a leafy salad. She figured that was a simple thing to make, but instead, I stressed. I was worried about wasting soggy leftovers and truthfully, I don’t have a go-to salad dressing yet. I eat what you see on my blog, and I rarely make simple side salads with a meal.
Salad dressings are a simple ratio of oil to vinegar. My family’s traditional vinaigrette employs a 3-2-1 ratio, with 3 parts extra virgin olive oil, to 2 parts vinegar, to 1 part sugar with salt and pepper to taste.
However, fortuitously, earlier this week Dawn told me about her new favourite salad dressing, excited because it was oil-free. Super simple. Just as easy with a different 3-2-1 ratio omitting oil.
3 parts balsamic vinegar
2 parts strong mustard
1 part maple syrup (or agave)
I am sure most people don’t need much guidance in the simple salad dressing component, but I thought this was definitely worthy to share. It is a healthy and vibrant dressing, so totally Janet-style. Throw it on top of your favourite leafy greens and enjoy!
While I didn’t snap too many photos of the food during the party, I still hope to share some of the recipes. I decided the best way to avoid the Rob-veto (just kidding!) was to simply try some seemingly simple recipes at the time of the party. Thankfully, it all paid off!
Along with this salad, I also served the 11-Spice Lentil Salad with Capers and Currants, which is definitely morphing into my signature no-think potluck dish. Everyone really enjoyed it at the barbecue. (I also served it to a bunch of other friends, where I was delighted to see how often people dived in for more, despite eating it with chopsticks – now that takes skill!). I also boiled some fresh corn on the cob. Rob tirelessly tended to the meat at the BBQ, where he also perfectly grilled my roasted portobello mushroom which I served with sweet potato fries and a miso gravy (recipes to come!). My peach smoothies were also a hit. I had planned to serve watermelon with a mint pesto as dessert, but everyone was stuffed (and how can that compete with the macarons and other treats brought by Rob’s cousin?).
Anyways, now that I have this under my belt, it didn’t seem nearly so scary after all!
(Although I hate repeating recipes for guests, so these will have to make my rounds through my family’s side next!)
Peach season is here!
So is nectarine season!
They are so similar, both so sweet and juicy when ripe, that I wondered how different they really are…
It turns out that the only genetic difference is a single recessive gene that removes the fuzz of a peach, giving nectarines a smooth shiny skin. So basically, they are the same with a different exterior. Fuzz vs no fuzz.
Regardless, I love both nectarines and peaches. Substitute between the two for any recipe. My only gripe about these stone fruits is that they are highly perishable when ripe. You need to eat them pronto!
My Peachy Keen Vanilla Smoothie is a delicious way to treat yourself to wonderful peach bliss, and I have also used them to make other desserts like blueberry-peach brown butter muffins, blueberry-peach-raspberry crumbles, and an utterly delicious peach tea cake. Peach is also wonderful in a salsa, and I have paired it with a maple-chili grilled tofu previously.
Here, I wanted to go savoury with the nectarine. I was immediately drawn to PPK’s Portland Porch Lettuce Wraps, which featured pan-seared asparagus, nectarine and white beans with pesto in a lettuce wrap. I had been distracted from the asparagus, but vowed to get some more to make this. I wasn’t disappointed.
I modified Isa’s recipe slightly as I ran out of shallots, and I substituted with a mix of white and red onion. I chose baby lima beans as my white bean of choice. She provided a recipe for an edamame pesto, but I opted to use some pesto that I had made earlier and froze in some cute heart-shaped ice cube trays. How cute are they??
So, this dish was a wonderful merriment of sweet, succulent and juicy nectarines with crisp asparagus and creamy white beans with a nice backdrop of caramelized onions. This is delicious, as is, with a side of lettuce, or even something like brown rice or quinoa.
The pesto is not mandatory, as this is great without it, but it is nice with it as well. Basically, don’t hesitate to make this if you are without pesto.
My mom was mad at me the other day.
Because of me, she was buying expensive things in the grocery store.
I know I buy some pricy ingredients, but a little goes a long way. I try not to eat out too often, and find it hard to rationalize the high prices. I could buy so much fresh (expensive) produce, tempeh, and spices for the price of a meal in a restaurant. It can be hard to justify sometimes.
Anyways, back to the mangoes. When I was home last weekend for the Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour (aka the ultimate cycle), my mom had picked up some mangoes for breakfast. Rob and I stole some of the extras to fuel us later in the week.
After really enjoying the Chickpea Salad with Mexican Mango Dressing earlier, I wanted to try a variation of the mango dressing with ginger. Earlier, I had bookmarked this tantalizing Thai lettuce wrap with sesame-soy baked tempeh and a zippy mango ginger sauce in The 30 Minute Vegan’s Taste of the East (recipe here).
I adapted the recipe slightly, causing it to take more than 30 minutes to make, but I think that steaming tempeh is important. Since steaming in the microwave is so simple, I try not to forget that step.
Initially I was a bit disappointed, because the sauce was really zippy. Almost overpowering, but I was so pleased with the leftovers. Finally, a tempeh dish, a salad at that, that tastes great as leftovers!
First the sauce: fresh mango was pureed with freshly grated ginger, along with lime juice and soy sauce. I also added a touch of chili flakes, but add to taste since the ginger is fairly zingy. I found this mellowed out much better the next day. It still had a kick but not as pungent. Just whirl in your blender and you have a fabulous sauce.
Next, the tempeh is marinaded in a simple sesame oil and soy sauce marinade, and feel free to marinade it as long as possible. I was only able to marinade it for 5 minutes, but longer is always better. After baking, the marinade was completely absorbed. The steaming helped to keep the tempeh pieces moist, even as leftovers. Because the mango sauce is the main star of the wrap, the loss of sauce around the tempeh is not detrimental to the dish (which had been our problem previously).
Those are the main ingredients to the wrap. Next find yourself some large Romaine lettuce leaves, top with cucumber, sliced tomatoes, some chopped mint, add your tempeh, slather with the mango sauce, wrap, roll and eat! For the wrap in the photo, my eyes were bigger than my mouth, and I had to split it into two wraps for all that filling!
I also like the idea of tossing the dressing with zucchini noodles, as in this Mint and Mango Marinated Zucchini Spaghetti. This dressing would need to be thinned out a bit with water if you wanted to use it overtop a traditional lettuce salad.
I did not hold out for Ontario strawberries. The Californian ones were on sale, too, and perfectly ripe after I left them on my counter for a few days.
Right now, after chowing down on this salad, I don’t care that I didn’t eat local. This was springtime in a bowl, with a dash of summer from the strawberries.
I was inspired by Joanne after I saw her Goat Cheese, Strawberry and Basil Salad. I trotted off to buy some cheap asparagus to go with my ripe strawberries, and was pleased how everything came into place at the grocery store (my new favourite grocery store, better than Bestwin!).
Ontario asparagus was $1.99 a pound, and wasn’t even advertised. I picked the bunch with the thinnest stalks. I had mint at home, so I had planned to forgo basil. However, they had the biggest bunches of basil that I ever did see. Complete with roots, they were that fresh. It tipped my scales at 290g for $1.50 (again, not advertised). I scored a 1-lb clamshell of baby spring mix for $1.99. They have random containers marked down, but it looked fresh and with an expiry date a week away, I saw no reason not to buy it. I had my juicy strawberries already, so I was all set!
At home, I quickly assembled my salad for one. Steamed my asparagus, quickly blanched some edamame (frozen beans are great for small amounts), thrown overtop the baby greens and basil and drizzled it with mosto cotto. Yes, I christened my Eatalian mosto cotto with this salad. It was divine. Simplicity at its finest.
Mosto cotto (also known as saba), is a a condensed balsamic vinegar made with reduced Concord grapes and then aged for at least 12 years. I was introduced to mosto cotto when Chef Gentile from Buca was at Tastes of Tomorrow. He used it as a finish for a red wine, cinnamon, clove-marinated beef heart salad with grilled radicchio di Treviso, balsamic braised chipling onions, Tallegio cheese, crispy sage, dandelion greens and pickled fig, lightly drizzled with olive oil and mosto cotto. It was delicious.
He highlighted that certain ingredients are worth their weight in gold. Mosto cotto is an expensive balasmic vinegar, but still considered a poor man’s balsamic vinegar. Compared to the traditional balsamic vinegar it doesn’t compare: it is a thicker syrup with a deep, complex and sweet flavour. I have been wooed to the dark side and recommend searching it out (Amazon.com sells it, and should be found in specialty Italian grocers – I bought mine at Eataly while in New York City). In this recipe, you could substitute a balsamic syrup by boiling down some balsamic vinegar, or just use a good quality balsamic vinegar.
This is my submission to Deb for this week’s Souper Sundays, to this week’s Healthy Vegan Friday, to this week’s Ingredient Challenge Monday for strawberries, to this month’s My Legume Love Affair, hosted by Smitha of Kannada Cuisine, this month’s No Croutons Required featuring asparagus and to this month’s Simple and in Season for May.
It is important evolutionarily, actually, because otherwise women wouldn’t go through childbirth a second time!
I am also experiencing amnesia this year. I trained last summer to cycle between Ottawa and Cornwall (325 km) over 2 days. I had wet rides in the rain, tough climbs up hills, and super sore after coming home from Cornwall. But all of that is overshadowed by the triumph of completing such a goal (having done no long distance cycling ever) and how much fun it was to explore the larger GTA by bike with Rob at my side (usually in front, to be precise). It was a wonderful summer.
My goal this year is to cycle from Ottawa to Kingston and back (a hilly 355 km over 2 days) in early June with my father, Rob and some other friends.
Rob and I have tried to get out to cycle, but the rainy weather and work commitments have prevented us a few times. While it was raining all week, Saturday conferred a perfect spring day which we capitalized to do our first (metric) century ride of the year (101 km). I picked one of my favourite routes, up to Aurora, which we adapted to include a trip to Ambrosia, a natural food store that Ricki introduced me to (yes, we adapt cycling routes too, not just recipes!). I have been to the Thornhill location a few times, and figured with their bountiful selection of produce and snacks, it would be a great stopping point for lunch on our cycling trip.
Armed with water bottles filled with homemade sports drink, energy date bars (cocoa fudge and gingerbread recipes to come!) and some hummus for lunch, Rob and I set out for Newmarket with gusto!
Let me tell you, though, I had forgotten how hard it is to do these long cycles. We are keeping these as endurance rides, so I like to ride at an easy pace to be able to last the full ride. I used to be able to cycle 100 km without thinking twice, but now, so early in the season, my legs are sore after an hour. I still have another 5 hours to go. I just get used to the pain and relish the hourly breaks. I would get sore last year, too, I just had forgotten.
As planned, Rob and I stopped at Ambrosia for lunch, and I quickly realized this was not nearly comparable to the wonderful Thornhill location. The only produce they had was organic Romaine lettuce. Gah! My plan to eat a Swiss chard wrap with sprouts and carrots with hummus was foiled! I ended up picking up the lettuce, and scavenged the bulk section for other tasty nibbles. I love picking up things on sale, so I was drawn to the raw almonds and prunes (both on sale). Almonds for crunch and prunes for carbs, I figured. I also picked up a dash of flax seeds for good measure.
And while I had no clue what I was really making, I was incredibly content with the mishmash of ingredients. I used the Romaine leaves as a base, topped it with a lemony-miso hummus, sprinkled some flax seeds overtop and added some almonds and prunes. Rolled it up and devoured. It worked wonderfully together, with both a mix of textures, but also complementary flavours. It was too good not to share with you, even if all I had were travel photos.
The nice surprise, though, afterward, was wandering through the adjacent Filipino food market. This is where I picked up a handful of tiny milk bananas, succulent and sweet, just right for eating. And yes, it also tasted great rolled up in Romaine.
The Aurora loop is great though, because it is a (relatively) painless uphill for the first half, and by the time you are tired, it is mostly downhill with some rolling hills. After our scavenger lunch, we were rested and energized to ride home. I was able to arrive home with enough spare time to clean up and make dinner before my guests arrived. Yes, sometimes I am that nuts. I had forgotten how rough the ride would be, to be honest. A dinner party after a century ride. I think I’ll just remember how great it was to finally have my brother and sister-in-law over for dinner.
Whenever I cook for other people, I am torn between trying a new recipe on unsuspecting partners in crime, or sticking to some tried-and-true recipes. I battle between knowing a dish will be great, to the possibility that I might find a new dish I love as well! Or if I don’t, others will help me eat it (just kidding!). Certainly some dishes lend well to large gatherings, like creamy lettuce salads.. because they just don’t last until the next day.
So when I was confronted with meeting (many!) strangers over a potluck, I erred on the side of trouble, and a large salad (salad = trouble ? No way!). Thankfully, this gamble paid off. I taste-tested it before I brought it over, so I knew I wasn’t doomed to disaster.
I must admit I don’t make many creamy dressings, and my only mayonnaise is Japanese (courtesy of okonomiyaki cravings), but the majority of this dressing was entirely avocado. It was pretty scrumptious and the green onions had a small kick of heat that balanced out with the avocado nicely and while I omitted the hot sauce, I am sure it would have been nice for those who enjoy more spice. The Romaine and chips had nice crunch that complemented the rich creaminess from the dressing. The black beans were a nice addition too. I am reminded how much I love creamy salads and now I have to wait for another grand gathering to make such a monstrous salad a second time. Enjoy!
This dish was adapted from Noble Pig, and also spotted at Krista’s Kitchen. It is my submission to this month’s No Croutons Required featuring Mexican soups and salads as well as this month’s My Legume Love Affair hosted by The Well-Seasoned Cook.