While it may seem like I had a severe lack of down-time over the holidays, I was able to catch up on a few things on my to-do list. I caught up on the links Rob routinely shares with me, watched my share of movies, read a few books and cooked up a few bookmarked recipes. In the spirit of clearing out a bit of blogging backlog, I thought you may enjoy my favourite finds, too… so here were my linkable highlights:
1. 38 Life Lessons Leo has Learned in 38 Years.Great list. An old post, but timely in the spirit of the New Year.
3. 2013 World Press Photo Winners. I would scope out the travelling exhibit of jaw-dropping photography while in Toronto, but this year I savoured it online.
4. 2013 National Geographic Photo Competition Winners. Another fabulous collection of photographs can be savoured online. National Geographic rarely disappoints for awesome pictures, including this other favourite.
5. Time-Lapse Auroras Over Norway. Watch it. Love it. It brings me back to my vacation in Iceland.
6. The Happiest Facts of All Time. Very cute list.
7. Ten Words You’ve Probably Been Misusing. Not entirely accurate but I am guilty of a few misused words. ;)
I have been gravitating to easier meals and have not been cooking up as many dried beans from scratch lately. One solution to this problem is to use quick-cooking no-soaking needed beans, like lentils, anasazi and mung beans. Yes, mung beans. I am back on the mung bean bandwagon with great results. Simmer the mung beans directly with an assortment of veggies (kabocha squash, tomato, bell pepper and spinach here) with simple Indian spices: cumin, fenugreek and turmeric. The kabocha squash and mung beans melt into a deliciously creamy stew. A thick and hearty stew, perfect for the winter.
Where have you been on the web recently?
Or rather, How I Spent My New Year’s Eve.
I loved your comments after I admitted I likely would not be able to stay up to see New Year’s Eve fireworks. You guys are the best.
What did I end up doing?
1. Working late. Not by choice, I swear. I usually take 2 weeks off for holidays, but hospitals can be super busy during the holidays. I don’t know whether this is worse in American, as people are eager to use the most of their insurance dollars before they need to pay their next deductible. At a cancer hospital, I would hope that finances would not keep people away from seeking treatment, but I try not to jump into those kinds of politics. PS. Did you catch last year’s article in the Times about American medical bills?
2. Chatting with my neighbour. Let it be known that Texans are super friendly. Since my neighbour is also a Canadian transplant, I appreciate his perspectives. He told me not to be alarmed that night. If I tuned in closely, I may hear gunshots at midnight (celebratory gunfire), to ring in the new year. Not that my neighbours would be shooting their guns (according to him, 3 of my other neighbours harbour guns), rather the noise may echo from outside Houston. While I originally planned to go to bed like normal, that convinced me to try to stay awake until midnight.
3. Travelled through chocolate. With the best intentions of staying awake, Rob and I feasted on some chocolate. Our friend gifted us a chocolate passport, which small bars of dark chocolate from around the world. We travelled to Ecuador that night, and it was delicious.
4. Cozied up to Netflix. After stumbling upon a list of movies soon-to-be discontinued on Netflix, I jumped at the last chance to watch a long-time bookmarked but never-watched Requiem for a Dream. Excellent. (And true to the list, no longer available on Netflix). But it wasn’t midnight yet. Bringing out the kids in us, we watched Pingu episodes. They were hilarious, especially Pingu’s Lavatory Story (watch it! it is only 5 minutes!). Sadly, while it was only 10:30pm, my eyes were heavy and I could not stay awake.
So, I missed my chance to hear possible celebratory gunfire (still illegal in Texas, mind you).. and I need corroboratory evidence from my local readers. Is it true? My neighbour said he heard 4-5 shots at midnight.
Despite my lack of collard greens for my New Year’s Day black eyed peas, I ended up eating tacos on New Year’s Day. Not these ones, mind you (cleaning out the blog backlog!), but I will tell you more about that in due time. Ever since going to Mexico City, I have been smitten by tacos. The fresh corn tortillas blew my mind and I am working on finding a suitable replacement. Until then, fresh collards will have to suffice. A bit non-traditional, these lentil-based tacos were delicious. I had been meaning to make them for a while, especially after Johanna had success with them, too. Cauliflower is riced and added to up the hidden veggie content. Leanne cautions against baking mashed beans and cauliflower, but this was delicious. It is all about the spices. With a nod to my delicious Ancho lentil tacos, I added copious amounts of Ancho chile powder. I topped it with a simple tomato-oregano salsa, a variation from the cilantro-based tomato salsa from my raw tacos.
I know I promised the top reader recipes from 2013 today, but stayed for it tomorrow, instead.
How did you enjoy your New Year’s Eve/Day festivities?
I have embraced the hidden Texan in me. Only the good parts, obviously.
Especially when it involves beans.
I mean peas. Peas, beans, all the same, right? (Not if you don’t like peas!)
As I discovered earlier, black eyed peas taste so much better when cooked from fresh. After you cook them from recently picked pods, that is when you figure out why they are called black eyed PEAS.
Many of the Southern United States grow field peas, such as black eyed peas, including Texas. Local, fresh black eyed peas are easily found in local grocers right now. A longstanding Southern tradition for forthcoming good luck is to eat black eyed peas and collard greens (a dish named Hoppin John) on New Year’s Day. This year, I decided to try a different variation on Southern stewed beans: black eyed peas are simmered in a Creole-spiced tomato sauce. I skipped the collards (the horror) in lieu of brown rice, but that was merely due to my lack of judgment at the grocery store this weekend.
I routinely get into a (deliciously yummy) rut with similar flavours – cumin, coriander, garlic and ginger – but I liked how simple this dish was, yet it was deliciously flavoured. I whipped together my own version of Creole seasoning right into the tomatoes. Creole seasoning should be easy to make, as it is a mix based on paprika, onion, garlic, thyme and oregano. In the heat of the kitchen, I mistakenly thought Old Bay seasoning would be a quasi-supplemental spice mixture. The celery-dominant Old Bay seasoning made up for my lack of celery from the holy trinity of Creole cuisine: a mirepoix from onions, bell peppers and celery. In the end, this turned out to be a wonderful success.
Do you try to eat black eyed peas on New Year’s Day?
Other black eyed pea recipes here:
Other Southern beans and greens recipes here:
Stop me if you’ve heard this one already:
What did the eggs benedict say to the rest of the breakfast table?
Hardy, har har.. Rob told the joke a few times over the holidays.
With the balmy Houston weather and having returned back to work, it does not really feel too much like holidays. In fact, I am at a loss what to do for New Year’s Eve. Rob wants a party. I, however, will be working all day. And, to be honest, I doubt Rob or I will make it all the way until midnight. We are such party poopers. Early risers, we go to bed early as well. With a morning alarm for 5 am, I am usually the earliest to wake. However, two of my co-workers have their alarms for 4:30am. They beat me! Obviously, we need to invite them over after work. Celebrate St John’s, Newfoundland’s new year at 9:30 pm and then call it a night. Last year, Rob and I celebrated by watching the Sydney fireworks at 8am, but alas, I will be busy at work, already.
Even if I am not headed out for a party, at least I may provide you with some party fare. Splendid warm but still delicious cold as leftovers, here is a protein-packed spinach and artichoke dip. Definitely not as heavy as real cheese dips, this is more of a veggie-centric dip whipped together with some silken tofu. There is more of a hint of cheesiness, thanks to the nutritional yeast. I don’t particularly enjoy nooch-heavy cheeses, but this was pretty good. It is a nice way to bring a dish that could double as a main, should your other options be limited, and you eat a bunch of it. You could totally chow down on a quarter of this, easily. And you should.
What are your plans for New Year’s Eve?
PS. The winner of The Cheesy Vegan is Shannon.
Happy Thanksgiving for those celebrating it today.
Part of the reason I have not fallen victim to “what will I make for Thanksgiving?” thinking is that Rob and I are travelling for the weekend. I have been invited to no less than 3 separate Thanksgiving feasts, but instead we’re leaving America.
And yes, I realize today is Thanksgiving, which may be a bit late to share such a fun dish for Thanksgiving… although, I implore you to consider it for your next fancy dinner. It is ridiculously easy. Have some onions? Oil? Balsamic vinegar? Salt? I thought so!
I have been meaning to make these ever since Natalie shared them last year, but really they are roasted onions, cut whole and roasted such that they open like flowers. The pink ones are more pretty but I tried it with Peruvian sweet onions as well.
I packed them into a pan/skillet and roasted away. I actually forgot to remove the tin foil for the last 10 minutes, so they should be a bit more charred should you actually follow the directions. ;)
One onion obviously makes a lot of onion. So feel free to split them in half (or more) when serving. Although, I love onions, especially roasted onions, so I could easily eat the whole onion in one go.
What were your favourite dishes for Thanksgiving this year?
This is my submission to this month’s Bookmarked Recipes.
Oh my gosh… what happened? I posted on a Monday! WHAT?!
Long hours at work must be making me sloppy. *sad face*
Bonus for you, I suppose, since I decided to still write up a quickie Tuesday post!
Now that Rob is back, it means that we have our Houston weekend routine back in place. On one day of the weekend, it goes something like this:
1. Sleepy fresh oatmeal breakfast before heading out for a 50-km bike ride (The cronut ride is still my ride of choice. Mostly because the route is very simple. We came for the cronut, but kept returning for the bathrooms… although Rob gives their donuts two thumbs up)
2. Come home to a delicious smoothie, then hop in the shower to remove all that grime
3. After we are both clean, we do a load of laundry, hang out a bit and then let the laundry hang dry.
4. Now, it is usually time for lunch. Rob and I usually make a scramble of sorts, with arepas or chilla.
This time, Rob decided to merge our two favourite tofu scramble recipes… Especially since we learned that dill + curry = awesome! But how about, dill + curry + tomato + Brussels sprouts! With some noochy and kala namak goodness sprinkled overtop? Very awesome! Booyah! I honestly look forward to my freshly made weekend meals with Rob. When they taste this good, who wouldn’t be thrilled? :)
Do you have a favourite morning routine?
I have mastered eating leftovers, which is the ultimate way to cook for one. I did not really think I would cook differently while Rob was away, but towards the end of nearly 5 weeks without Rob, I had little interest in making complete meals.
And then, suddenly, when I knew Rob would return (again), all I wanted to do was make something for him to enjoy.
(I just became disinterested in cooking while he was away; Rob had limited use of a kitchen while away)
Thai curry for Rob! With sweet potatoes! And Kabocha squash! AND PEAS! (Rob loves peas!) AND COCONUT! (he likes that, too)
I have already shared with you the main ingredients (plus WHITE BEANS! yay!) so you can imagine the delicious taste of flavours.
The sweet potatoes and Kabocha squash are roasted separately to bring out their sweetness and keep their shape. I don’t like green peas as much as Rob, but I really liked them here, next to the creamy roots. The red curry paste was not overwhelming, and really, I should have added more for Rob’s palate, but I played it safe so I could savour it, too. Instead of using a flour to thicken it up, I simply simmered it longer until it was a nice creamy coconutty consistency.
Joanne’s tantalizing original recipe was actually for a Thai-inspired potpie with a pumpkin biscuit topping, which I am sure would have been lovely… but hey, baby steps, here. This was a glorious curry, even without a topping.
To return the favour of delicious food, I had to ask Rob to photograph the leftovers. If I thought the lack of daylight after work was bad before the daylight savings switch, there is now no way I can make it home before darkness now. So here, is Rob’s signature style photo… because as he puts it, he wants to SEE THE FOOD:
This is my submission to Deb for this week’s Souper Sundays, to this month’s Four Seasons Food Challenge for one-pot wonders, to this month’s Bookmarked Recipes and to this month’s No Croutons Required for blogger inspiration.
Remember that time when I thought fall had arrived in Houston? The morning had a bit of a chill, despite daytime highs that were reminiscent of a typical Toronto summer’s day.
The extreme heat and humidity has somewhat abated, but without the change in the colour of the trees’ leaves, it still does not feel like fall. I continue to wear the same clothes I wore in the middle of the summer (aka short sleeves and shorts).
Although, I know the seasons are changing. The days are getting shorter. I can no longer photograph my dinner, after I return from work. Some days I am home earlier, but most days, I arrive home fairly late, after sunset. The sun is setting earlier, and earlier.
So after Rob made this absolutely delicious black bean soup, I knew I wanted to share it… but I had to photograph it before we finished it off. Instead of depriving Rob of his next dinner, I asked him to photograph it before he devoured the last serving. I mean, there are a few perks of working from home, and photographing meals during daylight is definitely one of them.
So… about this soup. Delicious! Loads of black beans and sweet potato chunks are simmered with cumin, oregano and allspice with a broth that is flavoured with red pepper paste (Rob’s creative substitute since we were all out of red bell peppers) and sun-dried tomatoes. Although the balsamic vinegar and lime juice make this special with the tang and acidity. The balsamic finish is definitely making a comeback in my kitchen, since it worked well with the white bean paprikash. Rob also opted to keep the black beans whole, instead of pureeing them. Thus, this was a bean stew instead of a bean soup.
While one might think I have a certain food photography style, it is truly a lazy affair. One camera and one lens. Photo from above and a few photos from the front. Easy, peasy and pretty fool-proof. As long as you can keep things in focus as you hover above the food. ;) Although the next photo shows you Rob’s signature in-your-face style:
The inspiration for this soup came from Dreena’s latest ecookbook, Plant-Powered 15, filled with 15 whole-foods vegan recipes without any oil or gluten. I know I have a few readers who are no-oil vegans, so this would be perfect for you. Even if you are not eating oil-free (like me!), you will still enjoy the bright flavours. As I have said before, I really like Dreena’s recipes. In particular, we adore her Lemon Mediterranean Lentil Salad, Jerk Chickpeas, Thai Chickpea Almond Curry, Tomato Lentil Cumin and Dill Soup and Thai Coconut Corn Stew.
Dreena’s ebook spans breakfast, oil-free salad dressings, mains like vegan burgers and even a few desserts. With the help of Nicole, there are gorgeous photos of each recipe. Instead of misleading you, Dreena has allowed me to share Nicole’s photo of the soup:
Dreena has already shared the recipe for Umami Almond, Quinoa, and Sundried Tomato Burgers, her cashew-based Wonder Spread and Sticky Almond Blondies as teasers for the cookbook. However, even more exciting is that she is graciously offering a copy of her ecookbook to two of my readers! Because this is an electronic version, it is open to anyone is the world! (Woohoo!) To be entered, please leave a comment here, telling me about your favourite Dreena recipe. If you haven’t made anything by Dreena yet, have a look through the table of contents of Plant-Powered 15 (or another one of her books/blog) and tell me what you want to cook the most. I will randomly select a winner on November 15, 2013. Good luck!
Note: I purchased my own copy of Dreena’s cookbook. I was under no obligation to share a review. The opinions expressed are entirely my own.
Rob and I have been trading stories. He has been back in Canada for the last two weeks. He is hitting up all our old haunts, new joints (I knew he wouldn’t be able to resist the vegan boston creme donuts and other treats at Through Being Cool; he’s already tried the Toronto’s crookie (cookie-croissant hybrid) and scouting out Toronto’s cronut, too) and getting ready to spend time with his family for Thanksgiving. I am willing to bet most of my readers know Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving almost a month before the Americans, but if not, let there be no confusion. Canada’s Thanksgiving is on Monday. :)
This is a dish Rob made before he left. He is much better at tackling his recipe hit-list than I am. Possibly because it is shorter. While in Bend, Oregon, we discovered a restaurant with delicious food. For me, I adored their tempeh reuben salad (recreating it is still on my hitlist!) and Rob was adamant about recreating the sloppy joe sandwich.
While I have made Sloppy Joes with TVP, which I served overtop roasted sweet potatoes, I shared Isa’s recipe with Rob. With the extra spices, I knew he would really like it. Rob really liked their sandwich because it was served with a brioche bun. He looked around a bit but wasn’t able to find something in Houston. That did not deter him.
I no longer remember what protein this resto used for their sloppy joe, but Isa’s called for seitan which we didn’t have. Instead, Rob experimented with another Portland find: soy curls. Soy curls totally deserve their high praise. Similar to TVP in that they are a dry soy product, they not as highly processed. Soy curls are made by cooking, then drying soybeans, whereas TVP has been processed to become defatted. Their fun shapes are akin to pulled meat. I bought a bunch in bulk while in Portland and wish there was a local supplier because I know we will use them up quickly.
In any case, Isa’s recipe did not disappoint. She called it jerk-spiced sloppy joes, but the flavours were more muted. When I think of jerk, I think of bold flavours. Instead, this was tame. Nicely flavoured and palatable for the masses. The Caribbean flavours of allspice, cinnamon, and paprika were present and made for a lovely tomato sauce. Rob amped the sweet sauciness by adding red pepper paste. Lime juice balanced it nicely.
The second component to the dish was coconut creamed spinach and kale. Spiced with star anise, the Caribbean flair persisted. Instead of the brioche bun, Rob used a paratha to eat this. Mainly because that’s what we had in the freezer. This is a fusion household. Indian-Caribbean-American in one wrap. Use whatever vehicle you’d like. :)
While this recipe seems almost as elaborate as Rob’s epic Jackfruit & Kimchi and Sweet Potato Poutine with Tofu, this one didn’t take nearly as long to cook. Start to end was around an hour, which is a good thing since Rob has proclaimed this as a Rob’s Repeater Recipe.
Have you ever tried soy curls? What did you think?
Not because I came up with the fabulous idea to mix together roasted eggplant, tamarind and chickpeas, but because I kind of ran with a taste in my mouth and help from a friend.
One of my co-workers is vegan and recently invited Rob and me for dinner. He went all out with multiple salads, curries, biryani and dessert. Served on a weekday, at that. I was blown away. By all of it.
The dish that I enjoyed the most was the tamarind roasted eggplant with chickpeas. I asked how it was made:. He said it was easy, just roast the eggplant with masala spices, then cook it with tamarind and chickpeas. Easy, peasy, right? Not really.. a bit too vague for my liking for me to recreate it. ;)
I figured my Baingan Bharta with Chickpeas (Roasted eggplant and tomatoes with chickpeas) was a good starting point, though, and after reading it over, my friend gave me some tips:
1. No ginger, more garlic to enhance the eggplant (I happily obliged)
2. No cilantro, and if so, just add it at the end (I just omitted it – it was better without)
3. Heat the chickpeas and slightly mash them, so that they can better absorb the flavours from the rest of the dish (great idea!!)
4. Add some turmeric (done!)
5. Remove or limit the coconut (removed!)
With a bit of trepidation, I set out to recreate this dish. I got my eggplant roasting and re-read my instructions. Sauteed onions and a good dose of garlic. Ground coriander, cumin and garam masala…
It has been a long time since I’ve cooked with eggplant (over 2 years, if you excuse my Raw Eggplant Bacon from last year as that was not technically cooked). Roasting it is definitely my preferred cooking method. It may take a while to cook but the results give you a silky base. Here, the fragrant Indian spices contrast nicely with the sweet/tart tamarind, floating in the silky eggplant peppered with chickpeas. The photos don’t really do it justice because it looks kinda of chunky when it actually wasn’t. Definitely one of my favourite dishes this year.
Have you ever been really excited by your own culinary creation?
Eggplant, chickpeas and tamarind elsewhere:
Eggplant, Chickpea and Tamarind stew at The Guardian
Tamarind Spiced Roasted Eggplant Soup at Everything in the Kitchen Sink
Tamarind Eggplant and Chickpeas at Relish
Eggplant, Tomato, Chickpea Tamarind Stew at Allotment 2 Kitchen
Eggplant Curry with Tamarind & Mint at Veggie Num Num
See below if you are interested in a giveaway for The Ayurvedic Vegan Kitchen.
There is one problem with our weekly cronut ride: it gives us flat tires. Since we began cycling to Pearland, Rob and I have had 3-4 flat tires between to two of us. Usually it is a slow-leaking flat and we figure it out right as we want to leave the next day. However this time, it was a nice bloat out en route. There is a lot of debris on the road, but I am still boggled how Rob managed to catch a whole 1″ screw into his rear tire. I saw it happen, too. First there was a funny noisy rumble over a section of pavement, followed by a sharp whizzing noise…. 50 ft later, Rob’s tire is sagging. I have a photo just to show you how ludicrous it was… (For the record, Rob was not amused enough to take a photo of the screw once we managed to evacuate it.. he just wanted to fix his bike).
Yes, we were screwed. We usually have to hunt to find the culprit for a leak, but this instigator was easy to spot. When my Dad saw the photo, he exclaimed: “How the H*** did that get in there?” Precise positioning?Anyways,
weRob replaced the tube but we decided to return home sooner rather than later with the sad-looking tire. Turns out it was a good decision since 10 minutes after we arrived home, we were pummelled with rain. Best to stay indoors as the rain comes down so hard.
Turns out that while writing my round-up of my favourite Brussels sprout recipes, I was reminded of my Ayurvedic kick last winter. I am currently on a dill-kick and decided to make Ayurvedic Herbed Quinoa (instead of millet) with Fried Soup Onions, which I rechristened as Indian-Spiced Baked Onions with Cumin-Dill Quinoa.
This is a simple yet somewhat elaborate quinoa pilaf salad spiced with cumin and dill. Leave it at that, and it would a pretty simple side salad. However, the suggested Indian-spiced baked onions make this a special treat. I don’t know about you, but I love roasted vegetables and really like somewhat charred roasted onions. I always have onions on hand and it takes next to no effort to add them to a pan to roast. However, these are more than simple roasted onions. A quick saute with cumin, fennel and mustard seeds transforms them into a veritable Indian party. The flavours are not overtop, rather muted with a colourful background. There are so many different spices once added to the dilly cumin quinoa, but it all works. Really well. The recipe is from The Ayurvedic Vegan Kitchen which I have mentioned before. Talya recommended pairing the salad with a Creamy Cucumber-Tahini Dressing but I felt it overpowered all the tastes in the salad, so I left it out.
After discovering the cookbook at my library last year, I bought my own copy before my move. It was actually my first e-cookbook and I really appreciated its portability (books are heavy!). It is a great resource for those wanting to learn more about Ayurveda, but most importantly the recipes are whole foods-, plant-based and taste great. If you like Indian flavours, this will definitely appeal to you but the range of recipes is quite vast (thankful pie, perfect spring soup, creamy miso lentils, magical ‘mato lasagna, quinoa pancakes and even breakfast greens!). There are still so many recipes I want to try.
Other recipes from The Ayurvedic Vegan Kitchen, here and elsewhere:
I am beyond thrilled that the publisher has agreed to let me share this recipe AND sponsor a giveaway for The Ayurvedic Vegan Kitchen. They are giving away one (paperback) copy to a reader from the US (sorry my international friends). To be entered, please leave a comment here, letting me know whether you’ve heard of Ayurveda before (and if so, what do you think of it?). I will randomly select a winner on October 15, 2013. Good luck!
Next on my hitlist of grocers to try was Canino’s. It is billed as a farmer’s market but I am not sure how much of the produce is local and sold by farmers. However, it doesn’t mislead you that fruits and veggies are at the forefront of this store. There are 2 components: the front portion and the back alley peppered with stalls selling mostly Mexican produce. The back alley is more akin to a farmer’s market and where the better deals lie. Come early and you can snag super specials. Like 4 bunches of kale for $1, 5 bunches of collards for $1, 30 limes for $1, 4 broccoli crowns for $1, 4 heads of cabbage for $1. BOOYAH! I liked how you could even mix and match the 4 for a $1 items so you weren’t swimming in produce. But if you know me well enough, you will know that yes, I bought 4 bunches of kale and 5 bunches of collards without a clue as to what I’d make.. in addition to the broccoli, cabbage, tomatoes and fresh black eyed peas.
Fresh black eyed peas were new to me. I’ve tried dried black eyed peas before but trust me, there is a reason they call them black eyed peas. And no, I am not talking about their cute black mark. I am talking about the pea business. THEY TASTE LIKE PEAS! I never captured that flavour from dried or canned varieties. Not entirely sure whether this was a seasonal fresh bean, I snagged a bunch and ultimately decided to try this Goan black eyed pea curry. The tomato-coconut milk infused broth was tantalizing, spiced with ginger, coriander, cumin and tamarind with a bit of sweetness from maple syrup (use jaggery for a more authentic flavour). Exotic yet light, I served it with brown rice. Since fresh black eyed peas were new to me, I pre-cooked them beforehand (~30 minutes) but I think this recipe would lend well to cooking the fresh black eyed peas in the broth (adding the tomato to the end since it is acidic).
I have earmarked the fresh purple hull beans for my next visit. Rob doesn’t mind going to Canino’s because it is right next to a delicious Mexican bakery: El Bollilo. I get my fresh beans and he gets some fresh churros!
PS. I also love that Canino’s opens at 6am nearly every single day (the back stalls apparently have their own random schedule). It is great for us early birds! :)
Not only for New Year’s Day, other black eyed peas recipe here:
It took me a while to realize it, but Houston’s claim to fame is not its hot summer. It may be infamous for its stifling, humid summers, but that’s not when the most fun occur. For people, nor plants.
I love it when readers help me learn the ropes of my new town. It took me a while to wrap my head around it, but it is just too hot for most vegetables to grow. Coming from Ontario, summer equals fresh vegetables. Right now, we are between seasons in Texas. I will quit lamenting the lack of flavourful tomatoes (for now), the local vegetables will be coming in the fall and spring. Despite being between seasons, vegetables can still be grown, though. Recently I visited an urban farm and loved it so much, I wanted to share the experience with you.
The Last Organic Outpost is an urban, community farm. We weren’t sure what to expect, as this farm is close to where we live. Truly a hidden gem, they encourage the community to become involved in creating their own farming experience and ultimately to sell enough to become self-driven.
It is completely volunteer-run, except for one farmer they employ. They minimize costs by recycling unwanted goods. Donated hot tubs will be turned into planters. Cars have been turned into vermicomposters, bee havens, etc.
Of course, they also grow vegetables. Despite being between seasons, they were growing greens (collards, dinosaur kale, spinach — all grown year-round), herbs, sweet peppers, eggplant, winter squash as well as figs and papayas. The somewhat chaotic plants reminded me of my small garden in Toronto.
At first I thought it was just a big plant with pretty flowers, but they also had different kinds of okra. Small, long and purple varieties. I had never tried just picked okra and it was refreshingly crisp.
Talk about freshly picked, they had produce for sale as well as special sampler bags which is what we purchased (it included kale, spinach, eggplant and butternut squash). Because it is volunteer-driven, their hours are variable but keep an eye on their facebook page if you want to become more involved.
Have no fear, there is still a delicious recipe attached to this post. When in the South, why not try their local specialties, too? Although traditional beans and greens in the South usually use collards, black eyed peas and ham/bacon, this one was a nice twist. I honesty wasn’t expecting much, but was blown away by the flavour. A quality liquid smoke definitely brings this dish to the next level. Have you ever looked at the ingredient lists of the liquid smokes at the store? I thought we could omit it from our Houston pantry, but caved. Once we started looking, though, there were a lot of additives to most liquid smoke “seasonings”. The one we settled on just has water, hickory smoke, mesquite smoke as its ingredients and I really like it. It also won this taste test. :)
Anyways, this is a simple skillet saute with carrots, (pinto) beans and (kale) greens. I used a melange of spices for my vegetable stock substitute and I think it worked really well with the liquid smoke. Easy, peasy.. and delicious.
I am looking forward to coming back to The Last Organic Outpost once the growing season resumes. :)
While we planned our trip to Burning Man half a year in advance, it wasn’t until we bought our plane tickets that we decided to tack on a side trip to Portland and then roadtrip it down to the desert. Rob was worried that I wouldn’t like the extreme nature of the camping we’d have to do in the desert, so we planned for success. How could we not enjoy Portland?
Turns out that each part of the trip was better than the next. After Portland, we drove East through the Columbia River Gorge, stopping at the Hydro Dam and Multnomah Falls. The path to the top of the falls may only be 1.25 miles long, but you are basically going up and up. Kind of like Mother Nature’s Stairmaster. There was a 700ft elevation. It was a fun but tiring jaunt! If I lived in Portland, I could see this as a fun fitness bench marker (similar to the Grouse Grind in Vancouver, which I have yet to do). How fast can you climb the falls?
The following day, we skirted along the gorge, through the Hood River Fruit Loop and stopped to pick up local sweet peaches and huckleberries (it was my first time trying them – they are similar to a tart wild blueberry).
Our next stop was the Smith Rock State Park. Since it took us a good 3 hours to get here, it was too late to begin the Misery Ridge trail. Because of the heat and lack of shade, you should begin this early in the day. In any case, we didn’t bring our hiking boots with us, so we had already planned to do smaller hikes and watch some of the mountain climbers.
Our next destination was the Newberry National Volcanic Monument. Billed as the best lava park between Iceland and Hawaii, we had fun walking around the volcanic crater and the lava field below. To be honest, I didn’t even know there were volcanoes on the continental US. We didn’t have enough time to explore the lava tubes, but we will definitely be back.
The next day, we scheduled a whole day for Crater Lake National Park. You can drive around the lake and stop off for lots of smaller hikes. We hiked up to a great lookout, again on another side, to see some hoodoos, and some waterfalls. It was nice to get a variety of vistas from each hike.
The trip through Oregon was fabulous. I highly recommend it.
But I know you are here for the food. You see, we stocked up a bit with food from Portland. I wasn’t sure what lurked in the smaller towns. Turns out we lucked out in Bend, Oregon. We found a local brew pub (Rob’s mission was to try out local brews) that served vegan eats. I changed the tempeh reuben sandwich into a salad and I was blown away. It was really good. I haven’t had enough time to recreate the entire salad (now on my bucket list) but I started with making a raw thousand island dressing.
Originating from the Thousand Islands region (hola Ontario!), thousand island dressing is probably one of the most ubiquitous North American creamy sauces, as a mayonnaise dressing spiced with tomato/ketchup but may also have bits of pickle, olives, etc.
The creaminess of my raw version of dressing is from cashews. The deep tomato flavour comes from sun-dried tomatoes. Garlic and onion add further ripples, while the vinegar brightens the dressing. The acidic dill pickle brings this up a notch. The only trick is that the cashews need to be soaked a few hours for easier blending.
For my salad, I just used up the random vegetables in my fridge. I first wilted the kale with lemon juice and then tossed in cucumber, red pepper, olives and hemp seeds. I am not sure they were the perfect combination (and not the prettiest salad, either) but the dressing was perfect. Now I know where to start with my own tempeh reuben salad. :)
In any case, this vacation has spurred my love of Oregon. I am even more excited to try to schedule in Cycle Oregon next year!
You may not have noticed, but I snuck away last week. An absolutely epic road trip, starting at Portland, the vegan mecca, meandering through lakes and mountains, including Crater Lake, reaching our ultimate destination: Burning Man. I hope to summarize our adventures and if I don’t I’ll be sure to share if Rob posts anything on his website. He is much better at looking through photos afterwards. I have a hard enough time keeping track of my food photos. ;)
Before we left, I tried to cook through our pile of produce. Serendipitously, I had everything for this delicious Caribbean Stew. It is from Moosewood’s latest cookbook: Moosewood Restaurant Favorites. Through their collective, they run a restaurant in Ithica, New York, and have written many cookbooks over the past few decades. Most of my Moosewood cookbooks were bought/discovered at used book sales, although they are still keeping up with the times. Their latest cookbook, while not entirely vegan (they still use cheese, although less than before) and not even vegetarian (they have recipes for fish), includes updates from their restaurant favourites. Between their section dedicated to Soups (Thai Butternut Squash Soup, Texas Barbecue Bean Soup, Red Lentil Soup), to Main Dish Salads (Peruvian Quinoa and Vegetable Salad), to Curries and Stews (Lentil-Vegetable Sambar, Navajo Stew), a section dedicated to Beans (Basque Beans, Caribbean Red Beans, Creole Red Beans), and sides (Lentil Dhal), I was very pleased with their vegan recipes.
And this Caribbean Stew? It did not disappoint. A delicious medley of sweet potato, red bell pepper, tomato, cabbage and kale in a flavourful (not too) spicy broth made with ginger and green chiles. The dash of nutmeg and lime finish kept this special. As part of their growing process, Moosewood recommends more fresh herbs than before (I learned that lesson, too!) and this included fresh ginger, thyme and cilantro. They also recommended freshly grated nutmeg which is definitely more potent than pre-bought powdered. I modified the original recipe slightly, noted below. I decreased the ginger, although I probably didn’t need to be scared of the bit of heat it would impart. I also found the directions to cook everything on low to be too slow, so I increased my heat to medium-low and eventually medium. In the end, though, it was a fabulous soup. Tons of veggies with a delicious broth. A bit lacking in the protein department, I served it with the suggested brown rice. I bet you could easily sneak in some beans or tofu in there, too.
I really want to share this cookbook with you. Thankfully the publisher is letting me give away a cookbook to one reader living in the US or Canada. To be entered, please leave a comment here, telling me about your favourite Moosewood dish. If you haven’t made anything by Moosewood yet, have a look through the table of contents of Moosewood Restaurant Favorites on amazon (or my list below) and tell me what you want to cook the most. I will randomly select a winner on September 15, 2013. Good luck!
Other Moosewood recipes I have shared:
French Barley Salad
Chinese Cabbage and Fermented Black Beans
Spanish Green Bean and Lime Bean Stew
Japanese Winter Stew
African Pineapple Kale Peanut Stew
Italian Stew with Winter Squash and Chickpeas
Thyme-Spiced Toasted Pumpkin Seeds and Cranberries.