After so many people recommended Meetup a few weeks ago, I have really been making an effort to get out and meet new people and experience new things. I like the Houston meetups so far because they don’t fill up so fast. I often tried to sign up for Toronto meetups but they would fill up before I knew whether I could commit to the event. Houston also has quite a variety of groups. Since there are so many groups, it has become interesting to see which of my “interests” has people with which I click the most.
My blog is mostly about healthy vegan food, so I picked a raw vegan potluck as my first foray into social gathering.
The meeting was tucked at the top of Central Market, with a pretty view of the colourful aisles of groceries. However, the most beautiful produce was upstairs, in our room. The spread of delicious food was incredible. Foodie heaven! Lots and lots of salads. Some were more simple and others more elaborate. A lot of classic raw dishes, too: raw zucchini spaghetti with marinara, raw walnut tacos, guacamole and lots of delicious raw crackers. Zucchini pesto roll-ups were unique (and very good). I honestly thought there would be more desserts, but the two that were there were incredible: raw peach cobbler and superfood nut butter cups (I recognized Sarah’s recipe).
I had master plans to bring Genevieve’s raw tropical jicama nachos but when I went to assemble the dish after work, my pineapple was not ripe enough and my peaches were screaming: eat me NOW! So, at the last minute, I ended up making this salad. It passed the taste-test with flying colours, and off I ran.
As we each introduced the meal we brought, I felt a bit sheepish because I ended up picking a dressing with maple syrup, which is technically not raw. This is not a problem for me, and I think most people still tried it because there wasn’t much left by the end of the night. In any case, I thought it was delicious. I usually eat my kale salads with a citrus dressing, but the maple-miso dressing worked really well with the sweet peaches, earthy kale and crunchy hazelnuts. It would be perfect for picnics, too.
Have you ever been to Meetups in your city?
Being known as a healthy eater has its drawbacks.
My meals have now become suspicious. Suspicious for healthy ingredients. What have I hidden in the meal this time?
Trust me, I cater to my audience. If baking for myself, I’d easily experiment with squash carob brownies, cauliflower chocolate cake, chocolate chip chickpea blondies or chocolate mint black bean cookies. I have even gambled with (oh so good) chocolate tofu mousse pie with my family for Easter.
But for the harshest critics, I go all out.
Thus when Rob’s family came over for a birthday celebration and I offered to supply dessert, I had to determine my plan of attack.
Almost Guiltless Chocolate Mousse Pie? I knew it was a winner, but I had no tofu.
Rob suggested my Carrot Cake Cupcakes since he really liked them, but I thought they might be a bit “out there”. Carrots for a birthday dessert? (Only mine..)
Experiment with a new recipe? I considered Terry’s Italian Cashewcotta Cheesecake or Ethiopian Chocolate Flourless Torte, but still had the issue of missing ingredients.
Then I worked backwards. What do I have in my pantry? Coconut oil, nuts and cocoa powder. Cashews, walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds. Sounded delicious already. I peered around the corner of the cabinet and pulled out hazelnut butter. Eureka! A raw chocolate hazelnut cheesecake.
I like raw desserts because I can sample the batter and can easily gauge how it will turn out. Licking the batter from the blender, I knew this was going to be good. The next afternoon, I brought out the cheesecake to thaw. I cut a piece before everyone arrived. You know, for blogging photography purposes. But I sliced off a tiny sliver so I could do some tasting research, too.
I know I said my last raw cheesecake was utterly sinful, but how can a key lime pie compete with a chocolate cheesecake? A chocolate hazelnut cheesecake? It can’t. This my friends, was pure cocoa bliss.
Better than Nutella filling in a cheesecake form, on a cocoa-hazelnut-date crust. Decadent but not too rich and not too sweet. Perfect.
Trust me, I was very confident with this dessert.
Before I served it, I was pummeled with questions, though. “What IS this?” I was asked. Ingredients or the name of the dish? Ingredients, tell me. Nuts, coconut oil, cocoa powder, agave, dates… Avocados? I hate avocados.. No avocados…
Thank goodness it was a resounding success. Definitely my best dessert yet.
While I planted basil this summer, I didn’t use very much of it. It bolted before I knew what I wanted to do with it. My Pesto Perpetuo basil, a non-bolting basil, from two years ago was a basil warehouse. I had access to basil year-round as it survived the trip back into the house during winter. However, it died when I put it back outside this year. I suppose annuals have to die at some point. Given my lack of basil this summer, I feel that it is worth scoping it out next year.
Of course, it makes sense that once the summer is mere a distant memory, the days are cold and the rides back home in the night even colder, all I want is pesto. One of my proliferative herbs this summer was sage (if only the thyme and rosemary could have taken some advice). It may be synonymous with Thanksgiving stuffing, but one can definitely look beyond that.
You actually don’t need cups of sage to make this pesto. Instead sage is buffered with mild baby spinach to create a garlicky spread. Instead of pine nuts, I used toasted hazelnuts and hazelnut oil to flavour this winter pesto. The nutritional yeast adds the traditional cheesy taste but feel free to omit it. I chose to serve it with hazelnut-roasted delicata squash rings. Served on more greens, you have a very flavourful salad. Add white beans to make this a main meal. I didn’t use too much oil so my pesto was more thick than oily. Loaded with flavour. Later in the week, I liked it smeared inside a green wrap (with a nod to my simple hazelnut-roasted squash, avocado and cucumber wrap).
Do you like pesto in the winter?
Where have all the hazelnuts gone?
While Rob and I went all out for our Indian Easter feast, my parents were sleeping over which meant we also had plan for breakfast. Thankfully, oatmeal works for my Mom, Rob and me. Not so much for my Dad.
My Dad eats bagels and Nutella for breakfast. I had neither. Rob picked up some Montreal-style bagels from St Lawrence Market and I decided to work on the Nutella. Without actually buying Nutella.
I have been meaning to try making my own homemade nut butter for a while, so I was eager to try Katie’s Better than Nutella recipe. I just needed some hazelnuts. Last year, I discovered the grocers in Little India sell hazelnuts super cheap. Turns out all 3 grocers had no hazelnuts. Then I went to my go-to bulk store, and they were out, too. Apparently their supplier had been out for the last 6 weeks.
Where have all the hazelnuts gone?
I re-evaluated my options:
a) Head elsewhere to buy hazelnuts (ie, The Big Carrot or the Bulk Barn)
b) Use hazelnut butter instead of hazelnuts
c) Substitute another nut (apparently Nutella used to be a mix of almonds and hazelnuts)
d) Make a chocolate-bean spread instead that didn’t require hazelnuts
Rob told me not to buy anything. We are trying to empty our pantries, not refill them. Option A and possibly option B were out. I really wanted to make a Nutella substitute, since this was for my Dad and he may not be as smitten with a chocolate bean spread as me. But you gotta do what you gotta do. I peered into our pantry and boo-yah, we had hazelnut butter! Option B it was!
I modified Ricki’s recipe slightly, but mainly with the sweetener only. After her warning that stevia-only sweetened chocolate could have a weird taste, I decided to substitute it with a portion of coconut sugar. Feel free to use your own sweetener of choice (agave, maple syrup, sugar, etc). Super simple to make, I threw everything into my Vitamix. As it heated up, the coconut oil melted making it a smooth, silky consistency (which is what I photographed). Leftovers were popped into the fridge where it firmed up considerably. It was still spreadable and melted as it was spread onto warm, toasted bagels. Spreading it onto cold bagels could be more difficult, though.
The verdict? According to me and Rob: Better than Nutella. Silky smooth, with a lovely cocoa flavour with a touch of sweetness. I found this a bit too sweet for my liking but Rob thought it was perfect, or possibly under sweetened. My Dad said it was ok. Perhaps it wasn’t sweet enough, but he wouldn’t elaborate. (For the record, while Rob and my Mom thought the banana naan were wonderful, my Dad thought they should have been more fluffy, despite acknowledging they were already more fluffy than the store-bought naan).We were planning on gifting the remainder of the Notella to my Dad when he left, but it was nearly demolished over the course of the weekend. There was just a little left.. and had my Dad stayed for breakfast #2, it would have been all gone. Not sure where else to put this homemade Nutella? How about my Nutella and kiwi crepes or Nutella-filled aebleskiver?
I loved hearing how you decide to share your blog with your friends and co-workers after my last post. As Joanne said, sometimes there are clues that a blog may be lurking in the background, or at least a true love of cooking. Rarely repeated lunches, guilty as charged. Beyond that, I try not to share my profound love of beans with just anyone. I don’t want to be perceived as preachy once I start talking about my food choices (no meat, dairy, fish, refined flours, refined sugars, white rice and potatoes, etc). You know you are my friend when I discuss the virtues of lentils over chickpeas. Although walking into my kitchen, with its rows of dried beans are a quick giveaway. If you make it up into my study, then my collection of cookbooks is a dead giveaway that I love to cook.
I have a lot of cookbooks. A lot. Recently, I won a subscription to Eat Your Books, a website that indexes cookbook recipes for easier searching. Sadly, my most loved cookbooks (namely my vegan faves) have not yet been indexed (the scourge of Tess’ cookbooks being not-so-mainstream). However, this allows me to check out some of my other cookbooks, that I would not have pulled off the shelf simply because they are not vegan. The best recipes are those that are accidentally vegan. They aren’t trying to be something meaty.
I recently made a delicious celeriac and white bean puree from Terry’s new cookbook. I know her cookbook will get lambasted for using the most isoteric ingredients, but I love it because my kitchen is stocked with all things isoteric and I have bought even more pantry items! I also push myself to try new vegetables. Despite hating celery, I scoped out celeriac, also known as celery root. Sunny’s for the win, after the St Lawrence Market was out that week. And yes, it is now my newest favourite root vegetable. An underdog if you ever looked at it; it is a white/grey/dirty thing all gnarled up in roots. But as a non-starchy vegetable root (not part of the cruciferous gang, sadly), it tastes like a cross between a potato and has the nice parts of celery: a sweet, yet subtle earthy celery taste. It tastes a bit nutty with hints of lemon, too.
So, when I was left with half a celeriac, I turned to Eat Your Books. I found an intriguing celeriac schnitzel in my German cookbook (here‘s Bittman’s version), lots of mashes, a lot of soups, some slaws and salads. I will have to get more celeriac to try all the recipes! However, this time I was drawn to a vegan-friendly lentil salad with celeriac from Ottlenghi’s Plenty (similar recipe here).
Of course, I adapted the recipe. Instead of boiling the celeriac, I opted to roast it. I also decreased the dressing, making it less oily and I tried to play up the hazelnut flavour by pairing the hazelnut oil with a mild rice vinegar (it would be interesting to try this with a balsamic, me thinks). However, the majority of the hazelnut taste came from the roasted hazelnuts, instead. I liked the juxtaposition of warming hazelnut with the roasted celeriac, earthy lentils and bright mint. It is a nice, unassuming salad and a great way to introduce someone to celeriac.
As far as I know, my Dad is still alive. You see, he threw a surprise party for my mom.
This was a real surprise for her because well, it wasn’t her birthday. No date in the calendar that would tip her off that 35 of her closest family and friends would gather in Ottawa for her.
In fact, she thought she was going to to be driving down to Toronto for the weekend. Did I have any plans? she asked. Of course not! I knew that while I wouldn’t meet her in my kitchen, I would be sharing breakfast with her that weekend. In Ottawa, instead of Toronto.
For months, my Dad had plotted and schemed.
He kind of needed that long because he was down to one working hand. After a broken wrist, and slicing through a handful of fingers, my Dad had to be a master to make chicken skewers without my Mom figuring things out… nevermind the 3 cakes and couscous salad he also made.
My brother and sister-in-law were in charge of appetizers, whereas I was the Salad and Dip Queen.
I tried to follow my mom’s salad party suggestions: 1 leafy green salad and 1 bean or grain salad. However, since we were feeding 35 people, my Dad asked me to diversify with more salads rather than fewer salads.
I mixed up both new and old recipes, and all but one was a hit, so I thought I would share them this week since I had a few requests for the recipes.
For the leafy green salad, I kind of went along with what my Dad had lying around at home… Romaine was thrown together with strawberries, almonds and a maple-based vinaigrette. It was gone before I even made it to the buffet line. Someone had actually already removed the bowl before I was there, it was finito.
For the heartier salads, I had a no-brainer up my sleeve: the 11-Spice Lentil Salad with Capers and Currants. I have made it so often, and now that my family has tried it, I can’t think of anyone who has not sampled it. It will have to be retired for a bit… at least until potluck season picks up again next summer.
Since Sarah’s lentil salad was such a hit, I thought it would be great to try another one of her salads for the party. She had a lovely tarragon string bean salad that caught my eye. I hesitated about bringing another bean salad to the party, especially with tarragon, but once I tasted it I knew it would be alright. Green beans aren’t so scary, are they?
This salad was simple. Lightly steamed green beans were paired with Great Northern white beans in a light tarragon vinaigrette. Like most of Sarah’s recipes, I decreased the oil, and in the hubbub of the party, I forgot to add the toasted hazelnuts. No worries, though, because the salad was gobbled up.
Rob has the privilege of having a nice breakfast supplied at work. Each morning, the offerings vary from pancakes, waffles, bacon, sausages, croissants, danishes, muffins, oatmeal, muesli, yogurt, fruit salad, dried fruit and nuts. He complains about the breakfast, though, and shuns most of the menu. Sub-par baked goods and homemade oatmeal that tastes better, he usually opts for the fruit salad with yogurt and dried fruits and nuts. But even then, he complains about the fruit salad. Too much filler, like honeydew and cantaloupe, where is mango? He wants more pineapple, strawberries and blueberries. Add some papaya, while you’re at it. Apple and pear, too. He wants ginger.
Yes, I am typing this up verbatim as he tells me all his breakfast fruit salad desires.
He has been dubbed a food snob by his co-workers. Rightfully so, if I may add.
To be honest, I felt quite liberated when I stopped eating from the (rare) free lunches provided at work. But if fresh fruit or a nice salad is available, I will gladly snack on that.
Melons don’t tend to get the respect they deserve. After biking, sometimes all I wanted was a big piece of watermelon. And while Rob prefers cantaloupe over honeydew (both “filler” fruit), I prefer the reverse. On the fruit echelon, berries rank high for me, but variety is important as well.
Cantaloupe very rarely gets paired with anything… a loner, or sometimes with honeydew. Hidden within a fruit salad, it can go unnoticed. Or shunned when it takes centre stage. I enjoy combining fruit into savoury dishes, and my curiosity was piqued when some friends recommended the bulgur and cantaloupe salad in Supermarket Vegan.
Here, we have a seemingly simple salad but the citrus-spiked bulgur salad works incredibly well with the cantaloupe. As with any salad, quality ingredients make this jump to the next level.
First the cantaloupe. I increased the ratio of cantaloupe-to-bulgur ratio, opting to use an entire small cantaloupe for the salad. Choose a firm not overripe cantaloupe for best results. Next, fresh orange juice is key and I squished 2 Navel oranges to reconstitute the little nuts of bulgur goodness. The original recipe suggested a fine-grain bulgur but I used medium-grain which was perfect. I swapped the herbs around, opting for more fresh mint than parsley, and felt that both had a roll in the flavourful salad. For my nut of choice, I went with hazelnuts that I had unearthed during our move. Again, who would have thought it would work so well? I ended up adding cooked chickpeas to the leftover salad to turn it into a main meal and it was equally delicious.
Heck, who would have thought this whole salad would taste so good? Cantaloupe, you are definitely an unsung hero.
This is my submission to Deb for this week’s Souper Sundays, and to this month’s Healing Foods featuring whole grains, to this month’s Simple and in Season and to Ricki’s new Summer Wellness Weekends.
I spent the summer training for a double imperial century bike ride and have since rejuvenated my cycling energy within the past couple of weeks. You see, I finally bought a road bike. This summer, I was using a flat-bar hybrid which is a great bike, but not ideal for cycling such long distances. With my upright seating position, I often felt like I was a parachute in the wind!
They say athletes get tired of the same snacks day after day. Flavour fatigue. Despite peddling over 4000-km on my bike this year, I guess I don’t exercise enough to get bored of the high energy snacks. Oats and dates have played prominent roles in many of the snacks, but I wanted to try something different.
Adapted from Runner’s World, these energy bars are similar to other bars based with dried fruit, but instead of dates, it uses figs as the main component. Dried cranberries and raisins add extra flavour with roasted hazelnuts adding healthy fat. There is only a minimal amount of honey so these are not overtly sweet. Technically, they travelled well and kept their shape during the summer heat.
I don’t like late brunches because I have to eat something right away in the morning. Something about hypoglycemia if I wait too long.
But there are a few times when breakfast doesn’t sit well with me.
And that’s when I am nervous.
Nervous about writing an exam that morning, or tripping on my bridesmaid dress while I help my (now) sister-in-law walk around the altar 3 times, or you know, the butterflies before cycling to/from Woodstock (a possible 300km round-trip, but we ended up taking the go-train for a portion of the trip once the total downpour started so our total was 250km). Those butterflies don’t let much sit well in my stomach even if I know this is the most important time to be eating.
But I think I have found my favourite pre-jitters breakfast: Baked Blueberry Oatmeal Breakfast Pudding.
Adapted from Diet, Dessert n Dogs, this is a healthy breakfast creamy pudding (sans creme) with oats and nuts, speckled with juicy, succulent blueberries. And it glides down so easily. A small portion is surprisingly filling and the fresh blueberries really make this a knock-out morning treat. Who says lunch and dinner should have all the fun? Bake this once and have a delicious breakfast all week. Personally, I preferred it cold, but it is also good warmed up.
Here are other variations that have sparked my interest:
I went to a Turkish grocery store this weekend and was reminded how much I adore Turkish cuisine. I finally found red pepper paste, which I couldn’t find in Turkey outside Istanbul. I also picked up rose water and orange blossom water. I also know where to go when my Aleppo chili flakes run out. My 200g stash from Safranbolu cost me 2 YTL (~$1.30) and will hopefully last a while, though.
I travelled to Turkey for two weeks in April and while the first thing I did when I arrived back was gather Turkish cookbooks from the library, I have yet to cook something Turkish since my return. After my trip to Marche Istanbul, I was brought back to my feasts in Turkey. The food there was fabulous, often from very simple ingredients. I was adamant I would delve back to Turkey in my kitchen.
While I quickly associate pistachios with Turkey, Turkey is actually the world’s largest producer of hazelnuts. Hazelnuts, also known as filberts, have a rich delicious flavour and are commonly used in desserts – just think of the fabulous chocolate hazelnut spread, Nutella! In this dish, hazelnuts are used in a savoury salad. They are ground to a paste to form a creamy, lemony sauce.
While I didn’t try this dish while in Turkey, I spotted a baked zucchini and apple salad with a lemon hazelnut sauce (taratorlu kabak) in The Food and Cooking of Turkey by Ghillie Basan and adapted it slightly. The winner in this recipe is the lemon hazelnut sauce. It is deliciously creamy with the roasted hazelnuts ground to a thick paste with garlic, and then infused with fresh lemon juice and olive oil. It was added to baked zucchini and apples and then sprinkled with chopped hazelnuts. The sweet apples add a nice accent, and it is paramount to pick an apple that holds its shape after cooking (I used Golden Delicious). As Basan notes, the dressing pairs well with many fruits and vegetables (plums, eggplant, squash, bell pepper, etc). I baked the zucchini and think it was good but it would be even more succulent if the veggies were grilled (says the one without a barbecue).
Lastly, I wanted to thank everyone who voted for my Mexican Salad with Creamy Avocado Dressing in the last round of No Croutons Required. I am honoured to have been picked as the May winner, especially as there were many tasty dishes on the menu. This is my submission to this month’s theme focusing on zucchini and to Preeti’s Green Gourmet Event at W’Rite’ Food as well as to Deb for this week’s Souper Sundays (which also includes salads).