26 March 2015

Tucos Taco Lounge

Last time I posted I made reference to a few newish projects that were keeping us on our toes over here and I thought it time that I tell you about them, or one of them in particular.  For those of you who know me well or live close by this will be old news but for others - well, it's kind of a big deal.

We opened a restaurant.

It still kind of sounds crazy when I say it out loud.  But it's both awesome and true, and kind of a funny story.

Since forever ago (or rather in the past 6-7 years), Mark has been on my case and telling me that I need to open a restaurant.  Where we live in the bumping metropolis of Sudbury (a little bit of sarcasm), there was not a vegan, let alone a vegetarian restaurant to speak of.  Some of our local restaurants have been really accommodating with us over the years, but it's made it hard to go out to eat.  After a certain point you get a little bored of hummus sandwiches and veggie pastas.  So anyway, Mark was constantly on my case saying, "Jess, you need to open up a vegan restaurant.  You need to share your cooking.  And if you don't do it, someone else will."

But I'm not a huge risk taker, and although I've worked in bars and restaurants over the years*, I was never going to just up and open a restaurant.  And so just as predicted, someone else did first.  It just happened to work out that the "someone" turned out to be my husband and his friend Dan.

Across the street from from the record store and where we live, has sat a vacant KFC for more than 3 years and last year at some point Mark decided it was the perfect spot for a vegan restaurant.  And so he bought it.  It was one of the craziest and most brilliant moves ever.  And of course once the wheels were in motion I couldn't just sit back and not get involved at all, so I was at the ready to offer my feedback on design and concept when asked and of course with the food too.  With our beloved Mexico as inspiration, I worked really hard on the menu with Mark and crafted recipes that I thought (and hoped!) would be well loved by all.

And after many months of that saw Mark and Dan, his wife Melissa, and many others pouring endless hours of work into it, the doors to Tucos Taco Lounge opened just before Christmas.  So now, where once stood a fast food restaurant that profited on the death of countless animals, stands our little vegan restaurant.  And it's been a super fun whirlwind ever since.

I know the majority of you, my amazing readers, don't live close enough to visit - but if you ever do, I'd love to meet you for tacos and drinks at Tucos.  XO

Oh, and as for the other project in the works, I've got another cookbook on the go!  It's going to be awesome and I'm thrilled with be working with my girl Jackie Sobon again, so you can bet your bottom dollar it will be full of mouthwatering photos too.  I can't wait to share more about it but will wait until things have begun to take shape.

*Aside: Mark and I actually met in a bar that showcased live music.  I was the bartender and he was the singer-songwriter in the band taking the stage that night.

Photo credits from lovely friends:
top 4 images via Andrew Knapp
empty table via Rebecca Bose
bean & seitan tacos via Shauna Heron

13 March 2015

Quick Soba Bowls with Cabbage, Peas + Edamame

I don't know about where you live, but around here the weather has finally taken a turn towards spring and it feels amazing.  I'm getting away with wearing wellies instead of my clunky winter boots, the snow is slowly melting away and I'm actually excited to see pavement.  (Although not nearly as excited as I am to see grass!)  Combined with the extra daylight we've been gleaning since rolling the clocks forward last weekend I'm feeling the change coming and there's an extra spring in my step.

I've been craving purples and greens too like you wouldn't believe.  Shredded purple cabbage has been making appearances in everything.  I can't get enough.  Meals have been simple over here as I've been really busy working on a new project & Mark's super busy with a wild & crazy thing we did last year.  (More on all of that next week.  But if you creep my Instagram feed, you can probably catch some hints.)

So a super quick & easy soba bowl was the name of game to fill our bellies.  I've been loving the simple combination of lemon and liquid aminos.  Yum, yum.  And all the little bursts of sweet green peas had me dreaming of warm days to come and being barefoot in the grass.  I can't wait.  But until then I'll settle for this.

Quick Soba Bowls with Cabbage, Peas + Edamame (vegan + gluten free)
makes 2 large servings

100g soba noodles* (use 100% buckwheat soba for gluten free)
2 cups thinly sliced red cabbage
1/2 cup frozen edemame
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 lemon, juiced (about 1/4 cup)
2-4 tbsp Bragg's liquid aminos (aka all purpose seasoning)

1.  Whisk together the lemon juice and liquid aminos.  Taste and if desired add more aminos to increase the saltiness.

2. Cook soba noodles according to package directions.  Drain, rinse with cool water and set aside.  If desired, toss with a little drizzle of Bragg's to keep them from sticking together.

3. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a small pot.  Add the peas and edamame and cook for 3-4 minutes, until tender.  Drain, but don't rinse them, instead add to the soba noodles along with the cabbage.  Toss with the lemon sauce and serve.

*Notes: I realize that not all soba noodles are packaged in the same way, so use your own judgment here and use 1-2 bundles depending on how hungry you are.

Have a lovely weekend.  XO

27 February 2015

But I Could Never Go Vegan Review + Giveaway

I've been reading Keeping' It Kind since its early days, and right from the get go I was hooked.  Kristy's got such a flare for sharing stories that just makes you want to read more.  And then there's the food... Oh, the food!  Her recipes are always super creative and delicious and they look amazing.  Like almost-too-good-to-eat amazing.  (But if I was her neighbour, I'd have long ago befriend her and I'd totally be over all the time eating.  For the record.  And I mean that in the least creepy way possible.)

So you can imagine my delight when Kristy announced that she was writing a book!  And that we shared a publisher too - huzzah!  I was over the moon, because I knew just how amazing her book would be.

When I got home one day to find it had arrived on my doorstep, I don't think I even waited to take my coat off.  I sat down right where I was on the floor and I didn't move for almost an hour as I read through it.  I don't know if I'd ever call a cookbook a "page turner", but that's exactly how I felt with But I Could Never Go Vegan - I seriously couldn't wait to see what ingenious recipe lay ahead on the next page!

In the book, each chapter identifies a common excuse that one might give as why they could never go vegan, "I could never give up cheese!",  "It's all rabbit food.", "Tofu doesn't taste like anything.", "Where would I get my protein?", and then follows with incredible recipes refuting the excuse.  It's funny, it's approachable, and it's perfect for anyone interested in dabbling in a vegan diet but also for those already there.  With recipes like Balsamic Baked Pears with Cashew Blue Cheese, BBQ Bacon Burgers (as pictured on the cover), and Orange-Miso Mushroom Scallops with Oranges, Fennel & Forbidden Rice there is no way anyone will be disappointed.

I of course started with the chapter titled, "You Can't Bake Without Butter or Eggs!" because I can't help but love to bake.

We all loved the Salted Caramel Peanut Butter Bars and they went really fast.  I had a hard time getting a nice smooth date caramel sauce in my Blentec (I only have the WildSide jar and the smaller jar would have come in handy here), so next time I'll use my food processor or even my hand blender.  Although, in actual fact, I kind of enjoyed getting a little bite of date in the occasional mouthful.

I made Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies, and I went ahead and substituted all whole wheat flour for the all purpose, which made them a bit too tough and cakey - my bad.  Woodrow still loved them and gobbled them all up though!  Next time I'll go all in with all purpose flour and get the intended results.

The Chickpea Omelettes were a no brainer because they made for a super quick and delicious lunch, and they are so high in protein and filling to boot.  Although I've made quiches before with chickpea flour, this was my first omelette made with it.  I loved mine as per the book, and I made one plain for Woodrow which he enjoyed sliced into wedges and dipped.

The Crispy Baked Onion Rings were off the charts amazing.  So good in fact, that although I had had the best of intentions of making the super up BBQ Cauliflower Salad topped with them, we ate them all and called it a night.  Hah.  Double the greens tomorrow, right?

I really want to share the recipe with you though, so that you can get an idea of how awesome this book is.  The recipe is long, but don't be daunted by it - there's lots of downtime while things are cooking.  Plus, just look at it.  Wow.

Photo by Chris Miller. 

BBQ Cauliflower Salad with Zesty Ranch Dressing
Serves 4 Gluten-Free | Plan-Ahead

You know those big BBQ sandwiches stuffed with onion rings? Imagine taking away the bread, dumping everything else into a bowl with some lettuce, and dousing it with ranch dressing. That’s what this salad is all about. Roasted cauliflower coated in Barbecue Sauce makes an unforgettable replacement for meat and is an instant favorite of all who try it (even cauliflower-phobes). Topped with corn, tomatoes, and Crispy Baked Onion Rings this salad is for everyone who thinks a salad can’t be hearty, satisfying, and downright mouthwatering. All that, and it’s vegan!

Prep Time: 15 minutes (not including time to prepare Onion Rings and Zesty Ranch Dressing)
Cook Time: 30 minutes

BBQ cauliflower
1 head cauliflower, broken into small florets
Olive oil spray
1 tablespoon liquid aminos
½ teaspoon liquid smoke
½ teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
Salt and black pepper to taste
Juice of ½ lemon
1 cup (250 ml) Barbecue Sauce
1 tablespoon cornstarch

4 cups (120 g) mixed greens or lettuce
1½ cups (210 g) corn kernels
1½ cups (240 g) diced tomatoes
1 avocado, pitted, peeled, and chopped into chunks
Zesty Ranch Dressing (recipe below)
Crispy Baked Onion Rings (recipe below)

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
  2. Spread the cauliflower florets on the sheet. Lightly spray with olive oil. Drizzle with the liquid aminos and liquid smoke and sprinkle with the cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, salt, and pepper. Squeeze the lemon juice over them. Toss to fully coat each piece. Roast for 20 minutes, tossing once halfway through to ensure even cooking.
  3. Mix the Barbecue Sauce and cornstarch in a cup. After 20 minutes, remove the cauliflower from the oven, add the sauce, and toss. Bake 5 to 10 minutes more, until most of the BBQ sauce has dried.
  4. Toss together the greens, corn, tomatoes, and avocado in a bowl. Divide the salad among four bowls, top with the BBQ cauliflower, drizzle with the dressing, and top with the onion rings. Serve immediately.

Zesty Ranch Dressing
Makes 1½ cups Gluten-Free, Soy-Free, Plan Ahead

What doesn’t taste good dipped into ranch dressing? What salad doesn’t benefit from that cool, rich, creamy sauce? Okay, okay, there are probably a few, but I can’t think of one. It is my belief that a ranch dressing is best when it’s thick, luscious, and full of bold flavor. This recipe fits the description to a T. Raw veggies, French fries, anything BBQish—it’s all taken up a notch when dipped into this stuff. It’s also your salad’s new BFF. 

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Down Time: 3 to 4 hours (while cashews soak)

½ cup (80 g) raw cashews, soaked in water 3 to 4 hours, water reserved
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon agave syrup
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon celery seed
¼ teaspoon dried dill

Place all ingredients in a food processor with 5 tablespoons of the reserved soaking water. Process until smooth. Chill until ready to use. It will thicken as it chills, so if you need to thin it (to drizzle on a salad, for example), you may need to stir in a couple teaspoons of water. Refrigerate in an airtight container up to 7 days.

Crispy Baked Onion Rings
Serves 2 to 3 Gluten-Free, Soy-Free, Nut-Free

“Baked onion rings?,” you may be exclaiming. “For shame!” Now, before you go slamming this book shut, listen up. It is possible to get crisp baked onion rings with a crunchy, crumbly exterior and a soft interior. It is possible for said baked onion rings to satisfy your greasy, fast-food-style onion ring craving. It is possible for these onion rings to be just as delectable as the fried version while being healthier for you. It’s called having your onion rings and eating them, too.

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes

1 large sweet onion
1 cup (250 ml) unsweetened nondairy milk
Juice of 1 lemon
1 cup (140 g) arrowroot powder or cornstarch
2 cups (80 g) panko bread crumbs (gluten-free if necessary)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
Olive oil spray
Vegan ketchup, Barbecue Sauce, or Zesty Ranch Dressing, optional

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
  2. Slice the onion into almost ½-inch (1 cm) slices. Separate into rings.
  3. In one shallow bowl, combine the non-dairy milk and lemon juice. Pour the arrowroot powder into another shallow bowl. In a third, larger shallow bowl, combine the bread crumbs, salt, garlic powder, and paprika. (You may have to stir a few more times during the coating process.)
  4. One at a time, place an onion ring in the milk mixture, coating it completely (see tips). Then dredge it in the arrowroot powder, coating it completely. Tap off the excess powder before dipping it quickly back into the milk. Dredge the ring through the bread crumbs, making sure to coat each one well. Place on one of the prepared baking sheets. Continue with the remaining rings.
  5. Spray the onion rings with olive oil and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until crisp and golden. Serve immediately with ketchup or other dip of choice.
  • To prevent your fingers from becoming sticky messes, use one hand for dipping in the milk and the other hand for dipping in the arrowroot powder and bread crumbs.
  • It’s very important to tap the excess arrowroot powder off the onion ring before transferring it back to the milk. Too much arrowroot will make the onion rings dry.
  • To maximize baking sheet space, place smaller onion rings inside the larger ones.
Recipe from But I Could Never Go Vegan!: 125 Recipes That Prove You Can Live Without Cheese, It’s Not All Rabbit Food, and Your Friends Will Still Come Over Dinner, copyright © Kristy Turner, 2014. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, The Experiment. Available wherever books are sold.  www.theexperimentpublishing.com

If you have your ear to the ground about vegan cookbooks in even the slightest way, than you no doubt had already heard about But I Could Never Go Vegan.  If you hadn't and this was your first knowledge of it, I only hope I did it justice.  It's really and truly such a phenomenal book and I'm so excited to help one of you get your hands on a copy, because The Experiment have offered to supply me with a copy to give away!  Huzzah!  Contest is open to US and Canadian residents.

Best of luck to all entrants!  XO

a Rafflecopter giveaway

20 February 2015

Magic Creamy Cashew Dressing

Mini miracle over here you guys.  Woodrow ate salad.  And not only did he eat it, he ate seconds and thirds.  But are you ready for the best part?  Then he thanked me for making him salad.

I repeat, my two year old thanked me for making him salad.  

I told you it was a mini miracle.

Like any toddler, mine goes through phases of loving and avoiding various foods.  Raw leafy greens have been tough to get into, especially because until recently Woodrow hasn't had all the molars he needed to really chew them.  So until now the only raw spinach or kale or chard he was getting was in his morning smoothie.  But even though they never got touched, I've continued to put them on his plate, with the hope that one day he would eat them.  And then last week I made this dressing and mister Woodrow had what some might call his Oprah "Ah-ha" moment.  (Or something like that.)

I'm not sure what actually spurred him to try the salad as usually he's not even interested in tasting it, but taste it he did.  This dressing is magic, I'm telling you.  We've all been gobbling it up on greens, as a dip for veggies, drizzled on pizza and even folded into a big loaded rice bowl.  But more often than not, it's simply topped plain baby spinach with an added sprinkling of nutritional yeast.

It's thick and creamy, rich and tangy, salty, oil-free and makes raw greens completely addictive.  It's our new favourite thing.

It's just a splash of lemon juice short of being a Casesar salad dressing, so if that's what you're after, simply reduce the water by 1 tablespoon and replace it with the lemon.  You won't be sorry about that one either.

"Magic" Creamy Cashew Dressing
makes about 2/3 cup

1/3 cup raw cashews, soaked 4+ hours
1/4 cup water
1 tbsp nutritional yeast
1/2 tbsp white miso paste
1 tsp caper brine
1/2 tsp kelp granules
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
1/4 tsp garlic powder
sea salt and pepper

1. Drain and rinse the soaked cashews.  Place them in a blender or food processor, along with all of the other ingredients and blend until smooth.  If needed, add more water 1/2 a tablespoon at a time.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

2. Top your favourite greens, stir to coat and enjoy.

It's really worth it to take the time to soak your cashews - it softens them up a lot and makes for a smoother, creamier dressing.  You can make this with a hand blender too - just make sure you don't skip the soaking step!

Dressing will keep up to 5 days in the fridge.  It tends to thicken when chilled, so it can be thine before serving with a little water.

17 February 2015

Eating Vegan in Mexico: Tulum

I've had a few messages both during and since my recent trip asking about food and such while holidaying in Mexico. I can only speak from my own experiences in Tulum (and Akumal) and so I thought I would share a bit here.

Dining out: Local Restaurants
Tulum is definitely a town frequented by travellers and tourists and for this reason many people have a little English. Combined with my very limited Spanish, we can usually make our way around menus and communicate our needs and preferences.  A few key phrases I rely on:

Somos vegano. // We are vegan
No podemos tener la carne , o pescado, o el queso , los huevos o la leche. // We can't have meat, or fish, or cheese, or eggs, or milk.
Son los granos hechos con manteca de cerdo? // Are the beans made with lard?
Es posible tener un --- con sólo frijoles y verduras? // Is it possible to have a --- with only beans and vegetables?
Gracias tanto por ser complaciente. Estaba delicioso. // Thank you so much for being accommodating.  It was delicious.

Two highlight meals we had this time around were eating sopes and huaraches at a curbside place on the main strip in Tulum called Antojitos Dona Tere.  It was a tiny little operation with the matriarch cooking, the patriarch sitting at a table watching the soccer match on tv and their 12 year old son who seated and served us.  A very casual little spot for street food.  Our fried masa were both topped with beans, lettuce, potatoes and cactus, and while it wasn't the best food ever and could have used some pico de gallo, but it was made fresh to order and you can't beat that.

The other place which I did post a photo of on Instagram was another little tent on the side of the road in Akumal.  This was the place that bagged their plastic plates which I still find hilarious, but I totally understand why given that they're outdoor without a kitchen to properly wash the plates.  So in this case, I say, bag away!  Here we had fried tacos - the hand pressed corn tortillas were deep fried and then kept warm until serving so they weren't crunchy but so yummy and pliable so we could still pick them up like a taco.  These were topped with refried beans, sautéed spinach and a fresh salad mix that was dressed in vinegar.  There were a bunch of homemade spicy salsas on the side too and the whole thing was really delicious.  Woodrow had just woken up from a nap on Mark's back (see if you can spot his foot in the photos below!) and he wasn't very hungry so he just had an apple and a plain tortilla.

Back to Tulum, another spot that's an easy choice is Charlie's - it's got a great atmosphere, the food is pretty good and although there aren't more than a couple vegan options if you ask to accommodate they will.  It's right next door to a nice little (pricey) giftshop too.

We also discovered this year is Batey, a great little mojito bar.  Their drinks are freshly made with real ingredients and cane sugar and include fresh sugar cane as a stir stick.  Mega boozy, but mega yum!

As we walked past the closed door to Los Tacos de Don Diego I fell in love with their logo design and I know I want to visit the next time we're back and see what they're all about! 

Other street fare for a quick refreshing fix would be one of the many little bicycle fruit carts.  Most have freshly chopped fruits in bags (melon, mango, pineapple) and others have fresh coconut water (in the coconut).

Dining out: Vegetarian Restaurants
There are actually a number of vegetarian restaurants that have popped up in Tulum over the past few years.  This was actually the first time we've eaten at one though, only because we are obsessed with Mexican flavours and for the most part the veggie restaurants have more traditional vegetarian and vegan offerings of salads, burgers, falafels and hummus, etc.  For a full listing and for reviews, check out the Tulum page on HappyCow.  We decided to take a peek at the menu at El Vegetariano when walking past and couldn't resist trying a dish even though we weren't really hungry.  The server working was very lovely and friendly and gave us lots of space while we read the menu.  We were there a bit early for the dinner crowd so had the place to ourselves, but I imagine they have a good nightly crowd.  We opted to share the poblano pepper that was stuffed with tofu, spinach and corn.  It came with brown rice and a big helping of sunflower sprouts - yum!  To start we were served a basket of fresh bread and totopos (chips) and their housemade salsa that was nice and spicy.  We did our best to keep the peckish chickens and rooster away from our store-bought bag while we ate!  Overall we found the pepper dish to be under seasoned but once we added a bunch of their salsa it was great.

There were many other dishes on the menu that I would curious to try but not many with strong Mexican flavours so I'm not sure we will be back, but for those craving hearty, healthy and delicious food I would definitely recoomend checking El Vegetariano out.

Stocking your temporary kitchen
One of the challenges of travelling can be finding the balance of what to stock in your home away from home, knowing that you can't take leftovers (for the most part) back with you.  In the past we've had a place with a well equipped spice cupboard but this time we had only sea salt and powdered ground black pepper (blehch!).  Luckily in Tulum there are 2 big grocery stores (San Francisco and Chedraui), as well as a few little produce shops, tiny little hole-in-the-wall tortillarias (my favourite stop!) and even a very pricey nice little natural food shop we happened upon this year that carried chocolate, mac, hemp hearts and non-dairy milks.

Here's what we bought:

Sunflower oil
Organic cane sugar
Hotsauces (Mark is slightly obsessed so there are way to many to list)
Almond milk
mini soy milk boxes (for Woodrow as a treat)
Canned black beans
Salsa verde
Masa (flour for tortillas, sopes, etc)
Fresh herbs (mostly cilantro)
Fresh veggies (as much as we could carry)
Fresh fruit (see above)

Combined with what I brought from home:
Vegan coffee creamer
Dark chocolate
Vegan cheese shreds
Chia seeds
Hemp hearts
Vital wheat gluten

So there you have it in a nutshell - that's how we eat when in Mexico for a week!

Have you travelled in the region or elsewhere in Mexico?  Have any tips?  If so please let us know in the comments!