29 September 2015

Homestyle Vegan Apple Crisp

It's been 7 1/2 years since my Grandma Doris passed away and a day doesn't go by that I don't miss her.  It's on those big monumental days that I really notice (like the day I got married and Woodrow's birth), but I miss her in the little things too.  Like when I was wash Woodrow's hair in the bath, sometimes I lather it up and style it into peaks and show him in the mirror.  He thinks it's hilarious, just as I did when my Grandma shampooed my hair when I was little.

Like when once in a blue moon I get a manicure, and I remember how when I'd have sleepovers at my grandparents house, my Grandma would always say yes when I asked her to paint my nails.  Or how whenever I see a flutter board I think of her kicking back and forth in her backyard pools in the summer.  

And because it's the little things that keep memories alive, I always feel good when I dress up and wear her ring, or when I dress down and make her apple crisp.

This apple crisp is made often by all on my mom's side of the family.  It's the go to dessert that's served up at Sunday family dinners and loved by all.  Since her passing, my Grandpa Wayne has become the family crisp maker.  
(And a darn good one at that!)  

It's a very simple dish, with only 5 ingredients, but it works.  To be clear, this is not an apple crumble - there are no oats, no cinnamon, nothing fancy.  This is a crisp.  Not a crumble.  (There's another story in there somewhere about a crisp/crumble bake off years ago with a friend of the family... But I think we'll save that for another day.)  

The topping is surgary, buttery goodness.  It warms my belly and and my heart.  
Hip, hip, Grandma - thanks for letting me share your sweetness.

Homestyle Vegan Apple Crisp
serves 6

6 MacIntosh apples
1/3 cup cold vegan butter (I use Earth Balance)
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/4 tsp fine sea salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350f.  Peel, core, and slice apples.  Place them in the bottom of a greased 8x8 glass dish.  

2. Mix together the sugar, flour and salt in a bowl.  Cut in the vegan butter until it resembles coarse crumbs.  Sprinkle the mixture over the apples.  It seems like a lot of topping, but trust me, use it all.  

3. Place in the oven and bake for 45 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let cool 10 minutes before serving.

Notes: My mom's copy of the recipe says that it serves 9, but I'd say people will not be unhappy if you dish out only 6 portions.  Those couple extra bites per person make it the perfect amount.  As far as the topping goes, it is very heavy on the brown sugar but it makes for an amazing crunchy top.  And this isn't health food - it's dessert.  Use it all and love it up.  Also, the original recipe calls for butter, but Earth Balance is my vegan stand in.  I haven't tried it with coconut oil, but would love to hear how it goes if you try that.

08 September 2015

Coconut Oil Pasta with Swiss Chard & Tomatoes

For a girl who loves vegetables and local food like I do, I'm a terrible gardener.  As in, my green thumb is pretty non existant.  There are big hopes each spring as I wander the aisles of the greenhouse, plotting my strategy for the year, and trying to decide which perennials to add and which veggies to sow.  There are a handful of long, hard days spent weeding and preparing things, leaving me covered in dirt and full of promise for the season.  Then life gets away from me and days go by without my setting foot in the earth.  After that, the inevitable happens.  My garden is an overgrown jungle by the time July comes around, but there are always butterflies and bees abundant so to be honest, I don't really mind.

It means that when it comes to growing veggies, hardy and low-maintenance is key.  This year Mark built me a few small raised beds within our garden from wood scraps after having built the patio at Tucos which really helped to keep little feet from trampling seedlings, and also helped to give little hands a target for aiming a watering can.  It also however provided a target for digging.  Let's just say our Purple Mustache Bean seeds from Piebird didn't stand a fighting chance.  In fact, for whatever reason, nor did our cucumbers or squash seedlings.

The only 2 things that have grown and grown well for me this season are tomatoes and Swiss chard, so I've been enjoyed sun-warmed tomatoes and tender chard in my lunchtime salads and chard in our morning smoothies too.

But as I've mentioned before, pasta is a staple in our home, so obviously they needed to be enjoyed that way too.  I used unrefined coconut oil and loved that it imparted a subtle coconut flavour to the dish, but you could certainly use refined coconut oil or extra virgin olive oil if that is your preference. This was simple, fresh, real food at it's finest. More reasons that I love this recipe include:

Only 6 ingredients.  (And that includes the sea salt!)

Minimal prep, aside from washing and chopping the veggies.

And the sauce is cooked in the time it takes to boil water and cook the pasta.

I'm crossing my fingers the backyard bounty allows for enough veggies to make this at least a few more times.  It's perfectly delicious as written, but I recommend taking it to the next level by topping it with Hemp Parmesan or a sprinkle of nutritional yeast.

Coconut Oil Pasta with Swiss Chard & Tomatoes
serves 4

2 tbsp unrefined coconut oil
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups chopped swiss chard, leaves and stems
2 cups grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
sea salt to taste
375g dried pasta

1. Bring a large pot of water to boil.  Salt lightly and cook pasta according to package directions until al dente.  Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of cooking water and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, heat the coconut oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the garlic and cook until fragrant and just beginning to brown, about 1-2 minutes, then add the swiss chards.  Continue to saute  3 minutes, stirring periodically.  Add the tomatoes and reduce the heat to medium-low and cook gently another 2-3 minutes.  The tomatoes should be softened but not completely cooked down.  Season to taste with sea salt.

3.  Add the drained pasta to the skillet and stir to coat, adding some of the reserved pasta water as needed.  Sizzle things up to heat through and serve, topped with Hemp Parmesan or nutritional yeast if desired.

I realize that we're now a full week into September, and for us in Ontario it's back to school today, but I'm hanging on to summer as long as she'll have me.  My promise to you: No pumpkin recipes for at least a month around here!  XO

19 August 2015

The Creamiest Mac 'N Cheese

So, remember that time when I posted a photo of the creamiest, dreamiest Mac 'n Cheese in social media land and then promised you the recipe and then didn't deliver?  Yeah, me too.  Believe me, it's not that I didn't want to post it in a timely manner, it's just that - well... my blender had a bit of a tantrum and is now kaput, so I couldn't make it over to shoot proper photos.  Only a small hurdle though, so I thought instead I would just upload the quick pics I had snapped on my phone!

And then being the somewhat clumsy gal that I am, I dropped my phone in a sink full of water over the weekend and so it too has been kaput.  Sigh.

However thanks to a bit of luck (and the bag of rice trick), I was at least able to retrieve the photos from my phone. They're not the greatest, but let's be real:  They're good enough to make my mouth water and wish that my blender was in working order! 

Some of the reasons why I love this sauce so, and think it's just the dreamiest, creamiest, most awesome thing: It's super easy to make - throwing everything into a blender is about as complicated as it gets.  It's thick, tangy, garlicky, savoury and has a perfect all natural yellow/orange hue.  There's nothing thin or watery about it, just pure luxurious cheese sauce coating and clinging to all the noodles.  It's so cozy, it kinda makes you want to curl right up in it.  Or maybe that's just me.

Thank goodness for warranties and easy peasy replacements via Blentec.  My new jar is on the way and now I just have to survive the smoothie (and Mac 'n Cheese) drought until its arrival.  I'm crossing my fingers for Friday.
I cooked up some brown rice pasta because these cute little shells are perfect for catching sauce.  Also, I usually find it difficult to use in other dishes as I always overcook it, but in my opinion, Mac 'n Cheese is the one situation where past al dente pasta is totally acceptable.  The broccoli is totally optional, but I love throwing in veggies wherever I can.  

Plus broccoli + cheese sauce = awesome.

I hope your blender is ready to make some magic.  
Ps. if you make this and have extra (fat chance), send cheese sauce!

The Creamiest Mac 'N Cheese (+ Trees!)
makes about 2 cups of sauce // enough for 4-6 servings

1 cup raw cashews, soaked 4 hours
1 1/2 cups water
1/3 cup nooch
1/4 cup chopped carrot (see note)
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp white miso
1 tbsp dijon mustard
1 1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 tsp smoked paprika, optional
16oz dried pasta
2 cups broccoli florets

1. Drain and rinse the cashews. Place in the blender along with all remaining ingredients and blend until smooth and creamy, 
adding up to a 1/4 cup more water if needed to achieve a thick, smooth sauce.  Taste and season accordingly to your liking. 

2. Cook pasta according to package directions and with a minute left, add in the broccoli.  Drain, and return to the pot along with the sauce.  Heat through over medium heat and serve. 

Notes: If you are using a high powered blender (such as a Blentec or a Vitamix) you can err on the side of less soaking for the cashews, but I'd aim for at least an hour.  Otherwise, you'll want to soak them for 4+, and if using a standard blender, you'll also want to lightly steam the carrots so that they blend up into a silky smooth sauce.  

17 August 2015

A Trip to Piebird + Our 6th Anniversary

Last weekend we had the absolute pleasure of taking a family day trip to Piebird Vegan Farmstay / Farm Sanctuary for their annual picnic.  This was our very first time making it to the farm, but it's something that I've been wanting to get to for many years.

Our vegan community in Northern Ontario is small, but lovely.  Mark and I met Sherry & Yan of Piebird years ago now and we've always enjoyed the brief times we spent in meetings across different festivals and events over the course of those years.  They are such bright, happy people and it's really difficult to not share in those feelings when around them.  They do amazing work that includes everything from selling their heirloom veggie seeds, to running animal rights campaigns, to their vegan farmstay and B&B, to baking cookies and of course caring for and loving the animals friends who live with them.

The crew of animal people at Piebird has grown over the years, and is now home to several goats, turkeys, chickens, a rooster and 2 free bee colonies.  From Jollygood, to Sunshine to Fernando and Roy, I felt as though I already knew many of their personalities just from following Piebird on Facebook & Instagram. While we were visiting, it was a really hot day and most of the animal friends decided to keep their distance in the shade.  Miss FreedaFreeFree was quite the social butterfly though and came for plenty of love and visits.  Her giant eyes, floppy ears and poke-a-dots made it hard not to fall hard for her.  What a love!

Given the amount of guests at the farm that day we weren't allowed into the animals quarters as to not overwhelm them (much to Woodrow's disappointment) and on a few occasions he made a break for it and tried to climb in.  There were some tears at the realization that he wouldn't be able to hug ALL the goats, but I promised that we would return. Because let's be frank - I want to hug all the goats too.

Last Sunday was also our 6th wedding anniversary (where does time go?!) and it was really special for us to spend it together with Woodrow in such a warm, happy place.  With the pace our days and weeks can take with the running of our restaurant, it was just what we needed.  We were married at a beautiful outdoor venue with gardens and orchards and it felt right to return to another such space on such an occasion.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of Piebird and I hope there are many, many more years of picnics and love to come.

P.S. If you follow on Facebook or Instagram, you'll know that I promised my new favourite Mac 'N Cheese recipe today.  Sadly technology is working against me and my blender decided to crap out on me so I haven't been able to remake and photograph the dish while I await my replacement.  I had considered just going with a photograph from my phone, and then I dropped said phone in water!  Oy vey.  Soon enough my friends... if this bag of rice trick works!!

11 August 2015

BBQ Tofu Bowl + BBQ Tahini Sauce

Often times around here, it's those nights when I'm scraping together dinner from all the leftovers and veggies that need eating in the fridge that the yummiest things happen.  It's when I'm so hungry that the thought of boiling water for pasta seems a bit too much to take on, that epic bowls such as this happen.  

For me, the best bowls are ones that cover all the bases: leafy greens, hearty grains, a protein punch, some veggies with crunch, something with a tangy kick and sauce for days.  Lucky for me, recently when hunger struck I happened to have a fridge full of odds and ends all the right things for one awesome dinner.

At least once a week I cook up a batch of brown rice.  One of my favourite (and least expensive) kitchen gadgets is my rice cooker.  I bought it for about $35 at least 4 years ago and it makes rice perfectly every time.  It's also awesome in the summer when you don't want to add any extra heat to the house by cooking over the stove.  It's also great because I can turn it on an hour before dinner and walk away to get a last bit of backyard play in with Woodrow. I often like to add in dried lentils because they cook in about the same amount of time and then you've got rice and beans ready to eat.  It's one of my favourite kitchen hacks.

If you follow me on Instagram, you'll know that I've been seriously crushing on BBQ sauce this summer and so the jar in my fridge of yet another batch of it lent itself in not one, but two ways for this bowl.  First as a tangy marinade for the tofu, and secondly, mixed with tahini for a rich and wonderful sauce that pulls the entire dish together.

A bunch of added cucumber and bell peppers for crunch and a pile of briny, pink pickled turnips and dinner is served. It's filling, refreshing, whole foods yumminess.  It's a random thrown-together meal that's earned itself a definite return seat at the table.

With leftover or bulk-cooked grains and BBQ sauce in the fridge, the only cook-portion of the dish is the tofu. You can of course use your favourite store-bought sauce, but it's so quick and easy to make your own and it's awesome to be able to customize it to your liking.  This is so yummy though it'd totally be worth starting from scratch if leftovers aren't your bag.  This served 2 grown ups and a little one, but it could certainly be stretched further with larger portions of tofu, greens and grains.

BBQ Tofu Bowl + BBQ Tahini Sauce
serves 2-4

1 350g pkg extra firm tofu
1/2 cup BBQ sauce
2 tsp olive oil
4 cups baby kale or salad greens
1 cup sliced cucumber
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
2-3 cups cooked brown rice or brown rice + lentils
1/3 cup pickled turnip

BBQ Tahini Sauce
1/4 cup BBQ sauce
1/4 cup tahini
1-2 tbsp water

1. Drain the tofu and wrap in a clean towel.  Place something heavy on top of it (a cast iron pan, a few big cookbooks, etc) for 15 minutes to press out a portion of the water.  Slice into 1" cubes.  Mix the BBQ sauce and olive oil in a bowl and add the tofu, tossing to coat.  Preheat the oven to 400f and set the tofu aside to marinade 20 minutes.  Once marinated, spread on a baking sheet, separating cubes so as they're not touching and place in the oven to bake for 20 minutes, turning turning once.

2.  Meanwhile prepare the rest of the bowls.  Divide the greens, cucumber, peppers, pickled turnip and rice between bowls.  To prepare the sauce, whisk together the BBQ sauce and tahini.  While still whisking, add water 1 tablespoon at a time until a creamy, pourable consistency is achieved.  Add the cooked tofu to the bowls and top with a generous drizzle of BBQ Tahini Sauce.  Serve with extra sauce on the side.

Do you have a favourite cooking shortcut or hack like my rice cooker beans & rice?  Something that helps make meal prep a breeze?