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?

04 August 2015

Vegan Kid: 2 1/2 Years

So we may be a couple months past the 2.5 year mark, but I thought it still worth sharing since our little (big!) Woodrow has grown in leaps and bounds.  Prepare for a bit of a photo-heavy post, because this cuteness can't be contained.  (And yes, I know I'm completely biased.)

He's still busy, chatty, headstrong and hilarious.  In general, he'll strike up a conversation with anyone he meets whether at the grocery store, bank, playgroup or park.  Most recently, I've even been sitting at a red light, and had him roll down his window in the backseat and start talking to the driver in the car beside us.

The stuff he comes up with is honestly so funny, and he has a really great memory so will pull out words or phrases that he's heard only in passing.  Case in point: This afternoon we were curled up on the couch and getting sleepy so I suggested a walk outside, saying that the fresh air might perk us up. Woodrow's response was, "Fresh air is for jerks."  What?!?  I couldn't help but laugh, especially because he had no idea what it meant when I asked him about it, and he happily went outside to play. I also have no idea where he picked the word up, but hoping it's one that doesn't become a favourite!

He is a water baby through and through.  (I like to think it's because of our water birth experience, but it's likely more to do with the fact that I love the water and so we swim often in the lake or in pools in the off season.)  With his little floating PuddleJumper number, he's perfectly comfortable swimming on his own and leaping in from the side of the pool or off a dock.  He'll jump, go under, pop back up and do it all over again for hours.  I'm very thankful that we live in a city with swimmable lakes within a 5-10 minute drive.

For those wondering, that whole child care thing we tried around Woodrow's 2nd birthday never worked out.  It just wasn't for him.  Now that he's matured more, we may try Montessori on for size in September and see how that goes.  I've always loved the model since studying it in university, and I think he would really flourish in the setting.  I'll keep you posted.

In terms of "firsts", he attended his first wedding 2 months back to celebrate the marriage of one of my best friends.  It was great to have him there, but I was also really lucky to have my parents there too to help out.  Life lesson from Nona: always stuff your clutch with crackers and almonds for the kid.

I guess if you want to call it a first, we've also got a first song obsession.  My little brother introduced Woodrow to the Ramone's version of the Spiderman theme song back in June, and our home hasn't been quiet since.  With a 1,2,3,4,5 count in, Woodrow will sing it over and over and over again.  And then he'll sing it one more time.  It's pretty cute, but I'm kind of looking forward to a new song in the repertoire!

He loves fiercely and doesn't discriminate between caterpillars, stray cats or friends' dogs.  All of whom he'll shower with love, and likewise cry for when they inevitably leave.  When this happens I comfort him but it leaves the door open to talk about animals and how they have their own homes and families that they need to be with.  Sometimes it will lead in to talking about how we love animals and therefore want them to be free, othertimes it leads us to talk about not eating animals.

I'm occasionally asked how I talk to Woodrow about veganism, or if it is something we talk about it at this stage.  We definitely do, but in very age-appropriate terms.  We talk about how animals are our friends and we don't eat our friends.  We talk about how mamas make milk for their babies (something he still fondly remembers!) and how mama cows make milk for baby cows, mama pigs make milk for baby pigs and mama dogs make milk for baby dogs.  Now that he sees himself as a big boy who doesn't drink his mama's milk anymore, he understands that he chooses other options instead like almond milk, water, smoothies or sometimes juice.  It's pretty straightforward stuff, really.

He will add in his 2 cents on occasion too, which is amazing.  Just the other week over dinner somehow animals came up in conversation, and I said something about how we don't eat animals.  Woodrow laughed and said, "Of course we don't eat animals, mama.  We eat food!"

"You're so right, my sweet boy," was about all I could muster as I teared up.

27 July 2015

Homemade BBQ Sauce + BBQ Pulled Jackfruit Sandwiches

I must admit that I've never really had a big love for barbecue sauce.  Now, being that I haven't eaten meat since I was 10, I guess that shouldn't really come as a surprise since generally barbecue sauce is something reserved for slathering on meat.  If I think back far enough, I'm pretty sure there was a time in my tweens when I took to dipping my potatoes in BBQ sauce, and the year in my 20s that I had a big thing for BBQ chips.  But other than that, I could pretty much take it or leave it.

But then a few years ago, I met jackfruit and it kind of changed everything.  Jackfruit as I know it, comes in a can packed in water or brine and it's very easy to use in cooking provided you've got an awesome sauce to cook it with.  (It's also at times very hard to come by, depending on where you live.   Asian markets are usually my go to, but without a big one up in Sudbury for example, it's only ever found packed in syrup which is a completely different product all together and not useful for savoury purposes.)

Fresh jackfruit, by contrast, is a monstrosity of a fruit that is big enough for two people to carry.  To slice it is a thing of wonder and the fruit isn't so much juicy, as it is gummy with a thick, sticky, glue-like substance.  I had the chance to try a piece of it fresh when in Austin at VVC while the lovely folks from Upton's were sampling it and it was really interesting to taste.  It actually tastes - I kid you not - exactly like Juicy Fruit chewing gum!  Strange but kind of good too?

But I digress.  Since discovering how interesting jackfruit can be in cooking, I've really enjoyed playing around with different sauces.  Usually I end up using Mexican flavours, but BBQ has been one that I like to come back to too for its sweet, tangy, spicy kick.  I've tried bottled sauces in the past and some have been great, but I wanted to make my own too so that I could kick out some of the sugar and filler that they usually contain.  The result is a super awesome sauce, made without ketchup or corn syrup.  Just pure whole foods sauciness.  (If I do say so myself.)

The sauce itself is so simple to make: add everything together and simmer it up for 20 minutes.  It's got a real bite to it, thanks to the apple cider vinegar, a little sweetness from the tomatoes and molasses and just a little spice from the addition of Sriracha.  Then it's just a matter of cooking the jackfruit in the sauce over low heat, to really infuse it with the delicious flavours.  This is easy summer cooking at it's finest.

I kept ours on the mild side in case the little person in the house was feeling open to trying it (spoiler alert: he wasn't), so in the future I'll definitely add more for our heat-loving tastebuds.  I imagine this BBQ sauce would also be amazing on tofu, so I think that's what I'll be doing with the leftovers.

Homemade BBQ Sauce
makes about 250ml

1 tsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup pureed tomato passata
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup water
2 tbsp molasses
1 tbsp vegan Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp Sriracha (or more to taste)
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
juice of 1/2 a lime

1. Heat the oil and minced garlic in a small saucepan over medium heat until garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add all the remaining ingredients and stir well.  Bring the mixture to a slow simmer, reduce heat slightly and cook over medium-low heat for 15-20 minutes until thickened.  Use immediately or cool and store in a jar in the fridge for up to a week (or maybe more).

BBQ Pulled Jackfruit Sandwiches
makes 4

1 tsp olive oil
1 20oz can young green jackfruit (packed in water or brine)
1/2 cup Homemade BBQ Sauce
4 soft buns or dinner rolls
vegan mayo
1 1/2 cup shredded green or savoy cabbage
1 carrot, grated
1 green onion, sliced
juice of 1/2 a lime
pinch of fine sea salt

1. Drain and rinse the jackfruit in a colander.  Using your hands, break up the pieces - the jackfruit is quite fibrous and will pull apart into shreds quite easily.  For the bits that don't shred, you can leave them whole or slice them into smaller bits if you prefer with a knife.

2. Heat the oil in a pan over medium high heat and add the jackfruit, allowing it to sizzle in the oil for a minute.  Add in the BBQ sauce, stir to coat and reduce heat to medium and simmer for 10-15 minutes.  (Or more, up to half an hour, over low heat if you have the time!)

3. Meanwhile, while the jackfruit is cooking, combine the cabbage, carrot, green onion and lime juice in a bowl.  Toss to combine.  Sprinkle with a pinch (or two!) of sea salt and toss again.

4. Slice the buns.  Pile on the hot BBQ jackfruit, top with a generous helping of cabbage slaw, spread a thick layer of vegan mayo on the top of the bun, top the sandwich and serve.

Notes: I think the quality of the apple cider vinegar will really make a difference in the final taste of the BBQ sauce.  I like to use an organic, unpasteurized vinegar (Filsinger's) but Bragg's also makes a good one and I'm sure there are other brands out there too.  For the tomatoes, I buy jarred strained tomatoes which is more concentrated than simply using canned tomatoes.

If you try the BBQ sauce or Pulled Jackfruit sandwiches for yourself, I'd love to see the results, so tag  me @jessicalaurennadel or #cupcakesandkale on Instagram!