Monthly Archives

November 2011

books and reviews

24 Hours with Julie and Julia, and Thoughts on Omnivorous Books


Last weekend, Logan and I made the trek to his hometown, a city that’s considered big by Saskatchewan’s standards, just under 10,000 people.  We made the journey armed with a big grocery bag full of food, stuff like soy milk and broccoli, since the fridge at Logan’s parents house tends to be unpredictable, and we’re crazy vegan people who love to eat.

Driving Saskatchewan’s highways is always a profound and lovely experience, be it mid-winter or the peak of summer.  The panoramic view is a vast, open prairie with the occasional brush or smattering of trees, and you can see for miles and miles and miles (we go by kilometers here but that doesn’t have the same ring to it).  People come visit from Ontario or British Columbia and lament the lack of trees and hills, saying that it’s boring, but I revel in it.  It’s a never-ending canvas, with a hushed sort of beauty that whispers instead of shouts.  The wide open space feels like freedom.

But I digress.  Julie and Julia.  Before the drive to Logan’s hometown, I went all kid-in-a-candy-store at the library, filling my basket mostly with cookbooks, with some food memoirs thrown in for good measure.  Have you guys ever read food-centric books that read like a novel?  Maybe I’m 10 years behind on that bandwagon, but it’s my new favorite type of book.  Julie and Julia is one such book, which you’ve all probably read or seen – again, I’m slow to these things.  But no matter.

There I was, sitting on a sunken couch, the air a mixed bag of scents from various animals like fish, a turtle, several cats and dogs, mixed with a perfumey air freshener and a touch of auto shop (Logan’s dad is an auto mechanic).  I was pleasantly bored and waiting for the pizza dough to rise, so I decided to pull out a book from my library goodie bag and read until someone came home.  Logan was off digging through boxes of old childhood remnants, leaving me to my own devices, so thus I began my reading adventure.

And even when Logan’s mom was home for a brief moment before rushing out the door to do a tow-truck job some two hours out of town, and even as Logan took the responsibility of Pizza Creator, and later played Soul Calibur with his brother on a huge TV screen with the volume blared, and the next day while he fixed up his car and mine, I devoured the book.  In retrospect, it’s clear to me that Logan is awesome for letting me have my own little 24-hour life vacation.  And for changing my tires.  I just didn’t want to put the book down.

I liked Julie immediately, even in the times when her writing grew a tad self-absorbed – she’s a real person, complete with despair, doubt, and dedication.  No really, I wasn’t just going for the triple alliteration.  She’s the kind of gal who tells it to you straight, and if something sucks, she says so.  Sometimes she’s this crazy lady practicing crepe-flipping with beans on her front lawn, other times she’s the lady everyone wants to visit at suppertime, just about as often as she’s the lady people avoid at suppertime.

As she cooked her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, depicting gruesome tales of hacking bones to get out the marrow inside, killing lobsters, and the ultimate horror of aspic (think homemade gelatin), I mostly just felt really glad I’m vegan.  And I’m pretty sure that if I was a meat-eater, this book probably would have disturbed me into vegetarianism.

A few years ago, I might have struggled with reading anything very much the opposite of veganism, just like I used to shun blogs that featured meat.  I don’t know what changed, but I find that there can be plenty of inspiration in all kinds of omnivorous meals (sometimes – other times, they’re painfully boring and same-ish), and the recipes don’t freak me out like they used to.  There’s definitely an “ick” factor when I see a huge picture of a dead bird or piece of cow, or when I’m reading the graphic yet insightful words of Julie Powell, but sometimes I can find plenty of ideas on how to make the vegan food world a better place from reading omni books and cookbooks.

I’d really like to know your opinions on the matter – do you peruse omnivorous cookbooks just as readily as vegan ones?  Don’t get me wrong, I passionately love vegan cookbooks and have an ever-growing collection of them, and there are so many out there these days.  Still, I don’t rely only on them and I love grabbing a random assortment of cookbooks from the library, everything from entertaining to cakes to salads.  Where do you draw cooking inspiration from?  Does it weird you out to read meat-filled cookbooks?

Brunch, recipes

Parsnip Muffins

When I told Logan I was going to be making parsnip muffins, his eyebrows got all pursed and he said with a concerned note in his voice, “are they going to be savory muffins?”

“Well, no,” I explained.  “Think carrot muffins…only, parsnip.”

My reply did nothing to ease Logan’s concern, and when I later told my mother about the muffins, she offered up a similar reaction.  What’s so weird about parsnip muffins? I wondered.  It’ll be just like carrot muffins.

That description is what enticed me to attempt these muffins in the first place.  That, and the fact that parsnips were the chosen ingredient for this month’s SOS Challenge.  And also because parsnips are a lovely vegetable, like carrot’s older and classier sibling.  And since I don’t have the inclination to make a cake, mostly since my band is playing 5 shows in the next month and I need to take care, muffins were the Chosen One.

As if simply making parsnip muffins wasn’t enough of a challenge, I also decided to reduce the fat, eliminate the refined sugar, and use whole grains, which was a bit of a stretch considering my favorite muffins (like these banana or blueberry ones) have like 1/2 cup fat, and a whole ton of sugar, just like many great muffins I’ve enjoyed in my day.  And I ain’t slamming this formula for greatness, I only wanted something slightly more virtuous for breakfast.

Upon biting into one, I realized that these weren’t “just like carrot muffins” – they were something more, something kind of sophisticated.  They’re ever-so-gently spiced with nutmeg and ginger, and the peppermint-like flavor of the parsnips makes for a refreshing muffin, perfect for a breakfast on the go.

Parsnip Muffins
Makes 12 muffins


Ingredients:

2 cups light spelt flour (or 1 cup whole wheat, 1 cup white flour)
1/4 cup ground flax
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup applesauce
1/2 cup agave, light or dark
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted (measure before melting)
1 cup peeled and grated parsnips, packed
3/4 cup raisins

Directions:

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 F and grease 12 muffin tins with a little oil.  In a large bowl, combine the flour, ground flax, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, ginger and salt.  Add the applesauce, agave, and coconut oil and stir until the batter is moistened – try not to over-stir.  Fold in the parsnips and raisins.  Drop the batter evenly among the 12 greased muffin tins, filling them to near the top.  Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.  Remove from the oven and let them sit for 5-10 minutes before removing the muffins from the muffin tin and allow them to cool completely on a cooling rack.

These muffins are plenty sweet, and have a lovely, tender crumb – the only way you can tell they’re wholesome-ish is the darker color of the muffin compared to one made with refined flour.  Call me a weirdo, but I actually find that I prefer whole grain muffins (and bread), since they’re not quite so airy and stick to my ribs a little longer.  Spelt is one of my favorites because I typically find it less dense than wheat flour, and it’s less intimidating to bake with than gluten-free stuff.

So parsnip in a sweet application is totally doable, pleasurable and fancy-tasting.  And has anyone else noticed that talking about food can come off sounding kind of dirty, or have I just been reading too much Julie and Julia?  Something to ponder.

recipes, salad

Pomegranate Couscous Salad

Pomegranates!

Every time pomegranate season rolls around I get all excited and buy a whole bunch of them, only to later find I resist eating them.  If you’re a pomegranate eater, maybe you know what I mean.  It’s not the taste; the little pomegranate jewels are better than candy.  It’s the fact that it takes so long to separate the seeds from the pith, and no matter how careful I am, the red juice seems to get everywhere.  Oh pomegranates, you’re the only fruit worth the trouble.

So when I do finally harvest the tart little seeds, I feel compelled to do something interesting with them.  As much as I enjoy grabbing handfuls and eating them au naturel, it seems as though they should serve a higher purpose than just flying straight into my belly.

This time around, that higher purpose is a Pomegranate Couscous Salad, a tame melangee of Middle Eastern flavors.  The tang of the pomegranate seeds plays nicely with the vegetable broth-infused couscous, rounded out with some chopped almonds for texture, fresh parsley and a smattering of earthy pea shoots.  No single flavor dominates the dish, kind of like a string quartet, you know, lovely harmony without anyone going all rogue rock star.

And I should mention that Logan has declared “the best salad ever” and got excited about eating twice in a row.  I didn’t particularly expect this to be the salad that pleases my man, but hey, surprises are the spice of life.  I sure don’t blame him.

If you need some instructions on how exactly to deal with pomegranates, check out this tutorial with pictures, which is super handy.

Pomegranate Couscous Salad
Serves 4 as a side

Ingredients:

1 cup vegetable broth
1 cup couscous
1 small clove garlic, grated or minced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon agave
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

3/4 cup fresh pomegranate seeds (about 1 medium)
1/4 cup fresh minced parsley
1/4 cup almonds, chopped
1 handful pea shoots
Salt, to taste

Directions:

1. In a small saucepan, bring the vegetable broth to a boil.  Add the couscous, cover, and remove from the heat.  Let it sit, covered, for 5 minutes, and then fluff with a fork.  Let it cool to room temperature (put it in the fridge if you want it to cool faster).

2. Place the couscous in a large bowl, along with the garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, agave, cinnamon and cayenne and stir well.  Add the pomegranate, parsley, almonds and sunflower sprouts and toss to combine.  Depending on the saltiness of your vegetable broth, you might want to add 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon salt, to taste.

Serve with hummus and toasted pita or bread, with a fresh-sliced tomato on the side if you so desire.

Note:

The pea shoots bring an earthy balance to this pomegranate couscous salad, but if you can’t find them, I suspect many young tender greens would work just fine.

Well to all my fellow Canadians who are celebrating Remembrance Day, hope your long weekend is great and the weather holds out.  And for everyone else, happy 11:11:11 day, and be sure to make the best wish ever.  Au revoir!

recipes, Soups and Stews

Healthy Potato Leek Soup

Howdy, all!  Long time no see, eh?  Actually, it’s only been a week, but it feels much longer, especially since I’ve been super excited to share a rich and comforting soup I made over the weekend.

As the amount of daylight dwindles and farmers’ markets close for the winter months, I turn to uncomplicated soups and stews made with cold-season produce like potatoes and leeks.  A good ol’ hot pot of something hearty and fragrant is what keeps me from hibernating until it’s no longer necessary to bundle up in a thick jacket, toque, scarf and mittens just to go start your car.

Today I’m going to share a recipe for a healthy potato leek soup, labeled “healthy” because a lot of creamy soups out there call for oodles of butter, cream and/or milk, none of which I use here.  Instead, I saute the leeks in a little olive oil, and blend half of the cooked soup while leaving the remainder chunky, kind of like a chowder.

What really gives this soup a rich and creamy texture, though, is the addition of cashews blended with water.  The nutty taste goes completely undetected and adds body and depth without being unhealthful.  I assure you, though, this velvety winter soup tastes more like an indulgence instead of “health food”.

You may be wondering why I keep referring to winter, even though its official start date is more than a month away.  Here in Saskatchewan, we like to get a head start on it, as demonstrated by this photo I took on Sunday:

If there exists a better reason to make a warm bowl of soup, I’m completely unaware of what it may be.

Healthy Potato Leek Soup
Makes 4 large servings

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon olive oil
3 leeks, sliced, white and light green parts only (about 1 1/2 cups)
4 large white potatoes, chopped (about 2 pounds)
5 cups vegetable broth (I used 2 bouillon cubes)
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves (or 1/2 teaspoon ground)
1/3 cup cashews
2/3 cup water
Salt and fresh-ground pepper, to taste
Chopped vegan bacon, for serving (optional)

Directions:

1.  Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium-low heat.  Cook the leeks in the oil until they’ve softened, 5-7 minutes.  Add the potatoes, broth and thyme and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer gently until the potatoes are soft, about 15 minutes depending on the size of the potato pieces.  Remove from the heat.

2.  Transfer half of the cooked soup to a blender and blend until smooth.  Make sure to leave the lid slightly ajar so that steam can escape and hot liquid doesn’t explode everywhere.  Transfer the blended mixture back to the soup pot and stir to combine.

3.  Now blend the cashews with the 2/3 cup water – this works best in a small blender like the Magic Bullet, but you can just as easily use the same blender you blended the soup in.  Blend until smooth, and add the cashew mixture to the soup and stir to combine.  Generously sprinkle with fresh pepper, and a little bit of salt if necessary.  Serve in a soup bowl with a sprinkle of vegan bacon if you’d like.  Enjoy!

This potato leek soup pairs great with some toasted bread, or even a sandwich if you have a big appetite.  Each serving of soup falls just shy of 300 calories, so it would be wise to pair it with another food to make it meal-sized.

With satisfying soups like this in my repertoire, I might not even complain about the bitter cold or endless drifts of snow sceduled for the next five months.  There’s something just so darn heartwarming about sipping some soup, cozy in a sweater, and gazing out at the frozen world outside.

Whether or not I’ll have the same sentiments at the end of March is a different story. 🙂

…Logan concurs.  Except for maybe the whole heartwarming part.