Monthly Archives

January 2013

Brunch, recipes

Orange Dark Chocolate Pancakes: Vegan Sunday Brunch, Episode 30

Hey y’all!

Today was a happy day in the brunch kitchen, but it occurs to me that I probably say that every week.  So be it!  Brunch is the happy-making time.

The reason today was a happy brunch day is threefold: 1) pancakes, which are super easy to make and hella yum, 2) Mike and I made and ate them at the same time, and 3) chocolate and orange.  I’ll leave it at that, because you know how awesome the combo is.

These orange chocolate pancakes involve an extra step from most pancake recipes, but it’s a super-easy step that’ll take 2 minutes of effort.  It involves zesting an orange and letting it mingle with maple syrup overnight.  In the morning you strain it out, and you’re left with this bright and orangey maple flava, which, combined with the zest in the batter, gives the whole ensemble a really nice overall orange effect.  You could use regular chocolate chips just as well as dark chocolate chunks, but I think orange loves dark chocolate best.

Orange Dark Chocolate Pancakes
Serves 2


1 cup flour (I used whole spelt, Mike used all purpose)
2.2 ounces dark chocolate (50 grams), chopped small
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup non-dairy milk (up to 1/4 cup more liquid if using whole wheat flour)
Finely grated orange zest from 1 orange (about 2 tablespoons)
2 teaspoons sweetener (agave, maple, granulated sugar)
2 teaspoons neutral oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

A little neutral oil, for frying
Orange segments, for serving

For the orange-maple syrup:

Orange zest from 1 orange, about 2 tablespoons
1/4 cup maple syrup


1. For the orange-maple syrup: Combine ingredients in a small bowl and let it sit in the fridge overnight.  Prior to use, strain out the orange zest.

2. For the pancakes: Combine the dry ingredients – flour, dark chocolate, baking powder and salt.  Add the milk, orange zest, sweetener and oil and stir just to combine – you don’t want to overmix this.

3. Heat a little oil in a nice non-stick pan over medium-low heat, and pour your pancake batter into shapes and sizes you desire.  You know they’re ready to flip when the underside lifts easily from the pan and little air bubbles cover the surface of the pancake.  Cook until both sides are golden brown.

Serve with a pat of vegan butter (optional!), orange-maple syrup and orange segments – bonus points if you’ve got a blood orange.  Feel virtuous for including a fruit into your brunch.

Pancake tip #1: Soup ladles make excellent pancake pouring devices if you want nice, evenly-sized pancakes.  Measuring cups are also good.

Pancake tip #2: Your pancake batter should be pourable.  You want it to pour into the pan and spread on its own, but still maintain some shape (if it spreads across the pan with no resistance, you’ve basically got yourself a crepe).

These pancakes might be one of my favorite brunch creations yet.  Mike and I declared that if we had a breakfast diner, these would be a staple menu item.  (Though don’t expect this any time soon – we need to get rich and famous first).

Mike and I made the exact same recipe – the only difference was our choice of flours (I used whole spelt and he used all purpose), and our methods of plating.  I love the idea of serving the maple syrup in a shot glass!

Mike: So my picture is the one shown above, same idea, same recipe!  These were probably my favorite pancakes of life.  They were fluffy without being insubstantial, and they weren’t so dense as to keep me from eating four of them.  The orange-maple syrup was probably my favorite part of the dish.  It took on a lot of orange flavor overnight and was definitely worth the two minutes to throw it together.  Adding a half ounce of bourbon to the syrup before letting it sit overnight would have given it a little kick while also pulling out even more orange flavor from the zest.  I think Allysia and I are both excited to experiment with different syrup and sauce infusions in the future.  This one was pretty simple, but who knows where it will go next?

We wish you many of your own happy brunches.  See ya!

food and product reviews

Natural Epicurean Academy of Culinary Arts – Week 2 In Review

Good evening!

This week of school at the Natural Epicurean was fast-paced, high-energy and tons of fun, albeit tons of work.  This is when we really delved into cooking and concocting fundamentals like stocks, sauces, and basic cooking methods (wet and dry).

I didn’t take any pictures of the stocks, because I’m sure you can imagine them.  But it was fun creating a variety of depths (light, medium and dark) and flavor profiles (like herb and roasted garlic, or dashi).  I did picture some of the other goodies, though.

For our sauce class we made a rich tomato sauce (front and center), a salsa verde with tarragon and toasted walnuts (right), a roasted red pepper coulis (left), and some nifty things you can’t see in the back – a mushroom jus, and demi-glace.  I was super excited to create the demi-glace, which is a savory brown reduction sauce that’s almost exclusively made from meat, and it tasted great done veggie-style.  Sauces are fun but challenging, since there are so many things to consider – flavor, color, texture, what you’re serving it with, and etc.

Next up, we had a lab on wet cooking methods, which is something I really don’t focus on much here on the blog (unless we’re talking soups and stews – I could eat those forever).  But things like braising and poaching, and even steaming?  These are all things I do far too seldomly.  Why have I never braised before? Pictured in the very center is braised fennel, cabbage and leeks – the cabbage was scorched on each side prior to braising to give it a nice rich flavor, and holy hell was it good.  More where that came from in my future.

And to contrast the wet cooking methods, we did a day of dry cooking, which involves pretty much everything with oil – think sauteing, stir frying, frying, grilling, and so on.  Clockwise from the top left are sweet potato fries (tossed with applewood smoked salt, OMG), cauliflower-beet fritters, sauteed apples (with coconut milk ice cream), and grilled asparagus and eggplant.  Somehow the roasted mushrooms missed the cut, which is a shame because he was plated as a mustached mushroom man.  For real.  The mustache was made of parsley.

We also had a couple of other non-cooking segments – one that was sort of an introduction to conscious cooking, getting us to consider the energetics of food and all that nifty hippie stuff, and another class that was math-based – yay conversions!  Next week, we’ll begin to get more in-depth with certain food categories, like tofu, tempeh and grains.  I’m pretty stoked!

And I even made a new friend in my neighborhood.  This dude was totally chillin’ with me outside, he was way too cool.

Have a good weekend, folks, and I’ll catch up with you on Sunday for some mad brunch action!

appetizers, decadent treat food, recipes

Vegan Surprise Dip

Hello from the Great White North!  Even though Allysia is away down in Austin, we figure I can still add a little bit of Canadian food wonder to the blog.  Even though a significant portion of the cooking talent has left the house I think I can still hold my own in the kitchen.  Today’s post comes as a little bit of a blast-from-the-past.

One of the Christmas traditions I honor every year involves my dad’s side of the family (all eighty of us!) getting together on boxing day for a gift exchange, a potluck feast, and a lot of booze.  This was Allysia’s first year experiencing this debacle and my first year as a vegetarian, so when we were tasked with bringing an appetizer I wanted to make something to show off how vegan food doesn’t have to be super different or weird.  Enter: Vegan Shrimp Surprise Dip!

The non-vegan version of this dip is something that my mom has been making for special occasions since I was a kid.  It is a delicious combination of tangy cocktail sauce, fresh veggies, cream cheese with shrimp sandwiched in the middle of it all.  If we were going to make this familiar dish for my practically-carnivorous family, we would need a reasonably facsimile for shrimp.  Luckily, I remembered spotting these in one of the local stores.

The story behind these beauties is an interesting one.  The company’s founders have a daughter named Sophie (hence the name Sophie’s Kitchen) who loved seafood, but also happened to be allergic to it.  With this in mind the parents developed a vegan alternative that looks and tastes like seafood without any of the animal products.  Judging by the rate at which my family demolished the dish I’d say they succeeded on all counts.

With that said, let’s get on with the recipe!

Vegan Shrimp Surprise Dip


1 tub vegan cream cheese (we used Tofutti brand)
1 package vegan shrimp or other seafood
1 jar spicy seafood cocktail sauce (or replace with homemade)
1 1/2 cups Daiya shredded vegan mozzarella
1/2 large green pepper, diced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
Black pepper
Assortment of crackers (for serving)


1.  Using a large spoon, scoop the vegan cream cheese into a 9-inch pie plate.  Use the spoon to smooth the cream cheese out so it covers the bottom of the plate evenly.  Sprinkle pepper over the cream cheese.

2. Take the vegan shrimp and dice them.  The shrimp from Sophie’s Kitchen are quite large, so I split them down the center and then cut them into pieces.

3.  Spread the diced shrimp across cream cheese in a layer and then pour on the seafood cocktail sauce.  Homemade cocktail sauce can be made using lemon juice, freshly grated horseradish, and vegan worcestershire sauce (lots of recipes can be found easily online), but I like the stronger “tang” of the store-bought stuff.

4. Cover the cocktail sauce with a layer of Daiya.  Use more or less than stated if needed.

5.  Cover the Daiya with the diced green pepper and tomato pieces.  We garnished ours with a few leftover shrimp, just because.

The funny thing about garnishing the dish with two giant vegan prawns is that all of the omnivorous humans instantly rushed to grab and devour them, not even realizing their non-meaty nature.  And there you have it!  This semi-traditional dip was devoured by vegans and non-vegans alike, though the carnivorous family cat wasn’t too impressed.

See you next time, internet.

Brunch, recipes

Banana Nut Bread, the Healthier Edition: Vegan Sunday Brunch, Episode 28

Good evening, as they say.

Today for brunch, Michael and I decided to bake the same thing, despite being hundreds of miles away – a banana nut bread.  But not just any banana bread, nope, we dressed it up in slightly healthier garments to see what would happen.  And since we both made the same recipe(ish), it’s as good as two tests to make sure it works.  Genius, eh?

Mike’s lovely golden loaf 

This banana bread has the advantage of being whole-grain (I made mine with spelt flour, and Mike used a mix of whole wheat and all-purpose flour), low-ish in fat (4 tablespoons in the entire recipe) and naturally sweetened (I used agave, Michael used maple syrup).  We then each made our own toppings (mine had a chocolate cashew spread, Michael used butter and maple syrup) to jazz up the bread.  Success!

My less perfect, darker bread – still tasty.

Well, mostly.  The biggest failure was over on my end – I cooked it a little long and it got too dark.  Michael found the cooking time sweet spot, getting his bread nice and golden while still being cooked through and moist.  Pssh, and that guy says he can’t bake.

Banana Nut Bread
Makes 1 9-inch loaf


1 3/4 cups spelt flour (or a mix of whole wheat/all purpose flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 ripe bananas
1/2 cup agave (or other liquid sweetener)
1/4 cup applesauce (Mike used apple juice)
1/4 cup melted margarine
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup chopped walnuts


1.  Preheat the oven to 375 F and lightly oil a 9-inch loaf pan.

2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  In a blender, blend the bananas, agave, applesauce, margarine and vanilla until smooth.  Combine the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients and stir until moistened (but don’t over-stir).  Fold in the walnuts, and pour into the prepared loaf pan.  Bake for 35 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes clean.  Let it sit on a wire rack for 10 minutes, remove from the pan, and let it cool another 10 minutes on the wire rack.  Serve warm with butter and/or chocolate spread (see below).

Variation: Maple Pecan Banana Bread

Use maple syrup instead of agave, and pecans instead of walnuts.  Top with butter and maple syrup.

Chocolate Cashew Spread

1/4 cup cashew butter
2 tablespoons agave (or other sweetener)
1 tablespoon cocoa powder

In a medium bowl, mix together until all ingredients are combined.  You might want to gently warm the cashew butter to soften it a little.

Despite being a little healthier than regular banana bread, this came out tasting great – dare I say moist again?  Why is that word such a crime nowadays?  Is it because of that TV show Dead Like Me?  Or maybe that’s too obscure of a reference.

Well I’ve had a nice and mellow weekend – we had some people over at our place for a happy communal meal, I experienced the giant monstrosity of the main Whole Foods branch, and I spent some time practicing Hirigana (an alphabet in Japanese).  Since I’m lucky enough to have a roommate who’s half-Japanese, I figure now’s the perfect time to study something I’ve always wanted to study, just for fun.  Maybe I’m super nerdy that way.

Anyway, hope you guys had a great weekend, and I’ll catch you on the flip side!

food and product reviews

Natural Epicurean Academy of Culinary Arts – Week 1 In Review

Good morning!

So on Friday I was walking around in a t-shirt enjoying 20+ degree weather in Austin, all while my friends and family back home in Saskatchewan endured a crazy snowstorm and intense cold.  Mike did the math – there were 60 degrees difference between us today.  Hard to fathom, eh?

All crazy weather happenings aside, what I’m really here to talk about is my first week of school at the Natural Epicurean.  I’ll keep it fairly brief since I don’t really have much for pictures (we’ve just done preliminary food stuff).

Our class is small and intimate, totaling eight people in our group, and we’ve got a pretty even 50% ratio with men/women, and vegans/non-vegans.  I couldn’t be happier with how that worked out – it’s good to have an even variety so I’m not the lone vegan in the room, or that there isn’t one lonely omni.  Plus, we’ll have the opportunity to learn multiple techniques (vegan and non-vegan), which I think will round out the learning experience quite well.

Right off the bat, I really appreciate the two main instructors in the initial segment – both have traditional culinary backgrounds and were trained at classic French-style schools, branching off in different areas of expertise.  One of them owns a vegan bakery, and she’ll be teaching us the baking class (can’t wait!).  I like learning a more classical approach to vegetarian cooking (although later on it will be far from classical, what with the macrobiotics, raw and ayurvedic classes).

Pictured is the kitchen (though it looks a little different now, I think this is an older picture) – it’s a nice, intimate workspace with all the fixins.  I love that there are big windows and a door leading to outside so close – it means that it’s easy to grab a breath of fresh air during a five minute break.  Plus it’s nice to be able to see outside.  I spent six years working in a basement, so it’s extra-awesome because of that!

Another perk is the student fridge for bringing lunches, and we’re allowed to use the school’s equipment to prepare the food. So if I needed to heat something up, or pan-fry a veggie burger (or whatever), I can.

This week we focused on preliminaries like knife skills, learning about different herbs, spices and seasonings, and briefly touched on broth-making (whee!).  We also spent Wednesday taking a food safety course and writing an exam, which is less fun than playing with food but definitely necessary.

Practicing my knife skills

All in all it’s been a great week – it definitely flew by in a hurry.  I’m excited to get more and more in depth with certain techniques (like baking!), and making stocks sauces next week should be super fun.  I’ll be sure to take plenty of pictures!

recipes, Soups and Stews

The Easiest Vegetable Curry


So as you guys know, I just moved to Austin last week to go to the Natural Epicurean cooking school.  I’ll talk more about that on Friday, but today I wanted to talk about one of my biggest challenges thus far – cooking with a severely limited pantry.

Since I’m without a car, grocery trips need to be short lest I break my back, which means that I’ve done a couple small produce runs and a pantry staple trip.  I have basics like olive oil, salt and pepper, and some veggies (mainly hearty ones), but not much else.  Because of that, I’ve been trying to come up with creative ways to use my limited amounts of food.

In my opinion, nothing is easier than curry.  You take some random veggies, cook ’em with aromatics and curry powder, and you’ve got a warming, flavorful meal with minimal ingredients.  I know the ingredient list doesn’t look very minimal, but that’s just because it’s got a lot of different veggies (like onions, carrot, cabbage, etc).

You can get really fancy with curry by toasting spices and making your own blends, but I kept this as simple as possible due to necessity.  Feel free to swap out some of the veggies for what you’ve got around, but do try to keep the onion/garlic/ginger thing happening, since they contribute lots of flavor.  And beans, no matter which kind you use, add a nice boost of protein.

Serve with brown rice and a few fun toppings for a complete, hearty and healthy meal.

The Easiest Vegetable Curry
Makes 4 servings


2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 inch ginger, grated or minced
1 generous teaspoon good-quality curry powder
4 cups vegetable broth
1 large carrot, chopped
2 cups shredded green cabbage
2 small yams, peeled and chopped (about 1 1/2 cups – potatoes and winter squash work well too)
2 cups cooked or canned chickpeas
Salt and pepper, to taste

For serving (use any or all):

Cooked brown rice
Sliced avocado
Fresh diced tomato
Hot sauce (like Sriracha)
Chutney (mango chutney would be awesome)


1.  In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onion and saute until softened, about five minutes.  Add the garlic and ginger and cook a couple more minutes.  Stir in the curry powder for about a minute, and then add the vegetable broth.  Crank up the heat to high and add the carrot, cabbage, yam and chickpeas.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until everything is fully cooked, about 30 minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

2.  Add a small serving of rice into a large soup bowl, and ladle in as much curry as you want.  Top with any of the serving goodies like avocado, cilantro and hot sauce.  Enjoy!

After spending a day in the kitchen, it’s nice to come home and throw together a big pot of goodness without too much effort.  Making a vegetable curry and rice takes time, but the majority of that is hands-off time where you can study or send emails or investigate Pinterest.

School and hanging out with Michael via Skype has been taking up most of my time this week, so I apologize if I’ve been quiet in the blog world – I’m still reading what you guys are up to, but I haven’t quite settled in a rhythm yet.  Take care, and I’ll catch up with y’all on Friday!