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Vegan Christmas baking recipes

Hi all!

Let me just tell you – 10 days without having any internet isn’t easy. But I got a lot of miscellaneous organizing and manga reading done.

Since we’re going on a vegan Christmas baking marathon tomorrow and doing the whole wrapping presents thing, I thought I would share my list of baking goals with you. We might not do everything here because this is a crazy amount of food, but we both have big families so who knows? Sometimes more is more.

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Friday Vegan Menu: A 1940s-style Dinner

The 1940s were a tumultuous time for many countries. There was war, there was rationing, and for the average person, feasts became a modest affair. Not only were meatless meals common (and necessary) during this time, even ingredients like eggs and sugar were hard to come by.

I decided to make a decade-themed vegan menu because I had a few recipes stowed away that reminded me of the olden days. Of course, these aren’t true old-style recipes, they’re modern versions with modern ingredients, but I kept a frugal eye designing this, because sometimes you want to feast on a budget!

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Friday Vegan Menu: It’s Cold Outside

I wanted to create a menu series on this blog – something I’ve never done before, despite hundreds of food-related posts. There are so many great recipes I stumble across week after week, and I wanted to share some of those with you in a way I hope will be helpful – as a full, themed menu!

Friday Vegan Menu: It’s Cold Outside

Here in my corner of Saskatchewan, it’s been grey and snow-rainy for days, and I’ve been living inside a blanket. I wanted to build a menu that would make me feel warm and cozy, like the food equivalent of a fireplace (which I sadly do not have).

Every single item on this menu I consider to be very warming and cozy – even the (cold) salad – but everything is as healthy as it gets, so you can be comforted without having a feast of mac n cheese and fries and cheesecake (though that sounds great too).

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Vegan Sunday Brunch, Episode 39: Easter Edition

Hey guys!

Gonna keep this brief because I’m pretty busy enjoying Michael’s company this week, but instead of having a private Sunday brunch as we usually do, we decided to invite a few people over to celebrate Easter.  To complete the holiday experience, we made my Granny’s cabbage rolls, in addition to other awesome brunch eats.

In addition to that holiday standby, we had a tofu and avocado benedict platter, done all DIY-style (sauce not pictured).

Fresh fruit and fruit salad is always at home on a brunch platter, as are blueberry muffins, made by my friend Katie, and gluten-free to boot.  Whee!

And if you’ve got an awesome hollandaise sauce, there might as well be some asparagus in the picture, too.  Oh, and potatoes!  No brunch feast is truly complete without them, just like the unpictured grapefruit-orange mimosas we all enjoyed.

Hope you guys had a blast this weekend, I know I did!  And I’ll see you on Sunday for another brunch – it’ll be a solo mission, but that just means I’ll just have to cook up something extra awesome. 🙂


Five Course Vegan Valentine’s Day Dinner

Best. Valentines. Ever.

(This is 80% of the reason why.)

And that’s saying something, considering me and the Valentines guy in question are hundreds of miles apart.  But you know how it goes with the whole lemons to lemonade thing – though in reality, I do prefer lemons over lemonade.  Is that saying something about my personality?  Don’t read into it.  In fact, let’s just discard the whole metaphor and talk about awesome food.

Michael and I designed a five course dinner for Valentine’s day, with one caveat: I was not allowed to know what the dessert was until the dinner commenced.  He kept me shrouded in secrecy for days, assuring me that I would have all the ingredients when the time came.  I figured it must have been a super simple dessert, but the truth revealed itself in a package he mailed to me…

That’s right, baggies with all the portioned ingredients, complete with instructions on preparation.  How cool is that?

But let’s start from the beginning.

We wanted to create a meal that was elegant, interesting, and still very simple – we didn’t want to be slaving in the kitchen for hours, we wanted time to enjoy each other’s company.  Part of that was deliberately crafting simple recipes, and also doing a little bit of prep the evening before.  We also wanted to make sure that portions were kept modest, so that we wouldn’t end up having the dilemma of being full by the third course.  Few things are less sexy than being too full!

With all of that in mind, here was our menu:

1. Caprese Salad
2. Mushroom Crostini with Roasted Garlic
3. Baby Greens Salad with Pear and Lemon Vinaigrette
4. Seared and Glazed Tofu with White Vegetable Puree
5. Chocolate Lava Cake

1. Caprese Salad

This is the simplest salad on the planet, yet it’s always tasty and impressive.  Basil and tomato is a hard combo to beat, and a rich white cheese (usually mozza) completes the experience.  I really like Daiya’s sliceable Havarti, but any firm, high-quality white cheese would be wonderful.  We took an extra minute to add a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, a crack of black pepper, and some diced kalamata olives.

2. Mushroom Crostini

For how impressive this dish was, it was surprisingly easy.  We roasted a head of garlic the night before, and it was as simple as squeezing some on toasted bread and adding a portion of sauteed mushrooms on top.  We’ll be posting the recipe shortly, but it’s awesome to use a variety of random mushrooms like shiitake, cremini, oyster, or whatever else you find at the store for an extra high-class experience.

3. Baby Greens Salad with Pear and Lemon Vinaigrette

This took two minutes to assemble, especially since I had whipped up the vinaigrette and seasoned cashews the night before.  It really doesn’t take much to make an interesting salad – use a few different textures and colors and you’re good to go.  I like using pre-washed containers of baby greens since they’re beautiful and have a good variety of leafies.  Michael and I both had a different salad experience – I kept things simple with greens, seasoned cashews and sliced pear, while he topped his with toasted walnuts, pea shoots and sliced radish in addition to the greens and pear.  And make sure you’ve got a great dressing!

4. Seared and Glazed Tofu with White Vegetable Puree

This was some damn good tofu, just sayin’.  Michael was even more emphatic about it last night, exclaiming it was the best tofu he’d ever eaten.  A key for great tofu is to marinate it in something yummy for a good long while (ours marinated for about 24 hours), sear it ’til it’s a beautiful golden brown, and then cook down the marinating liquid to create a glaze to toss it in.  It’s so easy, and so effective.  We served atop a simple puree – mine was turnip and potato, his was parsnip and potato – and a little bit of sauteed or roasted veggies completed the experience.

5. Vegan Chocolate Lava Cake

Michael is a trooper, and a genius.  After seven tests, he managed to veganize a recipe that usually calls for a ton of eggs, and he didn’t use any weird ingredients, just standard stuff most of us have kicking around home.  Words cannot express how intensely glad I am that he went through the trouble of figuring out all the finnicky ratios to create a dessert that has chocolate cake goodness on the outside, gooey and warm chocolate goodness on the inside, all topped with a chocolate and Grand Marnier glaze (this is Michael we’re talking about, of course there was booze involved).  But I’ll let him share that experience (and recipe!) with you next week, where you’ll get to hear all about his trials and tribulations.

Dudes, if you’ve never treated yourself to an experience of a slow meal (ours stretched over three hours) with someone you care about, I highly recommend it.  It was relaxing and fun – even more so than going to a restaurant. Despite making all the food ourselves, no one was rushing us and there were no crowds to deal with – plus, we got some great food came out of the deal.

I’m excited to get into more details about this food with you (especially the lava cake!), and catch up on all your blogs this weekend.  Hope you had a great Valentine’s day!


Vegan Christmas Feast 2012

Hey guys!
This Christmas, I lounged back while Mike whipped up a wonderful, traditional feast – well, traditional-ish.  Tofurky is traditional for me!

He made a simple baste for the Tofurky and chopped up some root veggies (onion, potato, carrot, beet), and finished it off with some fresh sage and rosemary.

It was as awesome as it looked – even Michael’s grandparents gave it the seal of approval.

And if you’re having a Tofurky feast, you need stuffing.

I am emanating intense contentment from being surrounded by stuffing and booze.

Homemade gravy (sans animal fat) is mandatory for such a feast – we made a gravy with mushrooms and fresh herbs to douse potatoes, Tofurky and life in.  And I’ll share the recipe soon!

Simple corn, olives and a variety of pickles rounded out the meal.

And a feast isn’t a feast without dinner rolls!  Alas, these were store-bought, but sometimes you gotta cut corners.  Still good!

And to finish it off, we’ve got some mashed ‘taters.  I am vehemently opposed to using store-bought non-dairy milk in savory cooking, so instead we opted on making homemade almond milk (blending an equal ratio of almonds to water and then straining out the pulp).  Cashew milk works equally well since it has a fairly neutral flavor.  And don’t forget the margarine!

And here it is, the happy ensemble.  My favorite part of the plate was probably the single two pieces of roasted beets – I could live off ’em.

Hope you all had great Christmas feasts – if I had the space in the oven, or the extra time, cabbage rolls and perogies would have made an appearance too.  Next time!


Happy Belated (Canadian) Thanksgiving!

‘sup all!

As mentioned in my last post on Saturday, I was heading out to the boonies (aka the family cabin) to celebrate Thanksgiving.  Games were played, walks were walked, and good food was ate.  Of course, over half of the dozen of us who spent time together ended up getting sick (including Mike and I) – Thanksgiving is a time of sharing, no? Hence my absence from the interwebz, though tonight I’ll try to catch up with you all.  I was sad to miss a few days of MoFo!

And without further ado, here are a few photos from the lake:

Ahh yes, we went with a Tofurky as a main.  We just ended up running out of time to make something, and hey, Tofurkys are damn tasty if I do say so myself.  Plus we made awesome homemade mushroom gravy to go with everything – without veggie broth!  Just took an onion, some garlic and mushrooms, diced ’em up and cooked them in a good amount of vegan butter (probably 3 tablespoons) until nicely browned.  Then we added a tablespoon of flour, cooked it for a minute, then slowly added enough water for a good gravy consistency.  Salt, pepper and poultry seasoning was added at the end for flava, and that was that.

Well I’m gonna peace out and rest more – did you guys know iPads are the best ever?  Mike has one and it’s enabled me to do pretty much everything in bed the last few days.  TV?  Movies? Web comics?  So freaking handy when you’re incapacitated.

Tomorrow’s my birthday, so maybe I’ll be postin’ about that action.  I’m crossing my fingers for perfect health and, perhaps more importantly, I pray that food tastes good tomorrow.  Thanks for your patience dudes, and I’ll catch up with you soon!

bowls, Menus, recipes

Bowls, Bowls, Bowls!

Rice bowls are my mainstay meal when I have no idea what to cook, and when I desire something fresh and healthy that doesn’t take a long time to make.  I can spend 20 minutes in the kitchen and prepare enough food to last the day, while still being sure that it’s nourishing, filling, and veggie-full.
A bowl of Bibimbap, my favorite rice bowl of all time.  This Korean fave has a really thick and spicy sauce and is topped with an assortment of prepared veggies and tofu.

Another great thing about rice bowls (or bowls with any grain base) is that they fit in very well with standardized food guides, which typically advocate a lot of vegetables and grains, and moderate to conservative portions of protein and fat.

This Tabouleh-Inspired Salad Bowl is a balanced meal, chock-full of nutritious goodies like kidney beans, bulgur wheat, avocado, and fresh herbs and vegetables.

For a big, filling bowl that will keep me going for hours, I typically start with a base of around a cup of rice, sometimes more depending on my appetite.  I’ll use an approximately equal amount of fresh vegetables which are almost always prepared raw, partly for convenience but also for a great crunchy texture that happily contrasts the soft chewy rice.  And, you know, raw veggies are pretty much the healthiest thing you can and should consume.

Though I don’t find adding a “protein” to these bowls necessary from a nutritional standpoint since there’s plenty of protein to be found in the rice, sauce and veggies, I do like adding it for satiety’s sake.  Foods like chickpeas or tempeh contain plenty of calories, so including them will give you a bowl that’s more likely to keep you full for longer – and I don’t know about you guys, but I strongly dislike getting hungry at 3pm, because then I snack incessantly, and snacks are seldom as nutritious as the real meal.  
Middle Eastern Bowl with creamy tahini sauce, chickpeas, kale, olives, avocado and fresh veggies.

The final step to an awesome bowl is to dress it in a great-tasting sauce.  My favorite sauces are creamy ones like tahini for an Eastern flair or peanut for an Asian-esque bowl.  Oil-based sauces and vinaigrettes are solid choices for lighter bowls, like a simple teriyaki or ginger lime dressing.  Another favorite is to dress the bowl with salsa, hot sauce and guacamole, as I never tire of bold Mexican flavors.  Creamy and comforting dressings like cashew-based alfredo or ranch are always welcome, especially with some barbeque tofu.  Mmmm…

And of course, you’re never limited to just rice!  All kinds of bases are possible, and they don’t just have to be grains, either – starchy vegetables like potatoes and winter squashes can all form the foundation of a hearty meal, and let’s not forget pasta and noodles!  If you want to omit starch and grains entirely, there isn’t anything wrong with a bowl of zucchini noodles, or cauliflower “rice”, or even just a pile of leafy greens.  

A Mexican-style potato bowl, topped with salsa, guacamole, romaine and bacon bits.

Wholesome buckwheat soba noodles form the base of this fresh stir-fry, except in this case nothing has been fried.  Sunflower sprouts are a simple topping that amplifies the gorgeousness of this meal.

There’s no saying you’re limited to using an actual bowl, either – as the above and below meals attest, all of the components of a bowl can be spread out on a plate for a beautiful appearance.

A Vietnamese-style rice bowl, with simple ingredients spread out in a unique manner for some healthy eye candy.  Little changes in a meals’ aesthetics makes a huge difference in how much you desire to eat it.

They say that we eat with our eyes, and I believe it to the core.  Fresh and colorful vegetables are the most visually appealing foods on the planet, and making a rice bowl loaded with them is a treat for your senses and taste buds.  I can’t think of a single time I’ve sat down to one of these rice bowls and said “meh”.  They just look too darn beautiful, and their substance is just as fantastic as their surface appeal.

Rice bowls, man.  Do it up!


Canadian Thanksgiving, aka Epic Food Party

Thanksgiving is one of those face-stuffing holidays in the Western world that brings friends and family together in celebration of the autumn harvest.  Of course, since most of us aren’t farmers these days, it’s more of a symbolic harvest – but it still means a crazy carb party, which you can always count me in on.
It’s also a turkey-eating party for many people, too, but not us kooky vegans!  I love the creative element of coming up with awesome, non-turkey main dishes, especially main dishes that smell way better and are significantly more aesthetically appealing (come on, corpses ain’t pretty).

But I don’t like to stray from tradition too much – there’s something to be said for the goodness of perogies, cabbage rolls, mashed potatoes, homemade buns and stuffing.  While we might tweak something or other each year, the menu stays basically the same, and is a meal we all look forward to and enjoy creating together.

Now let’s check out the food!
All good Thanksgivings are precluded by a tray of veggies and dip, since the real deal food doesn’t usually get served on time, and people have intense appetites to satiate.  My mom made a vegan sour cream dip with dill, which made me a super happy gal.

This sweet potato casserole is so, so good, and I’ve actually managed to insert it into my family tradition the last couple of years, since we never grew up eating sweet ‘tatoes.  Topped with Dandies marshmallows, this dish always receives tons of kind words, even from people who don’t like the tuber.  Go sweet potato casserole!

What would Thanksgiving be without cabbage rolls?  My mom and I made these in a somewhat traditional Ukrainian style, and I’ll be sure to share the method and recipe this week, along with some of our other dishes.  They’re very basic, filled with rice and topped with a tomato sauce (and butter…lots of it), but can be infinitely altered.

The cabbage rolls are happily hanging out with some stuffing, which was cooked in a slow cooker instead of a bird, meaning I actually like stuffing now after a childhood of avoidance.  It was a simple bread and herb stuffing, but incredibly flavorful and delicious.

More food!  Fresh homemade buns, fried onions and perogies, and a cute little container of Tofutti sour cream hanging out and being awesome, by virtue of being significantly more empty than the dairy variety.  Score one for Tofutti.

Of course my Fresh Cranberry Sauce with Orange had to make an appearance!  I enjoyed it on my bun and on my savory galette, and it added a nice tart contrast to all the super hearty food.

Slow-cooker mashed potatoes?  Yup, we did it.  There’s so much food and chaos happening in a Thanksgiving kitchen that the more you can keep away from the stove, the easier things tend to be.

Check out the loot!  Buns, sweet potato casserole, cabbage rolls, savory galette, mashed potatoes, stuffing and salad, alongside some tasty garden tomatoes, made for a super happy plate, high in the rankings of Best Thanksgiving Meals Ever.

And before we move on to glorious desserts, here’s a big kitchen time-saving tip: if you’re spending the entire day in the kitchen, it’s invaluable to constantly have a sink filled with soapy water, and another sink to put the washed dishes.  There will always be two minutes here and there to wash or dry, and it saves the kitchen from becoming an unmanageable war zone.

First up: apple pie, a holiday classic.  This was made by some family members and was the most ginormous pie ever – nearly double the size of a typical pie.  I’m so wonderfully spoiled during the holidays, and there’s always at least one vegan pie hanging out, waiting for me to devour it!

But there’s more!  Pumpkin pie is a holiday staple, I don’t care who you are.  Every holiday needs a little pumpkin pie.  Next door to that guy is a raw fruit pie with a creamy coconut filling, which is another recipe I’ll be sharing sometime this week!

So that there’s my Thanksgiving roundup – it was definitely droolworthy to relive this meal.  And now I’m off to work – on my birthday!  Yup, happy birthday to me, I’ve hit the quarter century mark, and without much fanfare.  I can hardly complain about working though, seeing as I’ve got some pretty groovy piano students to be hanging out with on my birthday.  And cake awaits me at home tonight!

Take care, and hope all you Canadians had a great Thanksgiving weekend.


10 Easy Vegan Meal Ideas, Part 2

Hey all!

I’m highly enjoying the responses to “what’s your favorite flavor” in yesterday’s giveaway post!  As of this moment, 21 folks have participated, so feel free to jump in if you haven’t already – the odds are looking great right now!

Back in September, I did a post called 10 Easy Vegan Meal Ideas, born from my bare and empty kitchen in Fort Bragg, and a desire to share the most ridiculously easy things I’d been eating during the first two weeks of my stay (aside from all the great food at Living Light, of course).  I shared my pantry staples and must-have ingredients (Ezekiel bread, almond butter, salt, rice, etc), and what I’d been making out of them.

I still used all of those ingredients in the last two weeks, but had a bag of red lentils and wheat berries to use up as well.  I have seldom cooked wheat berries in the past, so don’t ask what possessed me to buy them – luckily, desperate times and empty cupboards have the power to force creativity, and I totally didn’t mind eating wheat berries every day for a week straight.  I know that sounds sarcastic, but I swear sincerity.

#1: Tofu Burger

The thing that inspired this burger was actually a craving for ketchup, as strange as that may sound (not pictured were the sweet potato cubes I also enjoyed with ketchup).  And it really isn’t a burger so much as marinated and fried tofu slabs on Ezekiel-style English muffins, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was delicious.  This is my idea of comfort food, and being so far from home I did desire familiar, comforting meals.

#2: Red Lentil Spread

…but I didn’t only eat familiar comfort foods.  Nope, this frugal and waste-hating gal had a big bag of red lentils to deal with, and was determined to get through it all before returning home – and she’s happy to announce that success was had!  I cooked the red lentils in some veggie broth with ginger and garlic, and then they broke down and the mixture got all thick and creamy the way red lentils do.  So I pulled out my scant selection of seasonings and added miso and lemon juice.  The result was a cheesy spread that I enjoyed on bread (rhyme skillz), especially grilled bread that I dunked in ketchup.

#3: Cheesy Kale and Wheat Bowl

This looks and sounds weird, I get it.  But I had this truckload of red lentil spread that I didn’t know what to do with, as well as a big container of cooked wheat berries.  So of course I had to throw them together and add kale, because kale can be eaten anytime and with anything.  The result was peculiar and delicious all at once.  I can’t even compare it to anything because it doesn’t resemble any meal I’ve made, probably because I rarely cook with wheat berries.  But it was awesome.  Creamy, cheesy, warm comfort food.  Who knew.  +1 for red lentils.

#4: Lemon-Mint Wheat Berry Salad

This was another bowl-style meal I created to use up my wheat berries.  I happened to have a big bundle of fresh mint and some lemons, which, along with some salt and olive oil, formed the simple seasoning of this salad.  The chewy wheat was nicely contrasted by the crunchy and sweet apple and the pungent red onion.  The green cabbage was thrown in out of necessity but turned out to be a lovely addition.  This salad was bright and fresh tasting and made for a perfect light supper.

#5: Asian Vegetable Grain Bowl

Can you tell I love one-bowl meals?  I figured as much.  You can also probably guess what forms the grain base of this bowl.  Massaged kale, diced carrots, julienned red onions and shredded green cabbage were topped with some raw kimchi and sesame seeds, and dressed in a simple concoction of olive oil, soy sauce, sugar, lemon juice, crushed garlic and minced ginger.  Simple and fresh-tasting Asian food.

#6: Wheat Berry Breakfast Cereal

Wheat berries for breakfast, too?  Yup.  The good news is that I got through all of my wheat.  Actually, this breakfast, which I ate several days in a row, was also good news.  The chewy grains made for a great-tasting cereal, especially along with my homemade almond milk, sunflower seeds, chopped dates and banana slices.  It was a hearty breakfast, too, sticking to my ribs or whatever they say when you stay full for a while.

#7: Brown Rice Breakfast Porridge

Wheat berries weren’t the only grain I enjoyed for breakfast – this rice porridge showed up more than a few times, until I finally ran out of brown rice (boo).  The rice was pre-cooked, and then cooked again on the stove with sweetened hemp milk (store-bought this time) for about 10 minutes until the milk was absorbed and the mixture became thick and creamy.  Sunflower seeds were sprinkled in for a pleasant, crunchy texture contrast.

#8: Strawberry Banana Smoothie

Speaking of great breakfasts, I had access to a (cheap) blender at my little apartment, which meant I was able to enjoy smoothies, and some other goodies which you’ll see in a minute.  This one was the classic banana-strawberry-almond milk combo, which really doesn’t get old.  Especially because the strawberries I used were fresh and local and THE BEST I’VE HAD IN MY WHOLE LIFE.  California, I will miss many things about you, but your great strawberries top the list.

#9: Green Soup

It’s no secret that I love soups and green food, sometimes together.  This raw, blended beauty took all of 10 minutes to make, including all the chopping, and turned out smooth even in my very cheap blender.  The flavor profile was loud and exciting, just the way I like it, using ingredients such as apple, orange, zucchini, kale, cilantro, garlic, miso and avocado.  If I can work up the courage to spend a bunch of money on a blender during MoFo, then I shall share this soup recipe with you, because it’s fantastic and easily the best green soup I’ve ever had.

#10: Chocolate Banana Ice Cream

Well I certainly couldn’t do without dessert, and banana ice cream is wonderful on so many levels.  It’s smooth and creamy and surprisingly rich-tasting, and it’s made out of frozen bananas so is therefore guilt-free.  Not that I ever feel guilt when I eat dessert.  My banana ice cream is more liquidy than I would have preferred, but at least I had a blender – I wasn’t about to complain.  With some amazing raw cacao and a few Dandies marshmallows (scored at the Vida Vegan Con!), the dessert experience was complete.

There you have it, folks, some of the simplest meals on the planet, often strange but almost always tasty, and 100% frugal.  Deciding not to splurge on a bunch of pantry items meant that I had more money to buy fresh and local produce, and dessert at the Living Light Cafe. I miss those treats already, especially the tiramisu.  And the brownie.  And everything.