Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Mmmmm, Pesto!!

Apologies all...I've been blog-free for far too long and it's time for me, at last, to share a yummy recipe. What's my excuse for the lack of bloggage?? Well, life happens I guess...you know, summer fun--family visits, weekends spent running around doing fun stuff, weekdays being all booked up. I've been wanting to post my favorite pesto recipe for some time now and I finally have a calm moment to myself to sit down and share it with you.

I love pesto. I can't get enough pesto. And I've tried so many brands of store-bought pesto and have never found one that comes even close to home-made.

So, if you've found the same problem, here's a recipe that makes a nice big batch of home-made pesto that is so easy and so delicious, you'll never buy a store-bought pesto ever again!! This will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days. Keep it sealed with plastic wrap so that the top doesn't turn brown (from oxidizing).

This is a spinach pesto, my current favorite because a big bunch of spinach is so much cheaper than a bunch of basil (unless you have basil growing in your garden).

1 package of fresh whole wheat linguine (enough for 4 servings)

142g or 5oz baby spinach (I use the small plastic boxes of pre-washed or about 3-4 cups)
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
pinch nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

1/4 to 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 to 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese (optional)

Put a large pot of water on to boil. When the water is boiling add 1T salt, if desired, then add the linguine and cook according to package instructions. Stir to prevent sticking/clumping.

Meanwhile, place the spinach, walnuts, garlic, nutmeg in a food processor or blender and pulse a few times until coarsely chopped. Open the top tube of the food processor, switch it on and drizzle in the olive oil until the mixture forms a paste, not too thick and not too thin.

Remove the mixture from the food processor into a small bowl and add the lemon juice and parmesan cheese and mix well. Serve desired amount over freshly cooked and drained (but not rinsed) pasta.

Optional garnishes:
1/4 cup goat cheese, dotted over top
1-2 T toasted walnuts or pine nuts (or both!)
grated parmesan cheese
2 T chopped fresh basil

This will leave you with some leftover pesto, yay! The leftover pesto can be used on pizza, sandwiches, grilled vegetables, more pasta, in a tomato pasta sauce or in a creamy pasta sauce...the possibilities are endless!!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

How Does Your Garden Grow?

With silver bells and cockle shells
And pretty maids all in a row
Ok, I really wanted to begin this blog entry with this nursery rhyme quote because I thought it was related to gardening. Imagine my surprise to learn that this pretty rhyme has nothing at all to do with gardening!!

As with many nursery rhymes, it was meant as political satire. This one was aimed at Henry VIII's daughter, Mary Tudor or Bloody Mary. The "silver bells and cockle shells" were instruments of torture and "pretty maids all in a row" alluded to beheading devices that were used at the time. Over 300 executions took place during her reign! So many children's stories and rhymes are actually quite sinister and the little innocents have no idea. But, how can I tie this in to gardening?? I can't. I still really wanted to use the quote!

So on to my garden, the real subject of today's blog entry. My organic back yard vegetable garden is growing just fine, despite the cold summer we've had so far.

The thai basil is gorgeous with its purple blooms and dark stems. The regular (Italian) basil is flourishing...I see many pestos in my future! I even have some in flower pots just in case the slugs devour all the garden basil before I do.

In summer I put basil in almost everything-- salads, all sauces, sandwiches, rice dishes! There's nothing like having an organic garden right outside the door to enhance an everyday meal.

I do have more than basil growing in my garden. The tomatoes are coming along quite nicely and there are some lovely yellow buds finally appearing. Can't wait for the cherry tomatoes.

The (soon to be) red swiss chard is gaining in strength and size, finally. It's the one item I grew from seeds. Sadly, the mixed green lettuce from seeds didn't make it. The peppers are doing well but no buds yet. In time. Patience is a must for gardening.

Organic veggies taste better to me and remind me of back in the day at my Grandma's house sitting on the patio as a child watching her and my dad work her large vegetable and flower garden. My dad would help with mixing the manure with the soil in the spring. She grew a wide variety of veggies and framed the front with several rows of flowers, pansies, snapdragons, violas and many other flowers, to the delight of us children.

Her garden took up half her back yard. It was huge by today's backyard veg garden standards. Or maybe it just seemed huge because I was so small at the time. She grew many vegetables including corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, peas, beans, potatoes, and carrots. Anything extra that she couldn't use was pickled and stored in the basement cellar for the winter. I used to be scared of that cold, dark room in the basement. But it was a source of many good meals when we came for a visit.

Grandma used good old-fashioned hard work to keep the garden free of pests and weeds. No chemicals, she had what we now prize as an organic garden. Back then, that's just the way it was. I'm so glad that the wisdom of our grandmothers is coming back and drawing many of us to natural, local, home-grown food.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Rustic Vegan Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Looking for any excuse to use my new food processor yesterday, I decided to make some pie pastry. My husband, in a moment of extreme rhubarb-cravingness, had bought a large amount of rhubarb at the local market the other day. We also had some fresh strawberries on hand, so my vegan strawberry-rhubarb pie was born!

Vegan pie pastry (easiest-ever!)
2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup sunflower oil
1/3 cup non-dairy milk (I used soy)

Place flour and salt in the large bowl of a food processor with the chopping (S) blade and pulse a few times to combine. Add the oil and pulse until the mixture resembles large crumbs. Add the soy milk slowly through the feeder tube and pulse until the mixture starts to clump together. Add a little bit of water if the mixture is still too crumbly. You may also need to scrape down the sides of the bowl and re-pulse. Scoop up a handful of dough and see if it easily forms a ball, neither too sticky nor too crumbly. When you have the desired consistency, empty the dough onto a floured surface, form into two balls, wrap in plastic and put in the fridge for 30 minutes before rolling it out.

This recipe only uses half the dough, so you can freeze the other ball of dough and use for another recipe or double the pie ingredients and have two pies!

While the dough chills in the fridge, the ingredients for the pie can be prepped and ready to go.

Pie Filling:
2 cups sliced fresh strawberries
2 cups sliced rhubarb (into about 1/2 inch pieces
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Combine ingredients in a large bowl and set aside.

Crumb Topping:
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3 T sunflower oil

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar and oil and mix until fully combined and mixture resembles large crumbs.

Assembly of Pie
Roll out the dough on a floured surface, flipping over and re-flouring every time you double its size. When dough is the size of the pie plate, roll it onto the rolling pin and then unroll over the top of the pie plate.

Place the pie filling onto the pastry and top with the crumb mixture, pressing down gently. Fold over the edges of the pastry, making a rustic-looking tart or use your favorite edging style.

Bake in a pre-heated 375F oven for about 45 minutes, checking at regular intervals after 30 minutes. Pie is done when the fruit filling is bubbling and the edges of the pastry and crumb topping are a light golden brown.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Food Inc - The Movie

I'm planning to see Food Inc. tomorrow (it opened here in Toronto tonite...I rarely see movies on their opening nights). Although this movie is not geared towards supporting vegetarian or vegan eating exclusively, it will provide ample reasons to avoid eating meat, chicken and dairy products produced industrially (i.e., most of what we consume here in North America).

If the message in this movie isn't enough to provide everyone with a compelling reason to avoid processed foods and consume whole, organic fruits and vegetables produced by small organic farms, I don't know what will.

Eat fresh foods, go vegetarian, buy local!!

Here's the film's synopsis of the movie:

Food Inc.
How much do we know about the food we buy at our local supermarkets and serve to our families? Though our food appears the same—a tomato still looks like a tomato—it has been radically transformed.

In Food, Inc., producer-director Robert Kenner and investigative authors Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) and Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma) lift the veil on the U.S. food industry – an industry that has often put profit ahead of consumer health, the livelihoods of American farmers, the safety of workers and our own environment.

With the use of animation and compelling graphics, the filmmakers expose the highly mechanized, Orwellian underbelly that’s been deliberately hidden from the American consumer.

They reveal how a handful of corporations control our nation’s food supply. Though the companies try to maintain the myth that our food still comes from farms with red barns and white picket fences, our food is actually raised on massive “factory farms” and processed in mega industrial plants. The animals grow fatter faster and are designed to fit the machines that slaughter them. Tomatoes are bred to be shipped without bruising and to stay edible for months. The system is highly productive, and Americans are spending less on food than ever before. But at what cost?

Cattle are given feed that their bodies are not biologically designed to digest, resulting in new strains of E. coli bacteria, which sickens roughly 73,000 Americans annually. And because of the high proliferation of processed foods derived from corn, Americans are facing epidemic levels of diabetes among adults and alarming increases in obesity, especially among children.

And, surprisingly, all of it is happening right under the noses of our government’s regulatory agencies, the USDA and the FDA. The film exposes a “revolving door” of executives from giant food corporations in and out of Washington D.C. that has resulted in a lack of oversight and illuminates how this dysfunctional political system often operates at the expense of the American consumer.

In the nation’s heartland, farmers have been silenced – afraid to talk about what’s happening to the nation’s food supply for fear of retaliation and lawsuits from giant corporations.

Our laws today are such that corporations are allowed to patent seeds for crops. As a result, Monsanto, the former chemical company that manufactured Agent Orange and DDT – in a span of 10 years – has landed its patented gene in 90% of the nation’s soybean seeds. Farmers are now forbidden to save and reusethese seeds and must instead buy new seed from Monsanto each season.

Armed with a team of employees dedicated to enforcing their seed patents,Monsanto spends millions every year to investigate, intimidate and sue farmers --many of whom are financially unable to fight the corporation.

Food, Inc. also introduces us to courageous people who refuse to helplessly stand by and do nothing. Some, like Stonyfield Farm’s Gary Hirshberg and Polyface Farm’s Joel Salatin, are finding ways to work inside and outside the system to improve the quality of our food. Others are brave men and women who have chosen to speak out, such as chicken farmer Carole Morison, seed cleaner Moe Parr and food safety advocate Barbara Kowalcyk. Their stories, both heartbreaking and heroic, serve to demonstrate the level of humanity and commitment it takes to fight the corporations that control the food industry.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Eating Clean - The Simple Salad with Baked Tofu

One of the most practical slices of dietary advice I've ever heard was from the Chef teaching the vegetarian culinary arts course I took last year.

She said that to occasionally indulge is human, and even healthy (mentally) in the long term, as long as its followed by eating extra clean for two to three days following said indulgence.

As I've been known to indulge a time or two, I decided to try to put this rule into practice and see what happened.... I think it works! Usually, if I scarf down a high sugar, high fat dessert or too much creamy-sauce pasta or have an extra glass of red wine, I have a reminder of it the next morning on that annoying electronic gizmo that I reluctantly step on in the bathroom, the scales.

So, on day one, two, and three after said indulgence I now pass by the scales, skip the processed food, and opt instead for healthy fruit and veggie snacks and properly portioned healthy homemade soups or salads for lunches and dinners. My next date with the scale usually shows no evidence of any dietary transgressions! Based on this very unscientific study, I've adopted this practice into my usual eating patterns.

Last night I attended a friend's birthday party and partook of several yummy b-day desserts that were on offer without guilt because I knew today would be eat-clean day number one.

Dinner -
The Simple Salad

4 cups mixed salad greens
2 green onions, chopped
1" english cucumber, thinly sliced

1 tsp dijon mustard
1 T lemon juice
2 T extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Assemble salad greens, cucumber and green onion in a large salad bowl.

For dressing, whisk together the lemon juice, mustard, and salt and pepper until combined. Slowly add olive oil, whisking until emulsified. Drizzle desired amount over salad.

You can use any veggies you have on hand, such as thinly sliced red or yellow peppers, zucchini, red onion, or diced tomato. I just happened to have cucumber and green onion so that's what I used today.

The salad can be served with or without topping. Today I had leftover baked tofu so I topped the salad with it. Here's the recipe, from one of my favorite vegan cookbooks, The Artful Vegan, Fresh Flavors From The Millennium Restaurant (I've abbreviated the method slightly but the recipe is unchanged):

Baked Tofu

1 pound firm tofu
1/4 cup tamari
1 tsp pure maple syrup
1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
toasted sesame seeds (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350F. Slice the tofu in half lengthwise and then in thirds across the widths, making slices about 1/2 to 2/3 inch thick.

Combine the tamari, maple syrup and sesame oil in a medium bowl, dip the tofu in the marinade and place on a baking sheet. I sprinkled sesame seeds over the tofu to make it look pretty and add a crunch, but that's not part of the original recipe....go ahead, make it your own!

Bake for 20 minutes, turning the tofu over to brush with any remaining marinade and bake for another 20 minutes or until tofu is caramel brown. Remove from oven, cool and serve.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Urban Gardener

"And so it criticized each flower,
This supercilious seed,
Until it woke one summer hour,
And found itself a weed."
-Mildred Howells, The Different Seed

It's finally the time of year in Canada for gardening, yay!

Gardening...a fancy three-syllable word for "pulling weeds"!!

As you can see, we simply could NOT ignore the weeds any more. It was time to clear the way (by hand...no nasty chemicals) for this year's organic vegetable garden.

Each year my husband and I expand our tiny vegetable patch little by little. This year we are taking it out by another foot.

We purchased our home 4 years ago from a vegetarian family who had lived there for 5 years. They, too, used no herbicides or pesticides for their organic veggie patch. For "official" certified organic status, the criteria is typically 3 years pesticide and herbicide free, but it can take a transition period of 5-10 years to become totally organic, so I'm pretty sure that it would be safe to say that our backyard goodies would now qualify as organic, yay!

Don mixes the composted organic soil from our two composters in the back yard with a small amount of local, organic sheep manure and digs it into the soil bed to add some nutrients.

Now it looks ready to plant!

This year we are planting:
  • rhubarb (actually, it comes back every year)
  • tomatoes
  • red leaf lettuce
  • mixed greens
  • swiss chard
  • green peppers
  • hot banana peppers
  • jalapeno peppers
  • chili peppers (alot of hot peppers, I know...we like it HOT! We freeze most of them and use them all winter!)
  • beans
  • herbs galore: basil, thai basil, thyme, mint, rosemary, parsley, cilantro, sage, oregano

One of my most favorite things to do after a long day at work is to come home and stroll out into the back garden and pick my dinner ingredients from the back yard with a pair of kitchen scissors and a big bowl! Paradise! These lovelies should be in the ground by the weekend. Let the growing begin!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

What the Frack Does a Vegetarian Eat?

Sorry about the title...I'll bet you can tell I just finished watching Caprica...a pilot for a new spinoff series from Battlestar Gallactica. I just had to use "frack" somewhere!

It's my Spring vacation. A week off to sleep in, catch up on some gardening and get back into a fitness routine (again). Indulge in some good eats as well. You'll see that the food life of a vegetarian can be a truly flavorful adventure! Veggie food is not bland and boring at all!! I may be posting some of these recipes soon...so stay tuned! :-)

Of course, my morning just can't begin without my cuppa fair trade organic coffee (ya, I know coffee's not that healthy...but it's my only real vice). Today, my java was paired with a vegan chocolate chip, banana muffin-top made by my hubby yesterday, from the vegan cookbook "Get it Ripe" by Jae Steele. Oh so good!!

A little bit later, I had the rest of my breakfast...a whole wheat english muffin slathered with this wonderful cranberry-raspberry-merlot jelly that I received as a gift from some friends who had picked it up at the One-of-a-Kind craft show recently. You can actually taste the wine in the jelly. Yum! A mango-strawberry-banana fruit salad with a small dollop of organic 2% plain yogurt and breakfast was officially done.

Fresh whole wheat linguine with homemade spinach-walnut pesto and toasted walnuts and pine nuts. Need I say more?

First course included a pear and organic honey mini pizza on a Greek pita with goat cheese, mozzarella, xtra-old cheddar and parmesan cheese. Hot pepper flakes added a kick to this sweet dish.

Go easy on the cheese...these are strongly flavored cheeses so a little can go a long way. I try to find organic, free range dairy products whenever I can for both health and ethical reasons. The commercial dairy industry treats cows and their offspring like manufacturing inputs and the cruelty these bovines endure is beyond belief! Smaller scale, organic free range dairy farms are a more humane alternative without all the additives.

Second course consisted of a scrumptious fennel and pear salad with toasted walnuts and goat cheese with a honey-citrus dressing over purple and green baby romaine. The goat cheese, honey, and greens are all organic. Pure heaven!!

For dessert, one luscious truffle left over from my birthday box of truffles! Yum!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Fast Food-->Orzo with Feta and a Rose Sauce

Last week I needed a quick-to -prepare dinner that didn't require me to go to the market for ingredients.

I was thinking chick peas. But chick peas were the one type of legume missing from my pantry. Darn!

White kidney beans (or cannelini) are another favorite of mine and I had some on hand, so I decided to build a quick pantry dinner around the white beans.

An unusual ingredient (for me anyway) is a prepared marinara from a jar. You know, those cool, tall Italian jars of crushed tomatoes? I use these all the time, except this week by mistake I bought one that was actually a prepared crushed tomato marinara flavored with basil and garlic. I prefer to make my own marinara, but since I wanted a quick meal, I thought I'd use it in this dish. And it turned out great. But, if you don't have a prepared marinara on hand, crushed tomatoes with some dried oregano should work just fine.

2 cups dried orzo, cooked according to package directions
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 fresh tomato, diced
1 tsp oregano
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup vegetable stock
12 oz tomato marinara (about a cup)
1 regular size can white kidney beans, drained and rinsed

25 ml cream or half and half
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
3 oz crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice

Heal the olive oil in a skillet with high sides over medium heat and add the onions. Saute the onions for 3-5 minutes or until softened. Add the garlic and chopped tomato, oregano, salt and pepper and saute for 3-5 more minutes over medium-low heat.

Add the beans, stock and marinara sauce to the skillet, stir to combine and simmer for 10 more minutes. Add the cream, parmesan cheese, feta cheese and parsley, then add the drained, cooked orzo and stir gently to combine, simmering for 1-2 minutes or until the orzo soaks up some of the creamy-tomatoey goodness. Sprinkle with the lemon juice and adjust salt and pepper, if necessary, and serve. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Baked Sweet Potato Frites with Spicy Dipping Sauce

The other night I was out having dinner in a restaurant, which I (far too) frequently do. I ordered the main which usually includes sweet potato frites and a spicy dipping sauce. My order arrives with white potato french fries and no dipping sauce!! Distraught, I asked the waiter what happened and he told me that the dish had been changed.

So, of course, the next day I rush home from work and make my own sweet potato frites (mixed in with some white potatoes, too) and came up with my own spicy dipping sauce. Take that, restaurant! Nyah!

2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into strips
2 medium white potatoes, cut into strips
1-2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
salt and pepper to taste

Spicy Dipping Sauce
3 T Vegenaise or mayonnaise
1 T lemon juice
1 garlic clove, pressed
1 tsp paprika
1/4 to 1/2 tsp tabasco or other hot sauce
1 tsp chili powder
salt and pepper to taste

In a medium-large bowl, mix the sliced sweet potatoes and potatoes with olive oil and spices until evenly coated. Spread out in one layer on a large cookie sheet and bake in a pre-heated oven at 425F for about 30 minutes or until slightly browned and crispy but still tender inside. Flip with a spatula about half way through to ensure browning on all sides.

For the dipping sauce, whisk together all the remaining ingredients in a small bowl and let sit while the frites bake to let the flavors marry.

This makes a great side with a portobello burger or veggie burger and a light salad. YUM!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Suzi's Tips - I'll Set You Up!

It's often easy to identify the kitchen of someone who loves to cook. You know the kitchens...all cooking tools are handy within close grabbing distance near the stove. Slightly lazier cooks, like myself -- the quick veggie meal grrl, can learn a thing or two from this! :-)

Keeping everything you need at your fingertips means you can focus your time and energy on the actual cooking part of the meal preparation experience, instead of burning the onions (or pine nuts or... insert most recently charred item here) while you do the 20-yard dash around the kitchen searching for that elusive spatula or whisk.

As an aside...it seems funny to me that people still keep looking for ever bigger and bigger kitchens. One drawback of having a large kitchen (aside from more storage and counter space -- which is a good thing!) is that your prep and cooking time increase if you have to dash around your kitchen finding stuff. Although, the extra calories burned while running around the kitchen could translate into being able to eat more! Hahaha :-)

To be functional, though, a kitchen doesn't need to be the size of a football field. All you need is a good work triangle (i.e., 3 steps from stove to sink, and 3 steps from sink to fridge, and 3 steps from fridge to stove...that would be an equilateral triangle for all those geometricians out there) and an efficient layout of your work tools.

Ok, so here's my list of essential kitchen tools and supplies to keep near your stove:
  • bottle(s) of olive oil with a "pouring spout" (these shouldn't be too big because you don't want your olive oil to spoil from exposure to the light and air)
  • salt dish and pepper grinder
  • a garbage bowl (ya, I have a Rachel Ray garbage bowl and I totally LOVE it!!)
  • pastry cutter for scooping up chopped veggies
  • basket of onions and garlic
  • kitchen timer
  • frequently-used dried herbs and/or spices on the counter (such as oregano, dried red pepper flakes, thyme, and bay leaves)
  • other spices in a drawer or cupboard near the stove, depending on what you use most frequently, e.g., cumin, coriander, curry powder, cinnamon, etc
  • set of stainless steel mixing bowls
  • set of measuring cups and spoons
  • large jar or holder containing: several wooden spoons, whisk, tongs, spatulas, pasta fork
  • small plastic cutting board
  • large wooden cutting board
  • knife rack

Realistically, I know that no-one has enough counter space beside their stove to store all these items. So, depending on your counter space you'll need to rearrange your cupboards above the stove and the drawers beside your stove to accommodate those things that don't fit on your counter top.

At a minimum though, your counter top should have enough space beside your stove to store the olive oil, knives, salt and pepper, and the jar with wooden spoons. Happy (and efficient) cooking!

What else works? Let me know if you have any favourite work area layout ideas that help speed up your daily meal prep.