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.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Earth Day - Saving the Planet One Bite at a Time

When we hear about the environment most people don't immediately think about how the food we eat may contribute to serious environmental concerns like global warming, land and water pollution, soil erosion or rainforest and wilderness destruction.

In fact, more and more experts are finding (including studies done by the United Nations) that a meat-based diet actually has a direct and often devastating impact on the environment compared to a vegetarian diet. Many people scoff at such a suggestion and it still hasn't been taken seriously in the mainstream media. It's an idea that most people have a really hard time wrapping their heads around, but it's not really that unbelievable.

It's true that most of us are disconnected from where our food comes from and how it is produced. We just need to try and imagine the sheer scale of animal agriculture today to understand how that poses a threat to the earth's air, land, and water. Not only are millions of animals confined on huge factory farms where their waste contaminates the ground water (remember Ontario's Walkerton?), but vast tracts of land are required to graze cattle and to grow feed crops which results in pollution, soil erosion and habitat destruction and other devastating impacts.

Here are some eye-popping facts:

It actually takes 7 times less land to feed a vegetarian compared to a meat-eater. What a difference in footprint size! In Canadian terms, a meat consumer requires 3.5 acres of land while only a half acre is required to feed a vegetarian. Livestock production currently accounts for 30 percent of the entire land surface of the planet.

In Canada, 77% of cereal crops grown are directly fed to livestock, not people! I was shocked to learn about this and have never been able to look at the "corn belt" in the Ottawa area the same again. Most of this corn won't end up on anyone's table as corn on the cob...it may end up as feed for livestock and most of the energy it provides will be used up by the animals producing motion, or it will be excreted or discarded as a waste product.

Since animals are inefficient calorie converters, far more caloric and protein content is fed to the animals than is returned to your plate in a serving of meat. The monoculture crops grown for animal feed are treated with polluting chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides which otherwise wouldn't be applied if the land was allowed to return to wilderness.

Oh, and here's a rather unappetizing statistic...farm animals produce about 130 times as much excrement as the entire human population of the United States. The runoff from factory farms pollutes rivers and lakes more than all other industrial uses combined!

Rainforests, considered to be the "lungs" of the earth, are still being cut down to make way for feed cropland and for grazing cattle. The thin layer of delicate forest topsoil soon becomes degraded due to overgrazing, compaction and soil erosion due to livestock activity. In 2007 alone, 785 species were driven to extinction due to habitat destruction.

Livestock production also uses a tremendous volume of water, mostly for the irrigation of feed crops. For example, it takes 7000 litres of water to produce 100 grams of beef while it takes only 550 litres of water to produce enough flour for a loaf of bread.

And did you know that global warming isn't only caused by vehicle emissions? A full 18% of total globally-released greenhouse gases known to cause climate change derives from the meat production industry. A recent United Nations report found that the meat industry causes more global warming through emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide than all forms of transportation combined. University of Chicago researchers found that switching to a vegan diet is 50 percent more effective than switching from a regular car to a hybrid in terms of reducing global warming!

The good news is that vegetarian and vegan cuisine has come a long way from the "granola" days of tofu, hummus and steamed veggies. There's no excuse for anyone to say that vegetarian food is bland or boring anymore!! No longer is gourmet food limited to meat-based plates. Healthful, delicious and beautifully presented veggie offerings have become commonplace at most restaurants.

Vegetarian and vegan cookbooks abound with easy to make gourmet-style recipes using everyday ingredients for the home cook.

Replacing a few meals a week with vegetarian/vegan options is easy and delicious and just think what you'll be doing to help the planet.

Happy Earth Day and may Earth Day be Everyday!! Here's to the greening of your kitchens!

Toronto Vegetarian Association; Eating for the Earth

Peta; Vegetarian Starter Kit
ArkII; The Activist: Vegans Lead the Way on Earth Day!
Toronto Vegetarian Association; Meat Production's Environmental Toll

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Suzi Eats! A Day in the Life of a Herbivore

This Easter Sunday, it was just me, my hubby, and our kitty Mia. No big family gatherings. It turned out to be a pretty typical Sunday for us, actually, so you'll see this is more of a "day in the life of a herbivore" kind of walk-thru rather than actual recipes here. More recipes coming soon!

So, we kicked off the day with our usual organic, fair-trade Kicking Horse coffee and some oatmeal pancakes (also affectionately known as "oak" pancakes due to a now infamous typo).

Our favorite pancake recipe is from the first vegetarian cookbook I ever owned, Laurel's Kitchen. Its not vegan, but probably could be veganized pretty easily with an egg substitute and soy/almond milk. Sometimes I use gluten-free flour to make it gluten free, but today I used whole wheat flour. I never use pancake mix to make pancakes...it's just way too easy to make from scratch!!

(Oak) Pancakes
1 1/8 cups milk or milk substitute
1 cup rolled oats
2 T oil
2 eggs, beaten (or egg substitute)
1/2 cup whole wheat or gluten free flour
1 T brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Combine the milk and oats in a small bowl and let it stand for at least 5 minutes. In a separate bowl, combine oil and eggs, whisking well. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. Add the two bowls of wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until just moistened. Let stand for 15 minutes, then ladle the mixture onto a hot grill, turning when bubbly. Makes 6-10 pancakes, depending on how big you like to make your pancakes.

I like to serve my pancakes with real Canadian maple syrup along with a fruit sauce made with a handful of frozen mixed berries heated on the stove top with a bit of sugar and lemon juice until reduced by half and thickened. Today, we used blueberries and sliced strawberries. Sometimes I like a scoop of flavored yogurt alongside the berries and some Yves' veggie breakfast "sausage"...they look and taste so real don't they?!

After breakfast it was on to the relaxing and some more reading about how to use my new camera. Hmmm, my Exposure book has already jumped at light speed to shutter speed but I'm not ready to leave aperture yet. I must try to resist flipping ahead and just trust in the author's intentions.

Although breakfast was quite satisfying, its not long before I'm craving my usual weekend smoothie. My smoothies typically include: 1 1/2 cups of almond milk or soy milk, a spoonful of Greens+ or spirulina powder, a scoop of vegan protein powder, one small banana, and my frozen fruit of the day. Today's frozen fruit was peach, melon, and strawberry.

Sometimes I'll add a pinch of cinnamon and a bit of sweetener, especially if it is a mango-banana smoothie. YUM!!

Since today's a holiday, it seemed like a good day to go to the local mall parking lot to practice for my next driving lesson. Me and all the 16 year olds!! Haha! But not until after lunch!

Mini-pizzas on Greek pita bread.
Greek pitas are thicker than regular pitas and don't have a pouch in the center. They make great pizza crusts! Just throw a package in the freezer and thaw as needed. These are so quick and easy to make.

Top each pita with a few tablespoons of crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce, sprinkle with a pinch of oregano, salt and pepper and pile on your favorite toppings...today was veggie pepperoni, sliced mushrooms, red peppers and onions. Then add your fav cheese. Mine included mozzarella, cheddar, and goat cheese, ya, decadent...but it's a holiday! Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and throw it in the oven for 20 minutes at 400F until the cheese is all nice and bubbly.

After lunch, its off to the mall. We had the parking lot all to ourselves until just before leaving. We were joined by a young teen out learning how to drive his family's huge mini-van with his dad (why are these things called "mini"??). We kept our distance from each other, both still anxious about sharing the road with other moving vehicles. One more of these sessions and I might be ready to hit the roads of a local, quiet neighborhood. All this driving around in circles and attempting to stall park is beginning to wear out my oh-so-patient co-driver!

I knew just the thing to unwind my husband...slice up five onions for tonite's dinner's caramelized onion tart and roll out the puff pastry! Good thing he used to be a catering cook and has a sharp chef knife...he finished with the onions in seconds!!

Rustic Caramelized Onion Tart with Sauteed Collards and Asparagus
This tart makes a great main for a vegetarian meal, served with a side of collards and asparagus, and it's easy to boot!

While my husband sliced five onions and rolled out the thawed puff pastry, I sliced a cup of cremini mushrooms and browned them in 2T olive oil, 1 T butter with 4 whole, peeled garlic cloves. I added a sploosh of red wine at the end simmering until completely reduced.

To caramelize the onions, heat 2T butter and 2T olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat, and add the onions and salt and pepper, sauteeing, stirring often, for about 20-30 minutes, until soft, sweet and golden brown. In the last 5 minutes, add 2-3 T of balsamic vinegar and cook until thickened. Add the mushroom mixture to the onions and let it cool for 5 minutes, then place the filling onto the puff pastry, leaving a 1" border. Dot with 4oz soft goat cheese and fold the edges around the mixture to prevent leakage. Brushing the edges of pastry with milk will help the pastry brown nicely. Bake at 450F for 30 minutes or until the pastry is golden.

To saute the collards, I used a traditional Mediterranean recipe. Chop the collards into bite sized pieces, removing tough stems, and boil for 10 minutes or until tender. Heat 2T of olive oil in a large skillet and add 3 chopped garlic cloves and a pinch of red pepper flakes and infuse the oil on low heat for 5 minutes, making sure you avoid browning the garlic. Add the collards, stir and sautee for 3-5 minutes, adding salt and pepper to taste. I also added cubes of smoked tofu, which stand up well to the collards.

Oh, and I almost forgot the asparagus! Saute the asparagus in 1T of olive oil until tender, about 3-5 minutes, then sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle with 1-2T lemon juice. Enjoy!!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Chocolate Chipotle Chile

Yay! Spring is here -- Happy Spring Equinox! Although it's Spring and the days are finally getting longer than the nights, there is still a chill in the air to remind us of winter. A nice, big pot of spicy, hot chili is just the thing to take the chill away!

I use canned chipotles in adobo sauce to give heat to my chili. These little cans of smoked jalapeƱos can be found in the Mexican foods aisle of most grocery stores. They pack a big punch so only use one chipotle (about 1 tablespoon when chopped finely) unless you or your fellow eaters like it screaming hot. The leftover chilis can be frozen and used as needed. If you can't find the canned chipotles, try 1/4 to 1/2 tsp of dried chipotle powder.

Another ingredient I like to add to my chili is chocolate. Yes, chocolate! Chocolate complements and adds depth to the heat of the jalapeno peppers and has been used in authentic Mexican cooking since the time of the Aztecs. Buen Provecho!

2 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium bell pepper, red or green, seeded and diced
2 stocks celery, chopped
1 small zucchini, diced
3-4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1T chili powder
1T cumin powder
1/4 tsp cinnamon
salt and pepper

1/4 cup red wine
1/4 cup vegetable stock
1 chipotle pepper in adobe sauce, finely chopped
1 small can of green chilis (110g) (optional)
1 19 oz can kidney beans, strained and rinsed
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
1/2 can (14 oz) crushed tomatoes

1/2 square (1/2 oz) of semi-sweet chocolate (optional - but believe me it adds a really nice depth of flavour)
1 package (12 oz) of veggie ground "beef" (optional)

Garnish with any or all of the following:
shredded extra sharp cheddar
chunks of ripe avocado
chopped green onion
chopped fresh cilantro
blue corn chips

In a big soup or stew pot over medium high heat, heat the olive oil and add the onion, pepper, celery, zucchini and garlic and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the spices and cook, stirring for another 1-2 minutes.

Deglaze the pan with the red wine, scraping up any flavour bits from the bottom. Simmer until the wine has been reduced by half then add the vegetable stock, chipotle, green chilies, beans, and tomatoes. Bring to a boil, then turn heat to low and simmer for 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

If you are using the chocolate and the veggie ground "beef", now is the time to add them to the chili and cook the mixture for another 10 minutes. Turn heat off and allow it to sit for 5 minutes, then scoop into your favorite mexican-style bowl and garnish as you like! You may wish to serve the chili with cornbread, which can be made while the chili simmers.

Corn bread (from my 1980 Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook):
I love this corn bread recipe and I've been making it for years! You can add 1 cup of shredded cheddar to the combined mixture, if you want to make this more cheesy.

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
3 T sugar
1 T baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 egg
2/3 cup milk
1/3 cup sunflower oil

Preheat oven to 425F. Grease an 8" by 8" square baking pan. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg, milk and oil and pour all at once into the flour mixture. Stir until just combined and pour into prepared baking pan. Let sit at room temperature for 15-20 minutes, then bake 25 minutes or until golden. Cut into squares or triangles and serve with chili.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Tofu "Fish" Sticks

Even though I've been vegetarian for many years, I still have cravings for some of the meat and fish dishes I grew up with. Who didn't have those frozen deep-fried fish sticks growing up? They were one of my favorite meals as a kid! Throw in some french fries and some coleslaw and that's one kid-friendly meal. Here's my take on a vegan version of those fish sticks.

1 block of extra firm tofu (350g), frozen, then thawed and excess water gently squeezed out

Tofu marinade--
2 T tamari sauce (or good aged soy sauce)
2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T white wine vinegar
2 T lemon juice

1/4 cup fine bread crumbs
1T lemon zest
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp dried dill
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp mustard powder
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp salt

1/4 cup soy milk
1/4 cup all purpose flour

Vegan tartar sauce--
3 T vegan mayonnaise
1 T sweet green relish
1/4 tsp dried dill

4T sunflower oil
1 lemon

Place marinade ingredients into a medium wide-bottomed bowl and whisk until combined. Cut tofu in half across width and then cut diagonally. Slice triangles into 1/2" thick slices. Place tofu triangles into marinade and soak until all marinade is absorbed by all the tofu. Be gentle when swooshing marinade over the tofu, being careful not to break the triangles.

Set up a breading station: take 3 pie plates and fill one with the flour, one with the soy milk and one with the breading ingredients. Mix the breading ingredients until evenly distributed. Dredge the tofu first in the flour, then the soy milk and then the breading. Set aside.

Cover the bottom of a heavy bottomed frying pan with sunflower oil and heat to medium high. When hot and rippling, place the breaded tofu into the oil and brown on both sides until nice and crispy, about 3 minutes on each side. Remove and drain on paper towels.

Combine the tartar sauce ingredients in a small mixing bowl. Cut up the lemon into wedges for sprinkling on the "fish" sticks when serving. Serve the tofu "fish" sticks with the vegan tartar sauce and enjoy!!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Asian Noodles in Spicy Peanut Sauce

One of my favorite mid-week meals, this is so fast to make and very tasty! I've even entertained with this on a weeknight after work. This is inspired by a recipe from an old cookbook of mine called "Best of What's For Dinner?" by Ken Kostick. I've tweaked the recipe to suit my tastes and style of cooking.

1/2 lb medium rice noodles
2T sunflower oil
1/2 block of firm or extra firm tofu, chopped into 1" cubes

2-3T sunflower oil
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 red pepper, thinly sliced
1 cup sliced cremini and shitake mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, minced

1 T grated ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
1 T jalapeno pepper, finely chopped (I include seeds and ribs 'cause I like it hot but you don't have to!)
2 T peanut butter
1/4 cup tamari sauce (or good aged soy sauce)
2 T vegetable stock or water
1 T balsamic vinegar

Put pot of water on to boil and cook rice noodles according to package directions.

Meanwhile, in a heavy-bottomed skillet, on medium heat, add first 2 tablespoons of oil and brown tofu cubes on each side, about 5 minutes in total. When browned on the outside but still soft on the inside, set aside to drain on a paper towel.

In a wok or large skillet with high sides, heat remaining 2 tablespoons of oil on medium-high heat and add onion, mushrooms, red pepper and garlic all at once, stirring often until softened, about 5 minutes.

Make a hole in the centre of the stir fry ingredients and add all the remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Heat until bubbling and add more stock or water to thin, if needed. Mix the sauce together with stir fry ingredients and add the cooked rice noodles and the browned tofu, cooking for 1-2 more minutes so noodles soak up some of the sauce and the tofu is warmed up.

Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with some cilantro or flat leafed parsley. You could even sprinkle with some chopped peanuts. Enjoy!

Serving suggestion: this goes well with my mango-lime salad recipe ;-)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Suzi's Tips - Basic Knife Skills

Welcome to the first Suzi's Tips, which will be regular feature of Suzi's Green Kitchen (Ecogrl Cooks!!). I'll be sharing cooking and food-related tips and ideas that I've picked up along the way in my veggie culinary adventures. Questions and comments are always welcome, and if you have any vegetarian food-related topics you would like covered, please leave me a comment and I may cover it in a future Tips post.

I know I've already talked about chef's knives, but I r
eally can't say enough about the benefits of a good knife... for me, learning to use a chef's knife really did help launch my joy of cooking and brought my culinary creations to a whole other level. So, here's to another knife post!

I first started to pay attention to my knife skills about 8 years ago when a friend of mine from work decided to change careers and go to chef
school full time (I was so envious!!). I visited her shortly after she had begun the rather grueling-sounding program and she joyfully shared with me some of the things she was learning in her classes. When I mentioned that I was about to get a new chef knife, she gave me hers and asked me to demonstrate how to hold it. So, I just grabbed the handle and pretended to chop. Wrong way to hold the knife, she says! Although my husband had shown me how to hold a chef's knife properly and I'd seen it many times on TV cooking shows, of course I chose that moment to forget. As my friend explained, and as I already knew and later learned in my culinary school classes, how a cook holds their knife is a personal choice, but there are techniques that make it easier and safer.

Grab the handle of your chef knife and grip the metal part at the heel of the blade with just your thumb and index finger. This is that thick metal portion joining the handle and the blade which adds weight and balance and keeps your hand from slipping. Holding the knife this way gives more stability and control, plus you can also chop faster. It is also important that the heel portion of the blade is deep enough so you don't knock your knuckles on the cutting board when you chop with it.

Position the knife with the point on the cutting board well beyond the food to be sliced or chopped. With a rocking motion, keep the point on the cutting board and slice, dice and chop to your heart's content!

If you don't have to hold the food being chopped (a pile of parsley or walnuts, for example), you can place your free hand with your fingers flat on the top of the tip of the knife to give you even more control.

Most times you'll need to hold and maneuver your food while chopping. Hold the food with your finger tips curled under, like a claw, to keep them away from the sharp blade. Concentrate fully on the task at hand and focus on your fingers and where they are relative to the blade coming down on the food, and don't look away unless you stop chopping. Speed comes with practice...I was pretty slow at the beginning!!

A good, sharp chef knife is essential to making chopping easy and fun but it's also very important to prevent injury because a dull knife is more prone to slipping.

A 7" to 10" chef knife, a bread knife and a paring knife are really all the chopping tools a vegetarian cook needs in order to be able to whip up delicious and fast veggie meals. Using these basic knife skills helps to make chopping less of a chore, more fun, and even a stress-reducing (for me anyway!) experience. Happy chopping!! :-)