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 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 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 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'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 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.