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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

the spice of hot HOT

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Apparently, the average American eats fewer sweet potatoes in a year than I do in the average week or two....

As the frigidity continued today (a balmy -28C windchill this morning), I decided dinner needed to be blisteringly, searingly hot. Something to really warm a person up.

Despite their winter appeal (to me at least), sweet potatoes are actually a tropical crop - easy to grow, less environmental impact than many other crops, and a staple in places like Burundi, where their individual annual consumption is twice my body weight. And I tell ya, that's a lot of sweet potatoes.

And I learned my lesson last time I roasted 'em....poking sweet potatoes and roasting them in your oven leads to caramelized, burnt potato gunk on the bottom of said oven. This time I was smarter....I didn't poke them at all. :) And, contrary to what I thought they might explosions. Nice. Aside from a bit of iris/cayenne interaction, I made it through unscathed. Oh, and chipotle peppers are spicy. I had no idea (never used them before). But, word to the wise, these guys pack a punch. Use sparingly, but enjoy thoroughly.

As decent as last night's dinner was, tonight's dinner totally kicked its ass. This was pure, spicy, pseudo-mexican perfection. Yum. It was sweet, it was spicy, it was acidic, had some crunch, creaminess.....everything a fabulous dinner ought to have.

Even better - it was also REALLY good for me. Another vegetarian success! Hubs and I have really been making an effort to eat less meat and more legumes.....and to work on eating more 'superfood''s working out really well.

The food is amazing, healthy, cheaper and flavourful. I don't know if I ever would have envisioned sweet potatoes in a burrito, but they totally rock.

I took a ton of inspiration from this recipe. I've made it as written before, but I like it a lot better with my own modifications. Don't get me wrong, it's not bad as is, but it rocks with a few tweaks. One of the biggest changes I make is to use small whole wheat tortillas.....I love the idea of a big old burrito....but if you look at the calories, a big tortilla has like 180 calories. And that's before you put anything in it. So eat two of those, and you're guaranteed like a 700-800 calorie dinner. The small tortillas have only 90 calories, so you can happily munch on a couple of 'em. :)

So..........with no further ado.........I give you....

Spicy Black Bean Sweet Potato Burritos

Bean Mixture:
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups water
3 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
4 teaspoons prepared mustard
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
3 tablespoons soy sauce

Sweet Potato Mixture
4 medium sweet potatoes, cooked (I roasted them at 400F while I did yesterday's could nuke them or boil them!)
3 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
1/4 c fresh coriander

12 (7 inch) whole wheat tortillas (warm them up if they are too hard to roll)
4 ounces shredded old Cheddar cheese
1-2 ounces grated parmesan

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
Heat oil in a medium skillet, and saute onion and garlic until soft. Stir in beans and water, and heat until warm. Stir in the chili powder, cumin, mustard, cayenne pepper and soy sauce. Let this bubble away while you get the sweet potatoes ready.
"Refried" Black Beans

2. Peel the potatoes (if you hadn't done so already) and place them in a large bowl. Mash away. Chop up the chipotle peppers (don't touch your eyes.....ouch!) and add them to the potatoes. It's good if some adobo sauce stays on them. Add the coriander and combine it all together.
Chipotle!  with sweet potatoes

3. Divide bean mixture and mashed sweet potatoes evenly between the tortillas. Roll the tortillas up (don't fold them, because you lose valuable stuffing's all about the stuffing!) Place them on a greased baking sheet (or a silpat....can you tell I'm impressed/obsessed with mine?)
Tasty filling

4. Top with cheese. Bake for 15 minutes in the preheated oven, and serve, topped with salsa and/or sour cream. I used spicy red salsa, mild green tomatillo salsa and light sour cream.

can't wait to dig in

And MAN was it good. Very spicy (watch those chipotles!) but awesome. I LOVED how the tortillas crisped was better than take-out.

I know it's totally not authentic.....but contrary to a lot of the folks on chowhound, I totally don't care. I'm all about enjoyment, and this rocked. SO satisfying. I need to make these little suckers more often.

Thanks for reading! :)

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

spice rack roll call...fenugreek?

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Hubs LOVES bugging me about my spice rack. From his perspective, he has little use for my hordes of little bottles, bags, tins and our kitchen's distinct lack of cupboard space, the spices take up an entire shelf in the pantry. As much as I would love to have some sort of funky rack, I actually have never been able to find a spice rack that holds a reasonable amount of spices....they all seem to hold something like 12 or maybe 16, max.

What I also love is that somehow, most of these spice racks come with spices ALREADY in exactly is a newfound plethora of stale spices supposed to solve my spice storage issues????? Meh. At least after living together for over three years, I've now got hubs mostly-convinced of the validity of having a well-stocked spice rack (before I moved in, he had garlic powder, italian seasoning, salt and pepper...ah, the glamour).

And tonight's dinner definitely made use of it. Sadly though, as complete as my spice rack is....there was one thing missing. Fenugreek. I'd vaguely heard of this spice before...but never used it or knowingly tasted it. And do you think I could find it? Nope. I checked the discount grocery store, the big crazy grocery store and even the bulk food store (which surprisingly has more spices than I could ever dream of). But no fenugreek to be I had to make the recipe without it.....though I'm still very curious as to what it tastes like and what it would do to my recipe.....

This is pretty closely based on a something I found online a while back. It's an ethiopian-inspired lentil tomato stew....quite tasty. It's not the best thing I've ever made, but hubs and I both enjoyed it and would likely make it again.

Added benefits of this recipe:
- using up spices you forgot you had
- cheap, super healthy and full of "super" foods
- exotic flavours for pennies a plate :)

Ethiopian Spicy Lentil-Tomato Stew
1 c brown lentils
1 large onion, chopped
2 carrots, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 T fresh ginger, grated
2 T olive oil
1 can diced tomatoes, drained
1 small can tomato paste
1 c vegetable stock
2 T sugar
1 cup peas
fresh coriander

Spice Mix:
2 t cumin
2 t smoked paprika
1 t fenugreek (didnt' have it, subbed 1/2 t celery seed and 1/2 t turmeric)
1/2 t thyme
3/4 t cardamom
1/4 t coriander
1/8 t allspice
1/8 t cloves
1/8 t cinnamon
1/2 t cayenne

1. In a medium pot, boil the lentils for about 40 minutes (or until tender). Once they are tender, drain them and set aside. [if you're making rice, start now!]
2. Meanwhile, measure out all your spices. I LOVE these colours. Gorgeous.

Yummy spices!

3. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, garlic and ginger. Once the onion starts to soften, add the carrots.
4. After 3-4 minutes (and before the garlic starts to burn), add the spice mix and combine well, stirring for 1 more minute.
5. Add the broth, tomatoes and tomato paste. Simmer for about 10 minutes (until carrots start to soften).
6. Add the lentils and peas. And, if you're smarter than I am, you won't let a massive frozen block of peas double your dosage.....oops


7. One the peas are cooked (about 3-4 minutes), sprinkle in some fresh coriander. Yum. I served this over brown rice, but to be more authentic, you could make injera, a wonderful ethiopian flat bread. I had no such time or patience tonight. ;) But it is good stuff.


Thanks for reading! :) This is a great hearty dish for a cold night. Already looking forward to my leftovers tomorrow!

Theory of the what?

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More general food philosophizing here……a somewhat platonian take on nutrition…..

So I’m taking a few liberties with Plato, twisting his words around, and re-visiting him….a couple of millennia later. Plato wasn’t exactly into food…..but if I stretch, knead and bake his ideas a little bit, I can use them to illustrate a little food musing……

Take his Theory of the Forms…..(and I’d like to thank SparkNotes for refreshing my memory on the specifics)….the gist of this theory is that there are TWO levels of reality/existence. There is the so-called “real world” – where we actually are, and then the world of Forms, which stands apart from the real world and gives it substance. Not that that makes any sense.

But basically, if you take this from a food perspective, in addition to being able to judge whether food is delicious or not, we also have a general concept of what deliciousness really is. The only reason that we can say a certain food is good is that we have an abstract concept of this goodness. All this to say that tasty things we eat are tasty only because they are a part of a more general form of Taste, which is actually unchanging, impervious to time (unlike tasty food, which, most definitely, loses all notions of tastiness within a given amount of time). For example, you could eat a wonderful salad today, and it would be tasty….but if you were to eat that exactly SAME salad again tomorrow, it would be limp, yucky and overall disgusting (especially if you’re like me and have a tendancy not to wash your dishes as promptly as you really should).

And if you stretch this marginal theory a bit…..let’s say you eat a fast-food burger. Now, on the menu, you’ll have a picture of a burger that looks perfect – it looks juicy (thanks to food dye and glycerine), it looks beefy (thanks to being cut down the middle and opened up so proportion is larger….), it has delectable sesame seeds (most of which have been glued on), a crisp bun (because it’s protected from the burger with rounds of cardboard) and overall is a perfect form of what a fast food burger should be. So when you are anxiously awaiting your own burger, and you open it up….and it is soggy, goopy, limp and overall lame… still eat it. Why? Is it because you have this perfect idea of what it should be, waiting in your head?

Or………let’s say you have a perfect idea of what a chocolate cheesecake should be……it should be rich, decadent, chocolatey, resistant, melting in your mouth and something to savour….it should be rich chocolate perfection on your plate. And let’s say you order such a cheesecake at a chain restaurant… your head you have these visions of perfection. And what arrives is oversweetened, whipped (and hence not resistant), not very chocolatey, inferior sorry specimen of said cheesecake.

What do you do?

You eat it anyway. And again, why? You have this vision of perfection and when you encounter inferiority, you accept it….perhaps because the vision you have of perfection is transcending the dark nasty blob of sugar on your plate?

A more timely example (on this blog at least) could be some of those much-harangued meat substitutes…..when a reluctant vegan (and let’s face it, they do exist…..those who love the taste of meat but can’t eat it on ethical grounds) eats one of those processed soy packages of ick….what are they tasting? Are they buoyed by grilled perfection? Can they accept this as a form of what they are missing?

And even those of us who are food obsessed really aren’t much different….one of my favourite dishes is really yummy macaroni and cheese, made with strong strong cheddar and just overall, amazing comfort food. And yet I’ll eat kraft dinner. And enjoy it. And have seconds.

I don’t really have any answers on this random rambling here……....

Thanks for reading my nutty musings. Real post to follow.....

Monday, January 29, 2007

definitely not martha: Behind the Apron....

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Fiber of 28 cooks is hosting a blog event called "Behind the Apron" basically inviting food bloggers from all walks of nutrition to reveal a little bit about themselves....

I have to laugh a little bit at the idea of 'behind the apron' because I actually never wear one. It's not that I'm averse to the idea, it's more that we only own one, and it was given to hubs as a gag gift. AND, to make things better, it says "For Special Sauce, Lift and Pull." So I don't really wear it as it tends to give people the wrong idea and scare away company...

So here I am:


I'm 26, a nearly-native Ottawan (despite my constant whining and complaining about the arctic climate) and I'm married to a lovely man whom you shall know only as 'hubs.'

The little guy you see in my avatar up at the top right is the late Mr. Buns - I started using his moniker years ago (it was never taken, unlike everything else I tried)...I still use it, as it still is never taken, and I like his little orange peel helmet (hubs' doing, not mine). He was a great little dude.

I now have two other fat rabbits, both of whom were rescued from separate animal rescue associations....large and in charge, here they are....April is the black rabbit and Darwin is gray.

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I've always been a little food obsessed (okay, maybe more than a little). I love getting a little creative in the kitchen, and seeing my vision come to life (or disaster, which probably makes for better reading for you guys...). I'm an alumna of the University of Western Ontario, where I studied French literature. I now work for the government doing PR-type stuff.

"Hubs" and I were married last February, and I have to fight him for the camera, as he's often out and about, taking photos of cool urban things that no one else notices. We're a good match, as he loves to eat the food that I so enjoy creating.

Anyway.....that's me. :) When I'm not working, bussing, cooking, writing, griping or sleeping....I enjoy reading books on nearly any subject and spending quality time with hubs. :) Our one-year anniversary is coming up next month....and we're camping. In Ontario. In February. So look forward to the camp cuisine posts that will be sure to follow in a few weeks....

Thanks for reading and thanks to Fiber for hosting this. :)

Stuff it.

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Red peppers

On those days of the year when there is nothing I'd rather than literally stay stuffed in my bed all seems only natural that my food should emulate my fantasies. I seriously can't believe how freaking cold it nose froze SHUT this morning while waiting for the bus (which, thankfully, actually did show up; score one for OC Transpo). Anyway, tomorrow we're on to colder and more asphyxia-inducing lows (yay for -28C tonight....seriously!).

I needed something hot and stuffed. Since turkey wasn't exactly a realistic weeknight undertaking, I knew I had to resort to other, perhaps healthier fare.

Stuffed peppers. Sweet peppers are one of the most beautiful veggies out there.....such brilliant colour, great taste.....the only caveat seems to be that mid-winter, they cost more than a lot of meats do. But such is the price to pay for vitamins, health, long life and all that jazz. So I paid (but only in one colour.....has anyone yet been able to figure out how my grocery store can sell 4 kinds of sweet peppers at four different price points? does this actually make sense to someone?).

The recipe I used tonight is very versatile, adaptable, etc.....very easy to take a flavour inspiration and just incorporate it into the peppers. I was thinking Italian tonight. Past iterations have visited texas, morocco, spain, etc. Sky's the limit. And there's no need to stop at peppers - the intrepid soul could also apply this filling to such veggie superstars as zucchini, tomato (not in January in Ottawa though - holy pallid orange crappiness) and portabello mushrooms. And also, while this particular pepper recipe is vegetarian, you could add crab, beef, shrimp or whatever protein source happened to turn your crank. Very versatile. :)

And with no further ado....

Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers all'italiano

6 medium bell peppers
1 1/3 cups orzo pasta (or other tiny pasta)
1 T olive oil
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 large zucchini, chopped
12 oz veggie ground round (or meat or shrimp or tofu)
1.5 cups pasta sauce (make it or fake it, it's your choice)
1/4 cup fresh basil
mozzarella, parmesan

1. Set a medium pot full of water to boil on the stove. Meanwhile, core the peppers and cut in half, removing the white from the insides. Arrange cut side up on a baking sheet (again, I LOVE my silpat!). (Whenever your water gets to boiling, cook the orzo to your desired doneness and then drain/rinse).
2. In a large skillet, sauté the onion and garlic in olive oil until they start to smell fragrant. Add the zucchini and cook until softened (you could also add mushrooms, but I was both lazy and impatient).
3. Add the veggie ground ground and stir to break it up. At this point, add in your orzo, the pasta sauce and the fresh basil, and stir until well-combined.
4. Preheat your oven to 350F. Gingerly scoop the hot filling into the waiting peppers, being careful to NOT:
a) burn your fingers, like I did,
b) fling your spatula (and moderate amounts of filling) across the floor, like I did, and
c) knock over half your peppers and cause even MORE filling to go across the floor....also like I did.
Battin' 1000 today, I tell you....
5) Top the filled peppers with some slices of mozzarella, and some grated parmesan. I like to be rather messy in grating the parmesan, because a secret indulgence of mine is the browned crispy parmesan that sits on my silpat when the peppers come out of the oven. Better than chips! But uh.....don't tell hubs. ;) I just bought another $10 slab of parm today! EEEk!

Stuffed peppers

6)Bake the peppers for 25-30 minutes. Try not to overbake too much, because at a certain point, the peppers that you didn't already upend will lose their structural integrity and will send the last vestiges of filling cascading gently across the silpat (and hence ruining your browned parmesan).

After all the drama, the peppers were totally worth it. And even better, there's so much leftover that I froze six halves for a future night when I'm feeling grouchy like I am tonight, but less ambitious.....

Bon appétit

Cheery today, aren't I? :) Thank you so much for reading - I love getting your comments and emails!!!!!!!!!

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The meat and potatoes of it all....

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As much as I enjoy displays of scorn and derision toward unadventurous eaters...sometimes what you really need are good old-fashioned steak and potatoes. Friday night was such a night....richness, decadence and good old-fashioned red meat beckoned.....along with red wine, it was simple meal worthy of a feast.

As the recommendations of winemadeeasy, I hunted down the 2003 Cathedral Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon. And what a hunt it was - in super-sub-zero temperatures, I trekked well over a kilometre off my bus route to seek out this wine.

Totally worth it. I think it might be my new favourite wine to sip and enjoy alongside a hearty meal.

One of my favourite veggie side dishes is roasted potatoes. Just pure, fresh potato goodness, crispy from the oven and flavoured with nothing more than fresh rosemary, fleur de sel, olive oil, and garlic. No powder from a package, no over-processed dressing. Just pure goodness.....

Roasted Potatoes (PERFECT with steak)
3 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 t fleur de sel or sea salt
1 T fresh chopped rosemary (+1 T reserved)
1 clove garlic, minced
5-6 yukon gold potatoes, cut in small cubes (less than an inch)

1. Preheat oven to 300F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or a silpat).
2. In a large bowl, combine olive oil, salt, rosemary and garlic.
olive oil and rosemary

3. Add potatoes and stir well, making sure potatoes are well-coated.
4. Dump the mixture onto the baking sheet and pop in the oven.
yukon gold potatoes

5. Set the timer for 20 minutes, and then turn the potatoes. Set the timer for another 20 minutes.
6. Reduce the temperature to about 175F, add the extra rosemary and another sprinkle of salt and cook a further 30 minutes (the long, slow cooking time is key to getting the perfect texture to these guys - you can cook them at a higher temp, but they won't be as tasty!).

Wild Mushroom Indulgence (perfect for a VERY rich topping for steak)
2 T unsalted butter
12 oz mixed mushrooms (I had shitake, oyster and crimini) and cut them into tiny little pieces)
2 small shallots
1 t peppercorns, crushed
1.5 oz brandy or cognac
1 c broth (undiluted)
1 c whipping cream
2 T dijon mustard
2 T butter

1. In a medium skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add mushrooms. Once the mushrooms start releasing their liquid (about 3-4 minutes), add the chopped shallots and the peppercorns.
2. Once most of the mushroom liquid is gone, add the brandy and boil until most of it has evaporated.
3. Add broth, cream and dijon. Boil the mixture over medium high heat until desired consistency is reached (probably about 15 minutes). Just before serving, stir in the extra butter. Yum.

Wild mushroom indulgence

For the steak, we used top sirloin, bbq'ed by a very brave hubby in the deep-freeze-like outdoors, with just montreal steak spice to season. His was cooked to medium, and mine to medium-rare. Served with a green salad with balsamic vinaigrette (1 T balsamic vinegar, sea salt, pepper, 3 T olive oil, 1 T dijon mustard and whisk away).

Dinner time!

One of the best dinners we've had in a while....simple, decadent and AWESOME with the right bottle of red wine. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

The hazards of getting a little too creative....

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And perhaps a little too cocky as well. ;)

So I managed to have not one but two minor disasters in the kitchen today. All in the name of cupcakes.....very very sad. And a little sore. (more on that later).

Anyway, I'm heading to a close friend's birthday cocktail party tonight and asked if she would mind if I brought some cupcakes. Being a sane person, she accepted the offer (I mean, who doesn't love cupcakes). I'm a regular reader of the cupcake blog and when chockylit invited readers to participate in a cupcake round up, creating their own flavours, I was sold.

Except.....I'm not a baker. And I"m not terribly creative when baking is involved. And when it comes down to making up some sort of filling.....I'm a downright failure! So sad.

My initial idea was to make coconut cupcakes with pomegranate filling and coconut vanilla buttercream pomegranate filling never turned into filling. It stayed liquid. So I'm not sharing the recipe for it as it, quite frankly, sucked.

I was so dismayed....I even put it outside for a bit to try to help. I know, you're thinking....why not just put it in the freezer? But the deep freeze is merely -18C, which just simply can't compete with the -25C temperature outside (did I mention I'm wearing a COCKTAIL dress tonight? I'm going to FREEZE).....anyway....I luckily had an unopened jar of Bonne Maman 4 fruit conserves. Thank goodness. This is terrific jam (my absolute favourite is the cherry one) and thankfully it makes a more than adequate cupcake filling.....though I'd still like to explore the idea of a pomegranate curd at a later date.

So, while it's not the most original cupcake in the world, it actually tastes amazing. Surprisingly, it's one of the best cupcakes I've ever eaten - a very fine crumb, delicate flavour....totally rocks. Pain in the ass (chocklit, I don't know how you do this all the time! I spent all freaking day on these!!!!!!)

With no further ado...

Fruit-filled Coconut Cupcakes with Coconut-Vanilla Bean Buttercream frosting


2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs, room temperature (if you forget to take them out, just put them in a bowl of warm water for a minute or two)
1 t vanilla
1 t coconut extract
90 g coconut cream dissolved in 1 cup boiling water
2 3/4 c flour
1 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1/8 t salt

1. Preheat oven to 350F and line muffin tins with paper liners (this made 30 'medium sized' cupcakes). In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Beat until fluffy.
Creaming Butter and Sugar

2. Add eggs, one at a time, continue beating until smooth.
3. Add vanilla, coconut extract and coconut cream/water mixture and beat until well combined.
4. In another large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Slowly add the wet ingredients and beat until well combined.
5. Using a 1/4 cup measuring scoop, carefully spoon batter into muffin tins (I bake 1 tin at a time). Don't quite fill the cups.
6. Bake for 18 minutes (check with an UNUSED toothpick to see if they are done).
Cool the cupcakes.

Coconut Vanilla Cupcakes

Meanwhile, you could attempt to make filling. I did, failed miserably, and then raided the fridge.

To fill the cupcakes, use chockylit's trademark cone method - using a sharp knife, cut a cone out of the top of the cupcake.

How to fill Coconut Vanilla Cupcakes

Cut the tip off the cone, and put a small amount of filling in the middle of the cupcake.

Filled cupcakes

And then just put the cone back on top. Ice as normal.

Coconut Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature (you could use shortening, but you'd have my eternal disdain....YUCK)
1/2 vanilla bean
1/3 c whipping cream
1 t coconut extract
2 T milk
3 c icing sugar
1.5 cups sweetened coconut

1. Using your mixer (and if you have a Kitchen Aid stand mixer, I'm SO freaking jealous!), beat the butter until soft. Scrape the seeds out of the vanilla bean, into the butter (put the empty pod in with some sugar to make vanilla sugar!).
2. Add whipping cream and beat until fluffy.
3. Add icing sugar, 1 cup at a time and beat well. The icing will likely be too stiff, so add about 2 T milk (more or less to your liking) and beat until combined. Once the icing has a nice spreading consistency (you can't really pipe this stuff due to the chunky coconut - it clogs up all my tips!).
4. With a spoon, stir in the coconut. Mmmmmmmmmmmm.....this stuff tastes like coconut cream pie filling.....soooooooooooo decadent....
5. Ice your cupcake and top with desired decoration. :)

I used burnt sugar:
Iced cupcakes with burnt sugar topping

Burnt sugar messy topping:
1/3 c sugar
1/3 c water
1 t maple syrup

1. In a small pot on medium heat, combine sugar, water and syrup, stirring until sugar is dissolved.
2. Allow sugar to boil until it turns golden (at which point you should watch it like a hawk!). Technically, it should reach about 295-300F on a candy thermometer if you happen to have one (aka the "hard crack" stage....not to be confused with performing druggies....).
3. When the mixture is golden and not too burny smelling, immediately immerse the bottom of your pan in ice water to cool it down, and then drizzle the mixture on to a silpat (if you don't have one, try parchment paper - this stuff is VERY sticky and super hot). If you can, use a whisk to spread it out a bit to make cool designs.
4. WIthin a few minutes, it should have hardened and you should be able to break it into pieces to decorate your cupcakes.

ooooo....and when you're trying to pry hardened sugar off your careful. I was so exuberant in my attempts that when the sugar finally came off.....I managed to thoroughly slice open not one, but TWO fingers. Nice. Only I could do this.....

So....between the pomegranate soup and the burnt sugar slasher, I'm doin' great today........ ;)

THanks for reading! Looooooooooooooooooooove the comments. :)

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Feeding Vegan Food to Non-Vegans

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Myself included, of course.

Kir Royale! Never underestimate the impact of a pre-dinner cocktail on the appreciation your guests will have for your meal...

Saturday marked the culmination of Vegan Week 2007. A week of deprivation (or was it depravation....he). As you've already read, I celebrated the end of this event by inviting over a group of non-vegan friends (found five willing guinea pigs, though hubs skipped out and ordered PIZZA) and feeding them a mostly-vegan meal.

Well guess what, it turns out that you can feed vegan food to non-vegans and they will not only eat it, but actually enjoy it.

I can't say I developed any more grace in the kitchen and I continued my previous record of dropping things, spilling things, and a minor grain explosion. Thankfully none of this happened whilst I was wielding the blow torch (more on that later).

Anyway, here is the menu I put together, along with links to the recipe posts. I decided to be brave (or crazy....or both) and create my own recipes as I went. Not sure if it's the best idea for someone who hasn't a lot of experience in vegan cooking, but I went ahead anyway. Read on for comments, pictures, recipes and witticisms.

Apéritif - kir royale (sparkling wine with crème de cassis - I confess to not checking if these particular selections were vegan). I just wanted to ply people with drink in case my experiments went awry.

Appetizer - homemade rosemary fleur de sel foccacia with bruschetta topping

Salad - mixed greens with walnut dressing, dried cranberries and toasted walnuts (no recipe link for this one - basically 2 T canola oil, 1 T walnut oil, 1 T balsamic vinegar, fleur de sel, 1 T dijon mustard, fresh pepper, and mix)

Soup - parsnippity soup with red pepper coulis

Entrée - Veggie lentil phyllo strudel with sweet potato truffle purée, topped with port-braised mushrooms

Dessert - dark chocolate hazelnut torte

It was a feast suited to vegans and non-vegans alike. I was surprised and ecstatic to find out that not only was it good for vegan food, it was actually good food. Period.

So....vegan readers, try one of these recipes next time you have non-vegans coming over....they'll like it and you might even get a convert or two. And non-vegan readers....give some of these a try. You won't die if you don't eat meat for a meal (I didn't!) and they're actually tasty! Never underestimate the power of a roasted veggie. :)

And a few final thoughts and observations on Vegan Week.....

1) Overall, I can see the appeal of a lot of this lifestyle. It's always nice to think that we're lessening our impact on the planet, and if one can do this at the same time as consuming tasty nibbles, all the better. That said, as a non-vegan, it's a little bit frustrating to go to the effort of researching and trying to prepare something....and with nearly every recipe, receiving comments to the effect of questioning the vegan status of a given ingredient. Fair enough - and I'll confess that I didn't go out and buy vegan sugar and I didn't go out and buy vegan margarine (they do exist, but I actually despise margarine and wasn't about to buy a second tub....). It felt at times like an uphill battle. There's a great article on vegetarian diplomacy on the website. I can't admit to being a perfect, fault-free vegan for a week....but there was quite a bit of effort. Don't knock it!

2) I did quite a bit of reading during the past week about animal impacts on the environment, particularly the effects of factory farming. Now, while I'm happily ensconced in my position at the top of the food chain, and I don't see that changing any time soon....this is definitely some food for thought. If you want more information (not for the faint of heart or stomach), click HERE , HERE or HERE. Again, don't click if you're eating or are planning to eat soon. I really would like to make an effort not to contribute to this sort of thing, and will definitely be decreasing meat consumption (particularly of the fast food variety) and buying more naturally raised meats. If my cows are happy and pastured and content, that's what I'm after. So this was a bit of an eye-opener.

3) I learned a lot about efficiency and food production. It takes 16 pounds of grain to make one pound of beef (i.e., a cow, over its lifetime, will consume 16 pounds of grain for every pound of meat it yields). So....not only is it inefficient, but cows are eating food that could be consumed by humans (and likewise pigs, chickens, etc.). It certainly puts things in perspective anyway. More food for though (is it dinner time yet? I'm STARVING!)

4) I've mentioned before and I'll mention again....meat and dairy substitutes are NASTY. In order to properly and joyfully adhere to a vegan lifestyle, I think it's important to visit offerings of other cultures (many asian and african countries come to mind) to find food ideas. The North American standard of meat, potatoes and vegetables (MPV for short!) just isn't the same when it's only potatoes and vegetables. Legumes are our friends, and I will endeavour to make more with them. That said, I have been devouring cheese like there is no tomorrow ever since first thing Sunday morning.

Make sure to come back for more posts about delicious food, including an upcoming theme week about the food of España, as well as an entry into the Cupcake Round-Up hosted by the Cupcake Blog!. Yum!

Thank you for reading! And, comment-whore that I am....pleeeeeeeeeease comment. :)

TAG - you're it!

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Soooooooooooo…..I’ve been tagged by the lovely Foxy over at One Vain Cookie….

Apparently, I am now obligated to tell you five things you might not have known about me….and then tag 5 other poor unsuspecting bloggers…..

Here are your tidbits….

1) When I was a kid, I was the pickiest eater ever. We’re talking about someone who would pick mushrooms, beans and beef out of chili. That kind of picky.

2) Though I keep two rabbits as pets, I have, to my eternal horror, actually eaten rabbit. What can I say, it was in France and I was young. Also, as my hubby loves to point out, I almost ate rabbit on our honeymoon (note to self – in Dutch, hasenpfeffer is rabbit).

3) Not only did I spend six FULL summers at band camp, but I’ve actually taught marching band. How nerdy is that?

4) I have the most annoying habit in the morning of snoozing the alarm for hours on end. Actually… doesn’t really annoy me, but hubby will tell you that it is VERY annoying.

5) Trivia is a rather annoying and addicting habit of mine. My brain, for all that it lacks, seems to have a remarkable propensity for retaining the most mundane and useless facts. Sometimes a hit at parties, but more often than not, just an embarrassing quirk.

And with no further ado, the bloggers who are the new object of this game are…..

Brad at Phase 1: Collect Underpants
JP at Random Postcards
Clover the jenny at Wine Made Easy
Candice at Epicurean Ottawa
Jasmine at Confessions of a Cardamom Addict

On with the game!

Monday, January 22, 2007


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The social evolution of bread is fascinating, to say the least. From the "breaking bread" and "daily bread" references from Biblical times, to modern-day low-carb wraps, it's hard to imagine a world without bread. At least, I don't think my world would rotate with bread. Crazed Atkins followers aside, bread is pretty much a central part of western nutrition (and other cultures too, though it takes varying forms).

With this in mind, it seemed logical to start a meal with some hot, crusty, homemade bread. Well, it would have been crustier if I actually had a baking stone.....but it was still hot and somewhat crusty. And very tasty.

I have always found it a bit perplexing that bread is such a ubiquitous staple, and yet so few people even attempt to make it. On a day where you have a little time, it's not that hard, doesn't really require any special equipment, and the results are SOOOOOOOOOOOOo rewarding.

Due to the vegan restrictions, I sought out a bread recipe that didn't depend on milk or milk ingredients for it's flavour and texture - though it's basically a glorified pizza crust, I just love the flavour and richness of focaccia.

This is a recipe I've made before, and one I will definitely make again. For a crowd of six, I double this recipe....and it was deeeeeeeeeeeeeeeelish. Yum.

(from Better Homes and Gardens, p.138)

If you don't have a bread stone, shape the dough into a circle on a greased, unheated baking sheet and bake the focaccia on that sheet

4 to 4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 c warm water (105-115F)
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (105-115F)
2 teaspoons salt
1 T olive oil
fleur de sel, fresh rosemary

1. For the sponge, in a bowl combine 1/2 cup of the flour, the 1/2 cup warm water and the yeast. Beat with a wooden spoon until smooth. Cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let sponge stand overnight at room temperature to ferment. (NOTE: put this in a larger bowl, as it will triple in size)

2. Gradually stir in the 1 c warm water, the 2 teaspoons salt and just enough of the remaining flour to make a dough that pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead in enough of the remaining flour to make a stiff dough that is smooth and elastic (8-10 minutes total - it sucks, but do it!). Place dough in a lightly greased bowl, turning once. Cover; let rise in a warm place until double (about 1 hour).

3. Turn dough out onto a well-floured baking sheet. Place an extra large bowl upside down over the dough to cover it; let rest 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven and a bread stone to 475F. Shape dough on the baking sheet into a circle about 11 inches in diameter by pulling and pressing with your fingertips. Don't stretch dough too roughtly or it will deflate; you want to keep the air bubbles intact.

4. Make 1/2 inch deep indentations every 2 inches in the dough. Brush with olive oil; sprinkle lightly with fleur de sel and fresh rosemary. Carefully slide focaccia from floured baking sheet to the preheated bread stone.

5. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden, checking after 8 minutes and popping any large air bubbles with a sharp knife. Remove focaccia from bread stone with large spatulas. Cool on a wire rack about 15 minutes. Serve warm.


In keeping with Italian tradition, I made a topping to accompany the warm flat-ish bread. Typically, I would also add some fresh parmesan to this, but in keeping with the vegan theme, I omitted it. It's great with or without.

Bruschetta Topping
1 pound roma tomatoes, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3 T fresh basil leaves, chopped
2 T olive oil
1 t sea salt
fresh pepper

1. Combine tomatoes, garlic, basil leaves, olive oil, salt and pepper. Let sit for at least 30 minutes.

Serve cold, alongside warm crusty bread. This totally beats baked, soggy bruschetta, and the hot/cold combo is awesome. It's easy, pretty unobjectionable, and a great addition to the dinner table.

If you've never taken the time to experiment with bread, give 'er a whirl. It's so satisfying and always impressive when people find out that you actually made the bread they are happily munching.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Dark Chocolate, roasted hazelnuts...and tofu?

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After my escapades on Friday night, I was extremely apprehensive about what I'd gotten myself into.

Here I was, a vegan baking flaming amateur, and yet fancied myself with the skill and audacity to invent my own recipe. Going where no vegan had gone before (well at least not exactly before....)....and I think I should maybe buy a lottery ticket or something, because I lucked out yet again. Oh, and not only am I blogging for Vegan Week, but I'm also entering Sugar High Friday, Chocolate by Brand (hosted by the super talented David Lebovitz)

Not only did I have to visit three stores to find the particular chocolate I was looking for, but as my other post said, I dropped my silken tofu on a pile of dirty dishes, my first taste test was literally nauseating....and so I was nervous.

I've always been a lover of dark, delectable chocolate. Having been described from the tender age of four as a shameless "chocoholic," my passion/addiction to chocolate really blossomed the year I lived in France. There were so many types of dark chocolate available, at nearly every percentage point of was a dark chocolate lover's dream. There was nothing I loved more than to nibble a square of Poulain 76% dark chocolate after dinner. Even though I lived in a spartan 18m2 studio apartment, I could brew myself a strong dark Italian coffee with my stovetop italian coffee maker and imagine myself in a magical world of endless decadence. Alternative nibbles of my Poulain 76% chocolate and sips of strong, nearly bitter, brew. Heaven.

And just a taste of this delightful treat is enough to take me back, through scent and saveur to the time I spent abroad. I eventually found my chocolate at an international cheese shop downtown. I thought, erroneously it seems, that the French import store would carry such delights....but they didn't. Despite the six block detour to find that out, I was ecstatic to find the object of my quest:

Dark Chocolate

Thirteen dollars poorer (I bought 300g), I floated the rest of the way home. It took some trial, peppered with much error, to come up with my final recipe. But it turned out better than I could have imagined, and as with the other vegan dinner party recipes, it is suitable for non-vegans. Provided no one has any soybean allergies, you could get away with serving this to anyone.

Bruléed Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Torte

3/4 c. flour
1/4 c. skinned, toasted hazelnuts*
1/3 c. brown sugar
5 T vegan margarine (use butter if you're not vegan!)

*To toast hazelnuts, preheat oven to 350F, toss hazelnuts on a baking sheet. Shake them every few minutes, until they are fragrant and the skins are coming loose (about 10 minutes). Let them cool for a few minutes and you should (in theory) be able to rub the skins right off.

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. In a food processor/blender, add the flour and the whole toasted hazelnuts. Process until the hazelnuts are coarsely ground. Add in brown sugar and margarine, and process until combined.
2. In a 9-inch springform pan, pat the mixture down to form a crust (it seems like there isn't enough, but with persistence it eventually spreads out).
3. Bake for 15 minutes. Cool.

300g silken tofu (1 package)
300 g dark chocolate (I highly recommend Poulain 76%, or barring that, Lindt 70% is a good sub. This recipe really depends on having tasty chocolate, so I don't recommend using baker's chocolate)
1/2 c. sugar
1.5 T cocoa
2 t vanilla extract
1/2 t cinnamon
dash cayenne pepper
1/2 c. chopped roasted hazelnuts (stick the whole ones in a bag and bash with either a meat mallet or rolling pin)

1. Chop chocolate (or be lazy like me and take out your tofu-inspired rage on poor unsuspecting bars of chocolate...I just whacked them with the heel of my hand while they were still in the box). To melt chocolate, use a burner on the lowest heat setting and stir regularly until chocolate is completely melted. Do NOT get any water in the pot, and resist the temptation to turn up the temperature. Burned chocolate is not happy chocolate.

2. Meanwhile, blend silken tofu in a food processor or blender. While the chocolate is melting, measure out the remaining ingredients (chocolate cools/hardens quickly, so this will make your torte better looking than mine, as you won't be randomly thinking "what the heck do I add to this to make it edible????").

3. Add in melted chocolate, as well as the sugar, cocoa, vanilla, cinnamon and cayenne pepper. Blend away until well-combined. Stir in hazelnuts.

4. Pour the chocolate mixture over the hazelnut crust. Spread to desired smoothness. My chocolate was cooling a bit by this point, but if you are speedier than I, you can likely get a smoother result.
Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Tart

5. You can make ahead to this point. Store in the fridge, but ensure that it is served at room temperature.

To brulée the torte:
Sprinkle the top with white sugar (about 1/4 c.). With a propane torch, carefully melt the sugar (trying not to burn the chocolate). Allow to set in fridge for about five minutes.

And voila:

Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Torte

It was rich, but not too sweet. And the lovely part was, the richness of the chocolate filling was achieved without 35% cream or butter - I really didn't think this would be as good as it was. I think it would be amazing presentation to serve this with starburst mango and raspberry coulis (Put a circle of raspberry coulis in the middle, surround with mango, and use a toothpick to make a starburst. Set cake on top. I ran out of time to tend to such ministrations, but it really would be lovely).

I was as surprised as anyone that this turned out to be not only edible but outstanding. My dinner guests were very appreciative, and were unanimous in their declaration that it didn't taste vegan. I'd make this again for a dinner party and probably wouldn't even mention the secret ingredient....


Veggie and Lentil Goodness

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After a week of eating vegan items only, I was getting a little sick of meat substitutes. To me, it doesn't make a lot of sense to try to emulate something like meat. You can't fake it, so don't bother.

And it's with this philosophy that I set about creating a main course that would be appetizing to my non-vegan guests, not too jarring to their palates and that didn't involve rice or stir-fry in any form (overload this week!).

I can't remember what I was doing, but the thought of phyllo pastry started dancing around my head. How can you go wrong with phyllo? I couldn't find a lot of pre-existing vegan meal ideas for phyllo, so I wanted to create my own concoction.

Friends, this is big.

I would serve this to anyone. It really was that good. A pain in the ass, to be sure, but delicious. I've never tasted anything quite like it and to think it's actually good and entirely meat/dairy and egg free is simply mindboggling. Something I also wanted to consider is that my serving plates are an off-white, so I wanted to ensure there was lots of colour and drama splashed across the plate (phyllo on an off-white plate would not be all that attractive). So I took a page from all of my favourite restaurants and decided to serve it on a bed of sweet potato purée.

But I was on a roll. I wasn't just going to mash sweet potatoes. This salivation-inducing blast of flavour took the lowly sweet potato to new heights. And the pièce de résistance - port-braised mushrooms. There you have it - brilliant burgundy, flashy orange, and the golden brown tones of pastry.

Worth all of the five BLASTED hours involved in its creation. The lovely thing is that you can make it advance. And I suggest you do, because this is not quick, though it is relatively straightforward. We'll work bottom up for the recipe.

Puréed Sweet Potato Infusion
Serves six as a small side dish, four as a hefty one
Vegan, suitable for non-vegans

3 large sweet potatoes
1 HEAD garlic (not clove, HEAD)
1 teaspoon white truffle oil (can be found in fancy-schmancy stores)

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Wash sweet potatoes and pierce with a knife/fork. Don't do like I did and put them straight into the oven. Apparently, all that goodness that makes sweet potatoes so sweet will bubble out and caramelize to the bottom of your oven. Put them on a pan. ;) Roast until tender (probably about 1 hour, but give 'em a poke every 15 minutes, starting at 45 minutes). You want them to be very tender.
Roasted Sweet Potatoes
2. At the same time, take the head of garlic, and cut the top off, so you can see most of the individual cloves. Place on tin foil, and drizzle with a tablespoon or two of olive oil. Wrap loosely in the foil and place in the oven with the sweet potatoes. After 40 minutes, it should be soft and golden. Remove from oven.
3. Once the sweet potatoes are cool, peel them and place them in a 3 L casserole dish. Drop in all the roasted garlic (you should be able to squeeze each clove out of its skin. I know this seems like garlic overload, but roasted garlic is very mild. I doubt any vampires will drop in, but it's not crazy. Just trust me. Add the truffle oil.
4. Mash away (I used first a potato masher and then my hand mixer. I would KILL for a stand mixer. Kitchen Aid, how I long for your hands-free power....). I added about 1/3 cup of water to mine to make it a more spreadable consistency. This is a personal change. You can make this in advance and just pop in the oven whenever. It would be a great base for a lot of meals.

Roasted Vegetable Phyllo Pockets with Braised Lentils
Serves 8
Vegan, Suitable for Non-vegans

Braised Lentils
1 cups green lentils (brown will also work - red won't work for this recipe)
2-3 cups vegetable stock
1 bay leaf
1/2 t italian seasoning
1 T balsamic vinegar
salt, pepper

1. Bring vegetable stock to a boil. Add lentils, bay leaf, italian seasoning, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. Boil for about 30 minutes, until lentils are soft. Drain excess liquid. Set aside.

Roasted Veggies
2 small italian eggplants, chopped in 1 inch cubes (or one large eggplant) I didn't peel this, you could if you wanted to.
2 large red peppers, diced
2 large green peppers, diced
1 large onion, diced
2 T olive oil
2 T balsamic vinegar
2 cloves garlic
1 t basil
salt, pepper

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Oil a 9x13 glass dish. Add veggies. Take the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, basil, salt and pepper and combine them. Drizzle this over your veggies, and stir to combine.
2. Roast for about 1 hour, stirring every 20 minutes.

Roasted Veggies

Phyllo Pastry Packets with lentils and roasted vegetables
If you're not eating vegan, feta would also be a fabulous addition.

1 recipe roasted veggies
1 recipe braised lentils
1/3 cup torn fresh basil leaves.
1 package phyllo pastry (you'll need about 12 sheets, which is less than a package)
olive oil
fleur de sel, paprika (preferably smoked!)

1. Combine veggies with lentils and basil.
2. On a clean surface (I like using parchment paper), lay out 1 sheet of phyllo pastry, keeping the remainder covered with a damp towel. Lightly brush the layer with olive oil (or use a Misto). Add another sheet, lightly brush with oil again. Add a third sheet, and brush with oil.
3. Use a pizza cutter to cut sheets into two sections (cut the short way).
4. Take about 3/4 cup of filling and place near the bottom of the short end of the pastry.
Roasted veggie lentil filling
5. Fold pastry over at the side, and then carefully roll it up, using a bit of oil to seal at the seam. Place rolled phyllo packet on a prepared baking sheet (all hail the SILPAT!). Brush top with olive oil. Repeat with other half.
6. Repeat steps 2-5 until you run out of filling (it should make about 8 packets).
Phyllo veggie pockets
7. To bake (and you can make these ahead), preheat oven to 350F. Sprinkle some fleur de sel and paprika on top. Bake for about 25 minutes.

Port-Braised Mushrooms
1 pound mushrooms, sliced
2 small shallots, minced
1.5 cups port
2 T balsamic vinegar
1.5 T cornstarch, 1/3 cup water

1. In a skillet, heat a bit of olive oil. Add mushrooms and sauté until some water is starting to be released from them. Add the shallot.
2. Once mushrooms are mostly tender, add port and balsamic vinegar and boil for about 5 minutes.
3. Combine cornstarch with water, and then carefully mix this into the boiling port mixture. It should thicken very quickly.
4. Serve over phyllo packets.

And this was the final product:
Main Course

Yum. Stay tuned for some chocolate tofu decadence.

Parsnippitty Soup

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For some reason that I've never really been able to fathom, parsnips seem to be the most consistently unappreciated vegetable. Seen as the pallid ugly step-sister of the 'popular kid' carrot, the parsnip is the kind of veggie that in high school, would have been found hiding in the corner, playing solitaire, off on its own.

I would be willing to wager that probably half of people don't even really know what a parsnip is, or what you should do with it. We had to go to two grocery stores to even buy them (seriously, as if one of the biggest grocery stores in the city didn't have either silken tofu or parsnips. Appealing to the masses, I guess).

Perhaps because I've also been known to play a solitaire game or two, or because I've always had a soft spot for this albino carrot cousin. Actually, did you know that both carrots and parsnips are members of the parsley family? Celery is too. I never would have thought it, but then again, I don't really look anything like half my family members, so this really shouldn't come as a surprise. I probably had boiled parsnips before I had them any other way when I was a kid, and I even liked them back then.

Back to the parsnippity soup. So I decided I wanted to have a parsnip soup. But I wanted something with body, with character and a little bit of quirkiness. I didn't want it to taste like parsnip purée....I really wanted to go to another level of this vegetable. So rather than sautéeing them, I decided to roast 'em.

With no further ado, this is what I came up with....

Parsnippitty Soup
Serves 6 Vegan, suitable for non-vegans

Roasted Parsnips:
2 pounds parsnips, peeled (I had 2 1 pound bags)
2 T olive oil
1 clove garlic
sea salt, pepper
1/8 t EACH cumin, cardamom, smoked paprika (my newfound obsession. Worth every of the 519 pennies I had to pay for it. Get smoked paprika, toss the bright red crap. There is NO comparison)

1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Cut the parsnips into even sized chunks (mine were mostly about 2 inches long and 1 inch wide, give or take).
3. In a large bowl, mix the olive oil with the garlic, salt and pepper. Toss the parsnip pieces in this mixture (or you can be lazy like me and just dump it all together in the pan and mix it that way).
4. Spread out the parsnips in an oiled 9x13 glass pan. Sprinkle with the cumin, cardamom and smoked paprika.
5. Roast for about 40 minutes, flipping them one or twice (if your pieces are smaller, keep an eye out - the little end pieces can burn!)

Roasted Parsnips

2 T olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 pounds roasted parsnips
5 cups water
1/2 t smoked paprika
1/4 t cumin
2 shakes cardamom
1/2 t salt
fresh pepper

1. In a large pot (at least 3 quarts), heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and celery and sauté until they are softened (about 5 minutes). Meanwhile, chop up the roasted parsnips into smaller cubes.
2. Add roasted parsnips and sauté another 2-3 minutes. At this point, add in the smoked paprika, cumin and cardamom. Sauté 1-2 more minutes.
3. Add water and bring to a boil. Allow to simmer for about 30-35 minutes, until celery is very soft. Taste the broth at this point and add some salt (despite not being puree yet, the soup should still be quite flavourful).
4. Remove from heat, and purée *I highly recommend getting and immersion blender. Makes your life easier, and less mess (and with my dishwashing track record, this is a good thing). If needed, add more water until you get to your desired consistency (I probably added another cup of water to get the soup a bit thinner than it was). Taste again, and add more seasoning if desired (salt, pepper, or one of the spices).
5. Serve hot, topped with roasted red pepper coulis (take 1-2 roasted red peppers, peeled and puree in a blender/food processor - if you can't have cream/sour cream, this is a colourful, healthy and tasty vegan alternative). Yum.

Roasted Parsnip Soup with roasted red pepper coulis

(tried to make it prettier, but uh....yeah....this is what came out). You could skip the roasting step for the parsnips, but I really recommend it. This soup is more than just parsnip puré's a parsnip par-tay in your mouth. Make it now. You won't regret it. :)

Saturday, January 20, 2007


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Really, only I am capable of this type of escapade in the kitchen. This is classic domestic un-goddess here.

So last night, I'm trying to make this chocolate hazelnut torte, right? And part of the recipe I devised involved blending silken tofu. I even went out and bought myself a brand new fire-engine red kitchen aid blender for this express purpose.

So.....I take my nice package of silken tofu (that I had to go to TWO grocery stores to find) and try to drain off a bit of the water. Well guess what? My nice silken tofu plopped right out of the container right into the dirty pile of dishes that I hadn't bothered to wash yet. I desperately tried to catch it, but due to the silkeness of said tofu, I caught precisely one fifth of it, with half going into the tempeh marinara pan, and the other half crashing incongruously into a really not very clean sink.


And of course, due to lazy procrastination, this happened at 10:30PM. And it was snowing (really, in this kind of situation, why would it not snow?) I begged and cajoled hubs to go brave the snow and freezingness to take me to the closest late night grocery store.

And they didn't have it.

So I had to outright bribe hubs (11PM by this time) to take me to the farther away, but bigger 24 hour grocery store (thank you Sobey's for your vegan-friendly freezer section!).

They had it. I bought three (just in case). I think I dropped or spilled half a dozen things in the kitchen yesterday. From an artistic spray of tempeh marinara on the floor (over enthusiastic stirring) to dropping and breaking an almost-empty jar of curry paste......I don't think I should have even been in the kitchen yesterday.

Oh, and my torte recipe? Let's just say it needed a LOT of doctoring. When I first blended the tofu and tasted like not sweet tofu with chocolate flavouring. GROSS. I think I salvaged it. Will report back tomorrow with pictures and a recipe if this thing turns out to be edible....have to clean my house now!

Thanks for reading and wish me luck and the gift of coordination today.....after this rather ignominious beginning, I'm going to need it.

Friday, January 19, 2007

More adventures in vega-tude

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The whirlwind of the last couple of days has caught me a little off-guard, but vegan week is still going strong. Thus far, my veganized efforts have left me 2 pounds lighter, and 2 inches skinnier through the waist section. Nice.

I have, however, tried one more unfortunately overprocessed product. Soygurt is not recommended. This was yuck. When I opened it, I was greeted with the pallid gray insipidity of man-made gunk. And it didn't taste any better than it looked. Sadly, I now have $3 worth of "yogourt" that I don't think you could pay me to eat. Very disappointing.

On the up side, my seitan leftovers were awesome and I'm looking forward to havin' me some tempeh tonight. Yesterday, I managed to find a semi-vegan sandwich at the college cafeteria. I thought they used to have these amazing vegan pitas, but they were nowhere in sight yesterday. I had to satisfy myself with a veggie panini (getting them to remove the cheese). I'm not certain if the bread was milk-ingredient free, but at least I made a solid effort.

Today, I visited the Host India buffet (very yummy!) and they had many options that I thouroughly enjoyed - curried eggplant, veggies, potatoes, spinach, tofu and veggie pakoras. A veritable cornucopia compared to the mediocre food court offerings.

Other cultures certainly have a lot to teach us about avoiding animal products. I had a great meal and didn't miss the meat whatsoever (I mean, it looked good, but I bet I had a much healthier meal because of this choice).

I've been busy planning the finale of Vegan Week - so I hope you'll all tune in on Sunday to check out my creations. I think it's going to be a good one.....complete with homemade foccaccia, bruléed hazelnut chocolate torte and more....

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Seitan, not to be confused with...

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Okay, so I woke up this morning feeling nasty, and spent the day loafing in my PJs ('s now 8:30 and I'm still in my PJs....soooooooooo lazy).

But PJs and all, I still managed to haul my carcass into the kitchen to create some sort of culinary concoction for hubs and I to enjoy.

On the menu for today was a recipe that I adapted from the January issue of Vegetarian Times. Seeing as I didn't want Vegan Week to merely be a rehash of recipes and foods I already knew and loved, it seemed like a good idea to experiment with new kinds of protein and different recipes....this latest edition of Vegetarian Times kindly had an article demystifying such enigmas as tempeh (coming Friday) and seitan (as I said, not to be confused...). I had a heck of time finding this mysterious glutinous protein, even within the confines of the natural food store.

Nothing like feeling like a fish out of water (oops....should that be soybean out than going into that store. I stared and stared at the soy protein/meat replacement fridge and couldn't find this stuff.

So I had to go ask, and of course the lovely store lady stared at me like I was an idiot and pointed me right back to where I'd just been staring for ten minutes. My non-vegan status now unveiled for all to see, I scurried back over and eventually found what I was looking for.


Anyway, back to food.

I actually really enjoyed the seitan - despite is spurious moniker, it really did have an enjoyable texture, and to quote hubs "You can make this even if we're eating normal food." Ah, the great accolades of success.

Glazed Seitan with Soybeans and Peppers

Glazed Seitan
1 package plain seitan (my package was 225 g)
1 T sesame oil
3 T maple syrup
3 T orange juice
1 T soy sauce

Stir Fry
1/2 cup almonds, smashed (vent your frustrations with a meat mallet and a zip loc bag. It's cheaper than therapy.)
1 T sesame oil
3 cloves garlic, squished
1 T ginger, grated
1 cup shelled soybeans (buy in the frozen food section, also called edamame)
1-2 red peppers, sliced
1 cup broccoli florets

2 T soy sauce
3 T orange juice
1 T rice vinegar
1 T maple syrup
1/2 t hot pepper flakes
1 T sherry/port/marsala

1. Take the seitan out of its package and rinse well, patting dry. Going along the "grain" of the seitan, shred it with your hands.

Is it just me, or does that look like ripped up bread? Anyway....

2. In a large skillet, heat 1 T sesame oil. Toss in the seitan and saute until browned (about 3-4 minutes). Meanwhile, combine the orange juice, soy sauce and maple syrup in a small bowl.

3. Add the mixture in with the seitan, and allow to bubble away until most of the liquid is gone and the seitan is "glazed." Put the seitan in a bowl and wipe out the pan.

4. In the dry pan, toast the almonds until they are fragrant....try not to slightly burn the crumbly bits like I did.

5. Put the almonds in another bowl. :) Mix together sauce ingredients for the stir fry.

6. Heat 1 T sesame oil in the skillet.

7. Add the soybeans (mine were still frozen at this point). A minute later, add the garlic, ginger, red pepper and broccoli.

8. After 2-3 minutes, the broccoli should turn bright green. At this point, add in the seitan and the sauce ingredients. Let this boil until the veggies are done to your desired doneness (I like mine still a bit crunchy!).

9. Serve over rice and sprinkle almonds on top.

mmmmmmmmm......very yummmy.....if you can get over the fact that the seitan squeaks on your teeth a bit. It's tasty stuff though!

So far, Vegan Week is now half over, both hubs and I are still energetic and (somewhat) healthy (pounding headaches and all...meh). I think I'm getting all my vitamins (although supplemented with my kinda non-vegan multi) and I have totally been enjoying this. :) Hubs has enjoyed it too! So....some of you meat-eaters, try a vegan meal or never know, you might like it!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Fast food - VEGAN style

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If you've read my previous rant (all out of my system now), you'll know that I started classes tonight. This left me out of the safe vegan haven of my own kitchen, and out in the big wide meat-eating world. It's a scary, scary world out there.

Meat is lurking least, traces of it are. And where meat has not yet crept, milk is already hiding.....silent, but extremely NOT vegan.

At least this is what it seems like in the food court. I mentioned before a great resource of vegan fast food in Canada - . I took their suggestions/guidance and did my own little evaluation of a mall food court today.

First prize (and my business) was hands-down to the Lebanese restaurant.
Now, I don't have actual nutrition info from this restaurant (not a chain), so I'm just going by what the owner told me (I asked if there were any milk or egg ingredients in their falafel plate and they told me no). So, assuming they were truthful, I enjoyed a most delightful meal.

Falafel Plate

Yum! I had giant falafels (the big round things, made of chickpeas, grain and other spices and goodness), drenched in tahini, and surrounded with tabouleh (parsley salad), other salads and hummus. It also came with brown rice and a whole wheat pita (I didn't eat either of them). It was a tad pricey ($7.85 with tax), but no more so than the other selections offered at this restaurant. Very tasty and since it's something I would eat even if I'm not trying to eat vegan, two thumbs way up. Yay falafel! You can also get it in a pita, which is fabulous.....though you'd have to ask about the ingredients in the garlic sauce, as I have a sneaking suspicion it might have egg in it....

Anyway, this was the food court winner for me.

Second prize though (and not too distant) goes to the two japanese food stands, Sushi! and Made in Japan. Sushi! offers a vegetarian futomaki bento that actually has bean curd in it (i.e., protein) and it looked very tasty. Made in Japan offers a variety of stir fries with tofu and veggies, with either rice or yakisoba. I'm not sure if yakisoba is vegan (may contain egg?) and since they don't actually post full nutritional info on their web site, I have no way of knowing. Anyway, both of these options look yummy and actually contain protein (a rarity in the vegan food court experience, I'm finding out!).

Third place can go to both Manchu Wok and Bourbon Street Grill. Both offered a nice variety of starches and vegetables, but little in the way of vegetarian protein sources. Basically, if you go with one of them, you are having veggies and rice. That's it. Not exactly balanced, imho, but would do in a pinch.

And then the rest.....meh. Here is a quick, sad, sorry rundown:
Pizza restaurant - had one plain looking pasta with tomato sauce....of course one would have to inquire as to ingredients of said tomato sauce
Subway - plain ol veggie sandwich. Again, protein free.
A&W - to be fair, A&W actually has a veggie burger now, but it contains milk ingredients, as do the fries. Nothing for vegans here but a lonely old side salad. Oh, and the longest line-up in the whole food court.
Tim Horton's - the delectable vegan offerings here include a plain bun, one particular kind of soup and the low-fat muffins. Oh, and you could always slap iceberg lettuce, orange tomato and neon yellow mustard on your bun and pretend it's a sandwich.
New York fries - plain fries. Tasty, but not exactly balanced eiher....
Beavertails - now, the information is not yet posted on their website, but I'd be willing to hazard a guess that the classic and Killaloe sunrise beavertails are probably vegan. The pastry is made with whole wheat dough (could contain milk ingredients, potentially), but I seriously doubt there is a lick of butter in the spread they use and even if there is, you could always ask them to leave it off. A life without beavertails during an Ottawa winter would be very sad indeed (I feel all nostalgic and hopeful tonight because it was -19C when I left class and all feeling behind) and now I'm all hopeful that the canal may actually open sometime this winter. Watch out people...I'm comin out! Clear the canal (I can't stop....)
Jimmy the Greek - nothing worth mentioning. You could get a salad with no feta or dressing, and possibly rice or potatoes (but you'd have to ask as their website is not terribly forthcoming).

So overall, it looks like vegans are far better off staying home or going to a specialty restaurant, as the typical fast food offerings really don't cater to this lifestyle. That said, I was eminently satisfied with my falafel plate, and am already looking forward to the Japanese feast I'll be chowing down on Thursday (other class, which hopefully won't suck as long or hard as the first).

Poor hubs is his take on the crockpot stew I attempted to make him today:
"If vegans eat like that all the time, I feel sorry for them. It tasted like chickpea and tomato stew."

It really doesn't sound that bad to me...but I guess I'll find out come lunch time tomorrow. Don't fear for hubs though - he chowed down on his vegan Hickory Sticks (300g bag....) so he's not starving.

Thanks for reading! Dinner tomorrow night is adventures in seitan and edamame. Stay tuned for updates, and feel free to add a comment, or email me at mrbunsrocks at hotmail dot com.

And now, ladies and gents, a break in your regular programming

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I need to rant.

I know it's vegan week and I should be writing about my vegan food court adventures (which I will, no worries), but in the meantime, I'm so keyed up about something that I just need to let it all out.

In addition to day-time work, I'm a part-time night student, and I'm about 70% of the way through my program (i.e., I don't want to drop it, I just want to plough through it and get it over with). This is now my third year doing courses for this program and all through, my personal reviews of the courses have been mixed. There are some courses where the prof is so amazing and inspiring and makes me want to just do anything I can to be like them. And then there are other courses....I guess the hazard of a college-level course is that pretty much anyone can teach it...and the problem is, when the school is desperate, they'll pretty much let anyone teach it.

I started a course in Special Event Coordination this week....seeing as this is a skill that will likely be very handy in current and future career paths, I have been looking forward to this course for nearly two years.

They say first impressions are lasting, but I do try not to judge people based on initial nerves or problems. In this case, however, I have no problems doing so. Let's just say if it were a date, he would be dumped. On his ass. No regrets. No nooky.

To teach a class on special events (i.e., the how-to of how to conceive, plan, execute and evaluate said event), they got a filmaker who admittedly has planned a sum total of two special events in his career (which hasn't been terribly long, as I don't think he's yet 30, likely closer to 25). To me, you need a little more experience than that to teach, or at least a wealth of background knowledge to back you up. Not to mention that having the eloquence of a fifth grader. That could help too. Now, I'm definitely not one for knocking people who lack leagues of practical experience (seeing as I am such a person), but this guy was awful.

His oral communication skills were brutal. It was the very first class, and the man had no lesson plan to guide him (and obviously did not have the experience to teach without one). He mumbled and stumbled and consistently talked about his two events that he had planned....dropping names of marginally famous people whom he'd met for two seconds. I could have handled a single incident, but the class, if you could call it such, was thoroughly peppered with such lame references. I was sick of his filmmaking career by the end of it....and I know I wasn't the only one.

And to top it all off, the guy has no background in event planning. He basically informed us that he's just going to talk about how he did it. Who knows if he's the laughingstock of the Ottawa event/arts community...he has no PLAN.

Seriously, if that's how far down the barrel they're reaching, they shoulda hired me! Fark, I could have read a textbook and studied up and come up with something much better than that crap. So now I'm stuck. I want to finish this program, but this course is an absolute waste of my time and a waste of my employer's money (yay for support though). I'm writing a letter to the college tomorrow to let them know of my concern regarding the qualifications of the teacher. I would rather that this this course had been cancelled rather than allow this knob to teach it. I can't take it. I don't think I can stand three months of idiocy and incompetence.

I'm also shocked that in a city like Ottawa, full to the brim with communication firms, event planners and the like, that there wasn't ONE person who wanted to step up and teach this course.

Note to self, next time the course instructor is TBD on the day the course starts, it's NOT a good sign.

My kingdom for an actual event planner.

/end preemption

Monday, January 15, 2007

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And so Vegan Week continued today, and I'm happy to report that it's vastly improved from Day 1. Perhaps I was spurred on from the successful completion of my weightlifting DVD yesterday, or perhaps I just had better food today. Regardless, I think it can be considered a success.

Though it wasn't without its own soy-laced intrigue. For brekkie, I started with a whole wheat English muffin, and topped with my almost-vegan cheese and Yves Breakfast patties. I have to confess to being a little bit perplexed by the idea of almost-vegan cheese...I mean, the cheese is soy-based (i.e., not made with milk) but contains a hefty dose of various milk ingredients. I'm not sure who is supposed to eat this stuff!

I thought the main objectionable ingredient in regular cheese was rennet (i.e., many lacto-ovo vegetarians will eat cheese, but only if it doesn't contain rennet from animals - vegetarian cheese does exist). So why would anyone buy this soy plastic gritty slice of processed garbage? If it isn't suitable for vegans, and most vegetarians can eat non-soy-based cheese (depending, of course, on the availability of vegetarian cheese).....who would willingly subject themselves to that more than once?????

I now have 11 unopened slices. Anyone want them?

The breakfast patties were pretty good though - I didn't mind those at all and would probably stick them in a breakfast scramble with eggs (if it weren't vegan week!). Tasty stuff!

For my mid-morning snack, I experimented with soy again, this time in the form of So Nice Chocolate Soy Milk. I found this in drinking box format and thought it would make a good little treat....21 g of sugar though! Yikes. It was okay. The first sip was not nice, but as I sipped a little more, it got better. ..I just wish it had more of a chocolate flavour (being a sworn devotee of Lindt 70%, I found the chocolatude decidedly lacking).

Lunch was leftover tofu/sweet potato cakes (I know, I hated them yesterday, but I certainly didn't want to let food go to waste!!!!!). It was slightly more palatable today, but it's still not going to see a rerun.

Dinner, on the other hand, was awesome. It was free of processed wackiness, and it was a much more natural take on veganism. This kind of veganism, I can go for.

I made two separate curries and had them over basmati rice (was going to go for brown rice, but figured dinner was healthy enough on its own).

The first curry I made was a mixed vegetable was spicy, exotic, fragrant and just plain old yummy.

Mixed Vegetable Curry
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T ginger, grated
1/4 c. curry paste (I used Rogan Josh)
1/2 t cumin
1/2 t dried coriander
1/2 t turmeric
1 t vanilla
1 cinnamon stick
1 veggie bouillon cube
1 can diced tomatoes
1 package frozen spinach, thawed
2 zucchinis, sliced
1.5 c mushrooms, quartered
2 stalks celery, sliced

Okay, okay, I know it looks like a lot of ingredients. But it doesn't take long!

1. In a large pan, heat a bit of olive oil on medium heat. Add onions, garlic and ginger (aka "the aromatics). Sauté for about 5 minutes.
2. Add curry paste, cumin, dried coriander, turmeric and combine well.
3. Add zucchini, mushrooms and celery, and saute/combine for a few more minutes.
4. Add undrained can of tomatoes (you could sub 3 c chopped tomatoes and add a little liquid), as well as the spinach. Toss in vanilla, cinnamon stick and bouillon cube. Let simmer for about 10-15 minutes to allow flavours to meld.

To make this curry a full vegetarian meal on its own, you could add a can of drained, rinsed chickpeas or other bean to beef up the protein/fibre.

And voilà!
Vegetable Curry

The other curry I made was a perennial fave of both hubs and me. It is dead easy, really yummy - Red Lentil Dal

Red Lentil Dal
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c. curry paste (I used vindaloo - this dish is best spicy!!!!)
1 cup red lentils
4 cups broth
coriander and chopped tomato for garnish

Red lentils are great because they cook so fast!
Red Lentils

Anyway, the steps for this recipe are super simple:
1. Heat a bit of olive oil in a large pot on medium heat. Add aromatics and sauté for about 5 minutes (careful they don't burn - scraping off the residue is a big biatch).
2. Stir in curry paste (I love Patak's) and really, as I said, the hotter the better. You want this baby to burn twice.
3. Stir in red lentils until well combined. Slowly pour in stock and bring to a boil. Simmer away for 15-20 minutes until lentils are soft and turn yellow.

It's that easy. ANYONE can make and love this curry. It's fast and healthy and I would recommend it to anyone!!!!!

Plus, then you can garnish with tomato and coriander and it looks so cute. :)
Red lentil dal

Is that yum or what....and my friends, this one actually was as good as it looks. You should all make it. The added bonus of making all that food is that I know have five containers filled with leftovers. Woohoo!

So now, I'm absentmindedly watching the golden globes (holy self-congratulatory crapfest....though I'm glad Jennifer Hudson won!) and Little Mosque on the Prairie......but the elliptical is calling, so I should probably publish this post and hop my sore butt onto the elliptical.....

Thanks for reading! And feel free to comment.....I live for feedback and I know you're out there reading....what do you think?

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Vegan Week 1, Me 0

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Welcome to Vegan Week! In the interest of adopting a more healthy lifestyle, hubs and I (okay, mostly just me) are kickstarting the new year (ummm....wait.....we had to hold off until all our company left...) with a one-week attempt at eating healthy vegan food only. I've also signed myself up for the Veggie Challenge for this week. This is done through the Toronto Vegetarian Association ( and is something that anyone can sign up for (you guys should try it out! just one week - see how you do. :) You don't have to go vegan either - you can just try to avoid meat for a week. :)

Today is day one, and I'm happy to report that neither of us seems the worse for wear. Despite assurances from family that we would most definitely starve....we're not starving (in fact, hubs discovered that corn chips, bean dip and salsa are all vegan, so he barely had room for dinner).

I started off the day with whole wheat toast, peanut butter and vegetable cocktail. Hubs had eggs (yeah, I know, NOT vegan).

At lunchtime, I whipped up some very yummy bean wraps. We hadn't yet had time to grocery shop, so I was restricted to what I could find around my house...I came up with the following recipe for bean sandwich/wrap filling:

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 small onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 T balsamic vinegar
2 T evoo
juice of 1/4 lime
1 t chili powder
1/2 t cumin

I mashed all of this up together, and then put it in a wrap with lettuce, tomato, peppers and salsa....whilst looking longingly at the sour cream and cheddar sitting in my fridge (sadly, dairy is absolutely NOT vegan). These sandwiches were very yummy and I would recommend them to pretty much anyone.

I only wish I could say the same about dinner....I had a great day shopping today - we visited Rainbow Foods for all kinds of veggie delights, and topped our visit off with a trip to the fresh fruit company. I wanted to make sure that our menu for the week would be both varied and interesting, incorporating lots of veggies and protein sources.

One yummy protein source I picked up (and snacked on) today was Yves Cajun Chicken Deli Slices - these are actually great, and stuffed in a sandwich would likely be even better. Two thumbs up from this omnivore.

But yes....back to dinner.....

One of my favourite blogs to peruse is the Fatfree Vegan Kitchen blogs - amazing pictures and super yummy looking recipes. I thought I would kick off my vegan week with the recipe of the week, Shitake, Sweet Potato and Zucchini Foo Yung.

I made a couple of very minor alterations to the recipe, the first being dried porcini mushrooms for the shitake (couldn't get any) and the second being the addition of a bit of maple syrup to the sauce.

The recipe was a teeny bit complicated, but nothing I cooked up the sweet potato, and attempted to mash the tofu. Not sure whether I messed up or not, but my extra firm tofu would NOT mash. It staunchly resisted my most valiant attempts with the potato masher, not even showing a little dent. Yes, ladies and gents....I had my ass kicked by extra-firm tofu. All the more motivation for my weightlifting video tonight...

I gave up and used my food processor to attempt to mash the stubborn tofu. It still ended up with a more cous-cous like texture than I would have imagined.....wondering if maybe firm tofu (or even medium) would end up more mashed and creamy. Anyway, it's what I had so I went with it.

So here's my "batter":
Tofu Sweet Potato Cake 'batter'

The other aspect of the recipe that I found a little odd was the addition of cornstarch to the tofu/sweet potato cakes doesn't end up cooked, so you have that lovely gritty crap-i-undercooked-the-sauce texture that really just didn't do it for me.

I will admit that it looked pretty, and the sauce was very enjoyable.....and I gobbled up the spinach/sauce combination.

Tofu Sweet Potato Cake

Though I admire the crafty use of zucchini (it was pretty much undetectable), I'm not sure if we'll be making this dish again. The texture and flavour just did not appeal to me....I'm not sure if I thought it would be crispy on the outside or what (perhaps using oil to fry instead of cooking spray would alleviate this?), but it just wasn't my cup of tea.

To his credit, hubs actually liked this quite a bit more than I did...and insists that I include here that *he* managed to eat it without saying "I don't know if I can choke the rest of this down." Of course, the man also eats sardines straight out of the can, so keep that in mind when you listen to him.

Ummmmm.....but it looks like I"ll be eating it for a while....

Here are the leftovers:
Tofu Sweet Potato Cakes

So hubs and I now have that to contend with....I kinda wish I'd saved my sweet potato and made our fave sweet potato and kidney bean burritos....

Anyway, I'm looking forward to tomorrow's dinner - red lentil dal, as well as brekkie (almost-vegan cheese (ah yes, the importance of label reading!!!!!!!), vegan 'sausage' patty on a whole wheat english muffin).

The more I read about animal products in food, the more I'm surprised at the seemingly innocuous items that really aren't so innocent (sugar, wine, beer, etc.). Veganism is a lot of work - so much so that only about 5% of all vegetarians consider themselves to be vegans (and even then, there are different levels of veganism). Crazy. I'll be trying a couple more recipes from the Fatfree Vegan blog later this week (both in the crockpot) and I"m sure they will be awesome.

Thank you for reading the first installment of Vegan Week! :) Please feel free to share any tips, encouragement, or general feedback you'd like to offer.....I'm all ears! to get buff.....

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