Fried Tofu Win!


Dinner Party Madness!

yum

This weekend, I hosted my first, real dinner party.   Yes, yes, I’ve had friends over for dinner before, but I’ve never hosted an all-out, multi-course dinner party complete with place settings and wine pairings (which were forgotten almost as immediately as they were conceived).  I truly enjoy cooking for people who appreciate good, healthy food, and so it was a pleasure to cook for five wonderful ladies, even though it took two days to prepare everything.  (XO, love you guys).

It’s summertime, sorta, and so farmers’ markets bursting with beautiful produce are plentiful.  With that in mind, my goal was to make this meal as local and/or organic as possible.  In searching for an accessible (read: nearby) farmer’s market, I learned of the My Market markets, where Ontario farmers sell their own produce. At other markets, the produce may be cheaper, but it normally isn’t grown or picked by the seller, and isn’t always local. I knew this, but only about St. Lawrence South (I was naive and assumed other markets were good to go).  Eating local is super.  The food tastes better, and you’re supporting families instead of multinational food conglomerates.  I do love the (trendy, new) concept of the 100-mile diet, but (and it’s a big but), depending on where you live, cooking local is challenging and not totally accessible: cooking with local ingredients (whether exclusively or predominantly) limits what you can make, and requires the abandonment of recipes, or, at the very least, heavy modification of recipes. This is challenging for families, the poor, or people who can’t or won’t fly by the seat of their pants in the kitchen; further, it marginalizes people who may not be able to afford local produce, or much produce at all.  100-mile eating is also challenging for vegans, who depend on alternative sources of protein that aren’t always available locally (the $10/lb cashews that silently supported many aspects of this meal were organic, but they were also from Vietnam).  The key to cooking local, and this won’t be news to anyone, is to cook with what you have, as opposed to having something in mind and trying to find local ingredients to fit what you envisage.

In addition, in this process of running back and forth to markets and independent shops, I realized the extent to which the routine of driving walking to the grocery store, throwing everything I could possibly want or need in a cart, packing it up, and driving getting a taxi home is ingrained in our daily lives.  I was doing it once a week, without question.  Last night, the girls and and I discussed the oft-discussed notion of being disconnected from food–even as a herbivore–and that’s thanks to supermarkets.  At My Market market, I had a swell time talking to farmers (and their daughters! rar!) about the food they grow and sell, what’s in season when, how to store produce, and how excited they were to tell me about their food in the context of freshness.  Despite the fact that I grew up in a town of gardening Nonas, it was still a revelatory to learn that the carrots I bought on Thursday came out of the ground that morning.  And then I realized that, in a way, not having every ingredient available to you all the time makes those fruits and vegetables that much more special when they are available or in season.

To the food!

Chilled Roasted Beet Soup with Sage Cream

Chilled Roasted Beet Soup with Sage Cream

makes 6 cups

2 bunches beets (about 10 small, and the smaller the better), roasted
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 medium onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 clove garlic, minced (or more, I’m never stingy with the garlic)
6 cups veg. broth, recipe follows (see VeganYumYum if you need to be convinced to make your own veg. stock)
1 tsp fresh thyme
salt and pepper to taste
3 fresh sage leaves
3/4 cup cashews
toasted pistachios, optional.

1. Preheat oven to 350F. To roast the beets, chop off the stems (totally edible: wash well, dry well, and sautée them in some Earth Balance, salt, pepper, and lemon juice), and wash well. (tip: retain a bit of the stem to ensure juice doesn’t leak out). Toss in 2 tbsp oil, salt and pepper, and bake for about 45 minutes or until soft. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly (a bowl of cold water helps expedite the process). When cool enough to handle, peel the beets and cut into 1/2-inch cubes.

2.  Heat 2 tbsp. oil in a large pot. Satuée onion for about 5 minutes, or until soft. Add carrot, celery, and saute for about 3-4 minutes, until soft. Add garlic and sautée for 1 minute. Add beets and stock. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Blend in blender. Add salt and pepper to taste.

3. To make sage cream: blend cashews, water, and sage in food processor until all cashews have dissolved. Be patient.

For the stock: Throw shit in a pot with water and boil.  Just kidding! Here’s the recipe I use, modified from the one in Everyday Greens:

1 yellow onion, sliced
1 potato, sliced
6 cloves garlic, skins on, smashed
2-3 carrots, roughly chopped
2-3 ribs celery, roughly chopped
2-3 leek tops, diced
2 sprigs oregano or marjoram
5 sprigs thyme
5 leaves sage
6 sprigs parsley
1 fresh bay leaf
1 tsp peppercorns
1 tsp salt
10 cups cold water

Throw in a pot and boil for one hour.  (So I wasn’t totally kidding.)

Shaved Fennel Salad with Lemon Oil

Shaved Fennel Salad with Lemon Oil

from G Living; makes lots.

for the salad:

1 1/2 cups fennel, shaved
1 1/2 cups sour green apple, shaved (I used (organic!) Granny Smith)
1 c. baby arugula
1 tbsp red jalapeno, seeded and finely minced (I used green chilies as I’m not a fan of the obligatory pop of colour in food)

for the (amazing on everything) dressing:

1/2 c. olive oil
1/2 c. lemon juice
2 tsp. lemon zest
1 tsp salt

Do you need instructions?  I didn’t think so.

Chickpea Cake Layer Cake with Roasted Garlic and Spinach Bechamel

cake

makes about eight five-inch cakes

1. Prepare the bottom layer, by making the chickpea cake mix (shamelessly pilfered from Vegan Dad)

1-2 tbsp oil
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced red pepper
1 celery stalk, diced
2 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas
1 tsp fresh thyme
1 tsp paprika
pinch of cayenne pepper
1 tsp hot sauce
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
2 tbsp flour (I used almond flour, keep it GF)
1 tbsp cornstarch (more, if needed)
salt and pepper to taste
a. Heat oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Sautée onion, pepper, and celery for 5-7 mins, until softened. Remove from heat.
b. Place chickpeas in a food processor along with the onion mixture. Pulse until chickpeas are no longer whole, without over processing. Transfer chickpeas to a bowl and add spices, hot sauce, and parsley. Mix well. Add flour and cornstarch and mix well. Place in the fridge for 30 minutes or until ready to use.
2. To make the middle layer, prepare the wilted greens:
10 c. of greens, your choice (I had a beautiful local rainbow chard, which I failed to wash well enough prior to cooking.  Instead, I used a combination of beet tops and bok choy).
1-2 tbsp. Earth Balance or vegan margarine (oil is not so cool for wilting greens)
1-2 tsp. lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
a. Melt margarine in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add greens, sautée until wilted. Yum.  Store until ready to use.
3. To make the top layer prepare the butternut squash puree:
1 large butternut squash
1 bulb roasted garlic
2 tbsp. oil
salt and pepper
1/2 c. soy milk
2 tbsp. Earth Balance or vegan margarine
1 sage leaf, chopped fine
salt and pepper
a. Preheat oven to 350F. To roast the squash, cut it in half and remove seeds. Rub with 1 1/2 tbsp. of the oil (or as much as is necessary), salt and pepper and place face down  on a well-greased baking sheet. Roast about 40 minutes. To roast the garlic, slice the top off of a bulb of garlic. Rub with remaining oil (or as much as is necessary), sprinkle with salt, wrap in foil, and roast alongside squash for about the same amount of time.
b. To make the puree, peel cooked squash from its skin and pop cloves of garlic from their skins. Place squash and garlic in a pot with soymilk, EB, sage, salt and pepper. Stir until combined, adjust to taste.
4. Assemble the cake by layering your pan of choice (ramekin, mini springform, baking dish, full springform, muffin cups) with the chickpea layer. Top with greens. Top that with puree. Bake 30 minutes at 350F or until set.
*Note: All of this stuff can be made a day or two ahead; the chickpea layer can easily be a chickpea-lentil layer, or a lentil-only layer.  I contemplated both, but in the end, I was just way too lazy to make lentils, too.
5. Serve on top of Spinach and Roasted Garlic Bechamel:
10 oz. fresh spinach, wilted (same process as greens above)
bulb roasted garlic
1/4 c. flour (I used almond, again for those needing GF)
1/4 c. Earth Balance or vegan margarine
1 c. soymilk
salt and pepper to taste
pinch nutmeg (optional)
bay leaf (optional)
a. Roast garlic and wilt spinach, using same method above. Combine flour, margarine, soymilk and salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and whisk until well combined. Add garlic and spinach. Puree in food processor or blender.

Raw Raspberry Cheesecake

cheesecake

cut and paste from The Post Punk Kitchen, except I used (local!) raspberries and skipped the frosting (don’t even click. Isa’s puts mine to shame.)

Crust:
1 cup pecans
1 cup almonds
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 medjool dates, pitted and chopped

Filling:
3 cups raw cashew pieces, soaked overnight (or at least 3 hours)
1/2 cup agave syrup
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (alcohol free is preferred for raw desserts)
32 oz strawberries (reserve 9 for decorating), hulled and halved – about 4 cups*
3/4 cup coconut oil, melted**

Strawberry Coulis:
2 cups chopped strawberries
1 lime, juiced
3 tablespoons agave syrup

Lightly grease a 9 inch spring form pan with coconut oil and set aside.

To prepare the crust, pulse nuts and salt in a food processor fit with a metal blade. When nuts are fine crumbs, add the dates and pulse until the dough holds together when squeezed between your fingers. Firmly press crust into the bottom of prepared cake pan. Set aside.

To prepare the filling, pulse cashews in food processor until crumbly. Add agave, water, lime juice and vanilla and puree until very smooth, scraping down the sides with a rubber spatula to make sure you get everything. Feed the strawberries through the top of the food processor and puree until incorporated*. The filling should turn a pretty pink. With the processor running, add the melted coconut oil in a steady stream.

Pour the filling into the cake pan. It will look like a smoothie and you’ll think no way it will set, but it will! Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge to set. Make sure it’s level so that your cake doesn’t come out wonky. Let set for at least 4 hours.

Prepare the frosting in basically the same way as the cake. Pulse the cashews in the food processor until crumbly. Add the water, agave and vanilla and blend until smooth. With the food processor running, stream the coconut oil in through the top until combined. Pour into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Chill until set, about 2 hours.

To prepare the coulis, blend the raspberries, avage, and lime juice in a blender. Strain well. Serve on top of or under cake.

*I recommend pureeing the berries (especially if you’re using raspberries!) and straining the puree so that your cake doesn’t have seeds. I failed to do this.

**To melt coconut oil, put in a container, seal it, and stick the container in superhot water until it’s all melted.

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MmmmTruffles (Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale special!)

The Toronto Vegetarian Association recently hosted a bake sale as part of the Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale!  I was more than happy to bring some baked offerings to the event, which, despite the rain, was very successful! The TVA’s Resource Centre blog (link above) has pictures from the event, accompanied by a much more eloquent and detailed writeup than I’m providing here.

Onto the Vegan Truffles!

DSC02683

I’ve never made vegan truffles, but I’ve also never been one to pull something from my safe bin just because other people will be eating it.

Vegan Truffles

3/4 c. raw cashews
3/4 c. water
2 cups (a 12-oz. bag) of vegan chocolate chips [I recommend getting them at the always-awesome Panacea! You can also use a high-quality dark chocolate bar, chopped.]*
1 tbsp. canola oil

1. Blend cashews and water in a food processor until they form a ‘cream’.

2. In a double boiler, heat the canola oil until warm to the touch. Add the chips and stir until melted, then add the cashew cream and blend well. Remove from heat and store truffle paste in the fridge for at least 4 hours (or overnight).

3. Time to roll the truffles! Most recipes just say “roll truffles.” I have found that the best way to do this is to scrape the paste using a teaspoon, since the heat and friction cool down the paste so its workable, but not melted. Transfer to hand, and roll into 1-inch balls. Roll truffles into your coating of choice: cocoa powder, coconut, chopped hazelnuts, possibilities are endless, really.

[Make your own double boiler by placing a stainless steel or glass bowl on top of a pot of simmering–not boiling!–water. Use a bowl large enough to prevent steam from the escaping and in turn contaminating the chocolate mixture. The last thing you want is watery truffle paste!]

[Allergic to nuts? Cheapskate? Combine melted chocolate chips with 1/2 c. of choclalte soymilk Recommended: PC Organics].

*ETA: If you can find it, Belgian Callebaut is the only way to go.


Vegan (Nut) Cheeze

Let’s not mince words: most substitute cheeses are inedible. I’ve tried them all: Sheeze, Teese, Vegan Slices, Rice Slices, and those raunchy blobs of soy cheese.  I’m not expecting the substitute to taste exactly like the original, but I am expecting it to taste good.  I have been unable to find anything worthy until Vegetarian Times published five great recipes for vegan nut cheeses.

Almond Feta with Herb Oil

1 c. whole blanched almonds (available at Whole Foods)
1/4 c. lemon juice
3 tbs. + 1/4 c. olive oil, divided
1 clove garlic
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1 tbs. each fresh thyme and fresh rosemary

Soak almonds overnight in 3 inches of water. Drain liquid, and rinse almonds under cold water and drain again. Puree almonds, 3 tbs. oil, lemon juice, tahini, salt, and 1/2 c. water in a food processor until smooth and creamy (about 6 minutes).

Place a large strainer over a bowl and line it with a triple layer of cheesecloth. Fold sides of cloth over cheese and form into 6-inch-long oval loaf. Twist ends and secure with rubber band. Set cheese in strainer over a bowl and let stand 12 hrs at room temperature. Discard excess liquid. Chill overnight.

Once chilled, form a 6-inch round and bake at 200F for 40 minutes.

For herb oil (not pictured), combine remaining 1/4 c. oil, thyme and rosemary in a small saucepan, and warm over medium low hear for 2 minutes until hot but not simmering. Cool to room temperature and drizzle over cheese before serving.