Tuesday, November 3, 2015

What to Do with Bitter Lettuce

Whenever I have a head of lettuce that's over-grown, bitter, or end-of-season, I try to work with it's woodiness instead of disguise it. A delicate salad would only highlight its toughness, so instead why not use it as a wrap? Or, you can marinade it with a rich dressing. Treat it as you would chard or kale. This bundle of thick romaine made great little "tortillas." I flattened the leaves, removed the centre rib, then spread a layer of creamy pumpkin seed cheese (recipe here). Top with whatever crunchy vegetables you like. I used homemade sauerkraut, shredded kholrabi, and a little of the cooked spaghetti squash you see in the back. Season with salt and pepper - my brother gifted me black Icelandic sea salt from his latest adventure - and roll up the leaves. Tuck the edges under and place close together on a plate so they keep their shape. If you want to use chard leaves instead of lettuce, give them a good massage after removing the centre rib. Soaking them for an hour in a little lemon juice + water also helps. Or, be bold and just eat them raw. Dishes like this are supposed to be no-fuss. So, "cutting corners" is often healthier - appreciating food in its most natural state.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Cheesy Squash and Cabbage *Vegan

Nutritional yeast is a person's sneakiest ingredient in a plant-based kitchen. When combined with oil, salt, and thickening agent you end up with a damn good cheese-substitute. This dish couldn't be simpler or more satisfying after a long, chilly autumn school day. Just steam your favourite squash and cabbage. I used the last of our farm share's acorn squash and nappa cabbage. While they cook, combine the following in a high-performance blender:

- 1/3 cup of cashews
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/4 red onion, peeled
- 1 clove garlic
- 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
- 1 tbs apple cider vinegar or lemon juice
- Lots of salt and pepper to taste; miso paste is a good salty substitute
- *1/2 tbs of toasted curry spice if you want an awesome twist on flavour

Toss the cold dressing over warm vegetables and allow their temperatures to mingle. Serves 1 big portion or 2 small.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Hemp and Maca Smoothie

New favourite smoothie! Its flavor is creamy, subtle, and rich. The variety of healthy fats are comforting on a cold, Autumn morning. Should you want to take it on-the-go, this kind of mix won't separate on you. It packs 30g of protein, and the power of maca - known to balance hormone levels, boost libido (especially in men), and improve mood. I added a number of other tonic ingredients - as a creamy smoothie is the perfect disguise for astringent powders - but that is optional.

Blend the following ingredients:
- 1 cup water or almond milk
- 1/2 very ripe, frozen banana
- 1 scoop plant-based vanilla protein powder
- 2 tbs hempseeds
- 1 tbs maca powder
- Splash of cold coffee or coffee ice cube
- Ice, to personal preference
- 1/4 avocado, add at the very end of blending
- *Optional: mucuna powder, ashwagandha, etc.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Eggplant and Fig Dip

This is halfway between a traditional baba ganoush and a tangy tapenade. I've been dipping cucumber and pepper slices into it all week. Tuck a bowl of dip in the fridge and you're never without an instant snack. Fast food at its best. The vinegar in the dip develops the flavor over a few days, making it taste more pickled. As usual, no recipe is needed. Go with your tastebuds and keep adjusting the salty/sweet/sourness until you are happy with the final result.

In a blender or food processor, mix the following until chunky or pureed:

- 1 large or 2 small eggplants; baked 45 minutes at 425F and soft part scooped out
- Handful of fresh or dried figs; if the latter then use more liquid
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1 huge handful of fresh parsley leaves
- Big spoonful of tahini
- Big spoonful of balsamic vinegar; I used fig-flavoured
- Big spoonful of olive oil
- Zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
- Big pinch of garahm masala

Community Shared Agriculture

Our farmshare with Fertile Ground Organic CSA is coming to a close. Our last pickup is this Tuesday, and the produce will be sorely missed all winter. Angie and her team have outdone theirselves, yet again! Here are some pictures from the late season. I've been featuring their produce, and mentioning them nearly every week; so, photos will provide some more context. Special guest, Agricultural Minister Leal, is seen visiting in the second row of photos on the left.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Cold Weather Nutrition

As the temperature falls, food naturally turns to hot, comforting dishes: stews, roasts, warm drinks, etc. While I love breaking-in my slow-cooker for the season, nutritionally I notice the deficit of vitamin-rich food. Cooking absolutely everything - porridge in the morning, soup for lunch, more hot food for dinner - leaves our bodies at a loss for snappy, fresh nutrients. Immediately, we don't notice the symptoms, but they creep in through out the season. We feel more sluggish, less desiring to exercise, perhaps more irritable, etc. It's why fresh strawberries, asparagus, and peas are so welcomed in the spring! Sustaining oneself with a portion of raw, living foods through ought the cold season, I have personally found, is optimal for physical and mental health. Adding some fresh citrus or apple cider vinegar is also important, along with healthy fats/oils. This lunch creation was the perfect antidote. As usual, there is no recipe required!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Nourishing Dinner Bowl

You know, the more I learn about cooking - fancy techniques, flavor pairings, luxury ingredients, etc. - the simpler I end up eating. You'd think, given the slew of amazing culinary influences in my radius, that the outcome would be the opposite. Give me a bowl of rice, lentils, swiss chard, and tomatoes and I am a happy woman. It's amazing what happens when we turn our attention away from intensely sweet/salty/fatty food and direct it back towards Mother Nature. All of a sudden, fruit becomes exceedingly decadent. Tomatoes and celery, by virtue of their water content, provide a natural saltiness. And, items like cashews and coconut oil posses all the richness desired. It took me about a year to ween off of, and no longer desire "standard" Canadian foods. It was a patient and forgiving process. If I wanted a little cheese, I'd have it. If an egg or two found its way into my breakfast, then so be it. Now that I am here, however - eating a vegan diet, featuring about 75% raw, local foods - I relish in how genuinely satisfying it

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Thanksgiving: Instead of Turkey

Holiday flavours - sage, celery, carrots, onions, mushrooms, wild rice, etc. - are not exclusive to meat. Think of everything that goes into turkey stuffing, and pack it into an acorn squash instead. If you are keen to avoid the bread and butter, replace it with some of the mashed squash, lentils, and coconut oil. The bonus crispy and salty topping is made with sunflower seeds. Stuffed squash is an awesome vegetarian/vegan option for the Thanksgiving table. At the very least, it's a stellar side dish. Plant-based eating need not be boring. Dishes like these are decadent, colourful, exciting, and nourishing. 

1. Pre-bake squash: Cut an acorn squash (or pumpkin, or kabocha or butternut squash, etc.) in half and scoop out the seeds. Bake in the oven at 425F until it is tender, but not too soft. About 40 minutes. Doing this the night before helps. When cool enough, scoop out the squash, leaving some meat around the edges and bottom. (See picture). You want the squash to be sturdy enough for stuffing.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Painting Website is Live

Hi everyone,

Something a bit different for this post.... By popular request, I have created a sister site for my art business. Painting with Claire has a scroll-able portfolio, how to order section, and contact information listed. Many of you know that my approach to cooking is highly intuitive and rarely utilizes recipes. Painting is a similar creative outlet for me. My artwork is featured in homes all around Waterloo and Canada. If you are interested in ordering a custom piece, we can work one on one to create something you love.  Details are listed on the site.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Flexible Meal Prepping

Here's an example of what I might throw together for lunch on any given day. It may look fancy, but I promise this is as simple as a making a sandwich, or heating a bowl of soup. If you "meal prep" one day per week - in the form of: making flax crackers, hummus, soaking and cooking lentils and rice, boiling some root vegetables, baking a squash, starting sprouts, making a small batch of sauerkraut, etc - you'll have all the components to make healthy fast-food on demand. It takes about 2 hours on a Sunday, but it makes eating clean a breeze the rest of the week. Instead of stocking my fridge with actual meals, this method allows me to create whatever I feel like that afternoon/night. Perhaps I want to use a portion of the cooked chickpeas to make a vegetable stew, or a veggie burger, or to toss in a salad. I'm not locked into measured portions of macro-nutrients. That might work for body builders, but I genuinely look forward to the creating of food. It's an artistic outlet, and therefore it's nice to have a pallet of ingredients to choose from. Instead of "meal prepping" I think a better option is "meal potential-ing." Then you get in the habit of nourishing yourself everyday, creatively; only, it takes ten minutes.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Easy Nut Butter Fudge

This might be one of my greatest vegan inventions ever! It's basically the MacGyver of desserts. If being drop dead delicious wasn't enough, the simplicity of this fudge recipe takes the cake. You need one saucepan, a few pantry ingredients, and a brownie tin. I made a large batch and stored it in the freezer for a month. Every time I had company over, it served as an impromptu dessert. Craving something sweet or cookie-doughy after work? Have a little piece. Crumble it over anything soft and frozen, or melt it into other chocolatey desserts.  My friend Lauren (seen in picture) and I used it to make the best banana nicecream sundae. If you'd like a recipe for the frozen dessert portion, check out my precious post: Vegan Chunky Monkey.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Curried Sunflower Seed Dip

This is similar to a hummus, but uses raw, soaked sunflower seeds instead of chickpeas. You don't need specific measurements to make this recipe, just a little intuition! Take two big handfuls of sunflower seeds and place them in a bowl of water overnight. In the morning, drain, rinse, drain, and rinse. You want the water to run clear of murky liquid. On that note, you'd be surprised with how much cloudy gunk comes off of nuts after soaking. With the exception of cashews and macadamia, all nuts should be soaked before eating. It removes their enzyme inhibitors, and makes them more nutritious and digestible. After your sunflower seeds are ready, place them in a blender or food processor. Toast a few teaspoons of curry powder, cumin seeds, (and any other spices you like) in a hot pan. You can get away with a dry-toasting as long as you hover over the pan and watch that they don't burn. Add them to the blender. Zest and squeeze the juice of half a lemon. Add some garlic, whether it be a fresh clove or garlic powder. Add lots of fresh parsley and a few glugs of a neutral-tasting oil, ie: sunflower, grapeseed, or virgin olive oil. Blend everything on high for a minute. Scrape down the sides and repeat as necessary. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve alongside crudité. Once you have a feel for the base of this "recipe," you can play around with the spices, oils, and herbs. You could take it down a spicy, Asian, ginger, and cilantro route. Or, you could use garahm masala, throw in a date, and make a sweeter Middle Eastern version. Get creative! :)

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Quinoa and Chickpea Stuffed Peppers

The goal with stuffed peppers is to cut into them and not have the contents tumble everywhere on your plate. Because these are vegan, I needed a creative solution to "bind" the ingredients without cheese, eggs, or dairy. The filling can include any legume and/or vegetable you like. I used: cooked quinoa, cooked chickpeas, minced purple onion and garlic, finely chopped green pepper, shredded carrot, and lots of chopped fresh parsley. Amounts of each can very, but aim for more grains and less big pieces of things... I searched my fridge, hmm... something to make everything stick together. Hummus! I had a 3/4 cup of a cumin-y hummus leftover, so added it to the bowl. It worked perfectly! Season the mixture to taste, then pack into hollowed out bell peppers. Bake for 30-40 minutes at 375F and then let cool slightly. Top with something spunky, like a pile of spicy sprouts. I served these at a healthy brunch, along side a tofu scramble, fresh fruit, and student-grade coffee. Can't win 'em all.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Green Power Bowl

Granted, this was not the most delicious of my Buddha Bowl series, but it packed the highest nutrition. Edamame, aka young soybeans, are a phenomenal source of protein and, when combined with mushrooms and peppers, have a very "meaty" effect. This edamame came from our farm share, raw and still on the stalk. I picked the shoots off the stem, blanched them for 5 minutes, shocked them in cold water, and then peeled the beans out. If that's too much work for you, edamame is available, ready to boil, in the freezer section of most grocery stores. You could even make the beans into little burger patties, and stuff with the grilled veggies between your favourite hamburger bun. For extra vitamines I laid everything on a bed of raw spinach, though any lettuce or steamed bitter-green would work just as well. The dressing is made simply by blending avocado, lime juice, cilantro, salt and pepper. This whole bowl was a little bit weird, and a lot a bit awesome.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Easy Flax Crackers

These crackers have just 4 steps: mix, soak, spread, and dehydrate or bake. They contain zero flour or sugar, and taste just as crunchy. They're an awesome lunch-bag addition, or buildable appetizer option. If you make a large batch, (this recipe yielded 15 big crackers), then they store perfectly crisp in the fridge.

Ingredients: 3/4 cup whole flax seeds, 1/2 cup ground flax seeds, 3/4 cup water, 1 tbs miso paste, 1 tbs honey or maple syrup, salt and pepper to taste, whatever herbs you like!

Directions:  Mix everything together in a big bowl. Let it sit for about 15 minutes so the flax seeds can congeal the mixture. Adjust the viscosity with more water or flax seeds if it looks like you either can't spread it, or it will run everywhere. Spread thinly on a teflex sheet and dehydrate for 12 hours (flipping halfway), OR spread on a parchment-lined baking sheet and dehydrate in a 170F degree oven for 6 hours (flipping at hour 5).

Monday, September 14, 2015

Cooking Events: Stein and Dine with Lynn Crawford

Every once in a while I am invited to a special culinary event. Working at a local cooking school, I've had the chance to meet some pretty spectacular chefs, but rarely are they as well known as Food Network Canada's Lynn Crawford. Thanks to a few individuals, I was able to experience this kickoff event for the city of Kitchener's annual Oktoberfest. Minto Schneider is CEO of the Waterloo Regional Tourism Marketing Corp., and Andrew Coppolino is editor, publisher, and columnist at Rare Public, Waterloo Region Eats and Kitchener Post, respectively. Thank to them, I am able to tell you what I learned about beer, its complimentary dishes, and the chef who created the menu. The event was sponsored by Molson Coors, so all beer-pairings mentioned below can be purchased under their brand.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Passion Fruit Agua Fresca

Passion fruit is sweet, fragrant, and a little sour. Its flavour is wonderfully exotic and its scent will perfume your whole kitchen. Cutting into one is easy with a serrated knife - just be sure not to spill its contents! The bright jelly is packed with seeds which, although perfectly edible, I am not a fan. A quick straining through a seive solves this problem. My staple fruits are apples, pears, bananas, and dates, but sometimes I'll find tropical fruits on-sale in the discounted/past-due section. As this batch of fruit was on the brink of spoiling, I scooped out the jelly (seeds and all) and spooned it into ice cube trays. The next day I had little passion fruit cubes ready to flavour water or blend into a drink. The recipe below is very easy to make. Chia seeds fortify and thicken the mix; while stevia, or even half a banana, is a healthy way to balance passion fruit's sourness.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Nut Cheese: Is It Gross? / Easy Step-By-Step

A slice of almond cheese in a lettuce wrap
First off, no, it's delicious. It does not taste like cow's cheese, but when combined with other ingredients (like tofu in a stir-fry, or almond milk in cereal) its texture and flavour are just right. Those transitioning from meat and dairy on to a plant-based diet will enjoy how creamy and umami nut cheeses taste. It has that rich, fatty, tangy fermented flavour everyone loves. Not restricted to cheese made from milk, however, one can puree soaked nuts, mix a few ingredients in, and let the mixture cure on their counter-top overnight for a similar effect.

*Disclosure: I'm not a fan of "vegan substitutes" as I find they give a bad name to the plant-based community. I've had this "Tofurkey" debate with a number of friends. Sure, they provide a non-animal option for many folks transitioning to vegetarian or vegan diets, but I believe they do little to help individuals acquire their tastes to natural foods. How is one to genuinely love raw fruits and veggies if they keep feeding themself salty, chewy, "fleshy" soy simulations? These types of things (ie: veggie burgers and dogs) can be very useful to blend in at family BBQs, but I say just bring a heaping bowl of quinoa and veggie salad. The ingredient list on a number of simulation foods is scary long, in comparison. I think it's best to just go through a processed-foods withdrawal for a few weeks, and emerge on the other side getting stoked about apples and raw sunflower seeds. (True story). All of a sudden, meat and dairy will feel overly-dense and rich compared to crunchy, fresh produce.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Cooking Around the World: Mississippi River

"2,832 miles, 23 cups of coffee, 7 states, and 8 days later I have returned from the best solo adventure I've ever embarked on. It's amazing the places your driveway will take you. 'When you walk, bicycle, or motorcycle...and then camp, you participate in the world immediately around you in a unique way. These methods of living separate you from a house with its locks, windows, and furniture. When you engage the world with only the intermediation of your clothing and the fabric of your tent, you learn stuff. You cannot lock a tent or perfectly shut out bad weather if you are living outdoors. Travel this way becomes a more transformational experience' - from the book Unsupported Motorcycle Travel for Terminal Cases.'" - from the adventures of my friend, Keegan Peckham.

When people mention they've taken road-trips, or backpacked across a continent, the first thing I ask is: "Well, what did you eat?" Food tells a story about where people find themselves in the world. While travelling Italy, I feasted on regional, home-cooked Italian food prepared by distant relatives. But, while hostle-hopping in Southeast Asia, there were times I survived on 15 Baht ($1 USD) bowls of soup. I wish I had more travelling stories to share - as discovering new regions and their cuisines is easily my favourite (albeit expensive) hobby - but I am locked into finishing my university degree in Waterloo, Ontario. Hearing stories from travelling friends inspired me to start a new feature on this site: Cooking Around the World. Ever wonder what a dude eats when he packs up his motorcycle and heads North on the Mississippi River for a week? I sure did. These monthly features will work as such: friends travelling around the world are asked if they would like to be written about on my blog. If so, they submit a few photos with some descriptions and stories. We chat about it on Skype or phone, and voila... everyone gets to read about it. You can see older travel posts here, whereas new stories will appear on the main page. So, without further adieu, the first feature.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Peach & Basil Summer Soup

Cold soups are a nice snack or light-meal option during the summertime. They are ready in five minutes and only require a blender. Gazpacho, made from tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and onions, is traditional, but fruit soups are fun too. Watermelon and basil is one of my favourites (amazing with a drizzle of quality olive oil), so I thought interchanging peaches would be a fun twist. Like avocados, peaches seem to be under-ripe for a week, all the ripe the same day, and then all mushy two days later. This is a great way to use them up! Four peaches will make two portions.

No exact measurements are needed for this one. You can eyeball everything. In a blender, combine a cup of water and a tablespoon of chia seeds. Let them soak while you cut up your fruit. They will provide a silky thickness to the dish. Add 4 fresh peaches (skin and all), and a big handful of basil. Add a splash of olive oil, a glug of any fruit vinegar, a pinch of salt, and blend on high for a minute. Adjust seasonings as necessary and serve. I garnished with purple basil. This soup also reacts well to a little heat, so adding some fresh chili pepper to the blender would be stellar.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Homemade Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut, when prepared and eaten raw, is wonderfully healthy. It contains lactic acid and living probiotics which restore one's gut flora. Cultures whose diets regularly consume lacto-fermented foods (ie: Japanese) are known to boast anti-cancer and anti-aging benefits. Glucosinolates in cabbage decrease cell damage and cell mutation... so I like to think of sauerkraut (and a variety of other fermented foods) as an immunity booster and fortifier. I love how the tangy, salty brine works as an impromptu salad dressing. And, how crunchy and sour the cabbage turns over time. This raw lunch bowl packs shredded beet, broccoli sprouts, shredded swiss chard, half an avocado, a yellow tomato, and the tangy cabbage. Having jars of sprouting, soaking, or fermenting foods tucked into the corners of your kitchen quite literally brings your house alive. It's fun to have little projects on the go; ready to be checked on each time you walk in the door. I've been experimenting with the same lacto-fermentation process on zucchini, eggplant, cherry tomatoes, and more. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A Healthier Peanut Sauce

Spicy, sweet, and nutty...peanut sauce is easily my favourite part about the rice roll experience. However, it can also pack unnecessary amounts of refined oil and sugar. My take on this traditional recipe is made wholesome by blending entire peanuts (instead of peanut oil), and dates (instead of white sugar). Opting for whole-foods turned this traditionally translucent/watery sauce into a creamy side. We totally loved it! The spring rolls were made simply by re-hydrating rice paper wraps and rolling a variety of shredded vegetables into them. If you have leftover peanut sauce, you can toss it with rice pasta, mix it into a stir-fry, brush it on veggie-kabobs before barbecuing, or drizzle a spoonful on a soup.

Creamy Peanut Sauce 

In a high-speed blender, puree all ingredients. Adjust seasonings and add water or nut milk to achieve desired consistency.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Vegan Eggplant Curry

This dish represents clean-cooking and bold flavours at their best. I don't have a recipe for this one, as it's more of a "use anything in the fridge," kind of curry. However, the general steps are listed below. *Note: this isn't an "authentic" Indian curry; rather, more of a spiced vegetable stew. The way I see it... we can get dogmatic about what qualifies as a certain dish, OR just enjoy the health benefits of beautiful local produce and healing spices. My tools of choice were a large dutch-oven cooker - a fantastic stove to oven investment - and a big wooden spoon.

1. Browning 1st layer of vegetables:
Melt 2 tbs of coconut oil in a large pot of dutch oven. Cook a large onion, a few cloves of garlic, a thumb of grated ginger, finely chopped carrots and celery, and a little chopped chili pepper (de-seeded, as personal preference)  until they are soft and translucent.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Schisandra and Goji Berry Elixir

Schisandra berries can be purchased dried at Chinese herb shops and health-food stores. Their flavour interestingly covers all five tastes - sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and pungent - accounting for the three treasures of Chinese medicine: jing, qi, and shen. They taste exactly as they smell, and you'll think "I've had this before;" something I chalk up to their ability to hit every note on your palate. When made into tea, schisandra berries support memory, liver, digestion, skin, concentration, coordination, and endurance. The later explains why they are prescribed as a runner's aid. You can read more about schisandra and goji berries on my new medicinal page.  Schisandra berries must be soaked in order to remove the tannins. You'll see in the pictures that I simply put them in a mason jar of water, overnight in the fridge. In the morning, rinse and make a pot of tea. I wanted to make a large batch to chill and sip-on all week, so I used a large bowl. A handful of dried berries will yield you about 2 litres of tea. *Note: let your boiled water cool-down a little before pouring. Schisandra berries respond best to hot water, not boiling water. I made this elixir in place of Sunday morning coffee, and returned promptly to bed with my book.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Tofu & Red Lentil Breakfast Scramble

Recently, I threw a little brunch for a group of friends. On the menu was a blueberry and croissant eggy bread-pudding, a big fruit salad, iced chai lattes (made with coconut milk and honey, instead of cream and sugar), pesto zuchinni noodles, and for the vegans in the crowd, this tofu and red lentil scramble. It's delicious on its own, or wrapped up in corn tortillas with avocado, salsa, and cilantro. To achieve the egg-like colour, I grated a some fresh turmeric into the mix, but it would be just fine without it. Nutritional yeast, added near the end of cooking, will lend a cheesy umami taste. And, using green onions instead of regular onions will cut down on the cooking time. As usual, I use coconut oil to cook the vegetables, and finish the dish with a fresh herb. Tofu needs a little help in the flavour department, so letting this dish cook longer than your traditional scrambled eggs will boost the taste. This would also be delicious with black beans.

Instructions: In a wide skillet, heat enough coconut oil to cover the bottom of the pan (with a little extra to fry vegetables). Cook the pepper, green onions, and garlic until soft and translucent. Use a medium heat to avoid caramelizing them or turning them crispy. Add the cumin, turmeric, and chili to coat the oily vegetables. Let the spices wake-up and toast for a minute. Crumble the block of tofu into the skillet and add your lentils. Stir everything together. Pop a lid on the pan and let the flavours infuse, on a medium-low heat for 10 minutes. If your mixture dries out, then add a little water or nut milk. Reduce heat to low, salt and pepper liberally, add the nutritional yeast, and then stir in a small handful of your chopped herbs. Heat through and serve.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Buddha Bowl with Warm Cinnamon Cashew Dressing

Here's another sauce option for an everything-in-the-fridge dinner. If your vegetables are nearing their best-before date, or are a little dried out, going heavy on a healthy dressing will bring life to the dull ingredients. While this photo shows each ingredient separated - brown rice and lentils, shredded beet and carrot, sliced beet greens and fennel and cabbage, and pickled eggplant strands - everything was mixed together into a colourful coleslaw immediately after. Many people think of cinnamon as a sweet-spice, but I love using it in savory applications. Mixed with other warm spices, like ginger, and a garam masala blend (cumin, cardamom, coriander, cloves, nutmeg, etc.), one can appreciate cinnamon's diversity. This would make an exceptionally good dressing to a winter salad of roasted squash, some type of whole-grain, wilted bitter greens, and a chewy dried fruit. It has no dairy, no oil, and no refined sugar, though I did use dates to lightly sweeten the sauce. I tasted the blended mixture without them and it was asking for something rich and decadent. When it comes to sauces and dressings, I always trust my intuition. If it tastes mediocre in the blender, it won't be any better covering your vegetables. Don't eat anything less than fantastic. Yes, the following ingredient list is unconventional, but I promise you it was delicious!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Romantic Night Elixir

On weekends, I love taking the time to set up my apartment's deck with a sacred scene of candles, tapestries, rhythmic music, and a hot drink. Last night, the weather was humid and the sky was fittingly just as thick with clouds; overcasting the sliver of new moon. With a warm, herbal tonic drink and a lovely meditation session, I welcomed a new transition: the end of stellar summer job and the beginning of my final year at university. Sure, it would be nice to spend these hot summer nights by a lake or campfire, but this little urban sanctuary offers a similar piece of retreat. Tonic herbs (see my new blog page about them here) can provide a variety of effects on the body. While their overall use offers general immune support and well-being, certain herbs are more targeted... A good bottle of wine might have induced the same lovey vibes, but this drink had all the same sensual notes with none of the dulled inhibitions or toxicity. It's more like an uplifting, romantic clarity. If you really want to feel it, drink on an empty-ish stomach a few hours after dinner. One tsp of herb powders per person is a good measurement. Lucuma is the exception, which is used less as a medicine and more for flavour and thickness.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Healing Apple Pie Smoothie

This is a nice summer twist on a drink that I would normally make in the winter. Warming spices, like cinnamon, cloves, cayenne, and turmeric, soothe the digestive system, and boost immunity during cold-weather. Sometimes though, we're in need of that foody hug in the summer time.

Hot Weather Apple-Pie Smoothie

Combine everything in a blender and puree until smooth.

- 1 apple
- 1 or 2 very ripe, frozen bananas
- 1 cup almond or cashew milk
- 1 cup good quality apple cider or juice
- 1/2 scoop vanilla protein powder
- 1 tsp each any of the following spices, ground: cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, turmeric, ginger, cardamom, cayenne, etc.
- Ice to personal preference
- *Optional: 1 tbs almond butter

Monday, August 10, 2015

Fig & Fennel Bean Salad

Bean salads are one of my favourite summer dishes because there is no cooking involved, and you can make a huge batch to store in the fridge. If you're in the mood to be lazy, canned-beans make preparation a breeze - just make sure you rinse them well. Bean salad's traditional dressing includes: oil, red wine vinegar, sugar, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper. Using that as a loose guideline, you can tweak the types of oil, vinegar, and sweetener, and add other ingredients to lend a Mediterranean vibe. I don't have sugar in my house, so I used stevia drops, but honey, maple syrup, or agave would also work wonderfully. By accident, I made the dressing a little too sweet, so I ended up adding some bitter radicchio and anchovy paste to balance things out. It turned out to be the best decision, as I completely ran with that theme. It tasted spectacular! Again, I'm not one for specific measurements, so keep adjusting the dressing ingredients until it is slightly stronger (sweet, sour, salty, etc.) than you like. Once it disperses over the ingredients it will be perfect. Chewy, dried figs are a nice compliment to the soft beans and crunchy vegetables.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Vegan Chunky Monkey

While this isn't the healthiest of vegan foods, if you're going down the dessert rabbit-hole there's a way to minimize damage. This no-sugar, no-dairy "ice cream" is made with bananas instead of cream, and natural, dark chocolate instead of its refined counterpart. The concept behind this is extremely simple (unlike traditional homemade ice cream which requires separating eggs, making a custard, and whisking patiently) and so it's very easy to swap ingredients and play around with flavours.

Its three components are: ice cream base, a drizzle, and a garnish. Here, I used a banana and chocolate "nicecream" base, a chocolate drizzle, and salted peanuts. Try a strawberry theme by omitting the cacao, adding in some fresh or dried berries to the base, using a dollop of jam instead of the drizzle, and garnishing with sliced fruit. Or, try an orange and vanilla theme by adding vanilla extract and orange zest/oil to the base, foregoing the drizzle, and topping with juicy orange segments. For the following recipe, and as a general rule of thumb with few-ingredient dishes, try to use high quality items. There aren't a host of ingredients to mask your Skippy peanut butter.... So, 80-90% dark chocolate is best, along with non-GMO, organic peanuts. They're  notorious for being sponges of their growing environment. Along with spinach, celery, and a host of other sponge-like foods, organic peanuts are a good use of specialty-food dollars. Side-note: organic avocados, onions, sweet-potatoes, and whole coconuts are not a good use of your money.

Ayurvedic Mocha (Coffee Substitute)

Okay, so I fell off the band-wagon again... more like couldn't get off the coffee bandwagon. Here's to another attempt at kicking caffeine out the door. I do love hot, bitter drinks in the morning, but this one has a host of medicinal, feel-good ingredients that won't leave a person dehydrated or addicted. You can buy roasted chicory root at health food stores. The one I found, called "Uncoffee," was combined with dandelion root and roasted barley; but any of those on their own will work just fine. It's a no-fuss, ground powder resembling instant coffee. so it's ready to go. The dates in this recipe will provide body and thickness to the drink, the cacao will make it taste rich, and the coconut oil will make it surprisingly creamy and silky. I know, you're thinking: "but what about decaf coffee?" Let's be honest, half the fun with coffee is feeling mega-energized and so, unlike decaf, this mocha substitute will still give you some fun effects. The best I can describe it: a roasty blend between "stay alert!" and "chill out mannnn."

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Stinging Nettle Pesto

Pesto is traditionally made from basil, pine-nuts, olive oil, garlic, lemon, Parmigiana cheese, salt and pepper. Tossing a few ingredients into a food processor, and pressing "blend," is about as easy as cooking gets; and so pesto is a great opportunity for beginner cooks to play around. Basil need not be the only base ingredient. Combine it with others, or replace it completely. Spinach, sundried tomatoes, and garlic scapes are some of my favourite substitutes. Click here for a list of other creative pesto ideas.

As long you achieve a "dollop-able" type texture you've done it right. Keep tasting as you go. Too lemon-y? Add a little more oil and blend again. Too salty? Add a little more of the base ingredient to disperse the salt. Too wet and creamy? Add more nuts. Too chunky? Add more oil and lemon juice. And so on... Intuiting cooking - using recipes as a guide rather than a religion - is better for long-term skill development. It teaches a person to think beyond dogmatic instructions and see the crossover between dishes. For example, say you're craving something with olives. If you know how to make a basic pesto, all you need to do is replace the basil with olives, omit the cheese, maybe add some capers or anchovies and voila: olive tapenade. Exercising your intuition in the kitchen will blur the lines between dishes and teach you how take the "idea" of something and use it as the base for another. This is something I stress most when teaching anyone to cook. Go through your cookbook + recipe phase, and then remove the training wheels and cruise on your own.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Always Learning, Never Perfect

Ever have your fridge stuffed so full of new produce (a rare luxury for a student) that it's impossible to settle on a singular theme for dinner? Tomatoes! Sweet potatoes! Avocado! Kale! Dill! Cilantro! A more appropriate title for this dish would be: "Holy sh*t, so many ingredients to choose from, let's have one of everything...stew." Lesson learned. Keep it simple stupid. You'd think I'd have learned my lesson finger-painting when I was seven years old. When your imagination is bigger than your canvas - or in this case, heart bigger than your stomach - what you end up with is a mediocre variation on the colour brown. This lovely looking stew actually tasted 4/10. So, instead of posting the recipe tonight, I want to raise a point about how it is that I've learned to cook as well as I have at the age of 21. I make a lot of mistakes in the kitchen. When disappointment strikes, I internally log it, intuit what needs to be fixed, re-calibrate, and proceed to adjust those things the next time I make a similar dish. Practice. Mess-up. Practice some more. A few months and years later, you'll f*ck up less. Blunt, but true. And, a good messup once in a while keeps a person humble.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Homemade Vegan Protein Bars

Instead of providing exact measurements for this recipe, I'm going to try and recall what I mixed together at midnight on a Tuesday... and in the process, show you the beauty of cooking intuitively. In a big bowl, combine handfuls of the following ingredients until you get a "press-able" mixture; one that can be smooshed into a parchment-lined baking pan. Freeze for an hour or so, and then lift out the whole block of chewy goodness. Slice into bars, pop into a Ziploc bag, and return to the fridge or freezer. Alternatively, you can roll the dough into balls and create "protein bites." It's all in the naming, eh? I keep nuts/flax/seeds, and any snacks which contain them in cold storage. It preserves their freshness and will also prevent you from eating them too fast. Just defrost one or two bars the night before and take with you on-the-go.  

As for technique, there are just two steps: 1. Mix your dry ingredients in your big bowl (this promotes even distribution of

A New Dude Cooking Blog... if my kale smoothies aren't "manly" enough for you

Regular Cooking with Claire readers might have noted the boy who occasionally graces my blogposts. Josh is one of my best friends, and now - exciting news - his very own blog-owner! Okay, Blogspot.com is totally free and thus chalk-full of some pretty lame sites, but every now and then a person comes along and claims a unique niche; a place from which they provide a refreshing perspective and quality ideas. He has moved from behind the camera (taking all those photos of me playing Vanna White with kale and quinoa) to producing his own content. Josh occupies the "military man + yogi = military yogi man" domain, and he'd love if you gave his new blog a look. How does a man cook vegan, practice yoga, look dashing, stay well-read, but also fly planes full-time? Hop on over to The Mindful Aviator to find out. *Note: we're talkin' brand new, like one or two posts... He can also be seen on Instagram here.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Buddha Bowl with Creamy Cashew & Dill Dressing

Click here to see a link to my previous "Buddha Bowl" creation, and here to see 7 Simple Buddha Bowls You Can Actually Make Tonight. I'm a big fan of these lunch and dinner options because they make use of all the odds and ends floating around your fridge. You have half a zucchini and a solo beet left from earlier in the week? No problem. You have leftover quinoa salad and an overripe tomato sitting around? Bingo. Throw an interesting dressing over everything and voila: Buddha Bowl.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Quinoa & Sweet Potato Burgers

This recipe belongs to Angela Liddon from Oh She Glows. Click here for the link to her fabulous website. I made a double-batch, pre-baked them, let cool, and stacked the quinoa cakes between parchment-paper squares. Seal the stacks in an airtight bag and pop in the freezer. You'll be stocked for the month! To re-heat the cakes, re-bake in the oven for 10 minutes. Or, if you like them extra crispy, cook them stove-top in a skillet rubbed with coconut oil. You can eat them on their own, over top of a salad, or as seen in the picture...given the royal veggie-burger treatment: thin garlic toasts, cucumber slices, lettuce, yellow pepper, avocado, sriracha sauce, and capers. Enjoy alfresco with a glass of wine. *Note: I added about a 1/4 cup of the sunflower oil the sun-dried tomatoes were sitting in, for extra flavor. Below, I have copy and pasted Angela's recipe.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Homemade Nut Butter

Disclosure: you're going to need a high-powered blender for this recipe. A Vitamix, Blendtech, or something of that nature is necessary to avoid busting a perfectly good, mainstream appliance. The nice thing about homemade nut butters is that you can get creative with add-ins. This photo features a creamy almond and peanut butter, naturally sweetened by a large handful of dates. I also added cinnamon and nutmeg. Using a damper tool, or an actual "nut butter attachment" (for those who plan on eating $200+ dollars worth of the stuff to justify the investment, haha), process up to 3 cups of nuts at a time. Of course, you could always get to work and use a mortar and pestal to grind a smaller batch of nut butter (which I have done out of necessity to satisfy a craving many times), but the end-product won't be as smooth. As for sweetening your butter, agave srup, honey, maple-syrup, stevia, yucon syrup, etc., are all good options. Of course, you could go au-natural and not add any sweetener at all.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Forest Foraging for Spring Edibles

Last weekend we ventured into the forests of Stratford, Ontario, and searched for wild leeks, Pheasant-back mushrooms, fiddleheads, Day Lily shoots, edible flowers, and other bites. Our guide, Peter, was fantastic! If you're interested in participating in one of his afternoons, I'll post the link here. After foraging, I prepared a big feast for my family. Fiddleheads tasted great pre-blanched and then sauteed with oil, lemon, and salt. I crisped-up the mushrooms and leeks, and steamed the day-lilies. All of the side-dishes paired perfectly with a nice white-fish. *Bonus during our foraging afternoon was visiting a local hobby-farm and playing with the baby goats. Forget having a dog...

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Overnight Oats with a Twist

Chia seeds have gained a lot of momentum in the "powerhouse foods" movement lately, and for good reason. They are packed with protein - which is great news for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike - and they are extremely hydrating if pre-soaked before eating. To make this funky, colourful breakfast you will need to acquire some type of purple or red juice. Anything with pomegranate, berries, grapes, beets, or deep coloured fruits and vegetables will work. I used a beet and berry blend I found on-sale at the market. In a jar, add 1/2 cup of oats and 2 tbs of chia seeds per person. Cover with the dark juice and a splash of almond milk. Pretend you are making rice and aim for a 1:2 ratio of dry ingredients to liquid. The chia seeds will absorb A LOT more liquid than you think possible. Sweeten with honey or stevia and add any fruits you think will taste good with the juice's flavor. I used earthy pear to compliment the earthy beet and berry juice. Pop the jar in the fridge overnight. Alternatively, you can leave out the fruit and toss it over in the morning, as seen in this picture. Also used was a teaspoon of sprinkled bee pollen. (For no other reason than the pretty contrasting colours). In the morning you will have a thick and creamy porridge. If the flavour doesn't work for you, or the mixture is too thick, adding a little bit of orange juice can brighten the taste and water-down the mixture. And, if you really botched it, cut up a banana and dates and chuck em' in. Bananas and dates solve everything.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Yellow Power Smoothie

Find everything yellow in your fridge and blend it! This smoothie has banana, pineapple, orange, lemon, mango, and as a little twist, turmeric. There's plenty enough sweetness to carry the bitter benefits of the grated root. If you're still worried, then throw a Medjool date into the blender. As seen on my blog lately, I have been making all of my food "medicinal." Hot morning drinks have chaga and reishi. Salads get sprinkled with spirulina and ground hemp. Meanwhile, chocolate-avocado puddings get a dose of raw cacao and mucuna. Yellow ingredients, in particular, carry a number of benefits. They contain nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that notoriously smack you in the face with brightness. Ie: there's nothing like an orange to wake you up! Bromelain, limonoids, luein, zeaxanthin, vitamin C, etc. can be found in yellow foods like citrus, squash (and their blossoms), yellow bell peppers, corn, yellow tomatoes, bananas, plantains, and more.

Apple, Spinach, Cucumber Smoothie

When not using bananas in a smoothie, it is important to find both sweetness and creaminess in other ingredients. Take this morning drink for example. I balanced the tartness of a green apple with pineapple juice and stevia. A few slices of avocado added at the end, like mentioned in previous posts, make a smoothie rich and buttery. I always advocate for using a small amount of "fat" in your smoothie (ie: avocado, a little spoon of coconut oil, raw dairy, etc). to avoid the mixture separating and looking unappealing. Creamy ingredients work to bind starchier ingredients and produce one smooth, consistent colour. Cucumbers have also been a new favourite of mine lately. Just cut a large hunk of the vegetable and toss it into the mix. Its flavor works seamlessly with both fruit smoothies and veggie-only versions; plus, it's ultra refreshing in the hot weather.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Strawberry Banana Nicecream

This is a non-dairy frozen fruit blend. Because every ingredient is perfectly healthy (and it's really just a more solid version of a smoothie) you can eat it for breakfast too! You'll need a strong blender. I used my Vitamix and made liberal use of the tamper attachment. Process 2 frozen bananas, a little vanilla, a few frozen strawberries, a pinch of orange zest, and enough almond milk to get things moving (but not turned into a smoothie). If you like your "nicecream" sweeter, then add stevia extract, honey, or agave syrup. Acai berry powder would also be a good addition if you want its extra tang flavor. A little bit of your favourite vanilla protein powder works too, if you want a more substantial meal out of this. I also dropped a few dried strawberries through the open lid of the blender while it was churning. They added a nice chewy texture; kind of like a traditional ice cream's cookie-dough. Garnish with caramel-y mulberries or cacao nibs.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Dude Brunch 101

Leftover Mexican-night food made for perfect brunch ingredients the following morning. A big pot of re-fried beans and rice greeted us in the fridge, in addition to sauteed peppers, corn/mango/tomato salad with lime dressing, guacamole, and a black bean/cabbage slaw. Re-heat the beans and rice, and pile each condiment onto quarters of the plate. Scramble a few eggs and add a little hot sauce or chilli to coordinate with the theme. Other buildable options might include: spiced sweet potatoes, grilled/fried tomatillo slices, salsa verde, caramelized onion spread, etc. Toss some toast on the side - I used pumpernickel because that's all I had kickin' around - so you have something with which to build your brunch sammies. Reheated corn-tortillas would also be an excellent choice. In fact, I made this same dish for friends the following weekend and they made yummy breakfast wraps. Garnish with cilantro and a fried egg... if you can count a whole fried egg as a "garnish."

Blueberry & Carob Smoothie

Ya'll know I love smoothies! Introducing healthy chinese tonic-herbs into them - like mucuna, ashwagandha, reishi, chaga, etc. - has meant that I need to use bolder flavors to "cover" the strong tastes. Anything naturally fatty, like cacao, coconut, or avocado is a wonderful mask for bitter herbs. A lot of the herb powders taste like tree-bark, mushrooms, or grass... unless its lucuma, which tastes like butterscotch! Their bitterness is fine if you're aiming to make a hot, coffee-like drink; but for sweet smoothies you have to work a bit of kitchen alchemy. This smoothie was a dose of chocolate and berry goodness. I used a heaping tablespoon of carob powder (an excellent alternative to chocolate), a touch of cacao, a cup of frozen blueberries, a frozen banana, almond milk, and all the above mentioned herbs. Blend on high until smooth, and then garnish with something in a contrasting colour. I used bee pollen. For daily nom-nom ideas (minus all the words), you can check out my Instagram here.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Beetroot Gnocchi

Last week we made a very large batch of bright pink gnocchi. This recipe, by chef Gennaro Contaldo, came from the cookbook "Gennaro's Italian Home Cooking." Gnocchi's upside is cheap ingredients (potato and flour), while its downside is the relatively large mess it will leave in your kitchen. Granted, Josh and I are not professional gnocchi assembly-line workers, but I have a fair bit of cooking experience and there was still flour everywhere. No bother, for the few hours it took, we enjoyed glasses of wine and yielded 12 people's worth of gnocchi to store in the freezer. I will copy and paste the recipe down below. The sage and orange butter sauce was the perfect tangy compliment to the earthy tasting beets. It was the smallest amount of dairy for maximum effect; and that's the only way I will use dairy now a days. Having heaps of gnocchi in the freezer, with a slap-together gourmet pan-sauce, allows me serve surprise house guests a restaurant-quality dinner on the spot.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Powerhouse Sandwich

I buy my sprouting seeds from Mumm's Sprouting Seeds Ltd. either online or at a hardware/gardening store. They take just a few days to grow and, aesthetically, look lovely on your window sill. Instructions are on the back of the seed package. My faves lately are broccoli, mung beans, and red-clover. I try to have a few mason jars of sprouts growing at all times. They are great in salads, but this weekend I have to feed a growing man, so I layered them into a sandwich with avocado, hummus, tomato, shredded carrot, lettuce, and salt and pepper. If I wasn't using living sprouts, I would have toasted the whole sandwich panini/cubano style, but instead I only toasted the bread. In a skillet, melt a tablespoon of coconut oil, then lie down seedy bread that's been patted with garlic salt and pepper. After it's golden brown, then build your sammies. The creamy hummus and avocado will seal in your sprouts and keep them from falling out. Be sure to salt and pepper each layer to bring out all the fresh-veggie layers. To achieve the same "pressed" sandwich feel, put a heavy pot on top and press down lightly. Slice on the diagonal and serve.