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.