I get overwhelmed sometimes. Not in a debilitating way, just in a mind-racing, go read 20 books and a jillion web pages on the subject-kind of way. If my curiosity is piqued, out of boredom or fear or whatever, I’m a slave to information, detail and know-how. All consuming. I have to know more and get to the bottom of it.
Lately I’ve been puzzling over a few things. Small and big stuff. Whether I should be working in the field that I’m in, should I really be taking vitamin D?, the public’s perception of “fine dining” (Is it just another place to put food in their mouths? The idea of it and some of the pretensions are troubling to me…), how totally fine I felt after taking a little social media/computer break, general iffy-ness on the celebrity chef phenomenon and its effect in kitchens, WHY do I even use pinterest?, the enormity of this post and on and on.
When it all hits that crescendo of too much at once, I kind of panic in a quiet way. Unsure of what to do, I essentially do nothing. I read about the issue(s) at hand a bit more, take in more ideas, criticisms, strategies, opinions etc. Then when it’s time to move on to the next scheduled thing in my life, I feel ridiculous. The ratio of concern to productivity doesn’t match up and now I have to go to work or meet up with a friend. Without any answers. Feeling sorta shitty. What needs to happen at that point?
I make plans to dwell in the kitchen and do something, anything. It could be constructing a layer cake, it could be carrot sticks, doesn’t matter. It re-instills that feeling of capability, confidence and adaptability in the face of adversity and confusion. It’s doing something; not to take yourself away from the concern, but to pursue it in a different way. It’s mindful moving on and it brings me back into the light. New perspective, clarity and a meal.
This dish makes for a bit of (totally mindful) prep work, but it’s still relatively easy to put together. I wouldn’t say that these are authentic empanadas (“authenticity” is another thing I could go on about). It’s a pocket meal enclosed in dough that can be eaten any time of the day for sure. Mine have a chickpea flour-based dough and slightly spicy, sweet and citrus-y filling that’s hearty with tempeh and sweet potatoes. A more wholesome and actually tasty hot pocket perhaps? I’m okay with leaving it at that.
Oh, and just as a little experiment, I’ve started a facebook page. You can like it if you want (or if, you know, you actually like it).
spicy tempeh and sweet potato empanadas with pepitas and spinach
serves: makes 7-8
special equipment: a rolling pin
notes: The woman who taught us pastry at culinary school told us to start our pie dough in the shape that you want to end up with. Similarly, with this dough, you should shape it into a tight circle before rolling it out. Also, other flours like whole wheat, spelt, brown rice, GF all purpose etc would work in place of the chickpea.
3 cups chickpea flour
pinch of salt
4.5 tbsp olive oil
1/3-1/2 cup water (depending on how your dough feels)
1/2 block of tempeh (125 grams)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 shallot, fine dice
1 cup grated sweet potato
1 fat clove of garlic, minced
2 sprigs of thyme, leaves removed and chopped
1 tbsp (or less if you want!) chili flakes
1 tsp ground cumin
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp dried oregano
2 handfuls of spinach, rough chop
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted and roughly chopped
1/4 cup raisins
salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
Cut the tempeh into 1/2 inch cubes. Bring some water to boil in a medium saucepan. Add the tempeh cubes and simmer for about 20 minutes. Drain the tempeh and set aside.
While tempeh is cooking, make the dough. Place the chickpea flour and pinch of salt in a large bowl. Add the oil and 1/3 cup of water. Stir to combine. Begin to knead the dough, adding more water as necessary to bring it to the right consistency. The dough should feel slightly tacky and dense. Form dough into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and set aside on the counter at room temperature.
Make the filling: Heat the 1 tbsp of olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and saute until soft and translucent, about 3-4 minutes. Add the grated sweet potatoes and saute for 1 minute. Add the drained tempeh and start mashing it up with the back of your spoon. Add the garlic, thyme, chili flakes, cumin, lemon zest (not the juice yet) and oregano. Saute until fragrant, about 2 minutes, keep mashing/breaking down the tempeh. Remove pan from the heat. Add spinach, pumpkin seeds and raisins. Stir to combine. Season the whole mixture to taste and set aside.
Cut the dough into 7 or 8 pieces. Form one piece into a circle, trying to avoid little cracks in the dough on the sides. Dust your work area and rolling pin lightly with chickpea flour. Roll out the circle evenly to 1/4 inch thickness. Spoon about 1/4 cup of filling onto the circle of dough, slightly off-center. Fold the dough over the filling, pinching the dough at the widest point of the circle. Fold all of the edges of the dough over each other to enclose the filling. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.
Place finished empanadas on parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Brush a little olive oil on top if you like. Bake for 20 minutes or until edges and bottoms are slightly browned and dried.
Serve hot or at room temperature.
You might also like…
Guys, I love french fries. When we’re at a place that takes pride in their little, crispy, golden batons of creamy potato goodness, I’m pretty eager to order them, knowing that I’m in for a delicious, salty treat. It’s a simple dish, yes, but a lot of cooks manage to screw them up. They might use icky oil. The potatoes could be cut too thick, rendering the fry impossibly hot in the middle and not very crisp overall. The cook doesn’t apply enough salt when the potatoes come out of the frier. They aren’t cooked long enough resulting in a heap of slightly soggy and pale fries. Or the worst offense: they resort to frozen, par-cooked french fries. So many things wrong with that. Simple does not equal easy. Or quick. Or thoughtless.
I would call my overall cooking style simple in that I love to bring out the best in any particular ingredient I’m loving at the time. It speaks to eating with the seasons, which seems natural to me. I’ll roast a whole, sweet squash with hearty herbs at high heat for at least an hour. Similar to the long and hot cooking time, the squash takes a whole, humid summer to fully develop and the herbs I pair it with can grow right alongside the whole time. Gorgeous ripe tomatoes appear after about 7 weeks and taste perfect just sliced with salt and quick-growing fresh basil torn on top. They both love sandy soil and hot summer days. These preparations are simple in that they just make sense. There’s a thought process behind them that comes from experience. The approach is one of care, reverence, awareness and love. That is the heart of simple food.
So with that I give you these delicious and reasonably healthy frites made in the oven (less than a tablespoon of oil per serving! I know, right?). 2 potatoes, a bit of oil and a good pinch of salt gives you some pretty crispy and convincing little potato sticks of joy. I’ve learned a few basic principles of perfect french fry-making over the years. When I started working for a Canadian chef that was known for his version of my favourite dish, you have no idea how stoked I was to take in some of that knowledge. In brief, I’ve learned that cooking the potatoes in two stages, one to soften the interior and one to crisp the outsides, is key. Soaking the potatoes to get the starch out, a thorough in-between drying and tossing the finished product with salt while still crazy hot are all important components of french fry success. I figured the same wisdom would translate from fryer to oven and surprise, it kinda did.
And the mayonnaise! Originally the idea of dipping something so perfectly crunchy in the stuff grossed me out. I was eventually shown the way through (repeat) consumption of a clean tasting apple cider mayonnaise. Mine has a pine nut base, some garlic and smoky paprika thrown in for good measure. It’s a tangy and delicious compliment. But feel free to stick with classic ketchup or malt vinegar if you want to take refuge in crispy, golden and beautiful simplicity.
Oh, and thank you for all of your lovely birthday wishes last week. Big hugs!
oven frites with smoky paprika & garlic mayonnaise
special equipment: a blender for the mayonnaise
notes: This is an exercise in knife skills! Getting those potatoes into little matchsticks is so key.
2 large potatoes (russett or yukon gold are great)
1.5 tbsp neutral oil (grape seed, sunflower etc)
5 sprigs of thyme, leaves removed and chopped
1/2 cup pine nuts, soaked at least 4 hours (or cashews, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds etc)
1/2 tbsp dijon mustard
3 tbsp water
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
juice of half a lemon
1 clove of garlic
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp smoked paprika (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 1 large baking sheet with parchment. Fill a large bowl with water and set aside.
Peel the potatoes and wash them. Slice them lengthwise into 1/4 inch slices. Julienne the slices lengthwise, placing the matchsticks into the water as you finish. Allow the potatoes to soak for at least 15 minutes.
Make the mayonnaise: combine the pine nuts, dijon, water, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, salt and paprika (if using) in a blender pitcher. Gradually bring the speed of the blender up to high. Mix on high until thoroughly pureed. Scrape sides of pitcher down if necessary. Once smooth, scrape mayonnaise into a container and place in the fridge to set up a bit.
Drain the potatoes and dump matchsticks onto a clean kitchen towel. Fold excess towel over the potatoes and dry them thoroughly. Toss the potatoes in a large bowl with the 1.5 tbsp oil and a fat pinch of salt (you’ll be salting them once finished so exercise moderation). Place the coated potatoes on the prepared baking sheet, ensuring that they aren’t too close together. Cook in the oven for about 15 minutes or until the potatoes are very soft and just starting to brown on the edges. Remove tray from the oven.
Bring the oven temperature up to 425 degrees F. Place tray back in the oven once up to temperature. Cook for another 15 minutes, flipping the frites at least once. Remove from oven when potatoes are golden brown and crispy.
Using the same bowl (with a thin coating of oil remaining on it), toss the hot frites with another fat pinch of salt and the minced thyme. Serve immediately with the mayonnaise.
You might also like…
It was my birthday this past weekend! We ran to the city for a couple of days and had a really wonderful time. A cozy and delicious dinner here, some craft cocktails, lots of coffee, my favourite pizza in the world here, picked up a really great new magazine and popped into some favourite shops. The air is getting a bit warmer all around, I just started a new job (complete with a crazy-hectic opening week) and I’m another year older. Change is all about. It feels sunny and welcome.
I don’t usually aim for a fancy to-do on the big day. Several years have seen a snow storm on the exact day or right around it anyway, ruining much anticipated childhood birthday parties (and much anticipated birthday cakes for that matter). A good meal, time spent with people I like and some sort of treat with a candle in it makes me pretty happy. And so my adult birthday celebrations have gone, fairly quiet with minimal fanfare. Generally some cozy brunch is involved too. There’s a certain warmth and intimacy to that kind of celebrating, just a little elevation above the norm. I find life is pretty amazing on any given day, so I’m grateful for every little bit within and around the ordinary.
And in the vein of being grateful, I’m bringing you a recipe inspired by the best raw dessert cookbook ever. Cafe Gratitude’s book is my go-to for healthy and mind-blowing desserts. I’ve made countless variations of their treats to rave reviews and total bedazzlement every time. Everything is gluten, sugar, refined flour and animal product free and so, so luxurious. I will offer a little tidbit straight up: this cake isn’t cheap to make. About 5 cups of raw nuts total, virgin coconut oil, dried sour cherries, raw cacao, lots of vanilla… I know, I know. Considering the occasion, I opted to wallow in a bit of abundance.
Thinking about this cake as an investment in your health wouldn’t be too much of a stretch though. It’s a much more wholesome alternative to traditional cheesecake. Rich in healthy fat, protein from the nuts, natural sweeteners, plenty of fruit (fresh and dried) and some antioxidant action. Instead of feeling lethargic, you can relish in the surprising amount of energy and clarity you feel post-dessert. That is truly something to celebrate.
raw chocolate cherry mousse cake
serves: makes one 8.5-9 inch round cake
special equipment: a 8.5-9 inch spring form pan, food processor and a blender (you might be able to do the filling in the food processor too)
notes: I think the cashews could get pulverized enough in a food processor. I haven’t tried it, but it seems likely. Omit the diced beet if you’re using the processor for the filling though (it’s mostly for colour anyway).
2.5 cups raw almonds
1/4 cup raw cacao powder
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
1/3 cup dried sour cherries
8-10 pitted medjool dates
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp extra virgin coconut oil
2.5 cups raw cashews, soaked overnight
1 2/3 cups almond milk
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp extra virgin coconut oil, warmed to liquid
1/2 cup raw honey (or maple syrup or agave nectar etc.)
juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
1/2 cup frozen pitted cherries, thawed
1 small beet, scrubbed and small diced
Lay overlapping sheets of plastic wrap inside the ring of a spring form pan. Place the bottom disc on top of the wrap and snap the ring into place. Set aside.
Make the crust: place the almonds in the bowl of the food processor. Flip machine to high to break the nuts a bit. Stop the machine. Add the cacao powder, salt, sour cherries, dates, vanilla and coconut oil. Pulse the mixture a bit to begin the mixing. Flip the machine to high until the almond pieces look quite small and the dried fruit is evenly chopped up/distributed throughout the mix. Stop the machine and pinch some of the mixture together with your fingers. If it holds, you’re set.
Dump the crust mix into the prepared spring form pan. Spread it around evenly and start applying pressure to firm it into the pan. I use the bottom of a measuring cup to make the crust a bit smoother. Set aside.
Make the filling: Combine the cashews, almond milk, coconut oil, honey (or maple syrup), lemon juice and salt. Bring blender to high slowly. Blend the mixture on high until smooth and liquified. Pour all but 2 cups of the mixture into the prepared spring form pan. To the remaining filling, add the pitted cherries and diced beet. Blend on high until smooth. Pour remaining mixture quickly and confidently into the centre of the cake. Then, with about 1 cup of filling left, start to lightly drizzle the hot pink filling around, creating a marble effect within the cake.
Cover the cake with plastic wrap (it will be quite liquid at this point) and gently slide it into the freezer. Let it firm up for about 2 hours. Transfer to the fridge once solid so that it’s ready to serve whenever the craving strikes.
You might also like…
I went to a music festival in the south a few years ago and one of my main takeaways (actually) was how good the food was. I mean I had a really good time running around, dancing to whatever, not washing my hair, sharing an RV with 6 other people etc (actually!). But the food… it was surprising. I had packed a good amount of fruit and Larabars thinking the situation would be nutritionally inadequate. I’ve since learned that you should just bring a snack for the ride down and worry about food at the destination. Spontaneity! Making do! That’s travel. And it’s certainly a very healthy approach in its own right.
Anyway, so we were in Tennessee on this farm. It was crazy hot, dusty and muddy at the same time, people on all sides, music, drum circles, spontaneous yoga sessions, dancing, fountains, glow sticks, the whole thing. And there’s food trucks/stands everywhere just ready to serve up really awesome stuff–some of them locals, some travellers, some with the festival officially, just a potent mix of yums for real. Within 5 minutes of our little campsite, there was delicious, vegan french toast with bananas and maple syrup, fruit smoothies and fair trade espresso. On one bright morning, having just fetched my plate of morning awesomeness, I went in search of some pals. I caught up with one, also on a breakfast mission, and I um… got a bit grossed out.
He had a plate of biscuits with sausage gravy. Like white, meaty, greasy-ish gravy. In ridiculous, sweltering heat. Steaming hot, meaty, shortening-laden chunkiness on a biscuit. Seeing as I was in a high-and-mighty-on-health phase, I wasn’t feeling it (slash was totally appalled). My friend, however, was crazy about it. With a little space, I couldn’t help but think that the dish had a lot of potential as a concept though. Slightly sweet and rich biscuits with a hearty, herbed gravy on top, all piping hot with lots of fresh black pepper. I could (actually) be into that.
So here’s a plant-based version without gluten! These almond-based biscuits don’t rise terribly much so they’re ideal for smothering with hot gravy and herb-y mushrooms. They’re herbal, sweet and moist with a nice crust on the outside. Leftover biscuits? Cube them up, toss with a bit of oil and pepper and bake in the oven for 10 minutes and you have heavenly croutons for garnishing soups, mixing up with roasted root vegetables etc.
gluten free sweet potato biscuits with mushroom gravy
Adapted from Roost here and here
serves: 6 -8
special equipment: a blender is helpful but mashing with a fork/heavy stirring is an option
notes: If you’re buying stock, make sure you go for a no sodium variety. Ditto if you use canned beans. The miso adds so much (delicious) saltiness.
2.5 cups almond meal
1/2 tsp fine salt (I used Himalayan pink salt for fun)
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1-2 sprigs hearty herb (sage, rosemary, thyme), leaves removed and chopped
1/2 cup fully cooked sweet potato, mashed up
1/2 tsp ground chia or flax seeds
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp neutral oil (I used grape seed)
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp maple syrup
gravy + mushrooms:
3/4 cup cooked white beans
1.5 cups vegetable stock
juice of 1 lemon
1.5 tsp miso
1 tbsp almond butter
2 tbsp grape seed oil
5 cups sliced cremini mushrooms
3 sprigs of thyme, leaves removed and chopped
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
Make the biscuits: combine the almond flour, salt, pepper, baking soda, baking powder and chopped herb in a large bowl. Combine the mashed sweet potato, ground chia seeds, oil, vinegar and maple syrup in the container of a blender. Puree the mixture completely and pour into the bowl with the dry ingredients. Mix everything together until a dough forms/everything clumps together without being too sticky.
Lay a piece of parchment paper down on the counter and dust it with a finer gluten free flour (rice or chickpea flour). Scrape the dough from the bowl onto the parchment and flatten out slightly. Lay another piece of parchment on top and roll out the dough to about 1 inch thickness. Cut 3-4 inch rounds out of the dough with a biscuit cutter or rocks glass dipped in flour. Lay the rounds on the baking sheet, spaced about 1/2 inch apart (they don’t spread). Bake for 15 minutes or until well browned on the bottom. Remove from the oven and cool slightly.
Start the gravy: combine the beans, vegetable stock, lemon juice, miso and almond butter in the blender pitcher. Turn the motor onto high until mixture is pureed. Set aside.
Saute the mushrooms: heat oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and minced thyme with a few twists of black pepper. Flip/stir until mushrooms are soft and quite brown (do not add salt). Pour the bean and stock mixture into the pan. Give everything a stir. It should seem to reduce right away. Once hot, remove from the heat.
Place a warm biscuit on a plate and ladle about a cup of the mushroom/gravy mixture on top. Garnish with a few minced thyme leaves or black pepper.
You might also like…
I’ve gotten into the same conversation a bunch of times about my preference for locally procured food. It goes in the predictable, but still challenging, direction every time. So what do you do in the Winter? This query is usually delivered in a “Ha! Gotcha.” kind of tone. Well… I always source the best hoop-housed, hydroponic or stored/cellared option I can find for the cooler months in my region. I preserve the bounty of summer, freeze what I can and rely on grains, beans, split peas etc a little more once the woolies are on. I start to miss broccoli though. And citrus, little spheres of sunshine from Florida and California that remind us of the spring to come. It’s just really hard to resist in its peak months. I also have an undying addiction to avocado. So what to do? I mix some imported items into my daily eats without any guilt whatsoever.
When the Ontario produce is on, I’m in there snatching up every last piece, leaf and trimming I can get. Whether from my own garden, the local grocer or the farmer’s market, I choose locally-sourced items whenever possible. For nutritional completeness and overall culinary satisfaction, I mix in some imported goods while the snow falls. If I’m making a stew with stored Ontario onions, carrots, garlic,potatoes, heirloom beans, and canned summer tomatoes, I’m not going to feel terrible about stirring some American chard and minced thyme into the pot. Balance, consideration and flexibility is delicious in food, but also in life.
So with that, I give you one of my favourite snacks. Rustic, simple and highly adaptable to whatever greens are available/what you have leftover from last night’s supper. I make an olive tapenade with herbs and almonds to give it some body and a roast-y heartiness, slather it on crusty bread and top all of that with some super garlicky cooked greens and a little sprinkle of toasted almonds. Satisfying, salty, crunchy, mushy; only good things can come of this. You don’t have to actually make a tapenade either. A smear of ricotta or some dijon mustard is nice too.
garlicky greens bruschetta with olive & almond tapenade
notes: The bread is a pretty central ingredient here, so make sure your loaf comes from a bakery of good repute. Leftover cooked greens work wonderfully for this. Just give them a quick heat-up in the saute pan with a splash of water.
1 cup pitted olives (I went for kalamata)
1 clove of garlic, chopped a bit
1/3 cup almonds, toasted + extra chopped for garnish
5 sprigs of thyme, leaves removed
zest of 1 lemon (optional but fantastic)
ground black pepper
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 slices of crusty bread
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 small cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
5-6 ounces spinach, roughly chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
pinch of chili flakes
salt and pepper
Make the tapenade: combine all tapenade ingredients except the olive oil in a food processor. Pulse ingredients about 10 times to get everything chopped up. Put it on high and drizzle the oil in through the feed tube. Stop the machine, scrape down the sides and flip to high again. Mix until you have a smooth, uniform paste. Set aside.
Start toasting your bread. Heat the oil in a medium saute pan over medium heat. Add the cabbage and saute until slightly softened, about 3-4 minutes. Add the spinach. Saute until slightly wilted, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and chili flakes and season the mix with salt and pepper.Stir and toss around until spinach is wilted but still quite green. Remove from the heat.
Slather slices of toast with about 2 tbsp of tapenade each. Place a mound of cooked greens on top. Serve with lemon wedges either hot or at room temperature.
You might also like…