Inspiration and big change is always floating around in the back of the mind, in the atmosphere, everywhere really. Like an iceberg that looks so small and unassuming on the surface of dark water, there’s a giant waiting to be seen underneath. It is impressive, surprising; its potential builds up over weeks and months. Maybe even years. Just waiting and growing.
…I saw roasted kale on a menu recently and was kind of taken aback at first. I thought it would be weird, nonsensical, all that; even though I absolutely love kale in any form I’ve tried. So I tinkered with it at home out of curiosity. Wow. Really good. Surprising. That reaction and the whole lead-up to it kind of summarizes life right now, lots of delicious surprises. They were kind of there all along in whispers and hums, developing and getting bigger and louder and then whoa. Right there. Hello.
Other than that, not much else to chat about. I just received Bryant Terry’s fantastic new book and was feeling so inspired flipping through the pages and looking at the gorgeous photos. I remembered a technique I learned from his first book Vegan Soul Kitchen for roasting tofu. I was so thrilled to see a new rendition in The Inspired Vegan. So here’s my take for you to play with and be inspired by (hopefully). Big hugs :)
chili, lemon and herb roasted tofu with kale and pine nuts
inspired by Bryant Terry
notes: I make this dish all on one sheet pan. Choose one thats big enough to accommodate everything and just add the components as time winds down. Also, any strong spice or flavour would be great here, this dish is pretty open to interpretation.
1 lemon, zest and juice
1 garlic clove, sliced
1 tsp red chili flakes
2 sprigs rosemary, leaves removed and chopped
4 sprigs thyme, leaves removed and chopped
salt and pepper
3 tbsp grapeseed oil
1 package (227g) organic firm to extra firm tofu, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 bunch kale, leaves removed and torn into 1.5 inch-ish pieces
small handful of pine nuts
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a large sheet pan with parchment paper.
Combine the lemon zest, sliced garlic, chili flakes, rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper in the bowl of a mortar and pestle. Grind it up until a dry paste is achieved. Add the lemon juice and oil and grind until mixture is unified.
Pour about half of the oil and lemon juice mixture into a large bowl. Toss it with the cubes of tofu very gently. Place onto the parchment-lined baking sheet in one tight section. Roast for 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from the oven and gently toss the tofu cubes with a fork or spatula. Place back in the oven and roast for another 10 minutes.
Toss the kale with the remaining oil and lemon juice mixture in the large bowl. Remove the tofu from the oven and place the kale on most of the remaining space of the tray. Roast for 10 more minutes. Place pine nuts on the tray and roast for another 2-3 minutes, until tofu is quite browned, kale has wilted and crisped a bit and the pine nuts are golden.
Serve hot or at room temperature.
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Healthy chocolate pancakes friends. I know, I can’t believe it either, but let’s talk about the events at hand. I actually kind of like Valentine’s Day. I know it’s cool to hate on February 14th because it’s just.., like, a meaningless marketing shill instigated to drive capital to the card/gift companies maaaaan. Why do you have to prove your love on only one day of the year? Scoffs, grumbles, negativity, silliness.
I actually don’t care. Remember when you were young and we all gave valentines and treats to everyone in the class and it was cute, delicious, sparkly, corny, pink and red all over? It was such a fun write-off kind of day. Warm fuzzies. You got to make a pouch out of construction paper, decorate it with glittery paint and take it home all full of chocolate, marshmallow-y things, ju-jubes and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, California Raisins, Strawberry Shortcake etc punch-out valentine cards. It was, in sum, the best ever. Chocolate and paper goods are still totally my jam 18 years later so why wouldn’t I love Valentine’s Day?
Something I don’t exactly love: big, shiny, monumental dinners on Cupid’s big night out. Meeeeeh. I usually can’t swing it because I’m working anyway but! I feel kinda bad for the service and cooking staff at any given restaurant, surrounded by so much lovey dovey-ness while being away from their special guy/gal. I don’t particularly aspire to contribute to that cruddy feeling while I’m picking away at some sort of heart-shaped root vegetable or cake or something in the candle light. I like going out for an amazing meal, don’t get me wrong. But for V day, home dates just feel right.
Enter these delicious pancakes. They’re chocolate (duh), wholesome, easy to whip up and perfect for lazing about with your lovey in jammies with some fresh fruit, the newspaper, a thick wooly blanket, maybe some Curb Your Enthusiasm on in the background (SUCH a romantic choice, right?) and a hot, cozy pot of earl grey steeping away. Comforting, warm, close and sweet (and somewhat awkward at any given moment if Larry David is on your TV screen…). It’s perfect. These are also totally fine to make just for yourself. I make a single serving of pancakes about as often as I crave pancakes. Which is… crazy often. Whatever. It starts with self love, guys!
hot cocoa pancakes
This recipe was originally developed for the Toronto Vegetarian Association
serves: 2 (generously)
notes: Heart shapes! Go on. Do it.
1 cup non-dairy milk
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 cup light spelt flour (or whole wheat, all purpose etc)
2 tsp baking powder
¼ cup + 2 tbsp cacao/cocoa powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt
3 tbsp maple syrup (or agave nectar) plus extra for serving
1/4 cup liquid coconut oil (or other oil)
1.5 tsp vanilla extract
Mix the non-dairy milk and apple cider vinegar in a small bowl and set aside to curdle, about 5 minutes.
Mix the flour, baking powder, cocoa powder, cinnamon and salt together in a large bowl until combined. Add the curdled milk, maple syrup, coconut oil and vanilla. Mix with a wooden spoon until just combined. It should be a tad loose-seeming.
Heat a large, non-stick pan over medium-low heat. Drop ¼ cup measures of the batter into the pan (not too many at a time!). When bubbles start to peak through the surface and you see a bit of light browning/crisping up on the underside, flip the pancakes over carefully, about 1-2 minutes. Repeat for the other side, remove from the pan and set aside on a covered plate to keep warm.
Serve with maple syrup, sliced bananas, berries or whatever other accompaniments you like.
Okay so I don’t love cupcakes. Even when the craze hit big time, I wasn’t totally on board. All of those gorgeous sweet little cakes, ornate and decorated just so… had way too much frosting for my taste. It seems to me that there is an inherent issue of ratios with this handheld treat. This is especially true if the frosting is piped on top, as opposed to being smeared rustically. Giant, sweet clouds were distracting me from my favourite part– the actual cake! Then the boutique bakeries were selling frosting shots. Actual shots! Glorified gluttony. And there was a tv show with cupcake shop proprietors competing and snapping at each other about non-rising cakes, time winding down, fillings not jiving with icings, trivial matters completely. Catty. Terrifying. Cupcakes and their whole scene was, without exaggeration, scaring the crap out of me. So I avoided them for a bit. I opted for cookies and actual slices of cake, a tart here and there. I felt fine about it.
But sweet, little snack cakes with just a bit of glaze-y coconut cream on top? I’ve talked myself into a bit of that action. It has a different feel. A bit more casual, but certainly refined. The ratio of sweet topping to lemony and light cake is ideal for someone like me. It’s just a nice little snack to go with tea. A cup-sized cake shouldn’t make you feel like you’ve gone over the edge with indulgence right? It’s individually portioned out of reason, out of fairness and in the interest of an individual’s right to an equal portion of the dozen. It is just. These spelt-based cakes are rich with coconut milk and have a crunchy little dusting of nutty sesame seeds for fun because individual cakes, at their heart, are totally about fairness and super cute fun time with sparkles and everything else great in life. And this is totally one of those throw-it-all-in-one-bowl-and-mix kind of cakes! Everyone wins here.
lemon coconut cakes with coconut glaze and sesames
serves: makes 10-12
notes: Feel free to mix up the citrus a bit! Meyer lemon or orange or lime would all be quite good. Also, as soon as you use 1/2 the can of coconut milk in the batter, put the remaining milk in the freezer so that it can firm up and become more cream-like.
1/2 cup natural sugar
1/3 cup melted coconut oil + extra for greasing
1 14-ounce can coconut milk, divided
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1 lemon (about 1/4 cup), divided
2 tsp vanilla extract, divided
1 cup white spelt flour
1/2 cup whole spelt flour
1.5 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
small pinch of fine sea salt
2 tbsp agave nectar
small handful toasted sesame seeds
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 12 tin muffin pan and set aside.
Mix the sugar, coconut oil, half the can of coconut milk, lemon zest, 2 tbsp lemon juice and 1 tsp of vanilla in a medium-large mixing bowl until thoroughly combined.
Sift in the white and whole spelt flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix into the wet mixture until just combined.
Portion the batter into the prepared muffin tin and bake for 15-20 minutes or until cake springs right back when you push on it and a toothpick comes out clean. Cool pan on a wire rack thoroughly.
Make the glaze: remove the remaining coconut milk from the freezer and give it a little stir. Whisk it up with the remaining lemon juice, vanilla and the 2 tbsp of agave nectar. Spoon on top of the cooled cakes and garnish with the toasted sesame seeds.
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Any one of my friends will tell you that I’m pretty enamored with the whole Momofuku collective of restaurants and the Dave Chang/Christina Tosi-worship/obsession thing. I have the cookbooks, subscribe to Lucky Peach and dream of future trips to New York for some ramen, birthday cake truffles and a cup of cereal milk soft serve often. Like crazy often. The whole thing is just too cool without trying to be too cool. You know? There are the wildly popular (and super pork-y) items that everyone talks about (for good reason), but last time we were in town, there was a beet salad that seriously got me so, so excited about root vegetables. Believe that! Total sleeper hit.
There was a heaped schmear of creme fraiche on the bottom of the plate, lovely cooked beets all diced on top, capers, rough chopped parsley and fresh horseradish. It was really simple, gorgeous to look at and delicious in an easy way. I say easy because you could just scoop it into your mouth and enjoy all of the flavours and textures making sense together. It was balanced and flavourful without too much effort. These ingredients were pretty much made for each other and I can’t believe it took this long for them to get together on a plate in front of me.
A little snag: I can’t eat creme fraiche every day. It’s expensive and my stomach would hate me, so I came up with this version that I can eat all day, every day with avocado and sweet little yukon gold potatoes. Beets tend to have a love affair with anything that’s creamy, tangy or rich so this all works out pretty nicely. The horseradish and shallot vinaigrette punctuates everything with a strong, vinegary bite. It’s just a hearty, composed winter salad. I’m not craving lettuce much these days, but boiled root veggies and potatoes with brine-y stuff and chives on top? Yes please. And lots.
beet, potato and avocado salad with horseradish and shallot vinaigrette
notes: dice the shallot as small as you can so that the vinaigrette gets all in there and softens the pieces up.
1 small shallot, finely diced/minced up
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
salt and pepper
2 tsp prepared horseradish
1 tsp dijon mustard
1/3 cup grape seed or other neutral flavour oil
1/2 lb mini yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed
2 medium beet roots, scrubbed
1 medium avocado, just ripe, not too soft and smushy-messy
10 blades of chives, finely sliced
juice of half a lemon
2-3 tbsp capers
salt and pepper
Make the vinaigrette: Combine the minced shallot and vinegar in a small bowl. Add salt and pepper and whisk well. Add the horseradish and mustard and whisk to combine again. Drizzle the oil into the horseradish/vinegar/shallot mixture slowly as you whisk it vigorously until thoroughly combined. Alternatively, you can throw the whole works except the shallots into the blender and put it on high for a few seconds and add the shallots to the mix after. Set aside.
Place the potatoes in a medium saucepan and cover with cold water by about an inch or two. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook until potatoes yield to a paring knife easily, but not so easily that they mush. About 12 minutes. Remove the potatoes with a slotted spoon and set aside. Place the beet roots in the boiling water and cook until you achieve the same knife-yielding tenderness of the potatoes. This should take longer, about 20 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and peel as soon as you are able, without burning your fingers of course. Cut potatoes and beets into small wedges and set aside in separate bowls.
Peel and pit the avocado. Slice it into 1/4 inch thick pieces and lay onto your serving plate. Squeeze the lemon over top of the avocado slices and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle a bit of the dressing here too. Arrange the beets on top of the avocado. Drizzle some of the dressing on top. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and some of the chives. Arrange the potatoes on top of the beets and drizzle with more dressing, salt, pepper and the remaining chives. Scatter the capers on top. Serve.
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When I was going to culinary school, one of our instructors would frequently remind us that all of the fuss, the immense preparation for a 7:30 am cooking lab, the pressure, the precisely laid out plans of attack, the possible fear of inadequacy; it was all just for the sake of food. If you screwed up, the end result would still be edible and quite nourishing, perhaps with a touch more salt, the faintest splash of acid and a bit more time on the fire next time though.
And that was fine. The phrase certainly helped take some of the pressure off; not in a way that made you apathetic either. It just helped your hands to shake less when you were tying up roulades, mindful of the distant but aware gaze from the chef professor. You wouldn’t over-think it if you decided to throw a whole clove in to steep with a savory apple, onion and balsamic jam. You knew it would work and it freed you up to focus on your small dices, sautes, blanches, on and on. It helped us to consider the bigger picture.
The “just food” mantra has worked its way into my home cooking too. Making soup used to be a rather daunting task to me. I always thought that soup was the one simple thing that showed real kitchen prowess. It was certain proof of authentic experience. Thinking of its transformative nature, its ability to turn inexpensive items, scraps, leftovers and afterthoughts into something comforting and whole, a dish with renewed purpose and character, was intimidating as hell to me.
When it finally kicked in that it was just food, an infinitely variable nourishing substance no matter the end result, the soups started tasting a lot better. I take my time, taste as I go and linger over the pot so as to take it all in with every languid stir. I’ve also realized that most soups can be quite forgiving if you take a wrong turn, use too much spice or absentmindedly forget to stir up some rapidly browning onions. It all comes out in the wash. Everyone eats and feels warm and everything is certainly quite good with a decent crust of bread.
This is my go-to lentil soup. It’s a bit smoky and rich with pimenton, tomatoes and olive oil, studded with the usual celery, carrots and onions, earthy and lemony from thyme and tarragon. It is a simple serving of food that has great effect. Rather easily thrown together but complex and rich. Economical but satiating and full of grace. It is something that every home cook can (and should) tuck under their sleeve for when the deep winter chill sets into the bones and the variety of vegetables winds down to a bit of a minimum. It embodies the benefits of preparation and self-care and it makes your heart feel warm, maybe going a little bit past the criteria of “just food.”
french lentil soup with tomatoes, tarragon and garlic
serves: makes a big pot
notes: I know a 1/4 cup sounds like a lot of oil, but this makes a giant pot of very nutritious food. The volume of oil helps to stew the onions, garlic and herbs so that they effortlessly melt into the soup, meshing all of the flavours seamlessly (and rather luxuriously). Alternatively, you can use less oil and add spoonfuls of stock gradually to prevent sticking/over-browning.
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, small diced
4-5 sprigs of thyme, leaves removed and roughly chopped
2 tsp dried tarragon, crushed up with your fingers a bit
1 tsp smoked paprika
4-5 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
2 medium carrots, peeled and small diced
1 large stalk celery, small diced
1 28 ounce can dicd tomatoes
1 1/3 cups french lentils, picked over, rinsed and drained
6ish cups vegetable stock
salt and pepper
Heat the oil in a large, heavy bottomed pot over medium low. Add the onions and saute for at least 10 minutes, stirring them around frequently. It shouldn’t sizzle too loudly, this is a slow-cooking kind of process. When the onions are quite soft, add the herbs and paprika and saute for another 5 minutes, stirring all the while. Add the garlic and stir until very fragrant. Add the carrots and celery and cook for another 5-10 minutes, until all vegetables are soft.
Add the can of tomatoes and stir to coat vegetables. Cook out the tomatoes for about 5 minutes so as to remove some of their raw, tin-y-ness. Add drained lentils and stir to coat in the vegetables, oil and tomatoes. Add a splash of the stock and scrape any browned bits on the bottom of the pot. Add remaining stock, give the whole mix a good stir and bring to a boil. Once boiling, return pot to a simmer, cover with a heavy lid and allow to cook for 25-30 minutes or until the lentils are soft. Check in on the pot once in a while and give it a stir. Season to your liking
Serve hot with a bit of fresh herb on top and a nice crust of bread.
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