April 26, 2013

Birthday Recap

Happy Friday everyone!  I've had a pretty busy week of cooking for my family and celebrating a double birthday the other day - mine and my twin sister Natalie's. Since I don't have a new recipe to share with you today, I thought I would share a recap of my birthday meal and some of the wonderful gifts that I'm excited about instead!

My family knows me pretty well when it comes to choosing the perfect birthday present, and here are a few of the food-related highlights that I was lucky enough to receive this year:

On the left is a selection of coconut flavoured teas from my sister - if you can't read the flavours, there's coconut chocolate truffle, coconut mango colada, and coconut chai latte - so perfect for me! I also love the adorable packaging - each tea bag is shaped like a pyramid that bobs around in your tea cup as it steeps!

My sister also got me a home gardening kit that I can use on my apartment balcony - it comes with a planter box, dirt, and a selection of seed packets. I'm excited to try growing my own little veggie and herb plants!

Not pictured is another special treat from my other sister - a jar of this powdered peanut butter. Hopefully I'll be sharing a recipe or two featuring PB2 on my blog soon!

Finally, I asked for a new kitchen tool that I can't wait to try out - a spiralizer! Now I can finally make zucchini noodles that actually look like noodles rather than the kind I've been making with my vegetable peeler.  It's also perfect timing now that the weather is warming up and I'll be craving raw meals more often!

In addition to the gifts from my family, I enjoyed a few birthday freebies this week from signing up for email lists and coupons online.  All three of the ice cream treats above were free birthday treats from Marble Slab and Kiwi Kraze (a self-serve frozen yogurt bar).  My favourite was the coconut frozen yogurt mixed with strawberries and graham crackers on the left.

For our birthday meal, Nat and I wanted something on the lighter side so that we could have lots of room left in our stomachs for cake! We chose this Thai jicama salad, which is an old family favourite that we hadn't had in a while.

My dad made the salad, substituting soy sauce for the fish sauce and serving the chicken separately on the side to keep it vegetarian. I definitely recommend this recipe for a refreshing summer meal - I love all the bold flavours!

At the top was my contribution to the meal - fresh rolls stuffed with mango, avocado, cucumber, carrots and basil and serve with a delicious almond butter dipping sauce that I got from Vegetarian Times. My rolling skills definitely need improvement, but they still tasted great!

Finally, for dessert, Nat and I each made our own "cakes". Since neither of us are huge fans of traditional birthday cakes, we went a different route and made frozen treats. Nat made an ice cream cake using frozen yogurt, caramel topping and a homemade blondie base (a slice of it is shown below - the left piece on the plate).

I took a risk on a new recipe by choosing this frozen mango "cream" pie from Vegan Yumminess. I made my own raw crust using a version of the crust I made for this cake, and followed the recipe for the filling, which is made with coconut cream, mango and pineapple.

I wasn't really sure what to expect, but unfortunately it didn't quite turn out how I was hoping. When I made the creamy filling, it tasted delicious - fruity and not too sweet. Once it was frozen though, all the creaminess disappeared and it had an icy texture that never went away no matter how long I thawed it for.

We all loved the crust though, and serving it with homemade whipped cream and fresh mango slices helped to add more of the creaminess that I wanted!

All in all, it was a great birthday week full of lots of tasty food and ice cream, and I'll be eating even more cake this weekend when we celebrate my dad's birthday!

Hope you all have a great weekend too, and feel free to check out my sister Natalie's recap post of our birthday here!

April 23, 2013

Layered Verrines with Coconut Quinoa, Avocado & Sauteed Plantains

It's a gorgeous day here in Ontario, so today's post will be a short one so that I can get outside and make the most of it before the rain returns tomorrow!

Plantains are one of my favourite things to eat, especially when combined with avocado and other tropical flavours like coconut. My plantain guacamole is one of my favourite recipes on the blog, and it also helped to inspire this dish.

The idea for layered quinoa avocado verrines first came from a recipe that I've made before from Vegetarian Times. While their recipe was more Mexican-flavoured and was topped with sprouts, I went for a tropical version topped with sauteed plantains.

The three components to this recipe all have tropical notes: first is a coconut quinoa made by cooking the quinoa in coconut milk and stirring in a bit of lime zest and toasted coconut flakes; next is a layer of avocado pureed with lime juice and cilantro; and the final component is a layer of sweet ripe plantain slices cooked in coconut oil with a dash of spices.

I could happily eat any of the layers on their own, but they combine to make a creamy and flavourful dish that can either be served in small portions as an appetizer or in larger portions as a main dish. Layering each of the components into a little glass or cup makes for a fun presentation that you can even prepare ahead of time if you're serving them to a group.

Hopefully these tropical flavours will help you get through the last of the cold weather for those of you who are still seeing snow, and let's hope the warmer weather is here to stay!

Layered Verrines with Coconut Quinoa, Avocado and Sauteed Plantains
Inspired by Vegetarian Times

2/3 cup canned coconut milk or coconut milk beverage
1/3 cup dry quinoa
1/4 tsp ground ginger
Pinch of salt
½ tsp lime zest
2 tbsp coconut flakes

1 ripe avocado
1.5 tbsp lime juice
2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp coconut oil
1 ripe yellow plantain, peeled and sliced
Dash of cumin
Dash of chili powder
Salt to taste

Heat the coconut milk in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Once it starts to boil, stir in the quinoa, ginger, and a pinch of salt. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and keep covered for 5 minutes. Remove lid, fluff quinoa with a fork and stir in the lime zest and coconut flakes. Keep aside.

Meanwhile, make the avocado sauce: Place the avocado, lime juice, and cilantro in a food processor. Season generously with salt and pepper. Puree until smooth. Set aside.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the coconut oil. Once the coconut oil is melted, add the sliced plantains and sprinkle them with cumin, chili powder, and salt to taste. Let cook for 5-6 minutes total, flipping the slices halfway through. Remove from the pan and let drain on a plate lined with paper towel.

To assemble, place a portion of the quinoa in the bottom of each glass (use about 2/3 of the quinoa for this layer). Top with a thick layer of the avocado puree. Next, add a few plaintain slices. Repeat the layers once more, ending with the rest of the plantains on top. Garnish with extra cilantro and coconut flakes if desired.

Makes 3 servings.

April 17, 2013

Vegan Fettuccine Alfredo with Asparagus

I should probably start this post by admitting I've never really been a fan of creamy pasta. I've always preferred a tomato sauce or even a simple oil based dressing rather than any cream based pasta sauce like alfredo. That being said, I've finally found a creamy pasta that I really enjoy in this vegan version of fettuccine alfredo!

Instead of butter, cheese and heavy cream, the creaminess from this pasta sauce comes from tahini (sesame seed paste) mixed with almond milk. To add even more flavour and thickness, the liquid base is stirred into a mixture of pureed onion and garlic that's been sauteed on the stovetop.

The result is a rich and creamy sauce that coats each noodle perfectly and really does resemble a traditional alfredo sauce, but with much more flavour in my opinion!

The original recipe was a simple dish of noodles with sauce, but I always like to include extra vegetables in my pasta to make it more interesting. My first thought was to add asparagus, since its long shape goes well with noodles and it seemed like a fresh seasonal choice for this time of year!

I steamed the asparagus to avoid having to turn on the oven, and tossed it in a bit of lemon zest. A healthy dose of fresh lemon juice and parsley were the final touches to brighten up the dish.

I was actually surprised at how filling this pasta was because of the tahini, which also makes it the perfect transitional meal from hearty winter dinners to lighter spring and summer dishes!

Vegan Fettuccine Alfredo with Asparagus
Adapted from Get it Ripe

~8-9 oz dry linguine or fettucine
1 tbsp olive oil
3/4 cup pureed onion (from 2 small yellow onions, peeled and pureed in a food processor - mine was still a bit chunky)
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1.5 cups almond milk
1/2 cup tahini
1 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg
Freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup chopped parsley, plus more for garnish
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 lb asparagus (about half a bunch)
1/2 tsp lemon zest (optional)
Lemon wedges for serving

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Once boiling, add the noodles and cook until al dente, according to package directions. Drain.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring often, for about 8 minutes, until browned.

Stir together almond milk, tahini, salt and nutmeg until tahini is fully mixed in. Pour into skillet with the onion mixture and stir. Reduce heat to medium. Add freshly ground pepper and cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes. Add the parsley and lemon juice and cook for another minute. Remove from heat.

Snap the woody ends off the asparagus and discard. Add the asparagus to a steamer basket and steam, covered, for 3-5 minutes, until bright green and crisp-tender. Remove from steamer basket and chop each asparagus stalk into three pieces. Toss asparagus with a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper, and lemon zest.

Return the drained pasta to its cooking pot. Add the sauce and stir well to mix (you may not need all of the sauce). Add the asparagus.

Serve warm. Season each serving with additional salt and pepper if desired and squeeze a lemon wedge over top.  Top with additional parsley.

Makes 4 servings.

April 12, 2013

Brussels Sprout, Cabbage & Tofu Slaw with Coconut-Peanut Dressing

Today's post is one of the more interesting salads I've had in a while. I'm not really sure whether to call it a twist on tofu salad, or a twist on cabbage slaw, so I guess it's a cross between the two!

The bulk of this slaw, which I adapted from Peachy Palate, comes from a mixture of shredded cabbage and raw brussels sprouts. If you've never had raw brussels sprouts, you might be surprised to hear that you can actually eat them just sliced up and tossed in a salad without any cooking. I like the crisp texture and the mild flavour that they add, although of course if you already hate brussels sprouts then I'm not going to try to convince you to try them raw!

The second main component of this slaw is crumbled tofu. Again, it isn't cooked - just drained from the package and crumbled up with your hands, and again, if you're nervous about trying tofu this way then don't worry - it will soak up the dressing really well and tastes delicious!

The dressing is one of my favourite types - a peanut butter based dressing with a bit of lime juice, garlic and ginger, and thinned out with coconut milk. The coconut milk and agave nectar in the dressing put it more on the sweet side rather than spicy, which I thought was appropriate for this salad. I ended up with a bit of extra dressing but I used it all anyway and happily slurped up the excess from the bottom of my bowl!

Once you mix everything together, you end up with a cool and refreshing salad with a lot of different textures, from the creamy tofu to the crisp veggies. The final touches are a handful of peanuts for extra crunch, as well as raisins and coconut flakes to add even more layers of flavour.

This recipe makes a pretty big batch, but it holds up well in the fridge so I was able to enjoy it all week!

Brussels Sprout, Cabbage & Tofu Slaw with Coconut-Peanut Dressing
Adapted from Peachy Palate

3 cups thinly sliced Brussels sprouts (ends trimmed and outer leaves removed first)
2 cups shredded or thinly sliced green cabbage
1 cup shredded carrot (about 1 medium carrot)
1/2 cup thinly sliced radish
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
~250 grams firm tofu, drained
1/4 cup sultana raisins
1/4 cup large flaked coconut, toasted
1/4 cup chopped peanuts

1 cup unsweetened coconut milk beverage*
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp peanut butter
1 tbsp lime juice
2 tsp agave nectar
1 tsp minced fresh ginger
2 small cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
Ground pepper to taste

First, make the dressing by combining all ingredients in a bowl or large measuring cup. Whisk until the peanut butter is thoroughly mixed in. Store in the fridge while you prepare the salad.

In a large bowl, combine the shredded brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrot, radish and cilantro. Toss to mix. Crumble the tofu using a fork or your hands and add to the bowl. Add the raisins. Pour the dressing over everything and toss to mix (Note: you may not need all the dressing).

Toast the coconut in a small skillet over medium heat for a few minutes, until lightly browned. When ready to serve, top the salad with the toasted coconut and peanuts.

Makes 4 large servings.

*I used a non-dairy coconut milk beverage, which made my dressing a bit thinner than it would be with full-fat canned coconut milk. Also, if you use a regular coconut milk beverage instead of unsweetened, you might want to reduce the agave a bit.

April 09, 2013

Apple Pie Energy Bars

Today's post may seem a little out of season, but since the weather here in Ontario seems to be rather confused itself, I figured it's acceptable to post an apple recipe in April!

I've made a lot of raw energy bars or bites by blending up nuts and dried fruit in my food processor, always using a different combination of ingredients to change things up.  For these energy bars, I tried out a new method of adding even more flavour: soaking the dried fruit in flavoured tea first!

The flavour I was going for was apple pie, like the Larabar, and to get that flavour I used dried apples, dates and raisins for the dried fruit and soaked them in apple cinnamon tea so that they absorbed more apple-y flavour.  Along with the fruit, I added walnuts, sunflower seeds and oats to make up the bulk of the bars, and cinnamon, ginger and vanilla to round out the apple pie theme.

These bars turned out extra moist from the plump fruit and the sunflower seeds, which break down in the food processor to create a paste, sort of like nut butter. I loved the strong apple flavour, and while they were on the soft side overall, the walnuts and oats helped to add layers of texture.

The recipe is pretty adaptable, so feel free to shape the mixture any way you want!  I made long, thin bars, but you could make thicker squares, or even roll the mixture into energy balls instead.

I can't wait to try out other kinds of teas to make more energy bars and bites!  I'm thinking that an earl grey tea might go well with an almond and vanilla based bar, and a ginger tea with oats and lemon sounds lovely too!  I also used a decaf tea in these bars, but you could get an extra energy boost from your bars if you use a tea with caffeine!

Apple Pie Energy Bars
Loosely adapted from Real Food. Real Deals

1 bag of apple cinnamon tea
1 cup boiled water
1/2 cup diced dried apple (if you can only find sliced dried apple, chop them first and then measure 1/2 cup)
2 tbsp raisins
1/4 cup dates (about 5 dates)
1/2 cup raw walnuts
1/4 cup raw or roasted unsalted sunflower seeds
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
Pinch of salt
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup or more rolled oats

Soak the teabag in the boiled water for 3-5 minutes. Remove teabag and discard.  Add the dried apple, raisins and dates to the water and let soak for about 5 minutes. Drain well, squeezing out any excess liquid if necessary (I recommend saving the tea to drink, it’s quite delicious and sweet from the dried fruit!).

Place walnuts, sunflower seeds, cinnamon, ginger, and salt in a food processor and process until the mixture forms crumbs. Add the drained apples, raisins and dates, and the vanilla extract. Process again until everything is broken down (it’s okay if it’s a bit chunky). Pulse in the oats. If mixture is still too wet, pulse in another 1-2 tablespoons of oats.

Press mixture into the bottom of a loaf pan lined with parchment paper, pressing down firmly with a rubber spatula and/or your hands (you can make the bars as thick as you want them).  Refrigerate for at least an hour, then cut into bars or squares.

Store in the fridge.

Makes about 5 bars (although it depends how thick you make your bars).

April 05, 2013

Recipe Round Up: Recipes I've Tried Lately

Before I get too caught up in posting Spring inspired recipes, I wanted to pause and do another post about recipes that I've tried from other blogs lately.

As I've mentioned before, I'm constantly bookmarking new recipes to try, and while I don't actually make nearly as many of them as I'd like to, I do try to devote a portion of my kitchen time to trying out recipes from blogs that I like without adapting the recipe to make my own.

This round-up has a variety of recipes from main dishes to an appetizer, snacks, breakfast and dessert! Hopefully you find at least one new recipe or blog here to inspire you too!

(Note: All photos are my own; please click through to see the original recipe)

Brown Rice Sunshine Burgers from The Vegan Chickpea

I've never had the original Sunshine Burger - a veggie burger made of brown rice, sunflower seeds, carrots and spices, but now that I've got Caitlin's easy and tasty recipe for a homemade version, that's all I need! I loved the texture of these burgers with the chewy rice that crisped up on the outside after baking in the oven. I think I ended up with slightly smaller burgers than I should have because I couldn't stop eating the unbaked burger mixture!

Carrot Soup with Tahini and Crisped Chickpeas from Smitten Kitchen

This recipe has been pretty popular in the blogosphere since it was posted in January, so I decided to try it for myself. Now I see why everyone who tries it raves about it! The soup itself, made from carrots, onion, garlic, and spices, is delicious but the garnishes really make it special. Crunchy roasted chickpeas add texture and substance, and the creamy lemon-tahini dollop blended in so well. Definitely a soup I will make again in the fall!

Lentil Nut Pate from The Lunchbox Bunch

While I loved both of the previous recipes, this one may be my favourite of this post because it surprised me in how good it turned out! It's a vegan pate made from soaked cashews and walnuts, cooked lentils, nutritional yeast, peppercorns, and a few other flavouring ingredients, topped with seeds (I used sunflower seeds instead of the recommended pumpkin seeds). After baking for two hours, you end up with a firm yet creamy and spreadable pate that smells and tastes amazing. 

I served this on Easter with mini melba toasts and a baguette, and enjoyed the leftovers on toast the next day. It's been a long time since I've had the non-veg kind of pate, but everyone who tried this gave it good reviews and commented that it not only looked just like the real thing, but it tasted even better and is much healthier too!

Carrot Cake Chickpea Bites from Kiss my Broccoli

I had some leftover chickpeas sitting in my fridge last week and looked through my bookmarked recipes for some kind of treat or snack that I could use them in. After a failed attempt to make a chickpea based coffee cake (no matter how long I left it in the oven, it refused to cook and ended up in the garbage), I came across these carrot cake chickpea hummus bites and made them instead. They have a soft texture inside that reminded me of a similar chickpea recipe that I love, these rosemary apricot tahini bites, but with ingredients like carrots, raisins, and coconut to resemble carrot cake. 

I used shredded raw carrot instead of cooking the carrots first, and next time I would use the full amount of sweetener, but I liked these as a healthy afternoon snack! 

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread Bites from Minimalist Baker

I have so many healthy banana cookie recipes bookmarked, but this was the latest one that I tried. These are a soft cakey cookie (more like a mini muffin) that really does taste like banana bread with the addition of almond butter, oats, and chocolate chips. Mine were a little on the plain side because I didn't have enough chocolate chips, but if you follow the recipe exactly and you love banana bread, then you won't be disappointed with these!

Raw Coconut Caramel Date Bars from Be Well by Jess

I made these as a treat to bring home to my parents recently but I ended up eating a lot of them myself because I liked them so much! The base of these bars is a raw "cookie" made of almonds, oats, coconut and dates. Next you spread on a thin layer of coconut "caramel" made from dates, almond butter and maple syrup with more coconut, and finally they're topped with a layer of chocolate (I covered them completely with chocolate rather than doing a drizzle like the original recipe).

I thought these tasted like a decadent chocolate bar, but I loved that they were actually pretty healthy! And of course, I love any dessert that has coconut!

Coffee Cacao Nib Scones from The First Mess

I don't make scones often, but I made a small batch of these for my Dad and I for breakfast as a treat when I was home recently. Instead of using espresso powder and dark chocolate, I used instant coffee and raw cacao nibs, and irish cream flavoured agave nectar since I happened to have some in the cupboard. Mine came out a bit too undercooked inside, which was too bad because they were really good otherwise - they were still a bit soft and not too dry or crumbly, and I loved the addition of crunchy cacao nibs and the hint of coffee flavour.

I love finding vegan scone recipes that actually turn out flaky and buttery tasting like real scones, so I will keep this recipe for future use and maybe try it with some other flavour combinations!l

That's all for this round-up! Have a great weekend and I'll be back with a new recipe next week!

April 02, 2013

Roasted Cauliflower & Antipasto Panzanella with Pomegranate Dressing


One of my favourite single-serving meals to throw together is a panzanella salad.  For anyone who hasn't heard of panzanella, it's basically a salad with bread, fresh herbs, and an olive oil-vinegar dressing. The bread is the key ingredient, and you can be as creative as you like with the rest of the components!

I've always had a preference for a summer panzanella with the best garden tomatoes, fresh basil, cucumber, and even corn, but I've learned that you can still make delicious and unique panzanellas any time of the year - check out my versions of winter panzanella and spring panzanella that I've posted on the blog!

I recently saw a recipe for a panzanella with olives and artichokes on Kitchen Confidante, and since I've finally learned to like olives, I was inspired to give this idea a try.

For my version, I used a mixture of black and green olives, marinated artichoke hearts and roasted red pepper for an antipasto base (I realize this isn't exactly authentic antipasto, but it was close enough for me!). I also roasted some cauliflower and grape tomatoes to round out the salad, and of course, a good crusty baguette!

For the herbs, I went with both fresh basil and mint, and finally, I made a simple red wine vinegar dressing with the addition of pomegranate molasses for a burst of sweetness.

It seems that you can't really go wrong with a panzanella because I always love every version that I come up with, and this one was no different! I loved the mixture of flavours, from the sweet and tangy dressing to the salty olives and briny artichokes. The warm roasted cauliflower and juicy tomatoes added a nice contrast to the antipasto ingredients, and the bread soaked up all of the flavours while keeping a bit of its crunch.

If you're a panzanella fanatic like me, I hope you'll give this version a try!

Roasted Cauliflower & Antipasto Panzanella with Pomegranate Dressing
Inspired by Kitchen Confidante

Approximate amounts per serving: (feel free to adjust to your liking)
1/4 head cauliflower, chopped
1/2 tbsp olive oil
7-8 grape tomatoes
7-8 pitted olives (I liked the small kalamatas best)
1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed
~50 grams of crusty bread, sliced or torn into small bite-sized pieces
~3 pieces of quartered artichoke hearts, sliced in half (the marinated jarred kind)
1 whole roasted red pepper (I used the jarred kind), sliced into thin strips
3-4 large leaves of fresh basil
1 tbsp chopped fresh mint
1.5 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
1 tsp whole grain mustard
1/2 tbsp olive oil (optional – I left it out when I made the salad fresh, but added it to my leftovers the next day)
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Place the chopped cauliflower in a large roasting pan and drizzle with 1/2 tbsp olive oil, salt and pepper, tossing to coat. Roast in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes total.

After 10 minutes of roasting, add the tomatoes, olives, and garlic to the pan and return to the oven (for another 15-20 minutes). Place the bread chunks on a small baking sheet and spray with a bit of cooking spray. Add to the oven for the last 5 minutes of cooking time so they are lightly toasted (or longer if you like them extra crispy).

When everything is done roasting, combine in a large bowl (cauliflower, tomatoes, olives, garlic, and bread). Add the sliced artichokes and red pepper, basil, and mint, and toss to combine.

Whisk together the vinegar, pomegranate molasses and mustard. Pour dressing over salad and toss well. Drizzle with the extra 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil if desired.

Serve warm. Season with additional salt and pepper.

Makes 1 serving. 

Note: Leftovers of the fully assembled salad will not keep well, but you can roast a double portion of the veggies and keep leftovers of each portion separate in the fridge. The next day, heat up the veggies, toast your bread, chop up the herbs, and toss in the dressing. 


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