August 30, 2013

Sweet Corn "Polenta" with Peach & Tomato Salsa

I've been trying to make the most of the local corn season this month, eating corn at every opportunity. I always love eating it right off the cob with some salt and pepper, but I also like to change things up sometimes, whether its eating the kernels hot off the cob, or adding them raw to a salad.

This corn "polenta" is a new method of eating corn that I just discovered last summer. Usually when you hear of corn polenta, it refers to cornmeal polenta with some corn kernels mixed in. This recipe, however, is actually polenta made purely of corn.

It turns out that if you cook corn kernels, blend them up, and then keep cooking the mixture on the stovetop, it eventually turns into a thick, porridge-like mixture just like polenta.

To round out the dish, I wanted to make some kind of tomato topping. Since I also had some local peaches on hand from the market, I thought that peach and tomato would make a good combination as a fresh salsa to mix into the polenta.

A handful of fresh basil and some balsamic vinegar added even more flavour, making this such a fresh and summery meal! The corn flavour really comes through in the polenta, and I liked that it was a bit lighter than regular polenta, which tends to be made with milk, butter, and cheese.

This was a bit on the sweet side overall, especially if you use a sweet corn, but I love sweet and fruity meals in the summer so it wasn't a problem for me! Feel free to add a sprinkle of cheese if you want a savory dimesion - I think goat cheese or feta would work well.

Hope you all enjoy the last long weekend of the summer! I'm sure mine will involve more corn :)

Sweet Corn “Polenta” with Peach and Tomato Salsa
Inspired by Five and Spice

2 ears sweet corn
3/4 cup water
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper

1/2 cup chopped cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup diced peach
~2 tbsp chopped fresh basil
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper

Remove the husks from the corn and slice off the kernels into a large bowl using a knife. Run the dull edge of the knife down the sides of the corn afterwards to get all of the corn “milk” off of the cob. Place kernels and liquid in a medium sized saucepan and cover with ¾ cup water. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then continue to simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the corn kernels with a slotted spoon and transfer to a blender (do not discard the cooking liquid). Puree until smooth, then return to the pot. Cook on medium-low for another 10-15 minutes, stirring often, until the mixture is thickened and starting to pull away from the sides of the pan. Remove from heat and stir in olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, prepare the topping by stirring together the diced tomato, peaches, basil, and balsamic vinegar. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Transfer corn puree to a bowl and top with the salsa.

Serve warm.

Makes 1 serving.

August 27, 2013

What I Ate in Japan

Thanks for your comments on my last post! Sorry I've been behind in my comments and posting, but I'm back from my trip to Japan now and still trying to recover from the jet lag (I don't know what it is about this particular trip, but I've never had such difficulty trying to adjust to different time zones!). 

Before I get back into regular posts, I wanted to share some of the pictures and experiences I had during my brief trip! 

Tokyo was definitely an exciting place to be, with tons to see and do and so little time to fit it all in! The biggest issue I had there was communication, but luckily the people there were so kind and patient and willing to help as much as they could!

As for food options, I'm a bit embarrassed to say that I didn't try a whole lot of authentic Japanese food while I was there. I knew going in that it would be difficult to find vegetarian options, but that difficulty was compounded by the fact that so many menus were in Japanese only (with pictures of the items, which did help a bit), and I didn't really feel comfortable choosing dishes without knowing what was in them. But at least I did manage to try some amazing udon noodles, soba noodles, and a few other delicious treats while I was there!

My first "meal" after arriving in Tokyo in the evening was actually at a Thai restaurant, since it was the first place we found with English translations that wasn't a pizza or pasta restaurant. I had a delicious coconut drink and this avocado salad with sesame dressing that was so good. Too bad it was also so tiny!

My first actual Japanese meal was my lunch the next day at a cafe in the Mount Fuji area. They offered lots of different udon noodle dishes using the local fresh udon noodles, so I ordered a bowl topped with vegetable tempura. I found it a bit difficult to eat with my limited chopstick skills, but these were definitely the best udon noodles I've ever had!  I also had a fresh peach juice made with the local peaches - a nice refreshing drink to go with the hot noodles. 

As I mentioned, I also tried soba noodles once as my last meal before leaving the Narita airport. One of the only vegetarian options on the menu was plain cold soba noodles that you eat with a dipping sauce (in the little pot), and some tempura on the side (I just gave the shrimp away to my fellow diners). This wasn't a particularly memorable meal, but it was a nice light and refreshing lunch to have before a long flight!

The only other authentic Japanese meals that I had while I was there were my bento lunchboxes during the conference that I went to, which were full of different items, some of them new to me like the lotus root. It was fun to explore and taste everything without knowing what some of them even were!

Another one of my lunches that I enjoyed was at a vegetarian restaurant that my sister Natalie had looked up for us ahead of time to make sure I'd be able to find food that I could eat (she deserves most of the credit for the planning of our trip). They had a small menu, but it was nice to be able to order anything I wanted! 

Nat had a soy based veggie burger, and I had the same burger but on its own with sauce over a bit of spaghetti, kind of like a giant meatball. When combined with the side dishes of miso soup and pickled veggies, along with a Japanese style iced tea, this became more of a unique fusion style meal. 

We also ate at a couple of themed restaurants in Tokyo. We only discovered that these existed once we were already there, and we had no idea there were so many cool places to eat! This was my meal at an Alice in Wonderland themed restaurant, where we ate in our own private tea party room, the host was dressed as the mad hatter, and the waitresses were dressed in Alice costumes. 

The whole experience was really fun, including the food! I ordered a cocktail based on the fact that it looked pretty (there was no English description of what it was), and it came with a rose on top and a rose-scented mist that the waitress sprayed on it for me. For my meal, I got a cold tomato soup shot and a cheshire cat tail-shaped four cheese pizza that came with a rose honey to pour on top (at least I think that's what I was supposed to do with it!). 

The other themed restaurant that we visited was a bit scarier than the Alice one - it was called The Lockup, and the idea is that you're treated like a prisoner. When you arrive, one person in your group is handcuffed (I was the lucky chosen one) as you're led to your "cell". We actually got a nicer room to eat in compared to the people who had to sit on the floor of a tiny, dingy jail cell, but it was still creepy! 

We just ordered drinks, which came in neon colours in test tubes and beakers of various shapes and sizes, but the food menu was pretty funny to look through too!

There were plenty of treats to be found on the streets too, including lots of desserts! I was fascinated by the crepe places with their plastic displays of all of the filling combinations you could order. I finally tried one with bananas and ice cream on my last day there, and it did not disappoint! I'm still not really sure what the proper way to eat it was, but at least it tasted good!

Ice cream was also popular there.  I didn't try some of the more unusual flavours that I saw like purple potato and buckwheat, but I did try a vanilla and green tea swirl cone on a very hot afternoon. I also ordered an exotic looking dessert one night that came with a mascarpone mousse, ice cream and sorbet, topped with mango, pineapple, and starfruit.

There were lots of goodies around the more touristy areas too. These were some of the offerings on the street lined with shops in front of the Sensoji temple in Tokyo (the only temple we had time to visit while we were there). Apparently rice crackers are a popular snack and they come in tons of different flavours, from sweet to spicy. I bought a curry flavoured rice cake (top left) that was actually really good - it was much crispier than the airy rice cakes we have back at home!

There were lots of other food stalls and delicacies available on the streets and in the markets that I didn't have the chance to try, including some cute animal faces made of bean paste, but it was fun to look at them! 

Maybe if I ever have another chance to visit Japan again, I'll be a bit more adventurous in my food choices...but for now, I'm happy to be back home where I can eat lots of fresh veggies and salads - something I always crave after being away!

I'll be back soon with another summer recipe before the season is over!  In the meantime, feel free to read my sister Natalie's blog post about our trip to see some more pictures!

August 13, 2013

Sesame Soba & Cucumber Noodles with Tofu

The past week has been a pretty stressful one for me, having to deal with frustrating visa and passport issues.  Back in July, I sent my passport away to apply for an Indian Visa to attend a conference there this September, and the processing time has taken weeks longer than it should have. That wouldn't be so bad except for the fact that I'm supposed to be leaving the country for another conference tomorrow, and my passport is still with the Indian consulate office! They've assured me I'll be able to go pick it up today, so fingers crossed!

It's been hard to be excited for my trip this week with the thought that I might not even be able to go looming over my head, but assuming all goes well, I'll be headed to Japan tomorrow for a conference just outside of Tokyo.

Japan actually never used to be one of the countries on my list of places I'd like to travel in the world, but the more I read about it and hear from others, the more interesting it sounds!

So in honour of my trip, I thought I would make a Japanese-inspired dish to prepare myself for trying a new cuisine, with these sesame soba and cucumber noodles.

I love soba noodles, but I usually pair them with a peanut sauce. This time, I adapted a recipe for sesame noodles from the blog Cookie & Kate, using tahini as the main ingredient in the dressing. Combined with other Japanese ingredients like mirin, rice vinegar, and miso, the sesame dressing was super flavourful, and nice and creamy so that it coated the noodles well.

Along with the soba noodles, I used my spiralizer to slice up a cucumber into long, thin strands about the same size as the soba (it's hard to see them in the pictures because they blended in so well!). I thought the mix of the cucumber noodles with the soba noodles helped to lighten the dish up and make it even more refreshing.

Add in some other vegetables like red pepper and bean sprouts, some simple sauteed tofu for extra protein, and a sprinkle of sesame seeds on top, and you end up with a complete meal that has everything I like in a noodle dish!

I'm sure once I go to Japan, I'll realize how very inauthentic my soba noodles are, but for now I can enjoy it as my own tasty vegetarian version of Japanese food!  I'm looking forward to sharing more about my trip when I get back later next week!

Sesame Soba & Cucumber Noodles with Tofu
Adapted from Cookie & Kate

1 (350g) package firm tofu
1 (8 oz) package soba noodles
1 cucumber
1 red pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 a bunch of green onions (about 4), diced
2-3 cups bean sprouts
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp sesame seeds

1/4 cup tahini
1 tbsp minced fresh ginger
1 small clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp white miso
2 tsp tamari (or soy sauce)
1 tsp mirin (or a liquid sweetener like agave or honey)
1/2 tbsp water

First, slice the tofu horizontally into three large slabs and press the pieces using a tofu press or a heavy book (lined with paper towels) for at least 30 minutes to squeeze out as much liquid as possible.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add the soba noodles, and cook according to package directions (mine took 5 minutes). Drain and rinse with cold water.

Use a julienne peeler or a spiralizer to slice the cucumber into thin noodles (I used the thinnest setting on my spiralizer). Sprinkle the cucumber noodles with a bit of salt to draw out the water and let sit for at least 5-10 minutes. Squeeze out as much water from the noodles as you can, then add to a large bowl with the soba noodles. Add the sliced red pepper, green onions, and bean sprouts to the bowl as well.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add the oil. Slice the pressed tofu into cubes and add them to the pan. Cook until lightly browned on all sides, flipping as needed. Remove from heat and add to the bowl with the noodles.

To make the dressing, stir all ingredients together in a bowl until smooth.  Pour dressing over the noodle mixture and toss until the dressing is thoroughly mixed in. Sprinkle the sesame seeds over everything and toss again.

Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Makes 4 servings.

August 09, 2013

Cantaloupe, Halloumi & Basil Stacks

When it comes to shopping at my local farmers' market in the summertime, I've learned my lesson the hard way that the cheaper option is not necessarily the best choice!

It's so tempting to shop around and buy from the vendor offering fruits or veggies for the lowest price, but time and time again, I end up disappointed and wishing I had splurged on a nicer product from one of the organic farmers.

That was the case a couple weeks ago when I was on the lookout for a cantaloupe to make this dish. I saw a huge bin of cantaloupes for only $2 so I happily scooped one up, thinking I had found a great deal. Of course, about five minutes later I came across an organic stall selling local Ontario cantaloupes that looked much nicer and were only slightly more expensive.

My non-local cantaloupe turned out to be a bad one (not surprising) and ended up going to waste, but luckily I was able to get a beautiful local one a few days later so that I could make this recipe!

I've seen lots of recipes on the web this summer for watermelon and halloumi salads. Watermelon pairs really well with salty cheeses like feta or halloumi, so I wanted to try a similar combination using another type of melon - cantaloupe.

I kept this dish pretty basic, layering slices of ripe cantaloupe with pieces of sauteed halloumi (or grilled if you like!) and fresh basil. I also made a simple basil dressing to pour over everything to add even more flavour.

This was such a fresh and summery meal! Since the cheese is pretty rich, the melon really balanced it out, complementing the saltiness with some sweetness. I loved the basil dressing, so if you're lucky enough to have an abundance of basil growing in your garden, this would be a great way to use some of it up!

Hope you all enjoy the weekend - it's looking to be a beautiful one here!

Cantaloupe, Halloumi & Basil Stacks

1 cup loosely packed fresh basil
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp white balsamic vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
1 tsp agave or honey
Salt and pepper to taste

1 (160g) package halloumi cheese (I used a mediterranean flavoured brand)
~Half a ripe cantaloupe
Handful of fresh basil leaves

To make the dressing, place all ingredients in a blender or mini food processor and blend until it's as smooth as possible. Transfer to a small bowl.

Heat a skillet over medium heat and spray with cooking spray. Slice halloumi in half horizontally, then slice each half into three pieces. Brush one side of the tofu pieces with the basil dressing, then place face-down in the pan.  Let cook for about 2-3 minutes. Meanwhile, brush the other side (that’s facing up) with the dressing. Flip, then cook the other side another 2-3 minutes, until most of the sauce has cooked off and the cheese is browned on each side. Remove from heat and transfer to a plate.

Slice cantaloupe however you like – you can either do long, curving slices or rectangular pieces to match the shape of the cheese. Arrange the cantaloupe and halloumi slices with some fresh basil on the plate, either layered in between each other or stacked on top of each other (like the two different presentations in the photos above). Drizzle with the remaining basil dressing.

Makes 2 servings (or more as a bite-sized appetizer). 

August 06, 2013

Vegan Tropical Mango Ice Cream

As I mentioned in my last post, I just got my first ice cream maker this summer. I was always so jealous of other bloggers who dream up such inventive flavour combinations for ice cream that they can actually make at home, so I'm excited that I can finally join in!

So far, I've only experimented with vegan ice creams using coconut milk as the base rather than heavy cream or eggs. I figure I can go out and and buy decadent ice cream any time I want, so if I'm going to go to the effort of making my own personalized ice cream, I might as well take advantage of the opportunity to make it a bit healthier too!

I love tropical flavours and anything with mango, so when I saw a recipe for frozen mango coconut "thaiphoon" ice cream in my Vegan Planet cookbook, I knew I had to give it a try.

The ice cream itself is a blend of coconut milk, lime juice, and pureed mango, and I guess the "thaiphoon" part comes from the toppings that are added afterwards - chopped nuts, toasted coconut, and diced mango (which I forgot to add until after I took my photos and devoured most of the bowl!).

I liked this ice cream best just after it was churned, when it was still soft-serve consistency with a super creamy texture.

The ice cream itself wasn't too sweet and had hints of coconut and mango flavours with just enough lime. I loved the crunchy cashews and chewy coconut flakes sprinkled on top, but if you're not a fan of crunchy or chewy pieces in your ice cream, you can definitely eat it on its own and it will be just as tasty!

Now I just need the weather to cooperate and realize it's still supposed to be summer, not fall, so that I can keep making and enjoying more ice cream!

Tropical Mango Ice Cream
Adapted from Vegan Planet

Ice Cream Base
2 tbsp arrowroot powder
1/2 cup non dairy milk (I used almond milk)
2 cans full fat coconut milk
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp agave nectar
1 tsp lime zest
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 mango

Toppings (per serving)
~1/4 tsp lime zest (optional)
1 tbsp finely chopped roasted cashews (can substitute peanuts)
2 tbsp unsweetened coconut flakes, toasted
Diced fresh mango (optional)

In a small bowl, stir together the arrowroot and almond milk until smooth.

Add coconut milk to a saucepan and heat on medium until it just starts to simmer. Stir in the arrowroot mixture and reduce heat to medium-low. Continue to heat, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes, until the mixture has thickened a bit. Remove from heat and stir in the agave, lime zest, lime juice, and vanilla extract.

Puree the mango by cutting it into pieces and blending in the small bowl of a food processor until smooth. To make it easier to blend, add 1-2 tbsp of the coconut milk liquid mixture. Stir the pureed mango back into the ice cream mixture. Let cool, then transfer to a container and chill in the fridge until completely cold, preferably overnight.

When ready, pour mixture into your ice cream maker and churn according to the manufacturer’s instructions. 

Eat immediately for soft-serve consistency, or return to the freezer for a couple of hours first to firm up more. (Note: if you're eating it from the freezer, let it thaw at room temperature for at least 15-20 minutes first, as it firms up quite a bit after being stored in the freezer for awhile).  

To serve, place desired ice cream amount in a bowl and top with a bit of lime zest, cashews, toasted coconut, and mango (if desired).

August 02, 2013

Recipe Round Up: Summer Eats

It's been a while since I've done one of my recipe round ups, so I thought I would do a mid-summer recap of things I've been eating and making lately that I haven`t posted about on here yet!

Since the warmer weather arrived, I've been eating a lot of fresh and light meals, like salads, fruit, and raw noodles. Cool treats like popsicles and frozen yogurt have also been in heavy rotation. I haven't tried as many homemade popsicle recipes this summer as I did last year, mainly because I've discovered these President's Choice greek yogurt popsicles that I love, but I have finally tried out my new ice cream maker, which I love!

I've got quite a few recipes to share today, including my first ice cream attempt, so I'll get to it!

Watermelon Salad

I tend to be picky about watermelon - I only like it when its perfectly juicy and full of flavour with none of those pale, watery sections. One of my favourite ways to eat watermelon is in a salad with fresh herbs, and sometimes I'll add cheese like feta or goat cheese. I made a tasty watermelon and goat cheese salad with mint and arugula from my parents' garden the last time I was home, but I tend to go a bit simpler when cooking just for myself. 

This watermelon and basil salad (pictured above) was extremely simple, but that's what I love about summer - you can combine a few simple ingredients and have something that still tastes amazing! What made this salad a bit more special though was the addition of chaat masala (an Indian spice commonly used in street food dishes) - an idea I saw on Huffington Post. Spices actually work really well with watermelon, and I liked the sweet and salty combo. 

Zucchini Noodles with Raw Tomato Sauce

Last month I posted some recipe ideas that use a spiralizer, and since then I've tried out a couple more creations with my spiralizer. This meal was super easy to put together - it's just a base of zucchini noodles with a fresh tomato sauce, and you can add other veggies if you like too. I didn't follow an exact recipe for the tomato sauce, but basically all I did was blend up a tomato with some balsamic vinegar, dried herbs and garlic. The vinegar was what made the sauce taste so good, even though it didn't look that pretty (I was expecting a deeper red instead of this pepto-bismol colour)!

Peanut Udon Noodles with Veggies

Another easy noodle dish that I like to make, especially in the summertime, is to pair udon or soba noodles with veggies and a peanut sauce. I've tried lots of variations on peanut sauce, but this recipe from Oh My Veggies was really good, so I'll definitely be making it again the next time I crave peanut sauce!

Taco Salad Cups

This was another meal I made that doesn't really require a recipe - something we can all appreciate on lazy summer days! I threw together a bunch of taco-inspired ingredients like avocado, tomatoes, black beans, corn, and lettuce and added some lime juice and taco seasoning. This was tasty just on its own, but it was more fun to eat it on top of popped crisps like a tostada.

Summer Panzanella

Panzanella salad is one of my favourite summertime meals, because it's full of simple summer veggies and the bread makes it a bit more filling for dinner. This was a variation on the recipe I've posted on my blog, with roasted tomatoes and corn, cucumber, radish, basil, and of course, toasted bread - so good!

Asian Pineapple Quinoa

Another one-bowl dinner salad - this Asian inspired salad with quinoa as the base. I've made a variation of this Asian pineapple quinoa before, based on a recipe from Veganomicon, as seen on Cate's World Kitchen, and I love having a big batch of it around to eat for lunches and dinners. The pineapple adds some sweetness, there's edamame for extra protein, and cashews for a nutty crunch.

Middle Eastern Meal

This was the meal my sisters and I put together to celebrate Father's Day this year, and it turned out so well! We went with a Middle Eastern-inspired menu, including a storebought fattoush salad (to cut down on the time we'd have to spend in the kitchen), pita bread with baba ganoush, and two homemade recipes: vegetarian stuffed grape leaves and a cherry-walnut salad. This was my first time making stuffed grape leaves so they weren't perfect, but the filling was so good!

Lemon Cranberry Coconut Chia Breakfast Bars

This was a recipe I've had bookmarked from Oh She Glows for a while and finally got around to trying it. They were bursting with lemon flavour and I loved the soft and chewy texture. They made a great healthy breakfast treat or mid-morning snack!

Coconut Pecan Macaroons

I've been wanting to try one of the many macaroon recipes on the blog Healthy Food for Living, and these pecan pie macaroons were the first ones I chose to make. They were a bit sweet for me, but I loved the coconut flavour and the addition of the toasted pecans. I brought them in as a treat to share with my co-workers and everyone seemed to like them!

 Vegan Rhubarb Coconut Ice Cream

This rhubarb ice cream from What's Cooking Good Looking was the first ice cream recipe that I made with my new Kitchen Aid ice cream maker attachment. I actually attempted it twice because I was still learning how to use the ice cream maker and didn't chill the bowl long enough the first time (which resulted in some delicious ice cream soup!).  I loved the flavour of the ice cream though - it wasn't too sweet and you could still taste a hint of the coconut milk through the rhubarb. It was the perfect accompaniment to a slice of rhubarb pie to finish off a summer meal!

That's all for now. Hope you all have a great weekend - we have a Civic Holiday coming up this Monday, so I'm looking forward to another summer long weekend!


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