we interrupt this interruption ...

to bring you details on the interruption, for the few of you who may still be checking here on occasion.

I've been absent due to a whole whack of insanity coming down the line at once. Summer has ended, the garden is covered in a blanket of frost every morning, a Conservative government is still in power (okay, I guess some things don't change, they just remain maddeningly real...), and I got a new job and am moving back to my home town.

Yes yes, y'all, I'll be out of here soon.

But where I'm moving back to, there are plenty of people for me to cook and bake for, so I imagine I will make a, if not triumphant, at least prolific, return to these interwebby parts once I'm moved and de-boxed and settled.

But a post without photos? So I leave you for the moment with some of the things I'm missing already from the summer ...

crunchy, sweet baby carrots (some with extra limbs) from the garden

yellow pear and brandywine tomatoes, fresh off the vine

freshly picked raspberries for breakfast

mountains of zucchini

sunny picnics in the park

And the two things I will soon miss the most : the fabulous, inimitable, irreplaceable J&B.

S'long for now.


sea vegetables for the win

Born without a real taste for sweets, when a sugar craving needs to be satisfied fruit will normally do it for me. I'm instead one of those folks with a mouthful of salt-teeth. But since eating truckloads of salt can lead to such funtimes conditions as high blood pressure, which can in turn cause heart disease and other health problems, I try to limit my sodium intake as much as possible.

Enter sea vegetables.

Sea vegetables, or seaweeds (a name which really, really doesn't do these tasty treats any justice), are for me one of the most wonderful things that can be grown or foraged. Salty and smoky and complexly flavoured and textured, and present in such huge quantities and varieties, it's just gravy that they're also so damn good for you, and naturally relatively low in sodium to boot.

Can I get an amen?

beautiful Atlantic dulse from Grand Manan Island, here in New Brunswick

When I first moved to New Brunswick, I was amazed upon walking into my local grocer's to find huge bags of dulse for sale alongside the potatoes and cabbages and turnips. Dulse was always hard to come by in Ottawa, where I'd have to sidle up to the counter in the downtown fishmarket like Bogie in a dark speakeasy and, trying to ignore all the dead sea life around me, sneakily grab the sad little bags of purple fronds that no one else loved and then brave the strange looks at checkout. While most people are acquainted with a few types of sea veggies (most notably nori, which is used in making sushi), many varieties are largely ignored in Western folks' everyday diets. Which is a real shame. So consider this my public service announcement, with tasty recipes to boot.

dried wakame can be bought either pre-shredded or in large sheets that are folded over themselves

My favourite ways of eating sea vegetables, apart from just straight-up chewing away on them like a cow on her cud, all focus on simple recipes or techniques that, like the majority of my recipes, leave the flavours of the veggies at the fore. Here are a couple of 'em.

when toasted, dulse turns almost camouflage-y and mimics a good salty chip

dulse chips

A method not a recipe, dulse chips are one of the easiest and tastiest snacks you'll ever munch on while watching a movie or mindlessly trolling blogs. Dulse chips can also be crumbled and sprinkled on popcorn, mixed into mashed potatoes (so very tasty) or sprinkled on salads, soups, stews, &c., for a tasty smoky salty bite and a faint taste of the sea (as in my riffed gumbo recipe).

To make 'em, simply turn your broiler on at 350°F, chop your dulse into whatever size pieces you fancy, and lay it in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Set in the upper-third of your oven for about 2 minutes - they'll get yellow-green, and some will stay pinky-purple, but don't let them get black (personally, I like them a bit burnt but apparently carcinogens aren't good for you so we'll just pretend I never said that). Take 'em out and let 'em cool.

Once cool, they can either be eaten plain, or sprayed with a bit of olive oil and tossed in nutritional yeast, spices, whatever you like (personally, I go for either a dusting of my Cajun spice mix or simply some freshly ground black pepper).

wild rice with konbu, shiitakes, and scallions

For those unfamiliar with konbu (aka kombu), it's a form of kelp indispensable in Japanese cooking used in the making of dashi and for adding a savoury undernote (or umami, the fifth basic taste element) to just about anything imaginable. This recipe takes a bit of time and requires some foresight, but it's well worth the wait and the majority of the waiting is just that - waiting. It's downtime. So turn up your stereo and get your dancing shoes on or grab a good book and rock out with your geek self. I've separated the ingredients into groupings which correlate to the recipe's steps, as you first need to make a konbu and shiitake stock (konbu to shiitake no dashi), then cook the wild rice, then assemble.

what you need ...

2" x 3" piece dried konbu
6 small dried shiitake mushrooms
2 1/4 c. water

1/2 c. wild rice, well rinsed

2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
3 large cloves garlic, minced
2 large scallions, thinly sliced on the bias
1 Tbsp. genmai (brown rice) miso (or your favourite miso)
1 1/2 tsp. unseasoned sweet brown rice vinegar
1 tsp. low-sodium tamari (wheat-free)
1/2 tsp. brown rice syrup (or agave nectar, or unrefined sugar)
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

what you do ...

For the konbu to shiitake no dashi, combine konbu, shiitakes, and water in a small pot and let sit at least two hours. Once the two hours are up, bring to a boil over medium-high heat and then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove shiitakes and konbu and reserve.

Measure out 1 1/2 c. of the dashi (adding water if necessary to reach 1 1/2 c.) and bring to a boil. Add wild rice, stir once, then cover and reduce heat. Let rice simmer 50-60 minutes, or until the grains have started to puff up. Stir with a fork, and let simmer uncovered another 5 minutes. Drain and reserve excess liquid if there is any.

Dissolve miso in 2 Tbsp. rice cooking liquid (or water, if there was no liquid left in the rice). Add rice vinegar, tamari, and rice syrup. Mix well and set aside.

Remove stems from shiitakes and discard, then thinly slice the caps. Slice konbu as thinly as possible.

Heat sesame oil in a non-stick skillet and fry garlic very briefly. Add sliced konbu and shiitakes and continue stir-frying for about a minute. Toss in scallions and fry just until they start to cook, then add cooked wild rice and mix well.

Pour in the sauce, toss well, and let cook just until heated through, stirring constantly. Season to taste with freshly ground black pepper.

pseudo sunomono

I call this a pseudo sunomono because the traditional version of this delicious salad doesn't contain zucchini, but as we know I'm a big zucchini lover and my garden is in full production mode. If you want to make this and aren't experiencing a zucchini flood or just don't like this summer squash, by all means feel free to replace the zucchini with more cucumber, but I personally love the taste and textural contrast. Using yellow zucchini lends a lovely colour - sadly, I didn't grow any this year.

what you need ...

1 medium English cucumber, unpeeled, thinly sliced in rounds
1 medium zucchini, unpeeled, thinly sliced in rounds
1/2 tsp. salt
1 large piece dried wakame, about 10" long
2 Tbsp. unseasoned sweet brown rice vinegar
2 tsp. unrefined sugar (or agave nectar)
3/4 tsp. low-sodium tamari (wheat-free)
1/2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
toasted black sesame seeds

what you do ...

Combine sliced cucumber and zucchini in a fine-meshed strainer placed over a bowl, toss with salt, and let stand 30 minutes to sweat.

Have ready a bowl filled with ice water.

Meanwhile, place wakame in another bowl and pour boiling water over top to rehydrate. Let stand about 5 minutes, or until wakame is softened but still rubbery - don't let it get mushy. Drain and immediately plunge into ice water to stop from "cooking". Remove tough rib and discard (or, if you're me, chew on it while you make the 'mono), pat dry, and slice or tear wakame into bite-sized pieces.

In a jar, combine vinegar, sugar, and tamari and shake until sugar is dissolved. Add sesame oil, shake again, and let stand while you prepare the salad.

Once the cucumber and zucchini have finished sweating, rinse very quickly under cold water to remove salt and squeeze out as much moisture as possible. Pat dry with a clean tea towel.

Combine veggies and wakame in a bowl, give the dressing one last shake, and pour over top of veggies. Toss to coat, then let stand at least 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with toasted black sesame seeds.

arame, daikon, and carrot salad with spicy-sweet ginger dressing

what you need ...

1 small daikon, peeled and finely shredded *
1 medium carrot, scrubbed (or peeled) and finely shredded
1/3 c. shredded dried arame
2" piece fresh ginger, grated
1 large clove garlic, minced or pressed
2 1/2 Tbsp. unseasoned sweet brown rice vinegar
1/2 - 3/4 tsp. low-sodium tamari (wheat-free)
1/2 tsp. sriracha (a scant 1/2 tsp.)
1/2 tsp. unrefined sugar (or agave nectar)

what you do ...

Toss daikon and carrot with salt and put in a fine-mesh strainer placed over a bowl. Let sweat at least 30 minutes.

In a small jar, combine ginger, garlic, rice vinegar, tamari, sriracha, and sugar and shake well. Let sit while you prepare the salad.

Pour boiling water over arame and let stand 5 minutes. Drain, rinse, and place in a small pot with enough fresh water to cover. Simmer 5-7 minutes, then drain and rinse thoroughly under very cold water. Drain again and pat dry.

Once the daikon and carrots have finished sweating, squeeze out as much moisture as possible, rinse quickly under cold water to remove salt, and squeeze again. Combine with arame in a non-reactive bowl, mix, then pour dressing over top and toss to combine.

Refrigerate at least 30 minutes before serving to allow flavours to marry - this salad is even better the day after it's made.

* I use a julienne peeler to shred the daikon and carrots. It set me back about $10, I think, and is one of my favourite and most-used kitchen gadgets.


creamy roasted garlic, chanterelle, and cauliflower soup with chanterelle "croutons"

The first local chanterelles of the season have finally made an appearance at the organic foods store, and so the poor folks who work and shop there were treated to my happy-produce-dance again. It's lucky I don't embarrass easily. Anyone who gets as excited over fresh vegetables as I do should not be let out in public, as at any moment I'm prone to bust out a bastardized version of the electric slide and, well, that just ain't pretty.

But these, these are some sexy morsels of fungus ...

I bought out their stock during my lunch break yesterday and spent an insomnia night with visions of this soup dancing in my head. The sweet caramelized subtlety of the roasted garlic brings out the earthiness of the chanterelles, and the chanterelle "croutons" provide textural contrast to the creaminess imparted by the cauliflower and potatoes. It's a simple, hearty soup that relies on the quality of the primary ingredients, rather than added seasonings and trickery, for its flavour, and in my opinion deserves a dance all its own...

creamy roasted garlic, chanterelle, and cauliflower soup with chanterelle "croutons"

what you need ...

1 small onion, chopped
2 medium leeks, thinly sliced (white and tender light green parts)
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 lb. new potatoes, peeled and diced (approx. 1 heaping cup)
1 medium head cauliflower, florets and stem, chopped (approx. 6 heaping cups)
1 lb. fresh chanterelles, roughly chopped
4 large heads roasted garlic (instructions below, in case you need 'em)
1/4 c. dry white wine
3 1/4 c. home made, strong, salt-free mushroom stock
1/2 - 3/4 tsp. ground white pepper
1 - 1 1/2 tsp. salt (to taste)

3 medium chanterelles, sliced
olive oil spray
freshly ground pepper

what you do ...

Turn broiler to
400°F, line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and spray sheet with olive oil. Lay sliced chanterelles on the sheet in a single layer, spray very lightly with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Broil in upper-third of oven for 10 to 15 minutes, or until crispy and golden. Remove from oven and set aside.

In a large soup pot, steam-fry onion, leeks and minced garlic until onions are translucent, then add chopped chanterelles and continue cooking until the chanterelles start to sweat.

Add cauliflower, potatoes, and a few tablespoons of mushroom stock and continue steam-cooking until cauliflower and potato begin to soften.

Add wine, remaining stock, roasted garlic, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer, covered, about 30 minutes, or until cauliflower and potatoes are very tender and start breaking down.

ée soup using either an immersion blender or a food processor, adding additional stock if / as needed to achieve a smooth consistency. Taste for salt and pepper. Eat.

how to roast garlic ...

If you've never roasted your own garlic because you thought it was hard : get out your big boots -- you're gonna want to kick yourself.

Turn on your broiler at 400
°F and cut as many decent-sized rectangles of tinfoil as you have garlic bulbs to roast.

Remove papery outer skins of the garlic bulbs, leaving them whole. Leave the layer of skin directly enclosing the garlic cloves. Slice the tops off the bulbs to expose the cloves.

Place each bulb on its own square of tinfoil. Wrap tightly and place on a baking sheet in the upper third of your oven.

Roast for an hour, remove from oven, and let cool enough to handle before removing foil.

To get the roasted garlic out of its pajamas, it's as simple as squeezing the bulbs from the bottom.

To store roasted garlic just package in a tightly sealed container and keep in the fridge. I normally roast a boat-load of garlic at a time to have on hand (if you've ever had roasted garlic and tahini smeared on pita bread you'll understand why I do this ...).

Since this month's edition of the Go Ahead Honey - It's Gluten Free event is all about the seasonal produce and this soup contains local chanterelles, and local and organic garlic, new potatoes, and cauliflower, I'm submitting it for this month's round-up being hosted by Rachel over at The Crispy Cook.

I also humbly submit this original soup recipe to this month's edition of the Culinarty Original Recipes event, hosted by Lore at Culinarty.


riffin' on gumbo

does anyone else ever feel like okra's almost too pretty to eat?

When it comes to gumbo, I guess I've never been much of a purist. I'll just toss a bunch of stuff into a pot, throw some Cajun-style spices at it, and call it a day. From what I can tell, and with my admittedly limited knowledge of Cajun and Creole cuisines [I enjoy this gentleman's explanation of the differences - being a part-French-Canadian-girl who now lives in the Maritimes, and a bit of a Marxist-romantic when it comes to culinary cultural histories, I find myself drawn to the Cajun lore of the underdog], a traditional gumbo has 4 basic pillars upon which are built a myriad of variations. I've been able to identify these pillars as:

1. roux (flour browned in fat)
2. large quantity & variety of flesh (be it mammalian, fowl, fish, sea-/swamp-food)
3. okra (gumbo, lady's fingers)
4. the Cajun / Creole Vegetable Holy Trinity (onion, celery, green bell pepper)

So with this in mind, I'm fully prepared to admit that this dish -- it ain't gumbo. Since I avoid wheat as much as possible (although I've found that dry-roasting chickpea flour can nicely mimic the toasty flavour of a good roux) and rarely, rarely, consume cooked fats (no, I'm not fat-phobic, I just prefer to get my fats in their purest state as much as possible, as with all my nutrients) ... I don't roux. The animal flesh thing kind of answers itself, what with being a mock-meat hating vegan. But okra / gumbo (growing up I knew it as baamieh) I love, and if I've ever been accused of worshiping anything it's vegetables, so ... If two outta three ain't bad (damn straight), then maybe two outta four ain't terrible?

Except that the results are so terribly, terribly tasty ...

(this ain't real) gumbo

what you need ...

1 large onion, diced
5 large cloves garlic, minced
1 medium jalape ño pepper, seeded and minced
1 medium hot banana pepper, seeded and minced
2 large ribs celery, chopped
1 large green bell pepper, chopped
1 large orange or yellow bell pepper, chopped
2 1/2 c. fresh young okra, sliced 1/2" thick
4 c. (heaping) zucchini, sliced 1/2 " thick
5 medium tomatoes, peeled, cored, and roughly chopped
3 Tbsp. (generous) tomato paste
1 1/2 - 2 c. home-made, salt-free veggie stock (or good quality commercial)
1 large bay leaf
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 Tbsp. salt-free Cajun spice mix (recipe below)
1/2 tsp. dulse flakes * (optional, see note below)
3/4 tsp. liquid smoke
1 tsp. gumbo filé

what you do ...

In a large pot over medium-high heat, steam-fry onion, garlic, banana pepper, jalape ño, and celery until onion is translucent and fragrant. Add bell peppers, okra, zucchini, and a couple Tbsp. of veggie stock and continue cooking about 3 minutes (you want the veggies to cook a bit but maintain most of their texture).

Add tomatoes, tomato paste, remaining veggie stock, Cajun spice, bay leaf, dulse flakes, and salt. Mix well, bring to a boil, then lower heat, and let simmer partially covered for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Keep an eye on the veggies -- you want them cooked but not mushy.

Once the 15 minutes are up, add liquid smoke and gumbo filé and stir through.

Serve over rice (I like a mixture of brown basmati and wild) or with a hearty bread for sopping up the juices.

* The dulse flakes add a salty hint of the sea to the gumbo, without adding seafood or extra sodium. Being a person with a salt tooth, and as the only non-vegan thing I ever miss is fish/seafood, I throw dulse at pretty much anything it could possible complement. Feel free to omit if you don't have / like dulse.

For the salt-free Cajun spice mix, I can't honestly remember the genesis of the original. All I know is that over the years my scrawled copy has been amended and messed with and scribbled on to the point where it's finger-printed and love-worn and dirty and suits me perfectly. And doesn't much resemble what it started as. So this is my version -- I make no claims of authenticity, though it does contain all the basics.

salt-free Cajun spice mix

what you need ...

1/2 c. + 2 Tbsp. Spanish paprika (smoked, if possible)
1/4 c. dried, rubbed oregano
1/4 c. dried thyme
3 Tbsp. garlic powder
3 Tbsp. onion powder
3 Tbsp. crushed red pepper flakes
3 Tbsp. ground white pepper
2 Tbsp. roasted garlic powder *
2 Tbsp. ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. celery seeds
2 Tbsp. ground, roasted cumin seeds
1 Tbsp. ground chipotle chilis
1 Tbsp. ground cayenne

what you do ...

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well to combine. Store in a tightly sealed glass jar and mix it up well before use - it will settle and may cake up a bit over time. Keep it in the freezer if you plan to use it only occasionally to ensure optimum freshness.

* if you don't have roasted garlic powder just use an extra Tbsp. of regular garlic powder -- the roasted stuff is of course sweeter without sacrificing any of the garlicy-awesomeness.


seasonal sides

The following are two of my favourite simple but flavourful ways to use up fresh summer produce.

The lemony loubieh with toasted walnuts and sa'amak is one of a huge number of traditional Lebanese flat bean dishes that my paternal grandmother used to make in massive quantities when the loubieh vines were literally bent over double with the weight of the beans, and it would be eaten as part of meze or, if you're me, straight from the serving bowl, and it's normally eaten with one's hands, pinched up in fresh pita bread or marcook. This is my kind of comfort food. My tittoo would cook up well over 3 or 4 kilos of loubieh at a time -- I've scaled it down a bit here.

The maple-mashed kohlbrabi with cauliflower and carrots is something I came up with years ago to try and convert a kohlrabi skeptic who used to look at me cross-eyed for munching on it raw. It worked. If you can, get the purple-skinned kohlrabi - I find the taste nicer, but the green is excellent as well.

lemony loubieh with toasted walnuts and sa’amak

what you need …

1 lb. fresh loubieh, topped
1 large clove garlic, roughly chopped
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 a large lemon, juiced
2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. dried sa’amak (aka sumac)
1/4 c. dry roasted walnuts, chopped (or toasted pine nuts)

what you do …

Combine garlic and salt and mash really well with a mortar and pestle (little trick here – the salt helps the garlic get all creamy when mashed).

In a jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine creamed garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and sa’amak and shake it up. Set aside to let the flavours get all friendly-like while you cook your loubieh.

Get a medium-sized pot of lightly salted water boiling, and have ready a bowl of ice water. Lay a clean tea towel on your counter and have another one handy.

Once the water’s boiling, drop in the loubieh, cover, and let cook 3-5 minutes. Keep an eye on it after 3 minutes – you want the loubieh cooked a little bit but still green and with a good bite to it.

Once cooked, immediately drain loubieh and dunk it in the ice water bath to stop it cooking. Once thoroughly cooled, drain and lay on tea towel and blot with the second towel to dry.

Dump loubieh into a non-reactive bowl, shake up the dressing again, and pour over top.
Let sit out for at least 10 minutes, tossing occasionally.

Right before serving, throw in the walnuts and give it a good final toss.

maple-mashed kohlrabi with cauliflower and carrots

what you need …

2 medium-small purple kohlrabi (about the size of a small grapefruit), peeled and chopped *

2 large carrots, scrubbed and chopped **

1 small head cauliflower, florets and stalk, chopped

3 Tbsp. pure maple syrup

3/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon

pinch ground cloves

a couple Tbsp. unsweetened, plain almond milk

1 Tbsp. flax oil (or olive oil, or non-hydrogenated margarine if not a fan of flax and / or not fussed about getting your omegas)

what you do …

Steam vegetables until very tender. Transfer to a food processor and add salt, spices, maple syrup, and almond milk. Blend until puréed, stopping a couple times to scrape down the sides of the processor bowl, and add more almond milk as needed to keep it all moving.

Once it’s all creamy, and with the blades still running, drizzle in the flax oil and continue blending until it’s all incorporated.

* If you don’t like / can’t find kohlrabi, turnips or parsnips are good substitutions.

** In the fall, I normally sub fresh pumpkin for the carrots, but I have a sick obsession with pumpkins. Sweet potatoes work well too.


wheat-free zucchini spice muffins

My garden continues to vomit zucchini at an alarming rate.

As my dear paternal grandmother would say -- I'm rich in zucchini.

And so it was time to make some of my favourite muffins. These puppies are wheat-free, low in fat, lightly sweet, mildly spiced, and tasty as all-get-out. They're not dense but they're definitely muffins. Breakfast fare. If you like your muffins cakey, go to Tim Horton's or Starbucks, cuz you sure won't get any of that from my kitchen.

wheat-free zucchini spice muffins

what you need ...

1 Tbsp. flax meal
3 Tbsp. warm water
1 c. unsweetened almond milk
1 1/2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
3 Tbsp. blackstrap molasses
3 Tbsp. unsweetened applesauce
1 Tbsp. canola oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. finely grated zucchini (packed), excess moisture squeezed out

2 1/4 c. whole grain spelt flour (spooned and leveled, of course)
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. grated nutmeg
1/8 tsp. ground allspice
1/3 c. unrefined sugar
1 c. jumbo flame raisins (or regular thompsons will do ...)

what you do ...

Preheat oven to 400°F and lightly grease 12 muffin cups.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together flax meal and water and set aside to get gloopy.

Combine almond milk and cider vinegar in a measuring cup or glass and set aside to sour.

While the milk's souring and the flax is getting down with its badself, get out a big bowl and mix together flour, salt, soda, and spices with a fork. Add sugar and stir well.

Now pour your soured almond milk into the bowl with the flax and whisk together. Add the rest of the second set of ingredients (except raisins) and mix well.

Now pour wet into dry, and mix just until it's all moistened. Don't overmix. You all know what happens to muffins when you overmix, yes? Yes. We don't want that.

Stir in raisins with as few strokes as possible.

Spoon batter into prepared muffin tins. Bake for 23-28 minutes, until a tester inserted in the middle of a muffin comes out clean.

Remove from tins immediately and let cool on a wire rack.


Southern lovin' ...

Sometimes, it feels like maybe the universe can tell when I'm having a rough day/week/month and decides to send a little love my way. Today felt like one of those days -- the last couple weeks have been stressful and generally un-fun, and I'm sure the weather hasn't helped with it being overcast and raining for the last 20 or so days solid. Sometimes the love is as simple as a peek of sunshine, or a new bud on one of my houseplants, or a surprise postcard or call or e-mail from someone I've been missing.

But today! Today the universe came through for me in the form of a Southern gentleman, which was a first. This morning as I was leaving the house to head out for another day at the office, there was a little Purolator slip on my door knob advising me that they'd tried to deliver a package (presumably while I was in the shower - damn cleanliness!) and it would be waiting for me at the post office later in the day. So after work I headed on down, and it was a little box from Mr. John P, all the way from Tennessee.

A little while back, after I rhapsodized on the glories of Instant Clear Jel and lamented the fact that it isn't readily available in Canada, John was kind enough to agree to help me subvert the Evil Customs Gods and send me some by post. He also offered to send me anything else from the Southern states I might like. I told him to surprise me, and that I would in turn send him a little surprise package with treats from New Brunswick.

Well, he definitely went above and beyond, catering to my love of things salty and spicy, and my addiction to random vegan whole-foods-centered cookbooks. Looky here :

thar be: Instant Clear Jel, cookbook, Quick Grits, Tennessee ChowChow, Crab Boil, Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning, Bar-B-Cutie Hot Sauce, Gumbo Filé, Sassafrass Tea Concentrate

Oh the Southern feasts my belly (and this blog) will be treated to come the weekend! But for now, it's grits for dinner.

The last time I had grits was about 15 years ago, while visiting family in small-town North Carolina. While my cousin's kids seemed to subsist on grape goober on toast (which I had not seen before nor since. You strange, strange Americans) I developed a thing for grits. Grits with tahini and blackstrap molasses, grits with mushrooms and hot sauce, onion-garlic-grits with HP sauce, grits with grated apple and raisins and maple syrup ... you name it.

But my favourite way... Well, I like my grits like I like my boys and girls -- hot, loose, and colourful. Nothing better than a steaming bowl of spicy, veggie-ful mush to say "screw you, Mother Nature. Bring the deluge. Do your worst."

smoky and spicy dinner grits, with Tennessee ChowChow

smoky and spicy dinner grits

what you need ...

1 small onion, minced or grated
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 small fresh banana pepper, seeded and minced
1 orange bell pepper, diced
1/3 c. raw corn, fresh off the cob (or frozen, if that's how you roll)
12 fresh young okra pods, thinly sliced
1/4 tsp. cayenne
1 tsp. Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning
1/2 tsp. agave nectar (optional, adds depth to the spices)
couple grindings black pepper
2 1/3 c. homemade, unsalted veggie stock
1/2 c. white hominy quick grits
couple dashes liquid smoke
salt to taste
for serving: ChowChow, hot sauce

what you do ...

Steam-fry onions, garlic, and banana pepper in a medium-sized pot until onion is translucent and fragrant. Add rest of veggies and spices, and continue frying a few minutes.

Add veggie stock and agave nectar and bring to a rapid boil. Slowly pour grits into boiling stock, stirring constantly. Lower heat, cover, and let simmer about 7-10 minutes, stirring every couple minutes.

Add liquid smoke and salt and pepper to taste.


coconut-pandan-overkill layer cake

*** WARNING ***
This is an epic cake-making post.
So if you're not into that kinda thing ...

J and B are something of a superstar couple these past few weeks, what with J getting into her school program of choice, and B getting a new and wonderful job in his field, protecting the wild spaces of this fine province. So last night we celebrated in a way that only we, completely in touch with our inner octogenarians, could -- with desserts, long-weekend cottage-planning, and The Man Who Planted Trees.

While J loves chocolate, and so had requested something in the truffle family, B loves coconut. He loves it like Sir-Mix-A-Lot loves a chunky backside, or The Great One loves purple. The extent of his love for coconut was revealed to me a few months back when I made a batch of coconut cupcakes to go along with a Thai feast. I had introduced them to pandan at that point as well, and being a geek for all obscure things edible-plant related (this is the man who, on a spring wander through the woods, introduced me to the minty-fresh-wonderfulness of yellow birch shoots) the combination of coconut and pandan became for him, apparently, a new obsession.

And so this is what I came up with to celebrate B joining J and me in the world of the working stiff. It's a short tower of awesome comprised of 2 layers of coconut-pandan cake, sandwiched between which is a generous layer of hint-o'-pandan coconut-caramel. Then the whole thing is slathered with a fluffy pandan-coconut frosting. It's moist without being heavy, sweet without being cloying, and flavourful without being truly overkill. As J and B said, you can really taste all the layers, whose flavours and textures stay distinct while still all getting together and batting for the same sugary all-vegan team.

We'll do this in steps, shall we? I know it looks like a lot of work, but all the components can most definitely be made the day before and then kept wrapped in the fridge for quick assembly (you'll need to gently heat the caramel to make it spreadable in this case).

NOTE: for those who don't like (shame!) or can't find (try harder) pandan, this would also be wonderful as a coconut-maple cake. Just substitute maple extract where pandan is called for, and use pure maple syrup in the caramel instead of brown rice syrup.

coconut-pandan layer cake with hint-o'-pandan coconut caramel filling and pandan frosting

coconut pandan cake

what you need ...

3/4 c. unsweetened shredded coconut
1 1/2 c. coconut milk
1/3 c. + 3 Tbsp. (scant) canola oil
2 tsp. apple cider vinegar (or regular white vinegar)
2 tsp. pandan extract
3/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. coconut extract
2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled, of course)
1/4 c. coconut flour
1 1/2 c. granulated sugar (I like CocoaCamino's Golden Cane Sugar, which is vegan)
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt

what you do ...

Preheat your oven to
350°F and lightly grease a 9" springform pan with non-stick spray.

Spread coconut in as thin as possible a layer in another (dry, ungreased) baking pan and place in the middle of your oven to toast. Watch carefully! You want it toasty-brown but not burned, which can happen pretty quickly. This normally only takes a few minutes, and I generally take it out and stir it a couple times to try and make it brown evenly. Once it's all toasty, remove from oven and spread on a clean tea towel to cool.

In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the first set of ingredients (coconut milk through coconut extract). The oil will, of course, want to separate. Don't worry your pretty self about that. Rebellion is natural and to be commended.

In a large bowl, sift together all-purpose flour, coconut flour,
baking soda, and salt. Stir in sugar and (cooled) coconut flakes, stirring well with a fork to evenly distribute.

Dump wet ingredients into dry, and mix well with a fork until combined. Pour batter into prepared springform pan and jiggle a bit to ensure it's all evened out. (This is a thick batter, don't be worried -- it rises beautifully.)

Bake at 350° F on a middle oven rack for 48-55 minutes, until golden brown and a tester inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool 5-10 minutes in pan on a wire rack before removing from pan and letting cool completely on rack (be careful removing from pan - the whole dense-moist-wonderful thing comes into play here).

hint-o'-pandan coconut caramel

what you need ...

1 c. (generous) unsweetened shredded coconut
1/4 c. coconut milk
1/4 c. soy cream (or more coconut milk)
1 c. brown rice syrup (at room temperature)
1 tsp. pandan extract

what you do ...

First things first, you need to toast your coconut. Turn your broiler on at 350°F and toast coconut as per instructions in above cake recipe (there's no need, here, to let it cool).

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, combine coconut milk, soy creamer and brown rice syrup and bring to a low boil, stirring constantly.

Dump in toasted coconut and pandan extract, mix thoroughly, and continue cooking and stirring until the caramel thickens considerably (this will probably take about 10 minutes). Remove from heat and let cool -- it will thicken up more as it cools.

fluffy pandan coconut frosting

what you need ...

1/2 lb. (227 g.) non-hydrogenated vegan margarine, at room temperature
3 Tbsp. coconut cream
1 Tbsp. pandan extract
3/4 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 tsp. coconut extract
2 1/4 c. icing sugar (I like Wholesome Sweeteners' organic, fair trade, vegan powdered sugar)

Using an electric hand mixer (or a stand mixer, if you're lucky enough to have one) cream together the margarine, coconut cream, and extracts.

Gradually add sugar 1/2 cup at a time while continuing to beat the frosting like it owes you money -- 2 1/4 cups of sugar is what I went with, you may want to use more or less depending on your sweet tooth and how creamy your coconut cream really is.

Refrigerate, covered, until ready to use.

note: this recipe makes more icing than you need to frost the cake as I made it, as there's no frosting between the layers. So you can either slide some fluffy sweetness between the layers, or just keep the frosting for another baking endeavour - it can be refrigerated or frozen for eons.

all together now ...

This is where the magic happens.

Grab your cooled cake and slice it in half with a good sharp knife to make two layers. If you're like me and can't see/draw/cut a straight line to save your life either get someone else to do it or, if you're a loner like I am, just have at it and then let your shaving-and-leveling skills sort it out.

Lay the bottom layer, cut side up, on a large plate. Spoon coconut caramel on top and spread it around with a spatula until it's evenly distributed (if you find your caramel looks too thick to spread just heat it gently to thin out a bit - you don't want it liquidy).

Lay your second cake layer, cut side down, on top of the caramel like a giant sandwich.

Frost top and sides with pandan frosting, and decorate with extra toasted coconut.

Refrigerate until ready to serve, and let sit out 20 minutes or so before serving to allow caramel to soften.

it helps, when slicing this cake, to have a glass of warm water handy for dipping and cleaning your knife -- the caramel, she's gooey.

oh, and: the sliced-cake photos were taken by J using her fabulous skills and wonderful camera, since I had forgotten mine at home. She and B are so indulgent of my geekery.

I humbly submit this original cake recipe to this month's edition of the Culinarty Original Recipes event, hosted by Lore at Culinarty.


hazelnut rum truffles

Remember that old Conan O'Brien sketch If They Mated ... ?

Well this is, in my mind, what would happen if Captain Morgan got it on with a jar of (vegan and fairly traded) Nutella.

These truffles are intense. They're for and inspired by J, who was recently accepted into the university program of her choice (yay for going back to school! I so miss academia ...). When asked what kind of treat she'd like to commemorate the occasion, she shyly inquired if it would be much trouble to make my truffles again. And would it be possible (little grin) to make them with rum?

So these truffles are for her, and with any luck will have her dancing on a table with a lampshade on her head by the end of the night (and: tonight is a double-celebration -- her husband B just got a new and awesome job. His celebration treat will make an appearance in my next post).

hazelnut rum truffles

what you need ...

100 g. whole raw hazelnuts (filberts)

5 oz. Dagoba fair trade Milagros chocolate drops (68% cocoa)
5 oz. CocoaCamino fair trade Semi-Sweet chocolate chips
3 Tbsp. non-hydrogenated vegan margarine (room temperature)
6 Tbsp. dark spiced rum
1 Tbsp. soy cream

50 g. sliced raw hazelnuts

what you do ...

First, you need to roast your whole hazelnuts. Set your broiler to 400° F and put your hazelnuts into a shallow pan, then place the pan in the upper third of your oven. Let the nuts roast for about 5-8 minutes, watching them carefully -- they can go from toasty to burned in a blink. Once they're all toasty, remove from the oven and let cool. When cool, rub them between your fingers to remove as much skin as possible and then grind to a coarse meal. Set aside.

In a small pot over medium-low heat, combine margarine, rum, and soy creamer and cook, stirring constantly, until margarine is melted. Lower heat and dump in chocolate, stirring constantly until melted (this should only take a moment or two), then add ground hazelnuts, remove from heat, and mix well.

Pour contents of pot into a shallow pan and refrigerate until the chocolate sets up (you want it firm enough that you can roll it. Don't worry if it gets too hard, you can always let it sit out a bit to soften).

While the chocolate is setting, get your work surface ready. Put sliced hazelnuts in a shallow dish and lay down parchment paper.

When chocolate is set, roll Tbsp.-sized balls between your palms (yes, this can get messy ...) and then either roll in sliced hazelnuts or place a few sliced nuts on top. Repeat until there's no chocolate left, then place truffles in fridge to re-set (the truffles will be soft with all that rolling, but don't worry -- they set up perfectly). Once set, store in the fridge in well-sealed containers.

* Remove truffles from fridge about 10-20 minutes before you want to serve them and let them sit in a cool place.

Because there seems to be a blogging event for just about everything, and because these truffles are most definitely rummy, I'm submitting them to Joelen's TGIF: Caribbean Adventure event.


Ye Olde Standbys ...

blah blah blah hot and humid blah blah blah garden blah blah blah farmer's market blah blah blah

Yep, things continue pretty much as per usual in this little corner of the universe. These are definitely the salad days of summer. Yea, verily.

Add to that the fact that the last week has seen me brutalized repeatedly by my dentist (aka The Happy Butcher -- why oh why must you torture me with a tv embedded in the ceiling and then play the Country Music Television channel constantly? Is it not enough to make my mouth bleed? Must my eyes and ears bleed as well?) and completing a large and mind- (and ass-) numbing project for work, and it's understandable that I've been rocking the old standards in the kitchen.

Neither of these dishes is highly original, I'm afraid. They're two of the staples that make up the skeleton of my culinary carapace. But, well, this is a blog, and if I didn't post something once in a while, then, well, ... Both are good recipes to use up fresh summer produce, and the marinara is excellent hot or cold and keeps well in the freezer for emergency saucing needs.

hot-'n'-cold cucumber salad

Every time I make this salad, without fail, I end up with "she's so cold" stuck in my head. Alright, if I'm being honest - I end up belting it out full-volume while hunched over my cutting board. "I'm so hot for her, I'm so hot for her, I'm so hot for her, and she's so cold ...".

hot-'n'-cold cucumber salad with cumin, lime, and fresh coriander

what you need ...

1 large cucumber, diced (unpeeled)
1 medium zucchini, diced (unpeeled)
1 large orange pepper, diced
4 large scallions, thinly sliced (white and green parts)
a few handfuls cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 large fresh jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
1/2 c. fresh coriander (packed), finely chopped
couple grindings black pepper

2 large cloves garlic, crushed or pressed
1 Tbsp. flax oil (optional, can omit or use olive oil if not big on flax and not needing the omegas)
3 medium limes, juiced
1 tsp. (heaping) ground roasted cumin
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/8 tsp. dried ground chipotle chilis or cayenne (optional, I likes my spice)

what you do ...

Combine second set of ingredients in a glass jar, cover tightly, and shake shake shake. Let stand in the fridge while you prepare the veggies.

Toss together first set of ingredients in a non-reactive bowl. Pour dressing over top, mix well. Let stand at least 20 minutes before serving to allow flavours to marry. Toss again and serve with lime wedges.

* Normally, I'll throw in a cup of cooked and cooled black beans and 1/3 c. dry-roasted pepitas, but this time around I was looking for something lighter.

zucchini ribbons with sun dried tomato and fresh basil marinara

Everyone and their dog has a go-to marinara recipe. I'm no different. Here's my favourite.

sun dried tomato and fresh basil marinara

what you need ...

1 large onion, finely chopped
6 - 8 large cloves garlic, minced
1 large yellow pepper, diced
1 large carrot, thinly sliced
1 c. (well packed) sun dried tomatoes, sliced *
28 oz. whole roma tomatoes (canned, unsalted, unpeeled)

6 oz. tomato paste

1/2 c. salt-free home-made vegetable stock (or good-quality commercial)
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. salt (or to taste)
1/4 tsp. ground white pepper
1/8 - 1/4 tsp. dried chili flakes
1 c. (well packed) fresh basil, roughly chopped

what you do ...

In a large pot, steam-fry onions, garlic, carrot, and yellow pepper over medium-high heat until onion is fragrant and translucent (about 3-5 minutes).

Add tomatoes, tomato paste, sun dried tomatoes, stock, bay leaves, oregano, chili flakes, white pepper, and 1/2 tsp. of salt. Stir well, crushing tomatoes against side of pot with the back of your mixing spoon.

Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to low. Leave to simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally (patience is a virtue, my friends).

Once the hour's up, throw in the fresh basil, mix well, and taste for saltiness. Add the remaining 1/2 tsp. salt if you think it needs it (or more, or less), re-cover, and allow to simmer another 15 minutes, stirring once somewhere in there.

Once it's finished simmering, remove from heat and remove and discard bay leaves. Using an immersion blender or food processor, pur
ée sauce until smooth (unless, of course, you like chunks. In which case, by all means, leave some chunkies in there). Taste and adjust salt and pepper if/as needed.

* You want to get the ones that aren't oil-packed. Preferably unsalted/unsulphured. If you can't find the unsalted ones, you'll need to blanche the tomatoes in boiling water for a few minutes, and then rinse-drain-rinse and squeeze.