Friday, May 27, 2011

Chili-lime hot chocolate

Breakfast: Apple, pear, blackberry, almond milk and cinnamon smoothie

Lunch: Miso noodle soup with mushrooms (and some carrot cake from the delicious Dufflet)

Dinner: A very much uninspired vegetable strifry followed by home-made chili-lime hot chocolate

Sometimes, it's the simple things you make that impress people the most. I've spent days searching for obscure* ingredients followed by hours cooking to put together a fantastic set of Thai meals to have them rated as "okay" (Dad), only to have people gush for weeks about a set of cupcakes that took me about an hour to make. This was definitely the case when I asked my ridiculous friend David, sat in the kitchen of our Sydney Green House, whether he wanted some home-made hot chocolate. His eyes lit up and he almost pooped his otherwise incredibly healthy pants at the thought of molten chocolate whisked into a frenzy. He was equally stoked with the results, although we're talking about a man who once drank 3 banana milkshakes at brunch, so don't take his word for it.

Hot chocolate will always get you in someone's good books, and it really is shockingly easy to make. The main issue is not burning the milk, as anyone who's ever made Bird's custard the proper way will tell you. As long as you have a heavy-bottomed pan and keep it over a low heat, stirring often, you won't have a problem.

Thanks for this recipe also have to go to the fittest-mom-with-a-child-under-1 in the GTA, Liz McBeth, for first gushing about chocolate tasting with me and then suggesting the lime addition when I said "oooh, chili hot chocolate would be good....". She was not wrong!

You'll need:
(Serves 2)
2 mugs of milk - I recommend cow's milk, but I'm sure almond or soy would also work fine. Rice milk is probably a bit thin (and crap)
50g milk / dark chocolate, grated
1 small red chili
The grated zest (outside) of 2 limes
1-2 tsp honey

Put the milk in a heavy-bottomed pan.
Slice the chili down each side with a thin knife, but don't separate the 2 sides at the bottom
Put the chili and lime zest into the milk and warm it gently for 10 minutes, stirring often
Sieve the milk to get the chili and the lime bits out
Put the milk back into the pan and stir in the grate chocolate
Increase the heat and add the honey
After 5 more minutes, if all the chocolate is melted and the mixture has thickened, take it off the heat and whisk it like a madman
Pour into the 2 separate mugs, keeping the foam from falling in with a spoon
Top with the foam and a sprinkling of cinnamon if you're feeling generous

I made this last week, on a fairly warm weekend, but in the middle of winter this will be amazing, especially if you've just come in from the cold and your jeans are wet and your face is freezing. Throw on some warm jammies, dry your hair and make this. I recommend watching Spaced while you're drinking it too, but that's neither here nor there.

I would comment on the nutritional value of this drink, but there is none. I kid - but honestly, some things are there to be treats, and this is one of them.

*Well, obscure in Yorkshire, but then again last time I went home I asked a bloke in Tesco whether they sold tofu and he asked me if it was a vegetable.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sushi: That awesome salad dressing

Breakfast: Berry smoothie with almond milk and oats

Lunch: Leftover Totoro rolls with awesome sushi-house-style salad

Dinner: Soba noodle stir-fry with tahini sauce

If you feel that smoothies don't fill you up in a morning, or that they're just not sufficient to get you through til lunchtime after that bike ride to work, try putting a tbsp of oats in the mix too. Instant energy influx!

It's a bit strange, you might think, to devote an entire post to the salad dressing that you get in sushi restaurants. Well, not if you live with a person for whom that little salad is the highlight of the whole meal. Putin's (not so) little face lit up when I said I'd try to figure out what that dressing was made of, and the fact that he ate the whole thing when I'd made it makes me think that I got it spot on.

The salad itself is ridiculously simple, but it's the dressing that makes it - and the good news is that that's super simple too!

You'll need:
(Feeds 2)
1/2 an iceberg lettuce
1 large tomato
1/2 a carrot
1/2 tbsp light miso
1 tbsp fresh grated ginger
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 tbsp sugar
1/4 tbsp rice vinegar
1/2 cup water

Chop up the lettuce, tomato and grate the carrot into a bowl
Blend all the dressing ingredients together, adding the water in a bit at a time
Add more water if necessary to reach your desired consistency

And voila - that dressing you've always loved but never made at home! It's actually way easier to double the amounts and make twice as much, but only if you know you're going to eat it twice in a row - which is quite likely.

As it's just getting nice and sunny, remember that sushi and this salad make a fantastic little picnic treat, not just because it impresses your friends and makes them think you're all fancy like.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Sushi: Totoro Rolls

Breakfast: Coconut and ginger granola with almond milk

Lunch: Egg fried rice and veggies stir fried in char sui sauce

Dinner: Home-made sushi: Yam and Avocado Rolls, Totoro Rolls and that dope salad that everyones loves

Now, I know some of you will be looking at this post thinking "Sushi sounds like a lot of effort. Why would I make my own when it's so cheap and good from the sushi place?" Well, mainly because it's fun, but also because you get to invent new rolls!

It was my good friend Phil who first taught me how to make sushi rolls when I was living with him and the effervescent Elly in our inexplicably nice apartment in Manchester. Phil made it look easy, and though I was dubious at first I soon realised that once you've got your technique down, it is!

It's a common misconception that "sushi" means raw fish, so I often get the question "...but how can you eat sushi?". The raw fish is actually called "sashimi" and "sushi" refers to the rice which has the flavourings in it - just so you have a good rebuttal next time that question is asked.

We messed around a bit and started making our own rolls, and it's the recipe for our new roll that I'm posting here - I'll post the recipe for the awesome salad dressing soon. These aren't vegan because I went mad and put cream cheese in them, but if you are vegan, feel free to substitute the cream cheese with a thin line of wasabi or chili sauce, then you've got Suicide Totoro Rolls!

I'm not convinced that my advice on how to roll is comprehensive, so read this first and it should all become crystal clear.

You'll need
(Feeds 2)
1 bamboo rolling mat - about 2 dollars from any Asian store / No Frills / Asda
1 1/2 cups sushi rice
3 cups water
2 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp white sugar
2 tsp salt
3-4 sheets of nori
1/2 yam (a sweet potato to us Brits)
1 avocado
75 grams tofu
cream cheese

Put the rice and water in a pan and bring to the boil
Put the lid on, turn down to simmer, and don't take the lid off until the rice is done - about 20 minutes
Mix the rice vinegar, sugar and salt in a bowl, then drizzle it into the cooked rice and mix to ensure thorough coverage
Leave the lid off and leave the rice to cool
Cut the yam into batons of about 2 cms square and either bake or fry these until they are soft all the way through
Cut the tofu into the same shape and size, and fry them til crispy on the outside
Cut the avocado to the same shape and size and set aside
When the rice is cooled, lay 1 sheet of nori on the rolling mat and cover it in rice, leaving a couple of cms at the top and bottom clear
Create a thin line across the middle in cream cheese
On this line, place pieces of yam, avocado and tofu
Grab the edge of the nori closest to you and the rolling mat too, and start to roll the whole shebang
Keep the roll as tight as you can without spilling all the rice out of the sides
When the roll is fully done, and the two edges of the nori meet, squeeze your hands around the rolling mat to tighten the roll
Unroll the mat and cut the roll into slices, starting by cutting it in half down the middle
Your knife should be as sharp as you can get it, and you should wipe it clean with a wet paper towel between every slice
Don't worry if it goes badly the first time - you'll get it before too long!

This roll has most definitely been made somewhere before, but I've never come across this awesome combination, so I got the name it - and, of course, I had to go with my favourite Japanese thing in the world: Totoro!

Don't be disheartened if you get a sticky mess of crap the first time you make these: it is definitely an acquired skill. Just keep trying and when you get your first awesome looking plate of sushi you'll feel it was worth it! Of course, you can always go the Australian road and just eat the whole thing as a handroll; it's easier.

Just a note: you shouldn't actually keep sushi in the fridge. The temperature dries out the sushi and affects the flavour too. However, in dire circumstances it will stay edible overnight, it will just be nowhere near as good as it could be.

P.S. The little man who appeared at the end of my tofu appeared to be bemused by my efforts...

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Serabi - vegan Indonesian pancakes

Breakfast: Serabi, having totally effed up a batch of Kaya

Lunch: Mint-bean salad with potatoes

Dinner: Suicide roll and yam and avocado roll with miso soup and that amazing yet simple salad at Simon Sushi, best sushi in Toronto!

I have never been to Indonesia, and in fact have never eaten these before now, but I thought I'd give them a go seeing as my fantastic vegan friend Charley requested some more breakfast recipes that she could actually eat. I often think of Charley as The Original Vegan as she was the first vegan friend of mine, and the first person for whom I tried to cook a vegan birthday cake. That first attempt may have ended up as a ball of dough that just refused to rise, but we still ate it, and a delicious ball of stubborn dough it was too.

These are super sweet, so I recommend serving with something a little bit tart; the blackberries we had went really well with them, especially when everything was drizzled with a coconut milk sauce.

I don't have the proper Indonesian-style pot thing they use to cook these in, and attempting to cook one in my wok just resulted in a massive sticky pile of crap. What worked perfectly was a non-stick muffin tin (or a cupcake pan, however you want to say it) on top of the stove. You can only heat 6 of the cups at a time unless your stove is huge, but you get nicely-sized mini Serabi that are cooked through. Yes, it's somewhat unconventional, but it works!

You'll need:
(Feeds 2)
100g rice flour
60g unsweetened shredded coconut
250ml light coconut milk
a pinch of salt

Mix together rice flour, coconut and salt
Add the coconut milk in a bit at a time, and beat until the mixture is light
Place your muffin tin on top of the stove and let it heat up
When it's hot, spoon about 1 tbsp of the batter into 6 of the cups
When bubbles start to come to the surface of the pancakes, over them with a pan lid or something of that sort
When all the pancakes are cooked, slide them out of the cups and start with your next batch of 6
Serve with something tart!

If you use glutinous rice flour instead of normal rice flour for these, they have a consistency much like coconut sticky rice pudding or super thick congee, which I have to admit, is not my first choice for a pancake consistency. Probably stick with the normal rice flour.

Incidentally, glutinous rice flour does not contain any gluten, so it's still fine for anyone with coeliac disease. Confusing, I know.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Quinoa breakfast pilaf

Breakfast: Quinoa breakfast pilaf

Lunch: Couscous salad with balsamic vinegar and banana bread at work, woo!

Dinner: Egg fried rice with veggies stir fried in chili black bean sauce

Yes, I have successfully integrated the amazing quinoa (that's quite a good name for a magician, eh?) into all three of my meals now, and this one might just be my favourite.

Quinoa is actually a pseudocereal, and is actually closer to spinach than to grains. Like spinach, it has a high iron content (great for us veggies) and has a very balanced amino acid content, making it a complete protein. You've probably heard the odd militant carnivore tell you that as a vegetarian, you cannot get enough protein in your diet. This is wrong on many levels; the average human actually exceeds their necessary protein intake by about 100%, and the focus should be on getting a whole protein rather than buckets full of whey protein or stacks of beef.

Quinoa contains a portion of each of the 9 essential amino acids, making it a whole protein, so this breakfast is not only light, delicious and easy to make, it's seriously good for you too.

You'll need
(Feeds 2)
1 cup quinoa
1 1/4 cups vanilla soy milk / almond milk
1 banana

Soak quinoa for 15 minutes in water
Drain and rinse thoroughly
Simmer in your chosen milk for 30 minutes
Stir in the blueberries
Stir in the banana and fluff with a fork
Serve with a drizzle of honey and a sprinkle of cinnamon

This is much different to the textures of many cereals so it might take you a few bites to get into it, but after that, you'll be hooked. I definitely am!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"Interesting" egg salad

Breakfast: Killer smoothie with soy milk, banana, oats, honey, blueberries, blackberries and cinnamon

Lunch: Beetroot soup with feta

Dinner: Carrot salad, burgers, couscous and "interesting" egg salad

Today, I had to learn how to boil an egg. Pathetic, but true.

When I was a kid I was a ridiculously fussy eater, and so was my brother. Though we've both since branched into eating almost anything, there are some things that neither of us can stomach, even now. One of them is eggs in egg form.

Don't get me wrong, I love scrambled eggs, and I am even working on poached eggs, but even now the idea of eating a boiled egg holds about as much appeal for me as spending an evening with David Cameron talking about class and economics. I had to constant fight off efforts to make me try this salad while I was making it - so the above food list is sort of a lie, but I'm sure you won't mind.

Why the egg salad, then? Well, this recipe was invented after my good friend Amy requested an "interesting" egg salad post. I took "interesting" to mean "healthy and different". The removal of mayonnaise for sour cream I think hits both this goals - believe it or not, sour cream has about half the fat content of mayonnaise - and avocado and nuts are everyone's best friend, so you can eat this with minimum guilt. I think I'll just watch.

You'll need
(Feeds 2 or 1 hungry person)
3 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
1/2 cup sour cream
1 avocado, cut into chunks
1/2 cup cashews, roughly chopped
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1 tsp Dijon mustard
black pepper

Mix everything together in a bowl

My surrogate mouth for this one (please ignore how horribly disgusting that sounds) was Putin, who was instrumental in taking this recipe from "it tastes like this weird shit I used to eat when I was a borscht, that was it" to "yeah I'm taking all of it for lunch, is that ok?". Thanks for your help Putin, and yes I'll make it again.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Beetroot Soup with feta

Breakfast: Coconut-avocado smoothie

Lunch: Couscous salad with one leftover spicy beanburger

Dinner: Beetroot soup with feta and bread

I know what you're thinking; it sounds awful. This is true, it does. However, I am not even a huge fan of beetroot on its own, but this soup is absolutely delicious; warming, healthy, and with the feta cheese crumbled on top, gorgeously creamy.

The key to this recipe is the tomatoes roasted with garlic and olive oil. The taste of the tomatoes offsets the potential bitterness of the beets. I also tend to add a little oregano, but only a little - I have added too much before and it becomes this mess of annoying flavours which you cannot distinguish from each other, sort of like when too many teenagers get on the bus.

You'll need
(Feeds 2)
2 medium beets, grated
1 large ripe tomato, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 cup veg stock
50g feta

Preheat oven to 190 degrees
Add the garlic to half the oil and drizzle it over the tomatoes on a baking tray
Roast the lot for 15 minutes
Heat the remaining oil and fry onions til soft
Add the grated beetroot and stock and bring to the boil
Simmer for 10 minutes then take off the heat
Add the tomatoes and blend
Crumble the feta on top and serve with bread

Beets are fantastic for you as they contain potassium, magnesium, vitamin C and betaine which keeps your cardio system healthy. They are also great as a hangover remedy; I used to work at a smoothie store and when anyone came in looking particularly haggard we gave them beet juice blended with apple juice (which takes the taste away - because let's face it, beet juice isn't going to be the most pleasant thing when you're hanging), honey, ginger, spirulina, banana and something else which may have been strawberries. An hour and a half later they would come back feeling nothing short of sprightly.

Beets are magical.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Super simple pasta sauce

Brunch: Potatoes a la Putin with scrambled eggs and feta

Dinner: Vegan spicy bean burgers with spaghetti and super simple pasta sauce

I'm one of those people who will never eat pasta unless it's suggested by someone else, not because I don't like it, but because it just doesn't often kick around in my mind as in idea. Putin was a bit sore that he missed out on vegan burgers the day before and wanted me to try the burgers with pasta, as he'd had last time, so we set to making an awesome but simple sauce from scratch - and had a delightful Sunday arvo doing so.

My boss's recent diet change - he's attempting to cut out all unnecessary salt - has highlighted to me just how much of our food has ridiculous amounts of salt added to it. Tinned tomatoes are an unexpected culprit, with shocking amounts of sodium in every can. With this in mind, and an excessive amount of tomatoes in our fridge, we decided to crush our own and use that as the base. It worked really well, especially with extra time to cook, and there is no added salt at all in this sauce. Hooray!

Incidentally this would also be a great recipe to make with kids, as it's ludicrously easy to make, fun and the potential to ruin it is minimal. I can't wait to make it with my nephew soon!

You'll need:
(Feeds 2)
350g tomatoes, chopped then crushed
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 medium onion, diced finely
100g mushrooms, chopped
black pepper
chili flakes
sunflower oil / extra virgin olive oil
Chop and then crush the tomatoes
Fry the onion and garlic in the oil until they're translucent
Add the tomatoes and oregano and simmer for 20 minutes
Add the mushrooms, pepper and chili flakes (to taste) and simmer on low for 20-40 minutes. The longer you leave it, the better it will taste
Serve on top of any pasta.
This greatly benefits from a splash of red wine if you have it - we only had Baileys left over from the Banana and Irish Cream cake I made, and I had an inkling that Irish Cream wouldn't go so well.

Any leftover sauce can be put into a sterilized glass jar and kept for a couple of days in the fridge. To sterilize the jar just boil it in a pan of water, and don't get your potentially grubby fingers all over it when it's clean!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Thai Week: Thai Red Curry

Breakfast: Another quinoa pilaf, this time with coconut milk. It’s SO good!

Lunch: Thai Red Curry with rice

Dinner: Miso noodle soup

Yesterday I took along the vegan burgers to a friend’s leaving BBQ and they went down really well, despite the fact that I used peanuts instead of cashews. Once you’ve got a recipe down it’s easy to make substitutions and shake things up a bit, so give it a try and you’ll find your meals getting better and better!

So I’ve saved the best for last this week; Thai Red Curry is without a doubt my favourite Thai meal, and if you’ve already made the Curry paste (as posted on Monday) this will take you no more than a quarter of an hour, after you’ve chopped the veggies or got someone else to do it for you (hint).

As ever, I learned this from the wonderful May Kaidee; its funny how through years of making something you automatically refine it and make it perfect for your tastes. I could eat this for about a week straight and not get bored of it.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that miso can help treat radition poisoning; lemongrass, too, has some fairly amazing effects. It has been shown to cause cell death in cancerous cells, and as such has strong anti-cancer properties. Its funny how you can be incorporating such fantastic foods into your diet without even knowing of their effects! 10 points for awesomeness, people.

You’ll need:
(Feeds 2)
            1 tbsp Red Curry Paste
            4 slices galangal
            4 kaffir lime leaves
            4 stalks lemongrass
            1 handful squash, cut into chunks
            1 onion, chopped
            1 small head of brocolli, chopped
            2 1/2 cups coconut milk
            2 tbsp soy sauce
            1 tbsp brown sugar
            sunflower oil / extra virgin olive oil

            Fry the Curry Paste in oil in a wok until fragrant
            Add the galangal, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass and 1/2 cup coconut milk   
            Stir thoroughly to infuse the flavours
Add the onion, squash and broccoli and all but a little bit of the remaining coconut milk
Cook until the mixture thickens
Add a little water to “slacken” the mixture
Add the soy sauce and sugar
When the vegetables are soft, add the remaining coconut milk
Stir, garnish with coriander or mint leaves and serve with rice!

You can get the awesome-looking rice stack in the photo by cramming your just-cooked rice into a little bowl or a small cup stolen from an airline and just turning it out onto the plate before you ladel the curry around it. Extra smug points for presentation.

Just a note about sunflower oil: this is my preferred oil as it has heaps of vitamin E and is low in saturated fats, and also contains essential omega-6 fatty acids . You should use whatever oil is the best for you personally, so its worth doing a bit of research to decide which one best suits your diet. Peanut oil is also great, as long as you’re not allergic to peanuts, in which case I hope you wouldn’t have picked it out anyway. 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Thai Week: Isaan Vegetables

Breakfast: Quinoa pilaf – recipe to come soon!

Lunch: Leftover Pad Thai.

Dinner: Isaan vegetables with rice.

 My love affair with quinoa continues; this time, she’s breakfast.

In the last week I’ve had more pseudomeat than I have in the previous herbivorous 2 years. In Sunday I was taken to Jean’s Kitchen, a great vegetarian place on the Danforth while specializes in mock duck, chicken and shrimp. It was a bit weird to feel the consistency of meat during a meal but everything tasted delicious!

This recipe stays within that theme as it has vegetarian sausage included in it. That may seem like a strange choice, but it works. Just make sure that you don’t buy sausage with any herbs in it, but not a hot dog-style sausage either. That was all we could get yesterday and to be honest, it tasted odd. A plain but meaty-style vegetarian sausage is what you should look for.

You’ll need:
(Feeds 2)
            1 cup water
            1 medium onion
            1 carrot, grated
            1 head of broccoli, chopped
            1 vegetarian sausage, chopped
            150g tofu, fried
            2 tbsp soy sauce
            3 tsp brown sugar
            4 tbsp roast rice powder
            2 tsp chili paste
            Juice of 1 lime
            A handful chopped coriander leaves
            6 kaffir lime leaves, crushed
            1 tbsp lemongrass, sliced

            Boil the water in the wok
Add the carrots, onions, broccoli, tofu and sausage and cook til the water evaporates
Take off the heat and add soy sauce, sugar, rice powder, chili paste and lime juice
Throw in the lemongrass, coriander, kaffir lime leaves and serve

This goes perfectly with rice, or I like to serve it as a side dish with Thai Red Curry if there are a few people eating.

If you have time, you can make your own roast rice powder very easily; just lay some rice out on a baking tray, push it in the oven for 5-10 minutes, then crush the hell out of the grains using a pestle and mortar. It actually gives the meal a better consistency and looks really good. Plus you get a plus +10 smug factor, which is like Health Points but much more self-satisfied.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Thai Week: Vegan Pad Thai

Breakfast: Oatmeal with blueberries - I have to get more inventive

Lunch: Sandwich of the expensive bread (woo hoo!) with home made baba ganoush, peppers, cucumbers and salad

Dinner: Vegan Pad Thai

One of the (many) advantages of living with a total food fiend is that they’ll happily spend $6 on a gourmet loaf that you then get to eat half of because if you don’t it will go stale. I am of the opinion that $6 will get me a lot more food and that I can make bread myself, so I never quite make that investment. Never quite make the bread, either.

So you know how when you go for an Indian someone always orders a korma and everyone else rolls their eyes because that’s such an obvious choice? I feel like Pad Thai often suffers from being “the obvious choice” in a Thai restaurant too, as if it always comes at the end of an order when everyone is sharing. “We’ll get this, this and this, and yeah obviously we’ll have the Pad Thai too.”

In actuality, this just means that it’s ridiculously popular – and it’s easy to see why. No matter when you get it from, it’s always good, and the noodles themselves feel like the main taste focus rather than the meat, or lack thereof.

This Pad Thai recipe dispenses with any fish sauce or egg while retaining that familiar taste, making it suitable for vegans as well as vegetarians. Hooray!

Youll need:
(Feeds 2)
            2 small carrots, grated
            2 small onions, chopped
            100 grams tofu, fried in chunks
            1 large tomato, chopped
            2 spring onions, chopped
            1 large handful of beansprouts
2 nests of flat noodles, ready cooked (boil for 5 mins then drain and rinse with cold water)
3 cloves garlic, crushed
            2 tsp brown sugar
            1 tbsp lime juice
            2 tbsp soy sauce
            chili flakes
            extra lime to garnish
sunflower oil / extra virgin olive oil

            Fry the onion, carrots and garlic in the oil til the onion is starting to brown
            Add the tofu, tomato and noodles
            Mix well and add the soy sauce and sugar
            Add lime juice, a sprinkling of chili flakes, spring onion and beansprouts
            Serve with crushed peanuts, another sprinkling of chili flakes and half a lime
You can easily roast the peanuts yourself by laying them on a baking tray and putting them in a 150 degree oven for 5 to 10 minutes, then crushing them after they’ve cooled. Keep an eye on them though as they do love to burn.

This feels a bit like cheating because it’s so easy to make and yet so amazing tasting, but there are no cheats involved. If you like you can grow your own tomatoes, just so you feel like you’ve put enough effort in to deserve the final reward. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Thai Week: Tom Yam Soup

Breakfast: Granola with blueberries

Lunch: Hummus and salad sandwich

Dinner: Tom Yam Soup

 It’s amazing how often you disregard amazing recipes that you know how to make simply because the idea doesn’t jump out at your when you open the fridge. I was so excited to get home and make this meal today as I haven’t made it in close to 2 years, and I remembered it being such a delightful balance of sweet and sour.

Like most of the recipes I’ll be sharing this week, you can make it using just one wok, and after the food has been prepped it will take just 15 minutes to cook. Is there any excuse not to make it?

The vegetables here are interchangeable, but I’d suggest that carrot, onion, broccoli and tomatoes should always be used where possible. Tomato is surprisingly quite a mainstay in real Thai cooking, and broccoli is amazing in any soup or sauce-based dish as it’s nature’s sponge, without being as gross as that sentence implies.

You’ll need:
(Feeds 2)
         3 cups water
         4 slices galangal
         4 lemongrass stalks
         4 kaffir lime leaves
         1 thinly sliced carrot
         1 head broccoli, chopped
         1 tomato, chopped
         1 onion, chopped
         150g firm tofu, fried in chunks
         1/2 tin water chestnuts
         4 tbsp soy sauce
         2 tsp sugar
         1 spring onion, chopped
         handful of coriander leaves, chopped
         juice of 1 lime
         2 tbsp Tom Yam Chili Paste (see yesterday’s post)
         4 tbsp coconut cream/milk

Boil the water in the wok
Add the galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, tofu and all the veg except the tomato
         While boiling, add the soy sauce and sugar
         When the veg is tender but before the water has evaporated, throw in the tomatoes
         After 2 mins, take off the heat
         Stir in the Tom Yam Chlii Paste, lime juice and coconut cream/milk
         Top with spring onion and coriander and serve!

A quick tip: if you add the kaffir lime leaves whole rather than crushing them, they’re easier to fish out so your guests don’t mistake them for coriander and chomp away.

If you make this meal, please, please make sure that there are no errant water-dwellers in your kitchen before you begin prep. I didn’t even notice him while chopping, but as I drained my bowl I saw with horror that there was a singular sad little fish at the bottom of it. I hope I didn’t accidentally eat his friends.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Thai week: Tom Yam Chili Paste and Red Curry Paste

Breakfast: Home-made granola with fruit

Lunch: Couscous feta salad with tomatoes

Dinner: Yam and avocado roll and suicide roll from the wicked Simon Sushi

Red Curry Paste at the front and Tom Yam Chili Paste at the  back
It’s a truth held to be self-evident that Thai food is fantastic – especially the stuff you buy from the street carts in Bangkok for about 4 pence – but if you’re a vegetarian it can be frustrating trying to find a good Thai restaurant. I recently found out that a favourite Thai place of mine in Toronto uses fish sauce in their “vegetarian” dishes; a problem that apparently many veggies face when eating this type of food. 

The good news is that Thai food is ridiculously easy and cheap to make at home, and 90% of Thai dishes, after you’ve done all the chopping and crushing and other types of prepping, should only take 15 minutes to cook.

I learned to cook some great Thai food in Bangkok at the May Kaidee cooking class and some of these recipes have been in regular rotation in my kitchen ever since. May is definitely a character, and is as likely to make you sing along while you cook as she is to take you to the local market and show you the best produce to buy. It’s thanks to May that this week is going to be Thai Week on this blog – 7 days of recipes all from the wicked little country of ladyboys and Sangsom.

I’m all about doing things from scratch where possible, so here are 2 pastes that you will need to make 2 recipes later in the week. They require a little arm work, so feel free to cheat if you like and buy them tinned, but I hope I managed to write that in the tone of voice that suggests that you should man up and make your own!

Tom Yam Chili Paste:
You’ll need:
            2 tbsp oil
            1 small onion, chopped
            3 cloves garlic, crushed
            1 tbsp cashew nuts, crushed
            1 tbsp sesame seeds
            1 tbsp chili flakes
            1 tbsp miso
            1 tsp sugar
            Juice of half a lime
            1 tbsp soy sauce

            Fry the onion and garlic in oil til browning
In a pestle and mortar (or if you’ve neglected to buy one yet, in a bowl with the bottom of a bottle of Bailey’s) crush together the cashews, sesame seeds, chili flakes, sugar, lime juice, miso and soy sauce
Add onion and garlic and crush til a paste is formed
Fry the resulting paste for 2 minutes

Red Curry Paste:
You’ll need:
            15-20 small red chilies, chopped
            1 small onion, chopped
            3 cloves garlic, chopped
            1 tbsp chopped lemongrass
            1 tbsp chopped galangal
            1 tbsp kaffir lime leaves
            1 tbsp ground coriander
            1 tbsp ground cumin
            Pummel all ingredients together until a paste is formed
            (feel free to add a teeny bit of oil if necessary)

Just a note about some ingredients: galangal is a type of Thai ginger, and if you can’t get hold of any, normal ginger can be used as a substitute. It may not taste the same but the flavours work with normal ginger just as well as galangal. Kaffir lime leaves, however, are more or less essential in these dishes. They are fairly easy to find; you’ll get them in any Chinatown from the grocery store, and in the UK most big supermarkets have them – Tesco is particularly good, and stocks them in the herbs and spices aisle. Lemongrass, too, is quite important and can be found in the same places.

Grab a big bag of kaffir lime leaves, a few limes, some galangal and a bunch of fresh coriander while you’re at the Asian store and you should be set for most of the dishes this week.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Hollandaise sauce

Breakfast: Eggs Florentine; poached eggs with spinach on English muffins with hollandaise sauce

Lunch: Apple and butterscotch scone

Dinner: Tofu and vegetables in coconut milk with lemongrass and rice – its great to live in little Vietnam!

This weekend was TCAF, the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, and it was absolutely fantastic. The very talented Abby Denson and Matt Loux had come up from NY for it, and I was lucky enough to go to the TCAF Friday night party with them, hang out and chat all things comic.

However this did mean that Saturday morning I was knackered and still a bit giddy from the night before, leading to the slightly insane decision that before heading off to TCAF day 1, as well as icing cupcakes, I was going to make Eggs Florentine, a dish that I’ve never made before – in fact, a dish that I’ve never even eaten.

Eggs Florentine – which is Eggs Benedict but with spinach instead of bacon – is one of those dishes that’s shrouded in this sort of dark secrecy, with everyone talking about how difficult it is to make and that no one really knows how. When I hear things like that, I react with an attitude that was very much instilled in me as a child: if someone can do it, I can do it. Reading a couple of recipes just made this conviction stronger.

Evidently I had underestimated the phrase “whisk vigorously”.

I am only posting the recipe for hollandaise sauce here as I have not yet perfected the poached eggs technique and ended up with delicious but flat eggs as opposed to the impossibly round ones you get in cafes. I will crack that nut soon enough.

You’ll need:
(makes 150 ml – enough for Eggs Benedict for 2 or to drizzle on asparagus for 4)
            2 large eggs
            130g cold butter
            2 tbsps water
            a squeeze of lemon juice
            black pepper

Separate the eggs by cracking them gently and pouring the yolk from one half of the broken eggshell to the other. The white runs out while you’re doing this and ends up in the bowl that you’ve hopefully placed underneath your hands
Place both the eggs yolks into a heavy pan
Dice the butter and add this to the pan, along with the water
Put the pan over a very low heat. The pan should be cold enough to touch the whole time you’re making this sauce
Whisk. Whisk as if your life depended on it. Do not stop whisking
Turn the heat up very slightly when all the butter has melted and turn it down if the sauce starts to steam, but don’t stop whisking
Eventually the sauce will start to thicken. When its thick enough, squeeze in a little lemon juice and season with the pepper
Use immediately or store in a flask until it's needed.

This sauce isn’t just for eggs – you can top asparagus with it for a gorgeously rich addition to an otherwise healthy side dish.

There are a million more difficult ways to make hollandaise but this one works perfectly. Just remember to not, at any point, stop whisking – not even if your arm starts a petition for voluntary amputation – and to keep the heat very low, or you’ll end up with very buttery scrambled eggs. Which is, I’m sure, delightful, but hollandaise sauce it is not.

I’ll work on the poaching and get back to you. 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Spicy kale chips

Breakfast: Chef’s Breakfast with a blueberry/banana breakfast smoothie.

Lunch: Avocado, cheese and grilled zucchini sandwich

Dinner: Couscous avocado salad and spicy kale chips

I’m back on my bike and I need more food; it’s funny how quickly this happens. Though its not the 30-minute morning ride it used to be, so that second-breakfast-at-work isn’t necessary, my food consumption definitely increases as the density of my thighs does.

I woke up today and there were 3 avocadoes teetering dangerously close to the edge of the cliff of grossness. Oh no, wastage! What to do? Spread the still-good bits of that avocado on bread and fill it with other awesomeness, that’s what! Grilled zucchini makes this sandwich a bit better than your average bread stack and sweet chili sauce…well, you know how much I love sweet chili sauce.

There were still 2 avocadoes left at dinner time so in they went with the couscous, tomato, greens and mushrooms and I cooked up some kale chips to go with it. Potential wastage averted! Being a bit inventive can save money and avoid throwing food away, so try to implement a ‘no throw away’ rule in your house and see if you can stick to it!

Anyway, back to the kale. Who doesn’t love kale? Apart from my boss, no one. It contains a ridiculous amount of goodness including beta carotene, vitamin K, vitamin C and calcium, and is a strong anti-oxidant that’s even said to have anti-cancer properties. I almost feel fraudulent posting this as a recipe because its so blindingly simple, but this blog is about ideas as much as complicated meals so here we are: super simple spicy kale chips that are great as a snack and as a side dish too.

You’ll need:
            2 big handfuls of kale
            1 tbsp olive oil
            1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, or more if you’re feeling spicy

Pre-heat the oven to 160c
Chop the kale into bite-size pieces
Mix the oil and the cayenne pepper together, and drizzle it over the kale
Toss the kale to ensure even coverage
Lay on a baking tray and put in the oven for 5 minutes
Turn and toss the kale and put back in the oven if necessary
Keep a close eye on the kale and take it out of the oven when its crisping all over
Leave to cool then enjoy!

The first time I made this I used way too much oil, and though I wouldn’t admit it at the time, it was bloody awful. I’m not one to admit defeat though so I sat munching on those slimy cabbage chunks til they were good and gone.

As ever, you can make these as spicy or as mild as you like. If you don’t like spices at all, they’re great with just the oil. But it’s also fun to put more cayenne pepper in and ‘forget’ to tell your eating buddy that they’re spicy at all. Cue evil fun.

Quinoa stir fry with kale, chili and nuts

Breakfast: Banana smoothie and the Chef’s Breakfast from Wealthy Hippy

Lunch: Pumpkin and feta salad (I overlaid something chronic – no time to be inventive)

Dinner: Quinoa stir fry with kale, chili and nuts

Having finally procured a bike thanks to my amazing friend Steph, and with the rain finally abating, today was the first day that I could cycle to work and man, am I unfit! Though going uphill on the way there may have killed my underworked thighs, freewheeling mostly downhill on the way home was glorious. I love the summer in Toronto!

Quinoa is quickly becoming my Favourite Thing in the World Ever (watch out, Totoro). It’s just amazing. It can go in cereals, salads, stir fries, bars, desserts and you could probably patch holes in walls with it, if you so wished. It’s a whole protein, is high in calcium and iron (hooray!) and has more amino acids than you can shake a stick at. What’s not to like?

This meal is kind of light but very nutritionally dense so it leaves you feeling particularly satisfied. The flavours, too, are really nicely balanced, with the lemon playing off the ginger and chili gorgeously. I have absolutely no idea where I snipped this recipe from but it’s going to be one of those I make and make again.

You’ll need:
            150g cashews
            200g quinoa
            2 onions, diced
            3 garlic cloves, crushed
            2 small red chilis, sliced
            a decent chunk of ginger, diced
            150g kale, chopped or shredded
            150ml veg stock
            juice of 1 lemon
            a splash of soy sauce
            olive / sunflower oil

            Toast the cashews in a 180c oven for 5 minutes and let them cool
            Cook the quinoa:
                        Soak the quinoa in room-temperature water for 20 minutes
Drain (I did it through a tea towel as my strainer’s holes are too big!) and rinse through
Put the quinoa in a pan with 1 and a 1/4 times as much water and bring to the boil
Cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes, until all the water is absorbed
Take off the heat and leave to stand for 5 minutes
            While the quinoa stands, fry the onion in the oil until it’s browning
            Add the ginger, chili and garlic and fry for a few more minutes
            Add the kale and cook for 2 minutes
            Add the stock and simmer until all stock has evaporated
            Add the quinoa and the lemon juice
            Add the nuts and soy sauce
            Serve with a sprinkling of chili flakes on top if you like the aesthetic value of red!

I dare you not to like it.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Pumpkin and feta salad

Breakfast: Chef’s Breakfast from the Wealthy Hippy

Lunch: Leftover curry, again. I made a lot, ok? It’s gone now.

Dinner: Pumpkin and feta salad

My friend Lisa is a holistic nutritionist, but the awesome kind that makes you watermelon cocktails so you can look after your liver while you party, rather than the kind that won’t drive through towns with the word “ham” in the title. She’s recently decided to spread her awesomeness worldwide by selling her fantastic Chef’s Breakfast, a cereal she created that includes chia, quinoa flakes, apricots, walnuts, bee pollen and flax seed amongst a myriad of other pieces of pure awesome.

It gives you mad energy and makes you poop like a demon. After just 2 days Putin and I are hooked. I very much recommend it; very soon you’ll be able to buy it online but in the mean time you’ll have to go to the excellent Grindhouse on King, which is a good excuse to get their amazing Forest Floor veggie burger while you’re there. Best veggie burger ever, hands down.

Having had such a fulfilling breakfast dinner had to be good, so I cracked out one of my favorite but easy recipes. Any excuse to have feta cheese is much welcomed in our house, and this manages to be both cheesy and nutritious at the same time.

You’ll need:
(Feeds 2)
            1/2 small pumpkin, cut into chunks – keep the seeds from the inside
            2 handfuls spinach
            30-40g feta cheese – Macedonian feta is fantastic
            Balsamic vinegar
            Olive / sunflower oil

Put the pumpkin seeds into a pan (no oil) and toast them until they’re nicely brown on both sides. Set aside
In a deep pan or wok, heat a tbsp of oil
Throw in the pumpkin and keep moving
Cook until its soft through each piece – cooking time will depend on how big the chunks are!
Take off the heat and add the spinach, stirring it thoroughly. The heat will wilt the spinach
Crumble the feta into the pan and serve immediately
Scatter the toasted seeds on top and finish with a splash of balsamic vinegar

I also throw mushrooms or onions into this, and cherry tomatoes can also go nicely. If you have no pumpkin kicking around, butternut squash can be used instead. At Halloween though you’ll be thanking me for this recipe!

Be warned: if you’re a cheese/spinach/balsamic fan this can be somewhat addictive. It’s also mad filling thanks to the pumpkin, so try not to eat a whole vat of it as your stomach will most likely implode, leaving someone else to clean up the kitchen.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Scrambled tofu

Brunch: Scrambled tofu

Snack: Half of a ridiculously awesome $20 chocolate bar that’s made of the compressed bones of Mayans or something along those lines

Dinner: Leftover curry (yep, it’s still going)

With an increasingly bare kitchen but no inclination to go out and buy food, there are few options for a decent Saturday morning lazy brunch. Scrambled tofu it is then!

Many vegans consider scrambled tofu to be a fairly boring staple of meat-free cooking, and though it’s hardly Eggs in Purgatory or Snail Porridge, I think its Ed Miliband reputation is a bit harsh. It’s easy to make, versatile and the first time I had it at a brunch place in Sydney I was pleasantly surprised by how spicy and moist it was.

This recipe uses coriander, which contains antioxidants, and turmeric, which despite being a pain in the arse to get off your fingers is one of those sort-of-amazing spices. As well as being reported to benefit those with Alzheimer’s, cancer and arthritis, when mixed with lemon juice, hot water, honey, ginger and cayenne pepper it forms “Magic Juice” which I swear by when I’m getting ill.

There’s also a heap of cumin in this, and old folklore also states that cumin will keep your lover from wandering, so bear that in mind. It is also meant to keep your chickens on a short leash too, in case you have a particular problem with meandering fowl.

You’ll need:
(Feeds 2)
            300g firm tofu
            1 zucchini, chopped
            1 medium onion
            2 tbsp soy sauce
            1 tsp cumin
            1 tsp coriander
            1/2 tsp turmeric
            2 cloves garlic
            olive/sunflower oil

            Mix together the soy sauce and spices in a bowl
            Fry the onion and zucchini in a little oil until they’re softening
            Break the tofu up so it looks like eggs after they’re scrambled
Throw it into the pan, letting it brown on one side before scraping it from the frying pan and flipping it
Stir in the spices and soy and thoroughly mix in
Serve with crusty bread or roasted vegetables

My extreme Saturday morning laziness and short space of time to cook led me just to have this with bread, but avocados, roasted tomatoes and black beans would be absolutely fantastic with this.

And about the aforementioned chocolate bar; it may sound expensive, but it’s totally worth it.