Roasted Tomato and Beet Bisque

Check out that gorgeous pink, creamy soup!

Check out that gorgeous pink, creamy soup!

It’s starting to feel like Autumn here in Montreal and the end of summer harvest is in full swing. Tomatoes are selling off at the market for a fraction of what they normally cost, and bright bushels of beets are stacked row on row in front of fruiteries at every corner, tempting passersby with thoughts of warm borchts and savoury-sweet grilled beet salads. This recipe brings together the two in an unusual pairing that I am sure you will find as addictive as we do. It might seem odd, and I get it- beets and tomatoes, why would you do that? But trust me when I tell you, this recipe is so easy, healthy, cheap, and look at that colour! You are going to fall in love.

Bisque is traditionally thickened with a starch, such as rice or potatoes, before being strained and enriched with cream. In this case, I used raw sunflower seeds. They add the perfect creaminess and their subtle flavour is ideal for light vegetable purees such as this. We can thank the sunflower seeds for the pink colour, too! You could omit them, or substitute a starch as with a traditional bisque, or any unsweetened, neutral flavour plant cream will do. You can change the colour of the bisque to a lovely golden orange by using golden beets and tomatoes instead. This recipe requires no pot, just a slow roast in the oven and a trip through the blender. Go ahead and bake yourself some bread or pumpkin muffins while the oven is hot and the veggies are roasting. It’s that time of year!

It's also good straight out of the jar, just saying.

It’s also good straight out of the jar, just saying.

Roasted Tomato and Beet Bisque

1 medium yellow onion, peeled and sliced
3 large, flavourful tomatoes, cored
2 medium beets, peeled and sliced fine
2 small cloves of garlic, smashed and peeled
1/2 cup sunflower seeds, raw
4 cups good vegetable stock, home made leek stock if possible
1 tbsp neutral oil
1 tsp salt
Pink or white pepper, or plain black pepper if that’s all you have

1) Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a large baking tray with a sheet of tinfoil

2) Arrange vegetables in the foil, drizzle with the oil and sprinkle with half the salt. Cover with another sheet of foil, folding the edges together carefully to seal. Place in oven and bake approximately one hour, until beets are tender.

3) Meanwhile, puree the sunflower seeds in one cup of the broth until perfectly smooth and not at all gritty. This may take several minutes, just give your blender breaks as needed.

4) When cooked, add the vegetables from the foil pouch to the sunflower puree with all their juices. Puree until completely smooth, slowly adding the water and scraping the sides as needed. Add remaining salt and pepper to taste. Bon appetit!

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Vegan Hot Dog Casserole

So this is a combo weird food/comfort food/food from your childhood post. Be forewarned, if you are a whole-foods, healthy-eating kind of person, this post may horrify you. When I was a kid, I distinctly recall having two meals for dinner; bacon and eggs, and hot dog hash. Hot dog hash was a one-dish meal with chopped hot dogs, friend potatoes, and frozen mixed veggies. Smother with ketchup and you’re good to go. I think it falls into the category of hot dog casseroles, which generally include a can of chili or beans and cheese baked on top, in addition to the hash browns and hot dogs. It usually doesn’t have any veg at all. Liberal use of ketchup is generally encouraged, though. In the 1980’s, feeding your children like this wasn’t considered tantamount to child abuse. No one would get nasty notes home because their leftovers in their thermos didn’t include enough grains. Ketchup was even classified as a serving of fruit or vegetable!

One beautiful bowl of childhood memories

One beautiful bowl of childhood memories

In this recreation, I used veggie dogs and tater tots as my base, cause anything deep fried twice is going to be delicious. You can also make your tots in the oven, though, just follow the package directions. I’m hoping someone out there who came from the era of casserole dinners gets a kick out of this.

Hot Dog Casserole

6 veggie dogs, cut into 1/2 inch slices
1/2 bag tater tots
1.5 cups frozen mixed vegetables
1/2 bag daiya shreds

1) Start by cooking your tater tots either in the deep fryer or in the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 even if you are deep frying your tots

2) As your tots are cooking, boil a small pot of water with your frozen mixed veg for about 3 minutes. At the last moment, add the hot dog slices, then drain.

3) Arrange tater tots, hot dogs and veggies in a baking dish. Top with daiya shreds and bake 5 minutes, til just melted. Bon appetite!

Easy Broiled Breakfast Sandwiches and the Best Tofu Ever

A breakfast sandwich is a beautiful thing. Portable, warm, savoury and nourishing, it’s the perfect way to start a cool autumn day. Of course, sometimes you go grocery shopping hungry and by the time you get home you’re considering eating tofu with Italian dressing to stave off the hangries. Breakfast sandwiches are food for then, too. I pulled these together in 10 minutes flat before unloading the groceries into the fridge. You can make the tofu filling at the beginning of the week, and have warm breakfast sandwiches all week long in the time it takes to toast and English muffin. How good does that sound?

The tofu marinade is deceptively simple. If you’ve never tried broiled tofu, I recommend you do. Almost all the omnis I know prefer their tofu broiled over any other method of preparation. In part, I think it’s because broiling allows the tofu to retain its shape and texture well. Also, I think it absorbs marinade best when cooked in this method, even if it hasn’t been soaking it in long. Broiled tofu is especially nice with a sweet marinade, such as maple-garlic-soy, as the sugars form a sticky coating and char just slightly. In this case, this perfectly savoury blend of nutritional yeast, garlic and tamari soaks into the tofu leaving a distinctly eggy impression, especially with the black salt added at the end. If you don’t like the taste of eggs, which are faintly sulphur-ish in aroma, omit the black salt. You can use this recipe for your rice bowls, sandwiches, vegan benedicts or snacking tofu.

Dans ma bouche!

Dans ma bouche!

Easy Broiled Breakfast Sandwiches and the Best Tofu Ever

For the Tofu:
1 lb extra firm tofu- choose the most smooth-textured one you can find, avoid crumbly or spongey brands. You want something close to the texture of cooked eggwhite.
1.5 tbsp tamari
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup strong stock (I used Better Than Bouillon Vegetable)
2 cloves minced garlic
1/2 tsp dried thyme leaves
2 tbsp olive oil or melted Earth Balance (I particularly like the EB with this- if you use hot stock, it will melt the EB)
2 tbsp nutritional yeast
Pepper, to taste
Black salt, sprinkled over to taste

For the Sandwiches:
Whole wheat English muffins
Daiya cheddar or your favourite alternative
Vegenaise or your favourite vegan mayo
Sliced tomato
Optional: sliced green onion, veggie bacon or zucchini/mushroom slices (broiled alongside the tofu), marmite, ketchup

Prepare tofu marinade. Preheat your broiler. Assuming your tofu is a rectangular prism, cut it in half to make two squares, and cut each square into 1/2-inch slices. Toss together marinade ingredients. Arrange tofu on a nonstick cookie sheet and coat in marinade thoroughly over both sides. Allow to sit as you prep your sandwich ingredients.

Broil tofu and prepare sandwich fillings. Slice your tomatoes, English muffins, and any other vegetables you’re using. Place tofu under the broiler for 2 minutes. All the marinade that was on the tops should be dry and absorbed by now- if not, your broiler may not be hot enough or your tofu may be too far away from it. Baste with marinade, then place back under the broiler for two more minutes, along with the English muffins so they can toast. Baste again, then add Daiya to the top of the tofu. Broil until just melted and the English muffins are toasty.

Assemble sandwiches. Spread mayo on the inside of both sides of the English muffins. Place tomato on one side, and tofu on the other, cheese up. Add any of the extra ingredients you may want, the black salt and the pepper to taste. Squish both sides together. Bon appetite!

New foster kittens! About 5 weeks old and full of snoozes.

New foster kittens! About 5 weeks old and full of snoozes.

Campfire Soup

Soup, boiling away happily

Too hungry to chop wood, just burn the log whole. Soup, boiling away happily.

Everything tastes better when you eat it outdoors. This is the simple truth captured in grill and patio furniture ads everywhere. Take a meal that would be way easier, more convenient, and likely more comfortable to prepare and consume indoors, relocate the whole shebang outdoors instead, and voila! You have a party. This is what you buy into when you go on a picnic, and when you purchase your Sims that 300, 000 Simoleon gazebo they’ve been eyeing. Eating outdoors makes food taste better. We believe it’s true, and so it is.  

This applies to camping, too. Except when you’re camping there are several, slightly less twee reasons for your appreciation for food. For one, you’re probably starving. Camping is a lot of work. Setting up tents, scrounging for kindling, chopping firewood, finding places to pee, getting in and out of layers constantly to keep warm enough without sweating (otherwise you’ll be cold at night). When you’re working hard without really realizing it (because you’re having so much fun!) you build up an appetite. Anything you cook will automatically taste better. All that fresh air helps too, as the more you are exposed to the elements, the more of your body’s resources are used up- you get thirsty and hungry faster outside. Lastly, you’re probably so busy that you’ve only started cooking when you’re hungry, not accounting for the extra time that fire building takes. As such, you’re only getting around to eating way past the point of being merely hungry, well into the murky and dangerous realm of being truly hangry

Then you add bad weather to the mix and things all get much, much worse. Building a fire in the rain is hard. Keeping a fire going in the rain long enough to boil a pot of water is extra hard, and sometimes impossible. Being wet and cold and hangry is a dangerous combination that I suggest you avoid under any circumstance, but which is nonetheless sometimes unavoidable in camping situations. When I was a Scout leader, in times like these, we’d pull out the Lipton’s Chicken Noodle Soup. Powdered chicken bouillon with extra salt added, flecks of dehydrated parsley, a distinct flavour of celery and small, quick-cooking wheat noodles. This salty, satisfying broth whipped up in five minutes flat, and, when smothered in saltines, was like mana from heaven for depleted, defeated campers. It wasn’t particularly nourishing, but when you’re camping, cold and hangry, it tastes like the most delicious thing you’ve ever put in your mouth. 

In coming up with this campfire soup, I was going for that same warm-you-to-the-bones, nourishing, wonderfully salty and savoury feeling. So, I started with my favourite salty, MSG-ridden seasoning, Vegeta. Go ahead and use something healthy if you must, but what you’re really going for here is a strong, salty chicken-style broth with flecks of parsley. I added a few real vegetables, small tofu cubes, and soup noodles, because I wanted it actually nourishing- not just tricking my body into thinking it was getting something worthwhile. Lastly, my new favourite addition to any brothy soup- matzoh. Matzoh holds it’s form in broth in a way that is satisfyingly chewy, almost like a noodle, and a far cry from the spongy, semi-dissolved mass that results from saltines left soaking too long. Without further ado, here is the recipe! It absolutely does not need to be made in cast iron, over a campfire, or eaten outdoors- but I promise you it won’t taste nearly as good otherwise.

Boil faster, darn it!

Boil faster, darn it!

Campfire Soup

1 block firm tofu, cut into 1cm/ 1/2 inch dice
1 large yellow onion, cut into large 1 inch dice
3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 3 mm thick rounds
2 stalks of celery, cut into 3 mm thick slices
2 minced cloves garlic
1/2 package of soup noodles
Vegeta or bouillon of choice, added to taste
3 tbsp Earth Balance, or margarine of choice
pepper
matzoh

1) Over a steady fire, heat your 8 quart cast iron Dutch oven

2) Saute your onion in the margarine until just starting to turn golden. Add the remaining vegetables and saute until just beginning to soften, stirring occasionally

3) Fill the pot to 2 inches below the rim, put on the lid and bring to a boil

4) When boiling, add soup noodles, tofu and broth powder, starting with about half of what you think you’ll need

5) When noodles are cooked, adjust seasoning and add pepper.

6) Serve steaming mugfuls with broken matzoh to grateful campers

 

 

How To Cook Over A Fire

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If you’ve never had to cook on a fire before beyond opening cans and skewering things, it may seem rather mysterious. Where do you put the pot? Can normal pots withstand the heat of the fire? How do you control the temperature? How do you prevent burns? Where do you keep all the ingredients? 

Here, I am going to break down my method for fire-side cookery. It may need to be adjusted, depending on what you’re cooking and what tools you have available to you. But I think this is a good, basic guide to get you started. 

Step One: Know how to build a proper cooking fire 

I tried to find you folks a basic guide to building a campfire, but I couldn’t find anything suitable online. All the articles were written by manly men talking about fire like it was some sort of erectile dysfunction aid, or else were written by people who have never tried to cook anything bigger than a marshmallow over an open flame before. You want a cooking fire to be long-burning, stable, mostly coals (instead of big flames) and relatively flat (if you’re going to be setting your pot on the coals, vs. hanging it from a tripod above the fire).

  1. To start, build a basic tee-pee fire in a ring of rocks- the rocks are your fireproof counter, where you place the hot pots when adding or removing ingredients.
  2. Once you have logs big enough for your hand to grasp around it completely burning to coal in your tee-pee, build a log-house around it of four proper fire logs.
  3. When the logs are coal on the interior side and the tee-pee is a smoldering pile of hot coals in the center (approximately one hour in good weather without too much wind), arrange the logs as pictured above, with three logs perpendicular to the biggest log, with the coal side facing up. This will be your cooking surface.
  4. The bottom, uncharred side of the log will heat up as the top, charred side is cooking your food, so you can rotate the logs as needed to keep consistent heat. Check your food often and do not leave the fire’s side as you cook. This is the only method I know of to prevent burning your food. 

If you haven’t any beautiful, evenly split logs to make your cooking surface, you can still make do. In the picture below, we only had access to a giant limb of dry cedar and smaller branches. So, we built a teepee and put the cedar log over, the center of it directly in the middle of the hottest part of the fire. This way, we could burn through the log, rather than chopping, and later combine the two halves as long-burning fuel for the fire. In the meantime, we were hungry, so I made a pot of camp soup by collapsing the teepee under the ceder limb and straddling a few small branches across the logs. They were very dry, but held up long enough for me to boil a whole pot of soup in a heavy cast iron pot before collapsing. 

You can see the big ceder branch is almost ready to be split, meanwhile the pot has a nice, sturdy place to rest as the soup boils

You can see the big ceder branch is almost ready to be split, meanwhile the pot has a nice, sturdy place to rest as the soup boils

Step Two: Have the right tools for the job

You really don’t need to buy fancy, special camping cookware. You’ll want to use all metal or silicone construction utensils with long enough handles for you to safely reach your food. You can use wooden spoons, like I do, but be careful not to leave them in the pots. Wood handles burn as well as any stick. I used 3 wooden spoons, a metal spatula, a pair of tongs, and a ladle all week, and that was enough- it likely will be for you, too. Aside from that, a couple chef’s knives, a paring knife, and and bottle openers, two cutting boards and three dish basins (soap-rinse-sterilize) were all we used. The only special “utensil” you’ll need is a heavy stick with a crook or knot you can use to pry under the handle of your pot to move it about. Even then, sufficiently strong oven mitts (such as welder’s gloves) will do the trick. A smaller, sturdy stick can be used to loop into the pot lid to lift it off.

Bear in mind that camp fires are really, really hot. Unless you are confident you can get within arms reach of your pot without burning your face or hair, play it safe and keep your pot near the edge of the fire, and simply turn it often for better heating. Trust me, you especially do not want to accidentally burn yourself when you’re off in the woods and out of cellphone reception. 

Cast iron is perfect for campfire cooking for a few reasons. First, it’s heavy enough to withstand the incredible heat of the fire without warping or scorching. Second, it insulates food from the irregular flame, distributing the heat evenly across the pot and deterring hot spots. Third, if you burn it or burn something in it or wish to get rid of the char marks on the outside of the pot, you can safely use steel wool and re-season the pot as needed. If you use something other than cast iron, be careful, and be sure it’s not dual-metal construction (such as a copper-bottomed aluminum pot), since campfires can easily break the bond between the metals leading to spilling accidents. I used a 10-inch cast iron dutch oven, and my grandmother’s old 8-inch fry pan. Additionally, I had a stock pot, smaller pot and nonstick griddle for the Coleman stove- you won’t need those if you’re cooking for fewer than 4 people and without the stove. The Dutch oven doubles as an oven, so you can bake in it by putting coals over and under the fire. I successfully made strawberry rhubarb crumble for 15 in this pot, but I want the 12-inch as my next purchase. You can actually stack Dutch ovens on top of each other, with layers of coal in between, for more efficient and controlled heating. How cool is that? I learned everything I know about Dutch ovens here, so take a gander before you buy. 

Lots of folks talk about cast iron like it’s sacred- Never soap it! Never let it touch water! Never cook tomatoes in cast iron! Seasoning is an onerous task that takes hours and hours and must be done by the light of the full moon with extra-extra-certified-virgin coconut oil mixed with one part baby tears! Sorry to tell you folks, but none of this is true. So long as you use your pan regularly- every day or two- and don’t leave it soaking in water for a day, there’s no special care required for cast iron. Seasoning means oil cooked onto a metal. You can do this by heating any oil in the pot- i.e. swirl that tablespoon of olive oil around the pan before adding your onions, just like you normally would. Ta-da. That’s it. You can wash it off after and reapply oil each time you cook. No biggie. Don’t let all the dire warnings and stories of rust-ringed counter tops deter you. Cast iron only demands one thing- that you use it. Even if you don’t, it’s a simple thing to scour it with steel wool and re-season it. I pulled my grandmother’s cast iron out from under her stove ten years ago, covered in rust and untouched for 40 years. Fifteen minutes of scrubbing and an hour in the oven slathered in canola oil, and they’re still the main pans I use.

Nana's cast iron, being put to good use!

Nana’s cast iron, being put to good use!

Step Three: Prepare your mise en place and set up your cooking nook

Find a good place to sit, level with your fire. You don’t want to be above the fire- heat rises, it’s hot up there. So, park yourself on the ground, perhaps with a sit-upon to protect from the cold. Wear long sleeves and pants in materials that don’t melt, such as denim or canvas, to protect from sparks and heat. Bring your chopped ingredients all on your cutting board next to you, separated into piles if not all being added at once. Bring any utensils you need, plus your oven mitts and pot/lid moving stick and a fire-poking stick. Lastly, bring any ingredients that you might want to add to taste as you cook, such as seasoning, oil, water, wine, herbs or spices. In the picture above, you can see I have Magic Vegan Bacon Grease, Earth Balance, tamari, red pepper paste, minced garlic in the plastic container (don’t forget spoons to get things out of jars!) and a glass of wine for me/the pot as needed. Once you are parked with everything you need at your disposal, cook away! Keep friends around the fire with you to keep you in good company, pass you anything you forgot, and poke the fire when needed. 

Step Four: Enjoy your meal

Bring your pots and pans out of the fire and onto flat rocks of the fire ring as they finish cooking, then when everything is done bring the whole lot to a safe, lit place away from the fire to serve. Take your time and enjoy your meal around the lovely warm coals, or else by the lake to watch the sunset. Be sure that everyone else takes care of the washing up and putting away leftovers. The biggest pot can be emptied of food, rinsed, filled with water and put on the stove to heat water for washing up as you eat. You can let the fire die out on it’s own, but always douse with water, stir well, and douse again before leaving it unattended. We use the waste washing water for this job. 

I hope this little guide is helpful and encourages some of you to try campfire cooking beyond the vegan marshmallow and veggie dog next time! Let me know if you have any tips for outdoor cookery. 

Taking in strays/Kimchi part 1

It’s been a whole week since I’ve written, and I feel pretty crappy about it. But I have the best excuses. Plus, I have several legitimately exciting food stories to share over the next few days, so that makes up for some of it, right? Well, you be the judge,

The first reason I was away last week is that we took in a stray kitten. If you’ve ever done this before, you know how those adorable fluffballs can just eat up any spare time you might have. This little one was part of a feral colony, but decided she wanted to adventure off on her own and consort with humans. She cried and cried outside my guy’s back door til we were finally able to trap her and get her spayed and dewormed and all those good things. She’d 4.5 months old and doesn’t know how to do anything other than snuggle and hide. But that’s ok. The rest will come with time.

World, meet Betty Boop (Boop for short, or sometimes Bloop, or McBlooperson)

World, meet Betty Boop (Boop for short, or sometimes Bloop, or McBlooperson)

The second reason I’ve been busy is that I have taken in a stray tourist from Japan! A friend of a friend’s lodging arrangements fell through just a couple of days before she was scheduled to fly to Montreal. Rather than cancel her trip, I gave her my room and am staying with my guy for the next couple of weeks. Needless to say, the sudden nature of this made things a bit hectic for a few days there- lots of scrubbing and packing and laundering happened. But now Tomoko is happily doing her thing out of my tiny little Plateau pad, and life is somewhat returned to normal.

In the midst of all this upheaval, I have managed to find some time for cooking, too. Mostly because if I didn’t, I’d go mad. Last Sunday, I had a fermenting/pickling day with a few lovely friends. We made kimchi and dill pickles. I won’t share all the deets until I get to taste the final product, but I’ll woo you with some pictures in the meantime.

Ladies at work

Ladies at work

It was actually a lot of fun, putting together all the little jars and stirring up big bowls of veggies with chili sauce for the kimchi. It would have been more fun had we made it through the day without one of us cutting herself and another squirting ginger juice in her eyes (that was me!) but, you know. The hostess graciously provided us with wine and baguette, which helped immensely.

Dividing the dill and garlic for the jars

The little countertop that could! Dividing the dill and garlic for the jars, grating turnip, carrots and ginger for the kimchi.

Pretty little jars all in a row, ready for their brine.

Pretty little jars all in a row, ready for their brine. Can’t forget the wine. Not for the pickles, for the pickle-makers.

I will report back with the finished results in a couple of weeks. I hope it will be delicious. I am sure it will be.

Easiest Pasta Salad

Simple, colourful, and utterly satisfying. Probably prettier in a wooden bowl, but you know, beggars can't be choosers.

Simple, colourful, and utterly satisfying. Probably prettier in a wooden bowl, but you know, beggars can’t be choosers.

Last summer, I lived for a while with some wonderful folks with an amazing patio. You know, the kind that is level with the widest branches of the trees and suspends you above the rest of the city, filtered through the greenery? This location magically inspired food with lots of fresh vegetables. I ate a LOT of salad. Something about being outdoors inspires further freshness. But because raw veggies can only take you so far, I started finding ways to mix grains into my creations. The pasta salad of my youth was an egg-ridden, totally gross swamp of cholesterol, dodgy food standards and sodium. This variation couldn’t be further removed from that science experiment of a side dish.

This little pasta salad is easy-peasy, varied, and filling enough to be a meal in itself. It follows a simple formula, and the secret is in the sauce. No gross eggy-stuff required.

  1. Pick a cute little pasta. I like bowties. Things like shells tend to stick to each other too much. Macaroni is good, if you’re down with the retro-feel of the uniform elbows.
  2. Pick fresh, flavourful vegetables in four different colours. Colour is important to the appreciation of this dish. It symbolizes the variety and abundance of harvest times. I like crunchy veggies and ones that suck up sauces thirstily, like broccoli.
  3. Use good herbs. I use dried marjoram, thyme, and tarragon. And then fresh parsley and/or cilantro. The fresh parsley really contributes to the flavour of this dish, so try not to ditch it. Use the flat-leaf kind, it’s tastier and has a nicer texture.
  4. Infuse your olive oil. Take a good olive oil, and brown a whole lot of minced garlic in it. It will infuse the oil with garlic flavour, which will then distribute evenly through the pasta. If you want some kick, use dried chilis in your olive oil infusion. Go ahead and add some capers, sundried tomatoes, or marinated artichoke hearts for tang and depth. Stir in some nooch, dijon and almond flour enough to make a cream. Add lemon juice and cider or wine vinegar (yes, both) until it is thinned enough to just coat the back of a spoon. Toss liberally with your salad.
  5. I like fresh greens, such as rough chopped arugula, spinach or chard stirred in at the last minute. It makes it all feel fresher and brighter.
  6. Go ahead and add some beans. Chickpeas, small white beans and green lentils are nice.

This recipe makes me long for summer days and crisp, cool Rieslings sipped on the porch. Also, it pulls together in maybe 20 minutes. Can’t go wrong.