Life in Montreal/ Slurpy Noodles (aka The Best Dish Ever)

I don't know why Elvis has a bandaid on his crotch. Probably tore his pants moving fridges.

Native Montrealers flock to run-down, old-timey second-hand stores for all their home appliance needs. The stale cigarette stench and glitter-plastered interiors are just a bonus. http://wikimapia.org/1695232/Ameublement-Elvis

First, you should know that Montreal apartments don’t come with fridges or stoves. Fucked if I know why. It’s not like 19 year-olds rolling out of college have savings lined up for the purchase of household appliances. They’re lucky if they’ve got beer money for the party next weekend. To make matters worse, we have had some of the weirdest architectural rules on the continent due to a sordid mix of terrible policy making, the mob, the church, the police, and the real estate board. That story requires a whole new post, but the gist is that you can’t get an apartment in the Plateau of Montreal without at least a flight or two of sketchy, half-broken, ice-covered external stairs that you have to move appliances up and down every time you bail on your lease in search of a noncorrupt landlord (good luck).  As a result of all this there is a thriving circulation of used appliances working its way through craigslist, second-hand stores, and the sidewalks of the student ghetto on the first of each month. None of which have ever made it into my home.

After careful consideration of the broken-ass stairs up to my third-story flat, my roomate and I decided that perhaps it would be best if we just got a mini fridge and hot plate rather than doing the traditional neck-breaking rite of passage that the locals endure to make it into their apartments.

This actually works surprisingly well for us, by and large. She mostly lives off my leftovers, I walk by three grocers on my way home from work, cold beer is available right across the street til 11pm. We have a system. It’s not perfect, but it’s good enough.

But right at this moment, only the second burner on my ancient hotplate is working, and the fridge is turning everything into inedible blocks of ice. Except the PBR. It’s actually making the PBR drinkable. So after feeding ice carrots and shards of crystalized arugula to Lady Rattington (the local cute fuzzy thing), my guy and I sauntered off to the store in search of nosh. An hour later, we were home with fixings for the Best Dish Ever.

My friends, without further ado, it is my pleasure to introduce you to, literally, the best dish ever. What makes it so good? Let me count the ways!

  • It comes together in maybe 30 minutes.
  • It’s cheap.
  • You can get all the ingredients anywhere at any time of year.
  • There are a million substitutions you can make.
  • The most important ingredients are ones you can keep on hand in the pantry
  • It makes a ton or a little with about the same amount of effort
  • It is delicious. It’s literally stuff to write home about. People taste this shit and facebook it before they get to the second bite.

This is not so much a recipe as a serving suggestion, but I’ll do the best I can to make it clear enough for you to reproduce with reasonable success after a few tries.

Slurpy Noodles

Ingredients:

1 block Extra firm tofu, cubed
1 cup Dried shiitakes, soaked and sliced, or use fresh, or criminis, or whatever.
2 cups Greens- baby bok choy, soaked seaweed, kale, etc. I usually just go with one.
2 packs Noodles- the thick, vacuum-packed wheat noodles that stay inexplicably fresh outside of the fridge. They look like worms. Moreso when covered in saucy goodness.

Sauce:

1 tbsp Garlic chili sauce– careful, some brands have fish, etc. The measurement is a guide, adjust to taste
1 tbsp Tamari, or more at the end if things need more salt
1 tbsp Fermented tasty salty things- I usually use umeboshi, but fermented black beans work well
2 tbsp Mirin- preferably the real kind, can omit
1 tbsp Toasted sesame oil, plus more to drizzle over
2 tbsp Rice vinegar (use this to taste, be careful if using the seasoned variety cause it’ll throw off the balance of everything else)
Black pepper- I don’t know why, it just makes it for me.

Optional:

Peppers, bean sprouts, green onions, cilantro and lime, hot peppers, sesame seeds, etc.

For this recipe to work, all you need to do is brown your mushrooms in a hot oiled pan, then add the tofu to brown lightly, then add the greens. Mix the sauce ingredients together and add with the greens, toss on a lid to steam it all for a minute or two, and then mix in a big bowl with your noodles (boil them first to loosen them up, or nuke them in a bowl of water). Easy peasy.

Slurpy noodles

Seriously. You’ve got to try them. The tastiest worms ever.

Black Bean, Collard Green and Sweet Potato Stew

This recipe has so much healthy packed in each bite it would take waaay too long to go in to all the details. However, aside from the ridiculously good-for-you-ness of it all, it’s also DELICIOUS. This is a soup you can seriously over eat on. Especially if you enjoy it with the Cornbread Biscuits from Vegan Brunch like I did. I subbed half the flour with whole wheat, worked perfectly. This makes a nice big pot, perfect for a week with snow storms and -30 degree weather and things like that that make trips to the grocery store unreasonable.

Black Bean, Collard Green and Sweet Potato Stew

2 yellow onions, diced
2 tbsp olive oil
1 lb orange-fleshed  sweet potato, chopped into bite-sized cubes
1 bunch collard greens, tough stems removed, torn into bite-sized pieces
1 cup corn kernels
2 cans black beans
1 can salt-free tomato puree or pieces
2 tsp minced chipotles in adoboe (more or less, depending on how hot you want it- mine were very hot, so start with less if you’re sensitive)
2 tsp roasted, crushed cumin (see note*)
1 tsp crushed fennel seeds
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tbsp Mexican oregano, or regular, if you can’t find it
1 tsp vegan Worcestershire sauce
1 vegan chicken bullion cube
Juice from 1/2 a lemon
To garnish, if you’re feeling fancy: cilantro, chopped avocado, a squeeze of lime, tortilla strips

Caramelize the onions slowly in the oil until golden brown, sweet, and fragrant. Add the sweet potatoes, cumin, and fennel, sautee for 5 more minutes until starting to brown. Add water to cover the vegetables, return to high heat and bring to a boil. Add all remaining ingredients except the collards. Reduce to a low simmer for at least 30 minutes. When all the flavours are deep and mellow and melded perfectly, add your collards and cook 10 more minutes, of until collards are wilted. Enjoy with cornbread biscuits, fancy toppings, or as is. It’s really delicious either way.

Gnocchi with Criminis and Spinach in Brown Butter

Gnocchi is one of my favorite comfort foods. Soft pillows of potato dough take perfectly to light treatment- just a bit of Earth Balance and garlic, a splash of wine, maybe some fresh herbs. They also go well with tender vegetables like spinach, asparagus, fresh peas, and scallions. As a result, I usually associate gnocchi with spring. However, a dose of earthy mushrooms and brown butter will go a long way to making a spring dish seem more winter-appropriate. This is super easy to make, taking approximately 25 minutes altogether, and can easily be adjusted to suit the group you’re serving. In my case, I was cooking just for myself, but made enough for two meals.

Gnocchi with Criminis and Spinach in Brown Butter
Serves 2, or one very hungry person

1/2 package gnocchi
2 tbsp Earth Balance
1 generous handful criminis, sliced
1 shallot, sliced
2 generous handfuls baby spinach leaves
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 tsp thyme
A grind of pepper and a sprinkle of fleur de sel, or whatever your favorite salt is
1/4 lemon, and/or a splash of dry white wine

Put on a pot of water to boil for the gnocchi. Meanwhile, melt the  Earth Balance in a large pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and criminis. Stir occasionally, until the vegetables and Earth Balance are browning lightly. Add the gnocchi to the water once it is boiling, and be prepared to drain it as soon as the gnocchi float to the top.  As soon as the Earth Balance is a warm, golden colour and the vegetables are looking toasty, add the remaining ingredients. Drain all but 2 tbsp of cooking water from the gnocchi once it is cooked, and toss them along with the reserved water into the pan with the vegetables. Toss a few times and cook for about 2 minutes, coating the gnocchi in the sauce. Serve with a kitten, and maybe a glass of wine…

Easy Spaghetti Alfredo with Spinach and Chick’n Scallopini

I spent the day trying not to be too sick, trying to write my thesis, trying not to get too distracted, trying not to tear the boy to pieces in the middle of it all. There was a lot of trying. It was a trying day. Trying days call for one of two things: take-out, or pasta. In this case, it was pasta, due to the fact that I couldn’t bring Wok Box home on the bus in -17 degree weather without it freezing (not that the bus came, mind you- after standing outside in that nonsense for 30 minutes I split a cab with the other bus stop attendees.)

Rummaging through the fridge I found and almost wilted box of baby spinach that the boy abandoned (I eat the boxes of arugula, he’s in charge of the spinach) and so figured I’d do something with olive oil, spinach, garlic, spaghetti. But then, right next to the bag of leek tops waiting to become broth, I found about a third of a tub of Herbs and Chives Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese. I had heard of recipes for Alfredo sauce that use cream cheese before- more stable than regular Alfredo, cream cheese bases are often used in food service to reduce the risk of separating at uneven temperatures or over long wait times. I figured, how hard could it be? As it turns out, it’s ridiculously easy. Hardly even a recipe. Exactly what I needed after a day like today.

Since I refuse to have just pasta for dinner, I served it up with some frozen green and yellow beans, and made up my usual Chick’n Scallopini recipe. It’s quick, super easy, and delicious. The boy doesn’t like it, I should mention, but he dislikes most chicken-style seitan, so that’s no surprise.

Easy Spaghetti Alfredo with Spinach and Chick’n Scallopini
Makes 2 servings for people who live in sub-zero climates, probably 4 elsewhere

For the pasta:

4 servings of spaghetti, or pasta of your choice
1/3 tub Herbs and Chives Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups baby spinach, packed
1 teaspoon Spike, or salt alternative

Make pasta. When cooked but still firm, drain all but about 1/2 cup of cooking water. Put in back on the stove over medium-low heat, make a well in the center and add garlic, cook for about 2 minutes. Put the cream cheese in over the top of the pasta teaspoon by teaspoon. Stir it all in until the water, garlic and cream cheese are blended. Add a bit more water at this time if it’s getting too dry, then add the spinach over top, and put on a lid. In about 1 minute the spinach should be starting to wilt, stir the Spike and the spinach into the pasta. Serve soon. If it gets stogy, add more water and reheat.

For the Scallopini:

1 package Gardein Chick’n Scallopini, or 4 chicken-style seitan pieces
flour for dredging
olive oil for pan-frying
1 teaspoon of Spike seasoning or salt alternative
2 teaspoon tamari
2 tbsp water
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 2-inch sprig of thyme, or about 1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 tbsp vegan butter
juice from 1/2 a lemon
freshly ground pepper

Pre-heat a skillet on medium-high heat with a thin layer of oil. Dredge frozen chick’n pieces through flour, and place in hot skillet. Give the pan a shake, wait a minute, then flip. It should be browning. Sprinkle Spike over, and turn once or twice more to get a bit of golden brown around the edges and crispiness all over. Remove the scallopini, reduce the heat to medium-low, and add the garlic, thyme, tamari, and water, cooking two minutes, stirring up all the brown pits from the bottom of the pan. Bit-by-bit, stir the vegan butter into the sauce. Finish with the lemon and pepper, to taste. Feel free to add a bit more water if it needs to loosen up. Return scallopini to pan and quickly coat with sauce, serve over pasta with a side of steamed freezer veg… or something better, if you have it.