Magic Cookie Bars

My Oma was a prolific baker. She baked in competitions for flour to feed her five children, and when she baked, she baked in quantity. 400 hot cross buns for Easter, 200 tourtiers for Christmas, mountains of cookies and bars and giant pots of soup- she only knew how to cook for an army. Not that she was wasteful- everything would be frozen and distributed among children, grandchildren, neighbors, the church. Going to her house was just like Christmas. She would always have cookies and something warm on the stove to eat, tea and small presents and the warmest smiles. She would like to get Happy Meals at the mall, to collect the toys for her grandchildren.magic cookie bars

As you can imagine, when it was actually Christmas, it was even better- decorations around her tiny apartments, all kinds of cookies in festive tins, and entire garbage bags stuffed with toys, socks, and mittens. She had something magical about her. Her food was always unbelievably delicious, she always had a surprise waiting and a twinkle in her eyes. Her long, blonde hair would be done up in the most beautiful twists and knots, secured by pale bobby pins and plastic combs, though she hated having her picture taken. Her camera was reserved for portraits of her children and grandchildren, she would carry the prints around in her wallet, ready to share them with whomever would listen.

It all sounds so ordinary when I say it now, but she had that special quality that grandparents sometimes have. Everything just seemed a little shinier when I was with her.

Magic cookie bars were my favorite invention of hers. At least I thought they were her invention, turns out they were off of the back of a can of sweetened condensed milk. Chocolate and caramel and pecans and coconut- they were like candy bars, dense little bites of heaven. I had never tried making them before- I didn’t believe anyone could make them quite as delicious as she could. After all, as she would tell me, they were magic!

When she died last year, I thought that would be the end of Magic Cookie Bars for me. I mean, I was vegan, so I wouldn’t have eaten them anyway. But it was like a little bit of magic had been shut out from the world all the same. In time, though, I started to try and recreate her baking vegan versions- maybe she was gone, but I could still hold on to the spark of her life through our shared love of food and feeding those we love.

Then, one day I came across a recipe for them in Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar. I needed to make them immediately. There were some problems- there are no vegan graham crackers in Edmonton, not graham cracker crumbs. So, I improvised. The first time I made an oreo crumb crust. Delicious, but not the same. Then, I found pre-made graham crumb pie crusts that happened to be vegan. I took them out of their shells, crumbled them, tossed them with a little melted margarine and put them in the usual 9×11 inch pan. Perfect.

Baker #1 These are just like Oma used to make. I wouldn’t have guessed that it would turn out so perfectly. The sweetened condensed coconut milk is heavenly on its own, try not to eat too much, as you will need it all for the recipe. It reminds me of vegan dolce de leche. You can see the whole recipe here.

Grandmothers are irreplaceable, but that’s why they leave us recipes, so we can keep reliving our moments with them even after they are gone.

Malcolm approves of them too.


Chili Cheese Dogs, Onion Rings, and Broccoli Slaw with Fennel Dressing

Chili Cheese Dog, Onion Rings, Broccoli Slaw and PilsnerMondays are a good night for junk food. While this isn’t entirely junky, it’s pretty close. Delicious mounds of Daiya Cheddar on smoky beans and a veggie dog, crisp, oven-baked onion rings and broccoli slaw with hot sauce and fennel dressing, a nice, cold pilsener… while it’s definitely better than the non-veg alternative, it’s not exactly health food. Compensate by a double helping of slaw 🙂

I did this the easy way, in true lazy Monday-night cooking fashion. Purchased onion rings, slaw, and canned chili. I just heated the chili, tossed on a dog stuffed in a ciabatta bus, topped with Daiya Cheddar and broiled. The slaw dressing is a unique alternative to the sweet version, it’s reminiscent of sausages and barbecues… at least in my world.

Fennel Dressing

3 tbsp flax oil
2 tbsp lemon
1 tbsp water
1/4 tsp celery salt
1/4 tsp hot sauce (I used Frank’s Red Hot- nice and vinegary)
1 1/2 tsp fennel seeds, crushed
2 tsp dijon
1 good grind of black pepper
a pinch of sugar

Toss over your slaw. It would be great with the cabbage version, all those anise flavours melding together… delish!

Luna and Larry’s Coconut Bliss Ice Cream

Coconut Bliss Chocolate Hazelnut Fudge

NB: I recently found out that Coconut Bliss was bought out by a dairy farm. I believe the owner’s intentions were good, and that this was what they saw as the best way out of a crappy situation, but you can look at their explanation and decide for yourself!

I know I just admitted that ice cream was the thing I miss least about being vegan. However, there are certain situations where ice cream is called for, and it’s important to have a reasonable substitute to the dairy version. In this case, it was the boy’s birthday. After watching him devour a slab of tiramisu three inches thick, following a dinner of spaghetti doused in cooking oil and poorly prepared vegetables (diced, over-cooked asparagus, anyone? Undercooked white mushrooms?) I needed a treat. A treat that did not involve cooking. That’s where ice cream comes in. It’s such a decadent, once-in-a-while dessert, and done properly, it can make or break an evening.

I had tried other soy and coconut milk ice creams before, and found them lacking- either the texture (too processed or with artificial thickeners), or the flavour (just because I’m vegan doesn’t mean I only eat fruit!) was just off. But Luna and Larry have done some kind of wonderful with Coconut Bliss. This stuff reminds me of Baskin Robinns– good, rich, dense, smooth- proper ice cream.

After first seeing it at Planet Organic I was intrigued…. after reading this review, I was compelled… and after PO decided to have a customer appreciation day with a discount on the stuff, I was sold. And I am so glad I was. I would not normally spend money/calories on a dessert- I’d rather spend it on good olives or wine. But this is excellent. Here’s what I recommend:

Coconut Bliss and Brandy (a suggestion, more than a recipe)

1 scoop Coconut Bliss Chocolate Hazelnut Fudge Ice Cream
1 ounce good French brandy

Place ice cream in a tea cup or glass of your choosing. Pour brandy over. Swoon.

Lazy Raw Almond Cheese

Lazy Almond Feta Cheese with Herb OilYou guessed it, that’s the lazy grad student’s variation of that wonderful Almond Feta Cheese with Herb Oil recipe that’s been floating around for the past year. It’s a lovely recipe, and I’m sure it’s splendid when made as designed. but who can wait a day and a half for almond feta? Not this lady!

This variation involves a couple lazy short cuts. First, I reduce the soaking time by using smaller pieces of almonds. I usually use unblanched almonds, cause fiber is good for you- obviously, the texture won’t be as smooth, but it’s still just as tasty. Then, I skip the refrigeration step and just toss the mix into a pretty dish. You’ll need the dish to be an inch or so deeper than your cheese, this baby likes to rise (mysteriously).  Lastly, I just top the mess with good quality olive oil and fresh herbs- no need to go dirtying another pan. Definitely try the original version, but once you’re hooked and want it all the time, try this quicky version sometime instead. Like when you found the most perfect, fresh-baked baguette at the store, and need something to put on it so you feel less of a freak, eating baguette for breakfast, lunch and dinner in a given day…

Lazy Almond Feta Cheese

1 cup sliced raw almonds, fresh as you can get them, blanched or unblanched
1/4 cup lemon juice, plus more to taste if you’re really digging the lemon (I dig)
2 tbsp good olive oil, plus more to drizzle over
1 largish clove of garlic, minced
1 tsp salt
2 tsp fresh rosemary, or dried, to sprinkle over (the original recipe calls for thyme too, but if you’re only committed to spending a little bit on fresh herbs, go for the rosemary)

Optional garnish: Flaky salt, a fresh squeeze of lemon, some olives, and some cracked black pepper or crushed red chili peppers (or both!)

Soak almonds in tepid water, out of the fridge, for at least two hours- they should be gummy around the edges. If soaking for longer, toss it in the fridge, but bring to room temperature before draining. Blend in a food processor with lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, and salt. If needed, add water a teaspoon or two at a time. The less water you have to use, the better. Try and keep it under two tablespoons. Toss in a oven-safe serving dish- larger, shallow ones do better than deeper ones, since the cheese will dry out more evenly that way. Don’t worry if it looks scant. So long as it’s an inch or so deep, once you top it with all those pretty toppings no one will feel like they’re being short-changed on their cheese! Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30-45 minutes, or until browning on top. Alternately, skip this step and enjoy raw. Believe me, it’s just as good either way. The warmth of the cheese brings out the olive notes in the oil, so maybe warm slightly in a bain marie if you want to keep it raw, but want some warmth as well. Top it with a glug or two of olive oil, the rosemary, and any of the optional toppings you like. Try not to eat it in one sitting…. though be warned, I have yet to exhibit such self-control myself.

Sweet Potato and Kale Stew

I have a thing for coconut curries with green and yellow flavours- tumeric, cilantro, lemon grass, cardamom, cumin. Orange winter squashes and root vegetables get elevated to new heights when their sweetness is offset with bright, aromatic notes. I make dishes like this often…. But this time I wanted something different. I wanted a wholesome, light, healthy stew with simple flavours and down-home appeal. This recipe started as an attempt to move away from what I usually do with big old sweet potato. The traditional herb seasoning and addition of hearty kale and split peas make this stew reminiscent of rustic French cooking… or that’s what I like to tell myself, anyway. My experience with French cooking is limited to the three years of home-study of my grandmother’s Julia Child cookbooks in my pre-vegan cooking days and a highschool class trip. Either way, this is exactly what I need when I’ve been abusing my body with too much salt and spice and fat. Good clean food.

Sweet Potato and Kale Stew

3 carrots, sliced thickly
3 stalks of celery, sliced
2 yellow onions, diced
8-10 cloves of garlic, minced, divided in two piles
1 very large sweet potato (the orange kind), peeled and diced
2 bunches of curly kale (though I’m sure any kind would do), stems removed, torn into bite-sized pieces
1 cup dry yellow split peas

Tied together with kitchen twine… or dental floss:
1 bay leaf
1 3-inch sprig of rosemary
2 3-inch sprigs of thyme
2 3-inch sprigs or parsley
1 tsp summer savoury

Splashes of low-sodium tamari
Juice of one lemon

Cook split peas according to package directions. Caramelize onions slowly over medium-low heat in a bit of olive oil. When translucent and golden (about ten minutes), add carrots, celery, and garlic. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often. Add sweet potatoes and enough water to cover all the vegetables. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and add herb bundle. Simmer for about half an hour, or until vegetables are meltingly tender. Add split peas and kale, lemon juice and tamari to taste. Simmer for 5 minutes, or until kale is cooked but still bright green.

This little one was very interested in the whole process. His brother and sister were somewhat less enthused about the strange lady making lots of noise in their kitchen.