A delicious meal from a few weeks ago and some other stuff

First thing’s first: a satisfying meal I made early this summer with green pea couscous, a thyme roasted tomato, some creamy humus, and an awesome seared fennel dish with radishes, olives, red onion, feta cheese, raisins, fresh parsley and lemon juice. I served this with a nigella seed pita bread, which is so good. I need to learn how to make different breads…

I’m currently listening to Michael Pollan, of The Omnivore’s Dilemma fame on Heritage Radio Network, a great radio station that focuses on “the full breadth of the food industry.” Their shows hosts range from chefs, to critics, to farmers, to influential food and agriculture advocates; it’s amazing.
Check it out: http://www.heritageradionetwork.com/

A bit of culture:

Last night I watched the Polanski film Carnage. The film is based on a play that was written by the writer Yasmina Reza, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Polanski.

I was going to add a link to the trailer but I think it reveals too much. It’s better to watch it without any knowledge of what the movie is about. The acting and script are phenomenal. It might not pack quite the punch it would like to, but it’s nonetheless a well developed satire about 2 deliriously entertaining couples trying to arrive at a mutual understanding over a violent even that took place between their sons. I, personally, was mesmerized by the unfolding action and the actors. Jodie Foster in particular is a knock out. It’s fun, short and unlike anything I’ve watched recently.

What I’m eating

I really need to take my camera out of the cupboard… Having an Iphone has made me lazy about my food photography. Apologies for the following lackluster pictures. I thought I’d post a few pictures of meals I’ve made recently. Nothing too complicated, nothing heavy-it is the summer after all-and mostly locally sourced ingredients.

I’m becoming less moderate about my eating choices. I can’t continue learning about the food industry without make personal changes to what and how I feed myself. I’ll be elaborating on some of these thoughts over the coming weeks and months: suffice to say, it ain’t pretty. Environmental degradation, animal abuse, increased risks of viruses and diseases, waste, corruption, profit over human rights; the list goes on and on.

I’m taking a serious step in reducing my meat intake(including fish). I plan on only buying from sources I know provide acceptable living standards for their animals, and I will do my best to only frequent restaurants that do the same, unfortunately, there aren’t many. I will occasionally make exceptions, but my hope is that within a few months I won’t have to do that anymore. We’ll see how it goes. To a certain extent, to anyone who knows me, I’m reverting to my vegetarianism. Oh boy… I guess I’ll be cooking more than I already do. Hosting parties will have to be more frequent as well.

I bought porc and beef sausages from Valens farms, a cooperative of smaller farms that is doing its best to provide Quebecers with healthier and ethically superior food options. There were 3 small sausages, but that was enough to last me for 3 meals. One advice I always give to people who are considering cutting down on their meat intake is to prepare dishes where less is needed.

Here are a few things you can easily make at home:

1. A peach, arugula and goat cheese salad. We’re getting Ontario peaches in Québec at the moment and they’re wonderful. Mixing them with peppery arugula, adding a few crunchy and spicy slices of radish, and a tart goat cheese and you’ve got something that’s absolutely delicious. There are some toasted almonds in there too, for extra protein, and the full bodied nutty flavor it adds.

peaches, arugula, goat cheese, radishes

2. I bought these corn tortillas at the supermarket last week. They come in packs of about 30 and I’ve had to eat at bunch of different kinds of tortillas recently. The corn that they’re made of is also problematic, as it’s most likely a GMO crop… I’d rather avoid supporting the companies that produce such products, but I succumbed to my desire for something I hadn’t eaten in a long time. Anyways, these tortillas were filled with brown rice mixed with fresh organic corn I bought from a small farm just outside of Montreal, black beans, the above mentioned sausages, tomatoes and some coriander. The spicy paste I made with dried chipotle peppers I had that I soaked in rhum, and blended with tomatoes, roasted garlic, coriander and cumin seeds and some other things that escape me now. Tasty.

tortillas with spicy paste, and a filling of sausages, corn, black beans, tomatoes and coriander

3. This is a salad I was very pleased with. Simple but the ingredients worked very well together and its acidity provided the refreshing quality I was looking for after a sweltering day biking around town. I sliced apples, let them soak in a bit of lemon juice, added redcurrants, olive oil sauteed pieces of bread, sauteed slices of the sausages, sliced Parmesan and mixed all of it with an arugula and endive lettuce blend I prepared. The dressing was a mix of lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, honey, grain mustard, and sunflower oil.

I was quite pleased with this one: arugula, endive, redcurrants, apples, homemade breadcrumbs, Parmesan and sauteed sausages

4. I wish I had had more Feta for the following dish. It was a quick take on a greek salad: dried oregano, tomatoes, olive oil sauteed bread, red onion slices, kalamata olives, capers and the last remaining feta.

Wish I had had more Feta… pretty good anyways

Yummy veggie lunch fix

I’ve been quite good at eating less meat recently, and especially good at avoiding meat from large producers where antibiotics and hormones are used, and where the animals suffer in what I feel are unethical environments.

However, I’ve noticed that I haven’t been posting any of the tasty vegetarian food I’ve been eating. So, in the spirit of healthy eating and veggie food, here’s what I ate for lunch.

spinach salad and veggie patty humus cracker
orange, almond, sun dried tomato, spinach salad

I’ll start with the salad because it’s more straight forward and doesn’t need much preparation time.

The salad consisted of:

Spinach
one large orange, cut into wedges
3 pieces of sun dried tomato, thinly sliced
toasted almonds
aged cheddar
(a softer cheese like fresh ricotta, cottage cheese, or a less powerful Parmesan would have been better)
Sherry vinegar
Dijon mustard

I used the orange juice that had emerged from the wedges for a vinaigrette base, in which I added sherry vinegar, salt and pepper, a tiny amount of Dijon mustard, some dried marjoram, and finally olive oil. The rest involves mixing in the rest of the ingredients, aha. Not too hard. It’s a really nice salad, that would be better as mentioned above with a cheese that is softer on the palate than an aged cheddar.

The cracker on the side had a humus spread, caramelized onions and vegetarian patties I had made the previous nice for dinner.

The patties consisted of:

Short brown rice, pre-cooked
Black beans, boiled and ready to eat
A small grated carrot
A small grated parsnip
Pumpkin seeds
Wheat bran
A few dried dates
one egg
salt and pepper

The ingredients for dish were inspired by leftovers and pragmatism… There are unlimited ways to make a veggie patty, and this is just one of them. In fact, I’ve never made any that were remotely similar to these ones.

The brown rice was a leftover, and the black beans I had soaked and boiled for dinner didn’t appeal me as is. Both ingredients, together, contain the necessary amino acids(the building blocks of proteins) to create a full protein, which I wanted for dinner. To this, for some extra vitamins and minerals, I added the grated carrots and parsnip. I added the pumpkin seeds for more protein and for their high content of iron. They also would provide a textural element. Finally I added about 3 seedless dates and an egg for binding purposes. When roughly blended in the food processor I noticed that my mix was too moist. To rectify this I could have used a number of different solutions, popped amaranth for example, but instead chose to add wheat bran as an experiment. It is an ingredient rich in dietary fiber, essential fatty acids as well as protein, vitamins and dietary minerals. It’s also dry, which is what I needed. I shaped the patties, slowly fried them in a small quantity of sunflower oil in a non-stick skillet and finished them off in the oven. They have a really nice texture and taste good.
Today, cold, combined with the humus and caramelized humus, they tasted even better.

Together, the 2 dishes provide a healthy meal that is easy to digest and cheap to make.

Food detox day 5

Best day so far.

Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.

The day started off very well with a delicious salad of thinly sliced red cabbage, apples, rhubarb, celery and toasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds. Finished off with lemon juice and a touch of grape seed oil, this is the kind of recipe or dish that keeps a healthy diet going beyond the diet part, aha. Fresh, crunchy, light and full of a host of great vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, this salad will become a staple.(In fact we had it for breakfast this morning as well!)

good for breakfast, good for lunch, good for whenever you feel like it...

Later I enjoyed a smoothie of strawberries, rasberries, ginger, some fresh mind and yerba mate. This was nice and refreshing; I like the addition of the mint and the yerba mate, that we usually enjoy with hot water, is full of antioxidants and provides great energy(It contains caffeine, or a similar alkaloid).

For lunch I used some of the leftovers from previous days and made myself a delicious quinoa salad that consisted of some of the tomato salsa, some of the black bean dip, some fresh parsley oil, and steamed broccoli.

The highlight of the day however was dinner. Upon waking up, I decided to soak kidney and black beans with the intention of making a vegetarian chili. During the day, I bought some sweet potato, and enough fresh tomatoes for the chili base. I also got some lime and avocado for guacamole. Now, I’ve made numerous chilis before, and some turned out good, but they’ve never satisfied what I was looking for. Last night, everything just came together and I was able to enjoy the best chili of my life.

I started off by evenly cutting a very large onion, which I slowly sweetened by browning it. I chopped a few large garlic cloves and put that to the side until my onions had golden edges. I mixed turmeric, paprika, chili powder, cayenne, dried marjoram and a smoked pepper spice from Mexico a friend of ours gave us. I also added whole cumin, coriander, fennel and anise seeds to the browning onions. After adding the garlic and letting it cook for a minute or so, I added my spice mix, let that cook for about a minute, and then added half of a small can of tomato paste which I mixed in and let brown for another minute or two, careful not to burn the ingredients. I then added 3 chopped medium sized tomatoes, the beans, cubed sweet potato, a celery stalk, a quarter green bell pepper, a quarter red pepper, a dried ancho chili, a dried chipotle chili and some finely chopped fresh onion. I simmered it for about 45 min, made some short brown rice in the meantime and made my guacamole, which consisted of a fresh tomato, 2 lime, 3 avocado, a quarter of a finely chopped onion, chili powder, cumin powder and olive oil.

I could eat this way for the rest of my life.

simple vegetable stew with brown rice

Here’s a simple dish that surprised me with its depth of flavor, and I wanted to share it because I think I know why it turned out so much better than in previous incarnations…

Actually, it’s not that complicated: use fresh ingredients of a higher quality. For example, I recently heard an Italian woman on the radio complain about the poor flavor of the garlic that comes from China in grocery stores. I hadn’t thought of garlic as an ingredient that existed in many forms before. I’d seen it at the market but I had overlooked it. Now, lets make one thing clear, it’s not that China can’t make great garlic, it’s that those smaller, very white bulbs often found in packs of three are of the cheaper variety that gets shipped here. I now mostly buy local garlic at a bit of a premium when I shop. I can’t find it everywhere, but it’s around and I know where to get it now. There are also other varieties that pack a flavorful punch, and I suggest you try a few and see the difference it makes in your cooking. Garlic is often considered a very healthy addition to food, and I suggest you do a bit of research about it. One doesn’t need much of it, and it is easily added to many recipes. Perhaps you’d benefit from using it more often…

What do you need: eggplant, zucchini, green beans, carrots, garlic, green bell peppers, an onion, olive oil, canned tomatoes, fresh bay leaves and brown rice.

I still had(and have) some of the fresh bay leaves I bought for last week’s tajine dinner and I made great use of them once again when I prepared this meal for Carolina and I. They release such a fragrant and beautiful flavor: there’s no comparing it with the dried stuff as far as I am concerned, and I will start using it exclusively from now on when I care about how my dish tastes… The canned tomatoes I used were San Marzano tomatoes, which are tomatoes that come from a small village in northern Italy that are apparently among the best in the world. They cost more than other tomatoes though, and there is skepticism as to the legitimacy of these actually being San Marzano tomatoes. Rob, from Pasta a-go-go, did mention that you can get these tomatoes in great quantities around North America, despite the fact that San Marzano is a tiny village that could not produce the quantities necessary to fulfill everyone’s needs. That being said, the tomatoes are now grown in other parts of the world as well. I did find some information about Rob’s concerns, however, and I’m posting it below:

Most San Marzano tomatoes sold commercially are grown in Italy, though they are produced commercially in smaller quantities in other countries.
Unfortunately because of San Marzano’s premium pricing there is an on going battle against fraudulent product. On November 22nd of 2010 the Italian carabinieri confiscated 1,470 tons of canned tomatos worth €1.2 million of improperly labeled product, some branded with names mentioned above.

-Wikipedia.

Anyways, San Marzano tomatoes are often considered great for sauces and I think that this dish came out better because I used them.

San marzano canned tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, carrots, onions, garlic, bay leaf and lots of love, ahah

I started by making the rice. I heated olive oil, added two of the bay leaves and a whole garlic clove. When they had released some of their flavors, I added rinsed brown rice and mixed it in with the olive oil; attempting to coat each individual grain with some of the oil. I learned to this when taking a vegetarian Indian cooking class some years ago. The theory is that by doing so they won’t stick to other grains as much.

bay leaf brown rice

While slowly cooking the rice, I started with the stew.

The process is simple: sweat garlic and onions in olive oil. Roughly chop each vegetable and add to the pot, season with salt and pepper, and add the canned tomatoes with a bay leaf. Most of the vegetables cook quickly, so I waited until the carrots, which I had cut into larger pieces, were cooked through but not soft to know that my stew was ready. It didn’t not take very long, and I managed the keep each vegetables’ textural integrity in the process.

I served the stew over the savory rice and enjoyed. The whole thing took me less than half an hour to prepare and cook.

Saturday night’s Vegan potluck with Tajine, couscous, caramelized onions and one of the best dishes I’ve made

On Saturday night, Carolina and I organized a small dinner in our home. We invited two couples we haven’t spent much time with: Osvaldo Ramirez-Castillo, an incredible artist and his girlfriend Sophie, as well as Camillo and Minka, a couple that Carolina had met at Osvaldo’s last vernissage at PUSH gallery, who are artists as well.

When I learned that Minka was vegan I decided to accommodate her by making the entire dinner vegan. I am always excited at challenging myself to make new things, and even if making a vegan dinner isn’t especially difficult, it allowed me to think outside my usual parameters of culinary creativity to come up with some new things. And so, for dinner, I prepared a green bean, walnut and caramelized cippolini onion warm salad, a chickpea, artichoke and rapini dish, and a vegetable tajine with couscous. I hit a homerun. Everything was delicious: one of those nights you just smile at what you’ve produced, humbly acknowledging that you are great, ahah.

Let’s look at some of what I used and I’ll then proceed to share with you the basic recipes for each dish. As always, this is an act of improvisation so it should become one for you too.

Some of my Tajine Veggies
Zucchini
Eggplant and parsley
olives and artichokes
safran boiled potatoes

I did my shopping in the morning and when I returned I immediately started simmering the dried chickpeas I was going to use in water with some onion, garlic, fresh bay leaf, a carrot, pepper, star anise, a piece of dried guajillo chili and a cinnamon stick. I wanted to make sure that the chickpeas would be ready for dinner time and I usually let them soak over night before cooking them, but I was happy to find out that they took less than 3 hours to cook. I cooked them in a quick stock to imbibe them with flavor and because I wanted to use some of it later during the preparation of my tajine. It tasted quite nicely I might had. The guajillo added a bit of spice and an exotic sweetness that went well with that of the cinnamon and anise. The fresh bay leaf also worked wonders. I need to make sure to always have some at my disposal because I used it profusely and to great effect.

As my chickpeas cooked on the stove, I calmly went about prepping the rest of the food. I cut my vegetables(eggplant, zucchinis, tomatoes, red onion, potatoes, garlic, fennel, green beans, cippolini onions, rapini and bell peppers), took out my spices(mustard seeds, fennel seeds, coriander seeds,cumin and caraway seeds, turmeric, paprika, safran and dried oregano) and went about organizing everything for an efficient dinner.

I like to flavor my veggies before putting them in the Tajine. I do this in different ways. On Saturday, I cut my potatoes in half and boiled them in water with safran, I quickly sauteed my bell peppers and zucchini with my red onion and garlic, I seared my fennel slices in my iron skillet and softened them up a bit in the oven, and I sauteed my eggplant and mixed in my spices and some of the stock I used to cook the chickpeas. I avoid cooking the vegetables through; I’m simply looking to add additional layers of flavor, mostly by releasing the individual vegetables’ sugars. Often, when I make Tajines, I like to roasted pearl onions before adding them to the vegetable mix for example.

seared fennel slices
Sauteed veg

When all my ingredients for the Tajine were ready, I mixed them all together including some chickpeas(half of what I had cooked), some fresh bay leaves, and Moroccan black olives as well as Sicilian olives. I put them in the Tajine bowl and put it to the side. I would be needing about an hour in the oven to finish it and was only going to do that when our guests arrived.

The veggie Tajine

My two starter dishes. For the green bean salad I sauteed my green beans and added a bit of stock to coat them and help with the cooking. I like mine crunchy so I didn’t cook them for very long. While I did that, I put my skinned cippolini onions in aluminum foil with some fresh bay leaves and olive oil. After taking them out of the toaster oven where they cooked at 400 °, I roasted some walnuts at about 300 °. To finish off the salad, I mixed the onions with the green beans and walnuts, added some olive oil and zested some lemon over it. It was ready for service.

caramelized cippolinis with bay leaves

Finally, my most successful dish of the evening, something I will be adapting and re-doing frequently: a chickpea, marinated artichoke heart, and rapini salad.

The secret of this dish lies in the subtle sauce I mixed the ingredients in. Before I get to that though, for the chickpeas I used the other half I had cooked, I steamed my rapini, making sure they remained fresh and crunchy, and I quartered my store bought marinated grilled artichoke.

marinated and grilled artichoke

When all of those things were ready I went about cooking my sauce. You might have noticed earlier that my picture of the zucchini features the core of it cut out and placed to the side. This core is softer and soggier when cooked with steam or braised and I like to take it out and use it for other purposes when I cook zucchini. In this case, it was to become the base of my thick dressing. I cut it into smaller pieces and slowly softened it on the stove with olive oil and seasoning.

zucchini core

While cooking the zucchini I toasted some sunflower seeds. When both were finished I blended them in my food processor with olive oil, lemon juice, flat leaf parsley, and fennel greens. The mix was beautifully nutty and savory, a subtle but flavorful addition to the dish. I mixed in my chickpeas and added the artichoke and rapini. The slight acidity of the lemon juice, the bitterness of the rapini and the earthiness of the chickpeas assumed different personalities and each bite was a fresh mix of the three, independent but complementary flavors. One of the best dishes I’ve made in a long time.

toasting sunflower seeds

Before serving the Tajine, I made some couscous in which I mixed fresh parsley. The mix of the richness of the exotic vegetarian Tajine and the simple and light couscous works wonders.

Hope you like this. It’s a great meal for meat eaters and vegetarian alike, offering lots of energy and nutrients. I also contains that carb(the couscous) that meat eaters usually crave in foods that don’t contain the heavy proteins of animals.

Try it out, modify it and enjoy.

Stuffed portobello mushrooms

Vegetarian stuffed portobellos

This is going to be a quick one. I got to go take advantage of the sun before going to work. I just made a quick lunch with things that I had in my fridge. There wasn’t much so I had to improvise. The result was very good, not to mention extremely cheap and easy to make.

I sauteed french shallots, garlic, a bit of ginger with carrots, green beans and puy lentils in a pan, and turned the oven on to 350°.

stuffing: carrots, green beans, shallots, garlic, ginger, thyme

Meanwhile, I took out the mushroom’s stalk and cleaned the portobello that I then slowly fried in olive oil, head side down, and filled the cavity with a bit of water. This way, I could accelerate the process of cooking it, and I would make sure that it had a nice consistency all the way through.

When the stuffing was finished sauteing, I took it off the heat, splashed it with red wine vinegar, added one egg, a tbls of dijon mustard and some freshly grated Parmesan. I mixed everything together and put a slice of multigrain bread in the toaster over, dried it out and made large bread crumbs that I added to my mixture. When the mushrooms were mostly cooked through, I stuffed them with the mix, and placed them in the oven.

I let them cook for about 10 min. and had myself a healthy, cheap and very tasty lunch.