Empty bowls for full bellies

For the last few years, I’ve gone to an “Empty Bowls” event in support of the local food bank. If you’ve never experienced this kind of evening, you should definitely look for one in your area.

The events are always in support of local organizations dedicated to helping the hungry, whether it’s a shelter, food bank or drop-in centre. Local potters donate their hand-crafted bowls, and restaurants donate soup and bread. Your ticket buys you the bowl of your choice, and access to taste as many of the soups as you like. There’s also a team on hand to rinse and dry your bowl between servings.

It’s always a warm environment, in every way; people always share which of the soups they liked the best, making recommendations for what to try next. This year, I also had the privilege of sharing my table with a local farmer. He was rather old school when it came to farming, meaning he “doesn’t do that organic stuff”, but I could have chatted with him all night.

 I did, however, feel a little guilty. My friend had an “in” with one of the organizers, who let us pick out our bowls the night before because we weren’t going to be able to make it until the last half of the evening. Little did I know this would result in some major bowl envy! As I went from station to station, I could see and hear people oohing and ahhing about my bowl. When I left it unattended for a couple of minutes to chat with someone I met at last year’s event, my farmer friend warned me that if I’d waited any longer to come back, it may not have been there.

Butternut squash cocount soup

The soup, in The Bowl. Also featuring a must-read for all.

By far, my favourite soup of the evening was Butternut Squash Coconut. Two favourite things in one warm (and lovely) bowl? And totally vegan? Yeah-huh! Despite the sloshing in my belly on my way home, I was inspired and immediately had to figure this one out. I know, a lot of my posts so far have been soup-centred, but it’s getting cold out there!

Butternut Squash Coconut Soup

Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients:

1 butternut squash
1 tbsp coconut oil
1 sweet onion, diced
1 medium apple, peeled and diced
2 cups vegetable stock
2 tsp mild curry powder
2 tsp fresh ginger (or more to taste)
Pinch nutmeg
Pinch cumin
2 tsp lemon juice
1 can light coconut milk (14 oz)
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

1. Roast the squash: preheat oven to 350 degrees. Peel squash, cut in half and remove seeds. Place cut-side down in a glass container and cover with foil. Bake for 30 to 45 minutes or until fork tender. When cool, chop and set aside.

2. Heat the coconut oil in a large pot. Sautee the onion over medium heat until translucent.

 3. Add the apple, squash, spices and lemon juice. Bring to a simmer until apples are tender.

4. Place the contents into a blender or food processor, or use an immersion blender and puree until smooth.

5. Return the contents to the pot and add the coconut milk and bring back up to heat. Add salt and pepper as needed.

It’s pumpkin season!

I love fall. LOVE it. Love the colours, the spices in the air and even the sweater weather. It’s all good.

Halloween seems to have inspired me, because I made two amazing recipes with pumpkin today. Although one was totally by accident.

First up: Happy Herbivore’s Maple-Kissed Pumpkin Muffins. Based on the overwhelming success of the last muffin recipe I tried from her, I went straight for the double batch. You should, too. I also shared these with my mom, which is my sneaky way of getting her to like vegan food before I tell her what I’m up to. I think it’s working! She loved them.

Bonus recipe: Lindsay shared her recipe for Pumpkin Pie Spice on her Facebook status: “DIY pumpkin pie spice = 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp ginger, 1/8 tsp nutmeg, dash or two allspice or cloves = 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice.” Multiply by 4 to get enough for a double batch of muffins, and make more to keep some on hand for almond milk pumpkin spice lattes!

While these sweet little babies were in the oven, I contemplated what to do with the rest of the can of pumpkin puree, as I only had a big one on hand. I don’t have a lot of experience cooking with pumpkin; last time I bought it was to help my poor kitty fill her litter box when she was a little… well, “stuck”.

avah hiding

This is what Avah does when my fire alarm goes off, which is every time I make toast. Or when I discover my oven runs too hot.

Pumpkin and Black Bean Burritos

Serves 4 to 6

Pumpkin Black Bean Burritos

Topped with my favourite salsa, avocado, and my own home-grown sunflower sprouts

I was planning to make Black Bean and Butternut Squash Burritos from Oh She Glows, but the batch of butternut squash I made in preparation the the other night didn’t quite work out. In other news, my oven runs a little hot. These two things are related. Anyone know what to do with charred squash?

Anyway,  with all the other ingredients plus some others on hand, I started to experiment and made these instead. But I WILL try the original recipe again some time, from Angela Liddon’s recipe pages.

Ingredients:

1 tbsp coconut oil
1 small onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 red pepper, diced
1/2 cup cauliflower, in small florets
1 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 can pure pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
2 cups cooked brown rice
One 15-oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
3 tbsp lemon juice
3/4 cup Daiya cheese
Large whole wheat tortilla wraps
Avocado, tomato, mango lime salsa and sunflower sprouts, or your other favourite toppings

Directions:

1. Melt coconut oil in a large skillet or wok over medium heat. Add onions and garlic, and sautee until onions are translucent.

2. Add salt, cumin and cayenne and sautee for one minute.

3. Add lemon juice, red pepper, cauliflower, black beans, pumpkin puree and cooked rice. Sautee for about 10 minutes or until heated through

4. Lower heat, add Daiya cheese and stir to combine.

5. Warm tortilla wraps and add filling to the centre of each. Add your favourite fresh toppings, wrap and serve.


Options:

  • For a crispy burrito, place them under the broiler for a few minutes to brown.
  • Fill tortillas with the cooked filling, wrap tightly in foil and freeze. When it’s time to eat, place them frozen on a tray and bake at 350 F for 20 minutes. Unwrap and add fresh toppings, or pair with your favourite salad.

Delicious and warm thoughts of Morocco

When I started collecting links on Delicious six years ago, I quickly found that the tag I used the most was “recipes”. I currently have 636 recipes, about a third of those under “vegan”. Have I actually made over a year’s worth of food? Well… no, but the intention was always there.

Often, I’d buy some of the more obscure ingredients and almost immediately forget which recipe they were for. Anyone else have to throw out unidentified spices, oozing bags of “what was that again?” or jars of  “ew, who knew THAT would happen!”?

I also subscribe to a lot of food-focused email newsletters, although most of them aren’t vegan. But, every once in a while a meatless gem appears. This time, I had to try the 20-minute Supperclub’s Moroccan Spiced Chickpea Soup.

20-Minute Supper Club's Moroccan Spiced Chickpea Soup

A couple of key things instantly piqued my interest: cinnamon, garlic, chickpeas and tomatoes. But mostly the cinnamon. In soup? Really? There are MORE places for my favourite spice ever? OH yes. And it really did take about 20 minutes to put together.

The only thing missing from the picture is the spinach. It’s way better if you throw in in when you warm it up, rather than leave it in if you’re going to put it in the fridge. Keep your fresh greens fresh!

For joy, the 20-Minute Supperclub also has a good selection of other vegan recipes to try. I’m definitely adding lots of these to my Delicious file!

Fake fish. Who knew?

Switching to a plant-based diet got about a million times easier when I discovered Happy Herbivore. I’ve learned so much from Lindsay Nixon’s website about how easy vegan cooking can be, and I’ve already made a bunch of her recipes several times. Especially the Apple Crisp Muffins:

Apple Crisp Muffins by Happy Herbivore Lindsay Nixon

They should really make 13-hole baker's dozen pans.

I’m already on my fourth batch in two weeks. And I even doubled the last two batches, so I could have one big, sweet, yummy bundle for breakfast each morning. They’re moist without being mushy, and sweet without being too sugary. Pure love!

But the biggest surprise so far has been her Mock Tuna Salad. This is seriously amazing stuff! I swear, my omnivore friends were jealous when I shared some with them, and now they think I should bottle it for sale. Or just so they can always have some.

Mock Tuna Salad by Happy Herbivore Lindsay Nixon

The only change I made to this one was to add some diced carrot. Remember that discarded veggie tray? Yeah, there was lots left for this recipe as well. That, and I’d already mixed the diced celery and carrots, and didn’t really feel like picking them apart. I would have shown it to you as I had it on a pita with pickles and sunflower sprouts, or in a wrap, but I just ate them too fast for the camera!

Oh yeah, and I’ve decided to shoot my “experiments” in different parts of my house with random props, like those old Weight Watchers recipe cards. Did people seriously eat that stuff in the ’70s? Was there really nothing else? So sad. And hilarious.

Thank you, Lindsay, for making the herbie life easier and super delicious. I can’t wait until her new cookbook arrives, but in the meantime, pop on over to her recipe page, check out her 1200-calorie meal plans, and find out what she’s brewing on her blog!

Kashmir Vegetable Soup from Fresh

Imagine you’re a famous singer, on tour with your band. You travel from town to town, venue to venue, for weeks on end. The one thing you can count on when you get to each destination is that they have your rider: a list of things you, as the artist, demands as part of the performance contract. You can check out really wacky ones from the uber famous over at The Smoking Gun.

Last week, one artist playing at the theatre I work at part time left behind an entire container of veggies and dip. Must have been too busy chasing those two whole chickens with all that beer and wine, eh boys? Because they were untouched, I decided to take the veggies home and see what I could to with the baby carrots, celery, cauliflower, and broccoli once I threw out that pasty white dip. After scanning my favourite cookbooks, I found an amazing recipe that used all of those things. Convenient or what?

Fresh at home to the rescue

I really miss having a Fresh to go to next door for lunch every day!  I wasn’t vegan when I lived and worked in Toronto, but I absolutely loved Fresh on Spadina and went there a few times a week. Usually for The Beach rice bowl, but every once in a while I’d try something new. Colour me stupidly happy when they started publishing cookbooks! I have all three now and am starting to collect the ingredients and work my way through them all.

Kashmir Vegetable Soup | Fresh at Home | Ruth Tal Brown/Jennifer Houston | page 35

Serves 4 to 6

Kashmir Vegetable Soup from "Fresh at Home"

This thick, warm and spicy soup is perfect for the fall. It’s also a great way to clear out your fridge in case you don’t have wasteful singing groups to supply you.  Two wee changes: I didn’t have ground coriander and I’m not much of a fan of it, so I used basil and a lemon instead. I also used quinoa flour because it’s what I had on hand, but next time I’d either use half as much or cut it out altogether. It really got quite thick on its own with the lentils.

Ingredients:

4 tbps olive oil
2 cooking onions, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 stalk celery, finely diced
1 carrot, peeled and finely diced [or a bunch of diced baby carrots]
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp ground coriander [or 1 tbsp basil and the juice and rind of 1 small lemon]
1 tsp ground red chili flakes
1 tbsp curry powder
1 cup red lentils
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 cup light spelt flour [I used quinoa flour and would use less or leave it out next time]
1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
8 cups Roasted Vegetable Stock [their recipe is included in the book; I used organic veggie stock and a bit of water]
1 cup broccoli, cut into small florets
1 cup cauliflower, cut into small florets
Pinch sea salt

Directions:

1. Heat oil in a pot over medium heat.

2. Stir in onions, garlic, celery and carrot. Cook for 1 minute to coat vegetables in oil.

3. Stir in cinnamon, coriander (or substitutes), red chili flakes and curry powder. Cook for 1 minute.

4. Add lentils, tomato paste and flour (if using). Stir for a couple of minutes to cook the flour.

5. Add crushed tomatoes, then vegetable stock. Stir constantly to avoid lumps.

6. Cook about 15 minutes. When lentils are soft and nearly cooked, add broccoli and cauliflower. Cook another 15 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Add salt to taste.

7. Remove from heat and serve.

The batch I made on Sunday is fabulous and is keeping very well, though I’m pretty sure it won’t see the weekend. It’s too good! And it goes really well with the Mock Tuna Salad I’ll tell you about tomorrow.

I just turned 40. No, it’s ok, I love it! Funny how everyone I’ve talked to about it asks me how I feel about turning the “big 4-0”. Really? I’m relieved. For some reason, it feels like the pressure is off.

What pressure? Oh, let’s see. I’m the youngest and only girl in a Catholic Italian family. My parents, both born in Italy, come from huge families, which means I have dozens of cousins. I’m unmarried, no kids. Yes, I’m straight, despite what the old biddies at church are probably saying. I stopped going to church over a year ago anyway, so who cares? I have a good job, my own house and car, and an adorable cat. Yes, just one; no crazy cat lady am I.

Given the demographics, you may imagine what growing up in that environment has been like until now. Although I never really got the “So, why aren’t you married yet?” drilling from my relatives, it’s always felt a bit implied. Then again, they may have already assumed an answer based on one thing: I’ve been chubby all my life. Despite my best efforts, all I seem to lose is sweat and patience.

So, with the mental chains that turning 40 seems to have released, I’ve embarked on a new adventure. Six months ago, I made the switch to being a vegetarian. I’d tried it before, but this time I was a lot more informed. It started when I watched the film Earthlings, which I think everyone should see. It’s free, online. Go now, and then come back. It’s ok, I’ll wait.

It leaves quite an impression, doesn’t it? That was enough to get me started, but it was just the first step for me. I’m an avid researcher, so I need to know all sides to a story before I commit to anything. Even paint colours for my house, but that’s another story.

I read lots of books on health and diet, plant-based programs, cookbooks and more. I saw other movies: Forks Over Knives, Food Inc, The Cove. I read the stories of real people who made amazing changes in their lives. I read about vegan athletes, even triathletes. With all that evidence and several flagged cookbooks in hand, I decided to jump in and go full herbivore.

That’s where this blog comes in. I’ve always been interested in cooking, though I don’t have a lot of natural-born skills. Geez, my mom did all the cooking, ok? I wouldn’t DREAM of touching her stove when I was growing up unless she asked me to stir the sauce or take something out of the oven to serve the menfolk their dinner.

Here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to try all these vegan recipes I’ve collected; all the links I’ve saved, all the books I’ve filled with flags and whatever you want to send me. I’ll document my experiences, tell you what I would do differently and hopefully we’ll discover together how easy it is to cook and live in a way that’s healthier for body, mind, soul and planet.

Link