I read a passage in a book about arugula recently. It wasn’t a food-focused/cooking book. It was a novel, actually. The narrator of the moment is enjoying a bowl of pasta after being welcomed into an old friends home with some abounding and uneasy circumstances. He enjoys a bit of the dish, goes into a second helping, and the process of flavour/societal recognition begins: “…it had olives and some sort of salad green in it. Yes, arugula: he was safely back in the bosom of the gentry.”
I had a tiny laugh. I also felt like a piece of shit. The implications of yuppie-dom glaring from the page. My mind went to the organic arugula on the top shelf of my own fridge.
I generally dismiss most artisanal/gourmet foods as frivolous kitchen fodder, things that take up space and generally come in tiny/way too festered packaging. Gourmet food shops are a source of annoyance for me, watching people examine and buy small-batch jams, grinders, artisanal waffle mixes and ceramic crocks of herbes de Provence–things no one needs, thought-to-be foodie merit badges, the like. I will clarify that my annoyance lies with the thought that these items are somehow necessary/worth the money; not the consumer as a human being. I like people, seriously, I do.
Despite the presence of some semi-unusual ingredients that I sometimes call for here (‘sup extra virgin coconut oil and smoked paprika!), I’ve always enjoyed more down-to-earth food on the whole: things that are good in nature, made better by a bit of salt and some ability in the kitchen. My grandmother has always liked arugula and bitter/peppery greens. This fondness has worked its way down to my tastes over time. So having grown up with it, it’s carried the connotation of home-y/grandmotherly food. Greens have been a humble and easy thing, there on the plate just when you need them with a sprinkle of chili flakes; not some upper class bullshit thing to feel shameful about.
There are different lives, different approaches to nourishment and the thoughts that surround. Our world is vast and complex with many extremes; this is certain with food also, a necessary across all walks.
Accessibility with food is more widely discussed from a socio-economical perspective–perhaps a lower income neighbourhood with poor fresh food accessibility will see higher rates of type 2 diabetes in teenagers for example. Knowledge and development of skills is a more sensibly approached facet of the accessibility issue to me. It is a pursuit that requires time, certainly, but the reward is so great. The “teach a person to fish…” route. That’s the amazing thing about the computer age: every bit of knowledge is there for the taking. From guides to starting tomato seedlings at home to practical advice on how to serve them once they come into full, gorgeous ripeness (a heavy sprinkle of salt, maybe a chopped herb, some kind of soft cheese and good, toasty bread–just sayin’), there is a resource available to anyone.
So I guess that’s why I’m here? In some teeny way, I’m trying to teach a few people how to fish. Which is to say that I’m trying to teach you how to make a delicious and easy pasta with some humble squash and the noble greens of today’s discussion. There’s toasty nuts, pecorino, garlic, thyme and my favourite pasta shape: orecchiette. It’s not always the most practical shape choice, but it translates to “little ear” and that is just too sweet to pass on for me. It all comes together pretty easily once the squash is roasted, which is exactly what I was aiming for. Shall we go fishing?
butternut orecchiette with arugula and pine nuts
notes: If you don’t have a blender/food processor for the sauce-pureeing step, just mash the squash and garlic up with a potato masher and the stock in the saute pan. Switch to a whisk to get it real smooth if you like.
1 small butternut squash, halved lengthwise
1 tbsp grape seed oil
salt and pepper
handful of thyme sprigs (optional)
2 tbsp olive oil (or more grape seed or whatever you like)
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
2 sprigs of thyme, leaves removed and chopped
chili flakes (optional)
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1 cup vegetable stock
2 cups dried orecchiette (or other small pasta)
1.5 cups cooked chickpeas
big handful (1/2 cup) grated pecorino, or parmeggiano or grana podano etc.
2 big handfuls of washed arugula
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Scatter the handful of thyme sprigs across the paper. Rub the halves of squash with the grapeseed oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and lay face down on the thyme sprigs. Place squash in the oven and roast until very tender, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool.
Once you can handle the squash, scoop the cooked flesh from the skins into a bowl, discarding the thyme sprigs. Set aside.
In a large soup pot, heat the remaining 2 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, thyme and chili flakes, stirring constantly until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the roasted squash and stir it all up, mashing the squash down into the sautéing aromatics. Add the lemon juice and the vegetable stock, stir until roughly combined and remove from the heat. Puree the squash and garlic mixture in a blender or food processor, adding more liquid if necessary.
Return the squash sauce to the soup pot over medium heat. Season with a fat pinch of salt and lots of pepper at this point.
Cook pasta according to package directions. Reserve 1/4 cup of cooking water before draining.
Once squash sauce is simmering, add cooked pasta, chickpeas, pecorino, arugula and pine nuts, reserving a bit of each for garnish if you like. Add some of the pasta water of you want to loosen the mixture up a bit. Serve hot.
This is a chocolate cake you throw together real quick. It goes with tea and friends coming over on semi-short notice. It also goes with breakfast. You probably have everything in your cupboard to make it. It is vegan, with whole grain flour and unrefined sugar, sure. It’s not the healthiest thing you can make, but it’s a cake. The cake that understands.
I bake it in a loaf pan for that extra casual je ne sais quoi. Then I cover it in a glaze made with biscoff and little chopped almonds, cacao nibs, and coconut; drizzling and sprinkling my way to party time, all kind of on a whim. It’s an unassuming and humble cake that you dress up a bit for company (or yourself). I love that. There’s a feeling of spontaneity lurking in its potential when you bring it out.
The biscoff finish is sweet, nutty, luxurious, and actually rife with guilt in a very special bad-but-feels-good kind of way. You’re essentially glazing a simple cake with a butter made out of cookies. Another reminder seems necessary: it’s a cake.
I had seen biscoff appear on a lot of blogs in the last year or so. Only when I saw it on one of my faves, the amazing Oh, Ladycakes, did I start to get kind of anxious about finding some (ingredient-driven anxiousness, yep that happens). Instead of performing a basic google search, I decided to inquire with Ashlae herself. And you know what that fancy lady did? She asked for my mailing address (in a non-creepy way, trust) and she sent me a jar. In the mail.
There was homemade vanilla extract in a sweet little burlap bag too, all carefully bubble wrapped. It was genuine and generous, much like Ashlae herself. It was an instance of honest kindness that made me excited for the world at large. I always feel good to be right here, but this reminded me of the islands of sanity that do exist in this bizarre, but still big and beautiful, world.
I can get caught up in the mire of the crazy a bit and in turn, can be the worst at responding to things in a general way. Comments on the blog, social media things, invitations to whatever, personal emails, calling people back etc etc. I’m a talk-it-out-in-the-real kind of gal for the most part, so it just takes me a bit longer to completely sort the right response most times. In this instance, cake was a natural approach. It’s my way of reflecting that kindness back at a few more people. Easy chocolate cake sweetness for all :)
vegan chocolate cake + biscoff glaze recipe
barely adapted from The Post Punk Kitchen
serves: makes 1 regulation loaf-sized cake
notes: I used some cultured coconut milk for this cake. You could easily substitute that with buttermilk, kefir or 1 cup of whatever milk you like with a big squeeze of lemon added ahead of time to make it curdle. Also, some all purpose or whole wheat flour would sub in for light and whole spelt just fine. If you can’t find biscoff spread, peanut butter would be delicious in its place.
1/2 cup light spelt flour
1/2 cup whole spelt flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
pinch of cinnamon
1 tsp instant espresso powder or finely ground coffee
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1/4 cup muscovado sugar (or dark brown sugar)
1/2 cup cane sugar
1 cup cultured milk of some kind (kefir, buttermilk, cultured coconut etc or the aforementioned lemon juice curdling method)
1/3 cup melted coconut oil (or any oil you like-sunflower, grapeseed etc)
1.5 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup biscoff
1 cup powdered sugar (if you use the organic/not super refined kind, make sure you sift it a couple times)
2 tsp maple syrup
a splash of vanilla extract
3 tbsp milk of your choice (I went the cultured route again for some tang)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a loaf pan with some of the coconut oil. Line it with parchment paper and then grease the paper lightly as well. Set aside.
Sift all of the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Push through any lumps of cocoa powder with your fingers.
In a separate, smaller bowl combine all of the wet ingredients. Whisk to combine, making sure there are no demerara sugar lumps in the mix. It should be smooth.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones in the large bowl. Gently mix everything together with a spatula until just combined. Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake for 45-50 minutes or until a cake tester/toothpick comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cool completely.
Make the glaze: In a small bowl, combine the biscoff, powdered sugar, maple syrup and vanilla. Stir with a spoon until the sugar is kind of mixed up with the biscoff like a homogenous paste. It shouldn’t become runny at all. You just don’t want too much loose powdered sugar in the bowl. Add the milk of your choice, stir a bit to get things going. Switch to a whisk and stark whisking firmly until a smooth glaze is achieved. It should make ribbons that last in the bowl when you lift the whisk.
Assemble: Spread the glaze over the cooled cake and top with dried coconut, cacao nibs and chopped almonds if you like. Slice and serve :)
I’ve been a bit of a busy bee lately, but I wanted to give you something good and easy this week. The kind of thing you can just jump into with no reservations, using whatever you have. That is the heart of cooking for most of us, right?
This warm rice bowl with chard, avocado, almonds and unbelievably good (+ super easy) ginger miso gravy is synonymous with my solo, city living days. I was in school full time studying nutrition and culinary arts, had 2 jobs, volunteered at a community food centre’s after school program, helped with school functions constantly, worked a line shift 3 times a week for my internship at a high end vegan restaurant AND managed to fit in a shred of a social life. I would come home and wilt onto the couch, gazing towards the kitchen of my teeny bachelor apartment thinking about what I could possibly motivate myself to make.
More often than not, the prospect of this meal lifted my tired body over to the stove: warm brown rice or quinoa with a mix of steamed/raw/leftover roasted vegetables, some kind of sauce/vinaigrette and crunchy topping things. Here’s why: I could always have cooked grains around pretty easily, I made sure my fridge had a good selection of veggies (my school was right by an awesome market–huge help) and when I had a spare 2 minutes I would make a batch of some kind of sauce/dressing in my blender for the week. I learned how to prepare myself/ just have good ingredients around and whoa, my body thanked me for it big time. Twenty minutes of jumping around the kitchen and back on the couch watching Curb Your Enthusiasm with a giant bowl of goodness? Happiest girl.
The vegetables and grains are always interchangeable but a good sauce is so key. This gravy is fresh with ginger and lemongrass, bright with lemon, a fragrant hit of coconut oil, there’s a bit of chili paste to keep it interesting and the miso makes it salty and perfect. I generally always have vegetable stock on hand for cooler weather meals because it makes an appearance in soups, pots of beans, mushroom sautes, curries and wonderful warm sauces like this. They sell decent quality tetra-packed versions so even if you don’t have time to make it, there’s an alternative for you.
I’ve given you a miso-ish gravy recipe before (with mushrooms, white beans and SWEET POTATO BISCUITS, guh I know), but this version is a million times easier. No blending, super straightforward, chop, pour, whisk, strain (optional) and go. It calls for spelt flour too, but if you don’t eat gluten, you could use a teaspoon of arrowroot powder in its place.
warm veggie rice bowl with ginger miso gravy
notes: I reach for light miso because that’s what I have, but I imagine darker, stronger varieties would be so good here. Also, the lemongrass is certainly optional. There’s plenty of freshness happening with the fresh lemon juice and ginger.
1/2 cup vegetable stock
1 tbsp extra virgin coconut oil
1 tbsp agave nectar/maple syrup/honey
1 tsp chili paste (or sriracha)
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tsp minced ginger
2 inch piece of lemongrass, bashed up with the back of your knife
juice from 1/2 a lemon
2 tsp light miso
1 tbsp spelt flour
2 tbsp water
bowl (just what I used for this one–use whatever you have/like):
1 heaped cup cooked rice, warm (I used a mix of brown basmati and black rice = purple rice!)
handful of string beans or broad beans, trimmed
3 chard leaves, stems removed and chopped
1/2 yellow bell pepper, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 small carrot, peeled into ribbons
1 green onion, thinly sliced
1/4 avocado, sliced
Make the gravy: Combine all of the gravy ingredients except the miso, spelt flour and water in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer. Stir the miso, spelt flour and water together until most lumps are dissolved. Add this slurry to the pot and whisk. Let the gravy simmer and whisk it here and there until it has noticeably thickened, about 3 minutes. Strain the gravy with a fine sieve if you like (but definitely remove the lemongrass stalk). Return gravy to the small pot, cover and put keep warm.
Set a medium pot with an inch of water over medium heat and cover. Place the string/broad beans in steamer basket. Once the water is boiling, put the steamer basket in and cover. Cook until beans are crisp tender, about 3 minutes. Add the chopped chard and cover again. Steam greens until wilted slightly, about 1 minute.
Place the cooked rice in a serving bowl. Top with the steamed greens and beans, bell pepper, carrot, green onion, avocado, almonds and hemp seeds. Give the gravy a quick whisk (just in case some lumps form) and pour it over the veggies and rice. Serve warm.
Acceptance. Autumn is the season where we go home.
There are blankets, hot beverages to wrap your little fingers around, old sweaters, all of those warming foods that remind us of our childhood or ones that just make us feel good. Everything seems like a joyous reunion; the biggest hugs, the wide smiles that say “HIIII!” when you come near, the familiar notebooks with the blank pages, your favourite scarf comes out of the closet, the light is friendlier at any given moment of the day… There is intent and warmth in every move.
There are more inclinations to bring us into the kitchen, that beating heart of pure goodness and love. There’s stock to be made for soup, squash and roots to be roasted, more languid breakfasts to be had with the ones you like to hold close. The food takes a bit longer and we never mind. Steam rises and falls out of heavy pots. The dog cuddles in a blanket on the warm spot beneath the oven. Slower time, coziness, that intimacy with all of our surroundings. It’s here, it’s here.
People always say that time slows down in the summer and really, I couldn’t disagree more. I feel like we’re always shipping off here and there for whatever excursion or event from June to August. Fall is a return to comfort in routine and more simplified time spent in each other’s company. It is dependable. The leaves turn like clockwork and we turn into each other around the table, under a wooly blanket, across the classroom, wherever we may be. It is the season that brings all of our communities into focus.
So I wanted to make a salad. A warm one with hearty greens and sticky balsamic roasted beets. Some quinoa fills it all out and the pecorino gives a salty bite. You toss the whole mess of it with a muscovado sugar-tweaked balsamic and oil mix that sloshes around the beets while they roast away. There was a version of this in the latest Donna Hay magazine and I was pretty jazzed to even conceive of all my favourite things in one bowl. Party time!
warm kale salad with quinoa + balsamic roasted beets
Inspired by Donna Hay Magazine, Winter 2012 issue
notes: You could use chard or actual beet greens for the salad as well. If you only have access to bigger beets, just cut them into quarters or sixths pre-roasting. Some crunchy, toasted hazelnuts would be a nice garnish here too.
2 bunches of baby beets (about 12 beets total), scrubbed and trimmed
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
3 tbsp demerara sugar
2 tbsp grape seed oil
salt and pepper
kale + salad:
1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed
1 bunch of curly kale, stems removed and leaves torn into bite-size pieces
2 tbsp grape seed oil
1 clove of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
1 tsp smoked paprika
salt and pepper
handful of pecorino shavings (parm or grana padano would be great too)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Place the trimmed beets in a 2 inch deep ceramic or glass dish. Pour the balsamic vinegar and grape seed oil in. SPrinkle the muscovado sugar, salt and pepper around the beets. Cover dish with foil and roast for 30 minutes. Remove the foil, stir the beets up a bit and continue to roast, uncovered, for 20 more minutes. They should be quite tender. Remove from the oven and allow dish to cool.
In a small saucepan, place the rinsed quinoa and 1 cup of water. Add a pinch of salt. Place pot over medium heat and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes or until quinoa is mostly cooked and the little tails start to pop out. Remove from the heat and set aside.
In a large soup pot, heat the 2 tbsp of grapeseed oil over medium heat. Add the sliced garlic and smoked paprika. Stir around until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the quinoa, a splash of water and half of the kale. Stir around until kale begins to wilt a bit. Add the remaining kale, season with salt and pepper and keep stirring. The kale should all be slightly wilted, but still firm. Take off the heat and transfer kale and quinoa mixture to your serving bowl.
Arrange roasted beets on top of the greens and quinoa. Drizzle salad with the balsamic cooking liquid in the pan (there should be about 1/4 cup of it left). Scatter the pecorino shavings on top and serve.
Guys, I’m kind of sniffly and head-full-of-gross-stuff this week, so a posting of my contribution for the Toronto Vegetarian Association October newsletter will have to do. And by “will have to do,” I actually mean “is an unbelievably awesome addition that you’ll love.” Added bonus: I’ve linked to a few of my Thanksgiving-appropriate recipes at the end for all of you Canadians celebrating this weekend. Big hearts to you all.
Have you tried a dirty chai? I’m a recent convert to this indulgent drink. It’s a cinnamon-y and creamy chai latte with a shot of espresso added. This drink has MY JAM written all over it. It’s complex, warming, lightly sweet, still spicy and shot through with caffeine for good measure. This could be easy enough to produce at home with a batch of homemade chai concentrate, some strong coffee and the milk of your choice. Heat it all up together and get cozy.
Once I’m jazzed on something I usually can’t leave it alone, so naturally I had to make a pancake version of this beverage (NATURALLY). Truth: I tried to make waffles first, but it was one of the messiest waffle failures of my life. The batter itself is hearty with spelt flour and strong with coffee, spice and vanilla. Best part: I decided to blanket them in a cranberry compote tweaked with maple syrup. It adds a sweet-tart dimension that fits these little cakes so well. So much fall on one plate. Perhaps a lovely Thanksgiving brunch option for my country peeps? You could swap in some leftover cranberry sauce instead of making up a whole batch of separate compote if you like.
I’ll be sipping some ginger tea over here and snuggling in with this book (finally got around to reading it) while I rest up a bit. Oh and here’s a shorter autumnal reading suggestion from the good people at McSweeney’s (salty language warning). Make some pancakes and have a cozy and warm Thanksgiving friends. I’ll be back with something more ambitious next week :)
dirty chai pancakes with cranberry + vanilla compote
notes: I call for coffee extract, but ground coffee is just fine. Grounds give off a more intense flavour for sure, but they definitely get the job done (and leave beautiful little dark brown flecks in the batter). I would adjust the amount if you’re using ground espresso, like down to a teaspoon and half? If anyone tries it, I’d love to know how that goes. Also, if they sell that fancy cultured coconut milk at your local grocery store, you can use 1 1/3 cups of that and skip the whole vinegar-curdling-the-milk step.
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup maple syrup (+ extra for serving if you like)
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/3 cup non-dairy milk (I use the So Delicious brand Unsweetened Coconut Milk)
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
¾ cup whole spelt flour
½ cup light spelt flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
pinch of fine sea salt
1 tsp coffee extract OR 1 tbsp finely ground coffee
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp ground cardamom
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
pinch of ground cloves
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp melted coconut oil + extra for cooking pancakes
1 tsp vanilla extract
Make the compote: place the cranberries, water and maple syrup in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring frequently. Add water as needed to keep the sauce moist. Mash the cranberries up here and there with the back of a wooden spoon to get a saucy consistency. Once you have a slightly wet, jammy texture, add the vanilla extract. Stir up the compote one more time and remove from the heat. Set aside.
Combine the non-dairy milk and apple cider vinegar in a liquid measuring cup. Stir lightly and set aside to curdle for at least 5 minutes.
In a large bowl, combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ground coffee, cinnamon, ground ginger, cardamom, nutmeg and cloves. Stir to combine. Add the curdled non-dairy milk, maple syrup, coconut oil and vanilla extract. Stir gently to combine, taking care not to over mix.
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Brush the pan with melted coconut oil. Drop 1/3 cup measures of the pancake batter into the pan. Allow the first side to cook for 1 to 11/2 minutes, or until bubbles pop on the surface and the edges appear dry and lightly browned. Flip the pancakes over and cook for another minute. Remove pancakes and keep warm. Repeat with remaining batter.
Serve pancakes with cranberry compote spooned over the top and extra maple syrup if you like.