I come from a long line of tough brauds, no question. The inclination to cook, do more physical work, stay constantly busy, and get my hands dirty has never been a mystery to me. My grandmother turns the ripe old age of 89 this month and continues to work 5 days a week. I still can’t fully comprehend that. I remember my Nana as the most feisty, resourceful, don’t-take-any-shit type of woman I’ve ever known. I didn’t appreciate her tenacity so much when she was with us, but now I try to emulate that very quality she held up high so often. I miss her quips and thoughtfulness, always in a perfect balance.
My mother definitely follows suit with the theme of tough ladies here. A day of luxury with manicures, brunch and tea? No thanks. She’d rather tackle a gardening or building project and actually get something done with her time. We were at a bookstore recently and I pointed to a table they had set up under a pastel banner that said “Treat Mom,” or something of that ilk, huge smirk on my face knowing what the reaction would be. There were delicately tasseled blankets, various types of flowery bubble bath, semi-trashy novels, glossy hardcover biographies of 50’s starlets, striped canvas totes for leisurely trips to the beach, scented beeswax candles, rose-hued lip balms etc. She just scoffed at the whole thing in a lighthearted way, and I was laughing along with her. Not to say that curling up with a new book in a lovely blanket with rosy-glossy lips is preposterous. It just doesn’t exactly embody the ultimate treat for ladies like us. A rare native plant for her massive, immaculate gardens or perhaps a shiny new electric drill? Now you’re getting close.
Her days are filled with endless to-dos that always get done because she plugs through and stays motivated to work hard, regardless of the task. I admire that so much. If something is worth doing (and it almost always is), you should do it really well. It’s this unrelenting, guiding mantra that seems to drive her forward. And for all of that, the goodness that she brings into my life, the woman deserves some chocolate once in a while (she actually deserves it every day, truth). I originally planned to make something rhubarb-y this week. Market availability kind of squashed that whole plan, but it’s all the better because chocolate is number one around here, always (PROOF!).
The base recipe for these vegan coconut caramel brownies themselves from here (the fantastic Oh She Glows blog) is already so good, the best I’ve had actually. I added a central layer of coconut milk-based caramel, putting them into mega fudge-y territory, a quality I can never get enough of with brownies. There’s a good amount of (organic evaporated cane) sugar in these, but what is life if you can’t enjoy a little sugar with those you love once in a while, right? Right. C’mon, you know I’m right.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the amazing ladies celebrating. Your strength and care is an inspiration. Love you Mom! X’s, O’s and chocolate forever :)
vegan coconut caramel brownies recipe
brownie recipe super lightly/barely adapted from Oh She Glows
caramel recipe adapted from Baked Explorations (favourite baking resource as of late)
serves: makes an 8×8 pan
notes: Resist the temptation to use all of the caramel! Reserve about 2-3 tbsp from the recipe and set it aside for another use (ahem, to drizzle on top of a cooled brownie with some Luna and Larry’s coconut bliss perhaps?). On top of that, you should refrain from trying to eat them warm (guh, I know it’s hard). These need a solid 3-4 hours to cool completely before removing from the pan and cutting.
1/2 cup natural sugar
1 tbsp maple syrup (or honey, agave nectar etc)
2 tbsp water
1/3 cup full fat (canned) coconut milk
fat pinch of sea salt
1.5 tbsp ground chia seeds (or flax) + 1/4 cup water
heaped 3/4 cup GF flour (an all purpose blend, white or brown rice etc)
1.5 cups almond meal/flour
2 tbsp arrowroot
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp cinnamon (this is just to bring out the chocolaty-ness)
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp extra virgin coconut oil + extra for greasing (in a semi solid/soft state–not melted!)
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup natural sugar
1/4 cup full fat (canned) coconut milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8×8 inch pan with coconut oil. Layer 2 pieces of parchment into the pan in opposite directions to line it. Grease the parchment with more coconut oil. Set aside.
Make the caramel: place the sugar, water and maple syrup into a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir gently so as not to splash the sugar up on the sides too much. Continue to stir as the mixture starts to bubble and boil. Do not walk away! Once the colour of the mixture turns to medium-dark amber (like the colour of dark maple syrup), remove it from the heat. Pour the coconut milk in slowly. The mixture will bubble up and spit slightly. Start quickly whisking the mixture as soon as you can to achieve a homogenous mix. If there are hardened parts, set the pan back on the burner over low and continue to whisk until most of the lumps are gone. Add a pinch of salt and scrape mixture into a small bowl. Set aside to cool completely. It should thicken up quite a bit (I place the bowl in the fridge to speed this process up).
Whisk together the ground chia seed and water in a small bowl and set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the flours, arrowroot, cocoa powder, salt, baking soda and cinnamon. Set aside.
Set a medium saucepan with a couple of inches of water over medium heat. Bring to a light simmer. In a medium, nonreactive bowl, combine the coconut oil and semisweet chocolate. Place bowl over simmering water, ensuring that the base of the bowl is not touching the water. Whisk chocolate and oil until chocolate is completely melted. Remove from the heat.
To the chocolate mixture, add the chia and water mixture (it should be gel-like at this point), natural sugar, coconut milk and vanilla extract. Whisk to combine.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix together with a spatula. The batter will seem dry and stiff. Mix until there are no more dry/flour-y spots left in the batter.
Scoop half of the batter into the prepared pan. Smooth it out as much as you can with a spatula. To thoroughly flatten it,I place a sheet of saran wrap on top of the batter and press on top with my fingers/palms until the surface is even and the bottom of the pan is covered.
Pour all but 3 tbsp of the coconut milk caramel on top of the first layer of batter. Smooth it out to evenly distribute it. Scoop the remaining batter on top of the caramel. Spread it out as best you can, employing the previous spatula and saran wrap technique combo. Place pan into the preheated oven and bake for 35-40 minutes. Remove vegan coconut caramel brownies from the oven and cool completely before de-panning and cutting.
Spring vegetables are starting to come up in a more prevalent way in and around southern Ontario. On a late night/early morning trip to this place last week, I started noticing the big waxy boxes that read “Ontario Asparagus” on the side with the Foodland logo, shuffling their way through on big carts, palettes of lifting jacks, backs of trucks etc. There’s rhubarb, green garlic and wild leeks, little spring onions and lettuces, super fresh with minerality and an unmistakeable green-ness. It’s starting to really happen.
I find the recommended initial preparations of these first-of-the-season gems tend to be quite mild, soft and non-intrusive. All of the mags show the vegetables lightly blanched or maybe roasted with salt and pepper. Adorned with a poached egg, a whisper of parmesan, a couple chopped mint leaves, a delicate drizzle of olive oil. Not too much fuss. The overarching goal seems to be a genuine savouring of the earth’s first offering of the year, basking in its true nature. I am on board with that, trust.
After my initial taste of first-asparagus and that “oh wow” moment, when the sweetness hits, the shock of perfectly crisp-tender, fresh, vegetal perfection kicks in… I start to get a little bored with the usual steamed/roasted/grilled olive oil, salt, and pepper routine. I love simplicity when dealing with fresh food. It is gratifying in its unraveling of meal time, cutting to the chase of satiety. Sometimes I want to go in a different direction though. I’m in love with the prettiness of asparagus in long, elegant ribbons. The crisp sweetness and perfect potential for salads is right there so I went with it.
I made up a punchy vinaigrette with chili paste, lime, toasted sesame oil, ginger and garlic. Mega flavour town. Tossed it all up with the asparagus, some shredded cabbage, green onions, fresh mint and salty, crunchy peanuts. I know it seems like a lot going on for the tender, still-new asparagus but believe me, it can take the heat. The sweetness is all the more prevalent in this combination, the lime and heat from chili really bringing it to the forefront. The acid from the lime is strong without imparting too much flavour and the toasted sesame oil/peanut combo brings it all back to earth. It’s certainly a fresh and lively way to go forth into spring.
asparagus salad with sesame chili & lime dressing
notes: If you’re making this ahead, save the mint slicing and dressing-tossing for the end, right before serving. The acid in the dressing can render the thin asparagus less crisp and mint tends to go dark post-slicing.
1 small clove of garlic, minced
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and grated/minced finely
zest and juice of 1 lime
2 tsp chili paste
1 tbsp agave nectar or honey
1 tbsp rice vinegar
salt and pepper
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
2 tbsp grapeseed or other neutral oil
1 bunch asparagus, ends trimmed and stalks peeled into ribbons
small handful of grated cabbage (red, green, napa, savoy etc)
3 sprigs of mint, leaves removed and finely sliced
2-3 green onions, finely sliced
1/3 cup peanuts, toasted and roughly chopped
Make the dressing: combine the ginger, garlic, lime zest, lime juice, chili paste, agave nectar, rice vinegar, salt and pepper in a jar or tupperware dish with a tight fitting lid. Stir to dissolve the salt and combine everything. Add the sesame and grapeseed oils. Put a lid on top and shake mixture vigorously to combine. Set aside.
Combine the ribboned asparagus, cabbage, sliced mint and green onions in a large bowl. Pour the dressing over top and toss to combine with your hands or tongs. Place salad on a serving plate and garnish with the chopped peanuts and a bit more chopped mint if you like. Serve and enjoy.
I work in a recently opened fine dining establishment that prioritizes locally and ethically procured food in a somewhat busy, high volume, tourism affected area. The costs are going to be high from the start, from the rent, the taxes, the ingredients, the staff to make it work etc. This isn’t unusual though. Restaurants deal with the juggle of a million costs as a way of life. It’s a whole lot to consider when local and sustainable is thrown into the mix too. Sourcing from the community means snubbing a considerably cheaper big-time food distributor that sells everything from hydroponically grown cherry tomatoes to frozen sea bass to punch-in time clocks. Would you buy vegetables, eggs, fish etc from the same place you buy floor cleaner and mop heads? Probably not. Why would you offer your patronage, your hard-earned money, to a restaurant that does?
These questions and underlying concepts are super sensical to me, sure, but the equation and price tag is shocking to many. French fries are a really good example here. Ours hit above the five dollar mark. A common reaction: “But it’s just potatoes..!” It totally isn’t. Yes, the potatoes themselves cost money, but filling an industry kitchen-sized fryer will run you about $75 or more for oil. Someone (with food and safety training) has to be paid for the hours they spend cleaning, cutting, frying, seasoning and plating those potatoes (in a rather quaint paper cone, all tossed with minced thyme for your enjoyment I’ll add). Oh, and the server that handles your order and takes care of you for the evening factors in there. The table where your fork lays. The chair you’ve perched yourself on. The lighting in the room, water, linens (rather than cheaper throwaway paper napkins), you get the idea. There’s a lot to consider.
So when I saw that a blogger visiting the restaurant tweeted about the experience and cried “Overpriced!,” I was annoyed. I kind of stepped back and considered that a large portion of the population may feel this way about dining out though, especially within establishments that prioritize the community and minimal environmental impact. It takes a whole lot of principle to stick to your guns on that front, it isn’t always cheap to do on a large scale. It is well documented how hard it is to make money in the restaurant business anyway, without all of the measures to ensure that guaranteed fairness on all sides. Fifty dollars for a simple shirt made out of cheaply grown cotton with minimal labour? Sure. Thirteen hundred for a 60 inch flat screen made in Taiwan? Absolutely. I don’t want to convey that the production of these items is simple, but rather ask why there is so much pause and criticism when food is at stake, something that nourishes all aspects of our being, brings community to the table and ensures a part of our very survival. There’s a huge lack of regard for the power that it brings, from production to plate.
It’s a lack of education certainly and a conditioning of cheap food (which means crappy ingredients and underpaid employees in shitty working conditions) over such a long period of time. The times have changed though. Any information is constantly available for the taking thanks to the internet. Those who have access to good food and the opportunity to dine out should know better. The outrage and blind criticism has no place if you have an internet connection and 15 minutes to spare prior to your reservation, like none. Assuming that you’ve read this blog before, you probably care at least a little bit already (is that a big assumption?) and that certainly means a lot. I think a slow and gentle tide of understanding is beginning to turn and a greater sense of gratitude is coming to the table, but it does take time and a few grumbles along the way.
None of this ties into the recipe du jour per se. Given my constant stream of busy-ness and frustration over this sort of thing in the past few weeks, a super sticky, spicy, sweet, messy, mega satisfying sandwich with tempeh, sprouts, avocado and other goodies was looking pretty, pretty good. This combination is largely inspired by one that I enjoyed at Candle Cafe last time we were in NY. I’m a big fan of sweetness in barbecue sauce, but I also enjoy a bit of convenience at times. When fixing up the sauce, I reach for an all-natural ketchup that has all of the ingredients I would be using in a homemade sauce anyway (tomato paste, vinegar, evaporated cane juice, spices, salt) and cut down on simmering time pretty greatly. A prefab convenience that probably costs more than the sum of its parts, yes, but totally worth it when messy, barbecue sandwiches are at stake. Pretty high value for the cost in the grand equation. And I’m all about that grand equation lately.
bbq tempeh and sweet potato sandwiches + barbecue sauce recipe
sauce adapted from Everyday Food, Issue 44, July/August 2007
serves: 2 (with extra sauce woohoo)
notes: I always simmer/steam tempeh for a bit before I apply a final cooking treatment just to guarantee some quality toothsomeness. I don’t think it’s totally necessary though if you’re in a pinch for time. Oh, and tofu would also apply beautifully here if tempeh is unavailable.
tempeh, sweet potatoes + sauce:
1/2 block tempeh (4 ounces), cut into 4 triangles or rectangles (depending on your bread surface shape)
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch slices
1 tsp grapeseed oil
1/4 onion, grated
1 small clove of garlic, minced
3/4 cup natural ketchup (Trader Joe’s and Annie’s are fantastic)
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp sriracha (or other hot sauce)
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp worcestershire sauce (Annie’s brand to the rescue again!)
2 lightly toasted rolls of your choosing (I went the crusty multigrain route)
1/2 an avocado, peeled and sliced
big handful of sprouts
thin red onion slices
etc etc, go wild!
Make the sauce: heat the grapeseed oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the grated onion and garlic and saute until very fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the ketchup, vinegar, sriracha, maple syrup and worcestershire sauce to the pot and stir to combine. Bring mixture to a light boil, stirring here and there. Simmer until mixture thickens slightly, about 7-10 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside (leftover sauce will keep for one week in the fridge in a sealed, non-reactive container).
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Place the tempeh pieces and sliced sweet potatoes in a medium-large saucepan. Cover with water by about an inch and simmer until sweet potatoes are soft, about 7-8 minutes. Carefully remove tempeh and sweet potatoes to a plate. Pat dry with a kitchen towel. Place tempeh and sweet potatoes on lined baking sheet.
Heat your barbecue to medium-high or set your oven to broil. Brush tempeh and sweet potatoes with barebecue sauce. Place under the broiler or onto the barbecue. Flip and baste with sauce every minute or so, until coated to your liking and there’s a bit of char on the outside.
Place warm tempeh and sweet potatoes on to bread of your choice with desired toppings. Enjoy!