The Honeymoon is Over

I am almost back to my regularly scheduled programming after a jam-packed few months that included:

  • getting my classroom up-and-running for the new school year
  • launching my own (very) small business
  • MY WEDDING!
  • a mini honeymoon in San Fransisco

Needless to say, I fell out of the habit of blogging due to limited free time.  But, it is a new year and I am excited to finally have a chance to get back to my favourite little hobby- making and talking about food.  It’s as they say- back to life, back to reality.

I’m going to start the new year off with a review of the most delicious city on earth- San Francisco.  The first thing you should know is that, San Francisco is a foodie paradise!  I basically spent 5 days stuffing my face with fresh corn tortillas, guacamole and vegan mole sauce. The Mexican food in San Fran is the best I’ve ever tasted.  I drool at the thought.

Here are some of the highlights for anyone (especially my vegan-food-loving peeps) lucky enough to find themselves in the area.

Let’s talk about Greens.  It’s a somewhat upscale vegetarian restaurant located right on the water.  Not the kind of place that I’d normally be lining up for, but we went there on the insistence of our very cute and lovely concierge.  And boy, were we ever glad we did.

My sheppard’s pie:

This was so hearty, filling and flavourful.  T went another route and tried the sweet potato chilli, which was really spicy in the best way possible. He loved it.  I may have snagged a bite of the spicy goodness:

The next day, we went exploring and ended up walking through Chinatown.  We were starving when we happened upon a vegan chain that I’ve been very curious about for some time now- The Loving Hut.  It’s got a weird kind of reputation, you should go read up on it one day. There are also 2 locations in Toronto, but I’ve never been.  After a very satisfying lunch of dumplings, fried green beans and mixed veg, we will be going back.

Observe as I ignore all that is not food.

Later that night, I stumbled into the BEST natural food store I’ve ever seen- Rainbow Grocery.  I went a little overboard- check out the bounty:

This was by far the most extensive whole-food health market I’ve ever entered.  I am so jealous of all those San Frannie’s who actually shop at Rainbow Grocery on a regular basis.  I’ll be doing reviews of all my favourite snack food souvenirs in the near future, so stay tuned for that. Seriously- I could have just stayed in our hotel and snacked for the rest of the trip. Luckily for me, T would not hear of it.

At this point, you may be wondering if all I did on my honeymoon is eat. Um……… pretty much.  🙂  I promise we explored other parts of the city as well.  But those pics have no place on this blog. Continuing….

The next day we headed to the Mission District to check out the shopping and eats in the local hipster locale. The Mission is known for having amazing burritos, and we happened to hear about an all-vegan spot that we couldn’t wait to get to.

Enter paradise on earth- Gracias Madras.  We ate lunch, beginning with the most unbelievably fresh blue corn tortillas and guacamole- both made fresh in house.

These literally melted in my mouth.  Pictures do not do them justice. We inquired about the tortillas, since I had never had such fresh-tasting ones before, and the server told us it was because the restaurant actually grows their own corn!  (and yes, that means they harvest, pound and bake the tortillas all sans processing plants).

We totally regretted going to Gracias Madras for lunch when we were served the biggest entrees I’ve ever seen:

This is Ts mixed veg special, slathered with mole sauce and cashew cream.

I went with the enchiladas.  I kind of wished I married them instead of T.

Just kidding T.

We regretted going to Gracias Madras for lunch because that night we were supposed to save our appetites for our very fancy schmancy dinner at the renowned Millennium Cafe.  Somehow, we managed both. 🙂

At our fancy schmancy dinner, I did not take photos because it was unbecoming of a lady dining at such a fine establishment.  But for those of your looking for upscale, fine vegan dining, I highly recommend Millennium. As does everyone else whose ever been there.

Well, hopefully my photo food memories have inspired some of you to get out to San Fran when you have the chance.  I am hoping to go back annually.  Or permanently.  Whatever the future brings.

I’ll be back soon with some kitchen shenannies.  In the meantime, keep warm!

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Winter Melon?

So sorry for the long delay in posting- my wordpress has been acting funky and I couldn’t post photos until today.  But now I am officially back in business.   I’ve got some catching up to do.

A few weekends ago, my family was invited to hang out at T’s place- a sort of meet and greet.  It was awesome- so much amazing food, not to mention stellar company.  I must have gained a bit of a reputation for being a foodie, because one of T’s uncles brought me a homegrown WINTER MELON!  Apparently, he grows tons of these big green baby’s around his house.  They must be a hearty veggie to survive the cold temps as of late.

I’ve never cooked a winter melon before.  I was a little hesitant at first, because T absolutely hates bitter melon, and there was some confusion as to whether there was a difference between these two veg.  There is!  Bitter melon is smaller, looks like a very wrinkled cucumber and tastes quite bitter.  T has horrible memories of eating bitter melon- I’ve never tried but his aversion definately makes me curious.  On the other hand, winter melon is anything but bitter.  It looks like a watermelon, has the texture of honeydew and tastes mildly like zucchini.  I had never tried winter melon before and wasn’t sure what to do with it.  Google search suggested soup, but I’m a strong believer in the following kitchen mantra-when in doubt, make curry.

I started by chopping up the star of the show.

Then I chopped the rest of the veggies, some garlic and onion and got my spices ready to roll.

I got down to business by heating some olive oil in my pan and frying the curry powder on its own to sweat out all the yummy curry flava. Then I added garlic and onion and fried over medium until the onions were translucent.

Then I added the rest of the veggies and spices to the mix.  I stir-fried, partially covered for about 20 mins until the melon was tender and the entire batch had turned a sweet mustardy yellow.  I love the colour of curries, don’t you?

This was so, so good.  I think I’m in love with winter melon!  Seriously, it was the best curry I’ve ever made.  You must try  it.

What is that peeking out of my curry delight?  It’s a slice of homemade socca bread!  And I’ll be posting more about it later.

Keep it warm and spicy until next time.

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A Fresh Rice Bowl for Home

There is a restaurant in Toronto that successfully mainstreamed vegetarian food for the masses.  It’s so popular, that a line-up at peak eating hours is a guarantee seven days a week.  The restaurant I speak of is Fresh Juice For Life.

Fresh will always hold a special place in my heart for a couple of reasons.  It was the very first all-vegan restaurant I ever ate in.  Before I moved to the city, I didn’t know that such a thing even existed!  I cannot describe how exciting it is to go to a restaurant and order any thing you desire off the menu without reservation.  If you are vegan or have food allergies, you know what I mean.  Fresh was also where T took us on our first date.  So, you know- I blush.

Now that I am officially a city-slicker the novelty of Fresh has worn off.  I appreciate that it’s a crowd pleaser, but I’m a little sick of the hype.  I hate the line-ups, and I think it’s pricey for what you get.  I guess I’m a bit Freshed out. T and I now compare it to vegetarian fast food. Not because it’s unhealthy (it really isn’t), but because it’s got the same convayor belt, mass-produced-for-crowds feel of fast food. I’m also surprised it hasn’t done more to support local, organic food production.

Despite my critical attitude, if you’ve never been before it is worth checking out.  It’s consistently tasty.

However, if you like me would rather avoid the hectic atmosphere there is still a way to have your Fresh and eat it too. You just need to get your hands on the Fresh cookbooks. They are really fabulous.  Mostly because they allow you to make tasty Fresh meals, using organic ingredients (if you choose) in the comfort of your very own home (and in your pj’s).  The recipes I’ve tried are identical to the food in the restaurants. Thanks Fresh!

I had a hankering for my very favourite Fresh rice bowl (the Green Goddess) just the other day, and decided to break out the aforementioned cookbook.  I’ve got the original, no longer available version cause I’m old school like that.  If you don’t have a copy of this cookbook, don’t despair- you just need to find yourself a recipe for tahini dressing- this one is also spectacular.  I added parsley to my tahini dressing, which is what turned it a lovely shade of green.  There, now we’re all on the same page.

Here’s how to build your rice bowl.

Start by cooking some rice.  I used brown rice, but quinoa or any other grain of choice would work I’m sure.

Next, steam some greens.  In my case, I chose spinach and swiss chard.  Add the steamed greens to the rice and top with chopped tomatoes.

Drizzle the greens with about 1/4 tsp of both tamari and sesame oil, then top with a GIANT blob of tahini. The combination of cooked and raw veggies makes this bowl really awesome.  I did not have any pickled ginger in the fridge, but if I did it would have been another addition to this bowl.  Next time!

Finally, pan fry some marinated tempeh strips.  If you are lazy like me, you can buy this kind of pre-marinated tempeh from most health food stores.  Place a few slices of tempeh on the bowl like so:

Finally, top with sprouts of choice.  I highly recommend sunflower sprouts.  They are the best sprouts in the world, if you ask me.

Heavenly.

And here’s the recipe for those of you wanting to replicate this at home.

Green Goddess Rice Bowl a la Fresh Juice For Life

Per bowl, you will need:

  • 1 serving of cooked brown rice, or other grain of choice
  • 2 C steamed greens of choice
  • 1/2 large tomato, chopped
  • 3-4 or more strips of marinated pan fried tempeh
  • large handful of sunflower sprouts
  • 1 Tbsp pickled ginger (optional, but recommended)
  • 1/4 tsp sesame oil
  • 1/4 tsp tamari
  • 2-3 Tbsp tahini dressing
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Long Weekend Hits and Misses

I’m avoiding using the term Thanksgiving on purpose because, well, colonialism is poop. And I don’t like spreading poop around, pretending I don’t know anything about where it comes from.  He, he, he.

I may not be into “celebrating” Thanksgiving, but I do like long weekends, spending time with family and pie.  And I especially like all three of these things together.

T and I didn’t really see our families much this weekend due to extreme workload issues, however we did try to stuff our faces with as much fall bounty as possible to make up for it.

There were some hits and misses in my kitchen this weekend.

Let’s start with a miss.  I cannot bake pie to save my own life. I always thought it was the crust that eluded me, but I proved myself wrong yesterday when I bought pre-made pie crusts and still managed to mess it all up.

Here’s what I did.

I took a pre-made spelt crust out of my freezer and unwrapped it.  So far so good. Then I sliced up some apples (half from T’s mom’s tree!) and put the sliced apples in a bowl.  I added agave syrup, lemon juice and cinnamon, mixed it all together and poured the mixture into the pie crusts.

Looks good, no?

Then I decided to get a little fancy.  I mixed about 1/2 cup of oats with 2 Tbsp of melted Earth Balance butter, 1/2 tsp of cinnamon and 2 Tbsp of cane sugar.  I crumbled the crumble onto the pie, and began to strut about thinking I had finally conquered my pie problem for good.

I baked my pie in the oven at 350 degrees until the apples were softened, and the crust was golden.  It looked good and smelled even better.

I let it cool- this took patience and willpower.  Finally I cut into it, expecting a perfectly lovely slice of apple pie to appear on my plate.  Instead, I got this:

A pile of gooey apple mess.  It in no way resembled a slice.  Fail.  Another attempt gone wrong. Sigh.

It wasn’t a total loss- it still tasted good which appeased me enough to eat the entire apple pie mess in less than 2 days. I may have allowed T to grab a “slice” or two as well.

Thankfully, my lack of pie-making skills does not extend to ice cream cake versions of holiday favourites.

A friend custom-ordered a cake from my online store for her family get together.  I made her a vanilla pumpkin pie ice cream cake.  It turned out quite spectacularly, if I do say so myself.  Here it is, all topped with vegan caramel sauce:

Hubba bubba.  I wanted to steal a slice for myself, but that would be terrible customer service.  I also made a half dozen mini ice cream cupcakes for another customer who wanted to impress his vegan sister.

The goodies included a vanilla pumpkin pie, vanilla chai, chocolate almond, mocha cappucino, and chocolate, with peanut butter and banana.

I had a lot of fun drizzling the hot fudge and caramel on top. Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.

Anyway, I’ve got a few new recipes (that did not fail) for the blog this week.  It’s a bit of a time management struggle these days, but I am going to find a way to make it all work.

Enjoy the short and sweet week everyone.

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Vegan Bake Off

I don’t have photos for this post yet, but I will post as soon as I get my hands on them.  

Yesterday I participated in the Toronto Vegetarian Association’s 3rd Annual Vegan Bake Off.  It was pretty phenomenal- $3 to sample 5-6 items from an entire category.  If you were willing to shell out the bones, you could sample from all of the categories.

The categories were gluten-free, cookies, bars, cupcakes and professionally crafted sweets.  

I sampled the professional, the cookies and the bars and induced a sugar coma for the remainder of the day.  

It was worth it.  

Besides stuffing my face, I also took part as a participant this year- I entered my ice cream cupcakes.  I did it mostly to get the word out, and let other sweet-loving vegans know that Cakes by Jill exists.  I was in the professional category and felt a little over-my-head as a newbie. I prepared 60 mini mocha latte cupcakes and cut them in half, adorning each half with a chocolate covered coffee bean.  Here is a pic from a launch I held in the summer, so you can get an idea

Arg.  Not the best image, but hopefully I’ll be able to add some shots my sister did with her super awesome camera soon. 

The preparations were stressful because the Bake Off venue didn’t have a freezer.  So I had to super-pack a cooler with tons of ice and wait to plate my cupcakes until the very last minute.  Many thanks to my helpers- Beck, T, Sarah, Steph- I am seriously grateful guys.  Most of the early cupcakes maintained their frozen goodness, but after about a half-hour the rest of the cupcakes were more like melty mocha soup.  My hands were tied.

The other professionally crafted sweets were amazing!  I loved LPK’s peanut butter nanimo bars- they took first place in our category and they really deserved it.  I’m still thinking about them!  

As for me, well imagine my surprise when I got runner-up!  It was so exciting and I am still super pumped- especially because all I could think about was how melty everythign was.  Perfectionism.  Sigh.   

Such a fun afternoon!  I promise to post those pics when I get my hands on them.  In the meantime, keep checking the TVA website- they will be posting some pics there for sure.

Have a great night everyone.

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Nutrient Punch in the Face

The other day I was thinking that I should really try to get more seaweed into my diet, because it is so healthy- especially for vegans.  But the truth is, I’m not crazy about the stuff.  I used to eat nori all the time, but I overdosed on veggie sushi last year and now I try to avoid it at all costs.  I don’t really know what happened, I just kind of stopped liking it.  I feel really lame admitting that I kind of dislike seaweed, being a health nut extraordinaire and all, but I can’t help it.  It’s texture and flavour is all wrong for me.  

I decided to just force myself to give it another try, using arame. I used to eat a lot of seaweed salads made with arame and because it is a milder sea vegetable, I figured that I might be able to stomach it once again.

I decided to try to hide the seaweed a little bit by burying it in a huge bunch of greens. I had a huge bunch of fresh organic kale in my fridge that was calling my name, along with an unopened jar of pickled ginger.   I figured I’d give a kale and seaweed salad a try.   

I’m so glad I did.  It was delicious!  Not seaweed-y at all.  And the best part about eating it was that it was so chalk full of vitamins and minerals, it was basically like getting punched in the face with nutrients.  

Here’s the recap and recipe.

Kale Seaweed Salad 

Ingredients

  • 1 head of kale, washed and destemmed
  • 1/2 cucumber, julienned
  • 1 carrot, julienned
  • 1/2 C arame, soaked and rinsed
  • 2 T pickled ginger, or to taste
  • Seeds of choice for garnish

Sesame Ginger Dressing

  • 2 T tamari
  • 2 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1-2 tsp minced ginger
  • 1 T sesame oil
  • 1.5 T agave or maple syrup

First soak the arame in water for 20 minutes, rinse well and repeat.  I like to repeat soak it because it removes the “fishy” taste.  

Next make the dressing.

 Massage the dressing into the kale leaves until they are well coated.  Then add the cucumber, carrot and arame.

Finally, serve in a bowl topped with pickled ginger and sprinkled with seeds of choice (I used hemp seeds).

This salad was so good and easy to make, I’m thinking about adding it to the weekly rotation.  I may have found the secret to consuming more seaweed- hide it.  

Let me know if any other seaweed-avoiders out there give this a try.  Have a great Saturday!

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Rice Roll-Ups

I am one of those strange people who actually craves fresh greens. It’s probably more of a testament to the power of habit, rather than my taste preferences- but regardless I feel icky when I don’t get a heaping daily dose of fresh veggies.  

I’ve mentioned the fact that my standard work lunch usually involves a salad of sorts, kept interesting with a rotating lineup of delicious dressings and crunchy toppings.  However, once in a while I will overdose on salad.  On these days, I need something quick and easy to make and transport.  A great alternative that I enjoy regularly is fresh veggie rolls made with rice paper.  

Isn’t that just a salad wrapped in a thin rice paper?

Yes, it is.  However in my lunch rice wraps also involve dipping sauce- spicy almond butter dipping sauce to be exact.  And that my friends, adds a whole other level to the green lunch.  

I made myself some wraps with dip this week.  Here’s how it all went down.

First, I soaked a rice wrap in a bowl of very hot water for about 10 seconds

Next, place a variety of julienned veggies of choice in the middle of the wrap.  I used carrot, cucumber, romaine, avocado, fresh basil and sprouts.  Fresh herbs are key!!!!  I like to make these rolls on a cutting board, where it is easy to roll and cut all in one spot. 

Now the tricky part- roll one side of the rice paper over the veggies and tuck it under them, forming a log of sorts.  Then begin to roll, tucking the ends in as you go.

Finally, cut your roll in half and repeat until you have enough rolls to satisfy!

All packed and ready to go. 

The real reason to make fresh veggie rolls is the dip.  I love these dipped in peanut sauce, but prefer to eat almond butter. You can swap almond butter for peanut butter in any recipe for peanut sauce you like. Behold a recipe for spicy almond butter sauce that I adapted from Ani Phyo:

Almond Butter Dipping Sauce

  • 1/2 C almond butter (raw or roasted)
  • 2 T ginger
  • 1/3 C water
  • 2 T lemon juice
  • 3 T maple syrup or agave
  • 2 T tamari
  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  • 1-2 cloves garlic
  • 1/4-1/2 jalapeno, de-seeded 

I was a bad blogger and forgot to photograph this sauce, but trust me- it’s phenomenal!

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