Roasted Cauliflower Steaks with French Lentils

Happy New New Year!  Wow, it’s 2015, I really can’t believe it.  Unfortunately 2014 was a dismal year on the blog for me; not because I wasn’t cooking a ton and doing fun things. In fact, I think my cooking reached a new level and I was doing so many fun things that I just didn’t get a chance to properly collect my thoughts in this space as often as I wanted.

I’m not making resolutions or promises to blog a lot this year, but we’ll see what happens. Two weeks ago I proclaimed this blog was dead, and now here I am, back at it.  Last night I created something so delicious and amazing that I just had to share it.  Also, 2015 should be an exciting year for me for a number of reasons. I’m starting a photography course tonight so that means better pictures to accompany these posts, and I have a a few fun trips planned this year.  In addition to a handful of weekend getaways, I’m off to the Carolinas for a wedding and reunion with my college friends in March, that will take me to Raleigh, and Charleston (yeah, I’m already hungry for that one), and then in September my dream of going back to Iceland is coming true.  Two years after our first visit and becoming completely obsessed with all things Icelandic we’ve decided to do a full island 11 day road trip!  We’re also taking a little side trip to Amsterdam to get our proper Euro fix.

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So now that we’re all caught up and re-acquainted, I’ll let you in on a little secret I’ve learned.  It’s the ticket to perfectly roasted veggies.  Before you toss your veg on the sheet pan, rub a good thick layer of olive oil over it (also really great for moisturizing your hands while you cook).  Then throw down the veg, and drizzle more olive oil and salt and pepper on top.  This ensures that the side that roasts down first gets nice and caramelized in the oven.

And without further ado, the goods.  I had an amazing dinner at Pourhouse here in Vancouver just before Christmas that consisted of a cauliflower ‘steak’ on a bed of lentils with a yogurt raita and papadum’s.  To me it was the perfect plate of food for a vegetarian. So good in fact, that I left vowing to re-create it, which I did last night.  I just ate the leftovers at my desk and felt like I’d had lunch in a little Parisian bistro.  This dish is quintessentially French, it’s hearty, it’s healthy, and inexpensive to make.  The only thing I need to improve is my cauliflower cutting skills.  I only was able to get two actual ‘steaks’ because you need to cut all the way down to the stem.  But don’t worry, just toss whatever you get on a sheet pan and roast it up.

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Roasted Cauliflower Steak at Pourhouse

Roasted Cauliflower with French Green Lentils and Herbed Yogurt 

Pre-heat your oven to 400.

For the cauliflower:

  • 1 head white cauliflower, trimmed, sliced in half, and then cut into 3/4 in. steaks as best as you can (start from the larger inside pieces and work your way out)
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

For the lentils:

  • 1 cup french green or de puy lentils
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • half a white onion or 2 small shallots diced
  • 1 tbsp herbs de provence
  • 2 cups vegetable stock
  • water, as needed

For the yogurt sauce:

  • 1 cup full fat Greek yogurt (honestly stop wasting your time with low fat dairy)
  • 1/2 cup chopped herbs (I used dill and mint)
  • squeeze of fresh lemon juice

While the oven pre-heats, boil the lentils over medium high heat with the stock, veggies (feel free to add celery, leeks etc. to this one), and herbs. Cover and simmer about 25 min. until the lentils are tender, but retain their bite, and most of the liquid has been absorbed. Add water or more stock throughout this process as needed. I find cooking the lentils in stock vs. water gives a much richer flavour.

Place the cauliflower on an oiled roasting pan, drizzle more oil on top and season with sale and pepper. Roast for 20 min, turn carefully, and roast for another 12-15 minutes, until tender but crisp.

Mix up all the yogurt sauce ingredients and when you’re ready to plate, put a big scoop of lentils down first, top with a piece of cauliflower steak and then dollop of yogurt.

Bon appetit!

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My Roasted Cauliflower Steak

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Lentil Shepherd’s Pie

In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s fall.  In Vancouver we’re still having warm days, but the rain is picking up, and the leaves are starting to come off the trees.  That means it’s time to switch from salads to comfort foods, and one of the things I miss most being vegetarian is a good shepherd’s pie.  It’s an easy thing to make, but getting enough protein can be difficult if you’re just using mixed veggies.  So I came up with the idea of replacing ground beef or lamb with brown lentils.  I think the brown ones hold up a bit better than green ones, and they retain a bit of bite, which I like.

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I totally winged this one, and the result was nothing short of amazing…in my humble opinion.  Unfortunately it didn’t photograph well, but I find un-photogenic foods often taste the best.  I also haven’t fully raved about my new Kuhn Rikon pressure cooker on the blog yet, but let’s just say the mashed potatoes that have been coming out of my kitchen lately are some of the best ever.  I decided to pack even more veggies into my shepherd’s pie and threw in a parsnip for fun this time.

Anyways, let’s get straight to the good stuff cause I gotta get back to work.  Here’s my recipe for Lentil Shepherd’s Pie with Parsnip Kale Mash.

For the mash:

  • 3-4 big yukon gold or russet potatoes
  • 1 large parsnip
  • 1 small bunch kale, washed, stemmed and chopped
  • 3 tbsp. butter (use less, use olive oil, whatever makes you happy here)
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Make the mash however you usually do, the parsnips and potatoes take the same amount of time to cook and are happy to take a hot bath together.  Add in the butter, milk and kale when they’re done and whip them to perfection (if you were like me and had some leftover creme fraiche in your fridge you would also add that).  In my pressure cooker I did them on the second red ring for 6 minutes and used the natural release method (yes, I am aware there are funny jokes to be made about these instructions). Set them aside and keep warm.

For the base:

  • 1 cup brown lentils, rinsed, picked over and cooked until they are tender but retain some bite (about 15 minutes)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 2-3 carrots, chopped
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cups chopped cremini or white button mushrooms
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 3 cups vegetable stock or water

Saute the onion, celery, carrots and mushrooms over medium heat for 7-10 minutes until tender.  Add the garlic and bay leaves and cook 2 more minutes.  Season with salt and pepper at this point, and add the tomato paste.  Cook out the tomato paste a bit until it’s bubbly, then add the wine and simmer it down to reduce slightly.  Add in the drained lentils and 2 cups of stock.  Simmer for 20 minutes, adding more stock if it dries out.  Continue cooking until lentils reach desired doneness.  Cooking times may very with green lentils as well.

Once everything is ready and seasoned to your liking (don’t forget to remove the bay leaves), put the base into a 9 x 11 glass casserole dish and top with mashed potatoes. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes and let stand another 10.  I drizzled a bit of white truffle oil on top, and you could also grate some Parmesan cheese.

You could make individual pies for a dinner party if you wanted…otherwise this casserole keeps really well in the fridge, and would also freeze well.

Bon Appetit!

My Spice Jars Are Empty

It’s been 9 months since I became vegetarian.  It was a slow progression, but over that time I have eaten less and less meat. And my desire to consume once loved foods like bacon, salami and burgers has also diminished greatly.  I’ve realized that you can find substitutes or alternatives that take the place of all these things.  Although part of me will always miss these foods, and I may slip from time to time (all bets are off on vacation), I have to say that I am much happier on my new clean eating program.  I also find that I’m discovering new flavors, ingredients and cooking methods that have improved my overall cooking a ton!  My husband, friends and co-workers will all concur on that.  My mother still thinks it’s weird that I eat lentils, but I’ll make something that will win her over one of these days.

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So that brings me to a conversation I had this morning with my co-worker about how when you cook vegetarian you can’t rely on the meat to flavor your dish, you have to do it through spices.  It used to take me ages to go through one of those little spice jars; getting to the point where I was basically cooking with dried flavorless dust.  Most people don’t know that the shelf life of dried herbs and spices is really not more than a year or two at most.  Not very economical if like the old meat eating me, you only go through a tablespoon of allspice annually when making your Thanksgiving pumpkin pie.

But the new me is going through spices like crazy, so much so that I notice my spice jars are often running on empty.  My kitchen is global, so I don’t really lean towards one type of cuisine over another, but I find the spices I’m using the most these days are: nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, turmeric, cumin, coriander seeds and chili powder.  Other items have also recently become essential in my fridge/pantry that used to seem foreign to me, such as: jalapeno peppers, capers, anchovies (yes, I am aware they are not vegetarian), creme fraiche, miso paste, ginger, tahini, artichoke hearts, caramelized onions, and roasted peppers (the latter two items I always make myself).

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Maybe it’s because I’ve broken out of my shell, or I’m older and more confident now, but I feel like nothing can hold me back in the kitchen anymore.  I’m not afraid to try new flavors, experiment with a crazy recipe, or go completely off the rails and try something that’s all mine.  My successes far outnumber my flops, and nowadays I’ll even make something I’ve never done before for a dinner party, which is about as risque as I get.

I’ve raved about Deb Perleman’s blog Smitten Kitchen a ton, but I’ve recently discovered Sprouted Kitchen, which is equally as wonderful.  Both offer a ton of vegetarian recipes, or give you the option to add or omit meat which I love.  So giving full credit to these amazing ladies who I would love to have in my kitchen one day, here are some of my recent favourites.

From Smitten Kitchen: Miso sweet potato and broccoli bowlKale salad with pecorino and walnuts (goes great with a simple pasta), One pan farro with tomatoes (which I modified, my version here), Warm butternut squash and chick pea saladDeb’s Three Bean Chili.

Unfortunately most of the Sprouted Kitchen recipes I’ve been trying are from Sara Forte’s book, so I can’t share them with you, but buy her book, you won’t regret it!  I did make a big winner from her blog last night though: Pasta with fennel, arugula and lemon.

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And lastly, for a bit of middle eastern flavour try Yotam Ottolenghi’s mejdara, a mixture of lentils, rice, caramelized onions and divine spices.

These are all things that a year ago I would have probably considered making, but would have never pulled the trigger on.  I’d have thought, oh my husband won’t get enough protein from that, or I don’t know how to use miso, or even, fennel…I’m not sure I like that. So my advice to you is to try new things, you don’t have to become vegetarian to experiment with new flavors.   And over time you’ll start to learn what flavors go (or don’t go) with others, what you like and what satisfies you…and then your spice jars will be empty too!

Butternut Squash Soup with Black Lentils & Goat Cheese

I was initially fearful of my first fall as a mostly vegetarian after being in the groove of one dish summer salads and mezze plates for many months.  The idea of an entire season without shepherd’s pie, spaghetti bolognese or goulash still scares me a little bit.  But over the weekend as the weather turned cooler and the leaves really started to turn I remembered that it was finally soup season!

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To celebrate on Sunday night I made a delicious minestrone with kale, chick peas and a bunch of veggies that were hanging out in my fridge about to go bad.  And last night I decided to go off the rails, taking inspiration from a recipe I had every intention of making from my favourite blog, Smitten Kitchen.  The original recipe was for a spicy squash and lentil salad.  I loved the idea of the sweet squash, the bite of the black lentils and the smooth texture of the goat cheese, but I didn’t want a salad that would be served at room temperature.  In the end I turned out a velvety smooth butternut squash soup, with black lentils for colour, texture and extra protein, topped with goat cheese and sage.

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Unfortunately the presentation was sorely lacking, so you’ll have to excuse my lack of photos, but here’s my recipe, my very own from start to finish!  I’ll be ready to write my cookbook in no time!

Ingredients:

  • About 2 lbs. butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed, (use more if you’re not sure, you can always add more stock to thin things out if it’s too thick)
  • 1/2 cup black lentils, cooked and drained
  • 2 tbsp. roughly chopped fresh sage leaves
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Crumbled goat cheese (as much as your little heart desires), I used about 1/3 of a log

What you do:

Toss the squash with salt, pepper and a bit of olive oil and roast in the oven at 425 for 20-25 min. turning once.  You want the squash to be tender, but not completely mushed. When it’s done, put the squash cubes into a large pot, add the veggie stock and bring to a boil.   Add the sage and season with salt and pepper.  Simmer for about 5 minutes.  Then puree the mixture with an immersion blender, or run it through your blender.  Once it’s been pureed, add extra stock to get the desired texture, and then add the cream and stir to combine.  Don’t let it boil once you add the cream.

When you’re ready to serve, place a couple spoon fulls of lentils in each bowl and pour the soup over top. Add more lentils to the top centre, to get the desired quantity.  Remember lentils are quite filling, so don’t go overboard.  Sprinkle with goat cheese, top with a bit more fresh sage if you like, or some good olive oil and sit down to enjoy a steaming hot bowl of the best butternut squash soup you’ll ever try!

It would be a fun dish to serve at a Halloween party, because the black lentils against the orange soup are quite festive!  I served mine with a simple green salad and crusty olive bread.  Instead of the sage, you could go back to Deb’s recipe and add the smoked paprika for a totally different flavour profile.  I might try that next time, and there will indeed be a next time for this one.

Dinner at The Acorn

Last night I had the pleasure of dining at one of Vancouver’s new vegetarian restaurants, The Acorn, on Main Street.  It seems I’m not the only one embracing this new type of diet, because all of a sudden there are veg restaurants popping up all around town like a crop of fresh spring asparagus.  After a disappointing brunch at The Parker earlier this year I was a bit put off of strictly veg restaurants.  I figured that the value for money wouldn’t be there if they were charging $18-$26 for mains that probably were smallish portions.  Apparently this has been the consensus at Heirloom which I haven’t tried yet.

But The Acorn wowed me last night!  They don’t take reservations and on a rainy Wednesday I didn’t think we’d have a problem getting a table for 4.  I was wrong and the place was packed.  So we waited at the bar and had a drink for almost an hour before finally being seated.  Not the restaurant’s fault at all, they had a couple of four tops that were heavy lingerers (like bill paid, drinks finished, just sippin’ water).  We were told we couldn’t order appetizers while seated at the bar which seemed odd to me, but rules are rules and I can respect that.  They did give us some caraway spiced hazelnuts to tide us over.

Once seated our orders were taken promptly and appetizers were out in a flash.  My husband and I shared the carrot soup which had beluga lentils, pesto and paprika croutons.  The bowl was huge and although you might think it odd to share soup, it totally worked…and warmed us both up on a chilly night.  Our friends shared the favas and ramps which was also a good portion and was served with a beautiful poached egg on top and a velvety sauce.  For $8-$10 sizes were great and perfect for sharing.  There was definitely no need for us each to order an appetizer.

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The mains quickly followed which was great because by this time it was close to 9pm and for those of us with day jobs bedtime was fast approaching.  We shared the beer battered halloumi, which was served with a zucchini pancake, smashed peas and a lemony yogurt sauce.  Definitely not something I would want to eat on my own, but perfect for sharing. Pieces of halloumi were quite large and the batter wasn’t greasy.

We also shared the stinging nettle gnocchi which was a simply amazing plate of food. Everything complimented everything else and it felt like spring on your palate.  Fluffy green gnocchi are served with fresh peas, sauteed morels, pine nuts, and a creme fraiche sauce.  It’s sprinkled with mint and other fresh herbs.  Also a very good portion, for $19 I would absolutely order this again.

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So we walked out of there for $75 after having had a good amount of food and a couple drinks, which I thought was pretty reasonable for Vancouver.  And even though we ate late, I didn’t have any trouble sleeping because the food is nice and light, but filling at the same time.

I will have to try Heirloom and see what they’re all about next!