Mushroom & Truffled Ricotta Pasta Salad

It’s been unseasonably warm here in Vancouver these past few weeks. I like it, but I have some concerns about what this weather means for us down the road. Anyways, a rant about global warming isn’t appropriate here, but what I thought would be good to share is a little pasta salad I threw together the other night when it was too hot to cook. Usually this happens in July so I was totally throw off my game in terms of ingredients for a no cook meal.

I’ve seen this mushroom pasta salad on the menu at Tractor, but haven’t ever gotten around to trying it, so I figured I’d just make my own version. My IGA is pretty limited in terms of fun pasta shapes so I settled on the most exotic thing I could find which turned out to be  orecchiette, you know the ones that look like little hats?  But penne rigate or any small tubular pasta would work well with this.  Cause let’s face it, it kinda all tastes the same (I know, I just made a thousand Italian Nonnas cry).

I went for a mix of shiitake and cremini mushrooms, but if you can get your hands on chanterelles or something more exotic go for it!  Saute the mushrooms in some butter and olive oil (I like to mix the two for flavour), and then after they release their liquid and start to brown I added a splash of white wine and seasoned with salt and pepper. Set the shrooms aside.

Use the best quality, full fat ricotta you can get for this. Add a couple tbsp of chopped herbs, whatever is in season is fine. I used mint, rosemary, oregano and basil (all from my new container garden thank you very much!) and to that I added some lemon zest.

Cook the pasta according to the directions and rinse it under cold water when it’s done to stop the cooking and cool it right down. Add the mushrooms, ricotta and a splash of good quality olive oil and then drizzle as much, or as little truffle oil over the top as you like.  Toss and serve at room temperature.

Although delicious the next day, this pasta salad looks its best when it’s fresh. The mushrooms tend to make the ricotta turn a brownish colour that isn’t super pleasing to the eyes after a night in the fridge.

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I served this up with a kale caesar to make it a meal and was pleased with the result. I’m sure you will be too!

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 lb. cooked pasta (small shapes or tubes)
  • 4 cups diced mushrooms, sauteed
  • 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
  • 2 tsp lemon juice + zest
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh herbs
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp white truffle oil

If you want a bit of a kick I feel like you could get away with adding some chili flakes to this, but if it’s terrible I take no responsibility.

Bon appetit!

 

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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

New Mexico 4 Bean Chili

I have a great tried and true 3 bean chili in my repertoire already, but four beans is certainly better than three right?  I got the idea for this New Mexico style chilli after picking up the Happy Planet version for a very rushed supper one night before Christmas.  They call theirs Santa Fe Chili, so I’ve decided to call mine New Mexico to be different.  Theirs is also $6.99 for a single portion, and mine probably cost that for what I’m going to guess will be 6 portions.  By the time I add some guacamole and cheese on top I’ll probably be looking at around $2.50 per meal. I also happened to have some leftover pico de gallo leftover from last night nacho extravaganza so I threw that on top too.

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I would like to preface this by saying that I do not have Happy Planet’s recipe for chilli, as much as I would love it.  I simply looked at the ingredients on their package and decided to give it a whirl.  Chili is a very personal thing I think.  Some people, like me, enjoy the addition of a little cinnamon or cocoa powder, where others are repulsed by that idea. Some people love to add insanely spicy chili peppers, and others would say chili has to have meat in it, not just beans.  In the states you can even buy a beanless chili (in a can of course)! Here’s a family favourite from the days when I ate processed food if you’re wondering what the heck to do with beanless chili (total sidebar I know!).

Anyways, my New Mexico version contains all of the ingredients that Happy Planet uses with the exception of yam puree.  I had a yam out and ready to go, but my crock pot got too full of other stuff so I had to leave it out on this round.  I also had to guess at their spice blend, because they don’t list out the individual spices they use.  But really, everyone knows that chili powder is the one essential ingredient you must use, and in addition to that, I’d also suggest cumin is necessary.  I like to add a little ground coriander and a pinch of cinnamon.  I didn’t use cocoa powder this time, but for some sweetness I did add maple syrup.

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The beauty of a pot of chili is that it’s cheap, nutritious, quick (since the slow cooker does all the heavy lifting) and it will make your house smell amazing.  It also lasts up to a week in the fridge so you don’t have to eat it every day.  Do make sure you plan ahead, because you’ll need to soak your beans overnight!

Beans: 3/4 cup each dried pinto, red kidney and black beans, and the same of chick peas (or garbanzo beans as we’ll call them for the purposes of making this a 4 bean chili).

Soak the beans overnight and then drain, rinse and pick them over.  I found a small stone in my beans a few weeks back, so don’t overlook this step.  I have been boiling my beans in advance of putting them in my chili, because I find that they cook better.  I don’t like my chili beans to retain any bite as others might.  I like them to almost mushy.  There is nothing worse than letting your chili cook all day, only to find that your beans aren’t done to your liking. 

Chili:

  • 1 large can diced tomatoes with juices
  • 1 large can tomato sauce, or jar of strained Italian tomatoes
  • 1 medium yellow onion diced
  • 1 pepper (colour of your choice) chopped – I used an orange one
  • 1 jalapeño pepper seeded and diced
  • 1 cup corn kernels (I used frozen)
  • 2 T real maple syrup (if you’re going to use the fake stuff use honey instead)
  • 3 T chili powder
  • 2 t ground cumin
  • 1 t ground coriander + fresh if you have it
  • 1/2 t cinnamon
  • Juice of a lime

Mix the above in with the beans in a slow cooker and season with salt and pepper (save the fresh coriander and lime juice for the end).  Turn on high for 1-2 hours, and then reduce to low for another couple of hours, or until you’re ready to eat.  You could probably do this over low heat in a dutch oven if you don’t have a slow cooker, but it will require some attention during the cooking process.

Top off your smouldering beauty with cheese and guac, and sour cream if you’re feeling in the mood.  I like to scoop mine up with tortilla chips, but that’s also optional.  Enjoy, and if you have any additions or variations let me know, because I’m also up for improving on my chili!

I washed mine down with the remnants of my growler of “Ocean” from 33 Acres and it was absolutely delicious!

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Red Lentil Ratatouille

It’s been a while since I’ve had the time to update ye old blog.  Not sure where 2014 has gotten to, but it’s certainly getting away from me!  So far the year is off to a good start, and after another amazing dinner with friends at Nuba in January I decided that my ingredient of the year would be eggplant.  It’s so versatile and you can almost completely disguise it in things which is cool.  The problem is that I’m pretty crappy at cooking it.  I haven’t had many flops, but one of my worst was an eggplant lasagne that was underdone.  Let’s just say there’s nothing worse in this world than undercooked eggplant.

Oh yeah, and we got a new camera for Christmas, so now you’ll get to see nice photos that are actually mine on the blog!

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I don’t always like following other people’s recipes, but I do like modifying them (this is modified from Market Vegetarian), which has really helped me with my transition to vegetarianism.  I love the idea of French and Indian flavours melting into one another so I decided to make this recipe for eggplant, tomato and red lentil curry my own.

Here’s my recipe:

  • 1 large eggplant, sliced in half and then cut each half into eights
  • olive oil
  • 1-2 ripe tomatoes
  • 1/2 c passata (or tomato sauce)
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 T fresh ginger, minced
  • 1 T each chilli powder, cumin and curry powder
  •  2 cups veggie stock (you can use water if you want)
  • 1/4 cup roasted red peppers
  • 1 cup split red lentils, rinsed
  • Fresh basil, torn

In a large pot over medium high heat cook the eggplant until browned on all sides, and it releases the oil back to the pan.  This takes a while so be careful not to burn your eggplant in the process.  Then remove the eggplant to a small bowl and set aside.  Cook the onion, garlic and ginger until fragrant soft, about 5 minutes.  Add the tomatoes and cook for 2 minutes until they start to break up.  Then add in the spices and brown slightly.  The key to a good Indian dish I’ve learned is that you have to cook out the spices!  Add the passata once the spices have done their thing, and also allow it to cook down a little.  Once that’s done add in the lentils and the stock and let it simmer covered, stirring occasionally.  I added my eggplant back in after things had simmered about 10 minutes.  Then I let it simmer another 15 minutes or so, adding more stock as I needed to.  I like my lentils to be very done, and I enjoyed the way the eggplant sort of melted into everything else.  This was not the intent of the recipe I modified, but in my kitchen I do things my way!  If you do happen to undercook your eggplant (mine was a bit underdone) throw it in with the lentils sooner rather than later and it will just cook along with everything else and absorb more flavour.

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The result, served over some basmati rice, was hearty, flavourful and delicious.  My husband was sad that there wasn’t more leftover.  The above recipe yielded 3 large dinner portions, so I think next time I’ll double it.  You could get 4 servings out of it if you served it with a salad or some samosas.  Enjoy!

2013 in My Kitchen

As I sit at my desk, counting down the minutes until I can legitimately leave the office on New Years Eve, I can’t help but think back on everything that’s happened in 2013.  It has been a year of change, adventure, and reflection on life; all positive!

At the very end of 2012 I bought a bike.  It changed my life, I love it and it has made my carless world so much bigger.  I’m healthier, more active and so happy I got to start 2013 with new wheels!

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My husband and I started the year off realizing that we could use my mom’s US Netflix account, so we began watching documentaries of all sorts.  After getting depressed about the state of the world from too much Zeitgeist, we started watching food docs…and decided to become vegetarian. The husband has been stricter about this than I have, but since last February I can count the number of times I’ve eaten meat on both hands.  For him it would be meat and fish on one hand.

I’ve learned to cook wonderful new foods and our diet now consists mostly of beans, lentils, kale (and other dark leafy greens), cauliflower, squash and pretty much any veggies that can be oven roasted.  I’m no longer afraid to try new things in my kitchen and I’ve hosted several successful dinner parties with brand new recipes.   I’ve also embraced new flavours to the point where my spice drawer is completely over flowing.  At the suggestion of my mother, who wouldn’t touch a lentil if her life depended on it, we both went to the doctor to confirm that our new diet wasn’t killing us.  I’m happy to report that we are both healthy and getting all the required nutrients from vegetarianism, and our cholesterol is fine, despite a more than modest increase in cheese consumption…HOORAY!

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I spent my birthday this year on a plane to Reykjavik, where upon arrival I was wished a happy birthday by a very nice Icelandic customs official.  I showed my passport to about 20 other people in the Vancouver and Seattle airports and got no love, so Iceland was off to a good start for me!  We spent 2 weeks in Scandinavia having a wonderful adventure. The highlight was the first 3 days in Iceland, which started at the Blue Lagoon, included numerous waterfalls, the cute seaside town of Reykjavik, walking between the continental plates, and a hike on a 1,000 year old glacier.  After that we spent a week in sunny Denmark, fell in love with the beautiful, cyclist friendly island of Bornholm, and experienced the beauty and expense of Norway.  No joke people, $15 for a pint!

Blue Lagoon

We ate great food throughout the trip, 90% of which was in simple cafe style restaurants where you order at the counter and your food is brought out when it’s ready.  We developed an obsession for Icelandic hot dogs (all bets are off on holiday!), had an amazing roasted celery root veggie burger in Copenhagen, bravely tried pickled herring, and had one of the best Indian meals of our lives in Oslo.

After an amazing trip, I  came  home to a beautiful and long sunny summer in Vancouver that was filled with bike rides, picnics on the beach, and just about every other weekend spent in Whistler with various friends.  I realized the importance of just saying ‘yes’ sometimes, and not over thinking how much something will cost, or what it will involve. Sometimes you have to just do things!  I also was reminded that my backyard is pretty awesome!

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I also discovered a love for all things bitter this year.  Move over IPA, ESB is now my brew of choice.  And although I do dearly love an Aperol spritz on a hot summer day, I have a new appreciation for the broader spectrum of Italian bitters.  My favourite new cocktail of 2013…the negroni!  Who says your palate can’t change!

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After a busy fall, I’m ready to enter 2014 energized and open to new experiences and challenges.  My resolutions for the New Year include reading more (and playing Candy Crush less), continuing to try new recipes and experiment with new flavours in my kitchen, and taking up photography as a new hobby (with my sweet new Canon EOS camera!). So look for great new photos, which I will no longer have to pinch from google for my posts, new recipes as I start to formulate my cookbook, and tales from another adventure that will likely happen mid year (destination TBD at this point).

I hope you all have a Happy New Year, and will leave you with one of my favourite recipes from 2013.

Spaghetti Puttanesca 

  • 1 package spaghetti, spaghettini, or penne (or really any pasta that makes you happy)
  • 1 jar strained Italian tomatoes
  • 2 anchovy fillets, minced (or 1 T anchovy paste)
  • 3 T capers, drained, rinsed and roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup kalamata olives, halved
  • 1 T dried chili flakes (or less if you can’t take the heat)
  • 1/4 cup shredded basil leaves
  • 2-3 garlic cloves minced
  • 1 T dried oregano
  • 1 medium onion, diced

Cook the onion in a bit of olive oil over medium heat until soft, then add the garlic and simmer for 1 minute (don’t burn the garlic).  Then add the tomatoes and the rest of the ingredients, except the basil.  Let the sauce simmer for 20-30 minutes over low heat (or longer if you have time).  Add the basil right before you serve it over your cooked pasta. You can finish it with a little Parmesan cheese if you want, but I don’t think this is traditional.

Buon Appetito!

 

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!

Taste of Thanksgiving

How I didn’t know about this event is beyond me!  Apparently every year Whole Foods hosts the Taste of Thanksgiving in their stores, a couple of weeks prior to Thanksgiving. And if you live in Canada like me, this means late September. For a $10 donation to a local charity (in Vancouver it was the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House) you get a passport and a plate and are free to roam around the store, sampling festive fall delights.  I went to the Cambie Street location, but West Van does it as well.

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I thought it would be like Costco on a Sunday afternoon with tons of sample stations, so I was completely unprepared for what a big deal this event is.  Whole Foods pulls out all the stops, and really the only thing missing is the wine.  The nice thing about it was that the store wasn’t packed.  Yes, I imagine it was busier than the average Wednesday, but there was still plenty of room to move around, sample delicious food, and do your shopping.

Having not experienced this event before, I had no idea what I was doing and started with the first station I saw, handing out a really nice spinach salad.  Thankfully my friend dragged me to the other end of the store, since she knew the drill.  That’s where all the good stuff was hiding.  All in one station were the contents of an entire Thanksgiving dinner, spooned up onto my plate within 20 seconds.  Roasted turkey (which I later regretted not having), Field Roast celebration roast, mashed potatoes, vegetarian stuffing and gravy, and the piece de resistance, cranberry peach relish (swoon!).

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I was full after this one station, but upon realizing there was so much more in store (literally) I soldiered on picking up bits and pieces of the following:

  • Goat cheese toasts with cranberry ice wine relish
  • Brie with sour cherry compote
  • Vegetarian pakoras and masala chips
  • Smoked salmon
  • Mulled apple cider
  • Spinach cheese triangles

We did have to wait in line for about 10 minutes for the oil poached halibut, but it was totally worth it.  The fish was perfectly cooked, and served on a bed of arugula and shaved fennel salad with an olive tapenade dressing, that will be making an appearance on my table soon.

We grabbed take away boxes for the desserts, because we were so stuffed by this point. Pumpkin roulade, pumpkin pie squares, and little pumpkin shaped sugar cookies rounded out the meal.  Oh, and I almost forgot, on the way out we stopped at the drinking chocolate station for nice warm cups of the best hot chocolate ever.

I would have been happy making a $20 contribution given the quantity and quality of the food provided.  It was such a fun atmosphere and a great way to get in the spirit of the harvest.  Check it out next year, but don’t tell too many people, because part of the fun is that it’s not a super crowded event.