Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Easy-Peasy-Tomato-Squeezy...a post about sauce.

So here’s my quick, homemade solution to cracking open a jar of store made sauce. It’s fresh, all natural and can be done in about 30 minutes or less. Oh and it makes a TON – so you’ll always have a jar handy when you need it.

(Note: I came up with this during a 30 day cleanse/detox where anything processed is not allowed. Normally, I would use a couple of tablespoons of veggie broth to get the sautéing party started).

Easy Peasy Natural  oil-and-fat-free Tomato Sauce

What you’ll need:
A large selection of your favorite tomatoes. I used 10 vine ripened red tomatoes, 6 kumato (brown) tomatoes and a pint each of red and yellow grape tomatoes.
1 pint organic mushrooms, 1 large organic onion, 2 organic zucchinis – all roughly chopped
A generous sprinkle of Himalayan pink salt
Freshly ground black pepper – to taste
Copious amounts of dried oregano and basil
A dash of cayenne pepper or chili flakes (or more if you like it spicy. I was making this for Little Miss Vegan so I kept the heat on low)
A really small pinch of ground cinnamon – yes, cinnamon
A little water to sauté your veggies

What you need to do:
Grab a large pot, two large bowls, a cutting board, a good knife, a stick or traditional blender and some tunes. The tunes are a must.  Music makes food taste better. I swear.

In bowl A, prep your tomatoes. Cut them all up – even the grape ones.  Chop big tomatoes into quarters, small ones in half. Discard some of the pulp and seeds (they make the sauce too runny).  Set aside.

In bowl B, prep your veg.  Peel and chop zucchini; wash and de-stem your ‘shrooms and chop your onion. If you’re like me – open a window, light a candle, wear goggles or do whatever else you can to keep the onion-triggered tears from falling. 

Heat your pot on the high end of medium…but no higher. You’re sautéing in water, which evaporates quickly so you want a low heat.  Give the onions a head start…they take the longest to cook.  Slowly sauté them until they start to get translucent and soft. Add a tablespoon of water or two as needed to keep the onions from sticking. 

After about 5 minutes, add the mushrooms and zucchini to the party.  When they’ve started getting soft, add salt, pepper, chili or cayenne, cinnamon and about 2 tablespoons each of oregano and basil. Remember: this is an all natural sauce so all the flavoring comes from whatever spices you add, so go BIG!

Now add in all the tomatoes.  Give them a good stir. Simmer for about 20 minutes or until tomatoes are really soft and breaking down when stirred.  Remove pot from heat (but keep the stove on); skim off some excess water – about 1-2 ladles full depending on how watery your sauce is; grab your stick blender and blitz the heck out of everything.  Or leave some chunks if you like. Little Miss Vegan has a thing about textures so our sauce is pretty smooth. When smooth, return to heat.  Taste and adjust seasonings – all of them – if needed.  Simmer for 5 more minutes and you’re done!

When cooled, seal ‘em in mason jars, pour them in a Tupperware or invite the entire street over for a spaghetti party!

Friday, February 22, 2013

“Patty” cake, “Patty” cake…a burger and salad post

Burgers were always a big deal in my house. I grew up with a dad who was a ‘king of the grill’ in his own rights. The man didn’t cook a lot, but the things he did do, he did well.  I always knew when it was his turn to make dinner because there was a different atmosphere in the house.  It was relaxed, enjoyable and messy. Kind of like my kitchen.  I think I learned that from him.

Burgers were one of his specialties (so was garlic bread but we’ll cover that one another time).  And everyone who came over for a BBQ always asked for the “Joel Burger”.  So growing up, the very little meat that I did eat was pretty much always in the form of a patty. Handmade, hand seasoned and grilled with care. We’re talking real burgers here.  Not some pre-formed, frozen-within-an-inch-of-its-life round disc. So I became quite the burger snob.  Having recently chosen a plant-based lifestyle, I am now a vegan burger snob.

Don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against a good, hot off the grill soy burger. It definitely does the trick at the cottage or family barbeques.  But I’ve been craving something more. Something real - with vegetables I can identify – and was made in my kitchen and not a processing plant.  So I’ve been embarking on a challenge to make a GREAT vegan burger. The kind that works well on a bun with condiments, or topped with salad, or as an awesome appetizer to dip.  

I’ve got a few under my belt, ranging from broccoli to corn to white bean to black bean, but this one takes the cake. Its part burger, part potato latke, and when they first come out of the oven, the smell instantly transports me back to my Bubbie’s kitchen at Chanukah. And its simple perfection reminds me of my Dad.

 The base for this burger is sweet potato. One of my all-time favorite vegetables. The combination of warm mashed potato, heady spices and the sweet caramelization from a low-and-slow bake in the oven in this recipe is like a holy trinity of sorts. It just works. Well. (It must, because I’ve made three batches of them in the past week alone!)

You could put these on a bun, top them with some condiments and go to town, but since we’re on a “little to no bread” quest at the moment, I opted for a more middle eastern route: couscous salad and lemon-tahini dressing.  

My Dad was a ‘meat and potatoes’ kind of guy. But I really think even he would have loved this one. 


Baked Sweet Potato Burgers with couscous salad and lemon-tahini dressing


2-3 large sweet potatoes, peeled, cooked in microwave and mashed
1 19oz can of chick peas or white kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1/3 cup ground oats (or breadcrumbs)
1/3 cup flour (I used whole wheat but all-purpose works well too)
1 tablespoon ground flax
3 tablespoons hot water
1 teaspoon paprika (smoked if you have it, sweet if you don’t)
¼ teaspoon chipotle powder (if you are using sweet paprika only, otherwise omit this one)
½ teaspoon mustard powder
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin

Couscous salad
1/3 cup couscous
1 cup vegetable broth
1 tomato, seeds removed, diced finely
½ an English cucumber, peel intact, seeded and diced finely
½ an orange pepper, seeded and diced finely
¼ cup each diced green and kalamata olives
Juice of one lemon
pepper to taste

Lemon-Tahini Dressing
1/3 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
1/3 cup cold water
2-3 cloves of fresh garlic
Pinch of salt
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice


  1. Cook couscous in vegetable broth according to package directions.  Spread on a parchment lined baking sheet or large plate and cool completely.
  3. Mix flax with 2 tablespoons of hot water and allow to stand for 5-10 minutes until mixture is thickened.
  5. Preheat oven to 400F. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
  7. Pierce potatoes and place on a microwave safe plate.  Microwave for 6-7 minutes or until completely tender.   Slice open and allow to cool completely (I usually pop mine in the freezer for 15 minutes).  Drain chickpeas or beans. In a large bowl, mash them well with a potato masher or fork.  Scoop out flesh from cooled sweet potatoes and combine with beans.  Add flax mixture, ground oats, flour,  paprika, chipotle powder (if using), mustard powder, onion powder, garlic powder and cumin. Mix well.  Refrigerate for up to 30 minutes to allow mixture to set. 
  9. With lightly wet hands, scoop out mixture and roll into tennis ball sized balls and place on a parchment lined baking sheet, approx. 3 inches apart (you should be able to get 6 burgers on a tray).  Flatten using the palm of your hand until they are a good “burger” thickness  between a ¼ - ½ inch thick).  Bake for 40 minutes, flipping them once halfway through. 
  11. Combine cooled couscous and diced tomato, cucumber, pepper, and olives in a bowl.  Add juice of one lemon and a few turns of fresh pepper. Mix well to combine. Chill until ready to serve.
  13. In a small food processor or blender,  combine tahini, water, salt, garlic and lemon juice. Process for 60 seconds until smooth.


Monday, February 18, 2013

The Comfort Food Series...Part 2: Pot Pie Perfection

Poll almost anyone on what their Top Ten list of comfort food contains and I’m willing to bet almost all of them will include “chicken pot pie” somewhere above number 6.  It’s a universal hug-in-a-bowl that combines delicious bite-size morsels of veggies smothered in a rich, creamy sauce and topped with homemade crust. Seriously, it’s a cold winter night’s dream-come-true.  

And surprisingly, it is extremely easy to veganize. I was worried about this.  After all, when I was growing up, the only way my mother could sneak veggies past my ‘all things green are poison’ radar was to put them in a pot pie with chicken and smother the heck out of them in sauce.  Having a super-finicky daughter who has inherited that vegetable-hating radar of mine, I wondered how I was going to carry on the tradition of “deceptively deliciousness”.

My first attempts led me to re-create “chicken” pot pie, using several different forms of vegan “chick’n” and veggies. Now there’s nothing wrong with this; in fact, if you take the recipe below and add in some diced Gardein Chick’n Filets (the best ones on the market in my opinion) in place of some of the veggies, you’ve got an awesome dinner. But our quest has been to cut back on processed foods – vegan or otherwise – and I wanted to create a dish that could be awesome without being a “re-creation”.  With the help of my always willing to taste-test husband, and my “I’ll eat the potatoes and the crust” kid, I set out on that quest.  I played with various different vegetable combinations, trying to find a balance between colors, nutritional values and textures.  Oh and taste. Because it can be the most nutrient-rich dish on the planet, but if it tastes like asphalt, no one’s gonna care. I’m pretty confident this version below nails it, but I’ll let you be the final judge.

(P.S. next time I’ll remember to photograph the inside of the pie too! I think I might have a pic of it in the archives somewhere…)


Vegan Pot Pie 

Pie Crust:
Ingredients (single crust)
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
2/3 cup vegan butter (earth balance or becel vegan)
Ice water
NB: for a double crust use 2 ½ cups flour and 1 cup vegan butter

Chill flour and butter in freezer for 30 minutes. When chilled, combine both in a food processor and mix until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. With processor running, stream in ice water in small amounts until dough starts to form/clumps together. Alternately, use a pastry cutter (also chilled in the freezer with the flour and butter) to cut the butter into the dough, then drizzle water in a little at a time and combine with a fork until dough forms.
Handling the dough as little as possible, form into a ball of dough; wrap in wax paper and chill in fridge until ready to use.

Pot Pie:
2 tbsp grapeseed or olive oil (or vegetable broth if you want to avoid the use of oil)
1 large white onion, diced medium
2 stalks of celery, diced small
1 yukon gold potato (or sweet potato), peeled and cut into cubes
1 cup butternut squash, peeled and cut into cubes
1 cup each chopped broccoli and cauliflower florets
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 tbsp all-purpose flour
3 cups of vegetable broth
2 tbsps mustard powder (This is my secret weapon. It is amazing what it does to the sauce!)
½ can small tender peas
½ can cooked whole carrots, chopped
1 tbsp Melted vegan butter

1. In a pot of boiling water, cook potatoes and squash until fork tender; drain and set aside.
2. Steam broccoli and cauliflower in microwave-safe dish with a few tablespoons of water for 3 minutes. Drain and set aside.
3. Heat a large soup pot over medium-high heat, add oil or vegetable broth, and cook onion and celery until translucent. Add garlic and cook for an additional minute.
4. Add flour and stir with a wooden spoon until well incorporated; about two minutes. Add vegetable broth, a little bit at a time, and stir, scraping down the sides and bottom of the pot to release any bits of flour. Reduce heat; add mustard powder, salt and pepper and simmer until filling has thickened; about 10-15 minutes.
5. Stir in peas and carrots. Taste and adjust salt/pepper seasoning as needed. Set mixture aside to cool slightly.
6. Set out 6 ceramic ramekin or pot pie dishes. Fill with pot pie filling to within ¼ inch from the top of the dish. Roll out pie dough until it’s approx ¼ inch thick and cut in circles about ½ inch larger than the ramekins (I use a small soup bowl inverted on the dough and a paring knife to “cut” out the shape). Cover the dishes with the dough, crimping the sides all the way around. Brush lightly with melted butter.
7. Place ramekins on baking sheet and bake at 420F for about 20 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and crisp. Remove from oven; let cool slightly and serve.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Comfort Food Series...Part 1

Comfort Food (noun): food prepared in a traditional style having a usually nostalgic or sentimental appeal  ~Merriam Webster Online Dictionary

I love comfort food. (I know, I know…who doesn’t, right?)

When it’s cold and snowy; rainy and wet or I’m just having a really bad day, comfort food is like a hug for my stomach and my soul, warming me up from the inside out.  One of the biggest challenges in becoming vegan was figuring out how to replicate some of my favorite comfort dishes to match our new lifestyle.  Eating a plant-based diet is great, but when you need a bowl of Mac & Cheese, you need a bowl of Mac & Cheese – not a heaping pile of kale and chickpeas. 

When people hear we are vegan, often their first reaction (okay, their second…the first is ALWAYS “how do you get your protein?” but that’s a different post entirely) is, OMG…but you can’t eat {insert their favorite comfort dish!}

Well, yes, actually we can. It just takes a little creativity in the kitchen…and the help of a few vegan tricks. 
I have a three-year old. And like most kids her age, she’s unsure about veggies; but she sure knows and loves a heaping plate of baked macaroni and cheese. And so do we.  So this became my mission: create the best-tasting, most authentic {vegan} mac and cheese known on the planet.  After many different experiments (some successful, some not-so-much), I struck gold.  A dish that has become known in my circle of friends as “Audrey’s Mac and Cheese”; partially because it’s the dish I always bring for her at family and friend gatherings where food is being served, and partially because it is my secret parenting weapon. I’m not kidding. I can pretty much get her to do anything if I promise to serve it to her for dinner.  And anyone who has raised (or is raising) a pre-schooler knows that is pretty powerful stuff. 

So, weary vegan parents of the world (and those craving a big bowl of comfort), I present the first item in my ‘Comfort Food’ series: “Audrey’s Mac & Cheese”.


Audrey’s Mac & Cheese


1 x 375g box of pasta (penne rigate, fusili or rotini work best)
½ an onion roughly cut into big chunks
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and “smashed” but left whole
2 tablespoons of mustard powder
Pepper to taste (about 6 or 7 turns usually)
2 cups unsweetened plain almond  milk
 (if you can’t get unsweetened just use regular plain – but stay away from any of the flavored ones. If nuts allergies are an issue, then use plain soy milk)
1 8oz package of Daiya shredded vegan cheddar
(this is what makes the difference. I’ve tried EVERY type of vegan cheese in this recipe and Daiya is the closest to that real cheddar taste)
2 tablespoons vegan butter (earth balance or becel vegan)
2 tablespoons all purpose flour

Optional toppings:
Grated soy Parmesan
Nutritional yeast flakes (adds additional cheesy flavour and a bit of texture)

1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. In a large pot, cook pasta according to package directions; drain, return to pot and set aside.
3. While pasta is cooking, in a separate pot, combine almond milk, onion, garlic, mustard powder and pepper. Heat on medium until milk is steaming (do not let it boil). Remove from heat; cover with a tight-fitting lid and let steep for 10 minutes; strain and set aside.
4. In another large pot, on medium high heat, melt butter. Before butter gets completely melted, add flour;  stir constantly with a wooden spoon to incorporate all flour and create a golden roux. Do not let it brown or bubble away too hard. Switch to a metal or silicone whisk and very slowly add milk in small additions, whisking as you pour. Continue to whisk until liquid thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon.
5. Remove milk from heat and whisk in Daiya cheddar shreds, stirring until most of the cheese is incorporated, about 5 minutes. (Daiya doesn’t melt 100% when stirred into liquid so it’s okay if there are a few strands of cheese still in the sauce; they will melt when baked).
6. Pour sauce over cooked pasta and mix until completely coated. Transfer to a 9x9 glass baking dish (or any large casserole dish) and add topping (if using). Bake at 350F for 25-30 minutes or until mac and cheese is bubbling and top is golden.