recipes, food snaps, and travel musings

Saturday, April 21, 2007

southern food

When I'm as tired out as I was yesterday, I have humility to follow recipes - and usually to stick to their suggestions.

From "chicken-fried steak" done using tofu, without the gravy, and grilled cajun portobello mushrooms.

The tofu is crying out for the chance to pretend to be fried fish, so "fish and chips" will likely appear soon. Complete with tartar sauce and newspaper.

Happy planet day!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

winging it

Pardon the pun.
But when I got home yesterday, I discovered the home-made BBQ sauce I had stashed in the back of the fridge for making grilled things and faux chicken wings had gone off.

After swearing for a while, I realized that I was faced with a simple dilemma:

1) Go out and get more sauce,
2) Get more raw ingredients to make new BBQ sauce, or
3) Make something else entirely.

I'm pretty sure that I'm not the only one drawn to the third option.

The door of my fridge is (to use some hilarious phrasology I picked up from my boss at work) a "higgildy piggildy" of multi-national spices and sauces. My options for flavour are unrestricted, though I had to be inventive in how the raw materials were assembled.

To describe the results:

"Chickehn" DrumsticksIsland Banana and Thai Peanut flavoured (recipes below)

served with

GarlicRoasted Baby Beets & Mashed Yucca

— and you can see that a big pile of steamed broccoli, as well as some julienned orange pepper accompanied the drumsticks, beets and yucca to its happy consumption.

The Sauces

These are truly exciting recipes. I recommend starting with some fake–meat (fake drumsticks, for example, or any fake chicken could easily substitute) and letting it marinade in few cups of hot broth with miso, tamari and ground pepper mixed in. This gives it a better depth of flavour. I also dissolve in one teaspoon of Vegemite in my "hot marinade," as a secret ingredient.

The sauces can be used to coat the faux–meat before it is baked (400 F for 30 minutes) or grilled (15 minutes one side, 5 minutes on the other). Basting with more sauce half-way through is recommended but not absolutely essential.

Leftover sauce is an obvious candidate for dipping, though double-dipping is not everyone's cup of tea.

Island Banana Sauce (hot)

2 Tbsp ginger syrup
1 very ripe banana
1/3 cup banana ketchup
2 Tbsp agave nectar
1/2 tsp piripiri (birdseye chili) sauce
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp crushed, dried cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp ground sweet chili powder
1/2 cup orange juice
3 Tbsp apple cider vineagar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1/2 tsp chiplotle sauce
1/4 tsp rum extract
2 Tbsp lime juice

In a small saucepan, bring all the ingredients except the last two (rum extract and lime juice) to a simmer, whisking often or stirring with a fork. Simmer, stirring often, for 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat, then stir in rum extract and lime juice. Use as a basting sauce or as a dipping sauce.

Spicy Peanut Sauce (medium)
4 Tbsp vegetarian oyster sauce
4 Tbsp apple cider vineagar
1/2 cup natural peanut butter
2 Tbsp ginger syrup
1/2 cup barley syrup or dark molasses
2 pickled Thai bird chilis (red or green)
1/2 cup sweet Thai chili dipping sauce
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp Thai chili paste (green curry with holy basil)
1 key lime leaf
1/8 cup basil leaves
1 T coconut cream powder
2 tsp tamari or soy sauce

Bring oyster sauce, vinegar, peanut butter, ginger syrup and barley syrup to a boil in a small saucepan on medium-high heat. Add chilis, dipping sauce, garlic, chili paste, lime leaf and basil. Boil for 15-20 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, add coconut cream powder and tamari, and whisk or blend with a hand mixer until well combined. Use as a basting sauce or as a dip.

I have nothing to add after those crazy recipes. Good luck, and don't be threatened by naked chicken wings — just let them inspire you to try harder!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Heaven in Chicago

I visited heaven today.

(I know, I know! Such a surprise that I was admited!)

The heaven I'm reverring to is USA's first certified organic bakery: The Bleeding Heart Bakery. (2018 West Chicago ave, bw Damen & Hoyne - website under construction)

They make magical food there. Below, witness the sort of magical food, slaved over by American Culinary Federation's pastry chef of the year Michelle Garcia.

I'd prefer to think of her as a pastry activist, turning her high ethical and animal–rights standards into edible art.

(slobber, slobber)

I had brunch today at the Bakery, enjoying tofu chiliquilas with refried beans, and splitting a pecan tart with my gracious hosts. My sweet tooth isn't well developped enough to properly exploit the potential of this restaurant (another vegan option on the menu was the "Smores Pancake Platter") but just being surrounded by sweet 'n' fancy vegan food was a tickling thrill.

All the vegan cupcakes whispering "eat me eat me eat me" — and the only thing sustaining my restraint is the knowledge of the stupor/coma that would surely ensue. A sugar coma would have ruined my afternoon, which I gleefully squandered in bookstores.

Dinner in Someone Else's Kitchen

Tonight I dished up some impromptu fare to feed myself and my host. I love cooking in other people's kitchens — it makes even a minor culinary success feel lucky, as not being able to find most of the ingredients you'd like to use is the kitchen equivalent of a racing handicap.

Alongside some organic brown vegan rice, we enjoyed a paneer–esque preparation of tofu, tossed unceremoniously into a green bean and sweet potato curry dish. Tasty, but not very photogenic. My camera was left at home, so it hardly matters.

I can't wait to see the vegan airplane food tomorrow (I'm flying home in the comfy seats) — I like to start by expecting disappointment and then being pleasantly surprised when things turn out to be edible. Usually they break my heart by serving me cucumber and anaemic tomato on soggy white bread sandwiches, and sliced melon.

Coming up: More on my hate of all things melon and melon–related.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Back on the Wing

The Geographical Vegan is gettin' all geographical again.

I'm in the Calgary airport, lamenting the uniformly decrepid green furniture, and waiting for my flight to Chicago.

(Stay tuned for updates from my four days in the chilly midwest....)

I was worried that my locally-grown, organic purple kale would go bad in my absence, so I cooked up some non-photogenic food late last night to carry on the plane for lunch today: some sort of cajun-mushroom-black-bean-yellow-pepper-fry-up. It turned out to be one of those recipes that's quite good for you, very edible, but there are so many things about it that were either poorly executed or need correction that it's really not worth mentioning.

I don't know what posessed me to try and convince celery, shitake mushrooms, black turtle beans, a yellow bell pepper, and cajun spices to get along. I think I pictured some sort of oyster-y gumbo. I really must have been tired.

Cooking regrets are the heartbreaking part of this hobby. I remember a couple of years ago, making a vegan peanut-butter boston-creme pie from a cookbook by a writer who claimed you could substitute all the goey eggs, cream, butter, etc. that go into sinful carnivore desserts with healthy and expensive starches, oils, and binders.

She could not have been more wrong. Now while it might be the case that I made one or two crucial deviations from her original instructions that sent the whole piece down the road to tragic failure, but I suspect it was because the premise itself was a little incorrect.

You can't substitute everything. You can substitute butter, you can even substitute whipped cream, you can get by without eggs, but you can't just substitute something unealthy and unvegan with something healthy and vegan.

Ie. custard with whipped tofu. Nobody's going to be fooled! And if it really needed custard, nobody's going to be happy! (There are sneakier ways, people; be creative.)

While the peanut-butter-boston-cream-pie may have been one very expensive failure, it was also a good lesson in baking hubris. Once I got out of my very bad foodie-failure mood (we had to throw the whole thing out!) I got over it.

Now that I've learned my lesson in impromptu midnight cajun cooking (for the meantime), perhaps this is an opportunity for me to make my own personal list of non-photogenic foods. Foods that don't blog well (usually), or maybe require a lot more primping before they're ready for the camera.

Not-So Photogenic Foods

Hummus - hands down winner, always looks pasty, even if it just came back from a week in Cancun

Black Bean Soup - too shiny to shoot while hot, but usually looks greenish-grey when cool

Cocoa-covered Truffles - they look like dusty rocks, or bunny poo

Iceburg Lettuce - the camera reveals its truely diabolical nature

bok-choy and tofu stir-fry - but that often doesn't look good in person, unless you've been hiking in Peru for two weeks and you'd kill for some cruciferous veggies

banana almost anything - I don't know why this is

vegan cheesecake - pasty, usually, but this is up for debate

I'm sure there are others. I'm open to suggestions.

Here are some pictures from a very sexy photo shoot of some oyster mushrooms. Enjoy!

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Morchella elata least that's what I think they were called.

Now I can't check because I ate them all. Ate all what? Morels.

Let's start with a bit of background, shall we? For the first 19 years of my life, I couldn't eat mushrooms. I could not be in the same room when they were being prepared, the merest hint of fungi in a soup, salad, pizza, anything and I would turn green and abandon the whole meal.

The smell turned my stomach, the thought of biting down on one was enough to ruin my appetite. As far as food aversions go, I would have been awarded top marks for my hatred of mushrooms.

What changed? I haven't a clue. It was around the same time that I learned how to blow bubbles with bubble gum that I found I was able to eat mushrooms. No, I certainly don't think the two events were related. Nobody in their right mind would associate the two rites of passage.

Putting aside how ridiculous it is to have not been able to blow bubbles with bubble gum until I was 19, let's get back to the topic of mushrooms.

Anyone who read the post from a couple of days ago will remember that I made a lovely "lobster and oyster mushroom bisque," and forshadowed an upcoming cooking experiment involving morels, the delectable and pricy edible cap fungus.

After carefully washing and slicing the epigious ascocarps, and discarding the bottoms of their stems, I prepared them in the following perfect way:

Early Morels with Spring Greens

5 large fresh early morels, thinly sliced
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 pinches of coarse salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 oz cubed vegan cheese (I used the Edam flavour of Scheese)*
2 Tbsp tamari
1 Tbsp aged balsamic
3 cups mixed spring greens (baby kale, chard, and other young Brassica species), wet from washing
2 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds

*available from VeganEssentials

Fry morels in olive oil at medium-high heat until liquids begin to be released from the mushrooms. Add the salt and stir well for a couple of minutes, as the mushroom liquids boil and are condensed. Add garlic powder, stirring, and vegan cheese. Continue to fry until edges of the cheese begin to brown.
Add tamari and vinegar, stirring to combine, and boil to reduce liquids further.
Add spring greens, and cover to wilt, the stir to combine. Turn off heat when greens are uniformly wilted and bright green. Stir in toasted sesame seeds, and serve hot.

Toast is suggested (morels like being served with toast). If the photo looks a bit fuzzy, it's because I was too hungry to try very hard. I think you get the idea.

The Easter Chipmunk

Lindt released a dark chocolate bunny this year! Vegans, rejoice.

The ears got eaten first - they are the tastiest part.

It really is a lot of chocolate, though, when you've been eating cupcakes and truffles all weekend.
Maybe I should melt down our Eastern Chipmunks and turn them into fondu?

(Don't worry, they can't hear me plotting their demise...)

Sunday, April 8, 2007

the lure of lists

As a traveller, I am attracted to lists. Partly because they act as artificial and highly personalized markers for the unique rites of passage of a globetrotter. They are also a safe outlet for narcissism, I suppose.

(like this blog?)

On my way to hit my latest continent, and the final one before I achieved my goal (all the continents* on one passport) I listed the airports I had visited. I think it was the result of incurable jetlag, but I managed to fairly accurately recall all of them. The ultimate challenge would be to list them only by airport codes; that will have to wait for another occasion. Here they are by city name and, where necessary, by specific title to alleviate confusion.

*I'm not of the opinion that Antarctica counts. Nobody really lives there.

So Many Lines: All My Airports

Ottawa, Montreal (Dorval), Toronto (Pearson), Toronto Island, Hamilton, London (Ontario), Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Whitehorse, Halifax,

Orlando, Tampa, Dallas-Fort Worth, San Francisco, Los Angeles (LAX), Chicago (O'Hare), Washington (Dulles), New York (La Guardia), Denver, Atlanta, Honolulu, Nashville,

Paris (Charles-de-Gaule), London (Heathrow), Glasgow, Rome (Fuimicino), Istanbul, Sofia, Malta,

Sydney, Melbourne, Cairns, Christchurch, Auckland

Singapore, Bangkok, Seoul (Incheon), Hong Kong

Lima, Cuzco, Puerto Maldonado


I would have had Frankfurt to add, but I went home early the last time I travelled and missed that option for connections. I like the novelty of navigating new airports - the form vs. function of them is like having somebody you don't really know make you a lunchbox to take to work: You find yourself guessing at their motives, and laughing at their whimsy.

Future airports on the horizon: Albuquerque next month. In the fall, I'm headed for Winnipeg and Quebec City.

Climate Change?

As a car-free, cycling, waste-savvy vegan, my ecological footprint is relatively petite. I'm a big fan of my paperless office, and of buying used books, clothes and furniture. Alas, my frequent-flyer schedule *IS* contributing to climate change, and for that I'm very penitent. Some of the things I fly for are unavoidable, others are decidedly superfluous.

What can a carbon-conscious vegan do?
Here's a really good suggestion: Carbon offset groups can help balance the effects of your emissions with carbon-reducing efforts, like planting trees.

While I somewhat agree with George Monbiot that carbon offset programs are the modern-day equivalent of Indulgences the wealthy purchased from the church during the Middle Ages to offset sins their Christian souls were incurring through their usual gluttonous practices, it's better than doing nothing.

I wonder if the carbon offset programs could sell me a two-for-one deal of carbon and spiritual karma at a discount rate?

Think global; act local; eat your greens. Maybe cattle are worse than fossil fuels?

long weekend food

Sometimes an occasion (or a particularly dreary overcast day) requires a foodie focus from dawn to dusk. Yesterday was just such an occasion.
A visit from a medical student friend, a long weekend, a farmer's market...


Chili-toasted almonds with ripe pineapple (recipe below)

Lobster and Oyster mushroom bisque - The Millennium Cookbook

French Vermouth Potato Salad (recipe below)
with Grilled Ginger Tofu
and Cherry Tomatoes

Chocolate Mint Gluten-Freedom Cupcakes - Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World

It was a lot of work, but literally everything turned out well. The cupcakes were unspeakably delicious, which is nearly miraculous for the world of gluten-free vegan desserts...

The success of the mushroom bisque can be attributed to my luck with finding every ingredient the recipe called for. While I had to use re-hydrated lobster mushrooms, and both re-hydrated and canned chanterelles, I found very fresh oyster mushrooms (yellow ones and grey ones) at the monthly winter farmer's market.

While at the market, I also procured fresh shitake mushrooms and a tiny harvest of early morels. I've never cooked with morels before. This should be interesting - stay tuned.


Chili-Toasted Almonds
1 cup unsalted raw almonds
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp granular salt
1/3 tsp Spanish paprika
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/3 tsp ground rocoto (may substitute ground cayenne)

Stir together almonds, juice and spices in a bowl. Toast in a dry frying pan at medium-high heat for five minutes, or until fragrant and browned. Serve in small bowls alongside chunks of fresh pineapple or other tropical fruit.

French Vermouth Potato Salad

3 lbs new potatoes, diced
1 lb purple heirloom potatoes, diced
1 bulb garlic, minced
1.5 tsp coarse salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
3 Tbsp olive oil

Vermouth Dressing (below)
1/3 cup chopped fresh chives
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Preheat oven to 400 F. Soak diced potatoes in a large bowl of cold water for 5-10 minutes, while preparing other ingredients. Drain and pat dry with a tea towel. Add garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil to potatoes, and stir together gently. Spread potatoe mixture evenly across two aluminum-foil lined baking pans. Bake for 40 minutes, turning once after 20 minutes.

Remove from oven, cool for 10 minutes, and keep warm under foil in a large salad bowl. Just before serving, toss with dressing, chives and cilantro.

Vermouth Dressing
2 large shallots, halved and separated into large pieces
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup dry white vermouth
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1/3 cup vegetable stock
4 Tbsp soy creamer, or thick soy milk
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1/4 cup vegan mayonnaise
20 curry leaves (may use dried, although fresh or frozen are preferred)
fresh ground pepper

Fry shallots in oil and salt over medium heat until soft and slightly browned. Add vermouth to deglaze pan, and boil until reduced by half. Add mustard seeds, and continue cooking until most of the liquid has evaporated, and the seeds are very fragrant. Add stock and creamer, return to a boil, and cook for two minutes, stirring often.

Remove from heat, then whisk in mustard, mayonnaise, and curry leaves. Add pepper to taste.

A Slideshow for Your Amusement

A quick and easy way to show lots of travel photos at once.