Monday, September 29, 2014

Vegan Chocolate Mousse & Sticking to the Plan

I find the hardest part about going dairy free is that need for something's really hard to accomplish!  I've made chocolate pudding with avocado before, but it's never been quite as creamy and decadent as this next recipe makes it!

446.  Dairy Free Chocolate Mousse recipe

The secret to the decadence is two-fold - coconut milk and real, dairy-free dark chocolate.  The first step is to melt your chocolate in a bowl, over simmering water.  Once that cools slightly, combine all your ingredients in the blender:  avocado, cocoa powder, maple syrup (to keep it vegan), coconut milk and chocolate.  Whiz until smooth.  Can't get much easier than that!

It seriously is to die for.  I split mine between four little bowls so I can enjoy one each day.  Heaven!
I made my big pot of chicken vegetable & noodle soup tonight for dinner.  It was delicious, and should last me at least three days, for quick lunches at work.  I also have some canned tuna and deli salami for sandwiches on purple wheat & flax bread.  As for dinners, I have a few ideas of what I'd like to make, but whether or not I will stick to the plan is anybody's guess.  Sometimes I just have to go where inspiration strikes me!  As long as it's in my own kitchen, I figure I'm still ahead of the game.  ;)
Huevos Rancheros (Jamie's Comfort Food)
Pan-fried trout with roasted beets & sautéed chard
Farm Boy Thai turkey sausages with rice & green beans
Roast pork with mashed potatoes & applesauce

The day I met Chef Michael Smith

I had a busy weekend.  I took in a Blue Jay's game on Friday evening in Toronto (where Pompey stole the show!)  I did a 5K charity walk for ALS on Saturday morning.  I knew Canadian chef Michael Smith was doing a book signing here in London at Costco in the afternoon, but wasn't sure I'd have the energy to get there in time.  However, the walk was quick and easy, and didn't tire me at all.  Woo hoo!  I've come a long way.  So I headed to the farmer's market, and then to Costco, where I spied Michael casually perched on top of some crates, with a small queue of people ready to have his new cookbook autographed.  This was much better than the zoo at the CNE a few years ago!  So I grabbed a book and got line.  One of his team put a yellow sticky note with my name on the inside cover.

When it was my turn, I handed my phone to another woman with his team.  He said hello to me and started to personalize his signature.  I thanked him for being my inspiration to start cooking again, more than 5 years ago. I said I was intrigued by his "freestyle" way of throwing ingredients together to make a meal, and his mantra of "it's only a vegetable, how scary can it be?"  I told him I make every meal from scratch now, and have lost a lot of weight.  Imagine my surprise when he got a huge smile on his face, said "you just made my day!" and pulled me in for the biggest bear hug of my life.  I mean, the man is a big (and I mean BIG) teddy bear.  I couldn't really breathe.  LOL.

He said that you do what you do, and you put it out there, but you never know how it's being received, so he thanked me for telling him my story.  It was all a bit surreal.  I think I said "it was nice to meeting you" because I was so frazzled.  I wandered away and checked my phone and realized that the woman had taken not one, but ten photos of this encounter.  It was pretty damned cool.  And I was inspired to go home and cook something out of his new book.

One Chicken, Two Meals (Family Meals by Michael Smith, page 95)

I didn't actually have a whole chicken, but I'd bought a pack of six chicken breast halves (with bone & skin) at the grocery store earlier in the day.  I can't justify spending twice as much for the boneless, skinless ones, and now I'm glad I didn't, because this freestyle "recipe" relies on having the bones to make a chicken stock for the next day.  I decided to bone & skin three of the breasts for future use, so I kept those scraps aside.  I figured three chicken breasts would be enough for two of us for dinner.

I washed, peeled, and roughly chopped a large sweet potato, a couple of regular potatoes, a large carrot, an onion and an apple, and threw them into a large casserole pan with a bit of oil, salt & pepper.  I could have used any root veggies, or added any spices or seasonings I wanted, but I thought I'd keep it simple.  Since my breasts wouldn't take as long to cook as a whole chicken, I gave the veggies about 45 minutes in a 375F oven, then placed the chicken on top, seasoned it, and put the pan back in the oven for another 45 minutes, until the chicken was golden and crispy and cooked through.

I let everything cool for a few minutes while I went out into the garden and picked myself some fresh herbs  - I chose cilantro, parsley & chives (which have come back with a vengeance lately).  Then I shredded the chicken from the bones with a fork, and added it to the roasted veggies with the torn herbs.  

What an easy, quick and delicious dinner!  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  And then I threw the bones and any excess skin into a pot with the leftover scraps from the raw chicken, and filled the pot with water.  I added a few more handfuls of herbs from the garden (sage & parsley), a stalk of celery, and a small onion.  I brought it to a boil, then let it simmer with a lid half on for a couple of hours while I relaxed and caught up on some TV.

Tonight, I plan to throw the leftovers into the broth, add some garden veggies and simmer until soft.  I pulled all the cranberry beans and okra plants out of the garden yesterday, so those bits & pieces will go in, along with some chopped celery, carrots and frozen peas.  I'll round it all out at the last minute with a package of egg noodles.  This will make enough soup for lunches the rest of this week.  What a great way to stretch a bit of chicken!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Lazy Sunday but back to work Monday

I had a lazy weekend of shopping and puttering around the kitchen and garden.  There was one cold baseball game on Friday night, but the rest of the tournament got cancelled due to rain.  So I started checking things off my to-do list, one by one.  I pulled up all the tomato and bean plants in the back forty.  I still have beets, chard & leeks going strong, as well as that little patch of arugula I planted a couple of weeks ago.  My chilis are not even starting to turn red yet, and I'm not sure how much longer I should leave them out.  We got damned close to frost the other night.

I needed to use up that basket of Ontario tomatoes that were waiting in the fridge.  I remembered an "abundance" tomato soup recipe from last year that called for ripe tomatoes, garlic, and basil (still growing in the garden).  Since I can't really make pesto this year, I thought that basil oil was a good alternative!  It's really simple to make...just pick a bunch of basil leaves, bash them up in the pestle & mortar, add EVOO, let sit for a while, then strain into a jam jar.

Tomato soup with basil oil
I wanted to try out a flourless peanut butter cookie recipe that I found online, but imagine my horror when I read the label on my Kraft peanut butter and discovered that the second highest ingredient was corn maltodextrin.  According to Wikipedia, it is used in "light" peanut butter to reduce the fat content but keep the texture.  Wow, corn really is everywhere.  So I put "natural" peanut butter on my shopping list, and managed to pick some up with only one ingredient - peanuts!  Live and learn.

Flourless peanut butter oatmeal cookies

I made up my special batch of GF cookies, using whole rolled oats, an egg, cinnamon, baking soda, brown sugar and some bashed up dairy-free dark chocolate.  Then, I made another batch of cookies using the corny peanut butter and some unsalted butter that I had in the fridge.  These, of course, also contained flour and some unlabelled chocolate chips I found in the cupboard.  Might as well use these things up since the kids have no dietary restrictions.

Last night I made stirfry for everyone, to use up some veggies and some steak I found in the freezer.  I had mine with a nice tuna steak instead.  We all ate GF soba noodles because they're delicious and quick to prepare! 


For lunch today, I have the remains of that quinoa mac 'n cheese, and some edamame I pulled out of the freezer.  Tonight I'm heading out to dinner with friends at a place called Smokin' Joes (BBQ) so I'm not sure what I'll end up eating.

For the rest of the week, I have a few ideas.  I'm just going to play it by ear as to what gets eaten when.  The weather has been so up and down lately!  I don't like cooking in a hot kitchen.  I'd love to fire up the charcoal BBQ one more time this year....

Butternut Squash Laksa
Farm Boy Thai Turkey/Southwest Chicken sausages with baked potatoes
Roast pork with carrots and beets
Pan-fried trout with mashed sweet potato and sauteed chard

Of course, all bets are off if my copy of Jamie's Comfort Food arrives in the mail!  I caught the first episode on Food Network Canada yesterday, and I was excited to see it had added content (based on the version I streamed on Channel 4OD).  There was an extra recipe for Huevos Rancheros included that I can't wait to try!


One year ago, I hosted a ThanksBirthday feast!
Two years ago, I was playing with pesto.
Three years ago, I was making meals out of bits an pieces.
Four years ago, I cooked Nigella's pappardelle with butternut squash and cheese.
Five years ago, I was using up leftovers.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Quinoa Mac 'n "Cheese"

This week, the menu has not always gone according to plan.  I had a couple of unexpected lunch dates, which meant left overs lasted longer than usual.  I still haven't got around to making that pumpkin butternut squash laksa or the pork roast.  I have baskets of Ontario tomatoes, potatoes and nectarines to eat  as well, so those will need to find their way into a recipe soon.

I'm getting used to my new dairy-and-corn-free lifestyle, with a restricted intake of gluten.  One evening this past week, my son invited himself over for dinner, and requested I remake the chicken tikka spinach lentil dish he had last year.  That meant I had to make a quick run to the market for fresh ingredients, so I also grabbed a container of coconut yogurt (to keep things dairy free).  I blew the gluten budget this morning on half an everything bagel, so tonight I knew I'd have to go with something other than wheat based pasta if I wanted to make this next recipe.

Dairy Free Southern Mac 'n Cheese recipe

I've heard a lot about nutritional yeast, and I even used it once in a vegan seitan roast at Christmas, but this was my first time using it to mimic the taste of cheese.  I didn't have as much as the recipe demanded, but I figured it was probably wise to go easy with it the first time around anyways, just to be safe.

I decided to go with quinoa pasta tonight.  Believe it or not, quinoa is also on my list of restricted foods....I can only eat it once or twice a week at maximum.  That's what's making this whole transition so many of the common gluten substitutes are things I either can't eat or have to limit!  Corn, chickpeas, quinoa, spelt, brown's a long freaking list.

The sauce consists of two onions and a red bell pepper, sautéed until soft, a couple of handfuls of raw cashews, roasted for a few minutes, a tablespoon of tahini (I used sesame butter) and the nutritional yeast.  I combined all the ingredients in the blender, plugged it into the outlet on the stove, and it sparked and smoked and blew up right in my face.  Not the best start!

I moved the blender over to another outlet on the wall, and that went much more smoothly.  I had to add about 1/4 cup of water to get the right consistency, but I was amazed at how creamy and orange this sauce turned out!  I drained my pasta, combined it with the sauce, and then added a few large spoons of last year's homemade salsa.  Last but not least I ground some black pepper over the's been a while since I actually had Kraft Dinner mac 'n cheese, but I always loved it with black pepper - the more the better!

This was a treat.  The sauce was quite cheesy, and the salsa just gave it an extra kick of flavour.  If I hadn't added the salsa, you wouldn't be able to tell that there were vegetables in the dish.  I could see serving this to a child with food sensitivities, because they honestly wouldn't know that there was no cheese or dairy involved.  I made enough sauce for twice the amount of pasta, so I put the remainder in a mason jar for later in the week.  That's a couple of lunches sorted!
This post has been shared at the Wednesday Fresh Foods Link Up at She Eats!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Monday Musings

I had a good weekend, despite the prematurely autumnal temperatures.  Saturday I had an almost private concert with an amazing singer in a cold, windy parking lot in the middle of nowhere.  Strange but true!  Sunday I spent a couple of hours wandering through Sobeys, perusing merchandise, reading labels to find things I could actually eat, and discovering new Jamie merchandise!  I didn't buy this:

I already have it on pre-order for 40% off elsewhere.  It's not officially supposed to be released until next week!  Sadly, every copy was plastic wrapped so I didn't even get a peek inside.  I did, however, buy this:

I got a bargain at $15, even though it was marked at $50 (thanks to my JO stamps and Club Sobeys points).  Now I have a complete set of dishes for Thanksgiving, along with a gravy boat and this lovely platter.  Next up, I want to start collecting the cutlery!  :)

I cleaned out my upstairs freezer and found a few things to use up.  Among them were some spicy sausages and last year's beet greens. Since I'm now apparently allowed to eat pork, I thought I'd recreate the Sausage Gnocchi 15 Minute Meal using a beautiful broccoli from the market, along with that delicious, warm kale beet green & green bean salad.  Say that three times fast!  What makes it so good is the pan-fried bacon & hazelnut topping with a hint of maple syrup.  Mmmmmmm.

For the week ahead, I'm trying to base my meals around what's in my fridge & freezer. 

lunch - deli cajun chicken wrap
dinner - left over sausage gnocchi & warm salad
prep - defrost chicken

lunch - Asian noodle soup with savoy cabbage
dinner - chicken with Dairy Free Southern Mac and Cheese

lunch - left over mac and cheese and/or noodle soup
dinner - pumpkin rice laksa soup
prep - defost tuna steak

lunch - left over pumpkin rice laksa soup
dinner - Asian Seared Tuna with roasted balsamic beets
prep - defrost pork roast

lunch - left over pumpkin rice laksa soup
dinner - roast pork with mashed potatoes & broccoli

Saturday/Sunday I'd like to do something with the left over pork from Save With Jamie.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Gluten Free Dark Chocolate Coffee Cake

My naturopathic doctor advises me that I should limit my gluten intake to three times a week (ideally) or at least once a day (realistically).  In an attempt to have some GF options in the house, I scoured the shelves of a few health food stores this weekend.  It's an exercise in frustration!  While it's not hard to find GF products, and a wide variety to boot, they generally use a mix of different flours to get the correct consistency.  Sadly, that usually means some type of cornstarch, brown rice or chick pea flour is included (all of which I have to completely avoid).  So I've come to the conclusion that I'm just going to have to consciously NOT eat breads or crackers or cookies or cakes at certain meals....unless they are flourless.

445.  Gluten Free Dark Chocolate Coffee Cake recipe

This is a flourless cake, and I was able to manipulate the recipe to also be dairy-free, by substituting some Earth Balance for the butter.  Since I only had 100g of ground almonds in the cupboard, I decided to cut the quantities in half.  Probably a good thing since I really don't need to eat a whole decadent coffee cake by myself!  I also thought I'd attempt to make these as individual would be that much easier to have some portion control!  Ha ha.

This was a three-part process:

1.  Melt dark chocolate, butter (or butter substitute) over simmering water on the stove, with a small amount of espresso or strong coffee.
2.  Combine egg yolks & sugar, whisk until smooth and pale, then fold in almonds and chocolate mixture.
3.  Whip egg whites until stiff peaks form, then fold this into the batter.

I greased my six part extra large muffin pan, then added paper liners, and filled them almost to the top to use up all the batter.  I put these into a 325 F oven for about 15 - 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre came out clean.

Oh wow, talk about indulgent!  I am actually not a coffee drinker (even though I love the flavour), so I ate this delectable treat with a nice cup of chai.  ;)

This post has been shared at the Wednesday Fresh Foods Link Up at She Eats!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Seriously Good Fish Tagine

I've rediscovered the 30 Minute Meals book lately.  It seems as though I worked my way through most of the chicken and vegetarian meals, but I missed a few good ones from the fish chapter.  This one doesn't have a TV episode associated with it (sadly).  It's been a while since I made a tagine....or a "stew with attitude", as Jamie calls them.  I've had some successes, some do-overs, and some failures before, but I was sure this one would be a slam dunk!

444.  Seriously Good Fish Tagine (Jamie Oliver's Meals In Minutes, page 155) recipe

The cookbook calls for monkfish, but this US-based website calls for cod.  I only had frozen Alaskan pollock, so that's what I used....along with mussels, of course.  Mussels are my life saver.  I mean, almost 2 pounds for less than $4, you can't beat that!  For the salad, I thought I'd have arugula rather than fennel (because it's what I had on hand).  The only other substitution I made was basmati rice in place of couscous.  I found out yesterday that I have to limit my gluten intake, along with about 35 other foods....but it could be worse.  They could take my fish away from me, and they aren't doing that!

I started out by making a big pot of basmati, so I could make the kids a quick fried rice, and parboiling some potatoes.  I saved some rice for myself, cleared everyone out of the kitchen, and got to work on my tagine.  I put my pollock in a square Pyrex roasting pan, and sprinkled it with minced garlic, fennel seeds, ras el hanout, dried oregano, salt and pepper, and drizzled it with a little olive oil.  This went under the broiler, while I sauteed onions & chiles on the stove top with a cinnamon stick and some more fennel seeds.  To this I added chopped tomatoes, a chopped preserved lemon, ras el hanout, some chopped cilantro and a pinch of saffron.  I added a cup of water and got things simmering, but did not attempt to fashion a tagine out of aluminum foil......screw that.  I just used a lid. 

I put the mussels into a colander in the sink to clean & debeard them, and checked for any that weren't closed.  I found a few.....I always buy more mussels than the recipe calls for, just in case.  I added the good ones to the "tagine", along with the potatoes.  Strangely, the book doesn't list potatoes as an ingredient, but the website version does.  I wonder if they got axed because of the 30-minute restriction?  I figured they'd bulk the dish out a bit, so why not add them?

I removed my fish from the oven carefully, using an oven mitt, and took it over to the sink to drain off some of the excess liquid (since the fish was partially frozen when it started cooking).  Just as I tilted the pan, it exploded in my hand!  Scared the shit out of me!  Thankfully most of the glass fell into the sink, and not onto the floor or into my face.  No one was hurt, but this is the second time this has happened.  I realize that tempered glass has to be handled carefully, but I didn't put it in cold water or anything like that.  It was just the temperature of the air, I guess.  Maybe the oven was too hot.  I think this was my last remaining Pyrex pan, but I don't plan to buy any more.  Just not worth the risk.

Sadly, my fish had to be thrown out because it, too, landed in the sink, amongst the shards of glass.  I decided I'd had enough at that point, so I sat down to eat my mussel tagine with rice and none of the other planned side dishes.  It was not as strongly flavoured as other tagines I've made, but it was tasty just the same. 

Tonight, I'll have the left overs with salad and spicy yogurt, barring any more explosions!