Archive for October, 2010

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Choy to the World

October 31, 2010

Forgive me for that groan-worthy post title; I had no other choyce. Okay, that’s the last one, I promise.

So what’s got me so excited that I’m making all these horrible puns? Well, although I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, at the local farmers’ market yesterday I experienced love at first sight… with a vegetable. Sound crazy? Take a look yourself:

Okay, so maybe I still sound crazy. But as a vegetarian, I often find myself feeling a strange aesthetic appreciation for the food I eat, one that I don’t think an omnivore shares as often. Sure, when I was still a meat-eating omni, there were times when I would look at some prepared meat dish and be awed at its apparent tastiness. But I never remember being awed by its beauty, much less by the beauty of some raw hunk of meat. Vegetables, on the other hand, can be quite awe inspiring even right from the field, and instill a sort of reverence for the pure majesty of nature’s inner workings (just consider the romanesco cauliflower, for instance). And that’s more or less what I felt when looked at the above green. (Yep, I probably still sound crazy.)

Of course, I didn’t even know yet what this green was, as I had never seen it before. When I asked the farmer, he told me it was tok choy, a relative of bok choy with a very similar taste (at least I think he said “tok” choy; I’ve been having trouble finding any Google confirmation on what exactly this green is, except for this one other food blog that also calls it “tok” choy). I was eager to try it (and also to have the chance to look at it some more at home), so I picked up this big bunch, and started to get thinking about how I could best serve it up.

Thankfully, there was another stand at the market selling large, cheap bags of bok choy, so I picked up one of those as well, figuring that it would go well with its vegetable cousin.

When I got back home, I more or less knew how I was going to cook up my first taste of tok choy: a wonderful and simple preparation method for bok choy I learned from a friend, which involves simply sauteing the greens with garlic for a little bit, and then tossing everything with some sesame oil, soy sauce, and red pepper flakes. It’s easy, quick, and incredibly delicious—I think because it just really lets the flavors of the choy shine through and do most of the work. And so I did just that, mixing bok and tok choy about half and half. The result was this handsome plate:

And once again, closer up:

Ah, it was wonderful. The tok choy didn’t really taste much different than the bok choy, but its leaves obviously have a different shape, which made them cook a little differently, providing a nice contrast with the bok choy. A really excellent meal all around.

Finally, before I leave, I have to share one other treasure I picked up from the farmers’ market yesterday—this loaf of Irish Soda Bread:

A couple genuine (at least judging by their accents) Irish bakers have a little baked goods stand at the market, and this week I decided to get a loaf of their Irish soda bread. And let me tell you: this is probably the best Irish soda bread I’ve ever tasted, and definitely near the top of my all-time favorite breads I’ve ever tasted list. So if you’re in Toronto, go to the Wychwood Barn farmers’ market on Saturday morning and pick yourself up a loaf of this bread—you won’t be disappointed (until you eat it all and have none left, that is). And you might as well pick up some tok choy while you’re there as well.

Until we eat again,

Willie

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Café Review: Athom Café (Brooklyn)

October 28, 2010

Happy Thursday all!

Today I’m here to tell you about this little gem of a café located in Bushwick, the Brooklyn neighborhood that Caitlin calls home. Anyone who’s been to Bushwick knows that there isn’t much there in the way of hip eateries, especially when compared to other Brooklyn neighborhoods such as Park Slope, Fort Greene, or Williamsburg. But this is slowly beginning to change, and Athom Café (located at Broadway and Dekalb) is leading the pack in helping to transform Bushwick into a future foodie hotspot.

Athom Café is a French style café, run by a genuine (and very friendly!) French baker. The fare is thus very typically French: croissants, scones, danishes, a variety of coffee drinks, and so on. The Frenchness of the menu also makes it quite thoroughly non-vegan, and the non-breakfast menu is mostly non-vegetarian. But breakfast is really where it’s at in my opinion, and with baked goods this good, I’m willing to break vegan once in a while. Here are some of the tasty treats Caitlin and I have enjoyed:

This plate includes some of my favorite things at Athom. At twelve o’clock is their classic plain croissant, a two-dollar slice of heaven in my opinion. The outside is crispy, the inside soft, and although I’m a huge fan of croissants whenever they come by way, Athom’s truly are something special.

Of course, the plain croissant may be a little simple for some, and for those who want a little more variety, Athom has plenty of other croissants on offer. On the bottom left of the above picture is one of their savory croissants: the Tomato, Herb & Goat Cheese. Wow is this good, and I’m not even that much of a cheese man. The croissant itself is as good as their plain, and the filling ingredients are the perfect compliment. What’s more, it’s not even overly filling; it’s just an all-around great breakfast treat.

Finally, on the bottom left of the picture is their apple strudel. I picked this on my third visit to Athom because I had never seen it on offer before, and although it was good, it wasn’t quite on the level of their croissants. But maybe this was one of the first times Athom’s baker was trying this out, and so for all I know, their apple strudel could be improving in my absence. But if you’re looking for a sure bet, get a croissant and save the strudel for later.

Athom also has sweet croissants, and many with nutella fillings! This is their Nutella Pear croissant, which is super good. This was actually the first thing I ever tried at Athom, and it made a great first impression. However, now that I’ve tried more of their menu, I definitely prefer their plain and savory croissants more. This sweet one is just a little too big with all its sweetness, and left me pretty stuffed. But for those with a sweet tooth, these sweet croissants are a dream.

Athom also has scones! This cranberry scone is simple but well executed, and while not as impressive as the croissants, still stands up well on its own. And though I haven’t tried their other varieties, I would bet they’re just as good.

Finally, Athom also has Yogurt Granola! This huge bowl, served with honey and raisins on the side, is quite the breakfast, and is a good alternative when you’re not in the mood for bread or other baked goods.

Before I sign off, I should add a note about Athom’s space and atmosphere. First: it’s cozy. Some would say small. May even cramped. There are only a couple tables available for eating in, but people don’t seem to hog them forever and so the turnover is pretty fast. But I definitely wouldn’t recommend going to Athom to do work, or really even to have a long chat with a friend. That being said, the space itself is pretty cute, and I always feel welcomed when I come in. So if finding delicious food is your main objective, nothing should stop you from visiting Athom; if you’re looking for an all-around café experience, you may have to lower your expectations. But now that you’re forewarned, you should definitely definitely check it out. (Did I mention that it’s also cheap?!) Happy eating.

Until we eat again,

Willie

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Vegan Unadon (Eggplant Rice Bowl)

October 24, 2010

Konnichiwa, mina-san!

You wouldn’t know it from the Japanese restaurants you find in North America, but one of the most popular and ubiquitous dishes in Japan is 丼ぶり: donburi, or “rice bowl”. In fact, I would go so far as to say that donburi is like the Japanese equivalent of the American hamburger. It’s cheap, filling, not particularly gourmand, and can be found at most any cafeteria or fast food joint you might wander into. In addition, it admits of many variations, since basically all it is is some meat served on top of rice. But most importantly, it’s good, and any young North American who’s spent some time in Japan will tell you likewise.

Unfortunately, donburi is rarely served up vegetarian, much less vegan. Its typical variants are katsudon (“fried pork cutlet over rice”), gyuudon (“marinated beef over rice”), and the so-illustratively-named-it’s-hard-to-believe-people-still-want-to-eat-it oyakodon (literally, “parent and child rice bowl”; in fact, “chicken and egg over rice”). The only vegetarian donburi you’ll normally find is the simple tamagodon (“scrambled egg over rice”), which isn’t so much a separate variant as it is an additional menu option made available for those who are only willing to fork over ¥400 instead of ¥500. Long story short: I’m pretty certain that I haven’t had donburi since I was last in Japan, over three years ago now (which was also the last time I ate meat). And reflection on that fact led me to think recently: Well why not?!

So my mind got to working on how I could craft a tasty vegan donburi. My thoughts immediately focused on veganizing unadon, or “grilled eel rice bowl”. Though never my favorite type of donburi (eel is an acquired taste), I knew that I could probably make a fairly convincing eel substitute out of roasted eggplant. And with that idea in place, I got working away!

Overall, this was a fairly easy recipe to pull off, although I would still describe it as a work-in-progress. Fortunately, the “eel” eggplant turned out great on my first try! All I did was slice up an eggplant into eel-sized chunks, lay them out on a baking sheet, drizzle them with some olive oil, sprinkle on some salt and pepper, and then roast them at 425F for about 25 minutes. After they came out of the oven, I whipped up a simple kabayaki sauce (the formula for which I found here) out of soy sauce, mirin, and sugar. Once that was ready, I poured it over the eggplant slices and let them marinate overnight. Here’s the finished product:

Now, I can’t tell you how eel-y these came out tasting (I really don’t have that good a memory of eel), but I can tell you that they were absolutely delicious in their own right. So, super happy with how these turned out, I set off to make my rice complement.

This is where my culinary skills of improvisation got a little hazier. I cooked up a batch of basmati rice without issue, but I was completely in the dark as to how I should flavor the rice afterwards. The thing with donburi is that the topping doesn’t carry all the flavor; the rice does a lot of the work too. However, not knowing how it does that, I just added some Japanese ingredients I had on hand and hoped it would work. It didn’t, but it wasn’t all that bad either.

The things I will definitely use again next time were the kelp and dulse flakes; they added a great saltiness to the rice. What I’d like to try out next time is making some sort of dashi to mix with the rice and see how that goes. Also, the basmati rice, though perfectly good in itself, didn’t really gel with the Japanese-ness of the rest of the dish, and so I might give in and use Japanese white rice next time (basmati was all I had on hand today). But all in all, this rice worked well enough. That is, well enough for me to still eagerly want to eat it all up. And after placing my heated-up eggplant slices on top and adding some shredded nori sheets, my vegan unadon was ready to go! Here’s the close up:

As I said, the eggplant really was divine, and the rice only so-so, but given my performance today I think this dish has really good potential of becoming something super great in the future with just a little more work. And once that’s work finished, I will be sure to share my final recipe with you all here!

Until we eat again,

Willie

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Canadian Thanksgiving in Canada

October 13, 2010

Hello again, readers!

After spending a lovely Canadian Thanksgiving weekend in NYC with Caitlin and enjoying a lovely Canadian Thanksgiving dinner together, I arrived back in Toronto on Monday, giving me just enough time to prepare a second little Thanksgiving dinner for myself on Canadian Thanksgiving Day proper. I didn’t opt for trying anything new or adventurous for this meal; rather, I returned to some of my old fall favorites. Together, they made for a wonderful and festive meal. I’ve blogged about some of these dishes before, but they deserve a second mention, especially as now is the perfect season to make them. So here’s what my dinner included…

This is Pumpkin Soup, recipe courtesy of Vegan Dad. I actually made this soup around the same time last year, and I really can’t believe I haven’t made it again since. It is just SO good! And it’s really simple—it’s just boiled pumpkin blended with soymilk, margarine, sugar, and salt. Nonetheless, these few ingredients really come together for a wonderfully flavorful and hearty soup. I strongly recommend trying this out for yourself, and don’t delay—pie pumpkins are only in season for so long!

Alongside my pumpkin soup, I made a batch of Sweet Scones, recipe also courtesy of Vegan Dad. These really are the perfect complement to the pumpkin soup, becoming simply divine when dipped in it. Admittedly, they are super buttery—the recipe calls for more than a whole stick of butter and makes only a dozen scones—but that’s fine by me, especially since they’re just a once in a while sort of thing.

Finally, I made some Mashed Sweet Potatoes, according to Caitlin’s wonderful recipe. I don’t know where she got this from—she may even have made it up herself—but it really is fantastic. Along with the sweet potatoes is mixed in some garlic, thyme, pepper, and, most notably, coconut milk, which is what gives these taters their unique extra creaminess and sweetness. This dish really is to die for in my opinion, and I loved having it as part of my Thanksgiving meal.

And that’s how I celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving in Canada! Remember to check back in late November to see how Caitlin and I celebrate American Thanksgiving in Canada, and check in between now and then too, as we’ll be posting plenty of other tasty treats in the meantime.

Until we eat again,

Willie

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Canadian Thanksgiving in NY

October 10, 2010

Hi guys and gals and everyone in between (and by that I mean puppies) (puppies who can read of course)!

While all you Americans are busy enjoying Columbus Day, Canada is busy with its own holiday this weekend: Thanksgiving. Yes, that’s right: Canadians don’t know when Thanksgiving is. Why do Canadians even have Thanksgiving, you ask? Well, it’s because Columbus never discovered Canada, since it was too cold (leaving it instead to the French), and the Canadians, being jealous of their Americans neighbo(u)rs always getting the second Monday of October off, needed some other reason to get a long weekend. And, since by the end of November everything in Canada is already frozen, the beginning of October seemed the perfect time for a harvest festival. And that’s the history of Canadian Thanksgiving.

Okay, I jest. I love Canada, even with their silly versions of American holidays. And Canadian Thanksgiving gives me the perfect opportunity to go down to New York for the long weekend and visit Caitlin, which is precisely what I did this year (and what I did last year). And Canadian Thanksgiving gives us the perfect excuse to make a festive autumnal dinner (as if we really ever need one). And that’s what I’m here to share with you today: two Americans’ take on Canada’s take on an American holiday.

(Actually, I just checked Wikipedia, and it appears that Canadian Thanksgiving may have actually started before American Thanksgiving, but, like the Canadian origins of Labo(u)r Day, I think everyone has well forgotten this by now, in true American, culturally imperialistic spirit.)

For our small Thanksgiving dinner, Caitlin and I prepared a simple three course meal. We got a lot of help from the wonderful Canadian food blogger Ricki and her wonderful Canadian food blog Diet, Desserts and Dogs, which conveniently featured a list of tons of amazing Thanksgiving recipes yesterday. So thanks Ricki—we couldn’t have done Thanksgiving this year without you!

Our appetizer for the evening was inspired by DD&D’s wonderful recipe for Potato Bruschetta. Both of us were quite taken away with the idea of making bruschetta out of potato slices, and we decided to do our own little twist on the original recipe: Instead of a traditional tomato or pesto topping, Caitlin had the excellent idea of using cheese and English pickles. Here she is at work:

And here’s the finished product up close:

What a combination! The red potatoes we got at Whole Foods worked incredibly well for roasting, and the English Cheddar with Caramelized Onions cheese from Trader Joe’s Caitlin had left in her fridge was wonderful, and the perfect complement to the English pickles (which, if you haven’t tried, you should—I really can’t explain them except as delicious). I loved these, and Caitlin agrees. I will definitely be keeping this recipe in my pocket for future dinners!

Our main course was Ricki’s excellent Nut Roast Extraordinaire, which is indeed extraordinary—so extraordinary, in fact, that it was also our main course in our American Thanksgiving in Canada dinner last year. This is probably the best vegan loaf recipe I’ve ever tried, so I’m always happy to revisit it. And to change it up a bit, we made this year’s loaf in a cake pan:

Of course, this really didn’t change the loaf that much in the end. In other words, I still ended up with an absolutely delicious slice of loaf on my plate!

In addition, we had the pleasure of using some genuine French wine from France that I recently received from a friend, both in the loaf itself and alongside the loaf in nice big wine glasses. And it really was some really good wine:

Unfortunately, I can’t tell you much more about this wine, except that it was a 2005, since the label is all in French (and all the French I know I learned from Pierre Escargot).

And last but most certainly not least, we had some dessert on hand: a delectable box of Jacques Torres chocolates!

For those not in the know, Jacques Torres is a maker of super delicious chocolates and has several shops around NYC. We picked out this make-your-own box of a dozen chocolates, which included fantastic varieties such as: Love Potion #9 (dark chocolate ganache), Grand Cru (made with red wine), Ménage à Trois (made out of three secret flavors), Heavenly Hazelnut (self explanatory), Earl Grey (yeah, with tea), and Golden Espresso (with a piece of gold on top!). These were really excellent, and the perfect way to close our pleasant Thanksgiving evening together.

And that’s all I’ve got to share for today! To our Canadian readers, I hope you too enjoyed a happy Thanksgiving this weekend! And to American readers, I hope you’re now geared up for real Thanksgiving, which is only a month and a half away! And in the meantime, Happy Columbus Day.

Until we eat again,

Willie

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Moroccan Quinoa Salad Remix

October 3, 2010

Hi all!

Since the fall semester started, I’ve adopted a new cooking strategy: Do a lot of cooking on the weekends, using the leftovers as on-the-go lunches throughout the week, and stick with easy super salads for my dinners. So far, this has been working great! It really helps me manage my time throughout the week, and lets me try out exciting new recipes (or revisit old favorites) on the weekend when I have more time. And so I’m here today to share with you one of the excellent culinary concoctions that emerged from this weekend’s marathon kitchen session.

I took as my starting point this recipe for Moroccan Roasted Carrot and Chickpea Quinoa Salad from Closet Cooking, which Caitlin and I actually made a while ago once and really enjoyed. It’s enhanced by this wonderful Moroccan spice blend (also included on the same recipe page), which finds its way into basically every part of the dish. And as I still had a lot of this spice blend leftover from the last time we made it, I thought that now was a good time to revisit this recipe and put a few new twists on it.

My general idea was to combine the basics of this recipe with pieces from another similar recipe which I absolutely adore, Veganomicon’s Israeli Couscous with Pistachios and Figs, featured once previously on this blog here (which was additionally convenient, as I still had several parts of this recipe leftover from the last time I made it a couple of weeks ago). Here’s a close up of my finished product—can you spot all the differences?

Okay, I don’t really expect you to be able to spot all the differences all on your own, so here’s a quick run-down. First, along with quinoa, as Closet Cooking’s original recipe calls for, I added in some Israeli couscous and regular couscous as well, which created an amazing grain combination. And along with the originally called for pine nuts, I threw in a big handful of pistachios, which added both extra flavor and color. And instead of raisins, I used figs, which was a wonderful idea. But my best idea for this recipe was definitely my chosen replacement for chickpeas: beets! Now, beets may not seem like the most logical substitute for something like chickpeas, but I think they actually worked much better alongside the roasted carrots (I roasted the beets as well). With the addition of some lime juice and zest, this hodgepodge grain salad was completed, and quite amazingly delicious. Here’s one more shot:

What surprised me most about this recipe, and what I liked most about it, was how much of a spicy kick it had. (I think I had forgotten how much paprika and cayenne pepper went into the spice blend.) But at the same time, the spiciness was not overwhelming; it was really the perfect amount. In addition, I am proud to say that this is definitely one of the most colorful dishes I’ve ever made, and really a pleasure to look at. But the real pleasure is in the eating, and if you want to experience that, you’ll have to make it for yourself!

But before I leave you today, I wanted to share with you the special baked good I made this weekend for my friend’s potluck dinner party: an absolutely delectable “Can’t Be Beet” Chocolate Cake with Almond Butter Banana Frosting!

Caitlin has made this recipe from Fat Free Vegan for me before, and I really have to say that it’s one of the best vegan cake recipes I’ve tasted. The frosting is (literally, I have to admit) finger-licking good, and the cake really lives it up to its name: it is both incredibly scrumptious (“it can’t be beat!”) and made with one large, yet undetectable, beet (“it can’t be beet!”). If you’re looking for a good time, make this cake for your next dinner party, and try to get the other guests to guess the secret ingredient. If your friends are anything like mine, they will run through the gamut of vegetables and other food items before hitting on the correct answer. Happy eating!

Until we eat again,

Willie

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