Archive for November, 2011

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Hearty Vegan Apple-Cranberry Muffins

November 27, 2011

Today I want to tell you a story about some muffins.

Any Torontonian worth their salt knows that the city’s best muffins—and not just vegan muffins, but muffins—are to be found at Urban Herbivore. If you’ve never seen one of their muffins before, I’ve actually blogged about them twice before, in these two age-old posts, but if you’re also too lazy to click on hyperlinks, I’ll just tell you that Urban Herbivore muffins are behemoths, with muffin tops so gargantuan that the whole thing looks posed to topple over at any moment. They’re also very hearty and dense, making them a meal in themselves and then some. Simply put, I’ve never had a muffin like an Urban Herbivore muffin, whether from another café or from my own kitchen.

So you can imagine my excitement when I got wind that my friend Lisa had come up with an at-home Urban Herbivore-style muffin recipe a while ago, before I started following her lovely blog. Not long after I discovered this, I was hard at work in my kitchen, eager to make some Urban Herbivore magic of my own. But that magic didn’t happen. In fact, my first pass at this recipe was a near disaster. Granted, this was surely my own fault, as I made a few recipe substitutions to better suit my pantry availability, and these substitutions seemed to set everything else off balance, making for muffins that came out tasting gritty and grainy, and that just barely held together at all. And though these weren’t a total failure (I did, after all, end up eating them all), they were nothing to share or be proud of, and certainly no rival to Urban Herbivore’s gold standard.

So a week or two later I returned to the kitchen, and tried modifying the recipe slightly to see if I could get it to work. I cut back some on both the flour and the fruit, and remembered to use coconut oil as I originally intended to, and that seemed to do the trick: lovely, hearty muffins, tasty from top to bottom! And though these are still no match for Urban Herbivore’s muffins (just look at those measly muffin tops, for example), they’re still a good start, and definitely a recipe I will be returning to and honing further. But these are plenty enjoyable as is, and now you can enjoy them too!

Hearty Apple-Cranberry Muffins (makes 12 muffins)
modified from Lisa’s “Dax’s Blueberry Birthday Muffins”

Ingredients

  • 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup cane sugar
  • 3 flax eggs (3 tbsp flaxseed meal + 9 tbsp warm water)
  • 2/3 cup coconut oil
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup apples, peeled and chopped into small pieces
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
  2. Start by making your flax eggs. You can simply mix together the flaxseed meal and water and let sit for a few minutes, or if you’re feeling a little less lazy, you can briefly heat the mixture over the stovetop until it gets goopy and egg-like in texture.
  3. Mix together the dry ingredients: the flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, and sugar.
  4. Mix together the wet ingredients: the coconut oil (you may have to heat this up first to melt it into a liquid), lemon juice, and flax eggs.
  5. Add the wet mixture to the dry and stir until just mixed.
  6. Fold in the apples and dried cranberries.
  7. Oil a muffin tin, and then fill with batter.
  8. Put the muffins in the oven and then lower the temperature to 410°F. Bake for 20 to 25 muffins, until the muffins look nice and brown on the outside, and a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out dry.

Happy eating!

Until we eat again,

Willie

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Toronto Café Tour: The Abbott

November 25, 2011

Hey hey folks! It’s been getting colder up here in Toronto, and that decrease in air temperature has brought with it an increase in my desire for warm drinks. In other words, here’s another Toronto Café Tour review, this time from the little Parkdale location known as The Abbott (which is yet another Indie Coffee Passport location, for anyone keeping track).

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Latte: A soy latte from the Abbott’s will run you $3.25 for a single and $4.00 for a double, which are fairly standard prices for this city. I got the double, and though I strongly disapprove of the paper cup, the drink itself was very good, a solid latte all around.

Wifi: Yep!

Atmosphere: The Abbott is a little on the small side, with only a handful of tables and chairs available for those drinking in. Furthermore, the tables they have are very small. I didn’t include my current fictional diversion in the above photo just as a size reference; there simply was not enough space on my little table to crop it out! Still, this is really only a minor quibble. The decor of The Abbott is very nicely done, though: lots of old-fashioned knick-knacks and doodads, mason jars and washboards adorn the walls, and my personal favorite design choice: the washroom’s sole decoration, unframed vinyl jacket of the Flashdance movie soundtrack.

Clientele: I was there on a weekday afternoon, and the crowd seemed slightly older than at my usual haunts, which is to say, thirtysomethings rather than twentysomethings. Most of the people coming in and staying spent their time quietly working or something or other.

Music: When I was there, I heard The Strokes, Zola Jesus, and Arcade Fire, so: good, but a little too familiar.

Food: Only a handful of food options on offer, none of which looked particularly vegan.

Final Verdict: The Abbott is nice, if a little out of the way for me. There was nothing really wrong with the place, but nothing really stood out for me, either. Which is to say: If I’m ever in the neighbourhood again, I’d definitely go back, but I doubt that I’ll ever make the trek out there again specifically for this café.

Until we eat again,

Willie

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Vegan Apple Cider Doughnuts! (Some Tips & Pointers)

November 23, 2011

Ooooh yeahhhh.

Here’s something for all you Tim Hortons people: homemade, vegan Apple Cider Doughnuts! This past weekend I was hard at work in my kitchen cooking up the perfect recipe, and although I can’t say I’ve exactly reached it yet, I have come up with something pretty good, and before I put on another five pounds eating all this surplus, I’m going to take a break from the doughnut-making and share my preliminary results with you.

My doughnut escapades all started a couple weeks ago, when I stumbled upon this Apple Pumpkin Spice Doughnut recipe from Vegan Dad. It didn’t take long before I was trying these out for myself, and let me tell you: they’re fantastic! But they also got me thinking back to my childhood and the locally made apple cider doughnuts I so enjoyed. You see, I grew up down the street from an apple orchard, which sold, along with lots of local apples and other produce, doughnuts made with their very own apple cider. They were delicious, and one of those fond food memories I’ll probably never forget. They’re not very vegan, though! And that’s where I step in, tackling the difficult task of veganizing this childhood treat.

It took a few tries to end up with something I was happy with. I first tried a replica of Vegan Dad’s recipe, subbing in some reduced apple cider for the pumpkin puree and making a simple apple cider-based icing. These turned out very good texturally (soft and doughy inside, nice and crispy on the outside, as they should be), but they didn’t really taste like apple cider (at least in the dough), so it was back to the drawing board!

For my second attempt, I tried adapting and veganizing this basic Allrecipes recipe, subbing in reduced apple cider for the milk. The dough ended up tasting a lot more like apple cider this time, but it didn’t rise at all, making for a disappointingly dense interior. These were definitely my worst batch (though that’s not to say I didn’t eat them all), and so it was back to the drawing board again!

For my last trial, I worked off of this Apple Cider Doughnut recipe from Coconut & Lime. Texturally these turned out the best, even though I still couldn’t get the dough to rise. The apple cider flavour in the dough was still minimal, but that might’ve been because I used straight instead of reduced apple cider. Oh well. Thankfully doughnuts are always delicious, no matter how they turn out.

I’m still not ready to post a vouched-for apple cider doughnut recipe here, but I will share some general guidelines and tips for all you eager bakers out there. And trust me, I will be continuing my search for the perfect recipe, and once I’ve found it, you’ll be sure to hear about it first here.

Vegan Apple Cider Doughtnuts: Some Tips & Pointers

The first thing you’ll need to have is a doughnut cutter! This is just a cookie cutter for doughnuts (Torontonians, I found mine at that wondrous kitchen warehouse known as Tap Phong) and it looks like this:

If you don’t have and can’t acquire a doughnut cutter, I am told that you can also get by using two appropriately sized round cookie cutters. And if you haven’t two appropriately sized round cookie cutters, I’m pretty sure you could get by using a coffee cup and a shot glass. (If anyone actually tries this option, I want to hear about it and I want pictures. I will trade you high fives.)

Once you have your doughnut cutting implements in order, you’ll want to start making your dough. I’d recommend following either Vegan Dad’s or Coconut & Lime’s recipe. If using Vegan Dad’s, make the following substitution:

  • Instead of ⅔ cup pumpkin puree, use ½ cup of reduced apple cider, made by simmering 2 cups of normal apple cider on the stovetop for about 20 to 30 minutes.

And if using Coconut & Lime’s, make these substitutions:

  • First, some standard vegan substitutions: soy or almond milk for the cow’s milk; 3 flax eggs (3 tbsp flaxseed meal + 9 tbsp water, ideally heated over the stovetop) for the chicken eggs; canola oil for the butter.
  • You may want to use reduced apple cider in place of normal apple cider here as well; I didn’t, but it’ll only make your dough more flavourful.

With either recipe, after you’ve got your dough together, you’ll want to let it sit in a covered and oiled bowl for about an hour to an hour and a half. Hopefully you’ll get it to rise some, but I didn’t have such luck.

After it’s sat, roll out the dough to about a half inch thick and then cut out your doughnut, saving the doughnut holes (a.k.a. Timbits) as well. You’ll have to reroll the dough a couple times to get the maximum number of doughnuts! I got about nine out of the Vegan Dad recipe and over a dozen from the Coconut & Lime recipe. Once you have all your doughnuts cut out, lay them out on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet like so and let sit for about thirty minutes, covered with plastic wrap:

Now you’re ready to fry! Find your smallest pot, fill with an inch and a half to two inches of canola oil, and heat this up. If you have a candy thermometer, I’m told you want the oil to register at about 350°F. If you’re like me and don’t have such a luxury, just let it heat up for a while, and let stick a doughnut hole in there and see what happens. Once it looks like it’s nicely and rapidly frying, your oil is probably around the right temperature, and you’re ready to begin!

Carefully slide one doughnut into the pot of oil; it will begin to fry almost instantaneously. You will probably want to flip it after about 30 seconds or so to make sure the other side is evenly fried, and after about a minute total (or whenever the doughnut looks nicely golden) it’s ready to come out! (You’re going to want some sort of flat ladle-like implement for this job, both for dropping in and fishing out.)

Place fried doughnuts on a drying rack with some paper towels below to catch any excess oil. Let cool, and then get back to frying the rest of your doughnuts! (The doughnut holes work similarly, but take even less time.)

For my topping, I’ve been enjoying this icing which is made by simply adding about a tablespoon of apple cider to ½ cup of icing sugar and whisking it all together. Spoon icing on top of doughnuts and spread around to cover the top. As icing cools, it will become a hardened glaze (sorry this isn’t pictured better in the photographs).

These doughnuts are definitely best eaten right after frying. If eaten even the day after, I’d recommend heating them up in a toaster oven a bit first to crisp them up and take away some of the sogginess. These doughnuts also freeze well, in case you won’t be able to—or want to restrain yourself from—eating them all in one day.

I hope you guys enjoy these! Like I said, I’m going to keep working on my doughnut recipe, and I hope to have something definitive to share with y’all soon. Until then, happy eating!

Until we eat again,

Willie

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Toronto Café Tour: Moonbean Coffee

November 22, 2011

Hi all! I’m here today with yet another Toronto Café Tour review, this time from Kensington Market hotspot Moonbean Coffee (yet another Indie Coffee Passport participating location)! Here’s what I thought…

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Latte: Moonbean’s latte runs a slightly-higher-than-average $3.68, but it is excellent—I daresay one of the best soy lattes in the city. It had the perfect silkiness with a strong espresso flavour that was simply to die for. In addition, Moonbean doesn’t skimp on size; although this photo may not show it, this is a sizeable cup.

Wifi: No!

Atmosphere: I’d been to Moonbean during the afternoon a couple of times before this visit and it was practically standing room only, sometimes with lines going out the door. This time, however, I visited early on a weekday morning and it was virtually empty, and actually the perfect place to get some work done. Moonbean offers lots of seating options, with a big backroom in addition to their main space, as well as an open-air patio for the warmer months. But your experience definitely depends on when you visit: go early and enjoy the quiet, go later and be prepared to get friendly with your neighbours!

Clientele: Like other Kensington coffeeshops, Moonbean attracts a lot of the local bohemians crowd, which I love. As I said above, the café was pretty much empty for the majority of this visit, but towards the end of my stay I was joined by a couple of budding intellectuals who were meeting to discuss Kabbalah, Freudian psychoanalysis, and string theory, to which all I can say is: yes.

Music: I was sitting in Moonbean’s backroom for the entirety of this visit, and they actually don’t play music all the way back there. I sort of enjoyed the quiet, and on the couple occasions when I went back to the main space, whatever they were playing sounded nice.

Food: Moonbean offers lots of vegan options (no surprise, really, given their Kensington location), many of which looked made in-house, which is awesome. I didn’t try any of them out, but I’m pretty confident from their appearance that all of them would be super delicious.

Final Verdict: Moonbean’s main attraction is my opinion is their latte, which is stellar. The atmosphere is a little hit-or-miss depending on the time of the day, and most of the time is probably not the best place to go to while away the daylight hours (especially if what you’re doing requires internet, which they don’t provide). But if you’re in Kensington and are looking to get a tasty espresso drink, Moonbean is the place to go. Check it out the next time you’re in the neighbourhood.

Until we eat again,

Willie

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Fawaffles (Vegan & Gluten-Free Falafel Waffles)

November 19, 2011

I have a new favourite word and that word is fawaffles.

For those who can’t tell, ‘fawaffle’ is a portmanteau of ‘falafel’ and ‘waffle’, used to describe falafel patties that have been baked in a waffle iron. Apparently, I’m not the first to come up with this moniker, but still, fawaffles have a fairly low internet presence right now, and so I want to do what little I can to change that.

This wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been perhaps more excited about a recipe’s name than the recipe itself, though it may be the first time that I’ve made a recipe primarily because I loved the name so much. Fortunately, fawaffles are as much a pleasure to eat as ‘fawaffle’ is to say. But that’s no surprise: falafels are awesome, and all that’s different with fawaffles is the baking method.

For my fawaffles, I basically followed this Yummly recipe, which by omitting the breadcrumbs, made them entirely gluten-free! There’s a lot of cilantro and parsley in here to give them flavor, and cooked brown rice acts as the binder. And though they definitely could’ve held together a little better in the end, I was very happy overall with how they turned out.

Making these fawaffles also gave me the excuse to try out this Vegan Tzatziki sauce from Vegan Dad, which I must tell you is absolutely divine. Seriously, it is drinkably good. So good that I didn’t even feel the need to stick my falafels into pitas: with this tzatziki, a little bit of harissa, and a small sprig of parsley as garnish, these fawaffles actually became a refined, composed dish, and one that I wanted to just keep eating and eating.

So spread the word—make some fawaffles for you and your friends and see what you’ve been missing!

Until we eat again,

Willie

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Restaurant Review: Sadie’s Diner

November 16, 2011

Hi all!

Today I have a brand new restaurant review, and like my last restaurant review, this is a joint review with Katherine, Toronto’s food blogger/illustrator/comics artist triple-threat over at the Drawn & Devoured blog. And also like last time, I’m going to recommend right from the start that you stop reading this review and just go read hers, as the pictures will be prettier and the writing will be smarter. I’m not just saying this, either: all the responses I received about our last review were about how good Katherine’s post was, and I can only assume that meant that no one even bothered to read my half. To which all I have to say is: carry on.

Anyway, in case anyone is in fact still reading this, here’s my perspective on our meal. This time around we were checking out the Toronto vegan establishment known as Sadie’s Diner, a restaurant I’d been meaning to go to for ages but never got around to. I’d long heard good things about their brunch, and so, one sunny and crisp autumn morning, we squeezed into a little table and started poring over the menu.

Sadie’s definitely has the diner feel about it: Lots of bright tables and booths, quirky art hanging on the walls, and all the food items you’d expect from a greasy spoon, plus several not-quite-as-common (at least for Toronto) Mexican dishes. After several minutes of deliberating, we decided to go for one breakfast plate and one lunch plate. Katherine took on the breakfast, this heaping plate of vegan Huevos Rancheros ($10):

Traditionally, Huevos Rancheros is eggs served over tortillas and topped with salsa, cheese, and guacamole, and Sadie’s vegan version simply subs in scrambled tofu for the eggs. Unfortunately, I think both Katherine and I were fairly disappointed with this dish. The main problem was that the scrambled tofu completely fell flat—far from being genuine scrambled tofu, this felt more like someone has simply crumbled a brick of tofu with their hands. Seriously, I had doubts whether the tofu was fried or even seasoned at all: it had no flavor, no crispiness, and was just barely lukewarm. Even the Daiya cheese topping and several shakes of hot sauce couldn’t save this dish. The corn tortillas were probably the best part, but they definitely didn’t seem like they were made in-house. So I guess good job to Sadie’s for finding a good place to get their tortillas?

For my more lunchy plate, I went with the vegan Quesadilla ($9):

As their menu advertises, this quesadilla is filled with “roasted red peppers, portobellos, grilled vegetables, tangy sambal mayo, grilled eggplant, zucchini, and Daiya cheese.” What arrived on my plate, however, was mostly Daiya and tortilla. The vegetables, though present, were limp and totally overwhelmed by the surfeit of melted vegan cheese. Granted, this was Daiya, so it was at least edible vegan cheese, but as I’ve mentioned here before, I’m no Daiya devotee, and I found the particular cheddar cheese variety used in this quesadilla to be particularly disappointing: a convincing imitation of imitation cheese perhaps (think Kraft singles or some such nonsense), but nowhere near approaching an imitation of real cheese (trust me, my memory isn’t that bad). Given this, I didn’t understand why Sadie’s would emphasize this cheese so much, instead of choosing to highlight the veggies more—that’s certainly what I would’ve preferred them to do, at any rate. The best parts of this plate for me were the tortilla itself (again, not made in-house) and the sour cream (which I’m about 90% sure was just Tofutti sour cream), which is further indication that Sadie’s knows where to get stuff, if not so much how to prepare it.

At the end of our meal, both Katherine and I felt disappointed and underwhelmed. Especially now that it has the more recently opened Hogtown Vegan as competition, Sadie’s really needs to step up its game (which, incidentally, is the same way I felt after I visited Sadie’s Juice Bar & Ice Creem Parlour earlier this year). I left the restaurant thinking that this first visit to Sadie’s would likely be my last.

But as things turned out, I was back at Sadie’s a mere two days later—but for good reason! Every two months Sadie’s hosts a Pay-What-You-Can, All-You-Can-Eat vegan “Chili for Charity” dinner, benefitting various local charities and such. I was a little skeptical of heading back to Sadie’s for dinner after my brunch experience, but my plans were already made. Thankfully, the chili they had on offer was much better than anything I tasted the Sunday before (this horribly grainy photo notwithstanding):

Granted, this chili didn’t knock my socks off or anything, but I did end up coming back for two refills. However, even better than the chili is is the fact that (at least as I was told) the owner of Sadie’s pays for these dinners out of pocket, so that all the donations can go to the featured charity, and that’s just super awesome.

So what to say about Sadie’s in the end? It’s definitely not the place to go to impress your non-vegan friends, and I don’t think it’s even particularly impressive for vegans, but it is a nice little resto that does some quality work for the community. Tasting their chili convinced me that they are indeed able to put out a good dish, and there must be other quality plates on their menu. But it’ll probably be a while before I hunt them out for myself, as I still can’t say I’m in any rush to go back.

And that’s my take on Sadie’s! If you haven’t already, don’t forget to check out Katherine’s review. See you soon!

Until we eat again,

Willie

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Perfecting my (Vegan) Okonomiyaki

November 13, 2011

お好み焼き知っていますか。

Or, for all you English readers: Do you know about okonomiyaki?

In simplest terms, okonomiyaki is a Japanese savoury pancake. Its name means, literally, “grilled as you like it”, and because of this, the various pancakes you’ll see under the heading of okonomiyaki can be quite diverse in their specific ingredients, though the base is almost always cabbage and flour. I’ve been making my own okonomiyaki for years (and have even posted about it before here), and a few weeks ago I decided to return to my recipe and kick it up a notch. You see, I just hadn’t been as satisfied with how my okonomiyaki had been turning out—the dough wasn’t coming together as it should, the cakes weren’t frying as they needed to, and in the end it just wasn’t tasting like good ol’ okonomiyaki. So I decided to go back to the drawing board, do some internet research, and come up with a new okonomiyaki formula—and happily, my efforts resulted in success!

My new recipe is posted below, but before we get to that, here are some explanatory notes. First off, the number one secret to making awesome okonomiyaki, I discovered, is nagaimo (Dioscorea opposita), a Japanese mountain yam that looks sorta like this:

In any authentic okonomiyaki, this nagaimo gets peeled and grated, which makes it turn into a goopy, sticky mess:

I had never used nagaimo before, and I was amazed at the extra bounce and springiness it brought to my batter, making everything hold together much much better than ever before. The only problem is that nagaimo can be tricky to find, even in a big cosmopolitan city like mine (pro tip for Torontonians: I found my nagaimo at Sanko on Queen & Clairmont), so if you can’t get it where you are, don’t worry—I’d been making okonomiyaki for years without it (though you may want to add in an extra flax egg to make up for its absence).

Other than this, the recipe is fairly straightforward. Here’s what my batter looked like after everything was mixed together:

And here’s what one of my pancakes looked like after it had all been fried up:

Once again, I found that coconut oil is really key to achieving the perfect fry here, and I won’t be using any other type of oil from now on.

To finish off my okonomiyaki, I used the traditional accoutrements of (vegan) mayonnaise and Tonkatsu sauce, which for those that don’t know is a tangy Japanese “vegetable & fruit sauce” that typically looks like this:

Finally, I went a little unconventional and threw on some dulse and nori flakes and sprouts (instead of the traditional bonito shavings), ending up with one delicious dinner! The full recipe is just below.

Okonomiyaki (makes 3 perfectly reasonably sized pancakes, or 2 gargantuan ones)

Ingredients

  • 2 flax eggs: 2 tbsp flaxseed meal + 9 tbsp (⅜ cup) water
  • 1 cup flour
  • ⅔ cup water
  • ¼ cup grated nagaimo
  • 4 cups thinly shredded cabbage (about half of a small cabbage)
  • 2 stalks green onions, thinly sliced (about ¼ cup)
  • 1 medium-sized carrot, grated (about ½ cup)
  • oil for frying (ideally, coconut oil)
  • vegan mayonnaise
  • Tonkatsu sauce
  • dulse flakes, nori flakes, & sprouts for topping

Instructions

  1. Start by making your flax eggs: You can just mix the flaxseed meal in warm water and let sit, but for this recipe I prefer to heat the mixture on the stove for just a couple minutes until it achieves a gooey, egg-like texture.
  2. Mix together the flour and water until no lumps remain.
  3. Add in the flax egg mixture and grated nagaimo, and mix until well combined (batter should have a nice springiness to it now).
  4. Add in the cabbage, onions, and carrots, and mix, again, until well combined.
  5. Heat up some oil in your frying pan. Scoop about one third of the batter mixture into the skillet and flatten out into a pancake shape. Let fry for five to ten minutes, until the bottom side seems to be getting crispy, then flip over and fry the other side for five minutes more. Repeat for the other two pancakes.
  6. For plating, top finished pancakes with a layer of vegan mayonnaise, a squiggle of Tonkatsu sauce, a handful of sprouts, and sprinkling of dulse and nori flakes. Enjoy!

Happy eating, guys! いただきます〜!

Until we eat again,

Willie

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