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You know that person…maybe you work with them, or they show up at some of the same parties you go to, or they’re your aunt or something…who, when they find out you’re vegan, says, “Cool. I’m basically a vegan, except I eat some fish.” Well, instead of getting all bent out of shape and looking around for the nearest carrot to stuff in their maw while shouting, “You can’t be a vegan if you eat fish, dumbass!” slap one of these puppies on their plate and be done with it.

All of the phlavour, none of the deadness

That’s right! It’s M.C. Fauxlet-o-Phish all up in this hizzy. And I can tell you this, because I have been vegan for over a dozen years now and there’s no chance of me going back, but once upon a time I had a two-a-week filet-o-fish habit and as far as vegan reproductions go, this one beats all previous incarnations. Forget slabs of tofu marinating for hours in Old Bay-laced lemon & dill water, they won’t hold a candle to this baby.

The inspiration for these fauxlets came in the midst of a yuba frenzy the week before last. I’d run out to the local Asian supermarket to stock up on items from the Vegetarian section of their freezers and when I got my yuba home and pan fried it I realized, for the first time, that it had that flaky, juicy, tender texture I’d been searching for. I’ve longed to create a vegan fish replacement that actually fish-like. Don’t get me wrong – chickpeas, zucchini, artichoke hearts, and tofu have served me well over the years; you can get the flavour pretty accurate using the right combo of sea vegetables and spices, but the texture is always an issue. So as soon as I finished scarfing back my yuba in black bean & garlic sauce, I got online and typed yuba + “vegan fish” into Google. This was the number 1 result. Fantastic! (By the way, although she doesn’t seem to be updating it any more, there’re a lots of great recipes on there so be sure to poke around.)

I fully intend to try her version but I knew from the get-go that I wanted a less Asian-style filet, so in true Duchess fashion I jumped right in with my own flavour ideas and just used her method as a template for my recipe.

It's yuba, booba

So this is the package of yuba. It comes frozen at my local shop but yours might have it fresh, or even in dried form, in which case you’ll want to soak it in some hot water until it’s nice and soft and pliable. I defrosted mine overnight in the fridge, and then I pulsed it into a fine flaked texture and put it in a bowl with a bunch of seasonings and some starch to bind it all together.

After that, I used some extra yuba skins that I’d set aside to line my steamer baskets with. I lightly oiled the baskets first, unfolded the yuba packets, and then draped them lovingly all over the bottom. Then I scooped my flavoured yuba mixture on these in an even layer, pressing to make it nice and compact. After that, it was time to steam it for about 45 minutes.

When it was finished cooking, I popped it in the freezer, still in the steamer baskets, to rest overnight. I was worried that because I hadn’t wrapped the phish mixture up completely it wasn’t going to hold together very well when I wanted to cut it into single servings and fry it. This fear was unfounded, as it turned out. The next day, near dinner time, I pulled the baskets out of the freezer and ran a knife through the steamed phish, cutting it into 8 squares (well, not exact squares since the steamer is an oval shape, but you get the gist).

It was at this moment I had to decide what I was going to do with these finished “filets”. So many possibilities! Baked with some dijon? Beer battered and deep fried with chips? Pecan crust and a “hollandaise” sauce? That was when the kids said they wanted to try fish burgers, and I remembered how, long long ago, I used to have a McDonalds Filet o Fish habit. It was decided.

Dredged.

Fryin.

Finished.

Loaded onto a bun with a quick homemade Vegenaise-based dill tartar sauce and a heapin’ helpin’ of Daiya cheddar, and we were in Fauxlet-o-Phish heaven.  Look, I even cut mine in half so you could see the different textures!

My daughter took one bite and refused to eat any more. She’s been vegan her whole life from conception onwards and the very idea of eating anything out of the ocean gives her a serious case of the squicks. She’s fine with other mock-meats but for some reason can’t take the seafoody taste of vegan phish. Never has, never will. My son and husband, however, went completely bonkers over these, helping themselves to seconds and asking me to please write down the recipe so I can do this again some day. I’m writing it here, in case any of you want to give it a shot.

I made a double recipe because I like to freeze extras to have on hand. You might like to do that too.

Phaux Phish, Bish

Yields 8 filets

600 grams (about 1 1/2 lbs) of fresh yuba + 300 grams if you are going to line your steamer with extra sheets (you can just use parchment or lightly oiled foil if you like).

2 tbsp vegetable oil

2 tbsp nutritional yeast

2 tsp paprika

2 tsp dill

2 tsp onion powder

1 tsp garlic powder

2 tsp sea salt

1/2 tsp kelp powder (or more, if you like it extra fishy tasting)

1/3 cup starch (corn, tapioca, arrowroot – whatever you have on hand)

Chop the yuba coarsely, then place in your food processor and pulse until it reaches a flaky consistency. Don’t over-process or it’ll be mushy. Scrape down the sides frequently and make sure it’s processing evenly. Transfer this into a mixing bowl and stir in the oil. Add in the remaining ingredients and use your clean hands to mash it all together so that it’s completely mixed.

Lightly oil the bottom of your steamer basket. It only just occurred to me that most people won’t have this kind of steamer. It’s an electric dealie we got from collecting grocery store shopping points. I think you could probably use a bamboo steamer but if you’re stuck with one of those ones that fits inside a regular pot, you may want to use the extra yuba sheets to try and wrap your phish mixture up into little pockets instead of lining the bottom of the steamer with them. Anyway. If you do happen to have a steamer like mine, lightly oil the inside of the basket, then lay the extra yuba sheets on top of this. If you’re not using extra yuba sheets, you can skip oiling the basket and just layer it with some parchment or foil, which you will have to oil before adding the phish mix.

Once you’ve got that whole thing sorted out, scoop the fish mix onto the liner you’ve chosen. Spread it out evenly and press it down to compact it well – mine was about an inch, inch and a half thick. Cover and steam for about 45 minutes. Remove the entire basket from the steamer and let cool to room temp. Then put it in the fridge or freezer for at least four hours or overnight.

After it’s completely cooled, you can cut it up any way you like. I cut it into 8 generously sized Fauxlet-o-Phish patties. You could cut it into fingers to make phish sticks, or you can shred it up and use it in phish cakes, or phish balls, or how about yubaphish salad sammiches?

Look inside…

That’s what I’m talkin’ about.

Hello everyone. It’s been a while. I am happy to say that I feel like I am back on the cooking track after a couple of months of floundering due to health issues. I had a procedure that should take care of the worst of my symptoms, and while I’m still slowly recovering, the recovery is progressing as it should and I am feeling a little better every day. So let’s talk about delicious, vegan food here again, shall we?

First, look at this BUCKET of guacamole.


This right here is almost exactly 3 kilograms (6.6 lbs) of homemade guacamole. We know this because we actually weighed it before digging in. Did I make this for a party or gathering of some sort? No. I made this because we were gifted practically an entire case of ripe avocados and my family and I are guacamole maniacs. The first night of this bowl’s existence we (the four of us) ate close to half of it in bean & Daiya “cheese” wraps while we watched the movie about Gandhi’s life. Yes, there was something oddly shameful about sitting there watching this amazing man starve himself in the name of human rights while we were cramming as much delicious, tangy, spicy, creamy guac into our gullets as we could; but it didn’t stop us. (The other half of the bowl was polished off over the course of the next few days.)

For Valentine’s day I generally make some sort of fancy dessert to share with the family. This year I was just one week post-op and didn’t have a real lot of energy or physical wherewithal to get jiggy with the sugar, but I did want to do something. A friend of mine keeps posting on FB about these cheesecake brownies she makes (non-vegan) and I just happened to have the ingredients on hand to try veganizing them, which is lucky because I hadn’t actually been to a store that carries Tofutti products in a couple of weeks. Anyway, I didn’t even bother looking at a non-vegan recipe for cheesecake brownies because I felt confident enough in my baking skills I could come up with something good. And I did!

That’s what I was talkin’ about, y’all. A nice fudgey brownie bottom and a super luscious, creamy cheesecake-style topping.  What I really like about this recipe is you get that cheesecake satisfaction without having to drop a money-bomb at the natural foods store on the fake cream cheese. I mean, when I make a vegan cheesecake I end up using four or five tubs of the stuff and at $5 to $6 a container – well, that there is some bourgeoisie dessert, y’know what I’m saying? But these brownies only use 1 1/2 tubs – which leaves 1/2 a tub for you to enjoy on your bagels or celery sticks or whatnot.

Hey, why don’t you try making these yourself?

Vegan Cheesecake Brownies

Preheat your oven to 325 F. Prepare a 9″ x 13″ pan by lining it with parchment paper.

“Cheesecake” Topping

1 1/2 containers of Tofutti’s “Better Than Cream Cheese”

1 box of firm silken tofu, pureed until smooth (about 12 oz)

1/2 cup sugar

3 tbsp tapioca starch or arrowroot powder

2 tsp vanilla

1 tsp lemon zest (optional)

pinch salt

In a large mixing bowl, beat the Tofutti with the sugar until well-mixed. Add in the tofu and vanilla and mix. Add in the starch, zest (if using), and salt and beat to combine. Scrape this mixture into a separate bowl and set aside.

You can clean your mixing bowl now if you like, but I don’t bother. Instead I mix up the brownie mixture. (If I did the brownie mixture first, I’d end up with chocolate-coloured cheesecake topping, which isn’t what I want.)

Brownie Bottom

2 cups dark brown sugar

2/3 cup oil (canola, corn, sunflower, something light-tasting like that)

2 tsp vanilla

2 1/2 cups whole grain flour (I used spelt, because I love the taste and texture, but anything will do)

1 1/4 cups fair-trade, organic cocoa (I use Cocoa Camino brand)

1/2 tsp salt

up to 2/3 cup of non-dairy milk

Beat the sugar & oil together until well-combined. Add the vanilla and beat. Add the flour, cocoa and salt and begin mixing on low speed. Once that’s incorporated, start adding the non-dairy milk a little at a time. This is where you have to use your judgment. The final consistency of the batter should be somewhere between a cookie dough and a cake batter. You shouldn’t be able to pour it out of the bowl, but it should be wet enough that it will slowly spread out when plopped into the pan. Once you’ve got it the right consistency, scoop the brownie batter into the prepared pan, reserving about 1/3 of a cup. Use a spatula to spread and pat the brownie batter out into the corners and get it nice and even along the top.

Next smooth the “cheesecake” topping over the brownie bottom, using a clean spatula to get it into the corners and spread it out evenly. Finally, take a butterknife and plop the 1/3 of a cup of reserved brownie batter into the cheesecake topping. Use the knife to create streaks, swirls and stripes of chocolatey goodness through the creamy whiteness of the cheesecake topping.

Slide this into the pre-heated oven and bake for 45 – 55 minutes. The sides should look firm and dry but the middle should still seem a bit jiggly (don’t bother with a toothpick test on these babies). Turn the heat off the oven, crack the oven door open a bit, and let the brownies cool to the touch. Remove them from the oven and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight. Once they are completely chilled, you can use the parchment to lift the entire batch out of the pan and cut them into appropriately-sized bars. (I’ll leave it up to you to determine what an appropriately-sized bar is.)

Yum, right? We vegans are so deprived.

Next up….warm, soft, delicious, freshly-baked “cheese” and onion bread.

When I have the energy, I just love making bread by hand. There is something so meditative about it and the feeling of accomplishment, when the bread rises as it should and bakes up into something so soft and warm and delicious is arguably unmatched. The really nice thing about baking your own bread is you can flavour it and shape it anyway you like. Last night I was planning to make something with these giant beets I  had lingering in the bottom drawer of the fridge. Normally I would make a borscht – it’s a favourite soup around here – and so when I still felt like I was gonna do that I realized a nice, freshly baked bread would complete the meal perfectly. Of course, I changed my mind about the borscht, but not before I’d already started on making the bread. Anyway, here’s the recipe.

Vegan “Cheese” and Onion Bread

This is a fairly quick-rising bread – you’ll be savouring it within a couple of hours of  mixing the first few ingredients together.

This recipe yields one large loaf, but I usually double it because it goes so fast and makes excellent toast and sandwiches the next day.

3 – 4 cups whole grain flour

1/2 cup nutritional yeast (this is, in fact, optional – but really brings out the ‘cheesy’ flavours if you do use it)

1 tbsp dry, active yeast

2 tbsp dry sweetener

1 tbsp dried parsley flakes

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp salt

3/4 cup warm water

4 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

1 cup finely chopped white or yellow onion

1 bag (227 g) Daiya cheddar-style shreds (or other vegan “cheese”)

Mix 1 cup of the flour with both the yeasts, the sugar, the parsley, garlic powder, cayenne, and salt.  In a seperate bowl, whisk the water with the olive oil and vinegar. Add this to the flour/yeast/spice mixture and stir with a wooden spoon to make a slurry. Let this sit for about 15 minutes to allow the  yeast to activate.

Next, stir in the chopped onion and shredded vegan “cheese”.  Then begin adding the rest of the flour, first stirring with the wooden spoon, then switching to your (clean) hands once it gets harder to mix. As soon as the dough reaches an earlobe-like consistency, turn it onto a wooden board and knead it for at least five minutes, maybe more like ten. This is the part where you sing songs and/or meditate and get all zen thinking about the simple pleasures in life.

Transfer the kneaded lump of dough to a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a clean dishtowel. Let rise for about 30 minutes. Take it out of the bowl and knead it a few times, then shape it into a loaf on a baking sheet, or put into one large or two smaller loaf pans. Cover and let rise another 45 minutes to an hour, or until it’s nearly doubled in size.

Preheat your oven to 350F and bake your bread for 25 – 30 minutes, until it’s golden and sounds hollow when you tap it. Let stand for ten minutes before slicing, even though I know that’s hard.

So, if I didn’t serve this scrumptious, savory, warm fluffy spelt loaf with borscht, what DID I end up serving it with? Well, I was in the mood for roasted beets, see? But roasted beets and bread don’t a meal make; that’s more like two side dishes than a main course. So I thought and thought  about how I could incorporate the beets into a main dish without making them a soup or salad, and then it hit me. I could try stuffing them!

Oh hell, yes.

Sexy Stuffed Beets

Plump and pink and full of it. Just like this vegan food blogger.

6 medium- large beets, whole and unpeeled

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

1 onion, peeled and finely chopped (about 2 cups)

4 large carrots, coarsely grated

1 cup coarsely ground walnuts (I actually used raw sunflower seeds because I realized at the last minute I was out of walnuts)

1 cup minced fresh mushrooms

1/3 cup nutritional yeast (optional, but really. It adds so much. Don’t skip it if you can help it).

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 tbsp apple cider vinegar

1 tbsp smoked paprika

2 tsp dry, rubbed sage

salt and black pepper to taste

1/3 cup vegan “cream cheese” or “sour cream” to garnish (optional)
Scrub your beets. Bring a huge stock pot of water to a full boil. Drop the whole, unpeeled beets into the boiling water and let them burble away for 45 minutes to an hour, or until a sharp knife can slide into the side of one with little to no resistance. Drain them, then fill the pot with cold water and add them back in. Let the sit in the cold water while you prepare the filling.

Preheat the oven to 450F.

In a large skillet, heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Add the onions and saute for a few minutes to soften. Add in the carrots and mushrooms and cook, stirring occassionally, for a few more minutes. Add the garlic, vinegar and all the seasonings and mix well. Stir in the ground nuts and remove the pan from the heat.

Once the beets are cool enough to handle, rub off their skins and cut off their tops and tails. Cut them in half . (Because beets can vary so much in size and shape, I’ll let you decide which way to halve them – lengthwise or widthwise. Basically you want to cut them in whatever way will maximize the cup-shape you want in order to stuff them.) Use a soup spoon or melon baller to hollow out the beet halves, leaving at least an inch of beet flesh all around the sides and bottoms. Reserve the flesh you remove to be used in other recipes*.

Once all the halves are hollowed out, place the them in a well-oiled baking dish. Sprinkle them generously with the balsamic vinegar and a bit of salt and pepper. Put them in the hot oven and let them roast for about 10 minutes. Turn them over and roast another 5 minutes. Remove them from the oven and reduce the oven temp to 375. Turn the beet halves back to cut-side up, and fill with the stuffing mixture. Top each of them with a dab of vegan “cream cheese” or “sour cream” and then put them in the oven to bake just until they’re hot all the way through – about 15 – 20 minutes.

Serve on a bed of dressed or undressed greens, with a side of that freshly baked “cheesy” onion bread and you’ll be sitting in the catbird seat.

Until next time, my little puddings.

*I put the beet flesh into a container with a little oil and more balsamic vinegar and salt and let them marinate in the fridge. These are really nice just on their own or tossed with a big green salad.

I did it! No lentils tonight, darlings. I had insomnia last night and made my menu plan at 5am…

Handwritten, cuz I'm old-school

A secret – I bought enough stuff to make double amounts of pretty much every meal, to be packaged and stored in the chest freezer for some future meal time when I’m feeling too tired/overwrought/lazy/busy/blah to actually cook. Or when we have a lean week money-wise and I have a hankering for meals gone by. I’m making lasagna while the sun shines, as they say.

Then over my first hot cup of coffee at 6am, when I finally conceded that I would not be getting back to sleep, I wrote my grocery list…

Organized According to How the Grocery Store is Laid Out

I organize my list according to the grocery store’s layout. Tell me I’m not the only person that does this? Heh.

You may have noticed there isn’t anything on my meal plan for breakfasts or lunches. That’s because generally the kids eat toast or cereal with a smoothie in the mornings. With our Magic Bullet, they can pretty much be left to their own devices on school mornings. They also make their own lunches! This is an actual policy at their elementary school and part of the overall “never do for a child what she can do for herself” mandate (they go to a weirdo hippy school). Works for me! So I just make sure they have plenty of things to choose from every day and they get to have full autonomy over their lunches. Though I do look them over and make suggestions, such as – you need an apple and/or some carrot sticks. Perhaps I’ll talk more about school lunches and the challenges we’ve faced over the years in another entry.

So, according to my meal plan, tonight’s dinner was my famous Sunflower Pate Lasagna and The Ultimate Vegan Caesar Salad. Is it bragging if it’s the truth?

Bake a layer of uncooked Sunflower Paté into your lasagne, instead of veggie "meat".

Homemade croutons are the key to a perfect Caesar Salad. Oh, and garlic.

I don’t understand people who seem to think vegans are deprived when it comes to food. I consistently make meals that strike all the same notes my non-vegan meals of yore did. Filling, hearty, savory, sweet, rich, with a ton of variety. The only time I’ve ever bored with my food is when the pantry is almost bare and I’m too lazy to go shopping to replenish it. Oh, and I am occassionally bored with the vegan restaurant options in my city. Vancouver is pretty good for choice, but we live far enough outside of the city proper to make a trip into town for a meal a bit daunting, especially on a weeknight. I try to look at it as a good thing: I am “forced” to cook at home more often than not, which is less expensive and often healthier. Yeah…that’s it.

My kids always know when I have neglected to make a meal plan for the week (and subsequently neglected to make my usual categorized, alphabetized and cross-indexed shopping list – or go shopping at all), because that’s the day that we have some sort of Exciting! Creative! Lentil dish. Note to new parents and/or new vegans (or hopefully new vegan parents) – always keep your pantry stocked with lentils. You have no idea how many times they will save your ass; especially if you start your kids eating them from a young age and you end up with a couple of total weirdo youngsters who actually gobble them up in all their various incarnations, with gusto. My kids are crazy for lentil soup, lentil stew, lentil pot pie, lentil dahl, lentil balls, lentil salad…you name it. They just love lentils. So trust me on this one. Buy lentils. When it looks like you might be running low, buy more. They are inexpensive, protein-rich, and cook faster than beans with no soaking required. That’s my pro tip for tonight.

At 5pm tonight I had to finally acknowledge that the whining had begun and I hadn’t the faintest idea what I was going to do to quell it. I did what I always do in that situation, Pinky – tried to make something out of lentils. I am very lucky that a dear friend of mine recently sent me a fresh jar of Arabian Baharat spice mix, from my favourite spice-mixin’ company Monsoon Coast. If you aren’t so lucky as to have a friend like that, or access to your own Arabian baharat spice mix that has been pre-mixed and sold commercially, I suggest you try making your own and keep it on hand. In my opinion, there is nothing better when you’re stumped on what to make out of your lentils. Here’s a selection of good looking recipes for grinding up your own. I’m not that industrious (read: mostly lazy) so they’re offered untested, but do let me know how it goes.

Before I was entirely clear on what I was doing I put about 2 cups of brown lentils in a pot, and filled it up with water til they were covered with it by about 2 inches. I set it on to boil. I then set about hunting down some easily cooked grain like rice or couscous. No such luck. All I had in the cupboard was flour and cornmeal. I had a vague recollection of making some delicious and tender cornmeal dumplings a while back, that I’d let simmer away in a giant vat of French-style tomato, herb and lentil soup. I figured I could do the same kind of thing but cook the dumplings in some boiling, salted water, and mix them into the lentils near the end of cooking.

I mixed equal parts cornmeal and flour, added some baking powder, salt, cumin (another great flavour for lentils) and smoked paprika. I then whisked in some soy milk and water to make a fairly thick batter. With the water at a high boil, I dropped scant teaspoons of this mixture into it, working quickly. Then I turned the heat down to medium-low, covered the pot, and let them boil merrily away in there for about 15 minutes. Don’t cook your dumplings any longer than that as they’ll go from firm-yet-tender to a disintegrating mass of mush in fairly short order. And while I’m on the subject don’t overcook your lentils, either – they should be al dente when you remove them from the heat and drain them. Nobody likes a mushy lentil and since I’d decided at this point to make a kind of spiced stir-fry out of them and the dumplings I wanted them to retain their shape and stay slightly toothsome.

The beauty of this kind of cooking is you just work with what you’ve got. I could have put any number of vegetables into this dish, had I actually planned for it and go shopping to accomodate it. As it was, all I had in my fridge tonight was a handful of carrots, the last few stalks of a bunch of celery, some apples that needed to be cooked to be considered edible. I also had a couple of onions and a few bulbs of garlic. Because I like to have more than one homogenous green lump of mush on my plate at a meal I decided I’d roast the carrots, whole; and but the rest of what was lingering (some might say MA-lingering) in the fridge into the Arabian-style lentil-and-dumpling fry-up. I chopped everything up kinda chunky. I heated a humungo skillet over medium and added some oil. I tossed all the veg and apples in and sauteed them all around until they got kinda tender and aromatic. Then I heaped a few generous tablespoons of the Arabian baharat into the pan, along with some sea salt, and stirred it all together. Then I added in the drained lentils, strained dumplings and very carefully mixed it all around until the seasoned veg & fruit were all incorporated. Add in a little lemon zest and juice, and voila….dinner.

Baharat-Spiced Lentils with Cumin-Cornmeal Dumplings, Roasted Carrots, a blob of soy yogurt & a lemon wedge cuz we's fancy.

Yeah, so. This meal isn’t winning me any awards from Gourmet Foodz Unlimited but both my kids had second helpings, and frankly, those are usually the highest accolades I can hope to achieve since deciding to breed. Plus, you know. Kids voluntarily eating lentils and vegetables. Honestly? That’s gotta be worth a plaque or certificate or something.

Oh – were you wondering how to roast a carrot? Preheat oven to 425F. Peel (or don’t) all the carrots (of similar thicknesses) you think you can eat. Put them on a roasting sheet. Drizzle them with oil. Sprinkle with salt & pepper. Roast for 25 – 35 minutes or until they look kinda like that picture. Nom. Feel the vitamin A seep into your eyeballs. Be happy.

Clockwise from the top: Cheezy Tofu Scramble, Banana-Berry Smoothie, Sauteed Spinach, Garlic & Mushrooms, Veggie Sausage Patties, Roasted Rosemary Nugget Taters

I’ll let the photo speak for itself, but I do just wanna say – I make the best goddamned scrambled tofu on Earth. Yes I do.

For a few years now, Friday night has been pizza night at our house. My kids have very specific tastes. My son likes Yves pepperoni, mozza “cheese”, green olives, and pineapple chunks. My daughter just likes Yves pepperoni and mozza “cheese”. My husband and I like to pile on all manner of things our kids won’t touch with a ten foot pole – tons and tons of greens, fresh onions and garlic, pesto, artichoke hearts, capers, hot peppers, very thinly sliced potatoes, sauerkraut, you name it. We put it on there.

A Vast Sea of Vegan PIzza

Back in the days before Daiya vegan cheese, I would buy Vegan Gourmet by Earth Island (if I was feeling flush) or else I’d use my old standby nutritional yeast-based sauce, which frankly works really well on pizza and all other things that require a ‘melty’ topping. But Daiya has reigned supreme here at our house since August 2009, and unless something even better comes along, I can’t see that changing any time soon.

I boasted on Twitter earlier that I was going to give away the secret to making making really fast, delicious thin crust pizza. Here is it. When you mix up the dough, you don’t let it rise. Not even once. You let the yeast foam in the warm liquid with a bit of sugar, yes. But after you stir in the flour, salt and any other seasonings you’re going to use, just press that dough ball right into your pan (preferably greased and generously sprinkled with coarse cornmeal) and pile it with toppings and then pop it in the oven immediately. It will still rise a bit in there – it won’t be cracker thin or anything – but I find no matter what dough recipe you use, or the quantity you’re making, if you don’t bother with letting the dough rise you’ll end up with a very tender, delicious, sturdy-yet-thin crust. Try it! The really beautiful thing about it? For me? Is it saves time like whoa.

So here’s my dough recipe. Try it, or use your own. As I said, with this technique it doesn’t much matter what recipe you start with.

2 1/4 – 3 cups flour (unbleached, whole wheat, spelt or any combination thereof)

2 1/4 tsp dry, active yeast (1 envelope if that’s how you roll)

2 tsp sea salt

1/2 cup each non-dairy milk and water

2 tbsp oil

1 tbsp sugar

Bring the “milk”, water, oil and sugar to a boil, then remove from heat, pour into a bowl, and let cool to lukewarm. Add the yeast and gently stir. Let rest for about 10 minutes or until it foams. Stir in the flour and salt, a bit at a time, until a soft dough forms. Roll out to 1/2 an inch or less thick, in the shape of whatever baking sheet or stone you are using. Preheat oven to 400F. Lightly grease the baking sheet or stone, sprinkle generously with cornmeal, and lay the dough out over it. Add desired toppings. Bake in a preheated oven for 15 – 20 minutes or until the edges look golden. Turn the broiler on for the last couple of minutes of cooking to get the “cheeze” bubbling. This dough recipe will make  enough pizza for 2 – 3 hungry folks to munch – double it if you’ve got more mouths to feed.

Now here’s where I add my caveat for these photos – I didn’t actually get my pizza into the oven right away. There was a small, non-life-threatening family crisis almost immediately after I rolled the dough out tonight and I had to step away from the kitchen for about half an hour. In that time period the dough rose slightly more than it would have if I’d just continued to work quickly and efficiently; so these photos don’t really do the thin crust technique I described justice. I am proud to say, however, that this pizza still tasted super duper fabulous and so even if you don’t get the thin crust thing right, you won’t be disappointed.

Oh, in case you were wondering what’s on there tonight – we’ve got an organic tomato sauce, a bunch of crushed fresh garlic, a full pound of organic arugula (amazing how those greens cook down, ain’t it?), Yves veggie pepperoni, Daiya Italian-style “cheese”, black olives, sauteed button mushrooms, marinated artichoke hearts and a healthy dose of my homemade vegan parmesan (ground almonds + nutritional yeast). My husband ate his with a few splashes of Sriacha sauce too.

I took really nice photos today (in natural light!) of the toasted sesame & apple cider vinegar hummus I made for the catch-up gab session I had with my BFF of 10+ years, but I forgot to put my the memory card back in my camera for them and because I don’t have a camera cord anymore I have no way of getting them off the internal memory. You’d think there’d be a function for that, but there isn’t. I will try and recreate the look of the lovely platter I put together tomorrow but honestly, I have such a short attention span for that stuff – the moment has passed, you know?

But that’s okay! Because I have some nice pics of tonight’s delicious dinner, which I have just decided to call “Hippy Cake Stacks”, because it is very funny. Maybe only to me.

Hippy Cakes stacked on perfectly crisped roasted potatoes, with layers of rainbow 'slaw

Honestly, though? This recipe is an old standby in our house, that I’ve been making since waaaaay back in the day, back before I was even vegetarian and these patties were in meal rotation simply because they are easy, and cheap (emphasis on cheap), to make. And I was being fed these kinds of Hippy Cakes as a kid in the 70s and 80s, because I was raised by a single mom who was broke a lot of the time and who understood the finer points of feedin’ a kid on the cheap without using a lot of convenience/fast food. I was lucky to have this experience as I grew up because it gave me an appreciation for how relatively simple it is to make wholesome, delicious and filling food even when you work a full time job and go to university full time, and have a very, very limited budget. My mom did that; and she taught me how too.

I bet you are wondering how to make perfectly crisped roasted potatoes. There is a trick to getting them jusssst right. First of all, use organic potatoes and leave the skins on. Then you cut each potato into quarters, and par-boil them for 5 – 7 minutes, until they are just soft on the outside and beginning to get slightly tender in the middle. Drain them, toss them back in the pot you parboiled them in, put the lid on and shake them around over the still-hot burner, just to rough up the edges a big and dry them off some. While they have been boiling you want to have placed a large casserole dish with a generous coating of oil  on the bottom of it into your oven and preheated it all to 425F. The oil should almost be smoking by the time the potatoes are parboiled. Carefully transfer them into the hot oil in the casserole dish, sprinkle them with salt and pepper, and pop them in the oven for about an hour, turning them every twenty minutes or so. At the end of that hour, they’ll be absolutely perfect. Crunchy skins, golden and cripsy edges, soft, hot, velvety insides. Mmmm. My family can devour an enormous quantity of these.

The coleslaw was leftover from our Dia de Los Muertos feast, which is why it’s looking a little pale pink all over here. The beets soaked into everything else. It doesn’t pop with colour the way it did two nights ago, but dayum, it still tastes great.

For dessert, I threw together a super easy chocolate chip snackin’ cake. It is kind of wild to me to think that I have been baking so much and for so long that I don’t even really need a recipe for things like this anymore. Luckily for you I remember exactly what I did.

Vegan Chocolate Chip Snackin’ Cake

1982 called, it wants its dessert back.

Dry mix:

3 cups flour

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 tbsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

1 1/2 cups chocolate chips (I like Cocoa Camino brand)

Wet mix:

1 cup non-dairy milk whisked with 1 tsp apple cider vinegar

1 cup canola, corn or sunflower oil

Line a 9×13″ pan with parchment, or grease & flour. Preheat oven to 350. In a large bowl, mix dry ingredients. In another bowl, mix the wet ingredients. Stir the dry into the wet until everything is well combined, but do not overmix. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes, or until the cake is golden around the edges and tests done when you poke a toothpick in the centre. Let cool 15 minutes before slicing. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days, if it lasts that long; longer if you keep it in the fridge.

This one is a little photo tutorial of our dinner tonight which was my basic Aglio e Olio (Garlic & Olive Oil) pasta dish, made with capellini – my favourite of the strand pastas! Capellini is a very thin, delicate noodle that holds up well  to a clingy sauce like this one (or any creamy sauce); as long as you know how to cook it properly! The danger with these thinner types of strand noodles (capellini, spaghettini, vermicelli, capelli d’angelo, fedelini) is they cook very fast compared to other pastas and if you walk away from that pot as they simmer away you risk ending up with mushy pasta. So, I’m going to give you a little talk about how to handle this type of pasta in order to maximize it’s texture. The sauce also cooks very fast – in fact, you barely want to cook it at all lest you burn the garlic and end up with a bitter mess of blackened olive oil. This is why this meal is great for those nights when you’re feeling too tired or pressed for time to do anything “fancy”.

First, you want to peel and chop a LOT of fresh garlic. For our family of four, I use two heads of garlic. I like to save time by place the peeled cloves in my Magic Bullet, with a few glugs of extra virgin olive oil.

Lookit all that 'lick!

Then I pulse the bullet a few times to get the garlic and olive oil to turn into a sort of chunky paste. Try not to overdo it if you’re using a machine like this – you still want a little texture in there. If you’re mincing all that garlic by hand, just get it as fine as you can without feeling frustrated. As soon as you feel frustrated, have a glass of wine and mince it a little more. Then stop and add it to your skillet with the olive oil and a healthy pinch or two of dried, flaked chili peppers.

To make this into a sauce, all you’ve gotta do is gently warm this mixture on medium-low heat, stirring it now and then, until it starts to sizzle and become aromatic and turn slightly brown. The second it starts to look like it’s turning brown, remove it from the heat! Garlic burns very quickly, and extra virgin olive oil isn’t very heat-stable. You just want all three flavours to meld together in one perfect sauce.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Noodles coated in olive oil, garlic and chili sound delicious but aren’t particularly nutritious. C’mon, fatty – where are your vegetables?” Watch it, now, grasshoppers. I don’t resent being called a fatty (I am, and a proud one at that) but I do resent the implication that I would serve this as a meal and call it done. Oh ho ho ho ho, no. One of the best things about this meal is that you can use the pasta  to build a beautiful single plate feast of textures and flavours that are held together by the common thread of delicious and healthful garlic and olive oil – and it can be different every time, depending on what you’ve got lurking around in your fridge or freezer! Tonight, for instance, I found a big old cauliflower that wasn’t going to last more than another day or two, and a lonely package of Tofurky sausages, Italian-style (perfect!). I chopped ’em all up into bite-sized bits and put them in their own pan with a touch of olive oil and fried them together for a few minutes, just enough to get a crisp, browned edge on everything.

I love the Tofurky sausages. In fact, I don’t think I’ve met a single person who doesn’t love the Tofurky sausages, vegans, vegetarians and meat-heads alike. What’s not to love? They’re packed with flavour, their texture is pretty much right on the money, and Tofurky avoided making the same fatal mistake most other vegan meat analogue companies have, which is trying to keep their products fat-free. Sorry, Yves et al – in my mind, the inclusion of some fat in these products is what makes or breaks their tastiness, and so far, Tofurky is winning the game in that respect.

I occurred to me, as I was stirring the Tofurky & cauliflower, that the dish was going to end up looking a little pale and that it could use a splash of colour. Normally I’d chop up a couple of tomatoes or red peppers but I had none in the house. I dug around in my freezer to find some peas, and oh, look! Some argula (aka rocket/roquet to my European readers) is waiting to be eaten too! Green would go well with this meal, for sure. At this point, I started the water boiling.

The first most important thing for you to remember about cooking pasta is, don’t be adding anything to the cooking water, except maybe some salt – and even that isn’t necessary (or even desirable, if you’re watching your sodium intake). Don’t add oil – it messes with the pastas cooking time and finished texture. Some people like to cook their pasta in stock, which isn’t such a bad idea if it’s veg stock (and oil-free); but please remember that pasta isn’t supposed to be flavourful – it’s supposed to be bland so that it can absorb the flavour from whatever sauces you use. And puddins? This aglio e olio sauce packs a big punch! You really want the garlic and earthy olive tones to shine on these noodles. The second most important thing to remember about cooking pasta is, use lots and lots and lots of water. You want those noodles to be really floating in there, not all crammed together. The number one reason people think they need to add oil to their pasta water is to prevent the noodles from sticking together; but noodles won’t stick together if you use enough water in your pot, and stir, stir, stir the heck out of them in the first couple of minutes after adding them to the pot. Bring that water to a high boil. Add salt, or not. Add the noodles (and tonight, I added the frozen peas, because the capellini cooks as fast as they do), and stir constantly until the water returns to a boil. If you want, you can walk away at this point for a couple of minutes, but always come back and give them another healthy stir or two before they are finished.

With a fast-cooking noodle like capellini, I like to keep a big cup of ice water beside the stove. When the timer goes (these are al dente in 4 minutes and über-tender in 6!) I turn the heat off, and dump the ice water right into the pot. This stops the cooking immediately!

Then they are drained immediately. DO NOT RINSE YOUR COOKED PASTA, YOU FOOL. I remember a room mate I had way back in my early cooking days counselling me to run my pasta under cold water for a minute or too after it was finished cooking. He insisted that his mother had taught him it was good to get rid of the “extra starch”. Now I can laugh about it – “extra starch”? What did he think pasta was? That “extra starch” is going to help whatever sauce you use adhere better to the noodles, to deliver maximum flavour impact.  Toss your unrinsed noodles & peas back into the pot (not on the same burner you were cooking them in – it’ll still be hot enough to burn them!). Add the aglio e olio, then toss it all together so the noodles get nice and coated. I find tongs work really well for this job, but a couple of forks or some wooden spoons will do well too. Be gentle – you don’t wanna mush or cut the noodles up.

At this point you wanna add whatever extras you’ve got on hand, like our pan-fried cauliflower and Tofurky sausages! Again, mix it very gently until everything is just tossed together, and serve hot. I plated mine on some fresh, organic arugula, and topped it with a generous helping of my Almosen Sprinkle (a mixture of ground almonds, nutritional yeast, and sea salt).

Capellini Aglio e Olio with peas, Tofurky, cauliflower & arugula

The addition of the chili flakes to the sauce really takes the flavour of this dish to a whole ‘nother level, but you can leave them out if you’re not a fan of their heat. I have also added a splash of white wine to the sauce right as it hit the sizzle point, just enough to add a hint of that dry, fruity flavour. Other delicious additions are a handful or two of minced, fresh parsley, chiffonade of basil, chopped sundried tomatoes, or ribbons of roasted red peppers. Mangia!

Just to be clear, I haven’t abandoned my “I Cook the Beatles” project. In fact I’m hoping to incorporate some of it into the Vegan Mofo 2010 thing I’ve got going on this year. But that may just prove to be a little too much intersectionality, even for me, so for now I’m not even going to pretend to have a theme.

This is my first VeganMofo, by the way. Despite having kept track of my vegan food expliots for many, many years on the internet (see: VeganMania, Kreeli’s Tasties, Hey Christa What’s for Dinner?, this blog and various and sundry vegan food topics on various and sundry message boards – both vegan and non-vegan) I have somehow avoided the whole vegan food blog craze. I kind of took myself out of the “vegan online” loop back in 2004/2005 when I quit participating on pretty much any message board that had veganism as a focus. I quit in a huff. I was a flouncer. I will talk about that more another time, but suffice it to say, I was completely disillusioned with the online vegan community, especially as my own my own feelings about radical anti-oppression politics expanded and grew. So, when I quit my once beloved Veggieboards, and Kittee implored me to join the PPK, I declined. I was still too burnt out and too stung. I was also in the very early stages of starting up my own vegan food business, which took up enormous amounts of my time and energy. After working on that all day, plus homeschooling my two kids – I had very little left for online shenanigans.

Things have changed a lot for me over the last five, six years, though. My kids are both in public school. My business grew and grew and grew…and then I stepped away from it. I still don’t regularly participate on an vegan-ccentric message boards (though I have signed up at the fledgling abolitionist board on Gary L Francione’s site); but I surely do appreciate the vegan food blog culture that has arisen as a result of them and I am feeling ready to jump into that particular fray. As far as spreading the good vegan word, talking about the food we eat is definitely the safe, least controversial way of doing it and it’s something that we can all relate to. Also, food is my passion. I love to eat. And coming from an art school-cum-housewife background, creating delicious, enticing and family-friendly meals is a way for me to at once take care of those I love, and express myself creatively. So here I am…one more Vegan Mofo to add to the list of 700 of you out there. I feel so grateful that so much good information is being shared about vegan cooking and food so easily nowadays. When I first started, waaaay back in the mid-1990s, the pickins were slim online and there weren’t a tenth of the commercially available cookbooks we can buy now. Way to go, fellow MoFos, way to go. I’m really excited to be taking part.

Without further ado, I present to you my family’s vegan Dia de los Muertos feast.

Vegan "Mexican" Food

We enjoy a Mexican feast of this calibre every year around this time. I normally try to prepare it on November 1st bur this year neither my daughter nor I felt well enough to enjoy such luxurious magnificence, so we delayed it by a day. It turned out that the actual Dia de los Muertos was November 2nd this year, so it was probably our ancestors way of telling us we were doing it wrong to begin with.

I have been making vegan enchiladas for years but they aren’t particularly authentic. First, I have a hard time sourcing corn tortillas locally. Second, I use a tomato-based sauce, knowing full well that real enchilada sauce has no tomato whatsoever, but derrives it’s red colour from pure chili peppers alone. In some ways, you could almost call these a casserole dishes filled with non-traditional ingredients my attempt at making a Mexi-style lasagna. But you know what? I’m not Mexican, nor do I have Mexican heritage. I also put tofu in my “ancient grains” hippy tortillas.

Tofutti "Better Than Cream Cheese", refried pinto beans, black olives, on whole grain tortillas

Baked tofu, broccoli & hot pickled banana peppers in a creamy concoction

We’re not going for authenticity here, folks – and that may be for the best, since I’m not super fond of pork fat in my beans.

Guacamole should never be a homogenous green paste!

I am, however, fond of guacamole on my pseudo-enchiladas.

Adding to the non-authenticity are these incredible polenta fries.

Just cornmeal, water, seasonings, oil and an oven!

Polenta isn’t Mexican. But it sure is delicious! Especially cooled, cut into sticks, baked until crispy and then dipped in a chipotle-Vegenaise aioli.

And since we have gone all over the globe procuring ingredients and flavours from several different cultures, I figured why not bring the Germans into it, with this delicious coleslaw.

cabbage, carrots, beets, green onions & a lime-chili vinaigrette

By far, my kids favourite part of the annual Dia de los Muertos feast we prepare is the Pan de Muertos (literally translates to “Dead Bread”) and the spicy hot chocolate I brew up for us to dip it into. Normally I make up a big loaf, shaped into a skull, with little bread “bones” stuck all around the edges, but this year we decided to try something new and made, instead, 16 individually-sized skull-shaped buns. It was a fun way to get the kids involved in preparing the meal and we got some very creative skull-and-bones bread sculptures out of the oven. The only sad thing was, I realized too late that the yeast we were using in this batch of bread wasn’t filled with the joie de vive that I needed it to feel and the bread didn’t really rise. Oddly enough, it still produced some very edible and dare I say delicious – if dense – little skull biscuits, that tasted juuuust fine. Especially dipped in our cups of chili-and-cinnamon laced thick hot chocolate.

Pan de Muertos & Spicy Hot Chocolate

There were no actual complaints; though the perfectionist in me was sorely tempted to chuck the whole batch out and start anew, even if it meant we wouldn’t be eating dessert until 3am. This is progress for me, people!

This year I skipped making the molé; normally I do that up with some Mexi-rice on the side, but I kept the gathering low-key since my husband was working in the evening and I wasn’t going to be feeding as many people as we usually do. As it is, I’ve got an entire tray of mixed enchiladas in my freezer just waiting for the next evening I’m too wiped to prepare something from scratch. Anything fiddly like that, that involves a lot of rolling and stuffing, I try to make extra of. It’s the housewife in me – she knows that it’s the chest freezer, and not Valium, that’s really mother’s little helper on the roughest of days.

O-bla-di O-bla-da, Life Goes On

August 2017
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