Hope Sinks


Carnitas!
August 15, 2008, 2:46 pm
Filed under: Cooking, Veganism | Tags: , , , ,

Now, I’m a Canadian. As my husband is constantly reminding me, that means I have no idea when it comes to Mexican food. While I know me a good burrito when I eat one and know enough to know that the “Mexican” restaurant here in town (Julio’s Barrio) sucks, he’s probably right about the rest of it. I don’t know a torta from a flauta from a churro, and, until yesterday, I didn’t really know what carnitas were either. Thanks and praise be, therefore, to the mighty melisser for posting her recipe for carnitas that use young jackfruit in the place of meat.

Jackfruit is weird.

Jackfruit is weird.

Wikipedia tells me that carnitas is a type of heavily seasoned braised or roasted pork that is relatively common in Mexican cuisine. The meat is used to make tacos, sandwiches (tortas, apparently), burritos, and any number of other dishes. I’ve heard about young jackfruit as a substitute for meat (particularly pulled pork type meat) from a couple of different people now, so when the husband gave me a can of young green jackfruit as a parting gift on one of my last visits, I knew it would eventually get made into carnitas. Unfortunately, I’m lazy and a big procrastinator so that can of jackfruit had been sitting in my cupboard for several months by the time I finally got around to doing anything with it, but I had the day off and the kitchen to myself yesterday, and as luck would have it, I was feeling homesick for San Francisco and wanted some Mexican food. The time was right.

Uncooked jackfruit with salsa verde, garlic, onions, and seasonings in the crock pot before cooking.

Uncooked jackfruit with salsa verde, garlic, onions, and seasonings in the crock pot before cooking.

Having never tasted either jackfruit or carnitas, I felt like I was flying a little blind with this recipe. Melisser doesn’t list quantities for the seasonings in her recipe, so I guessed as best I could (I tended to go heavier on the smoked paprika and oregano than the cayenne and cumin) and came out with (I think) a pretty satisfactory result. I also had never really tasted salsa verde (in fact, I had never seen salsa verde for sale in Edmonton before until a recent visit to the new Sobey’s market on Jasper Avenue and 104 st., where I shelled out $12 for a container big enough for the recipe – a flagrant rip off), so I wasn’t sure how all the spices called for would interact with those (if any) already in the salsa. I guess you can see why I felt like I was flying blind…

Melisser’s recipe cooks up the jackfruit in a crock pot with a bunch of salsa verde, onion, garlic, lime, and spices. Melisser likes to let her jackfruit simmer for 8 hours, but I’m not that organized. I originally planned to give it 2 hours, but in the end, I think my jackfruit cooked for about 4 hours, during which time I added a couple of tomatoes I had on hand that were about to go off.

My best guesses seemed to be okay, since my carnitas came out savory and with just a bit of kick. The green salsa leant a distinctive flavour to the dish, though if you asked me, I wouldn’t be able to tell you what it tasted like. It is apparently impossible to get corn tortillas in Edmonton. I was forced to use mini flour torts instead, and next time, I’d like to make my own corn ones.

Cooked jackfruit and seasonings in the crock pot.

Cooked jackfruit and seasonings in the crock pot.

On the husband’s recommendation, I topped the carnitas with pico de gallo (which he informed me is a traditional Mexican “chopped sauce,” or chopped tomatoes, onions, and chiles – plus whatever else you care to add – I added lime juice and cilantro) and a bit of lettuce and extra cilantro. The result was awesome. It didn’t taste like the the packaged Old El Paso taco meat of my childhood at all. Instead, the jackfruit took on a bit of the zest of the salsa and the smokiness from the smoked paprika (a wonder ingredient in my opinion). The rest of the flavours blended together nicely, and while I have no way of knowing how authentic my carnitas was, I do know it was tasty and that I’ll make it again.

Finished product in tortilla with homemade pico de gallo. Mmmm.

Finished product in tortilla with homemade pico de gallo. Mmmm.



Bagelsbagelsbagelsbagels!
July 24, 2008, 12:20 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

If you’re anything like me, baking with yeast seems like too much of a hassle most of the time. Looking at it rationally, I know that the only real difference between yeast baking and “regular” baking is that I need to find something else to do for an hour or so while the dough rises when I bake with yeast. It’s not really a big deal, especially given the backlog of books I have to get through, but it seems I have a mental block about baking with yeast. For me, when you add a boil/bake process into the mix, you’ve got pretty much my own personal last frontier of baking. I’m in the middle of a 9-day stretch of working without a day off, but today I only have a short evening shift and have the house to myself until I leave, so since Isa recently posted a tester bagel recipe, I figured I’d take a whack at bagels for the first time ever.

Though I live in Edmonton, Alberta (right in the middle of the Canadian prairies and not exactly a bagel haven), I do know from good bagels, having lived in Montreal, Quebec for four years during my undergraduate degree. Montreal, for the uninformed, is home to some of the more famous bagels in the world (no, serious) and certainly the best bagels in Canada. St. Viateur Bagel and Fairmont Bagel are both open 24 hours, constantly cranking out bagels (and sometimes matzoh). Whenever I would come back to Edmonton from Montreal, I was bombarded with orders for dozens of sesame and poppyseed. It wasn’t unusual for me to run 6 or 8 dozen bagels back home. Sadly, all “Montreal Style” bagels contain egg, so in the past 5.5 years, I’ve been making do with crappy Dempster’s bagels.

The recipe is pretty basic and makes plain, white bagels, which, really, is exactly what you tend to want in a bagel. The preparation took a bit over 2 hours, but a lot of that was idle time spend listening to the radio and dicking around on the internet, not actively cooking. The skills required to make bagels are pretty basic. All you really need to know is how to knead dough (easy) and form blobs of dough into passable bagel shapes (less easy, but not too hard and something I suspect gets quickly easier with practise).

I can’t write much about the recipe or process, so instead, I’ll just leave you with my final impression: making bagels made me feel really accomplished. My husband said they look “retarded,” but I think that’s supposed to be kind of compliment, and fuck him anyway. If I do nothing else today, I will have at least done this! I urge you all to try out an intimidating or time-consuming recipe you’ve been eyeing this week. Also, here are a couple pictures, but they’re not very good. Maybe I’ll use this afternoon to read up on digital photography…



Apple
June 27, 2008, 9:56 am
Filed under: Veganism | Tags: , , , , , , ,

My grandma makes something she calls Baked Apple. It’s something of a misnomer, since it’s not actually a baked apple, but a thick applesauce with a sweet bread-crumb-ish topping. It’s super simple, but really flavourful and satisfying in really any season.

When my grandma makes it, she uses homemade applesauce, which is both a nicer colour (kind of pinkish – delightful!) and more flavourful and tart. When I had my craving this morning at breakfast, I only had unsweetened store-bought sauce, so I made do with that, but I highly recommend making your own applesauce if you have the time – it’s easy and so much better than the store-bought alternatives.

For my version, I put about a cup of applesauce into a small corningware dish. For the topping, I didn’t have any breadcrumbs, so I made a mixture of about 1/3 cup large flake oats, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1.5 tbsp vegan margarine, and 1 tbsp flax seed. I mixed it all together and then crumbled it on top of the applesauce. I threw the whole thing into the oven at 400 degrees and baked it on up for about 20 minutes.

The result was a satisfying, reasonably healthy breakfast I hadn’t eaten 800 times before. I’d like to get my grandma’s recipe for this and do it up proper, and I’ll be sure to write about it when I do.



Moroccan
June 27, 2008, 9:23 am
Filed under: Veganism | Tags: , , , , , ,

I find myself house sitting this past week (and next week) or so, and I’m really enjoying having a kitchen all to myself. The first 5 days I was pretty slack on feeding myself (I had either a burrito or nachos for pretty much every meal, which is fine with me but boring). Yesterday I had the full day off, so I decided to make the best of it by trying out a new recipe. I’m broke until payday, so I had to find something that wouldn’t require a lot of ingredients I didn’t already have. I just happened to have come across Mark Bittman’s NYT food blog for the first time yesterday, so for dinner, I decided to adapt the recipe of the day from that site: Shrimp in Moroccan-Style Tomato Sauce.

The recipe itself was super simple, so the challenge became finding a good substitute for the shrimp. Now I’ve been vegan over five years and was vegetarian for a good 8 years before that, so I’m pretty good with the cravings (that is, I don’t really get them). I don’t really miss any non-vegan foods, but if you were to grill me, you’d find that the thing I come closest to missing is seafood. I’m a prairie girl, so good seafood was awful hard to come by in my childhood, but I have some pretty fond memories of eating salmon jerky on Vancouver Island and shrimp and clams and things while camping on the coast. I don’t crave this stuff, but because I had such a taste for it when I ate meat, I think I’m pickier about subbing for seafood now that I keep vegan, so I wanted to find a tasty, nice-textured substitute for the shrimp in this recipe. What I ended up with was medium-firm tofu.

It probably sounds overly simple, but what immediately sprung to mind when thinking about the texture of shrimp was this tofu. What I ended up doing was slicing an entire medium block into cubes about 3/4″ and throwing it all in a skillet with some olive oil (maybe 3 tbsp – I didn’t want the tofu to stick and come apart) and 3 cloves of chopped up garlic and about a teaspoon of sea salt. I fried all this up over medium heat for about 15 minutes. I stirred it occasionally, but I tried to keep it so that only really one side of the tofu got browned/firmed up at all.

After the 15 minutes were up, I started on the tomato sauce, which was super easy and really only involved sauteeing the spices and ginger in oil and then adding the tomatoes to simmer for 20 minutes or so and then combining with the “shrimp.” Served over white basmati rice with a lime wedge on the side and cilantro on top, this was an amazing summer meal that I highly recommend you all try. Oh, one quick note on the recipe: Bittman writes in his intro to this recipe that basically, this is normal tomato sauce with the spices changed up. I say why stop at Moroccan? Since this is so easy and cheap, it’s a great one to try with different spice combos and maybe to use to introduce yourself to some new tastes!



San Francisco Round Up
May 28, 2008, 8:56 pm
Filed under: Veganism | Tags: , ,

So I’m back from San Francisco. To add insult to the injury of being back in my shitty old town, my husband is seeing Iron Maiden tonight (as I type, he’s in a car with 4 friends eating vegan cookies and popcorn, that bastard). Granted, I’m waiting for my sister so we can head out and see Battles (for free, even), and an old friend from university is in town and hanging out tomorrow, but I’m still sad that I’m no longer in San Francisco and will be sleeping alone for the next month at the very least.

Anyway.

Each time I’ve been to SF I’ve meant to write afterwards about the food. Here in Edmonton, vegan food can be difficult to come by, and oftentimes, if I want something either specific or specifically well made, I have to make it myself. San Francisco is a whole ‘nother ball of wax. Where I live (when I’m there) is 4 short blocks away from one of the greatest grocery stores I’ve ever known: Rainbow Grocery. Though native SFers tend to criticize Rainbow for being expensive (which, okay, it can be), the selection makes up for it. Rainbow carries Sjaak’s vegan caramel chocolate bars, more kinds of Tofurkey than I’ve ever seen, three colours of organic beets, and even cast-iron frying pans. Plus, it’s a cooperatively run place that closes not on xmas or easter but on May Day and Hugo Chavez Day, and it carries all kinds of local products (Black China Bakery, Peasant Pies, Maggie Mudd, and countless local farmers).

I didn’t eat out as much this time as I have in the past, but I did have a few meals worth mentioning (though I only got photos of one thing – apologies!). The first night in town, my husband took me to the Jasmine Tea House, which isn’t a vegan or even vegetarian restaurant but which has the greatest mock chicken I’ve ever had. Try it kung pao or sweet and sour style. Located in the heart of the Mission district, the Jasmine Tea House also has the added bonus of being a fun bus ride from my place. This time around, I sat next to a crazy drunk man who called my husband chubby and pontificated on the merits of John McCain for a whole 10 minutes.

Next meal out was breakfast at Boogaloo’s on Valencia Street. While Boogaloo’s isn’t altogether vegan oriented, there are some good items on the menu (I had the tofu scramble with ranchero salsa and mushroom, and husband had tofu scramble with ginger peanut sauce; both of us had fruit in lieu of hash and also rye toast) and great diner-style coffee, which I love.

That night, I hit up Bender’s bar on South Van Ness (a short 10-minute walk from home). Bender’s is not only a cool place to drink (with good beer on tap and a good happy hour and good music), but they serve the vegan fish and chips from Weird Fish! While I haven’t been to the flagship Weird Fish store, if what Lukas cooks up at Bender’s is any indication, it must kick ass. The vegan fish and chips at Bender’s consists of a couple pieces of battered and deep-fried seitan with a gingery sesame sauce and a big basket of home-cut fries. It’s pretty much the perfect thing to eat while drinking. Incidentally, that’s also what I ate on my wedding night, so it will always have a place in my heart.

Next up (and last but not least on the list of restaurants I visited this trip) was the brand new The Usual Suspects Cafe. I was tipped off about this place by my friend melisser, whose new baking venture, Sugar Beat Sweets, is providing the desserts for the Cafe. Now, I complained about San Franciscans who complained about the Herbivore restaurants in the Bay Area. I figured they were being unnecessarily snobby and didn’t appreciate what they had. I’ve only eaten at Herbivore one time, and it was okay, but the food was uninspired, and from what I’ve heard, the staff and management of Herbivore don’t care all that much about veganism or animals or creating really great vegan/veg*n food. This is absolutely not the case at The Usual Suspects. While there is (for the time being, anyway) cheese on the menu, the offerings at Suspects are largely vegan, with an assortment of vegan cheeses (including cashew cheese and macadamia nut cheese). In addition, the kitchen staff are vegans who interned at Millennium, and boy did they do a good job.

The fettucine with pesto, seitan, and oyster mushrooms that I had was perfect. The seitan (which was house made) was just the right consistency; the pasta was cooked perfectly; the pesto was flavorful without being an overpowering garlic paste. The salad was generous and topped with a delicious cherry balsamic dressing. The picture I took doesn’t do it justice, but trust me when I say that if you live in the Bay Area, you should be visiting this place. To top it all off, the chocolate cake with peanut butter caramel (yeah – holy shit!) that I ordered for dessert was so amazing I didn’t get a photo. The cake was moist and flavorful, certainly delicious on its own, but the caramel was perfect. Sticky, thick enough to hold a bit of shape on the cake but without it being too hard and tearing the cake. I could eat this stuff plain and in disgustingly large quantities.

UPDATE: Unfortunately, since the writing of this post, The Usual Suspects closed its doors. It came to light that the owner failed to treat the staff, particularly the kitchen staff, with any kind of professionalism or respect, and so they have walked out. From what I hear, the cafe is attempting to stay open, but I urge you not to support an establishment that abuses its staff. Besides, the real genius of the cafe, the chefs and bakers, are gone and are reportedly going to be opening up a place in Portland ASAP! Sugar Beat Sweets is still fully operational, so be sure to buy their stuff if you’re in the Bay Area!

Finally, I wanted to mention the beers of San Francisco. Not that all the stuff I drank was made in SF, but holy crap do San Franciscans ever know their beer. If you’re in the Bay Area and like to drink at all, be sure to check out City Beer!



4:00 am
May 20, 2008, 8:49 pm
Filed under: Good Days, Sundries, Veganism

I have to get up at 4:00 am tomorrow so I can get on a plane for San Francisco. Don’t get excited – it’s not for good. I was originally going to do job interviews/be there for my husband’s birthday, but now the focus is on the birthday and on the appointment I made to (at long last) speak to an immigration lawyer (well, a legal aid immigration lawyer – read: read a lawyer who isn’t trying to convince me to retain them).

Oh, and I’m going to eat while I’m there, too. Lots, I hope. I’ll keep you posted!



The Real Deal
May 15, 2008, 8:25 pm
Filed under: Veganism | Tags: , ,

My mom is in town, so I spent the day with her and my little brother and sister. We met up at Cafe Mosaics, where I was finally able to fulfill my salad lust (see yesterday’s post) with the Mosaics Salad at Cafe Mosaics. Mosaics Salad

We had a lovely lunch and then headed out for a walk in the river valley. It was hot today (26 degrees C / 82-ish degrees F) and sunny, and after walking around for an hour or so, we were ready for something cold. We headed to Da Capo for vegan gelato.

Da Capo had that awesome kind of vegan gelato/sorbet (I never know what to call it) that is so smooth it seems creamy and always freaks me out for the first couple bites or so. I had a scoop of lemon and a scoop of raspberry to cool off, and it totally hit the spot.

Cold Chill

We then headed back to my brother and sister’s house while my mom headed back to her sister’s place for a break before heading to Bacon for dinner. I was worried that I wouldn’t be hungry enough to do Bacon justice (it’s my favorite local restaurant, and I don’t go all that often), but I needn’t have worried. Bacon is a perfect summer restaurant. The door was propped open, and there was a warm breeze and sun streaming in the large front windows. Catherine and I both ordered the Australian Mountain Pepper Berry Ale from Edmonton’s new-ish Amber’s Brewing Company. This beer rules, and you all should try it.

Ale

For starters, we ordered a couple of the vegan Poutines (roasted sweet and regular potatoes with an amazing miso sesame gravy), which I failed to get a photo of. For my meal, I ordered my standby, the Vancouver Rice Bowl, which contains brown rice, grated raw beets and carrots, sprouts, cucumber, sauteed greens, tofu coated with a nutritional yeast and sesame seeds and then fried all up, wasabi-dill dressing, and sesame miso gravy.

Bowl

Finally, I just found out that Bacon does Vegan Wednesdays. I didn’t ask what exactly that means, but I’m stoked and will report back with my findings on my next available Wednesday.

Vegan Wednesday