Stovetop Smashed Potatoes | With Creamy Lemon-Dill Tahini Dipping Sauce

As a youngster in the 1980s – like most kids then and now – I’d base my opinion of a restaurant almost exclusively on the way in which the food was packaged, and of equal importance, on the swag that accompanied the meal. This meant that fast food chains ranked very high in my list of top dining establishments, namely McDonald’s with it Happy Meals (anyone remember those highly-coveted Muppet Babies figurines?) and Burger King with its 3 packs of mini hamburgers aka ‘Burger Bundles’, which for all their frivolity were likely the prequel to the now omnipresent ‘slider’. I don’t recall particularly enjoying the food at these places; I was sold on them for the toys and whimsically-presented meals alone.
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Back then I hadn’t yet acquired an awareness of the marketing tactics of fast food chains, hell bent as they are on getting kids addicted to bad-for-you foods via an assortment of crafty ploys, from gimmicky packaging and tie-ins to the latest TV show or blockbuster movie, to on-site ‘play places’ where kids can work off their soda-induced sugar highs. The guile and cunning of these companies really is extraordinary; I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find out their marketing team include someone with a degree in child psychology – someone with the know-how to exploit the addictive potential of their young customers’ developing psyches!
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Despite the cynicism I’ve acquired in adulthood about pretty much every aspect of fast food, I still recall with real fondness the experience of my parents taking me to eat at White Spot, a chain of burger joints exclusive to Western Canada. When I was little, White Spot earned my intense affection for its kids meal called the Pirate Pak, tantalizingly served in a cardboard schooner, complete with a sail impaled on a straw and best of all, a gold foil covered chocolate dubloon. Sure, the Pirate Pak was White Spot’s own little ruse to entice children to eat at their restaurants, but you have to admit it’s a pretty cool concept, and refreshingly void of any sort of corporate tie-in.
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While in recent years White Spot has ditched its soda jerk vibe and morphed into a somewhat generic family restaurant, I still eat there regularly – if not for the atmosphere then for the delicious provolone-portobello veggie burger and cheap pints of Nat Bailey Pale Ale. Their brunches are also the best in town (I even requested to be taken their this past Mother’s Day). The smashed potatoes in this post (which are basically potatoes which have been boiled, flattened slightly, then pan-fried until crispy in a skillet) are my attempt to emulate the ones that are served alongside practically every item on the White Spot brunch menu.
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While they’re great as a side dish for breakfast or brunch – I think they’d go particularly well with a frittata or omelette – the creamy lemon-dill tahini sauce I made to accompany them makes them a perfect appetizer or snack, too. Typically the thought of pairing something pan-friend with something creamy strikes me as a bit much – but here there’s not that much to feel guilty about, as the potatoes are fried using minimal oil, and the sauce’s creaminess comes from a blend of tahini and egg-free mayo. OK, it’s still not the saintliest of recipes, but I guarantee it’s better for you than a Happy Meal 🙂
Recipe: Stovetop Smashed Potatoes | With Creamy Lemon-Dill Tahini Dipping Sauce
Ingredients:
Stovetop Smashed Potatoes
  • 16 red potatoes, scrubbed clean (choose potatoes that are no larger than 2″ in diameter)
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Creamy Lemon-Dill Tahini Sauce

  • 1 medium garlic bulb
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • Zest and juice of 1 medium lemon
  • 1/4 cup tahini
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons vegan mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh dill
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method:

Prepare potatoes

  1. Place potatoes in a large stock pot and cover with water.
  2. Bring pot to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
  3. Let potatoes cook until tender all the way through, about 15-20 minutes.
  4. Drain and set aside to cool.

Roast garlic for sauce

  1. While potatoes are cooking, preheat oven to 425F.
  2. Peel outmost layers of skin from garlic bulb.
  3. Place garlic on an approx. 6″ x 6″ piece of aluminum foil and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
  4. Bundle aluminum foil tightly around garlic.
  5. Place in oven and roast until garlic cloves are soft, about 30 minutes.
  6. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

Finish sauce

  1. Once garlic has cooled enough to handle, carefully remove skin from each clove (the clove should separate easily from the skin).
  2. Place garlic cloves in food processor along with tahini, vegan mayonaise, lemon zest and juice.
  3. Blend everything until completely smooth.
  4. Taste mixture and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  5. Transfer mixture to small bowl and stir in minced dill.
  6. Cover and store in fridge until needed.

Finish potatoes

  1. Once potatoes are cool enough to handle, flatten each one slightly. Do this by holding potato between your index finger and thumb of one hand and pressingly down gently with the heel of your other hand. Don’t press too hard or your potato will fall apart!
  2. After flattening each potato, heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
  3. Once oil is hot, transfer your flattened potatoes to the skillet. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
  4. Pan fry potatoes until crispy, about 3-4 minutes on each side.
  5. Remove from heat and serve, topping each portion with a dollop or two of Creamy Lemon-Dill Tahini Sauce. Eat!

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Crispy Baked Polenta Wedges | With Fresh Cut Strawberry, Cucumber and Lime Salsa

Parents make a fairly accurate claim when they say that having a kid is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. I’m not even talking about the pushing-the-baby-0ut part – although I still stand by my assertion that being in labour feels (in my experience) like being hit repeatedly in the abdomen (and back) with a sledge hammer. The real work comes with figuring out just how to handle the darned thing once he or she pops out as a fully-formed infant.
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I used to roll eyes derisively behind my Ray-Bans when a parent would bemoan to me their toddler-induced exhaustion. But now that I have a toddler of my own I know only too well what they’re talking about: the non-stop night nursing, the refusal to eat certain foods (and the subsequent hurtling of said foods across the room or in the direction of the dog), the panic-inducing (for me) thrill seeking (my little guy loves to scale to the highest heights unassisted), the obsessive manhandling of only the filthiest household items (plunger and toilet brush), the seemingly unprovoked, back-arching tantrums. I could go on and on. I love the little sucker to bits and am growing more obsessed by the day – I even look at pictures of him on my phone while he’s napping – but HOLY COW does he put me through the paces at every conceivable moment!
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At a certain point one gets to thinking about taking a bit of a vacay, especially on days like today when the dog woke you up at 2am in the throes of diarrhea. Oh wait, except as a parent of a young child a true vacation – one where you can kick back with your oversized cocktail of choice and not have to worry about the proximity of your kid to the pool, and other potentially life-threatening considerations – isn’t really an option. Neither is leaving him with the in-laws, because as burned out as I feel at times the thought of not being around him for even a few days puts a very large and sappy tear in my eye. At any rate, we’ve decided to attend a friend’s wedding in Puerto Vallarta – although it’s not until November and I’m sure I’ll spend 99 percent of my time there chasing the little guy around with a tube of sun screen and worrying about the possibility of shark attacks, kidnappings and other statistically improbably occurrences. Being a parent has transformed me into the ultimate worry wart!
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While our sojourn to Mexico is still 6 months away (will I still be sane by then?), as soon as I was finished booking our seats with the travel agent my mind reverted to its favourite topic: food. And in this instance, Mexican food. My favourite item of Mexican cuisine, apart from a big old Mission-style burrito cram packed with fresh veggies, is also the most simple: fresh cut salsa paired with crispy tortilla chips (and an ice cold bottle of Sol, of course).
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Fresh cut salsa typifies the notion that food doesn’t have to be complicated to be delicious. I love how the ripe tomatoes, cilantro, the mild bite of sweet onion and fresh lime juice come together and form something so bright and balanced on my taste buds. The salsa in this post deviates from the traditional by replacing tomatoes with strawberries, whose juicy sweetness is tempered perfectly by lime juice, minced shallot and jalapeno. It tastes great with tortilla chips (of course) or tossed into a green salad, but here I’ve made it into a nice light lunch and served it over baked polenta wedges – golden and crispy on the outside; warm and tender of the inside. Our vacation is still merely a dot on the horizon, but dishes such a this will do a decent job of tiding me over 🙂
Recipe: Crispy Baked Polenta Wedges | With Fresh Cut Strawberry, Cucumber and Lime Salsa
Serves 3-4
Ingredients:
Baked Polenta Wedges
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 2 1/2 cups unsweetened almond milk)
  • 1 tablespoon vegan margarine
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast or vegan parmesan
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon or so of extra virgin olive oil
Strawberry, Cucumber and Lime Salsa
  • 1/2 cup cucumber, skin and seeds removed and diced small
  • 1/2 cup strawberries, diced small
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeds removed and diced small
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 1 medium lime, juiced
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Method:

Prepare Salsa

  1. Place lime juice and salt in a medium bowl and whisk to combine.
  2. Add cucumber, strawberries, cilantro, jalapeno and shallot to bowl and gently toss until everything is combined.
  3. Cover bowl and place in refrigerator until needed.

Prepare Baked Polenta Wedges

  1. Lightly grease an 8×8 pan with olive oil and set aside.
  2. Place almond milk in a medium saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer.
  3. Whisk in cornmeal then switch to a spoon as mixture thickens. Stir until liquid is fully absorbed.
  4. Remove from heat and stir in margarine and nutritional yeast (or parmesan), and a bit of salt and pepper.
  5. Immediately transfer polenta to prepared pan and smooth top with a wet spatula.
  6. Place in refrigerator for 45 minutes, or until firm.
  7. While polenta is in fridge lightly grease a baking sheet with olive oil.
  8. Once polenta is firm, remove from fridge and preheat oven to 375F.
  9. Flip polenta onto a cutting board and cut into wedges.
  10. Transfer polenta wedges onto prepared baking sheet and brush tops with a bit of olive oil.
  11. Place in oven for 45 minutes or until tops are crispy and golden brown.

Assemble

  • Transfer polenta wedges to serving plates and top each portion with a few scoops of salsa. Eat!

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Quinoa and Roasted Cherry Tomato Salad | With Lemon Vinaigrette and Toasted Sunflower Seeds

For those of you who participated in Virtual Vegan Potluck this past Saturday, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. The scope of recipes that was brought to the table was remarkable, as was the care and expertise with which each dish was presented. I was really inspired by how creative – and in many cases, outright gourmet – the dishes were, flying in the face of any negative stereotype of ‘vegan potluck food’ one might hold. Vegan bloggers are clearly a talented lot! If you’re interested in checking out the potluck from the beginning, you can do so here.

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I also was super impressed by how smoothly the potlcuk came together – although I’m sure Annie at An Unrefined Vegan and Somer at Vedged Out, who coordinate the event, would disagree; just a guess, but rounding up 160+ bloggers from around the world and figuring out the logistics of getting them to post in unison must be a bit of migraine headache. I admire her dedication to making the whole thing happen!

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My sweet tooth was given full expression with the Salted Triple Chocolate Brownies I made for the potluck. Maybe the best thing about vegan baking is that you can sneak spoonfuls of the batter without risking salmonella poisoning, something I fully took advantage of while I was making my brownies. By the time I’d finished photographing and then sampling the final product, I felt like I’d definitely reached my sugar quota for the week, maybe even the month! Whenever that happens – and it certainly wasn’t the first time – I feel the need to ‘undo the damage’ wrought by the demonic baked good in question via a super healthy concoction of some sort.

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… Which is where this salad comes into the picture. Being a quinoa salad, it’s inherently nutritious – but with the bold flavours of marinated artichoke hearts, sweet balsamic-roasted cherry tomatoes, fresh basil, lemon zest and crunchy radishes and toasted sunflower seeds, it’s anything but rabbit food! It makes a satisfying lunch on its own, and is also great as a side dish – but maybe the best way to enjoy this salad – and I only discovered this with the leftovers – is to bundle it up in a wrap and eat it that way. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised – bread of any description always takes things to the next level!

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Recipe: Quinoa and Roasted Cherry Tomato Salad | With Lemon Vinaigrette and Toasted Sunflower Seeds

Makes 4-6 servings

Ingredients:

For the dressing

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Juice of 1 medium lemon (zest your lemon first and set the zest aside; you’ll need it for the salad)
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

For the salad

  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed
  • 25 cherry tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • Zest of 1 medium lemon
  • 6 medium basil leaves, chiffonaded
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 1/2 cup chopped marinated artichoke hearts
  • 4 radishes, finely sliced
  • 1/4 cup plain sunflower seeds
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method:

Roast cherry Tomatoes

  1. Preheat oven to 400F.
  2. Place tomatoes on a baking sheet and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
  3. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
  4. Place in oven for 20 minutes or until tomatoes are soft and collapsed (tomatoes will leak a lot of juice while roasting – it’s OK)
  5. Rem0ve from oven and set aside to cool.

Cook quinoa

  1. While tomatoes are roasting, combine rinsed quinoa and 1 1/2 cups of water in a medium saucepan.
  2. Cover and bring to a boil.
  3. Reduce heat to low and let quinoa cook for 15 minutes.
  4. Remove from heat, fluff with a fork and set aside to cool.

Prepare Lemon Vinaigrette

  1. Combine olive oil, lemon juice, red pepper flakes, coriander and salt in a small bowl and whisk everything until thoroughly combined. 
  2. Set aside until needed.

Toast Sunflower Seeds

  1. Place sunflower seeds in a small skillet over medium heat.
  2. Tossing continuously, toast seeds until just golden brown (this will only take a couple minutes – be careful, they burn easily!).
  3. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

Assemble Salad

  1. Place cooled quinoa, shallots, artichokes, radishes, basil, lemon zest and toasted sunflower seeds in a large salad bowl and toss to combine.
  2. Gently fold in roasted tomatoes and juices from roasting pan.
  3. Drizzle lemon vinaigrette into bowl toss until everything is combined.
  4. Serve, topping each portion with freshly ground black pepper. Eat!

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Stuffed Baked Pears | With Oats, Figs and Honey

I have the most insatiable sweet tooth known to man. I’ve made this lofty claim previously but in the wake of Easter – which essentially amounted to an all out candy-eating gorge fest in my household – it bears repeating. Yes, it’s around the holidays that my tendency to overindulge in sugar really rears its insulin-spiking head. You might recall that huge Christmas cake of ill repute, the one I managed to polish off all by my lonesome, over the course of a few weeks, piece after piece stealthily snatched from the freezer. Well Easter witnessed similar petty crimes, except in this case my victims were a sickening number of chocolate bunnies and eggs.
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Really I have no problem munching on sweet treats over the holidays – it’s fun to be festive and depriving myself of food I enjoy puts me in a dark mood. The issue is that these holiday overindulgences tend to set me off on a rather unhealthy pattern of sugar consumption. Suddenly eating candy after dinner EVERY NIGHT doesn’t seem like too bad of an idea. An apple fritter with that Tim Horton’s coffee? Sure, why not? Pancakes for breakfast on a Wednesday? Oh hell ya! Before I know I’m back on the sugar wheel, consuming way too many sugary confections and always wanting more. Madness!
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So once again, I find myself having to do a self-intervention before I snack my way too far into diabetes territory. That being said, I’m not inclined to completely renounce my dessert habit – gotta keep a little junk in the trunk, right ladies? As such I’ve been searching for recipes that would provide a happy medium – that is, appease my sweet tooth without making feel like I’m ‘on a diet’ and eating like an ascetic monk. A tall order? Perhaps, but I knew that someone out there in the WordPress blogosphere or beyond must possess the answer to this culinary ruse!
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Sure enough, the universe answered my call. A couple of weeks ago I came across this recipe for baked apples on Nicole’s Cauldrons and Cupcakes blog. This is precisely the type of recipe I was after. It contains some seriously healthy ingredients – fruit, walnuts and dates – yet with some sort of sleight of hand tricks you into thinking you’re eating something quite sinful when really the opposite is true. Inspired by Nicole, and eyeing some nice ripe pears on my counter, I set about creating my own baked fruit dessert (or in my case, lunch; it was around noon when I made this). This is what I came up with, which essentially amounts to an inside out pear crumble. Old fashioned oats, dried figs, a dab of honey , pie spices and a little butter are combined, stuffed into a hollowed out pear and baked until fall-apart soft. Simply delicious. I think these baked pears have set me on the path toward better glycemic health – just do me a favour and call security if you see me approaching the ‘danger zone’ (AKA the bulk candy aisle) at the grocery store 🙂
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Recipe: Stuffed Baked Pears | With Oats, Figs and Honey
Makes 4 baked pears
Ingredients:
  • 4 ripe (but not mushy) pears – I used Bartletts
  • 1/2 cup old fashioned oats (use gluten free oats if you have a gluten sensitivity)
  • 1/3 cup chopped dried figs
  • 2 tablespoons butter (or vegan butter)
  • 1 tablespoon honey (or agave or maple syrup) + a little more to serve
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Dash of nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt (or less if using table salt)

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 350F.

2. Remove top 1/5th of each pear and set aside – these will be the ‘lids’ for your baked pears.

3. Using a small spoon or apple corer, scoop core from each pear, making sure not to cut through bottom of pear.

4. Place pears in an 8″ x 8″ baking pan and set aside.

5. In a small bowl stir together oats, figs, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.

6. Add butter (or vegan butter) and honey (or agave or maple syrup) and mix well until everything is combined.

7. Press oat mixture firmly into pears and top with pear tops.

8. Fill bottom of pan with 1/2 cup of water.

9. Place pan in oven for 30-40 minutes, or until oat mixture is warm and soft.

10. Remove from oven and serve, topping each pear with a drizzle of honey (or agave or maple syrup). Optional: Pair with a scoop or two of ice cream or vegan ice cream.

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Roasted Carrot, Ginger and Coconut Milk Soup

I’m really starting to get into this whole ‘living in a house’ thing – being able to walk two paces without tripping over or bumping into something or someone is a refreshing change. Previous to living in the RV I’d been a condo and apartment dweller for the better part of two decades, since I moved away from the parental nest at age 18. This span of time gave me plenty of experience in the art of making do with limited closet space (which always proved to be the ultimate first world problem for this clothes hoarder), living in close proximity to others (including cats and their littery, feathery, toy-mousey paraphernalia), and of course, cooking in very small kitchens – which I waxed on about ad naseum during those 7 sanity-testing months at the trailer park!
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So yeah – I grew more than accustomed to confined interior living spaces. Those years of living in high rises also inured me to life without access to immediate outdoor space. Yes, there were public parks around where I lived at various points, and a couple places had a small patio (one of which accompanied a 26th-floor suite and was so high off the ground it caused vertigo if you dared look over the edge). But living above ground level as I did meant that having access to an actual yard just wasn’t on the menu. I didn’t mind too much at that point – convenient access to a million coffee shops, restaurants and places to shop was more of a priority. In my mind, yards were the mein of suburbanites – and goodness knows I wasn’t one of those!
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It was only when we moved into the house – in the suburbs, the horror! – that I realized how out of touch I was with the notion of having a yard – an actual plot of grass that only we (and assorted neighbourhood wildlife and possibly the odd eccentric searching for cans) have access to. The first couple of weeks we were here I only went into the backyard for practical reasons – i.e. to pick up dog poop. Partially it was the rain, but the real issue was that I didn’t know what to do with all that space! I’m not making this up – it had been such a long time since I’d been privy to a backyard that at first all I could do was shuffle around uncertainly back there, ineffectually contemplating the dilapidated shed.
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Over the last couple of weeks I’ve impressed myself. Determined to overcome my silly yard trepidation, I suited up in a pair of garden gloves and rubber boots, and armed with a spade and rake undertook the process of weeding the garden beds. Fifteen minute backyard sessions have gradually lengthened into one and two hour weed-pulling fests. Despite various squirrels giving me the stink eye, at moments I’ve even felt quite peaceful and meditative back there, ankle deep in dirt!
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Earlier in the week as I gazed into the produce drawer in the fridge, I got to thinking, ‘I should grow some of these vegetable things myself’. For a time I was really into playing Farmville – it can’t be that much different, right? Who knows, maybe this time next year this blog will have done a 180 and feature dishes that use produce grown in my own backyard – more improbable things have happened (did I mention I have a baby and live in the suburbs?)! In the meantime, why not try this easy, vegan and super flavourful soup on for size? Yes, it’s STILL  soup weather here on the West Coast, where Spring showers continue unabated. This recipe features caramelized roasted carrots, spices, fresh ginger and smooth coconut milk was the ideal reward after all my labours out back, tilling the soil 🙂
Recipe: Roasted Carrot, Ginger and Coconut Milk Soup
Makes 4-6 servings
Ingredients:
  • 6 medium carrots, peeled
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 large shallot, diced
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 cup light coconut milk
  • 2 green onions, chopped (optional for garnish)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 425F. Place carrots in an oven-proof dish and toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Place in oven for 20-30 minutes – turning carrots over half way through – or until carrots are tender and caramelized. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

2. In a large saucepan heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add shallots and saute until soft and translucent.

3. Add garlic and ginger and saute just until golden brown.

4. Add red pepper flakes, cinnamon, paprika and coriander and stir until spices coat other ingredients.

5. Add vegetable stock and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce to a simmer.

6. Once carrots are cool enough to handle, chop into smallish pieces, discarding of ends. Add to saucepan.

7. Let soup simmer partially covered for 15-20 minutes.

8. Using an immersion blender, puree until soup is smooth. Alternately you can transfer soup to a conventional blender to puree, then return soup to saucepan.

9. Add coconut milk and stir to warm through. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

10. Serve, topping each portion with chopped green onions. Eat!

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Roasted Red Pepper and Olive Tapenade | With Hazelnuts and Figs

When one moves into a house that could most-flatteringly be described as a ‘fixer upper’ one is bound to make some interesting discoveries. Such has been the case since we moved out of the RV and initiated the renovation process at our new place. Some of these discoveries have appealed to the retro enthusiast in me – like the page from the Toronto Star newspaper from 1971 that Mike found stuffed behind the drywall in one of the bedrooms. We were also surprised to find some well-preserved and very of-its-time gold and beige linoleum underneath the teal coloured carpet. Teal! Whoever lived in this house previously obviously had an obsession with this colour, as it features in practically every room of the house, much to our combined amazement!
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Other discoveries have been more dubious in nature, like the crow bar marks on the front door frame – creepy reminders of the house being broken into a few years ago. I’ll admit that knowledge of this break-in has launched me into full-on ‘neighbourhood watch’ mode. I find myself regularly on the lookout for ‘suspicious behaviour,’ often peeping through the blinds like a paranoid recluse to see what’s going on outside the house. We have an old rocking chair that we’ve been using until we move the rest of our furniture out of storage, and I’ve even caught myself seated in it on occasion, sinisterly panning the road outside. All I need is a set of curlers in my hair and a rolling pin on my lap and I’ll have officially achieved the status of neighbourhood crazy lady.
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Mike happened upon a massive spider nest while he was tearing down the valence in the bedroom over the weekend. He immediately assessed the nest – rather dramatically – as that belonging to a Black Widow – but I’d like to think he’s wrong seeing as he doesn’t have any formal training on arachnids or their dwellings that I’m aware of. I KNEW something was in that wall ever since I heard an aggressive scurrying sound as I was falling to sleep the other night. Mike seems to think he scared the spider into the attic – which is fine by me, as long as it stays there and doesn’t decide to pay us a visit at some point.
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Given all the activity around the house I haven’t been keeping up with my rigorous (ya right) once- or twice-weekly blogging schedule (if you can even call it that), but here you have it – my latest creation, a yummy tapenade! I’ve had hazelnuts hovering in the back of my mind for some time now, ever since I spotted this recipe for dukkah – an Egyptian spice blend made up of hazelnuts, seeds, fresh herbs and spices – on the amazing Cook Eat Live Vegetarian blog. I was already planning a roasted red pepper and olive tapenade but felt the urge to a little something-something to this classic Mediterranean pairing. Enter hazelnuts! They give the tapenade a fantastic nutty crunch, while the sweetness of dried figs offsets the pungency the black and green olives. I also threw in an entire bulb of garlic – which, when roasted, turns smoky and sweet and gives the tapenade a nice depth of flavour.
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This recipe is prepared in a blender or food processor so it’s easy to control the consistency of the tapenade. I left mine a bit chunky so the different ingredients could be differentiated – but if a smoother spread is more to your liking, simply blend for longer.
Recipe: Roasted Red Pepper and Olive Tapenade | With Hazelnuts and Figs
Makes about 1 cup
Ingredients:
  • 2 large red bell peppers
  • 1 medium bulb of garlic
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1/3 cup chopped hazelnuts
  • 1/4 cup chopped Kalamata olives
  • 1/4 cup chopped Manzanilla olives
  • 4 dried figs, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Salt to taste

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 425F. Place whole red peppers in an oven-proof dish and toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Place in oven for 40 minutes – turning peppers over half-way through – or until peppers are soft and skin is blackened. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

2. While peppers are roasting, peel outmost layers of skin from garlic bulb and place bulb on a piece of aluminum foil (foil should be big enough to bundle around garlic). Drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil onto bulb and season lightly with salt and pepper. Bundle foil firmly around garlic and place in a small oven-proof dish. Place dish in oven alongside peppers and roast for 30 minutes, or until garlic cloves are tender. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

3. Once peppers are cool enough to handle, remove stem and seeds and peel off blackened skin. Once garlic is cool enough to handle, separate garlic from skin. Transfer peppers and garlic to blender or food processor.

4. Blend peppers and garlic together until a smooth puree forms.

5. Add chopped hazelnuts and pulse until broken down into smaller pieces.

6. Add figs, both types of olives, oregano, pepper and 1 tablespoon of olive oil and pulse until ingredients are incorporated, scraping down sides of blender as necessary. I left my tapenade a little chunky. If you prefer a smoother texture simply blend for longer.

7. Taste and adjust with salt if necessary (I found the olives alone made the tapenade adequately salty).

8. Transfer tapenade to serving dish. Serve with crackers, warm bread or crostini. This tapenade would also work well as a spread in a grilled vegetable sandwich or panini. Eat!

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Avocado and Mango Salad Sandwich | With Sauteed Baby Arugula

Now that I’m caught up on posting the last of the recipes I made before we moved out of the RV, I finally got down to business and whipped up a dish for the blog in my new kitchen! When I say ‘new’ I mean new to me – the kitchen itself, as I mentioned in a previous post, is far from new – in fact, I’d describe it as an abomination straight from 1989. Aesthetics aside, however, it works just fine and it’s a real luxury having more space to move around when I’m cooking. I no longer feel like a giant jammed into a toy-sized kitchen!

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Another auspicious aspect of being out of the RV is that I have a far less awkward photo-taking set up. In the RV, in order to get decent natural light when taking pictures, I’d have to fling open the front door of the RV and set the dish to be photographed on the FLOOR just inside the front step. There was nothing glamourous or professional about it – far from it! It worked well enough when the weather was good but in the Fall and Winter things got a little treacherous. If you look closely enough at some of my photos you can actually see snowflakes, droplets of rain, even hail that had blown in the door and onto the food. And if there were an auditory component to the photos you’d be able to hear Mike yelling at me to hurry up and shut the door, that I was letting all the heat out of the trailer.

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My new set up here at the house is still far from professional (and won’t be until I invest in something better than the point-and-shoot camera I currently use), but at least it’s a little more streamlined. We have a big sliding door that lets in plenty of light, so all I need to do is place my dish on the dining room table and I’m good to go. No more letting in of the elements! And no more nudging of curious toddler out of the way with my leg.

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Where I live, finding affordable mangos is a rare occurrence so I was pleased to come across some on my last trip to the grocery store (they were 76 cents a piece versus the usual $2.50 – $3.oo). I try to buy locally-grown produce as much as possible but when it comes to some things – citrus and ‘exotic’ fruit in particular – I make an exception. Sometimes a girl just has to get her mango on! I also snagged a few avocados and thought these two ingredients ought to be paired together in some way. I was in the mood for a sandwich – when am I not in the mood for a sandwich – so I decided to make an avocado-y version of an egg salad – with lots of zesty fresh lime, jalapeno, a dollop of vegan mayonnaise and a bit of scallion and celery for some crunch. A little diced mango adds nice colour and the perfect amount of tart sweetness. And I loved the sauteed baby arugula on top! It’s peppery flavour and delicate texture worked really nicely with the avocado salad. As a matter of fact, I nominate arugula as the NEW leafy green. Kale, you’ve been overthrown!

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Recipe: Avocado and Mango Salad Sandwich | With Sauteed Baby Arugula

Makes 2 open-faced sandwiches

Ingredients:

For Avocado and Mango Salad

  • 4 pieces of bread or 2 bagels
  • 2 ripe avocados
  • 1 tablespoon vegan mayonnaise
  • Juice of 1/2 a small lime
  • 1 stalk of celery, minced
  • 1/2 large jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
  • 2 thin scallions, minced (light and dark green parts only)
  • 1/4 cup diced fresh mango
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika (optional)
  • Freshly ground black pepper

For Sauteed Baby Arugula

  • 2 cups baby arugula
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method:

Prepare Avocado and Mango Salad:

  1. In a medium bowl, mash together 1 avocado and vegan mayonaise.
  2. Add salt, paprika (if using) and lime juice and stir until everything is combined.
  3. Fold in celery, scallions, jalapeno and mango.
  4. Dice second avocado and fold gently to combine with other ingredients.
  5. Season to taste with freshly ground black pepper. Refrigerate until needed.

Prepare Sauteed Baby Arugula:

  1. Heat olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat.
  2. Add baby arugula and season lightly with salt and pepper
  3. Sautee just until wilted (this should only take a minute or so).
  4. Remove from heat and transfer to a small bowl (this will prevent arugula from overcooking)

Assemble sandwich:

  1. Lightly toast your bread or bagel of choice.
  2. Spread Avocado and Mango Salad onto each piece of toast.
  3. Top with Sauteed Baby Arugula.
  4. Eat!

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