Monthly Archives: August 2012

No Bake Nanaimo Bars

Decadent, delightful, and delicious! Bet you can’t eat just one!

Nanaimo bars: Canada’s contribution to the culinary scene. Traditionally a Nanaimo bar is composed of a chocolate walnut graham cracker and coconut bar base, a custard middle layer, and a bittersweet chocolate coating.  Nanaimo bars were a big treat growing up, and would appear once every five Christmas’. Although one of my favourites, I would always leave the custard on the plate and the crunchy chocolate top annoyed me when it meant that the delicious bottom got smooched into the custard when biting in. So I decided to change all of this, and make these healthy, decadent Nanaimo bars that far surpass the original!

My creative criteria were as follows:

1) Due to the heat wave, absolutely no cooking! This means no oven, no stovetop. As a result, these Nanaimo bars are 100% raw!
2) No coconut to bind the base
3) Ditch the custard, and make the top less crunchy (but no less chocolaty!)
4) Make the bars as nutrient rich as possible, in case of a power bar emergency (or guilt complex for eating half the pan!)

I was successful on all four counts. The stove stayed off, no coconut was used in production, and the custard was ditched for a banana soft-serve pudding. The topping is a no-bake ganache that retains the bittersweet chocolate flavour but allows you to bite into every delicious morsel of bar. Finally, with my substitutions the bar is roughly equivalent in nutrition to a Larabar, complete with the appropriate protein:glucose ratio for the perfect post-workout snack. The bars themselves don’t take long to make, and with the chill time between layers you have the opportunity to clean the food processor, if you are so inclined. So dig into these decadent bars with zero guilt and enjoy this modified Canadiana treat!

Recipe notes: This recipe can easily be made gluten free if you use gluten free oats. Also, due to size variations of dates this recipe has only been tested with dried dates. 60g. dried dates is roughly one cup, but 60g. Medjool dates may only be 1-2. Finally, I keep all my bananas in the freezer for banana soft serve creations. I’m sure the filling layer would work with fresh bananas, but you may have to chill the layer longer to allow the filling to set.

Filling flavour suggestions: Although the one below is similar to the classic custard, why not mix and match flavours? Any soft serve flavour would work here. Top choices would be adding 1-2 tbsp. peanut butter, or a fruit medley mix – let these bars be your canvas!

No-Bake Nanaimo Bars

Base:
1 cup rolled oats, divided
60g. dates (~15 dried) *if dried, soaked in 1 cup water, reserve liquid
1 cup almonds
¼ cup cocoa powder
1 tsp. vanilla
½ tsp. cinnamon

Directions:
1) In food processor, pulse ¾ cup oats until flour consistency
2) Add almonds and cocoa powder. Process until crumbly
3) Add dates, vanilla, and cinnamon. Process until dough forms. *If using dried dates, add reserved soaking water as required
4) Add remaining ¼ cup oats. Pulse to combine
5) Press into greased 9×13” pan. Chill in freezer.

Filling:
5 tbsp. almond milk or soy yogurt (or other non-dairy milk and yogurt offerings)
¾ cup frozen banana, sliced
¼ tsp. vanilla
pinch of cinnamon (optional)

Directions:
1) In food processor, process all ingredients until smooth.
2) Spread on top of base. Freeze.

Chocolate Ganache:
¼ cup cocoa powder
½ cup almond milk (or other non-dairy milk)
½ tsp. ground flaxseed

Directions:
1) In food processor, process all ingredients until smooth.
2) Pour over filling. Freeze.


Million Ingredient Chili

The most delicious “standard” comfort chili around!

Really … the title says it all! The heat wave had broken it was a cloudy, rainy, lazy Sunday, and I celebrated by making a huge vat of chili. Not just any standard vat of chili – but a 12 quart vat of slow cooked chili comfort. Chili is one of those freezer staples that is like putting on your favourite ratty sweatshirt and sweats after a no-good-rotten day. With nothing else to do, I decided to challenge myself and make the Best Chili Ever. Whenever Top Chef has their chili challenges all the chefs’ whine about how chili is an all-nighter and it needs constant attention, so I looked for the most involved, complex, slow-cook recipe I could find while still being able to make it in time for dinner. And I found this recipe with a Million Ingredients (or close to), and I have found my comfort chili recipe.

Compliments of Kathy of Healthy. Happy. Life., this chili won her a chili cook-off. It is everything a standard, non-fusion chili should be. Tons of beans for stick-to-your-ribs goodness, mushrooms for a nice toothy-meaty texture, and a sauce that is half roasted, half simmered, with dark molasses lending a nice rich colour. Half the veggies are tossed in oil, spices, and roasted to add depth. The other half compose of a “Veggie Pot Roast” which is first simmered in a tangy molasses-based sauce and then roasted. The tomato base is simmered throughout the process, and everything is dumped into the one pot and simmered for at least one hour and however much longer you can resist the delicious aroma! All of these steps generate a lot of dishes, but with a lot of downtime in between by dinner you could even have a dishes-free cleanup if you use your time wisely. The end result is a delicious affair that could be served with rice or cornbread, but why waste valuable stomach real estate when you could dig into another bowl? It freezes and reheats exceptionally well, and for a quick lunch serving a bowl of chili on top of a pile of greens cannot be beat. So next time you find yourself having an Eeyore day, make this chili and a smile will be on your face by dinner!

The recipe can be found on Kathy’s webpage Healthy.Happy.Life here: Roasted Vegetable Chili

I made the following changes, due to last-minute planning and pantry constraints:

Part A: Roasted Veggies: I omitted the agave, as I am still not sold on sweet in savoury. Do not skip the cherry tomatoes! Putting these into the chili gave a tomato-duo combination at the end that is as unique as it is delicious.

Part B: Veggie Pot Roast: I used olive oil instead of butter, and used 6 dried shitake mushrooms (reconstituted) instead of the sausage. Personally I thought the meatiness of the sliced reconstituted shitake mushrooms matched the beans better than sausage, but this may be a departure from ‘classic’ chili. I like a toothsome quality to chili. I also used 3 jalapenos instead of the chipotle peppers in adobo, as that is not a pantry staple. Finally, I omitted the corn (personal preference).

Part C:  Tomato Base: Again, more jalapenos instead of chipotle peppers in adobo. This may have made my chili less smoky and more ‘clean’ spicy, but I thought it was still delicious! In an attempt to compensate I threw in a dash of liquid smoke near the end. For the bean mixture I used a mixture of pinto beans, black beans, fava beans, and chickpeas. The more beans the better! After all, you do control the chili pot.

Do not be intimidated by the million ingredient list. The best part of chili is that at the end of the day you can clean out your fridge and use whatever beans you have and it will still be delicious comfort food. The method just seems complex, but there is a lot of down time. Due to pot restrictions (I own one) I had to do the recipe in steps instead of all at once, but this allowed me to prep the next step while the last one was cooking, so it seemed like no time at all! This also helped with dishes control (ups to the dishwasherless!)

Enjoy!


Thai Red Curry with Savoury Mango Salad

R: Thai Mango Salad. L: Thai Red Curry

This Thai feast was inspired by the 9lb. case of mangos that were on sale. After peeling, dicing, and freezing most of the case, I saved a couple to eat fresh. Mangos are lovely, but one person can only eat so many! Trying something different, I decided to make a light and refreshing mango salad to go along with a Thai curry. Exploring my Thai skills, I opted for a spicy Thai Red Curry – a departure from my favourite Thai Green Curry. The mango salad was as advertized – light, refreshing, and with a nice little kick at the end from the red chili pepper flakes that I sprinkled on. The bean sprouts and shredded mango gave the salad a nice soft/crunchy texture ratio, and the leftovers were delicious the next day! Most importantly, when served with this spicy curry it cooled the palate down with complementary flavours so that each dish was brought to new levels of greatness!

The Mango salad recipe can be found here: Thai Mango Salad. I made this salad twice, once with a ‘green’ mango and once with a mango that was extremely ripe. The green mango salad version was crispier and less sweet, but the ripe mango salad was just as delicious! As it was slightly sweeter, you could also use it as a different dessert offering that would please many guests at the end of your Thai feast.

The Thai Red Curry was also delicious. My only complaint is that my homemade red curry paste wasn’t very red. Next time I may omit the coconut milk, or add some more red chilis to get the promised colour. This would also up the spice level – something I never complain about! The curry itself comes together quite quickly, even with making your own curry paste. I served it with vermicelli, but it would also be great with some rice to soak up the sauce. Fresh curry pastes beat the store-bought every time, if only because they smell so delicious when you are making them! For this version of curry I added tofu, bell pepper, eggplant, cherry tomatoes, and green beans. I love when you cook cherry tomatoes just enough so they are warm but the skins don’t split. Then when you eat them they explode in your mouth like tomato flavour bombs! Other vegetable add-ins that would be delicious is bok choy, kale, spinach, snap peas, asparagus, zucchini, mushrooms, or even some jackfruit. To make it more of a fall curry, you could use potatoes, squash (butternut or pumpkin – something firm and not too sweet), spinach, eggplant, and for a special surprise turnips for an interesting twist on the fall menu.

I used this recipe as an inspiration: Vegetarian Thai Red Curry. I combined other recipes I found for red curry paste as well as cooking techniques for Thai curry’s and came up with my own version below.

Thai Red Curry

Red Curry Paste:
3 shallots or 1 small onion, diced
2 tbsp. lemongrass, minced
3 Thai red chillies or 3t. Thai red chili sauce
3 cloves garlic
1” piece galangal, sliced
¼ tsp. white pepper
2 tbsp. chili powder
1 tbsp. coriander seeds, ground
3 tbsp. low-sodium soy sauce
1 kaffir lime leaf
½ tsp. dark soy sauce
1 tsp. brown sugar
½ tsp. turmeric
½ can light coconut milk

Directions:
1) In food processor, puree all paste ingredients until forms into a paste.

Curry:
1 tsp. peanut oil
1 (350g) package firm tofu, cubed
1 small Japanese eggplant, cubed
3-4 kaffir lime leaves
½ can light coconut milk
10-15 cherry tomatoes
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 yellow bell pepper, diced
½ cup Thai basil, sliced into ribbons

Additional vegetable ideas:
Mushrooms, green beans, bok choy, kale, spinach, asparagus, zucchini, mushrooms, jackfruit

Directions:
1) Preheat large fry pan on medium-high. Add peanut oil and pour in curry paste. Stir-fry until fragrant, ~1-2 min.
2) Add tofu and eggplant. Stir-fry until saturated with sauce.
3) Add lime leaves and coconut milk. Simmer ~5 min.
4) Add remaining vegetables. Simmer 5-7 min., until tomatoes soft but not burst.
5) Garnish with basil; serve over rice.


Green Posole with Corn Tortillas

Green Posole Stew served with homemade corn tortillas, avocado, and sliced radish

Posole is a slow-cook Mexican stew, similar to a chili. This particular stew is a hodgepodge of interesting flavours and textures ensuring that every delectable bite is a new and interesting flavour profile. This was my first experience with tomatillos and hominy, with varying degrees of success. Tomatillos are like gift wrapped green tomatoes, with a papery husk that you have to peel away before washing. Their skin is sticky, almost soapy when wet, making washing essential. In this recipe the tomatillos are first boiled until they lose some of their bright green colour and start to float like bobbing for apples, then quenched, then pureed in the food processor with onions, roasted jalapenos, and fresh herbs, making a delicious roasted sauce. At this point I couldn’t resist a taste, and their flavour is very different from normal tomatoes – delicious in their own right. I will definitely be using them in the future, perhaps in a roasted tomatillo salsa.

I first heard of hominy on the Food Network when a chef on either Top Chef or Chopped was making their version of “hominy and grits”. I have had grits before (never again!) but hominy … I tracked some down to discover it appears to be corn kernels that have been treated with lime somehow. Out of the can they don’t taste like anything, but in the stew they add a nice texture similar to a bean. My final verdict on hominy is that it’s an interesting ingredient, but not something I will be obsessed with (like jackfruit!).

Now onto the stew … This stew is a recipe from Viva Vegan! (page 137) and has many steps if you don’t have pre-made seitan on hand (which I didn’t). The seitan is the “white seitan” recipe (page 35), meant to replace chicken or pork. I am not a big lover of seitan as I find it too chewy, but I put it in the stew anyway. It was the only disappointing component, only because even though the stew is delicious, I still wasn’t a big fan of seitan. The next time I make this stew (and there will be a next time!) I will substitute the seitan for some tofu or tempeh, both of which I think would soak up the flavours of the delicious broth and add that extra bit of protein. The broth itself is an interesting kitchen adventure. First you roast some pepitas (pumpkin seeds) then grind them in the food processor. This both thickens the broth but also adds an unexpected layer of flavour that I could not get enough of. Then you add this mixture to the pureed tomatillos, resulting in a complex, delicious, and addictive stew base. The oddest combinations often work and this is no exception! The stew itself is then just composed of whatever greens you have on hand, beans, hominy, and the seitan. Delectable, delicious, and when served with homemade tortillas and avocado I wish it was a never-ending soup pot! It is one of the most interesting stews you will ever try, and worth the multiple steps!

The recipe can be found here on the Google Book Preview: Green Posole Seitan Stew with Chard and White Beans. However, if any of my recent posts haven’t convinced you yet (Pupusas, Curdito, and Simple Tomato Sauce; Sweet and Nutty Stuffed Plantains), this stew should be the tipping point for checking the book out at the library!

A note about Homemade Corn Tortillas:

I made my own corn tortillas to serve with this recipe, expanding my flatbread repertoire. Tortillas  as it turns out are very easy to make and super quick – I am not the fastest cook in the kitchen by any means, and even I managed to make 36 tortillas in under an hour! With nothing more than a rolling pin, some parchment paper, and a pan, you can make tortillas that taste so much better than the cardboard store bought ones you will wonder why you haven’t made them before! The dough is nothing more than masa harina and water, and is even on the side of the masa harina bag for you. Mix, play with the PlayDoh dough, roll between parchment to a size of your liking, and cook for ~30s. on each side. That’s all that’s standing between you and a stack of piping hot tortillas! Mine were a bit misshapen, but that is due entirely to rolling technique with an empty peanut butter jar. Still tasty and delicious, they are the perfect scooping vessel for whatever – from guacamole to this delicious stew!

There are different tortilla recipes in Viva Vegan!, but here is a step-by-step guide with pictures: Homemade Corn Tortillas. I don’t have a tortilla press, and just rolled out the dough in a circular(ish) shape between two pieces of parchment paper with my ‘rolling pin’ (aka. peanut butter jar). Even with this rudimentary method, I was slowed down in production by the size of my pan, not the speed of my rolling. I am sure you get prettier tortillas faster using a tortilla press, but for my kitchen my method worked just fine. After all, they only need to look pretty for the 5 seconds on the plate before you eat them!


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