Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Delicious Vegan Chocolate Mousse

Recently, I've been experimenting with vegan, vegetarian and raw food recipes. Here's one I came across in Everyday Raw Express, a beautiful "cook" book by Matthew Kenney. Please note that this chocolate mousse is quite rich and should be served in smaller portions.

Chocolate Hemp Milk Custard 
"Everyone is surprised and amazed by this rich dessert. It truly has the consistency of a traditional chocolate pudding or mousse and is both nut and coconut free. Best of all, it takes only moments to prepare. Please note that comments in the brackets are my own.

2 avocados, mashed
1 cup Hemp Milk (I used vanilla almond milk)
1 cup agave (I use organic, raw agave syrup)
1 cup cocoa powder (I use raw, organic cocoa powder)
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of salt (I used sea salt)

Blend all ingredients in a high-speed blender until smooth. If preferred cool, chill in glasses or bowls before serving.

I served mine with sliced banana and crushed walnuts on top. It was absolutely delicious! Enjoy!
Serves 4-6

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Taste Local, Taste Fresh in St. Jacob's, Ontario

Over the weekend, I was lucky enough to attend a fabulous local food event, celebrating the foods and flavours of the St. Jacob’s region. Coordinated by Foodlink Waterloo Region, Taste Local, Taste Fresh pairs 20 food producers with 20 food presenters. Using local talent and the region’s finest ingredients, each pair creates a truly culinary delight.

Having never attended Taste Local, Taste Fresh before (it’s in its 8th year), I had no idea of what to expect. Upon arrival, I was led to a table covered in handcrafted pieces of pottery, created specifically for the event. Each piece was unique, and we were asked to choose one – the pottery was to serve as our tasting dish for the afternoon. I was lucky enough to arrive early and therefore got to make first choice from a beautiful selection. We were told that we were allowed to keep the piece at the end of the day.

Along with our pottery dish, we were each given an event passport. The pages of the passport contained information about all of the pairings – farmers and chefs, producers and caterers – and the dishes they had created. In the back of the passport, space was provided for stamps. As we visited each booth, our passport was stamped and we were offered a small sampling of the pair’s creation. We were also given the opportunity to speak personally with those who had taken part in creating the dish.

The day couldn’t have been better and Riverside Meadows Park in St. Jacob’s proved to be the perfect location for the event. Aside from a stiff breeze that threatened to topple neatly displayed autumnal assortments, the weather was perfect. The sun was shining and the attendees were in high spirits. The Tim Louis Jazz Trio played softly in the background, further contributing to an already perfect atmosphere. If you stopped to listen, you could hear people everywhere talking excitedly about food and agriculture. That in itself made the event a total success in my mind.

Being no stranger to foodie festivals, I came armed with a healthy appetite. I wanted to make sure that I sampled everything on offer in order to get a true feel for the region’s flavours. I don’t know how I did it, but I made it to every single table and tried absolutely everything. By the end of the day, there were some clear favourites. Here were my top five picks for the day.

5. Benjamin’s Restaurant Inn & Faul Farms
Faul Farms’ grilled flank steak was served in a Panini, topped with River’s Edge chevre spread (amazing!), fresh arugula and roasted cherry tomato. It was a beautiful creation. The ingredients were so obviously fresh, and when combined, brought amazing clarity to their individual flavours.

4. Whole Lot-a-Gelata & Martin’s Family Fruit Farm
I’m so glad that I had enough foresight to save this tasty treat until the very last. It was truly the perfect dish to end a perfect day. This pair decided to combine their love of gelato with local, fresh apples from Martin’s Family Fruit Farm to create a truly unique dish: Cheddar Cheese and Smoked Apple Sorbet served on brioche with a slice of canned peach – a dish that was perfection in my mouth.

3. Puddicombe House & Top Market Rabbitry
Puddicombe House is a restaurant, spa and bed and breakfast located in New Hamburg. Chef Lance Edwards used top quality rabbit meat offered by Top Market Rabbitry in Ariss, Ontario. A beautifully displayed appetizer, pulled rabbit was placed on a slice of crusty bread, served with crab apple barbeque sauce, red onion marmalade and a crisp slaw. The combination of sweet and savoury was perfect; the dish was a pleasant surprise to food lovers who were trying rabbit for the first time.

2. Seven Shores & Fertile Ground
Before beginning our taste adventure, my partner and I circled the park and looked at everything on offer. Visually speaking, the one that stood out the most was the creation by Seven Shores Urban Market & Café and Fertile Ground. It was so brightly coloured and fresh – a combination I knew promised to be flavourful. They made rice paper spring rolls filled with mixed Asian greens, beets, carrots and fresh herbs. The rolls were not only vegan, but also gluten free. Most importantly, they were absolutely delicious, making it easy to put at the top of the list.

1. Wildcraft & Baer’s Vibrant Farms

Perhaps because it combined many of my favourite flavours, Wildcraft and Baer’s Vibrant Farms’ creation was undoubtedly my personal favourite. Wildcraft’s chef carefully placed crusted sous vide blade roast, slow-cooked to unbelievable tenderness, in a handcrafted sesame cone stuffed with sweet quinoa slaw. Topped with a sprig of cilantro, the taste combination was the perfect mix of nutty, sweet and earthy.

It was extremely difficult to narrow it down to five selections, there were so many wonderful culinary creations to sample at Taste Local, Taste Fresh. What it goes to show is that there’s no end to the dishes you can produce when you combine the region’s finest ingredients with its most talented food artists. And the pottery was a really nice touch too. It bought it all together – culture, craftsmanship and community. I can’t wait to attend Taste Local, Taste Fresh next year. Special thanks goes to the event’s coordinator, Anna Contini, for inviting me to participate in such a fabulous day.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Fiskars Big Grip Garden Knife

Now I know I just said yesterday that I don't normally promote products - and I don't - but this one needs to be shared. Honestly, it has saved my garden this year. I don't know what I did before I had Fiskars Big Grip Garden Knife.

I think I mentioned that I let the weeds rule this year. I got busy - and so did they. I didn't go up to the garden for at least 2 weeks, and when I returned it resembled something out of The Day of the Triffids. This handy little tool really made taking the Triffids down that much easier. It has a sturdy handle - trust me, I've lost too many garden tools to count. It has a serrated edge, perfect for cutting those vines that crept up my deer fence. It has a blade on the opposite side, perfect for cutting tougher roots or unwanted weeds. Perhaps my favourite part of this tool, though, is its forked end. The edges are sharp and the shape of the blade makes getting it deep into the soil a breeze. Once there, you can actually use the forked blade to cut the roots of extra tough weeds. My garden has never looked better and I never would have been able to do it without this handy tool. Yes, it resembles something out of a Klingon's armoury, but it works. So I have to give a big shout out to Fiskars for making this Big Grip Garden Knife. Favourite garden tool, hands down.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Garden fresh tomato salad

If you’re a tomato lover, like most Canadians, then this is probably one of your favourite times of the year. There is really nothing better than popping a delicious cherry tomato, fresh from the vine, into your mouth. My garden’s full of them and they’re just starting to ripen.

The first time I popped up to the garden and located a ripe and ready to eat tomato, I was thrilled. I’ve been making daily appearances ever since, making sure that I don’t miss the exact moment that they’re ready to eat. It’s an exciting time for a tomato lover. I’ve got 9 varieties of tomatoes in my garden, along with cucumbers, basil, beets, carrots, radishes, squash (summer and pattypan), fresh greens, spinach, Swiss chard, peppers, snow peas and eggplant. I never tire of walking the aisles, inspecting their progress. Last week, I had just barely enough of everything I needed to make my first garden fresh salad. It’s hands-down my favourite and I’d like to share it with you.

Tomato, Cucumber & Basil Salad (Serves 2)

In a salad bowl, mix ingredients for salad dressing. Add salad fixings and mix.

Salad Dressing

1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp whole grain mustard
fresh ground pepper, to taste
pinch of sea salt, to taste

Salad Fixings

4-5 basil leaves, chopped
1-2 small cucumbers, depending on their size
1½ cups of fresh picked cherry tomatoes, cut in ½ depending on size
¼ feta cheese
½ cup Nature’s Path Heritage Heirloom Whole Grain cereal*

*Now I don’t usually do any sort of product promotion, but this cereal is perfect for this recipe and it’s extremely healthy to boot. It’s very high in fibre and uses grains like kamut, wheat, oats, spelt, barley, millet and quinoa. Sounds like a weird salad addition, but trust me on this one, it tastes delicious!

* This recipe is also found on the Moving Mum website - helping seniors downsize to smaller living spaces.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Celebrate National BBQ Day the Locavore Way

August 6th is National BBQ Day and people all across Canada will be firing up the grills and entertaining friends and family. This year, why not make National BBQ Day not only about food, but food awareness as well. If you think about it, it's the perfect time to discuss how and why we make the food choices that we do, especially since our food choices impact important aspects of our lives, including:
  • Our health
  • The environment 
  • Local farmers and food producers
  • Our local economy
  • Food politics
Many of us make conscious and informed food choices, but have friends who do not. Why is that? Is it that they simply aren't aware of the impact of their choices, or are they simply not concerned? Our choices indirectly say that we are okay about certain things. For example, if we choose to regularly eat fast food we are indirectly saying that we're not concerned about our health. If we choose to eat genetically modified foods sprayed with chemical pesticides and herbicides, we're saying that we're not concerned about their impact on the environment. And if we choose to buy cheaper commodities without considering why they're so cheap, we're saying that we're not overly concerned about fair trade in other nations.

Here's a thought: let's talk about it. Let's turn National BBQ Day into something more than just a meal. Let's inform our friends and family about our choices and tell them why we've made them. We don't have to get all pedantic about it. We can do it indirectly and subtly, without ramming it down their throats, by making the right choices ourselves. Make it into a game. Why not implement an all-local menu and see who can come up with the most creative 100% local dish? 

Participate and possibly WIN WestJet Tickets while you're at it!

In support of local food economies across Canada, Meal Exchange is calling on Canadians to host a BBQ of locally-grown food. Here's what you can do if you're interested in participating.

2. Buy local food fare - luckily, the event is hosted on Saturday, the same day that your local farmer's market is open! Why not try something you've never tried before - a new vegetable, a local cheese, or locally raised meat. 

3. BBQ!!! Invite your friends and family and enjoy fantastic local food and drinks. 

4. Possibly win 2 WestJet tickets. How? Easy. 

a) Share your BBQ pictures and stories with nationalBBQday@mealexchange.com
b) Post on www.facebook.com/mealexchange
c) Live Tweet your BBQ using #nationalBBQday 

I can't wait to register my BBQ. Why not register yours today too?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Pictures from the Garden

Well, it's been a while. Unfortunately, as a paid freelance writer, I don't often get to write for myself anymore. But I promise I'll try to make it back here more often than I have. 
I've had trouble keeping up with the garden this year. First of all, I got the plants in late. The ones that I grew indoors all flopped. I think they sensed what Mother Nature was up to outside - they knew it wasn't time. I ended up buying plants from Vera Top of Trout Lily Nursery. Once I did garden in things got out of control pretty quickly. Last fall, I never bothered to clear out the plants in my garden. I just let them die and left them. Bad idea. The seeds from those plants ended up falling to the earth. In the spring, when we tilled the soil, the seeds spread throughout the garden and started growing like crazy. I literally had hundreds and hundreds of tomatoes growing everywhere. I've been pulling my coveted tomatoes like weeds ever since - a very strange feeling, indeed. I left the garden to its own devices - another bad mistake. When I did finally make an appearance, it resembled something out of John Wyndham's Day of the Triffids. It was so overrun with weeds, they were knee-high in some spots! It took me 3 days - 9 hours in total - of sweaty, dirty labour to rid my garden of those weeds. Never again, I say. Never again. 
The garden looks great now! I've had no problems with bugs this year - probably because of the garden's full-time tenant, a bright green Northern Leopard frog. Everything is growing nicely; in fact, someone recently commented that it looked like my tomatoes were on steroids. They are pretty happy in their home. Here are some pictures of the results of this year's labour.

Friday, March 18, 2011

It's that time again - setting up the bathroom greenhouse

Recently, someone said that sounds of spring were in the air. They were referring to the sounds of geese honking as they returned to familiar ground. Where I live there are geese year round, so this wasn't exactly a mark of spring for me. But that's not to say that I'm not noticing my own signs. The daffodils are poking their heads from out of the soggy ground. There are sounds of red-wing blackbirds - a sound that I strongly associate with summer. My little kitty-cat friend has been chasing bugs all week. But, for me, the biggest sign of spring is the arrival of my seed catalogues. Once they start coming in, I know I can safely start planning my garden for the year. I'm getting anxious to get back out there. Although my canned goods have lasted me longer than every before this year, I'm dying for some fresh garden greens and herbs.
I have devised what I think is a little ingenious greenhouse in my bathroom. I have tied an old pine bookcase to my radiator and fixed a little grow light to the inside. My greenhouse has natural light coming from the big window it sits in front of, a greenhouse light and warmth from the radiator. Also, there is more moisture in my bathroom that anywhere in the house and the plants seems to love this.
Now, what to plant? And when?
Any suggestions?