looky look!

A few years ago during a road trip, a mouse got into our trunk and made a home for a few nights.  He slept in the instant oats, nibbled on the stump of a muffin, picked open a bag of corn chips but didn’t eat the chips themselves – and most interestingly, ate a whole Ziploc bag of popping corn kernels.  On one hand I was annoyed at the unwelcome intrusion, but on the other I had serious respect for the mouse’s choice of probably the healthiest, least processed food in the car.  No M&M’s, buddy?  (It appeared he licked but didn’t eat them).

Sometimes I don’t feel so different from our rodent companion, though I feel more squirrel-y than mouse-y, mostly because I can relate to a squirrel’s penchant for hiding food in places for later (we have a very well-stocked pantry).  And the bushy tail, I like the bushy tail.  But anyway, I feel like these almond millet chocolate bars pay homage to the four legged companions that flit in and out of our lives.  They are gluten-free, vegan, and made with recognizable things.  The chocolate topping is made with unsweetened chocolate so that the sweetness can be adjusted according to taste with the addition of icing sugar, making for a more wholesome, mouse-worthy snack.  Similarly, brown rice syrup has a relatively lower sweetness, so it can be exploited for its magical gooey powers of holding things together without going off the sweet charts – hence, these are the first snack bars I have ever made that didn’t crumble apart when I cut into them.  Less crumbs on the floor mean more crumbs in my tummy, which I feel is a good thing.

Almond millet chocolate bars

makes one 9×12″ pan

4 tbsp coconut oil
11 soft dates (if hard, soak in hot water for 10 minutes to rehydrate and plump)
250 g / 1 cup raw almonds
80 g / 1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
50 g / 2 cups puffed millet
2/3 cup brown rice syrup

100 g unsweetened chocolate
2 tbsp icing sugar

In a high-speed blender or food processor, blend the crap out of the coconut oil, softened dates and almonds.  Scrape down occasionally to make sure everything gets obliterated by the blades.  Scrape out this mixture into a large bowl and mix in the pumpkin seeds and puffed millet.  Meanwhile, gently heat the brown rice syrup in a small saucepan until it becomes looser in consistency and the edges just start to bubble.  Pour this over the mixture and fold together to evenly distribute the syrup.  Scrape everything into a 9×12″ baking pan lined with parchment paper, and press down evenly and firmly.  Chill the pan in the freezer while you make the topping: in a double boiler, gently melt the bittersweet chocolate.  When it is completely melted, stir in the icing sugar until it melts as well.  Pour the chocolate over the bar and smooth out with a spatula.  Freeze for at least 30 minutes before attempting to slice.  Only attempt to slice when you are feeling calm and collected, lest the bar crumbles under unabated emotions, in which case, add more brown syrup next time and all will be well.

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It’s been a while.

My hollow legs have been busy.  Somewhat.  Mostly going between the fridge-stove-counter.  But also scrambling up mountains, squatting to look at worms committing suicide on sidewalks, crossing in various patterns while sitting on coffee shop chairs.   The brain sitting somewhere above the hollow legs has been busy too, reading cookbooks, imagining dinner parties with various peoples, and somewhat suffering under an inferiority complex that sharing what I ate for lunch is rather banal and who really cares.  But then an image of Miss Piggy declaring, “I am Woman!” springs to mind and then, reassessment.

Anyway, here: an energy bar recipe that’s so easy it’ll make your head feel empty (sometimes desirable).  Also it’s a good thing to pack in your bag when you are out and about.  Helps propel you up a mountain, whether it be a figurative or literal one.

Ginger date cashew lemon bars

150 g / 1 cup raw cashews
12 soft fresh dates, pitted
5-7 round pieces of candied ginger
50 g / 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/4 cup lemon juice

Process the cashews in a high-speed blender or food processor until it resembles a coarse flour.  Dump into a bowl.  Then process the dates, ginger, coconut and lemon juice until it gets sticky and homogenous.  Scoop out into the bowl with the cashew meal.  Work it all together with your hands until it becomes a thick, slightly sticky mass.  Press it into a rectangle that’s about 1/2″ thick.  Cover with plastic wrap and let it set in the fridge for at least one hour, preferably longer.  Cut into bars and hubba hubba.

I imagine these bars would be excellent reworked as a gluten-free pie crust, say with a pumpkin or cream cheese filling.  Next level!

ginger date lemon coconut bars

The Internet is rife with hyperbole, but the other day I finally, finally, made a lentil loaf.  Seriously.  I have a page ripped out from a magazine with a recipe for a Curried-Lentil Quinoa Loaf stuck in my food journal (because I’m cool like that), and the footer on the page says, “October 2010.”  Four years.  2014 has been a year of breakthroughs, apparently.  Of course, I did not use that recipe (because following through completely would be just too perfect) and instead I used the Lentil-Walnut Loaf recipe from Angela Liddon’s The Oh She Glows Cookbook.  I know I’m late to the party, but her cookbook and blog are so beautiful and inspiring: you can really feel her passion and dedication to good food.  This loaf did not disappoint!

What I made is a slight variation from the original, simply because I was trying to use what I had.  It was so good that I forgot to take a photo of it until it was half gone.  Also I don’t have a full-size loaf pan; I have only mini loaf pans, which probably sounds ridiculous for someone who bakes so much bread, but the loaf turned out wonderfully in a shallow 9×13″ baking pan.

lentil walnut loaf

A slight variation of Angela Liddon’s Lentil Walnut Loaf

serves 4-8

1 cup uncooked green lentils
1 tsp vegetable oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 carrots, grated
1/3 cup raisins
1 cup walnut pieces
1/2 cup oat flour
1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs (next time I’m going to try all oat flour)
1 tsp dried oregano
salt and pepper

for the balsamic-apple glaze:
1/4 cup ketchup
2 tbsp apple butter
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp maple syrup

Soak the lentils overnight in plenty of water.  The next day, simmer the lentils in fresh water until they are tender.  Drain most of the cooking water, and pulse the lentils in a food processor or blender until it resembles a coarse paste.

Meanwhile, saute the onions in vegetable oil until they soften and take on some light colour.  Add the celery and carrots, and continue cooking until the veggies soften.  Throw in the raisins and walnuts to heat them through.

Stir everything together, and add salt and pepper to taste.  Line your loaf pan with parchment paper, and press the mixture into the pan evenly and firmly.  Whisk together the ingredients for the glaze and spread over the entire surface of the loaf.  Bake in a preheated 325 F oven for 30-40 minutes, so that the loaf dries out and the edges turn a little brown.  Let it cool before slicing so that it can firm up a little bit.  We ate it with coleslaw and wild rice for dinner.  Little slices of the leftovers are an excellent snack, stolen right out of the fridge, eaten cold.

shiitake mushroom soup

Another soup, just in time for the cold weather!  This recipe is derived from the version in Amrita Sondhi’s The Modern Ayurvedic Cookbook.  My mom used to cook with dried shiitake mushrooms all the time, and I hadn’t until now – turns out it’s really simple!  You just let them soak in room temperature water for at least an hour (she would suggest overnight) so they hydrate and soften for cooking.  Fresh shiitake mushrooms are an option too, but they are harder to find.  I usually buy mine at an Asian grocery store, though a big chain store probably has them as well.

This recipe is vegan, gluten-free (if you use gluten-free tamari), and worthy of being eaten any day, retreat or not.

Shiitake mushroom and vegetable soup

makes 6-8 servings

12 (58 g) dried shiitake mushrooms
6 c. water for soaking
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 c. onions, finely diced (about 1/4 large onion)
1 cup carrots, chopped into half moons (about 2 carrots)
2 cups sweet potatoes or 1/2 acorn squash, peeled, chopped into small chunks
1 large handful Chinese cabbage, finely sliced, or baby bok choy (I prefer the bok choy, it’s just so pretty, and also delicious)
2 tsp fresh ginger, minced
1/3 cup tamari (gluten-free if possible)
1/4 cup brown miso paste
1/4 cup green onions, finely sliced (garnish)

Let the mushrooms soak in the water for at least an hour, or perhaps overnight.  Save the soaking water for making the soup, and slice the mushrooms.

In a large stockpot, gently saute the onions in the vegetable oil over medium-high heat.  When they start to soften, add the carrots and sweet potatoes (or acorn squash).  Stir occasionally, letting the vegetables grow bright in colour.  Add the sliced mushrooms and soaking water.  Top off with additional water if required to just cover the vegetables, and bring to a boil.  Cover, and reduce heat to a simmer until the vegetables are just cooked through.  Stir in the Chinese cabbage or baby bok choy, and let cook for 5-10 minutes longer until the greens are tender.  (I tend to leave the bok choy whole; they shrink a lot when they are cooked, and their slender shape is beautiful to behold.)  Just before you are ready to serve, stir in the ginger, tamari, and miso paste.  Scatter over the green onions and soak up the nourishing flavours of this light but satisfying soup.

Next up: Moroccan-inspired couscous, or to be more exact, Ottolenghi-inspired couscous.  Besides having written several truly gorgeous and inspiring cookbooks, Yotam Ottolenghi runs several restaurants in London, UK, that venerate vegetables and tastes that reflect his Middle Eastern upbringing.  This recipe is based off of the “Ultimate Winter Couscous” in his book, Plenty.  It was part of our first dinner at the retreat, and is transport-friendly, in that it can be made ahead of time and is delicious served warm or at room temperature.

Ottolenghi couscous

makes 6-8 servings

1/2 of a whole acorn squash
2 zucchini or 3 beets (my original plan was zucchini, but there wasn’t any in the store at the crucial moment, so beets it was)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp dried ginger
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup (174 g) couscous
1 cup water, boiling
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 bunch cilantro
1/2 bunch mint
1/4 cup olive oil
1 lemon
3/4 tsp salt

Cut the squash in half, and roast cut-side-down at 400 F in a baking dish that has a little pool of water poured into it.  It’ll take about 30 minutes until it becomes tender and a knife can pierce the skin easily.  Since you will only need half of a squash for this recipe, save the other half for later, perhaps as a mash beside veggies or stirred into a muffin batter.  If you are using the beets, roast them with the skin on, wrapped in foil.  This will take longer, probably 1 hour.

When the squash and beets have been cooked and cool enough to handle, peel the skin off and cut into cubes.  If you are using the zucchini, cut into cubes and pan-fry in vegetable oil until golden brown.  Once the zucchini is cooked, throw in the cubed squash and spices.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, pour the boiling water over the couscous and cover.  Let it sit for about 5 minutes, and then fluff the couscous with a fork.  Toss it with the cooked vegetables, and add the remaining ingredients: raisins, roughly chopped herbs, olive oil, the zest and juice of one lemon, and salt.  I really like how this dish leaves you feeling satisfied, but not heavy – and it’s a great way to enjoy the produce of the fall season!  And, if you are so inclined, this would be so delicious with some feta crumbled on top.  Yeah.

moroccan couscous

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