Have you ever had the question posed to you, “If you were on death row, what would your last meal be”?
I find it to be a defining question into someone’s personality and its come up in most conversations with friends. This is one of the last tangible choices you have. If you’ve never had anyone ask you what your last meal would be, think about it; what would it be? Some people like to enforce rules like: has to be realistic to your location, you only get one choice of cuisine, one item etc… I play with no rules. Let your imagination run wild, you’re about to have the plug pulled; have whatever you want! You want Chef Ramsey - we can do that. You want an unusual beach slug from Japan - we can do that too. In the world of “imagination death row’”,anything is possible.
I’ve thought long and hard about my last meal. Spent a few years jumping from cuisine to cuisine or focusing on my flavor of the month. As my food child matured, I decided that I better start having conviction in my last meal, and be prepared for the next time I was asked that vital question.
My last meal would be a Mexican Smörgåsbord. A long wooden table, stretching to the very end of the room, carpeted with a variety of my Mexican favorites: swordfish ceviche, tuna ceviche, shrimp ceviche; a taco stand with all of the fixings; four types of empanadas; an oversized bowl of guacamole, that if I so choose, I could swim in; tamales stuffed with the most succulent fish; hand made corn tortilla chips; arepas; a tray of serano’s, habanero’s, limes, coriander and a tall pitcher of rock sugar mint mojito. To top it off, I’d request the presence of the patriarch of Mexican cuisine, from a small village outside of Mexico City; who would cook in front of me, sharing his secrets to the cuisine and the stories from his childhood of cooking with his grandmother. You may think it’s a bit excessive, especially if I’ve committed some heinous crime, but I like to see my story as being similar to that of ‘The Life of David Gale”: wrongfully accused with poetic undertones, justifying the need to milk the people’s taxes to pacify my betrayal through my palette.
So, this brings me to the empanada. It’s not often I get to indulge in an empanada chow down, since most available options are meat centric or extremely heavy and gas inducing (so people have told me…) I was flipping through one of my new baking cook books and came upon a recipe for empanada dough. I knew I had a ripe eggplant, red peppers, onion, chickpeas, heirloom tomatoes and fresh herbs. I could make Roasted Vegetable Empanadas, playing around with the dough, so it wouldn’t be too heavy.
It’s tempting to want to eat these all to yourself, but thankfully my roommate called three as they came hot out of the oven. We enjoyed it with a tomatoe chutney I had made and some Italian hot peppers in oil. Empanadas are like a blank canvas, you can literately stuff anything in them. I encourage fresh ingredients, creative flavor combos and not last nights left over dinner of pizza and wings.
Up until recently I had a revelation in the world of salads. Around five years ago I used to make fun of people who claimed to get full on a salad. I always treated it as a side meal or a bargaining piece in a mental negotiation for something fried and unhealthy. Greens are the convenient illusion of balance when you’re going glutton and beyond. Soon enough, my taste buds matured and I became one of those people I laughed at, ordering salads as meals, raving about all the different ways you could eat it. When I got sick of the romaine, I moved onto to the boston; when I grew tired of that I stuck with spinach; when I craved a flavor change I went on to arugula; when I got sick of the spicy I’d take a jump into kale and then back again to romaine. Sometimes I even mixed them all; yes, living on the dangerous side of salad!
Eventually, I grew tired of that and started finding that I was no longer feeling satisfied no matter how I mixed the greens. What was I to do? I loved salad. I really needed to start thinking out of the ‘salad bowl’ (yes I just did that). Shortly after, I visited a vegetarian restaurant for lunch and ordered their mix salad. On it came a variety of salads, but none of them had lettuce. No lettuce! Impossible! There was a green bean salad, a beat salad, a broccoli salad, chickpea salad and so on. Instantly a kaleidoscope of veggies took over my vision; my imagination bursting with ways to re invent the salad.
Butternut squash is in season so I knew I wanted to experiment with it and find something that could be a good contrast to its sweet robust flavor. Looking through the grocery aisles I came upon rapini. Rapini is a very bitter green and on it’s own can be quite overpowering, but melding the two juxtaposing flavors would create for a very interesting teeter-totter of taste experience. The whole recipe is incredibly easy to make. Short prep and assemble time. You just have to be patient as the squash roast. Sometimes I’ll make the squash the night before and then assemble everything in the morning.
Lets just say, the salad didn’t last long. My roommate ended up loving it so much, he kept sneaking spoonfuls until I caught him, giving him a speech about kitchen hygiene. But who am I kidding, I did the same thing and soon we were both spooning until there was nothing left.
* Beat all ingredients together
Pre heat oven to 475 F. Cut squash into cubes and layout on to tray, covering it with a generous layer of olive oil, salt and pepper. Then mix with hands to make sure all areas are covered. Cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Heat oil in a pan and sauté garlic. Before it turns gold, add rapini and some rapini leaves and sauté until rapini is semi soft.
Add rapini, squash and chickpeas into one bowl. Season with spices to taste. Add all herbs and green onion. Drizzle dressing and then mix thoroughly.
Enjoy on it’s own or with a slice of the Vegan Zucchini Carrot Banana Bread.
This past weekend I found myself at The Vegetarian Food Festival, tasting my way through a plentitude of healthy options: probiotics, quinoa bars, milk substitutes, candida busters, soy butters, vitamins A-Z and natural energy boosters, strong enough to send me on three more laps of the joint. Is there such a thing as ingesting too much healthy? After the ancient mushroom tea that sent me running to the bathroom, I thought possibly so.
Over the past few months I have been navigating my way through a cleaner and healthier lifestyle, experimenting with recipes and buying only products with ingredients I recognize on the label. It evolved into me cooking mainly vegan meals in the house. My visit to The Vegetarian Festival inspired me to experiment with the sweet loaf family, adding a daily dose of vegetables and to make things even more interesting put the challenge of vegan on the table.
Banana bread is a binge inducing food for me so I try not to make too many, as the average life span is 12 hours post bake. Lots and lots of tiny slivers. I know you know what I mean. I put my Banana, Chocolate Chip Bread recipe aside and started drafting a new one: Vegan Zucchini Carrot Banana Bread.
Pre heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease or line loaf tin with parchment paper
In a bowl combine ground flax seeds with warm water. Let stand until it becomes like a gel.
In another bowl, combine your dry ingredients (you can sift), flours, baking powde, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.
Once flax seed has gelled, add other liquid ingredients and mashed banana and stir until well combined. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and begin to stir until mixture starts to combine. Stir in grated carrots and zucchini and mix until all flour is absorbed and mixture is thick and viscous.
Pour batter into a prepared load tin and bake for 45 minutes to one hour or until a cake tester (toothpick) comes out clean. I found that even after an hour the toothpick was still a bit sticky, but if you let it cool for 30 minutes it becomes less sticky. The reason for the sticky inside is because its a very moist bread.
MESSAGE TO MY READERS: Do not be alarmed, I have not strayed from butter for life, but during this short break, try out this recipe and find that there are so many incredible sweets and meals you can eat without sugar and butter!
You know how Fresh gives their bowls and salads personalities based off of the types of vegetables they put in it. Or perhaps they just get high and pick names out of hats. I guess we’ll never know. Well, I’ve decided to give my Quinoa a name as well. While Fresh has got the Beach, Green Goddess and Power House - I’ve got, The Mighty. No real event or vegetable compelled me to this name , but I do feel pretty mighty after a few spoon fulls.
I don’t eat red meat. Haven’t for close to 16 years now, so I’m always looking for healthy alternatives to power up on my protein. Back in elementary school I used to microwave white bread with cheese. Those were the days when my body could take a beating from whatever I put in it. I quickly learned that wasn’t a real source of protein. And it wasn’t until several years later that I learned to distinguish what was good and clean vs. cacapoopoo for my insides.
Like many of you, I’ve jumped onto the quinoa craze bandwagon. It’s absouletly genious. I call it my blank slate. In the begining of the week I will (or Lorne will) boil a huge pot of it, let it cool and put it in a big tuperware for a morning creation. Depending on my mood during the week, I’ll make different Quinoa salads based off of what I have in the fridge. After a bit of experimenting I’ve come up with, I’d say, one of the best quinoa recipes ever. (humbleness at its best) Drum roll please…..”The Mighty Quinoa”.
2 cups of cooked quinoa
Half of a large red onion (chopped into small squares)
1 whole avocado (small cubes)
A bunch of colorful heirloom baby tomatoes (Halved)
Two small baked sweet potatoes (recipe below)
100 grams of Feta Cheese (chopped or crumbled)
1 bunch of mint (chopped)
1 bunch of coriander (chopped)
½ cup of good olive oil ( makes a huge difference)
1-2 tbsp of a good balsamic ( I use a 4 yr old crema di glaze)
Juice from half of a large lemon
Salt to taste ( I tend to go for 2-3 tsp)
Pepper to taste
A touch of cayenne
The first time I made it I cute up some firm tofu into cubes. I didn’t really need this because the quinoa is already packed full of protein but I love different textures in my food.
The second time I made this I added shrimp to make it a more substantial dinner meal. For my shrimp I seasoned them in herb de provence, olive oil, salt and pepper. I pan seared them for 15 seconds on each side and removed from heat.
Sweet Potato Directions
Pre heat oven on broil. Cut potatoes into small cubes. Season with olive oil, salt and pepper and a touch of cayenne pepper to cover. Watch the potatoes very carefully. They burn if you don’t keep a steady eye. Let cool and combine with other quinoa ingredients after cooled.
This might sound crazy, but I believe if someone has the exact same ingredients and makes the same dish as you, depending on the love and attention you give it, it will come out tasting a whole lot different. There’s something to cooking with heart and passion. I’ve witnessed the difference a million times. Don’t just shove everything in at once. Taste as you mix. Cook with passion and you’ll notice the difference immediatly.
Have a forkful and enjoy!