Category Archives: Vegetarian

A Balanced Life and Autumn Salad

Several years ago I got involved in volunteering at an organization called “Soup Sisters.” It was founded in 2009 in Calgary by  Sharon Hapton. This organization supports women’s shelters across the country with the very simple and heartfelt gesture of providing home-made soup. Their tagline is “Warming hearts, one bowl at a time.”  Sharon’s good friend from Ottawa, Lynne Oreck-Wener attended the Calgary launch, and was so moved by this wonderful program, she decided, along with Lori Thompson and Marien Barker, to start-up a branch of Soup Sisters in Ottawa. They decided to donate the soup to Interval House, a local women’s shelter here in Ottawa. Along with several other volunteers, we assist by arriving early and setting up all the soup stations, or staying late to assist in the clean-up.

The soups are cooked at Urban Element, a cooking studio here in Ottawa that is home to an incredible professional kitchen. What was once a Fire Station has been converted into a charming culinary workshop. They kept the original red brick walls and built a state-of-the-art kitchen, complete with shiny stainless steel counters and appliances, butcher block islands, sharp knives and spoons and whisks of every size and shape.  The drawers are stocked with clear containers neatly labeled, containing just about every pantry item you could imagine.  Five kinds of peppercorns, and six varieties of salt had me feeling slightly jealous.

Each month, a different group of  participants (12-20 individuals) come together to cook. The groups differ each month. One month saw a group of employees from a law firm, using the evening as a team building opportunity.  Other groups have included friends and family getting together to celebrate a special birthday. The groups break into teams of 4, each preparing a huge stock pot of delicious soup. Our job, as volunteers is to wander around, making sure that no one chops off a finger or grates a knuckle, help the participants find what they need, and generally coral the chaos. Once they finish chopping and sauteing, the soups are set on simmer and the group sits down to a little meal of soup, salad, bread and wine.

Each participant pays a $50 fee, for which they receive training from a respected guest chef, the chance to work in a modern, contemporary professional kitchen, some new cooking skills, dinner, wine and most importantly, the glow of gratification from helping others.

Each session begins with a short address from Lula Adam, public education coordinator at Interval House.

“When the women realize someone has taken time from their Sunday night to do something to help them, it really touches them. These are women who haven’t really had a lot done for them, so it really does make a difference. When women first come here, they often feel isolated and alone. This is a gentle reminder that people in the broader community do care.”

After dinner the participants gather back in the kitchen to package the soups.  They are encouraged to write a personal message on the label, such as “made with hugs” or “made with love”. Each month when I volunteer, and watch the groups of women participating, it becomes clear, that these women care about their mission.  They want to make a difference beyond writing a cheque. These are indeed soups made with love. If you are interested in their soup recipes, check out their wonderful new cookbook.

Last month when I was working there, our guest chef was Tara Rajan. She prepared a roasted squash and apple salad for the group. This is my interpretation of her salad.

Perhaps because I am a Libra, (the sign is the scales) when I cook, I am always thinking about balance. I once read a beautiful definition of balance by Jasmin Tanjeloff, on the blog Tiny Buddha.

“To me, it means that you have a handle on the various elements in your life and don’t feel that your heart or mind are being pulled too hard in any direction. More often than not, you feel calm, grounded, clear-headed, and motivated.”

Balance in cooking is just as important as balance in the rest of your life.  When creating a dish I look for all the flavour elements to be in balance. These elements include salt, sour, sweet, spicy and bitter. I like to include the textural elements of creamy and crunch as well. Of course, not every dish needs all these elements, but when you do hit them all, sometimes it can be an incredible culinary party in your mouth.

I started with some obvious fall staples, squash and apples.

I like acorn squash because it looks like flowers when you slice it. Plus, the skin, when roasted is quite tender, so I never bother peeling it. I used Honeycrisp apples. Empires or Royal Galas would also work well.

The apples and squash are brushed with a little vegetable oil and maple syrup. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper and they are ready for the oven.

I prepared a dressing using sunflower oil, apple cider vinegar, white wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, maple syrup, salt and pepper.  In order to give the salad a hit of heat and some crunch, I prepared spiced pumpkin seeds. Shelled pumpkin seeds were coated with egg white and then tossed in a mixture of chipotle chile powder, sugar, and salt. They went into a moderate oven until they were toasted to perfection.

To assemble the salad, I started with a base of roasted squash and apple slices. I topped that with a few radicchio leaves, and a big pile of tender mache (lamb’s lettuce). I drizzled the salad with dressing, and topped it with some spiced pumpkin seeds and a few shavings of salty white cheddar.

Click here to print recipe for Autumn Salad.

Chili Hand Pies

Just the words “Hand Pie” make me smile. Could there be anything more adorable and appealing than a little pie you eat with your hands? To be honest, I’m not a huge fruit pie fan. Perhaps it’s because of my peach pie blunder.   Or maybe it’s just that if I’m going to ingest copious amounts of butter and sugar, I’d rather partner it with chocolate or caramel rather than fruit. Plus, there’s something about a fruit hand pie makes me think of McDonald’s deep-fried apple pies. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

But stuff something savory in pastry and I’m all over it!

I was watching The Chew last week and Carla and Clinton teamed up to make Chili Hand Pies. They had way too much fun making them, and I wanted in on it. I think it would be so much fun to have the cast of The Chew over for drinks! Cooking dinner for them would be too much pressure, but I know that certainly after a few cocktails, they’d all be in my kitchen with me cooking away. Michael would be laughing while he prepared some porky goodness, Mario would be grating Parmesan Cheese over everything and Clinton would surely keep the cocktails flowing.

My sisters just read the last paragraph and I know they are thinking that I am turning into my mother, having imaginary parties with my TV friends.

Carla and Clinton did a Beef Chili. I decided to do a vegetarian version, substituting Veggie Ground Round for the beef. I also added some onions to the chili and ramped up the heat, using 3 kinds of peppers: fresh jalapeno, diced pickled jalapeno and ancho chili powder. You want the filling to be quite spicy because the pastry crust is quite mild.

The dough is made with cornmeal. They recommended cutting the butter into small slices, but I took it right from the freezer and grated it into the dry ingredients. This is a wonderfully supple dough and rolls out without any problems. I used a 5 inch tin to cut out my circles. Use whatever you have on hand. Smaller ones would also be a wonderful hors d’oeuvre. You can make the chili and the pastry a day ahead and refrigerate them separately. I rolled out all my pastry circles and stacked them between sheets of waxed paper, before chilling. That way, the next day it was all ready to assemble and bake.

Onions, garlic, red pepper, jalapeno pepper, cumin, chili powder and salt form the flavour base.

Make sure you let the chili cool before mixing in some grated cheddar.

Don’t overfill them or you will have trouble sealing them. You can simply press the edges with the tines of a fork, or get fancy and roll the edges like a rope. 

Cut a few slits so the steam can escape. 20 minutes in a 400 degree oven, and they are ready to serve.

Click here to print the recipe for Chili Hand Pies.

Vegetarian Chili

I have been making this vegetarian chili on a regular basis for almost 10 years now. You would think I would be sick of it, but I’m not. Perhaps it’s because I top it with crushed tortilla chips and shredded cheddar and then pop the whole bowl in the oven until the cheese is hot and bubbly. A dollop of sour cream and some spring onions don’t hurt either!

When my daughter was 11 years old, she came home from camp and announced that she was now a vegetarian. Of course I thought it was a phase and figured she would grow out of it. After a year of subsisting on mainly cheese and peanut butter, I figured I better begin researching alternate protein sources for her. I started cooking with tofu and she really liked it. Problem was, the rest of the family, especially me, couldn’t stand it so it meant making two different dinners. And then I stumbled across this product.

Consisting of soy and wheat protein, it basically has not much taste, but is loaded in protein. I figured I could make a chili, loaded with spices and vegetables and use the veggie ground round for texture. I added some rice and beans for more bulk and protein and came up with a delicious vegetarian option that everyone would eat without too much grumbling. Several years later I got the brain wave to top the chilli with crushed tortilla chips and grated cheddar cheese. I put the whole thing in the oven for about 10 minutes until it was all hot and bubbly. After that, everyone was really happy!

If you can chop vegetables and open cans, you can make this. I thought it was a fairly foolproof recipe until my daughter’s friend, Christina, who requested this every time she ate at our house, decided to make it herself. She had just moved into her first apartment at university and sent me an e-mail for the recipe. A few days later, my daughter told me that the recipe did not turn out. Christina had burned it. I just could not fathom how this had happened. The recipe uses 3 cups of water as well as liquid from the canned tomatoes. How could it possibly burn with that much liquid?

Upon further interrogation, the answer became clear. She looked at the mixture in the pot after adding the canned tomatoes and decided that it already looked liquidy enough. She decided she did not need to add the water. What she didn’t factor into the equation was that she had also added a cup of raw rice. Rice absorbs liquid and swells to three times its original volume as it cooks. (She is not a science major!) Without the extra liquid, the rice had nothing to soak up and it just burned. She was so embarrassed so I decided to share my Jell-O fiasco with her so she wouldn’t feel so badly.

My earliest cooking disaster was back in the 70’s when Jell-O molds were all the rage.  My mom used to make whipped Jell-O desserts.  My favourite was a red Jell-O and frozen raspberry concoction that had sour cream or whipped cream folded into it.  It had a mousse like consistency.  Sometimes, when she was feeling a little exotic she would make a green Jell-O and crushed pineapple variation. When that happened, I had to call my friend Corrie, immediately.  It was her favourite.

I begged my mom to let me help her make the Jell-O dessert. She had everything laid out on the counter.  She gave me my instructions, “When the water boils, add two packages of lime Jell-O”.  She went upstairs to get the fish-shaped mold and left me alone. In a few minutes, clouds of steam were billowing out of the kettle so I added the Jell-O powder – right into the kettle!  Suffice it to say, it was a while before she let me help her again. My story left Christina feeling a little bit better about her burned chili, and since that time she has gone on to make it successfully, many times.

Begin with chopped onions, red and yellow peppers. Sweat in olive oil for a few minutes and then grate some garlic into the pot.

Add canned beans (white or black or both), canned corn, canned plum tomatoes, which have been coarsely chopped, rice, water and spices. My favourite way to chop canned tomatoes is to dump them out into a large bowl and squish them with my hands. For my chili, I used cumin powder, and a combination of Ancho chili powder and New Mexico chili powder (mild). Then add some white long grain rice and more water. Let the whole thing simmer for about 30 minutes.

After about half an hour, add diced zucchini and the veggie ground round. Cook for an additional 10 minutes and then spoon unto heatproof bowls. Top with crushed tortilla chips and grated cheddar and bake in a hot oven until the cheese melts.

Click here to print recipe for Vegetarian Chili .