Julember: ‘Tis the Season to Sit by the Fire and Eat Comfort Food

While most of the world is experiencing the summer fun of July, here in my part of the world we are experiencing Julember – the calendar may indicate it is July, but the weather is indicating it is November.  With temps hovering around 9C, I have spent the past week thinking of soup instead of salad, socks instead of sandals, and Santa instead of summer.  The normally ignored fireplace has been lit every day this week and I have been knitting – not one of my regular summer activities.

So, when a recipe for strawberry muffins popped up in my Facebook feed I jumped at the chance to mix a traditional comfort food with a summery delight.  I gathered the ingredients and immediately called my visiting sister and her family to drop over for a sit by the fire, coffee, and muffins.

With help from my adorable nine-year-old niece, and changes to the recipe to veganise it, the dual season muffin-making began.

As always, prepare your flax egg first:  1 tbsp of flaxseed and 3 tbsp of water.  Mix in a small ramekin and let gel.

This is also a good time to hull, clean, and chop the strawberries.

You will need:

  • 1/2 cup Earth Balance butter, softened (each Earth Balance butter stick is 1/2 cup)
  • 3/4 cup organic sugar
  • 1 flax egg
  • 2 cups flour  (Your choice; I used all-purpose)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup milk (I used soy, but almond or rice milk will work just as well)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped organic strawberries

TOPPING:

  • 3 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • I usually make a small bottle of sugar and cinnamon to have on hand so I don’t have to prepare this much-used topping every time a recipe calls for it.  

With your nine-year-old niece having a tight grip on the mixer, cream the butter and sugar. Add the flax egg and mix well.

Sift flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl and let the wee child stir it about. Add the flour mixture and the milk alternately to the butter mixture (much more fun when two people are doing this!). Add vanilla. Stir in strawberries.

Spoon batter into muffin pans and sprinkle the topping on the batter.  Of course, only small children are allowed to sprinkle the topping on the muffins. 

Bake at 400 for 20-25 minutes.

This recipe makes one dozen regular-sized muffins.

Now announce to all and sundry that the beaters, bowls, spoons, and spatulas are ready to be licked!  Go sit by the Julember fire and enjoy!!

BEFORE:

strawberry muffins raw

AFTER:

strawberry muffins cooked

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Boiled Raisin Cake

boiled raisin cake 1

Boiled raisin cake is a Christmas staple in our house.  My Aunt Connie wrote out the recipe when she was twelve years old and gave it to my mom who has been making this cake ever since.  (Family trivia:  the recipe from Aunt Connie is still tucked away in one of my mother’s cookbooks.)  If you celebrate the twelve days of Christmas as do those of us living in this part of the world, you still have plenty of time to make it; after all, Christmas is not over until 06 January!

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 lb Earth Balance butter
  • 2 cups sugar (organic)
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 2 tsp ground cloves
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 cups raisins

 

  • 3 cups of flour (all-purpose or spelt)
  • 2 tsp baking soda

Combine first six ingredients in a saucepan and boil for 2 minutes, stirring often.  Place the hot saucepan in a sink of cold water to cool.  Add the flour and baking soda.  Pour into a greased tube pan and bake at 300 degrees (F) for 2 hours.

boiled raisin cake 2

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When left out for Santa, this cake is traditionally served with strawberry Purity syrup, a thick and very sweet syrup that is mixed with water.  Santa loves it!

Pumpkin Muffins

pumpkin muffinsToday it is 27C and humid, but last week it was cold and RDF (rain, drizzle, and fog) so I was looking for something cozy and comforting to make; something that would be tasty with a cup of hot tea or coffee.  These pumpkin muffins hit the spot – perfectly moist with just enough raisins to make it chewy.

You will need:

  • flax eggs to equal four eggs (4 tbsp flax seed with 12 tbsp of water – make this first so it has time to set [about 15 minutes] before you need to add it to the recipe)
  • 2 cups of sugar (I used organic)
  • 1 1/2 cups of oil (I used canola)
  • 1 3/4 cup of pumpkin puree
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 cups of flour (I used spelt)
  • 2 cups raisins (I used organic)

Put flax eggs in a large bowl.  Add sugar, pumpkin, oil, and beat thoroughly.

Add dry ingredients and mix with a spoon or spatula until batter is smooth.  Stir in raisins.

Fill muffin pans almost to the top (about 2/3 full) and bake at 375.  I found the muffins took about 25 minutes before they weren’t dunchy in the middle, but you should probably check on them after 15-20 minutes.

This recipe yields 30 regular size muffins.

Swedish Apple Pie

swedish apple pie

 

Swedish apple pie is one of our favourite desserts.  Not only is it delicious (especially with ice cream – soy, of course) but it is simple to make.  The recipe was given to me about ten years ago by a co-worker.  She had no idea why it was called *Swedish* apple pie since there is nothing particularly Swedish about it, but the name has stuck.  This recipe is a vegan variation – the kind of sugar and flour you use is up to you.

Fill a pie dish 3/4 full (about 6 apples, peeled and sliced)

Sprinkle with 1 tsp cinnamon mixed with 1 tbsp sugar

Now make the batter:

Melt 3/4 cup butter (Earth Balance butter sticks are easy to measure)

Add:  1 cup sugar, 1 flax egg, and 1 cup flour (To make the flax egg stir together 1 tbsp flax seed and 3 tbsp water.  It is best to make the flax egg before you start making the pie as it needs time to thicken.)

Pour the hot batter over the apples and bake at 350 for 45 minutes.

While this dessert is lovely by itself, it’s also nice with vanilla ice cream and/or berries.

Kohl und Pinkel

kohl und pinkel

I know a lot of you are experiencing a season unknown to me – spring.  As I look out my window it is snowing and the windchill is -28C.  Spring seems foreign to me at this point.  So, we are still in the comfort food zone; anything to take away the pain of this winter.  A German comfort food, often eaten in November when kale is at its finest, is Kohl und Pinkel (Kale and Sausage).  Boyfriend, who is German, cooked it one cold winter’s night and it was gorgeous!  I’m sure it brought many lovely memories to mind for him and it will now start some nice memories for me as well.

The ingredients can be found at any supermarket:

  • 1 lb. kale, cleaned and chopped into manageable, bite-sized pieces (for variation, you can add other greens such as collard, mustard, or turnip)
  • 3-4 rounds of vegan bacon, chopped
  • 1 cup oats (we used quick-cooking oats)
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 2 tsp. vegan beef bouillon
  • 1 tbsp. mustard
  • caraway seed to taste
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • various sausage, such as Tofurky Kielbasa or Beer Brats

Clean kale, remove the thick middle stem and chop.  Blanch for 1 minute in boiling water and drain.

Brown the bacon in a pan (don’t forget – vegan bacon does not take long to brown), sauté the onion with it and add the kale.  Cook for 2-3 minutes and then add water to cover.  Stir in vegan beef bouillon.  Simmer for 30 minutes.  Brown the sausages in a separate pan.

Add the mustard and caraway seeds and stir.  Place the sausages on top of the kale and simmer for another 20 minutes. Add the oats until softened (about 10 minutes) – they should absorb as much of the remaining moisture as possible.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Serve with various cold mustards.

Traditionally, Kohl und Pinkel is served with boiled potatoes and Aquavit.

Games Night

Recently, we hosted a games night.  Or, should I say, a game night because Diplomacy is the only game you can play in the span of an evening.  As the rules suggest, set aside four hours for a game.  We, however, were playing for the first time and had to read the rules and play the sample game.  Fun evening, but glad we had sustenance along the way.

As you plan, plot, negotiate, and strategise (click for more Diplomacy information) the best food to have on hand is dips, breads, and spreads.  Hot meals would be far too dangerous!

A portion of our spread looked like this:

games night

We served a variety of multigrain, naan, pita, and sourdough breads; an assortment of crackers; cold vegetables for dipping, as well as broiled eggplant; and various dips and spreads.

Below are recipes for some of the food served that evening.  As usual, I am unable to give exact measurements as Boyfriend glances at a recipe and then changes everything as he goes along.  Sigh.  I will do my best.

Tabooli:

We used quinoa instead of the traditional bulgur.  Cook a cup of quinoa for ten minutes, drain, and let cool. Add:

  • Salt
  • Lemon juice
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Fresh parsley
  • Diced tomato (a real tomato, not a can of)
  • Green onion
  • Mint
  • Garlic

Toss it all together and let it sit in the fridge for at least 3-4 hours before serving.

Hummus:

You will need a food processor for this one.  Blend together a can of chick peas, tahini, lemon juice, olive oil, fresh parsley, garlic, cumin, coriander, salt (we used our usual Herbamare), and anything else you can think of that will add to the flavour.  Add sparingly until the hummus tastes the way you like.

Curry Cashew Bean Cheese Spread:

This was a new one for me and it was delicious.  Once again, you will need a food processor.  Blend the cashews until they are a fine powder.  Add cooked white beans (a can will do), lemon juice, tahini, curry powder, and Herbamare until the mixture is spongy/creamy/pasty like cream cheese.

The best thing about dips, spreads, and breads is that you can still eat them the next day.  We made a lovely little indoor lunch picnic out of our leftovers.  🙂

A Vegan Thanksgiving

Here in Canada, Thanksgiving has come and gone.  It was a gorgeous weekend – crisp temperatures, sunny skies, and the leaves just started to turn.  As with most major holidays, thoughts turn to food.  In Newfoundland, that means a mid-day feast of turkey, dressing, pease pudding, and a general overload of root vegetables.  More than likely, there’s probably also some salt meat cooked for good measure.  Having never had much of a taste for traditional Newfoundland food (even though this is where I am born and bred), I always skipped the pease pudding and salt meat portion of the meal.  When I was growing up, this led to two different platters of vegetables on our dining table – leaded and unleaded.  Leaded vegetables were the ones cooked with the salt meat (leaving them, in my mind, doused in salt and floating in grease); unleaded vegetables were the ones cooked in plain salted water.  As you can tell, we are not a people who use spices beyond the basic salt and pepper; although we do use locally grown savoury in our dressing, which most people aren’t familiar with and is extremely tasty.  Perhaps I will write a post about the delights of savoury at a later date.

Now that I’m vegan, turkey and salt meat is totally unappealing.  So, what’s a vegan to do for Thanksgiving dinner?  Thankfully, Thanksgiving occurs in the fall when the root vegetables of my childhood are ripe for the picking and the local supermarkets and farmers’ markets are full of fresh, gorgeous vegetables.  What better time to buy as much as possible and roast them for dinner?  I bought beet, parsnip, turnip, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and carrots.  There is nothing nicer than to buy vegetables with the greenery still on them with a piece of twine holding each bunch together.  Local vegetables are also larger than supermarket varieties and taste sweeter.  How can you possibly go wrong?  You can’t.

Thanksgiving morning I took out the roasting pan and cut up the veggies.  They even looked delicious raw!

thanksgiving 2013 raw I liberally added extra virgin olive oil, nutritional yeast, pepper, Herbamare, and the aforementioned savoury.  Stir until the mixture is glistening just a wee bit from the olive oil, and put the veggies in the oven at 350 degrees.  It will probably take 2 hours before the veggies are at prime eating density.  For the first half hour, I leave the lid off the roasting pan.  Then I add a splash more olive oil, put the lid on, and cook for another 30 – 40 minutes.  Take the pan out of the oven, stir the veggies up a bit and decide whether you would like to add more oil or spices.  Put the lid back on and turn the heat up to 400 degrees for the last 45 minutes to an hour.  The veggies should be soft, but not mushy – your fork should move easily in the vegetable when you poke it.

We decided to add Tofurkey beer sausage to spice up our dinner just a tad.  Make sure the sausages are thawed, cut them into chunks, and add them for the last half hour of the roasting.  They don’t need to be cooked (since they are meatless), just heated through, so a half hour at 400 is plenty.

The finished product:  A tasty, earthy, beautiful fall dinner!

thanksgiving 2013 cooked

Dessert was a pumpkin loaf.  It was a new recipe to me and, unfortunately, the loaf was too dunchy for my taste (meaning it didn’t rise properly and was thick and wet around the middle). The search is on to find a better, less-dunchy recipe.   If I find one, I will be sure to let you know.

Italian Sausage

My 16-year-old nephew, a fantastic cook, stopped by last month for a cooking day with me and Boyfriend.  We thought it would be interesting for Chef D to cook a vegan dish completely from scratch and found this pizza recipe for him to prepare.  It was labour intensive, but Chef D dug right in resulting in a pizza that was unbelievably yummy.

pizza by duncan

The most fascinating element of this recipe was the making of the Italian sausage.  The use of walnuts instead of a meat-substitute had me convinced this “sausage” was not going to work.  Happily, I was wrong, wrong, wrong – the texture and taste are no different from meat sausage.  You don’t actually make this a link sausage, rather it is more like ground sausage in its appearance and it is easily crumbled onto the pizza.

italian sausage

Sausage ingredients (as seen in the link provided):

  • 1 cup dry walnuts
  •  1 small clove garlic, peeled
  •  2 tablespoons tamari
  •  2 teaspoons fennel seeds
  •  1 teaspoon dried basil
  •  ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  •  ½ teaspoon lemon juice
  •  ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

Combine the walnuts and garlic in a food processor and pulse until coarsely ground. Add all remaining sausage ingredients and pulse until well‐combined.

Boyfriend has since made the sausage using walnut, pecan, garlic, tamari, oregano, basil, fennel seed, crushed chili, paprika, and balsamic vinegar (it is always good to know you can make substitutions on a moment’s notice).  It only takes about two minutes to make this sausage and you can add it to anything – use it in spaghetti sauce, as a sandwich spread, or add it to a green salad for that extra zap of flavour.

By the way, we didn’t make the cheese for the pizza as per the recipe because of time constraints.  Instead, we used our standby nutritional yeast sauce.  We finished the day with vegan ginger snaps (made by yours truly) and homemade vegan ice cream (made by Boyfriend).  A lovely day, with lovely food, with a lovely nephew!

Black Rice Salad

black rice saladAn older neighbourhood here has a lovely tradition of holding a community barbeque every summer.  Seeing as Boyfriend lives in that neighbourhood, I have attended for the last few years.  It is one of the older neighbourhoods in the city with crazy winding, one-way streets populated by older row houses and some stand-alone Victorian beauties.  One section of the neighbourhood has a field hidden behind the houses of four separate streets – the perfect spot to hold a barbeque.

Barbeques are provided (one for vegan food only), so participants need only bring food to cook and one dish for the community to share.  Local entertainment is provided throughout the barbeque, giving residents a chance to show off their particular abilities.  In a world of subdivisions and people generally not getting to know their neighbours any more, it’s a wonderful spot to sit and talk and take in the friendly atmosphere.

I waited a bit late in the day to make my side dish, so I was stuck with whatever was in the pantry.  My first thought was to make a pasta salad.  Alas, no pasta.  Then I thought I would make the quinoa and lentil salad I made last year.  Alas, no quinoa.  What I did have was a bag of black rice, something I had never cooked before.  I didn’t know how it tasted or what would taste good with it.  Running out of time, I had to make a decision.  So, I decided I couldn’t go wrong with cold rice, some oils, and some seasoning.  And it worked!

I boiled two cups of water and added one cup of black rice.  Be sure to rinse the rice well before you cook it (and be prepared for the water to become a dark purple).  The rice will take about 35 minutes to cook.  Ideally, it would have been better to have had the time to let the rice cool for a few hours, or even overnight, before I added the seasoning but, like I said, I was running short on time.  After 30 minutes of cooling time, I added a shallot, a generous amount of Herbamare, a dash of hemp oil, a dash of flax oil, and several splashes of Tamari.  I mixed it together and left it in the fridge for an hour.

This salad went down a treat.  I know I’ve hit on something good when children will eat it and ask for more.  I can see this being a go-to dish down the road – something to make when the pantry is bare.  Easy to make, tasty to eat, and can be either lunch or a side-dish or a contribution to your own neighbourhood barbeque.

Homemade Tomato Sauce

quinoa, amaranth, and brown rice pasta with homemade tomato sauceOnce again, a lovely meal was thrown together by the Boyfriend – quinoa, amaranth, and brown rice pasta topped with homemade tomato sauce.  While I am more of a follow-the-recipe type of girl when it comes to sauces, he is willing to take whatever is in the fridge and throw it in the food processor.  So far, he’s done everything right and hasn’t made a bad meal yet.  🙂

You will need:

  • 5 tomatoes
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 shallot

Toss these ingredients in a food processor and process until you have a nice, smooth mixture.

You will also need:

  • 1 tsp coconut oil
  • nutritional yeast (to taste)
  • salt and pepper (to taste)
  • smoked paprika (to taste)
  • small tin of tomato paste

In a saucepan, heat up the coconut oil (not too hot).  Now add the ingredients from the food processor PLUS the remaining ingredients listed above.  Start with small amounts of each ingredient until the tomato sauce is to your liking.  Easy peasy!

This made more than enough sauce for two people, so the next day Boyfriend varied it slightly.  He added almond milk and some additional nutritional yeast.  This made for a lovely creamy pasta sauce and cut down on some of acidity of the tomatoes and the garlic.