lemon jelly

Bedroom Gardening
October 25, 2008, 3:33 pm
Filed under: food, nutrition | Tags:

For a couple of years now, I’ve been thinking about starting my own vegetable garden. I’d have pole beans and sugar snap peas, cherry tomatoes and big heirloom brandywines, some kale, maybe a few varieties of summer squash…you know, a garden of biblical envy. Of course, all of this would mean having a yard of my own, and that for the time being really is a fantasy.

Up until last week, I was mostly content to buy my vegetables at the farmers’ market and to daydream in class about growing my own. I didn’t exactly see myself coaxing beans to climb up my radiator or turning my desk drawers into seedbeds. But then my friend Kim sent me home with a mixed bag of seeds for sprouting.

So, I’m not exactly growing fabulous vegetables amid my library loans, but I am sprouting my very own greens with little more than a mason jar, some cheesecloth, and a few tablespoons of seeds and lentils. It’s pretty exciting. I just harvested my first batch today, and I’ve got a different mix of green and beluga lentils sitting on my bookshelf now. I’m amazed by how simple it’s been.

The Basics of Sprouting

  1. Have a sterilised 1-litre mason jar ready, fill it with one or two tablespoons of lentils or some other sproutable seed/bean. Add two or three times their volume in water, cover the jar with a square of cheesecloth, and fasten with an elastic band. Let the seeds sit and soak for 8-12 hours. Drain the water then rinse by filling the jar with more water and swirling the seeds around. Drain into the sink again and leave the jar propped up at a 45-degree angle to drain some more – this allows the seeds to breathe and stay moist without sitting in excess water.
  2. Rinse two or three times a day, always leaving the jar to drain between rinses.
  3. In 3-6 days, the sprouts will have grown to a few centimetres or more. They are ready for eating! Just give them a final rinse and remove them from the jar.
  4. If storing the sprouts in the fridge, let them sit out to dry for 8 hours or so before putting them in a zip-lock bag.

If you’re looking for more detailed information, I found sproutpeople.net to be particularly instructive. You can also order sprouts and more sophisticated equipment from them, but that seems a little extravagant to me. You should be adequately equipped with a mason jar and some cheesecloth. But do check to make sure that the seeds/beans you plan to use do in fact produce edible sprouts. Some varieties, like kidney beans, are toxic.

As for the sprouts that are edible (lentil, mung bean, chickpea, radish, broccoli, alfalfa, etc.), you’ll be happy to know that they’re very nutritious, even more so than the original seeds/beans. The sprouting process makes their nutrients more readily available for digestion.

My only problem now is figuring out how I’m going to eat them…


Tempeh and other adventures in the Modern Vegetarian Kitchen
July 19, 2008, 11:01 am
Filed under: food, lists, nutrition | Tags: , ,

With my internship and a smattering of other things going on, I haven’t had much of a chance to do anything particularly experimental lately, but I have been cooking almost regularly out of Peter Berley’s The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen. It’s a wonderfully instructive and far-ranging volume that I’ve really gotten to love over the past few weeks since I got hold of it. It explains basic cooking methods and equipment, provides helpful and descriptive background information on ingredients with which the reader may be unfamiliar, and presents something like 300 well-written and mouth-watering recipes. I especially like how the Vegetables section is organised by season. It’s handy for figuring out what to look for at the farmers’ market every week. All in all, I find that it’s a fairly accessible book for the inexperienced cook and vegetarian and not at all intimidating.

Last weekend, my friend Steve invited me over to cook with him, and we made the most amazing dinner out of MVK. Though I was basically relegated to the role of prep cook for the evening, we did use something I’d never had before – tempeh. Prima facie, it seems quite possibly like one of the most unappetizing but edible things one could put on a plate. Berley describes it as follows: “Tempeh results from a method of inoculating soybeans with certain spores to make them more digestible. Whole cooked soybeans are mixed with Rhizopus oligosporus, a mold culture, and allowed to incubate for 18 to 24 hours…The result is a white, chunky-textured, nutty-smelling slab of tempeh that is held together by a complex web of white mold.”

I was fairly sceptical about the stuff, but Steve insisted that everything would be okay, reminding me that tempeh isn’t really any worse than cheese in how it’s made. Of course, he was right and dinner turned out beautifully. We made Tempeh and Vegetables Braised in a Lemon-Coconut Broth and Cucumber, Watercress, and Red Onion Salad with Mint that night, just in case you’re curious. Our tempeh soaked up the lovely broth of coconut milk, lemon, and spices and became just fabulous.

For the nutritionally minded, tempeh also packs more protein and iron than tofu.

I have an odd penchant for lists. They impose a little order in my otherwise scattered life. So, this is probably the first of many and one that I will update from time to time.

Tried and True Recipes from Peter Berley’s The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen

  • tempeh and vegetables braised in a lemon-coconut broth, p. 282
  • cucumber, watercress and red onion salad with mint, p. 84
  • garlicky braised greens with toasted pumpkin seeds, p. 135
  • balsamic glazed beets and greens, p. 115
  • mess o’ peas, p. 98
  • basil-almond pesto, p. 377

Chocolate-Almond Layer Cake
July 7, 2008, 9:54 pm
Filed under: food, nutrition, recipes | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Friends are good for a lot of things – comfort, laughs, moral support, and sometimes even the odd break-and-enter job. They give hugs, induce fits of hysterical and inappropriate laughter, reassure you that you’re not completely crazy, and drive get-away vehicles. This isn’t to say that we clambered up any fire escapes and into bedroom windows this weekend, but by late evening on Friday, everyone had developed a fair appetite, so I was happy to take advantage of another thing that friends are good for – trying out new things on in the kitchen.

I made Melissa Clark’s Double Garlic Soup, Peter Berley’s Garlicky Braised Greens (minus the toasted pumpkin seeds) from his book, The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen, and a chocolate-almond layer cake, something half-improvised, half-adapted from an Ina Garten recipe. The idea behind the dinner was to introduce my friends to either new and unfamiliar ingredients or more familiar ones in an unusual way – all with nutrition and vegetarianism in mind, of course.

The soup was the dish I was most excited to make because instead of ordinary garlic heads it called for green garlic and garlic scapes, which I had read about in the New York Times earlier this summer and had found at the farmers’ market. The soup was good to begin with and even better two sleep-deprived days later when I remembered that there were leftovers in the fridge. Even so, I’m not really in a hurry to make it again because it was fairly labour-intensive with all of the chopping and a bit on the expensive side. Maybe I’ll have forgotten the pains of the process by next summer when scapes and green garlic are in season again.

I decided on the Berley recipe because I’d been wanting to cook kale (yet another dark, leafy iron- and calcium-rich green of the vegetarian arsenal) for a few weeks but wasn’t sure of how to approach it. Everyone enjoyed this dish too, and it was definitely the easiest of the three to prepare. It basically involved heating up a pot of water and doing some slicing and sauteeing.

The cake, however, seemed to be the real triumph of the evening. The original recipe involved a sugary, butter-heavy icing that I really wasn’t interested in – yes, even dessert couldn’t be entirely nutritionally void. Rather than going to butter for fat, then, I took the almond butter I’d made earlier in the day and turned it into a rich almond cream to separate the layers of fudgy cake. It was absolutely lovely. Seconds were had. Dishes were licked. I’ll be making this again before the end of the summer.

Chocolate-almond Layer Cake

Adapted from an Ina Garten recipe printed in The Toronto Star.

Note: the cup of coffee makes this cake batter alarmingly runny, but not to worry, you will end up with a moist, fudgy cake after 35 minutes in the oven.

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup fresh-brewed coffee
  • 1/2 cup almond butter
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1 cup half-and-half (10% m.f.) cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup chopped, toasted almonds

The Cake

  1. Butter two eight-inch round cake pans and line with parchment paper. Butter the paper and dust with flour.
  2. Sift together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. Beat buttermilk mixture into the dry ingredients until just combined, then slowly incorporate coffee into batter.
  4. Pour batter into prepared pans and bake in pre-heated oven at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cool cakes in pans for 30 minutes, then invert onto a rack to cool completely. Peel paper off.

Almond Cream

  1. Heat half-and-half in a saucepan over low heat until just about simmering – wait for the first few bubbles and remove from heat.
  2. In the meantime, whisk yolks and sugar into the almond butter.
  3. Gradually whisk half-and-half into the almond-butter mixture. Return mixture to saucepan on low heat until visibly thickened, about ten minutes. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Let cool to room temperature, then cover and chill in the fridge until ready to use.


  1. Spread half of almond cream over first cake layer. Place second cake on top of the first and spread with the remaining cream.
  2. Garnish with almonds and serve.

Almond Butter
July 4, 2008, 3:52 pm
Filed under: food, nutrition, recipes | Tags: ,

I’ve never been very good at sleeping in. Once my thoughts (even and maybe especially the trivial ones) get going, sleep just isn’t an option. So, with all the little things churning around in my head early this morning, I gave up on tossing and turning and decided to see what kind of magic I could conjure up with Gavin’s food processor. I made almond butter! I started out with somewhere between a cup and a half and two cups of chopped almonds and ended up with something like 200 mL of creamy almond goodness. It is magic.

A nutritional note: Summers and summers ago, I met une amie Americaine who remains dear to my heart though I haven’t seen her in ages. One of the first things I learned about her that July was that she was vegetarian. For the month or so that we were together pretending to speak and learn French, I would occasionally join her in her vegetarianism as an act of solidarity and because the cafeteria fare was pretty poor. I remember eating a lot of french fries, peanut butter, and crackers. We were sixteen – what did we really know? Anyway, there seems to be this popular misconception that peanut butter is an adequate and excellent source of protein. (At least, that’s my explanation for all of the peanut butter we ate that summer.) Peanuts do pack some protein, but if you’re going to spread something fatty on your toast, you may as well make it worth it – nutritionally, that is. Butters made from almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, and the like offer way more in terms of iron, protein, calcium, and zinc than peanut butter. Just compare the labels the next time you’re at the grocery store.

Almond Butter

Note: Making nut butters requires more patience than effort. I probably spent close to 20 minutes with the food processor. The almonds will resemble a a coarse meal initially, but just keep at it, and a butter will form. I promise!

  • 2 cups raw, whole almonds
  • pinch of salt
  1. Roughly chop almonds and toast in a dry skillet on medium heat until slightly golden, stirring occasionally. Let cool for 5-10 minutes.
  2. Pulse toasted almonds and salt in a food processor until the fats release and a smooth, creamy paste forms.

Of dreams and debuts
June 25, 2008, 11:40 pm
Filed under: food, nutrition, recipes | Tags: , ,

There are just some weeks at the end of which there is nothing in the pantry except maybe a couple of pitiful yellow onions and in the fridge a few lacklustre carrots. I admit that my financing skills probably leave something to be desired, but the usual reason behind my scraping together meals out of very little by Thursday or Friday night is that I spent five days in San Francisco this spring and fell in love with the idea of spending a few glorious and itinerant years just traveling and writing and drinking in the world.

This little escape was the first real bit of travel that I’ve been able to do entirely on my own terms, and now I can’t wait to do more. Naturally, this means that the money I don’t spend on food, coffee, or the occasional beer by the end of the week gets plunked into an old jam jar sitting on a shelf in my room. Hence the sparse pickings – either I relish the idea of sticking another twenty in the jar on Saturday morning, or I opted for pints and half-remembered, half-dreamt conversation earlier in the week and can’t bear to blow the weekly budget completely.

Last week was one of those weeks. I had a couple of onions, a bag of organic carrots, some beluga lentils, and not much else lying around that would make for a substantial meal. What I ended up with wasn’t so terribly bad – a pan full of honey-roasted carrot matchsticks and onions with some belugas on the side. It was a passable meal with some potential. I thought that, with some work, it might even be worthy of more distinguished company than just me and my current read, Multicultural Citizenship.

Tonight, my lovely and much-missed friend Islen popped over the border for a visit, and together, we worked out something simple that called for seconds. Presenting, the debut recipe:

Ginger-glazed Carrots and Onions

  • 1 lb carrots, scrubbed, peeled, and cut into sticks
  • 2 medium onions, peeled and quartered
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • generous pinch of salt
  • fresh-ground pepper, liberal twists
  • 1 1/2 tbsp honey (I happened to have wildflower on hand)
  • 1 1/2 tsp freshly grated ginger
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Toss carrots and onion in olive oil, salt, and pepper on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
  3. Roast vegetables in the oven for about 20 minutes or until they begin to brown, turning once for more even colouring.
  4. In the meantime, heat honey in a small sauce pan on medium-low heat and stir ginger into the honey. Add lemon juice to the honey glaze.
  5. When the 20 minutes is up, pull the vegetables out of the oven and drizzle with half of the glaze. Return the vegetables to the oven for another 5-7 minutes. Then, remove them again, give them another toss, drizzle them with the remaining glaze, and return them to the oven for a final 5-7 minutes.
  6. Serve vegetables warm with your favourite legumes, a salad, and some crusty bread.

Serves 2 generously.

Note: I keep a bag of peeled ginger root in my freezer at all times. When I need some, it’s just a matter of going into the freezer for a piece and grating it directly into wherever it’s needed.

Nutrition: No, this certainly doesn’t make a meal in itself, but carrots are a bargain as far as fibre and vitamin A go.

Pleased by Peas
June 21, 2008, 5:55 pm
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The Saturday routine looks something like this: I wake up, scour grocery fliers and cookbooks and blogs, write a shopping list around some meal possibilities for the week, and then head out to the wide world of edible goodness. A friend lent me a copy of Becoming Vegetarian: the Complete Guide to Adopting a Healthy Vegetarian Diet earlier this week, so I was particularly intent this morning on grabbing some wholesome items to make up for the nutrients that I’ve relied on meat for in the past. I picked up some green lentils, the usual whole wheat and flax bread, and some other key items, but my favourite find for the week was definitely the English peas from the farmers’ market – moderately iron-rich and protein-packed and still in the pod.

The few that I snacked on raw I found to be mild and sweet but with a lingering bitter aftertaste. About 25 seconds in boiling water, as per Heidi Swanson’s instructions, took that edge off and made them verdant and wonderfully sweet. I don’t know what I’m going to do with the rest yet. I added some to whole wheat pasta with asparagus, red onion, and roasted garlic, but I wasn’t particularly pleased with the result. I think the peas need a creamier accompaniment, and maybe brown rice would complement them better than the pasta. I don’t know; I’ve had a thing for brown rice lately.