Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Easy Veggie Chili

Our slow cooker has been collecting dust on our shelf of small kitchen appliances since moving a year and a half ago! I really have been meaning to use it sooner as we inherited it from Paul's family and I wanted to test it out. I used to love eating vegetarian chili when I was growing up that was made in the crock pot. Now, I've made my own version using ingredients that we already had around the house. It was easy to make, used inexpensive ingredients, and made a ton of leftovers for future lunches. Those are all excellent things in my mind!

I soaked/cooked the beans using dry beans the night before by placing a whole ton of beans in the slow cooker and filling it with 2-3" of water above the beans. I let that run on low for 8 hours and put the beans in the fridge overnight.

For the chili, I used:

  • 4 cups of pinto beans, already cooked/soaked from dry beans (you could use 3 cans of beans if you aren't preparing them from dried beans)
  • 1/2 bag of frozen corn
  • 1 can of diced tomatoes, including all juices
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 pepper, diced
  • 1 hot pepper, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pkg tempeh, chopped into small pieces
  • 1 tbsp chili seasoning (if you don't have this, you can use 1 tbsp chili powder)
  • 1 tsp ground chipotle
  • 2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, diced, plus two spoonfuls of the adobo sauce (optional)
  • few dashes of Tobasco sauce
  • salt and pepper to taste
Throw all of the ingredients in the slow cooker, and let it cook on low for 6-8 hours. You can really use any combination of the ingredients above, or you can add different types of beans, tempeh, or whatever you'd like!

You may start to find more slow cooker recipes on this blog in the coming weeks as this was such a great success!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Peppermint Tea with Fresh Mint

I have four different mint plants growing in my garden and they're growing like crazy! I decided to make some tea out of the peppermint leaves from the garden and it worked wonderfully! It is very quick and easy to do and it makes a very yummy tea. Peppermint is very healthy and is known to aid digestion and help soothe stomach problems. Plus, it smells and tastes great!

To make peppermint tea, pick a whole bunch of leaves from your mint plant. Rip the leaves up into a bunch of tiny pieces and place them on a paper towel. Let the ripped tea leaves sit for 24 hours, preferably in a sunny location. The leaves should dry out within this time - if they aren't dried out, let them sit for a longer amount of time. For me, 24 hours did the trick.

Put 2tbsp of dried mint leaves into a mug and pour boiling water over top. Add 5 fresh mint leaves to the mixture. Let this sit for 10-20 minutes, covered, to allow the tea to steep. Then, pour the leafy tea over a strainer into another mug to get rid of the leaves. You will be left with a very delicious and soothing peppermint tea!

I'm going to try this with my other varieties of mint, too! The next one to try will be the Sweet Pear Mint, followed by Grapefruit Mint and Pineapple Mint. Or maybe I will get fancy and try a mixture of a few all together! It was very quick and fun to make my own tea at home using only mint leaves!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Fruit Popsicles

Now that it's getting hot outside, it's the perfect time to make popsicles! I went out and purchased a popsicle mold (they had a great selection at Bed Bath & Beyond) to make the frozen treats. I wanted to make them a bit healthier, so I made these ones using fruit. You really can use just about any kind of fruit juice combined with fruit and I used what I had on hand - pineapple juice, kiwi, raspberry, and mango sorbet. You could mix in another other kind of fruit or fruit juice that you wanted - orange juice, banana, watermelon, and the list goes on. You could even blend in some soy milk for a creamier treat, or make ones with chocolate soy milk and coconut for a delicious chocolate popsicle! The possibilities are endless!

I put some pineapple juice (probably about 2 cups worth), 2 chopped kiwis, a handful of strawberries, and a big scoop of mango sorbet into the blender. Blend until smooth. Pour the mixture into popsicle molds and throw it into the freezer.

Something that Paul also reminded me that I completely forgot (and I learned the hard way, when my first popsicle got half-stuck inside the mold!) was that if the popsicle gets stuck inside the mold when you are trying to get it out, you should run it under some warm water to loosen it up.

I think it is great to make your own frozen treats at home - I'm sure that many store-bought ones are not only expensive, but have lots of added sugar. These ones are 100% fruit and they are so yummy!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Veggie Garden 2012 - Freshly Planted!

Here is a look at our vegetable and herb garden of 2012! Paul and I are trying out some old favourites and new varieties this year, as well as an experimental planting of seeds and green onion bulbs in a soil bed along the fence in our backyard. Starting with the veggies, we planted everything in containers as the spot that gets the hot afternoon sun in our backyard happens to be right in the middle of our yard. We tried putting everything in containers on the deck last year and had a lot of success, so we're doing the same thing this year.

We purchased all of the veggies at Urban Harvest on Queen West in Toronto. They grow organic veggies from non-GMO seeds, many of which are heirloom varieties. We love supporting their small business, especially since they place an emphasis on organic gardening and ecological diversity.

We're growing two varieties of sweet pepper: Tequila Sunrise and Corno di Toro. Paul and I love our hot peppers, so we have four different varieties: Red Rocket, Hungarian Wax, Red Cayenne, and Chinese Five Colour Hot Pepper. We have two plants growing of each variety of pepper for a grand total of 12 pepper plants!

There are four different types of tomatoes growing, most of which are cherry tomatoes that are best suited to growing in pots.  We've got: Matt's Wild Cherry Tomato, Isis Candy Tomato, Red Pear Cherry Tomato, and Baxter's Bush Cherry Tomato. The Isis Candy and Red Pear are new ones for this year, so it will be exciting to see how they grow!

And here we have the herbs...we purchased all of the herbs from Richter's Herbs because they also grow using organic, non-GMO seeds and have a huge variety to choose from.  The herbs are growing on a stand up at the top of our deck where they have a bit of protection from the wind by being closer to the house, but still get plenty of sunlight. It is great to have the herbs so close to the kitchen - we can just open the back patio door from the kitchen and can pick some fresh herbs for cooking!

Zaatar and Lemongrass

Salad Burnet

Four varieties of Basil

Four varieties of Basil
On the top row, we have Zaatar (a spice used in the Middle East for hummus, dips and soups - a new one for us to grow!), Lemongrass (our first time growing this, too!), Salad Burnet (salad green that tastes like cucumber), and four different varieties of Basil:  African Spice, Pesto Perpetuo, Thai, and Genovese. I also have a little pot growing some Black-Seeded Simpson Lettuce from seed.

Four varieties of Mint

Mint, Dill and Cilantro
On the bottom row, I have lots of mint growing - a first for us as I recently discovered my love for mint! Paul isn't a huge mint fan, but that just means more for me haha! We've got Peppermint, Sweet Pear Mint, Pineapple Mint, and Grapefruit Mint - yum!  We've also got some dill and cilantro growing, too.

Since we have way more herbs this year than last year, we had to expand and plant herbs in the spots for planters on our deck! We actually like having the herbs in the planters even more than flowers because they look great and smell amazing.

On the right side of the deck, we're growing Vietnamese Cilantro, Rex Rosemary, and Lady Lavender.

On the left side of the deck, we're growing Greek Oregano, Blue Boy Rosemary, and Garlic Chives.

This plot of soil in the backyard is an experiment to see what will grow there. At the moment, there are tons of cherry blossoms scattered throughout the soil from our neighbour's tree. This giant cherry tree blocks out much of the sunlight, so the plot only gets a few hours of sunshine a day in the afternoon. We are hoping it is enough light to grow some plants that don't mind a bit of shade. We planted some green onion bulbs that are already coming up. Also, a couple of the herbs that like the shade and moist soil have been planted - Bloody Dock and Sushni (salad greens).

Everything else is being grown from seed, so it will be interesting to see what pops up! Hopefully, not too many weeds! I made this diagram:

The diagram will be helpful to remember what exactly was planted where - what grows, and what doesn't. As you can see, we planted three types of beans (Golden Wax, Royal Burgundy, and Tender Green), Cherrybelle Radish, Pak Choi, Tres Fine Endive, Rainbow Swiss Chard, Red Russian Kale, and Wasabi Arugula. Hopefully everything grows!

There you have it - the beginnings of another wonderful fresh veggie garden! I'll be posting more updates later!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Cupcakes for Paul's Birthday!

Today is Paul's birthday (Happy Birthday, sweetie!) and I decided to surprise him with some cupcakes! While he was at work yesterday (and before I had to go to work), I tried out a new recipe with flavours that I know he enjoys - vanilla and caramel. I made the cupcake, frosting, and caramel from scratch and it resulted in a sweet ooey-gooey mess of deliciousness. And most importantly, he loves them! When he came home from work last night, there was a whole cupcake stand full of sugary treats waiting for him as an early birthday present.

I originally found this recipe through Pinterest and the image linked to a recipe on the Earth Balance website. This is very fitting as this recipe does tend to use a lot of Earth Balance margarine and shortening for the cake, icing, and caramel sauce.

The recipe also originally called for pink Himalayan sea salt to be sprinkled on the tops of the cupcakes - I know that this is not something Paul would enjoy, so I opted out of that last step. I'll post the original recipe as-is so you can choose to add that last step if you'd like!

  • 1/2 cup Earth Balance margarine
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup soy yogurt (I used plain almond milk yogurt)
  • 1/2 cup soy milk
  • 1/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups of flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup Earth Balance margarine
  • 1/2 cup Earth Balance vegetable shortening
  • 3 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 tbsp soy milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup soy milk
  • 1/4 cup Earth Balance margarine
  • 1 1/2 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 pinch of Pink Himalayan salt (or regular sea salt)
  1. Preheat oven to 350F degrees.
  2. Combine the margarine and sugar in a mixing bowl and cream with electric beaters.
  3. Add the soy yogurt, soy milk, powdered sugar, and vanilla, and continue beating until fluffy.
  4. Sift in the flour, baking powder, and salt and continue mixing until just combined.
  5. Line a cupcake pan with 12 liners.
  6. Using a cupcake scoop or a large spoon, distribute the batter evenly throughout the liners.
  7. Bake for 18 minutes or until firm in the center
  8. While your cupcakes are cooling, prepare the frosting.
  9. Beat together the margarine and shortening with your electric beaters.
  10. Gradually add the powdered sugar while mixing.
  11. Add the soy milk and vanilla.
  12. Continue to beat for 8-10 minutes, or until completely smooth and fluffy.
  13. Set aside and prepare the caramel.
  14. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the brown sugar and soy milk.
  15. Stir constantly until the sugar dissolves and the mixture begins to thicken, 10-12 minutes.
  16. In a separate bowl, dissolve the cornstarch in the water, then add to the sugar mixture.
  17. Stir constantly until the caramel begins to thicken and bubble, and cook for 2 more minutes.
  18. Remove from heat and add the margarine and vanilla, stirring until completely melted and incorporated. Set caramel sauce aside to cool.
  19. Frost the cooled cupcakes with either a knife or a pastry bag.
  20. When the caramel is cool, drizzle a spoonful over each cupcake. Let set.
  21. Sprinkle each cupcake with a bit of pink salt, then serve!

Monday, May 7, 2012

A New Bicycle for Spring!

I finally bought a bicycle! I wanted to share a few photos of my shiny new bike - I just bought it yesterday and took it for a spin around the neighborhood. I've been meaning to purchase a bike for a long while now and since it has been gorgeous outside lately, it was the perfect time. Yesterday afternoon, it was beautiful and sunny outside - what a great opportunity to explore the streets and paths all around my neighborhood!

I purchased a retro-styled purple cruiser bike, complete with a cute (yet very functional) basket on the front to carry my things! The bike is made by Everyday Bicycles and it is called the Kensington 6-speed Cruiser Bike. I got it for $199 at my local Canadian Tire - yeah, I would have liked to have bought it at an actual cycling store, but the bicycles there all started at a $500 minimum it seemed, and I couldn't justify spending that much right now. Anyway, it is a fantastic bike and I love the color and style! I think it is just perfect for me. Looking forward to fitness and fun!