Recipe – Pico d’Italia – Italian Inspired Salsa

I’ve just finished my second week of my new job, so I’m getting into the groove of things and haven’t cooked as much this week as usual. I’m posting a recipe that represented only a part of our amazing supper…but it represents a great “Ah-Ha” moment. We were making veggie burgers, our one big tomato was rotten (boo), but we had some cherry tomatoes and I said, “Let’s make a salsa!…oh, but we don’t have cilantro.” The incredibly amazing boyfriend says, “We have basil!” then the lightbulb goes off in my head and I make the following with stuff from our fridge:

Pico d’Italia

1/2 cup of chopped grape tomatoes
finely chopped fresh basil – we had about the equivalent of 8 leaves
4 finely chopped calamata olives
1 minced clove of garlic (my clove was pickled, yours doesn’t have to be)
1/2 finely chopped red pepper (I had less than that, but I added a bit of finely chopped pickled yellow peppers that I had bought at our local Farmer’s Market)
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp lemon juice (balsamic vinegar would be a great alternative)
salt and pepper to taste


it's just like homemade salsa...but Italian!


Kai Lan Gomae (Japanese Sesame Paste on Chinese Broccoli)

I LOVE Gomae. Every time I go out for Japanese food, I am sure to order it. Typically, Gomae (which means “sesame paste”) is served over a bed of cold bunched spinach (or over tuna sashimi). I was wandering through the aisles of a Japanese grocery store near my home searching for this sauce in a bottle, and I came across 4 different types: 3 of them had MSG (I’ve recently started getting hives when I eat some kinds of MSG…very annoying) and the 4th had chicken base (what the heck?!) So I decided to make my own.

Gommae is actually pretty easy to make. I found several recipes online and adapted this one to what I had in my pantry. Here’s what you need:

Spice Grinder (or mortal and pestle)

4 tbsp of roasted sesame seeds
1 tbsp mirin
1/2 tsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp soya sauce
1/2 tsp sesame oil (optional)
1/2 tsp sugar (optional)

Grind the sesame seeds well, and then mix in a bowl with the remaining ingredients. I am going to call the sesame oil and sugar ‘optional’ because I added them this time, but next time I’m going to taste before adding. I don’t think the sugar is necessary due to the sweetness of the mirin, but your palate may want that added sweetness. Also, depending on the roasty flavour of your sesame seeds, you may not need the sesame oil.

I had spinach in my fridge, but I also had some Kai Lan (aka Chinese Broccoli) that needed to be used. I thought to myself: hey, it’s a green leafy veggie, with great tasting stems…it would work great in place of spinach.

Trim the stems of the Kai Lan, but don’t chop them up yet. Bring water to a boil in a shallow sauce pan, then only submerge the stems of the Kai Lan for the first few minutes (leaving the leafy ends out of the water). Push the leaves under the water and boil until the stems are just tender…do not over-boil, the greens should still be bright!

Drain the veggies and stop the cooking process by running cold water over it. Line the veggies on a cutting board and bunch them up tight before chopping into 1-2 inch pieces and stacking in serving bowls (give them some stems and some greens).

Drizzle the sesame dressing over the top and it’s ready to go!


For the love of cooking!! A bit of my food journey

I’ve read a few stories this week about people’s food journeys so I thought I’d share mine.

First, I’m not vegan. I’m also not vegetarian. Though most people who are getting to know me think that I am because of how I cook. I love cooking and I love food. I grew up being exposed to lots of different kinds of ethnic cuisine, and I still incorporate many influences from Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, Indian, Thai, African, Middle Eastern flavours in my food. But, besides Shake n Bake, I’ve never considered myself to be all that good at cooking meat. As is the case with many things, meat is only good when it’s really good…from inception to consumption.

I am also in love with and share my life with a vegetarian. He wouldn’t care if I chose to cook meat for myself, but I don’t want to be the kind of household that cooks two meals. I just don’t see the point when there are so many amazing things to cook that don’t include meat or fish. I strongly believe that vegetarians and vegans are in no way deprived from nutrition, flavour and overall culinary goodness!

In my adult life, I have grown to love a culinary challenge. I loved making a meal for a group of friends including the vegetarian, the vegan, the “carniwhore”, and the darling who is allergic to soy and peanuts and chocolate. (I made fajitas that night, btw…and did my own spice blend. Did you know that soy is in EVERYTHING processed/prepared?!)

I’m lactose intolerant. Which means that, when I am away from home, I will not choose the buttery cream sauce and ice cream menu options. I am at my best when my dairy consumption is kept at a minimal (high quality, non-bleu cheeses. haha)

I was first exposed to vegan cooking in 2003. Wanting to try something different, I randomly bought a cookbook, The EveryDay Vegan, and starting experimenting with using different grains and ways of preparing vegetables. I ate a solely vegan diet for about 4 months until a friend’s mother had Jamaican stewed chicken on the stove and offered me some. But since then, I’ve been committed to experimenting and trying different things in the kitchen. I’ve grown accustomed to cooking with lots of different spices and fresh herbs. I bought a used food processor on Craigslist and use it to make sauces and soups and juices and grated vegetables.

Most of the recipes I’ll share will be vegan, all will be vegetarian. I have always intended to write down my recipes, and I’m glad that this blog has morphed itself into a vehicle for doing that.

I bought a few fun items at the grocery store that will have a role in some of the things I will share with you this upcoming week: paneer, a Japanese sushi rolling mat, shitaki mushrooms

Stay tuned!

Vegan Swimming Rama – Spicy Peanut Beans with Spinach

I love the odd way that I stumble into some recipe creations. Last night, knowing full well that I would need to be making lunches for work, I wanted to use some of the carbs in our pantry. So, I soaked some pinto beans, and decided on making another attempt at my previous epic fail of Thai Sticky Rice.

Thai Sticky Rice: what went wrong the first time? It was an issue of trust on my part. I read the instructions on the bag and thought —well that sucks, I do not have a special thai bamboo steamer or cheese cloth, and, decades of rice making have shown me that you need to steam rice IN water, not ABOVE it. So, I soaked the rice, as instructed. But then I decided to cook it the way I would cook any other rice…and well, it turned into mush with that lovely ‘bite’ of undercooked rice in the middle.

This time, I decided to have a little faith in my Western Steamer, that has compartments to steam things above water. I soaked the rice overnight, then wiped a bit of oil in the plastic compartment that fits into my steamer, and placed the drained rice. I put the ‘steamer’ directly over the water and set the timer for 35 minutes instead of 25 (to account for the time it would take the water to boil). It turned out PERFECTLY! *pat on the back*

With perfect Thai Sticky rice, I then had these beans to deal with. The idea of doing a peanut sauce sprang into my head, and then I remembered how much I loved ordering Swimming Rama from Thai Away Home. The Swimming Rama I’ve had is made with chicken. But beans would go great in a peanut sauce…because beans go great with everything! I’ve used this sauce for dipping salad rolls, it’s yum!


in a bowl that you can get a whisk comfortably into add all of the following:

2 heaping tbsp smooth peanut butter
1 tbsp soya sauce
1 tsp chilli garlic sauce (I use Rooster Brand)
1 tsp rice wine vinegar
1/2 tsp ginger powder
1 tsp cane sugar (I’m just being fancy, because I have Hawaiian cane sugar in my pantry, atm) brown sugar is fine!
juice from 1/2 lime
3 tbsp warm water

Use the whisk to slowly turn this pile of stuff into a sauce. The warm water will help break down the peanut butter and bring it all together. You may have to play around with this sauce depending on the brands of products you use. Just notice that it’s full of items that are salty, sweet and sour. An element from each of those spectrums can be used to balance it out if anything comes across as overpowering.

I put 2 cups of soaked/drained pinto beans into a medium sized pot over medium heat and poured the sauce over them. I then realized (Learning is F-U-N), that soaked beans are not cooked beans! So, I added another half cup of water into the pot so the sauce would have a chance to cook down. After about 10 minutes, I realized the beans would probably need another 10 minutes, so I added more water (about another half cup). At this point, I also decided to add about 2 tbsp of large coconut flakes that I had hanging around. The essence of coconut combined with the peanut sauce and the flakes themselves would add a different texture to the dish.

If we were going to be eating this right away, I would have tossed a large handful or two of spinach into the pot right before serving to wilt it. But, since we were planning to eat for lunch tomorrow, I put the raw spinach on top of the rice and spooned the beans on top. The spinach will wilt in the microwave while heating. Lunch is gonna be gooood tomorrow ;-)

Vegan Sausage

I need to say that I am SHOCKED at how great this recipe turned out. The texture was way better than store bought veggie dogs, in my opinion. This was my first go, and I know that I am going to experiment to add different flavours into these on my next batch. A great thing about this recipe that I came across on Vegan Dad’s blog, is that you will likely have enough ingredients bought to try different things! My recipe below is slightly different than the Vegan Dad’s because of what I had in my pantry.

1/2 cup cooked white beans (I used white kidney), rinsed and drained
3/4 cup of water with 1 tsp of veggie bouillon dissolved
1/4 cup of dry white wine added to the water/bouillon
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons Braggs (or soy sauce)
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 1/4 cups vital wheat gluten
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seed, crushed *or* 1 teaspoon ground fennel seed
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried italian seasoning
Several dashes fresh black pepper

I have a steamer (thanks, Mom), so get your steaming container ready to go.

This recipe makes 4 sausages and says to have 4 square sheets of tin foil ready. If you’re like me and run out of tin foil after two squares, know that the sausages don’t have to be wrapped tooo much, I was able to wrap two sausages in one square (end to end, so they aren’t touching each other in the foil, but are still both fully wrapped)

In a large bowl, mash the beans. Mash them well, because otherwise beany bits will pop off of your finished sausage. Throw all the other ingredients together in the order listed and mix well. Due to all of the spices, I got my hands in the bowl to ensure they were distributed well. The ‘batter’ is a bit on the wet side, but not to worry. All of that moisture gets sucked back in when steaming.

Divide ‘dough’ into 4 even parts. Place one part of dough into tin foil and mold into about a 5 inch log. Wrap dough in tin foil, like a tootsie roll. Don’t worry too much about shaping it, it will snap into shape while it’s steaming because this recipe is awesome.

Place wrapped sausages in steamer and steam for 40 minutes. That’s it! You can unwrap and enjoy immediately or refrigerate until ready to use.


Confession: my partner and I excitedly tried one sausage right out of the steamer. We were excited about the texture, but found it to be a bit fennel-ee. But, the next day, we sliced and fried them up in a bit of oil (to enjoy with some collard greens), and so many of the flavours had developed overnight. The fennel had settled, the heat was there and the other seasonings were also prominent. I am looking forward to messing around with the liquid ingredients. How would these work with beer? Fresh parsley, or carmelized onion?

Eggplant Bharta (Indian Curry)

I love this recipe so much because, when I follow it, it turns out perfectly. I’ve had to make some adjustments to the original recipe I found, of course, and I’m happy to share this with you now. I would consider this dish to be spicy, but not excessively so. If you find the spice to be a bit much for your palate, top with a dollap of plain yoghurt or sour cream to cool it when serving. I most recently made this dish for a Christmas Turkey Curry Buffet where some of my guests were vegetarian/vegan. Enjoy!!


1 eggplant

2 tbsp cooking oil

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

1 medium onion, sliced

1 tsp chopped fresh ginger

1 large tomato – peeled and diced

2 cloves crushed garlic

1/2 tsp ground turmeric

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp ground coriander

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Salt/pepper to taste

Optional – plain greek fat free yogurt or sour cream to garnish

1. Preheat oven to broil. Rub oil on the outside of the egg plant. Place under the broiler on a tray, and cook until the flesh is soft and the skin is blistering off. Each time, I’ve set the timer for 30 minutes and that has been perfect. Turn once about every 10 minutes for even cooking. The eggplant is so juicy, that I suggest putting the cooked eggplant in a bowl to cool, peel, then roughly chop. Preserving the juices from the eggplant improves the quality of this dish.

2. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the cumin seeds, and let them crackle for a few seconds and turn golden brown. Add the onion, ginger and garlic; cook and stir until onions are just translucent. Stir in the tomato, and season with turmeric, ground cumin, ground coriander, cayenne pepper, salt and black pepper. Cook and stir for a few minutes.

3. Add eggplant to the skillet, and cook for 10 to 15 minutes so some of the moisture evaporates. Taste, and adjust seasonings if desired. Garnish with fresh cilantro, and serve.

Green Chilli

When I’m trying out a new recipe, I like to look at a bunch of other recipes to get a sense of what the flavour profile should be. Sometimes, I’ll refer to a recipe as a base, or, I’ll just wing it- which is what I did today.

First step: beans! I had some dry pinto beans soaking for a few hours before I decided to make green chilli. Waiting another 5-6 hours for the beans to soak was out of the question, so I threw them into a large pot with salted water, brought them to a boil, then simmered on medium for just over an hour before draining and rinsing them. While simmering, I prepped my veggies for the chilli:

6 tomatillos, diced
About 1.5 cups of roughly chopped button mushrooms
2 sticks of celery, finely chopped
1 green bell pepper, finely chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, very finely chopped (I kept the seeds out because I wasn’t looking for heat)
3 cloves of garlic crushed
1 small onion diced
1/2 can of rinsed corn niblets, optional (left over from my corn bread)
1/2 cup chopped cilantro

In a large deep pan, over medium heat with 1 tbsp cooking oil add onions until translucent.

Add mushrooms, celery, green pepper. Sauté for a few minutes then add the spice blend:

About 1 tsp each of: cumin, coriander, chilli powder (green chilli powder if you have it, I didn’t), celery salt, oregano

Add 1/4 cup of white wine, let simmer for 5 minutes

Add tomatillos, garlic, jalapeño, corn, 2-3 cups of cooked pinto beans, then 4 cups of water.

Add 2 bay leaves, cover and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Uncover, continue to simmer for another 15-20 minutes allowing most of the liquid to be evaporated. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove bay leaves! Lastly, mix in fresh cilantro before serving.

My version had a lot of flavour, but was definitely a mild chilli. Heck, I don’t think I used any additional salt!! Add more jalapeños or keep the seeds to create a spicier version.


Wild Rose culinary adventures

“Blogs are graffiti with punctuation.” I actually wouldn’t mind posting my thoughts on the side of a building or a Cambie tabletop; but those locations are taboo…especially since “the tables” received an artistic facelift.

This summer, I have found myself resorting to my comfortable habits of posting a thick spray of things on Facebook, while neglecting this venue…that I’m paying for! With this freshly downloaded iPhone app, I shall give this another go.

I love to write. I also love to cook. Having recently returned from a five week trip to Montreal, during which I ate my way through the city, I decided to start a detox/cleanse. A 12 day cleanse with a smartphone is much more fun than without. I must note that I’m already on Day 3. Feeling good, and a little loose. (mmm, my first over share). I’ve just attached photos from my first few days of the Wild Rose Cleanse. I’ll describe them from top to bottom:

1. Veggie Stir-fry — noodles made from shaved daikon radish (an idea stolen from Martha Stewart). peel the long radish to make “noodles” and soak in cold water for 15 mins. The radishy flavour lessens in potency dramatically. I flavoured with a homemade veggie broth, Braggs, ginger, and garlic.

2.Roasted Squash, Potato, Onion and garlic on Quinoa. We let the natural sweetness from the veggies flavour this dish and only seasoned with salt, pepper and paprika.

3.Oatmeal and berry sauce. There’s something so comforting about making oatmeal in a pot, instead of a microwave (we don’t have one and love it). Fresh blueberries and strawberries are so naturally sweet, they require no sugar when cooking them down with a bit of water and a splash of lime juice at the end. Topped with flax meal (which we learned has a natural anti-inflammatory element)

4. Mexican “Dragon Bowl” – the idea was a burrito in a bowl. blackbeans, soy protein, freshly ground coriander and cumin with tomato juice cooked down to make a great tasting base that was topped with freshly made guacamole, pico de gallo, and green onions. My partner topped his with some greek yogurt.

5. Leftovers for breakfast. turned roasted veggies and quinoa into a quick hash. good stuff.