Mostly Raw & vegan Christmas Fruitcake

I remember the first time I tried fruit cake. I was in grade 6 and my class was having a holiday potluck. Like any child, I was curious. Fruit cake? cream cheese? maraschino cherry? that sounds fancy! Can I have a slice? I thought it would be moist and fluffy and taste like Christmas. I remember how large the piece seemed on my poor little plastic plate and how heavy the bite of fruitcake lay on my fork. I stared at it for a bit, unsure of what to expect and then brought it up to my mouth. First came the hit of dried fruit, which was all stale and bitter and didn’t taste like Christmas at all!  Next was the fruitcake itself, which was so hard I could barely get it down my throat. Literally, it just stuck there for a couple minutes while I ran around looking for water. I think it tasted like cardboard. The icing, which threw me off cupcakes forever, was the absolute worst part. So sweet it made my stomach turn and my tongue go numb. I discretely threw the rest of my piece away and went straight for the fruit platter. Real food to the rescue!

Like every elementary school trauma, my fruitcake episode was eventually forgotten. I ate fruitcake several times after that and actually loved it, the version I liked the most coming from a German market that actually used good ingredients, plenty of booze and real cream cheese. I learned that homemade fruitcake was delicious and that fruitcake, much to my delight, even came in chocolate format. I never learned to like that icing though. To this day, I’d rather do wheat-grass shots than eat the sickly white stuff.

This recipe, which I turned into a Yule Log for Christmas, is my absolute favorite version of the classic cake. It uses mostly raw ingredients (so no flour, eggs or butter) except for the toasted nuts and booze, and instead of cream cheese, it has a coconut cashew cream frosting. Nothing in the cake is unnatural and none withstanding the kirsch, which you could easily replace with fresh fruit juice, the cake is completely refined sugar free. The recipe isn’t too complicated either, is just takes a bit of time and planning and because it’s raw, you don’t even need an oven. The flavor, most importantly, is incredible – just as spicy and sweet as the German version but with much healthier ingredients. Instead of being heavy like most fruitcakes, this one is light and refreshing, perfect for after a light meal or even for breakfast.

– Make the fruit filling an hour before making the rest of the cake as the fruit and nuts need a while to properly soak absorb the kirsch

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Soaked Filling:

3/4 cup raisins and prunes

1/4 cup kirsch

2/3 cup walnuts, toasted in a pan or in the oven

  1. Mix all ingredients together in a little bowl and set aside for about an hour

Fruit cake dough:

1 cup almonds

1 cup unsweetened coconut

1/2 cup cashews

3/4 cup dates

1 orange, juiced

1/2 tsp salt

2 tbsp orange zest (from the juiced orange)

2 tsp coconut extract

1 tbsp freshly grated ginger

2 tbsp honey (or agave)

How to:

  1. Grind the cashews, coconut and almonds in a food processor until mixture is completely ground
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend until a dough forms
  3. Take a large rectangular piece of plastic wrap and place on an empty work surface
  4. Empty out the dough and using hands, spread evenly onto plastic wrap forming a square
  5. Take soaked filling and spread over complete surface of dough as you would cinnamon sugar for cinnamon buns
  6. Away from yourself, and using the plastic wrap to help, roll the dough into a log shape
  7. Cover with whipped coconut cashew cream, decorate with fruit and orange peel and chill in fridge until ready to be served

Coconut Cashew Cream Ingredients:

1 cup coconut milk

3/4 cup unsalted cashews, roasted lightly

4 tbsp agave nectar

2 tsp vanilla

1/8 tsp salt

1/3 cup melted coconut oil (cooled to room temp)

2 – 4 tbsp almond milk (For whipping)

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How to:

  1. Blend all but the coconut oil until smooth in a high speed blender or using an immersion blender
  2. Add the oil and blend again
  3. Chill in the fridge overnight (or in the freezer for an hour) until completely solid
  4. Scoop cashew cream into a small bowl and whip using a hand mixer until light and fluffy, adding the almond milk as you go.
  5. Use for any recipe that requires cream cheese or Chantilly cream

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

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When I went to after school care as a little girl I’d often tell people that I hated raisins and that raisins in my chocolate chip cookies were the reason I had trust issues. To be fair, I was a really imaginative child. I think I even had an imaginary friend for a while with whom I ate said cookies and discussed the crispness of tortilla chips and how much I loved the color purple. Really, it was all in my head; a result of infantile peer pressure to like what the ‘normal’ kids liked, who consequently bullied me pretty ‘normally’ during lunch when I’d take out risotto instead of a grilled cheese or a pb&j. I remember them jeering at me, calling me ‘weirdo’ and ‘freak’, picking up my plastic containers and throwing them around. For a while, every lunch hour ended with me in tears, regrettably eating my food next to one of the supervisors.

At one point, I can’t remember when, I just stopped caring. I stopped asking my mom to pack me lunchables and started taking even weirder things to school than seafood and eating them with such nonchalance that my bullies stopped finding me interesting. Sure, I still at the hotdogs and the neon yellow cheddar and the nachos, but i also ate my octopus risotto and chicken heart stew. I stopped pretending that I hated black olives like everyone else and embraced my love of prunes, Brussel spouts and broiled octopus. My ‘denial’ phase? Over. I also broke the news that relish and yellow mustard made me sick. I hated them both. Jiffy peanut butter too. Although I must admit I’m an loyal fan of organic salty peanut butter now. Raisins? better than chocolate chips I proclaimed!  My transformation into ‘weird foreign girl’ was complete. Did I care? not an ounce. And I haven’t started caring since. Uni? bone marrow? Come to me my loves.

This is my favorite Oatmeal Raisin cookie recipe. It comes from an incredible chef called David Lebovitz whom I admire for his wit and recipes. I have several of his books and they’re all well written, funny and full of delicious recipes! check his website out here: http://www.davidlebovitz.com/

I stayed true to his recipe for the most part, only adding a little extra fibre with a couple tbsp of chia seeds and adding a tbsp of ginger to the mix. These are truly wonderful cookies, perfect for dunking in coffee or tea and for sandwiching vanilla icecream. I also love to crumble them up in my cereal for an extra decadent breakfast. Holiday-wise, they are a Kahlua or Baileys cocktail’s best friend.

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Ingredients:

1 cup (225 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup (150 g) granulated sugar
1 cup (200 g) packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 3/4 cup (245 g) flour (I used whole wheat pastry flour + 3 tbsp of chia seeds)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (I added 1 tbsp of freshly ground ginger too)
1 3/4 cup (175 g) old –fashioned rolled oats (not instant or quick-cooking)
1 1/2 cups (240 g) raisins

How to:

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugars until very light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.

2. Meanwhile in a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon, making sure there are no lumps of baking soda. Stir in the oats and raisins.

3. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until thoroughly combined. On low speed, or by hand, gradually add the flour and oat mixture to the creamed butter, mixing until completely incorporated.

4. Chill the batter a few hours or overnight, covered. (This step is optional, although recommended by the author.)

5. To bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

6. Drop the dough in 1/4 cup (50 g) balls evenly spaced on the baking sheet and flatten the tops slightly with your hand.

(I got about 8 cookies per baking sheet.)

7. Midway during baking, rotate the baking sheet and tap the tops of the cookies down somewhat firmly with a spatula to flatten the domes.

8. Bake the cookies for 20 to 22 minutes, until they just start to turn brown across the top, but do not overbake.

Mint & goat Ricotta Chickpea Burgers

Sometimes our bodies crave veggies but our minds crave comfort food. On such days, my favorite compromise is the oh-so-classic veggie burger with a few not-so-classic twists. I make my veggie burgers with chickpeas and add flavor with garlic, capers, lemon and mint, creating a burger that’s half  way to becoming felafel but with a brighter flavor and much less fat. As binders, I use both eggs and goat ricotta (although soft goat cheese works too!), giving the burgers a beautiful richness and saltiness. I pan fry mine, but you could also bake them in the oven on broil for about five minutes each side, watching carefully for browning.
I usually serve these chickpea burgers on whole-grain ciabatta buns with a roasted red pepper sauce called ajvar, some sriratcha and scallions but I’m sure they would also be amazing with barbecue sauce or even the holy burger trinity of relish, mustard and ketchup. They go great with salad, but feel free to eat them with fries for a little extra decadence (I certainly won’t tell, pinky swear!).

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Ingredients:

1 can of chickpeas

5 tbsp pumpkin seeds

5 tbsp rice flour (or any flour, this is just what I had in my pantry)

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1/2 tsp chili flakes

1 handful mint, chopped finely

1 tbsp dried oregano

1 tbsp capers, chopped finely

5 scallions, chopped finely

Juice of half a lemon

2 garlic cloves, chopped finely

1 large egg

6 tbsp goat ricotta (or soft goat cheese)

How to:

  1. Heat the chickpeas in the microwave on high for two minutes. Put chickpeas in a large plastic bowl and start smashing them with a potato masher.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients in no particular order until mixture is sticky but holds together. If falling apart, add a little more flour. Taste and add more seasoning if necessary.
  3. Shape into small balls using the palms of your hands, flattening each ball into a uniform disk. I made eight in total.
  4. Place the burgers on a large plate covered with plastic and chill in the fridge for about an hour.
  5. Fry in olive oil in a large pan on medium heat for about 4 minutes on each side until burgers are cooked through and crispy and brown on the outside.
  6. Serve hot with various breads and condiments.

Keylime pie smoothie with coconut cashew cream

Winters in Edmonton, Alberta are long and stubborn, with cold nights, short days and arctic winds that shake houses and bother tired old bones. The sun, thankfully, is almost always up, brightening the sky and making the snow sparkle as if it were made of a thousand little diamonds instead of just dust and water. That prairie sky not only stops me from getting completely depressed during the longest days of the year but also gives me the strength and energy to get out of bed and go to yoga and in general be a nice person. Of course, days here aren’t always sunny and when the sun refuses to show it’s face and the sky becomes lifeless, turning the entire city a sickly shade of grey, I have to look elsewhere for a pick-me-up.

My quick antidote for the winter blues? a key lime pie smoothie of course! It’s cheaper than a sun lamp and requires less effort than dragging yourself to a gym. Not only that, this smoothie in particular is chock full of healthy fats and natural sugars, which fill you up and make you less likely to binge on things like poutine and chicken wings. With all that energy, you’re more likely to actually get out of your house and do something. Best of all? it really does taste like key lime pie! Don’t be afraid of the avocado in it, the smoothie won’t taste anything like guacamole. Avocado in it’s natural state is slightly sweet and creamy and just makes the smoothie really luscious and comforting.  If anything could taste like summer, I’m pretty sure this would be it.

That coconut cream? too delicious for it’s own good. The lovechild of coconut cream, agave and roasted cashews, it’s basically vegan crack. When served immediately after blending, it’s reminiscent of coffee cream. Leave it in the fridge for a couple hours and it becomes thick and voluminous like devonshire cream. In my opinion, its even tastier than the real thing.  I eat it squished between cookies, on top of brownies and even use it for vegan tiramisu. The recipe makes a very large batch so unless you’re having people over, halve the recipe. Or don’t and eat it all yourself. Can’t say I didn’t warn you.

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Smoothie Ingredients (for 1):

1/2 avocado

1 cup coconut milk

2 tbsp agave nectar (or to taste)

juice of 2 key limes  (or regular limes)

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 tsp chia seeds

How to:

1. Blend all ingredients in a blender, food processor or with an immersion blender until completely smooth. Chill and top with coconut cashew cream.

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Coconut Cashew Cream Ingredients:

1 cup coconut milk

3/4 cup unsalted cashews, roasted lightly

4 tbsp agave nectar

2 tsp vanilla

1/8 tsp salt

1/3 cup melted coconut oil (cooled to room temp)

How to:

  1. Blend all but the coconut oil until smooth in a high speed blender or using an immersion blender (but then you’ll have to strain the mixture to make it smooth)
  2. Add the oil and blend again
  3. Serve immediately for a coffee cream texture or chill in the fridge overnight (or in the freezer for an hour) for a more whipped cream like texture

Saturday Brunch at the Old Strathcona Farmer’s Market

I’ve loved going the Old Strathcona Farmer’s market ever since I was a little girl when I used to look forward to Saturday morning with such zeal, I’d often go to bed early on Friday night in the hope that time would pass more quickly. My parents loved the market because it reminded them of the outdoors European markets they were used to and had grown up with in former Yugoslavia, where the freshest meat and produce were sold on stalls, not on shelves or in gridlocked aisles. The market made them feel, at least for a little while, like they were home again. Personally, I loved the market for a much more selfish reason. The samples. I just couldn’t wait to get there so I could feast on delicious morsels of cheese and artisan bread, taste each and every variety of apple and taste-test adorable mini pumpkin and pecan pie. For me, a gluttonous 6 year old, it was heaven.

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It wasn’t only about the free food though. The Old Strathcona farmer’s market played a huge part in teaching me about where my food came from and how much work went into getting it from farm to table.  It was a place for the entire community to get together and have some fun while supporting local producers and artists. It was, and is, a center of togetherness, joy, support and endless creativity and talent. Back then, my family never ate at the market cafeteria because there weren’t many options to choose from and we thought it better to just buy the produce and make dinner at home. For years, we debated trying some of the food out, but the cafeteria tables were always half-empty, so even as catering companies changed, we never bothered eating there because we figured it couldn’t possibly be that good. Very recently, this began to change. Tables began filling up and suddenly people started lining up in long and twisting rows just to snag a breakfast sandwich.  The old coffee was replaced by transcend offerings and the muffin board, which was once very basic, began offering flavors like cinnamon & fig and white chocolate & Saskatoon berry. Last weekend, after many Saturdays of jealously staring at happy people with plates full of delicious smelling food, I snuck up to the board where the caterer’s offerings were listed to get a better look. I was in shock. It all sounded so good! Brisket with whipped goat cheese? omelet with chorizo and edam cheese? BLT smoked salmon bagel??? what??? I couldn’t believe I’d been missing out on so many beautiful things!

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I dragged my mother to the board to show her what I’d just seen and we agreed to have a family brunch there today, after yoga. The cafeteria at first looks very unassuming, reminding instantly of a ski lodge with it’s wooden paneling and drink station. It’s at the very back of the farmer’s market near the south entrance. You line up, tell a worker what you’d like to eat, you wait a little, they give it to you, you pay and out you go.  It’s a very simple and efficient system that doesn’t require a lot of communication, which is nice for a change if you’re not really into talking with strangers.  I’d recommend getting a table before even entering the line up because if you go to look for tables after you’ve gotten your food you might be out of luck. There aren’t many tables and they fill up fast with eager eaters.

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My mom got the plaughman’s platter, which happens to be the cafeteria’s most expensive meal at 12$. It featured Irving farm’s bacon, a sausage and farm fresh eggs along with caramelized onions and potatoes. My dad had the root-beer brisket with whipped goat cheese (8$) and I had the chorizo omelet with arugula and Parmesan salad (9$)  I can’t speak for my parents but my omelet was incredible. The eggs were bright yellow (as fresh eggs should be!)  and well-seasoned, the chorizo spicy and the arugula salad just a little sour from the dressing which contrasted beautifully with the creaminess of the eggs and the fattiness of the chorizo.

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You could really tell that every ingredient was not only fresh, but treated by respect by the line-cooks, who my mother noticed payed careful attention to the food, measuring the temperature of every sausage they grilled for optimum flavor. The kitchen is open-concept, which is really cool, because you can see just how quick and professional the young cooks are, handling the masses with calmness and managing to smile at each and every pushy customer.  We polished our food off in mere minutes, it’s really that good. Considering the quality and freshness of the food, it’s an almost ridiculous bargain to eat there. If you do have the chance, go and check the farmer’s market out. Even if you don’t end up buying anything at the market that day, it’s well worth it to eat at the Cafeteria, and as the company uses farmer’s market ingredients, you’ll still be supporting the vendors.  The catering company – Toast Fine Catering, is truly a gem in the rough. I hope they continue to feed families and happy market goers for a long time to come. https://www.facebook.com/ToastFineCatering?fref=ts