Monday, April 11, 2016

Dairy-free Cream of Mushroom Soup (vegan alternatives)

WINNER of the least photogenic food ever!

Is there anything better than cream of mushroom soup? My mom was a big fan of condensed cream of mushroom soup. Like boxes of cans in the basement before Costco existed, even though everything else she made was made from scratch. Look up "canned cream of mushroom soup with chicken recipes" online. That's just one taste of my childhood.

Seeing as it's mid-April and winter still doesn't want to leave us here in Toronto, I find myself craving cream of mushroom soup. But they don't sell ready-made dairy-free cream of mushroom soup at my usual grocery store. I'm not entirely sure they sell it anywhere. Which means that I'm going to spend the better part of an hour making it. I don't really truly remember what canned chicken soup tastes like exactly, but I know that this version has a stronger mushroom flavour and doesn't have that particular sweetness that real dairy tends to have when cooked. But frankly, that sweetness isn't worth a two-day tummy ache, so here we are.


  • About 1 tbsp cooking oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 garlic head
  • 250g sliced white button mushrooms
  • 250g sliced cremini mushrooms
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 2 cups chicken stock (or veggie stock)
  • 3 tbsp butter (or vegan butter)
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1.5 tsp salt, more to taste

Let's do it!

  1. Turn on the toaster oven to bake mode and set at 400ºF. Cut the top off the garlic head, drizzle some olive oil over it and wrap up in foil. Throw that in the toaster oven until your kitchen starts smelling super good. About 20 minutes.
  2. In a medium sized soup pot, heat up the oil on medium. Add diced onions and sauté until translucent. About 3 minutes.
  3. Throw in the mushrooms and stir until the mushrooms have reduced their size by half and let out a good amount of tasty mushroom juice. This took maybe 10 minutes which I mostly spent playing around on my computer and only stirring the mushrooms every couple of minutes. Use your ears, people. If the frying gets louder, that means you're losing liquid. Which means things are going to start burning!
  4. Take out half the onions and mushrooms and put them in a blender with the coconut milk. My coconut milk was separated, so the water went into the blender and the cream/fat went into the pot. 
  5. Squeeze out the roasted garlic from the skin (careful! It's hot!) and add to the blender. Liquify it all!
  6. Add this back to the pot along with half the chicken stock and thyme. Keep this at a low simmer with the lid on.
  7. Now to make a roux to thicken the soup up and add some extra rich, fatty flavour. Heat up the butter and flour on medium in a separate small pot. Keep stirring and moving it around so it doesn't burn, breaking it up as it turns into a big ball. Once the mixture turns golden and starts to smell a little toasty, slowly pour in the stock while stirring quickly to break up any clumps.
  8. Add this mixture to the soup and bring to a boil for at least a couple of minutes. Add salt to taste.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Pressure Cooker Spicy Oxtail and Chickpea Curry

I just bought a pressure cooker and I LOVE IT. I've gone bonkers, trying out all sorts of recipes and even amending my own to suit it. Basically any recipe I have that requires simmering something for hours can go into the pressure cooker and simmer for 30 minutes.

So. Oxtail curry. This usually takes hours to melt the collagen and get the tough meat meltingly tender. NOT TODAY.


  • 0.75 kg ox tail -Try to buy them at 3" diameter or less. If there isn't any, add 15 minutes to the cook time as it takes time to break it all down
  • 2 tbsp yellow curry powder
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3/4 cup coconut milk (see Ingredient Notes)
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 onion - diced
  • 4 cloves garlic - minced
  • 1 tbsp scotch bonnet flavoured hot sauce (optional, this WILL GET SPICY)
  • 1 can chickpeas - drained and rinsed
  • 1.5 tsp fish sauce (add more to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • Cooking oil

Let's do it!

  1. Put your pressure cooker on the stove on high heat. Heat up oil. Brown the oxtails on all sides.
  2. Add onions and cook until onions are soft. Stir often to keep everything from burning.
  3. Add garlic and spices. Cook for another 3 minutes.
  4. Add everything else.
  5. Close the pressure cooker and bring it to pressure. Bring heat down to medium-high (150ºC) for 40 minutes. (See note below)
  6. After 40 minutes, turn on the quick release and let the tasty smelling steam fill up your kitchen.
  7. Check on the dish. If it seems a bit too thin, simmer uncovered for a while until it thickens.
  8. Season with more fish sauce or hot sauce to your taste.
  9. Serve with rice or bread.

Lunch it up!

This is super easy to lunch up. When cooled, I took all the meat off the bones and packed the stew in a lunch container with the rice on top, so that it wouldn't soak up the stew during the day and get all soggy. Heat it all up in the microwave and ruin all your coworker's day with your incredibly fragrant lunch, while they're all eating sad sandwiches or packaged salads.

Note on the pressure cooker: I use a combo of my induction cooktop and pressure cooker. The induction cooktop gives me say more control over the temperature than my electric stove, which goes on and off in order to keep the heat. If I tell the induction cooktop to do 150ºC, IT STAYS THERE. Induction cooktops are amazing, they boil water way faster than an electric range, making them my go-to for pasta.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Laksa - seafood noodle soup

Sometimes my cravings get so overwhelming that I end up spending way too much time and effort on satisfying them. Enter laksa, a deliciously fishy, rich and spicy noodle soup I first tried in an Asian food court in Markham, ON (First Markham Place, if you're wondering). I wanted it BAD, but not bad enough to drive 30 minutes to get it. Plus, the noodles they use have dairy in them and give me a tummy ache.

The laksa paste I made was based on a recipe I found online and adjusted for my own taste and the ingredients I had in the house. The laksa paste was the hard part, everything else about this recipe is dead easy.

The key to this paste is having a large and very rough mortar and pestle. You can definitely use a food processor, but I find that you won't get as smooth as a paste. That means the result will be a soup with small bits of galangal, shallots and other stuff, which is UNACCEPTABLE. I found this bad boy at Winners. It's ridges are super rough, and make short work of both dry and wet ingredients. It's about six inches wide and two inches deep. I would have preferred a bigger, deeper one, as it would be even better at keeping all the ingredients in the thing, but I couldn't find one and counter space is at a premium in my house. When you buy one, go for the granite variety and make sure it's super rough. I used to use a smoother marble one, which was great for dry spices, but terrible with grinding things like garlic. Instead of grinding it, it would just smoosh it up the sides. Very frustrating. Just spend the $40 and invest in a valuable kitchen tool that will last forever.

Laksa Paste Ingredients

  • 6 dried long red chillies
  • 1 tsp coriander seed
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seed
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 2 shallots
  • 2 lemongrass stalks (the softer white parts, hard outer leaves removed)
  • 1 inch galangal, peeled
  • 1 tbsp peanuts
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 tsp shrimp paste
  • 4 dried anchovies (see note on ingredients below)
  • 1 tbsp peanut oil

Let's do it!

  1. Boil some water and soak the chillies in a bowl until soft. Drain the water and chop.
  2. Toast the dried spices and peanuts in a hot pan. Let cool. Add to the mortar and pestle with the anchovies and grind into dust.
  3. Chop the shallots, lemongrass, galangal and garlic.
  4. Put everything except the peanut oil into the mortar and pestle. Pound and grind until you have a uniform paste. 
  5. Mix in peanut oil.
  6. At this point, I push everything into a silicone ice cube tray and freeze it. When frozen, I pop them out and put them in a freezer safe zipper bag for easy use later. This will make about 6-10 servings, depending on how strong you like your soup flavoured.
Yes, I realize you can see chunks of chilli pepper despite my rant about mortar and pestles above. Also, this is the leftover paste after I made the soup below.
Okay, let's put this all together.

Laksa Noodle Soup Ingredients

  • 4 servings udon noodles (or whatever Asian noodles you prefer. I buy mine in the freezer area of the Asian grocery store)
  • 1L chicken stock
  • 200mL coconut milk, more if you like coconut milk a ton (see note on ingredients below)
  • 2 tbsp laksa paste (or more, if you like a stronger flavour)
  • 1 tilapia filet
  • Peanut oil
  • 1 cup of frozen, assorted seafood, rinsed well
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • Sriracha

Let's do it!

  1. Heat up the chicken stock, coconut milk and laksa paste in a pot and simmer for about 10 minutes, until the flavours meld.
  2. Heat up a frying pan to high and add peanut oil. I used the same pan that I toasted the spices and peanuts in, which gave some added flavour. Fry up the tilapia until the outside is cooked. I do this to cook some of the water out of it, since I use frozen tilapia, which is super watery.
  3. Chop up the tilapia into 1 inch squares.
  4. Put the fish and other seafood into the broth and simmer until cooked, maybe another 5-10 minutes.
  5. Cook the noodles in a separate pot according to package directions.
  6. Put the noodles into bowls, pour soup and seafood over and top with cilantro and Sriracha to taste.
  7. If you're lunching this up, pack the soup and noodles separately, as the noodles will soak up the broth and you'll get a thick, gummy mess.

A note on ingredients

Dried anchovies
I buy these at the Asian grocery store, in the dried goods section. They come in a bag. I find that these are super great for adding a seafoody, umami flavour to food without adding to the saltiness of the dish. 
I've actually made a umami powder by grinding up dried anchovies, dried seaweed and dried mushrooms. I've given it as gifts and people really enjoy it. I add it to Asian dishes that are tasting a little bland, but don't need any more salt.

Coconut milk
I've found that coconut milk comes in a variety of price points. The ones I buy are generally more expensive, and will be mostly just coconut milk and water. The cheaper ones have all sorts of preservatives and mystery ingredients in them. I can't confirm that the purer ones taste better, but why add any unneccesary ingredients?