Discovering New Life in my Garden

Spring has sprung in Toronto, whether temporarily or otherwise, and with it a bounty of new life has sprung up in all the dark corners of my yard where I previously had thought nothing resided. We moved into this place in August, and though the verdant garden sealed the deal for me, I had no idea what a treat I was in for come spring. Now that all of these wonderful surprises are poking their heads through the earth, I just couldn’t help but share some pics. Since I’m much more experienced with vegetables than with flowers, this is going to be a really fun learning experience!

First, and most exciting, the garlic I planted last fall is coming up and looking great!

No idea what this is, but I’m thinking maybe a tulip of some sort…

Easily one of the coolest things popping up, IMO– it sorta looks like hens and chicks!

Pretty little snowdrops. If the weather keeps up, they won’t be around for much longer :(

Buds opening up on my hedge.

Look at those lovely red striations! I wonder what these are?

Cute little periwinkle-colored flowers… pretty sure these are crocuses.

And here are some orange ones…

Can’t wait until these all bloom so I can ID them!

Looks like I have a real carpet of blooms to look forward to.

These guys are just about to open up!

Hmm… an interesting-looking one. Wonder what it is?

All of this green has got me psyched about the wider variety of colours that’s sure to follow as all of my mystery plants flower. I’ll be sure to keep you guys posted, and if you can ID any of my surprise residents, I’d love to hear from you!

The Frugal Foodie: Garbage Soup- The 50₵, 10-minute vegan broth!

Making the decision to buy organic, local and fair trade when possible, unfortunately, often means paying more. Not that it isn’t worth it, of course– it just means that sometimes, I need to be a little creative to stay within my food budget. One of the changes I’ve made recently, both for this reason and for sustainability-related ones, is to only eat meat every second day so that when I do eat meat, I can afford to buy the good (read: free-range, organic, grass-fed) stuff.

When it comes to my favorite money-saving recipe, there’s simply no contest. Not only does this rich and flavorful broth require less than 10 minutes of hands-on time, it costs only 50₵ to make. Now tell me, does it get any better than that?

Now, there is a catch (isn’t there always?): depending on how many veggies your household goes through, you’ll have to start saving the ingredients for this recipe anywhere from 1-3 months in advance. Why? Because in a burst of frugal genius, I designed this recipe to use up the parts of my vegetables that I was already throwing away! That’s why I lovingly (if somewhat unappetizingly) refer to it as my Garbage Soup– but I can assure you, it tastes nothing like garbage :)

So, here’s what you have to do. Every time you core or de-seed a tomato, cut off the top of a carrot or beet, peel a potato or carrot (though I’d encourage you not to! That’s where most of the nutrients are– though admittedly, some recipes just wouldn’t be right with the skin left on), scoop out the seeds and pulp from a squash or pepper, remove the leafy end of a celery stalk (the leaves have lots of flavour!), well… you get the picture… don’t throw out that vegggie scrap gold! Simply throw it in the freezer in a plastic grocery bag or large container. You can do the same thing with greens (lettuce, kale, chard) that haven’t really gone “bad” but are too wilted to eat, carrots or potatoes that have started to go soft but exhibit no signs of rotting, and many other things. One of my favorite things to add is herbs… you know when you buy a bunch of cilantro or basil and the recipe calls for, like, 3 tablespoons and the rest ends up rotting in the fridge? Throw it in your soup bag instead! Herbs are there to add flavor, after all!

Once your bag is full, you’re ready to make your broth. Now, keep in mind, this recipe is SUPER flexible. If you don’t have some of the spices mentioned, no big deal. Just throw in what you have– it’ll taste great! You can taste it as it cooks down to see if you’d like to adjust the spices. You may prefer to add more salt than I do– I’ve trained my palate to prefer considerably less salt than I used to (did you know that you can give the average person a glass of water with a teaspoon of salt stirred into it, and they won’t even notice?).

Ingredients

  • 1 grocery bag full of vegetable scraps
  • 1 onion, coarsely chopped
  • 6 regular or 3 elephant cloves of garlic, smashed
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tbsp peppercorns
  • 1/2 tsp rosemary
  • 1 tbsp thyme
  • 1 tsp sage
  • 1 tsp marjoram
  • About 1/2 cup each coarsely chopped fresh oregano and sage (I’m perplexed by this, but despite it being December and me being in Toronto, my oregano and sage are still going strong. No complaints here! You can use 1 tbsp each of the dry versions if you’re not as lucky.)

Combine all ingredients in an extra-large (canning size) pot and fill to 2 inches below the rim with water. You can use a smaller pot if you need to, just boil some water in the kettle and top it up once in awhile for the first hour and a half or so.

Bring to a boil, covered, over high heat. Reduce to medium-low and simmer uncovered for 3 hours, or until reduced by 1/3. Strain and use immediately, refrigerate for 3 days, or freeze for several months. I like to freeze in 1-cup portions in small round plastic containers like sour cream tubs, then pop out the frozen broth cubes and stack them in a bag– this comes in really handy when I only need a small amount of broth, say, for a gravy.

This broth is very versatile– works great as a base for both vegan and meat soups and gravies, makes an AMAZING French Onion Soup (recipe coming soon!), and is a great way to add more flavour (and nutrients!) to your rice, quinoa, risotto and other grain dishes– just boil your grains in your Garbage Broth instead of water!

Now just look at that beautiful rich, golden broth. Because it gives a second life to your veggie scraps, it’s eco-friendly; the only expense you incur is the cost of an onion, a few cloves of garlic and some spices, so it’s cheap. And most important of all, it’s easy, healthy and delicious, so what excuse could you possibly have for not starting your own Garbage Soup bag today?

I’d love to hear your ideas for a future entry in the Frugal Foodie series. How do you save money in the kitchen? Comment below, or Tweet it to me @foodiefawn, and I’ll pick my favorite trick to blog about for my next Frugal Foodie installment!

5-A-Day Veggie Spring Rolls

While too time-consuming for your everyday meal (unless, like me, you happen to presently be blessed and cursed with unemployment), these spring rolls are just scrumptious and make the perfect weekend experiment for culinary adventurers! Plus, most of the prep time is in the chopping and steaming, as you can roll up these suckers pretty fast once you get a rhythm going, so I highly encourage you to double or triple the recipe– these freeze great and can be popped in the toaster oven for a few minutes for a quick work lunch or dinner in a hurry.

Spring rolls are most commonly filled with rice noodles and bean sprouts, but in keeping with the spirit of using up what I have at hand (not to mention the fact that 95% of my usual pantry stock is either in the compost bin or the chest freezer– darn you, pantry moths! I WILL win this time), my version uses a variety of healthy organic veggies– and you know what? Though it’s been my experience that few healthier recipe versions live up to their sinful counterparts, I can honestly say that I like it better this way! Next time I might throw in some sprouts, but you’ll never catch me stuffing my spring rolls with vermicelli again!

First things first- assemble your ingredients.

What you’ll need:

  • 1/3 of a cabbage, finely chopped– about 3 cups
  • 1/2 a red pepper, julienned
  • 1 carrot, julienned
  • 1/2 an onion, finely diced
  • 1 broccoli stem, julienned
  • 1/2 a jalapeno pepper, de-seeded and finely diced
  • 1 tbsp. miso
  • 2 tsp. fish sauce (available at Asian grocery stores or in the Asian foods section of your supermarket. Don’t worry– it tastes much better than it smells!)
  • 1 pkg. (20) spring roll wrappers
  • 1 egg white

Steam the first 6 ingredients until soft, about 15 min. I like to use a bamboo steamer, but any old steamer will work, or even the microwave if you prefer. In a large bowl, combine the miso and fish sauce until smooth; add the veggies and stir well to coat evenly.

Lay a spring roll wrapper on a clean work surface,with one corner pointing directly at you. Put some of the filling into the center of the wrapper. As is typical of my laissez-faire cooking approach, I forgot to measure, but around 1/4 cup or so. Maybe… OK, just try to approximate the amount you see in the picture.

Next, fold the corner that’s pointing at you over, then fold each side in, creating a sorta envelope shape, like so:

Now, you see that remaining point? Baste that part (down to where your side folds begin) with your egg white and rrrrrrrrrrrrrrroll up the rim to win! (J/K, J/K. Please don’t sue me, Tim Horton’s). Try to make it nice and snug, but not too tight, or it’ll explode when frying (or so I’m told, anyway; I’m much too seasoned a cook to make foolish mistakes like that).

OK, so now we’ve got to get some oil going. Over medium-high heat (just one notch above medium on my electric stove), heat an inch of oil in a pot. Test for readiness by dipping the corner of a spring roll into the oil; if it sizzles, get your fry on!

We want to fry each of these crispy packets of yum for about a minute on each side, perhaps slightly longer. When done, they should be golden but not brown.Think these are good on their own? Trust me, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Try them with Sweet Ginger & Tamari sauce if you really want your mind blown!

Sweet ginger & tamari sauce

This sweet and spicy sauce is the perfect accompaniment to my Veggie Spring Rolls, and only takes a few minutes to prepare! Why buy store- bought with the jacked-up price and unpronounceable ingredients?

Sweet ginger & tamari sauce (makes 1/2 cup)

Ingredients

  • 2 tsp. finely diced fresh ginger
  • 1 tsp. finely diced jalapeno pepper (seeds in)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp tamari
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tbsp. honey
  • 1 tbsp. cane sugar
  • 1 tsp. coriander seeds (approx. 15), crushed
  • 1 tbsp. flour

Combine all ingredients but the flour and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Simmer 5 min. Combine flour and four tbsp of the sauce, one tbsp. at a time (this step is important! Don’t just dump the flour in– it’ll get all lumpy). Add flour mixture to remaining sauce and simmer 1 minute. Serve or refrigerate up to 48 hrs.

Believe it or not: beet brownies

Since taking on the coordination of a weekly Good Food Box in my neighborhood about a month ago, I’ve challenged myself to use up every item I receive in my weekly share. Some of these are no-brainers– who wouldn’t welcome a slice of mouth-watering Swiss Chard Quiche?– but certain vegetables have proved a little more difficult to incorporate into my diet.

Yes, I’m talking to you, beets.

Ah, beets. My lifelong arch-nemesis. An acquired taste, I’m told, but nobody can ever quite explain how one goes about acquiring it. I put out a call for beet recipes on my Facebook page, and tried everything from borscht to Guinness Beets (how, I figured, could one go wrong with the addition of beer?) but, alas, the results invariably tasted, well, like beets.

What I needed was a recipe that incorporated beets, but disguised their actual flavour. I mentioned my dilemma to my neighbor Shannon when she dropped by my house to pick up her own weekly share, and much to my delight, she had the answer! Below is my adaptation of the recipe she linked me to– while certainly not healthy by any definition of the term, it’s certainly healthier– how many people boast a brownie recipe rich in vitamins A and C, potassium, fiber, folic acid, niacin, calcium and magnesium?

Beet Brownies AKA “Beeties” (adapted from Chocolate Beet Brownies)

Yield: 24 brownies

  • 3 small beets, boiled, peeled and pureed (about 1 cup puree)
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar (I like cane sugar– Camino makes a great one that’s organic and fair trade certified)
  • 2 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 eggs (try the free range organic kind– you’ll never go back!)
  • 1 cup flour (I used white unbleached because it’s all I had left, but whole wheat or spelt would make the recipe even healthier!)
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (again, Camino’s is fantastic)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (sea salt is ideal– more later about why iodized salt is bad for you)
  • 1 cup chopped nuts (I used Brazil nuts)- optional

Boil 3 small beets until very tender, about 45 min. Drain, rinse in cold water, peel, remove root ends and cut into quarters. Puree using a blender or food processor.

Preheat oven to 350F.

Combine beet puree, sugar and vanilla extract well. Add eggs and stir until smooth. Combine remaining ingredients except nuts and fluff with a fork until mixed. Add wet ingredients to dry and stir until just incorporated. Incorporate nuts, reserving a little for sprinkling on top.

Rub a few drops of oil or butter into each of two 9×9 baking pans. Divide batter among the two pans. Sprinkle with reserved nuts.

Bake for approx. 25 minutes and allow to cool before slicing.

The verdict? Although a slight beet undertone still remains, it ties in surprisingly well with the cocoa, and rather than detracting from the brownie, creates a unique flavor combination that makes your sense of taste do a double-take!

I think I’ve found my new go-to beet recipe :)