October 28, 2009

French Yogurt Cake


I've been doing a lot of cooking and baking lately, but you wouldn't know it by looking at this blog. I was going through some of my recent photos last night, and as usual, it reminded me about some of those delicious things I made. Rigatoni with comforting meat sauce … spaghetti with roasted tomatoes … and this delicious French yogurt cake.

I first read about this cake in a wonderful book called On Rue Tatin. It’s a food memoir by Susan Hermann Loomis about moving from the U.S. to France and discovering French food and French life in a little town. Among the many recipes Susan includes is one for a traditional French yogurt cake. She talks about the mother of one of her son’s schoolmates who brings this cake to school one day when Susan is teaching a class. It’s so good Susan asks for the recipe.  In typical French fashion, the woman shrugs and says it’s nothing special.

I didn’t make the cake at the time, but I filed it away in my memory box of recipes. A few weeks ago we had a big carton of Fairwinds Farm goat milk yogurt sitting in the fridge. I bought it because J has pretty much become lactose intolerant. I really like the yogurt – it has a musky tang like goat cheese, but smoother. But we were having trouble finishing the container and I remembered that recipe. I searched for it online and up it popped, on numerous blogs. I ended up going with Orangette’s version.


Ever since we polished off this cake I’ve been looking for an excuse to make it again. There are so many great things about it: It’s a one-bowl recipe (I’m always looking for ways to do fewer dishes). You will probably have most, if not all, of the ingredients in your kitchen already. And, probably the best part, it lends itself to variation. The original on Orangette calls for lemon zest to flavour the cake. But Molly also gives lots of ideas for other flavourings, and since I had no lemons, I decided to use vanilla and almond meal instead. It worked like a charm.


Because of the yogurt, the cake is extremely moist. It bakes up pretty and yellow (ours was probably extra yellow because of our organic, very yellow canola oil from Mighty Trio) and golden brown on the edges. Those caramelized, sweet edges were my favourite part. I wasn’t actually a huge fan of the almond flavour in the cake when I ate it by itself. I said to J, “If only we had some whipped cream to put on top.” His suggestion? More goat milk yogurt.

Yes, yes and yes. Wrapped in a soft blanket of yogurt and topped with a drizzle or two of honey, this cake comes alive. It became my favourite dessert, snack and breakfast. Then I started dressing it up with chopped Bartlett pears, and it got even better.


As I said, there are plenty of variations to be had. I think I’ll try the classic lemon version next time.

As you can read on Orangette, in France they measure the ingredients for this cake in a yogurt container, which equals about half a cup. I’m not sure which yogurt they’re talking about, because from what I remember about French yogurt, it comes in all sizes and shapes of container, from little clay pots to baby-sized plastic cups. The French sure love them some yogurt products.

Upper Crust Cafe

J and I went to the Upper Crust Cafe in Garneau over the weekend. Of course, my camera was sitting in my bag the whole time and I forgot to take it out even once to photograph the restaurant or the meal. I have got to do better at that.

We'd never been to Upper Crust before. We enjoyed most of the meal, but the big highlight was the salad plate. Oh my god. I'm actually still craving every one of those salads. They were so fresh and delicious. There wasn't a clunker in the bunch, and we tried six of them. They have got a great salad chef.

You can listen to my full review of the Upper Crust on Edmonton AM on CBC radio Thursday morning. It'll be on at about 7:50. You can also hear my past reviews on their website.

October 13, 2009

Vegan Breakfast

It’s time to introduce something new here at The Little Red Kitchen: my first ever guest post! I’ve written here before about my sister Claire, the vegan foodie and aspiring chef. Claire’s hoping to open a vegan restaurant in the future and is diligently cooking and studying every day in preparation.

I asked Claire to write a post on Vegan Breakfasts, mainly for my friend Elliott. Elliott is vegan as well and told me he is always pretty uninspired when it comes to breakfast. So here is Claire to save the day for Elliott and any other vegetarians or vegans out there. Or anyone who likes a tasty breakfast.  - Isabelle

Ooooh, breakfast. How I love you. How I love waking up thinking about you. I prefer you leisurely and drawn-out, maybe accompanied by a peaceful conversation or a crossword puzzle or a magazine. And definitely some tea or a cappuccino.

Hello! I’m Claire, Isabelle’s sister. I live in Halifax. I’ll be your guest host for this chat about the vegan breakfast table. I became a vegetarian in 2003 and shortly thereafter went vegan. Since then I’ve delved excitedly into vegan cuisine of all kinds. In this post I’ll focus on the savoury vegan breakfast.

The variety of the vegan breakfast or brunch is very vast indeed. Let’s kick things off with a few photos to whet your appetites.


Tofu omelette, tempeh bacon, and toast.


Poori Bhaji, my breakfast every day in India: deep-fried puffy pancake and spicy chickpea curry filling.


Smoked tofu, greens, and citrus béarnaise sauce for a vegan Benedict, accompanied by roast potatoes.


Tofu scramble and Toast in Vancouver.

A classic choice for a savoury vegan brekky is tofu scramble. This dish can pretty much be whatever you want it to be. A few basic principles I’ve observed: Using extra-firm tofu and keeping it on high heat in your pan until it browns up beautifully will give you a crispy and chewy scramble. For those of you who like things saucier, you may find that method yields a scramble drier than you want. If that’s you, try using silken tofu, which is sold unrefrigerated in vacuum-sealed boxes and with which you can achieve a softer, more tender-on-the-tongue scramble.

Tofu scramble is an extremely easy dish in which to eyeball all the ingredients. In fact, I’m going to estimate them all right here in front of you. Take a medium-sized onion and a few cloves of garlic, chop it all and sauté it with a generous amount of olive oil in a (preferably cast-iron) pan for quite a while (20 mins or so) until they get all wonderfully caramelized. Crumble in anywhere from 1/2 to a full block of tofu, mashing it in your hands before dropping the pieces into the pan. Don’t make the pieces too tiny yet, because they’ll break up while cooking. Toss that around in your pan until you get to the brownness you desire. At some point during that process, add herbs and spices as you wish. I like thyme, oregano, and lots of sea salt and fresh ground pepper. Taste it a lot as you go, to see what you need more of. You can add finely chopped vegetables at any time, say broccoli or mushrooms. When the tofu is done to your likeness, add two tablespoons of fresh lemon juice and a quarter cup of nutritional yeast (a cheesy, non-active yeast that can be found at health food stores and some grocery stores). Mix until those are incorporated. You’re done!

I just came across an extremely delicious take on scrambled tofu – Puttanesca scramble - in the recently published Vegan Brunch, by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. You’ll find that recipe and several others on the book’s website. Isa’s book is a great resource for vegan breakfasts of all kinds. It just came out last Spring and I highly recommend it.

I recently made vegan sausages for the first time, also from recipes in Vegan Brunch. They are deelish and very easy to make. The main ingredient is wheat gluten flour, which can be found at health food stores and some grocery stores. It’s very high in protein and is the main ingredient in seitan. The sausages have a chewy texture and hold together beautifully, due to the gluten flour. I fry them whole or slice and fry them, and then eat them as a side for pancakes or with gravy and toast.

I often compose a breakfast plate from small amounts of many items. Potatoes of any kind are usually there, from baked to home fries to roasted. I often bake potatoes in the evening and then the next morning it’s very efficient just to chop and fry them. Sauteed tomatoes, baked beans, toast, biscuits with gravy (see recipes on Vegan Brunch website), cornbread, and tempeh bacon (see photo) are all very yummy in combo with one another. Tempeh is a cake of pressed-together soybeans that’s more easily digestible than tofu because it’s fermented; it also has a nice nutty flavour. It can be bought at health food stores mainly. To make tempeh bacon, take a block of tempeh, slice it up thinly into strips, and sauté it in olive oil and tamari soy sauce on high heat in a non-stick pan until it’s browned and crispy, turning the pieces over halfway through. Continue to add more sauce and oil as it gets dry. Like in the versatile tofu scramble, you can also add other things like crushed garlic, maple syrup, sesame oil, apple cider vinegar, or herbs and spices to your tempeh pan.

A simpler, less-cooking-required breakfast that has become a favourite of mine is toast with avocado slices on it, sprinkled with sea salt and fresh ground pepper. It feels really great to me to start my day with avocado. It’s like the much more exciting and beautiful relation of peanut butter. Relation as in …toast-topping family. Almond butter is also great on toast, and very high in calcium. Another great toast combination is nut butter, cherry tomatoes, and tempeh bacon or smoked tofu. As far as margarines go, most margarine brands are not vegan because they contain whey or buttermilk powder, and in some instances (Becel) they also contain gelatin. An extremely good vegan brand is Earth Balance, which tastes very much like butter and can be used wherever you might use butter, especially on toast! I make my own bread in my breadmaker most of the time, but there are lots of commercial breads that are milk-free and egg-free.

I also love to eat stuff for breakfast that is more typically lunch and dinner fare. Last night’s pizza, baked pasta, and particularly marinated, baked tofu are winning guest stars of the breakfast world.

There are also a lot of processed vegan breakfast items available at the grocery store. I like some of them, but have found that it’s cheaper and healthier, and also very easy, to make my own versions. Maybe someday soon I’ll develop a recipe for my own Earth Balance. When I do, I’ll let you know. For now, happy brunching!

October 7, 2009



Remember back in the summer, when I was on my crazy diet/cleanse? When I couldn’t eat much of anything? And yet managed to fully enjoy myself discovering quinoa, avocado, and asparagus all over again?

Well, as enjoyable as it was, it turns out it didn’t do much good. I’ve been told that my health issues don’t have anything to do with what I’m eating. Which is both bad and good. Bad, because I’m still trying to figure out the problem. Good, because I can go back to eating whatever I want.

I’m really happy I did that diet though. It was hard, but it showed me that I tend to eat the same stuff all the time without really thinking about it. It was great to be forced to think outside the box for my daily meals, to imagine combinations of food I had never tried before. More than anything, I think I ate more simply for those five weeks than I have in a long time.


I bought a cookbook called Babycakes when I was on the diet. It was when I thought I might be intolerant to gluten. You may have heard of Babycakes by now (click on that link and tell me you’re not swooning). It’s a vegan, sugar-free and mostly gluten-free bakery in New York City. The cookbook came out over the summer and has been getting a lot of good press. I profiled it for one of my cookbook columns on the radio back in August.

Even though I can eat gluten again, I am so glad I bought this cookbook. Not only because it’s cute, wonderfully designed and has amazing, down-to-earth photos. Not only because the recipes are absolutely to die for. But also because it’s perfect when you’re cooking for anyone in your life who can’t eat certain foods. It turns out there are a lot of vegans and people with lactose and gluten allergies in my life. And I still want to bake for them! That’s why Babycakes is so great.

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I made the ginger cookies right before leaving on vacation back in August. I was a little worried, because the batter (like most gluten-free batters) tasted disgusting. But when the cookies emerged from the oven, they were spicy and crackly and perfectly crisp, and tasted just as good, if not better, than any flour-filled ginger cookie I’ve eaten. I took some to work, and took the rest on vacation with me, and everyone loved them.

Then we decided to make the chocolate cupcake recipe for a dinner party we had.  We got lazy and just made it in cake form instead of in cupcakes. But either way, this cake is a revelation. It’s very different from our usual, go-to chocolate vegan cake recipe from the Moosewood desserts cookbook. If the Moosewood cake is the comforting Grandmother in a checked apron, the Babycakes cake is the sexy young thing in the little black dress. It’s dark, rich and extremely chocolatey. It’s so decadent that you might not feel like eating it all the time, but when you want it, you really want it. We paired it with a homemade sour cherry sauce and the whole thing was absolutely divine.


The ingredients in this cookbook can get expensive, and sometimes these cookies and cakes will take a bit longer to prepare than the average. I admit I’m not pulling this book down from my shelf every day. But even when you’re not cooking for people with allergies, the allure of sugar-free baked goods can be damn strong. Especially when they taste this good.