Bean & Butternut Squash Vegan Chili – Ate by Ate Cooks Fall Comfort Food!

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Ate by Ate is baaaack!  Taking a week off was one of the weirdest feelings in the world.  I haven’t stopped blogging for more than a day in the last two years so with the exception of posting some photos to Ate by Ate’s Facebook galleries, not blogging at all for a week was a complete 180.  I don’t think there will ever be a time when I’ll feel completely caught up, but a week off was exactly what I needed.  It took the pressure off, I got to do a little bit of holiday planning with friends, and while I still feel like there are a million things to do for Ate by Ate, at least I’m a tiny bit caught up on sleep at the very least!

And now we’re ready to dive right into the holiday blitz!  I’m so, SO excited for Christmas and the holidays.  I’m excited to see friends, to give my family and friends their presents, and of course, to eat!  I’m currently working on the December Food Calendar (the 1st draft went to Food Bloggers of Canada last night!) and I’m planning my weekends of food the best I can.  I forsee Christmas cupcakes, vegetarian yummies, tea, hot drinks, peppermint and candy canes, cookies, baking, and hopefully lots of special winter menu items and comfort food!

Cooking up a storm!

My week off from blogging not only allowed me to do some heavy-duty planning for the month of December, it also allowed me to cook for the very first time!  I KNOW!  The girl who has only ever baked has finally cooked a great, hearty meal all on her own from scratch!  For those of you who don’t know, my mum has always done the cooking in my family and shoos me out of the kitchen.  Always has, probably always will so long as I’m living under the same roof.  I consider myself lucky when I can take out my baking sheets and mixing bowls without so much as a frown.  Maybe I’m exaggerating a little.  Point is, I’ve read food magazines since the age of 8, have watched more cooking and food shows than I have anything else, have been fascinated by cooking and baking and the culinary arts for years, but have never truly cooked!

Boiling water for pasta and noodles doesn’t count.  Making sandwiches and salads don’t count.  Or eggs.  I’m not discrediting the preparation of those foods at all because goodness knows making food isn’t a skill you’re just naturally born with, but it’s just different for me because of how I’ve grown up.  I’m not a food blogger with a wealth of cooking experience under her belt and I don’t have a plethora of recipes (although I do hope everyone enjoys the cookie and baking ones I do post!); but what I do have is a willingness to learn and a passion that sees no end.

So, what did I end up making as my very first, real foray into cooking?  VEGAN CHILI!  I cannot tell you how happy and elated I feel about this meal!  I couldn’t stop smiling for the entire day after I made it.  I feel so proud that I did it all on my own and that it didn’t taste awful – I got the thumbs up from both my brother and my mum and I thoroughly enjoyed it myself!  I took a cue from this vegetarian chili recipe from All Recipes.com, modified it, and made it my own.  And best of all, I used the most amazing, delicious and fresh butternut squash from the Evergreen Brick Works farmers’ market to make it!  And if you can believe, it feeds 4 hungry stomachs and is incredibly hearty!  I hope you all enjoy it as much I did!

Bean & Butternut Squash Vegan Chili recipe

Serves 4 to 6

(adapted from “The Best Vegetarian Chili in the World”, allrecipes.com)

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 can (28 fl oz/796 mL) no-salt added diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 Tbsp. dried oregano
  • 1 can (19 fl oz/540 mL) no-salt added red kidney beans, rinsed
  • 1 can (19 fl oz/540 mL) no-salt added mixed bean medley (white kidney beans, chickpeas, romano beans), rinsed
  • 1-1/2 cups peeled, chopped butternut squash
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 1/2 Tbsp. crushed red pepper/chili flakes
  • 1-1/2 cups water
  • 1 can (12 fl oz/341 mL) corn kernels

Directions

  1. Heat olive oil in large, deep nonstick skillet on medium heat.  Stir in onion and garlic; cook 3 min. or until onion is tender.  Add tomatoes and oregano; cook 5 min., stirring occasionally.
  2. Add beans, butternut squash and spices; stir until evenly combined.  Add water, bring to a boil.
  3. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 25 min.
  4. Stir in corn, cook 5 min.  Serve with hummus or avocado.

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The Fall Harvest Series – Getting to the Root of Great Food With Weekend Brunch, Butternut Squash & Beets at Hotel Gelato

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I’ll never forget the moment I felt my mouth start to quiver, my breathing grow shallow, and my eyes tear up.  This could not be happening, I thought.  Not again.  My Veggielicious hopes crushed and my plans for Veggielicious bliss foiled right before my eyes on the last weekend of an event I had been looking forward to for over a year.  The timing couldn’t have been worse.  I was stunned and rendered speechless, sputtering my discontent in sighs of frustration.  I couldn’t believe my rotten luck.  Right then and there, I wanted to throw in the towel on blogging anything altogether.

Melodramatic?  Maybe a little.  Heartbreaking?  To a foodie like myself, positively absolutely.  But!  Let’s remind ourselves though that, like any great drama, there can still be excitement and joy amidst the angst and turmoil.  So get comfortable because this is a story of initial heartbreak gone right, silver linings, the bright side, and new doors opening after others close.  This is the story of the Veggielicious that never happened and, given the circumstances, just wasn’t meant to be.  This is a story of food at Hotel Gelato.

Let’s rewind to last weekend, the last weekend of Veggielicious 2012.  I was so excited I was almost skipping down the street.  After my plans for Veggielicious at E.L. Ruddy had fallen through the weekend prior, all cylinders were raring to go and my sights and tastebuds were set on Hotel Gelato and their Veggielicious menu: spinach and kale salad with chickpeas, sun-dried tomatoes and tahini dressing, quinoa and sweet potato chili, and lentil cakes made with red lentils and zucchini with a root vegetable salad.  I was salivating even before I walked in.  My heart was pumping a bazillion clicks a minute and I was beyond ecstatic.  And then, the world came crashing down around me when I was delivered the news: because of weekend brunch, Veggielicious was only going to be around from 3pm onward over the weekend.  On any other day it would have been available during the day, for lunch, what have you.  But for the weekend?  Not so much.

I wanted to cry.  Again.

On the way to Hotel Gelato…

The unthinkable had happened.  I had messed up both Veggielicious plans and there was nothing I could do about it.  I couldn’t come back for dinner because I had promised my mum I’d come home for a great meal she had in the works.  And I wasn’t going to pack up and leave.  I adored Hotel Gelato and the thought of up and leaving didn’t seem…right.  So I sat down in my seat, moped for all of a few minutes, and snapped out of it.  Okay, so Veggielicious was no longer within my grasp.  But by golly, there were shiny pumpkins on their mantle and I thought, come hell or high water I’m going to enjoy my weekend brunch here and make the best of it!

And I did.  With one of the most fabulous vegetarian fall salads EVER to grace my tastebuds!

Introducing Hotel Gelato’s fluffy fall-inspired quinoa salad ($13) with butternut squash, beets, arugula, roasted shallots, and toasted pine nuts, tossed in a fresh lemon basil dressing and topped with some crispy beet chips on top!  Talk about getting to the “root” of fabulous food!  Fall vegetables with a light as air, crisp and clean dressing with an equally light as air quinoa?  Perfection.  What a fantastic salad and brunch dish.  As part of Hotel Gelato’s permanent weekend brunch menu, it had such an air of lightness to it, like it was only meant to be enjoyed during a peaceful zen moment.  The quinoa was fluffy and the vegetables, which were mostly diced, were beautiful in colour, taste, and texture.  There was crunch from the nuts, juiciness from the squash and beets, air pockets from the quinoa, that great peppery, leafy bite from the delicious arugula, freshness from the dressing, and warmth, coziness, and savouriness from the roasted shallots.

Here’s a very important tidbit to know though about this dish: the online menu says sweet potato in the salad but when you’re dining in, the menu clearly says butternut squash and it is butternut squash that you will receive!  Just by looking at them, sweet potatoes and butternut squash look nearly identical in appearance, especially when the flesh is scooped out and diced.  But, based on taste and texture,  it’s obvious when you eat it which one is being used in the salad.  Sweet potatoes have a much higher content of starch whereas butternut squash is juicier.  I am definitely not complaining about the difference in dine-in and online menu though because butternut squash floats my boat so finally, some good vibes coming my way!

And this was by no means a piddly serving.  This was a ginormous dish!  The salad was served on a huuuge square serving dish with a salad gift that just kept on giving!  I brought home leftovers, shared them with my mum who’s an absolute fiend for beets, and she loved it so much she wishes we had 10 more plates of it!  THAT is how wonderful this brunch salad is.  The colours and flavours scream fall and comfort and it has to be one of the healthiest, most satisfying vegetarian and vegan brunch dishes.  For those who love cheese there’s an option of adding crumbled goat cheese for $3 and grilled chicken for $4 for the meaties.

I was so, so happy and relieved in the end.  A heart-sinking moment of dread turned into a memorable, delicious dish that I would come back for in a heartbeat.  Veggielicious or not, I got the chance to try a vegetarian and vegan dish I had never tried before and I got to eat some butternut squash which is so fitting for fall!  What seems meant to be sometimes isn’t and sometimes, the best things are right under your very nose.

*****

Hotel Gelato is located at 532 Eglinton Ave. West just west of Heddington Ave. between Avenue Rd. and Bathurst Street.  They serve breakfast and lunch every day from Monday to Friday with a weekend brunch menu on Saturdays and Sundays.  Their breakfast menu is available from 8am-11:30am and lunch all-day.

Meatballs & Provolone, and Scallops & Farro Vegetable Medley – My Italian ‘Surf and Turf’ at Trattoria Nervosa!

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Let it be known that I have been in love with Yorkville’s “little yellow house” twins (known as Trattoria Nervosa and Sassafraz), for years.  With its bright yellow exteriors, sweet flower planters, black-and-white trim, accents, and awnings, and inviting outdoor patios for those sun-drenched days of summer, both establishments transform this Yorkville spot into those iconic French and Italian cafés many of us can only dream of experiencing in our lifetime.  It’s not Paris and it’s not Sicily, but in Toronto, I’d say these are lovely alternatives for the staycationer like myself!

At the corners of Yorkville Ave. and Cumberland St. on Bellair, they have both been on the Yorkville fine dining circuit for years, wowing its patrons with its Italian and French cuisine and beautiful patio terraces.  After visiting  the beautiful patio at Wish Cafe for Eat In, Eat Out’s Summer Patio Dining feature, I wanted to take the plunge and enjoy one other meal in the neighbourhood al fresco and thought, “Café Nervosa, here I come!”  Even though I was dying to finally wine and dine (or rather, just dine since I don’t drink!) at Sassafraz, I went with Italian at Nervosa and sunk into one of the most gorgous rooftop patios in the city for my own Italian version of “surf and turf” with crusty bread and olive oil, all the cracked black pepper I could ever want, and beautiful sunshine and comfortable breeze.

Trattoria Nervosa (or Café Nervosa) is a gorgeous two-storey Italian eatery with both a ground level and rooftop patio.  Their rooftop patio is like a comfortable, breezy summer cabana, with a cocktail bar, a shaded, cushioned “cabana”, and a sun dappled area right up against the patio railing with a very sweet view of Yorkville down below!  The rooftop patio is dressed in shades of cool cream, warm cappuccino, gray, and black, with mirrors, wall ornaments, and printed cushions dotting the chic space.

Their menu boasts a number of Italian insalate (baby arugula wih Italian tuna, romaine with pancetta, fried capers, and aged parmigino, buffalo mozzarella and pesto); antipasti (seafood and potatoes, beef tenderloin and truffled cannellini beans, funghi bruschetta, cured meats and cheeses); paste (agnolotti, funghi pappardelle, orecchiette, bolognese fettucine); pizze (plenty of fresh mozzarella, brie, parmigiano, grilled and roasted vegetables including peppers, mushrooms, asparagus, and grape tomatoes, sausage, prosciutto, olives, basil, and more); secondi mains (seafood, chicken, and beef, and veal); Italian desserts (tiramisu, tartufo, and semifreddo among others); and one veeery large wine and cocktail list.  Desserts are priced at $7.99, meal prices, in total, will mostly likely fall between $15-$30 if you’re putting together an appetizer and main or just a main (excluding drinks), and daily specials come in at around $17-$26, on average.

I learned a very valuable lesson during my delicious meal at Nervosa: never underestimate the power of appetizer plates to induce a food coma.  I came into my meal determined to have a dessert off their menu at the end of it all, only to realize that I was about to pop after my two appetizer dishes.  I had myself an Italian version of surf and turf with an order of their beef, veal, and pork meatballs (4, $13.99) braised and smothered in tomato sauce, covered in smoked provolone cheese, and their pan seared scallops (2, $14.99) with a panzanella salad of farro, zucchini, butternut squash, and corn.

HOLY MOTHER OF PEARL.  I simply ordered the two because I couldn’t decide between them but never did I think I would be ready to burst at the end of the meal!  The meatballs were incredibly soft, moist, and tender, the smoked provolone was buttery and nutty (and perfectly melted – provolone is not easy to melt!), and there was plenty of thick, savoury tomato sauce to go around.  The meatballs literally melted in my mouth and they were fabulous on their own without any pasta or bread.

The scallops appetizer, though, was even MORE amazing.  The zucchini and butternut squash were both diced, creating a beautiful mosaic with the farro and corn.  The medley, tossed in olive oil, was the perfect bedding for the fresh, plump scallops and the whole dish was just to die for.  The scallops had that lovely thin layer of browned crispness on top from being seared and the insides were beautifully moist and meaty.  Even though the scallops, being the seafood, was the expected star of the dish, the grain and vegetable salad was truly one of the most delicious things I’ve ever had.  The olive oil made it nice and flavourful, the farro gave the dish immense texture and crunch, and the zucchini and butternut squash gave it earthiness.

Given how I waddled out of Nervosa without a dessert (but still immensely satisfied), a follow-up visit is clearly in the cards!  I am so looking forward to going back for dessert, some pizza (rapini pizza on Thursdays!), and some fresh Italian pastas and cheeses.  It’s such a treat since I rarely eat at Italian places, just because they’ve always been a little pricier than other establishments.  I’d love to change that since I love Italian food so much and I’m happy I finally got the chance to make my first visit here.  It was relaxing, beautiful, and delicious – the perfect summertime treat.

*****

Trattoria Nervosa is located at 75 Yorkville Ave., at the corner of Yorkville Ave. and Bellair St.  They are open 7 days a week, from 11:30am-11pm Monday-Wednesday, 11:30am-12am Thursday-Saturday, and 12pm-10pm on Sundays.  In addition to their regular menu, Nervosa offers two daily specials every day of the week.  These specials include a pizza and a main and are not available on any other day other than their designated “daily special” day.  Visit their official HERE to view their full menu and info on special event booking.

An Explosion of Flavour and Texture – Vegan, Vegetarian, and Gluten-Free Delights at Hibiscus in Kensington

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Here’s a random fact about me: I’m allergic to hibiscus flowers.  I know, I might as well walk around in a bubble.  Not only do I have allergies year-round (I sneeze and blow my nose just as often and violently in April as I do in October), but I have a plethora of food  and non-food allergies and sensitivities, including hibiscus flowers.  Like all my allergies, I found about this specifc hypersensitivity the hard way.  While working at my flower shop job 5 or 6 years ago, my arms broke out into little red welts right after watering some plants outside during the summer.  I was watering hibiscus flowers.  So it’s ironic how much I adore a restaurant aptly named Hibiscus!  I am far from allergic to this fabulous haven of veggie food.  

Remember how I said that Kensington Market had an abundance of delightful vegetarian and vegan options?  Hibiscus is yet another wonderful place in Kensington Market that caters to the vegetarian and vegan crowd with its menu of vegetarian, vegan, raw, and gluten-free items.  Even though I firmly believe everyone and anyone should and could eat here, the reason why I say Hibiscus caters to the veggie crowd is because their menu is strictly vegetarian and vegan.  Some places are meat-centric with a few veggie options, some places serve meat dishes but are very veggie-friendly with many choices to choose from, and others, like Hibiscus, are veggie through and through with no meat in sight.  They’re not entirely vegan because they do serve cheese and nutella (which contains milk) with some dishes, but they offer vegan alternatives for the dishes that contain those food items.

Much like King’s Cafe down the street on Augusta, the food and atmosphere at Hibiscus has a subtle but noticable Chinese flair to it and I’ll explain one of the reasons why when I show you all the delicious meal I had here later on in the post.  You know you’ve found a gem when 1) you feel comfortable and at ease with both the atmosphere and the staff, and 2) you want to eat my through the entire menu.  Hisbiscus is a cozy, intimate-style eatery with plenty of foodie goodness on and off the menu.  They sell lots of tea accessories, fair trade coffee, and herbal tea (most notably from the Numi brand) and all of their non-menu food items can be purchased behind the cash. 

The menu itself isn’t particularly large.  Everything is listed on one page, but let me tell you, it’s quality waaay over quantity at Hibiscus.  If I had to break down their menu and succintly point out their hot spots, their specialities are 1) sweet, dessert-like buckwheat crepes and savoury buckwhweat crepes with vegetables, fruit, chutneys, and cheese, 2) non-dairy, vegan ice cream, 3) soy smoothies, and 4) salad bowls.  Prices range from $5.65-$9 for mains (small and large salad bowls, and sweet and savoury crepes) and $3-$5 for ice cream desserts.  Smoothies come in at $4.50 and other drinks are around $2-$3. 

Their menu is incredibly cohesive and focused, which speaks to the success of the restaurant.  It is BUSY here and there were people continuously coming and going even during the lull hour of 4pm!  One way of getting to know some of the menu items before you’ve tried them?  Discreetly take a peek around to see what everyone else has on their plate.  People were dining in and taking out and eating salad bowls like there was no tomorrow.

That’s right, salad bowls.  I know it’s easy to judge simplistic menu items and shrug them off as unworthy.  After all, don’t we all shudder at the thought of limp lettuce and ho-hum salad ingredients?  Don’t let the humble name of the menu item fool you though.  This salad bowl was an explosion of flavours and textures and I absolutely adored this and would eat this over and over and over again because it was delicious.  This is healthy, vegan food at its finest!  

The salad bowl was jam-packged with fluffy, crunchy quinoa, broccoli, shredded carrots, red kidney beans, chickpeas, tofu cubes, green beans, lentils, beets, cubed butternut squash, this delicious soy paste that mimicked the texture of creamy cheese made with onion and celery, and a yummy, crispy, raw cracker on the side.  The salad bowl was also topped with the subtle Chinese flair that delighted me: cellophane noodles (fun see in Cantonese) that oddly tasted much like the salty flavour of Chinese-style jellyfish!

That flavour completely threw me for a loop and I loved how so many flavours and textures worked together in this salad bowl.  It was savoury, sweet, crunchy, soft, smooth, everything.  The briney, saltiness came from the “fun see”-like noodle topper, there was a delicious mix of olive oil and balsamic with the beans, chickpeas, and tofu cubes, the sweetness of the butternut squash had hints of nutmeg, and the vegetables and quinoa provided so much texture and crunch.  This dish was fantastic and after eating just the small salad bowl (they offer both a small and large), I was so satisfied.  The salad bowl is a meal that keeps on giving because there are so many flavours and so many layers – it takes awhile for your spoon to hit the bottom of the bowl, literally!

I’ve wanted to eat at Hibiscus for so long now and I’m so happy I finally did.  I can’t wait to gorge on some of their vegan ice cream and truthfully, eleventy billion more salad bowls.   

*****

Hibiscus is located at 238 Augusta Ave. in Kensington Market.