Book Club Tuesday: Fresh


Hey! Happy April! Maybe it’s just me but I feel like by the time March comes around I’m “phoning” my meals in. I feel unexcited, uninspired, and gray. Then spring happens and everything starts to feel new and fresh again. Produce looks better at the supermarket and I feel more inspired to make simple meals that are a combination of grains, legumes/pulses, fruit, and veggies. “Big Salads” (can’t ever help not to think of Seinfeld when I use this phrase!) are what I gravitate towards and TBH this type of meal has been creating a lot of dinner harmony between adults and toddler here. What could  be better? She can pick what she likes from the bowl while we can eat everything else. It’s all healthy and I love to see her experiment and try new things — instead of getting her “yuck” face. 

(I read somewhere that it takes a child 20 times of tasting something before they make up their minds whether they like it or not. So, really, these bowls are perfect because there is an opportunity to try foods multiple times. Sometimes she’ll reach out and take, say, a cherry tomato, just lick it and then return it to the big bowl. Totally. Gross. I know but that’s what living with a toddler is like. Remember how you’d lick the last cookie so as to stake claim and for sure your siblings wouldn’t touch it. Well having a toddler is opposite — often things are licked but no such claim is staked. Funny right?) Now that I’ve gotten off topic let’s get back to that review, shall we??

It was about 13 or 14 years ago that I went to Toronto for a conference. I think I gave the worst paper ever but it was a good trip in spite of this fact because we discovered Fresh on Bloor. Probably one of my favourite restaurants of all time, and thankfully they were selling a cookbook based on their menu. So we bought Juice for Life: Modern Food and Luscious Juice and took it home — it was my first cookbook come to think about it. At the time I was trying to embrace my guy’s vegetarian “lifestyle” (although I’m not sure that block cheese, rice, and tofu count as a lifestyle) and make delicious food for us. At the beginning I was at a loss on what to make for him. Vegetarian cooking seemed so foreign and unappetizing — don’t get mad but hear me out. I once read something in Judith Jones’ The Tenth Muse regarding vegetarian cooking that really rang true: “[the food] not only looked brown and depressing, it tasted ersatz, with everything trying to pretend to be meat.” Even though her comments were directed towards vegetarian cuisine of the 1960s/70s, in my mind that’s what I thought vegetarian cuisine was — recipes and dishes desperately trying to be meat or meat-like. I think this was also because I wasn’t vegetarian at the time and for me, not having meat on my plate at dinnertime really seemed to go against everything that felt natural. That’s the hardest thing about becoming a vegetarian, you’re constantly thinking “where’s the beef?” and then it started to happen. When we had that first meal at Fresh, I saw that real vegetarian cooking presented itself as an alternative not a replacement to the traditional “meat and potatoes” diet many of us grew up on; then I began to realize with every Fresh-type meal I made at home that vegetarian cooking embraces the rainbow of fruits and vegetables without even thinking of meat. No 1:1 substitutions needed! Early on my husband said to me “If I wouldn’t eat it as meat, why would I want to eat an imitation of it?” Good question.

Over the years my cooking style has evolved along with my diet and I have fully embraced cooking with fresh, “whole” foods. With that being said, one of my favourite meals is the “Big Salad” bowls that were inspired by and, really, came from eating at Fresh whenever we were in TO and from looking at the wonderful salad photos in their cookbook Fresh: New Vegetarian and Vegan Recipes From Fresh Restaurants. I read somewhere that “sauce is boss” and so with every salad I put together I know it has to have a killer dressing. With their first cookbook I loved making their vegan Caesar dressing but after trying the House Dressing it seems that there is always a container of it in the fridge. As you can see in the big bowl below, there are a few elements: lentils, blanched green beans, tomatoes, lettuce, hemp hearts, avo, cukes, Tofu Ricotta Fritters (recipe from their cookbook), and, of course the House Dressing. Beautiful in the bowl, delicious to eat — you won’t see an easier and more healthy dinner to prepare.

I think this is one of the few times when you can buy a cookbook that is based on the menu of a popular restaurant, come home and recreate that exact food. That is a point to really appreciate, especially if you don’t live in Toronto. One of the other things to appreciate is the casual tone that Jennifer Huston and Ruth Tal set out in the introductions and with their recipes. You get a sense that part of Fresh‘s success is the dedicated people who work there, in addition family-like atmosphere. After the birth of my daughter it took me awhile to get back into the kitchen and when I did it was for my birthday. I had decided to cook a brunch for my favourite couple (the people who I most enjoy cooking for besides my family) and I knew I’d have some Fresh dishes on the menu. Is that weird? To want to cook for your own birthday rather than go out or have someone else do it? I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited to get into the kitchen to cook! When it comes to tempeh my favourite way to prepare it is using the Tempeh Bacon recipe from Fresh. The sweet, smoky flavour — perfect! It was MFC’s (my fav couple)  favourite too! (Maybe that’s why I adore them — they love my cooking! Can’t get any better than that!) It was the perfect brunch, shared casually between friends. I was able to recreate not only the taste of Fresh but also the atmosphere.

Not to disappoint, there is a custom hashtag for this review #freshcookbookse however there aren’t very many dishes posted. The simple fact for this is that I’ve been using their recipes over the past decade (long before IG) and don’t have pics of some of the very best dishes I’ve made from their cookbooks. Trust me though — the recipes are solid. Their recipes mostly rely on ingredients that are fairly easy to get in the grocery store (although I’m finding that in order to buy tempeh here in Hali I’m making a special trip). For fun I tried a new recipes last week — one that I’d never tasted at their restaurant or made at home. The Tofu Ricotta Fritters were amazing! After putting the tofu in the food processor with the other ingredients I could hardly believe that the texture of the mixture was very akin to ricotta.

Fresh is perfect if you’re looking to be inspired by some fantastic vegan and vegetarian recipes! With recipes that offer challenges whatever your cooking level you’ll be sure to find dishes to suit anyone’s taste. Enjoy! See you next week!

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