Creamy Mushroom Soup (Dairy-Free!)

I love mushrooms. They are without a doubt my favourite veggie in the world. My love affair with fungi started way back when I was little and my mom would buy canned mushroom pieces to make english muffin pizzas for my sister and I – and we would slurp those slimy little suckers straight out of the tin. Yum!

Once I switched to a plant-based diet, mushrooms became my go-to meat replacement. Marinated Portobello mushrooms instead of burgers, ground mushrooms in chili, burritos and sauces and mixed mushrooms in soups, stirfrys and pasta. I could honestly eat them every day.

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Unfortunately for me – my family isn’t so keen. My husband will pretty much eat anything I prepare without complaint (bless his heart) but I would go so far as to say that my kids downright hate them. Even my impassioned speeches about the health benefits of mushrooms have had no impact. They just roll their eyes and push a sad-looking pile of brown bits to the side of their plates at mealtime.

My daughter is at an age now that she likes to take a bigger role in preparing meals and I am only too happy to step aside and let her create. But I have noticed that she “conveniently” seems to skip the mushrooms in the dishes she prepares. And that inevitably leaves me with extras at the end of the week.

Just recently I opened my fridge to discover 4 lonely looking containers of mixed mushrooms staring back at me. And I immediately had a craving for cream of mushroom soup! Yes I know it’s spring but this particular day was chilly and rainy and soup sounded just about perfect. And the kids were off at school so I knew I wouldn’t have to listen to their bitter complaints about how gross mushrooms are…..and as an added bonus I could eat the whole batch myself : )

This soup has only a few ingredients, it’s super easy to throw together and it tastes amazing. So if you are a fellow fungus-lover – give this soup a try and slurp up the healthy mushroom-y goodness. It’s a winner!

Creamy Dairy-Free Mushroom Soup

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4 containers mixed mushrooms (I used button, cremini and shitake)
1 red onion, finely diced
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp salt (plus extra for seasoning)
1/2 tsp black pepper (plus extra for seasoning)
1 tsp dried sage
6 cups of vegetable broth
1 bay leaf
1 cup of raw cashews (soaked for 1 hour in cold water)
Water (to cover cashews)

Remove mushroom stems and chop into pieces. Heat a soup pot over medium heat and pour in oil. Add onion and saute for 1-2 minutes until starting to soften. Add in mushrooms, salt, pepper and sage and stir to combine. Cook for 6-8 minutes until very soft. Add vegetable broth and bay leaf and bring mixture to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, make cashew cream by rinsing soaked cashews under cold water and putting them into a high-speed blender. Add water so that they are covered over by 1-inch and blend for 1-2 minutes until very smooth.

Once soup has simmered, remove bay leaf and pour in the cashew cream. Stir to combine and add salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!

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My Friend Gemma & Her Mouthwatering Noodle Dish

I have an amazing friend named Gemma. She is originally from the Philipines but entered my life about 6 years ago when she became the nanny for a close friend of mine. I remember when my girlfriend sent around an email announcing Gemma’s arrival – she said that she had a wonderful woman who would be joining their family and that she was a “gem”.

Well I have certainly found that to be very true. We first met as we walked the kids to school together and over the years have become good buddies. As we got to know one another, Gemma would often tell me stories about her childhood. Let me tell you – her life story would make a heartbreaking and inspirational novel and I’m often moved to tears as she recounts the trials and tribulations she has faced and overcome.

Her father was murdered when she was just 2 years old leaving her teacher mom with 4 young children to raise on her own in a small Phillipino village. They had to struggle to make ends meet and Gemma learned from an early age that each member of the family had to work hard to contribute to their survival. Despite their dire financial situation, Gemma’s mom made sure that all of her children went to school and completed their education.

Gemma went on to get a degree in accounting and also married and became the mom to 4 children of her own. Unfortunately, her marriage was an unhappy one and she found herself desperate to make money to support her family. Although the thought of leaving her children was extremely difficult, she was determined to make a better life for them and took a job as a housekeeper in Saudi Arabia. Her time in Saudi was difficult and scary and she found herself becoming more and more depressed. Thankfully, her sister was able to pull some strings and eventually Gemma was transferred to Canada to become a nanny.

Despite life’s hardships, Gemma has a wicked sense of humour and maintains a very positive attitude. And I’m happy to report that today all of her children are thriving and Gemma herself has found love again. This past summer, she married her Canadian sweetheart…and I even had the honour of acting as emcee at the nuptials.

gemma 1

In addition to being a good friend who always keeps me laughing, Gemma is also an excellent cook. I love it when she whips up traditional Philipino dishes to share with my  family… and she always kindly remembers to make them vegetarian just for me. My absolute favourite dish is her Pancit. This beautiful dish is one of the staples of the Philipino diet and actually translates as “convenience food”. A mountain of noodles and veggies all simmering together in fragrant broth – honestly, I could eat it every day!

Gemma kindly offered to give me a cooking lesson recently and I learned the secret to her delicious noodle dish. It’s quick and easy and even the kids gobble it up. And it’s versatile – you could throw in tofu (or another protein of choice) and mix and match your veggies to suit your tastes.

gemma 2

Thank you Gemma for coming into my life. I truly appreciate your friendship, your off-colour sense of humour, your bravery, your perseverance…..and of course your noodles ; )

Gemma’s Pancit

gemma 4

1 pkg rice noodles (I used rice vermicelli)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp sesame oil
1/4 cup Soy Sauce (or more to taste)
2 cups vegetable broth
1 inch section of fresh ginger, grated
1 bunch green onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1/2 head cabbage, shredded
2 cups green beans, halved and sliced
3 carrots, sliced into narrow strips
1 red pepper, julienned
Salt and Pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large wok or frying pan over med-high heat. Add ginger, garlic and onions and saute for 3-5 minutes until softened. Add in veggies, broth and soy sauce and simmer together for 5-10 minutes until veggies begin to soften and heat through, stirring frequently.

In another pot, boil water and cook noodles according to package directions. Strain and rinse and set aside.

Combine noodles and veggies/broth together and stir gently to mix. Add additional soy sauce and salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!

gemma 5

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Musical Fruit….In a Chip!

You often hear people say that they either crave salty or sweet foods – “I’m a total chocolate person” or “I don’t care much for desserts – I’m more of  a chips and dip person” or “Give me a bag of candy any day over a plate of nachos!”

Well – truth be told- I’m both. I love a rich and gooey chocolate dessert just as much as the crispy goodness of a potato chip. I honestly don’t think I could choose which I like better… although as the days get warmer, nothing beats a salty snack alongside a cocktail on a hot day.

I often (partly) joke that chips are my kryptonite – I only need to hear the “pop” of a fresh bag and I’ll go running like Pavlov’s dog. But though they taste yummy, I always feel the sting of guilt after I indulge in a treat that contains a scary combination of artificial ingredients and flavourings (seriously – how do they get cheezies to look that bright orange?!)

blackbean

 

I recently raved about Unreal Candy as a chemical-free alternative to traditional store-bought chocolates and now I’ve got an awesome replacement for my beloved chips – BeanitosI honestly could hug and kiss the 2 brothers (Doug and Dave Foreman) who created this incredible and delicious product. These chips are rave-worthy both for the things they don’t contain and for the things they do:

Beanitos Have NO:

– Preservatives
– Corn
– MSG
– Gluten
– Cholesterol
– Trans Fats

And they DO Contain:

– Fiber (up to 11 grams in a serving!)
– Protein
– All-Natural Ingredients (including whole grain rice, whole beans and sea salt)
– Calcium, Iron & Potassium
– Plus all Beanitos chips are “produced using strict GMP’s – Good Manufacturing Practices

But really- it all comes down to taste and these chips are freakin’ delicious! They are hearty enough to scoop up hummus, salsa and guacamole and they’re yummy enough to eat plain straight out of the bag. You can choose from a variety of flavours including: black bean, white bean, pinto bean and cheese flavored… and I love them all.

So as the summer settles in and thoughts turn to pool parties, family get togethers and cold beer, grab a bag of Beanitos and see for yourself just how delicious guilt-free snacking can really be. And if you need a little extra leverage to get your kids to try them – introduce them to the song my dad taught me many years ago:

Beans, beans, the musical fruit,
The more you eat the more you toot.
The more you toot the better you feel,
So eat your beans at every meal!

Veggie Pho Soup

Before I had children and while I was still figuring out my career direction, I spent a few years as a public relations consultant at an agency in downtown Toronto. Although I realized pretty quickly that this particular career path wasn’t the one for me – I did learn a lot during those years and I am especially thankful for the people I met, the skills I honed and the fun I had during that time.

If I am being completely honest, one of my absolute favourite things about working in the middle of a big city was the opportunity to grab some friends and head out for lunch at one of the many amazing restaurants in the area. And there was one particular little spot close to my office called Yummy & Healthy that I absolutely adored. I went there so much that the sweet owner got to know me and would start prepping my Vegetarian Pho Soup as soon as I walked in the door. I couldn’t get enough of that fragrant and spicy broth and the heaping portions of rice noodles, veggies, sprouts and tofu…..delicious!

I have tried many times over the years to recreate that soup and I just haven’t been able to hit the mark…until now. I was fiddling around with a recipe from a recent edition of the Vegetarian Times Magazine and bingo-  I came pretty darn close!

The key to this Pho soup recipe is all in the broth. I threw a bunch of herbs and spices into a big pot and let it all cook together for at least an hour. Then I strained everything out and was left with a tangy and delicious base to build upon. Once the broth is ready to go – I simply simmered my add-ins of choice right in the soup. (However, if you are adding noodles, I would recommend cooking them separately and putting them into the bottom of your serving bowls and scooping the soup over top so that they don’t get too mushy.)

Although Yummy & Healthy is no longer in business, I’m paying homage to the owner and to the many trips I took to that restaurant with this recipe. Wherever the owners ended up – I’d like them to know that the young woman with blue eyes, the sloppy French braid and the ill-fitting Fairweather suit who sat in the corner slurping her noodles would like to thank you for the inspiration : )

Veggie Pho Soup (adapted from Vegetarian Times, Feb 2014)

pho

10 cups vegetable broth (I used 3 cubes of mushroom bouillon mixed with 10 cups of water)
1 cinnamon stick
2 round slices of lime (with rind)
1 1-inch piece of fresh ginger cut into thin coins
3 whole garlic cloves
The stems and roots from one bunch of cilantro (save the leaves for garnish)
3 tbsp. tamari (soy sauce)
1 tsp agave nectar
1 package extra firm tofu, drained and cut into cubes
1 stalk broccoli, cut into small pieces
2 stalks of bok choy, chopped
2-3 cups of bean sprouts, rinsed and drained
3 oyster mushrooms, cut into small pieces
1 bunch of cilantro leaves, chopped
Rice noodles of choice (I used PC Thai Rice Stick Noodles)
Extra tamari and Sriracha Sauce for flavouring

Place vegetable broth, lime pieces, garlic, cinnamon stick, cilantro stems, tamari and agave into a large soup pot. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Strain and throw out flavourings. (At this stage you can make your soup right away or save the broth to use at another time. It also freezes well.)

Prepare rice noodles according to package directions, rinse and set aside.

Bring broth back to a simmer and add in tofu, broccoli, bok choy and mushrooms and simmer for 5 minutes. Add sprouts and cook 1-2 minutes longer.

Scoop a generous portion of noodles into the bottom of a soup bowl. Top with broth and veggies and sprinkle with cilantro. Add additional tamari and sriracha for flavouring if desired.

Enjoy!

Healthy Holiday Peppermint Hot Chocolate

Although it’s not officially winter yet, the temperatures here in south-western Ontario are mighty chilly! I am still cranking out Green Smoothies every morning but to be honest- a cold drink just doesn’t cut it when the thermometer reads -10 C.

Yes I could race to my favourite coffee joint to warm myself up but lately I’ve been using my Vitamix to whip up my own hot drink that is just as satisfying and infinitely healthier. It’s chock full of antioxidants, magnesium, protein, iron and healthy fats and is minus the refined sugar and artificial ingredients that I’d get from my regular latte. And it tastes amazing!

Take a look at some of the potent superfood ingredients:

Raw Cacao Powder– not to be mistaken with the overprocessed “cocoa” that is often used for baking – raw cacao powder is the product of milling pure cacao beans at low temperatures. The result is a powerhouse chocolate powder that is loaded with antioxidants, magnesium and iron.

cacao powder

Raw Cacao Butter – these solid white chunks of butter are produced from the fat inside the cacao beans. But don’t forget that not all fats are created equally and the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats from cacao butter are healthy and full of nutrients for our bodies. Cacao butter is an antioxidant, is good for lessening arthritic pain and is a mood enhancer. (I also used this stuff to make amazing chocolate-scented body butters).

giddy-cacao-butter-lg

Hemp Seeds– I love these tiny seeds because they are packed with plant-based protein, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation, balance hormones, alleviate headaches and regulate blood pressure and cholesterol.

hemp seeds

Raw Cashews– Raw cashews are naturally high in beautifying oleic acid, which is also found in high amounts in extra virgin olive oil. They are also rich in magnesium and manganese, and are a good source of selenium and zinc.

cashews

I also throw in a couple of drops of Living Libations pure Peppermint essential oil (anti-inflammatory and soothes the tummy), raw organic dates (fiber and antioxidants), pure maple syrup (antioxidants, zinc and manganese), 2 capsules of Ortho Adapt Vegan (improves mental and physical performance) and 2 capsules of Now brand Vitamin C (immune boosting) to round out my drink.

Try subbing your morning coffee with this creamy, healthy and delicious Peppermint Hot Chocolate at least 1 day per week and I’m willing to bet you’ll find it warming and satisfying. I’ve even got my toddler drinking it by cooling it off with some almond milk and calling it a “candy cane hot chocolate.” Oh and I might have stuck a marshmallow or 2 on top of his drink just for good measure!

Peppermint Hot Chocolate
(makes enough for 2 big mugfuls)

cashew cream latte

1/4 cup raw organic cashews
1/4 cup hemp seeds
2 pitted medjool dates
1 tbsp. pure maple syrup (more or less depending on desired sweetness)
2 drops food-grade peppermint essential oil
2 heaping tbsp. of raw cacao powder
1-2 medium-sized chunks of cacao butter (approx. the size of a loonie)
2 capsules Ortho Adapt Vegan
2 capsules Vitamin C
4 cups of boiling water

Combine all ingredients in a high-powered blender and blend for 1 minute. Pour into big mugs and enjoy!

Spaghetti Squash Noodles and Why I Keep Trying

I follow a number of awesome food bloggers and they constantly inspire me to try out new foods and dishes. Recently, I noticed that spaghetti squash was popping up a lot on different sites as a gluten-free and high-fiber replacement for noodles so I decided to give it a whirl.

spag squash 1

As I was preparing to cook my lovely squash, I began to have some serious doubts. You see, sometimes when I am making something new for my family a little voice pops up in my head that says “the kids probably aren’t going to like this….in fact they’ll probably hate it….maybe I should make them something else to be sure they are getting enough to eat.” Do you ever do this? I seriously contemplated preparing a pot of regular noodles (that I know the kids love) just to hedge my bets.

But after staring at the yellow squash for a few minutes I decided to go for it. Ultimately, I want my family (myself included) to broaden our experience of food and to continue to be open to trying new things. If I relent and make a separate and often nutritionally lacking alternative, I’m essentially sending the message that healthy food is an option instead of the best and only choice.

According to Dr. T. Colin Campbell, author of The China Study; “Children are our future and it just makes common sense that the food they become accustomed to will likely be the food that they prefer for the rest of their lives. In today’s society most children consume foods that will produce serious adult onset diseases down the road, and they do not eat the foods that may offer dramatic protection.”

And in his book “Disease Proof Your Child Dr. Joel Fuhrman states: “As parents, we want what is best for our children. We would never intentionally harm them- in fact, we make sure to get them the best possible care, read to them, play with them, and ensure their safety at home, at school and at play. But when it comes to feeding them, somehow we don’t know what’s best……Most children in developed countries eat less than 2% of their diet from natural plant foods and move into adulthood eating 90% of their caloric intake from dairy products, white flour, sugar and oil.”

So I cooked the squash in the oven, whipped up my favourite tomato sauce on the stove top and lovingly served up heaping bowls of spaghetti squash noodles. And what was the outcome? Well, the older 2 took a few good bites (with slightly pained expressions) and declared that it wasn’t their favourite dish as they scraped the remainder into the wet garbage. And the toddler put a bite in his mouth, made a disgusted face and spit it all back out into his bowl. He even dramatically scraped the yellow bits off of his tongue with his fingers. Not good!

But that isn’t going to stop me. Oh sure we’ll still have regular noodles from time to time but I will keep offering up unique plant-based foods for my family to experience. My hope is that they will learn to love vegetables, fruits, nuts and whole grains as much as the less healthy alternatives and continue to enjoy nutritionally rich diets throughout their lives.

Oh and I should mention that the kids were mysteriously hungry shortly after dinner so we had a huge bowl of popcorn about an hour later…..you might want to keep that in mind when you prepare this dish the first time ; )

Spaghetti Squash Noodles

spag squash 2

Preheat oven to 375. Cut the stem off of the squash and then slice it in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and guts. Brush the insides with olive oil and a bit of salt and pepper and place the halves cut side down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Bake for 40-50 minutes depending on the size of your squash. You will know that it’s ready if the “noodles” separate easily with a fork. Allow to cool for 5 minutes and then scrape the inside of the squash with a fork to produce the noodles.

Place the noodles in a bowl and top with your favourite sauce.

Enjoy! (and keep trying)

Spicy Chia Chili

Ch-ch-ch-Chia! Honestly, I think that jingle has got to go down in history as one of the most successful marketing campaigns of all times. I can’t even open a bag of chia seeds without humming the tune in my head.

chia pet 1Little did I know back in the 80’s while I was coveting my own sprouting pet that the little seeds were actually nutritional powerhouses. Chia is an amazing source of fiber, protein, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, manganese and phosphorus. Not bad for tiny beads that we used to slather on ceramic animals for decoration!

chia

I was inspired to make this chili after watching Dr. Ali Zentner on the Steven and Chris Show (I love those guys btw). Dr. Ali has a recipe in her book for a Chia Chili but I decided to freestyle and make up my own creation based on the ingredients that I enjoy. And that is the beauty of this recipe – you can add your favourite things (cubed potato, squash, celery, yams….whatever) and dial-up or ease off on the spices to make it just to your liking. I prepared mine in a large stock pot on the stove but I’m thinking you could also fire up your crock pot, toss in the ingredients and let them simmer all day long. Then you grab a baguette on your way home from work, breeze in the door with dinner all prepared and look like a total rock star!

Spicy Chia Chili (inspired by Dr. Ali Zentner)

chia chili

1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons of chili powder
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 cups of sliced mushrooms
1 red pepper, diced
2 vegetable or mushroom bouillon cubes dissolved in 3 cups of hot water
1 can organic kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 can organic black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can organic chick peas, rinsed and drained
1 28 oz can organic crushed tomatoes
1 28 oz can organic diced tomatoes (with juices)
1 cup frozen organic shelled edamame beans
1 cup frozen organic sweet corn kernels
3/4 cup chia seeds
1 small jalapeno pepper, finely diced
1 tablespoon of hot sauce (I used green tabasco)
I zucchini, cubed
1 cup fresh spinach or kale leaves, finely chopped

Heat oil in a large stock pot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Add mushrooms and red pepper and cook for 3-5 minutes longer.

Add in water/bouillon mixture, both cans of tomatoes, all cans of beans, edamame, corn, chili powder, hot sauce, jalapeno and chia seeds. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring frequently then reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for about an hour. Stir the mixture a few times and add more water if it seems to be getting too thick.

Toss in the zucchini and spinach (or kale) leaves and stir to combine. Cook for 15 minutes longer. Season with salt and pepper if desired.

Enjoy!