Mexican Quinoa Salad with Bonus Wrap *(Re-Blog From Aug. 2014)

It’s not easy when a member of your family announces that they are radically changing the way they eat. I was in my mid-30’s when I embarked on a plant-based diet and this threw a real curveball at my meat-and-potato loving parents. Although I had long since moved away from home and started my own family – it still meant that every holiday and visit became a head-scratcher when trying to prepare a menu that would appeal to everyone. Thanksgiving and Christmas with no turkey?! Easter with no ham?! A BBQ with no burgers?! Holy crap!

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I must admit that we’ve had more than a few heated “discussions” over the years about being flexible and open to trying new things. And there was also the inevitable questioning of the health benefits of a diet with no animal products.“You mean you aren’t giving your kids milk? How will they get strong bones?” “How will your family get enough protein?” “What the hell is quinoa?” and “Why do you have to be such a pain in the ass Lori?” All valid questions.

In the beginning I stood up on my soapbox and was overly eager to share all of the wonderful information I was learning about my new diet. I told them about the fact that there is actually more digestible protein in leafy greens and legumes than in meat (not to mention the animal cruelty associated with the meat industry). And that chickpeas and sesame seeds are much richer sources of protein than dairy. And that milk has been definitively linked to cancer. AND I made my entire family watch Forks Over Knives over one Christmas holiday (yes I was insufferable).

Nowadays, I’ve learned to shut my mouth more often and to be appreciative of how far we’ve come in incorporating more plant-based foods into all of our diets. But I’ve gotta give credit especially to my mom for really giving vegetarian cooking a college try. My family recently spent a few days at my parent’s home and I was totally delighted when she announced that she would be making Zesty Quinoa and Black Bean Wraps for dinner. She’s come a very long way from the woman who once told me she would never eat a vegetarian diet because there just wasn’t enough variety.

This recipe evolved from that wrap – which was delicious by the way (my son even turned down cheese pizza to gobble up a second helping). It’s simple to prepare and packed with protein, fresh veggies, herbs and spices. It just might be the best salad I’ve ever made! And as a special bonus, I turned the leftovers into a grilled wrap the next day that rivals the gourmet quinoa wrap sold by a very well-known coffee chain.

So if someone in your life announces that they are suddenly going to eat a different way – be it gluten-free or paleo or vegan or flexitarian…..be patient with them. When they come down off of their high horse – they just might make you something yummy to eat.

Mexican Quinoa Salad (with Bonus Wrap)

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1 cup uncooked quinoa
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pepper (any colour) diced
2 ears of corn- cooked, cooled and cut off of the cob
1 pint cherry tomatoes, diced
1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
1 avocado, diced
Juice of 1 lime
3 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chili powder
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook quinoa according to package directions. Set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, combine the quinoa, corn, garlic, pepper, tomatoes, cilantro and avocado. Squeeze the lime juice over top. Pour on the olive oil and toss to coat. Add red pepper flakes, cumin, chili powder and salt and pepper and toss again. Enjoy!

*Bonus Wrap*

mexican quinoa 2

2 whole wheat or gluten-free wraps of choice
1/2 cup grated regular or vegan cheddar cheese
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 cups Mexican Quinoa Salad (above)

Heat a frying pan with olive oil over medium heat. Lay wraps on a flat surface and put a line of quinoa salad down the middle of each. Top with cheese. Fold in both ends of the wraps and roll together. Place the wrap in the frying pan and grill on both sides. Remove from heat after both sides are gold brown (approx. 3 minutes per side) and let cool for a few minutes. Slice and serve. (You could also use a Panini maker in place of the frying pan to make life easier).

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!

Garlicky Marinara Sauce with White Beans

I think it’s safe to say that most kids adore noodles. Pasta is number one in my house and a staple on the menu at least once a week. If your children are like mine they probably much prefer plain noodles to any fancy tomato or pesto sauces but that leaves a lot lacking in the nutrition department and I always feel bummed out if the kids make a meal of pasta with just butter and cheese.

Throw this sauce together in under an hour and the heavenly aroma of garlic and tomatoes will waft through your house…and trust me it tastes as good as it smells. Aside from my cooked-tomato-averse toddler, the kids really enjoyed this sauce on their pasta. And here’s an extra kid-friendly hint: if your children are opposed to chunks you can always pop the finished product into the blender to smooth it out.

In addition to a whack of veggies, this delicious dish also sneaks in a serving of protein-rich white beans that are barely undetectable in the sea of tomatoey goodness. Like most tomato sauces this one tastes even better the next day and it freezes well so you can save some for your next Italian feast.

You can use any noodle you choose but I served mine over rice fettuccine noodles with a side salad and a baguette for mopping up the extra sauce. Be sure to load up the table with napkins and let the noodle slurping begin!

Marinara Sauce with White Beans

spag sauce in bowl
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
1 red bell pepper, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
¾ cup water
¾ cup dry red wine
¼ cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
1 cup navy beans, drained and rinsed
½ tbsp agave nectar
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
½ tsp dried crushed rosemary
1 tsp sea salt
½ tsp black pepper
2 bay leaves
1 28 oz can whole tomatoes, undrained and chopped
1 6 oz can tomato paste

Heat oil in a deep frying pan over medium heat. Add onion, mushroom, garlic, red pepper and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for approx. 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

spag sauce in pan

Remove bay leaves and blend if you want a smooth consistency (I always leave mine chunky).
Pour over cooked pasta of choice, top with vegan or regular parmesan and enjoy!

Plant Powered Kids & A Delicious Square Recipe

I recently had the pleasure of presenting a workshop to an awesome group of parents and children. It was called Plant-Powered Kids and I transformed my living room and kitchen into 5 different food-making stations so that I could get the gang busy chopping, grating, stirring, wrapping, blending and baking.

What a fun afternoon! I gave a quick chat when everyone first arrived and appealed to their athletic lifestyles to introduce foods that would power up their activities. I encouraged the kids to become detectives when it comes to the food they eat and asked them to think about 3 things: How do particular foods make them feel when they eat them? What the heck is actually in the foods we eat? And are the glitzy food advertisements in the media telling us the truth?

I also chatted briefly about some foods to avoid like refined sugar (did you know a bottle of Gatorade has a whopping 9 tsp of sugar!), nasty trans fats and toxic MSG and touted the benefits of plant-based protein, healthy fats and fiber. After about 15 minutes I noticed the kids staring at the floor and dreamily looking around the room so I knew it was time to stop talking and get them up and cooking.

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And I’ve gotta say – they really rose to the challenge! Not only did they do a bang up job of preparing the foods I had planned for them but they were brave about sampling pretty much everything they made. In addition to an All-Natural Hydrating Sports Drink and some Kale Chips that I whipped up myself – they prepared Raw Spring Rolls with Dipping Sauce, Fresh Veggie Salad with Zucchini Noodles, Homemade Hummus Dip, Granola Bar Squares and a Protein Rich Chocolate Shake. It was a feast!

I wandered around the stations with my husband and daughter to make sure everyone was on track and comfortable with the equipment. It made me smile to see the kids and parents talking and working together to make incredible healthy food. And I was able to overhear some of the funny things the kids said as they cooked- here are a few of my favourite quotes from the afternoon:

“I don’t know how to cook but I want to learn. It’s a life skill.” Liam age 10

“So is this like food? Are we going to eat it?” Lucas age 11

“Remember if you eat the beets your poop is going to be bright red tomorrow.” Izzy age 11

It was the first time I tried out this particular workshop and I think everyone had a good time. I was very impressed with the way the kids jumped right in and were willing to try new things. And I feel so fortunate that I had such an adventurous bunch for my first attempt…..I will definitely do it again!

And now for a recipe: of all of the things we whipped up together – the granola bar squares were by far the biggest hit. And I have to admit they are delicious. Super easy to make and the kids and parents alike gobbled them up. So here is the recipe in case you’d like to give them a whirl:

Granola Bar Squares

granola bar

1 cup almonds (or nut of choice), chopped
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1 ½ cups crispy rice cereal
1 tsp sea salt
1/3 cup dried cranberries, chopped
1/3 cup raw honey
¼ cup maple syrup
½ cup raw almond butter
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 and line a square pan with parchment paper.

Place nuts and coconut on a rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven for 5-8 minutes, stirring once or twice to avoid burning.

Combine oats, cereal, salt and cranberries in a large bowl. Add toasted nuts and coconut.

In a saucepan, heat honey, syrup and almond butter on medium high heat and bring to a gentle boil. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.

Pour over dry mixture and stir to combine.

Press firmly into pan and bake for 20-25 minutes.

Remove from oven and cool. Once cooled completely, place squares in the fridge for at least 1 hour or overnight before cutting. (they are very soft and will fall apart if you try to cut them before they set in the fridge – although the kids didn’t mind at all and ate the warm crumbles straight from the pan : )

Enjoy!

P.S. Intrigued by this workshop? Wondering what other awesome classes I offer? Wanna come to my kitchen?  Drop me a line in the comments and I’ll hook you up!

 

Asian Broccoli Soup

We are right in the middle of a cold stretch here in South Western Ontario and every day around noon I start nosing around for a bowl of comforting soup to warm me up. I’ve made a few big batches of my all-time favourites lately and stuck them in mason jars in the freezer to save for those days when I don’t have the time or inclination to whip up something on the spot.

Unfortunately, this creamy and delicious broccoli soup didn’t make it to the freezer – I gobbled it all up over 2 days of lunches and dinners. I just couldn’t get enough of the incredible sesame/broccoli/ginger combination… and the toasted sesame seeds took it over the top!

Broccoli is one of those foods that I turned my nose up at as a child but with much trial and error, I’ve learned to love it as an adult. It’s a veritable nutritional powerhouse with high levels if fiber, vitamin C, vitamin A, iron, vitamin K, B-complex vitamins, zinc, phosphorus and phyto-nutrients. And did you know that just 1/4 cup of sesame seeds provide more absorbable (and alkaline) calcium than a whole cup of milk?

This heart-warming soup is a breeze to make, tastes great and is jam-packed with nutrients. What more could you ask for on a cold winter day?

Asian Broccoli Soup

broccoli soup

2 large heads of broccoli, cut into small florets (+ 1 stem cut into small chunks)
A 2 inch chunk of ginger, sliced
1-2 tsp sea salt (more or less to taste)
Fresh cracked black pepper to taste
2 tbsp tamari (soy sauce)
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 tsp rice vinegar
1/4 cup sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 350. Place sesame seeds in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast in the oven for approx 5 minutes until lightly browned.

In a large soup pot, boil 8 cups of fresh water with the ginger and salt. Once boiling, add 3/4 of the broccoli florets and the whole chopped stem and cook for 8-10 minutes (make sure the broccoli retains its bright green colour). Transfer the broccoli to the blender with a slotted spoon and remove the ginger slices. Add in 6-7 cups of the cooking water, being careful not to overfill the blender. Also add 1 slice of the cooked ginger, tamari and oil. Puree until smooth. Return soup to pot and reheat to medium-low. Add reserved 1/4 broccoli florets and vinegar and simmer for 5-7 minutes. Season with additional salt and pepper. Ladle into serving bowls and top with sesame seeds. Enjoy!

 

 

Eureka! Amazing Egg-less Eggnog with a Good Shot of Screech

I grew up in a very small town in Eastern Ontario and every Christmas Eve when I was a child we would trot off to church together as a family and then my parents would host a little party afterwards. They would invite our neighbours and friends and a ragtag assortment of people they decided needed a little extra holiday cheer. And on the menu? Loads of egg rolls from a special restaurant in Ottawa, trays of my mom’s homemade sweets and glasses full of eggnog spiked with Newfoundland rum.

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My dad especially loved to pull out a bottle of Screech and tell his guests that although he found the rum a bit too harsh for regular cocktails – it was far and away the best liquor to perfectly spike a cold glass of eggnog. And inevitably after a few sips – everyone would agree! Of course at the time my sister and I were too young for the boozy version of the drink but I still enjoyed the nog straight up with ice and a bit of nutmeg.

Flash forward to today and my family will still gather to celebrate the holidays together but the menu has changed considerably. I’ve swapped out the traditional egg rolls for this veggie version and my daughter is insisting on making these cold spring rolls to add to the feast. And thanks to some amazing bloggers, I’ve managed to make some of my favourite sweets into healthier and equally delicious versions.

I also really wanted to add an egg-free eggnog to the menu but after carefully looking at the sketchy ingredient list on the “soy” version at the grocery story I decided to try to make my own. As it turns out this is no easy feat. I went through at least 6 different versions – the first one too bitter, the next too gritty, the next too spicy and so on and so on. I was beginning to think it wasn’t going to happen when I stumbled upon Ashley’s recipe on her site Edible Perspective. And holy moly- she nailed it! Silky, smooth, sweet with just a hint of nutmeg – absolute perfection.

So if you are planning to partake in a little nog this holiday season and the idea of an “egg punch” doesn’t suit your tastes then might I recommend this delectable egg-free version. I will be making my fourth batch to serve this evening and I’m sure it will disappear just as quickly as the last three. And because my dad was bang on- I’ve got a big bottle of Screech on hand to top up the adult portions.

Happiest of holidays to you and your families! Cheers!

eggless nog

 

Homemade Vegan Eggnog (recipe by Ashley at Edible Perspective)

1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1 cup raw almonds, soaked in water for 6-12 hours
2 – 3 1/2 cups water
8 – 10 medjool dates, pitted and soaked in warm water for 1 hour
1/2 to 3/4 whole vanilla bean (I substituted 2 tsp vanilla extract)
1/2 – 1 tsp nutmeg

Preheat your oven to 325° F. Spread coconut on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake, stirring every 3 minutes until evenly golden brown. Keep a close eye so it does not burn. Let cool.

Rinse soaked almonds. Place coconut, almonds, 2 cups of water, soaked dates, and the vanilla bean into your blender. Turn on low, working to high and let blend for 1-2 minutes until fully smooth. Add more water if desired.

Note: The mixture will seem extremely thick with only 2 cups of water, but when the pulp is strained through a nut milk bag it will be the consistency of cream. Add another cup of water for a slightly thinner strained consistency.

Place a nut milk bag over a large bowl and pour the mixture into the bag, scraping all sides of the blender. Squeeze as much liquid through the bag as possible. Whisk in desired amount of nutmeg and serve over ice with a splash of your booze of choice (optional). Or, refrigerate (sans booze) in a sealed container for up to 3 days.

If a thicker consistency is desired, whisk in a few tablespoons of pulp.

Notes: This may take 1 trial before you figure out the exact consistency and sweetness you prefer. I liked using 3 cups, 9 dates.

I recommend using a nut milk bag for perfectly smooth nog (or nut milk) with no pulp. If you don’t mind a little pulp, cheesecloth or a fine mesh strainer will do the trick.

Using 2 cups of water will yield approximately 1 1/2 cups nog.

Using 3 cups of water will yield approximately 2 1/4 – 2 1/2 cups nog.

 

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.

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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.

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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

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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!

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