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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tofu Sloppy Joes

As a child of the 70’s and 80’s with 2 working parents, I ate my fair share of packaged foods. Yes we had many home-cooked meals, but we also regularly indulged in Hamburger Helper, TV Dinners, Frozen Pizza, Kraft Dinner and Chef Boyardee products (I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that I loved all of these things although the beef ravioli was my absolute favourite).

And do you remember Sloppy Joes? My mom would fry up some ground beef, add in a packet of Sloppy Joe mix and some tomato sauce and we’d dollop it on top of big crusty buns. Messy, kid-friendly and delicious!

As a health conscious person and non-meat eater, I mostly try to stay away from those foods today- but every once in a while I get a craving for a good old-fashioned throw-back meal. That’s why when I saw a recipe for Tofu Sloppy Joe’s in the Moosewood Cookbook I just had to give it a try.

sloppy joes 1

These babies were delicious! Runny tomatoey goodness on top of Kaiser rolls with wedge potatoes and a salad on the side made for a tasty, protein-rich and somewhat decadent meal that everyone tucked into (as an alternative – you could also serve the mixture on top of rice, quinoa or noodles).

So stock up on the napkins and try this new take on an old classic. You might also want to set the scene by pumping up some New Kids On The Block music, teasing your bangs and slipping into a jacket with shoulder pads, hoop earrings and neon leg warmers ; )

Tofu Sloppy Joes (adapted from Moosewood Restaurant New Classics)

sloppy joes 2

1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 red pepper, chopped
1/2 cup shredded carrot
1 cake extra firm tofu, squeezed to remove excess water and crumbled (look for an organic non-GMO brand)
1/2 of a large can of diced tomatoes (I like Eden Organic brand)
1 can of sliced organic mushrooms
2/3 cup pasta sauce (I like Eden Organic brand)
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
6-8 large buns
Grated vegan or regular cheese (optional)

Heat a large frying pan over medium heat. Add olive oil and sauté onion and garlic for approximately 5 minutes until softened. Add red pepper and carrot and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Stir in the crumbled tofu, tomatoes, mushrooms, sauce, basil, coriander, brown sugar and salt and simmer together for 10-15 minutes. Add additional salt and black pepper to taste.

Slice the rolls and fill with desired amount of Sloppy Joe mixture. Add grated cheese if desired.

Enjoy!

 

 

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!

Make Your Own Sub Night

Nothing is more popular in my house than “make your own” nights. Make your own stirfry, salad bar, burritos and pizzas are staples on my menu because there is a much greater chance that the kids will actually eat something they’ve prepared themselves. I provide the basic supplies, lay them out on the kitchen counter or table and let them go to it.

Sub sandwiches are a delicious and versatile weeknight dinner because they are easy to put together and thrown on a plate with a salad make a quick healthy meal. I like to set out a big variety of toppings for everyone to choose from and I always grill some onions and mushrooms or crispy tofu as meat alternatives. Recently I found that if I thinly slice oyster mushrooms and sauté them in a pan on the stove with some garlic and onion they make lovely flavourful cold cut alternatives. (Did you know that processed meats such as cold cuts, bacon, sausages and hot dogs contain nitrates- chemical additives that preserve freshness. Nitrates have been linked to stomach cancer and other degenerative diseases. These fatty meat products are also full of unhealthy saturated fat that can raise levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol, a risk factor for heart disease and strokes. Source: The Dr. Oz Show)

Try making your own plant-based sandwich buffet and see if it’s as popular with your family. Use your imagination and set out any toppings you think your gang would enjoy and be sure to stock up on lots of sauces to kick up the flavor on your creations. Just be careful that you don’t pile the toppings too high or you might need to eat your sub with a knife and fork!

Lori’s Sub Night

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Sub buns or bread (any regular or gluten-free variety)
1 onion finely chopped
2 cups of mushrooms, sliced thin (try oyster for a cold cut substitute)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 batch of crispy tofu

Topping Suggestions:
Shredded lettuce or spinach
Chopped Tomato
Sliced Pickles
Grated Carrot
Grated Beets
Sliced Avocado (or Izzy’s Guacamole)
Grated Zucchini (or you could chop it and sauté it with the mushrooms)
Sliced Cucumber
Sprouts
Hot Peppers
Sliced Olives
Grated vegan or regular cheese
Finely chopped parsley, cilantro or basil
Hummus
BBQ Sauce
Vegennaise
Mustard (regular and hot)
Hot Sauce
Horseradish
Balsamic Vinegar
Salt and Pepper

Slice buns or bread. Saute onion, garlic and mushrooms in oil on the stove in a frying pan until softened (approx. 5-6 minutes).

Lay out all of your toppings and sauces on the countertop or table. Let the sandwich making fun commence.

Enjoy!

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!

A Challenge – Thanksgiving Without The Turkey

“What is added by having a turkey on the Thanksgiving table? And what would happen if there were no turkey? Would the tradition be broken, or injured, if instead of a bird we simply had the sweet potato casserole, homemade rolls, green beans with almonds, cranberry concoctions, yams, buttery mashed potatoes, pumpkin and pecan pies? It’s not so hard to imagine it. See your loved ones around the table. Hear the sounds. Smell the smells. There is no turkey. Is the holiday undermined? Is Thanksgiving no longer Thanksgiving?

Or would Thanksgiving be enhanced? Would the choice not to eat turkey be a more active way of celebrating how thankful we feel? Try to imagine the conversation that would take place. This is why our family celebrates this way. Would such a conversation feel disappointing or inspiring?” (Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals)

This coming weekend is Thanksgiving here in Canada I’m issuing a big challenge to my readers, family and friends: I would like you to consider serving this holiday dinner without any meat. Do you think it’s possible? Could you add a new element to your meal by sharing with your family the reasons behind your decision to forgo the usual turkey centerpiece? (If you are interested more information about the truth of the turkey industry, you can check out this link.)

Trust me I get it- this is no easy challenge. Suggesting a Thanksgiving dinner without a turkey can elicit reactions ranging from curiosity to downright anger. But as I am midway through Brene Brown’s amazing book “Daring Greatly“, I am encouraged to test out my own bravery and vulnerability by tackling this tradition and putting my own neck on the line (I guess you could say in place of the turkey).

What do you think? Could you give it a whirl? I’m picturing you seated around a festive table with your loved ones and raising your glass of wine to say  “I am thankful for this 100% cruelty-free dinner that I can share with my family.”

If you are open and willing, here is what I will be preparing with my family this Thanksgiving as inspiration:

Tofu Stuffed Mushrooms (recipe courtesy of Vegetarian Times)

tofu stuffed mushrooms

Vegan Caesar Salad with Homemade Croutons

caesar done

Kym Salad

kym salad in bowl

Fresh Baguettes from Pane Fresco

baguettes

Vegan Shepard’s Pie with Mushroom Gravy

shepard's pie on plate

Vegan Caramel Apple Pie (courtesy of Healthy. Happy. Life)

apple-pie58

Whatever you decide to serve, I wish you and your family a happy and healthy Thanksgiving weekend! Cheers!

Protein Packed Hash Browns

I almost called this post “Holy Crap She Is Actually Posting a Recipe!” because it’s been so freakin’ long since I shared a food idea on my blog. Yes I am still cooking- although perhaps thawing and reheating would better describe my time in the kitchen of late. And I must give credit where credit is due and mention my sweet hubby who has also been doing a lot of the cooking (ahem…ordering in) as we’ve been adjusting to a busier schedule.

The inspiration for this recipe came from one of my favourite magazines Vegetarian Times. Anyone who has ever said that a plant-based diet is boring should pick up a copy of this mag and browse through the pages. Beautiful, delicious and creative dishes fill every issue and I always attempt to make at least one recipe from my monthly edition.

These hash browns are savoury and a bit spicy so feel free to omit the cayenne if you are making them for the kids. I served them with pancakes for a “breakfast for dinner” kind of night and they were a huge hit. You could also serve them alongside a big salad and a hunk of baguette for a hearty lunch or dinner. Oh and a tip from my family – a shot of ketchup takes these babies to the next level!

Protein Packed Hash Browns (adapted from Vegetarian Times, Sept 2013)

hash browns

1 package of extra-firm tofu (organic and non GMO), rinsed, patted dry and cubed
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 cup of chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 yellow pepper, chopped
5-6 yellow fleshed potatoes, cubed
2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1 pinch cayenne
Salt & Pepper to taste

Heat 1 tbsp. of the olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the cubed tofu and sauté for 5 minutes, flipping a few times until the chunks are lightly browned. Remove from heat and place in a small bowl.

Add the other 1 tbsp. of oil to the same pan and sauté the garlic, onion, yellow pepper and potatoes for approximately 10 minutes or until potatoes are starting to brown. Toss in the tofu and add the spices. Saute for 7-8 minutes more or until the potatoes are tender and browned. Add additional salt and pepper to taste.

Enjoy!