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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10 Amazing & Healthy Recipes to Celebrate Pancake Tuesday

Pancakes are a favourite in my house. The kids are strangely subdued when I bust out a new Green Smoothie recipe (some might say grim actually) but they are guaranteed to jump for joy when pancakes are on the menu. And really – what’s not to love? Hot fluffy buttery cakes piled high on a plate drowning in sweet maple syrup…..heavenly!

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But if you know me you also know that I am always trying to revamp recipes to make them healthier. And to be honest – sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. I have made my fair share of lumpy, sticky and tasteless pancakes in an attempt to eschew the traditional boxed pancake mixes.

In honour of “Pancake Tuesday” I thought I’d spare you one of my so-so recipes and instead share 10 sure-fire recipes that were developed by other very talented health-conscious bloggers. I have made and devoured a batch of each of these recipes and I can personally vouch for their amazingness so pick the one that appeals to your taste buds and get flipping:

1. Hormonal Balance Blueberry Pancakes by Meghan Telpner

2.  Gluten-Free Whole Grain Chia Pancakes by Dreena Burton of Plant-Powered Kitchen

3. Strawberry Shortcake Stacked Pancakes by Angela Liddon of Oh She Glows

4. Chocolate Chip Buckwheat Pancakes by Sondi Bruner

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*Photo Credit: Sondi Bruner

5. My Favourite Vegan Pancakes by Amanda Maguire of Pickles & Honey

6. Loveliest Lemon Vegan Pancakes by Kathy Patalsky of Healthy Happy Life

lemon pancakes

*Photo Credit: Kathy Patalsky, Healthy Happy Life

7. Peach Pancakes by Thug Kitchen

8. 7-Ingredient Vegan Gluten-Free Waffles by John and Dana at Minimalist Baker

9. Even Better Potato Pancakes by Deb Perelman at Smitten Kitchen

10. Coconut Flour Banana Pancakes by Joy McCarthy of Joyous Health

So get out the maple syrup and whip up a stack of delicious and healthy pancakes. And for inspiration check out my latest batch – not half bad tasting and as my daughter pointed out “look mom – this one is pooping a heart!” I took that as a good sign ; ) Happy Pancake Tuesday everyone!

pancake heart

Asian Noodle Salad with Seared Tofu

I was busy grilling the tofu for this recipe when a friend popped by to pick up his daughter from a play date. “Mmmmm…something smells good Lori – what are you cooking?” he asked. “Marinated tofu steaks!” I proudly replied. “Oh gross – that’s nasty!” he quickly shot back. Guess I won’t be inviting him to dinner anytime soon ; )

Tofu (and soy products in general) might just be one of the most controversial foods out there. Depending on which research paper or magazine article you are reading- it’s either touted as a wonderful superfood or a hormone disrupting poison. And frankly there appear to be good arguments on both sides of the fence.

I have done quite a bit of research on my own and came across a great article on the Harvard School of Public Health website that gave a comprehensive overview of “smart approaches to choosing protein for your diet.” This particular quote came from the end of the “Straight Talk about Soy” section:

Eat soy in moderation. Soybeans, tofu, and other soy-based foods are an excellent alternative to red meat. In some cultures, tofu and soy foods are a protein staple, and we don’t suggest any change. But if you haven’t grown up eating lots of soy, there’s no reason to go overboard: Two to 4 servings a week is a good target; eating more than that likely won’t offer any health benefits and we can’t be sure that there is no harm.

One thing to also keep in mind when buying tofu is that over 90% of soy bean production in the US is genetically modified and the crops are heavily sprayed with toxic herbicides. So be sure to read the labels and choose a tofu brand that is non-GMO and organic.

And now there is the matter of taste – most people assume that it will either taste bland or disgusting. But believe it or not I actually like it and so do my kids. With the right marinade and seasonings, it can be really delicious. We eat it approximately once a week just cut up and sautéed in a stir fry, marinated and breaded in crispy tofu wraps or seared into steaks.

So – to tofu or not to tofu – that is the question? At the end of the day there is no magic bullet, one-size-fits all approach to healthy eating. Do your own research, read labels, listen to your own body and do what’s best for you. This salad would be tasty with our without the tofu but if you are a tofu fan or would like to try it for the first time then go for it! This salad will make you a tofu-lover for sure.

Asian Noodle Salad with Seared Tofu Steaks

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1 package of organic non-GMO firm tofu, drained
1 cup of tamari (soy sauce)
1 tsp garlic powder
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
2 tbsp. agave nectar
2 tbsp. pure sesame oil
2 tsp grated peeled fresh ginger
1 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
2 tbsp. olive oil
6 cups chopped romaine lettuce
1 package of soba noodles (buckwheat)
1 head of broccoli, chopped small
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup shelled peanuts

To marinate tofu: cut the block of tofu into 1 inch slices and place in a shallow dish with a lid. Cover with tamari and sprinkle with garlic powder and shake it around to marinate the slices. Place in the fridge for an hour, shaking occasionally.

tofu salad 1

To make the dressing: combine vinegar, agave, sesame oil, ginger, salt and pepper in a jar with a lid. Cover tightly and shake vigorously.

Cook soba noodles according to package directions – adding broccoli florets into the boiling water at the same time as the noodles. Drain noodles and broccoli and set aside.

tofu salad 2

The tofu can either be seared on a hot frying pan on the stove or on the barbecue. For stovetop: Heat olive oil in a large skilled over medium-high heat. Add tofu slices and cook approximately 5 minutes per side until lightly browned. For BBQ: Heat to medium high and place marinated tofu slices directly on the grill. Cook 2-4 minutes per side. Cut each slice in half lengthwise for serving.

Arrange lettuce on 4 large dinner plates or 6 smaller plates. Top with a portion of noodles/broccoli and tofu slices. Drizzle with dressing. Garnish with fresh cilantro and peanuts.

Enjoy!

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!

Unjunk Food

In many ways I would consider myself a hedonist. If you’re having a party – I’ll be there. If you want to stay up late talking or dancing or playing euchre until the wee hours, I’ll stick it out. If you are opening a bottle of wine- I’ll certainly have a glass. And if you want to order dessert – I’m always a sure bet to share with you. I love to have fun and making time to enjoy life is high up on my priority list.

When it comes time for a food treat, my pleasure-seeking brain will often gravitate towards something rich and sweet and junky. I consider myself a pretty good baker but sometimes nothing beats a pack of store-bought peanut butter cups, a handful of M & M’s or a Snickers bar. Every so often when I am checking out at the pharmacy or perusing the tabloids at the grocery store, I will give into temptation and throw a chocolate bar discretely in with my purchases. “Oh that’s just a treat for the kids” I’ll say to the cashier…. but we both know I’ll have that thing devoured before I even drive out of the parking lot.

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Have you ever really looked at the ingredients on the wrappers of some of those decadent confections? There are some downright scary things like “partially hydrogenated oils, corn syrup, artificial colors, flavors, chemical preservatives and refined sugar” that I’m not so sure I should be regularly putting into my body or the bodies of my children.

Which is why I was downright giddy with excitement when I found out about Unreal Candy. Although it’s only available for sale in the United States right now (I’ve already petitioned them to come to Canada so send them an email or tweet if you want to help move things along), this stuff is definitely worth a run across the border! The company was started by a young boy named Nicky who was determined to create candy that tasted great without all of the artificial ingredients. After an extensive search, Nicky and his parents found a master chef in Spain who brought together a team of chefs from across Europe to take up the challenge.

They began their journey by deciding what they’d leave out of the reinvented candy: corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils, artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, and GMOs. They also set a goal to reduce sugar by 50% per serving… They decided that the key ingredients had to be responsibly sourced, thereby supporting farming communities and preventing the destruction of rainforests.  
In place of the junk, they added more of the good stuff, like more cacao, real caramel, and peanuts. They also added more protein and fiber from real food, so that each candy has a low glycemic index.

I have had the pleasure of sampling the Unreal creations and let me tell you – they are really really good! Candy coated chocolates, chocolate & caramel & nougat bars, peanut butter cups, chocolate & peanuts in a candy shell and chocolate & caramel & nougat & peanut bars. Absolutely delicious!

unreal

Now I know darn well that given the nature of these products, there are people who will say that this isn’t really a good alternative or a healthy choice. And I’ll admit that I admire those of you who can be content with a crispy apple or a single wafer of dark chocolate when a sweet craving hits – I am truly in awe of your will power. But I know that being realistic, this “unjunk” food is a much better choice for me and my family when it comes time for a treat. Which is why this girl will occasionally be enjoying some Unreal Candy…. and because the odd hit of chocolate will keep me on top of my late-night euchre game : )

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)

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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!

Chaga Mushroom Tea Latte

I’m going to be completely honest and admit that there are many mornings you will find me at my favourite coffee joint in the drive-thru line up patiently waiting for my soy latte. I have a well rehearsed repertoire of excuses in my head to justify my “need” for a fancy take-out drink:

– I was up all night with a sick child and I desperately need a coffee today
– I worked out really hard this morning and I deserve a reward
– I’m going to start eating right and working out next week so I’d better get my treats in today
– I stayed up late working so I need a coffee to make it through the day
– It’s a holiday (insert any occasion here – including Ground Hog Day!) and I need to celebrate with a coffee
– I’m meeting a friend and I can’t be rude and not join her when she is drinking her coffee
– It’s Monday and I need to pick myself up for the week
– It’s Friday and I need to gear up for the weekend

Trust me, I could go on and on but I’ll spare you. Needless to say I really enjoy a nice tall latte filled with steamy soy milk and sugary add-ins to start off my day. But being something of a health nut- I am also well aware of the negative effects of indulging in this particular treat (not to mention that it costs $6 a pop!)

Although the pros and cons of coffee have been hotly debated I know for myself that I feel much healthier and my gut, skin and pocketbook are much happier when I stick to all-natural homemade concoctions. And yes I can see you rolling your eyes through my computer screen – but some of my concoctions really do taste great!

Because I’m a full-on food nerd, I was totally thrilled to find this bag of Canadian Chaga Mushroom pieces on a recent trip to my local health food store. This potent and unique superfood is “a slow-growing mushroom that develops on living birch trees, obtaining nutrients from its host and making them available to us.” Chaga is considered the most nutritionally dense tree growth in the world and is revered in ancient Chinese medicine as being the “king of plants“. Studies have shown Chaga to be the single most concentrated source of antioxidants known to man and it has anti-inflammatory, immune-boosting and cancer fighting properties. Wow!

The cool thing about these mushroom chunks is that you boil 1/3 of a cup of them in a liter of water and just let them steep like tea. Afterwards you strain out the chunks and you will be left with a mild-tasting dark brown liquid that you can add to soups, smoothies, tea, coffee or just drink it straight up. And since the mushroom is so potent – you can actually reuse the chunks several times!

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This morning I added 1 heated cup of the Chaga tea to 1 cup of boiling water and blended it together with 1 tbsp. raw sesame seeds, 1 tbsp. hemp seeds, 1 tbsp. maple syrup, 1 tbsp. Dandy Blend, 1 tbsp. cacao powder, a small chunk of cacao butter and 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract. Voila! Yummy coffee drink that has a ton of health benefits! (I also added a cupful of the tea to our morning smoothie)

So for today, I am skipping the fancy take-out coffee and sipping my Chaga Tea Latte. One day at a time right? As for tomorrow – if you happen to see me in the drive-thru line just give me knowing nod and a wave…..because trust me, I’ll have my excuse ready ; )