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!

veggie cartoon 2

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)

mexican quinoa 1

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.

mushrooms 1

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

mushrooms 2

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.

kaden kale chips

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!

 

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 Field Trip from Hell & Hot Spiked Apple Cider

Earlier this week I went on a field trip with my littlest guy who is in junior kindergarten. “A lovely day at a nearby pumpkin patch” was what it said on the form that he brought home. “Spend time at a local farm learning about agriculture and the importance of farmers in our society.” Wow – it sounded so inspiring that I immediately signed up as a supervisor. I could picture my son and I hand in hand skipping through the field whilst the sun shone down on the gleaming orange pumpkins and reflected off of the smiling faces of his classmates.

Unfortunately the reality was not so lovely at all. In fact I would categorize the day as one of the most miserable I have spent in recent memory. It was bitterly cold and the rain poured down incessantly from the time we loaded onto the bus until we arrived back at the school drenched and grumpy.

Aside from getting to meet my son’s classmates and their parents and having the opportunity to spend some quality time with my youngest – the day was a wash (quite literally actually). We tried desperately to huddle under flimsy umbrellas but even the most hearty kids and adults ended up soaked to the skin. The barns and covered buildings were damp and chilly and inevitably the kids started losing it- some falling face first into mud puddles and others shaking and blue lipped from the cold. Good times!

Fortunately however there was one bright spot amongst the deluge of rain and the dripping snotty noses and the incessant whining (coming mostly from me btw). As we were all huddled up under a sheltered area watching an incredibly sappy cartoon about dancing and singing pumpkins, a fellow mom tapped me on the shoulder. “There’s hot apple cider for the parents over on that counter” she said. And it was all I could do not to kiss her then and there!

I practically tripped over the children to get at that urn of cider and it was quite possibly the best thing I have ever tasted. Hot and sweet and comforting……like a warm hug on a crappy day. I sucked back every last drop and as I was making a beeline for another cupful, the same mom leaned over and whispered “the only thing that would make that cider better would be a stiff shot of rum.” And that time I did kiss her ; )

This recipe is my own take on the cider that I drank on that day. I made it as delicious and healthy as possible (thanks to inspiration from Meghan Telpner’s recipe) and I think it turned out pretty darn tasty. And since I made this batch at home – I did add in that shot of rum. And you know what? It WAS even better! In fact, after a few glasses – I practically forgot all about that horrifying field trip ; )

Hot (Spiked) Apple Cider

cider 1

 

I bag of organic apples (I used Macintosh)
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tsp nutmeg
Dash allspice
2 tbsp maple syrup
1/4 cup goji berries (optional- adds antioxidant power)
Rum (optional but highly recommended)

Wash and cut apples into chunks (skin on). Place apples in a large sauce pan with the cinnamon sticks, nutmeg, allspice, maple syrup and goji berries. Cover with water.

cider 2

 

Bring to a boil then reduce heat to simmer. Cover and let simmer for approx 1 hour until the apples are mushy. Remove from heat and take out the cinnamon sticks. Strain the cider through a nut sack (insert joke here) or through a mesh sieve. Pour into mugs and add a generous shot of rum to each if desired. Enjoy!

 

 

 

Friendship & Fresh Tomato Sauce

I have always wanted to learn how to make jars of fresh tomato sauce. Each summer when the tomatoes are at their peak, I fantasize about filling my cupboards with the most amazing sauce ever created (yes I am a food nerd). I even went so far as to buy a bushel of tomatoes a few years back and set about peeling, seeding, blanching, chopping and sterilizing….until the whole thing just got so overwhelming that I shoved my half-assed attempt at sauce into bags and popped it all in the freezer. Massive red ice-cube blobs that I eventually thawed and dumped. Pathetic.

The biggest stumbling block for me (and it’s the same story for homemade jam btw) is sterilizing the dang jars. Whenever I start reading the instructions for the sterilization process I end up breaking into a cold sweat as I imagine my dinner guests doubled over with acute food poisoning. I just can’t handle the pressure!

So you can imagine my delight when I mentioned my tomato-sauce ineptitude to a couple of my closest girlfriends and they said “Hey – it’s not hard at all. We’ve done it lots of times. We can teach you how to make it.” Woohoo! I quickly roped them into committing to a date and anxiously awaited my sauce-making lesson.

tomato bushel

The day before our cooking extravaganza, one of my girlfriends dropped off a bushel of the most beautiful bright red tomatoes at my door. “Wash them and set them out on a flat surface to dry” she instructed. Looked easy enough until I realized that a bushel of tomatoes is freakin’ heavy! She helped me load them into my son’s wagon and I rolled them gently into the backyard. After an hour scrubbing them and lining them up on a bed sheet outside, I stood back to admire my work (and then promptly hopped into a hot bath to soak my aching back….bending over the hose is tough work).

tomato outside

The next day, my friends arrived bright and early armed with boxes of jars, more tomatoes and tons of cooking supplies. One of the girls had miraculously discovered that chopping and putting the tomatoes right into our high-powered blenders would cut down hours of the tedious work of grinding the tomatoes by hand but I wanted to try one batch the old-school way. The girls just looked at each other and rolled their eyes but indulged me and passed me the tomato grinder.

tomato grinder

As they happily whirred up the tomatoes in the blender, I hand cranked the chopped tomatoes through a stainless steel grinder. Much more difficult and as it turns out – the sauce from my efforts didn’t taste any different from their blended sauce. After 1 batch, I also switched to the blender method and in no time at all we had a few pots of sauce boiling away on the oven.

tomato pot

Although I was expecting to make full-blown pasta sauce (ala Ragu), the girls told me that it’s much better to simply jar the boiled tomato sauce mixed with a little sea salt. This keeps the tomatoes fresher and you can add the garlic, basil and any other ingredients of choice when you open your jars and are ready to eat the sauce. (And let me tell you, just the simple boiled tomatoes and sea salt tasted amazing.)

It turns out that my fear over the jar sterilization was overblown. The girls simply popped the jars into the dishwasher on high heat and placed the lids into a pot of boiling water on the stove. They handled the jars carefully so as not to touch the lip and used tongs to place the lids on each one. Then they set them upside down on a table for a few minutes to make sure they weren’t leaking and turned them over to wait for the “pop” of the lids that indicates a good seal. Voila!

So here are the biggest lessons I learned about jarring fresh tomato sauce:

– tomato sauce tastes 100% better when you make it yourself

– when you are a rookie sauce maker in the kitchen with experts- it’s best to stick to watching, listening and doing the dishes

– sterilizing doesn’t have to be scary

– the taste is wonderful and fresh and it makes the house smell amazing (the kids even said it was the best sauce they’d ever had)

– I’m so lucky to have friends who are willing to share their knowledge and the workload (and it didn’t hurt that I had a couple of bottles of Italian wine on hand to keep them happy ; )

– it’s not so hard – just go for it!

My wish has come true – my pantry is all stocked up with tomato sauce. Thanks to my friends, I conquered my fear and learned a great new skill. Next stop….jam!

tomato jars

Fresh Tomato Sauce

1 bushel ripe tomatoes
Sea salt (to taste, approx. 1 tbsp. per large batch)
Mason jars (we used large and medium-sized jars)

Wash tomatoes and lay them on a flat surface to dry for 24 hours.

Sterilize jars on high heat in the dishwasher.

Quarter tomatoes and place them into a high-powered blender. Whir for 1-2 minutes until blended. Place mixture into a large pot on the stove. Bring to a boil and boil continuously for 1 hour, adding sea salt to taste.

Place jar lids and rims into a large pot of boiling water on the stove.

After 1 hour, scoop sauce into a sterilized jar, leaving at least 1-inch of space at the top of the jar. Use tongs to place a lid on the jar and seal with a rim. Place jar on the table upside down for a minute or 2 to ensure there is no leaking. After a couple of minutes, flip the jar right side up and listen for the “pop” of the lid that will let you know that the jar is properly sealed.

*Lori’s Suggestion: When you are ready to eat your sauce – put a tablespoon of olive oil into a skillet and heat on medium-high. Add a minced clove of garlic, a sprinkle of sea salt and a dash of red pepper flakes and cook for 1-2 minutes. Pour in your sauce and heat through. Scoop over hot pasta and enjoy!