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!

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Judgement & Food Choices

As a result of the choices I make when it comes to eating, I sometimes find myself in the company of friends and family who feel the need to apologize to me about their own food choices. Recently, a good friend sheepishly asked if I would be okay if she ordered a steak while we were out dining together and another pal ardently defended her love of bacon at an early morning breakfast date.

veggie cartoon 4

Let me just get this out in the open – there is no need to apologize! I choose not to eat meat – that is true – but I promise to make no judgements about your selections. I will keep my own personal lifestyle choices private (unless you ask) and I will absolutely not jump to any conclusions about your character based on what you eat in front of me. Heck, I am certainly no purist. I ate meat until well into my 30’s, I will literally shove you out of the way to get at a fresh bag of potato chips and a glass of red wine and a gooey chocolate dessert are two of my very favourite things in the world. (Of course all of this is null and void if you are my husband – in which case I will freely offer my unbridled opinion….sorry Mark!)

I recently found myself browsing the housewares department at Anthropologie while my mom and sister tried on clothes (this likely explains why they always look fashionably dressed and I can most often be found wearing my track pants ; ) and I stumbled upon a beautiful book called Pure Vegan by Joseph Shuldiner that I just had to buy.

pure vegan

The recipes look amazing and the photographs are downright mouth-watering but what really hooked me was the introduction to the book. The author says:

“My intentions in writing this book are not to debate the virtues of one belief system over another, nor to promote the health benefits of eating a plant-based diet. Aside from having little interest in these debates, I’m not qualified to take up a pair of boxing gloves in their defense. Making my own day-to-day choices about what to eat and what not to eat is complicated enough without trying to tell you what you should and shouldn’t eat. And that, my friend, is what this book is about: making choices that feel natural and right to you; to sow a few seeds in the back of your mind and help you cultivate your own plant-based culinary repertoire.”

Well said! I felt an immediate kinship with Joseph Shuldiner and his lovely and non-judgemental philosophy towards eating. We all have to walk our own culinary path and it is often one fraught with allergies, preferences, mixed messages from food producers and the media, childhood eating experiences, guilt, weight-struggles and financial issues (not to mention the complications thrown in if you are trying to feed a picky family).

So order what you will and enjoy every mouthful. I won’t judge you….. and I trust you will look the other way as I wipe chip crumbs onto my jogging pants.

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!

Bibimbap and my new Le Creuset Pot

Don’t you love it when you mention something that you would like to buy for yourself in passing to another person and they remember what you have said? And then on your birthday or as a surprise they give you just the thing you desire! How wonderful!

My husband is actually quite good at this and my Tiny Devotions necklace on Valentine’s day is a great example (I won’t bring up the Butler Bag fiasco from a few years ago though…still too sensitive ; )

I have been coveting a Le Creuset cast iron casserole dish for a long time. It’s the kind of pricey purchase that was hard to justify buying for myself so you can imagine my delight when my sweet sister (who’d overheard me pining over it) had a beautiful blue one all wrapped up under the Christmas tree for me this past year. I absolutely adore it!

la creuset pic

I have been dying to use it and as I was flipping through my Moosewood cookbook I found the perfect recipe to christen my special pot- Bibimbap. Super cool name eh? I was drawn to it right away and I knew I could get the kids to try it just because the name is so unique.

I’ve learned that this dish is actually one of Korea’s most famous culinary meals and it is believed it was originally served at ceremonial gatherings to honour one’s ancestors. It is traditionally served in individual clay pots called tukbaege and features an array of colourful vegetables, sprouts, meat or tofu and a chili sauce all served over rice.

The finicky part about making this delicious dish is that each veggie is cooked individually and then arranged over the rice. It is a bit time-consuming but the end product was beautiful and very yummy. I kept a large platter beside the oven so that as I finished one veggie I would transfer it to the tray and cover with tinfoil so they would stay warm. And don’t worry if you don’t have the same pot – any oven-safe casserole dish will do just fine.

Thanks to Jodi for the gift, to Moosewood for the inspiration and to Korea for such a lovely, tasty and awesomely named dish.

Bibimbap (adapted from Moosewood Restaurant New Classics)

bibimbap

4 cups of freshly cooked white rice
2 ounces of mixed dried mushrooms
1 cup of green beans, trimmed and halved
1 tbsp olive oil (plus more if necessary for cooking veggies)
1 carrot, peeled and halved and cut into thin strips
1 red pepper, seeded and cut into thin strips
1 zucchini quartered and cut into strips
1 medium onion, cut into strips
1 small package of organic extra-firm tofu, rinsed, drained and cubed
1 cup bean sprouts
1 sheet of toasted nori snipped into thin strips (you can buy a pkg of sheets at most health food stores)
1-2 tsp Asian Chili paste
2 tsp dark sesame oil
Dash of sea salt

Prepare your rice according to package directions. Immerse dried mushrooms in boiling water, cover and set aside for 20 minutes until soft.

Blanch green beans in boiling water for 4 minutes and then drain well. In a skillet or a wok, heat olive oil on medium heat and then stir fry the beans for 2 minutes. Remove from the skillet, place on a platter, cover and set aside.

Stir fry the carrots, bell peppers , zucchini  and onion separately until just tender, adding a tsp of oil after each veggie if necessary. (carrots approx 4 min, peppers approx 3 minutes, zucchini approx 2-3 minutes and onion approx 2 min). Place each vegetable in a separate pile on the platter and keep covered. Quickly stir fry tofu for 1 minute to warm and add to platter.

Drain the mushrooms, trim off any hard stems and thinly slice. Blanch the sprouts in boiling water for 1 minute and drain.

Oil the bottom of a casserole dish and scoop the rice into the bottom. On top, arrange the mushrooms, tofu, nori, green beans, carrots, zucchini, onion, peppers and sprouts in attractive mounds or circles around the perimeter and in the center.

Stir together chili paste and sesame oil and drizzle over top. Season with salt. Cover with a tight lid.

Place the dish on the stove top over medium heat for 3-5 minutes until the rice sizzles and everything is piping hot. Enjoy!

Asian Noodle Soup

Remember those yummy bags of noodles we used to eat as kids? Just rip open the bag, add the seasoning and some hot water and enjoy? Mmmmm…..my sister and I used to tuck into those babies weekly as kids. They also came in the oh-so-convenient cup format that I could tote to work as a young adult or throw in the microwave for an easy dinner.

But I now realize those bags or cups are actually filled with some nastiness – like MSG, loads of sodium and some unpronounceable chemicals that I don’t want to put in my body or in the bodies if my precious children. But dang those noodles were good!

So I’ve come up with a replacement that is just as good if I do say so myself and easy to make for a weeknight family dinner or quickie lunch. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Asian Noodle Soup

mr. noodles done
1 tbsp coconut oil
1 tsp sesame oil (not toasted)
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
1 onion, chopped
1 large carrot – chopped
½ head of broccoli, chopped into small florets
1 cup mushrooms, chopped
1 head bok choy, leaves chopped
2 cups bean sprouts, rinsed and drained
1 pack of organic extra firm tofu, sliced and chopped into 1 inch bite size pieces
2 cubes of low sodium mushroom bouillon dissolved in 6 cups of warm water
6 cups water
3 tbsp gluten-free Tamari
Juice of 1 lime
½ cup fresh chopped cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pkg rice or soba noodles
Hot sauce (srirachi is my fav)

Prepare the noodles as per package directions and rinse under cold water. Set aside.

Heat the coconut and sesame oils in a large soup pot over med-high heat. When hot – add the garlic, onion and ginger and cook for 1 minute. Add the mushroom, carrot, broccoli and bok choy and cook for 5 minutes more or until the veggies start to soften.

Dissolve the bouillon in 6 cups of warm water and add to the veggies with the additional 6 cups of water. Toss in the tofu, sprouts, tamari and lime juice. Bring the entire mixture to a boil and them reduce to low and cover until you are ready to serve.

mr noodles broth

Set out your bowls and scoop a good portion of noodles into the bottom of each one. Top with veggie soup and a sprinkling of cilantro. You can then top with hot sauce if desired.

Dig in, enjoy and let the compliments from your family roll in.

Veggie School Lunch #1 – Kym Salad

Does anyone else out there just dread the task of making a balanced and nutritious lunch for your kids each and every school day? I sure do! I keep checking the calendar to see when Lunch Lady and pizza days are going to roll around again.

I’ve sent some winners and some losers in the kids lunch boxes over the years and they are never afraid to let me know if I‘ve packed a real clunker (ahem…tofu dogs). But I keep trying and I’m going to share some of my successes with you over the next few months.

My dear friend Kym is a vegetarian, an amazing cook and an all around beautiful person and she kindly shared her recipe for this awesome salad that also makes a great school lunch. My kids all love it and it is fresh and tasty and really packs a punch nutritionally. To be honest, it is best made in the heat of summer when tomatoes and veggies are at their peak, but I like to make it year round to remind myself of warmer days to come.

Try it out for dinner or lunch at home first to see if your kids enjoy it as much as mine do. You can make it up ahead of time and stick it in a bowl in the fridge to use for the next day. I make this salad a LOT and it’s just as yummy served over noodles, quinoa, rice, lettuce or thrown in a wrap. And it’s always a winner when you bring it along to potlucks!

Kym Salad

1 cup cooked shelled edamame beans, rinsed and cooled
1 cup cooked sweet corn, rinsed and cooled (or use fresh corn cut off the cob in the summer)
2 cups regular or mini cucumbers, sliced
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1 ripe avocado, chopped
½ cup fresh basil, chopped
1 can of organic mixed beans, drained and rinsed (I like Eden Organics brand)
Juice of 2 limes
1 tbsp seasoned rice wine vinegar
3 tbsp sunflower oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Cook edamame and corn according to package directions (I often do them in the same pot) and rinse them under cold water. In a medium bowl, combine cucumbers, tomatoes, avocado, basil, corn, beans and edamame. Toss to combine. Pour in the sunflower oil, lime juice and vinegar and gently stir into the salad. Add salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!

kym salad in bowl

kym salad in lunchbox