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!

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!

chaga

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 ; )

Warming Minestrone Soup & 10 Things I Love About Winter

I pride myself in being a hearty Canadian girl and as such I usually embrace the winter and truly enjoy the snow and seasonal outdoor activities. But I’ve got to admit that this frigidly cold weather is really starting to get me down. Thankfully a good friend reminded me yesterday that the days are slowly getting a bit longer and slightly warmer temperatures are in the forecast (not to mention that American Idol is starting again next week!) so things are definitely looking up.

winter cartoon

In an effort to remind myself of the positive things about this season, I made a list of a few things that I love about cold Canadian winters:

1. Snuggling up under a blanket in front of a crackling fire (even better with a glass of red wine in hand)

2. Making excellent use of my weather station by checking it 100 times a day just hoping I’m reading the temperature incorrectly (that can’t really be -23 C???)

3. Having a legitimate excuse for staying inside all day in my pj’s watching movies (the weatherman said exposed skin would freeze in 5 minutes for heaven’s sake!)

4. Snow days (bet those warm tanned Floridians never get to experience these special family days. Suckers!)

5. Hot chocolate, hot coffee, hot tea and Hot Toddy’s. Mmmmmmmm……..

6. Building snowmen in the front yard, tobogganing down frosty hills, building snow forts and skating on backyard rinks

rink

7. No dog poop to scoop- each new layer of snow just covers it all up. Booyah!

8. Sculpting toned arms by scraping layers of snow and ice off of my car (not to mention the killer leg muscles from navigating the icy sidewalks)

9. Not having to worry about doing anything with my hair since it will just be stuffed underneath a toque all day (same goes for clothing- I could be wearing my jammies under my coat and no one would ever know : )

10. Relaxing with my family and enjoying hot and comforting foods like this soup:

Minestrone Soup (vegan)

minestrone

2 tbsp. olive oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup celery, diced
1 cup carrots, diced
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried turmeric
1 tsp dried sage
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
Pinch allspice
1 tsp sea salt
Fresh cracked black pepper to taste
1 28oz can of crushed tomatoes
1 15 oz can of chick peas
1 15 oz can of navy beans
4 cups of vegetable broth
2 cups of water
2 bay leaves
1 cup frozen corn
1 cup frozen green beans (broken into smaller pieces)
1 cup dried pasta (I used little tubes called Ditali Rigati but any small regular or gluten-free pasta will work)

Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in a large soup pot. Toss in onion, garlic, carrots, celery and spices and stir to combine. Cover and cook for 4-6 minutes until veggies are starting to soften.

Add in tomatoes, beans, broth, water and bay leaves. Stir and heat to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to medium low and simmer for 10 minutes.

Add corn, green beans and pasta and cook for an additional 10 minutes or until pasta is al dente (almost cooked). Season with additional salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!

I hope you are finding ways to enjoy the weather wherever you live. And perhaps if you are reading this while relaxing in a warmer climate you would send along some positive vibes to us Canadian folks who are currently freezing our freakin’ butts off!

Veggie Eggrolls – A Christmas Eve Tradition

Every family has their own special traditions that make the holidays meaningful and personal. For my family- cutting down our own tree, hauling out our old boxes of decorations, cranking up the Christmas tunes and trekking to the mall for Santa photos all make it feel like the festive season.

We also have a few weird and wacky traditions that make our family celebration unique. One such tradition was started by my parents many years ago: every December my mom and dad would faithfully make a special trip a Chinese restaurant in Ottawa, Ontario to pick up dozens of their world-famous egg rolls that we would eat with friends and family on Christmas Eve. Nothing says Christmas to me like an egg roll and a big old glass of Screech and eggnog! (well Soy Nog now ; )

However since the traditional rolls contained meat, I’ve offered to make homemade veggie rolls for the last few years. Trust me – this was a risky offer because my family LOVES their egg rolls and I didn’t want to disappoint the troops. But thanks to an amazing recipe by my good friend Lisa, everyone happily gobbles up the Vegetable Egg Rolls and enjoys them just as much as the pork-filled rolls of yesteryear. Whew!

So this Christmas Eve we will be savouring the company of our family, sipping our Screech-laced nog and chowing down on some truly delicious Vegetable Egg Rolls. Thanks for saving our night-before-Christmas Lisa!

Vegetable Egg Rolls (recipe and photos courtesy of Lisa Faley www.flowfit.ca)

Makes 8-10 rolls

veg-eggrolls

  • 2 carrots, grated
  • 1/2 head napa cabbage, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tbsp grated ginger
  • handful fresh chopped cilantro
  • handful fresh sprouts
  • 4 crimini mushrooms, finely chopped
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp peanut oil
  • 1 tsp dark sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp shoyu
  • 1 package egg roll wrappers

To heated med/high-high skillet add peanut oil, sesame oil, garlic and ginger.  Stir fry quickly for 30 seconds to 1 minute.  Add all other vegetables.  Saute for 2 minutes, add shoyu and cook until liquid is absorbed.  Remove from pan and set aside.

Wipe pan out with paper towel and add remaining oil.  Slowly heat to medium.

To make rolls:

  • Lay wrapper on clean counter in a diamond shape with the point facing you.
  • eggroll 1
  • Place a heaping table-spoon of mixture into centre of wrapper
  • Take bottom corner and fold over mixture, tucking corner under the filling and gently pulling it toward you to grab the mixture
  • eggroll 2
  • Fold in the right and left sides, making an “envelope” shape
  • eggroll 3
  • Roll the form away from you, “sealing” your envelope by putting a little water with your finger on the final corner.  Roll up and press the corner down gently to seal.

Once your oil is hot, gently place egg rolls into pan seam side down.  Ensure they are not touching, don’t over crowd them or they will steam and not get nice and crunchy.

eggroll 4

Fry the egg rolls for 30 seconds to 1 minute per side, turning a quarter turn each time to ensure all sides brown evenly.  Once all sides are done (they should be golden and bubbly), place on paper towel to drain.

YUM!

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

sub 2

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!

Spaghetti Squash Noodles and Why I Keep Trying

I follow a number of awesome food bloggers and they constantly inspire me to try out new foods and dishes. Recently, I noticed that spaghetti squash was popping up a lot on different sites as a gluten-free and high-fiber replacement for noodles so I decided to give it a whirl.

spag squash 1

As I was preparing to cook my lovely squash, I began to have some serious doubts. You see, sometimes when I am making something new for my family a little voice pops up in my head that says “the kids probably aren’t going to like this….in fact they’ll probably hate it….maybe I should make them something else to be sure they are getting enough to eat.” Do you ever do this? I seriously contemplated preparing a pot of regular noodles (that I know the kids love) just to hedge my bets.

But after staring at the yellow squash for a few minutes I decided to go for it. Ultimately, I want my family (myself included) to broaden our experience of food and to continue to be open to trying new things. If I relent and make a separate and often nutritionally lacking alternative, I’m essentially sending the message that healthy food is an option instead of the best and only choice.

According to Dr. T. Colin Campbell, author of The China Study; “Children are our future and it just makes common sense that the food they become accustomed to will likely be the food that they prefer for the rest of their lives. In today’s society most children consume foods that will produce serious adult onset diseases down the road, and they do not eat the foods that may offer dramatic protection.”

And in his book “Disease Proof Your Child Dr. Joel Fuhrman states: “As parents, we want what is best for our children. We would never intentionally harm them- in fact, we make sure to get them the best possible care, read to them, play with them, and ensure their safety at home, at school and at play. But when it comes to feeding them, somehow we don’t know what’s best……Most children in developed countries eat less than 2% of their diet from natural plant foods and move into adulthood eating 90% of their caloric intake from dairy products, white flour, sugar and oil.”

So I cooked the squash in the oven, whipped up my favourite tomato sauce on the stove top and lovingly served up heaping bowls of spaghetti squash noodles. And what was the outcome? Well, the older 2 took a few good bites (with slightly pained expressions) and declared that it wasn’t their favourite dish as they scraped the remainder into the wet garbage. And the toddler put a bite in his mouth, made a disgusted face and spit it all back out into his bowl. He even dramatically scraped the yellow bits off of his tongue with his fingers. Not good!

But that isn’t going to stop me. Oh sure we’ll still have regular noodles from time to time but I will keep offering up unique plant-based foods for my family to experience. My hope is that they will learn to love vegetables, fruits, nuts and whole grains as much as the less healthy alternatives and continue to enjoy nutritionally rich diets throughout their lives.

Oh and I should mention that the kids were mysteriously hungry shortly after dinner so we had a huge bowl of popcorn about an hour later…..you might want to keep that in mind when you prepare this dish the first time ; )

Spaghetti Squash Noodles

spag squash 2

Preheat oven to 375. Cut the stem off of the squash and then slice it in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and guts. Brush the insides with olive oil and a bit of salt and pepper and place the halves cut side down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Bake for 40-50 minutes depending on the size of your squash. You will know that it’s ready if the “noodles” separate easily with a fork. Allow to cool for 5 minutes and then scrape the inside of the squash with a fork to produce the noodles.

Place the noodles in a bowl and top with your favourite sauce.

Enjoy! (and keep trying)

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!