Miso-glazed eggplant

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This meal was a combination of two things I love: miso and Japanese eggplant. The eggplant bakes until it’s buttery soft then it’s brushed with a glaze and broiled until the glaze is bubbling. We had it with wheat noodles topped with broccoli, yellow pepper, carrots and tofu.

My kids are iffy with eggplant – and I’m okay with that. They don’t have to love all the vegetables I love as long as they’re getting enough variety on their plates. I wasn’t planning on sharing these eggplants with the kids but I decided to let my daughter have a taste and she loved it. So I had to share.

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Miso-glazed eggplant

  • 2 Japanese eggplants (long and thin)
  • 2 Tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 Tbsp mirin
  • 1.5 Tbsp miso (whatever kind you like – the light miso is the mildest)

Preheat the oven to 400. Slice the eggplants in half lengthwise. Brush them with one Tbsp of sesame oil and bake for 15 minutes with the skin up.

In a small bowl, combine the remaining sesame oil with mirin and miso. Stir until mixed.    (I’ll admit, I wasn’t so patient with this step!)

When the eggplant is soft, remove it from the oven and flip them over so the skin is down. Slice it a few times – not through to the skin but through the soft interior. Brush the glaze on the tops of the eggplants. Place them under the broiler and broil until bubbly (only a few minutes).

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The kids simply had noodles, veggies and tofu with sesame seeds on top. The sauce is light – sesame oil, mirin and soy sauce.

I bought them starter-chopsticks and they’re learning to use them quite well. They didn’t give up and switch to forks! It’s great for their small motor skills.

That’s all for tonight – have a great night and let me know what you’re cooking!

Another sushi bowl

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Everyone around us is sick. People at my office, kids at school – it seems the flu is going around. It’s in times like this that it’s so important to eat whole foods and veggies in every colour of the rainbow. I’m convinced that the extra servings of veggies helps us fight off infection.

This bowl was inspired by sushi – it’s not the same as my previous sushi bowl recipe – this one has roasted tofu, sweet potato, bok choy and king mushrooms. I’ve included the veggies from all our favourite sushi rolls. We crumbled nori on top but only remembered after I took the photos and we had dug in. These are the flavours we love so the meal disappeared quickly!

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My son’s bowl has cubed roasted tofu, sweet potato, cucumber, red pepper, grated carrots, avocado and sesame seeds over white rice.

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My daughter’s bowl has the same but also includes bok choy. The tofu was marinated in a couple tablespoons of white miso, 1/4 cup soy sauce, a tablespoon of mirin and a tablespoon of sesame oil. I let it sit in the marinade while the oven preheated to 350 F and then just poured it all on a cookie sheet and cooked it, flipping once, for about 20 minutes. They’re savoury and delicious.

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The grown-ups had spicy king mushrooms as well. The recipe is from The 30-Minute Vegan’s Taste of the East: 150 Asian-Inspired Recipes–from Soba Noodles to Summer Rolls. They had a spicy sauce that was really nice with the rest of the meal.

This kind of a meal really works well with kids who like to keep their flavours separate. Everything may be touching (this can be an issue) but it’s easy to pile in only the foods you know your kid will eat. It’s nice to encourage new foods but every meal doesn’t have to include a challenge to overcome. This meal has lots of variety and points of entry with kid-friendly foods (cucumber, shredded carrots, avocado, sweet potato, white rice).

Fake chicken fingers and fries

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This isn’t an impressive dinner but it’s a weeknight and it was quick and easy. My son has been under the weather – just overtired with a low-grade fever. His immune system is working overtime fighting something off so he stayed home from school today to snooze all day. I’m able to work from home to be with him – but I had a lot of work to do so he spent most of the afternoon in front of the TV while I was working away in my office.

So when I shut my computer down for the evening and went to have dinner, he asked me to play with him. I chopped some potatoes, slathered them in olive oil, nutritional yeast and salt (makes for really nice french fries), tossed in some fake chicken fingers and frozen seitan I had made in December (when I had all the time in the world). And went to help my son build a car out of straw-like connecting toys.

The cucumber sticks are my gateway into dinner. Even when my kids are grumpy and don’t feel like eating, the cucumbers tempt them into eating and once they start, the momentum grows… they’re often grumpy BECAUSE they’re hungry. But they won’t hear it. You can’t reason with kids when they’re hangry – this is when a crispy, cool, irresistible cucumber works wonders. A few bites and they’re back to their sweet selves.

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My husband and I had this spicy barbecue seitan that I made in a huge batch and froze in dinner-sized portions. That’s the best way to make seitan because it requires simmering and then baking or frying – it’s time consuming to make from scratch. But if you make a big batch, it’s a great last minute meal.

Superbowl dinner and snacks

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Superbowl Sunday calls for a spicy chili and plenty of snacks to nibble on while watching the game. This year, we didn’t bother making a kid-friendly chili because they never like it much anyway. So we threw in the jalapeño pepper and didn’t skimp on the flavours. It’s topped with a dollop of spicy cashew dip for a creamy kick.

The chili was served with homemade pretzel dough cut into little “bites.” I got the idea from Vegan Richa (this dip is delicious and super easy too). I love the fact that the pretzels take no time to shape at all. Fresh out of the oven, there’s nothing like them! Aside from the hour it takes to let the dough rise, they’re quick to bake. Once you try them, you’ll be craving them again and again!

They’re served with a spicy cashew dip but we also dipped them in the chili. I usually make cornbread with chili but this was a really nice change. The recipe made enough pretzel bites for leftovers – even after we all ate our fill.

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For the kids, I fried up some vegetables and tossed leftover rice and lentils in the pan for a very easy kid-friendly meal. It’s flavoured with just sesame oil and soy sauce. Not too complicated but it makes the kids happy.

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Lentils and rice are a great pair that can be dressed up however you like them. If you have leftover rice and lentils, fry up some onion and garlic, add any vegetables you have on hand and spices that you like, add the rice and lentils, and you have a really nutritious and delicious meal.

If you’ve never cooked lentils before, they’re really simple and quick to cook. Just wash them well, checking for stones, cover them with water and simmer for 20 minutes. You can add your flavour in the water at the beginning or cook the lentils in plain water without any salt or seasoning. Fry onions and vegetables while the lentils are simmering and then throw the lentils in at the end. Give them a try!

Rotini, tofu parmesan and garlic bread

Pasta, tofu and garlic bread

I’ve been out of town most of this week – leaving my teacher husband with the kids, while it snowed repeatedly during the week report cards are due. So when I picked up the kids from school and got home (later than usual), there were dishes to do before starting dinner.  What I needed was something simple that the kids would eat.

Dinner tonight was rotini with leftover tomato sauce, garlic bread and tofu baked in garlic/tofu marinade smothered in tomato sauce and melted Daiya cheese.

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My son’s not a tomato sauce fan but he’ll tolerate some on his pasta if it’s topped with nutritional yeast. I didn’t bother putting any sauce on the tofu. If you have a picky eater, this meal is worth a try. It was gone before I could say, “eat with your fork!”

The garlic bread is whole wheat store-bought bread with vegan butter and the Daiya cheese melted under the broiler. My daughter likes powdered garlic granules but my son was hanging around when I mentioned them, he ran away and hid under the table. This is the drama that ensues when they’re overtired and hungry.

If I had had enough energy, I would have used real garlic for the adults but it didn’t happen tonight.

Here’s how I made the tofu.

Garlic/olive oil baked tofu in tomato sauce and cheese

Preheat the oven to 350.

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce (gives it some flavour)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 block tofu
  • 1/4 cup tomato sauce
  • 1/4 cup vegan cheese

While the oven is preheating, mix the marinade in a wide dish. Slice the tofu into the thinest slices you can (I was able to make 6 slices). Rub each slice in the marinade and let it sit while the oven is heating.

When the oven is ready, bake the tofu for 20 minutes. When the  tofu is cooked, flip it and put a spoonful of tomato sauce on each slice. Sprinkle it with a bit of cheese and broil until melted.

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Serve with whole wheat pasta and whole wheat garlic bread and you’ve got an easy, nutritious meal that the kids will scarf down. Good luck!

Miso ginger eggplant with braised brussels sprouts, squash and edamame

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Yesterday’s okonomiyaki didn’t quite satisfy my craving for Japanese food so here’s another meal with the familiar flavours of Japan but with local ingredients. The only thing authentic on this spread is the eggplant so we’ll classify this as a dinner inspired by Japanese food.

Miso eggplant was one of my favourite menu items in Japan. The eggplant is buttery smooth and the miso sauce is salty and full of umame flavour – it’s another one of those meals that I tried many times to make at home without quite getting it right. It’s also one of those dishes that often came with fish flakes as a topping. And though I wasn’t vegan when I lived in Japan, I was always quick to scrape those off the eggplant if I hadn’t managed to communicate my desire to have my eggplant without them.

This is a popular dish in Japan – and it’s really easy to make at home and you don’t have to worry about whether the waiter understood your request for no fish flakes.

Two long Japanese eggplants are halved, scored and brushed with oil before being baked, face-down at 400 for about 20 minutes. I should mention that it is important to use Japanese eggplants for this meal. I haven’t tried to make it with Italian eggplants but the cooking times would be completely different and I don’t know how it would work. It’s best to save the Italian ones for eggplant parmesan.

While the eggplants are cooking, mix the following ingredients into a smooth paste:

  • 1/4 cup of white miso
  • 2 tablespoons of sesame oil
  • grated ginger (to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon of soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 2 tbsp water

When the eggplants are done, flip them over so the interior is face up and brush the tops with the miso paste. Put the eggplants under the broiler for about four minutes until the paste is caramelized. Sprinkle the top with black sesame seeds.

These are really salty and flavourful so they’re best served with white rice. On the side, we had braised brussels sprouts (I baked them in the oven with 1/3 cup of water, 2 tbsp sesame oil, 1 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tbsp mirin, and a minced clove of garlic). Squash (the kids had theirs with vegan butter and brown sugar because that’s the only way my son will eat it). And edamame.

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My kids love edamame. The little green spread is an edamame spread with ginger, miso, rice vinegar, soy sauce and a bit of water to help the blender out. The kids didn’t like it as much as I had hoped so I’ll be tweaking the recipe or just giving them their edamame plain. Why mess with something that works!

Okonomiyaki and teriyaki tofu with rice

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My husband and I met in Japan when we were fresh university graduates looking for adventure and well-paying jobs. I lived in Osaka for the better part of the year but when the choking heat of summer came, I didn’t want to live in the dry, dusty city anymore. It’s not just in Osaka that I feel this way in the summer, in Canada, the summer heat feels like a punishment to be endured until the weekend comes and I can escape to the countryside.

I moved to the West coast of Japan to a smaller town steeped in historical tradition called Kanazawa. The climate in Kanazawa was quite different than what I had grown used to in Osaka. It was wetter and cooler so that a common saying we heard from our students was though you may forget your lunch, don’t forget your umbrella.

In summer, it was very hot and humid and in the winter, there was often slushy snow that could stick around for a couple of days. In Osaka, if it snowed, it was a rarity and would most likely melt with the rising of the sun.

My husband and I taught at the same language school and it turned out we both had Mondays and Tuesdays as our days off. We also had a wanderlust and were up for trying just about anything new. We explored the region and its cuisine on bikes, would take short train trips into the mountains for picturesque hikes or longer train rides to destinations known for their hot springs or more challenging hikes.

As I said, Kanazawa is known as a town where the population loves its traditions and I took classes in whatever was available to a foreigner with a weak grasp on the language. I learned about ikebana (the art of flower arrangement), took lessons on the koto (a Japanese string instrument), used traditional methods to guild chopsticks in gold leaf, visited the wooden houses where Geisha used to live, visited the samurai district, attended tea ceremonies, learned paper crafts and visited the famous Kenrokuen regularly (which has been ranked as one of the top three gardens in Japan).

Not ones to stay in the same place for long, we moved back towards the Osaka region after having lived in Kanazawa for several months. We settled in the countryside in Nara prefecture. Once again we had a hub from which to explore parks, onsens (hot public baths) and hiking trails.

We lived in a very small town this time surrounded by rice paddies and we encountered few foreigners in this isolated region. I worked for a company that supplied native English teachers to the school board so every working day was an adventure. I was given a new school or destination every day. I didn’t know how old the kids would be that I’d be teaching or how many classes I’d teach that day. By this point, I had learned enough of the language to get by without a translator.

I’d hop a few different modes of transportation and either someone would meet me to take me to a school or I’d find my way on foot, and being blonde and blue eyed, they knew why I was showing up at their door. Someone at the school (probably the vice-principal) would usher me from class to class where I would play games and read stories to the children. It was a fun job without much responsibility.

The whole point of this trip through my memory is that yesterday, my son said he’d like dinner pancakes for dinner. And so, I thought of okonomiyaki. Something special about Japan is that it’s a country with so much culinary history. In cities that are so close together it’s hard to know when you’ve left one and entered another, each city is known for its unique cuisine.

Here in Canada, everything is set apart with wide open spaces and cities are distinguishable more for their landscape than their culture. We share similar cuisines and culture across the wide country with only subtle differences. (Maybe other Canadians would disagree?)

In Japan, each city has its flavour. Literally. So if you want the best okonomiyaki, you go to either Osaka or Hiroshima. Okonomiyaki are savoury pancakes (also referred to as Japanese pizza since you can change the toppings). They are made with cabbage and an eggy dough, covered in a sweet brown sauce, topped however you like it and often drizzled with Japanese mayo (I could write a whole post about Japanese mayo – I’m not a fan) and heaped with fish flakes (I also never liked the flakes).

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We’ve made okonomiyaki many times at home but not for many years. I’ve recently tried a few recipes but they weren’t authentic. Last night, I tried this one. It was good but I’ll be tweaking it a bit next time to come up with one that is a closer match to my memories of the okonomiyaki we ate regularly.

In my mind, it should be thicker, heartier and they need toppings. I made these small and thick to ensure they cooked properly and because I wasn’t  sure if the kids would like them. It was only when we went to eat them that I remembered what was missing. I’ll keep you posted if I’m able to come up with a good match now that my memory has been stoked. And I know the kids are on board! The next batch will be the size of our plates and won’t require anything on the side.

The okonomiyaki in Hiroshima is quite different and includes noodles. But for me, real okonomiyaki is the Osakan variety.

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We had the okonomiyaki with white rice and tofu teriyaki – which was nice. We skipped the mayo, didn’t have any toppings and didn’t even try to replicate the fish flakes – ewww!