Eating carbs as a vegan

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I was on the train commuting to work the other day when the people sitting across from me in our 4-pack of seats was talking about fitness and diet. They were speaking so loudly that I found it impossible to concentrate on the words of my book and even my podcast couldn’t drown out their conversation so though I was completely uninterested in their babble, I couldn’t avoid hearing their conversation in full.

They were congratulating themselves on their fitness regime and after giving full details about their favourite gyms, they started talking about their diets. They agreed that sugar is evil and should be avoided at all cost. Salt bad. And then one of them started on the carbs. “If you’re limiting your sugar, you should limit all carbs. They’re so bad for you.”

He suggested she continue eating whatever it was she liked to eat, “keep that steak the same size but eat less rice.” He told her that rice is terrible for you and pasta too.

I find this blanket statement ill-informed.

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I completely agree with limiting processed carbs – you’re not getting much out of a piece of white bread. But as long as you’re eating a variety of whole grains, there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s a lot more credible science to back a whole foods diet than a meat-centred diet.

As a vegan, it’s the carbs that fill me up and make me feel satisfied after a meal. Quinoa, brown rice, whole grain pasta, whole wheat bread is a wholesome and satisfying part of any meal. And as long as you’re eating a variety of whole grains and not processed white rice for each meal (although, really, it’s not that bad to eat white rice), there’s nothing to feel guilty about.

Carbs are a satisfying comfort food so it is easy to overdo it with large portions. And if you’re looking to shed a few pounds, watching your carb intake is a good place to start. But don’t eliminate it completely. If you really want to shed some weight, ditch the dairy and meat. That’s how you’ll get the best results.

Sweet potato biscuits and breakfast sandwiches

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Before I had kids, I used to make biscuits every weekend. They’re easy to make and only take 15 minutes to bake in a hot oven. Even half asleep, I can whip these up quickly and have my butter melting on a fluffy, crumbly biscuit to have with my morning coffee.

I don’t make them nearly as often now because as soon as I walk into the kitchen on weekend mornings, my kids are asking for pancakes. But I made a double batch of pancakes yesterday so when I walked into the kitchen this morning, my daughter was pouring maple syrup on leftover pancakes and quite happy with her breakfast.

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We had some leftover sweet potatoes so I worked them into the biscuits for a special treat. They were delicious!

Sweet potato biscuits

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked sweet potatoes
  • 1/3 cup vegan butter
  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk

Preheat the oven to 425. Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl.

In a medium-sized bowl, mash the sweet potato and mix with the butter. Add to the dry ingredients and mix until the butter and sweet potato mix is evenly distributed throughout. There should be small clumps – this will make the biscuits fluffy when the butter melts. Add the milk and mix until the dough is evenly moistened.

Form the dough into 8 large biscuits. Bake for 15 minutes.

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For the breakfast sandwiches, I had marinated some tofu before I started the biscuits. I sliced the tofu into four thin slices and then in half to make 8 squares. I marinated them in soy sauce, turmeric and dijon mustard with a bit of water. Once the biscuits were finished, I fried the tofu.

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My son’s breakfast was a deconstructed breakfast sandwich (a buttered biscuit with tofu on the side). My daughter’s sandwich is above – it has a slice of tofu, a slice of vegan lunchmeat and a slice of Daiya cheese. My husband and I had ours with an herbed cheese made with coconut milk. Served with coffee, of course!

 

Protein-rich superfood seed bread

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My son has been off all week. The lethargy and lack of appetite makes it hard to stuff him with the healing foods he needs to get back on his feet. But he doesn’t need an appetite to eat fresh homemade bread – so I filled this bread with everything his body needs. If he crashes before dinner today, I know he’s had at least one solid meal – even if it was just a piece of buttered bread!

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This bread is stuffed with seeds: pumpkin, sesame, flax, sunflower, hemp and quinoa. And yet it’s light and delicious. I let it rise at room temperature for a few hours and baked it on a hot pizza stone so the crust is crunchy and the inside is fluffy.

I had my daughter’s help measuring the ingredients. It’s good for her to practice her fractions with measuring cups and to learn about the ingredients in the foods we eat. Bread making is a great craft to hand down – it’s my hope that she knows her way around her kitchen when she has her own place (we have a few years to get there!). Making bread reminds me of my grandmother – the bread I make is different but her bread was something I always looked forward to when we would visit.

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Protein-rich superfood seed bread

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups oats
  • 2 Tbsp ground flaxseeds
  • 3/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 cup quinoa
  • 1/4 hump seeds
  • 2 Tbsp pumpkin seeds
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp yeast
  • 1 Tbsp sea salt
  • 1/4 cup vital wheat gluten
  • 3 cups very warm water
  • 1/2 maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup canola oil

Combine the dry ingredients in stand mixer. Add the wet ingredients and stir to combine (but don’t bother kneading – just make sure there’s no more dry ingredients). Let it sit in room temperature for 2 hours covered (I cover my mixing bowl with a plate – you don’t want it airtight). Don’t punch it down.

Preheat the oven to 450 F with a pizza stone inside to heat too. Prepare a flat surface with cornmeal (like a cutting board). With floured hands, grab a ball of dough about the size of a cantaloupe. Pull it into a ball, tucking the sides underneath. Let it rest while the oven heats up (20 minutes is good).

When the oven is hot and the dough ball has rested 20 minutes, brush the top with water, slice it with a knife and top it with more seeds. Slide it from the cutting board onto the hot pizza stone and bake for 30 minutes.

Once the bread is done, let it cool for about 15 minutes – I know this is hard but if you cut into it right away, it won’t keep its nice shape. Enjoy!

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!

Spaghetti and not-meatballs

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Spaghetti and vegan meatballs for my daughter, as requested.

A few days ago, I asked my daughter to make a list of meals she’d like us to make and she came up with three things: gnocchi (with inventive spelling), spaghetti and veggie burgers. We had gnocchi last night (tomato sauce for the kids, freshly made pesto for the adults) and we had spaghetti tonight. I’m saving the veggie burgers for a school night.

This dinner gave me the opportunity to try a new recipe for vegan meatballs. I’ve tried a few in the past – none have been memorable. But I have a new cookbook, The Edgy Veg: 138 Carnivore-Approved Vegan Recipes, with a recipe for meatballs.

I didn’t have high hopes for the kids to eat them – the main ingredients are eggplant and mushrooms so I knew my picky eater wouldn’t touch them. But my daughter is more adventurous and a good eater so I skipped the red pepper flakes to give her a chance to enjoy them (she has no tolerance for heat). I also swapped spinach for the parsley since apparently parsley didn’t make it on the grocery list.

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One hopeful meatball on my picky eater’s plate.

These are the best vegan meatballs I’ve tried so far! The onions, garlic, eggplant and mushrooms are chopped into tiny pieces in the food processor and they make a good paste when the mushrooms release their juices. When mixed with the dry ingredients, they come together easily and stay together when baked.

It is a time consuming recipe and if I’m going to spend an hour making something like this, it’s nice to have extra for the freezer (we barely have enough leftovers for lunch). I’d need a bigger food processor if I wanted to double the recipe.

My picky eater took a big bite and swallowed it (without making a face) before declaring that he doesn’t like the meatballs very much. That’s a much better review than I expected from him. These balls were herby with dried oregano, thyme and some ground cumin. The spinach was chopped sloppily and not disguised at all (should have been a deal breaker) and if you looked closely, you could see pieces of onion. But none of those things deterred him! And he just didn’t like them very much! Eggplant, mushrooms and onions came as close as they’ve ever gotten to getting a green light by him!

My daughter gobbled them all down. The only question she asked was “what’s in these?” to which I answered, “lots of things…they’re just like veggie burgers.” It’s best to keep these ingredients a secret – which she understands because she is eight, after all and there’s inconspicuous green poking out of the balls. Her brother doesn’t eat green leaves. Unless it’s summer and he’s pretending to be a rabbit in my garden. Then watch out pea leaves!

I already have plans for the last four balls – everyone else can fend for themselves – I’m having a meatball sub for lunch!

Here’s a recipe for the tomato sauce. We also had fresh bread.

 

 

Thank you and a lasagna dinner

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Since I started this blog a month ago, I’ve gotten so much support from new friends and not-so-new friends and family. So I just want to say thank you to everyone who has visited, liked, commented, shared or followed me over the past month. As anyone who has started a website knows, it can be tough to get going but your interest and support that has encouraged me to continue. I hope you’ve found something of interest here and that you’ll return often! Your feedback is always appreciated!

Lasagna with focaccia

Vegan lasagna

My husband always jokes that I never blog about the dinners he makes. I’m very lucky to have married a man who worked as a cook at pubs when we were doing our undergraduate degrees. He has some signature crowd-pleasers that he has veganized over the years. Lasagna is one of them.

He makes a mean eggplant lasagna but the kids won’t touch it so he’s been keeping it simple since my son was born. Sauce, noodles, a tofu-based ricotta and repeat. Topped with Daiya cheese shreds and that’s it. The kids devour it.

Last night, he added a Bolognese layer with Yves veggie ground round – which was a nice change. And because it was the second layer, we were able to scrape the Bolognese layer off when my son refused to eat it. “What is the brown stuff?” he asked. “Delicious,” is my standard answer. “Taste it.”

One bite, and tears welled up in his eyes. We’d ruined his favourite meal. But no big deal, lasagna is a layered dish. We simply deconstructed his piece and rebuilt it. I don’t know why he doesn’t like the ground round from Yves. He likes their burgers.

My daughter didn’t pause at the Bolognese layer – she devoured the whole thing. As did the rest of us.

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Lasagna fresh from the oven.

He makes the ricotta cheese following a recipe in the Veganomicon (which apparently has a 10th anniversary edition! Veganomicon, 10th Anniversary Edition: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook).

My contribution to dinner was the focaccia. I made it a free form shape this time – which didn’t turn out as pretty but it had a nice, crispy crust. It’s rubbed in olive oil with a sea salt and rosemary topping.

Focaccia

It was the perfect dinner for a cold and snowy night. Tonight is supposed to be the same. Stay warm and thanks for stopping by!

Dinner failure – when convenience foods fall short

 

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Frying broccoli, red pepper and purple brussels sprouts in garlic and ginger.

Dinner last night was a disaster. I considered not writing about it but I don’t want to paint a false picture of my children sitting down to every meal with smiles on their faces. Sometimes they don’t.

I don’t cook every meal to my kids’ tastes. There are four people in my family and we all should be able to eat our favourite foods sometimes. I love eggplant and my husband loves homestyle veganized meatloaf with potatoes and gravy.

Neither of those go over well with my kids and when we make them, I know dinner is going to involve whining, crying or what we call the ostrich pose. I compromise by making something on the side that will be enjoyed (like roasting carrots with the loaf). But my rule is that they have to taste it and see if they like it. My daughter found last time she tried eggplant that it was good. Tastes evolve.

Sometimes I know that my kids won’t like what I’m cooking but sometimes they surprise me and turn their noses up at something I thought was in the safe zone. That’s what happened last night.

At the grocery store, I came across some kale and quinoa, and sweet potato and chia seed “bites” or balls. Just heat them and serve – perfect for a busy weeknight. I wasn’t sure if the kale and quinoa ones would go over well so I bought the sweet potato and chia ones too to be safe. I thought maybe we’d have a dipping dinner with all kinds of things to dip into different dips. But then I remembered my kids only dip in ketchup so that wouldn’t be a very interesting dinner. That’s when I should have moved on.

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Brown rice topped with veggies, balls and spicy peanut sauce.

Dinner last night was rushed – we had to be out the door by 5:30 for hockey practice. I wasn’t sure quite what to do with the balls since there were no serving suggestions on the packages. I decided to make bowls with brown rice and vegetables, toss the balls on top and make a spicy peanut sauce for the grown ups.

For the kids, I dished out the vegetables and the balls and gave them a piece of Norwegian bread I had made since I had to get them started on their dinners before the rice was done if I was going to get them out the door in time for practice. The bread saved the day. The balls did not go over well at all. None of us liked them.

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For the kids: veggies, a couple of each of the balls and a slice of bread.

My son took one bite and declared he didn’t like them. We tried ketchup but nope, that didn’t solve the problem. The spicy peanut sauce didn’t help either. I’m not sure what could have saved dinner – a garlic sauce with plenty of garlic might have made them more palatable but I’m not going to bother trying it.

My son ate all his veggies and his piece of bread but when I insisted he eat at least one of the balls, he went straight into his ostrich pose. He tucks himself into a ball on his chair and hides his head under the table. He won’t talk, eat or move until we cajole him with some sort of compromise.

Evenings have been lost trying to wait him out in the ostrich pose. He’s a stubborn child. We didn’t have all evening to wait for him to choose to come out so I cut one ball in two, dredged the pieces in ketchup, fed them to him and sent him on his way. Good enough.

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Norwegian bread studded with chia, flax, sunflower, pumpkin seeds and topped with sesame seeds.

Luckily, the bread was studded with seeds and whole grains so I knew he’d have enough energy to make it through his practice on a partial dinner. And it did. He had a lot of fun at practice.

How do you handle rejected dinners?