Nut and seed spread for healthy snacking

IMG_6842.JPG

One of my favourite finds as a vegan are the nut-based spreads and sauces that have become really popular – for good reason. You can find all kinds of nut cheeses in stores that taste fantastic and feel indulgent even though they are good for you.

There’s really nothing more satisfying than a dollop of cashew cream to top off a taco and if you mix the leftovers with salsa, you’ll have a delicious dip. I’ve even been using cashews as the bases for my gravies for a creamy and delicious sauce.

The one challenge people may face when making nut-based sauces, gravies and spreads is having a powerful enough blender to get the right texture. You can make it easier on your blender by soaking the nuts overnight but having a super-powerful blender does make all the difference in the end.

Here’s a really simple nut and seed spread that makes a satisfying snack for adults and kids as well. Spread it on crackers, use it in your sandwiches or with a pita. If you’ve overindulged on hummus and need a change, this is a good option.

img_6845

Nutritious nut and seed spread

  • 1 cup raw cashews
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 1/4 cups of water
  • 3 Tablespoons of nutritional yeast
  • 2 teaspoons of lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon herbs de provence (or other herb mix that you like)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Soak the nuts and seeds in a bowl overnight or cover them with boiling water for 30 minutes. Drain and add them to the blender with all the other ingredients. Blend until creamy. Add water if necessary.

Enjoy! This makes a good mid-afternoon snack at the office or after-school snack for the kids to keep them satisfied until dinner is ready.

You can change the ingredients up according to your tastes and the contents of your cupboard. You’ll need nuts or seeds, water, an acid and salt – the rest can be easily omitted or changed.

Fresh start breakfast pledge

IMG_6838.JPG

I’m lucky to have a job that allows me to work from home regularly. Since I spend the day sitting at a desk, this is my opportunity to make good choices to fit in exercise and take care of myself.

If I don’t get exercise on the days I work from home, I end the day feeling sluggish and older than I should. It’s so important to work in an extra flight of stairs and it’s a good think I have to descend the stairs to go to the kitchen but that’s not enough.

I’ve been really good about using the extra time I have from not commuting to the office to fit in my exercise. I get up at my usual hour and make sure the kids are eating breakfast and then I head out the door for a run. I love it once I’m out – even when it’s really cold out (I live in Canada).

Where it all falls apart is at breakfast. I’ll go for my run, do some yoga or other exercises when I get home, have a quick shower and grab a coffee and plop down in front of my computer and start working.

I will completely forget about breakfast until my stomach is impossible to ignore – around 10:30. And when I’m that hungry, I don’t make good decisions. I’ll grab a bagel and top it with vegan butter and call it a breakfast.

IMG_6841.JPG
Oatmeal with homemade blueberry sauce, vanilla soy milk and walnuts.

So this is my pledge to myself – to make myself a nice, warm bowl of oatmeal. It takes 5 minutes and it makes all the difference. I have all kinds of fruit, nuts and other toppings to keep it interesting and it sets me up to feel good all day – and continue to make good decisions.

On the days I go into the office, I have overnight oats and that’s great. I have no choice since I made it the night before and that’s what I have in my bag. I need to start making good decisions even when I haven’t planned ahead.

What’s your fresh start pledge?

Veg-enriched tomato sauce with pasta

IMG_5424.JPG

It’s Spring in Canada and I’ve started picking from my garden. Mostly I’m getting asparagus but I’ve also got fresh herbs. I’ll do a post about asparagus soon but tonight I managed to sneak a new vegetable into my picky eater – and that’s always worth sharing!

Tomato sauce isn’t always a hit with my son. He doesn’t like it chunky or with too many herbs. He doesn’t like to see the onions but if they’re chopped small and we’re at a restaurant, he may just ignore them. That’s a huge step for him but he might be doing it just to get more white bread or gelato after his dinner. I still consider it a win.

At home, I usually chop the vegetables that he doesn’t like in big pieces so it’s easy for him to find them and pick them out. There have been times when an onion accidentally made it into his mouth and he wouldn’t eat any more dinner as a result. So I know with my family it is not a good idea to hide vegetables.

IMG_5422

Until tonight. I was making a tomato sauce and we had some nice mushrooms, peppers and the canned tomatoes were diced. I knew I’d have to puree them to make a sauce my son would eat so I decided to puree the whole lot together.

I will often puree red peppers in the tomato sauce – it makes for a really great, sweet sauce that the kids love. If you have picky kids, give it a try. Sweet peppers are a great source of Vitamin C and other nutrients and they make an excellent addition to a tomato sauce.

For this sauce, I fried up garlic in olive oil, added chopped red pepper and mushrooms. After a few minutes, I added the can of chopped tomatoes and pureed the mix. Then I let it simmer. I added a few sprigs of fresh rosemary from the garden for flavour.

I had a few asparagus from the garden so I chopped them small and added them to the sauce as it simmered. I didn’t want to puree them since we love asparagus. And that’s it. It made for a delicious sauce and I managed to get my son to eat mushrooms happily for the first time!

IMG_5423

The sauce is served on whole wheat pasta with chopped basil (from the garden) and a mix of hemp seeds, nutritional yeast and salt for a savoury topping. And as you can see, it was served with store-bought bread because I can’t always bake my own bread.

The protein question

I’ve recently been asked about protein. How do I get my protein if I don’t eat animals? Well, it’s not really something I worry about since I eat a good variety of whole foods. Protein is made up of amino acids. Whole proteins are made of all the amino acids our body’s can’t make themselves – essential amino acids. These are found in animal meat. But our bodies have to break them down to use them anyway so there is no advantage to getting our essential amino acids all together.

Vegetables are also full of amino acids but they don’t have them in same combination that we need. But as long as you’re eating a variety – and in this meal we have mushrooms, peppers, whole wheat, hemp seeds and other plant-based sources of amino acids – we’re getting everything we need.

And as I said above, since our bodies need to break them down anyway, there’s really no difference between getting them all in one place or getting them in a variety of places. If you’re getting your protein from a variety of vegetable sources, you’re also getting all the vitamins and minerals your body needs too.

So there you go – as long as you’re indulging in a variety of plant-based foods, you’ll get the protein you need.

IMG_5425.JPG

We finished this meal with homemade ice cream made from coconut milk and cashew cream. And that was another great source of protein. The vegan chocolate chips and marshmallows – those were just treats. The bananas just happen to be healthy treats.

Carrot and cauliflower pakoras

IMG_5347

My favourite pakoras are packed with sweet onions and spicy chilies. But when I decided to make a little snack this evening, I wanted to make something the kids would enjoy too. So I left out the chilies and swapped the onions for carrots and cauliflower. It resulted in these little gems I can share.

On the side is some Curried apple chutney that I made in the fall. It’s a bit spicy so it makes up for the missing chilies in the pakoras. This recipe is based on Vegan Richa‘s pakoras.

IMG_5349

Carrot and cauliflower pakoras

  • 1 cup chickpea flour
  • 2 Tbsp rice flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp Garam Masala
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/4 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 inch fresh ginger, minced
  • 3 tbsp non-dairy yogurt
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup shredded carrot
  • 1 cup finely chopped cauliflower

Preheat oven to 425 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine dry ingredients and mix well. Add garlic, ginger, yogurt, lemon juice, oil and water and stir well to combine. Add veggies and mix.

Scoop batter into 2 tbsp balls on to the parchment paper and bake for 18 minutes.

Steamed veggies, tofu and barley

vegan barley bowl
My barley bowl is covered in a savoury miso ginger sauce.

I had a short first day at the office and made it home to make a quick dinner before skating. I went for an old familiar – a bowl as many call it. Meaning: a grain topped with veggies, a protein and a sauce. This is as simple as it gets and it’s always a winner at our house.

You can vary the ingredients, keep it plain for the kids and top it with whatever sauce you’d like. The kids gobble it down like little bunnies. And I’m happy because I know they’re getting a healthy meal and we’ll be out the door in no time. Seriously – we only had 15 minutes to eat!

The grain today is barley. I got it going while I cubed and marinated the tofu. For the kids, I added a teaspoon of vegan butter to their barley since I knew they wouldn’t have any sauce. My son has rejected barley in the past but he has since forgotten that he declared he didn’t like it. I added the butter just in case. And it worked!

The tofu is marinated in a bit of soy sauce, apple cider vinegar and olive oil. I let it absorb the flavours while I preheated the oven to 350. Then I baked them while the barley cooked, flipping a couple times. They’re done when they’re crispy and you can’t resist popping one in your mouth!

I steamed a selection of the veggies that we had in the crisper. I rarely steam our vegetables – so bland – but it tasted nice and clean today. I guess I was craving simplicity.

The sauce is a miso ginger sauce made with olive oil, miso, rice vinegar, maple syrup, a bit of fresh ginger and water to thin it out a bit. Popped it in the blender until smooth.

I also sprinkled black sesame seeds on top.

barley bowl
The kids’ barley bowls are simple and they love them.

This is clean eating! Food like this just makes my body happy.

Vegetable soup with kidney beans

Vegan vegetable soup

We started the day with above seasonal temperature. It had been lightly raining much of the night and the snow piles had melted. Farmers’ fields were showing their soil. At noon, there was still a light drizzle and it wasn’t very cold yet. But this morning, they cancelled school buses because the forecast was calling for nasty weather.

Everything changed after lunch. The rain turned to ice pellets clacking at the windows. By three o’clock, there was blowing snow. Now it is below freezing (-11), the wind is blowing and we’re back into mid-winter. We decided to stay in tonight since the roads are a mess.

When the kids got home, they were miserable and exhausted after a long week. They needed some comfort food and fast. It’s a good thing I was working on dinner. Vegetable soup and fresh flatbread to go with it.

For the flatbread recipe, I made a quick pizza dough with whole wheat flour and added some herbs de provence and nutritional yeast. I let it rise for about 20 minutes and then rolled it out like a pizza, brushed it with olive oil and sea salt and baked it like a pizza (but without the toppings) on a pizza stone. It wasn’t exciting but it was something quick and fresh to sop the soup up with.

This is a clean-out-the-fridge soup with everything in it. I chopped a bit of everything (onions, carrots, celery, potato, sweet potato, orange pepper, broccoli and mushrooms). I added herbs de provence for a bit of flavour. Threw them into a pot with some olive oil to soften them, added broth and a can of diced tomatoes and simmered for 25 minutes. About halfway through that time I added orzo (because we had it). After the vegetables were soft and the orzo was cooked, I added a can of beans.

It’s a great way to get rid of any vegetables that are starting to wilt in the fridge. I hate to let fresh vegetables go bad in the crisper so this is an easy way to use things up. Another way would be a stir-fry but on a snowy day like today, there’s nothing like a nice soup.

Veggie burgers and fries

IMG_5259

There’s a chain of restaurants that has taken the easy route for veggie burgers by offering a portobello on a bun and calling it a burger. That’s lazy. So I set out to make a veggie burger with portobello mushrooms that won’t disappoint. These mushrooms were marinated, stuffed with cashew cheese and placed on top of a veggie burger patty. Now that’s a veggie burger!

Here’s how I made it.

Portobello veggie burger

  • 2 extra large portobello mushrooms, stems removed
  • 1/4 balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • cashew cheese or other vegan cheese of choice
  • veggie burger patties, cooked according to the package or recipe
  • buns

Find a lidded baking dish (or use a deep one that you can cover with tin foil). Grease the bottom and place the washed mushrooms inside. They should fit gills up, flat on the bottom. Mix the marinade and pour it in the mushrooms, dividing it evenly between the two caps. Let them marinade for 20 minutes, if you can wait. Preheat the oven to 400.

Cover them with the lid and bake them for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, top with cheese and put it back in the oven, uncovered for another 10 minutes. Let them rest a few minutes before placing them on top of the cooked veggie burger – they’ll be really hot and juicy. Enjoy!

IMG_5255

The kids’ burgers were plain and I let them top them however they liked (just ketchup). They went down well but the recipe needs perfecting. My picky eater ate half of his before he told me, “actually, I don’t really like this.” My daughter enjoyed hers.

I made them with chickpeas and not a lot of flavour enhancements, thinking the plainer the better. I think I’ll try another method next time… I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

In the meantime, we’ll keep buying store-bought burgers for quick dinners and easy wins. There’s a couple of brands that make burgers my kids like.