Veggie burgers and fries

We came home from running around too late to make a nice meal so I grabbed the veggie burgers I picked up the other day and we made fries. The burgers are a new brand we hadn’t tried before: VG Gourmet Artisan Vegan Burgers. I got the lentil and walnut burgers with fresh herbs and wild mushrooms. Perhaps not the most kid-friendly choice since my picky eater likes neither fresh herbs nor mushrooms.

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These burgers are packed with lentils and veggies that are visible in the patty – that’s nice for my husband and me but I knew if my kids were to see onions, they’d turn their noses up at the whole burger. So I covered them in melted Daiya cheese as a disguise.

The kids were not fooled. They topped their burgers with tomatoes, pickles, relish and ketchup and were eating them nicely at first. But in the end, these burgers were not a hit with the kids. They managed to get them down with extra pickles. We liked them a lot, however.

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Though they were a bit drier than other veggie burgers, the flavours were unique and complex since there was a good variety of veggies in each burger. Often, veggie burgers try too hard to be like hamburgers and they fail. These burgers were not trying to disguise the veggies and I appreciated that.

The kids have taste preferences all of their own. But there are a few brands of veggie burgers that my kids like. They tend to like the ones that are uniform and hamburger-like more than the ones that are dotted with veggies the way I like them. But sometimes I slice off a square of tofu and grill it with a mild marinade for him to eat as a burger. Or sometimes we’ll make them veggie dogs while we have the burgers. But sometimes they surprise me and happily eat a whole burger. Just not tonight.

Sniffle-busting soup with ginger and garlic

Vegan wellness soup
My soup was topped with a generous helping of hot sauce – which also feels good on the throat.

When I picked the kids up from school yesterday, I had a telltale feeling in my sinuses that something was not right. By the time I made it in the door, I was glad to be near the kleenex box. I decided to fry up some garlic and ginger to make an immunity-boosting soup to stop the cold in its tracks.

All I wanted to do was eat my soup and cuddle up on the couch for the evening so it wasn’t going to be fancy – just the basics of a decent meal with enough ginger to kick the cold without causing a fuss from the kids. Luckily, I am able to bury plenty of ginger and garlic in a soup without paying for it with whine as long as the garlic has mellowed from being cooked.

I grabbed some rice noodles, tofu, mushrooms and shredded a carrot and got to work. It didn’t take long and it was just what the doctor ordered.

Soup with rice noodles and tofu
I picked the mushrooms out for my son – he did get one and declared it is still on his yucky list. No comment on the ginger and garlic!

Sniffle-busting soup

  • 1 Tbsp sesame oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 inch of fresh ginger, minced
  • 1 cup mushrooms
  • 1 block of tofu, cubed
  • 1 carrot, shredded
  • 1 litre vegetable stock
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp mirin
  • rice noodles, cooked according to directions on package
  • sesame seeds
  • chives
  • hot sauce

Fry the garlic and ginger in the sesame oil on medium heat until browned. Add the mushrooms and tofu and cook until the mushrooms release their juices. Add the carrots and stir. Add the stock, soy sauce and mirin and turn up the heat to bring to a boil. Once it is boiling, turn it down to simmer and prep the bowls.

The noodles should be cooked and drained. Divide the noodles among the bowls. Pour the broth and vegetables over the noodles. Garnish with sesame seeds (I used white and black), chives and hot sauce. Enjoy!

I woke up this morning feeling healthy – I think I’ve managed to kick it. I had some leftover soup for lunch so I’m sure that helped too. What do you do to keep the sniffles away?

Roasting chestnuts in the spirit of Christmas

chestnuts for roasting
A handful of chestnuts.

This weekend, the kids were really starting to get into the Christmas spirit. My husband dragged out the boxes of decorations and the kids found last year’s Christmas cards. They cut out their favourite images to make ornaments to decorate their mini Christmas trees.

Not quite ready to plunge headfirst into the Christmas season, I dipped my toe in by roasting chestnuts. If you’ve never roasted chestnuts before, I recommend giving them a try. The nuts are sweet and a good source of vitamins and minerals. Unlike other nuts, chestnuts are not a good source of healthy fats or protein but they’re surprisingly high in Vitamin C. I love the smell of roasted chestnuts as it lingers throughout the house.

Chestnuts should be treated more like vegetables than nuts – keep them in the fridge to keep them from going rancid. And buyer beware – you can’t tell a fresh nut from a mouldy nut without cracking it open so don’t bother picking them up from a bargain bin – lesson learned!

As pretty as the nuts look in my son’s hands, they weren’t edible. When we broke them apart, they were either mouldy or rock hard. I picked up another handful of nuts at the store for a second try. I cooked them alongside the pizza last night and they were better. But still, about a quarter of them were not good.

Next time I buy them, I’ll ask the grocer a few questions first about their storage before wasting my money.  I’m sure I would have had better luck at a higher quality grocery store or a specialty store.

Nevertheless, roasted chestnuts make a great treat to eat while watching Christmas movies – last night, we caught the first half of Home Alone before bedtime.

Roasting chestnuts

Preheat the oven to 425. While it’s preheating, cut a little slit in each chestnut. Don’t be lazy on this, if you don’t pierce the nuts, they will explode in your oven and make a huge mess. (Does this sound like a lesson learned? It is – but this was a lesson learned years ago in another oven.)

Place the pierced nuts on a cookie sheet and roast them for about 20 minutes in the oven. Let them cool before cracking into them.

Roasted chestnuts
Roasted chestnuts ready to be eaten.

Peel off the outer shell and any skin covering the light brown nut. They should be soft and starchy when you bite into them. If they’re hard or you see mouldy patches, discard them.

Hopefully you’ll have better luck than I did finding fresh chestnuts at a store near you. If you do, let me know how and where you found them. Enjoy!

 

Rye boule and tomato-lentil soup with brown rice

Woke up to snow again this morning and when I got them out the door, the very excited kids crawled through the snow on their way to school. No wonder snow pants rarely last a whole season!

Rye and whole wheat bread

In this chilly November weather when our bones aren’t quite used to bundling up against the snow and wind, I crave rye bread. This bread was made with whole wheat flour, rye flour and all purpose flour, salt and water. Simple and good with a few flax seeds sprinkled over the top.

I didn’t give it time to ferment on the counter like I did with the baguettes last time but this loaf gets its flavour from the flours I used. I did leave it to rise for about three hours before shaping the loaf while preheating the oven and the pizza stone.

I wanted to have nice bread for tomorrow morning’s peanut butter and jam on toast but I doubt it will last until the morning – I may have to make another loaf. I made it using the technique in The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking. The website is healthybreadinfive.com.

The technique involves mixing a full bowl of dough, letting it rise for the initial period and then pulling out the amount I need to make a loaf and putting the rest of the bread dough in the fridge.

Over the week, the dough in the fridge develops a sourdough flavour and I can make another loaf whenever I want. I just have to shape it and let it warm on the counter while the oven and pizza stone preheat and then bake it for 30 minutes. With this method, it’s easy to have fresh bread that tastes amazing.

Rye and whole wheat bread with flax seeds

To eat with this whole wheat rye bread, I’ve made Tomato-Lentil Soup with Brown Rice. The recipe is from The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen: Meat-Free, Egg-Free, Dairy-Free Dishes from the Healthiest Region Under the Sun. I’ve left out the scallions (the kids won’t eat them) and the celery so it’s a very simple recipe of carrots, garlic, lentils, brown rice, vegetable broth and canned tomatoes with dried thyme and a bay leaf.

I cooked the carrots and garlic in olive oil until softened. Then I added the remaining ingredients and simmered for 50 minutes. My son’s not always keen on things that include tomatoes in the broth but I think he’ll like this soup since it’s so simple. The carrots are from a local farm and are very sweet.

Lentil soup with bread

It’s a hearty, chunky soup – he probably won’t eat the tomatoes but I’ll give him a chance to enjoy it as is even if it means there will be some whining at dinner. The lentils offer a good source of protein and dietary fibre and the brown rice makes it even more satisfying.

Tomato-Lentil Soup

I love to include big chunks of the vegetables that they love so when they first sit down to a dinner, they see something inviting and dig in. This helps them overlook the less desirable ingredients they may be more skeptical about (the tomatoes).

My son prefers to eat only cherry tomatoes fresh from the garden – I get it. They’re delicious and winter tomatoes just aren’t the same. If only it were August year-round!

I’ll get them to taste the soup before I let them eat their bread. If I don’t watch them, they’ll eat three pieces of bread and be too full to eat their soup. Can’t blame them – the bread is super delicious! But I know once they taste the soup, it will go down nicely.

Hearty soup served with bread

Lightly spiced red lentils and rice and homemade roti

Kids have small stomachs. So every time they eat something, it takes the place of something else they’ll be turning down. It’s hard to convince kids to eat the healthy food they need to fuel their growth so I do my best to ensure most of the food they eat contributes to a healthy diet.

To this end, I like a hungry kid at dinner time. A hungry kid is more likely to try something new. When the kids have had a snack before dinner, they’re less likely to dig in.

Getting the kids to dig in wasn’t a problem tonight. We had Vegan Richa’s Lightly Spiced Yellow Lentils and Rice from Vegan Richa’s Indian Kitchen: Traditional and Creative Recipes for the Home Cook. I love this book.

The smell of Indian food is irresistible to me. And Richa makes it attainable in my kitchen – no small feat! Tonight I even attempted her roti recipe!

making roti
Rolling out the rotis.

This was my first time making roti – it’s not authentic because I’m making due with whole wheat flour and all purpose flour as opposed to the flour that is used to make roti in India but Richa’s methodology made excellent rotis that were enjoyed by all.

making roti
The roti puffed up in the heat of the skillet.

The process involved cooking the flattened dough in a very hot skillet. The roti is supposed to puff up like a balloon, according to the instructions. I did manage to get them to puff up a bit – but not evenly. Nevertheless, they were delicious. Maybe I need some practice.

lentils, rice and roti
Lightly Spiced Yellow Lentils and Rice with roti on the side.

Tonight is our busy night with only a short window for eating before heading out for activities. Having a one pot meal like this makes meal prep easy and as long as the flavours are mild, it’s a quick meal for the kids to finish. They used the rotis to scoop up the lentils and rice.

red lentils and rice
The red lentils and rice were mild and delicious.

The lentils and rice are very mild – so I knew the kids would enjoy them. Sometimes I will take my changes on a more flavourful meal but on busy nights, I’m more conservative with my meal choices. This recipe was a good fit.

I followed the recipe with few exceptions. I haven’t been able to find asafetida in the stores in my region – I’m curious to know how it will change the flavours. I omitted the chile (for the kids’ sake) and chopped the onions in large pieces to make it easy to find and pick out for the kids. I didn’t have the petite yellow lentils so I used red lentils.

It was a delicious dinner. At one point, my picky eater said, “My tummy is full but I’m not listening.” He proceeded to finish his third roti! When I asked them how is dinner, they both exclaimed: “Awesome!” High praise indeed!

Cooking for vegans

vegan vanilla cupcakes for kids' birthdays
Making vegan cupcakes is easy and the results are delicious!

You’re having guests over and you learn that one of them is vegan. So what can you do to ensure everyone feels welcome and there’s something vegan at the table?

As a vegan who has been on the receiving end of this situation, I understand this can be a real challenge. You may not feel confident that you understand what your vegan guest can eat and you don’t want to accidentally serve something that doesn’t comply with the vegan diet. Here are a few tips for non-vegans who are hosting vegans at a food-related event.

First off, thanks!

As vegans, we know what it takes to cook a great vegan meal. We remember the challenge of learning how to eliminate dairy, eggs and all animal products from our meals so we really appreciate any steps that our non-vegan friends and family take to make sure we feel included in events. Thank you for caring!

Ask for help

We’re a caring and compassionate group – that’s one of the major reasons we’ve given up animal products! So if you’re cooking a meal and want to ensure we’re included, let us know how we can help. We can bring a vegan side dish, appetizer or dessert. In fact, we’re probably already planning on bringing something as a thank you to the host. It’s no bother. We insist!

Consider adjusting recipes

Vegans don’t eat dairy products, eggs or other animal products like gelatin, chicken stock or honey. If your recipe calls for these products, consider making adjustments. Can you swap butter for olive or another vegetable oil in your vegetable dishes? Swap cow’s milk for unsweetened soy milk? Use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth. Maybe put some potatoes aside for your vegan guest before you mash the full pot with butter and milk – maybe use a vegan butter and non-dairy milk (I recommend an unsweetened soy milk). You get the idea. If you can make these kinds of tweaks to the side dishes, it will make a big difference at the table.

Read the labels

You’d be surprised at the number of foods you regularly eat that are already vegan. Hummus, guacamole, salsa, breads, grain and vegetable dishes … check the ingredients on the food you plan to serve. You may have more options than you realized. When in doubt, get a nice hummus and fresh bread to include in the spread. It won’t go uneaten!

Holiday meals

Growing up, Thanksgiving and Christmas both centred around turkey dinners. Your guest won’t feel left out without a big piece of meat centred on his/her plate. As long as you’ve avoided adding butter or bacon bits to the side dishes (or reserved some for your guest to season to his/her preference), there can be plenty of options. Make the stuffing with vegetable broth and set some aside rather than putting it all in the turkey.

If you want a vegan centrepiece for your table, try your local grocery store to see what they keep in the health food freezer aisle. There are many options of prepackaged vegan roasts that only require reheating. Just remember that your vegan guest will probably be sharing their meal with others. In my experience, everyone wants to have a taste of the vegan meal so ensure you’ve made enough for everyone to get a piece!

Vegan kids and birthday parties

vegan vanilla cupcakes for kids' birthdays
Making vegan cupcakes is easy and the results are delicious!

At most birthday parties, the menu centres around known kid favourites like hot dogs, pizza or chicken fingers. The good news is that these are all available in vegan versions in most well-stocked grocery stores.

Many pizza chains offer vegan cheese (Pizza Pizza, Pizza Nova are two chains in my region that have vegan or “non-dairy cheese”). You can order an extra non-dairy cheese pizza and the kids will be none the wiser.

For birthday cakes, many bakeries offer vegan cupcakes if you order them in advance. Ask and you’ll be surprised at the number of options you have. If you make your own cakes or cupcakes, it’s easy to find recipes online for vegan cakes.

My go to recipe book for cupcakes is a vegan classic (it’s another book on my shelf that needs to be handled with care since it has been so well-used) Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World: 75 Dairy-Free Recipes for Cupcakes that Rule. If you have a vegan in your family, it is well worth purchasing this book for your shelf since it is filled with great cupcake recipes that everyone loves. I’ve made most of these cupcakes over the years and they’ve all turned out beautifully.

So don’t be intimidated. Any effort you put into making your vegan guest feel welcome will be appreciated!