Monday, April 28, 2014

Southern Fixins (Vegan)

I know... Southern fixins (or is it fixuns) and vegan don't typically go together.  The thing is, when my husband is having a busy week at work - I like to cheer him up with comfort food.  When he comes in the door to a big meal of his favourites he has the face of a child on Christmas morning.  This past Lent, our family chose to eliminate any food from animals from our diet - we ate like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, which is... vegan.

Although I wouldn't recommend making this all the time, vegan does NOT always equal healthy (example:Oreo cookies) these recipes are great for company, great for any holiday meal or potluck and especially great for cheering someone up!

Vegan Creamed Corn

2 1/2 cups of sweet corn (frozen)
1 can of coconut milk (not light)
2 tsp sugar
2 tbsp flour or cornstarch
2-3 tbsp Nutritional Yeast (optional)
1tsp salt

Place milk and sugar in saucepan, and add corn.  Bring to a boil over medium high heat.  Put flour in small dish and moisten with water until there are no lumps or dry flour.  Once smooth, add flour and water mixture to the boiled corn and coconut milk.  Keep the corn on high heat while the flour cooks and thickens the cream.  I added salt and nutritional yeast, the nutritional yeast for a cheesy flavour (in regular creamed corn you add almost a full cup of parmesan).  You can get creative here - adding a pinch of cayenne pepper, smoked paprika, or whatever strikes your fancy.

Frying Pan Biscuits (Sprouted Grain, vegan)

As you may or may not know, I don't turn my stove on during the week.  I especially don't turn it on to make one solitary thing.  If I'm going to turn that baby on mid-week I have to have at least 3 things to put in there to make it worth while.  If you turn your stove on feel free to make these in the oven - but I can't see why anyone would when they're so tasty and easy on the stove.

2 cups sprouted grain Spelt flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup vegetable shortening or Earth Balance shortening
3/4 cup milk alternative (I used Quinoa, but almond or coconut is cool beans)
coconut oil

Mix flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.  Cut in shortening with two knives or pastry cutter until it is crumbly and there are no shortening clumps larger than a pea.  SLOWLY add your milk, I added mine 1/4 cup at a time and didn't need all of the last 1/4.  You need just enough liquid to hold the dough together and no more.  Once you have a good consistency, knead dough on floured board very briefly (I'd say 3-5 times) and roll out with a rolling pin.  I use a cup to cut out my biscuits, but you might be a fancy pants and have a biscuit or cookie cutter that will do the job.  You can also just cut out a shape with a butter knife.

Prepare your pan by turning it on high heat with a lid on.  I used a heavy ceramic pan - it is best if you use something very heavy like cast iron, ceramic, etc.  If you have to use a lighter teflon like pan turn the heat to medium high and wait longer for the pan to warm up so it doesn't smoke and get out of control.  If you are unsure if your pan is hot enough drop a small amount of water on it.  It should bead up, sizzle and evaporate in seconds.

Add 1tsp coconut oil to pan, and roll it around so it's evenly coated.  Add as many biscuits as will fit and put the lid back on, turning the heat to medium low (I'd say 6 on an electric).  Allow biscuits to cook for 5-6 minutes and flip to other side for another 5-6 minutes.  If you're unsure the biscuit is cooked thoroughly, just break one open and look for a nice flaky filling.  If it's flaky, your'e done with the bakey.  That was terrible, but it rhymed and I just couldn't help myself.

Repeat as necessary with any additional biscuits, just remember to give the pan a break to heat up between batches.

The BEST thing about frying these up was how little oil we had to use and how much flavour it added to the biscuits.  We ate them "plain" with no butter (or Earth Balance), jam, or anything - they were just plain tasty.

Kick Ass Coleslaw

I love coleslaw.  It's versatile, goes with a lot of different meals and the crunch just can't be beat.  I love a good crunch.

I knew I couldn't have biscuits and creamed corn without coleslaw.  It's a food sacrilege.  Coming up with something vegan was a breeze.  I had been watering down hummus and basically putting in on EVERYTHING.  Pizza.  Veggies.  You name it, I topped it with watered down hummus.  Don't knock it until you try it, you might just start putting it on everything too!

Now... don't judge me for buying prepackaged coleslaw.  I was making homemade spring rolls and they are already a lot of work, so I skipped some of the HOURS of prep and bought the coleslaw mix from the fresh food section of the grocery store.  It's just red and green cabbage and a few shreds of carrot.  For $1.30/bag I was happy to skip prepping it myself.

1/2 bag of coleslaw mix
1/2 cup hummus
3-4 tbsp tahini
freshly squeezed lemon juice

In a large bowl, mix your hummus and tahini until it is smooth and runny.  Add the coleslaw, and the juice from half a lemon and you're in business.  That's it.  Seriously.  Eat it.

I hope you try some (or ALL) of these recipes the next time you're craving some soul food.  
Bon Appetite and Have fun with your Fixuns!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Zombie Apocalypse Shelter = Best Mom Ever

Apocalypse Shelter

The kids call it their zombie apocalypse shelter, but really it's just an awesome hideout that any kid would love.  
Except a child that suffers with claustrophobia.
That kid would not love this shelter.

We have a 100yr old house that has odd shaped closets.  I've strung Christmas lights in each of their closets with carpets, pillows, etc.  A different closet has a dollhouse, sheepskin rugs and a full mirror (my dream closet when I was a little girl).   I'm a neat freak but I also think kids should be allowed to make a mess - so if they have a play space that I don't have to look at it's a win-win.  They don't often play IN their closet, but they can chuck everything in before I come up to tuck them in for the night and that's fine by me.  

Here's two of my boys in their closet - we cleaned it out and removed a bookshelf I had installed at the end.  

My Dad built this cupboard for my Mom a million years ago.  Well, at least 30 years ago.  
I love having pieces that are family pieces in the house, but this is more of a utility cupboard.  Not an antique, not fancy, painted fire engine red.... you get the idea.

Monty bought a tool kit from the 1980s at 
    Bibles For Missions (it was still in its packaging) and the tools    are actually functioning tools.  I let him use his new 
(very sharp) saw to cut the hole out.  

There are a lot of studies on why allowing your children to take risks is good for them.  
My children learn to use knives and tools that are considered dangerous.  
Letting my 8 and 5 year old use a functioning hand saw was not only fun, but they definitely appreciated how much work it is to cut something by hand. 

Monty has cerebral palsy, and this was 
a great opportunity for him to work on his fine
 and gross motor skills.  


After the boys were done cutting the hole I had them clean the mess on their own.  There were a lot of rough edges that needed cleaning and the floor needed a good sweep.  
The inside of the cupboard also had a lot of sawdust that needed cleaning.  
I believe I refilled my coffee while they fought over who was doing the most work.  

And here it is in the closet!  This didn't almost take out a wall, or cause endless amounts of grief and possibly swearing.  
This also didn't need to be reassembled IN the closet so it would fit. 

I was never good in math, and I clearly need to spend more time on angles.  
While the cupboard fits nicely in the closet - it did not have enough space to turn once I had it in there.  
I beat the crap out of the walls trying to fit it in with brute force - but eventually gave up and took it apart to reassemble once in place.  If it wasn't a closet I wouldn't have let my walls take such a beating, but after all the baskets went back in it isn't noticeable. 

When I finally got it in,  the boys were cheering for me, praising my strength and resilience and were even more grateful for the time I was spending helping them create their shelter. 
It's always good to stock up on 

The result is fantastic!  Even their Dad couldn't find them until they revealed themselves with giggling. 
They've assured us we are not welcome in their shelter if there really is a zombie apocalypse but that they will survive just fine without us. 
I believe them.  On both counts.   
They brought a reading lamp, two pillows and a blanket back there and have fit 3 stinky boys in there at a time.  With lego.  

Whether or not it's used as a real shelter or just a quiet space to read Moby Dick for the 4th time, 
it's a great little place to encourage creativity, imagination and plain old fun.  

Have a weird closet?  Try turning it into a play closet and send me a pic!

Bonus Story
If anyone actually reads these bonus stories, you need to tell me!  I try to keep my posts as short as I can because I imagine no one wants to actually read the whole thing, but some of you make it to the bottom and I want to know who you are!  Anyways.... to the story.
When I was in grade 5, my teacher stood at the front of the class explaining each novel available to us for our novel study.  There were at least half a dozen options, but I don't remember any of them except the one I chose.
The Diary of Anne Frank.
I remember the teacher describing the book, and when we were allowed to go to the front of the class to choose our novel I ran as fast as I could so I could get my copy before they were all gone.
I thought every kid in that class would be fighting over the few copies available.  
I was the only one who chose that book.
I still can't figure out why no one else chose it, but I know that they missed out.  Big time. 
Ever since reading it I can't read about or look at a picture of a secret wall, or hideaway without thinking of Anne Frank, her family or the other Jews hiding for their safety.  
For more on Anne Frank, visit the official website 
If you'd like more inspiration to build your own secret hideaway, have a look at this awesome collection of hidden doors/rooms.  

Monday, April 14, 2014

Kale Chips

I can't explain why total strangers ask for my nutritional advice, but they do.  
All the time.
It mostly happens near the kale.  
Everyone wants to get in on the kale craze but a lot of people aren't sure how to incorporate this 
"superfood" into their lives.  
I tell them that I drink kale (usually baby kale), use it in fresh salads, bake with it instead of spinach and my favourite favourite favourite....

Kale Chips

First try.
I LOVE this picture because while this was her reaction, she actually likes them. She just wasn't expecting the texture/taste. Any time I make a batch she's one of the littles mowing down with me.

You don't really need a recipe to make kale chips, but a little instruction can be helpful. I will pass along my trials and errors and hopefully you won't have to go through them.

Buying Kale

There are quite a few different kinds of kale, so don't be intimidated when you see it at the store. I haven't found a big difference in taste, and they are all equally simple to prepare - so pick whichever one strikes your fancy. Buy all of them and try each one for yourself! Kale is the same as any other fresh veg: you want to avoid brown spots, limp leaves and rubbery feeling plants. Fresh kale will be found in the wet aisle of the grocery store, where you get sprayed if you hang out singing show tunes for too long. Or whistling them - the sprayer doesn't discriminate.

This is my only little person who just doesn't love kale chips. He's tried them with salt, nutritional yeast, sprayed with soy sauce, and with Oh She Glow's "All Dressed" recipe and just can't get into them. Cutting the kale is great occupational therapy for his hands though, so he still helps me make them.

Prepping Kale
I like to prep veggies as soon as I get them home so they are more convenient to eat. I especially like prepping kale in advance so it has a good chance to dry out before baking. Prepping is simple. Remove leaves from stem (the stem is like a tree twig it's so chewy) and cut or tear into small pieces. I'd say a 2 inch square, but sometimes the pieces are smaller because of the shape of the kale. If you have a salad spinner - rinse the kale and spin it. I use a colander and rinse the kale and toss it in the colander over the sink to drain excess liquid. Dump kale onto clean dishtowel and roll up. You can leave the kale in the fridge like this for a few days and it will stay fresh and crisp. Personally, when I know there is kale in the fridge it never lasts a few days - I just can't wait to eat it.

Bake those chips

Low and slow is how you want to bake these, so preheat your oven to 300. What I love about kale chips is that you really only need 1tsp (2 TOPS) of oil to coat a whole head of kale. Put the clean and dry kale in a big bowl and add 1tsp of your favourite oil. I am addicted to nut oils and have been using walnut - but anything will do: avocado, olive, coconut - use what you've got. You'll need to put your hands in the bowl to really get the leaves coated. I tried tossing it a few times but it really just doesn't get the job done. Stick your hands in - it's just oil.

Once the leaves are all coated, lay them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. It may seem like a pain in the tooshie - but use two cookie sheets and give those little pieces of kale lots of space. You don't want them layered on top of each other or you'll have soggy or burnt chips and that's not tasty. After the kale is spread out evenly on the cookie trays pop into the oven for 15 minutes, rotate the pans and stick in for another 10 (25 minutes total). I've found the curlier kale can take up to 35 minutes - so when you take it out of the oven just quickly eat a piece to see if it's dried out or not. It cools almost instantly so there is no mouth burning possibilities. If it's not quite dry pop back in the oven and keep a close eye on it, putting back in for 2 minute increments until perfect.

Once the chips are done baking, let them cool for a minute or two on the tray. This is when I like to season mine. I have tried many kale chip recipes but my favourite is plain old salt. When the chips are cool, pour into a bowl and I dare you not to eat every last bit. If you have leftovers put them in an airtight container and eat within 2 days. Seriously though, who has leftovers?

These two little people are equally as addicted to kale chips as I am. I have to bake 3-4 heads of kale to satisfy the family. 
I also just love the super serious face I'm getting in the top pic. He puts food in the whirly pop, mixes it up and eats it afterward. I swear he does it so it's like he's made it and not me. He's bossy like that.

Full Disclosure

When I first tried kale chips I thought "what a rip off!" They were not chips. They were crunchy pieces of salad with salt on them. I think the word "chips" is what throws a lot of newbies off. I tried a handful (I'm an all or nothing girl) and my face mimicked the face of my daughter in the above picture - but as soon as I was done eating that first handful I just had to have more. It's true. Soon enough the whole bowl was gone and I had eaten an entire head of kale. I'm sure pigging out on anything isn't really healthy, but I don't ever feel bad when I've pigged out on a monstrous amount of kale. So... try it, I know you'll love it - just don't expect it to be a chip replacement.

If you're looking for more tips on kale chips, I found this article to be really helpful. Happy Baking!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

7lb Lasagna

  Before my husband and I became accidental vegetarians, there were foods I just thought wouldn’t work as vegetarian.  Lasanga wasn’t one of them.  Lasagna is better vegetarian!  Loads of pasta and cheese doesn’t need meat - it’s already heart-attack-a-licious.  

Vegan lasagna?  Meh. 

What’s left after you take the cheese out?  Tomatoes?  You want to replace the noodles with veggies too?  Kill me now!  Seriously, what’s left?

AMAZINGNESS.  That’s what’s left.  Trust me on this.  

Isn't she a beaut?  Bright and colourful, totally delicious and mega good for you.
You're thinking... did you actually weigh this lasagna, and I will let you know - yes, yes I did.  And the pan wasn't heavy glass or cast iron either

Not only is this lasagna vegan, it’s gluten free and jam-packed with vitamins, nutrients, and true blue goodness.  But really -  forget the labels: vegan, vegetarian, gluten free, and think of your tastebuds dancing like old-timey cartoons in your mouth.  That’s what’s going to happen when you take a bite of…..

7 lb Lasagna      
This is everything you need! 

2 butternut squash
4 large eggplant
6 small (or 4 large) zucchini 

1 jar of your choice pasta sauce, or homemade (see link)

1 pckg 275-300g raw cashews, soaked in water (soak for at least an hour, or overnight in the fridge)
fresh lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350

Wash your produce (yes I wash the outside before cutting) and peel your eggplant.  

Zuchini and Eggplant factory. 
The first time I made this lasagna I left the skins on - but the kids weren’t too keen on having to chew them so vigorously.  If you’re only feeding adults, they may not mind - but considering my kids LOVE this lasagna and I’d like to keep it that way and I just cut the derned skins off.  

Slice the eggplant, and zucchini into thin “coins” and place on a baking tray.  No oil necessary.  Just bake for 20 minutes, flip over and bake for another 20.  I know some people are totally awesome and cut their zucchini and eggplant into strips like lasagna noodles, but they don’t bake nicely and are harder to handle.  While the eggplant and zucchini are baking, cut the squash down the centre (this can take some serious muscle, or just a decent kitchen knife - of which I have neither).  Scoop out the seeds and place face down in a casserole dish or cookie sheet.  There will be a lot of liquid that bakes out of the squash so if you use a cookie sheet you will just have to scrub it afterwards (I hate scrubbing cookie sheets because they don’t fit in the sink).  Bake squash for 50-60 minutes, until tender.  

Baked oatmeal leftovers.
1/4 is cranberry free for 1 picky eater.
I let everything cool on the counter while I’m making other yummy things.  This particular weekend I started the day with baked carrot oatmeal, made a batch of muffins, cookies and pizza (all vegan) and baked some homemade samosas that the kids loved!  I’m in mega love with Angela Liddon’s blog Oh She Glows and used her baked oatmeal, muffin and cookie recipes.  Her recipes often include maple syrup instead of sugar - but I’ve been replacing the syrup with figs and it’s awesome!  If something calls for 1/4 cup sugar or syrup I squish as many figs as I can into a 1/4 cup, and soak them in water for an hour or so before pulsing them in the food processor to make a sweet paste.  I add it 1 for 1 to the recipe and haven’t had any complaints.   

Empty the squash into a large bowl - they should just drop right out of their skins into the bowl.  If not, peel it out.   Mash it vigorously with a spoon so it’s creamy.  If you have roasted garlic hanging around throw some in - I didn’t, because I can’t keep roasted garlic out of my mouth for some reason.

Squash, cashew cheese and beautiful layers.
To make your cashew cheese, just take your soaked cashews and put them in a food processor.  Use freshly squeezed lemon juice to get things moving.  You could also add some oil or tahini to do that as well, but I just used fresh lemon juice -about two lemons worth.  The longer you soak your cashews, the better result you will have.  

When you’re ready to assemble and bake your lasagna prepare a large 11x11 pan.  Someone left a large metal pan at my house (does it belong to YOU?) so I used that with parchment paper - but normally I would use my glass pan, naked (no parchment or oil). 
Start with a thin layer of tomato sauce.  I use this organic sauce because it has nothing but tomatoes, spices and other veggies (sometimes I get the one with carrots, etc.).  No sugar, nothing I can’t pronounce and no tin can.  Go ahead and use your favourite, but if you don’t have a fav - give this a try.  After you have a layer of sauce, add a layer of eggplant, layer of squash, zucchini and tomato sauce again.  Next, add your cashew “cheese”.  I wet my hands and pat small portions into flat discs I then place on the lasagna and continue to try to pat down.  Repeat this until the “cheese” is gone and you have a nice even layer.  Now add another layer of eggplant, this time adding the zucchini at the same time and another thin layer of sauce.  Top it all off with your last layer of butternut squash and bake for roughly 1 hour until it’s hot all the way through and you can see the sauce bubbling.  Let cool for what seems like a lifetime, but probably more like 20 minutes.  Cut into generous portions and eat the heck out of this tasty tasty lasagna.

This freezes like a boss - so if you want to pop it in the freezer in portions or before you bake it, go for it.  Not worrying about meat temperatures and reheating, etc. excludes guesswork and you can just do it.  Or just freeze it in this instance.  

If you're feeling up to it, a variation I do with this lasagne is to take 6 cups of spinach and cook it down with garlic and onion.  I add it just above the cheese layer and it adds so much flavour and all around wonderfulness.  Give it a try if you have the ingredients hanging around.  

Honestly, eating a dinner like this makes you feel like you can conquer the world!  There’s no undoing the button on your pants, laying on the couch and hating yourself for eating so much.  You can eat until you’re full and still feel great!  I LOVE that my kids love this recipe (it’s even funnier that they don’t like regular lasagna) and they helped me make it the last few times and know they’re eating eggplant and zucchini.  

My 1 yr old crying for a portion.  I should have let him eat some before trying to take a pic of the final product.

Bon Appe-7lb-tit!
Eww,  7 lb tit sounds so wrong.  Well, it's been typed and can't be erased.
Such is the finality of computers.  No backspace or delete buttons.
Dern baby hit the keys again.  

Check out my post on homemade pizza to get my homemade sauce recipe

Friday, April 4, 2014

Bodacious Brussel Sprouts

 If it's possible to "pig out" on a veggie, this is what should be pigged out on.
I, like most normal people, HATED brussel sprouts.  Steamed bitter little bites of torture that you needed a pound of cheese just to stomach.  
Not these.
These oven roasted beauties are just as the title indicates - bodacious.  

 Bodacious Brussel Sprouts

Preheat oven to 350 (toaster oven)

So, if you've read any of my other blog posts you may have noticed that I am, if nothing else, frugal.  I don't turn my stove on during the week because energy costs are higher and I pinch absolutely every penny in our family budget.  The toaster oven is my go-to for most meals during the week.  Apple crisp, potatoes, veggies - all baked in the toaster oven.  Last night we had a "Southern meal" and I cooked the biscuits in a frying pan so I didn't have to turn the stove on.  I'm serious about saving money.

The point is, if you have a toaster oven find a pan that will fit in there so you can save on energy costs.  It's really senseless to turn the oven on for one small dish.  If you don't have a toaster oven, maybe whip up something else that needs to go in the oven so you're using it for more than one thing.  I power bake on the weekends, picking one day to keep the stove on and make all my yummy food that needs the big stove - pizza, lasagna, cookies, etc.  If you want to turn your stove on, knock yourself out, I just like sharing my money saving tips and I'm also very bossy.

Back to brussel sprouts....

1lb fresh brussel sprouts (approx. 4 cups)
1 tbsp oil (use your most fragrant oil - I used walnut, but you could use avocado, herb infused olive oil, etc.)

1/4 cup hazelnuts
1-2 tbsp maple syrup

Cut the bottoms of the sprouts off and slice each one in half.  Place in your baking pan (I used 7x11) and drizzle with oil.  You really don't need more than 1tbsp - don't negate the nutritional value of veggies by drowning them in oil.

Coat brussel sprouts in oil (just use a spatula and "mix" it) and pop into the oven for 15 minutes.

Turn the sprouts over and pop back into oven for 15 minutes.

While the sprouts are cooking for their second round of 15 minutes, get a pan of raw hazelnuts ready.  If you don't have hazelnuts grab almonds or cashews.  Really, though, if you're going grocery shopping - just get hazelnuts.  They are so good in this dish.

Before roasting nuts, pull sprouts out and drizzle with 1tbsp maple syrup (REAL stuff) - 2 tbsp max.  You don't want it too sweet.

Pop the tray of hazelnuts on TOP of the sprouts and put them both back in the oven.  Set the timer for 10 minutes.

You will smell these roasting and you will want to eat the whole tray.  Resist.  Or make extra.  I make extra because the kids smell them roasting and stand in the kitchen waiting to eat them.

After 10 minutes are up, turn toaster oven off and leave the sprouts inside to stay warm while you prep nuts.

Once the hazelnuts are roasted, simply rub them in a dishtowel to get the skins off.  A little tip from Oh She Glows.  I shake the towel outside afterwards and my chickens love the skins!  If you don't have chickens I'm sure birds and squirrels will enjoy them.

Put hazelnuts with the brussel sprouts and sprinkle with a bit of fresh sea salt and that's it!  This is a show stopping side dish, or if you're anything like me - the main course.


Vegan creamed corn..... better than my original recipe!

Pan baked biscuits and hummus coleslaw.  

I will share the rest of my vegan "Southern" feast recipes next week.  Boy oh boy was this meal a treat.  
Every last bit was gobbled up, and what the kids left on their plates (which wasn't much) my husband and I cleaned off!  

Just say Yes

Utilizing a budget means making small choices that add up to big numbers.  No impulse buys (even when it’s only a dollar or two) , and n...