Thursday, February 17, 2011

Vegetarian Lessons

It seems that lately all I think about is food. I admit I'm a little compulsive since declaring us a flexitarian family. At lunch yesterday, I realised I had an overwhelming choice of delicious options in my kitchen - leftover butternut squash lasagna*, vegetable samosas, split pea soup, masala hummus (thank you Julie for introducing me to this!), green smoothie, etc. I chose a samosa, some sweet potato fries (my 2yo's choice), followed by a green smoothie. Learning to eat vegetarian is an adventure! Bonus: in over a week, I've started to look at vegetables differently.
Strawberry banana green smoothie

For example, DH and I had ordered  vegetarian versions of our fave Thai meals (me: coconut curry, DH: pad thai). When looking at the leftovers the following day, he asked, "are you going to finish your curry, or is it all vegetables?" I laughed and said, "it's all vegetables and yes!" In the past, I would have eaten some of the veggies, but focused on the chicken. This time, everything (except for the huge chunks of onion) had an equal chance of being eaten and enjoyed. We loved our vegetarian dishes, perhaps even more than the chicken versions. I was very happily surprised by that.

Valentine's Day was Monday and I learned a few things...
  1. I already can't consume as much sugar as I used to without feeling pretty sick. (I also am convinced that the eczema on my hands is linked to refined sugar, since it starts to burn after I eat something sweet.)
  2. My craving for sweets is more psychological than physical. My body doesn't want the sweets now, my brain does. I'm working on changing that.
  3. Missing my green smoothie - which I did that day because of all the food being consumed - causes me to feel not only guilty, but also incomplete.
  4. My husband is wonderful. (Okay, to be fair, that one I knew already.) He came home with dinner - something he never does unannounced - vegetable samosas, Indian split pea soup, 6 california rolls, hemp hermit cookies, and some incredible Green & Black's Carmel chocolate. He wanted to show his support for how hard I've been working to get our family eating better. I was in tears.
And the quinoa obsession continues... We've made two cookie recipes from Quinoa 365: Healthy Cookies and Oatmeal Raisin cookies. Here are some of the ingredients for Healthy Cookies:
Dry ingredients: whole wheat flour, sunflower seeds, rolled oats, flax seeds, coconut
Cooked quinoa
Before baking
Yummy Healthy Cookies
Everyone who has tried these cookies, young and old, loves them. They're not too sweet (1 1/4 cups brown sugar for 56 cookies) and are full of good things.

When I made the Oatmeal Raisin cookies, I had only a 1/2 cup raisins and so I used chopped medjool dates to make up the other cup. These are also really tasty and I prefer the dates - which are a new experience for me - to the raisins. Dates are very sweet, however, and next time I'll reduce the sugar to compensate. These cookies are gluten free as they use quinoa flour.

I've been doing some homework to make sure I'm covering my nutritional bases and to get some suggestions for a veggie newbie. I'm currently picking my way through the Vegetarian Starter Kit from Vegetarian Times. While I don't agree with everything (I'm not convinced of the safety of consuming non-fermented soy products, i.e. soymilk), here are some things that stand out for me:
  • eating a variety of plant protein sources over an entire as a way of getting a "complete protein" rather than focusing on having it in each meal (the older way of thinking)
  • better to focus on dairy-free sources of calcium and limit animal protein, a high intake of which encourages calcium loss from bones
  • there is a link between type 1 (juvenile) diabetes and milk protein allergy
  • using sliken tofu instead of sour cream in dips - can't wait to try this
 One of the best things to happen this week: I think drinking green smoothies prevented K (2yo) and I from getting F's stomach flu. Hurray!

Are you eating meat less or even never? Please share any lessons, tips, resources, or recipes you find helpful.

* I modified the linked recipe by using a combo of butternut squash and pumpkin that I had frozen and then mixing in some cooked quinoa. If you choose to do this, I'd say cook up about 1/2 cup dried quinoa and reduce the squash to 3 cups, otherwise it won't all fit in the baking dish (as I found out). I also used spinach lasagna noodles to give the meal some colour.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Green Smoothies

About a year and a bit ago, I was "inspired" to try making green smoothies.  I'd read a post about The Wonder of Green Smoothies. However, my fear both of drinking one and of making my little breastfeeding guy gassy prevented me. Today, my no-longer-breastfeeding guy and I made one.

This is what went in:

6 -8 leave romaine lettuce
2 cups water
3 cups chopped mango (I used thawed frozen mango)
juice from 1/2 lemon

I gave away my blender about a year and a half ago, so I mixed it using my immersion blender. The result was this:

A pretty vibrant green. My 2-year-old son K was watching the whole process and when I would give a taste before adding more mango, he'd ask for a taste. When I poured my (litre) glass:

he asked for one too:

And he had seconds, saying "I luh-uh-uh-uv juice!" Fingers crossed that what the author of Green for Life, Victoria Boutenko, says is true. She claims that the reason many of us (K and I included) suffer from indigestion, bloating, heartburn, etc. from greens is because we don't chew them enough to sufficiently break them down for digestion. When the greens are macerated in a blender, we apparently won't have that problem. I sure hope so. When he was still breastfeeding, K used to wake in the night screaming in pain if I ate a salad during the day. I eventually gave up eating greens, because I couldn't stand the guilt (and the night-waking).

Boutenko claims that all sorts of good can come from drinking green smoothies. She has testimonials from people who have had their warts, eczema, and asthma clear up. Drinkers have more energy, have lost significant amounts of weight, and cravings for junk food and sweets disappear. Further, Boutenko describes a walk in the woods where she found herself craving the greens growing along the edge of the trail! K currently has a cold and was feeling pretty rotten before making the smoothie. After drinking his two helpings, he was in much better spirits, his runny nose slowed, and he stopped coughing. He started playing and laughing again. Whatever the reason, I saw a big improvement in him.

But what did my green smoothie taste like? Pretty good. I found drinking it was strangely compelling. Despite the fact that I was looking to consume almost a litre of lettuce juice (remember, I don't particularly like vegetables), I had no problem getting it down. I'll be fiddling a bit with the ingredients to keep it interesting. My goal is to drink one a day for a week and see how it goes. I'll keep you posted. I may be growing a lot of lettuce this summer!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

My Quinoa Obsession

Red Quinoa (dry)
Recently I discovered a book at Costco, which made me break one of my New Year's Resolutions. I had sworn not to buy any more cookbooks, due to my overflowing cookbook shelves (yes, plural). I'd seen this particular book before Christmas and had considered adding it to my wishlist - I actually took a picture of it. In early January, I found myself standing in Costco, looking longingly at the pile once more. Then something inside my went "crack", and my resolution was broken. All for the greater good (of my family), I told myself. (Yes, I can be weird about things. It only cost $17.39.)

The glorious book in question? Quinoa 365: the Everyday Superfood:

What the heck is quinoa (pronounced "keen-wah")? From the publisher's website:
One of the world’s healthiest foods, quinoa contains a perfect balance of all eight essential amino acids, and is a great source of protein, making it an increasingly popular food choice for those looking to incorporate superfoods into their everyday diets. Gluten-free, wheat-free, and nutrient-packed, quinoa is ideal for those who are health-conscious, vegetarian, or physically active, as well as for those with gluten intolerance, wheat allergies, and other digestive disorders. But that’s not all; you can eat quinoa guiltlessly knowing it’s free of cholesterol and trans fats, contains natural antioxidants, and is a source of vitamin E, calcium, potassium, iron, and magnesium. In Quinoa 365 sisters Patricia Green and Carolyn Hemming show you how to use this miraculous superfood in all your favorite dishes.
It is not a grain either, but the fruit of a broadleaf plant. All by itself, cooked quinoa is a great sidedish and alternative to rice. Since it's a complete protein (extremely rare for a vegetable or plant), it is an ideal meat substitute. But really, use it in all your favourite dishes? Yep. There are recipes in this book for salads, breads, cereals, stews, burgers, frittatas, cookies, and puddings to name a few. Flipping through the book, there are countless ways I see that we can incorporate quinoa into our new flexitarian way of eating.

White Quinoa (dry)
Until this book, my only other quinoa recipe was Golden Quinoa Salad with Mango and Walnuts. I got the recipe from the newspaper and was so smitten, that I made it for a family gathering at the end of the summer a few years ago. It was a hit and I (who hates cold salads) couldn't get enough of it.

Golden Quinoa Salad with Mango and Walnuts
There are many blogs with adoring posts about quinoa. I even found a blog by a mom admittedly "Keen on quinoa". It's a great source for quinoa recipes: How Do You Cook Quinoa?

My first dish from Quinoa 365 was the Minestrone Soup. I had all the ingredients on hand and felt like making something warm and cozy (because of what our weather has been like lately). The quinoa cooks with the soup, so there is no extra step. When I served this yummy minestrone, it looked like this:

Minestrone Soup

But after it had sat a little longer, the quinoa plumped up and became more visible:

Minestrone Soup - Day 2

I make a similar soup as part of my own repertoire, but I will now definitely add quinoa to it for a nutritional boost. In fact, I'll likely be adding quinoa to all my soups!

The other recipe I tried was Outrageously Quick and Easy Pizza Crust. In a word: fantastic. When we make our own pizza dough, I've used a recipe that came with our breadmaker. It's very good, but this is better. The quinoa is cooked and cooled first, then added to the dough. I found the dough a little difficult to work with, but I'm sure that will improve with practice - and I WILL be "practicing" this recipe.

Slightly Overcooked Pizza made with
Outrageously Quick and Easy Pizza Crust recipe
I was a little worried that the crust would be too doughy, since it puffed up when baking, but it wasn't at all. The quinoa (although practically undetectable) gives the crust an interesting and satisfying texture. It's hard to explain, but I'll say it was a HUGE hit with my family. I made the pizza vegetarian, save for the tiniest bit of crumbled bacon.

You can find a handful of recipes on the Quinoa 365 website, including Championship Chili (on my list of next-to-try), but I strongly suggest buying or borrowing the book, because once you get started with quinoa, it's pretty exciting stuff. Some other dishes on my list: healthy cookies, quinoa veggie bake, jalapeno chedder pepper scramble, pumpkin pancakes, black bean soup, tomato and basil crustless quiche, caramel date cake, chewy chocolate chip cookies, to name but a few. I did say I was obsessed!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Flexitarian Family

I've recently come to the decision that we, as a family (but especially DH and I), can and should be eating less meat (red, white, fish, etc.). I'm aiming for vegetarian-ish, which apparently is called flexitarian. This means that we will endeavour to eat vegetarian as much as we can. So far, so good.

Why not go "whole-hog" (if you'll pardon the pun)? Most importantly: DH and I love meat and I don't especially love vegetables. In fact, I'm a very reluctant vegetable eater and I've struggled hard to incorporate them into my meals. Give me boiled or steamed veggies (with a very few exceptions) in a pile on my plate and I'm unlikely to eat them. For this reason, despite the fact that I've long aspired to vegetarianism, I didn't think it was realistic and figured I'd probably starve.

So why on earth do I want to do this? Good question. Without getting into the many long and difficult arguments, I'll give you my main reasons:
  • Ethical and Financial - The more I learn about how the majority of food animals are raised, fed, bred, and slaughtered I don't want to be a part of it. There are better alternatives, but doing things "right" costs much more money than assembly-line, corner-cutting factory farming. So either we find more money in the budget, or we treat meat as a treat. The big bonus to the alternative sources I've found is the taste - unlike anything I've ever tasted before and so delicious.
  • Health - I want to eat delicious food. I don't want to feel that I'm missing out on meat. If that happens, this will end up as a short-lived experiment rather than a lifestyle change. So I've got to find great-tasting meals with lots of variety. It also means that eating out will become even more of a rarity. I'll be cooking more of our meals and by default, we'll be making better choices with our food.
What spurred this on? Mostly a lot of reading and a lot of thinking. About a year ago I read The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food. Excellent books, great reads and really thought-provoking. I think they should be required reading. A month ago, I finally watched Food Inc. and my mom's group book club started reading Omnivore's Dilemma (at my request). I just finished the short and sweet Food Rules and have started our next book club selection: Eating Animals. But long before all of this, I took a first year university philosophy course on ethics, where we discussed the philosophical arguments for and against vegetarianism. The seed was planted then, so to speak.

So we've been at this for over a week, officially, and I'm thrilled both with how much we're enjoying our new way of eating and with how easy it has been. DH has been wonderfully supportive and on-board. He is a pretty adventurous eater and has loved sampling the new recipes like this 4-cheese Manicotti.

4-cheese Manicotti - unbelievably delicious

I followed the recipe, but for these exceptions: omitted the spinach - didn't have any, used our favourite Zarky's sauce (no extra anything in it, as close as you can get to making your own) instead of following the marinara recipe. I served it with a cheese garlic bubble bread. Words can't describe how tasty this meal was. I asked my husband at the end of the meal, "did you miss the meat?" His answer, "no way!" While the example may not have fulfilled the "healthy" motivation, it sure was encouraging and satisfying.

Which brings me to my next post... My Quinoa Obsession

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Feeding the family during "Snowmageddon"

We'd expected anywhere from 30 to 45cm of snow in Hamilton yesterday, but didn't get it. What we did get was enough to shut down the city and we all got a snow day - yay! There was something about all the snow outside, the sound of snowblowers and shoveling, and being snug and warm inside that made me want to cook. I'd heard of people stockpiling groceries in the days leading up to the storm, but I was happy that we had more than enough to sustain us for several days (but probably more). We'd run out of raisin bread - the boys' favourite - and so I made a new recipe in the bread machine. It turned out great and so much better than storebought.

I still felt like baking - and honestly, bread machine bread can't really be called "baking" - so upon a suggestion from my sister-in-law to check my freezer for summer fruit, I settled on a berry buckle. It uses a handful of basic ingredients, plus frozen berries. The boys helped and it was fresh out of the oven when they and DH returned from shoveling the driveway.

For dinner, I'd already planned on making loaded baked potato chowder in my new Pampered Chef Covered Baker. (Aside: I recently had a party and stocked up on some stoneware and necessary cooking tools for next to nothing. I got $258 worth of stuff for about $19. I was thrilled.) The chowder is made in the microwave - I almost never "cook" in the microwave, just heat - and takes about 30min from start to finish, including prep. It tasted fabulous and was really easy - not to mention frugal!

So today, the bread is almost gone and I may just be making another loaf for tomorrow. The chowder probably has about 2 servings left and the berry buckle is about half gone. So what's for dinner tonight? Hmmmm... I'm on a quinoa kick after purchasing Quinoa 365: The Everyday Superfood (more in a post to follow) and am thinking of trying the "Outrageously Quick and Easy Pizza Crust". However, I only have bread machine yeast, not quick rise yeast and am trying to figure out how to successfully substitute. Fingers crossed, we'll have a yummy pizza for dinner.