Monday, 28 April 2014

Easter Feast and Cleaning Up Traditional Recipes

The week following Easter was super busy and even with my best intentions, I could not get my blog posted before we had a little weekend get away. So here it is Monday, 2 weeks after Easter, and I am finally posting some tasty tidbits about the Easter Feast I promised a while back.

We got a lot of mileage out of our Easter dinner... and that is good for my budget!  We had "ditto" one night; the hubby and the kid had turkey while I reheated 2 of my meatless Salisbury steaks to serve with the mashed potatoes, dressing, and all the rest of the feast. YUM!  


Speaking of my Salisbury steaks, I had  2 left so I served them as hamburger patties with all the traditional fixings, homemade fries and a side spinach salad.  I a thrilled to have found a veggie based option for the upcoming BBQ season.  I will, however, be trying out a few other veggie burgers, including one from my favourite celebrity chef - Michael Smith.

So, as a promised, I was going to tell you about my Hot Cross Buns.  These buns have been a Good Friday tradition for the past 18 years.  My tried and true recipe is from the Better Homes and Gardens Desserts Collection circa 1967 with a few substitutions, namely butter for the salad oil, and adding some candied mixed fruit and peel to the currents or raisins (depending on what I have on hand).  Given my recent food journey, my tried and true recipe has undergone a few more transformations, and successfully I might add!
Traditional HC Buns        Cleaned Up HC Buns
White flour                      1 cup white flour substituted for whole wheat
White sugar                      substituted organic evaporated cane  juice 
Butter                              substituted butter for equal amount coconut oil
Next time, I am going to try a half and half ratio of white flour for whole wheat. If that works out well, the final recipe upgrade will be to try a flax seed egg!

Now on to my Easter Feast!
Pan Dressing
My dressing is made up of sautéed diced onion and celery, organic this time. Then a healthy teaspoon of thyme a tablespoon of sage and several grinds of pepper and a teaspoon of salt.  Then sliced dried apricots, Thompson's raisins and dried cranberries are sautéed with the onion/celery mix until everything is fragrant and heated through.  This wonderful mix was tossed with half a loaf whole wheat and a half loaf whole grain bread, cubed, 3 Macintosh apples, cubed and a little olive oil and mayonnaise.  I will have to work on a plant based option, but we will get there!  An oval roasting pan was lightly greased with some olive oil and covered with foil and then tossed into a 375 F oven for 45 minutes.

Cranberry Sauce
This year I substituted honey for the white sugar. Not a vegan option, but certainly a better option to the refined white sugar.  It was lovely.  Next time I am going to try the maple syrup sweetening. 

Sweet Potato Mash
When I first started making sweet potatoes to go with my celebration feasts, I used to gently simmer in a little orange juice or water.  Now I have opted for baking them at 350 F till soft.  When they cool enough to handle, I cut them open and scrape the flesh into a bowl.  Traditionally, I add a little butter, some whipping cream, the zest of an orange, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg and 1 teaspoon cinnamon.  This year I was going to sub out the butter for a little coconut oil and sub the cream out for some almond milk. This was not do-able because one of my guests has a nut allergy, so I will try these at Thanksgiving!

Jello Fruit Salad
My husband Randy grew up with a Jello fruit salad served with his celebration dinners, raspberry Jello is his favourite. Typically this salad was made with Jello and tinned fruit cocktail.  This year, I cleaned up the traditional recipe by using fresh fruit instead of the tinned stuff with BPA liners.  I chose green grapes, apples, and pears because these fruits are reminiscent to the fruit cocktail I have always used. Next time I want to try my hand at a home made jelly using homemade raspberry juice and agar, assuming I can find it!Then, it will be a totally cleaned up!  Ultimately, my main goal is to have a plant based alternative but to have a "jello" that is free from fake flavours and to cut back on the sugar is a definite PLUS!

Angel Food Cake
I had 11 egg whites left over from some egg yolk intensive recipes from Christmas.  I froze these in my mason jars and waited patiently to find a use for them.  Obviously, if you are egg free, there is not much that can be done to "clean up" Angel Food Cake.  The main thing for me is, that I am stretching my food budget by using up my saved leftovers.  Frozen, then thawed egg whites beat up perfectly for any egg white recipe - meringues, cakes, etc.  I even keep adding egg whites on top of others in the freezer and change my label as I go.  This way, I can save my egg whites till I have enough for the next Angel Food Cake I want to make.  Next time I make an Angel Food Cake, I plan on changing my white granulated sugar to organic evaporated cane juice to see if the results are the same.  I see no reason for there to be any problems!
Lemon Curd
This time, I made 2 kinds of lemon curd.  For my traditional one, I used egg yolks (saved the whites in the freezer), lemon juice from organic lemons, regular white sugar, and of course butter.  The result was a smooth and lemony spread. Very good.  Next time, I will see how Earth Balance Vegan Spread works, and organic cane juice, just to clean up the traditional version a little.
I also prepared a vegan lemon curd inspired by a recipe I found at lunchboxbunch with a few modifications and I was pleased with the end results!  I only use almond milk so I used that instead of the soy milk.  I didn't think the vegan curd was going to be as yellow as I would like (with the absence of egg yolks for colour), so I threw in a few pinches of Turmeric.  It was a smashing success!  Also, since I didn't have any Earth Balance Vegan Spread, I used coconut oil.  Finally, after I let the curd cool, I decided it was a little too thick for my personal liking so I heated it back up to whisk in a little water.  When it cooled for the second time, it was the perfect consistency.  All in all, it was a really tasty alternative to the traditional lemon curd, a little more tart perhaps, but a very good replacement.  You couldn't taste the coconut oil either because the bright taste of the lemons shone through.  Next time I make it, I will try making it with the Earth Balance which I think might smooth out the flavour a little, just like butter does in the traditional lemon curd.

For both versions of the curd, I didn't bother straining to remove the lemon zest.  I don't mind it, but if you are looking for a perfectly smooth product, press through a fine mesh strainer.

Vegan Lemon Curd On the LEFT; Traditional on the RIGHT
Vegan (Plant Based) Lemon Curd
  • 1/2 cup almond milk
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons cold water
  • 1/2 cup organic evaporated cane juice 
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp freshly grated lemon zest                                                           
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 5 tbsp dairy free spread (I used coconut oil)
  • 3 to 6 pinches of turmeric for colour (optional) 

  • Dissolve the cornstarch in the water
  • Put almond milk into saucepan.
  • Whisk in the starch/water slurry and turmeric if using.
  • Cook on medium for around 2 minutes.
  • Add the lemon juice, lemon zest and sugar.
  • Stir constantly until the mixture starts to bubble.
  • Remove from heat and stir in non-dairy spread.
  • Cool in the fridge and enjoy.

Our yummy Easter dessert!


So as you can see, there are all kinds of baby steps to improving your every day diets.  Even the fancy feasts can still be mouthwatering AND still reflect better food choices.  It just takes a little planning and experimenting.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Salisbury Steaks with Cauliflower/Potato Mash & Leftovers

Welcome to Tuesday!  I am feeling rested, rejuvenated and accomplished.  We had 4 glorious days together as a family.  We enjoyed a wonderful Easter and birthday feast with some extended family on Saturday night.  We even managed to do some clean up in the front yard; YES, there IS a garden bed under all the leaves from the fall! Yes sir-ee, things are starting to take shape!

I am pleased to say, that I tried some new and wonderful plant based recipes last week and I even found a way to make some of my traditional recipes more plant based. My repertoire is getting bigger and I think I am well under way to "clean up" our traditional Christmas Season feasts as well! 

As I have so much to tell you about my food exploits of last week, I think I will have to break my blog up into bite size pieces.  But just to give you a taste of what is in store, I would like to share a few of the menu items I made.  Some of these are NEW to me while others are my tried and true traditional recipes which I have made a little healthier without compromising on taste. 

A Good Old Fashioned Comfort Meal
Vegetarian Salisbury Steaks with Mushroom Gravy
Cauliflower & Potato Mash
Mixed veggies

Hot Cross Buns - CLEANED UP
Easter Dinner - CLEANED UP
Roasted Turkey with Mashed Potatoes, Sweet Potato Mash 
Steamed Broccoli, Dried Fruit Dressing, Jellied Fruit Salad 
Cranberry Sauce, and Gravy

Angel Food Cake with Lemon Curd - Traditional and Vegan 
served with a dollop of Whipped Cream

Vegetarian Salisbury Steaks for me/Turkey for the family
Cauliflower & Potato Mash
Plus all the fixings from Easter Dinner

In addition to trying out some vegetarian Salisbury Steaks, my daughter, Sara, sent me a link to Oh She Glows for some festive Christmas "Meatballs" to be served with cranberry sauce.  I am looking forward to doing a test run with this recipe so that we can also have a meatless entrée for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners!  If they are as tasty as the Salisbury Steaks, I am so STOKED!

As my family knows, I am a stickler for making sure my leftovers are used up.  I HATE wasting food.  It is  the best way I know to stretch your meal-time budget especially when I heard just how much folks waste.  On average, Canadian families throw out $1000.00 of food a year. In Toronto, a single-family is said to waste 275 kilos of food per year.  The figures are just as bad in the US.  Yes, we can compost it which is a more environmentally appealing solution to putting it in the landfill, but that does not help my budget much.  Bottom line, it is much better to EAT the food you buy.

When I plan my meals, I plan to send them for a hot lunch the next day or sometimes I plan on how to use the leftovers in a second meal... either "ditto" which is just a reheat of the meal OR I transform the components of my leftovers into a brand new dish.  That being said, sometimes even the best laid out plans go awry and I still end up with single serving of this and that.

If we can't finish these single servings before they will spoil, I will generally move them to the freezer.  I have had great success in dicing up left over meats and poultry to be later used in stir fries or in lunch wraps.  I freeze single servings of soups, stews, pasta sauces.  I even freeze gravy and cheese sauce, even though the experts say you can't.  I label and date the freezer containers, and keep a running list of what is in my freezer so I don't lose track.  I have also learned that HOW you thaw and re-heat your leftovers is crucial to enjoying them... but that is for another blog!

With all that being said, you are wondering why the little detour into food waste and leftovers? First, because I want to share a kitchen tip to save you money and stretch your food budgets!  Second, I thought I should explain why I have a 500 ml mason jar of gravy in my freezer and that it was the need to use up this left over gravy that gave me the inspiration to find a recipe for a meatless Salisbury Steak!  Since I already had gravy in my freezer, I only made the Salisbury Steak recipe which I followed to the letter, with a minor change.  Subsequently, I cannot comment on the tastiness of the mushroom gravy on the blog post, but it does look yummy.  I will definitely be trying it with these Salisbury Steaks next time, IF I don't have any gravy in my freezer.

As promised on the Oh My Veggies site, these vegetarian Salisbury steaks were meaty, tasty and satisfying.  I would think you could make them vegan by whipping up a flaxseed egg to substitute for the chicken egg.  As I said, I followed the recipe from the site with one minor change... I had already sautéed the finely diced onion before realizing that it was actually for the mushroom gravy which I wasn't making.  So, not wishing to waste anything, a threw the cooked onion into the "meat mix" and continued with the recipe.  I think the onion addition is brilliant, so it is staying!  I ended up sautéing the 4 ounces of mushrooms (as per the recipe) and seasoning my gravy similarly to the gravy in the posted recipe and adding the Tamari too. It was a huge success!

I also tried out a cauliflower & potato mash.  I peeled and cooked a few Yukon potatoes.  I drained and mashed them in my usual way... a little almond milk, and butter since I didn't have any Earth Balance Spread, with some salt, and pepper to taste.  I set it aside.  I also steamed about 1/4 of a large head of cauliflower until tender.  I dropped the large pieces into my food processor, and whizzed it till it was coarsely mashed.  I added some butter, almond milk, salt, pepper and a 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder, and a generous pinch of thyme.  Whizzed it all together until it was smooth and resembled traditional mashed potatoes.  Then I folded the potatoes and the cauliflower mash together into the serving dish,  Man oh man; it was SO good on it's own, and even better with a slug of the mushroom gravy!  The "meat", "potatoes" and mushroom gravy were so comforting and tasty, that even the plain Jane fresh frozen mixed veggies rocked the plate!

Salisbury Steaks BEFORE Baking

Salisbury Steaks AFTER Baking

Salisbury Steaks with Cauliflower/Potato Mash, Mushroom Gravy and Mixed Veggies

Next on the blog docket... Hot Cross Buns and Easter Dinner! 

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

My Plant Based Successes, A Blog Theme & Ethical Meat

It has been a while since I have blogged, but I just haven't found time to sit down and write... so I will make a serious attempt today.  The last I blogged, I had shared the menu for the week.  Some of my meals were a combination of animal and plant based items and others were entirely plant based.  Yes, a menu that reflects my journey to attain  my personal goal of 75% plant based meals. I'm not there yet, but as my family approved recipe repertoire increases, I will get there soon. 

Over the past few months, I have been in the process of cleaning up my pantry.  Although it was not a huge disaster, nutritionally speaking, there was certainly a little tweaking required to make sure my pantry staples were clean and better options.  My pantry is now filled rice and pastas that are brown; my jars are filling up with nuts (raw, roasted and unsalted), lentils, dried beans and various seeds including my favourite, Chia seeds!   I am slowly weaning the family off white refined sugar and introducing them to better choices like honey, maple syrup, agave and organic evaporated cane juice.

I am thrilled to report that my COMPLETELY plant based Bolognese sauce was a HUGE success.  The family ate it all up and didn't seem to notice that the texture of the sauce was just a little different than my regular meat sauce.  The lentil and mushroom sloppy Joes hit the spot for my 14 year old.  I even had enough left over to send home with my eldest daughter who LOVED it too.  I made my veggie pizza with 3/4 marinara and 1/4 cilantro pesto.  I really enjoyed the change.  I will definitely be doing this again.  The family didn't try the pizza with the cilantro, but were quite happy with the usual tomato based veggie pizza - I won't complain, more for me!  I cut back the shredded mozzarella cheese for this pizza too, and no one seemed to mind; yes... baby steps.  Finally, the broccoli salad with the completely dairy free dressing was a big winner too.  My husband thought it was super tasty, so I will be making this again for sure!  I think this dressing will be a great substitute for the store bought poppy seed dressing I use on my kale, Brussels sprouts, purple cabbage, & broccoli salad; an unexpected PLUS!

So as I spend my evenings periodically perusing other blogs I come across, I have noticed that each writer typically has a theme of some sort.  Food bloggers are plant based, gluten free, traditional meat based, etc.  Other bloggers write about their family's exploits and adventures.  As I have gone back and re-read my posts, I have come to the conclusion that my "theme", if you will, is basically how I try to improve my family's diet by incorporating more plant based choices in our daily diets; and how I "hide" these plant based choices while we transition from a fairly decent diet to an extraordinary one!  Certainly, I can't be the only person who wants to eat better and drag her family along with her, even if it is on the down low! 

So low and behold, this blog is for you, if you want
  • to join me on a similar food journey by adding more plant based foods to your diet
  • to be introduced to tasty meals that will keep your meat eaters happy and satisfied
  • to take advantage of my learning curve on transforming your tried and true family favourites to more plant based meals 
  • to learn how to "hide your healthy" while minimizing your animal based products
  • to learn about my budget tips for feeding your family

Since I am not ready or willing to commit myself to a completely plant based lifestyle, I have decided that I am going to eat the most ethical and clean sources of meat, eggs, and dairy as possible .  All of this plus attempting to stay as local as I can.  I have discovered that this is not so easy to do, especially if I want to stay within a 30 minute drive. This being said, I am thrilled to have found a local farm that does everything "right" but is not certified organic.  In my books, if you do everything right but don't have the papers, it is still so much better than factory farmed for sure. Yesterday, I sent my paperwork in  for my first half side of pork that is ethically raised and organically fed.  I also had myself put on the waiting list for any extra ethical chickens for June and July.  This ethical and clean meat is more expensive for sure, but since I have drastically reduced our meat consumption, I think the extra expense of the ethical meat should balance out in our overall food budget.

Now I am in search of some local, ethical eggs.  I have a few phone numbers but I think I will need to take a visit to the farms to decide about the living conditions and find out what the feed is.  In the meantime, I think my local supermarket carries Burnbrae Natureggs which are organic. When I was researching Burnbrae Farms eggs, I visited their site.  I found virtual tours of the various ways chickens are raised.  It helped me decide that I wanted to buy the organic free range eggs based on living conditions.  Yes, these are large scale farms, kind of industrial, but the barn looked clean and the chickens looked like they were happy.  Perhaps, not as happy as the ones on the little organic farm with only a dozen of these guys running around, but still, happy enough.  Not the perfect situation, but since we can't all have a few chickens running around our yards, it is the better than the cages for sure.

So what is on tap for the next few days?  Some slicing and dicing for my ginger, orange and garlic veggie stir fry. Still tweaking my recipe.  Just for a change, I think I will  hide some green lentils in it as well.  On Thursday, I am going to try out a lentil/mushroom Salisbury Steak recipe. I have some roast chicken gravy in the freezer that will be lovely ladled over the steaks and with the mashed potatoes or maybe a cauliflower mash or maybe a combination?  Hopefully the gravy will distract them from the "meatlessness" of the Salisbury Steaks.  I am hoping they will be well received because I just realized that we have a Summer season coming (I hope).  With Summer comes barbecue and barbecue means burgers and grilled everything.  If I can win them over with a meatless Salisbury Steak, there is a chance that the grilled lentil veggie burgers I want to try might be met with less resistance!   

Don't throw out your extra gravy.  Save it in the freezer. I had some extra roast chicken gravy left over from my husband's birthday dinner earlier this month.  I put it in a two 500 ml mason jars and popped them in my freezer.  I let the gravy thaw in the fridge.  I will put a 1/4 cup of water into a  saucepan.  Bring it to a boil and whisk in the thawed gravy, a little at a time until it is smooth and heated through.  It will be as good as it was the first time around. Waste not; want not!

See you soon with my next round of updates.  Perhaps I will have a new recipe to share or a favourite new discovery!

Eat well... be well!