All posts by rianat

Recipe: Lasagne

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This lasagne recipe is fairly simple to put together. It’s a bit more time-consuming to prepare than a regular pasta dish of course, but it’s well worth the extra time and energy as far as I’m concerned! Feel free to swap out the veggies I used for your favourite ones, omit the tofu if you’re avoiding soy and use gluten-free lasagne noodles if needed.

Homemade Lasagne
Vegan | Nut-free | Gluten-free option

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 9 whole wheat lasagne noodles (or brown rice/gluten-free noodles, if needed)
  • 2 small cans (15 oz) tomato sauce
  • 1 package organic firm tofu (or Yves Veggie Ground Round)
  • 2 tsp dried basil
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tbsp grapeseed oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 3 cups chopped veggies (I used carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, kale and rainbow chard)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 cup grated vegan cheese (I used Daiya Cheddar Style Shreds so the grating wasn’t necessary)

Directions:

  1. Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil on the stove. Add the noodles and cook until they are al dente, then rinse them in cold water. Set aside.
  2. In a medium-sized bowl, crumble the block of tofu into small pieces (or if using the Ground Round, empty that into the bowl instead). Reserve a half cup of the tomato sauce, then pour the rest of it over the tofu.
  3. Add the basil and oregano, as well as salt and pepper to taste, into the tofu/tomato sauce mixture. Stir and set aside. IMG_4124
  4. Heat the grapeseed oil in a large saucepan. Add the chopped onion and a dash of salt and sauté on medium for about 3 minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook for another 2-3 minutes, until the onions are translucent.
  5. Put a couple of tablespoons of water in the pan and slowly add in your veggies, starting with whatever will take the longest to soften. I started by adding the carrots and letting them cook for about 2 minutes, then added the broccoli and cauliflower and let the mixture cook for another couple of minutes, and finally added the kale and chard.
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  6. When the veggies have started to become slightly tender, remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the chili powder and a bit of salt and pepper. 
  7. Prepare your casserole dish by spreading about 1/4 cup of the reserved tomato sauce around the bottom of the dish. Layer 3 of the cooked lasagne noodles lengthwise overtop of the tomato sauce.
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  8. Next, spoon half of the onion and veggie mixture overtop of the noodles, spreading the veggies around to create an even layer.
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  9. Pour half of the tofu/tomato sauce mixture over the veggies, distributing it as evenly as possible.
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  10. Lay 3 more of the cooked noodles lengthwise over the veggie layer. Top with the remaining veggies and the rest of the tofu/tomato sauce mixture, spreading both mixtures out as needed.
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  11. Lay down the last 3 noodles and cover with the 1/4 cup of tomato sauce you still have set aside. Sprinkle the cheese over the tomato sauce.
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  12. Cover the casserole dish with a layer of foil, and poke a few holes in the top so some of the steam can escape. Bake at 375 F for 40 minutes, then uncover and bake for another 5 minutes or so until the cheese starts to brown slightly.
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  13. Cut into squares and enjoy, perhaps with some homemade garlic bread and a side salad.

Tips: For a subtle “kick” to the lasagne, try topping it with Daiya Pepperjack Style Shreds and adding a bit of cayenne pepper to the tomato sauce. For a bit of extra richness, try making a simple cashew ricotta and spreading it on top of the first two layers of noodles, before you add the veggies and tofu/tomato sauce mixture.

Recipe: Homemade Chocolate Bark

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This recipe is super simple but creates elegant-looking pieces of chocolate bark that you can serve at a party, give as a gift or use to satisfy a chocolate craving.

It’s also highly versatile so feel free to play around with different mix-ins. If you’re a fan of the popular Peppermint Pretzel barkTHINS for example, you could use chopped pretzels, candy cane pieces and a pinch of sea salt. If you like the pecan-caramel combination, try chopped dates and pecans and a handful of toffee pieces. If you prefer fruit and nut chocolate bars, try adding chopped almonds, peanuts and cashews and raisins.

Enjoy!

Homemade Chocolate Bark
Vegan | Gluten-free | Soy-free | Nut-free option

Makes one large baking sheet of bark

Ingredients:

  • 500 grams good quality dairy-free dark chocolate
    (baking chocolate, molding chocolate and chocolate chips/bars should all work well)
  • 1/2 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut
    (Costco sometimes carries Sunblest brand, which I love because it doesn’t have sulphites)
  • 1/2 cup seeds and/or nuts
    (I wanted a nut-free version so I used sunflower, pumpkin and chia seeds)
  • 1/3 cup dried fruit
    (I used unsweetened cranberries and wild blueberries)

Directions:

  1. Melt the chocolate in a saucepan over low heat, checking it often and stirring frequently so that it doesn’t burn. While the chocolate is melting, prepare 1 large (or 2 medium-small baking sheets) with a layer of wax paper or a silicone baking mat.
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    Start heating the chocolate slowly…

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    … until it’s fully melted.
  2. Once the chocolate is fully melted, remove the pan from the heat and add in your mix-ins. Stir gently until they’re well incorporated.
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    Add all of your mix-ins into the saucepan.

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    Stir gently to combine.
  3. Spread the mixture out onto the wax paper or baking mat, ideally in the shape of a rectangle, so that it’s about half a centimetre thick. Place your baking sheet in the fridge and let the chocolate cool until its hardened (about 30 minutes).
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    Spread the mixture out evenly into a rectangular shape.

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    Chill for about 30 minutes until the chocolate has hardened.
  4. When the chocolate is fully cooled, gently peel it off the mat/wax paper and break it into medium-large chunks. Try to work quickly so that the chocolate doesn’t melt – it needs to stay cool to ‘snap’ nicely into pieces of bark.

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    Break into various-sized pieces to create your ‘bark’.
  5. Store the chocolate in the refrigerator until you’re ready to enjoy. If you’re going to give it as a gift, just package it in some cellophane or a glass jar, add a ribbon and you’re good to go!

12 Gift-Giving Ideas You Can Feel Good About

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With the winter holidays fast approaching, you’ve probably already started thinking about potential gift options for the special people in your life. For most of us, it feels great to be able to give someone you care about a present that you know they’ll love. But it feels even better when you can feel good about where that gift came from.

Thankfully, as more and more people become conscious of where they shop and what they shop for, we’ve seen the advent of countless new companies and products that use sustainable practices. So whether you’re a vegan and/or a hardcore environmentalist, or you’re just trying to be a little bit more ethical in your shopping habits, you shouldn’t have to look too far to find gifts that align with your values.

The following is a list of great cruelty-free gift ideas, many of which are local, that you can feel good about purchasing.

1. Bath and body products: If you want something that’s made here in Ottawa, Sud With Me has a range of natural, vegan personal care products (and all of the profits go to the Sit With Me Dog Rescue, so it’s a win-win!). Purple Urchin is another independent, Ottawa-based company that sells natural soap and skincare products. There’s also Druide, which is based in Quebec, and Lush of course. If you’re feeling creative you can even try your hand at DIY homemade bath and body products – there are endless ‘recipes’ available online on sites like Pinterest.

2. Books: There are so many fantastic books out there that can educate people about how to live more ethically and healthily. A few examples include the Ecoholic books by Adria Vasil; The Simply Raw Living Foods Detox Manual by Natasha Kyssa, owner of Ottawa’s Simply Raw Express; Vegan for Life: Everything You Need to Know to Be Healthy and Fit on a Plant-Based Diet by Jack Norris and Virginia Messina; or Vache à lait: Dix mythes de l’industrie laitière by Élise Desaulniers.

3. Cookbooks: If you need a gift for someone who enjoys spending time in the kitchen, some of the most popular plant-based cookbooks on shelves at the moment are Angela Liddon’s The Oh She Glows Cookbook, Robin Robertson’s Vegan Without Borders: Easy Everyday Meals from Around the World, Nava Atlas’ Plant Power: Transform Your Kitchen, Plate, and Life with More Than 150 Fresh and Flavorful Vegan Recipes, Mayim Bialik’s Mayim’s Vegan Table: More than 100 Great-Tasting and Healthy Recipes from My Family to Yours and Emily von Euw’s Rawsome Vegan Baking: An Un-cookbook for Raw, Gluten-Free, Vegan, Beautiful and Sinfully Sweet Cookies, Cakes, Bars & Cupcakes.

4. Homemade treats: Who doesn’t love a batch of something homemade? You could make vegan peppermint bark, gingerbread cookies, Turtle oatmeal cookies, magical coconut bars, peanut butter fudge or snickerdoodle cookies. Put your goodies into a nice tin, jar or gift box, add a bit of ribbon and a bow and voilà – you have an inexpensive and one-of-a-kind gift that’s perfect for the sweet-lover on your list.

5. Experiential gifts: Want to avoid giving someone a “thing”? Plan an outing to the theatre (try the Great Canadian Theatre Company, Ottawa Little Theatre or The Gladstone, La Nouvelle Scène) or a museum or gallery. Or, organize a short trip to a nearby city or a wellness retreat, such as Sugar Ridge in Wyebridge, ON or Shanti on Wolfe Island, near Kingston, ON.

6. Eco-friendly items for the home: Help your family members and friends be kind to the planet by giving them something useful and sustainable, such as a set of mesh produce shopping bags, a reusable silicone baking mat, stainless steel or cast iron cookware, biodegradable dishes and utensils or napkins, placemats and sheets made from hemp, linen or organic cotton. If you need more inspiration, Terra20 has a holiday flyer with tons of other great ideas.

7. Tea and coffee: There’s nothing like a steaming cup of your favourite brew to warm you up on a cold winter’s day, so why not put together a selection of sustainably-sourced teas and coffees? Stash has a line of organic, fair-trade teas and Angela Liddon, who’s based in Toronto, has just opened the Oh She Glows Tea Shoppe, featuring a range of delicious-sounding organic, loose leaf tea blends. Bridgehead sells organic, fair-trade, shade-grown coffees and organic, fair-trade teas. Adria Vasil (known for her Ecoholic book series and website) recommends the Jane Goodall Institute Blend coffee, which is organic, fair trade, shade-grown, bird-friendly and Rainforest Alliance Certified. In Gatineau, the Cha Yi Tea House offers a vast selection of organic and natural teas and herbal teas. Daniel, its owner, travels each year to Asia where he  buys high quality teas directly from small tea farmers.

8. Ready-made meals: If someone on your list is perpetually short on time, they may appreciate receiving food that’s already prepared. Erika LeBlanc has a 100% vegan catering company, appropriately named Erika’s Vegan Catering, which offers salads, entrees and desserts that feed 6 or 12 people. You could also have a restaurant or take-out place deliver food to a friend’s house regularly for a while to save them the trouble of having to cook every night.

9. Themed gift baskets: Assembling your own baskets can be a lot of fun because you can create unique gifts tailored to the people on your list. If you have a friend who’s obsessed with all things chocolate for example, pick out an assortment of nice, cruelty-free chocolate bars, hot chocolate mixes and chocolate-covered snacks like pretzels and raisins and put them into a decorative basket. Add some tissue paper and a little ribbon and you’ve got a fancy, thoughtful gift that your friend will love (and the basket and tissue paper can be reused).

10. An evening out, on you: If you need a gift for someone who already has everything, you might want to pick up a gift certificate for a veg or veg-friendly restaurant. The Table, Café My House, Simply Raw Express and The Green Door are great all-veg establishments. Popular places with good vegetarian/vegan options include A Thing for Chocolate, The Manx Pub, The Daily Grind and Oz Kafe.

11. A donation to a good cause: No matter what your loved ones are passionate about, chances are there’s an organization dedicated to it. If you’ve got any animal lovers on your list, consider making a donation in their names to the Sit With Me Dog Rescue, Hungry and Homeless Cat Rescue or Big Sky Ranch Animal Sanctuary (all local) or the Humane Society International or Mercy for Animals Canada.

12. An NCVA membership: Belonging to the NCVA will not only bring your gift recipient into a supportive community of people who follow a plant-based diet, but it will also give them access to great discounts on a wide range of veg-friendly foods, products and services.

If you’ve got other ideas for ethical gifts, please share them in the comments below!

Becoming (and Staying) Vegetarian

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When I tell non-vegetarians or vegans that I don’t eat meat or fish, they usually respond in one of two ways: they either look surprised (sometimes pleasantly, sometimes less so) or they say that they’re impressed, because, while they like the idea of vegetarianism, they don’t think they could ever do it. The reality is though, it’s not hard to make the transition if you’re committed to it.

It probably seems as though I’m preaching to the choir here – and to an extent, I am. But given that October is Vegetarian Awareness Month it seems like a good time to share some tips for those who have perhaps ‘flirted’ with vegetarianism or those who like the concept but aren’t sure if they’re ready to actually become vegetarian.

These tips are based on my own experiences with giving up meat. I became vegetarian in 2010 after thinking about it for several years, and was happily surprised that it was easier than I thought it would be. (I made the transition to veganism in early 2014 and will cover that in a separate post.)

I hope you find these suggestions helpful. If you’re already veg and you have other suggestions, ideas or personal stories to share, please post them in the comments below.

Tip 1: Know why you’re doing it.

There are many good reasons to go veg, whether it’s for moral reasons or because you want to improve your health or lessen your carbon footprint. Taking the time to think seriously about why you want to be vegetarian is important, since there may be times when you feel like giving up and it will help to remind yourself of why you made the decision to go veg in the first place.

Tip 2: Decide on an approach.

Some people stop eating all meat and fish immediately, while others opt for a more gradual approach. I personally was worried that I might relapse if I gave it up overnight, so I decided to eliminate one animal from my diet at a time. I eventually became vegetarian after several months of cutting out animal products and experimenting with vegetarian recipes. I suggest that you do whatever feels right for you.

Tip 3: Look for alternatives to staples in your diet.

If you consume a lot of meat/fish or have favourite dishes that include animal products, it’s not a bad idea to find substitutions so that you can still enjoy foods you know you like. For example, there are some very convincing ‘faux meats’ that are popular among many vegetarians and vegans (like products by Yves or Field Roast) and meat alternatives like soy, tempeh and seitan. If you’re used to having spaghetti and meatballs, try adding lentils or roasted vegetables to your pasta instead. Used to having turkey on a sandwich? Hummus is a great alternative. It may feel like a bit of hassle at first but I promise, there are so many delicious vegetarian options out there that you won’t feel like you’re missing out.

Tip 4: Do your homework.

A lot of processed/pre-packaged foods contain ingredients that are not vegetarian, or that may come from non-vegetarian sources. You’ll have to carefully check labels for things like gelatin (found in marshmallows and gummy candies, for example), shellac (common in candies with a shiny coating), anchovies (in Worcestershire sauce and Caesar salad dressing), rennet (in some cheese/dairy products), carmine (used as a colouring agent), stearates (like calcium or magnesium stearate) or any derivatives of glycerine (like mono and di-glycerides, which are found in most commercial bread products). Some of these ingredients can be derived from plant sources, but more often than not they are not suitable for vegetarians. It’s also a good idea to get into the habit of asking questions in restaurants. Although almost every menu has at least one vegetarian option, seemingly innocent items like soup are often made with animal broths.

Tip 5: Talk to your friends and family about your decision.

This is especially important if most of the people you’re close to are omnivores. I recommend telling the people in your life about your new dietary preferences and your reasons for becoming vegetarian, since they will likely want to know the reason for the change and may wonder what you expect from them. Ask them to support you in your new lifestyle and suggest ways to make the transition easier for everyone. For example, you may need to be a little more involved in planning the menu for your next family gathering, or you could offer to prepare something the next time you go over to a friend’s house. Ultimately it will be up to you to work out the logistics (it will be more of an issue for some people than others) but it’s usually a discussion worth having.

Tip 6: Pay attention to your body.

Most people seem to feel great after ditching meat and fish from their diet. Before long, you should start to see and feel positive changes in your body such as increased energy, easier digestion, deeper sleep and of course, a clearer conscience if you’ve gone veg for non-health reasons. However, it’s important to make sure you’re eating balanced meals and getting the right nutrients (this goes for everyone, regardless of how they eat). If you start to notice any negative changes that don’t clear up on their own, like low energy levels or significant weight loss, it may be worth seeing a doctor or nutritionist. Eating a variety of fresh, whole foods should leave you feeling strong and healthy, but you may need or choose to supplement your diet with extra doses of vitamins and minerals like iron, B12 and calcium.

If you’re thinking about making the switch to vegetarianism but don’t feel ready to give up meat/fish completely, just do what you can at first. Some people do meatless Mondays, or follow a weekday vegetarian diet, or make 2 out of 3 meals each day vegetarian. Every little bit helps your body, the planet and the animals. And when you’re ready to fully commit to being vegetarian, you’ll already know which vegetarian meals you like and which restaurants in your area offer good veggie fare.

Stay tuned for another article with tips on becoming vegan, coming soon!

Recipe: Easy Blueberry Lemon Scones

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Blueberry & Lemon SconesThese scones are fluffy and fragrant, slightly sweet with fresh bursts of blueberry and a hint of lemon. With the help of Bisquick, this recipe comes together in a snap.

Easy Blueberry Lemon Scones
Vegan

Makes 6-8 scones

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup Bisquick mix
  • 2 tbsp sugar (organic cane sugar, sucanat, coconut sugar, etc.)
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tbsp Earth Balance or other vegan margarine (chilled/not melted)
  • 1/3 cup non-dairy milk of choice (almond, soy, rice, hemp or oat)
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 3/4 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Mix Bisquick, sugar and cinnamon together in a bowl.
  3. Using a fork or pastry cutter, cut in the Earth Balance or margarine until the mixture is crumbly. There should be no large pieces of Earth Balance left.
  4. Next, add the non-dairy milk, vanilla extract and lemon zest, stirring to combine. Add the blueberries and stir gently.
  5. Drop large spoonfuls of the batter onto an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 9-12 minutes, or until the scones are a light golden brown.
  6. For extra sweetness, create a glaze by mixing 1 tsp lemon juice, 1 tbsp water and 1/4 cup vegan icing sugar together in a small bowl. Brush the scones with the glaze immediately after removing them from the oven.
  7. Allow to cool slightly, then serve warm.

Recipe: Curried Sweet Potato, Carrot and Coconut Soup

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This is a great recipe for fall. Not only is the soup warming and delicious, but it’s also simple – you can throw everything into one pot. The recipe also works really well with squash (I recommend butternut). Feel free to play around with the spices.

Curried Sweet Potato, Carrot and Coconut Soup
Vegan | Gluten-free | Soy-free

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 1 onion, chopped finely
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil (or other oil)
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp minced ginger
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 3 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup crushed tomatoes or 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp curry powder
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne (or to taste)

Directions:

  1. Heat oil in a large saucepan on medium heat. When the oil is heated, add the onion and cook for 3 minutes, stirring once or twice to prevent burning. Add the garlic and ginger and continue cooking until the onion is translucent.
  2. Add the vegetable broth, sweet potatoes and carrots. Cook on medium heat until potatoes and carrots are tender, about 15 minutes.
  3. Add the coconut milk, crushed tomatoes or tomato paste and spices (adjusting to taste).
  4. Stir and reduce heat. Simmer on low for about 10 mins.
  5. Turn the stove off and let the soup cool for at least half an hour. Purée in batches in a blender until smooth (if soup is too thick to blend easily, add a bit of extra broth or water).
  6. Serve warm with bread or crackers and a side salad.