Vegetable Rice Bake (Or, The Oven is Not Just for Making Cookies)

So, I’ve been absent from the blog for a little while; I sincerely hope I haven’t lost any regular readers. You know that saying, life gets in the way of life? Well, that’s how things go. One good thing to come out of the last couple of months is my new favourite lunchtime, freezable and keep-for-later-able, meal. I looked everywhere and I could not find the original recipe that I based this veggie rice bake on so my apologies, but it is such an adaptable collection of ingredients and techniques found in a zillion different rice casserole recipes that I don’t feel like I’m stealing from any one person.

The vegetables, which make up the majority of the dish, can pretty much be whatever veggies you have available at hand. I diced an onion, five stalks of celery, a green pepper, and a red pepper, and sautéed them for a few minutes in olive oil.vegThen I threw in as many fresh sliced mushrooms as I could fit in the skillet. Mushrooms mushrooms mushrooms!!!

shroomsOnce everything was soft and slightly glistening I added a cup of rice and browned it just a bit. Then, I transferred the whole jumble into a glass baking dish, and added about two and a half/three cups of water (I just eyeballed it). I also threw in some salt and pepper, a shake of red pepper flakes, and some basil, but you could literally put any spices you wanted in – it’s all a matter of taste! After stirring things up a bit to make sure everything was moistened and the spices were evenly distributed, I covered the dish with a sheet of tin foil and then popped it in the oven at 350 degrees for just a touch over an hour.

before

The result was a tasty, hearty, damn good meal. I pan-fried some tempeh strips and put a few in each of my lunch containers along with the rice, just to get a little more protein in there. So, so, so good. It’s all I’ve been eating!

ricebake

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Food Prep (or, To Err is Human, to Prep, Divine)

There is no such thing as perfection (sorry, Kanye), especially when it comes to regular folk making their way through the world. Look at me for example. Sure, I have a few selling points when it comes to my personality (I’m cute, I’m sweet, I’m good at celebrity trivia), but it is the nature of my species to be flawed, and when it comes to flaws, I’m no different than anyone else. Yes, I cry too much during romantic movies; and okay, I do sometimes think my taste in books (and music, and TV) is superior to that of others; no, I don’t want to share my popcorn with ANYONE when I’m at the movies; and fine, I admit it… I’m lazy.

I consider laziness my most troublesome fault, mainly because in all my encounters with people who are living a healthy, vibrant, vegan lifestyle – the kind of people I long to emulate –  I found these individuals to be highly motivated ‘doers’ who put as much time into their own well being as they do into all other areas of life. One of the places where successful, trim, and energetic people take extra time in their own lives is with the food that they eat. Food, as we’re coming to understand more and more these days, is a game-changer when it comes to our health and wellness. What we consume does more than just satisfy cravings or curb hunger pangs – it affects how our body feels and how it functions, from the tips of our toes to the roots of our hair.

This is where food prep(aration) comes in handy when striving to live a healthful life. Ultimately, food prep allows a person to do as much advanced meal preparation as possible when they have the free time to commit to it so that during the week, when most of us are exhausted by work and family and commitments, there are healthy meal options available that involve little to no energy to get from fridge to table. In the past I have allowed my previous lack of forethought and planning to result in many an unwise food choice, made on a stressful day, when its half past six and I have a desperately empty stomach. This is why the importance of food prep cannot be understated. While I’m sure there are others who can put all this more eloquently, here is my own simple approach:

First, I look at a LOT of recipes. I love recipes. I hoard recipes. I keep a digital folder of yummy-sounding dishes on my computer, and I also collect cookbooks and veggie magazine (like Laika). Then, on the weekend – usually Saturday afternoons – I peruse my collection, flip through the flagged pages of my various sources, and pick out a handful or two of recipes that I either want to try, or have tried before and want to make again.

Next, I whittle my options down by asking myself the following questions:

* what ingredients does the recipe call for that I already have
* what ingredients will I need to purchase
* how much do I have budgeted to spend on groceries for the coming week
* how easy to store/freeze are the recipes
* and lastly, how adventurous do I feel?

Best case scenario, I end up with a few good meal choices that I know I can afford, that I am confident I will enjoy, and that I trust to be nutritionally sound. These foods I decide to make will be in batches large enough to portion out, with half going into the ice box for longevity. A few simple entrees that are easily pulled out of the freezer can be mixed and matched with other easy meals like toasted sandwiches, tossed salads, and quick foods like oatmeal and veggie burgers, to keep your diet varied and appetizing.

Then, I make my grocery list and do the shopping. This step involves getting up off the couch, so its not exactly my favourite part. Don’t forget – it is important to check the contents of your refrigerator and pantry cupboards regularly – not just to get rid of any funky smells or ancient dried goods, but to see what you have, what you can use, and what you need. You might be able to cut a few things off of your grocery list if you find suitable substitutes already in stock. Fortunately, the grocery shopping itself is much more fun that cataloging the contents of one’s kitchen.

groceries

Sundays are usually my cooking day. I take over the kitchen, occupying every square inch of counter space I have, and group my supplies by recipe. I’m no pro at cooking, so when I actually get to preparing my meals, its pretty much guaranteed that a mess will be made.  But that’s okay – its my space, right? And at the end of all the washing, rinsing, cutting, dicing, peeling, simmering, sauteing, and baking, what is a pile of dishes and a dirty counter compared to a ready supply of nutritious meals for the week?

Now, obviously, I’m no expert. I’m just taking things day by day and doing my very best. But, I’ve been finding a lot of success with my eating and diet now that I’ve started paying more attention to fixing and preparing good, hearty foods for meal time, and by doing so in advance..

What are some of your favourite make-ahead meals?

foodprep2

The Clever Rabbit

One of the goals I’ve made for myself for this new year is to invest my money in local restaurants, and to eat only at places that offer vegan options. I cannot change the world, but I can make decisions in my own life that better align with the world I would like to see. An excellent Edmonton restaurant that offers a fully vegan and vegetarian menu is The Clever Rabbit, on 124th street and 107the avenue. I wrote about the eatery for an animal rights newsletter awhile back and upon returning for my second visit I was pleased to find the only thing that had changed was that the place was even more homey and charming than before.

On my first visit to the Clever Rabbit I enjoyed the lentil loaf (which was delicious) and had to fight the urge to get it again; instead, I chose to try the curried lentils with rice. As my side I went with the insanely good homemade tortilla chips and salsa. The curry… let me be honest here… was perfect. I was in heaven after the first bite. I wasn’t so much a fan of the rice (hidden under the curry in the picture below) so after I had demolished the vegetable/chickpea/lentil mixture I used my leftover appetite for the chips.

curry

I strongly recommend this restaurant. It is run by excellent folk, the food is tasty, and the atmosphere welcoming. There is also an almost sinful dessert counter which, while off limits to me right now after a holiday season spent overindulging, will be my first stop on my next visit. Full of cupcakes, nanaimo bars, giant cookies, and donuts – ALL VEGAN, the sweet spread held so much temptation I could barely get myself out of the restaurant empty-handed.

For more information on The Clever Rabbit, you can visit their website here or stop in for a meal you won’t regret at 10722 124th street.

Mongolie Grill

One of my favourite restaurants as a budding vegan is the very veggie-friendly eatery  Mongolie Grill.

The way that Mongolie works is simple: after offering you your choice of soup (wonton, hot & sour, or curry lentil), the server gives you a large bowl; you take your bowl up to the ingredient bar, which borders the large round cooking surface where a group of chefs are busy at work, and you fill your bowl with whatever fresh ingredients you’d like! There is so much to choose from – tons of veggies, noodles, a variety of meats, seafood, peanuts and occasionally tofu.

Next, you add scoops of whichever mixture of sauces you desire (there are about twenty different sauce options) and then a chef takes your bowl, weighs it, and stir-fries your custom meal. The stir-fry is then served to you with your choice of rices (jasmine, coconut, plain white) or, a recent addition, rice noodles. Rice wraps are also offered to you at your table. The cost of the meal is determined by weight, so if it is your first time visiting Mongolie you might want to be a little more conservative with what and how much you fill your bowl. As an added bonus, if your bowl is veggie or vegan you receive a discount!

I visited Mongolie yesterday with my good friend Lisa and in my stir-fry I had baby corn, kale, red onions, a mountain of chickpeas, pineapple, some dried cranberries, broccoli, and mushrooms. For sauces I mixed three scoops of teriyaki sauce with one scoop of Korean peppercorn sauce and one scoop of something else that I have completely forgotten!! All the sauces I chose were fully vegan. There is a chart at the sauce station that lets you know which sauces are vegan, vegetarian, spicy, etc.I used to ask for the steamed white rice to accompany my stir-fry but the last few times I’ve switched to coconut rice and I love it! Coconut rice seems much more moist and flavorful.

Mongolie Grill stir-fry

Mongolie Grill vegan stir-fry

While I’m not sure what the full nutritional information is for my meal (who cares how many calories or how many grams of fat) I know that what I am eating is completely cruelty free and that I don’t need to worry about hidden substances in my food. I also like that there is a small reward for keeping your meal meat-less. I heartily recommend visiting a Mongolie Grill if you are lucky enough to live near one – you won’t be disappointed.

Sunflower

This summer I am taking advantage of the small plot of earth I own that faces the southern sun to actually grow a garden. I selected a small variety of vegetables to plant: onions, broccoli, and tomatoes. Then, because my significant other was adamant about it, we filled in the back of our little triangle-shaped garden with sunflower seeds.

While I’ve been focused on the burgeoning vegetables growing and how my broccoli plant has attracted a pet butterfly I failed to notice just how fast our sunflowers have been growing! I think we may see actual flowers bloom some time in the next couple of weeks.

What is the first thing you planted when you had a bit of earth all to yourself?

Sunflower in July

Sunflower in July