Monday, January 31, 2011

Happy Vegan-niversary to Me!

Today marks the end of my second year as a vegan!  I drove John down to an audition in Providence tonight, and we decided to get a couple of vegan pizzas from Nice Slice.  It's a pizza & sandwich place right near Brown University.  It's not 100% vegan, but they can make practically everything on their menu vegan.

We went with the Phoni Roni and the Philly Cheez Steak.

After the ride back from Rhode Island, the pizza was a little chilly, but it was still very good.  I love to cook pizza at home, but it's also great to be able to get takeout on a busy night when we feel like celebrating.  Being able to get vegan brick oven pizza also reminds me that I'm not missing a single thing without dairy and meat!

Our favorite omni food was pizza, and when we initially went vegetarian, we were eating cheese pizza more than anything else.  It was kind of ironic, since I had initially intended to go veg for health reasons, and there are only a few things less healthy than cheese, especially for lactose-intolerant me.  We decided to give up dairy for a month to see how we responded.  As it turned out, it was the best decision I ever made.  I lost about 35 pounds within the month!  It took longer to completely detoxify, and it was really difficult.  I had an outbreak on my face, not just of pimples but also cold sores and even a boil.  I also got a terrible ear infection that wouldn't respond to treatment.  After three months, I was finally rid of all the terrible effects of a dairy-filled diet, and I have never looked back.  Much like my initial transition to vegetarianism, my transition to veganism started out selfish; I just wanted to improve my health and give myself a little edge over the cardiovascular disease that runs in my family.  But what kept me from backsliding wasn't thinking about myself; it was thinking about animals.  I finally made myself confront what it really means to eat meat or to ingest dairy products and eggs, and once I did that, it became impossible to go back.  There are so many common sense reasons to go vegan, and now that I have 2 years under my belt, I couldn't imagine living my life any other way.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Tale of Two Alfredos

A food that I almost never ate as an omnivore that I have ironically embraced in its vegan form is alfredo.  (Another is mayonnaise.  I guess I am a silken tofu junkie!)  I had fettucine alfredo a few times, always just heated up out of a jar, never made from scratch.  For some reason, after being vegan for about six months, I got a huge craving for this creamy comfort food.  I tried a number of different recipes, but none of them quite hit the spot, and one of them was downright nasty.  So I gave up for a while.  Then, for Christmas 2010, I got the book Vegan Comfort Food by Alicia Simpson  and thought, what the heck, I'll try again.  She has two recipes, and I tried the easier one.  And it was heaven.  Creamy, cheesy, fatty heaven.  It's been our go-to alfredo recipe ever since, and while I don't think any other alfredo will taste quite as good, it's that fatty part that has me concerned.  The recipe calls for 1/2 cup of oil.  Since we usually end up eating half of the recipe each, that means 1/4 cup of oil just in my serving, and that's 400 calories of pure fat.  Now that I am tracking calories and attempting to cut down on added fat, this recipe just doesn't work for me every day.  Does that mean I will give it up completely?  Not on your life!  But maybe now I'll have it twice a year instead of once a month.

I prefer my alfredo sauce over rotini with a lot of pepper.

After making the smart decision to cut back on my alfredo consumption, I was hit with the realization that I would have a pretty hard time giving up on alfredo completely. Fortunately, I have Happy Herbivore's e-cookbook, which features a low fat, oil free alfredo.  I remembered trying it before and thinking it was okay, so I tried it again.  I must have had to adapt or leave out a few ingredients last time, because this time, it turned out to be great! It isn't completely traditional-tasting (one of the ingredients is nutmeg, which I think turned John off it completely), but I thought it was a very good low fat recipe for a creamy, cheesy pasta sauce.  It definitely satisfied my craving for creaminess and nutritional yeast (yes, I crave nutritional yeast; I love the taste!).  I'm not sure if this recipe appears in the new Happy Herbivore cookbook yet (my copy is not in my hands yet),  but there is a similar recipe on her website, if you google "Instant Vegan Alfredo."

Even less guilty with a green salad drizzled with homemade maple-mustard dressing!

The healthier eating and daily exercise is paying off pretty well so far, since I've lost about 6 pounds in a little over a week.  I am getting kind of fatigued with the calorie tracking, because between my job, tracking food, and blogging, I feel like I'm on the computer all day.  But it is definitely worth it to see the numbers on the scale going down, and feel my energy level bursting through the roof, since that is usually far from the case at this time of year when it's dark and cold.  

I'm going to sign off and get cozy for another big snowstorm tonight.  Hope you are all staying warm and enjoying your night!  

Monday, January 24, 2011

Four Fun Facts & Further Falafel

My title might not make much sense, but I had to go for it with the alliteration!

The fantastical Jenny of Vegan And So Forth tagged me with Four Fun Facts.  If you haven't clicked on her in my blog roll yet, please go ahead and do it.  You'll love everything about her and her adorable family.

So here we go!

Four TV Shows I Watch:

I don't watch much current TV, so I would have to take it to the DVD's/Netflix and say:

1.  Star Trek (original series & Next Gen)
2.  Real Time With Bill Maher
3.  True Blood
4.  Sketch comedy (Kids in the Hall, Monty Python, Mr. Show)

Four Things I'm Passionate About:

This is pretty tough to narrow down, because I think I'm a pretty passionate person; annoyingly so, in fact.  My friends are nodding right now...

1.  Veganism......of course!
2.  Traveling, especially to Hawaii or to explore a city I haven't visited yet (I've been to 47 states).
3.  Reading and writing, and Shakespeare
4. Music (listening to it, playing it, singing it, writing it, everything about it)

Four Words/Phrase I Use Too Much 

I had to consult John, and he couldn't think of anything.  I'm usually pretty conscientious about not overusing phrases, but if I fall into any traps, they would be:

1.  In my opinion
2.  Pretty Cool
3.  So.....
4.  Really?

Four Things I've Learned From The Past

1.  Be aware that some people will mistake your kindness for weakness.  Don't expect it from everyone, but understand how to interpret the signs and assert yourself so that you don't get lost.

2.  Most of the time, no one is really thinking about your mistakes as much as you are.  They are too wrapped up in their own.

3.  99% of the things on your to-do list are completely unimportant in comparison to sitting quietly with someone you love and feeling the sun on your face.

4.  The only thing that can stop you from living the life you want to live is you.  If you allow yourself to give up some of that control, you will slowly but surely coast onto the path you were meant to walk.

Four Things I'm Looking Forward To:

1.  SPRING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
2.  Vacation - even just the planning part, which often ends up being just as much fun as the trip itself
3.  Visiting my family in Mississippi this spring/summer
4.  Working on a new video production project with John

Four Things I Love About Winter

Wow, this is just a cruel and unusual question at the moment, considering the possible foot of snow headed toward me, that will be landing on what's already stacked up.

1.  It ends?  Maybe????????
2.  Christmas & my birthday
3.  Winter clothes, I like sweaters much more than t-shirts
4.  Vegan hot cocoa

So (Really?) I will be tagging a couple of other folks who I have been fortunate enough to meet since I started this blog a mere 24 days ago, who have been really supportive and friendly commenters on my blog:  Melody and Laloofah.  Ladies, in my opinion, you are pretty cool.

In other news, I wanted to let you know that I tried the falafel sandwich at Firewood Cafe, a new little restaurant that's only a few blocks from my house.  We were helping some friends move and needed to grab a quick lunch.  Instead of stopping and grabbing a horrendously overpriced sandwich to go from the local health food store, we decided to pop in and compare the Firewood's falafel to some of the others in town.  This restaurant is just getting started, but if their falafel sandwich is any indication, they should be in good shape.  The sandwich is not on the menu (the falafel mentioned is a salad), but they didn't bat an eye when I asked for it.  It's almost like a salad rolled up in a pita, because there's a ton of lettuce involved.  I found that to be a positive, since it was so crisp and fresh.  There's also red onion and tahini sauce, which is nicely not overpowering, as it can often be when people glop it on haphazardly.  The price is very nice, at less than $20 for two of us to have a sandwich, chips, and a soda.  At the moment, their drink and side selection is limited, but we were told that other options are on the way soon, including fries and a BYOB option.

I promise there is some falafel hiding in there somewhere!

This is only half of the sandwich, as I hoovered down the first half instantaneously.  Hey, we were helping people move!  Lots of stairs!  Heavy stuff!  10 degrees out!  Hahaha. Seriously though, totally recommended for an inexpensive, filling meal on a weekend afternoon.  Try it out!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Cooking with What You Have

Today, even though I was standing downtown in the freezing cold for over an hour, I had one of the best, most rewarding experiences I've had in a while.  That's because John & I volunteered today with our local Food Not Bombs chapter to cook and serve free "rescued" food to anyone who wanted some.  The Food Not Bombs movement has independently run local chapters whose purpose is to gather vegan and vegetarian food that would otherwise be thrown away, prepare it, and serve it to the public.  John has always liked volunteering to feed people, and with how much I love to cook, it was a natural fit for me as well, but it was also a heck of a unique experience!

The Worcester group seems to have recently experienced a change in members, so it ended up that John and myself, along with the group leader Julia, were the whole group (at least today).  We showed up at noon to see what we had to cook with.  I sometimes cook at home based on what I have hanging around, especially when making a tofu scramble or a stir fry, but this was definitely my first experience with having such a specific and limited range of ingredients to work from, and my first time to make such a huge serving size.  I'm usually cooking just for two, and maybe making enough for four so I can have leftovers. We had about 8 eggplants, 10 yellow squash, a great deal of baby bok choy, a package of mushrooms, and some tomatoes.  Julia and her housemates also had a great variety of spices and other staples like oil and soy sauce to work with as well.  Based on what we had, we decided to do a stir fry.  I taught John how to chop squash, and he did a great job (seriously, he was a champ!) manning the two stir fry skillets.  We had to use a third pot since we had so many veggies, so I decided to add all the tomatoes to that pot and make a kind of curry soup.  (Sorry, iPhone pics again...)

Veggie Stir Fry - This started in two pans and cooked down to one

Curry Soup

Both dishes plus brown rice - pay no attention to the grilled cheese in the foreground -- not for us!

The curry soup started out as more of a riff on ratatouille, but about halfway through, after looking at the spices, I decided to go Indian instead.  It turned out to be a big hit with John, and I was happy we made a soup since it was so cold, and the people on the street were very excited about it.   The other challenge I didn't mention, which turned out to be my favorite thing of all, is that we cooked all of this on a wood-burning stove!  It was challenging, but so much fun to cook the old-fashioned way!  We also had bags of oranges and some bread that we gave out as well.

At the moment, the main challenge for Food Not Bombs Worcester is to get people out to eat the food.  Although we were able to serve quite a few meals (and we got rid of all our oranges and bread), we still had a good bit of soup and stir fry veggies left over.  However, with the cold today, we still considered it a great success.  John and I will definitely be volunteering again, and hopefully going forward we can get more consistent with when and where we serve food so that we can get more people out to eat.  If anyone in the Worcester area (of like the two of you who read my blog, haha) is interested in volunteering, let me know.  We plan to try to make and serve these meals every other Saturday, more than likely somewhere on Main Street until spring comes.  Next time, I will post as soon as I have more info so any of you who wants to can come on down and eat!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Snobby Joe Kind of Day

When I left the house to go to work this morning, I was pretty happy that the roads didn't look too terrible, considering we got freezing rain from yesterday afternoon until early this morning.  My driveway, on the other hand, was a different story.  It was a total ice rink! Fortunately, after a few tries, I was able to get the car out into the street, and I managed to do it without killing (or maiming) a pedestrian or causing an accident.  After the big storms that we've had two weeks in a row, with no melting time in between, the shoveled snow is piled up on either side of the driveway over 5 feet high.  Then I hear that we are supposed to get another foot of snow on Friday.  UGH.  I am not a winter person even when it's just cold and the ground is clear, but these types of winters, where you're taking your life into your hands every time you go to work, really do bad things to me.  I get the blahs something awful.

In addition, I'm team captain of a healthy eating/weight loss challenge at work, so I've been getting into a new routine with eating and exercising.  I guess since I'm the vegan, I'm a natural choice to lead the team toward healthier eating (and believe me, I'm pushing plant-based meals; I like to convert through delicious food since I don't want to bring politics to work--just wouldn't be a great idea at my job), but over the winter so far, I've been more of a baked goods and convenient, quick meals vegan than an oil-free whole foods vegan.  I know most people choose to make their dietary changes on New Year's Day, but since my birthday is on January 3, I like to postpone any food-related resolutions until later in the month.  So this challenge is well-timed for me in that respect, but in another way, it's not perfect, because with this kind of weather, all I want to do is eat cookies and curl up in bed, not work out and cook healthy meals.  So tonight, I tried to compromise.

I was definitely in a sandwich mood, and I was thinking about some type of burger-style food, but none of the recipes I was finding were appealing to me, so I decided to go with the Snobby Joes from Veganomicon, aka the vegan bible.  It seemed like a good choice, because it's comforting and super-delicious, and even better news for you, the recipe is online here:  So you can try it yourself!  I made a couple of changes, using brown lentils instead of green, and eliminating the oil to lower the calories & fat (by sauteeing the onion & pepper in water).  Otherwise, there's not much reason to change something that is working so well.

Those are some sexy sweet potatoes in the front, dry roasted with salt, pepper & garlic powder

Although this wasn't a dinner I could curl up in bed with (lentils in the bed doesn't sound like a good time, but I guess I have some friends who would disagree--you know who you are!), it certainly hit the spot.  It felt like a guilty pleasure, but there was nothing to be guilty about!

To those of you who are in the central Massachusetts area, stay warm and be safe on the road.  The life you save may be mine!  To those of you elsewhere, please be appreciative that you are elsewhere.  As for me, I'm going to keep exercising and trying to eat good mood food, because even I am getting tired of my miserable attitude!  ;-)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Tofu Veggie Stir Fry

Most of the time, I try to grocery shop with a fairly solid menu plan in mind.  I like to buy veggies that can easily fit into a number of dishes so that I can stretch my budget while still having a variety of meals.  I have tried to do the "make a big pot of soup and eat it all week" thing, but I get bored easily, and John is even worse.  So instead, I am trying to make a couple of pots of different types of beans on Sunday (last week it was Tuesday) and use them throughout the week for different meals.  For example, this week, I did chickpeas and black beans.  The black beans made their way into a bunch of burritos, and a portion of the chickpeas went into the "tuna" salad, and I'll finish the rest tomorrow night.  

So all that is by way of saying, occasionally, I will see something that looks really good and get sidetracked, both in the grocery store and on my blog, apparently!  Last week, it was a napa cabbage.  I saw a really good one, and it made me want to cook up a veggie-packed stir fry.  I got it home and put it away, and then I promptly forgot about it for about 7 days.  I thought about it yesterday and realized it was about to be unusable, so tonight, it was stir fry time.  I am putting together my recipe here, but I would suggest using whatever veggies you have on hand that would hold up well in a stir fry.  

Tofu Veggie Stir Fry

1 tbsp canola oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped into half moon slices
1 medium bell pepper, chopped
3/4 cup carrots, peeled and sliced on the bias
1 cup sliced cremini mushrooms
4 cups napa or other cabbage
4 cloves crushed garlic
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tbsp red pepper flakes (more or less depending on your preference for heat)
1 block firm tofu, pressed and cubed
1/3 cup soy sauce or tamari
2 tbsp sugar or agave nectar
Garlic powder, salt, and pepper to taste
Toasted sesame seeds and additional red pepper flakes for garnish

In large skillet or wok, heat oil over medium heat.  Add vegetables to pan in order listed, stirring for 30 seconds to a minute between.  After cabbage has been added, add garlic, ginger, and red pepper flakes and stir fry until cabbage has reduced by at least half.  Add tofu cubes and mix with vegetables until heated.   Pour in soy sauce and sugar and mix well.  Continue to fry for several more minutes until cabbage has reduced in half again.  Add other spices to taste.  Serve over cooked brown rice and garnish with toasted sesame seeds and red pepper flakes if desired.

Eat with chopsticks if you have them!

This made enough for us to have a couple of bowls each, and I'm going to make a teriyaki tofu burrito with the rest for lunch tomorrow.

On a very different note, please take some time today to honor the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr. in whatever way seems most appropriate to you.  He was truly a great man and someone who was lost far too soon.  Interestingly, Martin Luther King, Jr. has a connection to veganism.  His son Dexter Scott King and his widow Coretta Scott King applied his philosophy of non-violence to animals, and both became vegans, he for more than twenty years and she for more than ten before her death.  Please enjoy some quotes below from this truly inspirational civil rights champion and philosopher of peace.  His words are just as powerful and appropriate today as they were when they were spoken over 40 years ago.


Martin Luther King, Jr.
January 15, 1929 - April 4, 1968

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."

"A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom."

"An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity. "

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. "

"He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it."

"I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. "

"Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him."

"Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality. "

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Vegan "Tuna" Salad

One of the things I thought I would miss after going vegan was tuna sandwiches. Fortunately, there is a vegan substitute that is just as delicious and, unlike tuna fish salad, which I grew up erroneously believing to be a health food, the vegan version is actually not that bad for you.

There are a ton of vegan "tuna" salad recipes out there on the internet, and I've tried quite a few different variations, but for me, they were all missing something.  I grew up on tuna salad with chopped boiled eggs in it, which I guess is a regional thing, and that was the flavor I have been missing.  So since I have been cooking with black salt quite a bit lately, I decided to add it to my mock tuna salad, and it worked!

Vegan "Tuna" Salad

1.5 cups cooked chickpeas (if canned, drain & rinse)
1 tbsp vegan mayonnaise (I use Vegenaise, but Nayonnaise could work just as well)
1 tsp mustard
2 tbsp sweet pickle relish
3 generous pinches black salt (Kala Namak - salt with a sulfurous smell/taste; can be purchased in some health food stores or online)
1/2 tsp kelp powder (optional)

Using a fork, coarsely mash chickpeas.  It is okay to leave a few chickpeas whole, as it gives the mixture a nice texture.  Add remaining ingredients and mix well.  Serve on a sandwich, over lettuce, or even alone, if you like.  Makes about 3 servings.

I'm a sandwich girl myself.  I usually add tomato right before eating.

If you didn't grow up on the tuna & egg salad like me, then you could use the basic mashed chickpeas and vegan mayo and customize it to your own taste, by adding chopped celery or other ingredients that say "tuna salad" to you.  Whatever your veggie add-ins, you will be avoiding the problems with the original, like mercury-laden tuna and eggy, fatty mayo, while still getting a delicious, high protein lunch.  

Hope everyone had a wonderful weekend and that most of you are off tomorrow.  I'm not, but at least I'll be earning a floating holiday and having a fantastic sandwich!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Sahara Restaurant

For Christmas this year, my work team got me a gift certificate to Sahara Restaurant, a Lebanese place on Highland Street in Worcester.  What can I say--they know what I like! Not to mention, they are fantastic people, and they are the main reason I consider myself to have a pretty decent job.

Before I went vegan, I was the most boring person on the planet as far as food is concerned, and John was too.  We used to eat at your standard American type places: burgers, fries, deep fried appetizers, etc.  We did occasionally get Indian or Chinese, but these trips were more the exception than the rule.  Now that we eat plant-based, we have opened ourselves up to ethnic foods a lot more, and it has been great.  John's definite favorite is Indian food; he would eat samosas for every meal!  I love Indian too, and we both enjoy African as well, but my favorite has to be Middle Eastern.  I am a bean fiend, and no chickpea is safe in my presence, so it's the perfect cuisine for me.  

This past week, we decided to use our gift certificate to go to Sahara for an early dinner. Because I always get the falafel sandwich, earlier is better, because after 5 PM, the sandwiches get more expensive (you have to pay a fairly exorbitant markup for a salad, which is pretty standard around here at the other Lebanese places as well).  Apologies for the iPhone pictures; we headed straight to the restaurant after John picked me up from work, so I forgot the camera.  I would probably call this meal bean overload for most people, but for me, it was heaven.

We started with the falafel appetizer as well as a plate of hummus with ful mudammas, which is a fava bean and chickpea mixture with lemon, garlic, tomato, onion and parsley. So to recap, fried bean balls and bean dip with beans on top.

Falafel appetizer with tahini sauce

Hummus with Ful Mudammas

For our meals, John probably wisely decided to break up the bean party by ordering the vegetarian Sheik El Mishi (this is their spelling on the menu; I've seen it called El Mashi elsewhere), which is an eggplant and tomato sauce dish, delicately spiced and served over rice pilaf.

This smile says, please take the picture so I can eat.  :)

I, on the other hand, have no concept of too much of a good thing, so I got my falafel sandwich, served with garlicky pita chips.

Falafel rolled in flatbread with lettuce, tomato, tahini sauce, and mixed pickle

As if you hadn't realized this already, I am a huge falafel fan, and I will try it from everyone to see how it measures up.  At the moment, Sahara's falafel is the standard by which all others are measured.  It's super crispy (I think it's twice fried, so it's also probably super-unhealthy, but I'm not going to a restaurant for health food usually), and it tastes just right to me.  It's great on its own and in the sandwich, depending on your taste.  I love the sandwich because it contains the mixed pickle, which I asked about, and was told it's a homemade pickle made of turnips and a beet thrown in, which gives it that beautiful pink color.  The pickled turnip just sets it right over the edge.  El Basha and Fantastic's Pizza--also in Worcester--do serve excellent falafel, and I have heard (from my similarly falafel-addicted friend Pam) that a new contender has just shown up on the scene, with the opening of Firewood Cafe, so I am looking forward to trying it as well.  So far though, Sahara just does it for me.  

So, the food at Sahara is a definite recommend.  Beyond the meal we had this time, other veggie options include the Mixed Vegetable Saute entree and the Vegetarian Platter, where you can combine a number of the veggie appetizers to make a meal, including the delicious stuffed grape leaves.  (It's not on the menu, but if you ask, your server will get them to make you a grape leaves entree.)  It's got a nice atmosphere as well, the folks who work there are pleasant and friendly, and it has its own parking lot, which is kind of a big deal on Highland Street, since there is limited street parking in the area.  The major drawback is price, as I do find Sahara to be on the expensive side, especially if you add beer or wine to your meal.  It's not a place we would go to every month, but it is nice for a special occasion, when you are in the mood to splurge a bit, both on calories and money.  They sometimes have live music, which makes your dinner an even more special experience, so if you can, plan to visit on one of those nights.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Necessito Burrito!

Do you remember the commercials with the Taco Bell dog?  I love chihuahuas, so I liked them, even though they did get old.  I do not, however, love Taco Bell, and never really did.  Mexican food is great, but I don't know if Taco Bell really qualifies, and with menu items like "Beefy Cheesy Burritos," I would rather stay as far away as possible, even if they are one of the only fast food places you can get something vegan (special ordered of course).  We travel a good bit, so for us, a much better option for food on the go (when we run out of what we packed) is the new places like Chipotle, Boloco, and Moe's that have been popping up a lot lately.  We have a couple of Moe's (Moe's'?  How do you pluralize that?) around here, and it's also a nice option when we want to go out with our non-vegan friends (and I'm talking about you, Wayne & Loraine).  We generally go for the big burritos, with rice, beans, grilled veggies, salsa & guac.  So I decided to try my hand at making these at home.  I was looking to get the same type of taste, but with a little bit of a better nutrition quotient.  Here is what I came up with:

"Jo's" Burritos

(makes about 3 giant burritos)

3 large tortillas (like 12"+)
1/2 cup non-dairy cheddar cheese
2 cups brown rice, cooked
2 cups spicy black beans, cooked (see note)
2 cups sauteed veggies (such as onions, red peppers, mushrooms, olives)

Note:  For my beans, I used a couple of cups of cooked beans (canned would also be fine), simmered until warm with chile powder, salt, pepper, and roasted red pepper flakes to taste.

1.  Grab a GINORMOUS tortilla.

2.  Sprinkle 1/3 of the cheese on each tortilla.

3.  Spoon on 1/3 of rice and 1/3 of beans.

4.  Spoon on 1/3 of veggie mixture.

 5.  Top with guacamole (your own, or store bought, if you are lazy and/or can't find good avocados, like me).

6.  And add some salsa.

7.  Roll up as illustrated below:

8.  Enjoy your huge burrito!  

Feel free to add tofu sour cream and fresh tomatoes and lettuce, if you like as well.  I don't know if that would have fit in ours.  They were about to pop!  But the tortillas were very sturdy, which prevented it from being knife & fork food.

I call them Jo's, because that was one of my nicknames growing up (among others like Gee and Georgie).  Between my mom, my sisters and me, we would come up with all kinds of names to call each other besides our actual names (nice ones, I mean, for the most part anyway!).  Somehow, I was called Jo-ja and then Jojo, and then Jo, which I was happy about because I wanted to be a writer like Jo in Little Women.  I got off really easy with Jo, based on the first syllable of my name, compared to my sister Astra.  I think you can see where I'm going with that!  :)  

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Quick Snack

Just popping in quickly today to post about a tea time snack I made the other day.  John used to be a big fan of the chocolate chip muffin from Dunkin' Donuts, in theory at least.  Generally when he would get one, it wouldn't be as good as he hoped, and instead would be dry and crumbly.  When we started flirting with the idea of veganism, I bought a couple of cookbooks to try out some recipes, and one of them was How It All Vegan by Tanya Barnard and Sarah Kramer.  It seemed like the authors were a lot of fun, and the ingredients were pretty much normal, so I felt like it would be achievable.  The first recipe I picked was the Chocolate Chip Bars, which turned out to be the perfect replacement for chocolate chip muffins, and much more dependably delicious than Dunkin' Donuts.

Sorry for the red tint - low light situation going on here and the tablecloth took over.

These make a great little snack with a cup of tea, or a light breakfast on the go.  I make them with part whole wheat pastry flour to try to up the nutritional profile a bit, and I'd like to try replacing the added fat with applesauce or banana.  I do think the recipe should actually be called Chocolate Chip Muffin Cake, because the texture comes out much more cakey than fudgy, which is not what I would have expected with bars.  The recipe isn't available online, so I can't reprint it here, but I do recommend checking out Barnard & Kramer's book (and their follow up The Garden of Vegan), as both contain a lot of easy, tasty recipes that use ingredients you probably already have on hand, and the ladies are chock-full of personality, which makes the books more fun to read.  You may even be able to find these books at your local library, so don't forget to use that as a resource!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Vegan Sunday Brunch

It's funny to think about it now, since weekend brunches are something I look forward to all week, but the meal I was most puzzled about as a prospective new vegan was breakfast.  I could see myself functioning without bacon or sausage, since I was never a pork enthusiast anyway, but I couldn't for the life of me imagine what I would be starting my day with if it wasn't eggs.  In addition, pretty much any other breakfast staple I liked, such as french toast or pancakes, generally included eggs or dairy among their ingredients.  As it turns out, the many genius vegans who have paved the way for me have found a way to veganize just about any food, so french toast and pancakes are a snap with a few substitutions.  And eggs are not as hard to replace as I thought they would be, thanks to the tofu scramble.  Probably every vegan has their favorite way to prepare this staple, and mine is certainly not revolutionary in any way, but I thought it would be a good thing to share, especially with my non-veg readers who are slightly mystified by tofu, much as I was a little over two years ago.  If I was teaching a class called "Introduction to Tofu," this would be my first assignment.

Georgia's Tofu Scramble:  A Photo Essay

 Scramble Ingredients:
1 medium onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced
3/4 cup sliced mushrooms
1 small tomato, diced
1 block of firm tofu, lightly squeezed to remove water
1 tbsp Earth Balance margarine
Spices of choice:  black salt*, pepper, oregano, turmeric**, garlic powder, chile powder, red pepper flakes, nutritional yeast

*Black salt is a natural salt that contains additional minerals that give an eggy taste.  On its own, its taste exactly mimics boiled eggs.  Added to a scramble, it adds saltiness as well as a slight egginess.
**Turmeric is necessary here to naturally add yellow coloring to the tofu.  Its health benefits make it excellent for other reasons as well.

1.  Melt margarine in skillet over medium heat.  Saute onions and peppers until onions begin to turn translucent.

 2.  Add mushrooms and continue to saute, lowering heat slightly if onions are cooking too quickly

(Don't be alarmed if a mushroom accidentally falls into your mouth.)

3.  When mushrooms have started to brown, add tomatoes and stir several times, just to get slightly heated.

4.  Move veggies to one side, and add tofu block to pan.

5.  Break tofu block apart with spoon.  Should be in bite size pieces, but left slightly chunky, mimicking texture of scrambled eggs.

 6.  Add spices in desired quantities to tofu.  (I would recommend a couple pinches of each herb or spice listed above.)  Stir together with veggies and continue to cook over medium/low heat for five minutes, until spices are incorporated and mixture is heated through but not browned.

7.  Serve and enjoy.  Makes about 3 large servings.  Goes perfectly with breakfast potatoes and vegan-buttered toast.

As with my chili recipe, this tofu scramble is very open to substitutions and changes, depending on what you have on hand.  Sometimes I add kalamata olives, minced garlic cloves, or a handful of spinach.  Either way, it's a delicious and filling breakfast, and unlike its scrambled egg counterpart, if you have leftovers, you can refrigerate and eat it later, because it tastes just as good reheated.  It's also cholesterol free and much lower in saturated fat, so your heart will be just as happy as your tummy!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Turning Convenience Food into Comfort Food

So I didn't really intend to go all Sandra Lee Semi-Homemade on you tonight, but that is what I ended up doing for dinner, so here we go.  Truth be told, although I don't have a lot of respect for someone who uses that amount of processed food on her television show, I can see that this is something that a lot of folks probably do need to do in their everyday lives.  I am kid-free (by choice, maybe not permanently), pet-free (because of allergies), and I only have a 40-hour a week office job that I generally leave at the office, and there are still a lot of days when I end up depending on something from a can or a jar, so those of you who have additional challenges have a lot of sympathy from me.  We had a bit of a busy day today, ate a late breakfast, went back to the record store (someone in this house has a problem, and it's obviously catching because I'm getting infected too), went to three different grocery stores plus one liquor store, and once we got home, I had a pile of dishes to do before I could even cook.  So by the time I got started on dinner, it wasn't going to be something super-gourmet.  That's what Sundays are for!  But we did have something delicious and mostly home-cooked that really hit the spot on this snowy night: pasta & salad, dressed up just a little.

For the salad, I just used romaine, shredded carrots, and what passes for a tomato in New England in January.  John likes his salad dry and dressing is expensive, so I tried making my own tahini-lemon dressing.  It didn't turn out as well as I'd hoped, so I'll post another time after it's been tweaked.  It worked well enough for me tonight though.  Cracked a bottle of Red Truck red wine (they aren't paying me, I just really like their wine, both the taste and the $7 price tag), I cooked a pound of rotini according to package directions, and tossed it with the following sauce.

Georgia's Semi-Homemade Marinara

1/2 large or 1 medium onion, diced
1 small green bell pepper, diced
3/4 cup sliced mushrooms (cremini or white button)
10 meatless meatballs (I used Trader Joe's)
1 jar pre-made pasta sauce of your choice (I used Muir Glen Cabernet Marinara)
1 pound pasta, cooked
Nutritional yeast (optional)

Spray skillet with small amount of oil or use water to saute onion and pepper over medium heat.  In the meantime, place meatballs in large saucepan.  Cover with pasta sauce, then fill empty jar halfway with water.  Place lid on and shake to get remaining sauce off lid and jar.  Pour sauce-water into saucepan, and stir.  Turn heat to medium to bring sauce to a simmer.  Back in the skillet, add mushrooms and saute until onions are translucent and mushrooms have browned and begun to shrink.  Add onion, mushroom, and pepper mixture to sauce and turn heat to low.  Simmer on low heat for 10 minutes.  Toss with prepared pasta, and serve with a sprinkling of nutritional yeast, if desired.  Makes 6 servings.

Once again, a ton of leftovers, which we will probably eat for lunch tomorrow, or I will take to lunch early next week, since we still have chili from the other night, yay!  All in all, a great day.  I scored a Crowded House 45 single at the record store today.

Those of you who know me well are laughing.  I've been a mega Crowded House fan since I heard "Don't Dream It's Over" in the miniseries of Stephen King's The Stand when it was on TV back in the mid-nineties.  And I probably have 42 copies of "Something So Strong" already on different formats, but this one is a 45 single and it has "I Walk Away" as a B-side!  So it was worth a buck. (Told you I was catching the vinyl bug!)  If you haven't had dessert yet, go make a peanut butter banana smoothie in honor of Elvis's birthday today.

Elvis Smoothie

1 medium banana, frozen
1 tbsp natural peanut butter
3/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk (or other non-dairy milk of your choice)

Combine all ingredients and blend in high-speed blender until completely mixed. Depending on the sweetness of your banana, peanut butter, and non-dairy milk, you may need to sweeten to taste and re-blend.  I recommend stevia or agave nectar.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

"Modular" Chili

Tonight for dinner, I made one of my favorite standby dishes for a busy night.  John and I both love chili any time of year, but in the winter, it's extra special because it's such a warming dish, and considering how chilly it was today, we needed it.  The reason I call it "modular" is because you can basically use a variety of ingredients depending on what you have on hand, and it always comes out good. As long as you have some amount of canned tomatoes, cooked beans, and basic chili spices, you are good to go.  Sauteed fresh veggies are also a good addition, as well as TVP or soy crumbles.  Then once you have it cooked, you can serve over baked potatoes, with tortilla chips, or just plain in the bowl, with Tofutti sour cream and vegan cheese, if you like.

My recipe from tonight follows below, but I strongly encourage you to make like a jazz musician and improvise.  I will only give approximations of the spices I used, because I don't really measure.

Three Bean Chili with TVP, Onion & Pepper

5 cups of mixed beans (red kidney, black, and pinto beans prepared from dried, pre-soaked and simmered with kombu*)
2-14 oz. cans of fire roasted tomatoes
1/2 cup TVP
1/2 medium onion, diced
1/2 large green bell pepper, diced
2 tsp pepper
2 tsp chile powder
2 pinches oregano
Dash garlic powder
1 tsp salt
Additional salt & pepper to taste

Remove kombu from bean mixture after beans have reached desired softness.  Mix in canned tomatoes and bring back to a simmer.  Mixture should not be soupy, but should not be too chunky either.  Add a cup of water if it seems too dry.  Once a simmer is achieved, add TVP to rehydrate in liquid.  Continue to simmer for 10 minutes.  In the meantime, heat 1/4 cup water over medium heat in a small skillet.  Add diced onion and bell pepper and saute until tender crisp, about 5 minutes.  Add onion and pepper to tomato and bean mixture and incorporate.  Add remaining ingredients and continue to simmer for the remaining 5 minutes.  Serve with Daiya vegan cheese and blue corn tortilla chips.

*Kombu is also known as kelp.  It adds some minerals to the beans and is rumored to aid in their digestibility.  You can buy it in dried packages in health food stores.

Another positive that I haven't mentioned yet is that after both of us had a good-sized bowl for dinner, there is still more than a quart left.  And it tastes better after the flavors have had time to soak in overnight!  I made it on a Thursday, but I highly recommend making this on a weekend so that you can take it to work for lunch a few times throughout the week.  It's an easy way to make sure you have a healthy, filling lunch on hand.  I am the farthest thing from a morning person, so having food that's ready to go out the door with me at 6:30 AM is a huge deal.  Happy eating!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Me & My Cookbooks, plus Red Lentil Artichoke Stew

OK, so I may have a slight vegan cookbook addiction.

This is pretty much all the vegan ones, not counting e-books.

This was definitely a post-vegetarian development.  Before November 2008, I had about 6 cookbooks, and I thought I was overloaded.  Now, I have around 27 vegan only cookbooks, plus 3 vegetarian, plus a few others that are omni but have a large vegan (or veganizable) selection of recipes.  This is also not to mention the myriad of absolutely phenomenal bloggers who are out there putting out great recipes, sometimes daily.  Some of them do have cookbooks out, or coming out (for example, I can guarantee that my next purchase will be The Happy Herbivore Cookbook by Lindsay Nixon of, due out this month), but some of them don't, and you really need to explore the world of vegan blogging.  I have to admit I have only been a lurker and haven't commented (I am surprisingly internet-shy), but these people are my heroes!

Tonight's recipe is something I originally found in a flyer at Whole Foods about recipes under $40, all of which happened to be vegan.  It also appears in my newest acquisition, The Vegan Table, by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.  Although I made quite a few changes, I am not comfortable including the actual recipe (I'd rather err on the side of not stealing), but I did find another adapted recipe on another site that is practically the same, so I will link to it and tell you my changes.  Here is the link:  Red Lentil Artichoke Stew.

The spices in the recipe seemed to give more of a Middle Eastern or Indian flair to the dish, but I decided to go more Italian.  My changes:
  • I am not a cumin fan, so instead of several teaspoonsful, I only added a dash.  
  • I eliminated the coriander.
  • I added about a teaspoon of basil.
  • I added a dash of oregano (would have been more, but I ran out.  I am an oregano maniac.)
  • For the salt/pepper to taste, I went with no salt (plenty from the tomatoes & artichokes) and added about 1/2 tsp of pepper.  
  • I increased the red pepper flakes to 1/2 tsp.
Another quick note is that at the beginning, the onion should be sauteed in a bit of water.  This eliminates any need for oil, which is a great bonus, making this a low fat, high protein, whole food meal.  I served over brown rice, and we had a few glasses of Green Truck white wine, which I would highly recommend.  It's organic and vegan, and John said it's his favorite white wine ever.  Usually my heart belongs to red, but for this meal, the white was a nice match.  I don't know anything about wine pairing though, so don't kill me if I sound like an idiot.

This was SO GOOD.  Like, go make it now, in other words.  The great thing was, most everything was already in my pantry.  I had to go buy a lemon for the juice, but that wasn't a big deal.  We had a nice big portion each, and even with that, we both have enough for lunch tomorrow.

I am headed back to work tomorrow.  (GROSS.)   I have to say, it has been so wonderful to be off at the first of the year, starting things off right and having plenty of time to relax but still be able to devote time to my new project and to myself.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Susty's Cafe

Although we are extremely lucky to have so many options for vegan dining out here in Worcester, I am always looking for something new.  This doesn't mean we don't have our favorites (this means you, Tortilla Sam's), but on days when it's a special occasion, or we just have extra time, we like to venture out further to find something different, and if possible, something completely vegan.  Contrary to popular belief, it's not difficult to find something we can eat and will enjoy at pretty much any restaurant, but it's also nice to be able to pick out anything on the menu without worrying if it is going to upset our stomachs--or our ethics, since John & I are vegan for the animals as much as we are vegan for our health.  I will post more about that soon, since I imagine quite a few people who know me "in real life" are curious as to why I decided to make this lifestyle change almost 2 years ago.

At any rate, my search for a new place to eat my birthday dinner yesterday led us to Northwood, New Hampshire to Susty's Cafe.  The menu at Susty's describes the cafe as 100% vegan and 99% organic.  We were happy to walk in and find it warm and inviting, and one of the people working there came out and welcomed us and invited us to sit anywhere.  It was not busy at all; in fact, we were the only customers there the entire time.  Here's what we ate:

 Nachos with black beans, cheezy sauce, tomato, & avocado

This appetizer was devoured instantly.  John & I both love Mexican, and this was spiced so delicately and perfectly that it was the perfect start to our meal.  

When it came to our entrees, we both were thinking comfort food.  The weather is not as bad as it could be up here, but it is dark out and kind of chilly, so we were all about eating something warm that would stick to our ribs.  John opted for the Roasted Seitan Plate, and I went with the Shepherd's Pie.  I got a side salad with mine, but I accidentally inhaled it before I remembered to take a picture.  The veggies were so fresh and delicious!  According to the woman who seated us, who I am assuming was the owner, the restaurant has a good relationship with a local farmer, so a good portion of the food they serve is local and as fresh as can be.  The salad was simply mixed greens and shredded carrots with a cucumber slice (which I gave away -- I can't stand cucumbers!  I know I'm weird.), and I opted for a lemon-tahini dressing.  I blame the dressing as the reason I forgot to take a picture.  I can't be trusted around tahini!  Here are our entree plates:

 Shepherd's Pie - Seitan chunks, corn, peas, and savory gravy with mashed potato topping

Roasted Seitan Plate - Seitan slices, mashed potatoes, gravy, carrots and kale

This was by far the most fantastic seitan I have ever had, and that includes a seitan piccata that John had at Candle 79.  It was very similar in both taste and texture to pot roast.  Susty's offers classes on a variety of different subjects, and this made me wish I could go to the seitan class!  I have never made it myself at home, so I am a little intimidated.  Alas, their classes seem to be on weekdays, unfortunately.  So I will be making homemade seitan someday soon, and whether it's good or bad, I'll blog it!  For those of you unaware of what exactly seitan is, it is also called "wheat meat," and it is a high protein, "meaty" substance made out of wheat gluten.  It makes a good meat stand-in in many dishes, much like tofu.  I will acknowledge that it does sound kind of weird, but it's actually really good, and it has a long culinary history in other cultures.

I couldn't have a birthday meal without dessert, and there were quite a few options, which was another positive, since dessert is usually a big no-no at regular restaurants (since almost anything includes dairy and/or eggs).  I went with apple pie, and John had strawberry cake with strawberry icing.

Not too sweet, not too small, not too big.  Just right!

John was in heaven eating this cake.  He's a strawberry maniac!

In the end, we were extremely satisfied with our visit to this little restaurant.  The people working there were wonderful, the atmosphere was warm and cozy, and the food was top notch.  Portion-wise, it was just enough that we felt full but not stuffed, and we were able to have a variety of food.  The price was a little on the high side, but you are getting what you are paying for, and with the caliber of food we were eating, it was worthwhile.  We didn't have anything to drink beyond the complimentary water, so that could up the price a bit, but for our appetizer, entrees and desserts, the bill was $51 plus tip.  We can certainly eat cheaper at other places, but certainly not this well.  

I would highly recommend Susty's Cafe to anyone, whether vegan or not.  It's the kind of place that feeds your soul as well as it feeds your belly, and this day in age, when it's second nature of so many of us to just run by Dunkin' Donuts for breakfast and McDonald's for lunch, eating real food grown and prepared by real people is more important than ever.

See Susty's Cafe website, including their menu and cooking class schedule here:  Susty's Cafe

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Simple Food Day

Last night we decided we would go to an early show of "True Grit" today.  Yesterday I had made tofu scramble and home fries for breakfast, so today, I went the other direction and made Maple Pecan Waffles out of the book 1000 Vegan Recipes.  It was only my second time using the waffle iron I got on black Friday, and they turned out great.  I undercooked a couple to freeze and then toast later.  Hopefully that will work out.

We went to the movie around 1.  It was pretty good.  Not our favorite Coen brothers thing ever, but I think most of the time, their movies have to grow on me.  The only exceptions were "Blood Simple" and "Raising Arizona," both of which I loved immediately.  There was some good acting, especially Matt Damon, who I am liking more as he gets older.  I can't say I have been much of a fan up until this year.  

When we got home, we were both starving and I had a headache, so it was very important to make something quick and easy.  I bought some gigantic tortillas the other day, thinking of making big ol' burritos a la Moe's or Chipotle, and I noticed I also had some cheddar-style Daiya (for you non-vegans, Daiya is the new vegan wonder-cheeze; I'll post more about it another time).  So quesadillas seemed like a good idea.  I sauteed up some mushrooms & onions and included them so I could say I had some veggies today.

I served these up with some salsa and Tofutti Better Than Sour Cream.  They were great!  I think next time I probably would add a bell pepper and some extra heat from red pepper flakes or cayenne, but this was a great meal to eat in a pinch.

Hooray for finger food!

We spent the rest of the afternoon listening to some records we scored at Newbury Comics Norwood yesterday, using John's Christmas gift card.  We got 9 records for $9, most of which were in decent shape!  Some other stuff that was more expensive too, but it was worth it.  It's supposed to be a bit snowy tonight, so I am going to go make barbecue tofu and mashed potatoes, maybe with some spinach or broccoli so I will have eaten something green today, and then try to go to bed so I am rested for tomorrow.  Tomorrow at 10:06 AM CST, I will turn 33!  So we have some birthday plans in store, including a trip to New Hampshire to try a vegan restaurant we haven't been to yet.  Excited!