Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What the BULK?!?!? Storing and Cooking bulk grains.

We tend to eat what we see and what is fast and easy to grab, right? I understand! Knowing this, one of the things I've done in my pantry is fill some nice plastic bins (glass mason jars are great too!) with whole grains like millet, cous cous, bulgar wheat, brown rice, oats and I have them front and center!

And something I've done is label them (label makers are too much fun and run about $20!)
with the cooking instructions right on the bin. That way, cooking up these grains is a snap. By the way, the brown rice always cooks for 45-50 minutes.




Can we just pause and consider how awesome it is that this whole wheat cous cous (from Whole Foods) takes ONE minute to make. One minute! Boil for one and then rest for five. That's it!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Vegan: It's not what you take away, it's what you ADD.

As you probably know by now, the "plant strong" lifestyle is something I've been living since August 2011. About two weeks into it, I realized it would be a journey that would last a lifetime. Once you get a taste of how great you can feel (both physically and mentally!) you realize that a big part of good health is maintaining that balance between body and soul. And when you find that balance, it feels rather DIVINE. I'm not saying I've got it all figured out, but I'm on the right path.


As a veganmama one of the questions I get a lot is, "Don't you miss [fill in the blank: ice cream, coffee with cream, butter on bread, cheese]?" My honest answer: no. The only food I don't think I could ever live without is chocolate, and since 70% and darker is vegan, I'm all set! The reason I don't feel deprivation? I'm giving my body what it needs, and going vegan has re-wired some of my taste buds. Seriously :) Artificially sweetened things now taste...artificial. Overly salty things no longer appeal to me. Once you've really enjoyed a raw nut you realize what a nut is really supposed to taste like. And you know what? They are delicious just the way they are!

The whole point of all this plant strong stuff is to gradually replace nutrient deficient foods with nutrient dense foods. What does that mean? Let me give you a couple of examples. Instead of reaching for a piece of white bread (which has very little to offer your nutrient-hungry body), reach for a piece of organic whole grain bread. And remember, the word "whole" should be the first word in the list of ingredients! Instead of grabbing a bagel and cream cheese for breakfast one morning, reach for a hearty and tasty bowl of oats topped with fruit, nuts, chia seeds. Not only will you feel great, you'll be regular (hey, that's important you know!) and you will NOT be hungry at 10AM!


And think about how good you would feel if you replaced processed snacks with fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds? Trust me, you wouldn't feel hungry. You also wouldn't feel that craziness you feel when you just can't stop eating processed salty snacks (chips, white flour pretzels, etc.). I'm not trying to say that there is anything inherently WRONG with these foods. What I'm pointing out is that they are not nutrient dense ;)

So as you're reaching for a snack or a meal or even something to drink, ask yourself, "is it nutrient dense?" How about a smoothie instead of a mocha latte? How about beans and brown rice topped with salsa and avocado instead of a tuna sandwich smothered in mayo?

There are so many ways to take good care of yourself. Remember nutrient density while you're out shopping and your body will thank you!

Friday, January 27, 2012

What in the world is....Brown Rice Syrup?

Welcome back to "What in the world is?" where I try to demystify some of the ingredients you might stumble across when you find vegan recipes.

The first time I heard of brown rice syrup was when I read the list of ingredients of one of my favorite bar cookies, energy squares.

So what is it, anyway? I consulted www.brownricesyrups.com for the answer:

"Brown Rice Syrups are one of the best alternatives to tame the roller coaster ride of your blood-sugar levels while continuing to pamper your sweet tooth. These are organic natural sweeteners produced by steeping brown rice with a special enzyme preparation. Following this method the broken whole grains or brown rice are converted into a smooth-flavored and pleasantly sweet liquid extract. Organic Brown Rice Syrups are quite healthy and mild with a buttery flavor and delicate sweetness, which makes it an ideal choice for baking and desserts.

The nutrition values and derived benefits of Brown Rice Syrups lay hidden in its main ingredient, the brown rice. Brown rice is simply white rice that still has the bran intact and thus becomes a much better source of fiber. Besides the fiber found in the brown rice, the bran contains nutrients like magnesium, manganese, and zinc. "

I usually have to pay about $5 a jar, but it's the sort of thing that lasts a while :)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Black Bean Burgers


These easy-to-assemble burgers can be shaped ahead of time and cooked off when you're ready to eat.

Ingredients for Black Bean Burgers

1 (15-ounce) can no-salt-added black beans, rinsed and drained
1 egg (I used 1 T ground flax seed mixed with about a T water)
1/2 yellow onion, chopped (in my opinion, pre-cook them!)
1 cup whole wheat bread crumbs
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder or granules
Salt and pepper to taste
Hot sauce to taste
1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive or canola oil
6 whole wheat hamburger buns
6 green leaf lettuce leaves
2 tomatoes, sliced
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced

Method

Put beans in a large bowl and mash well with a fork. Add egg (or flax egg), yellow onion, bread crumbs, oregano, basil, garlic powder, salt, pepper and hot sauce. Mix well to combine then shape into 6 patties.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Arrange patties in a single layer (working in batches, if needed) and cook, flipping once, until golden brown on both sides and cooked through, about 10 minutes total. Transfer to buns, top with lettuce, tomatoes and red onions and serve.

veganmama note: why not make a double batch and freeze them? cheaper than frozen veggie burgers and far more interesting, don't you agree?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

How to jazz up a salad, veganmama style!


There really is something about a fresh, crunchy garden salad, right? I'm not talking about the iceberg lettuce salad of our youth, topped with cukes and out-of-season tomatoes, but a big ol' SALAD that you can really sink your teeth into and make a meal out of! The kind where the dressing is light and doesn't take away from the taste of the vegetables.

Last weekend I had the pleasure of seeing some family from out-of-state and we enjoyed a nice Sunday dinner together at my parent's house. I was asked to contribute a salad to the meal, so I thought I'd have some fun with it and really jazz it up.



I started with a base of organic romaine, chopped. Then I added a small amount of chopped kale and chopped parsley, for extra flavor and nutritional bang :) Then, it was just a process of adding any vegetables I had in the fridge, including: broccoli, cukes, yellow and red peppers, soybeans, carrots (just do yourself a favor and buy the already-shredded kind!), avocado and Craisins. My favorite part of it were the raw sunflower seeds I toasted in a dry skillet and sprinkled over the top. The dressing was a light dressing from Annie's. Definitely a salad with enough flavor and crunch to satisfy!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

What the BULK? Lebanese Lentils and Rice

Good morning and welcome back to Tuesday's "What the BULK?" Today’s recipe focuses on two different bulk items: lentils and long grain rice, both of which are inexpensive, easy to find and good for you. This traditional Lebanese dish, known as “Mujaddara” comes to us from the lovely Dede Med, who has a wonderful website chock full of Lebanese recipes and videos! If you're a fan of Middle Eastern food, please check out her site.


Ingredients

  • 1 cup brown lentils
  • 3/4 cup long grain rice
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • 2 tbs cumin
  • 1 tbs salt
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup Sauteed onions for garnish
  • 2 tbs fresh parsley for garnish


Directions

In a 3 or 4 quart pot on medium heat, add the olive oil and onions and cook for about 5-6 minutes until brown and caramelized. (veganmama note: you really want them caramelized, okay?) Add the rice and lentils and stir with the onions. Add the 4 cups of water and stir. Add the salt, stir again and then cover and let cook on medium/low heat for about 40 minutes, stir in between. After 40 minutes add the cumin and cook for another 15 minutes and add another cup of water if necessary, cook until lentils are no longer hard. Spread the mujaddara in a plate and top with caramelized brown sauteed onions in butter. Serve with a crisp salad.


Monday, January 23, 2012

Origins review: Checks and Balances face wash!


Good Morning! As promised, I'm going to be reviewing the best-selling products from the company Origins, as part of my quest to find my favorite animal and planet-friendly beauty products. Because here at veganmama, I believe there is more to it than just what you put in your body. What you put ON your body is important as well. But don't call the vegan police about my leather boots... :(

How would you describe your skin? I believe (?) mine is combination. Mostly normal, but a little shine here and there :) With that understanding, I don't like the idea of using a harsh face wash that would dry out my entire face, just to get the shine off the ol' forehead. When I read that Checks and Balances is a rich everyday cleanser, I couldn't wait to try it! Here are some of the details, courtesy of Origins:


Checks and Balances™ Frothy face wash uses plant essence to provide perfectly balanced cleansing for combination skin. This rich, creamy cleanser for combination skin features “smart” skin balancing ingredients that distinguish exactly where skin needs moisture and where it needs oil absorption. (veganmama note: cool, isn't it?)


BENEFITS:

This gentle, frothy face wash balances moisture and oil levels so skin feels comfortably refreshed after cleansing, never tight, pulled or parched. Broad Leaf Kelp Extract discourages excess oil, even after removal, while Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein balances and protects dry prone zones. And Tourmaline helps to more easily disperse dirt and sebum down the drain. Aromatic Geranium, Spearmint, Lavender and Bergamot combat irritation while soothing and relaxing the skin, body and mind.


Thank you Origins!


So basically, here are my thoughts: a little goes a long way (I use no more than a dime size), it smells AMAZING, it leaves my skin feeling clean but not tight, and I think I just found my favorite new cleanser! I have zero problem paying $19.50 for a cleanser that will last me months, and frankly, make me so happy! And plus, now my younger brother knows what to get me for my birthday each year, right?





Friday, January 20, 2012

What in the world is....SEITAN?


Seitan is actually one of my favorite meat substitutes!

It is often used in Asian restaurants that prepare meat-like dishes without meat. It is made by rinsing whole wheat bread flour to extract the gluten, producing a food that is naturally high in protein and low in carbs and fat. It's dubbed "wheat meat" and considered the ultimate meat substitute.


I have to admit, to people new to vegetarianism, it probably sounds really weird and looks even weirder, but when you go to a great vegetarian restaurant (like the amazing Garden Grille in Pawtucket, RI!) I encourage you to try a seitan appetizer. Right now, the Garden Grille's winter menu offers a Chipotle Seitan with Wasabi Mustard that is absolutely fantastic!

I haven't yet tried to make my own seitan, since it's readily available at Whole Foods and other natural markets, but you'll be the first to know when I do! Won't that be an adventure in cooking!

Enjoy your weekend and remember, don't let these foods scare you. One might be something that turns into your favorite new thing!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Wicked Awesome Chocolate Chip Cookie!

We all agree there is nothing better than a hot, out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookie, right? And believe me, I make a good chocolate chip cookie. However, I'm no longer cranking out the same ones I used to, filled with butter, butter and more butter *Fans of the non-vegan version, don't fret, I'll still bake for you! * However, once you try these, you might not miss the old ones!

This version is based on one I came across last January in the Boston Globe. While I'm aware that it's not the healthiest version out there in the vegan cookie market, I consider it a treat worth making. The version this is based on is not vegan, so I tweaked it to work for us! And believe me, your family and friends will NOT miss Tollhouse cookies after eating these babies!


Whole-Grain Chocolate Chunk Cookies

1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (PASTRY FLOUR, not regular!)
1 cup quick-cooking oats
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup canola oil
2 T non-dairy butter (Earth Balance)
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup peanut butter (I like Teddy's chunky)
2 "eggs" (follow directions on ground flax seed bag to make "eggs" by mixing it with water)
1 tsp vanilla extract
12 ounces of vegan chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375. In a medium bowl, combine flour, oats, baking soda, and salt and mix well. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the oil, Earth Balance and sugars, starting on low speed and finishing with a couple of minutes on high. Add the peanut butter, "eggs" and vanilla and mix well. With the mixer on low, slowly beat the dry ingredients into the peanut butter mixture, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. The dough will be very thick. Fold in the chocolate chips. Using your hands, form cookies into 3-inch balls on a baking sheet; you'll have to press the balls together a bit. Bake about 14 minutes on a parchment or silpat-lined sheet. Let rest 5 minutes after they come out of the oven and then cool on a wire rack until they are cool.

Friday, January 13, 2012

What in the world is...MISO?

With the popularity of sushi in America, you've probably had some miso soup, served up hot and topped with chopped scallions. How fun is miso soup? Is it the cute spoon you love? :) In my opinion, there is nothing better to eat/drink when you're feeling the onset of a cold. There is something really comforting about miso soup and it's SUPER easy to make. But what in the world is miso, anyway?




According to my trusty friends at Wikipedia, miso is a traditional Japanese seasoning produced by fermenting rice, barley and/or soybeans, with salt and the fungus kōjikin, the most typical miso being made with soy. The result is a thick paste used for sauces and spreads, pickling vegetables or meats, and mixing with dashi soup stock to serve as miso soup, a Japanese culinary staple. High in protein and rich in vitamins and minerals, miso played an important nutritional role in feudal Japan. Miso is typically salty, but its flavor and aroma depend on various factors in the ingredients and fermentation process. There is a very wide variety of miso available. Different varieties of miso have been described as salty, sweet, earthy, fruity, and savory.

Here is a simple miso salad dressing recipe from Whole Foods

3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons apple juice
3 tablespoons white miso paste
1 shallot, finely chopped

And another, from Whole Foods' "Heath Starts Here" campaign:

Tahini Miso Dressing

(this sauce can be drizzled over raw or cooked vegetables, as well as greens - COOL!)

1/4 cup water, plus more to taste
1 T mellow (light) miso
1/3 cup tahini
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp grated orange zest
1 tsp lemon juice
1 T finely chopped parsley

In a medium bowl, whisk together all ingredients. For a thinner sauce, add more water. Cover and chill under ready to serve.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

My favorite green smoothie!

Everyday between lunch and dinner I get a craving for a snack that will not only satisfy my sweet tooth, but will also provide me with a nice boost of vitamins and minerals. When I think that a year ago I was drinking coffee with creepy fake creamer for an afternoon "snack" I am proud of how far I've come! Never underestimate the ability to change your taste buds, dear readers!




Have you considered trying to make smoothies for yourself? Here is my simple, tried and true green smoothie "recipe." I say "recipe" because I'm always switching things up. Here is at least a general idea of how to make it. This one is topped with a little sprinkle of toasted hazelnuts. Yum!

Place about 2 cups of packed organic baby spinach into a blender, Vitamixer, Ninja, etc.
Add about 5 ice cubes.
Add 1/2-1 frozen banana (freeze some already peeled)
Add about 1/4 cup frozen tropical fruit (I like peaches and pineapple)
Add a splash of almond milk (or any non-dairy milk)
Blend until all the spinach is incorporated.

I swear, you'll fall in love with this tropical treat. Especially in the dead of winter! And just last weekend I picked up some protein powder to jazz things up. More on that in a later post!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Origins

One of the things I'm trying to do in 2012 is weed out my household cleaning products (laundry, counters, tub, etc.) and switch over to greener products. I already have a few I'm using (more to come on that topic!), but still have work to do. There's always room for improvement, right!?

As much as a clean house turns me on, I get even more excited about trying out "green" skincare and makeup. What can I say? I love it!

I've always said (and will tell my daughter until she's sick of hearing it) that the best beauty secret is my magic formula: eat well, drink lots of water, exercise and SLEEP. However, a good skincare line never hurt anyone!

So, this year I'm switching out my skincare to greener products. Sort of like eating well, we all know it's beneficial to both ourselves and the environment to do so, so I'm going to start sharing some tips and product reviews for my readers.



The beautiful people at Origins were kind enough to send me a package of some of their best-selling products. Over the next several weeks I'm testing them out as part of my routine. I can't wait to tell you about this product journey and will be very honest about my findings!

Question of the day: Do you already use Origins? If so, which products do you recommend? And do we all agree all their products smell awesome? :)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

What the BULK?!?!? Bulgar Wheat recipe: Metch


I love taking my family to outdoor farmers market for all the obvious reasons: you're outside, the kids gain a better appreciation of where their food comes from, we see a wide array of local produce. But one of the other great perks is a simple one: eating lunch! My favorite outdoor market in my area is Boston's Copley Plaza farmers market, which runs all summer (and into the fall) on Tuesdays and Fridays. For us, it's a simple train ride into the city, so we like to take advantage whenever we can!

This past summer I discovered a great vender selling middle eastern foods and decided to try something different. I chose something called "metch", which is also known as "eetch." It is a traditional Armenian side dish made with bulgar wheat (you know, the stuff you make tabouli with!) I bought a small container, fell in love, and promptly made it the next day!

Here is a recipe I found on line, but tweaked to bring it up to veganmama standards :)

Ingredients

1 cup uncooked bulgar wheat
1/2 vidalia onion (chopped)
1/2 red bell pepper (seeded and chopped)
1/2 green bell pepper (seeded and chopped)
1/2 cup olive oil (I know, but it's a treat!)
6 oz. tomato sauce
8 oz water
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon (or less, if you don't love a strong lemon taste. FRESH only)
1 T paprika
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup fresh chopped parsley
1/2 cup chopped scallions

Directions

Heat olive oil in medium pan over medium heat
Add onions and all peppers
Bring to a simmer and reduce heat
Using a slotted spoon, remove onions and peppers and discard (or use for something)
You want to leave as much liquid behind as possible
Add tomato sauce, water and lemon and stir well
Add paprika and bring to a boil
Add bulgar wheat
Cover and remove from heat
Allow to sit until the liquid disappears (about 15 min)
Salt and pepper to taste
Add parsley and scallions and stir well
Serve as a side dish, hot or cold

Friday, January 6, 2012

What in the world is...KOMBU


I've gotten a lot of positive feedback from my "What the BULK!?" Tuesday posts, so I thought I'd try something new in 2012, called "What in the world is it?" where I explain some ingredients that might intimidate, but need not! I'm hoping this will help when you're excited to try a vegan recipe but get tripped up by an unfamiliar ingredient.

Today's ingredient is KOMBU!

Kombu is a sea vegetable used to boost flavor and add texture. It's very high in calcium, phosphorus, iron, protein and vitamins A, B1, B2 and C. You can soak it and add chopped kombu to salads and vegetables. You can add unsoaked kombu to soup to season the soup stock.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Candle 79

Have you heard of the restaurant Candle 79, located in New York City? I'd heard of them, and after receiving their cookbook from a dear reader friend in Baltimore, I'm dying to go!

Leave behind all your expectations of vegan fare, and welcome to the world of Candle 79, where recipes consist of gourmet choices to please both vegetarians and meat eaters alike. It's all about food being local, fresh and prepared artfully.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Lotus Restaurant, Chantilly, VA





While we were on the road, we celebrated my birthday with my in-laws, who live in Chantilly, VA, where you can eat any kind of food imaginable. Although I love to complain about the traffic and over commercialism there, I can't complain about the restaurants!

When asked what I wanted for my birthday lunch, I said, "How about a funky vegetarian place?" We found one, just 10 minutes away! My idea of a perfect birthday is a beautiful meal eaten with those I love, right? So let me tell you about this funky spot.

Lotus is an Asian restaurant that basically serves everything Chinese you've ever had, but it's all vegetarian. How do they do that, you ask? Soy protein in the form of seitan, tofu, tempeh and textured vegetable protein.

In the pictures above, you see my sweet boy enjoying a smokey plate of brown rice, soy protein, steamed vegetables and basil. The second meal was mine, which blew my mind! It consisted of diced soy protein sauteed with dried tofu, celery, organic carrots, peppers, peanuts and spicy king pao sauce. Bring on the heat, I love it! And the fresh carrot juice took the edge off the heat. I'm guessing they put about 10 carrots into a Vitamixer to fill that tall glass. Next was my father-in-law's lunch, which was brown rice, steamed broccoli and crispy orange eggplant. Amazing. Not exactly a low-cal meal, but it was SOUL food! What cracks me up is that it looks like we were eating a plate of ribs, when in fact it was eggplant. My daughter enjoyed a simple lunch of steamed edamame and soy chicken nuggets.

When you're traveling, Asian restaurants are a great source for vegan eating!