26 April 2010

My Intro to Baking

Last Monday was WWQTW?, the monthly intro to film/movie club I started. I was so excited to try a recipe for vegan brownies I found in "The Kind Diet" by Alicia Silverstone. The book is a great introduction to vegan living and has some amazing recipes. Even a "flirt" like me found around 30 different things I wanted to try. I was also curious to see if I could pass these brownies off as the "real thing".

The biggest shock was all of the new things I needed to buy to make the brownies. It didn't dawn on me until I was in Whole Foods that I needed just about everything in the recipe. The great thing about recipes from TKD is that there is an online community and forum that you can visit to get more info, hear success stories (and failures), and seek support. It's pretty cool. Not being much of a baker, let alone a vegan one, I checked on the site for any help/info making my brownies. It's a good thing I did as several readers had problems with the recipe. Thankfully, I didn't experience most of what they did.

25 April 2010

Take Action!

I get several newsletters a week from different food organizations, from Organic Consumers Association (OCA) to Meatless Mondays. Some call me to action on important food bills moving through Congress and the FDA, others simply provide healthy recipes. Either way, I learn a lot from them and would like to pass the buck on to you, so to speak.

* According to the Cornucopia Institute (which researches and investigates organic and sustainable practices), many of the non-organic veggie burgers we consume contain a potentially harmful neurotoxin. That kind of freaked me out. You think something being vegetarian/vegan means it's safe (or at least safer), but that's just not true. The list of burgers effected by this is astonishing and includes some of my favorites like Amy's, Boca, and Garden Burger. You can get more info and the complete list of good and bad frozen burgers here.

* I love eggs, from my head down to my legs. I had a fried egg on toast today for breakfast and it is, so far, the highlight of my day. Kind of sad actually, but there you go. The United Egg Producers (lobbyists for industrial egg producers) would like you to believe that people prefer the taste of factory farmed eggs to organic free-roaming ones. Uh, I don't think so. The first time I bought organic eggs, I was astonished by the size, colour, and taste. Where had they been all my life? Part of the reason for their superiority is that these eggs come from naturally mature chickens. I'm sure a life and diet of walking around and being outdoors probably helps as well!

The UEP would like to extend the petition allowing "organic" poultry to receive Methionine in their diet. Methionine is a synthetic amino acid that can be found naturally in free-roaming poultry given organic feed. It's already there, so I'm not sure what getting rid of it will do. It's a synthetic not a chemical, so again, I'm not sure if I care. I do however, think the UEP is ridiculous and I am for anything that puts a bee in their bonnet. If you want to learn more about the petition, it's history, and what the UEP believes, go here. You can also sign a petition saying you want truly organic eggs and poultry there.

* Tomorrow I'm posting all about my first experience into vegan baking- pictures included!

19 April 2010

You Can Eat Well (And Healthy) in College Station

I spent the last weekend hanging out with my sister and celebrating her birthday in Bryan/College Station, TX. She's vegetarian and that can be pretty tough in the land of beef. Part of my mission while there was to find amazing healthful (and veggie friendly) options.

When I got in Thursday, neither of us were interested in making too much of a fuss for dinner. Freebirds opened it's first Texas location in College Station and it has slowly grown since then. Personally, I prefer it to Chipotle; though I understand if you do not live here you will not be able to partake in the joy and deliciousness that is Freebirds. This was my only real meat experience while there, I had the chicken hybird, and it was good.

Friday, we made a quick breakfast of eggs before heading to class. I love auditing classes with her whenever I visit and am now an expert in animal nutrition! For lunch, we headed over to Antonio's near campus. If you can put it on a pizza, they have it! I couldn't make up my mind until I saw the words "Potato and Cheese" on the white board. How had I never thought of putting potatoes on pizza! The crust was drizzled with olive oil then layered with sliced potato, mozzarella and cheddar cheese. My sister had a veggie pizza topped with black beans, feta, tomatoes, and avocado. Both were delicious! For dinner, her roommates threw a BBQ but I passed and enjoyed some of the Smart BBQ I gave my sister for her birthday. (I bought her a collection of vegetarian and vegan delicacies that she can't get there). I don't know if their other products are this good, but you cannot tell the difference and the sauce is awesome!

On Saturday, we visited the Brazos Valley Farmers Market before heading out to the crawfish boil sponsored by Hill's. Oh, how I love thee crawfish! For dinner, I had heard about this cool cafe/art gallery in downtown Bryan that I wanted to try out. Bonus points that my sister had never been there! The Village serves hot and cold sandwiches and salads with live music most nights. They are on a mission to serve only organic produce with as much of it locally grown as possible. I had the Cold Cuke Sandwich (sliced cucumbers with pesto aioli on whole wheat) with a side of Asian slaw- so good! My sister had the Raspberry Veggie Sandwich (avocado, lettuce, tomato, roasted red onion, goat cheese, and raspberry chipotle mayo) with roast potatoes. The service was a bit slow and the prices are moderate, but everything was delicious and we plan to go back. There were at least 5 other things I wanted to eat! The evening concluded with a trip to Shake's frozen custard. It should be illegal! I love frozen custard so much.
Before I left on Sunday, we broke into more of the goodies I gave for her birthday. We had breakfast sandwiches- stuffed Ezekiel pita pockets with eggs, Morningstar Farms sausage patties, and Daiya cheese topped with salsa. They were so good I bought all the fixings for them as soon as I got back into town! I've talked about Daiya cheese before but this was my first time to try it. It melts quickly and evenly and has a taste similar to cheese but slightly nuttier. The raw texture was also a bit different, kind of like when you buy shredded cheese at the grocery only to discover you accidentally bought the kind where milk is the 4th or 5th ingredient instead of the 1st. It was good, and I will definitely buy it again when I need to make something vegan.

Vegan (and gluten free) cookies from Starbucks!

So, there are a couple veggie friendly options in College Station! It certainly helps when you are staying with friends or family and can cook a bit at home, but when is that not the case? Where is your favorite vegetarian/vegan restaurants where you live?

14 April 2010

Spiral Diner- Out of This World

In a non-descript grey brick building in Oak Cliff, Texas sits the Spiral Diner, Dallas' favorite vegan restaurant and bakery (I apologize in advance for the copious use of exclamation marks). Their mission is simple: serve great tasting 100% vegan cuisine, using only the best (and mostly organic) ingredients they can. I fell in love with this restaurant before I even set foot in the door based entirely on their mission statement:

*Use only cruelty-free and environmentally friendly biodegradable cleaning products
*Only purchase recycled and un-bleached paper products (with the highest post-consumer content available)
*Always buy Certified Organic ingredients whenever possible with conventional only as a last resort
*Use environmentally friendly, biodegradable take-away containers and disposable cutlery (we also encourage our customers to bring their own reusable containers with them to help us reduce packaging waste)
*Recycle 100% of all the accepted materials that come through our kitchen
*Donate a portion of profit to local grassroots organizations that are fighting for human, animal, and environmental causes
*Reduce waste by purchasing in bulk as much as possible and donating excess food to local food banks and shelters
*Never compromise on the above principles

They also keep their prices low while paying their staff a decent wage (I'm not sure how much that is, but I support anyone making more than $2.15/hr).

My lovely and talented friend shine (Are you reading her blog? You really should), decided to go vegan for April. Click on the link for her to explain the "why's" to you. Needless to say, I fully support her and was so excited when she invited me to dinner at Spiral. I must have studied the menu five times before the big day, trying to figure out what I would try first.

I got there early (who would have guessed there would be no traffic on I-30?) and ordered the Agave Limeade to tide me over-yum! When shine arrived, she ordered the Hot Nacho Cheese and Chips for us to share. I've heard a lot about nut cheese (mark it) for a couple weeks but was scared and slightly afraid to try it. To put it simply, it's delicious; kind of like if bean dip and nacho cheese had a baby. I couldn't stop eating it!

For dinner, I had the Chopped BBQ San'ich which is made from marinated and grilled seitan with a spicy BBQ sauce, dill pickles, red onion, and "mayo". In hindsight, I probably should have ordered the grapes as my side dish, but who can argue with the genius paring of potato salad and BBQ? The sauce was a lot zestier than I anticipated, but delicious none the less. While it didn't have quite the same texture as beef, I can see why seitan is such a popular meat replacement. Shine was in the mood for some comfort food and ordered one of the blue plate specials, chili mac. It looked really good and the pasta was nice and soft. For desert, I ordered a brownie with walnuts and she had a vanilla cupcake with the most outrageous yellow and green icing. My brownie was heaven. I usually don't like nuts in my deserts, but these were soft, not mushy, verses the crunchy I usually detest (mark it squared). Her cupcake had a really interesting flavor neither of us could pin point, but it wasn't bad.
[side note: Whole Foods Vegan Chocolate Chips are heaven and I may end up eating a whole bag of them!]

All in all, I give Spiral Diner 4 stars and cannot wait until my sister is in town so we can go again (though truth be told, I'm probably going back a lot sooner)! It's a great place for vegans, vegetarians, and meat eaters alike!!

13 April 2010

Pledge for Better Health

So, in my own journey to take responsibility for myself and my health, I started this blog. Now, it seems GE is supporting women's right to health as well. I learned all about this campaign on one of my new favorite blogs Heather Eats Almond Butter:

"Now, how about you? Do you have a pledge of your own to make? Perhaps you’d like to eat more green vegetables or participate in more outdoor activities. Or, maybe it’s time you dust off that yoga mat or drink a green smoothie everyday. Want to make it official? If so, GE has started a campaign to encourage women to take an active role in their own health and the health of their loved ones through a new program called Pledge for Better Health. All you have to do is click here to submit your Pledge. Do this for yourself, not for me."

I made my pledge: to take control of my own health and eat better.

What's yours?

12 April 2010

Salad Daze

**Meatless Monday is moving to Tuesday this week in anticipation of my trip to Spiral Diner. Also, I may have eaten some delicious venison Swedish meatballs for lunch...***

This was the most amazing salad I may have ever had that didn't include grilled chicken or steak! Everything but the kitchen sink is in there: Romaine lettuce, arugula, cucumber, carrots, onion, Italian cheese blend, and homemade guacamole. I toasted 1/2 of an Ezekiel pita pocket for some added crunch.

For the guac (makes about 2 servings):

I also love to make my own salad dressings. It's so easy, and they taste fresh and vibrant. My favorite is a zesty shallot dressing:

In a small bowl or glass jar with lid, steep 1/2 diced shallot in 1/2 t red wine vinegar and 1/2 t balsamic. Add fresh or dried herbs like parsley, thyme, basil- anything you've got! Mix in 1 t quality mustard (I like a spicy German mustard with red wine). Salt and pepper to taste. Let sit at room temperature, covered, for at least 15 minutes but up to a couple hours. Before serving, whisk in 1/2 c olive oil (or any other healthy oil that you like). Viola! Spicy, zesty, and Delicious!

I found another use for my Field Roast sausages: pizza! I bought a couple whole wheat Italian herb pizza crusts at Whole Foods and topped it with sliced "sausage", tomato sauce, chopped artichoke hearts, roasted red bell pepper, and cheese. The whole thing bakes for about 20 minutes. I realize this is a massive load of Nightshades, but I don't eat a lot of them to begin with so I'm not as concerned. Click the link above for more info on the possible health risks from eating nightshades (i.e. potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, etc).

All it was missing was some arugula or another green to put on top. Yum!

Wednesday I'll be back with my full review of my first vegan dining experience with my gal shine . So excited!

11 April 2010

Soup du Jour!

There's something adorable about boxed soups- I love them! They take up less space in my cabinet and can be easily refrigerated for future use without getting that tin can taste. Plus, they simply look gourmet. My favorite brand is Imagine, which is all organic and mostly vegan! Check out their website for more info including recipes and a coupon!

As much as I love the look of boxed soup, I'm not a big soup girl. The idea that it's a meal in itself never quite permeated my brain. Perhaps this has more to do with eating highly processed, salty canned soups as a child. What I love now, is dressing up a basic soup to make it heartier (if needed) or simply more interesting. The other day, dressed up my Imagine Potato and Leek soup with roasted red peppers and green onions. I thought about adding chunks of potatoes or leeks, but was in a bit of a hurry so I put it off for next time.
Roasting a red pepper at home is easy and incredibly messy. [side note: it turned into such an ordeal, I bought a jar of already roasted peppers the next time I was at whole foods.] I've never roasted a pepper at home, indoors, before but it looked simple enough. The hardest part was figuring out what recipe to use. I ended up placing my pepper directly on the rack under the broiler, turning it regularly until the skin was crisp and black (about 10 minutes). Then I wrapped it in a damp paper towel and let it cool before peeling the skin off. It's important that all the skin be charred and wrinkly or else this step will be a pain in the butt! An alternate method calls for baking the peppers on a cookie sheet in a 500 oven until charred.

Next, I diced the peppers and green onions and placed them on top. My garnish was a piece of toasted french bread with olive oil. Delish!
The next morning, I was determined to use more 0f my beautiful peppers, so I made a breakfast pita. have a told you about Ezekiel whole grain products? They are amazing! I've had the pita's several times. You buy them in the refrigerated or frozen food section, and can even keep them frozen until ready to eat.
For my breakfast pita, I heated the pita in a dry pan for a couple minutes each side. Set aside. Heat about 1-2 T of olive oil (or any kind of healthy oil- almond, sunflower, palm), then sauté diced onion and roasted red pepper until soft. In a bowl, scramble two eggs with a dash of milk, salt, and pepper. Add to vegetables in pan. It's important to let the eggs sit for a bit in the pan. Stirring them constantly breaks the protein apart and ruins them. In my pita, I spread a bit of guacamole and sour cream. Because I can't help myself, I sprinkled some Cajun seasoning in one of the pita pockets- yum! Just before the eggs are done, add a bit of shredded cheese then spoon the mixture into your pita pockets. So good! My secret weapon- Taco Bell hot sauce. Add it when you do the cheese and it's amazing.
What are your favorite soups?

08 April 2010

Tofutti Cutie! Why thank you!

On the recommedation of my lovely sister, I bought a box of Tofutti Cutie ice cream sandwiches. Here is what happened:
After a delicious lunch of mesquite turkey, avocado, roasted red pepper, cucumber, onions, vinegar, oregano, all on a toasted wheat bun (I love a good sandwich); I decided to finally break into the Tofutti Cuties. They had been burning a hole in my freezer for days.
They're so cute! I was worried about the size, being used to the monster cakes of other brands, but it turned out to be just right.
I can't believe I could stop eating it long enough to take another picture. (I apologize for the quality, my phone is not very snazzy). I have to say, I like these better than milk based ice cream sandwiches. I'm sorry Blue Bell, you'll always be in my heart, but these are amazing! They have a slight coffee flavor from them, which I attribute to the chocolate. They have a few more calories than the closest milk-based competitor (130 vs 110), however they are completely vegan, with no trans fat, cholesterol, and low in sugar.

All of their products are vegetarian and most are vegan . They are certified Kosher Pavre (being not meat or dairy) and all dairy free. The other great thing is you can buy them at major chain groceries, not just your local health food store. Double yea!

Have you tried Tofutti Cuties? What did you think? Let me know!

Also, if you are not yet following this blog, I hope you will do so today. If you are, I hope you will recommend it to your friends and contribute to the discussion. Thanks!!!

07 April 2010

Coconut what?!

While out for happy hour last week, I heard my new acquaintance wax poetically about coconut water. She loves it- loves it- and says she must spend $40 a week on the stuff. My first thought was, "Damn, it must be yummy", followed immediately by, "How much does the stuff cost?!"
The brand most recommended is Vita Coco, a 100% natural product. It comes in lots of flavours including: plain, passion fruit (the one I tried), pineapple, peach & mango, and acai & pomegranate. Coconut water is full of electrolytes (which give your body energy) and potassium (which helps keep your body hydrated). It is fat free and cholesterol free. It is a fruit product, so there is naturally occurring sugar (my 11.7 oz pack had 18g- a little less than half of what's found in regular sodas). Vita Coco is also great, because it's packaged in Tetra Paks which are easier on the environment and can be recycled.

While I was at Whole Foods, preparing to gorge myself in the prepared foods section; I decided to give coconut water a try. The logic behind spending $40/week became clear- my single serving was over $2. This stuff better be good!

I liked the flavor of Vita Coco. It had just a hint of coconut but the passion fruit really came through. I did find it to be very sweet, so it may make for a good substitute to soda; maybe with a bit of club soda to add some fizz. The texture of a product is always a big deal for me. This one was a bit thicker than water, but less than juice (if that makes any sense). It is not unpleasant. My suggestion: this stuff tastes best when ice cold, so pour it into a tall glass of ice to enjoy.
While I enjoyed Vita Coco, and especially enjoyed that I was getting more potassium than two bananas (which is super important to me as I suffer from "growing pains" and Charley horses); the price makes this a "special treat" item only. They don't currently offer coupons directly, so I'll have to wait to see if Whole Foods ever puts it on sale. I'm not holding my breath.

Have you tried coconut water? What did you think?

05 April 2010

Meat Free Monday

Today's Meat Free Monday is brought to you by meat free Easter. Since I knew I was going to my parents Monday, I decided to dedicate Easter to the veggie cause! Easter is always a tough food time for me as ham is traditionally served and I haven't eaten pork in at least 10 years. The whole thing was a lot easier than I imagined.

We brunched at Ozona Grill since they have a beautiful patio and extensive Make Your Own Bloody Mary bar. They also have several vegetarian options on the brunch menu. After my second bloody mary (complete with horseradish and picked green beans- I love it spicy), I ordered the Eggs Benedict-O; a veggie version of the classic with sauteed spinach and mushrooms taking the play of the bacon. I love brunch, but it's always hard for me to find something to order. I refuse to order something that I make at home, so french toast, pancakes, even migas, were out. Eggs Benedict is something I never order- it's too rich and to "hammy". This option was perfect and delicious.

Our next stop was Barcadia, a place I usually couldn't pay people to go! Now, it seems as if my friends are in on the fun, and who wouldn't be? Classic arcade games, giant Jenga and Connect Four, plus great food and an extensive draft beer list. I was so full from brunch that I didn't have much more than a couple bits of my friends fries and some hummus. The only negative thing I can say about the hummus is to avoid if you like flavor. It's pretty mild (bland) stuff in desperate need of roasted garlic or red peppers. After stealing a few bites of that, I knew it was time to go home and eat some of the good stuff.

Dinner was roasted garlic hummus (I can't remember the brand, but it's made locally in Texas) with an Ezekiel pita pocket and some green bean casserole. It was so good and I was so exhausted I feel asleep on the couch. When I woke up, it had only been an hour but I listened to my body and headed to bed at 10 o'clock!

All in all, it was a wonderful Easter and I am thankful for all my friends who spent it with me.

PS- Recently, I wrote about a vegan cheese by Daiya. It is currently difficult to find in all markets and must be ordered. The other day, I received an email from them saying that they were rolling out to every Whole Foods in the country this spring! I can't believe I cannot find the email to thank her personally, but thank you! Look for it soon.

01 April 2010

Chipotle Breakfast Quesadillas

My new lifestyle calls for eating a hell of a lot less meat, so I went in search of decent meat substitutes immediately. Based on several online recommendations, the product I was looking for was called Field Roast Grain Meat Co. It didn't sound very appetizing, "grain meat", but I learned it just refers to their blend of "Mien Ching" and "Seitan" that substitutes for traditional meat. As the "original grain meat" creators, they offer everything from sausages to loafs to cutlets to cheese! You can purchase their products at most health food stores like Whole Foods and Central Market.

Wednesday, I downloaded their recipe for their Chorizo-Style Breakfast Quesadilla and cracked open my package of Mexican Chipotle Sausage. The first thing I noticed of the bat was that the spice mixture used in the sausages turned my fingers and cutting board orange ( I later noticed it left it's trace around my mouth as well- uck). The scent was enticing, but the texture was much tougher than beef sausage. It took a lot more pressure to cut into it, which made my bowels nervous for later. Not to worry, everything turned out fine. (And that is my contribution to the TMI blogger movement!)

The recipe is super simple and could be manipulated to include, or exclude, any ingredients. Vegans- I bet tofu scramble would be an amazing substitute for the eggs and you can use vegan cheese too. Yum!

The recipe is a bit misleading though on how many this will feed and how best to present it in the tortilla. For the amounts shown I would use two tortillas, spread the filling over one and top with another. Then it will feed 2 people. For one person, I used half of the sausage and 1 egg plus 1 egg white when I made this again today for brunch. It fit in one tortilla a lot better and was still super delicious!
While I was aware the whole time I was not eating meat, it was delicious and filling. I can't remember the last time I wasn't hungry an hour after eating! I am definitely going to try the other flavors of sausage, and see if I can't find their cutlets as well.

Have you tried Field Roast? What did you like/dislike??