Friday, January 22, 2010

Keep On Keepin' On

    Today was a difficult day for both Tim and me.  For the first time during this vegan food challenge, today I felt a little deprived.  I was just craving something more...substantial. It certainly didn't help that Tim was watching the Food Network show Man Versus Food which was highlighting hotdogs and hamburgers.  He complained that he craved a big piece of meat the entire time he watched.  It's almost been three weeks now, so I guess it's not so terrible that today was the first day I felt deprived.  I know Tim's felt that way much more than I have, so I give him kudos for sticking with the program despite those feelings.

A Warm Bowl of Soup
I have been relying heavily on soups for our lunches.  I love a warm bowl of soup during the winter months, and I think it's an easy way to get a lot of good nutrients into one bowl.  An added bonus is that I can make a big batch and it will usually last for 3 days worth of lunches, so the second and third day all I have to do is heat up a bowl.  Most of the recipes I've used have been from 1,000 Vegan Recipes, including an outstanding hearty minestrone. Today, however, I made this soup from The Fat free Vegan Kitchen blog.  We loved it---very tasty.

A Few Dinner Highlights
   Dinner is definitely the most difficult meal as so many of my former go-to recipes have meat or cheese.  I always strive to create a meal that will be satisfying in taste, its ability to fill us up, and, of course, that has high nutritional value.  This hasn't been easy, and I certainly have failed on more than one occasion in the past few weeks.  Overall, though, I think I've done a good job of finding recipes that fit the bill and have worked well.
    I find grains to be hearty and satisfying and actually love to use them in the place of meat.  Here is a picture of a quinoa and lentil cutlet I recently  made.  Could pass for a big hunk of meat, right?  ;-)

You can find the recipe here.  The only difference is that I couldn't find red lentils so I used regular brown lentils.  I made a quick Tahini-lemon sauce from 1,000 Vegan Recipes to top mine off.  I liked this; Tim said it was "tolerable".  Isn't he funny?
    I also love to treat portobello mushrooms like they are meat.  You can do so much with a big, fat portobello mushroom.  My only problem with this next meal was that I somehow ended up with wimpy little caps; they really weren't big at all.   This was an easy meal to make, though, as everything was roasted in the oven.   I marinated the mushrooms in a mixture that included balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, and garlic before roasting them in the juices.  Rounding out the meal was asparagus and mashed sweet potatoes.  Mmmmmmmmm!

  Stayed tuned for updates on how we are keeping our sweet tooth satisfied.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Two Weeks into the Vegan Food Challenge

     I'm actually sad after typing that title because we are half way through with our challenge.  Once the next two weeks are finished, I will no longer have a partner with whom I can experience the vegan life.  Even sadder, I won't be able to cook exclusively vegan because I'll need to prepare some omnivorous meals for Tim.

Eating Vegan at Restaurants

   This weekend we ate out twice.  The first restaurant, P.F. Chang's, wasn't extremely difficult to find a vegan dish.  I did some research before we ordered (this night was actually a take-out night, we didn't eat at the actual restaurant) and found mixed information about which items on the menu were true vegan dishes. In the end I decided not to stress too much if a dish was made with chicken stock and we both ordered dishes from the vegetarian section.  I had my usual P.F. Chang's entree, Coconut Curry Vegetables.  Tim ordered the Vegetable Chow Fun.  We also had the vegetarian lettuce wraps.
    Sunday we went to Carrabba's Italian Grill (some friends' choice) and found it more difficult to find a vegan dish.  I can't remember the name of it, but Tim and I got the same thing because it was the only dish without animal products.  Essentially it was noodles with vegetables, fresh basil, and olive oil.  It was good, even though I was disappointed they didn't have whole wheat noodles available.
    All in all, I don't enjoy eating out when I am trying to eat vegan unless I'm at a restaurant that caters to vegetarians/vegans.  I hate having my choices limited to one or two items.

Trying New Recipes
  I've had fun trying new recipes during this vegan food challenge.  So far, I've liked just about everything I've made.  Tonight, however, was the exception.  I made this dish from another blog I read often and have tried a few recipes from.  I have enjoyed other recipes from this blog, but this one was really bland.  There were a lot of leftovers so I am going to try to think of a tasty sauce to make for it for tomorrow.  I didn't take any pictures because I knew I could link her blog and she has beautiful pictures. I have so many more recipes on my want-to-try list, so I am going to keep chugging along.

   I hope that the next two weeks go just as smoothly as the first two have.  Even though I know Tim misses his meat, I think there is a part of him that is enjoying eating more healthful foods.  I'm pretty sure he would never admit that, though. ;-)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Vegan Pizza, Baby!

     Pizza has always been one of my favorite foods and prior to this month we typically ate it once a week.  Whether we ordered out, popped a frozen one in the oven, or put one together ourselves with a store- bought crust and sauce from a jar, it somehow made its way to our table on a weekly basis.  Although I had no problem abstaining from having meat on the pizza, I always thoroughly enjoyed the cheese.  Let's face it:  it's the cheese that makes a pizza.

    This is why the term "vegan pizza" seemed like an oxymoron and I was skeptical in making one.  Well let me tell you that Thursday I became a believer.  I learned a few things in the process of creating a vegan pizza.  The first thing I learned was just how important the crust is.  You see, when the crust was drown in all that goozy, sticky cheese it completely took over the pizza.  Without the cheese, the crust can shine.  For the first time I made my own crust (using a very simple recipe from 1,000 Vegan recipes) and I will never buy another Boboli crust.  This crust was fantastic.  I always assumed making your own crust must be a labor intensive process that I didn't have time for, but it really wasn't.  Mix a few ingredients and a packet of yeast together, let it rise for an hour, flatten it out, and you're good to go.  I also made my own sauce (also very good--another 1,000 Vegan Recipes star) and then topped it with a few sauteed veggies (zucchini and red peppers).  I have some leftover sauce and will be making another one of these babies this week.  It was that good.  When I finished it I said something that I never fathomed I would say:  "I didn't even miss the cheese".

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Food Challenge Summary Days 9-11

       Since we'd had so many one-dish meals lately, I decided to go with a more traditional meal last night with a main entree (chickpea medallions) and side dishes (wild and brown rice and roasted vegetables).  This was my favorite vegan meal so far.  I made a "cheezy" sauce (a recipe from one of my old favorites, Veganomicon) to go on top of the chickpea medallions and it was great.  Tim was not a fan.  I'm  not sure if it was the texture that turned him off (more bready than meaty), or if they were a tad bit too dry as I may have overcooked them.  Oops.  It didn't bother me at all; I thought everything was delicious.  He still ate everything on his plate, so I guess it was a successful meal nonetheless.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

We Made it to a Week!

     It may not seem like much, but one week on a vegan "diet" (I put diet in quotation marks because I hate that word and don't want to think of this as a diet.  For me, it's a lifestyle transition.  For Tim, it's a challenge he is enduring;-))  is quite an accomplishment for me and my husband.  Notice I didn't include my daughter in that statement.  She is still enjoying her beloved cheese and eggs.  Other than that, she doesn't eat very many animal products, but I'm not focusing on her being a vegan (or even a vegetarian, but she doesn't seem to love meat that much).  Luckily she has happily eaten most vegetables since she started solids at 6 months and can't get enough fruit.  She is also a big fan of beans so that is great, too.  She is still breast feeding so I don't have to worry about giving her cow's milk.  
    On Sunday I made a big batch of Barley and Winter Vegetable Stew. (Yet another recipe from 1,000 Vegan Recipes.  You'll see more variety in my recipe selection next week.  Promise.)  We had it for lunch and dinner because once dinner time rolled around I was just plain not in the mood to dirty the kitchen, cook, and clean the kitchen all over again.  And besides, Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest, right? We had this stew at my in-laws over the holidays so I knew we both liked it.  Next time I'm going to make my own stock as I'm sure this will really deepen the overall flavor.  Sorry all you visual learners, no pictures.  I have forgotten to take food pictures the last few days.  I will get back on that tonight.
     I am thoroughly impressed with the discipline my husband is showing and how well he is doing.  He went over to some friends' house on Sunday night and even though they had brownies for everyone, he declined and ate some peanuts instead.  You have to know my husband to appreciate the grandiosity of this event.  This is a man who if left on his own can easily polish off an entire pan of brownies and has done so.  There is only one person I know of who has a bigger appetite for sweets (you know who you are).  So he is truly doing a marvelous job with temptation and eating well.  That being said, he hasn't always had a 100% happy attitude about it.  With that in mind, I decided to prepare a safe dish for dinner Monday night, penne vodka.  Pureed white beans and soy milk stood in for the traditional heavy cream in the sauce and I didn't miss it at all.  It was a very satisfying dish.  Tim loves to put parmesan cheese on any kind of pasta dish, so I also made a vegan version with sesame seeds and nutritional yeast that he loved.
   Tonight I am making a vegetable skillet dish with quinoa so I will post about how it goes as soon as I get the chance.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Food Challenge Summary Days 4-6

   Things are going well with the food challenge.  Well, I guess that depends on who you ask.  If you ask me things are fantastic.  If you ask Tim he may have a different answer. :-)  I think overall he is doing fine, but he does have his grumpy moments.  I feel for him because I know he is way out of his element trying a vegan lifestyle, and I'm so grateful he's agreed to do it.
    Thursday I focused on snacks and the results were mediocre.  I tried to make some homemade granola bars, but they were crumbly and didn't stick together.  We had high hopes for these granola bars.  I even included some vegan chocolate chips to cater to the sweet tooth both Tim and I suffer from (hey I said we were going to limit our sugar intake, not eliminate it).  The liquid part of the granola bar recipe included soy milk, agave nectar, and some melted vegan margarine; I'm guessing that this combination was just not sticky enough to hold the oats, sunflower seeds, dried cranberries, and unsweetened coconut flakes together.  Some honey probably would have done the trick.  They did taste good, even if they needed to be eaten with a spoon.

Flower Power Granola Squares (more like cereal!)

   My other snack attempt was roasted red pepper hummus.  This turned out great, however, Tim informed me after I made it that he doesn't like hummus.  News to me.  I had no problem gobbling it up, but felt bad that I didn't make something we could both enjoy.  He seemed content with tortilla chips and salsa and his good old Macintosh apples.
    The snack area is still a weakness, so if anyone has any good vegan, non-processed, whole food snack recipes, send them my way!

    I work diligently to find recipes that will appeal to both me and Tim.  This isn't easy as there are many foods on Tim's "I won't touch it" list.  And with an already long list of no-no's that go with a vegan diet, this task would be considered impossible by some.  Thursday we had leftovers, so that was easy.
     On Friday I made "Millet-Topped Lentil Shepherd's Pie", another recipe from 1,000 Vegan recipes (I'm really getting some mileage out of this new cookbook!).  This version of shepherd's pie had millet on top instead of mashed potatoes and lentils instead of meat.  It also had a great variety of yummy vegetables.

Here's the vegetables before the lentils were added.

After cooking the vegetables and lentils, the entire melange is put into a baking dish and topped with the cooked millet*.  Then you bake it in the oven at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes.

     *I had never used millet before starting this food challenge.  According to the cookbook I've been using, it is a "super-nutritious and versatile grain" and according to the package in which I bought it, it is "high in fiber and protein with a complete amino profile".  Who knew?

  While not substantial, the finished dish was bursting with flavor.  I ended up eating almost half the pan myself. Right before I began to make dinner Tim informed me that he wouldn't be hungry for dinner since he ate a big lunch out with colleagues.  Well I was starving so that wasn't going to stop me from making dinner, it's just not nearly as fun to cook for only yourself, so that deflated me a bit.  The good news is that Tim was very disciplined at his business lunch and ordered vegetable pad thai and vegetable spring rolls.  Impressive!

  Tonight I tried yet another recipe for vegetable burgers.  I've tried various recipes for veggie/bean burgers in the past, and have yet to find one I'd consider making again.  The biggest challenge is to get the burger to be a consistency and texture that at least somewhat resembles a meat burger.  All the cookbooks claim that adding "vital wheat gluten" (aka the protein from wheat) will create a great texture, but I haven't found that to be true.  Tonight's recipe was named "Golden Veggie Burgers" and rightly so as the burgers certainly had a nice golden hue.  They were made with onion, yellow bell pepper, chickpeas and vital wheat gluten.  While they weren't terrible, they were just      okay.
I liked the sweet potatoes that I made to go with them.  

I haven't had any cheese cravings yet, which is the only thing I thought I'd crave.  I don't generally love meat that much anyway, so the most difficult part about eliminating meat isn't that I want to eat it but that it is such a staple in most recipes.  Cheese, though, is another story.  I love, love, love cheese.  All kinds. I don't love what it does for your health though, so I am putting its delicious taste out of my mind.  Good night. :-)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Day 3 Food Challenge

   It occurred to me that posting recipes from a cookbook on a blog may not be legal.  I'm relatively new to blogging and didn't think about copyright issues initially.  So this morning I looked at the copyright page of a few of my cookbooks and sure enough they all have something like "no portion of this book may be reproduced without permission".  I doubt enough people are going to read this blog for anyone to notice, but I still don't want to break the law, so I removed the recipes I posted previously and from now on will only post recipes that are my own.  This means there will be very few recipes!  But I'll still give details about what we are eating and how the food challenge is going.
    Yesterday was a good day.  I tried a few more recipes from my new cookbook, 1,000 Vegan Recipes and both were delicious.  For lunch we had Two Potato Soup with Rainbow Chard.  As I was making it I was worried that Tim wouldn't like it because #1 there were visible pieces of onion and Tim hates onion and #2 it was filled with greens which I thought would turn him off.  In the end he loved the soup.  It had a vegetable stock as the base, red potatoes and sweet potatoes and the rainbow chard.  There was a pinch of crushed red pepper which gave it a tiny bite.  When the soup was almost finished I thought it tasted a little bland and needed something more, so I added a few dashes of cinnamon.  I think this made the soup.

   For dinner we had Cashew Fettuccine with peas and mushrooms.  The sauce was intended to mimic a cream-based sauce and made with cashews, nutritional yeast, and soy milk.  I loved it.  It was mixed with whole wheat fettuccine, mushrooms, peas, topped with whole wheat breadcrumbs, and baked.  This was a nice, hearty meal that we both liked a lot.  There was plenty left over so we'll have that for dinner tonight also.

    Our biggest challenge is still snacks.  Today my focus is going to be finding wholesome snacks that are not processed food that will keep us satisfied between meals.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Days 1 & 2

Ultimately I would love to blog everyday during our 30-day challenge, but I know that isn't very realistic so my goal is to post at least 3-4 times per week. So far things are going well. The biggest problem is hunger. There are no calorie restrictions in this challenge, but eating enough plant-based food to stay full is tough! I have a big appetite to begin with, plus I'm breast feeding so that adds to my calorie requirement. My husband is a big guy who also has a big appetite so I know this is a challenge for him as well.
Another challenge is trying to minimize processed food. Trying to eat a diet that consists of mostly whole foods is labor intensive. One thing I did that was helpful was yesterday I made enough lunch, snacks, and dinner to last two days so today was a breeze. Here's what was on the menu for me and Tim:
Me: oatmeal with blueberries, cinnamon, and almond milk
Tim: Total cereal with raisins and soy milk

Me: 2 Chickpea-tomato wraps
Tim: double decker peanut butter and jelly sandwich

Both: Herbed Millet loaf with Mushroom sauce and broccoli with almonds

Me: fresh raw veggies dipped in black bean sun-dried tomato dip, peanut butter and jelly sandwich, bowl of Wheat Chex with almond milk
Tim: dry roasted peanuts, tortilla chips dipped in black bean sun-dried tomato dip

The picture is of our dinner, which was actually very tasty and much more appetizing than it looks. Tim didn't love the broccoli last night so I roasted some carrots for him as a side dish tonight and my 15 month-old daughter Meghan and I ate up the rest of the broccoli.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The 30 Day Food Challenge

My interest in nutrition started two and a half years ago when my mom was diagnosed with cancer. Feeling shocked, scared, and helpless, I poured myself into research. I wanted to find out everything there was to know about cancer and its treatment. I knew Mom would have to undergo the traditional treatment options, but what I didn't know, but would find, was that there was much more that she could do outside of surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation. Much of what I was reading was pointing me in the same direction: nutrition. I quickly became fascinated with the connection between diet and disease. It was amazing to me how powerful a role nutrition could play in not only the prevention of disease, but also the reversal and healing. This was something no doctor had mentioned to my mom during her diagnosis period or treatments. How was it that these doctors, some of the best in the world, were missing this key component to the health and well-being of their patients? It was both intriguing and frustrating, and I continued in my quest for more knowledge on the subject.
Since then I have learned that much of the population is ignorant to the role of nutrition in our health and much of what they think they know is gross misinformation. It's no wonder. You can't read one idea regarding diet and health without finding two that contradict it in the next book or research article. The media is famous for taking a small study or insignificant finding and blowing it into gargantuan proportions. I have learned to be leery of what I read and scrutinize the sources as thoroughly as I can.
Once I became informed about the role nutrition plays in our overall health and especially disease prevention, I felt convicted to change my diet. Soon after Mom's diagnosis I became a vegetarian. I tried to transition into a complete vegan diet, eliminating all animal products, but found my lifetime love affair with cheese much more difficult to end than that with the flesh of animals. I did limit my dairy as much as I could, eating some cheese, very few eggs, and no milk (I switched to soy milk). I also strictly limited my sugar intake. I stopped eating desserts and candy, and read labels carefully as to avoid hidden sugars in common foods like breakfast cereals. I was feeling great and soon didn't even crave sugar or meat.
Then I got pregnant. The first 17 weeks of my pregnancy I experienced "morning sickness". Funny how they call it morning sickness when it can last all day. During this time, my tastes changed drastically and I had difficulty eating the things that were essential to my diet, particularly vegetables and beans. This, compounded by family members (mostly my husband and my dad) who constantly worried that I wasn't going to properly nourish the baby growing inside me, I went back to my meat-eating, sugar-indulging days. In fact, I pretty much threw out everything I'd learned and ate whatever I craved.
Once Meghan was born, I figured I'd get back to my healthy-eating ways. It took longer than I anticipated, however, because my interest in nutrition was overshadowed by the joys of parenthood. My new obsession was learning all I could about babies. Baby sleep, baby development, everything was focused on the baby. Plus, I was tired. My brain was foggy.
Well, Meghan is 15 months now and I've slowly gotten back on track (or at least closer to the track). The last few months I've transitioned into eating meat only once per week. There is still no cow's milk in our house, but I do eat too much cheese. Sugar has been a battle for me and one that I am determined to win. This is where the 30 day food challenge comes in. I'm ready to take the plunge and get my body used to eating more healthful foods again. My dear husband has agreed to take this 30 day challenge with me. My hope is that after 30 days he will want to continue on this journey on some level, but if not I will at least be more ready to embark on it by myself.
Here is what the next 30 days will entail. For 30 days, our food will:
  • Be vegan (no animal products)
  • Be comprised of mostly whole, minimally processed foods
  • Have limited amounts of sugar and simple carbohydrates (white bread, white potatoes, etc.)
Wish us luck because we will need it!