Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Grilled Italian Panini With Tangy Sun Dried Tomato Spread

       A little too often I hear these words from my husband:
"Didn't you just go grocery shopping?  Why isn't there any food in the house?"  What he really means is, why isn't there any food that is ready to eat right now?!  What he doesn't notice is the drawer in the fridge full of fresh produce and the staple ingredients that with a little time can create a fantastic meal.  I'm working on being better able to see what I've got on hand and create something delicious.  This sandwich was an attempt to do just that.  I have always loved warm sandwiches with Italian flavors, and this panini did not disappoint.  I'll be making it again soon as most of these ingredients are usually on standby in my fridge and pantry.


for the spread
1/2 cup oil-packed sun dried tomatoes, oil drained and rinsed
1/2 cup cooked or canned white beans
1 clove garlic
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

for the filling
1 tablespoon coconut or olive oil, plus more for grilling panini
1 small to medium sized zucchini, cut in half and then sliced length wise
1 1/2 roasted red bell peppers (I used jarred, but fresh would be delicious, too)
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning blend (my awesome blend has oregano, garlic, basil, onion, pepper, marjoram, and rosemary)
6 slices multi-grain bread (or, if you feel like indulging, go ahead and get the white Italian bread, I'm sure if will taste delicious)


Place all ingredients for the spread in a food processor.  Blend until smooth and set aside.

Heat the oil in a pan.  Add the spices and allow them to heat for about 30 seconds.  Add the zucchini pieces, firmly pat them down and turn over so they are coated with the spices. Cook until tender, about 5-7 minutes, turning over once.

When the zucchini is cooked, you are ready to assemble the sandwich.  Spread each piece of bread with the sun dried tomato spread.  Next, add a layer of zucchini pieces.  Top the zucchini pieces with 1/2 of a roasted red pepper.  Close the sandwich and coat the outside of the bread with a small amount of oil.  If you have a panini press, place the sandwich in the pre-heated press and grill until golden brown, about 3-5 minutes.  If you don't have a panini press, simply place the sandwich in the pan you used to grill the zucchini and top it will a heavy (preferably cast iron) pan.  Grill until golden brown.  Repeat with remaining sandwiches.  Makes 3 servings.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Vegan Food Challenge Reflections

     Since we are nearing the end of February, clearly our 30 day Vegan Food Challenge we started with the new year has been over for a few weeks.  It's been a busy few weeks for our family which is why I haven't been able to update.  I'd love to fill everyone in on how the challenge went for us and where we are at now.
     Although there were a few hard days for me, I didn't find going completely vegan to be nearly as difficult as I imagined it would be.  It was much more drastic for my husband Tim, and he definitely had a more difficult time.  That being said, he did enjoy some benefits of eating a plant-based, whole foods diet for a month.  We didn't restrict calories at all.  This was not about counting calories or fat grams.  It was about having our diets be comprised of only plant-based, mostly whole, unprocessed foods.  As a result of eating this way for only thirty days, we both lost some weight.  Again, this wasn't our focus or goal, yet it happened naturally.  Tim lost somewhere between 5-10 pounds.  I know that's a big range, but we didn't get a start weight right at the beginning so we aren't sure exactly what he weighed when we started and his weight fluctuated throughout the challenge. He was definitely down a good five pounds, though.  I also lost about two pounds, which is the most I would have wanted to lose at this point as I felt I was at my ideal weight when we started the challenge.

How To Make Transitioning to a Vegan Whole Foods Diet A Success

  There are some things you can do to make a transition into a vegan, whole foods diet a success (or even if you just want to transition into a healthier diet than you've been eating).  I know if I wouldn't have done these things it wouldn't have been so for us.

  • Have a well-stocked pantry.  This is crucial.  Life will be much easier for you if you have a variety of whole grains, rice, beans, soy sauce, nutritional yeast, vital wheat gluten, nuts, seeds, and healthy oils like coconut, olive, and canola in your pantry ready to go.  And get rid of the bad stuff!  You can't eat what isn't in the house.    
  • Have a few good vegan cook books and recipes on hand and ready to try.  Don't be afraid to try new things--you will be surprised. 
  • Plan ahead.  If you aren't planned for a meal or snacks, you will be more likely to be starving and eat something processed or an animal food you may be craving.  
  • Have healthy, whole food snacks prepared, such as cut up vegetables with homemade dips, trail mix, etc.   
  • Let your friends and family know what you are doing so they will be supportive and not tempt you with foods that are detrimental to your health.  
What We Ate During the Vegan Challenge

   When we told people we were following a vegan diet, most people looked at us with wide eyes and said something like, "What on Earth do you eat?"  as if a diet without animal products must consist of only lettuce and seeds.  Although I've given some highlights already throughout the month on this blog, here is an overview of what our diet consisted of:  

Breakfast:  I ate oatmeal nearly every day, which I did before the challenge anyway.  Some days I mixed in some wheat germ and/or flax seed meal.  One day I did make vegan pancakes by using ground chia seeds mixed with water as an egg substitute.  This was a special treat. :-)  

Lunch:  We relied heavily on soups for lunch.  I made a homemade soup 2-3 times per week.  I tried just about every type of soup under the sun.  This is a perfect winter lunch.  We also did some different veggie wraps which were also good.  

Dinner:  For dinner I always made a dish that incorporated a whole grain and a variety of vegetables.  Some were sauteed, others baked.  Often beans were a part of the meal.  Neither my husband or I are huge tofu, seiten, or tempeh fans, so we basically steared clear of those meat substitutes (although I do like tofu more than Tim does).  

Snacks:  trail mixes w/ a variety of nuts, seeds, and dried fruits, peanuts, fresh veggies with homemade dips, fresh fruit, tortilla chips and salsa.  

     People often wonder if you can get enough protein and iron on a vegan diet.  We ate a large enough variety of whole grains, beans, nuts, and vegetables that I never worried about that.  It is surprising how much of these nutrients you can get without animal products.  I think people are brainwashed into thinking animal products are the only way you can get ample amounts of them but that is just not true.  

Satisfying a Sweet Tooth in a Healthy Way

  As I have mentioned before, Tim and I both have a major sweet tooth.  We wanted to limit the amount of sugar we ate as we know it is unhealthy, yet we also knew we couldn't live without some sweets in our life.  Here are some things we did to add some sweetness into our diet:
  • Rely on fruit.  One of my favorite fruit treats was diced apple, raisins, and cinnamon.  Heated up in the microwave, this makes a quick, satisfying dessert.  My daughter Meghan loves this, too.
  • Add a few vegan chocolate chips to our trail mix.  When we were craving a sweet snack, this added just a touch of sweetness that was enough.  
  • Indulge a little.  I have a cookbook called Sweet Freedom which is full of vegan desserts and doesn't use any refined sugar.  The recipe "Amazing Bean Brownies" is truly amazing.  It does have "evaporated cane juice".  While this is healthier than white, refined sugar, it is still sugar and messes with your blood sugar levels.  So while I don't recommend eating these every day, it is a great way to indulge when needed.  And everyone needs to indulge once in a while.  Did I mention these brownies are made with beans?  They add a great fiber and protein punch!  

The Future of this Blog

   While the Vegan Challenge is over and that was the primary reason I started this blog, I plan to continue to post about our food adventures.  While we are not going to be 100% vegans from here on out, the challenge did bring us to a much better dietary place.  Most likely I will prepare at least 90% of my meals vegan, but for my husband's sake will prepare one meal with meat per week.  (I'm not saying I will eat it, but I'll make it for him!)  Here are some of the things you can look for in the future of this blog:  
  • Recipe reviews.  I will review and describe new recipes I try.  
  • Cookbook reviews.  I love cookbooks and will review my favorite (and maybe even not-so-favorites) so those looking for healthy cookbooks can get an opinion before buying.  
  • New recipes.  I have begun creating recipes on my own and will post pictures and the actual recipes.  
  • My thoughts on ingredients.  I am always researching nutrition and will give my thoughts on which ingredients and foods are healthy or not healthy to include in your diet.  
   I hope you will stay with me as I continue to explore and enjoy healthy food and combine it with my passion for writing. :-)