Broccoli “Cheese” Soup a la Panera

Posted on: February 23rd, 2015 by
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If you have a couple bags of frozen broccoli sitting in the back of your freezer, it’s time to give them the attention they deserve! Can’t get to the store? Omit the cheese substitute and just enjoy a simple-to-prepare, piping-hot bowl of plain ol’ Broccoli Soup. This recipe is a crowd-pleaser and so, so easy.

Because I’m the luckiest girl EVER, I was given a bunch of donated Panera bread recently and knew right away that those Panera bread bowls deserved their proper broccoli cheese soup filling. I used to always get a bread bowl with broccoli cheese soup back in my Dairy Days when I would meet a friend at Panera. Would the dairy-free version do my memory justice? I’ve been working on a great broccoli soup recipe for quite some time now, so all I really had to do was add the right amount of Daiya cheese substitute and throw the mixture into a hollowed-out bread bowl

Click here for the printable recipe of Broccoli “Cheese” Soup.

Quite honestly, these don't need to be filled with anything to be enjoyable.  The crunchy, flaky outside; the soft, yeasty inside.... (drooling)

Quite honestly, these don’t need to be filled with anything to be enjoyable. The crunchy, flaky outside; the soft, yeasty inside…. (drooling)

If you haven't tried Daiya yet, it is our favorite dairy-free cheese.  A lot of cheese substitutes contain casein, a dairy derivative and a protein that isn't too friendly to our bodies.  Daiya is casein-free and still melty.  I find it acts more like Velveeta than cheddar, but that makes it work superbly in this soup recipe.

If you haven’t tried Daiya yet, it is our favorite dairy-free cheese. A lot of cheese substitutes contain casein, a dairy derivative and a protein that isn’t too friendly to our bodies. Daiya is casein-free and still melty. I find it acts and tastes more like Velveeta than cheddar, but that makes it work superbly in this soup recipe.

The soup is pretty straightforward; sauté and onion and then add flour and broth.  Thicken, add cheese, add broccoli, and cook until broccoli is tender.

The soup is pretty straightforward; sauté an onion and then add flour and broth. Thicken, add cheese, add broccoli, and cook until broccoli is tender.

Pureeing most (but not all) of the soup lends an excellent creamy texture to the final product.

Pureeing most (but not all) of the soup lends an excellent creamy texture to the final product.

Once the soup has been partially pureed.  Ready to serve!

Once the soup has been partially pureed. Ready to serve!

The perfect winter meal; Rich, satisfying, and perfectly reminiscent of my long-passed visits to Panera.  I was the queen of the dinner table the night I served this, I tell you what!

The perfect winter meal; Rich, satisfying, and perfectly reminiscent of my long-since passed visits to Panera. I was the queen of the dinner table the night I served this, I tell you what!


Scrambled Breakfast

Posted on: February 13th, 2015 by
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My kids have been begging me to make up some kind of plant-based scrambled eggs recipe. I really didn’t know where to start. Last year I tried a couple of recipes that I found and they were pretty terrible, to be honest. Often steeped in turmeric to add a proper color, or devoid of much flavoring at all, it’s like these recipes were created by people who had never tasted an egg in their lives. And, hey, maybe that’s the case. But my family, we were up to our elbows in eggs just over two years ago and we can still taste the delicate nuances that make eggs… well, eggs. I eventually gave up the dream of ever having a scrambly-eggy-type dish again. It seemed that no one could figure out a way to replicate such a unique flavor. Then one day (!) my mom came to my house with a jar of kala namak that she had just purchased at a local Indian food shop. Also known as “black salt,” the stuff in the jar was minerally-looking and grey. It smelled bland enough, but I dipped into it with my pinky finger and a tasted it and… HOLY COW. It was a perfect replication of a hard-boiled egg. I thought instantly that I could now recreate egg recipes without the eggs! Especially scrambled eggs! (The one recipe everyone already thinks they’ve replicated but it’s missing something! …It’s missing kala namak!) ((thanks, mom!))

So that week I got to work in the kitchen and made up a lovely little mixture that, when sprinkled on crumbled tofu and cooked, tastes so much like scrambled eggs that my kids were all delighted and asking for more! Now it helps deceive your brain just a little bit more if you cook this recipe up with some chopped onion and bell pepper and make a little skillet out of it with hash browns. Also making it into a breakfast burrito is a fantastic idea! But, I tell you, we just had it folded in a piece of toast and we were giddy. Simply giddy.

So here we go; the picture tutorial. For the printable recipe, click here.

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Here it is, folks; the stuff legendary eggless eggs are made of! As noted in the printable recipe, if you can’t obtain kala namak, you can omit it and try to use sprouted extra firm tofu instead of regular tofu. Sprouted tofu has an eggy, sulphur-like flavor to it. If you substitute sprouted tofu, you will have to add sea salt to taste once the scrambles are done.

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Crumbled extra-firm tofu sitting on sautéed onions, waiting to be sprinkled with seasoning. Note how the texture of this tofu so perfectly mimics scrambled eggs. This is the stuff from the refrigerated section of your grocery store. The shelf-stable tofu in the little rectangular carton does not work here. At all.

 

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The addition of the seasoning.

 

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Once stirred throughout, the seasoning turns the tofu the perfect color. Sprinkle on some salt and pepper to finish it off.

 

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We always used to have our scrambled eggs on toast sandwiches for breakfast. So that’s what I did to serve the tofu scrambles to the kids.

 

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They LOVED it! Yay! Something besides pancakes and cereal to have for breakfast! We plant-eaters get particularly left out at the breakfast table, don’t you think? No bacon, sausage, eggs, yogurt, milk, cheesy casseroles, quiches, etc, etc, etc. Well we’re taking breakfast back, baby!

 

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Breakfast burrito with the scrambles: Just add fried potatoes, diced green chile and salsa!  Enjoy!

 

 

 


Vermont Hot Cocoa

Posted on: February 5th, 2015 by
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I always made my grandma’s recipe for hot cocoa. Tried and true, and loved by all, it contained cocoa powder, powdered sugar, and dry non-dairy (but chock full o’ chemicals) coffee creamer. Mix with hot milk or water and voilá! Grandma’s house in a cup.
That’s probably why it took me so long to overhaul hot cocoa after we started avoiding dairy. At first I just kept the recipe the same and added veggie milk instead of dairy milk. But even though the coffee creamer is “non-dairy,” it’s also incredibly “non-healthy.” And that weighed on me. So by and by I started just throwing some cocoa powder and granulated sugar under the hot veggie milk. Totally delicious, that sustained us for the last couple of years. Over that time, the sugar changed to unprocessed organic cane sugar and the (You Know The Brand Name) cocoa powder changed to Dutch-process, high fat cocoa. But after sharing a cup of chocolatey decadence with my mom yesterday afternoon during a frigid Colorado cold snap, I realized that although I tried to make everything in my life low in sugar, I was drinking a cup with a substantial amount of sugar in it every time the winter winds rolled in. This morning, I woke up with a mission: recreate hot chocolate to be a health food. Okay; a healthIER food.
So here is what I finally came up with in my quest, and let me tell you, I wouldn’t share this if I didn’t think that it TOTALLY worked. Simply, you mix a couple tablespoons of maple syrup with a teaspoon of Dutch process cocoa powder and stir in your favorite heated veggie milk (you’ll find that some work better than others, despite which one is normally your favorite) for utter winter day wonderment. Promise.
Find the printable recipe here.

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I get my cocoa powder from Penzeys Spices. I started buying it for a fabulous chocolate cake recipe that swore if I used ANY other cocoa powder the cake wouldn’t work due to varying acid levels. I’ve been hooked ever since! My local Vitamin Cottage/Natural Grocers carries it now, too, after customer requests put it in the limelight.

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Oh, baby. I get all warm and fuzzy inside just looking at all that chocolatey goodness! Make yourself a cup and guiltlessly enjoy every drop!

 

 


Plant-Based Dinners

Posted on: January 21st, 2015 by
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It’s a beautiful snowy Colorado morning. It’s 6:00 am and still dark as night outside, and I’m sitting at my computer with the gas fireplace crackling behind me as it warms up after being turned on with a switch. (Would the smell of burning logs be nice right now? Do I wish I had a real (REAL) fireplace? …No! Are you crazy? I’d never write blog posts if I had to do that kind of work to stay warm!) I woke up with my alarm at 5:50 only to check my phone and see that school is on a 2-hour delay. I almost curled up and went back to sleep, but then, thanks to the extra clarity of mind brought on by school delayedness, I had a marvelous idea for a post and had to get to the computer to start on it.

This particular post will be ever-changing, so check back often. I am going to post a single picture (every day that I can) of what I made for dinner the night prior. There is a lot of genius in this idea: It will give the new veggie eaters a sense of the variety that’s out there for family dinners. It will allow me to notate how I adapted various recipes. And maybe my favorite reason; it will give me a sense of accountability at a time when I have been straying from the part of the lifestyle that says to stay away from sugars and simple carbs. (I have seriously gained almost ten pounds in a little over a month due to my bread-heavy and sugar-heavy snacking- Ugh.)

Over the weekend I made up my usual menu, which is thirty days-worth. We had my husband’s brother’s family living with us for six weeks and for the last month of that time, after my prior menu ran out, I had been winging it day-to-day. That was helpful when collaborating with a meat-eating family on how we could all eat happy, and we did (they were so cool to try so many of my recipes!) but it also nudged me further into the pasta and bread side of veggie eating since those are more palatable for people who are being ransacked into a diet they didn’t ask for. So last weekend I finally pulled together a menu tailored for my family and our whole-foods, plant-based lifestyle. It’s a great menu; hardly any repeats over the 30 days and many new recipes to try! Wheat pasta only makes an appearance four times in the month and breads and tortillas are limited as well. I’m very excited to get back on track and bring you along with me! I so hope you enjoy this journey. (remember to bookmark this page or follow on Facebook for the daily photos!)

First: My four most-used cookbooks. I have others, and I have recipes of my own, but for well-worn cookbooks- these are my go-to references.
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01_20_15nuttynoodles

Bonus picture to start us off: This meal was from two nights ago. One of our absolute favorites: Nutty Noodles with Vegetables, from The China Study Cookbook by Leanne Campbell, PhD. Substitutions and tips: This recipe is fantastic as-is, except the noodles are a bit dry unless the sauce component is doubled. My husband refuses to eat whole wheat pasta until we can find a decent brand that doesn’t break apart and taste grainy, so I am cooking with regular pasta again. Once the sauce is doubled, the only other change I sometimes make is omitting the sesame seeds, green onions, and crushed peanuts. The only reason I omit those things is plainly because I forget- I think of them too last minute since they are garnishes and I end up just leaving them out most of the time. I am cooking for a family during homework time with a baby in my arms, after all! As long as we eat at a decent time, I’m not going to beat myself up over the details. This recipe has been in circulation at our house since the very first month we switched over to this diet over two years ago.

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Last night we had a recipe from the cookbook Speed Vegan by Alan Roettinger. The recipe is simple: Chipotle Mushrooms. It’s got an AWESOME flavor- holy cow. I served them the first time on hot, plain pinto beans and flatbread. Very good, but we are trying to avoid the bread. Last night I served them over hot, plain pinto beans stirred into steamy brown rice. Garlicky wilted spinach was our side dish. This recipe is essentially quartered mushrooms, shallots and green onions (my substitute for scallions) in a deeply flavorful sauce. The chipotle adobo paste that is added to the sauce is a must. I use three-fourths of what it calls for so it’s not very spicy, but you could go the whole way if you like the spice. The flavor from the adobo sauce is something new to me and I love it! I am spreading it (THINLY) on bean burritos and always keeping it in the fridge for possible addition to Mexican fare. Important substitution: This chef loves adding flax oil, presumably for the omega 3,6,9 benefits. We get plenty of those nutrients in our varied diet and are avoiding added fats, no matter how “healthy,” as a principle of the findings of how to live this lifestyle to the most-healthy. So the oil is omitted. I also tend to dry-saute my onions and mushrooms (all veggies) in my stainless steel pan rather than cooking down in broth as suggested. I find that the broth limits caramelization. My whole family, save for my picky-eater daughter, loved this meal. My favorite thing was that my boys both went back for seconds of just the unseasoned rice and beans!

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Last Night’s Dinner: Sweet Potato Curry over basmati rice. I have been working on this recipe for over two years now and finally have it honed in just right on a flavorful, but not too spicy, mixture of spices. It’s a very easy recipe to make; besides boiling the sweet potatoes until tender, everything happens in one pot and is thrown together quite quickly. (see below for a recipe link)

New recipe posted: Sweet Potato Curry!

01_23_15BBQportobello

Last Night’s Dinner: Barbecue Portobello Sandwich with roasted cinnamon sweet potato and collard greens. The BBQ sandwich is as close to southern cooking as I’ve ever had while eating a whole-foods, plant-based diet. With the cinnamon-sprinkled sweet potato and vinegary collard greens, I felt like I was back in Texas again! The sandwich recipe came from The China Study All-Stars cookbook (this recipe by John and Mary Mcdougall) and I made only one variation; using chipotle-adobo sauce instead of minced chipotle pepper in adobo sauce. Essentially the same thing, the canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce are just dumped into a blender, can scraped clean, to blend into the chipotle-adobo sauce. I had just made the sauce for the chipotle mushrooms a couple nights ago, so it was on hand and at about a tablespoon, a perfect substitute. Bonus: All three of my kids finished their sandwiches, even my mushroom-hater! And one had seconds! My hubby had thirds (a half at a time) and my daughter had seconds of the collard greens. When people ask for more, you know you’ve cooked right!

Expect a short break as my family and I will be away from home for a couple of days. I will post dinners when I return!

While on our trip we had simple and crowd-pleasing spaghetti and chili for meals.  But now that I am back, I tried a new recipe for breakfast: Brown Rice Cereal.  This recipe is from the cookbook Speed Vegan, by Alan Roettinger.  Basically, you toast brown rice until fragrant, then throw in your blender until unevenly chopped and ground, and then cook with water until creamy.  Add maple syrup and some toppings of your choice, and you have a beautiful and hearty start to your day.  Bonus: The ground rice smells intoxicating!

While on our trip we had simple and crowd-pleasing spaghetti and chili for meals. But now that I am back, I tried a new recipe for breakfast: Brown Rice Cereal. This recipe is from the cookbook Speed Vegan, by Alan Roettinger. Basically, you toast brown rice until fragrant, then throw in your blender until unevenly chopped and ground, and then cook with water until creamy. Add maple syrup and some toppings of your choice, and you have a beautiful and hearty start to your day. Bonus: The ground rice smells intoxicating!

Last Night's Dinner: Veggie stir-fry over thin rice noodles with homemade teriyaki sauce. This is one of those recipes that all of our guests always rave about!  It's also easy to make; the chopping of the vegetables is the hardest part!  To further alleviate dinner-time tension, I keep a jar of pre-made teriyaki sauce in the fridge.  The veggies I usually include  are onions, carrots, broccoli, and red bell pepper.  Common additions in our house are Napa cabbage, zucchini, snap peas, mung bean sprouts, canned bamboo shoots, and canned water chestnuts.

Last Night’s Dinner:
Veggie stir-fry over thin rice noodles with homemade teriyaki sauce.
This is a dinner that all of our guests always rave about! It’s also easy to make; the chopping of the vegetables is the hardest part. To further alleviate dinner-time tension, I keep a jar of pre-made teriyaki sauce in the fridge to re-warm when needed. The veggies I usually include are: onions, carrots, broccoli, and red bell pepper. Common additions in our house are: Napa cabbage, zucchini, snap peas or snow peas, mung bean sprouts, canned bamboo shoots, and canned water chestnuts.

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Last Night’s Dinner’s Garnish: Roasted herbed chickpeas. Recipe here.

Last Night's Dinner:  Creamy Sweet 'n' Gold Potato Soup. This recipe came from www.thevegan8.com and, despite omitting the 2 T. of tomato paste because I forgot to buy some, it was very good.

Last Night’s Dinner:
Creamy Sweet ‘n’ Gold Potato Soup.
This recipe came from www.thevegan8.com and, despite omitting the 2 T. of tomato paste because I forgot to buy some, it turned out great.  This soup is roughly half sweet potatoes and half yukon gold potatoes, so it is well-balanced and not too sweet at all.  Flavored with cumin and left mostly to speak for itself, this soup impressed all of us in its simplicity.  The recipe author uses roasted gold potato cubes as a garnish, which I bet tastes fantastic, but I chose to make some roasted chickpeas instead.  The chickpeas are delicious on their own as a healthy snack, as I found out this morning when I was hungry before lunch!  I have posted the recipe link under the chickpea picture above.

 

Last Night's Dinner: Leftovers!  Who says I have to cook every night?  Especially when I have been cooking more than normal in order to keep this blog interesting.  So last night when I was supposed to make some crazy new recipe that I couldn't find an ingredient for, I looked in the fridge, saw all the leftovers, and knew I could rest easy.  Curry II was just as delicious as Curry I.

Last Night’s Dinner:
Leftovers! Who says I have to cook every night? Especially when I have been cooking more than normal in order to keep this blog interesting. So last night when I was supposed to make some crazy new recipe that I couldn’t find an ingredient for, I looked in the fridge, saw all the leftovers, and knew I could rest easy. Curry II was just as delicious as Curry I.

Last Night's Dinner: Cauliflower Dal with Panch Phoran over basmati rice. This dish may look unkempt and monotone, but I assure you it is super flavorful and addictive!  The secret spice blend, panch phoran, can be found at any Indian grocer (there are at least three places in Colorado Springs where I can buy it) and is not substitutable!  Early in the process of making this dish, the panch phoran (which is whole seeds; not ground) is toasted with a slight spray of cooking oil.  The aroma from this simple act rendered my kitchen blissfully fragrant for the remainder of the evening.  I can't even begin to explain how wonderful this spice blend smells.  A new favorite recipe for me, though the kids were under-appreciative.  They ate it, but only because they are super polite and also considered their options few.  My husband preferred more red pepper flakes in his than I did in mine, and I found it necessary to add more salt than called for, but overall the recipe was perfect! Recipe courtesy of Susan Voisin at the fatfreevegan.com.

Last Night’s Dinner:
Cauliflower Dal with Panch Phoran over basmati rice.
This dish may look unkempt and monotone, but I assure you it is super flavorful and addictive! The secret spice blend, panch phoran, can be found at any Indian grocer (there are at least three places in Colorado Springs where I can buy it) and is not substitutable! Early in the process of making this dish, the panch phoran (which is whole seeds; not ground) is toasted with a slight spray of cooking oil. The aroma from this simple act rendered my kitchen blissfully fragrant for the remainder of the evening. I can’t even begin to explain how wonderful this spice blend smells. A new favorite recipe for me, though the kids were under-appreciative. They ate it, but only because they are super polite and also considered their options few. My husband preferred more red pepper flakes in his than I did in mine, and I found it necessary to add more salt than called for, but overall the recipe was perfect!
Recipe courtesy of Susan Voisin at the fatfreevegan.com.

A typical plate of pho toppings to be shared by the table.

A typical centerpiece of pho toppings to be shared by the table.

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Last Night’s Dinner: Vegetarian Pho with Vegetables by Ani Phyo; found in The China Study All-Star Collection cookbook. This recipe was very good and it was fun to make pho at home for the first time! Pho is a Vietnamese noodle soup and there is likely to be a pho restaurant or cafe near your home as they are popping up all over the U.S. in droves. Pho is basically a delicious broth over noodles and veggies, with a variety of optional toppings (see photo above), such as basil, mung bean sprouts, lime wedges, jalapeño slices, hoisin sauce, and sriracha sauce. Filling and delightfully healthy, it’s a great addition to any dinner repertoire!

 

Last Night's Dinner: A bed of lettuce with red beans & rice and Blackened Tofu. Blackened Tofu is a recipe from Betty Goes Vegan, a cookbook by Annie & Dan Shannon.  (Overall this cookbook fits the definition of "vegan" perfectly but rarely fits "whole-food.")

Last Night’s Dinner:
A bed of lettuce with red beans & rice and Blackened Tofu.
Blackened Tofu is a recipe from Betty Goes Vegan, a cookbook by Annie & Dan Shannon. (Overall this cookbook fits the definition of “vegan” perfectly but rarely fits “whole-food.”) Blackened Tofu, however, is one of our family favorites. All of the kids always ask for seconds! Pairing it with some red beans & rice just WORKS, and the lettuce used to be a side salad, but I like it under the warm rice mix so much better. Easy and full of nutrients; especially when you use brown rice and lots of greens.

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Last Night’s Dinner: Nachos! This is not a “dinner” we have very often, but I made sauces and chopped fixin’s so that we could have nachos during the Big Game on Sunday and we had plenty of leftovers. Pair that with the fact that yesterday was one of the more chaotic and headache-inducing days I’ve had in a while and leftover nachos started to sound pretty good! The left half of these nachos are covered in a sauce made from heated refried beans and water (pretty straightforward!) and the left side has the sauce from my mac & “cheese” recipe poured on. Ground vegan crumbles seasoned with a dry taco seasoning made these nachos very authentic. These are always a hit at our house, and it’s nice to have some vegan junk food once in a while!

 

Last Night's Dinner: Savory Mushroom Stronganoff, a recipe from The China Study All-Stars Collection provided by Laura Theodore.

Last Night’s Dinner:
Savory Mushroom Stronganoff, a recipe from The China Study All-Stars Collection provided by Laura Theodore. I served it with brussels sprouts in a garlic sauce made with garlic, veggie broth and a little corn starch. The meal was fantastic. I really liked the flavor of the mushroom sauce, though my husband and I agreed that “stroganoff” wasn’t the right name for this meal since stroganoff is typically creamier, utilizing the application of sour cream or mayonnaise. Of course this recipe was probably quite a bit healthier (read: lower fat) than the vegan mayo-based stroganoff that I usually make. The main ingredients in this yummy noodle topping are basically mushrooms, veggie broth, basil and onion. Irresistibly simple and mouthwateringly yummy.

Last Night's Dinner: Okay let's get real.  Some dinners are utter failures.  Last night's was certainly close to "utter," even if it was really more like "semi."  I mean, this dinner was only a semi failure because people actually ate it, though begrudgingly. So let's review what went wrong.  I wanted to make this carrot soup recipe I found.  The carrot soup in and of itself was pretty "eh," not to mention the fact that the recipe itself did not work the way the author wrote it.  I crossed that recipe off of my menu list and won't make it again in the future.  Since I knew in advance that making carrot soup for my family was a risk, I chose to make it as a side dish to some throw-together stir-fry.  I usually make great stir fry, but last night I wanted it to just be green beans and onions with lots of garlic over rice noodles.  Sounded good.  Of course I only had frozen green beans.  I was out of rice noodles so I used bean threads.  I didn't have any onions in my entire house (HERESY!) so I had to omit those.  I found mushrooms that were for something else but I stole them for the stir fry so the frozen green beans wouldn't be lonely.  I made up a sauce on the spot and made some terrible choices on what ingredients to include.  Is that all?  Oh, no, wait- I also overcooked the stir fry, rendering it more of a cafe side dish than a fresh and crispy main course.  So, yeah.  Not doing that again.  But this happens to me all the time.  And I considering it a valuable learning experience each time!  And, hey, my family didn't starve last night.

Last Night’s Dinner:
Okay let’s get real. Some dinners are utter failures. Last night’s was certainly close to “utter,” even if it was really more like “semi.” I mean; this dinner was only a semi failure because people actually ate it, though begrudgingly.
So let’s review what went wrong. I wanted to make this carrot soup recipe I found. The carrot soup in and of itself was pretty “eh,” not to mention the fact that the recipe did not work the way the author wrote it. I crossed that recipe off of my menu list and won’t make it again in the future. Since I knew in advance that making carrot soup for my family was a risk, I chose to make it as a side dish to some throw-together stir-fry. I usually make great stir fry, but last night I wanted it to just be green beans and onions with lots of garlic over rice noodles. Sounded good. Of course I only had frozen green beans. And I was out of rice noodles so I used bean threads. I didn’t have any onions in my entire house (HERESY!) so I also had to omit those. I found mushrooms that were for something else but I stole them for the stir fry so the frozen green beans wouldn’t be lonely. I made up a sauce on the spot and made some terrible choices on what ingredients to include. Is that all? Oh, no, wait- I also overcooked the stir fry, rendering it more of a cafe side dish than a fresh and crispy main course. So, yeah. Not doing that again. But this happens to me all the time, and I considering it a valuable learning experience. And, hey, my family didn’t starve last night.

Last Night's Dinner: Pomegranate Vinaigrette on roasted veggies over sautéed kale and clover sprouts, garnished with toasted seeds. This dinner may not look like much, but the vinaigrette mixed onto the kale and roasted veggie is absolutely fabulous! My whole family liked this meal, and my husband wanted thirds.  Plus, the nutritional value on the plate was really high, with no bread or pasta to fill us up, we all filled up on pure green goodness and we felt so satisfied.  The vinaigrette recipe is from The China Study All-Stars Collection and was contributed by Heather Crosby.  Throw the following into a blender and blend until smooth: 1/4 cup plus 2 T pomegranate juice, 3 T red wine vinegar, 2 T water, 5-7 pre-soaked and drained cashews, 1 T maple syrup, 2 t lime juice, and a dash of salt and pepper.

Last Night’s Dinner:Pomegranate Vinaigrette on roasted veggies over sautéed kale and clover sprouts, garnished with toasted seeds.This dinner may not look like much, but the vinaigrette mixed onto the kale and roasted veggie is absolutely fabulous! My whole family liked this meal, and my husband wanted thirds.  Plus, the nutritional value on the plate was really high, with no bread or pasta to fill us up, we all filled up on pure green goodness and we felt so satisfied.  The vinaigrette recipe is from The China Study All-Stars Collection and was contributed by Heather Crosby.  Throw the following into a blender and blend until smooth: 1/4 cup plus 2 T pomegranate juice, 3 T red wine vinegar, 2 T water, 5-7 pre-soaked and drained cashews, 1 T maple syrup, 2 t lime juice, and a dash of salt and pepper.

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Last Night’s Dinner: Tofu and Soba Noodles with Hot-Sweet-Sour-Pungent Sauce. This recipe is from Alan Roettinger in his cookbook Speed Vegan. The soba noodles are made from buckwheat and are a great whole-grain pasta noodle for a whole-foods diet. Full buckwheat soba noodles can get pricey, so I usually buy the ones made with part whole wheat. The only thing I can say to sum up this dinner is that, although the taste is exactly as described by the title, it is a real crowd pleaser. Our family has had this once a month for quite some time because all five of us like it. So although it sounds crazy- it’s well worth trying!

Last Night's Dinner: Spaghetti and broccoli! A huge hit with kids all over the world, spaghetti gets the dinnertime spotlight at least once a month at our house.  The sauce is usually just chunk tomato-y goodness with plenty of herbs thrown in, but sometimes we like to add imitation ground beef crumbles to the mix for a special treat.  Chunks of mushrooms are my favorite.  Anything to fancy it up and add some varying nutrients.

Last Night’s Dinner:
Spaghetti and broccoli!
A huge hit with kids all over the world, spaghetti gets the dinnertime spotlight at least once a month at our house. The sauce is usually just chunky tomato-y goodness with plenty of herbs thrown in, but sometimes we like to add imitation ground beef crumbles to the mix for a special treat. Chunks of mushrooms are my favorite. Anything to fancy it up and add some varying nutrients.  Remember that it’s always better to use whole wheat pasta (if your spouse allows it! (eh-hem.)) and cook your pasta al-dente to slow the sugar absorption into your blood if you are diabetic.

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Last Night’s Dinner: Black Bean Soup with Sweet Potatoes, a recipe by Dreena Burton included in The China Study All-Stars Collection cookbook. Last night was the first time I had ever made this recipe. I knew our weather would be chilly enough that a good hearty soup was in order, but I didn’t know how good it would taste! This is a thick and flavorful soup, but not spicy. The avocado and cilantro garnishes add a lot to the soup, so don’t leave those out. I put a dollop of Tofutti sour cream on my serving and really liked the contrast it added. Two of my kids were all “eh” about this dinner, but the rest of us gobbled it up. And since it was also easy to make, using canned black beans and just needing enough simmering time to cook the potatoes, it was a win!

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Last Night’s Dinner: Chili! I have been tinkering with my chili recipe for a long time and have finally found a way to encompass all of the flavor it deserves; chipotle adobo sauce and beer. Man, those two ingredients punched it up to AWESOME. We’ve all been dying for a chili dog, so I made a large batch of chili last night and we will use the leftovers to have chili dogs (on vegan hot dogs, of course) over the weekend. Until then, some Tofutti sour cream and green onions are all the add-ons we need.

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Last Night’s Dinner: Vegetable Dumpling Stew… …sans dumplings. This recipe is from The China Study cookbook and is well-loved by our family. Well loved except for the dumpling part of the recipe, which is really overly dense, so I have always substituted my own recipe for vegan biscuits to use as dumplings instead. Last night the dumplings were an even newer variation: invisible! I was running so far behind with dinner that I decided we didn’t have the extra 20 minutes that it takes to steam cook the dumplings. I instead added some flour and water and heated to thicken the soup into stew. Still veggie stew. Still yummy. But no whole wheat dumplings. (pouty face)

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Last Night’s Dinner: Our favorite thing to do with leftover chili: Chili Dogs! I made some macaroni salad to accompany the chili dogs, which worked out well because our weather was sunshiney and warm and it felt like a spring-time picnic at our house. The macaroni salad has a sauce that is made primarily of blended cashews and some lemon juice to flavor. It’s very good as-is, but I chose to add some chopped celery and black olives to the mix. I found the recipe, called Creamy Broccoli and Red Pepper Macaroni, in The China Study All-Stars cookbook. The chili dog is our favorite vegan hot dog on a whole wheat bun (with ketchup and mustard squirted on) with leftover chili and some chopped onions. Simple. Happy. A reminder of simpler times.

 

Last Night's Dinner: Green Thai Curry.  AKA Tuscon Kale and Coconut Soup with Tofu, by Alan Roettinger and found in his cookbook, Speed Vegan.

Last Night’s Dinner:
Green Thai Curry.
AKA: Tuscon Kale and Coconut Soup with Tofu, by Alan Roettinger and found in his cookbook, Speed Vegan.   This meal is so amazingly good! The recipe is supposed to be a soup, but last night for the first time we tried serving it over basmati rice for a change of pace, and to make it more like the Thai food we love. It was splendid. This recipe contains Thai green curry paste which gives a subtle kick but nothing that makes my eyes water. The broccoli stems and kale provide the green, along with some cilantro thrown in at the end. Broccoli stems are abundant in the organic section of you grocery store, where usually the broccoli is sold with the long stems. The recipe called for tuscan kale, but I just used whatever type was on sale.
This meal is so full of flavor and texture. Adding the rice was a smart move; it soaked up the creamy and sweet coconut-based broth and really worked against the crunch of the veggies to give a competing texture. Really amazing. Just finished up the leftovers and I’m still dreamily yearning for more.

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Last Night’s Dinner:
Baked falafel balls on flatbread with tzatziki sauce, cucumbers and cherry tomatoes. I developed this recipe a while ago and it has a consistent presence at our kitchen table. Falafel balls are a really healthy main course; based on chickpeas and cracked (bulgur) wheat, these ones pack in the nutrients without being deep-fat fried. The tzatziki sauce adds the perfect tangy kick and the chopped cucumber and cherry tomatoes give it the Mediterranean flair that it’s known for. For a healthier sandwich, use whole wheat pita pockets instead.
Full tutorial here: http://www.veggiebasedcooking.com/blog-posts/baked-falafel/

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Last Night’s Dinner:
Beetles Tips in Bordelaise, browned red potatoes with rosemary and garlic, and roasted veggies over kale and sprouts with pomegranate vinaigrette.
The bordelaise recipe comes from Betty Goes Vegan (by Annie and Dan Shannon) and is one of those recipes that you can really impress the meat-eaters with. It’s not low-fat so substitutions can be made, such as making the sauce by stirring the flour into the liquids and then bringing to a boil, rather than making the flour and oil roux first.

 

Last Night's Dinner: Vegetable Enchiladas with Bean Sauce by Del Sroufe.  I was leery of this recipe when we first tried it a couple years ago.  The filling is basically zucchini, red bell pepper, corn, and some spices.  I wasn't sure how enchilada-y it would taste, but I was impressed with my first bite and have been hooked ever since!

Last Night’s Dinner:
Vegetable Enchiladas with Bean Sauce by Del Sroufe.
I was leery of this recipe when we first tried it a couple years ago. The filling is basically zucchini, red bell pepper, corn, and some spices. I wasn’t sure how enchilada-y it would taste, but I was impressed with my first bite and have been hooked ever since! The bean sauce over the top is really good and I have used it with other recipes just because I like it so much. I do spice it up sometimes by substituting chipotle chili powder for 1/2 teaspoon of the chili powder. We get our whole wheat tortillas from the refrigerated section of our natural foods store (the recipe actually calls for corn tortillas) and they have no preservatives or unnecessary ingredients. This meal is high in fiber and veggies, has absolutely no added fat and only as much salt as you want to flavor the bean sauce. Plus it’s kid-approved and works great as a meal to serve for guests who think they don’t like veg-fare.

Last Night's Dinner: Broccoli & "Cheese" Soup in a bread bowl.

Last Night’s Dinner:
Broccoli & “Cheese” Soup in a bread bowl.
I won’t lie. This meal should not be considered a serving size for one individual, and yet I had seconds. But through my shame I realize that I have a winning broccoli “cheese” soup recipe that I absolutely must share with you! I’ve tinkered with it for a long time and I think it’s ready. Putting it in a bowl of crusty sourdough just brought it to a whole new level of Can’t-Stop-Eating-This. So my disclaimer would be, for those of you pursuing a whole-foods based diet, don’t eat a meal made of processed white bread, no matter how delicious, very often. At all. Save it for company when you want to impress someone that’s coming to your house not sure what to expect, and scared of what the word “vegan” might look like on their plate. Otherwise you might find some food-love guilt on your pillow the next morning when you wake up. Delicious, shame-filled, food-love guilt.
 For the picture tutorial and blog-post, click here.

Last Night's Dinner: Artichoke and Spinach Pasta. This is a dish I created one night with the ingredients I had on-hand and I really liked it.  (Recipe to come soon.)  It's got a creamy broth-based sauce and includes garlic, minced sun-dried tomatoes, quartered artichoke hearts, and spinach.  Top with some vegan parmesan sprinkles and it's finished!

Last Night’s Dinner:
Artichoke and Spinach Pasta.
This is a dish I created one night with the ingredients I had on-hand and I really liked it. (Recipe to come soon.) It’s got a creamy broth-based sauce and includes garlic, minced sun-dried tomatoes, quartered artichoke hearts, and spinach. Top with some vegan parmesan sprinkles and it’s finished!

 I have now posted Last Night’s Dinners for an entire month. I hope that you have found some inspiration to use when working with veggie-based ingredients. It’s not boring; we aren’t limited. Veggies and whole grains represent a cornucopia of possibilities! Enjoy your veggie journey!


Storage and Jars

Posted on: January 20th, 2015 by
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I thought this would be a fun and easy post; maybe a way to get me back on track with regular updates and maybe even (gasp!) new recipes.
I bought some new spices today and was creating space for them when I was overcome with an urge to clean and organize my spice drawer. That led to cleaning and organizing my spice cupboard. That led to several spices being lined up on my countertop which led to me wanting to take a picture of them. Then, of course, I wanted to share that picture with you! So here’s a little taste of how I keep, organize, and purchase the spices that keep my veggie-based food sparkling with flavor:

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My entire spice collection. Still collecting new ones as I find recipes that call for them. Since my pre-veggie days, though, my collection has easily doubled.

 

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A closer look at my spice drawer. I have all of the baking spices (including cream of tartar (a grape derivative) and ground ginger) on the left side. Moving toward the center, the spices turn to herbs and seasonings, and then to the right they are savory spices. The back row is a bit of a hodgepodge, with poppyseed and Old Bay thrown in.

 

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What I really wanted to share is a picture of my awesome jars! I use any old jars that I can get the label off of for my spices. Jam jars are my favorite, as the typical 10 oz size is about perfect for me. But I also have jars from brown rice syrup and other non-smelly grocery store goods rounding out the mix.

 

To label my jars, I just cut out rectangles of paper, write the spice name on it, and then use strong, clear strapping tape to completely cover the paper and tape it on. The tape ensures that over time your hands don't slowly dirty the label.

To label my jars, I just cut out rectangles of paper, write the spice name on it, and then use strong, clear strapping tape to completely cover the paper and tape it on. The tape ensures that over time your hands don’t slowly dirty the label.

 

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I have also had several recipes that call for blends. I made the berbere spice blend from an online recipe for some Ethiopian fare. The blackened seasoning was also constructed in my kitchen- we like to sprinkle it on tofu before frying it up and serving it over dry lettuce.

 

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It’s so clean that I had to take one more picture! The bottom right jars are my favorite; cumin! The cumin seeds were just purchased today and I had no idea how fantastic they would smell. I want to just munch on them plain!

 

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I wanted to give a shout-out to my local natural foods store, Natural Grocers (Vitamin Cottage). They have the best prices on spices and herbs! This was a big bag of cinnamon; way more than would fit in one of those paltry grocery store spice jars. And it was only $3.00- and that’s the EXPENSIVE cinnamon!

 

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The cheaper cinnamon, still organic, was only a smidgen over $1.50. I go through cinnamon like crazy (see vegan cinnamon pancakes) and couldn’t imagine paying $7.00 for a small jar of it at the grocery store, only to get it home and have the aromatics old and stale.

 

 

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I got this a while ago and it was too much to fit in my jar. Whenever I have extra in the little bulk baggies, I put them all in an airtight gallon freezer bag and keep them in my deep freezer in the garage until I am ready for them.

 

 

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Check out the price on this unrefined, organic cane sugar. I paid $1.39 for a pound of it today. Not as cheap as the bleached and processed stuff, but VERY cheap compared to other organic sources.

 

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They even sell baking powder!

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One baggie of this fills up my old canister perfectly.

 

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Now to my baking items. These need much bigger jars and canisters. The organic cane sugar I showed earlier- it is housed in an old Florida Crystals (which is the same thing but with a name-brand attached) canister.

 

 

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Ener-G egg replacer is a must for the newly-switched veggie chef! It replaces eggs in baked goods superbly and even as a binder in many other types of recipes. Tried two other brands before this one and it’s for sure the best one I’ve used. I also like to have turbinado sugar for a change of pace. The Guittard chocolate chips are not only vegan, but gluten-free! Plus they are available in many grocery stores for a reasonable price. (One thing I refuse to buy at the natural foods store is $5 bags of vegan chocolate chips, but then, I’m sure there are other reasons that they are worth the $5 to some connoisseurs.)

 

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I think the main thing I use xanthan gum for is my homemade shampoo, but it does pop up in recipes as a thickening agent. It’s very potent and this jar will probably last through three generations.

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Ah, sucanat! The all-time best sugar replacer! Unless you are sweetening your tea or other clear drink (it will cloud the liquid) this is a perfect substitute for regular sugar. I love it in baking and have even used it to make teriyaki sauce. It’s highly unprocessed; which makes it ideal for health-food nuts and tree-huggers alike. Sucanat is literally the leftovers from evaporating cane juice. Buy some!

 

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More baking stuff! You can buy just about any grain or flour in bulk at your local natural foods store. Again, bulk (as pictured) is very affordable- oftentimes cheaper than the questionably produced equivalent at your local grocery store.

 

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These are the items I keep in my freezer. All of these items are high in fats and can therefore go rancid in the pantry: Whole ground grains, nuts, and many seeds. Not sure about cocoa but I paid a pretty penny for the good stuff and I’m not taking any chances! (I’m pretty sure cocoa is shelf stable in your pantry for quite a long time)

 

 

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The irony of the Breyer’s ice cream container still being in my freezer is not lost on me. : ) The two center containers were purchased brand-new to serve their purpose as flour canisters. Finding large plastic containers that aren’t tainted by the smell of their previous contents is sometimes a challenge, and I didn’t want to spend time hunting something down. So I just coughed up a few bucks for a four-pack of clean, generic snapping-lid containers.

 

 
I love sharing how my kitchen is made up of whatever is lying around and convenient. I love sharing how to get amazing ingredients at excellent prices. This shouldn’t be stressful for anyone. Being in the kitchen should be a joy! I hope you found this helpful- please share any ideas you have used to keep your kitchen stress-free in the comments below and we will all learn together.


What’s in a Name?

Posted on: October 28th, 2014 by
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You may have noticed the recent change of my blog name from New Vegan Kitchen to Veggie Based Cooking. I would like to delve into this just a little bit in response to the questions I have had surrounding the change.
I am technically vegan. But more accurately, I eat a plant-based, whole-foods diet.

I don’t want the fact that I eschewed the vegan moniker to create the appearance that I am somehow against veganism. That is absolutely not the case. I am, in all essence, a vegan. But there is a slight undertone to the title “vegan” that has made it problematic for me to use that word as the sole definition of what I am, especially when explaining my goals on this website.

So here’s the low-down:
Vegan people abstain from animal products; always in foods, usually in clothing and other materials, and often even in honey because it represents the use of an insect as a means of consumption or labor. Do I abstain from meat? Yes. Dairy? Totally. Leather? Hm, haven’t considered that one in far too long. Honey? Well, no, but that doesn’t make me a non-vegan. It just separates me from the die-hards.

Plant-based, whole-foods eaters are vegan, too, because they don’t eat animal products. But the difference lies here: I eat what I eat as a means to better health and lifestyle. A vegan eats what they eat as a means to protect the beautiful animals that we share this world with.

This somewhat minor difference can have major repercussions on the dinner table. My overall goal is longterm health, so I avoid processed foods or foods with added sugar, salt or fat. I focus heavily on eating things that are as close to their original from-the-ground form as possible. I have found myself making lots of things at home from scratch just so I can be in charge of how much sodium and sugar get added. I pile my family’s plates high with leafy greens and heart-healthy grains and limit all liquids except water. We eat this way to avoid the drastic health problems that plague the majority of Americans: diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. (And we have found substantial research to indicate that this lifestyle also challenges the formation of Alzheimer’s, MS, arthritis, erectile dysfunction, and many more.) We eat for our health.

If I were eating with the sole intention of protecting animals, I would not have the same stipulations on what went on my plate. Anything free from animal products would be fair game. I couldn’t eat cheesy nachos or marshmallows or bacon, but I could eat Twizzlers and Oreos and Doritos. Are Twizzlers, Oreos and Doritos healthy? Will a diet including processed foods ever lead you to optimal health? And therein lies the distinguishing factor. Not all vegans eat Doritos- I know that. But when I am explaining to people that I abstain from meat and dairy, I need a title that includes the fact that I eat only ground-grown and unprocessed things. “Vegan” doesn’t include this assumption in the title. So from now on, I will use “whole-foods, plant-based” to describe my food regimen. It’s the description first introduced to me by the folks who produced the movie Forks Over Knives, and one I have heard many places since. It’s a description for health, not one with any other motive, and that’s what makes it perfect for this site. I just want to promote people being healthy. And I realize many of those people (including me) have a raving fondness for animals, but let’s make it about more than that. Let’s make it about fighting back against the fast-food industrialized marketplace that we live in. Let’s make it about living to see our great-grandkids and still being able to enjoy our hobbies and loved ones until the day we are called back to our Maker. Let’s make it about eating real food.

Me; Blogmaster Sarah, enjoying the Colorado outdoors in between trying to catch up with this blog and raising my family.

Me; Blogmaster Sarah.  Thanks for stopping by!


Gluten-Free Flour

Posted on: October 23rd, 2014 by
1

I posted a recipe for pumpkin pancakes and immediately received questions about how to make the fabulous flapjacks fitting for the gluten intolerant. The answer? Easy! Just use a typical gluten-free flour substitute. I know you can purchase GF flour in stores but I imagine it’s way cheaper (and more reliable) to make your own, especially when a baker has already tested it time and time again. (that’s me; I’m the baker (smirk))
This recipe is in one of my favorite vegan baking cookbooks; Sweet Vegan. It hasn’t failed me yet and so I plaster it here on my blog for everyone to “ooo” and “ahh” at. The ingredients are not hard to come by in any natural foods store, so don’t fret if you’ve never heard of xanthan gum. Also note that xanthan gum is a little pricey per bag, but that a small bag of it will last even an ambitious cook at least the year-long shelf life. I use the stuff to thicken homemade shampoo and only need about a half teaspoon per whole bottle of shampoo. (Another post, perhaps, but be aware that applications are beyond cooking.)

So here it is, friends, the only GF flour recipe you’ll ever need!

Gluten-Free Flour (click on title for printable version)

Mix the following together:
2 cups white rice flour
2/3 cup potato starch
1/3 cup tapioca starch
1 1/2 teaspoons xanthan gum

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Gluten-free raspberry gem cake.

Keep in the freezer for a year-long shelf-life.
Enjoy your favorite recipes!

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Pumpkin Pancakes!

Posted on: October 21st, 2014 by
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Fall is here in Colorado. The leaves are absolutely gorgeous this year and slowly turning all sorts of yellows, oranges and reds. The temperature is dropping gently day by day and I find myself eyeing the new shipment of apple cider gallons at my local grocery store. But you know as well as I do that the seasons can’t officially change until there is some measure of celebratory eating engaged. And pumpkin is the star when autumn comes a knockin’.

My son recently brought home a school menu with a recipe for pumpkin pancakes on the back. We all agreed that it sounded good so I whipped them up, substituting the butter, eggs and milk as necessary. The result was liquid-like batter that cooked into bland, blah-looking patties of boringness. No one cared much for them, and I might add that the amount of actual pumpkin in the recipe was questionably low for something named “pumpkin ________.” So I made my own, and they won the taste-off later that afternoon by a landslide. I found that the batter was hard to work with, though, so I made more batches until I got it right. In the end, I found the right dry ingredients/liquid proportions as well as the right combination of spices to bring out the pumpkininess perfectly.

So after making batch number four, we all win! Pumpkin pancakes for everyone!!

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Pumpkin Pancakes (click on the title for a printable version)

Dry Ingredients:
1 cup oat flour
1/2 c. whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 T. ground cinnamon
1 t. ground ginger
1/8 t. ground nutmeg
1/16 t. (a pinch) ground cloves
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. fine sea salt

Wet Ingredients:
2 c. oat milk (or veggie-based milk of your choice)
3 T. pure maple syrup (or agave syrup)
1 t. vanilla extract
1 T. apple cider vinegar
1 c. canned pureed pumpkin

Directions:

In a medium bowl, combine all of the wet ingredients and then add in the pumpkin puree and mix until smooth. Set aside. Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl using a wire whisk. Create a well in the center of the dry ingredients.

Preheat a griddle or a large stovetop pan to medium heat over a large burner.

Whisk the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, pouring the wet into the well previously created and mixing from the center out. Do not over-mix, but make sure that the dry ingredients are incorporated. The idea is to pull the batter together with as few strokes as possible. (over-mixing will produce flat and fluffless pancakes)

Spray your heated surface lightly with cooking spray and, if it smokes a little or immediately shimmers, you are ready to pour batter. If the oil has no reaction to the pan, wait a couple minutes for it to get hot enough before pouring.

Pour pancakes, well spaced, and wait to flip until the edges begin to look dry. Cook until both sides are browned. If the cook surface is as hot as you are used to when cooking pancakes, you are likely to burn these. There are more sugars in this batter due to the pumpkin puree and they need to cook low and slow. Medium heat is best.

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These babies will help you savor the season, and get all warm and toasty on chilly fall mornings. Throw the extras in the freezer for quick, to-go breakfasts all week. Syrup is always king, but in our house these pancakes are most loved with apple butter on top.


2 Year Anniversary!

Posted on: October 1st, 2014 by
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It has been two years to the day since I took meat, dairy and added salt, sugar and fat out of my diet. (For the one-year anniversary update, click here) I wanted to be in it for the long haul because I believed it was healthy, but I honestly wasn’t sure how far I would get. Turns out, I’ve had no problem maintaining veganism, or rather, the avoidance of meat and dairy, but I have begun to have a problem staying true to the “whole-foods” part of my lifestyle.

Adapting my lifestyle to a plant-based diet required ingenuity and dedication. Everything had to change and there was little in the way of educational support in the mainstream sources I was used to relying on. It required determination as well; socially speaking, I was nervous moving forward. Would people ostracize me or assume I was part of some commune cult? (Mm, not most people…) Overall, though, my fears were unfounded. This lifestyle, once over the “what-to-eat-hurdle,” has been highly sustainable and straightforward. It is actually a fairly common lifestyle and the numbers of plant-based eaters is climbing so quickly that restaurants and grocers everywhere are beginning to offer acceptable options for this uprising of customers. I run into like-minded people on a regular basis, and if people around me aren’t plant eaters, they’re likely eschewing corn syrup, gluten, or processed foods in general (or all of the aforementioned). People across America are now eating for their health, and not for their taste buds. I’m definitely in good company.

My journey, though, has taken some backslides. I have learned a lot and want to report back to you, my valued reader, what I have learned after two years of whole-foods, plant-based eating. I think I should start by explaining why I have a stomach ache right now.

Today is October 1st; Count Day. The day the government uses the attendance at every school to determine the funding each school will get for the year. That means if Little Timmy is absent, the school will not get paid to facilitate Little Timmy’s education and funds from other students (all in a collective “pot” anyway) will need to be spread thinner to cover the exclusion. It’s so important that most schools will actually beg students to come to school sick just to get the funding they deserve. It’s SO important that schools bribe children. With donuts. (at least ours does) Two of my kids attend a bribery-by-donut charter school and one is home schooled. That means that we had to have our own count day at home so my homeschooler wouldn’t feel left out. That meant…

I had to buy a box of donuts.

I had to buy a box of donuts.

I had to buy six donuts because we found this new donut shop (Amy’s Donuts) that has rave reviews (well deserved!) and that my son has apparently seen from the overpass every time we have passed it for the last two years and has filed it away to ask me to take him there as soon as an occasion arose. And far be it for me to go to such a creative donut shop and not get some amazing creations to share with the family later!

Top left to bottom right: cotton candy, apple something-or-other, zesty lemon, pumpkin pie on glazed, fluffer nutter, and chocolate jalapeño.

Top left to bottom right:
cotton candy, apple something-or-other, zesty lemon, pumpkin pie on glazed, fluffer nutter, and chocolate jalapeño.

You can see why I wanted to buy enough to share: I had to try them all! Once home, I picked out the glazed donut with pumpkin pie smeared all over the top and promptly ate it. And now I have a terrible stomach ache. (I have to say, though, it was delicious.)
It’s funny to me that I even CONSIDERED buying donuts for the family when I have been in the throes of overhauling what our diet has become. A couple of weeks ago I finally began to associate my tiredness, headaches and leg cramps with the decline of my nutritional intake. I realized that there was a direct correlation between the processed foods and poor carb choices and these symptoms. I looked at our monthly menu and verified that I had, in fact, began to eat more like a traditional vegan and less like someone trying to cut out added fats, sugars, salts and processed foods altogether. (To clarify; a vegan is typically someone who avoids animal products but does not necessarily pay attention to the overall nutritional value of the foods they do ingest)
Let’s look at my menu for the previous month:
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Out of 31 meals (34 slots, but two were blank and one said “leftovers”) the following patterns are present:
Nine meals were planned around regular wheat pasta. Seven included the highly processed vegan “meats” that are abundantly available in stores but still high in fat and sodium. Two revolved around an entire bag of store-bought tortilla chips. I fried hash browns in oil to go with green chili one night. We had fried okra once as well as several rounds of store-bought sweet potato tots, which are fat-heavy so they can be baked crispy.
Here’s what gets me the most, though: ELEVEN of thirty-one included hamburger buns, hot dog buns, flatbread, tortillas, or pizza crust. Those are carbs that I feel are unnecessary to have at that rate, partly because of the meals I ingest for breakfast and lunch. Let’s say there are 90 meals in a month: 30 breakfasts, 30 lunches, and 30 dinners. Every breakfast I eat has morphed from All-Bran cereal with fruit and coconut milk to pancakes or toast. Every lunch I eat has morphed from hummus, veggies, and a salad to a soy sauce-soaked tempeh sandwich on two slices of bread. That means out of 90 meals, 71 include bread items. That’s too high. Carbs are GOOD. But they should more often be in the form of healthy, unprocessed grains and beans. My diet, and my family’s, has turned bread-heavy.
All of those monthly menu statistics are what caused me to realize that the change in how I felt coincided with the change in how raw and veggie-laden my meals were. Taking out the abundance of raw veggies and unprocessed grains had taken away my antioxidants and healthy carb fuels. I don’t like feeling sluggish. I don’t like having headaches. So last week I re-watched the film that started it all: Forks Over Knives. It was a great reminder that processed foods are denser in calories because of how the ingredients are dehydrated, powdered, and concentrated. How our stomachs don’t know we’ve had enough calories because part of our digestive warning system depends on the stomach being stretched until it’s filled, and when you put calorie-dense foods in your stomach until it’s filled, you are far exceeding your body’s caloric needs. This would explain why I had gained 8 pounds over the last two months as my diet had slowly digressed. After watching the movie, I was convinced that I needed to overhaul my diet again. I know what to do this time and don’t have to worry about where to look for recipes! I just have to clear my house out again. This time, instead of clearing out meat and dairy, I have to get rid of the sodas, tortilla chips, crackers, pre-packaged foods, and vegan “meats.” To further prove my point- I have just finished a week of eating whole foods with very few processed carbs and I already lost the 8 pounds I had gained. Pretty amazing.
So take heart, dear reader, and know that the battle for our health is something we all fight with every day. I guess the key is paying enough attention to know when a once-in-a-while indulgence has become a staple. And having self control when passing awesome donut shops.


The Camping Vegan

Posted on: July 11th, 2014 by
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What foods do you think of when you think of campfire cooking?
I totally think: hot dogs, S’mores, foil-pouch beef and veggies, bacon and eggs, skewered meat of any kind, and cold cuts for lunch. This was my camping cuisine repertoire pre veggie-based lifestyle. But I had to reinvent how to feed my family over a campfire pit in the woods if we were to survive our June camping trip. I wanted our meals to be satisfying and healthy (and meatless and dairy-less) while also being easy to cook and having sturdy ingredients that could be transported and kept for a couple of days without getting dented or bruised. We looked forward to a seven hour drive and had to live out of a cooler for three days so I didn’t want too many ingredients that had to be kept cold. Some of the preparations I made at home in my kitchen alleviated the anxiety of prep-work at the campsite. I packaged my meals in grocery bags with labels written on in thick, black marker: “Thursday Dinner, Friday Breakfast, Friday snack, etc.” One morning we simply had cereal for breakfast so we wouldn’t have to start a campfire to cook something lengthy when our goal was to get to the lake to fish right after dawn. That bag contained a shelf-stable box of oat milk and a box of cereal. Simple! Plus I left all of the bags in our van to keep the scent of food away from bears. So when we set up camp we didn’t have to mess with the food hardly at all. Some stuff was in the cooler, but I wrote those items on their prospective “meal bags” so I would know what to grab before even having to think about it.
I’ve shared a little about my organization and thought processes, so now for a couple of recipes that worked so well I just have to share!

Fruit Pies:
These babies were something I had as a kid when camping with my family. We owned a long-handled sandwich press for grilling sandwiches over an open fire. You would just put a piece of bread in each side of the press, put a spoonful of some kind of filling on one side (in this case, fruit pie filling), push the two sides together and lock closed. After holding it over the fire for a while, you could open it up and easily pry out a golden-brown gooey sandwich. I do not own such a convenient device these days, so I had to improvise.
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The bag for this snack-time delight simply contained a can of pie filling, a can of olive oil cooking spray, and a loaf of bread. The loaf of bread will only make about six servings (2 slices per sandwich) but the can of filling contains enough for almost double that. Although more expensive, I found that the blueberry pie filling from Comstock does not contain corn syrup even though their cherry filling does. (Of course my kids voted for cherry anyway!)
First things first: I hope you brought a can opener! (I forgot one on my first-ever camping trip with my husband and I vividly remember trying to open a can of Spaghetti-O’s with a sharp rock and then slurping the pasta and sauce out of a jagged hole) Open the can of pie filling and pour it all into a large plastic cup or baggie or something you have on hand. Then cut off the bottom of the can as well and rinse the can out well. (To avoid calling bears to your site, why not leave zero residue and just lick the can clean?) Set can aside.
Bring out the all-important cooking spray and spray the table-facing side of a piece of bread. Plop a spoonful of pie filling in the center of the bread (I know it’s tempting, but don’t use more than one spoonful or crimping the bread will be difficult) and cover with another slice, which you will spray the top-side of once placed on top of the filling.
Now use the emptied, hollow can as a cookie cutter and cut a circle through the bread, around the filling. Use your fingers to further crimp any spots that are trying to leak out filling.
Once you have made enough, set them on a cookie sheet that has been heated up and is sitting over your campfire. Flip once until golden brown on both sides. Serve and enjoy!
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My kids LOVED these! They thought I was an absolute genius!
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Macaroni & Cheese:
Use this link to grab the cheese sauce recipe: Mac & Cheese – Vegan Style
Now here’s how to do this EASY: Make the “cheese” sauce as per the recipe at home. Blend it up and put it in a plastic bottle. I used an old washed-out ketchup bottle. Store in the cooler. Pre-cook the macaroni noodles to a little firmer than you would want to eat them at. Rinse at home with very cold water and store in an airtight gallon-sized freezer bag in the cooler.
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You can see my emptied plastic bottle on the table next to the cold noodles. Other ingredients we brought were for some gooey sandwiches: block “cheese” and bread.

Now once you are at the campsite, all you have to do is shake up the bottle of sauce really well, and then pour it into a pot that you then place over the campfire embers.

Stir over heat until thickened.

Stir over heat until thickened.

Stir with a whisk until thickened and then throw in the cold noodles and store with a long spoon until heated through. Ta-daa!!!
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This recipe always makes my kids happy!  But to have the little campfire flecks mixed in and that smokey smell from the burning wood, it was even more special.

This recipe always makes my kids happy! But to have the little campfire flecks mixed in and that smokey smell from the burning wood, it was even more special.

Grilled Cheese:
No recipe needed!
This was an easy accompaniment for the mac & “cheese.” I grabbed two slices of bread and sprayed the outside of each piece with olive oil cooking spray.
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Then I put slices of Daiya-brand “cheddar cheese” in between the two slices and threw the sandwiches on a pan that was already sitting over the fire, heating up.
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A few minutes on each side or until golden brown, and you have ooey-gooey-melty sandwiches!

Oh, baby!

Oh, baby!

Root Veggie Stew:
This meal was a real “put some meat on your bones” dish, so to speak. I did not prep this stew before leaving our house. I could have cut all the veggies up beforehand, but I knew that the white sweet potatoes would start to turn that nasty brown and they would have to sit in a bag for two full days before we had this meal. So in this case, I ended up peeling and dicing on the small countertop provided to us in our rustic yurt.

You can see all of the peels and veggie ends that are sitting on the paper towel in the foreground.  I brought along a lot of extra gallon-size freezer bags and stored the cut veggies in one, only to use the same bag to bring home our leftover stew home with us.

You can see all of the peels and veggie ends that are sitting on the paper towel in the foreground. I brought along a lot of extra gallon-size freezer bags and stored the cut veggies in one, only to use the same bag to bring home our leftover stew home with us.

The stew contained 3 medium-sized new potatoes, 1 large white sweet potato, 1/2pound of  baby carrots, a large handful of fresh green beans, a turnip, an onion, and an entire head of garlic- each clove peeled but kept whole. I also brought a jar of concentrated veggie bouillon syrup, salt & pepper, and about a half-cup of flour in a baggie. (no need to measure anything- we’re camping!)
About two hours before dinnertime we built the fire and got it going. Then I went inside to do the prep work while the kids ran circles around the yurt. Literally. Because a yurt is like a big circle tent.

All the veggies are cut up!

All the veggies are cut up!

After the fire was hot, we filled our pot about halfway with water from the nearby pump and I whisked in the flour and veggie bouillon before adding the bag of veggies. Then I covered the pot with foil in order to cook the veggies without much loss of water due to evaporation and put the whole thing over the fire. Occasionally I pulled back a side of the foil to stick in a long spoon and stir the pot. Without stirring once in a while, the flour will settle to the bottom and you will have a thick burnt dough on the bottom and soupy water on top.

After a while the pot began to bubble over a little so I loosened one edge of the foil to allow the steam to start escaping.

After a while the pot began to bubble over a little so I loosened one edge of the foil to allow the steam to start escaping.

I’m not sure how long it took to cook because we were having fun playing outside, but it was surprisingly fast- I remember that. After the pot had bubbled over and then sat for another ten minutes, I pulled out a carrot, tasted it, and it was cooked through! It probably took about a half hour over the fire, but that’s a guess.

Lookin' in on the stewy goodness!

Giving a stir and lookin’ in on the stewy goodness!

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All we had to do to serve it was call the kids back to camp, spoon it into bowls, and throw a roll on top of each one. Everyone loved it and it filled their empty bellies just the way a mommy likes.

Mmm, Stewy!

Mmm, Stewy!

Campfire Cinnamon Apples:
Okay, people; this is the good stuff. The stuff my childhood memories are made of. The stuff that makes kids sit around the campfire looking longingly into the embers, waiting, drooling…
I grew up with these lovely baked delights. We had them on almost every camping trip and they were always my favorite- maybe besides roasted marshmallows, anyway. My parents would stuff green apples with cinnamon candies and butter, wrap them in foil and cook them in the embers of the fire until they were soft but not mushy. Firm enough to hold their shape but filled with a sweet red-candy sauce. (drooling)
My husband has an allergic reaction to the Red-Hots, and we don’t eat butter or added fat anymore, so I had to change the recipe a bit. I decided to simply fill the cavity of the apples with all natural cane sugar and some cinnamon powder. I wasn’t sure how it would work…

Step #1: Take the stickers off your green apples.

Step #1: Take the stickers off your green apples.

 

Step #2: Use whatever tool you have on-hand to core the apples without breaking through the bottom.  This takes mad skills, yo.

Step #2: Use whatever tool you have on-hand to core the apples without breaking through the bottom. This takes mad skills, yo.

Step #3:  Fill with sugar mixture.  I used turbinado sugar and had it pre-mixed with cinnamon in a baggie.

Step #3: Fill with sugar mixture. I used organic brown sugar with turbinado sugar and had it pre-mixed with cinnamon in a baggie.

Step #4: Wrap in a square of foil, closing the top carefully so that no liquid could leak out, but also so it's not too hard to open when it's hot off the fire.

Step #4: Wrap in a square of foil, closing the top carefully so that no liquid could leak out, but also so it’s not too hard to open when it’s hot off the fire.

Step #5: Place the apples right next to the embers of your fire, being careful to rotate them halfway through cooking time, which is about an hour.

Step #5: Place the apples right next to the embers of your fire, being careful to rotate them halfway through cooking time. Full cooking time is about an hour, up to an hour and half.

We went for a hike nearby the campground while our apples sat and cooked. We made sure there were no open flames when we left; just lots of embers. When we came back, we turned the apples and played around a little more before opening them up for a late dessert.

The baked campfire apple!  Filled with what turned out to be a cinnamon caramel sauce.  Delicious!

The baked campfire apple! Filled with what turned out to be a cinnamon caramel sauce. Delicious!

They are hot, so be careful cutting!  But if you don't cut them, they don't cool down fast enough to eat right away, and, after all, that's the most important thing.

They are hot, so be careful cutting! But if you don’t cut them, they don’t cool down fast enough to eat right away, and, after all, that’s the most important thing.

Cut in half one way...

Cut in half one way…

...then cut in half the other way.  Note the ooey-gooeyness that flows out!

…then cut in half the other way. Note the ooey-gooeyness that flows out!

A Campfire Cinnamon Apple, ready to serve.

A campfire cinnamon apple, ready to serve.

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Conclusion:
I can do it! I can eat all year in a way that is more friendly to nature, and still do so when communing with nature from a tent or cabin in the woods. Veggies aren’t scary or hard to plan meals with. I just had to be prepared and enjoy cooking with the flexibility since open-fire cooking is more unpredictable.  And it all turned out yummy, so there was nothing to worry about!

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