Saturday, August 28, 2010

It's time to eat totally Vegan

So, it's been a while since I ate meat (5 weeks), and I don't miss it.  There are a couple of things that I still eat that are not vegan.  Those are ... half and half in my coffee and cheese on my pizza.  I don't drink other dairy products and I rarely eat cheese unless it's in my pizza.  I bought some egg replacement, found nutritional yeast in bulk at Whole Foods, along with a host of other bulk items including brown rice (just fabulous!), and I have vegan margarine (not Earth Balance, but light Smart Balance which is easier for me to find).  I need to cross over that morning coffee hump and develop a taste for it black.  I drink tea without lemon or sweetener.  I should be able to do it with coffee.  Pizza is another matter.  :::big sigh:::  It's our staple dinner every Friday.  I will either need to order a small without cheese for myself or begin making my own pizza dough and preparing one to pop into the oven for myself on Fridays.  I tried Daiya cheese and it was OK ... just OK. I know most people who eat Vegan rave about that cheese substitute.  I dunno.  Maybe pizza without sauce will be the way to go.  I'll have to experiment.

So, on September 5, 2010, there is a 21-Day Kickstart program.  I signed up to do it.  I'll be moving toward drinking black coffee and finding a workable solution for my pizza dilemma before then.  I like eating vegetarian and really want to move to eating vegan. I have bought 4 great vegan cookbooks (LOVE Vegan Comfort Food - has to be my favorite, but the others rock, too!) and I have so many blogs I'm actively following and a couple of great cooking websites (LOVE 101 Cookbooks) that have routinely inspired me to try new dishes.  It's time to take it to a new level.  Wish me luck!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Canning Bing Cherries and Blueberries

This year, I have been on a cooking kick, so I thought ... why not do a little canning?  HA!  Not as easy as I thought.  First I made Bing Cherry Jam.  Oh excuse me, I made Bing Cherry Sauce.  It's actually more like a glaze type thing that has cinnamon, cloves, and Amaretto (almond) liquor in it.  It would be excellent on chocolate cake or spice cake or bread pudding.  It may be good for some baked dishes with winter squash.  I'll have to experiment.  It wasn't quite what I wanted.  If it had been only sweet instead of savory, it would have been good on a frozen dessert.  I gave some to my best friend, who is going to use it as a glaze on a ham at the holidays.  I have to admit, it would be perfect on a ham or pork roast, but I don't eat those any longer.  Maybe I can use it on a seitan roast.  I'll have to look for something suitable.  The recipe made 4 full pint jars.  I'll take one to my sister, which will leave me with 2 jars. 
Not satisfied with my semi-successful attempt with the bing cherries, I made blueberry jam today.  This recipe did not call for any spices.  It was just blueberries, citric acid, sugar, and pectin.  It's actually a recipe for my bread maker.  I threw in the ingredients, selected JAM on the menu, and hit START.  OK, this time I think I have a complete winner.  The blueberry jam covering the walls of the bread pan was gelling shortly after I had filled all of the jars.  I put them in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes, and VOILA!  I believe I have blueberry jam.  My recipe made 5 half pints.  I love blueberry jam.  I made it once many years ago (probably 15 or more) and it turned out perfect and was extremely tasty.  Just from sampling it from the side of the bread pan, today's batch is very delicious.  

Now that I've had success, I will be venturing out.  There is a Blueberry Butter recipe I'd like to make that is one the blog One Green Tomato.  It looks great and extremely easy.  It's a crock pot recipe.  I'd also like to make some homemade salsa and can it.  The possibilities are endless.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

My Idea of an EASY Dinner

It's my week to close the office.  That means I stay until all of the employees leave.  The office officially closes at 5PM, but it's generally 5:10PM to 5:30PM before I leave.  Today, it was about 5:10PM.  I realized I was out of wet dog food, which is a problem as my 11 y.o. Yorkie only has about 3 teeth left and she can't eat dry food.  So, I had to stop for dog food, along with another errand.  I also realized that I had no clue what I was going to fix my sons for dinner or myself.  I knew I wouldn't be back home until around 7PM, which is far too late to do any heavy cooking. Luckily, the boys were easy and asked for Quiznos.  (Yes, I know ... but they eat meat most of the time. I'm trying to convert them slowly.  Forcing them won't work at 19 and 21 years old.)  That left me.

I have not had plain rice and veggies in a while.  I'm not talking about stir fry, but rather rice cooked in my rice cooker with veggies steamed in the steamer basket above the rice.  I had a brown rice mixture in my pantry.  I cooked half of that package and about a quarter of a big bag of cauliflower, broccoli, and carrots.  It is the most simple meal, but I really like it.  I didn't throw any spices into the rice while it cooked, just water.  It's a plain meal, but tastes great.  I had enough of the rice and veggies for another dinner (probably tomorrow).  I even had enough rice to give both of my big dogs a spoonful.  Like me, the girls (my dogs) love freshly cooked rice.  So, it was my EASY dinner night. :)  

Over the weekend, I will make a stir fry with some of the veggies and some tofu.  The veggies would also be great in a cold whole wheat pasta salad.  Hmmm...I think I have enough to make both. 

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Fool-Your-Friends Tacos

Tonight, I made Fool-Your-Friends Tacos from the Quick and Easy Vegan Comfort Food cookbook.  OK, these are VERY tasty!  I really liked them.  The only thing I think I would like to change is the Hickory Liquid Smoke in the TVP when it is rehydrating.  It adds a BBQ type flavor to the tacos that I don't think should be there.  Although, I'm not sure what to change it to.

The recipe calls for vegetable stock and liquid smoke to rehydrate the TVP.  Maybe the liquid smoke should be eliminated and 1 tablespoon of the taco seasoning mix should be added to the vegetable stock instead.  Then when the TVP is added to the onions and peppers and additional taco seasoning is added, it would all have the same flavor.  I could try 1 teaspoon of hot sauce, too.  That would give it a little kick.  Of course, I could use a milder green sauce for added flavor without a kick.  I'll have to experiment with it.
I used an orange bell pepper with the red onion.  (Red onion is actually purple, isn't it?)  It was very colorful and extremely fragrant while cooking.  The one thing that eating vegetarian/vegan has done is increased my appreciation of various vegetables and also my enjoyment while eating them. :)
I added the TVP, taco seasoning, and water and simmered the mixture until the taco seasoning was distributed and the additional water (1 tablespoon) was absorbed.  The cookbook has a recipe for taco seasoning, which I'll make at some point, but I used a Chipolte flavored mix I bought at the store tonight.  It complemented the other flavors very well.
I topped my tacos with chopped tomatoes (grape were all I had and they worked), shredded lettuce, and some hot sauce.  (Forgive my messy paper plate.  I was in a rush to try them and didn't pretty up the presentation for the picture like I should have.)  I did not use any cheese and frankly, I did not miss it.  These tacos are excellent.  While I may tweak them a bit to remove the hint of smoky BBQ in them, overall I was just delighted with them.  I'm normally a soft taco person, and next time I have them, I'll have soft shells.  However these were so good that I had to physically stop myself from eating more of them.  I'm going to make my sons try these as I just think they are so good, my sons will like them, too.  

Can you fool your friends with these tacos?  I'm thinking so.  I'm definitely thinking so and they are soooo much healthier than the meat alternative.  What's not to like? 

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Getting used to my New Life Style

I last ate meat on July 23, 2010, 19 days ago.  I'm pretty used to it.  It seems natural.  My sons, while still meat eaters, understand that I don't eat meat any longer and are interested in what I eat.  Sometimes they want to eat what I'm eating, but mostly they don't.  :::chuckle:::  It's probably harder helping other people get used to my meatless ways.

Today a few people from work took me out to lunch.  All I wanted was a decent salad.  I love salads and my absolute favorite has garbanzo beans, green/red/yellow/orange/any color peppers, grape tomatoes, 10 black olives, cucumbers, red onion, and a tablespoon or so of pecans or sunflower seeds.  I don't eat cheese or meat in my salad.  I was supposed to pick a place and there were no good vegan restaurants nearby.  There was an Indian restaurant that looked good, but not everyone ate Indian food.  My girlfriend wanted to go to a Tapas restaurant, but they had very little variety for meatless dishes.  All I wanted was a good salad.  So, I suggested an Italian place close to work that I knew served good salads.  We ended up going there and we all had salads.  However, I was the only one who didn't add meat.

Before I stopped eating meat, I thought vegetarians and especially vegans were kind of weird and "out there, out of the norm."  And OK, maybe we are a little, but it's such a healthier way of eating.  When we were talking about food at lunch today, I announced that I no longer ate meat.  Two of the women, who are my friends, knew I'm not eating meat, but the other three did not.  Their reactions mirrored what mine would have been before I stopped eating meat.  I could tell they thought it was a little extreme.  That's OK.  I can be different, especially about this.

I don't miss meat and over the past 19 days, I have felt different ... better actually.  I don't have a lot of aches and pains, but I was having some joint pain in my hip and that's disappeared.  I don't retain as much fluid as I used to.  I'm sure that is due in part to me eating much less processed food.  I eat more fresh food than I ever have in my life.  It's little changes that have happened and after the change has been in place for a few days or so, it hits me in the face, and I think, "Yeah, that feels better now."  

I still belong to the Eat 2 Live Yahoo! group.  I used to read some of their posts and think, yeah, right!  I'm so sure they feel that much better or have had so many things improve just because they don't eat meat or dairy.  And true, I still eat some dairy (very limited, but still I do), but there has been a profound difference.  It's hard to even think about eating meat again when I've experienced the changes first hand.  Plus, my father died at 46 from a heart attack and both of his sisters (still living) have had heart attacks.  I don't want to go down that same road.  There isn't heart disease on my Mom's side of the family like on my Dad's side, but there is a strong possibility I could end up with the same fate as my Dad and two Aunts. If all that wasn't enough, I drive by the cattle trucks on the way to the slaughter houses on the tollways in Chicago and I really HATE seeing the cows' noses poking out of the holes in the sides of the truck since I know where they are going. 

So, I continue on my quest.  I need to set a goal to start drinking my coffee black.  That is my biggest stumbling block to not consuming any dairy products.  Once I do that, the rest of the dairy will be a piece of cake to eliminate, as right now, it's basically pizza.  I figure I can still have it without any cheese at all or I can try a very light sprinkling of vegan cheese.  :::shudder:::   Nah, it would probably be better to go without.  :)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

St. Josephs

I received two cookbooks on Thursday.  One, I had read great reviews on in someone's blog and it is American Vegan Kitchen.  There is a recipe for burgers in it that I will be trying this week.  I can't wait.  The other cookbook is Quick and Easy Vegan Comfort Food.  Today, I waited too long before I sat down and tried to figure out what I was cooking for dinner.  Luckily, I found a recipe in the Quick and Easy Vegan Comfort Food cookbook that was perfect for a casual Saturday night dinner.
When I went to Whole Foods last week, I picked up some TVP.  I have seen it in numerous recipes and thought it would be a good thing to have on hand.  And tonight, it was.  This is my first experience with cooking and eating TVP and I wasn't quite sure what to expect.  I reconstituted it in veggie broth (actually, water with 1/2 cube of no sodium veggie bouillon) with a tablespoon of Liquid Smoke added.  The recipe called for hickory flavor Liquid Smoke, but all I had was mesquite flavor, so I used that.  It was still good.  I mixed up the sloppy joe BBQ sauce and let it simmer while I sauteed the onion and orange pepper.  I think the recipe called for green, but I got a 3-pack of colored peppers, as I think I need colored for the burgers I'll be making this week.  Once the onion and pepper had cooked a couple of minutes, I added the TVP.
The TVP only needed to cook for 2 minutes before I could add the sauce.  The mixture wasn't as firm as I thought it should be, so I let it simmer a few minutes to reduce the sauce some.  I was truly amazed at how closely the finished dish resembled sloppy joes made with crumbled ground beef.  If I hadn't made the dish and had it at a friend's house for dinner, I would have never in a million years guessed that it was TVP.  I may have thought crumbled chicken or turkey even, but never TVP.  
I didn't have any buns and can you believe this?  The store that I went to so I could buy some was out.  Just my luck.  I did have some sandwich rounds, which are kind of like a bun, but extremely thin.  They are whole wheat and only 100 calories.  I had my Sloppy Joseph on one of those, but I had to eat it with a fork and knife as it was just too soupy to pick up on that thin bread.

I will definitely be making more recipes from the Quick and Easy Vegan Comfort Food cookbook.  There is a great looking taco recipe in there using TVP.  I'll be making that soon.  As I try more and more dishes, I will be giving more reviews. 

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Asparagus Stir-Fry

Tonight, I ventured into the realm of stir-fry.  I'll start out by saying it wasn't a complete success for two reasons.  First, I used frozen asparagus and it wasn't firm enough to hold any semblance of crispness.  Second, I cooked it too long, but the asparagus would have been "soggy" regardless because of it coming from a frozen state. If the asparagus had been fresh, it still would have been slightly crisp, which would have been much better.  That being said, this was still a very good dish.
I began by chopping, zesting, and juicing to my heart's content.  I even group the ingredients together according to the recipe so it would be easier to grab them and throw them into the wok.  While the preparation took a half hour or so, the cooking went fast.  I started by cooking the tofu.
After the tofu was golden brown, I set it aside and cooked the asparagus, onions, and a couple of spices.  Cook a minute and add the spinach, cashews, and lime juice and zest.  One of the amazing things was just how many different flavors I could taste in the finished dish.  The crushed red pepper gave it just the right amount of heat (you must love heat to put it in), and it contrasted nicely with the lime and the fresh mint.  I didn't think that the flavors would all meld like they did, but it was very nice.  
I ate mine plain, without rice or noodles, but I really think it would be best with either brown rice or whole wheat noodles.  I was concentrating so hard on getting the stir-fry right (I never stir-fry and this is my first time preparing and eating tofu), that I totally spaced off cooking some rice to go with it.  I have leftovers, so I'll cook some brown rice for the leftover dish.  You can find this recipe at 101 Cookbooks Asparagus Stir-Fry.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

More Baking ... Vegetarian Dog Treats

So, I decided I wasn't quite finished baking tonight.  OK, I didn't have the energy to make a stir fry for myself for dinner, but I did have the energy to bake 3½ dozen doggie cookies for the girls.  

Yesterday, I ran out of dog food and gave the girls some garbanzo beans (they LOVED them), but then had a moment where I wondered if garbanzo beans were safe for dogs, so I went looking on the Internet.  Yes, garbanzo beans are safe for dogs, so next time I make them some rice as a supplement to their dry food, I'll throw in some garbanzo beans. :)  I actually like making different rice variations for the girls as a healthy, non-processed alternative to the dog food I normally buy.  Although, I do buy a brand that has no additives or preservatives, which is great!  

In the process, I found a recipe for dog cookies with banana, peanut butter, oatmeal, and parsley.  I found the recipe at the website for Whole Food Markets.  Here is the link:  Homemade Peanut Butter and Banana Dog Treats.

I had a couple of ripe bananas waiting to be used, so I thought what the heck? The cookies were fairly easy to make.  One substitution I made was I couldn't find oat flour at the store I went to, so I just picked up brown rice flour instead.  It worked well and the cookies look like the ones in the recipe photo.  No telling what it did to the taste, though.  I was a bit surprised that they had to bake for 40 minutes.  I made a double batch, but I'm sure some of my cookies were bigger than they should have been because I didn't get a full 4 dozen, but rather 3½ dozen.  The recipe states to store them in the fridge or freeze them.  Since I have 3 dogs (2 big, 1 little), I'm sure I won't have to worry about the cookies going bad.
I probably won't be making these every week, but it's a nice alternative to use up ripe bananas before they go bad. Plus, it's one of the few snacks that I will be giving my dogs that I know are wholesome, without preservatives or additives, are freshly made, and are healthy for them to eat.  All three of my dogs LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the cookies! 

Baking on a Sunday

There is something about the weekends that makes me want to cook or bake more.  Today, I made a simple loaf of white bread using Eagle Mills Ultragrain All Purpose Flour (has as much protein - 4 grams - as bread flours) to up the fiber content and make the bread just a little healthier than regular < 1 gram of fiber bread.  This bread turned out perfectly.  It has a perfect crumb, great taste and texture, and will make fabulous sandwiches.  In fact, almost half of the loaf is gone just from my sons and me sampling the bread.  Yikes!  

I was going to make a stir fry tonight with asparagus and tofu, but I don't think I have the motivation, so I will probably just make that tomorrow.  I took my two big dogs to the dog park, when the heat and humidity were probably at their highest, so I came home hot and tired.  Then I ran errands for an hour or so.  Tonight, a salad seems in order. It's quick, light, and easy.  I'll leave the more complicated meal for tomorrow when I have more energy for chopping and preparation.