pumpkin-sage-ravioli

After the Juice: 3 Weeks Later

I’m wrapping up my 3rd week post-juice. My plan was to eat vegan, cut out added sugar (no more than 6 tsp/24g per day, the recommendation for women), and kick the diet coke habit.

So far, so good! Jimmy John’s would probably disagree, as I went from eating there 5+ days a week to… none. I miss my daily chill-out sessions at JJ’s, but I’m fairly certain I’m eating healthier at home. I can’t seem to find any data on the added sugars in the #6 (I suspect there’s a bit extra in the bread and/or the avocado spread); it’s not on their nutrition labels. Comparing the lettuce wrap to the sub, and comparing the sub to a typical 8″ Italian sub roll, I’m fairly certain that one JJ’s sub would blow my whole added sugar allotment for the day. And the way my logic works, I enjoy the bread too much to go with a lettuce wrap, so if I can’t have it the way I love it, I won’t have it at all.

I’ve had a few bites of cheese on a couple occasions (when eating out), but kicking the sugar has been surprisingly easy, since I haven’t craved it (thanks to the juice plan). The biggest struggle has been, surprisingly, avoiding diet coke. I’m not explicitly avoiding caffeine, as I am still drinking tea, but I terribly miss the fizzy drink, and no substitutions have solved the cravings. I’m almost obsessed with it, and I’m fairly certain that I’m just going to cave and drink the occasional diet coke.

One unexpected benefit has been reduced food waste. In the past, I would go food shopping and buy produced based on things I thought I should have on hand to be well-stocked and ready-for-anything, but in reality, I threw away a lot of spoiled food. This time around, I’m picking one lunch and one dinner for each week. I shop specifically for those meals (and a few staples that I eat no matter what), and that’s it. I cook those meals on Sunday and then eat the leftovers all week. Every weekend, I go through my recipe stash and cookbooks and pick meals for the following week and do it all over again.

The first week after the juice, I made a walnut-lentil tacos and homemade cashew sour cream, and had tacos all week. They were surprisingly awesome, considering I really don’t like lentils.

The second week, I bought a pasta roller and tried my hand at homemade ravioli. My pasta skills need some work, but it turned out absolutely delicious – pumpkin sage ravioli. It was amazing and I was shocked that I was able to pull it off.

This week, I put together an old favorite (though I did skimp on the veggies and just doubled the spinach, out of laziness) – pesto veggie lasagna. I also burned half of my pine nuts when toasting them, and had to sub in a bunch of raw cashews. But it all turned out just fine and delicious (man I love pesto). I’ve been eating this with Tofurky Artisan Spinach Pesto sausages. They’re a little bit dry on their own (like most faux-meats) but they are very tasty, and the marinara in the lasagna solves the dryness issue.

My other new obsession is a waffle recipe from one of my favorite cookbook authors, Isa Chandra Moskowitz, of Post Punk Kitchen fame. It’s the Sinfully Wholesome waffle recipe from her book Isa Does It, but the recipe is also in her PPK forums – Sinfully Wholesome Waffles. They’re waffle perfection. Hearty without being heavy, crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, and just right topped with fruit or maple syrup. One recipe makes 5-6 large waffles, and I’ve been having them for breakfast or lunch. Smoothies fill in the blanks.

I’m also glad to report that the 10 pounds I lost during the juice week was not a fluke. I’ve kept them off, and lost a few more. I’ve also started doing a class at the gym called Body Pump. I’m enjoying it, and so far, my elbow is tolerating it well. I’m going to keep on keeping on with baby steps so I don’t injure the elbow again, and see how it goes.

The only thing I haven’t done is kept up with juicing. I intended to have some juices from the plan a few days a week, but I haven’t done a good job at planning ahead for those to make sure I have the proper produce on hand. Room for improvement!

Now, I think it’s time for a waffle…

 

Green Smoothie https://flic.kr/p/o1cTXv

Super Juice Me!

Last week, I stumbled foggy-headed into another day of post-travel recovery and back-to-work shell shock. I’d been living on Jimmy John’s, pizza, and egg and cheese mcgriddles for two months or so. (That was literally all I was eating, with a few stops at the ice cream shop thrown in for good measure). I’d gained 15# as a result, at a time when I could already stand to lose 30. Junk food was getting expensive, not only to my budget, but to my waistline. Of course, I wasn’t exercising. (That last C25K post never materialized into anything consistent). My elbow had me out of commission for a lot of activities, so I just did none.

As the new school year started, though, I really wanted to get back into a routine. Sometimes, I do great things when left to my own devices, and sometimes, I self destruct. It’s been a challenging couple of years, and this summer, I came out the other side quite a bit worse for the wear. I needed to quit the junk food, first and foremost.

The thought of getting back to clean eating (read: prepping and cooking meals) was almost nauseating in itself – not the food, but the labor. I just didn’t feel like doing it. At the same time, the thought of another fast food meal was unbearable. I just felt awful all around.

Then, in my Facebook feed, an entry popped up from Jason Vale, the juice master. He had a documentary out called “SuperJuice Me!” I’m a fan of Jason Vale. I’ve done his 7 day juice plan a few times, usually around New Year’s Day when I need to (again) kick the junk food. I watched the documentary.

And I decided to do the SuperJuice Me! plan.

I debated just using the 7 day app of his that I already had, but (spoiler alert) I’m so glad I bought the new app, because he really has mastered some of these recipes. They’re much better in the new program.

But back to the miserable version of me. It was a Sunday. I went to the grocery store and bought 3 days worth of produce. I didn’t want to waste food and money if I didn’t stick it out.

Day 1 was fairly miserable, due to caffeine withdrawal. Headaches suck, and I believe that was the 3rd time I’ve gone through full on caffeine detox (maybe the 4th?) It’s the worst. Every time I go through it, I swear I will never get back on the diet coke bandwagon again. Again, I swear… ugh. Never again.

Day 2 was meh. I didn’t feel good but I didn’t feel bad. I wasn’t hungry but all I could think about was food I used to eat before I went vegetarian! The Mad Max burger from Outback Steakhouse… pepperoni pizza… this crazy cheeseburger at TGI Fridays that was a 3 cheese burger, PLUS a fried provolone patty of cheese… ridiculous things. Gross, really. I also had a bit of a pity-party meltdown in the evening, and watched a sad movie to indulge it.

Day 3 was the best day ever! Day 3 usually is. I felt great. On top of the world. Not hungry. Sleeping great. Feeling alert. No mid-afternoon sloth session. I also went back to the gym on Day 3, and tried my first Body Pump class. (I’m taking it slow so as not to re-injure my elbow). I will go back next week!

Day 4 was fine. Felt good. But I still had no desire to cook food, so the easiest solution was to stay on the juice plan. (Also, sore as hell from Body Pump!)

Day 5 was today. Felt great, slept great – according to my sleep app (which now has almost 3 years of data in it), I never sleep well at home. (Cats). I usually have to be on vacation with no cats around to get sleep quality of 90% or higher. But every single night on the juice plan, I’ve had excellent sleep quality. I used to blame the cats for my awful quality of sleep. Maybe I should have been blaming junk food all along.

Also today… it clicked. I’m ready to start cooking meals, and they’re going to be vegan.

It’s amazing how powerful and addictive sugar and dairy are. I’ve always sort of scoffed at the use of the word “addiction” with sugar or dairy, because it’s not like I ever felt like I was a junkie running around the grocery store begging for a hit of cheese. But the moment I realized that I’ve actually beat them both – it’s so crystal clear. I went through this the first time I went vegan for an extended period of time (about 6 months), and it’s both amazing and saddening. It’s sad because it’s so easy to slip back into eating them, and before you know it, you’re hooked again. In my case, I end up making all of the apologies to the cows and excuses that I need my Greek yogurt for protein. But those are just excuses, and this time around, it seems so obvious that they work in the body like addictive drugs. Maybe there is no such thing as just this one donut.

The amazing part is that it feels so good to be in absolute control of my own health and wellness – and because my body is feeling fully nourished, I’m actually optimistic instead of miserable! The difference is like night and day.

I have enough produce in the fridge to juice through Day 7. I’m going to finish through Day 7, and this weekend, I will meal plan and prep for next week, vegan again.

I really feel like if I can avoid sugar and dairy, I won’t even crave it. If I slip and fall down the cheese rabbit hole, it’s going to be hard to get back on track. Right now, the thought of dairy disgusts me, and the thought of all of the sugar in processed food makes me furious. Did you ever notice that sugar is the one entry on the nutrition label that doesn’t show its corresponding percentage of your daily allowance? Yeah, because half of the time it would be like, “203%” in one silly little serving of whatever frankenfood it is. The more I learned about the USDA and our food regulations (way back in good ol’ 2009 when I started learning about organics), the more I distrusted it all – and now as I look at sugar and processed foods, I’m mad all over again.

The last time I was fully vegan, a few years ago, I felt like I ate like a king. I can’t wait to recapture that feeling and love food again.

Photo credit: https://flic.kr/p/o1cTXv

Peanut butter protein brownie

Chocolate Peanut Butter Protein Brownie of the Gods

What do you get when you cross a five pound tub of protein powder with an impending 36-hour house arrest due to black ice and subzero temperatures?

A chocolate peanut butter protein brownie of the gods.

BOOMsauce!™ Rob

When I started Crossfit, I switched to whey protein powder (from my usual hemp). I wanted to cut back on the large quantities of fruit I was putting into my morning smoothies, and whey has always been my favorite tasting powder. (I try to avoid dairy/casein because I love my cow friends and hate the factory farming that brings dairy to my door, but it’s doggone hard to get enough protein without it unless I’m dedicated to cooking at home – which right now, I don’t have time for). I ordered a 5# tub of chocolate whey protein powder, and yowza! That’s a big tub of protein powder.

After eating too much cheesecake last weekend (and in the cheesecake-hangover week that followed), I’ve had cake-like things on my mind. So at lunch today, I found myself googling around for protein brownie recipes. Somebody has got to have figured this out by now, right? Well, unsurprisingly, there are quite a few recipes out there in the wild – but none of them looked quite like the brownie of my dreams. Most looked a bit dry.

So I took it upon myself to mash up a few different recipes. I also used this opportunity to try something I’ve wanted to test out for some time now – black beans in baked goods. (So, no, this recipe isn’t Paleo-friendly if you’re avoiding beans. It could be gluten free if you use gluten free oat flour or make your own oat flour from gluten free oats).

I am definitely not a natural in the kitchen, so I was fully prepared for this recipe to flop. Imagine my surprise when I took this gooey, peanut buttery, chocolatey amazingness out of the oven. It smelled so good and tasted amazing! It is truly not far off from the insane, sugary dessert of your dreams – minus most of the sugar. The macro profile is, dare I say, fantastic for a brownie, and it rivals my typical breakfast protein smoothie.

Some details on my version:

  • I used Optimum Nutrition 100% Whey Gold Standard protein powder in Chocolate.
  • I used homemade almond milk, unstrained. (For a full batch: 1 cup raw almonds, 4 cups water, 2 minutes in the Vitamix on high. Enjoy!) You could swap any dairy or non-dairy milk. My version is a little more caloric than commercial almond milk, but has 5x the protein and all of the nutrition of the whole nuts, with no chemicals or other junk.
  • I used a whole cup of peanut butter chips, because I am obsessed with peanut butter. A normal person would probably use 1/4 to 1/2 cup.
  • I used 2 tbsp agave, because the batter after 1 tbsp was just a little too bitter from the cocoa. These are not super-sweet – just a little sweet. You could opt to sweeten them with honey or stevia or whatever else you like – just be sure to adjust the amounts. (Stevia, for example, is a bit sweeter than agave, so you’d want to use less).
  • 1 cup of black beans is about 2/3 of a standard can (about 200g). I was tempted to use the whole can for convenience’s sake, but I was winging it as it was, so I didn’t want to get too frisky.
  • The coconut oil can probably be eliminated, but I wanted it in there, because – coconut oil. Don’t hate.
  • Most people could probably cut the pan into 12-15 smaller brownies, but I am not most people. Big honkin brownie get in mah belleh! I cut the pan into 9 good-sized brownies – big enough to be a quick breakfast or lunch (as opposed to snack-sized). (Besides, cutting an uneven balance of rows and columns into a square pan would not sit well with my obsessive-compulsive tendencies).
  • The can of black beans I used that expired 3 months ago tasted fine and hasn’t killed me yet.

Here are the nutrition facts, based on my version described above:

  • 20g protein, 29g carb (14g sugar, 4g fiber),  13g fat

Peanut butter protein brownie nutrition

 

Most similar recipes recommended storing these in the fridge, so I’ve put mine into an airtight container in the refrigerator – but they were definitely tasty warm and fresh from the oven.

The aftermath:

Empty plate

He gone!

Without further adieu, here’s the recipe. Enjoy!

 

Chocolate Peanut Butter Protein Brownies

by Shelly Hokanson

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Ingredients (Serves 9-12)

    Dry Ingredients

    • 1 tbsp baking powder
    • 1/4 cup oat flour
    • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
    • 1 cup whey protein powder (chocolate or vanilla)
    • 1 cup peanut butter chips (or less, if you’re less obsessed with pb)

    Wet Ingredients

    • 1 cup black beans (cooked and drained)
    • 1/3 cup almond milk (or other dairy or non-dairy milk)
    • 1/2 cup unsweetened apple sauce
    • 1 egg (or 2 egg whites)
    • 2 tbsp agave nectar (or other sweetener, to taste)
    • 1 tsp vanilla extract
    • 2 tbsp coconut oil

    Instructions

    1. Preheat oven to 350F. Spray an 8×8 inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.
    2. Whisk together all dry ingredients except for the peanut butter chips. Set aside.
    3. Melt coconut oil (about 30 seconds in the microwave).
    4. In a food processor or blender, mix the wet ingredients (including the melted coconut oil) until smooth, about 1 minute.
    5. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry.
    6. Stir until well combined.
    7. Fold in peanut butter chips.
    8. Pour batter into baking pan.
    9. Bake for 22-26 minutes, or until top has set and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
    10. Cool completely, then cut into 9-12 squares.

    Enjoy!

    Store covered in the refrigerator.

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    Booty shorts squat

    Skip the Booty Shorts

    I was scrolling through Facebook today and came across an article called “Training Tips for Beginners.” I click on most of these links; I’m a beginner and can use all the tips I can get. Maybe I’ve been reading too many of these articles, because before I even got to the content, I devised Tip #1 in my head. It went:

    Skip the booty shorts. You have to squat to earn those booty shorts.

    Ahh, the post-holiday hangover! I don’t even know where that came from, as everyone at Rocktown (particularly those wearing booty shorts) appears fit as fiddles to me. (And for the record, I am not personally considering wearing booty shorts). But that’s what the post-holiday hangover does to my brain.

    This new year, I’m focusing on behavior-based goals instead of outcome-based goals. This shift in my approach coincided nicely with a recent episode of Barbell Shrugged. They had some great tips for goal and resolution setting. I wanted to focus on things I can control, and I can control my behavior. I can’t necessarily control the outcomes. For example, I can control how many times I set foot in the gym per week. I can’t control whether or not I lose a set number of pounds by setting foot in said gym.

    One of my goals is to up my workouts from 3 times per week to 4. The extra workout will most likely be Crossfit, though I would still like to get back into swimming and wouldn’t mind if one workout was swimming.

    Another goal is to get off the extreme-calorie-deficit dieting bandwagon. To do that, I’ve joined a 2-month challenge at Eat to Perform. (Late registration ends Jan 15, 2015, if you’re interested in joining). There are essentially 2 parts to the approach to eating a la ETP:

    1. You have to fuel your workouts. No cutting calories on workout days. You eat all of the calories your body needs that day.

    2. Instead of counting calories, you count macronutrients (or “macros”) – protein, fat, and carbohydrates.

    The intended result is muscle gain and fat loss… slow, steady fat loss. You create your calorie deficit (and thus weight loss) by cutting calories from carbs on rest days, and for those with a lot of fat to lose, they recommend 3 to 4 rest days per week. By keeping your protein up, your body has the amino acids it needs to perform muscle repair during those rest days. Like they say – you don’t build muscle when you’re lifting. You build it when you’re recovering from lifting.

    Squirrel Rest Day

    The Eat to Perform calculator (with some tweaking from the coaches) recommends that I shoot for:

    Workout days: 150g protein, 250g carbs, 90g fat (2,410 calories)

    Rest days: 150g protein, 125g carbs, 90g fat (1,910 calories)

    For someone that has lived under the assumption that weight loss requires a 1,200 calorie per day diet, even rest days are a whole lot of food! ETP throws quite a few of the typical calorie-deficit-dieting “rules” out the window. No foods are off limits, though clean eating is encouraged. The whole “no snacks after dinner” concept is moot, to the point that ETP even recommends a pre-bed snack – not just any snack, but protein and slow-digesting carbs. I was so shocked to be encouraged to eat before bed that I did some googling around, and sure enough, there are many reputable sources citing muscle recovery benefits and decreased inflammation due to well chosen bedtime snacks. I don’t know if this particular source is reputable, but it summarizes what I’ve found elsewhere quite nicely: The Truth About Eating Before Bed.

    We’re six days into the new year, and I’m doing pretty good at hitting my macros every day. I could be eating a whole lot cleaner, but I’m taking this all one step at a time. I could overhaul everything in a day and crash and burn in 3 weeks like most of my “resolutions,” or I can try a slow, steady approach and see if I can make some of these changes permanent.

    The hardest part for me is getting variety in my diet – because I really don’t mind eating the same things day after day. I’ve had a smoothie for breakfast nearly every day for the last decade. It’s just easy and I’m too sleepy to cook in the morning. My stomach doesn’t really like food first thing in the a.m. but I’m almost always hungry first thing, so a smoothie does the trick. For a while I was in a great habit of having salads for lunch, but I fell out of that habit and am now fighting to get it back. But I’ve gone years on end eating PB&J for lunch, every day, day in and day out. For the past couple years, my go-to lunch or dinner has been a Jimmy John’s #6, no tomato, add sauce. It’s so extreme that the crew at my local JJ’s has my sandwich ready to go before I even make it through the door from the parking lot. I could eat that sandwich every day for the rest of my life and probably never get sick of it.

    It would definitely be healthier for me to introduce more variety into my daily diet, but for now, I’m focusing on hitting my macros and ditching all of the junk except the Jimmy John’s. I’m allowing myself the option to have JJ’s on workout days, because it fits into my macros. It’s not the best choice, but considering that’s really my only major vice, it’s not the worst thing I could be doing.

    To hit my protein, my lazy eating (let’s call it, habitual one-track-minded eating) results in a lot of protein shakes – which I actually like (see previous smoothie comments). It’s also probably not the most healthy way to be getting my protein, but at least I’m mixing up different kinds of protein powders – some whey for post-workout shakes, some plant-based for mealtime shakes. I spent as much money this week diversifying my protein powder collection as I did shopping for produce and groceries. At least the protein powders will last longer!

    Why, oh why, can’t I thrive on green smoothies, protein shakes, grilled cheese sandwiches, PB&J, and Jimmy John’s? Oh how I wish.

    But, baby steps. And with my baby-steps approach, so far, so good. I don’t feel deprived (and actually have trouble eating enough food on rest days). Workouts for the new year have been good. I added 10# to my back squat and 20# to my front squat maxes. Today was the first time I did consecutive days of Crossfit workouts that included strength segments, and while I was sore heading in today (and was sore heading out!), I feel pretty good. (I can’t lie, though – I’m glad tomorrow is a rest day!)

    So that’s how I’m kicking off 2015… sans booty shorts. How about you?

    Apple Brussels Sprout Hash

    Sprouty in the Summertime

    Summer is here, and you know what that means – I’m back in the kitchen! woohoo! (I just spent way too much time deliberating whether to go with my traditional and standard “woohoo” or mix it up with a “woop woop.” It’s definitely summertime).

    To kick off my most favorite of seasons, I decided to do something daring: try Brussels sprouts (again).

    I know, I know. I can hear the groans from here. But so many of my favorite veggie food bloggers insist that Brussels sprouts are to die for when prepared properly. It’s not that I haven’t tried. I spent a good year trying different recipes in search of one that would make the adorable little sprout-balls enjoyable, and I did find a couple I could tolerate, until I came across a disastrous sprout experience that swore me off of them for the past 2 years.

    Here’s the thing: Brussels sprouts are crazy nutritious, and contain sulforaphane, which has some mad anti-cancer properties – particularly if you steam or stir-fry the sprouts. (Boiling reduces the anti-cancer properties). They also contain a chemical that boosts cellular DNA repair and blocks cancer cell growth.

    I’d say that Brussels sprouts are too good to be true, but they’re not! If only we could find ways to make them palatable so that we eat them!

    If you’ve put off your search for a tasty Brussels sprout recipe, you can sleep easy tonight, because I found The One. This recipe turns Brussels sprouts into a sweet, tasty side dish. I enjoyed mine alongside a spinach and grilled cheese sandwich (I’m on a sprouted grain bread kick, but that’s a story for another day). It was absolutely delicious. I would not lie to you about such serious things as Brussels sprouts.

    If you fancy yourself a Brussels sprouts hater, you just might want to give them one more trip down the aisle. There’s a whole lot of happily ever after going on over here!

    You can find the original recipe on Herbivoracious. Here’s my adaptation:

    Apple Brussels Sprout Hash

    by Shelly

    Prep Time: 5 minutes

    Cook Time: 15 minutes

    Ingredients (2-3 servings)

    • 1 tbsp Earth Balance
    • 1/3 of a medium onion, diced
    • 1 crisp apple (such as a Pink Lady), cored, and diced (peeling optional)
    • 1 pound Brussels sprouts, cleaned, trimmed, and quartered
    • 2 fresh sage leaves, thinly sliced
    • 1/2 tsp minced fresh rosemary
    • 2 tsp apple cider vinegar
    • 2 tsp honey
    • salt, to taste

    Instructions

    Melt Earth Balance in a large skillet over medium heat. Dice the onion and add it to the skillet with a pinch of salt. Cook until the onion starts to brown, about 4 minutes.

    While the onion cooks, core and dice the apple. Add the diced apple to the skillet. Raise the heat slightly and cook until the apple starts to brown, about 2 minutes. Stir occasionally.

    While the apple cooks, trim and quarter the Brussels sprouts. Add the Brussels sprouts, sage, rosemary, and a generous pinch of salt. Cook until sprouts are wilted and well browned, 10-12 minutes. Stir occasionally.

    Remove from heat and add the vinegar and honey. Stir to coat. Taste for seasonings and adjust as necessary. Serve hot.

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    Diet To Go Veg Salisbury Steak with Green Beans and Mashed Potatoes

    Trying Out Meal Delivery

    I have no time to cook. There. I said it. My food blogging patterns prove it. I spend lots of time in the kitchen over summer and winter breaks, and very little any other time of the year. That tends to result in me eating way too much take-out. (As a result, I have a pesky Jimmy John’s addiction).

    I’ve considered trying a meal delivery program many times over the years, but they always seemed too expensive. Prices must have come down in the past couple years, and I have finally decided to pull the trigger and try one out.

    I went with Diet To Go for a few reasons. First, they have a vegetarian option. Next, they allow meal substitutions. Third, there is no contract, commitment, or cancellation fee. It’s a week-to-week program (charged weekly too, so no big up-front investment). Fourth, they include all sides with their meals (so you don’t have to go spend additional grocery money to buy your produce/etc). Lastly, they have a variety of plans offering different numbers of meals. I just wanted lunch and dinner (because I drink green smoothies every morning for breakfast and have no desire to change that), and I only wanted 5 days per week (not 7). I do still want the option to cook or have a meal out if I want to. They also offer different daily calorie counts, but most of the plans I looked into offer that.

    I ordered the vegetarian, 5-day lunch/dinner 1200 calorie plan. (The 1200 includes breakfast, which I’m not getting, so it’s about 800 calories/day of food). It runs about $110/week with shipping. The food is fresh-frozen and shipped once per week in a styrofoam cooler with dry ice. I’m lucky in that the DTG headquarters are only a couple hours north of where I live, so I literally received my order 12 hours after it shipped. Everything arrived frozen in good condition, and all meals were labeled.

    Tonight’s meal was a veggie Salisbury steak with mashed potatoes and green beans. It arrived looking like this:

    Diet To Go Veg Salisbury Steak - Frozen

    Diet To Go Veg Salisbury Steak – Frozen

    The package included microwave and conventional oven instructions. I nuked everything, and ended up with this:

    Diet To Go Veg Salisbury Steak with Green Beans and Mashed Potatoes

    Diet To Go Veg Salisbury Steak with Green Beans and Mashed Potatoes

    I haven’t had Salisbury steak since I was a kid, and it tasted just like I remember. (Good!) The green beans were definitely fresh, and the steak had a great mix of black beans and corn inside (not just some mashup of soy protein). I must say – I was impressed. I don’t want to say I wasn’t expecting much, but – well, it could have just been a glorified TV dinner. I’m happy to report that it was much better than any TV dinner I’ve had.

    So far, it’s a thumbs up for Diet To Go. We’ll see how the rest of the week goes! I have until Friday to cancel or substitute things for next week’s menu, for Tuesday arrival. They rotate 5 weeks worth of menus. It will definitely be a luxury not having to think about food for a while.

    Thai Peanut Bowl

    Easy Thai Peanut Bowl

    This is one of those easy throw-together lunches that might not deserve its own “recipe,” but I’m always looking for quick and easy meal ideas, so I thought I’d share!

    I’m on a peanut butter kick this week, and had a brick of tofu in the Tofu XPress in the fridge just waiting to be used, so I stirred up this little Thai bowl. It came together quickly, since I used a bag of frozen stir fry veggies, and tasted fantastic! I didn’t have any peanuts on hand, and my scallions had gone bad – but if I had them, they’d be on top!

    Thai Peanut Bowl

    Thai Peanut Bowl

    Thai Peanut Noodle Bowl

    by Shelly

    Cook Time: 15 mins

    Ingredients

    • 4 oz rice noodles
    • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
    • 1 block extra firm tofu
    • 1 heaping tbsp peanut butter
    • 2 cloves garlic, minced
    • 2 cups (1 bag) frozen stir fry vegetables
    • 1 8-oz can sliced water chestnuts
    • 1 tbsp chopped peanuts
    • 2 scallions, sliced

    Instructions

    Boil water and cook rice noodles per package instructions.

    Drain and press tofu, then slice into cubes.

    Saute oil, peanut butter, and garlic over medium-high heat for 1 minute.

    Add tofu to saute mixture and stir. Cook for 3-4 minutes.

    Add vegetables and water chestnuts. Season with salt/pepper to taste. Stir.

    Reduce heat to medium and cook for 12 minutes.

    Check for seasoning and adjust to taste.

    Serve over rice noodles and top with peanuts and scallions.

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    Vegan Caramelized Onion Soup

    Vegan French Onion Soup

    Have slow cooker, will travel… or at least eat crazy-easy delicious stuff all the time!

    Today, I sliced up some onions and let them sit with a little olive oil in the slow cooker on low for 8 hours. About 10 minutes of labor later (i.e., stir in some broth and seasoning, and make homemade croutons), I had the easiest and most awesome caramelized onion soup on the planet! Vegan, even (thanks to no-beef broth and Daiya).

    The recipe came from my latest obsession, the cookbook Fresh From the Vegan Slow Cooker. Luckily for you, the recipe can be found online via Google Books here: Caramelized Onion Soup.

    Soup simmering in the crockpot

    Soup simmering in the crockpot

    Homemade Croutons

    Homemade Croutons

    Vegan Caramelized Onion Soup

    Vegan Caramelized Onion Soup

    Now, all I have to do is figure out why the cookbook author didn’t call this “French” Onion Soup….

    Tofu Dippers with Avocado Ranch Sauce

    Happy New Year! Have Some Tofu!

    Happy New Year, everybody!

    With the new year comes resolutions, and one of mine is definitely to cook more (and blog about it!) I got in some early practice today and made my favorite tofu dish to date: Tofu Dippers.

    Tofu Dippers with Avocado Ranch Sauce

    Tofu Dippers with Avocado Ranch Sauce

    Tofu takes some practice, both in preparation and in appreciation. A bad tofu experience can make it difficult to appreciate this versatile wonder-food. Yes, I just called tofu a wonder-food. It really can be! One thing that has definitely helped me is the Tofu XPress (tofu press). It’s so much easier than the old stack-books-on-a-plate-on-top-of-towels-on-the-tofu method. Properly pressed tofu is the key to it absorbing all of the goodness of marinades, as well as to keeping it firm and not mushy.

    In this case, my dear friend tofu appeals to two of my favorite food styles: finger-foods, and dip-able things. Preparation was not nearly as messy as I had anticipated, and the result was so good that… well, I ate the entire block of tofu in one sitting. Whoops. Who needs side dishes, anyway?

    I served my tofu dippers with an avocado ranch sauce (from page 38 of Vegan Sandwiches Save the Day) – basically, a dipping sauce of avocado, vegan mayo, parsley, thyme, and dill. But they would be just as awesome with ketchup or regular ranch dressing.

    Without further adieu, here is the recipe:

    Tofu Dippers

    by Shelly

    Prep Time: 10 minutes

    Cook Time: 25-30 minutes

    Keywords: bake appetizer entree vegetarian tofu

    Ingredients (2-4 servings)

    • 1 block of extra firm tofu, pressed
    • 1 cup panko bread crumbs
    • 1/2 tablespoon garlic salt
    • 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
    • 1/4 cup cornstarch
    • 2 eggs, beaten, or equivalent egg whites/egg beaters

    Instructions

    Preheat the oven to 400F.

    Mix together bread crumbs, garlic salt, and chili powder.

    Prep the dipping station with 3 shallow bowls. First bowl: corn starch. Second bowl: eggs. Third bowl: bread crumb mixture.

    Slice tofu into 1/4 inch thick pieces.

    Dip each tofu slice into the corn starch, then the eggs, then the bread crumbs. Tip: keep your left hand as a “dry” hand to grab the tofu and dip it in the corn starch. Then use your right hand as a “wet” hand to dip the tofu into the eggs and bread crumbs.

    Set each breaded slice onto a baking sheet lined with parchment or lightly oiled/sprayed.

    Bake at 400F for 20 minutes, then flip tofu and bake an additional 5-10 minutes. Breading should be lightly browned.

    Serve with your favorite dipping sauce.

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    Soymilk, banana, and Kitchen Sink nut butter smoothie

    Smoothie Construction

    The addition of a Vitamix to my household has definitely changed my breakfast habits for the better. Dare I say, the Vitamix has become a full fledged member of the family? I do.

    For those unfamiliar with the Vitamix, it’s a high-powered blender (and by high-powered, I mean, it boasts a 2 horsepower motor). I argued with myself for years that it couldn’t be much different from a regular blender. I was wrong. Every Vitamix owner I’ve ever encountered will tell you that it’s unlike any other blender on the market. It doesn’t just “blend.” It can completely liquify everything I’ve ever thrown in it – entire apples, nuts, seeds, you name it. No chunks. No bits. Smooth, luscious liquid, ready for slurping with a straw.

    I’ve got the Vitamix 5200 model, which I bought as a package at my local Costco. They don’t always carry it – but when they do, it’s a rare chance to get sub-retail pricing. These things don’t go “on sale.” Yes, $500 is a lot to spend on a blender, but like I said – it’s so much more than a blender. It has replaced my old blender, my food processor, AND my juicer. Heck, it even kneads dough (but I love my bread machine too much to give it up!)

    For the first few weeks of Vitamix ownership, I relied on recipes to make my morning smoothies. As time went on, though, I came up with a blueprint for smoothie-building that I now use every day. I drink smoothies for 2 reasons:

    1) They’re fast and portable. (Breakfast while driving to work, anyone?!)

    2) They’re a delicious way for me to sneak in nutrition from foods I don’t like to eat. (Sneaky sneaky!)

    If you’ve thought about incorporating smoothies into your daily routine, I highly recommend it! While any blender can make a smoothie, less powerful blenders will not be able to liquify all of the ingredients I recommend (which can result in clumps or chunks of food in your smoothie). No harm, no foul, though – don’t let that stop you from trying if you haven’t invested in a high-powered blender yet!

    My smoothie blueprint has a few components. To build a perfect smoothie, blend up one or two items from each category and, voila! For best blending results, add liquids and heavy solids first, then powders, then greens. This gives the most intense blending to those heavier foods, and allows you to use the tamper to push the lighter powders and greens down into the mix as things get going. Also, be sure that you have one frozen component in your mix. If you aren’t using frozen fruit or another frozen item, just add 4 or 5 ice cubes on top. This prevents the smoothie from warming due to the high power of the blender. Blend for 30 seconds on high power, or until everything looks smooth. Adjust the amount of liquid to your consistency preferences; I tend to always start with 1C liquid, and if it looks a little too thick, I just add a few tablespoons of water as it is blending.

    Components (choose 1 or more from each category – makes 1 large 32oz serving or 2 small 16oz servings):

    Liquid Base (1 cup): milk (dairy or non-dairy) such as soymilk, almond milk, or hemp milk, coconut water, tart cherry juice, other fruit juice, water, etc. Or, mix and match (I like to do 3/4C milk and 1/4C tart cherry juice).

    Fruit & Veg Base: 1 ripe banana and 1 carrot

    Protein: 1/4 cup powder (such as Vega, hemp protein powder, soy protein powder, whey protein powder, etc), or 1/2 block silken tofu

    Green Powder (1 tsp): spirulina or Veggie Magma

    Healthy fat (1 tbsp): peanut butter, almond butter, hazelnut butter, or powdered peanut butter (such as PB2), or 1/2 of an avocado

    Nuts & Seeds (handful): mixed nuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds

    Fruits (1 cup): fresh or frozen strawberry, blueberry, raspberry, apple, pear, kiwi, peach, plum, melon, etc.

    Greens (1-2 handfuls): raw baby spinach, chard, kale, collards, or other leafy greens

    Sweetener (optional): 1-2 pitted dates or 1 tsp agave nectar

    In most cases, I do not use additional sweetener. If my banana is not quite ripe, I’ll add a couple dates to the mix, but otherwise, there tends to be plenty of sweetness from the fruit. Some stronger greens like chard or collards may benefit from a little bit more sweetness to offset the bitter flavor.

    I try to mix up my choices from each category. If I used a canister of hemp protein powder this month, then next month I’ll use a rice protein powder. If I used kale as my main green this week, I’ll use spinach next week and chard the week after that. If I used pumpkin seeds this month, I’ll use sunflower seeds next month. I try to limit my use of soymilk, since I eat tofu once or twice a week and don’t want to overdo it on the soy. (Unsweetened vanilla almond milk is my current favorite liquid base, as it’s low calorie and delicious. I don’t mind its low protein count because I add protein powder to my smoothies).

    If I’m going for a flavor theme, I might skip a category, but for my usual breakfast smoothie, I try to hit all of the bases for nutrition purposes. I also try to pair up things that nutritionally work well together. For example, pumpkin and sunflower seeds are good sources of iron, and Vitamin C helps with iron absorption – so I try to mix high-C fruits with pumpkin seeds.

    Avocados and silken tofu add the most wonderful creamy texture to a smoothie. Try one or the other and see for yourself!

    I usually have my smoothies for breakfast, though sometimes have them for lunch instead. I’ll also whip up a smoothie as a late-afternoon snack if I’m feeling tired. I experience a noticeable dip in my energy levels if I go 2 or 3 days without a smoothie. It’s such an easy way to pack in nutrition! I do take a multivitamin a few days per week, but I prefer to get as much nutrition as possible from real food. I’m not a whole-foods saint, but smoothies improve my chances quite a bit.

    Lastly, when it comes to choosing produce, I try to go for organic produce for anything I would eat the skins of. So, I do not buy organic bananas or avocados most of the time, but I do buy organic greens, carrots, berries, apples, etc.

    And there you have it! My smoothie blueprint! What are your favorite smoothie combos?