February 28, 2013

Spinach Hummus

Hummus is such a versatile spread that can be used as a dip for veggies, as a salad dressing (4 vegan Ways), as a sandwich spread. Although I'd like to use it different ways, I'm boring and tend to simply use it as a dip for my daily snack of cukes and carrots and celery. Here's a link to 12 Great Ways to Use Hummus. They're not all plant-based ways .. so use wisely :) 

Spinach Hummus
Today I decided to modify my usual recipe to include more greens. Although the blog post about my  usual recipe calls for cilantro leaves, I don't always add it if I don't have any on hand. 

Prep Time: 10 min

  1. 2 x 15 oz cans of Chickpeas, well rinsed and drained
  2. 1/2 cup Flame-Roasted Red Peppers*
  3. 1 tbsp Minced Garlic
  4. 6 Sun-Dried Tomatoes (Plain dried, Whole Foods 365 brand) 
  5. 1/4 cup Lemon/Lime Juice
  6. 2 cups Baby Spinach
  7. Salt to taste
  8. Water, as needed. 
Pulse everything together in a food processor until smooth, adding more water as needed to make a smooth blend. Add salt after everything is blended well, taste testing with each addition. Add more lime juice if needed. Enjoy!!

My Assessment: I liked the smoky sweetness of sun-dried tomatoes, mixed in with the extra greens. Yum!

* I use a brand called Bella Famiglia Flame Roasted Red Peppers, which has no added oil. Make sure you're getting a product where the peppers are not preserved in Olive oil. This brand has whole red peppers, water, sea salt, sugar, wine vinegar and grape must. If you want to roast your own red peppers, here's how.

Nutrition Facts (Batch): Calories 818 (Fat Calories 136)
Total Fat 15.1 g; Carbohydrates 145.8 g; Dietary Fiber 31.3 g; Sugars 10.4 g; Protein 52.4 g

February 27, 2013

Curried Kale Salad

Ummm Kale :) !!! When Tony is out, or when he's got dinner plans, I always plan for Kale. It's something he won't touch and if he's not eating dinner at home, I don't have to feel guilty about making something he won't/can't eat!! Tonight, I tried a Curried Kale Salad

Curried Kale Salad w Corn & TVP
Prep Time: 20 min

Ingredients (2 Servings):
  1. 1 bunch Kale, leaves torn and stems removed (about 4 cups)
  2. 1 cup frozen Sweet Corn
  3. 1/2 cup Brown Basmati Rice
  4. 1/2 cup TVP Chunks
  5. 4 tbsp Canned Crushed Tomatoes
  6. 1 tbsp Garlic
  7. 1 tsp Cumin Seeds
  8. 1 tsp Ground Coriander seeds
  9. 1" pc of Cinnamon stick
  10. 3 small Bay Leaves
  11. 2-3 Cloves, whole
  12. Salt and Pepper, to taste
  13. 1/4 cup Mrs. Renfro's Hot Jalapeno Green Salsa.
Curried Kale Salad w Corn & TVP
Boil brown rice in ample amounts of water, drain and set aside. Do the same for TVP. Feel free to use Seitan instead as well. In a deep stock pot, big enough to hold 4 cups of kale, add crushed tomatoes and all spices. Saute for a couple of minutes and add a splash of water, if necessary. Once the spices release their aroma, add TVP or Seitan chunks and mix well. Add another splash of water and saute for a couple of minutes. Then add corn, mix well and layer kale on top. Reduce heat to medium low and cover. Allow kale to wilt (about 5-7 min, it will turn dark green). Add rice to this mix, toss everything really well together, add salsa and give another mighty toss. Taste test for salt/pepper or more salsa and serve warm. 

My Assessment: I seem to love all things kale. So I'll let you be the judge of this one. It was amazing and quite filling as well. I made this into 2 huge helpings, but it could easily be 3 or even 4, if you had a bowl of soup or something else with it. My second helping is sitting in the fridge for lunch tomorrow. Yum!

Nutrition Facts (Per Serving): Calories 403 (Fat Calories 24)
Total Fat 2.7 g; Carbohydrates 76.0 g; Dietary Fiber 11.1 g; Sugars 9.2 g; Protein 22.7 g

February 24, 2013

Breakfast Quinoa w Greens

In recent weeks, I've switched to oats for breakfast instead of my spinach smoothie. I think I may have mentioned that before. Anyhow, since the smoothie was sometimes my main source of a bulk quantity of greens, I started missing it soon enough. I even tried doing both - spinach smoothie at 0700 and then a bowl of overnight oats at around 1030 instead of a snack but that ended up being a lot of calories. So I've been trying to incorporate greens in my diet in other ways.  

This morning I decided to mix baby spinach with Quinoa and got a pretty good dish. 

Prep Time: 15 min

Ingredients (1 serving):
  1. 1/3 cup Quinoa, rinsed and drained
  2. 2 cups fresh Baby Spinach
  3. 2 pcs Sun-Dried tomatoes (Plain dried, Whole foods 365 brand, sliced w kitchen scissors)
  4. 1 cup Silk Almond Milk, Unsweetened Original
  5. 1/2 tbsp Minced Onions (dry)
  6. 1/8 tsp Garlic powder
  7. 1/2 tsp Tony Chachere's Original Creole Seasoning, to taste.
Place Quinoa, sun-dried tomatoes and spices at the bottom of a small stock pot, cover with almond milk. Bring milk to a boil, layer all the spinach on top, cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Let everything simmer until Quinoa is cooked and spinach is cooked down. Uncover, mix well, allow excess liquid to evaporate (I left mine a little thick and soupier than oatmeal). Taste test, adding more creole seasoning, as needed. Garnish with freshly cracked black pepper. Serve warm. 

My Assessment: Loved it! I used baby spinach which is what i had on hand today. This recipe should work with any green you have on hand. I can't wait to try it with kale. :) 

Nutrition Facts (Per Serving): Calories 254 (Fat Calories 55)
Total Fat 6.1 g; Carbohydrates 40.3 g; Dietary Fiber 6.7 g; Sugars 2.0 g; Protein 10.9 g

February 23, 2013

In Search of the Perfect Loaf #4

The saga continues. My last bread making attempt was a disaster. The whole darned loaf ended up in the trash. My aim is to end up with a loaf that has as much whole wheat flour as I can get into it. I researched bread making a little more last week and came across this Bread Experiment. The author is a registered dietitian and  experimented with increasing proportions of whole wheat flour in all-purpose flour and made 5 different loafs. Being a scientist myself this approach made sense to me and I was all set to attempt it when I realized that my food scale is not precise to measure to the gram, or even to the 10 grams. So I've put this experiment on the back burner and will return to it soon. Meanwhile, here's the recipe I attempted today. It is a variation of an earlier attempt, without the oats, sunflower seeds or maple syrup. The boys don't like seeds/nuts and so I decided to skip those. Since my pan is non-stick, I didn't think I needed to use apple sauce to replace oil which I've seen in the original recipe. 

Still a little dense, but pretty good overall!
Prep Time: 10 min + ~3.5 hours in a bread machine

Ingredients: (8 servings/slices):
  1. 1 cup + 3 tbsp water
  2. 3 cups All-purpose White Flour
  3. 2 tbsp Chia Seeds
  4. 1/4 cup Dark Brown Sugar
  5. 1.25 tsp Sea Salt
  6. 2.25 tsp Active Dry Yeast
Place all ingredients in the order they are listed into the baking pan of your bread machine. Start the machine using the menu selection for Basic White Bread. I had initially added only 1 cup water but the dough looked and felt a little hard so I added more water, one tbsp at a time, until I felt the right springy consistency to the dough and it didn't feel too dry. I set the crust to dark today. The basic white cycle on my bread machine, lasts about 3.5 hours. When the kneading was done, I could not even see the ball of dough from the top, without peering straight into the machine from the top. It was bigger than a baseball, but much smaller than a softball when it was done kneading.

Here's what the dough ball looked like after 1 hour of rising (about 3x its original size).

Here's what it looked like after another 40 minutes of rising - it grew at least another 2x at least.

And here's what it looked like just a few minutes before the cycle was completed.

I removed the bread from the pan onto a baking rack and allowed it to stand for only 5 minutes before slicing/cutting into the loaf. We were starving :)

My Assessment: It was pretty good. We ate almost all of it with dinner tonight. For being white bread, it was still pretty dense and I wonder if that had something to do with (a) Chia seeds or (b) brown sugar. It got a lot of rise and the original smaller than a softball size dough ball rose to be at least 4-5 times its original size.  I guess my experiments will have to go back to basic white bread (with no chia and no brown sugar) to see how fluffy I can make that, before I start adding seeds and whole wheat flour.  

Nutrition Facts (Per Serving): Calories 209 (Fat Calories 16)
Total Fat 1.8 g; Carbohydrates 42.1 g; Dietary Fiber 2.8 g; Sugars 4.5 g; Protein 6.0 g

Creamy Potato Soup

I tried making another loaf of bread in the bread machine today. What would better accompany homemade bread better than a hearty creamy soup. So I had a sack of red potatoes which I decided to put to good use while the bread machine was working its magic.

Creamy Potato Soup w Cremini Mushrooms
Prep Time: 15 min (and 30-45 min simmer time!)

Ingredients (6 servings):
  1. 3 lbs Red Potatoes, diced
  2. 1 Medium Red Onion, diced
  3. 3 stalks Celery, diced
  4. 10 oz Cremini mushrooms, sliced.
  5. 1/4 cup Cilantro leaves (and a sprig or two for garnish)
  6. 1 tbsp Minced Garlic
  7. 3 tbsp Kal Nutritional Yeast
  8. 1-2 tbsp Corn Starch (dissolved in a little bit of water)
  9. 6 cups Water or Vegetable Broth
  10. 1 cup Almond Milk
  11. 1-2 tsp Sea Salt (to taste)
  12. 1/2 tsp Roasted Cumin powder
  13. 1/4 tsp Liquid Smoke
  14. Pepper, to taste
Line a deep stockpot with water and add diced celery, garlic and onions. Saute until celery is well wilted and turns transparent (it will take longer than the onion). Add chopped cilantro leaves and mix together and then add diced potatoes and 6 cups of water or vegetable broth. Save the rest to add to the soup as it simmers on the stove. Bring everything to a boil, reduce heat to medium low and allow to simmer on the stove until the potatoes are tender and begin to break up (about 15-20 min depending upon the size of the diced pieces). Add sliced mushrooms and nutritional yeast and 1 tbsp corn starch (dissolved in water). Mix well,  add almond milk and let it all simmer for a 5-10 minutes to allow the corn starch to cook and thicken the soup. Add roasted cumin powder and liquid smoke, mix well. Do a quick taste test for salt, adding more as needed. Garnish with freshly cracked black pepper and a sprig of cilantro.

I think he approved of this recipe!!! 
Nutrition Facts (Per Serving): Calories 207 (Fat Calories 9)
Total Fat 1.0 g; Carbohydrates 44.5 g; Dietary Fiber 5.6 g; Sugars 4.0 g; Protein 7.5 g

February 20, 2013

Kale-Loaded TVP Tacos

All day today I was thinking about how I was going to use the big bunch of Kale I had sitting in the fridge ..!! Yes .. you can stop laughing now ... I am indeed that nutty that I was dreaming about Kale!! On the way home, my food thoughts began to stray and I started thinking about crunchy tacos!! What could be better than combining both my food fantasies ... 

HH TVP Tacos with Kale

Prep Time: 20 min

Ingredients (6 servings):
  1. 2 cups TVP (rinsed and drained in fine-mesh strainer)
  2. 4 tbsp A1 Steak Sauce 
  3. 4 tbsp Low Sodium Soy Sauce 
  4. 2 tsbp Nutritional Yeast
  5. 4 tbsp Onion flakes 
  6. 4 tsp Chili powder 
  7. 2.5 tsp Garlic Powder 
  8. 2 tsp Ground Cumin 
  9. 1 tsp hot sauce (to taste) 
  10. 3 cups of Kale (fresh, stems removed)
  11. 1 small tomato, diced
  12. Corn Tortillas/Taco Shells (2 per serving)
  13. Salt & Pepper to Taste
Combine all the dry ingredients/spices in 1.5-2 cups of water using a whisk. Pour everything into a large skillet (the largest you can find with a lid). Add rinsed and drained TVP to this liquid and stir to combine everything together; simmer for 5 minutes until almost dry. Layer kale over the TVP, cover, reduce heat to medium and allow the kale to wilt (5-7 minutes).  Uncover, toss everything together and allow excess water to evaporate (another 5-7 minutes). 

Kale Loaded Tacos
While the kale and TVP is cooking, preheat oven to 350 F and place corn tortillas on an inverted muffin pan. Roasting regular corn tortillas for ~8-10 minutes in this manner makes great home-made taco shells that are baked, and not fried. They don't always have the perfect shell shape but they're pretty close and each one is unique :) !! Allow taco shells to cool for a few minutes after you remove them from the oven. Load up with TVP-Kale mix, sprinkle diced tomatoes on top and garnish with a sprig of cilantro. Umm Umm Good!

Nutrition Facts (Per Serving)*: Calories 204 (Fat Calories 10)
Total Fat 1.1 g; Carbohydrates 29.1 g; Dietary Fiber 9.1 g; Sugars 6.5 g; Protein 21.9 g

* Nutrition facts are provided without the taco shells as calorie content can vary by size and brand.

February 18, 2013

Yabbuts, anyone?

Over the past several weeks, I've been trying to convince my brother to go plant-based. He shall remain unnamed here so he doesn't feel pressured - you know who you are :)!! Each time I talk to him and to others who ask me about my diet, I hear Yabbuts. I first came across this term in Chef AJ's book - Unprocessed. She identifies those mental platitudes ... the ones we give ourselves when asked if we want to be healthy and energetic and go off our prescription medications for lifestyle disease ... there's the little voice we all hear ... “Yeah, but…”!! Yes, a Yabbut!

Chef AJ lists the following Top 5 Yabbuts in her book and addresses each one. I've been guilty of some of those myself. Here are some of my responses to her 5 Yabbuts and several that have come up in my conversations with people who are struggling with their weight and health. 

Chef AJ's Yabbut #1: It’s too expensive to eat this way. My Yabbut #1: I can't afford Organic food. 

My answer almost always is - No, its not expensive!! I know people who are on food stamps and have gone plant based. Yes, as Chef AJ says in her book, and as all of us are aware, fast food is cheap. But really, lets be honest here. How many times do we all eat fast food anyways? When I think of my friends and family, I think of people who care about their health and try to feed their kids a healthy diet. Almost all of us have moved to low-fat products, and canola or olive oil, and buy lean meat in the store and try to limit our kids' candy consumption. So most of us do spend some money on buying healthy foods for ourselves and our kids - the idea is not to spend more, but to spend differently. Think about it - eating plants is a lot less cheaper than the cost of your prescription medications and hospital visits and possibly surgeries. Next time you're in the store, compare the price of a a 3 lb bag of dry red kidney beans (or the kind you like!) with a 3 lb pack of chicken/beef/pork/fish. You'll be surprised!! If you can't buy organic foods, don't. I don't always buy organic foods because they are more expensive than conventional produce. Remember a conventional apple is far better than a serving of double-deep-fried french fries.  Make sure you wash your produce well before consuming the skin, consider investing in a fruit/vegetable scrub brush.

Chef AJ's Yabbut #2: I don’t have the time to prepare healthy food. My Yabbut #2: I'm lazy.

Yes, you do have time!!  Whenever anyone asks me how I manage to cook every night - I say ... a girl's gotta eat!!! You have to eat something - so instead of slapping a steak on the grill, add some tofu or veggies. Grilled veggies with salt and pepper (no oil) and some lime juice are divine. Unless you're eating out every day, and eating 30-second drive through non-foods, you're cooking something i.e. you have time to prepare healthy food. Most of my recipes, and several other bloggers who's recipes I often post about, require 30 minutes or less to prepare. I have a full time high stress job, with a 3-year old son, and a 2 hour 40 min round trip commute everyday. I find the time to cook every night. You don't have to do that - try and cook on the weekend - or 2 nights a week and save leftovers for the remaining meals. Eat minimal prep foods for lunch - salads, sandwiches and save the prepared items for dinner. You can do it!! 

My Yabbut #3: I don't have the first clue how to do this.

Again my response is yes, you do!! Have you ever steamed broccoli with your steak? Have you ever baked a potato? If you've never cooked, yes, this change can be daunting because most of us who are plant-based do eat predominantly home cooked foods. There are a billion websites where you can find simple plant-based recipes to help you out. A lot of these websites also offer resources to get you started on your journey. Here's my list of 6 websites that I use the most. All you need is a device that is connected to the internet.
  1. The Engine 2 Diet (http://engine2diet.com)
  2. Forks Over Knives (http://www.forksoverknives.com)
  3. The Happy Herbivore website (http://happyherbivore.com/)
  4. Susan Voisin's Fat Free Vegan Kitchen (http://blog.fatfreevegan.com)
  5. Dreena Burton's Plant Powered Kitchen (http://plantpoweredkitchen.com/)
  6. The Chef (AJ) and the Dietitian (Julieanna Hever) (http://www.youtube.com/user/therealchefaj).

My Yabbut #4: I travel a lot and am almost always in airports and hotels and restaurants. Or, I like to eat out with friends and family, and entertain. 

I understand that. I've faced this one myself. But again, this isn't an insurmountable problem. More and more airport stores now offer fruits - bananas, apples, oranges are common along with plain or dry roasted nuts. In the last year, I've gone through San Francisco, Columbus, Newark, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Denver, and Chicago and was able to find plant-based options in almost every one. Here's an excellent blog written by a Charter Pilot who happens to be vegan and writes about his travels across the country - Marty's Flying Vegan Review. He even has a post about what you can take through airport security, what/how to have food with you during hotel stays (most motels and hotels now offer at least a mini refrigerator in each room) and he provides lists of restaurants by city. If you like to entertain, introduce your friends and family to plant-based cooking by bringing along a dish for everyone to share. Last year, I had Thanksgiving Dinner at my place and although I made a turkey for the meat-eaters, every side dish that I made was plant-based. I had stuffing/dressing, gravy, green beans, sweet potatoes, carrots, potatoes, and even cranberry sauce).

Chef AJ's Yabbut #3: But I can’t live without my (fill in the blank).

Yes, you can. If you truly believed that your life depended on it - you'd live without your steak, crab, salmon or cheese. Its amazing how many people wait for that defining life-changing moment - a major heart attack, a stroke, a severe hypoglycemic episode, a cancer diagnosis. We should consider ourselves lucky if we've not gotten to that point yet. I thought for the longest time that I couldn't live without my daily Triple Shot Skinny Latte  from a major coffee shop.  Once I gave it up, I realized that the dairy and caffeine combination was causing my severe migraines. It only took a couple of slip-ups/missteps for me to figure that one out!! We should recognize "needs" for what they are - addictions. Try substitutes for your animal-based addictions. I changed from my caffeinated latte, to a Soy Decaf version initially and then gave it up! 

Chef AJ's Yabbut #4: But my friends and family won’t support me in this.

It is true. They may not. They may even try to sabotage your efforts. But they will come around!! And please give people the benefit of the doubt. Maybe the ones you might worry about the most will be the most understanding. My mother-in-law cooks Southern & Unhealthy (her words, not mine) - lots of butter and lots of meat. But at each family holiday dinner (Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas) she has made sure there is something I can eat. She needn't have worried, I'm used to fending for myself by now - but she called and asked every time what I would eat. My husband, a self professed meat & potatoes man went plant-based with me after observing me for 9 months and seeing the positive changes I was seeing in my health and general well-being. As Chef AJ says in her book, friends and family may not immediately care about your total cholesterol numbers, but they will notice the outward appearance - the difference in weight and fitness and mood and energy levels. They will want the same for themselves. They will come around. Lead by example - that is all you can do. 

My Yabbut #5: My kids are so picky. They won't eat anything. 

This is a tough one. Believe me - I know!! We have a 17 year old (meat, potatoes and corn only), a 14 year old (mildly adventurous and will occasionally try new things) and a 3 year old (already likes his junk food, and can be picky occasionally). It is hard being a parent. You want the best for your kids and you want them to eat better. But as adults, we find it hard to let go of old habits, so we have to think of how much harder that must be for someone at an age where their entire life ahead of them. Every teenager thinks they're invincible and they'll live forever. Nobody thinks of being sick or tired or reduced life expectancy. All we can do is make a change - for ourselves - by ourselves - and continue to offer plant-based foods to our kids. Lead by example. They will pick up the things you discuss with adults about a healthier diet. After more than a year of being plant-based, we still cook meat in our house. But I am proud to say that the kids eat a lot more fruits and vegetables compared to before. The 3-year old has been the easiest mainly because he doesn't know any better.  So unfortunately, with kids, you may be stuck with making 2 meals for every meal, or a meat topping for every dish. Or you could just lay down the law and say this is what we're having for dinner - eat it or leave it. That didn't work in our mixed-family household ;)

My Yabbut #6: But I love meat (cheese). I don't think I can give it up. 

See Chef AJ's Yabbut #3. Okay ... so you love meat. You don't have to give it up altogether, not immediately anyways. Take your time. Take it slow. Give it up one meal at a time, one day at a time. I was able to give it up Cold Tofu - but you don't have to! Try Meatless Mondays. Then slowly add another meatless day and another and then another. Try Dairy Free Weekends. You'll find that slowly you will lose the taste for meat. For my brother, whom I mentioned at the beginning of this post, his biggest fear is that he might lose his taste for meat. I love him dearly .. !!! He doesn't want to be where I am today (no taste for meat and cheese) ... he's okay with trying this for a while but he's worried he'll lose his taste for meat. Its a good thing bro!!! You know what else you'll loose along with the taste for meat? Your glucose meter and prescription medications.

Chef AJ's Yabbut #5: It’s too hard/I have too much stress. My Yabbut #7: I have no will power. 

It is hard. If you're addicted to junk foods like I was (there was a time where I was so stressed at work that I was eating a Snickers bar every day - in addition to 3 square meals). I would get stressed or mad about another new catastrophe and head for the vending machines. 60 seconds of feel-good chocolate resulted in quite a few gained pounds and no less stress. As you eat less and less junk food it will get easier. I've been plant-based for almost 14 months - I still have to talk myself out of reaching for that cookie in the pantry, or that scone at my favorite coffee shop. Think about the big picture. If you're losing weight, that extra cookie will jeopardize the progress you've made thus far. In the end, if you do slip up, don't beat yourself up and give up entirely. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and move on. We're only human after all. Perfection is for the gods in heaven :)

My Yabbut #8: The Scarlett O'Hara syndrome - I'll start tomorrow! 

Tomorrow NEVER comes. Remember the ultimate goal - No Meat, No Dairy, No Oil. You don't have to do it all today but you have to start somewhere. So .. Start Today. Make one change today!! 

Spinach Fried Rice

This is a great way to use up leftover rice and to incorporate some greens into your (and your rugrat's) diet. T and I went out on Saturday night and all we had leftover from our visit to a new Indian restaurant we tried out was some Steamed white Basmati rice. Instead of leaving at the restaurant to be thrown out, much to T's chagrin, I got it boxed up. Here's how I ended up using the leftover rice it this afternoon.

Spinach Fried Rice with Mushrooms & Peas
Prep Time: 10 min

Ingredients (1.5 servings):
  1. 1/2 cup Steamed White rice
  2. 3/4 cup fresh Baby Spinach
  3. 1/4 cup Frozen Peas
  4. 3-4 Cremini mushrooms, sliced
  5. 1 tsp Minced Garlic
  6. 1-2 tsp Minced Dried Onion
  7. 1-2 tbsp Low-Sodium Soy Sauce
  8. 1/2 tsp Rice Wine Vinegar
  9. Salt and Pepper, to taste
Line a skillet with water (medium heat) and add minced garlic and onion, soy sauce and rice wine vinegar. As the garlic begins to saute, add frozen peas (straight out of the freezer) and allow to simmer for a minute. Layer the spinach on top of the peas, followed by a layer of sliced mushrooms and finally, add the layer of rice to top. I used whole leaves of baby spinach today but may chop it up into smaller pieces next time as I imagine it will go over better with my boy. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and allow a few minutes for the spinach and mushrooms to wilt and release their water. As the spinach wilts, some of the rice will sink into the brown (soy sauce) liquid at the bottom while some will remain white. I liked the dual tones in this dish. Once all the liquid evaporates, toss everything together and add another splash of water. Cover and let sit for 3-5 minutes until ready to serve. This allows all the flavors to blend together. Garnish with freshly cracked black pepper. 

Nutrition Facts (Per Serving): Calories 240 (Fat Calories 7)
Total Fat 0.8 g; Carbohydrates 51.0 g; Dietary Fiber 3.4 g; Sugars 2.6 g; Protein 7.3 g

February 17, 2013

In Search of the Perfect Loaf #3

My adventures with bread making continue. After a brief hiatus, I attempted another loaf today. After a quick Google search revealed nothing immediately promising, I decided to improvise based on my last few attempts. I've been reading up on bread making and all in all - basic bread should consist of 4 ingredients - Flour (is the body of the loaf), Water (to dissolve all the ingredients; both too much and too little water prevent adequate rise in the loaf), Yeast (which helps the dough rise) and Salt (which helps retard the yeast and tempers the fermentation process). As the old fairy tale goes ... salt is essential also for our taste buds ... it adds flavor. Some folks would say that bread making also requires Sugar - to help feed the yeast, which is basically a microorganism that uses starches (and sugars) to grow and multiply. During this process, any simple sugars are converted to alcohol and carbon dioxide is released which bubbles through the dough and causes it to rise. During the baking process all the alcohol evaporates .. so you don't need to be worried about serving alcohol to your kids in the form of bread. So today, I tried a rather simple recipe, with only these basic ingredients and some Chia seeds for added fiber and omega-3 fatty acids.

Prep Time: 10 + ~3.5 hours in a bread machine

Ingredients: (8 servings/slices):
  1. 1.5 cups Water
  2. 1/4 cup Apple Sauce 
  3. 3 tbsp Dark Brown Sugar
  4. 1 tbsp Chia Seeds
  5. 2 cups All-purpose White Flour
  6. 1 cup Whole Wheat Flour
  7. 1 tsp Salt
  8. 2.5 tsp Active Dry Yeast 
So I placed all ingredients in the order they are listed into the baking pan of my bread machine. Started the machine for Basic White bread. Set it to a medium dark crust. I peeked in a couple of times as the dough was mixing and it looked pretty wet. I thought that would not be a huge issue and it would be okay once it rose. the dough rose really well and then .... poof!! It fell in on itself!!! BIG FAIL!!! The loaf that came out was so bad, its not even worth a picture!!!  Oh well ... I learnt something from this failed attempt. .... and I will try again tomorrow!! :)

Overnight Chia Chocolate Oats

I've been moving away from my beloved spinach smoothie for a few weeks and concentrating on eating more whole grains for breakfast and have gravitated towards Old Fashioned Oats. I can eat them cold after soaking them overnight, I can heat them in the microwave for 3 minutes and still have a nice chewiness remain in my bowl of hot cereal. Adding the chia seeds also adds a little bit of crunch which is great in the morning (at least for me!). It's a win-win situation!

Overnight Chia Chocolate Oats
Prep Time: 5 min

Ingredients (1 Serving):
  1. 1/2 cup Old Fashioned Oats
  2. 1 tbsp Chia seeds
  3. 1/2 tsp Raw Cocoa Powder (unsweetened)
  4. 3/4 cup Silk Pure Almond Unsweetened Almond milk
  5. 1 banana (sliced)
  6. 4-6 Strawberries, sliced
  7. Maple Syrup (optional, to taste)
Soak oats, chia seeds and cocoa powder in almond milk overnight. In the morning, mix well, and add sliced banana and berries. If you prefer a warm cereal like me, microwave the overnight mixture with a half a sliced banana for 3 minutes on high. Remove, mix well until the mushy banana is well mixed with the oats (this imparts a lot of sweetness i.e. you don't need to use maple syrup). Then add the remainder of the banana and sliced strawberries. Enjoy!

Nutrition Facts (Per Serving): Calories 559 (Fat Calories 130)
Total Fat 14.4g; Carbohydrates 94.0g; Dietary Fiber 18.6g; Sugars 20.5g; Protein 16.4g

February 16, 2013

Chocolate Chia Pudding

I've been meaning to try Chia pudding for a long time but never really have had the time or the motivation to actually get down and do it. Finally, as I sat at home this morning, waiting for the furnace repair man to show up I decided to give 2 of the recipes, that I'd bookmarked a while ago, a try. Both are essentially the same recipe, with slight variations, so I could compare them against each other. 

Chocolate Chia Pudding
Recipe Adapted from food.com (my modifications are in Red):
  1. 1 cup Almond milk
  2. 2 tbsp (3 tbsp) Chia seeds
  3. 1 tsp Cocoa powder 
  4. 1/4 tsp Cinnamon 
  5. 1/2 tsp (2 tbsp + 1 tsp) Maple syrup (to taste)
Recipe Adapted from Fat Free Vegan Kitchen (my modifications are in Red):
  1. 1 cup Non-dairy (Almond) milk 
  2. 3 tbsp Chia seeds
  3. 1 tsp Vanilla extract 
  4. 2 tsp Cocoa powder
  5. Sweetener of choice (to taste) 
  6. (2 tbsp + 1 tsp) Maple syrup
  7. 1/2 to 1 cup raspberries, cherries, or other fruit, plus additional for garnish (optional)
Mix everything except Chia seeds and blend until cocoa is well mixed in the almond milk. Add dry Chia seeds to the container you will be using to set the pudding and pour the wet ingredients on top. Using a whisk, mix well so all the seeds are well soaked. Refrigerate for an hour, remove, re-whisk and then leave to set until ready to serve. ummmm .... fail! I left both puddings in the fridge for about 6 hours. Neither set or thickened enough to be considered pudding. So ... I mixed them both together into one bowl. Added an additional 2 tbsp Chia seeds, mixed it all together ... and back in the fridge! So here's my final recipe:

Prep Time: 5 min + 2-3 hours in the fridge (to set).

Ingredients (8 servings):
  1. 2 cups Almond milk
  2. 8 tbsp Chia seeds (whole)
  3. 3 tsp Cocoa powder (optional)
  4. 1.5 tsp Vanilla extract
  5. 1/4 tsp Cinnamon 
  6. 6 tbsp Maple syrup (add more to taste)
Pulse almond milk, cocoa powder, vanilla, cinnamon and maple syrup in a blender until smooth. Add Chia seeds to a glass dish and pour the wet ingredients on top. Using a whisk, mix well until all the seeds are well soaked. Refrigerate for an hour, remove, re-whisk and then leave to set until ready to serve (2-3 hours).

My Assessment: I liked it, with some reservations. The pudding was quite thick with my final recipe. It definitely didn't get to be as thick as store-bought chocolate pudding, but it was sweet and gooey and the flavor blended really well with the red raspberries. I liked the little crunch added by the Chia seeds, which is something T didn't like at all. But he's not a big fan of Chia seeds anyways. The recipe should easily be halved or quartered depending upon how many servings you want to make. I did come to the realization that I don't really enjoy the taste of raw cocoa powder. I would probably have loved this pudding if it was plain vanilla. I've crossed out the cinnamon because the only reason it was in my recipe was because I combined my 2 original recipes after my first attempt at setting both of them failed.

Nutrition Facts (Per Serving): Calories 128 (Fat Calories 52)
Total Fat 5.8 g; Cholesterol 0 g; Carbohydrates 18.5 g; Dietary Fiber 5.5 g; Sugars 10.8 g; Protein 3.4 g

Comments & Tips: One of the other herbie ladies on Facebook told me that it helps if you leave the whole mixture sitting on the kitchen counter for about 30 minutes before mixing, and refrigerating. It helps the Chia seeds expand more. Next time I'll be giving that a try!

Recipe Suggestion: Here's another recipe for Chia pudding that I came across after I had already started these 2 batches. I love the idea of using dates instead of maple syrup (its a more 'whole food' sugar).

February 11, 2013

Steamed Broccoli w HH Pad Thai Sauce

Some days are meant for light dinners. Today was one of those days. My most favorite vegetable these days is steamed broccoli. On days when I'm craving a light dinner, I always think of Steamed Broccoli over Quick Cooking Brown Rice. Quick and Easy and Painless. Typically, I use a commercial sauce like a Vegetarian Oyster or  Kung Pao sauce and drizzle that over the broccoli. Tonight I decided to do the same with Happy Herbivore's "Cheater" Pad Thai Sauce

I used "Naturally More" Smooth Peanut Butter with flax seed for this recipe. It contains no HFCS and ingredients include Roasted Peanuts, Soy Protein, Flax Seeds, Evaporated Cane Syrup, Salt and Molasses. A tbsp of this stuff contains 90 Calories with 65 of those being fat calories. Furthermore, this 1 tbsp contains only 1 g of sugars, >2g of dietary fiber and 4.5g of protein. It can't get any better than this stuff :)

HH "Cheater" Pad Thai Sauce over Broccoli & Rice
Prep Time: 15 min

Prepare 1 recipe of HH "Cheater" Pad Thai Sauce and set aside. Boil a bag of brown rice (about 1.5 cups) and drain. Transfer rice into 2 serving bowls. Steam 1 cup of Broccoli and layer over steamed rice. Drizzle the sauce over the 2 cups, dividing it approximately equally between the 2 cups and serve hot :) 

Nutrition Facts (Per Serving): Calories 433 (Fat Calories 47)
Total Fat 5.2 g; Cholesterol 0 g; Carbohydrates 86 g; Dietary Fiber 6.8 g; Sugars 9.5 g; Protein 11.6 g

My Assessment: Its divine!!! You will not be able to tell the difference between commercial peanut sauces and this one. Also, I used natural peanut butter, so while it does have some fat calories from the peanuts, there is no added HFCS and the recipe is about as wholesome as it can get :)

February 9, 2013

Savory Oats w Green Beans

Most people, including my husband, grew up eating Instant Oats out of a serving sized sachet. Most people, including my husband (and I), often gagged at the taste of wet cardboard in our mouths. It was either too sugary, or too tasteless to be considered food. I've never been a fan of instant oats and so until recently have stayed away from oats, in general. Whenever I hit a 'healthy eating' phase in past years, I'd buy a 6-pack of instant oatmeal and eat it over months, gagging all the way.

In recent months, since I went plant-based, I've heard such wonderful things about Oats and how good they are for the heart & so I've started including Old Fashioned Oats in my diet. I tried a few recipes for overnight oats. Mostly, I tolerate it and I've come to the conclusion that it is because I've never liked eating sweet breakfasts. For those of you who're interested, here's an excellent blog post about Oats and Avenanthramides - polyphenolic antioxidants found in oats which have been shown to have anti-inflammatory, anti-proliferative, and anti-itching activity, and have been implicated to provide additional protection against coronary heart disease, colon cancer, and skin irritation. Here's another peer-reviewed article which discusses the effect of avenanthramide on inhibition of vascular smooth muscle cell proliferation. All in all ... Oats are great for your heart ... so eat away!! And this recipe will go a long way in making your eating enjoyable!! :)

Savory Oats with Green Beans
Prep Time: 15-20 min

Ingredients (2 servings):
  1. 1 cup Old Fashioned Oats
  2. 1 cup Unsweetened Almond Milk (I use Silk)
  3. 4 Sun-Dried tomatoes (Plain dried, Whole foods 365 brand, sliced w kitchen scissors)
  4. 1 small Red Onion (julienned)
  5. 1 cup French-cut Green Beans (or any other vegetable you like, spinach would be great!)
  6. 1/2 tsp Garlic powder
  7. 1/2 tsp Mustard powder
  8. 1/2 tsp Cumin Seed powder
  9. A pinch of Turmeric
  10. A pinch of Smoked Chipotle Pepper powder (optional; this packs some heat!).
  11. Salt & Pepper, to taste
In 2 separate microwave safe bowls, add 2 sliced sun-dried tomatoes, 1/2 cup old-fashioned oats and 1/2 cup almond milk. Microwave each on high for 3 minutes and set aside. After a few minutes, mix well so that the oats are moist, yet crumbly. I used a 1:1 proportion of oats to liquid as I don't like them mushy (see notes above about instant oats!). You can increase the liquid if you like.  

Oats and Tomatoes (after microwaving)
In a non-stick skillet, saute onions in water until caramelized to a rich maroon color. if you've never sauteed onions in water before - see this recipe. This should only take 4-6 minutes. Once done, remove onions from skillet and set aside. Line the same skillet with water and add garlic, mustard, cumin and turmeric to the water and add green beans. I used frozen french-cut green beans. Allow the beans to thaw and the spices to blend in well. Mix until done (fork tender) adding a splash or two of water as needed to prevent burning. Once beans are done, add onions to the mix, give it all a quick toss and divide the veggies over the 2 bowls of oats and sun-dried tomatoes. Add salt and pepper, as needed. Serve warm. 

Savory Oats with Green Beans
My Assessment: I loved it. This is my new favorite breakfast. I can easily make the veggies in a larger batch and refrigerate and then prepare the oats and tomatoes in the morning before work in the microwave. Looking forward to a whole new way of eating breakfast :)

Nutrition Facts (Per Serving): Calories 390 (Fat Calories 74)
Total Fat 8.2; Cholesterol 0g; Carbohydrates  63.7g; Dietary Fiber 11.2g; Sugars 6.3g; Protein 12.9g

February 5, 2013

(Non)-Fried Okra

In the USA, the most commonly found version of Okra, even more than Louisiana Gumbo .. is Fried Okra  - it is a Southern Classic! Diced Okra is soaked in beaten eggs, and then dredged in seasoned cornmeal and then deep fried until golden. I've had it many a time during my omnivore days and given how fond I am of this wonderful vegetable, I had it about as often as I could find it on a restaurant menu. Since going plant based, I've tried a few different recipes but none of them have involved egg or deep frying. This one, although not as deeply battered as restaurant style Fried Okra, is quite similar and had a lovely crunch to it as well.

(Non)-Fried Okra
Prep Time: 20 min

Ingredients (Serves 2):

  1. 1 x 12oz bag of Frozen, Diced Okra
  2. 2 tbsp Chickpea Flour
  3. 1 tbsp Corn Meal
  4. 1-2 tsp Onion flakes
  5. 1 tsp Garlic Powder
  6. 1 tsp Parsley flakes
  7. 1/2 tsp Tony Chachere Creole Seasoning, to taste
Allow frozen okra to thaw on the kitchen counter for 20-30 min. Preheat oven to 400 F. Add all seasonings to a large zip-loc bag and then add partially thawed okra to the bag. Close and toss everything together until okra is well coated. Since we're using frozen okra, it will have enough moisture to hold onto the seasoning, although some of it will fall off during baking, leaving just enough of a crunch on your plate. Line a rimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper, or a thin coating of cooking spray. Transfer coated okra to the sheet and spread into a single thin layer. Bake uncovered at 400F for 15 minutes. Toss everything once and then for the last 5 minutes turn on the broiler on HI. Remove from oven immediately and serve hot. 

Steamed Veggies, Cous-cous, Garlicky Black Beans & Fried Okra!!! 
Nutrition Facts (Per Serving): Calories 70 (Fat Calories 5)
Total Fat 0.5; Cholesterol 0g; Carbohydrates 13.4g; Dietary Fiber 3.2g; Sugars 3.3g; Protein 4.0g