Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Go Green for the New Year


So........2009 is about to roll around, and it's that time when we all start to think about making New Years Resolutions. I used to always make them, but now I just make changes whenever I feel I need to. I mean, why wait until New Years to change something? When you want to change something in your life, you should do it as soon as you can motivate yourself, right? And, it's not like you have to just do it once a year, but do it as many times through the year as you want. Don't make unrealistic promises to yourself. So many people go full force into something totally new and different, and it ends up fading away. Sometimes changes or additions need to be gradual. And, if you screw up...no biggie... just pick yourself up again and start over.

Speaking of resolutions, one thing that I think everyone should incorporate into their lifestyle is to start living environmentally friendly. Why wait until new years... go green now!

Now, I know as much as you that it's impossible to care 100% all of the time for the environment, but as long as we can realize that there is a time and a place for paper plates, plastic utensils, plastic bags, and so on... and at least cut down, then we can start to make some noticeable changes together.

Below I have outlined some small changes that you can start to incorporate into your life that will make you and the earth feel a little healthier:

**Shop at your local farmers market: If you've have been to your farmers market, then you know what a delight is. Shopping at the farmers market keeps the money local and in the community. It saves energy and pollution since the produce does not have to travel over long distances. Not all of the produce is organic, so you'll have to ask around. But, buying local is the key. Also, if you can walk to the farmers market... that saves energy as well. Don't forget to bring your own shopping bags!

**Bring your own silverware, plate, bowl, and cup to work. This way, you won't have to throw away plastic utensils everyday, and paper, and styrofoam. The water that you will use to wash the dishes is still better than throwing all of that stuff into a landfill. Wash with warm water and don't let the water run for too long.

**Keep your A/C off as much as you can and open windows and use fans. There is a myth that if you turn on and off the A/C then it costs more. That is not true... I tested it myself and cut my electric bill in half!

**If you have an older dishwasher, and you live alone or with one other person, try washing your dishes by hand rather than running the dishwasher. Chances are... you will save some money and water. If you are a family of 4, then it might be harder and the circumstances might be a little different.

** Buy compact florescent light bulbs and count on natural sunlight as much as you can to light your home rather than lamps or other artificial lighting.

**Buy a water filter and buy an environmentally friendly water bottle (like the sigg cup) rather than buying plastic water bottles. This way, you can cut down on the amount of plastics you throw away, and when you drink water out of a filter, then it doesn't have the plastic leeching into your water, which causes cancer. Also, if you have a water filter on your refrigerator then drink out of that. The water coolers are a #7 plastic, which is the worst for you. Plus, if you have a fridge with a water filter... why spend the extra money on the water cooler?

**Buy glass or ceramic tupperware. You'll end up throwing away the plastic eventually, and the more that plastic is used and heated, the more it will leech into your food and put you at risk for health problems later in life.

**Make a point to start reading the ingrediants on household soaps and cleaners. Pick out the ones with the least ingrediants where you can understand what they are and what they mean. Do research and try making your own household cleaners, or go to the health food store and buy natural cleaners.

**Save your junk mail and use those coupon books or chain letters as wrapping paper, or paper to wrap glass and ceramic when you are moving or when you're helping a friend move.

**When going to the grocery store, use your own bags. Also, don't use the plastic in the produce section to bag your fruits and veggies. You're just going to end up throwing them away anyways.

**If you have a bike, try riding that more than your car if you aren't going long distances.

**Cut down on manicures and pedicures. Those places waste so much water, so if you're getting them once a week... try taking care of your own nails, and get them once a month instead. You'll save so much money too!

**Of course... if you're not vegan or vegetarian, try to go vegetarian for a few days a week. The animal agriculture industry produces more greenhouse gasses than cars, trucks, and planes combined!

**RECYCLE & REUSE EVERYTHING!!!!

The list can go on and on, but pick one at a time... and just start to incorporate these changes into your life! What else can you think of? Let's keep the list going!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Tomato Gazpacho


This recipe serves 4 as a meal, and 6 as an appetizer.

Ingrediants

2 cans of 14.5 organic diced tomatoes with juice
1 hothouse cucumber, diced (see below-save about 1/2 cup for garnish)
1/2 jalapeno, seeded and cut in half
2 tablespoons of cilantro, plus a handful for garnish
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon salt
black pepper
1/2 red bell pepper, diced (see below for garnish)
18 small cherry tomatoes, cut in half
-1 tomato on the vine, cut in half and quartered
-1/2 small yellow onion, chopped

Set aside for Garnish
- a few leaves of cilantro (about 6 per bowl)
-a tablespoon red bell pepper, diced
-diced cucumber (about 1/4 cup per bowl)
-yellow onion
-tomato on the vine


This is a pretty simple recipe. You pretty much just have to chop the veggies, blend, pour in a bowl, and garnish! The first thing you have to do is chop and dice the cucumber, red bell pepper, onion, and garlic. Prepare the jalapeno, cherry tomatoes, and cilantro. Make sure to set aside some of the cucumber, cilantro, and bell pepper for garnish. Chop the vine tomato and set aside with the garnish and onion for later.

The soup is made in two batches. In a blender, add 1 can of the tomatoes with the juice, and add half of each: cucumber, jalapeno, cilantro, garlic, red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt, bell pepper, cherry tomatoes, and some black pepper to taste. Process in the blender on the lowest speed until broken down. Turn the speed up to high and puree until the soup is completely smooth. Repeat with the second half and mix together.

Pour the soup in bowls, and add a handful of the yellow onion, cucumber, a few leaves of cilantro, a few pieces of the chopped vine tomato, and some red bell pepper. You can eat right away, or chill and eat very cold the next day.

Delights and afterthoughts:

I got this awesome cookbook for my birthday called Great Chefs cook Vegan. This recipe is basically a variation from a chef named Suzanne Goin from this cookbook, but with some differences. The recipe originally called for yellow tomatoes, but this one uses canned red diced tomatoes. We also used yellow onion instead of red onion. There is so much that you can do with gazpacho, and I think you can probably make it different every time. I was really happy and amazed with how flavorful this gazpacho turned out, and I think you will be too. The best thing about it is that you get a full serving of vegetables and it's all raw (well, the canned tomatoes may not be raw, but close!) so you are not cooking out any of the enzymes. Also, you can really taste the garlic in this, but feel free to add more since garlic is such a good antioxidant when raw. I also had a thought that if you wanted to substitute one can of fire roasted tomatoes, or add cayenne pepper, then you can can make spicy tomato gazpacho. Or, maybe you like to have chunks in your soup, so don't puree until completely smooth... just blend until desired consistancy. You can really put your own variation on it... like adding some basil and some grated follow-your-heart mozzarella "cheese" to make a tomato caprese gazpacho... that sounds yummy! Or, maybe add some chunks of avocado... that sounds good too. Seriously... try it out and let me know what you think. I'd love to hear about it!

Gazpacho on Foodista

Sunday, October 12, 2008

What's new, what's old, and what's current!

Hey Everyone!

I have finally gotten back on my feet with cooking since I made it back in Florida from my trip to Missouri. I have actually cooked more than I have posted, but some of my dishes haven't turned out as good as I would have liked them. I have such a listing of recipes that I need to try over again to get it right. I know that I talked previously about posting some traditional Jewish recipes, but these recipes involve an egg substitute. I do enjoy using Ener-G Egg Replacer, but I have also been trying to experiment with other egg replacements. For example, you can use ground up flax seed mixed with water, or 1/4 cup pureed silken tofu to equal one egg. These are perfectly good substitutes, but some are better than others in different recipes. I tried to make Kasha and Shells, but usually the kasha is coated with egg. For this recipe, I used the flax seed version, but it turned out just okay. I also tried to make homemade kugel, and for this I used the tofu version for my egg. It didn't turn out awful, but the consistancy was not what I wanted, and I just wasn't confident with how it turned out. Another thing with traditional Jewish dishes is, although oh so yummy, they are all very high is carbs and not the healthiest of dishes. So, I end up making them, and then I am stuck eating them because it's too much food to waste. So, I decided that I will eventually perfect them over time, but at this time I am going to stick to healthier recipes that make me feel lighter and give me more energy rather than weigh me down. I find that latkes, kasha, and kugel are pretty heavy and that's why they are only eaten on occasion. And truth be told, I intended for this blog not only to reflect the vegan lifestyle, but also a consistently healthy lifestyle.

Yom Kippur was last week, and I did fast for the day. I did drink tea and water though, so it wasn't a true fast. I also went to work, so I didn't fully observe the holiday. The day was actually so refreshing because after work I went to infusion tea and broke the fast with the best gazpacho in town and a half of a veggie burger sandwich while reading my book, The Omnivores Dilemma. I also did a hot infusion yoga class later, and then went and saw the movie Religulous (which I highly recommend). I was thinking about the holiday of Yom Kippur and it occurred to me that it is actually pretty unhealthy. I believe that many people binge eat the night before, and then traditionally the family gets together to break the fast with a big feast. It's not healthy to shock your body like that. When going on and off a fast, you are supposed to slowly wean yourself off of food and then back on it. Generally you should eat light to get your body used to taking in less food, and then getting your digestive system used to food entering the body again.

I really feel like it is important to hold up traditions, which is why I still fast. I don't really do it for religious reasons as much as I do it for myself and feel that it is cleansing. I do not pray to any specific diety or go to services, but I just focus on what I would like to change about myself and how I will go about doing that. Among keeping traditions, I also think it is important to start new traditions, and that is what I did this past Yom Kippur with breaking the fast with a light and nontraditional dinner and then doing yoga. I think I will do that every year.

I have also been doing more research on obtaining all of the nutrients and vitamins into my diet that I need to keep an eye on now that I have stopped eating animal products. These vitamins and minerals are B12, Iron, Zinc, D, Omega 3's, and protein. I have been doing a lot of research on this, and I try to get all of these vitamins in my diet during breakfast. I talked to my cousin Brittney, who is a dietitian, and she mentioned to me that Iron is something that vegans need to watch because the iron in plant and animal products absorbs different than Iron in meat. I looked it up and there is heme and non heme iron. The iron in plant and grains are non heme and there are things you can do to help the absorption into your body. One thing is to mix iron with vitamin c. So, what I do is eat a cereal fortified with iron, B12, Vitamin D, and zinc. Some good cereals that I found are: Kashi Heart to Heart Toasted Honey Oat (please note that this cereal does contain honey), Publix Greenwise Raisin Bran, and Health Valley Organic Fiber Multigrain Flakes. Then I top it off with strawberries, which are high in vitamin c. I also top my cereal off with a granola blend which is high in fiber. I find that this keeps me full and helps me eat less throughout the day. Then, I use hemp milk (which I recently switched to) because it contains omega 3s and the essential amino acids (protein). I do want to mention that protein is pretty easy to get into your diet and it is really the least of concerns for any vegetarian or vegan, but using the hemp milk does guarantee that I am at least starting the day off getting protein into my diet. I also read that tea contributes to blocking the absorption of iron into your system, so I refrain from drinking or eating anything besides water until about an hour after I eat breakfast. I am still looking into the absorption studies for iron and zinc and I plan on going to get my blood tested in the next few months to make sure I am not deficient in anything.

Another thing I want to talk about are the negative studies of soy products. All of these studies are completely inconclusive and there are many more positive studies relating to soy than negative. I hear things such as soy may cause memory loss, breast cancer, dementia, and so on. I have read many of these studies and they are all very cloudy in the description of how they conducted these studies. For example, the study where they found soy products caused memory loss did not mention if the people they studied were vegetarian, vegan, how long they were consuming soy, how much soy they consumed, when they began and ended consuming soy, and if hey had medical problems to begin with. They also conducted this study on the elderly living in Indonesia who eat very differently than Americans. I also wonder who funded this study.... was it the animal or dairy industry? We also know that soy reduces bad cholesterol and that it is heavily eaten in Asian cultures "at a much younger age than people in the United States. In fact, the average woman living in East Asia eats about 10 times the quantity of soy foods as the average woman in the United States. Yet, East Asian women have lower rates of breast cancer than women in the United States." (http://www.breastcancer.org/tips/nutrition/nutrition_bc/foods/soy.jsp) But, this could be effected by many things since there are many differences in the way we eat compared to the Japanese.

Soy is almost unavoidable, especially if you eat processed food or fast food. Soy lecithin is in almost everything as an emulsifier, and I think that it is important to know this so you know what you are consuming. Corn is actually used in almost everything that we eat that is fast food or processed, and soy is used in the agriculture industry the same way. If the price of corn is at a high, these products will most likely be using soy until the price of corn goes down. This is why you see the ingrediants say: This contains one or more of the following: High Fructose Corn Syrup, Sunflower Oil, Soy Lecithin, Corn Oil, Etc. So, most likely, you have consumed more soy than you know. My point is that it is important to know that so that you make sure you are eating soy in moderation if you feel you need to watch your soy consumption. This is one of the reasons I switched to hemp milk, and I do order extra veggies a lot instead of tofu as a protein substitute. I love tofu to death, but even though these studies are inconclusive, it's better to be safe. Remember... Moderation is key!

Well, I think I have blogged enough this weekend!

Love,
Monica

Chocolate Ganache Topped with fruit



Serves 3

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon of vanilla soy milk (or plain)
1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup

about 1 cup blueberries
1/2 cup dried banana
about 9 strawberries, sliced

In saucepan, heat soy milk. You don't want it to come to a boil, but just medium heat. Once it's reached that point, turn off heat and pour in chocolate chips and maple syrup. I actually heated the milk in the microwave for 4 and a half minutes. Mix well until a smooth creamy consistancy. It should start to thicken as it cools. Once it's smooth, pour into a small bowl or make it pretty in a martini glass, and top with the fruit listed above, or any fruit of choice.

Delights and Afterthoughts:

Last night after I finished my dinner, I had a little bit of a sweet tooth and was looking through my cabinets to see what I could make for dessert. I remembered that I had some semi sweet chocolate chips, and the thought of eating melted chocolate sounded yummy. Then, I remembered that a few months ago I made a Chocolate Ganache topping for some vanilla cupcakes, and I thought I could use that as a base and maybe make it a little more decadent by adding maple syrup and fruit. The fruit even makes it seem like a healthier dessert even though downing about 1/3 cup of chocolate chips a serving doesn't seem that healthy, so save this for special occasions! If you wanted to make it even more decadant you could add powdered sugar and cinamon to top the fruit, but the dessert is rich enough without all of the extras.

It's really easy! Hope you like it!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Pancakes with Fruit Toppings




It's football season, and one of the things that I look forward to all year are the tailgates. One thing that I look forward to the most though is what I like to call "breakfast tailgates." There is just something about getting to the University in the morning, setting up, and eating breakfast with friends outside that is just so comforting. I think it reminds me of when I was younger and used to go camping. This was the first breakfast tailgate of the season for UCF football (Go Knights!) and I thought this was the perfect time to try out some vegan pancakes. This was my first time making pancake batter, so I did borrow a recipe from Vegan with a Vengeance by Isa Moskowitz as a base for my pancakes. Here is is:

Serving size: About 6 pancakes

1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons canola oil (plus oil for pan or griddle)
1/3 cup water
1 cup vanilla soy milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoons pure maple syrup
Blueberries
Strawberries

Wash blueberries and place in a bowl
Wash and cut strawberries and place in a bowl.
Place in refrigerator or over ice until ready to serve.

I find it easiest to mix the dry ingredients separate from the wet ingrediants and then mix them together. So, first mix together the flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Then in another bowl, mix together the canola oil, water, soy milk, vanilla, and maple syrup.

Then, pour the wet ingrediants into the dry and mix while you are pouring it until combined. Just continue to mix, but do not overmix. You still want some small lumps. If it is too mixed then the pancakes will turn out tough and rubbery.

Preheat skillet or griddle to medium heat. You can test the skillet by pouring a small amount of water on it, and if it the drops bounce, then it is ready. You don't want it too hot either. It shouldn't be smoking.

When ready, apply a thin layer of canola oil, and take a ladle or spoon and pour the batter out in a circular motion so that it's an even pancake. And, make sure to use the same amount of batter every time so they are around the same size. Cook the pancakes until browned at the bottom and bubbles start to form at the top. This should take about 4 minutes. Then, flip pancake and cook until browned on the other side until the pancake is barely firm to the touch.

When finished, choose your pancake and top with blueberries and strawberries.

Delights and Afterthoughts:

I honestly had no idea what to expect from these pancakes since this was my first time making them. I made the batter the night before and cooked one just to make sure I didn't totally screw up! I was very happy at how they turned out, so I went ahead and chilled the batter overnight and felt confident that everyone would be happy with them that showed up to the breakfast tailgate.

When my friend John was finished cooking them on the griddle, I went ahead and set out the fruit and everyone that showed up early grabbed a plate, some pancakes, and some fruit toppings. They turned out to be hit, so I can't wait to make some other variations.

Some variations that I think would be tasty are:
**Chop the strawberries up pretty small and cook them in the pancakes.
**Fold the fresh blueberries in while cooking to make blueberry pancakes.
**It might also be nice to add some almond extract
**For special occasions, like valentines day, fold in some chocolate chips or substitute chocolate soymilk instead of vanilla soymilk.

There are just so many options!

Let me know if you try these out and how you made them!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Tempeh Piccata with Bell Peppers over Angel Hair Pasta




One of my favorite dishes when I wasn't vegan was a chicken piccata by Giada De Laurentiis. One of the things that i have been doing is going through my old cookbooks and finding my favorite recipes and making them vegan-style. So, for this one I decided to make a Tempeh Piccata with Bell Peppers over angel hair pasta.

Ingredients

  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 orange pepper
  • 1 yellow pepper
  • 1 green pepper
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 tablespoons earth balance "butter" or non-hydrogenated margerine
  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup vegetable stock
  • 1/4 cup capers, rinsed
  • 1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 package whole wheat angel hair pasta
  • 1 package tempeh (I used garden veggie, but any kind will do)

Directions

A. First, remove the tempeh from the package and cut in whatever shape you desire. I cut the tempeh in triangles.

B. In a small saucepan over medium high heat (or in the microwave), melt 4 tablespoons of "butter" with 5 tablespoons of olive oil, add salt, pepper, vegetable stock, lemon juice, and capers. Use this as a marinade for the tempeh, and chill in the refrigerator for at least a half hour.

C. Cut all of the bell peppers in a cube shape. I'm sure thin slices would also be nice.

D. Chop parsley and set to the side.

E. Boil water with a splash of olive oil, and add angel hair pasta. Turn heat to medium, and stir frequently to make sure that it doesn't stick together, and don't overcook. When the noodles are done (8 to 10 minutes), drain the pasta and never run water over it. When pasta is finished it comes out a little starchy and it is a common misconception to rinse with water. The reason that you do not rinse is because when the sauce is added to the noodles the starch helps the sauce stick to the pasta. If it still bothers you that the noodles are starchy after you drain them, then just toss with a small amount of olive oil.

F. When you are ready, add the tempeh and all of the marinade to a large skillet. Cook about 5 minutes on each side, and then add the bell peppers. Cook just until the peppers are cooked through, but still crisp. That should just be about 3 more minutes.

G. Remove the bell pepper and tempeh from the skillet with a slotted spatula and place in large bowl.

H. Continue to stir the sauce, scraping up brown bits from the pan for extra flavor. Add remaining 2 tablespoons "butter" to sauce and whisk vigorously.

I. Add noodles to the large bowl with the tempeh and bell peppers, add parsley, pour sauce over the top, and toss everything together.

J. You're ready to eat!

Delights and Afterthoughts:

This dish is wonderful because it is really easy to make. If you don't have time to marinade the tempeh, then that should be fine if you want to just throw the tempeh and bell peppers in the skillet with the sauce. I just find that you get a deeper flavor when you marinade it a bit. Also, keep in mind that tempeh can be a little bitter and an acquired taste, so if this is your first attempt with tempeh, you may want to start out with a neutral flavor such as original, five grain, or flax. This was my first time using garden veggie tempeh and the flavor was a little overpowering if you are not used to tempeh.

I love this sauce and I think it would really be good with anything. I just used what I had in my pantry and refrigerator. I think that this would also be good with tofu or just veggies such as broccoli, zuchini, mushrooms, and carrots. I have always found that angel hair pasta works best with this sauce, but it would also go well with something like couscous or penne pasta.

There are also many things you can do to incorporate to it to make it your own. For example, adding garlic would be excellent, or adding chilli powder, a jalapeno, or tobasco for a little bit of spice.

I hope you have fun with this and enjoy it!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Vegan on Vacation!



First of all, sorry that I haven't updated the blog in awhile. I traveled to St. Louis over the past weekend and it has taken me awhile to get back on track with the cooking and blogging. There are some meals that I have made that I do have to perfect and hope to do so in the next few weeks so that I can have more recipes for you. These dishes are a tofu scramble with fried matzoh, also known as Matzoh Brie. It's very delicious and usually made with egg and matzoh. And, I still have to perfect Potato Latkes. I plan to have these to you within the next month. I also plan on making a schezuan noodle dish as well as a tempeh and veggie piccata over the next few weeks.

Going to St. Louis was a much needed vacation. I was able to spend time with my grandma, aunt, uncle, and cousins that I don't see very often. I didn't find it so hard to be vegan on vacation considering my cousins, Lauren and Brittney, are both vegetarians, and Brittney used to be a pretty strict vegan. I stayed with my aunt and uncle, so they went ahead and made sure to pick up food such as cereal, bagles, and other things that were animal product free. That was very appreciated. When we went out to eat they made sure to help me out with what I could or could not order. It was difficult at times because I wasn't used to my surroundings. I have pretty much figured out the Orlando area as far as what places are vegan friendly or what things I can order at certain places when going out with friends, but I had to start all over in St. Louis. So, I tried to call places beforehand and plan my menu out when I was there. I did just fine, but I did find that St. Louis is not the most vegan friendly city. Regardless, I was really happy to spend this time with my family and feel much closer to them now. I am going to make more of an effort to see them more often. Perhaps that should be my New Years Resolution.

Second of all, The Jewish Holiday, Rosh Hashanah, is coming up. It starts on sundown Monday, Sept 29th. So, over the weekend I am going to put together just a few of my favorite holiday dishes for the next week. What I plan on are: Kasha and Shells with Vegan Gravy, Apples and Agave, and a vegetable dish.

If you aren't familiar, Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year. The new year (5769) is a time to plan a better life and look back at the mistakes of the past year, and to plan the changes you will make in the new year. During Rosh Hashanah one of the traditions is dipping apples in honey, which symbolizes a sweet new year. This year I am going to use agave in place of honey. Another symbol of this holiday is the hearing the sound of the Shofar blown in the temple. The Shofar is a rams horn, which is blown like a trumpet. I am not quite sure of what the symbolic nature of this is. I looked it up, but I actually found that The Bible gives no specific reason for this practice except that it has been suggested is that the Shofar's sound is a call to repentance. Does anyone have any insight on the symbolism of the Shofar and how it ties into the new year?

On another note, while I was reading this, I all of the suddon found it kind of upsetting that a rams horn is used. I did a small amount of research on how to obtain a Shofar and I read that they can be obtained from slaughterhouses. Maybe it's time to start a new tradition and use another instrument that doesn't come from an animal.

The holiday that follows the new year is called Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is probably the most important Jewish Holiday, and is a holiday where you are supposed to stay home and fast from sundown to sundown. During this time, one focuses on the sins or the mistakes that they have made over the past year and repent and make amends. Yom Kippur only atones sins between you and whatever or whoever you consider as a God, not between you and other people. If you feel like you have committed sins with another person, you must personally talk to the people to make amends. The fasting is supposed to cause a feeling of suffering while you focus on theses mistakes within the past year. Once sundown has arrived, it is traditional to get together with family and friends and have a big dinner to break the fast. Even though I am not very religious and have not attended temple in a few years, I always observe the holidays on my own and fast on Yom Kippur. I do focus on things that I want to change from the year before and I do talk to people that I feel like I may have upset for any reason and apologize. I actually don't stay home from work, but I do observe the holiday. I find it to be cleansing and I feel ready for the new year.

After Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, there are other holidays to follow, and I plan to expand on my menu of traditional Jewish dishes vegan style for those holidays as well.

So, please keep checking for updates on my blog, and if you want notifications of updates, please check out my myspace and become my friend. http://www.myspace.com/thenewvegan

Have a fabulous weekend,

Monica

Monday, September 15, 2008

Pasta Salad with Shells



Serves 6-8

11 ounce bag or box of small shell-shaped pasta (whole wheat if you can find it)
3 cloves garlic
1 yellow bell pepper
About 15-18 red cherry tomatoes

1/2 cucumber
1 handful black olives, pitted
2 tablespoons fresh chives
1/3 cup fresh basil
7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Sea salt
freshly ground black pepper



Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, add the pasta and garlic. Simmer for about 5 minutes or until al dente, and drain. Put the pasta in a bowl, and take the garlic out and mash. Set aside to add to the dressing.

While the pasta is cooking, c
hop the tomatoes, cucumber, and black olives into small pieces, about the size of the pasta or smaller. You don't want it pureed, so I don't suggest using a food processor, but just roughly chop, and place in the bowl with the pasta.

Dice the yellow bell pepper, and use the same pot you used to cook the pasta, and cook the pepper in just about 1/2 cup hot water just to soften. This only takes 3 to 5 minutes. You want the pepper cooked, but still crisp. Drain and add to the pasta.

Roughly chop the herbs and add to pasta

Mix the mashed garlic cloves, the oil, lemon juice, and vinegar, and a little salt and pepper together in a separate bowl. Pour over pasta and mix well. Chill for about 2 hours or overnight, and serve. It's so simple and people will love it!

Delights and Afterthoughts:

My favorite salad is actually just quartered cucumber and tomato topped with balsamic vinegar. I thought about making a pasta salad that could use those ingrediants and this is what I came up with. After I first made this salad and tried it, I felt like it was a little plain, so I decided to add lemon juice. I wanted to start small, so I just added a tablespoon, and that ended up being enough. It added just enough flavor to change it from plain to perfect. I brought this pasta salad to my friends Labor Day party, and it went pretty quick. It's so simple to make, refreshing, and quite a crowd pleaser. Try it out, and Let me know what you think!

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Skinny on all Your Vegan Questions!



Hey there!

I guess it's been a little over 2 months since I have been vegan. It seems like longer because it's just such a part of my lifestyle now. Although, it seems like every month that goes by, I learn a little more and feel like I've moved onto a new level.

During the first month and a half, I still had cravings for certain foods. For example, the first few weeks of being vegan, all I could think about was mac and cheese. I've been meaning to make a vegan version, but I just haven't attempted. Then, I was craving deviled eggs. That was the weirdest thing because how often does someone have deviled eggs? I actually stopped craving meat and fish weeks ago. The only time I would crave either meat or fish would be when I was hungry and flipping through a cookbook. Then, I would want it, but only if I saw a picture. I never gave in and had any meat or animal products, and once I ate and was full, the cravings were gone. This past two weeks or so, I can honestly say I am over the craving phase. I guess it's like quitting smoking because now I can look at pictures and watch people eat mac and cheese and not wish that I had some. I even bought some vegan sausage patties and vegan meatballs from Whole Foods, but they have just been sitting in my freezer. I just don't seem to even crave the taste of meat anymore. So, that's what I mean when I say I've moved onto a new level.

I also was learning how to go out to eat and what to order. At first I thought I would have to accept that when going out to a restaurant, I would have to eat some animal products, but I realized I don't want to do that. I have learned how and what to order at certain places in order for it to be vegan. It's actually not that difficult, and most servers are actually helpful when I ask about making sure whatever I order has no animal products. For the most part, they are happy to make something special for me. Of course, it takes some work such as calling the restaurants beforehand to ask about options, or going online to look at menus and ingrediants. But, once you get past that, the process is pretty consistent at most restaurants.

I have also been doing research from the beginning on what supplements I might need, and the only things that vegans have to make sure they consume are vitamin are B12 and Omega 3 fatty acids. I learned that there are three types of Omega 3s, ALA, DHA, and EPA. The body converts ALA into DHA and EPA. But, there has been inconclusive research on how the body converts it and there are some things that may prevent the conversion. Most vegans get omega 3s from ground up flax seeds (ALA), but I realized I am really bad at remembering to sprinkle flax seeds on my food to make sure I get enough of it in my diet. The thing with fish, is that it's already converted into EPA and DHA, so that is why it is reccomended. Oh, and just FYI - Omega 3s are not automatically in fish, but actually supplied by the algae that fish eat in large quantities. So, what I am working on right now is how I can make sure that I get the right amount of Omega 3s in my diet, and how to make sure it is converted properly. What I have decided to do at this point is eat a few walnuts, (which is very high in Omega 3s) everyday so I at least get the ALA type of Omega 3, and hope that it's converting to DHA and EPA.

As far as B12 goes, most vegans use nutritional yeast (which has a cheesy flavor), but again, I am really bad at using it daily. So, right now I'm taking a supplement, but I would like to find out how to incorporate in my diet naturally. As far as everything else, as long as I eat a balanced diet (which I do) I am getting everything I need. Many people say to me, "What supplements are you taking now because I know that you can't get some of the things that is supplied through meat?" And, this question has started to frustrate me because it's totally untrue and the meat and dairy industry has completely misinformed society. I just want to make it clear that meat has nothing in it that I can't get from eating a balanced diet. Yes, there are some things that I must attempt to add more of to my diet, such as Vitamin B12 and Omega 3s, but they are certainly provided in other ways than through meat.

So basically, over the next few weeks, I am going to do some extra research and attept to answer the same 4 or 5 questions I get over and over about being vegan. And, if you have a question not on my list, then ask away. I love to do research on the subject and report back to you!

So, here are the next few blogs topics:

1. Getting Protein: Many people ask how I get my protein, or what substitues I use for meat. This is actually really easy, and protein is all over the place. I also want do what I can to change people's thinking about using the phrase "meat substitute." Since you don't need meat in the first place, there is really no such thing as a meat substitute.
2. Omega 3 fatty acids: I explained a lot about this above. I'm still doing research, so I'll get back soon.
3. Do you eat honey?: Vegans seem to sway back and forth on this issue. I really don't know where I stand on it, but I find myself avoiding honey. Maybe it is because I am not fully informed on the subject, so I'll be working on researching this topic in the near future.
4. Vitamin B12: I talked about this above too, so I'll get back to you soon!
5. Do you eat meat because it's unhealthy, or is it an ethical issue?: It's actually a little of both, and I think I explained a little before about this in a previous blog. It's actually because of three things:
A. The animal agriculture industry is destroying the environment
B. I am disgusted by the cruel animal practices and misleading information that they give out
C. Meat has been connected to many negative health issues, and because of this, I would rather stay away. Also, I just feel better when I don't eat meat.

I'll expand more on these issues later!

Have a great week!

Monica

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Butternut Squash Ravioli in a Sage and Brown Butter Sauce




Makes 2 servings

So, this weekend I went to the UCF/USF game, which was a pretty intense. I made potato latkes (pancakes) for the tailgate, which were a big hit. If you're wondering what potato latkes are, they are actually a traditional Jewish dish that is served on Chanukkah, but I thought they would make a good tailgate dish. If you're not Jewish, it's pronounced L-aht-kas. Everyone loved them , and although I thought they were decent, I wasn't fully satisfied with them, so I decided not to blog about them this time. This was my first time making them, and I thought about some changes I wanted to make for the next time, so I am going to make them again later this week , and hopefully they will be blog worthy!

So, after I got over the loss of the UCF/USF game, I was wondering what I wanted to make for dinner tonight. I looked through my fridge and freezer and saw that I had butternut squash ravioli that I bought awhile back from Whole Foods. I use the brand Rising Moon, which makes an organic and vegan ravioli. I have really never had butternut squash before, so I spent a long time thinking about what other vegetable would go well with it, and since it's kind of sweet, I decided on red bell pepper. It's super easy and only takes about a half hour to make. I was really happy with how this recipe turned out, and hopefully you will be too.

Ingredients For the Ravioli:

1 8oz package Butternut Squash Ravioli (preferably Rising Moon)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 tablespoon salt

Ingredients for the Bell Pepper:
1 red bell pepper
Olive Oil (about 3 tablespoons)

Ingredients for the Sauce:

1/4 cup Earth Balance buttery spread (or margarine)
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
4 sage leaves
2 cloves garlic

Preparing the Red Bell Pepper:
-Preheat the oven to 400
-Take the red bell pepper and cut off the ends
-Coat with the 3 tablespoons of olive oil
-Set aside until the oven preheats.
-Place the red bell pepper in the oven when it is preheated and roast for about 22 minutes or until you notice it starts to just slightly brown or bubble in spots.
-Take the bell pepper out of the oven and slice
-set aside
Preparation for the Ravioli:
-During the time that bell pepper is roasting, bring a pot of water, oil, and salt to a boil.
-Once it's boiling, gently pour in the ravioli and cook between 4-8 minutes. You'll know when the ravioli is finished because it will float to the top.
-Drain and set aside
Preparation for the sauce:
-Peel the garlic and chop
-In a small saucepan, melt the butter.
-It should cook on low to medium heat for about 3 minutes until the butter begins to brown.
-Add the garlic and sage leaves in the butter and cook until the leaves become crisp and fragrant. This takes about 30 seconds.
-Remove from heat fully stir in nutmeg.

Place the ravioli and red pepper on a plate. Pour the sauce over the the ravioli and red pepper, and serve immediately.

Delights and Afterthoughts:

I have never cooked with butternut squash, so I was a little iffy about this dish, but I am more than happy with the outcome. I did actually cook it twice. My first thought was to cook it with the Red Bell Pepper, but then for some reason I decided to use edamame. I don't really know what changed my mind, but it just stuck. I had such high hopes, but it just wasn't that good so it didn't make the cut.

I really wanted an awesome recipe to blog about, so I went back to the bell pepper, and once I prepared that and tried it, it was way more than awesome. The bell pepper was a great addition since it is also slightly sweet. I guess the moral is to go with your gut instinct and don't second guess yourself. I actually believe that with all things in life, but that's another blog!

This would also make a great appetizer at a party. Just cook the ravioli and place the sauce in a bowl as a dip.

It's really simple to make, so let me know if you try it out and what you think.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Orzo and Avocado Salad


Kosher salt
Good olive oil
1/2 box of tri colored orzo
1/2 cup lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper
1 avocado
1 cup minced scallions, white and green parts
1 cup chopped fresh dill
1 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled, medium-diced
1/2 cup small-diced red onion

Fill a large pot with water, add 1 tablespoon of salt and a splash of oil, and bring the water to a boil. Add the orzo, reduce heat to medium, and stir occasionally to break up the pasta, until it's cooked al dente. It takes about 10-15 minutes until the orzo is cooked. Drain and pour into a large bowl.

Whisk together the lemon juice, 1/2 cup olive oil, 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Pour over the hot pasta and stir well.

Chop the avacado into medium square pieces. Chop the scallions, dill, parsley, cucumber, and onion, and add to the orzo. Add 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper to the orzo. Toss well. Set aside at room temperature for 1 hour to allow the flavors to blend, or refrigerate overnight.

Delights and Afterthoughts:

One of my favorite chefs is Ina Garten. She does the Barefoot Contessa cookbooks. I own most of them, and I even own her videos. Her recipes are amazing. They are usually never healthy, and definitely not vegan, but delicious! You can really never go wrong with whatever you make. This is one of the recipes that I would always make, but it usually calls for roasted shrimp. I decided I wanted to make this for the tailgate, and instead of shrimp I decided to add avacado. I wasn't looking for a meat substitute or anything that tasted like shrimp. I chose to use avacado because it has a heavier consistancy, and I knew the avacado would definitely mix well with the dressing and other vegetables added to this pasta. Plus, I just love avacado. The original recipe also calls for feta cheese, but I have actually never used it, and this pasta salad is always a big hit. People love it. It's really easy, and now that you don't have to peel, devain, and roast shrimp, it's less time consuming and much cheaper to make. I highly suggest this, so try it out. Let me know what you think!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Something Simple

Hey Everyone,

So I know it's been awhile since I've posted a blog, but that's because I have been trying to perfect some of my recipes. I know that I have been posting some recipes that are a little time consuming and that include unique ingrediants. But, I am spending some time working on my simple recipes. The truth is, I have several dishes that I have been making for years, and I just throw them together. They are simple, but I never pay attention to how many tablespoons of something I use, or what I use substitute if I don't have the usual in the house. Sometimes they turn out awesome, and sometimes decent. So, I've been working on paying attention and writing down the tablespoons and cups that I use to get the best flavor.

I've also been going through my cookbooks, and make the things that I used to make all of the time, but making vegan versions. This weekend I went to the UCF football game and a labor day party, and I made two different pasta salads. I will be blogging those this week, so keep a look out.

Other than that.... just keep on rocking!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Sesame Vegetable Noodle Bowl




3 servings

After I made the summer rolls and peanut sauce, I had a lot left over. I went ahead and made a noodle bowl that ended up quite tasty. In noodle bowls and stir frys, I find that using really chunky vegetables brings out the flavor. So, when chopping up the veggies, make sure to use large pieces!

3 cups rice noodles
1/2 yellow onion
6 green onions
1 red bell pepper
1/2 cup baby corn
1 jalapeño
6 shiitake mushrooms
3 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon corn oil (or neutral oil)
2 tablespoons Sesame-Soy Sauce*
2 teaspoons basil
1 tablespoon cilantro
1 cup vegetable broth
1 cup Lime and Coconut Peanut Sauce*

A. Preparation:
1. Slice the yellow onion in cube-like shapes
2. Chop the green onion, green and white parts. One green onion should only be chopped into 3 to 4 pieces
3. Slice the Red Bell Pepper into cube-like shapes
4. Remove the stems, and slice the shiitake mushrooms
5. Thinly slice the garlic cloves
6. Remove the seeds, and finely chop the jalapeño
7. Chop the basil
8. Chop the cilantro
9. Chop the baby corn
10. Soften the noodles by boiling a pot of water, turning off the heat, and soaking the noodles for around 10 minutes, or until soft. Then drain and set aside.

B Putting it all together:

1. Heat the corn oil in a skillet in medium heat, and add the yellow onion and garlic. Saute for about 4 minutes. Add the vegetable broth, the sesame-soy sauce, bell pepper, baby corn, and mushrooms and cook for about 2 minutes. Then, add the green onion, basil, and jalapeño and continue to cook until everything is nicely sauteed. It should be about five to seven minutes. Everything should be cooked, but crisp.
2. Grab your desired amount of noodles (I use about a cup) and place in a bowl. Use a slotted spoon to top off the noodles with the veggies. Pour about 1/4 cup broth over the veggies to add some flavor.
3. Spoon a heaping 1/4 cup of peanut sauce over the veggies
4. Garnish with cilantro
5. If you feel like you need salt and pepper, add some!

Super Easy and you're done!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Lime and Coconut Peanut Sauce


Makes 2 1/2 cups

I did some research on how to make a peanut sauce and I really didn't know where to start. I did see several recipes for peanut sauces. Some called for peanut butter, and some for peanuts. Most of them called for coconut milk. I also saw some that substituted vegetable broth for the coconut milk to make it lighter.

I never buy or cook with coconut milk, and I thought this was good time to go with it. I also learned that coconut milk and oil are really good and healthy for you. Many people avoid it because of its fat content, but it shouldn't be avoided. I would just recommend using it in moderation just like everything else.

Since I liked the Sesame-Soy sauce so much, I decided to consult the same cookbook: How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. I did make my own version of this peanut sauce, but I couldn't have gotten started without the Peanut Sauce recipe in Mark Bittman's cookbook.

3 Garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped or pureed
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 cup coconut milk
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 cup roasted peanuts, finely chopped

For taste and garnish:
a pinch of red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon cilantro
1/2 tablespoon sliced scallion

Puree the yellow onion in a food processor until smooth. A few lumps are okay, but try to get as smooth as possible. In a skillet set the peanut oil to medium heat and saute the sliced garlic for about a minute to release some of the flavor and aroma. Just saute until the garlic turns a light brown color. You don't want to burn or scorch it.

Pour in the onions and cook for about one minute.

Add the milk, brown sugar, peanuts, lime juice, and soy sauce, and stir until smooth with a few peanut chunks. Simmer until the sauce thickens, about 15 minutes. Sprinkle some red pepper flakes, cilantro, and scallions on the sauce for garnish and presentation.

Serve immediately over a a noodle bowl or stir fry, or chill and serve cold as a dipping sauce for summer rolls or polenta.

Delights and After Thoughts:
I originally made a peanut sauce for my sesame-tofu summer roll recipe. I was a little skeptical about this sauce at first because it didn't look like the usual peanut sauce that I get when I order summer rolls. But, after I cooked it and tasted it, I fell in love. I just wanted to eat the sauce alone, and then my mind started to wander about what else I could make with this sauce. I had a bunch left over after the summer rolls, so I used it on a noodle bowl. It would also be great in a stir fry, or as a dipping sauce for polenta or bread.

I got such excellent feedback from this sauce that I think I am going to use it, or modify it for many different recipes. You might actually taste this sauce, and just want to eat it for dessert, so don't be surprised if you eat it all in one sitting. Plus, it looks so pretty topped with red pepper flakes, cilantro, and scallions. I'm getting pretty good at presentation, don't ya think?
YUM!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Sesame Tofu Summer Rolls with Lime and Coconut Peanut Sauce


I have been wanting to make summer rolls for a really long time now, and I decided that it was definitely time to give it a shot. Even though I've been enjoying summer rolls for years, I really wanted to make them right, so I spent some time really paying attention to how much and to what ingredients were rolled in them when I would order them. Every restaurant added some different things here and there, but they all had the same base ingredients. I spent a lot of time thinking about what I was going to roll in my summer rolls, and I think I came up with a pretty refreshing combination. I am totally content with vegetable summer rolls, but I wanted to fancy them up a bit, so I added tofu.

I really enjoyed making the summer rolls, and I was really happy with how they turned out. I think you will be too! This is a time consuming recipe, so just take your time and have fun with it.

I started with the Sesame Tofu. I marinaded it in a sauce that I borrowed from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman.

Pan Fried Sesame Tofu




Everything you will need:
1 block extra firm tofu (not silken) pressed
Click here to learn how to press tofu

Soy and Sesame Marinade
Marinade
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 Tablespoons rice vinegar
2 Tablespoons sesame oil
1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds
1 tablespoon raw sugar
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon peeled and minced ginger
1/2 cup minced scallion

To cook the tofu
2 tablespoons of corn oil
I used corn oil because it is a neutral oil. You could also use grapeseed oil.

First, you want to toast your sesame seeds. You can do this by setting a skillet to medium heat, and then pouring the seeds into the pan. Shake and stir often until the seems start to turn a gold color (about 3-5 minutes). When done, Combine all of the ingredients and stir until the sugar is dissolved and everything is mixed together.

Once your tofu is pressed and ready, stand the tofu up long ways and cut down the middle so you're making two flat pieces. Then, cut each block into medium-sized cubes or rectangles. Once you have cut your tofu, mix and coat the tofu with the soy and sesame marinade, and place in the refrigerator. After about a half hour, mix the tofu again and marinate for another half hour.

Once the tofu is done marinating, it's time to get cooking. Put the oil in a skillet over medium heat, and when it's hot, slide in the tofu. You will not want to place the tofu on top of each other, so you may have to work in batches. Cook about three to four minutes and flip one over. Make sure the bottom is brown and golden. If it looks that way, then carefully flip the rest over and brown the other sides. Once finished transfer to a paper towel and let some of the oils soak off the tofu. Cool until you're ready to make the summer rolls.

Sesame-Tofu Summer Rolls


I had a little bit of trouble at first rolling the ingredients, so before you start here are some tips:

*Have all of the ingredients chopped up and ready to go. I placed everything that I had in bowls and formed a line.
*Have a pot of hot water that you will dip the summer roll wrappers in. You don't want it to be too hot because you will need to dip your hands in it. Try to get it to the temperature where if it was any hotter, than it would be too hot.
*Be gentle with the wrappers because they are fragile, but when rolling, be generous when you fold the corners. At first, I wasn't folding them in enough, and the rolls were not rolling as compact as I wanted. Eventually I got the hang of i
t and so will you!
*Go to an Asian Grocery store to buy the right brand of rice sticks and summer roll wrappers. I wasn't able to fin
d the right brands or enough options at the local grocery store. When I went to the Asian Supermarket they were able to point out to me the best brands for making the rolls. I also found out that the wrappers are also called Spring Roll wrappers.

Remember, this is the fun part, so don't get frustrated. It takes a little practice, but you will soon be on your way to summer roll heaven.

Everything you will need:

1 half of a head of lettuce, shredded
1 cucumber, diced small and de-seaded
3 carrots, shredded
1 half cup cilantro
Several mint leaves
1 block or pan friend sesame tofu
about 6 cups of rice noodles
15-20 summer roll wrappers
a hot pot of water

-The first thing you want to do is make sure you get all of your ingredients ready. I went ahead and ripped the lettuce with my hands and then placed it in my food processor to shred it. You can probably also chop it manually, but if you do use a food processor remember not to puree it. You don't want it to be mushy. If you can buy already-shredded lettuce at the store, then do that. I looked around, but didn't find it.

-I did the same with the carrots.

-I also mention to de-sead the cucumber because you don't want the summer roll to get watery.



This is a picture of the brand of rice noodles that I used. To cook these, you want to bring a pot of water to a boil, then turn off the heat and place your noodles in. I used two bunches of noodles, which ended up being around 6 cups cooked. Soak for around 10 minutes in the hot water and then drain the noodles. Run cold water over them until they are cool. You will want them to be cool enough to work with. Make sure you then drain all of the water out of them so your summer roll isn't watery.

Once everything is ready and lined up, it's time to work with the wrappers. When I first tried to do this, it took me probably about 10 minutes with the first five rolls until I figured out how to do this correctly. Take one wrapper out, and soak in water for 30 seconds. You don't have to say one-Mississippi.... just count like normal. The wrappers seem thick, so you would instinctively want to soak them until you see that they become thin, but the reality is that it keeps thinning after you take it out of the water, so just count to a quick 30 and take them out. You have to do this with your hands, so grab each side of the circle wrapper after you take it out of the water, and lay it on a flat surface next to your ingredients. At first I tried to use tongs to grab the wrapper, but it ended up folding like saran wrap, and it became a chore to straighten it all out. I eventually let the water cool a bit and used my hands, and life became much easier!


So, you have the soaked wrapper on a flat surface and all the fillers ready. I started with about 1/4 cup noodles. I placed the noodles about 2 inches away from the top of the wrapper. Then I grabbed lettuce and made a generous layer on top of the noodles. I then sprinkled the carrots over that. I made a layer of the cucumber right in front of the noodles. Then, I sprinkled about a teaspoon of cilantro across the cucumbers. I broke up a large mint leaf into two and placed that on across the cilantro. If the leaves are smaller, use two. Finally, I took two pieces of the sesame tofu and placed them next to each other in front of, or partially covering the cucumber.

Grab the top of the summer roll and start to roll over the top of the ingredients until it finally covers it and fold the corners in. I realized that I wasn't folding the corners in enough, so fold them in pretty tight and continue to roll (and fold) until you can't anymore. Then, place on a plate and try the next one. You'll eventually get the hang of it. I just continued to roll until I ran out of noodles. I still had some tofu left over, but I pretty much used everything else up. I think I actually needed to chop some more cilantro at some point because I ran out of that. But, I compensated for that in the measurements above. I ended up making 16 rolls. Serve immediatly with the Lime and Coconut Peanut dipping sauce!

Delights and After Thoughts:

Sesame Tofu: One mistake that I made with the tofu was marinating it for too long. I pressed the tofu the night before, so I thought that I would marinate it overnight. But, when I went to cook it, it didn't make my tofu crisp as I had planned on. I believe that the long marinade defeated the purpose of pressing the tofu. So, I did some research afterwards and found that most recipes recommend marinating tofu for an hour after pressing, and no longer. So, that is why I suggested an hour in my recipe.

Since they were being rolling inside the summer rolls, the texture of the tofu wasn't a priority, but if I was making a stir-fry, I would hope to get them crispy the next time! I really felt like the sesame tofu made an excellent addition to the summer roll, and the sweet sesame flavor was quite delightful.

After you are done, save the leftover marinade. I used the rest for a noodle bowl, but you could also throw it in a stir fry, or use to dress up a salad. If you have any recommendations or tips for cooking tofu that would be great. I would love to read them!

Summer Rolls: Since I rolled 16 of these things, I made sure to bring them into work the next day for everyone. There was no way I was going to be able to finish 16 summer rolls! I was really happy that I got excellent feedback from everyone, and I even told them to be brutally honest, so I think I'm on the right track.

I originally wanted to cut them in half, but since I didn't get the hang of rolling them tight until roll #13, most of them would fall apart if I did that. Regardless, making them was really fun, and it would make a fun date night activity.

The great thing about summer rolls is that you can roll in them whatever you want. You can feel free to leave out the tofu, or maybe use tempeh instead. You can experiment with using fruit, such as mango. Next time I think I am going to make simple summer rolls with just lettuce, carrots, and noodles. But, I plan on tossing the noodles in the soy-sesame marinade. I'll let you know how that turns out.

I also recommend using your own judgment when it comes to measurements. I really wasn't sure if I had chopped up an accurate amount of everything when I started, but I actually used up everything around the same time except a little bit of carrot and the tofu. Lucky me! It all worked out because I ended up making a noodle bowl (which I will blog about tomorrow) with the leftover tofu.

The Peanut Sauce that I served with it is not the usual sauce that I get when I order summer rolls, but it was delicious and really worked well with it. Everyone that tried it also seemed to really like it. I am adding that recipe next, so it will end up right above this one with a separate link. Have fun, and I would love to hear feedback or suggestions!

Working With Tofu


First things first: You gotta tame your tofu!
Before you cook your tofu, you're going to have to drain it to get the desired texture and flavor. This process takes about 40 minutes, but if you're in a hurry, you can probably cut it down to 30.

Here are the steps for draining or pressing you tofu:

-Take 2 paper towels and place them on a plate. Fold them in half so you have a good cushion for the tofu.
-Take the tofu out of the container
-Place the tofu on top of the paper towels and then take 2 more paper towels, fold them, and place them on top of the tofu
-Grab some saran wrap and place that on top of the paper towels. This protects whatever you are using to drain the tofu from getting ruined...if you care
-Place a heavy object, such as a book, on top of the tofu. Phone books work well.
-let sit for 20 minutes
-Change out the paper towels
-Flip over tofu and do the same on the other side
-Prepare your tofu and Cook!
If you do not press your tofu, it will probably cook soggy. Also, draining tofu will let other marinades absorb into the tofu. So, now that we have this down.... let's move on!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Summer Rolls and Noodle Bowls

Hey Everyone!

The theme for this weekend was Asian Cuisine. It's probably my favorite type of food. I love big Vietnamese soups, noodle bowls, summer rolls, Thai curries, and sushi. Over the weekend I made Sesame Tofu Summer Rolls with Coconut and Lime Peanut Dipping Sauce. I love summer rolls so much, and I think I could eat them everyday. I remember when I first had them. My sister moved to Orlando to go to college, and one time when I was visiting, she took me to this restaurant called Viet Garden in downtown Orlando. She ordered the summer rolls and I fell in love right away. They had everything in them that I love.... clear noodles, garlic, lettuce, shrimp (at the time), and cilantro. I could really eat cilantro in everything, but don't worry I won't add it to every recipe! Anyways, we became regulars at Viet Garden. We would also bring my parents there, and the owner became our friend and would sit with us for a little bit whenever we would dine there and we'd catch up. Good memories!

Since I've been spending so much time cooking, I thought it was time to take on this project and make my own. And let me tell you, this was quite a project! I really didn't know how time consuming it was to prep for and create a summer roll. I just rolled until I ran out of noodles and that made me 16 rolls. It only took me to roll #13 to get them compact and rolled to perfection, but I eventually got it.

I ended up having the sauce that I used to marinate the tofu left over as well as the peanut sauce, so I decided to make a noodle bowl with peanut sauce and added some vegetables that I cooked in the sesame marinade.

Keep a look out for these recipes:
Sesame-Soy Marinaded Tofu
Sesame Tofu Summer Rolls
Lime and Coconut Peanut Sauce
Vegetable Noodle Bowl with Lime and Coconut Peanut Sauce

I should have them posted by Wednesday!

Thanks for stopping by!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

30 Days of Vegan

It has been a little over a month since I have been completely vegan and made these changes in my life. I called it a 30 day challenge. My goal was to go 30 days eating no animal products. I honestly didn't intend for this to happen, but I was at a time in my life where I needed a change. I was going out all the time, drinking a lot, eating unhealthy, and waking up late. I would go to work, come home, eat dinner, and go to sleep. On the weekends, I would go out late, then I would stay in and sleep all day. I was just feeling unhealthy and starting to become unhappy with my physical and emotional self and I needed a change in my lifestyle.

In the past, when this type of thing has happened, I run full force into it and then I give it up somewhere between 6 months to a year. I knew that this time I did not want that to happen, so I needed to make these changes slowly. My first healthy move was to give myself three vegetarian days a week, cut down on fried foods, white flour, and enriched and processed foods. This way I could pace my meals out, and make sure that I was getting more vegetables and eating whole grains. This started the end of May and during this time I realized that even on my non-vegetarian days, I wasn't even going for meat. I felt so much better when I didn't eat meat, but I was still eating fish on m non vegetarian days. I went out and bought this book called, "You Don't Need Meat," which taught me a lot about the meat industry and how meat and animal products effect our bodies. I learned the dangers of what I was ingesting and I knew that I didn't want that in my body.

So, about 3 weeks into my 3day veggie diet, I decided to cut out meat all together, but I was still eating fish. As time went on I realized that all I was doing was using fish as a substitute for meat, and that defeated the purpose of this health kick that I was on. I started doing more research on the internet and picked up some other books. I learned about how corrupt the animal agriculture industry is, how many times they have been sued for lying about what is really going into their products (not to mention the cruel animal practices). I also found out that the animal agriculture industry is responsible for more greenhouse gasses than all of the trains, cars, trucks and planes combined. Not only that, but if we took all of the grain that we feed to the animals that are eventually killed for their meat, we could be on our way to ending world hunger.

All of this information really effected me, and I wanted to make sure that my meals were not meat centered, and that is when I decided that I wanted to cut out all animal products for 30 days. Cutting out meat, fish, and animal products completely would be a way to train my mind to create meals that aren't focused on meat, but are focused around grains, vegetables, legumes, and fruit. I committed to only 30 days because I wasn't sure how my body was going to respond to this change. I wasn't sure what kind of cravings I would have, and I never expected myself to give up shrimp or sushi! One day I even ordered vegetable sushi to go and had this feeling that I was going to be totally unfulfilled, but to my surprise it was just as delicious as fish sushi and I was totally content afterwords.

These 30 days have been a life changing experience, and I have never felt better. I started carrying around a paper pad with me to write down ingredients that I wasn't familiar with, so that I could look them up later. I wanted to know exactly what I was ingesting, and I have learned so much. For example, do you know what Mono and Di glycerides are? Well, I didn't either until I went to Panera and asked to see their nutritional list. Yes, most of their bagels and breads are vegan, but one of the ingredients listed is Mono and Di Glycerides. When I looked this up I realized it came from partially hydrogenated oils, which is trans-fat. But, they are not considered a fat by FDA standards, so legally they don't have to list it as trans-fat even though that is where it is extracted from, and it works the same way. I also realized that I see Mono and Di Glycerides in most processed foods and breads, and it's being used in place of trans-fat. This way, companies can still make the same products and list it as healthier. There were other things that upset about how Panera makes their food, but I won't go into all of that. It's interesting to learn about all of these ingredients, what they do, and where they come from. You are what you eat!

I really had to train my mind to adapt to these changes. For example, when everyone at work might be eating cake I have to tell myself that I can't have it even though it looks so good. I know that if I eat it, I will just feel bad. People ask me if I miss certain things like that, and I just tell them that I can have cake, I can have ice cream, I can have Jell-O, and anything that I had before, just not with animal products. In fact, I have vegan ice cream at home and I can't tell the difference. I bet you wouldn't be able to tell the difference either. I make vegan cupcakes and everyone LOVES them!

Reflecting on this time I've realized that I want to stick with being vegan and I don't want to incorporate animal products back into my diet. I also cut down caffeine, started exercising, and doing yoga. I have more energy, I sleep better, I am happier, my mind is becoming calmer, and I am more confident. I've realized that food is like any addiction, and I have stopped craving foods such as meat or soda. Sometimes I hear people mention that when you are craving something that it means that your body needs it. But, I don't believe that's completely true. Many people crave things that are bad for them like cigarettes. But, your body doesn't need cigarettes, you are just addicted to them. I think that holds true for food as well. There are so many antibiotics in animal products and as a meat based society we become addicted to them.

I'm saving money as well. I do love food, I love to cook, and I love go out to dinner, but I have lost my desire to go out and get expensive fancy dinners. When I do go out to eat now I don't have a huge problem finding something, but I do know that it is almost impossible (unless I am going to a health food place) to find something completely vegan. I make sure that I avoid anything with meat, fish, cheese, milk, and eggs, but I have to realize that if I go out to eat I will probably eat vegetables that are sauteed in a little butter, or that a sauce might have fish oil in it if I go out for thai. I try as hard as I can to avoid those issues, but my animal intake is limited and that is what is important to me.

Being vegan is still new to me and I'm still learning new things, and I'm glad I can share my experience with you. Also, my friends and family have been so supportive during this time, so thank you! I'm not sure what I am cooking over the weekend, but hopefully I'll have a new recipe for you to try!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Roasted Carrots and Red Peppers


Serves 6

12 Carrots
4 Red Bell Peppers
5 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons dried dill

Preheat oven to 400. While waiting for the oven to heat, peal carrots and slice into large diagonal chunks. Depending on the size of the carrot, you should cut only into two to three pieces per carrot. Toss in a bowl with the olive oil, salt, and pepper. Remove from bowl and place on a baking sheet in one layer.

Some people like to leave the red peppers whole while they are roasting in the oven, but I like to cut the top off and seed the red pepper before I roast it.
Once you have prepared your red peppers, you may go ahead and use the same bowl to coat with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place the red pepper on the same baking sheet if there is room. If not, use another one or something similar.

Roast in oven for about 25 minutes. When finished, you will notice that the the outside of the red pepper has started to blister and the carrots will begin to darken around the edges.

When finished, let cool and slice the red pepper. Then sprinkle the carrots and red peppers with the dill, and you're done!

Delights and Afterthoughts:
Roasting any type of vegetable and adding some seasonings really enhances the flavor and is a pleasant addition to any dish. The measurements that I listed above can be modified to your liking. For example, I usually just take the dried dill and just sprinkle over the veggies from the shaker. I don't usually measure the olive oil either. I just make sure everything is nicely coated enough to make a rub and cook in. But, it's up to you.

I originally made this as a side dish to go with the Baked Polenta with Herbs topped with Monica's Marsala Mushroom Marinara Sauce. It made a pleasant addition to the dish, but I think this would also make a great dish for holiday meals such as Thanksgiving. It can really go with anything. I hope you enjoy!


Monica's Marsala Mushroom Marinara Sauce


Makes about 8 cups

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 small onions
2 chopped garlic cloves
3 cups assorted mushrooms, finely chopped (such as cremini, oyster, portobella, shiitake, or baby bella)
1 cup marsala
1 - 14.5 oz can of fire roasted diced tomatoes
1 - 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
1/2 Tablespoon garlic powder
5 chopped fresh basil leaves
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/2 tablespoon oregano
2 dried bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
sea salt to taste


In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium high heat, add the onions and garlic and saute until translucent (about 10 minutes). Add the Marsala, then add the mushrooms and cook until they are soft (another 8-10 minutes). You can use any type of mushroom, but I urge against using the white button mushrooms because their mild flavor won't contribute to the rich flavor of the sauce. Once the mushrooms are soft, add both cans of tomatoes and the other seasonings except the salt. Stir together and bring to a slight boil over medium heat and stir for about 5 to 7 minutes.. Reduce heat to low and let simmer for an hour letting the sauce thicken and absorb the flavor. Taste about a half hour into it and add salt if needed. When finished remove the bay leaves and serve over Baked Polenta, Spaghetti, Shells, or whatever your heart desires.

Delights and Afterthoughts:
One of my first loves in life was spaghetti with meat sauce. I would eat this at least once a week growing up and would cook it in batches because it was always so easy to make and eat all week. I got very good at making this, and although I never actually made my own marinara sauce, I was very good at adding to to it and flavoring it. I would always buy Ragu Chunky Tomato, Garlic, and Onion pasta sauce (which is vegan by the way), and add ground beef. It was so simple, but now that I am vegan, I needed to come up with a recipe to emulate this sauce.
Although I love the Ragu sauce, I wasn't about to use it on my recipe site. I want my recipes to be totally authentic and homemade, so this was my chance to create a marinara sauce that could resemble what I am used to, and versatile enough where I can change it for other recipes.

I couldn't have been more happier with how this sauce turned out. The mushrooms take on the 'meat' consistancy, but also add to the unique flavor of the sauce. I originally made this sauce to top the Baked Polenta with Herbs, which made a heavenly combination. I didn't need to add the salt because I felt like the mushrooms and marsala added enough flavor, but it's up to you. I ended up freezing over half of the sauce in batches, and I can't wait to defrost and eat over spaghetti or shells. YUM!