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!