May 25, 2011

Recipe - Mushroom Barley Soup, Lentil Loaf and Mashes Potatoes

Hello internets! Is everyone getting ready for Oprah's final show today? I plan to cry for one hour straight - well, not during the commercials, that might be overkill. My mother-in-law is visiting us so I also get to watch the "American Idol" finale with her tonight! It will be a nice change of pace from my usual watching partner - Johnny humors me, but the hour is usually punctuated by glares, frustrated yelps, and strings of profanity. :-) The top two this year are definitely not my favorites (miss you Haley and James!), but I've come this far and I'm not stopping now!

I wanted to share this scrumptious meal with you guys that I whipped up last week. There is a serious lack of green stuff on this plate, but I wanted some comfort food and that's what I got! The recipe for the Mushroom Barley Soup follows, I served it as a side, but it can easily be made a main dish by pairing it with a salad or wrap. It might be getting a bit hot for soup now, but it's good for a rainy day and sadly NYC has had lots of those lately.

I got the recipe for the "lentil loaf" from Christina Pirello's site - she calls it Not Your Mama's Meatloaf. Wowie zowie is this stuff good! I tried a lentil loaf once in the past with bad results (I didn't cook the lentils long enough and it was crunchy) but this one was another story! The oats and Daiya mozzarella really bind everything and it comes out so yummy. I ate mine with a bit of ketchup and some dijon mustard the way I ate real meatloaf when I was a kid. I'm sure it'd also be tasty with a homemade mushroom gravy.

I also made some decidedly not low-fat mashed potatoes, but hot damn were they good! I boiled 6 whole Yukon Gold potatoes until tender (about 30 minutes), then I mashed them, skin and all, with some Earth Balance, unsweetened soy milk, and salt and pepper. Johnny ate a serving the size of his head!

I certainly wouldn't recommend eating this way everyday, but if you're craving something filling, warm, and delish then this is where it's at! (I got two turntables and a microphoooooooone...) 

Mushroom Barley Soup
Serves 6

1.5 tbsp olive oil
1 medium red onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 10 oz. package of white button mushrooms, rinsed and sliced
splash of dry red wine
4 cups veggie broth
2 cups filtered water
3/4 cup pearled barley

In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and saute for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes more. Add the mushrooms and cook for about 7 minutes, until they've released their water and cooked down. Add the splash of red wine and cook for a few minutes more until the wine is absorbed. Stir in the veggie broth and water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the pearled barley and reduce the heat to medium. Simmer for 30 minutes or until the barley is tender.

Nutritional info per serving: Calories 163; Total Fat 4.1g; Saturated Fat 0.5g; Trans Fat 0g; Sodium 99mg; Carbohydrate 26.8g; Dietary Fiber 6.8g; Sugars 3.9g; Protein 4.4g; Vitamin A 0%; Vitamin C 5%; Calcium 3%; Iron 8%

May 22, 2011

Spinach Dal and Roasted Butternut Squash

Happy Sunday! If you like Indian food and/or spinach, have I got a recipe for you to try! One of my favorite blogs, Vegan Eats & Treats, featured Spinach Dal a few weeks ago. She got the recipe from a restaurant during a trip to India and it just sounded too good not to try! It calls for a ton of spinach, but you'll be surprised at how much it cooks down, so don't skimp - use the 1 1/2 pounds called for in the recipe.  I thought the spices could have been amped up a little more, not necessarily the garlic, but the coriander, cumin and chili powder, so add those liberally. I served with brown basmati rice and some roasted butternut squash. I took my friend Jen's advice and seasoned the squash with a drizzle of olive oil, fresh rosemary and salt and pepper, then roasted at 375 degrees for about 35 minutes. It was DELICIOUS - so simple and earthy. The rosemary flavor didn't go so well with the spices of the Dal, but you can have two tasty things on one plate and be in love with each! 

Trying to figure out what I want to cook this week. I have been spending a lot of time checking out the recipes of Christina Pirello, she's so awesome! Her recipes are vegan and some of them are macrobiotic. Very inspirational. What are you cooking this week?

May 20, 2011

Recipe - Primavera Pasta

Hello everyone! Hope springtime is finding you well. We still aren't out of the woods here in New York... seems that April showers bring May... showers! But it has been warming up and the sun is starting to peek around the clouds today, so we're hopeful for a sunny weekend.

This recipe was inspired by a dish at a little Italian restaurant around the corner from our apartment. Johnny loves this place and while I enjoyed it quite a bit as a vegetarian, it's been tougher to negotiate as a vegan. Their pasta is homemade so they use egg in it and even their olive oil and garlic sauce is prepared with chicken stock! A few visits ago I explained my diet restrictions to the waiter and he made some awesome suggestions: they keep dried whole wheat pasta on hand that doesn't contain eggs, and they could easily pair that with some veggies and olive oil/ garlic without the chicken stock. Ask and ye shall receive! I was blown away by the dish that they prepared just for me and I'm so happy that we can visit the restaurant anytime Johnny needs a little spaghetti bolognese action. (As for the French restaurant down the street that served me a boiled potato and some unseasoned asparagus - we have issues.)

I figured I'd try to recreate this meal at home because it's such a perfect recipe for Spring. I am in even more in love with my version of the dish and luckily Johnny is, too! This is definitely a Superhero dish, though you may want to omit the black pepper, substitute shoyu for salt, and keep the garlic to a minimum. I definitely noticed some acid reflux as a result of the black pepper - crazy what sets it off!

I also am excited to report that I met with a great nutritionist this past week. Her name is Molly Lee and her company is called Energizing Nutrition. Molly could not be kinder and I'm really stoked to work with her. She feels certain we can conquer my acid reflux through diet and get me off the meds! Molly draws from many different philosophies to develop the best plan for each individual and she does believe in eating for blood type. We share a blood type and she said that when she tried going vegetarian a few years ago it did not agree with her. I explained that there is really no chance of me eating meat or dairy again and I'm happy that she isn't forcing the issue. But she did mention that if we don't see results in a few months that she may bring it up again. I truly believe that would be an absolute last resort and I'm staying hopeful that I can achieve optimum health on my terms. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

Now for the scrumptious recipe...

Guaranteed to give you veggie superpowers!
Primavera Pasta
Serves 6

4 stalks fresh broccoli, cut into florets
5-6 small carrots, peeled and cut into sticks
1 large zucchini, cut into strips
1 box whole wheat penne rigate
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tbsp Earth Balance
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
salt & pepper

Placed your prepared veggies in a steamer basket in a large pot with a few inches of water. Cover tightly with a lid and steam over medium heat for about 20 minutes. You want the veggies to be tender, but still a bit firm. Once done, transfer to a large bowl and use the same pot to cook your penne rigate according to package instructions. (You can also do this in a separate pot while the veggies are cooking to save time.)

Meanwhile, in a small skillet melt the Earth Balance over low heat and stir in the olive oil. Add the garlic and sautee on low heat for several minutes. Stir continuously as you don't want the garlic to brown. Remove from heat.

Once the pasta is finished cooking, drain and transfer to the large bowl with the veggies. Pour the garlic sauce over the top and stir to combine. Season each serving with salt & pepper separately to taste.

Nutrition info per serving: Calories 426; Total Fat 14.9g; Saturated Fat 2.5g; Trans Fat 0g; Cholesterol 0mg; Sodium (depends on how much salt you add at the end); Carbohydrate 66g; Dietary Fiber 8.1g; Sugars 3.5g; Protein 10.6g; Vitamin A 203%; Vitamin C 49%; Calcium 4%; Iron 31%

May 11, 2011

Recipe - Greek Quinoa Salad

I always try to set aside Sundays to be my day of grocery shopping and pre-cooking a few things to use throughout the week. It just makes the rest of the week that much easier for me. After I got home from Whole Foods last Sunday, I set out to make a big salad that I could munch on all week. I knew I needed to revisit that package of quinoa in the back of my cupboard. I love eating quinoa but hadn't had much success cooking it before. I just didn't know what to do with it and it tasted bitter when I prepared it. Yuck!

This time, I rinsed the ever-loving crap out of it, and it made a HUGE difference. No bitterness this time! (You will need a mesh strainer to do this properly, or you can rinse it in a pot and awkwardly position your hand against the rim, trying to pour out the water while not letting the microscopic quinoa escape... like I do!) Then I combined it with some veggies and a delectable Greek dressing inspired by the one posted here. It gave the perfect tang to the salad due to the magic ingredient: red wine vinegar! I'd always thought it was lemon that gave Greek dressing its zip, but alas I was wrong - not one drop of lemon juice in this dish.

I was super happy with the result and ate this salad for lunch over some fresh spinach and avocado slices or alone as a snack. I did include one nightshade veggie (red bell pepper) because I couldn't handle the idea of not having something red in my salad and it holds up way better than tomato. Feel free to omit it and you'll have a truly Superhero dish. Or, if you're not following the Superhero plan, add in all the tomatoes and peppers you'd like!

Johnny was surprisingly a big fan of this salad, he actually ate TWO BOWLS of it throughout the week! This is an accomplishment as he doesn't usually eat leftovers at all. Score one for quinoa!
Doesn't it just scream SPRING?!

Greek Quinoa Salad
Serves 8

1 cup dried quinoa
2 cups water
1 English cucumber, peeled and diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
3 green onions, white and light green parts only, diced
1 large handful of basil, minced
1 15oz. can garbanzo beans, rinsed


1/4 cup + 1 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1/2 tbsp garlic powder
1/2 tbsp oregano
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tbsp Dijon mustard

After you've thoroughly rinsed the quinoa, place it in a saucepan and cover with 2 cups water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce and cover. Cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. The quinoa is done when it is fairly translucent, and it is light and fluffy. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Once cooled, transfer the quinoa to a large bowl and add the cucumber, red pepper, onions, and garbanzo beans. In a small container with a tight fitting lid (I use an old, cleaned out salsa jar), combine all the dressing ingredients and shake vigorously until well blended. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss until combined. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving. Just before serving, add in the basil and mix. (The basil will darken as it sits, so try to add it just prior to serving if you care about that sort of thing!)

Nutrition Info per serving: Calories 238; Total Fat 10.8; Saturated Fat 1.5g; Trans Fat 0g; Cholesterol 0mg; Sodium 479mg; Carbohydrates 30.8g; Dietary Fiber 4.9g; Sugars 1.3g; Protein 6.5g; Vitamin A 18%; Vitamin C 69%; Calcium 4%; Iron 17%

May 3, 2011

Screw "Wonder Woman", You Can Call Me "Whole Grain Girl"

Hi guys! This entry is going to be a bit different from the rest. I usually don't get too personal on my blog as I like to concentrate on the issues at hand, but today I'm going to discuss my health as it plays a part in how I'll be eating and cooking for awhile. I'd also like to open up a dialogue and see if anyone here has similar health problems and/or suggestions for how to cope. So dim the lights... pull up a big pillow. Let's sit in a circle, hold hands and talk this thing out.

I've been struggling with acid reflux (aka GERD but that name makes me wanna upchuck) on and off for awhile now. I first noticed it last May and tried to control it with over-the-counter meds and antacids, but didn't have much success. When I went vegan in November it magically went away overnight. I was shocked, amazed and so happy to be done with the problem for good. But it reared its ugly head again in March and hasn't gone away since. This is more than just a little heartburn: I wake up everyday with the taste of acid in my mouth, my teeth are sensitive from the acidity, it has affected my breathing, it makes me nauseated and afraid to eat most foods and it generally screws up my overall quality of life. I completely cut out the foods that are the biggest offenders for acid reflux (tomato based sauces, chocolate, coffee, etc.) and took some Zegerid and Prilosec, but still didn't see much of a difference.

I was referred to a gastroenterologist who decided I should get an upper endoscopy done to rule out any serious problems. What a fun way to spend a morning! I had to swallow meds to numb my throat, have a sedative pumped into me by IV and the doc proceeded to shove a giant plastic tube down my throat and into my stomach. He took the little camera and investigated my insides, made some notes, and the whole thing was over in about 15 minutes. I then spent the rest of the day feeling like someone on the first day of Celebrity Rehab - major sedative hangover. So after all that I hoped I'd at least get some answers, right? RIGHT?!? No. Still no reason why I suddenly have acid reflux around the clock when a year ago I'd never had it a day in my life. Just a few benign polyps and some erosion in my esophagus from where the acid has already caused damage.

The doc said to take a double-dose of Prilosec in the morning and another one in the evening and to supplement it with Vitamin D and calcium pills daily because it has been shown to cause osteoporosis. And also to eat foods rich in magnesium as it depletes magnesium levels for some reason. And that it's a relatively new medication so all the long-term affects are still unknown. I smiled, nodded my head and thought to myself, "You've gotta be kidding me." Modern medicine at its finest.

I left his office feeling defeated. Don't get me wrong, I know my problems could be worse. There are plenty of people out there who are so severely ill that they have to take medication everyday just to be able to get out of bed. But I have this voice inside saying, "That's not for you." I am only 30-years-old and the thought of being tied to a medication for the foreseeable future has my heart and wallet in a tizzy. I know there's gotta be a better way. So I'm setting out to find it.

This weekend, I picked up my copy of "The Kind Diet" (a book that was instrumental in my becoming vegan) and re-read some of it. Those of you familiar with it know that Alicia Silverstone divided it into three parts - one for those just flirting with veganism,  one for those who have gone fully vegan, and one for those who want to be, as she calls them, "Superheroes." The Superhero plan is based on the principles of macrobiotics, but leaves out all animal products so it's still vegan. On this plan you concentrate on whole grains, vegetables, and protein and leave out most sugar, processed and refined foods, and nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes and peppers). That stuff is okay in strict moderation, but the point is to eat clean, healthy foods as often as possible. Her book and web site have story after story about people who have had great success battling all kinds of illnesses following the Superhero diet.

Normally I'm not a believer in diets that claim to have such amazing benefits, but it's not like she's suggesting I eat nothing but steak and ice cream all day, right? It seems that the foods recommended just make sense. Everyone feels better when they concentrate on whole foods, vegetables and protein. My suspicion has been that processed foods are the culprit in my case. Since I'm a vegan, I feel like I generally eat pretty well, but this article on The Huffington Post caught my eye today. I URGE YOU TO READ IT. It shows you how even a breakfast of cereal and yogurt can contain a TON of additives, preservatives and dyes. And a Subway sandwich can contain 40 different additives, preservatives and dyes! FORTY! Even when you think you are being healthy, you are ingesting so much stuff that you just don't need to.

So I have decided to give the whole Superhero thing a try and incorporate some of the principles into my diet.  I figure it can't hurt and if I feel better as a result I will be one happy girl. I planned out my weekly menu on Saturday and during my trip to Whole Foods on Sunday I was shocked at how little I had in my basket during checkout. I've already seen how getting back to basics can be a big relief on your budget! 

As far as my menu, I will be posting some recipes as I go, but here's the run down: I am starting everyday with a cup of miso soup. This is a nice way to introduce your body to food in the morning and gets your insides prepared for digestion. It's a really lovely alternative to coffee or tea, better than I imagined! My breakfasts are focusing more on whole grains and less on processed foods and sugar than usual. (Goodbye organic cereal with almond milk and whole wheat bagels with peanut butter! Hello to wheatberries and steel cut oats!) Lunchtime has been mostly leftovers or some type of salad. And dinner is a combination of grains like brown rice, lentils, barley, quinoa plus protein in the form of tempeh, tofu or beans and lots of veggies. There are even some desserts that can be called Superhero, but I'll try to keep those to a minimum. Last night I just had a tablespoon of unsweetened peanut butter and it was more satisfying than you'd think :-)

It's only been two days, but I do already feel some effects. It could be in my head, but I've had more energy, fewer body aches, more focus and even (dare I say it?) less acid reflux! Maybe I'm onto something here... I certainly don't anticipate that I'll be able to eat this cleanly 100% of the time. But even if I can do it 80-85% and have the occassional treat or meal at a restaurant, I shoud be ahead of the game.

I hope you enjoy the recipes I create on this new journey and I'll continue reporting on the effects that eating this way may (or may not) have. I'll continue taking the meds for now, just because I don't want the acid to cause any further damage, but depending on how things go, I may try to ween myself off of them. Keep your fingers crossed for me! And if you have any remedies or suggestions you'd like to share, please do so!


May 2, 2011

Recipe - Charro Beans

Good morning! Hope everyone had a GREAT weekend. We are finally starting to get some warmer weather here in NYC and it felt so nice to walk around without a heavy winter coat and snow boots for the first time in 5 months! It really does wonders to improve your mood when the sun is shining and the birds are tweeting.

I wanted to share this recipe for Charro Beans with you because I think it is perfect for springtime and the upcoming Cinco de Mayo. I made these to go with the Potato Tacos I posted about last week, but as yummy as the tacos were, I think I might have loved these beans even more. They're just so nourishing and satisfying and best of all VERY healthy so you can eat as much as you want and not have to cry in the closet from shame afterwards. (Am I the only one who does that? Hmmm...)  

It's weird that didn't encounter this style of beans until I was well into my 20s. A lot of Mexican restaurants in Tucson serve Sonoran-style food and the beans are generally of the refried persuasion with lots of melted yellow cheese on top (the kind you can peel off the top with a fork... you know what I'm talking about!). I was finally introduced to my bean soulmate at one of my favorite Tucson restaurants, appropriately named... El Charro! I used to work in dangerously close proximity their downtown location and my friend Michelle and I would eat lunch there more often than was prudent. There was just something so very relaxing about sitting on their sunny porch, sharing a salad, a cheese crisp (pre-vegan days) and occassionally sneaking in a beer (shhhh!). But the Charro beans were always the best choice, all at once warm, filling, and healthy. It's nice to get back to basics sometimes!

I feel like I type the phrase "Johnny was skeptical" a lot, but it's true! He's a picky eater, what can I say? Anyway, he was very hesitant to try these (especially after devouring three potato tacos), but I made him take one bite just so I could share his opinion. He liked them so much that he continued eating, unprovoked by me! I think he was deliriously tired, but it seemed I could do no wrong in the kitchen that night by him. :-)

This dish takes a little planning as you have to soak your beans for at least 8 hours. This is definitely the recommended method of cooking them as it means a shorter cooking time (so you cook out less of the nutrients) and in soaking you get rid of some of the indigestible complex sugars that make you gassy. No one likes a Gassy Gus! I just toss the beans and water in a large bowl before work and stick it in the fridge and by the time I get home they're ready to go. You can also buy canned beans and reduce the cooking time to really nothing at all, but beware of the sodium content of canned beans - rinsing them first will help get rid of some salt. Hope you enjoy!  

A dramatic little picture for such a charming dish!
Charro Beans
Serves 6

1 1/2 cups dried pinto beans
1 tbsp olive oil
2 spring onions or 1 small white or yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tomatoes, chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
1 12 oz bottle of Mexican beer
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
One handful fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

Place the beans in a large bowl and fill with water. (Ensure there is plenty of water as the beans will plump up as they soak and you want to make sure they remain covered by the water.) Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight or at least for 8 hours.

When the beans are soaked, drain them of their soaking liquid and rinse well. Place into a large pot and fill with enough water to cover the beans by 1 inch. Place over high heat and bring to a rapid boil, then reduce the heat to medium and allow to cook until almost completely tender, about 45-50 minutes.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and sautee until transluscent. Add the tomatoes and jalapeno and continue cooking for 5 minutes, until everything is tender. Pour in the beer and continue cooking for another 5 minutes until the beer has reduced by about half. 

Pour the contents of the pan into the pot with the beans. Stir in the salt and pepper and continue cooking until the beans are completely tender, about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the cilantro. Serve with a wedge of lime.

Nutritional Info per serving: Calories 213; Total Fat 3.5g; Saturated Fat 0.5g; Trans Fat 0g; Cholesterol 0mg; Sodium 22mg; Carbohydrate 32.8 g; Dietary Fiber 9.8; Sugars 0.5g; Protein 10.7g; Alcohol 2.3g; Vitamin A 11%; Vitamin C 18%; Calcium 6%; Iron 15%