Week 12: “Eat food. Not too Much. Mostly Plants.”

I was flipping through the April issue of O Magazine this past week and saw an article about Michael Pollan.  Pollan has written multiple books on the topic of food and agriculture, and the quote used as title of today’s blog is probably his most famous.  Many years ago, long before my herbivore adventures began, I read Pollan’s acclaimed book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals and was fascinated by it.  As the title suggests, Pollan is an omnivore.  The Omnivore’s Dilemma is not a self help book or diet book, and there are no recipes or pretty pictures of food. Rather, it is a conversation, supported by history and fact, about what we eat in America and how policy and circumstance have influenced the foods we eat.  Regardless of your personal food choices or interest in exploring other options, I would highly recommend this book as an absorbing read.

O Magazine was interviewing Pollan because he has a new book coming out next month, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation.  In the short article Pollan notes that Americans spend about half the time preparing food today then they did in the 60s.  He also notes that part of the reason for this is that we as a culture define leisure as “passive consumption, and we’ve learned to think of cooking as hard work.”  This resonated with me as I looked back on this the meals I had prepared this week.

I have been quite busy these past few weeks as I prepare to transition to a new job, help plan my best friend’s bridal shower,  and start cleaning out all of my flower beds for spring while preparing for the installation of a new fence that requires the perimeter of the property to be cleaned out. All of this on top of the typical weekly needs of laundry, cleaning, bills and cooking.  In a way cooking does tend to get lumped in as a chore that requires thought to decide what to make, trips to the grocery to buy the necessary ingredients and then the actual cooking.  However, once I do greatly enjoy the process of cooking and consider it a time to relax (the cleaning up the kitchen after part not so much!).

Since this was my last week at my old job there were lots of lunches out with friends so my cooking for Week 12 was limited to dinners.  I decided to keep it simple and make tacos.  My go to taco/burrito has been Chickpea Tacos, which I love so much and are so quick and simple they are probably the thing I have made the most since embracing plant based living a year ago.  The recipe can be found online and I believe is also in the first cookbook.  Since this challenge is all about trying new things I gave the  Happy Herbivore Abroad Lentil Taco “Meat” a try this week.  The lentils get their meat texture by pulsing in a food processor; I will admit that I may have gone a bit too far and ended up with more of a refried bean texture but they were still delicious (though chickpea tacos will maintain their reign, mostly because I love the texture).

I was looking for some kind of Spanish rice to go with my tacos and found the Arroz Amarillo recipe in Everyday Happy Herbivore.  This was the recipe that immediately came to mind as I read the interview with Pollan.  In the past when looking for a side dish like this I would often buy a boil and serve version from Goya, Zatarain’s, or Near East and call it a day.  This recipe took no more time than any of the one’s I’ve used in the past, would actually be cheaper (once your pantry is stocked with a good staple of spices) and tastes so much better.  The ingredient list is short and recognizable and because you control the sodium content you can actually taste all the wonderful flavors the spices bring without simply tasting salt.

Lentil Taco Meat (HHA) Arroz Amarillo (EHH)

I look forward to reading Pollan’s next book as he delves into his journey’s learning to cook and the impact of preparing meals on his personal psyche and relationships with others.

New Recipes Made This Week: 2

New Recipe Tally 2013: 45

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Week 11: Lunches and Sweet Treats

As I was writing my Week 11 post I realized I had a lot to post this week, so the St. Pat’s theme and the standard weekly fare have been split in two.  In addition to my wonderful St. Patrick’s Day inspired dinners and breads I made my weekly sweet treat to share with my co-workers.

My friend over at The Pink Ticket posted a recipe for French Toast Doughnuts a couple of week’s ago and I’ve been wanting to give them a try ever since.  I also needed to justify a doughnut pan taking up space in my kitchen!  My picture is not nearly as inspiring as the original posting because I didn’t heed the warning to let the crumble cool in the refrigerator before using and it melted into the doughnuts (I also overfilled my pan a bit and ended up with part doughnut part muffin top).  However, they were still wonderful to eat.  These doughnuts are very moist and a great accompaniment for a nice cup of tea as an afternoon treat.

Pink Ticket French Toast Doughnuts

For lunches this week I made Happy Herbivore Abroad Vegetable Korma.  This is a curry of potatoes, carrots and peas with mild Indian spices.  It lost some of it’s creaminess upon reheating but the warm flavors were still there and the dish made for a satisfying lunch.

HHA Vegetable Korma (p100)

New Recipes Made This Week: 5

New Recipe Tally 2013: 43

Week 11: Happy Plant Strong St. Patrick’s Day

Vegetarian isn’t exactly the first thing to come to mind when thinking of Irish Cuisine.  Meat stews, meat pies and corned beef are probably the more popular dishes that come to mind at first thought.  I am Irish American and certainly proud of it.  I will admit I don’t think I have ever even tasted corned beef, was never big on stews, and when Mom said dinner was shepherd’s pie I wasn’t exactly rushing to the table.  So when the family got together last year for St. Pat’s I was excited to bring some plant based options so I would have something to eat and perhaps the family would give it a go too.   Last year I made Engine 2 Diet’s Shepherd’s Pie and Fat Free Vegan’s Calcannon to share with the family and both were big hits!

This year I went to my cookbooks for something new to try.  The Forks Over Knives cookbook has a number of shepherd’s pie recipes; not all are traditional Irish (there is a Tuscan and a Moroccan version).  I went with another lentil option, Lentil Shepherd’s Pie with Rustic Parsnip Crust.  This recipe is different than last year’s but still quite simple to put together.  I added a string bean layer between the lentil layer and potato layer because that’s what I grew up with.  I will say that while I liked this version I do think I liked the original recipe slightly more.  The recipe for the cookbook version is online as well, posted to the Forks Over Knives facebook page.

FoK Lentil Shepherds Pie p262

Unlike my Father who insists on putting ketchup on his shepherd’s pie (you know you’re Irish when you put ketchup on potatoes, and spaghetti, and well…everything), I prefer gravy.  I had already tried the Happy Herbivore Peppered Mushroom Gravy in Week 6 so decided to give Veganomicon Mushroom Gravy a try this time around.  The two are quite different.  The Happy Herbivore Abroad version uses non-dairy milk and garlic for a creamy base, while Veganomicon mixes flour and broth for a base and adds sage and other herbs for a lovely earthly flavor.  I used baby bella’s in place of cremini mushrooms because that is what I had on hand.  I must say I loved this gravy;  so much so that I had to find a way to use it all up after I was done with my Sherpherd’s Pie.  I made a some pasta with peas and mixed in the gravy for a very fast, simple, and delicious weeknight dinner.

Veganomicon Mushroom Gravy

It wouldn’t be St. Patrick’s Day without Irish Soda Bread.  My Mother made Irish Soda Bread every year, and only for St. Patrick’s Day.  I love her recipe, and always thought that this was some kind of family recipe.  It wasn’t until I was grown that Mom informed me that my father’s mother had found the recipe in the back of her Star magazine (which she only bought for the crossword puzzles of course).  Sad as I was I still love that recipe.  This year I gave the Happy Herbivore version a go for the first time.  I’d tell you how it is but I’m still waiting for it to cool!

HH Web Irish Soda Bread

New Recipes Made This Week: 5

New Recipe Tally 2013: 43

Week 10: Spring Ahead

I’m a bit late with this week’s post.  This weekend came with the best weather we’ve had in months; 50-60 degrees with bright sun kept me outside on long dog walks and sprucing up the flower beds to rid the remnants of fall and winter and prepare for the arrival of flowers and fresh homegrown food.  OK, I admit it, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself, but I’d gladly give up an hour sleep to have dusk extend later in the day.

But I digress, we’re supposed to be talking food here!  I’ve had a couple of Italian themed weeks and wanted to change up the flavor profile this past week.  My first choice was Forks Over Knives Cookbook’s Curried Millet Cakes.  I have actually been eyeing this recipe for a few weeks now since it is one of the recipes that there is a picture of in the cookbook (and it looks wonderful of course!) and since millet is my new best friend who I have somehow not met until recently but cannot live without.

When deciding what to pair with my millet cakes, a cauliflower puree came to mind.  After searching my cookbooks I settled on Happy Herbivore Abroad Garlic Mashed Potatoes.  The secret to these mashed potatoes is that they are mostly cauliflower; there is only one potato per full head of cauliflower.  As the name suggests, roasted garlic adds a warm, comforting flavor to this mash. A great pairing if I do say so myself.  I added a repeat recipe, Forks Over Knives Coriander Chutney to top off the millet cakes and round out the meal.

All in all an excellent dinner.  I would warn the cakes are not exactly cake-like; there is no flower or binder so they bake up somewhat soft but the flavors are wonderful.

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Finally, this week’s sweet treat was Happy Herbivore Cookbook Black Bean Brownies.  Not the prettiest to photograph but very nice to eat.  My bananas were quite ripe so you definitely do get the chocolate banana flavor in these but there were adjustments to use less ripe bananas and add some additional sugar for sweetness that may tone down the banana flavor.  This recipe can also be found on the Happy Herbivore website.

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New Recipes Made This Week: 3

New Recipe Tally 2013: 38

Week 9: Happy Plant Strong Anniversary!

Welcome March! As usual the days and months seem to disappear at record speed but this time of year I consider that a good thing.  I certainly will not miss the cold, gray, unpredictable weather of January and February and already see the signs of spring as the days get longer and the birds start to return.  What March also means is that my one year herbivore anniversary has come and gone.  I don’t recall the exact date, but I gave up meat for lent last year and have never looked back.

My decision was based primarily on wanting to eat healthier and make more conscious choices as to what I ate.  Vegetarianism and Veganism has become so mainstream that there is a lot of vegan junk food and highly processed convenience foods available.  I try not to eat too much of these packaged foods and primarily follow a whole foods, plant based diet inspired by Forks Over Knives.  Forks Over Knives was originally a documentary focused on the scientific data of health benefits of a whole foods plant based diet.  The film is available on Netflix and Amazon Prime if you haven’t seen it.  In addition to no meat, dairy, fish this diet limits fats.   It’s not as overwhelming as it sounds, the most surprising thing for me this year has been that is actually fairly easy to make small changes with big impacts.

For example, most FoK recipes saute vegetables in water or vegetable broth instead of oil.  You have to keep a closer eye on them and add more water or broth every few minutes to keep from sticking but it’s quite simple and you don’t lose anything in the finished product but calories.

I’m not 100% yet.  The hardest thing for me to give up surprised me a bit…eggs.  There are tofu scrambles and other such things but a fried egg on an everything bagel is the thing that makes me cheat most often.  As a native New Yorker I love my bagels and my egg sandwiches.  So the occasional cream cheese or fried egg have been hard to give up.  The other thing that I’ve noticed is texture.  The textures of foods with plant based cooking is undeniably different if you’re used to crunchy/juicy fried food.

This week was pretty exciting texture wise.  I still had some leftover bolognese from last week and thought I’d make a chickpea cutlet to serve with the bolognese and some pasta.  Looking through my cookbooks I chose the Chickpea Cutlets from Veganomicon.   This recipe called for vital wheat gluten, which I have never worked with before.  Apparently gluten really does hold things together because these baked cutlets had a spectacular texture.  I replaced the Hungarian paprika and sage the recipe called for with basil and thyme for a more Italian flavor profile and had them with pasta for dinner and on a roll with some bolognese for a lunch sandwich.

Veganomicon Chickpea Cutlets

I also made some treats this week.  I made orange-cranberry bread from Veganomicon and Cranberry Bread from Happy Herbivore Abroad  (pictured below).  A direct comparison is probably not fair since I had adjusted the Veganomicon recipe to be gluten free for gluten intolerant family members and we’ve already discussed the importance of gluten!  Both were quite good but I did find the Happy Herbivore recipe to deliver a moist quick bread while the Veganomicon recipewas more scone like in texture.   I’ll have to give it another go without adjustments.

Cranberry Bread HHA

When it comes to baking plant strong, freshness is key; without the oils and fats I do find baked goods do not last as long.  That said this adventure has also made me wonder if it’s really a good thing that the shelf life of some foods is as long as it is!

New Recipes Made This Week: 3

New Recipe Tally 2013: 35