What I’ve Learned – Small Substitutions and Simple Changes

If  you’re wondering where the new recipe(s) of the week are, I posted Week 43’s recipes on Wednesday this week to kick-off the countdown to 2014.  Definitely give it a look and MAKE THAT BBQ SAUCE!  For this week’s extra I thought I’d focus on some of the substitutions and changes I’ve learned during my plant-based journey that have made a big difference in my ability to maintain my weight and energy without really tracking diet and exercise at all.

  1. Oil is over-used and fairly easy to give up
    I started this journey to motivate myself to cook more and eat less processed foods.  Initially it was not meant to be a life-style change but a kick-start to healthier habits.  Whole-food plant based diets are similar to vegan diets in that they eliminate animal products but go further to eliminate refined sugars and oil.  Happy Herbivore has an excellent post, There is no such thing as Healthy Oil, up on her blog if you want to read more on the topic.  I’m not 100% oil free or even 100% processed food free.  This week’s craving was Andy Capp’s Hot Fries, a treat that I indulge in quite literally a couple of times a year.  However, I’ve made some significant changes in how I prepare food that were much easier than I expected.  Sauté vegetables by adding a few tablespoons of water (or vegetable broth) periodically so they do not stick to the pan.  The same works well with potato hash recipes.  Another tip is to bake on parchment paper.  There are also plenty of oil-free salad dressings that are easy to prepare at home.  I rarely miss oil; the exception is the occasional addition of sesame oil for flavor (it’s so flavorful you can use very little).
  2. Spice it up and skip the salt!
    You can really cut down on the salt in your cooking by using more spices and herbs.  Adding acid (lemon/lime juice) and using soy sauce or chili sauce for a touch of salt also make for an interesting dish with layers of flavor.  Not only will your food be healthier, it will taste better.  Once you stock up your pantry, you can prepare dishes from scratch quickly and cheaply.  I’ve found that the International aisle of my local market has many spices in large bags that are much cheaper than the bottled spices in the baking aisle.
  3. Processed foods really don’t save that much time or money
    This is a bit of a follow-up to #2.  I used to buy packaged rice mixes or food kits, mainly for side dishes.  I’ve come to realize these do not save time or money and cooking your own sides from scratch results in a dish with distinct flavors and textures you miss when using the processed kits that are more salty than anything.  Yellow Rice is one of my favorites.
  4. Try new things and new preparations
    Go beyond brown rice or pasta.  I’ve discovered millet is one of my favorite grains.  To try new grains without too much commitment look to see if your grocery has bulk bins.  You can buy a small amount to try fairly cheaply.  You can also often buy lentils, nuts and various other items in bulk to save money.  I store in mason jars for maintain freshness.  If you don’t like something in one dish, try a different preparation.  I never liked cauliflower very much but have found that roasted in the oven it is one of my favorite lunches.
  5. Texture is everything
    Meat has a distinct texture and for me building textures into my dishes has been very important.  Nuts, seeds, baked tortilla strips all add a nice crunch.  Also, choosing a variety of vegetables with different textures makes a dish more interesting.

There you have it, my top five lessons and learnings.  Bonus tip, stock up!  Keep staples on hand so you can always throw something together.  I try to keep a variety of grains and beans on hand so I can just run in and out  of the grocery for a few fresh herbs and vegetables to complete my meals when I’m short on time.



Week 43: Vegan Comfort Foods: BBQ Edition

I realized as I looked at the calendar the other day that there are now ten weeks left in 2013!  I’ll be trying to make the last few posts count and hope to get some mid-week posts in as well.  Since I have already prepared this week’s meals I decided to make the mid-week post the New Recipe Challenge post and have some brewing ideas for the weekend post.  The bigger question is what to do for 2014…but that’s for another post!  I thought I’d start the countdown to 2014 with a confession…I cannot seem to make myself like tofu.   If you ask most non-veg people what vegan’s eat I think the top three things they can think of (besides where do they get their protein from?) are pasta, salad and tofu.  I am sensitive to food textures and even when flavors are spectacular if the texture is not appealing I can’t deal with it.  If you’ve been following the blog you may have noticed there has been an avoidance of tofu recipes (and other so-called meat substitutes…and cheese, I’m one of those freaks that never liked cheese).  However, one of the goals of this year was to try new things and one of my favorite bloggers has posted some really yummy looking tofu recipes.  So here we go…

Chipotle BBQ Tofu.  You see why I caved and decided to give it a go?  I admit I was not fully committed.  I halved the recipe (two packages  of tofu is a lot when you don’t know if you’ll like it) and then I only prepped one slice of tofu.  The theory was if I did not like this preparation I would try one of Susan’s crock-pot tofu recipes that seems able to convert the non-believer.  Also, I had an adorable delicata squash (a new food for me) sitting on my counter in need of a recipe decision.  The homemade Chipotle BBQ sauce in the tofu recipe seemed like it would also be good for the squash (and, well, then I’d have something to eat if I didn’t like the tofu).

IMG_5043Make this BBQ sauce.  Put it on everything and eat it often.  I appreciate that Susan posted some handy tips on storing the leftover chipotle but cannot see how she doesn’t make buckets of BBQ sauce and find recipes to use it on immediately.  Chipotles have a distinctive flavor that is not quite spicy but not quite smokey either.  Tasting the sauce before baking the tofu made me hopeful.  I didn’t hate the tofu (that’s an endorsement from my usual one bite and meh).  It was a better vehicle for the BBQ sauce, which is really what it’s all about, but still not quite a pleasant texture for me.  The squash was delicious but the sweetness of the squash altered the flavor of the BBQ sauce so I may try to spice it up next time (there will be a next time).

IMG_5040I was trying to decide what would go with my BBQ tofu and since I had leftover chipotle I went with a Pinterest find, Linguine with Chipotle Pumpkin Cream Sauce (you knew there’d be pumpkin somewhere).  This dish was very easy and delicious.  I subbed penne for linguini and cooked the pasta until slightly underdone then added directly to the sauce to finish, rather than spooning the finished sauce over the pasta as the recipe suggests.  This is probably not the best if you are counting calories but I find it is the best way to ensure your pasta soaks up the flavors of your sauce for a better bite.  The chipotle is the predominant flavor in this recipe with the pumpkin adding creaminess and working to thicken the sauce.  The pumpkin seeds and almonds add some texture and nuttiness that is welcome.  The dish also reheated well; some of the creaminess was lost but the flavor was even better and while not creamy it wasn’t dry either.

IMG_5036Of course, dessert is necessary when talking comfort foods.  I had a couple of bananas that needed to be used and wasn’t really feeling like bread or muffins.  Perusing my cookbooks I saw Veganomicon’s Banana Chocolate Chip Bread Pudding and decided this would be perfect to also use up the rest of last week’s English Muffins.  I made 2/3 of the recipe since I only had two bananas and I baked it in an 8×8 pan.  I soaked the bread longer than called for since it didn’t seem that the bread was soaking up the liquid but it baked up nicely.  This was a wonderful end to a meal that seemed far more indulgent than it actually was.  The picture doesn’t do it justice.  I brought leftovers into the office and had requests for the recipe!

New Recipes Made This Week: 3

New Recipe Tally 2013: 118

Week 42: Weekend Breakfasts and Such

It’s been a beautiful fall weekend in Eastern PA.  My body is trained to wake early so even on weekends I’m up by 7 am at the latest (if my body doesn’t wake me than a certain cat who doesn’t seem to align with the dog and I when it comes to the theory that Saturdays are for sleeping comes purring, meowing, kneading the blankets and staring intensely until his human rouses).  Even though I’m up early, I like to make a lazy start of it and I treat myself to pancakes most weekends while I take the time to brew a pot of coffee stovetop in the percolator.

Week 42 came to a start last Sunday with the realization that I was *gasp* out of pumpkin puree.  Though Happy Herbivore seems to think pumpkin has no flavor and can be subbed with carrots we’ll have to agree to disagree on this.  I admit pumpkin has a somewhat subtle flavor and if you are only using a tablespoon or two of pumpkin with lots of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger and/or cloves than you likely taste the spices much more than the pumpkin.  However, if you add enough pumpkin it does have a distinct taste all its own, at least to my tastebuds.  Since pumpkin pancakes were not an option I decided to go back to basics and made the pancake recipe from the first Happy Herbivore Cookbook.  I halved the recipe to make just enough.  This recipe is very simple and quick, perfect for a Sunday morning when you’re not quite fully awake to focus.  They also taste great and are nice and light.  I missed the photo-op on this one so instead here is Master Finn having returned to bed for a nap after waking the house.


To close out week 42 I thought I’d mix things up a bit and make french toast.   I had pinned a recipe on Pinterest a few weeks back and finally got around to giving it a go.  With pumpkin puree re-stocked, I made Vegan Pumpkin French Toast.  This recipe suggested using English Muffins as the bread; I bought Pumpkin English Muffins thinking this would go nicely in the recipe (English Muffins are not oil-free if you are fully plant-based).  I was surprised how good English Muffins are in French Toast form.  The recipe cooks up nice and fluffy with lots of pumpkin spice flavor.  I’m still a pancake girl but this was a good alternative and inspired Week 43’s sweet treat (which smells delicious baking as I type this).


The rest of the week’s cooking involved old favorites.  I’ll mention one that’s at the top of the favorites list because it is fast, delicious, versatile and re-heats well – all bonuses in my kitchen!  Kathy Patalsky’s Kale Peanut Salad is a great recipe.  I like it so much I often turn it from side dish to main dish, which is what I did this week.  I doubled the sauce component and added linguini (I’ve done this before with rice noodles but had none on hand)  to have a quick and satisfying dinner.  I added a little Thai Chili sauce to spice it up a bit as well.  Lacinato Kale (aka Tuscan or dinosaur kale) is my favorite variety for this.


New Recipes Made This Week: 2

New Recipe Tally 2013: 115

Week 41: Let Them Eat Vegan!

I admit it, I have a problem…I am a little bit obsessed with cookbooks.  I still prefer to have actual books (as opposed to electronic versions) and this little new recipe challenge was sparked by the many I received for Christmas.  Once upon a time I told myself no new cookbooks until my birthday, which was in April.  Well, April came and went and I was still working my way through Happy Herbivore, Forks Over Knives and Veganomicon with some occasional Pinterest and blog sourced treats.  This week I caved.  First, with a vegan cookbook find while visiting New Hope with friends and then to finally buy a Dreena Burton cookbook.  After enjoying Dreena’s blog for some time now I decided to get Let Them Eat Vegan!.

IMG_4964If you’re like me and love having pictures of recipes in your cookbooks then Happy Herbivore is for you.  Let Them Eat Vegan, much like Forks Over Knives and Veganomicon, only has a limited number of select pictures in the center of the book.  It’s no surprise I was swayed to make one of the chosen recipes there was a picture of, Jerk Chickpeas, for lunches this week.  This recipe made for a very satisfying lunch.  The dish was very fragrant from cinnamon and cloves but I didn’t find these overpowering to taste.  There was a sweetness from maple syrup that was balanced with the acid of lime juice.  I could have used some more heat and will up the crushed red pepper next time around but there will definitely be a next time for this one.

I decided to go with a casserole for dinners.  Baked Macaroni with Broccolini in a Creamy Walnut Gravy was pretty easy to put together.  Out of the oven this was a great dish, nice and creamy with earthy undertones from sage and the walnuts in the gravy (which will be made and used for other purposes I’m sure).  Like many casseroles, it was not as good re-heated as it lost some of its creaminess.


IMG_4980I wasn’t feeling the greatest early in the week and had a soup craving; I remembered seeing Dreena post her Sniffle Soup recipe on the blog in a back-to-school series.  I had everything on hand to make it quick with no fuss.  This recipe is not from the new to me cookbook but from another Dreena Burton book, Eat, Drink and Be Vegan.  Mine looks quite different than her picture, which I’m guessing the culprit is my choice of a red curry.  It was not spicy but had a lovely warmth to it and a broth based soup is a perfect low-calorie snack for a rainy day.

Finally, the weekend had me wanting pancakes (as usual) and I had received a sneak peak of Happy Herbivore’s Pumpkin Pancake recipe from the upcoming Light and Lean cookbook through Lindsay’s newsletter.  I have tried many pumpkin pancake recipes.  I will say that the Pink Ticket version were indulgent and spicy delicious while the Happy Herbivore version are, well, lighter but also not as pumpkin-y or spicy.  They came together quickly and the recipe also halved well.


Now to decide what cookbooks to put on the Christmas list!

New Recipes Made This Week: 4

New Recipe Tally 2013: 113

Week 40: The Pumpkin King vs Mother Nature

Yes, it’s another pumpkin week; if you do not like pumpkin (how is that possible?!) you may be disappointed for the next couple of months with my new recipe choices.  Despite the random, and cruel resurrection of summer weather, I am clinging to fall with all my might (from the comfort of my air conditioned living room – I held out until today but just couldn’t take the 85+ degrees any more).  In a show of stubbornness  I even turned the oven on to make some more pumpkin treats.  Take that Mother Nature!

I started off the week trying to shake up breakfasts with a new oatmeal recipe.  I’ve tried crock-pot oatmeal and overnight oatmeal and have been disappointed with both, mainly due to texture and consistency.  I haven’t tried baked oatmeal yet and when I saw a pumpkin baked oatmeal on Pinterest that looked absolutely delicious I figured I’d give it a go.

Chocolate-Covered Katie’s Vegan Pumpkin Baked Oatmeal (Pumpkin Boatmeal) is a simple dish to prepare and a single-serve recipe makes it even easier to give it a try without too much commitment (you’ll be making larger batches in no time).


I baked this in the evening and then reheated for 30 – 60 seconds in the microwave before putting in the toaster oven to crisp the top and finish heating through while I got ready for work.

This was a welcome alternative to my usual stovetop old fashioned oatmeal.  The texture was great, crispy on the top and softer in the middle.  The recipe is not too sweet making it perfect for a light but filling breakfast.  The pumpkin and spice are more prominent in the crisped top so definitely be sure to let it bake long enough for that nice crust on top to form.

Next up were  Pumpkin Spice Doughnuts with Pumpkin Pecan Glaze.  This is another simple recipe to throw together pretty quickly and they bake fairly quickly as well.  Vegan, Low-Fat (ie no oil), Baked…what more could you want!  Did I mention moist, flavorful, and delicious.  Making the glaze with pumpkin puree really makes the flavor come through even more.  Of course, my glaze quickly melted into the doughnut due to the lovely heatwave.

IMG_4958These recipes will both be put in the rotation.

New Recipes Made This Week: 2

New Recipe Tally 2013: 109