Making It Work

I’ve unintentionally continued last week’s theme of variations to not-so-old favorites with this dish of Millet and Spinach Stuffed Shells.  The plan had been to make the Forks Over Knives Eggplant Rollatini, which I’ve made a number of times now since first trying it last year for Week 2 of the 2013 Plant Strong Recipe Challenge.  However, laziness got the best of me and it just seemed easier to use up the shells leftover in the pantry from my whole food plant based stuffed shells recipe rather than process the eggplant for rollatini.


Add some beet balls and dinner is served!


The millet mixture is also wonderful and flavorful on it’s own if you’re looking for a new side dish to try.


Engine 2 Retreat Portland – Dance Party

The Engine 2 Retreat was in Portland, Oregon last weekend; a friend and I decided to make the trip from Philly because it seemed as good a reason as any for a long weekend in the Pacific Northwest.  The Retreat was wonderful!  It was a very well organized weekend and I think the content was such that whether you are 100% plant perfect or an omnivore interested in learning more about the impact of diet on health you could comfortably enjoy the discussions and stay interested throughout the days.  There were so many interesting speakers I’ve had a hard time deciding how to post about the weekend adventure.  I finally decided to split up my Retreat posts into a few mini posts.  I’ll keep today’s post focused on the most important parts of the weekend – the food, and the dancing.

Yes, there was dancing!  Natala Constantine is the Communications Director at Engine 2.  Her story is beautiful and inspiring and the brief paragraph on the E2 website doesn’t do it justice, but I urge you to give it a read.  I won’t get into her story here because I won’t do it justice either; Natala in her humor, her presence (and hotness that clearly surpasses that of Rip), are what make the story so inspiring.  I will share three lessons learned from Natala:

  1. 1 Minute Dance Parties daily should be incorporated into your routine.  It’s true.  Rough day, feeling sluggish, a little down?  1 minute…dance like nobody’s watching and you will immediately feel better.  They went with Pharrell’s Happy for their dance parties at the Retreat; I prefer P!NK myself.  Whatever you choose just get up and get your running man on.
  2. An abundance of fat stores is indicative of strong genes.  Consider evolutionary survival, those selected to survive famines, droughts, etc survived due to an abundance of fat stores.  To adapt to these environmental influences populations developed “thrifty genes”.  There has been substantial work on this topic as it relates to the Pima Indian population and the incidence of obesity and Type II diabetes.  In the absence of famine with unlimited access to an overabundance of calorie dense foodstuffs rates of obesity and Type II diabetes increase substantially.
  3.  Do Normal.  Go about your health in a practical way.

I enjoyed Natala’s talks tremendously.  She has an important message to share with people and I think the key is that Engine 2 Diet is a lifestyle change not a diet in the 15 lbs in 15 days sense.

Of course, there was food!  You’ll have to excuse my iPhone/instagram photos here on the blog this week but that’s all I had with me under the fluorescent hotel lights.  The food was awesome.  The coffee was half-caff, and there was not a sugar packet to be found anywhere though they did leave a couple of salt shakers out if you were so inclined.  I admit the Starbuck’s guy across the street knew my friend and I pretty well by the end of the weekend, but other than my morning fully caffeinated Pike’s Place (black no sugar) I stuck to green tea.  Other than the need for my morning cuppa, I was fine without added sugars or salt.  Breakfast was steel cut oats with fresh fruit, chia seeds and cinnamon, steamed greens with fresh tomato and hot sauce, and a muffin (which I saved for a mid-morning snack).

IMG_5809Lunch the first day was black beans and rice, and a salad.  You can’t actually see my black beans and rice because there are so many veggies loaded on top but trust me they’re under there.  This is a very simple and satisfying meal that I’ve come to make often.


Day 2 lunch was a burger, baked fries, and a salad.


Dinner Night 1 was Raise the Roof Lasagna.  I’ve made this a few times myself and really enjoy it.  It’s definitely a weekend meal due to all the chopping and prep, but it’s well worth it and makes a lot.


The second dinner was a pasta bar with a choice of sauces.  We skipped the second dinner to go touring around Portland and eat something local (sorry no pics, we ended up at a Thai restaurant and by the time we got our food we were starving and dug in).

It didn’t occur to me to ask for a picture with Rip but I did buy Engine 2 Diet and had him sign it for me.

IMG_5823I read it on the plane trip home.  I think the take home message is “Don’t eat bear balls. Eat healthy, delectable, plant-based foods so that you will never fall over on your cat.”  Kidding aside, if you don’t get a chance to hear Rip tell the Engine 2 story in person, I would highly recommend the book; it’s a fast read and has a nice balance of stories, science, recipes and health tips.



Keeping It Simple

It was a busy and wonderful weekend filled with visits with a dear friends I don’t get to see very often, a fun run, and family Easter celebrations, which doubled as my Birthday celebration.  The weather finally seems to be conceding to spring’s arrival and as the it gets nicer outside I seem to spend less time in the kitchen plotting meals.  A girl’s still gotta eat though!  In spring and summer I seem to rely more on grilled vegetables to form the basis of simple, wholesome and delicious fare without too much fuss or thought put into the planning. 
There is a lot of versatility in a batch of grilled vegetables.  I often will grab an assortment such as zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, peppers, red onion, and portobello mushrooms without too much thought as to how I intend to use them.  For me this is unusual.  Throughout the fall and winter I plan my meals and shopping lists carefully to ensure that I am not wasting food. Once the warmer months come along and perfectly content with big salads, which provide a great canvas for just about anything leaving little to waste.
I typically will prepare a simple marinade of balsamic vinegar, garlic, and some herbs to brush on the vegetables.  For portobello steaks, I find I enjoy the Forks Over Knives recipe, which is a soy based marinade with garlic, ginger and a bit of unrefined liquid sugar.   Grilling 3-5 minutes on each side leaves nice grill marks and tenderness to most vegetables. 
A grilled vegetable sandwich makes a nice light meal.  I like to smear some hummus on fresh bread and add fresh tomato, basil and/or spinach, some banana peppers for acid and crunch, a few kalata olives. 
Grilled vegetables also lend well to pastas.  Fresh basil, kalamata olives, toasted pine nuts, nutritional yeast and fresh squeezed lemon juice makes for a special dish.  I also like to make a sauce of garlic, crushed red pepper and white balsamic vinegar.  The white balsamic has a less harsh flavor than it’s dark counterpart that lends well to sauces and salads, especially when you are not using oil to tone down the flavor.
Of course there must be grilled vegetable pizza on a homemade whole wheat cauliflower crust.
And it wouldn’t be me if there wasn’t a burrito.  A fajita burrito with portobello steak is a personal love.
Even simpler is grilled vegetables over brown rice or in the aforementioned salads.  
I can’t believe I almost didn’t buy a grill, because what would a vegan need a grill for?!  Nonsense.  I love my grill and the simplicity it adds to meal planning. 
Next week’s post will be a bit late because I’m heading to Portland!  This weekend is the Engine 2 Retreat in Portland, Oregan.  What better excuse to cross a trip to the Pacific Northwest off my bucket list 🙂  Stay tuned for my review of the Retreat and the city.

Engine 2 Challenge: Week 4!

If you think you couldn’t handle a 28 Day Challenge, let me tell you it goes by fast!  Monday, March 3 will be the end of the Engine 2 Challenge.  I’ll post my final Challenge post early in the week after I cross the finish line but for now will focus on the Week 4 wrap-up.  For the final week I was a food prep master (to the point I ran out of containers and used mason jars to keep my steel cut oats).

Breakfasts included pumpkin version of last week’s french toast; I used the Ezekiel Raisin English Muffins for that again.  I also made another batch of steel cut oats in the pressure cooker to bring to the office.


Lunches were leftover penne broccoli rabe early in the week and potato leek soup from Isa Does It (sans oil) with a side salad dressed with fresh lemon juice and ground black pepper for the remainder of the week.


We had a brief, too brief, reprise from the cold and snow over the weekend that made it seem like spring until you saw the piles of snow lingering at every turn.  The milder temps inspired me to grill and I decided to go with fajitas for dinner this week.  I marinated portobello steaks in ginger, garlic and tamari based sauce (Forks Over Knives Cookbook has my preferred portobello steak recipe) before grilling them.  I also cooked the peppers and onions on the grill then sliced and seasoned (Happy Herbivore Cookbook is my go to fajita seasoning).


I assembled the fajitas in an oil-free corn/whole wheat tortilla (Trader Joe’s), topped with green onion, cilantro, fresh tomato and avocado.  I served chipotle black beans (Veganomicon) over cilantro lime brown rice on the side. The dish was exactly what I wanted, and I pretty much ate this every night of Week 4 (and could go for another week without getting bored of it, so good!).  I should say that the Trader Joe’s Corn & Wheat Tortillas are so much better than the Chi-Chi’s corn tortillas, which were the only oil-free I could find at Wegmans.  They’re definitely worth the trip to the tiny, over-crowded Trader Joe’s (or Trader Jose’s as they write on the packaging).


By Friday I was out of leftovers and my refrigerator was barren with the exception of pickles and condiments.  A quick stop on the way home from work and I am storm ready (yes, it is March, and yes, another snow storm is expected tomorrow).  I seemed to be the only one not looking for milk and bread 😉

IMG_5356For a quick, after work dinner, I made cauliflower pizza crust pizza.


A sweet treat this week was Forks Over Knives Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Vanilla Bean Whip to finish up the Ezekiel Raisin Muffins and the silken tofu that I had used a portion of in the chickpea tikka masala; I hate wasting food and cannot figure what to do with the English Muffins without butter or cream cheese other than french toast or bread pudding.

IMG_5928Stay tuned for the final Challenge post!

Engine 2 Challenge: Week 3 Wrap-Up

Even though I’m not following the meal plan in the eBook when I started the Challenge I had printed out some of the recipes thinking I would give them a try.  I’d completely forgotten about them until I was cleaning up some of the papers lying around the dining room table and happened upon the stack of recipes.  Looking them over I decided to incorporate some of them into the last two weeks.

Monday I had off from work and French Toast from the eBook seemed a good treat to enjoy my late start to the day.  I’ve had difficulties finding oil-free breads but had bought some Ezekiel Cinnamon Raisin English Muffins that I’d yet to try so why not english muffin french toast.  I have fond memories of raisin bread french toast from my graduate school days eating at Angelo’s near the University of Michigan medical campus; it’s so good it still gets the homepage cover photo.  The base of the Engine 2 recipe is mashed banana and non-dairy milk with cinnamon and vanilla.  This certainly isn’t Angelo’s but it was very good and a whole lot healthier.


For my on-the-go breakfasts, I made a batch of steel cut oats in the Instant Pot.  I decided to experiment with the basic recipe from Jill Nussinow by adding pumpkin puree and cranberries.  Recipe below:

1 cup non-dairy milk
2 cups water
1 cup steel cut oats
1/3 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup frozen cranberries
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon vanilla
pumpkin pie spice

I cooked in the Instant Pot electric Pressure cooker for 3 minutes and let the pressure release naturally.  Split into three ~1 cup servings and top with brown sugar and chopped walnuts.  Made for a great grab-and-go breakfast to reheat in the microwave.

Lunches consisted of leftover falafel burgers and a salad dressed in fresh lemon juice and topped with a scoop of hummus.  The burgers were even better left over than when first made; the flavors developed more and the texture was firmer.  The whole wheat fat-free pitas I found at Wegmans were also a great success, really good! [Father Sam’s Fat Free Whole Wheat Pita Pockets; the mini size were just right for the burgers]


I finished up the Dilly Stew for dinner early in the week, had a falafel burger the first night I’d made them, and Happy Herbivore Cheater Pad Thai later in the week.  I was running out of rice noodles so my Pad Thai was more veggie than noodle but always delicious.

IMG_5908Rounding out the week’s dinners I made Broccoli Rabe Penne from Forks Over Knives Cookbook (I only have an instagram pic of that one).

For a sweet treat, I went back to the Challenge e-book and made the Banana Peanut Butter Oat Cookies.  A very satisfying little snack and love the banana, peanut butter and chocolate combination.


I also made a microwave baked apple courtesy of Fat Free Vegan.


Overall Week 3 has been a great success in term of food.  However, fitbit doesn’t lie and I’ve dropped my average steps below 10,000 this week.  The goal for the final week of the Challenge is to get my average daily steps to at least 12000 and get back to daily 5k on the elliptical for a strong finish.

I almost forgot the exciting news!  I signed up to go to the Engine 2 Retreat in Portland this April.  I’m so excited.  Portland was on the bucket list and E2 had the retreats on sale so why not.  I can’t wait!!!

Engine 2 Challenge: Week 2 Wrap-Up

I’ve reached the half-way point of the Engine 2 Challenge!  This week was not quite 100%; the weather seemed to call for wine and there was a bagel and cream cheese for breakfast on Monday.  I think I did  better this week than last all in all and, as a bonus, I’ve lost 4 lbs since starting the Challenge.

Breakfasts included my favorite Scrambled Chickpeas from Isa Does It served over Cajun Roasted Sweet Potatoes and topped with avocado, tomato, scallion and cilantro.  This time I substituted cilantro and lime for the dill and lemon juice of the recipe.


I also made Cranberry Orange Oatmeal for breakfasts.  This quickly became a favorite (I even chose this over vegan pancakes this weekend!).  Here is the recipe:

1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup water or non-dairy milk
1/4 cup frozen cranberries
2 teaspoons sugar (I used brown sugar)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
zest and juice of one clementine
1 tablespoon finely chopped walnuts or slivered almonds

Combine all ingredients except the nuts in a small pot and bring to boil stirring constantly.  Reduce heat and continue to stir 1-2 minutes until the oats thicken.  Smash cranberries with a spoon against the side of the pot so the juice bursts into the oatmeal.  Serve topped with chopped nuts.


For lunch, I had salad or leftover Indian Buffet (Happy Herbivore Chickpea Tikka Masala, Roasted Curry Lemon Cauliflower, and brown rice).

Dinners early in the week included Indian Buffet or leftover Pistachio-Crusted Eggplant.  Later in the week I had Isa Does It Dilly Stew with Rosemary Dumplings.


I also satisfied a craving for pizza.  I had come across a recipe for cauliflower pizza crust on Pinterest and was intrigued but honestly not expecting much.  I had only roasted half a head of cauliflower for the curried cauliflower early in the week so figured I’d give the pizza a go to use up the remainder; here is the recipe.  I only made the crust from this recipe and came up with my own toppings.   I used whole wheat pastry flour instead of chickpea flour and doubled the recipe, resulting in a crust that was about 7 inches round and 1/4 inch thick; as written it seems the crust would be very thin or the pizza very small.  I topped with homemade pizza sauce (halved recipe/left out the oil), spinach, peppers, red onion, and black olives.   The outcome was surprisingly delicious!  It is easier to eat with a fork but could be picked up.  I will definitely add this to the rotation as a healthier pizza option.


The weather had me wanting to bake.  Early in the week I made Chai Breakfast Cake, which was delicious but went to waste after a couple of days since I enjoy baking more than eating baked goods (I typically prefer salty treats to sweet treats).  Thursday another 14+ inches of snow fell.


Forks Over Knives Bursting with Berries Cobbler seemed the remedy to the winter blah; one of my favorite FoK recipes and I somehow still had blueberries frozen from my summer picking adventures.  I halved the recipe and made it individualized rather than in a baking dish.  This dish also holds up in the refrigerator so wastage is limited.


IMG_5226The thing I find myself missing the most is bread and texture, crunch specifically.  While skimming my cookbooks trying to decide what to bake I saw Chili-Lime Corn Chips in the Happy Herbivore Cookbook.  Somehow I’d missed this recipe in my past perusing.  Chi-Chi’s corn tortillas are oil free and fairly easy to find; to make chips you simply cut them up and season with a mixture of chili and lime zest before baking.  Crunch cravings happily satisfied!

Now to push for 100% plant strong for the last two weeks!

Pistachio-Crusted Eggplant

The first meal I made when the power came back on after nearly 3 days without was an old favorite, pistachio-crusted eggplant.  This dish is a Vegetarian Times find from a few years ago that I’ve now made many times, with some modifications.  I had bought the necessary ingredients thinking I would be packing up to stay with family until the power (and heat) returned and knowing this recipe is something that mixed diets would enjoy.  The power returned as I was packing the car and I ended up staying home to get my house back in order while this comfort casserole was cooking away in the oven.

As promised in the other day’s check-in post here are the modifications I make to this recipe.  The modifications are really quite simple.  First, I halve the recipe and make it into a casserole instead of the cutlets described.  When halved the recipe fits nicely in an 8 x 8 pan.


I often add nutritional yeast to the finely chopped pistachios; usually about 1/4 cup nutritional yeast to the 1/2 cup finely chopped pistachios.  The most obvious modification to those who are plant based, replace the oil-packed sun dried tomatoes with sun dried tomatoes sold in pouches.  Simply rehydrate them in warm water for 10 minutes or so before draining and blending with the roasted red pepper and garlic.

The sundered tomato mixture is more of a paste than a sauce.  I typically serve this dish with a side of pasta topped with homemade tomato sauce; Forks Over Knives tomato sauce is my go-to (modifications to that recipe are simple add-ins like fennel and crushed red pepper).   Since I have sauce on hand anyway, I line the bottom of my casserole dish with the tomato sauce.

To make this dish into a casserole, I use my mandolin to thinly and evenly slice my eggplant and place a layer of eggplant over the tomato sauce layer.  Next, top the eggplant with a smear of the sundries tomato mixture, followed by a sprinkle of the pistachio mixture before moving on to the next layer of eggplant.  Once you’ve reached your top layer of eggplant, smear and sprinkle as before but I also add a bit of tomato sauce on top (especially around the edges).  This time I had a fresh tomato that had seen better days so took some inspiration from Engine 2 Raise the Roof Lasagna and topped my eggplant casserole with thinly sliced tomato before one more sprinkle of the pistachio mixture.

It does take longer to cook as a casserole, 40 minutes or so, but I prefer it this way.


As an aside, I have made the E2 lasagna a few times and it is delicious, albeit a more time consuming affair to assemble; well worth it for a Sunday night dinner.