Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Veggie Burger - A Survey

I have a confession to make. I love veggie burgers. A box of veggie burgers does not last very long in our freezer. There is a very long list of veggie burgers that I enjoy, but I have a definite favorite. With four patties to a box, these burgers last for no longer than four days in our fridge. To me, they always sound like a great idea for a meal, be it breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Although honestly, I would rarely last until dinner to have one of these, if they're in the house.

Yes, I eat them for breakfast. Today, I am having one for lunch (yes, its even good after being cooked and sitting in the car for 4 hours.

My most favorite veggie burger ever is:

Amy's TEXAS burger. It is the perfect blend of sweet and savory, made up of all ingredients that I can pronounce, and packs a good punch of protein too (12 g). It is just, delicious.

So with that, I'm wondering...what is your favorite veggie burger? Do you make your own instead? Do you (gasp) not like veggie burgers? Inquiring minds (mine) want to know!!

Have a great day people, I'm off to cook my veggie burger and get to work!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Chocolate Chia in the Morning

Nick and I went for a run this morning. Man, is it getting cold out. My car was completely iced over. Upon coming home, I decided I wanted something warm. I've mainly been having boring cereal for breakfast (Special K Protein Plus, to be specific), but I had a little extra time today, so I made something that took a little more effort.

Chocolate Chia Oat Bran

Honestly, this can only be described as love in a bowl. I have tried oat bran, and I have tried chia pudding, separately. This brought them together, with a nice dollop of chocolate soynut butter, and totally made my day.

For those of you who like recipes:
What You Need:
1/2 cup oat bran
2 cups water
2 tbsp chia seeds
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1-2 Tbsp maple syrup or agave
1 Tbsp chocolate nut butter (you could use regular, but you've already got so much chocolate goodness, why stop?)
pinch of salt

What You'll Do:
On a stovetop, bring 1/2 cup water to a boil and add oat bran and salt. Cook until the bottom becomes dry, then add the rest of the water, the chia, cocoa powder, and vanilla. Mix well. Let sit for 15 minutes. Stir in sweetener, top with nut butter, and enjoy.

Serves 1 Big Bowl of Oats
Nutrition Information: 443.1 Calories; 17.1g Total Fat; 7.8g Saturated Fat; o.omg Cholesterol; 67.0g Carbohydrates; 21.3g Fiber; 19.7g Protein

I know I waffle when it comes to calculating calories, but I really love doing it. Look at all that fiber!! Also, this is a lot of food, and it might be even better with 1/3 cup of oat bran, and some frozen cherries added. Experiment!

I also suggest adding some stevia, for those of you who are not allergic to it, which I think I am. I have been getting fairly bad hives for the past few months, and I couldn't pin down what it was from. I actually went to a doctor, who put me on prednisone, and it got worse. At first I thought it was just the Vitamin Water 10, but I have now also cut it out of my morning tea, and have stopped using my protein powder that has stevia in it, and the hives have practically stopped. There's a chance it may not be the cause, but I would bet on it. This makes me sad, I am a big stevia fan, and I had used it for over a year before I started drinking the Vitamin Water in September, and the allergy started.

Sorry for the lack of postage lately. Work has got me fairly busy, and I have time to blog, but not really time to cook. I doubt you want to see what I had for dinner last night (hint: Soyatoo, Chocolate Soynut Butter, and Rice Crackers. NOT together, I'm not completely crazy). I'll try and get in here as often as possible!

I hope everyone is having a great post-Thanksgiving week! Have you started decorating for Christmas yet?

Oh, and our little bug is growing, he's about 5 lbs now. He is a little monster sometimes and a little angel others. He came to work with me a few days ago, and we dressed him up in angel wings. The pictures are on my phone, I'll try and get them on here. This was him on Saturday though, with Nick.

*Sigh* He is cute. I just wish he'd stop biting my ankles!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Stevia Winner!

Thanks to everyone who entered the stevia giveaway! The site for the random number generator I usually use is down, so I used this scientific one. Turns out it won't let me copy and paste it with the results into here, but I assure you,

The winner is.....Number 14!!

Which is AutumnTao! Send me an email, at the address in my profile, with your mailing address, and I will get it out to you sometime this week!!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Slow Sweet Potato Chili

Back when I was in grad school, there was a nice natural foods store near my college, and I went there often. More often than I should have, probably! Currently, I have quite a few things lingering in the pantry that I'm just not sure what to do with. Any idea what it is?

Its probably obvious, the plastic container under the Israeli couscous is a rather odd product, and not something I see very often. Its TVP, something most of us have worked with before, and I have even put in granola bars, but I was unsure of what to do with these big chunks.

Tuesdays have become slow-cooker day, because I get home much later than any other day. I had planned on making a sweet potato chili with kidney beans, only to come home on Monday to find that Nick had used the can of kidney beans that had been sitting on the shelf for a month (isn't it always that way?). I decided this would be a good time to test out these TVP chunks.

Slow-cooking is still very experimental for me. Last week's was somewhat of a failure (hence why you aren't hearing about it until now). Surprisingly, this came out really well! Very yummy, and we were both fans of the TVP chunks. They definitely soaked and swelled up for a very "meaty" product.

Sweet Potato Slow-Cooker Chili

What You Need
2 large or 4 small sweet potatoes
1 onion, diced
1 red pepper, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups TVP (you could also use smaller TVP or a can of beans)
1 15oz can diced tomatoes
2 Tbsp Chipotle Taco Seasoning*
2 Tbsp agave nectar
1 can water + 1/3 can water (just fill up the tomato can)

*I used Ortega Taco Seasoning, because it was also lying around in the pantry. You could also make your own by using chipotle chili powder instead of regular chili powder. Keep in mind if you are making your own that you might need to add salt. I don't add any salt to this recipe because between the tomatoes and the taco seasoning, there is enough!

What You Need To Do
Throw everything into the slow cooker in the above order (ie start with sweet potatoes, end with water). Cook on low for 6-8 hours. Nick turned ours off at almost exactly 7 hours, when the potatoes were done.

I forsee the slow-cooker making many more appearances. Its already proved itself quite useful, and since we're big on chili and stews and meals like that, its perfect for that. This particular recipe really hit the spot, being warm comfort food with a hit of spiciness and the slight sweetness of the chipotles paired with agave. Yum.

In other news, the kitties are doing pretty well. I snapped this picture of them yesterday
Zoe still isn't really sure what to make of him. She wants to play, but he keeps barreling over to her and trying to jump on her, and she isn't quite a fan of that. But they're getting better every day!

Don't forget about the stevia giveaway! Nora asked a question about the baking blend. Stevia does have a slight aftertaste normally (although I find NuNaturals has the least), but there really isn't any with the baking blend. Again, I'm not giving away the baking blend, just the pure stevia packets, but wanted to clear that up. Anyway, you have until Friday to enter!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sugar Free Banana Bread (Giveaway)

A few months ago, I was very lucky to receive a package from NuNaturals, who make my favorite stevia. They sent me a very large variety of products, but I just wasn't ready to review them, as I had not gotten a chance to review what I found to be the most intriguing product, the baking blend.

Then this weekend, as I prepared to go visit my best friend and her new baby girl, I realized I was almost out of sugar. Wanting to bring her some banana bread, but also have some for myself, I was faced with a bit of a conundrum. I was already late, so I could go out and buy sugar and be even more late, or not make any for myself, or try and find a substitute for the sugar. At that point, the NuNaturals Baking Blend rose ceremoniously from the depths of the cabinet and shined its light down upon my kitchen.

Okay, yeah, that's a little dramatic, but I did use it. I completely substituted all the sugar in the recipe (which is the Lower Fat Banana Bread Recipe from V'con) with the baking blend. The loaf I made for my friend used the real sugar and also had chocolate chips.

Baked with stevia

Baked with sugar

The verdict? Well, the regular sugar did bake up to make a slightly prettier loaf. The batter for the stevia loaf was a tad stickier and probably could have used some more liquid. So, the top of it wasn't as smooth. But it tastes fantastic. I really couldn't tell that it wasn't made with sugar, it was very much delicious.
Once cool, it was sliced into perfectly, and was really really yummy. This substituted 1/2 cup of sugar very successfully. The only downside to the Baking Blend is that it is fairly expensive. So if you do a lot of baking and were to use it exclusively, your wallet might feel it. But if you are an occasional baker who likes to keep things as healthy as possible, you can't go wrong!

Now, the lovely people at NuNaturals sent me a lot of stevia, and while I don't have any of the baking blend to give away, I do have a 100-count box of their White Stevia Powder packets for one lucky reader!
To Enter:
1. Just leave a comment on here and you will be entered!
2. If you are really motivated and want another chance, give a mention to the giveaway on your blog.
3. If you don't have a blog and want another chance, get someone else to comment, mentioning that you told them about the giveaway.
4. What the heck, if you want another entry, tweet at me about it!

Entries end this Friday, November 20! Have a great day everyone, hopefully your week is starting out with something yummy like banana bread for breakfast!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

And Then There Were Four

We've been living happily in a three member household for the past three years. You've all met my baby, Zoe.

Many a morning for us is spent like this. Me on the computer, her trying to literally be on the computer with me. This was her last day as an only cat. This week we brought home a little monster to join in on the fun.

This is Ivan. He is about 4 months old, and very cute...although I don't think Zoe agrees on that. Each day seems to be getting better, but they're still getting used to each other. He's got a tad too much energy for Zoe right now!

Have a great weekend everyone!!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Midweek Quickie

Welcome to Wednesday!! I'm more pumped than usual for it to be the weekend because my best friend is having a baby today. Right now, actually.

Anyway, its going to be a busy day for me. I have a "webinar" for my online classes this morning, and we have a jam-packed day at work. Plus, we are bringing home a kitten tonight! We've introduced kittens before, but this is my first time doing it just JUST my baby (Zoe - see sidebar!) and a new kitten. If anyone has advice on introducing kittens, I'm open to whatever I can get!

The point is, most days, I am too busy to cook when I get home. Leftover of my Spinach and Artichoke Stuffed Portobellos was perfect last night when I got home. So today is just a little catch up of things that don't necessarily require their own special post.

First, we went to California Pizza Kitchen this past weekend. Vegan? Uh, no not really. But really, plenty of vegan options. They also changed their menu recently, all their soups are vegetarian, and they have a bunch of new salads on the menu that only need a minor adjustment to become not only vegan, but very delicious.

I had the Miso Salad. I honestly don't think I have ever enjoyed a salad quite this much. With edamame, avocado, daikon, little rice straws, and a wonderful miso dressing, this was so yummy.

I'm still thinking about it, it was that good. Its given me a new love for salads. I ordered it, of course, without the seafood, but also without the wontons strips, just because I don't like big crunchy bits on my salads (I don't like croutons either).

Second, anyone else digging the Clif seasonal flavors? I bought each of the three that were at my store.
This one, the Iced Gingerbread, was alright. Nothing spectacular. And I actually didn't like the Iced Pumpkin Pie at all. However, the Cranberry Orange Nut is completely amazing. By far my favorite Clif bar, ever.

I also had what can only be described as a kitchen fail this weekend ::hangs head in shame::. I tried making the Iraqi Beet Stew with Meatballs I saw posted here. It did not work. I should have just quit when I saw that my store only had teeny little beets.

The meatballs themselves were okay, and I have been eating the leftovers for lunch (hate to waste that seitan), and the beets are yummy, but the 'stew' part, the sauce, didn't work out and the rice, while pretty, was way too heavily spiced for me.

I've been mixing the rice with half plain brown rice to cut back on the spiciness. A disappointment.

Well, that's it for me today!! It'll be another day full of leftovers for me. Time for me to check into my webinar before getting ready for work.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Vegan Spinach and Artichoke Stuffed Mushrooms

I am not a Rachel Ray "fan" per se, but when we were living in Hawaii, we didn't have cable, and only got a few very fuzzy local channels. This was right after we got married, when I was just discovering my love of cooking, and her new talk show was the only "food show" I had. So, I pretty much watched it every day.

One day I was struck by, what is the only recipe I have ever made of hers, Spinach and Artichoke Stuffed Mushrooms. At the time, I was vegetarian, and was more concerned with making it healthier (using fat free ricotta, and less cheese).

Well, we went out to dinner at a decidedly non-vegan establishment this weekend and there it was on the menu. Spinach and artichoke dip. Yum. Definitely a favorite of the appetizer world. Into my head popped that mushroom recipe and a new version, a Vegan Spinach and Artichoke Stuffed Mushroom, was born.

You will need:
1 medium Onion, diced
12 oz Frozen Spinach, thawed and drained
8 oz Artichoke Hearts, canned in water
1 tsp Italian Seasoning
1 tsp (or to taste) Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
1 1/2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 package Mori-Nu Lite Silken Tofu
1/2 cup Nutritional Yeast
3 Garlic Cloves
3 tsp Apple Cider Vinegar
1 tsp dried Basil
1 tsp dried Parsley
1/4 tsp (or to taste) Cayenne
1 1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Black Pepper
6 Portobello Mushroom Caps

What you need to do:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In the oil, sautee the onion, artichoke hearts, spinach, italian seasoning, and crushed red pepper.
In a food processor or blender, blend together the tofu, nutritional yeast, garlic, vinegar, basil, parsley, cayenne, salt, and pepper. Adjust seasoning to taste.
Clean the mushroom, removing stems and gills, and lightly score an X into the bottom of the caps.
Spray the bottom of the caps with cooking spray, and place gill side up in a baking dish.
Fill each cap generously with dip. There should be enough for 6 good sized mushrooms. If you have extra (I only had 3 mushrooms, so we had a lot of extra), you can make a few ramekins of it.

Serves 6
Nutrition Information: 153.5 Calories; 4.7g Total Fat; 0.7g Saturated Fat; 0.0mg Cholesterol; 17.7g Carbohydrates; 7.2g Fiber; 14.1g Protein

This got big thumbs up from both myself and my husband. This is also the perfect dinner for me because I get home from work fairly late, and I don't like to eat anything heavy and very filling, but I still want real food for dinner. Not to mention, its gluten free, fairly low in fat, and higher in protein and fiber. Yummy and good for you too!

I hope everyone has a wonderful day. My husband and I are thinking about getting a new kitten. Keep your fingers crossed that Zoe is okay with this!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Vega Sport - An Honest Review

How was everyone's weekend? Hopefully the weather was beautiful for you too, and you went out and did something fun. Yesterday morning, I lay in bed, convincing myself that I didn't have to work out. I don't usually work out on Sundays, but...I missed Friday. So I *should* work out, but it was, after all, a Sunday. A day to relax. The last day of the weekend. You know the feeling, right?

So I used my husband. Its always easier to go out and exercise if he is coming with. Coupled with a promise of breakfast at our favorite place, we took it the next level, and instead of doing cardio in our basement gym, we went for a run around the lake near our place.

Before we went though, we downed some of the newest product from Vega: Vega Sport Performance Optimizer.

I get a decent amount of products to review. Most of them are just fine. Although I've said before that Vega isn't my favorite. The regular stuff is too weird tasting me for me to bother with. The Smoothie Infusion isn't too bad, once its mixed with fruit, fruit juice, and maybe some coconut milk yogurt.

And while I've never been a fan of "performance optimzers" in the past, I really have to say that I love this stuff.

First: The Taste
Well, typical of Vega products, on its own it doesn't taste like ice cream going down. But it doesn't taste terrible either. In fact, I've only taken it three times, and its definitely a taste you get used to easily. I was gifted the berry variety, and its definitely drinkable on its own, but its actually good with half-water, half-apple cider.

Second: The Ingredients
If you know anything about Vega, you know that the ingredients are top notch. The main ingredient is sprouted whole grain brown rice syrup, intended to give you an instant energy boost, and organic palm nectar, for sustained energy (it claims around 30 minutes worth). Coupled with Yerba Mate, Green Tea, Kombucha, Rhodiola Extract, Ginger Extract, etc, this stuff is full of not only energy, but herbs that are meant to stimulate your system to help you naturally perform better.

Third: The Results
So all this doesn't matter if it doesn't work, right? Well, it does. And I don't just say this because they sent it to me, honestly, I wouldn't do that. This stuff, no joke, works. I first tried it last Monday and went for a run on the treadmill after not having ran for over two months because I hurt my knee. It seemed to work, but I wasn't convinced yet. After all, I ran pretty slow, and hey, it could have just been endorphins. I also used it before my first Mysore yoga class on Thursday, just to have something in my system.
But what really has convinced me that this product is awesome was our run yesterday. Remember, this is after not having really ran at all (besides Monday) for over two months). The loop around our lake is 3.65 miles, and I didn't feel the need to stop and walk for any of it. This might not mean anything to you, but I haven't not stopped on a run that long in well over a year. I have never felt that good on a run, my body never got tired, and my mind was completely clear and focused.
I also had a girl yell at me that I was her inspiration as we ran past her and her friend walking. So there you go, I have their new tag line. Vega Sport - Be Inspiring.

It comes in two flavors, and I have yet to try the lemon-lime. I don't really know what that would mix with, maybe orange juice? Suggestions anyone? At only 70 calories a serving, I feel it needs to be mixed with a little something.

So there you have it folks. A product that does what it claims to do. How often does that happen? Of course, Vega is always on the pricey side, but I really think this stuff is worth it. In fact, I will probably continue to purchase it myself once I run out of the container they were so generous to send me.

This actually makes me really excited to start running again. I'm seriously looking forward to doing our Turkey Trot again at the end of the month! Maybe I can get my dad to try it too!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Gifts From Friends

There is a lot of fun stuff that comes with blogging: making new friends, receiving product samples, hosting giveaways, eating lots of food at every vegan restaurant you can find because you must report back to those friends, lest they be stranded in your corner of the world with nothing to eat...

But by far, the best thing about blogging is swapping gifts with said friends. Even better is when you are lucky enough to receive homemade gifts. And this past week I was the lucky recipient of homemade treats from two wonderful bloggers.

First, I won Amy's lovely giveaway of her own homemade jam. I opted for the Vanilla Bing Cherry variety and I was not disappointed. This is extremely delicious, even better than I anticipated. You can clearly taste both the sweet tart cherries and that clean splash of vanilla. Thank you Amy, you are so talented!

Not to mention it came with a completely adorable giraffe card!!

Happily following the cherry trend, I was surprised by another package a few days after Amy's arrived. I got excited when I saw that return address, as it was from none other than Hannah, and from the shape of the box, I was crossing my fingers for some more homemade goodness.

Sure enough, out popped a bag of Coconut Granola with Cherries. Yum.

Yes, Hannah, I do love coconut, and I especially loved how as soon I as opened the bag, the coconut smell hit my nose immediately. This is very delicious, and we are big granola lovers in this house! Thank you so much!

I am so thrilled so have been the recipient of such kindness this month. And with the holidays fast approaching, the season of giving and sharing is already in full swing. If you're in the mood to help someone out, hop on over and visit Katie, to support Operation Chocolate-Covered Kindness. All it takes is a click...literally!

Enjoy the day, everyone!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Treat For Me!

Admittedly, Halloween is not my favorite holiday. I worked last night and my brother is playing a show tonight that I am going up to my parents' to see, so I have successfully avoided any parties. Don't get me wrong. Normally, I love a good party. I just hate getting dressed up.

Nevertheless, I still came home to find a treat on my doorstep. It wasn't candy. Not a little black cat. Wasn't a little green goblin. It was...

Granted, I sent this to myself. But still, it got here just in time to be a Halloween treat! And a day sooner than expected!! With recipes for everything from healthy(ish) applesauce cookies to homemade vegan Samoas (you know, the best Girl Scout cookie ever), this is most definitely going to be appearing frequently in my kitchen. I love cookies.

Sadly, I didn't have enough time or resources to make anything in there before bed last night (our pantry situation is dismal, we don't even have oatmeal!!). Plus, I will be away this weekend at my parents' and then Boston Veg Fest Sunday. I think the Veg Fest treats will make up for delaying the baking madness that VCIYCJ will ensue. Hm. I don't like the acronym for this one. I think I'm shortening it to VCI - VEGAN COOKIES INVADE!! --- Very Halloween appropriate.

I hope everyone enjoys whatever it is that they enjoy about Halloween, whether it be the treats, or the little kids in costume, and I will see you Monday with a Veg Fest recap! I also want to thank you all for your Blog-iversary support, I love the comments, and it kick started my little blogger spark. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Vegan Strong Blog-iversary!

I sat here today, thinking about how I was feeling a bit of the blogging slump. How I really wanted to just be excited about cooking again for the sake of cooking and not for blogging. I was thinking, its probably just like anything else, where the initial excitement starts to fade and you have to get through a rough patch to reach your stride. Of course, I say this all with a light heart, as it is, after all, just a blog.

But I started thinking about this in terms of the year and how after I hit a year, it'd probably be on the upswing. Literally, this happened less than a minute ago. Then I realized...it HAS been about a year. So I checked and, it has actually been EXACTLY a year! So, happy Blog-iversary to Vegan Strong. Its been quite a year. Some has changed, and some has not.

Bulgar Wheat and Soy, my second post, is still one of my favorite things.

My Vegan Coat is itching to officially come out of the closet this year (I have a new hat to go with it).

I had a Gluten-Free week, which definitely made me more sensitive to those of you with gluten intolerances/allergies/celiac's/etc.

I tried to involve as much of the "strong" in Vegan Strong as possible with posts about protein, protein powder recipes, and workouts, and while I know they aren't the favorite posts, they're important to me.

I've had a few raw days in there, something I wish I was more diligent about doing on a regular basis!

You were all there with me during my student teaching experience, the good and the bad.

I went to Hawaii and Maine, and moved to New Jersey.

And most recently, you've heard about my complete career change, which I am still really happy with.

All in all, its been quite a year, and I can't believe how quickly its gone by. I am really looking forward to this coming year, especially the upcoming holidays! I hope that I've been able to share some of my personality, my sense of humor, and given you an idea of who I am. Its been really great getting to know a lot of my fellow bloggers and developing relationships and doing exchanges and giveaways with them.

So thank all of you for visiting, reading, and commenting. I really love hearing from everyone, and I hope that I give back to you what you all give to me!

Have a great day everyone! And I hope you'll stick with me for another year!!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Its Yum Yum

Vegan Yum Yum, that is. If you don't have Lauren Ulm's new book, you are missing out! Not only do the recipes all sound delicious, the full color photography is beautiful. Don't lie, you love when your cookbooks show awesome pictures of the food. I do.

Admittedly, life has been busy lately. While I have a lot of free time in the morning now, I pretty much come home and go to bed, which = no dinner. Don't worry, I'm eating, just not anything at all fancy.

But the Golden Chickpea and Artichoke Salad from Vegan Yum Yum was so quick and easy to throw together that it was able to make an appearance!

Browning the chickpeas gave them a warm golden color, and the artichokes gave a distinct flavor that was of course delicious. I really thought that the toasted ground nuts made it pretty, distinct, and yummy all at the same time. We actually threw this together with some whole wheat pasta to make a pasta salad.

Now on Sundays, I bake. Forgive me for taking a few days to get this up (I so badly wanted to talk about my Vegan Brunch that it had to wait!), but I made some of Veggie Girl's Peanut Butter Banana Bread.

Sans bananas on top...I had already used 3 of Nick's bananas (he eats about 10 a week).

This is yummy, although I found that mine was very crumbly. It also took way longer to bake than hers did. I don't know if I didn't add enough milk (vague recipes and me don't go together well when it comes to baking), but it was delicious just the same. Especially heated up the next day with some Earth Balance and a glass of soymilk...which coincidentally is what I just had for breakfast!

*Sidenote: Does anyone else have a cat who LOVES Earth Balance? Zoe will try to lick some of it up whenever I have it on something.*

So while the new job doesn't exactly provide a ton of time for cooking, there is still plenty of opportunity to squeeze in some good food. Today I am hoping to try a curry in my slow cooker. How do you balance food, work, and blogging about food? If I wasn't blogging, I wouldn't have an issue, I'd just have Trader Joe's soy nuggets for dinner every night. But no one wants to hear about that. Its good though, this keeps me on my toes and out of vegan convenience food mode, but its hard to make it all fit.

Other than finding that balance, everything is good, and the new job is going very well so far! There are lots of cute puppies that I get to play with every day. I hope everyone is having a great week, Happy Wednesday!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Vegan Brunch: Philly

Most things are fairly easy to replace in a vegan form. Now that Vegan Brunch has taken the world by storm, its even easy to replicate a lot of your favorite breakfast dishes, like the formerly elusive omelet. However, one of our favorite pastimes has always been going out for breakfast. With most diner offerings no longer being options, and our not wanting to pay $8 for a bowl of oatmeal, what is a vegan couple to do?

Well, after a quick search for vegan breakfast venues in Philadelphia, we just ate at home. Kind of a no-brainer. But then, when I was least expecting it, a place serving vegan brunch came onto my radar. Excuse me? I thought I had thoroughly researched this?!? A quick Google search told me that I was horrifyingly wrong, and hence, we had to go. ASAP.

Enter Mi Lah Vegetarian Restaurant, which is vegan, and on Saturdays and Sundays they serve up a fantastic vegan brunch.

We started out with a cup of coffee, with a sweet little plate of seasonal fruit. I love that its apple season, by the way. The decor in this place is perfectly sweet and modern, I really loved it.

It was very hard to make a decision because so many things looked so good. Okay, everything looked so good. The menu on their website it outdated, it used to be a Prix Fixe, but now they have a larger variety of entrees, and also encourage making yourself a meal out of their side dishes. (If you're curious about the price, now that it is not prix fixe, it was actually cheaper for us.)

I settled on the dish I had heard raves about, the omelet. Not really an omelet fan in my pre-vegan days, this was completely perfect.

My three fillings were red pepper, vegan sausage, and cheddar cheese. I was hesitant about the cheese, because as I've said here and again, I hate almost all vegan cheese (yes, even Teese, yes, even Daiya), but this was good. Altogether the omelet was amazing, crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and plenty of filling. On the side were some red bliss and sweet potato home fries. All incredibly yummy.

Nick had the Yard Beer battered seitan with Belgian waffles. They ended up being chocolate waffles! He seemed fairly pleased with his, although he said he wanted an omelet next time.

As I mentioned, they have a wide variety of sides, not least of which is French Toast. Nick had to try the French Toast, so we split it, and...it was divine. On good crusty bread, it was wonderfully sweet with just a splash of their organic maple syrup.

All in all, I can't wait to go back. I'm not kidding, I wanted to go back for dinner (we didn't). There are quite a few vegan restaurants in Philly, and many of them are Chinese. New Harmony and Singapore are two we've tried and are both very good. But sometimes you want brunch, and sometimes, you don't want Chinese food! So I'm happy that when this place is done with their delicious vegan brunch, they break out a very local, seasonal, menu. Think: brussels sprout and butternut squash gratin. Granted, they have this at Horizons, but this is less expensive.

The moral of this story is, be sure to go here. Don't even think twice, if you're in the Philly area, or within driving distance, you must go. Oh, and you don't even have to get up that early because, in true brunch fashion, they serve until 3. You will be happy, I promise!

Monday, October 19, 2009

New Week, New Job, New Food!

There are a few things I haven't really mentioned on here. First, I quit my job. Second, I got a new one. I know a lot of you were with me for my student teaching earlier this year, and I was really stressed out. I started a job with a very large school district here, and it just wasn't working for me. I think I cried every day except Fridays and Saturdays. So I quit.

Today I am starting a new job at a vet's office. I am really looking forward to it. The best part is that I don't have to do hours of planning at home, so I had plenty of time to get everything ready for this week regarding food. Of course, food is the first thing that pops into my mind when I have any kind of free time.

Sundays now, are spent planning meals, food shopping and cooking. All through the week when I find something I want to make, I put it on the "Dinner Ideas" list, and then add the ingredients to the list. By Sunday, I maybe have one meal to add, and we are ready to go. After hitting Trader Joe's (we are addicted to their granola, aka crack in a box) and Wegmans, I headed back for a nice afternoon of cooking my little heart out.

First up is a batch of seitan, same as I made last week. I had dinner plans, but I really wanted to bake something. I poured through my many cookbooks and ended up on the computer going through Sweet Freedom. I love this cookbook, but I've only made a few things because many of the recipes include things that I should have on hand...but don't. Like agave. I ran out a few months ago and didn't buy it again. There is a lot of agave. Anyway, I settled on a delicious Raisin Tea Bread. Named not because it is to be eaten with tea (which was what I thought), but because there is actually tea as part of the liquid in it. Sweetened lightly with maple syrup and made with whole grain spelt, this baked up beautifully, with a nice crunch to the exterior, but a light and moist interior.

I used Chai Tea, which was intensified by the warm spices added to the bread.

After that, we watched a movie and I have to say that our recent movie rentals have been dismal. One of them we didn't even finish, and the other two...if I had my way, we wouldn't have. Nick said, that's what you get when you get your movies from a vending machine (Redbox), but I really think we just chose poorly.

Dinner was Breakfast. Or the other way around. I wanted to try Bianca's Breakfast Casserole, and I knew I would never actually get around to making it for breakfast. Her recipe calls for the use of any cheesy sauce recipe, and I doubled this recipe, from Fat Free Vegan's Eggplant Parmesan, which was one of the first posts I made on here, actually.

It came out delicious; yummy pieces of soaked bread, chunks of scrambled tofu, and bites of smoky sausage. I used Yves breakfast sausage, and I added garlic and onion to the scramble. Next time I think I will add some greenery to it, maybe mix in some peppers, or spinach.

Of course, it was only natural to follow this up with something else breakfast-y, the Tea Bread! With some vegan cream cheese slathered on, this was the perfect end to my day of food.

How do you go about planning your meals for the week? Do you just play it by ear with what's in the fridge? Go shopping every other day? Plan everything in advance and hope it all works out?

Hope everyone has a fantastic week! I hope to see you back here fairly often since, as my job doesn't start until 11, I will have plenty of blogging time!

Friday, October 16, 2009

First Squash of the Season

The leaves are changing colors, there is a definite chill in the air and Halloween is just around the corner. But in my house, something is missing. For some reason, it just wasn't fall yet.

Well that reason was the squash. I was so excited when I first saw squash at our grocery store, and they are my favorites, so I picked them up right away. And they sat on the counter for over a week (you may have seen them lurking in some photos this week).

One of the reasons I love acorn squash, is that they are the perfect size for becoming a single-serve bowl.

I liked how my lovely friend at kubiclekitchen used them as a bowl for chili, and I decided that I would be a copycat. So after I cut them in half and roasted them, that is precisely what I stuffed my warm, orange, edible bowls with.

Three Bean Chili in the better edible bowl

This only used one half of my squashies though. Nick wasn't home, so he didn't have one, and he didn't take one to work along with the rest of the leftovers.

I don't know what the weather is like by you, but it is ugly here: rainy, foggy, cold. And I finally had that little light in my head go off that said "Time for Soup".

Not only was it the perfect time for soup, but it was the perfect time to use up the leftover squash, and a pantry items that I rarely use: red lentils.
Except, although I rarely use lentils, I ended up not having enough (go figure), so split peas went into the pot as well, along with some leftover roasted squash.

Roasted Squash and Lentil Soup
1 cup TOTAL red lentils and split peas
1/2 cup brown rice
6 cups broth (I used half low-sodium)
2 onions
3 carrots
3 cloves garlic
1 roasted acorn squash
1 tsp red pepper flakes
2 tsp dry rubbed sage
1/2 tsp ground sage
1/2 cup cooked beluga lentils (optional)
diced avocado (optional)
Serves 4-6

The onion, garlic, and carrots were sliced and diced, then sauteed until soft with the red pepper and sage. The squash, removed from its skin, was roughly chopped and thrown into the pot.

The broth was added and brought to a boil, and then the rice, lentils, and peas were added. This all cooked together for about 40 minutes, when the lentils were mush, and the rice was tender. The cooked beluga lentils were stirred in during the last two minutes and were just added something pretty, they are not necessary.

This could be pureed...except the rice kind of gets in the way. To puree, cook the rice separately, then add when everything else has been cooked and pureed. I happen to like my soup chunky.

Add some diced avocado for some cooling creamy bites, and this made a perfectly wonderful rainy day soup. Just a little spice, just a little sweet, and perfectly warm and hearty for a chilly day.
So there we have it, the first squash of the season, and now I have finally entered fall. I am much more in the fall mood now, and these warm meals have been perfect for this rainy weather. Is anyone else super antsy for the holidays this year?? I can't wait.

We have some indoor fun planned this weekend at the Philly Wine and Food Festival, which should be fun! I hope you all have something fun planned! And if not...eat some soup!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Choosing a New Gym + A Slippery Mat Tip

I mentioned yesterday that we joined a new gym, and I got a request to talk about it. Well, since we went out for dinner with my dad last night, I don't have any food to share (although you are more than willing to continue the wrap vs. bed debate!), I thought I would share our gym search experience and what I think is important in finding a gym.

1. Where do you live?
Okay, this one is obvious. If its too far from home you won't want to drive there. But, when we first moved here, we just went to the gym across the street...a chain which will remain nameless. So keep in mind that closeness doesn't always equal bestness (yes, I made up this word). We were members for about 3 months and only went a handful of times.

2. What do you do at the gym?
Do they have a wide variety of cardio machines that you like to use? Are they set up in a way where you feel comfortable? In our current gym there is a women's only area which is nice for ladies who may be a little self-conscious (I guess self-conscious males just need to get a straw and suck it up), or just want a more relaxed atmosphere.

Is there a variety of equipment in a variety of weights? Don't join a gym that has what you need right now, but not enough for you to grow into. And make sure they have what you want. Do you like free weights or pre-loaded machines? Hammer strength your thing? If there is a specific piece of equipment, make sure its there. For example, my husband and I will under no circumstances join a gym without a squat rack. That's just crazy talk.


If classes are your thing (anyone miss leotards???), make sure the ones you want don't cost extra and make sure they fit with your schedule. Do the classes get extremely crowded? Do you need to be there at a certain time to sign up? Are the instructors and classes current? Lots of gyms are incorporating functional strength and Zumba classes now. Those classes may not be important to you, but the fact that they exist might show that the other classes you DO care about are more current also.

3. No frills vs. Bells and whistles
The "no frills" gyms are becoming more and more popular: Planet Fitness, Retro Fitness, etc. If you are the kind of person who goes to the gym with solely for cardio or lifting and are happy with your iPod to entertain you and like a minimalist atmosphere, this may be the place for you.
Or, you may be the type of person who likes your own TV on each piece of cardio equipment. Maybe having towel service is important to you. Perhaps you'd like child care and a spa in your gym. If it is going to get you to work out, it might just be worth it.
If you're thinking, well I would *like* my own TV (I do), but those places cost so much more, that brings me to point 4.

4. Price
Don't let the prices listed online deter you from a gym that seems ideal but way to expensive. Gyms are ALWAYS having special offers. For example, my husband and I left a gym where we were paying $40 a month. We went to visit a gym, even though I thought it was way too expensive (they told us $59-$120 a month), because it seemed so ideal. Turns out they were having a special where you paid $59 a month...for two people. We also got a month free because we transferred from a competing gym, as well a free massage. How can you say no to a free massage? Also, be sure to ask about student rates or military discounts!

4. Facilities
Do you need a pool? A sauna? Maybe you like to play some 3 on 3 when you get off of work. If so, you probably want a gym with at least a half-court. Are you going to use the locker room? Is there a pro shop or a smoothie bar? How qualified is the personal training staff? Would you like to see a nutritionist? Is there physical therapy on site? What do you need? This is your money, don't let yourself be persuaded by a gym to pay more for a bunch of cool stuff that you won't use.

5. Music
I only add this because of my husband. He hated the music at our old gym so much that he commented about it every single time we were in the gym...and it kind of made him angry. Our first day in the new gym we were lifting to Manchester Orchestra, and he was immediately immensely happier.

6. The "Feel"
Lastly, the most important, and the most objective, how does it feel? Is it a family environment or a meat market? Does the membership representative you talk to sound like he's trying to screw you over? I know it sounds obvious, but someone who sounds like they're trying to sweet talk you probably has something to hide. Look for a gym that sells itself, with a membership representative who seems proud of what they're doing, and doesn't feel the need to justify the price to you. It should feel right.
Check the layout. Our last gym had a wide variety of weight lifting equipment, but it was a horrible layout. Everything was way too cramped, even when it wasn't crowded.
And of course, the advice that is always given, make sure you visit at the time you will be going. Also, make sure you are looking at the area you will be working out in. If you are going to the gym at 7PM, and there is no one on the cardio machines, but the weight room is packed, and you're going there you lift, you might want to think about that.

Our Gym: I am so happy with the gym we ended up with. As I have mentioned before, the things I mainly go to the gym for are weight lifting and yoga. I know yoga studios are great, but they are expensive, even if you don't also have a gym membership. So it is advantageous to me, to be able to go to yoga at a gym. Its just cheaper. Well, this gym has a great weight area. It has two squat racks, plus more cables than I've ever seen. There is a TV on every cardio machine, which I do enjoy (we don't have cable, so I like watching TV when I work out).
But the best part, in my opinion, is the classes. The schedule is huge, and that's because they have three studios, one of which is specifically a yoga and mat pilates studio. The classes are consistent, they don't get overly crowded, and they have a wide variety of levels and types.
This place does have all the bells and whistles, the masseuse, the pro shop, the smoothie bar, child care, all things we will probably never use. But considering that it is actually cheaper than our old gym, it is nice to have them there, plus it has a very family oriented feel. The membership rep was incredibly nice, no nonsense, the place sold itself...and he told us that.
He also gave us a handful of guest passes. That's a good sign. Of course they want you to bring people, they want to get new members, from their currently loved members. I was never a fan of only being allowed so many guests.

One thing I have found is that I tend to like gyms that have a focus. For example, my gym at my parents' house had a focus in gymnastics. This gym is actually a huge tennis facility. No, we'll probably never use it for tennis, but the largess of such buildings leads to more room for other fitness facility, especially upstairs levels, since they require large ceilings. Plus, there are a lot of family-oriented people going there for lessons, bringing kids for lessons etc. If you hate seeing kids in your gym, maybe that's not a good idea (maybe a more minimalist gym is better for you), but they're not in the work out area. It just tends to attract a more responsible crowd and I find that common space ends up being more respected.

One fast yoga tip:

So you can do more than child's pose

Have a slippery yoga mat? This is typical of new mats. Try washing it in your washing machine with a few tsp of vinegar and let it hang dry.
That helps, but the best thing is to use it. Okay, that can be hard when it is slippery; kind of a double edged sword. Try leaving it on the floor of your kitchen to stand on while you cook. It'll help the wear-in process, just by walking all over it!

So there you have it. I love my gym. Anyone have any other tips for choosing a gym? I would love to add any suggestions to the list!