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!