Friday, December 18, 2009

Sweet Surrender

I noted in an earlier post that my "near vegan" claim goes out the window around the holidays, while my status as a vegetarian stays intact. I guess I just don't have the willpower. This week has been a perfect example of my lack of restraint.

My office receives quite a few goodies from vendors with which we work during the year. Sometimes we get a nice fruit basket (but honestly, I have so much fruit at home in danger of crossing over to the dark side that I've been eating stuff at work that I brought from home). We get a lot of Hickory Farms meat and cheese boxes, too. I can resist those, no sweat. But when there are two ginormous barrels of cheesecorn and caramel corn in our kitchenette, I can hear the sirens' song calling to me. I cannot resist the cheesecorn in the least.

Plus, for the second year, my company has had an in-house bake sale to raise money for the United Way. I baked some banana walnut muffins that I got from an old church cookbook of mine, but veganized it with Earth Balance margarine and flaxseed/water egg substitute. I'm afraid they didn't sell very well, although I told no one they were vegan. (My office knows I'm vegetarian, but since I'm so unsuccessful in my vegan efforts, I haven't made mention of it.) So I brought home quite a few unsold muffins to keep in the freezer and thaw one at a time for breakfast.

Of course, my healthy offering didn't stand a chance when up against pecan pie, homemade cookies, Chex mix, ranch-flavored oyster crackers, cheesecake...I could go on. For $5, I bought a bag of Chex mix, slice of raspberry cheesecake, homemade turtles (circle pretzels with a pecan half pressed into a melted Rollo candy), and some sugar cookies for the kids. The cheesecake - devine! The turtles - faboo! The Chex mix - addictive! To make matters worse, I was asked to man the table for the afternoon and found myself with a dollar burning a hole in my pocket. Hello, pecan pie slice - goodbye, good intentions. (Gosh, I sometimes wish my co-workers - or their wives in some instances - weren't such good cooks.) I didn't even eat dinner last night, I was so full.

Then today, one of my co-workers handed out homemade peanut butter balls. Enough, already! Chocolate with peanut butter is my kryptonite! Luckily, I only got five of them. I ate three before lunch, then the last two in the afternoon. Followed by an unsold slice of leftover cheesecake. ("I can't believe I ate the whole thing.") Light dinner tonight - half of a leftover baked acorn squash with a little Earth Balance, and about a cupsworth of cold rotini noodles dressed with homemade balsamic vinaigrette.

Oh, well. To quote Scarlett O'Hara, "tomorrow is another day."

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Amaranth Casserole

I had some amaranth in my cabinets but didn't know what to do with it. I bought it about six months ago and cooked it once, but I didn't know what to expect - it cooks up a bit like polenta. So, feeling creative, I thought I'd attempt a layered casserole. I based a lot of the recipe on one for lasagna that I found at the Fat Free Vegan website. My recipe is pretty tasty (I think the soy sausage makes it), but made a mess out of my kitchen because I had to use so many pots, pans and bowls.

Amaranth Casserole
Layer #1
3 cups water
1 cup amaranth
1 tbsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1 1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning

Bring water to a boil. Add all other Layer #1 ingredients. Cover; lower heat to medium low. Cook for 30 minutes. Stir thoroughly when done.

Layer #2
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 lb. fresh sliced mushrooms
4 soy breakfast sausage links, sliced thin
1 jar pasta sauce
1 can sliced black olives, drained

Cook oil, mushrooms and soy sausage in frying pan. When mushrooms are beginning to soften, add pasta sauce and olives. Warm through.

Layer #3
10 oz. pkg. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 lb. firm tofu, drained
2 tbsp. plain soymilk
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. dried basil
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

Mash all Layer #3 ingredients together.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a casserole dish with non-stick spray and layer ingredients as follows: 1/3 of Layer #1, 1/2 of Layer #2, 1/2 of Layer #3. Repeat once again, then top with remaining 1/3 of Layer #1. Cover casserole dish with foil, bake for 15 minutes. Remove foil; bake an additional 15 minutes.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Winter Wonderland

Well, we've been hit by our first major winter storm here in the Midwest - and it's a lulu! School let out early yesterday and no school today because of 14 inches of snow. Yikes! It was so bad, my office closed today - and we never close! Basically, if you can make it to work, great; if not, stay home and stay safe. About half of us live in town (I live less than a mile from the office), the other half much further out, so typically the townies are stuck working while the others burn a vacation/comp day.

Spent the day inside with the kids while my husband was outside with the snowblower. The kids and I did laundry, played video and board games, and got out the watercolor paints. I also baked the Garlic Basil Muffins from the VegNews e-newsletter. A new recipe - they turned out really well. A nice, savory biscuit in muffin form.

No school tomorrow (very dangerous wind chills in the forecast), but I'm sure I'll be at the office while my husband is home with the kids. I hope they don't go stir-crazy!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Arch Nemesis

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, my family and I did a lot of traveling across the state. On Thanksgiving Day we went to the northern border and my husband's folks - then, we headed to the eastern end of the state to spend a few days with my dad - then, home again in the state center. When you travel with kids, you need to make a few stops for food and potty breaks, and more often than not, we find ourselves at McDonald's.

Why, oh why, does McDonald's - probably the largest fast food chain in the world - have no decent vegetarian menu options? Salad minus the chicken, apple dippers, and yogurt parfaits are pretty much all from which you can choose. And when you need to eat in the car, the salad ain't gonna work. On Friday, we went through a Mickey D's drive-thru. It wasn't my first choice because I was really hungry and knew I wouldn't be able to get much, but I didn't want to force my husband to drive aimlessly through an unfamiliar town looking for another option - we wanted to make good time.

After staring at the menu board, I ordered the fruit and walnut salad and small french fries (although I'm pretty sure the fries at McDonald's aren't vegetarian). When we pulled up to the first window to pay, the shift manager told me they were all out of fruit and walnut salads. Oh, great. Now what? I asked (and not as politely as I usually would) if they had any vegetarian options; he suggested the fruit and yogurt parfait. Fine, great, I'll take it. I was really hoping that he would say they had veggie burgers stashed in the back, but just didn't have them displayed on the menu. No such luck. So I ate my parfait and fries.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Pie Anxiety

Around the Thanksgiving holiday, I'm a little less near-vegan than I try to be the rest of the year. I still avoid meat and don't drink milk or eat eggs or cheese on their own, but I let myself have cheese, eggs and milk in baked goods. So, for about 4-5 days, I'm purposely off the wagon.

Today, I attempted two pies. The first is a recipe I threw together on my own: Berry Cranberry Pie. However, I'm going to need to rethink this one. The flavor is wonderful (maybe a little too sweet), but the filling didn't set. I ended up breaking up all the crust and stirring it together with the filling and calling it a Berry Cranberry Cobbler instead. When I work out an official recipe to make it a cobber (and preferrably a vegan one), I'll post a recipe. In the meantime, I've posted a picture of my "pie" after I stirred it up (above).

My second pie is a recipe I've used before: Quick Quiche from the Food Network website. I mostly followed the recipe, but used 1 tbsp. cornstarch for the flour and I didn't add onions (my husband hates onions). I had a little trouble with this pie, too (see second picture, above).

For some reason, the pre-made crust (which has lard in it - I didn't realize that until I got the crusts home from the store - I used the other crust for the Berry Cranberry Pie - I'd already purchased them and I didn't want them to go to waste) broke all along the sides and the quiche rose like a souffle, along with the crust edge. Oh, well...I'm sure it will still taste great!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Orange You Glad for a Bad Pumpkin Pun?

Along with cranberries, I LOVE pumpkin this time of year. Yes - I know I can buy canned pumpkin year round (and I do), but when the temperature drops and leaves are crunching underfoot, my mind dwells on pumpkin. Especially pumpkin pie. I've never attempted a vegan pumpkin pie before, and I'm notoriously afraid of making my own pie crusts, so I trolled the internet for a no-bake pie. What I found was the Impossible Vegan Pumpkin Pie recipe at I substituted spelt flour for the rice flour, but otherwise followed the recipe.

I tried to blend the ingredients in my blender, but I don't think it's powerful enough. Next time, I'll try it with my stand mixer and the wisk attachment. Also, I used too small of a pie plate and it ran over quite a bit - as you can see. (Good thing I had the forethought to put a tin foil-lined pizza pan under it as it baked.) And it really didn't make it's own crust. It turned out more like a custard in the shape of a pie. is delicious! I will definitely try this recipe again, but with a few modifications.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Life's the Berries

One of my favorite foods around Thanksgiving and Christmas is cranberries. When I was a kid, my mom would usually just crack open a can of jellied cranberry sauce. Not to pleasant to look at, but delicious. Just within the last few years, I've discovered the wonder and simplicity of making my own cranberry sauce from scratch. Now, I don't see why anyone would bother with canned cranberry sauces when making your own is so easy! This latest batch was a bit of an experiment - I decided to add a little vanilla extract - and wow! It's the best cranberry sauce I've ever made! Even my cranberry-fearing husband ventured to take a bite and really liked it - he compared it to rhubarb sauce. I think I'll make this recipe every time.

Cranberry Sauce
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup apple juice
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 bag fresh cranberries
1/2 cup dried, sweetened cranberries

Combine sugar, water, apple juice, cinnamon and vanilla in a saucepot and bring to a boil. Add the fresh and dried cranberries, reduce to a simmer and cook until all the berries pop. Cool and serve.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Mean Greens

For dinner last night, I had leftovers - sauteed spinach and mushrooms wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla and leftover roasted cauliflower and carrots. I love spinach, but it's probably the only green I eat and not really that often. Essentially, if its leafy-greens-in-a-bag (spinach, iceburg, romaine), I'll buy it every once in a while. Then it usually goes bad before I get it all eaten. I know that kale is a super-green I should be eating, but I don't like it. I've tried it twice (once steamed, once sauteed), and it was just too bitter for my tastes.

When I step back and try to evaluate my veggie intake, it centers on the red/orange spokes of the color wheel - pumpkin, squash (winter and summer varieties), tomatoes, red bell peppers. For green, I'll defrost some frozen broccoli or green beans. But no matter how good it is for me, leafy greens are few and far between on my plate.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Coffee Conundrum

(I just wanted to use "conundrum" in a post title!) I try to keep a small container of soy milk in the office fridge to use in my morning coffee. If for some reason I run out and forget to refill, I skip the coffee and drink green tea with lemon. Today was a day without soy milk...and I really, truly, desperately wanted a cup of coffee. In the kitchenette cupboard - some store-brand non-dairy creamer.

Now, I know that the "non-dairy" part is false advertising. Read the label - sodium caseinate - a milk derivative classified as non-dairy. Huh? Definitely not on the vegan list. But I used it anyway because I wanted coffee and I don't like drinking it black. Now, I feel guilty because I fell off the wagon so early in the day.

One of my big issues with trying to eat vegan is that as soon as I make a conscious decision to eat dairy/eggs, I usually write off the entire day as a loss. I don't engorge myself with cheese omelets, but I make no effort to stop myself if a non-vegan food is presented to me. I didn't do that today (whew!)- I stopped at one cup of coffee - but I don't understand why I view the rest of the day as a "free pass."

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Pasta with Squash and Sun-Dried Tomato Sauce

Tonight's dinner: roasted cauliflower from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian (my personal favorite cookbook) with some baby carrots thrown in for good measure, and my own concoction I call Pasta with Squash and Sun-Dried Tomato Sauce. The sauce is very thick, but it really coats the pasta well. (For almost all recipes I will post on this blog, measurements are not exact and mostly to taste. I don't measure when I cook - I just dump things together that sound interesting and sometimes I end up with something great.) I make this pasta recipe all the time - it makes for great leftovers.

Pasta with Squash and Sun-Dried Tomato Sauce
1/2 box whole wheat penne pasta
1 pkg. frozen butternut squash puree
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil
1 tbsp. jarred minced garlic
2 tsp. maple syrup
2 tsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. Italian seasoning
black pepper to taste

Cook pasta according to package. While pasta cooks, in a small electric chopper pulse together the sun-dried tomatoes (with a little of their oil) and garlic. In a microwave-proof bowl, thaw the squash in the microwave. When the squash is thawed, microwave another minute or two until hot. Then stir in the sun-dried tomato mixture, maple syrup, lemon juice, Italian seasoning and pepper. When the pasta is done, drain and add to the squash mixture. Toss well to coat.

I've switched up this recipe quite a bit, depending on what's in the fridge. I've stirred in drained capers for some extra saltiness. I've also added some jarred fire-roasted red bell peppers into the chopper along with the tomatoes and garlic.

(I had a very good vegan day...until about 7:30 tonight. I made the kids some microwave popcorn and just couldn't resist it. You know, it didn't even taste that great, but something about the salt of it made me keep eating. I ate most of the bag. Now I feel sick...)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Breakfast of Champions

Here's the breakfast I eat almost every day: 12-Grain Muffins and Silk soy yogurt with a good tablespoon of flaxseed meal mixed in. Yummy!! Sometimes the muffin flavor changes (I just finished my last banana muffin), but the muffin/soy yogurt combo stays the same. My husband doesn't understand how I can eat the same thing for breakfast every day, but I just love the flavor. The kids help me bake the muffins about every other Sunday, then I freeze the batch and thaw them one at a time as needed.

I downloaded the muffin recipe from the web, but for the life of me, I can't remember where. Too bad...I'd like to give credit where it's due, especially because I've been making this recipe every two weeks for just over a year! I'll do a little more research and post a link to the recipe if I find it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Why Veg?

There are so many reasons why people go veg, but I bet I've got one of the strangest you've ever heard...I first went veg for the challenge of it. A little bet with myself - how long could I go without eating beef/chicken/pork/fish before going crazy? Turns out...quite a long time, thank you very much.

In all honesty, I don't miss meat at all. I didn't even have cravings at the beginning of my challenge. Sure, I love the smells of meat cooking - especially grilled hamburgers and bacon prepared every which way - but I don't want to eat it. Before I went veg, I noticed that I wasn't eating much meat anyway. Maybe a few times a week, and mostly for Sunday dinner and the one night a week eating out with my husband and kids.

I'd been playing with the idea of going veg for quite some time before I did it. My biggest concern was how my husband would take it...he's your typical "meat and potatoes" guy. Turns out, he has been super supportive of my efforts, mostly because he's the greatest guy in the world, but also because I'm not pushing him to go veg with me. If he wants to join me, he knows he is more than welcome...but that's his decision to make.

As for the kids...they are meat-eaters. Sure, I push fruit and vegetables at them whenever I have the chance (like all moms), but they eat what is considered a "normal" diet. Maybe when they're old enough to make their own lifestyle decision, they'll jump on the veg bus.

Since I went veg, I've experienced some of the usual (and delightful) side effects - weight loss, lower cholesterol, better blood sugar. And, while my first challenge was to eliminate meat, my ongoing challenge is to find delicious and easy recipes to meet my nutritional needs. I love that kind of challenge!

A New Adventure

Well, I never thought I'd start a blog - especially one about what I eat from day to day - but I realized that I was spending so much time on other vegetarian/vegan blogs that I wanted to have a blog of my own.

One of the main incentives to start my blog was that so many of the sites I visit are written by people seriously committed to the veg lifestyle. Me...I'm vegetarian for all but maybe 3 meals a year (mostly because I ate something I didn't realize had bacon in it). And as for being's a goal. When I cook for myself, it's vegan all the way and I love it! But I have a husband and two young kids who are not veg, and sometimes that cheese pizza they're eating looks and smells too good to resist. I'm not perfect, but maybe a blog like this will hold me a little more accountable for my eating. We'll see...

( the interest of full disclosure...just before I created this page, I had the very cheesy eggplant sandwich at Cheesecake Factory. Eating out and trying to be vegan is even harder...)