Saturday, March 31, 2012

Bean & Cheeze Casserole

Every once in awhile I take some time and register This is Vegan with different blog and website directories in and around the Internet. Just trying to get the word out, in case anyone is interested in what I have to say. This blog is a simple hobby of mine; a place to talk about what happens in my kitchen as I flip through my cookbooks each week. It does not generate any profit, nor does it have any specific focus other than, "Hey, I'm Mary, and this is my husband, Paul. We don't eat animals."

That genre seems to be categorically missing from blog directories. I'd even settle for an "I Heart Animals" option, but that is missing too. Instead, I often find This is Vegan filed under the "Diet" or "Health/Wellness" categories, neither of which are particularly appropriate. The Health and Wellness one is especially troublesome to me because there is often nothing healthy about what I post and I don't want people to think that there is.

Do I believe being vegan is healthy? Yes. Really and truly. Absolutely.

But am I vegan because it's healthy? No.

I'm vegan because I don't believe it is right to use animals for food or entertainment. So I don't use them. My veganism is simple because it rests on this one principle. As health fads and diets change, which they always do, my veganism holds strong, because it has nothing to do with me and everything to do with them - the animals. The fact that I am healthier than I have ever been in my life because of veganism is important, sure, but it has very little to do with why I am vegan.

So, while I'm interested in bettering myself by keeping up-to-date on the latest "what's healthy and what's not" in the world of vegan, I'm not particularly preoccupied by it. Because quite honestly, the information can be so overwhelming and discouraging and is so often framed in such a dramatic fashion that it calls to mind this hilarious Mean Girls moment. One day agave is a good alternative to sugar; the next day it's this highly processed supervillain that will destroy you from the inside out. And if you're caught talking about it, the Health Police will debate you and then they will use the word Cancer and then the conversation will be over. It's frustrating and demoralizing to be constantly bombarded with this kind of information on a daily basis. So for me, I like to learn and make changes as new information becomes available about the healthiest possible lifestyle. But I don't let it consume me or stop me from indulging cookies should the mood strike me.

Because I'm not following an animal-free diet for health reasons, the foods I eat and post about do not always qualify as healthy, although they sometimes do. I do try and maintain some sort of balance, in my life and on the blog. But while I try and eat healthy because that is important for everyone to do, I also like cupcakes made with real, honest-to-God (vegan friendly) sugar even though I know it's poison. I like red wine and Daiya-smothered everything. I'm not very fit. I'm actually not fit at all. I use up more energy hating and avoiding exercise than I do actually exercising. I drink coffee sometimes, even though it leeches important vitamins and minerals from my body, because somedays I need the jolt. I don't do hot yoga or spin or P90x. I don't "look" like a vegan. Or what I assume people expect a vegan to look like. Sometimes I'm a size six and sometimes I'm a size eight. A size two or a size four is probably what society wants and I could probably do it. But I don't have to and right now I choose not to. I'm healthy now; I've got the papers to prove it. The size two would be about something else.

It's so interesting to me, how vegan has become synonymous with health/losing weight in the last couple of years. The press is great and I love that people are getting healthy via an animal-free diet. It really and truly will revolutionize your life, like it did mine. And I do believe that vegans should be healthy because everyone should be healthy, but especially because as vegans we are ambassadors for our cause and are so often the focus of great scrutiny from the mainstream. We don't want to give them any reasons to not be vegan. But I am concerned that the original focus of veganism, which is bringing about an end to animal exploitation, gets lost in the Health and Wellness shuffle. And I worry that some of the members of such an inherently progressive and inclusive movement that is based on the best of all intentions are starting to engage in some questionable behaviour in the name of health, most notably body shaming (this week I'm lookin' at you, PCRM).

But, I digress. That is a debate for another time. Mentioning it is just a way for me to express how uncomfortable I am being defaulted into a "Health and Wellness" category, since on the most basic level my food choices are not motivated by health and wellness at all. And I worry that people might stumble upon This is Vegan and think I am completely clueless as to what foods are healthy, or worse, that someone with serious health issues, someone that needs a little vegan in her/his life, is going to think the deep fried seitan schnitzel that I have posted is somehow nutritionally appropriate. Because it's not. If your veganism is solely motivated by health, that seitan schnitzel never okay. But it is an appropriate way for an ethical vegan to get her junk food on now and again.

How you do vegan is completely up to you. I have the utmost respect for sugar-free, oil-free, gluten-free and raw vegans and I love all of their creations because they are free of animal cruelty and make my belly happy, give me energy, and make sure I kill it at my annual physical. They have added years to my life and made my favourite jeans fit better. I am eternally grateful to them. But they have not motivated me to be vegan the same way that the animals have. And they have not completely ended my love affair with those other animal-free creations that I treat myself with now and again. Because of that I don't like the "Health and Wellness" category being attached to my blog. I don't know enough about the human body to be comfortable giving people health and wellness advice. It's above my pay grade (which is zero) and above my credentials (which are none). I just don't eat animals because I don't think it's okay to.

Basically, what I'm getting at, is if you're vegan for health or weight-loss reasons you might want to skip this post. I could have just opened with that and been on to the food portion of this entry already, but much like my fitness, my ability to be concise is something I need to work on.

The recipe for this casserole comes from How It All Vegan; you can find it on page 114. What you see is what you get. Potatoes, baked beans, cheddar Daiya. I was making especially bad food choices that day because I even used canned baked beans so God only knows how much sugar, preservatives and BPA we consumed that night.

It was delicious though. So very delicious, with it's "down home" diner feel. And no animals appear on the plate, so it fits into the criteria I've given my veganism.

I made a side of agave-mustard Brussels sprouts to go along with it, just to make sure there was at least one green thing on the menu.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Cucumber Hummus

Paul and I, very stupidly, ran the numbers on how much money we spend on hummus a year. The total was shocking. SHOCKING. Premade hummuses (hummi?) from the deli aisle can be quite expensive in all of their delicious glory. Plus, in the quantities that we consume it, the packages are not large enough and the contents are not healthy enough for the money they want for it.

The biggest anti-health culprit in premade hummus is oil. So much freaking oil that it's quite often listed as the second ingredient on the package, right after chickpeas. Even without the oil, hummus can be a bit of a calorie and fat villain because of the tahini, which has lots of great stuff in it (EFAs, B vitamins, calcium) that come at a caloric price. I personally don't shy away from tahini but I do believe that it renders oil redundent when making hummus, adding fat and calories for no good reason at all. Sadly, those mass producing hummus for the deli aisles of supermarkets seem to disagree with me. There are probably some oil-free varieties out there, but I have yet to find them.

I'm sure there are vegans out there that are not hummus enthusiasts, but I think they are the minority. Most of us are militant hummusians. We approach the spread at cocktail parties with an eager trepidation, following our tahini senses to what is quite often the only vegan item on the menu: veggies and pretzels sprinkled around a bowl of hummus. When we finally spot it we know that we will not be starving to death that night. Nor will we be making asses of ourselves after too many empty-stomach glasses of wine. Hummus is our safety net. It's the sneaky little vegan amidst an army of none.

Of course hummus is not always vegan, but it's more likely to be than the spinach dip or the ranch dip or pretty much anything else at said cocktail party with the exception of salsa. It's our rock. Bless those strong and unwavering chickpeas, because hummus remains our support system in a frightening, non-vegan world. And we are eternally grateful.

After calculating how much we spent on hummus last year (I won't tell you how much but it is on the scary side of $500.00) we have abruptly put a stop to it. Well, put a "slow" to it is probably more accurate. Pre-made hummus once in awhile, homemade hummus in my BlendTec all the time. So don't be surprised if you see a lot of hummus/dips/spreads suddenly popping up on this blog. A girl's gotta snack, after all.

The problem is that I've made some truly disgusting bowls hummus in the past. I just can't get it to taste like the premade ones (again, probably because I don't dump a bottle of olive oil into every batch.) I have had a problem making hummus the right consistency (i.e. creamy) because in the past I've used a food processor. Now that I've got a BlendTec, texture is never an issue.

There are a ton of things you can add to hummus to jazz it up, and this is my first time adding cucumber. It gives it such a cool taste...literally. Light and refreshing, this will be a great hummus for the sun soaked summer months that are (hopefully) on the horizon. The recipe comes from one of my favourite blogs, Fat Free Vegan and you can find it here.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Millet-Kale Polenta with Sun-dried Tomato Pesto & Grilled Asparagus

My very first companion animal was a budgie bird named Toby. I loved him so much. I kept a photo of him in my school pencil case; I drew hundreds of pictures of him with my favourite markers. In grade four I even fulfilled my public speaking credit with a speech on him and his budgie background. Sadly, an unknown birdie illness took him before his time. A gentle soul, he tolerated my nine-year-old self doing things like this to him:

There were two things that Toby loved more than anything in this world. The first was flying out of his cage so that he could splash around in his little yellow bird bath and the second was chomping away at the millet stick that hung in his cage.

Toby has been gone for seventeen years now, but he always comes to mind whenever I grab the jar of millet from the cupboard.

In North America, millet is typically best known as the main component of bird seed, which is probably why Toby loved it so much. Turns out he was onto something, because millet is delicious to humans too! Unlike many of the other "cereal grains," millet is completely gluten-free, so many of our gluten-free friends can enjoy the feast too (just make sure it is pure millet you are buying - sometimes it's contaminated with other stuff that is not gluten-free and also, something to keep in mind is that folks with very severe cases of celiac disease might still have trouble with it as they do with other grains that are technically gluten-free.) Not only does its lack of gluten make it more easily digestible for most of us than a lot of other grains, it is also one of the few grains thought to be alkalizing within the body (if you're interested in learning more about pH balance and the importance of alkaline foods, check out my review of Kris Carr's Crazy Sexy Diet!)

Millet has a sweet, nutty flavour. It cooks up very easily and quite quickly. Its texture is reminiscent of grits, or more traditional cornmeal-based polentas. We love it!

In this recipe from Vegan with a Vengeance, the millet is cooked up on the stove with some spinach. Of which I had none, so I used kale instead. When it's done cooking it's pressed into a rectancular dish and allowed to cool/set. After about an hour I was able to cut it into squares, which were then browned in a frying pan.

I had the backyard grill going because asparagus was also on the menu that night. I didn't think of it until it was too late, but I wonder if these millet squares would be strong enough to withstand the backyard grill without crumbling. Grilling up corn polenta is one of our favourite summertime activities and I'd love it if we could do the same with millet. I will have to try and let you know!

I had to play with the pesto recipe in Vegan with a Vengeance as well, since I didn't have quite enough sun dried tomatoes. I put in what I could and used roasted red pepper for the rest. It turned out really well! I especially love that the nut base is almonds and not pine nuts, which are so expensive that you might need to mortage your house in order to obtain the smallest of handfuls.

Such a lovely early spring meal. If you have access to Vegan with a Vengeance, I highly recommend that you try it.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Avocado & Sunflower Seed Spread

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

I had big plans for posting this spread on March 17th because it was supposed to be all green and festive. And then I put too much turmeric in and ruined it. Just the look though, not the flavour!

The recipe comes from How It All Vegan by Sarah Kramer, but unfortunately I don't have a digital copy to share. If you have the book give it a try, it's quite delicious. I think it's meant to be a spread for crackers and sandwiches but I ate it throughout the week as a dip, mostly with organic baby carrots and freshly sliced cucumber. Paul wasn't as keen on it as I was, but ended up eating his fair share of it once he mixed it with some salsa!

There. That one's a little more green.

Hope you all have a wonderful St. Patrick's Day. If you're wondering what beers are vegan before you head out to the pub, click here! As for me, I'm a bit maxed out on shenanigans. Last weekend we threw a little pre-St. Patrick's Day celebration by way of a Stag and Doe for our soon-to-be married friends!

The happy couple!

The bride and the maid of honour (which is me, which means it is technically the bride and the "matron" of honour but my only stipulation with regard to being said matron of honour was to not be referred to as such since it sounds so old!)

Paul and me

Best man and bridesmaid working hard at the most popular game of the night!

Just an FYI, temporary tattoos are not meant for the face. A week later and I still look like I've been punched. Repeatedly.

Dora even got in on the shenanigans before we headed to the hall! Being a cairn terrier cross she's quite thoroughly Scottish, but she was cool with being Irish for the day!

Have a wonderful St. Patty's Day (or is it St. Paddy's Day?!) do you celebrate?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Quick Round-Up

I took a quick inventory of my iPhoto library and realized that I have a ton of food photos I haven't posted about yet. I liked all the recipes and will make all the meals again, I just don't have all that much to say about them since so much time has passed since I initially made them. So here's a quick post in between work and dinner that features two of them!

The picture you see above is for Rainbow Rice and Beans from the VeganYumYum cookbook. You can also find it here, on the VeganYumYum blog. Along with all the recipe's recommendations, I also included a half bunch of steamed kale and it worked out deliciously!

This one here is Tex Mex Tempeh and Penne from Show Me Vegan. I haven't been a big fan of the pasta-tempeh combo in the past, but this dish made me a believer!

The one bummer was that when I went to chop the bell pepper that I had bought for this dish it had very clearly gone bad. Stupid winter and your sub-par produce! Loving the spring-like weather we've been having as of late, because it means proper produce is on the horizon. I look forward to getting the full effect of this dish once Ontario bell peppers are available.

Both of these meals are great weeknight dinners, coming together super quickly. They are both ideal Meatless Monday meals for those new to vegan food, since ingredients are so straightforward and fairly easy to come by. If tempeh isn't your thing or isn't readily accessible to you, sub in some black beans to keep the Tex Mex theme going without sacrificing the protein and calcium components of the meal. Yum!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Red Red Stew with Brown Rice and "Fried" Bananas

Lindsay Nixon's Everyday Happy Herbivore has been such a lifesaver in my hectic little life.

This is partly because I'm known for my (extremely rigid and unwavering) weekly meal plans and this book gives me a little bit of wiggle room, relying on pantry staples rather than exotic ingredients.

I'm such a staunch proponent of the weekly meal plan because it not only ensures that a wide variety of taste and nutrient requirements are met each week, it is also a great way to make and stick to a reasonable grocery budget in a time where grocery prices are rising quite quickly. The grocery store is a jungle of temptation and it will eat you alive if you don't approach it with a proper game plan.

My personal game plan is a list that is very carefully prepared with open cookbooks and open cupboards. Every Wednesday night I pick out seven dinners corresponding to the seven nights in a week (five "super quick-to-the-table" weeknight meals and a couple slightly more laborious weekend meals). Whatever ingredients I don't have on hand I write on the list, along with other weekly staples (bread, almond milk, fresh veggies, etc.) and items that I always have on hand but that might be running low that particular week (nuts, frozen fruit, spices/herbs, breakfast oats, etc.) and then I go to the store/market on Thursday mornings and stick to the list. I don't return to the store until the following Thursday morning, unless we've run out of an imperative staple or there's something I need to buy fresh on the day I'm planning to use it. Pretty simple and extremely effective in making sure I don't come home with nothing but hummus and a $300.00 receipt.

Since Everyday Happy Herbivore is built upon kitchen staples - things that a well-stocked vegan kitchen pretty much always has on hand - it can be used in an unplanned pinch. So when Wednesday hits and there's nothing left to snack on between meals, I can almost always use Everyday Happy Herbivore to piece something together using the aftermath of the previous week's groceries. EHH is also the provider of delicious sweets that are low (or completely void of) sugars and oils for quick mid-week desserts - this is probably our favourite use for the book.

The Red Red Stew (EHH, page 104) is the latest Everyday Happy Herbivore dinner recipe to be sampled in our house. Gluten-free, soy-free and inexpensive to make, this is a perfect mid-week recipe. I think the grand total for this super filling two person meal was $8.00. Take that, "veganism is too expensive" grumps!

One of my favourite vegan stereotypes is the one where all vegans eat is rice and beans. It's my favourite because I freaking love rice and beans and would be perfectly content even if that was all we ate. This stew features black eyed peas cooked up in tomatoes and spices, served with a side of brown rice and - wait for it - fried bananas!

Don't worry, they're not really fried. Not even a little bit. In fact no oil is used at all.

You will want to make sure you have a little bit of each of the three components on your spoon for every single bite.

The recipe for the Red Red Stew is made available with author permission on Google Books. You can find it here. You won't find the bananas though - they are an Everyday Happy Herbivore exclusive, so you'll have to buy the book! You can make the stew without them and it will still be delicious, but trust me, you want the bananas.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Kale & Cheeze Balls

I have a lot of embarrassing guilty pleasures. Boyband music. 80s sitcoms. All that is deep fried vegan (bonus points if it also has lots of sugar, like these deep fried Oreos from the L.A. restaurant, Doomies.).

This time of year is particularly ripe with another one of my guilty pleasures - award shows. Particularly the Red Carpet Specials that precede them. It's weird that I'm so into them because I am normally so frustrated with that which is ego-driven and frivolous. And I really and truly believe that art is not something that should be ranked, but should instead exist for the sole purpose of existing. So basically my addiction to award shows renders me a big ol' hypocrite because I tend to salivate in mere anticipation of Ryan Seacrest interviewing people wearing dresses that could feed entire villages.

Paul does not share in this strange award show enthusiasm of mine. So I bribe him to watch them with me. Via delicious vegan finger foods like the kale and cheeze balls you see pictured above!

Kale is steamed and then tossed together with breadcrumbs, Daiya, and a couple other flavourful additions.

The mixture is rolled into balls and tossed in the oven!

I used panko breadcrumbs in place of regular breadcrumbs and it gave them a nice crunchy bite. Gluten-free breadcrumbs would work great, too.

Super delicious as a party finger food. I warmed up some simple jarred tomato sauce that I had left over after making Snobby Joes earlier in the week and used it as a dip. These little balls of deliciousness would also be a great addition to spaghetti, in lieu of meatballs!

This recipe comes from CalciYum by David & Rachelle Bronfman. There is no digital copy, and sadly it looks like it's not even be in print anymore. I really hate that, because it's one of my favourite cookbooks and would love for more people to add it to their collections. I'm sure you could piece together a similarly delicious kale and cheese ball on your own, but if you find yourself with an opportunity to purchase CalciYum, I would highly recommend it.

Award season is almost over, but there are plenty of other things that I like to watch and Paul doesn't, so I'm always looking for new treats as a means of bribery. What are some of your favourite vegan appetizers and hors d'oeuvres?

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