Monday, January 30, 2012

Food Fast

It's Day 14, aka I'm half way there on my Engine 2 28-day challenge! Did you know that the average American only spends 27 minutes a day cooking and have about 10 meals in our typical "things we make" rotation? Tonight, Whole Foods Market St. Paul hosted the 3rd meet up for our Engine 2 challenge with the focus on how to make healthy, nutrient dense meals on the fly. My favorite tip was to saute your onion, carrots and celery in advance and refrigerate or freeze for later use.

Speaking of not spending a lot of time cooking and eating on the fly, I grabbed dinner at Whole Foods before the meet up. I'll admit I was nervous about trying "mock tuna" wrap with olives and red pepper tapanade and fresh veggies. The "mock tuna" is really nuts (you can use chickpeas too), kelp granules and spices. It was super tasty, I'm going to get it again and maybe experiment with making my own.

Another thing I'm loving from Whole Foods right now is the sesame ginger dressing which is oil free, but super tasty! Part of the fun of this challenge is getting outside my standard rotation of meals and experimenting with some new things. So far, I've learned that I like puffed millet cereal, love vegan home-made pizzas and lasagnas and can chow down on raw cabbage or oven roasted kale and broccoli.

What new things are you finding you like?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Good Times

Last night, I had a few friends over and I was nervous. Eating an all plant-based diet has been very rewarding to me, but I recognize it can be outside of the norm for people (hey, I was there a few weeks ago with thinking I couldn't live my life without cheese.) I decided to make Engine 2 Sweet Potato Lasagna which might have been a stretch for my friends, but they knew what they were getting and are good sports, so they were in!  It was cool that they were supportive and brought a big bowl of grapes and blueberries for a dessert. To add a little flair to the dinner, I added some blood orange and lemon slices to a pitcher of water and squeezed half of each fruit in for flavor and color. A romaine, radish, carrot, tomato, avocado and green onion salad rounded out the meal with some Whole Foods oil-free tangerine vinagrette. My friends each has veggies they don't like (though I now am searing into my brain after 20 asks over the years, that one DOES like mushrooms.), but they liked the lasagna and meal. I enjoyed the conversation (and even the clean up wasn't so miserable (these veggies must be magical because I usually despise cleaning the kitchen or maybe it was because my fiance helped alot.))

Engine 2 Sweet Potato Lasagna is chock-full of vegetables (sweet potatoes, spinach, broccoli, carrots, mushrooms, onions and tomatoes), uses whole wheat lasagna noodles and tofu and has no added oil or salt. I substituted vegan parmesan for the ground cashews called for in the recipe, and added a teaspoon of Bragg's liquid amino acid (a salt substitute kind of like soy sauce) and a little cooking wine and water to deglaze the pan I used to make the vegetables.

P.S. I've started using My Fitness Pal's app for android to track what I eat and do for exercise each day. It's great for seeing how you are doing with nutrition and pretty easy to use and it's free. So far, what I've learned is on the Engine 2 challenge I eat whatever I want within challenge guidelines, but somehow still end up at or under the recommended calories to lose weight and hit most of my nutrients spot on (except iron, so more beans, spinach and raisins.) 

Friday, January 27, 2012

It's Not a Diet

Who would have thought 12 days in that I would be practically skipping around (and when alone actually skipping around) after giving up caffeine and sugary foods? Probably people who have already made this transition to healthy, plant-based eating.

image from
(I don't condone the missing apostrophes)

To be clear, this isn't a diet. Well not in the common definition of diet as a restriction of food to achieve some health aim. Hmmm, but it is a diet as in the food I consume (and I'm choosing to consume this food and not other food to achieve better health.) So maybe it is a diet?! Either way, it's working.

Changes I am noticing:
1. Lost 10 pounds (holla!)
2. Ankles less swollen (ew!)
3. Energy higher and consistent through the day.
4. Better mood (lucky you!)
5. No headaches or aching body parts

What I'm eating (today):


Super simple and healthy breakfast

1/4 c Uncle Sams Cereal
1/2-3/4 c Puffed millet
1/2 c soy or rice milk
1 piece of your favorite fruit


Rip's Sweet Potato Bowl leftovers

DINNER (last night)

Chili Burrito and salad
1 French Meadown sprouted grain tortilla
2 T vegan parmesan
1/3 c veggie chili (sans oil and salt)
topped with chopped onion, green bell pepper, serrano pepper, cherry tomatoes and cilantro

Salad of your choice (romaine, green bell peppers, onions, tomatoes and oil-free tangerine vinaigrette from Whole Foods.)


1 slice Ezekiel Bread
1 T peanut butter (no added salt or oil)
1 t agave nectar

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Lunch Recipe: Rip's Sweet Potato Bowl

How sweet it is ... to have tasty, healthy food to eat! After roughing it from a cooler for a few days for my work trip, I thought I would treat myself to one of the lunch recipes outlined in my Whole Foods-sponsored Engine 2 28-day challenge (they're starting another round of challenges in March, folks!). I'm on day 11 of the challenge, and going strong. Here's a little background on it:

Rip Esselstyn is the man behind the Engine 2 challenge and is a Healthy Eating Partner with Whole Foods. Whole Foods is working to position itself as America's Healthiest Grocery Store, and Engine 2 is one initiative they are doing to demonstrate that commitment. Rip is the son of Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn who did a 20 year study of patients with heart disease who switched to a plant-based diet (also the guy whose research convinced Bill Clinton to switch to a plant-based diet.) The results: all of the patients stopped the progression of their disease and 70% reversed it. Don't take my word for it. You can watch the documentary, Forks over Knives (available on netflix streaming), or read some of the research.

Whether you're ready to go to a plant-based diet or not, treat yourself to an Engine 2 Rip's Sweet Potato Bowl for lunch because it tastes good!

Rip's Sweet Potato Bowl

1 baked sweet potato
1/2 green or red bell pepper
1/2 mango
1/2 c black beans
lime juice

Rip's recipe also includes:
1/2 avocado
balsamic vinegar to taste

Bake the sweet potato the night before at 350 degrees for about an hour (depends on the size, but you want to be able to stick your fork through easily.) Since I bought an organic sweet potato I just chopped it up into cubes straight from the oven (conventional are treated with dye or wax and should be peeled.)

Rinse a can of black beans and add half a cup to your bowl of sweet potato. It's your choice if you add the bell pepper now (remember you may want to reheat the potatoes and beans for lunch if you're prepping this the night before.) Top with mango slices (fresh or frozen), cilantro and lime. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


I have had a pretty positive experience thus far on the Engine 2 challenge; however, tonight threw me a curveball. We started the challenge with a fully stocked fridge, so anything healthy was within reach. Through the week, our favorite foods were consumed, so today when thinking about dinner I was drawing a blank. My fiance had homemade broth on the stove, but wasn't home. I decided to wait and let him make wonders with our leftover groceries.

He ended up getting caught at work, and by the time he got home my stomach was growling. I practically ambushed him at the door demanding to be fed. He wasn't expecting that and made the best with the situation concocting a vegetable soup with beets, rutabagas, onions and mustard greens.

In the past, similiar soups have hit the spot, but tonight I was too far gone and wanted something more substantial. I found my attitude mimicking my stomach with a growl.

Twice this evening, I found myself teetering on the edge of failing my challenge. The lesson is clear: If you want to eat healthy, you have to have your house stocked with healthy foods you enjoy and you shouldn't wait until you have a burger (or insert your junk food craving here) -sized hole in your stomach to make those healthy options.

Don't worry. We picked up some groceries and I am excited to share tomorrow's lunch: sweet potato bowl.

Day 10: Splurging

I did it! I went on a 2.5 day work trip to Wisconsin and managed to stick to the Engine 2 28-day challenge, and it wasn't that hard. I won't say it was easy as I sometimes found myself at lunch time with my food not in reach, but I bought a banana or a lara bar at the coffee shop to tide me over until a break that allowed me to go to the car and get my hummus and veggie wrap. I will also admit I was hankering for a piping hot, substantial meal when I got home, so I made a hearty marinara and whole wheat pasta. My fiance whipped up his special walnut, nutritional yeast and garlic faux parmesan and life was good. Sorry no photo of the meal because I devoured it.

That's the thing that is working for me with this challenge. If I want to splurge, I can. I just need to make it a healthier version of the food. I've had pizza, spaghetti, chili dogs, sorbet on this challenge. But now my pizza is really a pita with veggies and tomato sauce baked in the oven instead of a greasy and salty cheese slice.

Some tips to making healthier pastas:

* Ax the oil and salt. Substitute in more spices (garlic, basil, oregano, black pepper) and a dash of balsamic vinegar to deepen the tomato sauce.
* Go nuts with veggies. Double up on the standards you like (onions, bell peppers, mushrooms), but don't be afraid to try kale, spinach, carrots. Carmelize your veggies in a pan (no oil) and use a little water or wine to get the tasty bits stuck to the pan.
* Treat yourself (sparingly) by adding in some rinsed black olives or artichokes.
* Whole wheat pasta. Check the bag to make sure the ingredient is whole wheat flour, not just wheat flour.
* Try some vegan parmesan (come on, you  know that Kraft parmesan powder has a bunch of non-cheese things in it and you like it.)

Vegan Parmesan Recipe
.25 part nutritional yeast (often available in bulk, by the spices or in the health section of the grocery store)
1 part unsalted walnuts (some people use toasted sesame seeds or almonds)
garlic powder and/or onion powder to taste

Monday, January 23, 2012

Day 8: The Slightest Shift

It's funny to think back to my 9-day vegan pledge last year where upon realizing it was 2 more days than I thought I went crazy. Not willing to "deny" myself any longer, I marched into Target and purchased as much vegan junk food as I could (Gardein chicken tenders, Daiya cheese, Silk Pumpkin flavored creamer, chocolate.) I'm almost to that marker in my 28-day Engine 2 challenge and I have the opposite feeling. Rather than being denied, I question why more people don't eat this way. 

I'm on the road for work and packed a cooler of food. Last night, I had dinner in my hotel room with a friend. Our dinners were pretty polar opposite. Hers was french fries and a meaty sandwich on a bun. Mine was Whole Foods Edamame Asian Salad with oil-free peanut and lime dressing. It took me twice as long to eat mine (there was a lot of vegetables in the box!)

This morning, I had time to reflect about the day ahead while eating Uncle Sam's cereal and rice milk. Lunch was a bit of a pain today because after an all day morning meeting my colleagues and I went to a Thai restaurant for lunch. I elected to pass on the lunch, though I'm sure I could have found something on the menu, because I was looking forward to my avocado, tomato, red pepper hummus, spinach, onion and green pepper sandwich on a whole wheat pita. 

I think the Engine 2 challenge is working for me because: 1) I have slowly been improving elements of my eating for a year and my fiance has been eating this way for 7 months; 2) I have seen my fiance's positive results and my own (this week I lost 8 pounds!); 3) you don't have to do portion controls or count calories, you just need to make sure you're eating a balanced, well-rounded mix of tasty foods that are plant based and don't add oil, salt or sugar.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Engine 2 Road Trip

I am traveling for work this week. I am fortunate it's a road trip, so I can easily pack an Engine 2 cooler of meals to avoid temptation while on the go. It does beg the question of how to manage this lifestyle when I can't bring a cooler or won't have access to a grocery store. I think the secret is planning ahead (the cooler is very full so if I'm hungry it's as easy to eat something from it as to stop at a gas station) and doing the best you can. If I couldn't pack a cooler, maybe pack some easy to carry items that would cut down on the amount of negotiating of local restaurants or stores I would have to do.  Trail mix is an easy, filling thing to pack on the go, but most nuts and even raisins are roasted/dried in oil in the mixes I was finding at the store. The solution: make my own (and request my grocery store start carrying an oil and salt-free trail mix blend. See the creation (and ingredient list) below.

My Engine 2 Cooler (covers 2 full days of meals):

1 box uncle sams cereal
1 carton rice milk
6 pack of kiwis
3 blood oranges
1 lb of red grapes
4 whole wheat, low sodium pitas
1 carton of roasted red pepper hummus
1 gallon bag of sliced veggies (green peppers, carrots, spinach, a whole tomato)
1 edamame asian slaw salad with no added oil peanut dressing (prepackaged from Whole Foods)
leftover whole wheat macaroni and "not cheese" 
travel size bottle of cholula
My own travel mix (roasted oil and salt free nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashews), dried fruit (apricots, raisins, cherries, mangoes and goji berries), and raw pumpkin seeds.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Stay Positive

Day 6 of the Engine 2 28-day challenge and it hasn't been that hard because I've got a great support system and am staying positive. Today, I was going to make the Engine 2 sweet potato lasagna, but time got the best of us and it was going to be tight to make that dish and check out a movie with a friend. I could have got upset that "this diet" was eating into time I could be spending with friends, or I could be flexible and adjust my dinner plans. The solution: Engine 2 pizza. It takes only 10 minutes to prep and 15 minutes to cook and it is very satisfying (and fun to design your pizza.)  It doesn't have to be either good health or fun.

Engine 2 Pizza (3-4 servings) (modified from Engine 2 Supreme Pizza)

4-6 whole wheat pita (low sodium, no oil)
1 can no salt added canned tomatoes (with basil)
1/2 T mexican oregano
1/2 T garlic powder
red chili flakes
1 can of black olives (rinsed)
1 can artichoke hearts (rinsed)
8oz mushrooms
1 green pepper
1/2 onion
8oz spinach

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. On stove top, heat up tomatoes with garlic, chili flakes and oregano. Dice or chop veggies. Sauce your pita (or tortilla) and pile on the veggies (feel free to experiment). Bake in the oven for 15 minutes.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Finding Time

Prior to doing this challenge, I didn't realize how much I let my schedule dictate what I ate. I grabbed foods on the go which were often high calorie/sugar/salt/caffeine. In the morning, I would sleep in so all I had time for was a quick stop at the coffee shop between buses to grab a latte and pastry. In the afternoon, I would caffeinate or sugar myself through a missed lunch or just a loss in energy (around 2:30pm usually.) Dinners and lunches often involved grabbing something off the coop deli or from a local restaurant.

I can't do those things with the challenge and adjusting has been something of a challenge itself. Last night, we checked out the Plantstrong Crookpot meals tasting at the Lake Calhoun Whole Foods which meant going there from work. The tasting demonstrated 4 recipes that were 8+ hours in the crockpot (perfect for putting on before you leave for work.) I learned a great tip with my favorite sample, Hearty Winter Stew, which was to use a box of potato leek soup as the base instead of broth to bring out more flavor and stew thickness. The samples and a California Quinoa Salad from the Whole Foods Deli didn't quite fill me up and I was hungry for dinner on the ride home, but didn't have time to cook something before I had to start a 12-hour fast for my physical in the morning. I grabbed a handful of carrots and an apple and called it a night.

Today, the challenge was passing up a work lunch and dinner in favor of eating Engine 2 foods. I think I would have faltered today had I not got the great news at the doctor that I've lost 25 pounds over the past year and my blood pressure has dropped 20 points to the normal range!  I was happy about that progress and it made packing a hummus sandwich with fixings, kiwis and carrots for my Board meeting lunch okay. Later in the day, it might still have been the good news from the doctor or maybe that the headaches have subsided, but I was able to stay focused and stop at home to make a stirfry of mushrooms, onions, green peppers and brown rice with a handful of almonds and an apple before heading to a dinner with colleagues. I didn't even tempt myself by looking at what I was passing up, but did enjoy some raisins and a peanut butter sandwich at home before calling it a night.

One other sweet treat of eating healthy? Smoothies made with frozen blueberries and pineapples and soy milk/yogurt so thick it's like eating good-for-you ice cream for breakfast!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Day 3: Headache and Hunger Subsiding?

You may have thought from my cheerful first two blogs on the Engine 2 challenge that the world was all roses and buttercups. Alas, it was not. I gave up coffee drinks and soda as part of the challenge too, and let's just say my body was putting up a bit of a fight on the road to healthier eating. Day 1 was fine (I think my body wasn't quite in on the plan yet), but Day 2 saw me like a head-throbbing, stomach growling zombie. I would have been scary, but because I was drowsy I mostly seemed slightly miserable. Turns out it's pretty normal to feel these things as your body adjusts and the feelings will subside.

Well, it's day 3 and I'm not sure if it was the piping hot decaf earl grey soy milk latte that tricked my body or the caffeine withdrawal is already over, but I'm feeling good. Now to heat up some leftover mac and not cheese (recipe here but so much better with pepper and cholula hot sauce) for lunch:

(In solidarity with the protests of  SOPA, the stop online piracy act.)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Day 2: Choices

Fitting that the morning of day 2 of my Engine 2 challenge would juxtapose Paula Deen and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson on the role of science and people's choices.  This morning while eating a bowl of Hearty Morning Fiber cereal with soymilk and a blueberry/banana/spinach "don't knock it till you try it" smoothie, I watched Paula Deen dodge questions about altering her diet upon news she has Type 2 Diabetes. She has pulled herself up by the bootstraps from poverty by cooking extremely unhealthy food on television, but now is facing a life-threatening illness impacted by the foods you eat. Those boots must still not be quite all the way on because she announced she will be a paid spokesperson for diabetes medication. Medication is extremely important for anyone with diabetes, but so are lifestyle changes.

Later in the morning, I sat in on a lecture by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson on the role of science, technology and policy in protecting public health and the environment. She said her favorite environmental laws were the "Right To Know" laws because once people knew the sources of their health risks (in this case she was talking about pollution) they could make informed decisions.

I fall in Lisa Jackson's camp. I know I am at a greater risk for diabetes and am making the lifestyle changes necessary to address that. Case in point, my lunch:

Ezekiel Whole Wheat Bread, Whole Foods red pepper hummus, spinach, green pepper, tomato sandwich and a pink lady apple.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Welcome to Day 1 of my 28-day Engine 2 challenge. My fiance kindly brought me breakfast in bed (I could get used to this!) which consisted of lemon cornmeal pancakes, maple syrup and kiwi...oh the challenge!

Now mind you, this is much healthier than my usual breakfast of a scone, muffin, or some other pastry and fancy chocolate, pumpkin or chai-flavored coffee drink (lately with soy milk.)

The pea soup for lunch was more what I expected when I signed up for the challenge.

I made dinner which consisted of a romaine and radish salad with Whole Foods' Health Starts Here oil-free tangerine vinaigrette and a vegan whole wheat macaroni and "cheese" with peas (very similar to an old standby from childhood tuna mac and cheese with peas.)

Add an apple, slice of whole wheat bread and a carrot stick and that sums up my 1st day on the challenge. Not suffering too much :)

Friday, January 13, 2012

Flyover these Vegetables, New York!

Oh, no they didn't! On the latest "Dining with Dara" on MPR, the topic was a New York Times writer's slight of the entire Midwest as being devoid of vegetarian options. How dare they! I had really hoped that 2012 was going to be the year that the "flyover states" attitude changed from our East Coast brethern. I mean, seriously, if you've been to Minneapolis-St. Paul or Chicago you know that's a crock (insert crockpot pun here.)

In fact, you can find tasty vegetarian (and possibly vegan) options at 582 locations all over Minnesota according to the Vegguide, a super handy tool for finding vegetarian and vegan friendly restaraunts anywhere.

And another thing! Dara took them to task by focusing on a couple of local foods restaurants with great vegetarian options proving we didn't need to outsource for our veggies in the winter. I am going to take that a step farther and introduce you to my little bright light in a relatively lackluster winter:

This is my week three haul of veggies from Rushford, MN-based Featherstone Farms' Winter Vegetables CSA share. So when I don't feel like going out to one of the 500+ vegetarian friendly establishments in Minnesota for nourishment, I can stay at home and cook up a piping hot, local veggie dish all my own.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

January: My Fave Meatless Soups

In honor of January being Soup Month, here's my top five completely meatless soups:

1. Vegetarian Chili
I posted the recipe and scrumptious photo of my veggie chili. I've always liked the hearty and flavorful taste of kidney beans and black beans with chilis, tomatoes and cumin. Meat is so not necessary for out of this world chili. By the way, you can test this theory yourself at Compassionate Action for Animals 3rd Annual Vegan Chili Cook Off on Feb. 25th.

2. Ngon Bistro's Vegetarian HTiếu
Think vegan pho with rice noodles, brussel sprouts, baby bok choy, turnips, carrots, cherry tomatoes, basil, lime, jalapenos and bean sprouts in a light but flavorful broth. This is an uplifting dose of warm, healthy goodness to fight the chills of winter months. You can add tofu or mock duck or just overdose on veggies. I like to add hoisin sauce though others will spike the broth with spicy sriricha for a kick.

3. Mushroom Barley
Oh how I love the slightly toasty and chewy taste of barley with the earthy, rich texture of portabello mushrooms. Add some carrots, onions, bay leaves, etc. and you're making magic.

4. Potato Kale
At first, this soup came seem a little simple, peasant-like. Potatoes. Kale. Broth. Maybe some carrots, celery and onions. But after several variations this year I have to admit my fiance's go-to soup is growing on me. None of the other soups on this list really need or want a hearty, buttered (earth balance) chunk of bread as a sidekick, but this soup welcomes it. Dunking a slice of rye bread with a slather of earth balance into a piping hot bowl of this stuff. Well, that's just good eats, my friends.

5. Squash Bisque
I feel so fancy while my blender whirs up roasted butternut squash (or decadent kabocha), thyme, veggie broth and a cashew cream I whipped up earlier. The velvety smooth and slightly luxiourious mouthfeel and taste of this bisque tastes too good to be as simple and cheap to make as it is. Thinking about drizzling the leftover cashew cream and garnishing with toasted squash seeds and I'm kicking myself for not taking a photo! Seriously, try it.

Honorable Mention: Split Pea
Growing up split pea soup was by far my favorite soup. I loved the salty ham and almost blended texture of peas especially with the crunch of saltine crackers. I've got to say that over the years my childhood favorite has slipped, but it still deserves a mention. Amy's Kitchen offers a low-sodium, low-fat vegan variety for a quick meal.

Admit it, you didn't even miss the meat. :)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Get Your Motor Runnin', Head out on the Highway

The key is in the ignition and Engine 2 is going to start on Monday. The question is: If you had less than 5 days to get all the processed, bad for you, but oh-so-tasty food you crave in before cutting yourself off, how would you do it? What would your dream "go for broke" last meal be? I'm talking we have to retire the canned tomatoes that aren't low sodium for the Engine 2 challenge. This is no joke.

Michelle's Pre-Engine 2 Bucket List:

1. Seward Cafe's Mariachi with tofu (and white cheddar)

2. As many pastries and other sugary desserts as I can handle washed down with soy milk mochas and coke zero:

While the impending lockdown on my food options is enough to send me off the deep end (I do not handle restrictions well), I'm fortunate this last weekend of freedom coincides with our somewhat new annual "scrabble chalet" getaway weekend. A little less than a dozen of us have a tradition over Martin Luther King weekend of renting a "scrabble chalet" cabin and imbibing and enjoying mostly vegan sundries next to the fireplace with a little sledding and scrabble thrown in for good measure. In other words, enough booze and distractions to get me to my Engine 2 Challenge start day.

Last year's view of the scrabble chalet from Big Sandy Lake

Monday, January 9, 2012

Start Your Engine

I've never been one to diet. Maybe because my mom's favorite books were the latest fad diets or because I have the willpower of a gnat. So, imagine my surprise when I find myself enrolling in the Engine 2 28-day challenge at Whole Foods. I mean it's not a diet, but rather a lifestyle change, right?

Tonight was the orientation. Here's my honest reaction:
  • The 28 Day Meal Planner has some really tasty sounding meals; like lemon cornmeal pancakes, chili dogs and sweet potato lasagna.
  • It's really cool that Whole Foods is working with Engine 2 author Rip Esselstyn on reworking some of their products to be lower in salt and oil and higher in nutrients.
  • Keeping the mg of sodium = to the total calories in a serving is going to be hard (and yes, I did think about just greatly increasing the calorie intake to allow for more salt.)
  • Thankfully my fiance has been eating like this already so it isn't a total diet change (no way I could quit most oils, processed foods and sugars and salt at the same time as leaving meat and dairy for the first time.) 
  • This is going to be hard (yeah, I was the woman in the front row sipping on a cane sugar laden Dr. Pepper knock off during the orientation.)
Wish me luck!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Junk Food Comes in All Forms

I'm always shocked, but not really surprised, when I see the calorie count on American Chinese dishes like Sesame Chicken coming in well above 1000 calories. I mean, please, it's 2 cups of deep fried battered chicken drenched in a half cup of sauce with a couple barely green broccoli floating around for good measure how could it not be a ridiculous amount of calories and fat, but still well over half the daily recommendation?

Still, sometimes I really crave it. Prior to this weekend, I thought my only vegan option was to treat myself to the vegan sesame "chicken" at Marco Polo Global Restaurant in Salem, OR when visiting family which would definitely keep in check the amount I binged on this high calorie treat. However, enter Bravo Cafe and Bakery a very short bike ride from my house and home to a full vegetarian menu of all those unhealthy American Chinese dishes you crave: sesame chicken, spare ribs, orange beef, the list goes on and on.

I ordered the vegan sesame "chicken" and they were out of brown rice, so white rice filled in and helped make my dish even less nutritious. The breading on the "chicken" is crunchy and significant and the sauce reminiscent of the typical hole in the wall American Chinese restaurant. This isn't a foodie's paradise, but if you're vegan and looking for something somewhat unhealthy, but satisfying that junk food craving... this may well do it.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Wandering through a French Meadow Menu

Oh, spoiled thee! Tonight, I had a meatless dinner at French Meadow in Minneapolis. This fine establishment is so nice as to label the menu with vegan and gluten free (nice to not have to dig and ask a lot of questions...oh, and to have options!)

I had organic butternut squash gnocchi with wild mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, zucchini, garlic and organic arugula. Um, yeah.. meat don't have nothing on butternut squash and wild mushrooms. The gnocchi didn't quite reach cloud status and the dish overall was a little saltier and more oily than I would prefer, but still a good dish.

For dessert, they offer three vegan options. Once I saw decadent turtle cake with its layers of moist chocolate cake, toasted pecans and housemade caramel, I was sold. If you're not feeling as decadent, you can opt for a fruit crisp or berry tart. Note: although it is listed under the vegan menu the house-made whipped cream that comes with the fruit crisp is not vegan.

Overall, I enjoyed my experience at French Meadow and will return for a vegan date night soon.

Meat Eater Holidays

With the holidays approaching, I knew there was no way I would be able to pass up the holiday meals with all the fixings that are such a major part of my family's celebration (not to mention, the even better day after sandwiches.) Well, I did (at Thanksgiving.) I mean I actually didn't have to because there are a lot of ways to make those beloved dishes vegan. Stuffing just needs veggie broth and margarine (check the stuffing mix ingredient list). Mashed potatoes will fool folks with earth balance spread, tofutti sour cream or some veggie broth. Now, the turkey you might think there's no getting around. Well, actually I passed up the meat because I had a tasty alternative that didn't leave me thinking I was missing out.

Tofurky offers a celebration roast dinner that contains a tofurky with wild rice stuffing, gravy and a chocolate cake. You marinade the tofurky like you would brine a turkey and then roast it in the oven (with some lovely potatoes, carrots, celery, garlic, etc.) It's even good the next day on a sandwich with veganaise, pickles and onions. With the holidays behind us, many grocers are trying to move these holiday dinners out the store (aka SALE) so stock up and don't worry about waiting until a holiday to cook up a special dinner.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Happy 2012: Chili with all the frills

I'm not a vegan. At least not yet, but something resonates with a slogan I saw during my vacation to Portland, OR: "Herbivore: My body is not a graveyard."

My fiance slowly transitioned to an animal product free lifestyle (aka vegan) in 2011. He's the main cook in our household and makes some "killer" food whether something was killed or not. We celebrated the new year with his family who is inquisitive, but apprehensive of all the health benefits he's realized in the vegan transformation by preparing an all vegan spread. Perhaps they were just being polite, but everyone raved and no one lamented the absence of animals.

Vegan Chili (for a crowd)

6 cans diced tomatoes
3 cans dark red kidney beans
1 can black beans
4-5 canned chipotles (and a T or so of the sauce.)
2 anaheim peppers diced
2 poblano peppers diced
1 1/2 yellow onions diced
4 cloves of garlic diced
2 t oregano
2 T chili powder
1 T cumin
olive oil
pepper and salt to taste

Saute anaheim and poblano peppers, onions and garlic in a little olive oil until browned. Add chipotle sauce, oregano, chili powder and cumin while stirring. Add tomatoes, chipotles and beans and let simmer until broth turns maroon and thickens slightly. Taste frequently and spice to your liking.

The frills: vegan nacho cheese, vegan lemon-scented sour cream, guacamole and red onions were all homemade as well. Recipes to follow.