Sunday, April 29, 2012

Adventure Out

Did you know that Cheng Heng's has been serving ridiculously delicious Cambodian food on University Avenue in St. Paul for 16 years? I didn't until recently. I first saw a friend's post on facebook raving about their latest visit. Hmm, what is this place I've never heard of? Can I trust his ravings? Well soon, it seemed everywhere I turned someone was raving about Cheng Heng's. Well then, it's time I check this place out for myself.

Tonight, my fiance and I went for dinner after doing a little recon on what might be vegan on the menu. Turns out quite a bit can be made vegan (score.) We got the stir-fried bean sprouts with fried tofu on a recommendation. As with all the food, we wondered how they could possibly pack so much flavor in a single dish. I ordered the Machu Ankgor soup mostly because I love to try the unknown and it had lotus stems (which I've never had) and the strange (to me) flavor combination of pineapple, tomato and mint. I got it with clear broth instead of chicken and fresh tofu. Holy nom! I've been complaining a fair amount lately about the overly heavy, earthy flavor of indian dishes, lentils and really anything with cumin and coriander. This is the opposite with a sour, sweet but full flavor. Oh...and.... they served whole young coconuts full of cool coconut water and semi sweet luscious coconut flesh. Yum!

Cheng Heng's is suffering under the brunt of the Central Corridor construction right now (like many of my favorite restaurants), but they have a parking lot with access off University Ave and amazing food you should try. With news that a Culver's is opening a few blocks from my house, I'm more determined than ever to encourage people to visit University Avenue's gems and cultivate more locally owned, unique and delicious restaurants on the Central Corridor. To that end, in no particular order, I promise you will like your meal at any of these places:

Must Eats on University:
1. Cheng Heng's - Cambodian. Kind of dive, but plenty of room and even more flavor!
2. Ngon Bistro - Vietnamese. Bistro/bar with an awesome patio, delicious food and sustainable ingredients.
3. Saigon Cafe - Vietnamese. Large space and larger bowls of tasty vietnamese soups (pho) and crusty bread bahn mi sandwiches.
4. Little Szechuan - Chinese. Named as one of the 50 best chinese restaurants in the country. Get the green beans and the szechuan spicy tofu!
5. Flamingo - East African. Offers a lunch buffet and a great veggie sampler. The women owners are friendly and never forget a face. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Say Cheese!

I have the Glass Nickel Pizza Company in Madison, WI to thank for destroying my last major non-vegan hold out: cheese. On Monday, I took the megabus to Milwaukee for work meetings and rode back to Madison with colleagues. By the time I got to my hotel in Madison, I was famished and looking forward to dinner. I ordered the Mediterranean Lasagna featuring noodles, spinach, mushrooms, tomato sauce, pesto, mozzarella and feta cheese. When the lasagna arrived, it quickly became obvious I was about to have a cheese overdose. The serving size was enormous, but even more so, the ratio of cheese was easily 4:1 over all other ingredients in the dish combined. I don't think I found a single mushroom or spinach leaf. I even had a hard time discerning the noodles from the cheese.

photo: Keik's & Fud

One thing that I've come to notice now that I don't eat cheese as often is how hard it is to chew melted cheese. It's kind of like gum in that it doesn't really breakdown; rather, your teeth and tongue sort of pack it into something swallowable. It's also really, really greasy (or if that grease remains locked in the cheese, creamy) and salty. I think that's what we crave about it. I will tell you that you will no longer crave it if you get the Glass Nickel's lasagna. Now it haunts me. I was hungry because I'd been traveling and running to meetings all day without eating, so I valantly tried to eat the lasagna. Digging through what must have been at least a pound of melted cheese to find the morsels of noodles or veggies, I realized just how unappetizing cheese can be. Thankfully, the lasagna came with a garden side salad.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

No Accident

It's not really an accident that I no longer eat meat. Rather, it's a demonstration of my values in practice. I have long known that eating animals has negative health, environmental and world hunger implications. And, it's not good for the animals either. Here's the facts:

For the Planet: 
  • Fresh Water: It takes 100 times more water for animal protein than the same amount of plant-based protein.
  • Energy: Animal-based protein takes 11 times the energy (fossil fuels like coal and oil) than creating plant-based protein.
  • Climate: On a global scale, livestock production creates more greenhouse gases than transportation.
For People:
For the Critters:
I'll admit it's not easy to walk away from foods you've been eating most of your life and the influence of advertising and lobbying by the meat, dairy, fast food industries is pervasive. I opened the newspaper this morning and a giant ad cut in the shape of a box of McDonald's fries fell out and my mouth started to water and my eyes fixated on the fries texture. A little more obvious (and comical) is the 2011 My Plate guide from the government (the new food pyramid) with its glass of dairy off to the side (well-played dairy industry). Don't worry, if you dig in on the website, you'll see non-dairy items like plant-based milks (soy, almond, etc.) meet the requirement just fine.

Although it's not easy, let's take the insight of Confucius: When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don't adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.” So, instead of giving up all meat and dairy today forever, maybe try a shorter-term plant-based challenge, like the 28-day Engine 2 challenge, or just reduce your consumption by adding Meatless Mondays or Mark Bittman's "Vegan before 6pm" strategy. 

When I first started last year, I struggled because I viewed the change as "going without" because I simply tried to substitute vegan alternatives to the things I already ate (fake meats, etc.). But with the Engine 2 challenge, I started to see it as "expanding my options" because there were lots of new recipes and tasty food and I was seeing great health results. I'm still not there though. The big hold out is cheese (damn you, dairy industry!), but I'm working on it. 

Happy Earth Day!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

You had me at Heartland

They say a picture is worth a 1000 words. Without further ado, my plant-based birthday dinner at Heartland restaurant tonight:

Amuse Bouche: Pickled mushroom and chard with a curried mustard sauce on a crouton

First Course: Fingerling potatoes, peas and frisee salad with romesco sauce

Second course: Russet potato gnocchi with spring vegetables

Dessert (not vegan, sorry): Ricotta tart in cannoli shell with poached pear, caramelized hazelnuts and creme anglaise.

If you want to see the vegan dessert (rasberry sorbet with burnt caramel and thyme glass), you're going to have to check out my fiance's blog "Food and Fire." He's also got a delicious recipe for tofu rancheros, so check him out :) 

In case you don't speak pictures, this meal was out of this world (delicious.)

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Whole-y Delicious!

My second 28-day Engine 2 challenge ended on Saturday. I have to say I wasn't nearly as fastidious as I was on the first challenge...maybe because I already knew I could do it. Perhaps as a result, this time around I didn't see nearly as good of results. I did, however, still see results. I lost another 5 pounds!

I am extremely grateful to Whole Foods Market for committing to be America's Healthiest Grocery Store and offering healthy food options and support, like the Engine 2 or (for those of you tried and true meat eaters) Health Starts Here challenges. Without their support and stores, I would have a much harder time eating healthy. When I go into other stores, I'm inundated by the foods in commercials that offer little to no nutritional value, but appeal to flavors (salt, fat, sugar) that trigger us to eat and appeals to feelings (families eat kraft mac and cheese, treat yourself with chocolate.) Don't get me wrong, Whole Foods sells high fat, salty sugary foods too. They're just less prominent (unless it's Super Bowl weekend.)

My gratitude leaped and bound this week when on a visit to our St. Paul Whole Foods I discovered several shelves of prepared Engine 2 approved, Health Starts Here meals to go! I'm a working profressional who likes to cook occasionally. Eating this way often requires significantly more prep and cooking time than how I ate before. Some of that's good and I've enjoyed sharing recipes and making new meals; however, sometimes I want something more grab and go that isn't a cold veggie and grain salad or a wrap. Well, Whole Foods has answered with several prepared options: black bean enchiladas, sweet potato lasagna, whole wheat tofu ricotta stuffed shells, quesadilla dinner, chinese takeout box and one of my favorites latin corn soup! They're about $8 each, but the enchiladas (only one I've tried so far) easily served 2.

Whole Foods has also upped its game in offering vegan, oil free options on their hot foods bar. During a recent visit I enjoyed a salsa verde enchilada with a side salad, some lime cilantro quinoa, and fresh pineapple for dessert for about $8 with a sparkling water.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Hop to it! Easter Brunch

We went a slightly different route for our holiday meal than the plant-based recipes I featured a couple days ago. Our family decided to do Easter Brunch and my mom had scoured the internet in search of healthy vegan options. The menu was hers with the exception of the grilled asparagus and strawberry rhubarb crisp. She was Captain of the SS Brunch and ran a tight ship. Near noon, the kitchen was frantic with final preparations. I think I may have been told to hop to it a few times. In the end, it was a success and good times with the family.

Baked wonton wrappers filled with fruit salad

A few years ago, my mom and I took a brunch cooking class at Cooks of Crocus Hill where we learned to make a lime dressing for fruit and serve it in fried wonton wrapper. To make it lighter, we baked the wrappers in muffin tins. 
Blueberry Lemon Muffins and Apple Cinnamon (made with whole wheat flour and no oil)
 I made some modest tweaks on the muffins to sub in whole wheat flour and homemade applesauce for the oil in the blueberry muffins and for some of the apple juice in the apple cinnamon muffins.  These recipes need some tweaking in my opinion. The apple cinnamon muffins had a slight baking powder taste.

Hummus and Grilled Veggie Tart
 To save time, my mom used a pilsbury classic pizza crust and roasted the veggies without oil.

Deviled Roma Tomatoes with curried chickpea filling
 Deviled eggs are a staple of holiday dinners with my family, so Nava Atlas's deviled tomatoes were a great alternative. They were very elegant looking and tasted great. On suggestion of a reviewer of the recipe, I doubled the spices, but several in my family thought there was too much curry, so follow the recipe :)
Add some roasted asparagus and you've got a tasty brunch!
There were a couple non-plant-based brunch offerings on the table, but as you can see from the photo of my plate I was definitely not going without. In fact, I was stuffed! But what would a holiday meal be without dessert? So, we also made strawberry rhubarb crisp (using fresh rhubarb from my mom's garden!)

Super tasty and would be great with a non-dairy ice cream because
the sauce is lick your plate good (just ask my Grandma)

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Honee, I shrunk the bees!

I'm a sucker for supporting Minnesota-made products, so imagine my delight when I met the creator of a "bee free" honey alternative made in Minnesota. My fiance and I checked out the Extraveganza at the Minnetonka Whole Foods last weekend and met the creator of "Honee", an apple-based honey alternative, and got to sample this stuff. It's good.

The creator made the recipe by accident when experimenting with an apple jelly recipe, but inspired by the decline of the bee population she turned that accident into an alternative to bee honey. Now, I grant you, this isn't really a "bee free" product since we wouldn't enjoy apples (or really most fruits) without their pollination help. But the point she makes is valid and most importantly the product is good.

Here's the honee on a slice of toast with peanut butter. I much prefer this to agave nectar which too me is way too sweet and lacks the tang of tasty honey. 

Iron Range Dispatch: Chick'n Scallopini Piccata

I'm up North to visit my family for the Easter holiday. I'd usually pack some groceries because there seems to be less vegan options at the grocery stores here. However, I got up at 6:30am itching to get on the road and thought I could make do with what I found. After all, I've been on a road trip for two days where most of my meals were hummus and pita or veggies. Imagine my surprise (and delight) when the Target in Virginia, MN carried Gardein products (and they were on sale!) Gardein contains oil, so they're not Engine 2 approved, but hey it's a holiday weekend.

Gardein Chick'n Scallopini Piccata

We made the Chick'n Scallopini Piccata recipe on Gardein's website which features lemon, capers, white wine, unchicken broth and earth balance margarine. My parents had some brown rice in the refrigerator so we sauteed carrots, onions and celery and made a quick pilaf seasoned with a little soy sauce. The Gardein Chicken Scallopini come pre-seasoned and take only 6 minutes to heat up. We found all the ingredients for this meal at the local Target and Natural Harvest Co-op. My mom wanted to know how they compare to chicken, so here's the stats:

That's right, people. When you compare equal serving sizes the vegan chick'n has MORE protein and less than half the fat than chicken. I was hungry and the scallopini piccata was so good I had 2 pieces (about 4.5 oz), but most days 1 piece with sides would totally be enough.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Plant-Based Easter Recipes

Technically, the Engine 2 28-day challenge I'm on ends on Saturday, but I got to looking around the interwebs and there is so many tasty plant-based options for Easter I'm thinking that's the route I'll go. For the holiday, I'll probably let a little oil into my diet to make the Gardein chick'n scallopini piccata recipe. Yum!

Take your pick of these tasty treats for your holiday!

Easter Potatoes
Main Event Entrees
Sumptuous Sides


My likely menu:

Scallopini Piccata (Grilled Veggie Hummus Tart is also a contender)
Creamy Avocado Potato Salad
Beet and Mango Salad
Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Salty Dog

A friend of mine commented this weekend that his family wants to eat more like the Engine 2 challenge; however, when they made the sweet potato bowl it tasted bland. The recipe has no salt or salt replacement in it, so if you're used to using salt the food might not "pop" like you want. According to the Mayo Clinic, you can retrain your taste buds to like food with less salt. It just takes time, and during that process you should push to reduce the salt, but not to the point that you don't enjoy the food. You won't stick with it if you don't like it.

Engine 2 approved salt substitutes:

  • Low sodium Tamari or soy sauce 
  • Rinsed olives
  • Bragg's Liquid Aminos - It's not lower sodium than low sodium tamari as some claim, they "trick" people by having a different serving size. 
  • Substitute fresh herbs, herb blends, citrus zest
For dinner tonight, I made a potato hash with onions, black olives, tofurky's tempeh bacon, spinach and garlic sauteed in a non-stick pan with some low sodium veggie broth to collect the browned goodness from the pan. Yummy!

And if you haven't seen this video "When 'fat free' really means 100% fat", you really should watch it.

Birthday Cake

Tomorrow is my birthday and I'm still on the Engine 2 28-day challenge, so what to do for a birthday cake? Luckily, Whole Foods Market offers special order multi-serving Health Starts Here desserts. I ordered the brownie with chocolate frosting and mixed berries. The brownie is made out of dates, walnuts and cocoa powder.

In the store the brownie doesn't come with the berries, but the whole party agreed the berries really enhanced the brownie by adding a brightness to contrast with the sweet, dense chocolate. So, if you buy an individual health starts here brownie pick up a pint of your favorite berries too :)