Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Chocolate Helped Me Lose Weight

If you've read my past posts, you know that I lost more than 30 pounds and 5 pants sizes last year by eating vegan and following WeightWatchers and a comprehensive exercise program that focused on strength training. During that whole time I was losing weight, and since I reached my goal and have been maintaining, I had a treat every single day: chocolate, a cookie, or other vegan treats. Because I keep my sweet tooth happy, I never feel deprived. Feeling deprived can make you miserable, and there's only so much of that most people can take before their unsatisfied cravings take over and lead to binging.

WeightWatchers supports this philosophy, which is why there's nothing you can't eat on the program. A few articles in Fitness Magazine also confirm this:
  • From the April 2011 issue: “If you bring a salad for lunch every day, it’s no wonder you’re likely to ditch it for pizza. Include indulgences a few times a week, but keep portions reasonable. Packing a few cookies to satisfy your need for something sweet is a better strategy than depriving yourself until you rebel and eat a huge sundae.”
  • From the January 2011 issue: “Indulge yourself—in moderation. Sure, you can try to substitute your way out of a craving, first by noshing on an apple, then a couple of graham crackers, followed by a fat-free pudding. By you’ll probably end up consuming more calories than if you had simply enjoyed a few squares of chocolate or whatever it is your really want.”

The key, of course, is to indulge in moderation. If it's literally impossible for someone to have a single cookie, this isn't a good strategy. But I think because I know I can have a treat every day, I'm satisfied with having just a little. Hooray for being a healthy weight and having my cake too!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Grilled Portobellos and Potatoes

Grilling season is finally here! Warm weather was slow to come to Pittsburgh, but it's finally here to stay. My husband and I grill out most summer days. It's quick, easy, tastes great, and we can each grill different things, which is perfect for an omnivore-vegan couple like us.

This weekend I tried the Grilled Portobellos recipe from Appetite for Reduction. I had them both as a burger on a bun and sliced up in a salad with miso-tahini dressing. Both were delicious. I've been also grilling my standard potato-onion-garlic medley, which is always perfect. Recipes follow.

Also, now that summer is nearly here, I'll be much more busy, so I'm putting my blog on summer hours and expect to post only once or twice a week. On nice days, I can't bear to be on a computer when I could be outside playing :-)

Grilled Portobellos

4 portobello caps, stems removed by twisting the stems

  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon liquid smoke
Place the portobellos gills up in a baking dish. Mix all the marinade ingredients together and spoon over the portobellos. Let marinate for at least half an hour, spooning the marinade back onto the mushrooms every 10 minutes or so. I grill mine so they're well done, for about 15 or 20 minutes, until they're very soft and juicy.

Miso-Tahini Dressing
This simple dressing from Veganomicon was fantastic with the sliced, grilled portobellos and salad greens. I've also had it with veggies too, like roasted cauliflower, and it's equally awesome.

To make it, mix together equal parts (depending on how much you want, for example, 1 tablespoon) of miso, tahini, and warm water. That's it!

Grilled Potato, Onion, and Garlic Packets
This is my go-to potato dish on the grill. Simple and delicious.
  • 1 yukon gold potato, cut into small dice-size pieces
  • 1 small onion, sliced into half-moons
  • as many garlic cloves as you want, cut into a few pieces or whole
Spray aluminum foil with cooking spray and add the ingredients. Spray everything again with cooking spray and toss to make sure everything's coated. I sprinkle mine with a little sea salt, but you can sprinkle with just about any seasoning. These packets take about a half-hour to grill.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream

Every so often there's a recipe or cooking technique that's changed my life. Learning to make my own hummus using chickpeas I cook from scratch is one. Baking my own whole-wheat bread is another. This ice cream is a third.

Every since I saw this post on The Chubby Vegan blog, I've been wanting to try this one-ingredient "ice cream" that's made with pureed frozen bananas. I expected it to taste like, well, pureed frozen bananas. I was blissfully surprised when I made it and realized it really tastes like creamy ice cream! Seriously!

The first version I made was chocolate peanut butter. Per the Chubby Vegan's instructions, I sliced my banana and froze the slices. Next I pureed them in a blender with 1 tablespoon of cocoa powder and 1 tablespoon of peanut butter. I think they would puree better in a food processor; my blender didn't like the frozen slices. So I added a tiny bit of soymilk to help it along. The result tasted incredibly like chocolate peanut butter ice cream! If I'd been given the bowl and hadn't made it, I'd swear it was really ice cream.

I've been whipping up this ice cream all weekend long. I tried a plain chocolate version with 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder and a little agave nectar. I also tried it plain with just the bananas. Every version I tried was great, and of course it's no-guilt and healthy. I know this is a recipe I'll come back to again and again this summer.

Low-Fat Chocolate Chip Cookies

What would a long weekend be without cookies? I've been craving chocolate chip and wanted a lighter cookie. The Happy Herbivore Cookbook's recipe promises that it's the best low-fat chocolate chip cookie you'll ever eat. I think that's right!

Applesauce replaces oil in this low-fat version, but I didn't miss the oil. These baked up big and fluffy and were very good. I made these at the start of the holiday weekend, and they've been a great treat all weekend long.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Week 20: Project Food Budget

Week 20 of Reluctant Vegetarian's Project: Food Budget

Goal: $75
Actual: $92.81

Argh. Over again. Again I have my reasons--I needed some additional things for a dinner party last weekend, and I was also trying to reach a certain amount to use a coupon and so bought things I didn't need this week. Really, I need to reign it in this upcoming week.

This week's budget went for ingredients for...
  • Grilled Portobello Burgers
  • Chipotle Lentil Burgers
  • A new kale side dish
  • Pizza hummus
  • Salads
Hoping for success next week.

Food Budget Details: http://emilylevenson.com/custom-made-blog/pfb-the-details

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Chili-Spiced Tortilla Chips

The June 2011 issue of Women's Health Magazine has some good, vegan, 100-calorie snack ideas. I tried their Chili-Spiced Tortilla Chips tonight (8 chips for 100 calories), paired with some Happy Herbivore cheese sauce (a recipe from the new cookbook that's not out yet--it's my favorite vegan cheese sauce!)

They were flavorful, but because I used flour instead of corn tortillas, they weren't as crispy as I'd have liked. Next time I know! The recipe is below, and more 100-calorie snack ideas are here.

Chili-Spiced Tortilla Chips
  1. Cut 10 corn tortillas into chip size.
  2. Spray with canola oil and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon chili powder, 1/2 teaspoon cumin, and 1/3 teaspoon sea salt.
  3. Bake at 350 until crispy, about 10 minutes (I used the convection oven).

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Indian-Themed Dinner Party

This past weekend I had friends over for dinner and made a dish I've been dying to make since I first made it last fall: Isa Chandra's Cashew Vegetable Korma. Decadently rich and creamy and bursting with authentic Indian-food flavor, this is probably my all-time favorite Indian dish.

Unfortunately, it's also crazy time-intensive to make, so I wanted to wait until I had dinner guests to make it worth my while. The process begins by soaking cashews (I soaked mine overnight) and then pureeing them with vegetable broth to make a cashew cream. Then you cut up and boil potatoes, carrots, and cauliflower.Next you make a curry by sauteeing onion, garlic, and ginger in a bunch of Indian spices. You add coconut milk, the cashew cream, and vegetable broth to it to create the rich, creamy sauce. You saute red onion, and then add the caramelized onion, boiled veggies, and some frozen peas, and combine. I served it over brown basmati rice. AMAZING! The recipe is online here. It took me about three hours total to make, and due to poor planning, I didn't have time to make my appetizer, which was going to be this Indian-spiced Black-Eyed Pea Dip I made before and liked. Instead, I had to serve frozen (gasp!) lentil samosas I'd bought at an Indian grocery. Ugh. Still, they were pretty good.My friend Maya brought onion-stuffed roti that was delicious and just perfect with the korma. Here's how she made it: "It was basically 4 c. ww flour and 1 2/3 c. water mixed in the cuisinart or by hand until a ball forms (will be slightly sticky) you may have to add a little water or flour to get the right consistency. Then let rest for about 1 hour. Divide into 16 balls and roll into 6 inch rounds. I layered the rounds with the onions in between and rerolled to stick." She also brought apple chutney she made from apples from her backyard she preserved last year. It was great!

Dessert was--what else?!--cupcakes, as always from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. I made Cookies & Cream.....mmmmm! These were one of my favorite from the book.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Week 19: Project Food Budget

Week 19 of Reluctant Vegetarian's Project: Food Budget

Goal: $75
Actual: $95.93

I know why I've been over: I haven't been planning meals as diligently as I used to. I fell out of the habit when I was busy with house renovations and never got back into it. I'm determined to do better next week.

This past week's budget went to lots of fruit and veggies as always plus these dishes:
The budget also went for ingredients for another dinner party this weekend where I'll be making
  • Black-Eyed Pea Dip
  • Cashew Vegetable Korma
  • Cookies & Cream Cupcakes
Also...a big oops. After I was excited that I was under last week, I found a receipt I hadn't added in for $48. That brings last week's total up to $107.39, so I was over budget last week too. Boo!

Food Budget Details: http://emilylevenson.com/custom-made-blog/pfb-the-details

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Help! I Found a Baby Deer!

Monday night I had a newborn fawn in my kitchen and no idea what to do. This post is off-topic, but I wanted to post it in case anyone ever finds themselves in a similar situation.

My husband and I went on a walk up to the Troy Hill neighborhood. When we walked down the very steep hill back to our house, we found police by a newborn fawn. Kids had seen it at the bottom of the very tall Troy Hill hillside and brought it to their sidewalk so it wouldn't get hit by a car. It had apparently fallen from the top of the hill where the mother must have very recently given birth--it was all wet and couldn't walk. It had some scratches on it but otherwise looked unhurt. Animal Control came and said they had orders to take it to a local shelter, who would euthanize it because they don't accept fawns. Of course I couldn't let that happen...so that's how I ended up with it in my house.

I put it in a box because it was trying to move around and covered it with blankets to keep it warm--it had been shivering in the cool night because it was still wet. The poor thing immediately tried to suckle on the blankets (yes, my heart was breaking).

I immediately went online to try to find out what to do. The Animal Rescue League Wildlife Center was closed for the night, as was every other organization I could think to call. I'd planned to take it to the Wildlife Center in the morning but wasn't sure how to keep it alive through the night. I couldn't find the numbers of any deer rehabilitators. I did find an FAQ on the Wildlife Center's website that said either to leave it where you found it or put it back close to where you think it was. However, the top of the hill that the fawn fell from was a street with only woods on the curbside, and I didn't want to put it back because I was afraid it would fall down the hill again.

I called the 24-hour emergency Northview Animal Hospital. The woman who answered did have the number of some deer rehabilitators she could give me but urged me to go back to the top of the hill to see if there's any safe place to put the fawn. "If it was just born, the mom is frantically looking for it," she said. "We always tell people the best thing you can do in these situations is to put it back. The mom will find it if you put it back." So while she was looking up the contact info, we drove up to the top of the hill with the fawn to see if there was any safe place we could put it.

As soon as I got out of the car, I heard an animal in the woods. My husband heard it too. It had to have been the mother calling for her baby! I found a little nook where I thought the fawn would be safe, close to where I head the mom's call. When I put the fawn down, it immediately began crying for its mom. Great! But then, when I walked back to my car, I realized that anyone walking past could hear it too, and that it was visible from the road. We were right near a kid's community center, and I didn't want the chance of kids finding it. So I walked through the woods to try to find a safer place that people couldn't find. I found what I thought was a good spot...and then looked very conspicuous carrying something wrapped in a blanket into the woods! (The fawn tried to suckle my neck when I carried it, and this too broke my heart.)

I wrapped the fawn in the blanket so it wouldn't move around too much and so it would be warm, wished it luck, and left it by itself in the woods. I can't even explain how hard that was to do. It broke my heart to leave it there. The woman at Northview Animal Hospital called me back with contact information, and I told her I'd found a safe place and put it back. She told me that really was the best thing to do. "I know it's hard for us to understand, but it belongs in the woods, and its mother will find it. You did the right thing," she consoled me.

Did I? All night I worried about it. Did the mom find it, or was it alone in the cold or, worse, had it fallen down the hill and got run over? Should I have kept it and taken it to a rehabilitator in the morning? In the morning, I called the Wildlife Center (which, by the way, doesn't accept fawns but has contact information for deer rehabiliators) and they too assured me I did the right thing. When I asked them if I should go back and see if it was still there, they said no. "Moms will leave newborns in one spot until they can walk, so it will still be where you left it," she said. "And if you go back, you may interrupt the mom and the baby, so just leave them alone."

So I have no idea what happened, but everyone I talked to told me that the mom would find it, so I'd like to believe that's what happened.

So if you find a baby deer...
  • Leave it alone! To keep their babies safe, moms will leave fawns for long periods alone so that they don't attract predators. The mom finds a spot and tells the baby to stay put. She knows it's there and will come back for it, so leave it there!
  • If the fawn is in an unsafe place, put it back as close to where you think it came from as possible in a safe spot that people won't be able to find. The mom will find it! Moms won't reject their babies if they have human scent on it, so don't worry about that.
  • If there is absolutely no place safe to put it back, keep it in a calm, dark place that's as free from noise and people as possible. Do not try to to feed it! Many types of food, including cow milk and bread, can make a fawn very sick. Call a deer rehabilitator as soon as possible for next steps.
What people wanted to know...
Most people I've told this story to asked me two questions:
  • How big was the fawn? It's head and snout combined were about the size of my hand. It's long, spindly legs were about the length of my arm. Its body was the size of a very small dog.
  • When did the mom and baby sound like when they were crying? Similar to a sheep's bleating, but not as much as a "baaa." More of a single bleat.
Image is from http://www.coerealty.com/blog/?p=306. I was in such a panic, I never took a picture of the fawn!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Giveaway Winner Is...

The winner of the The Happy Herbivore Cookbook from the giveaway I posted last week is...Katie at Nourishing Flourishing! Thanks to everyone who entered and congratulations to Katie! I've been checking out Katie's blog and it's great--good posts, great recipes, and lots of wonderful pictures. I hope to see some pictures of Happy Herbivore recipes soon! (And Katie, I can't wait for you to try the queso sauce!)

Thanks to Jennifer at BenBella Books, Inc. for giving me the opportunity to offer this giveaway of one of my favorite cookbooks!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Secretly Vegan Dinner Party

This past Friday I had an old friend and her new husband and baby over for dinner. We hadn't seen each other in years, and as we were making plans to get together, I guess I didn't mention I was vegan. Everything I made was a big hit, and they gave it all lots of compliments. It wasn't until we were eating cupcakes for dessert when my friend said, "I know this has to have a lot of butter in it" that I told her it was vegan, and that I was vegan. "You mean everything we ate tonight was vegan?!" her husband asked, surprised. When I said it was, they said they couldn't believe how good everything was. It's so much fun to tell people the delicious food they just ate was vegan!

My menu came from Veganomicon, with cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World.

Asparagus and Spinach Dip
This is the first time I made this dip. It starts by sauteing asparagus in olive oil and garlic then mixing in chopped spinach. You puree that with raw cashews and capers. It has a bright, fresh taste, and the capers give it a little zest. It was good that night, but I took the leftovers (it makes three cups) to a party Saturday night, and after 24 hours it was so much better (everyone loved it on Saturday).
Veggie Salad with Mediterranean Olive Oil and Lemon Vinaigrette
Everyone loved this salad dressing. Olive oil and fresh lemon juice are combined with lots of minced garlic, oregano, thyme, and basil. Over a salad of fresh, soft red leaf lettuce with cucumber, tomatoes, and red onion, it was awesome.Spinach Linguine with Basil-Cilantro Pesto and Artichokes
I made this once before and loved it just as much this time. It is soooooo good. Definitely one of my favorite Veganomicon recipes. The combination of spinach linguine with sauteed red onions, a flavorful, fragrant, unique pesto, and salty artichoke hearts makes this a huge winner. And it takes like 15 minutes to put together. You can't go wrong with this dish. Everyone loved it. (I forgot to take a picture until half-way through...)Vanilla Cupcakes with Chocolate Mousse Frosting
This is the first time the vanilla cupcakes weren't fabulous! I think it's because I halved the recipe, and I had to do a little guesswork on trying to halve 3/4 teaspoon of something. The cupcakes were just okay--not as moist as usual. But the chocolate mousse frosting was rich and decadent and made up for the sub-par cupcakes.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Week 18: Project Food Budget

Goal: $75
Actual: $59.39

This past week I continued to make quick meals that use only a few ingredients including
Note that these are all Happy Herbivore recipes. If you haven't entered my giveaway for the book, enter it here!

The budget also went to ingredients for a dinner I'm hosting for friends this weekend, where I'll be making
I think it's great that I was able to make so many meals plus buy stuff for dinner with friends AND be under budget. This was a good week!

How did everyone else do?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Chickpea, Kale, Brown Rice & Sage Gravy Bowl

Appetite for Reduction gave a template for bowl meals, and I've been making them ever since. Bowls are my go-to meal when I want something quick and nutritious that includes a veggie, whole grain, and protein.

Tonight's bowl had chickpeas, steamed kale, brown basmati rice, and sage gravy, a recipe I tested for the new Happy Herbivore cookbook. So delicious and easy! And leftovers will make a great lunch tomorrow.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Giveaway: The Happy Herbivore Cookbook

I'm so excited to offer a great giveaway: The Happy Herbivore Cookbook! I bought this book at the beginning of the year and have made countless recipes. And if you've been following this blog you probably know that I enthusiastically tested recipes for Lindsay's next cookbook. I'm so grateful to Lindsay for inviting me because I fell in love with so many great new recipes and continue to make them. Lindsay's recipes...
  • Are quick and easy to make. While I was doing home renovations and had no time for cooking, I made HH recipes, which generally take anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes, and they're super easy.
  • Use basic ingredients you'll likely have on hand. Only rarely do I need to shop for ingredients for HH recipes. The craziest thing you'll encounter is nutritional yeast.
  • Are budget friendly. Because I usually have most of the ingredients, I saved a lot of money when making HH recipes.
  • Use wholesome, natural ingredients. Lindsay doesn't use white flour, refined sugar, or oil. HH recipes are based on whole, natural foods.
  • Are fat-free or low-fat. Lindsay's recipes convinced me that fat-free doesn't mean flavor free. If you're watching your weight or just want to balance your meals with some lighter food, HH recipes are perfect.
  • Are delicious! Seriously. I won't compromise taste to save a few calories. They're fantastic!
Many HH recipes are my all-time favorites, and I make them every week. If I've convinced you to try these recipes, entering the giveaway is easy! Just visit the Happy Herbivore website and choose either your favorite recipe or one you'd like to try if you haven't tried any yet. Then post a comment below listing the recipe name. That's it! I'll write down everyone's names, put them in a bowl, and have someone besides me pull the winning name. I'll keep the contest open for a week and name the winner in another blog post next Monday, May 16. But be sure to have your email associated with your comment so I can get in touch with you (like, don't name yourself "Anonymous" without an email or website).

Good luck...and when you get this book, you have to try the Queso Sauce! It may be one of my all-time favorite recipes ever.

PS: Check out my interview with author Lindsay Nixon here!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Protein and Strength Training

Every vegan and vegetarian has been asked how we get enough protein in our diets. The short answer is: It's easy. But for me, protein is especially important because I'm building muscle.

I've just completed the fourth week of the routine my personal trainer created for me. (If you've read my previous posts here and here, you'll know that last year I lost 30+ pounds and wanted help from a personal trainer to learn how to maintain it.) In this first phase, I'm using weight machines instead of the free weights I've been using. My schedule is something like this with 160 minutes of strength training, 130 minutes of cardio, one yoga class a week, plus short, daily walks.
  • Sunday: Upper body and core; 40 minutes cardio
  • Monday: Lower body and core
  • Tuesday: 30 minutes cardio
  • Wednesday: Rest or active rest with yoga
  • Thursday: Upper body and core
  • Friday: Lower body and core
  • Saturday: Spinning class (60 minutes)
After four weeks, I've really noticed a difference. My upper body and core had definition from all my strength training last year, but I've noticed even more definition. And now I'm seeing a lot of definition in my lower body. I'd never done calf exercises before, and now my calves have a lot of definition. My quads have gotten more definition, and my legs in general are leaner and more firm. Even my butt, whose shapelessness runs in my family, now has shape (on a recent trip to visit my family, I said, "Look Mom--I have a butt!") And I've lost a half-inch from both my hips and waist.

I'm getting the firming results I wanted, but that's not the only reason I love strength training. Because muscle burns more calories than fat, even at rest, it's easier to maintain my weight loss the more muscle I have.

Muscle building requires protein. And while it's true that excessive protein can actually be harmful (see this and this), I do need to make sure I'm getting all the protein I should be, which is about 51 grams a day for me, and try to eat slightly more. Here's how I typically do it:

  • 1 banana: 1 g protein
After workout:
  • Smoothie with 1 cup soymilk (6 g), 2 tbsp flax seed (3 g), 1 banana (1 g), 1 cup strawberries (1 g): total 11 g
  • Homemade whole-wheat toast: 5 g
  • 1 tbsp peanut butter: 3 g
  • 2 slices Quiche with Greens: 13 g
Total: 32 grams protein (Note that a big benefit of eating so much protein at breakfast is that it keeps me full and satisfied all morning, and I'm less likely to be hungry and want to snack all through the day.)

  • Mediterranean Bowl with 1 cup cauliflower (2.5 g), 1/2 cup chickpeas (6g), 1/2 cup brown rice (2.5)
  • Salad with romaine, spinach, tomatoes & small handful of walnuts (4 g)
Total: 15 g

  • 1/2 cup mexican-style black beans (7.5 g)
  • whole-wheat tortilla (3 g)
  • 2 cups steamed kale (4 g)
  • vegan cheese sauce made with soymilk and nutritional yeast (3 g)
Total: 17.5

Daily Total: 64.5 grams protein

And that doesn't include fruit, veggies, and nuts I eat throughout the day as snacks. Another typical snack is a slice of wheat toast (5 g) and peanut butter (3 g). So I'm easily getting about 10 more grams of protein in addition to these meals.

Even though I'm strength training four times a week and building muscle, I easily meet my protein needs every day and then some. Here are some other good resources for good vegan protein sources:

Spicy Mushroom Stir-Fry

Even though I'm done testing recipes for the next Happy Herbivore cookbook, I can't stop making them! Last night I needed a quick dinner, so I made this Spicy Mushroom Stir-Fry. I had to substitute some of the veggies I didn't have and added broccoli. The sauce is both spicy and sweet, and it was delicious served over brown rice. I can't wait until the next cookbook comes out so everyone can enjoy this great recipes.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Boston Cream Pie Cupcakes

I made Boston Cream Pie Cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World for a coworker's farewell party yesterday. The process was a bit involved, and it's the first time I had to buy something special--agar powder--to make vegan cupcakes.

First I made the Vegan Vanilla Pastry Creme. I cooked the agar powder in soy milk for a few minutes then added a mixture of arrowroot powder and soy milk. The result was an extremely thick pudding-like mixture that, after it set in the refrigerator, turned to something like a very thick jelly. Then I blended it with silken tofu, superfine sugar, and vanilla extract. The result was more like a pudding than a custard, so I was a little disappointed.

Next I made the Golden Vanilla Cupcakes, which continue to be my favorite from the book. They turn out moist, delicious, and perfect every time.
I had a new decorating tip to fill cupcakes, but it didn't work out great, so I did it the old-school way: poking my finger in to create holes and filling them up as much as I could--which wasn't a lot because I had a lot of the pastry creme left over (that immediately went into my belly).
Last I made the Rich Chocolate Ganache Topping, which is quick and easy to make by adding vegan chocolate chips and maple syrup to hot soy milk. I gave the cupcakes a double topping for a really thick, fudgy top.

When I first tried one, I wasn't totally happy with it. My husband reported that they were "just OK" and said he didn't like the creme. But the next day when I had another, after they'd sat for a day, they were fabulous. The cupcakes were super moist from the creme inside, and the combination of the moist cupcakes, vanilla creme, and rich, thick, chocolately topping was really great. Everyone at the party really liked them too.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Week 17: Project Food Budget

Week 17 of Reluctant Vegetarian's Project: Food Budget

Goal: $75
Actual: $79.88 (but total was $137.56...see notes)

This past week was unique in that one of my favorite stores, Right by Nature, closed, causing me to spend money on groceries I otherwise wouldn't have. As soon as I heard they were closing, I went there to use the $30 coupon I'd purchased a while back for $15. Because I went quickly, I didn't prepare a grocery list, and when I got there, I realized they were out of the main things I came for. So I bought things willy nilly, including two bottles of vitamin B12 ($24 total), which I normally wouldn't put in my food budget. Still, I spent only $8.45 after using my coupon.

I was out of nutritional yeast and also needed agar powder (for cupcakes I'm making this week). Normally I'd go to Right by Nature for both, and I'd heard the nutritional yeast at Whole Foods isn't good. So I made what for me is a very long trek to the East End Food Co-Op. Because it's so far out of my way and a nightmare to get to in East End traffic (I hate traffic) and I don't want to go back soon, I bought more than $15 of nutritional yeast from the bulk bin. Then, I made a $10 mistake. I forgot to check to see how much agar I needed, so I filled up a bag with it...which ended up being a little more than $10! When I got home, I nearly cried to see I needed only a half teaspoon.

In addition to my $30 coupon at Right by Nature, I also used the last of a rebate card I got from Verizon...so that's why this week my total doesn't match my actual.

In addition to all the nutritional yeast and bottles of B12, I spent a hefty $11 on organic miso and stuff to make
Hello to my fellow budgeters!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Workout Clothes I Love

I'm a little obsessed with workout clothes. At this point, I may have spent more on my workout wardrobe than my regular one. But why not? I work out six or seven days a week, so why shouldn't I wear cute clothes when I'm exercising? Here are my top picks by activity.

Yoga and Strength Training
I love Athleta's Chaturanga Pant and its close cousin Kickbooty Pant when I'm doing yoga, pilates, or strength training at the gym. They're both made with Athleta's Pilayo fabric that's soft, comfortable, stretchy, breathable, and wicking. These pants are so comfortable, I also wear them just around the house. I wouldn't wear these for jogging or long walks, though, because the wide legs might trip me up. I've washed them a ton, and they hold up well--no pilling, and I've had one pair for a year now.

Note that these go on sale pretty frequently as they get new colors in. XS and XSS are always on sale.

Chaturanga Pant
Kickbooty Pant ("The most flattering pant we make to turn your backside into your best side.")
I also love Athleta's Bra-Cup Tops. There's an actual bra built into the top (you order in your bra size), not some flimsy "internal shelf bra" that does nothing. They are comfortable, wicking, and look great. I like them so much I ordered four pairs, in these styles:

Cutout Cami
Empire Vee Neck TankCardio and Spinning
My new favorite workout pant is Lululemon's Wunder Under Crop. I hemmed and hawed over buying them--could a pair of plain black crops really be worth the hefty $68 price tag? The answer is YES! They're made with Lululemon's Luon signature fabric: breathable, cotton-feel, wicking, and very comfortable. They're a medium rise, so they hit perfectly--not too high or low. They're extremely flattering and, because they're plain black and don't scream "I'm a workout pant," I'll wear these under tunics or dresses too.I just bought Lucy's Hatha Capri Leggings (the blue color was on sale). I haven't worn them to work out yet, but they're flattering and fit well. They're made with Lucy's Powermax compressive, wicking fabric, so they'll be good when I'm moving around and sweating a lot. Lucy's stuff also goes on sale frequently, so be sure to check for sales. Note that all Lucy products (that I've bought anyway) run very big--you'll likely need to order a size down from what you usually order.I also just ordered Athleta's Spin Knicker that has a chamois pad built in. The pair I got seemed defective (there was a bunch of extra fabric in the crotch), so they're sending me a new pair. I have yet to test these in spinning, but there is rubber at the bottom to hold them in place, and they seem like they'll work well.

I have a ton of wicking tees for cardio (I usually buy them on sale at Dick's), but here are two I just got and like.

Lucy's Action Tank (currently on sale)Athleta's Seamless Shivali Tank (also currently on sale) feels almost like a knit, so it's super soft but still wicking and breathable. Note that this is the only top I've gotten from Athleta that ran a tad bit small, so consider sizing up unless you want it very form fitting. If You Only Have $25...
I bought a pair of gray compressive capris at Old Navy. The quality and fit don't even come close to Athleta, Lululemon, or Lucy (they were a bit baggy at the waist and knees; material is not great), but I do think think they're a tad better than the Champion line that Target carries. I'll wear them out walking this summer.

Athleta's Shipping & Exchanges
I buy from Athleta all the time (more than I should). Orders over $50 always have free shipping, and exchanges are free (returns are $6). Because shopping there is nearly risk-free, and because their stuff goes on sale a lot, it's a great place to shop for quality workout clothes that fit great.

Where do you shop for workout clothes? Any place I'm missing here?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Zucchini & Chickpea Patties

I love to cook, but I'm not a natural. So whenever I throw stuff together, the results usually aren't too great. But tonight I gave it a shot. I had some zucchini I wanted to use before it went bad and had some chickpeas I slow-cooked over the weekend. So I made these Zucchini & Chickpea Patties. I definitely used too much Italian seasoning and Dijon mustard, and it was missing...something. Still, they weren't awful. In fact, when I smothered them in some vegan cheese sauce I made to go with steamed kale, they were fantastic!

Zucchini & Chickpea Patties

Makes 6 patties

  • 1 zucchini, shredded
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 2 small cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ cup cooked chickpeas, mashed
  • ¼ cup nutritional yeast
  • ¼ cup breadcrumbs
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard (thinking this should be just 1 or 2 tsp)
  • 2 tsp Italian seasoning (I'll use just 1 next time)
  • 1 tbsp chickpea cooking liquid
First I mashed the chickpeas with a fork then added everything else in and combined. I formed them into patties, put them on a greased baking sheet, sprayed them with cooking spray, baked at 375 for 10 minutes, baked, sprayed again, and baked for 15 more minutes. They weren't dry, but they didn't hold together well.

Suggestions for how to make these better are welcome!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Cajun Beanballs & Spaghetti

Yesterday I made a spicy, Cajun version of spaghetti and meatballs from Appetite for Reduction that was fantastic.

First I made the Cajun Marinara Sauce, which was super simple and perfectly spicy. Isa is right: Why buy sauce when it's so easy to make? Her sauce starts out by sauteing minced garlic in olive oil (I added red pepper flakes for the Cajun variation), adding thyme and oregano, and then mixing in a can of crushed tomatoes. The Cajun variation called for Cajun seasoning and hot sauce. Mmm!

Next I made the Black-Eyed Pea & Tempeh Balls. My only other attempt at cooking with tempeh failed, but this seemed fool-proof: just steam the tempeh and mix it in to the mashed black-eyed peas, seasonings, and other ingredients.Roll them into balls, spritz with cooking spray, and bake for about 25 minutes. Last I tossed the beanballs with whole-wheat spaghetti, zucchini, and the Cajun Marinara Sauce and topped everything with scallions. The beanballs soak up the spicy sauce, and the end result is completely slurp-worthy. The recipe made a ton, so I'll be eating this for a while--lucky me!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Steamed Kale, My New Best Friend

I'd never tried kale before I started eating vegan. Now that I know what nutritional powerhouses dark leafy greens are, I try to eat a lot of them. But recently I've been eating a lot of kale not because it's good for me, but because it's so delicious when dressed with any yummy gravy or sauce.

I started to steam kale to go with some some test recipes for gravies and sauces I made for the next Happy Herbivore cookbook. I'm totally hooked, and now I have it all the time. A big bowl of steamed kale goes perfectly with gravies and sauces, and it's so filling! After I eat a bowl, I don't have room for much more. Here are a few test recipes I made with steamed kale:
Yesterday I made a very quick and easy to make Brown Gravy from the Happy Herbivore website. As with many HH recipes, it took all of five minutes to whip up. I used her suggestion of adding some additional cornstarch and water, and the gravy was super thick and creamy. I have no idea how its basic ingredients could taste so much like a meat-based brown gravy, but it really does. I had it over steamed kale and baked fries. Awesome.
The Silky Chickpea Gravy from Appetite for Reduction, or really any gravy or sauce, would also go great with steamed kale.