Thursday, June 30, 2011

Week 25: Project Food Budget

Week 24 of Reluctant Vegetarian's Project: Food Budget

Goal: $75
Actual: $92.53

My simple summer meals this week were extremely budget-friendly. Mostly I ate salads or some dish involving steamed kale made with fresh produce I got at farmers' markets (lettuce and kale are in season), fruit, my homemade whole-wheat bread with PB&J, tofu fries or a bean spread, and all the leftovers from my weekend BBQ. This week I included the cost of hosting that BBQ in the budget, though in previous weeks I haven't included entertaining costs.

This upcoming week, the final week of this project, will be a challenge. We've rented a house in wild and wonderful West Virginia for the holiday weekend, so I'll be bringing food there to cook my own meals. The challenge will be that it's a holiday, so I don't want to go overboard and make feasts every day, but I'm sure I'll want to splurge a little. I'll plan my menu tonight to try to make it as budget-friendly as possible.

Happy 4th of July cooking!


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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Learning to Run with ChiRunning

I've never been able to run. In grade school, I could never run the mile for the presidential fitness test (do they still do those?). And the running I had to do for high school volleyball was so agonizing, I didn't attempt it again until years later. When I did, I hated it. It took me months to build up to run a mile, and I couldn't run much farther than that, so I soon quit.

Fast forward about 15 years, when I told my personal trainer earlier this year that I can't run. He was quick to encourage me to give it a try...trying new activities would challenge me in new ways, he argued.

So I started running intervals during my walks. I started with a minute, progressed to a minute and a half, and eventually got up to two minutes. But there was no way I could run much longer than two minutes, so I just assumed I'd never be able to run.

But then I realized: my intervals were at a very fast pace, and my heart rate was around 80-90%. What if I slowed my pace down? I got out my Garmin Forerunner and watched to make sure my heart rate didn't get above 70%...and the first time I did that, I ran for 26 minutes with a two-minute walking break! I was stunned. A year ago, I thought it would have been impossible. I did it once more, and the third time I tried, I was able to run 29 minutes continuously. It was really tough for me, and I was panting at the end like crazy and was dead tired, but I was proud of myself.

Then a friend told me about ChiRunning, which is about effortless, injury-free running. Effortless, huh? I got the book the very next day!

I've spent the past week reading it and learning about the technique. The ChiRunning website explains it better than I can, but it's a blend of T'ai Chi and running that focuses on using core strength.

I tried the technique yesterday morning for the first time. WOW! It really was much, much easier than the heavy, plodding running I'd previously done. I had no problem doing 30 minutes continuously and felt like I could have done more. I'm just starting so have a lot more to learn (there are a lot of things to focus on), but I'm thrilled to learn this technique that's making something that's always been so grueling so accessible.

I'm so excited about it, I signed up for my first 5K! It's the Run Around the Square in Regent Square, and I'll be running it with my sister on August 27. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


I loved the half-avocado, half-edamame guac I made recently from Appetite for Reduction. So then I wondered: how would a guac with just edamame and no avocado taste? I was skeptical, but I tried the Edamole from the Happy Herbivore Cookbook...and was pleasantly surprised! It doesn't taste like a true guac, but the cilantro and lime flavors really stand out. I baked my own tortilla chips to go with it, and it was a great, protein-rich snack. I'll make this again!

Monday, June 27, 2011

BBQ with Family, Kids & Diets

My husband has complimented me on planning vegan meals that omnivores love. We’ve been hosting a lot of dinners for friends, and each has been a hit. But this past weekend was the biggest challenge to date: my meat-and-potatoes family came over. A tough crowd to please, for sure!

My mom and aunts have never tasted Indian, Thai, or Middle Eastern food, and it’s hard for them to even understand vegetarianism, let alone veganism (years after I became vegetarian, they were still surprised that I didn’t eat hot dogs). So I wanted to make a meal that showed them how good vegan eating can be without being too crazy for them. I was originally going to make Mujadara (lentils, rice, and caramelized onions) since they’d never had lentils, but I thought that would likely be too crazy. They love salads, so I decided to make a basic grilled veggie salad. I also decided to make the black bean burgers I’d made awhile back because they’re not too crazy. I thought these light options would also be good for my sister who, like me, lost a lot of weight a few years ago and is carefully maintaining her loss.

But the big challenge was my 13- and 14-year-old nephew and niece. I am happily child-free and know very little about kids, especially what to feed them--or, at least, these kids who grew up in a meat-and-potatoes family. “They’re not going to want grilled veggies spread with white bean aioli,” my husband said. Hmmm…he had a point. So…I declared defeat. As much as it pained me, I bought hot dogs for them. Ugh.

Here’s the family’s review of what I made:

  • White Bean Aioli with baguettes & crackers. I renamed this “a creamy garlic dip” when presenting it to them. I’d made this Veganomicon recipe a few weeks ago and knew they’d love it because they like garlic. Everyone really liked it—even the kids and my aunt who is a self-declared bean hater.
  • Sweet Basil Pesto Tapenade. Another Veganomicon recipe I recently tried, this was slightly too sweet and didn’t come out as good as I’d hoped. But my mom especially loved it; she liked the blend of garlic and sweet tastes. My nephew even liked it!
  • Grilled Veggie Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette. I recently made this low-fat dressing from Appetite for Reduction for a dinner party mainly for myself (I had another dressing option), and everyone raved about it. The family also really loved this dressing.
  • Black Bean Burgers. My family had never tasted any kind of vegetarian burger, so they were very skeptical. They agreed to “try a bite.” I also made Guacamame to put on this version from Veganomicon. My sister said the texture of the burger threw her off, but once she got past that, she liked it. My mom and aunt (the bean hater) also liked them and said they were surprised they were good. My brother-in-law makes guacamole all the time and couldn't tell the difference in my version.

In general, everyone seemed surprised everything was so good. I bet they were scared of what would be on their plates when they got to my house! But I know my audiences well, so I think I planned a good menu for them. But I’d like to spring Mujadara on them another time!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Week 24: Project Food Budget

Week 24 of Reluctant Vegetarian's Project: Food Budget

Goal: $75
Actual: $91.12

Recently I attended some seminars about environmental impacts on our health. These impacts include everything from the cosmetics we use to housecleaning products to the food we eat. The speakers talked over and over about the importance of eating organic fruits and vegetables. In one study they cited, a group of children who ate conventional fruits and vegetables all tested positive for pesticides. Half of the group ate organic fruits and vegetables for just two weeks. When they were tested again, that group had no pesticides in their system. The message was clear: eating organic is one thing you can do to quickly rid your body of hazardous elements.

So, armed with my list of the dirty dozen, I sought out organic produce. It was tough! Giant Eagle's Market District and Trader Joe's have slim pickings. The farmers' markets do have organic produce, but of course, it's limited to what's in season (right now, mainly lettuces, kale, etc.) So, I grudgingly went to Whole Foods, sure I was in for a high grocery bill. Their organic selection is, of course, great. But the organic peaches I bought there almost immediately went moldy before I could eat even one!

Still, my lesson learned this week is that I'd rather have a higher grocery bill to avoid consuming pesticides, so I'll be continuing to buy organic.

This week's budget went toward salads, tofu scrambles, and the following meals. Plus, I did have a splurge: a potted lettuce garden from Whole Foods for $12.99.
PS: After you're done tallying your grocery bills, throw them out! The paper the bills are printed on contain hazardous chemicals.


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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Pizza with Sweet Basil Pesto & Cashew Cheese

Pizza is one of those things I thought I'd miss like crazy as a vegan. But vegan pizza is just so much better! Now when I crave pizza, I crave something like this version I made this past weekend. It's delicious and doesn't leave me feeling bloated and gross and blah like fat- and grease-laden cheese pizza would.

For this version I used...
  • Whole Wheat Pizza Dough from Mark Bittman's Food Matters Cookbook. The dough uses the same technique as the bread I make every week--you mix a few ingredients together and let it sit for the day so the flavors ferment. This version uses some all-purpose flour too, so you get whole wheat goodness with the crustiness of white dough.
  • Sweet Basil Pesto Tapenade from Veganomicon. This is a unique pesto. Made with a good amount of maple syrup, it's sweet and pesto-y at once. In my mind's eye, I can see future party guests raving over this. I'd serve it as an appetizer with crusty bread, stuffed into cherry tomatoes, or spread on grilled zucchini.
  • Fresh Tomato Sauce from Mark Bittman's Food Matters Cookbook. This is so simple and delicious, it's ridiculous. Thinly slice garlic and saute it in a little olive oil, then add chopped and seeded fresh tomato. Stir, and in a few minutes you have a fresh pizza sauce. I put the sauce over the tapenade.
  • Cashew Ricotta from Veganomicon. I've made this cashew cheese from Vegetarian Times many times and love it. But it takes about a day and a half to make. I was able to whip this cashew ricotta up in no time. And...oh! It's good. It tastes like something in between ricotta and a cheesy spread. The lemon juice was a little overpowering at first, but I can't taste it at all in the leftovers. Still, I'd use a little less next time. I scooped dollops onto the sauce.
This pizza was mmmmmmmm....delicious! The combination of everything together was amazing. I might experiment with a version of this for appetizers...maybe with baguette or sheets of phyllo as the base, topped with the tapenade, a slice of tomato, and a dollop of cashew ricotta on top. This week, I've been eating the leftovers on very unglamorous toasted wheat bread, and it's still amazing!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Week 23: Project Food Budget

Week 23 of Reluctant Vegetarian's Project: Food Budget

Goal: $75
Actual: $49.51

This week I used the same strategy as last week: I planned for only one or two meals during the week and made salads, grilled veggies, and tofu scrambles the rest of the time. What I made this week was basically from last week's budget. This week's budget went mostly to fresh fruits, veggies, tofu, oats, and soymilk.

On the menu this week was

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Confession: I've never made guacamole before. I love it but fear if I made it home I would devour the entire recipe in about five minutes. So tonight I tried the Guacamame from Appetite for Reduction which is--you guessed it--a combination of avocado and edamame to reduce the fat. If I hadn't made it and someone served it to me, I'd have sworn it was regular guacamole. It was fantastic and is safe to serve guests who would normally thumb their noses at lower-fat versions of things.

I had it on the Veganomicon Black Bean Burgers I made this past weekend. Yum! I'll be baking corn tortilla chips to go with the rest.

I found the recipe here.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Black Bean Burgers with Cilantro Sour Cream

More delicious meals on the grill this past weekend!

I made the Black Bean Burgers from Veganomicon and loved them! Because they're made with vital wheat gluten (what seitan is made of), they hold together well and have a great, chewy texture. The southwestern blend of spices was good without being overpowering. And they paired wonderfully from the Cilantro Sour Cream also from Veganomicon. I've made this tofu-based sour cream before and loved it. This time, I only had half the cilantro the recipe called for, so it was less cilantro-y but still really good. I also used it as a salad dressing this week. The only thing is that the black bean burgers were supposed to be pan-fried. They easily got a little burnt on the grill.I also grilled some tofu and slathered the cilantro sour cream on the slices. I re-used some tofu marinade I had left over from last week's BBQ. It's from Appetite for Reduction and is pretty basic with veg broth, soy sauce, garlic, and thyme. It tastes anything but basic when grilled. The flavors all really come out, and the grilling makes it really chewy with a great texture. It was amazing served with cilantro sour cream. To go with the burgers I grilled some veggies and made the White Bean Aioli from Veganomicon to spread on them. A vegan version of the garlicky mayo, this aioli was out of this world. It brought my grilled veggies to even greater heights on the "yum" factor, and it's so good I'll make it again as a spread on crackers or pita for an appetizer.
For a real treat, I grilled avocado. If you like avocado and have not yet had it yourself a favor and grill some up! The outside gets slightly crisp and the inside is creamy. Delicious.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Vegan Love at Double Wide Grill

Another well-known destination for vegetarian food, Double Wide Grill in the South Side is always packed with people (and their dogs!) outside on the patio, playing cornhole and enjoying great food. I recently went for the first time since becoming vegan last year. Wow--was I in for a treat! I decided to order something I normally never would either order or make myself: Caribbean Coconut Tofu.

But first! The side salad was fresh, had lots of veggies, and came with sliced avocado. Any salad that comes with avocado will likely get an "A" in my book, but the Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette dressing made this simple salad awesome. The dressing was so creamy, I asked the waitress to make sure it was vegan. (It was.)

OK, back to the Caribbean Coconut Tofu! The big chunks of tofu are breaded and fried (in a separate fryer just for vegan and vegetarian items) to a deliciously crispy perfection and topped with a Caribbean onion and coconut rum sauce. O. M. G. Yes, it tasted as amazing as it sounds. It was served with caramelized onion and cilantro rice. The rice and tofu together were simply heaven. I think I said, "Omigod, this is soooooo good" about 50 times during the meal. I'm not even a big fan of Caribbean flavors or sweet-ish meals (I usually like only my desserts sweet), but this was one of the best meals. Loved it!

Double Wide has a number of other vegan and vegetarian selections, so I can't wait to go back and try other dishes. Double Wide is also great because they have lots of outdoor seating, which makes for good people watching, and it's not only vegetarian, so omnivores can get their meat on if they want. Sidenote: My husband loved the salad and tried my tofu and really liked it. He did not, however, like what he got, which was a pulled pork sandwich (I know, yuck). I told him he should have stuck with veggies and tofu like me and would have had a much better meal!

Double Wide website
Double Wide vegan and vegetarian menu (pdf)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Week 22: Project Food Budget

Week 22 of Reluctant Vegetarian's Project: Food Budget

Goal: $75
Actual: $61.09 personal budget; $86 more for hosting dinner for friends

A few weeks ago Emily asked how I planned to reign in my spending after I'd been over for a few weeks. While I've learned a lot through this project (making from scratch saves money; other savings basics), this time I used a simpler strategy: I planned for only one or two meals during the week and made salads and tofu scrambles the rest of the time. I kind of feel like salads and tofu scrambles are cheating, but hey, if these quick and humble meals save money, taste good, and are good for me, why not?

This week's budget went for dishes I haven't made yet:
  • Black Bean Burgers with Cilantro Soy Sour Cream
  • Low-Fat Guacamole
  • Grilled Veggies with White Bean Aioli
The budget also went to stables like tofu, herbs, fresh fruit, maple syrup, olive oil, and chocolate chips. I also bought a basil plant ($3.99 at Trader Joe's). Growing my own herbs was one of my goals for this project. My first thyme plant didn't make it, but I had basil last year and am confident I can keep it alive and happy all summer.

What I haven't included in this week's budget is the $86 extra I spent for hosting a dinner for six. I think I'm going to keep dinners I host as separate from my own food budget. I'm curious to hear how others handle this?


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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

White Bean Spread with Truffle Oil

This past weekend we had friends over for dinner, and I tried out this white bean spread that turned out great. It's simple and easy to make, and the truffle oil makes it special. Everyone loved it. See the recipe below.

I paired it with a fresh fruit salad for appetizers. I always love fresh fruit, but the juicy, sweet watermelon was a real treat.For dinner we had
For dessert I made Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Buttercream Frosting.

We ate out in our little urban patio/garden, which is our little oasis in the city that we love hanging out in. If you look closely, you can see our semi-feral cat who adopted us--she's hanging out in the left of the perennial garden we added when we cut out some of the concrete two years ago. Crushed White Bean Spread with White Truffle Oil

I found this recipe online here and veganized it by using veg broth.

Makes about 1 cup

4 cups vegetable broth
2/3 cup dried great Northern beans, soaked overnight
3 cloves garlic
1 bay leaf
Kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons thinly sliced scallions
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon white truffle oil, plus more as needed

In a medium pot, combine the broth, beans, garlic, and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until the beans are tender, about 45 minutes. Season the beans, to taste, with salt and pepper. Cool in the liquid. Drain the beans, reserving the garlic cloves.

Place the beans, garlic, and oil in a food processor and puree until there are no whole beans, but there should be some texture. You can also just mash them in the bowl for a chunkier version, as in the original recipe. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the scallions and parsley. Spoon into a serving bowl and drizzle with white truffle oil. Serve the spread with crostini or little crackers.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Week 21: Project Food Budget

Week 21 of Reluctant Vegetarian's Project: Food Budget

Goal: $75
Actual: $50.93

I've been over the past two weeks and vowed to reign it in this week. Turns out that I still had lots of ingredients from last week's budget, so this week's budget went for some supplementary ingredients and staples to make
But the main part of the budget went for fresh fruit and veggies. I eat a ton of them both, and now that hot weather's here, I've been eating lots of salads. I've also been continuing to bake my own bread. And this week when I needed some pitas, I was happy to find ones in the freezer I'd frozen a while back. It pays to make your own things and freeze them for when you need them!

What this week's budget does not include is all the ingredients for a dinner party for six this weekend. I haven't bought stuff for it yet, but I'm wondering whether I should have a separate budget for food for entertaining. What does everyone else do?


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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Chipotle Lentil Burgers

I think the worst vegan food I've ever had was a Boca burger. After I tried one of these cardboard-flavored pieces of processed soy last summer, I decided to never buy veggie burgers again but to instead make my own.

The Chipotle Lentil Burgers from Appetite for Reduction was my first attempt. A puree of lentils, sauteed veggies, spices, bread crumbs, and chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, these burgers sounded fabulous. But they were between "just okay" and "good."

I like the smoky chipotle flavor, but that's pretty much all I could taste. I couldn't taste even a hint of the cilantro that I sauteed with zucchini, garlic, and red onion, nor could I taste anything lentil-like. Too bad.

The texture was the other thing I didn't think was great. They were difficult to keep together even pan frying, and when they were done, the outside was only the slightest bit firm and the inside was mushy.

I might make these again using less chipotle peppers. I'd also make them smaller--they were so huge, they were twice the size of my bun. But I'll probably try other recipes first.