Friday, April 30, 2010

Yo Rita!

Tonight we tried a new taco restaurant on the South Side, Yo Rita. I want to make the distinction that this is not a Mexican restaurant. Yo Rita has appetizers and a taco menu, and every dish is completely inventive and fresh. You won't find any refried beans or nachos here.

I chose the chickpea empanada for my appetizer. I never had an empanada before, which is a Spanish-style bread that is stuffed and then deep-fried. No picture of the empanada because I gobbled mine up before remembering the camera in my bag! It was great though. Delicious.  

My taco choice was crispy eggplant with sweet chili sauce, avocado, and hot fries. Here too, I couldn't resist taking a bite before pulling out the camera (oops!).

At first I thought the hot fries might make for a weird combination, but all the flavors melded together really nicely. And the eggplant was perfectly crispy.

My husband tried the black eyed pea taco with garbanzos, spinach, crispy rice, and goat cheese. Because of the goat cheese, I didn't get to try it, but he said it was good. And umm, for an appetizer he had some variety of fish (I looked it up on the menu, it was salt cod).

No picture of his food, but here is a picture of him! It doesn't look like he was happy with his meal, but he was. Really.
We'll definitely be going back to Yo Rita again in the near future.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Portobello Mushroom Burger

So last weekend I had a chance to go to Ikea with my brother and mom. I've been looking longingly at grill pans for a while now, so I finally decided to get one. I'm so glad I did! Tonight I grilled portobello mushrooms. I used my Misto and sprayed olive oil lightly on both sides of the mushrooms, and sprinkled a bit of sea salt on it. I was a little worried about undercooking them, but they ended up being very tender and delicious. Next time I might get fancy and whip up a marinade!

I topped my burger with minced hot peppers and A1 sauce.

I roasted asparagus, cauliflower, and garlic to go along with the burgers. I also tossed together a nice big lettuce/tomato/olive salad, which we eat almost every night. I just don't think it's exciting enough to photograph.

Earlier this week I also made a batch of Barley Casserole, one of my favorite recipes from The Kind Diet. Tahini dressing is drizzled between layers of hulled barley, carrots, onions and celery. It isn't the prettiest food ever, but it's quite good.

It's really amazing. There's a myth about vegan diets being plain and lackluster. I've found this to be completely untrue. Being a vegan means eating better than I've ever eaten in my life. I can't wait for more delicious food tomorrow!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Cluckphrey's Kind of Chicken

So there it is. The Cluckphrey non-chicken patty I blogged about in an earlier post. I realize now why I found this so alluring in the grocery store. The name is very reminiscent of Mr. Cluck's, the fast food chain Hurley owns in the television show Lost.

I pan-cooked the patty with a tiny amount of olive oil and topped with red leaf lettuce and hot sauce. The patty was very plain. I found myself adding more and more hot sauce to compensate for the non-taste of the patty. I will eat the other three patties, but am not planning to buy Cluckphrey's non-chicken again. Not when there are so many better chicken substitutes out in the world!

Luckily, I also sauteed an eggplant, a handful of snap peas, bell pepper, and a small amount of fresh ginger. I used liberal amounts of Trader Joe's black pepper sauce and Turkish seasoning, because the combination is very tasty.

I also made a small amount of quinoa with pine nuts and basil. Quinoa is my new whole grain of choice. If you haven't tried it yet, you must. It's nutty and wonderful, and has extremely healthful qualities. It's also extremely easy to cook.

A picture of the finished side dish!


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Butternut Bisque with Cauliflower

I was kinda worried about how this soup would turn out. It seemed way too convenient, what with two of the three vegetables (butternut squash and corn) of the frozen variety. Also, I was leery about using soy creamer in cooking. I'd never actually tasted soy creamer before, to tell the truth.

I was silly to worry. This soup was amazing. I served it with freshly ground black pepper and a few drizzles of sriracha (my new spicy condiment of choice, thanks to Reg and Justin). Next time, I will definitely double the ingredients so there are lots and lots of leftovers.

The recipe was from the March issue of Vegetarian Times. They might have it on their website as well.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Deja Vu

No exciting pictures of food today, as what we ate tonight was pretty much exactly what we had last Saturday. Veggie enchiladas are a winner with our family members! :) But we did go to the Strip District today, which is a cornucopia of food markets and other goodness. I decided to look at Lotus Food Company, one of the Asian grocery stores, for faux shrimp products, but didn't find any. I did pick up some shoyu sauce and the seaweed knots pictured below. My great-grandmother would use this in her cooking all the time -- and I think I'll add them to miso soup.  

Take a look at the instructions at the back of the package. Hilarious! I'm not sure I can believe this was truly a typo.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Out-of-Town Visitors=Dessert?

Why am I making this face? Because I forgot to take a picture of my meal at The Double Wide Grill, yet again! Grr.

It was good, believe me. Seitan BBQ on toasted whole wheat bread with french fries. I am a big fan of the DW Grill barbeque sauce. And my brother tried a piece of seitan and pronounced it "meat-like."

And yes, the DW Grill is apparently the place to take visiting relatives. This week my mom and brother are in town. It's a nice, low-key restaurant for both vegans and omnivores to get some good grub. Also, I like the gasoline can, deconstructed-car atmosphere.

I think dessert is a great way to introduce other people to vegan food. That's why I decided to whip up a batch of these:

Peanut butter cups from The Kind Diet! These are great. Probably not very calorie-conscious, but you can't go wrong with a peanut butter graham cracker crust.

Eating Animals

Eating AnimalsI am grateful to have read Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals. I really enjoyed his first novel, Everything is Illuminated, and was thrilled to find out he had written a new book about food and the harsh realities of factory farming.

That said, Foer is basically advocating a vegetarian diet rather than a vegan one. He mentions veganism here and there, but never really argues for or against it. It is reminscent of his own indictment against Michael Pollan, who (in case you didn't already know this) is one of the reigning champions of ethical (i.e. family farm-raised animals) eating. Foer argues that Pollan is not seeing the whole picture by rejecting vegetarianism. What I find interesting is while Foer briefly mentions the horrors of factory farmed egg facilities (like what happens to baby male chicks in factories that only need female chickens), he does not go on to suggest Americans stop eating eggs.

Okay, done with the criticism. What I really appreciate Eating Animals for is its focus on fish and seafood. Now, I love shrimp. This is the one animal that I was reluctant to give up eating. And I've always considered fish and shrimp to be sub-par creatures, somewhere around the level of plankton or snails. Pre-vegan, eating a hamburger would sometimes prick my conscience. But eating shrimp never did.

Here is a quote from Foer:

"The average shrimp-trawling operation throw 80 to 90 percent of the sea animals it captures overboard, dead or dying, as bycatch. (Endangered species amount to much of this bycatch). Shrimp account for only 2 percent of global seafood by weight, but shrimp trawling accounts for 33 percent of global bycatch. We tend not to think about this because we tend not to know about it. What if there were labeling on our food letting us know how many animals were killed to bring our desired animal to our plate? So, with trawled shrimp from Indonesia, for example, the label might read: 26 POUNDS OF OTHER SEA ANIMALS WERE KILLED AND TOSSED BACK INTO THE OCEAN FOR EVERY 1 POUND OF THIS SHRIMP" (Foer 49).

Wow. Thank you. I don't feel entitled enough to order that Kung Pao shrimp, after all.

I do wonder if there's a good non-shrimp substitute out there, however. I've seen fuzzy pictures of such things on other vegan blogs. Apparently you can get this at Asian grocery stores, which I haven't found so far, but to be fair, I wasn't looking very hard, and only went to one store. I did find a can of fake scallops at our local co-op. I don't remember the brand, but I did a happy dance in the aisle even though 1) I never really ate many scallops to begin with and 2) the can cost eight dollars! Needless to say, I did not buy the eight dollar can of fake scallops, but I was glad to know it existed, just in case I have a raging case of scallop-munchies in the future.

I did have a weird craving for chicken last night. Ironically, it happened because I was talking to my husband over dinner, telling him that I didn't crave beef or chicken at all. Then I started thinking about chicken sandwiches, particularly the kind you can get from Chick-fil-a ... luckily we were going to Whole Foods after dinner, which is where I picked up this:

Cluckphrey patties! I've never tried this brand of fake chicken before, but I like Food for Life's Ezekiel english muffins, and yes, I also bought it because I like the name 'Cluckphrey.' I look forward to trying a patty next week with some hot sauce. I will let you know what I think.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Keeping it Simple

I make a crapload of dishes on Sunday so, when Tuesday and Wednesday rolls around and I feel too tired and uninspired to cook anything, we don't fall into our old habits of grabbing a fast food dinner. We have leftovers instead. Luckily, we like the food so much we're happy to eat them again!

So today was a leftovers kind of day. I did roast a bunch of asparagus and a little red sweet pepper, however. Can you believe I didn't know about the magic of roasting until a few months ago? Now I'm a complete roasting convert. Asparagus, garlic, peppers, you name it - I roast it. Tossed with a little light olive oil and red wine vinegar, it makes for an elegant and delicious side dish.

Also, I got to use the new casserole dish I bought this weekend from Marshall's. So cute!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Monday Night

I confess: I hate thinking about titles for these blog posts. I have a similiar problem with my poems and short stories. I always try to think up clever titles, but usually end up (after a lot of hemming and hawing) with simple ones instead.

Tonight we had some of the Two-Barley Mushroom Soup I made in the slow cooker over the weekend. This is a recipe from Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker. Being a big mushroom fan, I jumped at the chance to make this. It has both white button and porcini mushrooms in it, as well as pearl barley. I doctored it up a little with two teaspoons of paprika.

Very filling. I'm glad I added the paprika, it gave it a bit of an extra kick.

I also sauteed up a bit of zucchini, baby bella mushrooms, green and sweet peppers, and ginger with Trader Joe's black pepper sauce and Turkish spices. Yep, more mushrooms. I wasn't kidding about being a mushroom fiend!

American Vegan Cookbook Giveaway

Bianca of Vegan Crunk is giving away two copies of The American Vegan Cookbook. It looks like a great cookbook. Go to her blog for your chance to win!

Sunday, April 18, 2010


We always eat well on the weekends, and today was no exception. Lunch was at the Double Wide Grill, a hamburger/ribs restaurant in a converted gas station that also caters to vegetarians and vegans. I had a little trouble deciding what to order (they have a seitan wings appetizer that sounds really good), but finally chose the portobello mushroom burger with a side of french fries. Sorry, no picture, I forgot the camera! It was delicious though. We will definitely be going back.

Dinner was Rustic Pasta, a recipe from my favorite cookbook, The Kind Diet.

Pasta noodles tossed with cabbage, celery, onion, garlic, shoyu and a small amount of marinara sauce. Very easy to make, very tasty, and there are lots of leftovers.

I've been steadily working my way through all the recipes in The Kind Diet. Here's what I've tried so far:

* Sweet Potato-Lentil Stew (I've made this twice already)
* Barley Casserole (made this one twice as well)
* Creamy Sweet Kabocha Squash Soup
* Eggplant Chana Masala (will make this again)
* Moroccan Couscous with Saffron
* Cheesy, Oozy Guacamole Bean Dip (my new comfort food!)
* Quinoa with Basil and Pine Nuts (another new favorite)
* Radish Umeboshi Pickles (great homemade pickles)
* Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups (the best dessert ever)

Needless to say, I encourage everyone to buy this cookbook!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Enchiladas on Saturday

My father-in-law is here for a belated birthday visit, so we decided to celebrate with:

Enchiladas! My version had a mixture of sauteed zucchini, mushrooms, green and poblano pepper, onion and garlic. We used a mixture of Goya Recaito, a cilantro cooking base, and some green salsa (Mrs. Renfro's) to sautee them in. It was topped with guacamole, more green salsa (because I like my Mexican food really, really hot) and shredded Daiya cheddar non-cheese. This was my first experience with Daiya, and I was impressed. It has exactly the right cheesy texture and taste. And it melted like real cheese too!

(Little sidenote: I've been really pleased with the vegan cheese I've tried so far. I'm so glad non-cheese has improved so significantly over the years! When I was growing up, my brother had a severe allergy to dairy products, and used to eat this non-cheese that can only be described as an orange plastic block. It was very, very bad.)

Anyway, the guys added shrimp and actual cheddar cheese to their enchiladas. My husband enjoys the new vegan dishes we've been cooking, but he's a die-hard cheese devotee. He did try the tiniest bit of Daiya and said it was pretty good, however.

Birthday celebrations aren't complete without a cake.

Say what you might about Whole Foods and their advocacy of free-range, grain-fed meats. I'm just grateful that they have vegan carrot cake -- complete with the vegan icing they used to personalize the cake. I'm not much of a baker, and was just not up to the challenge of my first vegan cake. Not yet, anyway. Also, the carrot cake was delicious.

All in all, a pleasant way to spend a Saturday!

Friday, April 16, 2010

What I Get to Eat for Lunch!

Leftover borscht! I made this from a recipe I found on the website I omitted the sour cream, but I suppose if you want you could add vegan sour cream.

Back when we lived in New York, my husband and I used to frequent Veselka for their amazing borscht. I always assumed borscht was beyond my cooking abilities. But this is the second time I've made this recipe (because we love it that much!), and it's almost ridiculously easy. The trick is having a food processor. It would be a real pain in the butt to cut beets into matchstick pieces by hand.

Seriously, this borscht is good. It is just as scrumptious as Veselka's. Yum!

Rounding out my lunch time extravaganza celebration (what am I celebrating? A random vacation day, yay!) is a piece of homemade pizza. Asparagus, sweet yellow peppers, mushrooms, kalamata olives, onions, tomatoes, and Follow Your Heart vegan Monterey Jack cheese. Crazy delicious.

An Introduction

Hello, welcome! Thanks for checking out my blog.

I am a very new vegan who was drawn to this lifestyle after a doctor's appointment last year. I had almost no energy, various mysterious aches and pains, and generally felt like crap. A blood test revealed that 1) I had high cholesterol and 2) my blood sugar levels were also high. High enough for my doctor to ominously mutter something about probably having to go on medication, while advising I lose twenty pounds, change my diet, and have another blood test in three months.

At first, these changes seemed insurmountable. Change my diet? Lose weight? I tried Weight Watchers a few years ago, and didn't have the gumption to stick it out. Also, food was my security blanket. When I had a bad day, I ate. When I celebrated, I ate. When I was bored, I ate. Going three months (because ha ha, somehow I deluded myself into thinking that changing my eating habits was temporary) without my Irish nachos (waffle fries, bacon, lots of cheddar cheese, jalapeno peppers), Krispy Kreme doughnuts, and soda terrified me!

However, I did not want to be diabetic. My father and grandfather both passed away from complications from diabetes. I did not - do not - want that to happen to me.

I had another strong motivator: I hate needles. No, hate is not a strong enough word for it. I am a needle-phobe. It takes me approximately a week to steel myself psychologically for a blood test. The idea of giving myself insulin shots and poking my finger repeatedly makes me want to pass out. Seriously. Just watching those commercials for glucose meters makes me feel dizzy.

So I changed my diet. The first two weeks were the worst. I was a growling, angry person without my daily fix of soda, Cheetoes and candy bars. I drank gobs of diet soda, whittled down my sweets-consumption to a 100-calorie sugary snack once a day, and started exercising.

I also started reading a lot of books about dieting and diabetes. Somehow I stumbled upon a cute, kitschy cookbook called How it All Vegan. I'd always thought a vegan diet was too restrictive (maybe even too militant?) for someone like me. I mean, I liked to cook, but all my homemade meals had either meat, cheese, or eggs in them. And I truly believed that people needed meat in their diet to be healthy. Despite all this, I purchased a copy of How it All Vegan. I took a deep breath, read the introduction section very carefully, and started cooking.

Revelation! Shepherd's pie tasted great without hamburger! Maybe, my husband and I decided, it tasted better without the meat. Chili, too, was relatively easy to veganize. We started going days without eating meat. It's a weird thing, not eating meat. It seemed like the less meat we ate, the more vegetables we consumed. And beans. And whole grains. At the same time, I started exercising 5-6 days a week, kept a close eye on portion sizes, and started limiting my intake of sweets.

My second blood test rolled around. I lost 30 pounds, my aches and pains went away, and I had more energy than I'd had in years. The results of the blood test: my cholesterol went down 90 points. My blood sugar went down 49 points. My doctor was amazed: "I always tell my patients to lose weight and change their diet, but they almost never listen to me." He stopped mentioning medication. As I left the office, I could hear him talking to a nurse about the improvements to my health: "All because she changed her diet!"

Unfortunately, my blood sugar levels was still slightly above normal. The doctor told me he was confident my blood sugar would drop to a normal level if I lost 10-20 more pounds. A third blood test was scheduled.

To celebrate, I decided it would be okay to splurge a little and eat a cheeseburger. It had been a month and a half since I last had red meat. I deserved it, right?

It tasted good. Just ... kind of oily.

And then a few hours later, I felt like I had just consumed a brick. I could feel the ground beef lying uncomfortably in my tummy, heavy. Ugh.

That was the last time I ate red meat.

Around this time, I read the amazing book, Neal Barnard's Program for Reversing Diabetes. Basically, Dr. Barnard argues that a low-fat vegan diet is the most healthy choice (read life-saving) for diabetes. I read numerous other books about veganism (more about them later) and became convinced. Slowly, I said goodbye to chicken (not so hard to do, once you find out about all the bacteria found in chicken flesh!) and fish and shrimp (this one was harder, I've always liked seafood). I was basically a vegetarian for a month, and then I took the plunge.

I thought it would be harder, giving up cheese and eggs. Milk I never really used except in baking. But cheese -- cheese has always been dear to my heart. And eggs were the stuff of Sunday brunch, omelets and quiches.

It's strange. I don't miss either of them. I feel healthy and vitalized, am losing more weight, sticking to a mostly whole-foods approach to my diet, and am excited about the new vegan dishes I am cooking. Which is essentially what this blog will be about: the yummy food!!

One last thing: I began learning about veganism because of my health issues, but the more I read, the more I realized there is an ethical component to going vegan as well. Animal cruelty, sustainability, and environmental issues all play an important role in my life-affirming decision to become a vegan.

My next post will be about the food, I promise!