January 31, 2012

MmmmmMeat-less Balls!

So I've been doing something very, very important this weekend:  Menu planning!

I came across a recipe for meatless balls.  Now, I will tell you, this was not my first encounter with a faux ball.  I've tried making a couple of meatless balls before, and they have turned out to be either too mushy or too flavor-less.

Well.....watch out vegan Goldilocks 'cuz I finally found one that was juuuuuuust right!

Not only are these yummy balls meatless, they are gluten-free too.  They are firm, hearty and full of whole grains, flax seeds (for your omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, iron, vitamins, etc.), a few veggies, beans (for your protein and fat burning fiber) and some nutritional yeast (gives a cheesy flavor except unlike cheese, it's actually good for you - contains vitamin B12).  Plus, the preparation was very easy and could be tweaked to any way you like it.  I based this recipe off of this one found here.

These would be great at a Super Bowl party this weekend - make them in mini-muffin pans, reduce the cook time, and serve them with toothpicks and a bowl of warm marinara sauce.

This recipe is super kid-friendly and would even impress the most picky meat-eaters!

Meatless Balls

Prep Time: 5 min
Cook Time: 30 min
Yield: 12 big balls
Print here.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup marinara sauce (homemade or jarred - but if you're not Martha Stewart or a strict Italian, just use jarred like I did)
  • 1/4 cup ground flaxseeds
  • 2 15 oz cans of pinto or kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 green pepper, finely chopped
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3/4 cup oats
  • 2-3 tbsp soy sauce or Bragg's Amino Acids
  • 1-2 tbsp of vegetable broth (or water if you don't have any)
  • 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp basil
  • 1 tbsp dried parsley
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • A few sliced black olives (optional)
Instructions:
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and spray a muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup of the marinara sauce with the ground flaxseeds.  Stir to combine and set aside to thicken up.
  3. In a large bowl, mash the bean with a fork or potato masher (note - you don't want them over-mashed - leave them a nice, chunky texture).
  4. Add onion, green pepper, garlic, oats, soy sauce, broth or water, nutritional yeast, spices.  Stir to combine.
  5. Add in marinara/flax mixture and stir until fully incorporated.
  6. Scoop bean mixture into muffin tin, filling almost to the top.  Press each one gently to compact into the pan.
  7. Bake for 17 min, until edges are starting to brown.  Remove from oven, top with a spoonful of marinara and a few slice olives (if you're using - they make me wanna barf so I didn't use them on mine).
  8. Return to oven for another 12 min, until they are firm and set.
  9. Allow muffins to cool for several minutes - they will firm up even more.
  10. Serve with pasta, or a salad and ENJOY!
Ready for the oven

Those are some good lookin' balls right there! YUM!



January 27, 2012

Kitchen Makeover: Vegan Edition

Another successful evening of vegan goodness with this excellent Mexican Lasagna (recipe here)!

Here are a couple photos of the preparation process - none of the final product because it was eaten too quickly:

 

The photo on the right shows one of the layers of the lasagna - on top of this went more tortillas, enchilada sauce and olives.  YUM!  The photo on the left shows that Ann needs to chop her onions into smaller pieces.  Dear lord that one piece is the size of my face!

Today, I ran out of cookie dough balls, so I made another quick double-batch at lunch time.  A great tip - if you know you like something, and you don't always have tons of time, make a double batch and freeze leftovers.  This tip is invaluable to us vegans plant-based diet peeps.

This little anecdote brings up an important tip - when you want something yummy, and you're anticipating upcoming cravings for aforementioned yumminess, then just make a quick batch of your favorite treat.  Not only do you control all of the ingredients, it's also less expensive and it makes you truly appreciate every bite.

When I used to eat a store bought cookie, I didn't think twice about the effort that was made to create the cookie - because I could just go to the store and get more if I ran out.  BUT, when I bite into my homemade raw brownies, I think, "this was such a friggin' pain-in-the-ass to make.  I will be damned if these are scarfed down.....these will be savored to every last bite."

Works every time.  Gotta love psychology.

Since we're still at the beginning of our Project Kale journey, I wanted to mention one of the most important parts of transitioning to a whole-foods, plant-based diet:

THE KITCHEN MAKEOVER!

Some people can jump right into something, both feet in.  Most, however, need to test the water with their toes, then foot, then the other foot.....you get the point.

I truly believe that there are two ways to fail in making this lifestyle change:

  1. Don't do any research. 
  2. Do it all at once.

Inherent in the meaning of the word transition is a process - this isn't an overnight transition - although on the flip side, it's not a year long transition either.  In a few weeks, you should be able to psychologically prepare for the transition, gather and try recipes, get rid of the foods you will no long be eating, while testing and eating new ones that you will be eating.

I made my decision over the course of a couple of months.  After making the decision, I was in the right mindset to make the change.  It was time to start thinking about the kitchen overhaul.

To give you an example of the kitchen makeover you'll make during the transition, here is a list of the changes you might be making:

  • Out with the cow's milk.  In with the almond milk (or rice milk, coconut milk, hemp milk, soy milk).
  • Out with the coffee creamer.  In with the Silk French Vanilla soy creamer.
  • Out with the white flour.  In with the whole grain oats (for homemade oat flour).
  • Out with the chicken broth.  In with the veggie broth.
  • Out with the white pasta.  In with the whole grain brown rice pasta.
  • Out with the butter.  In with the Earth Balance (to be used sparingly!).
  • Out with the oils.  In with healthy substitutions, depending on the recipe (veggie broth, applesauce, bananas).
  • Out with the ranch dressing.  In with the homemade vegan ranch dressing.
  • Out with the white sugar.  In with the dried fruit, maple syrup and honey.
  • Out with the cheese sticks.  In with the celery sticks!
Start small, start now.  Don't let the door hit 'cha on the way out mayo!!

Happy weekend everyone!

Love and Kale,
Ali





January 25, 2012

No-Chicken & Dumplings

Here is the dinner recipe from last night - a delicious, stick-to-you-ribs meal.  Perfect comfort food for cold winter nights.

No-Chicken & Dumplings

Prep Time: 10 min    
Cook Time: 25 min
Yield: 4 Servings

Print here

Ingredients:
  • 1 quart vegetable broth
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, chopped
  • 1 rib celery, chopped
  • 2 -3 russet potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tsp poultry seasoning
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 2 ¼ cup Bisquick
  • 2/3 cup water
  • Handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1 cup frozen peas 

Instructions:

1. Heat 3 tbsp veggie broth over medium heat. Add vegetables and bay leaf and cook 5 min, stirring frequently (put top on pot of the broth keeps evaporating).

2. Add poultry seasoning, salt and pepper. Add flour the pan and cook 2 min.

3. Stir in broth and bring to a boil (if you don’t have quite enough broth, use water).

4. Place Bisquick into a bowl and add water and parsley. Stir until combined and drop tablespoons of the dough into the pot, spacing the dumplings evenly (*note - make smaller dumplings if you prefer a less doughy texture). Cover pot tightly and reduce heat to medium low.

5. Steam dumplings for 10 min. Then remove cover and stir to thicken the sauce.

6. Stir in peas. Remove from heat and serve!

We also made these yummy little no-bake cookies.  Instead of using a ton of butter and sugar, these little gems contain only whole foods, no refined sugar, and taste AMAZING.  Plus, they're made in about 5 minutes.  

Fast No-Bake Cookies

Makes about 8 cookies

Ingredients:
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup 
  • 1/3 cup almond milk 
  • ¼ cup cocoa 
  • 3 tbsp peanut butter 
  • 1 tsp vanilla 
  • 1 ½ cup oats 
  • ¼ cup chopped walnuts, optional
Instructions:

1. Put maple syrup, almond milk, and cocoa into a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 2-3 min, stirring frequently.

2. Add the peanut butter and stir until incorporated.

3. Remove from heat and add the vanilla, oats, and walnuts (if using).

4. Stir well, the form into small cookies and let them firm up on wax paper.

Quick, healthy, yummy.

January 24, 2012

Snacking & Szechaun Noodles w/ Broccoli

I guess Mother Nature decided that today would go back to winter.  Or at least early spring.  Ohio weather is so bi-polar....either way, I had leftover pumpkin so I'm having a Pumpkin Pie Smoothie for lunch.  Brrr!

In a previous post, I addressed changing habits here, so let's talk SNACKING.

So when you start transitioning to a plant-based diet, you don't automatically start craving fruits and veggies and snacking on broccoli and carrots (although damn that sounds good right now).  I am a HUGE snacker.....or "picker," as my loved ones call me.  I pick, pick, pick my way through the day and evening.  It's about knowing yourself and knowing your habits.  That way, you can work on adjusting where necessary.

So instead of giving up snacking altogether, because done correctly it can be quite healthy, work on changing the foods you snack on, and having a supply at all times for emergencies.  Yes, emergencies.  No, I'm not being dramatic because let me tell you - come between a woman and chocolate when she has a craving, and she'll rip into you like a monkey on a cupcake.

Also important to identify is what exactly you're craving when you snack.  Next time you have an urge, take a step back and ask yourself:  
  • Am I craving salt?  
  • Am I craving sweetness?  
  • Am I craving crunch?  
  • Am I craving creaminess?
Did I just write a rap song?  Anyway, once you've identified the craving, you can decide what will fulfill it.  Here are some suggestions for things that I make when I have cravings:

SWEET
  • Fruit - easy.
  • Fruit smoothie - throw any fruit you have in a blender with some almond milk, ice cubes, etc.
  • Frozen Grapes - thanks to my friend Lindsay, I discovered this GEM of a treat - tastes like little pieces of sorbet.  Sweet, cold, bite-size.  Snacking perfection.
  • Larabars - all whole foods - most flavors are 4 ingredients or less.
  • Handful of almonds with a handful of vegan chocolate chips.
  • Quick soft serve - Put a frozen banana and a tbsp or two of any nut butter into a food processor.  Process until smooth.  Add any healthy toppings you want - walnuts, almonds, vegan chocolate chips, coconut, etc.
  • Quick raw brownies - take a cup of walnuts and process in the food processor.  Add a cup of pitted dates.  Process.  Add a 1/4 cup of cocoa powder and a tsp of vanilla.  Process until combined.  Take dough and press into a pan.  Freeze for about 10 min.  Instant brownies.  Cut into squares, or roll into balls! YUM.
  • Cookie dough balls - another quick and easy food processor dessert.
SALTY
  • Tortilla chips and salsa/guacamole - or add avocado pieces, beans, corn to your favorite salsa.  Make your own tortilla chips or buy all natural ones.  There should only be 3-4 ingredients or less!
  • Popcorn.  A staple of mine.  Make your own - easy and tastes so much better than the microwave ones.  Add a sprinkle of nutritional yeast for some cheezy popcorn.
  • Handful of nuts.
  • Veggies and hummus.
  • Kale chips.  Not a favorite of Ann's, but we're gonna try in once more.  I think they're delicious and they really satisfy my salty, crunchy cravings.  Take some kale leaves (de-stemmed), put on baking sheet and spray a little bit of olive oil, salt and pepper.  Toss to coat and bake for about 15 min. on 350, turning the pan once.
Know yourself, know when you're gonna snack and have some or all of these items on hand.  Then start snacking yourself into better health!

Love and Kale,
Ali

Szechaun Noodles w/ Broccoli
 
I found this recipe and "veganized it." It's a peanut-y asian sauce that's just so, so good.  I recommend making a double-batch of the sauce and using it for a stir-fry sauce with veggies over rice.  Mmmmm.  If you guys don't like peppers, switch out with whatever veggies you like - shredded carrots, bamboo shoots, baby corn, etc.

Ingredients:
  • 1 lb brown rice spaghetti (or any pasta that you like)
  • 1 bunch broccoli, cut into florets
  • 1 red pepper, julienned (fancy word for skinny slices)
  • 1 green pepper, julienned (see above)
  • 2 tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup tahini
  • 1/4 peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce (or Bragg's Amino Acids or tamari)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup sherry vinegar (or rice vinegar)
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil (if you don't have it, just omit)
  • 1/2 tbsp red pepper flakes (adjust to your suit your spicy taste)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Optional garnish - sliced scallions, sesame seeds or chopped peanuts.
Instructions:
  1. Make pasta according to package directions.  In the last 2 minutes of cooking, toss in broccoli.  
  2. Drain pasta and broccoli and rinse with COLD water (to stop cooking).
  3. Meanwhile, slice your peppers and put them into a big bowl
  4. Make sauce.  Combine all ingredients from ginger through salt and pepper into your food processor.  Process until smooth.  Add more water, to thin out if necessary.
  5. Place pasta and broccoli in bowl with peppers, toss all well with the sauce.
  6. Top with scallions, sesame seeds, or chopped peanuts for garnish!  Serve warm, room temperature, or cold!  ENJOY!
Mmm...peanut-y noodle goodness.

January 21, 2012

Gooey Chocolate Oatmeal Bars

I was on a mission this weekend to find an easy, healthy snack that my friends and their kids would love.  Something easy, yummy, and transportable for my friends with kids on-the-go.  I found this basic recipe on one of my favorite vegan cooking websites, and decided to "jazz" these up to make them more kid friendly.

Enter chocolate chips.

This recipe is incredibly easy and also quite versatile - you can add in whatever you're feelin'!  Make a double batch and freeze them individually for on-the-go snacks!

Gooey Chocolate Oatmeal Bars
Prep Time:  10 min
Cook Time: 40-45 min
Ingredients:
  • 2 1/2 cups regular rolled oats (not instant oats) divided
  • 2 tbsp chia seeds (optional)
  • 1/2 cup ground flax seeds
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups almond milk (or other plant-based milk)
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup (you could probably sub honey)
  • 2 tbsp nut or seed butter (I used almond butter)
  • 1 ripe banana, mashed
  • 1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/3 cup dried dates/raisins/or any other dried fruit
Instructions:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line an 8-inch square pan with two pieces of parchment paper (or just spray with non-stick cooking spray).
  2. In a blender or food processor, blend 1 cup of the oats into flour.
  3. In a large bowl, mix together the dry ingredients - oat flour, 1 1/2 cups rolled oats, chia seeds, flax seeds, baking powder, salt, cinnamon.
  4. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients - milk, syrup, nut/seed butter, banana, vanilla - until no clumps remain.
  5. Add wet to dry and stir until combined  Fold in the chocolate chips and dried fruit.
  6. Pour mixture into pan and smooth out.  Bake for 40-45 min until lightly golden brown along the edges and springs back slowly when touched.  
  7. Place pan on cooling rack for at least 10 min, then carefully remove and allow to cool completely before slicing.
Gooey Oatmeal Chocolate Bars....Mmmm


Now have one of these, make a nice, hot cup of tea, put on those warm fuzzy socks, turn on the fire and enjoy this snowy, icy day!!

Love and Kale,
Ali

January 20, 2012

Labels

Vegan.


The image most people get of a "vegan" is a long hair, tree hugging hippie wearing a long flowy skirt (or long flowy beards for those male hippies), playing the guitar to their kids named Moondance and Sunbeam, while doing yoga and sipping on wheat-grass.

I get it.  I get that hippie connotation that comes along with the label "vegan" because that's exactly what I thought of a vegan just a few years ago!  "Oh but vegan.....that's so.....EXTREME!"

Well fast forward a few short years and now "extreme" to me isn't a whole-foods, plant-based diet. No....it's putting dead flesh and things you can't pronounce into your body, ending up on prescription pills and one day possibly having the front of your chest cut open to fix your clogged arteries.  Now THAT'S extreme to me!  Eating salad, rice, beans, kale?  Not so much.....

I remember a defining moment for me was when I had been reading about nutrition and diet and was out to dinner one night.  I ordered a huge salad with veggies, beans and chicken on it.  I ate my salad, enjoying conversation with my friends.  When I was done, I looked down at my plate and noticed that I had eaten absolutely everything on my plate, except the chicken.  I stared at my plate filled with chicken on it for a while and said to myself, "Uh....I think I'm a vegetarian."

It was so strange, so surreal.  Vegetarian?  That just didn't sounds like me at all!!

But, the more research I did, the more studies I read about, and the more new recipes I tried, it was clearer and clearer to me that I was also slowly un-incorporating dairy from my diet as well.

So there you go - I was a frickin' vegan.  But my hair didn't instantly braid itself, I didn't start wearing long, flowy skirts, and I didn't stop shaving my armpits.  I just stopped eating crap.  I just started eating food....real food.

Of course, you'll get the naysayers - the people who will make fun, or make jokes ("Here Ali, have a cheeseburger!  Hardy har har!").  No big deal.  The most important part of this transition is owning it.  Let people make fun and just be aware of where they are coming from.  Most likely, it's the people that aren't healthy at all, eating junk, and the same ones that will end up with high cholesterol, on Lipitor, and scheduling surgeries.  So let them laugh at you while they're scarfing down a cheeseburger.  You can only control you.  You are doing what's best for you.  You're going to feel so good, look so good, and be so much more healthy.....you'll be like a walking, talking "I told ya' so."

So the moral of the story is - if the label "vegan" freaks you out to the point you start hyperventilating, then screw the label!!  You're healthy.  You eat whole foods.  You eat a plant-based diet.  That's it, plain and simple. And if people don't get that, then they're simple.

Love and Kale,
Ali

January 19, 2012

Creatures of Habit

Transitioning into something new is always hard at first - like getting married, for example.  Before marriage, you could go out with friends at a moments notice.  After marriage, you need to let your partner know about your plans.  Before marriage, you could get wasted and dance on tables at the bar.  After marriage, you drink tea and have game nights.  

But seriously, the reason you make these adjustments is because it's worth it.  If getting to spend your life with your soul-mate means you can't go out at a moments notice or dance on tables at bars anymore, then so be it.  I don't know any happily married people that would change that for the world.

So that's how to view this lifestyle change - yes, there will be growing pains.  Yes, you'll have occasional cravings for things you used to eat.  But it's about changing the old habits and creating new, better, healthier habits.  For example,

  • The restaurant you go to every Friday night where you got a bacon cheeseburger from, doesn't have any good vegan options.  
    • CHANGE THE HABIT.  Find a new restaurant that has some great vegan options!  Any Mexican restaurants (Chipotle, Hot Head Burritos, El Rancho Grande, etc.), Italian restaurants (Carrabba's, etc.), Asian restaurants (China Cottage, Sushi Hana, etc.) or places that have some good vegan options (Chop House, a steak restaurant, has a great veggie plate!). 
  • You are used to eating eggs and/or sugary cereal every morning.  
    • CHANGE THE HABIT.  Find a new healthy breakfast that you like - that will be your new staple.  Muffins made for the week, healthy cereal with plant-based milk, fruit, oatmeal, etc.
  • You drive through McDonald's for a quick lunch or dinner because you don't have any frickin' time!!!!
    • CHANGE THE HABIT.  Start planning - freeze things for quick on-the-go meals.  Make a quick healthy wrap (veggies, beans, hummus in a tortilla) or burrito (beans, rice, salsa, guac in a tortilla).  For emergencies, have some nut butter and all-natural fruit spread on some whole grain bread.  That can be your new fast food.  Does this take a little extra effort?  Sure does!  But guess what....your body will thank you.  You won't feel like total shit (because you definitely will after eating fast food) and you won't feel guilty.  Plus, you won't get cancer and have to go on Lipitor.  It's a win win!

Start small, but start today.  Try changing one habit.  And eventually, you'll feel better, live better, eat better, and have a better quality of life.  Just like marriage, it will all be worth it.  

Love and kale,
Ali

January 18, 2012

Welcome!

Besides entertainment, this blog is meant to give you a real life example of the transition from an unhealthy diet, to a healthy whole-foods, plant-based diet.  I will offer practical, simple tips and advice for making the proper dietary and lifestyle changes in order to have a better quality of life.

More energy, less weight, healthy body, better life.

There will be ups and downs and not everyday will be sunshine and kale.  I know some days you might want to shank someone just for a doughnut and chocolate milk.  BUT this journey is about changing habits.  Old habits die hard, but you CAN do it.  And it's not as hard as you think it will be.  It's about creating new habits, re-defining your palette and focusing on all the delicious, beautiful food you can eat!

Let's get started...........