Dear Rabbit Food…

I hate being a wanna-be…

But I can’t resist a challenge.

Over the past year or so, my friends and family have been hearing a word from me that they hadn’t heard very often before.  And now they’re hearing it all the time.  And by my count, they are getting sick of hearing it.

Vegan.  Veganveganvegan.  Vegan times infinity plus one!

…vegan.

So there 😛

Sorry guys.

The truth is, I’m not one, although I’m getting there.  For the past two days and the week before this previous weekend, as well as a nibble or two of a most-likely-not-vegan baked good left in the teacher’s lounge aside, I have not eaten anything of animal origin.

…oh wait, I forgot my bread has honey in it.

Okay, so maybe not.

But I do the best I can at keeping my diet this way.  My meals are set up so that they are free of dairy, eggs, and meat.  It’s been a while since I’ve used any dairy or eggs in my baked goods.  Aside from our recent trip to San Diego, it has also been a while since my husband has had meat for dinner.

No, he hasn’t shrivelled up and died.  …yet.  He claims his daily turkey sandwich for lunch keeps him breathing.  My lunch, as my recent visit with a physician’s assistant revealed, has also not changed much –

“So what did you eat for lunch Monday?”
“A veggie patty and a salad.”
“And Tuesday?”
“Black bean soup and a salad.”
“Wednesday?”
“A veggie patty and a salad.”
“Thursday?”
“Rice and beans and -”
“And a salad?”

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Yeah.

I don’t like labels.  I especially don’t like labelling my eating habits.  But in any case, even without being strictly vegan, I would classify my diet as heavily plant-based.

It started being more like that a little over a year ago when I lamented my weight fluctuations to my physician.  He attributed it (rightly so) to inconsistencies in my lifestyle, but offered to do a few blood tests and asked if I would be willing to see that center’s nutritionist for a resting metabolic rate test.  I agreed, saw the nutritionist, discovered my RMR, and also took home a fair amount of information from her about nutrition (shocker – Thai curry is high in calories!).  In addition, I started reading a couple publications from the hospital I volunteered at, which happens to be Adventist.

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The Adventists traditionally adhere to a strict vegetarian (or “vegan”) diet (vegans go further with the lifestyle commitment by not purchasing anything of animal origin, including wool, silk, leather, as well as cosmetics and other items that contain animal products).  They are one of three people groups recently identified by National Geographic that contain a very high proportion of centenarians.  And they are one of the only groups of people whose numbers of centenarians are not declining.  This is attributed mostly to their diet and to a lifestyle associated with their Adventist beliefs.

With a bit more research, which I won’t dwell on, I was convinced that avoiding animal products in my diet was the best way to go (for largely health and environmental reasons – I don’t have too many “soft fuzzy” feelings about animals, with the exception of pigs, and I hate chickens [the animals themselves] – which my dad says “Are vegetables.  Because squash is smarter than chickens.”  But I can’t stand preparing chicken – ultimately my grossed-outedness at preparing chicken ruins most of the satisfaction I get from the cooked meal).  I was also enticed by the challenge of creating meals and baked goods without dairy and eggs.

It has been a very productive quest.

I’ve made everything from stir fries…

to enchiladas…
Imageto cheesecake… (this one is also “raw” – a food trend I don’t necessarily agree with)

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to cookies…
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to tacos, to even…

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a Thanksgiving meal (turkey and stuffing aside…) vegan.

My husband is a carnivore; I have no hope or aspiration of converting him to this “dark side”.  But I do ask him after he finishes his portion of whatever recipe I make what his opinion is.  A positive review goes like this –

“Pretty good for rabbit food.”

Among his favorites are red lentil dal, enchiladas, and even pudding (scroll down to the bottom of the hyperlinked page).

This past weekend, at a family gathering in California, was a bit of a test for me.  I was thankfully in the company of another person who also leans vegetarian, but is not fully opposed to eating fish or poultry.  With her help, I was able to scrounge together some food resources to keep my breakfasts and lunches within more plant-based lines.  I did break into the delicious chicken salad and also had a tuna steak for dinner one night and salmon another…

While I enjoyed all the meals, I felt like I ultimately would not miss the presence of fish and eggs (one of my biggest hangups with going vegan) in my day to day life.  Especially with how good I am at selecting quality vegan recipes on my own.

So I think I will stick to rabbit food.  And cheat during holidays or while being served food at another person’s house.

My experiment for this coming weekend is this recipe, along with my own attempt at meatless meatballs using quinoa and chickpea flour.

I leave you with a couple recipes to try – one the best “mac n’ cheese”s, vegan or not, I have ever had, along with my own blueberry muffin recipe that contains ingredients non-vegans are likely to have, is low in added sugar, high in fiber, and as my husband says – “Pretty good for rabbit food.” (i.e. it’s DELICIOUS).

The VeganYumYum’s Mac and Cheese

Image(This is *not* health food!  Whew, there, I got that out – what a relief!  It is one of the richest dishes I’ve ever made, period.

For this I recommend cooking 8 oz of dry macaroni for the sauce recipe given, and also adding freshly roasted hot-peppers, or roasted mini sweet peppers if you don’t like the heat.  I also added these vegan Mexican Chipotle sausages).

Blueberry Muffins

Makes 10 muffins (yes, only ten)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup quick-cooking (not instant) oats
  • 2 Tbsp ground flax seed (optional)
  • 1/4 cup organic/natural sugar*
  • 1/2 tsp salt**
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1/3 cup canola or grape seed oil
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk (soy or almond)
  • 1 medium banana, mashed***
  • 1 cup blueberries (frozen is fine, but it will turn your batter purple)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Lightly spray a muffin tin with oil.
  2. Combine whole wheat flour, oats, flax seed, sugar, salt, and baking powder in a large mixing bowl.
  3. In a separate bowl, gently whisk together the oil, milk, and mashed banana.
  4. Stir liquid ingredients into dry ingredients with a fork until just moistened.  Fold blueberries into the muffin mix.
  5. Spoon batter into muffin tin, filling each about 3/4 of the way full.
  6. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the muffins have just started to pull away from the sides of the pan and a tester inserted into a muffin comes out clean.  Allow to cool in pan 3-5 minutes, then transfer to a baking rack to cool completely.  When reheating the muffins, placing them in a warm (200 degree) oven is recommended.

*Regular white sugar and regular brown sugar is not vegan as the sugar is processed through cow bone char in order to make it white. Brown sugar is just the whitened sugar with molasses added back in – still not vegan
**I do not advocate leaving salt out of most home baked goods – it normally serves a purpose, and excess sodium in our diets usually comes mostly from packaged/refined products, not our salt shakers
***If you don’t like banana, you can replace it with 1/2 c unsweetened applesauce.  I recommend the banana – it is not very strong and adds a more subtle, rich flavor to the muffins

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Meatball evolution

My mother made (and still makes) the most delicious meatballs.  I remember going to Italian restaurants as a kid and always being disappointed with the ones served alongside my pasta/ravioli/etc.  Part of her secret was not mixing everything together perfectly.  You would find a lump of bread or some cheese that wasn’t smoothed into the meat mixture.  The meatballs were dynamic in this way.  And they never failed to satisfy me or be the best part of our spaghetti meal.

The meatballs I am going to show you are very different from hers, but they evolved from them in a sense – I keep certain things the same – always letting the mixture sit for a period of time and always adding Parmesan cheese, as well as kneading the mixture with my hands.  I can say that my mother’s meatballs are more along the lines of comfort food (but are by no means unhealthy).  Just like an “evolved” creature, these meatballs are not better, not “worse”, they are just different or at least suited for a different environment.

I’ve made this recipe twice now, served alongside spaghetti squash.  I think these may become my family’s staple meatball – they will be my kid’s “Mom’s Meatball”, and then they will have “Grandma’s Meatballs” too.  You can choose to use either 99% lean ground turkey or lean (93/7) ground beef.  There is less than a 10 calorie difference between the two, per meatball, if you are a stickler for ground beef.  Either way, I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

Herbed Turkey Meatballs
(makes 20, ~1.5″ meatballs)

  • 1 lb 99% lean ground turkey
  • 1/2 cup quick cooking oats
  • 1/2 cup various fresh herbs, or about as much as is pictured below – yes, that is a lot of herbs! (I used equal portions of rosemary, sage, basil, and oregano – and yes, they must be fresh!)
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  • 1/2 yellow onion
  • 5 medium cremini mushrooms
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 T grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 T milk (2% or whole)
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste (I also add in a few dashes of cayenne)

(Note: this recipe calls for the use of a food processor.  A blender will probably work fine for processing the herbs and oatmeal as shown below.  It may also work for processing the mushrooms and onions, though you may end up having to hand-mince these items.  Not a big deal, you will just not get as smooth of a meatball in the end, which I’d be happy with, but it depends on the person.)

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Line a shallow baking pan with aluminum foil and coat lightly with olive oil or non-stick cooking spray (I spray lightly with olive oil using a Misto).
  2. In a food processor, add 1/2 cup of oatmeal and all the herbs.
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  3. Run the processor until the herbs are roughly the same size as the ground oatmeal.
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  4. Pour the oat/herbs mixture into a large glass bowl and set aside.  Meanwhile, pulse the onion and the mushrooms together in the food processor until they are minced.  You’ll be just about ready to combine all the rest of the ingredients at this point.
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  5. In the large bowl, combine the oats and herbs, minced onion and mushrooms, and ground turkey.  Add the egg and Parmesan cheese, milk, as well as freshly ground pepper to taste.
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  6. Mix the mixture together thoroughly, kneading with your hands.  I find this is the best and the most satisfying way to make the meatballs (yes, and also the most messy for your hands – but that is part of the fun :-)).  The finished product should stick together nicely and form a smooth ball that resembles bread dough in texture.
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  7. Cover the ball with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to allow the flavors to combine.
  8. With your hands, roll roughly 1.5″ balls and place them evenly spaced on a baking sheet.
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  9. Bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes, or until the meatballs are done in the center (they should look like they have a nice, baked “crumb” texture in the middle).
  10. Once you have tested a meatball, or are confident that they are done, place the meatballs under the broiler, set on high, until they are golden brown on top.  This step is optional; however, I feel like it does add nicely to their texture and appearance.
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As you can see, the meatballs are very light and are not greasy at all.  The oatmeal lends itself well to making a very moist meatball.  They go fabulously with spaghetti squash and marinara sauce, though I’m sure they’ll work well with just about any Italian dish.  My husband and I have also dipped these in pineapple salsa as a snack/appetizer and they were delicious that way.

This recipe is very versatile.  I’m currently toying with an adaptation that would include the addition of diced apple, roughly chopped dried cranberries, and a dash or two of cinnamon and nutmeg –  to be served with turkey gravy.  If you find a combination of ingredients that works well for you, please leave a comment!

(Nutrition estimate per meatball: ~47 kcal, 3 g carbohydrates, 1 g fat, 6 g protein, 27 mg sodium, 0 g sugar)

Spring souffle experimentation

It might not strike you immediately (although it did me when I first saw the recipe), but eggs and raspberries = an excellent combination.

Yes, the breakfast obsession revolving around eggs continues.  I’ve always loved breakfast, as long as it wasn’t cereal.  Even in high school, I would make the effort to get up early to cook myself a breakfast burrito before dragging myself onto the bus.

In talking to my coworkers, I’ve gathered that time constraints limit them to cold cereal and milk for breakfast (ways around this in a future post).  To them, and many, this makes what is my favorite meal, their most boring one of the day.  It doesn’t have to be that way – there are so many things one can do for breakfast, perhaps even more so than dinner.  A goal of mine with this blog is to point people to recipes, ingredients, and techniques to help change their mind about this.

On that note, I put together a really fun first-meal-of-the-day this past weekend (unfortunately, this is not a good quick-and-easy recipe with any good make-ahead options)…

This cookbook came into my hands recently.  For its old-fashioned design, it definitely has some forward-thinking recipes, such as chilled cherry soup, pear and sweet potato pancakes, and even an egg dish that calls for the addition of black tea.

When I flipped through the book for the first time, Phillips’ Raspberry-style Omelet Souffle caught my eye.  Who doesn’t love the idea of eating an egg puff-ball filled with raspberries?  The only problem was the recipe serves six.  As I mentioned earlier, my husband and I are but two (no kids yet).  In this recipe, the whipped egg mixture is poured into a single oven-safe skillet and then cut to serve six people.  We had some ramekins on hand and I figured I could portion it out into six of them.  A little hmmm-ing later, I came up with a solution.

And the process unfolded this way…

The prep-work… (In the background are freshly baked Aunt Polly’s buttermilk biscuits – southern cooking at its best.  They go fabulously with the souffles.)

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The recipe called for melting the butter in an oven-safe frying pan.  The eggs would be added in once the butter began to bubble and then the pan placed in the oven.  I worked around this by adding the butter to each individual ramekin and putting them in the oven, preheated to 375.  The plan was to take the ramekins out once they were heated, portion out the egg mixture, and then return them to the oven for baking.

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Working with beautifully colored and textured ingredients…  Everything is going well so far.

And then I peaked into the oven.

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…hmmm, no bubbling.  And there is something in my butter.

Oh crap, I burned the butter.

*le sigh*  Life goes on, and so I went forward, hoping I hadn’t ruined the whole thing.

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Beautiful color out of the oven!  They puffed up perfectly.  Since it was home cooking, I cared less about presentation for the next part.  I think in the future, I would be able to figure out a way to fill them without damaging the overall shape as much.

I decided to serve the raspberry-filled souffle with one honey-drizzled biscuit, some fresh pineapple, and fresh raspberries.  The final result:

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How did it turn out, despite the burned butter?

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As an inexperienced cook, I didn’t know how actually, hrm…, wonderful it was that the butter “burned” (it didn’t quite get that far).  It added a lovely, honey-caramel characteristic to the souffles that wouldn’t have been there otherwise.

These reminded me a lot of a chocolate mousse cake my husband makes from time to time.  On that note, I think they would make a fantastic light dessert as well (adding in a little melted chocolate to the egg mixture and served with the raspberries on the inside).

They saved pretty well for the most part.  I put each extra ramekin in its own Ziploc bag and only refrigerated them one day before polishing off the leftovers.  They didn’t reheat well in the microwave (the oven probably would have been better), but then again, they were also very good cold (with warmed raspberries served on top).

I learned a lot from this recipe, so I’m thrilled either way.

To summarize, here is the full recipe, which includes my changes (reduced sugar by 1/2, as well as instructions for serving the fun way – in self-contained individual portions).

Raspberry-style Omelet Souffles
(makes six individually-sized souffles)

  • 6, 6-7 oz oven-safe ramekins
  • 1 package frozen raspberries (10 oz)
  • 2 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • dash of salt
  • 1/4 c granulated sugar
  • 2 Tbsp butter, cut into 6 equal pieces
  • confectioner’s sugar (for topping/presentation)
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Place one piece of butter in each ramekin.
  2. Thaw the raspberries and sprinkle with 2 tsp lemon juice.  Set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, whip the eggs whites and salt together with an electric mixer on high speed until foamy.  Add the granulated sugar and continue beating on the highest setting until the mixture becomes stiff and glossy.
  4. Lightly beat the egg yolks.  Gently fold them into the whites.
  5. Put the ramekins in the oven to heat the butter.  You want to leave it in the oven until the butter just begins to caramelize/form some golden solids.  When this happens, divide the egg mixture equally between the hot ramekins. Place the ramekins on a dry baking sheet in the oven. Bake for 12 minutes or until golden.
  6. Remove from oven.  Slit each omelet at top and equally portion out about 1/2 of the raspberries across the six ramekins.  Spoon remaining berries on top (or put all berries inside the souffles, it’s your call).  Sprinkle top with confectioners’ sugar.

(Rough nutrition information for each souffle: 160 kcal, 19 g carbohydrates [16 g sugars], 7 g fat, 5 g protein, 63 mg sodium)

If you would like to try this out with a side of Aunt Polly’s biscuits…

Aunt Polly’s Buttermilk Biscuits

  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 2 cups flour
  1. Put milk, salt, soda and baking powder in a bowl and mix well.  Add oil and 1 cup flour; mix well.  Add the remaining cup of flour and mix well.  Dough will be soft.
  2. Put on well-floured board and knead until it is a smooth, soft dough.
  3. Roll or pat dough to 1/2 inch and cut out with biscuit cutter or top of a tumbler dipped in flour.
  4. Place in a pan and bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes or until golden brown.

Makes 10-12 biscuits.  (Nutrition per biscuit if 10 biscuits are made: 140 kcal, 19 g carbohydrates [2 g sugars], 6 g fat, 3 g protein, 250 mg sodium)

Pair the souffle with the biscuit and some fresh fruit and you have quite the appetizing breakfast for under 400 calories.

Fighting the end of winter one dish at a time…

This morning I was in need of a pick-me-up as Denver once again slogs through another snow storm.  Recently I came across this article and really wanted to try, well, basically everything there.  But I thought the Egg in a Cloud would be a great way to start a cold wintry Tuesday.

I bought a new cookbook a couple weeks back.  We happened to have all the ingredients for the cornmeal waffles with fresh peach topping (no good fresh peaches here, but we froze some last fall – they thawed out wonderfully).  So this weekend we made those.  It was a success, although the batter was extremely thick and didn’t quite reach the edges of the iron.

As always, when cooking for two people, there are leftovers.  We had one waffle left to fight over this morning.  When I saw the Egg in a Cloud idea, I knew it would be best served on top of a waffle (a technique I first saw at the hospital I used to volunteer at – they put fried chicken, banana mashed potatoes, and gravy on top of a waffle for dinner).  So this morning, I split the waffle in half, threw it in the oven while it was pre-heating, and put the rest of the meal together.

The result:

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First impressions – the waffle on bottom was the best idea.  It added additional texture/structure and flavor, plus the slightest hint of sweetness.

However, as I should have suspected, the egg was a little bland.  The texture was good, but it needed a little something extra.  While thinking today, I have come up with a few options to fix this: top with Parmesan cheese before putting in the oven, mix the whipped whites with herbs (sage, rosemary, whatever), perhaps drizzle with butter or olive oil after done cooking.

I think this is a good recipe as far as versatility goes.  Since the website is vague on the details, here is what I used to create this:

Egg in a Cloud

Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 2 pieces of toast (or 2 plain or savory waffles)
  • Optional for flavoring – grated Parmesan cheese, sage and/or rosemary, olive oil or butter (can use any of these in any combination, just play with it)
  1. Preheat the oven to 415 degrees.  Prepare the toast and warm the waffles if need be (reheating waffles is best done directly on the rack in the conventional oven while it is preheating – after the oven is heated, transfer the waffles to an oven-safe pan, plate or skillet so that the eggs can be placed on top of them for baking).
  2. In a medium bowl, whip the egg whites with an electric mixer on high speed until stiff peaks form.  Once this occurs, carefully fold the spices and Parmesan cheese into the whites if desired.
  3. Evenly divide the whites onto two pieces of toast, forming a well in the center for the yolk.
  4. Carefully slide the yolk into the well.  Transfer the eggs and toast to an oven-safe pan.  Sprinkle with additional Parmesan cheese, if desired.
  5. Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes, or until the egg whites are golden on top and the yolks have just begun to set.
  6. Remove from oven.  Drizzle with olive oil or butter, if desired.  Top with a little salt and pepper.