Sunday, February 23, 2014

Blackberry Smoothie

Look at this gorgeous purple smoothie and how badly it clashes with my kitchen!  I love smoothies with vibrant colors.  Usually for me, they are green but this one turned into a fantastic purple.  Smoothie recipes always seem a little silly to post since basically you just dump things in a blender and see how they turn out. I have a couple reasons for posting this one though.

First, for some reason blackberries have been really cheap the past few weeks.  All the other berries have been pricey (as you'd expect in Chicago in the winter) but blackberries have been about a third of the price of the others.  Since fruit choices in the winter are slim, I grabbed them.

My second reason for posting this is that I used Vega powder with it and this combination completely hid the grainy texture that you usually get with brown rice powders.  I don't mind the powder but they aren't my favorite and this was my best attempt to disguise the texture and taste.

So, here is another smoothie recipe!

Blackberry Smoothy

3 oz. blackberries (this was half my container or about 12 blackberries)
1 banana
8 oz oat milk or non-dairy milk of choice
1 scoop protein powder (I used Vega Vanilla Almondilla powder)

Blend everything together.  Even in my VitaMix, I couldn't get rid of the blackberry seeds so I strained it before drinking.  I've had this the past two mornings and both times tried to drink it with the seeds but they bug me too much!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Cookbook Review - Isa Does It

I think I have all of her cookbooks.  If not all of them, definitely most.  I'm prepared to say that this is my favorite Isa cookbook, and that includes "Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World"!  I liked it that much.  I tried at least one recipe from each chapter and there was only one recipe that I wouldn't make again.  Some of them became instant favorites.  Not only did they taste good (which is obviously the most important) but the recipes also lived up to the claim of quick and easy weeknight meals.  
Outside of the recipes, the book is organized well with a lot of beautiful pictures.  It is also enjoyable just to read.  The introduction includes lists of tools, pantry staples, plenty of tips and hints and even a few pages on various ways to cut up tofu.  This is a pretty large hardback book with 309 pages, and (I counted) 144 recipes.  I feel it was a really good value for the money.  I can't remember the last time I was so happy with a cookbook.

I actually remembered to take pictures of all the recipes except two.  I'm going to break them down by chapter.

Chapter 1 - Soups

Why not start with one I don't have a picture of!  The worst part is I just had the leftovers for lunch an hour ago and still didn't take a picture.  We had Cheddary Broccoli Soup during the week.  Kayleigh made it and said that it was easy except that our immersion blender broke a week ago so she had to use the regular blender which was not large enough to hold all the soup.  I missed all that drama though and just ate it.  It was very rich and creamy and delicious.

The other soup we had was Chickpea-Rice Soup. Here comes the recipe I would not make again.  First of all the name is misleading.  It is mostly cabbage and so un-soup-like we actually ate it as a side dish (see second picture at top).  It was bland and boring. 

Chapter 2 - Salads

The Kale Salad With Butternut Squash and Lentils was good the first day and held up really well as leftovers for the following two days. I roasted the butternut squash ahead of time and used canned lentils so this was really quick to throw together when it was time to eat.  Kayleigh also liked this.

Chapter 3 - Handheld

I was worried about these recipes because we are still in the dead of winter and buried under several feet of snow.  Not the best sandwich weather.  Luckily both of these were so good that we didn't mind.

Red Hot BLTs - tastes nothing like a BLT so we are going to call this Spicy Tempeh Sandwich from now on!  It was very good but if you are looking for a BLT, you will be disappointed.  

Roasted Vegetable Romesco Sandwiches - Kayleigh didn't care for these and ate the vegetables out of the sandwich.  She is never a big fan of spreads.  Bill and I both enjoyed it though.  We ate ours on sourdough bread which was probably not the best option since it fell apart.  Still, it was good.

Chapter 4 - Pasta and Risotto

We love pasta but hate risotto so several of the recipes in this section were immediately eliminated.  The very first recipe I made out of this book was Roasted Red Pepper Mac & Cheese.  Unfortunately I don't have a picture of this one either.  I threw this together at the last minute for a weekend lunch.  It was very easy and I thought it was fantastic.  It tasted like pizza to me.  Bill and Kayleigh didn't like it.  Their reasons were crazy.  Bill thought it tasted too much like pizza and Kayleigh said it was too creamy.  What??!  They are insane.  Take my word for it - delicious!

Bill is not home for dinner on Mondays and he doesn't like eggplant so that was when we tried Eggplant and Bread Crumb Fettuccine.  This was probably one of the fastest recipes in the book.  Bill started the pasta water for me before he left but I had to do everything else since Kayleigh was at track practice.  I got home at 4:50 and we were sitting down to eat at 5:10.  That makes it a winner right there but then it also tasted good.  The downside was that it doesn't warm up very well because the bread crumbs loose their crispiness.  
Chapter 5 - Stews, Chili's and Curries

Much better for winter time!  We had Red Lentil Thai Chili.  I expected it to be much spicier but it wasn't.  I've tried a lot of chili recipes but this is one of my favorites and it really filled me up thanks to the kidney beans and lentils.  The sweet potatoes add a nice twist to your typical chili.

Chapter 6 - Stir Fries and Sautes

Cast Iron Stir Fry.  Loved this.  We had it on quinoa which I made the night before.  The prep was a little irritating because you cook each of the vegetables separately and then combine them at the end.  It wasn't difficult though and went quickly.  Bill was worried about the hoisin because that isn't his favorite but it didn't really stand out.  Kayleigh really liked the tofu and sauce and already said she would like to have just those without the other vegetables!

Chapter 7 - Bowls

I wasn't feeling well mid-week so Kayleigh had to throw something together for me to eat.  We had Curried Peanut Sauce Bowl with Tofu and Kale only without the kale.  We ate it over rice.  This was another big hit with Kayleigh.  The peanut sauce was so good I'm tempted to eat the leftovers with a spoon!

Chapter 8 - Sunday Night Suppers

Nirvana Enchilada Casserole is definitely not a weekday meal.  It took a long time to make.  I didn't really like her enchilada sauce, though, so in the future I'll use a canned version and that will save some time and mess.  The pumpkin seeds seemed like a weird topping but they were good.

Chapter 9 - Few Basic Proteins
This is the only chapter we didn't make anything out of.  I had planned to try the Sesame Tofu but we went through our tofu supply with the other recipes.

Chapter 10 - Breakfast, Brunch and Bakes

Originally I skipped over this section because I already have her Brunch cookbook.  But when I went back and looked through it I saw there are some really yummy looking recipes in there.  I'll definitely have to go back and try some of them.  This morning, I threw together Muffin Pan Mini Omelets.  I liked them even though I was really weird and ate them on top of raspberry jam toast!

Speaking as someone who still eats eggs from time to time I can say these do not taste like eggs but they were good in their own right and really easy.  I mean, really, does that even look remotely like an omelet?!  I'm interested to see how these hold up as leftovers.  This may be a great packed lunch idea.

Tasted better than it looks!

Chapter 11 - Desserts

Seriously, Isa has the best vegan dessert books out there so I doubt anyone is buying this one for the desserts.  Still we had to try one, just to be fair.  Of course these Lemon Lemon Cookies were fantastic.  All her desserts are!

So if you made it this far in the post, it should be clear that I highly recommend this book.  The tastes were often surprising (in a good way) and they really are easy to prepare.  The other thing I noticed is that they are relatively inexpensive recipes so that's a nice added bonus.  I feel like after only two weeks, I've already got my money's worth.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Why I Hate Treadmill Programs

I find it interesting that when we were shopping for our treadmill a couple years ago, one of the selling points always mentioned was the number of programs included with the machine.  I started out trying to use the various options but soon figured out that I did better adjusting the speed and incline as I went along.

Recently Bill has been adamant about using the two open program slots to develop something that Kayleigh and I could use.  About a week ago, I decided to give it a try.  I told him what I liked and didn't like and he tried to adjust it.  I gave it a try, I really did, but I've now decided that programs just aren't for me.

I understand the philosophy behind them. You are forced to react when the speed changes so you can't slip into your comfort zone.  What I realized as I tried to work with the program Bill developed is that we have different goals with our workouts.  He is always trying to push himself to do more and improve.  This makes sense since he races on his bike.  Obviously he needs to be able to react to unexpected changes in speed. The same goes for Kayleigh with her cross country.

As I was fighting with the program and getting very frustrated, I realized I run because it relaxes me, increases my confidence and reduces my stress level.  Dealing with the program did the exact opposite of what I was trying to accomplish!  I have never been an athlete.  I just want to be healthy.

So from now on I'm going to stick to my own way of running.  Go faster when I feel like I can, try to push myself, but slow down and relax if I need to.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Vegan Cuts Snack Box January Review

Last month I decided to sign up for the Vegan Cuts monthly snack boxes.  For about $20 each month they will send you a variety of vegan snack items.  I love going to the store and browsing through all the different items but, as I'm sure you've noticed, vegan products can tend to be expensive and I hate to spend the money and end up not liking it.  Plus I really like to stay away from processed items, even if they are vegan.  Having said that, now that I'm back to work full-time, I often find myself digging around for snack items to take to work with me.  Since working has also given me a little extra spending money each month, this seemed to be the perfect time to sign up for these monthly shipments.  If you are interested in signing up yourself, visit their website by clicking here.  The next shipment goes out on February 17th.

My first box came the day after my birthday so it felt like an extra present!  I've tried most of the items so here is a summary of what was included and what I thought of it:

Olives from Mario Foods - These were green olives that came in a little snack bag without the usual liquid.  I love olives so this was the first thing I grabbed.  They tasted just like olives!  I know that isn't overly exciting but they are what they are.  I have been known to dump some olives in a small container and take them to work for a snack so I think this would serve the same purpose but they'd already be packaged for you.

Sea Salt Roasted Chickpeas from The Good Bean - We make roasted chickpeas all the time.  Personally, we like our own better.  These were OK but they tasted more like peanuts whereas our homemade roasted chickpeas are crunchy but still a little soft.  Plus we like coming up with our own seasonings.  While I didn't mind them, if I was going to grab a snack like this, I'd probably grab some raw almonds instead.

Hemp Seeds from Manitoba Harvest - Here is another item I use all the time.  I put hemp seeds in just about everything.  I used about half this bag to mix in with French toast batter on the weekend and then added the rest to my larger bag of hemp seeds.  While this was nothing new for me, I'm glad it was included because I think there are still a lot of people out there who haven't tried hemp seeds so hopefully this will encourage them to give it a try.

Lemon Blueberry Chia Drink from Drink Chia - This is the product I was most excited about and most scared to try!  There are tons of chia seeds floating around in there and I couldn't even guess what that texture was going to be like.  I drank this shortly after a run so I was nice and thirsty.  I really liked it.  It was refreshing and, although you could tell there were seeds, it wasn't nearly as weird as I thought it would be.  This is the product I am most likely to buy more of.  I don't know that I'd drink it casually during the day but it was very nice after a workout.

Speaking of workouts:  Lemon Powdered Drink Mix from Skratch Labs - My husband actually heard of this before and since he is the expert in our house on sports drinks, I gave this to him to try. He said he looks mostly for a good taste and texture because if you don't like the taste, you won't end up drinking enough to fuel your ride.  He likes sweet more than sour but not syrupy.  He said this had a nice, smooth, sweet taste.  He described it as somewhere between lemonade and water with lemon.  If he wasn't sponsored by a different company, he would probably buy this.

Salted Caramel Peanut Butter from The 3 Nuts - First of all, this comes in the cutest little jar!  I love all nut butters and this one tasted just as good as I expected.  The only disappointment is I couldn't get it to spread.  I tried and tried but it stayed kind of chunky so I just ate it straight with a spoon.  I think it would be really good in a smoothy.

Seed Crackers from Mary's Gone Crackers - I've heard a lot of raves about these crackers.  I thought they were good but I'm not much of a cracker fan.  Still if these were available in my snack drawer, I wouldn't hesitate to grab them in the afternoon.  I wouldn't say these are the kind of crackers you'd put something on.  They are more of a stand-alone snack.

Bumblebar - I'm pretty sure I eat too many energy bars!  They are my weakness because they are just so convenient.  The flavor I received was chocolate crunch.  I was disappointed with the first bite but I think it was just because this is different than I was used to.  It is loaded with sesame seeds.  By the time I finished the bar (it was the junior size) I was wishing I had more.  This is another product I will probably be buying again.

Tea from Mighty Leaf - I don't know if everyone got the same flavors.  My pack included Earl Grey, African Nectar and Green Tea Tropical.  Unlike the rest of my family, I'm not much of a tea drinker. I mostly only drink peppermint or ginger and that is only for IBS flares so I don't have happy feelings associated with tea!   I already told Bill he could have the Earl Grey and I plan to give the green tea to my parents or my sister-in-law depending on who I see first.  I felt like I'd like the African Nectar the best since it might be fruity.  I liked that the bags are fabric instead of paper.  Unfortunately this tea smelled like cough syrup to me and didn't taste much better.  Two sips and I poured it down the drain.  But please don't base anything on my opinion.  Like I said, I'm not a tea drinker.

So overall I'd say this was a really nice variety with high-quality products.  Definitely worth the $20.  Based on this one box, I'd highly recommend this subscription if you have room in your monthly budget.  I'm really excited to see what comes this month!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Birthday Cupcakes - Cooking with Kayleigh

My mom and I have miserable January birthdays.  The weather is almost always bad but this year it reached a new extreme.  I knew that she was hoping for some cupcakes from Kayleigh though, so the weekend after her birthday we headed down to their house during a snow storm.  Luckily, despite the warnings, the snow wasn't too bad and stopped before we headed back home.  Kayleigh brought maraschino cherry cupcakes. She made cupcakes similar to these last year and they reminded my mom of a cake her aunt used to make for her birthday when she was growing up.  The original recipe called for a cake mix but this year Kayleigh figured out how to make it from scratch.

Grandma watching Kayleigh make biscuits.

I should say right away - these aren't vegan.  They are dairy-free but they do contain egg whites.  We've experimented a lot with replacing whole eggs in baked products but I wasn't sure what to do when you only need the whites.  If anyone has a good substitution, please let me know.

I was in charge of the frank and beans.

While there, I made frank and beans for dinner and Kayleigh made baking powder biscuits (found in this book).  I'd say the late birthday celebration was a success even with the terrible weather!


Maraschino Cherry Cupcakes

2 3/4 cup flour
1 3/4 cup fine sugar (Baker's sugar)
2 tsp baking powder
1 cup vegan sour cream
1/2 cup oil
3 egg whites
1/4 cup water
1/2 tsp almond extract
2 10-oz jars of maraschino cherries, drained (we saved the juice and mixed some of it into the frosting)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line two cupcake pans (24 cupcakes) with liners.  

Chop the cherries into a small dice (a food processor works good for this).  

In an electric mixer, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, sour cream, oil, egg whites, water and almond extract on low for one minute to mix and then on medium speed for 2 minutes until smooth.  Fold in the cherries.  

Fill each cup 3/4 full.  Bake for 18 minutes.  Let cool and top with your favorite frosting.  (These are so moist, they aren't bad without any frosting at all.)

Grandma's gifts - soup mugs and a candle.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Vegan Flautas

My husband judges all Mexican restaurants by how good their chicken flautas are.  I always liked the idea of them so set out to come up with a vegan version several years ago.  I've changed it a few times and now it's just about perfect.

This is probably one of the least healthy meals we have since they are fried.  I try to use as little oil as possible though and we only have these once or twice a year.  Plus they are obviously better than the restaurants because I don't use chicken!

Please notice that the rice is already cooked.  I hate when I get part way through a recipe and realize it calls for cooked rice.  This is a really good use for leftover rice.


2 medium red potatoes, cut in cubes
1 small onion, diced
1 red pepper, diced
1/2 jalapeno, finely diced
1 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 15-oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup cooked brown rice
1/4 cup cilantro
1/2 cup coconut oil (approximately)
12 corn tortillas
Toppings such as salsa, guacamole, vegan sour cream

Bring a pot of water to boil.  Cover and simmer the potatoes until tender (about 30 minutes).  If you don't have leftover rice, start cooking the rice now as well.  Wrap the tortillas in foil and place in a 175 degree oven until you are ready to use them.

In a sauce pan, heat 1 tsp oil over medium heat.  Saute the onion, bell pepper, and jalapeno until softened but not browned.  Add the chili powder and stir to coat.  Add the cooked rice and black beans.  Cook over low heat for 5 minutes.  Stir in the cilantro.

Once the potatoes are done cooking, drain the potatoes and add them to the other ingredients.  Stir well to combine and then lightly mash to mixture with a potato masher so that it is still chunky but smashed together.

Remove the tortillas from the oven and increase the temperature to 225.  Place a draining rack over a baking sheet.  Place 2-3 tablespoons of potato mixture in each tortilla and roll them tightly.  

In a large, high sided skillet, heat a few tablespoons of the coconut oil (enough to cover the bottom of the pan) over medium heat.  Place as many of the rolled tortillas into the pan as you can fit, seam side down.  Do not move them for about 5 minutes or until nicely browned.  Turn with tongs and cook the other side 5 additional minutes.  Remove the flautas from the pan and place them on the wire rack over a baking sheet.  Place them in the warm oven as you continue with the remaining flautas.  

Allow all fried flautas to sit in the warm oven 15-30 minutes before eating.  This will make them less greasy.