Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Two Weeks Ago Food - Better Late Than Never?

So, what I really need to do is get on a more regular blogging schedule - similar to the one I followed when I first started out (more than a year ago!).  At that point, I managed to blog almost every day, so I could recount the previous day's meals and activities.  But since I haven't been doing that, now I just have to do a dump post where I recount a bunch of meals I ate two weeks ago ... 
For a long while I stared at this box of Archway Cashew Nougat cookies I'd managed to save away at Christmas (I'm like a squirrel ...).  My usual ritual is to eat two (or three) boxes of my favorite cookie of all time at the holidays, then save just one to eat after session ends.  So every time I opened the freezer I would see the deliciousness waiting for me but I'd have to be good and look away.  Until two weeks ago ...  when session was finally over and I dug in and ate the whole box in two days ...  Now I wish I'd frozen two boxes :( 
Around the same time, I received The Godfather on DVD from Netflix (part of my little attempt to watch all 100 of the AFI top 100 movies - I'm around 40 now).  Well, as most of you probably know, The Godfather basically requires you to eat Italian food while you watch it, so I mixed up some quick and easy pasta sauce and enjoyed a big plate of spaghetti with Mr. Brando. 
Making pasta sauce always leaves you with a huge batch, so I froze about half of what I made, then enjoyed the rest later in the week with some delicious Rising Moon artichoke and olive ravioli - notice it's made with soy ricotta.  I loved this stuff before I was vegan, but it was a nice treat to find out it was not just vegetarian (like they advertise on the label), but actually vegan as well :) 
Mid-week at work, with not a whole lot to do, I decided to go out for lunch by stopping by the Whole Foods prepared foods bar.  I always go to Whole Foods hoping the selection is going to look like Wegmans, and I'm always disappointed.  I don't know why I keep going.  On this occasion, there wasn't a lot to choose from and a lot of things weren't marked as to whether they were vegan, so I erred on the side of caution and only grabbed what I knew was safe. I got some marintated mushrooms and a couple of slices of celebration roast.  Neither were very good, and to make matters worse one of them made me pretty sick later in the afternoon.  Maybe I'll finally learn my lesson about the Whole Foods bar ...
Things looked up food-wise on Friday when I joined a friend for a birthday dinner at Paladar Latin Kitchen and Rum Bar.  Since my friend is also vegan, I knew she would be making a great choice for her own birthday dinner, and I wasn't disappointed.  I loaded up on guacamole before dinner, then enjoyed the sweet potato tacos as my entree (minus the aioli).  Of course I also had a few libations to round out my dinner.  It was a celebration, after all. 

Saturday night I tried to steer myself back toward healthier fare by making a tried and true healthy dinner - tofu, broccoli, and edamame with Thai peanut sauce.  Though I often serve this with rice or bean threads, I decided to nix the filler and just serve the stuff with actual nutrition.  Look at all that green.  This dish just screams "healthy", doesn't it? 

Sunday night I headed to Josh's parents' for dinner.  (Remember the lemon coconut bars?)  I headed up there a few hours before dinner so I could walk their dogs and socialize for a bit.  Unfortunately, on my way there I realized that with just a breakfast smoothie in me I wouldn't make it to dinner without a bit more food.  Lucky for me I was passing close to Land of Kush at just that moment and decided to stop in for a delicious side of mac 'n cheese.  It was creamy, cheesy, deliciousness.  Not super healthy, but at least I ordered the small.  And it was definitely enough to tide me over until the tasty pasta dinner Josh's Dad prepared - pasta with cannelini beans, broccoli rabe, sun dried tomatoes, pine nuts, and I'm sure all sorts of other good things too.  Yum yum!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Lemon Coconut Bars

When invited to Josh's parents' house for dinner last weekend, of course the first thing I do is ask "Is there anything I can bring?"  Which is how I got roped into baking again.  Don't get me wrong ... I love to bake.  And I love to eat sweet treats.  The problem is that when I bake and then eat sweet treats I tend to not stop at one.  And when I end up baking something for occasion after occasion, then I end up eating multiple desserts ... every day ...  Not good for my health and not good for the size of my posterior. 
It was actually Josh's idea to make lemon bars ... specifically, he wanted lemon coconut bars.  And fortunately I had recently come across this recipe on Chocolate Covered Katie for plain lemon bars that I thought would be easy enough to tweak for my needs.  Plus, the recipe was both relatively healthy and also had a small yield - the less it makes, the less I can eat, right?  I followed the recipe almost exactly (I didn't use lemon zest, and obviously I used a lot less food coloring - I prefer the natural-looking yellow, rather than the technicolor) but before putting the bars in to bake I sprinkled sweetened coconut flakes on top.  Even after chilling the bars were surprisingly soft - more like a mousse on top of a firm crust - which meant they really needed to be eaten with a fork.  But they were definitely tasty. 
The recipe yielded eight bars that were about 2 inches x 1 1/2 inches - small, but enough to get a few good bites. I'm not quite sure how I would make them firmer next time - maybe more tofu?  But I think I'll be experimenting with these more in the future. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

My New Addiction - Cheesy Quinoa

I know it's been a while now since I said I would post on my favorite new food - cheesy quinoa.  But better late than never, right? 
I didn't really think it was possible to improve on my cashew cream sauce. But then I added miso and truffle oil ...  What a difference! The miso, in particular, really adds a sharp, "cheesy" flavor to the sauce.  It just goes to show, even your staple recipes can always be revisited and maybe improved.  I don't even think I'll  ever go back to the old recipe.  And I definitely wouldn't have thought I would ever say that a month ago. 
New-and-Improved Cashew Cream (Cheese) Sauce:
(ingredient amounts are all estimated and can be adjusted to taste)
1/3 cup cashews, soaked overnight
1 1/2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons miso
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon truffle oil (optional)
soy or almond milk to reach desired consistency
I blend everything together in a cuisinart and then taste to adjust flavors. 
Then the real fun begins.  The sauce can be used on just about anything - pasta, plain broccoli, or even as pizza sauce.  But my new (and healthy!) favorite way to use it is to make cheesy quinoa.  Just mix cheese sauce with cooked quinoa, then dress up with your favorite add-ins.  Several times now I've opted to mix my cheesy quinoa with cooked broccoli (I lightly sauteed mine for a few minutes).  But you could use just about any vegetable under the sun.  I've also mixed mine with black beans (white would also be tasty!) and chopped and sauteed bell pepper.  I can't wait to try cheesy quinoa with mushrooms!  The possibilities are definitely endless.  But I intend to try as many as I can ...

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Stopping to Smell the Flowers

Last week wasn't exactly the most workout-filled week I've ever had.  But hey, something is always better than nothing, right?  Let's get right to it ...

Monday - Off

Tuesday - Long walk to library - about 4.5 miles.  The great thing about taking a walk on a beautiful day (even just around your neighborhood) is that it's a great stress reliever.  I like to take the opportunity to literally stop and smell the flowers :) 
Wednesday - 30 minutes on the elliptical
Thursday - 2 mile run.  Again - got to get outside, even if it's just a short trip.  I did this quick run while my lentil soup was simmering on the stove.
Friday - Off
Saturday - 1 hour hike at Black Hill Regional Park.  To find this place, I just pulled up a map of the area and looked for green space.  Unfortunately, it wasn't exactly my favorite hiking experience ... in fact, it was really just a nature walk because the "trail" I followed was paved the whole way.  And some of the time you were even fenced off from the actual nature ...
And most of the time the trail went right along behind a bunch of houses so it was like you were walking through peoples' back yards.  Not exactly like immersing yourself in the natural beauty of the world. 
But the trail wound its way around a good-sized lake and it was a beautiful, sunny day, so there were a ton of turtles to spot sunning themselves on rocks and logs.  I probably saw about thirty turtles in my hour-long walk - which I'd estimate came in at right around three miles.  Not the most physical exertion ever, but I got a late start to the day.  I intend to do much better with my hike this weekend! 
Sunday - Off (unless you count the incredibly short walk with Josh's parents' dogs - probably less than a mile going at an old dog's pace - which is sloooooooow)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Chicken Ring?

Yes ... chicken ring.  Sounds pretty much disgusting, doesn't it?  I don't even really recall how I came across this recipe for a chicken broccoli ring, but I do know why I was drawn to it.  When I first became vegan I looked through the (extensive) list Peta compiled of "accidentally" vegan items at the grocery store, and I remembered that Pillsbury crescent rolls were included on the list (right between cornbread and pizza dough).  Since the real crux of this recipe was the crescent rolls, I figured everything else could be subbed out easily enough to create my own vegan version of the chicken ring ...
Horray, right?  Yeah, Josh didn't think it was worth pursuing either.  But boy was he wrong!  With the crescent rolls safely in the vegan camp, all I had to do to make my chicken ring dreams a reality was sub out vegannaise for the mayo, Gardein chicken scallopini for the chicken, and daiya mozzarella for the cheddar (I had the mozz already, but I'm sure daiya cheddar would have been great too - and more colorful).  I could have also gotten more color using a red bell pepper rather than orange but the orange were on sale ...  I also nixed the egg wash and almonds, figuring crescent rolls come out looking just fine without filling and would probably do the same here. 
The whole recipe came together pretty easily.  The trickiest part really was fitting all of the crescent roll triangles into my circle (I came up one short).  I also didn't get the beautiful foldover with perfect spacing, but I'm sure I can get it right with more practice!  And more practice I most certainly will get, because the chicken ring was amazing!!!  Decidedly unhealthy, perhaps, but really, really tasty.  I ate the whole ring myself in three sittings.  (Yes, I realize that's the equivalent of eating five crescent rolls at a time, plus the filling.)  So maybe the more appropriate plan here would be to make this with a giant salad to help ensure chicken ring portion control. 
Now, one more time for good measure ... chicken ring!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Muffin Mania

I guess it's no surprise by now that I'm a bit all over the map when it comes to my food choices.  One minute I'm talking about how I want to eat healthier, eat more green vegetables, and make sure I incorporate protein into my meals ... and the next minute I'm off baking up some indulgent treat again.  I'm definitely food bipolar. 
But I guess most of us are to some extent.  It's almost impossible to go through life without the occasional treat.  It's just that my treat occasions seem to pop up a bit more frequently than they do for other people ...  I also find that when I get bored I tend to turn to the kitchen.  Either I want to eat something or I want to make food.  It's a way to pass the time, and making food at least means I'm not consuming it ... until it's done. 
And apparently I've found myself bored a lot lately.  Because I've been turning to baking over and over again in the past couple of weeks.  To combat the resulting onslaught of baked goods, I've done my best to partake in just a few of the resulting goodies and haul the rest off to work to watch them disappear from the office kitchen.  Which usually manages to happen quite quickly and wins me all sorts of new friends at work too. 
Three times in the past two weeks I've brought muffins to work - the first two batches were supposedly cupcakes, but without the frosting (I followed the accompanying recipe for cream cheese frosting with disasterous results - it was sickly sweet glaze rather than frosting, though I followed the recipe to the letter) I figured these hummingbird cupcakes were really more like "tropical" muffins. 
I'm not sure if there's a definitional difference between "cupcake" and "muffin" other than the presence of frosting, but no one at work seemed to think they weren't muffins.  In fact, they were so popular that people actually said they hoped I would make them again soon - which is how I came to make a second batch less than a week later.  It also helped that I was quite taken with them as well.  Plus the recipe was so simple to follow it really wasn't much effort to make a double batch the second time. 
Then just two days after I brought in round two of tropical (hummingbird) muffins, the last day of Maryland's legislative session arrived.  The last day of session is always a long and exciting day, and lots of people bring in treats to share.  I certainly couldn't sit there with all sorts of non-vegan treats surrounding me all day.  I knew I'd go crazy if I didn't have an opportunity to indulge a bit too. 
Which is where the Caramel Apple Muffins came in.  I'd seen this recipe a while back and was eager to try it.  (Plus I couldn't very well bring in a third batch of hummingbird muffins!)  While this recipe wasn't quite as simple and quick as the hummingbird cake, it wasn't too difficult.  Following the recipe measurements, I ended up with 16 muffins to share at work. 
And I probably ended up eating 1/4 of them myself ...  The crumble topping made these a bit messy to eat, and I wouldn't really say there was any genuine "caramel" element to them, but the apple cinnamon flavor combination is always a winner in my book.  These also managed to come away with high praise, though nothing so enthusiastic as the hummingbird cakes. 
Maybe my coworkers were just a bit muffin-ed out.  I know I am ... for now ...

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Walk, Walk, Walking Through My Workout Recap

Last week was all about embracing walking for exercise.  I was pretty sluggish all week and couldn't really get on board with a major sweat session, so I decided leisurely strolls would have to get me by.  It always helps to have a destination in mind when I'm walking, so two days in a row I used the local library to get me out the door. 
Here's my recap for the week:
Monday - off
Tuesday - short walk to library (the direct route) - 2.6 miles total
Wednesday - long library walk - this route took me far past the library along Sligo Creek and then back - about 4.5 miles total

Thursday - (I finally found my way into the gym!) body pump 75 rep modification - increased weight but lower reps to 75 reps from 100
Friday - 30 min elliptical level 4 plus 2 min cool down 
Saturday off
Sunday - short hike at the Patuxent Research Refuge

You can follow my route from the map at the left - I took the large circle around the outer perimeter, which I think ended up only being about three miles (it took me just over an hour, but I was going at a very leisurely pace and enjoying the scenery). 
The terrain was completley flat, and a lot of the path was even paved.  The trail followed around the edge of a small lake before eventually cutting through the woods and back to the parking lot.  While this wasn't exactly a difficult hike, there was no entry fee (aside of course from tax dollars) and the visitors center had clean bathrooms plus nature exhibits (if you are so inclined) - including a giant taxidermied polar bear (odd).   
There were a fair number of other people at the Patuxent Research Refuge, but not nearly as many as I would see walking along Sligo Creek in Silver Spring and definitely not the annoyance of traffic sounds.  It's been such a long time since I've gotten out into "real" nature that it's made me itch for more.  I'll definitely be looking for a more intense and remote hike this weekend.