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. 

Crazy for Quinoa

I've been a quinoa-eating machine lately.  It seems like once I started, I just can't stop.  And while there isn't actually any leftover prepared quinoa in my fridge right now, it's so easy to make I definitely think they'll be some more in their again soon. 
It all started when I came across this recipe for Quinoa Pizza Bites on Chocolate Covered Katie's blog.  I live right by a Papa Johns, so I'm always smelling pizza-y goodness, and these seemed like a great way to satisfy the craving for pizza without fully succumbing in the dark side (or is that the delicious side?).  The pizza bites proved super easy and really tasty - definitely a recipe I will be making again and again.  I've also already started to envision all sorts of modifications I could make too - Quinoa Mexican Bites, anyone? 
Of course when I was preparing the pizza bites I failed to notice that the recipe only called for one cup of cooked quinoa, so I promptly started off by preparing a cup of dry quinoa and ending up with more than two cups once it was made.  So what was I going to do with all that leftover quinoa?  Experiment, of course! 
Successful experiment #1: quinoa mixed with chalula and guacamole, then eaten as a dip with tortilla chips.  This may not look all that appetizing, but I can assure you it was delicious!  It was spicy, but still cool and creamy with the guacamole.  It also packed a big protein punch that made it a lot more satisfying than chips and salsa alone, but not as high in fat as if I'd eaten that amount of guacamole.  I really think this would be a party appetizer winner. 
Following along the same lines, I used more leftover quinoa as lunch one day by mixing in more chalula plus a generous helping of black beans and serving it with a bit more guac on the side (not shown in the picture).  All mixed together this didn't necessarily look too pretty either, but it definitely tasted amazing.  Plus the double protein punch of black beans and quinoa kept me full right through the afternoon. 
And maybe my favorite quinoa innovation yet?  Mixing quinoa with cashew cheese sauce and whatever other ingredients you feel like (or can imagine!).  I will definitely have a follow-up post on this soon.  The cheesy quinoa was so warm and satsifying - like mac 'n cheese without any of the guilt!  I had this twice - once mixed with black beans (shown) and once mixed with broccoli.  Amazingly delicious both times!  This is definitely one of my new favorite meals. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Dinners Lately

It's been a long time since I've posted some of my day-to-day eats, so now I have to just lump them all together in one big post ...
Hopefully these meals will show a trend - that I've been trying to make sure that I incorporate more protein and more green veggies into my meals.  This is always easiest at dinner, when I can make my meal at my leisure and then eat it right away, but I'm trying my best to do this at lunch too. 
Of course, sometimes laziness takes over too, and then I try my best to balance everything - sometimes with great success (and sometimes not).  Fortunately, I'd consider this meal of English baked beans on toast with roasted Brussels sprouts a huge winner.  The beans were warm and comforting, but also still full of protein.  And of course Brussels sprouts are one of the all time top green veggies!

Unfortunately I don't think my beloved (fake) bacon, avocado, and tomato sandwiches can really be considered all that healthy.  And does avocado count as a green vegetable?  It's a green fruit at least ...  And the bacon does provide some protein.  Yeah, there's only so far I can stretch that one.  But they're so delicious!  I ended up having two last week ...

And going even further to the dark side was my excessive consumption of vegan brie last week ...  I got a baguette to make this tasty brie, honey, and almond sandwich (lightly toasted, of course).  But then I took things up another notch by finishing the baguette as a brie, apple, and almond sandiwch - soooo good!  I can't promise I won't be having plenty more of those in the future, but I'll try to be good and wait another month or so before I bring back the brie. 
Swinging my dietary pendulum a bit back towards the healthy side, I invented another new favorite - spicy broccoli with sundried tomato cashew cream sauce.  I should probably come up with a shorter name, because I'll definitely be making this recipe a ton.  I made it three times in one week right after I came up with it.  And there's that green vegetable sneaking back into rotation! 
The recipe is so simple too.  Just coat broccoli with olive oil, hot sauce, and salt, and roast for about thirty minutes.  Top with cashew cream sauce (with or without added sundried tomato, I'm sure it would be good either way).  I served this twice with polenta, but one evening I just ate a big bowl of it plain.  Yum yum yum.
Sunday I kept going with the healthy eating plan by trying my hand at making a tofu scramble.  (Maybe an odd choice for dinner, but oh well.)  I followed this recipe, but tweaked the recipe a bit by nixing the broccoli (I'd finished it all with the recipe above).  This wasn't exactly my favorite meal of all time.  The flavors were fine, but I think I messed up with the tofu I used - morinu silken tofu, rather than a "firmer" variety.  It came out too liquidy and with just an all around unpleasant texture.  I'd be willing to give this another shot with a different brand of tofu, but I still doubt it would become a favorite recipe. 
Monday I had to stay late at work - the first time in quite a while.  While I could have just ordered a side salad to be technically healthier, I just couldn't bring myself to have such a horrible meal.  My back still hurt from Sunday and I just wasn't in the mood to exert any kind of willpower.  So I ordered the (pretty much entirely unhealthy) portobello sandwich with fries.  And yes, I ate it all. 
So, it doesn't seem from the meals above that I've stuck with the healthy eating thing all that well, huh?  But I suppose if I just keep returning to the same goals I will still be doing better than if they weren't floating around in the back of my mind.  And if accountability works for exercise, hopefully it will help keeping my healthy eating on track too!