Monday, March 31, 2014

Vegan Brie!

The only thing I asked Santa Clause for for this past Christmas was a copy of the Non-Dairy Formulary.  I'd read about it online last year, and heard how great all the vegan cheese recipes were, so I knew I wanted to try it.  But of course Mr. C wasn't so obliging.  So I went ahead and bought the book for myself right after Christmas.  I flipped through it right away, but promptly shelved it when I started to see the days-long process for making rejuvelac, and ingredients for other cheeses like kappa carrageenan and tapioca flour.  These didn't seem easy to find, and with session ramping up I didn't have a lot of spare time for involved cheese-making. 
But I still flipped through the book from time to time and also got around to looking for some of those trickier ingredients - buying tapioca flour at Wegmans and kappa carrageenan on Amazon.  It may still take me a while before I actually make rejuvelac, but once I had these other ingredients on hand it turns out the recipe for brie was pretty simple.  So last weekend I got to work ... and it was so worth it! 
You definitely need to have some time on your hands for the brie recipe, but most of the time involved is down time, so it's not exactly labor intensive.  I mixed up just a bit more than would fit in my little mold, so I ended up making one larger wheel of brie and a little mini-wheel as well.  The mixing up took all of about fifteen minutes, then I had to let them cool at room temperature for twenty minutes, sit in the fridge for six hours, take them out and dust with tapioca flour, then sit overnight before finally getting to try my little masterpieces. 
I won't try to claim they really tasted like brie.  The texture was pretty close, but the flavor still just doesn't have the bite of real cheese - alas, maybe no one will ever be able to accomplish a real "cheesy" vegan cheese.  But if you go into it not expecting cheese, then what you get is really quite good!  I ate my mini wheel of brie for breakfast Sunday morning with crackers and a berry banana protein shake.  Delicious! 
That afternoon Josh's parents came to visit for a pizza lunch at Pacci's and to take the dogs for a walk in Rock Creek Park.  I actually convinced them to try a slice of the larger wheel on crackers, and they both said it was actually pretty good (again, if you don't expect actual brie).  But the real fans of the vegan cheese were the dogs.  They're big cheese fans, but the fat in real cheese isn't exactly good for them.  But there are no such issues with vegan cheese!  They gobbled up the little tastes I offered them and begged for more :)  Even Panda loved it! 
So I happily devoured my vegan brie over the past week, finally finishing the last of it over this past weekend.  Some fun variations on the standard cheese and crackers that I tried this week:
Slices of brie on crackers drizzled with honey (shown at left) - for a nice desserty treat (yes, I still eat honey, so I realize I'm not really vegan)
Honey, almond, and brie sandwich - so good (but not quite as good as ...)
Brie and apple sandwich - this was the big winner of the week.  I'll definitely be making this brie again soon, if only to have more of these sandwiches!  They were something I'd enjoyed with real brie in the past, but frankly thought I would just be without forever now. 
It definitely seems like the longer I'm vegan, the more I find I can adapt all sorts of my old favorites.  Next on the agenda from the Non-Dairy Formulary?  I'm thinking a nice Stilton :)   

Thursday, March 27, 2014

At Home Body Pump

Today is Thursday.  But I'm still feeling sore from Monday's workout.  Seems like the sign of a good workout to me.  So how did I get to this sore but happy point? 
A long time back I took a body pump class thanks to a Groupon, but the class had some issues - bad instructor, poor pacing, etc.  So I didn't give it much thought and didn't seek to attend any more classes.  But after reading Tina's blog about how much she loved body pump (though she's now moved on to her new love, Crossfit), I thought I would give it a shot. 
But rather than pay for a class, I decided I could make up my own routine to go through in the comfort of my apartment's gym.  Someone with a set of light freeweights or even canned goods could even do this workout from their own home!  
My workout was also modified a bit because I didn't have a playlist all set out to follow for the duration of my routine.  Rather than set myself to four-minute exercise increments, I decided to just do 100 reps of each exercise - which actually seems better because you can't slack off!  If you take a rest, you still have to complete all the reps ... so laziness doesn't reduce what you do, it will just take you longer! 
My routine:
5 minute warmup on the elliptical
100 squats holding two 5 lb weights
100 chest presses holding two 4 lb weights
100 bent over rows holding two 4 lb weights
100 tricep extensions holding two 2 lb weights
100 bicep curls holding two 4 lb weights
100 lunges (no added weight)
100 shoulder presses holding two 4 lb weights
100 sit ups (no added weight)
1 minute plank
Yeah, I was incredibly sore Tuesday and even into Wednesday.  And there are still a few minutes that I am "noticing" today.  This routine is definitely a keeper.  And it's so easy to scale up the intensity by upping the weight or increasing reps.  I'm so excited to do this workout again soon!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Lentil Soup

For the past few days I've been enjoying healthy lunches with no crazed running around in the morning thanks to a giant pot of lentil soup I cooked up Sunday evening.  Unfortunately I just enjoyed my last bowl today for lunch, so it's back to the drawing board for tomorrow. 
But this soup is so simple, delicious, (and did I mention healthy!) that I know I'll be making it again and again ... even once the weather warms up.  (It is going to warm up, isn't it!)
In the mix:
1 cup lentils
4 cups vegetable stock
Diced carrots
1 white onion
1 zucchini
Garlic (I used about a teaspoon of minced garlic from a jar)
Tomato paste (I'd say I used about 1 1/2 tablespoons)
Cumin (I used about a teaspoon, but to taste is fine)
Salt (also to taste)
I tossed in the veggies to cook in olive oil for about ten minutes before adding the lentils (rinsed), veggie stock, garlic, tomato paste, cumin, and salt.  Then let the whole mixture cook for about an hour and a half, but you're probably good to go after only about an hour.  It's not exactly ready instantly, but the actual amount of working time is so low, I still consider this one of the easiest recipes I've ever made. 
And did I mention it's healthy? :)

Monday, March 24, 2014

Weekly Exercise Recap

So, I've been eating a ton of junk lately.  First there was delicious peanut butter pie ...  And then there was that amazing vegan cheesecake ...  And then I had the brilliant idea that I would make chocolate covered potato chips.  Yeah, it's a bit out of control.  And it's showing both on the scale and with how I feel. 
So I decided it's high time to ramp up the healthy eating and the workouts to get myself back on track.  And part of that endeavor is going to be keeping better track of my workouts so I know exactly what I'm doing (and what I'm not), and hopefully guilting myself into making exercise a much more regular part of my routine. 
So here's a quick recap of my workouts from last week:
Monday - 1 mile walk to work trudging through the snow (not much of a workout, but better than nothing!)
Tuesday - treadmill + 15 minutes of weights
Wednesday - treadmill
Thursday - off
Friday - off, but about 50 pullups with the green band
Saturday - 4 mile nature walk, plus walking to get groceries and go to the library
Sunday - off

This list doesn't show all the other random things I try to do, like calf raises while I brush my teeth or a one minute plank before bed, but those aren't the things that will make a big impact on my fitness anyway. 
And while I realize this isn't exactly a stellar week of workouts, but hopefully it will set me off on the right foot for this coming week.  Wish me luck!  (Actually, I don't need luck ... wish me will power!)

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Sun Dried Tomato Cashew Cream Sauce

A while back I made what might possibly be the greatest culinary revelation I've had in months.  And it's so simple!  If you read the title of this post then I've already given it away.  Ready? ... Adding diced sun dried tomatoes to cashew cream sauce!!! 
Like I said, so simple ... but soooo delicious!  I bought a jar of diced sun dried tomatoes packed in oil a while back for making tofu quiche, and for some reason I just noticed it sitting in the fridge and decided to toss some into the sauce mix.  Yep, best ... decision ... ever. 
And fortunately for me I made enough sauce to enjoy my amazing new creation twice in a week.  The first night I made pasta with asparagus and peas.  (Great way to use up some frozen peas too.)  This was my favorite combo of the two.  Plus the addition of a couple of green vegetables makes this otherwise indulgent meal feel just a bit healthier. 
A couple nights later I mixed kale into my pasta for another somewhat-healthy-take on a carb-heavy meal.  This one was also quite tasty, just not quite as good as the asparagus and peas.  Strange, too, because I'm normally such a kale fan.  But I suppose there are better ways to enjoy my kale ... 
So now I may not be able to make just plain cashew cream sauce anymore ...  I might have to make sure I have diced sun dried tomatoes on hand all the time. 

Happy Spring!

It's the first day of Spring!  Not like it's all that easy to tell lately ...

Seriously, what is with the weather lately?!  We've really been seeing global warming at it's finest.
Saturday was beautiful and I went on a big hike along Sligo Creek to enjoy the sunshine.  I suppose it wasn't really a hike since the path was paved the whole way.  I guess it was more of a nature walk. But I walked 4 miles trying to keep up the good pace and my legs were definitely sore the next day.
Nature walk or hike, it was a beautiful way to spend a couple hours on Saturday afternoon.  Unfortunately, these lovely little flowers probably died the next day, because ...
Sunday night and Monday it's snowed a ton!  In fact, it snowed so much I booked a hotel in Annapolis for Sunday evening so that I would be able to get into work Monday morning. (Dedication, huh?  They don't pay me enough for that ...) 
The temperatures stayed freezing Monday and Tuesday, but then Wednesday it poured all day long.  So now the snow's gone but it's still not exactly warm (but it's not too cold either).  There was major fog this morning, but once the sun came out it all burned off and it may actually turn into a pretty nice day.  Now I just have to find an excuse to get outside ....

Friday, March 14, 2014

Happy Pi Day

Happy Pi Day!  I hope you get a chance to celebrate with a big piece of pie today ... or quiche ... or pizza!  There really are so many ways to celebrate this wonderful day. 
While I haven't decided just what form of pie I'll be partaking in today, I've had a couple of other delicious pies recently that I can reminisce on in the meantime. 
In my last post I had a picture of peanut butter pie that I made following this recipe from Chocolate Covered Katie.  While I thought that version was perfectly good, Josh didn't really care for the banana flavor of the pie, so a couple of weeks ago I finally got around to trying the recipe again sans banana.  While you wouldn't think it would work, I substituted a block of lightly pressed tofu for the banana, and this version turned out amazing!!!  I also nixed the home-made pie crust and used a store-bought graham cracker one.  And for extra deliciousness, I made a chocolate ganache to layer on top.  I couldn't believe how amazing this pie was.  Plus super easy ...  The perfect recipe!
Then just last week I decided to finally get around to trying my hand at a vegan cheesecake recipe.  I stocked up on tons of Tofutti cream cheese and got to work.  Of course it turned out I didn't really need all that cream cheese.  I ended up with way too much filling - probably enough for two cheesecakes - and had a hard time blending it all together because I had too much to fit in the blender at once!  Oops.  Fortunately the great thing about vegan anything is that you don't have to worry about eating it raw.  I used the excess filling as a delicious apple dip!
I have to say, what I ended up with really wouldn't pass as "real" cheesecake in any dairy-eaters book, but was still quite tasty.  The vegan cheesecake just didn't have the "kick" that you get from real cream cheese - and sorry, but adding a little lemon juice just doesn't cut it.  But it was creamy, sweet, and felt very decadent.  In fact, the first night I had it I ate two big pieces!  (Yeah, that didn't make me feel too great afterwards.) 
While this cheesecake was great as-is, I also experimented with a few different topping options like masserated strawberries and melted chocolate.  The chocolate was definitely my favorite preferred topping.  My drizzle may not be all that artful, but it still tasted great! 
Hope these inpsire your pi(e) adventures today!