Thursday, April 28, 2011

7-Day Meal Plan

Meal planning seems to be a big issue with some of my blog readers.  I've spoken with quite a few people about planning, budgeting and feeding foods my family and child care kids will actually eat.  (Note: I do not participate in the food program, but you will see that my weekday snacks and lunches do fit the criteria.  The kids have milk with meals and snacks and have water bottles for the day to drink as they want.  Juice is limited to those times when we are out and about and grab a juice box.)  Breakfast is not listed here, but my family normally eats oatmeal, cereal, toast, waffles, muffins, etc. with fresh fruit and a milk (cow's or vegan).  I do not have any child care kids that regularly eat breakfast at my house.
In the course of a day, I hope to give all the people I feed a good balance of fruits, veggies and healthy grains.  You might notice the words "cheese" and "yogurt" on the menu in a few places.  That is actual cheese and yogurt, not some soy or vegan substitute.  I still feed some dairy, eggs and even meat to my family and child care kids, but I do not eat it.  I would classify my family members more as vegetarian than vegan, and I'm okay with that since I can control the amount of fatty foods and animal-based foods they eat.

I created this meal plan early this morning.  I only had a few of the necessary ingredients in my refrigerator and pantry--I had what I needed for chili, some crackers, and I have the basic flours, cornmeal, and spices.  So I packed up five kids and headed to the store. (And you thought I was crazy for going vegan!)  You will see that I intend to stop at the grocery store mid-week for fresh fruits and veggies which will cost a little.  But so far for the 7-day plan, I spent $95.52 at my local, small-town grocery store.  I bought six "green" bags full of groceries, plus the milks. These are ingredients that you can find most anywhere--no specialty shops or stopping at different stores.

I think the planning and notes section of the chart is very important.  If I am disciplined enough to follow my plan, I save money and everyone eats healthier.  It's when I get lazy and don't follow it that we end up with fast food or something quick from the freezer.  Yes, I keep quick stuff in the freezer.  I do that so I have an out just for those days that life doesn't go exactly as planned.  I'm sure you never have those days, but we have them here fairly often.  The bottom (empty) row is left for notes throughout the week.  I print this plan off and keep it on the refrigerator, and then write on it as we run out of an ingredient like lemons or basil.  I also keep track there of the days that my son takes lunch to school so we don't forget.  Sometimes we'll have an idea during the week of something that sounds good to add to a meal plan in the future, so I keep notes and file them away.

A number of the suppers are or can be made gluten-free as well. 

This isn't every week, just the next seven days.  But it gives you an idea of how I feed my kids and family.  If you have any questions about the plan or want a particular recipe, just let me know. 

Morning Snack
Afternoon Snack

Thurs.,  Apr. 28

Wheat crackers with cheese
PB & J on cracked wheat
Strawberries, peaches &
Oyster Cracker Snackers
Shepherd’s Pie
Cantaloupe and Grapes in a fruit cup with spiced pecans

Fri.,  Apr. 29

Yogurt and Blueberries
Veggie Stew
Mashed tators
Fruit Cup
Kettle Corn
Dad and Kids: Pizza and veggie dippers

Mom: out

Sat., Apr. 30

(Brunch) Orange Pancakes
Italian pasta salad
Cheese bread
Strawberries and Bananas
Chips with pico, salsa, or guacamole
Stuffed sweet potatoes
Steamed broccoli
Pasta salad
Purchase: olive oil, miso, lettuce, cabbage, bagels, mangoes, tomatoes, bananas, avocados

Sun., May 1

Donuts at church
Miso soup
Salad rolls
Veggie dippers
Fresh fruit

Mon., May 2

Nilla Wafers
Tomato cabbage soup
Biscuits (kids make)
Mixed veggies
Bananas w/P.B.
Guacamole salad
Soak beans

Tues., May 3

Bagels with jam
Corn bread muffins
Rice pudding
Mango slices
Baked potato bar
Bean soup

Wed., May 4

Dried fruit/granola mix
Bean soup
Grilled cheese sandwich
Use up any leftover crackers, fruit, etc.
Fried zucchini and mushrooms

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

STUFF IT! Part 1

The cable went out today during nap time.  I could have cleaned the kitchen, but instead I put on my best wetsuit and surfed the net.  I came across a page talking about having a "stuffed stuff" dinner party.  It got me to thinking about all the "stuffed stuff" I like to cook and eat.  As I started making a list, it turns out that there are a lot of things we stuff with stuff here at the Heginger house.  There were so many that I decided to make it a two or three part series.  I've labeled these as vegan, GF (gluten-free) and/or raw food for those of you looking for specific food types.  I hope you have fun stuffing it!

STUFFED AVOCADO (vegan and GF and raw)
4 ripe avocados, save the shell!
4 Roma tomatoes (or whatever tomato you like), diced
1/4 - 1/2 red onion, finely chopped
1 green pepper, finely chopped
1 small jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed, chopped finely
1 T. fresh cilantro, chopped
juice from 1 lime (minus the one slice for your Corona)
Sea Salt
1/2 - 1 jicama, julienned for topping/garnish (optional, but adds a really nice texture)

Cut the avocados in half, remove the pit and carefully scoop out the flesh.  Chop the avocados coarsely and add all ingredients except jicama. Scoop the avocado salad back into the halved shells to serve, and garnish with jicama and more cilantro.

Potato filling:
4 medium-large sweet potatoes (try for ones shaped like baking potatoes)
olive oil and sea salt
4 T. Earth Balance (or other vegan butter)
4 T. brown sugar
1 t. cinnamon
Salt and pepper to taste

Spiced Pecan Topping:
1 c. pecan halves
1/2 c. maple syrup
cinnamon, nutmeg, or pumpkin pie seasoning

Wash the sweet potatoes and rub them with olive oil. Salt the outsides well.  Bake directly on oven rack at 350 degrees for 45-60 minutes or until insides are soft when squeezed gently and skins are crisp. 

While the potatoes cook, toss the pecans in the maple syrup and season to taste.  Bake on a foil lined cookie sheet for 15-20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes.  When done, chop coarsely.

When cooked, take the potatoes out and let cool slightly to handle.  Slice sweet potatoes in half lengthwise and carefully scoop out most of the flesh.  Leave just enough potato in the skins so that they hold their shape.  Mash insides slightly with the butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt and pepper.  Fill the skins with the mashed mixture and sprinkle pecans on top.  Serve hot.

STUFFED WHITE MUSHROOMS (vegan and GF and raw)
1 pound fresh mushrooms
1 red pepper, diced
1 cup pitted ripe olives (or Greek olives of your choice)
1 T. olive oil
2 T. minced fresh basil
1 1/2 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice
Salt and Pepper

Clean the mushrooms and carefully remove the stems. Chop the stems to use in the filling.  Coarsely chop the stems and remaining ingredients (by hand or in the food processor).  Fill the caps with the mixture and serve either cold or at room temperature.

4 large portabella caps, scooped clean and brushed off
olive oil
1 zucchini, julienned
1 red pepper, julienned
1 yellow squash, julienned
1/2 eggplant, peeled and julienned
1 red onion, julienned
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 T. fresh basil, finely chopped
1 T. fresh parsley, finely chopped
Italian seasoning, oregano OR thyme to taste (optional)
Sea salt and freshly crack black pepper

Brush mushroom caps with oil and set aside.  In a large fry pan, saute the veggies, herbs and seasonings in the oil just until softened and cooked. Taste and season to your liking.  Fill the mushroom caps with the veggie mix.  Broil about 8-10 minutes OR grill 10-20 minutes.  These mushrooms are good to eat on a plate or are also good on a toasted wheat bun or garlic bread as a sandwich.

Eli and Buzz like these grilled and served on the sandwich rounds (or sandwich thins) with a little Parmesan cheese (or goat cheese or whatever you like) and they eat them like burgers.  I like them broiled with a thick slice of beefsteak tomato, crushed croutons and a drizzle of olive oil on top. 

STUFFED TOMATOES (vegan and can be GF)
These can be made GF by replacing the bread crumbs with Parmesan cheese.

4 firm Roma (Plum) Tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
2 T. olive oil, divided
salt and pepper
1/2 c. bread crumbs or crushed croutons
1 T. fresh parsley, chopped
1 T. fresh basil, chopped
1 t. fresh thyme or 1/4 t. dried thyme

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Arrange the tomatoes, cut side up, in a baking dish. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and garlic and drizzle with half of the olive oil. Bake, uncovered,  until soft and sizzling, about 40 minutes.  Remove from the oven and preheat the broiler.
In a separate bowl, mix together the bread crumbs and herbs.  Sprinkle over the tomatoes and drizzle with remaining olive oil.  Broil until lightly browned, about 2-3 minutes.  Serve hot.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Super Oats (Traditional Oatmeal, Baked Oatmeal, Toppers for Oatmeal, Maple-Oat Bread)

Okay, I'm not going to go on and on about my love affair with fiber.  I promise not to discuss any "bathroom issues" here on the blog. (But I'm happy to discuss them with you in private if you want.)  If you've ever met me or eaten anything I've cooked, then you probably already know I love fiber.  My friends jokingly ask for Nanette's Colon Cleanse Muffins.  Funny, but fiber is a serious subject.  When you don't get enough fiber, your body works very hard to digest foods and move them through your system.  That makes you grumpy and tired.  When your kids are a bit cranky and lethargic, grab a high-fiber muffin and some prunes and watch their attitude brighten right before your eyes.  But instead of waiting for that to happen, why not prevent it in the first place?  Adding oats to your daily routine is a great way to boost your fiber intake and your attitude.

Have an open mind and just try it.  Really.  It doesn't have to be that grey glob of mush that grandma used to make.  Don't buy the little instant packets that are full of artificial flavors, sugars and colorings.  Buy real oats (even quick oats) and cook them on the stovetop instead of the microwave.

According to the Mayo Clinic website:
*  Oats the number one food that helps to lower your cholesterol numbers,
*  Oats helps to lower blood glucose levels,
*  Oats reduce the risk of heart disease,
*  Oats help to normalize your blood pressure.

We all know in our brains that oatmeal is a good, healthy food option.  It doesn't have all those fake colorings (another pet peeve of mine) and you control the sugar content.  And I happen to love it.  I eat oatmeal most mornings, either in a bowl or baked like a coffee cake.  I love oats and add them to muffins, pancakes, waffles, and even some soups.  Oats are fast and cheap, so there's really no excuse to not eat them.  I just love a warm bowl of creamy oatmeal for breakfast.  It's comfort food for me.  I always add cinnamon (it's a natural way to help balance your blood sugars--highly recommended for diabetics).  One hint for those who don't care for the chewy texture of dried fruit: put it in with the milk and let it simmer a minute or two to soften the fruit a little before adding the oats. 

1 c. almond milk
dash salt
1/2 c. quick oats
1/4 t. vanilla
1/2 t. cinnamon

Bring the almond milk and salt to a slow boil on the stove top.  Add in the oats and stir for about 1 minute.  It will thicken as it cools. Stir in the vanilla, sprinkle with cinnamon.  It's plenty sweet and yummy just like this, but feel free to serve it with toppers of your choice.

Pick one, or mix and match!  Go crazy!

Dried fruit bits, raisins, craisins, dried apricots (chopped) and/or dried apples
Nuts like almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans
Brown sugar
Agave Nectar
Maple Sugar (real or sugar-free)
Jam or Jelly
Fresh berries, peaches, or mango

BAKED OATMEAL (from an previous post)
2 cups oatmeal (I use quick oats)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup apple — shredded (with peel)
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup rice milk or soy milk
1/2 cup blueberries, raspberries, peaches, or fruit of your choice.

Mix wet ingredients into dry ingredients, gently fold in fresh fruit. Spread into an 8 x 8″ baking dish sprayed with pan spray. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 – 30 minutes. Cut into six rectangles and serve.
1 ½  c. whole-wheat flour
1 c. rolled oats
½ c. white sugar
2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
½  t. salt
1 T. corn starch dissolved in 3 T. cold water
¾ c. rice milk (or soy or almond)
¼ c. vegetable oil
½ t. vanilla extract
1 c. mashed bananas

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Combine flour, oats, sugar, baking powder, soda, and salt. In a large bowl, beat the egg lightly. Stir in the milk, oil, and vanilla. Add the mashed banana, and combine thoroughly. Stir the flour mixture into the banana mixture until just combined. Divide batter into sprayed or papered muffin tins. Bake for 18-20 minutes for normal size muffins, or 12-15 minutes for mini-muffins.

NANETTE’S MAPLE-OAT BREAD (from a previous post)
3 c. whole-wheat flour
1 c. quick-cooking oats (plus a couple tablespoons for sprinkling on top)
¼ c. sugar
3 t. baking powder
¾ t. salt
1 Egg substitute (I use 1 T. cornstarch dissolved in 3 T. water)
1 ¼ c. soy milk (vanilla or unflavored)
½ c. sugar-free maple flavored syrup (plus a little more for drizzling on top)
3 T. vegetable oil

Combine all dry ingredients in one bowl and all wet in another.  Stir wet into dry just until moistened.  Spread into a greased 9” round (or 8” square) pan.  Sprinkle with about 2 T. oats and drizzle with a little more syrup.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.  Serve warm.  Wrap the leftovers in plastic wrap and keep refrigerated.  Warm up for a few seconds in microwave to serve.

The Peanut Butter Surprise Muffins that I posted on April 13th are also made with oats.

My Favorite Avocado Salad

This salad makes me happy.  'Nuf said.

If I'm making this as a main dish, I add 1/2 cup of black beans on top.  Serve it with a few tortilla chips or a warmed corn tortilla.

Romaine lettuce, washed and cut (or your favorite green)
1 ripe avocado
1 ripe tomato
a few slices of red onion

Juice from 1 lime
2 T. olive oil
2 T. finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 t. honey or agave nectar
Sea Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
a little chopped jalapeno or jalapeno hot sauce (optional, to taste)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Restaurant Eating

I've heard from family and friends that it is impossible to be vegan and still eat at restaurants.  I have found that to be untrue.  There are a couple restaurants (I use that term very loosely here) that do not offer healthful meal options.  But most eateries have options for everyone, and some even cater to those of us on a plant-based diet.

I, of course, believe that you should cook and eat at home.  Vegan cooking (especially raw) is very fast and easy and is good for you.  Getting your family involved in meal plans and prep is fun and a good way to teach healthful eating.  But we live in the real world and we don't always eat at home.  So I've tried to put together a little guide for restaurant eating.

I'm not sure about the legalities of mentioning brand names, so I'll try not to do that.  I stuck mostly with restaurants here locally in Iowa.  I also am just letting you know what I would order if I were eating at these establishments, but I don't necessarily list all the options for vegan eating.  Some of these foods are vegan, but may not be a healthy food.  I love fries, but even vegan fries are an indulgence. Fast food restaurants are really not for the person trying to eat healthier. 

The one trick to eating vegan out and about is to ASK.  Nicer restaurants have a chef or cook.  If you tell them you want something vegan, chances are they'll make you something.  I love to do this and to not specify anything else.  I think it's an adventure to just see what you get, and a lot of chefs like the opportunity to do something more creative than the usual menu. If there is a certain type of food or a particular restaurant you enjoy, please let me know and I will see if I can't find a vegan option. If you've found a good place to eat with good vegan food, please let me know!

The king of burgers actually offers a veggie patty instead of a beef (or beef-ish) burger.  It's not always listed, but it is an option.  Just ask.  They offer the Morningstar Farms Veggie Burger which is vegetarian but technically not vegan.  Still, it's a far better option.  Order it without the mayo or cheese and you're only at 310 calories!

At the golden arches, I order a side salad and fries.  That's about it there.  You could get the apple/walnut salad without the yogurt, or just order side of apples if you like.  They also offer oatmeal now, but be sure to ask if it's made with milk or water. I've heard rumors that they are testing a veggie burger in California and New York.  Ask for it locally.  If enough of us want it, maybe they'll bring it. 

The frosty place actually is a pretty good place to get a baked potato, side salad and mandarin oranges. Skip the sour cream.

Most of these places offer tofu and/or veggie dishes.  Some dishes and noodles are made with eggs, so be sure to specifically order without eggs.  I go with rice instead of noodles just to be safe.  There are a lot of veggie combinations and you can ask for sweet or spicy.  Even the grocery store Chinese take-out place will make me a hot plate of veggies even if it's not offered on the line.

Sushi.  No, it's not vegan.  Well, I guess some of it is vegan.  You can order all the veggie rolls you want. But I don't care.  It is the one ultimate reason why I could never be 100% vegan.  I love sushi.  And sashimi. And sake.  Lots and lots of sake.  Sushi, Sashimi and Sake.  Yum.

Easy enough.  Go with flat bread whenever possible, skip the cheese and meat.  I like lots of veggies and sweet onion sauce or oil and vinegar.  No need for mayo.  And get a foot long.  It's just filling you up with lots of veggies!

Most will make nachos with beans instead of meat, and just go with lettuce, tomato, salsa on top instead of sour cream and cheese.  Bean burritos are also an option.  Just be sure to specify no meat and no cheese.  Those potato round things are tasty, too.

MEXICAN RESTAURANT (not fast food)
I love a big plate of refried beans (no cheese) and a guacamole salad.  Of course, chips and salsa on the side.  Fill up on three or four fishbowl margaritas and you'll never miss the meat and cheese.  Take a good friend, though, since you'll probably need help getting home.

Pancheros:  okay, I mentioned a name here.  But this really is very good option and I LOVE LOVE LOVE it.  Order anything except the quesadilla, get grilled veggies, beans, rice and top it with corn salsa, hot salsa, pico de gallo and guacamole.  Love it.  The burrito is big enough to split with a friend, so don't worry about going hungry just because you didn't get the meat.

Most people would think a vegan could never set foot in a steakhouse.  But most have really good baked potatoes, sweet potatoes and grilled or steamed veggies.  Side salads, too.  Most have a rice option, some have fresh fruit and/or veggie plates.  Just order without butter.  And if you mention to the wait staff that you are vegan, they will pass that on to the chef.

In Ames, I like The Cafe and Cafe Shi.  Both offer vegetarian options and will give you vegan if you ask. I love the May House for their veggie rice noodles.  They also have meat substitutes (faux beef, pork or chicken) if you like that sort of thing.

I try to avoid them, but if I go I get a salad.  Barbeque places often times have fries (white or sweet potato) and maybe a vinegar based coleslaw.  I would not recommend telling anyone in a barbeque joint that you are vegan.  It could get ugly.

I recommend two places for their amazingly wonderful pizza:  Black Market and Great Plains.  Neither are vegan.  Both are soooooo good.  I just recommend going once or twice a year, not every weekend.  And I try to fill up on beer.  Most beers are vegan, you know.

Sometimes I get take-n-bake pizzas with red sauce and veggies and skip the cheese.  Turns out more like focaccia than pizza, but it's a good carbo-load with the crust.  What I really recommend is making your own at home on a healthy pita or homemade crust.  Or pick up an Amy's pizza in the frozen food aisle at the store.  Amy's offers gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options that are pretty good.

Italian food is famous for butter, bread, and meat.  But a pasta with veggies and red sauce is still a healthier option than a meat lasagna smothered in cheese.  Try the garlic and oil sauce or the Pomodoro, or try zucchini marinara.  Order tomato bruschetta without cheese, and go for the vinegarette on the salad.

Hopefully this little guide will help you to make a healthier choice next time you stop in a hurry between trumpet lessons, swim practice and the school musical.  Just a reminder, too, that when you make a healthier choice you are also influencing your family!

Friday, April 22, 2011

A New Way of Thinking

I have always counted calories.  I can tell you how many calories are in a banana, a glass of milk, or a blueberry scone from your favorite coffee shop.  I count up the calories in each ingredient as I cook and then do the math per serving that I eat.  I've always pushed for a goal of 1200-1500 calories a day, but let's be realistic here.  Most of you have seen me, and it's a bit obvious I've overstepped my goal a time or two (or three or four).

From Veganist by Kathy Freston:
"On a healthful vegan diet, weight comes off effortlessly and sustainably, without calorie counting." (page 1)
"Plant-based foods are naturally low in fat.  It's very hard to be--or stay--overweight
on a vegan diet." (page 2)

Although I agree with the content, I have a problem with that wording because vegan is NOT a diet or weight-loss program.  But weight loss can be a side effect of eating vegan.  I did not start this transition to veganism because of my weight.  Losing weight wasn't a goal of mine, although it is a part of living a healthier life and leading by example.  I feel good (na na na na na na na!) and I knew that I would (na na na na na na na!) by eliminating animal products from my life.

But it is difficult for me to stop thinking in a DIET frame of mind.  I've tried for years to lose the baby weight and that muffin top that I blamed on my kids.  But the truth is, that muffin top is all me.  It's cookies in bed while watching Biggest Loser (yes, I do that), and it's four slices of pizza instead of one or two.  It's a few too many lattes and way too many grilled cheese sandwiches.  It's a bite here or a taste test there.  It's nibbling and snacking instead of eating a healthful meal.  It's not hydrating and not exercising.  It's my fault, and I am taking responsibility for it here and now.  I apologize to my family for blaming them and for using them as my excuse.

In my attempts to lose weight and feel better about myself, I've tried counting calories.  I've tried the no-fat thing, the low-carb thing, the mega-workout thing.  But bottom line is that none of them were a sustainable life change for me.  There are three reasons for that.  One, I had the wrong goals with each of them.  Five or ten pounds so I fit in a dress or pair of jeans was just me being vain and immature. Fitting into a swim suit is important, but that goal gives me an "out" for the winter season.  Two, my body requires healthful fats, carbs and nutrients for daily living and exercising.  Three, I was being lazy and counting on a fad diet to do the work for me.

My long term health is so much more important to me and to my loved ones than a few pounds here or there.  This vegan thing plus an active life with my kids--walking, playing, swimming, shooting hoops, dancing around the kitchen--add up to a happier and healthier me.  I  love cuddling my family on the couch for movie night.  But movie nights are fewer and further between now. And we've scrapped the two pound bag of M&M's and replaced it with popcorn (no butter) and a big plate of veggies and fruit.  In place of a T.V. night, we'll go for a walk or go to the park or just play in the yard.  When the weather doesn't allow for outside time, we wrestle around inside or even do a workout video together.  It's silly and ridiculous and wonderfully fun.

The food part is easier than you think, too.  There is no need to count calories or worry about grams of protein, no need to weigh or measure foods.  Eating fiber-rich, nutrient-dense, plant-based foods naturally nourishes the body.  I eat when I'm hungry (far less often than I used to be) and I eat until I'm comfortable and satisfied (not full and bloated).  Eating whole foods and plant-based foods actually causes the body to burn calories faster than animal products.  It revs up metabolism so that fat (and weight) melt off naturally at a healthy pace. A vegan's body will naturally find its ideal weight and will stay there without effort.  (There is a ton of scientific evidence to prove this.  I recommend picking up Veganist by Kathy Freston as a good place to start.)

And although I'm trying really hard not to focus on weight, I do believe that it is one indicator of health.  I can't let you inside my body or brain to feel what I feel and know what I know as a vegan, so the best I can do is to update you in the best way I know how. My husband has lost 10 pounds by eating half-vegan (he eats vegan at home with me, but is a carnivore when he's out of the house).  I've lost about five pounds and three inches from around my waist. It's so much easier to workout.  I have energy like I've never had before, and I feel motivated and happy and GOOD.  My doctor is incredibly happy for our family and is supportive and excited. 

Many people have asked me how long I intend to keep doing this.  I've been told flat out that this is a silly, childish phase and I will soon get over it. But it's not a phase. This is LIFE CHANGING for me.  And the more I do this, the more confident I feel about my choice.

Vegans tend to be healthier, happier, lean and strong. Vegans tend to have a vitality and vigor that others might not. Think about it, do you know any obese vegans?  But I already knew that.  I knew that I couldn't continue to eat processed foods with all that sugar and fat and reach any of my health goals.  What I didn't know, though, was how great I'd feel just by eating vegetable proteins, whole grains and a whole lot of exciting fruits and vegetables. I am so happy that I made this discovery!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Corn and Black Bean Salad, Date Balls (both vegan and gluten-free)

I've had a lot of questions lately about gluten-free recipes.  Although vegan and gluten-free are not the same thing, I've decided to start labeling the recipes that are also gluten-free. 

My family loves any food with a Mexican flair to it.  This salad is fresh, fast and easy (insert inappropriate comment here).  Eli made it the other night after swim practice.  He doubled the recipe and took leftovers in his lunch to school the next day.  If you like it more "corny" then double the corn, if you like it more "beany" then double the beans.  Eli likes it about 1:1 so he gets some of each on his spoon.  This is just a rough recipe, so adjust it to fit your own needs.  I added some sliced jalapenos on top of mine.  This one is also a big hit at potlucks or with friends.  Serve with corn chips and the whole thing is gluten-free.  It is also really good with the fry bread (previous post, but not gluten-free).  Of course it's best with beans that have soaked over night, fresh corn off the cob and your best garden tomatoes.  But it's really good with frozen corn, canned beans and whatever tomatoes you got from the store.  It's a 10 minute meal.  It's better if it sits and marinates a bit, but it's not necessary.

The menu was Rainbow Salad, Pita Chips (or tortilla chips), and fresh fruit.

RAINBOW SALAD (Mexican Corn and Beans)

1 can   black beans, drained and rinsed
2          roma tomatoes, cored and diced
1 c       fresh or frozen corn (thawed)
1 T       olive oil
1-3       cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 t        dried oregano
1 ½ t    ground cumin
2 T       red wine vinegar
½ t       salt
3          scallions/green onion, copped
¼ c       fresh parsley

Combine all ingredients and mix well. 

The day care kids and I made Date Balls this morning to have for afternoon snack.  Again, this recipe is just a rough guide. So adjust it as necessary for your tastes and for your food processor.  You may like to make these with more cereal than listed here if they are too sticky/chewy for you. 

These are a nice sweet treat.  I made one and half times the recipe and it totalled about 4 dozen balls.  At that rate, each is about 45 calories and has about 1 gram of protein and 1 gram of fiber each.  They are a good energy kick for kids and/or athletes.  You could also spread these out on a cookie sheet and chill, then cut into bars. Personally, I like getting sticky and I like balls (and insert a couple more comments here). 

If you find other good mix-ins for this recipe, please let me know!  These are gluten-free when made with rice cereal.


1 c. raw almonds (or walnuts or pecans--whatever you prefer and have sitting around)
1 c. (or small package) pitted dates
1-2 T. fresh squeezed orange juice
2 c. Rice Crispies (or Grape Nuts or your favorite crunchy cereal)

Let the dates sit in warm water to soften for about 5 minutes.  In the food processor, finely chop the nuts.  Add in the dates and process until it starts to form a ball, using just a little bit of orange juice to keep the machine processing.  This mixture is very sticky, so you will need to scrape the sides and continue processing for a while. It takes about 2 minutes of processing time to get it all worked together.
Lay out about 1 c. Rice Crispies on wax paper, turn the date mixture on top, then sprinkle on the rest of the cereal.  Gently knead and fold to incorporate the cereal into the mixture--it will be sticky!  Roll into balls.

You can then roll these in powdered sugar, toasted coconut or cocoa powder if you prefer.

Refrigerate for a couple hours before serving.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

FAQs: Part 5--Eggs? Cornbread and PB&J Muffins

(If any of you have tried my vegan goodies--eaten or baked your own--post a comment with a review. I'm always looking to better the recipes.  I'm a big girl and can handle your honesty!)

A friend of mine walked up to me the other day at the grocery store.  She didn't say hello or how are you, she just said, "what about eggs?"  I responded with, "what about 'em?"

There is a lot of controversy about the healthfulness (or lack there of) of eggs.  I'm not going to lecture on this one.  As a matter of fact, if I still raised chickens I would probably still be eating eggs.  I can't argue with people who are convinced that eggs are the "good" cholesterol, or that just egg whites are a good alternative to whole eggs.  I don't know the science of it.  I know that I've read about eggs being linked to high cholesterol and to gestational diabetes in pregnant women.  I know doctors that warn against the evils of eggs.  But I also know it's hard to cut that habit of a good omelet on a Saturday morning. 

For the record, I don't eat eggs or cook with them at home.  But I do eat breads, pastas, etc. that may be made with eggs when I'm out at restaurants.  I don't know which ones have eggs and which ones don't.  I do purchase egg-free bread here and I use a few different egg substitutes when cooking.

But still many people are convinced that you just can't cook without eggs.  Eggs are a binding agent used to hold stuff together.  You need them for baked goods and such, right?

Well, no, you actually don't.  In many recipes, eggs can just be eliminated.  Your meatloaf or meatballs will hold together if you shape them properly without eggs.  But if you are cooking something that requires leavening or binding, here are a few suggestions for egg replacers.  I have been scratching out a list on an old receipt on my desk as I find these.  I can't tell you where I got each of them, but I'm sure I stole them from websites and recipe books that deserve proper credit.  I apologize to those authors. You can also Google "vegan egg replacer" or "vegan egg substitute" and find more suggestions if you want.

A note on FLAX: I buy whole flax seed and then grind 1-2 tablespoons at a time (in the coffee grinder) as I need it.  But be careful because once it is ground, it tends to go bad quickly. (Keep it in the freezer and sprinkle it on your cereal or oatmeal or in casseroles as a little health kick.)  When using it as an egg replacer, let the flax sit in the water or milk and thicken slightly while you prep your other ingredients. The cornbread recipe listed here says to simmer the flax.  I don't know the science behind it, but it works and makes a great cornbread that doesn't just crumble.  I've noticed that recipes using flax tend to stick to the pan a little, though, so be sure to spray your pan or muffin tins well.  Using the ground flax is my favorite egg replacer in muffins, oat bread (and other quick breads) and coffee cakes (which I make often for family and daycare kids).

For cookies, brownies, bean burgers, vegan meatloaf and other dishes where eggs are used as a binding agent, try one of the following:
1 c. soy milk
1 small banana 
2 T. applesauce
Half a cube of silken tofu, blended smooth
1 T. of flax seed meal and three tablespoons of water or vegan milk of your choice
For bread or cake recipes where eggs are used as leavening agents that help foods rise and maintain a airy texture, you can try one of these:
2 t. baking powder + 1/2 c. soy yogurt
2 oz. Ener-G egg substitute (I haven't tried it--have you? Let me know.)
1 t. yeast in a quarter cup hot water
2 T. cornstarch dissolved in 1 T. cold water = 1 egg
2 T. arrowroot flour = 1 egg
2 T. potato starch = 1 egg
1 heaping T. soy powder + 2 T. water = 1 egg
1 T. soy milk powder + 1 tbsp cornstarch + 2 tbsp water = 1 egg.
1 banana = 1 egg in cakes

What I use most often is simply 2 T. cornstarch + 1 T. Water = 1 egg.  I've used it in muffins, cookies and black bean burgers. Holds well.

6 T. water
1 c. all-purpose flour (I've used whole-wheat in these--I like, hubby hates the texture)
1 c. cornmeal
1/4 c. sugar
3/4 t. table salt
1 c. soy milk
1/4 c. canola oil
Preheat oven to 425°F. Spray 8-inch-square baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
Bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the ground flax seed, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer the ground flax seed in the water for 3 minutes or until thickened, stirring occasionally. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt until well-combined. Add the ground flax seed mixture, soy milk, and canola oil to the flour mixture and mix just until smooth (do not over mix). Turn into prepared baking pan. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Our family calls these PB Surprise Muffins—I make them with different flavors of jelly and you never what you’re going to get.  It’s a surprise!

1 T. ground flax seeds
3 T. milk (soy or rice or almond)
Let ground seeds sit in milk while you prep other ingredients

1 ½ c. whole-wheat flour
1 c. quick-cooking oats
3/4 c. sugar OR 1/2 c. brown sugar
1 T. baking powder
½ t. salt

Mix dry ingredients together and then cut in
¾ c. Peanut Butter (we like chunky)

To the flax seeds, stir in
1 c. milk (soy or rice or almond)
1 t. vanilla
Finally, mix the wet ingredients with dry ingredients just until moistened.

Spoon a couple tablespoons of batter into bottom of muffin tins (papered or sprayed with Pam).  Spoon 1/2-1 teaspoon of your favorite jelly into each and then top with another couple tablespoons of batter so that the jelly is in the middle.

Cook about 18-20 minutes at 400°F.  If you just make Peanut Butter muffins (no jelly inside), cook for 20-25 minutes. Mini PB muffins cook about 12 minutes. 

I have also added a chocolate kiss in the middle as the surprise, or made with mini chocolate chips.