Sunday, September 25, 2011

Challenge Your Breakfast... to a DUEL! (Well, Not Really)

A lady from the Vega company wrote to me and asked if I'd like to participate in a breakfast challenge the company was using for promotion* of their vegan protein/meal replacement type powders which they call Whole Food Health Optimizers (so Star Treky!) Since I actually use Vega products, and felt kind of excited to get some for free in the mail, I said yes. In a few days I had sample packs of a bunch of Vega products on my doorstep when I arrived home from work.

vega gifts

The idea behind the promotion was that people such as myself would use the special online Breakfast Challenge Calculator to determine how their usual breakfast measured up to a Vega shake breakfast. I've used these kinds of food calculators before (I have an app on my phone called Daily Burn that I use once in a while to keep track of my eating and exercise habits) and they really work better if you're entering in a) very conventional food choices, and/or b) name of popular prepared food products. Which is ironic, since much of the point of using food calculators seemed to be to make yourself eat healthier foods, which are usually not prepackaged products. The Vega calculator only allows for five items to be entered anyway, so your options are limited from the start, if you're eating complicated breakfasts. The other small problem with the Vega calculator is that it doesn't give you a wide variety of measurements to enter. If you wanted to enter a 1/2 cup instead of a cup, for example, you wouldn't be able to. Regardless, I pressed on!

breakfast calculator

I don't eat the same breakfast daily, but I decided to enter the ingredients of a standard, whole food, green smoothie, since that's something I have fairly often. And lately I've been getting up early, so I've been having a smoothie first thing in the morning and then a homemade oatmeal muffin or some toast when I arrive at work. I just entered the smoothie on the calculator, though.

Some of the results surprised me, like the massive discrepancy in both iron and calcium. But, as you can see from the picture of my calculator results, the Vega breakfast option scores higher in all the nutritious type categories and lower in things like sodium and sugar. This was pretty much the result I was expecting, since protein powders exist for a reason.

I actually use Vega powders in my smoothies on a fairly regular basis. My favourite of all the Vega products, in case you were wondering, is the cringely named "Vanilla Almondilla" smoothie powder. It's not in the same product line as the optimizers that Vega sent me, but it is what I usually choose when I buy Vega products of my own volition.

I find that the Vega powders are great additions to my usual whole food smoothie. I do feel full for longer when I add them in with the standard spinach, banana, almond butter, soy milk combo. And they do seem to boost my energy and alertness throughout the day.

One thing I'm never going to do regularly, is drink the powder mixed just with water as the package suggests. I know people who do this and find it delicious, but for me the taste is way to strong. As nutritious as the Vega products are, they are still powders. They aren't going to taste like a banana or like spinach. And that kind of supplementy taste is not my kind of thing all on its own.

green smoothie in its natural habitat

So, to sum up! Vega optimizers = lots of vitamins and minerals and healthy fats etc and we vegans need in our diets, but not super tasty on their own (in my opinion). My Regular Breakfast = not quite as many vitamins and minerals, but extra tasty. Combination of Vega optimizers and My Regular Breakfast = Healthy and Delicious Breakfast of Excellence. Once again, everything works out better when we work together instead of duelling.

J.

*Just to clarify, I was not paid to do this post. All I got was the box of free samples and I wasn't told by the Vega company what to write in my post. They just sent the samples and the link to the calculator and left the rest up to me.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Local Heroes: Pasta with Squash, Tomatoes, and Sage

pasta with tomatoes, squash, and sage

One of the perks of living at my parents' house (besides getting to watch Castle on their big TV and having my mom offer to do my ironing for me) is having unrestricted access to the full lot of vegetables they get every week from Roots and Shoots Farm. The farm is just a few minutes up the street from their house, so these vegetables are super-mega local, at least while we're living here.

As with any CSA share, some of what comes in our weekly allotment of vegetables is a bit of a mystery. For example, I'd never cooked with delicata squash until I made this dish. In fact, when I pulled the squash out of the vegetable drawer I had to ask my mom what exactly it was. My squash consumption pretty much defaults to butternut at all time.

triangle pasta

The other exciting thing about this meal was the pasta. When we went grocery shopping last week, Mom and I were instantly taken in by this triangular penne-style pasta which, apparently, is called "trenne". I cooked the whole small package of pasta for this dish and can report that it behaved pretty much exactly like penne. It was a good vehicle for the very chunky sauce that I made from the squash and some local tomatoes that came from the grocery store.

And guess what else? Fresh herbs! On the back deck my dad has cultivated several giant planters full of great herbs. I pillaged his basil plants on Sunday night in the name of pesto, and I was delighted to get back out there to get some sage and rosemary for this dish.

dad's herb garden

I don't usually do fancy garnishes for my dishes, but I'd just read about fried sage so I decided to give it a shot. I was a bit hesitant to bite into the first leaf I fished out of the hot oil, but it turned out to be a perfect little addition to the meal. The leaves end up with a subtle flavour and a very attractive crunch. My dad and the Man of Science left theirs on their plates, thinking they weren't edible, but my mom and I harassed them until they finally ate the leaves and admitted to their deliciousness.

sage

Pasta with Delicata Squash, Tomatoes, and Sage

1 medium delicata squash, peeled, seeded, and chopped
3 medium tomatoes, diced
1/2 pound of tofu, cut into bite sized squares
3 sprigs fresh rosemary, (leaves pulled off the stems) or 1 tbsp dried
6 leaves of sage
3 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper

approximately 4 cups small pasta (like penne or, in this case, trenne)
8 leaves of sage
4 tbsp olive oil
2 shallots, minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2/3 cup soup stock

Heat oven to 375 degrees*

In a large pan (a glass lasagna pan worked for me) combine tomatoes, squash, tofu, olive oil, rosemary, sage, salt, and pepper and stir them a bit to distribute everything equally.

Place in the oven for approximately forty five minutes or until the squash is tender. Stir every fifteen minutes.

In the meantime, boil the pasta in salted water until it is al dente. Drain and set aside.

When the pan of squash etc is cooked, leave it to cool for a minute or two then remove the six whole sage leaves and discard them.

Heat the four tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat until you can flick a drop of water into it and hear it sizzle. Add the uncooked eight sage leaves and leave them for about five minutes, until they turn a darker green colour. When you take them out of the oil they should be fairly rigid and crunchy, but not burnt.

In the remaining oil, saute the shallots and garlic until the onions are translucent. Add the squash, tomato and tofu mixture and let cook for a couple minutes, stirring regularly.

Add the soup stock and mix well. Cover and let cook over low heat for ten minutes to let the flavours do their thing.

Mix pasta into vegetable mixture. Stir until all pasta is coated.

Garnish with fried sage leaves. Serves four with a bit leftover for lunch.

pasta with tomatoes, squash, and sage

J.

* My parents' oven is, according to them, "about ten degrees colder than what it says" and they haven't ever felt the need to get an oven thermometer to confirm. This makes me sort of bananas. I'm going to buy them an oven thermometer. All this to say, my temperature instruction for this recipe is the result of me setting the oven to 385 degrees and assuming that means it was actually 375 degrees. BUT NO ONE KNOWS FOR CERTAIN!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

New Digs

Sam

Hello! Did you miss me? Did you forget I existed?

For those of you not in the know, let me catch you up. My husband and I (plus two cats and three dogs) have just moved out of our falling apart, no-central-heating, moldy, splintery-floored, broken-stoved house downtown and are now residing with my parents in their sub-sub-urban bungalow about 40 minutes south of our previous home. We've done this because our no-redeeming-features house is going to be torn down and a new house (with many redeeming features) is going to be built in its place. Which is very exciting.

spices

All this means i haven't quite gotten comfortable in the new-to-me kitchen as of yet, so I had no recipe post last week. But I thought I'd show you my parents' kitchen, so at least you know where I'll be cooking for the next while, if not what.

kitchen

The kitchen has one of those fancy induction burner stoves which I am still getting the hang of. My pans keep sliding right off them while I'm stirring. Perhaps I need to stir less vigorously. The stove is in the wall and the sink is in an island. The kitchen opens into a dining area surrounded by windows which shows off the view of the surrounding woods.

kitchen/dining room

Everything is super-organized, which is nice. Though the Man of Science threatened to move all my mother's utensils out of their designated spots after he noticed how "everything in its place" the kitchen was. I especially like the storage system for cookie sheets and muffin tins. Having them not all stacked together will reduce the clanging and crashing that usually accompanies me pulling one of them out of the cupboard.

pans

The happiest members of our little family are, of course, the dogs. Our previous house has a big yard, but this yard has woods attached to it. And my mom takes them for two walks a day. And there's a big porch to lie on when the weather is nice. And soft couches and chairs and carpeted floors to sleep on. And they're not the ones who have to commute every day. So basically they're in the lap of luxury.

sacha

As soon as I start cooking some interesting recipes I'll get right back to my regular posting schedule. Vegan Mofo is coming up in October, so I'll certainly need to have hit my stride again by then. Stay tuned.

J.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Vegan Adventures Close To Home: La Belle Verte

I had Friday off last week, which meant I had a super-mega-long weekend, what with Labour Day and everything. Sadly, I knew most of the weekend would be dedicated to packing up/organizing things in our soon-to-be-abandoned home. To keep from going mental, I decided that Friday was to be filled with fun activities rather than responsible ones. And what a good idea that was! Friday was a wonderful day that started with pancakes and ended with beer and somewhere in the middle was lunch at La Belle Verte in Hull, Quebec, a (mostly) raw vegan restaurant that I'd never actually been to before.

La Belle Verte

Friday was hot and sunny so Krishna and I (in our matchy vegan hemp sneakers. Nerds!) got on our bikes and cycled over the bridge to Quebec. It only took about fifteen minutes to get to the restaurant, which made us wonder even more why we'd never been there before. It was about 12:30 when we arrived and the place was packed! We wedged ourselves (and our cameras and bike helmets) into a small table for two and studied the menu. The food on offer is all vegan and mostly raw, but there are some cooked options like a noodle bowl and a variety of sandwiches. There are also daily smoothies and desserts. They were out of that day's green smoothie, so we just stuck with water to drink. Most of the dishes can include a side salad for a few extra dollars.

Raw Greek Pizza

Krishna ordered this raw greek pizza dish with salad. She gave me one of the pieces to try and it was really flavourful. I'm always suspicious of non-traditional pizzas (even though being vegan means I don't eat regular pizza anymore!) but this had a lot of the same flavours as traditional pizza, what with the raw tomato sauce and herbs. There was also a creamy texture from cashew cheese. Tons of flavour, lots of different elements.

Raw Quiche

This was my meal, a raw quiche with salad. I was expecting it to look much different, more like the raw cheesecakes that I've had in the past, but then the server did warn us "it's not like a regular quiche!" It wasn't, but it was amazingly delicious regardless. Lots of great flavours, mostly nut-based ingredients, and a variety of textures. I ate it all. The salad was fresh and tasty as well, but I left my pile of sprouts on my plate because they are satan.

Mango raw "cheesecake"

We had dessert, of course. All in the name of a full experience of a new restaurant. Krishna had this raw tropical cheesecake which had chunks of pineapple and mango in it. I was glad she wanted that one because chunks of fruit in things do not appeal to me. I am a texture wimp. She said it was delicious. I didn't ask to try any. Besides I was busy with my own dessert.

raw chocolate strawberry cake

This was more my kind of thing! A raw chocolate strawberry cake. The pink colour was only the top layer, the rest was creamy chocolate. Yum. I love raw desserts. There were also raw tarts and brownies on display, which gives me something to look forward to next time.

La Belle Verte

The place itself is very cute, clean, and comfortable. The kitchen is open and there's a lot of natural light. Plus there are lots of little owl sculptures everywhere, which I found adorable. All in all, a super fun lunch adventure and not at all far from central Ottawa. I can't wait to go back.

Owls at La Belle Verte

J.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

"Did You Pour Maple Syrup All Over Your Body And Ask If She Was In The Mood For A Short Stack?" Wolowitz-Worthy Vegan Oatmeal Pancakes

Oatmeal Pancakes

First off, my apologies to those readers who don't watch The Big Bang Theory, which is where my ridiculous post title comes from. It's from an episode called "The Wheaton Recurrence". In one scene, the character of Howard Wolowitz is throwing out examples of what someone might do in unintentionally offend a ladyfriend. It came to mind when I was making this "short stack" of pancakes on Friday. I had the day off (pure bliss!) and was able to make myself a leisurely pancake breakfast to eat while I got caught up on my Degrassi watching. Oh yes, it's all about TV around here lately. Mostly because we're still packing up the house and organizing the move, which leaves us little energy for much else.

Oatmeal Pancakes

A while ago one of my coworkers invited me over for breakfast so we could discuss a few work-related issues before going on with our usual workdays. She's a great cook and was kind enough to make me an entirely vegan breakfast, which included some very delicious oatmeal, walnut pancakes. I didn't ask her for the recipe at the time and then she retired and went away for the summer. So I've been left to try to crack the oatmeal pancake code all by myself. It wasn't as easy as it might seem. I tried a few variations but they were all kind of grainy and heavy. This recipe, though, it is a winner. Light, tasty, but still hearty and filling. I can't wait to make these again.

Oatmeal Pancakes

Vegan Oatmeal Pancakes

3/4 cup quick cook oats
1 1/2 cups soymilk, "soured" with one tsp of apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp ground flax seed mixed with three tbsp warm water
2 tbsp neutral oil (like safflower, or sunflower)
1 tablespoon agave nectar

In a medium sized bowl, combine the soured milk and the oatmeal. Stir to combine and set aside.

In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

To the oatmeal mixture, add the flax and water mixture, the oil, and the agave. Mix well.

Add dry ingredients to wet and stir until combined.

Heat a non-stick pan or a cast iron skillet over medium heat. When pan is hot, grease with a tsp of margarine or oil.

Ladle batter into pan in whatever formation you like. I made medium sized pancakes and that seemed to work well.

Flip when sides of pancake start to brown. Cook until brown and firm on both sides.

I served mine with a bit of Earth Balance margarine and s bunch of agave nectar. I think they'd also be great with fruit or maple syrup.

Makes approximately eighteen medium sized pancakes.

Oatmeal Pancakes

J.