Vegetarians, Day 10: Superfresh!

You may have noticed I skipped right over Day 9. That’s because I’m writing this update three days after the fact, and can’t for the love of God, recall anything I ate on January 9th. Was I in a fog? Or perhaps I was abducted by aliens and the contents of my brain were sucked out? Or maybe I was just a taddd busy and tired? Let’s go with that last one.

On Day 10, I had to travel to Brattleboro, VT for work. If you don’t know a lot about Brattleboro, let me start off by saying that they had a food co-op before co-ops were even cool. It’s hippy, it’s artsy, and it’s a localvore’s food paradise. There were so many great vegetarian options for lunch!

I ended up at this place called Superfresh! Organic Cafe. It’s not only vegetarian, but vegan.  I was torn between several things on the menu, but ordered the Pesto Melt. One of the first signs I was in an organic cafe was when the server asked me if I wanted that on raw or cooked bread. Was this a trick question? 

Photo by Kathia B on Yelp

The Pesto Melt came with tomato, onion, and daiya cheese, which is some plant based “cheese” I’d never heard of that contains no dairy at all. And it was great! The whole melt was tasty– a perfect amount of pesto to cheese and vegetables. My coworker got the Roasted Vegetable wrap that came with hunks of potatoes, beets, and peppers, and smelled delicious. Both of our meals were under $10 each.

Perhaps the real You’re Not In Kansas Anymore moment was the sign hanging in the bathroom that announced they had made the difficult decision to cut ties… with avocados. Their popularity is causing a drought and making unclean water for communities in Mexico. There is also a significant carbon footprint to trek these up from Mexico to places like Vermont. Although the sign initially made me chuckle, in the end it opened my eyes to a food I eat a whole lot of.

Eating at this great organic cafe also made me remember there is a vegan cafe about a mile away from my house! I’ve been only once. The food was excellent, so I really have no idea why I didn’t return. Maybe because I thought, “Well I’m not vegan, so why would I go there?” Time to change that.

 

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Vegetarians, Day 8: I Miss You, Delicious Chicken

Today was the day: the first day I actually missed meat. Chicken, to be exact–the shredded chicken inside of the enchiladas at my favorite Mexican restaurant.

Photo via Victor P on Yelp 

I went out to dinner with a friend and ordered the veggie enchilada. I really didn’t think anything of making this swap for my normal chicken enchilada. After all, I’m eight days into this experiment, and things have been going so well. I haven’t once had regrets or thought about saying, “Screw it, let’s rip open a bag of beef jerky.” So I was both surprised and disappointed when I tasted my vegetarian enchilada.

I think what it really came down to was texture. The chicken I normally eat inside of this enchilada is soft and tender, and full of flavor. Instead I bit into pieces of green pepper that were rubbery and probably could have used another five minutes in the oven. I guess there are just certain meals that you come to expect to taste a certain way, and substituting extra vegetables in their place just isn’t going to cut it. But did I go hungry? Of course not! I had rice, beans, and also ate my weight in tortilla chips.

I’m sharing this because I think it’s important to be honest with yourself whenever you are trying out something new–food, career, relationship–whatever. Sometimes you miss chicken. Sometimes you don’t. It would be dishonest to get to the end of January and declare, “That was such a breeze!” if it really wasn’t. Being realistic about our situations is what helps us learn and grow. So even though I missed sweet, sweet delicious chicken today, I’m sticking with my veggies for now. Onward!

Vegetarians, Day 6: Sweet Potato Hummus

I discovered a really delicious, really easy to make sweet potato hummus that I wanted to share with you all. It’s from America’s Test Kitchen Complete Vegetarian Cookbook. This book has been essential since the start of our vegetarian experiment. I really appreciate how it divides the chapters up into hearty main courses, vegetable sides, salads, grains, and more. Many of the recipes can be tweaked to be vegan (if you’re into that) and many are also gluten free. The best part of the cookbook are the beautiful photos, which makes me want to cook everything in it.

This recipe for making the sweet potato hummus is going to seem oddly specific regarding how long to microwave the potato — but trust it; it will work! Enjoy!

SWEET POTATO HUMMUS

Recipe from The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook by America’s Test Kitchen

Ingredients:

1 large sweet potato (about 1 pound), unpeeled
¾ cup water
¼ cup lemon juice (2 lemons)
¼ cup tahini
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
One 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
Directions:

Prick sweet potato several times with fork, place on plate, and microwave until very soft, about 12 minutes, flipping halfway through microwaving. Slice potato in half lengthwise, let cool, then scrape sweet potato flesh from skin; discard skin.
Combine water and lemon juice in small bowl. In separate bowl, whisk tahini and oil together.
Process sweet potato, chickpeas, garlic, paprika, salt, coriander, cumin, cinnamon, and cayenne in food processor until almost fully ground, about 15 seconds. Scrape down bowl with rubber spatula. With machine running, add lemon juice mixture in steady stream. Scrape down bowl and continue to process for 1 minute. With machine running, add tahini mixture in steady stream and process until hummus is smooth and creamy, about 15 seconds, scraping down the bowl as needed.
Transfer hummus to serving bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature until flavors meld, about 30 minutes. Drizzle with olive oil and serve. (Hummus can be refrigerated for up to 5 days; before serving, stir in 1 tablespoon warm water to loosen hummus texture if necessary).

lentil bolognese

Vegetarians, Day 5: Lentil Bolognese

One of the biggest pieces of advice I was given for this vegetarian experiment was to stock up on rice, beans, and legumes, as those would becoming the building blocks for most vegetarian meals. Like I good girl, I bought quinoa, brown rice, and a bunch of things I’ve never cooked before, including lentils.

lentil bolognese

Tonight we made a super easy, super delicious Lentil Bolognese and served it over tortellini. Essentially all you do is jazz up a jar of your favorite pasta sauce with some onions, carrots, and celery, a dash of red wine or cooking sherry, and throw the lentils in, cooking until they are tender. It took about 40 minutes, and honestly, we probably should have cooked them for maybe ten more.

Lentils are a little chalky, but they provide a good bite. Plus they’re packed with protein and fiber. One cup has 64% of your recommended fiber intake and 36% of your protein.  My stomach expanded like a balloon after eating this meal. So maybe don’t eat it over a cheese filled pasta like we did, but try it out! It’s pretty tasty.

Here’s the recipe we used.

 

the impossible burger

Vegetarians, Day 4: The Impossibly Complicated Impossible Burger

Dan and I go out to dinner pretty much every Friday night. It’s either because we’ve run out of food, motivation to cook, or both. This past Friday was our first experience in a restaurant as vegetarians. We almost went to our default place – Tiny Thai, which we both agree we could live solely off from- but then remembered that Mule Bar was now selling the Impossible Burger. It was time to give it a try.

For those of you who have no idea what the Impossible Burger is, it’s supposed to mimic a real hamburger without the meat. They tout, “Impossible™ meat delivers all the flavor, aroma and beefiness of meat from cows. But here’s the kicker: It’s just plants doing the Impossible.” I was skeptical, but ordered one anyone.

the impossible burger

My first impression was, Wow, that actually looks exactly like beef. Not only was it shaped like a burger, but it was even cooked to behave like ground beef, with a brown exterior and pink middle. Then came the smell test and it passed that, too. It shockingly smelled like a burger that just came off the grill. So what about taste? Would it taste just like a burger?

Sort of. The “meat” actually didn’t taste much like anything, IMHO.

After researching, I’ve learned the Impossible Burger is made of coconut flecks, wheat, potato protein, and heme, which is the secret ingredient that gives the burger its meaty texture…and is also, as I found out, a pretty controversial ingredient.

Heme is a molecule found in all living things, from animals to plants. But you need a ton of it to create anything substantial. The company who makes the Impossible Burger found a way to manipulate soy so that it pumped out heme in mass volume. This is part of why the Impossible Burger is controversial: it’s genetically modified. The other reason it is controversial is because up until very recently, heme was not recognized by the FDA as safe for human consumption. A ruling in July of 2018 changed that and now the FDA considers it GRAS (generally recognized as safe). As in, don’t worry, it’s pretty much safe to eat this. We think. As far as we know. There was that one rat who grew an extra limb out of its head, but we think that was an anomaly. 

The FDA denial and GRAS status is concerning for me because, to be blunt, the FDA typically sucks at protecting consumers. We assume if an ingredient is dangerous to ingest or put on our bodies, the FDA wouldn’t allow it , right? Wrong. Lead has been found in all major brands of lipstick, formaldehyde in baby shampoo, phthalates in food packaging, and bpa in pretty much every plastic. All of these chemicals are known carcinogens that wreck havoc on our bodies, and yet, are still being manufactured. How? Because many of these products are not required to undergo FDA approval and because they can keep the ingredients a “trade secret.”

At the start of this journey, I wanted to eat less meat because I didn’t want animals to die. But there was also a health component – I wanted to find healthy, protein alternatives to fill me up. And here I am now substituting naturally occurring meat from animals who are part of our food chain, for genetically modified food that a scientist concocted in some lab. Is that really a better choice?

Here are some redeeming qualities of the Impossible Burger:

  1. It uses 75% less water, 95% less land, and generates about 87% lower greenhouse gas emissions than a conventional burger from cows.
  2. It’s produced without using hormones or antibiotics, normally injected into cattle.
  3. It contains no cholesterol.
  4. It doesn’t kill animals.

So, the big question: would I order the Impossible Burger again, knowing all that I know now? Probably not. Controversies aside, I wasn’t super wowed with the taste. And if it doesn’t taste that good, and I have moral reservations, what’s the point? I think I’ll stick to typical veggie burgers for now.

Vegetarians, Day 3: That Smells Good, Too Bad I Can’t Eat It

Day 3

At the start of this experiment, I decided I never wanted to be one of those people who make their vegetarianism a big deal. I’m not here to preach, convert, or make anyone go out of their way by adjusting their cooking to fit my lifestyle. I’m just here to eat fewer animals for a month.

Last night, my book club had its monthly meeting and dinner (side note: we call it the Shithole Book Club and we only read books by authors who are from “shithole” countries, according to Trump). My friend who hosted told the group she was going to make a French cassoulet — a casserole, typically made of beans and you guessed it, meat. I called her to ask if I could possible scoop around the meat. She let me know that wasn’t really possible and that the sausage was cut up very small.

Here it was: my first vegetarian conundrum.

Just to be clear, I hadn’t told my friend I was doing this experiment. I really didn’t want her to have to change her plans for 1 of 7 people. I also knew others would bring an appetizer and a side dish to go with the main. I told her not to worry about me. “Worse case scenario, I can just fill up on bread.” So that was my strategy. And then I walked into her house.

I was immediately overcome with the delicious smell of the cassoulet. In a split second, my brain went from saying, “That smells sooo good, I can’t wait to eat it,” to “Fuck! I can’t eat it!” And I realized this experiment might actually be harder than I wanted to admit.

But in the end, I stuck to my plan and it really wasn’t a big deal. I ate cheese and crackers, bread, and huge helping of a delicious walnut grapefruit kale salad. I was full and I was satisfied.

Part of what I’m learning is that more than anything this is a re-conditioning of my brain. I do not need to eat meat, or even a meat substitute, at every meal–that’s just what I was conditioned to believe up to this point in my life. I think I also learned that although I don’t need to push my ideals on others, it might not be the worst idea to mention in advance that I’m doing this experiment to a) not make my friends feel bad if they cook meat and b) to make sure there is something else available.

If anyone has tips on how to broach the vegetarian subject in a non-annoying way when someone has you over for dinner, I’d love to hear it! Also, do folks ever bring over their own food, or is that weird?

Vegetarians, Day 2: Ooe, Eee, Ooe, Killer Tofu!

Day 2

Last night we decided to host our friends for dinner, and not only cook a vegetarian meal, but also attempt to cook tofu. For the first time. Ever.

It was a pretty gutsy (read: dumb) move since they have been vegetarians for years and have cooked tofu a million times. But this experiment is about taking chances and they agreed to be our guinea pigs.

One of the first roadblocks I ran into was not knowing there were so many different kinds of tofu. Soft (which looked liked ricotta cheese in a tube *shutters*), Medium (a slight step up in hardness, but still not necessarily solid); Firm (a solid, sponge-like block in water); and Extra Firm (like Firm, but tougher and less water content). Un/Fortunately I had already blindly purchased the firm variety, not knowing there was a difference, so that’s what I went with.

Then I discovered a long-held debate in the Tofu World: To Press or Not to Press? In Western culture, people generally prefer to press to get as much water out as possible so that the tofu itself is harder and so they are avoiding a spongy texture. But according to a YouTuber I watched who is from Korea, they don’t mind the spongy texture and therefore they don’t press it. Since I’m neither Korean, nor really know what I’m doing, I went with a happy medium: squeezing the tofu between two cutting boards once or twice. Was this the right thing to do or even the right method? Probably not. I could make a whole other post on the varying methods for how to press, including stacking books on top … (which just seems dangerous, but ok).

Next , it was time to transform the tofu from a tasteless, egglike mass into something resembling food. I chopped it up into cubes and put it in this marinade to sit overnight:

  • Oyster sauce
  • Soy sauce
  • Rice vinegar
  • Maple syrup
  • Ginger
  • Garlic

I discovered the next morning that the tofu sucked up most of the marinade. So my effort to press it now seemed moot. Maybe that’s why Koreans don’t bother.

Finally it was time to bake it. I found a recipe that recommended coating the tofu in cornstarch to help get it crispy and baking it at 350 degrees. But here’s the part that killed me – it said to cook it for between 20 and 45 minutes. That’s a big range. How would I possibly know when it’s done?! 

In the end, I cooked it for 30 minutes total, flipping at the 10 minute marks as suggested. The tofu did not turn out crispy, but it also wasn’t terrible. It held its shape and tasted like the marinade. For being my first time cooking it, I was pleasantly surprised.

Here are my general observations about tofu:

  • You really have to put some time and work in to make it taste good.
  • It’s not a very forgiving product to work with (cutting, pressing, etc).
  • I doubt I will become tofu’s biggest fan by the end of this experiment.

P.S. Who can name the cartoon this clip came from?!

fresh whole cranberries

CSA Recipe: Cranberry Nut Bread

I recently signed up for a CSA through the Intervale in Burlington, VT and I’ve become obsessed with it! I get an assortment of vegetables each week, and also get eggs/yogurt/salad dressing OR cheese/bread/pesto along with it. Everything is organic, even the bread and yogurt, and it’s all ridiculously tasty. Since we’re getting so many different vegetables that I normally never cook, I’ve been looking all over the internet and in cookbooks for different recipes. I’ll be sharing some of my favs here!

Recipe: Cranberry Nut Bread
CSA Ingredients: Cranberries, eggs

My family is pretty set in their ways when it comes to food. Although this blows my mind, one of the Lafayette must-have’s on Thanksgiving is—wait for it—canned, jellied cranberry sauce.  (*shutters*) I learned the hard way that making any dish other than the ones we’ve had  500 times is the equivalent of taking your time, money, and pride, and dumping it in the trash. So when I got cranberries in my CSA, I had to get creative about how to use them, since clearly a delicious, home-made cranberry sauce was out of the question.

Luckily one of the perks of getting married is getting a brand new family who feel obligated to try everything you make and lie to you about how great it is. Liam’s dad is my number one fan and guinea pig. I could give him a cake made out of beach sand and the man would tell me how much he appreciated the crunch. He makes me feel like Julia Child. He’s the best.fresh whole cranberries

With my cranberries in hand, I flipped through my Better Homes & Garden’s Cookbook (AKA, my cooking Bible) and found a recipe for Nut Bread which you could add cranberries to. Although it recommended a few substitutions if using fruit, I ignored those suggestions and followed the recipe exactly as is, just adding cranberries at the end.

This is what the batter looked like in my KitchenAid Mixer

This is what the batter looked like in my KitchenAid Mixer

I threw the bread together about an hour before we went to Liam’s parent’s house and brought it over warm.

final product  - cranberry nut bread

final product – cranberry nut bread

And it actually was a big hit! It was nice and dense like a banana bread, but also very colorful because of the cranberries. Three-quarters of the loaf was gone by Thanksgiving night, and Liam’s dad called me up the next day to say he finished off the rest of it for breakfast (I just LOVE him!). So give this one a try if you end up with some cranberries. It’s really easy and pretty rewarding (even if you don’t have in-law’s to pat you on the back). Enjoy 🙂

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1 cup milk (I used half n’ half because we didn’t have milk. Cook about 10 mins longer)
  • ¼ cup cooking oil
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped cranberries (put in food processor if you have one. Way easier!)
  • ¾ cup chopped walnuts (or almonds or pecans)

Directions

1.    Grease the bottom and 1/2 inch up sides of a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan; set aside.Grease the bottom and ½ inch up sides of 9x5x3-inch loaf pan; set aside. In a large bowl stir together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Make a well in the center of flour mixture; set aside.

2.   In a medium bowl, combine egg, milk, and oil. Add egg mixture all at once to flour mixture. Fold in cranberries and nuts. Spoon batter into prepared pan.

3.   Bake at 350 degrees F for 50 to 55 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. (recipe then recommended storing overnight before cutting, but who is going to do that?!).