Nutrition Ambition

Welcome to my vegan food blog! When it comes to food, my philosophy is that taking time to lovingly prepare your own meals can result in better health and greater life satisfaction. I use natural, whole ingredients to create nourishing, exciting meals which replenish mind, body and spirit. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Roxy Reviews: Raw by Charlie Trotter & Roxanne Klein

I have recently gotten into raw foods and was nothing less than thrilled to find this beautiful gem of a book at my local library. Filled with stunning photos and exctiting, complex gourmet recipes, this book would appeal to any raw foodist, foodie or vegan.

The first several pages of Raw are photos of sparkling farm scenes: rows and rows of greens growing in the ground, a close-up of a bushel of grapes, rainbow chard stems emerging from the earth, and a farmer's hands cradling cut yellow blossoms. The authors' introduction follows and explains how they made the shift to raw vegan foods.

The recipes start off with appetizers, naturally. The Three Peppercorn-Crusted Cashew Cheese with Honeycomb and Balsamic Vinegar sounds amazing, looks amazing, and seems quite do-able, although I would leave off the honeycomb and add some figs. There's literally not a dish in this section (or the entire book, for that matter) that does not make my mouth water.

The soups section contains dishes like Heirloom Tomato Soup with Arbequina Olives and Shaved Fennel, Butternut Squash and Ginger Soup with Spaghetti Squash, and (my personal favorite) Red Bell Pepper Soup with Mango and Meyer Lemon which seems to be the least complex and easiest to prepare of all the soups.

If you think a salad is just a bunch of greens slapped on a plate with a bottled dressing poured on top, take a look at the salads in this book and you'll think twice about what a salad could be. The Greek Salad, although seemingly simple, has 30 ingredients and many components. The Morel Mushrooms and Lotus Root with Beets and Fermented Black Beans sounds to me more like an entree than a salad. The photo for this dish is probably one of my favorites: the dark brown of the whole mushrooms pops against the bright red-pink beet foam and clean white of the sliced lotus root. The Mediterranean Cheese Salad with Dragon Crackers looks amazingly delicious and makes me want to lick the page.

I will admit, if you had asked me what I thought about "raw foods" 6 months ago, I would have conjured images of plain old salads and fruit bowls, lacking any depth of flavor. Take a gander at the entrees section of Raw and this belief changes completely. Rich dishes of mushrooms, walnuts, avocado, artichokes, and peppers dance on the pages with their lush and varied textures and colors. The Stuffed Anaheim Chiles with Mole and Jicama and Baby Corn Salad sounds and looks so delightful, you don't even stop to think that its completely raw. Tacos Three Ways is a surprise...who knew you could make taco shells in a dehydrator? Lasagna is as elegant and fancy and lasagna gets--layered in a terrine and cut crosswise to reveal all the colorful layers.

Finally, we come to the most lucsious and hunger-inducing chapter: dessert. Tropical Fruit Spring Rolls with Coconut Sorbet is wildly creative as it is beautiful. The "spring roll" wrapper is actually made of paper-thin sliced of pineapple! Indian Red Peaches with Vanilla Ice Cream and Pecan Praline needs no further explanation--I can almost taste it just looking at the picture! Chocolate Chip Cookies and Chocolate Truffles (some rolled in curry powder and some in lemon zest) makes me wonder: "where's the button that I push to make this appear before me?" The good news about the truffles is that they seem fairly simple and easy.

There is also a beverages section which includes drinks (non-alcoholic) just as gourmet as the recipes in the previous chapters. My personal favorite is the Cucumber Lime Water.

If you only buy this book to have something beautiful to look at, it will be money well-spent. But, I think if you are an intermediate-to-advanced skill level in the kitchen and can get your hands on some of the gourmet, exotic ingredients (or decent alternatives) as well as a dehydrator, Vita-Mix blender, and juicer, you can pull off these recipes. I have already picked out several recipes, adapted them to my skill level and what ingredients are available in my area, and am planning a fancy dinner for my family and friends. I think with a little preparation and effort, beautiful food can be within most people's reach.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Two Spicy Soups and Spring Fever

For two or three days last week, mother nature taunted us with spring-like temperatures in the 40's, and today we just finished digging out of about 16 inches of snow! How funny.

So, to ease my winter blues and thaw out once again, I made two of my favorite soups: Spicy Lentil with Cabbage and Curried Red Lentil with Peas. Of course, you can make them as spicy or mild as you like, but I just love the savory heat that cayenne pepper gives to a soup or stew. Also, if you don't have coconut milk, the Curried Red Lentil is just as delicious without it (and lower in fat). Also, if you like a lot of lentils in your soup, feel free to add two cans instead of one.

Spicy Lentil and Cabbage Soup:
Ingredients (makes about 3-4 servings):
* 1 (15 oz) can lentils, do not drain
* 2 tablespoons liquid aminos
* Black pepper, to taste
* 3 cups chopped or shredded red cabbage
* 1 medium onion, chopped
* 2 garlic cloves, chopped
* 2 medium carrots, chopped
* 1 tablespoon olive oil
* Cayenne pepper, to taste
* 1 bay leaf
* 2-3 cups water, depending on how thick the soup is
In a soup pot or large saucepan, saute the onion, garlic, carrot, black pepper, cayenne, and bay leaf until the onion is soft. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce heat to low and cook until the carrot and cabbage are tender, about 10 minutes. Remove bay leaf before serving.

Curried Red Lentil Soup with Peas
Ingredients (makes 3-4 servings):
* 1 cup dried red lentils
* 3 cups water
* 1/2 cup coconut milk (optional)
* 2 cloves garlic, chopped
* 2 carrots, chopped
* 1 tablespoon olive oil
* 1 teaspoon curry powder
* 3/4 teaspoon turmeric
* 3/4 teaspoon cumin
* Cayenne pepper, to taste
* 2 tablespoons liquid aminos
* 1/2 cup frozen green peas

In a soup pot or large saucepan, saute the garlic, carrot and spices in the oil until fragrant, about 45 seconds. Add the rest of the ingredients except the peas and cover. Simmer over low heat until the lentils are tender, about 10-13 minutes. Stir in the peas and cook 1 more minute. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Macaroni Salad To Eat While You Watch LOST

Last night, Rutiger took me out for an early dinner after he got off work. In the small town that I live in, there are very, very, very few vegan dinning options. However, among the bars and greasy spoon-diners, there is a Mexican restaraunt that makes pretty good food. I always order two crunchy bean tacos with a side of guacamole and pico de gallo. Spooning the fantastic spicy salsa over the whole concoction makes for a wonderful meal. Not to mention it's so inexpensive!

So, anyway, my favorite show (besides Monk, Project Runway, Top Chef, Six Feet Under and Ace of Cakes) is Lost. I have been addicted to it ever since the first episode. But by 9:00 I was hungry again. So, I put together a light snack/late meal and had it ready just before the new episode of Lost started.

If you don't know what macaroni salad is, it's that stuff you can find at any American cookout or 4th of July party--cooked macaroni pasta drowned in mayo and tossed with peas, celery and sometimes shredded cheese. So, here's my vegan healthy version that tastes 1,000 times better:

Ingredients (for one good-sized serving):
* 1/2 cup uncooked whole grain macaroni
* 3 tablespoons Creamy Herb Tahini Dressing (recipe below)
* 1/4 cup frozen peas, defrosted
* 1/4 - 1/3 cup (total) of chopped celery and carrots
* 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar (preferrably raw)
* Salt and pepper to taste

Cook the pasta in boiling water until done to your liking. Drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Dry out the pasta, stirring contstantly over medium heat. Be careful not to let the pasta stick to the bottom of the pan. Mix the dressing with the other ingredients in a serving bowl and toss with the pasta. Refrigerate for 15-30 minutes to let the starch from the pasta thicken the dressing. Enjoy!

Creamy Herb Tahini Dressing:
* 1/2 cup tahini
* Juice of 1 lemon
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 1/2 garlic clove, minced
* 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar (preferably raw)
* 1/2 teaspoon dried dill weed or 1-2 tablespoons fresh dill weed
* 1 teaspoon dried parsley or 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
* 1/3 cup water (more or less, depending on how thick your tahini is)

First, combine the lemon juice and tahini and a mixing bowl and wisk until very thick. Add the rest of the ingredients and wisk again until smooth and the consistancy of ranch dressing. Store in a jar in the fridge. This also makes a good soy mayo substitute in things like eggless tofu salad (see a previous post).

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Roxy Reviews: Everyday Vegan by Jeani-Rose Atchison

The first part of this book starts out with health and nutrition issues, and also why a whole-foods vegan diet promotes health--even for children. In fact, a healthy organic diet is especially important for children, the author points out, because the rising problems of violence in children and teens can be linked to poor nutrition.

The book goes on to point out important facts about fats, protein and carbohydrates in a healthy diet. The author writes that fats from whole food sources like nuts, seeds and avocado are health-promoting when eaten as part of a balanced diet. This may not seem too ground-breaking to a lot of us health-conscious vegans, but it is important information for readers who categorize all fats as "bad." Protein is also addressed. It is a common misconception that it is very difficult to obtain enough protein from a vegan diet. This is a myth that was started long ago, as the author points out, based on dietary needs of dogs. Still to this day, people are literally scared into believing that a healthy diet should include meat at every meal. This is simply not true.

On to the recipe section, there have been some hits and misses in my experience cooking from this book. First, in the Appetizers, Dips and Spreads section, I tried the Cheddar, Sunflower and Olive Spread awhile back. I was not thrilled with the results. The flavors did not go well together and not much of it got eaten. I would definitely not make this again. However, the Carrot Butter sounds great as a spread on a sandwich or on toast.

In the Soups section, the Gingered Butternut Squash Soup was a delicious combination of sweet and savory. Curried Cauliflower and Carrot Soup was also good.

As for the Salads, I have not tried any of them yet, but the South American Jicama and Orange Salad sounds fantastic. If you enjoy using sea veggies, there are several salad recipes utilizing this ingredient.

On to the Breads, I attempted the Pumpkin-Apricot Bread with near-disasterous results. It was more like pumpkin pie filling than bread! All three Squash-Corn Muffins, Zucchini Muffins and Wheat-Free Muffins are fantastic. A note about the Wheat-Free Muffins: the recipe makes enough to feed an army! Make sure you have at least 2 (12 cup) muffin pans for this one!

The Side Dish section contains many international dishes like Spanish Rice (although I found this dish to be rather bland, and unless you have about 8 people over for dinner, you may want to scale this one down), Thai Vegetables, and Ratatouille.

When browsing the Entrees Section, there is a yummy-looking recipe for vegan Rubens, as well as "The Ultimate Sandwich with Creamy Mozzarella" Yes, she even includes a recipe for homemade mozzarella. Asian Spring Rolls are included, as well as several loaf recipes. The Spinach Fritters leave a whole lot to be desired--they were incredebly bland and didn't cook through. Baked Polenta with Shiitake Ragout sounds fantastic, as does the Chestnut, Apple and Cornbread Stuffed Squash. The Savory Stuffed Portobellos are a favorite in my house.

Finally, in the Desserts and Drinks Section, you will find recipes for Cherry Whip (which seems to be a vegan ice-cream?), Sesame Crunchies (a healthy energy snack), and Sprouted Wheat Suprises (which I made and liked at first, but felt ill about 15 minutes after eating them). There is a carrot cake recipe which is simply fruit-sweetened, but there is no instruction on baking. A raw cake, I assume?

Overall, this book contains useful health information and many good recipes. However, I have found that the instructions for cooking are very vague and minimal. Also, it would be helpful to know how many servings each recipe uses (as in the case of the wheat-free muffins, I unexpectedly ended up with 24-36 muffins and only had one 6-cup muffin pan!) In addition, I found that the recipes were all over the place. Fig, Orange and Pine Nut Relish sounds rather gourmet and exciting, while Cashew Nut Casserole isn't even a casserole--it's simmered on the stove in a pot.

3/5 stars

Monday, February 19, 2007

Cinnamon, Spice and Everything Nice

Seeing as it's winter and all, I thought it would be fitting to try out some new recipes using cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. These sweet, warming spices are perfect for winter comfort foods and jazz up muffins, breads, oatmeal, or smoothies. First off is my Sweet Potato Spice Muffins. They have just enough sweetness to compliment a spicy bowl of chili very nicely!
* 1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1" chunks
* 1 cup water
* 1/3 cup canola oil
* 7 pitted dates, roughly chopped and soaked in water for 20-30 minutes until softened. Reserve soak water
* 1 cup cornmeal
* 2 cups whole grain flour (I use spelt)
* 1 tablespoon baking powder
* 1/2 teaspoon each: dried ground ginger and ground nutmeg
* 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly oil a 12-cup muffin pan.

In a small saucepan, combine the sweet potato and water, cover, bring to a simmer and cook over low heat until the potato is tender, about 10 minutes. Reserve cooking liquid.

Remove the dates from the soaking water and finely chop. Reserve 1/3 cup of the soaking water.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients and mix well. In a seperate bowl, mash the sweet potato and add the dates, reserved water (1 1/3 cup total), and the canola oil. Stir this wet mixture into the dry mixture.

Fill each muffin cup generously to the top. Bake for 22-24 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Note: You can also add chopped pecans or walnuts to the batter (about 2/3 cup) for a yummy crunch.

Now, for my Banana-Soy-Spice Smoothie. It reminds me a bit of soynog--creamy, with a hint of nutmeg and vanilla. Unlike nog, however, this smoothie has no added sugar (but is sweet enough), is low fat, and is a snap to make.
* 1 ripe banana
* 1 1/4 cup chilled soymilk (you could also use almond milk)
* 1/4 teaspoon each: nutmeg and cinnamon
* 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Hot Cocoa

I spent over an hour and a half yesterday shoveling the driveway, which was quite the workout, and I was chilled to the bone when I was done. So, I said out loud: "Hot cocoa sounds really good right now!" I remembered I had a small bit of cocoa powder left over from when I made chocolate cupcakes several days ago, so I used it up in this simple, delicious hot cocoa:
Ingredients: (for one serving)
* 1 1/4 cup soymilk (I like Eden brand)
* 1 tablespoon natural cocoa powder (do not use Dutch or alkali processed)
* 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup

Heat the soymilk in a saucepan or in the microwave just until it simmers. Combine the maple syrup and cocoa powder in the bottom of a mug and stir until the cocoa melts. Pour in the hot milk and stir until well combined. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Ina's Crunchy Noodle Salad

If you recall back to my "Ina Turns to the Dark Side" post a few months ago, you will remember that Ina Garten (a FoodNetwork chef) doesn't make hardly any vegan food on her show, The Barefoot Contessa, but when she does, I make the recipe and it's always fantastic.

So, upon watching a recent episode, I just HAD to make the Crunchy Noodle Salad she had prepared. Peanut butter and noodles...what could be better than that? To make my life easier, I made the dish as a quick make-ahead dinner that I could just pop out of the fridge and eat. It turned out amazingly good! What I did was make the dressing in the full amount (I didn't cut it in half or anything), stored it in a jar, so I could toss it with single-portions of noodles and veggies whenever I want an easy meal.

I did make a few slight changes to the recipe. First, 1/3 cup of soy sauce seemed a bit much, so I cut it back by about 2 tablespoons. I omitted the salt and pepper in the recipe (salt AND soy sauce...yikes!) I used maple syrup instead of honey, and canola oil instead of the ambigious "vegetable oil." Of course, I used whole grain noodles also.

Make this! Also, as the name would suggest, the actual noodles of the salad are not crunchy, it is the veggies that are crunchy.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Devils Food Cupcakes with Fudge Frosting

I couldn't wait until Valentine's Day to make this recipe from the current issue of VegNews. So, I made it last night for dessert. Instead of the suggested Fluffy Frosting, I made Jo Stepanaik's Fudge Frosting which contains no powdered sugar, just chcoclate chips, silken tofu, vanilla and a little maple syrup. By the way, this frosting is amazing! It's so simple, and yet it is very simmilar to that trans-fat filled stuff you buy in the little tubs at the store--thick, creamy and very chocolate-y. You can find the recipe in Jo's book, The Vegan Source Book.

I was surprised to find the cake batter rather thick--more like cookie dough than cake batter. I followed the recipe exactly, however. Because I didn't have cake pans, I made cupcakes instead. The bake time remained essentially the same. The cupcakes themselves were rather dry and crumbly. I also found there wasn't quite enough sugar to balance the bitterness of the cocoa powder. I found that I needed to really slather on the frosting to make them sweet enough.

This is probably the healthiest cake recipe you could make, however. Whole wheat flour, olive oil, no refined sugars, and beets...yes, beets. The root vegetable gives a deep color and flavor which enhances the chocolate quite nicely. I didn't tell Rutiger about the beets, and I don't think he noticed the slightly earthy flavor in the cupcakes.

Overall, I was happy with the outcome of this baking experience. I can't even count the number of times I've tried to make vegan cake and what came out of the oven was a dry, dense, flavorless brick. I think if I were to make this again, I would add more moisture/liquid (possibly apple sauce) and add slightly more sugar, maybe maple syrup. Has anyone out there made this recipe and had different or simmilar results?

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

3-Bean Chili

This may sound odd, but I only recently discovered canned lentils. Of course, I knew of canned lentils, but always opted to cook my own. What a world of difference exists between these two methods of using this legume! I found the canned lentils to be tender and creamy, while I was used to the slighly crunchy "uncooked" flavor of my cooked lentils. So, lately, I have been using canned lentils in many dishes, including this wonderful chili recipe. Rutiger and I very much enjoyed this spicy, warming dish with baked sweet potato fries. Corn bread, tortilla chips, or your favorite muffin (sweet or savory) are equally yummy sides.

* 2 tablespoons olive oil
* 1 medium onion, chopped
* 1 large bell pepper (any color), chopped
* 2 garlic cloves, chopped
* 2 teaspoons good chili powder
* 1 teaspoon ground cumin
* 1/4-1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
* black pepper, to taste
* 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
* 1 (28 oz) can chunky tomato sauce
* 1 (15 oz) can lentils, do not drain
* 1 (15 oz) can red kidney beans, do not drain
* 1 (15 oz) can black beans, do not drain
* 2 tablespoons liquid aminos
In a large soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, onion, bell pepper, oregano and spices. Saute until the onion is soft. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Simmer uncovered, until the chili is thickened, stirring every few minutes.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Health Tidbit: Foodborne Illness and Animal Products

Each week, I will share some of my knowledge of nutrition, health and natural living in the form of what I call "Health Tidbits", similar to what Dr. Furman does on his blog, Disease Proof Your Child.

Over the weekend, my mom attended a large catered business party. Come Monday morning, she came down with what seemed like the stomach flu. As far as I know, there is really no such thing as the "stomach flu" virus--the symptoms of a fever, diarrhea and vomiting are the result of some kind of foodborne microbe, chemical, or contamination of some kind. So, I wanted to share some information on this serious health issue and raise awareness of the current state of food safety in this country.

If you don't already know about the book Conscious Eating by Gabriel Cousens, I highly recommend reading it. In chapter 14, there are several facts about meat eating and the incidence of foodborne pathogens: "It is estimated that approximately one-third of commercial chickens carry salmonella. Most of the one million cases of food poisoning reported yearly are salmonella" (pg 322).

Toxins introduced into the food supply also carry risk for making people ill. According to Cousens, "Because the animals whose flesh is eaten are higher on the ecological chain, there is a higher concentration of radioactive well as higher amounts of pesticides, fungicides, and many other environmental toxins." He goes on to say, "There are approximately fourteen times more pesticides in flesh foods than in vegetarian produce" (pg 321-322).

I enjoy watching the Food Network to learn new cooking techniques and skills, and even to veganize recipes I see the chefs make. However, I am struck by when people on various shows prepare chicken, they have to go to such lengths as to use a separate cutting board and knife, to be very careful not to touch the raw chicken, and to wash their hands after handling the carcass. Why would you want to eat something that is obviously such a health threat, and could (and probably IS) contaminated? I am completely flabbergasted by this.

The reason I wrote this post is not to convince people reading this to be vegan (because I assume you already are), but to bring attention to this issue of food safety. In our country, most of us are blind consumers. We eat whatever we want, regardless of the consequences to our planet, our children (including unborn babies), our health, and the ultimate fate of the the creatures we eat. Foodborne pathogens represent a kind of karma that has surfaced as a result of many decades of abuse and neglect of health and the quality of our food in this country.