Category Archives: Food

Who says there’s no such thing as a free lunch?

L.A. Gourmet Lunch

There is, and sometimes it shows up unexpectedly at your desk.

L.A. Gourmet catering left us with some samples at work, and the vegetarian portabello was assigned to me.

Inside the neat little box, I found:

  • A sandwich of hummus, provolone cheese, sauteed mushrooms (not the large cap I was expecting, but a few tiny pieces), yellow peppers, cucumbers, and romaine lettuce. It was a little thin for a sandwich, and I expected much more mushroom to live up to the name. The roll was tasty.
  • A bag of super-crispy kettle crunch potato chips – my favorite variety. (Salt and vinegar is actually my favorite flavor, but these are my favorite texture.)
  • A cup of pasta salad, swimming in dressing that was light on oil and heavy on vinegar and sugar. Not bad, if a bit ordinary.
  • A bag of apple slices. Pre-cut produce makes me nervous, but they tasted good.
  • A brownie with a caramel center.

I didn’t mean to eat the the whole brownie. I can already tell that I should not have eaten the whole brownie. I feel like a hummingbird on crack. At least I have the energy to prepare for the sugar crash later this afternoon. Maybe this is the price of a free lunch. Ugh.

Native American Buffet

native american food buffet

The Red Herring recently hosted a buffet featuring vegetarian Native American foods. Of course I forgot the camera, as I’ve been doing a lot lately, so I took this grainy iPod Touch picture. Foods may be tastier than they appear.

From left: wild rice and spinach casserole, spicy seitan strips, succotash, cornbread, squash, black beans, and frybread with tempeh filling. All delicious, and all for a mere $7 ($5 for students and kids).

We learned something too, about the Three Sister: corn, beans, and squash. According to Iroquois legend, corn, beans, and squash are three inseparable sisters who only grow and thrive together. This tradition of interplanting corn, beans and squash in the same mounds, widespread among Native American farming societies, is a sophisticated, sustainable system that provided long-term soil fertility and a healthy diet to generations. (from The Three Sisters Garden)

The Three Sisters are also an important part of a balanced diet, and complement each other nutritionally. Corn provides carbohydrates. Beans are rich in protein, balancing the lack of necessary amino acids found in corn. Finally, squash yields both vitamins from the fruit and healthful, delicious oil from the seeds.

My plan for holiday domination is complete.

Happy Who-lidays.

The party countdown begins: six days until approximately 21.5 Webers descend upon our house for Christmas. I finally have a menu.

I’ve been eating vegetarian lately, due to the sultry siren song of cheese. I’m trying to wean myself from it again. The menu is mostly vegan, a lot of colorful fruits and vegetables. I hope this will please everyone.

cheese plate with crackers
vegetables & dip
bruschetta (garlic shrimp marinara, spinach artichoke, roasted eggplant (vegan))

pulled pork bbq sandwiches
curried carrot soup (vegan)
black bean quinoa salad (vegan)
roasted brussels sprouts (vegan)
broccoli salad
fruit salad (vegan)

dessert (all vegan)
chocolate peppermint cookie cake
cherry cobbler w/ ice cream
assorted cookies

Christmas cocktails (cranberry juice, ginger syrup, club soda, lime, vodka optional)
hot tea

other things
party mix (vegan)
vanilla cashew energy balls (vegan)
spicy Thai nuts (vegan)

Arroz con Gandules

arroz con gandules

It’s a good sign for me that I’m making the time and effort to take lunches to work again. October’s Vegan MoFo seems like a blur, in which I tried to eat in as many restaurants as I could during the month. This was not kind to my waistline. November was stressful, and when I get stressed I make all the wrong food choices. Again, ditto for the waistline. Now the holiday season and its inevitable splurges are coming, but my body just can’t take this abuse any longer. I feel like I’m walking around half asleep, in a carb-induced state of near-hibernation. I would actually hibernate, except I would miss knitting season and a whole lot of other fun things.

I’d like to be able to say that what I’ve been eating lately is mostly healthy, and it’s just the quantities that need adjustment – but it’s not the case. I’ve been loading up on sugary junk and carbs. It feels like I’m on a moody roller coaster, where the downward swings leave me feeling like no amount of sleep is enough, and the wiry sugared-up feeling doesn’t last nearly long enough. I feel so much better when I’m “high” on the phytochemicals. The solution is probably more kale. When I’m planning meals, I need to think vegetables vegetables vegetables! instead of grains grains grains! this winter.

I’m sure I can shift myself away from these carb cravings with better planning and more fresh vegetable choices ready to go in the refrigerator. It’s like a cycle… I eat carby junk, I get tired all the time, I lose interest in cooking and food preparation, I eat more carby junk that I can grab, lather, rinse, repeat. But I shall break out of this. I will make a date with myself. On this date, I will purchase, clean, and prepare 3 different healthy snacks to have on hand that have vegetables and/or fruit and protein. I will plan meals for the week and lunches to take to work that will fill me up all day.

And if this doesn’t work, you may find me in a nearby tree, sleeping it off until spring.

The picture above is rice with pigeon peas, or arroz con gandules. It’s a Puerto Rican dish I first tried at a Seventh Day Adventist food fair, and I liked it a lot. My version was thrown together on a weeknight after coming home from work AND a trip to the store for groceries, so it’s not as detailed with spices or as authentic as the real thing. Basically, I just used my own Mexican rice recipe, which is probably all sorts of wrong, and added a can of pigeon peas. The real thing calls for flavorful achiote oil, a Puerto Rican staple. It usually contains some green manzanilla olives, but not everyone in my family likes those. I will work on a version that’s closer to the real thing.


Three Random Breakfasts, and Pomegranate Seeds

I’ve been trying to add more variety to breakfast lately.

tofu potato scramble

Here’s my favorite tofu scramble with potatoes, sweet red peppers, and onions. Served with Ezekiel sesame toast and cranberry salad.


cinnamon chip pancakes

Maple cinnamon chip pancakes, made for Lance. These were ok. I like the base pancake recipe I use (this time minus the sweet potatoes), and I added maple flavor, brown sugar instead of granulated, and some cinnamon chips (vegetarian). I was not impressed with the cinnamon chips.


granola with pomegranate seeds

Cherry flax granola with pomegranate seeds and coconut milk.

I love pomegranate seeds! I have tried pomegranates before, but didn’t love them until I learned how to de-seed a pomegranate without a big red mess all over my (mostly white) kitchen.


Thanksgiving 2011

This year’s Thanksgiving meal was very tasty, and we were most thankful that we could enjoy it together. One thing that helped a lot was making a detailed schedule of cooking times and temperatures, scheduling times to add more dishes to the oven so they would all finish on time. Everything was done within a 5-minute window. Everything but the turkey and gravy was vegetarian.

I now consider myself vegetarian. I know that might disappoint some of my blog readers, and I understand if you stop following me. I still eat a lot of vegan food and plan to post mostly vegan food here. I still do not eat eggs. Most meals I eat outside the house are vegan, and it’s still my preference because I know it’s the healthiest way to eat. It’s not that it’s difficult to be vegan, but I did find it difficult to be vegan in a non-vegan family, with some of our food preferences. I’ll still be trying a lot of new vegan dishes and coming up with my own recipes. And as I find more vegan dishes we can all enjoy, who knows? I might go back.

On to the meal!

The Post Punk Kitchen posted a delicious-looking seitan roast stuffed with shiitake mushrooms and leeks mere days before Thanksgiving. It happened to be the main dish I was looking for. The roast was HUGE. It took four hands to roll it up and wrestle it into the foil for baking. It serves 6-8 people. When it came out of the oven, it smelled delicious.

And lo, a heavenly light shone down upon my stuffed seitan roast. And it was good.

seitan roast
It was very good.

Thanksgiving Plate 2011

Raw cranberry salad, seitan roast, stuffing, green bean casserole, and mashed potatoes. We skipped dessert. I walked away from the table full, but not stuffed.

This was by far the best seitan I’ve ever made. The roast recipe and technique would work with a multitude of fillings. I think I will try to halve the recipe and stuff it with other things.


Chicago Vegan Mania 2011


Last weekend, we packed up the car and made a stop at one of the premier vegan events in the area: Chicago VeganMania. This year, the third Chicago VeganMania was held at the Pulaski Park Fieldhouse. One of the things that stands out the most about my experience is that they need a MUCH larger venue for this event! It was difficult to walk through the exhibit halls, and next to impossible to find seating and enjoy some of the delicious food offerings.

The first 100 people to enter the building scored a goody bag packed with mostly literature, but also some treats like applesauce, an energy bar, and Dandies vegan marshmallows from Chicago SoyDairy. I hope “Meat-Free” Mike enjoyed the sample I brought to last week’s show. It was just enough to make a snack-size rice krispy treat. Lance and I enjoyed our bag over a game of Uno.

There were some good samples offered in the exhibit area. My favorites were Tiny But Mighty Popcorn, and mildly-spicy nacho Teese from Chicago SoyDairy. And both Lance and I tried kombucha for the first time. For those of you unfamiliar with this beverage, it is basically an effervescent, fermented tea. Its benefits (or detriments) to health are somewhat controversial. (Thanks for the video link, Linda.) As you can see from Lance’s reaction, he probably wouldn’t drink it again either.

Lance tries kombucha, picture 1.

Lance tries kombucha, picture 2.

We made our way into the dining area early. Dave and Lance enjoyed lunch from Arya Bhavan. There was a samosa which disappeared too quickly to photograph,which contained black caraway seeds. I had just picked up some black caraway seeds, hoping the universe would show me how to use them. Once again, fate seems to put me where I need to be. There was also some of THE BEST channa masala we’ve ever had – also too swiftly devoured to photograph.

Lance managed to get an oh-so-flattering picture of me nomming on a huge cheesesteak from the Vegan Food Truck / Ste. Martaen. (Thanks.) They were selling some delicious-looking pecan pie too, but I didn’t have room.

Cheesesteak. In my face.

Overall, it was a fun event, and I was pleased to see so many vegan and non-vegan people show up. No rides in the vegan rickshaw, though!

Vegan rickshaw


Kashi Mayan Harvest Bake: A Review

I’m not a huge fan of frozen dinners. But when I saw these Kashi dinners on sale at Meijer for $1.70 each (50% off!), I thought I would give them a try. They’re clearly marked “vegan” too. Thanks Kashi!

The Mayan Harvest Bake is advertised as “plantains, black beans, sweet potato & kale, Kashi 7 Whole Grain Pilaf, amaranth & polenta, and spicy ancho sauce.” There’s a lot going on here. The photo on the front of the box depicts a neatly-arranged square of layered ingredients, but we all know that’s not what reality holds inside the box (see second photo below). There is no such thing as artful presentation when it comes to frozen dinners.

Kashi Mayan Harvest Bake

Despite the conglomerated presentation, I enjoyed the flavors in this dish. I would love to create my own dish with similar ingredients, especially plantains and the enchilada-type sauce. From the top down:

  • plantains: delicious any way you prepare them, really.
  • black beans: see above. Can’t go wrong.
  • sweet potatoes & kale: yes, please.
  • Kashi 7 Whole Grain Pilaf: hearty, grainy. Might be better as a side dish.
  • amaranth polenta: worth making at home, since I love polenta. Yay for new grains!
  • spicy ancho sauce: tasty, reminiscent of the sauce on Amy’s enchiladas.
  • pumpkin seed garnish: very nice.

Kashi Mayan Harvest Bake

The verdict: tasty. Not sure I would purchase this if it had not been on sale. At least I have some new plantain ideas that don’t involve frying! With an apple for dessert, I’m full.

What I Ate This Week: Vegan MoFo #20

Vegan MoFo 2011 - Vegan Month of FoodHas it been 20 posts already? Seriously, it will be November already next week! Where did Rocktober go?

It’s been a mostly non-cooking week for me, at least at dinner. Maybe it’s MoFo burnout, or the minor cold I’ve had. Minor it was, due to my Vegan Superpower of Supreme Immunity. When I’m feeling something coming on, I eat more garlic, onions, kale, and miso. I also drink green tea and get regular amounts of sleep.

Without further ado, the food-related highlights:

tomato rice soup experiment #2

Some recipes just aren’t right the first time, or the second. Like this tomato rice soup, Take #2. Dave has loved both takes so far because they’ve been too overly spicy for me to enjoy. We both think there’s something missing. It could be basil.


Cactus Grill tofu burrito

Linda was talking about Cactus Grill this week while we were planning Food for Thought. I looked them up on Facebook. The first post on their wall was a thank you to their customers, who have supported a locally-owned shop in a tough economy. So on one of the best days of the week to take a walk around town, I walked over from campus to have a burrito. They have two kinds of vegetarian rice (lime cilantro and spanish) and two kinds of vegetarian beans (black and pinto), plus marinated tofu cubes. I think they have fajita vegetables, but I didn’t opt for those. Nice selections for the vegetarians, and of course you just leave off the cheese and sour cream to make it vegan. Easy.


Basil Thai Pineapple Rice

I like Thai food, and I don’t have it often enough. So this week, I had it twice. This is Tropical Fried Rice from Basil Thai in Urbana.


Mussamun Curry

This is Mussamun Curry from a restaurant that is now where Basil Thai used to be in Champaign, near Empire Chinese (another really good Chinese restaurant in town). I asked the owner, and they don’t put fish sauce in anything unless the customer requests it. All dishes can be made vegetarian (with tofu or veggies) or vegan (no egg most of the time) upon request. Only the pho broth cannot be made vegan (beef base).


mushroom pasta

And to end the week, and bring a little of the cooking mojo back, I threw together a quick pasta dish with some sliced fresh mushrooms and onions, sauteed in a little Earth Balance, with lots of black pepper, garlic, fennel, and fresh parsley.

Now if I just had someone to clean up my kitchen, I think that would get me even more motivated!