Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Faux Meat, Day 32, 6/29/11

I'd like to start this post off on a completely different topic- an addendum to my post from Day 1.  I mentioned in that post that I had purchased a Cuisinart Blender/Food Processor Duet.  I don't want to mention, by name, things that I don't stand behind and as it turns out, I had to return that product to the store.  I hadn't even used the food processor part of the machine yet, but I was very unhappy the results I was getting from the blender.  I exchanged it for another blender that I'm going to wait to mention until I know I'm happy with it.

Okay, now, on to faux meats.  Since my decision to become vegetarian, I've been trying faux meats in all shapes and sizes.  Not because I'm "missing" meat, but just because I was curious.  What is this stuff going to taste like?  Will it really taste like what it supposed to be substituting for?  Will it taste like meat at all? Will it give me the same "satisfaction" of meat?  I didn't know any of these answers because I hadn't tried any of these products before.  So, now that I have tried several of them, here is my humble opinion:

When you're talking about meat substitutes/faux meat, Morningstar Farms is the the number one brand in this area.  A Boca item or 2 is the only other thing you can find a regular grocery store.  Morningstar Farms makes lots of different faux meat products and some of them are absolutely DELISH!  They make a wide variety of "burgers"  and I've tried 3 of the 11 without being disappointed yet!  In fact, I would say I was pleasantly surprised each time.  They have a ton of flavor and they do give you that full or satisfied feeling that we tend to associate with meat. 

The 3 burgers pictured above are the options available at the local Target.  By the way, I've found my Super Target to be more vegetarian-friendly that the much larger local grocery stores.  That's a little strange if you ask me, but I can live with it.  Anyway, the Garden Veggie Patty (similar to a turkey burger,) the Spicy Black Bean Burger and their Chipotle Black Bean Burger (not pictured, but available at Costco,) are REALLY tasty.  They are loaded with flavor and have texture that is fairly similar to a ground beef or turkey burger.  All-in-all, a delicious and satisfying substitute for meat.  Now if I could just find their Mushroom Lover's Burger somewhere...

They also offer several veggie sausage patties.  I tried the maple flavored one and I can't say I'm a fan.  It just had a strange taste.  Even though I've read over and over that people prefer Morningstar Farms to Boca, I was told that Boca's sausage link was good.  Now, if I could manage to find it in the store, I'd give it a try.  But I haven't been able to yet, so that'll have to wait.

Morningstar also makes "chik'n" in a variety of forms.  All of which are made from veggies.  Below are the Chik'n Nuggets that you cook in the oven (toaster oven in my case) just like you would the regular processed, chopped and formed chicken nuggets that you'd buy at the grocery store.  I should've ripped one open for a picture of the inside, but I didn't think of that until now.  Other than the crispy coating, the texture of these is different from chicken nuggets.  It's smoother and less chewy.

Are they good?  Well, would you call the frozen chicken nuggets you buy "good"?  They're similar.  Both are chopped and formed with a somewhat strange texture, but edible.  Especially if you have a dipping sauce.  The taste is a little different from chicken, but I could get used to it.  They also sell  "Buffalo Wing Veggie Wings" that are really a nugget with some buffalo seasoning flavor.  They aren't too bad.  I actually prefer those to the regular nuggets.  The buffalo flavor is mild and it definitely adds something.  With a dipping sauce, it's pretty much a winner.

On their website, I saw that Morningstar Farms also offers a couple of variety of Chik'n patties, but I haven't seen any of those in the store yet.  I also purchased some of their "Crumbles" which are supposed to be a ground beef substitute, but I haven't tried those yet.  I'll let you know how it goes, but I think it'll be fine.

One of my favorite things I've tried is the "Hickory BBQ" veggie riblet pictured below.  (I only had regular sandwich bread and because of that, the picture of the real thing looked ridiculous.  When I have a better pic, I'll post it.)  Now again, it has that chopped and formed unusual texture that we've grow to love with processed meat products, but if you can get over that, this one is a total vote getter!  In fact, with a few pickle rounds, some onions and a hot dog bun, you could totally convince someone that they're eating a McRib.

And the final Morningstar Farms product I want to talk about is their veggie bacon strips.  Now this is an important one.  I am a bacon lover and have been known to say that I'd eat a dog turd if it was wrapped in bacon...  Obviously I'm not going to eat a dog turd, but I think you get the point.  So I was very curious to try veggie bacon.  Faux forms of bacon are apparently made in many different ways, and after a trip to Whole Foods (because several unconventional ingredients are required,) I'll have to give making faux bacon a go.  I have to share that these fake bacons are affectionately know as "Facon."  Isn't that great?

Well, it vaguely resembles bacon, except that it is cut into a perfect rectangle and the "painted on" striations are exactly the same on every piece.  Yes, it does have the basic smoky flavor that you get from bacon, but the pieces are very thin and have a rubbery texture, so you definitely can't be fooled into thinking it's actually bacon when eating a strip of it.  Actually, it's sort of like a very thin fried bologna.  And although it does crisp up somewhat, that's really only because it has been cut so thin.  Now, this doesn't sound like good news, right?  But, if you make it an ingredient in something, rather than eating it like plain like you might eat strips of bacon at breakfast it's a different situation.

Take, for example, the Facon, Egg and Cheese Sandwich that I made for lunch one day.  It was pretty darn tasty.  When there are other textures involved to cover up that the Facon texture is a little off, you can determine that it tastes pretty similar to bacon.  And watermelon makes everything better!

Apparently soybeans, in several different forms, are often used as meat substitutes, because they are great sources of vegetable protein.  Tempeh is the only one I've tried, thus far.  Well, tofu, but we've all tried tofu and it's not really a blog worthy topic.  Anyway, basically tempeh is fermented cooked soybeans.  I'd been wanting to try it and when I saw one day on Facebook that Planet Sub has veggie subs for $3 on Thursdays, I decided to order one and add tempeh to it so I could.  Adding tempeh is only $.70 at Planet Sub.  It was pretty good.  It didn't have too much flavor, but it definitely gave the sandwich some heft and protein that many would consider to be missing from a veggie sub.  It also has a substantial meaty texture- you bite down into it and give it a good chew, unlike some other meat substitutes.  My buddy, Trey, even asked if I had meat on my sandwich when he saw it.  I will order that sub again- and I'll be sure to get a picture of it before I devour it.  According to several websites, it's pretty easy to make tempeh at home.  I'll have to give that a try at some point and then experiment more with recipes that include tempeh!

Even though I wouldn't say I have felt like I've missed meat during the last month, I think I've come across some pretty good substitutes that I will enjoy eating, if that time arises.  Any faux meats out there that you'd recommend to me?

Monday, June 27, 2011

One ingredient, Day 30, 6/27/11

Wow, 30 days?  That's a month.  And other than an accidental crab dip encounter over the weekend, no meat. 

So at this point, I pretty much take a picture of everything that is produced in my kitchen.  And, if I remember, I take a few pics along the way.  After I eat it, I decided whether or not the meal was "blog-worthy" and if I decide it was not, I just delete the pictures.

I've made tostadas probably 5 times in the last 30 days and always decided that although they were okay, they weren't blog-worthy.  For a while I was trying to just do cheese and salsa on the tostada, but the salsa makes the tostada lose it's crunch and just fall apart and what you have, is a mess.  Then when I started trying to add lettuce it was just falling off and making a salad on my plate...  This has been a work in progess.  When I made them again last night, I took pictures as usual.  And I'm glad I did.  They came together so well and 1 little ingredient that I don't normally use, made all the difference.  They were delicious!  I think I'm finally content with my tostada recipe.

So to start, rinse and drain a can of pinto beans.  Then mash them up- I use a potato masher.  My favorite brand of canned pintos has jalapeños slices added- that's the little bit of green you see in the picture.  I think it adds a wonderful kick to the flavor.  So if you like spicy but didn't buy pintos with jalapeños in them, you should definitely add a few slices of the pickled jalapeños to your pintos before mashing.  After it's mashed, I like to stir in about a tablespoon of salsa for flavor and a moister texture. 

Spread your pintos thinly over a tostada shell.  Then add a few pieces of finely diced onion and a few more jalapeño slices.

Add some shredded cheese and throw it under the broiler just long enough for the cheese to melt.  I used Colby, because that's what I had on hand, but obviously any cheese will do.  Just use your favorite.  Watch it pretty carefully while it's under the broiler so that you don't burn the edges of the tostada.  That's NOT the most delicious way to eat these.  Trust me, I know this from experience.

Notice how sparingly I used the cheese?  Aren't you proud of me?  I'm trying to do this in a more healthy way...

I've learned the key to keeping your lettuce on the tostada is giving it something to stick to.  And lettuce doesn't stick to melted cheese.  You can use sour cream if you'd like, but I actually used some nonfat Greek yogurt.  It's flavor is similar to reduced fat sour cream and it has much more protein.  See, I'm trying to be kind of healthy.  Anyway, dot your dairy product of choice around the top of the tostada in several places.  Then when you add your lettuce to the top, press it down lightly into the sour cream/yogurt and that really helps hold it in place.  Drizzle the top with a little more salsa and you're ALMOST good to go.

And the key ingredient?  I haven't even mentioned it yet.  But it's in the picture above.  Do you see it?  Lime juice!! 

I had some leftover limes from the weekend.  And at one point, in the construction of my tostada, as I was getting something out of the fridge, my eye caught the container of limes.  I thought, that'll add a yummy little zing.  OMG!  Yes, it did.  It made all the difference in the world.  I just squeezed a little bit of lime juice over the top and it transformed them from not blog-worthy to a delightfully fresh tasting meal.  And, something about the lime juice made the Greek yogurt taste more like regular sour cream...  Bonus.

One can of pintos will yield 3 tasty, and incredibly filling, Pinto Bean Tostadas with Lime.  Enjoy!  And don't skip the lime!  Trust me.

Friday, June 24, 2011

English Peas, Day 27, 6/24/11

I know you've been holding your breath wondering what I did with my English peas.  Start breathing again.  Here's the answer to that question.

The evening I received them, I threw a handful of them, raw, into a salad I made in an attempt to clean out my refrigerator.  I also used some of my newly acquired radishes in the salad.  Umm, I love a radish with some bite to it and these didn't disappoint me.

What I read online about English peas is that you shouldn't cook them very long or they'll get hard.  Most of the recipes I ran across either had them added to some kind of salad or were for a pea puree.  To be honest, I'm not much of a "puree" person.  To me, something the texture of baby food isn't all that pleasing.  When I mash potatoes, I purposely leave them "lumpy."  I like a little texture.  Yes, I know I made the Pinto Bean Puree and I enjoyed it, but it was a soup, and for whatever reason, that's a little bit different to me.  I don't know, I can't explain it.

So, what I decided to do was fall back on an old standby.  Couscous.  It's been a common side dish at my house for many years and I like to dress it up with whatever veggies I have in the fridge at the time.  Onion, mushrooms, garlic and peas are what I usually add and I had all of that so I just went for it.

To make this version of couscous, start by sauteing some diced mushrooms in a small amout of a butter and olive oil combination.  I like the flavor that the butter gives the mushrooms, and adding the oil allows you to cook at a higher temperature so you can get your mushrooms browned, without your butter burning.

After the mushrooms have browned a bit, add a small handful of chopped scallions.  Just as they start to soften, add the vegetable stock and some dehydrated garlic pieces.  Yes, I know it seems strange to use dehydrated garlic, but I always have that in the cupboard and the liquid reconstitutes it...  that's just what I've done for years.  Of course you can use fresh garlic if you have it on hand.  It seems like I never do when I'm making couscous. 

If you're using fresh peas, add them now too so they have an opportunity to soften a bit as the liquid comes up to a boil.  I usually use frozen peas and they don't need much time to cook, so you would add them in at the end of the process, when you add the couscous. 

When the whole mixture is boiling, throw in the couscous and any seasoning you want to add.  Of course, you'll need to add salt and pepper if you want it to have much flavor at all, but you can add some cayenne or chili powder if you like spicy, or some cumin if you like smoky...  whatever you want. 

Put the lid on it and take it off the heat.  About 5 minutes later, you've got a nice Veggie Couscous.

This particular evening, I was still trying to get the fridge somewhat cleaned out and decided to grill the last of some brussel sprouts that had been in there a while.  I also cut up one of the zucchini that I received from DTDO and grilled it too.  Notice the grill pan?  I LOVE that thing!

And, Voila!  On the menu this evening we have a lovely Mushroom and English Pea Couscous served with Grilled Brussel Sprouts and Zucchini.

Can you see those 6 English peas hiding in the couscous??  And, yes, I know this entire meal is green and beige.  If I would've had a red pepper in the house, your mouth would be watering.  Trust me!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

It's here, it's here! Day 24, 6/21/11

My first delivery from KC Door to Door Organics is here!  Doesn't it look great?

After I started the blog, I received several e-mails via Facebook from people recommending books and restaurants to me or just offering words of encouragement.  One such e-mail, from Mandy, that I went to high school with, suggested KC Door to Door Organics to me.

It's actually something that I had considered months ago after a Groupon was sent out that I looked into a little bit.  But ultimately, I didn't sign up because I was afraid that it would be too much produce for me and half of it would end up going bad before I would get it eaten.  And in my family, wasting food is not acceptable.  Well, now after my decision to try life as a vegetarian, I've reconsidered.  I assume I'll be eating more produce than before, but I am also hoping that if it's delivered right to my house, I will make more of an effort to eat the fresh produce that is here than some of the more processed stuff that I might be inclined to pick up at the grocery store.  Remember, up to this point, I haven't been eating the healthiest vegetarian diet ever...

So what is it exactly?  KC Door to Door Organics delivers organically grown produce from local farms to your doorstep.  One of my favorite things is that it is SO customizable.  You select whether you want to receive just veggies, just fruit or a mixture of both.  And you decide from 4 different box sizes how much produce you would like to receive.  I chose the "Bitty Box," which is the smallest option, but you can also choose a small, medium or large box.  You also decide whether you want your delivery to come once a week or once every other week. 

Then, each Friday, I will receive an e-mail telling me what produce will be arriving with my order.  And this is based on what produce is coming from the farms looking particularly good that week.  I look through the list and if there's something that I happen to already have in the kitchen or just don't want that week, I can log in and make up to 5 substitutions per order.  When the e-mail came to me on Friday, it had a bunch of carrots on it- I'm not much of a carrot eater and I have a bag of baby carrots in the fridge so I subbed out the carrots for a bunch of radishes.  In addition, you can set up some preferences for things that you do or don't particularly like.  I went in a made "pears" a dislike, so I don't think pears will even come as one of the items that is supposed to arrive in my box.

As if supporting local farmers and only choosing organically grown produce wasn't good enough, they really win my heart over with their green ways.  All of the paperwork that came to me was printed on 100% recycled paper and my English peas came in a biodegradable plastic bag.  You can put out a cooler for them to put your produce in (which I did) but if you don't, they'll leave your stuff in a box- but then they ask you to put that box out the next week for them to pick up and use again.  Same thing with the ice packs they leave with your produce to help keep it fresh.  They ask that you leave them out for the next delivery so they can be picked up and reused.  Those of you that really know me, and know my recycling ways, are well aware of how much I appreciate their eco-friendly business practices.  :-)

This week I received:  2 Gala apples, 2 zucchini, 2 black plums, 1 head of leaf lettuce, 1/2 lb. English peas, 1 green bell pepper, 1 bunch of radishes, 2 white peaches and 1 lb of red seedless grapes.  Remember, it's all organic, and you've seen the price of organic produce at the grocery store, and it was delivered to my doorstep for just over $27.  I think it's a steal!

And the wonderful added bonus that I LOVE is this "DTDO Produce Care Sheet" below that explains how you should store your produce items to get the longest life from them.  I'm sad to say, I've been storing lots of things wrong.  :-(

And the final reason for my excitement over this is that it's also going to increase my food knowledge and cooking repertoire by providing me with different ingredients than I might usually pick up at the grocery store.  English peas?  What do I do with those?  I don't know, but I just received 1/2 lb. of them, so as soon as I'm done here, I'm off to find out.  And according to my Produce Care Sheet, their shelf life is only 1-2 days, so I better get to it!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Holy Roquamole, Batman! Day 21, 6/18/11

THIS must be what they serve in heaven...  If you like like blue cheese and aren't afraid of eating things that are green, this is going to be life-changing!

I got this recipe from the Baked Bree website, but she actually got the recipe from a Nigella Lawson app.  Her picture is so much better than mine, you might want to check it out.  As I'm giving the recipe to you, it's actually been cut in half  because I find that's the perfect amount to make and then devour as a meal.  :-)  Yes, I've done it a couple of times.

Bree mentions making this for a party, which is a great idea, but because there isn't any lemon or lime juice added, your avocado will brown fairly quickly so you'd want to whip it together at the last minute if that's your plan.  (Or, try adding some lime juice and the pit of you avocado if you wanna make it ahead of time.)

1/2 cup blue cheese crumbles
2 Tablespoons sour cream (I use reduced fat and I use more like 1/4 cup)
1 ripe avocado
2 Tablespoons diced pickled jalapeños
2 scallions with 1 teaspoon reserved for garnishing
tortilla chips (I love the Archer Farm's Organic Blue Corn Tortilla Chips with Flaxseed with this.)

Just mash everything together in a bowl.  Bree uses a potato masher to do this, but I find that a fork works just fine if your avocado is ripe.  Top with the reserved scallions and enjoy!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

2 of my Favorite Things, Day 17, 6/14/11

This picture is showing two of my favorite new discoveries!  1. Sunburst Tomatoes and 2.  "Living Basil."

A few weeks ago, my friend Donna and I were walking through the Gardner Price Chopper picking up some lunch when I stopped to look at a carton of yellow cherry tomatoes.  Donna noticed what I was looking at and commented that her daughter loves those tomatoes.  When I saw the carton was only $1.99.  I picked it up.  That night I washed them off and popped one into my mouth.  Wow!  Delicious.  They had the flavor that I'm always hoping the tomatoes that I buy will have, but rarely do.  The next day I went back there and bought 2 more cartons of these little yellow Sunburst tomatoes.  I told Donna I might have to start doing all of my shopping out there- they have nice produce. 

Unfortunately my wonderful little yellow tomatoes disappeared from that store, but Donna sent me a text 2 days ago telling me that Sam's Club has them now.  I went this morning and purchased a 2 lbs carton of deliciousness.  I contemplated buying 2...  If you're a tomato lover, and you haven't had them, be sure to give them a try!  And FYI, I separately purchased a few red cherry tomatoes from the salad bar just for the variation in color, but they weren't nearly as good.

Okay, let's talk about "Living Basil."  I've walked by this stuff a thousand times at my local Price Chopper but I didn't realize the genius that it is until today.  I was at the store with basil on my list.  I walked right to it and picked up the little bag.  I immediately noticed a whole root ball at the bottom of the bag.  Now I've only bought basil once or twice, but I buy other fresh herbs fairly frequently and I've never received an entire plant like this before.  So, I read the instructions on the bag...  basically, you take the stuff home and put it in a cup and keep the root ball covered with water.  As the water gets low, you just add to it.  Then this beautiful fresh herb lives on your counter for weeks!!!  Isn't that nicer than shoving a bunch of herbs into a little Ziploc and throwing it in your fridge?  And there's such a great herbacious aroma filling my kitchen now because I get to keep it on the counter!

This made me so excited that I came home and got online to find out a little bit more about it.  "Living Basil" is grown hydroponically, without synthetic pesticides, in Basehor, Kansas, at Cal-Ann Farms.  Their website says that basil is the only herb they grow and it's the only one in my grocery store, but when I clicked on their blog link, there's a picture showing a few others.  The second I'm done with this post, I'm going to e-mail them and tell them how much I'd love to see their other herbs offered in the store too!  I think 4 or 5 little herb plants sitting on my counter at any given time would be a beautiful addition to my kitchen. 

My 2 favorite new things (plus a few scallion pieces, salt, pepper and a few tiny blue cheese crumbles) made a wonderfully flavorful lunch today!  Ummm ummm!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Exactly What I Wanted. Day 15, 6/12/11

Well, I've got a full 2 weeks under my belt as a vegetarian. 

Last night, at a wedding, I was tempted by a few items containing meat and I started to question why I'm doing this.  I'm not omitting meat from my diet due to some strong personal conviction; I'm just giving it a try.  What would it hurt if I tried the Curry Chicken Crostini??  Here's where I struggle.  I have a genuine passion for food.  I LOVE to try new foods and then mull over what I would do to make "better" or try to recreate something that I tried and loved.  And suddenly for some of it to be "off limits" is strange for me.

As I sat at the table a little bit disappointed about the things I couldn't try, and briefly contemplating throwing the whole idea out the window, Ali mentioned a recipe blog that she likes a lot,  As the night went on, she and I talked about this blog quite a bit.  We pulled it up on her phone and looked at several recipes...

So when I woke up this morning, the first thing I did was check it out.  Let me first say that I don't know anything about blogs.  I don't follow any, and until now, I've never written one.  And had I known how incredibly well done these things could be, I never would've started one.  The Baked Bree blog is amazing and she pretty much makes me look like a preschooler at this.  But that's okay, you've gotta start somewhere, right?

Secondly, I was so excited about the many meat-free recipes she has posted.  Most of her recipes sound delicious.  Like me, she's obviously a fan of blue cheese.  Yum!  I spent 3 hours this morning reading through and printing off recipes.  (Yes, I still print things, get over it.) 

But the best part was, her blog quickly reminded me why I'm really doing this.  I love food and I want to experience it in new and different ways.  Searching for recipes online and watching cooking shows, like I've done for years, inspires me.  But having to approach the process with a new frame of mind than I've ever had before, is getting my creative juices flowing in entirely new ways.  And I'm so excited about that!  So for now, I'm gonna skip the Curry Chicken Crostini, be okay with it, and work at perfecting a Curry Barley and Roasted Red Pepper Crostini recipe instead.  :-)

Anyway... Jamie, who represents 50% of my blog "following," has requested pictures of food.  So, to meet the demands of my readers, here are some pictures of food.

Above is today's lunch in progress and below is the finished product.  Notice my new grill pan?  I love it!  It's the Calphalon 12" pan.  I'm using it all the time!  I had a couple of Morning Star's Spicy Black Bean Burgers and some grilled zucchini.  No, I probably didn't need 2 burgers, but that's how they come packaged and after looking at the Baked Bree blog all morning, I was pretty hungry!

Many people would see this pan and know exactly what this is.  Macaroni and Cheese in Grandma's macaroni and cheese pan.  In my family, we pepper the top of our mac and cheese.  I don't know why, but that's what grandma did, so we do.  :-)  It's just macaroni, milk, cheese, salt, pepper and a little butter.

This is a dish I've made for years.  It's Soba Noodles with Sauteed Veggies.  I usually like to finish it with some cashews on top, but I didn't have any in the house at the time.  Pretty yummy stuff.  I don't have a recipe for this, I just throw stuff together.

And, for an easy lunch, who doesn't love a Grilled Cheese Sandwich?  I've got some veggies and Tzatziki for dipping here, too.  I used to always make Grilled Ham and Cheese or Grilled Turkey and Swiss... but the red pepper sticks in the middle instead were a nice touch. But, with hot melty cheese, how can you go wrong?

So, with the absurd amount of cheese I've just displayed, it's obvious that I haven't been following the most healthy vegetarian diet ever, but I haven't eaten any meat.  :-)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Meat has Left the Building! Day 10, 6/7/11

Today I asked my mom to come by and get all of the meat out of my house.  The Nathan's Famous hotdogs and the ham shank I had in the freezer needed to go!  I actually sent her off with 4 full bags of meat and meat products, but those two I mentioned were the biggest temptations for me.  My home is now meat-free.  I think that's kind of a big deal.

My trip to the Greek restaurant over the weekend inspired me to make Tzatziki today.  It was a valiant effort, but it was no Tasso's, that's for sure.  I think I had too much cucumber, not enough dill and I think they used a creamier Greek yogurt than I found...  I don't know.  I won't be including a recipe for it.  Anything you'd find online would be as good or better than what I made today.  Kind of a disappointment, but it still gave my delicious veggies a little zing.

One thing I discovered (thanks to Tracy and Charlie) that is not a disappointment:  Morning Star's Spicy Black Bean Burgers!  Woo hoo, delish!  Really.  Whether this experiment will last longer than this summer is still to be determined, but I'll be eating those yummy black bean burgers for years to come!

Tonight's dinner: grilled zucchini, Sunburst tomatoes, red pepper strips, a few slices of Muenster cheese, Tzatziki for dipping and a refreshing raspberry iced tea.  Not too bad.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The First Test- Day 7, 6/4/11

I recently received some encouragement from an old high school friend telling me she's been a vegetarian for 20 years now.  In response to my previous comments about McDonald's and Panda Express, she told me that she never eats out but has never gone hungry either.  That concerned me a little, because that's just not how I live.  I enjoy meeting friends out for a meal and drinks and I'm just not willing to skip these gatherings or eat at home first and always watch my friends eat.

I knew I would be eating out with some friends this evening to celebrate a birthday.  Now, I have to thank Susan and Tracy on this one.  Susan suggested a Greek restaurant and Tracy agreed to it.  Even though I love Gyros and the last lamb chops I had were delicious, Greek cuisine lends itsself nicely to vegetarian eating so this shouldn't be a terribly difficult test of my will.  But it did start me thinking.  The last Greek restaurant I ate at had sides that were rice and potatoes and some veggies.  All seemingly vegetarian items at first glance, but these are all things that are often cooked with or in chicken stock.  What do I do here? 

I started by looking up their menu online.  Yep, sides seem to be about the same here.  They have a Vegetarian Kabob that sounds good but it comes with rice, veggies, and a Greek Salad.  So, I could ask the waiter (who ended up being a very attractive guy named, Rob, fyi) how everything is prepared, but I'm usually a pretty low maintenance person and I didn't really want to play 20 questions prior to ordering.  And what if it is all prepared with chicken stock?  I'd still have to decide how big of a deal that is to me?  I mean, the vegetarian and vegan that I know the best both eat seafood.  Which I don't understand and I'm hoping someone can explain to me at some point, but if they think it's okay to eat small animals from the sea, a little chicken juice on my veggies probably isn't the end of the world, right??  Or I could just skip the sides issue all together and order a large Greek salad sans the gyro meat or the appetizer sampler that has several dips with pita bread.  Decisions, decisions.

I did a lot of thinking and my reflections throughout the day lead me to this conclusion:  I'm just not going to be that much of a purist.  Will I cook my rice in chicken broth at home?  No, I'll use vegetable broth, but I am going to eat in restaurants with family and friends without sweating the small stuff.

So, I guess McDonald's fries are back on the table!  :-)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Day 5, 6/2/11

I've spent the last couple of days looking through my cookbooks, doing a little bit of studying and research and I finally decided what I wanted to make first.  So, I purchased everything I needed to make this cold Creamy Pinto Bean Puree soup that I thought sounded delicious.  I gave it a whirl tonight, and I was right- SO good!  It's pictured below.  It's basically canned pinto beans, canned tomatoes, plain yogurt, cilantro and chili powder.  I was also going to have cheese tostadas with it, but the soup was so good, I filled up on it and didn't bother with the tostadas.

The cookbook that I'm loving, and it's the one that I found this Creamy Pinto Bean Puree recipe in, is The Vegetarian 5-Ingredient Gourmet by Nava Atlas.  I love 4 or 5 ingredient cookbooks!  They provide you the template for a recipe and then you can modify according to your tastes.  BRILLIANT!!  Although I never make any of these recipes with only 4 or 5 ingredients, I only added 3 items to the bean puree tonight (a jalapeño, half of a small onion and some cumin.)  Well, the garnish was crushed tortilla chips, scallions, and a little shredded cheese, so I guess it was really 6 added ingredients...  You can check out Nava Atlas' site at

I'm calling tonight's meal (and tomorrow's lunch) a great success!

Day 2 5/30/11

Well I still haven't made it to the store so I haven't been able to try any of the interesting recipes I've found.  Here's a pic of the huge salad I threw together for dinner with veggies that I had in the house.  Doesn't it look yummy?  Iceberg and spinach, blue cheese, dried berries, tomatoes, croutons, glazed almonds, scallions and some seasonings with a pomegranate dressing.  It was goooooooood.

Day number 1, 5/29/11

I met Jamie for lunch at Chipotle for my first official vegetarian meal.  I need to go to the store and I figured Chipotle would be a really easy way to get started.  Plus, if I just order chips and guac with it, I can actually get 2 meals out it- score!  So, I ordered a Vegetarian Fajita Burrito Bowl, but almost blundered on my very first day when the kid asked if I wanted black beans on it and I said I'd prefer pinto beans.  He informed me that their pinto beans have meat in them...  News to me!  Okay, I'll take black beans.

I think I'm going to learn a lot about food that I didn't know before.  In a google search trying to find out what fast food places offer a veggie burger, I learned that McDonald's adds sugar and beef juice to their fries??  Weird.  I had no idea I'd be giving up McDonald's fries... it's a fried potato, a vegetable.  Maybe I should rethink this whole thing!  Just kidding.  I don't give up that easy.  And, Panda Express steams all of their vegetables with chicken stock.  Nothing at Panda Express is truly vegetarian.  Okay, cross that one off the list.

I bought a couple of Vegetarian cookbooks and Cuisinart Blender/Food Processor Duet.  I'm excited to really get started.

The reason

So, I've decided to become vegetarian for the summer.  Well, that's my plan for now, but I may extend it.  I know the average meat-loving midwesterner will ask, "Why?"  Here's why:

1.  It's summer and I need something to keep me busy.  I usually spend my summer vacay obsessing about food anyway, now I can do it in a different way.  I love to cook, it's one of my favorite hobbies and I picked up a couple of great cookbooks to help me get started.  Oh, I LOVE cookbooks.  I can look at them for hours!

2.  I've said many times over the years that I thought that I could probably be a vegetarian pretty easily.  My dad has gout (an inflammation of joints caused by uric acid) and it's aggravated by meat consumption, so growing up, our meals were often just a variety of side dishes that didn't contain any meat.  So eating vegetarian, daily, doesn't seem like it will be that much of a stretch for me. 
     Plus, I really like vegetables, and I never met a fruit I didn't like.  Well, I'm gonna have to take that one back, I HATE pears!  I just can't take the texture of them.  Yuck!
     In addition, meat, particularly raw meat, on a bone, just kinda grosses me out.  It's appearance reminds me of the animal that it once was, and being an animal lover, that's hard for me...  Don't get me wrong, I love a big juicy steak, but I think I'm gonna be okay without it.

3.  I do feel like I need to make some changes in my overall health.  And lately, I just don't feel very well after I've eaten a bunch of meat.  That makes me wonder if my body is trying to tell me something.  I've decided to listen.

4.  It's a learning process and a challenge.  I have achieved most of the goals that I've been working toward for the last several years, and this is something new to work on.  Eating vegetarian at home should be easy, but what do I order in a restaurant??  I'm excited to find out and learn so much more about a passion that I already have, food!