Vegan-ish

I love food. Baking. Cooking. Eating. Seeking out the best doughnut and the tastiest quiche.

But starting in November, I’ve been trying something new in my approach to food. After years of dabbling in Weight Watchers or trying just to limit sugar / eat more veggies / cut back on cheese, I’m taking a new perspective and trying Mark Bittman’s Vegan Before 6 (aka VB6) diet / lifestyle.

My coworker Theresa turned me onto the idea, and now my mom and aunt and I have all adopted different versions of it. The basic idea is just as it sounds – eat vegan until dinner each night, and avoid processed food and white sugars / carbs when possible. Eat whatever you want for dinner (which doesn’t mean eating until you’re sick, but it does mean you can have steak and fries if that’s what’s calling your name). The basis is that vegan food is better for lots of bodies and also better for our environment, but eating is also a highly social experience and any lifestyle that doesn’t recognize that and give you soon room to adapt to it is ultimately doomed to fail.

Unlike going totally vegan, this means that you can still just as easily digest milk and meat and whatnot when you do want them – that part of cutting something out of my diet never appealed to me (if I want ice cream, I don’t want it to come with an immediate stomachache). But it also means that for 3/4 of the day, you’re eating vegetables and grains and other whole foods.

The best part: it’s super easy to stick to. Yes, it means more oatmeal. But it also means that if I really love eggs (which I DO), I just eat them for breakfast and look forward to them starring in that meal. Dinner is just as easy – you can make a delicious meal with a side of meat / cheese and then just eat it without that piece for lunch the next day (like James’s delicious black bean soup mom and I made over Thanksgiving!). And because it’s flexible by its very nature and meant to be a sustainable lifestyle rather than a plan, if you decide that brunch is your non-vegan meal of the day or find that you need to make some swaps based on business travel restrictions (see last post), you don’t have to feel guilty, as some other tracking programs would have you do.

Mark Bittman said that when he moved to this model, it changed his perspective on life – he stopped just writing recipes and started writing more about food policy and production. And I can see it. By changing how I look at cooking and eating and dining out, it makes me want to focus on other, more interesting parts of my life – my guitar! Exploring new neighborhoods! Calling my friends who don’t live in Boston when I would otherwise be slaving over the stove!

It’s also opened my eyes up to how hard true vegans and vegetarians have it in mainstream food options. I was at the airport, looking for a healthy snack to take on the plane, and my only options were nuts or bananas. Not even an apple to be seen, or anything that wasn’t yogurt-based or a baked pastry. Or the time that we ordered pho and all the broth was chicken-based, or when wanting no egg in my pad thai meant that I couldn’t have any of the dozen lunch specials. It makes me want to cheer on people who serve almond milk along with the soy, or who offer tofu scrambles as an alternative to other breakfast items.

After doing this for a month, I feel better, lighter, and more free when it comes to what I eat, despite this new restriction. It makes me think – what do I really WANT now? That’s led to me leaving Bloody Marys sitting on the bar when it wasn’t the right thing for me, or spending more money to get two small vegetarian sides as a meal because nothing else was clicking.

Stay tuned for more vegan recipes ahead and other culinary adventures. If you have any awesome suggestions for vegan meals, please send them my way! And if you thought you could never be vegan, just wait until you hear about the muffins I made yesterday!

Kitchen Adventure: Maple roasted pumpkin seeds

The best part of making this delicious recipe for Thanksgiving was seeing how incredibly easy it is to toast your own pumpkin seeds.  Where has this idea been my whole life??  They’re great for:

  • putting on top of stir-frys
  • adding to salads
  • snacking (dangerous, but good)
  • putting on top of a pumpkin pie

With one bag of pumpkin seeds, you can make at least 3 servings of this – plenty of time to try all the combinations you can dream of!

pumpkin seeds

Maple Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

  • 3/4 cup raw, unsalted pumpkin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl, coating the seeds with oil and syrup.  Pour into a foil-lined pan (rimmed cookie sheets work best, but I just used a baking dish).
  3. Cook until toasted – about 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool before enjoying on top of anything and everything you can imagine.

Kitchen Adventure: Easy cheesy frittata

For those nights when you can’t get enough cheese… when you want to use as few pans as possible… when you want leftovers you can eat for a week – this meal is for those nights!

cheesy goodness

 

Easy Cheesy Frittata 

  • 1 large head of broccoli, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 large onion, chopped into small pieces
  • 2 whole eggs, beat
  • 8 egg whites
  • 2 cups cheese (I used a 4 cheese “Mediterranean” blend of sharp Provolone, feta, Kasseri, and Romano)
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 10 cherry tomatoes, halved, or two large tomatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • Olive oil
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Caramelize the onions in a small frying pan, cooking over medium heat with olive oil until golden.  Remove from pan and set aside in large bowl.
  3. Sauté the broccoli in a pan with water until it’s lightly steamed.  Add chopped garlic and cook until easily cut with a fork.  Add to the bowl with onions.
  4. Beat the eggs and cheese together, add to the bowl with cooked veggies and chopped tomatoes.  Mix together and transfer to large baking dish.
  5. Cook for 25-30 mins or until cheese is melted and eggs are set.  Let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Great for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and everything in between!

Kitchen Adventures: Broccoli, egg white, and basil frittata

Quiche and I have a solid history – I used to make them for and with my grandma, I made them a ton when I moved to Boston, I buy them for lunch sometimes at this delicious place downtown.  But what do you do when you really don’t need that crust anymore, and would rather save the calories and room in your stomach for something else?

Cue the frittata.

I came up with this recipe, which is the kind of frittata that falls somewhere between “crustless quiche” and “baked eggs”, because I wanted something light for dinner that could also serve as breakfast or lunch, and I wanted it to taste like summer – as fresh as possible.  I ate this for almost a whole week and never got tired of it – so good!

Frittata

Broccoli, Egg White, and Basil Frittata

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups broccoli, chopped and steamed
  • 1 cup onion, chopped and cooked
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 carton egg whites
  • 1 bag of shredded, low-fat Italian cheese mix (about 2 cups)
  • 1/4 cup half-and-half
  • 6 tbsp basil (about 10 leaves, chopped)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees (F) while you steam the broccoli in bite-sized pieces and cook the onion with a little oil and the garlic in a frying pan.
  2. Whisk together the eggs, egg whites, cheese, and half-and-half in a large bowl.  When blended, add the rest of the ingredients, with the basil last so it doesn’t cook too much in advance.  Pour the entire mixture into two glass pie plates.
  3. Bake for 30-45 minutes, until eggs are set.  Eat hot, and then refrigerate when cool, including freezing some for later!

This recipe and its simple ingredients make two whole pies worth of delicious frittata, for 4 PointsPlus for 1/8 of the total serving.  Since I used similarly sized pie plates, this means I could eat 1/4 of a pie (2 pieces) for less than the value of two pieces of toast with peanut butter.  So good, so simple, so healthy!

What’s your go-to breakfast, for now and later?

Kitchen Adventures: Quinoa and Brussels Sprouts

This simple recipe is great for the end of a busy week and can accommodate almost any ingredients you have around.  Sub couscous for quinoa, add in other veggies, or include other proteins if you have them handy.

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Quinoa and Brussels Sprouts

  • 1 cup quinoa, uncooked
  • 1 lb shredded Brussels sprouts (I got them precut from Trader Joe’s – one bag will do it!)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped into thin strips
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice – about one lemon worth
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • goat cheese (optional, for topping)
  1. Cook the quinoa – one cup of quinoa to 2-3 cups of water.  Bring to a boil, then simmer covered for 15-20 minutes for liquid is absorbed.  Let rest for 3-5 minutes before serving.
  2. Add the oil, onion, Brussels sprouts, salt/pepper, and half the lemon juice to a frying pan over medium heat.  Stir frequently – when the sprouts get bright green, add more lemon juice and bell pepper.  Stir for about 7-10 minutes total, until sprouts are cooked but still crunchy.
  3. Add quinoa to the pan of veggies and mix well.  Serve hot or cold.  (I topped mine with goat cheese crumbles – SO GOOD!)

This made about four salad-sized servings – can’t wait to eat it for lunch later this week.

Enjoy!

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Kitchen Adventures: Quiche Tartlets

I am the definition of a breakfast person.

I could eat it three times a day – eggs for breakfast, cereal for lunch, crepes for dinner.  Bring me to a diner at any hour and I am 99.9% likely to order hash and poached eggs.  I simply can’t live without a good meal to start off my day.  But when I combine my love for breakfast with my tendency to hit snooze a million times (right family?), it gets to be an expensive habit that ends up with me stopped in at Dunks on my way to work.

Luckily, I saw this pin the other day and decided to whip up some planned-ahead breakfasts so I could save some money and time in the morning.  These tartlets came out great, and in 45 minutes, I was able to pack up 6 healthy breakfasts to eat and freeze for the week ahead.

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Quiche Breakfast Tartlets

  • 5-8 oz of baby spinach
  • 1 cup baby portobello mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 links chicken sausage (optional)
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese, grated (low-fat preferred, or another kind of shredded cheese works too!)
  • 3 eggs and 6 egg whites (I use them from the carton) (alternatively, you can use 5 eggs)
  • Dash skim milk
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.  In a frying pan, heat up 1 tsp olive oil and cook the mushrooms.  Cut the chicken sausage into small pieces (1/2 dime sized or so) and add to mushrooms, browning lightly.  Remove from pan.  Wilt spinach in frying pan. add to mushrooms and sausage.
  2. Mix all ingredients in a bowl.  Pour into lightly greased muffin tins, making sure that each section has all types of filling as well as some liquid.
  3. Bake in oven for 20-25 minutes, until edges are browned and tops are solid.  Remove from tins and let sit before freezing/storing.

By the end, you should have 12 muffin-sized crustless quiches (mine actually made 5 mini muffins as well – use it all up!) which are each worth 2 PointsPlus each (I recommend two as one serving).  In one travel-sized bite, you have cheese, eggs, meat, and veggies, or as I like to call it “perfection.”

These quiches are super versatile to whatever you have in your kitchen – asparagus and red pepper, cheese and more cheese, garlic and onion, you name it.  My recommendation: go light on the fat, especially in the cheese.  I only had full fat cheddar around, and these were a little more oily than I would usually eat, but they’re still quite healthy and definitely delicious.

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What’s your go-to breakfast food?

Kitchen Adventures: Peanut butter cookie brownies

What’s better than a chocolate chip cookie, a peanut butter cup, and a brownie?  Being able to eat all three of them at once.

I found this recipe on Pinterest and made it for my office’s Pie Day Friday.  Even though it wasn’t technically pie (ok, not at all), it rocked because:

  • I was able to get all the ingredients at CVS on my way home
  • All the ingredients cost less than $10 and made more than 20 servings
  • I was able to make different portions easily
  • I was able to give the extra peanut butter cups to my gluten-free colleague so he could have somewhat the same thing as the rest of us

These were a huge hit and especially great for when you don’t have time to get to a full-blown grocery store or need something that travels well.

Cookiebrownies

Peanut Butter Cookie Brownies

  • 1 bag of small Reese’s peanut butter cups
  • 1 box of brownie mix and the ingredients to make it (varies by box)
  • 1 roll of refrigerated cookie dough or box of cookie dough mix and the ingredients to make it (varies by box)
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 F.  Grease a muffin or mini-muffin tin
  2. Press cookie dough into the bottom layer of each section.  Add a peanut butter cup. Top with brownie mix, filling to about 2/3 full overall. (The cookies and brownies will both take up a little more space when cooked.)
  3. Bake for 18 minutes, less for mini-muffins.  When testing to make sure your treats are done, don’t let the melted chocolate from the peanut butter cup throw you off.  I overcooked mine a little, but they were still delicious.

Done!  I made 12 large muffins, 12 mini muffins, and 1 mini loaf pan (with the leftovers) with these ingredients.  Serving recommendation: warm these up and top them with ice cream.  You won’t regret it.