I will start this post by saying that I will try anything once, I am not afraid of foods. In fact, there are very few foods I do not like in life, I somehow learn to appreciate every flavor that comes across my palate. One exception was when I went vegan and people wanted me to try vegan cheese. I don’t care how many great reviews there are for Daiya cheese, I just couldn’t get down with the funky taste or texture (and I’m pretty open minded!). I had set my hopes so high, based on friends who were raving about it, the disappointment after I brought home some shredded “mozzarella” cheese to put on my home made pizza, was so big I was in mourning for a couple of days. I felt let down and prepared myself to never be able to experience that familiar cheese taste ever again. Luckily, my disappointment was short lived, as I have found a couple of brands I am pretty impressed with, like some spreadable nut-based cheeses like Treeline:
Image is from Treeline’s website: http//treelinecheese.com
Overall I choose to mostly eliminate cheese products from my diet. Luckily it has not been very difficult for me, as I was not a huge cheese eater before going vegan.
For those of you who really love cheese and can’t imagine living without it, there is hope! Trust me when I say that making your own cheese is wonderfully rewarding, and the taste is fresh and ten times better and more authentic than anything you can buy in pre-packaged form. Now before you start hyper ventilating or sweat pearls start forming on your forehead, thinking you have to be in the kitchen for days to create your own cheese with all kinds of hard-to pronounce ingredients – do not fret! Making your own “goat cheese” as in the below recipe, is done in literally five minutes (maybe ten if you’re slow…) and only requires ingredients I bet even your grandmother is familiar with.
The other day I posted a photo of a mixed green and bean salad I brought to work (I eat a HUGE green salad every day as part of my “Eat To Live” program, a habit I will continue with for life) on my Facebook page and was asked by many to post the recipe for the dollops of herbed “goat cheese” I sprinkled on top. You can also use this cheese as a dip for crudite and pita chips, or spreads for sandwiches or wraps. Versatile, flavorful and easy to make – all things I love in a recipe! I hope you enjoy this as much as I do… and please know that being vegan beats eating artery clogging cheese by a million miles and then some… Plant based food simply rocks!!!
“Herbed” Goat Cheese
adapted from Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s “Eat To Live” cookbook
24 oz extra firm lite silken tofu, divided
1 cup raw cashews, soaked in water overnight (or soak in hot water for 2-3 hours)
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
2 tsp white miso
1 tbsp nutritional yeast
1 tsp Bragg Liquid Aminos or low-sodium soy sauce
1 shallot, minced
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh thyme (or oregano)
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh basil
1/2 tsp dried tarragon
In a food processor, place 18 oz of the tofu (reserve 1 cup), the cashews (drained) , the lemon juice, miso, yeast, shallots, and liquid aminos/soy sauce, and process until very smooth. Add the remaining tofu and pulse for a few seconds, leaving some texture similar to fresh goat cheese.
Transfer the mixture to a bowl and stir in the fresh herbs. Cover and place in a warm spot in your kitchen to “age”, 2-4 hours, then refrigerate. Some liquid does seep out – I drained it, but I imagine putting it in a cheese cloth would make the cheese drier and even more like true goat cheese.
Makes about 4 cups. Will keep for once week refrigerated.
Hello beautiful people! I hope you all had a nice weekend! I’m now headed into week 2 of the Eat To Live program by Dr. Joel Fuhrman. I am surprised at how excited I am about this journey and how great I feel; I realize I desperately needed a “boost” in my own self-care and this was just what I needed. Eating mostly raw has given me a vibrant look and feel only whole foods can provide. Results: I am down 5 lbs, although I suspect most of it is water weight (and honestly it’s weird getting on the scale after a year of not going on it once), but I feel less bloated, more energetic and my skin is glowing. So much so, I’ve gotten quite a few compliments from customers at work from people who don’t even know what I’m doing, thinking I’m just drinking a lot of water, which is true too 🙂
As many of you know, the most difficult part of this for me, is not being able to enjoy wine. As a wine buyer and being surrounded by hundreds of wines every day, it takes a little extra effort to work on my mindset and just focus on WHY I’m doing this. The first true test was Memorial Day weekend this past weekend, a vacation associated with BBQ, beers, margaritas, sangria and excess in general. I am happy to report I managed to think the “nothing tastes as good as healthy feels” mantra successfully all weekend, and in the end, didn’t even miss it. Today, I woke up clear-headed and positive – well worth it, as always, in the end. Instead of sitting around doing nothing drinking, we took long walks down by the river and discovered a new trail (the Hudson Valley in New York is SO beautiful this time of year) and worked in the garden and got our tomato plants in the ground:
I also made some very tasty dishes, including these mashed black beans with avocado:
Then I added some veggies, spices and herbs and the mix went into these beautiful lettuce leaves, from lettuce heads I picked up at my local farmer market on Sunday morning:
Here is the recipe for these beauties:
BLACK BEAN LETTUCE BUNDLES
adapted from Dr. Joel Fuhrmans “Eat To Live” book
2 cups cooked black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 large, ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and mashed
1/2 medium yellow bell pepper, seeded and chopped
4 green onions, chopped
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup mild or medium salsa
juice from 1-2 fresh limes (to taste, I like a lot!)
2 tsp ground cumin
8 large romaine lettuce leaves
In a bowl, mash the beans and avocado together with a fork until well blended and only slightly chunky. (I season my mix with salt and pepper, although Dr. Fuhrman says no salt… sorry but I like my food well seasoned and that’s probably never going to change). Add all the remaining ingredients except the lettuce and mix.
Place approximately 1/4 cup of the mixture in the center of each lettuce leaf and roll up like a burrito.
While I am not a big believer of “detoxes” and cleanses, I believe that eating a raw vegan diet for a few weeks to clean up your system is highly beneficial. As you can see, eating like this is very easy and inviting; recipes are not complicated, eat only unprocessed foods that grow in the ground or on trees, drink lots of water, and move a little bit every day to honor your body. To me, eating a beautiful, colorful salad like this one I had for lunch yesterday, is so much more inviting than having a grey or brown looking slab of meat dripping with saturated fat on a grill:
I play around with different oil-free dressings to make my salads exciting to eat every day, and I take my time eating now, I don’t just shove it down because “I have to eat a meal”. Feels invigorating!
So what did I do to celebrate my weight loss and successful first week? The old me would probably celebrate with a cheat meal or a glass of wine, but I am careful rewarding myself with food, as I don’t find that gives me much (except for 2 minutes of bliss) anymore. Instead, I took my babies (my gorgeous boxers, Thor and Dallas) on a long, peaceful walk this morning while most people were asleep and took in these beautiful sights:
Each morning I write down at least 20 things I’m grateful for, and I meditate on them during my walk. This keeps me going, and reminds me of my “WHY”. My why is not just about fitting into my old jeans from last year, but it’s about being kind to my body, respecting it and thanking it for working so hard to keep me healthy and alive. What is your why?
As a professionally trained chef and certified holistic health coach specializing in a vegan diet, I’m particularly passionate about showcasing how it’s possible to keep both a nutritious and delicious healthy eating habit. I will admit, there was a point in my life when I competed in bodybuilding shows, that I was crazy enough to carry around tupperware containers of bland, cold, grey chicken or fish (yuck! Sorry chickens and fish!), sweet potatoes and cold green beans and think I was doing my body and spirit a favor. On the outside I may have screamed “health! fit!” but seriously, nobody enjoys eating like that for a longer period of time. The outside has to reflect the inside, both when it comes to being physically and mentally fit.
Luckily, I quickly snapped out of that insanity, and got back to my roots… I’m a cook with an insatiable curiosity for flavors and different cuisines. I love experimenting in the kitchen with whole foods, spices, herbs and ingredients. I want to entice my taste buds on a daily basis. That is what makes me happy. Life is too short to eat on autopilot, to consume boring, bland food and “punish” your body so you can look the way you think you should look. I try to challenge myself regularly to come up with different dishes, and other times I get inspired by researching and coming across existing blogs and recipes that excite me.
The other day I decided to peruse Susan Voisin’s blog, Fat Free Vegan Kitchen, as I am in the process of trying to shed a few additional pounds I gained over the winter (not obsessing, no- just keeping it real), and would like to avoid cooking with a lot of ingredients high in fat, particularly oils. Susan is a master in coming up with delicious recipes that require very little to no oil, by just adding water to a pan when sauteing, and spices for additional flavor. When I read her recipe for her Indian Samosa wraps, I knew I had to try them. I am currently at home with a minor knee injury in the middle of the week, so particularly happy to be able to cook a delectable lunch for myself (sorry pups, too spicy for you – the only other companions I have during the day) and wanted to share the results with you!
If I could have added or changed something to this recipe, is perhaps a couple of handful of spinach or other dark, leafy green to make the wrap even more nutritious and colorful. Regardless, this wrap lived up to all my expectations and left me satisfied throughout the afternoon and happy to be a vegan 🙂
1 pound Yukon gold potatoes (about 2 medium)
1 pack extra-firm tofu, drained and pressed
1 medium Vidalia onion, minced
1 cup (236 ml) frozen green peas
1 medium tomato, diced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 jalapeno pepper, stemmed, seeded and finely diced (include some seeds for added heat)
1/2 – 3/4 cup water
salt to taste
1 tbsp curry powder
1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
Freshly squeezed lemon juice from 1 lemon
6 whole-grain tortillas (I used the Ezekiel brand)
Cook the potatoes, unpeeled, in salted, boiling water until they’re tender (pierce easily with a fork). Remove from water and set aside to cool. When cool enough to handle, peel and cut into 1/4-inch pieces.
Cut tofu into 1/4-inch cubes.
Heat a deep non-stick skillet and add the onion. Cook on medium-high until onion begins to brown. Add peas, tomato, ginger, jalapeno pepper, and 2 tablespoons water. Cook, stirring, until peas thaw.
Add potatoes and tofu to skillet along with 1/2 cup water, salt, curry powder, coriander, cumin, cayenne, and lemon juice.
Simmer for about 10 minutes, until filling is firm and water has evaporated. Season for more salt, pepper and lemon juice if needed.
Warm tortillas on an open flame stove to char them nicely on both sides. Place 1/6 of filling in center of wrap, fold bottom edge up, and fold sides over filling.
Cut in half and serve. Delicious and nutritious!! No more take out- ever!!
I caught myself this week feeling a bit tired of my tried and true go-to lunches I typically prepare at home to bring to work. For those who know me, might find this incredible – as I always love to experiment with foods and pride myself on making at least two new dishes every week and add to my repertoire. But when days and weeks get hectic and time is of the essence, my creativity suffers and I end up with something lack-luster on my plate and not looking forward to eating. This is a common problem among many, whether you choose to make your own food or resort to buying prepared foods.
If we eat the same thing over and over (like I did for instance when I was on a traditional bodybuilding diet prepping for a show), our bodies will resist as we are depriving it of nutrients, and cravings kick in. This is when we “fall off the wagon” and end up buried in a sea of Doritos, chocolate, tubs of ice cream or bottles of wine, whatever your “drug” of choice is. So what can we do to avoid this? Go to the grocery store and pick out at least one or two items you have never cooked with (or maybe never even heard of) before, and research how to prepare it. This could be an exotic vegetable or fruit, or some type of ancient grain, spice or condiment that looks interesting. Build your meal around it, and you’ll be surprised at how happy your taste buds will get! Your body will thank you, and you will discover you need to eat less to feel more satisfied. It’s a win win, and you’ll learn something new in the process.
Today I went through my cabinets, determined to cook something different, and I found a bag of teff which I had forgotten all about. Now, I’ve cooked with it before, but it has been a while, so I happily cut it open and started to create a meal. Teff is a nutritious and versatile African cereal native to Ethiopia, about the size of a poppy seed, and come in a variety of colors. It has been named by many the “new quinoa”, as it is rich in protein (26 grams per 1 cup uncooked), calcium, thiamin and iron. The iron from teff is easily absorbed by the body and is also very high in fiber, thought to benefit diabetics, as it helps to stabilize blood sugar. Teff is also gluten free, hence a great choice for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivities. Due to is energy enhancing properties and rich nutritional profile, it is also popular among athletes.
So how is teff used? It’s known as the main ingredient in the Ehtiopian sourdough flatbread “injera”, but can also be used as a thickener in soups, gravies and stews. I also like to make a porridge out of it and eat it for breakfast, in place of the old favorite, oatmeal.
Today I chose to make a stew out of teff, and I largely used the recipe on the package, with a few additions. Can’t wait to bring it with me to work and have it for lunch!
I’ve included the recipe below – it’s highly satisfying, high in protein, nutrients and low in fat – just like I enjoy my meals. I hope you will try it, and as always – if you have any questions or need help with coming up with ideas for plant based recipes to include in your diet, please let me know in the comment section!
TEFF STEW (vegan and gluten free)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 Vidalia onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 orange bell pepper, chopped
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp berbere
salt and pepper to taste
4 cups vegetable stock
1 cup teff
2 cups cauliflower florets, chopped up
2 cups broccoli florets, chopped up
1 x 15 oz canned tomatoes, chopped up
2 cups canned (or pre-cooked) black beans (or chickpeas)
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1 cup organic frozen corn, thawed
juice from one lemon
handful fresh cilantro and mint, chopped up
In a large pan, heat up the olive oil over medium-high heat and add onion, pepper and garlic and a drizzle of kosher salt, saute for about 5 minutes until onion mixture starts to soften up. Add spices and lower heat, cook for about 1 minute, then add teff and cook for another 2 minutes until spices are soaked up into the teff. Add the vegetable stock, bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer, cover with a lid and cook for 15 minutes.
Add the broccoli, cauliflower and tomatoes and cook for another 10-15 minutes. Add the beans, peas, corn, cilantro, mint and lemon juice, stir until combined and heated through. Taste to with salt and pepper and serve.
Being born in Norway in the 70s, luckily I was never raised on hamburgers or fast food, so never really acquired a taste for them. That does not mean I wasn’t guilty of ordering high fat, sloppy burgers when I arrived to this country and before I turned vegan. But I remember really looking more forward to the French fries than the actual burger…. guess I’ve always been a closeted vegan!
Now that my diet is free of animal products, I’m always in search for hearty meals that does not have to come with artery clogging, saturated fat, or loaded with sugar and salt, but rather are packed with flavor and has a great texture. A true “cheat meal” without leaving me feeling stuffed and awful afterwards. Enter the falafel….. When I order them at restaurants, I always ask if they make them with eggs (you’d be surprised how many people think you “need” eggs in recipes, not so!) just to make sure they are 100% plant based. Check this awesome chart for great ideas to what you can use in place of chicken periods… I mean, eggs:
More times than not, however, I get disappointed when I bite in to falafels when eating out, as they are either flavorless or have a mushy texture (I’m all about texture in food). A recent trip to my neighborhood pub, however, left me really positively surprised, as they had a ton of flavorful spices and were crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. This inspired me to come up with a home made version that I can make whenever I want, and am happy to report I found a wonderful recipe that I tweaked a little to make it my own. The wonderful thing about falafels is that you can save them for days afterwards, make a big batch, and crumble them into stews, salads, in a variety of sandwiches and wraps or as a topping in soups. These are low in fat, as they are baked but give you soooo much satisfaction on the lips! Hope you will try them out this weekend!
As always, please comment below if you are looking for help with transitioning to a plant based diet, I’m here to help with any questions and guidance and am happy to show you how healthy, tasty and exciting this lifestyle is!
HERBED FALAFELS (vegan and gluten free)
- 2 1/2 cups chickpeas (canned is fine, just rinse them well) plus 1/2 cup chickpeas, divided
- 4 large garlic cloves
- 3/4 cup sweet onion, roughly chopped
- fresh lemon juice from one lemon
- 2 tbsp tahini
- 1 1/2 tbsp brown rice flour
- 1/4 cup packed fresh cilantro
- 1/4 cup packed fresh dill
- 1/4 cup packed fresh parsley
- 1/4 cup ground flax
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1/4 tsp chili powder or cayenne, optional
- 1-2 tsp sea or kosher salt or to taste
- 1/4 cup sesame seeds
Preheat the oven to 350F.
Add the 2 1/2 cups of chickpeas, garlic, onion, fresh lemon juice, tahini and fresh herbs in a food processor. Process until just combined, being careful not to over-process. You want to leave texture.
Scoop the mixture into a large bowl. Stir in the ground flax, rice flour, cumin, coriander. optional chili powder/cayenne, reserved 1/2 cup of chickpeas, and salt and pepper to taste. Shape into patties, about 1/4 cup each and really pack the dough in tightly so it holds together. Place the sesame seed on a plate and roll the falafel patties in the sesame seeds and place them on a greased / dressed baking sheet (You can use parchment or foil), and bake in oven for about 30 minutes until golden on top (turn them half way through).
Serve with whole wheat pita bread (optional if you’re watching your carb intake) and a salad of chopped tomato, red onion, cucumbers, falafel, and Lemon Tahini Dressing (recipe below).
Lemon Tahini Dressing
- 1/4 cup Tahini
- 1 large garlic clove
- juice from two large lemons
- 1/3 cup nutritional yeast
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp kosher salt + freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
- 3 tbsp water, or as needed
Combine everything in a food processor and process until smooth.
One of my secret weapons in creating tasty, plant based recipes is using heaps of fresh, exotic spices. I was telling my husband the other day while we were cooking (and who is also a chef), I’m always surprised at how underutilized spices are in most people’s cooking. I’m not talking about onion powder, dried thyme and garlic – these are fine, but it seems as if people limit themselves to the ‘tried and true’ sometimes, and don’t dare to go outside their comfort zones with spices and herbs they have not heard of or previously tried. A stir fry of broccoli, onion and carrots can all of a sudden turn into a star dish by just throwing in some new flavors. I encourage you all to experiment with a spice you think sound exciting in your next meal!
My favorite outing in Manhattan is Kalustyan’s – the (not so little anymore) spice store in Murray Hill where they carry every spice, condiment and international food you can think of. I was first introduced to this store when I was a culinary student at the Institute for Culinary Education in New York, and had to make trips over there as a stage (a work-study student) to help fill our pantry for the chefs and classrooms. I always loved the smell of curries from the neighboring restaurants and walking through the streets always took me somewhere else and encouraged my creativity when cooking.
Curries are some of my favorite dishes to make, they are easy but can be so different in flavor, texture and heat that I feel I could spend a lifetime just experimenting with this particular dish. The other night I made a wonderful chickpea and sweet potato curry that I had to share with you all… Invest in the spices and produce listed, as they make all the difference. The best thing about spices and flavorful dishes such as this is that minimal amounts of fat are needed, so are not heavy to digest but rather give you energy and a burst of happiness with every bite!
CHICKPEA AND SWEET POTATO CURRY (vegan, gluten free)
- 1 tbsp coconut oil
- 3 tbsp Thai yellow curry paste (vegetarian)
- 2 sweet (Vidalia) onions, finely chopped
- 3 large stalks lemongrass, bashed with the back of a knife
- 6 cardamom pods
- 1 tbsp mustard seed
- 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed into 1 inch cubes
- 4 cups vegetable stock
- 1x 15 oz can reduced-fat coconut milk
- 1 large can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 2 limes
- large handful mint and cilantro leaves
- 1 cup brown basmati rice, cooked
- naan bread, to serve (optional)
- Heat the oil in a sauté pan, then gently fry the curry paste with the onions, lemongrass, cardamom and mustard seed for 2-3 mins until fragrant. Stir the sweet potatoes into the pan and coat in the paste, then pour in the stock and coconut milk. Bring everything to a simmer, add the chickpeas, then cook for about 10 mins until the sweet potatoes are tender. (The curry can now be cooled and frozen for up to 1 month).
- Squeeze the juice of one lime into the curry, then cut the other lime into wedges to serve alongside. Just before serving, scoop some rice into a serving bowl, pour over the curry and tear over mint and cilantro leaves, then bring to the table with the lime wedges and warm naan breads.