Sunday, May 19, 2013

Random Vegan Things, Running Ramblings, and a Recipe: Roasted Eggplant Bruschetta, Garlic Bread, and Italian White Bean Spread

So confession time.........I've been vegan for about 2 years now, and vegetarian for 5 or 6 (I lose track) and I've pretty much heard everyone and their mother's opinions and questions about veganism. But some of the most common stereotypes are actually interestingly accurate. Some of my favorite things I've heard are:
- "So, you just eat lots of lentils?" Haha, while not entirely true, I do love me some lentils, and they do come in handy in things like vegan patties and vegan meatloafs. So while I don't only eat lentils, I guess I do enjoy them quite regularly.
- "What do you do about protein? You need to be careful about that." The way people phrase it, it often sounds like the protein monster is out their trolling for vegans to capture or something......well I am aware of my protein intake. While it is easy to get more than enough good protein on a vegan diet, it always helps to check on just how much protein you're realistically eating everyday.
- "So you eat lots of salad, all the time?" Well yes.......and no. Yes in that I really love me some salad, and anything that can be eaten in salad form I will do, but that's just because I'm wierd that way. But having salads is really something that everyone should do regardless of what type of diet you subsist off of. So yeah, I eat lots of salads, you should too. (I also balance this out by baking large ass cakes.....like the one in the previous post......let's never lose site of how hypocritical I am)
- "Don't you miss meat, or cheese?" Um. No? I mean I guess at the beginning it was harder just because I had to get used to ordering things without meat or cheese while people around me were doing so, but it was because I wanted to. There was more motivation to not eat those things than to eat them. And especially now that I feel so much better without those things in my diet.....I don't miss them at all. Mostly because I have foods in my diet that are much more whole and satisfying.......just look at any of the recipes I have posted, or the produce section of your supermarket, or a farmers market, or the beans & legumes isle of any store......you get where I'm going with this.
I hope none of my comments sound bitter, because they're not at all. I love when people ask me about a vegan diet and I get to talk about it, and I have no problem with people eating non-vegan diets (I live with two of them). There are just some funny comments that I get alot as a vegan and I thought I'd share. Now on to more important things.....

Running News: The Half Marathon Challenge
After one of my runs on a particularly windy day.
(The wind-breaker saved the day)
What is the half-marathon challenge?: It's basically a product of my crazy mind, where I basically have a goal to run a half marathon or further at least once a week indefinitely. Let me be clear that I am not running a race; I just throw on my garmin watch and make sure that I run at least half-marathon distance. I have been doing this for 6 weeks now, and have actually run 14 miles the last few sundays rather than 13. Also, All of my 13 mile runs have been under 2 hours, and my 14 milers have been right at 2 hours.....so my pacing is getting better! Yay!
How do I feel?: Ummm.....the same as before? I don't feel fatigued, I recover from my longer runs really well, and my other shorter runs during the week are feeling just as good as ever. I really do believe that part of the reason why I am able to do these distances week after week is because of the whole foods that my diet is based on.......and my badassness, that's a real thing in science.
When will it end?: Never? Haha, I kid. I'm sure it will end at some point, but I would love to be able to do this for as long as I can. I am totally fina with missing a week, and picking it back up the next week; or if I'm feeling fatigued, then I will totally back off on the running....but I haven't yet.


Recipe Time: Roasted Eggplant Bruschetta with Garlic Bread and Italian White Bean Puree
Inspiration: I wanted an easy, light, italian-ish dinner and I also bought eggplants at the farmer's market and needed to use them. This recipe was born.
Nutrition Note: The White bean puree plus the whole wheat bread provide a complete protein. The veggies in the bruschetta provide lots of fiber and antioxidants. Garlic also has tons of antioxidants and other healthy phytochemicals, and it is used quite abundantly in this recipe.

Eggplant Bruschetta:
Ingredients: 
- 1 large or 2 medium eggplants cut into 1 inch cubes (6-7 cups)
- 7 roma tomatoes, seeded and cut into thin slivers (should make about 3 cups)
- 1 large diced yellow onion
- 1 1/2 tbsp minced or grated garlic
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh oregano
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 tsp pepper
- 2 tbsp olive oil or lemon juice (or both)
Directions:
1. Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees.
2. In a small bowl add the garlic and oregano to the olive oil and/or lemon juice so that the oil and be infused with the flavors.
3. In a large bowl mix together the eggplant, onions, tomatoes, salt, and pepper.
4. Pour the garlic and oregano mixture over the eggplant-tomato mixture and mix until everything is evenly coated.
5. Line to large baking sheets with tin foil.
6. Spread half of the mixture onto each baking sheet evenly.
7. Place in the oven for 30-35 minutes, making sure the eggplants are just slightly browned at the corners.
8. Remove from oven and let cool.

Garlic Bread:
Ingredients:
- 2 tbsp grated garlic
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 loaf of whole wheat french baguette or other bread that you like
Directions:
1. Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees.
2. In a small bowl mix the oil, garlic, and salt. Set aside.
3. Cut the baguette into 6 or 7 inch long pieces, and then cut each piece in half the long way.
4. Line a baking sheet with tin foil, and place the bread on the sheet so that the cut side is facing up (hard crust is facing down).
5. Brush/spread the garlic olive oil onto each piece of bread and make sure the oil and garlic are covered the entre face of each slice.
6. Place in the oven for about 6 minutes. It may take a little longer; start watching it after six minutes, and when it reached the level of toasty-ness that you prefer, remove from oven.

Italian White Bean Puree:
Ingredients:
- 4 large cloves of garlic, peeled
- 1/4 cup or 10-20 fresh basil leaves, depends on how much you like basil
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- 2 cans white beans or cannelini beans
Directions:
1. Put all the ingredients in a food processor and process until everything is smooth and well incorporated. About 2-3 minutes for me.
2. Pour into a bowl and set aside until ready to serve.





The setup.
How I like to enjoy this meal.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Crazy Cakes: Chocolate Heath Bar Layer Cake

This is what's about to happen:
Words cannot even describe this cake....
The Inspiration: There is a cafe near my home that my friends and I always went to growing up, it's called Aroma Coffee and Tea. It has amazing food, but even more amazing desserts. My friends and I spent many a half hour staring into their ginormous pastry case trying to decide what desserts to get for many years of our lives. One of the most unique and decadent cakes I tried was a chocolate, heath bar cake. It was so rich and sweet, but the saltiness of the heath bars played off of the sweet frosting perfectly. I was also surprised to find that when I cut into the chocolate cake, a thick liquid oozed out of  the pores of the cake, and I was even more surprised and delighted to find that this liquid was in fact a sort of caramel. So, chocolate cake, soaked in caramel, frosted in a decadent chocolate frosting, and topped with heath bars. That was the cake I tried many years ago, and that was the cake that I recently got a crazy craving for. However, I wasn't vegan then, and I am now, so I thought it would be fun to try to re-create it. The experiment turned out pretty well if I do say so myself.....
Nutrition Note: This is a rather decadent dessert recipe, so don't expect there to be any talk of complete proteins, or tons of fiber and antioxidants here. Although now that you mention it, chocolate does have tons of antioxidants, and the coconut butter that is called for in each part of this recipe just so happens to be an excellent source of fiber. But really, although this dessert may not be the healthiest thing on the planet, it is far healthier than the non-vegan alternative. The only source of fat in the recipe is a whole food (coconut butter, or coconut mana) rather than a processed and unnatural oil/fat. This recipe does call for sugar, but you can totally use brown sugar, maple sugar, or any other type of granulated sugar that your heart desires. I used brown rice syrup rather than corn syrup in the caramel and heath bars, and the flour can be whole wheat or white all purpose (baker's choice) depending on your preferences. This cake is definitely no meal replacement, but it is definitely much kinder to your body, your taste-buds, and the planet than a conventional cake of this nature.

Important Recipe Notes:
This recipe contains 4 portions (one of them is optional), the cake, the frosting, the optional caramel sauce, and the heath bars, as well as general assembly instructions for the double layered final product.
Coconut Butter: This recipe calls for coconut butter (also called Coconut Mana) for all components, NOT coconut oil. Coconut butter is a whole food, it is simply pureed coconut flesh; whereas coconut oil is a highly processed food.....not a whole food at all.
Coconut Milk: The frosting in this recipe specifically calls for the coconut milk, but not just any coconut milk. It has to be canned, full fat coconut milk that has been placed in the freezer for at least an hour or the refrigerator for at least four hours. This is because the only portion of the coconut milk that we use is the heavy, thicker white portion that floats to the top when it is cooled. It is also easier to separate the thick portion from the more liquid portion when it is cooled.
Candy Making and Thermometers: Heath Bars and caramel, which are technically types of candy, can be tricky to make. Most people use fancy cooking thermometers when making them, but I am not a fancy person and therefor do not possess such fancy tools. I have using the method I described numerous times to make heath bars, and it has always been successful, the key is to heat it up until it starts to bubble, and then reduce the head to the lowest possible setting to avoid burning.
The Caramel Sauce portion of the recipe is optional. Some people might not like a cake that oozes caramel or that is too moist, or they might just think it's overkill. Go ahead and skip this step if you don't feel like doing it; I personally love the caramel soaked cake, but they cake will still taste great without it!
- Sorry in Advance: For the lack of photos. All three times I tested this recipe I just kept forgetting to take pictures because I was managing making all of the components at the same time and keeping track of ingredients and measurements for my records. Next time I make it I will take more pictures and add some pictures for key steps in the recipe; I'll just add them as updates to this post.

Recipe: Chocolate Heath Bar Layer Cake

Moist Chocolate Cake
Ingredients:
2 1/2 cup all purpose flour (you can use regular or whole wheat, I actually prefer regular white flour for this recipe)
2/3 cup cocoa powder
2 cup granulated sugar
This is what I mean by "lined with parchment paper"
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup coconut butter (I use this brand)
2 tbsp white vinegar
1 tsp vanilla
2 cup unsweetened soymilk
Directions:
1. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a large bowl mix together all the dry ingredients except for the sugar and set aside.
3.  In a medium bowl, using a whisk or a large fork beat together the sugar, coconut butter, and 1/3 cup soymilk until fluffy/creamed. This took me about 5 minutes of hard beating by hand.
4. To the large bowl of dry ingredients, add in the remaining 1 2/3 cup soymilk, vanilla, vinegar, and coconut-sugar mixtures and mix well. Mix until everything is evenly incorporated and smooth.
5. Line the bottom of two 9-inch cake pans with parchment paper and then pour half of the batter into each pan.
6. Bake in oven for 30 minutes.
7. Remove from oven and let cool for half an hour before removing the cakes from the pans. Then place the cakes in the fridge for at least another 30 minutes before icing them.

Chocolate Frosting
Ingredients:
16 oz unsweetened chocolate (often called baking chocolate)
2 cups coconut butter
1 can coconut milk, refrigerated for at least 4 hours
3-4 cups powdered sugar
1/4-1/2 cup soy milk (optional, depends on how thick you like the frosting)
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
Directions:
1. Melt the chocolate in the microwave with the coconut butter for 30 seconds to a minute. Watch it carefully to make sure it doesn't burn.
2. Once over half of the chocolate is melted, remove from the microwave and mix everything by hand until the rest of the chocolate melts.
3. Scoop only the thicker portion of the coconut milk (the white, dense portion that has floated to the top of the can, while leaving the liquid, somewhat clear portion behind) into a large mixing bowl for your electric mixer.
4. Add the melted chocolate and coconut butter to this mixture and begin to beat on medium-high speed.
5. Add in the vanilla and salt.
6. Sift in the powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time until the frosting has reached your desired sweetness.
7. Depending on how thick or or not thick you like your frosting, add soymilk in, one tablespoon at a time, until the frosting has reached your desired thickness.
8. Let it chill for at least 30 minutes before using.

Heath Bars
Ingredients:
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup coconut butter
1/4 cup brown rice syrup
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp water
Directions:
1. Add all ingredients to a medium, heavy-bottom pot on the stovetop and begin to heat on medium heat while mixing with a wooden/heat resistant spoon.
2. Once the mixture begins to bubble stop mixing it and turn the heat down to low and let the mixture cook like so for about 5 minutes.
3. Stir the mixture for a minute or so, and then leave it alone to cook for another 5 minutes.
4. Stir the mixture and let it cook again for about another 5 minutes.
5. And, stir the mixture and let it cook again for another (final) 5 minutes, making sure it does not burn, then turn off the heat. The mixture should be far more golden-brown than it was when you first started heating it, if not continue to cook on the lowest heat (but still bubbling) until it looks like a rich, caramel brown.
5. Line a small cookie sheet or tray with parchment paper, and pour the mixture onto this tray. (You could also try using those individual silicon molds that they now sell for baking, but I haven't tried this myself so I don't know how it would turn out).
6. Cool in your fridge (or freezer if you're impatient, which I always do) until the heath bars are cool and solid to the touch.
7. You can easily remove the heath bars thanks to the parchment paper, and either cut them using a super shart knife or crumble/smash them into chunks.

Caramel Sauce (Optional)
Ingredients: 
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 3 tbsp water
- 1/4 cup brown rice syrup
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup coconut butter
Directions:
1. Mix all ingredients in a small pot on the stove top and heat until bubbling.
2. Turn the heat down to low and watch the contents of the pot until they begin to bubble again.
3. Let the contents of the pot sit for about five minutes while bubbling, and then turn off the heat.
4. Give the pot a final stir and let the caramel sit in the fridge to cool.

Assembly:
1. Using a serrated knife, cut off the dome/curved top of each of the cakes so that the top of each cake is perfectly flat.
The finished product!
Also, I just got lazy with shaping the heath bars and just
cut/pried them out in giant blobs from the pan.
2. Place one cake with the cut side facing up on a cake tray or rased plate. If you choose to soak the cake in caramel sauce, gently spoon the caramel sauce over the cake until the entire top has been covered/soaked with the caramel sauce. Give the cake 5 minutes to absorb the sauce before moving on to the next step.
3. Spread a thin layer of the chocolate frosting over only the tope of this cake so that it the entire top of the cake is covered.
3. Place the second cake, with the cut side facing down (towards the frosting) onto the frosted bottom cake. You can add caramel to the top of the second cake as well if you desire, if not skip on ahead to the next step.
4. Using the remaining frosting to frost the top and side of the cake. Always add the frosting to the top, and then spread it down to the sides, never apply frosting directly to the sides of the cake.
5. Lastly, take your heath bar squares or crumbs/chunks and press these into the frosting.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

They've Just UNMADE a Huge Mistake!

Arrested Development: I've been up to lots of random things lately, but one of them has been getting way too excited for the return of my favorite TV Show Arrested Development. It is being brought back by Netflix after about 7 years of being off the air, and I am ridiculously excited. It had a 3 season run on Fox, but got canceled because I think it just flew under the radar and not enough people knew about it at the time.
However, a lot of people seem to have discovered the show after it was canceled by watching it online or on DVD, and there has been a growing demand for a comeback. I get heart palpitations just thinking about it's return. I can honestly say that nothing has ever made me laugh as much as this show has. The humor is simply brilliant, and so multi-leveled and thought out, that people of many different sensibilities will enjoy it. I really can't think of any words to capture how brilliantly hilarious and witty the show is, and how well written all of the characters are. It is funnier than any movie, TV show, or stand up comedian I have seen in my life. I know this sounds like I am being a drama queen about how good this show is, but I'm not exaggerating, this show really is that good. Anywho, Netflix will be releasing the entire 4th season on May 26th, and at some point after they will release a movie. I know, I die.

I told my Dad to do a "running pose".....this is what he came up with......
Running Lately: Recently I went on another fantastic trail run with my Dad. There is an old missile tower in the hills above LA called the Nike Missile tower, and can be reached from a few different trails. Fortunately for us, the trail leading to the Nike Missile Tower is gorgeous, and maintained enough that it is perfect for trail running......it also helps that it has a great view. We tend to park at the top of Reseda Blvd and run from the bottom of the trail to the tower and back. This run should be a round trip of just under 7 miles, but I kept doubling back to make sure my Dad was okay (we run at different speeds) since he's been having sore knees lately, and I ended up running a little over 8 miles. I highly recommend this trail for anyone interested in getting started running trails; it's not too intense, but there are some good uphill climbs in there that will give you those thunder thighs you've been dreaming of ;)

Harvard's Healthy Diet Recommendations: Harvard just made a bold and awesome move! Their nutrition department just released their version of the Healthy Eating Plate, which took the place of the food pyramid a few years ago.......and they have eliminated all dairy products from their recommendations as well as a lot of the more unhealthy meats. Their recommendations are almost entirely plant-based, with the exception of lean chicken and fish, but they include these in the same category as legumes and soy products, so they are definitely acknowledging that there is no need to consume meat rather than the plant alternatives. It is so awesome that such a respected establishment has come out with a set of diet recommendations that we can all really stand behind, and that are not at all affected by big agg lobbyists and politics. Go Harvard!

Coming up Soon: Chocolate Heath Bar Cake Recipe! That's right, I've created a ridiculously decadent layer cake of chocolate cake soaked in salty caramel, frosted with light chocolate frosting, and covered in heath bars! Here is a preview of the recipe to some soon. I know, I'm such a tease.....


Thursday, May 2, 2013

Chinese is a Breeze: Easy Vegan "Beef" Broccoli

Alright, this is a cut the crap, straight to the point kind of post. I've got a recipe I've been meaning to share for awhile..........here we go!
Inspiration: The inspiration for this recipe is two-fold. First, I have just really been craving chinese food lately, but haven't had the motivation to make it or order it. Second, we had a giant bag of broccoli sitting in the fridge that needed to be used. I was trying to think of simple, delicious chinese dishes I could use the broccoli in when Beef Broccoli came to mind. It's a pretty standard chinese stir fry of beef, broccoli, and onions in a savory and slightly sweet soy stir fry sauce. Most recipes are pretty involved and call for lots of specialty ingredients, but I've tasted my fair share of chinese food, and was pretty confident I could come up with a simplified recipe that's much less involved and much more wallet friendly.
Nutrition Note: This stir fry recipe definitely packs more of a punch in terms of nutrition and flavor if it is served alongside a grain. I tend to prefer steamed brown rice or quinoa, and my brother prefers steamed white rice. Although I do use a "faux" meat product which is not the most natural of all vegan foods, I think it's perfectly fine to use these products on occasion, and I have to say that it really is necessary for this recipe to work. The broccoli provides a great dose of fiber and antioxidants, and the faux meat when paired with with the grain provide a complete protein. 
This is my faux meat of choice for this recipe.

Recipe: Chinese "Beef"Broccoli
Ingredients:
- 1 pack Trader Joe's Beef-less Strips, chopped into 1-1.5 inch long pieces (or any similar faux Beef product, seitan might even work)
- 1 medium yellow onion, sliced into long, thin slivers
- 4-5 cups broccoli heads
- 1/3 cup soy sauce
- 2/3 cup water
- 2 tbsp cornstarch
- 2 tsp freshly grated ginger (or 1 tsp ginger powder)
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 2 tbsp sugar (I used maple sugar, but any kind should be fine)
- 1 tbsp sesame seed oil or 2 tbsp sesame seeds **optional**

Directions:
1. In a medium bowl mix together the soy sauce, water, cornstarch, ginger, garlic powder, and brown sugar. Set aside.
All done!
2. In a large saute pan or wok cook the onions and broccoli over medium-low heat with the lid on for 5-7 minutes. 
3. Add in the beef strips and the sauce (give it one more stir before pouring it in) and stir around everything in the pan for a couple of minutes, making sure everything is evenly coated.
4. Cover the pan and continue to cook on medium-low heat for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. 
5. Turn off the heat and let it sit for another 5 minutes covered.
6. Sprinkle the sesame seeds or the sesame oil over the stir fry, mix everything up, and serve alongside some steamed rice.