Vegetarian by Choice, Accidentally Vegan??

Going vegetarian was a very conscious and very intentional decision. We wanted to cut out meat from our diet, for not only ethical reasons but also health purposes, and after reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals it just seemed difficult to wrap our heads, and mouths, around eating meat. But now, 2 years later, it seems our diets have changed in ways we didn’t expect. Often we find that the delicious meal we’re eating is actually vegan– quite accidentally! About 18 months ago we switched from dairy milk to almond milk– honestly because neither D nor I drink milk fast enough to justify buying even a 1/2 gallon at a time. We found we’d throw out milk almost every time we bought a bottle, and after tasting almond milk (we like Blue Diamond’s unsweetened original best) we figured…why not?! We now use almond milk for cereal, smoothies, coffee, oatmeal, baking, and everywhere else you’d add milk. I also switched over to using flax eggs in most of my baking, just because I find it an easy replacement (we dedicated our old coffee grinder to the task of grinding our seeds each time we need them) and flax seeds are much easier to store than dozens of eggs! As a result, we really only eat eggs when we’re making something…eggy… fried eggs over hash browns, quiche, fried rice, etc! These replacements were conscious, but in all honesty, by no means were they a concerted effort to be vegan…they were just replacements that made sense in our lives. As I’ve mentioned, I don’t think I could ever go 100% vegan simply because I’d miss really good quality, small batch cheeses!

But it seems, week after week, that we end up cooking vegan! Last night’s meal was the perfect example of summer eating in our house– taking the backyard ‘crops’ and turning them into a delicious meal. Our garden is flourishing and in the past 5 days, we’ve harvested 2 eggplants, a spaghetti squash, a yellow squash, 5 bell peppers, 6 jalapenos, 2 beefsteak tomatoes, dozens of heirloom and cherry tomatoes, and handfuls of herbs. We did a bunch of work in the yard after work yesterday (a 2 day project–removing a huge shrub and the remaining root ball from the yard!) and it was just too hot to eat a heavy meal. Last night’s dinner was 99% home-grown (everything except the condiments and salt/pepper came from our yard) and accidentally vegan-  a win-win! Keep reading to see what other ‘accidentally vegan’ meals we’ve been cooking up!

With 'crops' in our own yard, it's easy to skip the grocery store produce section in the summer!

With ‘crops’ in our own yard, it’s easy to skip the grocery store produce section in the summer!

Spaghetti Squash with Balsamic Tomatoes 

1 cup spaghetti squash, cooked and flesh removed from skin

handful of tomatoes, any variety

fresh basil, torn or chopped

salt and pepper to taste

1 clove garlic

balsamic vinegar

olive oil

Put the tomatoes and fresh basil in a small bowl and drizzle with balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper– let them sit and marinate. Coat a saute pan with olive oil and cook the garlic on medium-high heat just until it starts to release aroma. Add in the cooked spaghetti squash and coat with the garlic oil, then gently stir in the tomato mixture. Cook all ingredients together about 3-4 minutes, until the tomatoes soften. You could top it with fresh mozzarella cheese, but it’s fantastic as is, and very light!

Note: Our spaghetti squash was huge, so we cooked it up this weekend, pulled out the flesh, and will store it in the fridge for the week, pulling it out as needed. As a result, this meal took only as long to prepare as the saute pan took to heat up- if you’re cooking the spaghetti squash in the same night, it’ll be about an hour for cook time plus the time to assemble the dish.

Replace spaghetti squash for pasta in most recipes for a low-carb version!

Replace spaghetti squash for pasta in most recipes for a low-carb version!

 Morning Breakfast Smoothie

1 banana

1/4 cup almond milk

1 tsp flax seeds (whole is fine, the blender will chop them up)

heaping spoonful of almond or peanut butter

6-8 ice cubes

Mix all ingredients in a blender for a thick, creamy, and very filling morning smoothie!

 

Adapted from Bon Appetite's June 2014 version

Adapted from Bon Appetite’s June 2014 version

Barley and Fennel Salad

We modified Bon Appetite’s recipe from the June edition, removing the beets and red onion completely. Our vinaigrette was made with mostly freshly squeezed grapefruit juice instead of the vinegar, then just a dash of apple cider vinegar made up the remainder of the liquid in the dressing. This was tasty, filling, and had great texture between the crunch of the fennel and almonds compared to the soft barley. The mint came from our yard and we added some of the fennel fronds into the salad for some extra green and fennel flavor!

 

Our philosophy about a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle  is that reducing your animal product intake, even once a day or once a week, is better than nothing. Can you make that commitment? Can you acknowledge that not every meal needs a serving of meat, egg, cheese, or dairy? Try some of these recipes, or many of the other ones on the blog, to kick start a new kind of dining experience. Or better yet, take your favorite recipe and make it vegetarian/vegan- it’s a fun challenge and incredibly rewarding. And when it happens accidentally, it’s even more amazing! At the end of the day, adhering to a vegetarian lifestyle isn’t a sacrifice, it’s an opportunity to flip what you think about food 180 degrees. And when your ingredients happen to be as local as your backyard, or even a local family farm, you’ve got no reason not to.

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Snow Day Experiments

SC is undergoing a rare snow-week — when a friend mentioned last week that temperatures were going to drop this week, I figured we were in for another brutally cold week with wind. Admittedly, the Lowcountry’s definition of ‘brutal’ is anything below 35 for more than a few days, but after living down here for 8 years, my blood has most certainly thinned to the point that 50’s still feels cool. On Monday afternoon they made the decision to cancel work/school for Tuesday, and before noon on Tuesday they had closed for Wednesday. After sub-32 temperatures for 3 nights, there are delays and cancellations for Thursday too. While we were safe at home with plenty of food, there’s a certain cabin-fever that sets in and I was itching to doing something besides clean and lazy on the couch. Below is what caused this mass chaos:

This little dusting wreaked so much havoc in the Lowcountry!

This little dusting wreaked so much havoc in the Lowcountry!

As I said earlier this year, my new years resolution is to try more new recipes– to take a risk, learn something new, and let someone guide me in the kitchen who has made the end result before. (Perhaps I should have added in there to keep up with the blog more often?) This 2.5 day midweek break seemed like a good time to use up some ingredients from around the house, keep myself sane, and fulfill any cravings we got in the ‘storm’ when we couldn’t leave. Southerners just aren’t able to handle icy roads – they’re not usually taught how to drive on them and even if they were (as I was), most cities don’t have the infrastructure to dispatch salt trucks and plows to all public roads. As such, we’ve essentially been on lockdown since noon on Tuesday! Luckily, as my husband put it, “We have provisions for weeks!” My retort was that we always have provisions and it just happens to be poor weather, but regardless, here’s how we kept ourselves busy and full:

4-Bean Chili with Jalapeno Cheddar Cornbread
1/2 cup EACH of your favorite beans- we used black eyed peas, black beans, kidney beans, and Navy beans
2 tablespoons of tomato paste
1 small onion, diced
2 cans of fire roasted tomatoes (you can also use any canned tomatoes you have, we just like the flavor of fire-roasted)
4 ounces of finely diced tempeh
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1/2 tablespoon cumin
1 tsp chili powder or chipotle powder, your choice
1 tsp allspice (optional)
1 cup vegetable broth, as needed

Combine all ingredients in a slow cooker and cover with enough vegetable broth to reach about 1/2 inch above the beans. Cook on high for 2 hours, then reduce to low for at least 4 hours. Check periodically to make sure there’s enough liquid– add more broth if not. The end result and consistency will be your choice.

Serve with jalapeno cheddar cornbread for a filling and warm meal on a cold day. We cooked the cornbread in a cast iron skillet, which was not only a fun presentation, but gave the perfect crusty exterior and soft, fluffy inside. Note: we used dried jalapenos that we re-hydrated in warm water. We found the heat mellows in the drying process, so we used 4-5 dried jalapenos and probably could have used 2-3 more. Adjust to your taste preference. The chili freezes really well for leftovers later in the winter!

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Instead of our usual eggs/potatoes breakfast, I made D hold off one morning while I made biscuits. After a recent girls trip to Savannah, I was craving fluffy and buttery buttermilk biscuits. I also knew we were stuck at home for a few days and thus couldn’t work out. My compromise was almond flour biscuits instead of white AP flour, and they were AWESOME with some blackberry/raspberry jam. We did them as drop biscuits instead of formed, and the little crunchy parts on top were my favorite part! Brings back memories of my dad making biscuits on snowy winter days and all of us trying to eat them off the baking sheet before they’d even cooled! (no photos, sorry! Ours looked very much like the one on the website with the recipe)

The biggest challenge was my sudden craving for Thai food (I fear pregnancy cravings if I have such drastic ones now without being pregnant!) We don’t have a truly authentic place in SC on a normal day, and I certainly wasn’t going to get anything decent in the midst of a ‘storm.’ As such, I took to the internet and did the best I could with what we had in the house, and honestly, I’m pretty proud of what resulted.

Despite my intentions to cook off of a recipe, for certain logistical reasons (aka not wanting to leave the house when there’s 1/4 inch of solid ice on the roads) I just couldn’t on this one. I did follow this Thai Basil Eggplant recipe closely, with the following modifications:

-I used 1 large white onion instead of red onion
-I added 1 sliced green pepper when sauteing the onions -it gave more volume to the recipe and I really like peppers in my Thai
-I skipped the red chilis but did add in a dash of Sambal to the sauce
-I used regular/Italian eggplants that you find at the grocery store — wasn’t running out to the store for Chinese/Japanese eggplants!
-we served over rice noodles, not rice

The biggest thing I learned from this recipe was the addition of cornstarch- without sounding like I have the culinary tastes of a college student, it gave this dish the ‘gloppy’ feeling typically associated with take-out food. However, since it was made from scratch with a ton of veggies, I knew it was good for us! There was a really good balance of spice, freshness from the basil, and creaminess of the sauce. Plus, over the rice noodles, it had a more elegant feel than typical take-out– I honestly don’t have a problem with take-out entrees, but when it’s put over dry white rice, it tends to put a damper on what would otherwise be a good meal. Another great alternative is bean thread noodles, which can be found at your local grocery store or Asian store. We’re lucky enough to have one here in Charleston and their noodle aisle is mesmerizing. If you’ve never tried rice/bean noodles before, pick up a pack and try them in lieu of rice – they’re quick to cook, less dense than rice, and give many dishes a more authentic feel.

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What recipe have you always had trouble getting just right? What’s the recipe you’re most scared to try? Let’s make 2014 the year that we conquer new challenges and add more recipes to our repertoire! Up next I have mujadara and shakshuka!

Bacon-less Brunch

One of the most frequent exclamations we hear in the South about being vegetarian is “oh, I could NEVER give up bacon!” or “don’t you miss bacon?”  While there is a tendency to add bacon to just about….everything…in southern cuisine, I think we’ve figured out enough techniques to get the same smoky, meaty, and complex flavors that most dishes with ham or bacon contain– without the meat. But how do you replace bacon, the actual ‘entree’, without turning to over-processed soy products?

You don’t! Who says brunch has to contain meat in any form?  Since many of our friends work in education, we did a fun Monday morning brunch this week to celebrate winter break, bringing together good friends, good food, and plenty of holiday-inspired drinks! We made a brunch so filling, so varied, and full of so many flavors that no one missed the meat!

Baked Oatmeal Casserole
Blueberries and banana come together with a touch of honey and cinnamon to make a delicious and EASY oatmeal! No stirring, no mess- just pure goodness that’s healthy but also sweet enough to satisfy the taste buds of your biggest sweet tooth!

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Whole Wheat Waffles and Mini Quiches

This is my absolute favorite waffle recipe- with coconut oil, whole wheat flour, and a touch of honey, they’re healthy but don’t taste like ‘health food’. You could easily add wheat germ or flax seed to the batter for some additional health benefits, but I like them the way they are- and no one even knows they are whole wheat! The quiches we made with onions, baby portobellos and broccoli, which we roasted then added to a mini-muffin pan with Monterrey jack cheese and  a sprinkle of cheddar. Yum!

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Banana Bread with chocolate chips and Andes mint chips

Two of our friends experimented with the normal banana bread recipe, and our favorite by far was the one with Andes chips. The combination of banana and mint (plus chocolate!) was a fun twist, especially around the holidays, and this decadent bread was a great brunch dessert!

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White Chocolate and Raspberry Scones
A rare item in our house is a box or pre-packaged mix, but D found this at World Market and we figured we’d give it a try. These were tart, sweet, and surprisingly moist– they were also really easy to make, which makes them perfect for any morning!

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We capped off our brunch with a bar stocked with cold brewed coffee (we love our Toddy!), hot apple cider, lemongrass tea, and cinnamon spice Kahlua and Irish cream. There’s nothing better than brunch with good friends on a beautiful, sunny, winter day, celebrating not being at work! Happy holidays to all!

The best laid plans…

We’ve been on a roll this week, sticking to our meal plan and chugging through the first week of school (if you think it’s easier as a teacher then think again….) The good news is that B has adjusted much better to the end of summer this year than he did in 2012 😉

A mopey puppy on the first day of school 2012

A mopey puppy on the first day of school in 2012, waiting for D to return home!

By the time Wednesday rolled around, we’d hit a wall. We were both exhausted and the 90 degree humidity didn’t put either of us in the mood for roasting vegetables (not to mention the sweet potato was a tad older than I’d thought…) so we threw caution to the wind and improvised based on what was around. Breakfast-for-dinner has never been so good!

Carrot Pancakes with Breakfast ‘sausage’

Looks like any other sausage and pancake meal, right??

Looks like any other sausage and pancake meal, right??

We followed this recipe for our pancakes, halving it for just the two of us. They were moist, sweet, and healthy!! A coworker had a maple scented candle burning all day in the office, so I had been craving pancakes all day…or really just syrup! The excess number of carrots (CSA bag carrots, leftover grocery store carrots, 2 separate bags of baby carrots….) in our fridge was getting out of control so we found a way to hide some vegetables in this. D literally looked at me mid-bite and said “we should make these for our [hypothetical, one day in the next 5 years] kids to trick them into eating more veggies!” If that’s not a vote of confidence, I don’t know what is! Next time I may try experimenting with replacing some of the flour with whole wheat, because I think the carrots lend enough moisture to do so, but we will see!

My genius D also figured out a way to manipulate what we had in the house to be the perfect accompaniment to our pancakes. Frozen veggie burgers (MorningStar Grillers are the best, but any ‘fake hamburger’ product will do–just don’t try a vegetable-based patty!) are cut into 1/2 inch pieces and sauteed with a sprinkle of sage and some smoked paprika in PAM or oil in a skillet on the stove. The sage and paprika flavors imitate the seasonings in most breakfast (meat) sausages and the house truly starts like a wonderful breakfast feast. By crisping up the burger in a pan, you get the texture of sausage — admittedly I think I’d only had it once in my life before becoming vegetarian (sorry mom!) — but try it for yourself and let me know what you think. I was completely satiated and thrilled that breakfast-for-dinner veggie-style is fantastic!

Purple potatoes make this one visually interesting!

Purple potatoes make this one visually interesting!

Potato Hash and Egg Scramble

Have too much leftover ‘sausage’? Whip up this great veggie-friendly breakfast the next morning to enjoy this newfound treat in a whole new way!

-leftover ‘veggie sausage’ (see above)

-potatoes, diced into small pieces- we used purple potatoes from our CSA bag but red, Yukon, or anything small works too

-diced onion and bell peppers

-eggs

-cheddar cheese (or your favorite egg accompaniment!)

Toss diced potatoes, peppers, and onions with some olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast at 400 degrees in the oven until crispy and brown. Meanwhile, prepare veggie breakfast sausage using above directions or throw leftovers in a skillet to warm with some oil. Whisk eggs in a bowl and add whatever preparations you normally would for scrambled eggs (milk, Almond Milk, cream, salt, pepper, hot sauce, whatever you please!) When sausage is warmed, add the eggs to the hot pan and scramble to your desired consistency/dryness so that the sausage is incorporated with the sausage pieces. About 1 minute before completion, top with shredded cheese and mix into the egg to melt. Serve with crispy potatoes and ketchup!

YUMMMMM. We may start going through a lot more veggie burgers in this house–breakfast for dinner for all!