Monthly Archives: February 2015

Crazy Cool Costco Coconut Curry

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The title pretty much explains it: tonight I made some crazy cool coconut curry using a sauce from Costco! Who knew Costco had fresh (in the refrigerator section), vegan curry? Even better, it is Costco size, so if you are cooking for a whole crew, you will have enough. Or if you want a good batch of leftovers to last the week, BOOM, you got a pot of curry.

The important part of tonight’s cooking, however, was the prep of the tofu. A while back I discovered the importance of draining tofu as much as possible, but I never went all out. Usually I would just pat the brick dry and press it between my hand and the cutting board for a few 5-second intervals and call it good. But no, being vegan requires the REAL tofu prep techniques, none of this amateur stuff. Tonight I used a technique I saw on A Vegan With A Plan’s blog. All you do is put a colander in a pot, put your bricks of tofu in the colander (I managed to fit 2 at once), put a piece of plastic wrap on top of the tofu (lacking plastic wrap, I cut up a ziploc bag…#college), cover with a plate, and stack something relatively heavy on top. Then you pop the whole thing in the fridge, come back in an hour or so, and tah-dah! Nicely pressed tofu, ready for any cooking endeavor.

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To complete my curry masterpiece, I chopped up some onion and got it sautéing in a pot, then added the tofu and let that brown up for a while. Unfortunately, I made such a massive amount that there wasn’t enough pan space for proper browning, but each piece got a little golden on at least one side, which works for me. Then I chopped up two heads of broccoli, a big carrot, and a big red bell pepper and threw them in, along with the whole tub of curry from Costco and a can of light coconut milk from TJ’s. I find that adding a can of coconut milk to most pre-made curry sauces works really well both in increasing the volume and in taming the strong curry flavor, which can be pretty concentrated. To serve, I put a couple big scoops of curry on top of a bed of a 2:1 quinoa-brown rice mix from the rice cooker. YUM.

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On another note, today is the first day of the Crossfit Open, which is the crossfit competition that is open to anyone who wants to sign up. They even have a new Scaled category this year, so that you can do the Open even if you can’t snatch 5000000lbs or whatever it is the top athletes do these days. I’m not signed up this year, because I didn’t want to dedicate my Saturdays to crossfit when I could be skiing/volunteering/homeworking/sleeping/recreating in some other fashion, which I seem to be prone to do on my weekends. Anyway, in celebration I watched the recent documentary released on the 2014 Games, as well as the first Open event showdown between the 2014 champ and 2nd place finisher at the Games. Those athletes are truly inspirational. But it made me think a lot about what it takes to be at that level, and I decided its mostly a lot of commitment and a very high pain tolerance. No matter how strong and bulky you are, you will have to push through some mental walls that you might not even know are breakable. Both inspiring and frightening to think about, especially since I am so passionate about crossfit and am at the prime starting age for training for competition. Would I ever want to go to those lengths, and spend that much time, for what is essentially a glorified workout? I guess it’s some food for thought.

Although I’m no pro crossfitter, I did get some exciting feedback yesterday and today! My coach, the lovely Taylor, commented on my push-up form and strength yesterday and how much it has improved since my arrival a little over a month ago. And then today, during my now normal 70ish Burpee warm up, my friend Kiersten commented on how big my triceps have gotten! This is encouraging news, since I am still struggling back from my “Freshman 10” during 1st semester where I put on 10lbs within the first month, as well as trying out this whole vegan+fitness thing. While I am still at the same weight (after a small drop in January), I am proud to say I have experienced some body composition changes, and I feel a lot stronger! This just goes to show, once again, that a tiny waist and slim legs and arms don’t have to be the only image of sexy ladies: muscles are healthy and sexy too!

Triumphs and Failures

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Let’s start with the failure first: Protein Oatmeal

This morning I woke up ready for a hot bowl of oatmeal. I haven’t had oatmeal for a week or so, and I was really excited for a warm, hearty breakfast this morning. I also really wanted to try my latest food experiment: adding protein powder to oatmeal. Before I was vegan, when I was eating clean, I had oatmeal and egg whites for breakfast so that I could get both protein and carbs in my meal. So I figured, wouldn’t it be great if I could slip some protein into my morning oatmeal? Then I could maintain that nice carb-protein balance for breakfast without eating eggs or whipping up a tofu scramble all the time. Unfortunately, the experiment was a dud. I used the RAW brand of vanilla protein powder (which I LOOOVE in smoothies, thanks Auntie Katherine for hooking me up with it), and I just dumped in a scoop right after adding my oats to the pot of boiling water. I also added 1/2c of frozen blueberries and a handful of cashews. I thought that since the protein powder is so good mixed in smoothies, it should be fine in oatmeal too. Nope. The powder didn’t really dissolve well and therefore made the whole thing really gritty. Also, the flavor was kind of chalky and almost bitter unless I got a blueberry in each bite. I wonder if this flavor problem is a product of cooking the protein, since normally it is meant to be consumed in cold water/smoothies. The whole thing could have been improved with some agave I bet, but I really hate adding sugars into my food when I should just tough it out and accept a less sweet taste. If you do decide to try adding protein to oatmeal, try it with maple syrup or agave! (and let me know how it turns out, or if a different protein brand worked better).

On a different front, I did have an exciting vegan success today: Vegan Cream Cheese!!

Audrey and I have been craving bagels lately, and with every good bagel comes some schmearing of cream cheese. This becomes an obvious predicament for vegans, so Audrey sucked it up and bought us some bagels (from Trader Joe’s) and vegan cream cheese (from Whole Foods) so we could satisfy our craving at last. The cream cheese she bought was the plain kind from Go Veggie. And it was surprisingly delicious! We had tried a vegan cheddar cheese the other day by the same company and it was awful. My friend Bridger, who also tried it, described it as being in a junk yard with a bunch of tires, starving, and having to eat the tires as a last resort. Not good. However, the cream cheese from Go Veggie was a triumph today. In fact, having a toasty, crunchy bagel with a salty schmear of creamy goodness was probably the highlight of my day. (Shocking, I know, that a breakfast food was my high point today). Next up: making my own cashew cream cheese! From what I’ve seen, most recipes are pretty simple and college-dorm-kitchen-friendly. I cannot wait to try it!

P.S. Here is a picture of my breakfast from Sunday, my last meal of my fabulous, gluttonous weekend with my parents. We went to the Blue Plate Diner, which was PACKED. They serve both nonvegan and vegan foods, and it seems like they are pretty well known for both varieties. I got the vegan pancakes and added banana and coconut. Dad got the tofu breakfast burrito. Mom got the tofu scramble, which was cooked in a soy-saucy asian style that I must try at home.

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Powder, Comfort Food, and Movie

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Today was stupendous! Last night, 8 inches of beautiful Utah fluff FINALLY fell on the Wasatch mountains, including my lovely Snowbird ski area. This morning my parents and I jumped in the car, along with my two friends Seamus and Bridger, and we made a run for the mountains. Unfortunately, every other powder-starved person in the Salt Lake area also got in their car at the same time, because the normal 30 minute drive up turned into a good hour or more of bumper to bumper stop and go traffic. However, once we got up on the mountain, the poor traffic was completely wiped from our minds by the expanses of silky powder that awaited us. I think that was my best ski day this season by far. The turns were stellar. The pow delivered.

Around 1:20pm, we were doing a lap on the Road to Provo run, and Bridger, who is an exceptional skier, decided it was time to “ride the wave.” In other words, it was time to gain lots of speed going down so that he could jump a ridge in the middle of the slope and clear the top so he could land on the back side of the ridge. We all watched from the top, and it was really one of the greatest jumps I’ve seen in quite some time. We all shouted and whooped, because it was that awesome. However, we didn’t see his landing, since it was on the back side. Unfortunately, his landing resulted in a chin-to-knee collision where the impact split a nice gash in his chin, as well as a mild concussion. But, being a typical guy, we had to thoroughly convince him that he really did need to go to the medical clinic, as he dripped blood onto the snow. Here’s a shot of him looking smiley as ever, but a little dazed and oozing some gore out of his chin. And yes, it turned out the clinic was a good choice, since he got a few stitches.

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After today’s adventures on the slopes, we went to yet another vegan place for dinner, this time the Vertical Diner. I’d heard of this diner a couple times before, but still had not experienced it. As opposed to our other vegan meals this weekend, the Vertical Diner is known as “vegan comfort food.” I ordered a California burger made with a black bean and corn patty, and it came with veggies and guacamole on top. Also, I chose the 7-grain bun which is a MUST: soooo yummy with all those crunchy seeds and grains in it. Mom got a burger too, but with a different patty and more of a french dressing on it, and dad went all out and got the American Diner meal which was fried “chicken” (seitan) on top of a heap of mashed potatoes and gravy. Talk about classic comfort food. We all decided that the Vertical Diner was a very interesting experience compared to Sage’s and Omar’s. The other two places seemed to be going for an independent vegan style, creating dishes that work well with plants and vegan ingredients, whereas the Vertical Diner is going for a vegan take on very un-vegan foods. I still liked the Vertical Diner quite a bit though, and the price is definitely right for the college crowd. It is truly amazing how normal you can make things taste, such as bean-based burgers and fried seitan “chicken.” Of course, we also indulged in dessert, this time a Peanut Butter Chocolate Brownie Sundae. Oh my, it was to die for.

IMG_20150221_195627_100On the left: a soy chai latte for starters     IMG_20150221_201552_203

On the right: our burgers and classic American fried chicken dish

Below: the peanut butter chocolate dessert heaven.

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After our delicious meal, we went and saw the Imitation Game at the independent theater in downtown SLC. It was an extremely interesting movie, and I highly recommend it. The film was about Alan Turning, who was the main guy behind cracking German code during World War II, which saved the Allies a lot of lives and time, and helped determine the final outcome. However, Turning was gay, so he never really received the proper recognition for his brilliance until recent years. Go watch it, if you have a free night. It will be well worth your time.

Parents in Town = Good Eats

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This weekend is Westminster’s Winter Weekend, where parents are invited to come out to Salt Lake to visit their kid(s) and enjoy some discounted ski tickets, among other events. My parents came out on Thursday, and the best part about visiting parents is that I get to dine off campus. Ok, maybe not the best part, but definitely one of the best parts; I actually do like spending time with mom and dad too. Yet, this round of restaurant exploring is even more special than normal, because we get to discover all of the exciting vegan options that Salt Lake has to offer us.

Last night, per recommendation from one of my classmates, we dined at Omar’s Rawtopia, which is a 100% Raw and 100% Vegan restaurant right here in Sugarhouse. The place has a lovely, hippie-dippie down to Earth vibe, and they play very Zen, relaxing music while you eat. I have never really dabbled in raw foods, neither cooking nor consuming, so this was a whole new world of veganism I hadn’t even thought of. It turns out raw vegan food is spectacular if prepared well, which was definitely the case at Omar’s. I had the Raw Pasta dish consisting of zucchini “noodles”, nut-alfredo sauce, marinara, and a lovely pile of veggies. The dish was served cold, since nothing is cooked, but it didn’t even strike me as odd to be eating a cold pasta-type dish until later. It was THAT good. My mom got a combo of Coconut Curry Rice and a Creamy Kale Salad, and my dad got the Nut Burger. We also took my lovely roommate Audrey along, and she went for the Raw Pasta too. For dessert (because of course you have to try vegan desserts!) we got both the chocolate caramel cheesecake and the berry cheesecake, both of which were made from a cashew and coconut base. Everything was divine.

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On the left we have the Raw Pasta

On the right is dad’s Nut Burger

Moving onto today’s culinary adventures, we decided to try out Sage’s Cafe this evening, which is a pretty well known vegan eatery in SLC. Tonight, I discovered why it is so well known: because they have some incredible food!! We skied today at Deer Valley, so naturally, we went all out tonight and went for an appetizer, entrees, and desert. For the appetizer, we had a Cashew Chevre in a tangy marinara sauce with artichoke hearts, olives, capers, and mushrooms, served with crostinnis. Different from Omar’s, this dish was served hot, and the chevre melted in your mouth. After that, for the main course, I had the Magic Wok, which is a curry that you can choose your preferred protein and carb sources for. I chose brown rice and tempeh: YUM. Mom got a polenta ragout with applewood smoked tempeh, and dad got a baked pasta dish with a light sauce and vegan cheese melted throughout (gasp, vegan cheese!). For dessert, we got the Black Coconut Sticky Rice that was served with a pineapple marmalade and some kind of white sweet drizzle that reminded me of whipped cream. I was so in love with my meal that I forgot to document it until the very end, so here’s a picture of the dessert perfection.

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So to conclude: SLC has some awesome vegan cuisine! If you are ever in the area (especially with your parents), I HIGHLY recommend both Omar’s Rawtopia and Sage’s, as they both delivered gourmet, delicious food that is healthy for the planet and for you. I know I will be going back to both for some more.

The Dairy Talk

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On the vegan front, not a lot of extremely exciting things have happened today or yesterday, so I think it is an excellent time for The Dairy Talk. If you are not sold on going dairy-free, perhaps I can sway you with some ideas that don’t even have to do with my normal “save the environment” mantra (although it still 100% applies).

If you pause to think about it, the fact that we drink the milk of a cow (or any lactating animal) is really odd. When we are babies, we drink our mother’s milk because it is extremely nutrient rich and provides our young bodies with a power-packed growth solution. The same thing goes for cows. A cow produces milk for her calf that will provide the calf everything it needs to quickly grow into a big, strong, healthy cow (or bull). But, last time I checked, humans aren’t cows, and we aren’t even that closely related. So does it really make sense to drink a calf’s growth-fluid as humans, and especially as adult humans? We stop drinking our own mother’s milk at a certain age for a reason, so why do we continue to drink a very large animal’s milk throughout our maturity? And, though a lot of evolution has occurred that helps humans digest milk better, lactose is not naturally easily digestible by humans after infancy. Many people in the world cease to produce lactase, the lactose digestive enzyme, past their childhood, creating lactose-intolerance. We have somewhat adapted to this issue, but still, it is clearly not natural to be drinking milk all the time.

Another issue is that our government is the big dairy pusher. ChooseMyPlate.gov is now the government nutrition program that has evolved from the classic food pyramid that many people are familiar with. On this website they recommend 3 cups of dairy per day in order to get good calcium. But isn’t it fishy that the US Department of Agriculture is the creator of this program? All of the huge agricultural corporations pour tons of money and time into lobbying the Agricultural Committees in Congress, and their efforts are reflected directly by the USDA. So who is really preaching that we need 3 cups of milk per day? Independent, unbiased nutritionists? Or people with direct ties to the dairy industry and a big profit? In addition, there are many many many other ways to get a daily dose of calcium aside from milk. And there is even some research showing that people in countries that do not have frequent dairy access have lower rates of osteoporosis development, suggesting that milk may not be the osteoporosis inhibitor that we are taught to think it is.

However, if you still are very attached to your milk and yogurt and cheese, I do recommend going with full-fat options as opposed to low-fat and non-fat. Logically, it seems like non-fat will be healthier since fat is “bad.” But that’s just the thing, fats from the right sources can be quite good for you. By drinking a glass of whole milk, you ingest a nice balance of all three macronutrients: fats, protein, and carbs. This balance is better for your body and helps make you feel more satiated so you don’t end up gulping down a lot of unnecessary lactose (carbs). If you go with non-fat, you end up with mostly lactose and some protein in your system, and you then search for other sources of fatty acids that you need. A full-fat, raw milk is ideal from the health perspective, even though I discourage milk drinking since it is both unnecessary and harmful to our planet.

Seitan: The Savory Dough

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I was planning on doing a post on seitan (who knows how you say it, every time I say it I feel like I’m saying Satan no matter my pronunciation) a little later down the road, because I was planning on making a batch of it sometime soon. However, good ol’ Shaw whipped up a beautiful BBQ seitan sandwich on the lunch menu today, so I thought I would give it a try. I was so shocked that they offered a seitan sandwich of all things, because I had never even heard of it until I stumbled upon it on the Penniless Vegan’s blog the other day, and I had no idea anyone besides us radical vegans were aware of the concept. By the way, the Penniless Vegan is a great blog, go check it out!

Seitan is a very interesting food. It is essentially a big dense hunk of dough made from vital wheat gluten that is then baked or cooked in some fashion. But it turns out nothing like bread or any other doughy thing you’ve ever had; instead, you end up with a chunk of dense, tender, kinda meat-like stuff. Today, I found it is a little too far from meat for me to think of it as such, so I prefer to remember that it is truly cooked dough pieces when I eat it. However, similar to meat, seitan is extremely protein rich! I bought a bag of vital wheat gluten at Whole Foods a few days ago since I plan to make it, and on the package it says that in 1/4 cup of the dry flour there is something like 23g of protein (don’t quote me on that, but I do know it is over 20g). If you are looking for a vegan protein source, this is the food for you!

Overall, my BBQ seitan sandwich was a positive experience. And now, since I know seitan isn’t a total flop, I’m even more excited to try making my own batch! We’ll touch base on this subject again after my seitan culinary experiment.

Mmmm Breakfast!

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This morning, after a night of Valentine’s Day reveling, I got up wanting something hot, hearty, and delicious for breakfast. So while I thought, I naturally munched on my last slice of cold vegan pizza I had from yesterday, and I decided it was time to make myself a tofu scramble. I went down to Shaw and bought a few red bell peppers and a white onion off of them, and then headed back to start the tofu scramble. It turned out to be pretty darn simple.

For the scramble:

  1. Chop up any veggies in the fridge that sound good. I used two medium red bell peppers and half of a large white onion. Sauté them in some olive oil.
  2. Once the veggies are close to being done, grab a block of tofu, dump out the water, but don’t pat it dry or press out the liquid. Scooch the veggies over to one side of the pan and crumble the tofu into the pan using your hands.
  3. Season the tofu. I used salt, pepper, garlic powder, and some seasoning mixture I found in the cupboard that said garlic & herb on it. I’ve heard of people using warmer seasonings like paprika and turmeric which sounds pretty yummy. But being a college student, I don’t really have a full array of seasonings at my disposal.
  4. Mix all the tofu up with the veggies, check to make sure it is seasoned right, and enjoy! I served my scramble with an ancient grain tortilla and some salsa (which helped any seasoning issues due to my lack of spices). Delicious! The amount I made today served 3 people.

But because breakfast is by far the best meal of the day, and therefore every breakfast should be something to look forward to, I prepped a special breakfast for myself for tomorrow, too! I made an altered version of the Blueberry Overnight Oats that I found while browsing Plant Based on a Budget‘s website. They have tons and tons of incredible recipes on there, so I recommend you go check them out!

My version of the Blueberry Overnight Oats:

  • 1/2 c blueberries (mine were frozen)
  • 1 scant c almond milk topped off with water to make a full cup
  • dash vanilla
  • pinch salt
  • few shakes of cinnamon
  • 1 Tbsp agave nectar (this is up to your preference for sweetness though)
  • 1 Tbsp chia seeds
  • 1 heaping c rolled oats
  • 1/2 c blueberries (another one)

Blend together all of the ingredients besides the cup of oats and the second half cup of blueberries in a blender. Pour the mixture into a mason jar, then dump in the oats and blueberries. Mix it all up and put in the fridge overnight. In the morning, you should have a quick and simple yet yummy oatmeal breakfast waiting for you.

I should warn you that I haven’t actually tried my creation yet (it is sitting in the fridge), so hopefully this recipe is actually good. The chia seeds were not in the original recipe, I think it called for a tablespoon of flax meal, but I had the chia seeds and not the flax, so I figured I’d try it. By adding the chia, though, the consistency might end up thicker, so I might need to add more liquid in the morning to counteract the goopey chia seeds. Hope it works out!