Thursday, April 19, 2012

Dolmas! ...and a Mediterranean Feast

Dolmas with hummus, za'atar wedges, & salad
I love dolmas! Stuffed grape leaves filled with rice, fresh herbs, and yummy bits. These can have meat in them or be vegetarian, but I don't eat them that often. They tend to be pricey at the store and are typically packed in oil. Even before my low/no oil days, the greasiness of them turned me off. 

So you can imagine how excited I was to learn how easy they are to make! I love this recipe from Radiant Health, Inner Wealth. It's so light and flavorful and fresh. It also contains chickpeas, so you have a nice little bit of protein there.

So colorful!
I did decide to use oil in mine, because I thought the mixture would be too dry without. However, I only used 1 tablespoon instead of the 3 that the recipe calls for. That worked great for my tastes. 

I bought a bottle of grape leaves at a store by my house called Fiesta...they have a great international section there (although they also have some questionable looking produce and fish. And once I bought some cupcakes there that had mildew on them, but that's a whole other story).

Unfortunately, grape leaves typically come in gigantic bottles, so that means you either need to eat these on a regular basis (probably not a hard thing to do) or share with a friend. 

This tastes great on top of salad as well
The ingredients are pretty quick to throw together. Once you've got everything in the bowl, just mix it up, and then you're ready to roll your leaves!

Ready to Roll!
The rolling up part can be kind of tricky, and I can't really say that I'm all that great at it. I ended up just tucking the loose ends under so my dolmas looked pretty, and then I basically just shoved them in my mouth. The lemony-ness of the dolmas works so well with the spicy dill, and the chickpeas add a nice texture. Better yet, I don't feel like I have to scrub my hands with dish soap to get the oil off them afterwards.

Tuck and roll...
As I was making the dolmas, I decided I'd go ahead and up the Mediterranean ante by making some Engine 2 Hummus. I sprinkled a little paprika on top, just to make it pretty. 

I scooped up the hummus with homemade za'atar wedges, also from Radiant Health, Inner Wealth. I took a sprouted grain tortilla, sprayed a tiny bit of olive on it, then sprinkled za'atar—a blend of sumac, thyme, and other spices—on top. Then I baked at 400 degrees for about 5 minutes, flipped, then baked for another 5. The tortilla comes out nice and crispy and flavorful. Just break apart the pieces and scoop. If you're wondering where to buy za'atar, I've been able to find it pretty easily in the bulk spices at my grocery store. If you have an ethnic food store, that's a good place to look for it as well. And there's always ordering online.

Sprouted tortilla with za'atar
This food combo has made for a great lunch/dinner and is also a really easy snacky item. The dolmas store well in a sealed container, and I just grab a couple when I'm feeling hungry. If you are too lazy to do the whole wrap-up-in-grape-leaves thing, you can always just throw together the mixture and serve over salad. You can also just keep the mixture in a tupperware and wrap up a dolma or two (or three) at your leisure.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

ZOMG Potato Leek Soup! (or Vichyssoise, if you want to be fancy)

Potato Leek Soup/Vichyssoise
So after posting about my CSA box the other day, the CSA gods decided that I needed to blessed with more veggies. My cousin Denise also gets a weekly box and was heading out of town this weekend, so she offered me hers. I gladly accepted. 

I was too lazy (and too busy) to take pictures of everything in this box, but one of the exciting items was a bunch of beautiful leeks. I immediately thought potato leek soup—even though it's already 80 degrees in Austin and not exactly soup weather. However, I've always been a rebel. And besides, I figured I could always eat it cold and call it vichyssoise (and then you would all think I'm fancy!). I scanned online for some recipes and finally settled on using this one as a base, but I decided to bastardize it...quite a bit.

All the flavors mingling together
First, although my original intent was to add the turnip that came in my CSA box, I forgot about it until I had already chopped everything and started sautéeing, and by then I was too lazy to go back a step. 

I began by chopping up three leeks, along with a small yellow onion and some fresh garlic (yes, from the CSA box!). I threw them in my pot and, since I don't like using oil, used some Chicky Baby broth (from Radiant Health, Inner Wealth) to sautée. Chicky Baby is pretty damned to die for, but if you don't have the book, then you can use vegetable broth. There are also some vegan no-chicken broths that you can buy, or you can make your own. This recipe looks decent. If I were using it I would probably omit the soymilk powder and just use plain organic sugar (if I even used sugar at all).

Anyway, after everything was nice and soft and sautéed, I plopped six Yukon Gold potatoes in the pot, covered them with Chicky Baby broth (again, you can also use veggie broth!), and let them boil for about 20ish minutes, until they were fork tender.

Lovely cashew cream sitting in my Vitamix
While they were cooking, I made my secret ingredient: cashew cream! This is one of my favorite vegan tricks to make things rich and creamy with nowhere near the fat that regular dairy cream has. Simply take 1/2 c cashews and 1/2 c plant based milk (I used almond) and blend. It makes a beautiful thick cream that you can use just as you would its evil dairy counterpart (well, I don't think you can whip it). If you don't want to make your own cashew cream (although I don't know why you wouldn't because it's super easy), you can buy MimicCream at the health food store (they also make a kind you can whip, but I have yet to try it).   

With my cashew cream made, I finally turned the heat off the soup. I used a knife to cut up the potatoes a bit, then used my immersion blender to get everything nice and smooth. And then—then!—I added the cashew cream. It blended beautifully into my soup, giving it a luscious creamy texture and taste. 

I topped my bowl of soup off with some chopped green onions, salt, and plenty of pepper. Once I started eating it, I decided to add a lil' Tabasco as well, which did the trick nicely. I instantly regretted not having made some fresh bread, but a toasted slice of Ezekial did just fine as an accompaniment, as did a spring salad with tomatoes and balsamic. 

And, YUM.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

What's in the CSA box

I've recently started getting CSA boxes. CSA—or community sponsored agriculture—is this nifty idea whereby you buy a subscription from a local farm (or in my case, from a local online grocer that buys from local farms) and each week you get a box of veggies that are freshly picked and in season. The subscription ensures that farmers have a regular outlet for their product, and that you are always supplied with lots of fresh veggies. Veggies that are in season and local have a much higher nutritional content than veggies that have been shipped in from out of town. For more on that phenomenon, see my recent article in Austin Fit Magazine.

For me, getting this box every week is like Christmas. Full of pretty colors, interesting new things to try, lots of possibilities for interesting and healthy meals. I originally was a little phobic about whether I'd be able to eat all my veggies within a week, but I have to say I've done pretty well. Which means my body has also done pretty well.

Anyway, I've decided to take a page out of Food Craft and take photos of my CSA box ingredients, along with my ideas for what to do with them. So, without further ado...

Straight from Poteet, Texas, these guys are beautiful, fat, and sweet. Strawberries tend to go bad quickly, so I'm trying to eat them in the next couple of days. So far I've been cutting them up and enjoying them on my morning cereal. I've also dipped one (or two) in the leftover icing from those cupcakes I made the other day.

I will admit, when I first saw this peaking at me in the box, I thought it was kale, and I was really excited. I realized as soon as I pulled it out of the box that it was a head of lettuce, and although that's not as exciting to me as kale, I'll still make some good salads. I also imagine I'll use this for my "Happiness Bowl" from Radiance 4 Life (sadly, this recipe is not posted online, which is really unfortunate for you. You should totally buy this book just for the recipe).
Green Onions
I've never seen green onions quite so fat and delicious as these. I plan to put some of these bad boys in my aforementioned Happiness Bowl, and I am also contemplating making spring rolls (which is a great way to use up a lot of veggies). I also feel like I need to sautée the bulbs and put them in something...again, probably the Happiness Bowl.

Swiss Chard
I've already eaten about half of this, and it's only been two days. How, do you ask? In my green smoothies! I love them, especially after a workout. Easy to consume and a natural energy boost. If I want to get in extra protein after a workout, then I just add a few tablespoons of hemp protein powder.

Here's where I'd love your input. I am not all that crazy about radishes. Perhaps that's because I've never known how to cook and eat them. I've typically had them cut up in salad, and I find them bitter and boring. I remember in my college course, "Business in the French Speaking World," we learned that the French like to eat raw radishes with butter. That's not really an option for me either. So I'd love your suggestions, if you have them.  And if I find a recipe I like, I'll post it here.

Texas Grapefruit
I have an ongoing love affair with this fruit. When I was a kid, the only way I could tolerate grapefruit was with a whole bunch of sugar poured on top. Texas grapefruits, eaten in season, are the sweetest treat around. I could easily eat two in a day (and I have). Needless to say, I was pretty happy to see that there are still some Texas grapefruits to be had. I'll be eating my two grapefruits with my breakfast for the next few days (or for a snack, if the spirit moves me).

A nice big bag o' broccoli accompanied my box this week. I'll probably steam it, sautée it, or try out a recipe from Delicious Vitality that I just found. 
I think the real question here is, "What won't I use this for?" Also, it's kind of cool to see what garlic looks like in its entirety, as opposed to the pristine white bulbs we buy in the grocery store.

Once again, I'll be soliciting your advice on what to do with turnips. I've never cooked them before. I think I've had these before in roasted form, so I'll probably do that again, unless anyone else has other suggestions?

So: There you have it! This week's CSA box from Greenling. If I manage to eat most of this by next week, I'd say I'm doing pretty well. Stay tuned for an update (and hopefully some recipes!)...

Monday, April 9, 2012

Chocolate Cake for Easter

This Chocolate Decadence Cake is the first vegan recipe I ever made (yes, I know, it's shocking that my willingness to venture into vegan cooking was based on rich chocolate cake and not on kale). It's still my favorite vegan chocolate cake recipe. It's super moist and rich, the coconut oil gives it a unique flavor, and the icing is to-die-for. I mean, TO-DIE-FOR, as in you would be willing to envelop yourself in it and drown in chocolate deliciousness. In fact, you should probably make two batches of icing: One that you will likely eat while you're waiting for the cake to bake, and the other to actually frost the cake with.

Just kidding. (not really)

All of that said, I don't really make this cake very often. I think it's been about a year since the last time I made it. This is mainly because 1. I tend to eat it way too quickly, in spite of my resolve, and 2. it contains oil, which I'm trying to greatly reduce in my diet, after reading research from Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn. Perhaps I'll blog about this oil thing at a later date.

Anyway, typically if I'm baking I make things oil free, but yesterday I was in the mood for something really decadent. As I was contemplating where I could go to procure something yummy and vegan (which would have likely led me to the bakery case at Wheatsville), it suddenly it occurred to me that I had all the ingredients on hand to make this cake. Even better, the ingredients in this cake are more high quality and healthier than what I'd probably get in a store-bought vegan cake. Note, I'm not saying HEALTHY...I'm saying HEALTHIER.

The first way it's healthier is that it's made with whole wheat pastry flour. I tend to buy mine in the bulk bin at Wheatsville because it's cheaper, but most health food stores will have it. Using PASTRY flour is key, because even though it is still whole grain, it is so finely milled that your baked goods will still be light—as opposed to using straight-up whole wheat flour, which weighs everything down.

For the cake, I used Spectrum brand coconut oil, although any high quality coconut oil will do. If you're going to use oil, at least use the good stuff. For the icing, I recommend Earth Balance margarine sticks. That tends to be the best tasting/highest quality vegan margarine I can find, and it's trans-fat free (although it's still pure fat, people, so don't go crazy and start spreading it on everything saying, "Hey! It's vegan! That means I can eat as much of it as I want!"). From my own personal experience, I'd recommend using fresh margarine, because after it's been sitting in your refrigerator for awhile, I find it loses its taste. Real butter has always done that for me, too. Maybe I have a refrigerator problem.

I made this recipe into cupcakes, since that gives you an easy portion-controlled size. It also makes it easy to share, which is what I plan to do, so I don't eat them all (note: I have eaten two and given away two so far). I topped mine off with an organic strawberry. Mmm.

Needless to say, this satisfied my chocolate decadence craving yesterday, I saved money by using the ingredients I had on hand, and I'm not too concerned about a once-in-blue-moon splurge such as this, when making these bad boys probably prevented me from getting something much unhealthier.

So go make em', and don't forget to share so you don't eat them all! Because you will want to. Trust me.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

I'm back!

Holy crap, it's been a year since I've posted. First, I've decided to change my blog name. I'm not technically unemployed anymore, and I don't want to jinx myself. "Joie de Vegan" came to me today while I was washing dishes. To my disappointment, I saw that there are already a couple of blogs by this name, so I decided to add "Court" to it, et puis voilà: Now it's different and hopefully no one will sue me for copyright infringement.

I started triathlon training last week and have really been increasing my veggies, thanks in no small part to the CSA boxes I recently started getting. My hatred for wasting food has become an extra motivation to eat more greens!

I'm excited for a variety of reasons about my plant-based diet and training:

First, I can't believe the energy and stamina I have. I haven't seriously exercised in over a year, so coming back has been a huff-and-puff challenge. After just a week or so of getting back into the swing of things, I can tell I'm already getting stronger.

Second, I finally feel like the conundrum of always being hungry during tri season (thanks to my increased activity level) has been resolved. The low calorie density and high fiber of plant-based food means I can eat more, feel full, and not gain weight. Win.

Finally, I'm recovering faster. I have had little issue with fatigue or soreness, and that is saying something, given my long-term inactivity. I'm crediting my green smoothies. I CRAVE them after a workout now. The fruit and veggies help reduce inflammation, the hemp protein helps rebuild muscle, and the liquid nature helps the nutrients to be absorbed more rapidly.

So without further ado, here are some of the things I've been eating lately. 

Court's Recovery Smoothie (Recipe courtesy of Radiant Health, Inner Wealth)

Small bunch of kale (about a cup)
1 bag frozen strawberries
2 carrots
1 c fresh squeezed oj (I buy a bottle from Central Market)
1 c water
4 TBS hemp protein powder

Toss together into the Vitamix and ENJOY! You should really make an effort to buy fresh squeezed juice (or make it yourself, if you have a juicer). Way more nutritious than store-bought bottled juice that has been pasteurized and essentially killed off all the nutrients. Just make sure you drink your fresh juice within a few days, since it also will lose nutrients and start growing bacteria after it's been opened. Oh, and you can also omit the hemp protein if you're not drinking it after a workout.

Delicious Vitality Vegan Mac & Cheese

This recipe is by Alex Jamieson. You may recognize her as the vegan girlfriend (now ex-wife) of Morgan Spurlock from Supersize Me. I recently got her books and have been enjoying her recipes a lot. The nice thing about this recipe is you can make the sauce and serve it over basically anything: pasta, greens, you get the idea. Also, the sauce itself has shiitake mushrooms inside, which, in addition to being really good for you, give it a great flavor. I served it over whole wheat pasta and collard greens with cracked pepper on top, and let me tell you: Yum. It keeps very well, which makes for some quick meals on the go. Just dump into a saucepan, heat, and eat.

Hungarian Chickpeas with Double Garlic Quinoa and Roasted Beets

The first two are classics from Radiant Health, Inner Wealth. I'm trying to do low/no oil, so I omitted it from the Hungarian Chickpeas and greatly reduced it in the Double Garlic Quinoa, using veggie broth as a fill in liquid for sauteeing the garlic. Still tasted good to me. Oh, and I also boiled my quinoa in veggie broth, which I think gives it a really yummy flavor.

The beets came out of my CSA box. I've never been a big fan of beets. Too many memories of my aunt taking them out of a can and putting them on top of her salad with some kind of gross salad dressing, and then trying to make me eat them. But I've decided I can make peace with beets when they are roasted, since they have a nice caramelized flavor. Supposedly beets are good at helping to reduce your sugar cravings, as well. Win. 

Veggie Pizza! 
I love pizza, and I don't mind eating it without cheese. There are some vegan friendly places in Austin (Conan's is one of them), although that gets pricey. I recently discovered these pizza crusts at Wheatsville Co-op, and I love the fact that they are whole grain, contain flax seed, and are low in oil. Basically I threw on the ingredients I had on hand: tomato sauce, mushrooms, kalamata olives, artichoke hearts, roasted red pepper, basil, spinach, and oregano. I also put on a few slices of Dr Cow Tree Nut Cheese. It's made from cashews and is pretty freaking awesome. And when I say it's awesome, I mean it, because I have always been a huge cheese snob and find pretty much every vegan cheese out there to be absolutely disgusting not all that great. This stuff doesn't melt like cheese, but it still adds a nice cheesy flavor. Bake in the oven for 12 minutes. Quick, easy, and healthy!

I'm really hoping to document my triathlon come-back on a plant-based diet, so hopefully more posts will follow. I'm also trying to take the pressure off of myself to be a perfect writer, so these posts might be random. As long as there are pictures of food, it's ok, right? Right?