One of the hardest parts of being a new vegan (or even an old seasoned vegan) is trying to keep up with all the new products out there. I must have spent over $50 looking for the "right" vegan cheese my first year being a vegan and I have over 50 vegan/vegetarian cookbooks in my arsenal but not all the recipes are the greatest. I’m the first born so I’m used to being a Guinea Pig and now I’m your Vegan Guinea Pig. So here are my recommendations and critiques. Let me know what you think!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A New Handy Little Widget

You might have noticed a couple small changes to the left side of your screen. I've decided to add an widget that has links to many of my favorite products that I review on this site. Everything from TVP and nutritional yeast to cookbooks and supplements will be featured on the widget. Happy Shopping!

A Vegan’s Guide to the Universe Part 4: Vitamin B12

As a vegan you’ll be surprised to learn that you really don’t need to take any supplements to get the vitamins and minerals you need – eating a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and grains will provide you everything you need except Vitamin B12.

Vitamin B12 is actually a bacteria that is found in soil and water which is where most animals get it from. But this doesn’t mean it’s wise to go out and start eating soil just yet. A very minute amount of B12 is needed and lucky for you many of the foods that you already eat are fortified with it. The RDA’s for Vitamin B12 are 2.4 micrograms for adults, 2.6 micrograms for pregnant women and 2.8 micrograms for lactating women. You might also be surprised to learn that over 95% of the cases of B12 deficiency do not occur in vegans, but in omnivores. This basically means that you need to be aware but not maniacal about your B12 consumption.

As mentioned before B12 is already in a lot of the foods that you eat, here is a short list:

Although many foods are fortified with B12 physicians and dietitians still recommend that vegans take a B12 supplement of some kind. Many debate on whether it should be daily, weekly or monthly supplementation. I take a weekly sublingual supplement and might convert to doing B12 shots on my next physical just so it’s one less thing to think about.

My supplement of choice is DEVA Vegan B12 (with folic acid and B6). It contains 1000mcg of B12 which is 16,666% of the RDA as well as 100% of your RDA for folic acid and Vitamin B6. I get mine locally at Cosmo’s Vegan Shoppe but you can also find it on Cosmo’s online store or if you scroll through Guinea Pig's Favorites on the left of the screen you'll see a link to DEVA Vitamin B12 as well. You’ll find that almost every health food store and vitamin shop has B12 on their shelves. Just make sure it’s vegan!

Oh and just a quick legal disclaimer. Always consults your physician before taking any dietary supplement.

Friday, September 19, 2008

A Vegan’s Guide to the Universe – Part 3: Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP)

Textured Vegetable Protein, also known as TVP, another funny word to add to your vegan vocabulary. It sounds pretty alien but it might be something you have actually already used. If you’ve perused down the frozen food isle of your local grocery store then you’ve probably seen Boca Ground Crumbles as well as Morningstar Farms Griller Crumbles. Both of these are just flavored TVP. It is also the key ingredient in many commercial meat analogs such as veggie burgers, hot dogs, chik’n patties and vegan sausage. See, it's not so alien after all!

TVP is made of dehydrated vegetables (usually soy) and is a protein powerhouse (15 grams of protein in 1 ounce). It has no real taste of it’s own so it is easily adapted to any recipe that you would have used ground flesh for in the past. My favorite places to use TVP are in Manwhich sloppy Joe's ( a favorite from my childhood), Spaghetti and tacos. But the uses for it are limitless. You can make homemade veggie burgers, mock-meat balls, chili, etc.

TVP is dehydrated so it has a very long shelf life (15-20 years !!!). To rehydrate it use a 1:1 ratio of water to TVP. When a recipe calls for a pound of ground flesh you can easily substitute 1 cup of dehydrated TVP in it’s place.

My personal recipe for re-hydrating TVP is:

1 cup TVP
1 cup vegetable stock (dark)
1 tablespoon hickory liquid smoke

Boil the vegetable stock, stir in liquid smoke and pour over TVP. Wait until all the liquid has absorbed (about 5 minutes), fluff with a fork and use in your favorite recipe.

TVP is found in the bulk section of most health food stores and I have begun to see it pop up in small bags in mainstream grocery stores as well, although it tends to be more expensive there.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Vegan’s Guide to the Universe – Part 2: Nutritional Yeast

Chances are before you became vegan you never heard the words “nutritional yeast” muttered a day in your life and now it seems to be in every vegan cookbook you look up! So what is this stuff and why are vegans so crazy for it?

Nutritional Yeast is an inactive dry yeast filled with a healthy dose of vitamins and protein. It is coveted for its “cheesy” taste and if you haven’t already noticed nearly all vegan mac and cheese recipes call for it in varying amounts. But it is more than just a cheese-tasting substitute it adds a rich flavor and a creamy texture to a range of dishes. It’s perfect on popcorn (and yes, I’ve snuck it into the movie theatre on more than one occasion). It’s great in soups, casseroles, gravies, salads, steamed veggies, etc. Damn near anything you eat goes great with nutritional yeast. As an added bonus it is loaded with vitamins, minerals and 8 grams of protein for every 1 ½ tablespoon serving.

Nutritional Yeast is available in the bulk section of most health food stores and co-ops and is fairly inexpensive. 1 pound will run you somewhere between $5.99-$7.99 in the bulk. Typically I get a couple cups at a time which runs me about $2 or less. One important thing to make sure of when getting your nutritional yeast in bulk is that it is the Red Star brand. Red Star brand has the highest vitamin and mineral content and, in my humble opinion, the best flavor. Here’s the macro and micro nutrient content of Red Star Nutritional Yeast:

1 ½ tablespoon servings contains:
60 calories
1 gram of fat (1% daily value)
5 mg of sodium (0% daily value)
7g carbohydrates (2% daily value)
4 grams fiber (16% daily value)
8 grams protein (17% daily value)

9.6 mg Thiamine/B1 (640% daily value)
56 mg Niacin (280% daily value)
240 mcg Folic Acid (60% daily value)
22.4 mcg Selenium (32% daily value)
0.77mg Iron (4% daily value)
9.6 mg Riboflavin/B2 (565% daily value)
9.6 mg Vitamin B6 (480% daily value)
8 mcg Vitamin B12 (133% daily value)
3.2 mg Zinc (21% daily value)

Other vitamins and minerals less than 20% daily value: biotin, pantothenic acid, magnesium, copper, manganese, calcium, potassium

We’ve establish that nutritional yeast, despite it’s funny name, taste great and is really good for you now here are a couple recipes to get you acquainted with the taste of nutritional yeast.

Mack the Spork's Cheeze Sauce (Check out what other PPKers like to do with Nutritional Yeast or "nooch" on the PPK Forums)

2 cups water
1 cup nooch
4 oz. jar pimentos, drained
1/4 cup raw cashews
2 Tb cornstarch
1 Tb lemon juice
1/2 Tb mellow white miso
1 Tb dijon mustard
1 & 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder

Blend everything in a blender/food processor until completely smooth. Pour into a saucepan and whisk over medium heat until thickened. Add a dash of black pepper, and taste for salt/lemon.

Notes from Mack the Spork: It’s my modification of the “Nacho cheeze sauce” from Jennifer McCann’s blog (of Vegan Lunchbox – recipes are at Shmooed Food) which I think in turn is based off of something else. It’s so easy and sooooooo good. And it doesn't have that "feet" smell that some nooch sauces have. My pantry is filled with jars of pimientos and cashews because I live in fear of not being able to make this on the spot. I actually made some last night with just 1c water so it would be thicker, and a little extra nooch and cornstarch. Added thawed chopped broccoli, and stuffed it into a basic dough for cheezy broccoli pockets. Leftovers for luuuuuuncchh, blarrrrgghhhhhharghargggh *Homer Simpson drool noise*

Spicy Popcorn (courtesy of

4 cups Popcorn
1 to 2 tablespoon Olive or canola oil
¼ cup Red Star ® Vegetarian Support Formula™ nutritional yeast flakes
½ teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon Chili powder
1 teaspoon Dried oregano leaves

Place the popcorn in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle the oil and tossed well.

Place the nutritional yeast flakes, salt, chili and oregano in a small container. Cover tightly and shake well.

Sprinkle the nutritional yeast mixture over the popcorn, and toss until evenly distributed.

Guinea Pig Note: As far as cheese sauces go every vegan has their favorite and you can rarely find more than a handful who will all rave about the same recipe. I've only run across a couple I don't like and about a dozen I'm in love with. Do a google search and you'll find dozens and dozens of different variations of vegan mac and cheese trial and error will be the only way to determine which one you love the most!

One More Guinea Pig Note: Although nutritional yeast is an amazing addition to any recipe I recommend finding places where you can use it without having to expose it to the heat of cooking (as this destroys some of the vitamin B complex content).

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Vegan's Guide to the Universe Part 1: You don't have to eat tofu

Ok, you’ve done it. You’ve made the commitment to put your health first, the planet first and most importantly animal and human rights first – you’ve gone Vegan. Now I know that is a lot of “first” to cram into one title but that’s the amazing thing about being vegan. If done right you can do all those things simultaneously with little to no effort. You’ve made the big plunge into Veganism so now what? Thus far this blog has been a good to guide for all the great things that veganism has to offer from amazing cruelty-free cheeses to restaurants in your area that cater to vegans. But what about the basics? When you walk into your local health food or grocery store for the first time what the hell are you supposed to buy? From big cities to small towns you can usually find the standard meat analogs: vegan burgers, smart pups, chick’n nuggets and patties, Boca grounds, etc. But a vegan cannot exist on meat analogs alone, and frankly shouldn’t. Those are there for your transition, and for those times when life is so crazy that grabbing an Amy’s Kitchen Enchilada out of the freezer and popping in the microwave is honestly the best option for the day, or the week (trust me, I’ve had weeks where I’ve lived off of Boca burgers, nuggets and Amy’s Kitchen Dinners out of a complete a total lack of time. It’s a wonder I knew my own name by the end of the week).

Throughout the month of September (and probably a bit of October) I’m going to highlight some vegan basics that every vegan should have in their arsenal. From food, books and magazines to helpful websites. And guess what? Tofu isn’t on the list! Yep, you read right. This is a tofu free zone. First lesson in veganism, all vegans don’t eat tofu. It took me years to learn to love tofu. It really all comes down to how you cook it and how you season it (which is true for most everything you cook). But if you’re a new vegan and you’ve got a tub of that white block of soy sitting in front of you right now with no clue what to do with it, have no fear you don’t have to eat it if you don’t want to and the Vegan gods will not frown on you for it. But since you already have it, you might as well use it.

If you have resolved that you’re going to at least try the tofu you bought and not let it be a complete was of money start off with the scramble. Tofu Scramble! Tofu has the amazing ability to mimic the texture of eggs perfectly but tofu scramble is millions of times better than scrambled eggs. The very first recipe I ever tried was from Isa Chandra Moskowitz of Post Punk Kitchen fame. The basic recipe is below, however, I strongly recommend heading to her website and checking out all the comments on this recipe for a plethora of ideas on how to change up the scramble to your liking. I have two tofu scramble recipes of my own in my upcoming book Tacos & Collard Greens but Isa’s scramble was my first (thanks Isa!). The first time I made this recipe I think I cut the amount of onion in half to ½ cup and omitted the carrot. I also tried one batch with lime and one without. But play around with it, at least you’ll have one bonafide tofu dish under your belt. But don’t worry, like I said before, you don’t have to eat it if you don’t want to. It’s not in the Vegan code of ethics that you have to and there is an overabundance of other high protein options out there that are absolutely delicious. So, if you’re scared of your tofu and just not ready for the scramble, donate it to one of your tofu loving friends or stick it in the freezer until you get up the nerve to try it – just an FYI freezing tofu completely changes the texture, but in a good way. Without further ado Tofu Scramble:

1 lb. extra firm or firm tofu, drained and pressed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium chopped white onion (about a cup)
2 cups cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
juice of 1/2 a lime
1 carrot (this is optional, I grate it in at the end, mostly for color)

Spice blend
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon thyme, crushed with your fingers
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon salt

Heat oil in skillet over medium-high. Sauté onions 3 minutes, until softened. Add mushrooms, sauté 5 minutes more. Add garlic, sauté 2 minutes more. Add spice blend and mix it up for 15 seconds or so. Add 1/4 cup water and deglaze the pan, scraping the bottom to get all the garlic and spices. Crumble in tofu and mix well. Don't crush the tofu, just kind of lift it and mix it around. You want it to remain chunky. Let cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding splashes of water if necessary to keep it from sticking too much. Lower the heat a bit if you find that it is sticking. Add lime juice. Add nutritional yeast and mix it up. If it seems too dry add splashes of water. The moistness really depends on how much water the tofu was retaining before you added it. Grate the carrot into it and fold.
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