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!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Whole Kitchen Pad Thai with Tofu Frozen Dinner

Many moons ago, back in my ovo-lacto days I used to live and die for a good ole fashioned Whole Foods Whole Kitchen brand frozen meal or soups. Their french onion soup was stacked in my freezer 4 x 4 deep. For the longest time the Whole Kitchen brand hasn't really had much to offer in the world of vegan dishes. However lately, slowly but surely, I'm starting to see more vegan products creeping into the line. Even though these days I feel like I'm in the kitchen 24 hours a day (writing cookbooks, cooking for my new blog and making treats for friends and family), inevitably once or twice a week I'll open the fridge, starved and tired, only to realize that I started a component to a dish but didn't finish the rest and I can either spend an hour conceptualizing and cooking the rest of it or I can rummage around in the freezer for something quick, easy and thoughtless. Needless to say I'm always in the market for a new frozen dinner.

Whole Kitchen's Pad Thai with Tofu looked pretty appetizing out the box but once I heated it up I became a wee bit skeptical. I gave it a good stir and my first bite was not a pleasant one. It was bland and tasteless. But on this particular day I was too starving and tired  to find an alternative meal so I was determined to power through it. I gave this dish another good stir to get all the sauce over every inch of noodle and voila! The perfect Pad Thai. They key to making sure this dish tastes amazing is really making sure you get sauce on every square centimeter of rice noodle real estate. The Pad Thai was sweet, peanuty and perfect. I also like that the picture on the package was true to form of what the dish really is. The tofu wasn't minuscule in comparison to the big plump pieces on the package and the peppers were as big green and bright as the food stylist, who no doubt meticulously positioned them in the photo, made it. All in all it takes about 4 minutes to heat this dish up and about $4 to buy. With 9 grams of protein, 340 calories and 490mg of sodium ( a bit high, but it is a frozen meal after all) the Whole Kitchen brand has now found a new place of prominence in my freezer.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Book Review: The Vegan Girl's Guide to Life by Melisser Elliott

Over here in the land of the Vegan Guinea Pig I get boat loads of vegan cookbooks to look over and review month after month. There’s so many amazing (and some not so amazing) cookbooks out there that it seems to take forever to review them all. What I don’t get often is a vegan book that is more than just a cookbook but a real guide to what being vegan is all about.

The Vegan Girl's Guide to Life: Cruelty-Free Crafts, Recipes, Beauty Secrets and MoreOn the off chance you’ve been living under a rock or on a deep sea adventure for the past couple of weeks you might not have heard that Oprah and 378 of her staff members went vegan for a week and chronicled the entire experience for her show. I had mixed feelings about the show but one positive that came from it is that it peaked a lot of folk’s interest in a vegan lifestyle. I’ve been getting non-stop emails, calls, and tweets asking how to make the transition to veganism, what are the best cookbook’s to try, where do you start, etc. Before I mention one cookbook (even my own) I refer people to Melisser Elliott’s The Vegan Girls Guide to Life. The Vegan Girl’s Guide to Life is more than just a how-to into the land of veganism but it actually puts you face to face with vegan mavens and mavericks all over the world, shares their stories, experiences, likes, dislikes and the amazing vegan resources they use.

I honestly can’t think of a better how-to guide to veganism. Elliott goes over the basic in’s and out’s of veganism (what a vegan eats, what a vegan doesn’t eat, what a vegan wears, what a vegan doesn’t wear, what kind of soap a vegan uses, what kinda of tattoo ink to look for, the list goes on forever).  She also dedicates a whole chapter to the nutrition aspects of veganism, surviving as a vegan in a non-vegan world, shopping for non-food related products (with a very extensive list of great vegan health, beauty, clothing, and home products). I’m a shoe-freak so I dog-eared the shoe and handbags section to keep handy anytime I find a few extra nickels at the bottom of my purse. Elliott then follows it all up with a hearty section of simple recipes that will help get you started on your road to veganism. Vegan superstar’s Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero even contribute a few recipes.

My only bone to pick with this book is the nutrition information. But then again, you would expect that of me by now. I really wish Elliott would have called on a vegan registered dietitian for help in this section of the book. There are so many fabulous, knowledgeable RD’s out there that are always willing to share that it seems a shame that more vegans don’t utilize them as resources. I cringed reading chicken breast being put into a nutrient battle with kale when a better example would have been a similarly protein rich plant source like legumes or nuts and seeds. Some of the recommended daily allowances (RDA’s) were a bit on the low side of what is recommended for vegetarians and vegans which can be slippery slope especially when making recommendations to menstruating women. But, all in all, it’s a good place to start and thankfully, like some other vegan books I’ve read, she doesn’t give any out and out incorrect nutrition information.

Nutrition section aside The Vegan Girl’s Guide to Life is a must have for new vegans, anyone who has ever pondered going vegan and even for old seasoned vegans. The personal stories and spotlights throughout keep it light, entertaining and a joy to read. Bravo Melisser! I can’t wait to see what you have coming up next!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Game Day Nachos (from Quick & Easy Vegan Celebrations)

I'm not a sports kinda girl by any stretch of the imagination. I managed to make it through 2 years of cheerleading in highschool without ever actually learning how the game of football is played. But what I can do is cook up a big vegan feast for damn near any occasion and Super Bowl Sunday is no exception. Here's my recipe for Game Day Nachos from the Game Day Spread chapter of Quick & Easy Vegan Celebrations. Other Super Bowl Sunday favorites from this chapter: Spicy Seitan Burgers, French Onion Burgers, Sun-Dried Tomato Pinwheels, Loaded Potato Skins, French Onion Dip, Spinach Artichoke Dip, Seven-Layer Dip, Roasted Five-Spice Nuts and Brownies.

1 medium Yukon Gold potato, peeled and diced
1 medium carrot, peeled and diced
½ cup diced white onion
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 cup water
½ cup cooked navy beans
¼ cup canola oil
¾ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ cup cashews
One 10-ounce can diced tomatoes with green chiles, drained
One 13-ounce bag tortilla chips
1½ cup cooked black beans
2 green onions or 1 bunch chives, chopped
1 cup sliced green or black olives
½ cup jalapeƱo slices
2 cups shredded romaine lettuce

Combine the potato, carrot, onion, garlic, and water in a small saucepan and set over medium heat. Bring to a boil, lower heat, and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender. The smaller you cut the vegetables, the less time it will take to cook them.

Put the navy beans, oil, salt, lemon juice, cashews, and cooked vegetable with the cooking water into a blender and process until completely smooth.

Transfer the sauce to fondue pot or large mixing bowl and stir in the diced tomato with green chiles. Ladle the sauce over tortilla chips and top with the black beans, green onions, olives, jalapeƱos, and lettuce, as desired
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