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 12, 2013

Three Books That Every Vegan Should Own

There are a few essentials that every new vegan needs to ensure a long, happy, vegan life: a few great, reliable cookbooks they can turn to when they just can't think of what to make next, a strong conviction in why they have made the choice to go vegan and the right tools to ensure they can answer the onslaught of questions you will receive for the rest of your life like "where do you get your protein & iron?" "what do you eat" "is being vegan healthy?" My mantra is a simple one - A happy, healthy vegan is the BEST advertisement for veganism. 

When I first went vegan back in 2006, I wasn't a dietitian and hadn't even thought about getting my master's in nutrition. So I was pretty clueless on the nutrition aspects of veganism. At that point I had been a vegetarian for over 4 years so I knew that getting enough protein wasn't an issue. To be honest, I didn't think much about where I would get my calcium, iron and B12. And to be honest, I still don't - because they are incredibly easy to get in a vegan diet. There are 3 books that I think are essential in teaching the lay person every thing you need to know about vegan nutrition for all stages of life (from pregnancy, to lactation, infancy, and childhood to adulthood) and give you a brief crash-course in the importance of a vegan lifestyle.

The first is Vegan For Life: Everything You Need to Know To Be Healthy and Fit On A Plant-Based Diet by Jack Norris, RD and Virginia Messina, MPH, RD. A lot of people out there claim to know lots about vegan nutrition but the fact is registered dietitians have spent years upon years learning about nutrition and food. We know what every single nutrient in your body does down to the molecular level. It is literally our life's work. The co-authors of this book are two very well respected registered dietitians and will walk you through everything you need to know about vegan nutrition from where to get your B12, protein, calcium  vitamin D and other minerals to the in's and out's of transitioning to a vegan diet. They also walk you through vegan diets for those who are pregnant or lactating, raising vegan children and teens, veganism for people over 50 and the many health benefits of a vegan diet including managing weight, heart disease and diabetes. I love this book so much because it is the book that convinced by mother that a vegan diet was not only healthy but a fantastic way to raise a child. Before she read this book she was wary of me raising my daughter vegan (but hadn't gotten up the nerve to tell me yet). In 2-days she read this book cover to cover then came to me and announced "I now feel really good about you raising B vegan." For any vegan parents out there, you know what a big deal that is!

The second book you must own is Diet For A New America: How Food Choices Affect Your Health, Your Happiness and the Future of Life on Earth by John Robbins. 2012 marked the 25th anniversary of the original printing of this groundbreaking book that will force you to raise your consciousnesses and awareness of the food you eat. Robbins solidifies the link between factory farming and animal cruelty with disease and the current state of our environment.  Just in case you aren't familiar with Robbins you might be familiar with his family. The Robbin's in his name is none other than that of the Baskin-Robbins ice cream empire. Robbins has rebuffed the family business to advocate for a healthy, plant-based, vegan diet and lifestyle and spells out with stunning clarity the importance a vegan diet has not only on your health, but the health of the planet and the health of society at large. If you ever needed a top 10 list of reasons to go vegan and stay vegan then this book is for you! A book that is an honorable mention is Robbins The Food Revolution: How Your Diet Can Help Save Your Life and Our World which uncovers the dangers of many of today's most popular foods and the impact it has on our health. 

Finally, the third must-have book in your collection is the first book on vegan nutrition I ever read Becoming Vegan: The Complete Guide to Adopting A Healthy Plant-Based Diet by Brenda Davis RD and Vesanto Melina MS, RD. Out of any book in my collection (and I have literally thousands of books in my home), this book is the most highlighted and tabbed book I own. This book opened me up to the world of vegan nutrition and gave me a passion for it. As a new vegan I found myself bombarded with questions about nutrition that I just wasn't prepared to answer. How was I supposed to know every plant-based source of calcium, iron and protein? I knew that major organizations like the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics endorsed a vegan diet for all stages of life and I could rattle that sentence off with ease but I didn't know the science behind why a vegan diet was so healthy and great for every stage of life, let-alone have the ability to regurgitate that information to a skeptical omnivore and sound intelligent. This book gave me all the tools I needed. The authors advice is practical, easy to follow and well-presented. One great feature I love about the book too is that it shows you what a poorly planned vegan diet looks like versus a well-planned diet. We also know that vegan living off of oreos and veggie burgers, if you happen to be that vegan then this is an essential book for you! 

There you have it. The three essential, can' live without, need in your life from here to eternity books you should own. Even if you're a tried and true, long time vegan these books are great resources to get your brushed up on the basics that we old seasoned vegans tend to take for granted in this every increasing vegan friendly world. Happy Reading!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Homemade Coconut Milk Yogurt

Making yogurt is a tradition in my family, but making dairy-free yogurt has been a trial and error process. My grandmother has dabbled in the kitchen making yogurt out of soymilk and occasionally mixing in a little almond milk (although I must warn you making homemade yogurt from commercial almond milk is quite literally impossible). For me, coconut milk yogurt is the holy grail of dairy-free yogurts. However,  as I have previously blogged about, the price of commercially processed coconut yogurt is enough to make the best yogurt taste sour! Although, I love the store-bought stuff but I hate exposing my little one to all that added sugar in it as well (the typical store bought yogurt has about as much added sugar as 2 tablespoons of frosting).

My go-to recipe is a recipe I found over 4 years ago that I’ve been tweaking ever since and will likely continue to tweak as my yogurt making progresses. I have only ever used a "yogurt maker" that is a warming plate with a lid that is specifically designed to keep yogurt at the correct temperature for fermentation (I have the Euro Cuisine Digital Automatic Yogurt Maker YMX650 ). Therefore if you have any questions about making yogurt in a crockpot, dehydrator I’m not the best resource for a good response. But I’ll work hard to find good links to these methods and update this blog post accordingly.

The biggest downside to this recipe is that coconut milk does not naturally contain any calcium and I love having the addition of calcium in commercially prepared coconut yogurt. I’ve started to play around with adding calcium in the form of calcium to the yogurt. I’m starting small and I’ll gradually increase the amount as time goes on and see if it affects the consistency at all. So if calcium is a concern for you check back periodically to see how the recipe evolves. I’ll also keep you posted via facebook as I tweak the recipe.

Oh! Before I forget, as far as add-in's to the yogurt go, after it's all fermented and chilled I like to mix in fresh fruit, mango chutney is amazing in this yogurt, homemade pineapple jam, apricot preserves, the list goes on! You're only limited to your imagination!  It also makes a great add-in to smoothies.

Three 14.5 ounce cans coconut milk 
1/4 teaspoon non-dairy yogurt starter/probiotic (I use Custom Probiotics Formula 2  - the company can add in additional strains and customize the blend for you as well)
2 tablespoons agave nectar
1 – 1 ½ tablespoons unflavored vegan gelatin 
¾ teaspoon calcium citrate powder, divided

1)       With boiling water, sterilize your yogurt containers, mixing spoons and other utensils.

Note: Depending on what type of dishwasher you have you might be able to forgo this step and sterilize in your dishwasher. Mine has a high-temperature wash setting as well as a sanitizing rinse setting. I use both of these settings in combination with a heated dry to sterilize my equipment. This takes more time and water but I like using this option on the weekends I can get everything sanitized while I’m eating breakfast then just reach in the dishwasher and grab the tools I need. This will keep bad bacteria from competing with the good yogurt bacteria

2)      Pour coconut milk into a medium saucepan and bring to a low boil, you’re shooting for 180oF so you’ll need to use a food grade thermometer to check the temperature and make sure it doesn’t go over 180oF. Once milk has reached 180oF remove it from the heat. And whisk in the gelatin and then agave nectar until thoroughly combined.
Note: You must use some type of sugar in order for your yogurt to culture properly. This is probably the #1 question I get. Without sugar the culture has nothing to eat and cannot grow. Non-nutritive sweeteners like xylitol and stevia will not culture your yogurt. Using granulated sugar or agave nectar is your best option. The bacteria will eat most of the sugar and very little will be present in your end product.

3)      Find a cool spot in your kitchen and allow milk to cool to 95oF, checking occasionally with a food grade thermometer (make sure you sterilize the thermometer after each check). This is a long process and can take up to an hour, sometimes longer so this might be a good time to pull up a little light reading or get some chores done around the house.

4)      Once milk has cooled whisk culture into the milk and continue to whisk until thoroughly combined, at least 60-90 seconds.

5)      Pour cultured milk into your yogurt maker jars. Cover and ferment at for 9-12 hours. The longer you ferment the yogurt the more the bacteria will consume the sugar within it therefore longer fermentation times yield a sourer yogurt.

6)      Once yogurt has been fermented remove the jars from the yogurt maker and sprinkle 1/8 teaspoon of calcium citrate powder into each jar and stir to combine. Cover jars with lids and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, I prefer overnight and sometimes up to 24 hours. If you peak in on your yogurt and it appears to have separated now worries, just give it a quick stir and you’ll be back on track!

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