Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sunny Sunday, Busy Sunday

Working it Out 
Ah, finally some sunshine today. We definitely needed it to help melt off the rest of the ice as well. I was feeling rather lazy at the start of the morning. Finally got myself into gear and did Cathe Friedrich's Imax 3, abs, and tried a Yoga Fusion by Angie Stewart from On Demand. It was interesting, not as calming, but it was also not a true yoga workout either. It was definitely a nice stretch for me though.

Errands and Detours
After my workout, Jason and I still needed to get by the regular grocery store. We made a few procrastinated detours like TJ Maxx and Barnes and Noble. I had a meet the baby shower to get to at 3 pm. I'll be completely, I'm not an ooey gooey baby person. I was never really around many babies, so maybe that's part of it. I did get better after my sister had kids. I just don't know what to do with children. My husband says, "Just act like one." Well, that'd be problem number one. I never really acted like a true child to begin with. It's hard for me to let go and be silly. Anyway, long story short, I didn't stay long. I will go back over and meet the baby and hold her when it's not amid a big crowd of other moms.

Baking and Cooking
When I got home, I started ciabatta bread. I imagine we'll be having some soup this week, definitely a Kabocha Squash soup and I just love toasted bread with my soup. I also made up some of the overnight steel cut oats for breakfast this week. It's such a simple thing to prep. I make the following amounts and it gives me two servings (could probably stretch it to three):

Overnight Steel Cut Oats (for 2)
Ingredients:
1 cup water
1/2 cup steel cut oats
dash of salt
cinnamon to taste
1/8 tsp (maybe less) stevia (optional)

Directions:
Bring water to boil then add remaining ingredients and simmer over low until liquid is absorbed.

Divide into containers and refrigerate. When you're ready to eat, add a splash of soy milk (I use vanilla) and microwave approximate 35 seconds. Stir and add in fruit (I add blueberries) and microwave another 35 seconds. I also stir in additional cinnamon and protein powder. Both totally optional. I have also used grated nutmeg. It makes for a nice, hearty, and quick morning breakfast that totally beats out any pre-packaged oatmeal you can find.

Free-Form Ravioli with Tofu Kabocha Ricotta & Spinach Pesto
I also got going on the Tal Ronnen recipe that I've been wanting to make from his cookbook The Conscious Cook. I have been itching to try his Free-Form Ravioli with Tofu Ricotta & Arugula Pesto. As I noted in my book review, the dishes are broken down into mini recipes. So my version is Free-Form Ravioli with Tofu Kabocha Ricotta & Spinach Pesto. This is how he breaks down the dishes (my changes noted).

Pasta dough - Did not use Red Palm Oil. In all honesty, I was too cheap to shell out the bucks on something I don't know if I'll use again. So, I just used olive oil.

Arugala Pesto - I used spinach and also added a splash of lemon juice

Tofu Ricotta Filling - I added roasted Kabocha squash

Assembly

Note: you do have to have the cashew cream pre-made and that takes one day because of soaking the cashews.

I served the dish with a large salad of red leaf lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, Greek olives and a balsamic vinaigrette.
This dish was really good. I do think (and Jason agreed) that the pesto could have been thinned out, perhaps with some pasta water. Typically you can toss the pesto and pasta to coat, but since this was free form, you just had to top the ravioli with the pesto. The filling was really tasty and would be good spread on bruschetta as well. Overall, this was a really great dish; however, it was rather time consuming to make. The filling and pesto were super fast, but the pasta did take a little more work. Would I make it again, yes. But it definitely falls into the "special dinner" category.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Perfect Chili & Cornbread Weather

Today I got up and did Shock Cardio Athletic Step. I'm enjoying that one. It's not terribly long, but it's a good, fun cardio workout.

The ice prevented mom and sister from being able to make it to my house today. The baby shower I was supposed to go to also got canceled. Today was a regularly scheduled grocery store day, of all times of course. The roads were slushy and passable. Of course, there are still the a$$holes hauling butt like nobody's business. We didn't make all stops, but did make it by Whole Foods.

I should have been more productive around the house. It's not like I don't have plenty of chores (and doggy tumbleweeds) staring me in the face. I did eek out a few loads of laundry at least and played around in the kitchen. I made up some Eggplant Patties using my Japanese eggplants. I made up the thick cashew cream for the free-form ravioli that I had planned on making tonight. Unfortunately, since we didn't make it to all of our intended grocery stops, I didn't have the fresh basil that I needed for the ravioli. So it was on to Plan B. Chili and cornbread. My blogger buddy Alicia @ Vegan Epicurean had posted about making chili on cold, snowy days and mentioned a cornbread recipe that uses quinoa. She found it in the latest flyer from Whole Foods. I actually picked up that flyer today, so decided to try that recipe myself. Plus, chili really did sound so perfect for this cold, icy evening. The Quinoa Cornbread from Whole Foods made 16 servings. I not only halved, but used a buttermilk substitution. I did, however, use an egg as I am not really comfortable with baking substitutions for eggs just yet. Here's my version.

Quinoa Cornbread
Ingredients
3 cups corn flour
1/2 cups cooked quinoa
1 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup rice milk plus 1 tsp white vinegar or lemon juice
1 large egg
1/8 cup cooked quinoa (for topping)

Directions
Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, stir together flour, 1/2 cup cooked quinoa, baking soda and salt until combined, breaking up any lumps of quinoa, if needed. In a second bowl, whisk together rice milk and vinegar and eggs, add to flour mixture. Add in diced jalapenos and chili powder and stir just until combined. Transfer batter to baking dish sprayed with non-stick spay, spread out evenly and then scatter remaining 1/8cup quinoa over the top. Bake until cooked through and golden brown around the edges, about 30 minutes.
 I will admit that is was not my favorite cornbread. I am used to a slightly sweeter cornbread, and this was anything but. It had a nice denseness and the texture was fine. It was a little on the bland side, however, even after my addition of jalapenos and chili powder. If I do make this again, I will cook the quinoa in vegetable stock. I will also add either agave nectar or unsweetened applesauce. Never the less, it never hurts to try something new.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Free Time Friday

I went to bed last night with high hopes that the sleet would come early enough that we'd either be told to stay home from work or get a two hour delay. Alas, no such luck. However, I did opt to go in later and ride with Jason. This meant I got my workout done early, but not so early that I was still asleep. I decided to do Step Blast and Abs from Step Jump and Pump. It was a funny, sweaty workout.

Jason and I work across the street from one another and our offices are only about 7 blocks from our house. So riding in together made sense, plus I trust him driving on the ice more than me! When I got to the office there were only two others there. The whole building was pretty much empty as most employees just stay home and use personal time rather than brave the ice. The sleet was coming down, but it wasn't terribly slick at that point. Only five brave souls in my immediate area ended up showing up. By noon it was coming down and coating the streets completely. The big boss gave the thumbs up to get the heck out of dodge by 12:30. Talk about a Friday treat! Workout already done, leaving early, free time for a change. Here are a few pictures to show how it looked outside. This is not snow, only sleet.
So, what's a gal to do with some actual free time? While really wanted to just sit on the couch and be completely lazy, it's just no in my nature. I did need to make some dog treats for an order. So that was easy enough. I also started the cashew cream for a recipe I plan to make tomorrow from Tal Ronnen's book The Conscious Cook: Delicious Meatless Recipes That Will Change the Way You Eat Oh, made some more White Cheeseless Queso. Whittled down the laundry pile. Oh, and I did decide to go ahead and do my weight workout that I would normally have done on Saturday. I have a baby shower at 11 am then mom and sis coming up right after. I didn't want to feel rushed, and since I had the time this afternoon, I just got it done. I was a good workout and I was able to go up in weights per the rotation suggestion. Felt good. Today was the last workout for Week 4 of the Total-Body Training rotation. I did 3 sets of 15 reps of the following as supersets:

SS #1
Triceps - Weighted Dips
Calves - Dumbbell Calf Raises

SS #2
Chest - Decline Dumbbell Press
Back - Double arm rows

SS #3
Quads - Step Ups (12" step)
Shoulders - Front Raises

I did add 2 sets of 6 reps of preacher curls (I will win this battle) and 2 sets of 12 reps alternating plie squats.

Jason and I had time on our hands this evening and we both wanted to try a new recipe out. I have a few blogging buddies who swear by Kabocha Squash (Alyson & Allie). I finally got my hands on one at the Asian market last weekend and have been trying to figure out just how to use this beauty. I found plenty of soup recipes, lots for roasting, but this one in particular caught my eye. The original recipe is by Sunset and is Roasted Fish with Kabocha Coulis. Seeing as how I'm vegetarian, the fish part wasn't going to work. However, it's a very versatile recipe and proteins can be easily changed out. So, here is my take on the original.

Quorn Cutlets with Kabocha Coulis
Ingredients 
About 1 tsp olive oil
Seas salt and pepper to taste
6  oz fresh shiitake or portobello mushrooms (I used tried dried shiitakes)
1 tbsp minced garlic
1/2 cup low-sodium vegetable broth
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup frozen shelled soybeans
Kabocha coulis (see below)

Directions
Wipe off mushrooms; trim off and discard stems for shiitakes (tough stem ends only for portobollos). Cut mushrooms into 1/2-inch chunks.

Note: If using dried mushrooms, skip the first part of next step and simply add to broth to reconstitute and add the garlic to broth as well.
In a non-stick skillet, over medium-high heat, stir mushrooms and garlic in 1 teaspoon oil until mushrooms are limp, about 5 minutes. Add broth, tomato sauce, and soybeans; simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until soybeans are tender to bite, about 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Cook Quorn according to package.

Mound 1/4 of the soybean mixture in the center of each of dinner plate and top with a Quorn cutlet, and spoon Kabocha coulis equally around soybean mixture.

Kabocha Coulis
Ingredients
1/2 lb  Kabocha or butternut squash
1/2 white onion, chopped
1/2 tbsp chopped fresh ginger
1/2 tsp olive oil
1/2 teaspoon  ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1 1/2 to 2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
Sea salt and pepper to taste 

Directions
Rinse squash and cut in half lengthwise. Scoop out seeds (save to toast); with a small, sharp knife, pare peel and discard. Cut squash into 1-inch chunks; you should have about 2 cups.

In a 3- to 4-quart nonstick pan over medium-high heat, stir onion and ginger in olive oil until onion is very limp, 8 to 10 minutes. Add cumin and curry powder; stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add 1 1/2 cups broth and the squash; bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat, and simmer until squash is tender when pierced, 18 to 20 minutes.

In a blender or food processor, holding down lid with a towel, puree squash mixture, in batches, until smooth. Add more broth if too thick. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Updated Note: I completely forgot to review this dish. It was super tasty. Full of a variety of textures and flavors. The tangy tomato sauce was offset by the velvety, slightly sweet coulis. The chewiness of the mushrooms paired well with the bite from the edamame and again the smooth coulis. This was a winner.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Thursday Rest Day & Cookbook Review

Taking a Rest Day
My body is telling me to take a rest day today. I am really sore from the weight workouts this week. The weather is getting gloomy too, never good for the mood or energy levels. We're in for a chance of ice overnight and snow into the morning. WIth any luck, we will have a delayed schedule tomorrow and come in late (or not at all). In that case, I can workout in the morning.

We were supposed to be going to members' only event at the arts center this evening. The event began at 6:30, so a workout would have been rushed anyway. Especially trying to squeeze that in between getting dinner on the table early. Tonight was nothing fancy. Sorry, no fantastic new recipes ;-) Just the standard, in-a-hurry go-to of Lentil Burger with Sweet Potato "Fries." Not that I'm complaining mind you. Very little work or clean up involved. I really enjoyed that after my week of recipe testing. I make huge messes.

Talking Cookbooks
So, instead of posting my dinner, I thought I'd talk about one of my new cookbooks: Tal Ronnen's The Conscious Cook: Delicious Meatless Recipes That Will Change the Way You Eat I'm in love with this one. I've been reading it before bed, making notes and such. I'll be honest, I have not made anything from it just yet. However, I do have a couple of recipes earmarked to make possibly this weekend. Very excited about it actually. These dishes are the ones I'd LOVE to have served to me at a fancy restaurant. Since very few restaurants around here would ever make anything so divine, I'll just have to do it myself!

This cookbook is most definitely a foodie, cheffy book. It is for people who really enjoy spending time creating their meals. It is not, nor does it claim to be, a cookbook for quick, easy meals. At first glance, the recipes are rather intimidating. Some are two pages, yes, two whole long pages. However, the key (in my unprofessional opinion) is to thoroughly read through the recipe before discounting it. This is a book to be read, really read.

Tal does an excellent job of breaking down the dish into main components, mini recipes if you will. When broken down and tackled one piece at at time, it's no longer quite so intimidating. Some of the recipes do require some pre-planning. Most of the recipes are not the type you just throw together on a whim. No, these are not Rachel Ray 30-Minute Meals. No Sandra Lee's Semi-Homemade either. But don't let that put you off, unless you just really hate to get in the kitchen and cook. First, you'll want to pick a dish out and plan ahead. I firmly believe that if you take the time to study the recipe and plan ahead, then the dishes will come together fairly easily. I think they will most definitely be worth the effort involved.

Additionally, if you look at these mini recipes, you will find fantastic tips and tricks to use with other dishes that you may already be preparing such as vegan ricottas, homemade vegan pastas, sauces, and side dishes.

The photography is fantastic. The dishes just jump off the page and make your mouth water. I also love how he has incorporated interviews that make it more personal. He introduces the book with his personal take on veganism. It's not preachy, fussy, political. He's honest and to the point. He doesn't make you feel guilty if you do eat vegetarian, or even if you are a meat-eater. These are recipes that anyone would enjoy. You don't have to be a vegan to appreciate these dishes or this cookbook.

Do you have a vegan or vegetarian cookbook that you would highly recommend?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Gettin' Over Hump Day with Workout and Lasagna

Hump Day Workout
This morning Jason got up at 5 am to go to a master's swim class. I thought I was going to fall back asleep, but was wide awake at 5:15. I decided to embrace that rarity and get my cardio done. I opted for HiiT Pyramid because there's no equipment involved for set up. It's really only about 25 minutes so I repeated it for a total of 43 minutes. This is a fun workout, and it was a good workout for me this morning. Much better than yesterday. After, I stretched and even started prepping for dinner tonight. I felt so accomplished by 6:30!

I did hit the gym for weights. Warmed up for 10 minutes on the treadmill, then did 4 sets of 8 reps of each exercise as supersets increasing 1.25-2% from last week.

SS #1
Shoulders - Arnold Press
ss w/
Quads - Hack Squats

SS #2
Biceps - Incline Dumbbell Curls
ss w/
Triceps - Lying Triceps Extension

SS #3
Chest - Incline Barbell Press
ss w/
Back - Pullovers

Lesson learned: Oh, Monday I forgot my weight gloves. I won't do that again. So today was far less torturous. Do you wear weight gloves?

Yoga? I have decided that I really need to add in a yoga workout to my routine. I used to dance (ballet) and was always super flexible. Ballet was like my meditation time. It just doesn't fit into my schedule anymore sadly. I would love to get some suggestions on yoga DVDs. What are your favorite yoga DVDs?

Hump Day Dinner
Dinner tonight was Eggplant spinach Lasagna with Cashew Ricotta. I absolutely love Japanese eggplant and greedily snatched some up when Jason and I went to the Asian market last weekend. They are great for substituting noodles in lasagna. Jason loves them breaded and crisped up (they make awesome snacks just like that). He would have thrown a small fit had I not breaded them. So I did, but tried to make it a little healthier by omitting the egg wash and only using a small amount of breadcrumbs.I also used a Cashew Ricotta recipe I found from Choosing Raw for the filling. I've been wanting to try a vegan ricotta, so I thought I could just test it out at least once.

Luckily I had time to make the cashew ricotta yesterday, and this morning I was able to get the eggplant baked. So, all I had to do was assemble everything after I got home from the gym.

Eggplant Lasagna with Cashew Ricotta
Ingredients:
2 large Japanese eggplant, thinly sliced into noodle-like strips
non-stick spray
breadcrumbs (preferably seasoned) - Optional
Spaghetti sauce (your favorite, I used a homemade)
Frozen spinach, thawed, and squeezed dry
Cashew ricotta (recipe below, next time I will use 1 1/2 of the recipe)
Part-skim mozzarella or vegan mozzarella (both optional)

Directions:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

If breading the eggplant: spray with a non-stick spray and lightly sprinkle with Italian Seasoned breadcrumbs. Bake for 30 minutes at 375 degrees, flipping once.

In casserole dish, spread thin layer of spaghetti sauce across bottom. Add single layer of eggplant strips, top with sauce, ricotta, spinach, cheese and repeat ending with cheese (if using). In not using cheese, I would suggest adding the ricotta as the last layer.

Cover and place in oven and bake for approximately 15 minutes. Remove cover and bake another 30 minutes or until bubbly.

Cashew Ricotta
Ingredients:
1 cup cashews, soaked for 2 hours or more

Juice of one lemon

¼ tsp salt

½ tsp white miso (optional)

4 sundried tomatoes, chopped (I used reconstituted)

¼ cup basil (I used dried)
water (see notes below, may try with soy, rice, almond milk instead)

Throw nuts in a food processor and process till ground well. Add salt, lemon juice, miso if using. Scrape sides of bowl and run processor again, this time drizzling some water in. Keep doing this until the cheese reaches the consistency you like. Add tomatoes and basil and pulse until they are well combined into the cheese.

I served this the lasagna with a side of sauteed green beans, red bell peppers, and onions and toasted homemade ciabatta bread.




Conclusion? The cashew ricotta was interesting. I have seen other recipes that use tofu instead or in addition to the nuts. I may give those a try just for comparison's sake. The tofu may make for a slightly creamier "ricotta." I think another option would be to use soy, rice, or almond milk rather than water to loosen it up rather than the water. However, after baking, ricotta tends to have a drier texture anyway. This was very tasty in this lasagna. I loved the tartness from the sundried tomatoes Jason went back for seconds!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Recipe Testing & Cardio Tuesday

Today ended up being a long one for me. It was a cold walk in again, but at least the wind didn't immediately undo my hairstyle. When I got to the office and saw my calendar for the day, I realized I pretty much had back-to-back meetings from 9 am until 2 pm. I opted to just stay through lunch and leave early (not really early as I put in my 8 of course).

Crappy Cardio Day
I was kind of excited about leaving at 3 and getting my workout done earlier. I thought I could put in a good cardio, some abs, then have time to experiment in the kitchen. Got a couple of ideas brewing that kept me up last night. Well, got home and started my workout - Cardio Fusion. It's usually a high calorie burner for me. I don't know what the deal was today though. I could not get my heart rate up and it'd drop the second I wasn't pushing all out. It was very frustrating. I've done that workout enough to know what my heart rate typically is throughout the workout. I was easily 5 and 6 below what I normally do. I don't know if it was my monitor or me. I felt like I had to be overly exaggerated with moves just to get my heart rate going and keep it from dropping. The highest I got was 162 and that's not normal for this workout. I was very frustrated and ended up getting downright ticked off with myself. I know that seems extreme, but I was just so frustrated. It felt like a waste of time and like I might hurt myself in the end.

This isn't the first time. I seriously don't know if I should blame the monitor or if it's an over training issue. Over the past three weeks, I have cut back by at least an hour. I was working out right at 8 hours a week. Two weeks in a row I did 6:45, and last week was 7:15. I thought that cutting back would help.

Have you ever had that happen? How much do you typically workout during a week (cardio and weights)?

Recipe Testing
By the time I got into the kitchen, I wasn't in such a chipper mood. But I had resolved myself into trying a few new things, one was more about getting a piece of the puzzle prepped to make assembly easier for another day.

I absolutely love lasagna, but not how bad it is for you. A few times I've made lasagna using Japanese eggplant in lieu of noodles. I wanted to try to make it even healthier, so I found a recipe for a cashew ricotta to try out. So I made that today. I'll post about it later.

My uber-healthy blogger buddy Alicia @ Vegan Epicurean is having a Healthy Cooking Challenge.  The goal is to take a childhood or family favorite dish and veganize it and make it healthy. I couldn't think of anything in particular that I just craved from my childhood. Until the middle of last night that is. My mom used to make a Broccoli, Rice, Cheese Casserole that I adored. It used white rice, Velveeta cheese, cream of mushroom soup, onions, and frozen broccoli. Oh it was creamy and good! How to make that vegan? Healthy? I thought of Alicia's Cheeseless Queso that I've been playing around with. Surely that could be made to resemble melted Velveeta and creamy enough to take the place of cream of mushroom soup. So here's the method to my madness:

Vegan Vegetable "Cheeze" Casserole
Ingredients:
"Cheeze Sauce"
1/2 cup raw cashews soaked 2 hours, rinsed, drained
1/2 cup oatmeal, ground
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 tsp turmeric
3 tbsp nutritional yeast
1/2 small yellow onion minced
sea salt and pepper to taste

1 cup wheat berries
3 1/2 cups water
approximately 1/4 cup dried shiitake mushrooms chopped
1 tbsp minced garlic
sea salt & pepper to taste
1 bag frozen mixed vegetables (broccoli, carrots, cauliflower) or steamed fresh broccoli (I was out)
1/2 box soft silken tofu (puree in blender to make creamier)

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cook wheat berries in water approximately 1 hour until soft. After about 45 minutes, add in shiitake mushrooms, garlic, salt, and pepper.

Meanwhile, puree cashews, oatmeal, water, and nutritional yeast until completely smooth. Add to heavy sauce pot along with onions, salt & pepper. Let cook until thickens.

In round casserole dish, combine all ingredients. Top with additional nutritional yeast flakes (optional). Bake for approximately 30 minutes.


I served with Tuscan Breasts by Gardein. The product is vegan and is touted by Tal Ronnen in his book The Conscious Cook: Delicious Meatless Recipes That Will Change the Way You Eat

While the casserole didn't completely replicate mom's casserole, it was quite tasty. It did have a creamy, cheesy flavor. I do wish I'd had the fresh broccoli, but the frozen veggies worked. I think it'd also work well with pearled barley. I really enjoy the texture of the wheat berries and the grown-up flavors of the shiitake mushrooms. Maybe next time I will try to make a mushroom sauce rather than cook the mushrooms with the grain.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Minestrone & Weights on a Monday

Why are Mondays so darn difficult? This morning felt harder because it was cold and windy for the walk into the office. Not sure why I bothered to do my hair. It was sort of a blah, blue day for me. At least it was sunny out, so that helped my mood a little bit.

Workout
After work, I headed directly to the gym. I tortured myself on the dreadmill then the elliptical before hitting the weights. I will admit that for a fleeting moment I had one of those "I could run all day" feelings. It did subside. Today is the first weight workout for Week 4 of the Total-Body Training rotation. These are the same exercises done last week, but this week they are done as supersets with a 1.25-2% increase in weight. Each exercise is done as four sets of five reps.

SS #1
Back - Wide Grip Pullups
Chest - Barbell Bench Press

SS #2
Quads - Squats
Hamstrings - Still Leg Deadlifts

SS #3
Biceps - Barbell Curls
Triceps - Close Grip Bench Press

Jason was supposed to meet me up there to spot, but got side-tracked at work. So I ended up having to get a staff member to spot on bench presses so that set was not done as a superset. I'm glad I hadn't planned on spin tonight as there were some electrical issues in the building and they were having to close the gym at 6 pm (it's typically 24 hours).

Dinner
The temps are dropping again this week so soup with a side of toasted ciabatta sounded so appealing. Using a few odds and ends ingredients, I pulled together Minestrone My Way.

Minestrone My Way

Ingredients:
1 small white onion, diced
1 zucchini, diced
1-2 carrots, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 green bell pepper, diced
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 can kidney beans, rinsed and drained

32 oz. low-sodium vegetable broth
1 can no-salt added diced tomatoes
Spices to taste: sea salt, black pepper, oregano, basil, parsley, red pepper flakes
1/2 small can tomato paste (optional)
1/2 a bunch kale, cleaned, de-stemmed, and rough chopped

Directions:
In large soup pot, saute onion, carrots, peppers, and garlic in small amount of extra virgin olive oil until onions soften. Add in tomatoes, broth, zucchini, and beans. Add in spices and paste and let simmer until veggies are cooked. Add in the kale and cook until wilted and cooked through. 





This wasn't an earth-shattering new recipe or anything, but it definitely hit the spot.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Shock Cardio and Soup Sunday

Well thankfully today I managed to wake up on the right side of the bed. The sun was even out and shining for a change. Though, sadly, it has clouded back up again. I was feeling really lazy about a cardio workout I must admit. My legs aren't totally sore from weights yesterday, but there is just that hint of tiredness going on. I managed to do 2 Shock Cardio HiiT workouts though. I started with 40/20 and then kept on going with 30/30. Good times. I then opted for a pilates-based abs workout from STS Abs Circuit. I don't do that one often because it's 20 minutes. But it was very calming and relaxing. I'm glad I chose that one today.

I had some errands to run, so I did that while Jason got out on his bike for a ride. You have to take advantage of even the remote ray of sunshine when you can. After, we decided to be bad and have a late, unhealthy lunch at a local pizza joint called Vino's. It's an interesting spot to say the least. You'll see men in business suits, then people covered in tattoos and more piercing than you care to count. Very eclectic dive. It's a fun place to sit back, indulge in pizza and beer, and people watch. Oh, and they have their own microbrewery on site.

So, after stuffing our faces with pizza, we felt like dinner should be on the lighter side. You know, balance it all out right?? I decided to try a Hot and Sour Coconut Soup from The Urban Vegan. The temps dropped here throughout the day, and a soup sounded pretty tasty by the time dinner rolled around.

Hot and Sour Coconut Soup
Ingredients:
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 stalk organic celery, sliced (did not use)
1 carrot cubed (I used 2)
1 1-inch piece ginger, grated
1 tbsp canola oil (I used less)
1/2 - 1 heaping tbsp hot-and-sour paste, to taste (vegan tom yum)
1 15 oz can mock curry abalone or 1 cup seitan or firm tofu cubed (I used Quorn Chik'n Tenders)
2 tbsp agave nectar
6 dried shiitake mushrooms, chopped
1 14 oz can lite coconut milk
2 cans water (use coconut milk can)
Juice of 1/2 lime
1/3 lb rice noodles, broken
Fresh Thai basil, scallions, or cilantro for garnish (I used cilantro)\


Directions:
Saute onion, garlic, celery, carrot, and ginger in oil on medium heat until soft. Add hot-and-sour paste and saute a few minutes until combined. Add protein, agave, and mushrooms, saute for a few more minutes, then toss in the coconut milk and water. Bring to a boil and add the lime juice.

Add noodles. Stir well and turn heat down to low. Cook on low until noodles are soft, about 15 minutes. Careful to not overcook.

Garnish with Thai basil, chopped scallions, or cilantro.




This soup was so fresh and refreshing. It felt like a major indulgence. This is most definitely a keeper recipe.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Sucky Saturday? I Think Not


Sucky Start 
I totally woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. I was a major Pissy Pants. I had an order of dog treats that I needed to bake up. I should have done them Friday night of course. I knew that too. I was supposed to have gone to visit my mom and sister and take the treats for a customer in that city. After getting them bake, I found out that my nephew was really sick, so no visit. My pups, however, a most decidedly happy about the acquisition of doggy treats. I'll have to make more next weekend now. So, I procrastinated on starting my workouts and my mood only kept getting worse (if that was actually possible). I finally did what my sis would say: put on my big girl panties and sucked it up. I did Shock Cardio Athletic Step. I really enjoy that one. It's about 35 mins. Time flies by. Then I did weights. Today was the last weight workout for week 3 of my Total Body Training rotation. I did 3 sets of 15 reps of each exercise:

Triceps - Double Arm Kickbacks
Calves - Dumbbell Calf Raises
Chest - Decline Dumbbell Press
Back - Double Arm Rows
Legs - Step Ups (on 12" step)
Shoulders - Front Raises

I did also sneak in 2 sets of 6 reps alternating bicep curls and 2 sets of 12 reps of pullovers for back.

Saturday Shopping
After working out, Jason and I decided to take a trip to the Asian market. The first thing I spotted - kabocha!!!! Thanks so much Allie for the tip of where to find it. I have been searching for this beaut for months now. I have a few blogging buddies who rave about it so that led me to my search. Now I have it. Now I don't know what to do with it. But, I have it! I also came home with Japanese egglplant (love love love that stuff), fresh green beans, bok choy, miso paste, tom yum (vegan), and dried shiitakes, 4 boxes of silken tofu (variety of firmness)  all for a mere 22 bucks. I'd call that a pretty good deal.

So Not Sucky Saturday After All
In the end, the day turned around and wasn't sucky at all. After polishing off the rest of the White Cheeseless Queso, Jason worked on setting up his new toy - PlayStation 3 (for Blu-ray capabilities I was told). The storms finally set in, so I got comfy in my sweats and started working on dinner. I was inspired by Alyson's quesadilla. I love the flavor and texture combination of sweet potatoes and black beans, and had some kale that needed to be used. I wasn't in the mood for soup, so quesadillas or burritos sounded like a good idea (especially after having snacked on the white cheeseless queso). So, I made Sweet Potato, Black Bean, & Kale Burritos.

Sweet Potato, Black Bean, & Kale Burritos
Ingredients:
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 sweet potato (or 1 small), diced
1/2 bunch curly kale
1/2 white onion, diced
1/2 green bell pepper, diced
minced garlic
Spices to taste: sea salt, black pepper, red pepper, cumin, nutmeg, chili powder
Whole-wheat tortilla wraps
cheese/vegan cheese (optional)

Directions:
Prepare the kale by removing from the steams and cleaning thouroughly. Blanch in boiling water approximately 2 minutes then transfer to bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Once cooled, squeeze out excess water.

Cook diced sweet potato in microwave for approximately 5 minutes. Meanwhile, saute onion, bell pepper, and garlic in sauce pan with drizzle of olive oil until soft. Add in beans, sweet potatoes, and spices and cook until sweet potatoes are soft. Lightly mash mixture. Stir in kale and re-season if needed.

Fill tortilla with mixture and wrap into burrito. As an option (which is what I did), toast the burritos in non-stick skillet. Serve with pico de gallo and creamy cilantro sauce (used Urban Vegan recipe).
I should mention that this made quite a bit of filling. After making 3 very healthy burritos, I still had enough to make at least 2 more. I did save the filling and plan to reheat and serve over pearled barley perhaps. It may very well be good cold as a salad.

Cheeseless Queso 2 Ways

If you're looking for a vegan "cheese" dip or simply looking for a healthier alternative to that oh so good, but oh so bad for the waste line indulgence that cheese dip is, you may want to give one of these two Cheeseless Quesos a try!

The first queso comes from Alicia from Vegan Epicurean.The second version is another version of the original.

Cheeseless Queso

Ingredients:
½ cup raw cashews, soaked and drained (30-60 mins)
½ cup oatmeal, ground into flour
1 ½ cups water
2 teaspoon onion flakes, dried
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
1 clove garlic, peeled
14 ounces diced tomatoes (or substitute an equal amount of salsa if you like heat)
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon hot crushed peppers (wet hots, finely minced pickled peppers), or to taste
½ teaspoon chili powder
1 dash cayenne, or to taste
salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
Combine the cashews, oatmeal, water, onion flakes, turmeric, and garlic in your blender. Puree until the mixture is smooth. Pour the mixture into a heavy bottom saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring often to keep it from sticking. Add the canned diced tomatoes with their liquid (or salsa if using), paprika hot crushed peppers, chili powder and cayenne and stir to combine. Taste the mixture and add salt and pepper, as you desire. Cook the mixture (continuing to stir) until it is hot and the texture you want. You can add more liquid if it gets too thick.

Personal Notes:
  • I had some chipotle powder and flakes that I used to add in some heat. 
  • I didn't have onion flakes so I just used finely diced white onion. 
  • I also had some fire roasted tomato flakes that I added.
  • Last tweak, I added cumin powder.
I don't think I originally pureed the cashews enough, so I put everything back into the blender to puree again. So it was super smooth and creamy. This was an awesome recipe. I didn't really know what to expect, but I am really glad that I found it and tried it. It's a great alternative to a "yellow" queso. No, it doesn't taste completely like cheese, but it's a super healthy alternative that's a definite keeper! Hubby even took this to his office (all men) and left with a perfectly empty bowl.


White Cheeseless Queso
Ingredients:
½ cup raw cashews, soaked and drained (30-60 mins)
½ cup oatmeal, ground into flour
1 3/4 cups water
1/4 - 1/3 cup red onion, finely diced

1 clove garlic, peeled
14 oz can Rotel
1/8 cup pickled jalapenos diced
1 tbsp chipotle pepper flakes
1 dash cayenne, or to taste
sea salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
Combine the cashews, oatmeal, water, and garlic in your blender. Puree until the mixture is smooth. Pour the mixture into a heavy bottom saucepan, add onions, Rotel, and remaining spices and cook over low heat, stirring often to keep it from sticking. Taste the mixture and add salt and pepper, as you desire. Cook the mixture (continuing to stir) until it is hot and the texture you want. You can add more liquid if it gets too thick.



The result is a "white" version of the original queso. It was absolutely fabulous. I promise you that you could serve this to any cheese dip addict and they would be very content digging in!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Fabulous Friday, Follow Friday

Free Time Friday
Today was a rest day for me in regards to a workout. I am still a little sore from weights on Wednesday, then doing step yesterday sort of put my legs over the top. I  typically set up Friday as my schedule rest day anyway. It's like a little treat to myself: week over and a little free time.

So what did I do with the free time? Why shopping of course. I won't brag too much, but I did find some great bargains! Besides, I think that there was some consensus a while back that shopping is indeed a form of cardio. So, in a way, I did still workout. Right? ;-)

Pizza Friday
Dinner was the typical homemade pizza. While I blogged, Jason made the Cheeseless Queso with a few tweaks. He wanted to try to make it more like a white cheese dip. Tomorrow I'll post his version. While snacking on the cheeselsess queso, we played pool  and let the bread machine do the manual labor for the pizza. We didn't do anything super exciting for the pizza toppings. I'm a sucker for the Greek style toppings and the other half is typically a variety of veggies. But we did eat at the table like grown ups. I really do think that makes meals a bit more special. Even pizza.



What are ways you treat yourself on Fridays?

Follow Friday
Oh, and in the spirit of Twitter's Follow Friday, I thought it'd be nice to give a shout out to some of the bloggers who inspire me in some way. I have found fabulous new recipes, gym inspiration, new appreciation for the little things, and doses of simple, fun, humor. I hope you check out their blogs.

Alicia @ Vegan Epicurean
Allie @ Live Laugh Eat
Alyson @ Nourished Fitness
Amie @ The Healthy Apple
Anna @ Newlywed, Newly Veg
Jessica @ EatDrinkBreatheSweat
Jolene @ To be Determined
Suzie @ Suzanne Trying to Maintain
Ordinary Vegetarian

And here are a just a few new ones that I recently found:

Angela @ Oh She Glows
Healthy Hostess
Ameena @ Fancy That...Fancy This
Heather @ sideofsneakers
Kris @ iheartwellness
Kristen @ The Swanky Dietitian
Jenna @ Health and Happiness
Naomi @ One Fit Foodie
Nicole @ Geek Turned Athlete

Who are some of the bloggers that inspire you? Found any new blogs lately?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Getting it Done on Thursday + New Recipe

Workout Honesty
I'll be completely honest and admit that I totally wanted to blow off my cardio workout today. During lunch, I had set up my step and popped in the DVD. It was all ready to go. That was a good thing, because when I got home, it was either get it done, or spend the time moving everything back to storage. So, I got it done. It wasn't the best workout. I did do a lot of clock watching, but...I got it done. I did Cathe Friedrich's Hardcore Extreme - Hi/Low Premix and abs.

Tasty Dinner
After trying the Ziti with Sun Dried Tomato "Cream" Sauce, it made me start to think about other ways to use the basics of that sauce. There is a Paula Dean recipe that I actually tweaked to make healthier, Lemon Linguine. Her recipe calls for sour cream and Parmesan cheese. The easiest tweak was a fat-free sour cream, less cheese, and added veggies. I thought that the basics of the tofu "cream" sauce would work well with the lemon flavors of her lemon pasta recipe, thus omitting the sour cream. Rather than using Parmesan cheese, I tried used nutritional yeast flakes. So, here is my updated (vegan) version of a Creamy Lemon Sauce using artichokes, spinach, and whole-wheat pasta. This is a super fast recipe that comes together very quickly. I think it would also be good over pearled barely, wheat berries, or possibly quinoa. This recipe made enough for 3-4 healthy servings.

Whole-Wheat Rotini with Creamy Lemon Sauce
Ingredients:
8 oz. whole-wheat rotini (or pasta of your choice)
1/2 white onion, minced
1 tbsp minced garlic (more or less to taste)
1/2 can artichoke hearts, diced (optional)
1/2 package soft silken tofu
2 tsps balsamic vinegar
zest of whole lemon (divide into 2 piles)
juice of one whole lemon
Lemon pepper spice blend (to taste)
Red chili flakes, to taste (optional)
Sea salt and fresh black pepper, to taste
Dried parsley, to taste
3 tbsp nutritional yeast flakes
Fresh spinach


Directions:
In large non-stick skillet, saute onions and garlic in small amount of olive oil until soft and translucent. Add in artichoke hearts.

Cook pasta according to package. Drain, but reserve some cooking liquid.

Meanwhile, in a food processor, blend the remaining ingredients except for nutritional yeast  and reserving half of the zest until smooth. Use pasta water, white wine, and/or soy milk to thin sauce if needed (I did not need to thin it out using the soft silken tofu).

Combine pasta, sauce, spinach, into skillet with the onions and garlic. Add the nutritional yeast and re-season if needed. Let simmer on low until sauce is heated. Top with remaining zest and additional parsley and serve.



I enjoy trying to take recipes and make them healthier. What are some recipes you have made your own?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

No Whimpy Wednesday

Working out Wednesday
So today I almost managed to talk myself out of my workout. Even worse, it was going to be embarrassingly easy too! Once I realized just how easy it was going to be to skip out, I knew I had to get my butt up to the gym ASAP. I'm glad I did because it ended up being a good workout in the end, and I had so much more energy after. The original intention was to do my weights then spin. I ended up running for about 35 minutes then hitting the weights. I'm in my 3rd week of the Total-Body Training workout and the number of sets increased. So today was 4 sets of 8 reps of each of the following exercises. It was a great workout. I went to complete failure for a couple of the exercises on the last sets, so I know I was pushing myself:

Shoulders - Arnold Press

Quads - Hack Squats

Biceps - Incline Dumbbell Curls

Triceps - Overhead Tricep Extension

Chest - Incline Barbell Press

Back - Chinups

What is your favorite weight exercise? I love working out biceps and back. 


Easy Dinners Welcome
Even though I was feeling energized after my workout, I had absolutely no desire to make dinner. Creative juices have dried up today. It's night's like this when I'm really happy that I take the time to make and freeze up lentil burgers. So dinner was lentil burgers with baked sweet potato "fries." I topped the burgers as I almost always do with spinach and roasted red bell pepper. I did use some fantastic vidalia onion mustard that I picked up along the way. I'm a sucker for sauces of all kinds.

Is there any sort of food or condiment that you can't ever pass up?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Curry, Peanut, Tofu...Oh My

Well, yesterday while I was in the midst of making the Portobello Burritos from The Urban Vegan: 250 Simple, Sumptuous Recipes from Street Cart Favorites to Haute Cuisine I also decided to make her Curried Wheat Berry-Spelt Salad. This one takes a while to make simply because wheat berries take a while to cook up. The curry sauce comes together quickly though, so if you have pre-made wheat berries and spelt, then this would come together in a snap. I, however, did not so it took close to two hours to cook. The sauce uses tahini, curry powder, lemon juice, agave nectar, and other Thai-inspired spices. Again, it came together very easily and would likely make a good sauce over steamed veggies and rice as well.The veggies in this salad included carrots, bell pepper, and onion. I added peas as well for additional color.

I will admit a few snafus I had with this one. First off, I wasn't thinking straight and for some reason thought "Spelt, well I have spelt flour." Duh, spelt as in the grain. Oh well, I just substituted with more wheat berries. I also missed the part about soaking and draining raisins rather than soaking them then cooking them along with the wheat berries. So, grains a little sweater than they probably would have been otherwise. Lastly, the curry paste I had was the opposite of spicy. I know that I'll be finding another brand to use. Anyway, salad was complete and ready for later use.

I thought that some sort of spicy Thai baked tofu would pair well with the flavors of the salad. Unfortunately, I didn't find any marinades or sauces that sounded like what I was going for in her cookbook. So, after searching around, I came up with the following based on a Spicy Peanut Marinade Sauce from Vegan Verve:

Spicy Peanut Tofu

Ingredients:
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup peanut butter (I used natural)
1 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp agave nectar
1 1/2 tsp minced garlic
3/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 pound extra-firm tofu*

*Note - freezing tofu for a at least three day, then allowing to thaw in the refrigerator will give you a completely different texture (which I prefer). You are able to easily squeeze out the moisture. In turn, the tofu will soak up more of a sauce or marinade.

Directions:
Whisk together all ingredients making sure that the peanut butter is consistent throughout. This can be used as either a sauce or a marinade.

As a Marinade
Pour some of the marinade in the bottom of a large baking dish. Place tofu in marinade and marinate for at least 3 hours to get the best flavor. Be sure to flip the tofu/tempeh a few times during the time frame you choose. Bake tofu at 350 for approximately 1 hour, flipping once.

As a Sauce

Heat on medium/medium-low until it thickens.

I served the baked tofu over zucchini "noodles" that I sauteed with lite soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, red pepper flakes, fresh ginger, and garlic. I had extra marinade so I let that thicken to top the tofu.

I really enjoyed the flavors of all of the dishes. The wheat berry salad was slightly sweet, which nicely offset the heat from the spicy peanut tofu. The zucchini added that extra touch of green and nicely replaced noodles. Do you have a favorite tofu marinade?




I was glad to have had this mostly pre-made. I ended up getting really sick at work after taking my antibiotic this morning. I took it right before I left the house and ate my overnight oats within 15 minutes. Apparently that wasn't soon enough. I was pretty green and spent the majority of the day on the couch. My workouts have been sidelined and that really stresses me out. On a positive note, my sinuses seem to be doing so much better today. Hopefully tomorrow I can get back to my workouts. 


Thanks to everyone for the well wishes! I really do appreciate it.