Margarita Pizza (vegan, gf, veggie packed + cheap AF)

Ready for a simple pizza that will change your weeknight dinner game?

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I love pizza. All pizza. I actually worked as a pizza chef for two years in NYC and trust me you can only stand in front of a 600 degree oven for 12 hours a day if you really, truly LOVE something. But staying to a vegan or gluten free diet can leave you subject to mediocre pizza. There are some places out there changing the game like : Double Zero and Screamer’s Pizza but you can’t always travel for a good slice.

I was looking for an option that uses ingredients everyone has access to, super easy and can be executed cheap AF (of course). As I try to put my cauliflower sauce on just about anything, I thought I would try it on pizza! So off to the land of alternative prepared pizza crusts…Trader Joe’s.

I wanted to build a pizza that was full of bold flavors, color and a solid texture to replicate any great pizza. I went with the Broccoli and Kale frozen pizza crust (for a pop of color) for the base and keeping it classic with tomatoes, garlic, basil to pair with the cauliflower cream sauce.

As long as you can move past eliminating stretchy cheese and a puffed traditional crust - this recipe delivers on flavor and texture with the bonus of being filled with nutrients!

Without further delay check out the ingredients below and run to the grocery!

Margarita Pizza

Pizza Ingredients

Serves 2

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  • Gluten-Free Pizza Crust (Here is what I used)

  • 1 cup cauliflower cream sauce (recipe below)

  • 2 vine ripened tomatoes

  • 1/2 head garlic, minced

  • 1/2 bunch basil

  • 1 Tbsp thyme (optional)

  • Olive Oil

Instructions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

  1. Make the cream sauce and set aside!

  2. Slice the tomatoes into 1/4 inch rounds (do not go thinner or else they will burn in the oven) and mince 4-5 cloves of garlic.

  3. Lay the tomato slices in a single layer on an oiled sheet tray. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt. Sprinkle half of the minced garlic over top (and tablespoon of thyme if using). Place in the oven and roast for 10-12 minutes until the tomatoes start to caramelize around the edges.

  4. Prepare the pizza crust according to the manufacturing ingredients. If using the Trader Joe’s crust I suggest following the instructions for the ‘crunchier’ crust to ensure it could withstand the toppings.

  5. Once crust is prepared, spread the cauliflower sauce over the top in an even layer. Sprinkle with minced garlic and arrange roasted tomatoes. Drizzle with olive oil and place back in the oven for 10 minutes until heated through.

  6. Remove, cut and top with fresh, torn basil.

  7. Enjoy!

Cauliflower Cream Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 head of cauliflower, steamed

  • 1/2 cup cashews, soaked in boiling water for at least 20 minutes

  • 1/2 yellow onion

  • 3 cloves garlic

  • 1 tbsp olive oil

  • 1 tsp salt

  • 1/4 cup non-dairy milk

  • 1 1/2 tbsp tamari

  • 1/2 tbsp miso

  • 2- 3 tbsp lemon juice (to taste)

  • 1 tsp ground mustard seed

  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

  • 4 tbsp nutritional yeast

Instructions

  1. Cut cauliflower down into smaller pieces. Place large sauce pan with 2 inches of water. Cover, bring to a boil and allow to steam until fork tender.

  2. Meanwhile, dice onion and garlic. Saute with olive oil until onions are translucent.

  3. Add mustard seed, nutmeg, nutritional yeast and miso. Stir and cook until spices are fragrant.

  4. Add in non-dairy milk and tamari over low heat. Allow to come to a simmer and remove from heat.

  5. In a blender or food processor, combine steamed cauliflower, soaked cashews and onion mixture. Blend until smooth, season with salt and lemon juice.








Squashing Chili Standards

Wow, how is it October over already?!

With the turn of a new month that means the experimentation for the best vegan chili must come to an end. This challenge has not only cleared my sinuses but helped me understand the heart of a good chili.

Before I took on this challenge, chili was just an excuse to empty my pantry with a sprinkle of chili powder. Now, I understand the difference between bases, stocks and found a method to accomplish that ideal umami flavor every bowl. Sure it takes a little more effort, but homemade stocks and chili pastes are worth the effort.

I began this challenge on the premise of 5 rules for an ideal chili. After my testing, it is time to rewrite the rules so that you can create the best fail-proof vegan chili every time.

4 Rules for the Best Vegan Chili

  1. Stock is boss. Homemade vegetable stock will add umami that is usually missing in a store bought veg stock. Check out the two stock recipes I stand by here and here. In a rush? Fortify your store bought stock with dried shitake mushrooms, miso and toasted walnuts. Allow to boil and simmer for 30-40 minutes. strain and use.

  2. Chile paste or bust. Making your own chile paste allows for your to control the heat and flavor profiles of your chili. Chili paste allows for depth of flavor in your chili, as the various chilis hit your tastebuds you will get heat, smoke and char that can mimic the “meaty“ profiles of traditional chili.

  3. Beans, beans the magical fruit. Beans add body, creaminess and texture to your chili. This enhances the heartiness of the dish without interfering with flavor. Make sure your beans are sturdy and never overcooked. *If using canned beans make sure to add them in last so that they do not break down.

  4. Minimal tomato. Tomatoes add a slight sweetness to your chili base, enhancing the flavors of the chilies. However, I suggest stick to the paste, canned diced tomatoes can add too much water to your base interfering with the umami of your stock.


Without further ado below is the fourth and final vegan chili of this October Chili Challenge. I have combined my favorite components of the previous chilis - like rich chocolate, thick chile forward base and meaty jackfruit - into a full bodied and hearty chili.

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Butternut Squash and Jackfruit Chili

Yields 6-8 servings

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  • 6 ancho chilies, rehydrated

  • 2 monita chilies, rehydrated

  • 2 jalapenos

  • 6 oz tomato paste

  • 1 large yellow onion, small dice

  • 1 cup carrots, small dice

  • 1 cup celery, small dice

  • 4 cloves garlic, minced

  • 3 cup butternut squash, about 1 large squash, ½ inch dice

  • 1 green bell pepper, ½ inch dice

  • 2 tbsp ground cumin

  • 1 tsp dried oregano

  • 1 tsp paprika

  • ½ tsp ground ginger

  • 1 can jackfruit

  • 2 cans beans, I used black beans and red kidney beans

  • 3 oz dark chocolate

  • 5 cups Brown Stock

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1. Place jalapenos on a sheet tray and roast for 15 minutes, until tender and starting to slit out of the skin.

2. Soak dried chilies in boiling water, for 30 minutes, until rehydrated and pliable.

3. Drain and rinse jackfruit, place into a small bowl and shred into bite size pieces. Toss in 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 tsp cumin, 1 tsp paprika and salt. Place onto a sheet tray and roast for 20-25 minutes until slightly browned.

4. In a large soup pot, heat 3 tbsp olive oil and add diced onion, carrot, celery, garlic and salt. Sauté until vegetables are tender and onions are translucent.

5. Add cumin, oregano, paprika and ginger. Allow to toast for about 2 minutes until fragrant.

6. Add diced butternut squash and bell pepper. Reduce heat to medium, to avoid burning,  allow to sauté for 10 minutes.

7. In a medium bowl or blender add tomato paste, jalepenos, chiles and ¼ cup water. Blend until smooth, adding more water if needed.

8. Add the chile mixture to the soup pot stirring to combine.

9. Add 4-5 cups of brown stock. Allow mix to cook on low until butternut squash is cooked through 10- 15 minutes.

10. Add in roasted jackfruit, drained beans and dark chocolate. Stir to combine.

11. Simmer for at least 10- 20 minutes for flavors to melt together.

12. Serve it up! Top it with diced avocado, red onion and cilantro.  





Ancho Average Chili

Next up on the chili challenge is decoding a classic Texas Chili.

We all know everything is bigger in Texas… but did you know how seriously they take their chili? Chili is Texas’ State Dish, also known as the Bowl of Red, gained its popularity out of necessity for all of the Cowboys looking for a hearty, warm dish after a day of labor. In order to keep tradition alive, the regulations on what can be called a Texas Red Chili is a strict rule book.

Regulations:

  1. Diced beef.

  2. Beef stock.

  3. Chili paste for the base.

  4. Thickened with Masa (corn flour).

  5. No tomatoes, no beans, no vegetables.

Well clearly turning this dish vegan, violates some MAJOR qualifications. But what fun are rules if you can’t break them?!

In this vegan version I changed it up a little.

1.     Diced beef. —> Tempeh and mushroom mix.

2.     Beef stock. —> Brown stock.

3.     Chili paste for the base.

4.     Thickened with Masa (corn flour).

5.     No tomatoes, no beans, no vegetables. —> Well, honestly this rule needed to change anyway.   

I will admit this chili does not have the coat-your-mouth fattiness of a traditional Texas Chili, but the flavor and texture profiles are spot on. With a mix of spicy and lightly smoked chilies the base of the chili has a great depth of flavor with a heat that slowly rises to the surface. The sauce is thickened just enough to coat the diced tempeh, soaking up the flavors of the chili for that slow cooked meaty feel.

Check it out for yourself. (And if you’re really into breaking the rules, spoon it over quinoa or cauliflower rice)

Vegan Texas Chili

Yield 6-8 servings  

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  • Dried chile: 3 Ancho chile, 2 Monita chile, 4 guajillo chile

  • Fresh chile: 2-3 fresno chile (depending on desired spice), 1 jalapeno

  • 3 cloves of garlic

  • 6 oz tomato paste

  • ¼ cup water

  • 1 yellow onion, small diced

  • 1 green bell pepper, small diced

  • 1 1/2 tsp cumin

  • 1 tsp paprika

  • 2 8 oz packages of Tempeh, ½ inch dice

  • ¼ cup tamari

  • 1 tbsp honey (or maple syrup)

  • 6 portobella mushroom caps, 1 inch dice

  • 3 tbsp Masa flour or corn flour

  • 4-5 cups of Brown Stock (recipe below)

  • 2 Tbsp white vinegar

 

1.     Dice the tempeh into ½ inch pieces. Transfer to a plastic bag and add tamari, ½ tsp cumin and honey. Shake to combine and set aside to marinade for at least 1 hour.

2.     To start the chili paste, toss fresh fresnos and jalapeno in the oven at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, until just roasted and starting to pop.

3.     In a medium bowl, place dried chiles and cover with hot water. Allow to sit for 25-30 minutes until softened.

 

4.     While the chiles are soaking, in a large soup pot heat 3 tbsp olive oil. Add diced onion and pepper, saute until onions are translucent. Add 1 tsp cumin and paprika, allowing to toast for 1 minute. Remove and set aside.

5.     In the same pot, add tbsp olive oil and sear diced portobella mushrooms, season with salt. Cook until tender and lightly browned, approx. 5 minutes. Remove and set aside.

6.     Next, sear the marinated tempeh. Place an even layer of the tempeh down to ensure that each piece can brown. This may take two or three rounds.

7.     Remove the tempeh and add to the cooked mushrooms.

 

8.     Back to the paste, remove the stems and seeds of the softened and roasted chiles.

9.     In a medium bowl (or blender if using), add cleaned chiles, ¼ cup water, garlic and tomato paste.

10.  Using an immersion blender, blend the chile mix until it is a smooth paste. Set aside.

 

11.  In the same soup pot over medium heat, whisk together 1 cup of brown stock and 3 tbsp of masa. Allow the mix to come to a shallow boil. The sauce will appear thickened and should coat the back of a spoon.

12.  Add the cooked onion mix, chile paste, mushrooms, tempeh and white vinegar. Cover with 4 cups of brown stock, until the ingredients are just covered. Add up to 1 cup more of stock if needed.

13.  Stir to combine, bring to a boil. Reduce the chili to a simmer and allow to cook for at least 1 hour. The longer the chili is allowed to simmer the better the flavor.

14.  To serve it up, garnish with scallion, avocado, parsley or (dairy free) sour cream.

 

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Brown Stock

Yields 8 cups

  • 2 yellow onions, rough chop

  • 1 carrot, rough chop

  • 1 parsnip, rough chop

  • 1 cup dried shitake mushroom

  • 4 cloves garlic, whole

  • 1 bay leaf

  • ½ bunch parsley

  • ¾ walnuts, toasted

  • ¾ cup French lentils, uncooked

  • 2 tbsp miso  

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1.     Rough chop vegetables, toss in olive oil, salt and miso paste.

2.     Transfer to a sheet tray and roast for 45-60 minutes, until the vegetables are tender and starting to caramelize.

3.     In a large soup pot, add roasted vegetables and the rest of the ingredients. Cover with 8 cups of water. Bring to a bowl, cover and let simmer for at least 2 hours.

4.     Once the stock liquid is a dark brown color, remove from heat.

5.     Strain the liquid and throw out solids. Store in fridge for 3-4 days or freeze for up to 4 months.





Chili Out

Hello fall! Although I will always miss those heated days, it is time to sit down, cozy on up with your favorite blanket and dive into some warming meals.  

No no, we are not discussing pumpkin spiced foods today, we are looking into something more chil-i.

A friend of my recently decided to start eating a plant based diet. While enjoying the way he feels and exploring new foods that he would have avoided in his carnivore days, he doesn’t feel vegans have mastered the art of chili. From his experience the vegan community has nailed many interpreted dishes. Veggie burgers are layered with texture, flavor and a fattiness that is present in beef patties. Vegan pastry and cakes are now just as indulgent as their buttered-up counterparts. Even vegan barbecue has made strides in locking in the slow-cooked and smoked flavor.  

But vegan chili has remained bland and uninspired. Sticking to the basics of veg and beans, vegan chili has become no more than a vegetable soup. Nothing of the hearty, stick-to-your-bones, fuel that chili was initially intended to do.

After this discussion, my friend challenged me to the ultimate chili cook off… to create 4 flavor packed, indulgent and mouth-watering chilies that even a cowboy would approve of.

Challenge accepted.

As I began to wrap my brain around the task I realized I actually haven’t made many chilis (meat or vegetarian) and certainly not one beyond canned beans and diced squash swimming in canned tomatoes. So I went to the drawing board to research what makes a great chili and the traditional variations of chili in the United States. Don’t worry, I will just summarize what I found…

TOP 5 CHILI REQUIREMENTS:

1. Rich dynamic flavor. A chili needs to incorporate sweet, bitter, spicy flavors rounded out with a fresh element.

2. Your traditional “beefy flavor,” which for vegan purposes we are going to attribute to umami.

3. Luscious beans, that add a creamy element to the chili without breaking apart.

4. Traditionally, a deep red sauce.

5. The chilies. No use for “chili powder” here. Unique, homemade blends of dried and roasted chilies are needed to achieve the perfect chili base that adds heat and depth of flavor.

5 TRADITIONAL CHILIS:

1. Chili Verde – a base of fresh peppers and tomatillos paired with white beans and shredded chicken or pork.

2. Texas Chili – deep red sauce with hearty pieces of red meat. NO beans and vegetables are best unseen.

3. Rocky Mountain Chili- deep red sauce with notes of chocolate and coffee, packed with meat and beans.

4. Cincinnati Chili- ground beef in a tomato based sauce, mixed with beans atop a bed of spaghetti. Always found loaded up with diced onion, cheddar cheese, sour cream and oyster crackers.

5. Vegetarian Chili- red tomato based sauce, various mixture of beans and large diced vegetables.

To boil it down, I am on a mission to recreate 4 traditional chilis into delicious vegan versions that can stand on their own. Every Monday for the month of October we are going to “chili out” as I post photos and recipes for the 4 variations.

First up, we have a Chili Verde with Jackfruit and White Beans. This classily lighter chili, packs a punch of fresh chilies paired with hearty pieces of jackfruit and beans to achieve a meaty mouth feel.

Let me know what you think!

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Chili Verde

Jackfruit + Cannellini Bean Chili

Yields 10 - 12 servings

4 poblano peppers

2- 3 jalapenos, depending on heat levels

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10 tomatillos

4 cloves of garlic

3 cups white onion, about 1 ½ onions small diced

3 cups celery, ½ head of celery small diced

1 ½ cups carrots, 4 carrots small diced

1 green pepper, medium diced

2 cans Green Jackfruit

2 cans cannellini beans

1 tbsp ground cumin

½ tsp dried oregano

Tbsp yellow miso

Salt

7 cups of Vegetable Stock (recipe below) 

Optional garnish:

Unsweetened coconut yogurt

Lime wedge

Toasted pumpkin seeds

Avocado

 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

  1. Toss poblano peppers, garlic, tomatillos and jalapenos with olive oil and salt. Depending on your desired heat level, remove the seeds from the jalapeno before roasting. Place vegetables on sheet trays and roast for 20-25 minutes until soft and slightly charred.  

  2. While the peppers and tomatillos are roasting, small dice onions, celery and carrots. In a large soup pot, heat 3 tbsp olive oil. Add diced vegetables and a heavy pinch of salt. Allow vegetables to sweat until translucent and tender, about 10-15 minutes.

  3. Add diced green pepper, ground cumin, oregano and miso allowing it to cook for another 5 minutes until cumin is fragrant. * If using store bought stock use 2 tbsp miso. Reduce heat to avoid burning.

  4. Remove peppers and tomatillos from the oven.  Remove stem and seeds from poblano peppers and jalapenos (if you have not already done so). Blend ingredients together, in a bowl using an immersion blender or blender.

  5. Add the tomatillo paste to the sautéed vegetables and 6 ½ cups of stock, stirring to incorporate. Keep heat low as you prepare the jackfruit and beans.  

  6. De- can and rinse jackfruit. Pull the jackfruit apart into ½ inch pieces, it should resemble pulled chicken. Toss in olive oil, salt, 1 tsp cumin and 1 tsp chili powder. Transfer to a sheet tray and roast at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes. The jackfruit should have some browned edges and should feel dry.

  7.  De-can and rinse off the cannellini beans and toss into the chili base. Add all of the roasted jackfruit to the base. Bring mixture up to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Season to taste.

  8. Allow to simmer for at least 20 minutes, and serve. Garnish with toasted pumpkin seeds, coconut yogurt, lime and avocado.

  9. This chili can be made ahead and stored up to 4-5 days in the fridge, or portioned and frozen for up to 4 months.

  

Vegetable stock

Adapted from Bon Appetit’s Vegan Umami Broth 

4 tbsp yellow miso

2 yellow onions, peeled and rough chopped

½ head celery, rough chopped

4 carrots, rough chopped

2 cups dried shitake mushrooms

½ bunch parsley

1/2 head of garlic

3 tbsp Olive oil

¼ cup tamari

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  1. In a small bowl whisk olive oil and miso together to be a thick paste. Add a splash of water to thin so that it is thick but pliable.

  2. Combine all prepped vegetables in a bowl tossing with the miso paste to coat. Transfer to a sheet tray and laying everything evenly in one layer, you may need two trays.

  3. Allow to roast at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes. Stirring occasionally to avoid burning. You want your vegetables to be browned, tender and fragrant.  

  4. In a large soup pot, place all of the roasted vegetables. Add in a ½ bunch of parsley and a ¼ cup tamari. Cover with 8-10 cups of water.

  5. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, uncovered. Allow broth to simmer for 1 hour.

  6. Strain broth through a fine mesh strainer into a large bowl or pot. Discard vegetable solids. Store liquid for 3-4 days in the fridge or freeze for 3-4 months.

Recreating the Classics with Pipcorn

You know the saying, “The original is always better,” or “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Well Pipcorn heard those cliché sayings and tossed them out the window. They have taken something we all know and love, popcorn, and recreated it to provide us with a unique snacking experience.

In the spirit of Pipcorn, I decided to overhaul a few classics myself. So what am I talking about?! Think Peanut Butter and Jelly… the perfect combination of sweet, salty goodness that oozes from the crust as you take a bite. It’s one of those quick and easy combinations that you know will get you through your lunch break and feeling like a kid on the playground. Although this classic for both grown-ups and kids alike isn’t going out of style anytime soon, I thought we could turn it up a notch. My PB+J Popcorn highlights the creamy peanut butter taste with bursts of fruit from dried berries. Its simple, easy and oh so addicting.   

Sweet tooth, ✔️.

Now, let’s move into something more savory. You know the two ingredients sandwich that you ate as a kid, after playing in the snow with a steamy bowl of tomato soup? Nothing says a you’re loved, like a crispy, buttery, cheesy, gooey grilled cheese sandwich. With the gourmet grilled cheeseries out there stepping up their game on the classic, I thought, why not?! Truffle Pipcorn was the inspiration I needed for my Truffled Grilled Cheese… combined with caramelized onions and melted provolone this grilled cheese will be your ticket to the clean plate club.

I know, I know I’m messing with the greats but its time to hone your inner kid and break the rules just a little. Go ahead, test them out and let me know what you think!


PB+J Popcorn

Ingredients

Directions

  1. In a large bowl combine Sea Salt Pipcorn and dried berries
  2. In a small sauce pan combine sugar and agave. Over medium heat bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer for 2 minutes.
  3. Quickly add peanut butter and stir until fully combined.
  4. Pour over the popcorn mix and toss until fully covered. (Careful its hot! Use tongs and spoons to mix it up.)
  5. Transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet to cool
  6. Warning these may not last more than 2 minutes ;)

recipe adapted from The Kitchen


Truffled Grilled Cheese

Ingredients

  • 2 pieces of your favorite sprouted wheat bread
  • 2 pieces Daiya provolone or cheese of your choice
  • 1/2 onion
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1/4 cup Truffle Pipcorn
  • 1 tbs coconut oil or butter of your choice

Directions

  1. Heat a sauce pan, add oil and sliced onions over medium heat.
  2. Cook slowly until golden brown and caramelized, set aside.
  3. On one half of bread place one piece of provolone, top with caramelized onions and Pipcorn
  4. Top with second slice of cheese and bread.
  5. Smear a butter on the top piece of bread. Place on heated skillet, cook for 1 minute until golden brown and flip.
  6. Cook until cheese is just melted and serve immediately. 

Skin Rescue

Have you ever wondered what it would it would be like to smear chocolate frosting all over your face? Ya, no me neither.... BUT if you were wondering I may have the answer. 

As you may know, I do not normally post about skin care products but I am a firm believer that what you put ON your body is just as important as what goes INTO your body. I stumbled upon 7th Heaven at the Natural Expo West this past year and the rest was history. 7th Heaven specializes in face masks that are designed for any skin condition you are looking to correct. I love these products because it does not require you to alter your daily skin regimen in order see the benefits, it's simply a boost to your regimen that will leave you with soft, supple and glowing skin. 

I know what you're thinking, 'There are thousands of face masks out there why should I try this one?!' Well, 7th Heaven products are all natural concoctions of crushed fruits infused with essential oils designed by herbalists to create the perfect at home skin rescue. In addition to these little slices of heaven nourishing your skin, they are also affordable! Many face masks out there, can run you upward of $80 or more to get the "best" results, but reality is your wallet is usually more cleared out than your skin. 7th Heaven masks run $2 per pouch (I was able to get 2 uses out of!) allowing you to test them all until you find your favorite mask. 

 

NOW back to the nail biting question of, 'How can I rub chocolate frosting all over my face?' Well the 7th Heaven Chocolate Mud Masque is definitely the answer. The combination of cocoa beans and shea butter make this mask the perfect mix of hydration that will have your mouth watering! 

So go ahead lather, relax, rinse and repeat. 

Have you tried them yet?! Let me know what you think in the comments and share it with #My7thHeaven #DormEssential!

 

 

Monthly Myth Buster

Vegan Misconceptions

#6 “A Vegan Diet is a Weight Loss Diet”

With so many diet fads on the market promising weight loss and improved body function, it is easy to see how veganism gets wrapped up in the trendy, marketing miscommunications. With its ties to many ethical, political, environmental beliefs, allergies and nutritional opinions, being vegan is a ‘lifestyle plan’ not a ‘weight loss plan’.

It’s true that following a diet that is low in processed foods and high in plant-based, unprocessed and fresh foods may result in weight loss as your body reaches a state of nutritional balance. But lets get our facts straight. Simply swapping out your pantry items for products labeled ‘vegan’ will inevitably lead to eating faux meats and other processed - but vegan - foods, which could actually cause weight gain!

As with anything else in life, making changes to your diet isn’t necessarily easy. Beginning a more natural diet can be time consuming and inconvenient, especially for those who would rather use their oven as extra closet space ( you know who you are) . Food manufacturers know that the average person perceives eating whole, unprocessed foods as “inconvenient”, which is exactly where they saw an opportunity to create products that mimic flavors, textures that you can’t necessarily find in whole foods. With the help of a little marketing and social trends the ‘vegan’ label was quickly deemed healthy, trendy and natural. (I know what your thinking and you’re right, this same miscommunication is happening across the board from fat-free to paleo and gluten-free, but we’ll leave that conversation for another day.) In fact, did you know that Oreos, Lay’s potato chips, Bacon Bites and Fritos are all technically ‘vegan’? However, I’d be shocked if you included any of those products as part of a weight loss plan.

Thanks to the array of processed vegan foods on grocery store shelves, consumers are more focused on eating “guilt-free” with vegan mac & “cheese” or vegan doughnuts because they think it is a healthier option. But the reality is imitation cheese, egg-less pasta and dairy-free fried dough will still add calories, sugar and simple carbohydrates to your diet, all of which will sabotage your weight-loss goals.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many companies out there who are dedicated to providing delicious products made from few and quality ingredients. As consumers we must pay attention to the ingredients that are in the processed foods we buy and keep in mind our reason for purchasing the product. If you are looking to improve your diet or lose weight don’t ‘go vegan’ because marketing and labels deem it a healthier option. Instead, focus on a diet based on unprocessed, whole foods.

Here are just a few brands to look out for next time you’re at the grocery store and looking to buy natural, whole plant-based foods that are still seemingly convenient.

The Fresh Challenge : Hemp

For this month's Fresh Challenge sit back, grab a spot on the couch and pack a bowl... of HEMP seeds! 

Hemp is a all around plant- based power house of nutrients that can be added to smoothies, salads, baked goods and well... just about anything! 

Protein Hit - Hemp hearts contain 10 grams of protein per 3 tablespoon serving. The protein found in hemp is a complete protein and easily digestible! 

Fiber Fire - Add more fire to your belly. These little seeds are full of fiber to aid your gut health and digestion. The standard diet is lacking in this nutrient as we chips in snacks instead of fruits and vegetables, but hemp can help swing the pendulum in a better direction. 

Omega-3 Good-Good - Protect your heart and improve your brain function with a daily dose of Omega- 3 fatty acids. Adding omega- 3's to your day helps reduce inflammation, reduce your risk of heart disease and lower cholesterol levels. 

The best part about this challenge? Hemp is easy to find anywhere these days from raw hemp hearts to milks you can take the challenge out of this Fresh Challenge. Just in case you need more direction when the munchies kick in, here are a few of my blazin picks. 

 

 

 

Monthly Myth Buster

Vegan Misconceptions

#5 “Being vegan is too expensive.”

It’s true, vegan eateries, juice shops, organic grocery stores and even processed vegan items can leave you wallet thin. But think about it, most of these manufactures are not sourcing ingredients from GMO farms to obtain the cheapest produce, nor are they filling products with artificial ingredients to prolong shelf-life. So while we may never see a $1 menu at a vegan café, it is safe to say that in many cases the quality of the product you’re ordering is a step above a Big Mac.

With that being said, a vegan diet can actually be a very affordable option (once you step away from the prepared food aisles and juice shops). Here are my best tips for how to make a vegan lifestyle affordable when grocery shopping.

  1. Think less processed. The further you stay away from processed, manufactured or prepared foods the less strain you put on your wallet. This means you will have to be more creative in the kitchen but isn’t it about time you finally used your oven?
  2. Fill your pantry with dried beans, lentils and grains. These staples are packed with nutrients and are usually available in the bulk section which allows you to get more for less. Plus, these dry ingredients will last in your pantry for a long time. Beans, grains and legumes are a perfect addition to many dishes + they can be blended into dips and spreads.
  3. Buy produce in season and at farmer’s markets. Buying large quantities of produce, preferably organic, can also have you fearing the cashier. But there are a few ways to buy your kale in peace. First, buy from your local farmer's market. Not only will you get amazing quality, it is often cheaper than grocery store prices. No markets? No problem, look for produce that is in season in your area. These items are usually cheaper since they had a shorter distance to travel before ending up in your store.
  4. For condiments, versatility is key. These little seemingly harmless purchases can really break the bank if you aren’t careful. Grab condiments that compliment what’s in your fridge so that it can be used with your staple items. For example, Dijon mustard is great on its own or in salad dressings, marinades, soups or dips
  5. Utilize the bulk section. When purchasing expensive items like nuts, specialty flours, grains or dried fruit head to the bulk section and purchase the amount you need for a recipe so that you do not have wasted products in your pantry that will go to waste.
  6. Buy specialty items on sale. I am a huge fan of superfoods, protein powders and power bars but sometimes the prices are outrageous! The reality is people have been vegan for years without these highly marketed foods products, stick to the basics and splurge on a sale.

Need more ideas for wallet friendly meals? Check out Plant Based on a Budget.

 

 

Monthly Myth Buster

Vegan Misconceptions

#4 "You can't eat out anywhere"

Another complaint of both vegan and non-vegans is that you can’t go out to eat ANYWHERE! I am not going to lie, being vegan does make it more difficult to go out to eat and our options are limited but it is not impossible, I promise. The trick is knowing how to order and think of options that can easily be substituted in the kitchen. Here is my fail-proof guide to dining out on a vegan diet.

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1. Get comfortable making changes to items on a menu. Yes you may feel needy, picky, difficult or annoying at first but the reality is, the restaurant is there to serve you. They want to offer options that will satisfy your palate (as much as they can) in order to keep you happy with the hopes that you’ll return and refer others. As long as you know what needs to be substituted for your needs, they will usually try to accommodate.

2. Read the menu thoroughly (possibly before hand). Look at the sides, entrée accompaniments and salad toppings they offer in the restaurant. They may not pair roasted vegetables or beans with their salads offerings… but if you notice that the meat or fish entrees are served with grilled vegetables and/or beans, you’ve found a solution so ask to mix and match. HOWEVER, be mindful that traditionally roasted vegetables, soups, sauces and grains are finished with butter for service, ask if they can be prepared in olive oil to avoid any confusion.

3. Call ahead of time. Vegetarian, vegan and gluten free diners are becoming more prominent and restaurants are eager to accommodate. When making the reservation inform the hostess that you have a vegan diner and ask if accommodations can be made. If the restaurant is strict on substitutions they will let you know right away.

4. Choose ethnic cuisines. Restaurants offering traditional cuisines are more likely to have non-meat and cheese laced options. Explore Indian, Thai, Mexican and Filipino restaurants many dishes are easier to alter for a vegan diet.

If all else fails (or it’s veg choice ;) ) choose a vegetarian restaurant. There are plenty of vegan, vegetarian and/or raw restaurants around the country that are redefining how ‘healthy’ should taste. Happy Cow is an amazing resource when you aren't sure where to look, plug in your location and Happy Cow will find you a vegetarian- friendly restaurant near you. 

Here are a few of my go- to vegetarian restaurants in some of my favorite parts of the U.S.

 

Everywhere else… we are getting there - if you have suggestions for vegan restaurants you love, please share in the comments below.  And for even more, check out this Thrillist list for the best vegetarian restaurants in the country. 

 

slice + dice like a pro

Like a painter without a brush or a surgeon without a scalpel, a chef is nothing without their knives. A knife is the most effective tool to express a chef’s vision on a plate. Until going to culinary school I never understood the importance and detail that goes into making, using and cleaning a chef’s knife.

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It’s true, a sharp knife is more than a sharp knife. There are two basic styles of knives that differ in their shape and blade angle, a French Knife and a Japanese Knife. Don’t worry I won’t quiz you on the angle degrees, but what you need to know is that a French knife is the most commonly used in the West because it allows for the most versatile cuts for everyday cooking needs. (Also, chef’s have to work their way up to using a Japanese knife. One day!)

NOW you’re in the knife aisle and … SURPRISE there are way more than just two options! How are you supposed to choose?! Here’s the breakdown. Chef knives can be made of carbon, stainless steel or high carbon stainless steel. There are pros and cons to each material but for cooking, carbon and high carbon stainless steel are the way to go. To choose between the two carbon knives can be more affordable option upfront, but requires more maintenance over time. The cutting edge is sharp but loses its edge quickly requiring you to sharpen more frequently. The metal is also prone to discoloration, so proper cleaning after each use is extremely important. 

High carbon stainless steel is a hybrid material that was designed to hold a sharp edge and reduce any discoloration. These knives can be more expensive, however, will require slightly less maintenance. High carbon stainless steel maintains a sharp edge for a long time and will not rust easily. Personally, I am a fan of high carbon stainless steel… mostly because I am a low maintenance kind of girl and the thought of sharpening my knife every other week or so is terrifying. [Make sure you knife has a “full tang,” that ensures it was made properly and the blade will not separate from the handle over time.]

Dropping over a hundred dollars on a few knives seems like an unnecessary expense. Trust me if I was writing this pre-culinary school I’d probably being smiling down the Ikea aisles high five-ing the cashier because I got a knife set for $15. BUT I would be fooled!

A proper chef's knife is necessary for safety and product quality. It may be counter intuitive but a sharp knife is a safe knife. With a sharp knife you are able to cut through awkward shaped items or tough vegetables with ease. No more wiggling and shifting your blade to cut through a squash and accidentally slipping the blade across your fingers. With that being said, it is EXTREMELY important to use proper technique when cutting anything...

“Chef’s claw”: Curl your fingers on the surface of the food like a bear claw. The blade of the knife should rest against your middle finger as a guide. Looking down at the top of the knife slice downwards in a slight rocking motion (tip down first, then follow through to the back of the knife).

 

 

 

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So now that your fingers are safe we can explore different cuts that are crucial to the culinary world. Mastering knife skills may not be essential for home cooking, but if you’re wondering why some of your sweet potato fries take twice as long to bake as others it may help to focus on how you are slicin’ and dicin’. The diagram below depicts the dimensions and names of the cuts necessary for basic knife skills. My advice, don’t worry if you can’t get the correct dimensions for each cut (it takes time!), focus on making all of your cuts about the same size, to ensure even cooking. 

Your chef knives are an investment, treat them that way. Proper cleaning and maintenance of your knife will make sure you can continue cook your best. To wash, NEVER put your knives in the dishwasher. The high heat and rattling against other equipment will dull the knife quickly. It is best to go old school with a soft sponge, soap and water. Then dry the knife immediately with a dry towel. If water droplets are left on the surface (especially a carbon knife) it will begin to erode the material and cause discoloration.

Long story short, don’t over think it. A knife is like a long-term relationship... chose one that is right for you, treat it well, if things need to be sharpened work it out with a stone “massage” and trust each slice will be better than the one before.

 

Monthly Myth Buster

Vegan Misconceptions: Part 2

It’s time to knock out another Vegan Misconception that has been a point of controversy for far too long. This month’s myth buster we are breaking down the building blocks of life and finding out the truth about protein.

#3 “You can’t get enough protein being vegan.”

It is hard to imagine that without the daily scrambled eggs in the morning, grilled chicken salad or fillet of salmon for dinner that you can still obtain the necessary portion of protein. It’s true, animal protein provides our body with complete proteins that are necessary for daily functionality. However, it is possible to obtain equivalent complete proteins on a vegan diet (and without relying on processed “fake” meats). Plant-based proteins are readily available in whole food sources such as nuts, beans, legumes, vegetables and seeds - all of which contain healthy fats and soluble fiber that aid the digestion of nutrients.

Without going too science, lets get a quick overview of this essential macronutrient. Protein is a powerful building block in our body that does more than give us toned muscles. Protein has 4 main functions in our body:

  • Antibody production and formation
  • Act as a catalyst for enzymes to facilitate chemical responses in the body
  • The production of hormones
  • Build and repair muscle tissue

Once sufficient quantities of protein have been absorbed for these 4 processes it is stored as fat to be used as energy in times of starvation. Yep, our bodies actually turn protein into fat! Ugh. 

SO how much protein do you need to consume daily to avoid having it turn into fat storage?!

If you are a strict calorie counter, you can use the model that only 10% - 15% of your daily calorie consumption should be from protein. Since our calories consumption varies day to day, a more standard calculation for the average adult is : Your Weight in Kg x 0.8 = Daily Protein Needs. 

For example a 150 lb adult: 150 lb / 2.2 = 68.2 Kg

68.2 Kg x 0.8 = 54.4 g of protein per day

*If you are pregnant, sick or healing from an injury you may need to increase your daily protein to 1 or 1.2 times your weight in Kg.

Now that you know how much protein you actually need on average, below is a list of the top 10 plant-based protein sources and cooking tips.

1.    Tempeh – 21g per serving

Tempeh is a fermented soybean patty that contains a rich nutty flavor. Tempeh is made by mixing fermenting soybeans with a grain (usually barley) and forming it into a 16 oz block. Soy gets a bad rap these days due to GMO farming and its natural hormones, but soybeans are the most complete plant-based protein available. When purchasing soybean products look for organic or sustainable products. Traditional tempeh is not gluten free because it is fermented with grain, however many companies have come out with gluten free options for those with gluten sensitivities. Tempeh contains many health supportive nutrients, such as B12, manganese and fiber. Not to mention it is easy to use when cooking and tastes delicious. I love LightLife can be be marinated, grilled, sautéed or baked.

2.    Tofu – 10g per serving

Tofu is a processed form of soybeans, which have been made into a soy milk and curdled and strained in order to form a block. Silken tofu or firm tofu, which has a high water content, is great to use in smoothies, sauces or vegan cheeses. Extra firm tofu is best used for cooking as it can be marinated, grilled, fried or baked. Here’s a tip for how to pack the most flavor into your tofu:press it for at least 30 minutes before marinating so that it absorbs more of the marinade flavor.

3.    Natto – 16g per serving

You either love it or hate it, this traditional Chinese dish is made of fermented soybeans that maintains a slimy texture and potent flavor. The dish is high in nutrients such as vitamin K, E and nattokinase, an enzyme which prevents blood clots. It is a popular breakfast dish mixed with mustard and soy sauce.

4.    Seitan – 20g per serving

Seitan is a pure form of wheat gluten, so if you are celiac or gluten intolerant stay FAR away! Seitan is made by kneading water and flour to wash away the starches leaving only the gluten protein structure. Seitan is then cooked in a seasoned broth providing an umami flavor. Many people are sensitive to the texture or seitan, however, as far as texture is concerned it is very  similar to meat. Similar to the other plant proteins, seitan can be cooked many ways. Upton's Naturals is one of my favorite seitan brands, it is great in stews, marinated or grilled.

5.    Lentils – 18g per serving

Lentils are the legume that just keep giving. They are high in protein, high in fiber and virtually fat free. Lentils are a very versatile ingredient that can be mashed into patties, loaves, added to salads, soups or stews. Lentils add a rich texture and rounded flavor to any dish. There are three main types of lentils; red, green and brown. All are delicious on their own but certain types are best for various dishes. For example, red lentils become very mushy and pliable when cooked so they are great to use as a binder when making veggie burgers or lentil loafs. Green lentils are the most versatile as they are still pliable enough to be a binder but they can also maintain a good structure for salads. Brown lentils hold their shape the most making them great for salads and soups.

6.    Beans – approximately 7g per serving

Beans can be transformed into hummus, dips, soups or veggie burgers and more -  the possibilities are endless. Beans are an adaptable and nutrient rich plant based protein. There are many types of beans, which provide various textures and nutrients. The beans that pack the most ‘bang for your buck’ are black beans, garbanzo beans, aduki beans, pinto and kidney beans. Containing more than 7 grams of protein per ½ cup serving, these varieties are a powerful addition to salads, stews and dips. Although beans are a great source of protein they are not a complete protein. Therefore, it’s important to serve beans with a form of grains to be digested as a complete protein (which explains why beans and rice are a staple meal in many cultures).

7.    Nuts

Nuts are probably the first plant-based protein people think of and are usually a staple in a vegan diet due to their versatility. They can be served crunchy, creamy, meaty or roasted. Nuts pack a punch of protein, fiber, fat, vitamins and minerals that are necessary in our diets. Not all are created equal though - almonds, pistachios, cashews and walnuts are the most beneficial nuts. They contain the highest ratio of protein and nutrients to fat. Nuts are a great addition to salads, desserts or as a snack on their own. But if you wanted to get a bit more creative you can use nuts in nut-milks, cheeses, cream sauces or pie crusts!

8.    Seeds

Like nuts, seeds are packed with healthy fats, nutrients and protein. Chia, hemp, flax, pumpkin, sesame and sunflower seeds may be small, but they are a nutrient dense addition to any meal. Sprinkle them onto salads, oatmeal, smoothies or mix into your trail mix to get an extra boost for the day.

9.    Protein Powders

With the ‘on the go’ consumer looking for a quick fix that is both filling and nutrient dense, protein powders are a great option. But with all of the brands available it is important to read the ingredients and understand the product’s protein source. Most important thing for vegans to look out for is whey as it is a bi-product of cow’s milk. Therefore, you will want to find a protein powder that lists soy, pea, hemp and/or grain proteins in the ingredients. Due to the probability that soy protein contains GMO’s and is extremely processed in order to get it into a powder form, I personally prefer hemp or pea protein based mixes. They contain less protein than their soy and whey counterparts but are minimally processed and easier to digest. Brands I like are Vega Protein and Amazing Grass.

10. Faux Meat

Due to the increase of vegetarian, vegan or health conscious consumers many companies have created their own “faux” meats in order to provide familiar flavors, textures and appearances to traditional meats. While many of these faux meats are delicious, they should be consumed in moderation as they are still highly processed. It is best to stick to whole food forms of protein for your dietary needs, but companies such as Beyond Meat, Field Roast and Gardein offer great meat substitutions to satisfy every craving.