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.

Mint- Chocolate Fudge Sauce

Busy schedules, late night cravings and chocoholic-ism has lead to stuffing my face with foods that make me feel sluggish and... well gross the past few weeks. 

Working in a profession kitchen leads to awkward hours, late nights and little time to make sure you are eating full nutritious meals every day. Instead you are left mindlessly munching on this or that throughout the night, never sitting down to enjoy what you are eating and most likely missing key nutrients. I quickly felt myself getting exhausted, grumpy and sick. 

In my searches on ways to supplement the vital nutrients I have been missing, I stumbled upon HUM Nutrition. From the bright packaging to wholesome, natural and vegan ingredients I decided to give it a try. I started with the basics like probiotics, vitamin D and B12 plus fun combinations for hair + nail health and a weight-loss booster and you could say I am more than satisfied. Since starting my HUM regimen I have started to get control of my crazy schedule and fuel my body. 

My newest HUM obsession is their new Raw Beauty superfood powder. Its an all in one boost of superfoods like spirulina, ginger, chlorella, wheat grass, flax, goji berry, matcha (and SO much more) all wrapped together with the delicious flavors of mint-chocolate. The powder is delicious to add to smoothies, 'nice' cream or just shaken with almond milk. BUT I decided to give into my sweet and indulgent side and turn it into a luscious vegan chocolate sauce. The sauce is perfect for dipping, pouring or spooning ;) 

MINT- CHOCOLATE FUDGE SAUCE

yield : 1/2 cup sauce

1 1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk 

6 dates, pitted 

2 tsp chia seeds

1 tsp vanilla extract 

2 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tbsp HUM Nutrition Raw Beauty powder

  1. In a blender, combine almond milk, chia seeds and dates until smooth. 
  2. Strain mixture into a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, stirring frequently until thickened (about 5- 10 minutes). 
  3. Whisk in cocoa powder, HUM Nutrition Raw Beauty and vanilla until well incorporated. 
  4. Remove from heat and dip, pour or smear. 

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. 

 

 

 

One Day with Martha

If you are anything like me, you have day dreamed about roaming Martha Stewart’s farm and cooking in her perfectly organized kitchen. Not to mention meeting the legend herself.

About a month ago I had the opportunity to do just that… and let’s just say it was more than I could have imagined. I am still pinching myself. I was chosen to join Martha on Martha Bakes to talk about baking and watch the master herself. The episode we filmed will air tomorrow, 4/9 on PBS at 4:30pm EST. The episode will cover the essentials to a no-fuss fruit curd recipe with three delicious applications; a Lemon Tart, Passion Fruit- Filled Cupcakes and Genoise with Raspberry Curd.

Flash back to my day with Martha - it all started (like a dream, because I was half asleep) with a 5am wake up call to catch a train upstate to Martha Stewart’s farm. I nervously sipped my morning coffee in disbelief that in only 1 hour I would be meeting the woman behind one of the most powerful and impactful brands in the world. We were picked up from the train station and whisked off to Martha’s farm in Bedford, NY. Upon arrival (despite the rainy day) I was floored by the expansive farm, greenhouses and beautiful landscaping.

The first step into Martha’s kitchen is like stepping into the pages of her magazine, it is a harmonious combination of luxury, comfort and warmth. White marble countertops and floors set the stage for a breathtaking collection of copper cookware. As a cook I may appreciate kitchens more than the average person, but you know that euphoric feeling when your kitchen is fully stocked, beautiful organized and clean? Well I was in this state of bliss for the entire shoot.

Martha was gracious and beautiful as she welcomed us to her home and on the show. After a quick set-up of the set it was lights, camera, action. Having never been on TV before my two classmates and I were shaking with nerves to say the least. Throughout the shoot I was in awe of Martha’s ease in front of the camera. She has an undeniable ability to light up a room with her calming voice and ability to make even the most complicated techniques look effortless.

The most exciting part of filming was the behind-the- scene magic. From pre-measured ingredients waiting to be transformed, to back-up cakes in case something goes wrong, nothing goes unnoticed by Martha or her staff. I was most surprised by Martha’s distaste for “swap-out” shows (aka the TV magic when a cake is mixed, baked and decorated in 2 minutes). On Martha’s shows she makes everything onset from start to finish so that the audience doesn't miss a step. This method of filming relies on precision from Martha and her staff in order to pull of the perfect product in minimal takes. It was as exciting to see as it was to taste ;) .

As we watched Martha work it is undeniable that she is the utmost perfectionist. She has high expectations for her staff, down to not wasting the last tablespoon of butter. But can you blame her? She has built an empire based on clean, simple, perfection. Finding the best methods for home cooks to prepare difficult dishes and giving America a sense of style with home decor and DIY projects. She is a woman who knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to demand it.

Being able to spend one day with Martha will be an experience I will never forget. Now if only I could master cooking without turning my apartment into a crime scene… baby steps.

 

 

 

Recap: Natural Expo West

The Natural Products Expo West is officially over, which means 3 days of samples, amazing product launches and mindful brands have come together to share their take on how consumers should nourish their bodies. As I promised I scoured through the exposition floors in order to seek out the upcoming trends that you need to know. Take a minute and explore my take on the top 8 trends for 2016. 

1. Sustainability

Sustainability has been a buzz word among many industries for the past 5 years as consumers become increasingly aware of our impact on the environment and how to improve. Similarly in the food industry, many restaurants increased their focus on sourcing local, organic ingredients and utilizing every aspect of the ingredient. As a natural progression, food manufacturers are taking note and looking for ways to use every part of their ingredients in order to eliminate waste. 

Kimchi companies such as, Farmhouse Cultures, and Not Your Mother's Kimchi have taken their classic fermented products and created a sustainable new way of offering the same probiotic benefits in a drinkable form. They have bottled the excess probiotic-rich fermenting liquid so that you can drink your way to gut health with one simple shot. 

The sustainable transformations didn’t stop there, Forager Project, traditionally a pressed juice company launched 4 flavors of vegetable tortilla chips. You may be thinking, ‘vegetable chips aren’t new’ but Foragers’ method for utilizing their ingredients stole the show. They have created each of their 4 flavors from the excess vegetable pulp that is created during the cold-pressing process. By utilizing the pulp they have transformed their waste into a delicious, crunchy and nutritious snack. 

2. Algae

No longer scum of the sea, algae is making a debut as a nutritious superfood that adds an earthy, savory flavor to many products hitting the market. Spirulina and chlorella seem to be the buzz worthy algae for manufacturers due to their milder taste and vibrant color. These algae are packed with vitamins, minerals and protein that are easily absorbed by your body. Not only do they work to nourish our bodies they also aid the detoxing process by improving gut health and vitamin absorption. From protein bars, tortilla chips, popcorn and chocolate bars algae brings a new twist to snacking your way to health. 

Find out more about algea such as spirulina and take part in The Fresh Challenge!

3. Spice is still King

Last year companies rolled out exotic spices and flavors to pump up the heat in their products and this year was no different. As the sriracha obsession continues to grow and our curiosity with all things painfully delicious, spice continues to be the focus of natural food companies. From jalepeno, habanero and sriracha EVERYTHING, I hope you have a glass of milk handy (non-dairy of course) because things are about to get hot in here. 

4. Gut Health

From probiotics, prebiotics and fermented food and drinks its all about the gut. Due to decades of consuming highly processed and nutritionally impaired foods the health of the micro biome in our gut has diminished, increasing dietary inflammations, sickness and poor absorption of nutrients. Thankfully natural food companies have taken note and found various ways to add live cultures and healthy bacteria back into our diet. 

Kimchi and sauerkraut still have their moment in the spotlight at this years show, companies such as Wildbrine and Farmhouse Cultures are serving up new flavor combinations and ‘gut’ shots from the fermenting liquid. 

Kombucha is the new pressed juice… walking down the aisles of the expo it was impossible to miss a kombucha company that was launching new flavors or a new formula. As a huge kombucha fan (I kind of live on the stuff) it was exciting yet overwhelming. With so many options how are you supposed to pick the best kombucha brand?! I think for now you have to go with your gut [ ;) ]. The smells and flavor of kombucha can be off putting for some, so switch it up and try different brands to see which one fits your palate. Health-Aid and GT’s are my go to’s all of their flavors are delicious and they have really improved my gut health.

Suja Juice is getting on the probiotic bandwagon with the launch of their new probiotic waters in 4 light and refreshing flavors. Each flavor is made of a blend of vegan probiotic cultures and cold-pressed fruits each flavor was delicious but Ginger Lime gets my vote for best pick. 

Now we have all heard of probiotics in fermented kimchi, kombucha and supplements but I know the sour, feet-smelling can be hard to get on board with.  But don’t worry, YumButter is mixing up the gut health scene with an approachable almond butter protein + probiotic blend. The almond butter is delicious, easy to spread and contains 10g of protein per severing! It is the perfect way to sneak probiotics into your day without the, “you’ll get used to it,” encouragement. 

5. The Super Take-over

For those that know me, you know I’m all about superfoods… pretty obsessed. But apparently I’m not the only one, manufacturers are putting superfoods in just about everything! From power bars, crackers, popcorn, chocolate and beverages, ‘superfood’ was the buzz word of the Natural Expo this year. Now what is a superfood?! It is any whole food that is naturally nutrient dense aka it packs a big nutrient punch in a little package. Adding superfoods to everyday meals or snacks is a simple way to increase your daily vitamin, mineral, protein or omega-3 fix and companies like Larabar, Natives, Activate Living Foods, MamaChia and Hemp Hearts are taking note. Although they are all amazing, the superstars this year were chia seeds, hemp seed, goji berries, maca root, cocao, turmeric and ginger. Not only will these products fill your nutrient voids, they also taste too good to be true. So, get ready for the newest superheros on the block because they are here to stay. 

6. Got (non-dairy) Milk?

Milk is a huge part of our life, whether we believe it or not. Cereal, pastries, cheese, ice cream, coffee, yogurt, sauces, frozen yogurt, batters, butter… ok you get it, without even blinking an eye you easily have 2 servings of dairy at every meal! However, with the overwhelming consumer shift towards sustainable, ethical and nutritional foods there is a need to find a better alternative. Almond milk has been on the rise, gaining popularity for its delicious flavor and ease of conversion as a milk substitute. But this year the focus was on expanding the non-dairy craze with macadamia nuts, hemp, flax, coconut and veggie milk. From the classic drinkable milk to yogurts and frozen desserts non-dairy is the move with companies such as Califia Farms, Milkadamia, Go Veggie Milk, Vixen KitchenNadaMoo and The New Barn you can’t go wrong.

7. Return of the Familiar

Last year exotic flavors and spices from around the world were the push for consumers to expand their spice drawers and become ‘foodies’. But this year the pendulum is starting to swing back to more familiar mediterranean flavors of lemon, rosemary and truffle (but don’t worry there is still plenty of spice to go around!) and I am not complaining. These flavors are bright and comforting and easily paired with your other favorite products. You can see this trend in mixed nuts, popcorn, crackers, chips and protein bars. Rediscover the familiar like never before. 

 

 

 

8. Alternative Proteins

Similar to the non-dairy transformation, sustainable, ethical and nutrition focused consumers have created a shift for meat-less proteins. But I am not talking about faux-meats this time. Crickets are getting the more exposure than the days of Jimmy Cricket’s debut. That’s right. CRICKETS. Cultures around the world have been eating these crunchy protein packed bugs for centuries and it’s our turn test it out. Crickets are an inexpensive and sustainable source of protein containing 65% protein, more iron than spinach and minimal water requirements, crickets may be the food of the future. But don’t freak out… companies like Exo and Bitty Food’s are bringing you the benefits in an approachable way through chips, bars and protein powders. Close your eyes and take a bite, your tastebuds may surprise you. 

 

 

 

 

The Fresh Challenge : Spirulina

Keep away from the wrath of the leprechauns and go green this month with spirulina. Spirulina is a powerful blue-green algae that will boost your daily nutrient intake, detoxify skin, improve energy and aid digestive health. With 2000% more beta carotene than carrots, 4000% more iron than spinach and 280% more antioxidant strength than berries, spirulina is the ultimate addition to your diet. This super- algae is an easy addition to smoothies, desserts, snacks or even salad dressings. 

 

Protein Boost

Spirulina is a nutrient dense algae composed of 60% protein, B vitamins, iron, potassium, magnesium and manganese. However, what sets spirulina apart from other plant based proteins is that it is a complete protein, meaning it contains all 9 essential amino acids our bodies require to digest and utilize for optimal cellular function. In fact, 1 tbsp of spirulina powder contains 4g of protein with only 20 calories and 2g of carbohydrates. 

Anti- aging

This algae is more than just a protein powerhouse, it has also been found to have substantial anti-aging properties due to its high percentage of beta carotene, antioxidants and phycocyanin. Phycocyanin is the active ingredient in spirulina that is responsible for its bright blue- green color. Phycocyanin is a natural anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant that fights free radicals in the body while reducing the production of inflammatory molecules. Move over carrots… beta carotene levels in spirulina are 10 times more concentrated than those found in carrots, making spirulina a one-stop-shop for anti-aging from the inside out. 

Gut Health

There are countless detoxifiers and digestive aids hitting the market these days but few target the micro biome of your gut to remove toxins quickly and effectively. Well, spirulina does just that, the blue-green algae stimulates the growth and function of beneficial flora while suppressing bad bacteria in your digestive tract. This promotes proper digestion and the removal of toxins and heavy metals in your bloods stream. The stimulation of beneficial gut flora also improves digestive conditions such as constipation, candida and leaky gut syndrome. 

Energy

Lastly, spirulina’s antioxidant, protein and vitamin rich properties make it a compact energy booster. Some studies have shown that regular consumption of spirulina may improve endurance and reduce muscle fatigue among athletes. 

How to use

Raw spirulina can be found in tablet or powder form by companies such as go raw and Sunfood.  Due to the algae's strong earthy flavor is best when paired with sweets fruits such as bananas, mango, pineapple, dates or berries in smoothies or juices. If dessert is what your craving, add a spoonful of spirulina powder to raw chocolate brownies, truffles or chia pudding for a depth of flavor and boost of nutrition. Don’t have a sweet tooth, no worries. Spoon some into your oatmeal in the morning with a sprinkle of sea salt and handful of nuts, toss it with your popcorn or add it to salad dressings. 

For the purest out there, you can dissolve a tablet or spoonful of powder into a glass of water and drink it straight! But keep a glad of water handy because the dark blue-green color will temporarily stain those pearly whites if not washed down. 

Spirulina is gaining popularity among the health food scene and can be found a various prepared snacks and drinks. Check out Go Raw Sweet Spirulina Bar, GT's Multi-Green Kombucha, Roobar's Spirulina + Chia Protein Bar or Vosges Matcha + Spirulina Dark Chocolate

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.

 

 

The Fresh Challenge : Maca

It’s that time of month again… to add something new to your diet and rev-up your healthy 2016. Just in time for Valentine’s Day we are showcasing Maca for its vitamin-packed, libido enhancing and energy boosting qualities.

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Maca is a root native to Peru, also known as “Peruvian Ginseng”. Maca is most commonly found as a powder in grocery stores and health food stores, making it an easy addition to your daily routine. It is important to buy organic maca powder to avoid fillers or imposters - my go-to brands are Sunfood, Navitas and Vega.

Now let’s talk about the benefits of Maca…

  1. It’s potent in vitamin B, C and E, calcium, zinc, iron and magnesium. All of which are essential minerals if you follow a plant-based diet.

  2. A natural love potion, maca has been found to increase libido and endurance, especially in men. While maintaining an even hormone balance and improving fertility in women.

  3. This superfood can improve energy and stamina levels throughout the day.

  4. It improves mental clarity and focus as it reduces mood imbalances such as depression, anxiety or mood swings.

  5. So long to PMS! Maca can reduce irritability, cramps and hot flashes caused by menstruation and menopause.

Added Bonus: The hormone balancing properties found in maca have shown a positive effect on reducing hormonal acne and improving skin tone! How about that for positive vibes?!

Need some ideas about how to incorporate maca into your day? From energy bars to smoothies to ice cream - there’s no shortage of ways to fit this into your daily diet. 

In the spirit of Valentine's Day I have an easy recipe that is perfect as a dessert to share or to show yourself a little love.

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Maca Dark Chocolate Bark:

12 oz dark chocolate       1/3 cup dried cherries

1 tbsp coconut oil            1/4 cup toasted coconut flakes

1 tbsp maca powder        1/4 cups cocoa nibs

1/2 cup toasted almonds, chopped    

1 tsp sea salt

  1. Over a double boiler melt 8 oz of the chocolate. < If using a microwave melt in 30 second increments, stirring between each until melted >

  2. Once melted, add in remaining chocolate, coconut oil and maca powder. Stir until fully melted and smooth. 

  3. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment or a silpat

  4. Pour the chocolate onto the prepared surface and spread into an even layer using a spatula. You want your bark about 1/4 inch thick. 

  5. Top with the dried cherries, almonds, coconut, cocoa nibs and salt to evenly cover the surface. Let on the counter to harden but if you just can't wait to take a bite, pop it in the fridge for 15- 20 minutes. 

  6. Once the chocolate has set, break it apart and enjoy! 

NOTE: Too much maca can add a slightly chalky taste to your food so take it easy. A little goes a long way with this superfood, only one tablespoon a day is recommended. IN FACT, it is important to build up your tolerance of Maca due to its potency. If you are new to the product start with ½  a teaspoon and work your way up to a full tablespoon over time.

 

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.

5 Fail-proof Tips for Holiday Menu Planning

‘Tis the season… to host a huge party, drop a pie on the floor and overcook your entree. It happens every year, as you pass the Christmas light-lined avenues or step foot into a department store high off fragrance gift-set fumes you start to get the holiday bug. And you have the BEST idea… “I’ll host a holiday party for all my friends!” Once the invites are out and anticipation running high, it hits you. You’ve never hosted a party and your five course menu with specialty cocktails and assortment of desserts requires an army of elves to pull off.

Don’t worry, these 5 fail-proof menu planning tips will bring the joy back into your holiday party planning.

1. Keep it simple. Even the simplest recipes can be show stoppers. Don’t wait for the holidays to make the most complicated and involved recipe that you know will impress your guests. Making a recipe with multiple components for the first time is stressful enough, throw in 3 courses and a room full of people and it spells disaster. Instead, choose recipes that you are comfortable with (or at least have made once or twice before), to ensure smooth execution. If you’re worried your go-to recipes won’t impress, dress it up your garnishes. Use edible garnishes such as pomegranate seeds or herbs to brighten a soup or salad, infused oil to drizzle over entrees or gold dust to sprinkle over desserts.

 

2. Limit the spread. With inspiration from Pinterest, Instagram, Food Network or Food52 it is easy to find 20 recipes that you know your guests will just LOVE. Don’t stretch yourself too thin. Choose 5 recipes with color, flavor and texture variations that will satisfy your guests’ taste buds without the fuss.

For example:

Appetizer: Polenta squares w/ sundried tomato tapenade  {yellow, red, creamy, soft, salty, nutty} 

Salad: Kale vegan caesar salad topped w/ baked chickpeas and cherry tomatoes {green, brown, red, crunchy, umami}

Entree: Lentil loaf, mashed sweet potatoes and roasted Brussels sprouts {brown, orange, green, meaty, salty, crispy, warm}

Dessert: Classic apple pie  {golden brown, flakey, warm, sweet, spiced}

3. Preparation is key. Don’t be caught in the kitchen as guests are arriving, you need to have fun too! Read through the recipes you've selected days beforehand and see what you can prep ahead of time. Most recipes can be broken down and prepared in advance that way all you have to do is toss it together and throw it in the oven hours before the party. (What to make ahead of time: pie crusts, croutons, salad dressings, vegetable prep, dips and spreads.)

4. Leave it to the professionals. When you are the host you need to highlight your strengths. Which means doing what you do well and letting someone else take care of the rest. Appetizers and dessert are the easiest courses to seek outside assistance. If you know you won’t have time to make an appetizer grab an amazing hummus with crudite and pita chips, or put together a rustic cheese platter. Never been able to make the perfect pie? Don’t chance it, order a pie from your favorite bakery. In the end, delicious food is delicious food your guests won’t know the difference.  

5. Make yourself a drink. Take a deep breath, you’ve planned a simple and delicious menu that is all prepared and warming in the oven. All you have have left is plating with the perfect garnishes. So go ahead, get those creative juices flowing and treat yourself with a cocktail. You’ll have your guests wondering how you pulled off an amazing dinner party without breaking a sweat.

Bonus: Brush it offOkay, so you followed all the tips, stuck to simple recipes that you could make ahead of time BUT they still didn’t turn out picture perfect. Brush it off, in the end it’s just food. Worst case scenario your family and friends put their Instagram accounts on hiatus for the night and chow down on delicious lentil loaf “crumbles” or pumpkin “pudding” in a pie tart shell. Laugh it off, dig in and make memories!

 

Monthly Myth Buster

Welcome to The Fresh Slice’s Monthly Myth Buster series where each month we will highlight a food related myth that has been plaguing our plates and cook up an understandable solution to the problem. This is a place for you to finally get the truth about what you are eating.

What food questions do you want answered once and for all? Share with me in the comments below or submit your question HERE. Soon enough, you’ll see your question answered in a future Myth Bust post!

VEGAN MISCONCEPTIONS: Part 1

vegan label

I’ve heard it all… “I could never be vegan.” “How do you live without cheese?!” “NO animal protein, NO WAY!”

Trust me I get it, removing two large food groups from your diet is no easy feat. BUT it’s also not as painful, famishing, cult-like or tasteless as many assume. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, which is why I am here to expose the biggest vegan misconceptions.

 

#1. “All vegans are apart of an EXCLUSIVE environmental, animal- loving, hippie cult.”

Vegans get a bad rap for being environmental extremists who judge everyone who consumes meat. Although it is true we love the environment and animals (let’s be honest… who doesn’t?), there is not a vegan pledge of allegiance that forces us to shun and shame those who choose a different diet. People decide to become vegan for various reasons such as, health, allergies, intolerances, toxic imbalances or environmental concerns.

Let’s turn the table… have you ever been out to eat with family, friends or strangers and been questioned for an hour about your decision to order a turkey club sandwich or 20 oz steak? Well, ordering a salad without cheese or veggie burger will have your guests asking questions like; “where is your protein?,  aren’t you hungry?,  you know, not eating meat won’t stop the industry.” To be vegan should not be a political check box or a stereotype created to shame people for reading a nutrition label before purchasing a product. The vegan community is about creating and sharing delicious, health-supportive food that will benefit you as well as the environmental community around you.  

So drop your forks and eliminate the stereotype that all vegans are drinking the same (unrefined sugar-free) kool-aid. No judgment, just food and awareness.  


#2. “So you only eat salad?”

Bowls full of fresh greens, veggies and nut cheeses? I don’t see the problem but for those of you who can’t stand the thought of eating salads daily don’t worry, following a vegan diet doesn’t mean you need to trade in your slice of pizza and Chinese take out.

Stop focusing on what you CAN’T eat and focus on the what you CAN eat. Luckily, there are still four more food groups you can enjoy including grains, beans and legumes, fruits and vegetables. Due to the endless ways to cook and enjoy these basic food groups I am going to start from the beginning and offer suggestions for a typical day + my grocery picks when I need to get out of the kitchen.

Breakfast Options

Lunch Options

  • Vegetable Chili
  • Hummus and grilled vegetable sandwich
  • Vegetable sushi (Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe’s always have great options)
  • Bean burrito with guacamole (vegan burritos or burrito bowls at Chipotle are always delicious)

Dinner Options

  • Vegetable and tofu stir-fry
  • Spaghetti with tomato sauce ( Get more out of your pasta with Tolerant Foods bean based vegan, gluten free noodles)
  • Veggie burger with all the fixings (My go to patty choices? Hot Dang, Dr. Praegers) 

Dessert Options

Snack Options

 

Not drooling? Check out my Pinterest feed for more inspiration and try something new, you may surprise yourself.

Look out for next month’s Myth Buster, I’ll be diving into the misconception of protein in our diets and more. 

Culinary School : Month One

Exhausted, sore, perpetually full and loving every minute. I officially have one month of culinary school under my belt. I am learning more than I ever expected, from knife skills, the importance of quality ingredients, proper cooking techniques and new flavor profiles. 

Just like the first day of high school or college, your first day at a new job, culinary school is no different. I laid out my outfit the night before, slept a total of 20 minutes and attempted to Google search the class roster. To say the least the nerves were kicking in. The first day was “syllabus day,” understanding the lay of the land in an attempt to prepare us for the whirlwind experience ahead. 

Once the jitters faded away, uniforms on and knife set in hand, shit got real. Every day we were flooded with information, starting with the basics of identifying different foods and how to work with them, to basic knife skills and proper food handling. In the beginning, all 14 of us were silent as we awkwardly found our way around the kitchen, shy to season with salt or deviate from the recipes we were given. But as the weeks progressed we warmed up to each other, our environment and the idea that our feet will always be sore and our stomachs full. (I mean how are you supposed to know if you are cooking something correctly if you don’t try everyone’s attempt at the perfect vegan burger? Or chocolate soufflé?!).  To say the least, the past month has been thrilling, inspirational and better than anything I could have expected. 

Why Culinary School?

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Before I break into the nitty gritty, it is important to understand the driving force that led me to culinary school and The Natural Gourmet Institute. Food has been a source of energy, inspiration and love throughout my life. I grew up in a large Mid-western family whose idea of holiday traditions and celebrations was nothing shy of an all-you-can-eat buffet. I quickly learned my way around the kitchen by watching and spending time with my mom and aunts and learned how to handle a grill by watching my dad. These family and food-filled gatherings were a place of laughter, love and happiness. Understanding at a young age that food brought people together, inspired me.

My desire to test my creativity in the kitchen escalated as I entered high school. It all began when I decided to bake cupcakes, cakes and cookies to surprise my friends on their birthdays but very quickly grew into something more. I found myself straying away from cookbooks and coming up with my own recipes – ones I would sneak into the kitchen late at night to test out – instead of sitting in my room studying.

By the end of my senior year, I was torn between applying to college or pastry school. After countless hours of research and debates – internally and with my family, I decided to put my passion on the back burner and head to San Diego for college. While in school, I further defined and redefined my passion for cooking, baking and the food industry. I sought out internship opportunities at small to medium sized companies within the industry. Over the course of my college career, I interned for DairyChem, Chuao Chocolatier, Beach Bum Foods, Yelp!, a food-marketing agency Sterling Rice Group, and The Patachou Foundation. Each experience was amazing and taught me more about food, health and food culture than I knew possible.

Beyond my internships, my relationship with food continued to change as I struggled with my weight and began experiencing digestive health problems. I started researching nutrition and alternative cooking methods in order to improve my health. I tried everything from juice cleanses to gluten free, vegan and raw diets. All of which would make me feel great for a few days, until the weekend came and I’d binge on cocktails and late night grub with my friends. After beating myself up week in and week out, disappointed with my semi-conscious decisions and the way it made me feel, I decided to make a lifestyle change that would enhance my life. I came to peace with the idea that health is a balancing act of eating to fuel your body and your soul. For me, that means following a primarily vegan diet full of vitamins, proteins and healthy fats, while maintaining an open mind to alternative diets, new foods and various ways to think about nutrition. As a result, I have cleared my mind, loosened my waistline and amplified my drive to step into the food industry.

Before I knew it college graduation was around the corner… missing the kitchen and hungry to learn more about the foundation of the culinary world I decided to apply to a culinary school. However, I needed a school that shared my passion and outlook on food as a source of nutrition and healing. The Natural Gourmet Institute is a primarily plant based school (in NYC), focused on teaching the fundamentals of culinary technique, nutrition and sustainability to enrich the culinary landscape and change the way we think about food.

I created The Fresh Slice as a way to share my experiences, knowledge and recipes with others. So follow along on Instagram at @TheFreshSlice and check back here for even more insight and inspiration. But most importantly, I’d love to hear from you – so feel free to ask me questions and share your experiences in the comments below or on my Contact page, but most of all bon appetite!