Restaurant-worthy meals at home: how to dress up canned soup and a basic sandwich

Like many people these days, and especially with the husband going back to school, we’re trying to stretch our budget a little further each month. One of the areas we’ve really cut back is eating out/delivery–takeaway Thai, pizzas, lunch out while running errands. Not necessarily the most fun or easy, but I’m learning that there are lots of little ways to recreate our favorite restaurant items at home, or dress up simple meals so they feel a little more “luxe” on the weekend.

One lunch meal that’s easy to recreate is a soup and sandwich combo. Condensed canned soup isn’t exactly the most appealing thing, but I’ve found you can easily dress up a basic tin instead of spending a lot of money on a fancy packaged soup. The same goes for your sandwich–a few mix-ins make all the difference between a basic lunch and one that feels like a takeaway from your favorite cafe.

Fancy up canned tomato soup with spices and almond milk, and add some unexpected fillings to your grilled cheese for a restaurant-worthy combo.

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Vegan Holiday Cooking from Candle Cafe (book review)

'Vegan Holiday Cooking from the Candle Cafe' (book review)(Disclosure: I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. However I was not compensated for writing this review and as always all opinions are my own.)

Vegan holiday cooking doesn’t have to be hard; it can be fun and tasty and please everyone at the table, meat-eaters and gourmands included! This book makes it simple. Crafted by the chefs at the trio of Candle eateries in New York City, this cookbook is divided up into ten menus: Super Bowl (or gametime recipes), Lunar New Year, Valentine’s Day, Passover, Easter, Cindo de Mayo, Fourth of July barbecue, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve. At first glance covering so many different holidays throughout the year might seem a little odd: many cookbooks only focus on the traditional trifecta of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.

However, there’s always been a big gap between the recipes available for non-vegan vs. vegan holiday cooking. I get a variety of magazines that feature seasonally-themed recipes and entertaining guides, and they’re seldom easy to adapt to a vegan table. Easter is all about eggs; Memorial Day and Fourth of July barbecues mean burgers; game time means cheesy nachos; and so on. This cookbook gives you recipes for those events and more.

Plus, lots of the recipes feature here would be great for everyday dinners and will impress even your non-vegan friends. Black bean tacos? Sweet fried dumplings? Roasted squash soup? All would be easy enough to whip up for a weeknight dinner yet look and feel fancy enough for a special occasion.

Lots of big, bright photos will make you hungry just flipping through this book. The recipes are laid out in an easy-to-follow format and the ingredient lists are largely made up of items that can be found at any well-stocked grocery store. (A few, like seitan or arrowroot powder, will require a trip to a natural health food store.)

This cookbook is a must for anyone who loves entertaining, whether you’re totally new to the world of vegan holiday cooking or are a seasoned pro. There are even seasonally appropriate cocktail recipes, and of course some cookie recipes for the Christmas cookie exchange! Yum!

Vegan Holiday Cooking from Candle Cafe (hardcover, 176 pages), by Joy Pierson, Angel Ramos and Jorge Pineda. Published 2014 by Ten Speed Press. Genre: cooking, vegan food, entertaining. Five out of five stars.

24-day diet challenge update

Unsplash Glen Carrie

(photo by Glen Carrie via Unsplash)

I’ve been promising to post about my diet for a while now, and I finally bothered to sit down and write up a meal plan! I’m in the middle of a 24-day cleanse challenge with a girlfriend and so far I’ve had great results.

A lot of people hear the word “cleanse” and automatically think of green juices, liquid diets, taking lots of pills and laxatives, etc. This isn’t any of those. It’s based around healthy, whole foods, lots of water, and a lack of the junk we typically inhale. You can take whatever vitamin supplements you wish. If you like replacing the occasional meal with a protein smoothie you can. But at the core, it’s just healthy, simple foods–lots of lean protein and vegetables–and no processed food. Simple!

On the cleanse you cut out:

  • Coffee, soda, alcohol, and any other sugary drinks (like juice or sugared tea)
  • Processed food (chips, packaged foods or “fast food”)
  • Fried food and any fatty add-ons like creamy dips and dressings
  • White sugar (basically anything with added sugar)
  • White flour (bread, pasta, etc.)
  • Most dairy
  • Red meat

 

Instead you eat:

  • Lean protein (tofu is perfect for me–my friend is eating lean chicken and Greek yogurt but obviously I don’t eat those)
  • Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Complex carbs (sweet potatoes, quinoa, etc.)
  • Healthy fats such as nuts, beans, hummus, etc.

 

You also drink a lot of water. As a general rule you take your body weight, divide that number in half, and drink that many ounces of water per day. So if you weigh 150 pounds, you’ll drink 75 ounces of water each day.

Each day you have three meals based around a lean protein (like tempeh), a vegetable (or fruit for breakfast), and a complex carb (like sweet potatoes or quinoa). You also get three small snacks (of 200 calories or less) and endless cups of unsweetened tea and water. Here’s a sample meal plan from a recent workday:

  • 30 minutes before breakfast: green tea with lemon, no sugar
  • Breakfast: oatmeal* with a banana and a dab of peanut butter
  • Mid-morning snack: carrots and hummus
  • Lunch: veggie stirfry with tempeh; berries for dessert; more tea
  • Snack: apple
  • Dinner: large spinach salad with quinoa (for protein–could also use chickpeas or tempeh) and diced veggies; fruit for dessert
  • Snack: glass of warm almond milk

 

*I mix oatmeal with flax, wheat germ and chia seeds and shake it up in a large container so it’s premixed and ready to cook in the microwave. It’s tastier than plain oatmeal and gives you a nice health boost.

Obviously I’m eating a lot, but amazingly enough, I’ve lost ten pounds in the past ten days. I can’t say it’s because I’ve upped my activity level, either, because I’m being as lazy as ever (hey, there are books to be read!). Since starting this diet I have so much more energy and I feel so much better. I thought I would miss donuts, noodles and tons of coffee with tasty sugary creamer in it, but I don’t.

By contrast earlier this year when I got in a rut and was not eating healthy at all, a typical day might include…

  • Three or four cups of coffee with flavored creamer
  • Toast
  • Fritos and an apple (at least I tried to be a little healthy) for a snack
  • Teriyaki noodles for lunch; more coffee or an energy drink; some kind of dessert
  • A donut or other “pick-me-up” for a snack
  • Pasta, French Toast, mac n cheese, or some other similar comfort food for dinner

 

Very little in the way of vegetables and fruits, not enough lean protein, and way too many carbs and processed foods. It’s no wonder I was sluggish and cranky. The weekends were even worse, with fried foods, soda and extra desserts thrown into the mix. I was still eating vegan, I just wasn’t being a very health-conscious vegan.

A big part of this diet has been learning to swap out my less-healthy old favorites for better options. Once a week I’ll still treat myself to my old favorite, pasta, but instead of a big bowl of white pasta with garlic bread on the side I have a small bowl of whole-wheat pasta with an extra-chunky veggie sauce and a salad instead of bread. I’m drinking tea instead of coffee. I spread a little peanut butter on a banana instead of eating a plate of toast.

How much I eat also depends on the day. If I have a busy workday and feel I need to up my protein intake, but don’t have time for food prep, I’ll mix up a vegan protein shake. If I’m at home all day and I’m not that hungry, I’ll sip lots of tea and graze on fruits and veggies instead of forcing myself to eat a big meal. I listen to my body and eat more or less according to what it’s telling me.

Another key has been learning to “arc” my meals according to the rhythm of the day. I used to eat very little until I got home from work, when I would load up on pasta, French Toast or other “comfort foods”. Now I try to get most of my carbs in the first half of the day, when I really need to power up my energy (and admittedly, my mood). I also aim to start the day with a boost of protein and a little fat, since these help with energy and tamping down hunger. As I shift into the second half of the day, I’ll shift to lighter snacks/meals based around fruits and veggies. By the end of the day I’m not really hungry or if I do need a little something, I can have a tiny snack and be happy.

So that’s it! Simple, really. I still crave potato chips, bread, desserts and lattes now and then, but the longer I stick to my protein/veggie/complex carb system of filling out my plate, the easier it gets.

Any questions? Anything I didn’t cover?

Vegan waffles (recipe)

Waffles with strawberries

Egg-less waffles are a bit of a challenge, and while I won’t claim that these waffles are as light and fluffy as a feather, they do a pretty good job of imitating regular ol’ waffles for those of us who don’t eat eggs or don’t want to run to the store in a pinch. I’m still tweaking my recipe, so you might see an updated version on the blog in the future, but for now this is how I make waffles that aren’t tough and won’t stick to the waffle iron like some of my older eggless versions tended to do.

Ingredients

  • 1 ripe banana, mashed
  • 1.75 cups almond milk
  • 1/2 cup melted vegan butter or oil
  • 2 cups flour
  • 4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • Strawberries and syrup for topping

In a mixing bowl, combine the banana, milk and oil. In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients and mix well; add to the main mixing bowl and mix lightly. (Overmixing will yield tougher waffles.)

Mist a hot waffle iron with non-stick cooking spray and pour in the batter, about 3/4 cup at a time. (The amount will depend on the size of the waffle iron that you’re using.) Cook until there is no longer steam escaping from the waffle iron or until the waffle is nicely browned and slightly crispy at the edges (about five minutes). Serve topped with butter, syrup and sliced strawberries. Enjoy!

Review + giveaway: MatchaDNA Black Matcha Tea

(Disclosure: I got this product as part of an advertorial.)
 

I have another review and giveaway for you guys! MatchaDNA was kind enough to send me a package of their Black Matcha Tea for review. A blend of organic black and green teas, this powdered matcha is perfect for smoothies, lattes and more! Less bitter than traditional brewed green tea and with ten times more antioxidants per cup, it’s also a great metabolism booster and offers increased energy without the crash you get from drinking coffee.

I find that I only use about a half teaspoon to make a latte, so the package will last me a long time. You can add a bit of sweetener if you like, though I find that this tea has a slightly more floral note than straight green tea, so you might be able to skip this step. (And honestly, I’m trying to get away from sweetening all of my drinks anyway!)

If you’re trying to kick your coffee habit or just cut back a little, this is a really nice replacement. I feel like this gives me a much more sustained energy burn, as opposed to a quick pick-me-up and then needing more caffeine shortly thereafter. It also doesn’t leave you with the jitters you expect from drinking too much coffee or energy drinks, so if your caffeine habit is leaving you tossing and turning instead of sleeping soundly at night, give this a try instead.

If you’d like to pick up your own package of Black Matcha Tea, head over to Amazon.com; this product typically retails for $39.99/10-oz., but it’s currently on sale for $12.71. Or enter my giveaway below using the Rafflecopter widget! The giveaway is open to U.S. residents through June 30th; a winner will be drawn and notified on July 1st. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

(I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free using Tomoson.com. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.)