Goodness Graze-ness

It’s 4pm as I type this and I just snuck a cookie into my mouth. A delicious, dark chocolate-covered cookie. Aren’t snacks the greatest?! I love snacks. They can be sweet or savory, crispy or gooey, eaten with a spoon or your fingers.

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Now you can call me the laziest person ever, but I’m a snack subscriber. Literally. A friend gave me a hard time about this (HI, SARAH!), but I have to say that I have been loving my experience with graze, which is a service that sends snacks right to your mailbox weekly, every other week, or monthly.

Calm down – this isn’t a sponsored post. I just like graze that much and it would be unfair for me to talk about snacks without mentioning them! And if you’re curious, then click on any of the graze links in this post to get your 1st and 5th box free. No commitment required at all so you can cancel after you get your 1st box.

I love graze because I get four different snacks in every box, each is the perfect portion, and you can specify dietary restrictions, including vegan (which I haven’t opted into just yet… let’s be real… but I do declare myself a vegetarian). I have found that it’s different from other snack subscription services because each snack is the perfect portion for one sitting and they travel well – which is a huge plus for me since I’m often jetting off somewhere and pack snacks as if I will end up on a deserted island with zero food.

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Here’s my latest box. Three out of the four snacks are 100% vegan. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but the package itself is smaller than a sheet of paper (approx 6 1/2 x 9 inches) and about one inch thick. It fits right into most mailboxes or PO boxes and can easily be mistaken for non-food.

This box’s snacks were:

  • Smoky chipotle dip with rosemary breadsticks – interesting
  • Berries and cream gelato – yum! but not vegan
  • Lightly salted popcorn – who doesn’t love popcorn?
  • Salt & vinegar nut selection – perfect right before that time of the month, ya hear me, ladies?

So, okay. Popcorn and nuts are things I can easily buy and that in the long run cost me less than getting this box. But I’m the type of person who has no self control when it comes to delicious snacks, so I need the measured-out portions. I can also be very fickle so I end up with half a bag of uneaten nuts that I end up throwing away. I also can’t say enough about the variety. This is my 4th or 5th box and I haven’t had any duplicate snacks. Things like the dippers and fruity mixes are always really fresh and not necessarily easy to get in your local grocery store. I love graze for these reasons.

I did recently switch my subscription from every other week to monthly. I have found myself doing a better job of buying “fresh” snacks like hummus and raw fruits and veggies and not-so-healthy-but-yummy cookies so monthly seems more reasonable. It’s great to have the option to change the timing. You can also choose 8-snack variety boxes or opt to get only savory or only sweet. Top it all off with being able to rate your snacks and graze is a great user-friendly service!

Other things worth mentioning:

  • nutrition facts and full ingredient list is included with every box
  • a fun little tip sheet is also included
  • the web site itself is easy to use and mobile-friendly, but I wish they had an app. Get on that, graze!

xoxo!
Melissa

 

Let’s “vegan” again

Hi. My name is Melissa. I am a chicken wing-aholic. And I’m not talking about vegan “chicken” wings. I’m talking CHICKEN WINGS.

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We’re talking full-on Cookie Monster-style eating of chicken wings. I’m not proud of it.

The holidays have come and gone since I last posted and I have to confess that I have gone down a dark path leading back to an onmivore lifestyle. I can offer perfectly somewhat rational explanations for it, but the gist is this: I was hungry and there was a tray of Korean fried chicken wings in front of me. I went for it and didn’t barf or blow up so I just kept right on eating the chicken… and the burger… and the turkey… and the beef egg roll… and the prime rib…

And boom – here I am now, about three months after that first chicken wing, feeling gross and heavy and literally five pounds heavier.

Here’s the thing: I was pretty good for I’d say about six months or so, but I have yet to figure out how to completely eliminate eggs, seafood, and cheese from my diet. And now I am faced with the horrible thought of never eating a chicken wing ever again. So I may never be 100% vegan. I won’t beat myself up about it. But I can definitely take conscious steps toward making better food choices again. Will I die if I eat a chicken wing? Only if I choke on it or someone laces it with poison. Will I die if I eat a carrot or apple? Nope… unless I choke on it or someone laces it with poison.

This month on Turning Veganese, I’ll be reminding myself and all of you awesome readers that being vegan or even just making better food choices doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated. I’ll tell you about some great products and recipes I have discovered that help make healthy cooking and eating more fun and worthwhile. And I’ll be open about my real diet and share recipes that may include dairy or eggs or seafood — with explanations of why I add them and how the recipe is still great without it or by substituting something else.

In retrospect, I think I was spot-on in naming the blog “Turning Veganese” because it’s a continuous journey for me. I hope you’ll all stick around for the ride!

-Melissa

 

Purple Yam Fries

Purple Yams

Purple yams: WTF?! They are actually very commonly used in Filipino desserts. We call it ube (pronounced ooh-beh, but if you say “oob” we’ll still know what you’re talking about) and we put this stuff in cake and ice cream and a bunch of other stuff! This post on Jun-blog sums up how it’s used in Filipino cuisine and it’s worth the read!

Anyway, I’m not here today to talk about dessert. I am here to talk about an easy and slightly savory way to enjoy this fantastic freak of nature! And it truly is fantastic: In addition to being boldly colored, purple yams have important antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. They’re also a great source of vitamin A and, on a smaller scale, potassium and calcium.

Purple Yam Fries

Ube (Purple Yam) Fries

1 purple yam
2-3 tsp safflower or canola oil
salt and any other spices you desire, to taste

1. Set your oven to 425 degrees.

2. Bake the yam, whole, for 45-60 minutes, until tender.

3. Let it cool.

You can eat the yams now if you want, just take off the skin (which should come off easily, or the yam should slide right out of it easily) and chow down! Or, you can move on to the next step to make the fries.

4. With skin removed, slice the potato into strips or whatever shape you desire. They might give off a weird odor: this is normal!

5. Gently coat the pieces in the oil and spices. Place in a single layer on a baking sheet, and bake again for another 15-25 minutes, until crispy. Check on them halfway through and flip over the pieces.

6. Serve hot!

I enjoyed these guys plain: the natural sweetness and starchiness of purple yams require no embellishment aside from a sprinkle of salt. If you’re into dipping stuff, I would recommend vegan mayo or vegan mayo with Sriracha for a nice kick.

This was the first time I really cooked and enjoyed purple yams as a non-dessert. They’re so much fun. I’d love to make purple mashed potatoes, purple potato chips, and of course, vegan ube desserts.

I love versatile foods!

 

Bosc Pears Are My Comfort Food

I had a moment recently when I felt hopeless and horrified and needed something to help me cope. No one died, it wasn’t any major, life-changing event. But I definitely needed something, I just wasn’t sure what that was yet. So I drove to the grocery store, thinking some cake would offer some temporary (if unhealthy) comfort. Then, it hit me… what I really needed was a Bosc pear! I just love these guys and that first bite immediately made me feel better. (For the record, I also bought cake. It made me feel gross.)

Bosc pear

Bosc pears are my ultimate comfort food. They are a true favorite of mine. I know this because these pears are something that I just happened to like as a little kid. It wasn’t something assigned to me because I ate it that one time and liked it. You know how it goes… you eat something and say it’s yummy and all of a sudden you’re known for liking that thing. I never sought it out, but I was always happy to eat it when we had some. They’re so sweet and juicy! And it has to be a Bosc pear. Other pears are merely weird-shaped apples to me.

Pears aren’t just delicious: they have health benefits, too! They’re a great source of antioxidants and phytonutrients, which are a good thing. They’re also a good source of carbs and dietary fiber. I prefer to eats pears in their natural state, but there are plenty of ways to enjoy them:

  • Add them to salads
  • Make tarts or pies
  • Bake or poach them
  • Add them to cocktails (yum)
  • Give them kisses because they’re so good

Bosc pear

I would love to go a Bosc pear farm (orchard?), pick pears right from the tree and eat them. Add that to my bucket list!

Easy Quinoa With Mushrooms and Spinach

Quinoa. Mushrooms. Spinach. What could go wrong? Nothing! It’s a great dish for vegans and non-vegans and it’s very easy to make, especially if you have a rice cooker.

Let me take a step back for a minute: I haven’t been the best vegan lately. I can rattle off all the usual lame excuses and legitimate reasons but it really boils down to this: I haven’t been eating well, whether I’m being a good vegan or breaking down and eating a block of cheese with a side of yogurt. I’ve also been exercising a lot more which is great, but I can definitely feel that it’s bordering on unhealthy because I’m not getting proper nutrition.

I’m trying to get back to healthy eating – meaning that I’m trying to ensure that I’m getting all the nutrients I need. This easy quinoa dish is a step in the right direction. It makes a great side dish with tofu or other protein of your choice and is totally versatile. Add some walnuts or sweet peppers or squash! Yum.

Quinoa with mushrooms and spinach

Easy Quinoa with Mushrooms and Spinach

(adapted from Damn Delicious)

1 cup quinoa
1 lb mushrooms, sliced (I used baby bellas)
5 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 cup spinach
1 tbsp canola or safflower oil
salt and pepper to taste

1. Rinse and cook quinoa according to the package instructions. I use a rice cooker and it is perfection!

2. Heat up the oil in a pan. Toss in the garlic. After it starts getting fragrant, toss in the mushrooms, salt and pepper, and saute until cooked, about 3-4 minutes.

3. Lower the heat or remove from heat altogether and toss in the spinach – it all depends on whether you want the spinach fully cooked or just wilted.

4. Stir in the quinoa until well combined.

I ate this by itself, but I encouraged the fam to eat it as a side dish with fish or chicken. Feel free to throw in other spices or veggies! I myself sprinkled some crushed red pepper on this and that added a great kick.

As far as nutrition goes, I felt really good about eating this since:

  • Quinoa is a good protein source AND has a perfect balance of important amino acids AND also has a good amount of fiber and iron
  • Baby bellas are a great source of selenium, niacin, copper and pantothenic acid – all good things
  • Spinach is just awesome. Do I really have to explain why? There’s a reason that Popeye wolfed down a can of it to power up!

 

Easy Vegan Fudge from Decadent Gluten-Free Vegan Baking

Fork and Beans by Cara Reed is easily one of the best vegan cooking blogs out there. Cara finally published her first book Decadent Gluten-Free Vegan Baking in August and I was lucky enough to get my hands on it! Being the lazy vegan that I am, I gravitated toward her recipe for Easy Vegan Fudge. I mean, it’s got “easy” in the title and requires no actual baking!

I made these treats for a fall potluck hosted by What’s Cookin, Chicago and Bears in the Kitchen. If you’re in the Chicago area, check out these guys for upcoming food blogger events! Definitely check them out if you like food (and you know you do).

Vegan Fudge

Click here to see the recipe and much more vegan goodness on Fork and Beans

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 c non-dairy chocolate chips – I used dark chocolate morsels (about 1 1/2 packages) by Enjoy Life
  • 1/2 c. coconut cream – see below for my notes on coconut cream!!
  • 1/2 c. non dairy milk – I used almond milk
  • Dash salt – um, I totally forgot to add salt and nothing imploded
  • 1 c. chopped nuts, optional (or more!) – I skipped the nuts for the batch above, but I love me some walnuts!
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS:

  1. In heavy saucepan, over low heat, melt chips with coconut cream, non-dairy milk, and salt.  Remove from heat.
  2. Stir in nuts if desired and vanilla.  Spread evenly into wax paper lined small square pan — or stick them into cute little cupcake thingys like I did.  Place more chopped nuts on top if desired.
  3. Chill 2 hours or until firm.
  4. Turn fudge onto cutting board, peel off paper and cut into squares.  Store covered in fridge.

Here’s what you need to know about coconut cream: They’re not all made the same or equally. This recipe requires something that actually says “coconut cream” on the label. Cream of coconut won’t cut it! But it will result in a heavy chocolate pudding-like treat. Coconut cream from Trader Joe’s is what works!!

Chocolate: I really like products from Enjoy Life because they are exactly like real chocolate chips and are not only dairy-free but also soy-free. They aren’t messing around with their dark chocolate, either! So grab their “milk” chocolate chips if you like something sweeter.

Don’t forget to visit Fork and Beans and pick up Cara’s book if you like what you see!

Juicing with Bitter Melon

I’m really excited because I have been invited by Williams-Sonoma to participate in their Juice Week! My mission was to share a recipe of a juice that “bites back” or contains a wild ingredient. What better ingredient to fulfill this mission than the enigmatic bitter melon?

I enlisted my Mom’s help with this since she juices regularly. Her recipes vary, but all of them have four basic ingredients: carrot, celery, cucumber and granny smith apple. She adds lemon and ginger for a nice punch. Ginger in itself is a wild ingredient that adds a spicy kick to any juice! All we did was add one bitter melon to the mix.

Juicing Bitter Melon

Basically Bitter Juice

Juice together the following ingredients:

1 bitter melon, de-seeded*
1 large cucumber
1 large carrot
1 Granny Smith apple
3 celery stalks
1/2 lemon with rind but remove the seeds
Ginger, to taste

*To remove the seeds from bitter melon, slice it in half, lengthwise, and then use a teaspoon to scoop out the seeds and membranes, leaving only the tough green skin.

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Here is what the juice looks like! The hue actually fluctuates between green and orange, depending on how everything is settled and the lighting. As for how it tastes, the apple is enough to give this juice a sweetness and offset some of the bitterness, and the spiciness of the ginger can be felt in the throat.

Although this recipe includes bitter melon, the bitterness is not at all an overpowering flavor. Everything melds together nicely in this combination. The addition of a second bitter melon will definitely add that punch, but it’s still not super overpowering. I love this about bitter melon: it plays well with others. Even when cooked with other vegetables or meats, it doesn’t contaminate the dish with its flavor.

The great thing about juicing is that you can get any combination of ingredients and use how much or how little of each one that you like. There’s no science or precision when my mom juices. This might be scary to some, but if you’re making the effort to juice at home, then take the opportunity to test out ingredients and measurements to develop “your” juice.

Our juicer is the Breville Juice Fountain Plus. After tying out other juicers, including a Vitamix, we found this one to be our favorite everyday juicer. It hasn’t let us down and I recommend it for its quality and cost compared to other juicers. It’s all up to your personal preference – and Williams-Sonoma has a great selection to choose from.

If you’re ever curious about bitter melon, you should be able to find them at Asian grocery stores. In the Chicago area, I recommend Tai Nam on Broadway or any of the grocery stores on Devon Ave. They are of great quality in the summertime since they are in season!

What crazy ingredients do you add to your juice? Let us know in the comments! –Melissa

Plane Foodie Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of my in-flight meal review! If you read Part 1, then you know that I was very happy and satisfied with the meal I had on my flight to Ireland. Coming back home had some different results. The vegetarian meal looked promising. The salad was much more “exotic” with the inclusion of cucumber, radishes, and greens other than iceberg lettuce. The dressing was again a balsamic vinaigrette, presented in a packet instead of a cute little bottle. I got crackers, a roll and some margarine. And dessert consisted of fruit.

Turning Veganese - Plane Food

The entree was yellow lentils and dhokla with some eggplant. Dhokla is made with a fermented batter derived from rice and chickpea splits. The lentils were good. I’m not familiar with dhokla so I didn’t know what to make of it. It tasted fine but was nothing to write home about. The eggplant was kind of gross. I don’t know what kind of sauce was on it, but the eggplant itself was rubbery.

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I was happy with the fruit for dessert! The strawberries, oranges and melon were really good and fresh. I avoided the pineapple to avoid any tummy issues.

The rest of the passengers had a choice between chicken with gnocchi or cheesy spinach pasta. I don’t remember what kind of dressing came with it, but my mom opted to use the rest of my balsamic vinaigrette in her salad. I tried some of the gnocchi – it was prepared with a tomato sauce and was much more tasty than my entree. Their dessert was a cookie.

Next time you fly and your ticket includes a meal, don’t forget to call up the airline and request a vegan or vegetarian meal! It’s an adventure in itself and may even help introduce you to new foods like dhokla.

Stay tuned – I’ll be posting soon on my culinary adventures in Ireland! –Melissa

Plane Foodie Part 1

Hey, remember when airlines used to provide snacks or meals on every flight? That doesn’t happen on domestic flights anymore — unless you’re a fancy first class passenger — but it thankfully still occurs on international flights (okay, maybe not flights from Chicago to, say, Toronto, but you get it).

So why am I talking about plane food? I just got back from a ten day trip to Ireland. Prior to leaving, I was told by more than one person that Ireland is a beautiful place. They’re not kidding!

Ireland - Cliffs of Moher

We contacted the airline prior to our departure to request a vegetarian meal. Note: VEGETARIAN, not vegan. You can also request a vegan/non-dairy meal. That said, the special meals that I got were vegan as far as I could tell. What was also interesting is that one of the two options for the rest of the passengers was vegetarian, which is great! For our flight to Dublin, my entree was a Curried Garbanzo Bean Medley. It came with a side salad, including balsamic vinaigrette dressing, a roll, and honeydew wedges.

Turning Veganese Plane Food

I just love these little salad dressings. For the record, everyone else got a French dressing.

Salad Dressing

I give the entree 4 out of 5 stars. It was really tasty and surprisingly spicy, and I was glad to have a great protein source. The rice was good as was the broccoli, but I felt like some of the carrots were too mushy. Anyone averse to Indian flavors like cumin would not have liked it at all. In that moment, I was grateful that I found the dish tasty and gave myself a pat on the back for being a non-picky eater.

Garbanzos

As I mentioned earlier, one of the options for everyone else was a vegetarian pasta. It looked good and wasn’t creamy or cheesy, so I would have eaten it. And on another day, I may have preferred it. But the great thing about these special meals is that the special diet is considered in all the meal components. There is no butter for the roll, a non-dairy salad dressing is provided, and the dessert is fruit! FRUIT IS AWESOME, especially on long flights – and makes requesting a special meal worth it! It was also much healthier than the 150 calorie cookie given to everyone else.

Even though it should be a no-brainer, I’m happy that airlines provide special meals without any hassle or added fees. It makes traveling, especially overseas, a much more pleasant experience. You also get your food before everyone else, which is pretty nice.

Check back soon for the “plane foodie” review of return flight meal. I will also be sharing some of my favorite dining experiences in Ireland! –Melissa

Summer Favorite: Bitter Melon (Ampalaya)

It never truly feels like summer until we can start harvesting the veggies from my dad’s garden. I feel so lucky that we always had the freshest vegetables in the summer and even luckier that we had “weird” veggies like eggplant and long green beans along with the typical tomatoes.

I got really excited yesterday when I spotted freshly picked bitter melon or ampalaya in my mom and dad’s kitchen:

Bitter Melon

Not everyone is a fan of bitter melon because it’s, well, bitter. But there are lots of different ways to prepare it which equals a lot of chances for you to acquire a taste for it. One of the things I would like to try is adding it to juice recipes. It’ll kick the flavor up a notch!

Many people believe that bitter melon has health benefits, but there are also some things to consider if you have the desire to go on a bitter melon binge. Note that while it is supposed to help with diabetes, it can also interact with diabetes medication. And one of the things that I was always told is that it’s supposed to help alleviate those pesky cramps that ladies get, but this also means that it is somewhat of a blood thinner.

Here are two bitter melon recipes that reflect its versatility!

Bitter Melon Salad – This is a raw recipe that I usually make with tomato and onion, but I also modify it by using strawberry in place of tomato which results in a playful mixture of bitter and sweet flavors.

Bitter Melon Salad

Stuffed Bitter Melon – I am still so proud of this recipe! The bitter melon is stuffed with soy curls mixed with Asian and spicy flavors and then baked.

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What are your thoughts on bitter melon? Let us know in the comments! -Melissa