The Magic of Cashews: the Vegan’s Secret Weapon

When I was first learning to be vegan, I went to a raw vegan cooking class and the chef was so excited about soaked, raw nuts.  I had no clue what she was talking about, and I had no idea there was even such a thing as “raw” nuts.  It turns out the raw vegan chef was onto something – soaking raw nuts can soften them up and breaks down a protective acid in the nuts.

As for “raw” nuts, they’re just nuts that haven’t been roasted or processed yet.  They do need to be soaked to break down the acid.  I found many types of raw nuts in the bulk section at my neighborhood Whole Foods.

Now for the magic!  When you soak cashews overnight and then blend them with water the next day, you get, wait for it, a cream sauce.  This cream sauce is incredibly versatile because it’s pretty bland / generic.  You can sweeten it up or make it savory, and it’s an overall great replacement for cream (dairy-free people of the world rejoice!).

Here’s how you make the magic cashew cream happen:

Cashew Cream

  • 2 cups whole, raw cashews, rinsed very well under cold water
  • Water

Instructions

  • Put the cashews in a bowl (or mason jar) and add cold water to cover them.  Cover the bowl / jar and place in the refrigerator overnight.
  • Drain the soaked cashews and rinse under cold water.
  • Place the rinsed cashews in a high-speed blender with enough fresh cold water to cover them by 1 inch.  Blend on high for several minutes until very smooth.
  • Note: To make a thicker cashew cream, simply reduce the amount of water in the blender, so the water just covers the cashews.
Soaked Cashews -  Preparing for Cashew Cream Sauce

Soaked Cashews – Preparing for Cashew Cream Sauce

Once you’ve got this cream made, you can add garlic and nutritional yeast to make an alfredo sauce.  Or, you can add pumpkin and maple syrup to make a pumpkin pie base (more to come on this later this week!).

I’ll be testing out recipes with the magic of soaked cashews over the coming weeks and hunting for new ones on pinterest.  Let me know if you have some favorites!

signature 2

Posted in Learning to be Vegan | Leave a comment

Vegan Spinach Lasagna

There are times when we want warm comfort foods, and vegans are no exceptions.  Lasagna is one of those hot, filling, delicious meals that is perfect for a crowd.

A few weeks ago I had my parents in town and was looking for a vegan comfort food to cook, and I stumbled on this recipe for Vegan Spinach Tofu Lasagna from Good Housekeeping.  I gave it a go and found it to be really delicious!  Surprisingly, the tofu “ricotta” is really tasty as the tofu picks up the flavors you add to it.  I made it again this week for two friends, and they both liked it!  Give this recipe a go when you’ve got a crowd coming over this winter – they won’t even know it’s made with tofu!

Vegan Spinach Lasagna

Recipe source: Good Housekeeping 

  • 1 box no-boil lasagna noodles (1/2 to 1 pound or 225 to 455 g)
  • 2 packages frozen, chopped spinach, thawed and drained  (10 ounces, or 280 g, each)
  • 2 packages firm tofu (16 ounces, or 455 g)
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar (13 g)
  • 1/4 cup nondairy milk (such as rice, oat, soy, almond, or hazelnut), or as needed (60 ml)
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder or 2 peeled garlic cloves
  • Juice from 1/2 lemon (about 2 tablespoons [30 ml])
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh basil (about 20 leaves or 5 g)
  • 1 teaspoon salt (6 g or to taste)
  • 2 jars tomato or pasta sauce of your choice (4 to 6 cups or 980 to 1470 g)

Instructions

  1. Well in advance: set out the frozen spinach to thaw.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C).
  3. Squeeze as much water from thawed spinach as possible and set aside. (If using fresh spinach, blanch first.)
  4. Place tofu, sugar, milk, garlic powder, lemon juice, basil and salt in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. The tofu “ricotta” should be creamy but still have body.
  5. Transfer to large-size bowl, and stir in spinach. Continue tasting until you get amount of salt just right.
  6. Cover bottom of 9 x 13-inch (23 x 33 cm) baking dish with a thin layer of tomato sauce, then a layer of noodles (I used 4 no-boil noodles).  Create repeated layers in the following order until you reach the top of the dish or you run out of food (I used all but 1 lasagna noodle):
    1. Tofu Ricotta
    2. Tomato/Pasta Sauce
    3. Noodles
  7. End with remaining noodles, covered by remaining tomato sauce.
  8. Bake covered with tinfoil for 40 to 45 minutes, until hot and bubbling.

Variations:

  • Add sautéed mushrooms or meatless meat crumbles (Boca crumbles) to your tomato sauce.
  • This recipe is also great for making stuffed shells. To do so, stuff pasta shells with the tofu ricotta from this recipe, place them in a baking dish, pour on tomato sauce and bake in a 350 degrees F (180 degrees C) oven for 20 to 30 minutes.
Vegan Spinach Lasagna

Vegan Spinach Lasagna

Enjoy this delicious vegan comfort food!

-Trina

Posted in Main dishes, Vegan Cooking | Leave a comment

Vegan Candy for Halloween!

I often joke that I am eating more plants for beauty, but the concept that my plant-based meals are “cruelty free” is never far from my mind.  There’s a lot of shady stuff going on with the way we “manufacture” our animal products these days, and the less I contribute to that the better.

That’s how we get to today – Halloween!  A day for eating lots and lots of candy.  While consuming near toxic levels of sugar isn’t healthy and doesn’t contribute to glowing skin, it does happen on Halloween so I was curious about which candies were considered vegan or free of animal products.  Of course, PETA has a list of vegan candies.  They say that these are candies made with out animal products, including the following sneaky animal-based ingredients: gelatin (cow’s bones), carmine color (crushed beetles), and confectioner’s glaze (made from female lac beetles).

25 Vegan Halloween Candies (source: PETA):

  1. Airheads
  2. Bottle Caps
  3. Chick-o-Sticks
  4. Cry Babies
  5. Dots
  6. Dum Dums
  7. Fireballs
  8. Fruit by the Foot
  9. Fun Dip
  10. Hubba Hubba bubble gum
  11. Jolly Ranchers
  12. Laffy Taffy (some varieties)
  13. Mamba Fruit Chews
  14. Goldenburg’s Peanut Chews (Original Dark Chocolate Variety)
  15. Pixy Stix
  16. Runts
  17. Skittles (all US flavors)
  18. Smarties
  19. Sour Patch Kids
  20. Spooky Nerds (orange-and-white punch flavors)
  21. Starburst Minis
  22. Swedish Fish
  23. SweeTARTS
  24. Twizzlers
  25. Zots

Read the list and candy descriptions here: http://www.peta.org/living/food/25-vegan-halloween-candies/#ixzz3HipBzmJY

 

Sour Patch Kids are one of my favorite kinds of vegan Halloween candy  (photo source: PETA.org)

Sour Patch Kids are one of my favorite kinds of vegan Halloween candy
(photo source: PETA.org)

Happy Halloween everyone!

signature 2

Posted in Learning to be Vegan | 1 Comment

Eating Vegan in Public: Chipotle

As a consultant who travels every week, I was really worried that I would have trouble finding plant-based meals to eat while on the road.  This could not have been farther from the truth!  There are all kinds of delicious vegan options out there, and it’s pretty easy to find meals that work.

Of all the places I eat at while on the road (let’s be real, when I’m home too…), Chipotle is one of my favorites.  It’s very easy to make a filling, delicious vegan meal and they have a ton of resources available on their website.

Here are some things to think about when eating vegan at Chipotle:

  • Know their vegan menu items.  The meat is obviously not vegan, but only two things at Chipotle contain milk: sour cream and cheese.  Their flour and corn tortillas are vegan (hooray!).  Chipotle has clearly laid out their food allergens in a handy grid located here.  To find out the ingredient list for all of their food, click here.
  • Plan out your meal with the nutrition calculator.  If you’re counting calories or you simply want to know what nutrients you’re getting from your food, play around with Chipotle’s nutrition calculator.  It was through this tool that I learned about the amount of sodium in the pico de gallo…yikes.
  • Learn about Chipotle’s “Food with Integrity” commitment.  Chipotle does their best to get organic and local produce, and they try support farmers who utilize more sustainable practices.  Learn more about it here.
  • Chipotle is coming out with a vegan “meat” option called Sofritas.  In Chicago, I’ve seen the sofritas offered at a local Chipotle.  It’s tofu that is braised in spices and sounds delicious.  Learn more about Sofritas here.
Chipotle Sofritas Image Source: Chipotle

Chipotle Sofritas
Image Source: Chipotle

  • Know some easy vegan meals at Chipotle:
    • Tacos (corn or flour)
      • Fajita veggies
      • Black or pinto beans
      • Pico de gallo / salsa
      • Corn salsa
      • Guacamole
      • Lettuce
    • Salads
      • Lettuce
      • Fajita veggies
      • Black or pinto beans
      • Pico de gallo / salsa
      • Corn salsa
      • Guacamole
    • Burritos /Burrito Bowls
      • Fajita veggies
      • White or brown cilantro-lime rice
      • Black or pinto beans
      • Pico de gallo / salsa
      • Corn salsa
      • Guacamole
      • Lettuce
    • Chips and salsa or guacamole
Chipotle Fajita Veggies Image Source: Chipotle

Chipotle Fajita Veggies
Image Source: Chipotle

Are there any other plant eaters out there who love Chipotle as much as I do?

signature 2

Posted in Eating Vegan in Public | Leave a comment

Spaghetti squash season is upon us!

Fall is here and winter squash are in season – yay!  This means it’s time to get our fill of spaghetti squash.  At first this seemingly normal, oblong squash appears to be just another squash, until you bake it and the flesh comes out stringy like spaghetti.  It makes for a wonderful, low-calorie pasta replacement that is perfect for vegans, vegetarians, paleo, gluten-free, dairy-free and low-calorie folks!

I’ve cooked up two this year and was surprised by how easy it was.  The steps below are some basic guidelines for roasting spaghetti squash. The beauty with this food is that you can flavor and sauce-it-up to your liking!

Roasted Spaghetti Squash

  • 1 spaghetti squash
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Pasta sauce of choice

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Cut squash in half (the long way) and scoop out the seeds and stringy guts.
  3. Drizzle with olive oil (approximately 2 tbsp) and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  4. Place squash halves face down on a baking sheet (I lined mine with foil so it was easy to clean up).  Note: throw some other veggies alongside the squash for a simple – I used potatoes.
  5. Roast upside down for 45-50 minutes.
  6. Remove from the oven and let cool.
  7. Use a fork to scrape out the flesh which will come out like spaghetti.
  8. Toss with your choice of pasta sauce.

Cool thing about spaghetti squash: they keep for a few weeks in a cool, dry place!

Here are the pictures of my adventures with roasting spaghetti squash:

Spaghetti squash cut in half, cleaned, drizzled with olive oil and salt and pepper added.

Spaghetti squash cut in half, cleaned, drizzled with olive oil and salt and pepper added.

Spaghetti squash and potatoes ready to roast at 400 for 45-50 minutes!

Spaghetti squash and potatoes ready to roast at 400 for 45-50 minutes!

Hot squash!  Spaghetti squash fresh out of the oven.

Hot squash! Spaghetti squash fresh out of the oven.

It's MAGIC! From squash to spaghetti-like strings!  Just use a fork to make this happen.

It’s MAGIC! From squash to spaghetti-like strings! Just use a fork to make this happen.

Spaghetti squash with marinara sauce served with potatoes and salad.

Spaghetti squash with marinara sauce served with potatoes and salad. So much plant-based goodness 🙂

Does anyone else have any simple ways to cook spaghetti squash or their favorite winter squash?

signature 2

Posted in Main dishes, Vegan Cooking | 2 Comments

Becoming Dairy Free

One of the biggest reasons I held off on changing my diet to improve my skin was because I never thought I could give up one particular animal product: DAIRY.  I loved cheese – on pizza, in pasta, a slice on its own, with wine, etc.  Also, there was ice cream and whipped cream and butter, oh my….how could I quit this decadence??

I reached a breaking point with my skin, and I just did it.  I cut out dairy….and, you know what?  It’s not that bad.  In fact, I feel awesome without it in my life and have learned strategies to avoid it.  Also, when I have gone on a dairy binge (it’s true, my friends, this happened), I felt GINORMOUS and ICKY afterwards and felt like wearing a moo-moo to cover up my belly.  The heartburn and bloating and sluggishness are not worth it.

Also, at one point it hit me that we are drinking the milk from another animal’s mammary glands… that’s really weird.  No other animal regularly consumes the milk from another species.  Also, there’s a reason why a calf grows into a cow – cow’s milk is designed to fatten it up!

Dairy Free

We’re past the TMI part of the post and onto the important things.  Let’s dish about living dairy-free.  Here are some tips for giving up the heroine of the animal proteins, dairy.

1. Know what products are dairy.  It’s amazing how many people don’t actually know what it means to be dairy.  Simply put, dairy is a product made of out the milk of mammals (again, ewww).  Here’s a list of common dairy products:

  • Milk – whole, skim, 2%, 1%, skim, goat, chocolate, strawberry and lactose-free (they take the milk sugars out but it’s still dairy)
  • Cream / creamers / sour cream (weirdly mayo has no dairy but it does have eggs)
  • Butter and most margarines
  • All yogurt
  • All cheese (goat, cheddar, cream, squirt can, nacho…it’s all dairy)
  • Ice cream (unless it says “Dairy Free” or it’s a sorbet; note: sherbet is dairy!)
  • Anything with the words “whey” or “casein”

2. Find dairy substitutes you like.  Nut, soy, rice and coconut milks are NOT dairy, and they’re a wonderful substitution.  I love almond and coconut milks for cereals and in coffee drinks.  At Starbucks, they have soy milk as do many cafes and restaurants.

Whole Foods and other health stores often have various types of these plant-based milks and products, like ice creams and margarine, made out of them.  I’m a big fan of the almond milk ice creams which curb my cravings for ice cream.  At ice cream shops, ask for a sorbet or dairy-free ice cream.

One good brand for dairy-free foods is “So Delicious”.  I like their ice creams a lot!

Tip for the traveling vegan: Ask your hotel to use soy milk in your coffee beverages or for your cereal.  Most places have it for coffee drinks, and they should be able to provide it for you.  If they don’t have it, ask them to order it for you!

3. When eating out, know common places where restaurants use dairy.  I’ve had a few incidents where I ordered a sandwich or toast, and there was butter all over that bread and I was not a pleasant human.  That’s why it’s key to know some places where dairy will sneak up on you.  Here are a few:

  • Toast / buttered bread – ask for it dry
  • Salad dressing – ask if there’s dairy or cheese in dressings (for example, Olive Garden’s dressing has cheese in it)
  • Soups – look for veggie broth-based soups
  • Puddings / custards – yep, they’ve got milk
  • Chocolate – unless it is made with cocoa powder
  • Scrambled eggs (if you eat them) – ask for no dairy and they usually tell you if they add milk
  • Ghee – butter product in Indian foods

For an even longer list, visit this page on godairyfree.org.

4. Read nutrition labels.  As with eating out, there’s hidden dairy ingredients in many processed / packaged foods.  Many of the aforementioned items will be clearly labeled on products.  However, sometimes the dairy is less obvious.  Here is a helpful cheat sheet that you can print as a small card to carry with you when you shop.

5. Eat a variety of plants to get your calcium.  Don’t worry about calcium.  As long as you’re eating a variety of whole foods, you’ll be fine.  Kale, broccoli and spinach are great sources (and two of those things can easily be consumed in your morning smoothie!).  There are also many cereals and plants milks fortified with calcium.

Here is a long, full list of calcium-rich foods (including meat and dairy) from the International Osteoporosis Foundation.  You might be surprised how much calcium you can get from plants.  Also, there’s research indicating that plant-based sources of calcium are more easily absorbed.

6. Learn more and become committed. It’s really hard to stay committed to not eating dairy if you don’t have motivation.  I highly recommend you watch Forks Over Knives on Netflix.  The research these physicians have done strongly links dairy consumption with a host of diseases, including cancer.

If you’re like me and doing it for skin, just google “acne and dairy” and look around.  There’s a host of controversy on the topic, but there’s a strong link to the hormones in milk and skin problems.

Also, there is a major problem with animal cruelty and dairy.  Some of the practices used on large-scale factory farms are just nauseating.  PETA has a video about dairy farming but I couldn’t get through it due to the violent subject matter.

Best of luck as you begin your dairy-free life!  Please share any of your tips or questions.

signature 2

 

Posted in Learning to be Vegan | 2 Comments

Black Bean Avocado Dip

Last night I went to a friend’s lovely housewarming party.  It was a potluck, so I turned to my favorite party food recipe: black bean avocado dip.  I recommend this for anyone (vegans, vegetarians, carnivores), because it’s delicious and no one will care that it doesn’t have meat or cheese in it.  In fact, I made a new vegan friend at the party because he was excited to have another vegan option at the table!

This recipe is simple and very easy to put together.  My friend Maureen gave me this recipe after I fell in love with it at her Kentucky Derby party (thanks, Mo!).

Black Bean Avocado Dip

  • 2 avocados, chopped
  • 1-2 tomatoes however many you prefer, chopped
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 1 can of mexicorn, drained
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 packet of dry Italian seasoning mix – in salad dressing aisle
  • 1/2 cup of canola oil
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar

Instructions: Put chopped and canned contents in a big bowl.  Mix oil, vinegar, and Italian packet separate.  Pour the dressing mixture into big bowl and stir together.  Chill the dip for a few hours in fridge.  Serve with any type if chip or cracker (I prefer the multigrain Tostitos Scoops).

Black Bean Avocado Dip Ingredients

Black Bean Avocado Dip Ingredients

Dressing next to the Chopped/Canned Ingredients

Dressing next to the Chopped/Canned Ingredients

Black Bean Dip out at the Party

Black Bean Dip out at the Party

Let me know if you make this and what you think!  Do you have any go to vegan party dishes?

signature 2

Posted in Dips, Vegan Cooking | Leave a comment

Crockpot Pumpkin Oatmeal

Last weekend I had family in town, and I wanted to make a breakfast that was yummy, easy and vegan.  I  remembered that last fall a dear friend had made me delicious oatmeal in a crockpot, and I decided to take a stab at it.  When it came to the flavor, it was simple: pumpkin.  Not only because it’s fall and getting chilly, but also because I’m a white girl and I naturally love pumpkin treats (I also like yoga pants and brunch).

The recipe is from Peanut Butter and Peppers, and it is delicious pumpkin bliss.

Overnight Slow Cooker Pumpkin Oatmeal

1 cup Coach’s Oats or steel cut oats

1 cup pumpkin puree (not pie filling)

3 cups water

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

1/2 tsp. cinnamon, ground

1 tsp stevia (to taste), optional

1 pinch salt

Optional toppings: brown sugar, maple syrup, pumpkin seeds, raisins / craisins, slivered almonds

Instructions: In your crockpot, add all of your ingredients and stir. Set the your crockpot on low for 6 – 8 hours.

Notes:

  • If your crockpot runs hot, you can follow the instructions on the original post to use a bowl inside the crockpot.
  • When I did mine without a bowl, there was some stuck oatmeal but no burning.
  • My tiny crockpot was the perfect size.
  • There’s nothing better than waking up to pumpkin spice on a chilly fall morning!

My oatmeal turned out amazing and my family liked it too!  I topped it with raisins, sliced almonds and pumpkin seeds.  It was served with apple slices and vegan zucchini bread.

Crockpot Pumpkin Oatmeal

Crockpot Pumpkin Oatmeal

Has anyone else tried other crockpot oatmeal recipes they want to share?

signature 2

Posted in Breakfast, Vegan Cooking | 4 Comments

The Green Smoothie – Part 3: Making the Smoothie

Now that we’ve covered the green smoothie basics and boosters, it’s time to make (and drink) this delicious breakfast drink.  Here are the steps I follow to make my morning smoothie in my magic bullet blender:

1. Gather up all of your ingredients – greens (spinach, kale, etc.), dairy free milk (almond, coconut, etc.), boosters (flax seeds, green superfood powder) and fruit (bananas, blueberries, etc.).

Green Smoothie Ingredients

Green Smoothie Ingredients

2. Add in your greens (1-2 cups of spinach + kale is my favorite combo; spinach only shown below). Pour in about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of almond milk. Blend the greens with some milk.

Greens & Almond Milk - Before Blending

Greens & Almond Milk – Before Blending

Greens & Almond Milk - After Blending

Greens & Almond Milk – After Blending

3. Add in boosters, such as one scoop of flax seeds and one scoop of green superfood powder.  Add in fruit, such as one whole banana and 1/2 to 1 cup of frozen blueberries (amount is your preference).  Pour a bit more milk over top if it’s looking thick.

Note: having some frozen fruit is ideal as it gives the smoothie a better texture and you don’t have to blend in ice.

Smoothie Ingredients - Before Blending

Smoothie Ingredients – Before Blending

Smoothie Ingredients - After Blending

Smoothie Ingredients – After Blending

4. Insert a straw and enjoy!

Enjoy your smoothie!

Enjoy your smoothie!

Tip for the traveling vegan: Ask your hotel if they have a breakfast smoothie.  If they do, ask about the ingredients (make sure it’s dairy free) and also them to put spinach and/or kale in it.  The Westin where I regularly stay for work makes a green smoothie for me, and I boost it with the packets of superfood that I bring with me.

Happy smoothie making!!

signature 2

 

Posted in Learning to be Vegan, Smoothie Love | Leave a comment

The Green Smoothie – Part 2: Boosters!

Green smoothies bursting with delicious nutrition!  However, I like to take mine to an even higher level – yes, it’s possible.  You can do this by adding what I call “boosters” to your smoothie.

My two favorite boosters are:

  1. Flax Seeds – These ground up seeds add a ton of super wonderful nutrients and fiber to your smoothie.  We all know what fiber does…and this is a good way to get things moving in the morning.  Also, these seeds will help you to feel more full.  Ground flax seeds are very common and you can find them in most grocery stores.  I keep mine in the fridge as I’ve heard they can go rancid.
  2. Green Superfood – This green powdery substance is essentially a ton of plants and grasses pressed and ground into a powder.  No, it’s not particularly tasty.  Yes, it is loaded with all kinds of antioxidants and nutrients.  The one that I have found to be the best tasting is the Amazing Grass Green Superfood ORAC because it has a hint of berry flavor (and no, it does not taste like berries…just a little less like grass).  It also comes with a probiotic loaded in which is one less pill to take.  You can purchase it on Amazon or at Whole Foods.  My recommendation for these is that you pop into Whole Foods and try some of the individual sample packets to see what you prefer.

For the traveling vegan: You can purchase the individual packets of the green superfood powders which are easy and portable.  I take these with me when I travel and boost the smoothie my hotel makes (ask your hotel about a smoothie for breakfast – my regular business travel hotel even adds kale and spinach for me!):

Green Superfood Powder Packets - Great for the Traveling Vegan

Green Superfood Powder Packets – Great for the Traveling Vegan

My morning smoothie ingredients all gathered up, including my boosters (on the left):

 

Smoothie Ingredients

Smoothie Ingredients – Boosters are on the Left!

What boosters are you adding to your green smoothie?

signature

Posted in Learning to be Vegan, Smoothie Love | Leave a comment