Faking my way toward bliss

So part of this lifestyle change is the challenge of re-creating things that I’ve always loved to eat (more on my experiments trying to recreate peanut butter without peanuts later) in a way that I can eat them now. I’m close on cookies, getting closer on ice cream, but some things still elude me. Probably with good reason. But I’m pretty sure we’ve got cheesecake’s number, and here’s what we did:

Cheesecake Crust:

  • 1/2 cup grape nuts
  • 1/2 cup flaxmeal
  • 1 cup oat bran
  • 16 medjool dates (pitted)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup

Put all that in your food processor and process until it starts to ball up. Then press it evenly into a pie tin. If it sticks to your hands too much, put a sheet of plastic wrap in between you and the crust. If you have too much left over, you’re in luck. Roll it into little balls and stick it in your mouth. I learned that part from hungryhungryhippie.com.

Cheesecake:

  • 15.5 oz extra firm sprouted tofu (but silken tofu might be smoother)
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice (could’ve probably used a little more)
  • 2 pinches salt

Now put all that into your just-cleaned food processor (unless you’re a two-processor kind of outlaw, in which case, sir or madam, I applaud you and bow down in humility) and process until it’s as smooth as it’s gonna get. Pour it into the crust and bake at 350 for 20 minutes and then lower to 250 for another 20. This’ll evaporate some of the moisture & firm up the cheesecake, but you want to be careful not to burn the crust. I built a little aluminium foil shield around the exposed edges of the crust so they wouldn’t burn.

Here’re some accompanying photos:

The importance of a good foundation

Years of seders taught me to make mortar you can eat

Pre-bake

Right out of the oven

Is it as good as a good New York Style cheesecake from Junior’s? No. Not by far. But it’ll do, pig. It’ll do.


Some like it hot, but not my pal, G.

It’s hard to slave in a hot kitchen when it’s hot outside, so because it was Farmer’s Market day today, we bought some tomatoes, cucumbers and red bell peppers and threw ‘em in a blender to make gazpacho. I’ve used a number of different recipes, but this time for inspiration, I used Alton Brown’s. I trust Alton Brown implicitly for just about everything because he’s a scientist. And he’s funny. And charming. Okay, he’s my culinary man crush. Giada may be hot, but Alton’s my man. For example, Alton taught me how to peel tomatoes today: score the bottoms with an “x” drop them in boiling water for 15 seconds, then put them in an ice bath until they’re cool enough to peel. I never peeled tomatoes in the past because it was too damn hard. No longer. And this way I could de-seed the tomatoes as well, giving me a smoother gazpacho. But enough about Alton. Back to my pal, G:

Gazpacho Recipe:

  • A handful of tomatoes, peeled & seeded if you have the gumption
  • 1 cucumber, peeled & seeded (it’s easier to do to a cucumber)
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped and seeded
  • 1/2 chopped red onion
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 lime’s worth of juice
  • a couple dashes of balsamic vinegar (white or reg, or both)
  • a couple dashes of ground cumin seed
  • a couple of dashes of fresh ground salt and pepper
  • tomato or vegetable juice in case it’s not soupy enough

Throw all that in the blender (and as always, omit things like onions and garlic if they don’t agree with you) and blend until you get it to a happy consistency. You’ll probably need to add about a cup of juice to it before it’s thin enough. Taste it and add more spice or lime or vinegar if it’s not quite there yet. Then pour it in a bowl and you’re good to go! Or, hell, just pour it in a glass and drink it.

Alton recommends chilling it for a couple of hours in the fridge before you eat it, and he’s right, of course. It tastes better after everything’s had some time to sit together (SCIENCE!), but we were starving and couldn’t wait.

Ours looked a little something like this:



Pudding From Pets

Remember Chia Pets? Yeah, me, too. It’s because we’re old. Or I’m old and you’re a hipster. In any case, now I eat a lot of chia seeds because, as it turns out, not only do they make great pets, but they have loads of protein, fiber, and omega-3 fats. And Trader Joe’s taught me that they make a great pudding. And all you have to do is this:

Chia Seed Pudding:

  • 1/4 cup chia seeds
  • 1 cup oat milk/hemp milk/almond milk
  • 1/4 cup honey (although I used less because the oat milk is so sweet)

Put all that in a container, mix it, and put it in the fridge for 2-3 hours. during that time, magically, it turns into something that tastes and feels remarkably like rice pudding!

Alternately, you can easily tweak it into chocolate pudding or chai pudding or fruit pudding by adding things like:

  • unsweetened cocoa powder
  • cinnamon
  • chopped or blended fruit

The pudding potential staggers the mind!

Here’s a photo of the chocolate pudding we made

By the way, to give credit where credit it due, most of these fancy photos have been taken by my wife, sous-chef and partner-in-crime, Tara.


Here’s what’s easy: Hummus!

Remember when I said the food processor was my best friend (hopefully you do, because it was yesterday)? Here’s one reason why:

Hummus:

  • 1 can drained garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
  • 1 can drained white kidney beans (or another can of garbanzos for the purists out there)
  • 2 cloves garlic (peeled)
  • lemon juice (1/2 lemon)
  • 1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)
  • 1 tbsp sesame seeds

Dump all that stuff in a food processor and blend. Take it and put it in your face. Maybe via bread or crackers (see MarysGoneCrackers.com for amazing crackers) Total time from “Boy, hummus would be good right about now,” to “nom nom nom”: about 5 minutes.

Honestly, you could probably do this with almost any beans. Try it!

Best part? Most hummus has olive oil and tahini (2 no-nos on my new plan) and I didn’t have to add either of those for it to still be yummy. It’s a little less creamy but I’m willing to pay that price. For SCIENCE!

[No photo for today because let’s face it, hummus is not pretty.]


Bring me Chili Fries!!

So one of my jobs is bringing voice to animated characters, and one of the most beloved is young Benjamin Kirby Tennyson AKA “Ben 10”. His evil (nay, misunderstood) “twin” Albedo has a thing for chili fries. It made me want some. I’ve heard of vegetarian chili, but how do you make fries without, well, frying them? Here we go…

Here’s the chili I made based on looking at several recipes on the Internet, mixing and matching and substituting any meats/oils/processed sugars:

  • 1 package tempeh
  • 5 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 8 oz. can of tomoato sauce
  • 1 can of diced tomatoes
  • 1 can kidney beans (drained)
  • 1 can black beans (drained)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth
  • 3 tbsp chili powder
  • 2 tbsp cumin (ground)
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tbsp chopped cilantro
  • 1 tsp unsweetened cacao powder
  • 1 lime’s worth of juice
  • 1 shot of bourbon*

I threw all that into a crockpot this morning. Actually I added the lime at the end. When it was done, I tasted it and needed to add a little salt and a couple of tbsp of maple syrup to get the flavor just right. As with any of the recipes I post, you can probably tweak to taste. My sous-chef doesn’t like things too spicy :)

VERDICT: Success.

The Fries:

I didn’t have regular potatoes, but I had sweet potatoes, so I thought: “Sweet Potato Fries!” I diced them up into fry-like shapes, tossed them in a big bowl with a mixture of Bragg’s Aminos, Bragg’s Yeast, a little honey and cinnamon, and then laid them out on a piece of parchment paper** on a cookie sheet and baked them at 350 for almost 40 minutes in an attempt to get them kinda crispy.

They didn’t. I’ve experimented in this fashion with regular potatoes to better (read: “crispier”) results, so maybe sweet potatoes are different because they just got really soft, except for some crispy burny bits. We still ate them and they were good, but neither of us were fooled into thinking we were eating real fries. 

VERDICT: Not-so success.

But like I said, we still ate them. Because when you put chili on fries you can overlook a lot of problems with your fries.

*You don’t really have to put this in, I guess, but if you don’t, I recommend putting it in a glass with ice and ginger beer and some of that lime and drinking it.

**Now that I’m not baking with oil or butter, parchment paper has become my very best friend.*** Buy some. You’ll never look back.

***See also “food processor” and “stick blender.”****

****I just know that one of these days Parchment Paper is going to find out that I also call Food Processor and Stick Blender my best friends.


The Muscles from Brussels(prouts)

Since I started this lifestyle change over two months ago, I’ve lost between 10-15 pounds. That wasn’t the intent, but I do feel great. Unfortunately, I’ve noticed that a decent amount of that weight-loss has been muscle. Now, I’m not a body-builder, but I exercise to stay fit, and I’ve noticed that it’s been more difficult to build muscle and keep it on. I read somewhere that to just maintain the muscle that you have you need to eat 1g of protein for every pound of body weight. Every day. That’s a lot of protein.

I know some people say that a vegan diet is by nature protein-deficient, and because my current diet avoids nuts and oil as well, it becomes even harder. I do think that last part may be true, but I’ve found plenty of sources of non-animal protein. Without leaning too hard on soy (which can be bad for you) I’ve found grains like hemp seed, chia seed, flax, seed, quinoa, millet and beans that are rich in protein. And I’ve also learned that all sorts of vegetables have protein, whereas I always assumed that protein was usually a meat thing. I just have to eat more vegetables and beans and grains to get the protein I need. I suppose I’ll find a balance eventually, but in the meantime, if anyone has ideas about how to keep the muscle on, let me know!

P.S. - Tara’s taken a bunch of photos of many of the “safe” products we’ve been buying and I’ll start sharing them, along with recipes I’ve come up with for tasty goodness, so stay tuned!


Baking is hard. Because SCIENCE!

I’m good at throwing things together haphazardly in the kitchen, but baking is hard science and you need to know what you’re doing to achieve the desired outcome. Baking without eggs, cane sugar, butter or oil is even harder, so I’ve been experimenting a lot. Today’s chocolate chip cookies (recipe below)  turned out more like scones. Whole wheat flour without butter and egg gets puffy and glutin-y. But I’ll get it right eventually. I have to. I like cookies too much.

BTW, the chocolate chips are maple sugar sweetened. We melted down an unsweetened bar of baking chocolate and added maple sugar, then dripped them into chocolate chips. It is difficult, but necessary, as my wife and sous-chef Tara does not deal well with cane sugar.

Chocolate Chip Sconkie Recipe:

  •  2 cups whole wheat flour   
  • ½ cup ground flax
  •  ½ cup wheat bran
  • 1/2 cup maple sugar*
  •  1 tsp baking soda
  •  1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup*
  • ¼ cup honey*
  • 1/2 cup oat milk*
  • ¼ cup applesauce*
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract*
  • maple/chocolate chips
*I combined these ingredients on low heat in a saucepan and then added to the remaining dry ingredients, then baked on parchment paper at 350 for about 10 minutes.
I was disappointed in the way they turned out, but then this happy guy appeared:

And he bears a striking resemblance to my wife and sous-chef:


The Beginning

I’ve recently made a commitment, for my health, to shift to a plant-based diet. Basically going vegan. Not only that, but I’ve taken the added step to follow a lot of the advice of Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn who also recommends avoiding oil and nuts in addition to the vegan part. This blog is not to try to convince you to do the same. It’s just that this shift is hard. Really hard. I’m a foodie. From the South, via places like New York and Osaka and Rabat and Los Angeles. Places with really good food. Unfortunately, I haven’t found a lot of guidance. Fortunately, I’ve rediscovered my passion for cooking. And this blog will be my trail of (sometimes literally) breadcrumbs. Follow if you’d like, but I don’t really know where I’m going. I’m not a trained dietician, nor am I a nutritionist, trained chef, scientist or guru. I just like to throw shit together and see if it works. And it seems to be working. Most of the time…