Additions–Both to the Blog and to my Belly

I finally decided to stop thinking about adding a Recipes section of the blog and actually follow through on it. You can find it over there on the right side of the page. The plan is to add to that one lonely recipe there, both in future posts and by going back to some previous ones where I talked about yummy foods.

I said it before and I’ll say it again: Sharing is caring. Plus, a lot of vegan food is really freaking good.

Sidenote: Don’t feel left out, omnivores. Since I live with and cook for someone who eats meat and cheese n’at, I may include a note at the end of the recipes on good ways to incorporate tasty animal flesh.

Side-sidenote: If I ever become the kind of militant vegan that goes around saying “Everyone should be vegan!” or, to put it another way, “My lifestyle choices are better than yours so be like me!” someone, please, hit me with something.

Anywho, let’s move on to the yummy-in-my-tummy stuff!

I literally just finished eating some of what I’m going to call “Beany Quinoa” and I liked it so much I decided I had to share this one. You’ve heard of red beans and rice? This is basically that, only without the sausage and, you know, the rice.

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I’ve been vegan for about two months now and this is actually the first time in life that I’ve tried quinoa. Take that stereotypes! That said, I’m a fan. I’ll be enjoying more of it now that I know what I’ve been missing.

Speaking of other things I’ve been missing, let’s talk about cheese again, eh?

I know what you’re thinking. “Oh sweet lord, please, don’t let her whine about cheese more. Either eat some or get over it by now!”

Well, I kind of did both! See, I went on Vegan Essentials to order a specific brand of vegan cheese, which they happened to be out of at the time. Being somewhat of an online-shopping addict, I glanced over the other vegan cheeses and ended up ordering a “smoked gouda” which cost way too much money and then required two-day shipping on top of it.

Totes worth it! I had me some cheese and crackers for lunch today.

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The texture is more like that of a spreadable cheese, which we all know that gouda is not. Also, it doesn’t actually taste anything like gouda–smoked or otherwise. That’s not the point though. The point is that it is vegan cheese and it is yummy.

Last but not least here, sometimes you just want a good cheeseburger, and sometimes, even though you’re vegan, you can have one. Observe!

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CHEESEBURGER!! I CAN HAS CHEESEBURGER!!!

It’s a black bean patty made by Lightlife foods and it was so good I’ll be getting more of them when I get groceries this weekend. The cheese-like yummy gooeyness on top is another product I got from Vegan Essentials. I don’t remember the official name but it was basically smoked cheddar cheese in a jar, much like queso dip.

Granted, it doesn’t taste like queso dip, and honestly, on its own it doesn’t even taste very good. However, on a burger, it is marvelous because it adds both cheesy texture and smoky flavor.

So much yum!

So Much Foods!

My duct taped wagon seems to be holding, which proves that duct tape can fix anything! Even metaphorical duct tape and a metaphorical wagon.

I’ve done a crazy amount of cooking and even baking over the weekend, mostly to avoid having to do so during the week while I’m working and so that I have food to eat.

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This was dinner on Sunday. Spinach and mushroom pot pie with phyllo/filo dough to top it. This was super delicious and even though the boyfriend didn’t touch it (he hates mushrooms), there are no leftovers because OM NOM NOM!

Sidenote: I posted this picture in the Facebook group What FAT Vegans Eat and people are apparently really adamant about their particular spelling of phyllo or filo.

Anyways, I felt like baking yesterday, so I made my first attempt at vegan cookies. I made chocolate chip and double chocolate chunk ones. The texture is more cake-like, but the taste is fantastic!

Sidenote: Egg-free cookie dough is a guilt-free indulgence on more than one level! Also, licking the beaters is still the best part!

Also, made bread yesterday, as you can see it cooling next to the cookies. That’s less interesting. I bake bread every week now that I have a bread machine.

Lastly, for the pièce de résistance: MAC N CHEEZE!!! Also chick’n nuggets which weren’t great, but who cares. Mac n cheeze!

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Of course it’s not real cheese. It was actually a sauce made with potatoes, carrots, onion, garlic, cashews, and a few spices all thrown into a blender along with some water and oil. I even found milk-free bread crumbs to make it look all authentic and stuff! Sure, it doesn’t taste like cheese, but it is freaking yummy! I think next time I make it, I’m going to add some nutritional yeast as well.

The chick’n nuggets (TVP, chickpea flour, flax eggs) were a little disappointing. I didn’t add enough seasonings so they didn’t taste like much. Plus, the texture was too goopy on the inside for chicken nuggets. Oh well! The mac n cheeze more than made up for it!

Another challenge looms, however. Friday is my birthday. It’s supposed to thunderstorm. Otherwise, I’d be posting my excitement for my plans to visit Phipps Conservatory with the boyfriend and then grab dinner at a trendy vegan place on the south side of Pittsburgh called “The Zenith.”

However, if the weather forecast remains the same, I can’t very well go to an outdoor garden. Those plans will happen eventually, but maybe not on my birthday itself like I’d hoped. The challenge, however, is for the day after my birthday.

I’m headed back up to New Castle to hang with some friends and have a barbecue-picnic thing. I froze most of my vegan cookies to bring with me so I’ll at least have sweet-tooth snacking satisfaction. Also, they were cool enough to acquire some form of vegan burger product for me to content myself with and even went so far as to ask about vegan buns to boot.

But the challenge is that they are going to be enjoying chicken wings and jello shots. Here’s hoping that duct tape keeps holding strong!

Getting Cheesy!

Firstly, seitan is still gross. I still haven’t tried the breakfast sausage, but I may do that in the morning. The leftover simmered seitan was every bit as icky as the fresh-from-the-crockpot simmered seitan. (Sorry to lovers of all things wheat gluten.)

Secondly, I made some homemade chocolate and also some vegan sloppy Joes today.

Both were yummy, but that’s not what I want to talk about this evening. I want to talk about success. And about cheese. I want to talk about cheesy success!

This morning for breakfast, I had some tofu scramble, because I just can’t seem to get enough of that stuff. But, more importantly, I also had a hashbrown.

What does that have to do with cheese, you ask? I’m getting to it. Patience, precious!

See, I had some red skin potatoes that were starting to get soft, so I knew I needed to do something with them. Truth be told, I’ve known that for days, but it’s been nearly 90 degrees all week and I don’t have central air, so I haven’t done much cooking. This morning though, I faithfully peeled those potatoes, grated them, soaked them in water to remove the starch, and then mixed in a little flour and vegan mozzarella, and then threw it all in a skillet.

A hashbrown was born!

OK, so you all know how I usually feel about vegan cheese. This was really good though! Apparently I do enjoy the taste of crispy vegan mozzarella. I was so surprised by this, I almost didn’t know what to do with myself. Other than eat my hashbrown, that is. With more delight even than I displayed with the tofu!

Not only was this cheese attempt a success, but I found a suitable replacement for the feta cheese in my couscous salad.

Tofu!

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I’ve mentioned previously that feta cheese is the highlight of this particular form of couscous. However, if you dice up your tofu and marinate it in lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and garlic, it has a similar taste to feta.

Now, I’ll readily admit that it doesn’t have the creamy, tangy deliciousness that feta has, but the texture is pretty close and the rest of the ingredients of this dish are enough to make you forget all about feta.

In addition to the cooked couscous itself (and the marinated tofu of course), I added, cucumber, grape tomatoes, scallions, roasted red peppers, green olives, lemon juice, and olive oil.

It’s so good and I’m so happy I have leftovers to last for a couple of days.

(I really should make a recipes page. I just need to find the time. And, you know, impetus.)

Either way, NOM NOM NOM!

TVP and Seitan Attempt Number Three

Working from home might be the best decision I’ve made in the entirety of my professional life. One of the many perks is that I can still prepare food while I’m at work and I don’t have to rely on eating out and buying snacks to get through the day. Also, since I work until 10 PM, while at home, I can eat dinner at a more reasonable hour.

Today, I experimented with a couple of vegan meat replacers.

The first was TVP. It sounds like plumbing, doesn’t it? Or, if you’re a gamer nerd like me, it may sound like an arena-style player versus player match. Fortunately, it’s neither of those. It’s textured vegetable protein, or as I described it to the boyfriend, “dehydrated soy stuff.”

I rehydrated some of the chunky version in hot vegetable broth, squeezed it out a bit when it was ready, and then made a chicken salad-esque lunch by mixing the pieces with some vegan mayonnaise and chopped scallions, and then throwing it between two slices of homemade bread.

Sidenote: I love my bread machine.

I was a little iffy about it. In the bag, it looks a lot like unseasoned croutons and I didn’t know what to expect with the flavor, but it was quite yummy! It even had a similar texture to actual chicken salad (without the greasy film that cold chicken often gets).

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I wish I could say I had the same success with the seitan, but I at least think it came out the way it was supposed to. I used a recipe I found in one of my vegan cookbooks for “Better than Pot Roast Seitan” which called for seasoning the wheat gluten with soy sauce, ketchup, onion powder, salt, pepper, and thyme, and then cooking it on low in the crockpot for eight hours with some veggies and vegetable broth.

Sounds promising, but I think I just don’t like homemade seitan. This attempt tasted much like the previous two attempts, but this time I got the texture right. Either it needs more seasoning or it’s just always going to taste a little bit like wheat gluten no matter what. I don’t know the answer to that, and I’ve never been able to find seitan at the store to compare.

I have, however, tried seitan jerky, and it definitely has that wheaty, gluteny taste, and I just don’t like it.

Now, as I understand it, simmered seitan usually is best the next day, so while I dutifully ate some this evening, I’ll try the leftovers tomorrow and see if that makes a difference. If not, I have one more seitan recipe to try, before I give up on it. Steamed breakfast sausage seitan.

And if that doesn’t work, I still have tofu and TVP.

Bringing Families Together

I don’t know about everyone else, but my family always comes together over food. The dinner table is where we meet, where we share secrets and stories, and where we sometimes have vicious arguments, usually with our mouths full and a piece of bread in one hand. We might not agree on everything (or anything for that matter), but we can still share a table and some supper.

My mom’s side of the family is Italian, so every time I imagine a family gathering, it’s always around a big bowl of pasta and homemade sauce. I’m probably reminiscing now because I just heated up some leftovers of my own homemade sauce (complete with homemade garlic bread) and hastily ate it from my home office.

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Perfectly vegan and perfectly delicious!

Sidenote: Except for the faux parmesan cheese. It makes the dish look “right,” but it’s pretty gross. This cheese thing is still finding subtle ways to disappointment.

Up until Sunday, very few people outside of the blogging world knew I decided to go vegan. But, in remembrance of my mom, I thought I should share my last post on Facebook, and the moment I did, I steeled myself for the backlash.

“You didn’t really become a vegan, did you?”

“But you love meat!”

“I can’t believe it!”

“You’ll change your mind, I know it.”

These are all things I expected to hear. I expected outrage, disappointment, and maybe a little bit of scorn. A funny thing happened though. Everybody (with the exception of one relative who heard a couple of weeks ago through a friend) was really supportive, and instead of hurling accusations and judgments, they asked questions.

My birthday is coming up in a couple of weeks, and traditionally, a couple of really awesome people offer to cook something for me. (I’m a foodie–can you tell?)  Now that I’m officially “out” as a vegan, I thought that would go by the wayside.

Another funny thing happened: They still want to, and they’re totally willing to make it vegan. I have no idea what these vegan dishes are going to entail but I’m super excited to find out! (And also really touched, as well.)

On a semi-related note, I want to talk a little bit about tofu.

The first time I tried tofu was last October (in my pre-Donald Trump vegetarianism). My experience with tofu up until that day was exactly zero, and I totally didn’t expect a spongy white mass of vaguely plant-scented goop stored in water. I couldn’t even touch it without getting squeamish.

Needless to say, I didn’t like it. At. All.

Fast forward to yesterday morning. Along with some store-bought, horrendously expensive vegan sausage, I tried tofu scramble for breakfast with scallions and garlic (seasoned with cumin, paprika, turmeric, parsley, and nutritional yeast), and then after it was done cooking, I tossed on some hot sauce and fresh pico de gallo.

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I guess now you could say I’m a fan. Who needs scrambled eggs?

Doubts and Assurances.

Brace yourselves; it’s gonna be a long one! It’s been a rough and tumble couple of vegan days over here.

Let’s start with Friday. Friday was a really good day, actually. It was my last day of having to get up early and go into the office, and the bank (I work for a bank, by the way) was cool enough to buy us all lunch. Now, I was super scared that “lunch” was going to mean pizza that I could stare forlornly at but not eat, but I was wrong.

Sidenote: I had decided early on not to mention my new dietary preferences because I didn’t want everyone to have to accommodate me.

What they ended up doing was letting us order whatever we wanted at Noodles & Company so I got Japanese Pan Noodles with Seasoned Tofu.

Another sidenote: I’m beginning to like tofu. I was certain I could never get past the texture. Sometimes it’s good to be wrong!

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There were a few good natured jokes made about the fact that someone was eating tofu, but it was tasty. Their loss! Friday continued being good even after that because we all got an extended lunch which I used to take a walk around the city. I even lucked out and the sun was out the whole time!

I actually love Pittsburgh, even though I still prefer to work from home. Nothing beats listening to music of your choice while you work, while wearing yoga pants and a hoodie.  I do miss being able to take scenic walks like this on my lunch break. It’s a trade off.

After work, I sat in rush hour traffic for the last time (for awhile anyways) and then came home and made vegan poutine. I was a little scarred of what vegan gravy would be like, but it was actually really good.

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Sidenote Again: Vegan cheese is still gross. Next time I’m going to leave the cheese out. More on that later.

Moving on to Saturday, I followed through on my plan to drag my boyfriend to a vegan restaurant, so after I finished working my overtime shift, we headed out to Loving Hut for their Saturday vegan buffet.

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This food made me love being a vegan. I literally don’t have enough words for how freaking delicious all of it was. (The boyfriend didn’t like much of it, but even he went back for seconds on the seitan pepper steak.)

Now, let’s talk about Sunday. Sunday was not a good day to be a vegan.

Having finally sampled seitan and discovering how versatile and delicious it can be, I decided to try making it. Twice, even.

I failed horribly both times. My first attempt was simmered seitan from one of the cook books I bought. It turned into inedible meat jelly. I think I didn’t knead it enough. The second time, I tried baking it from a recipe I found online. This time, the texture was closer to correct, but it wasn’t good at all.

Along with that seitan experiment, I attempted a version of vegan mac and cheese. It was also inedibly bad. Remember what I said about how I hate to waste food? Both seitan attempts and the vegan mac and cheese went straight in the garbage. (Also, an attempt at a vegan “cheezee” sauce from earlier in the day went straight in the garbage as well.)

Disclaimer: I have cooked long enough to know that not all recipes are winners. I would even go one further and say that sometimes you try something new and it fails so horribly that it ruins you for that particular food item for awhile.

I know seitan can be yummy. I just might not have that skill set and that makes me a little sad. The cheese thing is killing me though. I love cheese. I miss cheese. And I have yet to try a vegan alternative or substitute or creative hybrid that is not terrible.

I’ll be perfectly honest here. I sulked most of the night after these failed cooking attempts and wondered why I even thought I could do this vegan thing. I wanted to quit. I was close to quitting.

My boyfriend went to Hardee’s and came back with a bacon cheeseburger and a chicken sandwich and it just smelled so good. I watched him eat them while I forlornly nibbled the fries I asked him to get me, and  I was just so close to jumping in the car and coming back with a burger and chicken sandwich of my own.

I didn’t though. I told myself it wasn’t the first time I’d made a bad recipe and that there were other things I had yet to try.

This morning I knew I needed a good breakfast to get my head back in the game. Something vegan and tasty that would make me feel better. So I made a waffle with a banana in place of the egg, used peanut butter as my topping, and I decided to try some of the “Gimme Lean” (Haha!) vegan breakfast sausage I dubiously bought a week ago.

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I think it’s safe to say that I’m back in the saddle again. The sausage was better than I expected and at least I know I can buy seitan products even if I never acquire the skill to make it. I still don’t know what I’m going to do about the cheese thing, but at least I no longer feel hopeless about it.

I Do Chipotle Better Than Chipotle!

…except for stale chips and trendy hipsters. I don’t do those better. Or bad décor and long lines. OK, maybe I don’t “do” Chipotle better, but I definitely do sofritas better!

I very subtly gave you all the recipe in my last post, and ever since then, I’ve craved it. Now my tummy has a happy because I just finished a delicious Chipotle-style sofritas bowl.

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While I didn’t make the Salsa myself (I can’t keep tomatoes long enough to turn them into salsa because I eat them), I did turn my leftover brown rice into cilantro lime rice, and I made the whole thing vegan by using vegan cheese and vegan sour cream. All I have to say here is OM NOM NOM NOM!

(Sidenote: I should make a recipes page. Sharing is caring.)

In other news, last night was supposed to be a BIG test for me but it ended up only being a small test. See, the boyfriend and I were going to meet a friend at Buffalo Wild Wings to eat and watch the Pens game. I explicitly chose “B-dubs” because they have TVs on which to watch the game and because they have a black bean burger option, which seems to be the easiest way to acquire vegan food while eating at non-vegan locations (other than literally eating whatever pile of unripe vegetables they want to call a garden salad).

I still really, really like chicken wings and it was an absolute certainty that the boyfriend was going to order them and that I would be able to see and smell them but not eat them.

I was scared.

However, the friend canceled on me, so the boyfriend and I decided to make what we western Pennsylvanians call a “Sheetz run” instead. (Sheetz is a local gas station chain that makes made-to-order food.) Now, my typical Sheetz run involves getting popcorn chicken, cheese bites, fried pickles, and–if I’m feeling particularly raunchy–an Oreo frozen cream. All of these things are completely terrible for me and completely yummy.

Now though, I can eat literally none of them. (Admittedly, the fried pickles are a toss up; I don’t know how they make their batter.) So instead, I stuck with my convictions and just got fries. Then I took them home and worked some magic on them that involved black beans, vegan cheese, scallions and some of my leftover vegan ranch.

(Holy crap, that ranch is still super good!)

Anyways, voilà!

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It was good, it was waaaay too much food, and the Pens won. A good night was had by all!

Except the Capitals and their fans.

Boo.