Guiltless Nacho Cheese

No, the title of this post is not a mistake: You CAN load up your nachos with gobs of ooey-gooeyness and NOT stress about what you’re eating. What is this orange slime that I poured all over my nachos? What is it made out of? How is it that orange? How much salt is in this? Those days are done.

I have concocted a number of formulas for vegan alternatives that are just as satisfying as dairy: creamy pasta sauce, mousse, frosting, whipped cream, etc. I have never, however, claimed that they are the same; vegan cheese just isn’t cheese. Period. What matters to me is that my vegan rendition is delicious, nutritious, and an adequate—if not superior—substitute for the real deal.

Today, I’m walking you through a vegan nacho cheese that is seriously going to blow your mind. The color is the same, the texture is the same, and the flavor is on point, as spicy as you’d like to make it. The best part? No guilt: This cheese sauce is potato-based. Who knew “nacho cheese” could be healthy?! (Remember, when not slathered with greasy, cholesterol-laden dairy products, potatoes—even white—are an extremely healthy source of fiber and vitamin C.)

Many of my formula ideas come from Instagram. I follow some amazing vegan bloggers that post a wide variety of sweet and savory drool-worthy pictures and recipes. Every time I’ve seen nacho cheese come up, I’ve scrolled past. There’s no way it’s anything like nacho cheese, I thought. I finally decided to match a batch and I was dead wrong. (Big thanks to @bestofvegan and @silviaryan for the inspiration!)

Travis is always skeptical when I create a formula that is meant to replace a perfectly palatable animal-based version. He figures, why not just eat real cheese if that’s what you’re craving, but at the same time, realizes that doing so is not the most sensible choice for the body. Thus, he keeps an open mind. I can say with confidence that Travis’s perspective on nacho cheese is now forever changed – he said that all my vegan rendition needed was a pinch of salt and it was legit. He can be quite critical (in a helpful way), so if he approved, it’s gotta be good.

Some tips: The type of potato/carrot you use will certainly influence the flavor and color of your nacho cheese. Point being, I wouldn’t use purple. 🙂 The sweetness from either a yam, sweet potato, or carrot balances out the spices…or extreme spiciness if you like it hot. I have only made this cheese with a russet and carrot combo and the sauce was not at all sweet. It would certainly be a bit sweeter with a sweet potato or yam, but even then, I don’t foresee this sauce tasting even close to dessert-like. Finally, you can easily transform this into a queso dip by adding fresh diced tomatoes and peppers.

I promise that you won’t be disappointed with this formula. Pour this nacho cheese over organic, all-natural, low-sodium chips or layer in a burrito bowl and dig in. Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: NACHO CHEESE

  • 1 medium potato (or the equivalent in fingerlings or another small potato variety) OR 1 large sweet potato or yam –> I’m using 1 russet.
  • 1 large carrot (if you’re NOT using sweet potato/yam) –> I’m using it.
  • 1 cup unsweetened, unflavored plant milk –> I’m using almond.
  • ½ cup raw cashews
  • ¼ cup nutritional yeast
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • ¼ tsp garlic powder
  • ¼ tsp onion powder
  • Salt and Cayenne pepper or hot sauce to taste –> I’m using about ½ tsp pink Himalayan sea salt and a dash of cayenne pepper.

Put your cashews in water and soak for at least four hours (I usually do overnight).

Peel your potato(es) and carrot, if using. Cook using the method of your choice (steam, boil, bake, etc.).

Drain and rinse your cashews. Place in a blender with cooked potato(es) and carrot (if using) and all remaining ingredients. If necessary, add more milk until you’ve reach the desired consistency, keeping in mind that you then may need to adjust your seasonings to prevent the sauce from becoming bland.

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Use immediately or store in the fridge (does keep well!). May require more milk when reheating.

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Leftover Pumpkin Puree?

If you butchered and baked your Halloween pumpkins or stocked up on the canned stuff as it went on sale before Thanksgiving, you probably have pumpkin puree leftover from preparing America’s favorite dinner. You could whip up a batch of my pumpkin super food muffins or incorporate the puree into a savory application.

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I introduced my creamy vegetable pasta sauce to you with the loved and loathed eggplant. At the time, I hadn’t tried the formula with another vegetable, so I wasn’t sure how this pumpkin sauce would turn out. I’m happy to report that it was a success! I served it atop pasta to the guests at my Thanksgiving dinner (which we hosted early because my mom was in town visiting her newest grandson) and it was the most-talked-about dish of the evening.

If you have a blender and a box of pasta, you’re ready for this decadent and healthful pumpkin “cream” sauce to make an appearance at your next dinner. I’m using oat milk in today’s cashew cream, one of the sauce’s star ingredients. Oat milk is naturally on the sweeter side of plant milks, so it compliments pumpkin nicely, as we are often used to using it in sweeter culinary concoctions. Bonus: One serving of this particular oat milk will provide you over a third of your recommended daily calcium and two grams of dietary fiber. Not bad.

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Scoop up your leftover pumpkin and put this quick and easy dinner together in minutes. Nutritious—especially if you use a whole grain or vegetable pasta—and resourceful, I’m happy to help you use every bit of your leftover Thanksgiving eats. Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: CREAMY VEGETABLE PASTA SAUCE

Makes sauce for 1 box of pasta*

  • 2 cups coarsely chopped raw vegetables –> I used 1 ½ cups pumpkin puree. (This translates to approximately 2 cups of raw chopped vegetables, since it is already cooked and pureed down.)
  • ½ cup cashew cream (soak raw cashews overnight and blend with just enough water/plant milk/veggie stock to form a thick cream) –> Because pumpkin has a strong flavor, I used extra cashew cream: 1 cup cashews + 1 ½ cups oat milk.
  • 2 tbsps nutritional yeast –> I opted out of this, figuring it didn’t mesh well with pumpkin. It worked out, but for most other vegetables, I would include it.
  • 1 tbsp acid (i.e. vinegar, mustard, citrus juice, etc.) –> I used whole grain mustard.
  • ¼-1 tsp seasoning (i.e. fresh/dried herbs, spices, etc.) –> I used ½ tsp dried sage and ¼ tsp ground nutmeg.
  • Pink Himalayan sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste –> I used ½ tsp salt and about 4 turns pepper.

Peel (if necessary) and chop your vegetables. Steam, roast, or boil to cook. While your vegetables are cooking, bring a pot of water to a boil and prepare your pasta of choice. When the vegetables are finished, combine with all other ingredients (except the pasta, of course!) in a blender and puree until smooth and creamy.

 

DSC_2572Pour atop your pasta (or use in another application) and enjoy immediately for most desirable consistency. It will keep just fine in the fridge, but will dry out a bit.

 

 

Pomegranate “Cream Cheese” Frosting

I’m happy to report that my take on traditional cream cheese frosting does not include either dairy cream cheese or processed vegan cream cheese.  The star here—as with my fruit mousse—is cashews.  I’ve been using cashews in everything lately, from my “alfredo” sauce to my creamy vegetable sauce to this cake topper.  It’s amazing how smoothly they blend up and I’ve come to prefer them to blending up tofu most of the time.

In other news, a recent Bountiful Basket yielded sixteen pounds of pomegranates, so Travis and I have our work cut out for us in using all of those up.  Pomegranates are normally quite expensive, so we seized the opportunity to stock up on this super food for cheap ($15!).  Thirty-two weeks pregnant tomorrow, my cravings for dessert have not subsided, so it’ll be pomegranate desserts and smoothies for the next several weeks!

The pomegranate is similar to an apple in shape and filled with sweet, juicy seeds, known as arils.  The arils are the only edible part of the fruit and thus, where all of the nutrients lie.  Arils are high in fiber, vitamins C and K, and polyphenols.  Polyphenols are rich in heart health and anti-cancer benefits, making the arils and their juice highly sought after.

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Having such a large batch of pomegranates right now means that I have fruits of varying colors and sweetness levels.  Believe it or not, the paler arils from the pomegranate pictured above were actually sweeter and tastier than the richer red arils retrieved from a second fruit to garnish the cake.  As a result, I used the paler arils in the icing itself and the deep red arils for sprinkling.

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If I were to make this frosting again, I would consider using more cashews to bump up the cream cheese flavor, but I can definitely taste the resemblance in this rendition.  Delicious and inspiring that someday I’ll get vegan cheesecake right.  🙂  Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE:  CAKE

Makes 12 cupcakes or one 8 x 8 square or round cake

For the cake:

  • 1 cup flour –> I’m using whole wheat.
  • 1-1 ½ cups plant milk (depending on the flour) –> I’m using ¾ cup almond since I’m using extra liquid elsewhere.
  • ¾ cup sweetener –> I’m using turbinado sugar.
  • ¼ cup ground flaxseed
  • ¼ cup oil –> I’m using coconut.
  • 1 vegan “egg” substitute (i.e. mashed banana, applesauce, etc.) –> I’m mixing a few tablespoons of hot water with my ground flaxseed.
  • 1 tsp xanthan gum (a binding agent, if using gluten-free flour) –> I’m not using it.
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ½-1 tsp extract (depending on the flavor intensity) –> I’m using 1 tsp homemade vanilla.
  • ¼ tsp pink Himalayan sea salt
  • Up to ½ cup specialty ingredients (chopped nuts, dried fruit, shredded coconut, cocoa powder, citrus juice/zest, etc.) (optional) –> I’m using the zest and juice of 1 lemon.

For the frosting:

  • 1 cup coarsely chopped fresh or steamed fruit (depending on the fruit) –> I’m using ½ cup pomegranate arils and ½ cup raw cashews (soaked overnight).
  • ½ cup powdered sweetener –> I’m using turbinado.
  • ¼ cup room temperature natural vegan butter
  • 1 tsp citrus juice (to preserve the color of the fruit)* –> I’m using clementine.
  • ½-¼ tsp extract (depending on the flavor intensity) –> I’m using a splash of homemade vanilla.

*I would avoid food coloring unless you can find an all-natural variety containing plant pigments. Some varieties come from animals and others are made artificially with chemicals.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Prepare your “egg,” whether that involves scooping, mashing, combining, etc. in a large mixing bowl.   Mix together all of your wet ingredients in the same bowl. Separately mix all dry ingredients. Using a whisk or wooden spoon, slowly incorporate the dry into the wet until a smooth, pourable batter forms. Stir in any specialty ingredients, if using.Pour the cake batter into a greased square 8 x 8 baking dish or round baking dish, or evenly into 12 lined muffin cups.

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Place the cake/cupcakes in the oven for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. My mom always told me that it’s better to over bake a cake (and under bake a brownie); nothing worse than goopy batter in the middle!Set your cake on a cooling rack for an hour or two. Speed the process by placing it uncovered in the fridge.

While the cake is baking, make your frosting. First, puree the fruit, cashews, citrus juice, and extract to a smooth, pourable consistency. Beat together the sugar and butter/shortening, slowly incorporating the pureed fruit mixture until an icing-like consistency is achieved. Cover and chill in the fridge while your cake cools to stiffen it up, at which point it will be more spreadable and less pourable.

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When your cake (or cupcakes) is cool, frost, garnish, and dig in!

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Cheesecake Fail Turned Happy Accident

As I mentioned in my nice cream post, cheesecake is a popular dessert among vegan cooks, chefs, and bloggers right now. Many that I follow are experimenting with recipes to create a dairy-free version of this classic dessert and are taking it up a notch by making it no-bake and sometimes, raw, too.

Turns out, a successful vegan cheesecake is not easy, and I have yet to join the ranks of those who have successfully gone before me, despite seemingly knowing my stuff. When I develop a new Fresh Formula, I do so through either through experimentation in my own kitchen, research among other vegan cooks, or a combination of both. From those that I follow, I learned that the “cheese” in such a vegan concoction is made possible with cashews and sometimes, coconut cream, two ingredients that I’ve been obsessed with of late (see my potato salad and nice cream formulas).

I developed a formula that I saw as the right balance between sweet, creamy, and decadent without going overboard in any one flavor profile. I tasted the filling as I went, making adjustments as necessary, and came up with a final product that I was sure was the cheesecake winner.

Well, everything was fine until I went to thaw my mini-cheesecakes (all of the recipes I researched stressed the need to freeze and then thaw them to secure the desired shape) and they melted. 😦 Somehow, other vegan cooks have figured out how to make these beauties hold their shape, just like a dairy cheesecake. I, however, have to yet to find success in form. What did happen, though, was amazingly delicious: mousse!

As you know, I already have one mousse formula that is tofu-based. This is a trusty standby for me as it holds its shape well and is jam-packed with protein. I’m not doing away with that mousse rendition; now, I just have more options! And, as far as protein content is concerned, nuts can hold their own, too, so I’m not “missing out” with my new formula.

This mousse formula—which I’m calling “Fruit Mousse,” as the other one is chocolate-based—does, however, contain more fat and sugar. These are natural, cholesterol-free fats and sugars, but two ingredients I try to use sparingly nonetheless. Point is, make this as a special treat and serve it at a party where you will no doubt impress the omnivores in attendance, too (that’s what I did and it was a huge hit…more to follow on that). I would recommend serving in individual containers since this mousse won’t keep its shape when sliced as a pie.

A quick note about citrus zest…You’ll notice that I’m using lemon zest in today’s mousse, in addition to lemon juice. Isn’t the juice enough? The zest packs a ton of added flavor and to me, is actually even more flavorful than the juice. Plus, I’m a huge fan of using as much of the fruit as possible, so there’s that. Finally, lemon zest, in particular, contains five to ten times more nutrients than the juice of the fruit, providing health benefits, too. Be careful when you zest not to grate your citrus fruit down to the white pith, which is bitter.

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All-in-all, while I don’t have a cheesecake in my fridge (I will keep trying!), I’m pretty happy with how my unexpected mousse turned out. One person’s fail is another person’s victory?! In this case, both of those people were me. J Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: FRUIT MOUSSE

Makes 24 mini-cups

For the crust (optional):

  • ½ cup unsweetened dried fruit (no added oil) –> I’m using 5 pitted medjool dates.
  • ¼ cup raw, unsalted nuts/seeds –> I’m using pecans.
  • 1 ½ tbsps oil or nut/seed butter –> I’m using coconut oil.
  • ¼-½ tsp seasoning (spices, salt, etc.) –> I’m using ¼ tsp cinnamon and a pinch of pink Himalayan sea salt.

For the filling:

  • 1 ½ cups raw cashews, soaked in water overnight
  • 1 cup raw fruit –> I’m using ¾ cup raspberries and the juice of 2 lemons.
  • ½ cup coconut cream
  • ½ cup liquid sweetener –> I’m using raw agave syrup.
  • 1 tbsp oil* –> I’m using coconut.
  • ½-1 tbsp combination of spices, extracts, fresh herbs, etc. (optional) –> I’m using the zest of my 2 lemons and a quick splash of almond extract.
  • 2-4 tbsps garnish (raw seeds, nuts, herbs, spices, citrus zest, dried fruit, chocolate chips, etc.) (optional) –> I’m using mini-semisweet chocolate chips (vegan).

*I only used oil because all of the cheesecake recipes I researched called for some oil. I don’t know that it is essential to mousse, so you may be able to opt out of it. I won’t know until I try making this again at some point!

If using, put all of the ingredients into a food processor. Pulse until well-combined, but sticky. Press into your individual serving vessels of choice. I originally planned to make these in a mini-muffin pan and pop them out frozen to thaw, thus why you see them that way here. Later, when I realized that the mousse would not maintain a mini-pie shape after being popped out of the pan, I transferred each mousse to an individual plastic cup, which is where I would have started my crust to begin with, had I known what was going to happen. 🙂  Place crusts in the freezer to firm up.

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Drain and rinse your cashews. Put all of your filling ingredients (except the garnish, if using) in a blender and puree until silky smooth. Pour over prepared crusts, garnish, and place in the fridge to chill. Again, knowing what I know now, I would not use the mini-muffin pan! Make sure your individual mousse cups are in a container that you can put a lid on. Remove from the fridge when you’re ready to serve.

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Eggplant As You’ve Never Seen It Before

Oh, eggplant. I’m sure I’m not alone in stating that it isn’t my favorite vegetable. Up until recently, I’ve only been able to think of a handful of ways to make it truly delicious and appetizing. One of those methods includes breading and frying it in classic eggplant parmesan. Totally scrumptious, yes, but this popular Italian vegetarian dish contains so many unhealthy components that the benefits of the eggplant practically become negated.

When Nolan was just beyond eating only pureed fruits and veggies and on to soft whole foods, I thought that eggplant would make for a unique sauce. Since I was so used to pureeing it for him anyway, I imagined that flavoring it up and pouring it over pasta would make it more appetizing for me, too.

I’m happy to report that that early kitchen experiment was a success. When I had leftover cashew cream from last week’s potato salad, I got creative in taking my original eggplant pasta sauce up a notch. The addition of the cashew cream provided for a dairy-like richness that reminds me of an alfredo, sans all of those animal products.

If you, too, are struggling to make the best of the mysterious purple vegetable that, in fact, is nothing like an egg at all, today, you are in luck! While an appealing flavor and texture transformation might be reason enough to make this pasta sauce, the eggplant contains a whole host of health benefits. First, it contains cholorogenic acid, known to prevent healthy cells from mutating into cancer cells and also a key player in lowering bad cholesterol. Secondly, it is low calories, but high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Its blandness—like the russet potato—is an ideal blank slate for something like a pasta sauce.

DSC_2323In other news, you’ll see that this formula calls for some type of acid. I have found that just a touch of something acidic really brightens the sauce, resulting in a creamy pasta experience that won’t leave you feeling heavy and bloated. Today, I’m using white balsamic vinegar; white, simply to maintain that alfredo-like, off-white color. Check out my multi-grain salad formula for more info on the health benefits of vinegar and this brand, which is my go-to:

DSC_2325Truthfully, this formula is in its newborn stages and I’m not sure how it would hold up to substituting different vegetables, but I imagine that it’s the cashew cream that brings it together. Point is, if you pureed nearly any cooked vegetable with the cashew cream, I think that you would achieve a similar sauce (in consistency, at least). Try this out with eggplant first and see how it goes with another of your favorites that you have been fruitless in repurposing. Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: VEGETABLE PASTA SAUCE

Yields sauce for one box of pasta

  • 2 cups coarsely chopped raw vegetables –> I’m using eggplant.
  • ½ cup cashew cream (soak raw cashews overnight, drain, and blend with just enough water to form a thick cream)
  • 2 tbsps nutritional yeast
  • 1 tbsp acid (i.e. vinegar, mustard, citrus juice, etc.) –> I’m using white balsamic vinegar.
  • ¼-1 tsp seasoning (i.e. fresh/dried herbs, spices, etc.) –> I’m using ¼ tsp ground nutmeg.
  • Pink Himalayan sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste –> I’m using approximately ½ tsp salt and several turns of pepper.

Peel (if necessary) and chop your vegetables. Steam, roast, or boil (I’m steaming) to cook. The Baby Bullet Steamer: not just for baby food! 🙂

DSC_2324While your vegetables are cooking, bring a pot of water to a boil and prepare your pasta of choice. When the vegetables are finished, combine with all other ingredients (except the pasta, of course!) in a blender and puree until smooth and creamy.

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Pour atop your pasta (or use in another application) and enjoy immediately for most desirable consistency. It will keep just fine in the fridge, but will dry out a bit.

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Cashew Cream Potato Salad

I see vegan cooks using cashew cream as a substitute for dairy in both sweet and savory applications all over the place lately, so much so that I knew I just had to try it for myself. After making my first batch of the stuff, I really couldn’t believe how smooth and decadent it was. I immediately thought to the russet potatoes I had sitting on my counter and thought of trying my hand at a creamy potato salad.

Potato salad typically gets its creaminess from mayo, which I find transforms into an unappealingly oily consistency the longer that it sits. Yes, if you’ve ever been to a good old American barbeque or cookout, you know that potato salad tends to sit…for a while. Even if everyone has a healthy helping, there always seems to be tons of it left over.

I’m happy to report that using cashew cream in lieu of mayo will keep your potato salad leftovers fresh and creamy. In addition, cashews are nutritious and versatile. These super nuts contain an abundance of antioxidants, are excellent sources of copper and vitamin K, and can even help to lower blood sugar and cholesterol. They can be used in everything from trail mix to brittle to vegan cheesecake (a future blog post) and today, as “mayo.” Just blend raw cashews with water; it’s that simple!

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The other major component of my potato salad is, naturally, the potato. Today, I’m using russets so that I have a blank flavor palate to start with, but you could certainly use a sweet potato, yam, or potato of a different color or texture. Because, in America at least, the russet potato is often used in relatively unhealthy dishes like fries and chips, it has developed a poor reputation. The reality, however, is that the russet is quite the super food.

One large russet contains about a third of your recommended daily intake of vitamin C, niacin, magnesium, and phosphorous. It’s low in calories, high in fiber, and the perfect canvas for endless kitchen experiments. Want to maximize the nutritional benefits of your russets? Leave the skin on! Roast it and it becomes crispy, or, in today’s potato salad, hide it almost entirely in our cashew cream.

DSC_2304Since I touted my rendition of creamy potato salad for its ability to hold up at the family picnic, you should know that it tastes even better the second day. 🙂 Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: POTATO SALAD

Serves 4-6

  • 2 pounds potatoes –> I’m using russets.
  • 2 cups diced raw vegetables –> I’m using 2 medium carrots and 2 large ribs of celery.
  • A double batch of my creamy salad dressing (see below)
  • ¼ cup crunch (raw seeds, nuts, etc.) (optional) –> I’m using pecans (and a small amount of pistachios leftover from my nice cream recipe earlier this week).

For the dressing (NOTE: Formula already doubled below.):

  • ½ cup seed or nut butter –> I’m using cashew cream (soak raw cashews overnight and blend with just enough water to form a thick cream).
  • 5 tbsps acid (citrus juice, vinegar, mustard, or a combination) –> I’m using half freshly squeezed lemon juice and half whole grain mustard.
  • Thinning liquid as needed (ideas: homemade veggie stock, water, or more acid) –> I’m not using any.
  • Up to 4 tbsps raw garlic and/or fresh/dried herbs and/or spices (optional) –> I’m using 2 ½ tbsps minced garlic and 1 tbsp dried dill.
  • 1-2 tsps sweetener (optional) –> I’m using 1 tsp agave syrup.
  • Pink Himalayan sea salt and pepper to taste –> I’m using ¼ tsp salt and no pepper.

Thoroughly wash your potatoes so that you can keep the skin on. Chop into bite size pieces and steam, boil, or roast (I’m boiling). While your potatoes are cooking, make your dressing. Cover and place in the fridge for the flavors to come together.

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When your potatoes are done cooking, drain (if necessary) and place in a glass bowl to chill in the fridge, at least to room temperature. While the potatoes are cooling, chop your veggies and crunch element, if using.  After the potatoes have cooled sufficiently, pour your dressing on top and stir gently to combine. Enjoy for several days (if you have any leftovers!).

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New Formula: Pesto

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Pesto is easy to make and super flavorful. While it is quite commonly a sauce for pasta dishes, it can also be used as a spread for sandwiches and wraps or a dip or marinade for vegetables. Depending on the application, pesto may be best used immediately as it will change in consistency once it goes into the fridge. This is a result of the oil within solidifying. If you’re looking for the pesto to be “pourable,” use it right away. Otherwise, it can easily keep in the fridge for up to a week.

There are endless combinations that make pesto delicious and versatile. The flavor depends largely on the herbs selected. Thus, I believe that pesto follows a basic formula and although often made with cheese, I’ve found a way to make it “cheesy” and vegan at the same time.

DSC_1806 The “cheesiness” comes from a couple of places. First of all, some nuts have flavors that mimic the nutty quality of cheeses like parmesan. My favorite parm substitute is cashews, which I grind finely and sprinkle on top of pasta often. The other cheesy element to this pesto is nutritional yeast, also known as “nooch.”

DSC_1808 Ummm…what is nooch (pictured above)?! Originally named “nutritional yeast,” it is a member of the fungi family and not the same as say, brewer’s yeast or baking yeast. This strain of yeast has a cheesy, nutty taste and adds a lot of flavor to dishes in small amounts. Most importantly, it is called nutritional yeast for a reason. Nooch is loaded with B-vitamins, protein, zinc, folic acid, and selenium. To sweeten the deal, some brands specifically contain the highly sought out vitamin B12.

Be creative in experimenting with my pesto formula. You could make a cilantro version to spread inside burritos or tacos, a basil version for Italian cooking, or even a mint version to use with falafel. The possibilities are endless. Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: PESTO

Makes about 1 ¾ cups 

  • 1 ½ cups fresh herbs –> I’m using 1 cup parsley and ½ cup basil.
  • 1 cup raw nuts –> I’m using cashews
  • 1/3 cup nutritional yeast
  • 5 cloves raw garlic
  • ½ cup citrus juice –> I’m using the juice of two lemons.
  • Additional spices (optional) –> I’m using 1 tsp onion powder.
  • Water/oil as needed for smoothness –> I’m going for a thicker dip/spread, so I won’t need any extra liquid today.

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth, adding water and/or oil as needed. The less oil used, the lower in fat the end product will be. 🙂 So flavorful, this pesto doesn’t even need salt!

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New Formula: Veggie Curry

DSC_1657I’ve always known that I love curry, but I didn’t realize just how much until Travis, Nolan, and I visited my sister and her husband in Japan this past June. In addition to traditional Japanese fare, the streets are sprinkled with tiny, authentic Indian restaurants, serving many varieties of curry with chewy naan. Travis, Petra, Craig, and I decided that we really needed to check out these curry joints; the chefs there must be doing something right if there is just as much curry available in Tokyo as sushi and ramen.

Thus, we embarked on what we lovingly named The 2013 Curry Crawl. We sampled curry from six different Indian establishments over the course of two days, with one day of rest in the middle (curry can be intense, ya’ll). We even found a bakery that sold savory curry-stuffed donuts! Yes, it’s true, and boy were they delicious!  Here you can see me and Petra, members of the Curry Crawl Clean Plate Club, and the donuts.

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Vegetarian curry was easy to find, but vegan curry? Not so much. While coconut milk is a typical base for the creamy curry sauce, many places use heavy cream or milk. Being lactose intolerant, I knew pretty quickly when I had just wolfed down a cream-based curry rather than the preferred coconut milk variety. Uh oh… 🙂

Full and inspired, I knew I had to come back to Arizona and perfect my own totally vegan curry dish. I experimented with different vegetable and bean combinations, plant milks, and spice levels, and think I just may have figured this out. I discovered that there really is no ideal recipe since I like so many different flavors and because different people prefer their curry differently: sweet, spicy, mild, thick, soupy, etc. Thus, vegetable curry (now under Square Meal Formulas) lends itself perfectly to my Fresh Formula model.

When I’m making this dish—which Travis claims is the best vegetable curry he’s ever had, just sayin’—I throw together whatever vegetables and beans I have on hand and have a unique experience every time. I keep the spice blend and sauce thickness consistent, since to me, that’s what makes my curry, my curry.

Before we get started, I have pictured here an actual sweet potato, since that is what I am using in today’s recipe. If you didn’t already know, while some varieties of sweet potatoes may be orange inside, the orange guys you find in the grocery store may actually be yams, with the true sweet potatoes being pale yellow inside. Does it matter? Yes! Sweet potatoes are higher in protein and fiber than yams and a mega source of vitamin A. While both are extremely nutritious, sweet potatoes have an edge. Just something to consider the next time you are in charge of these starches next Thanksgiving.

DSC_1648Finally, don’t forget to thoroughly wash your vegetables before peeling and chopping. Remember, you can collect the clean scraps in a large bowl in the freezer to make into homemade veggie stock later on. 🙂 On to the curry!

FORMULA BASE: VEGGIE CURRY

Serves 6

  • 2 cups grains + 4 cups cooking liquid –> I’m using short grain brown rice, which I’m cooking in my homemade veggie stock.
  • 2 cups cooked beans –> I’m using garbanzo beans (AKA chickpeas).
  • 1 cup raw nuts –> I’m using cashews.
  • 5-6 cups chopped vegetables –> I’m using 1 medium sweet potato, 2 small carrots, 1 medium zucchini, ½ cup each corn and peas, and ½ of a small yellow onion.
  • 2 cups plant milk –> I’m using 1 cup each of coconut and almond milk. (Although I’ve never sampled a curry where I could actually taste the coconut flavor, which I don’t like, I always still err on the side of caution and mix plant milks. :))
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 3 tbsp curry powder –> The premixed stuff is too spicy for me, so I combine 1 tbsp garam masala, ½ tbsp each of cumin and turmeric, ¼ tsp of ground nutmeg, and ½ tsp of pink Himalayan sea salt and adjust while cooking as my taste buds see fit. If you like it spicy, use a premixed curry powder (beware of added salt) which will likely already carry some heat and add cayenne pepper to taste.
  • ½ tbsp agave syrup (optional) –> I’m using it. I may consider using more if I weren’t included a sweet potato in the mix.
  • 1 tbsp oil (to prevent cooking vegetables from sticking to the pan) –> I’m using coconut oil.

Rinse your grains and place in a rice cooker or stove top pot with their cooking liquid. Set to medium low heat and cover, stirring occasionally. The grains are done when all of the liquid has been absorbed. Cooking times will vary. Brown rice takes 25-35 minutes, depending on the variety and whether or not it is cooking in a rice cooker or on the stove.

Dry toast the nuts in a large sauté pan over medium high heat for 3-5 minutes, or until lightly golden, tossing frequently.

DSC_1649The nuts will darken in color throughout the entire cooking process. While you’re waiting for the nuts to brown, chop up your longest-cooking veggie(s). For me, these are the sweet potato and the carrots, which I am peeling before chopping.

When the nuts have browned slightly, add your oil to the pan, along with your longest-cooking veggie(s). Sauté for about 5 minutes before adding your milk, garlic, agave syrup, and spices. Turn the heat down to medium to reduce the milk for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. In the meantime, continue to chop all of your veggies. After the 15 minutes, add them to the mix from longest cook time to shortest; my last addition will be the garbanzo beans (rinse and drain if necessary) and frozen peas and corn since they simply need to heat through. Stir your vegetables often to ensure they aren’t sticking to the bottom of your sauté pan, but are still being exposed to the heat.

Cook times will vary depending on the vegetables selected. This version of my curry formula takes just under an hour. When your veggies are all cooked through or to your liking (I prefer them al dente), serve the curry over rice. Enjoy!

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Simple and Delicious Kale Crunch Salad

DSC_1604On a recent trip to Portland, Oregon to visit friends, I was surrounded by restaurants boasting the plant-based cuisine I love to eat. My friend, Danielle, told my husband, Travis, and I that kale was literally everywhere, including sitting on the pavement outside of her car one night! She said that nearly every restaurant offered a kale salad of some kind and that got me thinking about a kale salad recipe that I really enjoyed back in Arizona.

Another friend, Lissa, introduced me to a yummy kale salad recipe that she obtained from a colleague. The salad was simple, with the only vegetable being the kale itself. It was dressed in a mix of lemon juice and olive oil and topped with finely grated parmesan cheese. This recipe inspired my Green Salad Formula, which is a healthier, plant-based version of the greens.

When I make a green salad, I like for the only vegetable to be greens so that I’m consuming a large quantity of them. Kale, in particular, is high in fiber, iron, and calcium and packed with antioxidants. A true super food! This mix boasts a variety of organic baby kale leaves that are more palatable in a salad than their adult counterparts.

DSC_1581I add a little protein and crunch to my kale salad with the addition of raw sunflower seeds, almonds, and cashews. Cashews mimic the flavor of parmesan cheese, so I use them as a cholesterol-free substitute.

DSC_1585Finally, I make a lemon vinaigrette dressing for this salad that is fat free. The aforementioned kale with parmesan salad includes a dressing that is largely oil and in my opinion, too fattening when paired with cheese, or in this case, nuts. I add a hint of agave syrup to balance the tartness of the lemon juice and no oil whatsoever. Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: GREEN SALAD

Serves 1 as a meal or 2 as a side

  • 4 cups fresh greens –> I’m using a mix of baby kale leaves.
  • ¼ cup raw seeds and chopped nuts –> I’m using 1 tbsp sunflower seeds, 1 tbsp almonds, and ¼ cup cashews
  • 2 tbsp dressing of choice –> I’m using a homemade lemon vinaigrette.
  • DRESSING:
    • Juice of ½ of a lemon
    • 1 tsp agave syrup
    • ¼ tsp onion powder
    • ¼ tsp garlic powder
    • One grind fresh black pepper
    • Pinch of pink Himalayan sea salt

Mix the salad dressing with a small whisk and set aside.

DSC_1591Put the nuts through a nut grinder or chopper, or finely chop by hand.

DSC_1588Toss the kale in the lemon vinaigrette and top with the sunflower seeds and chopped nuts.

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