Two of My Favorite Things

Plant-based eating is about creating food that is as simple as possible, relying on the natural flavors of plants to trump the need for too much added fat, salt, or sugar. Today, I wanted to share with you a couple of vegan delights that I not only love, but that are healthy, too.

Let’s start with the gorgeous truffles you see pictured above and below. PuraTea Water is a fair trade tea shop strategically placed next to a vegan restaurant. (Remember my post about Sage Kitchen and its connected tea shop? Perhaps this is a trend?) As the name suggests, PT sells many varieties of tea and fresh herbs. One of the co-owners makes these truffles as a special treat, sitting at checkout.

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My husband knows the way to my heart and picked up a bunch of these precious goodies while out shopping with our son. The best part? These “desserts” are guilt-free powerhouses of nutrition! Animal product-based truffles are, of course, wonderfully delicious (see my cherry cordial smoothie post), but most are nothing to write home about in the way of nutritional content. The homemade truffles at PT contain such super foods as dates, seeds, cocoa powder, and nuts. They are minimally sweetened with agave and taste very similar to my protein-packed power balls. I ate them for breakfast this morning paired with PT’s iced apple spiced chai. 🙂  Yum!

Upon leaving the tea house, Travis and Nolan wandered into Loving Hut, a vegan chain with over 200 locations around the world. LH’s ethical and environmental stance on plant-based eating makes them a winner in my book. Plus, even though there are some processed items on the menu (gotta watch out – not all vegan food is created equally) there are some fantastic fresh eats, too.

These spring rolls are one of my favorite vegan takeout items ever. Fresh vegetables and tofu are rolled in rice paper and served with a sweet and savory peanut dipping sauce. As I always have my Fresh Formula thinking cap on, I would include unbreaded tofu since the moisture in the surrounding vegetables negates the purpose of a crunchy outer coating. Really, though, I shouldn’t complain…these are vegan bites at their nearly best and I could seriously eat them every day!

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Travis and Nolan coming home with two of my favorite things last night (plus having flowers delivered to the house during the afternoon, if you must know!) was pretty fantastic, but there was extra icing on this cake:  The sweet folks at PT were excited about my blog!  I started The Fresh Formula to help ordinary people like me live healthier lives, so the more people I can reach, the better.  Look forward to seeing what the future holds.  Go green!

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Protein-Packed Comfort Food

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Of all of the vegan dishes that I make, of this one, I am exceptionally proud. For me, it ticks so many boxes, from nutritional value to great leftovers to toddler likability. It isn’t easy to reinvent classic comfort foods—many of which are comforting as a result of fat, sugar, or salt—but I’ve managed to do it with my take on the classic, Chicken Divan.

CD is a chicken and broccoli casserole with a creamy sauce. As much as it is delicious, it is loaded with fat and cholesterol, two no-no’s in my world. My recipes are certainly not all fat free (you will see there is a little bit in today’s concoction), but most are low in fat and definitely don’t contain cholesterol, which only exists in animal products. A positive of the original CD is the protein found in chicken. Thankfully, protein can be found in tons of plants, and often, in much greater quantities per serving.

Today, CD becomes TD: Tofu Divan. Yea, tofu (and all soybean products) should be consumed sparingly, according to some research. But then, I visit Japan, with its ultra-healthy, lean population, and see tofu everywhere. So, who knows!  Tofu is an EXCELLENT source of protein that is low in fat, free of cholesterol, and adaptable into both savory and sweet applications. (Check out my togurt and chocolate mousse formulas for more tofu ideas!) I eat tofu in some capacity once or twice a month…nothing to worry about.

Side note: My TD utilizes a block of silken (or soft) and half a block extra firm. What am I going to do with the other half? Since Nolan was just beyond pureed baby food, I’ve been cutting it into cubes, and tossing it with just a splash of amino acids or soy sauce and a little bit of agave syrup. He’s been popping the cubes for over a year and a half now and couldn’t be happier with this easy and baby-friendly snack. He even learned how to use a fork with these tofu cubes.

DSC_2113Ok, back to the TD. I’m using broccolini, or baby broccoli, but you could really use any vegetable you’d like. You can also use any grains you’d like. This is a Fresh Formula, after all. 🙂 Tradition CD doesn’t contain grains, but if I’m going to make a cooked dish, I like to include them, since the bulk of what I eat is typically raw.

DSC_2100My grain of choice today is primarily wheat berries, with a little bit of quinoa I had left over from making Nolan his favorite breakfast: my quinoa muffins. When Travis and I selected our Bountiful Basket offerings last week, we added twenty-five pounds of wheat berries. They aren’t as easy to find as other grains and I love the crunch that they maintain, even after cooked. Now, I just need to find some ways to use them, which is one of my goals today! I first introduced you to wheat berries in my multi-grain salad formula, another one of my go-to favorites.

DSC_2095 DSC_2096The nutrients derived from the produce, grains, and tofu in my TD are unmatched by its animal-based cousin, CD. This dish is delicious right out of the oven and also makes for satisfying leftovers. Mostly importantly, my two-year-old loves it. Still not keen on many veggies as is (although he’ll eat them all day in smoothies), TD is a great way for me to “hide” finely chopped vegetables that he eats without question.

Finally, you’ll see that the casserole is topped with breadcrumbs. Typically, I’d use some of my own freshly baked bread, but with none on hand at the moment, I’m getting creative and using rice cakes! I love this brand. They make for a great snack as is, or smothered in peanut butter and jam. Yum-o!

DSC_2101Bear in mind that making tofu divan takes about ninety minutes, start to finish, depending on what type of grains you use. While brown rice can cook in about thirty minutes, wheat berries need an hour. Just FYI if you’re in a hurry. 🙂 Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: TOFU DIVAN

Serves 6-8 

  • 5-6 cups homemade veggie stock
  • 3 cups uncooked grains –>  I’m using 2 cups wheat berries and 1 cup white quinoa.
  • 2 cups finely chopped vegetables –>  I’m using broccolini
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs –>  I’m using two tamari and flax seed rice cakes.
  • 1 block silken tofu
  • ½ block of extra firm tofu
  • ½ cup liquid to blend with silken tofu (more veggie stock, water, plant milk, etc.) –>  I’m using unsweetened, unflavored almond milk.
  • ½ of a small onion –>  I’m using yellow.
  • 2-4 cloves garlic –> The more the merrier in my book. 🙂
  • 1 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 1 tbsp oil –> I’m using olive.
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp dried minced onion
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper to taste –> I’m using pink Himalayan sea salt and fresh ground black pepper in both the sauce and in the sauté pan.

Thoroughly rinse your grains before cooking. Add to a rice cooker or stovetop pot with veggie stock. If you’re using a variety of different grains, stagger their addition to the cooker/pot based on cook times. Wheat berries, for instance, need much longer to cook than quinoa.

While the grains are cooking, put the silken tofu in a blender with your liquid of choice and puree until smooth. Put in a small sauce pan on medium low heat with all spices, the bay leaf, and salt and pepper to taste. Leave the sauce to simmer, stirring occasionally. If it gets too thick (should be thicker than milk, but thinner than a milkshake), thin out with water, plant milk, or veggie stock.

DSC_2104Heat up a sauté pan on medium high heat with ½ tbsp of the oil. Dice your onion, mince your garlic, crumble your extra firm tofu, and sauté until the onions are almost translucent and the tofu is slightly browned. If you have a starchy vegetable, such as carrots, throw them into the sauté pan, too. Otherwise, finely chopping and adding to the casserole mix before it goes into the often should suffice.

DSC_2112Finally, pulse your bread, crackers, etc. in a food processor to make breadcrumbs.

DSC_2102The grains should have absorbed all of the liquid by the time they are cooked, but drain them if they haven’t. In a large mixing bowl, combine grains, onion, garlic, tofu, vegetables, and silken tofu sauce, sans bay leaf. I am strategic about how I do this. The veggies go on the bottom if they have not been precooked, topped next by the hot grains, which will par-cook the vegetables for me, finishing them off in the oven.

Mix your breadcrumbs with nutritional yeast and the other ½ tbsp oil. Once the other ingredients are combined and spread in a 9 X 13 baking dish, top with breadcrumbs. Put under the broiler on low for 4-5 minutes, or until the breadcrumbs are golden brown.

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Nutrient-Rich Chocolate Mousse

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You read that title correctly:  Nutrient-Rich Chocolate Mousse.  As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t make traditional desserts a regular part of my diet, but like many people, I definitely get a sweet tooth now and then. Between my cake formula, dessert smoothie formula, and today’s feature—chocolate mousse—I can typically quench my desire for sweets pretty quickly and with a healthier option.

Friday night was my department chair’s retirement party and I signed up to bring dessert. I was told that many instructors offered to do the same, so my dessert need only be a sweet nibble for approximately six people. I knew that my chocolate mousse—which today, I’m making as a pie—would do just the trick. Wanna bet that party-goers didn’t even notice it’s vegan?! 🙂

The base of this mousse is of course, chocolate. Your options are dark chocolate (likely with an added sweetener) or vegan semi-sweet chocolate. Today, I’m using semi-sweet chocolate chips that I’ve found don’t contain milk fat, as some varieties do. Don’t forget to read the packaging to make sure.

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While I use cocoa powder in other chocolatey concoctions, it won’t work in this mousse. When bar or chip chocolate is melted, it will eventually re-solidify, ultimately stiffening the mousse so that it isn’t a runny mess. I have tried doing this with cocoa powder, simply because it contains fewer processed ingredients and it just doesn’t allow the mousse to stiffen up the way that it needs to, especially if being served as a pie that requires slicing.

Today, I’m taking some help from the store with a premade graham cracker crust (I know, sooo not like me!). The main reason for this is that it comes in a disposable aluminum pie plate that I can just leave at the party. Remember, you don’t need a crust, but if you’re not pressed for time and are able to use (and easily get back!) a glass pie plate, you can make your own. Consider crusts made from foods other than graham crackers, too. (Travis’s homemade vegan graham cracker recipe is another post, another day. :))

This mousse is just sweet enough to satisfy a craving without being too rich. Topping with chopped fresh fruit will add even more sweetness of the best kind: natural. Experiment with various flavor combinations and textures, considering fruit and nuts particularly. Dessert could certainly be worse for you than this one, jam-packed with protein (from the tofu), calcium (from the plant milk), antioxidants (from the chocolate), fiber, vitamins, and minerals (all from the fruit). Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: CHOCOLATE MOUSSE

Serves 4-6

  • 1 block (14 oz) silken tofu (see my togurt formula for an explanation of tofu)
  • 3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (sans milk fat) or chopped dark chocolate –> I’m using semi-sweet chips.
  • 1/2 + 1/8 cup plant milk –>  I’m using almond.
  • ½-1 tsp extract of choice (amount depends on flavor intensity) –>  I’m using 1 tsp vanilla.
  • 1 tbsp sweetener (optional) –>  I’m not using any.
  • ½-1 cup specialty ingredients (optional) –>  I’m using one small banana.

Using a double boiler, melt the chocolate into your plant milk. It doesn’t need to completely melt, but rather, soften enough to puree easily.

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Let cool for a minute or two and transfer into a blender with all remaining ingredients. Blend until smooth.  The air bubbles are normal.  You can smooth them out with a spatula or cover them up with toppings later! Pour into your serving dish(es) of choice, with or without a crust, and chill for at least two hours.

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After chilling, I like to top mine with fresh fruit and/or chopped raw nuts before digging in.  🙂

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The Burrito Bowl: A Perfect Vegan Meal

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As evidenced in my post about my daily eating habits, a plant-based lifestyle can be easily well-rounded, providing all of the nutrients that the body needs, sans cholesterol, hormones, excess fat, and other animal by-products. Over the last three years, I’ve found ways—including my Fresh Formulas, of course—to obtain a ton of nutrients accompanied by a ton of flavor, all while feeling satisfied and not having to count calories.

The more I think I about this, the burrito bowl concept just might be the perfect vegan meal. In one bowl, you can combine whole grains, protein, and fresh fruits and vegetables. You’re guaranteed full and satisfied without the guilt that comes with meat, cheese, and sour cream.

I’m not a big fan of fast food, but if I’m going to indulge, I love the fast-casual establishment Chipotle. Even though I don’t eat it, I even appreciate the company’s stance on meat! Chipotle just knows how to do it right, and when I think of a burrito bowl, their buffet-style setup is the first thing that comes to mind. Chipotle—and burrito bowl—fans, you’re definitely going to want to keep reading!

Yes, a dish with the word “burrito” in it can be vegan, and more importantly, healthy. It’s all about smart substitutions: brown rice for white, beans for meat, etc. In today’s formula adaptation, I’m using ground tofu (pictured below the basic formula) and the black beans and fresh vegetables below:

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Corn is an easy veggie to have on hand in the freezer. I don’t use a lot of it because other fruits and vegetables certainly pack more nutrients, but I love the texture and flavor, especially in a dish like this. Next, we have green onions, which I’ll be using as a garnish. Then, you see a salsa I quickly threw together with yellow onion, roma tomatoes, sweet red peppers, cilantro*, and fresh-squeezed lemon juice (I’m all out of lime). Making salsa can be easy, ya’ll; stay away from the jarred stuff that’s packed with sodium.

*There is cilantro growing in my front yard! In my post about starting your own garden, I promised you that if you took care of the birds and the bees that they would do their job in pollinating and spreading seeds. Between our backyard critters and the wind, we now have a randomly delicious cilantro plant driveway-adjacent. Very cool.

Finally, we have shredded baby kale. When I order Mexican food, it is often topped with or including shredded iceberg lettuce. While there is nothing wrong with this, if you’re looking for the freshness and texture of a leafy green in your burrito bowl, why not use something like spinach or kale instead? One cup of baby kale, for instance, has double the protein content, three times the iron content, nine times the calcium content, nearly thirty times the Vitamin A content, and over forty times the Vitamin C content of one cup of iceberg lettuce. Whoa. Need I say more…

DSC_1918Switching gears, you’ll notice that this formula contains very little salt. I combat what might be perceived as a lack of flavor by really ramping up the spices. I cook my whole grains and tofu (when I use it) in a variation of the spice blend I use in my chili formula. The entire formula—which serves 4-6 people—contains less than ½ tsp of salt. Impressive, huh? You don’t even need to use any at all if you don’t want!

On to the beans. Beans are the only product I buy in a can and I wish I didn’t. Dried beans are less expensive. In addition, even though beans don’t contain the level of BPA-leaching acid present in tomatoes (see my homemade marinara post), they are still somewhat exposed to this chemical in the cans’ linings. For some reason, when I prepare dried beans, I am sick the entire next day after I eat them…bloating, gas, terrible cramps…you get the idea. Let me know if you have any ideas about this or better yet, a solution. 🙂

Finally, more about the tofu. Check out my post on vegan yogurt for a more detailed explanation of tofu and why some people love it and some hate it. For today’s purposes, just know that a little bit of tofu won’t hurt you and when sautéed in crumbles on the stove, a mock “ground chicken” is born, if you’re having a tough time kicking meat. I swear it’s good! On top of that, the tofu I use is organic and non-GMO. Wins across the board (until I learn to make it myself)!

DSC_1920It’s time for a burrito adaptation that you won’t regret eating and that combines the necessities of a healthy diet. Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: BURRITO BOWL

Serves 4-6

  • 2 cups whole grains (e.g. brown rice, farro, wheat berries, quinoa, etc.) –>  I’m using brown rice.
  • 2 cups protein (e.g. beans, lentils tofu, tempeh, etc.) –>  I’m using black beans and crumbled tofu.
  • 2 cups raw fruit/vegetables –>  I’m using baby kale, corn, and salsa.**
  • 1 cup “crunch” (e.g. tortilla chips, nuts, seeds, etc.) –>  I’m using broken tortilla chips.
  • ½ cup garnish (e.g. fresh herbs, green onions, etc.) –>  I’m using thinly-sliced green onion.
  • Spices, herbs, salt, and pepper to taste –>  I’m using the following spice blend for my rice:
    • 1 tsp chili powder
    • 1 tsp paprika
    • 1 tsp dried cilantro
    • 1 tsp dried minced onion
    • ½ tsp garlic powder
    • ¼ tsp cumin
    • ¼ tsp pink Himalayan sea salt

**Guacamole would be delicious as well. I just don’t happen to have any avocados on hand. Either way, DIY to avoid excess salt and other preservatives.

First, get your grains cooking in homemade veggie stock or water. Add all of your seasonings directly to the cooking liquid so that the grains absorb the flavor as they cook.

DSC_1922Next, prepare your protein. If you’re using canned beans, they are already cooked and simply need to be drained and rinsed. If you’re using dried beans, soak them in water overnight and then boil on the stovetop while your grains cook, until tender. Tofu and tempeh are also precooked, but I like to doctor up the tofu so that it more so resembles the texture of ground meat.

After opening a package of tofu, drain the water and wrap the block in a clean towel to absorb even more water. Then, crumble into a medium-hot pan and season. I am using the same spice combination that I am using for the rice, just in a lesser amount. No measurements needed; just give the tofu a healthy sprinkle of the spices you like and stir so that it is evenly seasoned. After about 5 minutes, turn the heat down to medium low and stir occasionally. The tofu crumbles will reduce in size as they lose moisture, giving them a more meat-like consistency (if that’s what you’re going for).

DSC_1923While your grains and protein are cooking and/or hanging out, chop all of your produce and prepare your crunch and garnish. When all components are ready, layer them in a bowl in this order:

  1. Grains
  2. Protein
  3. Produce
  4. Crunch
  5. Garnish

Then, eat! I would store leftover components separately in the fridge…although I doubt there will be any. J This formula would be easy to make in large quantities and set up buffet-style for a family dinner or party.

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“Yogurt” with a Twist

DSC_1748Tofu: a protein-packed animal product alternative made from soybean curds. In my years of living a plant-based lifestyle, I’ve come across vegan/vegetarian chefs that put the stuff in everything and others that won’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. The reality is that tofu is just soybeans. You can buy it already processed or even make it yourself.

DSC_1745 Some cooks don’t like it because it is processed (although you can find many varieties that contain only soybeans and water) and others don’t like it because it is composed of soy, which has questionable health risks. The jury is still on out on whether or not soy products can really cause serious health problems, particularly for women, but from what I’ve researched, it is fine in moderation for just about anyone. Another concern about soy is that it is often grouped with other foods likely to result in allergies (i.e. nuts, fish, dairy milk, etc.), but I suppose, as with any food, if you ate it and were allergic, you’d know pretty quickly.

At the end of the day, I am willing to consume a little soy and so are Travis and Nolan. I absolutely can’t go to sushi without ordering edamame as an appetizer and I love to crumble and sauté tofu to make ground “chicken” tacos or barbeque “chicken” pizza. Like the meats that tofu is often substituted for, soybeans are loaded with protein and can be prepared in a number of ways that make them truly delicious.

One of my favorite ways to prepare silken/soft tofu, in particular, is to make it into togurt. Yup, just like yogurt, but without dairy, which I avoid because of its lactose and cholesterol and quite frankly, because I’ve read and seen some disturbing things about how the cows that produce our dairy are treated. I’ll let you read up on it on your own. 🙂

Anyway, my version of “yogurt” has a similar texture and flavor to the traditional variety, sans high fructose corn syrup, preservatives, and artificial coloring. If you have a block of silken/soft tofu, fruit, and plant milk, you’re ready to make togurt. Nolan loves it, too, and it pairs nicely with fruit or granola. Be advised that when you puree it initially, it will be a bit thinner than what it will become when sitting in the fridge. Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: TOGURT

Serves 6-8

  • 1 block (14 oz) silken tofu
  • 1 ½-2 cups fresh or steamed fruit (depending on the fruit) –> I’m using almost 2 cups of raw strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries.
  • ½-¾ cup plant milk –> I’m using ½ cup almond.
  • Pitted medjool dates as needed for sweetness –> I’m using 3.
  • Spices/extracts as needed or preferred –> I’m using 1 tsp vanilla extract.

If necessary, peel and/or steam your fruit. I would leave citrus fruits, berries, and tropical fruits, for example, raw, but would steam hard fruits like pears or apples. Combine all ingredients in a blender.

DSC_1746Blend, taste, and adjust ingredients as necessary for your taste preferences. The air bubbles are normal and will never completely dissipate.

DSC_1747Store in the fridge for up to a week. Stir before eating if the water and solids separate a bit. 🙂

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