Monday, February 27, 2012

Meal Planning - Great Success!

Hello, all! I'm pleased to bring you a blog about the pleasures and pains of meal planning, or at least about how things go in the Vegan Noms household. As a single person who lives alone ('cept for my pup!), meal planning can be quite a hassle. Just like every-damn-thing else to do around the house there's only one person in charge of following through. Over the last few weeks I've been trying to pay special attention to my budget, the quality of foods I am eating, and creating dishes in bulk so I save on cooking time. Some tips I have discovered:

1. Drink a green smoothie every day. This has saved my ass on many an occasion when I've had the dreadful thought: "Crap, have I eaten any vegetables today? Hmm, does the soymilk in my latte count?" (I know, legume-milk doesn't count!). Each morning I whip up a delicious green monster to take to work. Jam-packed with goodness, this guarantees that I am getting some nutrition in my tum-tum and also makes me feel more energized and better about myself, so I'm likely to continue making healthy food choices throughout the day. My favorite combo so far:
  • Frozen naner
  • Combination of frozen raspberries, mangoes, grapes, peaches, pineapples, strawberries
  • Good Karma Unsweetened Flax Milk (this stuff is AMAZING - I splurge every week or so)
  • Huge handful of spinach
  • Regular-sized handful of kale
  • Occasional add-ins: chia seeds, flax oil (if I'm out of flax milk), citrus fruits
2. Make a giant serving of a simple, nutrient-packed dish you can snack on all week. This tip has also saved my apparently danger-prone ass many times, as well. For mid-morning snacks, lunch or dinner sides, post-work out protein punch, late night class meal, or nutritious hangover food whatever you make can serve all of these functions if it includes a couple variables: protein, carb, veggie, and a little bit of fat.

I made a ginormous batch of lentils and brown rice on one Sunday afternoon and dressed it with Garlic Expressions (aka liquid, garlicky crack), some cracked pepper, and chopped grape tomatoes. This stuff was incredible. I ate it as my meal a few times - with a side salad, you're all set! Easy to grab in a hurry, packed with nutrients, and so very tasty.

Another great dish I made is Mediterranean Hempseed Israeli Couscous:
  • 2 cups Israeli couscous, dry
  • 1/4 lb. of selections from olive bar (kalamatas, mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes, beans artichokes, etc.), diced
  • 1/2 c balsamic vinegar
  • 2 T Garlic Expressions dressing
  • 1/4 c hemp seeds
  • Couple handfuls of torn up spinach
  • fresh cracked black pepper
Cook the couscous on the stove (1.5-2x cups of water for each cup of couscous) until tender. Drain. Add rest of the ingredients. Can be enjoyed hot or cold!

3. Legit make a dish meant for a family of four. This can backfire at times if it ends up being meh or inedible, but it can really work in your favor. I made stuffed peppers from the book 4 Ingredient Vegan, which were incredibly easy to prepare and quite tasty. The recipe is basically 4 gutted peppers (flash boiled), a can of veg chili, and a cup or so of brown rice. It also called for salsa, but it wasn't needed (especially if you have my unhealthy fetish with ketchup). And one of these bad boys is a huge serving, beware!

4. Make burgers. Yep. Simple old veggie burgers, they're all the same, right? Wrong! Joni's Best Veggie Burgers On The Planet is an ever-inspiring masterpiece dedicated to the most versatile way of preparing food ever. I've made a few selections and my favorite so far is the Denver Omelet Burger, but these Edamame Burgers are also pretty fab. I made a batch and have frozen them, so they can provide quick protein-packed meals in a pinch.

Lemon garlic aioli? Yes, please!

5. Budget. For serious. This is so stupid-simple, but I wasn't following a food budget up until about 4 months ago. Keep track of how much you're spending on food, especially eating out. Record where the best deals on certain foods are (I bounce between 4 or 5 grocery stores, depending on what I need), because if you shop around you will feel the horror of learning you just paid $X.XX for XX oz. of XXXXX at the XXXX Market and holy crap I could've been getting it for half-price here the whole time?! It's worth it, if you plan your trips well (to save on gas/biking energy expenditure!). I have a wonderful iPhone app, Ace Budget 2, which helps keep all of my finances in order so that I know where every penny has been spent. Highly recommended (it's a dollar, btw, if you have an issue with paying for apps).

So, tell me, what are some of your best tips for meal planning? And can you recommend a great recipe for small, nutrient-packed meals throughout the week? I'd love to hear from you!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A Vegan Oasis: Mustard Seed Cafe

An oasis in what is now, since the closing of Akron's first and only 100% vegan restaurant, Vegiterranean, a proverbial vegan desert, Mustard Seed Market and Cafe is one of the best little spots to grab a nice, healthy vegan meal. There are some other little gems lurking around the Rubber City, yet Mustard Seed has been a consistent provider of nourishing meals to local vegheads.

The bestie and I had lunch during quite a blizzard this afternoon. We were pleased to find a very special... special listed: raw/vegan caesar salad!

A lovely bed of lettuce topped with cucumbers, tomatoes, in-house-made vegan parm (walnuts and nooch), raw flax crackers, and a very nice dressing made from cashews and apple cider vinegar. I will most definitely try to replicate the dressing and will share!

Oh, yes... we each ordered the classic tempeh reuben, complete with sauerkraut, Italian-style Daiya, and vegan thousand island dressing. One of the best reubens I've ever had; the tempeh is cooked perfectly so it is nutty and chewy and not the least bit bitter.

Could we resist the chocolate raspberry torte? Hell to the no.

Mustard Seed Cafe also offers soy milkshakes, veggie sushi, stir fry, a Middle Eastern plate, macrobiotic meals, and an assortment of other healthy veg fare. Also, you can overlook the market while you dine, scoping out what treats you'll undoubtedly take home with you. For example, Mustard Seed is the only health food store in the area in which I have found Dandies, Ricemellow (just the one time...), gluten free Chreese sauce, and the new Good Karma flax milk! They are also going to be building a location right down the street from me, in my 'hood, in the next year or so. It's wonderful to have a locally owned, dedicated spot which provides water to often-quenched NE Ohio vegans.

Stop back for more reviews of local vegan gems, as well as sure-to-please recipes from cookbooks I dusted off and dog-eared for this week's meal planning. It's time to get this blog back in gear! Who's with me?!