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Cheese and Ice Cream and Butter, oh my!

Shortly after my son was born, we discovered that he was intolerant to cow’s milk protein. That meant that for as long as I chose to nurse him, I would have to be completely milk free. Problem….No cheese, No ice cream, No butter, Oh my!

What would I eat?

What was left?

I quickly became an obsessive label reader searching for the hidden milk in my favorite products. If any of the following words appeared in the label, then it was out of my diet:

  • ammonium caseinate
  • calcium caseinate
  • magnesium caseinate
  • potassium caseinate
  • sodium caseinate
  • casein/caseinate
  • rennet casein
  • curds
  • lactate
  • lactose
  • delactosed/demineralized whey
  • lactoferrin
  • lactoglobulin
  • milk derivative/protein/fat
  • modified milk ingredients
  • hydrolyzed casein
  • hydrolyzed milk protein
  • lactalbumin
  • lactalbumin phosphate
  • whey
  • whey protein concentrate

I carried a cheat sheet list of no-nos while shopping, checked online at such websites as www.godairyfree.org and just generally ate less processed food for fear that my son would break out into a rash with a distended, gassy belly! What I discovered while going through this process is that by cooking with fresh, locally, organically grown food and not eating out I felt better! I lost weight (a lot of weight!) and I was shaping the way my children would eat for the rest of their lives.

I am no longer nursing and I have begun to add dairy back into my diet, but only a little and very judiciously. I continue to keep processed foods out of my family’s diet as much as possible and am very happy with the results.

Next up: What my family actually eats now!

Grab an apple, steam those vegetables, and spread some hummus!

This recipe sounds like a lot of ingredients, but I normally have a lot of these items on hand in my kitchen. Trust me; it’s really, really worth it!

I absolutely LOVE everything about soup. From making the stock through prepping the veggies, I enjoy it all, but of course the end result with a thick piece of bread or salad makes it the perfect meal!  Few things are as comforting as a piping hot bowl of soup or stew to warm the soul on a chilly night or after a day of sledding!  I’ve been making this one for several years and have yet to tire of it.

Tuscan Minestrone

1 t. olive oil

1 c. chopped pancetta, bacon or ham (Note: vegetarians out there-you can certainly eliminate this step & it is still delicious!)

1 lg. red onion, chopped

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced (add more if you really like garlic like me!)

3 carrots, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

1 diced turnip

1 bunch kale, roughly chopped

1 each:  fresh rosemary & thyme sprig (or about a teaspoon of each dried)

2 cups cooked white cannellini beans (canned are fine, or if you can find dried to soak yourself)

2 cans (14oz) diced tomatoes in juice

8 c. chicken or vegetable stock

1 loaf Italian bread, very stale or toasted, cut in cubes

1 bunch broccoli rabe

1 c. chopped fresh basil

Grated Parmesan or Asiago

Using a large stock pot, heat oil over medium heat and brown the pancetta, if using.  Add the onion, garlic, carrots and celery and cook until tender, about 10-15 min.  Add the kale, turnip, rosemary and thyme and cook for 10 min.  Add beans tomatoes and stock. Lower the heat to low and cook partially covered for 1 hour.  Add the bread cubes to pot and push down until they are immersed.  Cover, cool partially or completely and refrigerate overnight.  Add the broccoli rabe and basil, gently cook until heated through.  Garnish with more basil and grated parmesan, if desired.

Notes:  I know it sounds weird adding bread to a soup; but it breaks down and “thickens” the soup.  It becomes very rich and hearty.

Although I make a lot of my stocks, there are many great ones on the market today.  Don’t feel like you have to make one homemade.  I just happen to cook a lot and have the ingredients.

At the tail-end of garden season I found myself with a late crop of beautiful red & green bell peppers.  Seeing as how I NEVER have any luck with peppers; I felt I needed to take advantage of this unexpected gift from Mother Nature!  Also, I absolutely HATE wasting food unless it’s unavoidable or unintended.  I created this recipe from “taco night” leftovers and my garden peppers.  I also made a fresh salsa verde with the plentitude of green tomatoes left in the garden which is much healthier than “fried green tomatoes!”

Tex-Mex Stuffed Peppers

*Large Bell Peppers (any color, but bigger, the better), tops cut off & seeded (save tops if you like them for presentation, or chop them up and add to mix))

*Taco Meat (whatever you use for your tacos: ground beef, shredded beef, chicken, meat substitute, etc…)

*Spanish Rice (according to box directions)

*Any garnish you want to throw in from leftover tacos (black olives, cilantro, tomatoes, corn, black beans, jalapenos, etc…)

*Cheese (sharp cheddar, jalapeno-jack, mozzarella or queso blanco)

*Tomatillo Sauce or Salsa Verde (recipe follows)

Mix the leftover taco meat, rice & leftover garnishes (except lettuce!).  Fill peppers almost full, but leave enough room for cheese.  (Tip:  you really want to fully stuff them, spoon in filling and pack down with spoon, repeat) Also, if you’re feeling very “cheesy”, add cheese halfway through stuffing and again on top.  Place in baking dish large enough to fit all the peppers you are using; you want them to be a little snug so they don’t fall over while cooking.  Top each pepper with cheese.  Spoon salsa verde or tomatillo sauce around and over peppers (this will create a sauce as well as flavor the peppers.  Top with a little more cheese. Bake at 350 for 30 min or so uncovered.  You want the cheese to brown a little; but if they start to brown too much, place a foil “tent” over baking dish and continue to bake until peppers are desired texture and mixture it completely heated through.

Serve with mashed potatoes, creamy polenta (more carbs!!), grilled potatoes, black bean salad, sliced ripe tomatoes, etc…

Salsa Verde

(This is one recipe which I usually make more of, or adjust to the amount of tomatoes I have)

6 green tomatoes, cored and chopped coarsely

1 lg jalapeno, seeded and diced (leave seeds if you like it hot!)

6 green onions, chopped

1 ½ Tbs olive oil

2 Tbs lime juice or red wine vinegar (or I like combo of both)

¼ c. white onion

Kosher salt & pepper to taste

Combine and leave at room temp. for a couple of hours, then refrigerate if not using right away.  Can be made ahead of time & also great w/tortilla chips!

I’m really struggling with all of the information that my brain is processing after watching the documentary Food, Inc. If you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing Food, Inc., let me give you a brief description of the movie taken from the official website.

In Food, Inc., filmmaker Robert Kenner lifts the veil on our nation’s food industry, exposing the highly mechanized underbelly that has been hidden from the American consumer with the consent of our government’s regulatory agencies, USDA and FDA. Our nation’s food supply is now controlled by a handful of corporations that often put profit ahead of consumer health, the livelihood of the American farmer, the safety of workers and our own environment.

To be honest, I can’t express to you the importance of being informed on all aspects of life.  We need three things to survive….Air, Water and Food.  Food, being one of those three, means we should be very concerned on what is in it and where it comes from.

I already eat pretty healthy, but I never realized that if you’re not buying certified organic, farm raised, grass fed, hormone-free, local and free-range you are eating horrible things.   The short list contains such delicacies as feces, steroids, hormones, methane, various cancer causing chemicals and (oh yeah) Ecoli.  If you didn’t already know, they are even selling genetically engineered meats in supermarkets which means cloned animals are ending up on your plate.  I say…..YUCK!

Please Do Not Take My Word For It…. Watch it for yourself! I’m loaning my copy to friends and family but you can get it from your local library or buy it online or at your local store.  I always say, “Education is the key to change.”

What’s a girl to do?

I love cheese but it doesn’t love me back.

This has been an interesting week of experimentation with adding dairy and seafood/fish into my daily diet.   Unfortunately, my body has told me time and time again that dairy of any kind isn’t welcome.  I think that in the back of my mind I knew this would be the outcome of my little vegan experiment, but I truly hoped that I could detox then return to the love affair I’ve had with cheese these many years.

Those days are gone forever, but I will remember my time with cheese fondly.  Brie, Goat Cheese, Gouda, Swiss and all of my other international relationships will be missed.  Although, there will be occasions when we will meet again which can not be avoided.  I will have to smile, say ”Hello friend” and enjoy.  To turn it down would be unheard of and after all, it’s cheese!

Well I did it!  It has officially been a month of a complete vegan lifestyle.  I managed to do it all without cheating even once.  Which is a huge accomplishment in self control for me.  I’ve realized I really can do anything I put my mind to.

I also came to the conclusion that there is a need for an easy guide to being vegan that the average “Joe-shmo” can follow.  I think it was easy for me to dive into this lifestyle because I cook in a weird way.  I’m always tweaking recipes to work within my way of life.  I have become pretty good at adjusting meals to be pescatarian and now vegan friendly.  The thing is, not everyone cooks like me nor do they even make meals from scratch on a daily basis.

I’ve had several people ask what I ate and how to design a meal.  I would begin to explain but noticed they just weren’t getting it.  Whether it was the lack of knowledge when it came to meat alternatives, confused by cooking terminology or just not concerned with reading labels, there seemed to be a universal “Huh” on everyones faces.

With that being said, I’m working on putting together a guide/cookbook that even a child would understand.  It is still a thought in my head, but I have been bouncing ideas and will be brainstorming with friends this week about the possibilities for this book.

As for me, I am still eating vegan and have decided to slowly add in fish to my diet.  I will probably stear clear of the dairy when possible but there is always room for cheese.  This isn’t the end of me as a vegan.  It is the beginning of me as a conscious eater.

It’s come down to this, the final week of my personal vegan challenge.  It has been full of ups and downs, cravings and realizations, plus letting go of a few pounds.  BONUS!

I have to say that I am really looking forward to eating fish again.  I thought I would miss cheese more than anything, but it’s been fish that has me constantly bummed when I can’t eat it.  I think it’s also been hard to go without fish because it has been my major source of protein for many years and my body has relied on it as a constant food source.

With that being said, I am looking at the next month as a challenge to add in the foods I like while being conscious of the foods that don’t like me.  I am taking this week one vegan meal at a time and thinking about where to go from here.  I’ll keep you posted on both.

It’s been very easy being vegan for the first two weeks of the year because I haven’t been out to dinner with Nick.  Friday night this week was our first date night since I jumped into my new lifestyle.  It ended up being quite an enlightening start to the weekend.

Nick and I choose to go out to dinner at a local brewpub that is known to have incredible choices in vegetarian and vegan dining.   It happens to be one of my favorite places to go for a good dinner with a great pint to accompany the meal.  I always get the Vegan Sloppy Joes with Veggie Chips, but this time I needed comfort food.  We started with a couple of soft pretzels.  I had the yellow mustard and Nick just had to have the beer cheese.  I drooled over the cheese but found that after he finished it I was just fine.  I opted for the Vegan Shepherd’s Pie and Nick had the BBQ Grouper, but we both had a pint of Pear Cider.   I realized that it is very easy to have all of the foods that I love and crave while being vegan.  I just need to tweak how I go about making or ordering them.  Our dinner was both delicious and inspiring.

We tried again the next morning to dine out for my favorite meal of the day, breakfast.  We went to a cafe that also has vegan food.  I hadn’t been in years and was surprised that they had expanded the menu and had 50% vegan options for me to choose from.  I had oragnic coffee, the Tofu Scramble with 5 different veggies and Whole Grain Toast.  Nick had an omlette named BOB and Powerhouse Potatoes with tea.  It was amazing to find that vegan options are out their if you look.

I know that it is hard to find restaurants in your area unless you’re in the know, but I can help you with this new online source for vegan restaurants.  Check out this restaurant source from the Physicians  Committee for Responsible Medicine http://www.21daykickstart.org/restaurants/index.cfm to find a restaurant near you.  It’s growing everyday, so make sure to check back for more options.

Yesterday was officially 10 days of living life as a vegan…Exciting!   I can’t say it hasn’t been hard to go without things like cheese (my favorite), but it has been easier than I thought.

I am fortunate enough to have a vast knowledge of vegetarian options and know where to find the proper ingredients for success.  I started thinking yesterday how hard it would be if I didn’t.  I happened to be reading through a vegan cookbook and realized that many of these recipes call for ingredients that the normal everyday person wouldn’t have in their kitchen, know how to find or even know what they were.

I need to start writing down more recipes and pass them along because I can take a random thought or traditional recipes and tweak them to meet the vegan guidelines by using only normal kitchen ingredients.  I’ll see what I can come up with in the next few days and I’ll get another recipe published in this blog.

Til then it might interest you that if you’re in a hurry and desperately need to eat, fast food is still available to you.  I ventured to Taco Bell this week and realized that you can eat vegan off their menu, you’ll just have to take the time and special order.  I had a bean burrito minus the cheese.  It was delicious!  Plus, I was able to get my Taco Bell fix.  Hurry up and make a run for the boarder!

Always have a close friend that is a professional chef!

I had the most incredible dinner last night.  My gorgeous friend Roxane and I decided to get “the girls” together for a little wine, food and conversation since we hadn’t seen each other this year.   Roxane happens to be a personal chef and caterer in Indianapolis.

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed many incredible meals at Rox’s house.  She always makes sure that I, with my crazy eating habits, can eat whatever she cooks.  Last night she made the most fantastic VEGAN POT PIE in the world.  She was already making a chicken pot pie for everyone, so when she heard I was now doing the vegan thing she managed to whip together a vegan version.  It was amazing that one of my favorite comfort foods from the pre-pescatarian days could be transformed into a mouth watering vegan masterpiece.   I’ve already expressed to Rox that I must have the recipe, because I’m planning on making it a lot and I will definitely pass it on.

I said that the key is to have a professional chef as a close friend, but I failed to mention that I have two friends that are amazing chefs.  My friend Jennifer was trained at the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York City and is well versed in vegan and vegetarian cooking.  My favorite recipe from Jennifer is another comfort food that I can enjoy on a vegan diet, VEGAN BICKIES AND GRAVY!  I’ve made this recipe over and over again with a few slight modifications.  I recommend making it and not telling anyone that it’s vegan until they’ve eaten it so you can get an honest response to the question…”How did you like the vegan bickies and gravy?”  Enjoy!

1 c. Soy Milk

2-3 T. Whole Wheat Flour

1 pkg. GimmieLean Sausage

Olive Oil

Pinch of Salt

Black Pepper to Taste

Heat olive oil in a skillet and brown the GimmieLean.  Add the soy milk, salt and pepper to the skillet.  Gradually sprinkle in the flour to thicken the gravy.   (You can add more soy milk or flour to create more gravy and thickness that you enjoy.)  Pour over your favorite hot bickies or make a quick batch using whole wheat flour, baking powder, salt, olive oil and soymilk.

Now go on and give it a try!

Terra-zine
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