April 27, 2012

{Vegan} Lentil and Mushroom Shepherd’s Pie



The other day I watched a really powerful documentary called "Forks Over Knives" and it really left it's mark on me. The film discusses the benefits of eating a plant based diet and how degenerative diseases that afflict us can be controlled, or even reversed, by rejecting animal-based and processed foods. After watching this I spent a good bit of time thinking about it and we've decided as a family to embrace a plant-based diet. For now, we're trying it full time for a couple weeks to see how we do. It's not an easy change, certainly. Finding substitutes for dairy and meat products can be a challenge... so far though, we've been doing well with it and have been enjoying the new dishes we've been eating.

Will we, as a family, turn into vegans? That I'm not sure of. I know my honey and especially my teen really love meat and dairy products and that this isn't something I see them doing forever. And I'm okay with that. My two youngest children have really been enjoying this new way of eating and have already lost some weight following a plant-based food plan. Weight is an issue with my two youngest children and for me it's pre-diabetes and hypertension. I feel confident that this diet will help all three of us achieve better health. For the rest of my family, I think that they will be consuming less animal product is beneficial. Even if they are eating animal products 2-3 days of the week, it's much better than every single meal of every single day. 

I'm not going to preach here. I understand that eating style is a highly personal and individual choice. I do not believe in any one thing being the right and only way. What works for you, what makes you feel good and is right for YOUR body is the thing to do. I don't believe, as a whole, that animal derived foods are bad. I just believe that we, as a country, place too  much emphasis on animal-based nutrition. Balance is key.

If you are interested in viewing "Forks Over Knives" it's available right now on Netflix instant streaming. Also, at the "Forks Over Knives" website there is much more info and a trailer of the film.

This recipe comes from FatFree Vegan Kitchen. I made some adjustments to it, to suit my family's likes. The recipe you see published here below, includes my adaptation. If you would like to see the original recipe, please visit this page: Nava’s Hearty Lentil and Mushroom Shepherd’s Pie. If you are interested in vegan cooking, Susan's blog is worth a visit. She creates some of the most amazing food!

We LOVED this shepherd's pie! So satisfying! Really great flavor and even my meat eaters didn't miss the meat... I hope you'll try it and let me know what you think!



Lentil and Mushroom Shepherd’s Pie

Ingredients: 

10 large potatoes
3/4 cup Almond milk (more or less to your preferred consistency)
1- 8 ounce tub Galaxy chive & garlic vegan cream cheese alternative
Salt to taste
3 Tablespoons olive oil (divided into 1 and 2 Tablespoon amounts)
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
6 ounces baby Bella mushrooms
6 ounces shiitake mushrooms
4 cups cooked lentils with a little of their cooking liquid
2 Tablespoons dry red wine
2 Tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 teaspoons original Mrs. Dash seasoning
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
Freshly ground pepper to taste
3 Tablespoons cornstarch
12 ounces baby spinach, roughly chopped
2 cups panko bread crumbs

Method: 

1: Peel and dice the potatoes. Place in a large saucepan with enough water to cover. Bring to a simmer, then cover and simmer until tender, about 20 minutes.

2: While the potatoes are cooking, heat 2 Tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet. Add the onion and sauté over medium heat until translucent. Add the garlic and mushrooms and continue to sauté until the onion is golden.

3: Drain cooked potatoes and transfer to a mixing bowl. Stir the vegan cream cheese alternative into the potatoes until melted, then add the almond milk and mash until fluffy. Cover and set aside until needed. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit .

4: Add the lentils and their liquid and bring to a gentle simmer. Stir in the wine, soy sauce, seasoning blend, thyme, and pepper. Cook gently for 5 minutes. Combine the cornstarch with just enough water to dissolve in a small container. Stir into the lentil mixture.

5: Add the spinach, a little at a time, cooking just until it’s all wilted down. Remove from the heat; taste to adjust seasonings to your liking.

6: Lightly oil a 3-quart casserole dish. Scatter the breadcrumbs evenly over the bottom. Pour in the lentil mixture, and then spread the potatoes evenly over the top.

7: Bake for 40 minutes, or until the potatoes begin to turn golden and slightly crusty. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Serves 8-10 

*Kitchen Notes* 

~ I love Galaxy chive & garlic vegan cream cheese, it's great for a vegan alternative to butter, sour cream or regular cream cheese in mashed potatoes.

~Don't skip the step of covering the bottom of your casserole dish with panko... the crunch that it gives the dish is so delicious!


If you would like to try some other fabulous vegan lentil dishes, try these:

Spanish Lentils and Mushrooms from herbivoracious

April 15, 2012

Hashed Brussles Sprouts with Eggs

Foodie Friends Friday


Brussels sprouts are one of my very favorite vegetables. I love them steamed with a touch of butter, I love them roasted in the oven with olive oil, I love them used in dishes along with other vegetables or all alone. It's one of those vegetables I never get tired of and could eat every day, if the family would let me. As it is, I eat them at least 3-4 times a week.

My grandmother rarely cooked fresh veggies, opting to serve whatever canned veg she had on hand. My grandmother was an excellent cook, so I'm not sure why she didn't use fresh over canned... but I assume it had something to do with the times she grew up in. Fresh veg was expensive, unless you grew it yourself, which she didn't. Canned items were easily stored and didn't have the chance to go bad before you used them. So, I had Brussels sprouts for the first time once I was an adult and starting to cook and experiment on my own with all these fresh vegetables I'd never had. The very first time I had them they were covered in a gloppy cheese sauce and they were just awful! It put me off them for a couple years. I did finally try them again... this time simply steamed and served with a little butter and a touch of salt. And from that moment, I was in love.

Not only do they taste awesome, they are so very good for you! They are low in calories, high in fiber, and full of vitamin C. They are fairly high in protein too. Also, Brussels sprouts contain compounds known as isothiocyanates. Isothiocyanates may help prevent cancer by promoting the elimination of potential carcinogens from the body. Isothiocyanates may also reduce your risk of heart attack. All excellent reasons to listen to your mother and eat your Brussels sprouts!

This recipe is great for breakfast, lunch or a light dinner. The creamy egg yolk mixes with the hashed sprouts and is simply out of this world. The onion adds a touch of sweetness, the garlic a little punch. If you like a bit of spice... a shot of sriracha or crushed red pepper is also divine. These hashed sprouts are also great on their own without the eggs, as a great side dish!

Hashed Brussels Sprouts with Eggs
Ingredients:
1 pound fresh Brussels sprouts
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
4 eggs
1 Tablespoon Olive oil
2 Tablespoons butter
salt and pepper to taste

Method:
1: Wash and trim Brussels sprouts of any browned outer leaves.

2: Slice off the stem ends and discard.

3: Thinly slice each sprout, separating the leaves as you go. (think shredded texture)

4: Heat a large skillet on medium high to high heat with the olive oil and 1 Tablespoon of butter.

5: Once the butter is melted add the diced onions and minced garlic and saute until the onion is caramelized.

6: Add the shredded Brussels sprouts to the onion and garlic and allow the Brussels sprouts to cook, stirring frequently, until they are browned and tender crisp. 6-7 minutes.

7: While the Brussels sprouts are cooking, fry (in remaining tablespoon of butter) or poach 4 eggs making sure to keep the yolks runny.

8: Top the hashed Brussels sprouts with the eggs, salt and pepper to taste and enjoy immediately.

Serves 2


If you would like to try some other fabulous Brussels sprout dishes, try these:

Brussels Sprouts with Chorizo and Red Onion from Mango & Tomato

Bacon-Wrapped Brussels Sprouts from Taste As You Go

Brussel Sprouts with White Wine and Thyme from No Fear Entertaining

Spicy Brussels Sprouts from Dianne's Dishes

Sauteed Brussels Sprouts with Pistachios from Sass & Veracity

Brussels Sprouts Chips from Eat Real

Brussels Sprouts Chiffonade with Brown Butter and Toasted Pecans from Eat Real

Sauteed Lemon Brussels Sprouts with Pistachios from Restless Chipotle

April 12, 2012

Lettuce Wrapped Cumin and Feta Turkey Burgers



These turkey burgers were so good! We had them just last night and I'm craving them already again. Since I've started watching my carbohydrate intake, I don't usually eat burgers on a bun. Instead I wrap the burger and fixings in lettuce leaves. I honestly don't even miss the bun because the burger has so much flavor. The lettuce provides a satisfying crunch and the other toppings add such a punch of freshness that makes it a perfect combination. To me it would almost seem a shame to hide it inside a heavy bun. One of the wonderful things about this burger is it's lightness, the fact that it's surrounded by crisp and juicy vegetables.

I love to wrap all sorts of foods in lettuce leaves, endive, or even savoy cabbage. Tacos, salads like tuna, chicken, seafood or egg... just about anything you might make a sandwich out of could be wrapped in a leaf and eaten sans bread. I've even wrapped egg roll or spring roll filling in lettuce leaves. It tastes great, is lower calorie and lower carb. Seems like a win-win situation to me.

Cumin and Feta Turkey Burgers
Ingredients:
1 pound lean ground turkey breast
1 egg, beaten
2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
salt and pepper to taste

Toppings:
Romaine lettuce
Sliced tomato
Sliced red onion

Method:
1. Preheat grill (you could also fry these, but I recommend grilling)

2. In a large bowl, combine turkey, egg, Dijon, feta, garlic, cumin, coriander, cayenne, breadcrumbs and salt and pepper.

3. Mix together well using a large spoon or clean hands.

4. Form in to patties.

5. Grill for approximately 5 minutes on each side until a meat thermometer inserted into the center of a patty registers 165*F.

Serve immediately with toppings and condiments of your choice.
Makes 4-5 servings.

Here are 5 more delicious recipes using ground turkey:
Stuffed Peppers with Ground Turkey from Gluten-Free Goddess

Stuffed Zucchini with Turkey Sausage from Simply Recipes

Turkey sausage meatball noodle soup from Soup Chick

Turkey Meatballs over Greens
from theKitchn

Dirty Rice With Ground Turkey from Pots & Plots

April 7, 2012

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus, Homemade Tahini, and Roasting Peppers



Hummus is one of those foods that I think is always best when it's homemade. Not only is it so much more economical... the quality is a million times better than even the best commercial brands. Making it yourself means you control what goes into it, which makes it healthier and tailored to your family's tastes. It's simple to make, too. As long as you have a food processor... you can have a batch of hummus made in less than 30 minutes (less than an hour if you make your own tahini and roasted red peppers.)

So what do you do with it once you've made it? Oh let me count the ways!

~ I love a sandwich made with hummus as the main ingredient. Make it a cold sandwich with thinly sliced cucumbers, spinach, lettuce, tomato, avocado. You can make a warm sandwich with roasted vegetables along with hummus... roasted asparagus, zucchini, peppers and onions.

~ I use it as a condiment instead of mayonnaise, too. It's good in egg, tuna or chicken salad as a binder. It's delicious in deviled eggs, again, instead of the mayo. You can even forgo the yolks completely and fill the hard boiled egg whites with just hummus. Use a pastry bag (or even a Ziploc bag with a corner snipped off) to fill the whites and sprinkle with a little smoked paprika. Amazing!

~ It's great as a dressing for pasta or vegetable salad. It's also good tossed with hot pasta. Thin it a bit with a little olive oil or mayo or use it as is.

~ Of course it's great as a dip. My personal favorite is to dip sliced raw zucchini or yellow squash. Any raw or roasted vegetable dipped in hummus is divine. Pita chips, crackers, chunks of crusty bread... if you can dip it, it'll probably be good.

~ Another thing I love to do it spread hummus on a pizza crust instead of pizza sauce. Add some olives, tomatoes, feta cheese and bake... a sort of Mediterranean spin on the usual.

~ Spread a thick coating onto chicken pieces and bake in the oven using your usual baked chicken recipe instructions. It's great on boneless, skinless breast pieces to keep them juicy and extra flavorful.

A few more things before I get on to the recipe. I guess I'm feeling particularly verbose today ;) Store bought tahini is good, but if you have trouble finding it in your local store (like I do)... it's really easy to make your own. Again, making your own means you control what goes into it and can make it in whatever quantity you like and without the preservatives that might come in store bought. I've included a simple recipe to make your own below.



Homemade Tahini
Ingredients:
2 cups sesame seeds
1/3 cup olive oil (plus a bit extra, if needed, for smoothness)

Method:
1. Preheat a large frying pan on medium high heat.

2. Add the sesame seeds to the dry pan and toast until just starting to brown. Stir the seeds constantly. Keep a very close eye on the seeds, it takes only a couple minutes to toast them and once they start browning they go to burnt quite quickly.

3. Remove from pan and allow to cool completely.

4. Place the toasted seeds and the olive oil into a food processor.

5. Pulse until smooth. Depending on your machine, it should take about 5 minutes.

6. If your tahini seems too grainy or thick, you can add a bit more olive oil and continue to pulse until you get it to a smoother consistency.

Store tahini in a tightly sealed jar in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

Homemade tahini will NOT be as smooth as store bought because of the processing they use in commercial production. That's ok. I promise you it will taste better than anything you can buy ready made.


Another thing you might want to consider is making your own roasted red peppers for this recipe. The jarred red peppers are fine to use, and I have used them when that's all I have on hand. But, roasting them yourself is quite easy and yields the best flavor and consistency for hummus.

To roast peppers:
All you need to do is place them directly on the burner if you have a gas range. Use tongs to turn the peppers as they char. They will turn black... that's normal. Don't worry about them burning, but do make sure to char them evenly. If you have an outside grill, you can use this same method.

If you only have an electric range, you can char the peppers under the oven's broiler. Make sure you turn the peppers with tongs and I suggest placing a baking sheet under the peppers to avoid any drips.

Once the peppers are blackened, place them in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Leave them in the bowl until they are cool enough to handle. 15-20 minutes. The steam from the hot peppers that accumulates in the bowl will help with peeling.

Once cooled, take a knife and gently slice down one side of the pepper to open it and expose the seeds inside. Scrape out the seeds and remove the stem. Remove as much as the charred outside as you can with your fingers and by scraping with the edge of your knife. It should remove quite easily. Don't worry about removing all traces of blackened skin... a little left behind adds a bit of smoky flavor and interesting color.

Once your peppers are cleaned you can chop into small pieces or strips and use immediately or place them in a sealed container, covered in olive oil and keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus
Ingredients:
2- 15 ounce cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 roasted red pepper (or 1- 4 ounce jar roasted red peppers)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup tahini (might need 1/2 cup if using prepared, as it's not as strong)
2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon smoked sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 to 1/2 cup olive oil (depending on how thin or thick you want it)
Sea salt as desired

Method:
Place the chickpeas, red pepper, garlic, tahini, lime juice, paprika, and cumin into a food processor or blender. Pulse until everything is combined well and starting to become smooth. Slowly drizzle olive oil into mixture while running the food processor until the oil is completely incorporated and is the consistency you'd like. The longer you process it, the "fluffier" it will become. Taste and add sea salt to your liking.

Refrigerate for at least 1 hour to allow flavors to mingle and consistency to thicken before using.

Store in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Makes about 3 cups.

April 3, 2012

Breakfast and Homemade Cottage Cheese



You know how they say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day? I believe that to be totally true, these days. I had always made sure my family ate a good breakfast each morning but when it came to myself... usually a couple cups of coffee was the only thing that found it's way into my stomach until lunch time. Over the last few months, since my pre-diabetes diagnosis, I've been making sure to eat something substantial within an hour or so of waking up in the morning. I cannot tell you just what a HUGE difference it's made in my days. I have so much more energy. I feel so much better and I find that I snack less and that the cravings that I used to have for the "bad stuff" have virtually disappeared! I think all in all I eat less in general now that I am making time to eat 3 or 4 times each day instead of twice, like I had fallen habit to.

When I stop to really think about it, it makes sense. Your body NEEDS fuel to run... just like your car needs gas to go. If you've had your last meal at 6pm the night before, you're expecting a lot from your body to go until 12 or 1pm without a "fill up." Not to mention, if you're trying to lose weight and cut calories and think that skipping breakfast will spare you some calories... the only thing you're doing is making your body think that you're starving it and your metabolism will eventually slow down. When I was actively trying to lose weight I would hit these plateaus where the losses would just flat out stop. Now, looking back, I wonder if the fact that I was only fueling my body once or twice a day was why. Did it think I was trying to starve it? Certainly "fuel" for though...

Breakfast doesn't have to be complicated or high calorie to be beneficial. I am the mother of 3 kids and have an extremely busy household. Sometimes I don't want to take the time to make eggs and toast or cook oatmeal. Breakfast for me needs to be fast, something that appeals to me first thing in the morning, and be healthy. Sometimes it's just a cup of Greek or homemade yogurt with some fresh fruit and chia seeds mixed in, sometimes I make crock-pot steel cut oatmeal the night before and mix in some stavia, berries and nuts in the morning. Lately I've been on a homemade cottage cheese kick. The past 4 or 5 days I've eaten the bowlful you see in the picture above and I absolutely LOVE it. A huge fresh tomato cut up, 1 cup of homemade cottage cheese, 1/4 cup of unsalted sunflower kernels and a bunch of fresh ground black pepper. It takes all of 10 minutes to prepare, if I have the cottage cheese already made, and gives my body all the fuel it needs to get my through my busy mornings. Protein, some veg, some dairy, a little bit of fat. Everything you need in a simple, quick and delicious bowl. It fills me up and is good for me. Perfection.

What do you eat for breakfast? Do you make sure to nourish your body after fasting all night long? If you don't eat breakfast already, I would challenge you to try eating something good for you, every morning, for just for a week... and see if it doesn't make you feel better. Try it, your body will thank you for it... I promise.

Below are my "go to" homemade cottage cheese recipes. They are not mine and you can click the links under the recipe titles to go to the sites the recipes originate from to see step by step photos! Both authors have gone to great lengths to write these recipes and beautifully photograph them for you... so I would encourage you to visit their sites and say hello. The cottage cheese you see in my picture above is homemade using David Lebovitz recipe... and it is delicious. The Alchemist's recipe is amazing too, doesn't use rennet (in case you have trouble finding it) and is a good bit simpler and faster. Rennet can be bought at Whole Foods and at some natural food stores. I usually buy mine from a local farm co-op. If you have a local dairy or farmers market, those might be a good places to ask, too


Homemade Cottage Cheese
From: David Lebovitz

All utensils should be cleaned very well before beginning.

1 quart whole milk (I use raw when I can get it)
4 drops liquid rennet
1/2 teaspoon of salt, plus more to taste
6 tablespoons buttermilk (you could use heavy cream or half-and-half)

Heat the milk very slowly in a medium-sized, non-reactive saucepan. Use the lowest heat possible and if you have a flame-tamer for underneath the saucepan, now’s a good excuse to use it.

Insert a thermometer into the milk (I use a chocolate thermometer, which is easy to read) and heat until the milk reaches 85º F.

Turn off heat and stir in rennet. Stir gently for 2 minutes.

Cover the saucepan with a clean tea towel draped over the top and put the lid on. Let stand at room temperature for 4 hours.

After 4 hours, the mixture will be very softly set and marvelously jiggly. Take a sharp knife and cut the mixture diagonally 5 or 6 times, then do the same in the opposite direction.

Sprinkle in the salt then set the pan over extremely low heat and cook, stirring gently, until the curds separate from the whey. It will take just a few minutes.

Do not overcook it at this point or your cottage cheese curds will be tough.

Line a strainer with cheesecloth, and set it inside a large bowl. Pour the mixture into the cloth and stir it gently to drain off the copious amount of whey. (You can use it in bread making or in soups in place of water.)

Fold the ends of the cheesecloth over the cheese and chill the strainer (keeping the bowl underneath) in the refrigerator. Let drain for about 1 hour, stirring once or twice.

Spoon the cottage cheese from the cloth into a bowl and stir in the buttermilk. Taste, and add more salt if necessary.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Homemade Cottage Cheese
From: The Alchemist

1/2 gallon milk (8 cups) (2,000 ml, or 2 liters) skim (nonfat) or 2% or whole raw milk
1/3 cup (100 ml) white vinegar
a pinch or 2 of salt
a few tablespoons of milk or cream to add at the end to each serving

Heat the milk in a large non reactive (not aluminum) saucepan over medium heat. Stir it often and don't turn up the heat too much because milk likes to stick to the bottom of the pan and burn.

Heat until it reaches 120 degrees Fahrenheit, 49 degrees Celsius. Turn off the heat and remove the pan from the burner. Add the vinegar and give it a good stir, at this point you will start to see the curds separating from the whey. The whey is the greenish liquid. The riboflavin or vitamin B2 gives it that green hue.

Let it sit for 30 minutes undisturbed.

Line a colander with a thin clean tea towel or cheesecloth set over a large bowl. Pour the curds over the colander to strain the whey. Let it sit for 5 minutes.

Now rinse the curds by holding the towel or cheesecloth with the curds in it over cold water. Rinse it for a few minutes, until the curds are cold. While you are rinsing it, break up the curds with your fingers.

Squeeze most of the moisture out of it. Transfer it to a bowl. Add a few pinches of salt and stir. If you will be eating it now, go ahead and mix in a few tablespoons per serving of milk or cream, or yogurt for a creamy texture. If you aren't eating it now, store the curds without anything added in the fridge for a few days.