2015 Favourites: Just Mayo

I’ve been meaning to do this for a bit – say, about a month? – but have been taking care of personal stuff so haven’t had the chance. Until NOW, that is! I want to share with whomever reads this a few of my favourite vegan things from last year; I promise that when I say ‘a few’ a mean exactly that – my top three discoveries. Any one of these items has likely been around a lot longer than a year, but I just didn’t know about it until sometime within the last 13 or so months. So, without further ado, the first in my three-part series:

  1. Just Mayo, by Hampton Creek

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    Mayonnaise is probably my favourite condiment. I was about to say that I would literally put it on anything, but that’s not true. I don’t use mayo on my fruit, or in my oatmeal. But, um… yeah. Everything else. As a vegan who is steadfastly opposed to eggs and dairy, mayo has been the hardest for me to resist when eating out. To be honest, if I get a veggie burger from an omni restaurant, more often than not I will eat it with whatever mayo they put on it. Its the one thing I just can’t resist

    When local vegans began posting that Just Mayo was available for an amazing price from our neighbourhood Costcos, I made sure to look for it as soon as I possibly could. And when I brought it home and gave it the first taste test, with some crinkle cut french fries piping hot just out of the oven, the sauce passed with flying colours. The smell, the taste, the colour, the texture – there is no way someone would notice any difference if every restaurant and fast food chain were to suddenly start using Just Mayo rather than the egg-and-dairy-based stuff.

    Now, I’ll be honest – the health benefits to switching from egg-based mayo to Just Mayo are limited to one very key difference – Just Mayo has absolutely ZERO cholesterol. Bad cholesterol leads to heart disease, and with the amount of mayonnaise I can consume when I’m on a savory food bender I was at a serious risk for developing too much of the bad cholesterol that could cause me to suffer a stroke one day. While the calorie count and fat count are relatively similar between traditional mayonnaise and Just Mayo, when eaten in moderation, Just Mayo will make a much bigger difference to your health in the long run. Another benefit is not to your body, but actually to your wallet! Just Mayo is MUCH cheaper than regular mayonnaise. And, best of all, ZERO innocent animals were subjected to misery and torture to create this product. So now when I go out, I can bring a little container with this delicious stuff and use it on my restaurant food so I can have my cake (mayo) and eat it too!

    As a little note – it was announced yesterday or today (who can remember anything these days?) that Hellman’s, the company that sued Just Mayo for calling itself mayonnaise even though it did not contain the traditional egg ingredient, is now set to release its OWN vegan mayonnaise. I’ll be sticking to Just Mayo as long as it is available to me, but it’s inspiring to see more and more vegan options become available.

Irish Potato Cakes

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I had a big bag o’ taters that I wanted to cook up before they started get all sprouty and happened upon this recipe on Facebook. It was shared by the Vegan Ireland FB page and you’d be hard pressed to find a recipe more Irish than this.

So, my results weren’t perfect, and certainly don’t mirror the pictures of perfection that accompany the recipe here: Vegan Potato Cakes. But, I ate three cakes the first day and saved the three remaining for lunch the next day. I had no troubles with the recipe. My only suggestion is that when following the recipe, the part where it says to add the flour, don’t add all the flour in at once. Maybe start with half and see how dry your batter gets before mixing in the rest. My potato/flour mixture was not fun to work with, so I’m thinking it was a little too dry. I mean everything still worked out, I just think next time I’m going to try with a little less flour and see what happens.

The filling was super easy and because I love mushrooms so much I probably tried to stuff too much into each cake! I actually liked leaving the ‘shrooms and onions to saute at a lower heat – I didn’t have to watch over the stove and could do other things while they were cooking.

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When I first sampled my potato cakes, I ate them with just a touch of salt and pepper. But, when I had some for lunch the next day I had a little Just Mayo and ketchup mixed together for a dip to add a little extra flavour.

Vegan Chocolate Banana Bread (or, Life is Beautiful)

One of my clearest memories of spending time with my mother when I was a little girl is sitting at the kitchen table with what (at the time) seemed like a gigantic silver bowl, a sturdy fork, and a pile of bananas that needed mushing. While my mom puttered around the kitchen taking care of a hundred other things that needed doing, I would sit there and press the tines of that fork into chunk after chunk of over-ripe banana, as gleeful as if I’d just been given a hundred quarters and dropped in the middle of an arcade. Finally, my mom would have to take the fork away from me before a) the bananas were turned entirely into soup and b) the table was covered by any more flecks of banana flesh that had spattered across its surface due to my over-exuberance. My mom would turn my handiwork into a delicious loaf of banana bread using a classic recipe from the Joy of Cooking cookbook her sister Karen had given to her as a wedding gift in 1980. That Joy of Cooking was a staple in our kitchen as I was growing up, and after, and when my mom passed away in 2012 it was the one possession of hers that I was almost desperate to make sure I reclaimed.

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Now that I’ve gone vegan, the Joy of Cooking recipe for banana bread is off limits. Sure, I could try to adapt it on my own but I am not experienced enough in the kitchen to try that level of master cookery. Instead, I kept my eye out on the internet for a simple but tasty-looking recipe to try. Thank heavens for One Green Planet, whose Green Monster newsletter dropped the perfect recipe right into my inbox! The recipe (and the picture just below) is from the vegan maestro at iheartcrapkitchen.com, and be warned – visiting her site is like going down a rabbit hole of ridiculously tempting vegan yumminess!  My tummy still won’t stop growling.

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You can view the recipe as I first saw it in its entirety here on the One Green Planet site. I only made a couple of alterations. Firstly, I used plain all-purpose flour. Then, I did not include the desiccated coconut that the original recipe calls for, simply because I did not have any in my kitchen at the time I fancied baking this up. And lastly, as you can see from the pictures, I opted out of making the chocolate ganache. Instead, I simply sprinkled vegan chocolate chips across the top of the banana bread, and I found that just doing that made the banana bread extra chocolate-y enough for me! Just a note: I found the cooking time was spot on – I kept my bread in for the full fifty minutes and it turned out perfectly. And, using a little vegan Becel to coat the loaf pan before pouring the batter in allowed the bread to slide perfectly out after I’d let it cool down completely.

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After cutting off and savouring an end piece just to ensure quality control I brought the rest of the banana bread loaf to work for a snack day in honor of a couple of departing staff. It is the first time I actually brought something homemade, and boy was I proud of myself. While I didn’t announce to all that it was vegan, I was happy to have brought something that a couple of my coworkers who have specific dietary restrictions could eat and enjoy. And the reviews from the omnis that were present? “Yum!!!” bb

 

 

Food Prep (or, To Err is Human, to Prep, Divine)

There is no such thing as perfection (sorry, Kanye), especially when it comes to regular folk making their way through the world. Look at me for example. Sure, I have a few selling points when it comes to my personality (I’m cute, I’m sweet, I’m good at celebrity trivia), but it is the nature of my species to be flawed, and when it comes to flaws, I’m no different than anyone else. Yes, I cry too much during romantic movies; and okay, I do sometimes think my taste in books (and music, and TV) is superior to that of others; no, I don’t want to share my popcorn with ANYONE when I’m at the movies; and fine, I admit it… I’m lazy.

I consider laziness my most troublesome fault, mainly because in all my encounters with people who are living a healthy, vibrant, vegan lifestyle – the kind of people I long to emulate –  I found these individuals to be highly motivated ‘doers’ who put as much time into their own well being as they do into all other areas of life. One of the places where successful, trim, and energetic people take extra time in their own lives is with the food that they eat. Food, as we’re coming to understand more and more these days, is a game-changer when it comes to our health and wellness. What we consume does more than just satisfy cravings or curb hunger pangs – it affects how our body feels and how it functions, from the tips of our toes to the roots of our hair.

This is where food prep(aration) comes in handy when striving to live a healthful life. Ultimately, food prep allows a person to do as much advanced meal preparation as possible when they have the free time to commit to it so that during the week, when most of us are exhausted by work and family and commitments, there are healthy meal options available that involve little to no energy to get from fridge to table. In the past I have allowed my previous lack of forethought and planning to result in many an unwise food choice, made on a stressful day, when its half past six and I have a desperately empty stomach. This is why the importance of food prep cannot be understated. While I’m sure there are others who can put all this more eloquently, here is my own simple approach:

First, I look at a LOT of recipes. I love recipes. I hoard recipes. I keep a digital folder of yummy-sounding dishes on my computer, and I also collect cookbooks and veggie magazine (like Laika). Then, on the weekend – usually Saturday afternoons – I peruse my collection, flip through the flagged pages of my various sources, and pick out a handful or two of recipes that I either want to try, or have tried before and want to make again.

Next, I whittle my options down by asking myself the following questions:

* what ingredients does the recipe call for that I already have
* what ingredients will I need to purchase
* how much do I have budgeted to spend on groceries for the coming week
* how easy to store/freeze are the recipes
* and lastly, how adventurous do I feel?

Best case scenario, I end up with a few good meal choices that I know I can afford, that I am confident I will enjoy, and that I trust to be nutritionally sound. These foods I decide to make will be in batches large enough to portion out, with half going into the ice box for longevity. A few simple entrees that are easily pulled out of the freezer can be mixed and matched with other easy meals like toasted sandwiches, tossed salads, and quick foods like oatmeal and veggie burgers, to keep your diet varied and appetizing.

Then, I make my grocery list and do the shopping. This step involves getting up off the couch, so its not exactly my favourite part. Don’t forget – it is important to check the contents of your refrigerator and pantry cupboards regularly – not just to get rid of any funky smells or ancient dried goods, but to see what you have, what you can use, and what you need. You might be able to cut a few things off of your grocery list if you find suitable substitutes already in stock. Fortunately, the grocery shopping itself is much more fun that cataloging the contents of one’s kitchen.

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Sundays are usually my cooking day. I take over the kitchen, occupying every square inch of counter space I have, and group my supplies by recipe. I’m no pro at cooking, so when I actually get to preparing my meals, its pretty much guaranteed that a mess will be made.  But that’s okay – its my space, right? And at the end of all the washing, rinsing, cutting, dicing, peeling, simmering, sauteing, and baking, what is a pile of dishes and a dirty counter compared to a ready supply of nutritious meals for the week?

Now, obviously, I’m no expert. I’m just taking things day by day and doing my very best. But, I’ve been finding a lot of success with my eating and diet now that I’ve started paying more attention to fixing and preparing good, hearty foods for meal time, and by doing so in advance..

What are some of your favourite make-ahead meals?

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On Sandwiches (or, War of the Cheeses)

UPDATE:  So, the GO Veggie! slices I’ve been eating are NOT vegan. I’ve had several kind people correct me on this. I’ll definitely be sharing a post soon about the importance of ALWAYS checking the ingredients list. I took it for granted from the name that these cheese slices were vegan, but they actually contain casein, which is an animal protein. I apologize for misrepresenting this product.**

 

Okay. SO. I might be one of the few people to feel this way, but I honestly cannot stand Daiya cheese. No more hemming and hawing for me. I have now tried Daiya in four formats (cream cheese, block cheddar, sliced cheddar, and sliced swiss) as well as combined into two recipes and no matter how badly I wanted to be able to, I couldn’t – just couldn’t – stomach it. Maybe my dislike for these products stems from having eaten dairy cheese too recently to not compare the Daiya to it. Does a longer distance between tasting “real” cheese and tasting Daiya cheese make a difference in one’s enjoyment of the latter?  I may have to try Daiya a little further along down the road to test this theory.

For now, though, I’m quite happy to trumpet my enjoyment of a different cheese brand, Go Veggie! Cheese. I buy their cheddar-style cheese slices from Safeway (I’m miles away from the nearest Planet Organic or Earth’s General Store, so I take what I can get) and not only do I find the packages of slices reasonably priced, I also find that they taste almost exactly like the processed cheese slices I used to eat in my omnivore days.

GO Veggie!

I love sandwiches, and the Go Veggie! cheese slices help make for a hearty breakfast, lunch, or dinner (sandwiches are perfect any time of the day, IMHO). When constructing one of my beloved sammies I like to start with some Veganaise slathered atop a vegan bagel (no L-cysteine for me, thanks). Next, I lay on the piece of cheese – or two if I’m feeling fancy-free –  and then I top the cheese with a little lettuce, a slice of tomato, a couple of rings of white onion, and lots and lots of alfalfa sprouts! So good, and so filling. That was actually the only way I’d tried Go Veggie! slices until this week when I FINALLY attempted to make one of my former favourite foods, the grilled cheese sandwich. I love grilled cheese sandwiches, so much so that I don’t even want to tell you how many I could eat in one sitting (hint: it’s not pretty). I had tried with Daiya sliced cheese early last year and it was so awful I hadn’t felt inspired to try again. Thankfully, this much-overdue second attempt turned out fantastic. Crispy, buttery, gooey and perfect, I found myself in grilled cheese heaven. Thanks, Go Veggie! for rockin’ my world.

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Eggless Egg Salad (or, Getting Ova Eggs)

Removing eggs from my diet has not been a hardship. A few years ago I learned that eggs are essentially the product of a hen’s menstrual cycle, and ever since then I cannot look at an egg without visualizing the egg being squeezed out of a chicken’s lady parts. So, save for egg salad sandwiches (which were always a weakness for me) and the occasional scrambled egg breakfast at Albert’s restaurant, I haven’t made the high-cholesterol high-fat artery-clogging food a part of my everyday eating.

But, as mentioned above, I have always loved egg salad sandwiches. Well, I love sandwiches in general – when people ask me what my favourite food is, or what food I would choose if I could only eat one thing for the rest of my life, its the sandwich. I love bread. I love the things that go between pieces of bread. I love the spreads that go on bread. So, having exhausted peanut butter sandwiches since going vegan, I decided it was time to try this fantastic thing I had been hearing about… eggless egg salad.

I wasn’t very adventurous: I literally followed the recipe on the side of the Mori-Nu Tofu package, using the ingredients I had on hand (so no capers, and regular mustard instead of dried). This was my first hands-on experience with tofu, so it made the endeavour even more fun. Following advice I had read online, I unpackaged the tofu and put it on a plate between two dish towels, and then sat my Forest Feast cookbook on top for weight. I left it for half an hour, then replaced the damp towels with dry ones, and let the remaining water drain from the tofu for another thirty minutes. The rest was simple: I smushed the tofu in a bowl until it actually kinda resembled hard-boiled egg whites, mixed in the Veganaise (I was careful with this part because I didn’t want the tofu to smooth out – I wanted it to remain chunky), then mixed in the rest of the ingredients (shallots – or onions, as that’s all I had, and the mustard, and a lot of salt, and pepper).

Voila! Egg salad sandwich!

Now, obviously I knew that what I was making was not going to taste exactly like the egg salad I grew up with. But, I have to admit, the mixture really did take on a surprisingly similar texture to what I have been accustomed to, and made for a satisfying lunch.sammy

You know, I’ve really started to understand that the trick with veganized versions of our favourite recipes is to accept that these new versions are not going to taste exactly the same as their carnivore-catering counterparts, and to simply do our best to enjoy them for what they are – delicious foods that are tempting to the taste-buds in their own right.

Crispy Smashed Potatoes (or, Get in Ma Belly)

Okay. I may have said this before, but I really think that this time I have found THE ONE. The most delicious, most incredible, most perfect food ever known to man. My favourite recipe ever created. The smashed potato.

I could rhapsodize for hours about the potato. It is the one edible on earth that I will eat, no matter how it is prepared, because I have yet to discover a bad way to enjoy potatoes. I’ve been wanting to try smashed potatoes for awhile but just never really remembered when it came to feeding time… usually I just boil up some taters and throw them in a bowl with vegan Becel and some salt. I found a tasty recipe, though, from Oh She Glows (everyone’s favourite vegan chef/blogger!) and had to try it.

You can find the full recipe here. But in brief, all you need are some potatoes, olive oil, salt and pepper, some garlic powder, and parsley (for decoration). Its so easy! Just boil the potatoes (one of the culinary tasks I am actually proficient at) until they are tender, and drain. Once they’ve cooled just a touch, set the potatoes on a baking sheet. Then, with the bottom of a glass (or any firm flat object – a glass worked best for me) press down on each potato just hard enough to pop the skin of the potato and flatten it slightly – it should mostly still hold together though. Then, you top each of the smushed potatoes with olive oil, salt and pepper, and really any other spices you want to throw on there, and then you bake em! They come out all golden and glisten-y and crispy and soft and salty and delicious and oh my goodness get me some now!!!!

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The Oh She Glows recipe goes a few steps further and tops the potatoes with an avocado aioli. Unfortunately, I do not have a food processor, so while I did attempt to make the aioli in my decrepit blender it didn’t exactly turn out. So, I ate the potatoes relatively naked and used my avocado mixture as a sandwich spread for lunch the next day.

To go with the tasty morsels above, I pan-friend an Yves Chick’n Burger patty and made myself a faux chicken burger with Veganaise and lettuce. SO GOOD. SO satisfying. Being vegan is easy!

pertater and burger