Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Grilled Cheeses Aren’t Just for Kids

Viva la Fromage Grille!

grilled cheese sandwich with bread grilled to perfection
Grilled cheese sandwich cooked to perfection!
Wasn’t being a kid fantastic?  Think about it.  When you were tired, your dad carried you.  When you were sick, your mom made you feel better.   And when you were hungry, you were fed (hopefully). 

When I was hungry, I would beg for a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup.  I loved the way my mom would grill the bread to a perfect golden brown using melted butter in a hot skillet.  Then she would smash the bread down really flat so that the cheese would ooze out the sides.  Not only did I love grilled cheese sandwiches, my mom loved them too.  It was a fast and easy meal that made me happy, which is all that any mother could ask for.

Today, nothing has changed.  While I grew out of cotton candy and Airheads, I did not grow out of grilled cheese sandwiches.  Why should my adulthood prevent me from enjoying this classic comfort food? 
The grilled cheese sandwich continues to be one of my favorites for cooking at home.  The only difference now is that I’ve modified my mom’s way of cooking it to accommodate my new vegan aspirations.

How to Make a Vegan Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Tomato Soup

While I cannot deny the dairy version of this comfort food is the best, I will say that I was able to achieve a tasty second in cooking this meal using vegan ingredients:
  • Sliced bread
  • Vegetable oil-based butter spread
  • Vegan cheese slices
  • Tomato soup

Substitute the butter with a vegetable oil-based or soy-based “butter” substitute.  Replace real cheese with vegan cheese slices. 

Directions for How to Make Vegan Grilled Cheese Sandwiches:

  1. Using a griddle or a skillet large enough to hold two slices of sandwich bread laid side-by-side, melt a generous amount of butter on med-hi heat.  Place the bread into the skillet and press down firmly using a spatula.  This will help the bread absorb the melted butter.
  2. Allow to cook for about 5 minutes or until one side of the bread appears golden brown in color.
  3. Flip both pieces of bread and add cheese slice(s) to one side.  You may need to add more butter to prevent the bread from burning.
  4. Once the second side of the bread is almost browned, smash together the two pieces of bread with the cheese in the middle.  I like to smash mine down flat like mom used to do, but you can skip this and achieve a “fluffier” grilled cheese sandwich if you like.

My mom always served her grilled cheese sandwiches cut diagonally with tomato soup, a perfect dipping medium.  When I make this winning combo at home these days using Campbell’s tomato soup in a can, I just replace the milk with water when diluting the soup.  If you make your own tomato soup, leave out the cream or use tofu-based cream as a replacement. 
Now you’ve got a vegan grilled cheese and tomato soup meal.  Perfect for when it’s cold outside and you need something to warm you on the inside.  Your mom would be so proud!

The Comeback of the Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Lately, I’ve noticed several chain restaurants offering grilled cheese sandwiches as menu specials.  As I sit in Panera Bread on a blustery cold Tuesday, I’m seeing their grilled cheese and bacon with creamy tomato soup special fly off the shelves.  Chef Gordon Ramsay even featured a melty grilled sandwich creation on an episode of Kitchen Nightmares.  There is no doubt that the grilled cheese sandwich has made a comeback. 

If you never knew the comforting qualities of this easy-to-make sandwich, try it out.  Who knows, you may be destined to share the experience with your own kids or start a new tradition.

Image from TheKitchn.com

Monday, November 19, 2012

Veganism is a Choice You Make Every Day

Say 'Yes' to Being Vegan Every Day

a happy, alert expression was known as a sign of good nutrition
Eating well equals being happy
My friend, Molly, decided to go vegan several years ago after reading the book Skinny Bitch.  This book describes some of the ways in which food manufacturers raise and process some of the most common meat and dairy products we eat every day. 

“My reasoning was around heath,” said Molly.  “Learning about the (growth) hormones and antibiotics that are pumped into animals is astonishing!”  That farmers would use growth hormones to make animals grow fat is a no-brainer, Molly said.  Larger animals means farmers can sell them on the meat market for more money. 

“Those hormones are still in the meat when we eat it,” said Molly.  “That’s what’s making us fat!”

Not to mention that humans have 70% less of the enzymes needed to break down animal tissue (i.e. meat) than carnivorous animals.

In addition to the dangers of eating meat that contains growth hormones, humans are the only mammal that regularly drinks milk after being weaned. Is it any wonder why so many of us are lactose intolerant?  The ability to digest milk as an adult actually resulted from a mutation dating back to the time of cavemen.  This genetic mutation was perpetuated over thousands of generations of humans and is now considered “normal.”  So, while we classify certain people as “lactose intolerant,” these people are actually the normal ones.

Even though Molly doesn’t eat meat or dairy, she cautions anyone who is thinking about becoming a vegan for health reasons to pay close attention to nutritional information.

“Because it’s vegan doesn’t mean it’s healthy,” said Molly, who gives examples of vegan food that she enjoys in moderation.  “That means no processed junk.  No more Oreos (yes, they are vegan) chips, or frozen meals.  I know that going vegan sounds awful, but it’s really not.”

How Does She Do It?  Three Tips to Help You Stay True to a Vegan Lifestyle

In the beginning, it was the personal challenge that lured Molly into a vegan trail period.  But after four years, she now considers the vegan lifestyle part of her every day routine.

“It’s a choice (I make) every day to stay vegan, but I’m glad I say yes,” says Molly, who attributes her success to putting in just a little bit of extra work.

Here are three tips to sticking with a vegan lifestyle that have worked for Molly:

  • Plan your meals ahead of time.  This way you aren’t left scrambling at lunchtime for options.
  • Buy organic food when possible.  This cuts down on the amount of pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics that may be present in any type of food you eat.
  • Cook at home.  Yes, it takes more time to cook and clean, but you will not only benefit from eating healthier food, you will also save money from not eating out!

Thanks to Molly for her perspective on being vegan.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Top Three Ways to Cut Back this Thanksgiving and Still Enjoy the Food

Native Americans and Pilgrims on Thanksgiving

Enjoy Thanksgiving - in Moderation

Thanksgiving is a time to think about how fortunate we are and to give thanks for our bounty.  But as the holiday has evolved from an agricultural giving of thanks for sun, rain, and grain to mass-produced food products we buy off the grocery store shelf, Americans have developed a tendency to over-eat on turkey day.  To make matters worse, much of what we now consider to be traditional Thanksgiving food is not exactly healthy.
My grandmother, MooMoo, put about a pound of butter in everything she made on holidays.  Not that I'm picking on MooMoo.  In her day, meat and dairy made up the foundation of any healthy diet.  And I will admit, I always looked forward to MooMoo's turkey stuffing every year.  My mom's chocolate pie is something I am still looking forward to.  Though delicious, Thanksgiving food can be a double-whammy on your body because you eat so much.  This results in what many refer to as a "food coma."

Three Ways to Prevent Overeating this Thanksgiving

Enjoy Thanksgiving, but consider cutting back a bit with these three tips:

  • Eat slowly.  The faster you eat, the more you eat.  Take it slow and give your body time to feel full.  Or else you'll stuff yourself like a turkey.  Next thing you know you'll be asking someone to carry you out in a wheelbarrow!
  • Choose more vegetables than meat.  You only have so much space on your plate (thank goodness), so try to stick with 80% vegetable-based dishes and 20% meat dishes to fill up on fewer calories and possibly avoid overloading on cholesterol.
  • Limit yourself to one plate.  Okay, one plate plus dessert.  But no more.  At least, not for several hours until you've given yourself time to digest the first serving.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

How to Make the Best Vegan Pizza

Can You Make a Good Vegan Pizza?

this is the vegan pizza I made the other night and it tasted like cardboard!That's the question.  If there's anyone out there who can make a vegan pizza taste as good as a pizza topped with real cheese, please stand up.
When you crave pizza, you are thinking about the melty cheese, crispy crust and toppings baked to perfection.  I was able to achieve two of the three the other night when I made a pepperoni vegan pizza.  You can substitute any meat product with veggie-based "imitation" meat made of soy (I used veggie pepperoni on my pizza and it was a pretty good replacement for the real thing), but the cheese is the catch.  Veggie cheese does not melt, not really.  Regardless of how much you sprinkle on top of your pie, you will never get the same consistency as real cheese when cooked.  In fact, you must be very careful not to overcook your vegan pizza because the cheese actually hardens.  This makes for a tough time in the kitchen as you try to strike a balance between achieving a crispy crust while not overcooking those veggie shreds.

Final Assessment of Vegan Pizza

I will be honest, vegan pizza may not be the best option as a meal replacement for someone new to cooking and eating vegan style.  If you aren't that picky in what you eat and you are really craving pizza, go for it.  I didn't find it to be inedible, however Marc (the picky one) said it tasted like cardboard.  I will admit, it was definitely no Pizza Hut.
Perhaps pizza is one dish that should be reserved as a "flexitarian" option.  You can replace all of the toppings that are horrible for you, like sodium-rich pepperoni, cholesterol-packing sausage, and heart-attack-waiting-to-happen beef.  Choose veggie meat-replacement alternatives for these ingredients, and be generous with the vegetable toppings.  But cheese seems to be the one ingredient you will really miss when it comes to vegan pizza.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

615 Soul: Cheesecake Stuffed Strawberries

I love this idea for cheesecake stuffed strawberries from my cousin, Asia.  To make it vegan, substitute the cream cheese with tofutti cream cheese, a dairy-free cream cheese look-a-like perfect for vegans or people just wanting a healthy alternative to dairy.

615 Soul: Cheesecake Stuffed Strawberries: Who likes strawberry cheesecake? Unfortunately making homemade cheesecake takes a long time and can be pricey (I will be posting a recipe fo...

Monday, November 5, 2012

Don’t Be Intimidated by the Tofu!

woman asking for tofu on the phone
Don't be afraid if the recipe calls for tofu.
Tofu (pr. toe-foo) is Chinese for “bean curd” and is nothing more than pressed soybean curds.  When prepared correctly, you can use tofu to replace any meat ingredient.

Tofu is a food that intimidates many people who are trying to cook healthy meals.  The word “Tofu” automatically turns some people off to what is one of the most universally versatile and healthy foods in the world.  As a life-long carnivore, I’m here to tell you that you should embrace tofu as a staple ingredient.  
By itself, tofu is virtually tasteless.  However; when cooked with other foods, sauces or seasonings, tofu assumes that flavor, so you don’t have to worry about whether tofu will “go” with what you are preparing.  Plus, tofu is a healthy meat replacement.  One serving of tofu (about ½ cup) contains 10 grams of protein and only 94 calories, compared to one serving of red meat that packs over 300 calories.
You can add tofu to any dish and instantly get a meat-like consistency.  There are various ways to use tofu.  The type of tofu you choose will depend on how you want to use it to cook with.  I like extra-firm tofu because it offers a texture that is most similar to meat, and you can use it to replace chicken cutlets, beef cubes, or fish filets in recipes that call for meat served over pasta or rice.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Olive Oil – The Foundation of Healthy Cooking

cavewoman with word baloon
Olive oil is the foundation of many vegan meals.  If you’ve never tried cooking with olive oil, you’re in for a treat.  Not only is olive oil good for you, it comes in a wide variety of grades and flavors you can use to enhance the flavors in the food you are cooking.
Consuming olive oil is linked with several health benefits.  Olive oil contains monounsaturated fat, which is linked to a reduction in the risk of heart disease.  It also contains essential antioxidants known to reduce the risk of cancer.
If you aren’t much of a foodie, you may not think olive oil is very exciting.  But if you love food like I do, splurge on some quality EVOO (as Rachel Ray would say).  You may also find artisan olive oil boutiques that let you sample the different varieties right there in the shop.  Whole Foods also has a small olive oil sampling station and a good selection of quality olive oil.
Olive oil is a must-have for any cook trying to make healthy meals.  Olive oil enhances the flavor of whatever food it is used with.
The other day, I ran out of extra virgin olive oil and had to use vegetable oil to sauté some mushrooms and onions.  I could not overlook the degradation of taste quality of using standard vegetable oil.  If you’ve been cooking with standard vegetable oil or Crisco, donate it to someone you don’t like very much because these oils don’t do your food justice and can actually leave an icky aftertaste.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Why Go Vegan?

Why is a Vegan Diet Healthy?

vintage nutrition education propaganda posterIf you aren’t aware, the health benefits of going vegan are well-known.  Here are the top 6 benefits to going vegan and eating fresh fruits, vegetables and grains in the place of meat and dairy:
  • Lower cholesterol
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduce the need for cholesterol-lowering and/or blood-pressure-lowering medication
  • Prevent cancer
  • Lose weight
  • Feel better

How Does Going Vegan Lower Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is only found in foods that come from animals.  This includes all types of meat, eggs, cheese and milk.  If you need to lower your cholesterol, eat less meat and dairy and more vegetables and grains.  It’s as simple as that.

Cholesterol is the wax-like substance found in your blood.  High cholesterol causes fatty deposits to build up inside the walls of your arteries.  When you have high cholesterol, you probably have arterial plaque build-up.  This means you have a greater risk of heart attack.  Even young people can have high cholesterol.  If you eat lots of fast food, ask your doctor for a cholesterol test to find out if you need to lay off the Burger King.

How Does Going Vegan Lower Blood Pressure?


There are several components to lowering your blood pressure:
  • Limit salt
  • Limit fat
  • Limit cholesterol intake
  • Limit caloric intake
Healthy vegan meals tend to be lower in salt, fat and cholesterol, so eating at least 2 out of 3 vegan meals per day will automatically put you on the road to healthier living.

To put it into very simple terms, cutting meat and dairy from your diet forces you to replace many unhealthy foods with healthy ones.  This not only reduces the amount of cholesterol, it also helps to lower your blood pressure.  

How Does Going Vegan Reduce the Risk of Cancer?

According to the Archives of Internal Medicine as well as numerous other studies, eating red meat dramatically increases the risk of pancreatic cancer, colorectal cancer, bowel cancer and other types of cancer.  Processed meats are especially bad for the body and should be either avoided or replaced with non-meat products such as soy crumbles, soy bacon, or soy burgers.  

It is not clear exactly how red meat contributes to cancer, but there are several hypotheses.  Meat does not contain fiber, antioxidants or phytochemicals known to protect the body from cancer.  When you eat more meat than other foods containing cancer-fighting agents, your chances of getting cancer increase.  Another hypothesis is that, because meat increases hormone production in the body, eating red meat increases the risk of certain types of cancer related to hormones such as breast cancer and prostate cancer.  Finally, foods high in protein, such as meat, are metabolized by the body as ammonia, a potential carcinogen. 

Regardless of how red meat increases the risk of cancer, the correlation between eating red meat and increased risk of cancer should not be ignored.