Grits Casserole

When I was in Georgia, I visited the Savannah farmers market, where I bought a bag of grits. Quintessential southern cuisine, I thought. I’d had grits as a kid when I was on a family a road trip through the South. I enjoyed the grits this time too (hubby added salt and margarine, I had mine with agave and a dollop of peanut butter).

grits

The real treat, however, was the recipe for grits casserole that I found on the back of the package. It called for sausage, eggs and two kinds of cheese. I knew I could veganize it. I did, and it was delicious!

The company, Carolina Plantation Rice, carries a lot of great kitchen staples like cornmeal, grits, rice flour and, well, rice. I plan to order some soon. Bonus: They’re a green-certified, renewable-energy company!

My ingredients

Ingredients:

2 cups cooked grits
Half a brick of firm tofu (instead of eggs)
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp kala namak (black salt)
2 Field Roast vegan sausages
1/2 cup Daiya vegan Swiss, grated
1 cup Daiya vegan cheddar, grated
Salt and pepper to taste

First I added the cooked grits to a 9″ casserole dish. Then I browned the sausage, broke it up, and added it to the grits.

Field Roast and grits

Next, I drained and crumbled the tofu into a pan and heated it up, while mixing in the turmeric (for flavor and color) and kala namak (for eggy flavor). These last two ingredients weren’t in the original recipe, but it’s what I did to veganize it. Be careful not to overcook the tofu. In theory, it (and the sausage) doesn’t need to be cooked. Field Roast is pre-cooked and tofu is fine in any state. Plus, the whole shebang gets baked anyway.

tofu scramble

Finally, add the Swiss and cheddar, stir, and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

grits casserole - before

My husband and I loved this dish! I’m definitely going to make it again soon. It’s almost quiche-like. Next time, I’ll add onion, broccoli and red pepper. And more cheese!

Grits casserole - out of the oven

Have you veganized any recipes lately?

Heavenly potatoes

When a vegan friend of mine told me that she misses deviled eggs, I saw an opportunity. I believe in the saying, “anything you can eat, I can eat vegan” so I set off to find a vegan recipe. Sure enough, I found one on the Post Punk Kitchen–and it’s divine! Maybe these should be called angelic potatoes. No matter what, they’re a fantastic vegan deviled egg alternative.

deviled potatoes

First, I sliced a bunch of baby potatoes in half. I put them on a baking sheet and baked them in a bit of olive oil and salt, flat side down, at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. I didn’t put them on parchment paper first (like I was supposed to) and they came out slightly crispy.

No worries! As I cut out the centers with a grapefruit knife, I ate, or gave to my dog, the crispy “skins.” I saved the potato “innards” because I needed to add it to the filling.

Filling:

  • 1/2 a cup of cashews, soaked in water for at least two hours
  • 3/4 cup vegetable broth (I used 1/2 a bullion cube to make the broth)
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric (for flavor and color)
  • 1 teaspoon kala manak black salt (very important if you want an eggy flavor)
  • 2 teaspoons lemon
  • a pinch of black pepper

I drained the cashews and blended them with my electric mixer, along with the broth and tumeric, until it was creamy. I added the lemon, salt and pepper and the potato centers and mixed it well. I chilled the mixture in the fridge for half an hour and then scooped it into the potatoes. If you have a pastry tool, you can get fancy.

deviled potato collage

Finally, top with paprika and a bit of dill.

I brought these to a vegan Christmas dinner and they were a huge hit! We ate them at room temperature while the main dishes–green bean and mushroom casserole, “beef” fried rice, and a fiesta bake with Daiya vegan cheese–were cooking. Everyone loved them an I’ll definitely make them again! I’ll be sure to serve them to my deviled-egg-craving friend too.

Christmas Dinner Collage

To see the original recipe, and pictures of how Isa Chandra made them, check out the details on the PPK.

Vegan alternatives to fish

I’ve found vegan alternatives to most types of meat. We’ve got seitan bacon, veggie burgers and dogs, ground round, chickenless nuggets, Tofurky, deli slices, and “ribs.”

Until recently, I didn’t know of a fish alternative. Sure, I’ve made delicious mock tuna salad, but prepackaged vegan fish? I came up empty-handed.

But then I found a brand called Sophie’s Kitchen at my local Whole Foods. Admittedly, I never was a big seafood (or as I prefer to call it, sealife) eater. Nevertheless, I thought I’d give a few of their products a try. I chose fish sticks, calamari, and crab cakes.

Sophie's Kitchen

Sophie’s Kitchen uses elephant yam root (also called konjac) as the primary ingredient in their products. It’s low-calorie and full of fiber.

I liked the crab cakes the best. They were full of flavor and worked well as one of the items on the dinner plate, along with vegetable fried rice and a little salad. I’ve never had real crab cakes, but my husband has, and he liked these just as much (if not better).

Next up, I tried the fish sticks. They had a mild fishy taste, and I think they made a fine fish stick substitute. They’re easy to prepare and are a fun finger food for kids. Plus, now I can make fish and chips! Trader Joe’s has great fries for the oven.

Finally, I sampled the calamari. I don’t know what calamari is supposed to taste like, and I realize that makes me a horrible reviewer. First impressions: I was surprised that these were “hearty” and a bit chewy. I expected something more like a thin onion ring that falls apart quickly. I liked the breaded coating a lot!

vegan calamari

I’m not sure I’d get the calamari again. I can’t really miss something I’ve never tried. That’s actually why I didn’t buy their shrimp or prawns. But for someone with a hankering for some shrimp, I’d recommend trying it–especially if you make dishes like stir-fries or jambalaya and miss the shrimp. I liked the other two products more, mainly because I can integrate them into my regular cooking.

Harvesting squid, shrimp and some types of cod from the oceans is done with trawling, a process that basically rakes up all life forms the sea floor, killing everything, and creating dead zones. For every one pound of shrimp eaten, 10 pounds of bycatch (species people weren’t trying to catch) are killed.

Farmed fish doesn’t have the bycatch issues but is usually raised in chemically treated water, treated with pesticides, and full of antibiotics. It takes two pounds of wild fish to feed one pound of farmed shrimp.

With that in mind, you can try Sophie’s Kitchen product with a clear conscience.

Making a vegan Egg McMuffin

Da da da da da… I’m lovin’ it!

I haven’t eaten at McDonald’s for eons, but I admit I used to have a weakness for their egg McMuffin. Even after I went vegetarian, I’d order one now and then (and remove the slice of ham).

They might be yummy, but all that ham, cheese and egg is neither cruelty-free nor healthy. So after a bit of Internet research (most of the credit goes to Vegangela), I embarked on a vegan version and look how it turned out:

McMuffin

It was delicious and easy to make. Here’s how I did it.

Ingredients:

  • Whole grain English muffins
  • 1 block of extra firm tofu
  • Tumeric
  • Black pepper
  • Black salt (also called Kala Namak)
  • Daiya vegan cheese
  • Upton Naturals seitan bacon

First, drain the tofu and cut it into slices, about half an inch thick. Use a glass and a knife to cut the slices into a circle (I used the leftovers in a stir fry).

tofu circles

Mix together a bit of turmeric, black salt, and black pepper (I didn’t measure, but you won’t need much–a pinch of each for color and flavor). The black salt has a slightly sulpheric smell, and gives food an eggy flavor. You can find it in Indian grocery stores or online. Rub the mixture on both sides of the tofu.

spicing up the egg

Fry up the “eggs” until warmed.

eggs

Fry up the “bacon” while you toast the muffins. Upton’s makes fantastic seitan bacon–my favorite–but you can use another brand of veggie bacon if you can’t find Upton’s. Or Canadian veggie bacon if you’d like to be more authentic.

Upton's bacon

Slice up the Daiya and assemble the delicious goodness that is the vegan McMuffin.

Daiya

I served mine with a side of home fries and fresh strawberries for a meal even a non-vegan would love!

the final product

Craving grilled cheese

There’s a saying, “Anything you can eat, I can eat vegan.”

I like that expression. It shows that vegan eating doesn’t equal deprivation. It’s also a fun challenge. Case in point: grilled cheese. Cheese is probably the hardest thing to give up–at least it was for me. But you don’t have to give up anything. Well, you might still be addicted to casomorphins, but you won’t be missing comfort foods like grilled cheese sandwiches!

I recently made a deliciously melty grilled cheese using a cheddar-style wedge of Daiya. You can also buy cheddar-style slices if you prefer.

Daiya

I used a hearty bread by Dave’s Killer Bread, and “buttered” it with Earth Balance vegan margarine. Grill it up like you would with regular grilled cheese. Daiya melts like real cheese and is a delicious gooey treat. It’s gluten-free and soy-free so it’s a great choice for people with common allergies.

grilled cheese

Slice and serve with your favorite soup. I made butternut squash but it would be equally delicious with minestrone or tomato. Yum! It’s a great lunch for kids and adults alike.

soup and a sandwich

Making a transition to veganism

Veganism is on the rise and people are interested in it for many reasons: health, animals, environmental, economic, political, and more. Here’s a list that might make your vegan transition smoother.

Find your groove.

hearty salad

For some, Meatless Mondays is a good start. Others might have fun with being Vegan Before 6 (breakfast and lunch). Lean into veganism when it feels right. But if you wake up tomorrow and want to be a full-fledged vegan, go for it! You don’t have to do it in phases. Push yourself but don’t set yourself up for failure.

It’s a journey.

You’re going to slip up. Maybe by accident (“whey is an animal product?”) or on purpose (“I couldn’t resist the pizza.”) That’s not a reason to quit. After a lifetime of developing food habits, you’ll find some are hard to break. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Being vegan isn’t about being perfect.

Eat out.

A good vegan restaurant (or restaurant with vegan options) is really helpful. If you’re at a regular restaurant, look for ways to veganize a dish. Hold the cheese. Substitute a Portobello for a hamburger. Ask the wait staff. They’re usually more than happy to help customers with dietary needs.

Learn to cook.

There’s nothing like taking your health into your own hands. Cooking at home means you know exactly what goes into your meal. Find some recipes online or get a few cookbooks and experiment. My first vegan cookbook was How it all Vegan. I still use it because the recipes are simple and delicious.

Find replacements.

If you crave cheese, bacon or ribs, look for vegan versions like Daiya, Upton’s, or Morningstar so you can still eat your favorite foods. Mock meats (or analogs) are a lifesaver when you’re not sure what to eat and you haven’t found a new way of eating yet.

Don’t live on processed foods.

That said, it’s easy to become a junk-food vegan. Mock versions of your old favorites can be healthy, but they aren’t always. The best vegan food plan includes lots of natural, whole foods. When it comes to health talk, you might hear “whole-food, plant-based” instead of “vegan,” because chips and soda are usually vegan, but they’re not healthy.

Introduce color.

A colorful plate of whole, plant-based foods is bound to be rich in lots of vitamins. Even my salads are hearty, and include lots of things like quinoa, garbanzo beans and seitan.

mango saladSpeaking of seitan.

Try new foods. You won’t like them all, but you’ll find new favorites and you’ll likely end up eating a more varied diet than the typical meat-and-potatoes American. I like to explore a variety of foods from around the world–and I’m always pleasantly surprised.

Expect change.

Meat is calorie dense. I don’t count calories but I know it takes a lot more plant-based food to match the calories of animal-based foods. You might find yourself snacking more (healthy snacking is fine). Maybe you pile your plate higher. If you’re eating whole foods, go for it! If you swap a 3-oz. steak for 3 ounces of hummus you’ll probably still be hungry! If you aren’t full, eat more. If you’re eating processed foods though, be careful. Oils and refined foods are fattening and offer very little nutritional value.

Don’t worry about protein.

Yes, it’s absolutely important, but if you eat enough food (meaning you’re not starving yourself), you’ll get enough protein. And a big surprise to many people is that plants have protein! Tomatoes, potatoes, bananas–they wouldn’t grow without it. Beans, nuts and such have more than fruit, but there’s protein in all of it. A plant-based diet provides 8-10% of calories from protein, which is the exact amount the RDA (recommended daily allowance) recommends. I’ll write a separate post about it soon.

Supplements.

Vitamins are a multibillion dollar industry but nothing comes close to whole foods–it’s what we really need. We get vitamin D from the sun, but if you don’t get a lot of sun, that’s one supplement you could take. Dairy is fortified with it, and fortunately, almond, soy, and other milks have it added too. There’s B12 in organic soil (that’s where the cows get it from) but since so much produce is grown with pesticides and other chemicals, soil isn’t what it used to be. A B12 supplement is probably wise. For the record, a lot of omnivores are low in B12 too–it’s not just a vegan thing.

Remember why you’re doing this.

For me, it’s was all about the animals (I say was because it’s about health now too). What’s your motivation? Remembering why you’re going vegan will help you stick with it. You can eat whatever you want; you choose not too. It’s not limiting if you think of it as a choice.

Resources:

  • Forks Over Knives – This documentary drives home the value and sound nutrition behind a whole food, plant-based diet.
  • Engine 2 Diet – This website links to books, recipes, and lots of resources for your plant-based journey.
  • The China Study – A comprehensive look at the 27-year study that Dr. Campbell undertook that led to finding on the superiority of whole food, plant-based diets.
  • Whole: rethinking the Science of Nutrition – This is Dr. Campbell’s latest book and explores a new way to look at how–and what–we eat.
  • PCRM – The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine portal has tons of health and nutrition information.
  • Vegan Outreach – This site links to videos, a free vegan starter kit, and lots of resources about why to be vegan (from factory farm cruelty to environmental nightmares).

As an aside, I’m in the middle of taking the Plant-based Nutrition course through eCornell. I’ve learned a ton in the course, but I’m not a medical professional, nor do I play one on TV. The course is amazing but doesn’t qualify me to dispense medical advice. Then again, most doctors aren’t trained in nutrition either!

Vegan readers, do you have other tips on going vegan? Best cookbooks? Favorite recipes?

Daiya vegan cream cheese

I was recently offered the chance to test some products by Daiya. I’d already tried Daiya dairy-free cheese slices and I’d heard about their new spreads, so I eagerly signed up for the job.

Daiya spreads

Daiya is vegan, so it’s naturally lactose- and casein-free. Unlike some vegan spreads, it’s also soy-free, so if you have a soy allergy, don’t worry! I kept things simple for my first tasting: mini bagels and two types of spreads. I wanted to experience the flavor of the product.

The chive and onion was amazing! It’s a smooth, creamy spread and satisfied my bagel-and-cream-cheese craving. The strawberry was a real treat! I bet I could make a great cheesecake with it. The Daiya site has lots of recipes, so you can try new dishes.

chives or strawberry

Daiya is named after the Sanskrit word Dayaa, which means “loving, kindness and compassion.” I love that Daiya Foods is founded on these values. Voting with my dollar is important and supporting ethical companies is something I’m always happy to do.

The thought of giving up cheese is often what holds people back when they contemplate veganism. Well you don’t have to give up anything! You can have the cheesy comfort foods that you’re used to making and you can eat cruelty-free. You’ll also reap the health benefits of a plant-based diet when you ditch dairy.

Look for other reviews. I’m going to try Daiya shreds either on a pizza on in a cheddar beer bread recipe. I’m also going to perfect a grilled cheese sandwich using their wedge.

Have you tried Daiya?

Vegan Savannah

I like to visit new places, and of course I’m always on the lookout for vegan options. I pack Luna bars when I travel so I’m never hungry or deprived, but what I really enjoy is finding a good vegan meal–sometimes where you’d least expect it.

On my recent girls’ trip to Savannah, Georgia I was pleasantly surprised at the vegan choices I had. Southern cuisine is world-renowned but not especially known for being vegan. I did a little planning by looking up places on Veg Dining and Happy Cow. I found a couple of vegetarian places and a host of veg-friendly restaurants.

I started every morning at the Sentient Bean, where I had a soy latté and vegan burrito. I took a slice of vegan banana bread to go and was full ’til dinner. This cute little coffeehouse is a gem at the end of Forsythe Park.

soy latte

Walking through the park was a great way to start the day. On Saturday, the park hosted a farmers’ market, where I picked up walnuts, fresh berries, toasted kale chips and a bag of grits. (I’ve since veganized a classic grits casserole recipe.)

One evening, my friends and I splurged on dinner at Cha Bella, a decidedly non-vegan restaurant. It did offer local, organic cuisine and sustainable in-season veggies. I was graciously offered a vegan entrée (and I honestly can’t remember if it was on the menu or especially made for me–the service was so good, everything seemed made for us). At most restaurants, ask and ye shall receive. But do tip accordingly!

For another meal, we stopped by the casual Kayak Café, where I had the seared tiger tofu burrito and a delicious side salad. Kayak Café prides themselves on being able to make almost any dish vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free.

tofu taco

Moon River Brewing Company was another great, casual place for a bite–and they have a big, outdoor beer garden. There wasn’t anything explicitly vegan on the menu (well, fries or a house salad maybe), but my lovely server worked with me to create a vegan wrap. She even checked with the cook to see if the rice was vegan (it wasn’t–they cooked it in chicken stock or something). I loved that she looked out for me like that. I wrote a thank-you note on the receipt and left it with my tip (again, showing a little appreciation goes a long way).

At Jazz’d Tapas Bar, I chose a roasted garlic hummus plate and a fresh salad. I was really there for the drinks, so a snack was perfect. We ate and drank and listened to the live band and a crooner who sounded exactly like Frank Sinatra.

At Leopold’s Ice Cream I found a refreshing lemon sorbet. It was as close to tutti-fruity as I could get. Johnny Mercer wrote the song Tutti-Fruity after his favorite flavor at Leopold’s.

Leopold's

Savannah was a lot of fun and I had an easier time eating out with my friends than I thought I would.

Two tips when travelling (besides packing Luna bars):

  1. Visit a grocery store for fruit and snacks. I dropped by a Kroger supermarket and bought soy yogurt, apples, bananas, baby carrots and hummus. They fit in the hotel room fridge, saved me from eating out three times a day, which in turn saved me some money.
  2. Look for “ethnic” cuisine. Indian and Thai places, for example, are in virtually any city and are pretty much guaranteed to have vegan dishes.

Tabouli and bean salad

I’ve been eating a lot of beans lately. There are so many types and they’re all so delicious! Yesterday I wanted to make a quick bean salad so I opened a box of garbanzos, a box of kidney beans, and a box of black beans. The boxes are the equivalent to a can of ready-to-eat beans but I like that they’re not in a tin and that the tetra-pak style of the packaging is easy to recycle.

I mixed up a box of tabouli, which already had spices, parsley and cilantro in it, and combined it with the beans. It took about five minutes to whip up and all I had to do after that was chill it for a bit.

bean salad

It made a great lunch, and truth be told, I had it for dinner too. For dinner I added grilled cheese with whole grain bread and cheddar-style slices by Daiya. The grapes were an edible garnish. Hubby and I shared a delicious, healthy, easy-to-make meal. It was perfect for summer. I didn’t heat up the kitchen and the cool salad was refreshing and filling.

I’ve joined Healthy Vegan Fridays organized by Carrie On Vegan, Green Thickies, and The Veggie Nook, so be sure to check out what everyone else is making in the kitchen!

Nasoya giveaway

Who wants to win a couple of jars of Nasoya? One lucky person will get to try the same products I used to make my mock tuna salad and my banana muffins (not the same jars though–you’ll get a new set!).

Nasoya

All US residents are eligible. All you have to do is leave a comment below, leave a comment on the Sunshine and Slaughter Facebook page, or tweet me @jeaniebellini. Or, raise your odds and do all three!

I’ll keep this giveaway open until June 30th, when I’ll pick a name at random. I’ll put the winner in contact with the generous folks at Nasoya and they’ll send two jars your way. There are tons of recipes on their site, from potato salad to chocolate cake–or you can spread it on a sandwich!

July 1st update!

I used an online random name generator and the winner is:

winner of Nasoya draw: uglicoyote

Congratulations uglicoyote–I’ll email you for next steps!