Monday, January 19, 2015

Surviving (and Thriving!) on the Engine 2 Challenge

Yes, you read that title right. Me, Joni Marie Newman, am on the Engine 2 Diet...for 28 days, at least. You see, when you are a cookbook author, you cook a lot of food.  Way more food than should ever be cooked in a household of two. Especially when one of those two has the dietary habits of a six year old and won't touch anything with onions or mushrooms in it, and God forbid if it's spicy.  So yeah, I cook way too much food, and therefore eat way too much food.  And while I like to think I cook somewhat healthfully, the truth is, I cook to make it taste good first and foremost.  

I feed a lot of non-vegans, and whatever I put into their mouths better be spectacular. So, although my dishes contain no artery clogging dairy, eggs, or meat, they do tend to sit a little high on the caloric end of the scale because I use a lot of rich creamy sauces, and lots of added fat in the way of olive and coconut oil (amongst other things).  Am I opposed to delicious, over the top vegan foods?  Of course I'm not.  But even I know that these types of foods should be the exception and not the rule.  But as I stated before, I cook a lot of food...and needless to say, I have put on more than a few pounds over the last few years. I figured it was high time for me to do a little self-check and clean up my diet.

So, I decided to participate in this year's Engine 2 Challenge. I was already ahead of the curve.  I'm already vegan.  So for those who aren't, the have to give up all animal products AND give up extracted oils, added salt, processed foods, simple carbohydrates and added sugars.  Wow.  That would be a challenge.  So I feel like I kind of have an unfair advantage over some of the noobs.

And...I know a thing or two about a thing or two in the kitchen, and if anyone can make a no oil recipe taste good, it's me!  In fact, when I wrote Going Vegan with Gerrie Lynn Adams, the majority of the recipes in that book are oil free, or have a low oil option.  Besides, Rip himself gave an endorsement of that book, so I must be doing something right, right?

To kick off the challenge all participants received a goodie bag filled with Engine 2 products, recipes, and a copy of the 28 Day Challenge Guide. I thought this was great! Especially for the noobs. Some basics to make sure we had something to eat with minimal effort to get things started. But whole wheat pasta and sauce does not make an exciting meal for Joni Marie.  So I got to work on some homemade meals that would satisfy not only my hunger, but my need to be in the kitchen creating, and ultimately my tastebuds.

On my first day of the challenge, I did try to eat wahat was convenient and already available at Whole Foods Market. I had a cup of White Bean and Kale soup, some whole wheat pita and some of the Engine 2 Red Pepper Hummus.  It did the trick, and I was satiated, but I was yearning for more depth of flavor. When I got home on day 1, I was pooped from a long day of work, so I made a bowl of Cereal (Rip's Big Bowl) and called it a day. First thing that second morning, I got up earlt and started on a pot of soup that I could eat all week.  A homemade pho broth (The Faux Pho Broth from Fusion Food in the Vegan Kitchen made with low sodium Tamari) and packed it full of brown Jasmine rice, spinach, cilantro, garbanzo beans, garlic, carrots, green and red onions, and my favorite ingredient right now...smoked tofu. This is a good soup.  Hearty and filling and nutrient dense. I shared some with other challengers at work, and had enough to eat for a couple of lunches and a couple of dinners.

The rest of the work week was full of whole grain toast with nut butter for breakfast, the above soup, a few bowls of cereal, and sandwiches, namely this sandwich that ended up being one of my favorite meals so far.  The sandwich is on cracked wheat sourdough and is filled with sliced smoked tofu, avocado, spinach, arugula, and a sauce I made a big batch of that was made by blending together silken tofu, tahini, roasted red peppers, garlic, dill, and a little black pepper.  That sauce has been serving me well as a sandwich spread, salad dressing and dip for veggies.

Friday approached and a new challenge was put before me.  Going out to eat! I have become somewhat of an expert at ordering vegan in non-veg restaurants, but ordering E2 approved in an all veg restaurant proved a little more daunting.  So I made the best decisions I could.  I had a date with Jackie of Vegan Yack Attack to try out a new all vegan sushi place in Long Beach on Friday.  I couldn't cancel, I was dying to try that place out. So I made the best decisions I could. I ordered steamed Veggie Gyoza and a Deep Ocean Roll. The roll was made with brown rice and had carrot, cucumber, avocado and seaweed. The sauce on top may have been off-limits, but it was a drizzle on top, and not too much, so I thinkI did pretty well overall...Especially considering that I had a date night at the movies with my husband and instead of getting candy, soda and popcorn, I go a large bottle of water and smuggled in my own oil-free popcorn dusted with nooch, garlic powder, onion powder and dill.

The following day I had a date with my besty Jen to spend the entire day in downtown LA at the Photo LA and LA Art Show.  In between shows we stopped for lunch at Farm LA. Once again, I feel like I made the best decision I could.  I ordered the Quinoa Black bean burger, with no sauce, just dijon mustard, with avocado and sprouts.  Instead of fries, I opted for baby greens and a bowl of berries.  Once again, I feel like I did pretty good...Especially considering that evening when we were hanging out, everyone decided to make homemade pizzas, and this girl opted for a green salad with balsamic vinegar.  Success and willpower.

Sunday came, and I had to go back to work.  I put together a lunch kit. I packed up a bag full of arugula, spinach, diced smoked tofu, shredded carrots, cilantro, and sprinkled in some nooch and black pepper. Then I also packed up some of my homemade tahini red pepper sauce. At work I added reheated brown Jasmine rice and the sauce to the bag and gave it a good shake!  This has now become my new favorite meal, and it made enough for me to have some today as well.

So, there you have it.  My first 7 of 28 days of this challenge.  I have to say, it's not so bad.  I am discovering new recipes and flavor combinations, while not beating myself up if I accidentally have a little salt or oil when I am out.  Oh, and I even started the workout plan in the challenge guide.  I do it in my kitchen. Lol. I will check back in again next week with a week 2 challenge update, so until then, live long and be Plant-Strong!

Full disclosure: Rip Esselstyn has partnered with Whole Foods Market for this year's challenge, and in my other life, I work at Whole Foods Market.  And while it is free for anyone to join the challenge, I am also leading the challenge at my location, which is currently in Laguna Beach.  I thought it would be an awesome way to help spread the word about a healthy, plant-based, whole foods diet to others, especially some of my coworkers, while simultaneously and selfishly taking the opportunity to take the challenge myself.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Vegetarian Flavor Bible

I remember my first year of college.  Going into the bookstore to buy my textbooks, and bringing them home thinking, "Oh my god. These books are huge. There is so much information here. There is no way I am ever going to get through it all."  But I did.  I still have all of my college textbooks.  And every now and again, I find myself returning to those texts as a reference.

The Vegetarian Flavor Bible by Karen Page is the textbook I'd imagine would be passed out on the first day of class in a plant based cooking school.  I mean it's huge! 554 pages of hardcovered glory, complete with a ribbon page marker.  This book is definitely a reference text.

When it arrived in the mail from the publishers for review, I was flipping through the pages, thinking, "Whoa. She ain't messing atound!" And she isn't.  Karen Page has an entry for everything in this encyclopedic style text.  It's quite an undertaking.  Almost unbelievable how much work must have went into creating such a tome.

Admittedly, it's not a vegan book.  It does have information about vegetarian ingredients like eggs and dairy.  But, it's also not a cookbook, so it's still (and definitely!) a very useful kitchen companion for the vegan cook. It's not the type of book you read like a romance novel.  That's for sure.  But I know this book will get plenty of use in my kitchen.

So far, from what I've written, you still have no idea how this book reads, so let me be a little bit more descriptive about the contents.  The book begins with a lengthy introduction that talks about a transition to a plant based diet, and includes some recommendations by Dr. Campbell and Dr. Esselstyn.  It is in the intro that the author also tells us that she is lactose intolerant.  And although she does include eggs and dairy as food sources in this intro, she also points out that both doctors recommend avoiding both.

Following the introduction, is Chapter 1, For the Love of Plants: Vegetarianism Through the Ages. A literal timeline of vegetarianism dating back to 3000 BC!  FIlled with facts, stories, interviews, and quotes, it is a fascinating read.

Next up is Chapter 2, Maximizing Flavor: Creating a New, Compassionate Cuisine.  This chapter approaches flavor in an almost scientific way.  Speaking about how different testures, aromas, and even mouthfeel affect the overall flavor of foods.  Combining history, science, and skill from chefs all over the world.  How do these different skill sets, techniques and methods affect vegetarian cuisine?

And finally, Chapter 3, Vegetarian Flavor Matchmaking: The Lists.  This is whhere you will find an alphabetical list of every ingredient and cuisine you can imagine.  And with each entry comes a flavor profile, nutritional breakdown, techniques for preparation, possible substitutes or botanical relatives, and flavor affinities (other ingredients and flavors that pair well with said ingredient).

In otherwords,  when you get that CSA box and you don't know what to do with those turnip greens,  just look up "Greens, Turnip" which happens tobe on page 277, and learn how to prepare them and what other foods taste good alongside them.  In this case? Simple blanch then saute them with garlic, lemon, olive oil and onions.  See how helpful that was?

And there are entries for just about everything you could imagine. Szechuan peppers? Check. Buckwheat Sprouts? Yep. Wakame? Of course, silly!

What I particularly like, is that in addition to ingredients, this massive resource also includes flavor profiles (look up sourness or umami) and cuisines (such as Southwesy or Ethiopian) for tips and ingredients that work well with each.

Overall, I definitely recommend that every cook, vegetarian, vegan or omnivore, pick up a copy of this book.  It will prove invaluable in my kitchen, especially as I am preparing and testing new recipes and trying out new ingredients.

The publishers were kind enough to offer a giveaway to one lucky reader (limited to residents within the US only this time) so follow the instructions in the widget below to enter for a chance to win.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, November 28, 2014

Gift-ivism Season is Upon Us! (A Vegan Food Gifts Giveaway)

Photo by Celine Steen

gif·tiv·ism ˈgif tə vizəmˈ
noun: the policy or action of using vigorous gift giving to bring about political or social change. In the case of vegan food gifts, to prove vegan foods can be delicious and fun, and that it is not necessary to kill or torture another living being in order to make a tasty meal or treat.

It's that time of year. The time where we are faced with buying, making, or in any case, giving gifts. I remember being a kid and absolutely thinking how wonderful it was to have a big family, because I got so many presents!  I mean, with divorced parents, I had two families, which meant I had two Christmases! (What's plural for Christmas?) The first year I celebrated Christmas as an adult, living in my own apartment, I had a complete emotional breakdown, because it wasn't until then, had I realized how hard it was on everyone to give so many gifts.

Soon after, my mom's side of the family adopted a "presents only for the kids" rule, followed by a you-can-give-a-present-if-you-want-to-but-only-if-you-make-it rule.  And it can't be expensive.

The year of the bottle cap magnets

On dad's side of the family, we opted for a draw names sort of system, and the gift also had to be home made, but that only lasted a year.  We quickly moved to the let's donate as a family to charity model, and my sister took the lead.  But we still were allowed to give eachother one present...not expensive, usually of the bottle-of-some-sort-of-alcohol variety.

The year of the scarves and homemade cutting boards
(with cookies and candies, of course!)

At home, my husband and I adopted a stocking stuffers only rule, followed the last three years by a new tradition of going to the mall the last few days before christmas, having a few cocktails, and then walking around looking at all the craziness surrounding us.  Holiday lights and a frenzy of shoppers is tremendous fun if you don't really have to go shopping.

Ever since we have adopted these rules. Holidays have been so much more precious, and so much less stressful.  Instead of worrying if we have enough money to get everyone a gift, we concentrate more on getting together and loving eachother.  It's pretty awesome.

I can't help myself.  I absolutely love the cheesy cello bags and
cheap festive plates from the dollar store.
But, I admit, I really love to give presents during the holidays.  So, I take advantage of the homemade rule, and every year I turn my kitchen into a cookie baking, candy making, drink mix mixing, pickle canning, liqueur brewing factory.

It's so much fun to give DIY vegan food gifts to people.  Especially when gifting to non-vegans. It puts the word, the idea, and, of course, the undeniably delicious treat right in front of their face and plants the seed of compassion.  Who knew a cookie had so much power?

Peanut Butter Truffles in homemade truffle gift boxes from Vegan Food Gifts

The idea of gift-ivism is what sparked my writing of Vegan Food Gifts.  I have always loved making presents. And I had (have) tons of craft books, yarn, fabric, beads, paints, mod-podge, scrap booking supplies (I know, I know) and just about any other crafting supply you could think of.  I wanted to share how easy it was to make really awesome vegan food gifts.

I started compiling all of the gifts I had made and given over the years and started working on new and easy projects.  I partnered up with Kurt Halsey to do all of the designing of the scannable gift tags and recipe cards, and to illustrate the how to instructions for the crafts and packaging portion of the book.

Various  DIY gifts in jars and bottles from Vegan Food Gifts

All in all there are over 100 ideas for DIY projects to give away to friends and family.  I would like to kick off this gift-ivism season by giving away a copy of Vegan Food Gifts to one person anywhere in the world.  Just follow the prompts in the widget below and I will pick a winner on Sunday, December 7, at 7:00pm PST.

And for thiose of you who don't win your own copy, here are a bunch of links to projects you can make rignt here on

Jalapeno Jam (my favorite!)
Truffle Gift Box (with bonus peppermint truffle recipe)
Homemade Spicy Dill Pickles (super easy and a great gifts for the menfolk!)

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Share the Vegan Love!

2012 Copyright/Permissions/Disclaimers

All recipes written by me, Joni Marie Newman, unless otherwise noted. Please feel free to refer to or link back to any of my recipes, but please ask for permission, or remember to give credit when reprinting recipes in their entirety. I do provide links to affiliate programs (such as Amazon) in which I receive a small commission for items purchased. I do not provide paid reviews. All reviews done on products or books are of my own unsolicited opinion. On occasion I may receive a book or product to review. I will note when this is the case, but rest assured, it will not affect the authenticity of my review. Thanks!--Joni