Vegan Food Swap Reveal

A month ago, I had a wild idea to start a Vegan Food Swap. I called for folks across the US to sign-up and commit to gathering vegan goodies to pack up and ship to another TVL reader. I was blown away when over 25 participants signed up in just a few days. I was also thrilled to partner with MeShell and offer the Vegan Food Swap to residents of Canada as well!


In the weeks that followed, I heard from many participants who were just as excited to round up treats as they were to receive a special box of their own. I can't wait to see what everyone got! 

If you're interested in participating in May, it's not too late to sign up here!

My Vegan Food Swap box came from Ashley of Season of the Vegan. Check out the goodies she sent me: 


Thanks to everyone who swapped in April! If you participated, please link up your Vegan Food Swap reveal post from April 2012. Don't forget to link back to this post in your reveal! 

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Coconut Mango Oat Muffins (and Veggie Meal Maker Winners!)

Just about every day, I spend a little time drooling over recipes on The Kitchn blog. I love finding inspiration from their posts on different spices, cooking techniques, and flavor combinations. They even post a pretty good number of vegan recipes, which makes me feel kind of warm and fuzzy inside.

When I saw the post recently for Coconut Mango Oat Muffins, which were not remotely vegan, I nearly tripped over my own fingers. I salivated at the thought of coconut, mango, oats, and vanilla bean all together in warm muffin-y goodness. I knew I had to figure out how to veganize this recipe.

I immediately turned to my favorite resource for baking tricks: my friend Sarah of Gazing In. "How on earth," I asked in a panic, "can we possibly make these vegan? And gluten-free? And soy-free?"

It's lucky for me that Sarah enjoys a good foodie challenge as much as I do. Otherwise, I don't think our friendship would have survived as long as it has.

We batted around some ideas and both agreed that this was one recipe that had to be attempted, and quickly. I set to work adapting the original recipe to not only be both dairy-free and egg-free, but also gluten-free and soy-free. And my mission was a wild success.


So, what's up with the gluten-free and soy-free request? I don't have celiac and I'm not allergic to soy, but I'm taking a little time off from both of them to give my body a break. I could have easily made this recipe with wheat flour and soy yogurt, instead of turning to gluten-free flours and coconut yogurt, but I enjoyed the challenge. And, honestly, I think the coconut yogurt added quite a bit of flavor and I wouldn't skip it, even if you're okay with soy.

Another thing? The original recipe only yielded 10 muffins. I got 12 out of my version, using exactly the same volume of ingredients. I guess sometimes vegan baking is just that awesome.


Coconut Mango Oat Muffins (adapted from The Kitchn)
Yield: 12 muffins

3/4 cup Bob's Red Mill All-Purpose Gluten-Free Baking Flour
3/4 cup oat flour
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup (8oz) So Delicious Cultured Coconut Milk Yogurt (vanilla flavor)
3 Tbsp agave nectar
1 tsp lemon zest (I used Meyer lemon)
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
2 Ataulfo mangoes, chopped (about 1 cup)
extra shredded coconut, for topping
  1. Preheat oven to 375°F and line 12 muffin cups with liners or oil generously.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine flours, coconut, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. 
  3. In another bowl, whisk together yogurt, agave, lemon zest, and vanilla bean scrapings. 
  4. Add coconut oil and whisk gently to combine. 
  5. Add dry ingredients to the wet mixture in 3 separate batches, stirring each until nearly combined before adding more. 
  6. Fold in chopped mango. 
  7. Scoop into muffin tins (about 3/4 full or more). Top each with 1 tsp coconut. 
  8. Bake 22-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Remove from baking pan and cool on rack. 
These will last a few days at room temp, but I like to freeze them and pull them out as needed, lest I snarf down the whole batch by myself in 3 days.

In other news... 

Congratulations to Katie Medlock, DLussier10 and Shelley from Vegan Favorites! The powers that be at random.org selected their comments for the win. They each won my giveaway for a 1-year subscription to Veggie Meal Maker online meal planning service. Winners will receive an e-mail shortly with instructions on claiming their prize! Happy meal planning! 


If you didn't win, you can still sign-up for a free 30-day trial of Veggie Meal Maker. 


Tomorrow on The Verdant Life... 


Be sure to check-in tomorrow, April 27, to see my reveal of the first Vegan Food Swap



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Warm Quinoa Salad with Roasted Grapes

Reminder: Enter to win one of three 1-year subscriptions to Veggie Meal Maker, the online meal planning service for vegetarians and vegans! Entries close at Noon EST on Wednesday, April 25, so enter now! 

Picture this. It was mid-last week and dinnertime loomed. The weather was unseasonably chilly. I was cooking for one that night and feeling a bit lazy.

Sometimes, I cop out of dinner entirely and just have a bowl of leftover soup or whip up a simple breakfast-for-dinner oatmeal dish. I've even been known to make pancakes for dinner when I'm on my own.

For whatever reason, I didn't feel like giving in to the laziness entirely. I also didn't feel like going all-out and making an elaborate dinner, so I compromised. Using some leftover quinoa from my fridge, I whipped up a sweet and satisfying warm salad from ingredients that you probably already have on hand. It may have been some of my laziest kitchen work yet, but I managed to create a keeper. I think you'll like it.


Warm Quinoa Salad with Roasted Grapes
Yield: 2 servings

2 cups cooked quinoa, any variety
1 cup red seedless grapes
3 Tbsp chopped raw almonds 
4-5 kale leaves, destemmed and sliced thinly 
1/2 sweet apple (Gala, Fuji, Braeburn), chopped roughly
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp agave nectar
1/2 tsp fresh thyme, minced
pinch each of salt and pepper

  1. Cook quinoa according to package directions and set aside or use leftover precooked quinoa. 
  2. Heat a medium frying pan to medium-high heat. Add grapes and almonds, stirring occasionally until grapes begin to swell and almonds are toasted. 
  3. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to smash about half the grapes. 
  4. Add kale leaves and cook 2-3 minutes until just wilted. 
  5. While kale is cooking, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, agave, thyme, salt and pepper in a small bowl and set aside. 
  6. When kale is slightly wilted, add apple and cooked quinoa to frying pan and stir to combine. 
  7. Add dressing and stir just to coat all ingredients. Serve immediately, topped with additional toasted almonds if desired. 



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Meal Planning Tips (with Giveaway!)

This giveaway is now closed to new entries. Winners have been selected and announced here. Congratulations!

Meal planning is like flossing your teeth. We all know the benefits of doing it, but that doesn't mean we're looking forward to it. Although meal planning can be a pain in the rear, it can help you save a ton of time and headaches in the long run. Like any new habit, it might take a while to get the hang of it. Once you're reaping the benefits (like lower grocery bills, less stress, and less food waste), you'll wonder why it took you so long to get with the program.


I have a few pieces of advice that will make things a little easier for first-time meal planners.

Here are my top 5 tips for successful meal planning:

  1. Pay attention to what you already have on hand. Whether it's a head of broccoli crammed in the back of the fridge or a bag of barley in your pantry, knowing what you have on hand will help you create meals that lower your grocery bill. 
  2. Plan several meals that use the same ingredients in different ways. This is especially useful in smaller households, where a head of cauliflower can seem to last forever. This tip will help you use up all of your, say, fresh spinach, before it rots in the refrigerator. 
  3. Use "theme" nights. If you're overwhelmed by the idea of meal-planning, adopt a few "theme" dinners throughout the week to help make ideas flow easier. Try Taco Tuesday, Wrap Wednesday, and Pizza Fridays, or come up with new themes based on your own tastes. 
  4. Know what's in season. Using seasonal veggies and fruits will ensure a few things: a) those items are more likely to be in stock and on sale at your local grocery store, and b) your meals will taste better. 
  5. Don't fear leftovers. In fact, create them intentionally. Whether it's as simple as cooking and freezing a whole pound of beans (or quinoa or brown rice), or simply doubling your dinner recipe so that tomorrow's lunch is taken care of, creating leftovers will make meal planning easier and keep your grocery bill under control. 

The only downside I've found to meal planning is that it does require a bit of a time commitment. This can be overwhelming if you're new to meal planning or you're just not the most organized person on the planet. There are a lot of meal-planning resources on the web, but most of them aren't very veg-friendly. I found one that is.

Veggie Meal Maker is a dynamic web-based application for vegetarian and vegan meal planning. It has so many features that I'm pretty sure even I haven't explored them all yet. Among the most notable are:

  • Easy drag-and-drop recipes to meal calendar 
  • Import your own recipes 
  • Create a shopping list from planned meals 
  • Mobile access from your smart phone (no need to print the shopping list!) 

The folks at Veggie Meal Maker are passionate about helping people find easier ways to maintain a vegetarian or vegan diet, so they are adding new features to the site all the time. Soon, they'll be adding tutorial videos that walk users through each feature and show you how to make the most of their services. They have tons of recipes in their database so far and are adding more each day. You'll even see some of my recipes showing up on the site soon!

If you want to test drive the meal planning services, Veggie Meal Maker offers a 30-day free trial for new members. Just cruise over to their site, sign up, and start building your meal plans. You'll have full access to the site features, so you'll get a real taste of what they offer.

The kind folks at Veggie Meal Maker want even more people to try their meal planning services, though, so they've offered up 3 (three) 1-year subscriptions to Veggie Meal Maker (a $72 value) for me to share with my readers. I'll accept entries until Wednesday, April 25 12pm (noon) EST 5pm EST, so get your name in the hat! 

To enter the giveaway: 
"Like" Veggie Meal Maker on Facebook and/or follow them on Twitter.
"Like" The Verdant Life on Facebook
Leave a comment below (be sure to include an e-mail address) to let me know you've done both.

Winners will be notified via e-mail on the afternoon of Wednesday, April 25! 

FTC: I was not compensated for my review. 

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Skinny Coconut Mango-tini

I know it's only Tuesday, but I know you've worked hard this week and I think you deserve a cocktail.

How about a fresh and refreshing take on a martini that transports you (metaphorically, of course) right to the sandy surf? Little pink umbrellas are totally optional, but I do recommend enjoying this beverage outdoors if at all possible, and definitely without shoes.


Looking for ways to lighten up summer-inspired cocktails, I've turned to coconut water in the past and it works extremely well here, bringing a light sweetness without being all crazy sugartastic or loaded with empty calories.

I recently received a sample of Exclusiv Vodka and found it worked nicely in this cocktail. Exclusiv Vodka is completely vegan and retails for only $9.99 per 750 ml bottle, so it'll be a no brainer for summer cocktail parties. I didn't care for the taste of the vodka by itself (I tried it on the rocks with a twist) but then, I don't usually drink vodka that way, so I'm not the best judge. I did find that Exclusiv blended quite nicely with the flavors of the coconut water and mango juice here, and I couldn't detect any significant flavor difference between Exclusiv and other expensive vodka brands. (Note: Exclusiv Vodka is distilled from wheat so it's not a good choice for anyone with celiac disease or a gluten-intolerance.)



Use your favorite brand of coconut water for this cocktail, and feel free to experiment with fruit-infused versions as well. For the mango juice, I blended an Ataulfo mango and strained the pulp, but bottled juice would work just fine as well.

Now, about that drink...

Skinny Coconut Mango-tini 
Yield: 2 drinks

4 oz coconut water
3 oz Exclusiv Vodka
3 oz mango juice
handful of ice cubes
lime juice and True Lime crystallized lime powder (optional for the rim)
  1. If desired, wet the rim of two 6oz martini glasses with lime juice and roll in True Lime powder (or salt). I do this on a small plate prior to mixing the cocktails. 
  2. Combine coconut water, vodka, mango juice and ice cubes in a Boston shaker and shake for several seconds. 
  3. Strain equal portions into each martini glass and enjoy! 


FTC: I received a sample of this product in exchange for my unbiased opinion. 

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10 Dishwasher Lessons from Homemade Soap

I've been using homemade dishwasher detergent for a little over a month, and it's taught me a few things.

When we moved into our new apartment at the end of February, I decided to try to make as many cleaning products as I can, rather than buying them. As we use up a commercial cleaner, it gets replaced with a batch of homemade, and it just so happened that the dishwasher detergent was the first to run out.


If you've read about or are already using homemade cleaning products, you already know they can be a huge cost-savings, and I also feel good reducing the amount of packaging waste my household creates. Win-win!

There are a lot of recipes for dry/granulated dishwasher detergent, but I have always found better results from using liquid detergent. That wasn't going to change when I went homemade, so I used (and have been very happy) with this recipe from Sayward Rebhal of Bonzai Aphrodite.

After a month of going it homemade, I've learned a few things that I wish someone had told me in the beginning. In case you're thinking about (or perhaps already using) homemade dishwasher detergent, I'm passing those lessons on to you. Free of charge.

DO... 

  1. Follow the instructions carefully when making your homemade cleaner. If you leave something out, your final product will suffer. 
  2. Rinse major food particles from your dishes before loading them in the dishwasher.
  3. Use a rinse agent of some kind. Since I'm going DIY on the dishwasher, I use plain white vinegar in the rinse agent container. Some people add food coloring so they can see it better to check the level. 
  4. Experiment with scents. I love a combination of lavender and sweet orange. Oregano and mint are also really fresh and lovely together.
  5. Share your dishwasher detergent recipe with your friends! Or even better, mix up a double batch and give some away! 



DON'T... 

  1. Expect your dishes to come out any cleaner than they did when you used commercially produced detergent. Homemade cleaner is not going to improve the performance of your dishwasher. 
  2. Overload your dishwasher. Avoid stacking things on top of one another, which prevents water (and therefore soap) from getting to all surfaces of your dishes. 
  3. Forget to shake your detergent before measuring it out. It settles!  
  4. Use too much detergent. While 2-3 Tbsp is the typical recommendation, I found my dishwasher works best with a scant 2 Tbsp. If you end up with "soap scum" on your dishes, cut back on detergent!
  5. Look back. One batch of homemade detergent will last you about twice as long as commercial detergent (because you use less of it). It's easy to make in large quantities if needed, so there's no reason to go back to expensive commercial products! 
I hope this dishwasher wisdom helps you find peace in all your dish-washing trials and tribulations. 

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Avocado and Radish No-Recipe Recipe

Springtime's warmer temps call for lighter dishes, so dinnertime has become an even more creative venture than usual for me. Eschewing pastas and heavy grains for the most part, I still want something tasty and satisfying. Last week, I whipped up these open-faced avocado sandwiches as a last minute dinner and it turned out to be so tasty that they've been voted in for a regular recurring role.

Over the weekend, I made a mini version of these sandwiches on small crackers for a brunch get together, and they were a big hit there as well. Although there's no real recipe behind this concoction, I thought this dish was tasty and popular enough to warrant a blog post. So, I'm sharing with you my approach to building a deceptively simple crowd-pleaser, in sandwich or appetizer form. You choose.


Prep it. 
Prep all your toppings first. This will make the assembly process much quicker, especially if you're planning to make bite-size appetizers instead of full-on sandwiches.

Halve and slice a few raw radishes. Diagonally slice some green onions. Thinly slice an avocado and toss it with lime juice and a pinch of salt. Have your hummus standing by.

Build a foundation. 
Start with a nice, solid base. Here, I toasted a slice of marbled rye bread. You could use toasted pita, Wassa crackers, or whatever you like. If you want to make appetizers, so use smaller crackers (rice crackers would be nice) or even raw zucchini rounds as a base.

Add some glue. 
Smear on some hummus. I used a homemade chickpea hummus. The raw zucchini hummus from Practically Raw would work well too. Use a knife or the back of a spoon to smooth out the hummus layer as evenly as possible, otherwise you'll have trouble stacking the additional ingredients.

Top it off. 
Layer on a few avocado slices, pressing gently so they stick to the hummus. Add radishes and green onion slices. Use as much or as little as you like.

Final touches.
I like to dust my final product with freshly cracked pepper. You could add a hit of Himalayan pink salt or final squirt of lime juice as well, if you wish.



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Spicy Thai Peanut Broccoli Slaw

This is a simple post for a simple recipe.

The concept is simple too. I have always loved Thai peanut sauce in warm noodles dishes and as a dip for nummy things like fried tofu. It's also great on steamed broccoli and cauliflower. But, as spring temperatures rise, I wanted to find a cooler dish to enjoy this naughty sauce.

It didn't take long to realize that my beloved Thai peanut sauce could translate very well into a cole slaw dressing. So, that's what I made.

Spicy Thai Peanut Broccoli Slaw
This is a lighter, creamier version of traditional peanut sauce that works extremely well with raw broccoli slaw. If you prefer a cabbage-based slaw, feel free to substitute that or experiment with a mixture of the two.

This slaw works best when prepared in advance and left to marinate in the fridge for 20-30 minutes. That makes it a great side dish for grilled items, since you can set aside the slaw and focus on your other dishes while the flavors in the slaw come together.

Spicy Thai Peanut Broccoli Slaw 
Yield: 2 servings

2 Tbsp natural peanut butter
1 Tbsp + 1/4 tsp rice vinegar
1 tsp freshly grated ginger
1 1/4 tsp Bragg's Liquid Aminos (or soy sauce)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp water
1/4 tsp lime juice
2 Tbsp vegan mayo (I prefer homemade)
1/4-1/2 tsp chili sauce (like Sriracha)

  1. In a medium sized bowl, combine all ingredients except broccoli slaw and whisk until smooth. 
  2. Add broccoli slaw and stir until evenly coated. 
  3. Refrigerate 20-30 minutes before serving. 

Serve along side your favorite grilled salad or veggie burger!

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Book Review: Global Kitchen by Carolyn Scott-Hamilton

Carolyn Scott-Hamilton, aka The Healthy Voyager, has been making me so jealous lately on Facebook. She travels constantly, it seems, and posts tons of photos of where she is and what she's eating. If you know me personally, you're aware of my intensely nomadic nature and deep-seated wanderlust. I can hardly contain myself sometimes after seeing the latest Healthy Voyager update

When her cookbook, The Healthy Voyager's Global Kitchen was announced for upcoming release, I knew I'd be interested. I've never been much of a fan of typical American fare, turning instead to Asian and Mediterranean-inspired meals most of the time. Carolyn's book is a unique tour around the world, highlighting some of her favorite dishes from food cultures on nearly all continents.

Upon receiving the book, I sat down and curled up with it almost immediately. The book is well organized and designed, with interesting photos and graphics on almost every page. Up front, the book offers recipes for vegan versions of kitchen staples such as heavy cream, evaporated milk, and egg replacements. The recipe sections are divided geographically, which make it pretty darn easy to find something you might like.

For me, one down-side to Carolyn's book is that many of the recipes rely pretty heavily on things I don't eat a lot of: meat analogues, vegan butter substitutes, and vegan cheese. It's my personal preference to really limit those processed foods, so I had a difficult time choosing which recipes from the book to try.

That said, this book is a fantastic introduction to vegan cooking for someone who has recently changed their eating habits or is interested in ways to reduce their meat consumption. Because all of her recipes are veganized versions of classics, almost everyone can find their "comfort food" favorite here. Chicken and dumplings, spinach and mushroom enchiladas, croissants, spanikopita, and even vindaloo all make an appearance, and that's just the tip of the veganized ice berg. Almost every recipe is accompanied by an enticing full-color photo as well, which I find tends to reassure the recently-vegan and vegan-curious, and encourage them in their new healthy habits.

So far, I've only had a chance to try two recipes in the book, and I enjoyed them. I don't know if they'll become regular staples in my menu, but I do know I can turn to them when needed to feed a picky omnivore, and that goes a long way in my book.

No Toad in the Hole (p. 98)
My "No Toad in the Hole" doesn't look as attractive as the photo in the book, but it was tasty. A cross between a pancake and a frittata, this oven-baked batter was super easy to make in a blender. I did break down and use 2 Field Roast Smoked Apple Sage Sausages, cut lengthwise, in this dish. It was worth it.

No Toad in the Hole (p. 98) with Mushroom Gravy (p. 35)
Here's the same dish, topped with Carolyn's Mushroom Gravy, which is her serving suggestion. The mushroom gravy was tasty and easy to make, but I didn't find any thing really special about the recipe. It's all gravy, baby.

To buy the book, go here.
To visit Carolyn's website, go here.
To follow her journeys on Facebook, go here.

FTC: I received a copy of this book at no charge in exchange for my unbiased review.

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