Ultimate Vegan Nachos

ultimate vegan nachosMy first foray into Super Bowl entertainment was in 2007. I remember it because I was a senior in college and decided that I wanted to be the designated caterer for our house’s Super Bowl party. Apparently, though, I didn’t get the memo about Super Bowl parties typically being centered around beer and wings and low-key fare. Instead, the menu ended up being something like paninis and pasta and other comparatively fancy options — a fact that didn’t go unnoticed by my housemates, who commented about whether or not we should be serving wine instead of beer (Liz, if you’re reading this, I think it was you who asked that).

Well, I haven’t catered a Super Bowl party since then — and mostly because things like law school and full-time work have gotten in the way of any sort of Sunday night social life. But that’s not to say I haven’t thought a lot since about what, exactly, I would serve if I were to explore the world of Super Bowl entertaining once again.

The answer, every time, has decidedly been nachos. I love nachos. And I can say that because even though I’m now vegan and gluten-free, nachos are still so doable. After all, there are a plethora of vegan cheese products now on the market, and pure corn tortilla chips, by definition, are gluten-free (though you still have to read labels because, as we all know, hiding gluten in seemingly gluten-free products seems to be a popular food industry pastime).

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Fat-Free Potato Salad

vegan, fat-free potato saladTo say I’m a carb-aholic does not entirely describe my problem. It’s potatoes that are my carb of choice. And I don’t care how you give them to me. Mashed, fried, boiled, baked, roasted or au gratin — I don’t discriminate and love ‘em all (as long as they’re all vegan versions, of course).

But as benign as the potato may seem on the scale of addictions, the danger in my affinity for spuds usually comes in their preparation, as it’s long been a tradition for the potato to be prepared with fat. Oil for frying and roasting. Buttery spreads for mashing and melting over baked. And boiled potatoes, if not soon to be mashed, are often on their way to becoming part of a salad filled with oily and fattening mayo or mayo replacements. I love it, don’t get me wrong. But does it love me back? Doctors Esselstyn and McDougall say “no”.

When I searched the internet for “fat-free potato salad”, I found little in the way of a solution. Many such recipes called for processed “fat-free” mayo blends, which use artificial ingredients and flavors, along with several preservatives. That was simply not an option for me.

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Cranberry-Oatmeal Cookies

cranberry-oatmeal cookiesWell, just a few weeks after I proudly bragged about not getting sick in several years (and I was not including getting Lyme disease in that proclamation, just for the record), I’m stuck at home this weekend with a pounding headache, body aches and chills. That’s what I get for bragging, I guess.

Last night was the first time in my life that I walked out of a movie I actually liked. It was a girls night out. Dinner and a movie. Dinner was fine, though I was feeling pretty tired. And then there was the movie. Captain Phillips. I was excited to see what was supposed to be Tom Hanks’ best performance since Forrest Gump. But I didn’t get very far into the movie before my head began to pound and  I started to feel dizzy, sweaty, nauseous and just plain sick. So that was why I was forced to walk out of what seemed to be a decent movie, and one I think I would have been enjoying had the room not seemed like it was spinning as I watched.

Now that I’ve got enough medications in me to actually look at a screen without seeing double, I thought I’d take advantage of my day as a shut-in and actually post this cookie recipe I’ve been holding onto for too long. I made these cookies a few weeks ago and had to fight Gennaro off from eating all of them before I could take a picture. These are classical oatmeal cookies with a twist of tartness from the cranberries, which replace the more traditional raisins.

And that’s all I’ve got to say about that. Because now, I go back to putting my head down and not thinking for awhile.

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Hearty Vegetable Marinara

hearty vegetable marinaraSimple need not be boring. That’s the slogan I would use if I were to bottle this stuff and sell it.

I’ve long had a visceral aversion to boring foods. And by boring, I’m thinking those measly garden salads that are on every average restaurant menu in America. I’m thinking plain white bread. I’m thinking marinara sauce — not every marinara sauce, but the ubiquitous kind that’s plopped out of a jar and poured over spaghetti and called dinner. As long as I’ve been cooking, and as many short-cuts as I like to take at times, I’ve never brought myself to accept a jar of sauce and some noodles as dinner. This may explain why, even when faced with little time and a jar of sauce, I do my best to jazz it up, like I did with this spicy chorizo sauce from a few years ago.

It’s not that I am being a food snob (OK, maybe I am), but that I really just LOVE food so much that I can’t imagine wasting a meal on something that doesn’t really excite me. I guess that’s the difference between someone like me and someone who “forgets” to eat lunch (we all know those people, and no, I don’t understand them one bit).

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Single-Serving Banana-Omega-Chia Pudding

banana-omega-chia puddingI am approaching this first post of the new year with a bit of trepidation, as this would normally be the obligatory resolutions and reflections post, and I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that 2013 went by so fast. Resolutions? I’m not there yet. I’m still wondering where all the time went. This has me thinking. By the time I’ve figured out my resolutions for this year, it will probably be 2015.

Time passes quickly. I learn that more and more each year. As my dad says, it’s because the older we become, each year is a smaller proportion of our lives thus far.

What I have learned is that, the older I become, the more keenly aware I am of the importance of caring for my body. I marvel at the things I seemingly got away with doing to my body while in college. All-nighters cramming for tests or writing papers, diet sodas, beer at tailgates and 2 a.m. pizza delivery were not uncommon occurrences in my college days. And judging from the number of people still in the school computer lab at 4 a.m. or by the crowds at tailgates and bars over the weekends (and sometimes during the week), I am pretty sure I was not alone.

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Chickpea Paprikash over Penne

vegan chickpea paprikash over penneIf you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably figured out by now that I’m a pretty huge fan of The Voice. In fact, I’m actually a Voice expert. I know, for example, that getting assigned a Whitney Houston song is widely considered the kiss of death for many artists. And even though the coaches know this, they will still assign Whitney songs season in and season out — probably because the producers know it makes for interesting television — which predictably fall short of the original.

This season, it was Tessanne Chin who had the dubious honor of being tasked with a Whitney classic: I Have Nothing. Now, Tessanne is an amazing singer. She is one of the best on the show. Still, as we’ve learned after 5 seasons of this show, as good as anyone is, there is only one Whitney (Voice fans know that the same can be said of Adele). But Tessanne was smart. Before taking the stage, she strategically noted that she was not trying to emulate the original. She was not going to try to be Whitney. She was going to be Tessanne, and she was going to make her version a tribute, rather than a knock-off. And with that in mind, I think everyone (including myself), enjoyed the performance for what it was — not “Whitney”, but something unique and amazing in its own right (and for the record, I did think Tessanne was amazing).

If Whitney is the standard for vocal greatness, my great-grandmother was like the Whitney Houston of home cooking. After immigrating from Hungary as a teenager, she worked hard all of her life in the auto factories of Detroit. She carried her hard-working, blue collar mentality into the kitchen, where she was often sweating over the stove for hours on weekends to serve authentic Hungarian meals to grateful family members — something that brought her much joy. It was at her home that I saw my first whole chicken foot poking out of a boiling pot of water (something that would scar me for years to come), where I learned that lard was probably the most important cooking ingredient, and that cooking directions were as easy as telling someone “just thing it” (duh?).

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Butternut Squash Coconut Curry Noodles

butternut squash coconut curry noodles

Today, I am going to tell you a little story about the power of denial. And the power of really good Thai food.

It all started when I was nearing the end of my vegan transition, which basically meant that I was starting to actually tell people that I was “vegan” (but still had a lot to learn). I had also just moved back to Michigan and was starting a new job in Ferndale, a city in Michigan with a small but fun and eclectic downtown that seemed to me to be bursting with amazing food options. One of those options was a small hole-in-the-wall Thai restaurant that charged only $6 for a lunch special that was not only generously portioned but exceedingly delicious. And, to my delight, it was (or so I thought it was) “vegan”. Coconut-Vegetable Curry, as I assumed at the time, was of course made strictly of coconut milk, vegetables, tofu (non-GMO, of course) and secret Thai spices that made it so delicious that I would eat the entire aforementioned generous portion in one sitting, inducing an afternoon food coma that was not the most conducive to productivity in my new job.

I was obsessed with this curry dish. I would crave it. My co-workers soon became obsessed with their respective favorites from this small place as well. Eventually, we were all sheepishly suggesting office carry-outs 2, 3, 4 times per week. After all, it was cheap, quick and delicious. So delicious, in fact, that I tried to ignore the splitting headaches I would get after each meal, the bloating, or the fact that my mouth was so parched that I would go through 4 bottles of water within an hour after eating. 

But it was one day that I went in to this restaurant for my weekly office pick-up duties that I noticed that behind the checkout counter, there was a glass refrigerator filled with cartons of heavy cream. Yes, as in dairy cream. I started glancing around the small restaurant, searching for the coffee pot. Surely, that’s what the cream was for. But there was no coffee. Then I remembered. Ah, yes. They serve Thai iced tea here. That’s what the cream is for. But there was a lot of cream. I mean, loads of it. And slowly, I started realizing that all of that cream wasn’t just for iced tea. It was for something else: our food. A few questions with the manager confirmed my suspicions. Devastation crept in.

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Raw Avocado-Citrus Bars with Strawberries

Raw Citrus-Avocado Bars with strawberriesI’ve been thinking for awhile about creating a healthy(ish) holiday dessert option that would still evoke some of the spirit of the holiday season. Ideally, I wanted to create something using traditional Christmas colors, but without resorting to any artificial coloring or non-edibles to get the job done. I have also been thinking of creating an all-raw variation of my Avocado-Lime Tart. As the filling of that tart was raw to begin with, I figured it would make sense to make an entirely raw version for those who prefer to eat that way.

And so, these all-raw Avocado-Citrus bars were born. They marry the idea of a Christmas-themed treat with an all-raw tart. The light, minty green coloring of the filling combined with the strawberries on top makes a lovely pairing. And even though I used the same filling as in my avocado-lime tart, I changed the name to Avocado-“citrus” bars — because it’s my blog, and I can do stuff like that.

I tested these bars on Gennaro and a friend of his who was over the night I made them — both of whom gave their approval and urged me to post these. Sometimes I can be such a perfectionist when it comes to my recipes that I’m not sure when to stop tweaking things. So it’s sometimes nice to be told something is really good as-is, so I don’t have to think about it too much.

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A Few of my Favorite Things: Holiday Gift Guide

holiday gift guide collageIn the photo: TOP ROW (left to right): Green Daffodil grapefruit mangosteen tea lights, Jenna Kator Collection Lexington Handbag, Fustinis Holiday gift set; MIDDLE ROW (left to right): Himalayan Salt Lamps, Dirty Girl Farm logo; Ugandan Paper Beads; BOTTOM ROW (left to right): Rouge eyeshadow selection from Eve Organics; Ida Does It book cover; Vegan necklace by Solstice LTD. 

I know the blogosphere has no shortage of holiday gift guides this time of year, so I certainly wouldn’t be publishing my own guide if I didn’t think I could provide something new and different to this realm. Why different? Well, mostly because some (not all) of my favorite places to buy organic, vegan and unique products are from local shops and artists. I love repping Michigan-made products when buying gifts for out-of-state family and friends, and I think we have some pretty amazing stuff here in “the Mitten”. The list below represents a lot of the gifts I will personally be giving this holiday season, along with several favorite local and non-local places that have become my go-to spots for gifts, and not just for the holidays (all of which have online shopping and shipping for those not in the area).

I hope this list will provide some last-minute inspiration and perhaps some unique gift ideas for my readers. Whether you’re vegan or just want to purchase more holistic, organic, natural and sustainable products, I’ve got some ideas here for everyone. And if you’re in the metro Detroit area, be sure to visit some of these local shops in person! There’s nothing like personally trying some of the many amazing flavor infusions at Fustini’s oils and vinegars in Ann Arbor, sniffing tons of amazing scents at Green Daffodil in Ferndale, or getting your makeup matched to your skin with the wonderful ladies at Rouge.

This gift guide is geared toward food, health, wellness, a vegan lifestyle and eco-sustainability. Many of these items are being included in my own holiday gifts to family and friends!

1. Green Daffodil Soy Candleworks: Anyone who knows me knows that THIS place, over any other, is my ultimate go-to for gifts. These are also the candles I exclusively use in my home, as I tend to have a problem with strong or artificial scents. Their products are sold throughout stores in metro Detroit, but their flagship store is located near my office in Ferndale, MI, making them the perfect place for me to do any last-minute shopping. My favorite candle scents are probably Blackberry Sage and Patchouli Lavender. I also use their Patchouli Lavender lotion and body spray and always get compliments on how I smell (even from people who “hate patchouli”) without overpowering everyone! They sell candles, lotions, room sprays, chapstick and soaps through their Etsy store — all of which would make perfect stocking stuffers or wonderful additions to any gift basket. All candles are soy-based, vegan, and made with Phthalate-free fragrance oils. 

2. Jenna Kator CollectionThese reasonably priced, classy and all vegan handbags are my favorite! I own four bags (one for every occasion) and get compliments on them all the time. Jenna Kator is a Michigan-based company and yes, Jenna is the designer. All of the handbags are named after Michigan cities or places. I love and appreciate a hometown girl! Jenna’s bags can be found in a few stores in the metro Detroit area, but if you’re not from around here, online ordering is a breeze. I’ve purchased these handbags for several friends and family members as gifts. My personal favorite is my Greektown shoulder bag, which is a Farmer’s Market must-have! I HIGHLY recommend these bags for any fashionistas in your life. In fact, Jenna has a huge following of fans from across the country who probably don’t even realize that they’re also helping the planet by purchasing vegan bags (you’d never know they’re not leather).

3. Fustini’s Oils and Vinegars: Not just for foodies! This gift is for anyone who loves cooking or eating good food (and who doesn’t?). I’ve gifted friends and family with Fustini’s ever since I discovered them a few years ago (oddly enough, it wasn’t when I was actually living and going to school in Ann Arbor). They have two locations in Michigan, and sell delicious oils and vinegars that are infused with flavor and NOT artificially flavored. Their Holiday Sampler is only $49 and comes in three sampler varieties. They also have a monthly oil and vinegar club for any true foodie out there. They ship across the country. My personal favorite flavor combination is the blood orange oil and chocolate balsamic vinegar as a salad dressing. Heaven!

4. Himalayan Salt Lamps: My mom got these for me for my birthday this year. I have one on my office desk and one at home. Said to be a natural air purifier, Himalayan salt lamps may prevent stuffiness and combat common allergens such as pet dander, smoke and common air pollutants. I personally just love the sense of peace and calm it brings to me when I’m working. Recommended as a gift for anyone into natural health, healing or meditation.

5. Dirty Girl Farm: I love Dirty Girl Farm for natural skin care and gift options! While I get my lotions and bar soaps from Green Daffodil, I love Dirty Girl Farm kitchen soaps (the Pumpkin Ale smells magnificent), shampoos, conditioners, scrubs and body washes. Being the hippie that I am, my favorite shampoo is their Patchouli. But since we’re talking gifts here, I’m guessing you’re not wondering about shampoos. As far as online gifts go, they have a couple of gift wrapping options for only $2 extra. They also have holiday soap designs, including these super cool Frosty The Snowman soaps. They also sell some men’s products, including this “Dirty Guy” body spray and body wash. If you’re in the area, check them out at the Royal Oak Farmer’s Market on weekends.

6. Ugandan Paper Beads: I learned about the “Army of Six” when visiting a local craft fair with my mom recently. Their story is touching! Through their website, this family sells jewelry made by women in Uganda made from recycled magazine paper. It’s the coolest thing! Each purchase helps provide these Ugandan women with income for food, medical care, housing and school fees. I bought a recycled paper bead bracelet for myself recently, as well as a necklace that can be wrapped around and makes a great statement piece as a gift. These are really inexpensive, fashionable, sustainable (hello, recycled paper!), and a gift you can feel good about giving (and receiving).

7. Eve Organic Makeup, also sold at Rouge Makeup and Nail Studio: I use Eve Organic Makeup exclusively ever since I discovered them at Rouge, a very cool makeup and nail studio in Ferndale, Michigan. I buy my makeup in-person at Rouge, and it struck me while there that their makeup and skincare products would make wonderful gifts for all the girly girls in your life. Their makeup is all vegan, made from minerals and has no fillers. They have a cool selection of colors for all occasions. Their products are made from mostly organic ingredients. You can purchase their makeups directly from their website, or from the Rouge site (I gave both options). But if you’re in the Michigan area, I highly recommend Rouge if you’re looking for a gift certificate for manis or pedis that are organic and healthy. The ladies at Rouge are THE BEST and will make you (or your gift recipient) feel totally welcome and at home.

8. Isa Does It: Given that I did an entire post on how much I love this book, does it really need any explaining? This is a beautiful cookbook that is definitely money well spent for any foodie in your life. I love gifting vegan cookbooks to non-vegans as well — especially those who are looking for  new recipe ideas or who are just looking to find ways to get more vegetables (and less meat or dairy) into their diets.

9. “Vegan” Necklaces: My cousin gave me a “vegan” cursive necklace a few years ago for my birthday and I love it. For those proud vegans who want to wear their heart on their sleeve (or neck, rather). I can’t remember the name of the place my cousin bought mine (pictured below), but a quick Etsy search brought me to the pretty necklace pictured above from Solstice LTD. For those true last-minute shoppers, Amazon has a number of options as well, including this one which has the letters etched on a sterling silver heart.

I posted this picture of me sporting my "vegan" necklace on Instagram a few weeks ago. I love it!

I posted this picture of me sporting my “vegan” necklace on Instagram a few weeks ago. I love it!


Low-Fat Lentil-Quinoa Chili

Lentil-Quinoa chiliI feel like I’ve just recently discovered lentils. Not that I didn’t know what they were. Of course I did. It’s just that, until recently, I’ve had a bag of bulk lentils sitting in my pantry for what seems like forever, almost quite literally collecting dust. In my mind, they were probably destined to one day become part of some boring lentil soup. And I could always think of something just a little bit more exciting than lentil soup to make for dinner on any given night. So they sat there. Unused. Unwanted.

That all changed when I decided, once again, to try and tackle an old nemesis and vegan classic: The Lentil Loaf. After a few tries and a successful Thanksgiving entree on my hands, the bag of lentils that sat reliably in my pantry for months on end was gone. And I suddenly felt an emptiness without them there. So I bought some more, this time purchasing a few varieties. And just to give them the respect they deserve, I reorganized my pantry so that now my lentils — and all grains, nuts and legumes, for that matter — are proudly displayed in clear cannisters, beckoning me to put them to use.

Then, my purchase of Isa Does It solidified lentil’s place in my long-term dinner plans. Like, for life. Dear Lentil, I will never forget about your possibilities again. Isa uses lentils in tacos, pasta sauces and even blended into a gravy. Not to mention in the lentil-quinoa stew which inspired this dish. Isa’s stew is sort of a take on traditional lentil soup, except with the addition of quinoa (plus lots of kale), which I found ingenious.

My take on Isa’s stew became a chili, because the only person who loves bold flavors, spice and heat more than myself is my husband. And I think the two of us would agree that chili-spiked anything trumps non-chili-spiked anything ten out of ten times in our house. And so, this chili was born.

I did not add any other beans in this dish. I wanted to lentil and quinoa to be the stars. But that doesn’t mean that other items couldn’t easily be added into the mix. I think corn and black beans would be particularly good in this, as would other veggies such as zucchini, carrot or celery. Of course, a thick slice of cornbread or gluten-free toast is a must, while a nice big salad would round out the meal nicely. I used small brown lentils for this dish (they’re called different things depending on where you find them). Aside from some initial chopping and sporadic stovetop monitoring, this chili requires surprisingly little effort.

Update: I entered this Chili into Ricki Heller’s Wellness Weekend, where you can find other amazing vegan, sugar-free and whole foods recipes.

Lentil-Quinoa Chili:

Yield: 4-6 servings, depending on size


1 1/2 cups yellow onion, diced (about 1 small to medium onion)

5 3/4 cups vegetable broth (divided)

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 medium red bell pepper, diced

1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed well (I used red quinoa for this recipe and like the texture it provides)

1 cup small brown lentils (uncooked)

2 tablespoons chili powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (plus more to taste)

1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes in juice

1 4-0z. can fire-roasted green chilis

salt to taste

hot sauce for serving (optional)


1. Add onions and 1/4 cup of the vegetable broth to a large soup pot or Dutch Oven and saute over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, or until onions start to become translucent. Add garlic and saute another minute.

2. Add lentils, quinoa, red pepper, chili powder, cumin, cayenne pepper and 3 cups of the vegetable broth to pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes, or until most of the liquid is absorbed.

3. Add remaining ingredients, including remaining 2 cups vegetable broth to pot. Stir well. Return to a simmer and simmer, covered, for another 15 minutes, or until lentils are tender. Add salt or more cayenne pepper to taste. Serve with hot sauce if desired.