How to Make Your Favorite Recipes Vegan: Dairy Substitutes

Vegan Dairy Substitutes - Vegan Burrito

Vegetarianism has become so mainstream that most people have a basic understanding that meat is not essential for a healthy diet. Mention you’re vegan, however, and it’s still not uncommon for people get really confused how you live without dairy and eggs. The cool part for those of us who have been veggies for a while is that the last few years has seen an explosion of vegan-friendly products hit the market to supplement our homemade versions. Below are some common cow juice products and their vegan equivalents (many of which are even more delicious, like Coconut Whipped Cream and fresh almond milk).

The finished almond milk!

Homemade Almond Milk

Milk

Fluid milk consumption has been falling in the US since the 1970s, leaving a wide market for non-dairy alternatives. Almond milk, cashew milk, coconut milk, rice milk, and soy milk are just a few of the options now found in mainstream supermarkets. Each milk has a different flavor and consistency (and even the sweetened ones usually have less that the 13g of sugar found in one cup of cow’s milk). I prefer the unsweetened, unflavored versions (usually “original”, not vanilla or chocolate) for most recipes. Each milk has varying amounts of protein, calories, and other nutrients (very little in almond milk, more in soy milk, for example) so check the label to see which is best for you.

Butter

Butter is also easy to replace. Coconut, olive, avocado and other plant-oils can be used while cooking. For baking and spreading on toast, I prefer vegan butters such as Earth Balance. So good!

Buttermilk

Vegan buttermilk is a cinch to make. Just stir in 1 teaspoon. apple cider or white vinegar per 1 cup vegan milk and let sit for two minutes. That’s it! The milk will be slightly curdled and thickened and has that important tang from the vinegar. Vegan buttermilk is especially good in buttermilk pancakes.

Mayo

You may have heard of a little David and Goliath battle between vegan Just Mayo and Unilever (spoiler: Unilever dropped the suit, turns out eggs aren’t want makes mayo delicious). I also love Follow Your Heart’s Vegenaise with Grapeseed Oil but there are a lot of great vegan mayo options on the market now.  You can also make your own at home but I like the commercial versions and haven’t tried it yet.

Coconut Whipped Cream Recipe

Coconut Whipped Cream

Whipped Cream

I can honestly say that even if dairy whipped cream was somehow magically plant-based, I would still keep making Coconut Whipped Cream because it’s simply yummier. Be sure to used canned coconut milk and not the kind that comes in the dairy case – the higher fat content is necessary for whipping.  Continue Reading…

Coconut Whipped Cream Recipe

Coconut Whipped Cream Vegan

Coconut whipped cream is one of the best weapons in the vegan dessert arsenal. Coconut Whipped Cream turns an ordinary dessert into something special with a fluffy, creamy, delicious dollop of whipped cream on top. I keep a can of Trader Joe’s Coconut milk in the fridge at all times, just in case. The best part? The recipe is super easy.

Coconut Whipped Cream Recipe

Ingredients:

1 14 oz can organic coconut cream or milk, chilled overnight

2 T powdered sugar (to taste)

1/2 t. vanilla extract

Recipe:

Before starting, chill mixing bowl 15-30 minutes (optional). Continue Reading…

What to Do with Stuff You Don’t Need

stuff you dont need

The holiday season brings more clutter to fill up our houses than any other time of year. Add that to being cooped up inside (at least here in the Northeast) for several months and you would be forgiven for wanting to throw everything out in a dumpster and just start over. However, a more realistic route is to spend a few weeks going through each room drawer by drawer (twice, you will always miss something) and weed out items that no longer have a place in your home. Pull out:

  • Excessive multiples – You do not need 8 wooden spoons or 12 black tank tops if you only really use 1 or 2 regularly. A bed can only have one sheet set on at a time, plus one or two spares. Having 8 editions of the Bible does not make you more Christian.
  • Aspirational items – Craft supplies you will not use (yes, you could start knitting again, but are you really going to?), clothes five sizes too small, items that you hold onto because they were expensive (if you don’t like a designer sweater, it’s still a sweater you don’t like or wear cluttering up your life), supplies for activities you wish you did (if your idea of roughing it is a Holiday Inn, get rid of the camping gear)
  • Sentimental items – It’s okay to have a few sentimental items but most of us have way more. You are not going to wear your prom dress again and odds are your daughter will want something without the puff sleeves. Let her pick her own. Someone else can use it now. Keep one or two onesies if your youngest kid is now 6 and donate the rest. Your Grandma may have collected tea services but if you don’t drink the stuff, pick your favorite and let the rest go to someone who will use them rather than gathering dust in the closet. You get the gist.
  • Previously useful items – Twin sheets if you updated to a queen. Old dressers, rugs, school supplies now that you finished grad school, children’s books and toys that your kids have outgrown, movies you only needed to see once, books you won’t read again
  • Junk – Cheap plastic toys, company freebies (pens that don’t write well, random balls, etc.), gifts that made you question the gift-giver’s sanity (oh what a nice statue of One Direction. Umm, thanks)

If you don’t absolutely love an item or haven’t used it in the past year, it’s time to let it go. Odds are, you can afford to replace it in the very unlikely event you want to take up rollerblading again. Now the cool part is that someone somewhere would probably be quite happy to have your item. After you’ve pulled aside all unwanted items, divide into four piles: Continue Reading…

5 Vegan Lunch Alternatives to Fast Food That Pack Well and Taste Good

Vegan Lunches That Pack Well

Packing your lunch each day is one of the best ways to save money and eat healthier. Once you get in the groove of packing lunches, it really doesn’t take up much time at all. Many would-be-packers get stuck on (a) what to pack and (b) how to get it to lunchtime looking like something you want to eat. Also, no one has 45 minutes of spare time in the morning to prep their lunch (at least no one I know). These meals can all be thrown together the night before when you are making dinner or even a few days before to get you out the door in the morning.

If you usually hit the salad bar: Mason Jar Salad

Mason jar salads are an easy way to pack and dress a salad on the go. Keep your greens from getting soggy by layering your ingredients in the right order:

  1. Dressing on the bottom — If you don’t have a hard veggie layer, just pack on the side
  2. Hard veggies (diced carrots, cucumber, celery, peppers, etc.)
  3. Beans (black beans, chickpeas, lentils)
  4. Extra firm diced tofu if desired
  5. Softer veggies and fruits (tomatoes, avocado, heart of palm, orange slices, apples)
  6. Salad greens

Keep cold in fridge or lunch box with cool packs. When you are ready to eat, just shake and pour into a bowl to dress the salad. Perfect for commuters without access to a microwave or stove at work/school.

If you are addicted to Chipotle: Rice and Beans with Guac and Veggies

Make some brown rice on the stove or rice maker and toss with lime juice and cilantro. Saute a diced onion and a minced garlic clove or two with some black beans and pack on top. In a separate container, pack guac and fresh veggies to put on top after you heat up the rice and beans at work. If you are really pressed for time, you can use store bought guac and fresh salsa to make it even easier. Rice and beans make the basis for a lot of good meals so you can do when you are making dinner. It’s also easy to make several days servings at once.

If they know your name and order at the Burger Place – Falafel Pita with Hummus and Veggies Continue Reading…

Blondies Have More Fun {Walnut Chocolate Chip Blondie Recipe}

Blondies Have More Fun Vegan Blondie Recipe

Blondies are really the unsung heroes of the dessert world. Their brownie cousins get all the glory but blondies look and taste amazing, are easy to make, serve as a great base for variations, and are surprisingly healthy to boot (for a dessert). This walnut chocolate-chip blondie comes together in just 15 minutes plus bake time. Serve a la mode with vegan ice cream for a truly decadent treat or with coffee for a special breakfast. 

Vegan Blondie

Ingredients:

1/2 c firm silken tofu

1/4 c almond milk

1/3 c extra virgin olive oil

1/4 c brown sugar, loosely packed

1/4 c sugar

1 1/2 c white whole wheat flour

1/2 t baking soda

1/4 t baking powder

1/4 t salt

3/4 c mini chocolate chips

3/4 c walnuts, finely chopped

Recipe: Continue Reading…

Why It’s Time to Start Planning for Next Christmas

Why It's Time to Start Planning for Next Christmas

Another holiday season has passed. By now, you’ve probably packed away the decorations, enjoyed a few days without relatives in your house (note to my relatives: Not you. You are great.), and possibly gotten a nice myocardial infarction from your Amex bill. So now is the perfect time to start planning for the next holiday season!

Wait, say what?

You probably fall into one of two camps:

So much to do!

(This would be me…)

Or:

Not Again Meme

Camp #2, hear me out. Getting started on next Christmas now will make for a much more relaxed, fun, and cheaper (!) holiday season in 2016. Because whether you like it or not…

Last one, really.

Last meme, I promise. 

Reason #1: Save Big on Holiday Decorations

January is the best time to purchase Christmas decorations, cards, holiday themed tableware, and even stocking stuffers. Yes, the selection is more limited if you don’t brave the crowds the day after Christmas but many stores still have a good stock online now with discounts of up to 50% or more.

As you are putting away decorations, take a moment to purge (donate, recycle, or trash) any items that you didn’t use this year or that have reached the end of their lifespan. Consider weeding out duplicates — you can only put one topper on your tree at a time. If you send out Christmas cards, update your list with any new addresses and figure out how many you will need for next year. Make a list of what you need or would like (new LED lights for the tree, 60 boxed Christmas cards, and a mini tree for the hall table, etc.) and hit the store or go online. January is a great time to pick up stocking stuffers like ornaments, holiday socks, and little gift sets at deep discounts.

You’ll get everything for a great price and get to avoid the mayhem (and temptation) of the holiday departments next December. Anything left that you can’t find this year? Leave the list at the top of the first box you’ll unpack next season so that you will know exactly what to get.

Reason #2: Give Awesome Christmas Gifts for Less $$

Make a list of everyone you gave gifts to this year and everyone you should have given gifts to (oops, Great Aunt Sally). I find a Google doc works great for this. It doesn’t have to be fancy – the recipients name, maybe their relation to you (oh, Bill is the postman), a column for gift ideas, and a check box for purchased items. Write in any gifts you already know you want to get. If you have any items you want to regift and you know the recipient will like the item, write it in here, wrap the item and stick it in with your Christmas boxes. Make sure to write in on the list so you won’t forget and duplicate.

Now, look over your list of gift ideas and see if there are any you can knock off for a good price now (White Sales on linens during January or holiday related items on deep discounts) or that you should start making (knitting sweaters takes time). Set a reminder in your calendar to check the list each month so that you can add in any new ideas and pick up items as sales come up (like garden tools at the end of the summer). There may be a couple items you want to wait until Black Friday for (like PS4 bundles) and you can figure out how much to put aside each month to buy them with cash.

It is so nice to have your Christmas shopping done finished on Black Friday. You’ll have time to enjoy pretty wrapped presents under the tree, spread the cost of the gifts over the year, and have time to focus on what matters — family, friends, faith, joy — during the holiday season.

Continue Reading…

10 Vegan Pantry Essentials for Easy Dinner Prep

Vegan Pantry Essentials for Easy Dinner Prep

Cooking at home (one of your New Year’s resolutions perhaps?) is much easier if you are working with a well-stocked pantry. With some fresh or frozen produce added in, it’s easy to pull together dinners on hectic weeknights. Keeping these 10 vegan pantry essentials on hand lets you throw together a variety of meals without running to the grocery or calling for delivery.

Beans and Other Legumes

Dried beans are super budget friendly, nutrient dense, and go well with just about any cuisine. Whip up some Slowcooker Baked Beans, a hearty pot of chili, some homemade hummus — beans and legumes are amazingly versatile. I also like to keep some organic, BPA free pouches or cans of prepared beans on hand for nights when I forgot to pre-soak beans. Chickpeas, lentils, black beans, navy beans, adzuki, black eyed peas, kidney, pinto, great northern, and split peas are some of the varieties I keep on hand. You can often find bags of dried beans on sale for less than $1 a piece!

Nuts

Pecans, walnuts, almonds, and peanuts (technically a legume) will always have a place in my pantry. Keeping raw nuts on hand lets you whip up nut milks or butters, spruce up baked goods like Pecan Chocolate Chip Cookies, add some flavor and healthy fats to dinner recipes, or just enjoy as a healthy snack. Raw nuts are relatively expensive but a little goes a long way. Buying in bulk helps keep the cost down.

Mason jars are great for storing beans, legumes, grains, and pastas.

Mason jars are great for storing beans, legumes, grains, and pastas.

Whole Grains 

Whole grains like barley, buckwheat, farro, millet, quinoa, oats, and rices form the base for a healthy meal. For breakfast, I love oats or quinoa with nuts and fruit. Beans, some kind of green, a grain like farro or barley, and some spicing make a tasty and inexpensive lunch or dinner.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Cold-pressed organic extra virgin olive oil (Kirkland makes one that I like) is the most used oil in my pantry and would be my desert island oil of choice. It’s versatile enough to use in everything from salads to stir fries to baked goods. I also stock avocado, coconut, safflower, sunflower, and toasted sesame oils.

Nutritional Yeast

Nutritional yeast, or “nooch” is how vegans survive without cheese. Nooch is a strain of yeast, typically Saccharomyces Cerevisiae, which is grown on molasses and then heated to deactivate it. Sounds delicious right? It actually is, lending a cheesy flavor and a surprising amount of protein and other nutrients to sauces, casseroles, and other dishes. Try it in our Kale Rice Casserole. Continue Reading…

Old-Fashioned Slow Cooker Baked Beans

Old-Fashioned Vegan Slow Cooker Baked Beans Recipe

Baked beans are one of those comfort foods that are surprisingly healthy, especially with a few tweaks (less sugar, no salt pork). Using your slow cooker let’s you have dinner ready when you are done work, uses less energy than the traditional stove top and oven method, and doesn’t heat up the house on a summer day. Oh, and it smells amazing while it cooks. The beans need to soak awhile so take that into account when starting the recipe. I like to start the beans while making another dinner the day before and have the baked beans for dinner the next day.

Slow Cooker Baked Beans -- Easy, Delicious, and Cheap!

Slow Cooker Baked Beans — Easy, Delicious, and Cheap!

Ingredients:

2 c dried navy beans (or whatever you have on hand), sorted and rinsed

5-6 c water (start with 5 cups and add more if needed)

2 T packed brown sugar

1/4 c molasses

1 t sea salt

1 medium onion, finely diced

2 T organic ketchup

Sauerkraut for serving (optional) Continue Reading…

How to Actually Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions This Year

How to Actually Keep Your New Year's Resolutions

The ball’s dropped, the confetti has been cleaned up, you’ve done your best to banish the glitter that seems to multiply every time you think it’s gone, and you’ve recovered from any celebratory overindulgence. You’ve made your New Year’s resolutions because 2016 is YOUR YEAR and you’re ready to do this. So… now what?

Many well meaning American’s make New Year’s resolutions each year… and abandon them by February. Only 8% (!) of people who make New Year’s resolutions actually succeed. How do you become one of the few, the proud, the resolution keepers? It starts with making a good resolution. Hint: I’m going to get in shape! I’m going to get out of debt! – Not good. Good as concepts, bad as resolutions.

A good resolution is:

  1. Actionable
  2. Obtainable
  3. Motivating

An actionable resolution is one you can take concrete steps to obtain that clearly line up with achieving your resolution. If you want to increase your cardiovascular fitness or lose weight, maybe you can commit to walking after dinner three times a week or hitting a yoga class twice a week. With a good resolution, it is very clear if you are achieving it — if you get your bum to the gym three times a week, you’re doing it. With “I will get in shape” – what does that mean? Will you lose weight? Build muscle? Be able to do 10 perfect push-ups by June 1st? Just get off the couch x number of times a week? Pick one and write it down.

Bad Resolutions: I will get in shape. I save for retirement. I will take time for myself. I will travel more.

Good Resolutions: I will take 30 minute walks three days a week. I will put 5% of my paycheck into my 401k and will increase by 1% every 3 months until I hit 10%. I will wake up at 6:30 each day and spend 30 minutes reading for pleasure (or another activity I enjoy). I will visit the Grand Canyon in September 2016.  Continue Reading…

5 New Year’s Resolutions You’ll Actually Want to Keep (+ Giveaway!)

New Year's Resolutions You'll Actually Want to Keep

Ah, New Year’s Resolutions! The solemn vows of total abstinence from sweets and daily runs up and down the local mountain that seem so right (this is YOUR YEAR!) while you’re kicking back the bubbly on December 31st are suddenly living nightmares when reality kicks in (usually sometime in the first week of January). Turns out life without chocolate is barely worth living and running just isn’t enjoyable in that foot of New England snow that will be here until April. It’s no secret that the vast majority of New Year’s resolutions fail within a matter of weeks or months. However, the birth of a new year is still a great time to make a change for the better in your life. It’s a good mental starting point after the craziness and overindulgence of the holiday season. A good resolution is obtainable and actionable. I.e. I will cook dinner at home 3 times a week NOT I’ll never eat takeout again (too extreme) or I’ll be healthier (too vague).

Happy New Year's from the Vegan Wifey! Cheers!

Happy New Year’s from the Vegan Wifey! Cheers!

Here are five ideas to get you started:

1. Cook at Home

Eating out (or getting carry out) too often is bad for your wallet and your waistline. Knowing what goes into your food and ergo into your body is one of the basic tenants of healthy living. Stock up on fruit, oatmeal, and nuts for a quick breakfast at home. Pack leftovers for lunch instead of spending $10 on a sad looking salad from the corner deli. Keep snacks in your bag (like nuts, apples, oranges, or seaweed snacks) so you don’t get tempted by the vending machine or coffee shop at 3 pm. And finally, make dinner at home. Takeout is almost always  uneconomical, unhealthy, and undelicious. We love doing a meal delivery service a few times a week. It reduces the amount of grocery shopping I have to do and forces us to try new recipes, many of which get modified and worked into our regular dinner rotation.

Meal delivery services are great for several reasons:

  • They arrive at your door, letting you skip the grocery store.
  • Ingredients are preportioned and depending on your local grocery prices (shiitakes are outrageously expensive at our local supermarkets) and whether you would use a larger container of an expensive ingredient (truffle oil comes to mind), can be cost effective. If you would otherwise be ordering takeout, they are definitely cost-effective.
  • Recipes are generally healthy (it depends on the company and what you choose) and can be modified to suit your preferences – less spicy, change up the oil, whatever
  • They’re fun! It’s like having your own sous chef. If you have a little one in the house, getting 20 minutes of time to yourself to make some Instagram worthy food is like a vacation in the kitchen. Even if I don’t love a recipe, I almost always learn something new.

I thought a meal delivery service would be expensive but with all the great deals and referral programs, it hasn’t increased our grocery budget. If you’re not sure, try a discounted week at HomeChef ($30 off your first week when you sign up via our link) or HelloFresh (use our code 947T7A for $40 off your first box) let your tastebuds decide. (If you use my codes, I get credit to spend on my own boxes with HomeChef or HelloFresh. Thank you in advance!)

Good home cooking resolutions: I will cook at home x times a week. I will try one new recipe every two weeks. I will pack my lunch 4 times a week.

2. Learn to Say NO

Saying no let’s you say yes to what really matters. It’s a lifelong process to find the right balance. Sometimes it’s easy. Sometimes it’s hard. It’s worth it. We get conditioned to say yes to the point where it becomes a reflex and not a true answer. Saying no to making 12 dozen Elsa cupcakes for the PTA bake sale let’s you say yes to more time with your munchkins (write a check if you feel guilty). Saying no to that weekly bar night that you’re not really feeling in your life anymore let’s you make space for something new (learning to cook? yoga? time with your SO?) that fits who you are now. You can also say no to activities (ahem hours wasted on youtube/pinterest/buzzfeed/pick-your-poison) that don’t improve your life. Ask yourself:

  • Does this bring me joy?
  • Will I wish I had done this in a week? A year? Five? When I’m eighty-five?
  • Is there another way to achieve this goal?
  • Am I doing this because I think I “should”?

Saying no and yes to the right things is a journey, so remember to make your resolution obtainable and actionable. Examples: I will say no to smartphones at the dinner table and will turn my phone on silent and leave it in the living room. I will commit to no more than 1 PTA project a semester. I will let someone else organize the family Easter party this year.

3. Maximize Your “Easy” Money

We all know (in theory) that decreasing our expenses and/or increasing our income creates more room in our budgets for savings, paying down debt, etc. The problem with this is that if you’ve already done a few rounds of decreasing expenses – cutting cable, no daily mocha-choca-five-dollar-lattes, etc. – you eventually run out of reasonable things to cut without feeling very deprived. And it’s always great if you can ask for a raise or switch jobs for a higher salary but sometimes that’s not in the cards in the immediate future. In the meantime, make it a point this year to increase your other sources of money. I like to save these and use for vacations, padding an emergency fund, extra student loan payments, etc. Some examples:

  • Use credit card rewards to your advantage – one card gives me 3% on gas, another on groceries, and another gives 5% on rotating categories. At no point am I earning less than 1% on any purchase and a year’s worth of purchases can me a couple hundred dollars back for things I was going to buy anyway (gas, food, etc.). This only makes sense if you pay your credits cards in full each month, of course.
  • Take advantage of cash back sites when you shop online. I go through Ebates and probably average $25-50 a quarter in cash back. It really adds up and is free to join. Join here. (I may get credit from Ebates if you join – thank you!)
  • Once a season, unload items you don’t need on Ebay or Craigslist or hold a yearly yard sale. Donate the rest. It’s a bit of a pain but old ipods, clothes in nice condition, books, special edition DVDs, etc. can add up to a pretty penny over the course of a year.
  • Sign up for focus groups. Search “focus groups NEAREST CITY TO YOU” or check Craigslist (use common sense on there) to find groups near you. Many are held online or via phone nowadays and you can earn $25-400+ in only a few hours or at most days.
  • Get a side hustle — teach a dance/karate/soccer class a few nights week, walk dogs, watch children, pick up one shift a week at the local diner.

Continue Reading…