Finding Inspiration and Admitting I’m a Cheater!

June 18, 2012 § 3 Comments

I’m glad it is Monday, June 18. It means Sunday, June 17 has come and gone. So, I think it is time we focus on something positive!

I’ve recieved some really touching, lovely notes, emails, calls, and visits the past 45 days. While all the love and support has meant more than anyone can imagine, the ones that have really made me smile are those that told me I’ve inspired them…

My dad lived an amazing life. He had this ability to walk into a room and convince anyone to believe in his dreams. He was the epitome of a charismatic salesman. He knew what he believed in and he sold it well. I on the other hand have never really felt like I’ve had this quality. I used to be an artist. Weeks were spent creating fine pieces of art that were meant to move people. Make them feel something. But I often felt as thought I fell short. I went into business, and while I can sell my case, it isn’t like my dad. He was a natural.

So you can understand why I got so excited when a few people wrote to me that they are thinking of trying veganism in part due to me and this blog! My mission in life is not to convert everyone (OK, I may be fibbing here as with every day that passes, that is really what I want to do) – but I do want to show people that it isn’t necessarily that hard to be vegan. Vegans are often viewed as hippies that seem to do the impossible and have to eat food without flavor. I don’t care if I convince you to be vegan. But I do care that I do my part for the community in showing that this is not the case. Let’s debunk some myths:

  • Vegan food has NO flavor. This couldn’t be further from the truth! When I first became vegan, I’ll admit I worried about this very thing. But really, if you think about it, non-vegan food doesn’t always get its flavor from the meat or cheese it uses to create it. I was predominantly a chicken eater before going vegan. Come to think about it, chicken really doesn’t have good flavor on its own. You’ve got to give it a lot of seasoning, add some delicious sauce, and then its got good flavor. So then, why can’t you give this same flavor to veggies, beans, and grains? Just because you’re entering a world without bacon or beef doesn’t mean it has to be devoid of flavor. I can promise you this vegan chili, raw zucchini pasta (don’t let the raw part fool you), curry spiced sweet potato soup, and spaghetti squash pasta are all absolutely bursting with flavor – this is the type of vegan diet I enjoy 🙂
tomatoes and chickpeas with zucchini noodles
Get this zucchini noodle recipe here.
  • I just CAN’T give up meat or cheese.  OK let’s just get one thing out of the way. Yes, bacon is absolutely amazing. It is crispy, smokey, and straight up delicious. I’m not going to argue with you on that one. Now that we’ve settled that, I don’t eat bacon because a) I know animal foods lead to a higher chance of disease, and b) pigs are highly emotional beings – they feel the need to be loved and seek community. So, now that we agree on the fact that bacon is delicious, but I chose not to eat it, I want you to know that you can choose the same thing if you want. Most people are worried about variety. It’s not that they are that worried about never having one thing again. I was really nervous about going vegan – how would I find variety in my diet? Well, I did my 30 day vegan challenge, and I can honestly say after 30 days, it didn’t bother me anymore to not eat meat, eggs, or dairy. Don’t get me wrong, the first few weeks are brutal. There’s no denying that. But after 30 days it really is no biggie. You Catholics out there will recognize this. I used to give up chocolate for Lent. At the beginning it seemed impossible. By day 30, I wasn’t even craving the chocolate. Your body is pretty unbelievable. It can retrain itself in no time. You just need to give yourself a little nudge.
vegan, vegetarian, dairy free
Get this hearty vegan chili recipe here.
  • I just CAN’T live the rest of my life without ever having (insert item here) again. When I first went vegan, I was really nervous about my favorite food – cheese pizza. How on earth was I going to give it up?? Well, luckily for me, cheese pizza didn’t turn out to be a problem. Believe it or not, I haven’t missed it yet after almost a year. What’s turned out to be harder for me is fish. If I’m out at a super nice restaurant and there’s some fresh caught fish that sends my mind into foodie dreamland and I can’t possibly come back to planet earth without eating it – I order the fish. Yes people, I’m a cheater (GASP!!!). It’s taken me a while to come to terms with this as the vegan community can be seen as an all or nothing one. For me, it is about moderation. I cheat usually once a month or so and that’s how I keep my sanity. The way I look at it, if I eat 89 vegan meals out of 90 for the month and cheat at one meal, that ain’t so bad. So, I’m here to tell you, it is ok to cheat. This is about making positive changes for you, animals, and the environment. If never having a slice of cheese pizza or the aforementioned crispy bacon is enough to send you over the edge, then go ahead, allow yourself to cheat once in a while. You just need to watch your stomach and make sure you don’t overdue it.

So, I hope this has inspired you to realize that you CAN find flavorful vegan food, CAN live without the things you think you can’t, and CAN cheat occasionally if that convinces you to give this a try (don’t worry I won’t judge or tell!).

I hope this has made the thought of trying veganism more attainable and easy. Stay tuned for a post on tricks for newbie vegans!


To Vegan Or Not To Vegan – End of 30 Day Challenge

August 2, 2011 § 19 Comments

Well I officially did it! I successfully completed my 30 day vegan challenge. I’m actually quite shocked I made it through. There were so many times I wanted to crack, but I didn’t. What did the challenge do for me? Well, I wanted to lose weight – bingo, 5+ pounds lost. I may have actually lost closer to 7 but I didn’t write down my original weight so can’t really remember the exact number. But I can tell you all my clothes are falling down. I tried new food groups and opened my horizons. I’m a notoriously picky eater and I ordered so many things out in restaurants I never would have tried before. Now, you’re supposed to get tons of energy on this diet – did that happen for me? Well, I wouldn’t jump to say tons but definitely a good amount is fair. Overall I feel pretty good.

The only question is: what now? Do I remain a vegan, or go back to the way things were? Well, I haven’t quite decided that yet. For now, until I figure it out, I’m going to stick to my vegan challenge.

So if you’re thinking of undertaking a vegan challenge, here’s 10 secrets to help you make it through.

10 secrets to a successful vegan challenge:

  1. Know your reason know why you are doing this. I didn’t really have a good reason and everyone will ask you why you’re doing it – your mom, friends, strangers, and everyone will tell you that you’re not getting enough calcium or meat. It’s easier to keep going strong when you get these answers sorted out from the beginning.
  2. Stock up – Keep your kitchen and your bag well stocked with fresh fruits and veggies. The more fresh produce you have on hand the less likely you are to be tempted to fill up on junk food or crack under pressure. Don’t forget fresh herbs and spices – they go a long way and mean the difference between blah and great food. Also, be ready to have a few favorite things on hand at all times for when you’ve got cravings or are wanting to give up. My go to items were chips and salsa, roasted red pepper hummus, and dark chocolate coated almonds.
  3. Find your vegan friendly alternatives – Simple things like coffee creamer go a long way and keep you from longing for your comforts, one of mine being coffee. Almost anything you love probably has a vegan alternative (OK, besides meat) – I found coconut milk creamer and ice cream that I love as much if not more than the real deal. Start reading labels and you will find there is more out there that’s vegan friendly than you realize.
  4. Try new foods – I tried so many new things on this challenge. I’m ordering mushrooms, beets and eggplant while out – that’s a first! I cooked up kale and purple sweet potatoes and loved them both.
  5. Get creative and be open – Dying for pizza? Order or make one with vegan friendly crust, great toppings and skip the cheese – its good! Making a creamy soup? Add roasted cauliflower instead of cream.
  6. Ask for help and beware of ingredients – When eating out ask the Chef – they will usually come up with something special that is not even on the menu. Don’t be afraid to ask what’s in a dish, you’ll be surprised at what can be made vegan with just one switch – or what has animal by-products in it that you wouldn’t have guessed. There’s usually more vegan options than you realize at first glance.
  7. Avoid being a carbivore – It’s so easy to rely on pasta during this challenge. There are times when you just get hungry. But try and stay on top of snacks and lots of fresh produce to avoid going overboard with the carbs.
  8. Find your resources – I could not have eaten out without this handy site – I pretty much referenced it every single time I ate out at a chain restaurant. My favorite go to items which I love vegan or not are a veggie bowl at Chipotle with rice, black beans, fajita peppers, tomato, and corn and the Mediterranean Veggie Sandwich at Panera without feta.
  9. Don’t be too hard on yourself – Take your challenge seriously but at the same time be realistic. There may be times you cheat by accident or have no option. Realize the big change you’re making. Real vegans cut out all animal by-products which can include enzymes and all sorts of crazy things you’ve never even thought about. As you get started stick to avoiding the basics: meat, seafood, stocks, eggs, and dairy. If you slip, don’t beat yourself up too hard. Just give it your best effort.
  10. Share the challenge publicly – Share publicly and commit to the challenge or at least have one person to hold you accountable. There were many times I wanted to quit but this blog kept me going – even though I knew not many were reading it, just the fact it was out there I didn’t want to fail.

I think this 30 day vegan challenge brought great things for me – it opened my mind and palate. I’d encourage anyone to give it a try to feel healthier, try new things, or at least just sympathize with the vegans living in a mostly non-vegan world!

(All photos in this post are from a delicious meal I enjoyed at Harth at the Hilton McLean, thanks to asking the Chef for some vegan friendly options)

Update: See my post on five easy ways to reduce your dairy consumption

Is A Creamy Vegan Soup Possible? – Vegan Corn Chowder

July 30, 2011 § 10 Comments

I love making soups. They are usually super easy to put together and you rarely need to follow a recipe. Soups are perfect too for using the last bits of leftover vegetables in the fridge. I’m not sure why, but I’ve really been on a corn kick latley. I’ve wanted to put it in everything: salads, tacos, everything, and I’ve been thinking of this chowder for a while. This chowder is inspired by a shrimp and corn chowder I make a lot and learned from my mom. I love how silky and rich it is – it’s perfectly comforting – but calls for all sorts of non-vegan ingredients like cream and seafood so I figured I wouldn’t get to have it anytime soon. But, I figured out a way!

Doesn’t that chowder look all creamy and silky? You’re thinking surely there is at least a touch of cream in there – nope, not a drop! What’s the secret to that rich creamy base? Roasted cauliflower! And what’s best about this soup – not only does it not have any cream – but it doesn’t leave you with that heavy feeling a traditional chowder does.

As I said the beauty of this soup and any soup really is that there are no rules. If you don’t have one of these ingredients handy or want to switch it up, go for it. Experiment and see what it gives you. Soups are very forgiving – it’s really hard to mess them up. The key is seasoning. That’s really the only way to mess up a soup.

As I said the secret to this creamy delicious soup is the roasted cauliflower. You could do this the day before to speed up this easy weeknight dinner. Roast with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper at 425 until tender and the cauliflower has a little color.

This chowder starts with the traditional onion, celery, carrot base. Saute the onions until translucent in some olive oil then add the celery and carrots. I happened to have shredded carrots in my fridge which worked great here. Since you end up blending everything together it doesn’t matter. I love adding peppers to all my soups – and really just about anything. Sometimes I’ll do a duo of red and yellow but for this soup I just used a red pepper. If you wanted a little heat you could definitely add some jalapeno but I’d wait until later in the cooking. Then add the diced potatoes, roasted cauliflower, and season with a little salt and pepper.

b nbvcx

Next add the stock. To keep it vegan, I used vegetable stock but if you’re not eating vegan you could use chicken stock which will give it great flavor. I actually only had one 32 oz. package of stock which I knew wasn’t enough to cover all the ingredients. I was a little nervous to add another 32 oz. of water but it still had fantastic flavor. I threw in a bay leaf and generous amount of salt and pepper to season.

While the soup simmers, prep the corn. Set the cut corn aside. You simmer the soup just long enough to ensure the potatoes are fully cooked through. Once the potatoes are cooked, the soup is ready for blending. I used an immersion blender which is so easy and takes just minutes to blend this into that beautiful creamy base. If you don’t have an immersion blender you can easily use a regular blender. Now, before blending you want to remove the bay leaf like the pros always caution. But don’t worry, if you don’t, I learned it blends nicely. I forgot to remove it and didn’t even notice.

Once the soup is blended smooth, add the cut corn and let it heat through for a few minutes. Taste test and season with more salt and pepper as needed. I promise you’ll be licking the bowl clean!

Update: See my posts on five tips for reducing dairy intake and 10 tips for a 30-day vegan challenge.

Vegan Corn Chowder
Serves about 8 bowls


  • 1 head cauliflower
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 4 celery stalks
  • 4 carrots (can use shredded as I did)
  • 1 red pepper
  • 6 small potatoes (red or new)
  • 2 32-oz. cartons vegetable stock
  • 4 ears corn
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt and pepper


  1. Cut up head of cauliflower into small florets. Coat well with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast at 425 until tender.
  2. Dice onion, celery, carrots, and red pepper. Heat oil in a large stock pot over medium heat and saute onions until translucent. Add celery and carrots and saute a few minutes, then add the pepper. Season with a little salt and pepper.
  3. Dice the potatoes and add to the mixture. Add enough stock to cover the vegetables. Add the bay leaf and season generously with salt and pepper.
  4. While the potatoes cook through, cut and prep the corn. Once the potatoes are cooked through, remove the bay leaf and then blend the soup until smooth. Add the corn to the blended soup. Taste for final seasonings.

Traveling Vegan

July 22, 2011 § 4 Comments

Well this week was the ultimate test to my 30 day vegan challenge. I lucked out and had no travel since starting this so I had pretty good control over my food options. Traveling is whole different story though. No refrigerator stocked full of fruits and veggies, no coconut milk creamer to cut the black coffee, no vegan ice cream to satisfy sweet cravings…but in the end it all worked out well – in fact, it worked out great. I had no shortage of food this week. Granted it all wasn’t super healthy but for being a vegan on the road I fared quite well.

In the mornings I was able to have oatmeal with fruit. The black coffee wasn’t the easiest but it was better than the alternative – falling asleep during my presentations. I brought my team a delicious cake full of yummy frosting and resisted taking even a single bite. They assured me no one would know and tried their hardest to get me to celebrate with them but I held strong.

For lunches I fared well too. I was able to snag some veggie enchiladas without cheese at a really good Mexican joint. I got the Mediterranean Veggie sandwich at Panera without feta which is so good and I get all the time even off this diet. And yesterday surprisingly at the airport no less I managed to eat quite well at Friday’s with a new fruity salad loaded with mango, avocado, and peppers.

Dinners were even more exciting! I was especially nervous about this as I knew I’d be with a group and didn’t want to be a complete pain. But there was no need for worrying as both places had great options.

The first night we went to a little Colombian restaurant. Luckily they had a vegetarian plate full of plantains, yucca, rice, beans, and arepas. Now, this was probably a starch overload but it was good! I didn’t touch the beans as I wasn’t confident they were free of chicken stock so I focused on everything else. The delicious salsas they served on the side made everything exciting.

The last night we went to this awesome little restaurant, Dive Coastal Cuisine. It was soooo good and cute! I definitely will return there after my challenge. But in the mean time there was so much for a vegan to choose I could barely decide. We started with delicious dips – I was able to partake in the white bean hummus and tomoto garlic ones. I had a veggie wrap for my entrée which came with a fabulous pesto that gave it tons of added flavor. And there was an amazing coconut rice that I could barely resist. Given my starch intake in the last few days though I limited it to just a few bites.

So there you have it, success as a traveling vegan. Who knew.

Update: See how my 30-day vegan challenge ended and see how I’ve done traveling since then. 

End of Week Two and More New Ingredients – Kale and Purple Sweet Potatoes

July 17, 2011 § 1 Comment

Ingredient discovery continued this week as I ended the second week of my 30 day vegan challenge. (Update: See how I did with my challenge here.) I ordered from a local organic delivery service for the first time in an attempt to save time and get more organic produce. While I appreciated the ease of ordering and having fresh produce awaiting my arrival at my door, I realized I really am a grocery shopper. I enjoy perusing the lanes and looking for the freshest produce, smelling it, feeling it, and thinking about what I’ll be cooking that week based on what’s there. So, I’m not sure I’ll keep this as a weekly service, but it’s pretty nice during weeks I have to travel to have fresh produce waiting for me at home.

One thing I can tell you – I never would have picked up these two items which arrived at my door with this service: kale and purple sweet potatoes. Both of them appeared unattractive (in my opinion) and well, not so yummy. But boy was I wrong. Both turned out to be winners – not only very attractive, dare I say even beautiful, but delicious and satisfying.

If you’re like me and you’ve never eaten kale, it can be a bit intimidating. The leaves are really rough and almost have the texture of crazy thick curly parsley. Just looking at it you can tell its chock full of vitamins and nutrients but it doesn’t look like it will be delicious. Kale is sometimes compared to spinach but there was nothing tender about these leaves. While I had read that you can eat the stems, that was just being too adventurous for me. I was already going for the leaves, so I left the stems out of the party.

I decided to cook the kale with pasta. I figured that was the best way to ease into it as straight on kale might be a bit much for a first try. I had some grape tomatoes on hand as I usually do and I sauteed it with lots of garlic and some crushed red pepper and capers to give it a kick. Luis was skeptical as I cut the leaves free of their stems and I have to admit I was a bit scared to dump it into my beautiful sauce I had cooking, but boy was it good. The resulting pasta was really delicious and the greens absorbed all the strong flavors of the pan, making the bites of pasta with kale the best tasting ones! This pasta was so easy to make and extremely satisfying. We both went back for seconds and there was barely any left for leftovers…always a good sign.

To make the pasta, slice the garlic, onions, and tomatoes. Fully wash the kale and remove the stems, cutting the leaves into strips. While the water boils, saute the onions in olive oil until tender. Then add the tomatoes for a few minutes and then the capers, red pepper flakes, and garlic.

Once the tomatoes are almost fully soft, add the kale. I let it steam on top of the tomato mixture first before folding in the leaves. They’ll fill the full pan but like spinach they will wilt down quickly.

Keep turning them in the tomato mixture until they are fully wilted and a bright emerald green. Seriously is that not the prettiest color combo above?Gorgeous green and bright red.

Once done, toss in the pasta and enjoy!

Just as the kale was pretty intimidating at first glance, the purple sweet potatoes didn’t look so appealing either. Reminder: beauty isn’t on the outside. Goes for people and veggies as it turns out.

Once you peel away those somewhat scary looking skins – behold the most beautiful purple ever. Seriously, this may be the most beautiful vegetable I’ve ever seen, or eaten. Nature tricks us once again as we think it can’t get more beautiful than that – and you cook these babies and they turn lighter, brighter, almost the color of amethyst. I don’t know if I had more fun prepping and cooking these to discover their changing colors or eating them. The taste did not disappoint!

I knew I wanted to make them Friday night for dinner but wasn’t sure what to make. I also had eggplant arrive in my delivery. As you may recall, I’m not a fan of eggplant. In a desperate attempt to turn this around I started googling “delicious recipes for eggplant haters” -while the search returned a number of results, apparently there’s a lot of eggplant haters out there, they all included vegan no no’s like loads of cheese or other dairy products. I went out on a limb and decided to make a vegan vegetable tempura with the eggplant and purple sweet potatoes. Mind you, this was last night, after a long work day, so Luis arrived home to see me cutting the eggplant and scary looking potatoes and wasn’t so excited. I had faith though – after my successful adventures with kale, I thought it would be OK.

I found some vegan tempura batters and settled on one that just called for flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. The resulting tempura were really delicious – and the batter almost had a sweet pancake flavor wrapping the veggies. Success – I liked the eggplant! And those purple sweet potatoes were so yummy. I’ll definitely be experimenting more with this ingredient in the future. As far as the eggplant goes, I’m not convinced I’ll like it any way other than fried. Now I know fried food isn’t really what veganism is all about, but come on, I’ve had enough salads in the past two weeks so I got a little restless. Also, I can assure you the pictures don’t do it any justice.

Garlicky Kale and Tomato Pasta


  • Whole wheat penne pasta – you can use any pasta you like, I wanted to ensure protein in this meatless pasta
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 3 garlic cloves – the garlic cloves I had were huge so this was probably closer to 6 normal sized cloves which produces a strong garlic flavor, just use less if you don’t like a strong garlic flavor
  • One big bunch of kale – I used what was delivered and I think totaled about 10 large leaves.
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Cook pasta in boiled salted water.
  2. Slice onion, garlic and tomatoes. Clean kale and remove stems. Slice leaves thinly into strips.
  3. Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. This is the base of your sauce so you want enough to coat the pasta and vegetables. Add onions and saute several minutes until soft. Add tomatoes, garlic, capers, and red pepper flakes stirring frequently so garlic doesn’t burn. Cook until tomatoes are almost soft.
  4. Layer kale leaves over tomato mixture and let steam for a minute or two. Add salt and pepper to taste. Begin to stir and fold the tomato mixture over the leaves. Cook until all leaves are wilted and cooked through.
  5. Add cooked pasta to the vegetable mix. Stir until the pasta is coated and add extra olive oil if needed.

Vegan Vegetable Tempura

If you try this recipe, I served it with soy sauce which was a bit too strong. It needs a light tempura sauce which I just didn’t have the ingredients on hand to make.


  • Desired vegetables – I used eggplant and purple sweet potatoes
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup chilled water
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil plus more for frying


  1. Mix flour, salt, sugar, and baking powder together. Slowly add oil and water and mix until smooth. Chill for 15 minutes.
  2. Cut vegetables into uniform slices.
  3. Heat oil in large fry pan over medium – high heat. Dip vegetables into batter one by one and then add to oil, frying several at a time.


Fiesta Corn Salad with Cumin Lime Dressing

July 12, 2011 § 5 Comments

I’ve been on a recent kick of eating raw corn. That’s right – uncooked corn. Sounds kind of strange, doesn’t it. I’m an avid corn lover. Anything with corn and I’m game. Mmmmm…I’d like some creamy corn chowder right about now – yummy! Might have to find a vegan version. (Update: check out the vegan corn chowder recipe I came up with.)

So with my love for corn it’s amazing that I’ve never even thought to try it raw. But it’s so easy to cut off the cob and is surprisingly sweet and of course crisp. Now, while I love my corn, I don’t love black beans. But I’m trying to like them more with this vegan challenge. I’ve added them to my veggie bowl at Chipotle and have learned one scoop is good – two scoops, too black beany. I can enjoy a sprinkling of beans throughout my food but not a whole bundle.

I put together this salad recently for lunch and enjoyed it with some whole grain tortilla chips. Smokey cumin, sweet corn, crisp cucumbers, spicy jalapeno – everything in here works so nicely together. You could serve it as a salad or a salsa. If serving with tortilla chips just watch how much salt you add as the chip will add a lot of salt. I’ve also been adding crunched up pita chips in my salads recently which is really good and would be great here.

To make just chop up whatever veggies you’d like to include. I added red bell pepper, cucumber, scallions, and jalapeno. Red onion would work nicely in place of scallions. I didn’t have tomatoes on hand but they’d also be great here. For the vinaigrette mix olive oil, lime juice, cumin, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss and enjoy! As with many salads like this – it’s even better the next day.

Fiesta Corn Salad with Cumin Lime Dressing


  • 4 ears corn
  • 1 cup black beans
  • 1/2 red bell pepper
  • 1/2 cucumber
  • 4 scallions
  • 1 jalapeno
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 lime
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • salt
  • pepper
  • tortilla chips or pita chips to serve if desired


  1. Rinse beans and set aside. Clean and cut corn from cob. Dice veggies.
  2. Whisk olive oil, lime juice, cumin, salt, and pepper. Toss in a bowl with beans, corn, and remaining veggies.


Explorations in Flavor and Cooking – End of Week One

July 10, 2011 § 3 Comments

Last night at midnight I’d officially made it through the first week of my 30 day vegan challenge. As I wrote in my last post (on day 4!) it’s been challenging to say the least. I’m starting to get the hang of it, filling up on lots of fresh veggies and fruit, but man is it tough. Not to mention that I’ve just been hungry a lot! There were several times this week that I really thought – I’m going to have to quit. Luckily, or unluckily depending on how you look at it, I documented it here so I felt quitting would be, well losing I guess. I’ve never been known to be one to hold back on indulgences – I enjoy my desserts, pasta, wine, all in all just good food. This has kind of become a self control challenge – let’s see what I can do. And, while I’m testing my self control, I’m trying new flavors – good and bad.

It’s so easy to get stuck in a routine of making the same thing over and over – or even just ordering the same things when you go out. We all have our go to recipes that provide us quick comfort on week night ensuring a good meal. In the age of multi-tasking, it can be hard to find the time to try something new. My go-to recipes all include meat, seafood, or dairy, so I’ve been starting fresh over the past 7 days. My adventures in cooking this week: quinoa and eggplant.

I’ve seen lots of recipes with quinoa that look great but had never made it before. I actually was really overzealous and bought a package at Costco I think two years ago thinking I’d get healthy and it just sat in the pantry until it expired. I don’t know how to describe quinoa – it’s a grain that is like a tiny little pearl. Once cooked its quite light and fluffy. It’s known for it’s “delicious” nutty taste. I for one, didn’t think it was so delicious. To me it just tasted like health food – and not good health food. I had made a veggie stir fry and served it over the plain quinoa. I’d cooked the veggies with coconut oil which is healthier than olive oil, but man was it plain. It needed a spicy sauce or something. The picture above looks much more appetizing than it was. That was the night I almost quit – I could barely take it.

But the next day I decided to try it out again as I had some cooked quinoa leftover and I made what turned out to be a very good Greek quinoa salad. The key, I learned, was the dressing. The red wine vinegar was acidic enough to counter balance the quinoa flavor – providing a nice salad with some added protein and texture.

To make the salad, rinse and cook the quinoa according to the package instructions. Add diced and seeded cucumbers, scallions or red onion, red pepper, and black or kalamata olives. I didn’t have tomatoes on hand but they’d certainly be a great addition. The dressing is two parts olive oil and one part red wine vinegar with a generous portion of dried oregano. The result – a quinoa salad I can enjoy and feel satisfied from!

The cooking adventures continued Friday night with a homemade marinara sauce made of tomato, roasted eggplant, peppers, and garlic. I’ve never made eggplant. Clarification: I’ve never purchased or ordered eggplant. There is nothing about eggplant that appeals to me – except it’s beautiful purple skin, which I do have to admit, is quite special. This eggplant avoidance comes directly from my mom. She hates the thing after many years of eggplant parmesan on Friday nights when Catholics still observed meatless Fridays. So needless to say, we never had eggplant in our house.

I recently saw Rachel Ray make this marinara and figured anything with roasted peppers and garlic has to be good right?  The kitchen smelled amazing with the vegetables and garlic roasting away. Even my husband couldn’t wait for his meatless dinner to be ready. As I pulled each item from the oven, the fragrance intensified and my stomach churned. This was going to be gooooood! I had full confidence in Rachel’s testament that this was in fact the best marinara ever. Or not…

I plated that gorgeous pasta, pouring extra sauce full of all those veggies over the top and sat proudly to eat it. I took a bite and — nada. It tasted, well, I don’t quite know how to describe but kind of just like some plain ‘ol marinara from a nondescript jar. No depth. No complexity of flavors. This sauce had a whole head of roasted garlic in it I may add – and still nothing? Rachel was a bit too sure of her testament – or what it may have been is that I still just don’t like eggplant. Last night as I recounted the story to our friends and they had ordered babaganoush. To confirm this like or dislike of eggplant I tried it and yup – no me gusta. So perhaps the eggplant flavor killed it for me.

So, I know I haven’t made a sale of this by any stretch – but if you like eggplant, you might like this recipe. I did have the leftovers today for lunch and doctored it up a bit and it was much better. I sautéed some garlic and crushed red pepper in oil and then mixed in the pasta – the extra heat and spice gave it the kick it needed. If you do try it, I’d suggest just using canned roasted red peppers. I don’t have a gas grille and trying to roast them under the broiler was a pain. I think I’ll try it again but just leave out the eggplant and see how that changes it.

So, we’ve had some successes and failures this week in the kitchen. In the end though I got to end my week on a high note. We went to Ceviche with friends before a fabulous concert. I’d recommended Ceviche as it’s right across from the arena and is one of our favorite restaurants. But as my husband pointed out – “what on earth are you going to eat?” As he says, before I was picky, now I’m just plain difficult.

So what did I eat at a restaurant full of meaty and seafood delights? I ordered my usual aceitunas y pimintos – marinated olives and peppers to start as I mused over the menu. As I’ve learned in just a few weeks, there’s only a handful of vegan options at any restaurant. I decided upon the gazpacho, arroz con pimientos, and champinones al ajillo which I confirmed all complied with a vegan diet. The gazpacho arrived and the beautiful pink color had to mean one thing – cream. There was no way that soup didn’t have dairy. I confirmed with the waiter and yes, they add cream. Interesting for a gazpacho as I’ve never had it that way. We switched the creamy gazpacho for a house salad, which I finished without a second thought. Whatever is in their vinaigrette is amazing. The arroz con pimientos – saffron rice with peppers – was so flavorful I’m not entirely convinced it was vegan. I’m guessing it had to have seafood or chicken stock in it. I confess to eating every last grain and everyone at the table reassured me saying they were pretty sure it was vegan friendly – I think they may have just been trying to be nice.

Now for the champinones al ajillo – these are sautéed mushrooms in garlic oil and finished with a sherry flambé. If you’re following along, you know I don’t like mushrooms. At all actually. So the fact that I’ve now eaten mushrooms twice in one week is pretty big. There was something spicy in it that I couldn’t figure out what it was, but must have been some red pepper flakes infused in the oil. The combination of sweet sherry and spicy, garlicky oil was amazing. I think I’m starting to like mushrooms – that’s good.

For me, this meal was success. I was worried about eating there and being tempted, wanting everything else on the table than what sat before me but I wasn’t. I thoroughly enjoyed my meal and the best part was I didn’t leave with that overstuffed feeling I usually have when I eat there. Instead, I felt content and happy.

I wonder what this week will have in store for me! On to week two…

Update: Check out how I did with my 30-day vegan challenge and read my recap here.

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