As a bonus of all the amazing people we’ve met in the last four years, my palate has grown immensely. What with food allergies, diabetes, vegetarians, vegans and all manner of eating preferences you must either be willing to try new foods or choose to eat crap from a McDonald’s drive thru on the way to the event.
We’ve tasted a long list of new foods, most delicious but some not. One particular day in February, I had my first cucumber sandwich, my first artichoke dish and my first ever Ethiopian restaurant. My favorite? The Ethiopian cuisine, and along-side it, the Ethiopian honey wine (mead). Thanks to Mia, John, Thomas and Andrea for the experience!
When hosting or attending pot-lucks, I typically feel the need to bring dishes that most, if not all, can enjoy. Because of this I’ve done a lot of experimentation with vegan/vegetarian cooking. Some dishes have been utter failures and some have been successes. Luckily, I’m not alone in this quest since those friends are eager to share what they’ve learned over the years. Whether tips, tricks, products, or explanation of concepts, I eagerly try to absorb all they say.
One of the biggest surprises? Marshmallows aren’t vegetarian because they contain gelatin. Oops! You can make or buy vegan/vegetarian marshmallows, but you have to work hard to find them or make them. I’ve decided it’s just not worth it for the only things I use marshmallows for: Rice Krispie treats and dipping in the chocolate fountain.
Another surprise was that granulated and brown sugar are not always vegetarian. Sugar cane is frequently processed with bone char to remove color. Artificial sweetners (Splenda and the like) are also off limits because of the animal testing that was done to get them to market. That leaves some raw sugars and agave nectar. I’m finding that converting existing dessert dishes is problematic, especially since my cheesecakes are a big part of my repertoire. I’m mainly trying new recipes that already call for these ingredients, and have found great success there.
And while I know there is controversy, I use meat substitutes when I cook vegetarian. I have to. My husband doesn’t eat beans of any kind, and I have to get more protein in the dish somehow. I only use the ones I think are tasty, and only in ways that I think are flavorful. Thanks again to friends guiding me to the better products and how to best use them.
There are breast cancer risk concerns about having too much soy, but we don’t eat soy meat substitutes more than maybe twice a week.
If I’m cooking vegan or vegetarian and my husband isn’t going to be there, I happily use beans. He dislikes them intensely and will not eat them because of an allergic type reaction. Growing up, I had beans a few times a week, so this has been a big sacrifice. I miss beans in some family favorite recipes, but I still get them a few times a week.
- Earth’s Balance as a butter substitute. For years I used Smart Balance, but thanks to Andrea Gideon I now use EB instead as a spread and in cooking/baking. It has a truer butter flavor, even in pralines! You heard me, pralines!
- Paulette Jaxton introduced me to Field Roast brand sausage substitutes. The Italian variety tastes better than any other Italian sausage I’ve ever had, possibly because there are no weird hard chunks that make me wonder what part of what animal it came from. They also offer an apple sage and chipotle variety that I have yet to try.
- Fake meat crumbles, again thanks to Paulette – Morningstar crumbles are great in spaghetti/nacho cheese/soups. They break down more than ground meats, so you won’t keep that chunky texture. But you will add low fat protein, and it absorbs flavors wonderfully.
- Gardenburger’s black bean/chipotle patties are seriously tasty. When I need to eat something quickly, this is what I reach for. A patty on a whole wheat sandwich round is filling and delicious, especially topped with romaine or spinach and salsa. It also packs a nice protein/fiber and nutrient-rich punch.
- Beans – Black and Pinto are my favorites. Both are loaded with antioxidants on top of protein and fiber. I use them when eating alone at home. I typically toss them into a salad or season them chili powder and cumin as a meat replacement in Mexican food.
- Egg replacer – Ener-G is the one that I keep seeing referenced. Of the two baked dishes I’ve made, one turned out great and the other was disgusting (family brownie recipe) and tossed out. I’ll continue experimenting, but only at home.
- Thanks to Keith and Jenn of Ditched by Kate, I’m now a huge fan of Maple Agave Nectar. It’s a delicious and much healthier replacement for traditional maple syrup. I’m also converting us from Splenda to Agave, once and for all. I think it’s worth the modest calorie increase to alleviate concerns about dangerous risks when using sugar substitutes.
For ourselves, I’m finding that we have about 3 “meatless” nights a week now, and we’re eating far more chicken and turkey than beef these days. The overall result is that we’re eating healthier and I’m feeling better. While I still enjoy meat, I’m finding that I’m tipping ever closer to vegetarian living. I’ve never liked fish, no longer eat pork, and won’t eat anything on the bone or resembling what it came from. I buy boneless/skinless chicken breast ONLY and never look directly at the Thanksgiving turkey that I don’t cook. And how I love those little packages in the meat section, I can almost pretend that it’s not from an animal that way! I even have to be careful of seeing others as they chow down on things like shrimp, drumsticks, mussels (thanks Chooch) and the like, or I’ll lose my appetite. I’m just one bad experience away from being a full-on vegetarian, I think.
It will be interesting to see how my sons react to our increasingly different menu items, as only a few of the regulars they are used to remain and have typically been altered somehow. Naughty Bear experienced a wide variety of choices this weekend, but I don’t know how much he actually tried of the vegan/vegetarian variety.
Although, if I were to go vegan, I’m pretty sure Chooch would sacrifice me to his love of cheese, and I just can’t risk that. I’m pretty sure our unconditional love would suddenly have a condition attached. But I love my mouse!