SUBSTITUTE TEACHING.

Yesterday I had a lovely morning in the Wise Bean cafe (ahem, see yesterday’s HEART OF STEELcity post!) with my buddies, and one friend that recently lost a bunch of weight by following a very specific weight loss program said she’d like to try using dairy substitutes when she starts eating “real food” again. She’s not vegan or vegetarian, but has found that the way her body feels and reacts to her eating dairy is, well, negative.

That got me thinking about today’s post. Once I said the blatantly obvious, “Low fat soymilk!”, I had a flood of other simple switches for healthier, animal-free (and thus, entirely cholesterol-free) alternatives for cooking.

For a CREAMY texture: Try nuts, like raw cashews – but be wary of added fat if you are looking to lose weight. Great Northern beans (white beans) also have a very mild, almost neutral flavor that help to thicken soups when pureed. And of course, silken tofu.

If you aren’t familiar with different kinds of tofu, silken tofu is sold off the shelf in an aseptic box as it doesn’t need to be refrigerated. If you’re making a soup, sauce, or salad dressing the “soft” kind will thicken it and also add protein. It’s neutral in taste, so you get all the creamy texture you want without any fat of a heavy cream! For things like desserts or pies, try “firm” or “extra firm”.

Healthy/Healthier Sandwich CONDIMENTS: Fat is tasty. It just is. That’s why so many people like mayonnaise – it’s just oil and raw eggs  whipped together. (Sorry to freak you out if you didn’t already know that!) If you want to keep the fatty, creamy mayo taste and feel, consider switching to Vegenaise. This stuff is freaking delicious. Even people that don’t like mayo love it! It’s not exactly low-fat, but it’s free of dairy, eggs, refined sweeteners, etc… It is sold in the refrigerated section of the “health food” department at your local store.

Other great options for sandwiches and veggie burgers are: hummus, something you buy pre-made or make your own with hummus-style spread by blending beans of your choice with garlic, onion, herbs, or spices. You can also make a homemade pesto-type spread with herbs or green veggies blended with nuts and garlic.

Replacing EGGS in Baking: These are great alternatives for people looking to lower their cholesterol (the yolks of eggs are little yellow orbs of that stuff!), or just use better alternatives. Eggs are a binding ingredient, so depending on what you’re baking, you achieve similar results by using fruits like mashed banana (this is AMAZING in muffins and pancakes!) or mashed avocado. Applesauce is a common replacement when you can have a more wet batter, or you can buy Ener-G egg replacer – white powder that looks like baking soda that you mix with some water. But one of the healthiest and best egg-alternatives is ground flax seed.

It’s best to buy whole flax seeds (you can sometimes find them in bulk bins at the store), and grind them in a coffee grinder or equivalent. Grind 1 Tablespoon of flax seeds, transfer to a bowl and add 3 Tablespoons of water. When you whisk it or mix with a fork, it will become goopy and sticky and this will replace 1 egg. This is best use for things that aim to taste whole-grainy, as flax seed has an earthy, nutty flavor.

un-TUNA Sandwiches: If you like cold, meat-based salads like tuna or chicken salad, you can create very similar vegan salads! You can use all the seasonings you’d normally put in the tuna salad, use Vegenaise instead of mayo, and the filling can be mushed chick peas! Just mush a can of chick peas into a bowl and it will make that “meaty” texture! Or, try using textured vegetable protein (TVP), which is small dehydrated pieces of soy flour that has been pressed and formed into little chunks. If you’ve ever used “fake ground hamburger”, imagine that but without the flavor added. Once rehydrated, a flavorless food that takes on the flavor of whatever you mix it with.

You can also try crumbled tempeh. Tempeh is a thick cake-like food made of pressed soy and grains that has been fermented. Don’t let the f-word deter you! It has absolutely wonderful texture. It can be cut in cubes for a stir fry, sliced thin to make tempeh-bacon, or crumbled up for a sandwich filling. If you like grainy, textured artisanal breads, you’ll love this. It’s best to steam the tempeh for about 10 minutes before you use it to remove any bitter flavor.

Sugar-Free SWEETNERS: The problem with sugar isn’t so much that the one teaspoon you add to your coffee will hugely effect your health – a teaspoon only has 16 calories – it’s that huge amounts of sugar are put into EVERYTHING (processed foods), often in the form of high fructose corn syrup. If you aren’t eating many whole foods, chances are you are consuming a surprising amount of sugar from places you wouldn’t expect.

Agave Nectar has been getting rock star treatment as a great sweetner alternative. It’s sweeter than sugar, so a little goes a long way, and has the consistency of a thin syrup. It’s made from the agave plant (same as tequila! woo hoo!) and doesn’t cause a spike in blood sugar levels. It does have about 60 calories in a Tablespoon, similar to white sugar but obviously less refined and processed. You can also use brown rice syrup which is more mild than agave nectar, but it does cause blood sugar to spike so it may not be great for diabetics.  Maple Syrup (the REAL kind, not Aunt Jemima’s – no offense to her) is a better alternative than honey as it is much lower in calories, and is a great source of manganese and zinc!

Please feel free to comment with some of your favorite substitutions!

Stuff yourself with stuffed (toy) food.

Over the weekend I was conducting ridiculous ebay searches, and found something truly incredible: stuffed animal tofu dolls in various colors! They are even marketed as “collectibles”. Holy gosh! They are so cute! Today, I bring you some of the cutest vegan-related food and animal toys.  Is there anyone that doesn’t like chubby little plush versions of regular everyday things? These should feed the kid in you.

These are the items that kicked off my newfound obsession with plush food. I went on ebay and searched “tofu” and found these silly, ridiculous but unabashedly awesome tofu stuffed-animals (stuffed NON-animals?). I am completely in love. The next time I have very dispensable income, you will all be mine!  And lest we forget about this HUGE TOFU that can sit on a chair in your kitchen and watch you cook! I KNOW, RIGHT!?

Friends, my birthday is in September. Hint hint.

Onward to other cute stuffed foods:

Here is an adorable set of felt veggies! I love the speckled zucchini and brown underside of the mushroom cap. Is it weird that I want to put these in a bowl in my kitchen? I bet they are soft enough that even Pierogi would crawl in and snuggle up with the green beans. More awesome felt fruits and vegetables are found in the Etsy shop, like watermelons and slicable (!) kiwis, and spaghetti with veggie-meatballs. Set from Felt Playground, $22.50 for 5 vegetables.

If you’re crafty and wield a mean crochet hook, consider buying this pattern for a vegetable garden! For a few dollars, you can make your very own window planter box and “grow” crocheted potatoes, carrots, turnips and onions. A simple change of yarn color and you can make even more vegetables, like radishes and beets! I LOVE the idea of making this for a new baby. So much more hip than the usual crochet baby blanket. Pattern from Crafty Anna, only $5.oo!

Why should humans all the fun? For some of the most truly unique cat toys you’ve ever seen, you have to check out the shop of OhBoy CatToy. All toys are made with organic catnip inside. For $10, you get a set of 2 tacos. Some of the other toys include: VanGogh’s ear, a beer mug with eyes, a camera, a roll of toilet paper, and I’m hesitant to say a... bearded clam. I wonder if they’ll ever make a pierogi, and then I could say “Pierogi is chewing on a pierogi!”. That’s kind of weird. Nonetheless, these are cute and weird and totally original. If cat toys have to be sprawled all over the living room floor, they may as well be conversation-starters. Check out OhBoy CatToy, toys starting at $3.00.