Measuring ingredients correctly when cooking can be a worrisome experience for inexperienced cooks and new chefs. If you never spent much time in a kitchen growing up, you could get caught up in the stress of measuring ingredients for a perfect outcome. Yet I encourage you to relax with your cooking and even go outside the boundaries set by a recipe to come up with your own creation.
Measuring ingredients takes a back seat in family recipes
Cooking has strong cultural and traditional ties. Recipes are passed down from generation to generation. I've watched many a mom and auntie (and a brother here and there) swiftly and skillfully throw ingredients into a mixing bowl and never pull out the measuring tools.
Secret oral instructions often circle a home kitchen in private. Some home cooks inherit boxes of hand-written recipes on index cards. Others employ arguments and cook-offs between sisters, brothers, mothers, and cousins at family gatherings. And yet others never set foot inside a kitchen until they live on their own as an adult.
Whatever experience you may bring to the table, as it were, start from what you know. Here on AFV, we used to detail recipes with exact measurements. But the more we cook, the more fun we have using the eye method, as well as the dash method. I explain these two methods of cooking without a recipe below.
The eye method
About 10 years ago when I was still eating fish, my brother would ask me for a Hawaiian poke recipe. Nowadays I prefer vegan plant-based poke, and you will see a series starting here on that soon. At any rate, I drove my brother crazy because I never gave him the exact measurements, nor a proper recipe with ingredients, let alone measurements (I've always been that kind of, throw whatever you've got into the bowl kind of cook).
Every time he asked me exactly how much of an ingredient to add, my response was always, “Just eye it; you'll get the hang of it.”
Well sure, there's a little more to it than that. For those who have been using the eye method for many years, they don't give it a second thought. Cooking and baking are like muscle memory, to the trained eye.
Measuring ingredients in different measuring systems
The metric and imperial systems are always a consideration (and a royal pain in the butt) when making recipes. Using both systems often makes recipes look overwhelming – and, of course, the risk of making a mistake doubles.
When you ‘eye it’ you use the volume system.”Pouring a good amount could be anywhere from a quarter of a cup to a few cups, depending on how large your recipe is and what the ingredient is specifically. Don’t worry too much, though. This is how you learn to adjust your recipes through tasting rather than measuring – how you learn to have a good eye.
Our friends over at Taste of Home have some good tips on how to wing it when you don’t have your measuring cups for measuring ing4redients.
The dash method
Another way to share a recipe is just to list the ingredients of a dish. That’s how professional chefs exchange secrets. They are not bothered to give measurements, as they know the foundations of how to cook – well, okay, not a surprise, it is their job after all.
When you ask one of these pros to give measurements, they may simply say, use a dash of this and a dash of that. Bartenders can be notorious for using the dash method. On a busy night of serving, who has time for measuring?
You’re getting the idea now.
Here’s a helpful video from my favorite vegan cooks over at The Happy Pear. They are fans of practicing the art of cooking, not just following a recipe:
Let’s take a closer look at a few more measuring references:
a handful, a few handfuls
the juice of a fruit
These are called vague measurements. On a funny note, you can buy measuring spoons for the last three at Amazon.
A handful of cooked chickpeas does not weigh the same as a handful of parsley, so you may want to eye your measurements rather than weigh them.
The birds living at the New England Exotic Wildlife Sanctuary in Rhode Island are the inspiration for naming of this salad. The cockatoos love healthy snacks, and when I shared this one with Kongo Bird, he dove into it. So, I thought it would be a cute play on words, for the two beans of cubed baked tofu and chickpeas, or garbanzos. You can find the recipe for the baked tofu at the end of this post under “sources”.
Eat chickpeas not chicks
When I was a carnivore, I used to eat a lot of chicken salad. I made it different ways – curried with raisins, or with walnuts and cranberries – it always had a creamy base to it. Now that I am vegan I started to explore different kinds of creamy salads. Salads I can spoon into a pocket, definitely a comfort food for me.
The two beans in the salad are baked cubed tofu and chickpeas. Try smashing a few of them so it holds together better. A handful of grape tomatoes and a stalk of celery provide a nice contrast in color and texture. Some leftover parsley needed to be used, so I chopped that up and threw it in, too.
I remember visiting a friend down in South Carolina awhile ago and going to the neighbors for dinner. The neighbor had a big bowl of potato salad with some interesting ingredients in it, like peas. Sue said, “Yeah, I put about anything I have in it.”
Then I added a spoonful of the vegan pesto from Trader Joe's and a spoonful of Vegenaise. If I ever have more time I may try making a homemade mayonnaise recipe I found on YouTube. The base is navy beans and vegetable oil. The only thing I don't like about Vegenaise is the canola oil. It doesn't stop me from buying it though, because it tastes so good. Besides, I'm getting less and less comfortable using cashews, so any other alternative ingredients work for me. See why in “sources” at the end of this post.
Here below is VeganLovlie's video how to bake vegan mayonnaise. It looks delicious with the white beans.
Make your own mayo that rocks the house!
I found that chopped up celery gives a nice crunch. It replaces onion, without the aftertaste of onions. As I write this, it is late spring with chives and scallions, green onions, in season. These have a lighter taste than regular onions, so you may enjoy mixing them in as well.
A few raisins add sweetness. Yum!
My blogging partner reminded me that celery is not welcome in her home. She said “I would replace your celery with radishes.”
Okay, radishes, celery, I don't judge. What would your optional crunchy veg be?
I also decided to splurge and add two twists of the black pepper mill and a sprinkle of pink salt.
As you can see from the image, I chose to use a pita pocket. Lately I've been on a flat bread, or unleavened bread Kik because I know they do not have eggs or dairy added to them. Perhaps even subconsciously I am thinking about the yeast, I don't know.
Whatever your choice of bread or grain, let us know! I didn't have any greens, but I may have added some arugula or spring salad leaves. Come to think of it, this salad has chopped up kale in it, too.
As my friend Sue from South Carolina says, “Throw whatever you've got into it.”
Chickpeas – either from a tin or soaked and cooked. Not raw or soaked only.
Italian herb-baked tofu, cubed
Celery and/or radish
Kale, chopped or your choice of leafy greens
Parsley or your choice of herbs like chives, basil.
Anything else you want to throw in, like chopped up walnuts, raisins or cranberries
What does a healthy vegan diet look like? Many people don't know what a healthy diet is, let alone a vegan one. I got talking with a neighbor at the grocery store recently. He invited me to join his tai chi classes, and talked about general health benefits. I took a chance and asked him if he knew of any local vegan communities. His response was dismissive. “When I was training at the gym, all the vegans fizzled out quick. A vegan diet doesn't work.”
He went on to admit that the small group (one person, actually) of vegans he had met was back in the 1970s, over 40 years previous. I ventured to mention all the top vegan body builders with videos on YouTube. “With the lack of educational resources on diet before the Internet, the vegan you met probably lived on pasta,” I commented. The neighbor was not impressed enough to inquire more, and proudly announced that he “eats everything.” Needless to say, the man soon excused himself and went on his way.
So, do we really want to know about healthy eating, or are we slowly poisoning ourselves?
According to the National Cancer Institute, Americans do not meet federal dietary recommendations. Sure, opinions vary when it comes to what healthy eating means. But little debate emerges about what is not healthy, and the American population does not seem to care. The following is an excerpt from an NCI study:
The majority of the population did not meet recommendations for all of the nutrient-rich food groups, except total grains and meat and beans. Concomitantly, overconsumption of energy from solid fats, added sugars, and alcoholic beverages (“empty calories”) was ubiquitous. Over 80% of persons age ≥ 71 y and over 90% of all other sex-age groups had intakes of empty calories that exceeded the discretionary calorie allowances. In conclusion, nearly the entire U.S. population consumes a diet that is not on par with recommendations. These findings add another piece to the rather disturbing picture that is emerging of a nation's diet in crisis.
In the hype of vegan diets, do you know what a healthy vegan diet is? You may have the suspicion that vodka and potato chips are vegan but not exactly healthy. But what about the vegan burgers you can buy in the supermarket or the lentil soup?
Once upon a time I happily ate any kind of processed foods. When I chose to become vegan, I continued to look for quick, processed vegan options for meals. A healthy vegan diet does not rely on processed foods and alcohol. This means you buy fresh produce with few exceptions. Let's take a look at fresh produce:
Fresh vegetables and fruit
Whole grains and spices
Legumes and beans (dried, not canned)
Nuts and seeds
The above items are all fresh produce. Of course, we are subject to seasonal and regional harvests, so including frozen produce as part of a healthy vegan diet is fine. Note that we are not talking about heavily salted, seasoned or sweetened fruits and nuts, like pre-made energy bars. Some basics for your food pantry, ingredients that have a minimal amount of processing, are healthy choices to include, nevertheless. Here are a few good items to keep on hand:
Brown rice vinegar
Apple cider vinegar
Canned vegetables and legumes are quite commonly found just about anywhere. It's a good idea to get into a regular habit of cooking with dried legumes rather than canned, mostly because the salt content and other additives found in canned food. However, canned legumes are still nutrient-rich and worth having in your cabinet.
The bad news is that the burgers and pre-made bean soups are all processed. So are all other kind of vegan/vegetarian meals and fake meat. The good news is that you can easily prepare meals yourself and freeze. How does a lentil-walnut burger with a paprika sauce sound or a meatloaf with glaze?
Not everything we prepare has to look like meals with meat and fish. Usually in the transition period it's nice to have something familiar to eat. Keep in mind that just because something says vegan on the package does not make it necessarily healthful for you. As you become more committed to a vegan lifestyle, you may not want so much meat alike food, which is only trying to trick your brain instead of transforming your thinking. We can cook delicious vegan meals, and it can be just as easy as opening a package of processed fake meat.
If you know nothing about cooking, let alone vegan cuisine, don't fret. It's a lot easier to do than many people think, and infinitely more healthful, no question. We all know that dark, leafy greens are rich in cancer-fighting goodness, for example. But due to the heavy lobbying and marketing of the meat and dairy industries, few Americans are aware that healthier alternatives, such as pulses – seeds of legumes that pull nitrogen from the air to create protein – are an important protein source globally. The American Institute for Cancer Research reports that dry beans and peas are rich in fiber (20% of Daily Value) and a good source of protein (10% of Daily Value). They are also an excellent source of folate, a B vitamin.
In Dr. Michael Gregor's, book, How Not To Die, the author goes into detail about the best foods to include in a healthy vegan diet. Check out Gregor's Daily Dozen in this video below:
At any rate, we all inherently know when we are eating badly. It goes without saying that processed foods are addicting because of added sugars, salt, and saturated fats. If you want to live a long healthy life on a healthy vegan diet, make a concerted effort to cut the processed crap out of your daily food consumption.
Laughter yoga may be a good thing to start practicing this holiday season if you don't already laugh often. Year end brings festivities, family obligations and stress for many. As a vegan, do you choose to get argumentative with “close-minded” meat eaters, or do you focus on your own growing mindfulness? If holiday frustrations are making you stressed, laughter yoga may help.
Laughter Yoga And The Happy Vegan
In my own experience, I know I cannot simply change the mind of relatives who delight in meat eating. These relatives scoff at the notion that meat may cause cancer. I had no idea how deeply set their convictions were until what I thought was a casual conversation about healthy eating turned ugly. “How ridiculous to think that meat causes cancer!” was a shared sentiment at a recent family reunion dinner. I had a decision to make: should I insist on my perspective, or relax and enjoy the party? I chose laughter yoga.
Laughing exercises help melt self-induced stress
Laughter yoga, an exercise that combines laughter exercises with yoga breathing, was born in a public park in 1995 with Dr. Madan Kataris. Here is how he began:
While researching the benefits of laughter, he was amazed by the number of studies showing profound physiological and psychological benefits of laughter. He [Dr. Kataris] decided to find a way to deliver these benefits to his patients and other people. The result is Laughter Yoga, a unique exercise routine that combines group laughter exercises with yoga breathing which allows anyone to laugh without using jokes, humor or comedies. Started with just with just five people in a public park in Mumbai in 1995, it has grown into a worldwide movement of more than 6000 Laughter Yoga clubs in over 60 countries. Read more at Laughter Yoga.
Laughter Yoga can have unexpected benefits
As I grow stronger in my commitment to a vegan path, it's more important to me to explore healthy non-animal food choices than to fall into arguments with non-vegans. After all, I used to be a serious meat eater just like them. Lately, I've been focusing on laughing instead of getting upset because of another's point of view. This has not only melted much of my stress, but also empowered me in ways I did not expect. I find it easier to make vegan choices daily, and the arguments of non-vegans don't cause anger or doubts in my own head.
Decades ago, Napoleon Hill said that laughter helps change the chemistry of the brain. He was doing laughter yoga long before it was ever coined as a concept. He suggested starting the day with a good laugh: Adopt the habit of having a good hearted laugh every time you become irritated or angry. Begin each day with one minute of hearty laughing; this will change the chemistry of your brain and start you off with a positive mental attitude. Read more at Daring to Live Fully.
On the next page is a sampling of laughter videos to help get you started. Click on the round 3 below to watch them:
I'm having such an amazing odyssey this fall that I just wanted to tell you about what I'm doing. I'm learning a lot about how to buy fruit from the locals on this tropical island where I am currently living.
This winter snowbird season 2015-16 I am spending on the Spanish island Tenerife. The weather is great! But the real reason I stay there is for the wine and fresh fruits and vegetables. I have been here for more than a month now. But I haven´t visited one of the outdoor farmers´ markets yet. It´s a bit embarrassing, as one of them is only 2 km from our house.
How to buy fruit: visit farmers' markets
A Finnish couple who is staying in the same village as we told us about the local farmers' market. You can find loads of fresh produce from the local farmers. It's open every Saturday and Sunday. At the moment bananas, or plátanos as they are called here, are in season. In fact, it seems they are in season all year round. Must be this amazing climate.
My dear readers in more northern climates are moving into the winter season. From what many of you tell me, Saturday morning farmers' markets are quite popular through the winter. As the weather gets colder the weekend market moves inside.
Back here in Tenerife, mangos are nearing the end of their season. The end of November will be the last harvest this season. My American friend in Hawaii told me she'd buy a big bag of them, chop them up into chunks, and then freeze them. She put them separately into serving-size plastic bags and containers.
For the most part, I buy fresh whenever I can. I'm not a big fan of pre-frozen anything. That's just my personal preference. Nevertheless, frozen fruit – as long as you don't leave it in there forever – still holds nutrients and taste, a welcome addition to a smoothie. Or consider buying a dehydrator – dried fruit is loaded with nutrients and just as healthy as fresh.
When you go to the farmers' market, ask questions at the stands about recipes, and how to choose fruit to buy. Depending on the fruit, you may want to smell it and see if it is hard or gives a little to your touch. Color may make a difference as well.
Cherimoyas, or Buddha fruits, are grown here.They are also called Ice cream fruit because they do taste like ice cream. I bet they are great in fruit salads, too.
Dragon fruit is the most exotic fruit I have ever tasted. They are commonly grown in private gardens. But if you are lucky, you can find them at farmers' markets, too.
Tomatoes here have a special, crisp, and romantic flavor. The pineapple tomato is what I use when I make salsa. And last but not least is the…
Avocado. It also grows all year round. If you go to a fruteria (special fruit and veggie shop) you can always ask for “avocados to eat today” and the owner will have a few put away for you.
Well, I don't know what the chances are of you coming to lovely Tenerife. Wherever you are, you can make a similar list of local produce. If your region is challenged to find fresh, frozen is the next best thing. It lasts longer, and the nutrients last.