Tropical French Toast

Years ago there was a restaurant in my town that did a great vegan brunch menu. Hands down the best thing on the menu was its Hawaiian French Toast. French toast is delicious, but it’s also really easy to mess up. This morning I decided to try to recreate the French toast I enjoyed so many years ago.

I used this recipe and substituted 1/2 cup of the soy milk with pineapple juice strained from a can of pineapple chunks. After cooking the French toast until browned, I put it on a baking dish and kept warm in an oven on 350 while I made the topping. I put a can of pineapple chunks — including the remainder of the juice — in a pan on medium heat. Once the juice started bubbling, I added 1 tablespoon of flour to thicken up the sauce.

Next, I removed the toast from the oven and topped with the pineapple reduction and toasted coconut. Now I just need a tropical breeze and a vegan pina colada to top the day off.

Mean Greens: The nation’s first all-vegan dining hall

In a move that shook up college dining services in 2011, the University of North Texas in Denton became the first institution in the country to have an all-vegan dining hall. You read that right, a vegan dining hall deep in the heart of Texas.

The decision was driven in part by student demand for healthier food. And it’s been good for business too. UNT’s executive director of dining Bill McNeace has said that since opening Mean Greens, voluntary meal plans have gone up by 30 percent and opening the vegan dining hall was the only big change the school made.

What’s even more unique about Mean Greens is that all the food is made from scratch: no processed meat alternatives here. Executive chef Wanda White had to learn how to cook vegan and has done an exceptional job. On the day I visited, students could choose from chili mac, shepherd’s pie, polenta, gluten-free Mexican pizza, stir fries, pasta, and much more.  Not to mention the desserts: vegan rice crispy treats, lemon meringue pie, and an ever-present vegan soft serve ice cream machine.

The success of Mean Greens is no surprise given that more and more people, especially young people, are embracing veg eating. And it’s not just vegans who are looking for more vegan meals. More and more people are looking to eat plant-based meals even if they’re not vegetarian or vegan, as this article that just appeared in Columbus Alive reports. We’re at an important time when people realize they don’t need to eat meat, eggs, or dairy at every meal and that there are delicious alternatives to those products. I couldn’t be happier that Mean Greens is blazing the trail for university dining. It’s a good thing I don’t live close though!

Squash scones?

We’re being overrun with squash, which is not a bad thing, but coming up with ideas for different ways to use it is not always easy. I used to work at Starbucks and gazed longingly for hours at their pumpkin scones. Frosted to perfection the fact that they weren’t vegan was my only saving grace. Using that as my inspiration, I went on a quest this morning to make my own vegan version using slightly less icing. I found this recipe online and used it as the basis for my recipe.

Instead of pumpkin, I used kabocha squash which is sweet and a great replacement. I used whole wheat flour instead of spelt and had to increase the milk (I used soymilk) by about ½ cup. Add it gradually until the dry mixture is moist enough to stick together. You can always add more, but you can’t take it out if you add too much, so do it a little at a time.  The verdict:  Probably not as sweet as Starbucks’, but they’re fresher and healthier. 10 out of 10 say they’d eat them again. Or at least two of us.

And hey, we’re down 1/3 cup of squash. Now what to do with the rest of it?

Meat-Free Product Sales Are Rising as Meat Consumption Falls

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Employees at The Valley Hospital in New Jersey celebrate Meatless Monday

With the annual Food Day approaching, it’s hard to overlook the fact that people seem to be thinking more about where their food comes from every day. Food Day is a nationwide celebration and movement for healthy, affordable and sustainable food and a day of awareness about these issues couldn’t be more important.

What we eat has deep implications, and in the last several years, socially responsible businesses have started taking an active role in addressing those implications. Many are creating policies to improve the welfare of animals in their supply chains, reducing GHG emissions or purchasing only from suppliers that pay workers fair wages. And there’s one area that’s gaining traction by the day: meat reduction. Some savvy businesses have noticed a decreasing demand for meat and are creating new products to meet every meat-free need. Others are using the popular Meatless Monday program to improve employee wellness or to encourage customers to eat healthier by cutting out meat one day a week.

Eating Our Veggies

Ezra Klein of the Washington Post said earlier this year, “Meat eating in the United States is going out of style.” Klein was referring to USDA statistics that projected U.S. consumers would eat 12 percent less meat in 2012 than just five years ago.

What’s the driver for this decline?  USA Today says many Americans are reducing meat consumption out of concern for their health and the environment as well as rising meat prices. A Harvard study that came out this year found that replacing meat with high-protein plant sources could reduce mortality rates by as much as 11 percent. And according to the United Nations, meat production is one of the top contributors to climate change, due to its high carbon dioxide and methane emissions and vast use of water, land and fossil fuels. People also want to prevent animal cruelty. Factory farms, where the vast majority of our meat, eggs and dairy come from, have a notorious reputation for inhumanely confining millions of animals in crates and cages where they can barely move.

Whatever the reason, vegetarian eating is on the rise:

A 2011 poll from food industry research and consulting firm, Technomic, found that twenty-one percent of U.S. college students are limiting meat consumption, sticking to a vegetarian or vegan diet, or eating meat only occasionally.

Polling by Bon Appétit Management Company, which operates dining services at hundreds of colleges nationwide, found that the number of college vegans had doubled in that four year period, and the number of vegetarians rose by 50 percent.

And in an announcement that made national headlines, last year the University of North Texas in Denton opened the nation’s first all-vegan dining hall, resulting in a 20 percent rise in voluntary meal plan sales.

Meatless Momentum

Started during WWI by the U.S. government as a resource-saving measure, and revived in 2003 by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Meatless Monday promotes replacing meat with non-meat foods one day a week for our health and the health of the planet.

The program has mushroomed in recent years with support from big names like Oprah Winfrey—who implemented it at Harpo Studios—and Sodexo, a food service provider that’s participating at more than 2,000 hospitals and colleges nationwide.

Restaurants are also getting in on the game by offering new meatless options. A cover feature in Nation’s Restaurant News proclaimed “Veggie-heavy brands see growth in sales, popularity with consumers” and concluded with restaurant exec Aviv Schweitzer’s thoughts: “Is the country ready for a national vegetarian chain? I think it’s a fact; it’s not really a question anymore.”

This surge in demand has caused new meat-free products to pop up regularly. Beyond Meat, a new product financed in part by Twitter founder, Biz Stone, was so popular that a California grocery store sold out its entire week’s supply in just 48 hours. Another meat alternate that emulates the taste and texture of meat, Gardein, is now sold in the frozen section of Target stores nationwide.

Whether to reduce their carbon footprints, their waistlines, or the number of animals suffering on factory farms, one thing is clear: people are eating more meat-free meals than ever. And whether it’s corporate cafeterias participating in Meatless Monday to help keep healthcare costs down, restaurants adding new vegetarian options to menus, or manufacturers developing new meat-free products, savvy companies can bite into this market opportunity in a major way.

Paella with vegan shrimp and sausage

On a trip to Spain in 2002, I recall eating a beautifully presented paella. I also recall trying to explain to the waiter that we did not want shrimp, fish, or sausage in it, which to him was simply incomprehensible. This colorful paella was made with vegan shrimp from Sophie’s Kitchen and Field Roast brand vegan sausage. These days, there’s almost nothing you can’t find in a vegan version.

Sophie’s Kitchen got its start because the owner was looking for an allergen-free alternative to seafood for her daughter. There are other good reasons to avoid eating sea creatures as well: like overfishing, which, according to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization , “is putting heavy pressure on the world’s shrimp stocks … and causing significant environmental harm.

Available in Whole Foods and other large natural stores, Sophie’s Kitchen’s products are all-vegan and free from most common allergens, like soy.