Review of Neat – A Healthy Replacement for Meat

Disclaimer: I was provided Neat at no cost by the company. However, I was neither asked to write this review or compensated to do so.

There are many different vegetarian meat substitutes on the market. Many of them have a long list of questionable ingredients. They may also have ingredients that are off limits to those with allergies to soy or gluten. To be honest some of them also taste awful. I’m always interested when I see a new product trying to solve all of these problems. Neat, a shelf stable mix, is trying to fill the “meat gap” for vegetarians and vegans alike in a more natural way.

Neat isn’t completely new to the market, but sometimes it takes awhile for product to filter down to the Midwest. My first encounter with Neat was just a couple of months ago when it caught my eye on the NEW Products shelf at Mama Jean’s. I was excited to encounter them on Twitter and super excited when they agreed to send me a sample pack of their products to experiment with. They included one package of each flavor: Original, Italian, Mexican and Breakfast. Each flavor is very easy to make. You add egg (or egg substitute) and water. You can shape the Breakfast mix into patties or links, the Italian into balls (aka neat Balls) or the Original into burgers.

I decided to start with my favorite meal: brinner (breakfast for dinner). I was making a tofu frittata with my farmers market finds (link to July Finds post) and some “sausage” on the side sounded perfect. I decided to use chia seeds as a vegan egg replacer. I soaked 1 tbsp. of chia seeds in ½ cup water for about 15 minutes. Then I added the chia seeds to the Neat breakfast patty mix. Only after that did I read the realize I needed a quantity equal to TWO eggs. I decided to just wing it and adjust with the added water. My breakfast patties came out a bit dry. Since the flavor was good, I chalked up the dryness to my error in following directions.

The next night I vowed to follow the instructions perfectly. I made the Neat Balls to serve with spaghetti squash. I tossed the spaghetti squash with olive oil, basil, chili flakes, pepper and Parmesan cheese. I made the Neat mixture with whole eggs and followed the Neat Ball recipe on the back of the package. The Neat Balls browned nicely in the oven and Brian made a comment about how good they smelled while cooking. The flavor was great but once again the finished product came out dry. Brian made the comment that when he wrapped the squash around the Neat Ball it changed the texture a great deal. We decided the Neat products needed extra moisture to live up to their true potential.

I tried a little experiment with one of the leftover breakfast patties. Instead of my usual omelet for Sunday lunch, I decided to make a scramble. I sautéed half a green pepper and half of a small red onion. Then I scrambled one whole egg and three egg whites in the same pan. When the eggs were close to being done I crumbled up the breakfast patty into the egg mixture to warm it up. Once on my plate I added some salsa on top. This is how Neat should be used! It gave me a great sausage flavor and lost its dryness when surrounded by other ingredients. Neat may not stand well on it’s own, but IN something it’s great alternative to soy crumbles or a frozen veggie patty.

As with any meat substitute it’s important to note that Neat doesn’t taste like meat. If you expect it too you will be disappointed. It does taste good but you aren’t going to fool a carnivore. It’s just different. If you accept that up front you’ll find this product a useful and tasty tool in creating new meatless Monday dishes or revamping family classics. Also be aware that the products are made with nuts making them inappropriate for those with nut allergies.

Now that I know with Neat “the secret is in the sauce” I can’t wait to make the lettuce wrap recipe from their blog or create my own new taco recipe.

How do you feel about meat substitutes? What’s your favorite way to make a family favorite meatless? Have you tried Neat?

Farmers Market Finds for July 2014

Farmers Market Finds for July 2014Farmers Market Finds for July 2014 by Pamela Hernandez

Where has the summer gone? Don’t let it pass you by without taking advantage of the fresh vegetables and fruits your local farmers market can provide! I feel like I’ve only been able to visit the farmers market a few times, certainly not as often as I have wanted to. When I have been able to visit, it’s always been in a rush. I always get there just before the close of the market or when I am trying to beat the rain. This past Saturday, however, I finally got to have a have slow stroll through the Farmers Market of the Ozarks.

I arrived with a list and a plan. Not only did I need veggies for our normal weekly meals, I also wanted to get fresh fruit and veggies for a Sunday picnic with visiting family. I wanted to show them that the summer produce of Springfield was just as good (or better!) than Central Valley California.

Summer PeachesSummer Peaches by Pamela Hernandez

While I had time to stroll, I was late to the party. I believe the best time to go to the farmers market is right when it opens. You get the best selection and you can get in and out before the crowds hit. I was lucky to get some peaches before they were all gone. The Red Haven peaches made the perfect compliment to our simple Sunday indoor picnic of quinoa salad, hummus, veggies and crackers. I had hoped for raspberries but I guess I was too late because none were to be found. I did find the other ingredients I needed to create a simple but satisfying picnic.

The quinoa salad was the main event. Grain based salads are perfect for picnics because they can be made ahead and almost always taste better the second day. They can be eaten warm or cold, making them easy to pack and go.  The recipe I made was one from a holiday cooking class I attended last November. It was a big hit with the family at Thanksgiving so why wait a whole year to make it again? The recipe is from Glow Nutrition but unfortunately it is not on her web site. This spring quinoa salad is very similar, swapping out the asparagus and berries for dried cranberries and chickpeas.

Sweet Basil $1Sweet Basil $1 by Pamela Hernandez

Holy Moly Hummus is my absolute favorite recipe from How it All Vegan. Nothing says summer to me like just-picked crisp cucumbers and hummus. If you love hummus as much as I do just remember to measure out your portion. Hummus has a lot of great things in it but you can sabotage your fat loss be eating too much.

Notice I didn’t prep dessert for the picnic? Fresh fruits like peaches are a perfect summer dessert. You can also do fruit salads or Greek yogurt parfaits instead of cookies or cake.

White Bean BurgerWhite Bean Burger by Pamela Hernandez

Besides the picnic ingredients I also brought home onions, kale, mushrooms and basil for other recipes I wanted make for dinners. I have a recipe from Oxygen Magazine for white bean burgers that tasted extra amazing with fresh Portobello mushrooms. The kale, along with zucchini Brian brought home from work, are for a modified version of the Veggie Frittata from Great Gluten Free Vegan Eats from Around the World cookbook that I plan to make this coming weekend. Fresh basil is perfect for almost any pasta including the baked ziti I’ll be cooking up this week.

I make my meal plans two weeks at a time but I won’t let that stop me from going to the market again if I have time this Saturday. There’s a block party this weekend and I am sure they would love some fresh cucumbers to go with their hummus.

What’s your favorite picnic dish?

What is plentiful at your local farmers market right now?

The Best Cookbooks To Help You Eat Your Veggies

We have been so fortunate in the Ozarks to have a nice balance of rain and sunshine this summer. The temperature so far has also been fairly mild. While I am not an expert, these conditions seem to be perfect for growing produce. I am greeted at the farmers market with a rainbow of fruits and vegetables. Home gardens are also starting to overflow with cucumbers, squash and tomatoes. The excess is showing up in office break rooms and being gladly shared with neighbors. This boon brings about the enviable question….

What do I do with all these vegetables?

You can of course make a big green salad with dinner every night but that can get old quickly and besides, where is the adventure in that? When you have things like bok choy, mustard greens and spaghetti squash that look so amazing it should inspire you! It should make you want to get creative in the kitchen and try something new. I understand free style cooking can be a little scary so I’m here to help. I’ve got tried and true sources for veggie recipes that will leave your whole family asking for more.

  • How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman
    Before Mark Bittman was known for his Vegan/Flexitarian ways, he released a basic primer for those new to the kitchen. I had a first edition of this cookbook and it helped me become less scared of the kitchen. While not every recipe is healthy, it does explain basic cooking terms and lets you browse by food. The chapter on vegetables and fruit will help you create healthy sides or you can explore other chapters for ideas. The sauce chapter will help you out with your bumper crop of tomatoes or the condiment chapter can help you use up those peppers.
  • The Eat Clean Diet Vegetarian Cookbook by Tosca Reno
    Of course you would expect a vegetarian cookbook to be a good source for vegetable recipes. Just because a vegetarian cookbook, however, doesn’t make it automatically a healthy cookbook. This is the best of both worlds – plant based and clean whole foods. She does include a seafood chapter just in case you’re more flexitarian than vegetarian.
  • The Complete Guide to Vegan Food Substitutions by Celine Steen and Joni Mari Newman
    Vegan cooking can provide you with great recipe ideas for mushrooms (burgers and fajitas), butternut squash (for vegan cream sauces) and filling veggie/grain/bean salads. It’s a handy reference too for gluten free recipes.
  • Vegetarian Times Website
    Forget Pinterest for vegetables recipes. The pictures are pretty but unfortunately the results are inconsistent at best. The Vegetarian Times web site has a huge recipe database that you can search by ingredient. The recipes are from past issues of the print publication and many have reader reviews. Type in “eggplant” and you’ll get recipes way beyond Parmesan.

What do you have a bumper crop of this year? How do get creative with the surplus?

Fast and Easy No Blender Protein Shakes

I have Vitamix envy.

I see so many wonderful smoothie and shake recipes featuring the Vitamix on blogs and Pinterest. They make me feel so “less than”. I have a blender but its best days are behind it. Any time I make a smoothie with anything tougher than a banana, I end up with a lot of little chunks at the bottom. We own a JuiceMan juicer that must be at least 12 years old. It still works but it’s a nightmare to clean. We have limited counter space so the juicer lives on a high shelf in its original box. I often forget it’s there and when I do it’s just too much time and effort to get it down and set it up.

A Vitamix seems like the magical answer to all my shake and smoothie dreams. (Although I am still not sure where we would put it.) With it’s hefty price tag and our strict budget it will probably continue to be a dream for some time.

I have clients in the same boat. Some of them have no blender at all and lack the time for complicated recipes. For them, and for me, I needed to come up with shakes that are pack a protein punch plus for post workout recovery or an easy on the go breakfast. These shakes need only a few simple ingredients and one inexpensive tool – the BlenderBottle.

  • Have you tried my Carrot Cake Protein Shake?
    Buying bottled carrot juice (or any no sugar added vegetable juice) is an easy fix if you don’t have juicer, plus it might be less inexpensive in the long run compared to juicing. Have you ever seen how many carrots it takes for a glass of juice?
  • Start your day turbo charged with my Dirty Chai Protein Shake.
    It’s so easy and so yummy with a mixture of chai and espresso. If you’re more a coffee drinker than tea drinker try my friend Katie’s Mocha Protein Shake.
  • I love coconut water as a recovery drink.
    Make an “Almond Joy” shake with one scoop chocolate protein powder and 8 oz coconut water.
  • I love plant based protein powders.
    True Vitality and Vega Smoothie blends are easy to mix with water or almond milk. You’ll get powdered veggies like broccoli and kale plus protein from peas, hemp and brown rice. If you want to make it thicker and add an omega boost add 1 tbsp chia seeds to your bottle and let it sit for 5 minutes before drinking.
  • Want another easy vegetable solution besides juicing…try baby food.
    I know that sounds odd but you can find organic pureed vegetables for a low cost that go perfectly in the BlenderBottle. I like the combo of sweet potato and beet puree with chocolate protein powder and 1/2 tsp of cinnamon.

Are you blender challenged? What’s your favorite way to get your protein shake fix fast?

Tips for Finding the Best (and Healthiest) Iced Tea

Summertime doesn’t alter my morning tea ritual at all. A hot cup of jasmine green or pu’erh tea in the morning makes me feel energized and focused for the day. The warmth is comforting and centers me as I write blog posts or check emails before heading off to the gym.

On a hot afternoon, however, I do occasionally want a nice glass of iced tea. Just like the tea I drink hot, not just any iced tea will do. I definitely steer clear of the local favorite – sweet tea! Iced tea, like hot tea, should be a healthy alternative to water not a way to drink extra calories. It’s okay to partake liberally of this refreshing summer treat as long as you do it smartly.

  • Bottled iced tea can be a good grab and go choice (especially if it’s replacing soda!) but always read the label. Most have added sugar (thus calories) so look for those that say unsweetened or are calorie free. As with all tea, go for quality. Skip the Lipton and try brands like Honest Tea or Republic of Tea.
  • When ordering iced tea in a restaurant specify unsweetened. Sweet is often the default. My favorite place to order iced tea is Starbucks. I love the shaken green iced tea but you have to ask for the unsweetened version. Otherwise a venti is 120 calories. Skip the iced chai latte too. The are full of calories that come mostly from sugar. Want the Starbucks taste at home? Try the Tazo Zen blend made just for iced tea.

How do you do tea in the summer? Do you have a special blend you enjoy hot and iced?