It’s been a while, my friends! I am so thrilled to be back here on Forget The Box, sharing my passion for vegan living with all of you!

Much has happened since you last read me about 10 months ago. Namely, my cookbook, Cooking With Amore, was finally published and launched at the Montreal SPCA Annexe (Emergency Shelter). I completed a program in gourmet raw vegan cuisine and raw food nutrition at Living Light Culinary Institute in northern California. And, to keep things exciting, I moved to Los Cabos in Mexico!

It has always been my dream to live in a beautiful, tropical location. I decided to take the leap and make it happen this past May, making the drive all the way from Montreal to San Jose del Cabo in Baja California Sur, Mexico. What an incredible adventure it has been so far!

I have so much to share with you, but let me start this week with the sheer deliciousness known as refried beans. It’s easy to come across this highly popular dish in Mexico, since it is served as a side dish with almost everything, including breakfast.

I love making bean dishes from scratch, soaking beans overnight and cooking them myself (rather than using the canned variety). I was super eager to make this dish at home, but not before reading up a little to find out its origins and history.

Refried beans are essentially cooked and mashed beans. The name “refried beans” is derived from the Spanish “frijoles refritos” which interestingly does not refer to the beans being refried (fried twice), but rather well-fried. In fact, one way of preparing these beans doesn’t involve frying at all. You can basically boil the beans and add all the other ingredients to the same pot until the mixture is thick and creamy. At that point, you can use a potato masher or put all or most of the mixture into a blender for a very brief blend.

When I make them, I do use the frying method because I always boil a big batch of beans and freeze some for other recipes.

Refried beans are very versatile. They can be served as a side dish, as a filling in a tortilla or gordita, as a dip for totopos or tostadas, as a layer for nachos – the possibilities are endless! I even add a large dollop to my salad for extra flavor and heartiness. Here’s my recipe. You can use any beans you like, but it seems that pinto or black beans are the most popular.

 

Maria’s Rendition of Refried Beans

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons grapeseed oil, or any oil you prefer for cooking

1 white or red onion, chopped

3 or 4 cloves of garlic, minced

1 poblano or red bell pepper, chopped

1 jalapeño pepper, chopped

2 cups cooked pinto or black beans

2 cups water

¼ cup chopped cilantro, more for garnish if desired

Himalayan salt and black pepper to taste

Method:

  1. Add oil, chopped onion, garlic and peppers to a large frying pan and sauté until soft, about 10 minutes.
  2. Add the cooked beans and 1 cup of water to the frying pan and allow to simmer until most of the water has evaporated, about 15 minutes. Add second cup of water and repeat.
  3. Once most of the water has evaporated, and the bean mixture is very soft, stir in chopped cilantro and turn off heat.
  4. Use a potato masher or blender to create a thick purée. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with chopped cilantro if desired.

So full of flavor, I just love this recipe and hope you enjoy it as well. Read me next week as I share with you another vegan recipe and tale from Mexico!

Get Cooking With Amore for many tips and tricks for cooking beans, and over 100 vegan recipes, all made with amore!

Follow my vegan adventures on Facebook, Twitter (@veganchefamore) and Instagram (cookingwithamore)

As I headed to the book launch of vegan chef Maria Amore last week, my mind wandered back to a day in high school health class. During the class we were shown a video which graphically detailed all the destructive ways smoking ravaged your body. Being the mature, thoughtful teenager that I was, after watching the video I of course promptly went outside and lit up a cigarette. Being told how bad it was for me only made me crave the thing more.

After discussing veganism and trying out some treats from Cooking with Amore, I wondered if I would experience a similar feeling of rebelliousness? Would I leave the book launch and crave a hamburger afterwards? Living on my own, the cost of food is usually the deciding factor of what goes into my shopping cart. Like many others I’m sure, the life of the animal and its journey to the grocery store is honestly something I’ve never given much thought to.

Maria Amore

I’m sure my outlook on food consumption would be very different of course if, like Amore, I was faced with a serious illness. Amore’s first career was in law. And with the long hours and intense pressure that came with being a corporate lawyer, Amore had no time to think about food preparation and nutrition. Because of this, Amore says, eventually her body succumbed to exhaustion.

“With the medical doctors at a loss as to how to help me, I decided to take matters into my own hands and started learning about nutrition,” Amore writes in the preface to her cookbook. While studying nutrition, Amore was horrified to learn about the truths behind factory farming and made the decision to become vegan. Combining her new belief system with her love of cooking, Amore knew she’d found her true calling as a vegan chef.

Amore became so adept at promoting her new profession online (including writing an FTB food column for two years) that she was recently offered an exciting new career opportunity.

“I was approached by investors who’d seen my Facebook page and asked if I’d like to run a vegan bistro in Mexico,” Amore told me during the book launch, grinning widely, “living in a tropical climate has always been something that’s interested me, so it wasn’t a hard decision. And because of the bistro, I’m thrilled to be able to donate all proceeds from the cookbook to the SPCA animal shelter.”

Amore left Montreal last Friday, and Bistro CasAmore will open later this year in Mexico.

Leaving the book launch I did not end up going for a hamburger, but instead thought about trying out some of Amore’s recipes like vegan shepherd’s pie, Portobello burgers and curried chickpeas with couscous. Unlike my teenage self, I am finally beginning to understand the importance of a balanced, healthy lifestyle.

I did finally quit smoking two years ago but I fully admit I still have a long way to go before I can truly say I lead a healthy lifestyle. Moderating my meat intake and combining it with more vegetarian and vegan options seems like a pretty great start.

Here is a recent interview Amore did with Global Montreal promoting her book:

Photos by Adida Khavous

I am delighted and honored to announce that I submitted my cookbook to the publisher last week! After two years of dedicated and persistent hard work, my baby is finally on its way to being printed! In addition to a traditional book, an electronic version is also being made.

In about four weeks, Cooking With Amore: 100 Vegan Recipes for Health, Well-being and Spiritual Evolution will be available for purchase on sites like Amazon, Barnes & Noble and in bookstores. I have a French and Spanish translation of my cookbook in the works; both will be ready in 2014.

I am also thrilled to announce that my official book launch in Montreal, Canada will be held at the SPCA Annexe on December 14, 2013. I will be making dishes from the cookbook for everyone to sample and donations will be accepted to help the animals at the SPCA.

I will be selling and signing books and proceeds from the sale of my books will also go to the SPCA. More details will follow as the date draws near. You are all invited to join me in celebrating this very special day! I will also be organizing book signing events in other cities around the world! I am going global with Cooking With Amore!

Cooking With Amore contains many of the recipes I share with you each week and more. Some of the recipes which I consider quite genius I have saved for the book itself, such as my vegan poutine and vegan tiramisu, for example, as well as this vegan piece of heaven I do with cacao nibs and garden tomatoes (yes tomatoes!).

My goal is simply to get vegan recipes out there. I want people to get excited about cooking delicious dishes, without the use of any animal products.

Why? Because it’s possible, it’s healthy and it’s kind. To those of you contemplating a vegan lifestyle, or maybe just adding more plant-based meals to your diet, in Cooking With Amore, I offer you 100 scrumptious, easy recipes!

Banner Cooking with Amore 2

Let’s cook with love! Are you ready?

My website has also been finished and is ready for launch in the coming days. In the meantime, you can continue to follow me daily on my Facebook page where I share vegan recipes and health-related tips every day!

 

“Now that I have made the connection, I do not eat animals for the same reason as I do not eat human beings. To me, there is no difference between humans and animals, for we are all souls, in different physical disguises. I know that non-human animals value their lives, their relationships, and their freedom to run and play as much as humans do. They feel a wide range of emotions just like we do. I want to create a better world for all animals and that, in turn, means a better world for everyone. ”

~Maria Amore, Cooking With Amore: 100 Vegan Recipes for Health, Well-being and Spiritual Evolution

To continue celebrating the joy and beauty of summer in Montreal, I want to again this week, share with you a summery recipe. I know you loved last week’s cooling gazpacho because I was overwhelmed with positive feedback. Keep the comments coming! I really enjoy hearing from you.

Aside from gazpacho, what says “summer fun” more than ice cream? This week, let’s make some vegan ice cream!

Would you believe we can make absolutely delicious ice cream without any dairy at all? Oh yes we can! I created this vegan ice cream recipe using frozen bananas as the base. You just have to try it to believe how delicious it is! Thankfully, it’s super easy to make!

Not only is this recipe vegan, it’s also sugar free! The ripe bananas add all the sweetness we need.

Unlike other teas, Matcha green tea comes in a very fine powdered form, so it is perfect to add to ice creams or smoothies. A beautifully vibrant green color, Matcha tea is very flavorful and adds all the health benefits of a green tea to this non-dairy iced treat.

As a tea, Matcha is full of antioxidants and has many health benefits. It is said to be the healthiest of teas because the whole leaf of the Camellia sinensis plant is stone-ground into a powder, so we are actually drinking a green plant when we drink Matcha tea.

Matcha tea does contain caffeine, but the experience that comes with drinking tea is very different than with drinking coffee. People often describe getting “wired” with caffeinated coffee, whereas with green tea, the feeling is one of calm alertness.

Staying with the green theme and remembering the pistachio ice cream I used to enjoy as a child, I added pistachios for their delicious flavor. As you know, I like to use raw nuts in my recipes to make the most out of the health benefits we derive from nuts.

Nuts are actually easily denatured with heat due to their high oil content, so roasting them often destroys many of the nutrients. Also, nuts can become rancid quickly when sitting in a warmish cupboard or countertop, so I always store all my nuts in the freezer.

Give this dairy-free, sugar-free treat a try!

Maria’s Green Tea Pistachio Ice Cream

Ingredients:
Makes approximately 4 to 5 servings

4 bananas, very ripe, chopped into chunks and frozen
1 cup (250 ml) unsweetened almond milk (see my recipe for homemade almond milk)
¼ cup (60 ml) raw pistachios, more for topping
1 tablespoon (15 ml) Imperial Matcha Ceremonial Green Tea

Method:

1. Remove bananas from the freezer and blend all ingredients in a high-powdered blender.
2. Your mixture may be too soft and more like a smoothie at this point. If so, place your ice cream in a large glass container and put it in the freezer for at least 2 hours. Once firm, remove from the freezer. Use an ice cream scooper to scoop out ice cream and place it into your serving cups. Sprinkle a few pistachios over top, if desired. Serve immediately.

 

“Before you taste anything, recite a blessing.” ~Rabbi Akiva

Join me on my Facebook page where I share vegan recipes and health-related articles everyday!

I adore guacamole! OK, I adore avocados period. For my guacamole recipe, I like to keep it as simple as possible and just let the avocado’s deliciousness speak for itself. With just a few ingredients, we can whip up (or more specifically, mash up) this guacamole!

Summertime is the best time to try my delicious guacamole recipe. Enjoy!

Maria’s Guacamole

Ingredients:

Makes approximately 2 to 4 servings

 2 ripe avocados

3 green onions or ½ white onion, finely chopped

1 clove of garlic, minced

1 small tomato, diced

Juice from one lime

½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) sea salt

½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) black pepper

Chili flakes (optional)

 

Method:

  1. Scoop out avocados and mash with a fork or masher in a small bowl.
  2. Add in all other ingredients and mix well.
  3. Serve immediately or chilled.

 

avocado2

 

It seems to me that people have a love/hate relationship with avocados. Many of us love the taste, others find it gross. Some of us are concerned about the avocado’s high fat content. The avocado contains monounsaturated fat, which is in fact not a “bad” fat, but how healthy is avocado in general?

Some food for thought: the research is ambiguous as to whether the avocado is in fact healthy for us. Several reputable sources say indeed yes, avocados are beneficial since they provide us with complete protein, good fats and other important nutrients.

However, Dr. Michael Greger has examined numerous studies, some indicating that not only does avocado kill cancer cells, but also healthy cells, in vitro. In vitro means in a petri dishas opposed to in vivo, which is in the human body. The difference being, when we ingest avocado, our stomach digestive acids and our liver detoxifying functions get to the avocado before our cells do. Therefore, can the avocado in vitro studies really tell us anything?

Some good news, one recent study reported avocado consumption is linked to significantly reduced prostate cancer risk.

This is a clear example of how confusing it can be to navigate the world of health research. Many of us are not doctors or nutrition experts. How do we make sense of all this? There are contradictory findings and differing views about almost everything. In the end, maybe that old cliche about moderation is best?

In my opinion, a helpful rule to live by is this: how do you feel when you eat it? And I don’t necessarily mean in the short term only, since we all know that potato chips feel like heaven the moment they touch our lips.

Some of us have food allergies, others may have a mild intolerance. Some of us have health issues that we are trying to improve. Certain foods can make these conditions better or worse.

The best thing we can do is become more mindful of the food we are eating and how are body reacts to it. We are all individuals with particular needs and tastes. Slow down, learn the language of your body and pay attention. If you don’t, the body will surely end up screaming at you via some type of illness.

Back to avocados and their deliciousness, I came across a delightful dessert made with avocados that I would like to share with you. It is not a recipe I created and I haven’t tried it yet, but this avocado chocolate mousse sounds absolutely divine! Give it a try as well and let me know what you think.

Food for the body is not enough. There must be food for the soul.
~Dorothy Day

Join me on Facebook where I share vegan recipes and health-related information everyday!

 

In my opinion, the first thing we should always keep in mind in the kitchen is this: recipes are flexible. All recipes serve as guidelines and can be sources of inspiration to create a dish which is your own. Ingredients can be substituted or sometimes even omitted depending on your individual needs and tastes. You may be gluten-intolerant, allergic to soy, or you may simply dislike the taste and smell of coconut oil.

Don’t feel you have to throw out a recipe because it contains one or more ingredients you do not want to use. Instead, experiment with alternatives. For example, in the recipe you will learn today, I use whole wheat pastry flour.

If you would like to avoid the gluten in wheat, you can experiment with almond flour or use a grain that has a lower gluten content, such as spelt. Using this approach, even recipes with animal products do not need to be put in the trash. They can, in fact, be veganized!

Because of this basic philosophy, I boldly attempt to veganize all recipes, with varying degrees of ease and success. As you all have undoubtedly figured out, I wasn’t born a vegan and Italian families do not typically avoid animal products.

My mother, grandmother and aunts are all superb cooks and we have many old family recipes floating around, many of them containing meats, eggs, and various forms of dairy products. At a family gathering a few weeks ago, my cousin Anna asked me whether I remembered a certain “cake with the blueberry inside” that our mothers used to make all the time when we were kids.

Not only did I remember it, I loved it as much as she did! Eager to please with my cooking, I told her I’d make it for her and immediately my soul began to ache: what do I do about the eggs and the butter? Can I possible veganize this classic Italian recipe and still have it taste so heavenly?

I really wanted it to turn out well since I was making it for Anna, but honestly, I wasn’t sure I could pull it off. Well, if you never try something, you’ll never know.

“You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” ~Wayne Gretzky

I started with a “practice cake.” I knew Anna’s favorite version of this cake was blueberry, but for my practice run, I just blended a variety of berries I had in the freezer and used this as the filling. Once baked, I put on a fresh pot of coffee and called my most eager and devoted taste tester, my mom.

“Oh, man, it’s delicious! No one would ever know there are no eggs in here!”

That reminds me of another useful hint in the kitchen: when trying to turn family members on to vegan dishes, you can always trick their taste buds with familiar and well-liked flavours and textures. As we saw in last week’s recipe, seasoning with steak spice is very effective in creating that hardy and comforting taste we are looking for in a Shepherd’s Pie.

Also, to make dishes healthier, you can hide vegetables in them! Next week, I’ll show you how to make a scrumptious veggie paté with four different raw vegetables buried in it and four types of nutrient-packed seeds! Later on, once we’ve all had time to work off Anna’s Blueberry Cake, I’ll teach you how to conceal two cups of spinach in your chocolate brownies! Ohhh

Baby Cousins, Maria and Anna

ya … !

Eccola qui: an old Italian favorite, now new and improved in its veganized form. Introducing Anna’s Blueberry Cake! Enjoy, in joy and in health!

Ingredients:

4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup cane sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
3 teaspoons egg replacer (I have been using EnerG Egg Replacer)
1 cup grapeseed oil OR coconut oil (heated until liquefied)
¾ cup water
½ teaspoon sea salt

Topping:
¼ cup almond flour
¼ cup cane sugar
3 teaspoons Earth Balance vegan butter
–Rub mixture between fingers until it begins to form small clumps.

Fruit Filling:
Your favorite pie filling. Anna’s favorite is blueberry.
OR
2 cups fresh or frozen berries of your choice.
–Blend fruits in a blender with ¾ cup raw agave nectar OR a few drops of Stevia, sweetened to taste.

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 350˚F.
2. Combine cake ingredients in a large bowl.
3. Knead mixture into firm loaf. Remove 1/3 of the mixture and set aside.
4. Press down remaining mixture in a 10 inch x 10 inch glass or ceramic baking dish.
5. Pour in fruit filling.
6. With remaining cake mixture, take small amounts and make palm-sized patches with your hands. Place patch by patch over fruit filling until all the fruit is completely covered.
7. Sprinkle sugar topping over top.
8. Bake 50 to 55 minutes.
9. Remove from oven and allow to cool for at least 1 ½ to 2 hours.
10. Garnish with fresh berries, if desired.

“The love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man.” ~Charles Darwin