Whole30 Week 3: Vegan and Not-So Vegan

Asparagus & Fennel Soup by Amy Roth Photo

This week’s post is dedicated to Kenji Lopez-Alt, that test kitchen god (and managing culinary director at Serious Eats) whose recipes formed the backbone of the best meals I made this week. Only minor tweaks were necessary to make them Whole30-compliant; though I’m really starting to hate the word compliant, the adjustments seem to be coming to me naturally now. I’m still constantly hungry despite eating all the time and adding even more fat to my diet, but the cheese cravings aren’t constant, so I’m headed in the right direction. No tiger blood, either, but I always thought that was a long shot, anyway.

Lunch today was a fan-freaking-tastic soup of asparagus and fennel, found on Lopez-Alt’s Instagram feed. I took the basics and tweaked them a bit with what I had in the house and fell head over heels. I sautéed 1/2 large chopped onion with a small thinly sliced bulb of fennel and a finely chopped stalk of celery in olive oil until they were soft, then added one bunch of chopped asparagus (minus the tips, which I steamed) and half of a sliced russet potato and cooked them together for a few minutes. One quart of chicken stock, salt to taste and some simmering later, I blitzed the soup in my Vitamix and lunch was served. I love simple, seasonal recipes, don’t you? I may try to accentuate the fennel flavor next time with a splash of Herbsaint, but honestly found the soup to be perfectly balanced this way. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Cast Iron Steak & Vegan Creamed Spinach by Amy Roth Photo

A more substantial meal came in the form of a stovetop-cooked ribeye and vegan creamed spinach, which may sound like an odd combination, but hear me out. When you’re eating so much meat in one sitting (though not that much — Gil and I split the steak), there’s no need to go overboard with real creamed spinach. It’s just too much. And honestly, I found the flavors of this vegan dish much more pleasing and less muted than I do with the standard recipe. Blended cauliflower and almond milk form the base of the “cream” and are just brilliant at that job. I did add a little nutritional yeast for a cheesy tang, but otherwise cooked it according to the recipe.

The steak followed the Serious Eats recipe I use exclusively during winter, when the thought of standing at my grill would be enough to keep me from eating steak at all if not for this method of indoor cooking. I did use ghee instead of butter and could definitely taste a difference, but the steak was excellent anyway, so no complaints there.

I did have a couple of small cheats this week. When I couldn’t stand the thought of preparing one more meal, Gil whisked me away to a BBQ joint where I had smoked beef with a side of mashed potatoes that might have (probably) had milk and/or butter in them. I felt fine after, so no worries for me! Then, at a meeting I attended Tuesday, I had one Terra Chip which was The Best Thing I’ve Ever Tasted In My Life. I can’t even lie. Fried potatoes (though this was taro, I believe) are absolutely my trigger food and that chip was like a drug that left me wanting more. I don’t know where I got this self-control, but am very happy for it, because otherwise I’d be sitting on my living room floor covered in grease and crumbs.

Then again, Benny would probably take care of the crumbs situation. I haven’t really shared about it here, but we lost both Ru and Otis over the last two years, which was just heartbreaking. Ru left us only in December of last year, so we waited as long as we could, but finally adopted another greyhound just three weeks ago! He’s the sweetest little guy with a funny bark and a much bigger brain than Ru and Otis put together — it’s a little scary to watch him figuring things out. He’s still a little camera-shy, so no decent photos yet, but if you’d like to follow him on Instagram, he’s precocious and has his own account. And while you’re there, follow me, too! I try to post everyday, so there’s always something delicious to see.

I’m planning to end Whole30 a few days early next Thursday, when I’m going out to lunch with friends. We’re planning for dim sum and I don’t want to miss out on everything but steamed vegetables. But I’ll behave. Mostly. See you next week!

Cod and Potatoes — Whole30 Check-In

Cod with Romesco Sauce by Amy Roth Photo. Recipe: Bon Appetit Magazine

A week and a half in, and I’m doing great with Whole30! There have been no mid-afternoon slumps or hangriness to deal with, but eating this way does require much more thought than simply throwing together a quick sandwich or heating up an Amy’s cheese enchilada entrée. (Honestly, I needed an Amy’s intervention, anyway.) Avoiding easy fillers like rice or bread has been a little challenging, but nothing I can’t deal with, and I’ve lost a few pounds, though that wasn’t my goal at all.

I’m still amazed by how much unnecessary sugar is in our food. I’m generally not much of a packaged food eater (save for the aforementioned enchiladas), but love condiments and sauces, and many of my favorites are taboo. Also, I miss cheese. Terribly. It’s my one craving and I’m going to be the saddest person around if I find dairy gives me problems when I start reintroducing food.

The Meals

There were a couple of fantastic meals I’ve had in the past week that I want to share with you today. Up top, you’ll see my photo for Bon Appetit’s Cod with Romesco Sauce, Hazelnuts, Lemon and Parsley. It was eye-opening, mind-boggling… just a fantastic meal with only a few components. And where, may I ask, has romesco sauce been all my life?! I’ve read about it for years, but never took the plunge until I made this recipe, and now it’s all I want to eat. I want to proselytize door to door in my neighborhood so everyone can share in this pure joy of mine! Yeah, I know, but it’s honestly that good. Cod isn’t something I eat very often, but it works so well here, I’m not sure I’d want to change anything next time.

Deborah Madison's Potato and Green Chile Stew by Amy Roth Photo.

And then, there’s Deborah Madison’s Potato and Green Chile Stew from Food52. Whenever I make this, I wonder why I don’t have it more often. It’s part of Food52’s Genius Recipes collection, and with good reason: Deborah Madison is an alchemist, creating kitchen gold from a handful of common ingredients. It’s a recipe that’s easy to convert for Whole30 compliance (skip the sour cream, which I usually do anyway) or for vegan/vegetarian diets (use vegetable broth instead of chicken and skip the sour cream). With our turn to winter weather now that Spring is here, this soup was the perfect thing to warm me after spending a lot of time outdoors yesterday.

Some Exciting News

Last summer, I got a call about a cookbook project that needed a quick turnaround. “It’s Misty Copeland’s Ballerina Body. Are you interested?” Well, my fingers couldn’t hit the keyboard fast enough to reply that absolutely, I was! Because of the abbreviated shooting schedule, I enlisted the help of local food stylist Darcie Hunter of Gourmet Creative for most of the plated dishes, and together we created the food photos featured in the book, released just this week. If you’re interested in creating a lean, strong, healthy body, want some great recipes (and they really ARE great!), or just want to read more about Misty, pick up a copy! I’ve shared a few of my favorites below.

Ballerina Body food images | Amy Roth Photo
Clockwise, from upper-left: Raw Barres, Black Bean Soup with Shrimp, Vegetables, Fruit Still Life, Egg White Fritatta

Whole 30 Starts Now

Mustard Greens Soup with Beef from Bon Appetit Magazine

Like so many others, I’ve decided to take the Whole 30 plunge (after avoiding it for what seems like years). About seven years ago, I tried the primal thing and discovered within a week that much of the joint pain, inflammation and stomach issues I’d had for years subsided when I removed wheat from my diet. It only got me about to about 80% of where I needed to be, though, so I knew an elimination diet would be in the cards at some point. But I’ve let things slide because I’m a professional-level rationalizer who can find an excuse to fit any situation in which delicious trigger foods are present:

  • I’m shooting this amazing dish for a cookbook and it’s already prepared. It’d be a shame to just toss it out!
  • I had a few bites yesterday. A donut and some pizza couldn’t possibly make things worse today. (Oh, but they can.)
  • I’ll just suck it up. If a little pain is the price to pay for eating (insert literally anything I shouldn’t be eating), then I’ll deal. I’m a tough cookie!

But after a particularly bad reaction to bulgur wheat last week that left me hobbling around the house for two days, I decided to get real. There’s no virtue in suffering nor vice in self-care. Now that all of our special occasion dinners have been enjoyed — years are front-loaded with birthdays and anniversaries in this family — I’m doing this thing.

Shopping for Whole 30-compliant pantry staples involved some label reading because sugar hides in so many places, but this did give me a chance to finally try Red Boat Fish Sauce and Califia Farms Almond Milk, both of which I highly recommend. We have a fabulous “farmers’ market” one town over that carries an abundant and varied supply of fresh fruits and vegetables, so I’ll be hitting that even more often than I already do.

One day in, I don’t notice a huge difference. My breakfasts aren’t often all that breakfast-y and yesterday was no exception, when I had a favorite of mine, citrus (pink grapefruit in this case) with cubed avocado, salt & pepper. An apple Larabar made a nice snack, and I lightly adapted Bon Appetit’s Spicy Pork with Mustard Greens Soup for lunch and dinner by using grass-fed beef (no pork available) and zucchini noodles.

Whole 30-compliant Bon Appetit's Spicy Pork with Mustard Greens Soup by Amy Roth Photo

I think the spiralizer’s going to be my friend for the next month. It’s one purchase I honestly love and use often, unlike a lot of other single-use kitchen tools. You can find it here, if you want to check it out (that’s an Amazon affiliate link, fyi).

The only complete fail so far was golden milk made with coconut milk for compliance with the no-dairy portion of Whole 30. I’m sure the coconut milk would be a fine substitute with no other change in variables, but the drink was honestly disgusting without the hint of sweetness molasses gives it. My tongue recoiled from it, the same way it did that one time I sampled baking chocolate. Blech. So I’ll stick to my regular beverages — coffee, plain tea and seltzer.

I can’t promise I’ll blog every day — in fact, I can promise you I won’t — but I will try to get here regularly to post good recipes and let you know how things are going.

Have you done Whole 30? What was your experience like? I’m really curious to hear.