Friday, September 12, 2014

Easy Peasy Vegan Cooking Class

This week I had the pleasure of teaching a seasonal cooking class featuring recipes from my new cookbook, Easy Peasy Vegan Eats.  This was for the North Branford Adult Education program, which is part of the Connecticut Shoreline adult education system ERACE.

Nine students gathered with me in the school's cafeteria to learn about vegan cooking, where to get your protein, iron and calcium, and how to make quick and easy recipes that everyone will enjoy. I was happy to hear that most everyone was familiar with the health benefits of a plant-based diet and had come to the class wanting to learn more about what to eat to reverse conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure and diverticulitis.  I think everyone was also pleasantly surprised to learn that healthy food could also be pretty darn tasty, too!

The menu featured recipes made with fresh local ingredients I picked up from the City Seed farmers market in Edgewood Park.  The gorgeous heirloom tomatoes were from Rosedale Farm in Simsbury and the luscious peaches were from Rose's Berry Farm in Glastonbury.  Using these fruits and vegetables when they're at their peak provides the most nutrients and flavor.

For our main dish I made Three Sisters Stew which incorporates squash, corn and beans into a tomato based broth seasoned with cumin and oregano.  The dish was served on top of creamy polenta and garnished with a drizzle of parsley pistou and a sprinkling of toasted spiced pepitas.

The colors, tastes and textures create a culinary balance that leaves one feeling satisfied.

For dessert I modified a recipe for Gooey Toffee Apple Crisp from my cookbook, substituting peaches for the apples because they just looked so tempting.  They soften up in the oven and meld nicely with the crunchy topping.  A dollop of vegan coconut milk ice cream would be the perfect accompaniment, but this was a nice refreshingly sweet ending to the meal on its own.

Thank you to Pat Cardozza and ERACE for inviting me to give this class and for everyone who attended.  I will be creating more meals like this in the coming weeks.  Stay tuned for more Easy Peasy classes and events!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

My First Vegan Meal

One of my perks for teaching at Gateway Community College for the past 5 years is that I qualify to take 1 class for free each semester that I teach. So this semester I saw a "Food Writing" class that looked interesting and thought, hey, why not, it always helps to get more practice writing and be inspired by other foodies. During our first class meeting the instructor asked us to write briefly about a vivid food memory and then share our stories with the class. Out of 11 students, 4 shared stories about growing up and watching some family member kill an animal and then eat it for dinner. 

New directions, new adventures

Over the summer I've been fortunate to travel widely in support of my new cookbook, Easy Peasy Vegan Eats.  It's been a fun adventure being on the road, visiting new locations, sampling local cuisine, and meeting new people.  During this time, I've also been doing a lot of thinking about my vegan personal chef business as well as this blog.  Most of my entries focus on the food I've been cooking, the classes I've been teaching and restaurants I've been eating in.  I enjoy getting to share all of this with you, but there are times when I feel like I want to be saying so much more.  After all, the reason I do what I do is because of the animals. That has always been my purpose, but I feel like this sometimes gets overlooked in the busy day to day activities of running a food service business.

This has recently come to the forefront of attention since I just started taking a food writing class at my local college.  The aim of the class is to help students learn to write restaurant reviews, food blogs and cookbooks.  While these are all worthy aspirations, something about those goals felt inadequate to me, like I was selling myself short.  Sure, there is always room for improvement in all of those areas and I will gladly accept critique of my work in order to become a better writer and blogger.  But I'm much more of an activist than a food writer, an ethical epicure if you will, and I want to communicate from that perspective.  So, from time to time, and maybe eventually more often than not, you will see blog posts featuring animal issues and the ethics of eating vegan.  It matters more to me than a pretty photo or a tasty new recipe.  But don't worry; you'll still get plenty of those, too!

I look forward to expanding the content of this blog and hope you will enjoy taking the journey with me.

For the animals.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Month of Menus

It's been such a busy summer here at Well on Wheels headquarters that I haven't had a chance to post photos of what's been cooking in the kitchen.  From heirloom tomatoes, to fresh local zucchini and patty pan squash, here's a peek at the entrees that have been featured this month.

Black-eyed Pea Fritters with Quinoa Pilaf, Asparagus, Parsley Pistou and Toasted Pepitas

Baked Tofu Puttanesca with Brown Rice and Sauteed Greens

Panfried Tempeh with Dijon Agave Glaze, Mashed Sweet Potatoes and Brussels Sprouts

Ratatouille and Butter Beans on Baked Polenta

Baked Eggplant Stacks with Tofu Cheese, Fire-roasted Tomato Marinara and Sauteed Greens

Portobello Steak with Miso Glaze, Asparagus and Mashed Potatoes

Bok Choy Boats with Brown Rice and Adzuki Bean Sautee

Tofu and Veggies with Peanut Sesame Sauce on Brown Rice

Refried Beans, Brown Rice and Calabacitas

French Lentil, Brown Rice and Kalamata Olive Pilaf with Fresh Lemon Zest and Green Beans Amandine

Monday, August 4, 2014

Shufflin' Off to Buffalo for the WNY VegFest

I'm honored to have been a part of the inaugural Western New York VegFest held Sunday, August 3, in the beautiful Marcy Casino at Delaware Park in Buffalo, NY.  It was a marathon road rip - 14 hours of driving in a 48 hour period - and I felt like a kid in an indie punk band touring on a shoestring budget, stuffing my face with chips and chocolate the whole way there and back, but it was worth it.  In fact, it's adventures like these that add to the excitement of this humble traveling vegan chef's life.

I should've done some research on the location before my travels because since it was held at The Marcy Casino, I was expecting crowds and flashing lights and loud noises and gamblers with glazed-over eyes sitting around shiny machines.  Apparently, back in the day, this name also referred to gardens, which was the case here.  And thank goodness because they were GORGEOUS.  I was happy that the only noises were from birds and music and people having a good time.

I wish I had had more time for a stroll of the grounds and to take more photos, but I needed to find where I'd be presenting and setup my table for the food demo.  These pictures are of the building where the presenters spoke, flanked by some lush and lovely perennial beds.  (For more photos, check out this spread in The Buffalo News.)

How could you have a Veg Fest without an eggplant with a face cutout?  I didn't have time to put my head in there, but maybe somebody can Photoshop it with the one below for me. (thanks, Jerry for this rare candid!)

I had a few minutes to wander around before my presentation and get photos of vendors setting up.  It was the proverbial "calm before the storm" where the day started out slow and sleepily like a dark and cloudy morning in bed, but then the pace picked up rapidly as the minutes ticked by and the sun started to peek out from behind the clouds.

I was looking forward to meeting Esther the Wonder Pig who was scheduled to be at the event; however, due to the incredibly complicated logistics of transporting a 500 lb. pig across the Canadian border, her dads Derek and Steve, chose to stand in for her.  And they did a good job of it for the 5K Tofurky Trot fundrasier for ASHA Sanctuary

Here they are getting ready...

for the big reveal.  

Inside, Amie Hamlin of the NY Coalition for Healthy School Food, started off the festival with her presentation about how to get vegan food on school menus.  She gave a synopsis of the impressive work her group has done to bring healthy options to schools all over the state, including an entirely vegetarian school in Queens.  One shocking fact she shared is that until 2012, tofu was forbidden as a protein alternative on NY school menus.  Fortunately, her group has gotten that rule revoked and they now offer soy-based meat and dairy alternatives in many schools.  

I setup my little table inside the presentation alcove and talked to many passersby who were interested in some quick and easy recipes for their families.  Most people were looking forward to my presentation when I told them there would be free food samples at the end.  

By the time I was ready to start, nearly every seat was filled.  Melinda Shaw, one of the festival co-founders, gave a brief introduction and I snuck this photo before running up to grab the mic from her.   


I spoke about how to achieve culinary balance through color, taste and texture and make food appealing to even the staunchest skeptics.  For the food demonstration, I plated Spring Quinoa Pilaf with Cornmeal Crusted Tofu, Cashew Horseradish Creme and Parsley Pistou garnished with Nasturtium blossoms, radish sprouts and red pepper dice.  Everyone agreed that they would happily share what I made with family and friends.

All of these recipes can be found in my cookbook, Easy Peasy Vegan Eats, which is available on Amazon. 

Thank you to Albert Brown and Melinda Shaw for all of your hard work and coordination of this incredible event, Elizabeth Hoeve Miklasz for being the bright ray of sunshine on a chaotic morning, and to all of the the volunteers who pitched in with table and chair set up, A/V technical support (thank you Amie for the laptop!), and food distribution during my presentation. You all did a tremendous job, and I wish you continued success for next year's Veg Fest!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Vegan Culinary Tour of New Haven (part 2)

We had such a blast on the first one that I had to schedule another tour because New Haven just has TOO MANY awesome places for vegan dining and we couldn't possibly fit them all in one trip.

The Vegan Culinary Tour of New Haven (Part 2) was held Saturday, July 26, 10:00-1:00. Twelve lucky guests toured five of New 
Haven's hidden gems that offer vegan menu items and sampled delicious treats such as tea, noodles, injera, curry, quinoa patties, un-chicken salad, muffins, tempeh reuben, chickpea mock tuna, cupcakes, brownies and cookies... all of it vegan of course!

Blue State Coffee
Book Trader Cafe
Katalina's Bakery
Lalibela Ethiopian Restaurant
The Green Teahouse

Please "like" them on Facebook and be sure to visit these awesome establishments in person and say you heard about them on the Vegan Culinary Tour!  Thank you Alexandra, Ryan, and Courtney from Blue State Coffee, Kelly, David and Jen from The Book Trader,  Ting from The Green Teahouse, Shilmat from Lalibela, and Kathy from Katalina's Bakery for making the second Vegan Culinary Tour such a success! 

Here are some photo highlights:

sampling quinoa, pistachio & dried cranberry salad

vegan chickpea "tuna"

tempeh reuben wrap with Daiya vegan cheese

Stop #2:  The Book Trader

sampling some tasty lunch items

quinoa burger with home made spicy mayo and vegan "unchicken" salad

the lovely Jen telling us about some special vegan events in the works

strawberry, almond and fresh basil muffins

Stop #3:  The Green Teahouse

look for the pink teapot

beautiful tablescape

sampling some High Peak Oolong Tea


pot of aromatic jasmine tea

Akiko-San's Noodles

Stop #4: Lalibela Ethiopian 

owner Shilmat Tessema describing the vegan items on the daily lunch buffet 

greens & potatoes, spicy red lentil with berbere, zucchini & carrot

spongey injera

our happy & well-fed group

delish dish!  

another happy group shot

Final Stop:  Katalina's Bakery

the lovely Kathy Riegelman with her insanely good confections

I can't believe we ate all of these

look at that little sweetie!