Friday, November 28, 2008

Ooo, you're a holiday

I'm really happy with the way everything turned out yesterday. The soup was the best, and the rest of the meal was pretty good, too. I was actually quite surprised that I finished making everything about an hour before guests arrived and had time to play some tug-of-war with my dog. Afterward, she waited patiently under the table, eyeing the front door for any movement.

Earlier in the day, NPR affiliate WPKN 89.5 FM aired a little segment on vegetarian Thanksgivings and interviewed me to find out what I'd be serving. Thank you Melinda Tuhus for inviting me to speak on your fabulous program, The Forest and the Trees! Here's the menu:

Gingered Winter Vegetable Bisque
Cornmeal Crusted Tofu Cutlets with Crimini Mushroom Gravy
Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Parnsips
Brussles Sprouts and Broccoli with Shallots
Minted Wild Rice Pilaf with Dried Cranberries, Toasted Pine Nuts and Orange Zest
Maple-Glazed Butternut Squash with Pecan Praline
Mixed Berry Applesauce

After dinner, we indulged in Pumpkin Pie, Apple Crumble and Chocolate Chip Cookies. Sorry... we were too busy stuffing ourselves to stop for a picture. Then we collapsed by the fire and bid a fond adieu to another Thanksgiving.

Anyone have any stories to share? I love a good story...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


It's 10:00. Do you know where your turkeys are? Hopefully, they're all gobbling away at Farm Sanctuary in bucolic Watkins Glen, NY.

As I write, there is a pot of Gingered Winter Vegetable Bisque simmering away on the stove. This will be the first course of my mini-epic Thanksgiving Feast which I will be hosting at my home tomorrow afternoon. I hope it sets the perfect mood... No politics. No religion. No talk about the weather. Nothing but mmmm...

[ed. note: I needed to take a break because that buttercup squash just smelled too good to resist.]

I am now sitting happily, a warm bowl of soup in my tummy. This is the perfect way to take the edge off a cold autumn day. For an added kick and contrast to the creamy sweetness of the squash, I decided to top the soup with green onion and toasted spiced sunflower seeds. Chili powder, cinnamon, sea salt and a tiny pinch of cayenne sauteed in about 1 Tbl of Earth Balance, then tossed with the sunflower seeds until they sizzle and pop. Ooo, it smells heavenly.

I limited myself to an itty bitty serving so as not to skimp on my Thanksgiving guests. Quite a challenge, but it will give me something to look forward to tomorrow.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Oven-baked Polenta with Portobella Mushroom Sauce, Wild Rice and Zucchini Spears

This morning I was in the mood for mushrooms. Not just any mushrooms, but big, juicy portobellas. So I decided to recreate a dish inspired by a meal I had eaten at the Shoreline Diner in Guilford this summer.

One of the things I love most about my business is being able to experiment with food and sharing the end results with my clients. Today's entree is a typical example. I wanted a rich, hearty sauce that would complement the mushrooms and sit atop toasty polenta rounds without getting them too mushy. For a pleasing color contrast to the reddish brown sauce, I decided to do half moons of zucchini cut at a sharp angle, then sauteed lightly in olive oil and garlic with just a few sprinkles of sea salt to bring out the sweetness. A couple zings of fresh chopped parsley perked everything up just right. And since it's fall, I had to do some wild rice to emphasize the earthiness of the dish. I must say, this was divine.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

What's for dinner? Turkish delights!

Last night we were faced with the perennial quandry, "What's for dinner?'' Our first thought was to try the new Kumo Japanese restaurant that opened downtown. It's the second location for this sushi, hibachi and Japanese steakhouse in the New Haven area, the original being located on Skiff Street in Hamden. I wanted a show. I wanted entertainment. I wanted veggies. But I just couldn't get past the "Steakhouse" part of the name, so we opted instead for Istanbul Cafe, the cozy Turkish restaurant on Crown Street.

Now, I know what you're thinking. Lotsa lamb. Exactly. I mean, it's nearly impossible to eat at a Middle Eastern restaurant without being surrounded by kabobs and animals roasting on a spit. But it's so cozy in there. And with temperatures hovering around 30 degrees and a windchill making the air much more frigid, this is what came to mind. Plus, they make a delicious vegetarian red lentil soup.

I recommend their lovely Soquk Meze platter, which offers a sampling of most of their vegetarian appetizers: Nohut Ezme, Patlican Salata, Antep Ezme, Ispanak Ezme, Yaprak Dolma and carrot salad. It is arranged beautifully on a decent sized plate in a thick, colorful ring, almost like a painter's pallette. Note, however, that the Ispanak Ezme and Carrot Salad are made with yogurt, so you'll have to let the non-vegan in your party indulge in those. Everything else is suitable for a vegan. These tasty spreads are served with a basket of warm, crisp and chewy flat bread that I was forced to sample in spite of my gluten sensitivity.

Along with the red lentil soup, I ordered the Imam Bayildi, which is technically an appetizer, but the two together combined to form a perfectly satisfying entree. The Imam Bayildi is a tender baby eggplant served at room temperature that has been roasted in olive oil, stuffed with a blend of green pepper, sautéed onion, garlic, tomato and parsley, and sprinkled with pine nuts. According to the website, "legend has it that a Muslim cleric once ate this dish and was so overwhelmed by its splendid taste that he fainted. It is a rich vegetarian choice." I very nearly swooned each time I took a bite.

As we sat back after our meal in the cushioned and silky festooned booth, to sip some wine and gaze around at our fellow patrons, we noticed a woman reaching for an accordian. "Does she really have an accordian?" I asked. Indeed, she did. And her dining companions matched her musicality by pulling out a clarinet, hand drum and trumpet. For the next half an hour, they seranaded us fortunate few souls brave enough to be out on such a chilly evening with wistful Turkish delights that had many of us clapping and humming along.
Now THAT'S entertainment.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Dining Out: Bentara

Last night this vegan enjoyed a special birthday dinner for a special person at one of New Haven's most popular restaurants, Bentara. We've eaten here on numerous occasions, and the reason why we keep returning is because the atmosphere has that perfect combination of subdued and lively, plus the food is delicious.

Almost always it seems as if we're surrounded by Yale grad students and professors letting loose after a long day of philosophizing. And the conversations continue while slurping down curried rice fettuccini.

I love a restaurant kitchen that can accommodate special requests. Bentara never disappoints on this account. They don't even flinch when I ask that the traditional Pechal appetizer be made without the shrimp paste, and it still tastes fabulous with the slightly spicy peanut sauce drizzled atop a warm stack of bean sprouts, green beans, cucumber, jicama and shredded carrot. It's the perfect way to start a meal.

It's tough deciding on an entree. Again, just about anything on the menu can be modified so that it is vegan-friendly. Last night I had a craving for thick rice noodles, so I ordered the Mee Kari, a noodle soup with a rich, thick coconut curry broth and bits of cabbage, carrot, potato, bean sprouts and green onion. Halfway through the deep bowl I inevitably find myself saying "please, no more!" but it's so good that I almost always stuff myself to the brim and finish the whole thing. Last night I practiced rare restraint (knowing that there were two heaping servings of vegan chocolate pudding waiting in the fridge at home) and asked to have the remaining curry packed up to go. It made for a perfectly satisfying lunch this afternoon, particularly after being augmented by some broccoli and bok choy.

If you're a vegan in search of a good meal in New Haven, be sure to head to this sophisticated little eatery for some flavorful treats.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Favorite recipe: Chocolate Ambrosia Tart

I've been making this recipe for some time now, and it has become one of my favorites for the following reasons: it works any time of the year, is easy to make, tastes delicious, looks impressive and everyone likes it, even non-vegans. Whenever I have a party to go to, I bring this along because it looks so pretty and festive. And no one would ever guess the secret ingredient is avocados. Yes, that's right, 2 or 3 ripe and creamy avocados.

For a raw recipe, it's really quite simple. Simply pulse everything for the crust in your food processor and press it into a tart pan, making sure to get plenty of the crumbly stuff into the fluted edges so it will look pretty when it's taken out of the form. Or, if you don't have one of those fancy pans (but really, you should buy one just for this purpose... they're only $9), you can use a regular pie pan or even a spring-form cake pan.

While the crust is firming up in the refrigerator, puree all the filling ingredients in your handy Vita-Mix high-speed blender. If you don't have one of those, you can just use the food processor again. Then spread the creamy pudding into your prepared tart and refrigerate a couple of hours to firm it up. Garnish it with fresh cut berries (sure, summer is best for those perfectly ripe strawberries, but even frozen will work), and you're good to go. I think I'm gonna do this for Thanksgiving!

Nearly Raw Chocolate Ambrosia Tart with Nut Crust
(from Raw Food Made Easy by Jennifer Cornbleet)

1 cup walnuts (soaked, rinsed and drained)
1 cup pecans (soaked, rinsed and drained)
1/2 cup Medjool dates
1 Tbl raw agave syrup
1 tsp cinnamon
Pinch of sea salt

Finely chop walnuts and pecans in a food processor, then add dates, agave syrup, cinnamon and sea salt and puree until it begins to stick together. Press into pie pan and refrigerate while preparing filling.

1 cup Medjool dates
½ cup agave syrup
1 tsp vanilla
3 avocados, mashed
¾ cup cocoa powder
½ cup water (approx.)

In a food processor, puree dates, agave and vanilla together until smooth. Add avocado and cocoa and puree until creamy. Pour into prepared tart shell and garnish with fresh berries.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Preventing Childhood Obesity: Go Vegan!

Connecticut's Department of Public Health and Commission on Children in collaboration with the Childhood Obesity Council recently held a conference at the Legislative Office Building to address the growing concern over childhood obesity. According to DPH Commissioner Dr. J. Robert Gavin, the rates of childhood obesity in our state as well as the nation are staggering. "The number of children aged 6 to 11 in our society that public health defines as 'obese,' has more than doubled in the past 20 years. The rate among adolescents aged 12 to 19 has more than tripled."

Children who are obese are at greater risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis and other degenerative diseases and are more likely than children of normal weight to become obese as adults. It's frightening to think what long-term effect poor diet and lack of exercise can have on our next generation.

Fortunately, there are many progressive minds working together to proactively address this issue. Educators are turning this crisis into an opportunity by offering newly designed food and fitness programs to elementary school students throughout the state and teaching our young children about the benefits of a plant-based diet. YAY Fruits and Veggies!!
To learn more about the initiatives underway, visit the Connecticut Commission on Childhood Obesity and Yale's Rudd Center for Food Policy.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

It's the Bees, Honey

“We’re very close to the breaking point of what’s enough and what’s not enough. Honey bees are not healthy.” - Jerry Hayes, President, Apiary Inspectors of America

"Western honey bees, or European honey bees (Apis mellifera), are still weak, unhealthy and continue to disappear in massive numbers since Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) was identified in the fall of 2006. At least one-third of all the commercial honey bee colonies in the United States and United Kingdom have collapsed as of 2008. There might not be enough pollinators for the 2009 season, forcing food growers to seek out other pollinators in Australia, Argentina and perhaps even the Africanized bees based in Mexico that have spread north into the southern United States."

- Linda Moulton Howe (2008)

If you're not worried yet, you should be. Bees make honey. But they need flowers to do so. When the flowers are treated with pesticides, the bees don't die immediately, but their memory is disrupted. That means they can't find their way back to their hives, or to the flowers, and ultimately, they die. Which means flowers don't get pollinated, and fruits and vegetables don't get produced.

Maybe you've noticed this phenomenon in your garden. Everyone I know who had a garden this summer complained about low tomato yields and withered cucumberless cucumber vines. There was plenty of clement weather, lots of hot sun and optimal rain. Something is missing from this picture: the bees.
Read about the plight of honeybees and your future here.