Saturday, June 27, 2009

Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: Fresh from the Garden - A Totally Raw Picnic

(raw vegan picnic spread)

I am so excited to have been selected to participate in's 24, 24, 24 this month! My proposal was to create an entirely raw vegan menu using fresh, seasonal produce sourced from local farm markets and gardens. As a member of the Chapel Seed Community Garden in New Haven, I was able to use the picnic area under their beautiful grape arbor as the location of this feast.

(me making opening remarks at Chapel Seed Community Garden)

The menu was created with vegetables, flowers and fruit from my little 6' x 10' plot and the larger community plot at Chapel Seed, as well as from a lovely CSA in North Haven called Nature's Mirror (who will also be at the Spring Glen Farmer's Market in Hamden).

(Kim and Mike Melillo who run Nature's Mirror)

Though it's early in the growing season, the produce is already plentiful. . . delicious romaine lettuce (thanks Walter!!), Swiss chard, dinosaur kale, mustard greens, cabbage, snow peas, snap peas (thanks David!!), radishes,
cilantro, basil, carrots, strawberries and raspberries.

(lovely rainbow chard and dinosaur kale)

I am grateful for the beautiful weather that perfectly complemented the occasion. I think this was the first sunny day for the entire month of June! I know it made the plants happy, too.

We feasted on a menu of:

Nasturtium Cannolis Filled with Macadamia Cheese

Crudites with Creamy Avocado and Macadamia Dip)

"Sea"sar Salad with Avocado and Pear

Mediterranean Kale and Swiss Chard Salad

Shredded Cabbage Pad Thai

Curried Cashew Mock Chicken Salad

Fresh Berry Tart with Date Nut Crust

Thank you to all who came out for this fun event: members of the community garden, New Haven Land Trust, friends, family (especially mom and dad - I don't know how I could do this without you!!). I'll be looking forward to hosting more events like this in the future. Leave me a Comment here or send me an Email!

(enjoying the spread)

(mom dishing it out)

(chatting with friends)

(mmmm. . . so good. . .)

(thanks, Dianna, for the gorgeous food photos!)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Nasturtium Cannolis with Macadamia Cheese

I was in production mode today preparing food for the Fresh from the Garden Raw Picnic tomorrow, which will be part of's 24, 24, 24 this month.

Earlier in the day I picked some tender nasturtium leaves from my garden plot at ChapelSeed Community Garden. They're kinda like grape leaves, only not as tough and slightly peppery in flavor. I suspected they would complement the savory richness of a raw nut cheese, so I decided to make some stuffed rolls for the picnic (recipe below)

I started by soaking the macadamia nuts in water overnight to soften them up and remove the enzyme inhibitor. After draining and rinsing them, I put them in a food processor with mellow white miso, nutritional yeast, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and sea salt.

I pulsed the mixture together just until crumbly, then gradually added more water to get a semismooth paste. I then added some dried and fresh herbs, black pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. The result is an Italian inspired creamy ricotta-like filling that tastes rich, but is not heavy.

Onto the cannolis. . . First, I spread about 1 heaping tablespoon of the cheese along the bottom end of the leaf.

Then I rolled it up like a burrito (or in this case, little cannolis).

Tomorrow, I will be laying them on a platter and garnishing with lovely orange and yellow nasturtium blossoms. Can't wait!!

Macadamia Cheese "Rawcotta

2 tsp mellow white miso

2 cups macadamia nuts (soaked, drained and rinsed)

3 Tbl lemon juice

1 tsp olive oil

½ tsp sea salt

1-2 cloves garlic

1 Tbl onion powder

½ tsp dried basil

½ tsp dried oregano

Fresh black pepper

2 Tbl fresh parsley

Enough water to chop

In a food processor, pulse together miso, macadamia nuts, lemon juice, olive oil, sea salt, garlic and onion powder into a thick paste. Empty into a bowl and add remaining ingredients.

Friday, June 19, 2009

It's Only Natural

It's been awhile since I've been to It's Only Natural, a vegetarian restaurant in Middletown, CT. I used to work there with Chef and owner, Mark Shadle, in the tiniest restaurant kitchen. It's amazing how they can pump out so many lush and gorgeous entrees in that cramped space, and they do it well.

I was pleasantly surprised to find two major changes to their menu. The first is that ION is now almost entirely vegan. For the longest time, they were still serving seafood on their Specials Menu even though they billed themselves as a vegetarian restaurant. This can be confusing for the uninitiated who seem to think fish and chicken are vegetarian (they're not).

[Occasionally, I had the unpleasant job of skinning the salmon fillets. I'd have to clip the fins with scissors and peel off that stubborn layer of skin with pliers. It was not fun. On the plus side, I'd usually bring home the skin for my dog to eat as a treat. She'd chew on it as if it was dental floss.]

The second change is that there was a raw vegan selection for soup, appetizer, entree and dessert. I'm always looking for ideas, and after all the cake I've been eating lately, I felt the need to go all health.

I tried the Collard Rolls Stuffed with Sage Pesto and Veggies, Corn Polenta and Sage Blossom Flax Seed Crackers. Overall, it was a delicious and satisfying plate, and fairly priced at $13. While the Collard Rolls could've used a little more flavorful pesto filling, the polenta and crackers were a nice balance of crisp/creamy, sweet/savory.

For dessert we shared a plate of very rich Cacao Truffles with Berry Coulis and Pickled Cherry. At $7, this was a little pricey, but one truffle was just the right amount of decadence to end the meal. I felt like we were dining in Santa Monica, on one of the rare sunny days we've seen this June.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

More Cake

My mom has outdone herself! Two fabulous gluten-free vegan cakes in one week! The latest was a modification of a recipe I had given her many, many years ago which called for raspberry preserves in place of some of the oil. It's a moist, dense, and super chocolately cake.

She added a little almond extract to the batter which worked well with the cinnamon, and she replaced even more of the oil with apple sauce. Another success!

The frosting is made from melted vegan chocolate chips, Mori Nu tofu and maple syrup. The last few times I've made this frosting it's been more puddinglike, which has frustrated me. My mom's tip was to melt the chocolate chips in the microwave, then let them cool a little before blending them with the tofu & maple syrup. She also added a little cocoa powder just to be safe. The end result was smooth, rich and creamy, and regular people would never know there's tofu in there. Thanks, mom!!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Yesterday my mom surprised me with an incredible gluten-free vegan lemon coconut cake. She's always experimenting, and this time it resulted in 100% success.

She started with a Glutino Old Fashioned Cake and Cookie Mix which made a single layer vanilla cake which she augmented with lemon zest. After it baked, she split it in half and added a thin layer of lemon pudding she had whisked from corn starch, soy milk, Florida Crystals and lemon juice. She topped it with a vanilla cream cheese frosting and generous sprinkle of shredded coconut. Then she fashioned a pretty rose garnish from dried apricots and basil leaves. Beautiful! Delicious!

Earlier in the afternoon I had cooked Triple Green Tempeh with Brown Rice for a client. It's not as heavy and greasey as the kind you might get at a Chinese restaurant. The tempeh is nice and crisp and savory when baked in the oven rather than fried. I like it.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Magical Tofu Tour

I am fortunate to live about a half an hour away from a small company which produces the BEST tofu I've ever eaten. This is not hyperbole. For years I've been recommending The Bridge tofu to clients and students in my cooking classes. It's fresh. It's local. And it's incredibly delicious. For nearly as long, I've been meaning to take a drive to their wholesale production facility to speak to the owner, Stephen Lapenta, and ask if he'd be willing to show me how it's made.

Today I had a free morning and decided to do just that. To my luck, Stephen was agreeable, and quite surprised that I was calling from the parking lot of Dunkin' Donuts in Middletown - lost - asking for directions. Yes, I did make a special trip north for just this reason. (NOTE: I've been known to drive many miles, even fly cross country, to sample vegan food, so this wasn't too unusual.) I was curious, and I want to finally be able to answer the question in the affirmative whenever I'm asked "have you ever seen tofu being made?"

While I couldn't explain the process scientifically, I did get to witness the basic steps which take an astonishingly brief 45 minutes from start to finish.

First, the soybeans soak in huge pails of water until they can be split open and are soft enough to be squished between your fingers. This takes several hours. After that, they go into a huge grinder to be mashed into a meal, which then gets added to a big vat of water to be heated. The mixture is strained and poured into smaller containers where nigari is added as a coagulent. This causes the liquid to curdle and separate into curds and whey (much like cheese).

The whey (liquid) is drained off and the curds (soft tofu) are placed into a large block lined with cheesecloth which holds about 40 lbs. of tofu. A weight is placed on top and the tofu is allowed to sit for about a half an hour.

Once the tofu has reached the firm consistency, it is cut into 1 lb. blocks and carefully dumped into a large trough of water to cool.

I was in the shop while the kitchen crew was making their delicious Tofu Salad, so I also got to see this process. Many pounds of tofu were added to an industrial Hobart mixer, along with soy sauce, tahini, seasoning and the holy trinity of carrots, onion and celery. It looked lovely.

And strenuous.

This was mixed for quite some time until all of the ingredients were thoroughly combined.

Then, it was packaged into little 1 lb. tubs to be shipped off to market.

I am inspired by this experience and recommend a visit to anyone who, like myself, is interested in seeing the work involved in transforming the humble soy bean into a magical block of bean curd. Private tours can be arranged by calling 860-346-3663. And if you can't get to Middletown, be sure to ask for The Bridge tofu wherever you shop!

Thanks, Stephen. I hope you didn't mind me poking around today.

Creamy Asparagus and Leek Risotto

(creamy asparagus and leek risotto served with
eggplant, tomato and butter bean tagine)

Have you ever labored over a pot of rice, stirring and stirring, adding ladle after ladle of warm broth and cream, eagerly anticipating that moment when everything came together to form the perfect risotto? Suffer no more! This quick and easy version that's low in fat and high in flavor will leave you satisfied without all the hassle.

Creamy Asparagus and Leek Risotto
1 Tbl olive oil
1 leek, sliced thin

1 clove garlic, crushed
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice

2 cups water

1 cup rice milk
2-3 Tbl nutritional yeast
1 cup chopped asparagus

1 tsp sea salt

1 Tbl chopped fresh basil

In a large pot, sauté garlic and leek in oil. Add the Arborio rice and sauté for a minute. Add 2 cups water, 1 Tbl nutritional yeast and sea salt, cover and bring to a boil. Lower heat to simmer and cook 15 minutes, or until water is absorbed. Remove cover, raise heat to medium, then gradually stir in 1/4 cup rice milk until the rice has absorbed the liquid. Stir in another 1/4 cup of rice milk, keeping up this process until no more liquid can be absorbed. Don’t stop stirring. When you've added all of the rice milk, stir in remaining nutritional yeast and asparagus. Season with salt and pepper and garnish with fresh basil.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

This week's meals

I woke up this morning to a tremendous thunderstorm that rattled the windows and made the lights flicker. With the rain, the cold, and my dog shivering in fear under the kitchen table, I decided this week's theme would be comfort food. Again. Thankfully, it's something I never get tired of. (But haven't we had enough rain this season??)

Meal #1: French Lentil Stew with Green Beans Amandine and Quinoa

Meal #2: Roasted Portobello Mushroom with Mustard Glaze on Baby Greens and Chickpea Quinoa Pilaf

Meal #3: Creamy Asparagus and Leek Risotto with Eggplant, Tomato and Butter Bean Tagine

My favorite was the creamy risotto which I could eat all day. So rich and creamy, and not an ounce of dairy. Arborio rice soaks up the rice milk like a little sponge, making each grain plump and silky. Drizzle the top with some extra virgin olive oil and garnish with fresh basil. Delish!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Shoreline Diner - June Menu

If the sun is out and you're planning a trip to the beach, you simply MUST make a stop at Guilford's Shoreline Diner and Vegetarian Enclave this month. The new Specials Menu will make you very, very happy. Plus, they have a brand new (and gorgeous!) outdoor patio to enjoy those lazy, hazy days of summer.

I just spent the afternoon with Luis and the kitchen crew working on three new items - all of which were hits, and the biggest surprise was the creamy hollandaise sauce made with tofu. Even die-hard omnivores and tofu skeptics found the taste and texture of the Tofu Benedict Florentine delectable. And it's so easy to make, too.

We got fancy with the second entree, a Moroccan themed Baked Tofu made with a Spicy Harissa Sauce. This was served with Baby Red Bliss Potatoes roasted to perfection and Sauteed Spinach. Delish.

But by far, the winning item was the Gluten-free special, Pan-fried Chick Pea Croquettes with Tahini Sauce, Minted Snap Peas and Quinoa Tabouleh. The croquettes are kinda like falafel, only they're made without wheat flour or breadcrumbs. And there's an added kick of coriander and cumin. Oh, such flavors.

I do hope you can come to the Diner to try them in person!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

This week's menu

I had a special request this week for "soft food" from a client with TMJ. I was happy to oblige, since "soft food" often equates with "comfort food" in my book. And since it was a rainy week, I thought these meals worked perfectly within both contexts.

Meal #1:Baked tofu with mashed potatoes and asparagus with hollandaise sauce

Meal #2: Tempeh stroganoff with peas on baked polenta

Meal #3: Mediterrannean chick pea with garlic greens and Israeli cous cous

My favorite was Meal #1, since I've been experimenting with the lemony hollandaise sauce all week. I think it works really well with asparagus.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Tofu Benedict Florentine

I was on the quest this week for a healthy version of the traditional Eggs Benedict made with hollandaise sauce. Instead of the standard bed of Canadian bacon and toasted English muffin, I opted for spinach (of course, you can use a vegan bacon like Lightlife's Fakin' Bacon or Smart Bacon, which are both delish... but I have to avoid them as well as the toasty English muffins since they have gluten).

Whenever it comes to creamy white sauces, I immediately think: Mori Nu. Silken tofu is a versatile ingredient, and almost always the perfect alternative in recipes calling for heavy cream once it's pureed. You can stock up those asceptic packs in your pantry and always have some on hand when the mood strikes.

This hollandaise sauce works perfectly for this breakfast recipe, as well as for a topping on a side dish of asparagus or broccoli, or tossed with pasta as a primavera. I assembled my Tofu Benedecit Florentine on a plate with a bed of spinach (steamed fresh is best, but all I had was frozen chopped... still ok!), thick slab of oven-baked tofu (marinated in tamari, rice vinegar and turmeric), slice of tomato, generous drizzle of hollandaise sauce, and garnished with chopped fresh parsley.

This dish will be making an appearance on the June specials menu at the Shoreline Diner in Guilford.

Hollandaise Sauce

1 package Mori-Nu Silken Firm Tofu, drained
3 Tbl lemon juice, freshly squeezed
2-3 Tbl Nutritional Yeast
3 Tbl Organic Earth Balance, melted
¼ cup rice or soy milk
dash cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon turmeric

¼ tsp sea salt

Puree all of the above ingredients in a blender until smooth and creamy. Heat in a sauce pot until warm, being careful not to boil.