Sunday, October 31, 2010

BVS Food Fest

Just got back from an afternoon of vegan grazing at the Boston Vegetarian Food Festival.  This was the 15th year of the festival, and I think my 6th year attending.  In previous years I've attended on Saturday, so the vibe was a little different on Sunday.

Crowded though it was, it was nowhere near the pandemonium of Day 1 when the line stretches across the sidewalk with crazy hungry vegans eagerly awaiting the doors to open.  This is good and bad because I generally avoid stampeding herds.  But while there wasn't as much jostling of bodies, there also wasn't as plentiful a selection of vegan offerings.  There was enough, though.  More than enough, actually.

With one notable exception:  Vegan Treats, the most heavenly vegan bakery on the planet.  Expectations were high as we approached the BVS volunteer to ask where they were stationed, only to discover they had to cancel this year due to an unexpected staff shortage (i.e., their baker quit).  Cafe Indigo from Concord, NH did their best to fill in, and though they promised "the best vegan carrot cake in the world" (and it was exceptionally good), it was no Vegan Treat.  We sighed heaviliy and did our best to recover from the disappointment. 

There was still plenty to discover with nearly 120 vendors wrapped around the gym, including Peace O' Pie, the all-vegan pizzaria from Allston.  We had planned a day at the fest to be topped off by a visit to the restaurant, but since they were already there, convenience dictated we forego the extra trip.  Happily, even lukewarm vegan is still pretty delicious.  I opted for a slice of the barbecue "beef" pie.

My main focus, however, was the cooking demonstration by celebrity Chef Tal Ronnen.  Known for being Oprah Winfrey's personal chef while she was on her 21-day cleanse, he was also quite personalble, entertaining, and informative. 

One tip I'm looking forward to trying is substituting fresh made raw cashew milk for soy milk in cream sauce recipes.  He used this ingredient in the Creamed Celery Root and Granny Smith Apple Soup that he demonstrated, and it was quite tasty.  I also picked up a copy of his gorgeous cookbook, The Conscious Cook, which I enjoyed browsing during the car ride home.  I'll be looking forward to testing a few of these recipes with clients over the next few weeks!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Oh me, oh Miya's

I had lunch yesterday at one of my favorite restaurants in New Haven, Miya's Sushi, on the corner of Howe and Chapel.  Anyone in Connecticut who knows sushi, knows this is the place to go.  But more specifically, for vegetarian sushi, this is really the only place to go, because once you've eaten it, nowhere else can compare.  Really.  It's that good.

It's all in the details:  the silkscreened message "Man cannot live on rice alone" printed on the front window, the menu, and t-shirts worn by employees and fans alike; the menu itself, which reads like the story of one man's evolving culinary adventure; and then the sushi, which is creative, artful, and delicious.

The biggest challenge is deciding what to order when every veggie roll I've tried has been an explosion of taste and texture.  Instead of using the traditional white rice, the rolls are made with a mix of whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, wild rice, and barley.  Then there's the fillings... not the usual avocado peanut or tempura sweet potato (although those are there, too), but flavor sensations like curry cauliflower, apricot chutney, artichoke cumin, roasted garlic and black beans, coconut avocado papaya... ahhh.  One of my favorites is the Japafrican Queen Roll, a hearty nod to Ethiopian cuisine with a filling of eggplant, apricots, avocado, pickled radish, scallions & ethiopian berbere spice mix, wrapped in injera.

Yesterday, I decided to have 3 simple rolls:  the Spicy Eggplant (melt in your mouth), cumin artichoke (nice smoky pickled contrast), and Rikki Tikki (mushroom and cauliflower with roasted garlic, chinese black beans, scallions, hot pepper and pine nuts).  It was a heavenly feast nonetheless.  Thanks, Bun, for creating a welcoming place where vegans can delight in good sushi!  You have a wonderful team working with you.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Eggplant and Kale Stacks with Caramelized Shallot Tomato Cream Sauce

The focal point of last night's dinner was baked eggplant. Traditionally, baked eggplant is made by dipping thick slices of eggplant in an egg wash and then coating them liberally in bread crumbs.  A golden crust forms on the outside and the inside becomes soft and creamy.  In order to achieve this perfect consistency in my gluten-free vegan kitchen, I dipped each slice in a cornstarch and water mixture, then baked them in a hot oven (425 degrees) on an oiled cookie sheet.  Not bad.

I needed some healthy greens as a contrast, so I grabbed a few leaves of kale from my garden and steamed them in the microwave.  The creamy sauce was made with caramelized shallots, fresh basil from my garden, Bionaturae tomato sauce, and about a tablespoon of Tofutti cream cheese.  I also tossed the sauce with some Tinkyada penne for a complete meal.  Quick, simple, delicious!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


After craving Ethiopian food for the past couple of weeks and making several unsuccessful attempts at cajoling friends to join me for some spongy bread (otherwise known as injera), I finally found a taker.  Thank you, Dianna (aka The Budget Babe), for making my day! 

We headed to Laliebela, my favorite little Ethiopian restaurant on Temple Street in New Haven.  I've eaten here several times for dinner and enjoyed the casual yet intimate atmosphere, attentive service, and the food.  For lunch, the setting is a little more informal as we learned there is just buffet service, but at $7.95 per person, you can really get your money's worth.  So, if you've never experienced Ethiopian food, this is a good way to get a sample, as well as an affordable and satisfying lunch. 

There were 6 vegetarian (all vegan) options and 2 meat options in separate chafing dishes, which meant that my selection was plentiful for a change.  I filled my plate with Yemisir Wat (spicy red lentil with berbere), Ater Kik (yellow split pea), Misir Alicha (green lentil), curried collard greens, Kosta (spinach and potato), and Gomen (cabbage and potato).  You could spoon a pile of white rice onto your plate, but I opted for the rolled up strips of injera, a spongy fermented flat bread made with teff flour.  This is one of the few breads I can eat since it's gluten-free, so of course, I indulged.  I'm already dreaming about my next visit. 

This week's menu

There was a variety of fall vegetables on this week's menu.  Clients were treated to a butternut squash risotto thickened with coconut cream, chickpea and cauliflower curry, and Brussels sprouts.  But since it feels downright balmy today with temperatures in the 70s, I reserved one last glimpse of summer for the third entree which featured baked eggplant with marinara and fresh basil.  Ahh... if only summer could last forever.

Dijon Glazed Baked Tofu with Coconut Butternut Risotto and Brussels Sprouts

Cauliflower, Chickpea and Potato Curry with Brown Basmati Rice

Baked Eggplant with Marinara and Fresh Basil,
Broccoli Rabe with Olive Oil, Toasted Slivers of Garlic, and Canellini Beans

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Cauliflower and Red Bean Curry

This lunch falls under the category of "everything tastes better curried."  I had half a cauliflower and half a can of red beans left from cooking for a client this week.  I know that potato and cauliflower go well in a curry, and chickpeas work with chana masala, so I figured, why not try using the beans and mix it all together?

Success!  I sauteed some onion, stirred in some tomato paste, curry powder, turmeric, cumin, and a little sea salt, then added enough water to loosen everything into a sauce.  To add a little richness, I stirred in a tablespoon of Tofutti cream cheese, then topped it all off with a sprinkle of green onion.  Yeah, perfect.

NBC30 Health & Wellness Fest Recap

This year's Health & Wellness Festival at the Connecticut Convention Center was even better than years past.  Maybe it was the weather.  Maybe it was the schedule of events.  Or maybe it was the excellent coordination by NBC's community intern, Natalie, who helped make it run so smoothly.  All in all, I'm happy with the positive response my cooking demonstration received.

About 20 people were in the audience at the start of my presentation, then by the time I was ready to serve samples, I think about 50 more people came swarming in. 

It was a chilly fall day and the topic of my presentation was "Vegan Comfort Food," so I decided to make a Gingered Winter Vegetable Bique with Spiced Pepitas.  Each bowl contained a heaping serving of butternut squash, parsnip, sweet potato, carrot, and onion - all vegetables that make you feel strong and grounded for the cold months ahead.  To add another warming element, I squeezed in a few chunks of ginger and its juice. 

The soup was topped with pumpkin seeds that I toasted lightly and tossed with chili powder and cinnamon.  The spicy crunch was a nice contrast to the sweet and smooth soup.  Thank you to all who attended and assisted in the event (especially mom & dad!!).

Saturday, October 16, 2010

NBC30 Health & Wellness Festival

I'll be giving a gluten-free vegan cooking demonstration at the Connecticut Convention Center as part of the NBC 30 Health and Wellness Festival.  This year's presentation will be perfect for a chilly autumn afternoon:  Winter Vegetable Bisque with Spiced Pepitas.  It's savory and sweet with a luscious combination of root vegetables (carrot, parsnip, sweet potato) and butternut squash, pureed together with soy milk.

The soup is topped with green onions and pumpkin seeds are toasted with the warming spices of chili powder and cinnamon.  The contrast of spicy and sweet is highly addictive!

Stop by at 4:00 to learn the recipe, purchase cookbooks, and enjoy some free samples!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Pasta with Butternut Squash and Toasted Walnut Cream Sauce

I'm trying to be creative lately with all the winter produce now available in the local market.  Tonight's challenge was butternut squash.  I decided to do something different with pasta by tossing it with a creamy sauce made from butternut puree, so I got out my trusty Cuisinart.

I started by sauteeing about a half a cup of diced onions in a pan with olive oil.  After these cooked for about 5 minutes and became lightly browned, I placed them in the food processor (note:  a high-speed blender would've worked better in retrospect).

Next, I toasted some walnuts in the pan just until a nutty aroma permeated the air.  I added these to the food processor along with about a tablespoon of nutritional yeast, 1/2 tsp of sea salt, about a cup of butternut squash I had already cooked until soft, and approximately a cup of rice milk.  I let this puree for quite some time because I wanted to get it super smooth and creamy. 

When the consistency seemed right, I transferred the mixture back to the pan and added 2 tablespoons of Tofutti cream cheese, which I stirred together until melted. You can probably omit this if you have a soy allergy, but I wanted it extra rich and creamy, so I indulged tonight.

Let the sauce simmer until it thickens.  If you accidentally overcook it and the sauce dries up, don't despair:  it actually concentrates the flavor and makes it taste cheesy.  Just be sure to add some more water to thin it out before pouring it over your cooked pasta. 

I garnished the pasta with some of the sweetest tasting fresh Italian parsley from Two Guys from Woodbridge.  Sublime...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

This Week's Menu

I've been researching pumpkin recipes lately to get in the spirit of fall and found a recipe in which the chef stacked layers of pumpkin with rice and other ingredients.  The presentation was lovely, but since all of my meals get packaged for clients in containers, I needed something more vertical.  But mostly I liked the hearty flavor combination of pumpkin with walnuts and mushrooms, which I decided to recreate in a different way.

My version uses butternut squash sliced into rounds (or "steaks" if you'd like) which get baked in the oven on an oiled baking sheet until lightly browned on the outside and tender on the inside.  I served them with a side of steamed kale and brown basmati rice.  Then I made my vegan version of the mushroom walnut sauce using dairy-free equivalents:  Tofutti cream cheese, nutritional yeast and rice milk.  This was decadent enough - I can't imagine anything richer.

The other entrees this week had a little spicy kick.  A favorite cold weather standby of mine is anything curried, so I decided to go with Chana Masala (chickpea curry) with Stringbeans and Basmati Rice.  A dash of cayenne and squeeze of lemon always perk of the flavors and the heat.

Then I made an Indonesian Gado-Gado.  I don't really have a recipe for this, but the key ingredients are peanut butter, chili powder, and cauliflower.  I could probably have augmented it with some coconut milk for added richness, but the peanut butter did just fine.  Some baked tofu rounded out the meal.

Split Pea Soup with Polenta Crouton and Fresh Basil Pesto

I had dinner with my parents this weekend, which translates to an entire afternoon of eating course after course after course, with snacking in between.  Not that I'm complaining... it was all good, and my mom has become quite the vegan chef! 

The first course was split pea soup.  On its own it would've been a delicious way to begin the meal.  But we wanted to figure out a way to make it special.  Oh, and there was some leftover polenta in the fridge and a HUGE bunch of basil from my uncle's garden that she wanted to use, too.  So I said, "why don't we float a raft of polenta on the soup, then top it off with a hefty dollop of pesto?"  And that's what we did.  Perfect!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

This Week's Menu

It's been a cold and rainy week, which is why the theme of this week's meals was comfort food.  And fall vegetables like butternut squash are also among my favorite.  How could I resist making something smooth and creamy with it?

I think my favorite entree this week is the pasta with butternut puree made just a little bit richer by adding a touch of Tofutti cream cheese.  This was accompanied by broccoli rabe sauteed with pine nuts, kalamata olives, canellini beans, and sliced garlic.  The contrasts of bitter and sweet balanced nicely.

My client was craving creamed spinach, so I decided to do a vegan version of a southern favorite, panfried tempeh with creamed spinach and polenta.  It had that "down home southern hospitality" feel to it, which I appreciated on a cold New England day.

The third meal was a Moroccan Chickpea Tagine seasoned with cinnamon and cumin, two warming spices.  The addition of currants gave a nice sweetness to the other flavors.  Any one of these would be perfect meals for the cold fall evenings ahead. 

Pan-fried Tempeh with Pumpkin Seed Pesto, Mashed Potatoes and Sunchokes, and Brussels Sprouts

I found a nifty little vegetable in the produce section of my favorite independent grocery store and decided to try an experiment for dinner the other night.  The sunchoke, or Jerusalem artichoke, is the tuber from a perennial sunflower that grows wild in woodlands and blooms at the end of the summer.  This is also the time of year that the tuber can be harvested, which is why it was in my grocer's refrigerated section. 

It looks kinda like a gnarled hand of ginger, which is also a tuber, but its taste is mild, like a slightly sweet potato, which is why I decided to try boiling and mashing it with a potato.  This was going to be my entire meal (yeah, that's how creative I am when it comes to cooking for myself), until I found a handful of Brussles sprouts in the refrigerator that needed to be eaten lest they turn to compost.  I decided to complete the meal with some pan-fried tempeh and top it all off with pumpkin seed pesto I had left from a demonstration I had done a couple days before.  Like magic, this meal came together perfectly.

Start by pan-frying the tempeh.  I like LightLife garden veggie tempeh best, which I cut into 8 thin rectangles.  I heated a little olive oil in a nonstick pan, then added the tempeh and a generous sprinkle of sea salt and fresh black pepper.  After a couple minutes of sizzling, I flipped the tempeh over and let it brown on the other side. 

While this was cooking, I mashed my cooked russet potato and sunchokes with about a tablespoon of Earth Balance margarine, some rice milk, and sea salt.  I always leave the skins on the potatoes for added fiber and texture, and since these were organic, I didn't have to worry about any pesticide residue. 

The meal looked lovely on the plate and tasted even better as all the flavors complemented each other nicely.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Walk for Farm Animals

Yesterday was a fabulous day for a walk in the park, and it was made even better because it supported our friends at Farm Sanctuary.  This was the third annual Walk for Farm Animals held at the lovely Elizabeth Park in Hartford.  Vegan friends gathered together to show their love of animals and desire to spread the message of ending their suffering by adopting a plant-based diet.

I don't have the official tally, but my guestimate was that at least 50 people were in attendance.  Walkers who came from all over the state raised over $5,000 for the cause. 

It was a pleasure to share the afternoon with like-minded people. I hope everyone had a great time!