Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Kids in the Kitchen

I have a hard time turning down offers to cook with kids since they always know how to have fun. And they look so cute I want to squish them!  So when I was asked to participate in the Junior League of Greater New Haven's "Kids in the Kitchen" Health Fair, of course I said yes.

These are kids who participate in the city's YMCA programs, many of whom come from families that don't have access to or can't afford to eat fresh organic produce on a regular basis.  It seemed like the perfect opportunity to introduce them to the concept of SMOOOOOOOOTHIES!

There was a little hesitancy at first when the crowd of kids first rushed through the doors and saw a table with Dixie cups filled with a mysterious green liquid.  But it didn't take much encouragement to get them to take a sip.

And once they did, they held out their soggy cups for refill after refill.  I made mixes of Banana, Pear, Melon, Pineapple, Mango, and Kale.  When they asked what "that green stuff" was, I said it's kale, which is even better than spinach, and will make you even stronger than Popeye.  "More, Please!!"  Keep eating those fruits and veggies!!

Special thanks to Stephanie Evans and everyone from the Junior League who worked hard to make this a successful event.  Also, special thank you to VegFund for providing a stipend for the fresh organic produce and Vegan Outreach for their compelling literature.  Many, many parents were curious and picked up a brochure on their way through.  Yay!

(Relatively) Healthy Cooking in a Hurry

I had the first meeting of my 4-week West Hartford Adult Ed. "Healthy Cooking in a Hurry" class last night.  After a full 8-hour day of census training and hour-long drive from New Haven, I was feeling like most people do at the end of the day:  not looking forward to cooking dinner.  Alas, I had a group of 8 hungry students awaiting a delicious meal, so I had to oblige.

Somewhere at the midway point in the three-hour class, I got a second wind that carried me through to the finish line.  The menu included Asparagus and Leek Risotto, Baked Tofu with Arugula Pesto, Wilted Escarole with Toasted Pine Nuts and a dessert of Chocolate Dipped Coconut Almond Macaroon Cookies.  I think it helped knowing there was a chocolate reward for the ride home.  

See you all next week!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Eggplant Caponata with Crostini

In about a month I'll be catering a vegan graduation party (congratulations, Rachel!), so I prepared some eggplant caponata and olive tapenade for a tasting tomorrow.  Both are recipes that need to be prepared at least a day in advance so that the flavors have time to blend together.

It's amazing how such simple ingredients can create such a robust flavor after slowly simmering in a pot.  My secret ingredient for the caponata is sundried tomatoes, which add that little umami kick.  So delicious.  And I use an aged balsamic vinegar instead of the traditional red wine vinegar for a little sweetness.  I love this recipe, and I'm sure it will be even more delectable tomorrow.

Eggplant Caponata
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium eggplant, 1/2” dice, about 3 cups
1 cup chopped onions, 1/2” dice
1 cup chopped cherry tomatoes, cut in quarters
1/8 tsp hot red pepper flakes
2 cloves minced garlic
2 Tbl tomato paste
3 Tbl balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup green olives, sliced
2 Tbl capers
1-2 Tbl maple syrup
1/4 cup minced parsley
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil. Add the eggplant, onions and a pinch of salt and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes until soft, stirring occasionally. Add the tomatoes, red pepper flakes and garlic and cook for about 10-15 minutes more, stirring occasionally. Add the remaining ingredients, bring to boil, cover, lower heat, and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Remove the pan lid if the mixture becomes too wet (this is supposed to be the consistency of a relish, and it’s okay if the eggplant becomes mushy).  Refrigerate for a day, and taste to adjust the tart-sweet balance by adding a touch more maple syrup or vinegar.  Serve at room temperature as a spread for Crostini garnished with fresh parsley.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Last night's dinner

Normally on a Thursday night I go for something simple for dinner:  pasta, rice and beans, a salad, maybe even just a bowl of oatmeal.  Yeah, that's how exciting it can be in the Well on Wheels kitchen when not cooking for clients.  But I have a class coming up next week and I wanted to test some recipes.

The portobello mushroom caps looked particularly good, so I picked up a couple with the intention of marinating them in a balsamic vinaigrette then baking them in the oven.  I would serve them with leek and baby pea risotto with ratatouille.  This seemed like a good plan, but I just felt like the "meat" portion wouldn't be substantial enough, so I decided to fill the caps with some tamari marinated tofu.  Perfect!  If only I had a handful of shredded Daiya mozzerella to melt on top, this meal would've been over the top.  It was pretty delicious, nonetheless. 

Although the meal was filling and satisfying, I was craving something sweet for dessert.  I browsed the fridge:  nothing.  Then the freezer:  the mango ice pops just weren't gonna cut it.  And then I noticed a little box of pearls on the freezer door, tapioca pearls.  Eureka!  These would work perfectly with the leftover coconut milk I had in the fridge and the fresh strawberries I had bought earlier in the day.  It was a little tedious stirring the heated mixture for about 20 minutes, but in the end, worth it.  The perfect ending to a perfect meal.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Happy Vegan Earth Day!

Even though green living has become trendy, it doesn't mean it should be dismissed as a fad. There are so many steps you can take to make your life "greener," and those changes can have a ripple effect in your family, workplace, neighborhood, school, and community. Yes, even the planet: we're all in it together, after all.  Why not begin this Earth Day?

These steps can mean recycling newspapers at home and copy paper at work, or using energy-efficient light bulbs, grocery shopping with cloth bags, and buying locally-grown foods. While these are all important steps, they will not benefit the planet nearly as much as switching to a vegan diet.

70% of the world's potable water is used to raise livestock for food and 80% of the world's produce is used to feed these animals. How many people could be spared from a life of malnutrition and disease if even just a small percentage of this water and food was used to feed people? And imagine how much cleaner the world would be as a result.  All it takes is each one of us reducing our consumption of animals and animal products to make this possible.

Here are some tips for honoring Mama Gaia three times a day, at breakfast, lunch and dinner:

Eat local. Transporting food great distances requires a lot of fuel and produces toxic auto emissions. Purchase from farmer's markets instead.
Eat organic. Toxic chemicals from pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers leech into soil and contaminate groundwater. Not to mention what they do to people who eat food with their residue.
Grow your own. If you have a piece of land, grow your own veggies. If not, adopt a community garden plot and connect with nature.
Go vegan (Come on. . . you knew it was coming!) Animal agriculture produces more greenhouse gas emissions than automobiles. Meat-based diets require 10-20 times as much land as plant-based diets - nearly half of the world's grains & soybeans are fed to animals. Animal waste and feed cropland dump more pollutants into our waterways than all other human activities combined. Say NO to industrial poop!

For more about what you can do this Earth Day, read this great article, "This Earth Day, Go Vegan," in The Guardian.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Half a Head and a Handful of Roots

This is one of those meals that you don't know how it will turn out until you're done.  When I looked in my fridge, all I found was a half a head of cauliflower, a handful of baby carrots, and a few onions.  Yeah, I know.  What's a chef to do?  I decided to try making a cauliflower and carrot curry.

Thai Kitchen Pure Coconut Milk, 13.66-Ounce Cans (Pack of 12)
In a pinch, it always helps to have a can of coconut milk in the pantry. You can use it for curries, soups, and even baked goods.  My favorite is Thai Kitchen which comes in organic and low fat (I always go for the full fat for full flavor).  On the side I'm making some jasmine rice, and the sweet aroma is already wafting through the kitchen and into my office as I type this.

I started by cutting the cauliflower into large florets, the baby carrots into wedges and the onion into a large dice.  Then I dropped them into a hot pan with olive oil and sauteed them on medium high heat for about five minutes until the cauliflowers had some golden color.

I added a little salt, curry powder and coconut milk and brought the mix to a boil.  Then I lowered the heat, covered the pan and simmered about 10 minutes until the cauliflower could easily be cut with a spoon.

Gotta say, this is one of the quickest, easiest and most delicious lunches you could possibly imagine.  Really rich and decadent with only about 1/4 cup of coconut milk.  Add it to your repertoire of fail-safe recipes!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Mia's Mexican Fiesta

What a way to spend a birthday!  Mia Flowers and 12 of her very best friends gathered together Saturday afternoon for a cooking lesson to celebrate her 9th birthday.

The afternoon began with all the kids sequestered in the family room decorating their chef hats and aprons.  Nice job everyone!

Then we headed to the kitchen for some cooking.

The theme of the party was a Mexican Fiesta, which was perfect for the rainbow of colorful fruits and veggies we were about to prepare.  And there was one little guy particularly happy about spicy food!

The recipes included Really Good Salsa, Make Your Own Tacos & Burritos, and Fresh Fruit Tart with Nut Crust.  Everyone enjoyed creating their own little fruit tart masterpieces from bananas, kiwis, strawberries, blueberries. 

Then we followed with some home made tacos.  It was a fiesta filled with fun, good food and friends.

Happy Birthday Mia!!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Peaceable Kingdom

I attended a screening this weekend of Tribe of Heart's new and improved documentary on the animal agriculture industry called "Peaceable Kingdom."  The film followed a loose narrative of three couples who were all in some way connected to farming:  a 4th generation cattle rancher, a small goat farm, and a farm animal sanctuary.  It was screened as part of the Environmental Film Festival at Yale and won the audience favorite award (and got my vote!).

From the film's website:
A riveting story of transformation and healing, PEACEABLE KINGDOM: THE JOURNEY HOME explores the awakening conscience of several people who grew up in traditional farming culture and who have now come to question the basic premises of their inherited way of life. Presented through a woven tapestry of memories, music, and breathtaking accounts of life-altering moments, the film provides insight into the farmers' sometimes amazing connections with the animals under their care, while also making clear the complex web of social, psychological and economic forces that have led them to their present dilemma.

The Q&A which followed with the director, producer and one of the farmers showed a surprising diversity of audience awareness, some of whom were newly enlightened by the information presented in the film.  It was refreshing to hear.  One young woman commented,
 “I work with individuals with disabilities and strive to interact at all times with respect for their individual humanity. However I don’t extend that to the entire animal kingdom. This film finally challenged that disconnect. I’ve moved to a new consciousness again.”

By the informal conversations I witnessed outside the theater, I would say that she was not alone in her epiphany.  The film was engaging, presenting compelling stories of everyday heroism without sounding preachy or inducing guilt.  I was particularly happy with the scenes dismissing the myth of humane meat and the realities of "cage-free" chickens.  Though it was at times difficult, and sad, to observe, the producers were careful not to sensationalize.  These are common practices in the animal agriculture industry.  Anyone who is a consumer of the end products should be aware of where their food comes from and how it got to their plate.

For now, the film is being screened at festivals across the United States.  Future plans include a DVD release, and with luck, wider distribution at major movie theaters.  Be sure to add it to your list of "Must See" films for 2010!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Dairy-free delights

There are so many options out there when it comes to choosing dairy alternatives.  This morning I had cereal with WestSoy vanilla soy milk, but I often use Rice Dream vanilla rice milk.  Either works great as a substitute; in fact, now that I've gotten used to the difference, I think they both taste better than regular cow's milk.  The first time I tried rice milk I thought it was a little thin and watery, kinda like skim milk but without the bluish tinge.  Because soy milk is higher in protein and fat, it's texture is closer to that of real milk.

I've also tried hemp milk and almond milk, both of which have their own distinct flavor and take some getting used to.  But they're high in protein, so they're particularly popular for blending with fruit to make protein shakes and smoothies.  I usually choose the vanilla just because it adds a hint of "desserty" flavor that distracts from the nuttiness.

Pacific Natural Foods Hemp Milk Vanilla, 32-Ounce Units (Pack of 12)
Whatever you choose, you're doing your body good by staying away from the hormones in cow's milk, as well as the added cholesterol.  Non-dairy alternatives have ZERO cholesterol and most are low in saturated fat.  They also work well in baking.  A recent feature in Taste for Life magazine had some excellent recipes for dairy-free desserts.  I think my favorite is going to be the Butterscotch Mousse Pie, which I'm planning to make today.  Who could feel deprived when a slice like this was placed in front of them?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Gluten-free Goodness

One of the exciting things about trying new gluten-free vegan products is discovering a winner reminiscent of a childhood favorite.  In this case, it's Oreos.  Mi-Del makes a gluten-free version but they contain eggs, so I have to pass.  I tried another brand recently that just tasted like sand, and if I knew the name I'd forewarn you to stay clear of it.  Beware the pink package!

So I was pleasantly surprised to find gluten-free, dairy/casein-free, egg-free and trans fat free chocolate sandwich cookies that not only look like the real thing, but taste like it, too.  As far as I can remember.  But I have good taste memory for this kind of thing. And perfect texture, too - a nice, crisp crunch, and they're definitely dunkable.  Plus the cream center was just the right consistency, too.  They're called K-Toos, short for Kinni-Toos, made by Kinnikinnick Foods.  The only drawback is they're so delicious I might have to buy them all the time.  Which leads to the second drawback:  at $4.99 for an 8 oz. package of 2 dozen cookies I'd need to find myself a part-time job to pay for this added luxery. Not gonna happen.

The other recent discovery likewise destined to send me to the poorhouse is Lucy's Chocolate Chip Cookies.  These are the ones Starbucks recently added to its lineup of addictive treats.  They're gluten-free and vegan.  And, yeah, delicious.  They also make oatmeal and sugar cookies, for those who want an alternative to chocolate.  I'd imagine these are equally light, flakey and heavenly.  Oh the torture.

Yesterday's lunch

I love it when leftovers taste this good.  Thursday night I scoured the fridge for anything that might come together with a little bit of magic and become dinner.  I found half a red pepper, tempeh, a few red potatoes and lettuce.  Not much to work with, and at first I considered throwing it all together and making some sort of hash.  Instead, I opted for something a little more creative.  And the payoff included a little extra to enjoy the next day.

The red potatoes were perfect for potato salad since I didn't have to peel them and they don't fall apart if you accidentally lose track of time and overcook them.  Which I always do.  Plus, the scallions growing in a pot on my deck added the perfect amount of freshness.  I sauteed diced red pepper with some onion, then mixed it together with crumbled tempeh, gluten-free breadcrumbs, tahini and various seasonings to make a good burger dough.  Then I panfried them to perfections.

Result:  Pan-fried Tempeh Burgers with Salsa, Red Bliss Potato Salad, and Greens.  Delish!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Julia Child's Kitchen

I know she wasn't necessarily the greatest friend to animals; nonetheless, as a chef, Julia Child has been an inspiration to me ever since my childhood days of watching her "French Chef" series on PBS.  Thirty-five years ago there was no Food Network, there were very few celebrity chefs, and she was the only female chef anyone knew by name.  Other than maybe Betty Crocker.  So PBS was where you could find those cooking shows, and I ate them up (so to speak).

It seemed like I spent every Saturday afternoon with Julia Child, Jaques Pepin, The Frugal Gourmet, The Galloping Gourmet, and also The Victory Garden which occasionally had a cooking segment.  So when I found out several years ago that Julia Child's Cambridge kitchen had been transported to the Smithsonian, I wanted to make a pilgrimage.  I finally got that chance on my recent trip to DC.

As a result of the recent blockbuster, Julie and Julia, this exhibit has become quite popular.  Crowds gathered around each viewing window just for a peak into Julia's magical world.  We all gawked and oooed at every detail - the favorite being her nifty organization technique of using a pegboard with black marker outlines for hanging all her pots and pans in the correct location.

 I was surprised at the normal scale of the space, particularly since knowing she was 6 feet 2 inches tall.  The countertops were set higher than average due to her height, and yet there really wasn't much counter space on which to work.  In fact, I was surprised at how ordinary everything was.  This was just a basic looking home kitchen - no granite counters, no center island, no fancy glass-fronted cabinets or overhead lighting.  The floor was even a humble linoleum probably from the 70s.

And yet the kitchen exuded a simple elegance, with the calm blue of the cabinetry, the butcher block counters and table, clean stainless steel, and orderly arrangement of every piece which surely had its function.  It goes to show that individual style matters more when it comes to confidence in the kitchen than getting caught up in impressive state-of-the-art gadgets and magazine-spread design elements.  If you want a kitchen that you can actually work in, function always comes first.  And understated style helps.

It truly was a vicarious thrill to be there.  To think about Julia and Jaques filming their PBS show at that table, sitting down to share a glass of wine afterward.  It was like being home.  Comfy, welcoming, and always satisfying, no matter what was on the menu. 

Friday, April 2, 2010

Sticky Fingers

A trip to DC wouldn't be complete without visiting Sticky Fingers Bakery, one of the few all-vegan bakeries in the U.S. (and in my opinion, one of the best, if not THE Best).

As any vegan knows, being able to walk into a bakery and order ANYthing off the menu is a rare treat.  The only problem is it's so hard to decide.  Sure, I could've horded every last morsel in their display case, but there was a line of hungry customers behind me and I had to do the polite thing and save some for them.  So. Hard. To. Resist.

We opted for the sit-down breakfast along with a bag of their signature Sticky Buns to go.  As we waited in line, samples of their oatmeal "Cowvin" Bars became available, making staying on track with our decision more difficult.  Yes, of course, we caved, grabbing a full bar to take with us to the Smithsonian and beyond.  And those sticky buns didn't last very long.

I had to try the Biscuits and Gravy since it's something I never make due to my gluten sensitivity.  It's almost entirely made of wheat:  light and crumbly flour biscuit in a gravy thickened with a wheat-based roux, dotted with crumbled wheat gluten soy sausage.  Ahhh... so not good for me, but soooo delicious.  As if this wasn't satisfying enough, the B&G were served with a side of crispy rosemary homefries, tempeh "bacon," and a decent portion of tofu scramble.  This kept me going through the afternoon.

Thank you, Sticky FIngers, for a hearty start to my weekend in DC.  I'm already counting the days till my return visit!  Maybe AR 2010...?