Monday, January 31, 2011

Oprah goes vegan... again!

Yes, indeed it's true


I've been saying for years that the biggest breakthrough for bringing veganism into the mainstream would be if Oprah dedicated herself to the welfare of farm animals with as much passion as she does to other causes. A little over a year ago, she did just that by going vegan for 21 days, removing all animal products from her diet in her quest to be a "conscious eater." 

This week, she goes a step further when her entire staff of 378 employees takes the
Vegan Challenge to go vegan for a week. Watch her show this Tuesday, February 1, which will be dedicated to all things vegan. Special guest Kathy Freston, author of Quantum Wellness, will be speaking about her newest publication, Veganist.

I encourage all of you to watch the show and contribute to the enlightened conversation. This is an opportunity to support Oprah on her journey and provide encouragement to others considering doing the same. We need to let her audience know this is one of the easiest ways they can make a difference in the world. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Gluten-free Mediterranean Pasta

The family tradition growing up was Sunday dinner of spaghetti and meatballs at my maternal grandmother's house, followed by rounds of Boggle until "60 Minutes" started ticking on the TV.  Some weeks she would even treat us to fresh made ravioi or cavatelli, but whatever the pasta, it was always drenched in rich, thick marinara and a generous dusting of Parmigiano Reggiano.

This past weekend felt like a return to Pasta Sunday, though these days it's gluten-free Tinkyada brown rice penne, sans cheese.  And, instead of tomato sauce, this time it was a base of olive oil and garlic for a light Mediterranean twist.  I've forgotten how delicious this quick and easy meal can be since my inclination is to always drench everything in sauce.  Perhaps that's my upbringing.  But when I lighten up a bit, I'm always happy with the results.

The penne was tossed with kalamata olives, diced onions, sundried tomatoes, garlic, artichoke hearts (just a few, cut in half), baby spinach, fresh basil, and toasted pine nuts.  While the pasta is cooking, toast a handful of pine nuts in a dry skillet on medium heat.  Keep an eye on these because once they start to release their oil and aroma, they're done in seconds.  Remove them immediately from the pan and set aside.

Next, saute about a half cup of diced onions in a hot skillet until they're translucent and beginning to brown on the edges.  Then add a couple cloves of minced garlic and saute about a minute.  Toss in the olives, sundried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and about 8 oz. of baby spinach, then sprinkle with sea salt.  If the pan is too hot and sizzly and things are starting to stick, don't worry - just add a bit of water or wine to deglaze.  Cover the skillet and let this steam for a couple of minutes.

Once the spinach is wilted, taste for seasoning.  It should be a little salty since it's all going to get tossed with the penne and the flavors will mellow out.  Drain the cooked penne, then immediately toss it with the spinach mixture.  Season with fresh black pepper and sea salt, then stir in the fresh basil and pine nuts.  In less than a half an hour, dinner is ready, and you will be magically transported to a warm, sunny hillside overlooking miles of crisp blue ocean. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

This Week's Menu

I went back to basics for a couple of the entrees on this week's menu.  It always helps my planning when clients have a craving and can let me know what they want.  In this case, it was stir-fry. Something so simple that I rarely ever make it, and yet, once I do, I always say to myself, "this is so good.  I should make it more often."

So the stir-fry included baked tofu triangles, broccoli, carrots, and snow peas. I served it with short-grain brown rice, again, something that tastes so sweet and delicious on its own that I could eat it all the time, and yet I rarely do.

Another basic was Mediterranean Pasta with Sundried Tomatoes, Kalamata Olives, Artichoke Hearts, Baby Spinach, Cannelini Beans and Fresh Basil.  I love these flavors in the summer, which is where my thoughts are as we experience yet another snow storm and prepare for frigid temperatures over the weekend.  I should rename this pasta "California Dreamin'."

The final item on this week's menu was inspired by a recent cooking lesson where my student and I experimented with Oven-roasted Brussels Sprouts.  They're so delicious tossed in balsamic vinaigrette and caramelized under high heat of the oven.  The little errant leaves that separate from the heads get extra crispy and flavorful, which is my favorite treat.  I served them with Pan-fried Tempeh and Perfectly Mashed Potatoes.  Yum!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Learning to Be Vegan

I was recently interviewed by the Journal Inquirer for an article about transitioning to a vegan diet.  Many people create New Year's resolutions to eat healthier and often choose to eschew animal products in favor of more fruits and veggies.  Ultimately, they find excess weight comes off effortlessly, they feel lighter and more refreshed, and they're happy to no longer be contributing to animal suffering.  While the first step is often the hardest, once a commitment is made, it all gets easy.  Trust me.  See the photo shoot here.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Kitchen Challenge

In my 6 years as a private vegan chef and cooking instructor, I think last night I faced my greatest challenge ever. All of the ingredients were present to create a recipe for disaster:  a kitchen with no lighting or countertops, a limited pantry, and a lonely little stove.  And yet, somehow, some magical alchemy occurred and a delicious meal resulted.  It helped that my student had a sense of humor about the situation and was happy to have some guidance.

For anyone who thinks you need granite this and stainless steel that and every fancy whirring gadget from the Williams-Sonoma catalogue before you can learn to cook vegan, last night's lesson would prove otherwise.  What is most important is a willingness to experiment with new flavor combinations, tastes and textures, and also the ability to be accepting of what you have and where you are in the journey.  If there's anything holding you back, it's all in your mind.

Still, it was indeed a challenge, so we kept the Menu basic and uncomplicated:  Romaine Lettuce Salad with Granny Smith Apple, Pecans and Dried Cranberries Tossed with Balsamic Vinaigrette; Oven-Roasted Brussels Sprouts; and Quinoa with Toasted Almonds.  Light, energizing, and grounding.  And perfect for a Tapas party!

So my advice for all budding vegans out there is:  keep it simple.  Focus on your favorite vegetables and flavors and build a menu around them.  Or just pick one.  In this case, it was Brussels Sprouts.  When they're roasted in the oven with a dressing of balsamic vinegar and olive oil, they develop a rich, caramelized sweetness.  We used the same dressing to toss with our salad, which also simplified the menu.  To balance out the sweet tanginess, I thought quinoa with toasted almonds would add some depth and richness.

Planning out the time for each recipe and choreographing each step to allow for multi-tasking is my second piece of advice.  The quinoa cooked in the same amount of time as the Brussels Sprouts, and as they cooked we prepared the salad, so everything came together at once.  In about a half an hour, dinner was on the table.

Any challenge can be overcome with a little creativity.  And if you have some challenges of your own that have been holding you back, I hope you'll see them in a new light - not as limitations, but as rungs in a ladder that will take you to higher places.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

This Week's Menu

This week I was asked to do an interview on vegan food for the Journal Inquirer.  For the photo shoot, I decided to prepare one of my "signature dishes," Tofu Piccata with Asparagus and Mashed Potatoes.  It's a customer favorite at the Shoreline Diner and Georgie's Diner, where I've shared my recipe, but the best way to get it is served fresh.  And so I decided to treat my clients this week to this rich and savory meal.

The piccata sauce is made with rice milk thickened with cornstarch and flavored with fresh squeezed lemon and Dijon mustard.  Capers add a tangy burst of saltiness.

The second entree was Baked Tofu with Maple-glazed Parsnip and Sweet Potato, Toasted Pumpkin Seeds and Broccoli.  I've made this with butternut squash but wanted to try something a little different this week; plus the parsnips looked good.

The third entree featured Baked Sundried Tomato Polenta with Tempeh, Kale and Fire-roasted Tomato Saute.  I think it worked pretty well as comfort food.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Cooking Lesson

Yesterday I was pleased to give a cooking lesson to someone celebrating his one-year vegan anniversary. Hooray!  And congratulations!  It's always fun cooking with someone who considers this new way of eating an adventure and is eager to learn more.

He decided on some recipes that could be incorporated into his weekly repertoire that were quick, easy, and versatile.   One such standard is Veggie Fried Rice with Tofu.  In this recipe, I explained how to bake the tofu first so it wouldn't fall apart during the sauteeing process.  Any veggies can be used, but we chose the complimentary broccoli and carrot combo.

Since he wanted to learn how to make some tempeh recipes, I shared two of my favorites.  The first is Pan-fried "Fish Cakes" with Remoulade.  I think they're awesome, and I've been told they're even better than the real thing since they're not as rich and heavy.  As an added bonus, since the ingredients are safe to eat uncooked, the crumbled mixture makes a pretty decent substitute for tuna salad.

Another tempeh recipe we did was Tempeh and Broccoli with Indonesian Peanut Sauce and Rice Noodles.  This can be eaten hot or cold, and it's really easy to assemble.  The sauce can be used on noodles, or even as a dipping sauce for dumplings or summer rolls.  I love the sweet and spicy flavors  combined with the velvety creaminess of the peanut butter.

I was told all of these recipes came out delicious... and the only trouble was resisting the temptation to eat them all in one sitting, because they needed to make it to work the next day.  I wonder what the co-workers comments were like when they saw these creations!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Thali, Too, I Missed You

It's been awhile since I've visited Thali, Too, the all-vegetarian Indian restaurant tucked behind the Yale Bookstore.  So today's lunch was a pleasant ending after a morning spent wandering around the Yale Art Gallery.

Thali, Too features chat and other Indian "street fare" not often found at most Indian restaurants, so we started off with the Masala Papad, a fried chickpea flour wafer topped with tomato, red onion and cilantro salsa.  While typically these flavors appeal to me, I kept wishing there was a little tamarind to cut the heat of this particularly spicy onion.

The second light dish was Aloo Bonda, a split pea batter fried dumpling filled with potatoes, mustard seed and curry leaf.  These were tasty on their own, though strangely paired with a ketchup-like dipping sauce.

For my entree I ordered a stewed eggplant, similar to Baigan Bhurtha, but with a richer flavor and creamier texture that took some getting used to, though I think the verdict is a "like."

My dining companion ordered a rice noodle dish which was described as a "coconut vegetable stew," which sounded like a comforting entree for a chilly winter afternoon.  Expecting it to arrive in a soup bowl, we were both surprised to see a plate of noodles arrive at the table.  But the roasted asparagus on the side made up for the bewilderment.

All in all, Thali, Too is an enjoyable experience for a vegan since the menu is clearly marked with non-vegan items, and everything else is "safe."  Service is always courteous and attentive, and it's even a great place to dine alone since there's seating with a window overlooking the kitchen, so it's almost like getting a free show with the meal.

Monday, January 3, 2011

2nd Annual New Year's Brunch

Want to kick off the year in grand style?  Have a vegan brunch!!  After a night of partying (or just dreaming away the past year), the trick to recovery is to sleep late, lay back, relax, and enjoy grazing on fabulous vegan fare the next day.  Or all weekend.

This was the second New Year's Brunch for Well on Wheels and I learned from my past experience that it was going to be a potluck.  This chef needs a little break after the holidays, too!  So, I offered up three of my favorite brunchy items:  Southwestern Tofu Scramble with salsa and guacamole, Apple Walnut Pancakes with real maple syrup, and Pumpkin Spice Muffins with Cranberry Pecan Streusel.

Southwestern Tofu Scramble


Guests contributed some equally delectable treats to the buffet table:  Blueberry Scones, Banana Muffins, Die-and-Go-to-Heaven Tofu Quiche, Peach and Berry Cobbler, Fruit Salad, Cole Slaw, Italian Stew, Spiced Rice with Raisins, Salad, and fresh salsa.  The colors and flavors brightened the room on this cloudy winter day.

Luscious Fruit Salad

A Mix of Muffins

Die-and-Go-to-Heaven Tofu Quiche

Blueberry Scones

Cole Slaw

Thank you to all who joined us in celebrating the start of the new year (and new decade).  I think it's gonna be a good one!