Monday, June 25, 2012

Summer Solstice Vegan Picnic

It was a gorgeous day for a picnic, and Well on Wheels welcomed the change of seasons this weekend with a festive summer feast.  I was asked to cater an intimate outdoor party at a home in West Hartford for a client who loves animals. Her yard was filled with beautiful flowers that welcomed birds, butterflies, and guests.

Outdoor themed parties are always my favorite because I love garnishing food with fresh, seasonal flowers and greenery.  This is the time of year for daisies, bee balm, peonies, blackeyed susans, butterfly bush, lavender and roses.  I also found some lovely dill blossoms that popped with festive color and some young grape vine tendrils that I weaved into the display of fruit kabobs.

The crudites platter was accompanied by a Cannelini Bean and Artichoke Puree topped with Parsley Oil.  This was a lovely and luscious taste combination enhanced by a little bit of Dijon mustard.

For the salad I tossed baby spinach and fresh organic strawberries with a balsamic vinaigrette and toasted candied walnuts.  Then I scattered some cute little pansy blossoms on top for a garnish.

The hot appetizer was Mushrooms with Toasted Walnut and Spinach Stuffing.  The main entrees for the meal were Pasta Primavera with Snow Peas, Stringbeans, Carrots, and Cherry Tomatoes, and Ratatouille with Creamy Polenta.  Guests helped themselves to seconds and thirds while raving over how delicious everything was.

We finished with Strawberry Rhubarb Tarts and Chocolate Covered Strawberries.  These seasonal favorites put a smile on everyone's faces.

Thank you, Mona, for asking me to cater your party, and for including me on this special day!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

This week's menu

Summer arrives today with a blast from the tropics, so the menu theme this week is try-not-to-heat-up-the-house-with-the-oven.  A couple of the dishes are perfect eaten cold right out of the fridge, which can be a refreshing way to get through this heat wave.

The first entree is Edamame Succotash with Sesame Rice Noodles.  This is usually a late summer meal when the local corn is ready for harvest, but since it feels like August already, this seemed appropriate. It can be eaten hot or cold, too.

The second entree is a twist on a couple of middle Eastern standards, tabbouleh and falafel.  I use quinoa instead of couscous for the grain, and the chickpea patties are panfried instead of deep fried.  The cornstarch coating on the outside gives them their crispy crust.

The third entree this week is a Thai yellow curry with Tofu and veggies on brown rice.  I could eat curry in any weather, and this one was particularly luscious with eggplant and zucchini soaking up the sauce.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Vegan Home School

Over the years I've received many requests from people transitioning to a vegan diet who want to learn some quick and easy "go to" recipes that they can cook at home.  We all live hectic lives and the last thing we want is to struggle with getting something healthy on the dinner table after a long day at work.  I think I have the solution to this daily dilemma.

Coming up in July, I will be teaching a series of cooking basics classes called "Vegan Home School" which I think will satisfy that need.  Attendees will learn cooking techniques for saving time in the kitchen, how to combine flavors/colors/textures, where to get your protein/calcium/iron, and how to satisfy even picky family members with plant-based creations.  I will be sharing secrets from what I've learned over the past 8 years of cooking as a personal chef in people's homes, customizing meals to suit a wide variety of taste preferences and health conditions.  The food I make is healthy, but it's also gourmet quality and deeeeelicious, and I want to teach you how to make it in your own kitchen! I'm really getting excited about this!!

The 4-week series of classes begins Tuesday, July 10, and meets from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m.  Classes will be held in the community center kitchen in Bethany, CT.  You can register in advance for one, or get a discount when registering for the entire series.   To learn more, come to the FREE "Fresh from the Farm" cooking demonstration I will be presenting at the Bethany Farmers Market on Saturday, June 30, at 11:00 a.m.  Or send me an email and I'll put you on the list!

I look forward to bringing vegan cooking to your home!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

(Healthy) Cooking Matters

I recently attended the Connecticut Community Health Network Foundation's conference, "Why Cooking Matters," at the beautiful west campus of Yale University in Orange, CT.  The event was devoted to connecting people of like-mind who wish to combat the double-edged sword of hunger and obesity in our state.  Even though Connecticut is considered the wealthiest state in the nation, there are still children and families here who can't get enough of the right food on a daily basis.  This conference provided a starting point for getting active.

The conference began with opening remarks from Rep. Rosa DeLauro who shared her experience of working on programs that provide a safety net for our state's, as well as this country's, poorest residents.  She discussed the results of the "National Soda Summit" recently held in NYC where health experts, officials, and activists gathered to address the growing concern about "liquid candy" being a conributing factor to health-related problems such as obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.  She closed by imploring those of us in attendance to make a difference in our communities: "Inaction is not acceptable; inaction is irresponsible."  You can find the entirety of her speech here.

Practical workshops followed the keynote with such topics as starting Neighborhood Cooking Clubs, where people come together to teach others how to cook healthfully; Food Quality Over Quantity; and food policy advocacy.  I attended a "healthful" cooking demonstration with Chef Ron DeSantis of the Yale Dining Services.  He presented recipes for Chorizo and White Bean Soup, Stuffed Mushrooms with Sausage and Spinach, and White Bean Salad.  While I enjoyed the aromas and the lively presentation, I left a little disappointed that I couldn't sample any of the recipes (even the bean salad had chicken stock in it!).  Perhaps this is something that should be addressed in the future for those of us who do not (or cannot afford to) eat animal products.  [Don't worry - I made note of this on the evaluation form!]

Ultimately, this conference was about empowerment.  According to Marlene Schwartz of the Yale Rudd Center, "the idea is still very much just to get as much food out there as possible."  Indeed, we all need to do what we can to ensure no kid goes hungry.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Mediterranean Quinoa

Yesterday was one of those days of overscheduling and packing too much in, and by the time my tummy was signaling it was ready for me to call it quits for the night and get something on the table, I realized I was at a loss for what to make that would satisfy the hunger.  I had a craving for something salty, so I was thinking maybe olives would do the trick. With salt as my guide, I rummaged around the kitchen for what I could pull together into a quick meal.

The default option would've been pasta, but on this rare occasion I didn't have any on hand.  I didn't want to wait for rice to cook, and even though I've made an awesome lentil and olive pilaf in the past,  I wasn't in the mood for something that heavy.  So I decided that quick cooking quinoa would provide the backdrop for the meal.

I combined the cooked quinoa with a contrasting color palette of red and green:  chopped kale, roasted red peppers, capers, kalamata olives, and sundried tomatoes.  To round out the pilaf and add some substance, I tossed in a can of red beans.  Of course, everything was doused liberally with olive oil and garlic, and seasoned with salt and pepper, dried oregano, and fresh basil from the garden.

Pretty good result considering the theme of the evening began with the mantra "Just Get It on the Table."

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Parsnip, Potato, Leek Soup with Sauteed Mustard Greens

Well on Wheels headquarters recently relocated to New Haven and I have returned to gardening at Chapelseed Community Garden, one of the New Haven Land Trust's 50 gardens across the city.  Before we were inundated by torrential rains, I managed to sneak in a couple of hours to tend to my 4'x8' plot I lucked out on because a fellow gardener was unable to commit to taking care of it for the entire season.

I arrived to find it overgrown with not just weeds, but broom-handle sized stalks of parsnips.  These were a challenge to uproot, but the process helped loosen the soil nicely for some lettuce transplants.

I happily harvested the parsnip payload and thought to myself, "these would be perfect for soup." So I decided to make a creamy bisque with potatoes, leek, onion, rice milk, and nutritional yeast.  

As it turned out, the parsnips were more woody than fleshy, so not only was it more like sawing than chopping to cut them into manageable pieces, but they took a particularly long time to boil and soften to the point where they could be pureed in my Vita-Mix.  Nonetheless, I managed to pull off a pretty decent impromptu bisque.

Since the mustard greens were already popping up in the community space, I picked a bunch that I sauteed and topped my soup with.  The bitter-sweet contrast worked well together, and this made for a lovely light lunch.