About Lisa Dawn

wife. mom. vegan. yogi.

It’s My 6-year Blogiversary & Toasted Sunflower Seed Quinoa Salad

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Today is my 6-year blogiversary! I have been sharing my own creations, veganizing my mother’s recipes, recipes I find in the Times and all over the internet, making and reposting other vegan cook’s recipes if I love them, talking about my vegan journey, reviewing vegan products I love (aka Taste Tests!) and reviewing cookbooks (aka Book Reports!) for 6 years. Wow!

It has been a fun ride. I have met tons of great people, coached people on their transition to a vegan lifestyle, and taught people how to cook. I graduated from eCornell with a certificate in plant based nutrition and from two courses at Rouxbe.com.

I have certainly developed my own style of cooking, but, as I have learned over the years, cooking is an art, not a science. In fact, I have gotten really good at reading other people’s recipes and knowing whether or not they are going to work for me based on ingredient list and the instructions as written. Even when I follow my own recipes, I am always tweaking them or making adjustments.

Here is a little video that aired on PBS on my birthday last year starring the famous chef Jacques Pepin. He says that following a recipe can lead to disaster. Watch!

I have posted over 1,000 times in these 6 years. That is a lot of recipes and meal ideas, but I have my favorites like tempeh meatballs, tomato sauce, gnocchisalad dressing, citrus tofu, chocolate pudding, and pasta a million different ways. And anything that I can make myself, I make. I’m talking bread, roasted peppers, mustard, ketchup, bread crumbs, plant milks, nut butters and tahini, and even ice cream!

What will this year bring? Blue Plate Specials, because there is always a new way to serve tofu and tempeh with a vegetable and a starch or grain. Plenty of cookbook reviews (with bonus recipes and sometimes giveaways) because there are a lot of new books coming out. And new (old) recipes. I am going back to the beginning to recook the blog. It will be fun to see what I was making over the years, what I was thinking or doing that day, and would I even want to make whatever I posted again! Of course, I will be writing and posting all about it here and on Instagram so be sure to follow me over there too.

Oh, and speaking of Instagram, I have gotten involved in a vegan cook along! It is so much fun to cook from the same book as other people from around the country and see what they have to say about the recipes and outcomes. And, it is a great way to connect into the vast, global vegan community.

To celebrate this milestone, I am eating a bowl of gnocchi and sauce, and posting this amazing toasted sunflower seed quinoa salad. I have been making forever and it is one of my all time faves. When I made it this week, I realized I never posted it on the blog, so I saved it for today.

Here is the story. When we first moved into our house, we started going to the local organic health food store. The owner encouraged me from the the minute she met me to make my own food and get creative. She answered all of my questions and taught me so much like how to make beans from scratch and how to make great veggie burgers. I post this salad in her honor and hope to inspire others the way she inspired me.

Toasted Sunflower Seed Quinoa Salad
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup uncooked quinoa
1 big leek
2 carrots
1 stalk of celery
1 clove of garlic
Salt and pepper, to taste
Olive oil, to finish (optional)
Fresh lemon juice, to taste (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350. Spread the sunflower seeds on a baking tray and toast for 10 to 15 minutes, until brown and fragrant. Set aside.

Cook the quinoa according to the package. (You can do this ahead of time.)

Clean the leek well. Then, cut it in half and half again. Then finely slice it. Drop it into a pan with sides. Peel and dice the carrot. Add to the pan. Dice the celery and add to the pan. Season with salt and pepper. Water or oil sauté until the vegetables are fragrant and soft.

Toss the quinoa with the vegetables and add the sunflower seeds.

If you would like to, finish with a drizzle of olive oil and the juice of half a lemon. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Serve warm or chill and serve later. Enjoy!

Portobello Fajitas!

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These fajitas are inspired by Salud Vegan Mexican. My version is a simple sauté – onions, peppers and portobellos – no spices, just good old char from the pan. The lime, avocado, pico and charred tortillas are the perfect accompaniments to make these fajitas taste exactly how they should taste. If you would like some added flavor, toss a few teaspoons of DIY taco seasoning (or any flavors you like) in with the onions and peppers as you sauté them.

Serves 2

2 big portobellos
1 small onion
1/2 red pepper
1/2 orange pepper
1 avocado, on the side
1/2 lime, quartered
4 tortillas

Destem the portobellos and remove the gills. Slice the long way.

Slice the onion and peppers into long pieces, about the same size.

Add the onions and peppers to a pan and water or oil sauté until the edges are starting to brown. The char is great for this recipe.

Move the onions and peppers to the side and add the mushrooms. Cook until softening, a few minutes.

Char the tortillas on an open flame or heat in the oven.

Serve with pico de gallo, a sliced avocado and quartered limes. Enjoy!

Pico de gallo (make more or less, to your taste/needs)
1/4 of a small onion
1 small Roma tomato
1/2 jalapeño
A few sprigs of cilantro
The juice of 1/2 lime, more to taste
Salt, a pinch

Finely dice the onion. Add to a small bowl. Cut the tomato and in half and use a spoon to clean out the inside. Finely dice the tomato. Add to the bowl. Slice the jalapeño in half and remove the seeds. Finely dice the jalapeño. Add to the bowl. Chop a few sprigs of cilantro and squeeze the lime juice over the mixture. Mix and add a pinch of salt. Taste and adjust.qw

Update: How to Make Bread

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I love making bread. I wrote about it over a year ago in a post called “How to Make Bread.” I follow the Jim Lahey no knead method. Because there is no need to knead!

I’ve been making 2 loaves every weekend, but it turns out my son does not like the crusty crust that you get when using the Dutch oven. But this past Christmas, my sister-in-law gave me this awesome silicone bread maker from Lekue and voila! I can now make sandwich style bread or “square(ish) bread” as my son likes to call it.

I follow the same method but it is even easier now! I don’t have to use the bannetons for the second rise, I just do that in the Lekue! So I am reposting the method so you can see how much easier it is. Also, I do think it is worth it to invest in a kitchen scale. I like this one. It comes in a few different colors! Mine is red. But, I have added the measurements as per the original Mark Bittman article about Jim Lahey’s method in case you decide not to.

Note: The maximum temperature for the Lekue is 400.

Recipe (for one loaf)
400 – 415 grams organic bread flour (3 cups)
8 grams instant yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons, which is 1 packet even though the original recipe calls for 1/4 teaspoon but I don’t think it is enough)
8 grams salt (1 1/4 teaspoon)
300 – 315 grams of cold filtered water (1 5/8 cups)

Weigh the flour. It doesn’t have to be exact, exact. Anything in the range is fine.

Add the yeast and then zero out the scale. Add the salt.

Mix the flour, yeast and salt with a fork to combine. Place the bowl back on the scale and zero it out. Slowly pour the water straight in the bowl. It doesn’t have to be exact, but better less than more. You can always add a tablespoon at a time if it is too dry.

If measuring, measure the flour, yeast and salt into a bowl. Mix with a fork to combine. Then add the water.

Mix with a spoonula or wooden spoon until everything is combined. It is going to look scraggly but that is ok. Cover with plastic wrap and let the dough rise overnight.

Flour your hands and pull the dough out of the bowl. Form it into a ball and rop it into the Lekue. Latch the top and cover with a kitchen towel. Let it rise for an hour.

Preheat the oven to 400. Place the Lekue into the oven and bake for 45 minutes.

When it is done, drop it out onto a cooling rack. Wait a few hours, it is best to wait at least 8 hours, and slice the bread using a serrated knife.

Store in BPA free plastic storage bags in the refrigerator or freezer. Enjoy!

Book Report: Veganize It! + Cookbook Giveaway + Bonus Recipes!

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*** THIS GIVEAWAY IS OVER! THANKS FOR THE GREAT EMAILS ***

If you have been following me here for some time you know that I like to veganize recipes – traditional recipes, my mother’s recipes, recipes I see in the New York Times and on cooking shows. I usually end up subbing a few ingredients – and boom! – vegan stuffed peppers, vegan stuffed cabbage, vegan stroganoff, vegan latkes, vegan risotto, etc., etc., etc. There is no reason to reinvent the wheel. Let’s face it, how many new recipes can there really be. Everything is just a variation of something else anyway, right?

And that is why I am totally LOVING this new cookbook by Robin Robertson. It’s called Veganize It!  and there are 150 easy, recognizable, doable recipes that cover everything from basic pantry staples to complete meals. I am telling you, I have not been this excited about a cookbook in a long time. Why? Because I have gotten really good at reading recipes and knowing whether or not they are going to work. I can just tell based on the ingredient list, the method and the timing. There have been many recipes lately from which I have taken the main idea – most of the ingredients and what the end result is supposed to be – and figured out my own method to make it.

But, with this book, I can say with confidence that every recipe works. And because Robin is such a skilled recipe developer – she has written 20 cookbooks – she keeps the instructions simple and easy to follow. And not only that, she offers options that are not only creative but customizable. Plus, the food is regular. Do you know what I mean? Think burgers, bacon (4 kinds!), meatballs, jumbalaya, scallops, fish sticks, pot pie, and vegan versions of sauces, condiments and dressings.

Here is also why this book is so smart. You can make the individual parts of a recipe and then you can compile them into an entire dish! It took me a few times through the book to get that. And if you are already making your own staples like me, you will get some new ideas to take what you are doing to the next level.

I am giving away a copy of Veganize It!
To enter, email me at:
lisasprojectvegan at gmail dot com
by end of day Friday, March 17th,
and tell me why you should be the owner of this new  book.
US residents only, please!

I have earmarked so many recipes to try but I have already made a few. I started with this Palm-Crab Imperial. I never had the seafood version of this but now this old classic become one of my new favorites! It is a mix of hearts of palm and artichokes seasoned with Old Bay, Worcestershire sauce and lots of other goodness baked and topped with breadcrumbs. Oh my vegan goodness!

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Then I made the Best Bean Burger, which calls for vital wheat gluten, an ingredient I have never used before. I have seen recipes over the years that call for it but I was always afraid to try it. But with this book, I knew it would work and voila. A hearty, firm, veggie burger!

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Next I made Marinated Baked Tofu. It is soooo good! Sweet, garlicky and noochy.

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This is view of the top of the tofu straight out of the oven.

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Then I flipped the tofu over and ate one right off the tray!

Then I made this Roasted Cauliflower Piccata. The sauce could not have been easier and I didn’t even serve it over the mashed potatoes that the recipe suggests because it was superb on its own!

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I got permission to reprint the recipe for the piccata and all of the homemade parts including vegetable broth, butter, mashed potatoes, sour cream and nut milk. Make this now!

ROASTED CAULIFLOWER PICCATA (SERVES 4)
When you cut a head of cauliflower like you would a loaf of bread, the resulting slabs can be roasted and served as delicious steaks. My favorite way to season them is with a luscious lemony piccata sauce and mushrooms atop a serving of creamy mashers.

1 head cauliflower, cored
Olive oil, for cooking
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup sliced mushrooms
2 scallions, minced
⅓ cup dry white wine or vegetable broth, store-bought or homemade (see below)
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
½ tablespoons capers, drained
¼ cup minced fresh parsley
2 teaspoons vegan butter, store-bought or homemade (see below), chilled
1 recipe Mashed Potatoes with Sour Cream and Chives (see below), for serving

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Lightly oil two large rimmed baking sheets or line them with parchment paper.

Place the cauliflower on a cutting board, cored-side down, and use a long serrated knife to cut it into ½-inch-thick slices, as if you were cutting a loaf of bread. Arrange the cauliflower slices in a single layer on the prepared baking sheets and brush with a little olive oil or spray with cooking spray and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Roast the cauliflower until tender and nicely browned, 25 to 30 minutes, turning once with a large metal spatula about halfway through.

While the cauliflower is roasting, make the sauce. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and scallions and sauté for about 3 minutes, or until softened. Add the wine, lemon juice, and capers and cook, stirring, until the liquid reduces slightly. Just before serving, add the parsley, then stir in the butter to melt it into the sauce.

To serve, spoon a serving of the mashed potatoes onto each plate and top with a cauliflower steak. Spoon the sauce on top.

VEGETABLE BROTH (MAKES ABOUT 8 CUPS)
Homemade broth is more economical than buying ready-made vegetable broth and requires very little effort. This is a low-sodium broth that is suitable for any of the recipes in this book. Mushroom and parsley stems add depth of flavor. Keep them on hand for making broth by saving the stems from mushrooms and parsley as you use them and keep them stored in airtight containers (I use zip-top freezer bags) in the freezer. That way, you’ll always have some on hand to make broth.

2 teaspoons olive oil
2 onions, coarsely chopped
8 garlic cloves, crushed
10 cups water
6 carrots, coarsely chopped
6 celery ribs, coarsely chopped
1 cup mushroom stems or 2 dried mushrooms
1 cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley stems
1 teaspoon fresh or dried thyme
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
2 bay leaves

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and garlic, cover, and cook until golden, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Add the water, carrots, celery, mushroom stems, parsley stems, thyme, salt, black pepper, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil and decrease the heat to medium. Cook until the vegetables are tender and the broth is well flavored, about 30 minutes. Strain the broth into a large bowl using a colander. Press on the vegetables in the colander to release as much liquid as possible. Discard or compost the vegetables. Strain the broth using a fine-mesh strainer.

Store the broth in airtight 2-cup containers so they are easy to use in recipes. The broth will keep well for up to a week in the refrigerator or up to 6 months in the freezer.

EASY VEGAN BUTTER (MAKES ABOUT 1½ CUPS)
Be sure to use refined coconut oil to avoid giving the butter a coconut flavor. If making homemade butter is not your thing, try Earth Balance Buttery Spread, available in most supermarkets.

Note: For a firmer texture, add 1 teaspoon soy lecithin liquid or 2 teaspoons soy lecithin granules to the mixture.

¼ cup plain unsweetened almond milk, store-bought or homemade (see below)
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
½ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon ground turmeric
¾ cup refined coconut oil
¼ cup grapeseed or sunflower oil

In a blender or food processor, combine the milk, vinegar, salt, and turmeric and let it sit for 10 minutes.

Heat the coconut oil in a microwave-safe bowl in the microwave until it is just melted. Let it cool slightly, then add it to the mixture in the blender or food processor, along with the grapeseed oil. Blend until smooth and thoroughly combined.

Transfer to a container or butter mold and refrigerate to set and firm up, at least 1 hour. Keep tightly covered in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 weeks or wrap tightly and store in the freezer for up to 6 months.

MASHED POTATOES WITH SOUR CREAM AND CHIVES (SERVES 4)
You can make delicious veganized mashed potatoes by simply swapping out the dairy butter and milk for nondairy versions, or you can go all out and add some vegan sour cream and minced chives.

2 pounds Yukon Gold or russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
⅓ cup plain unsweetened nondairy milk, store-bought or homemade (see below), heated
1 tablespoon vegan butter, store-bought or homemade (see above), softened
½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
3 tablespoons vegan sour cream, store-bought or homemade (see below)
1 tablespoon minced fresh chives

Place the potatoes in a large pot with enough cold salted water to cover. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork, about 20 minutes. Drain the potatoes, return them to the pot, and mash with a potato masher. Mix in the milk, butter, and salt. Add the sour cream and chives and continue to mash until all of the ingredients are well mixed and the potatoes are smooth. Serve hot.

CASHEW SOUR CREAM (MAKES ABOUT 1 CUP)
This plant-based sour cream delivers a creamy texture and a just-tart-enough flavor. Use it to top baked potatoes or in any recipe calling for sour cream.

¾ cup raw cashews, soaked in hot water for 30 minutes, then drained
⅓ cup plain unsweetened almond milk, store-bought or homemade (see below)
2 tablespoons rice vinega
1½ tablespoons refined coconut oil, melted
⅛ teaspoon salt

Combine the drained cashews, milk, vinegar, melted coconut oil, and salt in a high-speed blender and blend until very smooth.

Transfer the mixture to a container, cover tightly, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours to chill and thicken before use. Keep refrigerated for up to 5 days.

NUT MILK (MAKES ABOUT 4 CUPS)
Almond milk is my favorite all-purpose nondairy milk, although you can use cashews in this recipe, if you prefer.

1 cup almonds or cashews, soaked overnight, then drained
3 cups water
Pinch of salt

Combine all the ingredients in a high-speed blender and blend until smooth. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer or a nut milk bag.

Transfer the milk to a glass bottle or jar with a tight-fitting lid and chill until ready to serve. It will keep well in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Excerpted from VEGANIZE IT! © 2017 by Robin Robertson. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

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Chocolate Pudding (Secret Ingredient: Butternut Squash) with Vanilla Cashew Cream

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When I was a little girl, my mother made chocolate pudding all the time. It was out of a box, My-T-Fine, but it was my favorite. So I always have some variation of a vegan chocolate pudding in my house. I have posted a bunch of different recipes for chocolate mousse and pudding but as I continue to create and learn in my kitchen, new ideas come up. This pudding is not My-T-Fine but it is mighty fine! And it is healthy to boot!

Note: I like to use coconut sugar here but maple syrup works really well too.

Chocolate Pudding (makes about 2 cups)
1 medium sized butternut squash (about 2 cups mashed)
1/2 cup raw cacao powder
1/2 cup coconut sugar (or maple syrup or other liquid sweetener of choice)
1/2 cup plant milk (I use homemade cashew milk)
1 teaspoon vanilla powder (or extract)
1/2 teaspoon salt

Peel, deseed the butternut squash. Cube it and place in a deep pot. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Cook until soft enough to pierce with a fork. Drain and let cool.

Add the butternut squash to the Vitamix or blender. Add the cacao powder, coconut sugar, plant milk, vanilla powder and salt. Let it rip until the pudding is creamy. Taste and adjust sweetness and saltiness.

Vanilla Cashew Cream (makes about a cup) *
1 cup cashews
1 cup water
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

If you don’t have Vitamix, soak the cashews for 4 hours or overnight. Drain and use new water.

Add all ingredients to the Vitamix and process until completely creamy and smooth. Add more water if too thick.

Serve pudding topped with cashew cream and fruit. Enjoy!

*Cashew cream is a great topping on this dessert and any other dessert, especially fruit. It freezes really well. Store it in a glass jar  and just set it out to defrost when you need it!

Macadamia Almond Butter Balls

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I’m laughing because I was just having a conversation about how many balls I have on this blog! It sounds funny but, whatever, balls of pure, organic, homemade goodness are the best snack in the world.

These are super versatile and packed with vegan protein between the nuts and the nut butter. And, you can sub any nuts or nut butter for the macadamia and almond butter. Go crazy! Think walnuts and cashew butter or macadamia butter. Or cashews and macadamia butter. Or almonds and walnut butter. The possibilities are endless. It is really about the vanilla powder and dates anyway. Oh, and add cinnamon, if that floats your boat!

1 cup macadamia nuts
1/2 cup almond butter *
12 Medjool dates, pitted
1/2 teaspoon ground vanilla 

* Homemade nut butter is super easy to make and better than any you will find in the store. I like to use my food processor rather than my Vitamix. It takes some time depending on the nuts – almonds take the longest – but it is worth it. If you processor gets too hot, give it a rest and start it up again until you have butter. You don’t need to add any oil.

Drop all ingredients in the processor. Process until everything is ground up and looks crumbly. Check to see that the mixture sticks together. If not, pulse a few more times.

Have a baking sheet ready and be sure it can sit flat in the freezer.

When the mixture is done, use a 1 tablespoon ice cream scooper and scoop out the mixture. Roll into balls and place onto the baking sheet. Continue to do so until there is none left.

Place in the freezer for an hour or until solid. Place into a glass jar or container and store in the refrigerator. Eat as you please. Enjoy!

Book Report: The First Mess + Two Bonus Recipes

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There are lots of new vegan cookbooks coming out! That is such great news for vegans and the rest of the culinary world. Veganism is no longer on the fringe. With tons of new titles, the bookshelves are getting crowded with lots of easy, creative, healthy, delicious and smart vegan food.

Today I’m talking about The First Mess Cookbook: Vibrant Plant-Based Recipes to Eat Well Through the Seasons by Laura Wright which is coming out on Tuesday, March 7th. It is packed with 125 “produce-forward” recipes that are actually much simpler than they look like they would be at first glance. Although the book has “seasons” in the title, leading me to believe it would be organized that way, it is actually set up by meals – breakfast, soups and stews, salads and dressings, mains and big plates, vegetables and grains, drinks and small bites (a confusing group if you ask me!), and desserts and treats.

As I sat and skimmed the book the day I got it, I actually made two recipes. The first is called Hemp and Vanilla “Bircher” Breakfast (I don’t know why) but it is essentially overnight oats with hemp and chia seeds sweetened with maple syrup. I made it with my homemade cashew milk and topped it off with homemade almond butter and bananas.

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And then for dinner, I made Harissa Lentils with Cauliflower Rice. Even though I didn’t exactly follow the recipe because I happened to have all of the components in my refrigerator – a jar of my homemade harissa, cooked lentils, cauliflower, scallions and parsley – I was inspired to make it anyway. It came together in mere minutes and was delicious.

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I like the flavor profile of this book – lots of fresh herbs, scallions, mustard, and easy to identify ingredients, nothing too fancy. In fact, I made a few more of the recipes without going to the store! I love that about this book. It’s right up my alley. I have already made the Meyer Lemon Romanesco Glow Salad (pictured below, with recipe!), the Chickpea Scramble, which if you make it, be sure to either use canned beans or remove the skins of home cooked beans (which I ended up doing.) I also made the Mustard Roasted Broccoli Pâté, which is delicious and could be eaten as is before being turned into a dip. I have earmarked more to try including French Onion Lentil Pots with Onion Cream Toasts, Red Peppers with Herby Breadcrumbs, and Eggplant Bolognese (also reprinted below.)

Consider getting this book if you are looking for easy, light, refreshing, herbacious recipes and join me on Instagram for the March vegan cook along!

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My version (note, I used golden raisins because I couldn’t find organic green grapes)

Meyer Lemon Romanesco Glow Salad

Serves 4 to 6

Meyer lemons have a fragrant and slightly sweeter quality that tastes incredibly clean and fresh with this salad, but you could absolutely use regular lemons. I love the optical and textural illusion of Romanesco broccoli or cauliflower broken up into small bits to emulate couscous or rice. I make this salad when we’ve been on an indulgent streak or right after the holidays when our taste buds and stomachs need a break.

Dressing
½ teaspoon (2 mL) Meyer lemon zest
1 tablespoon (15 mL) fresh Meyer lemon juice
½ teaspoon (2 mL) Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons (30 mL) grapeseed or other neutral-flavored oil
salt and pepper, to taste

Salad
1 medium head Romanesco broccoli (or cauliflower), broken up into florets
1 medium sweet apple, cored and chopped
1 stalk celery, small dice
1 cup (250 mL) seedless grapes, halved
3 green onions, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons (10 mL) minced fresh sage (about 1 sprig)
⅓ cup (75 mL) walnut halves, toasted and chopped
salt and pepper, to taste

  1. Make the dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon zest, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, grapeseed oil, salt, and pepper until combined. Set aside.
  1. Make the salad: In batches, use a food processor to blitz the Romanesco florets until you have a couscous-like size and texture. Place the processed Romanesco in a large bowl.
  1. To the large bowl, add the apples, celery, grapes, green onions, sage, and walnuts. Season everything with salt and pepper and toss to combine.
  1. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to combine. Serve the salad immediately or store in a container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

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Eggplant “Bolognese” Pasta

Serves 4

I came up with this recipe when I had too many eggplants in my garden at the end of one really hot summer, just when the nights were starting to get cool enough to enjoy a pasta dish with substance. I love that this one is weeknight-simple, but lovely enough for guests, without question. Sometimes I toss a cup or so of cooked lentils into the sauce at the end for a hit of protein. I salt and rinse the eggplant to get rid of any bitterness, and to greatly improve the texture as well. The addition of some chopped olives really brings out the meaty nature of eggplant. I don’t particularly aim for meat-like results when I cook, but this dish goes in that direction in a very organic way.

1 large eggplant, diced into ½-inch (1 cm) cubes
sea salt
¼ cup + 1 tablespoon (50 mL + 15 mL) virgin olive oil, divided
salt and pepper, to taste
5 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon (2 mL) chili flakes
¼ teaspoon (1 mL) dried oregano
1 can (28 ounces/796 mL) crushed tomatoes
1 cup (250 mL) vegetable stock OR water
¾ pound (341 g) whole-grain or gluten-free long pasta of your choice, such as spaghetti or linguini
6 whole fresh basil leaves, plus extra chopped, for garnish
½ cup (125 mL) pitted Kalamata olives, finely chopped

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  1. In a large bowl, toss the diced eggplant with a generous sprinkle of sea salt. Let the eggplant sit for 10 minutes to release some of its water. Pour the salted eggplant into a colander and rinse with fresh water. Dry the eggplant pieces as thoroughly as you can with a kitchen towel, and then lay them on the prepared baking sheet.
  1. Toss the eggplant with 1 tablespoon (15 mL) of the olive oil and the salt and pepper. Spread the eggplant out into a single layer. Slide the baking sheet into the oven, and roast until the eggplant is tender and has browned slightly, about 20 minutes. Set aside.
  1. In a large, deep skillet (or braiser), heat the remaining ¼ cup (50 mL) of olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, stir, and sauté for about 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add the chili flakes and oregano, and stir. Add the tomatoes and vegetable stock to the skillet, and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, uncovered. Lower the heat and simmer the sauce for 30 minutes.
  1. Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
  1. Drop the basil leaves into the tomato sauce and submerge the leaves. Cover the sauce and let it continue to cook for 10 more minutes.
  1. Remove the basil leaves from the sauce, and season it with salt and pepper. Add the roasted eggplant and chopped olives to the sauce, and stir to distribute. Carefully toss the cooked pasta in the sauce. After the noodles are coated in sauce, sprinkle the chopped basil on top. Serve the pasta hot.

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Reprinted from The First Mess Cookbook by arrangement with Avery Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © 2017, Laura Wright

Pasta with Parsnips & Shiitake Bacon

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I love finding recipes like this one in The New York Times and veganizing them. This one was so super easy, I wonder why anyone would eat a little piggie or use cow milk when there is shiitake bacon and cashew cream.

Now, to make this happen, you have to time it right. You will be roasting the parsnips (can you even see them under all of that creaminess?) and the mushrooms so when they are about halfway done, get the pasta going. Have the cashew cream ready so that in less than 30 minutes, you will have dinner!

Serves 2

1 big parsnip or 2 little ones
12 shiitake mushrooms
2 teaspoons olive oil
Pinch of salt
Campanelle pasta, enough for 2 (Farfalle could work here too!)
1 leek
1/2 cup cashew cream *
Handful nutty parm
Fresh chopped parsley, a big handful

Preheat the oven to 400.

Peel and cut the parsnips into 1/2″ cubes. Destem and slice the shiitakes the long way. Toss in olive oil and season with a pinch of salt. Turn out onto a lined baking sheet and roast until the parsnips are golden and the shiitakes are crispy. Check at the 15 minute mark and take the shiitakes out if they are already crispy.

Get the pasta going.

Slice the leek, using both the white and green parts, and clean out any sand. Cut in half and then slice into half moons. Sauté in a pan with sides, either on oil or water, until bright and soft. Add the cashew cream.

Lift it out of the pot with a spider strainer and drop it into the leek/cashew cream mix. Add pasta water to thin the cream out, as much as you like.

Add the parsnips, shiitakes, a sprinkle of nutty parm, some of the parsley and toss well. Remove from the heat and top with more parsley.

Serve and enjoy!

*To make cashew cream, add 1/2 cup cashews to the Vitamix and cover with water, about 1 cup. Process until creamy. You will have cashew cream left over from this recipe. If you don’t have a Vitamix, get one! Or, soak cashews for 4 hours or overnight. Drain and add to the blender with new water.

Blue Plate Special #61: Baked Mustard Tofu with Sweet Potatoes & Kale

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Recently, my friend’s husband sent her a recipe to try (some kind of mustard tofu with sweet potatoes and kale) but sadly it was a fail. We talked about what went wrong and to me it was an issue of what cooking methods were suggested for the individual elements. So, I created this recipe for my friends and hopefully it will work for them (and you!)

This meal preparation has a few things are going on at once, but it will all come together in the end if you are prepared and ready to go. It is super easy and doable even on a busy weeknight. There is no real prep ahead unless you like to press your tofu for a long time. I keep a block of tofu in my press for whenever I need it during the week.

To make this meal happen, the tofu will be baked in the oven and the potatoes will be in their own skillet. Make sure you have a cover for the one you choose! The kale will be blanched and then added to the potatoes to steam them so they are the perfect tenderness!

Personally, I like to keep the flavors basic (that for me means a pinch of salt) but if you feel compelled, you can season up the potatoes any way you like!

Serves 4

1 block of extra firm tofu (pressed for as long as you have time for)
1/4 cup olive oil + 2 teaspoons
2 tablespoons grainy mustard (homemade is best!)
2 sweet potatoes
1 small bunch of kale
Breadcrumbs, a few pinches, optional
Salt, to taste

Preheat the oven to 350. Line a baking sheet with nonstick foil or parchment. Start a big pot of water boiling.

Peel and dice the sweet potatoes into bite size squares. Add two teaspoons of olive oil into a skillet and turn the flame to medium. Add the potatoes. Season with a pinch of salt. Shake the potatoes around to coat in the oil and then let cook while you prep the rest of the meal. One side will get nice and charred.

Cut the tofu into four big pieces and score the top with a paring knife in cross hatch manner. Don’t cut all the way through the tofu, just a little bit down, so the marinade can sink in.

Whisk the mustard and oil together and brush on the tops of the tofu. Sprinkle with a pinch of breadcrumbs, if using.

Place on the baking tray in the oven. Set the timer for 20 minutes.

De-stem and chop the kale. Add to the boiling water. Use tongs to push the kale into the water. Blanche for 30 seconds. Using the tongs, lift the kale out of the water and add it right into the pan with the potatoes. Cover and let cook together.

When the tofu timer goes off, the potatoes will be easily pierced with a fork and ready to eat. Plate it up and enjoy!

Going Raw: Raw-Vitalize + Two Bonus Recipes!

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If you follow me on Instagram, you saw that I went raw. I was inspired by Raw-Vitalize, by Mimi Kirk and Mia Kirk White.

This book is designed to introduce you to the raw lifestyle and raw cuisine with 21 days of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners – from spiralized vegetables and smoothies, to super creative ideas like raw stuffed peppers and nutty pâté. I have never purposefully prepared “raw” food – I have never spent any time thinking about it – although I have made tons of salads in my day. I have also been known to make raw walnut taco meat (served on cooked tortillas) and almond “tuno” salad (served on toast.) I also have made raw treats without thinking about them in the context of raw.

So, I really had no idea what eating raw all day, every day, 6 times a day, would entail. That’s why this book is a great idea for anyone who is interested. It is literally laid out for you with 21 breakfasts like chia pudding, raw granola, and my favorite, which has become my go to snack, banana pudding (a perfect mash up of a banana and almond butter.) Then there are lunches like pad thai and nori rolls and dinner like kale salads and much, much more. Not to mention the most decadent dessert I have ever made, cacao caramel cups.

I was planning to go for the whole 21 days but I only lasted 8. I was hungry, had a headache, was craving potatoes and rice, and dreamt of cooking which is really my creative outlet. Plus, I was kind of ignoring the food needs of my husband and son. So, I decided to end my quest for 100% rawness but did pledge to add more raw meals into my rotation. For example, I will have raw taco meat on lettuce wraps next Taco Tuesday! And I will try to eat more raw lunches.

But, I have made tons of the recipes from this book and if you are looking for uncomplicated, not fancy raw recipes that are really easy to make, this is the book for you. I also got permission to reprint two recipes, the nori rolls from which I made just the pâté and the caramel cacao cupcakes. Try them, then buy the book and get raw cooking!

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Spiralized zucchini with basil pesto

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Romaine with raw cashew parm and lemon and olive oil dressing

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Cacao caramel cupcakes (recipe below!)

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Raw stuffed pepper with cashew dressing and lots of dill

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Beets, red cabbage and apple salad with scallions and walnuts in an apple cider vinaigrette

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Raw stuffed marinated mushrooms stuffed with arugula pesto (my recipe, coming soon!)

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Zucchini hummus (brilliant, it’s zucchini in place of chickpeas, a winner!)

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Straight up avocado, also know as the avocado vessel!

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Chia pudding with homemade almond milk and fruit

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The pâté from the nori roll (recipe below!)

Friends of the Nori Roll
MAKES 2 NORI ROLLS
SERVES 1

Making a pâté for a Nori roll is quite easy. It’s a good place to let your imaginary creative friend loose in the kitchen to help you. Once you learn the basics, you can set yourself free with different spices and herbs. Taste is important, as is texture, and Nori rolls have it all—crunchy, creamy, and juicy all in one bite. You might want to have some fresh pâté around at all times for a quick roll up or to use in a salad or Buddha bowl.

FOR THE PÂTÉ
1/2 cup peeled and roughly chopped carrots
1/2 cup pecans
1/4 cup pumpkins seeds
1 tablespoon roughly chopped shallot or sweet onion
1/2 cup roughly chopped red sweet bell pepper
1/4 cup dulse (I left this out!)
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 tablespoon tamari
1 pinch sea salt, or to taste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill or 1 tablespoon dried

METHOD
Pulse-chop all pâté ingredients in a food processor until well incorporated into a smooth paste, scraping down sides of the food processor when needed. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.

FOR THE DIP
1/8 teaspoon wasabi, or more if you like it spicy
1 tablespoon tamari

METHOD
Mix together wasabi and tamari for the dipping sauce. Set aside.

FOR THE ROLL UP
2 raw nori sheets
1/4 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and sliced into thin matchsticks
1/2 avocado, thinly sliced
1/4 red bell pepper, cut into thinly sliced matchsticks

TO ASSEMBLE
If you have a sushi bamboo mat use it. Alternatively, spread a sheet of plastic wrap on your chopping board vertically. Lay the nori sheet on the prepared surface with the shiny side down and the lines on the nori running horizontal. Spread half the pâté evenly over 2/3 of a nori sheet, leaving an inch on the end closest to you. Spread the pâté all the way out to the side edges. Arrange cucumber, avocado, and red bell pepper on top of the pâté at the end closest to you, bringing the vegetables all the way to the side edges. Take a hold of the plastic wrap and bring up the edge of the nori to start rolling. When you have completed the first roll and covered the veggies, give a light squeeze on the wrap to secure the roll. Lift the edge of the plastic wrap and continue to use the plastic wrap to finish rolling, applying a little pressure for a tight roll. Roll until ½-inch of nori is left exposed, then lightly wet your finger and run it across the exposed nori. Continue rolling and lightly squeeze to seal and shape roll using the plastic wrap. Remove the plastic wrap and place the roll on the chopping board seam side down. Cut in half with a sharp or serrated knife. Repeat directions to make a second. Roll. Serve with the dip.

Cacao Caramel Cupcakes
MAKES 12 CUPCAKES

NOTE: Cashew pieces and Medjool dates need to be soaked. See the directions in the For the Caramel Layer section that follows.

One bite of this dessert and it feels like you are eating chocolate candy. But in fact, these cupcakes are like mini tarts with a thin crust on the bottom. If you are a fan of salted caramel, feel free to put a pinch of sea salt in with the caramel layer or on top of the finished cacao layer. The first bite of this creamy dessert will make all things right again.

FOR THE BOTTOM CRUST
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup cashews
1/2 cup Medjool dates

METHOD
Place nuts in food processor and pulse into smallish pieces. Add the dates and pulse to incorporate dates. Pinch the mixture in your fingers to see if it sticks together. Put cupcake papers into baking cupcake tins. Press 1 tablespoon of crust into bottom of each cupcake paper. Refrigerate until caramel layer is ready to spread.

FOR THE CARAMEL LAYER
1 cup cashew pieces, soaked for 3–4 hours
1/2 cup Medjool dates, soaked for 20 minutes, or 1/4 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 tablespoons coconut oil
2 tablespoons cacao powder
3 tablespoons filtered water

METHOD
Place all ingredients in a food processor. Blend until smooth, adding water a tablespoon at a time. Use as little water as possible. Remove tin from refrigerator and spread 1 tablespoon caramel layer over each nut crust and place tin back in refrigerator.

FOR THE CACAO LAYER
9 tablespoons solid coconut oil, melted
9 level tablespoons cacao powder (or less if you’re not a chocoholic)
5 tablespoons maple syrup

METHOD
Place solid coconut oil in a bowl and place over a pan of hot water to melt. Whisk all ingredients in a bowl until completely smooth.

TO ASSEMBLE
Remove cupcake tin from refrigerator and place 1 tablespoon of cacao mixture on top of caramel layer. Divide any leftover cacao between the cupcakes. Place back into refrigerator and leave overnight. Wrap in individual plastic wrap and freeze.

Try this Tip
Add a splash of orange juice and zest to the caramel layer.