Posted tagged ‘Alfredo sauce’

The Essex County Garden Club Winter Event

January 24, 2013

Prepped and packed, I drive in the icy twilight to South Hamilton.  It is easy to find the hostess’ house and I navigate the long driveway, park, and take a deep breath.  This is my biggest gig so far, this group of 25 women coming out in the bitter cold to listen to me talk about and watch me cook vegetables.  I am not nervous, but even so,  butterflies dance in my belly as I open my trunk and gather three heavily loaded bags to bring into the kitchen.  Leslie, the hostess, emerges from her garage to greet me with her bright welcoming smile.  She offers to carry one of the bags and I allow this, beginning what is to be an evening of both humble submission and powerful opportunity.

I have been allowed to arrive early and have an hour and a half to set up.  Using some of Leslie’s kitchenware and some of my own, I fill a large pot with water and set it on the gas range.  I place steamer baskets in two smaller pots and add enough water to meet the bottom of the metal steam baskets.  I empty my bags and cover the counter with bowls of vegan Alfredo sauce with mushrooms, chopped, diced and spiral sliced winter vegetables and my large cutting board.  I take out my three best knives and lay them in a tidy row atop the board.  I ask for a pretty plate to arrange the raw cookies I have made for the end of the event, and I am given a beautiful white pedestal dish.  I arrange organic sugar-coated, heart-shaped cookies so that what is already pretty and delicious is now looking absolutely gorgeous.  She takes the cookies and puts them in her dining room with the other goodies for munching.  I sneak in and take them back to the kitchen.  I am going to save them for the end.  I want to tell about these treats, how easy they are to make, and how amazing a raw vegan cookie can be.  I want to have their full attention when they take the first bite of that cookie.

Nina, the event planner for the club, arrives a little while later.  She is the reason I am here and the butterflies that have been fluttering inside me rest quietly.  I feel more comfortable now that her sweet familiar face in the room as I finish setting up.

I take the spiral slicer out and place it on the roomy granite-topped island counter.  I know this will impress even the most doubtful of the attendees.  I have a beet, a carrot and a sweet potato all ready to turn into colorful vegetable noodles.  I transfer cooked quinoa to a glass bowl for heating.  I transfer the creamy, spicy sauce to the biggest bowl I can find and it is filled to the brim.  I wonder if I have made too much.

Before I can think about maybe being nervous after all, the door opens and opens and opens and suddenly the kitchen and dining room are packed with women.  They chat, fill their glasses with wine and set out appetizers and desserts—carrots and celery and dip, crackers and cheese, trays of cookies and brownies.  I am starving, so I cut up a carrot, open my jar of homemade ginger Nama Shoyu dressing, dip my carrot sticks in, and nibble.  And wait.

At last, Nina stands beside me.

“Are you ready to get this going?”

I nod, and she tries to quiet the room.  She taps the side of a glass bowl with one of my knives.  She taps it again.  Someone notices, and pushes out a powerful “Shhhhh.”  All conversation stops.  Well, almost all.  I take a deep breath as Nina introduces me.  She tells them she used to stalk me at our CSA pick up and we all laugh.  I’m on.

I am lightheaded as I look at how many women stand in front of me, waiting for me to begin.

But I do.  I ask how they take care of their kids—if they give them music lessons, enroll them in sports, send them to good schools.  I ask them if they monitor their homework, their computer time, their television time.  Some nod, others don’t.  Then I ask them if they cook with their kids.  I see lots of heads nodding.

“What do you cook with them?  What do you make together?”

“Cookies!”

“Brownies!”

“Cupcakes!”

And I’m in the thick of it right away.  I ask if they cook dinner with their kids.  If they teach them how to prepare vegetables—to wash, scrub, peel, chop, roast, steam—-and the room is quiet.  I boldly remind them that what their kids put into their bodies is one of the most important things to think about.  I try not to sound preachy as I suggest that cooking time can be together time, family time, teaching time.  So that when their kids grow up, they know how to feed themselves with healthy food.  Healthy food that will nourish their bodies the same way all the other things we all see as important nourish their minds, spirits and bodies.

As I talk, I set up for the roasted vegetables, making sure the oven is preheated, spreading diced beets on a large baking tray and drizzling them with garlic olive oil.  I ask a woman to help me and she puts the tray in the oven, setting the timer for me.  I set up the rest of the roasting vegetables, showing off the Brussels sprouts I have harvested from my garden just the other day.

IMG_1492

Brussels sprouts harvested from my winter garden, with carrots, onions, sweet potatoes, and red potatoes, ready to roast. Photo credit: Heather Robb

I answer questions about kale and kale chips, peeling, chopping and steaming vegetables all the while.  The first big hit of the evening is the spiral slicer.  No one can believe how perfect and beautiful carrots and beets are when they are turned into noodles.  I slice a carrot, then I get a volunteer to slice the beet.  I help her a bit and in a moment, glossy, deep-red strands of beet pile up on the counter.  I take my kitchen scissors and cut the long strands a bit to make them more manageable.  I get them into the boiling water.  Carrots first, 3 minutes.  Beets next, 5 minutes.  I drain them, then sample them out, ladling the Alfredo sauce on top.  The chatter that had started up again is gone as each woman tastes the small plate of food she receives.

“How did you make this sauce?”

“Why is it so creamy if you didn’t use cream?”

“How can this be vegan?  Isn’t there cheese in here?”

I pause and talk about cashew cream and nutritional yeast, how to make what is often dairy-based taste just as good, if not better, vegan.  There are a lot of questions about nutritional yeast, and I do my best to answer them.  I do not have all the answers, but can easily direct.

Then the steamed vegetables are done and I pour them into a bowl.  I shake and pour the ginger Nama Shoyu dressing over the steaming bowl, then plunge my hands in to toss the dressing.  I hear gasping, but it’s really not that hot.  Nina and another woman offer to plate the samples.  Heaping scoops of quinoa pillow the pile of glistening dressed vegetables.  The room grows quiet again as the women taste what they have been given.

Mixing Ginger Nama Shoyu Dressing into steamed vegetables

Mixing Ginger Nama Shoyu Dressing into steamed vegetables
Photo credit: Heather Robb

“Oh!  This dressing!  What is it?”

“Can I have this recipe?”

“Is there ginger in here?”

The dressing is the second big hit.  It’s a recipe I kind of stole from the restaurant Life Alive in Lowell, MA.  There are two newer branches, one in Cambridge and one in Salem, and it’s one of my favorite places to eat.  I always get the same thing—the Goddess bowl, which is their signature dish.  I am addicted to the dressing.  I am so addicted that I have spent hours trying to duplicate it.  I finally nailed it a few months ago and now can share it with confidence, even if I have to sheepishly confess that it is absolutely not my recipe, only an adaptation of theirs.

I remember to talk about GMO foods, the “Dirty Dozen“, and, of course, I include bits and pieces of my vegan life.  I talk openly and honestly about the nutrients in food, the importance of a varied diet.  I offer information about general health, what is not good about dairy products, and explain exactly what vegan means:  no animals.  No animal products.  So, yeah, no cheese, so yogurt, no butter, no  fish.  I was asked if I miss any of it.

Not for one second.

The timer goes off for the roasted vegetables.  The woman whom I have volunteered to be in charge of the oven turns and pulls two heavy trays of roasted beets, Brussels sprouts, onions, carrots, potatoes and sweet potatoes from the dark, high heat.  I take each tray and do my best to fill the last giant bowl without dropping anything on the floor.  The trays are heavy and I am already tired.  I sprinkle the vegetables with fresh rosemary that I have cut from my garden this same morning, and add a bit of salt and pepper.  I steal a Brussels sprout and a sweet potato chunk before the final round of sampling begins.

The women eat and chatter, and I stand back, wondering if I have missed anything.  My notes have been tossed to the back counter, unneeded.

I space out for a minute and then notice a tall, gorgeous woman passing around a tray of chocolate-dipped macaroons.  I go over to her and touch her shoulder. I know  she has taken the time to make this beautiful, time-consuming dessert, and it breaks my heart to say these words.  I say them anyhow.

“Um, please.  Would you mind holding back on those?  I have a little dessert and I am afraid that if everyone eats one of those, they won’t have room to try mine.  You could pass them out after…”

Her face flushes and she looks down, then up at me.

“Oh, I’m sorry!  I didn’t know.”

I honestly could cry as I look at her, but I hold steady.

“That’s okay.  Thank you for bringing those.  They look great.  Mine are really small—so everyone will still have room for yours after.”

The pedestal with the heart-shaped raw vegan ginger cookies is passed around.

“What’s in here?”

“These are really good!”

“Is is nutmeg?  Do I taste nutmeg?”

With the last of my “crowd energy”, I give the ingredients and tell them there is a link to the recipe on my blog.  They line up to collect my card and I promise each eager face that I will post right away and include the recipe for the dressing.

Energized by a couple of my cookies, I work the crowd afterward.  I thank everyone for coming, and seek out the women who have helped me throughout the evening.  I am touched by their excitement for my cooking and by their welcoming smiles, their food confessions, their desire to make even small changes in the way they prepare food and eat.

I return to the counter, prepared to clean up and find that the women have done it for me.  Everything is washed, dried, and stacked neatly for me to pack up.  Nina and I are the last to leave, and she offers to carry one of the bags out to my car. I tell her that would be great.

Ginger Nama Shoyu Dressing (adapted from Life Alive restaurant’s version)

Ingredients:

fresh garlic cloves, peeled and pressed to fill a 1/4 c measure

1/2 c plus a little more fresh ginger, peeled and chopped coarsely

3 T Nama Shoyu

2 T lemon juice

1/2 t sea salt

1 c olive oil, or a mixture of hemp and olive oil

Method:

In a powerful blender, add the garlic cloves, the ginger, the Nama Shoyu, and the sea salt.  Add 1/3 c of the oil.  Blend on medium-low until everything starts to move around. Turn off blender and scrape down sides if necessary.

Turn the blender back on medium speed, then to high and blend until smooth.  Take the little inner cap off of the blender cover and slowly drizzle in the remaining oil.  Turn blender on high and blend only long enough to emulsify the dressing.

Transfer dressing to glass jar or bottle and refrigerate until ready to use.  Keeps at least two weeks in the refrigerator.

This is amazing drizzled onto warm steamed vegetables, although it is also good on cold salad.

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Vegan Cooking Demo #3

January 14, 2013

At dinner one night with a group of friends, one of them thought it would be a good idea if I started teaching them how to cook vegan.  The women who are in this little group with me are thoughtful about what they bring when we eat together, but I always bring both an entree and a dessert so I know for sure I will not go hungry, in case someone forgets that chicken broth is not vegan, or that eggs are not okay if they are in a cake.  Sometimes they just don’t know how to make a cake without any animal products.  “What should I use instead of eggs?  Ground flax seed?  How would that work?”  or “What would I put in the salad if you don’t eat goat cheese?”  (The answer to that one is easy—leave out the cheese, or at least offer it on the side.)

I thought it was a good idea, but I am a bit shy about standing in front of a group and talking about, well, anything, really.  I am comfortable in small, informal settings with people I know.  Stage fright hits when I am standing in front of a roomful of people and expected to perform in any way, even just cooking.  My friend Michaela, the one who is a superb baker and who has the most imploring big brown eyes asked again and again until I finally conceded.  Vegan cooking lessons for everyone.  In my kitchen.  Second Sunday of each month at 2 pm.

I thought it would be good to start with desserts, an area that seems the most challenging for bakers who want to try making vegan sweets.  I double and triple checked my recipes, trying things out ahead of time, and my family benefited from multiple batches of cookies and muffins.  I scrutinized recipes I make regularly, making sure the measurements were exact.  I prepared a sheet of vegan baking substitutions and handouts of all the recipes.

I was shaking as I began the first session, but after a few minutes, I forgot I was being watched and just started chatting away as I measured, mixed, and baked.   I planned to pull off three different recipes—giant, crunchy, chocolate chip cookies, molasses ginger cookies, and the famous Jordan Marsh Blueberry Muffin recipe.  I printed the blueberry muffin recipe right off of the internet, using it like a worksheet so everyone who came could see how easy it is to figure out the substitutions.  1/4 c silken tofu for each egg.  Soy or almond milk in place of dairy milk.  Vegan margarine in place of butter.  Organic sugar.  I made the muffins with the changes, and no one could believe how delicious they were—just as good, if not better than the original recipe.

It went well.  Really, really well.   “Is it okay if I invite a friend next time?”  “Can I bring my niece?”  “Could you please email me a link to your blog?  To that website?”  “What was the name of that book you read?”  My cell phone began ringing—strangers calling.  “I heard you are giving vegan cooking lessons.  Do you have room for one more person?”  “How much does it cost?”

The answer was, of course, yes!  And it’s free.

The second lesson focused on entrees, and I demonstrated how to make homemade seitan, a chewy and delicious main course.  I also showed how to make cashew cream, and from that, made a vegan Alfredo sauce with mushrooms, peas, and kale, served over spaghetti squash.  We ate dinner together at the end of that demo, and I happened to have enough raw ginger cookies to pass around for dessert.  “Raw cookies?  How do you do that?”  “These are the best cookies I have ever eaten!  Could you share the recipe?”  It was a small group, easy to please, full of excitement for learning vegan cooking.  Then another round of phone calls and suddenly a bunch of people, some of whom I have never met, are sitting in my kitchen, raptly watching me chop, stir, process and talk about why I am a vegan.  And a vegan cook.

So— here I am at the beginning of my third group vegan cooking demonstration, this time teaching how to make vegan cheeses.  My friend Krissie was kind enough to bring her camera and take a few shots of the event.

I am holding up a package of agar-agar, a type of seaweed used as a thickener for many vegan cheeses.

I make three different cheeses in one hour.  The first is  smokey cashew cheese from the fabulous website:

 http://www.olivesfordinner.com

  Krissie got a great shot of the smokey cashew cheese.

The second is pine nut cheese, adapted from a recipe a friend found online while trying to impress me with her vegan cooking skills.  (Not that she needs to try—my friend Stephanie is an amazing cook and I always leave her table with a happy, full belly.)

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Beet-Ravioli-with-Pine-Nut-Goat-Cheese-Rosemary-Cream-Sauce-Aged-Balsamic-Vinegar-354390

I have made this entire recipe as it stands and was a bit disappointed, especially in the pine nut cheese.  The lemon was far too strong, so I eliminated the lemon zest, and instead of using the full amount of lemon juice, I used a little less than half the amount and used organic apple cider vinegar for the remaining volume.  I added about 2 tsp fresh rosemary to the processor along with everything else and wound up with what is perhaps the best nut-based ricotta cheese ever!  It freezes very well, so go ahead and make the full recipe, then divide into 1/2 cup containers and store in the freezer.  This is amazing in a vegan lasagna, or on a whole wheat pizza with a little vegan pesto, some tomato sauce and some caramelized onions and sauteed mushrooms.

The final cheese is tofu feta.  Tofu feta is tricky.  There are a lot of recipes out there and I have tried many.  This one is truly delicious and easy.

http://www.ourveggiekitchen.com/2010/03/tofu-feta.html

My captive audience.  I’m making tofu feta in this one.  Beneath the orange pot lid is a block of tofu.  The block is wrapped in a clean dishtowel and the weight of the lid is pressing out the excess water so that the tofu will absorb more of the marinade.

I serve the tofu feta mixed with some chopped cucumbers, halved baby grape tomatoes, Kalamata olives, all dressed with a dash of hemp oil, a bit of lemon juice, a sprinkle of oregano, and some freshly ground black pepper.

For a quick and easy tasting of the pine nut cheese, I cook a box of pasta, add a couple of cups of chopped fresh broccoli, a can of drained chickpeas, and some red sauce.  I pour that into a casserole, dollop on the pine nut cheese, and heat at 350 ° for about half an hour.  There are no leftovers!

Sometime during the lesson, my friend Jane raises her hand, old-school style.  “I think you should get paid for this, Elizabeth.”

“Oh, no, I don’t want to take any money for this.  I am truly okay doing it for free.”

“No, we should at least reimburse you for all the ingredients.”

“No, it’s really fine!”

And so on, until, as I stand behind my kitchen counter, trying to talk and cook and be entertaining and all that, one after another, my audience comes behind the counter.  They tuck bills into the front pocket of my jeans.  I am uncomfortable with this, but at the same time, secretly thrilled that anyone is willing to pay me to teach how to cook vegan.  After they leave, and I clean up, I empty the contents of my pocket onto the counter.  I think— I could make a living doing this—and my gratitude is immense for the generosity and kindness of my friends and the friends they have brought to me.