Posted tagged ‘vegan cooking’

Catching Up, Eagle Sighting and Raw Cashew Cream

November 4, 2014

Blogging has taken a backseat these days—there have been a myriad of changes in my life and I have been busy focused on adjusting to divorce, moving, a new relationship, and a significantly greater workload.  No complaints here, though.  Life is good.  My ex and I have remained friends, my new relationship is a blessing I was not expecting, and work is physical and fun.  I am still teaching vegan cooking in a group setting on a monthly basis, as well as in private settings for individuals.  I am still running!  Definitely not the 50+ miles each week like last year, as I am doing a lot more personal training and wellness coaching for work, as well as teaching group fitness three times each week for the Recreation Department of my town.

This morning I had the opportunity for a long run.  My early client cancelled last minute and I found myself racing through Halibut Point State Park, enjoying the late fall scenery with it’s nearly-bare trees, glass-surfaced quarry and vast expanse of ocean view.  With the hours of cross-training I have been logging with work, running feels easier than ever.  This was one of those days where breath, legs and mind were all on board from the moment I stepped out the door.  I felt as though my feet barely touched the ground and I don’t think I heard a single song on my playlist after the first mile.  Running is meditation just as much as it is physical exercise, maybe even more than ever before. I did get to see an eagle perched on a treetop as I ran home. Not that I noticed it myself—a pram-pushing mama pointed it out for me. Magnificent.

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Teaching vegan cooking is a joyful experience.  The people who come to my classes are enthusiastic, open-minded, and excited to learn each month.  My amazing photographer has been recovering from a broken ankle, so I am sorry to say I have none of her beautiful pictures to share in this post.  She is coming along nicely in her healing so am hoping to she will be back soon to take photos and notes for me.  It makes me realize how fortunate I am. It’s amazing how good people are to me and how much I depend on the kindness, generosity and skills of those around me to help me get through and be successful in this life.

In the meantime, I want to share a very easy cashew cream recipe.  I posted earlier about cashew cream and the recipe called for roasting the cashews first.  That recipe is delicious!  This recipe is even creamier than the first, and without the roasted flavor, it is even more versatile.  Used in vegan chowders, cream soups and cream sauces, the rich, thick texture lends a sensual mouth-feel and no one ever misses the dairy.

Raw Cashew Cream

Ingredients:

1 c whole raw cashews

filtered water

Method:

Rinse the cashews in cold filtered water and drain.  Place the cashews in a medium sized bowl and cover with filtered water.  Soak for at least 20 minutes, but overnight is a great choice.  Without soaking, the cashew cream will not be as creamy.

Drain and rinse the cashews after they have soaked.  Place in high-powered blender and add 1 c filtered water.  Blend on low until the cashews start to move around easily.  Turn blender speed to high and blend until completely smooth.

I always double this recipe and freeze what I don’t use.  It’s great to have a stock of some basics ready to go when I find myself standing in the kitchen, pondering what to make for dinner.  Consider pasta primavera, pasta al invierno, sweet potato and corn chowder, creamy tomato soup, creamed spinach with cumin, cayenne and cubed tofu—bring it on, winter!  Hearty food awaits!  More to come…

Bringing Vegan Wherever I Go

March 10, 2014

It’s 8:00 sharp on Saturday morning.  I am standing in the big, bright kitchen of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Gloucester, MA.  The talented author Janet Ruth Young happens to be on the board of this church, and I happen to know her.   When she asked me to be a guest speaker at her church as part of their green initiative lecture series, I readily agreed.  I cannot imagine passing up a chance to share my knowledge about vegan nutrition, food and recipes.   I am to give a winter root vegetable cooking demonstration and talk.  I know it’s not specifically a vegan topic, but I am going to make it one.  A good one.  No one will notice that they are eating vegan.  They are only going to notice that what they are eating is delicious.

My partner Bill and I weave in and out and around each other and the giant ten burner gas stove, double oven and two-sided sink.  We wash, scrub and peel vegetables at the big sink, then move them over to the chopping area.  Bill is far more diligent and focused than I, and so while I move my knives, bottles of spices and jars of hemp oil, ginger Nama Shoyu salad dressing and equipment I have brought from home, he makes fast work of the vegetable prep.  We have no idea how many people to expect, but I am as prepared as I can be with enough ingredients to feed 30 people.

IMG_1408   Bill and I prepping.  I am a blur…he is steady!

Folks start trickling in early.  Some of my friends come, and there are lots of new faces, too.  I am not nervous doing this any longer, so it is with joy and excitement that I begin.  There are about 20 people, a small enough group that they can all fit into the kitchen and watch everything.  I talk and talk, answer questions, and demonstrate how to cut Brussels sprouts.  I give a brief lesson on massaging kale.  When I explain that I use hemp oil as much as possible because it is easy to digest and filled with nutrients, everyone laughs when I confess that I have it on auto-ship from Amazon. I use a spiral slicer to make noodles from raw carrots, sweet potatoes and beets.  I invite a couple of volunteers to try, too. IMG_1405

While I chatter away, Bill mans the ovens and the stove, roasting a giant baking sheet of the sprouts and another of chopped root vegetables in preparation for a creamy, roasted vegetable soup, toasting pecans in a dry skillet so that I can teach the group how to toast and spice nuts.

The time flies by and soon everyone is digging into the massaged kale and spiral sliced raw vegetable salad.  They barely finish their full plates when I present the warm Brussels sprouts salad served over baby mixed greens, garnished with blackberries, avocado, raw pumpkin seeds and toasted spiced pecans.  I show how to make a balsamic reduction, using Blackberry Ginger infused balsamic from the Cape Ann Olive Oil Co.

IMG_1413   Toasting and Spicing Pecans

IMG_1416    Roasted Brussels Sprouts Salad with Toasted Spiced Pecans

The final tasting is of the roasted vegetable soup.  We have roasted garlic, onions, sweet potatoes, parsnips and carrots.  Bill pulls the hot baking sheet from the oven and we manage to scrape all those lovely, browned vegetables into the stock pot.  We add water, vegan bouillon, black pepper and minced fresh sage to the pot, bring it to a boil, then Bill turns off the heat, purees the giant potful with an immersion blender and it’s ready.  He moves the pot to a serving table and I ladle out hot mugs of the soup to everyone.  It’s hard to ladle soup into tiny blue Willow ware cups, but I pull it off without spilling much.  IMG_1436The group raves and raves about the food.  I answer more questions.  And here I must mention how grateful I am to my friend Krissi, who takes notes for me sometimes and today, hands me a legible list of topics and reminders of what I have promised to give attention to when I email the recipes to the group.  After the event is over, the first thing I do I look for leftovers.  There are none.  Every bite has been consumed.  With enthusiasm!

Clean up today means I wander around, packing up the knives, bottles, jars and other gear while Bill and a woman from the church wash the dishes, pots and pans.  We are finished by 12:45 and I leave tired and happy, knowing I have shared food, recipes, and a lot of what I know about eating a healthy vegan diet with a receptive audience.  I know that those who came today learned enough to make changes in their eating habits—for their health and for their environment.

The recipes:

Roasted Brussels Sprouts Salad with Toasted Spiced Pecans

Ingredients:

Brussels sprouts
2-3 T extra virgin olive oil

1/2 c pecan halves and pieces
1 tsp olive oil
1/4 tsp cinnamon
pinch of cayenne pepper
2 T maple syrup

6 cups mixed baby greens or 1 bunch kale*, washed, torn into bite-sized pieces and massaged with 1 T olive oil until volume is reduced by about half
1 cup fresh blackberries
1 bulb fennel
1 avocado
1 orange
balsamic vinegar—I use blackberry-ginger balsamic from the Cape Ann Olive Oil Co. Main St. Gloucester
salt and pepper to taste

Method:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Wash and trim the Brussels sprouts and cut them in half.  Put them on a large baking sheet and drizzle with the olive oil.  Turn all the Brussels sprouts so that they are cut-side down on the baking sheet.  Place baking sheet on center rack in oven and roast for 18-20 minutes.  The bottoms of the Brussels sprouts should be nice and brown, some of the tops should be dark, too.  Remove from oven, liberally sprinkle with the balsamic, toss to coat, add salt and pepper to taste.

While Brussels sprouts are roasting, heat a small skillet over medium heat on the stove.  Add the pecans to dry pan and toast until they become aromatic, flipping them occasionally to prevent burning.  When pecans are toasted, add olive oil, cinnamon, cayenne and maple syrup.  Simmer for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly until maple syrup bubbles. Remove pan from heat and set aside.

Wash the rest of the vegetables and fruit. Thinly slice fennel, open the avocado, remove the seed, and slice the avocado across and down.  Use a tablespoon to scoop out the avocado flesh.  Use a paring knife to remove skin from the orange.  Chop the orange into bite-sized chunks.  Reserve juice.

Assemble the salad:  In a large salad bowl, add the mixed baby greens or kale.  Add the orange juice, if any.  Arrange the Brussels sprouts, sliced fennel, avocado chunks, orange chunks and berries on top of the greens.  Sprinkle with 1/4 c more of the balsamic.  Add the nuts to the top of the salad and serve immediately.
*If using kale, massage with a couple of tsp oil until tender before assembling the rest of the salad.

Raw Root Vegetable Noodle Salad

Ingredients:
1 bunch kale, washed, removed from stems and torn into bite-sized pieces
2-3 T hemp oil
juice from 1/2 a lemon
1-2 medium sized beets, washed and peeled
1 large carrot, scrubbed
1-2 sweet potatoes, washed and peeled
1 avocado, halved, pitted and cut into bite-sized chunks
raw pumpkin seeds and toasted sesame seeds for garnish
Ginger Nama Shoyu Dressing (recipe below)

Method:
Place the kale in a large bowl.  Drizzle with the hemp oil and massage the kale for about 3-5 minutes, or until kale is slightly wilted and softened and reduced in volume by half.  Sprinkle with the lemon juice, salt and pepper and set aside.

*Spiral slice the sweet potatoes, carrot and beets.  Slice the beets last because they are the messiest and will juice on the other vegetables.  If the beets are very juicy, you can rinse them under cold water to keep their juice from spreading too much.  Use kitchen scissors to cut the vegetable noodles into manageable lengths.  Add the vegetable noodles to the kale and dress generously with Ginger Nama Shoyu dressing.  Toss to coat and distribute vegetables.  Arrange the avocado chunks on top of the salad.  Sprinkle the top of the salad with the seeds.  Drizzle a small amount of dressing on top and serve.

Ginger Nama Shoyu Dressing (adapted from Life Alive Restaurants)
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.
*If you don’t have a spiral slicer, you can grate the vegetables instead.  It tastes just as good!

Creamy Roasted Root Vegetable Soup

Ingredients:
extra-virgin olive oil
4-5 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed with the side of a knife
2-3 ribs celery, washed and cut into chunks
1 large sweet onion, coarsely chopped
1 bunch carrots, scrubbed and cut into chunks
3 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 bunch parsnips, peeled and cut into chunks
3 double sized cubes vegan bouillon, mix of salted and salt-free
water
1/4 c fresh sage leaves, washed and minced, or 2 tsp dried sage leaves
1 c orange juice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
black pepper to taste

Method:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Place prepared garlic and vegetables on one or two large baking sheets so that they are in a single layer.  Drizzle with enough olive oil to coat.  Roast in oven 30-40 minutes, or until vegetables are tender and slightly browned.

When vegetables are done, remove from oven and transfer to a large soup pot.  Add the bouillon cubes and cinnamon.  Add water to about and inch below the vegetables.  Heat over high heat until steaming.  Remove from heat and puree with immersion blender.  Alternatively, allow soup to cool slightly and puree in batches in a blender or food processor.  Return soup to pot.  Add the orange juice,, sage leaves and black pepper to taste.  Heat until steaming hot, being careful not to let the soup boil.  Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking.  Serve with hearty bread and salad for a delicious meal.  This soup freezes well.

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.

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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.

Shhhh…Secret Vegan Cooking Class

January 22, 2013

I am preparing for my fourth vegan cooking talk and demonstration.  The secret is that it is not technically a vegan cooking class—I have been invited by the Essex County Garden Club to talk about how to use winter vegetables.

The back story: Last spring I joined a CSA.  I bought one share for our family and had the pleasure of visiting Alprilla Farm each Wednesday afternoon to choose whatever I desired.  Each week I brought home a giant bag packed to the brim with the most beautiful organically grown vegetables.  The selection was vast—eight or nine types of greens and heirloom tomatoes, several types of beets, onions, carrots, peppers, kale and squashes.  Cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, potatoes, beans, soy beans, and much, much more.  Whenever I arrived, I met someone new and fun to talk with about how to prepare and eat the bounty offered.  I met a woman named Nina who seemed to be on my schedule and she would follow me around, asking what to do with celeriac, or how I managed to get my kids to eat kale.

It turns out that she is the event planner for the Essex County Garden Club.  One afternoon, she asked if I would be interested in sharing my knowledge about vegetables—why they are good to eat and how to prepare some of the more daunting ones—and I knew it would be a wonderful opportunity to teach how to cook vegetables.  It would also be a chance to share vegan cooking with a lot of people— a chance to be on the offense about being vegan!  I knew I would be be able to show the beauty in the way I choose to eat without having to do anything other than be myself.

So I’m in my kitchen.  I want to show off, thus I have been prepping all day.  I clean, peel and dice beets, carrots, red potatoes and sweet potatoes.  I wash kale and tear the leaves from the stems.  I spiral slice beets and carrots.  I make ginger nama shoyu dressing for steamed vegetables.  I scurry out to my garden and cut fresh rosemary and sage.  The show-stopper will definitely be the beet and carrot “noodles” turned from the spiral slicer because I also make my delicious vegan Alfredo sauce with mushrooms.

I make raw ginger cookies for dessert sampling, too, taking the time to press out the dough and cut hearts with a cookie cutter, because it’s close to Valentine’s Day and I love to share these amazingly simple and flavorful treats.  (And because Nina, who came to one of my vegan cooking classes here in my kitchen and tried one before, asked so nicely.)

Raw Ginger Cookies

Raw Ginger Cookies

The plan is to roast some vegetables in garlic olive oil, steam some and serve with quinoa and ginger nama shoyu dressing, and boil the noodles and serve with the Alfredo sauce.  Then cookies.  I know everyone will ask for the sauce recipe, so here it is.

Prep for Essex County Garden Club
Vegan Alfredo Sauce with Mushrooms top center and middle row second bowl in

Vegan Alfredo Sauce with Mushrooms

Ingredients:

1/2 c cashew cream*

3 T olive oil or flavored olive oi, divided (I like to use mushroom sage oil for this recipe, but plain is fine)

1  12 oz pkg sliced mushrooms

1 large sweet onion, diced

1/8 t crushed red pepper flakes

generous pinch freshly grated nutmeg

1 c peas, fresh or frozen

2 c vegetable stock or vegetable broth

1/3 c nutritional yeast

1/4 c minced fresh sage leaves

1/4 c orange juice concentrate

3 c raw baby spinach

salt and pepper to taste

Method:

Heat 2 T oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add mushrooms, turn heat to high, and cook, tossing every few minutes, until mushrooms begin to brown and they release their liquid.

Heat the remaining T oil in a small skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook about 7 minutes, or until onion is soft and beginning to brown.

Add the cooked onion to the mushrooms.  Add nutmeg and crushed red pepper flakes, stir, and cook for another minute.  Add the vegetable broth or stock and bring to a boil.  Stir in the peas.  Cook for 2 minutes.

Stir in the cashew cream and the nutritional yeast.  Reduce heat to low and cook for about 5 minutes more.  Add the sage and the orange juice concentrate.  Stir well to incorporate.  Remove pan from heat and fold in the baby spinach.  Grind a generous amount of black pepper into the sauce, taste, and add a little salt to taste.

*another way to make cashew cream:  soak 1 c raw cashews in cold filtered water for at least an hour but overnight is fine, too.  Drain, rinse, and drain again.  Pour soaked cashews into a blender and add 1 c filtered water.  Blend until smooth.  Use for this recipe.  Freeze any leftovers for next time.  Keeps at least 3 months in freezer.

All packed up and ready to go.  No room left in the fridge!  Notice that somehow my kombucha scoby jar is front and center on the top shelf.

All packed up and ready to go. No room left in the fridge! Notice that somehow my kombucha scoby jar is front and center on the top shelf.

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.

Super Bowl Sunday Shepherd’s Pie

February 5, 2012

I thought about calling this recipe Unemployed Shepherd’s Pie, but did not want to put a negative spin on the poor shepherds…it’s just that because it’s vegan, I think shepherds would have different jobs, like maybe seitan kneaders and bakers, or perhaps sheep’s rights activists.  Whatever I call it, this recipe is fantastic.  The tender vegetables and chewy seitan enveloped in smooth white sauce, then smothered in rich, creamy mashed potatoes are hearty and completely satisfying.  I have made one to take to my friends Eric and Charlene so we can have a yummy dinner together before they watch the game and we watch the commercials!

Super Bowl Sunday Shepherd’s Pie

Super Bowl Sunday Shepherd's Pie

Ingredients:

4-5 medium potatoes, scrubbed and cut in half

2 T vegan margarine, such as Earth Balance

1/3 c unsweetened almond, soy or hemp milk

1/3 c each vegan margarine and whole wheat pastry flour

2 c water

salt and pepper

1 c frozen peas

4-5  carrots, scrubbed, trimmed and diced

1-2 tsp olive oil

1 medium sized sweet onion, diced

1 1/2 c cooked seitan*

Method:

Place the potatoes in a large pot and cover them with cold water .  Turn heat to high and bring potatoes and water to a boil.  Reduce heat to simmer and cook the potatoes until they are fork-tender, about 20 minutes.

While the potatoes are cooking:

Saute the onion in 2 tsp olive oil in  a medium skillet over medium heat until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in the peas and seitan.

Steam the carrots in a pot on the stove top or in a covered bowl in the microwave for about 3 minutes until fork-tender.  Drain and add to the onion, pea and seitan.  Set aside.

Make the roux for the white sauce:

In another medium sized  non-stick skillet, melt the 1/3 c vegan margarine over medium heat.  Sprinkle with the 1/3 c flour and stir the flour into the margarine.  Keeping heat on medium, continue to cook the vegan margarine and the flour together until the mixture begins to turn a rich, golden color, about 7-8 minutes.

White sauce:  Turn heat under the roux pan to high.  Slowly add the 2 c  water as you continue to stir, incorporating the water into the roux until the sauce is smooth and begins to thicken.  A whisk is a great tool for this, but a wooden spoon also works well.  Stir in 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp black pepper.  Allow the white sauce to cook for a few more minutes.  Taste and correct seasoning.  Remove from heat.  Pour into the onion, peas, carrots and seitan pan and stir well to coat everything with the white sauce.  Return pan to low heat and cook about 5 more minutes, until thickened.  If sauce seems too thick, stir in more water, a couple of tablespoons at a time, until the consistency pleases you.

Finish the potatoes:

Drain water from cooked potatoes.  Add the 2 T vegan margarine and the 1/3 c almond, soy, or hemp milk.  Mash with potato masher or whip with electric mixer until potatoes are well mashed/whipped.  Add salt and pepper to taste and stir.

Preheat oven to 350 ° F.

To assemble the pie:

Spoon the filling for the pie into a deep casserole or deep baking dish about 8 or 9 inches round.  Scoop the mashed potatoes on top, being careful not to mix them into the filling.  I use a spatula to gently smooth the mashed potatoes over the filling.

Drizzle the top with a little olive oil if you wish and bake at 350 °F  for 30-40 minutes, until sides are bubbling and center is hot.

Serves 5-6 hungry people.  I suggest a big, green salad as a side dish.  A couple of nice accompaniments are green tomato piccalilli  and cranberry chutney or cranberry sauce.

Enjoy the game!

*I make my own seitan.  The recipe link above is a quick and easy one.  I always double it, as seitan freezes well, and it’s a delicious, chewy source of vegan protein.  For this particular recipe, I did not use thyme in the seasoning.  I used 1 tsp each of dried marjoram and sage, 1/2 tsp each of onion and garlic powder.  I reduced the tamari by half, replacing that liquid with sodium-free vegetable broth.   I made the seitan a day ahead and stuck it in the refrigerator until I was ready to use it today.

A Cake for Miranda the Tropical Storm

October 31, 2011

My friend Miranda came and helped me in the garden last week.  She’s a miracle out there, doing what she refers to as “aerobic weeding”, keeping pace with me, maybe even working a little bit faster!  We ripped out juniper, dug and pulled weeds, clipped back iris and lilies and moved perennials, filling barrel after barrel to dump into her truck.  When lunch time rolled around, I dragged her away from the garden and into my kitchen.  I assembled elaborate chickpea salad sandwiches on toasted sourdough bread.  She was pushing herself away from the table when I made it clear we would not be returning to work until we ate dessert.

“Pumpkin gingerbread.  You have to try it!”

“Oh, twist my arm,” she said with a grin.

I cut us each a thick slice.  She took her first bite.

“I have to have this recipe.  I will read your blog if you put this recipe on there!”

“No problem.  I’ll get it up there today.”

Or not.

I saw Miranda again Saturday night at a Halloween costume dinner party.  She wore a fantastic costume—a tropical dress and blouse, Mardi Gras beads, a straw hat with the side pinned up as if the wind was right in the room, holding it up in place.  She carried a devil’s red pitchfork, a last minute addition to the outfit, making the name of her costume the Tropical Storm from Hell.  She looked gorgeous, with her face pink from spending the day outside gardening in the cold autumn wind.

Because I knew she would be at the party, I made the cake again.  I brought it warm to the table; the smell of pumpkin, ginger and lemon filled the room.

“Please, please.  I want this recipe!”

After dinner, I wrapped the leftover cake and gave it to her to take home.  I have a feeling that, although she is not fond of the kitchen, she will make this herself.  After she reads my blog to get the recipe, of course!

Pumpkin Gingerbread

Ingredients:

1 c sourdough starter (optional)* (See note at bottom of recipe)

3 T ground flax seed whisked together with 1/2 c plus 1 T water

scant 2/3 c extra-virgin olive oil

2/3 c sugar

1/4 c molasses

2 T fresh grated ginger root

zest from 1 lemon

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 1/4 c cooked fresh pumpkin* (You can use canned pumpkin, but in this recipe, the fresh really makes a taste difference.)

2 c whole wheat pastry flour

1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp baking powder

1 1/2 tsp baking soda

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground cloves

2 tsp ground dried ginger

cinnamon sugar for sprinkling the baking pan

Method:

Preheat oven to 350 ° F.

First, whisk together the ground flax seed and the water.  Set aside.

Oil a bundt pan or pretty cake mold pan with non-stick cooking spray and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. (I use a pretty flower cake mold pan.  You can also use a 9×13 baking pan.)

In a large bowl, combine starter if you are using it, sugar, molasses, vanilla, and oil.  Use a large whisk to combine well.  Set aside.

In another bowl, combine the flour, the salt, the baking powder, the baking soda, the cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and dried ginger.  Combine with a fork or a dry whisk until all the dry ingredients are well incorporated into the flour.

Whisk the starter and sugar mixture again, then stir and add the ground flax seed mixture and whisk vigorously for 1 minute. Whisk in the lemon zest and the fresh grated ginger.

Add the fresh pumpkin and whisk until the pumpkin is pretty well incorporated.  A few chunky pieces are okay.  If the pumpkin is very chunky, use a fork to mash it a bit and whisk again.

Add the dry ingredients to the bowl.  Stir the wet and dry together using a large wooden spoon or spatula.  You don’t need to over-mix, just watch to be sure that all the dry ingredients are incorporated.

Pour the batter into the bundt or cake pan and bake for about 45 minutes, or until the center is just firm to the touch.  You can also test by inserting a toothpick into the thickest part of the cake and pulling it out.  It should come out dry.  If you are using a 9×13″ baking pan, bake for about 30-35 minutes.

Allow cake to cool in pan for 10 minutes before turning it out onto a wire rack to cool completely.  If you use the 9×13″ baking pan, just cut into squares and serve right from the pan.

*Note:

Since we have become vegan, I have changed the starter only by changing the cow’s milk to either almond, soy, or hemp milk.  It has not changed the flavor or affected the fermenting process.  For the other cake recipes that stem from the starter, the ground flax seed and water mixture substitutes for the eggs.  The basic sub is:  1 T ground flax seed whisked together with 3 T water = 1 egg.  So far, this has worked perfectly for all baked goods.

Never cooked a pumpkin before?  No problem!  Select a sugar pumpkin—those are the little ones, not the ones we carve for Halloween.  Wash the pumpkin and cut it in half vertically.  Scoop out the seeds and strings with a big spoon.  Line a cookie sheet with foil, oil the foil lightly, and place the two pumpkin halves, cut side down, on the cookie sheet.  Bake at 425 º F for about 40-45 minutes, or until soft.  (The skin will turn light brown, maybe even a little bit darker in some spots.)  Remove cookie sheet from oven and, when the pumpkin is cool enough to handle, scoop/scrape the flesh from the skin.  Mash with a fork.   You can puree the pumpkin flesh in a food processor if you like your pumpkin very smooth.  Pumpkin freezes well, too.  Measure by cupfuls and freeze in containers or freezer storage bags for up to 6 months.