Monday, October 31, 2011


Have you ever seen the show Chopped? I adore this show. The premise is, four chef contestants compete for $10,000 by cooking 3 courses (if they're not eliminated first): appetizer, main course, and dessert. The catch is, they are required to use four pre-determined "mystery" ingredients in each course. And they have a very short time to cook! After each course their dishes are judged, and one chef is eliminated. By dessert, there are two left, and the winner is declared at the end of the show.

I like Chopped so much because it shows me new cooking techniques and creative ways to put food together. What I don't like is that anything goes -- I've seen them use everything from eel to veal.

I did a quick google search and found a few references to a vegan Chopped. Check these out!

I dream of a vegan version of Chopped. So if anyone out there is in production and wants to do this, count me in! Or maybe we can find a company or organization to sponsor a Chopped-like contest where contestants have to create a vegan recipe using four mystery ingredients (red lentils, durian, turnips, and hominy, anyone?).

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Polenta Pizza and Last Minute Saute

The other day I knew I was in trouble when I opened the fridge (at 5:15pm) to find little more than aging carrots, and old (but still good) log of polenta, leftover quinoa, a few wrinkling snap peas, 1/2 bag baby spinach, a 1/2 huge onion, and condiments. In the freezer was a 1/2 bag of Meal Starters Chick'n Strips. Fortunately a (compact fluorescent) lightbulb went off in my head. What would you do with all this, to serve a family of 4? Here's what I came up with.

Polenta Pizza

I think I'll always keep a log of polenta in the fridge for this -- honestly it wasn't my favorite thing, but my husband and son loved it.

  • 1 log polenta, sliced into 1/4-inch slices
  • tomato sauce of your choice
  • Daiya mozz
  • olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wipe a thin layer of olive oil on a roasting pan to prevent sticking. Assemble the pizzas and place in pan. Bake until cheese melts.

Last Minute Saute

This is one of those recipes you would NOT take to the store with you to buy ingredients. This is a recipe you turn to when you have a bunch of leftovers you don't know what to do with. While mine had carrots, onions, spinach, snap peas, chick'n strips, and quinoa, yours can have any veggie, bean, faux meat, and/or grain. Here's how you adapt it.

Chop your veggies into bite-sized pieces or dice into small pieces. Heat a little olive oil or broth in a large saute pan. Add the veggies in order of how long they take to cook (I always start with onions and garlic). Keep stirring the veggies around on medium heat until they start to stick to the pan and/or things are looking a bit dry. When that happens, add vegetable broth, just enough so that there's a 1/8 to 1/4 inch pool at the bottom of the veggies. The broth should be boiling gently (not boiling so hard that the liquid is spattering and starting to burn). Next, add beans or faux meat and incorporate.

Now the fun begins. At this point, if you don't object to alcohol, add cooking wine. My favorite is sherry, but you can use any wine, even table wine if you want. If you prefer, use diluted flavored vinegar. Stir everything around. While that cooks, visit your spices and choose 2 or 3 that you think would best complement your dish thus far. Shake them in. (You might need to add more broth to keep the veggies moist.) Next, add the juice of a half to one lemon or lime. Blend and taste. At this point, you might be done. No? Ask yourself: does it need sweetness? If so, add a 1/2 tsp of vegan sugar. Does it need heat? Add pepper sauce or chili powder. Finally, add salt to taste, if it needs it. Keep cooking, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is completely absorbed.

Serve over leftover grains or in a sandwich wrap.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Julieanna Hever on Dr. Oz today!

Ok my timing is terrible because if you're here on the east coast, it is now too late, but if you're elsewhere, be sure to catch my friend and colleague, the wonderful and talented Julieanna Hever, the Plant Based Dietitian, on the Dr. Oz show today!

I promise to post again when they're re-running the show later in the season. And if it goes online I will post that as well.

Julieanna explains how to follow a whole-foods, plant-based diet. Her principles (and recipes!) are in her wonderful new book, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition. Check it out!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Really, are potatoes so terrible?

If you've been following the popular health news lately, you've come across a litany of articles warning us of the "danger" of the humble potato. Several advocacy groups have even gone as far as to get the USDA to consider cutting back on or completely eliminating potatoes from the school lunch. I agree the school lunch would benefit from improvements but to get rid of potatoes and keep all the other crap (chicken nugget ban, anyone?)? Sure, take away the fries, puffs, and tots but keep the whole potato please!

The well-respected (including by me, usually) Harvard School of Public Health has come out with their own version of MyPlate (coined the "Healthy Eating Plate"), where potatoes (in any form) are strongly discouraged.

In my opinion, demonizing one food (particularly a whole plant food) can lead to consumer confusion/frustration. Even though epidemiological studies have suggested that potatoes are associated with weight gain, I've yet to meet a person who lost weight by cutting out potatoes. It is only one part of the diet, and it is the diet and lifestyle overall, not the inclusion or exclusion of potatoes, that determines one's health and weight. I've personally been so annoyed by this that I've gone out of my way recently to buy (local/organic) potatoes. And fortunately, I got a couple of pounds from my CSA last week. I make them garlic mashed, roasted, and pan fried. Yum.

Here's my recipe for quick vegan mashed potatoes.

  • 2 lbs potatoes
  • 4 Tbsp trans-fat-free tub margarine like Earth Balance
  • 2 tsp seasoned salt
  • 2 Tbsp nutritional yeast
  • unsweetened soy milk as needed (or other unsweetened plant milk)

Peel and chop potatoes into approximately 1-inch cubes. Boil until soft. Drain.

Return to pot and add margarine, salt, and yeast. Mash with a potato masher. Slowly add milk and keep mashing until at desired consistency. This shouldn't take more than a couple of minutes. Old-fashioned potato mashers work great, and leave in a few lumps, which adds authenticity. :-) Serve. (Note: If you're watching your fat intake, eliminate the margarine or use a teaspoon or two of olive oil instead.)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

How did you celebrate Food Day?

Food Day, which was yesterday, October 24th, is a celebration spearheaded by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

It was a great success around the country. The day really spread awareness about food issues and challenges, and inspired ideas for solutions. Getting people talking about food and understanding how important it is for everyone to have access to safe, nutritious foods is, to me, the ultimate drive for success.

Food Day's goals ("6 principles") are to:
  • Reduce diet-related disease by promoting safe, healthy foods
  • Support sustainable farms & limit subsidies to big agribusiness
  • Expand access to food and alleviate hunger
  • Protect the environment & animals by reforming factory farms
  • Promote health by curbing junk-food marketing to kids
  • Support fair conditions for food and farm workers
The idea is to transform the American diet by inspiring people who want healthy, affordable food produced in a sustainable, humane way. This means getting people cooking real food for their families again; having fewer people at fast food restaurants and bigger crowds at farmers markets; celebrating fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains - and supporting the farms
producing them; ensuring everyone has the option to select healthy diets and avoid diet-related health issues.

How cool is that? My town, Montclair, NJ, celebrated this day with activities at the public schools and around town such as movie screenings, apple tastings, a produce drive, and food collections for the needy. The grain and bean posters pictured here are on display at my son's elementary school; I spent a good part of the weekend making them (I'm not the most creative person so I'm rather excited about the role of my new glue gun!). I can't solve the nation's food problems, but I can help teach kids about healthy foods, so why not start in my son's school?

How about you? If you didn't know about it or didn't have time this year, start thinking about how you can make a difference in your community next year!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A tofu scramble -- what is my SECRET ingredient?

Per request, here is my tofu scramble recipe! In the past I've resisted posting it because, honestly, it's never the same recipe twice.

This is the BEST recipe for literally throwing in your leftovers. The one pictured here had the last bit of my friend Lisa's amazing bean chili and a few jalapenos from my CSA share.

Here are some favorite add-ins:

  • leftover cooked veggies
  • cooked leafy greens (try spinach for a Florentine flair!)
  • beans
  • salsa (goes especially well with black beans and chili powder for a Tex Mex delight)
  • diced cooked sweet potatoes
  • diced cooked winter squash
  • veggie bacon or sausage

I've been known to even add in leftover soup!

Now, I never claimed that this is supposed to mimic scrambled eggs. It doesn't. It started out that way, years ago, when the recipe was basically, well, tofu plus turmeric (for the yellow color) and some seasoning. But this recipe has morphed over the years, culminating into what would be more appropriately termed "Tofu Mish Mash" or "Kitchen Sink Tofu." It's healthier too, with all those delicious veggies for antioxidant and fiber power.

You will need:

  • 2 lbs firm tofu, pressed and drained
  • 1 tbsp trans-fat-free vegan tub margarine (I like Earth Balance) or veggie broth or water for sauteeing
  • 1 small or 1/2 large onion, diced (about 1 cup diced)
  • 2-3 small bell peppers (it's nice to use 3 different colors), diced (about 1.5 cups diced)
  • ***SECRET INGREDIENT!!!*** 1/2 package soy chorizo (available at Trader Joes)
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1 cup Daiya cheese (I usually use Cheddar but if I'm doing a Tex Mex Scramble, I'll use the pepper jack. The Mozz is good if you're in an Italian mood.)
  • 1 tbsp turmeric
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp seasoned salt (MSG free)
  • 1 ripe tomato, chopped
1. Press the tofu by taking it out of the package, setting it on a large flat plate, and placing a heavy pot of water on top (balance carefully now!). The longer you do this, the firmer the result. I tend to do it for 5-10 minutes, or longer if I have a lot of "wet" add-ins.

2. Heat the margarine or broth or water over medium heat. Add the onions and peppers and saute until they start to get soft, about 5 minutes.

3. Add the tofu. Break it up with a spoon in one hand and fork in the other, as you mix it with the veggies. Try to leave a few bite-sized chunks so it's not all crumbs.

4. Add the chorizo and carefully incorporate. Warning, this step can be messy.

5. Sprinkle the yeast, cheese and spices evenly over the mixture and saute until it's one uniform color (you might need to add more turmeric) and the cheese is melted.

6. When it looks and tastes done, add the tomato and fold in and keep it on the heat for another minute or two.

Serve with whole wheat toast for a fabulous brunch. Also a GREAT filling for a wrap!

Again! Don't be shy! Other than leaving the burner on high and going to the movies, it's virtually impossible to mess up this recipe. Experiment!