Isa Does It Cookbook Review & Giveaway

Isa Does It

Update: congrats to our winner, Kayci! Thank you to everyone who entered and shared your comments. I loved reading all of them!

Scroll down for giveaway details!!!

Before I get started, I should mention that I never really do reviews on this blog. This is mostly because I want my site to be a place where my readers are not inundated with propaganda. Further, I no longer accept free products to review for companies, because I really don’t want to be unduly influenced by the promise of free stuff. So this review comes to you simply because I really do like the book THAT much. If you click the link to Amazon and purchase a product from here, literally a couple cents will go to this blog. I always honestly appreciate the support so that I can keep things running here (site hosting and domain purchases can get expensive…not to mention all the food for recipe testing). But I digress. That’s not the reason I’m doing this. This is truly just a book I really wanted to share with my readers, who probably are more on the ball than myself and know all about it! But if not, read on…

There comes a time in every food blogger’s life when they come across another person’s recipe that is so ingenious and fantastic that they think Gosh, why didn’t I think of that???? So when I received my copy of Isa Does It: Amazingly Easy, Wildly Delicious Dishes for Every Day of the Week last weekend, I knew I was looking at a pretty stellar piece of work when I literally had that thought with each turn of the page.

Isa Does It is destined to become a classic vegan cookbook that no foodie (vegan or not) should ever live without. My first perusal of the book yielded several audible (seriously, ask my husband) “ooohs” and “ahhhs”. I am also pretty sure I uttered the following phrases at least once while looking through it:

  • Oh my gosh I want to make everything!
  • This is the best purchase I have ever made in my life!
  • No, Seriously, Gennaro, this is the best thing I have ever spent my money on!
  • This is my favorite cookbook of all time!

Better yet, all of the recipe’s I’ve tried from the book so far — and I’ve still got a looong way to go — have been awesome. A household favorite was probably the Down Home Curry — a splendid blend of hearty vegetables and Indian spices, which turned out to be a perfect winter stew.

down home curry

Down Home Curry. I substituted green beans and cauliflower for the broccoli.

I also made the Lentil A-Roni, which I totally messed up by not soaking the cashews and forgetting to change my Vitamix from a super low setting to blend the cashews for a cream. So my cashew cream was a little, uh, chunky. But like Isa says in the book, it still worked for this dish because it added sort of a Parmesan-esque essence to the dish which I liked. And even with messing it up, I still loved the recipe.

lentil a-roni

Lentil A-Roni, which I messed up but still thoroughly enjoyed.

I should also mention that both of the above recipes, including others I’ve made from the book, stretched enough to feed the two of us for multiple meals. In fact, I didn’t even bother to heat up my Lentil A-Roni for lunch the next day and it was still good.

There are many other stellar recipes I am excited to try. From soups and stews to a whole section on all-encompassing bowls (a vegan favorite — think, tofu-kale bowl with curried peanut sauce, for example), there are so many superb recipes and ideas in the book. A few notes regarding specific questions some of you might have about this book:

  • Gluten-free/soy-free/whatever-free? I know that before I spend money on a cookbook, I am always wondering if there is going to be anything in it I can actually eat. But I’m sure you can guess that if I love the cookbook so much, I must be able to make something in there. Yes, there are plenty of recipes for those, like me, who are also gluten-free. Isa also gives substitutions in the beginning of the book for things like breadcrumbs (i.e. ground-up gluten-free pretzels — who knew??) Also, it’s pretty easy to adapt pretty much all of the pasta recipes to be gluten-free (duh!). I’ve never had a problem with it. While my Trader Joe’s Brown Rice Fusilli (above) may not have held up quite as well as the gluten-filled kind, it still worked perfectly fine in the Lentil A-Roni. Isa also has a lot of recipes in the book that don’t rely on soy or tofu, and gives substitutions whenever possible. There are plenty of recipes based around beans, legumes and hearty grains. And yes, the dessert recipes are made mostly with sugar, but what else is new? It’s hard to find sugar-free and vegan dessert recipes many places. That’s what I’m here for!
  • Complicated? Nope. Title doesn’t lie. These recipes are pretty simple for the average cook and so far nothing I’ve made from it has been at all complex.
  • Hard-to-find vegan specialty items? Again, nope. For an all-vegan cookbook, this one goes easy on the nutritional yeast, which is absent from several recipes (and doesn’t seem to suffer for it). Sure, there may be a few “different” ingredients here or there, but I love this book because the majority of items can probably be purchased from Trader Joe’s.

OK, HERE’S THE SCOOP ON THE GIVEAWAY: In the spirit of the holidays, I am giving away a copy of Isa Does It to one lucky reader. I seriously looove this book and really wanted to share it with all of you. If I were Oprah, I would give a copy to everyone. But alas, I am just a small-timer so one copy it will have to be. To Enter, simply leave a comment below. While I would certainly love to hear what your favorite cookbook is, you do not need to leave any specific type of comment to win. Just say hi! The giveaway will close at 11 p.m. EST next Friday, December 13th. Because we all know it’s fun to close a giveaway on Friday the 13th. A winner will be chosen at random, probably with the help of some sort of internet calculator thingy.  UPDATE: The giveaway is now closed! Thanks to all who entered!

And if you already have the book, enter anyways! It would be a great holiday gift for someone else in your life. I’m giving a copy to my mom (so Mom — don’t enter the giveaway, unless you want to give your copy to someone else!)

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Easy, Fat-Free Green Bean Salad

fat free green bean saladSo, I realized that this past Thanksgiving was my 4th — 4th! — annual vegan Thanksgiving. And for the first time ever, as I mentioned, the entirety of my extended family joined along in the spirit of the vegan Thanksgiving and there was no turkey to be found.

At one time, I would have thought that a turkey-less, entirely vegan Thanksgiving would mean I’d feel lighter and not stuffed to my breaking point after eating. I was wrong. And I’m here to set the record straight. It is entirely possible to way overeat  and induce a food-coma even if all of the food you’re putting into your body came from plants.

Read More »

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Cran-Apple Lentil Loaf

lentil loaf

Lentil loaf is one of those ubiquitous vegan dishes that seems to pop up on every blog and website around the holidays. I’m joining in the lentil loaf fun. For years, I’ve wanted to create a decent lentil loaf to post on this site. I’d tried my hand at it a few times and wasn’t too happy with the results. So I gave up. But I figured, what better time than “Thanksgiving season” (if you’re a blogger, you know that Thanksgiving is, indeed, a full “season”) than to tackle this dish once again?

Thankfully, I came up with not one but two versions of lentil loaf that I liked. I could not decide which I liked better, though, so I left that to my chief taste-tester, Gennaro. Truth be told, Gennaro is a pretty horrible taste-tester, as he is very reluctant to give me criticism (great husband, not great taste-tester). But over the years, I’ve developed enough insight into his body language to know when he really loves something, and when he’s just telling me what he thinks I want to hear. In this case, his body language pointed clearly to loaf #1. So that’s the one I’m sharing here.

lentil loaf

This lentil loaf is texturally not exactly like meatloaf, so don’t think you’ll be getting a perfect replica. But it’s a delicious centerpiece to a meal nonetheless, and will definitely go well with all of the typical meatloaf accompaniments. In fact, it works best when surrounded by a supporting cast of mashed potatoes and gravy. The topping is also essential, as it adds a sweetness and flavor to the dish. This is also delicious cold the next day (in my opinion). I ate three slices straight out of the refrigerator for breakfast and lunch and not only did it still taste great but it kept me full throughout the day!

I adapted my recipe from this one at Oh She Glows. I loved the idea of using grated apple in the loaf (I personally think it keeps the filling from becoming too dry). I also liked the idea of processing the lentils (I processed 1/2 instead of 75%) in order to keep the loaf from falling apart. This one holds together remarkably well. The cranberries rounded everything out with a tart-sweetness that added flavor and festiveness to the dish.

I will be bringing this for our vegan family Thanksgiving feast. This is the first year that our entire extended family dinner will be meat-free! It’s funny because in years past, as more and more of us were giving up meat, the family turkey got smaller and smaller as more vegan dishes began to spring up in our lineup. I’m so exited that this year, there will be no turkey at all! This dish will fill in just perfectly.

Note: this recipe is somewhat more labor intensive than what I usually like to make for a weeknight meal. Altogether, it took me about 40 minutes of active prep and then about 45 minutes of baking (during which I cleaned my dirty kitchen!). It’s definitely not the most labor intensive meal I’ve ever made, but I thought I’d give fair warning to those looking to tackle this one in a hurry, as there are a few different cooking components at play here. Also note that for best results, you should have parchment paper on hand to line your loaf dish for easy removal. 

Cran-Apple Lentil Loaf:

Adapted from Oh She Glows’ Ultimate Vegan Lentil Walnut Loaf; Yield: about 8 thick slices

Loaf Ingredients: 

1 cup uncooked green/brown lentils

3 cups water

1 cup rolled oats

1/2 cup raw walnuts

1 cup onion, very finely chopped

1 cup celery, very finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, minced

1/3 cup vegetable broth

2 tablespoons ground flax seeds

1/2 cup grated apple, tightly packed

2 tablespoons Bragg’s Liquid Aminos (use coconut aminos to make this soy free)

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/3 cup fruit-sweetened dried cranberries

Glaze:

2 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste

2 1/2 tablespoons coconut nectar (can also substitute agave or maple syrup)

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1/2 teaspoon ground mustard

Directions:

1. Add lentils to a small pot with 3 cups water and a pinch of salt. Cover and bring to a boil. Then reduce to a simmer and simmer lentils, covered, for about 35 minutes, or until most of the liquid is gone but lentils remain firm. Drain remainder of the liquid. Set aside.

2. In a food processor fitted with a sharp steel blade, process oats together with walnuts for about 30 seconds, until a coarse flour forms (almost like a coarsely ground cornmeal). Pour processed walnuts and oats unto a large mixing bowl and set aside.

3. Add 1 cup of lentils to food processor with same steel blade (no need to wash first) and process until mixture begins to clump together. Set aside.

4. In a non-stick saute pan, saute onion, garlic and celery in vegetable broth over medium-high heat until soft and vegetable broth is gone, about 5 minutes. Add cooked onion, celery and garlic to mixing bowl with the oats and walnuts. Add pureed lentils and roughly mix. Add another cup of the whole lentils, then remaining loaf ingredients and mix well. I actually like to use my hands to mix everything together and make sure all of the ingredients are well-distributed. I don’t bother much to add things in a certain order, as using your hands will kind of help to distribute things well.

5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. While oven preheats, pour lentil loaf mixture into a 9x5x2″ (or similar-sized) loaf pan and press firmly into pan, using hands. Top should be smooth. Then mix together topping ingredients in a small bowl and pour over top, spreading evenly with a spoon or spatula until well-distributed.

6. Bake loaf in preheated oven, uncovered, for about 45 minutes on a middle rack. Remove from oven and let cool for a couple minutes before lifting loaf out of pan with the sides of the parchment. For easy transfer to a serving platter, I gently lifted the bottom of the loaf from the parchment with a long spatula and then pulled the parchment out from underneath. Slice and serve with desired accompaniments.

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Raw Fruit and Nut Kale Salad

raw fruit and nut kale saladI am going to make this post short and sweet, as I am not feeling so well and have a long day ahead tomorrow. But I wanted to share this amazing kale salad that is a new favorite in our house. It was inspired by the kale salad I frequently get for lunch from a macrobiotic place near my office called Om Cafe. Their genius combination of dried apricots and walnuts in their raw kale salad sort of rocked my world the first time I tried it. Now I’m in love with the combo and Gennaro is, too.

My take on this salad includes grapes in addition to the dried apricots to round out the fruit component. Other fruits would also be great here. Instead of dried apricots, try fruit sweetened dried cranberries or golden raisins. I’ve also added pomegranate for an antioxidant boost and extra crunch.

raw kale salad with fruit and nuts

This salad would be a great addition to Thanksgiving dinner. It’s pretty and colorful and delicious. As far as serving size goes, it’s hard for me to tell how many it serves, as Gennaro and I can polish off this salad between the two of us. But I’m thinking 4 servings is probably appropriate for those eating this in addition to other parts of a meal. This recipe can be multiplied as needed for crowds.

Raw Fruit and Nut Kale Salad:

Ingredients:

1 bunch kale (any variety), washed and chopped

pinch of sea salt (about 1/8 teaspoon or less, can add in more salt later to taste)

1/4 teaspoon olive oil

1/2 cup red grapes, halved lengthwise

1/3 cup raw walnuts, roughly chopped

6 dried apricots (I use unsulfured), cut into strips

1/2 red bell pepper, diced

Dressing:

2 tablespoons tahini

2 teaspoons Bragg’s Liquid Aminos

1 tablespoon water

1 tablespoon raw apple cider vinegar

Directions:

1. Add kale to a large salad bowl with a pinch of sea salt and olive oil. Massage gently with hands (I like to put bunches of kale between my palms and rub together). Do this until kale is softened just a bit and dark green in color.

2. Using a spoon or small whisk, mix dressing ingredients in a small bowl until smooth and set aside.

3. Add remaining salad ingredients to salad bowl with kale and top with dressing. Toss everything together until well coated and serve.

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Tempeh Shepherd’s Pot Pie

tempeh shepherd's pieI adapted this Shepherd’s pie recipe from one of my favorite all-time cookbooks, Veganomicon. Last year I made the Veganomicon Moussaka for our family’s vegan Thanksgiving main dish. It was a huge hit with everyone. This year, I’m tackling our family’s main dish again. I am contemplating making this, as it’s quite delicious. Though I would love to hear suggestions from everyone else as to your favorite gluten-free, vegan main courses for the holidays.

Of course, this dish need not be limited to just holiday meals. It’s wonderful comfort food that can be served throughout the winter. In fact, the filling actually reminds me more of a pot pie (also a comfort food favorite for many), which is why I am calling this a Shepherd’s Pot Pie. It’s comfort food fusion!

tempeh shepherd's pie

I made several changes to the original Veganomicon recipe. Not because the original is not delicious — I’m sure it is — but because I’m a food creativity junkie and have trouble sticking to exact recipes. I decided to make the topping with a mixture of cauliflower and potatoes rather than just potatoes in order to lighten it up a bit. I’m also a fan of sneaking as many healthy veggies into dishes as I can. I used coconut oil in the topping (instead of grapeseed oil, which was called for in the original), which I feel is a nice substitute for butter, and reduced the amount of oil overall. As far as the filling goes, I omitted the use of oil entirely, didn’t use any corn (mostly because I didn’t have any, so I doubled the amount of peas used) and used some white wine in the cooking process. Instead of flour, I thickened the filling with arrowroot powder. And I used Bragg’s Liquid Aminos instead of Tamari, though Tamari could certainly be used here as well. Finally, I reduced the amount of liquid in the filling, as I wanted the filling a bit on the thicker side.

While my pictures here probably don’t do this dish justice (I was photographing on a super rainy and dreary day), I hope that doesn’t deter everyone from giving this dish a try. I really think it would be a wonderful addition to anyone’s vegan comfort food repertoire.

Tip: The topping can be served alone as a delicious “whipped potato” side dish. Simply follow directions for prepping it and serve after pureeing in food processor (don’t bake). The potatoes turn out light and fluffy and totally amazing — I was licking my spatula!

Tempeh Shepherd’s Pot Pie:

Adapted from the Tempeh Shepherdess Pie recipe in Veganomicon

Serves: 6-8

Filling Ingredients:

2 8-oz. packages tempeh

2 cups water

3 tablespoons Bragg’s Liquid Aminos, divided

1 1/4 cup onions (about 1 large onion), diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/3 cups vegetable broth, divided

1/3 cup white wine

10 oz. cremini mushrooms (about 1 pkg.), sliced

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon ground coriander

2 cups frozen peas

2 tablespoons arrowroot starch

Topping Ingredients:

1 pound russet potatoes (about 8 small potatoes), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

4 cups chopped cauliflower florets (about 1 small head cauliflower)

3 tablespoons coconut oil

3 tablespooons unsweetened soy or almond milk

1 teaspoon sea salt

Directions:

1. In a large skillet, crumble tempeh into small pieces. Add water and 1 tablespooon liquid aminos. Cover and let boil for 10 minutes (start on step 2 while tempeh cooks). After 10 minutes, remove lid and cook tempeh until remaining liquid has evaporated.

2. Add potatoes to a large soup pot and cover with water. Add cauliflower to a separate steamer basket and steam until fork tender, or boil in a separate small pot until fork tender. Drain cauliflower and set aside. Meanwhile, bring potatoes to a boil and boil for about 20 minutes, or until potatoes are also fork tender. Add potatoes, cauliflower and remaining topping ingredients to a food processor and process until smooth. You may need to stir contents a few times to ensure proper distribution. Set aside.

3. Once tempeh liquid has evaporated, remove tempeh to a plate. You do not need to clean skillet. Add onion, garlic and 1/3 cup vegetable broth to skillet and saute over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, or until onions are translucent. Add tempeh, mushrooms, thyme, coriander, 2 tablespoons liquid aminos and white wine to skillet and saute for another 10 minutes, or until mushrooms are softened and juicy.

4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

5. Add peas to filling mixture and saute for another minute. Meanwhile, whisk together 1 cup vegetable broth and arrowroot in a separate bowl and add to filling ingredients. Heat through, for about another minute.

6. Add filling ingredients to a large, 9×13″ casserole dish (for the picture, I separated my ingredients into smaller dishes). Top with whipped potatoes and cauliflower and spread evenly over filling. Bake uncovered in preheated oven for about 20 minutes. The Veganomicon girls recommend that if your topping isn’t getting browned by then, simply place under broiler for a couple minutes to brown. Serve warm.

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Chocolate-Pumpkin Mousse Pie

pumpkin chocolate mousse piePumpkin season may have started awhile ago, but I was sort of blanking out when it came to anything new I wanted to tackle in the pumpkin department. But then I got inspired by a vegan pumpkin-chocolate cheesecake I saw at Whole Foods and was immediately determined to make one of my own without any processed sugars or gluten.

When I first made this, I thought it was good. But it didn’t taste much like cheesecake. So I decided I would have to tweak it. But I liked it. And Gennaro liked it. “But it doesn’t taste much like cheesecake” I argued, explaining why I couldn’t post it on the blog. “No. It’s more like a chocolate mousse” Gennaro said. “I like chocolate mousse”, he added.

Who doesn’t?

And so it was confirmed, a fact I’ve long suspected: taste is in large part dictated by expectation. Ever taken a sip of, let’s say, orange juice, thinking for some reason you were drinking apple juice? Your brain will immediately alert you that something’s wrong, and you’re lucky if you don’t end up spitting it out. Because you weren’t expecting it!

While I didn’t spit this out at first, I took my first few bites disappointed that it didn’t taste like cheesecake as I’d hoped. But the more bites I took the more I decided I was liking this non-cheesecake concoction. And when Gennaro mentioned that it was like a chocolate mousse, I nodded in agreement. This was a description I could wrap my brain around. And suddenly, realizing that I was eating a chocolate mousse, I was loving this concoction and wanting more. Funny how the brain works, huh?

As I mentioned in my last post, my diet has shifted from more processed and higher-fat foods such as fake meats and cheeses to lower fat, whole foods. This pie definitely reflects that shift. While I did use tofu in this dish — which is technically a processed soy food — I tend to use soy overall in moderation, and always opt for organic, non-GMO soy. Even though I use soy in moderation (meaning I don’t have it daily, let alone for 3 meals a day!), I find that tofu is incomparable to other products when it comes to getting a really creamy texture without adding a lot of fat. Keeping the fat content of the filling relatively low was especially important to me considering that I used walnuts in the crust. Sure, walnuts are a very healthy monounsaturated fat sources that are high in omega-3s, but they’re still a high-fat food. And whenever using a high fat food in one part of a dish, I make an effort to keep the remainder of the dish lighter to balance things out. If nothing else, it’s for the simple purpose of keeping me from having a massive stomach ache after eating.

The pumpkin adds more to this dish texturally than it does flavor-wise. It’s certainly not the star of the dish, but I do taste it in a subtle way. Plus, it’s always nice hiding good sources of Vitamin A into delicious food (which seems to be a theme for me in these last few posts).

Note: For this photo, I took some extra crust that stuck to the bottom of the pan and used it to top the pie for serving. Feel free to make extra crust to use for topping if desired. 

Below are a few more of my pumpkin-based recipes you may wish to try:

Chocolate-Pumpkin Mousse Pie:

Crust:

1 1/2 cups raw walnuts

3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

9 medjool dates, pitted

Filling:

14 oz. extra firm tofu, drained of excess liquid

1 15 oz. can organic pumpkin

2/3 cup coconut nectar

2 tablespoons arrowroot powder

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tablespoon coconut oil

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Add all crust ingredients to a food processor fitted with sharp steel (S) blade. Process until ingredients begin to clump together in small clumps.

3. Pour crust ingredients into a 9″ springform pie pan or regular pie dish and distribute evenly. Press down until evenly covering bottom of dish.

4. Bake crust in preheated oven for 10 minutes. Remove and let cool.

5. While crust cools, add filling ingredients to a high-powered blender (such as Vitamix) and blend on medium to high until extremely smooth, like the texture of a thin mousse. Once crust has cooled, pour filling ingredients into crust and bake again at 350 for 30-35 minutes, until edges darken and begin to crack.

6. Let pie cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for at least two hours or overnight before serving. Filling will firm up as it cools.

 

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Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese with Kale

butternut squash macand cheeseI love mac and cheese. Or should I say, I love gluten-free mini shells with healthy butternut squash sauce made from plant-based whole foods and a healthy addition of leafy greens? Mac and cheese is just easier to say.

The last time I posted a vegan mac and cheese recipe on this blog, I was still in the throes of my vegan transition and was utilizing loads of processed cheese and dairy replacements in my cooking. Not that it wasn’t a superb mac and cheese. It was. But to argue that it was much healthier than its dairy counterpart would be misleading. Such recipes are the perfect example of how vegan foods are not inherently healthier alternatives in every case.

I think my experience is common. I’ve spoken with other vegans who’ve undergone similar transitions — especially for those who go vegan for environmental or ethical reasons over health concerns. Meat and dairy meals are slowly replaced with meat and dairy replacements — processed alternatives made with high-fat oils, wheat gluten and other unnatural products. I will say, I do credit some of these alternatives (minus the wheat gluten, of course) for really helping me kick my cheese habit back in the day (sound familiar, anyone?). And I still occasionally purchase vegan cheese shreds or a cream cheese alternative to use in moderation, and mostly only for special occasions.  But by and large, I’ve come to realize that such products, while instrumental in helping me transition into a vegan lifestyle, are by no stretch of the imagination healthy foods just because they’re vegan.

butternut squash mac and cheese side

With this in mind, I sought to create a mac and cheese recipe that would satisfy all comfort food cravings without having to resort to processed cheese alternatives or oils to get the job done. While there is added fat to this dish from the cashews, they add a monounsaturated fat, which lowers bad cholesterol and does not contribute to heart disease as saturated fat and unhealthy processed oils do. Compare with the saturated fats found in meat and dairy products — along with plant-based products such as palm oils, which are prevalent in dairy-free cheese and cream cheese alternatives — that contribute to an increase in bad cholesterol, raising the risk of heart disease. I’ll take the unsaturated option, please!

But I couldn’t just stop at cashews. To make this dish ultra healthy, I used creamy, delicious butternut squash as a base for the sauce. Not only does it add a beautiful orange color, but it adds additional creaminess to the dish with no added fats, while contributing tons of nutrients and antioxidants, including carotenoids, which are said to protect against heart disease.

And then, just for fun, I added kale. Because why not? I love finding new ways to add leafy greens into my meals, and kale adds a pretty burst of color and textural contrast to the creaminess of the rest of the dish.

butternut squash mac

So, whether you’re transitioning into a vegan diet or going all-in for health reasons, this mac and cheese is sure to satisfy the strongest comfort food cravings without the addition of processed oils and fats that contribute to many health problems. Not to mention that simply removing processed oils and products containing oil is an easy way to keep off the extra pounds without sacrificing flavor.

Just a note: I think this is best when served immediately, but if reheating a pre-made batch, you may want to add a little bit of extra almond milk while reheating and heat over low heat until creamy consistency is reached and the pasta is warmed through.

Possible adjustments, additions & other notes:

  • I used Tinkyada brown rice mini shells instead of elbow macaroni in this dish. I prefer mini shells in mac and cheese recipes because I find that they really trap in a lot of the sauce, making each bite extra creamy and delicious.
  • If not using a high-powered blender such as a Vitamix, soak cashews for 1/2 hour to an hour and then drain before using. This was a trick I used many times with my old, crappy blender and it worked pretty well.
  • This sauce is on the thicker side, almost like a very creamy Alfredo sauce. For a thinner consistency, I would recommend increasing the almond milk to about 1 cup.
  • Instead of kale, use steamed broccoli as an added veggie.
  • This sauce is versatile: pour over steamed veggies or baked potato (or both!). Try adding salsa for a Mexican twist, then pour over baked potatoes stuffed with black beans and fajita vegetables.
  • This dish is great with hot sauce!

Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese with Kale:

Serves: 3-4 (serves 4 if served alongside a large salad and maybe another veggie side for a complete meal)

Ingredients:

3 cups (about 8 oz.) dry gluten-free macaroni or mini shells

1 cup raw cashews

3/4 cup unsweetened plain almond milk

1 cup cooked butternut squash, tightly packed (see note*)

1/3 cup nutritional yeast

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika (plus more for sprinkling)

2 teaspoons lemon juice

dash cayenne pepper (optional, to taste)

2 heaping cups chopped kale

To cook butternut squash: halve squash lengthwise using a sharp knife. Scoop out seeds and stringy stuff in the middle. Lay squash flat, skin-up, on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for about 30-35 minutes, or until squash is soft and skin is browned. Remove skin before using in this recipe. 

Directions:

1. Boil pasta according to package directions until just al dente (do not overcook). Drain and set aside.

2. While pasta cooks, combine all remaining ingredients except kale in a high-powered blender such as Vitamix and blend on medium intensity until completely smooth (I blended for almost a minute). You may need to stir a few times to properly distribute ingredients.

3. After pasta has been drained, return to pot and add butternut squash sauce and chopped kale. Heat over low-medium heat for another minute or so, until kale is wilted and pasta is warmed through. Sprinkle with a little bit of smoked paprika (optional) and serve immediately.

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Basil-Miso-Walnut Pesto & Panini

basil-miso-walnut pesto (oil-free)I know it’s been some time since I last posted. I’ve really been making an effort to not push myself too much, since every time I do, I seem to suffer some sort of health setback. I was feeling pretty good, though, until I started a new medication to hopefully wipe out what’s left of my Lyme. I was told by many people that this med (Flagyl), when used for Lyme, is no joke and that I would definitely be feeling its effects. So I was pleasantly surprised when I started taking it and felt fine for a few weeks. I guess that was the honeymoon period, though, because ever since then I’ve been noticing a huge increase in my symptoms — constant stiff necks, night sweats, fatigue and word retrieval problems, to name a few.  Supposedly, this is all good, as it means the medicine is doing its job. But it’s not good for me in terms of living an active life, let alone keeping up the pace of this blog while trying not to be a deadbeat employee at work! Eek.

For the above reasons, this recipe has been sitting in my archives, patiently awaiting some sort of post to go along with it. I swear, when I first made this, basil was actually in season and abundant. But if you live near a Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, you should be able to still find fresh basil to make this recipe. This pesto has been a staple in my diet recently. Something about the nuts, miso and nutritional yeast combo make this taste so — dare I say? — cheesy that my mind at one point was wondering whether I’d somehow accidentally added Parmesan to my Vitamix. Of course, that would be highly unlikely given that I haven’t bought cheese in several years and never have any in the house. But who knows with these new meds I’m taking….crazy things could happen.

I like to make this pesto thick — almost like the consistency of a chunky hummus– so that I can use it as a dip, spread it on sandwiches, or, of course, serve it on pasta. I find that it sticks much better to pasta, too, the thicker it is. In my experience, it will “melt” a bit into a warm pasta enough to coat everything.

roasted vegetable and pesto panini

Here’s a non-recipe recipe for the roasted veggie and pesto panini I’ve been making with this pesto, followed by the actual pesto recipe, which can be used in so many different ways:

Non-Recipe Pesto Paninis:

You’ll need:

  • Two slices gluten-free bread per sandwich
  • Miso-Basil-Walnut-pesto (recipe below)
  • Eggplant, zucchini and red peppers plus some veggie broth for cooking
  • Vegan cheese (I used Trader Joe’s vegan shreds)
  • A tiny bit of oil to spray on non-stick skillet
  • Another skillet to weigh down the sandwich, or a panini press

What to do:

  • First, you will need to roast the veggies. Since I tried to minimize the added oils in this dish, I roasted the veggies in vegetable broth. I sliced one zucchini and one smaller eggplant very thin and julienned a bell pepper. I tossed it in about 1/3 cup of veggie broth in a large baking dish (so veggies could lay flat) and baked at 350 until the veggies were soft (about 30-40 min). I know this is not technically “roasted”, but the veggies got soft enough to use as a nice panini filling.
  • Spread some pesto onto one side of both bread slices (I am pretty liberal in my pesto usage for these)
  • Top each pesto side with a bit of vegan cheese and then a thin layer of veggies.
  • Carefully put both sides together and place on a nice and hot (pre-heated) skillet that’s been sprayed with a little oil.
  • To make these more “panini”-like, I placed a clean, cast-iron skillet on top of the sandwich and pressed down firmly. I let the cast iron sit on the panini while it cooked on one side for about 4-5 minutes over medium to high heat. Then I flipped the sandwich and did the same with the other side, or until it was golden brown on both sides (or slightly browner than golden-brown, as you can see from the picture…)

Basil-Miso-Walnut Pesto:

Ingredients:

1 bunch basil

2 tablespoons chickpea miso

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 cup nutritional yeast

1/2 cup raw walnuts

about 1 tablespoon water (plus more as needed)

Directions:

1. Add all ingredients to a high-powered blender (such as Vitamix) and blend on low-medium intensity until pesto is smooth but still has some green specks.

2. Add more water if necessary until desired consistency is reached (I like mine to be thicker). You can keep this in the refrigerator for a couple days if it’s well covered (I like to use cling wrap and press into the pesto so that it keeps its nice green color).

 

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Healthy Apple Tarts

healthy apple pie tarts

Healthy eating should be intuitive. Mind you, I said should. Nowadays, we’re bombarded with competing health information. Carbs are good. Then carbs are bad. Fat is good. Then fat is bad. Miracle weight loss diets come and go. So, while healthy eating should be intuitive, that’s much easier to say than it is in practice.

I, too, fall victim to the confusion that is “health” these days. But unfortunately, when you pay attention to what you put in your body, you inevitably end up hearing some pretty weird and oftentimes conflicting information. For example, while I’ve regularly praised the wisdom of nutritionist Kimberly Snyder — whose books have influenced me for the better in many ways — I somehow can’t fully get behind the idea of “food combining”, which she heavily endorses. Under this principle, even beans — beans! — are an “imperfect” food in that they contain both protein and carbs. Yet beans and legumes have long been consumed by some of our longest-living and healthiest populations, so intuitively, it’s difficult for me to wrap my mind around beans being an unhealthy food — and to the larger point, around the notion of food combining in general. Other diets point to fruit as the “enemy”.  I don’t know much about these theories except that they are somehow based on the natural sugar content in fruit. But again, when I think about how many vitamins, antioxidants and enzymes are packed into whole fruits, it’s hard for me to imagine that fruits are in some way bad for us — unless, of course, someone is suffering from a particular allergy or condition that is helped by reduced overall sugar intake.

healthy apple tarts

So what is the answer, then, when we’re bombarded with so much conflicting, confusing and overwhelming information? Well, I don’t claim to know, and I don’t necessarily think there is one answer. But I do think Michael Pollan was onto something when he wrote “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants”. Simple, right? Well, the complexity, I think, comes from the fact that what we now think of as food is so far removed from what food should be. Food is not something that was chemically manufactured in a lab, made to taste so good that we become chemically addicted. This is how most of our processed foods are made these days. And sadly, the typical American diet consists of many processed foods (and is also heavy on unhealthy animal products such as meat and dairy).

uncooked tart shells

This recipe was designed to be as stripped down and unprocessed as possible. The crust is sweetened naturally from dates, and is just made from a few simple ingredients: dates, nuts, cinnamon, oats and just a little bit of coconut oil. The filling was created with a similar mindset. I tried to keep everything as simple as possible, so the filling is just fruit, a little lemon juice, a touch (just a touch!) of sweetener and some spices. I also tried to keep this recipe from becoming too fussy — which is why the apples are sort of just piled into the crusts without too much thought toward arrangement. It’s “rustic”, if you will — evoking the feeling that you’re eating real food and not something that looks too manufactured or perfect.

I gave these tarts to a few taste testers and even though they’re healthy, unprocessed, vegan and gluten free, I was told that they’re still delicious…as whole, plant foods so often are! If only more people knew that little secret, we’d all be a bit better off overall…

Healthy Apple Tarts:

Yield: 4 mini tarts

Crust Ingredients:

1 cup whole oats

1/2 cup raw walnuts

6 medjool dates, pitted

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon raw coconut oil

Filling Ingredients:

3 apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons natural sweetener (such as coconut crystals, coconut nectar or agave)*

a dash or two of nutmeg

a dash or two of cinnamon

* Note: overall sweetness may vary depending on sweetener used. Liquid sweeteners will cause the apples to break down quicker than the coconut crystals. If using stevia or a more concentrated sweetener, be sure to adjust proportions to account for this. 

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. Add walnuts and oats to a food processor fitted with a sharp steel blade. Process until medium to fine crumbles form, with some oat pieces still visible. Add remaining ingredients and process until larger clumps begin to form.

3. Divide crust mixture into quarters and evenly distribute to 4 mini tart tins, as shown in photo. Non-stick tins are preferable here. Press down using fingers into crust shell, making sure crust is evenly distributed.

4. Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes and remove immediately.

5. Meanwhile, toss filling ingredients in a bowl. After crusts have been removed, transfer filling in equal parts to the 4 tart shells. You do not have to arrange apples in any particular way.

6. Reduce oven heat to 325 and return tarts to oven. Heat for 15 minutes. Remove again and cover tart tray tightly with foil (I like to line my foil with parchment paper to create a buffer so as not to inadvertently contaminate my food with aluminum). Return to oven and bake for a final 15 minutes, or until apples are softened but retain their shape. Let cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes before removing tarts and serving.

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Quinoa Vegetable Biryani Bake

quinoa biryani bakeSince I’m vegan and both of my parents are also vegan, many times people assume that I was raised that way. If anyone watches South Park, I imagine they think of us as that vegan family whose kids went to school every day in life preservers.

Actually, though, our foray into veganism and plant-based eating was actually much more recent, and as a kid, I remember very many non-vegan meals being part of our weeknight repertoire — roasted chicken, grilled flank steak, and baked macaroni and cheese come to mind.

But while my childhood diet memories are a far cry from what we’re eating today, I think it’s fair to say that what we were eating was nevertheless not the typical Standard American Diet of meat, processed foods and starches. My parents did a good job of introducing my palate to various cuisines at a young age and making sure vegetables were part of every meal. They still tell people the story of when I was asked in kindergarten what my favorite food was, and while other students named pizza or hot dogs, I proudly declared that my favorite food was “squid with black bean sauce”.  I also distinctly recall my mom making tofu stir-fry many nights before tofu was even “a thing” (and before Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods even existed in our state). And I can’t remember a time when my mom’s well-loved vegetarian Moosewood Cookbook was not tattered, worn and splattered with food; a favorite was the “enchanted broccoli forest”, which always drew stares of awe any time my brother or I had friends over. Recently, I went to a wedding of a childhood friend, who informed me that the first time he had ever seen asparagus was when he came over for dinner and my mom was making it.

baked quinoa biryani

Perhaps one of the most impressive and non-traditional dinners I recall as a child was my mom’s chicken biryani, which rivaled any restaurant version I’ve had. Hers was spicy and flavorful, speckled with cardamom pods and golden raisins. And, as is usually the case, I don’t think I will ever be able to make something that competes with her version. So I didn’t try.

This quinoa biryani bake is not quite “traditional”, but it evokes the flavors of a biryani while providing a well-rounded, easy two-pot meal. I love the idea of baking quinoa with other ingredients — it comes out so pretty and all you have to do is fluff it up and serve.

This is the kind of meal my family eats now. Whole grains. Lots of veggies. No animal proteins. No oil. Now all I need is a good vegan, savory yogurt — “raita” —  recipe to serve with this. How good would that be?

Quinoa Vegetable Biryani Bake:

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

1 cup white quinoa, uncooked, well rinsed and drained

2 cups chopped cauliflower florets

1/2 cup onion, diced

1 cup carrot, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

1/3 cup plus 2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth, divided

1 cup fresh tomato, diced

1 teaspoon sea salt (if using regular vegetable broth, reduce salt to taste)

2 teaspoons curry powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

dash of cayenne pepper (optional, to taste)

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1 cup frozen peas

1/2 cup raisins (regular or golden)

1 cup toasted cashews (toast on a dry skillet for about 7 minutes over medium-high heat until fragrant and browned)

Chopped cilantro for serving (optional)

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Add cauliflower, onion, carrot, garlic, ginger and 1/3 cup vegetable broth to a large saute pan or Dutch Oven and saute over medium-high heat for about 4 minutes, or until onion becomes translucent. Add quinoa, remaining vegetable broth, tomato, curry powder, cumin, cinnamon and salt. Stir together. Heat everything over medium-high heat for another minute.

3. Turn off heat and carefully pour quinoa mixture into a large, preferably 9×13″ baking dish. Cover. Bake at 350 degrees, covered, for about 35-40 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed.

4. Remove from heat and add remaining ingredients except cilantro. Cover and let sit for another 5 minutes before serving. Serve topped with chopped cilantro, if desired.

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