Sunday, March 30, 2014

What I'm Eating this Spring

Just out of frame: asparagus in blood orange vinaigrette, or my next post.
It’s spring! I’m not sure if you’ve noticed yet, depending on the state of the weather outside your door, but it’s spring! While there is no shortage of delicious wintry dishes that I will inevitably long for in the middle of summer, there is something energizing about the influx of flavors available in spring.

A few weeks ago, I stopped by Whole Foods to pick up something quick for dinner. My Whole Foods, perched on the edge of Oakland and Berkeley, is uniquely supportive of a plant-based diet. The Whole Foods by my mom’s house offers only one flavor of vegan ravioli, but mine offers three. I was immediately drawn to the caramelized onion and mushroom ravioli, but five minutes staring at the sauce options left me puzzled. Tomato sauce seemed wrong for the gentle, sweet flavors in this ravioli. So did pesto. Cream sauces are out. So...

God bless my smart phone because a quick Google led me to a garlic white wine sauce. I couldn’t find one recipe that really spoke to me, but they at least had a consensus of ingredients, so I decided to wing it. What resulted was tart, smooth, layered happiness on a plate. I ate it for the next two days, then made it again later that week. This recipe is in no way contingent on access to these ravioli either. It’s would also be good with a simple fettuccine with mushrooms and herbs as well. Don’t forget the crusty bread to sop up the plate.

Garlic White Wine Sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 shallot, diced finely
1 teaspoon fresh thyme (optional, but damn good)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup white wine (I have no opinion on the variety or quality of this; I used 2 and a half buck chuck)
1 cup vegetable stock
1 tablespoon non dairy butter
Salt and pepper to taste

In a small sauce pan, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the shallots, garlic, and thyme. Sauté until the shallot is soft taking care not to let the garlic burn. Add the white wine, and simmer until the volume is reduced by half. Add the vegetable stock and butter, and simmer until it has thickened slightly. Taste for salt and pepper. Toss the ravioli (or pasta) in the sauce, and serve immediately.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Spaghetti with Broccoli and Lemon

One of the most common misgivings I hear from people about eating a vegan diet is how time consuming it is. People have this idea that being vegan means spending hours finely slicing vegetables, processing complicated juices, and hand-picking grains to mill into flour. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little. But, people genuinely fear the effort perceived in veganism.

Yes, there is work involved in the food that I eat, but that comes more from being healthy than being vegan. The key to a healthy diet is to make most of your food yourself. This allows you to control the amount of additives, preservatives, salt, and fat that you eat, and reduces the amount of processed ingredients you consume. I could technically be vegan, and eat nothing but takeout, french fries, and donuts from Whole Foods. Is there a lot of work in that? No. Would I be the picture of health? No, again.

Like most people, I don’t always have time to prepare intricate, complex, and elaborate meals in the name of health. So, when I find something that hits the trifecta of healthy, delicious, and quick, it ends up becoming a staple. This dish was tossed together for Sunday lunch with a spinach, dried cherry, and marcona almond salad, and toasted ciabatta. The longest step: boiling the water for the pasta.

Spaghetti with Broccoli and Lemon

1 pound spaghetti (whole wheat for a little nutritional boost)
1 head broccoli, chopped into small florets (in the interest of saving time, you can buy pre-cut florets)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the spaghetti until it is a minute or two away from being done. Save 1 cup of the pasta water.

While the water is boiling, cook the broccoli. You can boil the broccoli in a small pot of water for a few minutes, rinse under cold water, and set aside; or, you can place the florets in a bowl with a couple tablespoons of water, cover with plastic wrap, and microwave for 3-4 minutes. Broccoli should be fork tender, but not soft.

In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat, and then add the garlic. Pay careful attention that the garlic doesn’t burn. Add the broccoli, and toss with the olive oil and garlic. Add the lemon zest and chili flakes, and stir to combine. Add the pasta, lemon juice, and 1/2 cup of reserved pasta water. Cook for 1-2 minutes until the pasta is done and coated with sauce. Add more pasta water if the spaghetti looks dry. Finish with salt and pepper, and serve immediately.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Vegan Sausage Biscuit

McDonald’s Sausage Biscuit. I can remember the last time I ever had one: May 17, 2010. It was the morning my friend Bethany and I began our cross country road trip out West after completing our Master’s degrees. We had spent the night sleeping on the floor of Bethany’s apartment, curled up in piles of sheets and blankets that Bethany affectionately referred to as our “dog beds.” We emptied the last few pieces out of her apartment and into our bright yellow Penske truck, and then crossed Comm Ave. to drop off the keys with Bethany’s landlord. On our way back, we stopped at McDonald’s, and I ordered my customary breakfast: Sausage Biscuit with orange juice.

Every car trip we took when I was a kid kicked off the same way, with me in the backseat eating the same McDonald’s breakfast, and early morning flights would include breakfast at the airport McDonald’s. In reality, the number of Sausage Biscuits I’ve eaten probably hovers around 30. I’m not a morning person, and rarely wake up in time to meet the draconian cutoff time, and my mom was way too health conscious to allow it more than occasionally. But it holds such an iconic place in my mind. It was one of the things I knew I would miss when I became vegan, if only for the ritual of it, the rarity of it.

For the last few years, the memory of a Sausage Biscuit would periodically cross my mind. I knew the biscuit would be easy enough to veganize; but the sausage was  unattainable. Every year or so I would do a sweep of the breakfast “meat” options available at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s only to find that every sausage patty contained egg. So, I resigned myself to living without, until a few weeks ago when I picked up my (recently vegan) friend Christian. He got in the car holding a small patty in a paper towel. Naturally, I asked what he was eating, and he told me that it was a sausage patty. Incredulous, I asked, “Are you sure it’s vegan?! They always have egg in them!” He assured me that it was in fact egg-free, so I tried a bite. 

I knew exactly what to do with this new-found ingredient. So, last weekend, I made a batch of flaky and tender biscuits, and glazed the sausage patties in maple syrup. With a glass of orange juice on the side, the only thing missing was the yellow wrapper.

Vegan Sausage Biscuits

1 recipe Biscuits
1 package vegan sausage patties (I used Whole Foods 365 brand)
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon canola oil

Heat the oil in a small pan over medium high heat. Place the sausage patties in the pan. Brush the top of each patty with maple syrup. After 1-2 minutes, flip each patty over and brush the other side with maple syrup. Cook until heated through, flipping occasionally, about 8 minutes. When the biscuits are ready, cut in half and assemble the sausage biscuits. Enjoy immediately, and try not to die of happiness.

Sunday, February 9, 2014


My sister and I are best friends. People who have known us for a long time, and even those who haven’t, can see how alike we are. We both love to sleep late, and generally need to be shaken out of our comas on Saturday morning. We both love to read, often trading books, and sharing excitement over the discovery of a new favorite author. We are both homebodies, preferring to curl up on the couch, and binge watch the next season of Friday Night Lights than to go to a bar or a party. Yes, we have our differences. She tends to run hot, and I cold. We have different senses of style best expressed as Urban Outfitters vs. Anthropologie. She is great at making silly faces, and I am more reserved. But our only divergence that really matters is biscuits. She doesn’t care for them, and I cannot understand why.

I love biscuits. From KFC to McDonald’s to homemade, it doesn’t matter. Biscuits are one of the greatest things there is to eat. Growing up, we didn’t eat them very often, but when they were on the table, nothing else stood a chance. I literally can’t remember what we served them with because all I ate were biscuits. Fortunately, biscuits are easy to make vegan, so this is not something I have had to go without. My favorite recipe comes from an old cookbook of my parents’, and I see no reason to mess with it. Served with butter and jam, or with dinner, biscuits are guaranteed to overshadow everything else on your table - in a good way.

adapted from The Frugal Gourmet Cooks American by Jeff Smith

1/2 cup non dairy milk
1 1/2 teaspoons white vinegar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons Crisco, cold and cut into small pieces
1 tablespoon Crisco for the pan

Heat the oven to 500°F. In a small bowl, combine the milk and vinegar. Let sit for 10 minutes.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Add the Crisco and process until the mixture is coarse and grainy. Add the buttermilk, and process until just combined. Put the dough out onto a floured surface, and knead a few times. Pat the dough out until it is just 1/2” thick.

Cut with a floured biscuit cutter or glass.

Melt the remaining tablespoon of Crisco in a frying pan. Place the biscuits in the pan, and turn once in the oil to brown slightly.

Transfer the biscuits to a baking sheet, and place in the oven. Bake for 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Enjoy immediately!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Superbowl Sunday: Buffalo Cauliflower

So, apparently it’s Superbowl Sunday, or as we refer to it at my house, [Insert Your Favorite Chick Flick] Sunday. I don’t care about sports. I don’t care about football. I don’t even pretend to care about football for boys I think are cute. But, I do care about food. Especially junk food.

In my former (read: non-vegan) life, I relished Superbowl Sunday if only for the chance to eat buffalo wings, Doritos, and cupcakes frosted in the colors of whatever team I had arbitrarily decided to root for. My first few years of being vegan, I just opted out of the whole event. But last year, I changed my mind. I have always asserted that a plant-based lifestyle is not one of lack or restriction. And if I ever want to convince people to join my team (see what I did there?), I’m going to have to give them Superbowl food.

Buffalo wings have long been a favorite of mine. My mom grew up in upstate New York, so it’s practically in our blood. My college roommate, Claire, and I used to get 10¢ wings and tater tots at the sketchy bar near campus. But how to turn something as literally meat-centric as wings into delicious plant-based food? What I realized is that it’s not really about the wings; it’s about the sauce. After doing a little research, I discovered several recipes for buffalo cauliflower. Cauliflower has a firm texture with a mild flavor that serves as the perfect vehicle for tangy, spicy buffalo sauce. It’s a flavor touchdown! Okay, that was bad...

Buffalo Cauliflower
adapted from PETA

1 cup unsweetened nondairy milk
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 head of cauliflower, chopped into small florets
1 1/2 cups buffalo sauce

Heat the oven to 450°F.  Combine the milk, flour, and salt in a small bowl. Coat the cauliflower florets in the batter, and place in an ovenproof dish. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the cauliflower is tender. Turn once halfway through. Pour the hot sauce over the cauliflower, and bake for 5 more minutes. Serve hot from the oven.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Interview with a New Vegan, Part Two

A few months after I started my job, my mom and sister came to visit me and take me out to lunch. I introduced them to my colleagues, including our part-time admin, Carrie. My sister was immediately taken with Carrie: her music festival wristbands worn as accessories, her dark, square glasses, her enthusiasm for all things arboreal. Since that first meeting, Carrie has become part of my family. We spend so much time together, we've started ordering the same coffee in the morning: an almond milk latte with one raw sugar. We stand side-by-side at the condiment bar, finish our drinks with cinnamon and chocolate, and share one wooden stir stick like an old married couple. She and my sister send each other silly snapchats and like each other's posts on Instagram. She even came to my mom's book club's Christmas party this year. Carrie is one of the most adventurous, open-minded, positive people I know, so when I started discussing the vegan challenge, she was immediately intrigued, and all in. Carrie and Christian came to veganism from very different places, so I was excited to hear how different their experiences would be.


Dinner Peace: How are you feeling?

Carrie: I feel great! The first 2 weeks were rough, but I was PMSing. I was so exhausted and I thought, “Is this what it’s going to be like?” But, there were a lot of variables. Now that’s behind me, I feel clean, more energetic, really good. I feel much more motivated to take care of myself. The more I eat vegan the more motivated I am to be active and exercise, to be healthy.

DP: What made you decide to try being vegan?

C: When I first became a vegetarian, I thought I would just try it and see what happens, and now I love it and it’s great. I wanted to try being vegan to see what that would be like. The timing was perfect with the holiday madness - overindulging. I wanted a way to cleanse my body.  It seems silly, but it’s a new year, so why not try new things. I like how it’s made me focus on what is in the food that I eat. Reading all the ingredients, I’m more conscious of what I’m putting in my body. I’ve been really involved with the organic garden at [Berkeley], and this makes me feel more connected to the food that I eat. When I look back at the past few months, I realize that I would sometimes go a whole day without eating vegetables. This is really motivating me to pay attention to what I eat.

DP: How is it living with someone who’s not vegan?

C: Overall, its really great! Patrick does most of cooking, and I was worried about keeping him from stuff, but he’s so supportive. We buy all vegan food, go shopping together, and cook stuff. We’ve been doing a lot of stir fry stuff at home; it’s amazing, but I’m sick of rice. Basil, spinach, brussels sprouts, bell peppers, onions, garlic, pea sprouts. I’ll make a salad, Patrick will make a stir fry and he loves sauces, so he makes a spiffy sauce, and I’ll make a delicious spinach basil salad. It’s delicious, amazing, healthy, and I can’t believe it all happens in one dish. I want to find the time to experiment with vegan cooking. I didn’t cook a lot until recently, so I want to challenge myself to cook vegan at least once a week when this is over.

DP: Mark Bittman, the NY Times Magazine’s food columnist, eats vegan until 7:00 pm. Maybe something like that would work for you.

C: I love brunch, but I have to force myself to eat breakfast. By the time I get hungry, I am too into work to eat anything. Dinner is where I splurge, it’s my favorite, so something like that could work well for me.

DP: Do you feel like being vegan has changed your social life in any way?

C: There have been a couple times when we would go out. We went to brunch, and there was nothing on the menu that was vegan.

DP: Yes! Brunch is the worst. You can get fruit and toast for $12, and you think, “I could’ve just made that at home.”

C: Exactly! So, I went to the lunch menu, and they had a veggie burger, so I decided to get that. But then Patrick pointed out that it might have egg in it, and I was so hungry and annoyed - I got so mad at him I had to leave. Or, every time we go to Homeroom, it sucks to only have one option, even if it is a really good option. And I love pizza - vegan pizza just doesn’t really interest me. I have a really intense relationship with cheese.

DP: When I was younger, my mom and I used to go to this art house movie theater across the street from a French restaurant. We would see all the Oscar nominated stuff, and the films you couldn’t get at the regular theaters, and then we’d get dinner: soupe à l’oignon, coq au vin, moules frîtes. When we became vegan, there was absolutely nothing we could eat, so we stopped going. It’s still something I miss, and there’s an element of mourning the food you used to have.

C: Before I became vegetarian, I always said, “Oh, I could never do that. I like meat too much.” Now, the thought of eating meat is disgusting, so I don’t know. It’s interesting watching your body go through the struggle of not getting what it’s always had.

DP: How have people responded to you as a vegan?

C: People think it’s ridiculous, “I can’t believe you would do that. You love cheese so much!” But overall, people have been pretty supportive. You just have to constantly remind people of it. I had my cousin over for dinner. We went to the store, and he kept suggesting stuff, but I had to tell him I’m vegan over and over. People kind of don’t get it.

DP: What have you gotten out of this challenge?

C: It has helped me focus on being healthy. Kickstarting a healthier diet, specifically incorporating fruits and vegetables into my life. I’m planning my meals, and I want to be more conscious of when and how I eat dairy. On our road trip, we were visiting Patrick’s friend in Colorado, and he made carrot and kale juice. The flavor is really strong, but it’s good. It’s take a little while, but your body starts to recognize it’s good - waking up your taste buds. We consume things so mindlessly, you don’t have to try to taste dairy and meat, but vegetables are so good. I just want to focus on that.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Best Tomato Sauce. Ever.

Before I became vegan, I was obsessed with Ina Garten. She has an adorable husband who worships her, and makes her giggle like a teenage girl. She has the most beautiful house in East Hampton just steps from the beach. Her world is always bustling with fascinating people, usually gay men, who bring her presents and flowers and gossip. It was my favorite cooking show to watch on Saturday mornings. And while she isn’t necessarily the picture of health, she sure seems to love her life. Once I adopted a plant-based diet though, it seemed like Ina had nothing to offer me. Everything was stuffed with cheese, or rolled in bacon, or topped with whipped cream. I couldn’t even find a way to adapt it to my new lifestyle, so Ina became less a part of my culinary life, replaced by people like Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, Chloe Coscarelli, and Nava Atlas.

One of the last episodes I watched featured Joe Realmuto, the chef at famed Hampton’s eatery Nick and Toni’s, preparing Penne alla Vecchia Bettola. Realmuto’s recipe is similar to a penne alla vodka, and finished with cream and parmesan cheese, but I had a hunch it didn’t need those things. What resulted was the best tomato sauce I’ve ever had, smooth, bursting with layered flavors, and guaranteed to make any recipe a little bit better. I love this sauce with dishes like my Stuffed Shells with Almond Ricotta, or even just tossed with penne and topped with toasted almond breadcrumbs.

Penne all Vecchia Bettola
adapted from Joseph Realmuto
1/4 cup olive oil
1 onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons fresh oregano
1 cup vodka
2 28 oz. cans whole peeled tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oven to 375°F. Heat the olive oil in a large ovenproof pan (choose one with a lid). Add the onion and garlic, and sauté until tender, about 7 minutes. Add the red pepper flakes and fresh oregano, and cook 1 minute more. Add the vodka, and simmer until the volume has decreased by half. Drain the two cans of tomatoes. Add each tomato to the pot, crushing it in your hands - take care not to squirt tomato juice all over your kitchen, as I did. Add 2 teaspoons salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Stir to incorporate all the ingredients. Cover with a lid, and place in the oven for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Remove from the oven, and let cool for 15 minutes. Transfer the sauce to the bowl of a blender or food processor. Be sure to leave a hole for the steam, or your lid will pop off squirting tomato sauce all over your kitchen (I make these mistakes so you don’t have to, people!). Blend to a smooth consistency. If using immediately, transfer back to the pot, and reheat, tossing the pasta directly with the sauce. If not, store in a sealed container for up to 4 days.