Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Weekend Grill Fest

Most of my friends in the midwest are just kicking off their grilling season. Here in AZ, it's bound to get too hot to want to be near the grill by August, so I'm trying to get as much grilling in as I can before then. I do love to grill for sure. I remember as kid I couldn't wait until it was warm enough to fire up the coals. One very cold and snowy February, when I was pretty young, I just couldn't stand it anymore. I dug out our trusty Weber and chimney starter and surprised my mom with a grilled dinner. My brother has this blow torch (I'm not kidding) to start his charcoal grill in record time. He gets his coals crazy red hot every time. It's pretty amazing. We have a gas grill for convenience, but I do miss the flavor of real charcoal. I think I need to invest in a smoker box soon, but I digress.

My June column at FrontDoors News is out! The theme is vegan grilling. In the column I recommend a few cookbooks for readers who want to do some plant based grill action. I thought it would be a stellar idea to whip them out myself over this holiday weekend. The two grilling books have lots of great advice on choosing a grill, tools of the trade, marinades and even some safety tips.

Some time back, I did a review of John Schlimm's book Grilling Vegan Style. I made some pretty tasty stuff out of it back in October, but haven't cracked it open since then. I think my grill was starting to get cobwebs. To me, kabobs and grills go together like cookies and almond milk. It was an easy choice to make the Chipotle-Marinated Tofu & Vegetable Kebabs (pg. 172). The marinade was sweet, smoky and spicy. I only let the tofu marinate for a couple of hours. Next time I will plan ahead and let it go overnight for extra flavor. The marinade tasted a bit too sweet for me. But after grilling, adding a little salt and pepper and serving it with a savory quinoa pilaf, it was perfect. I ended up brushing a little of the extra marinade on after cooking for an extra flavor boost.

I know there are lots of great things to grill, but burgers always make me think of a holiday cook out. I am still in search of the perfect veggie burger. I seem to find them either too mushy, too rubbery or not flavorful enough. Today I tried a new recipe (for me) from Joanie Marie Newman's book The Best Veggie Burgers on the Planet: Sunday Afternoon Grillers (pg.98). Yes, I know it's Monday, but these are great for anytime. The ingredient list showed some real potential with stuff like mushrooms, onions and garlic. They were simple enough to make in the food processor. The ingredients were pretty darn pantry friendly as well. The pre-cooked mix feels and looks like how I remember the texture of ground beef. It was almost a little creepy. They cook up well on the grill, but  you must make sure to follow the directions about not turning them too fast. Joni's knows what she's talking about. These are probably the closest I've found to the texture I seek. But they are still a bit soft. I think this a really good base to work with, especially if you haven't made veggie burgers before. 

Seriously, don't they look like the beef version?

The third book I mentioned in the column is Grills Gone Vegan by Tamasin Noyes. I got to be on the testing team for this book. I wanted to make something I hadn't made during testing. I decided on the Skitllet-Grilled Cherry Crisp (pg. 148). Cherry season is here, so they aren't crazy expensive and they are really good right now. I dug out my cherry pitter and got to popping out the seeds. I couldn't find the sour cherries called for, but the regular cherries worked out great. This is really an easy recipe. It takes a little while to pit the cherries, but I just sat down on the sofa and watched some cooking show while I was doing them. I used indirect heat on the grill as I wanted to make sure not to scorch those lovely red cherries. After 25 minutes, the crisp was like a bubbling cauldron of yum. I served it with some home made cinnamon ice cream. Wow!

You truly can cook an entire meal on your grill. Oh and did I mention there are recipes for bread made on the grill in Tami's book. This last photo is actually from testing, but worth showing off. The Stuffed-Jalepeno Chiles (pg. 27) were one of my favorites. The smoked tofu filling is rocking! So see, you CAN do it all on the grill: Breads, Appetizers, Salads (yes grilled romaine is a thing now), entrees and desserts. Oh and did I mention there are great recipes for drinks to keep you cool while the fire is hot? Pass me an ice cold Sassy Sangria (pg. 211 in Grilling Vegan Style) and a spatula and let's do this!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Plant Based Nation Spring 2013 Conference

Since I was pretty young, I strongly believed in the correlation of a healthy diet and a healthy body. Like many people, I find that I am often tempted by unhealthy food options: fried foods, processed foods, refined sugar, saturated fats, etc. The standard American diet (SAD) is truly sad for our collective health and the health of our planet.

I've been slipping back into some of my not so healthy eating habits over time. I've been hitting the chips and fried foods far too often. As my diet has gotten less clean, I find I'm dealing with more inflammation issues, lack of energy, concentration and feeling generally yucky. I needed something to motivate me to get back on track. The Plant Based Nation Spring 2013 Conference could not have come at a more perfect time for me personally. Plant Based Nation is a grassroots organization that helps educate and provide resources for people seeking to live a more plant based lifestyle.

This was the first time the conference has been held in the Phoenix area. It was a perfect venue to learn about the benefits of a whole food vegan diet with compassion, not guilt. The presenters and the attendees were extremely positive and full of knowledge and information they were happy to share with anyone regardless of their diet. I learned as much from the new friends I made in the audience as I did from the speakers.

The all-day event was held this weekend at the Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale, AZ. The conference featured fantastic food, incredible speakers and live entertainment. I got to the conference a little late, so I missed the breakfast provided by 24 Carrots. I heard it was excellent. Luckily I live very close to them and can eat Chef Sasha's treats whenever I please.

There were 10 options for different topics and speakers. It was hard to pick which one to attend. I was a bit late to the first presentation and caught the second speaker; Chef Sara from Chef Sara's Raw Vegan Academy and Cafe. Her inspiring story of how she cured herself of cervical cancer by using raw foods and good nutrition kept me riveted as it is a stark contrast to all of the very sick people I saw when going through chemo. She was crazy energetic. At 60 years old, she runs her academy and cafe single-handedly. Yep, that's how I want to feel at 60 and beyond.

The second presentation I attended was one given by the spunky Haley Cloud of Living Raw by Grace. Her chat featured easy ways to juice and blend (smoothies). She was hilarious and fun. She let all of us know how very easy it is to whip up a very healthy and tasty meal in a glass. For you moms and busy people out there, this is a great way to get your loved ones to eat their fruits and veggies on the run. Haley offers personal coaching, (un) cooking classes and in-home parties. I love the idea of having a party! The picture is a bit blurry, because she doesn't stand still for very long! Healthy and energetic...are you starting to see a theme here?

It was hard to decide what my favorite part of the day was. Oh, who am I kidding? I am a food lover at heart. Lunch was my favorite part! The lunch was provided by The Pomegranate Cafe in Ahwatukee. I've long loved Pomegranate for their organic, local and healthy focus on food. Yeah, that and their food is off the hook delicious too. I don't know what the official names of all of the dishes were but everything was crazy delicious. I was so fortunate to meet some lovely ladies (one from Canada and one from Illinios) and chat with them during lunch. Such great energy.

Veggie Wraps

Portobello Mushroom Sandwiches

This was one dish I didn't get for some reason, so I am not sure what it is.

Raw Walnut Cilantro "Sour Cream" Cabbage Wraps

Black Bean Salad with Mangos

Pesto Pasta Salad

Raw Beet and Greens Salad

Decadent Chocolate Yumminess

The third speaker was probably my favorite of the day: Dr. Jameth Sheridan. His intense passion and scientific knowledge were a great combination. He was able to share an incredible amount of scientific evidence and knowledge in an easy to understand and entertaining way. His years of research (with evidence of results not just rhetoric) debunk a lot of the nutritional information that we have been taught in our schools and medical practices. One thing I think is important to share is that the theory of "complete proteins" where it has been assumed that you are supposed to have all the essential fatty acids requirements in one meal or food. All fruits and vegetables contain all eight of them in varying degrees. The key is to eat a great variety of whole foods everyday. Don't eat the same foods all of the time. Mix it up and you will get all you need. Dr. Sheridan has been vegan for 26 years and eats mostly raw. Ladies, he flexed for us and um yeah, lets just say he was anything but wimpy and weak. Men, be inspired. You can eat your veggies and be a stud-muffin too. I loved the fact that he sells his own line of superfood and nutritional products, but he wasn't hard selling them at all. To me, this gave him even more credibility.

The final presentation I attended was given by Dr. Jonathan Murphy, an integrative oncologist from An Oasis of Healing in Mesa, Arizona. The news anchor format he used to present his information was kind of cute and refreshing. Their philosophy of using integrative natural and traditional therapies together is so different than what is offered in most oncology practices. I wish I would have had this option when I went through my breast cancer treatment. Not one of my doctors discussed the role of nutrition in healing, recovering and thriving after cancer. I am so incredibly thankful that this type of treatment is now available here in the valley and beyond. Dr. Murphy (and his wonderful assistant) discussed different raw whole foods ingredients and how their nutritional components provided support and healing for the body. I wasn't able to stay for the entire presentation, but I certainly hope they will be back for the fall conference as I'd like to learn more from them.

I left the conference feeling peaceful, excited, educated, entertained and hopeful for a very healthy future. So much so, that when I got home, I signed up for another meet up group for Raw Foods. I was excited to learn that there will be future conferences held here in the Phoenix area. They are planning to hold 3 a year. So if you miss a speaker at one, you can hear them at the next conference. Sign me up!!!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Hackett House Cooking Class - Peruvian Night!

I am quite late in posting this. The class was over a month ago. But what a time we had.  I was first introduced to Peruvian food when I was testing for Viva Vegan for Terry Hope Romero. It was then I first experienced the incredible flavor of Aji Amarillo paste. Aji Amarillo is a yellow pepper that gives a fantastic heat and flavor to dishes. If you are lucky enough to have a Hispanic or International market close to you. See if you can get a jar and change your life...well at least make your taste buds happy.

The class was a blast as usual. There is always such a great audience. This is the third class I've done. It was awesome to see some familiar faces from some of my other classes. As an added bonus, one of my very best friends came in from Illinois for the class.

We started off the evening with a combo that included a traditional Peruvian dish called Papa a la Huanciana. It is normally made with cheese and aji amarillo sauce. This version was super easy to make and so creamy and tasty. It was paired with a fabulous vegan ceviche.

The entree, while not super photogenic was the most popular among the guests. I created a vegan version of Seco de Carne. This is one of the most popular dishes in Peru. As the name indicates, it is traditionally made with meat. This version made great use of Butler Soy Curls and Portobello mushrooms. The mushrooms added a deep rich flavor. Last minute I squeezed in a touch of lime juice to brighten the flavor. I'm going to share the recipe here with you, so you can enjoy a bit of Peru in your own home.

Seco de Portobello

Makes 6 Servings

1 – 8 oz package Butler Soy Curls
3 cups boiling water
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium red onion, chopped small
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 portobello mushrooms, fins removed, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon aji Amarillo paste
3 cups lightly packed cilantro leaves
2 cups lightly packed spinach, stems remove
4 cups vegetable broth, separated
2 medium red or Yukon gold potatoes, unpeeled, diced into 1” cubes
1 scant cup carrots, peeled and diced small
1 teaspoons fresh squeezed lime juice

¾ cup green peas, thawed if frozen

Rehydrate Soy Curls in boiling water for about 10 minutes. Drain well, squeezing out any excess water.

Add cilantro, spinach and 1 cup vegetable broth to blender and blend until well combined but not totally smooth.

In a heavy bottomed stockpot, add 1/3 cup olive oil over medium heat, add drained Soy Curls. Saute until browned and dry, stirring often being careful not to burn bottom of pan, about 5-8 minutes. If needed, add a touch of water if they start to stick to the pan.

Add 1 table olive oil, onion, garlic, mushrooms and aji Amarillo paste, sauté, stirring frequently until onions are translucent and mushrooms start to release their moisture, about 5 minutes. Add cumin, salt and a dash of black pepper and sauté for about 1 minute until cumin is fragrant.

Add remaining 3 cups vegetable broth, carrots and potatoes. Simmer on low until potatoes are tender and stew is thickened, about 45 minutes to an hour. (This would be the perfect time to start your rice). Add green peas and continue to simmer until peas are heated through. Add just a touch of fresh lime juice. Serve with rice and beans.

My kitchen team said to me in no uncertain terms that if I ever made them bust out "donuts" for 30+ people they would ride me out on a rail. The Picarones were a homage to Peruvian street food. They were fun, different and yes, a little challenging to make. The street vendors serve them with a warmly spiced chancaca syrup. This night we added a little drizzle of chocolate ganache as well.

I have to thank my kitchen crew who worked their tails off to make the food look and taste amazing! The Hackett House volunteers are second to none. They make the evening awesome for all of the guests. If you haven't experienced one of the cooking classes at Hackett House, I hope you get a chance to join me. I'm already scheduled for May 1, 2014. I'll be featuring a exciting Cinco de Mayo menu! Hope you can join us!!