Monday, April 30, 2012

Steamed Broccoli with Creamy Garlic Mustard Dressing...

Today’s recipe is super quick and super simple. It’s a perfect side dish to make on a busy night when all you want is to be done in the kitchen fast, yet don’t want to sacrifice on flavor.

As a broccoli lover I could eat broccoli all day long, I can eat it steamed and plain without any need at all to jazz it up or make it fancy. However on this particular night I felt like something more. I had a ton of broccoli in the fridge that needed to get used, and felt like being a bit more creative about serving it. Earlier in the day I’d been flipping through my copy of Deborah Madison’s book “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone” It’s a book I’ve rarely used for two reasons, 1) most of the recipes seem like they’re made for beginners or at least vegetarians just starting out, and 2) Since it’s vegetarian cooking for everyone and not vegan cooking, a lot of the recipes are quite heavy on the dairy ingredients, which I didn’t feel like working around once I’d gone vegan. That said I don’t like to neglect my books, and on this particular day I was casually flipping through it thinking in the very least I might find something interesting.

Which of course I did. I stumbled across a recipe for a mustard vinaigrette that sounded pretty good. It wasn’t vegan of course but I could fix that in a pinch. Madison suggested that this would taste good over steamed broccoli and so I was intrigued. Unfortunately as I looked over the list of ingredients I realized that I was lacking several of them. No matter I decided, I would just have to put my own spin on it. What I ended up with was absolutely delicious and paired beautifully with the tender-crisp broccoli I’d steamed. It turned out to be the perfect accompaniment to the main dish I’d decided to serve, and as I found out the following day the leftover dip also made a pretty tasty spread for raw veggies. Grape tomatoes and carrots in particular paired well with this garlicky, mustard, and caper concoction. The blend of flavors are pure magic! Give it a try next time you need to use some broccoli and just see if you don’t fall in love!

Steamed Broccoli with Creamy Garlic Mustard Dressing 

4 Heads broccoli trimmed and separated
2 Tbsp Red Wine Vinegar
½ a small or medium sized red onion finely diced
4 garlic cloves minced (to taste)
2 Tbsp Dijon Mustard
2 ½ Tbsp non-dairy sour cream
½ C Olive Oil
1/8 C chopped green onion
1/8 C finely minced parsley
2 heaping Tbsp Capers
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
Sea salt and Fresh Cracked Black Pepper to taste

- Fill a medium sized pot with enough water to cover the bottom. Fit it with a steamer basket and add your broccoli. Steam for 5-8 minutes until broccoli is bright green, tender and crisp.

- To make your dressing combine the red wine vinegar, red onion, garlic, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Let stand 10 minutes.

- Whisk the in the olive oil, Dijon Mustard, and non-dairy sour cream. Stir vigorously until the dressing is nice and creamy.

- Stir in the parsley, green onion, capers and smoked paprika. The dressing will be thick and chunky however if it’s a little too thick for you don’t hesitate to add in a bit more olive oil. Taste for flavor and adjust as needed.

- When the broccoli is finished remove from the steamer basket and plate. Spoon the dressing over top and enjoy!

*** Note - Can be made Soy-Free if using soy-free non-dairy sour cream. ***

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Dollars for Trees - The Atlantic Forest Needs YOUR Help...

I just wanted to take a moment today to talk about a really great program that the Nature Conservancy is doing. It’s called ‘Plant a Billion Trees’

The Atlantic Forest is one of the worlds most endangered tropical forests. Only 12% of it’s original area remains and only 7% of that is well conserved. Due to coastal developments, urban expansion, agriculture, exotic plantations, ranching and illegal logging this once beautiful landscape has experienced rapid degradation.

As we all know trees = oxygen, and large forested areas are indispensable for storing large amounts of carbon dioxide from our atmosphere and releasing oxygen in it’s stead. The fewer trees we have, the smaller our forests become the more our atmosphere and our climate degrade. The Atlantic Forest - one of the worlds largest tropical forests - plays a vital part in global climate stabilization and in fighting climate change. (global warming) The Atlantic Forest also provides over 130 million people in Brazil with clean water and hydro energy, and through climate regulation it benefits populations worldwide. The Atlantic Forest is also extraordinary in it’s biodiversity, it’s home to 23 species of primates, 1,000 species of birds, and over 20,000 spieceos of plants, and 60% of Brazil’s endangered spieces. Some of these plants and animals are exclusive to the Atlantic Forest, meaning they do not exist anywhere else on Earth.

It is a truly amazing place in desperate need of our help. What the Nature Conservancy is doing is working to restore the Atlantic Forest and bring it back from the brink of destruction. There plant is to restore 1 million acres of land by planting 1 billion trees and they want to achieve this by 2015. This restoration effort has the potential to remove 4 million tons of carbon dioxide from the Earth’s atmosphere every year!

Of course for such a massive undertaking they need help.  So please, please help grow a tree today! The great part is all it takes is $1. $1 plants 1 tree. If you can afford to donate more that’s awesome too, every dollar plants a tree, and every dollar is valuable. Every tree counts, and every dollar/tree brings us that much closer to the goal.

Please also pass this information along to all your friends, family members, co-workers, contacts - anyone and everyone! Conservation should be an issue close to all of our hearts because the fate of our planet and the fate of us as a species are one and the same. We cannot live on a planet that is uninhabitable and inhospitable. Trees help us, they clean our air, and regulate our climate we need to start restoring them in order to bring balance to our planet and our atmosphere. We need to start becoming a part of the solution. So please, be part of the solution today and donate your dollar - or more - to the Nature Conservancy’s ‘Plant a Billion Trees’ campaign, and don’t forget to spread the word!

“One Dollar, One Tree, One Planet.”

Plant a Billion Trees Project Page

The Nature Conservancy

Friday, April 27, 2012

Blackberry Vanilla Buttercream Cake with Blackberry Vanilla Buttercream Frosting...

And now for the grand finale... We ended our Earth Day dinner with a delicious Blackberry Vanilla Buttercream Cake!

I absolutely adore blackberries, have since I was a kid. To me they’ve always meant spring, and summer, because when I was growing up my Opa used to pick ice cram buckets full of wild blackberries that grew in brambly areas along the roadsides. He would pick enough buckets of blackberries all summer for each of his six children to have a couple of buckets, plus a few buckets for him and my Oma too. My mom would always turn those buckets of blackberries into blackberry pie which was then and still remains my all time favorite pie. To me there is absolutely nothing better then a juicy ripe blackberry eaten fresh of the vine or cooked down with a bit of sugar.

Unfortunately I think blackberries - despite their awesome array of phytonutrients and antioxidants - are a relatively underappreciated and underused berry. They never get the appreciation of blueberries, nor the love of raspberries most people just complain that their seeds are annoying. While I can’t deny that simple little fact, I do own floss, and never leave home without it. Blackberries are just too good to ignore, especially when they’re fresh, ripe and in their prime.

So I wanted to use them on Earth Day, but I wasn’t interested in going through all the hassle of making a pie crust. I sort of loath pre-made store crusts, and so almost always opt to make my own, but they’re work. More work then I felt like investing on Saturday night when I got home late from work, so I had to come up with something else. It thought about other sweet decadent ways to use blackberries and suddenly recalled the Gluten-Free Raspberry Cake from ‘Sweet Vegan’ that I’d made for Easter. It has been such a hit, and tasted so good when mixed with vanilla buttercream I thought “why not try something similar with blackberries?” From there it was a no-brainer, blackberry vanilla cake it would be, topped with a blackberry buttercream frosting to match.

Like the Raspberry cake this blackberry version was a huge hit, even amongst people who’d previously said they were not blackberry lovers. So I hope you try it, enjoy it, and forever become a blackberry lover!

*** Note - Normally I’d use whole wheat pastry, or at least a combination of whole wheat and all-purpose flour. However, because I wanted the blackberries to stand out against the cake I chose to use all purpose flour, for aesthetic and contrast reasons. If that doesn’t matter to you buy all means sub in some whole wheat pastry or whole wheat flour. ***

Blackberry Vanilla Buttercream Cake

3 C Unbleached All Purpose Flour
3 tsp Baking Powder
1 C Earth Balance or other non dairy butter at room temp
1 1/4 C Granulated Sugar
3 tsp Vanilla Extract
6 tsp Ener-G Egg Replacer Mixed with 8 Tbsp warm water till frothy (or other egg replacer)
1 1/4-1/2 C Almond Milk (Unsweetened, Plain, or Vanilla flavor)
1 Tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar
1 ½ C Fresh Blackberries quartered

Blackberry Vanilla Buttercream Frosting 

1 C Earth Balance or other non-dairy butter at room temperature
4C Powdered Sugar
2tsp Vanilla Extract
3-4 Tbsp Blackberry Jam (Seedless if possible)
1-3 Tbsp Vanilla or Plain Almond Milk to thin if needed

To make the cake

- Preheat the oven to 350'F

- Combine the flour and baking powder in a large sized bowl and set aside.

- Using a handheld or stand mixer beat the Earth Balance with the Sugar and the Vanilla extract on medium speed until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Set aside.

- In a third bowl, combine almond milk, vinegar, and Ener-G egg replacer mixture.

- Alternate adding both the dry and the wet ingredients to the earth balance sugar mixture. Staring and ending with the dry ingredients. Mixing on low-speed until each addition is just incorporated. Once all wet and dry ingredients have been incorporated scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

- With a wooden spoon gently fold in the blackberries until just incorporated.

- Grease two 9 inch cake pans - I like to use springform - with cooking-spray, and spread the cake better evenly between the two. Bake for 35-45 minutes until a toothpick inserted inside the middle of each cake comes out clean.

- Remove cakes from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes. Then remove the cakes from the pans transferring to a wire cooling rack. Let cool for 1 hour, or until completely cool.

To Make the Frosting

- With handheld or stand mixer beat non-dairy butter and vanilla extract until smooth and creamy

- Add in Sugar 1 cup at a time beating to incorporate.

- Add in 1 Tbsp of almond milk, plus the blackberry jam and beat until thoroughly mixed.

- If the frosting Is too thick add in additional almond milk or jam. If it’s a little thinner then you’d like add in some more powdered sugar 1/4 at a time.


- Place 1 cake upside down on a plate. So that bottom is facing up. Using a flat frosting spatula - or regular spatula - spread a thick layer of frosting over it.

- Carefully place the other cake - right side up - on top of the first cake.

- With the remainder of the frosting frost the top and sides of the cake as desired. Garnish with fresh blackberries however you like, and serve!

*** Note - Soy-Free if using a soy-free non-dairy butter, Can also be made Gluten-Free by subbing in GF Flour(s)***

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Ultimate Spring Onion Phyllo Tart

When I first thought about what I wanted to make and then eat for Earth Day, onions were the first thing to come to mind. I had just discovered - and fallen in love with - ramps, I had leeks and green onions handy, and I’ve always been an onion fanatic. A tart using spring onions would be the perfect main course. The only problem was that I’d never cooked a tart before. I made a French Onion Pie once but that’s not exactly the same. So I searched the internet looking for a good onion tart recipe, and you know what I found? A whole lot of nothing, or at least nothing good. None of the onion tart recipes I found were vegan for one thing, the only vegan recipes I could find that came even close were for vegan French onion pie which I absolutely did not want to make. The vegetarian recipes were all very heavy on egg and cheese, and the non-vegetarian recipes were heavy on eggs, cream, cheese and meat. All of those things I might have been able to remedy however, but the problem was that almost none of the recipes used more then 1 kind of onion! Only one kind of onion? What kind of tart was that? Where was the creativity? Where was the onion love?

No, no, no... they wouldn’t do at all. I wanted to showcase a variety of onions in my tart, particularly fresh spring type onions. I wanted a ton of onion flavor, pure and simple. I didn’t want my tart stuffed with mushrooms and veggie meats, and heaping cupfuls of non-dairy cheeses. I didn’t want it full of breadcrumbs and other such nonsense. I just wanted onions. I didn’t think that was asking too much, but by the looks of the recipes I found it was. Sometimes despite all the cook books I own, and the wealth or recipes available I just feel like there’s a lack of creativity out there. Like everyone gets stuck in the same culinary vacuum. Not that there aren’t creative people out there, because there are, I read lots of awesome vegan blogs written by the most inspirational and talented people, but it’s like that old saying. Sometimes if you want something to get done and get done right you just have to do it yourself.

So I had to put on my thinking cap and figure out how to work out this tart. It didn’t take a lot of time to come up with a recipe and I’m so, so happy I was able to put this together because this Onion tart is simply incredible! I’m telling you, it’s a plate of absolutely mouth-watering, mind-blowing awesomeness. Really, I am going to be making this again and again! Really, It's got five kinds of onions, plus garlic!  If that isn't Ultimate I don't know what is. It was also rich, creamy, buttery and full of good old onion flavor. However, despite the massive amount of onions in this dish the onion flavor wasn’t overpowering at all. It was perfect, and just a tad sweet thanks to caramelized onions.  However if you prefer a little more sweetness you can add in the optional sugar I’ve listed, I don’t think it’s necessary but decide for yourself.

This turned out to be the perfect main course for my Earth Day dinner. Everything about it was amazing. For me the dish really embodied spring, so I hope you make it and enjoy it too. Oh, and FYI - It tastes even better reheated the next day!

The Ultimate Spring Onion Phyllo Tart 

2 Large Shallots
10 Garlic Cloves minced
3 Knob Onions sliced (White and Green parts)
1 Large Leek sliced (White and Green parts)
12 Ramps (Bulbs and Leaves)
1/3 C Sliced Green Onions
2 Tbsp Earth Balance or other non-dairy butter
3/4 tsp ground Thyme
3/4 tsp dried Sage
3/3 tsp dried Summer Savory
½ tsp Smoked Paprika
1/4-1/2 tsp White Pepper
Sea Salt to taste
½-1 Tbsp Sugar (Optional)

1/4 C Non-dairy Sour Cream
8oz non-dairy Cream Cheese
3 tsp White Miso

1/4-1/2 C Melted Earth Balance or other non-dairy butter
Sliced Green Onions to Garnish
Black Sesame Seeds to Garnish
10oz Phyllo Dough

- Preheat oven to 375'F

- Heat 1 Tbsp of non-dairy butter in a pan over medium heat. Saute garlic, shallots, and white parts of knob onions until caramelized. About10-15 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside in a bowl.

- Heat remaining 1 Tbsp of non-dairy butter in pan, and add the leeks, ramps and green parts of knob onions. Saute over medium heat until fragrant and soft. 8-12 minutes. Remove from heat and add to the bowl with the other onions.

- Add Thyme, Summer Savory, Sage, Smoked Paprika, White pepper, salt, Green Onions, Sour Cream, Cream Cheese and Miso, and sugar if using to the bowl with the onions. Stir until well combined. Taste and adjust flavor as needed, then set aside.

- Lightly spray a 11 inch quiche or tart pan with non-stick spray. Melt a quarter cup of Earth Balance or other non-dairy butter and keep handy. Carefully layer sheets of the phyllo dough into your quiche pan, covering the bottom and sides. It’s okay if some over hangs. Lightly brush every sheet of phyllo with melted non-dairy butter before adding another sheet.

*** Note - Ultimately how many sheets you decide to use is up to you. You want enough to form a nice crust on the bottom, but not so much that there isn’t room for the filling. Also a sheet of phyllo dough isn’t going to fit your quiche pan perfectly, so it’s okay to cut the sheets into workable pieces that you can layer in 8-10 sheets (depending on the size of your sheets) should be more then sufficient. Also don’t worry about it looking perfect, a little looseness around the edges will give it a nice rustic look. ***

- Once you’ve layered your phyllo sheets into the bottom and over the sides of the pan, add in your filling. Spread the filling evenly inside the pan.

- Carefully layer more sheets of phyllo over top of the filling. Use roughly the same amount that you used to form your crust and make sure to brush each sheet with melted non-dairy butter before applying it.

- When you’ve finished layering your top crust, carefully break or cut away any excess dough hanging over the edges. A little hang is okay, but you don’t want excessive dough hanging over or it’ll just burn. Brush the top crust with a little melted non-dairy butter then sprinkle with black sesame seeds and sliced green onions.

- Place in the preheated oven and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until your tart is a nice golden color.

- Let cool 15 minutes before cutting and serving.

PS: Don't let all the steps worry you, this is actually really simple and pretty easy to make. Phyllo is a pain in the ass to work with, but once you get over that, this tart's a snap! and it's SO worth it!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Creamy Spring Pea Soup...

What better vegetable to represent Spring than peas? Fresh or frozen they are absolutely delicious with their bright green color, pleasant aroma, and sweet snappy crunch. When I was thinking up ideas for what to serve as part of my Earth Day dinner I decided peas would have to get worked in somehow. However after quite a bit of thought on the matter I was no closer to figuring out how exactly I wanted to prepare them, so it was off to my shelves of cook books for inspiration.

After searching and searching through book after book I came upon the realization that peas are A) a strangely under-utilized vegetable, and B) Seem to only get tossed into a lot of rice, and pasta dishes merely as an afterthought. During my search I did happen across a few pea soup recipes that use call for green peas but I found them uninspired. Mostly the recipes called for peas to be pureed with water and spices like parsley or mint - bleh, boring.

I myself love green peas, have always been a fan, and have never had any problem eating them plain. They are both sweet and savory enough to be totally satisfying on their own without any further alteration. In fact as a kid, when my mother or Oma or somebody was cooking with peas I’d often hang around and pop semi-frozen peas into my mouth like they were candy. It sounds strange I know, but they’re surprisingly good in that state. Anyway, I knew if I was going to present my Earth Day dinner to share with all of you, I’d have to do something a little more creative then serve a bowl of plain peas, and lets be honest as good as they are there isn’t anything the least bit elegant or ceremonious about plain peas. Right?

I did quite like the idea of a soup though, and with that idea in mind ingredient parings started bubbling to the surface and a recipe began to take shape. I wanted to keep it quick and simple, lightly seasoned but thick and flavorful and serve it roughly around room temperature rather then piping hot. Since it is suppose to be a spring soup, and many spring days are quite warm I wanted to create a dish that would refresh. What I came up with far exceeded my expectations and my husband went crazy for it.

The soup has a really lovely pale green color - something that’s not very well reflected in my photos, I’m sorry. Unfortunately the photos I took on Earth Day were unusable and so I had to redo them today using the leftovers, however as luck would have it, it’s very overcast out today. Which means very little natural light, which in turn means I had to use my inadequate kitchen lighting, which as I’ve mentioned before tends to give everything a slightly golden hue. Red, Orange, Green, and Yellow foods never properly photograph, but at least you get the idea. - It also has a lovely thick and creamy texture thanks to the cashews. If you want an even creamier soup you can soak the cashews in water for 1-2 hours before you use them, just make sure to drain them and rinse them afterwards and to use fresh water for the soup. Also since peas are quite sweet naturally you may want to opt out of using the Agave, it’s up to you, and finally if you prefer you can use fresh instead of frozen peas. Just keep in mind they’ll take a couple more minutes to cook.

Creamy Spring Pea Soup

1 C Raw Cashews
1 C Water
1-2 Tbsp White Miso (to taste)
1 Tbsp Lemon Juice
1 tsp Agave (Optional)
1 tsp Onion Powder
½ tsp Ground Mustard Powder
3-4 Garlic Cloves
Black Pepper to taste
Smoked Paprika to taste
16oz Frozen Peas + 1 C additional Frozen Peas
½ C water
A bit of minced Parsley to garnish (Optional)

- Place Cashews, water, Miso, lemon juice, onion powder, smoked paprika, garlic, mustard powder, and agave in a high speed blender. Blend on high for 30-90 seconds until completely smooth. Taste for flavor and adjust as needed. Then leave the cashew mixture inside your blender as you move onto the next step.

- Place 16oz of the Frozen peas and ½ C of water in a medium sized pot over medium heat. Bring to boil, and then reduce heat to simmer for 2-4 minutes until peas are bright green and thawed out.

- Carefully add the contents of the pot to your blender. Blend on medium speed until peas have been incorporated. You don’t need to puree the whole thing, it’s okay if some peas don’t get broken up.

- Once peas have been incorporated, pour the mixture back into the pot, over medium-low heat. Add the extra 1C of frozen peas. Along with black pepper to taste. Simmer until warmed through. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed then serve garnished with fresh minced parsley a sprinkle of smoked paprika and enjoy!

*** Note - This recipe can be made soy-free if you use chickpea Miso***

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Kickin’ Kale Coleslaw...

This salad recipe is partly inspired by the one my friend J brought to Easter this year, and partly inspired by the delicious kale salads I ate at Choice Health Bar in Lahaina, when I was in Maui in October. It’s the perfect blend of sweet, tangy and spice. The sweet coming from the dried fruit, the tang coming from the mayo, and the two vinegars, and the spice coming from smoked paprika, pepper, allspice, clove and curry powder. It may sound like a strange combination but trust me when I say they work in perfect harmony together. Paired with earthy hemp and sesame seeds this salad is a powerhouse of awesome flavor, and it got gobbled up faster then anything else when I made it for Earth Day.

One important thing to note about this salad is that, par usual I didn’t really measure the spices as well as I should have. You see I started off with a certain measurement, either 1/4 or ½ tsp and then kept adjusting from there. Unfortunately I neglected to write down what the final mastermind became for some of the spices. With the ingredients I’ve noted as (to taste) I suggest erring on the side of caution and going with the conservative measurement first, then tasting and adjusting to suit your preference. With the garlic and curry powder it’s also important to keep in mind that you want enough of each of those flavors to taste them, but not so much that either one of them is overpowering. You want to shoot for a mild garlic flavor and a mild curry flavor. In fact as you prepare the salad keep in mind that the flavors should be working together not fighting one another, meaning no one flavor should really overshadow the others. Instead they should be layered together to enhance the dish as a whole. With that in mind, you can’t go wrong. I know I at least will be making this salad - or some variation of it - for years and years to come!

Kickin’ Kale Coleslaw

4 ½ C Shredded Kale
3 Carrots Grated
1/4 C Raisins
1/4 C Dried Cranberries
3 Tbsp Hemp Seeds
2 Tbsp Sesame Seeds
½ C Chopped Green Onions

½ C Non-dairy Mayo
1-2 Tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar (to taste)
1 tsp Toasted Sesame Oil
1 tsp Umeboshi Plum vinegar
 2-3 Packets Stevia (to taste)
½ tsp Ground Allspice
3/4 tsp Smoked Paprika
3/4 tsp Dried Oregano
½-3/4 tsp Ground Thyme (to taste)
½ tsp Garlic Powder (to taste)
½-3/4 tsp Curry Powder (to taste)
Dash of Cinnamon and Cloves (slightly less then 1/8 tsp each)
Black Pepper to taste

- The easiest way to shred kale is in a food processor. Just pop it in and pulse a few times until you have fine shreds. Don’t puree it! If you don’t have a food processor just slice it thin with a knife.

- Once the kale has been shredded place it in a bowl with the grated carrot, cranberries, raisins, seeds, and onions.

- Combine all dressing ingredient in a small bowl and whisk until thoroughly combined. Taste for flavor and adjust seasoning as needed. For an additional kick you can always add a pinch or two of Cayenne pepper! Enjoy!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Pesto Crostini with Buttery Chanterelle Mushrooms...

As I mentioned yesterday my husband and I celebrated Earth Day with a delicious spring-time feast. Originally my plan was not to create five unique dishes, in fact I had initially hoped to find some good dishes amongst my many wonderful cook books. Alas this was not the case. Though I have several cook books that do dedicate specific dishes to the celebration of Earth Day I found them all rather lacking. None of them, in my opinion seemed particularly festive. None of them used simple earthy flavors, or common springtime ingredients. The few that did, did so in an uninspired way that left me feeling unimpressed. Fewer of them still used ingredients that were green, which must surely be a travesty. So I quickly realized that if I wanted a magical Earth Day dinner that lived up to all the standards I’d set in place, I’d simply have to create one myself, from scratch.

Starting with an appetizer. This was actually the most difficult dish to come up with because I honestly didn’t know what I felt like having for an appetizer. I had many weapons in my arsenal as my fridge and pantry were fully stocked but I just couldn’t decide on a dish. Finally I came to the realization that no Earth Day dinner would be complete without a dish involving mushrooms and from that one tiny thought this dish began to take shape.

I thought of all the ways I could use mushrooms, and all the ways to cook them. I finally settled on sauteeing them in butter but then needed to decide what kind of mushroom to use, and what vehicle to use for them. After a little more thought I came to the realization that the best kinds of mushrooms to use on Earth Day would be wild ones. Unfortunately my local grocery had other plans and were conveniently out of the Morel mushrooms I’d originally wanted to use. After a bit of thought I decided to go with Chanterelle mushrooms which I had never eaten before. I chose them because I’ve always thought they had an elegance about them, a certain kind of class, and I’ve always heard good things about their flavor. Unfortunately my grocery only had the dried variety but in the end it worked out amazingly! I’ve read that while dried chanterelle mushrooms loose some of their texture in the drying process and become more chewy even after soaking that they have a more intense flavor then their fresh counterparts. As I’ve never eaten fresh chanterelle’s I can’t say, but the dried variety sure pack a flavor punch! 

Once I had my mushrooms I needed to decide what to do. It didn’t take me very long to come to the conclusion that mushrooms as a topping for toasted bread is always a delicious idea, and once that thought entered my mind it was only a matter of seconds before I thought PESTO! 

This dish marks two firsts for me. 1) My first time eating chanterelle Mushrooms and 2) My first time eating mushrooms with pesto. The combination was so mind-blowingly good that I honestly can’t believe I’d never thought to do it before. A nice buttery chanterelle mixed with a mouth watering pesto is a match made by the goddess, and simply irresistible! If you haven’t tried it either then you must. I already foresee a lot of mushroom/pesto topped bread in my future.

Don’t be daunted by the steps either, while there are several this dish is actually relatively quick, and definitely easy. It comes together in a snap!

Pesto Crostini with Buttery Chanterelle Mushrooms 

1 French Style Baguette Cut into ½ inch thick rounds
1 Batch Walnut Basil Pesto (Recipe follows)
1 Garlic Clove cut in half
2oz Dried Chanterelle Mushrooms ***
1-2 Tbsp Earth Balance or other non-dairy butter

Walnut Basil Pesto 

2/3 C Walnuts 
2/3 C Olive Oil
2oz Fresh Basil (Roughly 1 super packed Cup)
3-4 Garlic Cloves 
Black and White Pepper to taste 
Sea Salt to taste ***
Water to thin as needed 

- Preheat oven to 350'F (175'C) 

- To make the pesto place the walnuts in a food processor and pulse until they’ve been ground into a fine meal. Add in the olive oil, basil, garlic cloves, black, and white pepper and salt. Pulse until well combined, then test for consistency. If too thick add a little water 1 tbsp at a time to thin. Add salt and pulse to incorporate. Taste and adjust salt ad needed.

*** Note - I find the more salt you add, the more a walnut pesto tastes like a ‘traditional’ pesto. However you want to be very careful when adding salt because there is a very, very fine line between just enough and too much. Once you cross that line you can’t go back. When adding salt I suggest adding it a 1/4 tsp at a time, or if you’re tolerance for salt is low add an 1/8 tsp at a time. Pulse after every addition, and keep adding until you’ve got the salt level to your liking. I personally never measure the salt when I make pesto, I just shake the jar over the processor pulse, and taste. Although the finished product probably ends up like something around ½-3/4 tsp.***

- Once the pesto has been made set it aside and continue on with the next step.

- Rub each side of your bread rounds with the sliced garlic clove. Then place on a lightly sprayed cookie sheet and stick in the oven to toast. After 2-3 minutes remove from the oven, flip each slice over and return for another 2-3 minutes until bread is golden and crispy.

*** Note - Toasted bread is delicious, but more often then not I prefer untoasted bread as it doesn’t scratch the roof of my mouth. So if you prefer you can leave your bread untoasted and this dish will be just as delicious!***

- Place your dried Chanterelle Mushrooms in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Let sit for thirty minutes to soften. After 30 minutes drain the mushrooms, reserving the soaking liquid and pat dry. Then chop the mushrooms into bite sized pieces. 

- Heat the Earth Balance in a saute pan over medium heat. When melted add in the chopped chanterelle’s. Mix thoroughly to make sure all mushrooms get coated with a bit of the EB. Then saute for 5 minutes then add 2-3 Tbsp of the reserved cooking liquid. Saute another 5-8 minutes until all the liquid has been absorbed and the mushrooms are tender. Remove from heat when done.

*** Note - If you prefer to use fresh chanterelle mushrooms instead you can. I had to use dried because fresh chanterelle’s weren’t avalible to me over the weekend. If you use fresh however keep in mind that the cooking time may vary, and of course you won’t need to soak them thus you will not have mushroom soaking liquid. If your pan becomes to dry during sauteing just add a little more Earth Balance, or olive oil, or water to de-glaze the pan.***

- To Assemble, spoon a generous amount of pesto onto each slice of bread, and top with a spoonful of the sauteed chanterelle’s. Serve immediately and enjoy!

*** Note - Soy-Free if using a soy-free non-dairy butter. Can be made Gluten-Free by using GF Bread*** 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Earth Day 2012...

Starved Rock State Park, IL

“The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment, not the other way around.” - Gaylord Nelson 

Happy Earth Day everyone! Here in the Midwest it was a beautiful sunny day, albeit a bit chilly due to a strong wind. Wherever you are, and whatever the weather conditions I hope you took some time out today to take stock of the world around you, and give thanks and appreciation to this amazing planet we call home. I hope you also engaged in your own personal act of conservation to show solidarity for the Earth. - ie. Keeping your lights turned off, using as little electricity as possible, taking a garbage bag when you go out walking and collect some trash, donate a few dollars to an environmental organization etc... - Spent as much time as you could outside and enjoyed the wonders that nature has to offer, far too often we take this world for granted and today is the perfect day for us to all stop, take a step back and ‘smell the roses’ so to speak.

A little bit of interesting Earth Day information for you is that the origin of Earth Day is credited to a former Wisconsin senator named Gaylord Nelson.  After witnessing the destruction caused by the massive 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, California, and inspired by the student anti-war movement of the time, he called for an environmental teach-in, or Earth Day to be held on April 22nd 1970.  Over 20 million people participated in that first year, and now Earth Day is celebrated on April 22nd of each year by more then 500 million people, and several national governments in 175 countries. Now there is even an Earth Week, which is celebrated by many communities around the world in which the entire week people focus on environmental issues and activities. Nelson, who was an environmentalist and conservation activist took a leading role in organizing the original celebration, modeling it on the Vietnam war teach-in’s of the time, and hoping to demonstrate popular political support for an environmental agenda.

It really is amazing how such an enormous movement can grow out of one simple idea. Such things always give me hope for humanity.

“The wealth of the nation is its air, water, soil, forests, minerals, rivers, lakes, oceans, scenic beauty, wildlife habitats and biodiversity… that’s all there is. That’s the whole economy. That’s where all the economic activity and jobs come from. These biological systems are the sustaining wealth of the world.” - Gaylord Nelson

Since I already try to live everyday of my life as environmentally friendly as possible, my Earth Day celebration this year focused on just taking time to appreciate the world. I started my day by going for a nice long walk. I stopped by the lake near my home to visit the families of Canadian Geese that reside there year round. I’ve been visiting them for years, but haven’t had much of an opportunity over the past couple of weeks to see them. This morning I discovered that one family has had it’s goslings already. Six cute, fuzzy yellow fluff balls chirping and waddling around the tall grass. So I found a sunny spot on the grass overlooking the lake to sit and watch them for a while. They are the most adorable little things, and seeing them always fills me with joy. After returning home I played with my dog for a while and went for a second walk this time with her as my companion. I spent some time hooping in my yard, enjoying the sun and the breeze, and then it was off to the kitchen to prepare a feast fit for an Earth Day celebration.

I wanted the dishes to be relatively simply, and yet a bit gourmet. I wanted them to take into account all the wonderful bounty of spring produce, and I wanted them to reflect the holiday we were celebrating. Every dish - except the dessert - incorporated something green to represent Mother Earth and Nature. Every dish utilized at least one fruit, vegetable or herb we commonly associate with the change of season and the warmer months. The resulting meal was more then I could ever have hoped for, and it was well worth the three hours I spent preparing it. By the time everything was plated, all the photos were taken and we sat down to eat, we had a lovely four course meal laid out before us.

It started with an appetizer of Crostini with Pesto and sauteed Chanterelle Mushrooms. Followed by a warm - not hot - Creamy Spring Pea Soup. Next was a Kickin’ Kale Coleslaw, and finally the main dish, a delicious, delectable Spring Onion Phyllo Tart. After another walk to and around the lake we returned home to enjoy our fifth and final course, dessert. Which was a melt in your mouth Blackberry Vanilla Buttercream Cake with Blackberry Buttercream frosting. Keep your eyes peeled because I promise recipes and photos of all five or our Earth Day dishes will be appearing in the next week. They were just too good not to share!

Finally we ended the night by going to see Disney’s new Earth Day feature “Chimpanzee” which was an absolutely incredible film. Not only for it’s moving story but for it’s feats of technical brilliants and awe-inspiring camera work. The film had me smiling with joy, teary with sadness, and totally dumb-struck by beauty the entire way through. If you haven’t yet seen the film, I highly recommend it, and if you do choose to go please go during the first week. As a percentage of all ticket proceeds in the first week is donated to the Jane Goodall Institute as a part of the “See Chimpanzee’s, Save Chimpanzee’s” program to help protect chimpanzee’s and their habitat. Or if you can’t or don’t want to see the film you can always go to the Jane Goodall Institute or Disney Nature’s website to see how you can help Chimpanzee’s in other ways. Remember that every little bit helps, and it’s the least we can do for these amazing creatures that are so like us.

Happy Earth Day!
May the majesty and beauty of nature always surround you.

“It’s not just a fight for clean air, but a fight for everyone in this country to live in a personal environment in which he can live like a human being.” - Mary Lou Oates

The Jane Goodall Institute

Disney Nature

“The fault lies not in the science and technology as such but in the sense of values of the contemporary world which ignores the rights of others.” - Indira Gandhi

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Spotlight Food - Asparagus...

Spring is here, and that means it’s asparagus season! I absolutely love asparagus! Not only is it one of my favorite springtime vegetables but it’s one of my favorite vegetables period. It has such a unique flavor, and works so well in so many dishes. This spring asparagus seems to be everywhere in abundance, and the price is very low - in fact the lowest I’ve ever seen it -, so I’ve been taking full advantage and buying up pounds and pounds of what is usually a rather pricy food. I’ve been making all my favorite asparagus recipes, and new ones too! Utilizing a food I don’t get to eat year round. Truthfully even though it’s usually available throughout the year, it’s never as good as when you get it fresh in the spring. So take advantage!

Aside from it being delicious, asparagus also has the added benefit of being low in calories and low in sodium. It’s chalk full of a bunch of other good nutrients as well, which we’ll get to later, but first I wanted to address a commonly known fact about asparagus. Yes, you’ve guessed it, I’m talking about the urine effect. A lot of people complain that after they eat asparagus their urine smells funny, pungent and even awful. This deters a lot of people from eating it, which I think is silly because who cares if your urine smells after you eat it? Who’s going to smell it but you anyway? And even then you’re only in the bathroom a few minutes! Anyway, the interesting thing is that several researchers have studied this unique effect with the intention of finding out why some people produce foul smelling urine after eating asparagus while others do not. As it happens, researchers from France, China, and Israel discovered that odorous urine after asparagus consumption is a typical human characteristic. Meaning that the majority of humans produce this smelly urine. However only something like 22% of the human population actually has the autosomal genes required to smell it! They figured this out when it was discovered that those who could smell their own stinky urine could also detect the odorous smell in the urine of others, even those who could not smell it themselves. Fortunately both my husband and I fall into the category of ‘it doesn’t effect us’ or ‘we just don’t have the genes needed to smell it.’

So what does this teach us? 1) Virtually everyone has smelly urine after eating asparagus. 2) Just because you can’t smell it doesn’t meant it doesn’t smell. 3) Since virtually everyone is effected in this way, there’s no need to be embarrassed. Suck it up, asparagus is delicious and nutritious so go ahead and eat it!


Asparagus has been eaten and enjoyed both as a vegetable and as a medicine since ancient times. Native to the temporal regions of Europe, North Africa and Asia, it has been eaten in Egypt since 20,000 BP. The use of asparagus as an offering is pictures on Egyptian tablets dating back to 3000 BC. However the ancient Egyptians were not the only ones to enjoy this springtime vegetable. It was also known to the Syrians, and the Spanish as well as the Greeks and the Romans who praised it not only for it’s delicate flavor, but for it’s diuretic properties as well. The Romans would eat it fresh in spring, and dry or freeze it high in the Alps to use in the Feast of Epicurius. There are even recipes for cooking asparagus in the oldest surviving book of recipes, Apicius’s third century AD De re coquinaria, Book Three.

Cultivation of Asparagus began in French Monasteries in 1469, but it wasn’t till the 18th century when it became extremely popular in the country. During the rule of Louis XIV special greenhouses were built for growing asparagus and it was served as a delicacy. It made it’s way to the New World and the United States around 1850.

Health Benefits 

Asparagus delivers a truly unique blend of anti-inflammatory nutrients that have been shown to be of benefit. Among these nutrients are saponins - including asparanin A, sarsasapogenin, protodioscin, and diosgenin. Sarsasapogenin has been of particular interest in relation to ALS - also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) Even though ALS is characterized as a chronic neurodegenerative disease and not currently accepted as an autoimmune disorder, it’s thought that excessive inflammation may play a role in the death of motor neurons in ALS.

In addition to it’s anti-inflammatory benefit Asparagus also offers a wide variety of antioxidant nutrients, such as Vitamins C and E, beta carotene, and minerals like zinc, manganese, and selenium. It may also contain a valuable amount of the antioxidant glutathione (GSH) which is one of the bodies best studied antioxidants. One published study has estimated the GSH in fresh asparagus to average 28 mg per 3.5oz. While other studies have compared the antioxidant capacity of Asparagus with that of cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower and cabbage.

This is important because anti-inflammatory and antioxidant nutrients are amongst the best risk reducers for chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain types of cancer.

Most of the studies conducted on the anti-cancer benefits of asparagus have been conducted on rats, and mice or on specific cancer cells. For this reason asparagus-cancer research is considered preliminary as it’s not yet been validated by large scale human studies. However the trends in animal and specific cell studies are clear, asparagus as well as asparagus extracts can change the metabolic activity of cancer cell types. These changes are protective in nature and related to better regulation of inflammation and oxidative stress. Cancer cells taken from the liver have been the most studied in this regard.

It’s possible that Asparagus may also have an effect on Leukemia, however the research at this time is poor. The initial thought behind this lies in the fact that leukemia cells need to obtain a specific amino acid called asparagine from other cells or from the blood. If leukemia cells are prevented from obtaining asparagine they may have trouble surviving. Research from the 50's and 60's discovered that the injection of an enzyme called asparaginase into patients with leukemia could result in decreased levels of asparagine in the blood and selective destruction of leukemia cells through asparagine deprivation.  Prescription injection of asparaginase enzymes is still used in treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The reason asparagus has been looked to in this instance is because it contains both the amino acid asparagine, and the enzyme asparaginase as their names suggest, however there is no current research showing a treatment connection between leukemia and dietary intake of asparagus. The only research so far concentrates on the prescription injection of the enzyme medication.

Asparagus also seems uniquely designed to help support a healthy digestive system. With it’s rich fiber content - 3g per 1 cup - and it’s significant protein - 5g per 1 cup - asparagus helps stabilize our digestion and keep things flowing along our digestive tract at an appropriate speed. As opposed to fatty foods that slow down the digestive process or sugars that speed it up. However it’s digestive support doesn’t end there. Asparagus also contains a significant amount of a nutrient called inulin, which has been described by some healthcare practitioners as a ‘pre-biotic.’ Inulin is a special kind of carbohydrate called a polyfructan, and unlike other carbs inulin doesn’t get broken down in the first sections of the digestive tract. Rather it passes undigested through the small intestine and arrives intact in the large intestine where it becomes an ideal food source for specific kinds of bacteria, associated with better nutrient absorption, lower risk of allergy, and lower risk of colon cancer. Due to it’s unique effect on our digestive system it’s no wonder that asparagus has a long history of use in Indian Ayurvedic medicine for treating digestive problems.

While there have been no large-scale human studies researching the effect of asparagus on heart disease and blood sugar regulation, preliminary studies suggest asparagus may be helpful in both these areas of chronic disease. This is due firstly to the incredible vitamin B content of asparagus.  Asparagus has proven to be an excellent source of folic acid, and vitamin B1, as well as a good source of vitamin B2, B3, and B6. It also contains B vitamins such as choline, biotin, and pantothenic acid. This is important because B vitamins play a key role in the metabolism of sugars and starches, they are critical for maintaining healthy blood sugar. They also play an important role in regulating homocysteine, and amino acid that becomes a strong risk factor for heart disease if it’s allowed to reach excessive levels. Secondly it’s potential benefit on heart disease and blood sugar can be attributed to it’s asparagus’s fiber content. As it’s well known that intake of soluble fiber has repeatedly been shown to lower the risk of heart disease as well as type 2 diabetes. Lastly, asparagus’s antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties are crucial. Both heart disease and type 2 diabetes are considered chronic diseases that develop in relation to chronic inflamation and oxidative stress. Meaning asparagus’s high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients could help lower the risk of both heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Studies conducted on persons with Alzheimer’s found that those suffering from the disease had extremely low to no levels of folate in their bodies. Since asparagus is such an excellent source of folate, it could be beneficial both in preventing and treating early stages of Alzheimer’s. However no large-scale human studies have been conducted at this time. Folate is also a crucial nutrient for pregnant woman as it helps protect against birth defects.

Green Asparagus is also a particularly good source of vitamin C, and vitamin C is important in the production and maintenance of collagen, which is the major structural protein component of the connective tissue in the body.

The second century physician Galen described asparagus as being both “Cleansing and healing” which certainly seems true today, as asparagus is considered a diuretic, a mild laxative and a neutralizer of ammonia in the body.

Overall though more research needs to be conducted asparagus seems to have many benefits, and it’s delicious too!


Honestly I love asparagus cooked anyway and in any dish. I love it lightly steamed, grilled, sauteed, stir-fried, roasted, raw, or baked. I love it hot or cold, in soups, stews, salads, pasta dishes, tarts, casseroles, or on it’s own. I love it plain, and by itself, I love it dressed simply or elegantly. I love it with rice or cous cous, I love it as a filling for sushi or even a wrap. It’s even great as part of a tofu scramble. Honestly the ways you can enjoy asparagus are endless, it’s so versatile and it works brilliantly with a wide variety of seasonings. Try it pan fried with shallots, garlic and lime juice. Or try it steamed and drizzled with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, rosemary and minced garlic. Tick it up a notch with a Cajun, or Jamaican rub, or just some good ole’ red pepper flakes. Don’t be afraid to experiment with it!

Happy and Healthy Eating to you!

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Beauty of Ramps - and Terry Walters ‘Cannellini Beans with Sun-dried Tomatoes and Ramps’

Yesterday I ate ramps for the first time, and my tastebuds totally exploded! Now if you’re unfamiliar with ramps let me enlighten you, because they are a whole world of awesome.

Ramps belong to the onion family, and go by the alternate names of ramson, spring onion, wild leek, wood leek, and wild garlic. They’re native to North America where they grow from South Carolina all the way up to Quebec. They are particularly popular in the cuisines of the rural upland South and Quebec, and have been gaining in popularity amongst upscale restaurants throughout North America. Throughout Appalachia they are considered particularly special, and many festivals are often held each spring either in their honor or with ramps as a culinary focus.

Ramps are characterized by smooth, flat, broad green leaves and stems that are somewhere between red and purple. Their stock/bulb is very similar to that of a scallion. Taste wise their flavor falls somewhere between that of garlic and onions with their leaves having a milder flavor then their bulbs.

Now that you know what they are, let me tell you about how I happened to come across them.

Until I purchased the cook book “Clean Start” I didn't even know what a Ramp was, but once I knew it didn’t matter because I couldn’t find them for sale anywhere. As a lover of all things garlic and onion the one recipe that calls for ramps in “Clean Start” had caught my eye and piqued my interest, but as badly as I wanted to try it, I could not. Ramps you see have a very short season, and are usually available for only a short time between end of March and Early May. Not being able to find them, I forgot about them entirely, until ast weekend.

I was doing my grocery shopping, and I was in the mood for Garlic Scapes. Another delicious spring vegetable only available for a short time in spring. I asked my friend SC who works in the produce section of my local grocery if he had any scapes in or if it was still too early for them. He said that they’d just gotten scapes in the day before. Excited I followed behind him as he directed me to a produce shelf. However once we got there I saw immediately that they were not scapes but ramps. “Aren’t they the same thing?” he asked, and I informed them that they were not. I was all set to leave disheartened by not having found any scapes when I suddenly remembered that recipe from “Clean Start” and how rare it is to find ramps. Finding them right then, on that particular day seemed like a miracle and so I bought two bunches to bring home.

Yesterday was my first chance to try them out, and of course I decided to use Terry Walters recipe for Cannellini Beans with Sun-dried tomatoes and ramps. Generally speaking I’m not a fan of Cannellini beans, not canned at least but that’s all I had, and I figured why not at least try it? I am so, so glad I did. I made this dish for lunch and it was the most amazing, mind-blowing thing. The flavor of the ramps was incredible, kind of like a strong chive mixed with a bit of garlic, and it paired beautifully with the sun-dried tomatoes and the creaminess of the beans.

Honestly, I couldn’t stop Mm-Mmming the entire way through the meal and I don’t typically do that. I fell instantly in love with the dish and the ramps and have made the decision that buy oodles and oodles of ramps when I go grocery shopping today. I can not wait to find out what other delicious configurations I can come up with for these delicate wild onions.

Please do yourself a favor, next time you’re out look for ramps, and if you find them buy them! You won’t be sorry, really!