Saturday, January 29, 2011

Chick'n Pitas & Faux-McRibs: Vegetarian Tasting at Harvard

Another sign, in my opinion, of our culture's ever-changing values, has been the sudden upswing of veganism. Conscious eating has found acceptance in everyone from Bill Clinton to even Orpah (taking the challenge once again, her and her staff of 378).

The first multiple episode vegan cooking show (Vegucating Robin) is now on TV, NYC is having their city's first Vegetarian Food Festival in April, and even the James' Bread Foundation has hosted and recognize vegan cuisine as of late (Chef Angel Ramos from Candle 79, NYC).

So it's little surprise that acceptance of vegetarianism, and less-meatarianism, has gained prominence through the college scene as well. Last semester in London I helped start the first vegetarian society at UCL and now, according to Jonathan Safron Foer, almost 18% of all college students identify as vegetarian.

So when I was invited by the Harvard Vegetarian Society to a vegan/vegetarian food tasting by the Harvard University Dining Service, an event to sample and get feedback on new vegetarian and vegan dishes, I knew this was a step forward. Showing all students, even omnivores, that vegan and/or vegetarian food can be delicious and filling is always a step forward. So sixteen students including myself got to sample a bunch of potential new dining hall meals and provide our feedback.

Check out some of the items tested below & their reception:

Vegetarian Ribwich (above)
This was apparently a hit for the students. Since this was a vegetarian option though, not vegan, I didn't have a try. Being the healthy bunch many of us are, we suggested making the sandwich buns whole wheat--a suggestion which Chef Martin & Chef Breslin agreed to.

Vegan Chick'n Pita Sandwich
My second favorite dish, this combined HUHDS's infamous Chick'n patties deliciously smeared with a fresh tahini sauce and filled with extra veggies. Some students thought the sauce was a bit bitter, but ultimately it was a bit hit!

Seitan Pepper Steak
Mimicked after a Philly cheese steak sandwich, this seitan sandwich had a delicious serving of sauteed onions and peppers but seemed to be missing a bit of something, perhaps a bit dry. Some students suggested extra sauce or offering a side of BBQ sauce. Chef Martin thought having too many ingredients separated from the dish may be a bit difficult to achieve, but one thing we all agreed upon was changing out the bun of a whole wheat version.

The best part of this sandwich? The HUHDS house made seitan! Store-bought seitan is often packed with additives and preservatives, but this seitan was made fresh and the difference was apparent. The texture was completely different, so much more tender, and it absorb its sauce amazingly.

Ethiopian Vegetable Stew
The best dish served up, and Chef Martin's favorite as well, this stew was a warming mix of winter for the soul. All of the flavors were bold but blended perfectly with the seasonal sweet potato and a hint of cinnamon to boot.

Korean Pickled Cucumber Salad
One of my favorite dishes, this salad was simple but balanced the acidity well (perfectly in my opinion). Some students thought it aired on the bitter side a bit too much, though as the Chefs pointed out, for a pickled salad that is often the case. The chefs thought a little less dressing could help this, particularly because the salad had quite a bit of extra liquid to it.

Sweet & Sour Veggies with Seitan and Cashews
Another dish with HUHDS's homemade Seitan and this was definitely the best. he seitan soaked up the exquisitely balanced sauce superbly. The cashews were a great crunchy addition, always a favorite of mine.

Mushroom Ragout with Whole Wheat Penne
Though I'm not usually a mushroom lover (I know, Vitamin D, I really should be), this pasta was great. With protein packed penne and tender, savory mushrooms though, this dish was a hit. Nothing fake here which is always nice. My only complaint, and many students agreed, was that the mushrooms are a bit on the salty side.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Italian Mamas: Pesto, Bruschetta, & Creamed Corn (just cuz)

Much of my cooking inspiration comes from my mother. I remember in high school I would shrink away from having to help in the kitchen at home; I once tried attempted orange juice by throwing whole oranges in a blender (Toni managed to stop me in time). So when I finally began to appreciate the fine art and bliss of home cooking, it was my mother's recipes I thought of first.

"How do you make your lentils?" "So I shouldn't be adding salt to boil water for tea?" Shameful, I know. It was probably her Italian roots and mine too that finally brought about a love for the kitchen. A number of my dishes are a work in progress to veganify Italian classics. One of the her classic recipes as such was her bruschetta.

So following up on my second project, and really beginning what will be a long dedication to reviving the childhood favorites (bonding over community, family, and food), I have a few short and easy recipes based on my mother's cooking and her Italian roots.

These dishes were all served up just after Christmas during a dinner party with my best friends (Sarah, Diane, Bianca) from across the country. Nothing beats a long night of sharing with friends over the dinner table, a nice glass of wine, and.... a fort!! (Toni kindly built us girls an epic blanket fort!)

Happy Campers

Toasted Bruschetta

* 1 Fresh Italian Loaf (whole wheat if available)
* 4-6 Tablespoon of Vegetable Oil
* 5 Roma Tomatoes, diced
* 2 Garlic Cloves, minced and crushed
* 2 Fresh Basil Leaves, chopped
* 2 t, Dried Oregano
* 1 t, Dried Parsley Flakes
* 1 T, Good Quality Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
* 2 t, Freshly Ground Pepper
* 1 t, Freshly Ground Pink Himalayan Sea Salt (or salt of choice)


1. In a medium bowl, add together all the ingredients except the loaf and vegetable oil. Mix well and set aside.
1. Slice loaf into 1 in slices. Heat a cast iron (or heavy bottomed) pan over medium heat. Place olive oil in a dish and brush lightly on each side of each slice as your lie them on the pan. Toast for approximately 1 minute on each side, or until crispy and golden.
3. Lay out your toasted bread and top each with a large spoonful for the tomato mixture. Each immediately & Enjoy!

Easy Vegan Pesto Pasta

* 1 T, Tofutti Vegan Cream Cheese
* 1 Bundle Fresh Basil Leaves (approximately 8-15 leaves, depending on moisture content)
* 1/2 C, Pine Nuts
* 1/3 C, Good Quality Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
* 2 Cloves Garlic, minced
* 1 T, Freshly Ground Pepper
* 1/2 T, Freshly Ground Pink Himalayan Sea Salt (or finely grained salt of your choice)


1. Add together all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until well combined. Pesto should be almost smooth, just a bit chunky. If too moist, add a few extra basil leaves and a handful of pine nuts. If too dry, add an extra tablespoon of olive oil. Easy as that. Eat with crackers and wine, or add to pasta. Enjoy!

And just for good measure, if you're mouth was watering over the pictures, I wanted to present to you...

"Bianca's" Asian-Flare Creamed Corn
Aka. PETA's creamed corn recipe.

Its awesome, and easy, try it.

So if any of you have a family recipe, even if its not that good, just something unique to your childhood, maybe made by an aunt, a cultural recipe made on holidays.... I'd love to hear about it! Just a general recipe outline (even if it includes meat, dairy, eggs, etc; all the better to work with) would be awesome... and OF COURSE, the story behind it, the most important part.

I want to hear from you, let's share :)


Thursday, January 20, 2011

From My Table to Yours: Let's Share Together :D

A long hiatus needs no explanation; or at least, mine doesn't because there is no one particularly good reason for my being MIA... well, there was that fiasco of almost not getting home from Europe (read: canceled flights to London, fighting to get on a train to London, almost not being let into Heathrow, delayed flights, Heathrow closed = a mess), moving to LA, moving to Boston, no internet... but now I'm back. Lots of cooking, recipes, ideas, inspiration to make-up for the lost internet time.

I've taken on two new projects (see more below) and had a great time engaging with... cookbooks! I was never a huge recipe person, preferring to wing it, but that's not always so easy with vegan baking. For Christmas my parents got me my first ever vegan cookbooks and look at the yumm results (get these books! I'll go into more specifics later):

Wedding Cookies
by Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar

Same night, New Years Eve-Eve Potluck Party: hence my frazzled look and burnt nose from making homemade taquitos all day (homemade refried beans, homemade tortillas, homemade potato fillings, etc.) inspired by Vegan Latina

Spelt Biscuits & McEgg Patties
by Babycakes, NYC & Vegan Comfort Food

Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes
by Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World

Peppermint Walnut Blondies (revisiting some old favs; for Erin's birthday)
by OhSheGlows

Dinner Biscuits with Black Bean Burgers and Cajun Sweet Potato Fries
by The Joy of Vegan Baking & Chef Chloe
(I found the secret to perfectly crisp fries: after baking, quickly broil without burning!)

All of these books and amazingly talented chefs have greatly inspired me and it's been a ton of fun. In essence, what I've solidified in the past few weeks is where my passion of policy, community activism, and food intersect. A few of my distant relatives contacted me through my grandma with an interest in going vegan but without the tools to-do so. They both live out in Denver, have no at-home computer, and little more than a vague understanding of cooking and eating vegan.

Vegan-eating, and healthy-eating, is something that can and is accessible for all; it doesn't have to mean deprivation but is about feeling good. So a series of recipes, including the one below, will focus on quick vegan eats. Things that are familiar, easy to prepare, and usually good to store. Of course, these are also great for the busy student or parent... considering these are some go-to recipes when time is of the essence or comfort food is a must.

Finally, and I'll have to go more in depth into this in my following posts, I have one more project I'm working on that I'm really excited about. It utilizes the involvement of friends, families, and strangers and brings back an vital missing piece in the American food system: community.

Food has become about convenience. Eating on the go, eating in your car, quick, packaged, no-prep needed. And in all of it we've lost something. The family dinner has slowly faded from the social norm. So with this next project I hope to bring the focus of food away from just the individual, but back into sharing with our society, our communities, our friends, bonding over bread with strangers (all of which speak to larger issues of food justice, access, affordability, education).

My question I pose to you now, to help me with this project: What's a dish that reminds you of your childhood? Something unique to your youth, maybe made by an Aunt or something your Mum prepared specially for the holidays? Something that you think is different from other recipes of its kind? I'd really love to hear at length about this if you're willing to share, the memories, anything. You can comment or email me too (; I don't bite... promise!) :) I really appreciate it !

Fool 'Em Margarita Pizza

* 1 can Pillsbury thin crust pizza dough (I know, I know)
* 1 package Grated Rice Mozarella Vegan Cheese (rec: Galaxy Nutritional Foods)
* 3 roma tomatoes, de-seeded and chopped
* 2 garlic cloves, minced
* 1 tablespoon olive oil
* 1/2 teaspoon finely ground sea salt (or salt of choice)
* 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
* 4-5 basil leaves, finely sliced

1. Preheat oven to 400F. Open Pillsbury crust and spread it out on a lightly oiled cookie sheet.
2. Lightly spray olive oil over the uncooked crust or drizzle lightly.
3. Place in oven and prebake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven.
4. Sprinkle desired amount of cheese over the crust, leaving about 1 inch on each side.
5. Place back in oven and cook for 5-10 more minutes, making sure cheese has melted but the crust does not burn.
6. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl mix together chopped tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper.
6. Once you have removed the pizza from the oven, sprinkle tomato mixture on top. Top with basil. Serve immediately or store for a few days in the fridge. Enjoy!