Thursday, February 25, 2010

Potato Poblano Hash with Tofu "Eggs"

This has been those “use-up-what-you-have” weeks. With 3 days away from home last weekend and a big move coming up this weekend, I had to seriously resist the urge to load up at the farmers market this week. Instead, I made every reasonable effort to use up all fresh foods in order to avoid packing a refrigerator full of produce. To get the creative juice flowing, I tallied my resources. A half potato, half rutabaga, and half onion were scattered around in my refrigerator. Hearing their calls from corners of the Kenmore, I was reminded of how round, firm and beautiful the roots were at the market when I bought them nearly 2 weeks prior. Now they are peeled, half-consumed, and left in the shadows – waiting for me to pull my mind out of my busy life and back into the kitchen for some improvisational cuisine.

Who doesn’t love breakfast for dinner? If there is one dish that really works both ways, it’s a good, hearty hash. While standard hash browns are truly suitable any time of day, I enjoy a nice hash out of its traditional brunch context. One of my favorite recipes as an omnivore was a spicy sweet potato hash with mustard greens and poached eggs. Though I did have a sweet potato at my disposal, it wasn’t sliced open yet like the white potato and rutabaga that were both looking pretty desperate. One confession: I did make a minor grocery run to pick up a few key ingredients that I thought would make this dish really pop. I wanted a spicy, roasted pepper to give the hash a kick and a fresh pepper for sweetness. I also love adding sturdy greens to potatoes for a texture twist and nutritional punch. I made it out of Whole Foods in about a 3rd of the normal cost, which made this still feel like a cleaning-out-the-fridge recipe sadly enough.

The poached egg replacement was tricky. While many breakfast-style eggs are easy to veganize, a poached egg or “over-easy” version is harder to replicate. I found an intriguing recipe on VegWeb that I adjusted based on reader reviews and my own personal preferences. I marinate and then pan-fried pressed tofu slices. There are times when I barely have the patience to really drain and press tofu, but this seemed necessary and worthwhile. If you have never pressed tofu before, it is incredible easy. It just takes a couple of cans and 10 minutes of waiting while the water seeps out. The original recipe says to bake the tofu, which I did for 10 minutes until I decided I wanted a crispier texture. I ended up pan-frying them the rest of the way and they came out beutifully. Next time I might try coating them with a touch of corn starch for added crunch.

Though the rutabaga admittedly did not stand out in this dish, you could use a combination of white and sweet potato with excellent results. You could also grate instead of cubing the potatoes, since we all have our geometric preferences. To make this spicier, if you end up with a weaker pepper like I did, add more cayenne and a dash of hot sauce to the hash. If this is too spicy, as some Poblanos end up being, whip up some vegan sour cream with that spare silken tofu lying around in your pantry.

Potato Poblano Hash with Tofu "Eggs"
Serves 4-6
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes


1 Poblano, Anaheim or Pasilla pepper
2 c. Potatoes, russet or baking, rinsed and cut in ¼” cubes
1 c. Rutabaga, peeled and cut in ¼” cubes
2 T. Canola oil
1 Medium onion, chopped
4-5 Large garlic cloves, minced
1 c. Red bell pepper, chopped
½ lb Swiss chard, leaves and stems divided chopped
1 tsp. Salt (or to taste)
½ tsp. Cayenne

1 14 oz package of extra firm tofu, drained
3 T. Canola Oil
3 T. Apple cider vinegar
1 ½ T. Soy sauce
2 tsp Garlic powder
½ tsp Turmeric
Hot pepper sauce to taste (Tabasco, Louisiana or other favorite brand)


Set oven to high broil setting. Broil whole pepper, turning occasionally, until blackened and blistered on all sides. Remove from oven and place in a paper bag to cool. When cool enough to handle, peel skin and remove stem and seeds. Chop and set aside.

While pepper broils, steam or parboil potatoes and rutabaga 3-4 minutes until barely tender. Set aside.

Heat oil in cast iron skillet and sauté onions over medium heat until starting to brown, about 10-15 minutes. Increase heat to high and add potatoes, rutabaga and garlic. Stir well to be sure vegetables don’t stick too much to the bottom of the pan, cook 10-15 minutes until vegetables start to brown.

While potatoes are browning, press liquid out of tofu by cutting the block into 6-8 slices. Place slices over a few paper towels on top of a cutting board. Place a pan or baking dish on top of slices and press down by putting a few cans of beans/tomato sauce/etc… in the dish. Let tofu press 10 minutes. When finished, place in a baking dish. Whisk together remaining ingredients (oil through hot sauce) and pour over tofu. Let tofu marinate while you finish the hash.

Add red pepper and chard stems to the hash, stir and sauté another 5 minutes or until pepper starts to brown. Add Chard leaves, roasted Poblano (or whichever roasted green pepper you chose), salt and cayenne. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste. Once chard is wilted and potatoes are sufficiently brown and crispy, remove from heat and set aside.

Coat the same pan in cooking spray and fry the marinated tofu until crispy and brown on each side, about 5-6 minutes per side. Remove and place over hash.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Comfort Food: Sweet Potato Parsnip Gratin

A classic French dish: layered potatoes oven-simmered in cream with a golden crust browning to a crunchy perfection…gratin. Whether you are familiar with the French, Southern or Midwest version, you most likely find the same console in a creamy potato casserole. Growing up, we often had scalloped potatoes thinly sliced with onions and ham, then baked in cream. Sounds like a real artery-clogger, because it is. It seems most dishes basking in cream with a sprinkling of cheese and breading on top cloud the naughtiness of their compositions by fogging our conscience with salty fat-laced goodness. It’s like a temporary anesthesia, but more importantly it’s like a time warp that brings me back to my Midwest innocence. My mother would argue with the innocence claim, but she could attest to my potato scarfing.

I had never made potatoes au gratin myself, even as an omnivore. Once I started paying attention to my health, I pretty much ruled out all things of such nature. Not realizing that a few simple adaptations could be made to restore the health and appeal many comfort foods, I long avoided recipes listing butter, cream and cheese as the key ingredients. After all, the only other ingredient in a gratin is potatoes! With what I know now, butter can be replaced with healthy alternatives like Earth Balance, there are a variety of other milks out there in this world, and bread crumbs or a bread crumb-nut combo are a good match for cheese to top off any baked dish. Most vegan parmesans consist of a finely ground blend of merely three (vegan) staples: nutritional yeast, walnuts and salt.

If it seems this dish would be lacking because it contains no cream or cheese, then the depth and creaminess of these root vegetables is highly underestimated. Sweet potatoes add a nice color and that omnipresent starchiness we love, while parsnips proved a nutty, earthy taste with a soft buttery texture. Maybe milk alternatives can suffice as the base, but I added a little sage and garlic to bring out the sweet flavors in the vegetables. You can try this with any herb combo like Herbes de Provence, thyme or marjoram. I found almond milk to be a good replacement, because it has more fat than soy milk but fewer calories overall. A little blend of Smart Balance and your oil of choice give it that slight fatty edge that mocks that happy quasi-coma aftweard.

Sweet Potato Parsnip Gratin
Serves 4
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 45-55 minutes

2 Medium parsnip
2 Small sweet potato
1 Leek, leaves removed (white part and some green ok)

2 Large garlic clove, sliced
2 ½ T. Smart or Earth Balance, divided
1 tsp Coconut oil (or olive)
2 tsp Sage, dried
¼ tsp Nutmeg, ground
1 ¾ c. Almond milk
Salt and pepper
½ c. Bread crumbs, homemade or store bought


Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Rinse, peel and slice vegetables into 1/8" think slices. Combine in a medium mixing bowl and set aside.

In a small bowl, whip the garlic and 1 T plus 1 tsp margarine together. Add the coconut oil, sage, nutmeg and ¼ c. of almond milk. Heat marinade over low in a small sauce pan or microwave until just melted, 10-20 seconds. Slowly add another cup of almond milk to the marinade and a pinch of salt and pepper. Whisk together and pour over vegetables.

In a small casserole dish coated with cooking spray, alternate parsnip and sweet potato slices until bottom is covered. Top with half of leeks. Place another layer on top, alternating between parsnips and sweet potatoes. Top with remaining leeks and pour marinade over vegetables using any leftover milk if needed (milk mixture should come up to within a ½ “ from the top of the dish).

Cover and bake 35 minutes. While the vegetables bake, heat remaining margarine in a small pan and sauté bread crumbs over medium heat until brown, about 5 minutes.

Remove cover from casserole and bake another 10 minutes uncovered until the top starts to brown and vegetables caramelize. Top with prepared bread crumbs and bake an additional 5 minutes to let bread crumbs absorb into some of the liquid.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Non-food but Nevertheless Venture

“Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!” Well, for me and probably you as you read this it’s “Detox, Detox, Detox!” Seriously, should I stop writing about this detox already? If you answered yes, post a comment and tell me to quit it. This has been a very pervasive undertaking and has forced both my body and mind to undergo some cleansing. Today I’ll document a snippet of the mental portion and take a brief pause from my food focus. You read that right; I hate to admit this venture through detox is not just about food. It feels strange to admit that, but I guess that’s part of the detox therapy.

As I wrote in an earlier post, I’ve been re-evaluating my relationship with food as a part of the non-physical cleansing process. I say relationship, you say obsession, I say hobby, you say fetish… Whichever definition you choose, food and cooking tend to dominate most (ok...all) aspects of my life. Activities are positioned around meals, boredom is solved by munching, emotions are pacified by sweets, and elation is congratulated with treats. I seem to devote a lot of time and energy towards eating, cooking, and exercising which is just a necessary consequence of eating.

Fasting, an important part of detox, is a homeopathic remedy for many mental and physical ailments. It is practiced in several religions and has long been thought to contribute to longevity. While I don’t feel ready to engage in a strict fast, I did dabble with it slightly during this phase as an attempt to achieve some mental and spiritual clarity. It was actually the perfect approach to answering how I would fill my time if it were not spent eating, cooking or exercising. I love being out, finding new activities and attending events around town. But food is on my mind no matter where I go. This was a perfect opportunity to explore something without food on the mind, though it had to be something that required a little less energy as my body literally had a small supply.

Having attended the monthly art festival in Phoenix, I was inspired by some of the artwork and flat-out unimpressed by some of the craft. While I actually adored many of the greeting cards artists were selling, the visible pen and marker lines made me look twice. In short, I left thinking “I can make that myself at home.” So I marched over to the arts and crafts store the next day, took my time perusing through the aisles, and came out with a somewhat loose idea that I hoped would bloom on its own.

This was so therapeutic, and I can’t wait to make more. Hopefully it will financially pan out to be more economical that buying cards for people. They are fun to make and you can’t beat a personal touch. I especially like sketching out my ideas first – I almost feel like a real designer or something. Hello? Hallmark, is that you? No these are not for sale you sentiment-robbing, cheesy-verbiage monger. There is real love in here that cannot be squashed by your silly bar codes and dollar signs! For a nice price, I might give in to Etsy though.

The lucky recipient was someone very deserving, who I really do think is super. And just in case you are curious about what lays behind the card in that little pink basket - I'll publish the recipe for those bad boys once I perfect it...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Roasted Turnip Risotto

Why do I keep turning to risotto? Chilly weather, ease of preparation, bountiful and delicious results, illusion of creaminess without the dairy and fat… chalk up “gluten-free” with those reasons and it’s very clear why I keep returning to this dish. Risotto is so wonderfully satisfying that it appeases all crowds, meat-eating and bamboo-noshing alike. It’s like a fancy casserole and fills “hot dish” void many of us that grew up in the Midwest crave halfway through winter. Remember the mysteriously yellow but tasty rice dishes from a box that were super creamy, salty and cooked in 5 minutes? That was normal Tuesday for me when I was in grade school. Ok maybe some of you still make those. But this is like a gourmet, farmer’s market-inspired version that you could make with any root vegetable and bring to any holiday dinner or Bo dunk hoe down, meat-and-potato potluck (those might be one and the same depending on your geographic location).

It is probably apparent by now if you’ve read some of my posts, that I am in love with root vegetables. I could hardly discriminate among celery root, beets, turnips, parsnips, rutabaga and radishes. If you have limited experience with any of these (or experience with them that has been corrupted by canned and boiled versions), just know they are some of the most delicious, earthiest knobs of a vegetable that come from the ground. Some people find them ugly and dirty. They must also hate Bob Dylan. The hidden and imperfectly shaped nature of a root makes it much more appealing to me. How humble to live your little veggie life underground, while the fruit you bear takes the stage above. There you are, storing nutrients and life, making sure there is enough sunshine and soul in your fronds or leaves to make so they are attractive enough to be picked. How perfectly selfless and shy…Well okay, I might be slightly romanticizing their bulbous lives, but there is definitely something about them that I adore. Quite obviously.

On the flip side, for those that share my affiliation with root veggies, many of you abandon their greens. If you can eat kale, chard, mustard and dandelion greens, why not radish greens? Beet greens have become more popular with the emergence and popularity of CSAs and local markets, but what about turnip greens? Have you ever tried broccoli or cauliflower leaves? Probably not, because they are mostly ditched before being laid out for purchase. But I assure you, they have a nutritious punch and soft flavor that deserves just has much chance has their roots. How perfectly utopian to prepare a dish that uses both…

Roast them, steam them, mash them or hash them – so many possibilities. In this recipe, turnips are prepared two different ways, combined in the end, and reunited with their greens for a complete use of the plant. >> Cue the music….Beating Drum… African Chorus….”It’s the Circle of Life!”…<< Sweet turnips with salty Miso offset the potential bitterness you risk imparting to a dish when adding some greens. If this ends up being too salty, just add a touch of plain soy or almond milk and a pinch of nutritional yeast to retain the creaminess.

Roasted Turnip Risotto

Serves: 3-4
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour


6 oz. Turnip greens
1 ½ c. Turnips, cubed and divided into 2 parts
½ T. Olive oil
Salt and pepper

2-3 c. Vegetable broth
1 T. Olive oil or Earth Balance
½ Medium leek, sliced or chopped
2 Garlic cloves, minced
½ T. Thyme
½ c. Arborio rice
1 T. Miso paste (white or yellow)
Salt and white pepper

¼ c. Walnuts, chopped
Pinch of nutritional yeast
Pinch of salt


Preheat oven to 450ºF. Toss ¾ c. turnips in olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast in preheated oven 40-45 minutes until brown and tender. Set aside when done.
In a large pot of boiling water, blanch the turnip greens until almost tender, about 30-45 seconds. Remove from water using tongs and rinse under cold water (or transfer to bowl of ice water to stop from cooking). Set aside.

In a saucepan, bring remaining broth to a low boil over medium-low heat. On a back burner, keep broth warm over low heat and keep a measuring cup nearby.

Melt Earth Balance over medium heat in a large skillet (3-4” deep) and add leeks. Sauté leeks until soft and translucent, 8-10 minutes. Add both the garlic and thyme and cook an additional 30 seconds until garlic becomes fragrant. Add remaining turnips and Arborio rice to skillet and stir well to completely coat with seasonings.

Increase heat to medium high and continue to stir rice another 1 minute. When rice begins to sizzle, add ¾ cup of warm vegetable broth to skillet and stir. Let rice absorb broth and stir occasionally, 10-15 minutes. When rice has absorbed all of the liquid, reduce heat to medium and add another ¾ cup of broth. Stirring occasionally let rice cook another 15-20 minutes until it has absorbed most of the liquid.

While rice cooks, make the walnut topping. Toast walnuts in a pan over medium high heat until they become fragrant and start to deepen in color (I know they’re already brown, but you get it). Remove from heat and transfer to food processor with a pinch of salt and nutritional yeast. Blend until finely crumbled. Set aside.

Returning to the rice, if mixture is not done yet, add another ½ cup of broth and let rice absorb until cooked. Whisk the miso into ½ cup of vegetable broth. Add miso and turnips greens to rice mixture and stir well. Season with small pinch of white pepper. Top with roasted turnips and walnut topping.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Simple Salads: Cucumber, Avocado, Fennel Salad

Embrace the chiffonade of basil, hail the geometric jicama cube, enjoy the julienne of carrot, cherish those zucchini shavings – all the ways we cut and prepare vegetables can be so….edible! Salads, as commonly referred by most eaters of the Standard American Diet (SAD), are boring. Tasteless. Hippie food. All vegetarians ever eat, right? Excuse me while I throw my slimy avocado peels into your bag of Doritos, but no. While vegetarians eat more than salads, this underestimated dish is not to be ignored! Oh the possibilities when you have too many ripe vegetables and an entrée in mind that doesn’t require them. Why not a side salad? Sure, they’re not the main act, but sometimes they offer a good intermission from your meal without requiring you to stop participating.

So maybe I went to the Farmers Market and maybe I blew $40 on vegetables alone. This is not uncommon for me; I just have to be very diligent about consuming everything. I can’t throw out produce and I am not in a position to compost just yet. When I arrived home and started planning out my lunch, I had a main course salad in mind that ended up being more of a macrobiotic plate of steamed greens, sweet potatoes, squash, purple cauliflower, snow peas, and black beans.

But I had so many fresh, glowing, washed and ready-to-slice veggies that I couldn’t bypass just because my main dish struck a different note. I had already pulled out the cucumber and fennel. Then the avocado that I sliced open last night begged me to scoop it out already before falling victim to a new shade of brown.

The texture of paper thin vegetables is highly appealing to me, so I generally love slicing vegetables that way, particularly fennel and cucumber. To me they have a much more radiant flavor when finely sliced rather than left to their laboriously thick layers, as in the case with fennel. But I also love salsas consisting of fresh chunky cubes of jicama, watermelon, mango, tomatoes, etc... Slices and cubes don’t always mesh well in one dish; conflicting geometry can be highly mysterious and challenging to a fork. But the glorious, buttery avocado has more influence in this salad as a cube with its forgiving texture than as a slice that might mush too much amongst other sturdier sliced veggies. It pairs beautifully with slices without perplexing your utensils.

I did not make a vinaigrette with the first batch of salad. On the second attempt, I added a touch of lemon juice that did not add much to the dish. If this doesn’t have enough kick for you, an orange juice vinaigrette may take it to a new level.

Cucumber, Avocado and Fennel Salad
Serves 4
Prep time: 10 minutes
Total cook time: 15 minutes.


1 ripe avocado*, cubed
1 small cucumber, finely sliced
1 small fennel bulb, finely sliced
8-10 large basil leaves
Sea salt to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste


Combine the avocado, cucumber and fennel in a large mixing bowl. Set aside.

Lay each of the basil leaves flat on top of each other. Starting from the pointed end, roll the pile into a little cigar shaped roll. With a sharp knife, slice the basil very, very thinly starting from the right end, making your way left, a chiffonade. Sprinkle the basil “sprigs” over the vegetables.

Let salad sit and marinate in its own juices for at least 15 minutes.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Lentil and Root Vegetable Stew

Well I’ve started a detox. Not an official detox diet (yet) where you follow a strict regiment and prepare exact recipes as part of a plan crafted by an Ayurvedic counselor, but along the lines of “giving more stuff up.” How is this humanly possible? Crazy lady already chooses not to consume meat, dairy, butter and eggs. What else is there? And if you gave so much up, how could you be putting up a recipe?

Added to my list of “detrimental to your health”: Gluten, refined sugar, alcohol, chocolate, vinegar…oh my! Why are they so bad? I could go into a lengthy explanation, but as I am not a professional and at the risk of sounding preachy, I will resist. Our bodies don’t take well to these substances when they are consumed in the amounts we typically eat. I love bread, wine, and chocolate – who doesn’t? But my stomach and ever more prevalent state of lethargy urged me to recognize the roles of these substances in my overall health. Do I plan to do this together? I’m crazy but I’m not stupid. Please….like I could give up chocolate.

I have however fallen off the healthy bandwagon - eating alarming amounts of potato chips while waiting for a meal to start, dining out and ordering wraps or veggies burgers with highly processed ingredients, drinking lots of red wine, snacking on Trader Joe’s rice snacks or peanut butter filled pretzels when I’m nowhere near hungry, indulging in ice cream more often than an indulgence is typically defined. By most people’s standards, this doesn’t sound too bad. I’m not eating chicken wings with ranch for a late night snack after 6 pints of beer (which I have been known to do more than a few times. But what happens in Madison stays in Madison). Snacking on rice crackers and soy ice cream are fine, right? Yes, but feeling like crap is not.

I’ve also had some long standing issues with food that require attention. For instance, every family picnic, potluck, holiday or birthday party guarantees a 4 hour munch. I can only hold off eating too much hummus and pita at happy hour for so long until my mind changes gears. Then some alter ego invades my mind and tells me to quit being so limiting and the munching cascade ensues. I think this ego is the remains of my persona in college, desperate to revive that stage of eating anything and everything because of my absolute ignorance about nutrition and desire to socialize at events revolving around alcohol. I could late night snack with the pros; a 2 pound steak after 4 gin and tonics couldn’t stop this girl. This alter ego tells me to run it off tomorrow and just cut down on my calories the next day. Not a good way to eat when this happens at Christmas (x2), New Years, Weekly Happy Hour, 1 Year Old Birthday Party, and Picnic in the Park. It’s only February!

So my solution? Detox (or treatment for multiple personality disorder). Flush it out and start over. A detox can help you mentally and physically by ridding your body of toxins, particularly in the liver, and by giving your mind a chance to reach a new sort of clarity that we rarely experience on a daily basis. After reading a lot of literature about detox diets, a good rinse made its way on the menu. Commonly practiced and recommended by many (provided you don’t have some threatening disorder or aren’t pregnant), they are used to cleanse the organs, clear the mind and start anew when you’re feeling heavy and troubled. So how did I approach my detox?

I haven’t followed an official diet, but I plan to someday. After reading about a news anchor that detoxed for 28 days giving up everything listed above, I read the exclusion list and knew I could do it too. It has prevented me from succumbing to late night ice cream, munching on crackers, and pigging out because of some mental hang-up. So here I am 4 days into it and feeling much better. My stomach feels so much better, which makes me want to treat it more nicely. I am learning to enjoy social outings that don’t involve 2 glasses of wine (for me). My mind is carving out thought process that steers me away from overeating. So what did I eat?

I don’t have a juicer or a Vitamix, so I haven’t been living on smoothies and green machine juices recommended by many “flushes.” I also don’t have a dehydrator so I couldn’t go completely raw. This has left me with an abundance of fresh and dried fruit, raw or lightly steamed vegetables, some beans, whole grains (sprouted or cooked), nuts and tea. After the first day of eating only fruit and steamed vegetables with a few almonds and walnuts in there, I craved something for dinner that was warm and filling but light at the same time.

This soup was my answer and it was absolutely fabulous. It was both sweet and savory from the root vegetables and herbs, hearty enough from the lentils, and thick enough by pureeing some of the soup. It felt clean and satisfying with all the protein, fiber and complex carbs. Would have been nice with some flax crackers….but it’ll have to wait until I get that dehydrator.

Lentil and Root Vegetable Stew

Serves: 3-4
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes – 1 hour


½ T. Coconut Oil
½ Medium onion, chopped
1 Medium celery stalk, chopped
1 Large garlic clove, minced ~ 2 tsp
1 Bay leaf
½ T. Thyme, dried
1 tsp Marjoram, dried
½ tsp Rosemary, dried
1 tsp Salt
1 c. Sweet potato, cubed
¾ c. Turnips, cubed
¾ c. Parsnips, cubed
¾ c. Lentils (dry), rinsed
2 c. Vegetable broth (made with 1 cube of bouillon)
3-4 c. Water
Black pepper to taste
Fresh parsley, chopped (optional)


In a large crock pot, heat coconut oil over medium heat and add onion and celery. Sauté until transparent, ~ 7-8 minutes. Add garlic, herbs, and salt and cook another 30 seconds – 1 minute.

Add sweet potato, turnips, parsnips and lentils. Stir well to completely coat vegetables with seasoning. Add vegetable broth and water, and increase heat to medium high. When soup reaches a boil, turn to medium low, maintaining a vigorous simmer and cook until lentils are done, ~ 30-45 minutes.

When lentils are done and veggies are soft, turn heat off and season with pepper to taste. Transfer 1 cup of soup into a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Pour this back into the soup and puree an additional cup if you’d like a thicker soup. Garnish with fresh parsley if desired.