Monthly Archives: April 2014

Dos! Refried Beans for Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo 004If you feel you need to stretch out the pre-party preparations, today would be a good day to make the Refried Beans since they can be stored for a few days without compromising quality. I like to use Better Than Bouillon No Chicken Base, but you can use vegetable broth or water.  Add a little water to the beans when you reheat them the day of the party. If you like a creamier texture to your refried beans, you can process them using an immersion blender.

Refried Beans

1 tablespoon olive oil (optional)
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon Chili powder
1 (15-ounce) can pinto beans drained (or 2 cups if cooking from scratch)
2/3 cup low-sodium vegetable broth or water
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 jalapeno, seeds removed, diced

Saute onion and garlic in olive oil until softened. For a fat-free version, saute by adding water 2 tablespoons at a time to prevent sticking. Add chili powder, pinto beans and broth. Cook for 5 minutes. Using the back of a spoon or a potato masher, mash beans to desired consistency adding broth as needed. Garnish with cilantro and jalapenos. You can refrigerate the beans for a few days. Simply add a little water before reheating in the microwave at 80% power until warmed through.

30 Apr 2014

Uno! Recaito and Spanish Rice

Cinco de Mayo 015You can find some type of Spanish Rice on the menu in most Mexican restaurants. Some versions are a plain yellow rice seasoned with Sazon. Other versions are more complex, like this recipe for Spanish Rice. Let’s start with Recaito, which is an aromatic seasoning base used in Latin cooking. This recipe came from a Dominican woman named Providencia with whom I worked many years ago. When I asked her how to make Spanish rice, she brought in all the ingredients for Recaito. I’ve been using this ever since. I usually freeze it in ice cube trays and use one or two recaito cubes at a time. Recao (or culantro) is a leafy plant that smells like cilantro. Aijes dulces are small, sweet peppers. You can find both in an ethnic market. If you can’t find the fresh ingredients or don’t have enough time, look for Goya’s Recaito and the Sazon in the ethnic food aisle of your grocery store. I strongly encourage you to make it fresh as it is much more flavorful. I’ve also stirred this into black beans for a simple, yet flavorful black bean soup. Be sure to check in tomorrow for my Refried Beans recipe. Hasta Luego y Gracias!


Recaito 002Cinco de Mayo 009



1 bunch of cilantro
1 small bunch of recao (culantro)
1 green bell pepper, seeds removed
1 red bell pepper, seeds removed
1 large yellow onion
20 cloves of garlic
20 aijes dulces, stems removed

Process all ingredients in food processor. Portion off into small containers or ice cube trays and freeze.

Spanish Rice

2 cubes or Tbsp. of Recaito
1 Tbsp. olive oil (optional)
1 cup rice
2 cups Better Than Bouillon “No Chicken” broth or water
2 Tbsp. salsa
1/4 packet of Sazon

Heat oil in 1 qt. sauce pot. Add recaito and rice and sauté for 1 minute. Add broth, salsa and Sazon. Bring to boil, reduce heat then simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Raise heat to high and cook uncovered for about 2 minutes until bottom layer of rice gets slightly browned. Makes 3 cups of cooked rice.


29 Apr 2014

Uno, Dos, Tres, Cuatro, Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo 018I don’t what it is about Cinco de Mayo, but next to Thanksgiving and Christmas, it’s one of my favorite food holidays. Maybe it’s the margaritas, maybe it’s the mariachi music; I just love it. Because Mexican cuisine relies heavily on rice and beans, it lends itself nicely to a plant-based diet. Now that’s a reason to celebrate! In anticipation of Cinco de Mayo, I will help you plan a fun fiesta for your family and friends. With some advance preparation, it can also be stress free. Depending on what size crowd you’re having and how much time you have, you can always use a combination of home-made and store-bought items. I’ve included the brand names for some of items on the menu. The important thing is that you make it fun. Over the next few days, I will post recipes for Refried Beans, Spanish Rice, Guacamole, Veggie Fajitas and Margaritas. Since Cinco de Mayo is on a Monday this year, my goal is to get all my posts done by Thursday just in case you want to celebrate this weekend. I made the entire meal in one afternoon. I don’t think the tomatoes that are available right now would do any salsa recipe justice, so use your favorite store brand. If your guests offer to bring something, ask them to pick up the sorbets, fresh fruit salad or Coronas. Be sure to come back for the post on how to make Spanish Rice. Hasta Luego y Gracias!

Margaritas (Jose Cuervo)
Ole, Guacamole
Salsa – Green Mountain Gringo ( )
Cowboy Caviar (Trader Joe’s)
Tortilla Chips – Utz Baked Tortilla Chips (
Grilled Veggie Fajitas
Soft tortillas
Spanish Rice
Refried Beans
Assorted sorbets
Fruit salad

29 Apr 2014

Shells Stuffed with Spinach-Tofu-Cashew Ricotta

Stuffed Shells 004As promised, I’m back to share my recipe for Tofu-Cashew Ricotta. And while I’m at it, I might as well make some stuffed shells. Over the weekend, my sister-in-law Geri and I were talking about tofu. We just don’t understand why it’s so alluring. Sure, it always seems to taste good in Asian food, but that’s probably because it’s stir fried. As an ingredient in stir fry recipes, it’s just a sponge for oil. There seems to be a lot of recipes that use tofu to mimic cheese, so I thought I’d try my hand at that. I’ve made tofu-spinach lasagne before, but it always seemed to fall flat. Ricotta made from dairy milk has a grainy texture and an oh-so-subtle tang to it. That’s when it hit me . . .  cashews. The cashew cream cheese from a previous post had that tang. If I don’t process it into a silky smooth texture and cut it with tofu, could I get closer to the real thing? Yes! Now don’t get too excited. No matter what others might tell you, plant-based meat and cheese alternatives do not taste like the real thing. Once I learned to accept that, I was no longer disappointed when my reality did not meet my expectations. You might wonder why I even bothered trying to recreate ricotta. Well, I didn’t expect it to taste like the ricotta I grew up on. I just wanted to find a way to enjoy tofu in a flavorful way and the result was not disappointing. By adding spinach to the mix, it narrowed the taste gap between dairy and tofu ricotta. Just two more comments before I get into the recipe. The first one is about product shrinkage. When I got home from the store, I noticed that what used to be a one-pound box of jumbo shells is now 12 ounces. My plan was to create a recipe for 8 ounces of shells, but I ended up using only 6 ounces. The planets must have been aligned because my filling calculation for 8 ounces of shells filled all but two broken shells of the 6 ounces I cooked up.  I ate the two broken ones un-stuffed and un-sauced. The second comment is about preparing a large quantity of foods that freeze well. When I make marinara sauce, I double or triple the recipe and freeze the leftovers. It’s just makes sense to make a mess once and get several meals from your effort. Marinara sauce can be used to top a pizza, toss with pasta, saute with onions and green beans. You can freeze the baked shells with the sauce; or freeze the uncooked shells for a later date. Well, Geralyn, this one’s for you. I hope you try it, I hope you enjoy it. Thanks for stopping by.

Marinara Sauce

Olive oil (optional)
1 small onion, minced
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp. fennel seeds, ground
1 (28 oz.) can of crushed tomatoes
Fresh basil
Salt and pepper

Saute onion and garlic in olive oil if using. For a fat-free version, sauté by adding water 2 tablespoons at a time to prevent sticking. Add ground fennel seeds and sauté for another minute. Add tomatoes, basil and salt and pepper to taste. Cover and simmer 45 to 60 minutes until thickened.

Tofu-Cashew Ricotta

1 cup raw cashews, soaked overnight
8 oz. firm tofu
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tsp. sugar

1 tsp. miso paste or 1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. nutritional yeast (optional)

Press excess water from tofu by either using a tofu press (if you have one) or wrapping in paper towels and placing a heavy can on top. Place soaked cashews, lemon juice, sugar and miso or salt in food processor. Process until smooth but slightly grainy. Add tofu and nutritional yeast and process until incorporated. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Stuffed Shells 001

Shells Stuffed with Spinach-Tofu-Cashew Ricotta

6 oz. jumbo shells, cooked according to package directions
10 oz. frozen spinach, defrosted
1 recipe of Tofu-Cashew Ricotta
1 clove of garlic, pressed
Marinara sauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Squeeze as much water as possible out of the spinach. Fold spinach, garlic, salt and pepper into tofu-cashew ricotta. Using a small spoon, stuff shells with filling. Cover the bottom of a baking pan with sauce. Arrange shells on top of sauce, then spoon additional sauce over the shells. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 25 to 30 minutes until thoroughly heated. Makes about 18 to 20 stuffed shells.

Stuffed Shells 002

28 Apr 2014

I’m Not Me When I’m Hungry

Chowpatty Chat Chowpatty ThaliOne of the most challenging aspects of switching to a plant-based diet for me was (and still is) what to do when visiting or traveling. If we’re visiting family or friends, I typically bring along a few meals and snacks that transport easily and seek out a restaurant that I can “veganize”.  It may be hard to believe, but I’d rather bring my own food than resort to eating out. Even though many restaurants try to accommodate our requests, I find that many chefs use way too much oil or salt in their dishes. And trying to find someplace to eat “on the fly” is even more difficult. Maybe you’ve seen this candy bar commercial and the one guy says to the other guy, “You’re not yourself when you’re hungry.” Well that’s me. When I’m hungry, I’m cranky. Really cranky.

So this weekend was a bit more challenging. When we brought Mom home from her plant-based boot camp on Friday, the car was loaded and there was little room for food.  So I knew we would be eating out quite a bit. I had it planned out, sort of. Friday night we go for Thai food. Saturday we would grab a rice, bean and avocado wrap at Mr. Wraps; then snack on some buffalo hummus at our grandson Shea’s birthday party. We ate leftovers on Saturday night. After a busy morning on Sunday, we were hoping to get something to eat before heading down the turnpike. Two of the restaurants we wanted to go to were closed, so we decided to try an Indian restaurant in Iselin. We went to a place called Chowpatty. ( The menu was not in English. I was happy to hear our waiter say that everything on the menu was vegetarian.  The chef came to our table and suggested some dairy-free substitutions. I’m still not sure what we ate, but it was delicious. We started off with a bowl of  Samosa Chat. It looked like puffed rice, Chinese crispy noodles and a thick sauce. Then we had a dish called Thali, which I likened to a Chinese pu-pu platter. The Thali had a few different vegetable medleys, each with its own spicy sauce; rice, rotli (flat bread), a savory cracker and some relishes. Very fun and very tasty.  You know the saying, “When one door closes, another one opens”. Well this is so true for me. I don’t think I would have ever tried Indian food if I hadn’t adopted a plant-based diet. When I closed the door on eating meat and dairy, I opened up a door that lead me to so many different cuisines. I would love for you to share some of your dining experiences with me, both good and bad. If I get enough reviews from you, I’ll dedicate an entire page of Vegi-curious restaurant reviews . . . for you, by you. Thanks for stopping by.

27 Apr 2014

Flat Bread Pizza & Shaved Fennel Salad

Fennel Salad & Pizza 001If you’ve ever owned a side-by-side refrigerator, you know how easy it is for food to get buried for a few weeks. I’m constantly rearranging my fridge only to find what once was a perfectly edible leftover has turned into another addition to the compost pile. It’s good to make a habit of going through your refrigerator every few weeks for two reasons. First, you can discard any science projects that accidentally get moved to the back of the fridge. Second, it just might inspire you to create a new recipe. Tonight, I’m going to make Flat Bread Pizzas so I can use up a container of marinara sauce that’s been in the freezer for a few months, some leftover sautéed mushrooms and a renegade green pepper. When you think about it, what does one do with a single green pepper anyway? I also unearthed a fennel bulb that was slated for farro soup, but has been transformed into a Shaved Fennel Salad as a side for the pizza. Fennel (aka Anise) is actually an herb that has a celery-like crunch with a hint of licorice. Fennel seeds are a product of this plant. It’s low in calories and is a good source of phyto-nutrients, antioxidants, fiber and potassium. When buying fennel look for bulbs that are clean, firm and solid, without signs of splitting, bruising or spotting. The bulbs should be whitish or pale green in color. Both the stalks and the leaves (fronds) should be green in color.

Shaved Fennel Salad

1 large fennel bulb
½ large red onion, sliced thinly
Dried oregano
White balsamic vinegar
Olive oil (optional)
Black olives (optional)

Cut fronds from fennel bulb. Cut fennel lengthwise into four sections. Remove core, then slice thinly. Toss together with onion, oregano, vinegar, olive oil and black olives if using, salt and garlic powder.

For the flat bread pizza, you can use store-bought flat breads. I usually buy oblong Tandoori Naan flat breads at an ethnic market, but you can use any type of flat bread. Simply preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place the flat breads on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Spoon the marinara on the bread, sprinkle with dried oregano, and sprinkle on your toppings. Bake until sauce bubbles and desired crispness is reached, about 10 minutes.

Fennel Salad & Pizza 004Fennel Salad & Pizza 006Fennel Salad & Pizza 003

The pizza breakdown went something like this: Mom had hers with mushrooms, peppers & onions with marinara. Bruce had kalamata olives, peppers & onions with marinara. I had a “white” pizza with broccoli & garlic with cashew-tofu ricotta pie. My next post will be devoted to making cashew-tofu ricotta for this unconventional style pizza. It’s all good. Thanks for stopping by.

25 Apr 2014

Chocolate Silk and Earth Day


Chocolate Silk 004Chocolate lovers rejoice! If you think you can’t enjoy chocolate while on a plant-based diet, well think again. Many dark chocolates do not contain milk, so you can use it to make a variety of desserts. I have been baking cakes and cookies for most of my life, so it’s only natural for me to embrace the challenges of making plant-based desserts. Some of those challenges include not being able to use butter, eggs or milk. And then there’s all of those specialty ingredients like spelt flour, coconut sugar, almond flour, potato starch, chick pea flour. The list goes on and on, the prices go up and up and you put a lot of mileage on your car seeking out a store that sells the stuff. Yes, I do that all the time, but for me it’s like a treasure hunt. If you’re not an accomplished baker or you’re just looking for a quick “fix”, then Chocolate Silk is the dessert for you. The basic recipe contains two ingredients. Silken tofu and dark chocolate. You can make it before dinner and enjoy it for dessert the same night. You can dress it up by adding liqueur, extracts, nuts or spices. I love the combination of chocolate and orange, so I add the zest of one orange. If you don’t have a zester, I highly recommend getting the rasp-type model made by Microplane. The trick to this is to hold the rasp side down so that the zest collects on the cupped side. You can use a small stainless steel bowl set on top of a slightly larger pot if you don’t have a double boiler. The beauty of this recipe is its simplicity . . .  and it’s taste. One final note. We have only one Earth, be kind to it; eat more plant foods. Thanks for stopping by.

Tofu Chocolate Pudding

1 container of Silken tofu (12 oz.)
2/3 to ¾ cup dairy-free dark chocolate

In double boiler, melt chocolate. While chocolate is melting, place tofu in food processor and blend until smooth. Add melted chocolate to food processor and blend thoroughly. Spoon into small ramekins and refrigerate. If you’d like to use a pastry bag to pipe the pudding, refrigerate before piping. You can experiment with a variety of add-ins: orange zest; liqueurs such as Grand Marnier, Frangelico, Amaretto; instant espresso powder; cinnamon; chopped or ground nuts.


Chocolate Silk 001 Chocolate Silk 002Chocolate Silk 003

23 Apr 2014

Two and a Half Vegans

Escarole and Beans 003I’ve been trying to get my Mom to adopt a plant-based diet for several months. In November, we traveled to Wichita to visit my brother and family. Mom was a trooper. She was really trying to eat what Bruce and I ate . . . most of the time. I started referring to our ensemble as “Two and a Half Vegans”. For those of you who have been lucky enough to have dinner at Mom’s house, you know that this is a BIG change for her. After all, she is the queen of frying. No matter when you went to visit, she was frying something. Chicken cutlets, meatballs, eggplant . . . you know what I’m talking about. So I was somewhat surprised, yet happy, when she said that she gave away all of the meat in her freezer a few weeks ago.

Well, Mom is visiting with us for Easter week. She’s a bit more determined to follow a plant-based diet and I’m hoping I’ll be able to give her some ideas for simple plant-based meals she can make for herself. Hey if she can do it, you can do it. I’ll be trying to come up with some plain and simple meals and other strategies to help her stay with the program. Kind of a “meat-and-potatoes” meal plan without the meat, of course. Tonight we had Escarole and Beans. I was planning to make a meal of it, but underestimated my ingredients. So I paired it with a grilled portobello-roasted pepper-cashew cream cheese sandwich. Double the recipe and you can get away serving it with a nice rustic Italian bread, toasted of course. Thanks for visiting and come back soon!

Escarole and Beans

1 Tbsp. olive oil (optional)
4 large cloves of garlic, or more
crushed red pepper
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 Tbsp. fresh parsley, minced
2 cans low sodium cannelini beans
1 large head of escarole, broken into pieces

Warm olive oil in large pot. Add garlic and brown slightly. (For a fat-free version, eliminate the oil and saute garlic by adding 2 Tbsp. of water at a time to prevent sticking.) Add red pepper and heat until aromatic. Add beans, tomato paste, parsley and about ½ can of water. Simmer for about 5 to 10 minutes or until slightly thickened. Add escarole and continue cooking until escarole is soft, adding water as needed.

21 Apr 2014

Pasta Puttanesca

This Easter I didLongwood something that is so out of character for me — I got out of the kitchen! There are two big holidays for Italians and they both revolve around food. The biggest holiday is Christmas Eve and the next one is Easter. For Easter, my family would spend all day Saturday baking meat pies to celebrate the end of the Lenten fast. And if that wasn’t enough, Easter Sunday started off by making gravy with meatballs, sausage and bracciole. It was a lot of work, but I never realized until today how much work it really was. You know why I finally figured this out at this point in my life? I had an “ah-ha” moment because I didn’t do it this year. Instead, Bruce and I decided to take Mom to Longwood Gardens for Easter Sunday. We spent the day walking through acres of outdoor gardens with fountains and topiary and an indoor conservatory that houses hundreds of trees, flowers and cacti from around the world. Definitely worth the visit if you’re in the area Honestly, I thought I was going to feel a little guilty about not being tethered to my stove, but it actually felt pretty good. This Easter, instead of spending the entire weekend preparing food, we spent time together.  When we returned home, I prepared a quick menu of pasta puttanesca, tossed salad and crusty Italian bread. If you’re not Italian or not from Brooklyn, let me fill you in on “puttanesca”. “Puttana”  means harlot in Italian. The story behind pasta puttanesca goes something like this: before leaving for “work” the harlots would make a sauce of fresh tomatoes, olives, capers, garlic and olive oil and let it marinate while they were out. When they returned home from “work”, dinner would be ready. Well, I wasn’t exactly “working” today, but I was out all day. I made a cooked version of the sauce since fresh tomatoes are not in season. The entire meal came together in about 45 minutes. Less time in the kitchen, a delicious Easter dinner, more time with family . . .  now that’s a tradition worth embracing. Hope you all had an enjoyable holiday.

Pasta Puttanesca

1 Tbsp. olive oil (optional)
3 large cloves of garlic, chopped
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley
½ tsp. dried marjoram
Crushed red pepper to taste
1 can (28 oz.) chunky crushed tomatoes
¼ cup chopped Kalamata olives
¼ cup capers, drained
1 lb. pasta, cooked according to directions

Place olive oil and garlic in deep sauté pan and sauté until light brown. (You can eliminate the oil and saute by adding water 2 tablespoons at a time to prevent sticking.) Add parsley, marjoram and red pepper and cook until aromatic. Add tomatoes, olives and capers. Bring to boil then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. While the sauce is cooking, prepare pasta; reserve about one cup of the pasta water before draining. Add drained pasta to sauce in sauté pan adding the reserved water as needed.

Puttanesca 003

21 Apr 2014

Cheesy Stuffed Baked Potatoes

Udon Salad, Stuffed Potatoes 004Those of you who have known me for awhile know that for a very brief time I was a Home Economics teacher in New Jersey. I actually spent more time completing the coursework for certification than I did teaching. Returning to school as an adult was very rewarding; teaching students that were disrespectful and disruptive was not. I’ve heard that the biggest failure you can have in life is not trying at all, so no regrets here. A big reason I considered the teaching profession was my love of cooking and the desire to teach others how to cook. I guess this is part of the reason I started my blog. If my posts seem like your high school cooking class, it’s just my teaching approach of building on previously learned skills. So that brings us to Cheesy Stuffed Baked Potatoes, which is really not a recipe but an example of the building blocks of cooking. In case you missed any of the previous posts or were asleep in class, let’s review:

  1. For this recipe you will use russet potatoes because they have a fluffy texture and are ideal for baking.
  2. Hopefully, you froze a portion of the Three Bean Chili.
  3. You know how easy it is to make Cashew Cream.
  4. You’ve learned to make a basic non-dairy Cheese Sauce for macaroni and cheese and greedily made extra sauce.

That’s all you need to know to make these Cheesy Stuffed Baked Potatoes. Simply bake the potatoes at 350 degrees. I prefer baking the potatoes, but you can use a microwave if pressed for time. When fully baked, cut in half and scoop out enough of the potato flesh to make a cradle for your stuffing ingredients. Fill the cradle with piping hot chili or broccoli and drizzle the top with the warmed cheese sauce. Serve with a side salad and you have a quick and satisfying meal. It may sound like a lot of work, but if you plan ahead and save your leftovers, you’ll be able to vary future meals with little effort. Hope to see you in class again and don’t be late!

17 Apr 2014

%d bloggers like this: