Thursday, October 6, 2011

Adventures in Vegan Cooking with Jenn Adler

Several months ago my brother's good friend Jenn requested some assistance in learning to cook vegan meals. And I... completely dropped the ball and left her hanging! Well, until yesterday that is when Jenn and I experienced our first session of Adventures in Vegan Cooking!

"I'm not a vegetarian, but I play one on TV..."

er... at home. I am a vehemently equal-opportunity cook and eater. If it sounds tasty, I will try to make it. If I like it, I will eat it. For a lot of home cooks I have spoken to however, there seems to be a certain mystique around vegans or at least the belief that it's challenging to prepare a completely meat & dairy-free meal. I'm not an expert on the subject by any means, but really, when was the last time someone slapped a piece of meat on a plate and said, "yup - that's it. Just the meat." No, we all incorporate fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and legumes into our cooking repertoire to have a variety of flavors, textures, colors and nutrients in our diets. Due to the high cost of most meats, and the fact that I really like vegetables and legumes, many of my meals at home tend toward the vegetarian (not vegan - I generally use dairy/eggs at home). These days most everyone has a friend or family member who is vegetarian or vegan. Instead of causing conflict, these culinary differences should provide an opportunity to expand our horizons beyond our own standard fare.
So I was happy to drive down to Providence yesterday for an evening of vegan cooking. I should state upfront that Jenn impresses the heck out of me*. In addition to being a graphic designer she is the sole owner and creative force behind the Survival by Design line of greeting cards; a locally produced, woman-owned business of sassy and irreverent cards. Anyone who follows their heart and their dreams (especially for creative businesses!) is a gem in my book. Jenn presented me with a great opportunity to offer her a lesson in basic cooking techniques while allowing me to stretch my creativity a bit to create a completely vegan dinner.

We started by talking about what Jenn likes to eat and settled on making a butternut squash risotto and some type of cooked greens (swiss chard, collards, spinach, kale, etc). We were extremely fortunate that the local farmer's market on Hope Street was taking place that afternoon and made that our first stop.

What an abundance of gorgeous produce! We purchased kale, spinach, amazing candy-like yellow grape tomatoes and onion as well as plenty of oohing and ahhing over heirloom tomatoes, microgreens from Farming Turtles (which I really wanted to bring home as I'm partial to Bull's Blood beet microgreens but don't have space in the window box right now) and these curious red noodle beans, which neither of us had seen before.
Bok choy, kale and swiss chard. Photo credit J. Adler
Red and white onions. Photo credit J. Adler
Heirloom tomatoes. Photo credit J. Adler
Red noodle beans. Photo credit J. Adler
Luscious tomatoes! Photo credit J. Adler
After leaving the farmer's market we made a stop at Wildflour,  a vegan bakery-cafe in Pawtucket. This place has everything you could want in a bakery-cafe: enough space to sit, magazines so you don't feel like you have to rush, a stunning display of baked goods, a variety of juices and coffee drinks as well as savory snacks. I haven't had much experience with vegan baking - I've only tried my hand at it once and have eaten another friend's vegan sweet rolls on another occasion. Neither was particularly successful. Wildflour's options however, all appeared tummy-grumbling delicious. I picked out a pumpkin-maple whoopie pie and an apple cider cupcake for dessert (they were delicious - truly). Our last stop was at Whole Foods where we picked up the last few ingredients we needed for our dinner.

Vegan Butternut Squash Risotto - serves 4
4 cups butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed
1 cup onion, finely diced
4 portions arborio rice
1T olive oil
1/2 cup white wine - optional
1 quart vegetable stock (homemade or a low-sodium brand)
fresh sage, chiffonade
salt & pepper to taste

Heat the stock in a small sauce pan.

Follow the normal process for making risotto. Heat the oil in a stock pot. Add the onion and sweat. Add the squash and saute for a few minutes. Add the rice and stir to combine. If using white wine add it now and reduce to au sec (until all wine has evaporated). Add just enough hot stock to cover the rice and squash and let simmer. As liquid is slowly absorbed add more stock until the rice is fully cooked. Season with sage, salt and pepper to taste. Serve.

Warm Spinach Salad with Pinenuts, Grape Tomatoes and Cranberries - serves 2
2T pinenuts
2T dried cranberries
6 loose cups fresh baby spinach, washed
1/2 cup onion, thinly sliced
1 cup grape tomatoes, sliced in half
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1T olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add the pinenuts to the skillet (dry - no oil), stirring occasionally and toast until golden. Watch the nuts carefully - they will go from golden to burned quickly. Pour into a bowl and set aside.

Heat the olive oil and add the onion. Saute until beginning to turn golden. Add the cranberries and balsamic vinegar and reduce. Once you have achieved a nice syrupy coating over the onions and cranberries toss in the tomatoes and spinach. Season with salt and pepper, add pinenuts and toss to coat in the sauce. Serve immediately.

I was preoccupied with teaching Jenn the various steps of cutting, chopping, cooking and seasoning to take pictures (plus I forgot my camera at home!) but Jenn snapped this pic of the finished product with her phone (as well as the above photos from the farmer's market).
Vegan butternut risotto and warm spinach salad. Photo credit J. Adler
With all of the fantastic fall produce available now I hope you will try a few meatless dishes. I am definitely looking forward to the next session of Adventures in Vegan Cooking!

*No, I was not paid to say this. Yes, it is true - I am in awe of Jenn's business and I really do send her cards to my friends. Spoiler alert to my sassy real-life friends - this is the Christmas card you'll be receiving this year.

1 comment:

  1. These recipes sound delicious, love visiting the farmer's market! I try to eat vegan whenever possible, and might just have to try this risotto recipe! Don't give up on Vegan baking, you will master it if you try again I have a feeling ;)!


I love reading your comments! If you have a question that requires a personal response please email me using the information located on the Contact page. Thank you for reading and happy cooking!