Our Final Culinary School Dinner: Put Some South in Yo’ Mouth

Nope, not your average meat and three or butter and cheese-loaded mac and cheese and cornbread-fest. Given my penchant for anything southern and involving glazed pecans, it’ll come as no surprise that my six-person culinary-cohort settled on a southern themed epicurean paradise. ¬†And this past Friday night (times two because I wrote it two weeks ago and forgot) was the culmination of my chef’s training program at the Natural Gourmet Institute: a three course vegan meal for 100 people.

Also of note, my amazing boyfriend who could subsist (ew did I just say amazing boyfriend? I hate people who wax poetic about that kind of stuff) on eggs and lean chicken breast alone with a wild aversion to all things plant-based, offered rave reviews of the bean and mushroom stout pot pie (even more miraculously, he hates both beans and mushrooms) and probably tried about five new vegetables in the appetizer alone.

After countless hours of chiffonading greens (because, hey, I can kind of do that now), supreming oranges (which, hey, I can also do) and arguing for spiralized beet “noodles” over roasted pickled beets, we managed to pull it all off. Behold, a few favorite photos from the feast.

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9 Genius Tricks for Ordering Chinese Take-out

You know those nights when you don’t want to cook? Yeah, I don’t really either. But on those rare nights where nothing will hit the spot quite like greasy Chinese food, here are some simple but brilliant tips for keeping it vegan.

1. Scallion pancakes. Enough said.

2. Ask what’s in their brown sauce or garlic sauce. Both can have oyster sauce or other animal products.

3. If the other sauces aren’t vegan friendly, here’s a simple swap: Ask for the “clear sauce” instead. This simple corn-starch based sauce (sometimes studded with scallions) is vegan.

4. A great entree option (that’s super healthy too) is mixed steamed veggies with brown rice and clear sauce (on the side, if you like). Extra hungry? Have tofu added (some menus already have this included) for some filling protein.

5. Sharing with multiple folks? If they’re getting tasty vegan options like baby eggplant, veggie trios, stir-fried crispy tofu with chile and cumin, braised assorted fresh mushrooms, mixed veggies and tofu, etc. (hungry yet?) ask for the sauce on the side, you can avoid those that aren’t vegan. And things like cold sesame peanut noodles, veggie dumplings, etc. you don’t have to worry about asking the sauce issue because it either comes on the side or is vegan.

6. Ask if they have any vegan soups. (or vegetarian, I’ve never heard of a Chinese restaurant that adds dairy to soups, or uses any kind of dairy for that matter. When was the last time you heard of chicken Teriyaki with melted cheese?)

7. Ask if they can omit egg from your veggie fried rice.

8. Don’t stress too much. If you accidentally ingest an ounce of brown sauce with animal products in it or inadvertently have a bite of something glazed with fish sauce, don’t sweat it. You want to show people how simple and delicious it is to be vegan, so don’t get too caught up in “rules” and worrying if your tofu was grilled on the same hot top as salmon was. You’ll drive yourself crazy, and your missing the bigger picture of kind and conscious eating.

9. Get your takeout out of those sad looking containers and into pretty bowls. Not only does this make for a happier looking meal, but it’ll help with portion control (ever notice how massive those Tupperwares are filled?) Nothing spells sad and pathetic pig out fest list eating your way through 2/3rds of your main course and that dinky white paper rice box and then figuring “Screw it, I’m almost done, I might as well finish it all.” And then your significant other being mad at you because they find you passed out in the bed five minutes later.

Easy Vegan Fall Pasta Even Carnivores Will Crave

Lately, I’ve been really inspired by this thing called carbs. Luckily, when they come accompanied by loads of wholesome goodness and veggies, you don’t have to serve ’em with a side order of guilt. Behold: Last week’s Meatless Monday’s (erm, two Thursday agos…) Pasta extravaganza at Bob & Su’s.
Su and I tossed together this simple pasta salad, while Bob eagerly eyed the prime rib defrosting on the counter. Luckily, by the end of this hearty feasty, all parties had lost interest in steak. Heck, all we could even manage for dessert was raspberries (okay, drizzled with balsamic. and chocolate. lots of chocolate-covered stuff).
As it turned out, the meal was completely vegan (also pictured: simple roasted squash, a beet-studded salad, and caramelized Brussels sprouts), but I don’t think anybody noticed. 
Pasta
1 box mini shells
1 can whole peeled tomatoes
1 bunch bok choi
1 red pepper, diced
1 onion, diced
Whatever vegetables you have and want to add
olive oil, lots of
salt and pepper, to taste
1. Add oil to hot pan and saute onion until brown.
2. Add peppers and bok choi to mixture.
3. Meanwhile, cook pasta according to directions on box.
4. Add canned tomatoes to pan’s mixture and continue simmering for fifteen minutes or so. Drizzle in more oil. And then probably some more.
5. Season as desired. Pour mixture over pasta and mix thoroughly.
*Note: You don’t have to use pasta shells for this recipe, but as Su wisely pointed out to me, the sauce clings nicely to the pliable shells, likely better than it would to ziti or spaghetti. If you’re lucky, some onion-y bits and tomato-y goodness will hide in the  shells’ nooks for some of the tastiest bites.”

Aunt Su’s Fall Roasted Vegetable Medley

This “forget about it” while you cook (ahem, drink wine and chat while you chop more veggies), is one of my favorites from Aunt Su’s roster of no-effort but coup de delectable dishes. Certainly didn’t hurt that this recipe came to existence under the roof of a lovely waterfront house in Quogue surrounded by people whose company I cherish.

Ingredients
Serves 4-6 people
2 pounds brussel sprouts
3 leeks, trimmed-ish
2 bulbs fennel
2 garlic bulbs, peeled
1/4 cup or so olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
fresh dill to garnish

1. Cube vegetables and place in large mixing bowl.
2. Toss vegetables with olive oil until evenly coated. Add salt, pepper and other desired seasonings.
3. Roast in oven for an hour at 400 degrees. Add generous amount of chopped fresh dill and stir into vegetable medley. Let cool a bit before eating.
To serve: Oceanside view is preferable but not a necessary vegetable-deliciousness enhancer.

                                      

(I don’t know why but I thought these lanterns were really wonderful and loved the dancing shadows they cast on the ceiling)

5-ish Ingredient Vegan Pesto

Carbs + herbs + summer + wine, what could be better?
Ingredients
2 cups macadamia nuts
1 cup basil, tightly packed
4 tablespoons  extra virgin olive oil, plus more when blending
juice of half a lemon
1/4 cup Kalamata olives (you can also use white miso paste…or anchovies if you’re not vegan/inebriated)
Blend together until smooth. Add olive oil as needed to adjust thickness. Pour over desired pasta and toss. Add red chile pepper flakes and more basil to garnish, if desired. Also makes a great spread for toast.