Fishing for compliments

For the second year in a row, I shared kitchen duties with my mom for our family’s Christmas Eve dinner. My mom handled all the fish dishes (I’ve written about our Italian fish tradition previously here) and I was in charge of the rest, which included a variety of nutrient-dense, fancifully flavored, plant-based recipes. This year’s menu, like last year’s, combined old-world tradition with some new fusion fare:

  • Shrimp Cocktail (à la Costco)
  • Chard & White Bean Soup (I substituted sweet potatoes for new potatoes)
  • Wilted Greens Salad (I used plain, ol’ mesclun instead of mustard greens, but added Dijon to the dressing as a nod; I also threw in some chopped walnuts to add texture and offset the sweetness of the dressing)
  • Shrimp Scampi; Calamari en Brodo; Broiled Cod; and Linguine with King Crab legs (all recipes in Mom’s head)
  • Braised Kale and Carrot Stew (loosely inspired by this recipe)
  • Citrus Pound Cake w/Warm Citrus Salad (from the Dec ’14 issue of The Oprah Magazine)
  • Winter Warmer Cocktail (I don’t drink alcohol, but got everyone else nice and drunk on this)

I fare best when I eat vegetarian, but I don’t feel the need to make a show of it; I just like providing solidly healthful foods for people I love, especially when I know some of the day will include indulgences and sweets. Plus, it ensures that I’ll be getting my own fill of fruits and veggies…a true win-win.

What kind of foods do you eat and traditions do you follow for the holidays? Do you like to cook or share the cooking responsibilities with anyone in your family during special occasions? Feel free to post your comments below. I look forward to reading them!

Recipe Remix: Chili-stuffed Sweet Potatoes

Remember this chili recipe? Well, here’s a super simple way to rejigger it: make it, but omit the sweet potato/carrot in the mix. Instead, while the chili’s cooking, roast a sweet potato1 in the oven, then stuff each half of the potato with the chili and sprinkle with shredded cheddar cheese2 when ready to serve.

Stuffed Potato

Added bonus: sweet potatoes are an excellent source of Vitamin A, which gives us healthy skin, teeth, and bones.

1using one well-scrubbed sweet potato for every two servings, slice the potato lengthwise, pierce the outside of it well all over with a fork, wrap it in aluminum foil (halves together) and place in oven at 400 degrees for an hour or until the inside is soft and tender; I don’t use a microwave, so you’ll have to research the comparable nuking time yourself
2I used Daiya dairy-free in the pic here

Recipe: Open-faced BBQ Tempeh Sandwich & Sides

This photo does no justice to tonight’s meal [note to self: learn how to take better photos of food] which was a vegan feast of barbecue-style tempeh, potato salad*, and the usual string bean side dish.  In the world of processed vegan protein foods, the bf and I prefer seitan over tempeh, but I like mixing it up and tempeh won the coin toss this time.

Everything here is pretty filling, so the recipe below can serve about 4.  I also try to be as efficient as possible in the kitchen, so you’ll see that I’m using the same pans—and even the same boiled water—in this recipe’s steps.

Part 1

1 8 oz pkg tempeh, sliced lengthwise, then into quarters (so you get 8 flat rectangles)
4 Tbsp ketchup
1 Tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp olive, canola, or grapeseed oil
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp soy or tamari sauce
Dash chipotle or Tabasco sauce
1/4 tsp garlic powder

Part 2

1/2 red onion, sliced thinly
1 Tbsp olive, canola, or grapeseed oil
1/8 tsp Kosher or sea salt

Part 3

4 slices sourdough bread (this is my favorite)

Part 4

4 small purple or red potatoes, washed and cut into large slices**
2 Tbsp vegan mayo (like Vegenaise)
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp horseradish
1/4 tsp ground black pepper

Part 5

1 lb string beans
1/2 Tbsp olive, canola, or grapeseed oil
1/4 tsp Kosher or sea salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp garlic powder

*the potato salad looks horrible in this picture, but, I swear, it was very tasty
**I always leave the skin on my potatoes, but feel free to peel them if you wish

From “Part 1,” mix all the ingredients except the tempeh in a flat-bottomed bowl. Layer the tempeh slices in the bowl, spooning the mixture on top and around each layer so that all pieces are coated evenly. Cover and place bowl in refrigerator for about an hour.

In a frying pan over very low heat, sauté the onion over the oil (“Part 2”), stirring often, until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the salt and stir again, cooking another 4 minutes. Remove onions from pan and toast the bread (“Part 3”) in the same pan, about 2 minutes each side. Remove bread. In same pan, cook marinated tempeh slices from “Part 1” over low heat (add a little more oil if pan is too dry at this point), about 4 minutes each side.

Fill a large pot with water (leave about one inch from top) and a sprinkling of salt; cover and bring to boil over high heat. Uncover, lower to medium-high heat and cook potatoes (“Part 4”) until soft, about 7 minutes. Remove potatoes from pot and place in bowl; dress with remaining ingredients from Part 4.

In same pot with same water, bring back up to boil, then add “Part 5” string beans.  Cook until tender, about 7 minutes.  Drain and toss with remaining “Part 5” ingredients.

To serve, place one slice of bread on each plate; top with sautéed onions and 2 tempeh slices each (I used 3 slices in the photo above).  Add a scoop of potato salad and string beans to each dish.

Idaho? You da ho!

Welcome, class, to today’s Fresh Pick: IDAHO POTATO

The Idaho potato is considered by many to be the best variety of America’s most popular potato for baking, also known as the Russet Burbank or, more commonly, the russet. Though some russets grown elsewhere are commonly called Idaho potatoes, many Idaho government officials are pushing to make the name exclusive to spuds grown in local soil. Idaho grown potatoes have a high solids content, so there’s more potato and less water. The high quantity of starch grains cook to a light, fluffy texture and full, firm appearance when properly prepared. To be sure you’re getting genuine, top-quality Idaho Potatoes, look for the “Grown in Idaho” seal, which features a silhouette of the state of Idaho, and for the registered certification mark, “Idaho Potatoes.”

Peru’s Inca Indians were the first to cultivate potatoes in about 200 B.C. The Incas had many uses for potatoes, which ranged in size from a small nut to an apple and in color from red and gold to blue and black. Raw slices were placed on broken bones, carried to prevent rheumatism and eaten with other foods to prevent indigestion. The Incas also used potatoes to measure time correlating units of time by how long it took potatoes to grow.

The Spanish conquistadores discovered the potato in 1537 in the Andean village of Sorocota. They took potatoes with them on their return trip to Europe, where the vegetable had a difficult time being accepted. The potato, a member of the nightshade family, was considered by many to be poisonous or evil. It was thought to cause leprosy and syphilis and was considered a dangerous aphrodisiac. With the help of Germany’s King Frederick William, France’s Parmentier and England’s Sire Walter Raleigh, the potato was soon popularized throughout Europe.

The first potatoes arrived in North America in 1621 when Captain Nathanial Butler, then governor of Bermuda, sent two large cedar chests containing potatoes and other vegetables to Francis Wyatt, governor of Virginia at Jamestown. The first permanent North American potato patches were established in New England around 1719, most likely near Londonderry (now Derry), New Hampshire, by Scotch-Irish immigrants.

Idaho’s first potato grower was not a farmer at all, but a Presbyterian missionary, Henry Harmon Spalding. Had he been seeking a life in Idaho as a farmer, the chances are good that he would have found land more suitable to agriculture rather than the locale at Lapwai where he established his mission in 1836 to bring Christianity to the Nez Perce Indians. His plan was to demonstrate to the Nez Perce that they could provide food for themselves through agriculture rather than hunting and gathering. In 1837, the buffalo herds were beginning to be depleted by market hunting and encroachment on their natural domain. Spalding was astute enough to see that the lifestyle of the Indians was changing and that they would soon need other sources of food. By offering to teach them how to raise agricultural crops, he added an additional benefit to the white man’s religion that helped gather the Nez Perce around his Lapwai mission. The Indians eventually cultivated and planted fifteen acres for themselves and probably consummated the first commercial sale of Idaho grown potatoes when they found that hungry immigrants traveling in the wagon trains would trade clothing and other goods that the Indians wanted for fresh potatoes.

Genuine Idaho potatoes have a rounded, somewhat elongated shape, few and shallow eyes, net-textured skin and a deep brown color. Look for clean, smooth, firm-textured potatoes that have no cuts, bruises or discoloration. Don’t buy potatoes that are soft or have excessive cuts, cracks, bruises or discoloration and decay. If your potatoes have any green spots, pare them off before cooking because they could taste bitter.

High in both vitamin C and and potassium, potatoes are good for you, just watch what you put on them. Try salsa or steamed or sautéed vegetables on a baked potato instead of butter and sour cream and watch the portion sizes on those fries. A medium potato has 26 grams of carbs and 3 grams of sugar. (For more information, please visit this wonderful resource.)

For some great recipes, click here or here or try this simple dish:

4 medium Idaho potatoes

Pre-heat oven to 450°F. Wash and dry potatoes. With a fork or sharp knife, pierce each potato 2 or 3 times. Place on cookie sheet or baking pan. Bake 50 to 60 minutes or until tender when pierced with a fork.

MICROWAVE METHOD: Wash and dry potatoes. With a fork or sharp knife, pierce each potato 2 or 3 times. Place potatoes in a circle on a paper towel, leaving a 1-inch space between each potato. Cook on high for 15 to 20 minutes or until tender when pierced with a fork, turning once during cooking and removing any that are done after 15 minutes. Let potatoes stand for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Fried potatoes

Dear D.S.,

Thank you for contacting me back in April on As you can see, I still have yet to open and read your e-mail. If you think I haven’t gotten around to it because I’m super busy, you’re mistaken. I am blatantly ignoring it because I still resent your actions that day back at the town pool when we were eleven and your grandma gave you two bags of potato chips to take with you for snacks and (in front of me, I might add) told you that one bag was for you and the other for me because it was my guest pass you were using to get into the pool in the first place and the least you could do to thank me was hand over a measly bag of chips. But, no. You did not. You opened one bag, let me have a small handful, and then kept the other for yourself.

And if you think I’m making this up, I’m not. Just ask my mom. She remembers that day, too.

It’s not nice to bogart the chips, D.S. Let this be a lesson to you.