School's Out! Time to get to work...

Having finally completed my Professional Plant-Based Certification from Rouxbe Cooking School, I've spent the past two weeks NOT cooking but instead paying bills, making summer travel plans and doing my taxes. I managed to finish without having to request an extension (that goes for both the cooking course and my taxes - yay me) and once I'd recuperated I was itching to get back into the kitchen. I started out by expanding my prep area into the dining room courtesy of a re-purposed workbench, some metro shelving, and my industrious husband. Then I whipped up a few of my old favorites (cabbage soup!) but I was soon ready to try something new. Surprisingly, I discovered that after spending the last six months preparing hundreds of required, course specific and challenging dishes, it was overwhelming to have true freedom of choice again.

As luck would have it, Dreena Burton's Plant-Powered Families Over 100 Kid-Tested, Whole-Foods Vegan Recipes arrived in the mail that very day... and it was time to get to work! I already had a copy on my laptop but I'm definitely old school; there's nothing like holding a real book in your hands and leafing through the pages. Plus if you spill coffee on it, it doesn't shut down and delete all your files.

I read through Dreena's new cookbook from cover to cover and yes, the food looks amazing! Each recipe is accompanied by a gorgeous full-page photograph, which lets you really see the texture and vibrancy of the meals you are creating but, as I mentioned in my short pre-review, the value of this cookbook isn't just in the yummy recipes. The author also includes a full chapter on prepping your kitchen and setting yourself (and your family) up for the plant-based shift. Recipes are great, but learning to batch cook and stock your pantry with important staple items will mean the difference between stress and success.

Best of all, Dreena Burton offers her wisdom in simple, compact bites. Each subject (beans, grains, produce...) is clearly explained in a couple of short paragraphs, including quick tips and specific cooking directions. In addition, the book includes chapters which cover kid topics like school lunches, parties and picky eaters as well as a general plant-based FAQ and nutrient value chart. There's even a two-week meal plan, including nutritional profiles, to help get you started. All of this information is well researched, footnoted with citations, and clearly targets questions that many parents will have in transitioning their families to a plant-strong diet. As a mother of three, Dreena Burton understands the issues we all experience in raising our children. We want to make the healthiest choices for our kids, and ourselves, but it can be a little scary to step outside the traditional box. Dreena draws on her experience as a parent to address those concerns and offer us the benefit of knowledge she has gained in building a plant-based lifestyle for her own family .

 Dessert is served: Crazy Brownies and Lemon-Kissed Blondie Bites! So easy and quick to make that there's no need to choose between them.

Dessert is served: Crazy Brownies and Lemon-Kissed Blondie Bites! So easy and quick to make that there's no need to choose between them.

On to the recipes! I haven't made them all (yet) but I did bake Crazy Brownies - twice. And Lemon-Kissed Blondie Bites. As well as "Magical" Applesauce Vinaigrette (it is!). The acidity and sweetness of the dressing were just right for a kale and mustard greens salad, with the added benefit of no processed oils. Of course I also prepared my readers' choice, Artichoke Sunflower Burgers, and I'll be sharing the recipe below. But first - the brownies! Dense, fudgy, delicious and easy. Even my staunchly non-vegan co-worker gave them a double thumbs up... and kept eating even after I told her what they were made from. Need I say more? The brownies are a chocolate lovers dream but I'm also partial to lemon sweets (loved Lemon-heads when I was a kid) so I had to try the Blondie Bites too. My least favorite kitchen prep is zesting citrus but in this case it was totally worth it and I'll gladly do it again and again. These lemony morsels were quick and easy with just a handful of ingredients, no baking and no added sugars. I'll definitely be making them often!

 Dreena's healthful, no-oil "Magical"Applesauce Vinaigrette is sweet, bold and acidic. Perfect for dressing my kale, beets and mustard green salad.

Dreena's healthful, no-oil "Magical"Applesauce Vinaigrette is sweet, bold and acidic. Perfect for dressing my kale, beets and mustard green salad.

Due to a computer snafu I couldn't post my review over the weekend which ended up being a lucky break because it gave me time to try a few more recipes: Kid's Slurry SaucePumpkin Snackles and Apple Lentil Dal. Keep in mind that I do have other things to do like working, teaching, washing dishes and keeping my garden under some kind of control. It's a testament to the ease of Dreena's recipes that I could basically open the book, choose a dish, and have it ready in no time. Granted, I have a fairly well-stocked pantry but the truth is that most of the ingredients are very common and the recipes don't require a lot of fuss - perfect for when I'm starving (always) and don't have a lot of time to spare. Which brings me to what may be my favorite aspect of this cookbook: the notes! EVERY recipe includes specific notes on ingredients (Can you substitute? What is Marmite? How to measure coconut butter?) plus lots of kitchen tips and serving suggestions. No need to Google "black salt" or figure out how to adjust a recipe for allergies. Dreena is way ahead of us.

And here's a note of my own: The Apple Lentil Dal was delicious for dinner but it was the leftovers that were truly inspiring. In my rush to get to work the next morning I threw a giant scoop into my oatmeal and mixed in some golden raisins with a fresh chopped apple. I'll eat almost anything plant-based, but I was completely unprepared for just how truly delicious this concoction would be. YUM! With it's mild hint of Indian spices, the slightly sweet dal was the perfect addition to my breakfast bowl and even better, the lentils packed an extra nutrient punch for the long day ahead. On reflection I bet that next time a splash of coconut milk and some chopped nuts on top would also be divine.

 My "leftovers" breakfast bowl: oatmeal, red quinoa, apples, raisins and Dreena's  Apple Lentil Dal!  Drizzle some maple syrup if you like it sweeter.

My "leftovers" breakfast bowl: oatmeal, red quinoa, apples, raisins and Dreena's Apple Lentil Dal! Drizzle some maple syrup if you like it sweeter.

 Pumpkin Snackles... I'm obsessed. Can Pumpkin Dal be far behind?

Pumpkin Snackles... I'm obsessed. Can Pumpkin Dal be far behind?

 The Artichoke Sunflower Burgers baked up beautifully! 

The Artichoke Sunflower Burgers baked up beautifully! 

Finally, the burger. I love veggie burgers. And I don't mind them messy which is a good thing because mine usually fall apart at some point. They taste great but I'm pretty cavalier with ingredients and measurements so they don't always bind like they should. Well here's a burger that even I couldn't mess up. You'll notice that there are no legumes in the ingredient list and I had to make a special trip across town to Trader Joe's for the frozen artichoke hearts (Dreena's helpful note to the rescue) so this was definitely not my everyday burger. I was determined to follow the recipe exactly but...I just couldn't help using the whole bag of artichokes even though, according to the package, it was more than required. I also added double the fresh herbs and began to get a bit nervous when I saw the consistency of the final mix - very soft and mushy. However I refrigerated as directed and then pressed out my patties onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. The directions are to pan cook but I've always had good luck baking just about any veggie burger, so I forged ahead at 400 degrees until they browned on top (15 min), flipped and baked (another 10-15 min) until done.

They were perfect. A nice firm crust which really held together and allowed me to serve them on a lovely whole grain bun with all the fixings. The surprise was inside. They were wonderfully moist and warm and, bite after bite, these yummy burgers kept their shape without falling apart. I don't usually eat artichokes (although I may start now!) so it's hard for me to describe the flavor except to say that I could taste the miso but otherwise, no one ingredient really stood out; they were flavorful and very mellow. Like every other recipe in this cookbook - they're great for kids... and even non-vegan husbands.

from Dreena Burton's Plant-Powered Families Over 100 Kid-Tested, Whole-Foods Vegan Recipes:

Artichoke Sunflower Burgers

Makes 5 patties

2 cups artichoke hearts (see note)
1 ½ loosely packed cups cooked and cooled brown rice or potatoes (see note)
¼ cup nutritional yeast
¼ cup sunflower seeds
¼ loosely packed cup fresh Italian parsley (see note)
1 tablespoon mild miso (ex: chickpea or brown rice)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ rounded teaspoon sea salt
1 medium clove garlic (see note)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste (optional)
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 cup rolled oats

In a food processor, add and the artichoke hearts, rice, nutritional yeast, sunflower seeds, parsley, miso, Dijon mustard, sea salt, garlic, black pepper, and vinegar and puree. Once the mixture is coming together and a little sticky, add the oats and pulse through several times. Refrigerate for an hour if possible (it will make it easier to shape the patties).

After chilling, take out scoops of the mixture and form burgers in your hands. I scoop generously with an ice cream scoop, roughly 1/3- ½ cup for each.

To cook, heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Cook the patties for 5–7 minutes on the first side, and then another 3–5 minutes on the second side until a little golden. Serve with the fixings of your choice.

Artichokes Note: I use frozen artichokes from Trader Joe’s. I find the flavor and texture much better than canned, and they are more affordable as well. If using frozen, just allow the artichokes to thaw before pureeing.

Potato Note: Instead of leftover rice, you can use prebaked, leftover red or Yukon gold potatoes—but the technique is a little different than if you’re making the recipe with rice. Potatoes can become sticky and glutinous when pureed in a food processor. So, if using potatoes, first peel and roughly cube or chop 1 1/2 –1 ¾ cups. Then, follow the recipe directions but add the potatoes last, after pureeing in the oats. Simply pulse the potatoes until they are worked through the mixture and you can take a small amount and form into a ball in your hand. Do not overprocess.

Garlic Note: I’m conservative with the garlic for the kiddos, but you can use more if you like.

Fresh Herbs Note: Fresh parsley adds a nice flavor element, but you can also use fresh basil.

 **FREE GIVEAWAY **

Now that you've seen some of the awesome recipes from Dreena Burton's newest cookbook, I know you'll want to have your own copy of Plant-Powered Families. The author has been kind enough to offer a free copy to one lucky reader so fill out the form below and click the button to enter. After registering, you can check out my Facebook page. Like it for an extra chance to win!

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Beyond Excited!

If you don't already know, I am totally new to this. THIS meaning blogging, social networking, posting, food photography, putting myself out there... all that, not to mention a modicum of organization. So I am beyond excited that just three weeks into my blog I have a copy of Dreena Burton's new cookbook on my laptop waiting to be reviewed. I innocently shared the release information on my Facebook page and was instantly rewarded with a reply from the author. More importantly, this exemplifies my overall experience during the past few weeks. The whole-food, plant-based community is huge - much bigger than I imagined. It was more than a bit daunting to find so many blogs, forums, seminars, doctors, nutritionists and chefs focused on the healthfulness of a plant-based diet but I soon discovered this is a highly supportive group. Everyone I've reached out to has been more than encouraging and we all seem to share the same goal - spread the word.

So here it goes... whether you're already living a plant-based lifestyle, considering going vegan, or just want to add more healthful plant foods to your family's diet, I'm here to help. I want to educate but I don't stand on a soapbox and I firmly believe in baby steps so please feel free to post, make suggestions and ask questions - if I don't have the answers, I'll find someone who does.

I've only just skimmed through Plant-Powered Families, Over 100 Kid-Tested, Whole Foods Vegan Recipes but I can already say that it's the perfect book for parents who are discovering plant-based cooking, or any cooking at all! The recipes look simple, yummy and kid-friendly (which in my house might mean husband-friendly, too) but the real value here is the clear and concise forward which explains how to set yourself up for success through prepping your kitchen and batch cooking. There are also several sections which address kid specific issues like school lunches, picky eaters and parties as well as instructions for creating plant-based staples, nutritional charts and sample meal plans. As a (vegan) parent, Dreena Burton has great advice for families both about food and parenting and succeeds in laying out the basic concepts of a plant-based diet in a way that's easy to understand and implement, without taking pages and pages to do it. As with most things, the beauty is in its simplicity.

I'm looking forward to a more in-depth read and I'm also going to be testing a few of her dishes on your behalf (while also powering through the last three weeks of my Rouxbe Professional Plant-Based Certification) I'll be passing on a recipe or two, so let me know what you'd like to see: Red Lentil Hummus? Artichoke Sunflower Burgers? Chickpea Salad? Crazy Brownies? Post your vote... majority rules.

Blogging Newbie

Welcome to my website in progress. My name is Claire and this site is about health, wellness and eating a plant-based diet. If you already know me then feel free to message me with any and all ideas, suggestions and "what were you thinking!" comments. I need all the help I can get. If you don't know me yet then hopefully I'll have everything up and running reasonably soon and we can get acquainted. I will be dedicating much of this site to passing on information, education, recipes and resource links for anyone and everyone who wants to learn more about the benefits of a plant-based lifestyle.  I also hope to offer local (Winter Garden, Florida) cooking classes at some time in the near future. To learn a bit more about who I am, click the "ME" link above.

My "big" goal is to create a supportive forum where we can all share our yummy plant-based experiences and lovely photos of what we're cooking, eating and growing... so check out my Facebook page by clicking the icon below. I can't wait to see what you are growing, cooking and eating! Let's nurture a community of plant eaters -  in Winter Garden and beyond.

It's all about the food. Let's eat!