Grilling red peppers and onions

Since last we spoke…

Since last we spoke, I haven’t spent much time in the kitchen (mainly due to traveling). I have some big kitchen news to share! But first, a new cookbook.

I picked up “Chloe’s Kitchen: 125 Easy, Delicious Recipes for Making the Food You Love the Vegan Way” – you know, the cookbook by the vegan baker that won Cupcake Wars a couple years back (beating out those non-vegan cupcakes… take that!). The first recipe I tried was Stuffed Shells with Arrabiata Sauce.

Destroying my kitchen by stuffing shells.

Destroying my kitchen by stuffing shells.

I’ve attempted vegan stuffed shells before, early in my veg days. I had used a recipe from Skinny Bitch and… well… they were less than stellar. Bland, and nothing like the rich flavors I was used to in cheesy versions. Chloe’s recipe looked good, though, so I gave it a day in court.

Vegan Stuffed Shells with Arrabiata Sauce

Vegan Stuffed Shells with Arrabiata Sauce

The result: arguably one of the best stuffed shells I’ve ever had, vegan or not. (That’s Daiya vegan mozz on top). I’m looking forward to trying more of Chloe’s dishes!

Let’s see… what else have I been nom’ing? I made up a little Mexi-melt thing after watching an episode of Rachel Ray. It wasn’t stellar, but I did discover that grilling veggie kabobs on the Griddler is pretty sweet.

Grilling red peppers and onions

Grilling red peppers and onions

I used those red peppers and onions to make the salsa that went inside the tortilla layers (along with some chickpeas and Daiya cheddar).

Layered Salsa Chickpea Thing

Layered Salsa Chickpea Thing

Not a total fail, but… meh. The salsa would’ve been better with chips.

Now, here’s where it starts getting interesting. First of all, welcome the latest addition to my kitchen:

Vitamix 5200

Vitamix 5200

Yes!! At long last, I own a Vitamix! I got the 5200 model plus the dry blade container add-on. If you can find it at your local Costco, they are the cheapest place to get a new Vitamix (according to the rep I talked to). I’m so excited. This thing is amazing!! The Vitamix Road Show was going on at my Costco this week, so I got to see all kinds of demos and try all kinds of recipes. I had seen videos of this beast in action, but never saw it live in person. All I can say is – wow. This machine is amazing. It’s highly likely that my blender, juicer, and food processor will be going the way of the appliance graveyard. The texture of smoothies can’t even compare to a regular blender – and I was convinced my regular blender did just fine! The sorbets this thing makes are so easy and so good! I tried a lemon spinach sorbet yesterday that was amazing – tasted like lemon, but had a ton of whole spinach in it. It can even make soup and knead dough for bread!

The first task I bestowed upon my beloved Vitamix was to create a miso dressing. This past weekend, I ate at this wonderful organic cafe in Salem, MA called Life Alive. I wish one of these would open up in Hburg! I had a great little bowl called The Emperor: “Our velvety Miso Sauce, smothering cheddar cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, dark greens, shredded carrots, sweet corn, & tofu all over brown rice.” I decided to try to recreate it at home.

I came up with a miso sauce that seems pretty spot-on (and might just become my salad-dressing-of-the-week), and whipped it up in the Vitamix:

Miso Sauce/Dressing

by Shelly Hokanson

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Keywords: blender chill salad vegetarian miso

Ingredients (3 cups scant)

  • 1 cup mellow white miso paste
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar


Place all ingredients into a blender. Blend until smooth. Transfer the dressing to an airtight container and refrigerate until ready to use, up to 2 weeks.

This makes a great sauce over salads, veggies, and rice bowls! Substitute agave for honey if you’d like a vegan version.

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Then, I used the Vitamix to shred some carrots for me. I steamed up a block of tofu and some kale, then dumped in a can of corn and mixed everything together. I served it over a bed of brown rice and quinoa, and…

My Emperor Knock-Off, Inspired by Life Alive!

My Emperor Knock-Off, Inspired by Life Alive!

It was fantastic!

The other bit of joy in using the Vitamix is the ease of clean-up. It really does clean itself! I might have a little more of a challenge when I try making bread dough in it. I’ll be sure to report back.

So far, I’m absolutely thrilled with the Vitamix. It took 3 years of hemming and hawing to finally drop down the (fairly significant) chunk of change to buy one, but I’m pretty sure I will spend years kicking myself for not doing it sooner.

Next stop: the food co-op, to get some wheat berries so I can grind my own flour and make some bread in the Vitamix!

Butternut Squash Mac n Cheeze

Post Punk Kitchen recently posted their top 100 foodie things of 2011. This recipe from Oh She Glows made the list: Butternut Squash Mac n’ Cheeze.

I’m no stranger to vegan cheeze substitutes. Most, well, don’t taste like cheese (except for my beloved Daiya!). I happened to have a butternut squash laying around, though, so I decided to give this one a go.

Butternut Squash Mac n Cheeze

Butternut Squash Mac n Cheeze

This recipe made a nice, creamy sauce, and it was tasty – but it didn’t really taste like cheese. It was more like squash and garlic. Still, it made for a good side dish, and fit the bill for warm, winter-time comfort food. I’d probably like it better if it didn’t claim to resemble cheeze. I understand the need for a more whole-foods version of the ol’ mac and cheese recipe, though, so this works.

Note that the recipe makes a TON of sauce, so you will have extra sauce to put on veggies or other things throughout the week. You could almost fill a swimming pool with it.

Pesto Veggie Lasagna

This might be my favorite lasagna ever – and it’s vegan! I know – I’ve been making a lot of “best ever” claims lately, but I’ve really been on a roll in the kitchen. While this recipe is a little bit labor intensive, it’s easy labor – and the end result is beyond worth it.

I made this dish for my family’s Christmas get together in Chicago last week (though it was just vegetarian for them and not vegan, as I couldn’t find Daiya on short notice Christmas eve). It almost didn’t happen; do you have any idea how hard it is to find lasagna noodles at 4pm on Christmas Eve? We had to go to 2 stores, and I got the very last package on the shelf at store #2 (thank you, Target!) It was well worth the search. This lasagna got thumbs-up reviews from even the meat eaters, and I enjoyed it so much that I made it again at home for New Years.

This recipe makes a 9×13″ dish of lasagna – good for 8 serious servings (which in my case means, a freezer full of lasagna!) For the record, it does freeze and reheat very well. If you plan to go that route, let it cool down a bit then portion it out into freezer-safe containers and freeze. You can also make this a day ahead of time and refrigerate it prior to baking, then toss it in the oven when it’s time to make dinner. Just add 5-10 minutes if you’re starting with cold lasagna.

Without further ado, my favorite lasagna recipe of all times:

Pesto Veggie Lasagna

by Shelly Hokanson

Prep Time: 30

Cook Time: 35

Ingredients (8 servings)


  • 1 pkg lasagna noodles (12+ noodles – no-boil are fine)
  • 1 cup pesto – see recipe below
  • 5 – 6 cloves garlic, peeled & minced
  • 5 cups grilled or sautéed veggies – choose from zucchini, eggplant, red or green bell peppers, portobello mushrooms, broccoli, or your favorites. My favorite mix: 1 red pepper – diced, 1 zucchini – cut into half moons, and 1 head of broccoli florets.
  • 2 cups fresh baby spinach
  • 1 lb or 1 – 14oz package herbed tofu, firm or extra firm (Italian herbed tofu works great here), pressed and crumbled
  • 2-3 medium tomatoes, sliced (8 slices)
  • 1 package (8 oz) Daiya mozzarella or other vegan shredded cheese
  • 1 jar of your favorite marinara


  • 1/4 cup walnut halves or pieces
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts (or, replace with additional 1/4 cup walnuts)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 cups fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • pinch of black pepper
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, scant
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice


This first step is optional, but highly recommended. Preheat a large heavy-bottomed skillet (such as a cast iron skillet) over medium-low heat. Add the walnuts to the dry skillet and toast for 5 minutes, tossing often. Then add the pine nuts and toast an additional 5 minutes. (If using all walnuts, add them all at the start and toast for 10 minutes).

Set toasted nuts aside to cool.

Prep the Veggies

Preheat the oven to 350F.

In a large saute pan, heat 2 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and saute for 5 minutes.

As you chop up the rest of your veggies, add them to the pan, stirring often. If the pan dries out, add a tablespoon or two of water to deglaze the pan and keep on saute-ing.

Continue to saute the veggies while preparing the pesto.

Prep the Pesto

Add the toasted nuts to a food processor.

Add the minced garlic, basil, thyme, salt, pepper, and nutritional yeast until the basil leaves are well blended, scraping down the sides of the food processor as necessary.

Slowly stream in the olive oil and process until well combined.

Blend in the lemon juice.

Assemble the Lasagna

In a 13×19″ dish, coat the bottom of the dish with a layer of marinara.

Place one layer of lasagna noodles on the bottom of the dish.

Layer more marinara on top of the noodles.

Then, add the baby spinach over the noodles.

Crumble the tofu on top of the spinach.

Sprinkle a layer of shredded Daiya over the tofu, then add a second layer of noodles.

Coat the noodles with another marinara layer.

Add the veggies to the next layer and top with a generous layer of pesto.

Add the last layer of noodles and coat with remaining marinara.

Add the rest of the shredded cheese. Place 8 dollops of pesto across the top, and add a tomato slice onto each dollop of pesto.

Cover the dish with foil and bake for 35-40 minutes at 350F, until the lasagna is warmed through and the cheese is melted.

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Tempeh Helper

NoBurger Helper

If you grew up on Hamburger Helper, this bowl of deliciousness is for you.

Behold: Tempeh Helper!

Tempeh Helper

Tempeh Helper

It’s a variation of Isa’s recipe from Appetite for Reduction. If you don’t have the cookbook (umm, why not??!) she’s got a similar version posted on her web site – just minus out the chili powder: Tempeh Helper. The oven mitt hand man is totally creepy.

I can’t promise that this version is as light on calories as hers, but it’s a bit more satisfying. I say this only because vegan cheeze sauces are notoriously thin and less-than-cheezy, and since the advent of Daiya vegan cheese, there’s just no reason not to indulge.

So my version used Isa’s seasoning mix and recipes for the pasta and tempeh, combined with Mama Pea’s use of silken tofu and Daiya for the cheese sauce.

It’s a perfect throwback to Hamburger Helper, and hit a huge vibe in the Comfort Food category. Definitely a winner. This recipe could easily be bulked up with some broccoli or romanesco cauliflower (my new obsession).

In fact, writing this post might induce me to make this recipe again for dinner tonight!

Pesto Pasta, Broccoli and Chickpeas with Mmm Sauce, & Asparagus

Let the Freezer Eats Begin

I told you it was about to get all crazy up in this hizzouse!

Pesto Pasta, Broccoli and Chickpeas with Mmm Sauce, & Asparagus

Pesto Pasta, Broccoli and Chickpeas with Mmm Sauce, & Asparagus


You’re like, what the heck is that?!

Eatin’ good in the freezer-hood, my friends!

Gotta. Empty. Freezer. Can’t. Waste. Food.

(No worries – what I don’t eat or take with me will be bequeathed upon family members’ freezers).

It all started with a bag of frozen asparagus spears. I don’t even remember buying them, but when I saw the bag, I thought, “Genius! Frozen asparagus spears! Like, in spear form!” Too bad I didn’t realize they existed sooner. I could’ve eaten them when my fresh asparagus went limp way too soon last week.

So, I steamed that frozen asparagus (5 minutes in the micro – will probably go 5:30 next time), and coated it in my current obsession, Perfect Pinch veggie seasoning.

Then, I decided to make another batch of pesto. (I’m obsessed. What can I say?). Made the pesto, then realized I did not have the ingredients on hand to make my favorite Pesto Veggie sandwich.

Heavens, no! What would I do?!

OK. Change of plans. What’s in the fridge? I went for a big ol’ salad to use up the rest of my leftover spicy roasted chickpeas, and then realized I was out of salad greens. Well, heck. I need more greens!

I’ve got pesto. I’ve got asparagus. What can I do with pesto and asparagus?

I hobbled together an idea: in honor of the release of Mama Pea’s new cookbook (Peas and Thank You, which had just arrived at my door), I would try a recipe from her web site that I’d been meaning to make forever: Mmm Sauce. I’d mix that with the rest of my spicy roasted chickpeas, mix in some pasta and pesto, and throw some steamed broccoli in there. (I was too lazy to roast or grill anything – my preferred veggie cooking methods).

I got to work making Mmm sauce, only to realize I didn’t have the right spices on hand. Instead, I used oregano and basil and parsley. Italian Mmm sauce? I guess so!

So that, my friends, is what you’re looking at in the photo above. Frozen asparagus, steamed, with veggie seasoning. Whole wheat pasta topped with pesto. Steamed broccoli with chickpeas and Mmm sauce.

A weird plate – yes. But it was pretty darn tasty! So much so that I just had it again for lunch….

Stay tuned for more adventures in freezer eats!

Vegan Potato Alfredo & Broccoli

A Vegan Alfredo Attempt

What do you think of when you think of alfredo sauce? If I had to come up with 3 descriptors, they’d probably be:

  • Creamy
  • Rich
  • Buttery

Traversing through my collection of vegan cookbooks, I’ve managed to pull together some pretty good creamy vegan sauces. But pulling off rich and buttery in a vegan dish? It’s a bit more difficult – especially if you’re trying to do it without the help of vegan margarine or Daiya miracle-cheese.

So when I came across this recipe for Potato Alfredo Pasta, I knew I had to try it. The secret ingredient: potato flakes. (Not the crap-loaded ones of my youth – I was super-excited to read the ingredient list on the Whole Foods 365 brand of instant potatoes. It reads: dehydrated potatoes. End of story. Yes!) Cannellini beans might also be considered a secret ingredient. (Did you know that they’re really just white kidney beans? I did not).

I stuck to the recipe faithfully, opting to use soy milk for the entire liquid portion (instead of half milk/half creamer). This recipe made a TON of sauce – enough for the 4 servings of pasta I made, plus about 1 cup left over.

I had trouble getting the sauce down to the consistency pictured in the original recipe. I added a good half cup extra of soy milk, but it was still very thick (and I ran out of room in my food processor to add any more).

Vegan Potato Alfredo Pasta

Vegan Potato Alfredo Pasta

The real question: did it fool my taste buds into thinking I was eating a dairy-based alfredo?

Hmm. Well, not really. Maybe I’m too close to the last time I ate alfredo (probably within a year), so I remember the flavor too well.

That’s not to say it was bad. It was tasty – definitely flavorful, approaching “rich.” Definitely creamy. Not my favorite sauce on the planet, but certainly a “keeper” in the recipe box.

As I was eating this dish, I was thinking about food expectations. Does this dish have to taste like the pasta alfredo of my youth to give me the same sense of comfort?

I decided that it does not. The key to my food memories with this dish is the ooey, gooey factor. This Potato Alfredo was ooey gooey, and had the familiar comforting factor of pasta, and tasted “Italian.” It made it to the right ballpark, and as such, hit the spot.

Vegan Potato Alfredo & Broccoli

Vegan Potato Alfredo & Broccoli

Broccoli played the supporting role to this dish, and I went a little nuts with the whole vegan cheese theme. I made up a batch of Isa’s Easy Breezy Cheezy Sauce from Appetite for Reduction. Nooch-based vegan cheeze sauces are kind of like a rite of passage. You’re just not cool until you have a favorite nooch-cheeze. (Nooch = nutritional yeast). I like this one! Again – I think it’s just the comfort of drenching veggies in an ooey, gooey sauce that brings the love.

Broccoli and Easy Breezy Cheeze Sauce

Broccoli and Easy Breezy Cheeze Sauce

Yeah, it looks like Cheez-Whiz – but that’s not entirely a bad thing. I recall many an afternoon chowing down on tortilla chips and Cheez-Whiz as a kid. Gawd, I don’t even want to imagine the ingredient list on that stuff. Still, good memories.

So, I’d give this dinner 3 1/2 out of 5 stars. Maybe a little closer to 4 stars, but not quite there. I’ll eat the leftovers, and I’ll likely make it again someday.

However, I am still in search of the perfect vegan alfredo sauce. I suspect it is just going to have to include Daiya and Earth Balance. We’ll see.


Creamy Basil Pasta with Asparagus


Vegan Yum Yum’s got a two-fer going on!


Creamy Basil Pasta with Asparagus

Creamy Basil Pasta with Asparagus

This is the Creamy Basil Pasta from the Vegan Yum Yum cookbook. What makes it creamy if it’s vegan, you ask?


I know, right? I wouldn’t have believed it either. But there it is. I wanted to eat the entire pot of this.

Since my long run got delayed due to rain, I figured I might as well carb up with some pasta tonight. Will run tomorrow. See how that works? 🙂

This sauce is not only delicious, but super easy to make. Very few ingredients – a couple tomatoes, a little tomato paste, cashews, and some seasoning. Really! I love my food processor! (I have a KitchenAid 7-cup model).

Toss with pasta (organic whole wheat pasta, in my case!) and nom!

My friend asparagus came along for the ride. I love to have asparagus with pasta. Every time I think of Italian food, I want asparagus. Is that normal? At any rate, it’s just steamed and sprinkled with a little sea salt.

Good eats!

Italian Eggplant over Pasta

This week’s trip out to Whole Foods Market yielded a beautiful purple organic eggplant! I’ve never cooked with fresh eggplant – only with pre-prepared, frozen varieties. I was excited to get to work with the real thing!

I knew I was going to go Italian with this beauty (thanks to Armando for the suggestion!). I wanted to try grilling it, but rain (like Niemi) said NO! Enter: the ol’ George Foreman grill. There’s got to be a way to make eggplant on the George, right?!

Indeed! So I whipped up a simple cornmeal breading with oregano, garlic salt, and a little chili powder. Then I sliced up that eggplant and rubbed each slice with a light coating of garlic-infused olive oil. I dredged the slices through the cornmeal breading, patted them down, and tossed them onto the George Foreman grill. 5 minutes later, they smelled wonderful! I transferred the eggplant rounds to a baking dish, topped with a jar of organic basil marinara and some Daiya dairy-free mozzarella, and baked for 15 minutes until the cheese melted.

I served the eggplant and marinara over some whole-wheat pasta, and decided I could eat that dish ALL DAY LONG. Mwah! SO good!

Fresh eggplant is SO much more delicious than the frozen varieties! It tasted so fresh, but was so easy to make. And, regarding non-dairy cheese – I’ve tried quite a few brands, all of which have disappointed me. But this Daiya brand – I have found a winner! It feels a bit more moist than typical shredded cheese, but melted and stretched just like dairy cheese, and tasted wonderful! It almost had more of a parmesan taste to it, but that was fine with me. Daiya vegan cheeses are casein-free, dairy-free, have no cholesterol or trans-fats, all natural, and free of common allergens like soy, gluten, lactose, and others. Thumbs up!

I was drooling as everything came together with this meal and as such, didn’t take the time to get a picture – but this meal is definitely going into my weekly rotation!

[recipe-show recipe=italian-eggplant-over-pasta]

Pasta and Bolognese Sauce

Tonight, after checking out the Hadley Valley Preserve trail for the first time (it’s nice! A 2.5 mile looping trail through prairie), I tried out another one of Jessica Seinfeld’s Deceptively Delicious recipes: Pasta and Bolognese Sauce (with Stealth Ninja Sweet Potatoes). This one is healthy all around, with a bunch of carrots in there, too!

I suffered a false start on this one, as I got the onion and carrots all chopped up and in the skillet, then minced a couple garlic cloves right into the pot – only to find that my garlic had gone bad while I was away last week. Oh well. Tossed it all out and started over!

Instead of garlic cloves (I didn’t trust what I had left), I used 1 tsp of Garlic Earth Italian garlic salt – an organic seasoning that my friend Becky makes.

Score another winner for the Stealth Ninja Vegetable Experiment, and another winner for all organic ingredients! This one was so tasty I very nearly licked my plate clean. Highly recommended, and easy to throw together.

The recipe serves 8, so I immediately froze half of the sauce after dinner, then portioned the remaining 3 portions in the fridge for leftovers. I love a recipe that I can get some mileage out of!

[recipe-show recipe=pasta-bolognese]