This creamy mushroom lasagna uses a cashew cream for richness.

Thanks to Jessica Murnane, I now believe in the power of cashew cream.

But let me back up a second. I hadn’t heard of Jessica Murnane and her One Part Plant movement until she very kindly shared a Modern Potluck recipe on her blog and Instagram feed. As soon as I checked out her site, I knew she was a budding star. And now she has a new cookbook!

In a world in which plant-based (aka, mostly vegan) eating often feels elitist and precious, Jessica’s approach is fun, welcoming, and positive. Up until a few years ago, she didn’t know how to cook and basically subsisted on junk food and frozen dinners. When faced with the possibility of getting a hysterectomy because of her endometriosis, she learned that a plant-based diet might help manage the symptoms. Her diet overhaul worked, and now she’s trying to encourage others to eat more plants.

One of the things I appreciate about Jessica’s work is that she does not spread pseudoscience. She shares when studies support her style of eating and when they are inconclusive. Essentially, she acknowledges she eats this way because it makes feel better. She thinks it might make others feel good, too.

Now back to that cashew cream. I recently launched a project called Potluck Nation, in which I’m hoping to inspire people to use potlucks as a force for good. I’ve noticed many communities host vegan potlucks, so I thought I’d share Jessica’s lasagna, a crowd-pleasing dish to take to a party.

While her lasagna doesn’t have a stretchy cheesy factor, it is creamy like lasagnas made with béchamel (a milky white sauce). The secret to its satisfying richness is an easy-to-make cashew cream. Jessica then boosts the veggie quotient of the dish by adding mushrooms and greens in addition to a tomato sauce.

Clearly, this is a meat-free lasagna, but if you’re potlucking with carnivores, just don’t mention the ‘v’ word, and I promise they’ll love it.

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Roast Chicken with Basil, Scallion, Lemon Butter, and Potatoes

Once upon a time, before the days of factory farming and $5 rotisserie birds from Costco, chicken was considered a special meal. After years of treating this ubiquitous meat as a boring, must-offer dish, chefs now exalt the whole roasted chicken—buying special breeds and bathing the birds with luxe ingredients, like foie gras. Even without the expensive embellishments, a lovingly raised, thoughtfully cooked chicken is truly one of the best tasting things you can ever eat.

This Valentine’s Day (or any time you want to celebrate something), I’d like to propose you roast one of these birds. It’s true: To buy a best-quality pastured bird that was free to roam and scratch and eat a natural diet of bugs and more is expensive. But the $20 you’ll spend on one of these birds will seem like a deal compared to the price of other Valentine’s Day favorites, including rack of lamb, steak, and lobster. Not only will you likely have leftovers (handy when Valentine’s Day is mid-week), but there’s something so cozy about sharing a single bird and eating it partially with your hands. And did I mention? Roast chicken pairs beautifully with Champagne. And it’s one of the more sustainable meats you can eat.

One of my favorite ways to roast a bird involves salting it at least 24 hours in advance to season the meat down to the bone and to create golden, potato-chip-crisp skin. I rarely think far enough ahead to do this, and well, now that it’s Valentine’s Day, we don’t have enough time.

If I don’t salt the bird ahead, I’ve now discovered my second favorite method, and really, it rivals the first. While paging through Mindy Fox’s excellent book, The Perfectly Roasted Chicken, I found her Roast Chicken with Basil, Scallion, Lemon Butter, and Potatoes. In this recipe, she employs a few simple techniques to take a classic butter-roasted bird with potatoes to the next level. First, she adds lots of herbs, garlic, and scallions to the butter; it’s more than you think you should add. Second, she preheats the pan, so the potatoes and chicken start cooking right away. Third, she flips the chicken twice during roasting to help the bird cook evenly and to keep the breast juicy. Finally, she squeezes lemons over the chicken during the last 20 minutes of roasting, which helps brown the skin and add a fresh, lemony tang to the juices. The result is the roast chicken of my fantasies, complete with a luscious pan sauce and potatoes that make me feel bad for vegetarians. (Forget bacon. Potatoes coated in chicken drippings would be my “cheat” if I ever decided to give up meat.)

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Recently, my daughter’s preschool teacher admitted to me that she tasted the lentil soup I gave my daughter for lunch. A pescatarian, the teacher said she was struggling to find something easy, healthy, and preferably gluten-free to cook that would make her feel good her and appease her vegan daughter. I told her the basics of the recipe, which I had developed recently for a client. A few days later, she told me she started cooking lentils and lentil soup at home and it changed her life.

Her words came at a crucial moment, when I, along with a number of food and lifestyle-focused writers, started to wonder if our work really mattered. It was reassuring to hear it can.

Recipes on the Internet are often titled THE BEST or even, the best EVER. I can’t necessarily add those superlatives to the recipe here, although the soup is very, very good. I will tell you, learning to make lentil soup—whether you use my recipe or not—could, in fact, change your life. If you don’t believe me, just ask my friend Joy Manning how she started her journey as an avid home cook and successful food writer. You guessed it: A simple pot of lentil soup. And if you’re looking for other inspired versions, check out this fun new lentil soup Mad Lib from Food 52.

Spiced Lentil Soup with Spinach
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
The depth of flavor in this soup comes from the combination of tomato paste and smoked paprika, both of which get lightly toasted. I also think the vinegar added at the end for some brightness is non-negotiable, but you can try lemon juice instead. Otherwise, you can change the recipe how you like. Switch up the spices or use celery instead of fennel. For the greens, you can swap the spinach for stemmed kale or Swiss chard; just be sure to give them a few minutes to simmer to tenderness. For a thicker soup, use less water. To enrich the broth, add a Parmesan rind further. You can also top the soup with grated cheese.
Author:
Ingredients
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 small fennel bulb, stalks removed, bulb cut into bite-sized pieces
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 cup black lentils or French green lentils
  • 8 cups low-sodium broth or water
  • 5 ounces baby spinach leaves
  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
Instructions
  1. In a pot, heat the ¼ cup olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, and fennel, season with salt and pepper, and cook until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until softened, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook until it glazes the bottom of the pot, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the coriander, cumin, and smoked paprika and cook until the spices are fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  2. Add the lentils and broth and bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer, uncovered, until the lentils are tender, about 30 minutes. Add the spinach, a handful at a time, stirring until wilted. Add the vinegar and heat for about 30 seconds. Season the soup with salt and pepper. Ladle the soup into bowls, drizzle with olive oil and serve.

 

Eggs baked in squash

As I mentioned in my previous post, Cooking Secrets of Adulthood, roasted vegetables make for an excellent breakfast. One of my favorite such breakfasts are roasted halves of small squash, like acorn, delicata, and buttercup. The squash are tasty enough on their own with a little maple syrup, or they can serve as a bowl for more substantial fillings, like porridge or yogurt and granola. I find warm squash in the morning to be a soothing start to the day and often easier to digest than my usual toast.

Because I could never hack open a squash pre-coffee, I tend to roast a few small squash on Sundays and refrigerate them to use through the week. Then I simply rewarm them in the toaster oven as my coffee drips into the Chemex. If I have a little extra time, I’ll bake an egg right in the cavity. (Think of this as a gluten-free egg in a hole.) I wrote up my method for the baked eggs below, but first, a few more topping and serving ideas for your squash halves.

  • Brush with maple syrup and dust with sesame seeds.
  • Put some wilted greens or other cooked mushrooms in the squash halves under the egg before you bake them.
  • Grate Parmigiano-Reggiana cheese over the squash before you re-warm.
  • Fill with warm lightly buttered farro, quinoa, or millet and top with sliced almonds and berries or crumbled bacon.
  • Drizzle with honey and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and chopped pistachios.

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