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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Mango-Cashew-Orange-Ginger Smoothie

Scroll through my Instagram feed most mornings and you’ll see at least one person showing off their $10 green juice. I love those fresh juices for their color and for their ability to feel like a boozeless cocktail. But do I think that a $10 juice has miraculous healing properties and is cure for all that ails? No, not really. To me, juice seems like style over substance.

Smoothies, however, are different. They have plenty of sugar, sure, but they also contain fruit and vegetable fiber, slowing down the absorption of all of those good nutrients. Plus, fiber is filling, so a smoothie can stand in for a meal or, at the very least, a large snack. (And it should! The recipe below has about 400 calories.)

I never totally understood the appeal of a smoothie other than it being a way to cram more healthy ingredients into my life. But recently, I came into one of those powerful blenders. You know the type: They can grind grain into flour; puree soups to silk and pulverize coconut meat into milk, should you be masochistic enough to want to open up a coconut at home.

With this blender, leafy greens and hard vegetables, like carrots, become one the other ingredients, leaving no unappealing chunks or flecks. Plus, the blender blades spin so fast, giving the drink a whipped, airy texture.

Thanks to this powerful blender, I’ve been on a smoothie kick, feeling much like writer Oliver Strand does in this Vogue article after he acquires a Vitamix. “My Vitamix runs with such brutal efficiency that when I go to the market I look at what’s on the shelves and in the produce aisles and think, I could blend you.” (For the record, my blender is actually not a Vitamix but one from Wolf Gourmet.)

My recent favorite recipe tastes like an Orange Julius after a visit to southeast Asia. Thanks to the richness of the cashew butter, the smoothie drinks like a milkshake but is actually dairy-free.  continue reading

SobaWithWalnutsAre there enough compound descriptions of this dish for you?

I love soba–the buckwheat-based, spaghetti-like noodles served both hot and cold in Japan. There are many, many ways to dress them for a salad but the flavors usually skew Asian. I wanted to try a different direction, so I looked to where buckwheat is popular–Russia. Flavors in Russia itself can be a bit austere, but its neighbor, Georgia, is known for incredible food. Georgians love lots of garlic, onion, cilantro and chiles along with lots of Middle Eastern type spices as well as walnuts (yep, everything in Georgia seems to come back to walnuts). Buckwheat noodles love a good peanut sauce, so why not a spiced walnut one?

The first time I made this dish, it really proved how recipe development is so different from actual cooking. If I were just left to cook–adding a little of this and a little of that, I would have had something delicious on the first try. But with the formal process of development, I started with a plan that, at first, yielded a bland, bland sauce. So then, I added a bunch of ingredients to make it edible, but by that point, there was too much sauce and too few noodles and I lost track of all that I did. -Sigh.-

No matter. I tweaked the recipe, retested it and nailed it. The results are over on Food & Wine.