Thursday, January 29, 2009

NYT: Obama's New Chef Skewers School Lunches

Did you know that 80 to 85% of schools fail the basic government standards for fat content in school lunches because of the food it supplies schools? Disgusting! Published in today's New York Times, thank goodness someone is speaking out on behalf of American kids!

January 29, 2009, 7:10 am

Obama’s New Chef Skewers School Lunches

Before he agreed to cook for the Obama family in the White House, Chicago chef Sam Kass was already talking about changing the way American children eat.

During weekly Tuesday gatherings at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum in Chicago, Mr. Kass hosted “Rethinking Soup,” which he described as “a communal event where we will eat delicious, healthy soup and have fresh, organic conversation about many of the urgent social, cultural, economic and environmental food issues that we should be addressing.”

In May, over a meal of locally-produced beef and barley soup, Mr. Kass lamented the sorry state of the National School Lunch Program, which provides low-cost or free lunches to schoolchildren. He noted that what gets served up to kids is influenced by government agricultural subsidies. As a result, he says, meals served to students are low in vegetables and disproportionately high in fat, additives, preservatives and high-fructose corn syrup. (He also links the high consumption of sugary foods and food additives to learning difficulties and attention deficit disorder, although the medical community remains divided on that issue.)

Here’s the text of his talk, as posted on the Hull House Kitchen Web site.

Providing our children healthy food at school, it is easy to say but a monumental challenge to realize. I will quickly give a lay of the School Lunch landscape as it stands, and then let’s hear from our guests.

Malnutrition stemming from the Great Depression had disqualified many potential soldiers from being eligible to fight in World War II; this legacy was still vivid in the minds of our leaders as the U.S. began preparing for the next fight against the Soviet Union. In response, the government launched the National School Lunch Act as a means to boost overall health and nutrition of the population in 1946. Today the program serves about 100,000 public and nonprofit private schools feeding 28 million children a day.

The National School Lunch program also serves another vital role in our agricultural system. The government subsidizes various agricultural industries, creating overproduction in commodities such as beef, pork and dairy. This overproduction depresses prices, endangering the vitality of producers. The U.S. government purchases the overproduction it has stimulated and then disposes of the excess by giving it to schools. In return for the government donation, the schools have to ensure that the lunches reach basic nutritional requirements as set by the government.

In 2003, U.S.D.A. spent $939.5 million dollars buying surplus commodities for School Lunch. Two-thirds of that bought meat and dairy, with little more than one quarter going to vegetables that were mostly frozen; and we should not forget that potatoes are the top selling vegetable in our country. The problem that arose is that between 80 and 85 percent of schools fail the basic government standards for the percentage of fat in the lunches due to the food it supplies schools.

There are a couple major repercussions of this program felt by our children. The first is their ability to learn. There is overwhelming evidence that confirms that additives of colors and preservatives common in lunchroom food hinder a child’s ability to learn. In addition, the abundance of high fructose corn syrup in lunches and snacks has been shown to have a direct link to the attention deficit disorder epidemic.

The second is physical health. According to the Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine and the International Journal of Pediatric Obesity, by 2010 nearly half of the children in North America will be overweight or obese.

Type 2 diabetes is the new name for adult onset diabetes; the name was changed due to the fact that children are now suffering from this form of diet-induced diabetes. Indeed, the youngest generation might very well live substantially shorter lives than their parents due to diseases related to obesity.

So it is in this context that the speakers who have joined us today spend their lives working. With us is Josephine Lauer from the Organic School Project, which is now working in six schools trying to cook fresh healthy food for students in Chicago; Jean Saunders from the Healthy Schools Campaign, which is doing groundbreaking work in creating a healthy learning environment of which food is a central component; Stephen Menyhart, the brilliant chef of Perspectives-Calumet Charter School; and Angela Mason, coordinator of school and community gardens for the Chicago Botanic Garden.

And if you want to know how Mr. Kass thinks more people should be eating, check out this menu from his private chef business, Inevitable Table. Menu items include citrus salad with fennel, oranges and grapefruit and orange vinaigrette; ancho chili rubbed pork loin with rapini and polenta; and braised chicken in Madeira with root vegetables and prunes, Himalayan red rice, and sautéed escarole with pine nuts.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Broccoli & Sun Dried Tomato Farro

Very delish and very Italian... no really, this grain has some serious history! This ancient Mediterranean grain was the standard fare of the Roman legions, and can now be found at a health food store near you. Farro falls into the wheat family, is packed with fiber and magnesium, and has a wonderfully chewy texture that makes any farro dish a meal rather than just another veggie side dish. Many recipes require a solid 8 hours of soaking farro, followed by several more hours of cooking... sure, good food certainly does take time, but your farro doesn't have to. Adding some balsamic vinegar to the cooking farro gives it that extra flavor boost, as does the slight acidity of the sun dried tomatoes.

The Whats:

* 1 1/4 cups whole grain farro
* 2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
* 2 tsp nutmeg
* 4 tbsp. basil
* 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
* 2 cloves garlic, minced
* 1 small onion, halved and thinly sliced
* 1 large broccoli crown, stems trimmed
* 1 cup sun dried tomatoes, sliced into thin strips
* 1/4 cup red wine
* salt & pepper to taste

The Hows:

1) To make the farro: Rinse farro in a fine sieve, and rinse under cool running water. Transfer to a medium saucepan; add 2 1/2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and allow to simmer, stirring occasionally. After 5 minutes, stir in balsamic vinegar, 1 tsp nutmeg and 2 tbsp. basil; cook until water is evaporated, and farro is al dente- chewy and firm. Set aside.

2) For the vegetables: Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook for 8 minutes, or until caramelized. Add the broccoli and sundried tomatoes; stir in red wine, salt & pepper, and the remaining nutmeg and basil. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes, or until broccoli is cooked but still crisp. Remove from heat.

3) Add the cooked farro to the vegetable pan, and stir together. If desired, drizzle veggies & farro with an additional tablespoon of red wine or olive oil. Serve hot.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tuk Tuk

The most important part of exploring your new neighborhood after you move? Figuring out where the good cheap eats are! And LIC Thai regular Tuk Tuk is there to welcome you.

Tuk Tuk serves up basic Thai fare, and although the ubiquitous menu items are found on every other Thai menu across the city, their Thai staples are solid and well prepared. We split a roti massaman to start- the pancake was both crispy and soft, and the curry both sweet and slightly spicy to taste, garnished with just the right amount of cilantro. My tofu pad kee mow was also quite good- just the right amount of chili-garlic sauce maintained the heat of the dish, and kept the flat noodles from clumping together on the plate. A bit of Thai basil and firm tofu rounded out my dinner that came to all of $15 a person, including tax & tip.

Sure, LIC will likely go the way of Williamsburg in another few years, but for now, I'm enjoying getting a flavorful bang for my buck!

Tuk Tuk, 4906 Vernon Blvd between 49th and 50th Avenues, Long Island City, 718-472-5598

Times: Lentils

If you didn't already know about this vegetarian meal staple, then check this from one of my must-reads, the Well blog in The New York Times:

Lentils: A Versatile Staple Flavors Classic International Dishes

Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times

Published: January 26, 2009

If you have lentils, you have dinner. This high-fiber, protein-rich legume cooks in 20 to 40 minutes, depending on the dish, and requires no soaking. Lentils are the basis for many starters and salads, soups and stews, side dishes and Middle Eastern pastas. The distinctive flavor has been adapted to a variety of classic cuisines, from France to the Mediterranean, from India to Mexico and North America.

The usual supermarket offerings are brown lentils, but there are other varieties and they’re all worth looking out for. Chefs prefer the pricier small black “beluga” lentils (in their raw state they glisten like caviar, but the resemblance stops there) and the firm green Le Puy lentils from France, because when cooked both types stay intact and maintain a firmer texture. But the flavors of all three are similar enough to make them interchangeable in this week’s recipes.

Red lentils, available in Indian and Mediterranean markets, have a different taste, more akin to dried favas or split peas, and a very different texture when cooked, so do not attempt to substitute these for the brown, black or green varieties.

One fact worth noting: unlike other beans, lentils do not contain sulfur, the gas-producing element in legumes. And in addition to being an excellent source of soluble fiber and a good source of protein, manganese, iron, phosphorous, copper, vitamin B1 and potassium, lentils are an excellent source of molybdenum, a mineral important in the metabolism of fats, carbohydrates and iron.

Lentil Minestrone With Greens

A number of greens work well in this hearty Italian dish. Chard and turnip greens are growing in my garden, so those are ones I’m using now, but I wouldn’t hesitate to use kale, either.

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

1 large carrot, chopped

4 garlic cloves, minced

Salt, preferably kosher salt, to taste

1 (14-ounce) can chopped tomatoes, with liquid

1 pound lentils (brown or beluga), washed and picked over

2 1/2 quarts water

A bouquet garni made with a bay leaf, 2 sprigs each thyme and parsley, and a Parmesan rind

1/2 pound Swiss chard, mustard greens or kale, stemmed, washed in two changes of water, and roughly chopped (about 6 cups)

Freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup elbow macaroni or other soup pasta (optional)

Freshly grated Parmesan for serving

1. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy soup pot over medium heat, and add the onion and carrot. Cook, stirring, until the onion is tender, about 5 minutes. Add half the garlic and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir together for a minute, just until the garlic is fragrant, and add the tomatoes and their liquid. Turn up the heat slightly and cook, stirring often, until the tomatoes have cooked down and smell fragrant, about 10 minutes.

2. Stir in the lentils, water and bouquet garni, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer 30 minutes. Add the remaining garlic, salt to taste and add the greens. Continue to simmer, covered, for another 15 minutes. Add freshly ground pepper, taste and adjust seasoning. Stir in the pasta, and continue to simmer until the pasta is tender, five to 10 minutes. Remove the bouquet garni and serve, passing grated Parmesan at the table.

Yield: Serves 6 to 8

Advance preparation: The soup can be made up to a day or two ahead of time, but do not add the pasta until you are ready to serve. Reheat and add as directed.

A note about salt: From now on, I will indicate a preference for kosher salt in my recipes. Because of its crystalline structure, kosher salt is not as salty as fine sea salt.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Tisserie on the Move

The cute little pastisserie with a great cup of hot chocolate- made with real Venezuelan dark chocolate that would solidify on the surface as your drink cooled- has shut the doors of its Union Square space. Sad looking brown paper lined the windows of the cafe, and I couldn't imagine how the popular bakery & catering place could have possibly closed (though I said the same of my fave branch of Zen Palate, but with raising rents and all...) According to their website, Tisserie will be moving to Park Central Hotel soon... too bad, the USq vibe seemed to be a good fit with the bakery!

And now when in Union Square, I'll continue to avoid the Max Brenner tourist trap, thankyouverymuch. If you want good hot chocolate while you're downtown, get a cup of spicy Aztec hot chocolate at Vosges on Spring Street between Greene and Wooster.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


If you're familiar with this blog, you know that Restaurant Week is when I sample what the well-established restaurants of NYC are offering up for vegetarians... it's a hard life, I know, but someone's got to report back on what's veg-friendly and what's not!

First up: lunch at Morimoto, a modern Japanese restaurant owned by Food Network regular Masaharu Morimoto. As an Iron Chef fan (and coincidentally, Iron Chef Batali's fantastic Del Posto is located across the street!), it was necessary for me to take a long lunch on Monday- especially since it was MLK day and I wouldn't have to worry about client issues arising that afternoon. And certainly that was the case, but it must've been because everyone was at Morimoto for lunch instead! The place was packed, and even with a reservation, we still had to wait a solid 20 minutes to be seated.

Luckily, pretty people and mod decor (like the bright white sushi bar and a wall of glass bottles dividing the restaurant) and even more importantly, speedy service at the table made up for lost time. Morimoto's prix fixe menu didn't have any vegetarian entrees... but redeemingly, they offered a vegetarian bento box lunch for $19, which was actually cheaper than the Restaurant Week prix fixe, and included both the soup and salad offered as prix fixe appetizers. No complaints from me this time around! One of the best miso soup's I've tasted in awhile, Morimoto's was filled with firm chunks of tofu, and a miso broth not overpowered by salt or strong seaweed flavors. Also included in the bento box were a salad, half a cucumber-avocado roll with sesame seeds, perfectly cooked vegetable tempura (where you can visably see that fresh oil and tempura batter were used for frying) with a creamy wasabi dipping sauce, and a small dish of grilled eggplant and zucchini gratin. Though I enjoyed the combo of the sweet tomato sauce with the hearty grilled vegetables, the Mediterranean-style side seemed out of place in tradtional, or even modern, Japanese cuisine. My date's sashimi was even garnished with some Mediterranean olives- though not enough to be considered a fusion dish, these touches were a definite reminder that the Iron Chef is a master with Japanese ingredients, and then some.

I'll still stand by my favorite little Japanese village in Midtown, Sakagura- yep, it's official, I've been permanently biased- but Morimoto is definitely a Meat Packing district spot that every vegetarian will find fun, welcoming, and most imporantly, just plain satisfying!

Morimoto, 88 Tenth Avenue, between W. 15th & W. 16th Sts, 212-989-8883

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama Goodies!

If the inauguration of the president who will initiate much needed change in America wasn't enough to brighten your day, then red, white & blue cookies from The Treats Truck, Obama's face in frosting on Eleni's cupcakes, or American flag cupcakes delivered to your door from FreshDirect will surely help you celebrate Inauguration Day! Woo-hoo!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Kale, White Bean, & Sweet Potato Soup

With weekends as cold as this past one, I'd rather bask in the warmth of my apartment than brave the frigid temperatures and wind chills outside. But when you can easily make a pot of hearty, warm soup, it might be worth stepping out to find the ingredients! I adapted this recipe from a similar one featured in the March '08 issue of Vegetarian Times- full of vitamins & nutrients, protein, and lots of flavor, you can also easily switch up this recipe to include your fave leafy greens or beans!

The Whats:

* 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
* 3 cloves garlic, halved
* 1 small onion, halved and thinly sliced
* 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
* 1 large bunch kale, rinsed and chopped
* 2 tbsp. smoked paprika
* 1 tbsp. curry powder
* 1 tsp. ground ginger
* 2 bay leaves
* 5 cups low sodium vegetable broth
* 2 15 oz. cans low sodium Great Northern beans, rinsed
* 2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
* salt & pepper to taste

The Hows:

1) Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook for about 8 minutes or until lightly caramelized, stirring often.

2) Add kale and cook 4 to 5 minutes until wilted. Stir in sweet potatoes, paprika, curry powder, ginger, and bay leaves- cook for another 2 minutes.

3) Add 4 cups of vegetable broth and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium low, and cook for 30 minutes, or until kale and sweet potatoes are both tender.

4) Puree 1 cup of beans with 1/2 cup water in a blender or food processor. Add puree, remaining beans, and remaining cup of broth to the soup. Simmer for 10 minutes, then stir in vinegar. Season with salt & pepper if desired. Serve soup with a sprinkle of paprika and a slice of crusty bread!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Baked "Mac & Cheese"

That unnaturally-colored orange crap out of a box that you were probably fed as a kid? Yeah, total crap, and thank goodness you can leave that and cafeteria mystery meat and Hostess cupcakes where they belong... in the past! On one of my recent, "hmm, what can I throw together with the random items in my fridge?" nights, I decided to pay homage to the comfort food that was once a staple during PTA meeting nights or when you came home late from soccer practice and missed a portion of dinner. My orange substance of choice here is a mix of pumpkin and fat free ricotta, but feel free to substitute with butternut squash, sweet potatoes, or the like. We're bringing retro back, in a good way- take that Velveeta!

The Whats:

For the "Mac & Cheese"
* 1 10 oz. box small spelt pasta shells (I used DeBoles brand, found at any health food store)
* 2/3 cup low sodium vegetable broth
* 2 cloves garlic, minced
* 2 cups pumpkin puree
* 1 cup fat free ricotta (you can use a silken tofu is you prefer to make this recipe vegan!)
* 2 tbsp. rubbed sage
* 2 tsp. white pepper
* 1 tbsp freshly grated ginger
* about 5 sprigs of thyme
* splash of white wine
* salt & black pepper to taste

For the topping:
* about 5 whole wheat baguette slices, toasted
* 3/4 cup walnut halves
* 1/2 cup grated pecorino romano
* salt & pepper to taste

The Hows:

1) Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Prep a baking dish with butter or olive oil, spreading across bottom of the dish and along the sides. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and add box of spelt shells. Cook pasta until al dente (about 8 to 10 minutes), stirring occasionally; drain.

2) While pasta is cooking, heat vegetable broth in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat; add garlic and 1 tbsp sage and cook for 2 minutes.

3) Stir pumpkin into broth until mixture is smooth, about 2 minutes; add ricotta and mix. Stir in the remaining sage, white pepper, ginger, thyme, and wine into pumpkin ricotta mixture, adding salt & black pepper if desired, and cook for another 3 to 5 minutes to let flavors blend. Remove from heat.

4) Mix the cooked pasta into the sauce until pasta shells are well coated. Spread pasta shells evenly in prepared baking dish.

5) For topping: put walnut halves and toasted baguette slices into a large Ziploc bag. Using a hammer (or rolling pin, whatever you have available!), lightly pound the bag until you have a breadcrumb and crushed walnut mix. Add pecorino romano, salt, and pepper to bag and shake well. Sprinkle mixture evenly over the pasta.

6) Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until topping is crisp. Allow several minutes to cool before serving.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Upcoming January Events

A quick briefing on cool events in the city:

Tuesday, January 13th: GreenDrinks monthy meetup at the Hiro Ballroom from 6pm to 10pm. $15 at door. Network with other green like-minded New Yorkers!

Thursday, January 15th: Edible Manhattan presents Kombucha Making, from 7:00pm to 8:30pm at the Culinary Center at Whole Foods Bowery, $20. Part lecture, part demo, and part tasting event, you know your inner raw foodist is just as curious as mine :)

Sunday, January 18th- 23rd, and 25th through 30th: NYC Winter Restaurant Weeks. You already know the deal- prix-fixe lunches for $24 and prix-fixe dinners for $35 at some of the finest restaurants in NYC. Book tables now, harass about veggie options later. (I sure do!)

Friday, January 23rd: The Queens GreenBusiness Summit at Queens College from 9am to 5pm. A business to business summit about incorporating sustainable practices into local businesses. The first of its kind in Queens, this event is worth checking out!

Saturday, January 24th: An Evening with Mark Bittman, free at the Culinary Center at Whole Foods Bowery, 6:30pm to 8pm. A discussion of his new book, Food Matters, which delves into how government policy, marketing, and global economics impact what we shop for and consume. Definitely a worthwhile talk!

Monday, January 26th: Chinese New Year 2009. Ring in the Year of the Ox with a fireworks show held on January 25th, followed by the annual Lunar Festival Parade at the beginning of February. Check out the link for full listing of events, sample some Chinese vegetarian munchies while you're downtown, or make your own vegetarian versions of traditional treats.

Tuesday, January 27th: HSUS NYC Lobbying for Animals Seminar, from 6 to 7:30pm at Animal Haven Soho. A free presentation where you can learn how you can influence your state representatives on humane issues and animal rights. Put your newly acquired lobbyist skills to good use on March 30th for New York State Humane Lobby Day in Albany.

Thursday, January 29th: Vegan Drinks, from 7pm to 9pm at Angels & Kings. Monthly meetup for vegans who like to party!

Saturday, January 31st: Ancient Grains for the Modern Vegetarian Diet, $55 at the Culinary Center at Whole Foods Bowery, 3pm to 6pm. A hands-on cooking class dedicated to nutrient powerhouses amaranth, quinoa, teff and millet.

Ongoing through January: Staten Island Restaurant Week, with prix-fixe dinners for $20.09 on Sundays through Thursdays at participating SI eateries. Come on, you know you're curious about what the so-called forgotten borough is bringing to the table.

Coming up next month:

Thursday, February 12th: James Beard: The Quintessential American Epicure lecture at The New School, 6pm. $8 at door.

New Topic: News & Headlines

Regular Veg readers will notice I've added another label for some of my posts. As a believer in the value of staying informed, I'm planning on posting articles related to food, health, and vegetarianism/veganism. And if you see an article, news release, or interview worth posting, please feel free to send it my way!

Let's kick this off with an idea that's crossed the minds of every vegetarian and vegan whenever they couldn't find good veg products in stores- producing your own veg food product or brand. I'm posting this interview with Tofurky inventor Seth Tibbott that appeared in The Wall Street Journal last Tuesday. Enjoy!


Perseverance Answers Vegans' Prayers

Ascending the career ladder is a different experience for everyone. This new column, "How I Got Here," looks at individual climbs and the lessons learned along the way.

* * *

Seth Tibbott, inventor of Tofurky and founder and president of Turtle Island Foods

How I got to here in 10 words or less: Stuck with it until it worked.

Before tofu turkey substitutes like Tofurky landed in supermarket freezer aisles, many vegetarians weren't able to easily share the holiday dinner table experience with friends. "I was tired of piling baked potatoes and yams on my plate," says Mr. Tibbot.

[Seth Tibbott] Associated Press

Seth Tibbott lived in a tree as he worked to build his Tofurky business.

That's one of the reasons he started his Hood River, Ore., company, which sold 275,634 Tofurky Roasts in 2007, along with other products like Tofurky hot dogs and deli slices. The company has seen sales double between 2003 and 2007 as a growing number of nonvegetarian eaters include meat substitutes in their diet. This is how Mr. Tibbot, now 57, created his career and Tofurky:

How long have you been a vegetarian?

Since 1974. I had just become a vegetarian after reading "Diet for a Small Planet" by Frances Moore Lappe. She pointed out the inefficiencies in animal production. You put in 15 pounds of grain in one side and get one pound of meat protein out the other. That resonated with me.

You were a teacher after college -- a far cry from tofu product creation. What led you to teaching?

I started teaching for outdoor schools in Oregon. It was part-time. They paid us $150 a week with room and board, which to me was a small fortune. When Ronald Reagan took office, the money dried up for these outdoor-education programs.

So did Ronald Reagan play a role in your career change -- and getting into the soy business?

I wouldn't go that far. I had been making tempeh for three or four years for friends out of an incubator (made of an old refrigerator). It's a kind of soybean cake. I remembered back in college, yogurt and granola were these esoteric products you could only find in a few shops. Six or seven years later, you have entire aisles of granola and yogurt at stores. I thought it would be the same with tempeh and soy products. (In 1980) I started trying to sell it full time.

Did you take any business courses or go back to school to bolster your business acumen when you launched the company?

I did take some workshops at a small business association. I remember in one class, the instructor asked if any of us was out to save the world. Of course, my hand went right up. I think I was the only one. He then asked how many of us were out to make a lot of money. Everybody in the room raised their hands and cheered. I thought, "Oh man, I failed my first test."

You started the business more officially in 1982 by borrowing money from your brother and mother. How did you keep things going after that?

I tried to live as cheaply as I could in the beginning. In 1984, I built a tree house which I lived in until 1992. I paid $25 a week to a guy who was renting the trees out for that express purpose. I had a wood stove, a phone and hot and cold running water.

My brother (currently Turtle Island's vice president) came into the business around 1987. He bought a large share of the company.

Where were your products sold initially?

We started selling tempeh in small health-food stores in the Northwest and the West Coast. We also mail orders to the East Coast. We'd send products through Federal Express. Tofurky broadened our reach and United Natural Foods picked the products up nationwide. We broke even for the first 15 years. Once Tofurky came along, we were profitable.

Where did the idea for Tofurky come from?

I had been to dozens of Thanksgiving dinners where we tried to make something to substitute for turkey. It was never very good. For us, it was always eight vegetarians sitting around a table.

In reality, the market is more like one or two people going to a turkey dinner and eating a baked potato and salad and getting laughed at while everybody else has this fabulous turkey experience.

Our first product was a 3.5-pound roast with eight tempeh drumsticks and a tub of gravy. It was an eight-legged creature.

Was it a tough sell?

It was hard to sell to retailers and wholesalers. Even high-end shops that carried tempeh complained they wouldn't be able to sell Tofurky because it cost $30. They even thought the name was too eccentric. But once it made it onto shelves, it sold.

What was the response like from customers?

We put feedback cards on the Tofurky and got a lot of them back. Customers would say "this is the product we've been waiting years for" and "we no longer feel like second-class citizens at the dinner table."

How did you promote your brand?

We didn't have any budget for advertising at first. But Tofurky was a lighting-rod product for comedians. I'd pick up the Sunday paper and see "do you want dark tofu or light?" You can't put a price on that kind of attention. Now, though, we do more traditional advertising.

Are the holidays typically your busiest time?

We used to live and die on the holidays. Now holiday sales are about 18%. We sell Tofurky year round.

How's that ham substitute coming along?

You can get smoky and sweet pretty easily. But that certain je ne sais quoi ham-ness is elusive.

Write to Dennis Nishi at

Friday, January 9, 2009

Vote for Vegan School Lunch Options!

If you're not acquainted with and their national competition, Ideas for Change in America, familiarize yourself! Concerned citizens such as yourself can nominate and vote for ten different ideas that will be presented to incoming President Barack Obama on January 16th at the National Press Club in DC.

One of the topics being served up to voters: vegan options for school lunches. Not only is this a great idea as far as the planet is concerned (I'm sure all concerned vegetarians & vegans already know all about the devastating environmental impact caused by factory farms and meat production), but for our well being- offering up healthy options to school-age children is a step towards combating America's alarming obesity problem as well!

It's currently ranked 17th place of all suggested topics, so cast your vote here to put this important issue on Obama's agenda!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Premium Chocolate Holds Steady in Tough Economy

My inner (okay, my outwardly flamboyant) chocoholic was immediately drawn to this Wall Street Journal headline. Despite being in the midst of a recession, one thing people do not skimp on are comparatively inexpensive "comfort" products, like chocolate; and according to the article, people will continue purchasing premium chocolate but will be more discriminating and ingredient-conscious, making sure they get the best quality for their dollars.

Makes sense, if ya ask me. It's the same reason liquor sales traditionally spike during a recession. While at the Chocolate Show this past November, SweetRiot founder Sarah also explained that people are more likely to treat themselves with a premium chocolate than splurge on a big ticket item, hence the unwavering crowds at the show.

Chocolatiers, go ahead and breathe that sigh of relief that all too many retailers can't.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Honey Curry Chickpea Salad

Garbanzos might just be my favorite beans. I can't get enough of 'em- chewy, nutty, & delicious, you can certainly find a variety of ways to cook and flavor the versatile garbanzo so that it's always a fresh addition to the table. Last night, I was all too excited to utilize the Penzey's Hot Curry powder I picked up at Grand Central Market, but I wasn't in the mood for a heavy channa masala, much less the time it would take to prepare. But as all kitchen magic happens, it just took a few whisks of the spoon, and poof! Super-easy sweet & spicy chickpea salad appeared! I enjoyed the random flavor combo, and I hope you do too!

The Whats:

* 1 15 oz. can low sodium chick peas
* 3 plum tomatoes, diced
* 1/2 small onion, diced
* 1 clove garlic, minced
* 2 tbsp. olive oil
* 1 tbsp. honey balsamic vinegar (you could also substitute with a tbsp of honey and a tbsp white wine vinegar)
* 1 1/2 tsp. dried basil (if you can find Thai basil, this is perfection!)
* 1 tsp hot curry powder (you can add less if you can't take the heat)
* pinch of salt

The Hows:

1) In a large bowl, mix together chickpeas, tomatoes, onion and garlic. Set aside.

2) In a small bowl, whisk together oil, honey vinegar, basil, curry powder, and salt. Drizzle dressing over vegetables, and mix with a large spoon to coat.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Adventures in AZ

Happy New Year to all! After two weeks in sunny Arizona, with my share of eating, hiking, relaxing... I'll stop before you quickly close your web page in envy... part of me is glad to be back in good ol' NYC... especially with 2009 Restaurant Week approaching quickly!

In a state where cowboys mount their rifles in the back of their pickup trucks, restaurants are dubbed with ever-so sophisticated monikers like "Zeke's Eatin' Place", and where I can see roaming cattle from my parents' front porch, one might ask, "what's a vegetarian like you doing in a place like this?" The dirt roads that lead to my parents' home certainly don't rival the vegetarian's paradise that is New York, but I assure you, oh skeptical Arizona visitor, you can eat veg!

In the city closest to my folks, Prescott, I found limited, but yummy options at the Bistro St. Michael, part of the historic Hotel St. Michael in the Courthouse Square. Though vegetarian choices are limited, you can snack on a veggie burger with salad, or indulge in a grilled portobello stuffed with a creamy artichoke and parmesan filling. Though the latter was a bit rich for my liking (especially because it arrived with a side of jasmine rice with a zesty cream sauce), it was still tasty and flavorful. If those options don't appeal to you, it's only a hop, skip, & a jump down Gurley Street to Esoji, a Japanese restaurant just outside the Square- though there are more veggie options here, the menu is a bit uninspiring and not particularly authentic. Another great option is The Raven Cafe, just a few blocks away on Cortez Street. A funky Greenpoint-like amalgam of coffeeshop/wine bar/performance space, their menu features organic dishes made with locally grown/produced items (Arizona feta? who knew?)- I enjoyed some satisfying tempeh tacos that were on special, but their regular menu features items like a Strawberry-Balsamic Glaze, Pear, and Brie Bruschetta, a Sweet Beet Sandwich, and Parmesan Polenta with Fennel.

We hit veg dining on the head during a day trip to Sedona... by accident! While driving down Highway 89A, the "vegetarian" label on a storefront was barely caught from the corner of my honey's eye. We screeched to a halt- no matter how good or bad, we were definitely going to this place! And D'Lish Very Vegetarian goes beyond just veggie dishes- it's completely vegan. And it completely lives up to its name. Sitting outside of the small, earthy cafe, we split a carrot-ginger soup- loaded with ginger to the point of being spicy, it was definitely the pick-me-up needed after a long drive. My entree, a Jamaican jerk & pineapple seitan burger, was not as spicy as I'd have liked, but the warmth of the jerk and the sweetness of the pineapple made each bite absolutely... delish! (oh come on, I had to say it!) We finished off our meal with a wine tasting at The Art of Wine, a small wine shop offering only Arizona produced wines... yet another, "who knew?" in AZ. The Wall Street Journal even named Northern Arizona as the next up and coming Napa Valley in an article earlier this year.

And though I didn't get to make it to this gem while I was in Tucson, I figured I'd mention this resto for those of you not shelling out for Canyon Ranch- Lovin' Spoonfuls, a popular vegan restaurant in the same vein as Red Bamboo in NYC. If the name alone doesn't lure 1960's pop geeks like myself, then the combination of mock meat entrees like Pepper "Steak" and solid standbys like Thai vegetable curry will certainly keep Tucson's veg community coming back for more. I'm making this place a priority next time I'm in Tucson!

Happy travels! Giddyup!