Four Thanksgiving Dishes to Please Any Crowd

If you want something as a "ta- da" dish -- a centerpiece that's not meat, I've got some dishes to consider. First, think of the all the sides that we love. Many or most of them don't require any meat or meat stock to be crowd pleasing. People love stuffing and gravy. Why not do leek-mushroom-herb stuffing in muffin tins and a mushroom gravy? No bones and no griping.

The Main Dish

For an elegant centerpiece dish: try the Kale Butternut Squash Phyllo Pie made in a springform pan. Elegant and beautiful with bright colors and crispy phyllo.

Try cashew cheese and skip pancetta (or use porcinis for umami), use Earth Balance butter substitute and you're meat-free, dairy-free.












Another of Kim's recipes that even carnivores have asked for in subsequent meals: the Lentil-Chard Shepherd's Pie.




Sides that Wow

The sage butter sweet potato- white potato casserole (below)  is easy to make dairy-free and if you use gluten-free bread, it can be GF, too. Again, your potato ricer is your friend. Light fluffy potatoes get mixed with browned sage butter and topped off with fresh breadcrumbs. I modify Martha's recipe and make it dairy-free and delicious.

Sage_butter_potato_casserole Another dish that is a real favorite, I've taught it to Kitchen Confidence clients and they adored it. I love it. Red rice pilaf stuffed Delicata squash. The recipe is from Kim O'Donnel's Meatless Celebrations. It's colorful, delicious and substantial enough to use as a vegetarian/vegan main course.


Both of these could certainly be main courses for a meat-free meal that won't leave you wanting.




Strata - Savory Bread Pudding Perfect for Feeding Holiday Guests

When you've got a house full of guests, making breakfast or brunch can be daunting. This Strata is easy to prep, in fact it must rest overnight before baking so it leaves you free to mix Mimosas or enjoy a leisurely cuppa while it bakes. It's also one of the recipes that's handy for eating down the fridge. Since Thanksgivikkuh is very soon upon us, we all have major shopping to do and food prep ahead. That means we need room in the fridge and freezer. For many of us, it also means house guests, perhaps a day of people arriving at different times with everyone on different schedules.

Strata, all prepped the night before, is ready to pop in the oven once guests arrive. Just have snacks on hand (Spiced Nuts, cheese board, fruit) and when you're close to a full house -- in it goes.



Savory Fall Strata

This strata is vegetarian, dairy-free, and flexible. It can be varied according to what you need to use up, just pick things that complement each other. You could add cheese but it doesn't really need it. I sprinkle my own DIY dairy-free parmesan on top, true Parmigiano-Reggiano would be great. Depending on how you want to layer it (hence the name "strata") you can build it as you would a lasagna, or you can simply mix all the veg and bread cubes together, toss in a buttered pan then pour on the custard mixture.


  • 2 C  thinly sliced leeks
  • 2 C thinly sliced mushrooms
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-2 large roasted red bell peppers, sliced
  • 4 C julienned greens (I had spinach and large brussels sprout leaves)
  • 1/2 C minced celery
  • 1/4 C vermouth, wine, stock or water to deglaze
  • 9 C cubed bread
  • 1 1/2 tsp Thanksgiving spice blend (alt use 1 tsp thyme, 1/2 tsp sage)
  • 6 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 C soy milk
  • 1/4 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
  • Parmesan or Parmigiano Reggiano



  1. Slice leeks, mushrooms, spinach/greens.
  2. Mince celery, garlic
  3. Cube bread, enough to fill the pan you are using. Place in very large mixing bowl.
  4. Add a couple glugs of olive oil to a large pan, sauté mushrooms and leeks until they're wilted, add celery, garlic, and greens. Sauté and just as things are beginning to brown, deglaze with some wine, dry vermouth, stock or water.
  5. Add veg, spice, S&P to bread cubes toss.
  6. In a large mixing cup or small bowl, break eggs and mix lightly with milk. Add grated nutmeg.
  7. Place bread veg mix in buttered 13 x 9 pan and cover with egg-milk mix.
  8. Cover and place in fridge overnight.
  9. The next day, remove from fridge 30 minutes before you're baking. Preheat oven to 350.
  10. Sprinkle Parmesan and Pimenton or Paprika, bake for 45-50 minutes - knife inserted in center should come out clean.
  11. Let stand 10 minutes before cutting and serving.

Serves 4 -8 depending on if you're serving as main or side.


strata serving








Check out Brian Samuels' gorgeous  Kale and Shiitake Mushroom Bread Pudding. A rich version laced with cream and cheese.

Eat Your Vegetables - Adding to, not Subtracting from, Our Food Joy

The notion of plant-based food being meals-minus-meat always rubs me the wrong way. Call me a glass-half-full omnivore. I've had my vegetarian phase and am now happily an eater of most everything. But the resistance of some to "give up meat" strikes me as fundamentally the wrong way to approach it. As a friend once put it "when someone hears I'm a vegetarian, they always frown and think how sad, imagining that I am eating buns without burgers or something." Listening to my friend Joe Yonan read from his new book Eat Your Vegetables the other night at Trident, I was struck again by how charming and thoughtful and funny he is. "Is it time to stop mocking mock meats?" he asks. And while his book buying fans, vegetarians and veg-curious, (some of whom went home empty handed due to a sold out inventory!) munched on kimchi deviled eggs (p.146) and poblano tapenade (p. 151) and chips, the reading was classic Joe: I had to take notes, I had questions, I was curious, I laughed. And that tapenade, sweetie, is to die for.

Joe Yonan at Dewey Square Farmers' Market

Feeding Others, Feeding Ourselves

The past week has been a tough one for us here, work challenges for both of us, sinusitis and migraine for me, anniversary of my late Grandmother's birthday, etc. (you don't want to know about the etc., trust me.) So we're looking forward to the holiday weekend even though I'll have to work. Try taking a day off when you're a loft-dwelling freelancer. Let me know how that works out.

Yesterday evening was an example of why we, Me and Doc, work. How we work. In any relationship, clients, family, partners, you have moments when you are wise to hold your tongue and do the opposite of what you're feeling. Give rather than ask, compliment rather than criticize; after all this person at whom you may feel like lashing out against probably cares for you and probably is not intentionally being difficult.

On good days, we can take a deep breath, a step back, and remind ourselves of that. On days when we've had crushing pain in our head for nearly two weeks, we can find that reservoir of kindness dry. "We" have been having that sort of time lately. Of course, I mean me.

cookie jar

Digging deep, and feeling very sorry for Doc after a night of watching him clean up others' messes, all night, I decided to fill his cookie jar. This is a cookie jar I got for Doc for Christmas. Since I cannot afford the sorts of gifts he'd prefer (a new Land Rover, a Jaeger le Coultre watch) I have to go with more humble gifts. This is one of those. It reminds him that I love him. It reminds me that I don't have to do extravagant expensive things to make him happy. I can, in the simple gesture of filling a cookie jar, show him he is cared for.

Yesterday, I thought he needed that. I made these cookies from Joe's great book. Carl's Chocolate Chunk Cookies comes with a headnote about caring for his then new boyfriend who was under the weather, first by making him soup, then by making him cookies. Who wouldn't feel better after that?

Joe's lovely book is a reminder that food, whether it's meat centered or not, vegetable laden or not, free of mock meat or not, food is something we can use to comfort and value ourselves and others. As he reminds us, the seatbelt warnings on airplanes "place your own mask over your nose and mouth first..." we must care for ourselves first, then we're fortified and able to respond to the needs of others. Fill your own cookie jar!

Doc came home with a surprise for me, too. A giant ciabatta from Panzano's - I immediately tore into it, sliced up a Purple Cherokee tomato and was in heaven. We take care of each other in these small but important ways.

cookie trio

The Book Itself

Because Joe has written "for the single cook", one might think the recipes are only for single cooks. Let me assure you this book is perfect for a couple as well. As many of us have come to find out, at a certain point, our weight does not respond the way it once did to simple interventions. I once used to eat anything I liked, in any quantity I wanted, and never gained an ounce. I have never forgiven my body for the betrayal of losing that capacity.

As a cook, I find it hard to cook in smaller proportions and these recipes help. Make a couple of them for a small plates or tapas style dinner, or double one up for two, or add a salad or a grain.  Do we really need two dozen or four dozen cookies all the time? Not always. Here we have ten perfect, giant cookies. A healthy, portion-controlled indulgence.

More good news:

  • Recipes that are straightforward, use simple ingredients and they work. They are also delicious.
  • Headnotes and longer essays interspersed between recipes will have you nodding, laughing, and thinking.
  • Particularly useful are the notes about scaling recipes, about using up ingredients, storing things. His relaxed manner should set even novice cooks at ease.
  • Helpful sidebars throughout give even more advice to help you cook once, eat twice and so on.

So I do urge you to Serve Yourself and to Eat Your Vegetables and to remember, if you're single and you don't value yourself enough to feed yourself well, don't you think that others will take their cue from that? Whether you're single or not, pick up one or both of Joe's books and I promise you, your cosmic cookie jar will overflow. Now, go forth and cook!


Taking Stock: Vegan Minestrone with Umami to Spare

Taking Stock: is a series focusing on soups and stews. Look for others coming soon: Chinese Black Chicken Soup; Curried Kuri Squash Bisque; Karwendel (Lentil & Kielbasa) Soup. Basics of making stock will also be covered and don't forget this tip sheet on buying a stock pot from my Essential Kitchen Equipment Series. 


This week in Taking Stock I'm going to talk about Minestrone. Minestrone or “big soup” in Italian, like many of my favorite dishes, was most likely borne of frugality. Humble cooks in any culture know how to make a delicious meal from whatever is on hand. An admirable skill, in my opinion.

I am working at developing a new habit: weekly meal planning. One of my goals is to bolster our newish habit of at least one meatless meal per week. Another goal is to incorporate whole grains at least twice a week. For Monday's Meatless Meal, I decided a big pot of Minestrone would be great. I had some wheatberries to use, some great beans. I began looking for a recipe that looked good even without the seemingly critical ingredient: Parmigiano Reggiano.

After searching all over I found a startling paucity of options. Recipes which I could tell by reading would taste like a bowl of veggies in water. Or, recipes that came up in a search for “vegan” turned out to be “vegetarian” which is fine for most of us, but not if you’re allergic to dairy, as I am. The challenge is to make a vegan soup that packs the same umami flavor, savory, satisfying flavor without the Parmigiano Reggiano, bacon or pancetta.

Vegan Minestrone Soup

I knew the secret to my vegan version of this favorite soup would be building layers of flavor and relying on umami from non-meat sources. Two things are commonly found in the base of Minestrone: bacon or pancetta and Parmigiano Reggiano. Both are umami rich foods. My goal was to create a rich and satisfying soup without these easy shortcuts - the fat, salt, & umami that comes with meat or cheese.

There are two main ways to build umami in your cooking: one is selecting umami rich ingredients, the other is to use umami building technique.

One of the reasons many meatless meals can be found lacking is that meat is one of the prime sources of umami. Umami is that mouth-coating, savoriness, the “fifth taste” discovered by Dr. Ikeda in the 1920s. It is a flavor we are hard-wired to crave. This is not to say that things like vegetables are lacking in umami. To learn how to create umami without animal sources is not hard. Let’s take a look at our umami arsenal. You’ve probably got it in your cabinets, fridge or pantry already and you may not even know it.


My Plan: 

  1. Building flavor by sautéeing vegetables first to develop fond (“foundation”) those browned-bits on the bottom of the pot created by Maillard reaction - browning that creates flavors - think of browning bread, or searing meat. (This process is often confused with "caramelization" which is something that develops the sugars but not the amino acids of Maillard, and caramelization happens at a much lower temp.)
  2. Knowing what common kitchen items contain umami and how to pick the ones that fit the flavor profile of the dish you are making, is important. In this case, umami rich foods appropriate for an Italian soup would include: Parmigiano Reggiano (not for dairy-free) , maybe anchovy (not for a vegan version), roasted, ripe tomatoes, spinach, kidney beans.
  3. Soy sauce, miso, nutritional yeast, porcinis - all of these help build a strong umami profile.


Umami Rich Vegan Minestrone

This "big soup" does indeed have a lot of ingredients. It's also good with fewer, so don't let a missing ingredient or two stop you from starting.

Grains: wheat berries are nutritious and delicious. They lend a toothsome pop and add heft to the soup. You can cook them ahead of time in water or vegetable stock then freeze in 1 C quantities. I soaked what I had on hand the night before, then boiled in stock while I chopped veggies. To quick-soak, pour boiling water over dried wheat berries and let soak for an hour.

Pasta: I par-boiled shells for this batch while I prepped veggies.

Chop veggies in dice roughly 1/4" so that you can get a good variety in each bite, but they're large enough to be distinguishable.Feel free to use different seasonal vegetables throughout the year. Zucchini, eggplant in summer, peas in spring, cabbage in winter. It's a template more than an exact recipe.

❤ items that include a good dose of umami


  • 3/4 C diced carrots, diced
  • 1/2 C diced celery, diced
  • 3/4 C diced onion, diced
  • 1/2 C leeks sliced thinly
  • 2 TBSP olive oil
  •  1-2 TBSP minced fresh garlic
  • 1-2 tsp oregano
  • Heavy pinch rosemary
  • 1 lge allspice berry
  • 2 dried chilies
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • Pinch fennel seeds
  • 1 C white wine, vermouth or water
  • 1 TBSP soy sauce ❤
  •  1/3 C sun-dried tomato ❤ (pour very hot water over, to rehydrate, then chop and reserve liquid for soup)
  • 1/3 C dried porcini ❤ (pour very hot water over, to rehydrate, then chop and reserve liquid for soup)
  •  13.4 oz carton of kidney beans drained and rinsed ❤
  • 13.4 oz carton of garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
  •  1 C (or more) chopped tomatoes ❤ (I like Pomi, or maybe you've got some you canned last summer, lucky you)
  • 1 C wheat berries, pre-cooked  ❤
  • Small pasta, 1/2 box, small shapes such as ditalini, elbows, or small shells, par-boiled
  • 4C veggie stock, I  ❤ Magic Mineral Broth (made with kombu, rich in vitamins, mineral and umami)
  • 4 C water or more
  • Three or four large rainbow chard leaves, stems minced and set aside with celery and carrots, leaves sliced in half, then rolled and sliced cross-wise
  • Handful of fresh spinach ❤
  • Parsley, minced.


  1. Parboil wheat berries and pasta separately, set aside.
  2. While grains and pasta are boiling, chop carrots, celery, onions, leeks, and chopped chard stems.
  3. Mince parsley and garlic.
  4. Measure spices
  5. Rinse beans.
  6. Clean and slice chard, spinach.
  7. Sauté mirepoix (carrots, celery, onion) and leeks in 2 TBSP olive oil. As they begin to soften add garlic.
  8. Add spices, sun-dried tomatoes, porcini.
  9. When the veggies begin to brown, deglaze the pot by adding the wine (or water).
  10. Add chopped tomatoes, beans, soaking liquids from the sun-dried tomatoes and porcini.
  11. Add the stock, soy sauce, water, chard ribbons, pasta and wheat berries.
  12. Cook for about half an hour till veggies become soft.
  13. Add spinach, parsley.
  14. Taste - adjust seasoning as you like with salt, pepper, chili flakes.

Garnishing & Options:

  • Adding faux parmesan - keeps it vegan and adds umami from Nutritional Yeast and Miso.
  • Adding pistou, pesto or even chimichurri you had in the freezer is nice.
  • If you are not concerned about this being vegan, starting with chopped bacon or pancetta is great. Adding a rind of parmigiano reggiano lends great umami, and salt to the pot. If using it, don't add additional salt without tasting first.
  • Wheat berries, spelt and farro are kissing cousins. (Here's a great chart about all sorts of grains.) And a great breakfast of wheatberries. Tuscans make a zuppa di farro, similar to this one. According to Cesare Casella, "locals say one hundred kernels of farro give you all the energy you need for a day and Romans paid their soldiers in spelt.


Vegan Minestrone

Eat Better - a Smoothie Surprise. Cocoa-loco Smoothie.

Even Rich would like this smoothie - the Passionate Foodie is not so passionate about veggies. Yesterday I told you about the benefits of eating flax. Here's a delicious and fun way to incorporate flax in a smoothie that is not only delicious but really good for you. It is an antioxidant powerhouse, and a good reason to keep frozen blueberries on hand, as well as baby spinach. Yes, it has spinach!

Baby Spinach


 Cocoa-loco smoothie

Modified only slightly from the Eat Right America Chocolate Smoothie. I call it "cocoa-loco" because it's crazy-rich with antioxidants, and it's surprisingly not "green" tasting while providing benefits of spinach nutritionally.

This an excellent way to start your day, especially on those days when you have little time to "make" breakfast. Pour it into a go-cup and you're off. No regrets from eating a fat-laden fast food sandwich.

Smoothie mise








  • Spinach
  • Blueberries
  • Soy milk
  • Banana
  • Dates
  • Cocoa
  • Flax



  1. Take a big handful of baby spinach leaves - the tender early growth of spinach is sold under the local Olivia's brand at Whole Foods. (Olivia's is a local packager not grower, and they have a good reputation and commitment to local non-profits.)
  2. Put spinach in a blender. Add 1 1/2 - 2 C of frozen blueberries. (blueberries are very high in antioxidants, Manganese, good source of fiber)
  3. Add 1/2 C soy milk (I like Eden brand, I think coconut or almond would work well here, too.)
  4. Slice up one small banana into blender. (Tip: I keep a banana or two in the freezer, just toss it in, peel and all. As it thaws, in just minutes, the skin will slice off easily and the frozen banana is great for rich, luscious smoothies.)
  5. Add 2- 4 dates, depending on type and size and your desired sweetness (good source of fiber)
  6. 2 TBSP cocoa powder
  7. 1 TBSP ground flax seeds



More on blueberries, baby spinach and recipes using both.

Some of our favorite players here ina Playah style greens and grain salad.