The Daily Beet

23 Nov Guest post by Whole Foods Cooking Coach, Vanessa

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If you live in the city of Austin, you are in luck! Whole Foods on North Lamar has a great resource for you, a cooking coach! The next time you are at Whole Foods, find Vanessa (she’s usually hanging out around the bulk section). She is there to help with recipe ideas, cooking advice, and navigating through some fantastic plant-strong foods you might not be aware of yet.

And if you are not lucky enough to live in Austin, we have good news for you as well. Vanessa is going to be doing some guest posting for our Engine 2 blog! We are thankful to have her lend her voice as a plant-strong cooking expert.

We’ll let Vanessa take it from here:

The best cooks, in my opinion, are those that can make beautiful meals with few simple ingredients, which is the essence of whole foods. Anyone can throw butter, cream and salt on something and make it taste good, but to me a great chef knows how to prepare simple whole foods to please any crowd.  One of my favorite culinary instructors always said, “If it’s not fun and beautiful, it’s not worth eating”. She always reminded us that there is no point in forcing ourselves to eat bland tasteless food because we think it’s healthy if it is going to make us dread it or be miserable. Food should be celebrated, and prepared in a way that we just can’t wait to dig in!

This concept is not only about taste, but also appearance. Thoughtful presentation is just as important as any ingredient! Even if it’s just something I’m throwing together, I cook it with love and think of how I can present it so that my company (myself included!) will feel special. For example, with something simple like stir-fried rice, I could stuff it in a baked portabella mushroom and top with roasted almond slivers, parsley and serve that over a bed of arugula with a bright dressing drizzled over the plate to tie the whole dish together.

I tend to make things up as I go.  The other day when I was making a vegan stuffing, I put it in muffin tins and baked it before serving. Since the oven was on, I quickly decided to slice some Brussels sprouts and a sweet potato so that I could bake them in the oven at the same time. When all these plates were ready to be served, I took a moment to thinly slice the stuffing-muffins, layer them between the sweet potatoes in the center of the plate, and surround it all with the baked Brussels sprouts. It looked awesome, was very simple, and I could “taste it” before even taking a bite!

To me, the most important aspect of the holiday season is to share time and gratitude with friends and family. My favorite way to show my appreciation for all that I have is for the meal I share to not only be beautiful, but also to support good health.  During the holidays I like to keep meals simple, adding little details that tell my guests they are in for a loving treat. I start by creating an inviting environment that caters to all the senses. Hot cider will be simmering on the stovetop to fill the house with warming scents, some mellow favorite tunes will be playing, and there will be a fun display on my table. A quick and interesting table decoration can be as easy as setting out the ingredients you are cooking so your guests can touch them and get more involved. For example, if I was making a bean soup, I may put out some dried beans in a pretty bowl and research some info on their history to share in conversation. Also, I might put out a few vegetables in their whole form in a large vase, as it always surprises me how many of my friends don’t associate what they’re eating to the whole plant that comes from the ground. It seems this connection to food is something that has been lost in our culture, so I like to encourage people to re-establish a relationship with food.

One of my favorite things to make around the holiday season is Millet Cauliflower Mashed Potatoes with Shitake Mushroom Gravy. The dish is full of whole grains, vegetables and lots of yumminess. Millet also known as a  “20 minute grain” for it’s quick cooking time, is one of my favorites- easy to prepare grains.  I never feel bloated or bad after eating millet like I do after eating a big bowl of traditional mashed potatoes.  Before cooking, rinse the millet well in a fine mesh strainer and put it in a pot. Use your fingers to break up a small head of cauliflower into the same pot. Add water and/or vegetable stock until it just covers the cauliflower. Add a pinch of salt, bring it all to boil, and simmer with the lid on for about 20 minutes. The millet will rise to the top as it absorbs the water and naturally mix with the cauliflower. When both millet and cauliflower are soft, mash them up together or use a hand processor to blend. Add salt or tamari to taste. Any fresh herbs like thyme, and rosemary are also a nice compliment.

If you would like my shitake mushroom gravy recipe or any other tips or advice, I hope you’ll be in touch!  You can email or stop by and talk to me at Whole Foods North Lamar anytime you need some advice.  I’m always happy to help!

Have a loving holiday,


Thanks Vanessa!

Do you have cooking related questions? Be sure to leave a comment.

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Engine 2 Team
Engine 2 Team

The Engine 2 Team is dedicated to helping you become plant-strong! Each of us are on the plant-strong journey right along side of you!

  • Cathy Lewis
    Posted at 11:43h, 23 November

    I love millet but I always end up overcooking it. Most grains I cook in my rice cooker and they turn out wonderful. What’s the best way to cook millet?

  • Katja
    Posted at 12:01h, 23 November

    It’s important to wash millet really well! It tends to be a bit bitter.
    I wash it, put it in the pot with little water and bring it to a boil, than strain away this water. It’s worth it.
    Millet is like a national old grain in my country. We have all kinds of special sweet and sour recipes for it. We also use millet flour.
    It’s a wonderful gluten-free grain. I often cook it in water with dried plums and cinnamon for breakfast. Wonderful deserts can be made with it, like puddings, cakes, … I will most definitely try out this recipe, thx!

  • Ramona Kennon
    Posted at 14:02h, 23 November

    Thank you, I always think I want to make something with millet, but I’ve never found a recipe that looked like something my family would enjoy. This is perfect!

  • Denise
    Posted at 14:09h, 23 November

    Your millet and cauliflower mash sounds wonderful and now my dinner tonight
    Thanks for sharing

  • Mary Kay Ruwette
    Posted at 06:49h, 24 November

    Can you share the mushroom gravy recipe? It sounds great. Thanks

  • Merlin Dresher
    Posted at 09:32h, 24 November

    Thank you for sharing.
    My wife and I would love to get the mushroom gravy recipe. Has it been published someplace? Website or hardcopy recipe book?

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