Rachel Ray Recipe Re-Do

For a fall day, almost nothing beats a stout vegetable stew with the mighty Yukon Gold!

For a fall day, almost nothing beats a stout vegetable stew with the mighty Yukon Gold!

I saw these two “healthy” recipes in the latest Rachel Ray magazine.  Sad to say, Rachel and her team are promoting the Standard American Diet (S.A.D.)!  The magazine features advertisements from USDA-managed industry marketing groups such as the National Egg Board, Beef Producers of America, and the National Dairy Council.  From these advertisements I learned that eggs now have “less cholesterol!” and that cow’s meat is an “excellent source of high-quality protein.”  These statements are ironic, since a single egg still contains 95% of the daily recommended maximum of cholesterol and even one more bite of meat or dairy in a day would exceed that limit.  The protein in 100 calories of sirloin steak is 13.2 grams, while the protein in 100 calories of spinach is 13.4 grams.

It is worth talking about these marketing campaigns.  The money to pay for full-page advertisements in Rachel Ray magazine comes from a marketing “check-off” program for each industry.  Congress approves the creation of say a beef check-off, so all American producers of beef must pay a certain amount into the program (for example, $1 per head of cattle).  The US Department of Agriculture uses the money in the check-off to advertise for the industry.  They are responsible for such hit advertisements as “the incredible, edible egg,” “got milk?” and the dramatic “Beef: it’s what’s for dinner!”  It seems reasonable that the Department of Agriculture should promote the products of American agriculture.  However, the USDA also produces the “Dietary Guidelines for Americans” every 5 years.  They are the agency responsible for the creation of the Food Pyramid that we grew up with, and now the nearly incomprehensible My Plate graphic.  Could there be a slight conflict of interest here?

I do enjoy the recipes in Rachel Ray magazine for their flavor combinations.  Here are two original Rachel Ray recipes that I have rewritten so that they fit into a whole foods plant-based diet.  By removing the oil, meat, and dairy and using “whole” ingredients anyone can enjoy these truly healthy meals!

Rachel Ray's recipe uses oil, more salt than is needed, and parmisan cheese (the most acidic food you could eat!)

Rachel Ray’s recipe uses oil, more salt than is needed, and parmesan cheese (the most acidic food you could eat!)

Healthy Butternut & Parsley Penne


1 1/2 Pounds pre-cut butternut squash cubes or 1 small butternut squash, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces

Freshly cracked black pepper

Freshly grated or ground nutmeg

1 Pound 100% whole-wheat penne rigate

1 Bunch flat-leaf parsley, stems and leaves separated, each finely chopped

4 Large cloves garlic, minced

1 Piece (1 inch) fresh ginger, peeled, then grated or finely chopped

1 Chile pepper, such as Fresno or jalapeno, finely chopped, or 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1 Bunch scallions, whites and greens separated, each finely chopped

1 Cup vegetable stock or water

Preheat the oven to 475F.  On a baking sheet, season the squash with pepper and nutmeg.  Roast until just tender and brown at the edges, about 17-20 minutes.  Meanwhile, cook the penne according to package directions.  Reserve 1 cup of the cooking water when done.  While the pasta is cooking, heat a pan over medium-high heat.  Add the parsley stems, garlic, ginger, chile and scallion whites.  Add a tablespoon or two of water to prevent sticking.  As the water evaporates, add a little more as needed.  Cook until the scallions are tender, about 2-3 minutes.  Add the stock and reduce heat to simmer.  Add half a ladleful of the pasta cooking water to the sauce.  Add the pasta, parsley leaves, scallion greens an squash to the skillet.  Stir to combine.  Adjust the seasonings.

This classic stew is really delicious without the beef, butter, and animal-based stock.  Save even more time by skipping the saute step in this recipe--you can just add the ingredients to your slow-cooker and simmer on low for 8 hours!

This classic stew is really delicious without the beef, butter, and animal-based stock. Save even more time by skipping the saute step in this recipe–you can just add the ingredients to your slow-cooker and simmer on low for 8 hours!

Healthy Slow-Cooker Potato Stew


3 Onions, thinly sliced

3 Cloves garlic, crushed

Freshly cracked black pepper

3/4 Cup vegetable stock or water

1/2 Cup dark beer, such as stout or porter

1 3/4 Pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

3 Carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

3 Parsnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

2 Tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh parsley

Heat a large skilled over medium-high.  Add the onions and cook 2 minutes using the water saute method.  Add the garlic, season and cook until the onions are softened, about 4-5 minutes.  Stir in the stock and beer and simmer for 2 minutes; transfer the mixture to the slow cooker along with the potatoes, carrots, and parsnips.  Cook on high for 4 hours or on low for 8 hours.  Sprinkle with the parsley before serving.


No-oil hummus

No-oil hummus

Hummus is enjoying it’s day in the sun!  It’s now a popular snack and fresh versions are available at your local grocery store and small snack size packs are even found at gas stations complete with pretzels.  But these versions are typically loaded with oil!  Did you know that olive oil is 100% pure fat and is totally unnecessary in a great hummus recipe?  Try this delicious and simple version and be amazed!


3 Cans of no salt added chickpeas, rinsed

4 Cloves of garlic

1 Tablespoon tahini (or substitute 1 tablespoon raw cashews.  Soak them for 30 minutes in hot water to soften before use)

Juice from 1 lemon

Combine the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor.  Process on high 1-2

Fresh carrot sticks for dipping

Fresh carrot sticks for dipping

minutes until smooth.  Add a little water and use a rubber spatula to incorporate the ingredients from the side of the bowl if necessary.  Hummus should be thick and creamy.  Serve with raw vegetables and whole wheat pitas for dipping.

Whole Foods Plant Based Salad Dressing

These salad dressings have cannellini beans as a base

These salad dressings have cannellini beans as a base

My mother in law is really cool about my family’s switch to a whole foods plant based diet.  We went to her house for dinner this week and she graciously cooked a vegetarian meal for us.  She asked me to provide salad dressing for a mixed greens salad.  I made these two salad dressing recipes from the “Forks Over Knives Cookbook.”

Store-bought salad dressing in particular of all processed foods is a trap.  You start with a big bowl of healthy greens and veggies, then add salad dressing that is really just oil and sugar.  Most dressings are sweetened with sugar and contain oil, which is always 100% pure fat.  Even many “fat-free” salad dressings use label manipulation to hide their oil content.  After covering your green salad in oil you go ahead and add some sulfured and sugar-sweetened dried fruit like Craisins, and then you top it off with goat cheese or shredded cheddar.  This was a cholesterol-free dish until you added the cheese, which is really just meat in another form.  I did a true double-take in the grocery store when, in the produce section, I walked by this product:

Before eating, ask yourself: how can this meat sit in the middle of the produce section, unrefrigerated?  Do you want to eat the substance that makes this possible?

Before eating this product, ask yourself: how can this meat sit in the middle of the produce section, unrefrigerated? Do you want to eat the substance that makes this possible?

According to the website for this “100% real bacon” I should use this item to top my salad.  I can’t believe that meat got into the produce section.  I had daydreams of going grocery shopping with my little girl when she gets a bit older and telling her that she can pick out any item she wants in the fruit and veggie section of the store, and we would take it home, cook and eat it.  Now there’s an ultra-processed pig meat product available in my grocery store safe zone.  It makes me a little sad.

As an aside, I visited the Oscar Mayer website and looked up this product.  Check it out here or by clicking the image of bacon.  When I clicked the nutritional information link on their site I was directed to this:

No nutritional information.

No nutritional information.

Ingredients for cilantro lime dressing are in the blender!

Ingredients for cilantro lime dressing are in the blender!

Cilantro Lime Dressing


1 Cup cooked cannellini beans, or (1) 15oz can drained and rinsed

2 Cups fresh cilantro, leaves and tender stems

1 Cup Italian parsley leaves

1/4 Cup tahini

(1) 4oz Can diced green chiles

2 Tablespoons low sodium soy sauce

1 Teaspoon chili powder

1/4 Teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

2 Cloves garlic, peeled and minced

Zest and juice of 2 limes

In a blender, combine the ingredients and 1 cup of water.  Blend on high until smooth.

Maple Mustard Dressing


1 Cup cooked cannellini beans, or (1) 15oz can drained and rinsed

2 Tablespoons tahini

2 Tablespoons mustard

2 Tablespoons nutritional yeast

2 Tablespoons low sodium soy sauce

1 Tablespoon 100% pure maple syrup

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

Combine the ingredients in a blender with 1/4 cup of water and blend on high until smooth.  Add more water as needed to achieve a smooth consistency.

Top 3 Ways to Cook Without Oil

Instead of oiling your baking sheets, sprinkle a little corn meal to prevent sticking.

Instead of oiling your baking sheets, sprinkle a little corn meal to prevent sticking.

A few months ago when I first heard about a whole foods plant based diet I learned that oil was not part of the diet.  “But how do you cook?” I thought.  “What about sauteing onions?  Or baking bread or muffins?  Won’t everything stick to the pan and be dry?”

My mind was blown when I learned that you can cook without oil.  I was in shock.  Why have I been using it all this time in every dish if I don’t need it to cook?  Oil producers are very happy indeed because most Americans think, as I did, that you must use oil to cook, that it is a vital tool for cooking.  In reality no oil is “heart healthy.”  The studies that show olive oil lowers cholesterol are accurate, but they use patients who switch from using animal fats like butter to using olive oil.  Olive oil is the lesser of two evils, because all oil, every single kind, is 100% pure fat.  Cholesterol levels would be even better if no oil were used at all.

Here are my top 3 ways to cook without oil:

1. Water Saute

To cook anything in a pan, such as onions and garlic or other veggies, simply put the veggies in the hot pan and then add a little water.  About 3 tablespoons, just a splash.  Saute the food and when the water evaporates just put a little more in.  It keeps the veggies from sticking to the pan, doesn’t make them soggy because the water evaporates, and you end up with nicely browned veggies.  The water conducts the heat from the pan so the food cooks evenly.  Plus cleanup is a snap because there is no oily residue.  Why would you put something in your body that you need a special “tough on grease” soap to clean up from your cookware?

2.  In Recipes, Replace Oil or Simply Don’t Add Oil

For moist baked goods like muffins or quick bread you might think that oil is essential because of some chemical reaction that happens when baking, like with baking soda and baking powder.  This is not true for oil.  Oil will add fat to your baked goods and also make them more moist.  You can replace oil in baked recipes with anything moist.  I have used unsweetened applesauce, shredded zucchini, pumpkin puree, mashed sweet potato, and even chia seeds soaked in water.  For regular bread and other recipes, simply don’t add the oil.  The bread comes out fantastic!  It just contains less fat.  I use a recipe for 100% whole wheat vegan bread that contains no added meat, dairy, sugar, salt, or oil.  I make this bread every week for my family’s lunch sandwiches and sometimes toast with breakfast.

3.  To Prevent Sticking, Use Corn Meal

I actually used to rub a little olive oil onto my baking sheets with a paper towel to prevent my baked goods from sticking.  My husband found out by experimenting that if you sprinkle a little bit of corn meal on the pan before putting your cookies, etc. onto the baking sheet, they will not stick to the pan.  It really works!  When you use a spatula to pick up your baked food, if there is a little bit of corn meal on the food it will brush right off.  That way no oil is being absorbed by the food from the pan during baking.  We use this method when we make plant based pizza in the oven.  For food like roasted carrots or baked potato wedges, they are usually fine without any oil or corn meal since the veggies contain moisture that helps them not stick to the pan.  Cover with tinfoil during the roast to help keep in excess water.  For baked whole sweet potatoes I just wrap them in tinfoil and bake them up.  No oil needed.

Dr. Esselstyn Jr. says it best in this short video about what foods to eat and avoid on a whole foods, plant based diet:  NO OIL!

What’s for Breakfast? Any Grain Cereal with Toppings

We toast walnuts in a cast iron skillet

We toast walnuts in a cast iron skillet

My family used to eat organic boxed cereal made with some whole grains.  Then we realized that this cereal was actually a processed food and contained sugar, oil, and salt.  Even the healthiest cereals, such as plain shredded whole wheat, can not compare in taste to home made grain cereal.  The cost is also much lower.  “Healthy” boxed cereal runs from $2.50 to $4.00 and realistically serves 2 adults for maybe 3 days.  The benefits of making grain breakfast cereal at home are savings in your wallet, better health, and better taste than the boxed, processed alternative!

Use any cooked grain such as whole grain brown rice or barley (barley is especially good), cooked according to package directions.  In this recipe we use quinoa.  Quinoa is very easy to cook, and keeps very well in the fridge.  I make a large batch and it lasts 2 adults 7 days.  You can also use your cooked grains in other recipes, saving time.  On my prep day I cook the quinoa, toast the nuts, and then making cereal in the morning is a snap.  It really takes no more time to prepare in the morning than traditional boxed cereal.

Instead of cow’s milk, we use soy milk.  It took some research and extensive reading of back panel nutrition labels before we found a plant-based milk that was a fit for our whole foods, plant based diet.  We looked at and tried rice milk, almond milk, coconut based milk, lactaid, and many different brands of soy milk.  Most of these products contain oil, sugar, salt, or even MSG in one form or another.  (This was an interesting experiment by the way.  Try it at your local grocery store.  Read the labels of the “natural” plant based milks.  You will be amazed at what you find!)  I could not believe how many types of “healthy” soy milk contained “expeller pressed safflower oil.”  Who wants to drink oil in their milk?  Oil is 100% fat, and never “heart healthy.”

The winner was WestSoy brand Organic Unsweetened Soy Milk.  (They also have a $1 off coupon at the link).  Ingredients: soy beans, water.  Bonus, it’s organic, fair trade, and non GMO verified!


4 Cups quinoa, cooked, to last 1 week

1 Bag chopped walnuts

1 Bag slivered almonds



1 Banana

1/2 Cup plant based milk such as soy milk

Toast the walnuts and almonds separately in a pan over medium high heat.  Stir the nuts frequently to constantly to prevent burning.  When you can smell the nuts and they look slightly brown they are done.  Remove from the pan to a paper towel or heat safe dish and let cool.  Mix the walnuts and almond slivers together and store in a ziplock or air tight container for up to 2 weeks.  Scoop desired amount of cooked grain cereal into a bowl and top with raisins and 1/4 cup toasted nuts.  Slice a banana over top and sprinkle liberally with cinnamon.  Pour plant based milk on top and serve.

My Favorite “Busy Mom” Snack: Baked Sweet Potatoes

Baked Sweet Potato

Sweet potatoes can be eaten whole, skin and all. Just wash them before baking.

We all lead very busy lives, and as a new mom mine just became a lot busier.  In between feedings, diaper changing, and playing with our 3 month old baby girl I barely have enough time to prepare food for myself.  That’s why I love this quick and totally simple snack.

Never underestimate the power of simplicity!  You will not believe how flavorful a simple roasted sweet potato can be, with no added oil, sugar, salt, meat, dairy, or even any seasoning.  During the first 3 weeks of our whole foods, plant-based diet adventure I definitely noticed my palette changing.  Before switching to this healthier way of eating, I would have coated sweet potatoes in butter and brown sugar before baking, or at least doused them in “heart-healthy” olive oil.  Now I just can’t believe how sweet this tuber can be all on it’s own.  You might be thinking, “don’t you NEED to cook things in oil for them to come out right?”  The answer is absolutely not.

Prep for this snack is easy.  Just wash the sweet potatoes, peel and all, trim away any inedible parts on the outside, and wrap them

The perfect snack to eat on the go--right from the tinfoil!  Also makes a great breakfast.

The perfect snack to eat on the go–right from the tinfoil! Also makes a great breakfast.

tightly in tinfoil.  Bake at 420F for 1 hour.  When you smell the sweet potatoes, they are done.  Remove from oven, peel open the tinfoil, and enjoy!  You can eat with a fork, or wait a until they cool a bit and then eat them right out of the tinfoil.

Southwestern Macaroni Casserole

Photo from the "Forks Over Knives" cookbook

Photo from the “Forks Over Knives” cookbook

This recipe was a big win with our family.  If you are attending a dinner or event with people who do not eat a whole foods plant-based diet, bring this dish, they will love it.  (Tell them later that it contains no meat, dairy, oil, salt, or sugar!)

There are 3 premium ingredients in this dish: roasted red bell peppers, tahini, and nutritional yeast.  Roasted red bell peppers can be made easily and cheaply at home (click here to see how).  Roasting red bell peppers is a task that I do in advance on my weekend food prep day.  I also make the “no-cheese” sauce in advance of cooking this dish (recipe below).

Tahini usually runs about $4-5 for a large container.  It is well worth the money

Tahini is simply ground sesame seeds.  Like peanut butter or any nut or seed butter it is very rich, and delicious!

Tahini is simply ground sesame seeds. Like peanut butter or any nut or seed butter it is very rich, and delicious!

since we use tahini only a few tablespoons at a time to add some good fat and richness to our dishes.  Anyone on a whole foods, plant-based diet will tell you that a hearty dinner full of rich umami flavors is priceless.  So go ahead and get the tahini.  Our container lasts for at least 6 months of dishes anyway, so the cost per meal is very small.

Nutritional yeast (and in fact all yeast) is a type of fungi.  It is deactivated, which means it is not growing.  It’s like a dried mushroom that comes in small flake form.  Nutritional yeast has a strong flavor that is described as nutty, cheesy, or creamy, which is why we use it in faux-cheese sauces.  It gives our macaroni casserole that rich, umami flavor.  At first I was wary of nutritional yeast, but I tried it and now I really love to use it in our dinners!  Specialty or health food stores might carry this product, but we buy it online here.  One bag has lasted over 8 weeks for our family now, so that’s less than $1 per week for the product.  I highly recommend trying it!

Southwestern Macaroni Casserole


1 Medium yellow onion, peeled and diced

1 Red bell pepper, seeded and diced

2 Cups corn kernels (may be frozen)

1 Jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced

2 Teaspoons ground cumin

2 Teaspoons chile powder

1 Batch no-cheese sauce (recipe follows)

2 Cups cooked black beans, or (1) 15oz can, drained and rinsed

Box whole grain macaroni, cooked according to package directions

1/4 Cup raw unsalted cashews (if desired), food processed until ground

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Place the onion and red pepper in a large saucepan and saute over medium heat for 10 minutes.  Add water 1-2 tablespoons at a time to keep the vegetables from sticking to the pan (this method is called a water saute).  Add the corn, jalapeño pepper, cumin, and chile powder and cook for 30 seconds.  Remove from the heat and add to a large mixing bowl with the cooked macaroni.  Stir in the beans and transfer to a 9×13 inch casserole dish.  (At this point the casserole could be refrigerated overnight for cooking the next day).  Pour the no-cheese sauce over the casserole and mix slightly with a large spoon.  Sprinkle the ground cashews on top if using, like parmesan.  Bake for 30 minutes, or until bubbly and heated through.

No-Cheese Sauce


1 Large yellow onion, peeled and quartered

2 Roasted red bell peppers

3 Tablespoons cashews, toasted (optional)

3 Tablespoons tahini

1 Cup nutritional yeast

1/2 Teaspoon nutmeg

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor in the order given and puree until smooth and creamy, adding up to 1/2 cup of water if necessary to achieve a smooth consistency.

What to do with Leeks: Red Curry “Fried” Rice

Here's what they look like.  (Photo from teh internets)

Here’s what they look like. (Photo from teh internets)

Until this year I had never tried leeks.  I could not have told you what they look like.  Now I love them!

A leek is like a monster-sized green onion.  You eat the thick “neck” of the onion.  It has the flavor of an onion, but more mild, especially when cooked.  To prepare leeks trim the leaves and roots off, then rinse really well (they can be sandy sometimes).  Cut in half lengthwise, then chop into 1/2 inch pieces.  I really love leeks in this recipe from the “Forks Over Knives” cookbook for Red Curry “Fried” Rice.  This hearty and flavorful recipe has no added sugar, salt, meat, dairy, or oil.  Since there is no oil, the dish is “fried” using just a pan and water.  I used to doubt that I could cook without oil.  This recipe made a believer out of me.  Now I always use water to saute our food instead of olive oil.

Look into my crunchy crisp onioney goodness!

Look into my crunchy crisp onioney goodness!

Since this recipe serves 2 I usually triple it because my husband and I like it so much and we want leftovers for lunch the next day.  Make sure you have a really big pan though if you do multiply the recipe.  There are tons of veggies in the dish, but they do cook down.


Red Curry “Fried” Rice (Serves 2)


1/2 Medium yellow onion, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch strips

2 Large leeks, sliced and rinsed

2 Cups shiitake mushrooms, trimmed and thinly sliced

2 Medium carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks (or food processed to shredded)

4 Teaspoons Thai red curry paste (found in “ethnic foods” section of most major grocery stores.  This product is vegan.)

1/4 Cup slivered almonds, toasted

4 Green onions, chopped

2 Cups cooked brown rice, cooled

CHOP!  Click image to see what happens when you spin leeks.

CHOP! Click image to see what happens when you spin leeks.

Heat a large skillet over high heat.  Add the onion, leeks, mushrooms, and carrots and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 to 6 minutes.  Add water 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time to keep the vegetables from sticking to the pan.  Stir in the curry paste and cook for another 30 seconds.  Add the almonds, green onions, and rice and cook until heated through.

Is Olive Oil Bad for You?

Olive oil is made from olives so it’s healthy, right?

While olive oil is touted to have many benefits to the body because it contains Omega 3 fatty acids, is claimed to have antioxidant properties, and is “heart healthy,” the truth is that ALL oil is 100% fat.  Let’s step back for a second and ask ourselves: does it make sense that oil is good for my heart?

Last year my husband and I alone went through two 1-gallon sized containers of olive oil.  That’s one gallon each of pure fat!  I did not hesitate when using olive oil in cooking.  I applied it liberally to roasted potatoes, coating them in the oil and seasonings before putting them in the oven.  We dressed salads with oil and vinegar–most of the time we used more olive oil than vinegar in the dressing.  When sauteing onions and garlic, the first thing I did was coat the pan in olive oil.  “Healthy” soups from Rachel Ray Magazine recipes call for 6 tablespoons or more of olive oil.  (In fact nearly every recipe in that magazine famously calls for EVOO).  Olive oil was the ingredient common to almost every dish we cooked.

Nectar of the Gods?  Or heart-coating sludge?  My family consumed 1 gallon like this each during 2012.

Nectar of the Gods? Or heart-coating sludge? My family consumed 1 gallon like this each during 2012.

The body does need Omega 3 fatty acids.  But the body is a symphony of nutrient needs.  Our bodies need Omega 3 fatty acids to be in a balance with Omega 6 fatty acids of about 1:2.  But when our diet includes meat and huge amounts of it, our Omega 6 fatty acids skyrocket.  That’s why taking an Omega 3 supplement of fish oil is recommended in our modern diet.  We need to maintain that 1:2 ratio.  The result of this recommendation about Omega 3 supplementation is that we eat tons of meat, douse everything in olive oil, take our fish oil pill and call it “healthy.”

But doesn’t olive oil lower blood cholesterol?  Studies do claim that olive oil lowers blood cholesterol.  These studies have a test group of people replace animal derived fats in their diet with olive oil, and the result is that the cholesterol in the subjects’ blood drops.  What this shows me is that olive oil is a comparatively better alternative to animal fats like butter.  What it does NOT show me is that olive oil reduces blood cholesterol!  If these patients ate a whole foods, plant based diet and then introduced olive oil, their cholesterol would rise.

A gallon of oil per person per year is no longer going through my family’s bodies.  We saute using water.  Just add water to your pan so that the food does not stick to the bottom of the pan.  If the water evaporates, add a little bit more.  It works great!  I do use this product however, for what it is–grease.  To keep our cast-iron pans from sticking I will put about 1/4 teaspoon of oil on a towel and scrub it into the pan.  Same goes for baking sheets that do not have non-stick coating.  We treat it like an edible form of WD-40, not like an essential ingredient in our food.