I know that some of you are eager to hear how the McDougall Celebrity Chef Weekend went, but I’m sure others couldn’t care less and are just waiting for the next recipe to be posted. So, in the interest of being all things to all people (a character flaw of mine), here’s a quick summary of my trip, followed by the recipe for the first new dish I’ve made since I got home.
In a nutshell, the McDougall weekend was an amazing experience for me. I shared a tiny “pantry,” a makeshift kitchen way on the far side of the pool from the main kitchen and conference rooms, with Bryanna Clark Grogan, one of the nicest people you could ever meet. There we prepared the ingredients for the recipes that we would make on stage, but we also had to cook extra batches of everything so that there would be enough to share with everyone in the audience–about 75 people. Since Bryanna was giving two demonstrations, both before mine, I spent a lot of time chatting with her and her husband/assistant, Brian, and trying to stay out of their way. Though I spent the better part of two days on my feet, preparing food and running back to the main kitchen for equipment, the time passed quickly because of their wonderful company. (Bryanna offered me helpful advice for dealing with my nervousness, which had gotten so bad that I wasn’t sleeping at night, so I’m really in her debt.)
Since my presentation was the last one, I didn’t have a lot of time to see the other chefs in action. I did manage the first night to see Chef Kevin Dunn work miracles with tempeh. His recipes were complex, each requiring several sub-recipes, but the results were outstanding. I hope to be able to use some of his component recipes, such as one for Italian Tempeh, in some of my own dishes. The other presentation I was determined to see was Bryanna’s Brilliant Breakfasts, where she made amazingly delicious waffles from cannellini beans and oatmeal–no flour. (Check out my photo of the samples that were handed out to the audience.) And I caught a few minutes of Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, just enough to see that her exuberant, humorous demo was going to be a tough act to follow–but then again, all the presentations were so professional that I was a nervous wreck!
Though I wasn’t able to attend all the cooking demos, I was very careful to never miss a meal (other than the one right before I went on stage) . We were served three HUGE meals a day of completely vegan, low-fat dishes. There was always something delicious, from fresh fruit in the morning to lasagna for dinner to Chocolate Decadence for dessert. But more important than the food was the companionship: I met so many interesting, lovely people who made me feel welcomed. I don’t want to mention any names because I’m sure to leave someone out, but rest assured that every one of you made a big impression on me, and I’ll always remember how warm and supportive you were. Please feel free to get in touch with me by email, if you haven’t already.
When it came time for me to speak, I think I was so relieved at finally being up there, not having to dread it anymore, that all my nervousness just seemed to disappear and I had a really great time. I know that there are things I forgot to say (such as that soy yogurt is my favorite fat-replacer in baking) and that there are things I shouldn’t have said (like that joke about my husband not letting me have sleepovers!) but I think I did a pretty good job without embarrassing myself too much. More importantly, I didn’t burn any of the four dishes I prepared (Banana Coffee Cake, Skillet Gardener’s Pie, Refried Bean Soup, and Mac and Cheese) and the audience seemed to like them. Having such a lively, enthusiastic audience really helped me relax and enjoy the experience.
I want to commend the hard-working McDougall crew, including Mary McDougall, who was so reassuring and supportive, and Tiffany, who never blanched when I had yet another unforeseen request, as well as the excellent kitchen staff without whom I would have been lost. Thank you all. It was an honor to work with you. (Photos of all the speakers and the food are available here on the McDougall site.)
Immediately after my presentation, I jumped in my rental car and drove to San Francisco, where my husband was already checked into our hotel. We spent the next two days constantly on the go from one vegan restaurant to another, one tourist attraction to the next. Just briefly, here’s where we ate: Golden Era (Chinese faux-meat, just around the corner from our hotel); Weird Fish (seitan tacos for me and tortilla soup and fried seitan “fish” for D); Millennium (we shared gnocci with morels for our appetizer, I had coconut-crusted tofu, D had zucchini Napoleon, shared Chocolate-Almond Midnight for dessert; words can’t do it justice–just go); The Usual Suspects Cafe (terrific pizza and Shawarma with cake by Melisser; I’m hearing that they went out of business later that day, so we’re lucky we ate there when we did); and Cha Ya (vegan Japanese with an overwhelming menu).
It was a short, intense, strenuous (those hills!), wonderful trip to a city I hope to visit again soon.
And now, the moment some of you have been waiting for: the recipe! D came home from the Hong Kong Market in New Orleans with the biggest papaya I’ve ever seen. I decided to have him start a fire in the bbq grill so that I could grill some corn and tofu, and inspired by the fruit salsa on the tacos at Weird Fish, I took about a fourth of that papaya and made this salsa using mint and a Serrano pepper from our garden. The grilled corn was amazing (really, it’s so flavorful that you don’t need margarine) and the papaya salsa had us licking our plates (secretly, of course, when no one was watching). E refused the salsa (too “weird” for her) so we had some leftover that we used as salad dressing. In the photo below you see the tofu atop lettuce, but in actuality we ate it soft taco-style in corn tortillas. Seriously good. We’ll be making this one again and again!
Cumin-Grilled Tofu with Papaya Salsa
1 pound tofu
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon agave nectar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon cumin
2 cups papaya, cut into cubes
2 tablespoons red onion, finely diced
1/2 cup red bell pepper, finely diced
1 hot pepper, seeds removed and minced
1 teaspoon mint, minced
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon agave nectar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 pinch cayenne
freshly ground black pepper — to taste
Slice the tofu into 8-10 slices and press each one lightly between paper towels (or tea towels) to remove some of the moisture. Mix the remaining tofu ingredients in a small bowl. Put the tofu into a large zip-lock bag, add the marinade, and turn to coat. Turn the bag every now and then, letting it marinate for at least 1 hour while you make the salsa and prepare the grill. (You can marinate it in a long baking dish, of course, but the zip-lock bag is easier.)
Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
After marinating the tofu, cook it on a barbecue grill until lightly browned on both sides. (Or, heat a non-stick skillet, lay the tofu in a single layer, and cook, turning once, until brown on both sides. Just before removing from heat, add the marinade and cook until it’s absorbed by the tofu.)
Serve tofu topped with papaya salsa.
Preparation time: 60 minute(s) | Cooking time: 10 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 4
Makes 4 servings. Per serving: 151 Calories (kcal); 6g Total Fat; (30% calories from fat); 10g Protein; 18g Carbohydrate; 0mg Cholesterol; 402mg Sodium; 3g Fiber. Weight Watchers 3 Flex points (should be Core, except for agave).