Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Recipe: Roasted Brussels Sprouts

One of my favorite vegan restaurateurs and cookbook authors, Isa Chandra Moskowitz, refers to roasted Brussels sprouts as the "vegan french fry" and I can't disagree. I mean, I love french fries, but a crispy Brussels sprout is a lighter, healthier alternative to a deep fried potato that could be cooked in some oil that's also cooked who knows what.

A photo posted by Roxanne (@roxetta) on

The other night, for a Rouxbe Plant Based Certification Course homework assignment, I had to roast Brussels sprouts. Easy, peasy, I thought. Until I saw that the recipe called for using coconut oil instead of what I normally use - olive oil. I was skeptical about how they'd turn out, but I think that I like the way they tasted even better. Something about the coconut oil kept the Brussels sprouts crispy on the outside but allowed them to be perfectly cooked (soft but not mushy with a little crunch) in the middle.


  • 1 pound Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed and cut in half
  • 1 - 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  2. Heat coconut oil and toss with Brussels sprouts, making sure all sprouts are evenly covered
  3. Place Brussels sprouts face down on a cookie tray lined with parchment paper. Season with salt and pepper. 
  4. Cook for 15 minutes and then flip Brussels sprouts. Cook for an additional 10 - 15 minutes until the outer leaves have started to brown and the flat side is just starting to brown. (this varies based on the size of your Brussels sprouts) 
  5. Enjoy!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Recipe: Zucchini Noodle Alla Norma

New year, new me, blah, blah, blah.

Like most people in the universe, I'm using the new year as an excuse to try and eat a little healthier, move a little more, and get to a place where I'm happier about "me." I just completed a 3 day Blueprint juice cleanse (I'd write about it, but I've written about juice cleanses before - it's like a marathon - tough, long, and if your head is in the wrong place, you're going to fail) After you finish a juice cleanse, you're advised to eat "light," so I decided to make a dish loosely inspired by a recipe I saw on Inspiralized, a site dedicated to using a spiralizer to make vegetables into noodles and other fun shapes. Instead of noodles, this dish uses zoodles, or noodles made out of spiralized zucchini, and is topped with a flavorful tomato and eggplant sauce. Here's a link to the original Zucchini Pasta Alla Norma Recipe. My modified, boozier recipe follows below.

A photo posted by Roxanne (@roxetta) on


  • 2 medium zucchini - OR a package of zoodles (now sold at Whole Foods and other finer grocery stores - look in the produce section)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Vegetable stock or broth - 1/4 cup
  • 1 medium eggplant, diced
  • 2 + garlic cloves, minced (use as much or as little as you like)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • Red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • Fresh basil - chiffonade or whole leaves - 1/4 cup
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • Optional: balsamic vinegar

  1. Spiralize your zucchini and set it aside. 
  2. Place a large skillet over medium heat and add the olive oil, onions, and vegetable stock and cook until the onions are translucent. 
  3. Add the eggplant and garlic and season with salt and pepper. 
  4. Ad both cans of tomatoes, a pinch of red pepper flakes, oregano, Italian seasoning and bring mixture to a simmer.
  5. While eggplant and tomato sauce is cooking, bring a small skillet to medium heat. Put pine nuts in the pan and toast (with no oil) until they start to just turn a darker tan color. Set aside.
  6. Add wine to eggplant tomato sauce. Continue to cook until wine has evaporated and eggplant is a soft but still slightly firm consistency. (mushy eggplant = no bueno)
  7. Fold fresh basil into the sauce just before serving and stir. Leave a few pieces aside for plating.
  8. Drain any excess water from zoodles. 
  9. Split zucchini noodles into 2 or 3 portions and top with eggplant tomato sauce. Toss a handful of pine nuts and a few pieces of basil on top and serve immediately. 
  10. Optional: I like eggplant topped with balsamic vinegar, so I put a splash of that on my zoodle dish.
My dish was a lightened up version of the Inspiralized one, but I think adding extra garlic, cooking everything all together for a longer amount of time, and adding a touch of red wine and basil added a lot of flavor. I could eat zoodles and egpplant daily, so this is definitely a dish I'll be making again.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Recipe: Vegan Chicken Con Broccoli

In my non-vegan days, I was a fan of the Olive Garden. Or at least their salad and bread. (but ewww...who puts eggs in salad dressing?) I think there's a market for a vegan equivalent of the OG, don't you? I could eat my weight in pasta. And bread. And hell, I eat salad just about every day. But I digress...

Have you tried this tofurkey? I can't get enough of it

Recently, I decided to throw some stuff in a pan to see if the flavors worked. And it did. I made my own version (I think?) of chicken con broccoli, featuring pasta in a vegan cream sauce tossed with steamed broccoli and Tofurkey shredded chicken. It wasn't the healthiest meal I've ever made, but...it was delicious.

Vegan chicken con broccoli

  1. Prepare noodles according to directions on package - try to leave them a little al dente. Put broccoli florets in boiling water along with the pasta. When the broccoli starts turning bright green and is "done" use a slotted spoon to fish out the florets and set them aside. Retain a little bit of the pasta water in case you need it to thin your "cheese" sauce or to keep everything from sticking to the pan.
  2. In a skillet on medium heat, cook garlic in olive oil until the garlic begins to soften.  
  3. Add cooked pasta, broccoli, chicken, vegan Parmesan, and vegan mozzarella cheeses to skillet. Season with salt and pepper as needed. Stir to combine and add a little water if sauce is too thick. If sauce is too thin, add additional vegan mozzarella and./or vegan Parmesan cheese.
  4. Serve and top with vegan Parmesan cheese.
This is a great recipe to make on a weeknight when you're running low on time and want to combine protein, carbs, and veggies all in one dish. I typically serve this alongside a big spinach salad for some extra greenery, but other sides would pair well with this dish, too. It's a creamy, filling, and protein packed dish that just might remind you of some of the non-vegan dishes served at popular "Italian-ish" restaurants. 

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Looking back at 2015

Another year has come and gone. I feel like the last couple years of my life have been kind of a blur with working a lot, getting fibromyalgia, and miscellaneous chaos in my life. I wonder what 2016 has in store for me?

In writing this, it made me remember a lot of good things that happened this year that I'd forgotten about. I've been in a funk lately, and I don't want that to carry over into 2016. So...happy trails to 2015. And to 2016? I'm ready for you.

Highlights from 2015:

  • Learned that playing Cards Against Humanity with with spouses of coworkers might not be the best idea
  • Had my picture taken with mermaids at the Progressive boat show
  • Helped my dad recover from spine surgery and hope to never see a parent in a nursing home again (see also: learned why people who work in nursing homes smother cranky patients)
  • Turned 34
  • Celebrated a "classy" St. Patty's Day downtown
  • Traveled to Louisville, Kentucky
  • Ran the Ambulance Chase 5K (RIP Lakewood Hospital)
  • Traveled to Chicago, IL and celebrated a good friend's birthday by drinking my weight in Tiki drinks

  • Completed the Hill Yeah Half Marathon and cursed the farm animals I ran past the whole way
  • Learned how to make rice paper spring rolls - those things are tricky
  • Had an intern - and wish that I could have an intern forevermore
  • Biked across Bay Village and made some new friends
  • Celebrated the anniversary of my grandmother's death at the Red Eagle Distillery with my mom
  • Launched a marketing campaign at work to help truck drivers get healthy - this consumed my life for many months, but it's nice to do more altruistic marketing once in awhile
  • Traveled to Dallas, TX and at at one of THE best vegan restaurants in the country - The Spiral Diner- and nearly died from alcohol poisoning (two unrelated things - they don't serve booze at the diner)

  • Learned that a 300 pound trucker can inspire thousands
  • Rode in a hot air balloon and discovered the deliciousness of Cook's Spumante
  • Completed 4 rounds (in a row) of the 21 day fix and shed some major inches
  • Mourned the loss of a former coworker but honored his memory by running in a race dedicated to him
  • Learned to love vegan protein powder - thanks for the swag, Naturade
  • Spent lots of time alone in hotel rooms on work trips wishing I was at home
  • Learned the importance of mini fridges in hotel rooms
  • Helped Emmet Street Creations sell some of her fine wares at various fairs and fleas
  • Learned that I probably have narcolepsy but haven't had time to get that checked out
  • Traveled to New Braunfels, TX - I'll save you a trip - there's not much there
  • Traveled to Austin, TX and met some of the coolest vegan food truck owners at The Vegan Yacht
  • Formed Birch Cafe, LLC in hopes of really getting started with my vegan business
  • Ran the Autumn Leaves 5 miler and remembered how large the Lake Farmpark is and cursed some farm animals again
  • Traveled to Savanna, GA and Hilton Head, SC multiple times 
  • Started vegan culinary school
  • Went to Baltimore, MD and walked miles and miles and miles
  • Hosted my first all vegan Thanksgiving dinner
  • Went to Atlanta, GA and had a "famous" peach daiquiri at Polaris
  • Celebrated the unions of some great people (see also: why I'll never drink chardonnay again)
  • Didn't cry on Christmas

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Recipe: Vegan Stuffed Taco Peppers

I work in marketing. I appreciate that Facebook is constantly trying to find ways to serve up content to its users. Autoplay videos are pretty much all I see these days (in addition to random people going "live"), and once in awhile, one of them will catch my eye and I won't just scroll past it.

I scrolled upon a decent seeming, but not vegan recipe by Tasty, one of Buzzfeed's content hubs for short, to the point recipe videos. Often described as "too fast moving," in the comments, these videos are meant to be watched real quick just to give someone a general idea of how to make a recipe. I think this applies to all of the visual learners out there.

In the past couple days, I think I've seen a Tasty video on how to make "stuffed taco peppers" about 8 million times, and even though the recipe wasn't vegan, I knew I could easily make it so. I made these for dinner the other night and I have to say, they were pretty incredible.

Vegan Stuffed Taco Peppers

  • 4 red peppers
  • 1 bag Boca crumbles
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1/2 can black beans
  • 1/2 cup rice (cooked)
  • 1/2 cup frozen corn
  • 1 jar chunky salsa
  • 1 packet vegan taco seasoning mix
  • 1/4 - 1/2 cup cheddar style vegan cheese (I used Daiya) plus more for sprinkling on top 
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Cut off the tops/de-seed the peppers
  3. Place peppers in a baking dish and bake for 20 minutes - set aside to cool once done
  4. While peppers are baking, pour Boca crumbles into skillet set to medium/high heat.
  5. Add taco seasoning packet and 2/3 cup water to the Boca mixture and stir, allowing some of the water to evaporate
  6. Add diced onion and stir frequently 
  7. Add jar of salsa, black beans, frozen corn, and rice. Continue to stir and cook until almost all of the liquid has evaporated and the onions have softened 
  8. Stir in as little or as much vegan cheese as you'd like to the "meat" mixture - I used a handful, and that was plenty
  9. Next, stuff the peppers with the taco filling mixture - be sure to fill them a little over the top
  10. Sprinkle cheese on top and bake for at least 20 minutes (the original recipes says to cook "until the cheese melts) but you could wait hours for your Daiya to melt)
  11. Optional: top with guacamole and/or vegan sour cream (I used guac and skipped the sour cream)

I'm normally not THE biggest fan of Boca crumbles. I mean, I'll eat them, but..the combination of ingredients and the cheesiness of the taco filling was really good. (so good that I ate the leftover "meat" with a spoon as a leftover midnight snack) I'd also never thought to pre-bake my peppers before stuffing them, and that really seemed to speed up the process. (although I would have cooked my very large red peppers for about 10 more minutes if I hadn't been starving and running out of time)

This is a relatively quick, easy, tasty, and protein packed dinner that I know I'll be making again.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Rouxbe Professional Plant Based Certification Course

In November, in the spirit of, "why the heck not, " and, " working in a cubicle is slowly killing me," I decided to enroll in the Rouxbe Professional Plant Based Certification Course. My cooking and baking skills have greatly improved since I first started this blog, but...there's always room for improvement. Plus, I've created an LLC and really hope to make my dream of owning a vegan cafe a reality at some point, and having legit skills might help me find some investors. (Birch Cafe CLE - coming...soon-ish?)

First homework assignment - my "go to" dish - pasta in a roasted red pepper cream sauce from Minimalist Baker
Life and some unexpected work travel have put me a little behind in my coursework, but...it's full steam ahead now until the end of my course in April. So far, I've learned a lot about kitchen and knife skills basics - and I'm really excited to learn even more as the course progresses. Stay tuned...my goal is to blog more in the new year, and I'm sure I'll have a lot to say about my homework! (and hopefully my business plans!)

Practice makes perfect with knife skills

Thursday, August 21, 2014

In Loving Memory of Evelyn O'Brien

My grandmother died earlier this week from a brief but awful struggle with breast cancer. She saw a doctor for the first time in 56 years last Thursday and deteriorated quickly. She was comforted in her final days by all of her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren as well as by the amazing staff at Grace Hospice.

My mother and I were with her when she passed. It was peaceful. It was quick. And it was a relief to us to not have to watch her suffer anymore. But it still hurts like hell.

I've decided to speak at her funeral, and below is the eulogy I plan on sharing. I did my best to capture the spirit of my grandma. There's so much more to share, but I think this is a great summary of the amazing woman she was.


My grandma was such a special person, and describing her nature and her spirit is going to be difficult. I thought the best way to memorialize my grandmother would be by describing a visit to her house.

Upon arriving at grandma’s house, probably around noontime, you’d need to knock loudly on her side door to get her attention. Not because she couldn’t hear you – but because she couldn’t really see anyone pull in the driveway because of her beloved pine trees. She always loved Christmas trees and had planted a few in her yard at some point. Her tiny little trees grew into a pine forest over the years.

After grandma peered at you through her kitchen window, unlocked a series of doors, and decided to let you in, you were immediately offered a glass of 7 Up or a piece of ham. And grandma didn’t discriminate – I’ve been a vegetarian my whole life, but every time I was at her house she’d offer me a piece of ham. Despite the fact that I groaned each and every time and told her that I didn’t eat meat.

Once grandma had successfully convinced you to have something to eat or drink, you’d join her in the living room. You’d be seated on her gold Davenport – another word for a couch – and she’d be sitting in her gold chair closest to the window. Most likely, she’d be in the middle of a grueling game of solitaire or halfway through one of her beloved Pink Lady gin drinks. She’d be bundled up in one of her snowy white sweaters and wearing her favorite velour pants, and probably a pair of nice flats without socks. Nearby would be a big orange tabby cat named Happiness. Every cat grandma ever owned was named Happiness. And all but one of them was orange.

Of course, the tv would be on, and if you were lucky, you’d get to watch one of her favorite shows with her – like Oprah, Wheel of Fortune, or the news. Grandma never liked hearing or talking about bad things, so if anything remotely scandalous came on the tv, she could change the channel or turn the tv off in lightning speed. Even when Grandpa protested.

Once the tv got turned off, you’d probably head outside to check out the garden. Grandma loved her garden and especially loved making cucumber salads with the tomatoes and cucumbers she grew. After looking at the garden, she might offer you a seat in the backyard under more of her beloved pine trees. But first, you’d have to go into the garage and pull out a white chair near her white car. Grandma loved her white cars – especially if they had a gold interior. She liked the color white so much she even bought a couple non-white cars and had them painted.

After enjoying some sunshine with grandma, and maybe a little bit of the Indians game on a very old radio Grandpa kept in the garage, you’d head back inside for some dessert. There was no saying “no” to dessert. Grandma always had sugary treats sitting on her kitchen counter. Normally you’d find a white cake with white icing that she’d baked, but sometimes there would be cupcakes from Giant Eagle with mounds of frosting.  Grandma sure loved sugar. She’d sneak a pinch of sugar from her sugar bowl nearly every time she made a trip into the kitchen.

After you finished up your dessert, if it was on or anywhere near a holiday, grandma would have a present for you, or at the very least a card. As one of the girls in the family, grandma loved buying me the pinkest presents she could find. I’m not even quite sure where she found all of the pink sweaters and sweat suits that she gave me over the years, but she probably got them at her favorite store – JC Penny.  If grandma didn’t have some new duds to give you, she might give you an envelope with a card. In that card, you’d find a fresh, crisp $100 bill. When I was little, I was honestly convinced that grandma grew these hundred dollar bills in her front closet or had a printing press stashed away somewhere, because she never seemed to run out of them.

After thanking grandma for her presents and and saying goodbye, she’d always give you a big hug and send you on your way. After you left, she’d get back to playing solitaire or her other favorite hobby – cleaning windows.

I hope this little depiction gives you an idea of my grandmother’s generosity, giving nature, and giant heart. She was a very special woman who touched so many lives throughout her lifetime. She’s only been gone a few days, but I can speak for the entire family when I say how much we love and miss her and know our lives just won’t be the same without her.

Love you, grandma.