Where do I start when it comes to talking about my long-time friend, Miyoko Schinner? I love this woman for who she is, and what she has and is accomplishing. Miyoko is Phenomenally Vegan – in fact, that is her company mission. She is smart, compassionate, fun, a brilliant chef, and a talented jazz singer. Yes, that is true.
Honestly, I can’t remember when we first met but it was likely over 20 years ago at a veg fest or similar event, and we hit it off like sisters. I stayed with Miyoko at her spacious home in Northern California, and she stayed with me in my small apartment in New York City. In those days, Miyoko was often carrying test cheeses for friends to taste. I have a copy of Miyoko’s first cookbook, The New Now and Zen Epicure, and remember the Hip Whip and UnTurkey she invented as well. Did you know that back in the day of TWA, Miyoko made vegan cookies for that airline, and most of the time one of her daughters was in a baby carrier on her back? As Miyoko has said, she had to be vegan for reasons of compassion, and she wanted to eat fabulous food. So, she was driven to invent the recipes. Miyoko and her husband Michael founded the Rancho Compassion Animal Sanctuary. And if you are wondering about the rumors, yes, you may see Miyoko drop and do burpees—an exercise I have yet to master—during one of her talks.
People often ask me if I ever have time to cook anymore.
They assume that since starting Miyoko’s Kitchen and founding Rancho Compasion, the farmed animal sanctuary my husband and I started 3 ½ years ago, I have no time left to spend in the kitchen. My day starts before dawn, the only time I often have to get caught up on emails. I then head down to the barn just past daybreak to feed all of the critters and shovel poop – to the tune of 100 pounds or more each morning. Then I brush the straw and hay off my clothes and hair and head off to work along beautiful country roads.
At work, I am blessed to enjoy delicious meals prepared by our chef and sous-chef, whose pots and pans seem to grow in size to feed the now 100+ employees at Miyoko’s. Sometimes, I am not even hungry when I get home at night. And yet, I find myself back at the cutting board, knife in hand, with silence as my partner, the one quiet moment I have in the day to reflect. I pull out whatever I have in the refrigerator and cupboard and find easy inspiration in whatever leftovers or scraps of veggies I have. I pour a glass of my husband’s homegrown, homemade Pinot Noir, and I feel the stress de-escalate.
So, the answer is yes. I still cook.
Almost every day. What is different about the simple meals I prepare now and the dinners of the past as I raised three kids, is the amount of fuss. For years, the evening meal was approached with escalating stress. Rushing home from work to find little in the fridge and needing to satisfy hungry tummies that just couldn’t wait was not a relaxing way to start the evening. Now, I cook to my own tune, with whatever I have on hand, and dinner is ready whenever it is ready for whoever wants to eat. Usually, it’s three of us, my husband, me, and my older daughter, who lives at home.
Mealtime is simpler because of the tricks
that I’ve learned after decades of cooking. Although there are only 2 or 3 of us at any meal, I still cook large quantities, for 6 to 8 or more. I make sure there are leftovers – but rarely are they eaten as they were the previous night. They are upcycled into new dishes the next day and rarely does anything go to waste.
I hunt and peck for odd things that can be used as a base or enhancement for the night’s meal – some veggie scraps, a half-jar of marinara, a little cooked quinoa, a few tablespoons of pesto. My daughter, who searches for easy vegan dishes that she cooks from scratch, often comments that she would never have thought to use those items up in new dishes. For me, these are the essential jigsaw pieces that will complete the puzzle for tonight’s dinner. There are blogs and cookbooks that methodically explain how to prep for the week on Sundays – you cook off your pot of beans, chop all the veggies for salads, prepare several sauces and so on. Essentially, you spend your day off in the kitchen cooking – then cleaning the entire mess. And you can use mixes, like the ones in Homemade Vegan Pantry.
Every refrigerator has a little bit of this, a little bit of that.
There’s the leftover salsa from the party where it was served with chips. Three or four mushrooms. A half-cup of cooked peas, and some cold, dry rice from Chinese take-out. In the back is a half-can of pumpkin because that’s all the recipe called for. And sometimes there’s even a wedge of leftover Miyoko’s Smoked Farmhouse cheese. My job, as I see it, is to incorporate all of these into dinner. And truthfully, it’s almost a Marie Kondo act of the kitchen to clear out all this half-eaten food.
One night, it might be a pumpkin risotto with leftover Chinese take-out rice—who cares if it isn’t Arborio — and the half-can of pumpkin leftover from my daughter’s baking experiment, with the sad-looking peas perking it up with a touch of green. A leftover can of tomatoes, along with salsa and chips from a party, turns into a tortilla soup with some grated Smoked Farmhouse on top. Leftover lentil soup becomes a shepherd’s pie with some extra veggies, topped with mashed potatoes from Sunday night dinner (or turn those mashed potatoes into Potato Leek soup, or just form patties and brown on both sides). And almost anything and everything becomes a soup or stew.
Becoming a jazz musician in the kitchen is the key to liberation, as long as you know the rules.
Years ago, on one particularly famished night during a pregnancy, my husband offered to cook. The “dish” he prepared was accomplished by combining some leftover Chinese take-out with some Italian take-out. This egregious meal may have liberated him from the kitchen, as he was never allowed to touch the stove again. At least he makes delicious wine.
Sicilian-style Cauliflower Braised in Red Wine
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large onion, diced
- 3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
- About 2 lbs. Cauliflower (1 large or 1 ½ smaller heads), cut or torn into florets
- 1 cup red wine, or more
- ⅔ cup pitted Kalamata olives, cut in half
- ½ cup capers
- ½ cup pine nuts
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 6 to 8 ounces Smoked Vegan Mozz, grated
- In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil and add the onion and garlic; saute until tender. Add the cauliflower, red wine, olives, capers, and pine nuts, a few dashes of salt, and turn up the heat. Cover, and when it has come to a boil, turn the heat down to medium low. Cook until the cauliflower is fork-tender, lifting the lid and stirring with a wooden spoon every couple of minutes to ensure that all of the pieces cook evenly and becoming pink. You want to make sure that the cauliflower is really tender -- this is not a dish where crunchy cauliflower works. Finally, add the Smoked Vegan Mozz and stir to melt.
Miyoko has a copy of her book The Homemade Vegan Pantry for one lucky winner. Follow the instructions below to enter. Contest ends at midnight EST on February 5th. U.S. residents only, please. Good luck!
About Miyoko Schinner
Founder and CEO of Miyoko’s, Miyoko Schinner sparked the rise of
the multi-million dollar plant-based cheese revolution by pioneering a proprietary technology for making dairy from plants. Miyoko has redefined the categories of “cheese” and “butter” with complex flavors that have garnered multiple awards and the attention of The New York Times, Forbes, Food and Wine, Good Morning America, and many more. The bestselling author, chef, entrepreneur, and animal sanctuary founder has dedicated 30+ years to affecting social change and sustainability.
Miyoko’s is currently available at nationwide retailers including Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Kroger, Raley’s, and Target in addition to Natural and Specialty stores nationwide.