Posts Tagged ‘Natural Gourmet Institute’

Vegan Pastry Diva Fran Costigan

Always a star in vegan constellations, our instructor and renowned vegan pastry chef extraordinaire Fran Costigan brought the chocolate. Check out her recipes for decadent chocolate pudding and chocolate sauce


Makes generous 2 cups; 4 to 6 servings

Recipe reprinted from More Great Good Dairy Free Desserts Naturally

Unsweetened cocoa powder plus a very small amount of chocolate make a pudding so satisfying no one will ever guess this quick and easy treat as made without dairy, eggs or white sugar, or any of the unwanted ingredients found in boxed pudding mix.

Tips:   Tapioca starch needs to cook at a low boil for 30 seconds, not any longer, while cornstarch needs a full minute.  Do not use arrowroot in this recipe. It will result in a too soft and stringy pudding!


½ cup organic cane sugar, lightly ground in blender

6 tablespoons Dutch-process cocoa powder [unsweetened]

¼ teaspoon fine sea salt

1/3 cup very hot water [I use just boiled water]

2 cups nondairy milk, divided (use your favorite)

2 ounces chopped organic fair trade vegan chocolate (or use chocolate chips)

3 tablespoons organic tapioca starch or cornstarch (do not use arrowroot)*See tips

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon fine sea salt

  1. Sift the sugar, cocoa and salt into a medium saucepan. Pour the water over the dry ingredients and mix with a silicon spatula until moistened. Bring to to a low boil over medium heat, stirring frequently with a silicon spatula.  Make sure to stir the bottom of the pot, and be careful that the chocolate does not scorch. Reduce the heat to low and simmer 2 minutes.
  1. Stir in 1 2/3 cup of the nondairy milk and simmer 2 minutes. Add the chocolate, and stir with a silicon spatula until the chocolate melts.
  1. In a small bowl, combine the tapioca starch and remaining 1/3 cup of nondairy milk.  Stir with a fork until the tapioca is completely dissolved. Whisking constantly, add to the simmering chocolate. The mixture will thicken and darken immediately. Stir frequently until the pudding bowls. Boil low for 30 seconds, not longer. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Pour into individual cups or one large bowl. If you don’t like “pudding skin”, press parchment paper directly on the hot pudding.
  1. Serve the pudding warm or refrigerate and serve lightly chilled. The pudding can be made 2 days ahead and refrigerated.


© Copyright Fran Costigan All rights reserved



Makes 1 ½ cups

Recipe reprinted from More Great Good Dairy Free Desserts Naturally

Keep a jar of this versatile, delicious, and very low fat chocolate sauce in your refrigerator for homemade chocolate milk, hot cocoa, smoothies, or drizzle over puddings, frozen desserts and cakes too. Eating a spoonful directly is a hard to resist option. This recipe is used to make the Ultimate Chocolate Icing.

Tip: The sauce will thicken in the refrigerator. Add more water if needed to thin.


½ cup boiling water

¾ cup Dutch process cocoa

¼ teaspoon fine sea salt

½ cup pure maple syrup, grade b or dark amber, or use agave

2 tablespoons mild tasting extra virgin olive oil, organic canola or melted coconut oil

1/3 to ½ cup organic sugar (light or whole cane), ground in blender

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

  1. Combine the cocoa, sugar, and salt in a blender or food processor. Add the boiling water and maple syrup and blend 1 minute. Clean off the sides of the blender bowl with a spatula, add the oil and blend 1 minute. Add the smaller amount of sugar and the vanilla and blend 1 minute. Taste and add more sugar to taste.
  1. Pour the sauce covered jar and refrigerate for up to one week, or freeze for up to one month.

© Copyright Fran Costigan All rights reserved

Fran’s links and info: www.francostigan.com, Facebook: Vegan Pastry Chef Fran Costigan, Twitter: @Goodcakesfran

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Chef Celine extols the virtues of colorful whole foods

On Tuesday, March13, Natural Gourmet instructor Celine Beitchman took her message of “What’s Good to Eat” on the road again to PS 10 in Park Slope, Brooklyn. As part of the school’s annual Healthy Steps Fair, Celine spoke to students about how to identify and choose foods that are both to their liking and healthy.

Celine’s thoughtful, interactive presentation gets students thinking about why they need to eat well and intelligent choices they can make to achieve that goal.

“What’s Good to Eat” is part of Natural Gourmet’s ongoing community outreach to spark a conversation among children about the benefits and importance of whole, local, seasonal, and organic food. If you have an interest in bringing this presentation to your child’s school or your organization, contact Lisa Boymann (212-645-5170, extension 104).

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The 2nd Annual New York Vegetarian Food Festival is on for March 3 and 4,  at The Metropolitan Pavilion, 125 18th Street, in Manhattan.

This festival brings together companies, restaurants, educators, vendors, alternative health practitioners as well as vegetarian/vegan/flexitarian food enthusiasts to network, share information, and eat great food.

Natural Gourmet Institute is again a proud sponsor of this exciting event. Look for demonstrations by Natural Gourmet Chefs Fran Costigan, Jill Gusman, Richard LaMarita, Elliott Prag, Olivia Roszkowski, Jay Weinstein and Barbara Rich:

Saturday, March 3

Richard LaMarita              12:30-1:00

Olivia Roszkowski             1:15-1:45

Elliott Prag                           2:00-2:30

Barbara Rich                       2:45-3:15

Sunday, March 4

Richard LaMarita              11:00-11:30

Jay Weinstein                    11:45-12:15

Jill Gusman                         12:30-1:00

Fran Costigan                     1:15-2:15

Olivia Roszkowski             2:30-3:00

Elliott Prag                           3:15-3:45

We’ll see you there, right? Come by and say hello.


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Chef Madea and Chef Liz conducting a healthy food demonstration at a bodega in Bushwick, Brooklyn, NY, (July 2011)

Like many of our Chef’s Training graduates, Chefs Liz Fleischman and Madea Allen are working to improve the quality, nutrition, and overall appeal of our nation’s school lunches. Both are chefs working with SchoolFood, the New York City Department of Education’s initiative “committed to promoting healthy food choices for our students and maintaining high nutritional standards while offering delicious, healthy, and satisfying menu options to reach this goal.” Here they share their experience of the past year giving high school salad bars a sometimes much-needed makeover.

We are both Chef’s Training graduates of Natural Gourmet Institute and are known around New York public high schools as the “Salad Bar Chefs.”

For the last year, we have worked in school kitchens to enhance salad bars as part of a project initiated by the NYC Department of Health and funded by the Center for Disease Control.  The project’s aim is to make salad bars more appealing to young people so they eat more vegetables. If we achieve our goal, we can decrease the rate of obesity in this generation.

Many New Yorkers are surprised to learn that every New York public high school has a salad bar. They don’t know that cafeteria meals in New York public schools are some of the best in the country.  For example, only whole grain bread and pasta is served, and no trans-fats, corn syrup, MSG or artificial colorings are allowed in any of the packaged products served to students. Fresh fruit is offered every day.

These standards might seem overly basic but, considering the state of food in most US schools, they’re very forward-thinking. It’s because of these changes made over the last decade that obesity rates among New York public school students have actually decreased. Even with this good news, however, everyone agrees there is still a lot of work to do.

School salad bar quality varies widely. Some are vibrant magnets for students who pile loads of greens and cucumbers onto their plates, while others are dull and stocked with unloved produce. Overall, most could use some improvement, even if it’s a small tweak, such as changing the salad bar unit’s location or offering a greater variety of dressings. It’s our job to hone in on what a particular school needs and to provide immediate solutions.

Each New York school salad bar features large pans of standard SchoolFood green salad (romaine, spinach, shredded carrots and red cabbage), smaller pans of cut garnishes (sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, etc.) and two or three prepared salads. The salad bars are vegan with a few exceptions.

Our job is to steer kitchen staff away from using mayonnaise-based salads and move them toward prepared salads with fresh herbs and bold flavors. For instance, we successfully influenced the decision to eliminate large tubs of pre-made, mayonnaise-based potato salad. In its place, we taught staff to prepare a delicious “Zesty Potato Salad” with roasted red potatoes, dill pickles, red onion, celery, fresh parsley and freshly made vinaigrette.

We visit a different cafeteria kitchen every two days, assessing the produce in the refrigerators, what’s available and how it’s stored. In kitchens that rely on a lot of processed and frozen foods, many staff members don’t know how to extend the life of fresh herbs or other fresh greens. We particularly emphasize the importance of proper storage and work with them to organize produce so it’s protected, organized and accessible. We also spend time talking to the cooks about their salad bar preparation routine and the popularity of certain items.

Once we investigate the situation, we get to work demonstrating new recipes, finding ways to work more efficiently, and training staff on equipment such as food processors and buffalo choppers that speed up vegetable prep. Many cafeteria staffers are short on time, working hard to get everything done by the first lunch service.  Slicing 10 pounds of zucchini in a food processor instead of by hand saves enough time to prepare a fresh dressing or a bean salad with chopped herbs.

Chef Liz with cook Maggie during a food processor training at Bronx Academy HS in June, 2011

After we set up the renovated salad bar, we watch the action from behind the counter to see the students’ reactions to the makeover. If students ignored the salad bar every day since the start of school, they will take a second look when they see a colorful and fresh array of items. They usually comment on how it looks, and we encourage them to try something new, such as a healthy coleslaw or pasta salad with roasted vegetables and basil pesto. If we stay at a school one or two days longer to monitor what’s happening, we often see the students coming back for the new item they tasted and really liked.

Many students enjoy tasty composed salads from the salad bar. Healthy coleslaw, black bean salad and vegetable lo mein are popular at many high schools throughout the city.

At many schools, cafeteria staff tell us, “These kids don’t like salad.” But once we put out more fresh items or make a new salad, we often witness renewed interest. High school students today are savvy.  They’ve seen shows on the Food Network that feature beautifully prepared salads, and they can discern a good salad bar from a neglected one.  That’s why at every visit to a cafeteria, we keep the following 5 Keys to a Successful High School Salad Bar in mind:

  1. Make it colorful.  Colorful salads entice students. They may not take every item on the salad bar, but they are drawn to it and usually find something that appeals to them.
  2. Make it fresh.  It’s easy to rely on canned items when a kitchen is busy and under stress, but fresh produce is almost always more flavorful and colorful. Once in a while, a canned bean salad is great, but fresh produce is always best!
  3. Know the students’ preferences.  In some schools, students don’t like red cabbage. Adding it to the salad mix can cause students to forego salad altogether. However, removing it can sometimes increase greens consumption. If you know your students’ preferences, you can target their favorite vegetables and focus your salad bar on those.
  4. Treat produce with care.  Proper produce storage is vital to the long-term success of the salad bar. It guarantees less waste, making the salad bar financially viable for a kitchen manager.
  5. Use tasty dressings.  Knowing how to make basic vinaigrette is vital for adding flavor to prepared salads. Once you know basic vinaigrette preparation, you can make many variations with added herbs, various vinegars and mustard.

When we are not busy providing culinary skills training to cafeteria workers, we lend our expertise and support to other projects and areas of SchoolFood.  These include:

Garden to School Café:  Garden to School Café is a program of NYC Department of Education, NYS Department of Agriculture & Markets and NYC Parks & Recreation, GreenThumb. The program connects school gardens and school meals through lunchtime harvest events and educational activities. The purpose is to increase students’ consumption of fresh vegetables and knowledge of healthful foods, farming and the local food system. Alongside the program coordinator, SchoolFood regional chefs and cafeteria workers, we assist with the harvesting of fresh herbs and vegetables as well as preparation of school meals using the produce.

Chef Madea harvesting baby kale during a Garden to School Café harvest event at PS 41 in West Village, New York, NY (June 2011)

Department of Health’s Healthy Bodegas Initiative:  A sister CPPW project, the aim of this initiative is to increase healthier options at local bodegas, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grain bread, low-fat milk, low-salt and no-sugar-added canned goods and healthy snacks. During the summer months of 2010, we conducted 10 healthy food demonstrations at 4 bodegas in Morris Heights, Harlem and Bushwick. We showed customers quick and easy ways to prepare healthier recipes, all with food bought from the bodega. We created and gave samples of delicious recipes such as Black Bean Salad, Watermelon Pineapple Salad and Salmon Salad Sandwich.

Enhanced Inventory Program (EIP): In an effort to expose students to food items not normally associated with school lunch, the Enhanced Inventory Program allows school Principals to select items such as salmon, organic quinoa, grass-fed beef from a local NY state farm, virgin olive oil and organic legumes and to include them in their lunch menus.  So these products could be easily integrated into the school lunch program by cafeteria workers, we modified existing SchoolFood recipes, wrote new recipes and tested them in the test kitchen.

It has been beyond rewarding to use our culinary training, knowledge and skills to increase accessibility of more nutritious, fresh food to youth in New York City.  There’s more work to do in our school food system, both in New York City and throughout the nation. Hopefully, more students and graduates of Natural Gourmet will join us and seriously consider how they would improve the nutritional climate for the next generation.

South Bronx Campus High School, Bronx, New York City, Salad Bar Training, April, 2011


Healthy Coleslaw with Honey Ginger Dressing
(Serves 4-6)

1 small head green cabbage, shredded

2 carrots, shredded

1 small red onion, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

1 cup olive oil

Juice of 2 lemons

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon granulated garlic

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

1. In a large mixing bowl, toss cabbage, carrots, red onion and parsley.  Mix well to combine ingredients thoroughly.

2. To a food processor, add olive oil, lemon juice, honey, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, salt and pepper.  Process until dressing is thoroughly mixed and creamy.  Adjust seasonings if necessary.

3. Toss salad with dressing.  Chill for two hours.  Serve with burger or wrap sandwich.

Zesty Potato Salad

(Serves 4-6)

2 lbs red potatoes, washed and scrubbed, large dice

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

1 small red onion, small dice

2/3 cup dill pickle chips, medium dice

2 stalks of celery, small dice

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley


2/3 cup white vinegar

½ cup olive oil

1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon black pepper
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

2. In a large mixing bowl, toss potatoes with olive oil, salt and black pepper.  Spread potatoes evenly on sheet pan and roast in oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until potatoes are tender and slightly browned around edges.

3. Cool potatoes and toss with onion, pickles and celery.

4. To a food processor add vinegar, olive oil, mustard, salt and pepper.  Process until ingredients become a uniform mixture.

5. Toss potatoes with vinaigrette.  Garnish with parsley.

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A new installment in our blog: vegan and vegetarian recipes that are easy, delicious, and seasonal.

This week we’re sharing  a simple but deeply satisfying  poblano chile soup with lime and pumpkin oil. The ingredients are easy to find, and the whole preparation takes no more than 30 or 40 minutes.

The green poblano chile, native to the Mexican state of Puebla, is relatively mild in heat and flavor. It  gives this soup a fresh, smoky flavor with just hint of heat.

Smoky poblano soup

Roasted poblano soup with toasted pumpkin seeds

Serves 6-8

3 large poblano chilies (about 1 pound)

1 tablespoon coconut, olive, or canola oil

1 medium onion, medium dice

2 teaspoons sea salt

2 teaspoons ground cumin

4 cloves garlic, minced (3 tablespoons)

1 potato (8 ounces) peeled and medium diced

4 cups vegetable stock

1 cup unsweetened almond milk or coconut milk

3 tablespoons lime juice (2-3 limes)

¼ cup pumpkin seeds, toasted, for garnish

Pumpkin seed oil for garnish

  1. Place chilies over open flame or on cast iron pan at medium-high heat. Using tongs to turn them, blacken and blister chilies on all sides.
  2. Transfer chilies to covered bowl to steam for 10 minutes. When cooled, rub away blackened skin and seed chilies. Rough chop them, and set aside.
  3. In 2-quart pot over medium heat, add onions, 1 teaspoon of salt and cumin. Sweat onions on low heat until they soften and become translucent. Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute more.
  4. Add potato, stock, and chilies. Cover pot and bring to boil. Lower heat and continue to simmer until potatoes are soft. Add almond milk and remaining salt. Simmer for another 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
  5. Puree soup in batches in blender until creamy. Add lime juice. Garnish with pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed oil.

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Part of any chef’s training is learning to cook a la minute (in the moment) or, as we say in restaurant parlance a la carte (off the menu). For a chef in training, that means learning how to set up a kitchen station for maximum speed and efficiency of plating dishes.

Here is Chef’s Training Group 202 prepping dishes for A la Carte II with Instructor Celine Beitchman. The class work involves prepping the ingredients for each dish, setting up stations, preparing the food to order, and plating each dish neatly and attractively. The menu: seared chicken breast in mushroom sauce, curried tempeh with pineapple salsa, and tofu teriyaki with stir-fry.

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Natural Gourmet Instructor Elliott Prag with some new friends

Today I had the privilege to attend Cafe Day for Wellness in the Schools (WITS) at PS 89, an elementary/middle school in Cypress Hills, Brooklyn. Natural Gourmet volunteered with WITS and was partnered with PS 89 this year. PS 89 is a school where almost all students avail themselves of the lunch program. This was the first opportunity I had to see firsthand what WITS was up to in its initiative to bring healthier food to the city’s lunch rooms.

I met our liaison and Natural Gourmet graduate, Stefanie Devic, at 8:30 am to finish preparing  new menu items she was introducing to the students at lunchtime. This cafe day included quesadillas with whole wheat tortillas, beans and brown rice, pico de gallo, and fresh greens (kale and collards) with Canadian bacon. I sampled all of these offerings, and had to honestly pronounced them delicious. The new dishes were presented alongside an impressive daily salad bar, fresh fruit, and the always-reliable stand-by: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

I thoroughly enjoyed dining with the students and getting their take on the food. Competition may have run neck-in-neck between the cafe day menu and peanut butter and jelly among the youngest, but i noticed it was particularly well received by the older students.

I’m glad I attended. Talking to the students, seeing the dedicated staff at PS 89, working alongside Stefanie and seeing her passion, reminded me how important this work is to our communities.

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