Cookbook Review: Vegan Casseroles + a BlendTec Blender Giveaway + Recipe


I admit that I love cookbooks! I can’t get enough of them! I was a fan of Julie Hasson’s Vegan Diner cookbook and I make her super simple Greek tofu scramble, veggie chili, and chocolate chip cookie pie pretty regularly. I’ve fooled several omnivores with her dishes, so when I had a chance to review her latest cookbook, Vegan Casseroles, I jumped at the opportunity.

What I’ve always loved about Julie’s cookbooks is that her recipes are easy to follow and they turn out pretty damn tasty. As a vegan who cooks a lot for omnivores, I’m always looking for recipes that satisfy everyone.

I tried out two recipes—Very Veggie Pot Pie and the Baked Penne with Pumpkin Cream Sauce—and they were perfection.

Very Veggie Pot Pie from Vegan Casseroles

Very Veggie Pot Pie from Vegan Casseroles

As a fun part of reviewing, I’m allowed to share the recipe for the Baked Penne with Pumpkin Cream Sauce with my readers—SEE BELOW. During the months of October and November, I’m all about pumpkin everything, so this dish is ideal for a weeknight dinner.


Running Press, the publishers of Vegan Casseroles, are hosting an awesome Grand Prize giveaway for 1 BlendTec 725 Designer Blender. Five runners up will receive a copy of Vegan Casseroles. 


(Details: Giveaway ends on December 11, and it’s only open to US residents.)

Baked Penne With Pumpkin Cream Sauce from VEGAN CASSEROLES (Running Press). Photo credit: Felicia Perretti.

Baked Penne With Pumpkin Cream Sauce from VEGAN CASSEROLES. Photo credit: Felicia Perretti.

Reprinted with permission from VEGAN CASSEROLES © 2014 by Julie Hasson, Running Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group.

Baked Penne with Pumpkin Cream Sauce

Pumpkin is always a fall favorite, although you can enjoy this dish anytime of the year. The sauce has a hint of sweetness from the pumpkin but also a nice savory flavor from the sage and onions. I think this dish has become one of my daughter’s favorites.

Serves 4 to 6

12 ounces dried penne
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium sweet onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
3 large cloves garlic, pressed or minced
1 1/2 cups plain unsweetened soymilk or almond milk, plus more as needed
1 (15-ounce) can puréed pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
5 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes
1/4 cup raw unsalted cashews, soaked for at least 2 hours and drained
1 1/4 teaspoons fine sea salt
1 teaspoon dried rubbed sage
3/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 recipe Buttery Crumb Topping (see below), prepared without nutritional yeast flakes

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Grease an 8-inch square glass or ceramic baking dish.

In a large pot of lightly salted boiling water, add the penne and cook according to package directions until al dente. Don’t overcook the pasta, especially if you’re using one that is gluten-free. Drain the pasta well and transfer to a large bowl.

While the pasta is cooking, prepare the sauce. In a large cast-iron skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat and sauté the onion until soft. Add the garlic and cook a few more minutes. Remove from the heat.

In a blender, purée the onion mixture, soymilk, pumpkin, nutritional yeast, cashews, salt, sage, and nutmeg. Blend until the mixture is super-smooth and velvety, and no traces of nuts remain. If the sauce is too thick to blend, you can add up to an additional 1/2 cup of nondairy milk.

Add the pumpkin sauce to the pasta, stirring until the pasta is well coated. Add salt and pepper to taste. Scoop the mixture into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the crumb topping over the top of the casserole. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the casserole is hot and the top is lightly browned. Remove from the oven and serve hot.

Tip: If you’re using a high-speed blender, you can skip the soaking step for the cashews and just use them dry. Add a little extra water to blend if needed.

Variation: Substitute fresh or dried rosemary for the sage.

Gluten-Free: Use a gluten-free pasta, such as brown rice, as well as gluten-free panko breadcrumbs in the topping. My favorite gluten-free pasta for this recipe is brown rice penne.

Buttery Crumb Topping

A nice buttery crumb topping is my husband’s favorite part of a casserole. It is especially good on everything from mac and cheese to vegetable casseroles, as it adds a nice rich, garlicky crunch. Crumb toppings are also open to a number of variations, depending on how you season them.

Makes about 1/2 cup, enough to top an 8-or 9-inch casserole

1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons nonhydrogenated vegan margarine, melted
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast flakes
1 clove garlic, pressed or finely minced
Pinch of salt

In a small bowl, mix together the panko breadcrumbs, margarine, nutritional yeast, garlic, and a pinch of salt. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Tip: You can substitute olive oil for the margarine, if desired.

Variation: For an herbed-garlic-flavored topping, add 1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs. For a richer topping, increase the margarine to 3 tablespoons.

Gluten-Free: Use gluten-free panko breadcrumbs. My favorite brand is Ian’s, which is also egg-free and dairy-free.

5 Tips for Submitting Your Writing


As someone who pitches editors, and also reviews literary submissions for a local theater, I am both the one submitting my work and reviewing work that’s sent for submission. My husband, who is a TV writer, and I talk about how important it is to present your writing as if your submission were going on an interview. If you’re serious about getting your work published or landing a TV writing job, it’s so important to think of your writing samples as little representations of you. Think of a sloppy script as a person showing up half an hour late for a job interview, not having showered and wearing sweatpants. Here’s some tips for making your submission job-worthy.

1. If your submission has a title page, put your contact info on the page.

If you’re submitting a play or a TV pilot script for review, please put your name, email, phone number, and mailing address on it. Some contests ask for blind submissions, so follow those rules, but if the contest doesn’t stipulate blind submissions, please make sure it’s easy to contact you. I’ve had to hunt people’s info down about their work. Make it easy.

2. Follow the submission guidelines.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but I can’t tell you how many people don’t read the submission guidelines. They are there for a reason. Send in what’s required and don’t send in more than that. Just read the rules and follow them.

3. Format your script accordingly.

There’s a reason Final Draft (even if it drives me nuts) exists. It makes it easier to format a play, screenplay, or TV script. If you just type it haphazardly in Word, it’s very hard to read. And you want the person reading your writing to be able to read it without getting a headache by trying to follow dialogue that’s all over the place. If you really want to be a script writer, then invest in some software.

4. Don’t use wacky fonts, pictures, and hyperlinks.

We’re here to evaluate your writing, not your ability to put together a designed document. Just keep the font simple, clean, and clear.

5. Please proofread at least twice.

Typos happen, but just read it twice just for grammar, spelling, and errors. If you’re terrible at proofreading, have a trusted friend who has an editor’s eye to find those mistakes for you. There’s nothing more irksome than someone who clearly hasn’t proofread their own work. If you haven’t done your homework, why should I read your entire script?


What I’ve Learned From My Gratitude Project

Before October started, I made a list of 31 people I wanted to write thank you notes to express my gratitude for them being in my life—friends, family, mentors, even our pets’ veterinaries. Each day, as part of My Gratitude Project, I wrote what I was thankful for that this person brought into my life. Some times it was thanking someone for reading my writing, which I’m so appreciative of, or thanking someone for welcoming me into their home for a good meal. Other times, it was deeper, like thanking my mom for teaching me how to save money and how to be an independent woman.

It’s funny. In both November issues of Real Simple and O, The Oprah Magazine (two of my favorite publications), there are feature stories about the power of gratitude. Real Simple is even offering a Gratitude Challenge during the month of November. A regular practice of gratitude, as noted by Real Simple‘s feature “Why Gratitude is Great,” can make you feel happier, healthier, more resilient, boost your energy levels, and improve your relationships. Not too shabby, huh?

Mid-way through the month, I went through a health crisis that threw me for a loop. I was really sad, but even through it, I wrote my notes. You know what? These moments of gratitude got me through the next few weeks when I was deeply sad. There was something meditative about thinking about making someone else smile. Friends would email or post on Facebook that my notes made their day. Honestly, these moments gave me the strength I needed to see the bright side of a bad situation.

My Gratitude Project taught me that gratitude heals. Gratitude brings others happiness. Gratitude has the power to change.

This experience isn’t just a monthly experiment now. It’s now my new habit. I’ve ordered more thank you cards from Etsy, and I’m ready to dole them out.

Thank you for reading, and I hope you pay it forward by saying thank you to someone in your life!

Cookbook Review: Chloe’s Vegan Italian Kitchen

I’m a big fan of Chloe Coscarelli’s previous cookbooks—Chloe’s Kitchen and Chloe’s Vegan Desserts. Everything I’ve ever made out of those cookbooks turns out delicious. I made her pumpkin cinnamon rolls of Thanksgiving dinner last year where I was the only vegan, and the omnivores raved about the cinnamon buns, begging to take some rolls home.

As some of you know, I love Italian food. Lasagna, pasta, ravioli, eggplant parmesan, you name it. It’s part of the reason I loved Garfield so much. He understood the power of lasagna.

So when Chloe, a bonafide Italian, came out with Chloe’s Vegan Italian Kitchen, I was overjoyed. I bought it while on vacation in Portland at Herbivore and have been drooling over it ever since.

I want to make every single recipe, but I started with the Pizza Margherita.

Pizza from Chloe's Vegan Italian


My father-in-law was in town, and he’s notoriously picky about food. He loved this pizza! The mozzarella cheese sauce was easy peasy to make, and we added our own toppings. (I must confess that I bought the dough from Trader Joe’s!). We had leftover mozzarella sauce so we added it to a marinara sauce to make it deliciously creamy. Put it on sandwiches. We basically ate it on everything.

Among the recipes I want to make next:

  • Pumpkin Soup with Crispy Brussels Sprout Leaves
  • White Wild Mushroom Pizza
  • Pizza Burgers with Avocado Pesto
  • Chloe’s “Nutella” Cinnamon Rolls

These are the recipes you want to make to impress omnivores, and they’re super simple to make. Grab a copy here.

Buon appetito!

Interview with Debut YA Author Shari Green + Book & Starbucks Giveaway

1. Your debut YA book—FOLLOWING CHELSEA—just debuted on October 17th. Can you tell us about your road from starting the story to getting it published?

It was a long and winding road! (But that’s probably true of many stories.) I wrote FOLLOWING CHELSEA in 2008, signed with an agent and worked on revisions with her, but then ended up parting ways with the agent. I shelved the story while I wrote other things, but came back to it a couple times over the next few years. Then Evernight Teen put out a call for submissions, and FOLLOWING CHELSEA seemed like it might be a good fit. Turned out, it was! I’m thrilled it found a good home.

2. As a debut novelist, what advice would you give to YA writers who are hoping to get their first book published?

Keep reading, keep writing, find good critique partners, and don’t let the waiting get you down. ☺

3. I love this one-sentence description about your book: Walking in the footsteps of a dead girl isn’t easy. What did you learn in the process of writing this particular story?

I learned a lot about revising, for sure, but maybe one of the most helpful things was the importance of knowing the “story kernel,” the heart, the one thing that your story boils down to, even if you end up cutting or changing almost everything else. With FOLLOWING CHELSEA, that one-sentence description was something I could keep coming back to, and it would bring me back from wandering down tangents, keeping me on track with revisions.

4. What are some recent YA reads that you’ve loved?

  • Jeri Smith-Ready’s THIS SIDE OF SALVATION
  • Tess Sharpe’s FAR FROM YOU
  • Eagerly awaiting A.S. King’s GLORY O’BRIEN’S HISTORY OF THE FUTURE (which I’m including in this list because I know I’m going to love it, lol . . .  I love all her work!)

5. Now that your first book is out, are there plans for a second book in the works?

Nothing under contract yet, but I’m working on another YA, and I have a MG verse novel that I’m kind of in love with—hoping it finds a home soon!

Shari has a great giveaway for readers. Thanks so much, Shari!

Giveaway: FOLLOWING CHELSEA’s main character, Anna, seriously loves her morning coffee. I suspect she’s not alone in her caffeine addiction, so I’m giving away a $10 Starbucks card along with a FOLLOWING CHELSEA e-book and signed postcard swag. Enjoy a latte-and-reading break on me! CLICK HERE FOR THE GIVEAWAY.

YA author Shari Green

YA author Shari Green

You can find Shari Green on Twitter at @sharigreen and her website.

My Favorite Vegan Eats in Portland, OR

Ah, Portland, I love you. The vegan scene in Portland is crazy. I ate all the time and still didn’t hit everything. Besides my love for Powell’s Books (THE bookstore of all indie bookstores), the city has a charm that I can’t resist. Maybe it’s the cute fabric stores with helpful saleswomen or the options of almond, coconut, or soy milk at most coffee shops, or just maybe it’s food. In all food porn glory, here are some of my favorite vegan eats in Portland, OR.

1. Portobello Vegan Trattoria


Three Cheese Plate with Plum Compote and Toast

With the cheese plates, amazing homemade vegan pastas, and salted caramel ice cream sundaes, Portobello is the perfect date night meal, or going out with your girlfriends. They have fantastic cocktails and adorable atmosphere. The menu changes, but anything you get will be great.

2. The Sudra


Kale Dosa Plate

I love vegan Indian food! The Sudra is a cute eatery located in the middle of a row of delicious-looking restaurants. The Kale Dosa Plate comes with a potato masala and a cilantro-lemon sauce that I’m still thinking about today. I want it.

3. Sizzle Pie

Sizzle Pie

I won’t bore you with my lament about good pizza on the West Coast, instead I’ll just implore that you head to Sizzle Pie and have a vegan slice of anything available that day. Because the crust is right on and the toppings are SO GOOD, you’ll be thinking, who cares about cheese? And shut up about your container of nutritional yeast that I can sprinkle on my pizza! Can we get married, Sizzle Pie?

4. The Cheese Plate PDX

PDX Cheese Plate

The Vegan Grilled Cheese

It was our last day in Portland. It was raining. I ate this scrumptious grilled cheese while Funny Face, starring Audrey Hepburn, played on the TV in this food truck. Everything was perfect.

5. Harlow


Outlaw Scramble

This adorable new healthy eating cafe has a great breakfast menu. Try the Lemon Babycakes, the Outlaw Scramble, and the Hot Chocolate with coconut milk.

6. Homegrown Smoker Vegan BBQ

Homegrown Smoker

Reuben Special

Even though it’s not pictured here because we devoured it too quickly—the Macnocheeto Burrito is my favorite thing at this food truck. It’s filled with mac ‘n cheese and barbecue soy curls. Really. It’s a decadent burrito, but easily shareable with a friend.

7. Back to Eden Bakery

Back to Eden

The Vernon Sundae

Ice cream sundaes are kinda the best thing ever. If I wasn’t so full, I would’ve devoured the baked goodies and treats like the pumpkin cake covered in chocolate!

8. A.N.D Cafe

AND Cafe

Berry and Cream Waffle

This is a great place to go for breakfast. The sweet or savory waffles are delicious. There was a couple planning their wedding while having breakfast and I’m a sucker for weddings so maybe I teared up a little.

9. Departure


Banana Fritters Sundae

I told you I love ice cream sundaes, but really this was just the end of a great meal. Hat trick to Laura Beck for recommending the vegan menu at Departure, a rooftop pan-Asian restaurant that was the swankiest restaurant I’ve ever been to in Portland. You must try the BBQ Tempeh Buns, the Brussels Sprouts (trust me), and Gingered Mushrooms. While that might not sound like a lot of food, it was one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten.

Of course, I should mention a stop at the vegan mini-mall—which has Food Fight, a grocery store; Herbivore, a clothing shop, Sweetpea Baking Company, and a vegan tattoo shop—is a MUST. And the vegan bar The Bye and Bye.

I miss Portland already.

Leanne & me

That time I ran into Leanne, founder of Vaute Couture, before I left Portland. She’s the cutest & sweetest.

My October Challenge: The Gratitude Project / 31 Days of Thank Yous

Every October, I embark on a challenge—something that pushes me out of my comfort zone. It started with training for a half-marathon, then trying a 21-day cleanse, taking French lessons, and this year, I’m challenging myself to write a thank you note every day in October to 31 different people.

My friend Jaya inspired me to make a list of 10 things every day I’m grateful for and during our morning dog walks, Brendan and I share our lists. It helps to start the day remembering what’s good in my life, like having access to clean water and organic food and silly things like when my Labrador is happy to go for a walk.

So, I’ve made a list of people who I want to thank for being part of my life because I am really lucky to have great friends and family. In my notes, I mention the Gratitude Project and ask if people are so inclined that they write a note to someone they’d like to thank. My hope is that there is a ripple effect of gratitude to many people beyond my circle.

Will you join my challenge? If not for the whole month, why not spend a week emailing people who deserve your gratitude?