Tag Archives: vegetarian

i8tonite with Professional Plant-based Culinary Instructor and Owner of STLVegGirl, Caryn Dugan & New Summertime Burger Recipe

22i8tonite with Professional Plant-based Culinary Instructor and STLVegGirl, Caryn Dugan & New Summertime Burger RecipeWith a deep breath, I called…a vegan chef. Not knowing what to expect, I was surprised by the endless laughter we shared, and gained a new appreciation for a plant-based diet. But I get ahead of myself….

Rooted deep in the St. Louis food and wellness scene, chef Caryn Dugan is STLVegGirl, a plant-based nutrition and culinary educator with a simple mission, “A Plant on Every Plate™.”

Caryn notes that the A Plant on Every Plate concept is not judgy or difficult, but an easy way to incorporate healthier eating at your own pace. She says, “Eating only plants is not only eating something green – beans, grains, seeds, even cocoa beans (think chocolate!) – plants come in all different forms. However, greens are the most nutrient dense foods. You can be so creative with eating what comes out of the ground. It’s the most healthy way to live, nourish, and thrive.

Caryn adopted a plant based diet in response to tragedy; in 2008, cancer took her father at an early age and ten weeks later, tried to take her. In response to her diagnosis, she searched for an answer and found one in the growing body of literature supporting a whole food, plant-based diet to bolster our natural immune system. Adopting a vegan diet herself and beating cancer, she sought to share her knowledge to help others.

In 2011, Caryn studied in Washington, DC, under the direction of Neal Barnard, MD, at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine’s (PCRM) Food For Life program, becoming a certified instructor. Bringing this knowledge home, she teaches immune boosting, plant-based cooking classes at the Cancer Support Center of St. Louis for the benefit of others who have, like her, met cancer at the door.

i8tonite with Professional Plant-based Culinary Instructor and STLVegGirl, Caryn Dugan & New Summertime Burger RecipeCaryn went on to form STLVegGirl, LLC, St. Louis’ first fully plant based entity providing cooking instruction, personal cheffing, and catering services, regularly appears in cooking segments on local television morning shows, and teaches cooking classes in many locations around the St. Louis area.

What I love most about Caryn’s approach to cooking and teaching healthy eating is that she’s not the Vegan Police. Instead, she inspires us to incorporate nourishing, healthy foods into our lives. And when I asked for her best tip for someone wanting to move toward putting a plant on every plate, she said, “start with whatever you already have in your fridge and pantry, because those are going to be the most familiar foods to you. Don’t make it hard on yourself. Make the food you already like, and veganize it.”

She started slowly herself, moving from a microwave and frozen-meal diet to learning and researching – and teaching – how nourishing, healthy foods can change your meals – and your life. She worked hard on gaining certificates and education because she didn’t want to lead people down the wrong path with her work – she wants them to learn, eat, and say, “WOW! That was totally worth my time and my money.”

i8tonite with Professional Plant-based Culinary Instructor and STLVegGirl, Caryn Dugan & New Summertime Burger Recipe

Perhaps our loudest laughs came from learning about her biggest pet peeve – the phrase “Vegan Food.” Caryn said, “It’s just food!!! It’s just real food. It feeds into that view of vegan as unattainable and hippie. Just because you change what’s on your plate doesn’t mean you have to uproot your entire life. You’re just using real food…not food that is processed, crazy, or something you can’t say or spell. This can be very simple stuff.” Indeed.

i8tonite with Professional Plant-based Culinary Instructor and STLVegGirl, Caryn Dugan & New Summertime Burger Recipe


Chef’s Questionnaire (with a nod to Proust):

How long have you been cooking?
Since 2008.

What is your favorite food to cook?
I enjoy seeking out the new food trends and then making them into plant-based dishes.

i8tonite with Professional Plant-based Culinary Instructor and STLVegGirl, Caryn Dugan & New Summertime Burger RecipeWhat do you always have in your fridge at home?
I’m often trying new recipes for a TV segment, cooking class, or to post on my website, so you’ll typically find random ingredients.

What do you cook at home?
If I’m not in work mode – I usually one-pot meal our nights. You might call them kitchen sink nights: open the fridge and freezer and start pulling things out and throwing them in a large pot. You’d be amazed at how many recipes have come out of nights like this.

What marked characteristic do you love in a customer?
The one who wants to learn.

What marked characteristic do you find unappealing in a customer?
The one who has no time for “rabbit food.”

Tupperware, Rubbermaid, or Pyrex?

Beer, wine, or cocktail?

Your favorite cookbook author?
Isa Chandra Moskowitz

Your favorite kitchen tool?
My husband bought me a NHB Knifeworks Chef Knife for Christmas and I LOVE it!

Your favorite ingredient?
It varies, right now I’m using a lot of tahini paste and dates are high on the list too. Adding one more: fresh rosemary from the garden – does anything smell nicer?!

i8tonite with Professional Plant-based Culinary Instructor and STLVegGirl, Caryn Dugan & New Summertime Burger Recipe

Your least favorite ingredient?

Least favorite thing to do in a kitchen?
Clean the stove

Favorite types of cuisine to cook?
I love experimenting with making the perfect veg burger

Beef, chicken, pork, or tofu?

Favorite vegetable?
Brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes tie for first place

Chef you most admire?
Angela Liddon of Oh She Glows

Food you like the most to eat?
Veg Burger

Food you dislike the most?
Mushy eggplant

How many tattoos? And if so, how many are of food?
No ink

Recipe: The New Summertime Burger

i8tonite with Professional Plant-based Culinary Instructor and STLVegGirl, Caryn Dugan & New Summertime Burger Recipe

2 1/2 tablespoons ground flax
5 tablespoons water
1 cup shredded sweet potato (one very small sweet potato)
8 oz mushrooms, roughly chopped
1/2 red onion, diced small
2 garlic cloves, minced pinch of sea salt
1 14 oz can of black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cooked chickpeas (if from the can, drain and rinse)
1/4 cup Italian parsley, roughly chopped
2-3 green onion stalks (green part only), roughly chopped
2 tablespoons sunflower seeds
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/2 tablespoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt & 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 3/4 cups whole oats

Mix the flax and the water together in a small bowl and allow it to sit for 15 minutes or until it begins to become gelatinous (this will be your “egg” and act as a binder).

Wash, but do not peel the sweet potato. Shred it by using a hand grater or run it though a food processor using the shred blade.

To a large non-stick pan, add the sweet potato, red onion, and mushrooms. Over medium heat and stirring often, allow the vegetables to cook down. Once they begin to soften, add in the garlic and a pinch of sea salt. Transfer to a food processor. Add the black beans, chickpeas, parsley, green onion, sunflower seeds, spices, and flax/water mix.

To a blender, add one cup of the oats and grind down until it is a coarse flour.

Add the flour and 1/4 of the whole oats to the food processor with the rest of the mixture.

Pulse the mixture until well mixed, but not blended or pureed.

Making the burgers

Transfer to a large bowl and add the rest of the oats.

Mix well with your hands and taste. Adjust spices to your liking.

Cover and refrigerate the mixture for an hour up to overnight.

Preheat oven to 375-F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Patty up your burgers. I made mine about 3″ in diameter and 1/2″-3/4″ thickness.

Bake for 18 minutes on one side, flip and bake for another 10 minutes.


These can be made into sliders or meatballs; remember,you’ll have to adjust your cooking time down the smaller the patty.
You can either refrigerate the mixture or patty up the burgers and and refrigerate them – either way, be sure to cover them.


The End. Go Eat.

I8tonite: Charred Broccoli with Lemon and Asiago

I discovered Charred Broccoli with Lemon and Asiago absolutely tasty. Tasty enough that there aren’t leftovers the next day.  I now believe roasting is the best thing for anything even broccoli which I like but isn’t necessarily my go to. So, when in doubt — roast. (My new motto.)

I discovered the recipe in “Family Table: Favorite Staff Meals, From Our Restaurants to Your Home”, compiled by Union Square Hospitality Group’s Culinary Director, Michael Romano and written by Karen Stabiner, with a forward by Danny Meyer, chef and owner of the just mentioned company. (Yes, Danny Meyer of Shake Shack fame.) I briefly worked for him as a waiter at Union Square Café back in the late eighties. Written in 2013, the cookbook’s recipes are staff meals from his restaurants that are part of the said conglomeration. These establishments include some of the Big Apple’s gastronomically acclaimed: Gramercy Tavern, Eleven Madison Park, The Modern and others. (Sadly, Union Square Café will be moving from its current space of 30 years to another area of Manhattan due to high rents.) Traditionally, staff meals are served at the beginning of the dinner shift and end of lunch.

El Teddys. Courtesy of I Loved New York

Truth be told,  taking all the romance out of the cookbook, along with the “familial” sappiness  — the  staff meals that we were given before or after our shifts came from leftovers that didn’t sell – too much chicken, Bibb lettuce getting ready to turn, fresh pasta that needed to be boiled so it didn’t go to waste.  Working at the now defunct Soho Kitchen & Bar (SKB), we were served pizzas and salad pretty much every staff meal.  The kitchen quickly needed to use up any dough from the day before and replenish with freshly made.  The salad was at least a couple of days old but it was still had a good crunch going on. At El Teddy’s, torn down in 2004 — we were allowed to eat any of the appetizers such as chicken achiote, machaca or steak arrachera burritos, any of the salads or the quesadillas which included huitlacoche (corn fungus), nopales and a puerco.  We could order as much as we wanted as the back of the house had already made the dishes with fresh ingredients for that day’s clientele. (We were eating yesterday’s.) At the Cajun/Mexican fusion of How’s Bayou – it was mostly leftover fried chicken, jambalaya, gumbo, day old enchiladas, reconstituted black beans, red rice and sometimes something green. (Not complaining about any of this. It was free food and truly delicious. The pizza at SKB was some of the best I had. I learned a lot about life, cooking, drinking and made some of the best friends ever while working in restaurants. I loved it.)

This brings me back to this recipe and cookbook…yeah, I don’t think any of the staff at my restaurants would have eaten this as “family meal”. It would have would have been sitting under the heat lamps drying out…but now that I’m older and definitely stockier — it’s pretty stellar stuff.

Charred Broccoli


  • 2 bunches of broccoli cut into trees with stems. Trim off about two inches from the bottom.
  • ¼ olive oil.
  • 2 lemons.
  • Several dashes of red pepper flakes.
  • Italian hard cheese such as asiago, pecorino or parmesan. Two to three cups grated.
  • Maldon salt, fresh cracked pepper. (Okay, you can use kosher….but I love the Maldon stuff.)
  • ½ cup of Panko bread crumbs.

Let’s make this puppy:

Preheat the oven to 450 – 475 degrees. Toss the broccoli, olive oil and breadcrumbs into a large bowl coating the broccoli really well. Spread into a single layer onto a baking sheet and roast for 10 to 15 minutes, charring the ends of the broccoli but not burning them.

While the broccoli is cooking, zest the two lemons into a large bowl and add the grated cheese stirring well until mixed.

Once the broccoli is cooked, toss the broccoli in the bowl mix with juice of a ½ a lemon. Serve.

The End. Go Eat.

i8tonite: with Raw Food Chef Diana Stobo, The Retreat Costa Rica and “Naked” Mac-and Cheese.

thai-lettuce-wrap Food has transformative powers. There is no denying it. It can make you feel better but it can also make you feel terrible. That’s what makes Chef Diana Stobo’s story – a tale in eating naturally — fascinating. After attending Cornell University with a degree in the culinary arts and food chemistry, she had a career as a food professional. It was at that time, Stobo topped the scale at 247 pounds while she was pregnant with her twins. Once giving birth, she found the medications she had used to become pregnant – via in-vitro –they had perpetuated serious health issues. Furthermore, she states on her website and YouTube channel, that her weight was a proverbial yo-yo throughout most of her life. She is now a fit mother of three and defies age categories with her glowing taut skin, lean frame and healthy chestnut hair. She pulled this feat by transforming her diet and becoming a “vegan raw” chef. She now writes about her transformation and how she maintains it with her book such as Get Naked Fast and Naked Bliss. Matter of fact, the Southern California-based entrepreneur has fashioned a mini-empire discussing how she became fabulous and fit.

Recently, Stobo opened up The Retreat Costa Rica situated in a mountain area 45 minutes outside of San Juan, the Central American’s country capital. It’s a hotel – nay, a retreat — to provide calming sanctuary, yoga and amazing food. The secluded and verdant town of Altos del Monte is her backdrop, while Stobo’s fitness and food philosophy become realized with farm-to-table dining and daily yoga sessions. It provides visitors the opportunity to slow-down and experience the beauty of the country as well as quench the desire to become healthier through fitness and eating. All the food is provided by local farms including the meats and seafood. There are a variety of food menus – omnivore, carnivore and vegetarian — for guests to choose from and yes…there is even wine.

As I’m witness to my own family and their eating habits – my mother and stepmother are both severely diabetic — food can be quite toxic if not consumed with clarity, wellness and appropriately. There are all a variety of ways to be healthy and consumers need to be find the best fit for them.


How long have you been cooking? I’ve been cooking since I was a little girl.  My mother and I would make specialty cakes, very decorative and festive.  I remember one cake where we crystallized grapes and created a sugar crystal sculpture on top of a shaved coconut cake.

What is your favorite food to cook? Well, I am truly an artist, so many of my items need to have an art form, so baking and chocolates were my go to when I was in my early years,  but now, I play with healthier version of everything- so making classic food with a healthy twist is my favorite go to now.

What do you always have in your fridge at home?  I tend to have tons of produce, greens and fruits, almond milk (home-made of course), Kefir, green juice that I make fresh and tons of condiments.  I’m sort of a grocery store addict, I love finding new condiments that add punch and flavor to a new dish when cooking on the fly.

What do you cook at home? I’m a simple eater but love throwing dinner parties.  So when it’s time to party, anything goes.  Again, I tend to take the classic home-style favorites and give them a healthy or what I call “naked” twist.  Naked means substituting classic dairy, wheat, and sugar, with healthy alternatives.  I just made ribs, with mashed yams, sautéed spinach with shallots and honey glazed carrots last weekend.  What was new and unusual is that I made a broccoli coleslaw using cashew butter as the cream base instead of mayonnaise.  Everybody loved it.

Thai Lettuce Wraps

What marked characteristic do you find unappealing in a customer? The unwillingness to try something new.

What marked characteristic do you love in a customer? Openness to new things.

Tupperware, Rubbermaid, or Pyrex? Pyrex- Glass ONLY!

Beer, wine or cocktail? Tequila or bust!  And, only the best.

Your favorite cookbook author? I can’t say since I don’t follow cookbooks.

Your favorite kitchen tool? An 8” chef’s knife. (Global)

Your favorite ingredient? Goat cheese and coconut milk.

Your least favorite ingredient? Soy sauce.

 Least favorite thing to do in a kitchen? Grate cheese ….. and dishes.

Favorite types of cuisine to cook? From all regions and international cuisines, I call them component meals.  Making several different flavors and layering them on top of each other to make the perfect dish.   Imagine Sprouted Quinoa Moussaka with Bean Béchamel, or Butternut Squash Lasagna, layered with Pine Nut Ricotta, Pistachio Pesto and Sundried Tomato Puree.  I’m just making this up but you get the idea.

Beef, chicken, pork or tofu? None of the above.

Favorite vegetable? That’s a tough question, because I am a vegetable lover all around.

Chef you most admire? Jamie Oliver- not because of his food, but his message.

Food you like the most to eat? Totally embarrassed, but I love Mexican food. (It’s) mostly the beans —  but what can I say, it’s the ultimate comfort food.

Food you dislike the most? I’m just not into meat.   Once in a while I crave it, but really- it’s not my thing.

 How many tattoos? And if so, how many are of food?  Not a one.

Naked Mac and cheeese

“Naked” Macaroni & Cheese

Diana Stobo says of this recipe, “I’m a lover of rich sauces so a good, old-fashioned macaroni and cheese is at the top of my list as a decadent and delicious treat. If you like “mac and cheese” like I do, I know you will be delighted at this “Naked” version my daughter affectionately named “mac-a-faux-ni”. The butternut squash adds a bit of sweetness as well as creaminess. The macadamia nut butter and coconut milk provide a richness and the ghee gives it that buttery taste. The rest is magic.


  • 2 heaping cups of butternut squash cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 ½ tablespoons of ghee (clarified butter)
  • 1 ½ tablespoons of sea salt
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • ¼ cup nutritional yeast
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 12 ounce package Tinkyada Brown Rice Pasta elbows (or any gluten-free pasta of your choice).

For the topping:

  • ¼ cup walnuts, pine nuts or sunflower seeds
  • 2 teaspoons nutritional yeast
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper (optional)


In a 4-quart pot, prepare pasta according to package directions. Cook al dente, strain and run under cold water to immediately stop the cooking process. Pour cooled pasta back into the pot.

In a medium saucepan over the medium heat, melt ghee and gently sweat the squash, do not brown. Add sea salt and coconut milk, simmering uncovered for 10 minutes. Carefully pour hot squash into blender and add macadamia butter, nutritional yeast and lemon juice. Blend on low with the machine’s center cap lid removed to release the heat while blending. Slowly increase speed until the sauce is smooth and creamy. Pour mixture over pasta and stir.

This can be served immediately with topping sprinkled over the macaroni or baked in a 350 degree over for 15 minutes until browned.

The End. Go eat.

i8tonite: Braised Leeks in Cream and Tarragon (Kitchen Sense, Mitchell Davis)

I know that as I write this that I’m not the only person who walks into a grocery store or farmers market and says, “I want to make something I’ve never made.” Recently, it was with leeks for me. I’ve cooked leeks but always as a supporting character in pot pies, vichyssoise, and fried for decoration. Thrown into stews. Chopped for soups. Roasted with meats. However, I’ve never used a leek as the main ingredient.

In Mitchell Davis’ lovely and massive cookbook, Kitchen Sense, which we are currently cooking from for the month of May; he had a recipe for Braised Leeks in Cream and Tarragon…making the onion relative, the star of the dish. (It’s Memorial Day weekend and I’m talking about braising instead of grilling. I always did like to go against the stream. Heh.)

Besides the leeks, the cream and the tarragon, the other major ingredients are butter and white wine. Very French. Before even making it, you can imagine the taste and subtle sweetness of the leeks with the cream’s richness. (I think a really good Loire Valley sauvignon blanc or a dry Belgian, non-fruit craft beer would be a good accompaniment; a light beverage with crispness and acidity.)

Leeks at Santa Monica Farmer's Market

The methodology for making this vegetable braise is very simple but it does take a lengthy time to cook. I would make this for a holiday gathering or a dinner party when I have another item roasting in the oven. The dish is also lovely to present at a table.

Davis wants you to serve one leek per person. I feel it’s better at two leeks per person since this would be the only vegetable I’m serving; therefore, I’m doubling the recipe. If you are making the dish for two,  cut it back to four leeks. (I think you can figure that out.)

Let’s Make This Puppy: Braised Leek with Cream & Tarragon

6 tablespoons of unsalted butter, room temperature

8 leeks, trimmed to white with about an inch of green

1 cup of white wine

½ cup of cream

4 sprigs of tarragon leaves; chopped

1 bay leaf

Salt and white pepper for seasoning.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Use some of the butter to grease a large baking dish (maybe something that goes from oven to table).

Remove the tops of the leeks, leaving one inch of the green; thoroughly, rinse the leeks in water and then cut them in half, lengthwise. Dry them on kitchen towels. (I try not to use paper towels and conserve resources….but if you must use paper towels…do so, just remember that you can purchase really inexpensive kitchen towels at your Walmart, Target, or other large discount for pennies. You can wash them as often as you want and will last you longer than your roll of paper towels.)

Place the leeks cut side down in the baking dish and pour the wine and cream over. The vegetables should be about three-fourths submerged. If not, just add a little more wine or cream. You choose. Add the bay leaf and scatter the tarragon. Season well with salt and pepper. Using the remaining butter, spot the top of the leeks. Cover tightly with aluminum foil baking for an hour and a quarter.

The leeks should be tender. If you used an oven-to-table baking dish as I recommended, just remove the bay leaf and serve.

It’s a pretty awesome dish but a little heavy with a little too much cooking time for a regular weekday meal but for a special occasion….it’s perfect!

Braised Leeks