Gathering around a huge communal dining table on a Sunday afternoon, a small group of women find seats on wooden benches. Piles of colorful vegetables, either sliced, chopped or freshly snipped, cover the workspace of Arcata's cooking school and culinary event space, Foodwise Kitchen. Quickly making everyone at home with her bright smile and easy laughter, Foodwise founder Rachele McCluskey gets her weekly Plant-Based Meal Prep underway.
In August, McCluskey celebrated one year since opening Foodwise in the modern, multi-use building across from the North Coast Co-op in downtown Arcata. High ceilings and tall windows welcome the Humboldt sunshine into the kitchen, creating a warm background for the menu of pop-up dinners and cooking classes offered at Foodwise. Neither strictly vegan nor raw, the Foodwise Kitchen celebrates the raw power of organic fruits and vegetables, buttressed by macronutrients from plant-based proteins.
McCluskey starts meal prep class informally, chatting with her students while tossing the ingredients for fresh corn cakes in a large glass bowl. The seasonal produce harvested by Humboldt County farmers inspires all of Foodwise Kitchen's dishes. At a meal prep class in August, a creamy red pepper soup, cucumber salad, fresh corn cakes and a raw lemon-turmeric cheesecake were on the lesson plan. This fall, meal prep classes feature polenta and veggie lasagna, stuffed delicata squash and mushroom and tomato soup. Offered every Sunday from 1 to 3 p.m., the meal prep menus change each week.
McCluskey designed meal prep classes to teach health-conscious students new tricks for creating easy, plant-based recipes at home. To motivate healthy eating even further, participants take home glass containers full of the delicious dishes they created together in class. Foodwise dishes are cooked with organic, locally sourced ingredients whenever possible, without the use of meat, dairy or refined sugars. McCluskey's personal food philosophy is motivated by her belief that many diseases can be prevented with a plant-based diet of medicinal foods. For example, her decadent raw cheesecakes, like the soup recipe below, draw their richness from nuts. By soaking and blending raw cashews, she produces a variety of cheesecakes — cold-pressed coffee, lemon turmeric, roasted peanut and cacao — allowing her guests and customers to indulge in a dessert that won't cause digestive turmoil or a blood sugar spike.
For a one-to-two-person household, a meal prep class costs $85, which includes four take-home containers and a double-sized slice of McCluskey's signature raw cheesecake. Families can opt for larger portions for $105. Either way, you'll leave Foodwise Kitchen well fed (cooks get to snack during class) and prepared for a week of healthy eating. McCluskey even provides recipe cards for students to jot down the recipe and their notes on each dish.
Foodwise Kitchen is located at 791 Eighth St. in Arcata and you can check out the upcoming schedule of classes online at www.foodwisekitchen.com, call 633-8328 or email email@example.com. Upcoming events include Radiant Glow, a four-week series of nutrition classes on preparing foods that boost vitality and promote a healthy immune system, beginning Oct. 17. And on Nov. 10, McCluskey is partnering with local designers and florists for Fall Forage, an evening of food and floral design. Pre-registration is required. Foodwise will also offer plant-based holiday baking classes and a Thanksgiving brunch, in addition to regular workshops on plant-based cooking on a budget.
In the meantime, you can try Foodwise's easy recipe for this "cheddar" butternut broccoli soup. With the blended raw cashews, no one will miss the real cheese. Add a salad and homemade cornbread for a perfect dinner for chilly autumn nights.
Rachele McCluskey's Butternut-Broccoli Soup
1 medium/large butternut squash
1 medium (or 2 small) heads broccoli
1 yellow onion, divided
1-2 cloves garlic
1 cup raw cashews
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon Himalayan salt
2-3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
5-6 cups water
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
Cover the cashews with water and soak them for 4 to 6 hours.
Heat the oven to 350F. Cut the butternut squash into halves and place them face down on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Roast until soft, 45-60 minutes. Let cool before peeling away the outer skin and scooping out the seeds.
Warm the olive oil in pan over medium heat. Chop half of the yellow onion and all of the broccoli (including stems). Sauté them together with pinch of salt and pepper until soft, about 7 minutes.
Roughly chop the other half of the yellow onion. In a food processor or blender, blend the chopped onion, butternut squash, soaked cashews, garlic, garlic powder, onion powder, lemon juice, salt and yeast until smooth. Add 1 cup of water at a time until you reach the desired thickness. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Return the soup to the pot and heat it to desired serving temperature. Top each bowl with few tablespoons of the broccoli and onion mixture, and enjoy.