Lisa Boesen has always loved to cook and until recently, considered her kitchen skills self-taught. She learned what she calls “assembling” from her mom, a home economics teacher.
“I grew up baking a cake mix, a pudding mix and then you call it done,” she said.
An avid cookbook reader, she took knife skills classes at The Cooking Studio in Fort Collins and became serious about expanding her expertise after she took a pasta-making class during a trip to Italy in 2002.
“That’s a whole new level, that’s not assembly,” she notes, and it’s what inspired her to keep learning more techniques.
She’d always believed cooking healthy was important, but when a cardiologist suggested that eating more plants and less meat could contribute to a healthier lifestyle, Boesen was still of the mindset that it was good enough to have her meat and vegetables on the side.
Today, the Certified Vegan Chef said switching to a 100% plant-based diet had never been part of her cooking ideology.
So when her husband, Mike, was diagnosed with Stage 4 prostate cancer in 2018 — and he told her they were going completely plant-based — Boesen cried. She didn’t know how to completely get rid of meat.
She took a plant-based cooking course called Forks Over Knives and became a certified vegan chef through the Vegan Gastronomy Culinary Academy. The plant-based living model helped her get into a new mindset and adjust.
After one year, her husband was full-on vegan and she was 90%. Still, she found that giving up on meat completely was tough going.
“I have been known to sit in a parking lot and eat a whole roast chicken — I really miss roast chicken. But I realized I was gorging on a roast chicken and that something’s not right with my mind if I’m doing this.”
Slowly, she came around. She doesn’t think she’ll go back to eating a standard American diet. Her focus is on eating less meat for health issues, and she specifically skirts the environmental and animal rights pieces of the conversation.
However, she admits that she doesn’t miss meat anymore. She has a goal of eating less of anything with legs and fins and more of what has roots.
“Meat has all these glutamates that make them taste good. I’ll eat one or two ounces every six months, but I feel so much better. I have a cholesterol level of 160, more energy and I don’t feel so weighed down after eating a huge meal of meat and dairy. I don’t have GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease) or gastrointestinal issues, don’t have to take Pepcid and don’t feel bloated after eating 8-ounces of meat.”
A new career centered on better health
Boesen wrote her first cookbook in 2011, focusing partly on recipes with cruciferous vegetables because of her mom’s diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. The term “cruciferous” covers a diverse range of leafy veggies, including broccoli, cauliflower, kale, bok choy, radishes and more.
Those first recipes centered on buying a bag of salad mix with five kinds of cruciferous veggies and teaching home chefs how to turn that bag of veggies into stir fries, noodle dishes and soups.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, she visited farmers markets in Fort Collins and farm stands, taking photos to document her journey.
“As I met these farmers and heard the stories, I became intrigued about small growers and the farmers markets and I realized there is so much that the general population doesn’t know about the many resources available in our area,” Boesen said.
Those stories are how her award-winning cookbook, “Food ELEVATED,” came into being.
In addition to plant-based recipes, she wanted the book to be a historical documentary of the vegetables, fruits and grains that Colorado is known for.
“It’s the Palisade peaches, the chiles and the apple industry. The apple industry almost went defunct if it hadn’t been for Walt Rosenberg at Masonville Apple Orchards,” Boesen explained.
She learned that Colorado is a big bean state and grows barley for beer production. It’s also number two in the United States for growing millet, a fast-growing cereal crop, most of which is stored in Milliken. She discovered that many of today’s growers are young people who either graduated from Colorado State University or inherited a family farm.
“These young people are trying to bring us food to our area, because 90% of food grown in Larimer County doesn’t stay in the county,” Boesen said. “I wanted to write this book to help support their efforts.”
Boesen also wanted to teach people what to do when they get a Community Supported Agriculture basket, the subscription boxes where people receive seasonal fruits and vegetables, often on a weekly or monthly schedule. CSAs are a form of direct marketing where individuals pay to support a farm operation’s front end costs and thereby share in the risky enterprise that farming often encompasses.
She spent all of 2021 working with a book designer to create a self-published book that’s available through Ingram Spark Publishing, a format that makes it easy for any bookstore to pick it up.
The cookbook won a CIPA EVVY gold medal for first place in the cookbook category in the Colorado Independent Publishers Association awards program this year.
The recipes are adaptable for every diet, including vegan and vegetarian; meats, dairy and cheese can be added, she said.
Ultimately, her goal in writing “Food ELEVATED” was to encourage consumers to support the beautiful fruits and vegetables grown in Colorado. The recipes are designed for easy accessibility because she understands that not everybody has time to cook from scratch.
Red Peppers Three Ways
In the summer, Pope Farms in Greeley brings colored peppers to market along with an assortment of Italian and New Mexico varieties.
Roasting is a great way to create a base for other dishes. Just cut the peppers in half, take out the seeds, and lay flat on an aluminum foil sheet and roast at 400 degrees until the skins wrinkle a bit and char. Using tongs, place the hot peppers in a plastic bag until cool then remove the skins. Or you can always just buy a jar, but fresh is always better. Here are three quick recipes for those lovely peppers – fresh and roasted.
- 1 each red, yellow, and orange fresh pepper – Cut, cored, seeds removed, and cut in 1- inch chunks
- 5 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp Kosher salt
- 5-6 jarred pepperoncini peppers, sliced
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh oregano
- One can of artichoke hearts, quarters, drained
- 1 tsp chili flakes
- ½ cup good olive oil
- 3 tbsp brine from jar of pepperoncinis
- Place the fresh peppers, garlic and salt in a plastic container and fill with hot water. Allow the water to cool then place in the refrigerator overnight.
- Drain the water reserving the peppers and garlic. Rinse for a few minutes to remove more salt.
- Place the peppers and garlic into a bowl. Add the peppers, oregano, chili flakes, and artichoke hearts.
- In a small bowl, whisk the olive oil and pepperoncini brine until thick. Pour over the vegetables and stir.
- Allow to marinate for a few days before using.
Ethiopian Roasted Red Pepper and Chickpea Soup
This is one of our “go to” soups. It comes together within 15 minutes. You can serve over a grain such as bulghur, barley, rice or farro.
- 1 pepper, roasted
- 1 can garbanzo beans, rinsed, reserve liquid
- 1 cup of vegetable broth
- 1 tsp Berbere powder (more if you like spicy)
- Chopped cilantro
- Smoked mushrooms or bacon bits
- Crispy capers (see “Elevations” index)
- Blend the peppers, peas and broth in a blender or in the saucepan with an immersion blender. Add the Berbere seasoning. Heat until warm. Add reserved bean liquid to adjust to desired consistency. Top with cilantro and mushrooms.
- Serve over a grain such as farro, barley, or brown rice.
Elevate: A topping blend of nutritional yeast, toasted pine nuts, and Dukkha or Zaatar will add interest. Pomegranate seeds are really nice on this dish as well.
Serves two as a soup.
Roasted Peppers with Sherry, Honey and Almonds
This is a lovely Spanish dish to add to an antipasto tray.
- 1 tbsp dry Spanish sherry
- 1 tbsp local honey
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1-2 roasted, colored peppers, chopped into 1-inch pieces
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- ½ cup sliced almonds, toasted
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Garnish: Chopped parsley
- Combine the first three ingredients in a bowl and whisk well.
- In a serving bowl, combine the sherry sauce and the remaining ingredients.
- Marinate for 30 minutes, garnish with chopped parsley and serve.
Serves four as an antipasto.