Tuesday, November 30, 2010

a veggie thanksgiving

After a lot of excitement and anticipation, a lot of recipe hunting, and a few days of planning and hard work, I am happy to share that my little Thanksgiving dinner went really well this year. It was a small party, with just me, my mom, and her boyfriend. With even that few people, it was tricky to think of what might please all of us, and also fit in with our individual dietary plans and restrictions. I felt most comfortable going a vegetarian route, but when I also started looking for low-fat options, I realized that vegan dishes were my best bet. So I managed a totally vegan dinner, and it was actually delicious!

I can't take all the credit though. I used an amazing resource online. The New York Times this year published a whole series of excellent articles on vegetarian Thanksgiving ideas and recipes. Everything included is very fancy and festive. I used three of their recipes and they were perfect. Take my advice and bookmark this link that shows all the recipes in one place, or better yet, print the recipes you like just in case they don't stay posted forever.

Here is my menu:

From the New York Times Well's Vegetarian Thanksgiving
  • Cranberry Chutney: A standing mixer is used to very slowly macerate the fresh cranberries in this chutney. They retain their texture and acidity more than they would if cooked.
From Gourmet Magazine
  • Green salad: Lettuce and spinach leaves, blanched asparagus, roasted beet slices (chilled), some home-grown sprouts, sliced radishes, tossed in Bragg's Healthy Vinaigrette.
A few notes just in case you make any of these dishes yourself:
First, I used Earth Balance in place of butter everywhere that it was needed. It is really similar in taste and consistency, is non-hydrogenated, and has half the saturated fat. Next, if you make the stuffed portobellos dish, I recommend French lentils since they stay firmer and don't break down to mush like the red lentils. If you make the potatoes and gravy dish, the recipe suggests that you leave the skins on the onions when making the stock. I have been making vegetable stocks from scratch for a long time, using my vegetable scraps from cooking, and I had a major breakthrough when I started removing the onion skins. Though they impart a lovely red color to a stock, they ruin it with a harsh bitter taste. The gravy is also a little on the thin side. Next time I would add some more flour.

You may be wondering about dessert. (Major sigh). Dessert was a flop. My plan was to do a vegan pumpkin pie. I thought this would be so incredibly easy. I suppose I was spoiled living in Humboldt County, CA where the Co-op up makes a vegan pumpkin pie that is so good, it doesn't taste different than a traditional recipe. I don't think I appreciated this feat. Now I do. I tried 3 pie recipes. The first one I think called for way too much silken tofu, because the pie filling became a really pale color. And it didn't taste much like pumpkin anymore. I had plenty of time so I decided to try again. I found another tofu recipe, but by then I had serious doubts about tofu so I decided to hedge my bets and also try a recipe that uses a milk of your choice (I used almond milk) and cornstarch. The former one actually had a greenish cast from the tofu; I don't know how that is even possible. And the latter never set up in the middle, even though I let it sit in the fridge overnight. So those ended up in the trash. (If anybody reading this knows the recipe from the Co-op let me know.)

Fortunately we had a lot of big laughs over the pies, so it wasn't bad at all. It was a fun time. I hope everyone else had a great experience too.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

guilt-free holiday cookies

At last it is that most special time of year when it is time to get into holiday baking. I just love the traditional recipes of late fall and winter, usually so comforting and rich with warming spices. Most of the last month I had to take a break from the kitchen because I was off participating in a long meditation course in Washington State. Some of you may have noticed my absence. Well, it was a most fulfilling experience for me, but I did miss baking so much. Especially since I had looked at a whole bunch of great recipes right before I left. I need to remind myself not to do that again! But of course these were waiting for me when I returned home.

So far I have tried two holiday cookie recipes this season. The first ones, shown in the above photo, are called Coffeehouse Hermits, from a cookbook of Stefanie's called Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar. This cookbook is mind-blowing. The recipes are so creative and all look so delicious; it doesn't surprise me at all that it has a 5-star rating on Amazon.

Hermits are very old-fashioned simple cookies. They are soft and molasses flavored, and studded with raisins. I have fond memories of these cookies from when I was little and my mom would buy us the Archway brand. I remember clearly the shop where she would pick them up by the train station near our house on Long Island. Well, these modern vegan hermits are even more delicious. A really nice sophisticated touch is made by the addition of coffee. I am not a coffee drinker, so I used a coffee substitute. These beverages, such as Pero or Cafix, are made from roasted grains and roots like barley, chicory, beetroots, and dandelion roots and I think they are so satisfying and shamefully underrated. If you are interested, they are in most supermarkets in the coffee aisle.

The recipe for the hermits is below. It is pretty straightforward. The one thing I found though is that they don't last long. After three days at room temperature in a sealed bag they started to dry out. If you aren't going to get through them very quickly, I suggest freezing some of them soon after cooling, to defrost later.

The second cookie recipe I tried was found when I went to the website for Post Punk Kitchen, the group responsible for the Vegan Cookies book described above. They have a ton of great recipes on there, so I tried one for Pumpkin Oat Cookies. Those are in the photo below, and the recipe can be found at this link. I can not stress enough how delicious these cookies are. I may never make regular oatmeal cookies again. My mom actually just called a couple of minutes ago to tell me that they are out of this world.

Lastly, I want to wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving. I hope you are spending it in the company of people you love. If you want some laughs to get into a celebratory mood, check out one of my favorite websites, Cakewrecks:When Professional Cakes Go Horribly, Hilariously Wrong. They just posted a series of Thanksgiving cake photos that are really funny.

And here is the recipe for hermits:

½ cup canola oil
2 cups strong thick black coffee, cooled to room temp
1/3 cup molasses
2/3 cup sugar, plus additional for sprinkling
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground cloves
½ tsp. ground ginger
A generous pinch finely ground black pepper
½ tsp. salt
1 cup dark raisins

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, coffee, molasses, and sugar until thick. Sift in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, black pepper, and salt. Fold in the dry ingredients till almost completely moistened, then fold in the raisins till a soft dough forms.

2. Chill the dough in the refrigerator (no need to remove from the bowl) for 30 minutes. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

3. After dough is chilled, lightly moisten your hands and divide the dough in half. Form it into two logs on top of the parchment paper, each measuring about 13 inches long and 3 1/2 inches wide. Leave 3 to 4 inches of room between logs as the dough will spread when baking. Sprinkle the tops of logs with additional sugar and gently press into dough.

4. Bake 24 to 26 minutes until the edges are lightly browned and the logs feel slightly firm. Cracked tops are fine, even traditionally desired with this cookie. Allow the logs to cool for 15 minutes, then with scissors or a sharp knife, slice the parchment paper between the logs in two. Gently slide each log with its parchment paper onto a cutting board. With a sharp knife, slice the logs into 2-inch-wide slices, using a single downward motion with the knife. Carefully move each slice onto wire racks to complete cooling.