Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Vegan Thanksgiving Retrospective

Maple Cranberry Sauce, Cornbread Stuffed Apples, and Green Beans with Almonds
Well the big day has come and gone, and Vegan Thanksgiving was a huge success! I thought I should write a mini retrospective now that I have actually been through the event, and especially since it was my first grown-up holiday meal.

Mushroom Lentil Pot Pies, Porcini Gravy, and Cauliflower Gratin
We had 18 people to our house on Saturday, a collection of friends and neighbors, kids and adults, vegans and omnivores alike. It was a true day of celebration! I started cooking on Thursday, and with a little preparation and a lot of organization, things managed to stay pretty calm. One of the benefits of a turkey-less Thanksgiving is all the extra oven space and time. Thanksgiving day scheduling is a lot easier when you’re not waiting expectantly, and endlessly for the turkey to be done.

A Thanksgiving day tutorial resulted in my best and most beautiful pie crust ever!
I ended up making a few adjustments and amendments to my posted menu; a cranberry orange relish alongside the maple cranberry sauce as requested by my mom, the cauliflower fennel gratin became cauliflower and broccoli, and a little confusion over doubled and even tripled recipes. The gratin was a huge hit, the professed favorite of most of our guests. It’s my favorite too. My friend Tina, an Arkansas native who knows what she’s talking about, raved over the vegan pecan pie.  We also served a delightful cranberry champagne cocktail that I admittedly had more than one of. Overall, it was a fantastic day full of good food and even better company. I think I achieved my desired goal of demystifying vegan food for some of our friends, and even making it a delicious alternative! Now that Thanksgiving is over, it’s time to get ready for the holidays! Christmas is a much more low key celebration in my family, so I have a lot of flexibility in my holiday cooking. I’m definitely looking forward to experimenting with Christmas cookies, chocolate truffles, and more!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Girl Meets Brownie, Part 6

As promised, it’s Week 6 of my brownie saga, and I have made a good pan of brownies! Everyone rejoice for a moment. When I started this, I had no idea that it would be so hard to make a decent pan of vegan brownies, as brownies are one of the simplest baked goods; one bowl, only a few ingredients, basic, and delicious. But, after five pans of really terrible brownies, I have managed to bake one delicious batch of brownies. The  real upside is that I successfully adapted a from scratch brownie recipe, without relying on a mix, putting me that much closer to the perfect brownie.

I want this week to be about celebration, but I should say that these brownies are not quite perfect. They have boundless promise, and they are completely delicious, but they are not yet the brownie in my mind. For one thing, my dream brownie is loaded with chocolate chips and walnuts, something I’ve been afraid to do for fear of dragging my brownies back to the bottom of the pan. These are also a little cakey for my taste, although the addition of chocolate chips would go a long way toward making these a little richer. But, to be positive, these brownies are light, chocolatey, moist, and so soft. It was a joy to finally take a pan of brownies out of the oven, and have them meet my expectations.

So, now that I have achieved a reasonably fantastic brownie recipe, I’m putting this project on the back burner for a little while. Christmas is not a time typically associated with brownies, but rather sugar cookies, toffee bars, and other delights. I am now embarking on a vegan Christmas cookie adventure, but I will return to my brownie quest. This recipe should tide you, and me, over for a while though.

1/2 cup non-dairy butter softened
5 tablespoons cocoa
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground flaxseed
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Heat oven to 350º. Prepare an 8” x 8” baking pan with butter or canola oil. Cream the butter in a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar and beat until fluffy. Add the cocoa and beat until fluffy.In a blender, whip the flax seed and water until frothy. Add to the butter mixture gradually, otherwise it will slosh in the bowl, and not mix together. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt, and mix thoroughly. Pour the batter into the pan, and spread evenly. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Minnesota-less Thanksgiving

As I’ve mentioned before, this Thanksgiving is an unusual one for my family. Since I was 18, we have spent Thanksgiving with my mom’s brother’s family in St. Paul, Minnesota. Growing up in California, I didn’t have childhood memories of big holidays with my extended family, so it was really special to me to spend Thanksgiving with my aunt, uncle, and cousins. As it’s Thanksgiving today, I’m missing them, and our yearly traditions.

One of the things I love the most about Thanksgivings in Minnesota is spending time with my Aunt Susan and cousin Shelby. Susan is a great cook, and an amazing hostess. Every year she leaves a basket of treats in our room; chocolates, eye masks, inspirational books, and fun magazines, like you’re staying in a fancy hotel. She is incredibly organized and has a pages long list for grocery shopping and cooking schedules. She’s my Thanksgiving role model this year, as I prepare my first grown-up Thanksgiving dinner.

Shelby is my aunt and uncle’s oldest, and I have always felt a special connection to her. She reminds me so much of myself at her age; she’s silly, enthusiastic, and full of energy. Perhaps we get along so well because I am so in touch with my inner 16 year old. We have lengthy discussions about the merits of the latest Harry Potter books and movies. She was the first person to say the word “Twilight” to me. And she knew all about Darren Criss long before he started capturing Kurt’s (and my) heart on Glee. So, in honor of Shelby, and since we aren’t together this Thanksgiving, I decided to write a Glee-themed Thanksgiving post. 

Glee has surprisingly numerous connections to veganism. One of the shows biggest stars, Lea Michele, has spoken continually about the benefits of a vegan diet. In an interview with Women’s Health magazine, Lea is described, “talking passionately about her commitment to a primarily vegan diet. ‘My idea of heaven used to be relaxing at home with a cheese plate and champagne,’ she says. Then she read the New York Times best-selling diet book Skinny Bitch ‘and it slapped me in the face.’ An animal lover who has ‘always had a problem eating meat,’ Lea was especially shaken by the information on farming practices and decided to give up dairy too.” Lea credits her vegan diet with giving her the energy to get through her grueling work days on Glee where she sings, dances, and films until very early in the morning.

Lea’s vegan diet has translated to her character, Rachel Berry, who is now a vegan on the show. Rachel’s veganism has been highlighted multiple times on the show, both this season and last. A few episodes ago, Rachel’s boyfriend Finn mentions that the local restaurant Breadstix serves vegan meatballs, although “they’re not very good.” If only they had my recipe for eggplant meatballs! Just as the gay community has celebrated Glee’s portrayal of a young gay man in the character of Kurt, vegans should celebrate Rachel’s depiction as a healthy, energetic vegan.

Although today is not officially my Thanksgiving (we’re eating Chinese takeout for dinner), I hope all of you are having a fantastic Thanksgiving dinner with your loved ones. I am getting ready for my vegan Thanksgiving extravaganza on Saturday, and looking forward to spending next year in Minnesota with Susan and Shelby, cooking to the Glee soundtrack!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Just Baking Brownies

I’ve been writing this blog for 3 months now, and I thought this would be a good time to take stock, and reassess my mission for this blog. My pensive mood was motivated by something I read while researching vegan brownie recipes. In a post titled, “Your Vegan Brownies Are Kind Of A Big Deal,” Eccentric Vegan writes, “Quite a number of animal advocates look down disdainfully at vegans who spend their time primarily cooking and baking.” I was disappointed to read this, as my experience in joining the vegan community has been one of inclusion and exuberance. Most of the vegans I have encountered describe themselves with words like “joyful” and “compassionate.” They are encouraging, helpful, excited, and energetic.

Eccentric Vegan’s reflection was motivated by a post on Eric Markus’s blog, Vegan.com. In discussing a new book, Markus writes, “You know what kills me about publishing Vegan.com? Every morning, I see the books my readers purchase through the Amazon.com links, and I’d say that for every activist-oriented book that sells, people buy at least fifty vegan cookbooks. We all want a vegan world, but only a tiny handful of us have realized the enormous personal power we have in bringing this world closer. The rest of us are off baking brownies.” I felt chagrined at first, like a child being scolded, because apparently, I am a bad vegan. But then, I felt incensed, because Eric Markus is wrong.

The definition of the word “vegan” was established by Donald Watson in 1944 as such, “Veganism is a way of living which excludes all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, the animal kingdom, and includes a reverence for life.” Think about the presence of animals in your life. Where do you rely on them the most? For food, obviously. When I decided to try being a vegan, what was the first thing I did? I stopped eating animal products. This was the most immediate and comprehensive way for me to eliminate my personal exploitation of animals. Other ways to reduce your negative impact on other animals is to stop wearing leather clothing and shoes, and wearing wool clothing. This is not something I have embraced completely, but it is something I am more aware of. But,  changing what we eat unequivocally makes a bigger impact than changing what we wear.

When I first meet people, and they find out I’m vegan, they do not ask me my opinion on farm subsidies, or the ethical treatment of animals, or what is really wrong with eating eggs; they ask me what I eat. They ask me where I get protein, and calcium, and what I’m cooking for Thanksgiving. Because above all else, veganism starts as a change in your diet. Activism starts with what you eat. Even just reducing the amount of meat and dairy products you consume can make an enormous impact on the treatment of animals, and the progression of Global Climate Change. This blog is my form of activism. Every day, I post my attempt to make veganism more accessible, more appealing, and more compelling. And I think the food I share makes as strong an impact as a PETA film. Change is most effective when it comes from a place of sincerity and passion. My joie de vegan comes from my food, so that is what I write about. As I’ve said before, every little bit helps. One egg is produced from 25 hours of a chicken’s suffering. One batch of vegan brownies prevents 50 hours of misery. No matter what else you are doing, even a batch of brownies can make a positive change.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

'Grace': PETA's Banned Thanksgiving Ad

This is just a little treat to get you in the holiday spirit. PETA attempted to have this commericial aired during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, but NBC refused because it "does not meet our standards," and banned it from the airwaves. Thank god for YouTube! If this video gives you pause about what's on your holiday table, check out my animal and cruelty-free Thanksgiving menu!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Girl Meets Brownie, Part 5

Despite the complete disaster of my last pan of brownies, I was still convinced that a brownie mix was the way to go. Like I said last week, it seemed like the best way to test different egg substitutes. But, apparently, I hadn’t learned from last week’s greasy pan of death, and I was simply setting myself up for another disappointment.

One of the great things about the vegan food community is how generous and enthusiastic they are about sharing their recipes. Typing “vegan brownie recipe” into the Google search box yields 340,000 results! One especially helpful website I stumbled upon was a site called egglesscooking.com. She, too, decided to tweak a brownie mix recipe on the way to her perfect brownie. The pictures looked relatively appealing, although, none of my brownie pictures even remotely convey the inedibility of some of these individual batches. So, I thought I would give it a try.

The Ghiradelli Brownie mix calls for 1/3 cup oil, and 1/3 cup water, and 1 egg added to the dry mix. Eggless Cooking recommended only 3 tablespoons of oil, 1/3 cup water, and an egg substitute formed by blending 1 teaspoon ground flaxseed and 1/4 cup water. She also recommended adding walnuts to give the brownies a little lift. I had pretty high hopes for this brownie. The reduced oil seemed to account for the greasiness of the last batch, and I have had the best luck with flaxseed egg substitutes so far, so this recipe seemed like an auspicious event.

Once again proving myself the eternal optimist, I pulled the brownies out of the oven, and allowed them to cool. Unable to wait, I cut a small corner piece. It was like taffy. So hard, dense, sticky and chewy. It got stuck in my teeth like a stale caramel. I was able to peel the entire batch of brownies out of the pan in one solid piece. The bottom was so shiny and hard that I could drum my nails on the bottom of the brownies as though it were a countertop. Epic Fail.

For more of my brownie adventure:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Leftover Dinner

So by now you’ve seen my eggplant stuffed phyllo triangles and my roasted vegetable couscous dinner. The next evening I had a strange amount of eggplant filling and couscous leftover, and didn’t know what to do with it. I didn’t have any more phyllo sheets, so pastry triangles were out. I had maybe a cup of remaining couscous and vegetables. This didn’t instantly form a meal in my mind, but I’m reluctant to waste food, especially when it is this delicious.

So, I went back to my roots. As a kid, I ate a lot of different things, and my parents were relatively healthy. I’ve already shared with you how I rejected my mother’s minestrone, and lentils with roasted vegetables, staples in my diet now. However, one of the meals I did relish was a pita pocket stuffed with grilled lamb, with a cucumber tomato mint salsa on top. I don’t know what specifically appealed to my 7 year old tastes; maybe it was just the phrase “pita pocket” (say it out loud...it’s fun), but I remember that dinner with glee.

The raw eggplant filling would not be an appropriate filling for pita pockets, but forming them into meatballs resulted in a perfect cross between the original eggplant meatball recipe and another Middle Eastern favorite, the falafel. Stuffing the pita pockets with the Moroccan seasoned eggplant meatballs and a bright tomato cucumber mint salad made for a fantastic Sunday night dinner.

Again, my entrée was in need of a side dish. One cup of couscous is not enough for multiple people, so in order to stretch the couscous, I added a cup of cooked dandelion greens I had leftover from the previous day’s lunch, and half a can of garbanzo beans that I had frozen a few weeks before. My freezer is littered with frozen bags of tomato paste, vegetable stock, grated ginger, and other things that I may need in the next few weeks. I topped this new couscous with sliced almonds and grated lemon zest, and voilá! A new dinner made entirely out of things I already had.

You can get the recipe for the eggplant filling here. Form the filling into golf ball sized meatballs, and spray with cooking oil. Bake at 375º for 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven, and cover with foil. Allow to sit for five minutes before serving

For the salad, dice one cucumber and one tomato. Add 1 tablespoon of chopped mint. Season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Israeli Couscous with Sautéed Vegetables

While I had long been intending to make the eggplant stuffed phyllo triangles, I hadn’t really planned to serve them to anyone but myself. When my friends Jessica and Jodie offered to make the long voyage across the bridge to my house, I realized I had to turn this dish into a meal. I wanted to incorporate complementary flavors and styles, while keeping things light, fresh, and healthy. Couscous is a traditional Middle Eastern food, served either as a side dish, or as an accompaniment to stews. It’s actually very small orbs of pasta, rather than a grain, but it can function like a rice or cereal in a variety of dishes. Israeli or Pearl couscous is simply a larger orb of pasta. It’s a different and uniquely enjoyable texture that is a lot of fun to eat!

My real goal in this side dish was simply to incorporate as many vegetables as possible.   The filling of the triangles is obviously plant based, but part of being a healthful vegan is eating a wide variety of vegetables of many colors every day.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion diced
1 carrot diced
1 red bell pepper diced
1/2 sweet potato diced
1 zucchini diced
1 cup Israeli couscous
2 cups vegetable stock
Salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon lemon zest

Heat olive oil in a large pot. Sauté the onion, carrot, and bell pepper until tender. Add the sweet potato and sauté for another 5 to 10 minutes, until tender. Add the couscous and brown slightly, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the vegetable stock and the zucchini and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and simmer for 12 minutes. The couscous should be tender, and the liquid should be absorbed. Taste for salt and pepper, and top with lemon zest. Serve immediately!

Check back tomorrow to see what I did with the leftovers!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Harry Potter and the Treatment of Animals

This post is a bit of a deviation from my usual format, but bear with me through my philosophizing and typically concealed nerdiness.

Some of you may be surprised to find out that I attended the midnight showing of the new Harry Potter movie last night. I know, I know; I seem perfectly normal, but just beneath the surface I am a devoted Harry Potter fan. I could pass the responsibility onto my little sister, and pretend that I was merely chaperoning, but I really went for myself. I’m sure you’re wondering what Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows has to do with a vegan blog, but just wait, I do have a point.

The major overarching theme throughout the Harry Potter series is the battle between good and evil. It is an oft repeated story throughout human history. The unjustified subjugation of various races and religions is paralleled in Lord Voldemort’s persecution of Muggles (non-Magical peoples) and wizards of less than pure blood status. During this time of terror and oppression, the Ministry of Magic takes it upon themselves to warn pure blood wizards of the dangers posed by their “less pure” brethren in a propagandistic pamphlet entitled “When Muggles Attack.” This is obviously a reference to the Fox documentary series “When Animals Attack,” aired in the mid to late 90’s, featuring imagery of animals gruesomely attacking humans.

The incongruity between Muggles attacking wizards as a clearly preposterous idea, and animals attacking humans as a seemingly reasonable fear, seems to speak to the larger issue of our treatment of animals. Readers of the Harry Potter series understand that it is only the truly evil who believe that wizards have the right to enslave and abuse Muggles. Yet, our current society has no problem inflicting mass cruelty on what we, ourselves deem “lesser” species. Just as we now look back on the 1967 film, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” and wonder how people could have been so threatened by the idea of interracial marriage, I believe we will look back on our current animal treatment practices in disbelief. So much of our culture and behavior is founded on arbitrary distinctions of “better” and “deserving.” Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking our behavior toward animals is in any way justifiable. In the future, when our treatment of animals has changed, we will reflect on this time as a collective embarrassment. Take a moment to consciously consider your own role in this system, and let’s make that future sooner rather than later.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Eggplant Stuffed Phyllo Triangles

I had some friends over last Saturday, and dinner was a confluence of several things I’ve been thinking about recently. First, I have been so encouraged by the quality of the foods I have made with the eggplant “meat” base. The original recipe was for eggplant meatballs, served traditionally atop spaghetti with tomato sauce. The next edition featured the eggplant filling in wontons for wonton soup. And finally, this week’s meal was a vegan reimagining of Moroccan lamb brewats. Brewats are traditionally made with a lamb filling spiced with cinnamon and cumin wrapped in phyllo dough. They have long been a favorite of mine.

More recently, I posted a phyllo pie recipe filled with mushrooms, and immediately wanted to make numerous adaptations of the dish. Although a few steps away from spicy mushroom phyllo pie, this recipe is at least cousins with that one. While only my second time working with phyllo, I found it to be fairly easy. I made the trip to Whole Foods for the slightly more rare whole wheat phyllo dough, and it lent a nice nuttiness to the overall dish. Quickly, this dish has become one of my master recipes, and one I can imagine serving at many dinners to come. Whether or not you have a pre-established attachment to these Moroccan pastries, give them a try, and you will wow your guests, and your self.

Check back in a couple of days to see what I did with the leftovers!

1 box phyllo dough (18 sheets)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 eggplant, unpeeled and diced in 1/4” to 1/2” cubes
1 onion diced finely
3/4 cup walnuts
1/2 cup firm tofu
2 cups bread crumbs toasted
1 tablespoon parsley chopped
1 tablespoon cilantro chopped
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons ground almonds

Place olive oil, eggplant and onion in a large skillet. Sauté until tender, about 15 minutes. Combine walnuts, tofu, and 1 heaping cup of the eggplant mixture in the bowl of a food processor. Process until smooth. Combine the puréed ingredients and the remaining sautéed eggplant mixture in a large bowl. Add the breadcrumbs, herbs, and spices, and stir using a fork. Taste for salt and pepper.

Lay the phyllo dough lengthwise on a smooth surface. Brush the center of the dough with olive oil. Sprinkle the olive oil with ground almonds. Fold the right third of the dough over the center third of the dough. Brush the right half of the dough with olive oil. Sprinkle with almonds and fold the left half of the dough over the right half of the dough. You should have a long thin strip of dough, about 4 inches wide. Place a tablespoon of filling in the bottom right hand side of the dough, about 1” from the bottom. Fold the left corner of the dough over to the right side, bringing the bottom of the dough parallel with the right side, forming a triangle. This is the same technique you would use to fold an American flag. Continue folding until you have a small triangle. Brush the top of the triangle with olive oil. Repeat this process until you run out of phyllo sheets or filling. Bake the triangles at 400º for 15 minutes, or until golden and crispy at the edges. Serve immediately!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Vegan Pie Crust

Pie crust has not been an easy accomplishment for me. In the past I have hidden behind prepared pie crusts, and frankly, if they were vegan, I’d still use them. Pie crust is a lot of work! Well, okay. It’s not that much work. It just takes planning, and patience, and a light touch...only some of which I have.

My first attempt at pie crust was this past summer. You may remember it as peach cobbler. Yeah, a pie without a crust. That’s how badly it went. But, this was primarily due to rancid shortening. So, pie crust tip #1: check the expiration date on all of your ingredients!

My second attempt went much better, as you can see from my beautiful pecan pie. But, it was still challenging. It tore and much of it was just pressed inelegantly into the pan, but it baked beautifully and was light and flaky alongside the creamy richness of the pecan filling. The wonderful thing is that pie crust is easily made vegan. Where omnivores might use butter or lard, vegans can use Crisco, which is an already established ingredient in many pie crust recipes. Crisco is simply vegetable shortening made from the oil of soybeans, canola, and other plants. So, if you’re going to make your  own pie crusts anyway, give thanks to the animals with a few vegan pies!

2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup Crisco vegetable shortening
4 to 8 tablespoons ice cold water

Measure flour and salt into the bowl of your food processor. Place in the refrigerator. Cut 3/4 cup Crisco into small cubes, and place in the refrigerator. Fill a measuring cup with ice water and place in the fridge. Allow all the ingredients to cool for 1 hour.

Add Crisco to the flour and salt in the food processor and blend until the shortening is distributed in pea sized crumbs. Add 4 tablespoons of the cold water and process until the dough begins to form a ball. Add more water as necessary, but do not allow the dough to become wet. Transfer the dough to a floured surface. Cut the dough in half and wrap each half in plastic wrap, flattening the dough into a disc 1/2” thick. Return to the refrigerator and allow to sit for 30 minutes.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and place on the floured surface. Cover the top and bottom of the dough with plastic wrap to prevent sticking. Take care to use large enough sheets as the dough will expand when you roll it. Roll your dough from the center to the edge, pressing gently. Turn the dough 1/4 turn every time you roll it so that it stays circular. When the dough is 2” larger than your pan, fold the dough into fourths, generously flouring the touching surfaces to prevent sticking, and transfer to your pie pan. Unfold gently. Follow the baking instructions for your particular pie. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Vegan Thanksgiving, Part IX: Pecan Pie

Pecan pie is a Thanksgiving classic. I have two serious goals for my Thanksgiving dinner: 1. To show people that vegan food is not only good for you, but also delicious; and 2. To demonstrate that embracing a plant based diet does not mean giving up all the foods you love. Many of the menus I have seen for a vegan Thanksgiving throw the baby out with the bathwater. Having given up the turkey centerpiece, many vegans throw all tradition out the window, forgoing stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pie, opting instead for a Moroccan Thanksgiving, or a lasagna for Thanksgiving. So much of what we eat is easily adaptable to a vegan diet, so you are actually restricting yourself far less than people imagine.

Dessert is a huge part of wooing people to my lifestyle. Giving people something delicious, and not a little decadent, is a surefire way to make a plant based diet more appealing. So, for Thanksgiving, I am making three pies. One you’ve already seen, the chocolate pudding pie, because whether or not it’s traditional, people love chocolate pie.  Also, my aunt makes a to-die-for chocolate tart, so chocolate has come to be an essential part of the meal.  The second pie is an as yet undetermined fruit pie, probably some amalgamation of apples, cherries, and cranberries. And the third pie is pecan pie. You’re probably wondering why pumpkin pie isn’t on the menu. My thinking is that people will have had plenty of pumpkin pie on Thursday, and likely Friday, so by Saturday, they will be looking for some variety.

I ask you to come to this pie recipe with an open mind. It has some unorthodox ingredients, but the final product is just as buttery and full of creamy sweetness and crunchy pecans as the original.

3/4 cup firm silken tofu
2 teaspoons arrowroot powder
1 cup dark corn syrup
1/2 cup brown sugar packed
1/4 cup non-dairy butter melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups pecan halves

Heat oven to 350º. Place pecans on a baking sheet in a single layer. Bake until golden and toasted, about 5 to 10 minutes.

In a blender or food processor, combine the tofu, arrowroot, corn syrup, brown sugar, butter, vanilla, and salt. Blend until very smooth.

Place half of the pecans in the bottom of the crust, in a single layer. Pour the filling over the pecans. Arrange the remaining half of the pecans on top of the filling (When I made it, the pecans stayed on the bottom, never floating to the top. I believe this should fix that). Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until the filling looks like its starting to solidify. It should set completely as it cools. Serve after it has cooled completely.

Check back tomorrow for my pie crust recipe!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Girl Meets Brownie, Part 4

I’m sure some of my readers will think less of me after they read this post, but at this point in my brownie journey, I turned to brownie mix. I figured if I could isolate the egg as the only variable ingredient, I might have better luck determining the best egg substitute. From there, I could apply that information to from-scratch brownie recipes. However, the institution of a brownie mix did more harm than good.

On a side note, my friend Jessica has described this brownie journey as “depressing,” so for those of you who are becoming dispirited by my seemingly unending brownie tragedy, I offer you this spoiler: just wait for week 6. But now, back to the utter failure of week 4.

I chose my go to pre-vegan brownie mix, Ghiradelli Double Chocolate Brownies. In high school, my girlfriends and I would whip up a pan of these and eat the whole thing. I used to make them for people’s birthdays with M&M’s spelling out “Happy Birthday.” Clearly, I have a long-standing history with Ghiradelli brownie mix. It was possibly the first thing I could make that consistently tasted delicious. But, for the first time, I made inedible Ghiradelli brownies. Even though I reduced the amount of oil, these were the wettest, oiliest brownies yet. They were so heavy and greasy that I couldn’t even finish one after eating my required “test bite.” But, I knew when I signed on for this challenge, there would be more low points than high.

Very Bad Ghiradelli Brownies

1 box Ghiradelli Double Chocolate Brownie Mix
1/4 cup canola oil
1 1/2 teaspoon Ener-G egg replacer
2 tablespoons water

Heat oven to 350º. Blend the egg replacer and 2 tablespoons water until frothy. Measure 1/4 cup canola oil in a glass measuring cup; add water until the total level reaches 2/3 cup. Combine oil, water, and egg in a large bowl. Add the brownie mix to the wet ingredients and stir until blended completely. Pour into a greased 8” x 8” pan and bake for 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

For more of my brownie adventure:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Roasted Chickpeas

It’s Sunday, and Sunday is a day for short posts and simple food. This is a dish I have been meaning to write about for some time. It is not only delicious, but also easy and flexible. Roasted chickpeas are great for a wide variety of occasions as well. I recently recommended them to a friend as a starter for her anniversary dinner; I had some friends over for dinner last night and served them as a snack with drinks; my mom likes to make them for children who don’t like vegetables. I’m also planning to make them as a pre-dinner nibble for Thanksgiving. See, very versatile. They also make a healthy alternative to the currently popular fried chickpea.

The greatest thing about this dish is that the chickpeas are like a blank canvas. You can give them Middle Eastern flavors with cumin and lemon, or Thanksgiving flavors with thyme and rosemary. By incorporating a few of the ingredients in your other dishes, you can make a subtle and delicious appetizer for any meal. They are also a dish with next to no preparation, or required management. Just toss them in the oven and go back to whatever you were doing.  Thus ends my lazy post on lazy food for a lazy Sunday!

1 can chickpeas drained and rinsed
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic unpeeled
1/2 tablespoon cumin
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon salt

Heat oven to 425º. Place chickpeas in an oven proof dish. Drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with cumin. Bake for 25 minutes, or until golden and crispy.  Sprinkle with lemon juice and salt, and serve immediately!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Vegan Thanksgiving, Part VIII: Porcini Mushroom Gravy

For a long time, I was very intimidated by gravy. The whole concept of a roux, and the constant threat of lumps made me an anxious gravy-maker. Apparently my aunt feels the same way, because she always puts my mom in charge of the gravy at Thanksgiving. But, the other day, I was making gravy, all by myself, and it totally worked. And it tasted delicious! It had the right color, texture, consistency, everything. I was pretty proud of myself.

So, now that gravy has been demystified for me, I feel confident sharing this recipe with my readers. The key to a great gravy is a super flavorful broth. Because vegetable broth is, in its essence, a lightly flavored broth, I suggest a porcini mushroom broth. The mushrooms are capable of real depth and developing flavor. Pairing the mushroom stock with a good red wine yields a meaty and rich gravy perfect for mashed potatoes, and anything else that calls out for gravy!

Porcini Mushroom Stock

1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
3 bay leaves
1/4 cup madeira wine
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon salt

Combine all the ingredients in a large pot. Add 8 cups warm water and stir. Bring to a boil, and simmer, covered, for 2 hours. Strain the stock thoroughly. Refrigerate for up to four days, or freeze for a later date.

Mushroom Gravy

1 3/4 cups mushroom stock
1/4 cup water
1 cup red wine*
3 tablespoons  non-dairy butter
3 1/2 tablespoons all purpose flour

Combine the stock, wine, and water in a small saucepan. In another pot, melt the butter. Add the flour and whisk constantly over heat for 2 minutes. Add the stock gradually to the roux, stirring constantly to prevent lumps. Once all the stock has been added, stir until the gravy thickens, about 10 minutes. If your gravy is not thickening, make another roux out of 1 tablespoon of flour and 1 tablespoon butter in a separate sauté pan. Add the roux to your gravy mixture, and stir until thickened. Serve immediately!

*I like my gravy with a discernible wine flavor. If you want something with more mushroom flavor, you can change the proportion; the amount of wine and amount of stock should total 2 3/4 cups.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Vegan Thanksgiving, Part VII: Mashed Potatoes

Mashed potatoes are not typically one of the most challenging parts of Thanksgiving dinner. Boil, mash, season, and you’re done; not much to it. However, it’s hard to predict what things will become difficult when you try to make them vegan. Apparently, mashed potatoes are one of them.

I thought it would be simple. Replace dairy based butter with non-dairy butter; replace cow’s milk with non-dairy milk. Add salt, and enjoy! But, potatoes have such a bland and passive flavor that they really take on the taste of whatever is added to them, highlighting these flavors in ways I had never experienced.

For my first attempt at mashed potatoes, I erred toward simplicity. Olive oil mashed potatoes are not unusual. I see them in magazines, on websites, and the prepared food bar at Whole Foods. I like olive oil; olive oil is vegan; perfect fit, right? Apparently, I do not enjoy the taste of olive oil with mashed potatoes. Focaccia bread, yes. Mashed potatoes, no. It was too herbal and almost fruity; totally wrong for Thanksgiving dinner.

For the next batch, I went back to tradition. I melted a little Earth Balance with some unsweetened almond milk, and added them gradually to my mashed potatoes, seasoning with salt to taste. These were ineffably better, but still, something was off. I wasn’t totally satisfied.

For the third batch, I replaced the almond milk with soy milk, for a slightly more savory flavor. This went a long way toward achieving my dream mashed potatoes. But again, there was a nuttiness underlying the taste that is not generally a part of mashed potatoes. I attributed this to the earth balance with relies on the fats of nuts for this plant based butter.

My final batch incorporated non-dairy sour cream for an enhanced creamy texture without relying on butter. I also replaced the soy milk with hemp milk. Hemp milk has the most unobtrusive flavor of all the non-dairy milks I have tried. I finished it off with several cloves of roasted garlic for a well-rounded and earthy flavor.

So, after two days and many hours, two trips to the grocery store, innumerable dishes, and a mishap with my potato ricer, here is the winning recipe!

4 potatoes peeled and quartered
3/4 cup non-dairy sour cream (I recommend Tofutti brand)
1 cup unsweetened hemp milk
1 head garlic
Salt to taste

Heat oven to 325º. Cut the top off the head of garlic, so the cloves are exposed. Place in a small oven proof dish, and drizzle with olive oil. Bake for 1 hour, or until the garlic is golden and bubbly.

Place potatoes in a large pot. Cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, or until a knife can be easily inserted.

Pour milk into a small saucepan. Heat milk, but do not boil.

Mash potatoes with a potato masher (duh!), or with a potato ricer. You can also whip them in a stand mixer, but the results will be less even. Add the sour cream, and stir, or blend, until evenly distributed. Slowly add the warm milk to the potatoes, until you have achieved a smooth and moist consistency. Taste for salt. Serve immediately. If you are serving them in the next two hours. Pour 1/4 cup milk over the potatoes and cover with foil. Stir, and reheat if necessary, and serve!

Check back tomorrow for rich and delicious Mushroom Gravy!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Spicy Mushroom Phyllo Pie

One of the greatest things you can do as a vegan is cook for your friends. I love cooking and baking for the people around me to show how accessible and delicious vegan food can be. I like to think I’ve had pretty good success with this tactic. One of the kindest things you can do for a vegan is  think outside the box, and serve something other than side dishes for dinner. My mom and sister were invited to dinner recently, and the host made this dish for dinner, which was not only thoughtful, but also incredibly delicious, I heard. After the rave reviews of this dinner, I wanted to try it. After obtaining the recipe, I made it for dinner, and everyone was right; it was delectable!

This was my first time working with phyllo dough, and it was surprisingly easy. My only suggestion is to have plenty of clean counter space. The filling was delicious and super flavorful. The top of the phyllo was light and flaky, and the middle layers were moist and chewy. Working with phyllo also gives me even more pie possibilities. Much like my recent cauliflower fennel gratin recipe, this dish makes me so excited for all the possible variations I could make. The flavors of this version can be characterized as Thai, but the version served at dinner used more Indian spices.  I am dying to make this with Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavors. I also want to make it into phyllo triangles instead of the original layered version for a dinner party starter. As an entrée, or as an appetizer, this is a truly satisfying vegan dish.

1 package Phyllo dough (18 sheets) thawed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound baby bella mushrooms minced
3 slices of bread diced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger minced
1 tablespoon red curry paste
1 cup unsweetened almond milk
3/4 cup sliced almonds
1 red bell pepper diced
Salt and pepper to tase

Heat olive oil in a pan. Add the mushrooms and bell pepper and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the ginger, bread pieces, red curry paste, and almonds, and stir gently. Add the almond milk and mix. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Heat the oven to 375º. Unroll the phyllo sheets and set on a clean, dry counter. Lay 1 sheet flat and brush with olive oil. Lay a second sheet on top of the first, and brush with olive oil. Repeat until you have 6 sheets layered. Brush a 9” x 13” pan with olive oil. Lay the stacked phyllo dough in the pan. Spoon half of the mushroom mixture evenly onto the phyllo. Fold the edges of the dough in, until the dough fits inside the pan. Prepare another 6 sheets of phyllo dough, and lay on top of the first layer. Spoon the rest of the mushroom mixture onto the dough. Fold the edges of the second layer in, until it fits in the pan. Prepare the remaining 6 layers of phyllo dough. Trim the edges of the dough to the size of the pan and lay it on the very top.

Place the pan in the oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until the top layer is golden brown.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Vegan Products I Love: Tofutti Cream Cheese

A couple of weeks ago, I was struck by an intense craving for a bagel and cream cheese. I love toasted whole wheat bagels with crispy edges and chewy centers. Topped with rich smooth cream cheese, with its unique tang and savoriness, this is the perfect combination. It was also a not infrequent part of my pre-vegan life. While living in Boston and working on my master’s degree, I practically lived in coffee shops and bagels were a primary form of sustenance; they’re more substantial and dinner-like than a muffin and a cup of tea.

But, now that I have embraced a vegan diet, cream cheese doesn’t really fit. Yet, I felt profoundly sad thinking I would have to go the rest of my life without the joy of a warm bagel and cream cheese. Somehow a bagel with peanut butter, or jam, just didn’t seem like it would satisfy my craving. But, as with many vegan friendly products, I’m a little afraid of them. This is crazy, because these are foods made of plants, not the byproducts of unidentifiable animals. Recently, someone asked me what is the weirdest thing I’ve ever eaten. I had a hard time deciding which was stranger; eating meat off the ribs of pigs, or eating cream cheese made of tofu. In the end, I’m more bewildered by the ribs. A warm, toasted bagel spread with Tofutti cream cheese fulfilled all my bagel needs.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Polenta with Greens

As I’ve mentioned before, I had the extraordinary fortune to spend my junior year living abroad in Rome. There was only a small group of people staying for the full year, and an even smaller group who stayed through the five weeks of Christmas break. Two of those weeks were absorbed by my family’s visit, and we spent one week in Egypt. During the term time, most of our meals were eaten in the school’s mensa, or cafeteria. We, of course, took many trips off campus for pizza, gelato, arancini, and spaghetti bolognese, but it was always nice to have the safety net of mensa food. But, during Christmas break, we were left entirely to fend for ourselves with only a microwave for help. It was during this time that my friend Claire and I discovered the joy of tomato crackers and cream cheese. I ate bags of clementines to ward off scurvy. We ordered a lot of take out from the trattoria down the street that made the most amazing supplí and penne ai quattro formaggi. We even found a British grocery store that sold cans of Campbell’s soup.

In this carnival of strange food choices, there is one meal that stands out. There was a caffé in the basement of our building run by the sweetest married couple (he was charming, but she wore the pants). We went downstairs to fortify ourselves against the unheated building with cappuccinos and earl grey tea, when Signora Rinaldi gave us something far better. She brought out a huge plate of polenta topped with greens and parmesan cheese. It was, hands down, the best food we ate during those few cold weeks. It was warm, creamy, salty, and delicious. The greens were bright and crisp, and possibly the only vegetables I ate that week. Five years later, and a certified vegephile, I remembered this dish and craved it madly. It’s perfect for fall and cold nights, by the fire with a glass of wine.

1 cup polenta ( a coarse yellow cornmeal)
4 cups water
1 bunch greens (kale, collards, dandelion greens, etc), removed from the stem and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 leek, light green and white part only, sliced finely
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Salt and pepper to taste

Bring water to a boil in a large pot. Whisk polenta into the water. Simmer for an hour, stirring frequently. Season with salt and pepper. Polenta is done when the corn meal is tender and the edges of the polenta pull away from the pot.

In a small pot, heat the olive oil. Add the leeks and sauté until tender, about 7 to 10 minutes. Add the wine and simmer until the wine is almost completely absorbed. Add your greens to the pot and sauté until wilted, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the crushed red pepper and season with salt.

Spoon polenta onto a plate, and top with the greens. Serve immediately!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Girl Meets Brownie, Part 3

In order to be precise about this brownie experiment, I have done a lot of reading on the difference between dutch processed cocoa and undutched cocoa, the impact of baking powder versus baking soda, and the variety of ways to simulate an egg in vegan baking. Colleen Patrick Goudreau provides a very useful section in her book on egg substitution. In it, she describes the many ways to replace an egg and each ingredient’s unique impact on the flavor and texture of vegan baked goods. After considering this resource, I decided on my next plan of action.

Based on the results of my last brownie, I knew I needed a little more volume. However, I didn’t want to compromise moistness for rise, so I decided to attempt a combination of egg replacers. I opted to replace one of the eggs with blended silken tofu in order to achieve the richness of my perfect brownie. But, I wanted to avoid the sinkhole of my last batch of brownies, so I chose to replace the second egg with baking soda and vinegar.

Result: Disaster. This particular batch sunk even deeper into the middle of the pan. They were way too gooey. No matter how much I bake these brownies, I cannot get them to appear done. Fortunately for me, they are so excessively oily that they slide right out of the pan, making clean up a breeze. Suffice it to say, I’m still searching for the right brownie recipe.

1/2 cup non-dairy butter melted
5 tablespoons cocoa
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup silken tofu blended until smooth
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Heat oven to 350º. Prepare an 8” x 8” baking pan with butter or canola oil. Combine butter, cocoa, and sugar in a large bowl. Add the tofu, baking soda, and vinegar to the butter mixture with the vanilla, and mix well. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt, and mix thoroughly. Pour the batter into the pan, and spread evenly. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Want to see more? Click for
Part 1
Part 2

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Eat Your Greens! Kale Chips

I’ve mentioned in previous posts my attempts to eat more greens. Sometimes this is easy; I can eat spinach, arugula, collard greens, and bok choy by the pound. However, sometimes it takes a bit more effort. Dandelion greens, rainbow chard, and kale can be a little bitter for my tastes, but they are so full of minerals and antioxidants that they are among the very best things you can eat.

Because I am constantly trying to incorporate more greens into my diet, I am always experimenting with flavors and textures. I have had some success blanching the most bitter greens before sautéing them, which softens the flavor a bit. My typical method of preparation is just a quick sauté in olive oil with a bit of salt. I also like to dress them up with raisins or currants and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. But, the technique I have been most pleased with is baked vegetable chips.

Kale chips seem to be everywhere these days, if by everywhere you mean snobby food blogs. I thought I would try my hand at them, and I was thrilled. Baked at a high temperature, the kale become delicate and crispy. They are like nutritious potato chips, and you can’t help but eat them by the handful. Before you know it, you’ve had three servings of greens! So, if you’re skeptical or reluctant about incorporating greens into your diet, make a tray full of these, and see if you feel a little friendlier toward our verdant brethren!

1 bunch kale
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon olive oil

Heat oven to 350º. Remove kale leaves from ribs and tear into small pieces. Rinse and dry thoroughly. Drizzle with olive oil and salt and toss to coat. Spread on a baking sheet in a single layer. Bake for 15 minutes or until kale has shriveled and dried considerably. Sprinkle with salt as desired. Enjoy immediately!

*I haven’t tried it, but I have a hunch this would work impeccably with other greens. I’m also planning to serve these as pre-Thanksgiving dinner nibbles.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Vegan Thanksgiving, Part VI: Cauliflower and Fennel Gratin

This may be the most delicious thing I’ve ever made. I know I’m very enthusiastic about the food I make for this blog, but this gratin was seriously transcendent. Creamy on the inside, crunchy on the outside, gloriously caramelized onions and fennel, a Thanksgiving dream come true.

I’ve been batting around the idea of a vegan béchamel for a vegan lasagna for a while now, but I haven't actually tried making it yet. This recipe gave me an excuse to try it out. I used a traditional béchamel recipe (from the Joy of Cooking), but white sauces generally rely on the final addition of a cheese for body and well-rounded flavor. Obviously cheese is out, but cashew cream adds a comparable richness. This cream sauce turned out so well that I cannot wait to apply it to other vegan adaptations, like a spinach and mushroom lasagna, and even a vegan macaroni and cheese.

Although a gratin is not a traditional Thanksgiving dish, it incorporates delightful fall flavors like cauliflower, onions, and fennel. It also provides a luxurious element to the humble simplicity of vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. I can’t say enough good things about this dish. It’s wide open to adaptation. I’m planning to make it with cauliflower and broccoli for the big day. It would also be perfect for potatoes and other root vegetables, in a more traditional gratin. You could also incorporate pasta with the vegetables for a kind of casserole. In any case, it’s a cozy, satisfying dish for fall and winter, so make it soon!

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion sliced
1 bulb fennel quartered, cored, and sliced
1 head cauliflower cut into florets
1/3 loaf bread processed into crumbs
1/2 cup almonds processed into crumbs
1/2 cup cashews
1 clove garlic
1/3 cup hot water
2 tablespoons non-dairy butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 1/4 cups non-dairy milk
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper

Heat oven to 400º. Place onions and fennel in an oven proof pan. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until tender. Remove from oven and set aside.

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Cook the cauliflower florets until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Place bread crumbs and almond pieces on a sheet pan in a single layer. Bake until dry and crispy, about 5 minutes. Remove and set aside.

Process the cashews and garlic clove in a food processor. Add the remaining two tablespoons olive oil and process until it forms a paste. Add the hot water while the processor is on, until the mixture is thick and creamy.

Add the milk to a small sauce pan, and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat. In another sauce pan, melt the butter. Whisk the flour into the butter to make a roux. Slowly add the milk to the flour mixture, whisking constantly. Cook until the sauce begins to thicken, 4 to 5 minutes. Stir the cashew purée into the béchamel. Add the cayenne pepper. Taste for salt and pepper.

Heat the oven to 350º. Stir the cauliflower, fennel, and onion into the béchamel. Spoon into a 9” x 9” baking dish. Top evenly with the bread crumb and almond mixture. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the center of the gratin is 160º on an instant-read thermometer.

Serve immediately!

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Vegan Thanksgiving, Part V: Maple Cranberry Sauce

Sorry for the onslaught of Thanksgiving recipes, but it’s officially November, and I figure any home chef worth their salt (no pun intended...oh, who am I kidding) is already planning what to make this year. I had a very busy weekend recipe testing, adjusting, and generally inventing. So many of the foods that I envision on my vegan Thanksgiving table just don’t exist, so I have to get creative. However, this is not one of those recipes. This is a quintessential part of Thanksgiving, that happens to already be vegan: Cranberry Sauce! And this particular one is amazing. Growing up, I never paid much attention to the cranberry sauce. I was never one for sour candies or sweets, so ultra tart cranberry sauce felt more like a punishment than a treat. Then, 10 years ago, my dad changed everything for me. The 2000 Bon Appétit Thanksgiving issue featured a maple cranberry sauce. My dad and I are big fans of maple syrup, so I figured this could only improve on the dish. Little did I know, this was the missing ingredient all along. Just when the cranberry sauce starts to get a little sour for me, the maple syrup mellows everything out, finishing the flavor smoothly. I haven’t eaten another cranberry sauce since. When we started spending Thanksgiving in Minnesota, it was my one culinary contribution to the table.  While I have since been granted greater responsibility in the kitchen, I still have a soft spot for this, my first Thanksgiving dish.

1 12 oz. bag fresh cranberries
3/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 packed brown sugar
1/4 cup water

Place all the ingredients in a large pot and mix thoroughly. Bring to a boil and simmer until the cranberries pop, and the sauce starts to thicken, about 10 minutes. Place in a bowl and cover tightly. Refrigerate until cooled completely. This is a great dish to make 1 or even 2 days ahead.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Vegan Thanksgiving, Part IV: Cornbread Stuffed Apples

Stuffing may be my favorite part of Thanksgiving dinner, so much so, that I am often compelled to make two or three different kinds just to satisfy my craving. At the top of my stuffing list though, is cornbread stuffing. I love the lightness alongside the grittiness of the cornbread, and I think it stands up better to the potentially overwhelming flavors of sage and thyme than your average white bread. Cornbread stuffing usually goes hand in hand with sausage. I greatly appreciated this pairing in my former omnivorous life, but it wouldn’t do for a vegan Thanksgiving. As you can probably tell from my recipes, I am not a big fan of "faux" meat products. I get more excited about the flavors of fresh vegetables, whole grains, and hearty legumes than I ever could about “Soy-rizo!” So, instead of bowing to tradition and adulterating my stuffing with a strange vegan approximation of sausage, I decided to augment the crumbly cornbread with toasted pecans, dried apricots and dried cranberries. The pecans give this dish a meatiness, something to bite your teeth into, and the dried fruit lends sweetness to this savory dish. Stuffing this into apples adds a bit of charm, everyone getting their own apple half to cut into, filled with the crunchy and moist cornbread filling.   

For a good, vegan cornbread, use the recipe from my Cornbread Chili Pie.

1 8” x 8” pan of cornbread cooled
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion diced
1 carrot diced finely
1 shallot diced
1 tablespoon thyme
1 1/2 tablespoons sage minced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup pecans toasted
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup dried apricots diced
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock (see here for the recipe)
6 apples

After the cornbread has cooled completely, cut it into 1” cubes. Spread them out on a baking sheet and bake at 350º for 10 minutes. Flip the cubes over and bake for another 10 minutes. The cornbread should be dry and slightly crispy at the edges. Allow to cool.

Prepare the apples. Slice apples in half through the stem. Scoop the inside out so that the edges are 1/4” thick.

Heat olive oil in a large pot. Add the onion, carrot, and shallot. Sauté until tender, about 10 minutes. Add the thyme and sage and cook for 3 minutes. Add the cornbread to the pot with the pecans, cranberries, and apricots, and stir. Taste for salt and pepper. Add the vegetable stock to the mixture and stir gently.

Heat the oven to 350º. Spoon 1/2 cup of the cornbread into the apple halves. Place the apple halves into an oven proof dish, and add 3/4 cup of water to the bottom of the dish. Cover with foil and place in the oven. Bake for 50 minutes. Broil on high for remaining 5 minutes, until the top of the stuffing is crispy and golden.

*You can also make this stuffing without the apples. Just spoon the cornbread mixture into an oven proof dish and bake, covered, for 1 hour; then broil, uncovered, for 5 minutes.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Vegan Thanksgiving, Part III: Vegetable Stock

Vegetable stock is an extremely important ingredient in vegan cooking. It is the foundation for soups, stews, pasta sauces, and more. A good stock is also crucial to a successful Thanksgiving dinner. I know I have already provided a recipe for vegetable stock on this blog, in my post on Wonton Soup. That is still an excellent recipe; it's also a faster recipe with a much shorter ingredient list. But, this is Thanksgiving people. It only comes around once a year, and it's worth the extra effort. This recipe comes from the cookbook Patricia Wells at Home in Provence, a book that has been sitting in my family home most of my life. Wells is a renowned chef, an American in Paris, and a dear friend of my idol Ina Garten. She is the go-to expert for approachable French food. Her recipe for Potager Stock results in a complex, light, exquisite vegetable broth. Just simmering this stock will make your house smell like Thanksgiving. It will also set up your soups, stuffings, and gravies for success.

4 leeks, only the white and light green part, chopped in 2" pieces
4 carrots chopped in 2" pieces
4 turnips halved and quartered
4 ribs celery chopped in 2" pieces (I left the celery out of mine; it is one of the few vegetables I can't abide)
4 onions halved and unpeeled
1 head of garlic halved and unpeeled
2 tomatoes halved and seeded
2 large bunches of parsley
1 large bunch of thyme (about 10 sprigs)
1 large bunch of rosemary (about 6 sprigs)
2 bay leaves
6 black peppercorns
4 quarts (16 cups) water

Place all the vegetables in a large pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Simmer for an hour and a half, uncovered. Strain the vegetables from the broth, squeezing as much liquid as you can out of the vegetables. Refrigerate or freeze the stock for later use.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Penne with Baked Tomatoes and Greens

We had a strange summer here in California. It was very mild, sunny, but not hot for most of June, July, and August. My tomato plants languished the whole season, never quite getting ripe, never quite reaching their potential. But then, in September, we had heat wave after heat wave, all the way to the beginning of October. And suddenly, my tomatoes came to life, producing more fruit then I knew what to do with. In the interest of not being wasteful I had to find something to do with all these beautiful tomatoes. So, I decided to invest in my future (and by future, I mean December), when tomatoes are mealy and generally flavorless. I took my harvest and captured the flavor, then froze them so I could open up a bag of summer in the middle of winter. Or, fall, since I was feeling impatient.

Preparing the tomatoes is simple. Heat the oven to 375º. Small tomatoes can remain whole; larger tomatoes should be halved. Place tomatoes on a foil or parchment lined baking sheet with a few cloves of garlic. Drizzle with olive oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Bake for an hour, or until the tomatoes are wrinkled, juicy, and just starting to brown. Scoop the tomatoes into freezer bags, and forget about them.

This dish is perfect for a weekday evening, as it’s quick and simple, requiring little preparation and very little cleanup.

1 pound whole wheat penne
1 cup baked tomatoes thawed
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups spinach
1 cup arugula
Chopped slivered almonds for garnish

Cook the penne according to the package. In a large sauté pan, combine the tomatoes, olive oil, spinach and arugula. Stir until the greens are wilted. Add the penne to the tomatoes and toss. Top with the almonds and enjoy!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Girl Meets Brownie, Part 2

Clearly, I was dissatisfied with my last brownie endeavor. If you’re at all familiar with America’s Test Kitchen, you will remember their painstaking adjustment process, where they change one ingredient at a time and wait for the result. Well, I am not that patient. I chose instead to scrap the entire recipe and try something completely different. I have been having good luck with the Ener-G egg replacer in my chocolate chip cookies, and many of the recipes you see here, like my jalapeno corn pancakes. So, an eternal optimist, I figured I could do a one to one substitution and have the amazing brownies of my childhood. I turned to the recipe I grew up with, from my mom’s handwritten collection of recipes. I pulled the brownies from the oven, hopes high. Unfortunately, unlike my hopes, the brownies had sunken down to the middle of the pan. But don’t worry, dear readers, this was not the worst of my brownie batches. The edges of the brownie were reasonably good, and at the very least they were edible. My family actually finished this pan of brownies, an honor which cannot be awarded to future batches. But the center pieces from the pan were barely a quarter inch thick, and seriously gooey. Once again, not the perfect brownie.

1/2 cup non-dairy butter melted
5 tablespoons cocoa
1 cup granulated sugar
3 teaspoons Ener-G egg replacer
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup walnuts (optional)

Heat oven to 350º. Prepare an 8” x 8” baking pan with butter or canola oil. Combine butter, cocoa, and sugar in a large bowl. Mix the egg replacer and water in a blender until frothy. Add to the butter mixture with vanilla. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt, and mix thoroughly. Add the walnuts if desired. Pour the batter into the pan, and spread evenly. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.