Saturday, November 28, 2009

The grand finale

Before the moment is lost for good, I have to tell you about my third and final Thanksgiving dinner.

We had originally planned to work and eat at Cafe Gratitude, who was putting on a free dinner in exchange for helping out that day at the restaurant. It sounded like fun, but cut into our gym schedule (shallow, huh?), so we were staying open to other possibilities, too.

On Wednesday night, to celebrate the four-day weekend, we went to a favorite place of ours, Merit Vegetarian, in Sunnyvale. The owner, Sam, recognized us from our many previous visits and came over to say hello. We told him about Cafe Gratitude and he mentioned that a friend of his in The City also owned a vegetarian restaurant and that he had been helping her prep for the Thanksgiving blow-out she was putting on.

Golden Era Vegan Cuisine -- located in the Tenderloin, just a short walk from our beloved Millenium -- offered a four-course vegan meal for just $25 dollars (that's half of what Millenium was charging)! And it was terrific!

We started with a savory pumpkin soup, flavored with a little curry and a lot of hot pepper. It was as smooth as silk. Non-dairy cream soups such as this one this never cease to amaze me -- how do they achieve such a glorious texture with no butter or cream?

From there, we enjoyed an entirely serviceable dinner salad with field greens, shredded cabbage and carrot, and a nicely tart vinegarette.

The third course was simply beautiful:

Faux meat fascinates me the same way that dairyless cream soups do; how do they do it? Nancy, Golden Era's owner, gave us a rough overview of how they made the faux turkey, but all I took away from it is that the outer skin, which tasted remarkably like the skin of a turkey, is made from tofu-skin wrappers. On my own, I surmised that the 'meat' was seitan (she said tofu, but it really didn't taste like or have the texture of tofu) and that the stuffing was regular old stuffing that would have been happy on just about any Thanksgiving table, vegan or otherwise.

Seitan, if you're interested, is the base of a lot of faux meat. It's made from something called wheat gluten. What that is and where one buys it I don't know, but it makes for mighty tasty fake flesh. But back to the dinner...

Being as I'm never one to shy away from dessert, I gladly took on the fourth course, a pumpkin cheesecake. It had the same tanginess of a dairy-based cheesecake and the spiciness of a traditional pumpkin pie. I feel certain that an omnivore wouldn't have felt that he was missing a thing.

Actually, there was one thing missing for me: the weight gain that invariably accompanies the day after Thanksgiving. My weight stayed exactly where it had been the day before. I didn't miss a thing!

BTW, we asked Nancy if they were planning a dinner for Christmas. She said they were considering it, but hadn't reached a final decision. So make a point of calling her (415/673-3136) and telling her to do Christmas dinner, too!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving: Part Deux

The great thing about living in the SF Bay Area is that everybody is represented. People come in more colors, speak more different languages, and eat more different food than in just about any other part of the country that I've lived or visited (the exception being New York City).

In Palo Alto, the macrobiotics are represented by the Peninsula Macrobiotic Community (PMC). I'm no expert about macrobiotics, but from my observations, it's a very yin-yang lifestyle, balancing hot and cold, sweet and sour, heavy and light. Before I joined the group, I imagined the macrobiotic diet to be mainly seaweed, fish, and brown rice, eaten by terminal cancer patients. And that's not an entirely incorrect picture.

A lot of sick people do turn to this easily digested food and brown rice is a staple in this diet, but the PMC at least also enjoys a lot more of what you might think of as just good old vegan food. And for 22 years, they've been able to attract 100 or more diners to their Monday night dinners. Here's what we ate in celebration of Thanksgiving:

* Sparkling punch
* Savory sage broth
* Bread basket with miso tahini sauce
* Tempeh vegetable cutlets w mushroom gravy
* Cornbread stuffing (a favorite)
* Mashed sweet potatoes
* Green bean casserole
* Green salad
* Orange ginger cranberry sauce
* Mince 'meat' pie w tofu creme

It was divine and many of the dishes were really no different from a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. And like a traditional T'day repast, the servings were large enough that I was able to take home leftovers to eat the following day for lunch.

The only thing dinner was missing was pictures. I completely forgot to take pictures -- ARGH!

Still, you can learn more about the PMC at their web site or their chef, Gary Alinder's, blog.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving: Part Une

Aaron and I will be celebrating Thanksgiving three times this year. This past weekend marked our first nod to the holiday with a glorious stuffed butternut squash for the main course. I found the recipe in a new book called Gather by Georgeanne Brennan.

The squash was stuffed with a variety of sweet and savory ingredients, including fresh sage, dried peaches, sauteed onion, prunes, and rustic whole wheat bread cubes. It was not a fast dish, but it wasn't difficult either. First I had to bake the squash for an hour, then let it cool another hour, prepare the stuffing, fill the squash cavities, and heat it through.

It was a very rich and savory dish that contrasted well with the tangy cranberry chutney I served with it. I found the recipe in a 1980 edition of the Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook. Being vegetarian, I don't turn to this book on a regular basis because it's too meat-centric. But every now and then, when I need a good, standard recipe -- like cranberry sauce -- it's a terrific resource. (My other go-to books include the Joy of Cooking and Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison.)

It was a great way to kick off Thanksgiving; I can hardly wait for part deux!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Pumpkin shortage -- and solution!

I'd like to say it isn't true, but the pumpkin shortage I mentioned in early autumn appears to have returned. Hungry Girl reported it in this morning's broadcast e-mail and backed it up with a press release from Libby's. So if you can find canned pumpkin, buy it. Stock up because it could be another year before you see it again.

There is another answer to the shortage: substitute any other winter squash. How to substitute other squash for pumpkin: 1) Bake the squash til it's soft (bake it whole at 350F for about an hour, randomly puncturing it with a knife to allow air to escape), 2) Cut in half and scrape out the seeds, 3) Puree the pulp in a food processor. 4) Proceed with your recipe as usual, substituting your pureed squash for pumpkin. Your guests probably won't notice the difference and they may actually prefer the change. One of the best 'pumpkin' pies I've had was made with kabocha squash.

For a Southern twist, bake up a sweet potato pie. There's a terrific recipe for it in Oprah's circa-1990s book, In the Kitchen with Rosie. If that book isn't on your shelf, just Google "sweet potato pie" and you'll find more versions than you could eat in a lifetime. I also found -- but haven't yet tried -- a neat-looking sweet potato pie with coconut crust on Gary Alinder's blog, macrochef.

BTW, my favorite sweet potato is the garnet yam. Is there a difference between sweet potatoes and yams? I don't know and truthfully, I don't care. All I know is that I use garnet yams and ONLY garnet yams and I'm always happy with the results.

So not to worry. Either you'll get to the grocery store before the pumpkin is depleted or you'll try something new, be it a different winter squash or garnet yams.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Congrats to Zucchini Breath!

The winner of Jennifer Cornbleet's flashy new book, Raw for Dessert, is Zucchini Breath from Klamath Falls, OR. Please contact me at your earliest convenience so I can arrange shipping for your book. Stay tuned, because more give-aways are in the making!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Raw for Dessert Give-away!

Jennifer Cornbleet got wind of my making the Greek dates in her most recent book, Raw for Dessert, and has generously offered a copy to give away to a lucky reader. This book took me by surprise; I was expecting not to like it, but having tried the dates last week, I'm already planning my next raw 'baking' session!

On my list is her mince pie -- which I'm planning for Thanksgiving -- and the apple compote with golden raisins and pistachios. You can learn more about Jennifer and raw cuisine on her web site. In the meantime, to get a chance at winning the book, just leave a comment with your favorite Thanksgiving dessert. (Why do I think pumpkin pie will be the hands-down winner?)

We'll take entries through Thursday, November 12 at midnight Pacific Time. Good luck everyone!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Chocolate-covered Katie give-away

I love give-aways and one of my fellow bloggers is having one where you get to choose your prize. For more info, take a look at Chocolate-covered Katie's blog.

Sublime Stuffed Dates

So I volunteered to bring dessert to a pot-luck I attended recently, but my oven went on the fritz. Having very little time, I wanted to come up with something show-stopping using only ingredients I had on-hand. In every crisis, lies an opportunity; for me, the silver lining is that my broken oven got me to try out ahead of schedule a book I just received called Raw for Dessert. Jennifer Cornbleet's book is filled with glorious photos of hot-looking goodies, but frankly, I've had a mental block about making anything out of it.

If you're unfamiliar with the raw food scene, raw foodists are vegetarians (vegans really) who eat primarily unprocessed, uncooked foods -- fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, grains, and beans. They believe that cooking food destroys beneficial enzymes and therefore, don't employ traditional cooking and baking methods. Whatever you think of the diet's efficacy, preparing raw dishes has always struck me as very time-consuming: soaking nuts for hours, 'cooking' with dehydrators, and chopping into oblivion. I've enjoyed all the raw dishes I've sampled, mostly at Cafe Gratitude in Berkeley and San Francisco, but it's easy to like because someone else has done all the work!

Good news! My first raw dessert took just minutes and was brilliant! Cornbleet's Greek dates taste like baklava encased in an exotic, sweet date shell. I couldn't stop eating them and neither could my friends. Theses are a no-brainer to make. In the food processor, pulse some nuts, agave syrup (see What is agave? below), and orange peel. Stuff generously into dates and refrigerate. Such bliss! For my money, it's the orange zest that makes this dish click.

What is agave? Agave is a desert plant whose sap is used in making tequila. It's also a wonderful sweetener that I've found to be interchangeable with honey and maple syrup. It's low on the glycemic index, which means it's a good choice for diabetics; what's more, it doesn't produce a sugar rush and subsequent crash. If you haven't tried agave, Madhava is a Colorado company that produces both the light (similar to honey) and amber (think maple syrup) varieties. While I haven't found agave in traditional supermarkets, I have gotten it at both Whole Foods and Trader Joe's.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Talking turk'y

The best thing about blogging is that I occasionally receive unexpected packages containing interesting food or books. Yesterday, my friends at Quorn sent me a package of their new turk'y burgers. If you haven't come across Quorn already, they make meat substitutes from mushroom protein (who knew?). Vegans beware: turk'y burgers also contain egg whites, so they're not entirely plant-based; however, if your diet allows, you should give them a go.

These burgers are a little on the small side; think oversized slider. Each one has just 90 calories and 4 g fat, so if you put two on your burger bun, you're still safely below 200 calories. We had ours between two slices of Trader Joe's sprouted barley bread (only 70 calories per slice with 2 g fiber) and a dollop of TJs apple-cranberry chutney (mmm!!). They taste remarkably like poultry and cook up easily on the grill pan.

On the side: baked sweet potato "fries."

Tutorial Sweet potato fries are a cinch to make. Just cut a sweet potato into wedges the size of your index finger. Put the wedges into a zippered plastic bag into which you've put a tablespoon of olive oil and a few shakes of salt. Toss to coat, then place on a baking sheet. Bake in a 425F oven for 30-40 minutes, until fork-tender.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Apple Bread for Your Holiday Sideboard

Pumpkin pie is a holiday staple and I know that I, for one, would be disappointed to leave the Thanksgiving table without having had a large slice of it. I would never, however, turn down additional dessert offerings and this fresh apple bread is a terrific complement to any harvest celebration.

The recipe is from Ken Haedrich's now-out-of-print book, A Passion for Bread. If you're lucky enough to find a copy of this hand-lettered gem, pick it up. You'll find more than 30 recipes for yeasted breads, 20-plus quick breads, and half a dozen unyeasted breads. In the almost 30 years I've owned it, I have never had a recipe fail.

While you can make this bread in either a regular, standard-sized loaf pan or three mini pans, it bakes more evenly in the smaller pans.

Fresh Apple Bread
from A Passion for Bread
by Ken Haedrich

2 large apples, cored and chopped
2 1/2 c whole wheat or whole wheat pastry flour (preferred)
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking powder
2 T cinnamon
2 eggs, beaten
1 c apple juice
1/2 c honey or maple syrup
1/3 c oil or melted butter
handful raisins
handful chopped walnuts

Prepare the apples and set aside. Preheat oven to 350F.

Sift together the flour, salt, baking powder, and cinnamon. Add the apples, raisins, and walnuts. (Tossing them with the dry ingredients prevents them from sinking to the bottom.)

Blend liquids in a separate bowl and add to the dry. Stir just until smooth.

Pour batter into three greased mini-loaf pans or one regular-sized pan. Bake for 1 hour, until a toothpick emerges dry.

We have a winner!

Congratulations to Jami, the winner of Nava Atlas's ebook, A Bountiful Vegan Thanksgiving! Please contact me with your e-mail address so I can send you the goods. Thanks to everyone who commented; all this talk of Thanksgiving makes my mouth water. More soon.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Nava Atlas Give-away!

I am thrilled to be having my first give-away! Just in time for the holidays, I'm offering a free copy of Nava Atlas's A Bountiful Vegan Thanksgiving. This exciting e-book has 65 festive, plant-based recipes. You'll find appetizers, soups, salads, side dishes, main dishes, stuffings, cranberry sauces, desserts and more -- everything you need to celebrate in a healthful, conscious way. All you have to do is respond to this post with your name and your favorite Thanksgiving food. I'll select a winner using a random number generator. Please respond by Tuesday, November 3 at 9 pm Pacific Time.