Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Christmas Dinner Redux

The beginning of the new year is the perfect time to reflect on a Christmas meal with nostalgia, already longing for the next. This past holiday, I hosted some of the season's best flavors: pomegranate, sage, apples...

The meal started with an amuse bouche, a few bites of Pomegranate Pear Sorbet.

Pomegranate Pear Sorbet
about 1 quart

seeds from 1 pomegranate
1 cup water
1 cup apple juice
4 pears, peeled, cored, and cut roughly into pieces
1 teaspoon lemon juice (optional)
generous pinch sea salt
pomegranate seeds, (optional, for serving)

In a blender (a food processor tends to leak), blend pomegranate seeds, water and apple juice until pomegranate seeds are just broken. Strain through a fine sieve directly into a saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, and cook until reduced by one third, 6-8 minutes. Transfer syrup to a bowl and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.

Return syrup to blender, and add pear pieces, lemon juice (if using), and sea salt. Process until completely smooth. Refrigerate blended mixture until very cold, then freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions. Scoop into small cups and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds before serving.

A simple salad of greens, pecans, dried cranberries, and apples.

Sweet Potato Rolls, which make excellent French toast the next morning.

Smoked cheddar cheese ball. Don't you love a holiday that celebrates food in "ball" and "log" form?

Mountains of roasted garlic smashed potatoes, with green beans roasted in orange and almond (not pictured) alongside.

The monochromatic gleam of Seitan Roast with Agave Apples and crisp yuba skin.

Apricot Chestnut Dressing served alongside the roast. While not a pretty picture, it makes an excellent filling for seitan roulade.

Apricot Chestnut Dressing
12-16 servings

½ cup (1 stick) vegan margarine
1 large onion, diced
3 ribs celery, diced
1/3 cup finely chopped parsley
1 ½ teaspoons dried sage
1 teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 pound dried bread cubes, in ½” pieces
2-3 cups vegetable broth
1 ½ cups chestnuts, coarsely chopped
½ cup dried apricots, coarsely chopped

Heat oven to 350ยบ F.

In a large saucepan or stockpot, heat vegan margarine until bubbling. Add onion and celery, and cook until tender, 3-5 minutes. Add parsley, sage, thyme, salt, black pepper, and nutmeg, stirring well to combine. Turn off the heat, and add bread cubes, gently tossing until coated with seasonings. Drizzle vegetable broth over, a bit at a time, gently folding the mixture until everything is moistened.

Allow the dressing to rest—this part is important—for 15-20 minutes. This will allow the bread cubes to absorb the liquid and ensure a proper texture. Taste the dressing; if the bread cubes are still crunchy in the center, add another ½ cup vegetable broth and toss again. Repeat this until bread is adequately moist.

Transfer saucepan or stockpot to oven and bake 30-40 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the stuffing fragrant.

The meal had a sweet ending with Sticky Toffee Pudding, pictured with its concentric ring of toffee sauce.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Pancake Breakfast

Weekends, I'm stirred from morning delirium by distant baby coos and the smell of batter on cast iron. The bed is empty, the radio plays, and it's pancake day. I bound downstairs to some version of this

The Mr. is making pancakes with the assistance of Miss One, and all is right with the world.

The usual order is a plateful of Chocolate Chocolate Chip Pancakes from Vegan with a Vengeance. This particular Sunday, we realized too late that the pantry was bare of Soyatoo, and decided on banana pecan instead. We whisked together Buttermilk Pancakes from my upcoming cookbook, and topped them with fresh bananas, Brown Sugar Pecans, and real maple syrup.

The pecans are simple, and measurements are approximate; use scant handfuls of sugar and a chunk of margarine, and everything will be fine.

Brown Sugar Pecans
about 1 cup

1 tablespoon vegan margarine, or 1 tablespoon coconut oil plus a pinch of sea salt
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup pecans

Lay a sheet of parchment or waxed paper on a heat resistant surface.

In a heavy skillet over medium heat, whisk together margarine or coconut oil and sugars. Cook, whisking constantly, until sugar is dissolved, about 4 minutes. Stir in baking soda, and continue whisking. The mixture will bubble up. As it does, remove from heat and quickly stir in pecans. Toss to coat completely in the sugar mixture, then turn out onto the parchment or waxed paper.

Leave pecans whole, or coarsely chop. The pecans will keep, in an airtight container at room temperature, for several weeks.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Favorite Things

Before Oprah springs to mind, let me give you an image of Julie Andrews, radiant and surrounded by children.

She knows what she loves, and loves what she knows. Her favorites are diverse, and her lilting voice dances from tea kettles to apple strudel to melting winters. No funk or disappointment can mar her favorites, and indulging in them--even thinking of them!--is enough to chase away sadness. It is in this spirit that I shirk the obligatory resolutions and present to you my favorite things:

A Bialetti espresso maker. I prefer the Mokka Express, which brews delicious coffee in minutes on your stovetop.

Thick wedges of Italian Cornmeal Cake. Versatile, simple, delicious. I've made this so many times over the past year, and so should you.

A citrus reamer. This simple tool makes quick work of lemons and limes.

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Pancakes from Vegan with a Vengeance. My Mr. makes them every weekend, accompanied by raspberry sauce and soyatoo whipped topping. Wonderful.

Teas from Harney and Sons. I take tea every afternoon with my daughter, and these high-quality blends make every pot special.

Baking my own bread. I've given up store-bought entirely, and it is so worth it. I use a variation of my grandmother's recipe, whole wheat studded with sunflower seeds and oats.

Water. In a cup, a tub, or a river, water is both luxurious and vital. Whether you're a breastfeeding mom or a day laborer, your body works hard and loses it fast. A tap or shower filter will make water purer, or you can go straight to natural sources in your area. I replenish by drinking often, and recently invested in a whole home humidifier (it runs through the heating system).
That dream fulfilled, I'm working toward more ways to enjoy my H2O: with a new kayak this summer, and eventually a whole home filtration system.

And finally, Green Smoothies. Everyone benefits from consuming more greens. Make it a resolution you can keep with this simple elixir:

Orange Cream Green Smoothie
1 smoothie
To get a creamier texture, scrape the whole insides of the orange--membranes and all--into your blender. And if you’re new to green smoothies, start with a smaller amount of spinach, and add more next time.

1 banana, frozen
juice of 1 orange
1/2 teaspoon orange zest (taken from about 1/4 of the orange with a rasp)
generous handful (1-2 cups) spinach
½ cup water
1/2-1 cup ice

Combine all ingredients in a blender until completely smooth. Drink.

Now tell me, what are your favorite things?