A Vegan Christmas Eve Feast

December 28, 2011 § 8 Comments

I think I’ve just had the best Christmas ever. It was definitely the best Christmas of my adult life. One reason it was so special is it was the first time that my mother-in-law spent Christmas with us. To have her here and share the holiday with us meant so much.

We played up the Christmas celebration with non-stop gatherings and food. While most Americans celebrate Christmas day as the holiday, my husband’s family celebrates Christmas Eve. For whatever reason, my family always celebrated both. Since being married, we’ve hosted Christmas Eve at our house and always do Christmas day at my parents. This Christmas Eve started with a wonderful surprise though. We got to have our good friends from Miami over for brunch. Starting Christmas off with my friends at the table, enjoying pancakes and coffee was definitely the way to kick off the celebration.

I gave my friend two options – pumpkin waffles or orange pancakes. She chose the latter so I prepared this recipe. I followed it exactly with the exception of throwing in  sliced almonds instead of grinding them which added a really nice crunch. These pancakes were very cake like, and almost had a muffin texture. Everyone at the table was impressed to know they were vegan.

When all was said and done, I figured I could take a nap. But alas, I still didn’t know what I was making for dinner. I can sometimes be the ultimate procrastinator and the holidays are no exception. I didn’t make up my mind until about 2 hours prior to dinner. Sure, I’d spent countless hours picking out recipes but couldn’t actually decide until the last minute. Searching for vegan Christmas recipes was no small task, and the outlook was frankly grim. But I’m pleased to say we had a delicious feast – fit for vegans and omnivores alike!

To start I prepared these amazing butternut squash empanadas. They might have been my favorite food all night long, I’ve since enjoyed them as leftovers and they are equally delicious. Crusty pastry on the outside and a sweet and savory butternut squash filling. The thyme and caramelized onions add lots of depth and cut the sweetness. I love anything yummy inside pastry, don’t you?

The only changes I made to this recipe was almond milk instead of dairy and vegan butter instead of regular. I also was able to find empanada discs that were vegan friendly at my grocery store. Next time, I’ll definitely be doubling the recipe and putting half in the freezer to make at a later date – yum!

Along with our empanadas, we had vegan stuffed mushrooms for a starter. I have to admit the mushrooms were tricky to stuff – perhaps I should have used larger caps. Without egg or cheese its challenging to get the stuffing to stick together, but they were delicious and delicate. If I make them again, I’d brush the mushrooms with a bit of garlic infused olive oil before stuffing to give them a bit more flavor.

As for the dinner, the one certain item I knew I’d prepare was roasted potatoes at the request of my husband. We picked up a lovely variety full of vibrant colors. What to put with them was the question. In the end I decided on Smitten Kitchen’s mushroom bourguignon without pasta since we’d have the potatoes. I added roasted onions and carrots to bulk it up. Alongside, I served it with some nicely roasted asparagus.

No one, I repeat no one at the table said anything about the lack of meat. They were too busy dishing up seconds of savory mushroom bourguignon. The dish was full of dense flavors from the wine, thyme, and vegetable stock. The one problem I had with this recipe is it says to sear the mushrooms. Mine didn’t sear but rather released all their liquid immediately. I was a bit worried I’d ruined the dish but it turned out great. And what was better – with my carrots and onions already roasted, I was able to prepare this while everyone finished their appetizers. With the exception of cutting the mushrooms, I think it qualifies as a 30 minute meal. I was more than happy with the flavor given the short cooking time.

As if all this wasn’t enough, dinner was completed with the most decadent vegan cupcakes my sister brought and trembleque. I’d never made this dish before but a friend brought it to my mom’s Christmas brunch a few weeks earlier. When I learned it was vegan I was in love. It’s made with coconut milk and cornstarch and almost is like a flan but with a lighter flavor – it is simply divine.

After our never ending meal, we all relaxed and watched Christmas Vacation, a family tradition. To sit with both sides of our family laughing together was the best gift.

We all slept like babies that night, with full bellies and not a care in the world…Until the next day, when we woke up and ate even more! 🙂

Hope you all had a wonderful holiday!

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Giving Thanks…Never Say Never

December 9, 2011 § 5 Comments

I’ve been on a big journey the past few years…

Once upon a time, I never thought my husband and I would be able to be together – but we figured out a way to make it happen and have been married 3+ years. 🙂

It wasn’t too long ago I was in the midst of a huge company downsizing, lost my job, and after months of searching was told if I wanted to get hired, I’d need to remove my MBA from my resume. Talk about depressing… Needless to say I never saw my career taking off the way it has – and it did so beyond my wildest dreams.

I never thought I’d be able to travel on my own, something about lonely hotel rooms and solitary dinners made me nervous – but this year was spent taking more trips than I can count, mostly alone, and I did just fine.

I never thought I’d be able to manage a dog with my job – I do, and splendidly I may add thanks to my husband. How we ever managed before her is beyond us.

I never thought I’d spend the holidays with my in-laws, no matter how hard we tried, it just never worked out – but my mother-in-law arrives this weekend and will stay through the Christmas holiday and I can’t wait!

And lastly…I never, never, never thought I’d be a VEGAN (hah!) at our Thanksgiving table. That’s possibly the biggest surprise of all.

OK, surely becoming vegan isn’t the best of this list – but for me it’s pretty remarkable considering I’ve never had any self control in my life when it came to food. If I wanted it, I ate it. So to sit and eat a fully vegan Thanksgiving meal was pretty amazing. And you know what? It wasn’t bad at all – in fact, it was pretty great.

There was no shortage of food – my mom cooked, which means we had way too much food as usual – and all that food was vegan (minus the turkey :))

I feasted on Carrot and Parsnip Osso Buco (recipe info below) which I prepared after looking through my Thanksgiving vegan menu options – carrots, parsnips, pearl onions and porcini mushrooms are slowly braised in red wine, mushroom broth, and curry spices. This atop fluffy mashed potatoes was as delicious as my turkey alternative.

I enjoyed traditional sides of stuffing, green beans, cranberry sauce, sauteed apples, and lastly some scrumptious pumpkin garlic knots – yup all vegan! Amazing that many of our favorite foods can be made vegan just by swapping chicken stock for vegetable stock. I couldn’t even tell the difference!

It was a Thanksgiving to remember, that’s for sure. Watching my mom prepare everything with her new vegan ingredients (which she doesn’t mind using!) made me really proud – we are changing our lives one bite at a time.

Cheers to more festive dinners, compassionate eating, healthier lifestyles, and making a conscious effort to remove the word “never” from our vocabulary.

Now I need to figure out what I’m cooking for that Christmas feast!

Carrott & Parsnip Osso Bucco 

If you’re interested in trying out the Carrot Osso Buco, the recipe can be found here. I added a few cloves of garlic – because honestly, how can you cook anything without garlic? 😉 And I had parsnips on hand so I decided to throw them in as well. Honestly though I enjoyed the carrots more than the parsnips. One last note on ingredients – the recipe calls for porcini mushroom powder. At $10 for a small box of dried mushrooms, I’m not sure this was even necessary. I think the curry and mushroom stock give it plenty of flavor so feel free to forgo the expensive dried fungi 🙂

After sauteeing the veggies, I decided to slowly braise them in the slow cooker to leave my stove clean which worked nicely. The resulting veggies are complex and bold. The curry and wine offers tremendous depth and flavor. And the sauce is really delicious over  mashed potatoes – with or without the carrots. I had some sauce left and spooned it over my leftover mashed potatoes for the next few days – yum.

Pumpkin Garlic Knots 

The pumpkin garlic knot recipe can be found here. As this blogger points out, you can’t taste the pumpkin much and I agree. However, it does give the knots a festive gold color and let’s face it – at the holidays it is fun to say they are made of pumpkin! But seriously, you simply can’t beat the buttery garlic spread – yummmmmy. It’s simply five finger lickin’ good! 🙂

Update: See the vegan mushroom bourguignon I made for Christmas. 

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