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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The Holidays are Here – A Quick, Easy, Vegan Appetizer

November 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

It’s that time of year – party season is upon us. Lots of holiday parties to attend which means time with loved ones, reconnecting with old friends, and most importantly – you need to think about what you’re going to bring!

I used to think the holidays were a time to relax and slow down. Ha! That’s when I didn’t have a job! The past few years the holidays seem to come and go with a blink of the eye. There’s never enough time to do all I want to do – if I get my tree up, I’m lucky. So when it comes to entertaining or bringing food to parties – simple is best.

Enter your lifesaver – a completely store-bought vegan antipasto platter. Antipasto platters are usually loaded with meats, cheeses, and olives. I’ve kept the olives and replaced the non-vegan items with equally delicious and scrumptious alternatives. Oh, and best part, this is a no-cook appetizer. Allow yourself time to run to the store and arrange the items on a nice platter and that’s it – it seriously doesn’t get easier than this.

Your local grocery store has everything you need to put together a great vegan appetizer: some olives, crackers, dips, veggies, nuts and you are good to go. If you’ve got multiple parties to attend, consider buying your items at Costco for some serious savings!

A sprinkle of paprika dresses up store-bought hummus. My personal favorite brand is Publix Roasted Red Pepper – it is simply the best I’ve ever tried.

I opted for a sun-dried tomato tapenade for something different. Regular olive tapenade is always a sure winner.

I used my favorite antipasto platter from Crate & Barrel which comes with the little square dishes perfect for separating certain items. Adding small ramekins to the plate allowed for more separation and extra items on the plate. This also makes it easy to wrap everything up individually so it doesn’t move around in transport – ensuring your dish arrives as beautifully as it was when it left.

Happy Entertaining 🙂

Sweet Beginnings – French Toast with Mascapone and Fresh Berries

January 2, 2011 § 4 Comments

Yesterday was the first day of 2011 which I welcomed with a mixture of emotions – mostly excitement of what’s to come. I’m very much looking forward to see what this New Year has in store for me and my husband, though honestly, I can’t imagine it being better than 2010. Let me rephrase – I can’t imagine it being better than the second half of 2010. The first half of the year was a tough one. My mom was living indefinitely in Kansas City taking care of my dying grandfather who sadly passed despite our hopefulness. This sad beginning of the year led to months of organizing the closing of my grandparents home and my grandmother moving to Florida. By mid-year, our family was reunited and things started looking up. My husband and I enjoyed a fantastic two week vacation to Spain in May which unbeknownst to us at the time, started a magical trend of good things to come for the second half of the year. We both have gone through more than our fair share of trials and tribulations so to have things suddenly click in place was a beautiful thing. Among other things, we both got unbelievable job opportunities, and after almost two years of searching, we finally purchased our first home. In all this too, it was a year of taking risks – risks that are paying off beautifully.

Thus why I say it will be hard for 2011 to top all that. But I’m remaining optimistic. And most importantly, I am remembering that the life we live is the one we choose. My dad has some pretty good advice he’s drilled into my head – just two words – “Choose Wisely”. I realize now more than ever that this goes beyond what I took it to mean – its not just about choosing the right path, the right job, the right friends, etc. Rather, its about choosing to be happy each and every day, choosing to live with integrity, to define the life you want and not be afraid to go and get it. As Marianne Williamson said “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” For me, 2011 is about going for “it”, giving it all I’ve got, not settling, not giving up, and definitely not doubting myself (both in the kitchen and out 😉 )

To start off the year with this great energy, I wanted a little celebration and decided to make French Toast for breakfast. I don’t know when I got out of the habit of making French Toast – I rarely make it anymore but it used to be a regular weekend event in my house growing up. I think French Toast was the first dish I really learned to make (and make well) on my own. The best was when my dad would eat it – he’s not a “sweet” breakfast guy, he’s more of a practical low-carb egg-white omelet guy, so days he’d go so far as to request my French Toast were a pretty big deal.

I was at Whole Foods the night before shopping for our New Years Eve dinner and had seen mascapone cheese. I remembered a special French Toast I had a few years ago with mascapone and blueberry and decided I’d make that as our jumpstart to the New Year and it turned out really fantastic. The French Toast had a nice crunch from the sugar coating. The mascapone adds an unexpected twist against the tart berries and eggy bread. At the last minute I added some lemon zest to the mascapone which lightened the entire dish and gave a fresh flavor. Don’t even think of adding syrup to this before tasting – its so good on its own it doesn’t require anything further. It certainly felt like a celebratory breakfast and a promising start to the New Year – Cheers!

I used a hearty French country bread from Whole Foods which I sliced fairly thick (a bit too thick in fact as the egg didn’t get all the way through the slice). I made us a generous portion – two big slices each which I soaked in the egg mixture.

I use vegetable oil for my French Toast and I like to add cinnamon both to the egg mixture as well as a sprinkle while its frying in the pan. Once the slices were done on the bottom I flipped them over to fry on the other side. At the end, I add a small sprinkle of sugar to each slice and flip for just a minute to get a nice caramelized finish. Don’t add the sugar until the very end as it will burn if left in pan too long.

Meanwhile mix some mascapone cheese with a little bit of sugar, blueberries, and fresh lemon zest. The amount of mascapone depends on how much you like – I like just a hint of it so a thin layer is enough for me. Also, the sugar is optional as I like my mascapone sweet.

Once the toasts are done cooking, remove to a paper towel to remove any excess oil and spread the mascapone blueberry mixture to one side. Top with the other slice (be sure to put it sugar side up) and add more berries such as blueberries and raspberries.

French Toast with Mascapone and Fresh Berries
Yields 2 stuffed slices

Ingredients

4 thick slices French or Challah bread
4 eggs
1/2 cup skim milk
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp sugar
vegetable oil
2 tbsp mascapone cheese
lemon zest from 1/2 lemon
2 cups fresh blueberries
1 cup fresh raspberries

Directions:

  1. Beat eggs, milk, and cinnamon until well combined. Dip bread in egg mixture ensuring both sides are well coated.
  2. Coat large pan with vegetable oil and warm over medium heat  and add egg-dipped slices. Cook until golden on the bottom.
  3. Sprinkle more cinnamon if desired on un-cooked side before flipping and cook until golden.
  4. Sprinkle 1 tsp sugar over slices, flip, and cook for just a minute until carmelized. Remove to paper towel to drain.
  5. Mix mascapone cheese, 1 tsp sugar, 1 cup blueberries and spread mixture on two slices. Top with other slice ensuring sugar coated side is on outside.
  6. Top with fresh berries and serve.

A Christmas Feast

December 26, 2010 § 4 Comments

This was my third Christmas with my husband and our second year ever hosting a holiday meal. We hosted Christmas Eve dinner the first year we were married in 2008. Last year, Christmas just wasn’t the same as my mom was in Kansas City taking care of her very ill father who since passed away. Thus, hosting Christmas Eve this year with my mom back home and my grandma now living here was very special to me. To make it even more special, my husband and I have been in our very first house just two months so this was our first Christmas here.

My mom always prepares a traditional Christmas dinner of turkey, sweet potatoes, etc. so I really wanted to find unique recipes to try.  I knew I wanted to incorporate this Sweet Potato Ravioli my friend’s mom had made years ago that I still remembered. The protein is usually difficult for me at times like this – since I don’t like much other than chicken there aren’t that many options. I perused the usual Epicurious and Food Network for inspiration as well as flipping through probably 10 cookbooks. In the end I decided to try a Cornish hen recipe with cranberry and thyme sauce that looked different and festive. I love cornish hens and my mom has made them for me since I was younger so I was excited to try this recipe. It probably wasn’t the brightest idea to do my shopping the day of Christmas Eve, but that’s what I ended up doing. Luckily, I didn’t have any problems with finding everything for my menu with the exception of the cornish hens. Alas, there were none and as tempting as it was to go on a city-wide search, I opted for a traditional fryer chicken and asked the butcher to cut in half as the recipe called for the cornish hen. In the end, I landed on the following festive menu:

We started our evening with the Sweet Potato Ravioli with Brown Butter and they were a huge success! Using the wonton wrappers the recipe calls for is so simple and much easier than making your own pasta sheets on such a time crunched day. The filling was very basic, just mashed sweet potato with a little salt, pepper, and nutmeg – but coupled with the delicate wonton wrapping and rich brown butter sauce it was divine. I actually ran out of balsamic vinegar so I was only able to add a splash but I didn’t miss anything. I definitely want to try these again and see what they taste like topped with just a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper for a lighter version. For a holiday though – this was decadent and everyone enjoyed them. I did have some leftover and thought perhaps I could freeze them to make at later date – this didn’t work for me though. I’m not too big on freezing things but when I make empanadas, I freeze them in a single layer on plates and then put them in a plastic bag once they are frozen so they don’t freeze to each other. I thought I could do this with these ravioli but the delicate wontons froze to the plate and when I tried to pull off they all broke apart. Next time I’ll just make less as two ravioli per person were plenty as a nice appetizer.

The other favorite of the night were the brussel sprouts and green beans. Green beans are one of my favorite foods but I actually hate brussel sprouts. I bought them at the market though because everyone else in my family loves them. I started looking for recipes and saw many with bacon that I thought would work nice. I cooked the bacon until crisp and removed with a slotted spoon. To the bacon grease I sauteed several chopped shallots, one chopped onion, and a few minced garlic cloves. After a few minutes I added the brussel sprouts (cut in half to cook quicker) and green beans (I had blanched these earlier to speed up the cooking process), some chicken stock, and let that simmer for about 20 minutes. In the haste of cooking everything I forgot to add salt and pepper but these veggies were so good they didn’t even need it! As I said, I don’t eat brussel sprouts but I tried these and they were fantastic. I really enjoyed them and look forward to making them like this again.

As for the rest of the meal – the chicken turned out pretty nicely. It obviously needed to cook substantially longer than the hens would have needed but it still worked out fine. I didn’t follow the sauce to the “T” but used the recipe as a guideline. I only added a very small bit of flour and the sauce actually thickened very nicely. As it turned out, I guess I don’t care of acorn squash. I’d bought them because they looked so interesting at the market, but turned out I don’t care for their texture. (Surprised me as I’m a butternut squash fan). Everyone else enjoyed it though.

Now for the best part – or so I’d hoped – dessert! I love a rich chocolate cake so this recipe sounded amazing – Orange Scented Bittersweet Chocolate Cake. I’d made the cake the evening before and with each ingredient I added, my confidence rose. However, as I made the batter it continued to grow and I couldn’t imagine how it would all fit in the cake pan. It fit “perfectly” though – almost to the top which I now realize I should have just poured half the mixture. The batter was absolutely delicious – I couldn’t stop licking the bowl! I had high hopes for my chocolate cake. At the end of its cooking time though the center was still completely wet and it needed to have “moist crumbs” so I continued cooking it. Another 15 minutes in the oven and it still had not cooked all the way in the center but I hated to risk overcooking it. In the end, it was a dense chocolate cake and a bit overdone. Although everyone assured me it was quite tasty, I was disappointed with the texture. Oh well, I’ll try another chocolate cake recipe sometime – or I’ll just make the batter again and lick the bowl because it was so good 🙂

After my cake looked like it might not be a success I decided to make the pumpkin flan – I’d made it a few times before and it was a hit so I figured it would be a good backup. This recipe is really easy and quick to make.

In the end, it was a beautiful Christmas Eve dinner – a happy first in our new home with hopefully many more wonderful Christmas Dinners (and cooking experiments) to come!

 

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