BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Stick With It!

Less than a week’s time separates today from the Great National Food Coma, otherwise known as Thanksgiving. More hotly anticipated than any splashy movie premier, most plans for this year’s grand event have long since been laid, solidified, and are now gradually shifting into gear. Menus are set, tasks have been doled out to eager participants, and non-perishables have been procured; no detail, neither big nor small, shall be left unattended.  Only the actual cooking remains for the particularly well organized and industrious few. Knowing just how much work goes into such a grand production, I wouldn’t dream of waltzing in here and suggesting that you turn your carefully crafted game plan completely upside-down with crazy new dishes, not yet passed the test of time. You’ve already got the raw components for the typical fixings, right? I’m merely imploring you to consider them from a new perspective.

All the classic accoutrements threaded neatly onto portion-controlled, hand-held, and highly dippable little packages, Thanksgiving kebabs are the answer to menu malaise. Stick with tradition, keep the Brussels sprouts and “turkey,” but present them in a whole new light. Consider this concept with an open mind for the greatest degree of success, since all the ingredients can be effortlessly swapped with your own holiday favorites, or tweaked to achieve ideal proportions and flavors. Consider adding cubes of sourdough or sturdy cornbread to evoke stuffing; pumpkin or sweet potato could be excellent understudies for butternut; trimmed green beans can comfortably slip into any empty spaces; these kebabs are limited only by a lack of imagination.

Small skewers could be fun teasers for guest to enjoy while awaiting the full spread, but more generous cuts fit perfect on the dinner plate for the main event, too. Send out a heaping platter of kebabs nestled cozily atop a bed of creamy mashed potatoes, gravy for dipping on the side, and you could be on the cusp of a whole new annual tradition, with all the familiar flavors comfortably intact.

Thanksgiving Kebabs

Amounts will vary depending on how many people you plan to serve and which vegetables/add-ins you choose, but the concept remains the same. What follows is largely a reflection of what is pictured above, but the formula is entirely open to interpretation.

Seitan, Tempeh, or Vegan “Turkey,” Cubed
Peeled, Gutted, and Cubed Butternut Squash
Small Brussels Sprouts, Cleaned and Trimmed
Large Fresh Cranberries*

Marinade:

2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
2 Tablespoons Grade B Maple Syrup
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Tamari
2 Teaspoons Dijon Mustard
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Thyme
1/2 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
1/4 – 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
Pinch Rubbed Sage

To Serve:

Mashed Potatoes (Optional)
Gravy, for Dipping (NOT Optional!)

*When selecting cranberries, be sure to use particularly large berries and skewer them precisely in the center, as they have a tendency to wither and/or split while baking.

Before you start prepping vegetables or turning on the heat, submerge your wooden skewers for at least 20 minutes to prevent them from burning (or worse, catching fire) while in the oven. If using metal skewers, go ahead and skip this precaution.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and lightly grease a shallow baking dish that can accommodate the full length of your skewers.

Thread individual vegetables and “meat” on the skewers in any pattern or proportion you like. There’s no right or wrong answers here, just do what’s easiest, looks good, and tastes good. Just make sure that all your components are roughly the same size so that they cook evenly. Place the finished skewers in a single layer in your prepared baking dish. If you’re making enough for a big party, you may need to consider a second vessel.

Whisk together the ingredients for the marinade and brush it generously over the skewered “meat” and veggies. If you have any leftover, reserve it to baste the skewers once more halfway through the cook time. Bake for 20 – 30 minutes, depending on the size of your vegetables, flipping after 10 and basting if desired. The vegetables should be nicely browned and tender when done.

Serve immediately over hot mashed potatoes with a small bowl of gravy for dipping on the side.

Printable Recipe


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In the Eleventh Hour

Long before the word “vegetarian” had even entered my vocabulary or tofu occupied a place on my plate, Thanksgiving turkey nonetheless failed to excite any hunger in my young belly. I had yet to cultivate a true appreciation of any greener fare, and yet the side dishes were what always held the key to holiday dinner bliss. Anything starchy, buttery, and sweet was piled on with aplomb, moderation be damned. No matter how they were prepared, potatoes especially were key to a successful meal, often turning up in multiple forms to satisfy all family members. Mashed, roasted, scalloped, or fried, they all had equal billing on the menu, devoured far more enthusiastically than the obligatory bird.

Ironically, this habit has made the main dish beside the point, the backup singer rather than the star of the show. I’d gladly make space for another side dish or two than an extra serving of seitan roulade, no matter how delicious or painstakingly stuffed.

That’s why I have no compunctions about suggesting yet another starchy side, even in this eleventh hour of Thanksgiving prep. Inspired by my grandpa’s classic potato puffs, my rendition lightens the potato load with golden butternut puree. Pumpkin could effortlessly slip into that same role as well, if canned butternut is hard to come by. Crisp on the outside and creamy on the inside, these tiny mountains of mashed potatoes finally introduce the textural interest that plain old smashed spuds lack. Mercifully, their compact design allows for advance prep as well; bake them through as instructed, chill until dinner time, and them pop them back into a 400 degree oven for 5 – 10 minutes, just to heat them through.

Butternut Potato Puffs

1 Pound Yukon Gold Potatoes, Peeled and Diced
1 15-Ounce Can Butternut Squash Puree
3 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine or Coconut Oil, Melted
1 Teaspoon Seasoned Salt
1 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
1 Teaspoon Onion Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Poultry Seasoning
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
2 Tablespoons Cornstarch
1 Tablespoon Whole Flax Seeds, Ground

Place your peeled and cut potatoes in a medium-sized pot of cool water. Set over moderate heat and bring up to a boil, reducing the heat to a lively simmer and cooking them until fork-tender. Drain thoroughly.

Mash the potatoes as smoothly as possible before adding in all of the remaining ingredients, mashing and stirring to combine and beating out any lumps. Transfer the mashed mixture to a piping bag fitted with a large star tip and pipe the potatoes into small rosettes on two baking sheets lined with parchment paper or silpats. Aim for them to measure approximately 1 1/2 – 2 inches across the bottom, but there’s no need to break out a ruler here.

Place the whole sheets in the freezer for about an hour, until solid. Once they’ve had ample time to chill out, preheat your oven to 450 degrees.

Bake for 15 – 18 minutes, until golden brown all over. Serve right away while still hot.

Makes 1 1/2 – 2 Dozen Puffs

Printable Recipe


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Talking Turkey

One week and one day are all that separates us from the big Thanksgiving feast, even though I feel a sense of déjà vu as soon as the traditional sides and sauces start pouring out of the kitchen. Cooking a separate feast for editorial photography assignments as far back as September or October, I’ve typically had my fill (and then some) of all the trimmings by the time November finally rolls around. Though cooking the yearly Thanksgiving meal a month or two ahead of the scheduled date takes some getting used to, it works out in my favor; The official family celebration can become rather hectic even without me jockeying for space in the overcrowded kitchen, so it’s nice not to feel pressured to make “go all out” and cook up something grand.

The center piece is always the biggest concern, whether trying to make a turkey replica or go a new route, but come the last Thursday in November, you can generally find me sitting down to a family feast with ye olde traditional veggie burger on my plate. I don’t feel like I’m missing anything on that specific date, having already gorged on gravy and potatoes well in advance. However, it is nice to put in a bit of additional effort and make something perhaps more seasonally appropriate. Still keeping it simple, stuffed veggies rather than a stuffed roast are the ideal main dish for a laid-back feast.

Delicata, my favorite little squash, is ideal for stuffing and roasting. Bearing thin, edible skin, there’s no need to peel; just hollow out, fill, and bake. Sizes of this gourd vary wildly, so for this particular recipe, opt for smaller, more manageable ones. To make it even easier, go ahead and cut them lengthwise like little edible boats. The seeds will be less of a hassle to reach and scrape out, and they tend to bake a bit faster, too. Serve up one of these beauties with some roasted onions, perhaps, and a generous pour of mushroom creme gravy, and you will certainly have something else to be thankful for this year.

“Ricotta”-Stuffed Delicata

1 – 2 Small Delicata Squash (Depending on the size of the squashes and how full you stuff them)

10 Ounces Super-Firm or Pressed Tofu*
1/4 Cup Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk
1/4 Cup Nutritional Yeast
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Rice Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Fresh Lemon Juice
2 Teaspoons Soy Sauce
1/2 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Onion Powder

1/2 Cup Diced Cremini or Button Mushrooms
1/2 Cup Frozen Spinach, Thawed and Thoroughly Drained
1/4 Cup Fresh Parsley (Leaves Only), Chopped

1/4 Cup Pine Nuts or Chopped Cashews, Divided

*You can start with 1 pound of extra firm tofu and press for about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Once the extra water has been drained off, it should be around the same weight (but it’s not critical if it’s slightly over or under.)

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and line a baking dish with aluminum foil for easy clean up. Set aside.

Slice your squash in half either lengthwise or width-wise, and use a thin metal spoon to scrape out the seeds and guts. Cut a small sliver off the bottoms of each half so that they can sit in the pan without falling or sliding. Arrange in your baking dish so that there’s plenty of space between them.

In your food processor, place the tofu, non-dairy milk, nutritional yeast, oil, vinegar, lemon juice, soy sauce, garlic and onion powder. Pulse to combine, until the mixture is mostly smooth and creamy, but still with a bit of texture. No need to go crazy here. Fold in the chopped mushrooms, spinach, parsley, and about 3 tablespoons of the pine nuts or cashews until well combined.

Spoon the “ricotta” mixture into your delicata as desired, and top with the remaining nuts. Lightly spritz or brush the exteriors of the squash all over with olive oil, and pop them into the oven. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the squash are fork-tender.

Makes 2 – 4 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Thankful for Leftovers

Hyper-abundance is the name of the game for this all-American holiday we have rounding the corner, just one week away now. If you don’t have guests stuffed to bursting and still mountains of uneaten food after the whole ordeal, you’ve simply failed as a Thanksgiving day host. Or so the unspoken wisdom goes, compelling well-meaning mothers and wives to believe that 3+ pounds of food per person is a safe bet for menu planning purposes. It’s simply part of tradition, and honestly, though I may sound appalled by the extreme measures, it’s the waste that bothers me, not the extra edibles themselves. Thanksgiving leftovers are quite possibly the best thing about the 4th Thursday in November, having aged to perfection like a fine wine.

Not to mention, fewer pesky relatives to detract from the food, and more freedom to use it in “unconventional” ways. For all the complaints of how boring and static the menu is, should the cook dare change it up and try to foist a festive Thanksgiving quiche onto unsuspecting guests, the backlash may be felt the entire holiday season, if not the whole proceeding year.

The day after, or perhaps the day after that if you’re the type with family that likes to stick around, once the dust has settled, it’s time to use or lose those valuable leftovers. Easier is better after slaving over the original meal in the first place, so an all-inclusive meal like quiche sounded too appealing for me to resist. The beauty of this is that absolutely anything can be tucked away into that “eggy” chickpea mixture, so no matter what you still have on hand, it can find a welcoming home here. …Just don’t try to hide any marshmallow-topped potato abomination within the depths of an honest savory quiche; it’s a gross misuse of vegan marshmallows from the start, and just plain wrong. Not that I have strong opinions about such things. (Does anyone still make those disturbing casseroles anymore? Please tell me they’ve gone the way of aspic and other unfavorable culinary atrocities.)

…As I was saying, don’t be afraid to mix it up and use any veg or protein you have leftover after the big feast. I suppose I may have been a bit over zealous in my attempts to use all of my extra <a href=”http://bittersweetblog.wordpress.com/2010/11/07/hungry-for-the-holidays/”>holiday savories</a>, ending up with more filling than could reasonably fit inside a humble pie shell, but not to worry; This dilemma is easily remedied by baking the excess filling in lightly greased little ramekins, as individual, crustless portions.

So while most of America is thinking about what to serve and how to get it on the table one week from today, I’m focused squarely on the aftermath, knowing that even better delights are still in store.

Thanksgiving Quiche

1 9-Inch Pie Crust

1 Cup Diced Vegan “Turkey,” Seitan, or Tempeh, Diced or Shredded
1/2 Cup Green Beans or Brussels Sprouts, Chopped into Bite-Sized Pieces
1 Cup Roasted Butternut Squash, Pumpkin, or Potatoes, Cubed
1/2 Cup Roughly Chopped Cremini or Button Mushrooms
1 Stalk Celery, Finely Diced
1/2 Small Leek, Cleaned, Greens Removed, and Thinly Sliced
3 – 5 Cloves Garlic, Minced

1 Cup Garbanzo Bean Flour
2 Tablespoon Potato Starch or Cornstarch
4 Teaspoons Nutritional Yeast
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Thyme
1/4 Teaspoon Dried Sage, Powdered
1/4 Teaspoon Paprika
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1 Cup Vegetable Stock or Water
3/4 Cup Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk
1/2 Cup Pumpkin Puree
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Soy Sauce
2 Teaspoons Dijon Mustard
1/4 Cup Raw Pepitas (Optional)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and have your pie crust at the ready.

First prepare your protein and veggies as indicated in the ingredient list, straight through to the garlic, and mix them all together in a large bowl. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the chickpea/garbanzo flour, potato starch, nooch, salt, herbs, spices, and baking powder. Pour in the vegetable stock or water, non-dairy milk, pumpkin puree, oil, soy sauce, and mustard, and whisk until smooth. It should be about the consistency of pancake batter. Pour this batter into your bowl of prepared veggies, and stir gently to combine but not smash any of the ingredients. Transfer the whole mixture into your waiting pie crust, and if there’s extra, pour it into lightly greased 4-ounce ramekins. Lightly tap the pan(s) on the counter a few times to release any air bubbles. Place quiche and ramekins if using on a baking sheet to make them easier to transport into and out of the oven. Sprinkle the top(s) with pepitas, if desired.

Bake the quiche for 45 – 55 minutes, until the filling appears set and it’s lightly golden brown on top. Keep a close eye on the little ramekins, and expect them to be done closer to 30 minutes or so in; be prepared to pull them so that they don’t over-bake. Let cool for at least 15 minutes before slicing. (The leftovers also taste great cold, in my opinion!)

Serve with cranberry sauce or gravy, if desired.

Serves 12 – 14

Printable Recipe

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