Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving Critique

I cooked all day yesterday. Wouldn't have it any other way. So here, as promised, is the full menu, along with recipes... and opinions. It was sort of an informal Thanksgiving for us, so that left room to experiment, with some success, and some not-so-much-success. 

We started with breakfast at our daughter's place. I made cinnamon rolls, chilaquiles, and red chile to take over with us, and we ate (very informally) in front of her big TV and the Macy's Parade. That's my idea of a perfect Thanksgiving morning. The cinnamon rolls were just what I'd hoped for - sweet and sticky and decadent, and something I would only make for special occasions. The recipe comes from Whipped, and it looked so good to me, I only changed two things. I added chopped walnuts to the filling, and then added orange zest and a little Grand Marnier to the glaze. I poured the glaze over the rolls when they were hot from the oven (I was in a hurry to get to the parade.) The result was that the glaze soaked into the rolls, which at first I thought was a mistake, but not so. The orange drenched rolls became more like sticky buns, and we all loved them. The chilaquiles with red chile remain a family favorite around here, and even though there's plenty of room for variations, we love them no matter what. I totally forgot to take pictures of breakfast. Sorry. There are pics on the links to the recipes though.

Dinner was a mixed bag. We had a lovely Shepherd's Pie, which I sort of invented as I went along, with good results. Rick even requested that we make shepherd's pie our official and forever Thanksgiving dinner. I loosely followed my own recipe, posted some time ago, but simplified it quite a bit.

Shepherd's Pie

Pre-cook a cup of lentils, or buy a can of cooked lentils.

Make some mashed potatoes, any way you like to make them, and set them aside to use as the top layer of the pie.

Sautee a chopped onion with 2 or 3 cloves of chopped garlic.

Add 2 or 3 chopped carrots and a pound or more of chunky-chopped mushrooms. Cook 2-3 minutes.

Add the lentils, some frozen peas, and some chopped kale or spinach, and stir in till the greens are just wilted.

Stir about 1/4 cup of rice flour into a cup or so of veggie broth, along with some tamari, salt and pepper, thyme, and sage.

Pour the flour mixture into the pan, and add more broth, stirring to make a generous amount of gravy. 

Add 1/4 cup nutritional yeast, and adjust seasonings to your liking.

If you're using a cast iron skillet, just layer the mashed potatoes on top of everything else, and bake it at 350º for about 45 minutes, or until the potatoes begin to brown. If you don't have cast iron, transfer the pie filling to a lightly oiled baking dish, top with potatoes, and bake.

This was excellent served with fresh cranberries, which I cooked up with some orange juice, orange zest, and just a little bit of sugar. It all just tasted like Thanksgiving.

I took the idea for our salad recipe from the book Vegan Holiday Kitchen, by Nava Atlas. Her Sweet-Potato-Poppy Seed Coleslaw sound interesting, so I took her suggestion to use purple cabbage and gated raw sweet potato as a start. I added some lightly steamed Brussels sprouts, golden raisins, and toasted pumpkin seeds, along with a slightly sweet, slightly vinegar-y cashew cream dressing. At first taste we all loved it, but I didn't think it held up well with subsequent bites. Raw sweet potato might be an acquired taste. I found it to be too starchy and weirdly textured, and I suspect it was, um, a little bit difficult to digest. I wish I'd gone with grated carrots instead, or even just a regular green salad. It was pretty though, wasn't it?

We had two desserts, which I made early in the day, just to be sure I had the energy to get them done. The Apple, Pear, and Cranberry Crumble, also from Vegan Holiday Kitchen, was delicious, and more than made up for the weird salad recipe. Find the original recipe on page 53 of the book, or try it my way here, with a few small changes.

Pear-Apple-Cranberry Crumble

1 cup fresh cranberries
3 or 4 pears
2 large apples
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup ground flax seeds
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 T melted vegan butter

Coarsely chop the cranberries.
Core and slice the pears and apples.
Mix the fruit with all other filling ingredients in a large bowl.

Mix the topping ingredients, except for the butter, together in a smaller bowl.
Stir in the melted butter until the topping is well mixed and crumbly.

Pour the filling into a 10x10 baking dish, and sprinkle the topping evenly over the top.
Bake at 350º for about 45 minutes, or until the top starts to brown and the filling is bubbly around the edges.

The second dessert was my attempt to offer something like pumpkin pie, but with less effort. I had seen the recipe for Pumpkin Pie Squares (yes, I know mine is round) online the day before, and it seemed like just the thing. Easy to make, healthy, and pumpkin-y, and with lots of glowing comments from folks who had tried it. What could go wrong, right?

It was easy to make, and looked really pretty. We loaded up our dessert plates, and settled in by the fire to stuff ourselves just a little bit more. I took a bite, and thought, huh... Maybe another bite was needed to appreciate this treat. After a second taste test I looked up at everyone else, and sort of ungraciously said, This pumpkin thing is awful! One by one they all timidly agreed, not wanting to hurt my feelings, but hey, it's not my recipe. The texture was weird and gritty, it was bland and not even a little bit sweet, and it tasted nothing at all like pumpkin pie. Maybe the recipe could be salvaged with a lot more sugar and spice, but I don't think I'll bother. The dogs like it, so it won't go to waste, and at least we had the good fruit crumble. I owe Rick a real pumpkin pie, for sure though. (I'm not posting a link to the Awful Recipe. That would be mean. But if you want it for some reason, email me and I'll send it to you.)

I hope you had a happy and tasty Thanksgiving, with lots of good leftovers to hold you through the weekend. Next week, look for new recipes here. Time to start thinking about Christmas dinner. But first, a little rest...

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