Saturday, November 24, 2012

Chocolate Cranberry Bread

This recipe is essentially a reworking of Isa's chocolate chunk mini-loaves over at the PPK. Since we're not really desserty people at my house, I rarely bake sweets qua sweets, but with the sugar reduced and the substitution of cranberries for the chocolate chunks and cherries of the prototype, this dense, not-too-sweet loaf provides the perfect way to eat the seed of the tropical Theobroma cacao tree for breakfast. (It's delicious fresh from the oven but it also makes ridiculously good toast spread with a little peanut butter, jam, and/or my current obsession, ginger preserve.)

Chocolate Cranberry Bread
~ 1 cup dried cranberries
~ 1 cup boiling water
~ 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
~ 2.5 cups whole wheat pastry flour
~ 1 tbsp. baking powder
~ 1 tsp. each: baking soda, salt, cinnamon
~ 1/4 tsp. mace or nutmeg
~ 1/2 cup applesauce
~ 1/4 cup smooth peanut butter
~ 1/3 cup almond milk
1/2 cup brown sugar
~ 1 teaspoon each: vanilla extract, almond extract
~ Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit and coat a loaf pan with cooking spray.
~ Place the cranberries in a bowl and pour the boiling water over them; allow to stand for 15-20 minutes, until the cranberries are plump and the water has turned a lovely shade of pink.
~ In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and mace or nutmeg. Drain the cranberries (reserve that pretty cranberry liquid!) and toss them in the flour mixture to coat.
~ In a separate bowl, combine the applesauce, peanut butter, almond milk, brown sugar, cocoa powder, and the vanilla and almond extracts. Bring the cranberry liquid back to a boil (I do this in the microwave) and pour it over the whole mess. Stir well to combine until you have a smooth, chocolatey mixture.
~ Make a well in the flour mixture and gradually the add the chocolatey stuff, stirring to incorporate but be careful not to overmix.
~ Pour the batter into your waiting loaf pan and bake in the center of the oven for 50 minutes (more or less), or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. 
~ Allow to cool in the pan for a few minutes before transferring to a rack for 10-15 minutes before cutting. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving (Make Love, Not Turkeys)

I once read that a disproportionate number of people become vegetarians around the winter holidays. I found this fact intriguing, since that was my own experience; I first stopped eating animals about a week before Thanksgiving. I was 16 years old, my oldest brother had recently died in an accident, and I was thinking seriously - perhaps for the first time - about Life, the Universe, and Everything.

I have a vivid memory of taking a very long walk on a very cold day, girding myself for what I knew would be the (mostly well meant) barrage of "You won't eat even a little?" and "But you love the wing/skin/drumstick!" from my large, extended family. I think I had bread, salad, spanakopita, mashed potatoes, and wine - my parents were cool like that - but I was happy with my decision, and in the years that followed my family made sure I always had plenty to eat. (Of course, I also ate dairy back then, so it really wasn't that big a deal; as long as butter and/or cheese were on the table, hunger was never an option.)

Anyway, this seasonal crop of new vegetarians is probably more than mere coincidence. Isn't it just possible that there's a connection between people deciding to eschew meat and the disturbing cognitive dissonance of this particular holiday? Consider all those construction paper handprint cut-outs, pictures of jolly birds in sober 17th century outfits (some with apparently cannibalistic intentions, which seems rather un-Puritan), and songs about Tom Turkey, etc. to which we were all exposed as small children. Doesn't that strike you as weird?

Think about it: no other holiday goes so far out of its way to anthropomorphize the "main course." Many people eat turkey for Christmas dinner, but there isn't anything close to the same level of rhetoric surrounding it. Similarly, roast beef is often featured at Christmas, but there aren't cartoons and arch, winking rhymes about cattle hiding from the farmer in a desperate bid to avoid the company of horseradish and Yorkshire pudding. And does The New York Times food column feature recipes for "Leg of Lamb of God" as Easter approaches? Certainly not: such a thing would be considered (dare I say it?) tasteless. And yet there's poor Tom, a-cold in the grocer's freezer until he's served forth on Thanksgiving, with the construction paper facsimile of his living self right there on the refrigerator where he was so recently defrosted.

Taking all this into account, Thanksgiving is the perfect "gateway holiday" to vegetarianism, because it's the one most overtly associated with food (at the expense of its deeply problematic colonial origins, but that's another post). Many holidays include special/traditional delicacies, but Thanksgiving positions the big meal as the centerpiece in a very specific way. In the absence of a virgin birth, a resurrection, a trashily overdressed conifer, one day's supply of oil lasting for eight (necessitating the commemorative consumption of potato pancakes), rabbits laying colored eggs (?!), and/or (in Lucy Van Pelt's eloquent description) "deck them halls...and Jingle Bells, and Santa Claus and ho-ho-ho, and mistletoe, and presents for pretty girls," Thanksgiving is ideally positioned to reimagine what (or indeed who) that big meal consists of.

Somehow, a day that was ostensibly set aside for thankfulness and thoughtful reflection - NB that prayer and fasting were part of this picture - became inextricably bound up with gluttony and the slaughter of millions of turkeys, to the degree that it's often called "turkey day." The US president's annual "pardon" of a turkey - which my Canadian partner thought was a joke until he saw this strange farce enacted on the news - only exacerbates the surreal sense of atavism that makes eating turkeys on this November Thursday a cultural imperative. Aside from one's suspicion that this single, fortunate turkey must be, well, "connected" in order for its various parts to stay connected, it's impossible to ignore that something is very wrong here.

And it's a something I've often remarked on in the past few years, to wit: that the "traditional" presence of a dead animal sometimes trumps the feelings of living humans who object to its miserable, factory-farmed excuse for a life, its unnecessary death, and the mindless, mass consumption (optimally at rock-bottom prices, adding economic insult to physical injury) for which it was bred. If I had that proverbial dollar for every vegetarian who has reported feeling less welcome than a headless, defrosted, roasted corpse at their "family" dinner, I would be a wealthier woman than I am today.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that there are better ways of expressing gratitude than the needless exploitation and slaughter of sentient creatures artificially produced for that grim purpose. (And for those inclined to argue that turkeys are "stupid," I would respectfully submit that if intelligence were the criterion for which side of the dinner plate one occupies, cannibalism would be much more common.) If the American mythos is associated with anything, it's discarding old, trite, oppressive ideas and social structures, and being brave enough to start afresh with the ingredients on hand.

The central, motivating belief of the original settlers - whom this holiday purportedly honors - was that outmoded pieties had ceased to serve the best interests of the faithful, and needed to be discarded and replaced. This idea can be as easily applied to patriotism/nationalism/cultural identity as to religion, which is why I can think of no more appropriate occasion to tell "turkey day" to get stuffed. I'd like to reclaim and reinvent this holiday in the name of thankfulness for what's good, precious, and meaningful, and none of that has anything to do with dead poultry.

Let freedom ring!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

It's the Great Stuffed Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!

Setting aside the violence inherent in the system of its preparation, stuffed pumpkin makes a lovely fall or winter meal; it's especially especially festive as part of a big holiday spread like the one that's coming up later this week. Of course, with all the vegetables, fruit, nuts, etc. in the stuffing, some gravy, and a scoop of cranberry sauce would turn it into a complete meal all by itself (although nice green salad wouldn't come amiss). For this recipe, I used one of the cute little pumpkins that escaped becoming a jack-o'-lantern this Halloween, but it would work equally well with acorn, butternut, or other winter squash. 

Great Stuffed Pumpkin
~ 1 sugar pumpkin (or winter squash), sliced in half with the seeds removed
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 large onion, diced
~ 1 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 stalk celery, diced
~ 1 large apple, chopped
~ 1/2 cup chopped dried cranberries (optional)
~ 1/2 lb. mushrooms, chopped
~ 1 tsp. each: sage, marjoram
~ 1/2 tsp. each: thyme, rosemary, dill
~ Good pinch mace or nutmeg
~ Fresh black pepper
~ 1-2 tbsp. maple syrup
~ Up to 1 cup vegetable stock
~ 2-3 cups chopped leafy greens
~ 1 cup chopped, toasted walnuts
~ 1 slice stale or toasted bread, crumbled fine
~ 1/3-1/2 cup nutritional yeast

~ Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil.
~ Sprinkle the cut side of the pumpkin halves with salt and pepper, and place them cut side down on the cookie sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour, until the flesh is tender when pierced with a fork. Remove from the oven and set aside.
~ While your squash is baking, saute the onion, garlic, celery, and parsnip over medium heat for 5-7 minutes, adding vegetable stock as needed to prevent sticking.
~ Add the mushrooms and dry seasonings, and cook another 10 minutes, until the mushrooms have released their liquid and are beginning to brown.
~ Stir in the maple syrup, greens, walnuts, cranberries (if using), bread crumbs, and the nutritional yeast. Mix until well combined and cook another 5 minutes or so, stirring often; if it seems too dry (remember it will firm up while baking), add a bit more stock. 
~ Spoon the stuffing into the pumpkin halves, top with a sprinkle of salt and pepper, andy and bake at 375 degrees oven for 25-30 minutes, or until nicely browned (ovens vary, so keep an eye on them).
~ Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly before cutting into slices and serving.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Apple, Pear, and Raisin Crisp

Let me just start by saying that this is about a bazillion times better than any fruit crisp I've ever made or eaten (and I've produced and consumed at least my fair share).  For one thing, the combination of apples, pears, and raisins is like the distillation of everything good about autumn, while the additions of cocoa powder and peanut butter elevate the whole business from the merely cozy to the ridiculously sublime. And if that wasn't enough, it has basically no sugar - in fact, with all those raisins you can leave it out entirely - making it as suitable for breakfast as dessert, especially if you take my approach and top it with vanilla soy yogurt. And it's ready in well under an hour, so what are you waiting for?

Apple, Pear, and Raisin Crisp
~ 6-8 apples
~ 4-5 pears (I like Bosc)
~ 3/4 cup raisins (dried cranberries would also be nice)
~ 1-2 tbsp. maple syrup (optional)
~ 2 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
~ 1 tbsp. flour
~ 1 cup rolled oats
~ 1/2 cup flour
~ 1/4 - 1/3 cup peanut butter
~ 1 tsp. cinnamon
~ 1/2 tsp. salt
~ Good pinch of mace or nutmeg

~ Preheat your oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit and coat a largeish baking dish with cooking spray.
~ In a small bowl, mix the cocoa powder and flour; add the raisins and toss to coat.
~ Cut the apples and pears (I never peel this sort of fruit, and neither should you) into approximately 1" pieces. Place them in a large bowl, add the maple syrup (if using) and the cocoa/flour/raisin mixture and combine thoroughly.
~ Place the peanut butter in a dish and microwave for about 30-40 seconds, until semi-liquified. Stir in the oats, flour, cinnamon, salt, and mace, and mix well.
~ Transfer the fruit to the prepared baking dish and distribute the oatmeal mixture evenly over the top.
~ Bake uncovered at 375 degrees fahrenheit 25-30 minutes, or until the fruit is soft and the topping is browned. Allow to rest briefly before serving with (or without) the topping of your choice: custard, ice cream, and yogurt are all good contenders!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Deluxe Hybrid Meta Autumnal Casserole Supreme

I have a deep and abiding love for casseroles, especially as the weather starts to turn cool. This one is basically a mash-up of several time-honored classics, incorporating elements from Moosewood's Brocccoli Mushroom Noodle Casserole, Martha Stewart's Macaroni and Cheese with Butternut Squash, and chicken(s) tetrazzini and divan (respectively), with a little seat-of-the-pants improvisation thrown in for good measure. I whipped this up on one of those chilly afternoons when you're home sick with a miserable cold and never quite make it out of your pajamas; when it emerged from the oven all warm, bubbly, and comforting, everything seemed a little bit better. And - as with all casseroles - it's even yummier reheated as leftovers!

Deluxe Hybrid Meta Autumnal Casserole Supreme
~ 1 lb. fusilli (or other pasta)
~ 1 large bunch broccoli cut into small florets with the stalks diced fine
~ 5 cups plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 5 tsps. vegan "chicken" boullion
~ 2 bay leaves
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 yellow onion, chopped
~ 1 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1/2 lb. mushrooms, chopped
~ 1/2 tsp. each:  salt, sage, marjoram, white pepper
~ 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (or 1/2-1 tsp. hot sauce)
~ Pinch of nutmeg or mace
~ 1/3 cup each: nutritional yeast, vegan Parmesan
~ 4 cups cooked, mashed winter squash and/or sweet potato
~ 1 8 oz. package vegan "chicken," cut into small pieces (TJ's or Gardein are good)
~ 1/2 cup panko crumbs
~ 2 tbsp. nutritional yeast
~ 1 tbsp. melted margarine
~ 1 tsp. paprika

~ Cook the pasta according to package directions, adding the broccoli to the pot in the last two minutes. Drain and set aside, reserving one cup of the cooking water.
~ Heat the soy milk and mix with the bouillon, and the bay leaves; cover and set aside.
~ Preheat the oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit and coat a large casserole with cooking spray.
~ In a large, deep pot, sauté the onion and garlic in the olive oil for about 3 minutes.
~ Add the mushrooms and seasonings and cook another 5-7 minutes, until the mushrooms have released their liquid.
~ Stir in the nutritional yeast and the parmesan, and begin adding the soymilk mixture (be sure to remove the bay leaves!) by cupfuls, stirring with each addition.
~ Add the squash and/or sweet potatoes and the "chicken," and mix thoroughly.
~ Add the cooked pasta and broccoli, make sure everything is well combined, and transfer to the prepared casserole.
~ In a small bowl, combine the panko, 2 tbsp. nooch, melted margarine, and paprika. Sprinkle over the top of the casserole and cover the whole business with aluminum foil.
~ Bake at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes, then remove the foil and bake another 15 minutes, until the casserole is browned and bubbling.
~ Remove from the oven and allow to rest for about 10 minutes before serving.