A SWEET RELISH FOR THE HOLIDAY TABLE!

Cranberry & Winter Fruit RelishCRANBERRY AND WINTER FRUIT RELISH

 So stunningly festive with its dazzling colors and so perfectly seasonal, this easy-as-pie side dish is one that complements any meal the way any relish does. It looks gorgeous on the buffet table and always makes a splash when it arrives at a potluck.

The best part is –you don’t have to cook it! Just chop, mix, and serve. The dish was created for two reasons: first, it’s that simple prep that’s so appreciated during the frenzied holiday season when busy households are scurrying to squeeze in work, shopping, cooking, and holiday party schedules. The second is that it stokes a sweet memory.

While the medley of fruits seems like enough to bring sweetness to the palate, they are not sweet enough to overcome the sour statement of fresh cranberries, leaving the dish begging for extra sweetening.

I’ve used sugar to compensate for the mouth-puckering tart cranberries, but during this Vegan Holidays highresseason I’ll also be experimenting with maple syrup, date syrup, and a homemade date puree in place of the sugar. Another thought that seems very appealing is a puree of Hachiya persimmons to replace the sugar. This is one of the delicious recipes in my Vegan for the Holidays cookbook.

Toward the end of the holiday season, while cranberries are still available, I buy several bags and freeze them so I can make cranberry dishes throughout the winter season. They keep quite well in the freezer for up to 1 year.

When the holidays are over and cranberries and persimmons have disappeared from the produce bins, I turn to apples, pears, and tangerines in their place. They work perfectly and provide us with a pleasant variation.

This dish brings on a delicious little touch of nostalgia for me. I remember coming to my grandmother’s house for the Jewish holidays. When it was time to eat, she always brought a fruit-sweetened relish of some sort to the table along with the main course. Hers was much simpler, with fewer ingredients, and it was not necessarily as colorful. But etched in my mind is the sweet memory of that little touch of fruity delight that was so welcome and so appealing.

I hope this dish brings sweet delights to your table as it does mine.

CRANBERRY AND WINTER FRUIT RELISH

 Yield: 5 to 6 servings

2 Fuyu persimmons, dicedCranberry & Winter Fruit Relish

1 Bosc pear, diced

3/4 cup fresh cranberries

8 pitted dates, diced

5 tablespoons organic sugar

1/2 to 1 jalapeno chile, seeded and minced

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cider vinegar

1 clove garlic, minced

2 to 3 sprigs fresh mint, for garnish

  1. Combine the persimmons, pear, cranberries, dates, sugar, jalapeno, vinegar, and garlic in a medium bowl and toss well to distribute the flavors and colors.
  1. Transfer the relish to a serving bowl and garnish with the mint if desired. Cover and refrigerate if prepared in advance.
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STUFFED PORTOBELLO MUSHROOMS–ALWAYS A HOLIDAY FAVORITE!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADianne Wenz VeggiegirlDianne Wenz is a Holistic Health Counselor, Vegan Lifestyle Coach and Plant-Based Nutrition Specialist. Dianne coaches people from across the country to help them improve their health and well-being, and she helps people make the dietary and lifestyle changes needed to go vegan. Dianne lives in New Jersey, where she runs the busy MeetUp group Montclair Vegans. Through the group she hosts monthly potlucks, runs charity bake sales and organizes guest speaker events. An avid cook and baker, Dianne also teaches cooking classes to local clients. She is also the editor-in-chief for ChicVegan.com, a website where compassionate fashionistas and vegan vixens meet up to discuss how they can make the world a better place for people and animals alike. Her articles and recipes have appeared on DevilGourmet.com, HotFromTheKettle.com and VegKitchen.com, and in Chickpea Magazine and T.O.F.U. Magazine.

To learn more, visit Dianne’s website http://www.veggiegirl.com, connect with her on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/VeggiegirlHHC, or follow her on Twitter

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASTUFFED PORTOBELLO MUSHROOMS

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 4 large portobello mushrooms, stems removed
  • 4 teaspoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 medium-sized shallots, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked cannellini beans
  • 1/4 cup vegetable or mushroom broth
  • 2 tablespoons flat-leaved parsley, chopped
  • 2 tightly packed cups spinach, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, divided

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 375°
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the mushroom caps on it, upside down.
  3. Whisk together 3 teaspoons olive oil with the balsamic vinegar, ¼ teaspoon sea salt OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand ¼ teaspoon black pepper.
  4. Brush in the mushrooms with the mixture and bake for 10 – 15 minutes, until tender.
  5. In a large skillet over medium high heat, cook the shallots in the remaining olive oil for 5 – 10 minutes, until slightly brown and fragrant. Add the garlic and rosemary and cook for another minute or two. Stir in the spinach and broth. Remove from heat as soon as the spinach begins to wilt.
  6. In a large bowl, mix together the shallot-spinach mixture, beans, parsley, breadcrumbs, nutritional yeast and the remaining sea salt and pepper.
  7. Stuff the mushrooms with the mixture. Sprinkle the tops with a little extra breadcrumbs and nooch if you’d like a little extra crunch. Bake for another 10 to 15 minutes, until heated throughout.
  8. Serve hot. Enjoy!

HOMEMADE WITH LOVE!

WINTER FRUIT BUTTER & SPICED PLUM BUTTERS

Nothing is quite as special as a homemade gift that’s irresistibly delicious, versatile, Plum Butt gifthealthful, and, best of all, made with that extra pinch of love! Here are two easy-as-pie fruit butter recipes that come together quickly and don’t require the fuss and extra time that canning involves. Refrigerated, the fruit butters keep for up to three months without losing their great flavors.

 

Plum Butt Gift 2In winter, dried fruits lend such versatility. Imagine turning a clump of dried fruits into naturally sweet fruit butters you can spoon into little decorated jars and give as thoughtful gifts during the holidays. And how wonderful it is to be the lucky recipient of such a special gift.

Those who celebrate Kwanzaa place Kwanzaa Plum Buttstrong emphasis on giving homemade gifts. Wrapped in Kwanzaa colors–red, green, and black, either of these recipes make an ideal gift during the week of the Kwanzaa celebration from December 26 to January 1. Wrap the jars in blue fabric and ribbon for Hanukkah gifting.

Fruit butters also make delicious spreads on morning toast, pita crisps, or crackers. But Winter Fruit Butterthat’s not all–use the spreads in place of jelly to make the best P B & J you ever ate!

Here’s another easy and quick idea that can perk up a humdrum breakfast:

Put a few dollops of fruit butter on top of your morning oatmeal or hot cereal, sprinkle some nuts on top, and enjoy that little touch of something different for breakfast.

When I make oatmeal for breakfast, I usually make a fruit salad with whatever fruits are in season to put on top. Then I sprinkle raisins and nuts over the fruit. One day I decided to present something a little different and brought a bowl of fruit butter to the table. That small idea became a great idea, and received an instant thumbs up.

W Frut Butt w:toastThis is the recipe that began my fruit butter adventures:

WINTER FRUIT BUTTER

 Yield: about 2 1/2 cups

2 cups dried apple slices

18 pitted dates

12 pitted prunes

1 1/2 cups water, divided

  1. Combine the apples, dates, and prunes and 1 cup of the water in a 2-quart saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, and steam for 10 minutes.
  2. Transfer fruits to a food processor and add the remaining 1/2 cup water. Process until smooth and creamy. Transfer to a bowl and use immediately or chill and use later.
  3. When ready for gifting, spoon the fruit butter into two 8- to 10-ounce jars, cover, and tie them with bright holiday ribbons.

Notes:

If you want sweeter fruit butter, add 2 or more dates to the processor.

If you prefer a softer fruit butter, add 1 or more tablespoons of water until the mixture reaches the desired consistency. The fruit butter will thicken as it chills.

************************************

As I experimented with enhancements to the basic fruit butter recipe, I became aware that it really didn’t take more that just a few spices to heighten the flavor.

Spiced Plum ButterThis thick, fruity butter with a subtle hint of exotic spices takes off where apple butter is left behind. With more depth of flavor and more robust volume than apple butter, this treat makes a thoughtful holiday gift prepared with loving hands and given from the heart. Spoon the fruit butter into attractive jars, tie them with bright ribbons, and they’re ready to make someone special very happy.

SPICED PLUM BUTTER

Yield: about 2 1/2 cups

20 pitted prunes (about 7 1/2 ounces)

20 pitted dates (about 6 ounces)

15 dried apricots or Turkish apricots (about 3 1/2 ounces)

1 1/4 cups water

2 sticks cinnamon

2 star anise or 3 whole black peppercorns

2 whole allspice berries

2 whole cloves

  1. Combine the prunes, dates, apricots, water, and cinnamon sticks in a 2-quart saucepan. Wrap the star anise, allspice berries, and cloves in a small piece of cheesecloth, tie it securely with string, and bury it in the bottom of the saucepan.
  2. Cover the pan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and steam for 10 minutes.
  3. Remove the spices and cinnamon sticks and transfer the fruits and any remaining liquid to the food processor. Process until smooth and creamy. Spoon the fruit butter into two 8- to 10-ounce jars and set aside to cool at room temperature. Cover the jars, label them, and chill. Refrigerated the plum butter will keep for up to 3 months.
  4. When the plum butter is ready for gifting, create a colorful wrapping with cloth or paper and tie with bright ribbons.

Notes:

If you plan on making a double batch, you don’t need to double the spices. They will hold up well and still deliver great flavor.

If you have a spice bag, use it in place of the cheesecloth. Alternatively, put the spices into a tea ball and place it at the bottom of the saucepan.

 

 

LET’S SET THE HOLIDAY TABLE!

Thank 2012Whether you’re celebrating Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or welcoming in the New Year, the holiday gatherings center on joining with others at the table and enjoying a meal of festive foods. Some love bringing bountiful platters and bowls of food to the table and passing them from guest to guest, while others prefer the more relaxed buffet style of serving.

Here, there are no rules, no correct or incorrect way to set the table. It’s all a matter of family preferences and putting creativity and enjoyment at the forefront.

Table Linens

With either serving style, everyone ends up at the table for the feast. Let’s set the table to look special for your guests. You might rarely or never use a tablecloth for most meals during the year, but for the holiday table, making it look special is a must.

Th. LinensXmas linensBegin by covering the table with a tablecloth to match the holiday–whether you choose paper or a cloth table cover is a matter of choice. The tablecloth and napkins don’t have to be cloth, but cloth does add a pleasing charm and elegance to the holiday ambiance.

Thanks 2008_edited-1You may prefer placemats and have collected enough of them for each place setting at the table. You may even choose to mix and match two or three different placemat sets if the colors coordinate with your dishes.

Hanukkah placemat settingIf you choose paper napkins, invest in a package of elegant, thicker napkins available at most grocery stores or party shops. During the holiday season, you’ll find paper napkins with appealing autumn colors and holiday designs that add inviting warmth to the table.

Candles

Haul out the candlesticks and choose the candle color that fits the occasion. Even more dramatic is to use two or more sets of candlesticks. They can be matching or completely different in style, color, materials, and heights. Because some candles drip wax as they burn down, you may want to use a bobeche with each candle to protect the tablecloth. A bobeche (pronounced bo BESH, with accent on the second syllable) is a glass or metal collar that rests on the top of the candlestick to catch the melting wax.

bobechebobeche & candlesticksYou may prefer the plump candles that sit on their own special flat dish in place of candlesticks. Have fun choosing just the right ones for your table from a very easy-to-find selection available throughout the season.

Decorate with Pumpkins and Santas

A table festooned with splashes of color quickly invigorates the holiday spirit. Choose a centerpiece that has the flavor of the season or special significance to the holiday. The centerpiece does not have to be a formal, expensive floral bouquet, though it does lend an appealing elegant touch. Potted chrysanthemums in autumn shades of rust, gold, and burgundy make a gorgeous floral display for the Thanksgiving table, but so do pumpkins, squashes, and autumn leaves.

Thanks 2012 Even the colorful fruits and vegetables of the season look great on the table. Perhaps a basket of colorful squashes, or a combination of pomegranates and persimmons would create the right effect. Accompany the basket with a few fresh leaves from your garden, or purchase some artificial leaves in autumn colors.

Because I often put two tables together side-by-side for a large crowd at Thanksgiving, the center of the table becomes quite spacious, providing the ideal spot for a bed of fresh or artificial leaves. Then, heaped over the leaves I arrange squashes, pumpkins, gourds, and pomegranates, with colors ranging from orange, golden yellow, and green to bright red. None of the edibles go to waste, because I cook them one by one throughout the winter season.

Christmas tableAt Christmas, there are many options for dressing the table in holiday splendor. If a luxurious arrangement from the florist is affordable, it truly sets the holiday table apart. Perhaps flowerpots of perky red and white carnations appeal.

I know of families who collect Santa dolls and loves to use a cluster of the smaller ones asChristm centerpiece table centerpieces. Another friend fills a shallow basket of Christmas handmade tree ornaments with sprigs of pine and pine cones as the focal point on the table.

My neighbor’s creative use of her novel collection of candlesticks and various sizes of candles may be just the perfect thing for your centerpiece. She places the candles artfully in a colorful grouping of varied sizes, heights, and thicknesses that bring grace and elegance to the table.

People cherish family heirlooms and often save them for special occasions like the holiday table that serves as the ideal place for those conversation pieces. Families revere these annual traditions that serve to bond memories

Whatever you choose, keep the centerpiece a comfortable height that won’t block the view of guests sitting across the table.

The Table Setting

Arranging the dishes and silverware on the table needn’t feel uncomfortable or overwhelming. Here are a few basics. You can choose how relaxed or formal the settings ought to be for your celebration:

Xmas placemat settingCenter the dinner plate in front of each chair about one inch inward from the edge of the table. If you’re serving salad, place the salad plate on top of the dinner plate.

Th place settingIf using a bowl instead of a salad plate, put it on top of the dinner plate.

A more formal approach is to put a salad plate underneath the salad bowl and put them on top of the dinner plate.

If there is an appetizer course served at the table, a smaller plate may be placed on top of the salad plate or served individually after everyone is seated.

Place the dinner fork to the left of the plate and the salad fork to the left of the dinner fork. If there is an additional fork for an appetizer, place that to the left of the salad fork.

The knife is placed to the right of the dinner plate with the cutting edge facing the dinner plate. The soup spoon, if needed, is placed to the right of the knife.

The dessert fork or spoon, or both, is often placed horizontally above the dinner plate.

The water glass is positioned just beyond the tip of the knife, while the wine glass goes to the right of the water glass. The bread and butter plate, if used, goes just beyond the top of the forks with the butter knife laid horizontally across the bread and butter plate, if using.

When the salad is served European style after the entrée, the salad fork can be placed directly above the dinner plate lying horizontally or placed directly left of the dinner plate. If there is room at the table, the salad plate is placed to the left of the forks. A less formal plan is to bring the salad plate and forks to the table at the end of the meal.

Napkin Folding

Napkin folding and placement can be wildly imaginative or strictly formal. The traditional approach is to fold the napkins in half, then fold them in half in the other direction, forming a square. Fold the napkin squares in half and place them horizontally on top of the dinner plate. Less formal settings place the folded napkin to the left of the forks with the folded edge facing outward to your left.

Thanks 2006_edited-1However, it’s far more fun to explore different napkin folding techniques and place them on the plate in some unique way or tuck them into the water glasses for a more dramatic color effect.

Thanks 2008_edited-1Be sure to bring a pitcher or two of water to the table and include salt and pepper shakers for those who never seem to get enough of the stuff.

Serving Buffet Style

If you plan to serve buffet style, place the dinner plates on the buffet table. The forks, knives, spoons, and napkins can remain in place settings on the dinner table or placed on the buffet table.

Thank 2012Don’t overlook an attractive centerpiece for the buffet table. The placement of your buffet table may play a role in determining the height and style of the table décor. When the buffet table is against a wall, the wall itself can become part of the design and provide the perfect background for a tall centerpiece.

If the guests will be filling their plates by walking all around the table, consider something as simple as a tall vase with autumn leaves, or a tall Santa surrounded by a few Christmas ornaments.Thank 2006

One year for Thanksgiving, I packed a large, clear glass vase with tangerines and cranberries and filled it with water. Then I surrounded it with small pumpkins and autumn leaves.

For the Hanukkah table, consider a pair of candlesticks with blue candles, a sprinkling of mini dreidles, and Hanukkah gelt (chocolates wrapped in gold coins) surrounding the candles.

Hanukkah table setHoliday knickknacks and decorations also add color and festive flair and can be fun to coordinate with the holiday. The holidays are often those rare times when you can often call on other members of the family to pitch in and offer ideas. Kids love to express their creative side and might even come up with something surprising and delightful in table decor.

Here’s the very informal buffet that concluded one of the holiday cooking classes my husband and I taught this year (2014) at the Glendale Community College Community Services. The class was held in the home economics classroom in a local middle school. To make that plain white service table come alive, I brought along a few holiday props to make it feel more festive.

Holiday Table_edited-1Most of all, have fun with the holiday preparations. Take joy in making the festive table an inviting place for family and friends to eat a delicious meal and make lasting memories together.

Desserts 2006