MAKE IT ITALIAN–MAMA MIA!!!!

TOMATO-PINE NUT PIE WITH SWEET POTATO AND NUT CRUST

Tomato Pine Nut Pie SummerSuch a beauty and such a company favorite! You don’t even have to wait for the holidays to enjoy this tasty dish, because all the ingredients are available year-round.

In summer, when the home-grown or farm-stand tomatoes are fire-engine red, melt-in-the-mouth sweet and ultra juicy, the pie has a bright, cheery appearance. So tempting, the summer pie looks like the one above.

The bright tomato color turns a bit pastel in winter, but the pie still pops with the rich OacakesItalian-inspired flavor of homemade “Parmesan” and always makes guests ooohh and aaaahhh a little. I think it’s because this pie is so unique and looks really appetizing and festive.

The first thing my guests notice is the unusual crust. And, yes, it is certainly different. Rather than a standard flour-based pie crust, this one features sweet potatoes and almonds and balances the savory flavors with a pleasant, delicate sweetness.

For a small gathering, one pie is just right and can actually go a little farther if there are several other dishes on the menu. When I was expecting about 15 people, I doubled the recipe and prepared it in a large rimmed baking sheet. Of course, I planned an additional entrée and several side dishes, too. Made in the baking sheet, the pie becomes more of a tart and makes a delicious appetizer, too.

Pine Nut Tomato TartTOMATO-PINE NUT PIE WITH SWEET POTATO AND NUT CRUST

Yield: 1 (9-inch) pie or 6 servings

Crust

12 ounces sweet potatoes or yams, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces

1 1/4 cups whole almondsOacakes

2/3 cup mashed tofu

1/4 teaspoon salt

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Light oil a 9-inch pie pan.
  2. To make the crust, put the sweet potatoes in a 2-quart saucepan with water to cover. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Decrease the heat to medium and simmer for 5 minutes, or until the sweet potatoes are fork-tender. Drain the sweet potatoes well, transfer them to a large bowl and mash them well. Set aside.
  3. Put the almonds in a food processor. Process until they are finely ground, yet still retain a little texture. Add the tofu and salt and process until well incorporated, stopping occasionally to scrape down the work bowl. Spoon the tofu mixture into the bowl with the sweet potatoes and mix well.
  4. Spoon the sweet potato mixture into the prepared pan. Use your fingers to press it onto the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Build up the sides of the crust 1/2 -inch higher than the pie pan. Bake the crust for 15 minutes and let cool.

FillingOacakes

2 green onions, sliced

1 to 2 large cloves garlic, minced

1/3 cup pine nuts

2 to 3 tablespoons Homemade Parmesan (recipe below) or prepared vegan Parmesan

2 to 3 tablespoons cornstarch

1 small eggplant, peeled and sliced into 1/8-inch slices

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

4 to 5 large red or green tomatoes, seeded and sliced

  1. To make the filling, put the green onions, garlic, pine nuts, and Homemade Parmesan in individual bowls. Sprinkle the cornstarch on a plate.
  2. Cover the bottom of the crust with one layer of eggplant slices. (This prevents the crust from getting soggy). Reserve remaining eggplant for another use. Sprinkle the eggplant slices with salt and pepper.
  3. Dredge only the first layer of the tomato slices in the cornstarch. Arrange the dredged tomato slices over the eggplant, filling all the spaces with small bits of tomato. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Sprinkle one third each of the green onions, garlic, pine nuts, and Homemade Parmesan over the tomatoes. Repeat the process to make three layers.
  4. Bake for 45 minutes. Let cool 10 to 15 minutes before serving.Vegan Holidays lowres

Note: If using green tomatoes, the pie might have to bake another 15 minutes.

This recipe is one of the tasty dishes from my Vegan for the Holidays cookbook. Order from Vegetarians in Paradise http://www.vegparadise.com or from Amazon.com

HOMEMADE PARMESAN

Often I’ve come to rely on a sprinkle of vegan Parmesan to add sparkle to a dish, soup, a casserole, or an appetizer. With only five ingredients, this recipe is almost instant to make and tastes enough like the real thing to put the Italian touch on everything from pizza to minestrone and a host of holiday or everyday dishes.

1 cup almonds

1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons nutritional yeast flakes

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

  1. Put the almonds in a food processor. Process until they are finely ground, yet still retain a bit of texture. (Avoid over-processing or it will turn into almond butter.)
  1. Add the nutritional yeast, onion powder, salt, and garlic powder and pulse until well mixed. Transfer to a covered container and refrigerate until ready to use. Covered and refrigerated, Homemade Parmesan will keep for 3 months.

I BROUGHT A GHOST TO THE HOLIDAY TABLE!

GHOST PUMPKIN RAGOUT

White pumpkin 2My idyllic vision was to make a dramatic presentation of a tasty, savory stew served inside a plump white pumpkin. I could even picture the dramatic moment I would lift the lid of the pumpkin, stand back, and let my dinner guests watch in amazement as the giant plume of steam rose up from the steaming stew.

After several experiments, I found it impossible to prevent the pumpkin from totally collapsing or half the stew from oozing out the bottom of the cooked pumpkin. Neither was a pretty site. I was glad I hadn’t experimented on guests.

It would have been a beautiful holiday dish and a magnificent presentation–would have–but—–

I tried the experiment about three times and just gave up in frustration! Yet, somehow I hoped to bring a rich, flavorful stew to the table that included scooping up some of that delicious, delicately sweet pumpkin flesh as I was spooning out the stew.

White Pumpkin RagoutMy instincts led me to cook and serve them separately and allow the two to meet up in the soup bowl. That worked like a charm! Here’s a little detail about ghost pumpkins:

Ghost pumpkins, also called albino, Snowball, Casper, Lumina, Baby Boo, Cotton Candy Pumpkin, stand apart from the familiar orange jack-o-lanterns in many ways. Their flesh is considerably thicker and shows off a gorgeous hue of brilliant golden orange. The texture is pleasantly firm and delightfully moist.

White pumpkin 1The white pumpkin’s best-kept secret is its pleasantly sweet flavor, though not as sweet as butternut or kabocha, the Japanese pumpkin. White pumpkins are still less common than the jack-o-lanterns but are becoming more available at chain groceries and farm stands.

A perfect marriage, the white pumpkin is the ideal mate to enhance this celebratory ragout that needs little else to bring pleasure and satiety to a holiday meal.

To give this flavorful ragout its moment in the sun, I served it in a wide, shallow soup bowl and heaped the serving into the center. Serve the stew with plenty of hearty whole-grain bread to mop up any bits of delicious sauce that remains in the bowl.

 GHOST PUMPKIN RAGOUT

 Yield: 12 to 14 hearty servings

1 medium or large ghost pumpkin or 2 large butternut squashes

5 cups waterWhite Pumpkin Ragout

2 cups dry red wine

2 (6-ounce) cans tomato paste

1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce

4 cloves garlic, crushed

2 sticks cinnamon

2 teaspoons dried thyme

2 bay leaves

3 medium carrots, angle sliced

2 to 3 medium leeks, white part only, cleaned and thickly sliced

2 medium yams, cut into bite-size pieceswhite-pumpkins

1 pound baby white rose potatoes, scrubbed

1 large sweet onion, coarsely chopped

1/2 small cauliflower, chopped

2 small beets, diced

1/2 pound green beans, trimmed, cut into 1 1/2-inch lengths

1/2 pound button or cremini mushrooms, thickly sliced

1 cup red lentilsWhite pumpkin 2

Juice of 1 lemon, or to taste

1/4 cup natural sesame seeds

1 pound frozen peas, thawed and held at room temperature

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Wash the pumpkin and dry it. Using a firm paring knife, cut a 5 or 6-inch diameter hole in the top and gently lift it out by the stem. Use a large spoon to remove the seeds and stringy matter from the pumpkin. Set the seeds aside to roast separately. Place the pumpkin on a large rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until soft when gently pressed, yet still firm.
  2. When the pumpkin is cool enough to handle, cut it into 2-inch chunks, peeling the skin as you go. Set the chunks aside.
  3. While the pumpkin is roasting, combine the water, red wine, tomato paste, soy sauce, garlic, cinnamon sticks, thyme, and bay leaves in a 12-quart stockpot.
  4. Add the carrots, leeks, yams, potatoes, onion, cauliflower, beets, green beans, mushrooms, and red lentils. Cover the stockpot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer gently for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are just softened.
  5. Before serving, add the lemon juice to taste and adjust seasonings, if needed.
  6. To serve, spoon some of the pumpkin pieces into wide soup bowls. Spoon the ragout over the pumpkin and sprinkle the top with sesame seeds. The finishing touch is a generous sprinkling of plump peas over the top.

Note:

Butternut squashes make the perfect stand-in if ghost pumpkin is unavailable. Bake them at 400 degrees F. til tender, about 50 to 60 minutes.

Don’t throw those pumpkin seeds away!

roasted-pumpkin-seedsRoasted Pumpkin Seeds

Clean the stringy flesh clinging to the seeds by rinsing them in a bowl of water. Put the seeds on a large rimmed baking sheet and sprinkle with 1 or 2 teaspoons of canola oil. Use your hands to mix the seeds and coat them with the oil. Sprinkle the tops lightly with salt and pepper and toss with a spatula. Put the pan in the oven and roast at 200 degrees for 8 to 10 hours. I let the seeds roast overnight.

CHOCOLATE? YES! BRING IT ON FOR BREAKFAST!!!!

Chocolate Chocolate Chip MuffinsCHOCOLATE CHOCOLATE CHIP MUFFINS

Chocolate for breakfast is my favorite! And it’s actually a better way for me to indulge than eating it at night. That naughty little chocolate has the power to keep me up at night. As tempting as it is to reach for the chocolate as an after-dinner treat, I resist. It takes a heck of a lot of will power, but I really prefer a good night’s sleep and to wake up feeling great.

Chocolate doesn’t affect everyone like that, but those of us who are sensitive to the caffeine-like substance  in chocolate called theobromine, actually get a high from eating it. 

These muffins offer some SERIOUS CHOCOLATE–inside and out. So I offer them at a time of day when more than half the world turns to coffee for that morning boost.

I’ve enhanced the muffins with chocolate chips and enriched them with plenty of pure cocoa powder, so these outrageous little babies offer heaven in every bite for those of us with a passion for chocolate.

Once you bite into these muffins, you might feel like you’re eating dessert, but consider the wheat bran and bananas a healthy dose of dietary fiber that justifies their presence at the morning meal. I like to include this recipe as part of the muffin party for its uniqueness. Served with seasonal fruit, either as a fruit salad, attractively sliced, or presented whole with knives and a cutting board, the muffin breakfast or brunch makes a festive gathering pure fun.

Chocolate Chocolate Chip MuffinsCHOCOLATE CHOCOLATE CHIP MUFFINS

Yield: 1 baker’s dozen–yep, that’s 13 unless you overfill the muffin pan like I did.

1 1/4 cups plain or vanilla soymilk

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar, rice vinegar, or distilled vinegar

1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flourChocolate Chocolate Chip Muffins

1 1/4 cups wheat bran

2/3 cup packed brown sugar

2/3 cup dairy-free chocolate chips

1/3 cup organic sugar

4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa or raw cacao powder

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup mashed bananas

2 tablespoons organic canola oil

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon caramel extract

Topping

1/3 cup dairy-free chocolate chips

1/3 cup toasted sliced or slivered almonds

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and line 2 six-section muffin tins with paper baking cups. Alternatively, use an ungreased silicone 12-section muffin pan. Put the muffin pans on a large rimmed baking sheet.
  2. Combine the soymilk and vinegar in a medium bowl, stir well, and set aside to thicken.
  3. In a large bowl combine the whole-wheat pastry flour, wheat bran, brown sugar, chocolate chips, organic sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Mix well to distribute all the dry ingredients evenly and set aside.
  4. Add the bananas to the bowl with the soured soymilk, along with the canola oil, and vanilla and caramel extracts. Mix well and add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, stirring briefly just until the batter well moistened. .
  5. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin pans, over-filling each section to use all the batter. For the baker’s dozen, reserve some of the batter to fill an oven-proof custard cup or ramekin.
  6. For the topping, sprinkle the chocolate chips into the center of each muffin, and the sliced almonds over the remaining exposed surface. Bake for 23 to 26 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the center of several muffins comes out clean. Cool 15 to 20 minutes before serving to allow easy release from the baking pans.

Chocolate Chocolate Chip MuffinsVariation:

Espresso Chocolate Chocolate Chip Muffins

Grind 2 tablespoons of espresso coffee beans into a very fine powder in a mini blender. After spooning the muffin batter into the muffin pans, sprinkle the tops lightly with the espresso powder. Then, add the chocolate chips and toasted sliced almonds.

Suggestions:

Turn your one-dozen muffins into four dozen of the cutest little mini muffins you’ve ever seen by baking them in mini muffin pans. For ease in moving the muffins in and out of the oven, have 2 large rimmed baking sheets ready with two mini muffin pans on each of the baking sheets. Spoon the batter into the mini muffin pans and bake for 20 to 24 minutes. Allow the minis to cool for 30 minutes before removing from the pans.

To prepare well ahead of the holidays, put the baked mini muffins on metal or plastic dishes or trays and put them, uncovered, in the freezer. When completely frozen, transfer the muffins to a heavy-duty zipper-lock bag and seal tightly. Defrost the muffins before packaging them for gift giving.

MEXICAN FLAG GRACES THE HOLIDAY TABLE WITH PANACHE!

Chiles en NogadaCHILES EN NOGADA

This gorgeous dish was actually created in 1821 in Central Mexico to celebrate Mexican Independence Day, which occurs on September 16, 1810. I came across this recipe when a local library asked me to do a vegan demo on regional Mexican cooking to celebrate Mexican American Heritage month. At first glance, you’ll see the bright colors of the Mexican flag–red, white, and green.

The finished dish is actually stuffed poblano chiles with a sauce made of walnuts.  I think you’ll agree it makes a sensational presentation.

I found the recipe is so appealing and so festive looking, I felt it deserved a place at the holiday table from Thanksgiving through New Years. There’s just one little hitch that’s easily solved. Peaches, which are featured in the recipe, are no longer available in November or December, but sweet fruits like persimmons and pears stand in quite well.

Chiles en NogadaThe other challenge–the original recipe was quite fatty and contained meat, milk, and cheese. No problem–I replaced the meat with beans and created the filling from a composite of several recipes. I’ve added diced zucchini and fresh fruits like diced apples and Fuyu persimmons in place of the candied cactus.

Also, I’ve not battered and fried the stuffed chiles, because I wanted to offer a healthier, less fatty option.

My recipe contains no sugar, but uses the fruits as delicate sweetening. For the Walnut Sauce I use vanilla soymilk and non-dairy cheese made from pea protein to replace the traditional dairy products.

The dish is said to have been created by Puebla nuns for a visiting dignitary, emperor Augustin de Iturbide, a Mexican military chieftain who was instrumental in the Mexican independence movement.

That man didn’t realize how fortunate he was. Chiles en Nogada was not a quick and easy dish to make because it has several components that each require special attention. One recipe I encountered contains 40 different ingredients! Don’t worry, it’s not this one!

In those historic days, there no blenders. To make the creamy Walnut Sauce, they had to use a grinding stone called mano and metate that works like our mortar and pestle.

I’ve created a simplified version of the recipe, but it still involves 3 components–charring the chiles on the stovetop and peeling them, making the filling, and blending the sauce.

Once all the chiles are charred and cleaned and the fruits and vegetables are chopped, the recipe comes together quickly and can be prepared in stages.

For guests who are not fond of chiles, here’s an alternative presentation. Instead of stuffing Chiles en Nogada Nakedthe chiles, I used them as a border surrounding the filling. That way, guests at the buffet table can simply take a helping of filling and side-step the chiles. The topping is slivered almonds.

Don’t side-step the sauce, though. It’s delicious! Just serve it on the side.

 Chiles en Nogada

CHILES EN NOGADA

Yield: 8 servings

8 fresh poblano peppers

FillingChiles en Nogada

1/2 medium onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

3 to 4 tablespoons water

1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained

1 medium zucchini, diced

1 medium tomato, diced

1 bay leaf

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

Pinch ground cloves

1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained

1 medium apple, cored, and diced

1 firm fresh peach, persimmon, or pear, cored and diced

1/4 cup golden raisins

1/4 cup sliced or slivered toasted almonds

Chiles en NogadaSauce

3 cups vanilla soymilk or plain soymilk with 2 teaspoons organic sugar          added

2 cups walnuts

3/4 cup non-dairy shredded mozzarella

Pinch salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Garnish

8 large romaine lettuce leaves

3/4 cup pomegranate seeds or 1/2 red bell pepper, diced

4 green onions, green part only, chopped

  1. Have ready a large rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment or a Silpat.
  2. TO PREPARE THE CHILES, put the poblano peppers directly over a gas flame, using several burners simultaneously. Working with long-handled tongs, turn the peppers frequently until blistered and blackened on all sides, about 5 to 7 minutes. Put the blackened peppers into a bag or wrap them in a towel and set aside for about 5 to 10 minutes to loosen the skins. Alternatively, plunge the blackened peppers into a bowl of water. Rub off the skins under running water to clean the charred chiles.
  3. Carefully cut a vertical slit in each chile and cut out and discard the core and any stray seeds. Arrange the chiles on the baking sheet and set aside.
  4. TO PREPARE THE FILLING, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Combine the onion, garlic, and water in a large deep skillet. Cook and stir over medium-high heat, stirring frequently until lightly browned, about 7 to 10 minutes. Add 1 or more tablespoons of water as needed to cook the onions and prevent burning.
  5. Add the diced tomatoes, zucchini, fresh tomato, bay leaf, salt, cinnamon, cumin, and cloves and cook about 3 to 4 minutes.
  6. Add the black beans, apple, peach, raisins, and almonds and cook about 3 to 4 minutes, or until the fruits are just softened.
  7. Open the slits in the chiles and spoon a generous portion of filling into each of them, filling them fully. Close the slits, enclosing the filling completely. Put the chiles in the oven for 10 to 12 minutes to warm through.
  8. TO PREPARE THE SAUCE, put the soymilk, walnuts, mozzarella, salt, and pepper in a blender and process until smooth and creamy.
  9. TO SERVE, line each person’s dish with a lettuce leaf. Put one stuffed poblano on each dish and spoon a generous amount of the sauce over the top and sides, coating each one completely. Garnish with a generous sprinkle of pomegranate seeds or chopped red bell pepper and green onions.

 

CRANBERRIES COME TO BRUNCH DRESSED IN HOLIDAY RED!

 Cranberry Muffins

CRANBERRY MUFFINS

If you’re a cranberry lover like I am, you, too, will revel with joy at the sight of these voluptuous golden muffins with a fluff of bright red berries on top and a confetti of cheery red bits of cranberries dotted throughout the batter.

The sweet-tart flavor blend is heavenly–that first bite will confirm that. But don’t take my word for it–bake up a batch of these little sweeties and I’ll bet you’ll find these muffins just as irresistible as I do.

They’re ideal breakfast treats with their hearty base of rolled oats and delicate sweetness. To create a crunchy texture, add 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts, pecans, or hazelnuts.

For an appealing holiday Brunch, I like to make the Cranberry Muffins along with another Cranberry Muffinsmuffin variety. I can make them in advance and tuck them into the freezer. About 20 minutes before serving, I take them out of the freezer and put them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Then, I tuck them into a preheated 375-degree F. oven and in 20 minutes they’ll start to fill the kitchen with crazy-tempting aromas.

I always include a colorful fruit salad with chopped apples, pears, Fuyu persimmons, navel oranges, strawberries (if they look plump and fresh) and pomegrante seeds. If I can find some beautiful red or black grapes, those add a wonderful touch of color and rich sweetness.

Vegan sausages, either homemade or prepared, always make a tasty and very satisfying addition to a festive holiday Brunch. And the finishing touch can be a steaming cup of herbal tea, coffee, or hot chocolate.

This recipe makes a dozen muffins, but could easily make two recipients happy with a wrapped box of half-dozen each. To spread the joy even further, follow the suggestion below to create four dozen adorable little mini muffins and package them in small gift boxes tied with holiday ribbons.

 Cranberry Muffins

CRANBERRY MUFFINS

Yield: 12 muffins

1 1/4 cups soymilk

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar, rice vinegar, or distilled vinegar

2 1/3 cups fresh cranberries, divided

3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon organic sugar, divided

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1 1/4 cups wheat bran

1/2 cup old fashioned rolled oats

1/2 cup golden raisins

2 teaspoons baking powderCranberry Muffins

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 cup ground cardamom

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup mashed ripe banana

3 tablespoons organic canola oil

3 tablespoons maple syrup

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. and line two 6-section muffin pans with paper baking cups or use an ungreased 12-section silicone muffin pan. Put the muffin pans on a large rimmed baking sheet.
  2. Pour the soymilk into a medium bowl and add the vinegar. Stir well and set aside to sour.
  3. Coarsely chop the cranberries in the food processor. Remove 1/3 cup of the cranberries to a small bowl and stir in 1 tablespoon of the sugar. Set aside for the topping. Transfer the remaining 2 cups of cranberries to a large bowl and add the remaining 3/4 cups sugar.
  4. Add the flour, wheat bran, rolled oats, raisins, baking powder, cinnamon, cardamom, salt, and baking soda to the bowl and stir well.
  5. Stir the bananas, canola oil, maple syrup, and vanilla into the soured soymilk and mix well. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly to form a thick batter.
  6. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin pans, filling each section to the brim. Place a dollop of the reserved cranberry topping onto the center of each muffin and bake for 28 to 33 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool the muffins 10 to 15 minutes before removing.

Cranberry MuffinsNote:

Because cranberries are so seasonal, you may consider substituting fresh apples, pears, peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots, or berries to enjoy this tasty recipe year round.

Suggestion:

Turn your one-dozen muffins into four dozen of the cutest little mini muffins you’ve ever seen by baking them in mini muffin pans. Baked in metal mini pans, the muffins will be done in 12 to 14 minutes. The silicone mini muffin pans make slightly larger minis and will bake in 15 to 20 minutes.

To prepare well ahead of the holidays, put the baked mini muffins on metal or plastic dishes or trays and tuck them, uncovered, into the freezer. When completely frozen, transfer the muffins to a heavy-duty plastic bag and seal tightly. Frozen, the muffins will keep for 3 to 4 months. Be sure to defrost the muffins before packaging them for gift giving.