TASTE THE OMG PIE OF THE HOLIDAY SEASON!

Apricot Date Hazelnut Sticky Pie 1APRICOT, DATE, AND HAZELNUT STICKY PIE

Everyone has a favorite dessert they love to serve guests at a festive holiday meal. For some, it’s good, old-fashioned apple pie with plenty of cinnamon, for others it a rich, crunchy pecan pie. Some cling to cheesecake, while others just love a moist, two-layer dark chocolate cake topped with chocolate frosting.

For me, the OMG dessert of the season (actually, there are several) is this awesome creation I assembled and served several years ago. Everyone loved it–said it was a keeper, their favorite dessert, the best dessert they ever tasted, couldn’t get enough of it, etc.! Reviews don’t get much better than that! So, naturally, I kept it and am excited about sharing it.

Something new I can add to the list of compliments is that this dessert won 1st place in a dessert contest at Melissas.com. Actually, it was a 3-way tie for 1st place and I was one of the top three.

Sticky Pie side

For that even when I needed 30 servings, I doubled the recipe and prepared it in a 9 x 13-inch pan. I pressed only one recipe of the crust  mixture into the bottom of the pan.

Sticky Pie close up 2

So what’s the big deal–why all the fuss? It’s just simply a great tasting pie with an exceptionally appealing texture and encompasses all the good stuff the holiday season has to offer.

And, really, any time you join together dried fruit, like raisins, dates, cranberries, and apricots, you’ve combined the seductive elements of an exceptional sweet treat. But, then, mingle the merry makings of those four fruits with the crunchy, roasted, chunky nuts, spice them up, bind them with a magical medley of sweeteners, and voila!–a stunning pie for the festive holiday!

The pleasantly chewy texture of the pie is reminiscent of nougat, so be sure to use a firm, serrated knife to cut into servings. You’ll need to apply a little muscle when cutting into the pie because of its very firm, and rather sticky nature. It’s quite sweet and rich, so thin slices are best–and that makes the dessert go a little farther.

I’ve actually gotten 12 serving from this pie for several reasons. First, after a large meal, the guests are too full for big servings. Second, because the pie is super sweet, small servings are very satisfying. And, third, so many people are watching the waistlines, they’re happy to be served a small piece.

It’s also the perfect make-ahead dessert that keeps well in the refrigerator for up to five days. This is one dessert that’s a dinner host’s dream because there’s no last minute fuss and everyone loves it. For the best results, bring the pie to room temperature before serving.

For best results, make the pie a day or two ahead, cover it with plastic wrap, and refrigerate it. Then, bring the pie to room temperature several hours before serving. Refrigerating the pie adds a touch of needed moisture, while bringing it to room temperature makes it easier to cut.

 Apricot Date Hazelnut Sticky Pie pieceAPRICOT, DATE, AND HAZELNUT STICKY PIE

 Yield: 1 (9-inch) pie; 8 to 12 servings

1 recipe Oatmeal Crumb Crust (recipe below)

1 1/2 cups blanched hazelnuts (See How to Blanch Hazelnuts)Apricot, Date, and Hazelnut Sticky Pie 2

3/4 cup toasted pecans (I used Melissa’s pecans)

 

1 cup golden raisins (I used Melissa’s)

3/4 cup diced dates

2/3 cup diced dried apricots (I used Melissa’s)

1/2 cup sweetened dried cranberries (I used Melissa’s)

1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon minced orange or lemon zest

1/8 teaspoon salt

 

1 cup brown rice syrup

1/4 cup organic sugar

1/4 cup maple syrup

1/3 cup tapioca flour

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice

1/2 teaspoon maple extract

 

Prepare the Oatmeal Crumb Crust and set aside.

To make the filling, pour the blanched hazelnuts into a heavy-duty ziplock bag, place the bag on a cutting board, and use a hammer to gently break the nuts into coarse pieces. Transfer the hazelnuts to a large bowl. Break the pecans into pieces and add them to the hazelnuts.

Add the raisins, dates, apricots, cranberries, cinnamon, orange zest, and salt to the nuts and toss well to distribute the ingredients evenly.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Combine the brown rice syrup, organic sugar, and maple syrup in a 2-quart saucepan. Add the tapioca flour and stir well with a wooden spoon until the flour is completely incorporated. Set aside for 5 minutes to allow the tapioca flour to absorb some of the moisture.

Bring the syrup mixture to a boil over medium heat. Boil for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir the lime juice and maple extract into the syrup mixture and mix well.

Pour the syrup into the fruit-nut mixture and stir and mix thoroughly to coat all the ingredients. (The mixture will be very thick and sticky, and combining it completely will likely take the place of your daily workout.)

Spoon the filling into the prepared crust and bake for 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool for 4 to 6 hours to set completely. To store, cover the pie with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Bring the pie to room temperature before serving.

Oatmeal Crumb Crust

 Yield: Makes 1 (9-inch) pie crust

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

3/4 cup walnuts

4 1/2 tablespoons canola oil

3 tablespoons organic sugar

3 tablespoons maple syrup

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

3/4 teaspoon salt

Pour the oats into a food processor. Pulse 15 to 20 times. Add the walnuts, oil, sugar, syrup, lemon juice, and salt. Process until the mixture becomes a fine, crumbly meal and holds together when pinched. Scrape down the workbowl as needed. If needed, add 1 tablespoon of water to help the mixture hold together.

Spoon the mixture into a 9 or 10-inch pie pan and press it firmly and evenly into the bottom and up the sides of the pan with your fingers. Press on the edges to firm.

Sticky Pie Melissa's

 

A HOMESPUN DESSERT–DELICIOUS AND FESTIVE!!!

Hazelnut Cranberry Bread PuddingHAZELNUT-CRANBERRY BREAD PUDDING

To some, an old-fashioned bread pudding may not seem special enough to serve guests at a festive holiday meal. But they haven’t tasted THIS delicious bread pudding. Admittedly, it’s still a simple dessert, but with the addition of fresh cranberries and fresh pears, spiced to the max and sweetened just right to take the tart edge off the cranberries, it will taste just as elegant as any fussy dessert.

Add a ladle full of rich, creamy Crème Anglaise to each serving and who wouldn’t love this dessert that’s a bit old-fashioned, but never outdated.

And with plenty of servings for a large gathering, this colorful, homespun dessert delivers Vegan Holidays lowrespleasing bursts of juicy, divinely sweet and tart flavors with each delicious spoonful. Credit the blend of tasty fruits that are so special to this cold-weather season. Many people think of bread pudding as comfort food–I call it just plain delicious! And it just so happens to be one of the tasty recipes in my Vegan for the Holidays cookbook, a cookbook packed with autumn and winter recipes perfect to carry you through the whole holiday season.

This dessert is a good keeper, so you can actually prepare it as much as two days ahead and keep it refrigerated until shortly before you’re ready to serve.

To spoil your guests completely, bring the bread pudding to room temperature and gently warm in a 350-degree F. oven for about 15 minutes. Warming the bread pudding has a magical way of elevating the fruity flavors.

If you take the bread pudding directly from the refrigerator, put it in a cold oven. Set the temperature at 350 degrees F. and check the pudding in 15 to 20 minutes to see if it’s gently warmed through. ALTERNATIVELY, you can simply serve the desert at room temperature.

Hazelnut Cranberry Bread PuddingHAZELNUT-CRANBERRY BREAD PUDDING

 Yield: 10 to 12 servings

Bread Pudding

3/4 cup whole blanched hazelnuts or slivered almonds (See How to Blanch Hazelnuts)

8 slices whole wheat bread

1 pound fresh cranberries

3 large Bosc or Anjou pears, cored, and sliced

1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons brown sugar, firmly packed

1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons water

2 (3-inch) cinnamon sticksHazelnut Cranberry Bread Pudding

3/4 cup golden raisins

1/2 cup vanilla or plain soymilk

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

 

Crème Anglaise

2 cups unsweetened soymilk

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons organic sugar

3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pinch salt

3 tablespoons cornstarch

3 tablespoons water

Fresh mint sprigs

TO MAKE THE BREAD PUDDING, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and lightly oil a 13 x 9-inch baking pan.

Hazelnut Cranberry Bread PuddingPour the hazelnuts into a heavy-duty ziplock bag, place the bag on a cutting board, and use a hammer to gently break them into coarse pieces. Set aside. If using slivered almonds, measure them and set aside.

Break the bread into 1-inch pieces and put them in a very large bowl. Add the cranberries and pears.

Combine the brown sugar, water, and cinnamon sticks in a 2-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Decrease the heat to medium-high and simmer for 5 minutes to create a syrup. Let cool and add it to the bread mixture.

Add the raisins, soymilk, lemon juice, ground cinnamon, and nutmeg and mix well.

Spoon the bread mixture into the prepared baking pan and cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil, and stir the mixture to break up the cranberries. Sprinkle with the chopped hazelnuts, cover with the foil, and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes.

TO MAKE THE CRÈME ANGLAISE, combine the soymilk, sugar, vanilla extract, and salt in a 2-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and decrease the heat to medium.

Combine the cornstarch and water in a small bowl or cup and stir until smooth. Stir the paste into the simmering soymilk mixture a little at a time, stirring constantly for 1 minute, or until slightly thickened. Remove from the heat and let cool. If not using immediately, cover and refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours to firm. Stir gently before using. Tightly covered and refrigerated, Crème Anglaise will keep for 5 days. Makes about 2 1/4 cups.

TO SERVE, spoon the bread pudding into dessert dishes and ladle a generous spoonful of the Crème Anglaise over each serving. The finishing touch is a small sprig of mint to make it look extra special. Pass the remainder of the sauce at the table.

 

A COMPOTE THAT MAKES SWEET MEMORIES!

Pear Walnut Compote/Choco WafersPEAR CRANBERRY COMPOTE WITH CHOCO-WAFERS

Holiday meals, whether at home or at my grandmother’s, always concluded with a small bowl of stewed dried fruits cooked until soft and perfectly sweetened and pleasantly laced with cinnamon. It certainly wasn’t a fancy dessert, and it’s  probably one of the most unpretentious desserts one can offer guests at the end of a special celebration. Yet, the memories continue to bring sweet thoughts. When I close my eyes, I can almost taste those dried prunes, apricots, pears, and raisins and remember fondly the definitive spicy aroma of cinnamon that made me appreciate this simple homespun dessert.

Because the compote was sweet and generously spiced with cinnamon, I remembered this dessert fondly and as a kid, I always looked forward to it. It became one of those tiny little treasures I knew Grandma would bring to the table without fail.

I thought it might be lovely to pass on those memories to others with a compote that’s just as easy to make, but with something special in addition that would elevate it to become a truly elegant treat. So I began with fresh pears and fresh cranberries rather than dried and spiced it with just enough cinnamon to add that nostalgic holiday aroma. But it was still just a simple compote. What else could I do to make it really zing?

Vegan Holidays lowresVoila! Homemade Choco-Wafers turned this delicious, unpretentious compote into an elegant, alluring dessert with a built-in convenience factor. These delicious little wafers can be made several days ahead and refrigerated until ready to serve. They actually keep well for up to three months in the fridge. I might also mention this is one of the delicious holiday desserts in my Vegan for the Holidays Cookbook!

The compote can be prepared two days ahead and tucked into the fridge until dessert time. But, to make this dessert extra special and give your guests that pampered feeling, bring it to room temperature on serving day and gently warm it at 350 degrees F. for about 10 to 15 minutes just before serving.

At serving time, spoon the compote into little dessert dishes and tuck two Homemade Choco-Wafers into the dish so they stand tall. Sometimes I place the wafers on the sides and sometimes in the center. Maybe you’ll come up with an even more dramatic way of presenting this dessert–there’s plenty of room for creativity!

Pear & Walnut Compote:Choco Wafers2 copyPEAR CRANBERRY COMPOTE WITH CHOCO-WAFERS

Yield: about 6 servings

Choco-Wafers

1 cup walnutsPear Walnut Compote/Choco Wafers

1 cup pitted dates, snipped in half

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon water

3 tablespoons golden raisins

3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder

Compote

2 fresh Anjou or Bosc pears, cored, quartered, and sliced

1 cup fresh cranberries

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoons light brown sugar, firmly packed

1/3 cup black raisins

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup water

1 tablespoon cornstarch

3 tablespoons coarsely ground toasted, walnut, almonds, or hazelnuts, for garnish

  1. TO MAKE THE CHOCO-WAFERS, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 17 1/2 x 12 1/2-inch rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Put all the wafer ingredients in a food processor. Process until all the ingredients are well incorporated, the nuts are broken down to a fine, but slightly textured meal, and the mixture reaches a very thick, finely mashed, firm consistency, stopping occasionally to scrape down the workbowl.
  3. Spoon the wafer mixture into the prepared baking sheet and use the back of the spoon to form it into a 1/4-inch thick rectangle approximately 8 inches by 9 inches.
  4. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the wafer is set and almost dry to the touch but still soft. Remove from the oven and let cool completely. It will firm as it cools. When cool, cut into 2 or 3-inch squares and set aside until ready to serve or put the squares in a ziplock bag and refrigerate.
  5. TO MAKE THE COMPOTE, combine the pears, cranberries, brown sugar, raisins, lemon juice, cinnamon, vanilla, and water in a 3 or 4-quart saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Immediately, decrease the heat to low, and simmer 10 minutes, or until the pears are softened.
  6. To thicken the juice in the pan, combine the cornstarch and 1 tablespoon water in a small cup or bowl and stir until smooth. Stir the paste into the simmering compote a little at a time, stirring constantly for about 1 minute, or until thickened to desired consistency.
  7. To serve, spoon the compote into small dessert dishes and garnish each with the walnuts, if desired. Tuck 2 wafers into the center or sides of the compote.

POLENTA TURNS MAGICAL AND FESTIVE!!!

Polenta TortePOLENTA HOLIDAY TORTE

This festive, voluptuous polenta dish, with its enticing eye appeal, was created when I was invited to a family holiday dinner and happened to have some Hummus and Basil Butter on hand. It was a natural to combine them with polenta and add the Sun-dried Tomato Pesto as the top layer. Notice that the Basil Butter contains no oil, yet still delivers the delightful undertones of basil.

Below is an array of topping recipes to get you started in making a fun and easy make-ahead polenta dish. Consider these recipes as suggestions that you can adapt in any way. The recipes may even spark a few new ideas for polenta toppings.

I’ve made this dish in a ton of different ways because the polenta makes such a perfect base for almost any topping. And you can have fun garnishing it in myriad ways, too.

In one variation, I assembled it with Hummus, Basil Butter, and Veggie Mountain on thepolentamountain copy top.

At one company dinner, I had put the polenta on a large oven-safe platter and cooled it in the refrigerator. Shortly before dinner, I warmed it briefly in the oven at about 200 degrees F. I served each person a pie-shaped wedge and topped it with a delicious ragout. The finishing touch was a garnish of Homemade Parmesan, giving it a delicious Italian touch.

polenta w:tomato sauceOnce, I substituted the veggie mountain with Easy Tomato Sauce and topped it with Homemade Parmesan.

Feel free to be creative with the topping combinations and you’ll discover that no matter what you choose, you’ll have a great main dish on the table that’s wholesome and attractive.

To make this recipe come together with ease, prepare the toppings of your choice a day or two ahead. That way, the assembly is super-easy and stress-free.

This dish is also a great traveler for short distances. If you’re asked to bring a dish to a potluck or a friend’s for dinner, just place a few toothpicks around the edge and near the center. That way, the covering of plastic wrap won’t spoil your design.

An enjoyable main dish, the polenta can be served any season of the year, gently warmed or at room temperature. Add a heaping tossed salad and the meal is complete.

Polenta TortePOLENTA HOLIDAY TORTE

 Yield: 6 servings

Polenta

4 cups water

1/2 cup unsweetened soymilk

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup coarse cornmeal (polenta)

TO MAKE THE POLENTA, have ready a large, round platter about 15-inches in diameter. In a 4-quart saucepan combine the water, soymilk, and salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Watch carefully to prevent a messy boil-over.

Reduce the heat to medium-high and add the cornmeal. Stir frequently with a wire whip for about 10 to 15 minutes, or until the polenta is fully cooked and has thickened to the consistency of thick oatmeal. Spoon the polenta onto the platter and set aside in the refrigerator to cool and solidify.

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ASSEMBLING THE DISH: After you’ve prepared the polenta and chosen and prepared the toppings you plan to use, you’ll want to assemble the torte.

Start by spreading a generous portion of the first layer over the cooked and cooled polenta, leaving a 1/2-inch border of polenta visible.

Follow with a second topping, spreading it over the first layer, leaving a 1/2-inch border.

Choose as many or as few toppings as you like. You don’t have to use the entire recipe–sometimes just a few spoonfuls are all you need to enhance the polenta. Put the leftovers in the fridge for a future recipe or to spread over rice, pasta, or baked potatoes.

To serve the Polenta Holiday Torte, cut it into several wedges and serve.

CHOOSE YOUR FAVORITE TOPPINGS!

Hummus

1 (15-ounce) can garbanzo beans, drainedPolenta Torte

1/4 cup tahini

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1 clove garlic, crushed

1/2 teaspoon salt

TO MAKE THE HUMMUS, place the garbanzo beans, tahini, lemon juice, garlic, and salt into the food processor and process until thick and creamy. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside. Makes 1 3/4 cups hummus.

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Basil Butter

2 cups chopped zucchini

2 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves

1/4 cup raw pine nuts

1/4 cup raw or roasted pistachios or pecans

2 1/2 tablespoons red miso

1 clove garlic

1/8 teaspoon pepper

TO MAKE THE BASIL BUTTER, combine the zucchini, basil leaves, pine nuts, pistachios, miso, garlic, and pepper in the food processor and process until smooth and creamy. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. Makes 1 1/2 cups basil butter.

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Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto

1 (5-ounce) package unsulphured sun-dried tomatoes (I used the ones from melissas.com)

Boiling water to cover

5 to 6 tablespoons tomato soak water

1/4 cup pine nuts

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1 clove garlic

1/2 teaspoon salt

TO MAKE THE SUN-DRIED TOMATO PESTO, put the tomatoes in a bowl and pour boiling water over to cover. Set aside to soften for 7 to 8 minutes, or until soft. Transfer the softened tomatoes to the food processor and add the soak water, pine nuts, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and salt and process until smooth and creamy. Set aside.

Note: This recipe makes more than you’ll need for the torte. You may want to cut it in half or simply enjoy the leftovers on pasta or baked potatoes.

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Veggie Mountain

1 large zucchini, diced

1 yellow pepper, diced

2 Indian or 1 Japanese or Chinese eggplant, diced

1 cup chopped broccolipolentamountain copy

1/2 small onion, chopped

2 tablespoons water

Salt and pepper

1 lemon cut in half (optional)

TO MAKE THE VEGGIE MOUNTAIN, combine the zucchini, bell pepper, eggplant, broccoli, onion, and water, and water-sauté over high heat for 5 to 8 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Add small amounts of water as needed to cook the vegetables and prevent burning them. Season generously with salt and pepper. Set aside.

If using the Veggie Mountain, spoon all of the cooked vegetables over the top, piling them as high as necessary. If desired, add a squeeze of lemon juice over the top. Alternatively, cut a lemon into 6 wedges, arrange the wedges on a small serving plate and serve at the table for anyone who might like to add a splash of tang.

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Homemade Parmesan

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

TO MAKE THE HOMEMADE PARMESAN, put the almonds in a food processor. Process until they are finely ground, yet still retain a bit of texture, stopping occasionally to scrape down the work bowl. (Avoid over-processing or it will turn into almond butter.)

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 month.

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Easy Tomato Sauce

1 1/2 pounds Roma tomatoes, dicedpolenta w:tomato sauce

1/2 onion, diced

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon oregano

Salt and pepper to taste

TO MAKE THE EASY TOMATO SAUCE, put the tomatoes, onions, garlic, and oregano in an open 2-quart saucepan and cook and stir over medium high heat for 3 to 7 minutes, or until they are cooked down and somewhat thickened. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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Polenta Goes Ragout
1 pound Brussels sprouts, quartered
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 large sweet onion, sliced vertically
1 large portabella mushroom, chopped, or 8 ounces sliced button mushrooms
1 (15-ounce) can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 1/4 cups dry red wine
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup soy sauce

1 or 2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 or 2 tablespoons water

1 green onion, sliced, for garnish

1 tablespoon well-drained capers

TO MAKE THE RAGOUT, combine the Brussels sprouts, bell pepper, onion, mushrooms, garbanzo beans, wine, water, and soy sauce in a large, deep skillet. Cook and stir over medium-high heat for about 10 to 12 minutes, or until the Brussels sprouts are tender. Adjust the heat as needed to prevent burning the vegetables.

Combine the cornstarch and water in a small bowl or cup and stir well to form a runny paste. Add the paste to the simmering sauce a little at a time, stirring constantly, for about 1 minute, or until the sauce is thickened to desired consistency.

To serve, cut the polenta into pie-shaped wedges, place a serving on each dish, and spoon a generous portion of the warm Ragout over the polenta. Finish the top of each serving with a sprinkle of sliced green onions and a few capers.

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Leftovers:

Hummus and Basil Butter are the makings of a seductive sandwich. Start by spreading whole grain bread or sprouted wheat bagel with a layer of Hummus. Top with Basil Butter. Then, finish with a thick slice of tomato and greens like spinach or romaine.

I SAID CHEEZE! AND PUMPKIN CHEEZE-CAKE APPEARED!!!!

Pumpkin Spice Cheesecake 2Recipe Below

First, allow me to whet your appetite with Laura Theodore’s delicious holiday dessert- PUMPKIN SPICE CHEEZE-CAKE. The recipe is one of many luscious dishes found in Laura’s new cookbook, Vegan-ease.Vegan-Ease by Laura Theodore

Let’s Take a Peek Inside the Cookbook

Vegan-ease:

An easy guide to enjoying a plant-based diet

By Laura Theodore

Jazzy Vegetarian, LLC

Hard Cover $26.95

No, it’s not the salad dressing Vegenaise! It’s a cookbook called Vegan-ease filled with well-crafted vegan recipes that won’t keep the home cook in the kitchen for hours. Laura Theodore, the Jazzy Vegetarian, has done it again by creating a colorful and charming cookbook that will wow her many fans and draw a crowd of newcomers to the plant-based kingdom.

Many TV viewers and radio listeners know the Jazzy Vegetarian and take delight in her programs and books.

Laura’s home cooking energies took off when she moved from the scurry-flurry of New York City to a quiet country spot in New Jersey. Without the convenient, close-to-home shops of the big city, she had to be resourceful and began to create her own tasty dishes and convert non-vegetarian standards into plant-based versions. She convincingly says, “If plant-based food looks and tastes scrumptious, everyone will welcome it!”

A quick browse through her colorful new cookbook with its abundance of delightfully SQUASH LAURA ZELenticing, full-color photos is attractive enough to bring curious folks to the table–even better–maybe, even lure them into the kitchen to cook.

The author makes a strong case for going “veggie” because she knows that decision supports the environment, reduces greenhouse emissions, protects animals, and enhances the health of the human species. She stresses the “ease” in finding ingredients, preparing the dishes, and making money go further. For those new to cooking or to the vegan kitchen, she covers basic ingredients and shopping guide, kitchen tools and equipment, and nutritional benefits of a plant-based diet.

The recipe section, the main part of the book, is an adventure for the senses beginning with Fast Appetizers and Fun Beverages that introduces starters that novices can confidently prepare. Appetizers like Raw Veggie Kabobs threaded in combinations of colorful veggies on a skewer or Mini Sweet Peppers sliced in half lengthwise and stuffed with Hummus appeal to experienced cooks, too.

Breakfast dishes like Oat and Blueberry Breakfast Cake and Spinach-Tomato Vegan Omelet are so eye appealing they sell themselves and the enticing Muffins, Quick Breads, and Baked Delights are seductive. The beautiful Giant Cookie-Coffee Cake, studded with chocolate chips and chopped walnuts, is perfect for breakfast or brunch guests with its hearty base of rolled oats, bananas, and whole wheat flour. If not that recipe, then perhaps bake the Walnut-Orange Quick Bread with its rich, dark color and spiced whole-grain ingredients.

The Quick Sweet Potato Soup is definitely quick to fix with its bright chunks of sweet potatoes, celery, and cabbage. The Quick Red Lentil Curry Soup is truly vegan-ease where everything is added to the soup pot at once and simmered until the veggies are tender. Both make delicious and satisfying meals during cold-weather season along with the remaining eight recipes in the Soup section.

Vegan-ease is filled with an abundance of mouth-watering salads, dressings, pastas with flair, creative pizzas, and innovative main dishes that become a feast for the eyes. The beautiful Oven “Fried Rice” Casserole, for example, lets the oven do most of the work.

 The dessert section is divided into two parts–first come the “easiest desserts ever” like mousse, puddings, bars, and cookies followed by Fancy Finishes with fussier sweets like Blueberry Cheeze-Cake Squares and Lemon “Buttermilk” Cake with Maple Glaze.

Stress-free Holiday Recipes include all categories featuring breakfast items, soups, salads, mains, and desserts and bring the book to conclusion with menu-planning tips and a dozen special-occasion menus comprised of recipes in the book.

Vegan-ease succeeds in making vegan cooking uncomplicated. Novice cooks and old timers will find this compendium of recipes an inspiration for making colorful and tasty meals.

 Laura Theodore is truly a master of making home cooking easy on the cook, yet she doesn’t shortchange on featuring wholesome, unprocessed ingredients. Throughout the pages are simple-to-make recipes perfect for everyday meals and slightly fussier dishes for company or holiday feasting with a bright splash of color.

About Laura

Laura Theodore is an award-winning jazz singer and songwriter and actor who became interested in vegetarian cooking over 20 years ago. She is the on-camera host and co-producer of the Jazzy Vegetarian Cooking Show on PBS, a show in its third season where she dishes up gorgeous plant-based recipes. Laura also hosts a weekly podcast radio show, Jazzy Vegetarian Radio on Blogtalkradio, sharing tips, recipes, and celebrity interviews with a touch of upbeat jazzy music to give it verve.

Laura is the author of exceptional cookbooks; Jazzy Vegetarian and Jazzy Vegetarian Classics that contain recipes featured on the Jazzy Vegetarian Television Show. She shares a delicious holiday-ready Pumpkin Cheeze-Cake recipe from her new cookbook Laura Theodore’s Vegahn-ese. The beautiful cookbooks are truly a feast for the eyes with a blast of full-color photos, jazzy tips, and menu plans.

To discover more information about Laura’s television show, radio podcasts, recipes, and cookbooks visit http://www.jazzyvegetarian.com.

Pumpkin Spice Cheesecake 2

PUMPKIN SPICE CHEEZE-CAKE

Makes 8 to 10 servings / Ease Factor 3

This delicate yet rich-tasting cake makes the perfect dessert for any winter holiday event. Served with a generous dollop of Vegan Whipped Topping (page 201), this cheeze-cake will be dressed to impress!

CRUST

1¾ cups cookie crumbs (ginger cookies work well)

¼ cup vegan margarine, melted

FILLING

2 tablespoons rolled oats

14 to 16 ounces firm regular tofu

1 can (about 16 ounces) unsweetened pumpkin purée

2⁄3 cup dark brown sugarPumpkin Spice Cheesecake 1

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon allspice

TOPPING

3 tablespoons cookie crumbs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Liberally coat a 10-inch round springform pan with vegan margarine.

To make the crust, put 13⁄4 cups cookie crumbs and the melted margarine in a medium-sized bowl and mix with a fork until well combined. Pat the crumbs firmly into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake the crust for 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool 5 minutes.

To make the filling, put the rolled oats in a blender and process into coarse crumbs. Add the tofu, pumpkin purée, brown sugar, vanilla extract, cinnamon and allspice and process until smooth and creamy.

Pour the filling into the crust and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until firm to the touch. Remove the cake from the oven and place it on a wire rack. Cool for 15 minutes, then carefully run a table knife around the perimeter of the cake to ensure it does not stick to the side of the pan.

Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of cookie crumbs evenly over the top of the cake, gently pressing them into the top, so the crumbs adhere. Release the side of the springform pan to unmold.

Cover the cake very loosely and refrigerate 3 to 24 hours before serving. Serve with Vegan Whipped Topping (page 201) on the side, if desired. Covered tightly and stored in the refrigerator, leftover cheeze-cake will keep for about 2 days.

Nutritional Analysis: Amount per serving, based on 10 servings: 154 Calories; 7g Fat; 1g Saturated fat; 5g Protein; 62mg Sodium; 20g Total Carbohydrate; 15g Sugars; 2g Fiber

Recipe © 2015 Laura Theodore, published by Jazzy Vegetarian, LLC, reprinted by permission.

HANUKKAH GELT–DELICIOUS TO EAT

Hanukkah GeltHere’s a Hanukkah side dish that represents so much more than something tasty to serve at dinnertime. I’ve cut carrots into coins and called them Hanukkah Gelt so the story of Hanukkah can be retold each year and celebrated in joyful long-standing tradition.

These carrot coins are sautéed with a Middle Eastern herbal blend called zaatar and make a flavorful dish served during the eight days of Hanukkah. If yellow carrots are available, they would look even more like gold coins than the orange ones. Some food distributors have yellow carrots available year round. (See below).

 What is Hanukkah gelt?

Gelt is a Yiddish word meaning money. In ancient times, money was in the form of Ancient gold coinsgold coins. Today, many Jewish families give Hanukkah gelt, or Hanukkah money to their children during the eight days of Hanukkah. Some families give real coins, while Foil coinsothers present the kids with coins formed from chocolates wrapped in gold foil and stamped to look like gold coins. These little gold coins, made in different sizes, are wrapped in tiny mesh bags and sold in groceries across the country during the November/December holiday season.

It’s a fun tradition the kids look forward to each year, but how did this practice begin? Meaningful historical events contributed many reasons to give Hanukkah gelt, not only to children, but, sometimes, to others in the community.

How did Hanukkah begin?

Hanukkah, known as the Festival of Lights, celebrates the re-dedication of an ancient vialJewish Temple that was desecrated by Greek armies. The Jews fought back and won and restored their ruined temple. In the wreckage, they found a tiny bottle of sanctified oil to relight the eternal light over the altar, but there was only enough oil to last one day. The miracle was that tiny bottle of oil burned for eight days. To commemorate the miraculous event the people celebrated in a grand and very fitting way–by lighting candles and celebrating for eight nights in remembrance of the miracle. The tradition was called Hanukkah.

Classic menorahMany families created their own Hanukiah or Hanukkah Menorah, a candelabra with nine branches, eight to hold the eight candles for each of the eight nights the oil burnt, and an extra branch to hold the special candle, the shamash, that lights the other candles.

Brass menorah

Hanukkah gelt tradition

Hanukkah lights are considered sacred and are never snuffed out. Instead, the candles are allowed to burn until they go out naturally. Because the lights are considered sacred, they are not used for other purposes, such as using the light to count coins. So families gave their children coins, or Hanukkah gelt, to reinforce the rule and honor the sacred candles.

Lighted MenorahBecause the Hanukkah lights were so venerated, families made it an annual ritual to Gelt casualremember the miracle of the oil. They gave Hanukkah gelt to the poor so they, too, could afford to buy candles to commemorate the holiday.

During the Greek army invasion, the Jews were forced to give up their religious rituals and adopt only Greek practices. During that long period, many Jews forgot their traditions and Torah lessons and had to relearn them when the temple was restored. Families gave their children Hanukkah gelt during Hanukkah as a reward for Torah study.

gold coin stackJews also gave Hanukkah gelt to celebrate their freedom from the Greek armies and their return to their own traditions. Rather than placing value on material gifts to celebrate the holiday, the Hanukkah gelt represented a celebration of spiritual values.

Today’s Hanukkah rituals

Because Jews follow a lunar calendar, their holidays don’t always fall on the same date of our Gregorian, or Western calendar. Frequently, though, Hanukkah occurs in December during the festive Christmas season and has suffered the influence of commercialism to varying degrees. Many families give material gifts to their children along with the gold foil-wrapped chocolate coins. Tradition does prevail in some families where Hanukkah gelt, the real thing, offers an opportunity for parents to retell the story of Hanukkah to the children.

Hanukkah GeltHANUKKAH GELT

 Yield: about 4 to 5 servings

3 large carrots, sliced into coins

3 large shallots, thinly slicedHanukkah Gelt

3 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon zaataar

1 tablespoon canola oil

1 clove garlic, minced

3/4 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper to taste

  1. In a large, deep skillet, combine the carrots, shallots, water, zaatar, canola oil, and garlic. Cook and stir over high or medium-high heat for about 3 to 4 minutes. Add 1 or more tablespoons of water as needed to cook the carrots and prevent burning.
  2. When the carrots are beginning to soften, add the salt and pepper and cook until all the liquid is absorbed. Continue to cook and stir until the carrots are slightly browned.

Note: Zaatar is a traditional Middle Eastern herb blend with a long history and is used throughout the Fertile Crescent, Iraq, Arabian peninsula, and Israel. Many food historians believe the original zaatar was made of hyssop. Today, the mixture frequently consists of ground thyme, sesame seeds, salt, and sumac and is available in Middle Eastern groceries. Some cooks may include oregano, marjoram, savory, cumin, coriander, or fennel seeds. The herb blend is used as a seasoning on meats and vegetables, but it’s zaatar manakeesh we see most often, which consists of combining the herb blend with olive oil and spreading it over pita bread.

Yellow Carrots available at:

Specialty Produce http://www.specialtyproduce.com

Melissa’s Produce http://www.melissas.com

SOUTHERN PECAN PIE–PERFECT FOR THE HOLIDAYS!

Pecan Pie copyDOWN HOME PECAN PIE

Pecans are native to the American South, and you can bet those creative Southerners put them on the menu every chance they could find. Those delicious little pecans even made the South famous for its pecan pie, an irresistible dessert that makes ex-pat Southerns very homesick.

Many Southern families have their own treasured family recipe–possibly even some handed down from grandma’s or great-grandma’s secret recipe. Years ago, family recipes were so cherished many were kept secret.

I have great respect for those delicious heirloom recipes that bring families together at special times like the holidays. And I also love the way Southerners say pecans– south of the Mason-Dixon line they call them puh cons.

My holiday version has all the eye-appealing and flavorful attributes of its traditional counterpart with the added benefit of being totally vegan. But I must admit that veganizing the recipe was one heck of a challenge.

My first 8 attempts–yes, it actually took 9 tries to get it right–came out too runny or totally soupy. It was maddening and totally frustrating, but I was one determined gal. The goal was to find a way to thicken and bind the ingredients, as eggs would do in the traditional recipe. About the 8th time the top baked perfectly, and I thought I had achieved success at last. But, no! As soon as I cut into it, it was soup.

NutGourmet cover copyTaking the place of the eggs in my successful recipe is a combination of tapioca flour and flaxseeds that gives the pie its unique, creamy texture. The tapioca flour also performs the double duty of thickening the filling as well as providing an inviting glaze that enhances its appeal. The key was tapioca flour –it worked like magic! Now I’m thrilled to share this recipe that’s from my cookbook The Nut Gourmet.

There are many ways to arrange the pecans on the top. Some people simply sprinkle broken pieces over the filling, but I wanted a pecan pie that was pretty darned eye appealing. If you have the time, start by sorting out beautiful pecan halves of similar sizes for the topping. Then arrange them side-by-side in concentric rings beginning in the center of the pie.

At serving time, make way for those wild and crazy pecan lovers. There’s bound to be a mad scramble for a piece of pie!

DOWN HOME PECAN PIE

Yield: 1 (9-inch) pie

Nutty Wheat Pie Crust
1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flourPecan Pie copy
1/2 cup almond meal
2 tablespoons organic sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup organic canola oil
2 tablespoons cold water

Pecan Filling
1 1/4 cups coarsely broken pecans

2 tablespoons (1 ounce) dairy-free margarine
1 1/2 cups light or dark corn syrup
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 cup regular soymilk
1/2 cup tapioca flour, packed

5 tablespoons flaxseeds
1 1/4 cups pecan halves

  1. TO MAKE THE PIE CRUST, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and have ready a large rimmed baking sheet. Combine the pastry flour, almond meal, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl and mix well.
  2. Add the oil and mix with a spoon until all the flour is incorporated. Add the water and stir thoroughly until the mixture forms a soft dough and all the water is absorbed.
  3. Form the dough into a ball and roll it out between two sheets of waxed paper. Remove the top sheet of waxed paper, place the pie pan over the dough, and invert the dough and pan together. Remove the waxed paper carefully and firm the edges of the crust. Trim the excess crust with a knife. Bake the Crust for 5 minutes and set it aside on the baking sheet to cool.
  4. TO MAKE THE PECAN FILLING, put the coarsely broken pecans on a small, rimmed baking sheet and toast them in the oven for 8 minutes. Immediately pour them onto a dish to cool. When cool, spoon the pecan pieces into the bottom of the pie shell.
  5. Melt the margarine over medium heat in a 2-quart saucepan. Add the corn syrup, brown sugar, and vanilla extract and bring to a full boil over medium heat, stirring frequently. Boil 5 minutes and set aside to cool for about 30 minutes.
  6. Put the soymilk in a small bowl and stir in the tapioca flour. Set it aside for 5 minutes to allow the tapioca flour to absorb some of the liquid. Don’t rush this step. The tapioca flour needs a full 5 minutes to absorb some of the liquid.
  7. Meanwhile, put the flaxseeds in a blender or mini chopper and grind them to a fine meal. Add the flaxseeds and the soymilk mixture to the cooled corn syrup mixture. Stir to combine, and pour the mixture into the blender. Blend for 1 minute, until smooth. Pour over the toasted pecans.
  8. Top the pie with the pecan halves, arranging them in concentric circles, beginning in the center. Bake for 40 minutes. Cool thoroughly before chilling in the refrigerator. The pie will firm after it is thoroughly chilled.