Sunday, November 25, 2007

Post Thanksgiving Report

My dinner plate, from left: Mashed Potatoes with Mushroom Gravy, Walnut, Fig and Cranberry Cornbread Dressing,
Blanched Broccoli, Cauliflower and Carrots, Spiced and Caramelized Butternut Squash Purée, Slow-Cooked Collard Greens, Fresh Cranberry Sauce, Wheat Gluten Roast, Wild Mushroom Pilaf

I'm sorry for my abrupt absence. I had a horribly tenacious computer virus/spyware/adware infection. I thought I was going to have to wipe my hard drive and restore to factory settings (in fact I had tried to do that, but I was unable to complete the process). I ended up getting help from the Geek Squad. The gentleman who came to nurse my comp back to health was extremely helpful and knowledgeable. The whole clean up took over three and half hours, and it took about a week just to get them here. This absence of course breaks up my Vegan MoFo postings....

Since this is a food blog, and a big food day just passed, I'll be posting the obligatory post Thanksgiving report, with accompanying pictures and a few recipes. JD and I both moved to Austin as adults, so we don't have any family in town, and neither of our families were planning to come to town, so we hosted a dinner for our fellow Thanksgiving Orphans.

Traditional Sage Dressing.

We had a pretty exhaustive list of dishes for Thanksgiving, including two dressings (stuffing)--I was leaning heavily toward a walnut, fig, and cranberry cornbread dressing, and JD couldn't bear to live without a sage white bread dressing to stuff in his turkey*. He's generally pretty traditional as far as flavors go, and can be a bit hesitant to mix things up.

The kitchen was pretty hectic, so the recipes in this post aren't exact, but are more like guidelines.

Sautéed onion and celery, dried cranberries, dried figs, herbs and toasted walnuts.

Walnut, Fig and Cranberry Cornbread Dressing

by Christina Terriquez

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 small onion, diced
sea salt
2 stalks celery, diced
3/4 cup dried, fruit juice-sweetened cranberries
3/4 cup dried figs, diced or cut into quarters
1cup walnut pieces, lightly toasted
6 cups of your favorite cornbread, prepared, cooled, and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
3 teaspoons dried sage
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning, Simply Organic brand recommended
1 teaspoon dried thyme
4 cups vegetable broth

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium-high oil and sauté the onion with a pinch of sea salt until translucent. Add celery and a pinch of sea salt and sauté until tender. Add cranberries, figs, and walnuts and sauté for about two more minutes.

Heat remaining oil, and add dried herbs and cornbread cubes. Toss cornbread to lightly brown.

In a 13"x 9" baking dish, mix dried fruit mixture and cornbread. Add vegetable broth and season to taste with salt.

Bake, uncovered for 30-45 minutes, until brown and crispy on top and moist, but not wet, inside.

Assembling the cornbread dressing.

JD made the turkey and prepared all its accompaniments. While he was cleaning it, there was a horrifying/ridiculous moment when I realized he had his hand literally up the turkey's butt. That was...kind of weird, and I don't think he appreciated me pointing it out. He also put his foot down when I cheekily suggested we name it.

The spread.

We didn't actually get to cook the mulled cider because I ran out of pots and pans (I added the spices and orange rind and it's been steeping in the fridge while we slowly drink it), but here's our menu:

Mulled Cider
White Wine
Wild Mushroom Pilaf
Slow-Cooked Collard Greens
Blanched Broccoli, Cauliflower and Carrots
Sweet Potato Casserole with Candied Pecans
Mashed Potatoes
Mushroom Gravy
Spiced and Caramelized Butternut Squash Purée
Walnut, Fig and Cranberry Cornbread Dressing
Sage Dressing
Wheat Gluten Roast
Stuffed Turkey with Giblet Gravy
Fresh Cranberry Sauce
Triple Chocolate Silk Pie
Cashew Creme

The biggest disappointment was the wheat gluten roast. I had tried a stuffed wheat gluten roast earlier in the month, and it looked great, but was just okay in the flavor and texture department.

Cute but unremarkable stuffed Thanksgiving wheat gluten roast.

I thought I'd try one of Bryanna Clark Grogan's recipes, for Thanksgiving. Of course I tinkered with the recipe a bunch, and it came out really dry, hard, and pretty much inedible. JD and I both agreed that my usual seitan is much better. Since it was so tough, I ended up grating it and cooking it with diced onion, grated carrot, garlic, cumin and tahini as a filling for tamales a few days later. The tamales were excellent.

Grated leftover seitan with diced onion, grated carrot, minced garlic, cumin and tahini.

The biggest surprise to me was the spiced and caramelized butternut squash purée. It was richly flavored and extremely aromatic. I made it on a lark, as I'm not generally a big fan of butternut squash. It's usually just a bit too watery and not quite sweet enough for me. If I'm making winter squash, it's almost always going to be a kabocha or a buttercup. However, when we went grocery shopping, the organic squash was priced well, and it stores well, so I figured if I didn't use it for Thanksgiving, I'd have plenty of time to do something else with it. I'm so glad I bought it! The dish was divine, and it was the first thing to be entirely eaten--no leftovers! If you make this for dinner, I would recommend doubling or tripling the recipe as it's fantastic the next day, and it can be used in soup, as the filling for empanadas or pies, sweetened for a dessert, or frozen for later.

Squash and spices, midway through roasting.

Roasted and Spiced Butternut Purée
by Christina Terriquez

1 large butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed and cut into 1 inch chunks
2 whole cinnamon sticks
seeds and empty pod of 1/2--1 vanilla bean
sea salt
shoyu, optional
sweetener, optional

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Place squash, cinnamon sticks, vanilla bean and empty pod, a pinch of sea salt, and enough water to cover the top of the squash. Bake for 1--2 hours, stirring occasionally and adding water if needed. Squash is done when completely soft, and slightly brown.

Remove from oven. Carefully remove cinnamon stick and vanilla pod. Mash with a fork or potato masher if needed and season to taste.

This gets better the longer it bakes. Ideally, it should be so soft that you don't really need to mash it, as stirring is enough to break up any large pieces.

If you don't have a vanilla bean, omit it entirely, vanilla extract will not work. However, if you have empty vanilla pods that you've been saving, you can use 3 or four of them in place of the seeds.

You can spice this up more with a pinch of cayenne powder, ground cloves, or nutmeg.

You can substitute ground cinnamon for the whole sticks.

Try adding a little coconut milk for a richer, creamier consistency. This also works well if you make this into a soup, or add some cayenne.

Sautéed onions, celery, and wild mushrooms for the pilaf.
The pilaf was a pretty basic pilaf, I used brown basmati, sautéed onion, celery, garlic, fresh shiitakes, and reconstituted wild mushrooms with a little thyme. It was yummy, but overshadowed by the other dishes.

The meal was delicious, the company good, and the music, well, we cooked to all four sides of the Saturday Night Fever album, so it was pretty....disco. Which prompted me to think about having a glam Disco Thanksgiving next year.....I don't think JD is really up for that, though. The only bad thing was that JD put the fresh-from-the-oven turkey directly onto the glass table cover, which, of course, cracked immediately. Ah well. I hope everyone had a good day and something for which to be thankful.

*I'm sure some people are wondering how a vegan could allow a turkey to be cooked in their house. Well, 1) this is JD's house too, and he's (usually...) pretty accommodating of me, so I figure I should be accommodating for him because 2) since we've been together, he usually doesn't buy/cook/eat animal products and 3) we invited many omnivores, and I think the best way of spreading the vegan/vegetarian message is by being an example and showing how fun, delicious and compassionate being a vegan can be. By making a dinner where all the dishes, with the exception of the turkey, were vegan, I can do just that. No one wants to be lectured on a holiday, and I for one, don't want to lecture. I DO want to prepare beautiful, yummy food for my friends and family to enjoy, and that's exactly what I did.

ETA: I made the Fig, Walnut, and Cranberry Cornbread Dressing for my family for Christmas, and I was a little worried that it would be too extreme, but they loved it. "THIS is how stuffing should taste!" was my mom's response to her first bite. The recipe was bit different, since I didn't have my own equipment or pantry, and it took about 1 1/2 hours to find dried figs at the grocery store, but it was definitely worth it.

Additionally, I actually found some "Dressing Bread" at the local King Sooper's (the name Kroger's go by in the Denver Metro area). It was a dense loaf of bread that had all the sage, celery seed, pepper, and herbs that typically go into dressing. I had never seen or heard of this before, but it actually came in handy, especially since the loaf I bought was on the reduced price shelf since it was older and slightly stale--which is exactly what I was looking for, since it was the day before Christmas, and it wouldn't have time to get stale naturally. Is this a new thing? Has it been around for a while, but I've just missed it? It was sort of neat, really aromatic, but also very weird.

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