Archive | November, 2010

Where did November go?

30 Nov

Today is the last day of November and the last day of Vegan MOFO (Month of Food).

I’ve had a great time cooking and blogging vegan recipes for Thanksgiving. Not only did I discover some delicious recipes online, I also created some new favorites. For this, I am thankful.

Thanksgiving Buffet at my in-laws: Mashed Potatoes, Gravy, Stuffing, Vegan Butternut Squash & Apple Casserole, Vegan Harvest Stuffing, Vegan Green Bean Casserole, Dinner Rolls, Cranberry Sauce, and Turkey for the omnivores (a locally-raised, grass-fed, lived-in-the-sunshine turkey!)

Sadly, this last day of November means I have just over one month left of my one-year plan to get my blood pressure under control without drugs. I’m not quite there yet. My goal was to get under 140/90 so I would not be classified as hypertensive. Although I have had readings below 140/90, I’m generally right around 150/100.

Now I have to figure out what to do next.

I feel that I have tried just about everything under the sun to lower my blood pressure. I guess I’m either missing something or I just haven’t found the right combination of diet, exercise, and vitamins.

Everything I have tried in the last 11 months has been suggested by my chiropractor or has come from my own personal reading and research. I have not seen my primary care physician since last November when he prescribed the drug that eventually landed me in the emergency room. I have avoided seeing him because as soon as they check my blood pressure, he will try to force another prescription drug on me. He will not advise me regarding diet or exercise. He will not listen to my beliefs on prescription drugs. He will not offer any non-drug suggestions.

Therefore, my focus for December will be where to go from here. I am searching for a new primary care physician — one that will listen and be willing to work with me on the best possible solution, not the quick and easy way (drugs). And, I will be re-analyzing my diet. Again.

Don’t worry, though. There will be plenty of recipes this month. ‘Tis the season for holiday baking! So stay tuned…

More front-page news!

24 Nov

Nope. Not me. This time, the front page comes from Waynesville, NC, and my mom is on it! How awesome is that?!

In addition to being a professional chef, my mom is a member of the local Master Gardener Association, which is an educational group run through their county extension office. For the last few years, the Master Gardeners have worked with the first- and second-graders at one of the elementary schools to plant, care for and harvest their own child-friendly 3,000-square-foot garden. They even learned how to make their own compost! Recently, the students held a Harvest Festival where my mom taught them how to cook some of the vegetables they had grown and they got to taste a wide variety of foods that many of them had never even seen before. What a great way to introduce kids to a healthier way of eating. Way to go, mom! 🙂

The caption for her photo reads, “Professional chef Jackie Blevins demonstrates how to prepare spaghetti squash to the crowd of first- and second-graders. Blevins is one of nearly a dozen volunteers who work with children at the school’s garden.”

As I wrap up my month of blogging vegan Thanksgiving recipes, I couldn’t have chosen a more fitting dessert recipe — one from my mom’s first cookbook. Her recipe for Apple Crisp is amazing! By swapping the regular butter for Earth Balance and the flour for gluten-free all purpose flour, I easily converted a favorite dessert of mine into a vegan and gluten-free version. My mom serves this with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce. Since I didn’t have a recipe for vegan caramel sauce, I served this with Praline Pecan vegan ice cream. (If you can find a Caramel Swirl vegan ice cream, that would probably be even better!)

Warm Apple Crisp – Vegan & Gluten Free
serves 8 to 10

4 pounds Gala apples, peeled, cored and cut into slices
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cup gluten-free old-fashioned oats (I used Bob’s Red Mill)
1 cup sugar
1 cup gluten-free all purpose flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 cup vegan butter (Earth Balance)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 3-quart casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray.

Place apple slices in casserole, sprinkle with brown sugar and toss to combine.

In a medium bowl, combine oats, sugar, flour, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add butter and rub with fingertips until pea-sized clumps form. Sprinkle the oat mixture over the apples and bake until tender, about 1 hour. Serve warm with a scoop of ice cream. Enjoy!

This has Thanksgiving written all over it!

23 Nov

When I was growing up, my mom would make acorn squash stuffed with Italian sausage and onions and seasonings. Delicious! As I was gathering my recipes for this month of vegan Thanksgiving foods, I was struggling to figure out what would be my main dish (this is my first Thanksgiving without turkey, you know). For some reason, I thought of that stuffed squash. As I pictured it in my head, I knew it would make a beautiful and substantial centerpiece for a Thanksgiving dinner plate.

Since I don’t eat meat anymore, the next thing I had to figure out was what to stuff it with. For the past, oh, I don’t know…6 or 8 years, I’ve been making this fabulous stuffing I found in Parade magazine a long time ago. The original recipe has toasted bread cubes, Italian turkey sausage, red onions, celery, dried fruit, tart apples and herbs and spices such as sage and thyme. I always baked the mixture in a large baking dish, rather than in the turkey, so it doesn’t get soggy. It’s so good, I decided to veganize it and make it gluten free. (If you are not on a gluten-free diet, you can make this with regular bread that has a dense texture.)

For dinner tonight, I made it as a test-run and piled it into acorn squash halves. It came out perfectly! Jason and my two older kids said it tasted the same as the original. Logan, who’s only six, couldn’t remember it from last year, but he enjoyed picking out the fruit and sausage!

This is a pretty easy recipe, but it comes out fragrant and jam-packed with flavor. I thought about trying it with homemade vegan cornbread but the weekend got away from me and I ended up using store-bought gluten-free bread slices. The best part of this recipe is that you can completely prep this two days in advance. Toast the bread cubes and store them in a sealed container or zip bag. Store the cooked sausage/veggie/fruit mixture in an airtight container in the fridge. On Thanksgiving morning, simply mix it all together with the broth then finish out the recipe. Easy breezy!

Harvest Stuffing Stuffed Acorn Squash
serves 8

4 acorn squash
2 tablespoons olive oil + additional
1/2 pound meat-free Italian sausage, crumbled or diced small
1 cup chopped red onions
1 cup chopped celery
1/2 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 tablespoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried sage
3 cups cubed bread (gluten free or other dense bread), lightly toasted in the oven
1 small Granny Smith apple, diced
1/4 cup dried mixed berries
1/4 cup dried apricots, chopped
3/4 cup vegetable broth (Imagine No Chicken Broth)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash the outside of the acorn squash and pat dry. Place them in the middle of oven and roast for 30 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.

While squash are roasting, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Brown the sausage then remove to a large bowl. Add the remaining oil to the pan. Stir in the onions, celery, garlic, thyme, and sage and cook over medium heat until soft, about 15 minutes. Add to the sausage along with the apple and dried fruits. Toss well. Stir in the toasted bread cubes and drizzle the broth over the mixture to moisten as desired. Stir and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Slice the acorn squash in half lengthwise (through the stem end) and scoop out the seeds and stringy part. Place cut side up on a rimmed baking sheet. Brush with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Fill each half with stuffing, dividing evenly between the 8 halves.

Bake for 45 to 60 minutes or until squash is tender and stuffing is lightly browned. (If you can’t imagine Thanksgiving without gravy, make some with vegetable broth and drizzle it on top.)

Enjoy!

Thyme…one of my favorite things.

19 Nov

Of course, I’m talking about the herb. But time is one of my favorite things, too. Especially when I have time that isn’t scheduled! It’s rare around here, but when I do have a little extra time, I generally fill it with some chore that I’ve been putting off rather than relaxing. This week, all spare time was devoted to purging half of the junk in my kids’ toy closet. It was full of a lot of things they’ve outgrown, games with missing parts, and bits of paper and broken crayons. Plus, I’m claiming half of the freshly-cleaned closet for organizing/storing my scrapbooking stuff! (Someday I’m going to find time to scrapbook again…sigh…)

Now about that thyme…

Today’s recipe is a beautiful rice pilaf — a nice substitute for your typical Thanksgiving stuffing. The wild rice gives it a kind of nutty flavor without nuts. Seasoned with orange zest and thyme, this is a great vegan and gluten-free side dish. In addition, it’s something you can make on the stovetop, leaving your oven free for all those dishes that have to be baked.

Orange-Scented Wild Rice Pilaf
serves 6

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups vegetable broth (I like Imagine Organic No Chicken Broth)
3/4 cup brown rice
3/4 cup wild rice
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons fresh orange zest
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and sea salt. Saute until onions are tender, about 5 minutes. Add broth, rice and thyme. Bring to a boil then cover and reduce heat. Simmer until rice is tender, about 45 minutes. Stir in orange zest and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Enjoy!

This hits the top of the yumminess scale!

17 Nov

Last night, I invented this delicious little side dish recipe for a vegan Thanksgiving. (Actually, it’s perfect for a traditional Thanksgiving, too).

Anyway, my kids went nuts over this:

“Mom, this is awesome!”

“This tastes like dessert!”

“This is soooo good!”

And from Logan: “Next time, can you make it in a big pan so we can have more than one little bowl?!”

I started with some baked sweet potatoes, added a couple of things I thought would go well with them, and whipped it all up smooth and creamy in the food processor. Scooped into little ramekins and topped with buttery cinnamon walnuts, they were perfect! Sweet, but not too sweet. This Thanksgiving, serve these instead of the usual marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes.

Though it looks like granola in this picture, the topping for these sweet potato casseroles is toasted cinnamon walnuts!

Brandy & Orange-Scented Sweet Potatoes
serves 10

6 sweet potatoes, about 3 pounds
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup soy creamer
2 tablespoons brandy
2 tablespoons vegan butter (Earth Balance)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Dash of ground cloves

Topping:
1-1/4 cups finely chopped walnuts
1/4 cup vegan butter (Earth Balance), melted
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly coat ten 4-ounce ramekins and place them on a large baking sheet. (If you don’t have ramekins, you can try it in a large baking dish. Just bake until it’s heated through and the nuts are lightly browned.)

Poke the sweet potatoes several times with a fork. Bake in the oven until soft, about 45 minutes. (You can also do this in the microwave.) Meanwhile, mix the topping ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

Scoop the cooked sweet potato from the skins and place in a food processor. Add the remaining ingredients, except for the topping ingredients. Puree until smooth.

Spoon the mixture into the ramekins and smooth the tops. Sprinkle the top of each with the nut mixture. Bake until heated through and the topping is lightly browned, about 10 to 12 minutes. Enjoy!

Me? A butcher?

15 Nov

Yep — a vegan butcher. That’s what I felt like yesterday as I attempted to peel and chop a whole butternut squash. Good grief, those little buggers are hard to cut! I whacked at it for a while until my knife got stuck in it and then my awesome hubby came to the rescue! He took over with a much sharper knife (and a lot more muscle) and diced it into cubes for my recipe.

Thank goodness, because this is a not-to-be-missed recipe that is super easy once you get the butternut squash peeled and diced. Or, look for cubed butternut squash in your store’s freezer section and save yourself the butchering job. I’ve bought it before in the “natural foods” section at my local Kroger.

This recipe is an adaptation of a recipe I found on Prevention’s website a few years ago. I’ve never made it before, but it’s been in my big binder of recipes to try. I looked over the recipe and decided to veganize it and kick it up a notch by adding Granny Smith apples and more spices. I completely assembled this dish and took it to my in-laws all ready to bake. It came out of the oven warm, delicious, and very satisfying. It is a great holiday side dish.

Butternut Squash & Apple Casserole
serves 8

2 tablespoons vegan butter (Earth Balance)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3 tablespoons packed brown sugar, divided
1 tablespoon cumin
1/2 tablespoon dried thyme
3-pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cubed
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a small pan, melt the butter and olive oil together. Add the onions and saute over medium heat until soft, about 10 minutes. Allow to cool while you cube the squash and apples.

In a large bowl, toss together the onion mixture, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, cumin, thyme, squash and apples. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour into a 3-quart baking dish and spread evenly. Sprinkle the top with the remaining tablespoon of brown sugar.

Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Remove cover and continue to bake until squash and apples are tender, about 15 minutes. Enjoy!

A Spot of Tea…and a Green Bean Casserole

13 Nov

The other day, I had the joy of spending an afternoon with my Aunt Sue. It was a beautiful, sunny day and the weather was just gorgeous. We took a drive through the Irish Hills in Michigan, stopping to see the cottage where she spent her childhood summers, then headed in the direction of home, landing at this cute little place called The British Pantry & Tea Garden Cafe for lunch. It sits right on the main street through an historic downtown, in a long row of other local shops and businesses.

We wandered the small pantry and gift area while waiting for a table. The pantry area is filled with foods imported from Great Britain including things like steel cut oats, crackers, shortbread cookies, teas, and some strange tin called Gravy Granules. Interesting stuff. The other part of the storefront has gift items such as books, kitchen goodies, Christmas decorations and ornaments, and a wall of jars filled with loose leaf teas.

Once seated in the small cafe, we each ordered a pot of tea — Aunt Sue’s was Sweet Sin and mine was Chocolate Orange. Delicious! The menu included a variety of British items such as Cottage Pie, Ploughman’s Lunch, English Pork Pie, and Pasties stuffed with chicken or beef. They had several vegetarian options, too — Spinach Quiche, Maiden’s Lunch (wedge of Brie with fresh fruit and crackers), Tea Sandwiches, and all kinds of salads. There were no truly vegan items but I was able to order a veggie wrap without the cheese and a small side salad of mixed greens, dried cranberries, toasted almonds and raspberry vinaigrette. It was perfect. We ended our meal with more tea and a couple of scones. I know they contained butter and weren’t vegan, but I can’t resist a scone, so I had a Cranberry Orange one. Fantastic!

Thank you, Aunt Sue, for a wonderfully relaxing afternoon escape that I so desperately needed!

After my afternoon away from home, dinner needed to be something not too time consuming. Luckily, I had my weekly menu already planned and was able to pull it together quickly. Our side dish for the night was veganized green bean casserole. Yes, I’m talking about that green bean casserole. The one typically made with canned green beans, Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup and French’s French Fried Onions served at many Thanksgiving dinners.

Except mine didn’t contain any of those ingredients. Mine was fresh, healthy and vegan! Better yet, it passed the hubby/kids inspection. I used this Vegan Green Bean Casserole recipe from the FatFree Vegan blog. The flavor was fantastic and I couldn’t stop eating it! I actually found all-natural French fried onions at the Dollar Tree, if you can believe it. The brand name is Golden Farms and the only ingredients are onions, vegetable oil, wheat flour, soy flour and salt. No artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. As for the recipe itself, there are only a few small changes I would make the next time around.

1. Cleaning the fresh green beans was the most time-consuming part of the whole process. I would consider using two 12-ounce packages of frozen green beans that are already cut into bite-size pieces. I know the flavor will be just as good, and it will save time on a day when cooking is an all-day event.

2. I chopped the mushrooms really small because I thought that would best resemble the Campbell’s soup version. Next time, I will dice them bigger. I want to actually have bites with chunks of mushrooms in them.

3. The mushroom sauce was a little thin. The recipe calls for only 2 tablespoons of flour and you whisk it into the broth before adding it to the sauteed mushrooms. It came out pretty soupy and I’d prefer the mushroom sauce actually cling to the green beans. Next time, I’ll use 1/4 cup flour and stir it into the sauteed mushrooms before whisking in the broth. This should thicken it better.

All-in-all a great recipe. It’s quite low in fat and the taste is absolutely addictive. I will probably make this to take to Thanksgiving dinner with my in-laws.