Sunday, October 29, 2017

#PumpkinSpiceEverything

The moment I felt a cool breeze in September I was struck with the excitement and anticipation of one of my favorite aspects of Fall: pumpkin spice. Two years ago on a drive to my parents' house, I listened as a guest on public radio claimed the death of pumpkin and the rise of the other gourds. I found myself banging my hand on the steering wheel and condemning this sacrilege. True story. Maybe you're not that kind of fan (or maybe you are), but if you like pumpkin spice you'll like this post (don't worry, there's love for the other gourds too.)

My guide to hosting a #PumpkinSpiceEverything brunch:

1) Invite a crowd of pumpkin spice enthusiasts

I put out the 30 day notice to a group of friends: #PumpkinSpiceEverything brunch was happening. I reminded them how serious I was by sharing this, and suggesting the non-enthusiasts may want to sit this one out:


Also, make sure you accommodate your guests' dietary needs. Seems like this might be obvious for plant-based eaters with their own dietary restrictions, but I have friends who are gluten-free and soy-free so my menu reflects that. I find the easiest way to do this is by serving choose-your-own-adventure menus (ex. baked potato bar, make your own pizza, or for this brunch a crostini and waffle bar.

2) Gather Pumpkin Spice products EARLY

I started to gather the amenities the moment I saw them (they saturate the market in September, but the best options may be gone by mid-October.) I purchased Daiya's seasonal pumpkin spice cheesecake and Almond Dream pumpkin spice almond milk. I missed out on Califia Farm's pumpkin spice latte this season (buy it early, folks!)

3) Prep what you can in advance

I'd add to that: decide what you'll make and what you'll buy pre-made. Case in point: I had the pumpkin in my cart at Trader Joe's trying to rationalize how I could make time in my busy week to prep it because I love pumpkin seeds in the shell, and then there on an aisle cap was a big bag of pumpkin seeds in the shell ready to eat...an hour's work and mess avoided. On the other hand, a specialty shop had a $8 jar of spicy pumpkin butter, and you can make your own in 20 minutes with a can of pumpkin puree and spices (recipe below.) For the menu below, I started prepping 3 days in advance.

4) Have fun and enlist help

If you want to make all these dishes for one party, you're going to need at least 2 extra set of hands (or an award for being super human.) Also, cut the menu back, turn it into a special meal for your household. Just have fun, or what's the point?

Now, the piece de resistance: the #PumpkinSpiceEverything Brunch waffles:

Pumpkin Spice Waffles with Savory or Sweet Toppings

Isa Chandra Moskowitz is my vegan recipe guru, and the waffle recipe is hers. I made it gluten-free by using Arrowhead Mills gluten-free all purpose flour blend (I needed to use more of the gluten free flour to achieve the right consistency.)


Savory Topping: Spicy Pumpkin Butter with Kale, Mushroom, Sausage, and Squash Hash

Spicy Pumpkin Butter
adapted from this Minimalist Baker recipe. This is the first thing I made, and I used it in the pumpkin spice nice cream recipe below.

30 oz Pumpkin puree (2 - 15 oz cans)
1 T lemon juice
1/4 c maple syrup
2 T pumpkin spice
2 t ancho chili powder
1/2 t cayenne powder
crushed red pepper (as you see fit .5 - 1t)

In a small pot over medium heat, add all ingredients (I added the chili half way through the cooking.) Cook at least 20 minutes, stirring occasionally and reduce heat to keep it at a simmering bubble. Stores in the fridge for 2 weeks.

Hash
makes 4 servings as a meal (or 10-12 toppings for waffles)

1 large onion
1 pkg cremini mushrooms (8 oz)
1 large bunch kale (I used lacinato/dinosaur)
1 pkg Gimme Lean sausage (contains soy)
1 1/2 c squash (small dice, I used red kuri)
3 cloves of  garlic
black pepper
salt
olive oil
dash of chili powder or crushed red pepper (I used ancho)

Dice all your vegetables and keep them separate. Keep a medium size mixing bowl nearby. Heat your pan to medium-high (cast iron is best) with a little olive oil. Add the onions. When they get translucent (1-2 mins), add in the mushrooms and garlic with a pinch of salt and brown. The trick to the tasty carmelization is to not crowd the pan and cook off the liquid the onions and mushrooms release (salt helps draw it out.) Empty the mixture into the mixing bowl.  Apply more oil and grind some black pepper into the oil and give it 15-30 seconds to "bloom" before crumbling in the gimme lean sausage. While the sausage browns, keep breaking down the crumbles so the size is consistent with your veggies. When cooked, add to the mixing bowl. Apply more oil to the pan and add the squash and chili powder (after 2 mins), add in the kale and let it cook down for 5 or so minutes, make sure to stir and you can add some water and cover to steam if you like it well-cooked. Add in the contents of the mixing bowl and combine.

Toppings
1/4 c pepitas (pumpkin seed without the shell)
1 fruit - pomegranate arils (seeds)

Cook waffles* per Isa's recipe. Slather on some spicy pumpkin butter, a heaping helping of hash, and sprinkle toppings on as you see fit. Enjoy!

* I had to borrow a waffle maker from a friend. If you don't have one, turn it into a pancake party!



Sweet Topping: Pumpkin Spice Nice Cream, Coconut Whip Cream and Toasted Pecans (my favorite!)

Pumpkin Spice Nice Cream
adapted from the Feasting on Fruit recipe

1-1.5 c spicy pumpkin butter (see above, about half of the recipe)
4-6 frozen bananas broken into chunks
1/4 c vanilla unsweetened non-dairy milk

Blend all of the above in a food processor or vitamix blender until smooth like soft serve. Serve immediately or store in the freezer for up to a week. Must thaw 5-15 minutes before being scoopable out of the freezer.

Toppings
1 pkg So Delicious coconut whip cream (I used lite)
1/4 c pecans (Toast in a dry cast iron pan on low-medium heat for 3-4 minutes, stirring. They'll smell amazing when done.)


Stay tuned for the rest of the brunch menu! Here's a teaser:



Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Boozy Cocktails

"If it wasn't for the olives in his martini, he'd starve to death." - Milton Berle

Today's theme is boozy foods; but let's be honest: the best way to enjoy liquor is in a cocktail. So, that's what we'll do here. Beer, wine, they're just fine; but cocktails, they're divine!


I like cocktails; specifically, gin cocktails. Hang with me even if you think gin tastes like pine needles. I purchased my home a few years ago, and noticed its 100th birthday would be in 2016. Inspiration hit! Why not host a cocktail party in honor of the birthday, and focus on 100 year old recipes (when gin was celebrated in all its glory.) Imagine my utter joy when I discovered an online scanned copy of Recipes of American and Other Iced Drinks from 1916.


First, extremely important step, is to a host a pre-party cocktail recipe sampling party with a friend or two. You need to have quality control (and another excuse to make fancy cocktails at home.) We perused the recipes and made a list of what sounded good and doable with some of our on hand alcohol. Notably, vodka really was not a thing in American cocktails 100 years ago which is just fine by me. There was also at least three types of gins used in the recipes (my kind of recipe book!)  Interestingly, there was a series of cocktails that allowed you to choose the alcohol base: gin, brandy, or whiskey. The series of cocktails included: Smashes; Slings, Fizz and Daisies.

Smash: playfully flavorful muddled mint, orange slice and a real maraschino cherry.
Sling: enjoyably light lemon, orange and soda. (Note: Slings in bars can be very different featuring grenadine.)
Fizz: simply refreshing lemon juice and peel, soda water, powdered sugar (note: some gin fizzes use egg white, so be careful ordering at a bar.)
Daisy: fancy, fruity maraschino syrup, orgeat (almond) syrup, lemon and seltzer.

We decided on three signature cocktails: Fisherman's Prayer, Gin Daisy, and the Night Cap shot (as the farewell drink, of course.) We chose Night Cap mostly because it featured alcohol that I had not tried before (Benedictine) and for the story from the recipe book: "take off at a single draught, after which say 'good night.'"

Before the party you want to prep the cocktail mixers, adornments and signature drink by the pitcher. This will ensure you get to enjoy the party; rather than, serving as an amateur on-call bartender all night. Truthfully, most of our guests chose to just enjoy the three course signature cocktails we arranged. Though a few brave souls used the tablet version of the 1916 recipe book to choose their own cocktail adventure. Note: some vegans do not eat sugar that is made using bone char. You can make your own powdered sugar if you're worried about that by using a food processor on raw sugar (cover the top tightly or you will have dust everywhere), or use a vegan sugar-based simple syrup.


I knew I would have a few guests who would want a non-alcoholic option, and wanted them to experience the century throwback too. Lucky for me, Pepsi released a 1893 recipe version of cola and ginger cola in 2016. The 1916 recipe book also includes non-alcoholic options like almond (orgeat) lemonade and soda.


What party is complete without some snacks? Sticking to the century old theme and staying vegan, the food spread included: ghiradelli dark chocolates, twizzlers, pretzels, potato chips and dum dum suckers.


For entertainment, we set up a projector showing silent Charlie Chaplin movies and old-time cartoons (beware, some are pretty racist and sexist.) We also had a playlist of music from that era. The piece de resistance for entertainment? Blow Football (straws and a cotton ball or ping pong ball if you're fancy.)

There were some gin converts at the party (success!), and we had a blast sipping on some truly remarkable cocktails (success!) The theme was just enough reason to make a get together a "special occasion." What's your tip to make an occasion special? 


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Minnesota: Land of 10,000 Lakes and Plant-Based Options

Today's VeganMofo theme is "Sell Yourself." Oh my, as a Minnesotan, that makes me uncomfortable... we're all above average and, somehow also, no better than anyone else (at least in Minnesota, don't get me started on state rivalries.) So rather than sell myself, let me sell Minnesota. Really, this is my love letter to my home and my invitation for you to visit Minnesota and enjoy some of its splendor. Or, if you already live here, maybe discover a new reason to love to call Minnesota home.

1) Vegan Food
Herbivorous Butcher, the first vegan "butcher shop", in Minneapolis is a must-see for plant-based enthusiasts. With nearly a dozen deli meats and various sausages, steaks, ribs, cheeses and the like, there are tons of options. As they say, #AllVeganEverything. My personal favorite is their monster Italian cold cut sub featuring pastrami, capicola ham, pepperoni and mozzarella.

Lots of local restaurants incorporate HB's products, so you can make nearly every Pizza Nea menu item vegan or check out the fan-favorite J.Selby's, a plant-based eatery in St. Paul (um, they also carry amazing buffalo cauliflower "wings" and "soyclone" ice cream shakes with options like brownies or cookies and cream.)

Pizza Luce (try their vegan rinotta on a pizza) and Seward Cafe (great breakfasts) have been rocking the vegan offerings for years. The Dogg Haus (Roseville and St. Paul skyway) offers a ton of vegan hot dog options; including the quintessential chicago dog (I'm so Minnesotan I add ketchup, sorry.)

Minnesota also is home to a vibrant food scene featuring the cuisines of some of the immigrant cultures that consider Minnesota home today. Some of my favorites are Unideli and Tori Ramen's ramen soup; Quang or Jasmine's vietnamese rice noodle salads (buns), sandwiches (bahn mi) and soup (Hu Tieu Chay);  Fasika's ethiopian platters (especially, greens (gomen) and spicy lentils (misir key wot); and Himalayan's momos. I guess what I'm trying to say is you won't go hungry.

From top left: Himalayan's chili momos, Herbivorous Butcher's italian cold cut sub, Seward's red green bean earth, Unideli's tantanamen ramen soup, J.Selby's cauliflower buffalo wings, and Fasika's vegetarian platter. 

My husband and I are foodies through and through, and love to check out grocery stores to see the different offerings. If that's your kind of thing, I highly recommend checking out the myriad of food coops (Seward and the Wedge are my favorite and have lots of vegan options in their deli/desserts.) and the Whole Foods Selby Diner which now features the Beyond Meat Burger and fries ($6/Friday!).


2) Nature and Arts
I'm guilty of getting a little too excited about all the new food I get to try on a vacation and needing to build in some activities to build up an appetite. Don't worry, Minnesota has you covered. Of course, we have the Mall of America, but we also have amazing arts and natural areas to enjoy. Minnesotans value the arts and it shows with theatersmuseums and concert venues galore. Minnesotans also love the Great Outdoors A LOT, especially water (not surprising for a state with 10,000+ lakes.) Minnesota has dozens of state parks and recreational areas that offer outdoor programming, camping, trails and more.

You can try the paddle share (or other rental programs) and explore the Mississippi river or Minneapolis's chain of lakes or check out the Sax Zim Bog, a birder's paradise and home to many owls, in Northern Minnesota. In the winter (and really every season), I love going to Como Conservatory (free/donation encouraged) and enjoying the humid, earthy smells of tropical ferns to cure the winter chills (and the sunken garden is a must see/photograph that changes seasonally.) Minnesota is also home to the headwaters of the Mississippi River located in Itasca State Park. I've got to stop, I could go on about the wonderful places to visit forever.

From top left: Como Conservatory Sunken Garden, Headwaters of the Mississippi and fungi at Itasca State Park, lily pads at Como Conservatory, and sunset at Gull Lake near Brainerd. 

My recommendations on the arts: Guthrie, Jungle Theater, Heart of the Beast Theater (or May Day Parade), Midway Murals project, First Ave,  Science MuseumMinneapolis Institute of Arts (especially during Art in Bloom)

From Left: Midway Murals' Story of the Coffee Tree, First Ave, Heart of the Beast Puppet at May Day Parade, and Art in Bloom at MIA. 

3) Breweries and Distilleries

If you like beer, Minnesota should be on your destination vacation list (check out what Minnesota has to offer.) Come during one of the festivals and sample the latest on tap from 50+ breweries across the state, or come any time and hit up a few tap rooms (conveniently, there is an evenings worth accessible by light rail, so you don't have to worry about drinking and driving.) Not a beer fan? Don't worry, I'm not really either...give me gin over beer any day (not every day, don't worry, mom.) There are a growing number of distilleries offering gin, vodka and other liquors to sample.

My recommendations: Schell's (New Ulm), Surly (Minneapolis), DuNord (Minneapolis), Norseman (Minneapolis.)

From Left: Schell's Beer Tour Tasting in New Ulm, Surly Brew Hall in Minneapolis.


Monday, October 9, 2017

My Secret Ingredient: Nooch-ing

I bet money my "secret" ingredient is the number one mention by VeganMOFO bloggers. It's in most stores, but if you're new to plant-based eating you probably have never given it a second thought. What is it?




It's nooch to the aficionados, and nutritional yeast on the label. This unassuming yellow flaky substance will rock your world. But, no, really, what is it?!

Nutritional yeast is a deactivated yeast (not the stuff you use to make bread or beer) that you can usually find in the bulk or spice section (weirdly, sometimes also in the health and wellness section.) It's got a great cheesy, nutty flavor. And, it's often fortified with B12 (one of 7 vitamin that you cannot get from non-fortified plant foods.

Some easy noochy recipes:
  • Popcorn. Make popcorn, add nooch, a little salt and earth balance margarine, coconut oil, or go oil-free. Ask anyone who knows my cat, he literally cannot help but stick his head in the bowl to lick up the cheesy goodness...after I'm done of course.
  • "Parmesan" topping. If you're lazy like me, sprinkle the nooch straight on the pasta dish. You can make it more creamy and substantial with this simple recipe.
  • Soups. The trick to minestrone is the parmesan rind with its salty, umami quality. Substitute in nooch and a little salt and voila! I add nooch to chili and any soup I want to have savory, mouthwatering depth.  
Have you ever tried nooch? What's your favorite recipe? 
www.veganmofo.com 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Impressive Plants

First, I do not engage in converting people's food choices. Food choices are personal and complex from family traditions to health needs. I know people that encourage others to be more reflective and make food choices that embody their values, and that's admirable especially when done from a place of empowering rather than guilting or converting. That said, I LOVE empowering someone who has made the choice to eat more plants by sharing my favorite recipes, restaurants, products and tips.

There are also times I want to cook for my omnivore friends whether they just became parents or I'm inviting a group over for dinner. My standard never-fail-to-impress-an-omnivore is this black bean and swiss chard enchilada casserole (recipe here.) I often make substitutions in the recipe from the type of vegan cheese used on top (my current favorite is So Delicious Dairy-Free Cheddar Jack Shreds) to the veggies (sweet potatoes, peppers, greens are all great additions.)


The casserole is made all the better by serving it with lots of mix-and-match toppings for a choose-your-own-adventure experience. Popular toppings to include: tomatoes, raw onions, cilantro, lettuce, vegan sour cream, avocado, salsa and hot sauce.


If you find yourself with someone who wants to eat more plants, but does not embrace vegetables or beans, this dish isn't going to work. In that case, I'd recommend almond ricotta stuffed shells with marinara sauce (check out Miyoko Schinner's amazing recipe here.)


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Vegan Wedding Catering

We're celebrating our 4th wedding anniversary this month, so I thought it fitting to share a catering success story: our wedding!

My husband and I are foodies. When we began planning our wedding, we had the same challenge we have when we go on vacation: more food we wanted to share than meals in the day. The solution: We celebrated our wedding over a week of meals with close friends and family (some from out of town.)

We welcomed our out of town guests with Japanese sushi and grilled (robata) plates at Masu, and then whisked away the wedding party and moms for manicures at the Aveda Institute across the street.


Instead of holding a dance after the wedding, we opted to go swing dancing earlier in the week at the Wabasha Street Caves and fuel our dancing with Cambodian stir fry dishes from Cheng Heng. Their tamarind stirfry dish (chha kaim som) is my favorite with a sour, savory sauce served over peppers, onions, broccoli, pea pods, tofu and thai basil. My hubby's fave is the lemongrass and peanut stirfry (chha kroeng).


We had the wedding rehearsal dinner at our favorite date night spot, Little Szechuan, sharing green beans, spicy fried tofu, and more. We've celebrated our anniversary here ever since.


For the wedding day meal, we wanted an all vegan meal that all our friends and family would enjoy. Chowgirls Killer Catering is a local company that offers seasonal vegan friendly options. We did a taste test with my parents and a friend sampling a lot of the vegan offerings, and I'm glad we did! I was adamant pre-tasting that I didn't want a simple salad with green goddess dressing (vegans aren't rabbits!) I also thought we'd likely go with vegan versions of familiar foods like mac and cheese bites or meatless meatballs. In the end, we decided to go with classic delicious food that "wasn't too weird". Roasted veggies, dips and pates, root vegetable quinoa salad, and yes...that herbaceous, amazing green goddess dressing on a simple salad. They snuck it in our tasting, and I remember feigning displeasure at the hard sell on the salad, until I took a bite. The day after our wedding I was scraping every last drop of the leftover dressing on a salad.


Of course, what wedding is complete without the cake? We're fortunate to have an amazing baker at our local coffee shop, Groundswell, who really outdid herself with five vegan cupcakes: pumpkin with cream cheese frosting, banana with peanut butter frosting and chocolate ganache, champagne with frosted cranberries, spice cake with apple compote, and chocolate with chocolate ganache and a coconut macaroon. Our local baker beat out Chicago Diner and a local coop in our cake test.


Thanks for sharing this walk down memory lane with me, and if you're local I hope you'll support some of the amazing businesses that helped make our wedding week special.



Monday, October 2, 2017

Junk Food Fave: Taco Dip and Doritos

Growing up, taco dip was a staple at family functions. It was a given Pace Medium Salsa was involved, and the family was split on whether the dip should be served with Doritos or plain tortilla chips.  Here's my veganized taco dip recipe. 


You might be thinking the vegan version can't be served with Doritos, but you'd be wrong! Spicy Sweet Chili Doritos are vegan, and work just fine with the dip. You could also try Late July's Bacon Habanero chips (yep, vegan.)
I don't know if my taste buds are mellowing out in old age, but blue and yellow corn tortilla chips are slowly becoming the standard when serving taco dip. Hope you enjoy!