Thursday, December 15, 2005

A Christmas Lunch Box Menu

Golden Chestnut Soup
Best Brussels Sprouts
a Clementine or Satsuma mandarin
Gingerbread Vegans with Icing & Sprinkles
Beverage: Silk Nog
Here's a warm welcome to the holidays -- a lunch box filled with traditional wintertime fare. Creamy, piping hot Golden Chestnut Soup warms the tummy and satisfies the soul. Brussels sprouts have long complemented chestnuts and this time is no exception; I find them addictive in this sweet, tangy sauce.

Clementines and Satsumas are sweet, seedless mandarin oranges that become available each year around Christmastime. Pick some up for a special holiday treat and old-time stocking stuffer.

The Gingerbread Vegans are most fun when they are packed along with some sprinkles and a miniature piping bag filled with icing, so the luncher can decorate the cookies right before eating them (see directions in the recipe below).

And finally, what would the holidays be without some soy nog? I think Silk brand soy nog is one of the best things in life. Really, give it a try -- it will nog your socks off (hee hee).

Golden Chestnut Soup

The first time we ever tried roasting chestnuts, my husband and I bought some on a whim at the grocery store ("Hey, look, chestnuts! Just like in that song!"). We spread them out on a baking sheet and put them in the oven. Unfortunately, we didn’t know you must cut a slit in the shell of the chestnut to release steam. In a few minutes chestnuts were going off like fireworks, ricocheting around inside the oven with deep booming explosions. What a mess that was!

We learned our lesson that day, but we never gave up on chestnuts. They are absolutely delicious roasted and eaten out of hand as a snack, or puréed into a rich, golden soup.

serves 4

1 lb. fresh chestnuts
4 large cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 TB olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, diced
1 celery, diced
4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
¾ tsp. salt, or to taste
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. white pepper

Preheat the oven to 475º. Cut an "x" in the shell of each chestnut with a sharp paring knife. Arrange the chestnuts on a baking sheet with the unpeeled garlic cloves. Roast for 20 minutes, until the outer shell has pulled slightly away from the chestnut and the shell and the inner skin peel away easily.

Remove the outer shell and inner skin of each chestnut and place them in a bowl. Work quickly while the chestnuts are still hot (hold them with a kitchen towel if they are too hot to touch). Squeeze the roasted garlic out of the garlic cloves and add it to the bowl with the chestnuts. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the onion, carrot, celery, fresh thyme, and bay leaves. Sauté, stirring often, until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the chestnuts and garlic and 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer, covered, until the carrots are tender, about 10 minutes.

Remove from heat. Remove the thyme sprigs and bay leaves and let the soup cool slightly. Transfer the soup to a Vita-Mix or other blender, in batches if necessary, and purée until the soup is completely smooth. Pour the soup into a clean saucepan and add the salt, nutmeg, and white pepper. Warm over medium-low heat, stirring. Taste for salt and serve.

Best Brussels Sprouts

The name says it all! These sweet-and-sour sprouts are wonderful hot or at room temperature.

serves 4

1 lb. fresh Brussels sprouts, cleaned, trimmed, and cut in half
2 TB olive oil (or 1 TB olive oil and 1 TB margarine)
salt to taste
¾ cup vegetable stock or water
2 TB sugar
2 TB apple cider vinegar
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Heat the oil or oil and margarine in a sauté pan or well-seasoned cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the Brussels sprouts and sprinkle with salt. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until the sprouts are turning golden, about 5 to 10 minutes.

Add ½ cup of the stock or water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, covered with a lid left slightly ajar, until the Brussels sprouts are almost completely tender and the stock or water has been cooked away, about 10 minutes.

Remove the lid and add the last ¼ cup of stock or water, the sugar, and the apple cider vinegar. Cook at a lively simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is reduced to a syrup, about 5 minutes. Taste for salt and season with pepper. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Gingerbread Vegans

Every year around the solstice we throw a "Gingerbread Cookie Party" for all of James’ friends. Kids come over to decorate cookies with piping bags of white and colored icing, to drink Silk Nog and sparkling cider, and play games. No gifts are exchanged, but each guest is asked to bring $2 for the animal shelter. The next day James and I take the money down to the shelter to wish the animals there a happy, homebound holiday.

All-natural vegan food coloring and sprinkles are available on the web from Vegan Essentials.

makes about 2 to 3 dozen cookies, depending on the size you choose

1/3 cup non-hydrogenated margarine, at room temperature
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup sweet unsulphured molasses
¾ cup water
6 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
¾ tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
½ tsp. cloves
½ tsp. allspice

for decorating:

Gingerbread Vegan Icing (see below)
sprinkles (optional)

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large mixing bowl with a hand mixer, cream together the margarine, brown sugar, molasses, and ½ cup of water.

In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and allspice. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, adding just enough of the water to incorporate all the flour and form a dough that holds together well.

Turn the dough out of the bowl and form into four equal balls. Wrap each ball well with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Preheat the oven to 350º. Line some baking sheets with parchment and spray with nonstick spray. Set aside.

Working with one ball at a time, roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin. Roll the dough about ¼-inch thick and use cookie cutters to cut out your desired shapes. Use a metal spatula to transfer the cookies to the prepared cookie sheets, placing them about 1 to 2 inches apart.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the surface is firm. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely, then decorate with Gingerbread Vegan Icing.

Gingerbread Vegan Icing

You may want to make multiple batches of this icing and color each with a different food coloring for some very colorful cookie creations. I prefer the look of clean white icing on my little vegans.

makes about 3/4 cup

1 cup sifted powdered sugar
½ tsp. vanilla
1 ½ TB Silk Nog or 1 TB water

Combine the powdered sugar and vanilla. Sprinkle in the Silk Nog or water, stirring well with a small spatula and using just enough liquid to form a smooth icing. It should be soft enough to squeeze easily out of a piping bag, but not so runny that it runs out of the bag unbidden. Transfer the icing to the piping bag and decorate the cookies as desired.

To pack some frosting for the lunch box, put a small amount of icing into one corner of a sandwich-sized ziplock bag, then twist the filled corner off and secure snugly with a small rubber band and a piece of holiday ribbon. Cut away the top of the baggie, then cut a very small hole in the tip of the bag to squeeze the icing out. Cover the tip with a bit of plastic wrap so the icing does not dry out before lunch.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Native Blend Popcorn Balls

Popcorn, sunflowers, pumpkins, blueberries, and cranberries are all foods native to the Americas. They’re darn tasty, too!

makes 12 balls

10 cups popped popcorn (1/2 cup unpopped kernels, popped in 1/8 cup corn or canola oil)
1/3 cup roasted, unsalted sunflower seeds
1/3 cup roasted, unsalted pumpkin seeds (or buy them raw and toast your own, see below)
1/3 cup dried blueberries
1/3 cup dried cranberries
¼ cup brown rice syrup
1 cup packed light brown sugar
½ tsp. salt
margarine or oil

To toast raw pumpkin seeds, preheat the oven to 350º. Place the pumpkin seeds on a baking sheet and toast, shaking the pan one or two times, for 10 minutes, until the seeds are slightly puffed. Set aside.

Pop the popcorn and place it in a large mixing bowl with the sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, dried blueberries and dried cranberries. Remove any unpopped kernels. Set aside.

Place the brown rice syrup, brown sugar, salt, and ¼ cup water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture boils over the entire surface. Stop stirring and adjust the heat if necessary to maintain this constant boil without boiling over.

Okay, now you have a choice. If you want soft, somewhat gooey, chewy popcorn balls (my personal preference), boil for about 8-10 minutes (240º on a candy thermometer, aka soft-ball stage). If you want hard, less chewy popcorn balls that crackle when you crunch into them (my husband’s preference), boil for up to 15 minutes (250º on a candy thermometer, aka hard-ball stage).

Pour the sugar mixture evenly over the popcorn, stirring constantly until everything is completely coated, being sure to stir from the bottom of the bowl to catch all those little sunflower seeds that like to fall to the bottom. Put some margarine or oil on your hands to keep the mixture from sticking. Scoop up large handfuls and shape into balls, pressing firmly (if you are packing some inside a lunch box, make sure you make them small or flat enough so that they fit with the lid closed).

Work quickly before the mixture has a chance to cool. If the mixture gets too firm to shape, place it in a warm (300º) oven for 1 to 2 minutes to soften.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Lunch Box Fondue

Kids love to dip things! Be sure to include a long-handled fork to dip the veggies with. This recipe also makes a nice "cheese" sauce to pour over baked potatoes or steamed greens.

makes about 2 cups

½ cup chopped baby carrots
one 12-oz. package soft or firm silken tofu
¼ cup nutritional yeast flakes
¼ tsp. dry mustard
1 TB mellow brown rice or white miso
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
¾ tsp. salt, or to taste
pinch of white pepper
pinch of nutmeg

Place the carrots in a small saucepan and cover with a scant ½ cup of water. Bring to boil and lower the heat to a simmer. Cook until the carrots are completely tender.

Meanwhile, place all the rest of the ingredients in a Vita-Mix or other blender. When the carrots are done add them and their cooking liquid and puree until completely smooth.

Place the fondue back into the saucepan and heat on medium low heat, stirring frequently, until piping hot.

To serve, pour the fondue into a small crockpot or fondue pot and serve surrounded by vegetables and bread for dipping (see our list of favorites below). To pack for a lunch, pour hot fondue into a small thermos that has been preheated with boiling water for 10 minutes.

Some Favorite Fondue Dippers:

cubes of crusty wholegrain bread
boiled baby new potatoes
lightly steamed baby carrots
raw or lightly steamed cauliflower florets
raw or lightly steamed broccoli florets
steamed Brussels sprouts
blanched aspargus spears
bell pepper strips
apple chunks
cherry tomatoes
artichoke hearts
raw button mushrooms
raw zucchini slices
blanched whole green beans

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Polenta Fries

Polenta is a coarse grind of cornmeal similar to grits. It is usually yellow, but white polenta and grits also make great fries.

The polenta is prepared the night before and refrigerated. In the morning allow about 20 minutes to slice and broil the polenta wedges, turning them into perfect, crispy fries.

serves 2 to 3

1 ½ cups polenta or grits
1 tsp. salt or to taste
1 TB olive oil, plus more for pan
1 TB nutritional yeast flakes
Barbecue sauce or ketchup, for serving

Spray or brush one 8.5 x 3.5 loaf pan with olive oil. Cut a piece of parchment paper large enough to cover the bottom of the loaf pan with two edges folding up and over the sides of the pan (this will help you unmold the polenta). Spray or brush the parchment with olive oil. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Add the salt. Gradually add the polenta, whisking constantly. Return to a boil, lower the heat to the lowest setting and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture is thick, about 8 minutes. Add 1 TB olive oil and the nutritional yeast and stir well to combine.

Pour the polenta mixture into the prepared loaf pan. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to smooth the top. Refrigerate several hours or overnight.

In the morning, preheat the oven to broil with the oven rack set about 5-6 inches from the broiler. Line a baking sheet with parchment and brush the parchment with olive oil.

Remove the polenta from the loaf pan and set on a cutting board. Slice the polenta into ½” slices, then cut the slices in half to make bite-size pieces. Arrange the slices on the baking sheet and brush them with olive oil.

Broil for about 10 minutes, until the tops are crispy. Flip the slices over and broil for an additional 5 minutes, until crispy and beginning to brown. Sprinkle with salt if desired. Serve the fries with barbecue sauce or ketchup for dipping.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Pumpkin Carob Chip Muffins

Muffins are a great way to make orange vegetables attractive to a child who might otherwise dislike them. These scrumptious muffins are filled with whole wheat, flax, pumpkin, and nuts, and are soy-free for those kids with soy allergies. Carob chips taste just right here, but feel free to substitute vegan chocolate chips if you prefer.

makes 12 muffins

1 cup plain canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup canola oil
2 TB ground flax seed
1 tsp. vanilla
1 2/3 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. nutmeg
1/3 cup vegan carob chips
½ cup pecans, chopped
Perfect Cinnamon-Sugar* (see below)

Preheat the oven to 350º. Spray a nonstick muffin tin sprayed well with nonstick spray, or line the tin with paper muffin cups and spray the cups with nonstick spray. Set aside.

Put the pumpkin, water, canola oil, ground flax seed, and vanilla in a Vita-Mix or other blender and process on high for at least one minute, until light in color and well-blended. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the whole wheat pastry flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, kosher salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Add the pumpkin mixture and mix well with a wooden spoon or large spatula until well-blended. Fold in the carob chips and pecans.

Spoon the batter into the muffin tin, distributing evenly to make 12 muffins. Sprinkle the top of each muffin with some Perfect Cinnamon-Sugar.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a cake tested inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Let cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then use a spatula to gently lift each muffin from the muffin tin. Finish cooling on a wire rack.

*Perfect Cinnamon-Sugar: Whisk together ¾ cup sugar with 2 tsp. ground cinnamon and store in a sugar shaker. Use as a sweet sprinkle on porridge, toast, or soy yogurt.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Golden Cauliflower Soup

This creamy cauliflower soup gets just a hint of cheesiness from nutritional yeast. The soup is filled with potatoes, carrots, and cauliflower -- a great way to eat your vegetables!

makes 6 cups

1 small head cauliflower, cut into small florets (about 6 cups)
1 TB olive oil
½ a small onion, diced
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 ½ cups potato, peeled and chopped
1 cup carrots, peeled and diced
1 ¼ tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. white pepper, or more to taste
1 TB nutritional yeast flakes

Place the cauliflower florets in a steamer basket and steam until tender.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium high heat. Add the onion and sauté, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for another minute. Add the potatoes, carrots, and 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil and lower the heat. Simmer, covered, until the potatoes and carrots are completely tender (the potatoes should be falling-apart tender so the blended soup does not become gluey).

When the cauliflower is tender, measure out 2 cups of the florets and set aside. Add the rest of the cauliflower to the potato mixture.

Remove from heat and transfer the soup to a Vita-Mix or other blender, in batches if necessary, and purée until smooth. Pour soup into a clean saucepan and return to the stove on medium-low heat. Add the cauliflower florets, salt, white pepper, and nutritional yeast flakes. Cook, stirring, until warmed through. Taste for salt and adjust as needed. Serve as is or sprinkled with toasted pumpkin seeds.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Creamy Sweet Potatoes with Almond Butter

1 medium sized sweet potato, baked
1 TB orange juice
2 TB light brown sugar
½ tsp. cinnamon
pinch nutmeg
1 TB creamy almond butter

Peel and chop the sweet potato. Blend in a food processor along with the orange juice, brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg, until creamy and smooth. Heat gently on the stove or in the microwave. Stir in the almond butter until well-incorporated. Makes 2 servings.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Blackstrap Gingerbread with Lemon Sauce

This is a fantastic recipe from The Happy Lunchbox by my wonderful knitting friend Renee Pottle, who was kind enough to let me post it here.

Because this gingerbread has no sweetener besides molasses, using all blackstrap might make it a little strong for your taste. You can use sweet molasses instead or a combination of both.

We have an old family tradition of always serving gingerbread with lemon sauce. Pass the sauce around the table to pour over the gingerbread.

1 3/4 cups flour
1/4 cup potato flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. allspice
dash salt
1 cup molasses
1/2 cup oil
1 cup hot water
1/4 cup candied ginger, chopped (optional)

Preheat oven to 350º. In an 8 inch baking dish, mix together the flours, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and salt with a fork.

Add molasses, oil and water. Mix well, using the fork to break up all lumps. Stir in the candied ginger, if using.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes (it took 45 minutes in my oven), or until a wooden pick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Cool in pan on a wire rack. Makes 9 large servings.

Lemon Sauce

1/2 cup sugar
1 TB cornstarch
1 cup water
1/8 cup margarine (Willow Run and Earth Balance are vegan and trans-fat free)
1 TB lemon juice
zest of one lemon

Whisk sugar and cornstarch together in a small saucepan. Gradually stir in water, and heat over medium high until boiling, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Boil for 2 minutes, until sugar has dissolved and the sauce has thickened.

Remove from heat and stir in the margarine, lemon juice, and zest. Serve immediately or refrigerate several hours or overnight; the sauce will thicken more as it cools.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Vegan Tennessee Corn Pone

This is just right for 2-3 people, but can easily be doubled and baked in a larger skillet or baking dish. You may have to increase baking time for the larger size.

2 cups well-seasoned cooked beans, or one 15 oz. can vegetarian chili
3/4 cup nondairy milk
2 tsp. plain white vinegar
2 TB ground flaxseed
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. kosher salt

Preheat oven to 400º.

Warm the beans or chili in a pan on the stove until bubbly. Lightly spray an 8-inch cast iron skillet (or other baking dish) with nonstick spray, and set aside.

Meanwhile, whisk the nondairy milk, vinegar, and ground flax together (the soymilk will curdle into soy "buttermilk").

In a seperate bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, baking soda, and salt. Add the liquid ingredients and whisk until well combined.

Drain any excess liquid off the beans (they should be juicy but not too wet). Pour the beans into the skillet and top with the cornmeal mixture.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, until bread is set and golden brown.