Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Butternut Squash Lasanga

I had friends over for a Christmas dinner party on Saturday.  I was only planning a meal for 10-12 people, but I wanted to make sure everything could kind of be prepared ahead of time, so I didn't have a last minute freak out*.  I ended up making a spring mix salad with fennel, grapes, avocado, red onion, and sunflower seeds and a grapefruit/celery dressing, stuffed mushrooms, mashed potatoes, brussel sprouts with almonds, curried carrots and apples, and a butternut squash lasagna- for dessert I made a cranberry cake with coconut icing.  I tried to pick things that I've either prepared before, or things that would be hard to mess up.  The only risk I took was on the lasagna- and overall it turned out pretty great, with the exception of the noodles... I used rice lasagna noodles and I think If I do this again I'll switch it up with thinly sliced zucchini instead.  This would make a great main dish anytime of year.  The richness of the cashew "alfredo sauce" and the creamy butternut squash will satisfy and fill you up- while getting a dose of green iron from the spinach.  

Butternut Squash Lasagna

1 butternut squash peeled, seeded, and thinly sliced
1.5 cup of raw cashews
1.5 cup water
the juice/zest from one lemon
1 cup nutritional yeast
spinach (fresh or frozen... a lot or a little... your choice!)
1 package lasagna noodles (or 5 ish zucchinis mandolined)

Blend/process cashews, water, nutritional yeast, garlic, salt, and lemon stuffs until a smooth, creamy sauce is made.  Layer noodles, squash, spinach and sauce in a 9x13 pan until ingredients are used, or the pan is filled.  Bake at 375 for 30-40 minutes.  Top with vegan parmesean or parsley!

*last minute freak out= I've been known to have them all of the time.  I like the last-minute-oh-crap adrenaline rush I get, but even though this method proved successful when writing research papers in college- its not the best process when food is involved.  Plan ahead, make lists, and if you're dying to try a new recipe for company, make it in advance, so you'll have a plan B if need be.  Also, the best asset in helping with last minute freak outs is an amazing friend/family member that can be your sous-chef/assistant.  For every great dinner party that I've had there has been a friend "behind the scenes" making me look great- whether it be icing my cakes, chopping veggies, stuffing mushrooms, helping catch up on dishes, or just making sure the ice is ready for drinks and the floor is swept.  Having a good friend do this for you is invaluable- thank them often and reward them with taste tests and food to take home.  My mom is usually my behind the scenes girl, but for this most recent party I have to thank Cote for making my last minute freak out a non-freak out.  

I hope everyone's holiday season is merry and bright!

Here are a few more photos from the dinner party...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Food is for more than just eating...

I'm always on the lookout for the latest vegan beauty stuffs.  I can confidently say that my makeup bag and bathtub are stocked with products that are cruelty free.  I love companies like Lush, Aveda, and Origins that are all veg based and clearly mark the products that do contain bee products.  However, these cruelty free products are not easy on the pocketbook.  As much as I love to shop for beauty products, I also like shopping for food (go grocery shopping with me and I'm nothing but big-eyed and smiles).  So, I've combined my love for food with my love for beauty products- and the need to keep on a budget and come up with a few products right in your kitchen (or at least the closest health food store).

Coconut Oil

I keep a large tub in my kitchen and a large tub in my bathroom.  In the kitchen I put it in hot cacao drinks, make popcorn with it, and as a butter replacement.  In my bathroom it is my must have essential.  Nothing makes a hot shower even better than getting out and covering yourself in coconut butter.  It is a super moisturizer along with being antimicrobial and antifungal.  Often I use coconut oil instead of deodorant.  I know some people who use it to shave their legs.   My mom's hooked on it for using it to moisturize her face and neck.  Give it a try! (And make sure you grab the unrefined, organic variety.) 

Aloe Vera

My friend Brandon turned me on to aloe one night when he made me a cherry aloe lemonade elixir.  After we filleted the aloe vera plant to use the insides in the drink, we smeared the aloe skins all over our faces and viola!- instant face lift!  I've been using aloe on my face now for a few weeks and its helping diminish my blemishes.  Aloe is known for helping on burns and cuts- so keep a leaf around in the fridge for any lacerations or a quick face lift that moisturizes while it tightens skin.  

Sea Salt

After spending all day at work on my feet- I can't wait to come home and take a hot bath with sea salt.  The sea salt baths are detoxifying and aid the lymph system in fluid reduction, making those ankles at the end of a long day look like new again.  I also like to mix sea salt with olive or coconut oil and lemon juice and use that as an exfoliator in the shower or bath.  In the kitchen I've gotten rid of that heated, de-mineralized iodized salt and switched to sea salts.  I save the nice celtic grey salts for my food- but still splurge on coarse, raw sea salts for bathtime.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Entertaining/Finger Foods

The holidays bring upon many opportunities for gathering with friends.  Whether or not the get-together is small or large- food is almost always involved.  I know that the food at social events can create a lot of temptation and desire, but this holiday season ask the host/hostess if you can bring a snack for everyone- so you'll have something to eat yourself and to share with others.  If you end up hosting a party- don't worry about pleasing others with ham sandwiches and deviled eggs- with a little creativity and time your guests will never miss the meat.

My favorite finger food item to take to a party is stuffed mushrooms.  I like baby cremini (portobella ) mushrooms, but button mushrooms can work as well.  These are stuffed with spinach, some of the mushroom stems, salt, garlic, and walnuts.  The cleaning of the mushrooms is the most time-intensive step, but the execution requires little culinary skill.  Even my mom who can barely boil water can pull off these mushrooms with no problem :)

Spinach Stuffed Mushrooms

20 cremini mushrooms (1' to 1.5" in diameter)
1 cup raw walnuts
2 cloves garlic (pressed or minced)
2 cups of raw spinach
pinch sea salt

When cleaning mushrooms, don't submerge them in water, just get a damp paper towel and wipe them gently.  As you're wiping, pop off the stems and reserve about half.  Lay mushrooms out on a baking sheet.  In a food processor pulse walnuts, stems, garlic, spinach and salt.  Scoop into mushrooms and bake or dehydrate.  325 works in about 15-20 minutes.  You'll know they are ready when the mushrooms smell fragrant.  If you have any fresh parsley or nutritional yeast hanging around- either or both also are great with these.

Other great party foods include thai spring rolls, mini shiskabobs, hummus, olive tapenade, and cold salads- like a quinoa salad, or a soba noodle salad.

These pictures posted are from a baby shower I catered recently, and a clothes swap I had at my house this summer.  I served the stuffed mushrooms at both occasions.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Pumpkin Ginger Ice Cream and Raw Pecan Pie

This summer I couldn't stop making berry based ice creams with my ice cream maker.  Now that its colder, I still crave ice cream but since I like to stay seasonal I knew that a pumpkin ice cream was in the works.  I used (organic) canned pumpkin for the ice cream.  If you'd like to channel your inner Martha Stewart and dissect and roast your own pumpkin, I encourage you to do so!  Also, if you accidentally grabbed a can of pumpkin pie filling, it will work- just omit the sweetener and the other spices except ginger and cinnamon.  
This ice cream pairs well with nuts- specifically a raw pecan pie!  Why raw?  Why not?!  Cooked pecan pie recipes are filled with refined sugar, wheat flour, and eggs or tofu- this one is just filled with love!

Pumpkin Ginger Ice Cream

1.5 cups of raw cashew pieces
1 cup water
1 cup pumpkin
1 tsp cinnamon
1 quarter sized knob of peeled ginger
1/2 tsp each of cloves, allspice, and nutmeg
3/4 cup maple syrup (or 1/2 cup agave nectar)

Raw Pecan Pie

1.5 cups raw walnuts
1/2 cup raw almonds
1 tbs cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1 tbs agave nectar

30 pitted and soaked dates
3/4 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup agave nectar or 1/2 cup maple syrup (not raw)
pinch salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon & nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla extract

Top with 25-35 pecans.

 To start I soaked raw cashew pieces in water.  Cashews, in my opinion make the best dairy free ice cream.  I find them in the bulk bins at the health food store or Whole Foods.  While the cashews are soaking, go ahead and pit some dates (about 30ish) and soak those too (in a separate container).  Fill your food processor with walnuts, almonds, salt, cinnamon, and agave nectar until a ball forms (if a ball doesn't form add more agave or maybe some water).  When the crust is in a ball, roll out flat and smush into a 9" pie pan and pop in the fridge.  Drain the cashews and add to the Vitamix with the rest of the ice cream ingredients and puree until smooth.  Scrape the ice cream ingredients into the ice cream maker and let the magic happen while you're making the filling for your pie.  In the food processor again (you kinda washed it out, right?) add the ingredients for the filling except the pecans.  Process until smooth then pulse in the chopped pecans.  Pour into the crust and top with the fancy pecan halves on top.  By this time the ice cream maker should have worked some magic...  Serve together or separate!  

If the ice cream, filling, or crust isnt the right consistency- don't be afraid to thin out with water or add more ingredients to make it thicker...  The beauty of vegan desserts is the flexibility!  These amounts are all approximations- change up the recipe if you'd like and let me know how it turned out :)