Monday, December 26, 2011

Holiday Indulgences

We're fairly low key holiday people, for various reasons. Adulthood brings with it multiple changes, adjustments, and occasional disappointments, and it's up to us to negotiate this time of year that is both the brightest (for some) and the loneliest (for many). C and I both come from families where the holidays--Thanksgiving and Christmas, especially, are pretty much a BFD. My mother always went to great lengths to make these days special, introducing lots of tiny rituals and letting me (even as a kid) be responsible for planning and making things that everyone would eat. I think, but I'm not sure, that at least some of these early efforts included things like vienna sausages and cheeze whiz. Cuz, you know, I was a kid. Even when I got older--high school and undergraduate college--my mom insisted on reading aloud from Twas the Night Before Christmas. Though I don't follow most of these traditions as an adult with my own household, sort of--it's the economy, yo--she did successfully instill in me an appreciation for tradition and a certain amount of modified ceremony. As a result, I can get a bit persnickety about making things special around the holidays. Mostly, because C and I are such vigorously confirmed fatty pantses, this means special things to eat.

C has some similar holiday issues. I wouldn't call it baggage, exactly, but even after a few years of not spending the holidays with his family, he continuously regales me with tales of his mom's fabulous Christmas traditions. And I've gotta say, that shit does sound good. But again, what he have together is mostly food. For Christmas breakfast this year, I made the much-lauded cinnamon rolls. I've blogged about them before, but I usually make a slight modification of Isa's recipe from Vegan Brunch. I've posted the recipe before, so you could either flip back through the recipes (a feat made much easier by the new blog format), or just buy her book. She's awesome and she lives in Omaha. That is easily one of my favorite cookbooks. And the cinnamon roll recipe is both minimally fussy, very flexible, and consistently awesome. I used half white spelt flour and half whole wheat pastry flour. Our beloved roomie has issues with wheat, so we do our best to accommodate her gastronomical requirements. I also added orange zest to the dough and chocolate chips to the filling, which took these rolls a tick over the limit of what is truly reasonable. Isn't that what the holidays are really about? Violating the bounds of decency through rampant consumption? We're just doing our part. We also had tempeh bacon (by C) and a beet and citrus salad (by D).

After a day of lounging about, reading and chattering at each other, we had a festive dinner. D was up north, so C and I had to content ourselves with one another's company. Not particularly difficult since we like each other. When you have all day to cook something and aren't in any kind of hurry, definitely try this seitan brisket from the seemingly (and sadly) defunct Veganize It...Don't Criticize It! (Who am I to be talking about defunct, though, amiright?) We ate this moist, flavorful brisket heaped with red wine reduction gravy and stewed vegetables. On the side, we had some perfectly cooked brussels sprouts and these pull-apart pumpkin rolls. The rolls were good but not as fluffy and moist as one might hope. This, however, was entirely my fault for using a whole grain flour. After the near-diabetes-inducing cinnamon rolls from the morning, C and I wanted to give our systems a little break. They were still tasty and soaked up the juice from the brisket with great panache.

Happy holidays, everyone! Or, alternatively, happy holidays are over! 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Guest Post: No-tella Cookies!

I am become an inveterate shirker, but here to save the day is another guest post from my vivacious and clever sister on the other side of the country! If you have been keenly feeling the lack of nutella in your life, because your ethics/health concerns have driven you away from the miasma of animal products, make sure to give these a go. You won't be disappointed: 

My youngest daughter set out this fall to complete a NOLS course out west, we live in Florida.  With a very heavy, mommy-heart, I sent her off and knew I might only speak to her at the completion of her term.  (If you don't know NOLS, I highly suggest having a look into it for any newly graduated in your life.  The term has been amazing for her as a human and also as a young woman, but you haven't tuned in to to hear my lustful mommy lamentations!  Please feel free to contact me at any time for those.)  When she called, shortly after arriving, to tell me she would be able to not only make calls, but also receive mail between courses, I nearly leapt for joy, repeatedly! 

Being a huge lover of mail, the UPS Truck, and all sorts of things having to do with correspondence, having the opportunity to reach out to her in that way was delightful.  I wanted to pack her a box of things that she could use, enjoy, but that would not be burdensome to her.  Amongst her group they live by the motto:  Ounces equal pounds, and pounds equal pain.  So, what woud be more obvious to a mother and daughther who have shared much connectivity over coffees, cupccakes, cookies, pies, cakes than a box of mommy-baked-lovin? 

Considering all of the above I landed on cookies, being that they are such heartly little travelers and so easy to share.  Everyone loves cookies!  My daughter is a cookie lover from way back and a Nutella junkie.  I began to draft a plan to create some peanut butter cookies made with Nutella, except not Nutella, because it isn't vegan.  Aftert much recipe reading and thinking and stewing (yes, I am my sister's sister, and that shit runs deep) my No-Tella Cookies were made.  I call them mine because I have made the recipe pulling from about eight separate takes on vegan peanut butter cookie recipes, and a few non-vegan recipes.  In the end, it didn't prove to be too difficult and I maintain that successfull baking is all about ratios, sweetness, and consistency of the batter/dough.  Call it cups, handfulls, coffee mug-fulls, or in my case, small pottery bowls made by my grandmother (I don't own measuring cups or measuring spoons, *gasp*).  So, if you are implementing my recipe, please feel free to make changes, swap ingredients for others of likeness in wetness or quality, it'll probably be okay!

In any case, my point here is to share what I planned, what I did, and how it all went down.  Please, enjoy!!!!!

Vegan No-Tella Cookies:

First, make No-Tella

In a double boiler combine:
 1 standard jar almond butter (hazelnut, peanut, whatever.)
2 standard bags semi-sweet chocolate chips
1t vanilla
1 cup confectioner's sugar

The cookies
2 c flour
1t baking soda
3/4t salt
1 c No-Tella
1 c maple syrup
1 1/2 t vanilla
apple sauce

Mix all wet ingredients (while the No-Tella is still warm from the stove is very helpful!)
Mix all dry ingredients
Add dry to wet in increments mixing well.
When all is combined, the dough will be a bit dry and will become slightly drier the longer you have it on the countertop, for this purpose, have some applesauce handy and add as needed.  Your cookie dough is the best consistency when it does not stick to your hands when balling it and yet is not so crumbly that balling it is impossible.  Don't be afraid of adding applesauce as it seems necessary!

I baked at 350 until they were cooked, but I have recently read about baking cookies at lower temperatures to bake more evenly without over-cooking the cookie edeges and would do that with this recipe next time I make them.  These cookies are a bit of the heftier variety and as such, a slower, more soaking baking environment may be beneficial. 

The end of the story is that my daughter loved her No-Tella cookies!  They were also loved by my other two girls who received mommy-packages, my husband, my youngest son (he sits very firmly in the pastry camp with me), and the local rowing team.  I hope that you enjoy them and love them. 

 [NB: She also sent them to your favorite absentee blogger, who also loved them!]