New Holiday Food & Wine Traditions
It’s getting to be that time of year when everything seems to be dedicated to stuffing -- from our tummies to stockings…to our skinny jeans! What if the holidays were different? What if you began the tradition of blissfully delicious health and wellness at your feast? Most of us cook for bigger crowds than normal and experience a minor (or major) breakdown at the thought of it all. Breathe. It can be easy and stress-free to create a plant-based feast that can satisfy every appetite at your table. Deep inside all of us is a five-star chef, with a touch of Martha Stewart.
You can host a stylish party that you’ll actually enjoy. Thoughtful planning will be the difference between sailing along and an event that leaves you wondering why you have to entertain your stupid friends anyway. When I plan a party, I make a list. I hate lists, but this is one time where they are invaluable to me. I write down everything that must be done and begin at the beginning.
With a small number, I can manage the everything easily; the party will maintain a sense of intimacy, but be exciting at the same time. With a huge amount of guests, I have to let go of details and think about foods and beverages that can be pulled together without lots of stress and just go with the flow of the group.
One month ahead (remember this is for a special occasion, not an impromptu dinner with close pals), I set the date. With all of our busy schedules, the more notice I can give guests, the better. Then I sort of forget about it all for a couple of weeks.
A week before the party, I plan my menu, looking at the food of the season and designing my meal or buffet around what will be freshest and most delicious. I shop for all my non-perishables, taking care to use local foods as much as possible, sustainable decorations and eco-friendly supplies. What fun is a party if I add to the burden on the planet in the process?
Two days before the party, I clean the house and decorate. From simple sprays of flowers to beautiful trays with three perfect pears or a few candles with seasonal greens, the centerpieces are meant to complement the table, not overshadow the food and guests.
The day before my event is the most important for me. I pick up the final ingredients--fresh bread, any delicate herbs, etc. I spend a good part of the day preparing any dishes that can be worked on ahead of time--hors d’oeuvres, desserts, preparing ingredients for assembly into dishes the next evening. I set the table the night before the bash.
The morning of the feast, I set out all my serving platters and utensils, matching dishes to recipes, based on textures, colors and presentation. I prep all ingredients that I will be using to create the meal, placing them in containers in the refrigerator until I am ready to cook. From mincing garlic to toasting nuts, the more I can do ahead, the calmer I will be.
The afternoon of the party finds me cooking whatever dishes can be prepared ahead and cleaning up the kitchen as I work.
As the magic hour approaches, I return to the kitchen to begin preparation of the more delicate dishes of the evening, along with the assembly of others, adding finishing touches where needed. By the time the guests arrive, my kitchen and I are calm and ordered, ready to enjoy the evening.
One last thing. The holiday season brings out the best in us: resolutions to be better, new ideas for our lives and health, charitable work is on our minds. Give meaning to your feast and to promote kindness in your community. Place a cup at each place at the table for the guests to make a donation, with all proceeds going to a charity or relief fund. Or at each place setting, lay a folded name card, inside describing a charitable act--from shoveling snow for a neighbor, to visiting a sick friend, to simply smiling at a stranger or carrying someone’s groceries. It makes for a sweet celebration.
Here are some of my favorite holiday dishes. They provide variety, are easy to make for a crowd (or a small group) and have proven (for me) to delight just about any palate. They hold well on a buffet and look gorgeous on the family table.
I don’t know about you, but our holiday feasts are jam-packed with food and wine. Along with the recipes, I have paired each course with my favorite organic wines from Frey Vineyards, but feel free to pair as you like.
At a wine tasting in Sicily, we sampled wines without food and then paired with various foods and I have to say that the difference was profound. I love how these pairings complement the flavors in each dish, bringing out the subtle notes in the food…and the wine.
M-m-m-m-m-m-m-m-m…cream of mushroom soup is like comfort in a bowl. But ay, ay, ay, the fat and calories, right? My plant-based version is creamy and rich but lands a lot lighter on your hips!
Choosing a red like a Syrah will give you a smooth lingering finish just perfect with this creamy soup but if white is your preference, this fruity Chardonnay with notes of apple and pear is just perfect.
Makes 5-6 servings
7 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves fresh garlic, finely minced
1 yellow onion, finely diced
1/2 pound fresh button or cremini mushrooms, diced
½ pound fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, diced
2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms, soaked until tender, diced
5 tablespoons whole wheat pastry flour
3 cups spring or filtered water
3 cups unsweetened organic almond or soy milk
4 tablespoons mirin or white wine
2 tablespoons sweet white miso
4 button mushrooms, caps only
2-3 sprigs fresh parsley, finely minced, for garnish
Place 4 tablespoons oil, garlic and onion in a soup pot over medium heat. When the onions begin to sizzle, add a pinch of salt and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Stir in mushrooms, a pinch of salt and sauté for 5 minutes. The mushrooms will release their juices and reabsorb them. Stir in flour and cook, stirring to create a thick paste, like a roux. Whisk in stock, milk and wine and cook, stirring frequently, until the soup returns to the boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer 7-10 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid lumping. Remove a small amount of hot broth and puree miso until smooth. Stir into soup and simmer 3-4 minutes more.
While the miso simmers in the soup, slice the remaining mushrooms and heat the remaining oil in a skillet and sauté the mushrooms until golden, about 4-5 minutes. Serve the soup garnished with sautéed mushrooms and minced parsley.
Cook’s Tip: If you prefer to prepare this recipe without wine, simply eliminate it.
Stuffed Winter Squash (pair with Frey Pinot Noir)
For the holiday dedicated to stuffing things, I opt for a sweet winter squash as my centerpiece dish. Cooked to browned perfection and filled with a succulent stuffing, it’s been years since a turkey found its way to my table…and no one has missed it yet.
This hearty Pinot Noir stands up to the complex flavors in the stuffed squash, bringing out the flavors of the stuffing to perfection.
Makes 8-10 servings
1 large winter squash, buttercup, kabocha, hubbard work best
spring or filtered water
1 1/2 cups organic yellow corn meal
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
pinch sea salt
2 tablespoons brown rice syrup
3-4 tablespoons avocado oil
1 cup spring or filtered water
1 loaf sourdough bread, crusts removed and cubed
1 recipe corn bread, cubed
1 pound fresh/frozen chestnuts
spring or filtered water
8 ounces tempeh, cut into tiny cubes and fried until golden
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
generous pinch dried rosemary
small handful fresh flat leaf parsley-minced
2 cups spring or filtered water
organic soy sauce
To begin, remove the top of the squash, jack-o-lantern style, so that you can scoop out the seeds and pulp. Replace the top and lightly oil the outer skin. Place in a baking dish with about 1/2-inch water. Bake at 325 degrees, uncovered for about 25 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool while preparing the stuffing.
Prepare the corn bread by sifting together the corn meal, flour, baking powder/soda and salt. Whisk together the rice syrup, oil and water. Fold wet and dry ingredients together until just mixed. Do not over-mix or bread will be tough and heavy. Add a little more water if the batter seems too thick.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees and lightly oil and flour a 9-inch square baking dish. Spoon batter evenly into pan and bake for about 30-35 minutes, until the top of the bread springs back to the touch. Invert on a wire rack and allow to cool before proceeding.
Cook’s Tip: The corn bread can be made a day ahead of time.
To prepare stuffing, preheat oven to 300 degrees Farenheit. Spread cubes of bread and corn bread evenly on a baking sheet and bake for about 20-30 minutes to dry. Set aside.
If using fresh chestnuts: Make a small slit in the flat side of each chestnut and place in a saucepan with water to cover. Simmer over medium heat until easily pierced with a knife, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and taking 2-3 chestnuts at a time, peel off shells and skin. Set aside. If using frozen chestnuts, simply thaw them.
Heat oil in a skillet and sauté onions and rosemary, with a splash of soy sauce. Add celery, a splash of soy sauce and sauté until tender, about 8 minutes. Season lightly with soy sauce and remove from heat. Stir in chestnuts and fried tempeh cubes and transfer to a large mixing bowl.
Add bread and corn bread and mix well, slowly adding stock until stuffing forms a soft ball. Taste and adjust seasoning. If stuffing and baking the squash right away, then the stuffing can be hot when it goes into the squash. If you are making the stuffing ahead, then let it cool before proceeding.
Spoon the stuffing into the squash filling abundantly. Place the lid on the squash and return to baking dish. Add ½-inch water to the baking dish and cover with foil. Bake until squash pierces easily with a fork, 40 minutes to 1 hour. Remove foil and brown squash for 5-7 minutes. Allow to stand 10 minutes before slicing into wedges and serving.
Cook’s Tip: Any stuffing that doesn’t fit into the squash can be pressed into an oiled baking dish and baked until golden, about 30 minutes, and served on the side.