Posts Tagged ‘Holidays’

Happy Hanukkah!

Though I am not Jewish I grew up immersed in the culture and, oftentimes, coveting it. Thus, when an opportunity presents itself, I like to celebrate (and, of course, indulge in one particular rite of passage: prepare traditional foods and enthusiastically enjoy them). Hanukkah, the Festival of Light, has many foods associated with it: latkes, sufganiyot, and dairy. Fried foods are symbolic of the limited supply of oil that lasted for eight days, and dairy is symbolic of Judith (Yehudit) who saved her village from destruction.

For our Hanukkah dinner, I made potato latkes, noodle kugel, challah, and a pear-walnut cake with honey-orange syrup. I felt assured that all would turn out well, but I had my concerns about the kugel. You see, I’ve never actually experienced kugel – I have only heard the tales of woe and horror from my Jewish friends and, as such, steered well clear of any kugel offered to me (a far easier feat once I went vegan). This year, however, I decided to tackle the kugel. According to Wikipedia,Kugels may be sweet or savory. The most common types are made from egg noodles (called lochshen kugels) or potatoes and often contain eggs, but there are recipes in everyday use in modern Jewish kitchens for a great diversity of kugels made with different vegetables, fruit, batters, cheese, and other flavorings and toppings.” I chose a Martha Stewart noodle kugel recipe that is both sweet and savory.

My concerns arose when I looked over the recipe, and the trepidation set in as I began to assemble my ingredients. The combination of flavors appeared to be so unlike any other I have tried – and, more importantly, have enjoyed. This dish was truly jumping into the unknown for me. The other source of concern was how rich the dish must be: the original version called for 2 cups of sour cream, 1 cup of cream cheese, 6 eggs, 1 cup of butter, and 1 cup of sugar – oh my! Not only did I sub in vegan options for the sour cream, cream cheese, butter, and eggs, but I also reduced the quantity of each. Traditional noodle kugel also calls for wide egg noodles, but I used lasagna noodles that I cut into smaller pieces and they worked beautifully.

Personal growth can only occur when we take risks and step outside of our comfort zones; the same can be said about the growth of our culinary prowess. This kugel was delicious, and it was, most definitely, the belle of the ball at our Hanukkah dinner. Sure, the challah received its fair share of praise, and the latkes enjoyed their time in the spotlight, but it was the kugel that had people coming back for more. The bonus? It tasted even better the day.

Happy Hanukkah!

Noodle Kugel
Adapted from Martha Stewart

1 cup (2 sticks) Earth Balance or other butter substitute, melted, plus more for dish
Coarse salt
1 pound lasagna noodles
¼ cup canola oil
1 cup (8 ounces) Tofutti sour cream, room temperature
½ cup sugar
1 cup (8 ounces) Tofutti cream cheese, room temperature
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
2 large apples, peeled, cored, and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces (about 3 cups)
1/3 cup golden raisins

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Oil a 13-by-9-inch baking dish; set aside. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add noodles; cook until al dente according to package instructions, Drain noodles; set aside to cool. Once cool enough to handle, use a pizza cutter to slice the noodles in half lengthwise and then in thirds widthwise. Put back into pot and set aside.

2. Put oil and sour cream into the bowl of an electric mixer and mix on medium speed until combined. Mix in 1/4 cup sugar, 3/4 cup Earth Balance, and the cream cheese. Set aside.

3. Heat 2 tablespoons Earth Balance in a large skillet over medium heat. Stir in 2 tablespoons sugar, the cinnamon, and nutmeg. Add apples; gently toss to coat. Cook, tossing occasionally, until soft and caramelized, 10 to 12 minutes. Stir apples into sour cream mixture; pour over noodles. Add the raisins and toss gently to combine. Pour into prepared dish. Drizzle remaining 2 tablespoons butter over noodles; sprinkle with remaining sugar.

4. Bake until set and top is golden brown, about 30 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack; let stand 15 minutes before serving.


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Lemon Gems

When I opened up the December issue of Gourmet, I was instantly drawn to one very sparkly, very pretty, very glittery cookie. But do you know what’s even better than a pretty face? Substance. The object of my affection was filled with fluffy cream.

I set out to make these Glittering Lemon Sandwich Cookies on Thursday evening, in anticipation of bringing them along to my many meetings on Friday. The recipe in Gourmet instructed me to place “scant teaspoon” sized balls of dough onto the cookie sheet. My cookies were going down on the pan as chubby tablespoons. When they came out of the oven, I laughed out loud at the idea of making sandwich cookies out of them – they would have been the fattest cookie sandwiches ever. Well, maybe not ever. I believe that the long ago forgotten Oreo Big Stuff still holds that title.

But they would have been uncomfortably big for people to eat. So I ditched the sandwich idea and just piped the lemony icing right on top of each cookie and served them up as singletons. People were singing their praises all Friday long.

I was instantly enamored of these cookies. They are so darn pretty. And the taste … oh my goodness. They are good. These are perfect holiday cookies: glittery, pretty, and delicious.

Lemon Gems
Recipe adapted from Glittering Lemon Sandwich Cookies – Gourmet, December 2008

Makes about 50 cookies


1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup cornstarch
¼ tsp salt
2 sticks Earth Balance (or butter substitute of choice), softened
½ cup confectioners sugar
1 tbsp grated lemon zest
1 tsp vanilla
Sanding sugars


1 cup confectioners sugar
1 tbsp grated lemon zest
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp light corn syrup
½ stick Earth Balance, softened

Make cookies:

1. Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper or silipat sheet.

2. Whisk together flour, cornstarch, and salt.

3. Beat together Earth Balance and confectioners sugar with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy, then beat in zest and vanilla. At low speed, mix in flour mixture just until a soft dough forms.

4. Put sanding sugars in different bowls. Roll a scant tsp of dough into a ball and drop into sugar, turning to coat. Reshape if necessary and transfer to a baking sheet. Repeat, spacing balls 3/4 inch apart, until baking sheet is filled.

5. Bake until tops are slightly cracked but still pale (bottoms will be pale golden), 15 minutes. Transfer cookies to a rack to cool completely. Form and bake more cookies on second baking sheet.

Make filling:

6. Beat together all filling ingredients in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until combined well. Transfer to sealable bag and snip off a corner. Pipe about 1/2 tsp filling on top of each cookie.

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Spritz Cookies

After the cake debacle left me with no sweet treat for my guests, I kicked into overdrive to find an adequate replacement that I could make with the clock ticking. As I scanned my cupboards for inspiration, one thing jumped out at me, a most unsuspecting item: a box that looked like it came to me straight out of 1972. It was a cookie press that I had scored new in the box for $1.99 several years ago. It remained new in the box in my kitchen as I had never even opened it to make use of it.

I quickly found a recipe for cookie press cookies from Martha Stewart that looked easy and for which I had all the ingredients on hand. I subbed in Earth Balance for butter and canola oil for egg yolks (2 tablespoons of oil per each large egg yolk the recipe called for). To make the dough festive, I divided it in half and mixed in green food coloring to one half and red food coloring into the other half. I topped the cookies off with some sanding sugars before popping them into the oven.

I could not believe how easy these cookies were to make, or how easy the cookie press was to use. Literally, just point and shoot! I can’t believe that for all this time I have been missing out. Now I want to make spritz cookies every day … just because I can. One trick that I did develop was to use two cookie sheets, but only put one in the oven at a time, so as to chill the other. I had found with my second batch that the dough coming out of the press did not stick to a hot cookie sheet. As one batch baked, I let one sheet cool over my sink and stuck the dough and press into the fridge to let it chill. I found that this system worked quite efficiently for me.

My secret for perfectly done cookies is to pull them out of the oven before they look done. If you leave them in until they start browning they are, in my opinion, already too far gone. I know that some people enjoy the crispiest cookies the best. Admittedly, I am not one of them. For these types of cookies, in particular, I enjoy a nice crisp outside that yields easily to a soft inside. To achieve that effect, I timed these cookies at exactly 10 minutes. I sacrificed the first batch by letting them go for 12 minutes, which resulted in very crispy browned edges and bottoms. They did not end up the trash, though – I set those aside for the extra crispy lovers among us to enjoy. I did not, however, put them out for all to see!

Spritz Cookies
Adapted from this recipe by Martha Stewart
Makes 6- 8 dozen cookies

1 ½ cups (3 sticks) Earth Balance (or other butter substitute of your choice)
1 cup sugar
4 tbsp canola oil
3 ¾ cups sifted all-purpose flour
¼ tsp salt
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
Colored sanding sugar

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, cream the Earth Balance and sugar until light and fluffy. Add canola oil and mix, then add flour, salt, and vanilla. Mix thoroughly.

2. Fill a cookie press with the dough, and turn out cookies 1 to 2 inches apart onto a non-oiled baking sheet. Sprinkle cookies with colored sanding sugars.

3. Bake until the cookies are lightly browned, 7 to 10 minutes. To ensure even baking, rotate sheet halfway through the baking process. Transfer to a wire rack, and let cool.

One of my guests who enjoyed these cookies asked about any sweetener substitutions I made. Oops – busted! Despite my commitment to cutting out refined sugars, the two holiday recipes I’ve made thus far this season – fruit cake and these cookies – have found me sneaking sugar back in. We discussed the difficulty of mitigating health resolutions and ingredient substitutions with tried-and-true traditions. Have any of you had success with substituting some of the naughtier ingredients in traditional holiday recipes with their nicer and healthier counterparts? If so, please share your stories and tips in the comments below.

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I am thanking my lucky stars that I was given the opportunity to enjoy a week of the most perfect autumn weather one could imagine: sweater weather during the day, quilt weather at night, clear crisp days full of sunshine, and brilliantly colored fall foliage. Of course, a solid wallop of jet lag accompanied this awesome autumnal experience, but it was a small price to pay.   Fall was a seasonal experience that was ingrained into me growing up in Pittsburgh; however, I have not experienced it in at least ten years as I’ve spent the past decade living in places where the changing of seasons is a more nuanced experience.

We boarded a plane in the dark on Maui and disembarked 12 hours later into the chill of a brilliant North Carolina afternoon. The majority of the week-long trip was spent on work-related business in Charlotte, but the last few days were spent visiting with my friend Emily in Carrboro, just outside of Chapel Hill. There we were treated to good vegan eats and a sublime fall hike.

Even though we returned to Hawaiian weather in the mid-80s, I was in full fall-eating mode: thick, hearty fare that sticks to the ribs. That kind of mood lends itself perfectly to preparing for Thanksgiving.

If you are still struggling to come up with a Turkey alternative for your Thanksgiving entrée, I highly recommend this recipe. It’s not overly complicated, it’s delicious, and it looks special. You can really dress it up with any number of garnishes: fresh sage leaves, fried shallots, fresh chopped herbs, basil chiffonade, etc. Serve it with a variety of Thanksgiving sides, and you’ve got a lovely, satisfying meal for any and all types of eaters. We enjoyed ours with carrots and brussel sprouts that were roasted in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, fresh chopped herbs, and a generous sprinkle of nutritional yeast.

Stuffed Tofu Smothered in Mushroom Gravy

20 oz tofu
1 tbsp Earth Balance
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
5 cups sliced mushrooms
Pinch of salt
2 tbsp chopped fresh herbs (I used rosemary, oregano, parsley, and basil from my garden)
Salt & pepper to taste
1 ½ cups “beef” bouillon (I use Better Than Bouillon No Beef Base)
¼ cup flour
¼ cup chopped walnuts

1. Preheat oven to 450F.

2. Melt the EB in a dutch oven or large skillet. Add the onion and sauté for 30 minutes, until the onion is caramelized brown.

3. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute, then add the mushrooms and a pinch of salt and cook for 10 minutes. Stir in the fresh herbs and salt and pepper to taste.

4. Remove one cup of the mushroom mixture and set aside in a bowl. Add 1 ½ cups “beef” bouillon to the pot/pan and let come to a boil. Whisk in the flour (be sure to whisk constantly or else your gravy will get lumpy!) and keep whisking for 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat.

5. Add the walnuts to the cup of mushroom mixture that was set aside earlier.

6. Slice the tofu into thick slices. Using a sharp paring knife cut a slit into each tofu triangle. Spoon some mushroom & walnut filling into each triangle. (Do not waste energy fretting over tofu triangles that burst open when stuffed – they are just as delicious!)

A special “thank you” to my hand model, Dan!

7. Place the stuffed tofu triangles into an oiled baking pan. Smother the tofu triangles in gravy. Bake for approximately 50 minutes.

8. Remove from oven, serve, and enjoy!

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Tropical Fruit Cake

We are now entering my absolute most favorite time of the year – the Holiday Season. The time from Halloween through New Year’s tickles my fancy like no other time of year can. I love the peppy music, the feel-good movies, the cookies, the traditions, the ornament-laden tree, crafting the ornaments, the cards, wrapping gifts, the gatherings, and that warm and fuzzy feeling that seems to take over most people at this time of year.

I don’t love the commercialism, the consumerism, the malls, the advertisements, the materialism, the “buy-buy-buy!” mentality, or the charity scams that always seem to emerge around the holidays. That is why, in my own simple way, I like to stick it to The Man by taking the DIY route. I believe that the best way for me to show love and appreciation is with my own two hands, my hard work, and my good ol’ fashioned sweaty efforts; therefore, I like to go the homemade route for the holidays. I also think that unique, creative, non-commercialized acts are the ones that form our family traditions. Which leads me to today’s post, the first of what will be many holiday-themed posts … and what is more traditional than fruitcake?

This fruitcake is now a family tradition at the Outpost. It was originally a Martha Stewart recipe that inspired me. I adapted her recipe to suit my tastes, but I stayed true to her belief that fruitcake should not be filled with those oddly colored candied fruits. I use lots of dried fruits and nuts in mine, ones that bring a distinctly tropical flair to this traditional holiday treat. You, however, can adapt the nuts and dried fruits to suit your corner of the world.

I made a large batch of loaves two weekends ago. I like to give them as gifts, and I like to allow them plenty of time to develop their flavors.

This recipe includes refined sugars, despite my recent decision to bake almost exclusive with unrefined sugars. When I pulled out the recipe, I considered altering it but then decided to stick with tradition. I am, however, testing out several experimental loaves to see how they turn out with unrefined sources of sugar so that, hopefully, next year I will be able to share a healthier version. In the meantime, let’s indulge as this time of year only comes around once a year. 😀

Tropical Fruit Cake
Makes 1 large loaf or 3 mini loaves

2 cups unbleached flour
2/3 cup cake flour
1/3 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 small pinch of salt
1 1/3 stick Earth Balance Buttery Spread
½ cup vanilla soy yogurt
1 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp spiced rum
1/3 cup chopped dried pineapple
1/3 cup chopped dried papaya
1/3 cups dried chopped dates
1/3 cup dried cherries
2/3 cup whole raw almonds
½ cup chopped lightly roasted (no salt added) macadamia nuts
¼ cup chopped coconut
¼ cup of rum for dousing

1. Preheat oven to 300F. Oil sides of pan, line bottom with parchment paper and brush with oil.

2. Combine fruits and buts in a bowl and set aside.

3. Sift flours, baking powder, and salt into another bowl and set aside.

4. Cream together the Earth Balance and the sugars in a third on medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the soy yogurt a little at a time until incorporated (the mixture will look a little goopy at this point – that’s ok!). Mix in the vanilla and the rum.

5. Slowly add in the flour mixture, mix until just combined. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl. The mixture will be good and thick.

6. Fold in the nuts and fruits into the batter. Fold in the coconut. Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth the top.

7. Bake the cake until golden on top and an inserted toothpick comes out clean. My large loaves bake for about an hour and a half, my mini loaves bake for about an hour. Be sure to cover the top with foil if the cake is browning too quickly.

8. Cool the cake on a wire rack. Remove the cake from the pan and discard the parchment. Douse a regular sized loaf with ¼ cup of rum; douse mini loaves with 1-2 tablespoons of rum.

9. Wrap the cake in cheesecloth or muslin. Store in a cool, dark place (I store mine in my refrigerator) and douse weekly with rum for at least one month before sharing.

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I know that most of you are here for the results of the Pumpkin Carving Contest of 2008, and many others of you are just here for the food (people after my own heart!). If you will, however, please indulge me in a moment of non-food blog related fodder ….

I feel compelled to comment on recent events.  These have been an emotional 48 hours. For the last 24, I have found myself overwhelmed with emotion: hope, joy, and immense satisfaction. I am so in awe of the fact that, after two contentious and botched elections, Americans were able to come together and make a resounding choice for hope – not fear – and change – not politics as usual. I believe wholeheartedly that we the people made the right choice yesterday.

I am also so proud of all Americans – all 61% of you eligible voters – who turned out to make your voices heard. For the first time, I believe that we are positioning ourselves to unify for the greater good – both McCain’s gracious concession speech and Obama’s inspirational acceptance speech further shored up that belief of mine. As I watched our President-elect speak to the joyful crowd in Chicago late last night, and as scenes of exuberant celebration were shown from all across this vast country of ours – I was moved to tears. Well done, America, well done.

For those of you whose candidate did not win last night, I do not mean to exclude you. I do not presume to judge or disrespect your views – we all move forward together from this point. Yes, we can.

And now I’ll move onto the blog-related content you are all here for.

Whose pumpkin carving skills reigned supreme in’08?

This was, by far, the most closely contested race in recent pumpkin carving history. I believe that this year’s contestants took this game to a whole new level of pumpkin carving skills. I thank all of you who joined in our fun and left your comments and thoughts for us – many of them brought a good belly laugh ☺

On to the results …..

In fifth place, with three votes: Go Gators!

In fourth place, with nine votes: When Hillary Met Sarah

Next – for the first time ever! – a tie for second place, with eleven votes apiece: Scare ‘Em Up Crows and Scary Ghoulie Head

And, finally ….. (drum roll please) …..

In first place, with thirteen votes: Arachnophobia!

And who won the coveted crown?

Not our proud Gator fan. For those of you who could not narrow it down between Dan and Jason, the Florida Gator was expertly carved by Jason.

Not our resident social studies geek who let her opinions about the GOP VP candidate be well known: that would be me.

Not our two participants who performed almost well enough for victory – almost: Melissa (Scary Ghoulie Head) and Dan (Scare ‘Em Crows).

The Ultimate Pumpkin Carving Champion of 2008 is: Holley! Holley is the newest addition to the contest and has been a Maui resident for all of two weeks … which leads me to ask: who invited her to steal the title? Just kidding … in all seriousness: congratulations to Holley! Her carving was impeccable.

I am certain that Holley will do her best to fulfill her duties as the Ultimate Pumpkin Carving Champion with dignity and respect until next Halloween, when the title will once again be up for grabs.

Finally … one of you is the lucky recipient of your own copy of Veganomicon. Using a random number generator, the winner is: #25 – Sara A.! Contact me via email with where to send your brand new cookbook!

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Come One, Come All … to decide who shall emerge victorious from the Fourth Annual Maui Ohana / Floridian Family Pumpkin Carving Contest!!

A little background on the contest (though some of you diehards need no reminders…) Six years ago Dan and I transplanted ourselves from the Sunshine State to the Rainbow State. Life was good, but we knew it could be improved … and we began to slowly convince people that Maui is not the worst place to live. Several of our hardy mates from Florida heeded the call. I believe it had something to do with an affinity for sun, sandruff, ocean views, and SPF. In a bout of competitiveness and a love of holidays, the Florida Family threw an impromptu pumpkin carving contest four years ago and, on the blog, the people came to vote. Thus was borne a yearly tradition that brings the Florida Family back together one night of the year to enjoy our friendship, share embarrassing stories about one other, and take pleasure in each other’s company. Each year we discuss expanding it to include all of our Maui Ohana, whom we love deeply and are so appreciative to call our Ohana, but out of respect for tradition (and the fact that our cozy cottage is limited in its ability to handle a knife wielding crowd) we “keep it in the Florida Family.” We have, however, in-lawed in a new carving buddy this past year. We’ve had a few members of the family rotate in and out over the years, but one constant remains: bring your game and bring it big.

To review the rules:
• a two hour carving time limit, and
• bare naked carving (that’s right, folks: no accessories, no stencils, no painting, no bells and no whistles)

The carvers are to be judged by three things and three things only: carving, creativity, and originality.

As we all are constantly reminded by the campaigning that is so aggressively underway in our nation at present, many great issues of our day stand in the balance. Here today we shall weigh in, cast our votes, and decide … who shall be the Ultimate Pumpkin Carving Champion of 2008. There is no campaigning in this election, however, (ahem, Jason…) as the pumpkins must speak for themselves. As you have taken the time to come to this post, you realize the gravity of this situation…

Three original pumpkin carvers along with two additions have come from around South Maui with one dream – to be named the Ultimate Pumpkin Carving Champ of 2008 and to be given the bragging rights associated with the title.

During the grueling two hour evening session of pumpkin carving, much game was brought and much smack was talked. The carvers endured a grueling struggle with pumpkin innards, endured intense battle with the thick shells, and overcame the great odds of carving curved shapes into the often-times unforgiving pumpkin surface.

Five worthy opponents, but only one will be named…

The Ultimate Pumpkin Carving Champion.

How this contest works: The responsibility for the decision rests upon you, dear voters. You have the opportunity to consider the five anonymous entries for this coveted title. By posting a comment that contains your vote for the pumpkin most worthy of being all of the following – “Most Original, Most Creative, and Best Carved” – you will make your voice heard in this contest of over-riding importance.

This is where destinies are realized and dreams are shattered.

Official Voting will end at 11:59 PM HST Tuesday, November 4th (4:59 AM EST Wednesday morning for all of you falling back an hour Saturday night…) so that the Official Vote Tabulation may begin and the Official Winner may be posted Wednesday evening.

One addition to this year’s competition: a gift for you. I would like to thank all of you who bring your enthusiasm to this contest each and every year. Choosing at random, someone will receive a brand spanking new copy of Veganomicon, just for participating in this year’s voting. To be eligible to win, you must leave your name in your voting comment.

Let the games begin!

In no particular order, our contenders are:

Pumpkin #1: Arachnaphobia

Pumpkin #2: Scary Ghoulie Head

Pumpkin #3: Scare ‘Em Up Crows

Pumpkin #4: Go Gators!

Pumpkin #5: When Hillary Met Sarah

(look closely and you’ll see the projection of pumpkin innards)

Cast your vote by leaving a comment (by clicking on “comments”) below. Be sure to leave your name to be eligible to win a copy of Veganomicon!

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