Menu of the Week: A Vegan Meal to Warm Your Soul

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Clockwise from top left: Fresh Kale Salad, Mashed Carrots and Parsnips, Pickled Red Cabbage, Buckwheat-Potato Croquette with Caramelized Onion and Sunflower Butter Gravy

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Back in the day, when I was a chef at Café Kardamena in St. Paul,  I used to make these warming croquettes frequently during those what-seemed-like-endless Minnesota winters. Now that I’m cooking in mild California, I only serve them about once a year, but they remain one of my favorites. Buckwheat and potatoes seem made for each other, and fried with a crisp crust–yum! The croquette’s caramelized onion gravy is enriched with sunflower butter.  Although not as well known as peanut butter or tahini, sunflower butter has a unique, rich taste all its own, which I truly think you’d love. I’ve paired the croquette with three seasonal vegetable dishes: one raw, one boiled and mashed, one pickled.  Three flavors, colors and preparation methods all of which add a light, bright foil to the hearty croquettes. More menu descriptions with recipes, after the jump… Continue reading

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Menu of the Week: What We Served for Valentine’s Day

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Our Bulgar and Quinoa "Neat Loaf," leaning against a pile of mashed potatoes, with a creamy mushroom gravy. Also on the plate: marinated, roasted beets and carrots, and a green salad (recipes after the jump). Click on this photo to enlarge it.

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This year, Valentine’s day fell on a Monday, so I wanted to create a special menu of cool weather comfort food for all who come to our weekly vegetarian dinners in Palo Alto. And what is more iconic of comfort food than meatloaf, mashed potatoes and gravy? Needless too say, our “neat loaf” is a little bit different from the meaty version, but if you try it, I think you’ll find it pretty tasty. Roasted beets, and radicchio in the salad add a note of seasonal red, to carry forward our Valentine’s theme. We began the meal with Split Pea Soup (I’ll try to post a recipe soon), and ended with Chocolate-Peanut Butter Brown Rice Crispy Treats. Recipes for the rest of the menu are after the jump…

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Happy New Year! Celebrating the Year of the Rabbit…

Four-legged members of our community: these Palo Alto bunnies, "Tofu" and "Flower," celebrate the Year of the Rabbit by chopping on organic kale stems, provided by our Monday night dinners. (photos by Paul Schmitt--more after the jump)

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Kitchen volunteer and musician/philosopher Paul Schmitt reminded me yesterday that not all those who participate in our Palo Alto Monday Night Dinner community are two legged. These pet rabbits participate too when they chomp on fresh vegetable scraps which Paul collects and brings them after our dinners. We agreed that feeding the bunnies is particularly timely now because we’re celebrating Chinese New Year and beginning the Year of the Rabbit, the fourth animal in the 12-year cycle of the Chinese zodiac. Those born in rabbit years are thought to be articulate, talented and ambitious and to be compatible with those born in the year of the sheep, pig and dog. This year should prove to be  placid, relaxed and unhurried, compared to last year’s ferocious Year of the Tiger. View last night’s Chinese New Year Menu and more bunny pictures after the jump… Continue reading

Menu of the Week: Can Veggies Star at a Holiday Party? (Yes They Can!)

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One guest's plate: From top center: Salmon Salad, Roasted Red Kuri Squash, Seitan and Red Potatoes, Belgium Endive Stuffed with Roasted Cauliflower Salad, Millet-Potato Croquette.

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As you’ll see, my idea of party food is a bit different.  I have little patience for fussy hors d’oeuvres and see no reason why party food can’t be nutritionally sound as well as being colorful and fun to eat. Rather than filling people with snacks, I prefer to give them a light meal. I set out a buffet with medium-sized plates, real forks and napkins and provide places where they can sit and relax. Something I learned in Japan makes buffet service easier: many foods are delicious eaten room temperature, not everything needs to be piping hot. The thirty-five or so guests who dropped in for my New Year’s open house seemed pleased with this menu (see complete menu here), and towards the end, when I sat down to eat, I confess that I enjoyed it a lot myself! Recipes and more photos, after the jump…

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Another guest's plate: note the addition of long beans and green salad (photos by Robert Starkey).

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Menu of the Week: Welcome to My New Year’s Day Open House

Frank Melanson, my design adviser (and sous chef for the weekend), prepares red potatoes for roasting.

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Many years ago I noticed that those of us who have little-to-no interest in football didn’t have much to do on New Year’s Day. That realization inspired me to invite friends over for an open house, and I’ve been doing it annually ever since.  It being my open house, it’s very much centered on food. Sometimes I do an ethnic theme, sometimes an assortment of dishes I’ve enjoyed making during the year, and sometimes my friends are guinea pigs for culinary experimentation.  Thirty to forty people drop in to my cozy abode during the afternoon, and it is the only large-scale entertaining I do at home all year. In order not to be stressed, I like to plan the menu a week to ten days ahead, to do the shopping two days ahead, and to do nearly all the prep and cooking a day ahead. I began by using paper and plastic, but I’ve since acquired all the plates, silver, glasses and napkins I need, so nothing gets thrown away. As my friends are an eclectic group, I have vegetarian and vegan dishes, and usually at least one involving fish or fowl. When I’m in the middle of a mountain of prep, I typically wonder if it is worth all the work, but later, seeing so many people I love gathered in my home, I just feel happy.  And the warm, energetic afterglow lingers on for hours after the final guest has departed.  As for the work,  some good friend always steps forward to pitch in.  So, to all those who’ve helped, and to all those who’ve attended my open houses, I say a deep “thank you.”  Menus for my 2011 and 2010 open houses and a recipe for pumpkin and sesame seed crunch bars appear after the jump…

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Pumpkin and Sesame Seed Crunch Bars (wheat and gluten free), recipe after the jump.

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Menu of the Week: Stuffed Cabbage Rolls Star in This Early Autumn Meal

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls with Roasted Tomato Gravy, Quinoa-Barley-Corn Pilaf, Roasted Carrots with Fennel. Creamy White Bean Soup with Arugula was the starter, and Fruit Kanten was the dessert.

It’s all about the cabbage rolls.  Yes, they do take a bit of labor, as Winnie and Ellie, two volunteers who came to help with our weekly vegetarian dinner in Palo Alto, can attest. Together, they rolled up more than 120 of the little beasties. The filling was a mixture of tempeh (oven-braised with soy sauce, water, mirin, ginger and garlic), long grain rice, ground, toasted sunflower seeds, and sautéed, minced onions, carrots, cabbage and parsley. We served them with a gravy made of diced and roasted tomatoes, which we added to a vegetable broth seasoned with ginger, garlic, soy sauce and nutritional yeast. So many people are gluten intolerant these days that I’ve taken to thickening my gravies with rice flour, a good alternative. With the cabbage rolls we served a pilaf of red and white quinoa, barley and corn (blanched and cut from the cob). Blanched and roasted carrots and fennel (glazed with mirin, soy sauce and olive oil) were the vegetable side dish, along with mixed spring greens tossed in an apple-red grape vinaigrette dressing. Recipe for the first course, a creamy white bean soup is here, and the kanten dessert recipe is here.

Menu of the Week: Culinary Inspirations from the Middle East

Clockwise from top center: Brown Rice-Cabbage-Carrot Pilaf, Steamed Cauliflower with Kalamata Olive Dressing, Butternut Squash "Moussaka," Spring Greens Salad with Heirloom Tomatoes and Cucumber

Although the countries of  the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East have a diversity of languages, religion and culture, there are many commonalities when it comes to cuisine. Lamb, for those who eat meat, is typical of the region. Lemons and oranges provide seasoning as do spices such as cinnamon, coriander, cumin and allspice. Favored herbs are mint, parsley and oregano, while sesame seeds, almonds and walnuts appear in savory dishes as well as sweet.  Rice and wheat are the predominant grains, lentils, favas and chick peas the favored beans.  Eggplants, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and spinach and other greens appear again and again. And in many of the countries, olives and olive oil are essential. So, while this menu cannot be pinned to any particular country, it’s definitely inspired by this history-rich region.  In addition to the main course pictured above, the meal began with Creamy Sweet and Tart Chick Pea Soup. Continue reading