A Peek Into The Kitchen: Preparing Our Monday Night Thanksgiving Dinner


James made this huge pot of cranberry sauce. Is it enough to feed 120, we wondered. Turns out it was. Later, we stirred in sliced kumquats which we'd candied in maple syrup.


Since I’ve been blogging, my camera has become another of the tools I bring with me wherever I go to cook. Last Monday was no exception, as I hoped to capture a feel for what goes on behind the scenes in preparing our Monday Night Dinner Thanksgiving meal. Our Monday-before-Thanksgiving celebration is likely to be both the meal with the greatest number of dishes and the largest attendance of all the meals in a year. In short, there is the potential for stress! As usual, things started out well, and I got a number of shots of the early stages of prep, which I share with you here.  Later, also as usual, things got more intense, and I had to put away the camera and devote 100 per cent of my attention to cooking.

As you might imagine, a meal like this takes some planning. Two months ahead of time, James Holloway, our other Monday night chef, and I hash out the menu.  A week ahead, we divide up the menu, deciding who will be responsible for purchasing and preparing each dish. I bought the pie ingredients on Friday, and spent most of Sunday preparing the pies and the tofu cream. Monday morning I was up early, left my home shortly after 9 and made it to Berkeley Bowl, which was in full pre-Thanksgiving madhouse mode, to do my half of the shopping.  By noon I was pulling up in front of the First Baptist Church, our dinner venue. James was already on site, and had the cranberry sauce nearly done. Later, Paul Schmitt, who regularly serves as our prep cook and pot washer, joined us. He did a heroic job of frying our croquettes on the griddle, among other tasks. And thankfully, Jeff Coate, who volunteers occasionally, also came by to help out. We put him to work trimming the green beans and making up the croquettes (we welcome kitchen volunteers who are willing to pitch in and do whatever needs to be done). It was a real team effort and by 6:30 everything was done, and only the clean-up remained.  We have been working together so long, we are like that proverbial well-oiled machine.  It’s a lot of work, but because we like each other and get on well, it’s also a pleasure.  I should add, that it really does take a village to put on a community dinner like ours.  It only happens because of the faithful work, year after year, of our volunteers, supervised by dinner manager, Ilona Pollak.  In a future post, I hope to highlight what they all do. In case you missed it, yesterday’s post shows and describes in detail everything we made. All in all, it was a lovely evening.


James gives the cranberry sauce a final taste (more photos after the jump).

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Menu of the Week: Wild Rice-Tempeh-Pecan Croquettes Star In Our Annual Thanksgiving Celebration



There is no meal in America as ritualistic as Thanksgiving, with family and friends pretty much expecting the same dishes year after year, and with turkey in the spotlight. I’ve eaten a fair amount of turkey in my lifetime, and to tell the truth, I sometimes enjoy it still.  But in Palo Alto at our Monday Night Dinners, for 24 years we’ve been creating another tradition. In our new tradition, we enjoy the hearty flavors of the season, but the turkey lives to enjoy another day. Some hundred people joined us for our Thanksgiving celebration Monday night, a meal satisfying enough, I doubt if any of them missed the old bird. Our meal centered on a croquette made of short grain rice, wild rice, pecans and tempeh and served with a roasted mushroom gravy.  Side dishes included cranberry sauce, mashed sweet potatoes, green beans with slivered almonds, mixed green salad with pear vinaigrette and cornbread. We began with a French-inspired onion soup and concluded with pumpkin pie topped with tofu cream. What’s not to like about that? After the jump, I describe the dishes in more detail and give links to recipes. Tomorrow, I’ll post a behind-the-scenes look at how the four of us who worked in the kitchen put this meal together.  As for me, I’m grateful that I’m able to do what I love: cook beautiful food for people. I hope your Thanksgiving is as meaningful as mine already has been!



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101 Menu Ideas for Thanksgiving and the Winter Holidays

This may be the best time of year to be in the kitchen.  The weather is cooling, our appetites increase and at the holidays we take a little more time to cook at home, and to sit and enjoy what we’ve made. Even in our mild Northern California climate, we feel the change of seasons. And the markets are full of great produce, winter squash, root vegetables, cauliflower and broccoli, greens of all kinds.  Fresh persimmons, pomegranates, kumquats and cranberries make a brief appearance.

And still there is the question, what to cook?  Just for the fun of it, I’ve culled 101 seasonal menu ideas, almost all from the 22 years of vegetarian dinners we’ve done in Palo Alto. I leave it to you to use your imagination to create recipes from these ideas or to research them on the net.  And week by week, I will be posting more recipes, so check back. Many thanks to the cooks who have worked closely with me over the years, James Holloway, Chuck Collison, Adele Stiller, Susanne Jensen, Anka Sayre and so many others.  If you are looking for dessert recipes, I highly recommend Meredith McCarty’s “Sweet and Natural.”  Meredith writes recipes with a thoroughness and precision I can only envy.  Let me know how your holiday feasts turn out. Happy cooking!

101 Menu Ideas for Fall/Winter:


1. Cream of Mushroom (sauté mushrooms, onions, add soy milk bechamel sauce)

2. Gingered Squash (roast squash, sauté onions, fresh ginger, add stock, purée)

3. Curried Sweet Potato  (peeled, diced sweet potatoes cooked with Indian spices, add stock, puree in blender, add coconut milk)

4. Wild Rice and Veggie Chowder (cook brown and wild rice, separately sauté onions, celery, diced root veggies, add water, then soy milk, add in cooked rice)

5. Cuminy Corn and Squash  (sauté peeled, diced winter squash, onions, ground cumin, later add stock and corn, simmer)

6. Water Cress-Mushroom Consommé (make a rich mushroom broth with several kinds of dried mushrooms and fresh, season with soy sauce, add water cress last)

7. Creamy Onion and Leek Potage (potatoes, leek, onions, puréed with soy milk)

8. French Onion Soup w/ Herbed  Croutons (caramelize onions, add soup stock, seasonings, for croutons: toast cubed bread tossed with dried French herb blend)

9. Aduki Bean and Winter Squash Soup w/ Chestnut Cream (cook aduki beans with peeled, diced squash, onions, ginger, thin with water, season with mis0)

10. Roasted Cauliflower and Onion (cut cauliflower into small flowerettes, toss with olive oil and salt, roast in hot oven until golden, add to onion stock, season with white miso, salt, etc.

11. Kabocha Squash Miso (peeled, diced squash simmered in water with wakame sea vegetable, season with both white  and red miso, green onion garnish)

12. Lima Bean and Corn Soup w/ Fried Sage (cook lima beans with extra water, when tender add sautéed onions, carrots, corn, garnish with fried sage leaves)

13. Red Kuri Squash and White Bean Soup w/ Julienned Kale (cook whites beans in extra water, separately simmer peeled, diced squash, onions and kale cut fine, combine when beans are done, season with white miso, ume boshi vinegar, etc.)

14. Root Vegetable Chowder (diced root veggies simmered in water until tender, add soy milk, salt, seasonings of choice)

15. Quinoa and Autumn Veggies

16. Creamy Parsnip and Leek

17. Roasted Winter Squash and Pear

18. White Bean w/ Caramelized Butternut Squash, Onion and Leeks

19. Autumn Vegetable Minestrone

Vegetarian Main Courses

20. Wild Rice-Almond Croquettes w/ Mushroom Gravy

21.  Seitan Medallions w/ Roasted Onion Sauce

22. Vegetable Pot Pie w/ Herbed Biscuit Topping

23. Grain and Nut Loaf w/ Chanterelle Mushroom Gravy

24. Polenta Triangles w/ Roasted Vegetable Sauce

25. Tofu Croquettes

26. Breaded Tofu Cutlets

27. Quinoa-Wild Rice Loaf

28. Roasted Butternut Squash Savory Bread Pudding

29. Millet Bake w/ Winter Squash, Onions, Dried Cranberries and Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

Grains, Breads, Stuffings

30. Wild Rice-Brown Rice Almondine

31. Onion Cornbread

32. Pecan Accented Quinoa Pilaf

33. Couscous Pilaf Stuffing

34. Chestnut-Brown Rice Pilaf

35. Cornbread-Kale Stuffing

Vegetables, Side Dishes

36. Sweet and Tart Red Cabbage

37. Balsamic Roasted Root Veggies

38. Sweet Potato and Carrot Tzimmes

39. Mashed Sweet Potatoes or half and half w/ Carrots (w/ freshly-grated nutmeg)

40. Steamed Broccoli w/ Red Onion Dressing

41. Apple Cider-Glazed Carrots and Parsnips

42. Cranberry Chutney

43. Sweet and Tart Pickled Red Onions

44. Maple-Glazed Roasted Butternut Squash (or root vegetable of choice)

45. Cranberry-Pear Compote

46. Potato Latkes

47. Roasted Beets w/ Citrus Dressing, Orange Segments and Toasted Walnuts

48. Winter Squash Baked w/Cinnamon-Ginger-Cumin Spice Rub, sprinkle of salf and a drizzle of Olive Oil

49. Julienned Kale Sauté w/ Generous mix of fresh Shiitake mushrooms also sautéed

50. Orange and Maple-Glazed Roasted Sweet Potato Spears

51. Green Beans w/ Caramelized Onions or w/ Toasted Almonds or in Casserole and Mushroom Sauce

52. Cranberry-Kumquat Relish

53. Steamed Cauliflower w/ real or vegan Hollandaise Sauce

54. Cranberry Kanten

55. Red or Fingerling Potatoes Roasted w/ Garlic and Herbs

56. Yukon Gold Potatoes Mashed w/ snipped Chives or julienned Fried Sage

57. Scalloped Sweet Potatoes and Yukon Gold Potatoes

58. Cauliflower Au Gratin

59. Collards or Kale Saute´w/ Caramelized Onions and Spicy Pumpkin Seeds


60. Sweet and Tart Cucumber

61.  Field Greens w/ Dried Cranberries, Toasted Pecans and Creamy Apple-Ginger Dressing

62. Arugula and Radicchio w/ Sweet and Tart Mustard Dressing

64. Field Greens w/ Creamy Garlic and Herb Dressing

64. Baby Greens w/ Glazed Pecans and Citrus Vinaigrette

65. Mixed Greens w/ Diced Asian Pears and Pear or Raspberry Vinaigrette

66. Mixed Salad Greens w/ Persimmon and Blood Orange Slices, Candied Pecans and Blood Orange Vinaigrette

67. Frisée, Radicchio and Mixed Greens w/ Asian Pears, Pomegranates and Walnuts

68. Mixed Green and Radicchio w/  Dried Cranberries, Apples, Caramelized Pecans and Cranberry Vinaigrette

69. Wild Greens w/ Local Oranges and Pomegranates and Meyer Lemon-Apple Vinaigrette

70. Waldorf  Salad (Apple, Celery, Raisins, Walnuts, Mayonnaise style dressing)

71. Shredded Beets w/ Citrus and Parsley Dressing

72. Red Cabbage-Carrot Slaw w/ Apples and Golden Raisins

73. Watercress, Jicama, Avocado, Red Grapefruit w/ Citrus Vinaigrette


74. Pumpkin, Pecan and Date Pudding (with creamy topping)

75. Pecan Tart

76. Holiday Spice Cake w/ “Hard” Sauce

77. Dark Gingerbread Cake w/ Roasted Pears

78. Raspberry Thumbprint Cookies

79. Baked Apples Stuffed w/ Raisins and Walnuts

80. Hazelnut Cake w/ Chocolate Sauce

81. Vegan Mince Pie

82. Sweet Potato Pie

83. Pear, Persimmon and Apple Crunch

84. Fig and Almond Cake

85. Cranberry-Orange Nut Bread

86. Orange-Spice Cake

87. Pecan Dream Bars

88. Ginger Pudding Cake w/Caramel Sauce

89. Caramelized Apple and/or Pear Tart

90. Orange-Kumquat Fruit and Spice Bars

91. Cranberry-Walnut Tart

92. Cranberry-Fruit Cake

93. Figgy Pudding Cake

94. Chocolate-Chocolate Chip Walnut Squares

95. Ginger-Pinenut-Spice Bars

96. Pumpkin Cheesecake

97. Polenta Corn Cake w/ Poached Pears

98. Roasted Pear or Apple Bread Pudding

99. Chestnut Pudding

100. Pumpkin Mousse

101. Pumpkin-Nut Bread (For all recipes which call for pumpkin, it’s best to use Butternut, Kabocha or Red Kuri Squash)