Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving has always been a special day in our house. Once we became vegan, our menu was mostly the same, simply veganized and minus the turkey. Over the years we've tried a wide variety of turkey substitutes, but our absolute favorite is the Gardein Holiday Roast.

gardein holiday roast

It is supposed to serve 8, but even though we cut it into 8 slices, we wind up eating two of them at one serving, so for us, it serves 4. The package even comes with two pouches of some pretty good gravy, eliminating the need to make your own.

Last year we found it at our local grocery store, where we can also find a wide variety of other Gardein products. This year, they didn't carry it, even though they've expanded their Gardein variety, but the store manager did offer to special order it for us. We were able to buy it at Sprouts, and it appears to be carried at many Target's here in southern California. Unfortunately it has also gone up in price (along with almost everything we are buying this year) from $11.99 to $13.99. We thinks it's a tad pricey, but we love it regardless. It is our Thanksgiving table centerpiece.

Valentine’s Day At Shojin

Jane and I aren't really into the whole Valentine's Day thing.  We've been together eleven years. It's a long enough period of time for us to have gotten to know what the other wants or expects on these kinds of holidays. For instance, I know that Jane loves it when I bring home flowers, but she can't stand the idea of the ridiculously inflated costs of flowers at this time of the year. Neither one of us believes that this is a legitimate gift-giving "holiday" - so there's no expectation that either of us is going to procure an amazing gift for the other. But there is some sense of needing to make this day a bit more out of the ordinary, we do after all, value and cherish our relationship.

Last year, for our first Vegan Valentine's Day, Jane made us a feast.  This year, Shojin (our favorite vegan restaurant in the Los Angeles area) was having a set course meal which sounded wonderful, so we made reservations.  By the time we got around to making our reservations, dinner was already sold out, so we took the last lunch seating.

Shojin - Salad

Shojin - Salad

As usual, the food was superb.  The meal started with a "three color terrine" which was red pepper, kabocha squash, and edamame in an agar-agar suspension...  It was different from anything I've eaten before.  Jane and I both thought the red pepper the best of the three colors.   That was followed by a cauliflower carrot soup which I thought was excellent.  After that we were served a green salad with roasted tomatoes and balsamic vinaigrette.  The roasted tomatoes were a nice surprize.

Seitan Cutlet Cordon Bleu - Shojin

Seitan Cutlet Cordon Bleu - Shojin

For our entree, we had a choice of seitan cutlet cordon bleu with ratatouille and colorful rice, or hamburg steak with mushroom sauce and colorful rice.  Shojin's seitan is spectacular, so we both ordered the cutlet.  It was very good, but we both prefer the barbeque seitan.

Dessert - Shojin

Dessert - Shojin

Finally, there was dessert.  It was a plate of three different desserts... a sesame ice cream, chocolate gateaux, and berry gelee.  My favorite here was the sesame ice cream.  Jane, of course, picked the chocolate as her favorite.

Whether you're an avid Valentine's Day fan, or think it's just another Hallmark holiday, we hope you had an enjoyable day.

Vegan Christmas

Vegan Christmas Dinner

Vegan Christmas Dinner

We celebrate Christmas here.  This year we had a few people over who were not interested in trying a vegan meal.  So, in the spirit of the holidays, we suggested they bring the "meat" dish of their choice, and promised they'd love our sides.  (The bit of non-vegan fare on the table is not shown in photo.)

Our dinner was almost identical to our Thanksgiving.  I begged Jane and she acquiesced, but I don't think I'll be getting a repeat any time soon.  We're still eating leftovers and she's starting to tire of the same meal, after all we just had a week of it for Thanksgiving.  Regardless of her waning enthusiasm, it's a spectacular meal.   The mashed cauliflower was a huge hit, as was our stuffing.  The red cabbage has been a standing family dish forever, and people always comment on our brussels sprouts.

Vegan Christmas Cookies

Vegan Christmas Cookies

But the big winner was the cookie tray.  Jane did a ton of baking this year.  My expanding waistline can attest to two facts: 1) It is possible to gain weight on a vegan diet; and 2) vegan desserts can be DELICIOUS.

Starting at the 9 o'clock position and moving clockwise we have:

  • Vegan Brownies from The Joy of Vegan Baking, the best brownies ever!
  • Nikki's Healthy Cookies from the 101 Cookbooks blog (I didn't care for these.  Jane added sugar, and they still weren't sweet enough for my taste).  Jane won't be making these again, but we did hear rave review from one of our guests.
  • Zimtsterne (or Cinnamon Stars) from Mihl's blog Seitan Is My Motor.  Jane's favorite non-vegan cookie... this recipe is almost as good!  A definite addition to her repertoire.
  • Spritz cookies (Jane veganized her standard recipe).
  • Lemon Gems from Gails blog, Cooking at the Pacific Outpost.  We've had several requests for this recipe and these were my favorite cookies by far.  Gail also has a recipe for Spritz cookies that Jane said she might try next year.
  • Peppermint truffles.  Jane's concoction.  I have no idea what's in them, but damn they're good!
  • Ganache truffles.  Jane used a failed Daring Bakers' ganache for the December Challenge (that's tomorrow's post) and rolled them in some kind of crumbled macadamia nut brittle.  Can we say calories?

Whatever you celebrate at your house, we hope you are having a happy holiday season!  Now off to bed with dreams of sugarplums (or vegan cookies) dancing in my head.

Gift Ideas – Vegan Kitchen Essentials

It's the holiday season.  Jane's busy trying to bake things.  Gifts need to be wrapped and mailed to distant family members.  Holiday greeting cards have yet to be written out.  And it's already December 9th!!!   We've received a few emails asking for ideas for gifts for vegans.  This is what we've come up with...

This year, as like many of you, we're scaling back a bit, so we really want to make sure our gifts are "successful."  We figure you might be in the same boat, so tonight's post is dedicated to the things we love and wouldn't want to live without, and the things we'd feel good about giving.  Here they are, in no particular order.

Vegan Kitchen Essentials:

Last year, Jane's mom bought us a Soyabella Milk Maker for Christmas. This may be the single best thing that's come our way since going vegan. I have a cup of homemade almond milk every single morning in my breakfast smoothie. It has more than paid for itself by now (okay, we didn't pay for it, but you know what I mean).

Jane adores her KitchenAid Stand Mixer. She's had it for 12 years and it's still going strong. According to her, it 's the second best gift she's ever gotten. (Note: I didn't buy this. It's from the guy she was dating before she met me!)  Her's is white, they didn't offer many options back then.  Now you can get them in almost any shade from purple to teal to black to red.  I've even seen decals to dress them up!

Another must have as far as Jane is concerned, is an Immersion Blender. This tool is essential for making any kind of "cream of" (pureed) soup. Instead of having to divide the soup in batches in order to puree it in the blender or food processor, you can simply bring the blender to the pot. It's so much easier! You can also use it to make small batches of shakes right in the glass you plan on using.

Two years ago, our food processor finally gave out. It happened to be right before Jane's birthday. She hinted that she'd like to upgrade to a KitchenAid Wide Mouth Food Processor. She wanted something with a wider feed tube so she wouldn't have to keep taking off the lid. She's very happy with this product.

Another must have for any baker is a Nonstick Baking Mat. Why bother with the mess of having to grease pans, or the waste of parchment paper...

Jane's been working more frequently with recipes which state quantities in grams as opposed to cup measurements. Rather than go online for conversions, she's been using a Salter Kitchen Scale. She feels the measurements are much more specific that way. After all, how often do you get an exact cup of flour... and if it's sifted you may get more or less; a weighted measure takes care of that problem. I've even gotten use out of the scale, measuring envelopes to ensure adequate postage!

Vegan Cookbooks:

Our favorite vegan cookbook isn't truly vegan, it's vegetarian. So there are recipes here which we won't be making. But at almost 1,000 pages, that's not really a problem! We love How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. Not only does Mr. Bittman provides you with great recipes, he also teaches you about the ingredients he's using and gives you ideas for alternative pairings. It's an educational cookbook, but don't expect pretty pictures.

For our favorite desserts, we constantly go back to The Joy of Vegan Baking. Jane was going to go through each recipe, one a week until she got through the book. We've gotten stuck on the Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins and the Vegan Brownies. If you don't get anything else out of this cookbook, those recipes alone are worth the purchase price!

Vegan Reference:

Becoming Vegan: The Complete Guide to Adopting a Healthy Plant-Based Diet. The title says it all. This book was very helpful to us.

Diet for a New America.  Well written, and informative.  This is a must-read for anyone who is concerned about their health and their diet.

The China Study. It's a little dry, but the in-depth discussion of how eating animal products impacts human health might be all you need to convince you to go vegan.

Miscellaneous:

Vegan Essentials is offering a variety of holiday gift ideas for the vegan.  They also have gift certificates so your favorite vegan can get something they want.

Don't forget to visit our advertisers (under "Are You Looking For" at the top right and left of this page) for other great gift ideas.

Philanthropic Gift Ideas:

Or here's another thought... If you exchange gifts, as we do, with people who don't really need or want anything, you can always go the civic minded route.  There are many worthy charities out there.  This year, they're getting fewer donations than in the past, so if you're among the fortunate ones who might have spare funds, this is a good way to go. Below are a few vegan-oriented charities.

Animal Acres is offering Holiday Gift Sponsorships for just $25/year (online sponsorship form).

Farm Sanctuary also accepts donations.

Animal Aid (a United Kingdom based animal activist group) accepts donations and also has an online shop.

Other vegan charities.

Vegan Thanksgiving – A Huge Success

Vegan Thanksgiving

Vegan Thanksgiving

We hope you all wound up having a pleasant holiday however you celebrated (if you celebrated).  Our day was very enjoyable.  I'd love to say I was a big help to Jane, however, she did most of the work.  In my defense, she had the week off, whereas I worked until late Wednesday afternoon.  Not to mention the fact that I'm usually not allowed in the kitchen (I'm too much of a slob).

Our meal was wonderful.  Our planned menu consisted of the following:

Vegan Meat

Vegan Meat

We had a few minor changes.  Jane opted not to make the gravy as the Tofurky comes with premade gravy and she was running behind.  She will be making it tomorrow when we run out of the Tofurky Gravy.  The other item that was missing from our table was the Sweet and Sour Red Cabbage.  Jane made it on Wednesday, but it was buried in the back of the fridge and she forgot to take it out and reheat it.  Oops.  Neither one of us noticed until today.  Luckily that's one of those dishes that tastes better after it marinates a bit.

Jane did cook both the Celebration Roast and the Tofurky so we could have a side-by-side taste test.  The results:  she prefered the Celebration Roast, and I prefered the Tofurky.  But the roast is growing on me with each subsequent meal.

Vegan TDay Plate

Vegan TDay Plate

As for the rest, Jane added a banana to the mashed sweet potatoes, as suggested by the Food Network.  She thought it tasted more like the sweetened, marshmallow laden version we've had in the past.  Next year we're probably going back to the plain mashed sweet potatoes, but these are good too.  Jane also surprised me with mashed cauliflower, which I love!!!  The brussels sprouts were delicious as usual.  Typically, I don't care for green beans. I eat them, but they're boring, or smothered in a sauce which renders them unidentifiable.  This recipe was really good, and it works as a cold salad as well as heated up.  The stuffing was fantastic.  It's based on a recipe we used to make in our omni days, from Gourmet magazine, and it totally works as a vegan dish.  And there was the cranberry orange dish.  There wasn't enough room on my plate to fit in all that vegan goodness!

We've had this meal four times now (lunch and dinner yesterday and today), and so far everything has been wonderful.  To those non-vegans out there who can't imagine that a vegan Thanksgiving could taste good, I say, look at this feast and tell me it doesn't look absolutely amazing!

On The Turkey

Okay, I'd like a little clarification here.  First let me say that this is NOT an attack on anyone; I am looking to understand other peoples' thought processes around the issue of the turkey...

Jane and I have read a number of things recently in which people proclaim that they will not sit down at a table on which a turkey will take center stage.  As vegans, the pride of place at our table will be shared by a Tofurky and a Celebration Roast.  However, if we were heading to a non-vegan household, we wouldn't have a problem with a turkey at the table, we'd just make sure to bring something we could eat, and enough to share with anyone curious enough to try an alternative.  (If you haven't tried it already, you might be surprized at how effective this tactic can be.)

Now before you start criticizing me, let me explain my thinking...  If 5% of the U.S. population (and I'm being generous here) is vegetarian, then 95% of the population eats meat. Even if they are "wrong" in eating turkey, it is pretty much the norm.  To expect people to stop practicing "normal" behaviors because you want them to (or even because these practices are wrong) is a bit unrealistic.  I'm not saying advocacy doesn't have it's place.  I'm simply stating that people who are engaging in behavior that is deemed normal are not necessarily going to be aware that their behavior could/should be modified.

But here is where Jane and I become confused.  What's so special about the turkey?  Would you make the same distinction for a pot roast?  Or a rack of lamb?  Or a pork chop?  Or a hamburger?  Or a whole fish?  Okay, you don't "see" the dead animal in a hamburger, but you do in a rack of lamb... or a roasted chicken...or the whole fish (they often come entirely intact... face included).

Yes, 45 million turkeys are killed and sold for Thanksgiving here in the US (according to the USDA).  That accounts for 1/6 of all the turkeys sold in the US.  However, those turkeys represent multiple meals, for multiple people, so it's not as bad as it sounds.  But how many heads of cattle are slaughtered for consumption annually?  How many pigs?  How many chickens?  Is a turkey more important than any other animal?

I guess I don't understand why the Thanksgiving turkey is where the line is often drawn.  Yes, turkeys are intelligent and have personalities.  But pigs exhibit the intelligence equivalent to a 3 year old human.  (Wow!)  And pigs raised for foodstock don't live pleasant lives either; and they certainly don't have humane deaths!

So my questions are these:

  • If you can't sit at a table with a Thanksgiving turkey, can you eat at any non-vegan restaurant?  Because animal product is being prepared there, and consumed in proximity to your seat as well?
  • If you can't stand the sight of the turkey carcass at your table, what about that rack of lamb?  Or any other animal-based meal presented with pride?
  • If you can't stand the sight of the turkey carcass at your table, how do you handle the grocery store with lots of animal parts lined up, some of them readily identifiable as animals?
  • If you can't stand the sight of the turkey carcass, what do you do at the sight of a lobster tank?

(Remember, I'm not attacking anyone...  I'm pointing out what I see as inconsistencies and looking for clarification.)

So if I don't understand this reasoning, and I'm a vegan too... is it not reasonable to expect that your non-vegan loved ones will also miss the point?  And, if that's the case, perhaps a bit of tolerance will go further in helping to promote the cause than a flat out refusal to be even the slightest bit tolerant, which is my point in writing this post...  Tolerance will probably get you more opportunities for dialogue.  And with dialogue can come change.

Regardless of how you are planning on spending your day... We wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving!  Or simply, a happy Thursday.  (We'll be back with a post-meal post on Friday.)

Our Vegan Thanksgiving Menu

In search of the elusive Celebration Roast, Jane went to our third Whole Foods (two are close by, but we have a third that is not entirely out of our geographic area).  They had the one pound roast.  Woo Hoo!  And, not only was it in stock, but it was on sale...  $5.99 versus $6.99.  So, in typical Jane fashion, she bought two.  Now we have a Tofurky and two Celebration Roasts sitting in our fridge, competing for plate space on Thanksgiving.  One Roast is probably going in the freezer.  After Jane starts cooking, there won't be enough room in the fridge for any surpurflous food.

As you can see below, we've got quite enough food to tide us over for a week -- my favorite part of Thanksgiving -- leftovers until you can't stand them any longer.  Okay, maybe that's not my favorite part, but I do love having the Thanksgiving feast repeatedly.  We typically have containers full of leftovers in the fridge for days.

So here's what we're making:

For dessert, Jane will make her apple pie and a vegan chocolate cake concoction she's been working on.  Sounds like a lot of food, doesn't it?  Especially since we eat our Thanksgiving dinner at home, just us.  We do, however, spend dessert at our cousins house.  And they've always got a full house.

If you're still working on your menu, don't forget, we've got a number of Vegan Thanksgiving Recipes posted.

* Note: If you were planning on making the Vegetarian Plus Whole Turkey, make sure you got/get the package that reads Vegetarian Plus VEGAN Whole Turkey.  The photo in our post, Thanksgiving Options, is of the vegetarian, not vegan, product.  Jane noticed the vegan version in her shopping expedition today.

What Would T-Day Be Without The Turkey?

The Wall Street Journal posits the question, "What would T-day feast be without the fowl?"  To answer this question they performed a taste test with four "faux roasts":

  1. The ubiquitous Tofurky, made by Turtle Islands Food, Inc.
  2. Vegetarian Plus Whole Turkey made by California-based VegeUSA.  (I'm not clear whether they tested the vegan or vegetarian version.)
  3. Celebration Roast, this one is made by the Field Roast Grain Meat Co.
  4. Vegetarian Ham and made by All Vegetarian Inc.

Of all the faux roasts, the Celebration Roast won hands down, it even impressed the meat eaters in the crowd.  We've never tried it.  Neither Jane nor I noticed it on our last foray over at Whole Foods (it's not our regular grocery store, so I don't expect we'll be making a trip there before Thanksgiving), but perhaps we'll find it at our Trader Joe's.  Anyway, if the Field Roast sausages are indicative, this is probably a winner.  Jane adores the Field Roast Sausages.

The Vegetarian Ham was their least favorite.  They also had problems with the Vegetarian Plus Whole Turkey, saying testers recoiled at the odor when the foil was removed after roasting.  Not the best recommendation, eh?

We've got a Tofurky sitting in our refrigerator.  Although I expect if Jane spots the Celebration Roast on our next trip to Trader Joe's this week, it'll be coming home with us.

Hat Tip to  Chow.

Vegan Thanksgiving Options

vegan turkey

If you're tired of Tofurky and don't feel like trying something new like the Holiday Nut Loaf or Tofurky Take 2, Whole Foods has an option that looks like a lot of fun... a vegan turkey.  At $50, it's not that steep if it truly feeds the 10-16 people it claims it will feed.  However, it's only 4 pounds so we're skeptical.

Thought you all might find it interesting.  (Sorry about the poor quality photo, we don't usually have our camera when we're at the grocery store.)

* Note: If you were planning on making the Vegetarian Plus Whole Turkey, make sure you got/get the package that reads Vegetarian Plus VEGAN Whole Turkey.  The photo above is of the vegetarian, not vegan, product.

Thanksgiving Reminder

Reminder... We're going to be publishing some Vegan Thanksgiving recipes early next week.  (We're shooting for Monday, Nov. 17, but you know how that goes...).  So, if you'd like to be included in our recipe roundup, make sure to send us your recipe(s) and one photo of the finished item(s).  Photo not required.  PLEASE - Photos should be no larger than 75 KB.

Here's a link to the guidelines for Thanksgiving Recipe submission.