Holiday Classic: Gingerbread Cookies


It’s surprising to admit, but I was never a kid who was overly impressed with getting a gingerbread man during the Holidays or any days for that matter.

Maybe it’s that those grocery store offerings were harder than sinking your teeth into a wooden plank? Or maybe it was the bitter, lip staining food colouring used to fill in Ginger-Santa’s suit? Even as a kid, artificial wasn’t my thing, but upon rediscovering the amazing, wafting aromas of spicy ginger cookies at my Grandparent’s house , I think I truly regained my love of molasses and the Gingerbread Man.

Packed with freshly grated ginger and that slow pouring dark molasses, these cookies are barely sweet, leaving room for plenty of adornment for the Holidays.

VEGAN GINGERBREAD COOKIES

1/2 cup Coconut Oil, room temperature
1/2 Cup Fancy Molasses
1/2 Cup Sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
5 teaspoons Freshly Grated Ginger, include any juice
1 tsp Ground Cinnamon
pinch, Freshly Grated Nutmeg
3/4 tsp Baking Soda
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

Cream the coconut oil and sugar until fluffy.
While this goes, and you’ll need the time, use spray oil to coat the inside of your 1/2 cup measure.
Pour in your molasses, and don’t forget that s l o w  saying… it does take it’s time.
Add molasses into the fluffed sugar, along with the vanilla.
Using a spoon, peel your ginger, then grate into a bowl to catch any extra juice.
Add grated ginger along with its juice, discarding any really stringy bits, until evenly blended.
Follow by adding the cinnamon and nutmeg.
Next, add the soda right to the dough and, on the lowest setting, follow with the flour, a half cup at a time.
Mixing just until dough comes together.
Shape dough into 2 discs and chill for at least 2 hours before rolling.
Preheat oven to 375 °F.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out 1 disc to just over 1/8-inch thick.
Cut your dough out into desired shapes and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Bake for 6 to 8 minutes until edges are firm to touch but centers are still soft.
Allow to cool completely before decorating.

For the icing, I’ve used this or I found that about 2 Cups of Icing Sugar (check your source), 1/4 Cup Corn Starch or Soy Flour, a drop of vanilla and a dribble of water mixed to a thick ribbon, will pipe really well.

Holiday Kourabiedes – Walnut Sugar Cookies


Tis the season to learn of new traditions. When I first heard of these I couldn’t help but be excited.

Greek Kourabiedes are popular special occasion cookies. They are often served at weddings, christenings and of course, Christmas. You might also find them on an Egyptian cookie tray for the similar celebrations. There, they are called Kahk.

They remind me a bit of what a cross between a shortbread and a sugar cookie.
They’re simple, nutty AND they use some of my orange blossom water I coveted for recipes past.

Kourabiedes are subtle and not too sweet. The seasonal walnuts may be traded for almonds, but I love the combination of the bitterish walnut and bursts of salt with a hint of citrus and the warming, sweet and intriguing fragrance of orange blossoms. They’re perfect for the Holidays. I hope you try them.

KOURABIEDES – WALNUT SUGAR COOKIES

3/4 Cup Walnuts
1 1/4 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1/2 teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) (vegan) Butter, like Earth Balance, softened
1/2 cup Confectioners Sugar, plus more for dusting
1 Tablespoon Cointreau
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 Tablespoon Orange Zest
2 Tablespoons Orange Flower Water

Toast the walnuts in a 350ºF oven, until golden brown, about minutes.
Pulse about 1/4 cup of the nuts in a food processor until finely ground.
Add the flour, baking powder, remaining nuts and salt. Pulse again to mix everything together and roughly chop the remaining nuts.
Meanwhile, beat the butter, sugar,  Cointreau, orange zest and vanilla extract together with an electric or stand mixer until and fluffy.
At a low speed, stir in the nut/flour mixture to make a crumbly dough. Bring the dough together with your hands (it IS crumbly). Flatten it into a disk, like pastry dough, and wrap it in plastic wrap.
Refrigerate dough for about half an hour.

Preheat oven to 350º F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or a silicone liner.
Unwrap the dough and cut into 20 pieces. Roll into balls between with your hands. Flattening to shape each piece into a round   disk.
Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheets.
Bake until the cookies are golden, about 15 minutes.
Remove them from the oven and lightly brush the orange blossom water over the tops of each cookie.
Transfer to a cooling rack and dust with additional confectioners sugar.

Countdown to Christmas: Dessert – Ginger Pear Tarts


Here it is, the big day. I hope you have all that shopping done.
You’ve planned for the appetizers, the sides and the main attraction…
I hope you’ve saved room for dessert.

I couldn’t resist something spiced and a little lighter than a cake or that never ending tray of sweet offerings that nibble me into a coma. The gingerbread was such a hit, I decided to use it as the base of the tart. It holds up pretty well as a crust and with a light cream there’s plenty of room for spicy, soaked pears.

Merry Christmas to you and yours. I hope you enjoy the Holidays, the food and your families!

POACHED SPICED PEARS

2 pears, peeled halved and cored; I used Abate Fetel
1 Cup Sugar
1 1/2 Cups Water
1 Vanilla Pod, split
1 Cinnamon Stick, 2″ in length
Zest Strips of 1 Lemon
2 Tablespoons Brandy

Combine the sugar and the water in a large saucepan over a medium high heat.
Add the vanilla pod, cinnamon and lemon strips.
Once the sugar has dissolved add the brandy and the pear halves.
If the pears are not submerged, just cook until softened then turn them over, occasionally basting, if necessary.
Remove when softened, about 20 minutes. Cool and store in the liquid until ready to use.
May be made two days in advance.

TOFU CREAM

300g Soft Silken Tofu
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
4 Tablespoons Confectioners Sugar
1 Tablespoon Arrowroot Powder
1  (2-inch) Fresh Ginger, peeled
1/4  teaspoon Salt
1/4 Cup Pastry Flour

Grate the ginger and squeeze to remove the juice, should equal one tablespoon.
In a food processor, blend the tofu, ginger and lemon juice along with the vanilla, sugar, salt, flour and arrowroot powder.
Serve cold or baked.

GINGERBREAD COOKIE CRUST (half batch)

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
Roll out the chilled cookie dough. Cut into rounds to fit your tart shells.
Dock with a fork to prevent excessive air bubbles and bake for 10 minutes..
While the tart shells cool, prepare the tofu cream and thinly slice the poached pears.
Dollop the cream and top with the sliced pears.
Return to the oven and bake for 15 – 20 minutes, until the tofu cream is set and firm.
Makes 6 four inch tarts.

Countdown To Christmas: Dinner


Dinner, oh dinner.
Yeah, this is the big one. It’s also the one that by experience has proven that planning ahead, pop it in the oven kind of dinners are waaaay more enjoyable than missing out on events while slaving away in the kitchen. Plus, there really are so many relatively quick and impressive recipe options to choose from, so I can watch the yule log burn on the Apple tv and sip wine while I build some new lego…  (or play with cooking show Barbie – Shhhhhh.)

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without mashed potatoes. And although I’m sure you know how to make those, I’ve added a little roasted garlic to these. Not only does it make them extra good, it’s going to match up the rest of the dishes served.

Next are steamed green beans, because you can’t go wrong with those. I really don’t know anyone who doesn’t like them… even the picky seats at the kiddie table!

To balance things out, I just wouldn’t be a mother if I didn’t serve brussels sprouts. Actually, these are the one vegetables I was made to sit and stare at as a child but thankfully, I’ve learned to cook them properly. The trick is to under cook them, there the secret’s out – now stand back and watch and the hoards make way in the produce aisle! Briefly roasted with oil, then tossed with rosemary and a little of the dinner’s themed garlic seemed utterly delicious!

One of my most favourite sides I’ve made almost too many times to count. Popular around Thanksgiving, yet I haven’t made it for Christmas. Combine two of my favourites, it’s a creamy spinach and squash gratin.

The main attraction? Another relatively easy but impressive dish. Adapted from Gourmet’s November issue. This mushroom spinach pie has a little something for everyone with earthy mushrooms, spinach, walnuts and, of course, roasted garlic.

My favourite part? The pie seriously took me about six minutes to make it but it can be made hours in advance.

This dinner will serve 4- 6.

SIMPLE ROASTED GARLIC

3 Bulbs Garlic
2 Tablespoons Olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
Cut the tops from each bulb and peel the outermost layers of papery skin from the garlic.
Coat each bulb well with the olive oil and roast for 30 – 35 minutes, until each bulb is soft, sticky and golden brown. Adding more oil or cover with foil, if necessary to avoid drying and over-browning.

ROASTED GARLIC MASHED POTATOES

4 Large Yukon Gold Potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 Bulb Roasted Garlic
2 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt, or to taste
Freshly Ground Black Pepper, to taste

Using a pressure cooker or traditional stove top method, boil the potatoes until soft.
Drain then mash by hand, those little lumps and bits are good.
Squeeze the cooled garlic from the skin into a bowl and mash with a fork.
Add the garlic, oil, continuing to mash until fluffy. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve immediately.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH + SPINACH GRATIN

This recipe can be made days ahead, up to the point of adding the crumb topping, which can be done while reheating.

1 Small Butternut Squash
1/2  Bulb Roasted Garlic, about 2 Tablespoons mashed
6 Cups Baby Spinach Leaves, packed
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1/2 Cup Unsweetened Almond Milk, or unsweetened soy milk will do
1/2 Tablespoon Arrowroot Powder
1/8 teaspoon Freshly Ground Nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon Salt, scant
1/4 teaspoon Pepper, to your liking
2 Slices Whole Wheat bread
1/4 Cup Earth Balance Butter, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon Dried Rosemary, crumbled – optional

Preheat the oven to 350F.
Lightly spray a casserole dish with oil.
Sauté the spinach in the olive oil. Once wilted, remove with a squeeze and discard any extra liquid.
Slice the neck of the squash in to 1/4″ rounds. Remove the skin from the edge and evenly layer the bottom the casserole dish.
Sprinkle over a pinch of salt and pepper.
Top with sautéed spinach, nutmeg, another sprinkling of salt and pepper, then evenly dot with the roasted garlic.
Add another layer of squash to cover in an even layer, sprinkling over another pinch of the salt and pepper.
Combine the almond milk with the arrowroot powder and pour over the squash.
Tightly cover with foil and bake for 40 – 45 minutes or until the squash is tender when pierced with a fork.
Meanwhile toast the bread slices to dry out completely. Either add to a food processor or chop finely by hand.
Add the butter and rosemary to the crumbs, mixing evenly.
Top the baked squash with the crumb mixture. Return it to the oven and continue to bake uncovered for about 10 minutes or until brown and crusty.

MUSHROOM SPINACH + WALNUT PIE

2 (397g) Packages Frozen Puff Pastry, thawed
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
4 Cups Sliced Mushrooms, I used crimini, but I’m doing shiitake for the next one.
8 Cups Baby Spinach, packed
1/4 Cup Walnuts, chopped
1 Bulb Roasted Garlic
1/2 teaspoon Dried Rosemary, crumbled
Salt and Pepper

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
Heat 1 Tablespoon of the olive oil in a large sauté pan. Add the mushrooms and sauté until soft and browned.
Remove the mushrooms to cool.
Add the remaining oil and sauté the spinach leaves. Squeeze over the bulb of roasted garlic and stir.
While the spinach wilts and the mushrooms cool, roll out the first package of dough into about a 12″x8″ rectangle.
Place the dough onto a parchment lined baking sheet.
Top the dough with the mushrooms, then the wilted spinach.
Sprinkle over salt, pepper, rosemary and chopped walnuts.
Roll out the remaining dough to top the pie, crimping and tucking the edges under.
Lightly score the top with a sharp blade, occasionally piercing for steam vents.
Bake in the center of the oven for 20 – 25 minutes, until golden and crisp.

What’s Cooking This Chrismas: A Countdown To The Big Day



Obviously by doing this, the menu won’t be a surprise when we drive up Christmas afternoon to surprise my in-laws with dinner, but I couldn’t resist…
There’s something so wonderfully stressful and exciting about coming up with a Holiday feast menu. I just love a challenge.

The appetizers are covered. (Heck, you could even go vote for the only vegan party food represented in this contest I found myself in.)*wink.

The soup, I’m repeating from Thankgiving. It was a roasted cream of cauliflower and it’s just too good to not to serve up again. It’s snowy and pristine but the depths of flavours from so few ingredients are just so completely satisfying. Besides, this corner of my family hasn’t tasted it – yet.

ROASTED CAULIFLOWER SOUP

1 Large Head Cauliflower, chopped
3 Garlic Cloves
2 Shallots, finely minced
1 Potato, medium, peeled and diced
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
3 Cups Vegetable Broth
1 Cup water
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 Bay Leaf
1 1/2 Cups Unsweetened Soy Milk
salt and pepper to taste
Pinch Smoked Paprika, optional

Preheat oven to 400°F.
Roughly chop cauliflower and toss into a shallow baking dish with garlic and about 1 tablespoon of the oil. Top everything with a little sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
Roast for about 30 minutes in middle of the oven, tossing after about first 15 minutes.

In a large stock pot, heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and sauté the diced shallot until it’s just tender.
Add the roasted cauliflower and garlic, followed by the diced potato, vegetable stock, thyme and bay leaf.
Simmer for about a half and hour, or until cauliflower and potatoes are very tender.
Remove the bay leaf to purée soup. Blend until smooth.
Reheat soup on low and stir in soy milk and season with salt and pepper to taste.
If using, sprinkle over smoked paprika to serve.

If you’re going vegetarian, try serving with a smoked gouda topped crostini.

Serves 4 – 6.

Red Borscht With Porcini Mushroom Pierogies


From my fractional polish heritage, I was so lucky to have been included in my sister in laws family Christmas Eve tradition.

Once horrified by the memories of beet soup with homogonized milk, that puce nightmare was no comparison to the hard work and detail which had been presented before us to gobble up.

The bright colour and warmth of this simple, smooth broth sets the perfect stage for the celebration ahead. Borscht is may be peasant food, but like it’s counterparts, it is pure comfort. Served as the first course during the Christmas Eve feast with miniature mushroom filled pierogi packages called uszka, this wonderful tradition becomes the delight of the Holiday table.
Continue reading Red Borscht With Porcini Mushroom Pierogies