A Plant-based Thanksgiving Feast

For some of my readers, a Thanksgiving feast that doesn’t feature a turkey or ham may be blasphemous 😜 to the tradition. I know for me and what I grew up with, there are memories of always having a beautifully carved spiral, honey-baked ham and a baked or Cajun-fried turkey. But honestly, the foods that excited me the most about Turkey Day, were not the turkey. I actually relished in the smells of everything else that was cooking – the sides. Mashed potatoes, green beans, yams, fresh bread… this is what got me up early in the kitchen the morning before the afternoon of feasting with family commenced.

I know, it’s supposed to be Turkey Day! But instead, we made it about our favorites: the sides! And this centerpiece held its own with plenty of savory protein.

So this year, as we celebrated alone – not for the first time, for our adventures have moved us around the country to places far from family where we had yet to make the very important friend-family (framily) – I decided that for my husband and I, we’d forgo the incorporation of any meat or dairy in this year’s holiday feast, and I would make a beautiful, sumptuous, plant-based Thanksgiving fare. And let me tell you, not only did everything delight the palate and satisfy the cravings and the spirit of traditional Thanks Giving, but maybe for the first time ever, I did not gain a single pound during the feast or the subsequent evenings of dining on leftovers the next 2-3 days.

Love your body. Love your food. ❤️🌱

I actually felt amazing, no crashes or comas, no stress from packing on pounds. And quite possibly, the attitude I embarked on keeping during the next few days (after my meltdown during the breaking of my beautiful pastry as my husband and I tried moving it from a baking dish to it’s beautiful, holiday plating designation) may have provided the right atmosphere for my body and mind to just receive nourishment, allowing the extra calories to be put to good use. We went on a long walk the day after Thanksgiving, and the next two days were spent on the sofa, crunching out a major deadline of editing 140,000 words for a political journalist that had hired us.

Oh yes, more veggies, please.

*Back to the Dish!* The Main Dish would feature a beautiful loaf of lentils, mushrooms, pecans & walnuts, and vegetables encased in a pastry: Lentil and Mushroom en Croute (or Wellington)

1 can cooked lentils
A package of shiitake mushrooms (approximately 10 oz), chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
3 large garlic cloves, diced
1 Tsp rosemary
1 Tsp sage
1 Tsp thyme
1/4 Tsp cayenne
1/2 Tsp smoked paprika
3 oz tomato paste
Approximately 1/3 cup port or red wine
1 Tbs balsamic vinegar
1 Tbs dijon mustard
3 oz french-style cashew cheese (I used Treeline garlic and herb)
Approximately 1/2 cup vegetable broth
1-2 Tbs gluten-free flour
salt and pepper

Who doesn’t like savory filling in a buttery, crispy crust??

The Pastry:
This is up to you. If you’ve got the time, making your own pastry crust from scratch isn’t terribly difficult to do. I used a pie crust for 2 that used whole and all-purpose wheat flour, but your needs may call for gluten-free flour. If you can get your hands on a vegan puff pastry, this would make a beautiful presentation.
almond milk (to brush onto the pastry as it bakes)
fresh rosemary for garnish

Try not to crack if your pastry cracks. My terrible OCD kicked in as I watched my beautiful pastry start to crumble apart as we tried to glide it into the presentation dish. I had forgotten that in Art, the idea of perfection is really perfecting imperfections. Cracks in the mold may represent fragility to some, and to others, it lets what’s inside, what really matters, show through. 💛

Pre-heat oven according to pastry instructions.
Over medium heat with heated avocado oil in the pot, add your chopped onion, celery, carrots, season with about 1/8 Tsp salt and pepper, and proceed to cook down until everything is opaque, approximately 6-8 min. *This blend of staple veggies that go in many french dishes is called, mirepoix.*
Once cooked down, add your mushrooms, garlic, walnuts, and pecans to the mix , season with about 1/8 Tsp salt and pepper and cook for another 3-4 min. You may need to splash some veggie broth to the sauteing vegetables so they don’t stick or burn to the pot.
Drain and add the lentils to the mix. Add the herbs and spices and let simmer for a minute. Add balsamic vinegar and wine to the veggies and cook until you smell that special aroma as the alcohol cooks out and the flavor of the wine blends with veggies and herbs, approximately 1-2 min.
Add the tomato paste, dijon, and cashew cheese, blending until incorporated. Here’s where you’re gonna need to eyeball it. I start with a Tbs of flour, mix it in good, and as it starts to stiffen, I add splashes of veggie broth until you get a thick stewy consistency. Turn the heat off and let it thicken, adding broth periodically until what you’re left with is a dark, textured paste, almost like a thick clay ready to be molded and sculpted.

Stuff it, put a fork in it, and put it in your pie-hole. 😋

In an oiled pan, preferably a sheet pan (can be non-oiled, nonstick or even a wax papered pizza stone (I learned this the hard way when using a deeper dish), lay your first pastry down, rolled out. Spoon your loaf mixture into an oblong, rectangular shape, can be 3-4 inches high. Once firmly shaped, leaving at least 2 inches of space on the ends and 3-4 inches of space on the sides, fold the pastry around the loaf. If there’s loaf peaking through the top, no worries. Lay the second pastry over the top, and crimp the sides and edges down around the bottom pastry. The method, of course, is up to you. I added a crimp with my fork around the edges, but there are so many ways to make this centerpiece stand out. This is your show, your art and food exhibit. Have fun with it.
Brush the almond milk onto your pastry and proceed to bake, occasionally brushing on more milk, until you get a nice golden crust. Use your pastry instructions as a guide.

Plan ahead, find your rhythm, and enjoy the process.

These next recipes are going to be roughed in because these dishes are stored in my knowledge bank of memory, so no measurements were used. Instead, I’ll use approximations.

My French DNA says to butter and cream: Oui, s’il vous plaît!

Mashed Creamy Potatoes for 2:
4 white or golden potatoes, quartered and covered in water, a dash of salt added to the water, and boiled until soft. Drain potatoes, sprinkle with about 1/8 Tsp of salt or to taste and add 3 oz of French-style cashew cheese (Treeline garlic and herb), and mash with occasional splashes of veggie broth until you get a smooth consistency like porridge. Garnish with fresh herbs.

No need for fried onion crips when these green beans pop with savory onion, mushroom, and crunchy almonds.

Sauted Green Beans with Mushrooms and Almonds for 2:
A bag of fresh green beans (12-16 oz), ends snapped and place in a pot or deep pan over medium heat, oiled (I use avocado), half a large yellow onion, chopped, and 1/4 cup sliced, blanched almonds. Add approximately 1/8 Tsp salt and pepper. Cook for 3 min. Add about 5 oz sliced shiitake mushrooms and 2 large cloves of garlic, diced, and cook for another 2-3 min. Add about 1/4-1/3 cup veggie broth, turn heat to low, cover, and simmer until beans are soft. Add more broth if needed in the cooking. If a lot of liquid is left in the pot, you can thicken it by adding 1/2 Tbs of gluten-free flour.

These yams bloom with a spiraling swirl of a lower glycemic version of butterscotchh sauce and pecans.

Sweet Potatoes with Butterscotch-Pecan Drizzle for 2:
I used 2 large yams, peeled and sliced in about 1/8 inch thickness. Place in a bowl with about a Tsp of coconut or avocado oil and approximately 1/8 Tsp of salt and pepper. Mix until all the slices are coated. Arrange to your liking in a baking dish. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Bake at 400 until potatoes are soft. During the last 5 min of baking, in a small sauce pan over medium heat, add 1 Tbs butter (I use Myokos cultured vegan butter) and melt. Add about 2 Tbs of brown coconut sugar, 1 Tbs of maple syrup, 2 Tbs pecan pieces, and stir until bubbly. Add about 1-2 Tsp of gluten-free flour to thicken it. Drizzle over the potatoes and bake for another 5 min.

I wanna ride this gravy train! Choo choo!

Mushroom Gravy for 2:
Measure 1/2 cup veggie broth and 1/2 cup almond milk. Chop about 3 oz of shiitake mushrooms. Melt 2 Tbs of butter (I use Myokos cultured vegan butter) in a small pan. Add mushrooms and cook for 1-2 min. Add 2 Tbs gluten-free flour and stir until flour thickens and browns slightly, adding a tiny splash of broth at a time so the flour can stay stirred smoothly. Add the rest of the broth and almond milk and simmer while stirring until you get a nice consistency, should be similar to cream-condensed soup. Season with salt and pepper, and maybe a sprinkle of cayenne if spicy is how you roll.

We enjoyed all these fixings with warm, softly toasted 7 grain sourdough bread. I have found that sourdough doesn’t have an affect on my IBD. For me, the symptoms are pretty non-existent with fermented foods. The sourdough is still a treat and not a daily consumption.

Good things come to those that work hard in the kitchen. 👩🏼‍🍳

The Grand Finale at the end of feasting was a beautiful chocolate-pumpkin bundt cake.
Chocolate Pumpkin Bundt:
With the oven pre-heating to 350, mix 2 cups of sugar (I used 1&1/2 cup demerara cane sugar and 1/2 cup brown coconut sugar) with 4 eggs (or egg substitute, I like Bob’s Red Mill), 15 oz can of pumpkin puree, 1 cup coconut oil (make sure it’s melted), and 1 Tsp vanilla. Once mixed together, add 3 &1/2 cups of flour (I used 2 cups unbleashed, all-purpose and 1&1/2 cups spelt, Arrow brand), 1 Tbs cinnamon, 1 Tbs nutmeg, 2 Tsp baking soda, 1&1/2 Tsp salt, and 1 cup chocolate chips (I used Lily’s dark). Mix with a spatula until all the dry ingredients are incorporated into the wet ingredients. Oil lightly the bottom of the bundt dish. Sprinkle 1/2 cup chopped walnuts around the bottom of the dish. Pour or spoon your batter in, evenly, and bake until a toothpick inserted comes out dry, no wet batter (approximately 1 hour, I always check 3/4 of the way in). After the bundt has rested for 5-10 min, slide a butter knife around the edge of the cake, get your pretty dish or cake stand ready to receive this beauty, and gently turn the bundt dish over it, working the sides of the dish until it slides out.

This cake beckons: Pour some chocolate on me… in the name of Love! ❤️

For the drizzle, in a small sauce pan over medium heat, melt 2 Tbs butter (Myokos, cultured, vegan). Add 1/4 cup chocolate chips and 2-3 Tbs maple syrup. After the chocolate is melted, drizzle the chocolate sauce over the cake. I promise you, especially if enjoyed with a nice velvety port wine or a smooth cup of coffee, this cake will finish the day perfectly.

The dark cherry, chocolate, and spiced notes of this Port paired beautifully with this holiday spiced cake.

Enjoy your art and may you live well!

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