November 11, 2009

Holiday foods cooking class / herb-infused spiced cranberry-orange relish

Almond tuiles with pumpkin mousse
When I was very young, my family had a habit of going out to dinner on Sunday night — and I don't use the word 'habit' lightly. We went to a Chinese restaurant in Philadelphia's Chinatown, and then to my cousin's house in West Philly. When I say we went to a Chinese restaurant every Sunday, I mean we went to the SAME restaurant every single week - the exact same one in a neighborhood of hundreds of choices. Not only did we go to the same restaurant each week, we ordered the same food. We didn't need to see a menu because my father ordered won-ton soup, egg rolls, chicken chow mein, pork fried rice, spare ribs, and either egg fu yung or lo mein. When I started going to Chinese restaurants as an adult, before I became a vegetarian, I was overwhelmed to see page after page of food choices. There were an overwhelming number of dishes that had no resemblance to chow mein. Where had I been? I started trying different things. (Now that I'm a vegan, one of the things that bugs me about going out to dinner is the limited choice vegans have at so many restaurants! At normal (as opposed to vegan) Chinese restaurants there are usually about five things.)

Holidays can be kind of like my family's Chinese restaurant habit, when we get locked into a pattern of serving the same favorite foods over and over. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as the holiday menu becomes a family tradition that we look forward to. But sometimes it's nice to shake things up a little and try something different — maybe add one new dish to the menu.

This was what my husband and I had in mind when we recently attended another cooking class at PCC Natural Markets. The class was called Vegetarian Holiday Feast and was taught by Birgitte Atonsen N.T.P., nutritional therapy practitioner, professional whole foods chef and culinary instructor. Birgitte, owner of Nature's Way Food, has been developing and refining her recipes since she became a vegetarian at the age of 12.

This was the menu: roasted vegetable nut loaf with mushroom béchamel sauce, mashed yams with rosemary, herb-infused spiced cranberry-orange relish, and the spectacular dessert combo of almond tuilles with pumpkin mousse. This was seriously delicious food, and I wish I could give you all the recipes, but Birgitte is working on a cookbook at the moment. The cookbook is not vegetarian, but rather it will be a cookbook filled with recipes that can be altered to accommodate any dietary need. Birgitte wants to provide people with a way to cook for friends with special diets without having to go out and buy different sets of cookbooks. Need those cookies to be GF? She will tell you how. Are you an omni with veggie friends coming to dinner? Brigitte will offer alternatives in the recipes to make them vegetarian or vegan.

This Thanksgiving I plan to incorporate two of the dishes from the class into my menu. I'm going to serve the cranberry-orange relish instead of my traditional cranberry-apple sauce, and the almond tuiles with pumpkin mousse instead of pumpkin pie. I admit I just can't break my 'holiday habits' enough to change my favorite dishes, and I'm looking forward to seitan stuffed with wild rice, and potato kugel. This will be the first Thanksgiving in a very long time that our entire immediate family will be together, and the first Thanksgiving my husband and I will spend with our little granddaughter, so it should be exciting, fun and delicious.

Herb-infused, spiced cranberry-orange relish
Makes about three cups.
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes
  • 1/2 organic orange with skin on, cut up for ease of blending
  • 1/2 cup orange juice concentrate
  • 1 cinnamon stick (2-1/2 inches)
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary or 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 cup Rapidura sugar (or other evaporated cane juice-type sugar)
  • 1/2 cup filtered water
  • 1/3 cup port (optional but recommended)
  • 2 (approx. 10-ounce) bags fresh cranberries - mine had 12 ounces each
  1. In a food processor or blender blend orange and orange juice concentrate until smooth.
  2. Pour the mixture into a medium pot and add cinnamon, cloves, rosemary or thyme, sugar, water and port (if using).
  3. Bring mixture to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for five minutes.
  4. Add the cranberries and simmer until the cranberries burst and mixture starts to thicken, about 20 to 30 minutes. Stir often to keep from burning.
  5. Place relish into a container and refrigerate.
  6. When chilled, remove the cinnamon stick and rosemary or thyme.
I also added 1/2 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract after the sauce was removed from the heat, although it wasn't in the recipe. When I make the cranberries for Thanksgiving, I'm going to slice the leftover half orange, cut the slices into half-moons and make a pinwheel garnish in the center of the dish. Sorry to say I ate the orange before thinking of the garnish when I made the dish for this post.
(recipe © Birgitte Antonsen. Please do not reproduce.)


Try something new
If you'd like to add something new to your holiday celebrations this year, you might consider purchasing the e-cookbook, In a Vegetarian Kitchen: A Bountiful Vegan Thanksgiving by cookbook author and artist, Nava Atlas. It's filled with recipes, cooking information and tips for holiday meals by the author, and also includes recipes from other well-known cookbook authors and bloggers. It's only $8.95, and profits from this project will be donated to humanitarian charities concerned with hunger, micro-financing for women in developing countries and the alleviation of human trafficking.


Vegetarian alert - What's in that jar of Planter's Dry Roasted Peanuts?
Peanuts, Salt, Sugar, Cornstarch, Monosodium Glutamate (Flavor Enhancer) Gelatin, Corn Syrup Solids, Dried Yeast, Paprika, Onion and Garlic Powders, Spices, Natural Flavor.

Gelatin is an animal-derived product so look elsewhere for your peanuts if you're a vegetarian or inviting vegetarians to your home. You can find other varieties of Planter's peanuts and mixed nuts that are gelatin-free, so READ THE LABEL to know what you're getting!


  1. I am so jealous of all these amazing cooking classes you have been going to--what fun! Thanks so much for sharing the cranberry recipe. I *LOVE* cranberries, and I am always looking for a new cranberry sauce/relish to make for Thanksgiving!


  2. I never would have thought to look on the ingredients for a jar of peanuts. Thank you for the heads up!

  3. That pumpkin mousse looks incredible!

  4. Courtney,
    I meant to make a half recipe of the cranberry relish so I could try out the recipe and photograph it, but I was really tired when I made it, and didn't realize until I was about to add the cranberries that I'd forgotten to halve the ingredients. I ended up adding two 12-ounce bags, and we're still eating it. If you were here I'd give you some!

    Gross, isn't it? When offered peanuts in a bowl, do we now have to ask what's in them?

    It WAS incredible, and so were the tuilles.

  5. Whooooooaaaa that dessert. I am coming to your house. I'll be there by Thanksgiving. You make the mousse, I'll bring a moose.

  6. Mihl,
    I just hope the tuilles turn out when I make them. They tasted like something I could really screw up.

    I would say okay but I'm a little worried about the moose, and whether my dog will like it. Personally, I love moose.

  7. That sounds like a lot of fun going to cooking class with your husband! The pumpkin mousse looks so amazing and the cranberry-orange relish sounds really good, YUM!

    p.s. Again, I really enjoyed reading your childhood story. This one reminds me of my dad when he was alive, he ordered exact same thing every time he went to the exact same restaurant, never ever looked at the menu!

  8. I like to order the same things at restaurants only because they're my favorites. But I like to try different things too. It's quite the dilemma.

    Wow, that cranberry relish looks so good! You always go to the most interesting cooking classes. :-)

  9. Oraphan,
    Thanks for your comment. It sounds like our dads had something in common.

    Chow vegan,
    I know what you mean about ordering favorites - I do that too. Sometimes when I try something different I'm sorry, which is why I like restaurants where the dishes are shared; I can order my favorite and get someone else to order something new. :)

  10. Traditions and habits can be a good and comforting a point! It is always awesome to change things up and approach old favorites from an entirely different direction. This was such a great post, thank you for the brilliant ideas.

    Gorgeous photos!

  11. Mmm-relish looks great! We rarely went to restaurants when I was a kid, but our Chinese menu when we did was identical to yours! My mum would whip up a Chinese-style dinner once a year with all those EXACT SAME dishes, too! Too funny.

    And gelatin in PEANUTS?????????????????????????? (I could go on, but the line ran out of room for question marks). Bizarre!

  12. Tasha,
    You are so right about the conflict between familiarity and change. Thanks for the compliments!

    Funny, yes. I wonder why those particular dishes became the stand-in for all of Chinese cooking.

    I'm really disappointed about the gelatin. Peanuts should just be peanuts. We have enough to worry about.

  13. Mmmmmm, that mushroom bechamel sauce sounds good. Do you cook the mushrooms seperately and then add them to the bechamel?

  14. the loaf w/bechamel looks amazing!
    thanks for the peanut warning

  15. Everything looks great.
    We were on a road trip one night out of state and had not eaten and I let my husband go in and get some snacks. After we all were eating the yummy dry roasted peanuts I looked at the label and couldn't believe my eyes. Who would of thought. Why would they need to add gelatin to peanuts. Seems they slip that stuff in just like MSG and whey in everything.
    No whey!


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