Thursday, December 15, 2005

A Christmas Lunch Box Menu

Golden Chestnut Soup
Best Brussels Sprouts
a Clementine or Satsuma mandarin
Gingerbread Vegans with Icing & Sprinkles
Beverage: Silk Nog
Here's a warm welcome to the holidays -- a lunch box filled with traditional wintertime fare. Creamy, piping hot Golden Chestnut Soup warms the tummy and satisfies the soul. Brussels sprouts have long complemented chestnuts and this time is no exception; I find them addictive in this sweet, tangy sauce.

Clementines and Satsumas are sweet, seedless mandarin oranges that become available each year around Christmastime. Pick some up for a special holiday treat and old-time stocking stuffer.

The Gingerbread Vegans are most fun when they are packed along with some sprinkles and a miniature piping bag filled with icing, so the luncher can decorate the cookies right before eating them (see directions in the recipe below).

And finally, what would the holidays be without some soy nog? I think Silk brand soy nog is one of the best things in life. Really, give it a try -- it will nog your socks off (hee hee).

Golden Chestnut Soup

The first time we ever tried roasting chestnuts, my husband and I bought some on a whim at the grocery store ("Hey, look, chestnuts! Just like in that song!"). We spread them out on a baking sheet and put them in the oven. Unfortunately, we didn’t know you must cut a slit in the shell of the chestnut to release steam. In a few minutes chestnuts were going off like fireworks, ricocheting around inside the oven with deep booming explosions. What a mess that was!

We learned our lesson that day, but we never gave up on chestnuts. They are absolutely delicious roasted and eaten out of hand as a snack, or puréed into a rich, golden soup.

serves 4

1 lb. fresh chestnuts
4 large cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 TB olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, diced
1 celery, diced
4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
¾ tsp. salt, or to taste
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. white pepper

Preheat the oven to 475º. Cut an "x" in the shell of each chestnut with a sharp paring knife. Arrange the chestnuts on a baking sheet with the unpeeled garlic cloves. Roast for 20 minutes, until the outer shell has pulled slightly away from the chestnut and the shell and the inner skin peel away easily.

Remove the outer shell and inner skin of each chestnut and place them in a bowl. Work quickly while the chestnuts are still hot (hold them with a kitchen towel if they are too hot to touch). Squeeze the roasted garlic out of the garlic cloves and add it to the bowl with the chestnuts. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the onion, carrot, celery, fresh thyme, and bay leaves. Sauté, stirring often, until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the chestnuts and garlic and 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer, covered, until the carrots are tender, about 10 minutes.

Remove from heat. Remove the thyme sprigs and bay leaves and let the soup cool slightly. Transfer the soup to a Vita-Mix or other blender, in batches if necessary, and purée until the soup is completely smooth. Pour the soup into a clean saucepan and add the salt, nutmeg, and white pepper. Warm over medium-low heat, stirring. Taste for salt and serve.

Best Brussels Sprouts

The name says it all! These sweet-and-sour sprouts are wonderful hot or at room temperature.

serves 4

1 lb. fresh Brussels sprouts, cleaned, trimmed, and cut in half
2 TB olive oil (or 1 TB olive oil and 1 TB margarine)
salt to taste
¾ cup vegetable stock or water
2 TB sugar
2 TB apple cider vinegar
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Heat the oil or oil and margarine in a sauté pan or well-seasoned cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the Brussels sprouts and sprinkle with salt. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until the sprouts are turning golden, about 5 to 10 minutes.

Add ½ cup of the stock or water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, covered with a lid left slightly ajar, until the Brussels sprouts are almost completely tender and the stock or water has been cooked away, about 10 minutes.

Remove the lid and add the last ¼ cup of stock or water, the sugar, and the apple cider vinegar. Cook at a lively simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is reduced to a syrup, about 5 minutes. Taste for salt and season with pepper. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Gingerbread Vegans

Every year around the solstice we throw a "Gingerbread Cookie Party" for all of James’ friends. Kids come over to decorate cookies with piping bags of white and colored icing, to drink Silk Nog and sparkling cider, and play games. No gifts are exchanged, but each guest is asked to bring $2 for the animal shelter. The next day James and I take the money down to the shelter to wish the animals there a happy, homebound holiday.

All-natural vegan food coloring and sprinkles are available on the web from Vegan Essentials.

makes about 2 to 3 dozen cookies, depending on the size you choose

1/3 cup non-hydrogenated margarine, at room temperature
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup sweet unsulphured molasses
¾ cup water
6 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
¾ tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
½ tsp. cloves
½ tsp. allspice

for decorating:

Gingerbread Vegan Icing (see below)
sprinkles (optional)

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large mixing bowl with a hand mixer, cream together the margarine, brown sugar, molasses, and ½ cup of water.

In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and allspice. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, adding just enough of the water to incorporate all the flour and form a dough that holds together well.

Turn the dough out of the bowl and form into four equal balls. Wrap each ball well with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Preheat the oven to 350º. Line some baking sheets with parchment and spray with nonstick spray. Set aside.

Working with one ball at a time, roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin. Roll the dough about ¼-inch thick and use cookie cutters to cut out your desired shapes. Use a metal spatula to transfer the cookies to the prepared cookie sheets, placing them about 1 to 2 inches apart.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the surface is firm. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely, then decorate with Gingerbread Vegan Icing.

Gingerbread Vegan Icing

You may want to make multiple batches of this icing and color each with a different food coloring for some very colorful cookie creations. I prefer the look of clean white icing on my little vegans.

makes about 3/4 cup

1 cup sifted powdered sugar
½ tsp. vanilla
1 ½ TB Silk Nog or 1 TB water

Combine the powdered sugar and vanilla. Sprinkle in the Silk Nog or water, stirring well with a small spatula and using just enough liquid to form a smooth icing. It should be soft enough to squeeze easily out of a piping bag, but not so runny that it runs out of the bag unbidden. Transfer the icing to the piping bag and decorate the cookies as desired.

To pack some frosting for the lunch box, put a small amount of icing into one corner of a sandwich-sized ziplock bag, then twist the filled corner off and secure snugly with a small rubber band and a piece of holiday ribbon. Cut away the top of the baggie, then cut a very small hole in the tip of the bag to squeeze the icing out. Cover the tip with a bit of plastic wrap so the icing does not dry out before lunch.