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A Simple Sweet Potato

Roasted sweet potato

Never have I been subjected to sweet potatoes sullied by the addition of sugar and marshmallows. This is pure insanity to me. Kind of like taking a taste of soy sauce and saying, “Yeah, it’s salty, but you know what would make it better? Put some salt in it.” Sweet potatoes are sweet. It’s right in the name. Don’t mess with them.

The idea of a vegetable side dish that looks more like a super-rich dessert is disturbing enough, but the truth is, sweet potatoes are one of the most delicious, well-balanced foods in existence. Baked in a hot oven until they get all squishy, they are so hard to resist that I always get a blast of steam in my face when I plunge the knife in the crackly skin. Then I top it with small dabs of Earth Balance and flaky, crunchy Maldon sea salt for a comforting lunch that somehow seems indulgent—creamy, sweet, salty, buttery, utter perfection.

Penne with Roasted Delicata Squash and Vegan Mornay Sauce

Vegan Mornay Sauce

Until a few years ago I hadn’t ever cooked winter squash. Hell, I probably hadn’t even ever eaten winter squash outside of the canned pumpkin in a pie. They always seemed so daunting. The peeling, the cleaning of the seeds, the stained hands. And then there was the cutting. In my mind it was akin to opening a coconut, and one slip of the (very dull) knife in my (very clumsy) hand and I’d be down a finger. But maybe the acquisition of a couple of proper grown-up knives gave me courage.

I started with acorn squash. They’re so cute and curvy and ready for stuffing. So they became a Thanksgiving centerpiece. But the flesh came out stringy and dry and mushy, making for nothing more than a really pretty and seasonally appropriate bowl.

And then I found this. The simplest, most delicious butternut squash soup you could hope for, perfect for topping with cranberry compote for a really stunning color combination. And I haven’t looked back since.

Last year I fell in love with the delicata squash. It’s sometimes hard to find, and its smaller size and less flashy appearance make it easy to overlook. But here’s the thing: You can eat the skin. Meaning none of that annoying peeling. Just chop it up, toss it in olive oil, salt, and pepper, and throw it in the oven for a wonderfully comforting side dish that’s nicely crunchy on the outside, with a bite provided by the slightly waxy skin, and incredibly smooth on the inside. Or do as I did here and, after roasting, toss it with penne and a vegan mornay sauce for an indulgent, grown-up version of mac and cheese. And don’t forget to roast the seeds (delicata is a way better payoff here than stingy butternut) and sprinkle them on top.

The best part? Matilda, who had recently decried a loaf of pumpkin bread for being ” too pumpkiny,” said, without prodding, “I like this squash.” Success.

Vegan Mornay Sauce

adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child et al.

I used Teese vegan cheese in this sauce, as I prefer its flavor over other brands. And when I opened the pantry to grab the flour and realized the all-purpose canister was empty, I used whole-wheat pastry flour instead, which worked just fine. This is best served very hot, as it loses it’s silky texture as it cools.

1 Tbsp Earth Balance Margarine

1 1/2 Tbsp flour

1 cup unsweetened soy milk

Approximately 1/4 cup mozzarella-style vegan cheese, grated

salt and pepper to taste

Heat soy milk in small saucepan or in the microwave until warmed through. Melt margarine in small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour and let the mixture bubble, stirring constantly, for about two minutes. Slowly pour in heated soy milk. Whisk until the sauce thickens and can coat the back of a spoon. This should only take a couple of minutes.

Raw Beet Salad

raw-beet-salad

I used to be terrified of beets. I was convinced that cooking them would be a horribly messy ordeal, with blood red blotches forever marring my kitchen counter, my baking dishes, my hands, the shirt I inevitably wouldn’t even think to change before tackling the juicy mess. But at some point I dove in. I bought a bunch of deep red beets, hauled out the aluminum foil, and fired up the oven. And when the roots came out of the oven and the foil, the skins slid right off, no vegetable peeler spewing tiny, staining pieces of skin all over the kitchen wall as I had feared. And the color on my hands? It rinsed right off. I hardly even needed soap. But none of that really matters for this salad, since working with raw beets is about as messy as working with raw carrots. I used Chiogga here, because they’re pretty and make for a nice pink salad—or because that’s what the farmer’s market had, whatever. And there isn’t really a recipe, just shred peeled raw beets in a food processor and toss with a simple vinaigrette. Mine was lemon juice, Dijon mustard, olive oil, salt, and pepper, but garlic and parsley are also excellent additions. It’s a crunchy, refreshing side salad that goes great with a Mediterranean spread. It does tend to go all slimy the next day though, so eat immediately.

A New Beginning

apricot

Yesterday I ate an apricot. Now I know this may not sound very impressive, but it was a big deal. Growing up I loved fruit. I would’ve taken a strawberry over a handful of Nerds any day. And I loved it all. Any variety of fruit found in the produce section of a northern Indiana Kroger store, inevitably I thought it was delicious. With one exception, an exception that was often vocalized: the apricot. But you see, the thing is I can’t remember ever eating an apricot. I must have at some point, I assume, for such a strong aversion to have developed, but I can’t conjure up even the slightest memory of what this fruit could have tasted like. And what if I’d never even eaten a fresh apricot? Perhaps the only fruit of such a name to ever pass my lips was from a can? I had to know. Was my hatred founded? And if not, what other long-held beliefs might be challenged as a result of that discovery? What if, after twenty odd years, I found that I did indeed like every fruit I had ever encountered? Would that lead to other shocking self-discoveries? Would I become a fan of tattoos or animal prints or CBS sitcoms? Considering that as of last week I am now the owner of two string bikinis—one with sparkly silver skulls—I think anything could be possible.

As for the apricot, the flavor was OK, kind of like a more floral, perfumed peach. But the texture was all off, mushy, mealy, wholly unpleasant. At least I tried.

Victory!


Last week my twelve-year-old stepdaughter moved in with us. Food-wise this is a little on a scary side, as a normal kid who’s used to a lot of Kraft mac & cheese being forced to eat vegan is a bit of a difficult thing. But even more difficult than that: the kid hates onions! She’ll let them slide if they’re in a store-bought jar (salsa, pasta sauce), but otherwise the onions turn her off the whole meal. Well, this would not do. If my hands don’t smell like onions and garlic, I probably didn’t eat well the night before. Onions make everything better. I suspect there’s even a way to put onions in cookies and have it be delicious. So I decided to dive in and confront this thing head on: ratatouille. There’s no way to take the onions out of that, at least not with good results. And the impossible happened; not only did she eat it, she loved it. She even said she couldn’t taste the onions and didn’t even pick them out. Success! I don’t think this means I’ll be making French onion soup anytime soon, but you never know. Now on to the next challenge: kale.

(I used a recipe from some old issue of Martha Stewart Living I’ve had ripped out and stuffed in a folder for who knows how long. The eggplant and zucchini were roasted before they were stewed with everything else, so they kept their shape nicely. And, funny enough, the recipe called for too many onions for my taste, but otherwise it was excellent, though I can’t seem to find it online.)

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