Chestnut-stuffed Peppers; Cucumber & Radish Salad

My favorite farmers at the market now have chestnuts. I’ve bought fresh chestnuts before and I recall them being a huge pain, although curiously I don’t recall much else about them. Nonetheless I was of course compelled to purchase a pint of them.

They’re still a huge pain.

I wanted to do something savory with them so I got the idea to use them in stuffed peppers. Here’s what I did.

Chestnut-stuffed Peppers

1/2 pint fresh chestnuts
1/4 large onion or 1/2 smaller onion, diced
2 large cloves garlic, minced or pressed
3 Tbsp red wine
1/2 tsp rubbed sage
1 cup vegan broth
1 1/2 cups cooked brown rice
2 long sweet peppers
vegan cheese (optional), for topping

Here are my chestnuts. I peeled the whole pint but only used half of them in this recipe. I’ll roast the other half later.

Cut an “x” in each chestnut. I used a paring knife and had to be a bit stabby with it. It’s probably very easy to cut yourself when preparing chestnuts. It requires a bit more effort than doing the same thing to tomatoes you want to peel.

Put the chestnuts in some water, then bring it to a boil.

Boil the chestnuts for about 5 minutes, then turn the heat off but leave them in the pot. They are easier to peel when they are warm, so scoop out a few at a time and leave the rest in the water as you peel them. The shells will likely have started to open at your “x”.

Use your fingers and/or paring knife to remove the shell. The skin almost always comes off in the shell; sometimes you’ll have to rub it off. This one looks disconcertingly like a chocolate candy to me.

I’ll be honest, peeling chestnuts is a real bore and took forever.

At long last, they were done.

Roughly chop them.

Put some oil in a small skillet and add the diced onion. Cook for a minute or two, then add the garlic.

Add the chestnuts and cook another few minutes.

Add the wine, using it to deglaze the pan …

… then add the sage, broth, and salt to taste.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cover, and simmer until the chestnuts are soft. I left mine for 40 minutes while I went to exercise. Stir in the rice.

Pretty peppers.

Cut them in half lengthwise.

Remove the seeds.

Stuff 1/4 of the mixture into each half.

Optionally top with vegan cheese. I used a small bit of Daiya mozzarella and a generous sprinkle of Dragonfly’s Bulk, Dry Uncheese Mix.

Cover with foil and bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 40 minutes. I used my toaster oven, which worked great. Here it is finished. This was okay, but I wouldn’t say it was worth the effort of the chestnut peeling.

Cucumber and Radish Salad

2 pickling cucumbers, or 1 regular cucumber
3-4 large radishes
1/4 large or 1/2 smaller onion
3/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup water
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt (or to taste)
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
pinch red pepper flakes
3 springs dill, chopped (or just pull the fronds off)

Thinly slice the cucumbers and radishes; a mandoline is preferred for this task. Also very thinly slice the onion.

In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients.

Toss everything together. Preferably put it in a bowl with a sealing lid. Refrigerate for at least an hour, occasionally shaking and/or flipping the bowl over if it has a sealable lid.

And here it is finished. I make variations of this frequently during the summer so there was no surprise here. It was a good choice to accompany this meal because chestnuts are a bit sweet, and I also served sweet corn on the cob, and this was a tangy, refreshing contrast.

In kitty news, Gomez and Torticia recently went in for their annual exams. I love taking them to the vet because they are not Tigger. Tigger hated hated HATED the vet. There are some vet techs out there who actually refused to be in the same room as him, and he left more than one doctor bruised and bloodied in his wake. In fact, it was generally a bloodbath and I’d have to walk out in shame. He was a TERROR. These two little sweet darlings, on the other hand, are SO GOOD! They react quite differently from each other, however. Torticia looks at the whole experience as one fun adventure and makes herself right at home, whereas Gomez rather quivers in fear the whole time.

Torticia at the vet:

Gomez at the vet:

Torticia at the vet:

Gomez at the vet (look at that scowl!):

I’ve zoomed in and enhanced this photo so you can see Torticia’s extremely cute “vanilla” toe. LOVE that the vanilla toe has a pink paw pad and the chocolate toes have brown pads!

Silly cats. Anyway, everyone oohed and aahed over their beauty, sweetness, and marvelously soft and silky coats. I love that no one who sees them can resist petting them. They are in optimal health, although little miss Fatso needs to shed some pounds. Gomez forgot his ordeal within two seconds of returning home. (Torticia, world’s most agreeable cat, couldn’t have cared less if I’d packed her back up and driven her back there a second time.)

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Boxing Day Nut Loaf

Regardless of the holiday(s) you celebrate this time of year, I hope you’re having a wonderful season. My Christmas was cold, windy, foggy, and rainy, but the rain melted all the snow and I can see our lawn again! Euge! My family eats baked ham for Christmas dinner, so I made baked “hammy” seitan, only instead of the mustard/agave glaze I used for Easter, I used my grandmother’s recipe for pineapple baked ham. I’ll do a post on it sometime. Today Boxing Day was celebrated in many parts of the world, but not America, where most people have no idea if it is some sort of pugilist holiday or what. I got some new kitchen items for Christmas I wanted to break in, and decided we’d celebrate the mysterious Boxing Day the way I’ve decided thousands of European and Australian vegetarians do: with a nut loaf. I’ve never made a nut loaf before, but it seems very British to me for some reason and I wanted to have a very British Boxing Day.

In looking for nut loaf recipes, I found that many of them call for an unfortunate ratio of mushrooms. I finally found this promising-looking recipe that requires no mushrooms (and is accompanied by a video narrated by a lady with a most delightful accent). My recipe is heavily influenced by this recipe, but instead of bread crumbs, I used some leftover couscous I wanted to get rid of. The result was husband-approved…little surprise considering my husband would live off nuts alone if I’d let him.

Boxing Day Nut Loaf

8 oz mixed nuts (I used equal proportions hazelnuts, almonds, and cashews)
1/3 cup nutritional yeast
1/4 tsp each: thyme, rosemary, basil, tarragon (or some other combination of dried herbs to your liking, although you have to pronounce the “h” even if you’re American and it sounds weird because it’s Boxing Day and everyone is British on Boxing Day)
1 tsp dried parsley
freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 medium onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
4-6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 cup vegan stock
2 tsp Marmite
1 cup mixed frozen vegetables (I used corn, peas, and spinach)
5 oz cooked couscous
1/2 cup whole wheat panko (or other breadcrumbs) + additional for topping

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius or gas mark 6, which is 400 degrees Fahrenheit if your oven is American even if you’re not, which you’re not because it’s Boxing Day.

Place some olive oil in a small pot over medium heat and then add the onions. This is my new orange Le Creuset sauce pot, which my parents gave me for Christmas! I LOVE it!

While the onions are cooking, grind the nuts in a food processor or blender, but call it a “liquidizer” because you’re British today. Set aside in a bowl with the nutritional yeast and dried herbs (pronounce that h!).

Whisk the Marmite (it’s British!) into the stock. It’s not pictured, but another of my presents was an electric kettle (oooh, so British!). I had requested one, although with a few reservations, wondering if I would really use it often enough to make it worthwhile. Well, aside from tea, I used it no less than five times today, so the answer is yes, I WILL use it and it’s great! I brought a cup of water to a boil in less than a minute, then whisked in the bouillon and Marmite. Yes, I could have used the microwave, but for some reason I felt a LOT better about using the kettle.

I also used the electric kettle to defrost the frozen veggies. I put them in a bowl and poured boiling water over them to cover, let sit for a few minutes, then drained.

When the onions are soft, add the carrots, cook for a few minutes, then add the garlic and cook for another minute.

Here I’m weighing my leftover couscous so I can record how much I used.

In a large bowl, combine the mixed dry ingredients, the thawed frozen veggies, the onions and carrots, and 1/2 cup panko or breadcrumbs.

Add the liquid ingredients and stir to combine.

Spread into a greased loaf pan or baking dish. I used a shallow baking dish anticipating the same problem I had with my lentil loaf, in which it stayed so moist it never held together. Smooth the top of the loaf. (This baking dish was actually a previous Christmas present from my aunt, so it’s extra appropriate for this post.)

Sprinkle the additional panko or breadcrumbs atop the loaf. I forgot to take a picture before loading it into the oven, so here it is in the oven.

Bake for 30-40 minutes or until golden brown.

While the nut loaf was baking, I tossed some baby potatoes with some olive oil, salt, pepper, and rosemary and spread them out in another baking dish, which I slid in next to the nut loaf.

Then I halved some Brussels sprouts – which I think the British love during Christmas and I’m assuming Boxing Day – and placed them cut side down in some olive oil in my OTHER new Le Creuset pot, a gorgeous kiwi Dutch oven (which I’ve been lusting after for a while) from Mark.

I let them cook for a few minutes, covered, then took the lid off, stirred them and cooked a few more minutes before seasoning with salt and pepper. I didn’t take any pictures, but in the orange Le Creuset, I made some Fiery Red Wine Gravy – I was pretty true to that recipe, though without the mint.

The finished nut loaf:

And here was our meal, served on a new stoneware plate from my parents, although you can’t see the pattern, which is red boxes (it’s Boxing Day after all!) for the food. Mark and I ate it while watching Whale Wars. The crew only eats vegan meals, which I liked to hear while eating my vegan meal, although I had a hard time with some of the scenes of whales being hurt.

I love my new pots so much I’m storing them on the stove. Well, I love them and also I don’t have anywhere else to store them. So it’s especially good I got the electric kettle since this means the tea kettle got kicked off the stove.

And in other news, Mark and I made gingerbread cookies, using my mother’s recipe, on Christmas Eve. I decorated mine pretty traditionally:

I don’t even know what to tell you about Mark’s:

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Almond Milk

I’ve switched lately from soy milk to almond milk. At first it was because Mark seems to prefer almond milk (he’s skeptical about milk in general), but now it’s also because almond milk is easier. Almond milk is not cheaper, unfortunately, but I’m willing to pay for the convenience. You do have to soak the almonds, so it requires planning, but if I soak the nuts the night before, I can quickly whip the milk up the next morning before breakfast, whereas with soy milk, because it needs to be cooked and then cooled before using, the only time I could make it during the week is in the evenings and sometimes I’d find myself out of luck at breakfast. It’s so easy to make it barely warrants posting here, but I’ll do so in the interest of anyone who thinks making their own non-dairy milk isn’t worth the effort.

Almond Milk
1 cup raw almonds
4 cups water
vanilla, to taste (optional)
pinch salt (optional)
sweetener, to taste (optional)

Soak the almonds in the water for 8 hours or overnight. I soak them right in the blender and stick it in the refrigerator. That way, when I make it, the almond milk is already cold and ready to use. I also don’t even bother measuring the almonds or the water; I plunk four handfuls of almonds in the blender and fill it with water up to about the 4 1/2 cup mark on the side.

When you are ready to make the milk, prepare the blender.

Blend for two minutes.

Meanwhile, place a strainer or nut (or okara) bag over a container that’s at least a quart.

Pour the almond milk through the strainer.

If you are using a strainer, press and scrape the almond meal with a spoon. If you are using a nut or okara bag, squeeze it tightly.

Remove as much milk from the meal as you can, then discard (read: compost, use for baking, etc.) the meal.

Pour the milk into a serving container that closes tightly enough that you can shake it. Add the optional ingredients if you’d like: salt, sweetener, and/or vanilla. I only use vanilla. Close the serving container and shake.

The only drawback of almond milk as opposed to soy is that it separates. I had to buy this plastic container that I could shake before serving instead of keeping it in my nice glass pitchers because it was too hard to shake it back together. Here’s what it looks like after sitting for a while. Just shake it before serving.

Other than the occasional use in bread baking, the only thing I really use any non-dairy milk for is cold breakfast cereal, which I eat most mornings, not because I love it (breakfast is my least favorite meal), but because I don’t function well enough before noon to make anything else. All bowls of cereal start out with a layer of Grape Nuts. Grape Nuts has been my favorite cereal since I was a child. I loved Grape Nuts and Brussels sprouts as a kid. If I could be guaranteed to have a kid as awesome as I was, I’d consider it!

Then I add a layer of some other hippyish cereal. Mark’s been eating hemp cereal. Once I read the advertising slogan, “Now with more twigs!” on a box of cereal I was eating. No sugary nightmares for me.

Next comes some sliced fruit and/or berries. Bananas and strawberries is a favorite.

To be enjoyed with a glass of orange juice and a book!

On Food and Cooking informs me that almond milk is the easiest-to-thicken nut milk, which has me thinking of other things to do with it. According to McGee, it makes a lovely pudding-type dish.

Did you notice the book stand in the photo above? I use it all the time.

It’s a Book Gem. When I’m traveling for work and eating many of my meals alone in restaurants, it’s my best friend. When Mark’s playing video games instead of eating dinner iwith me, it’s my best friend. When I’m on a plane or train, it’s my best friend. When I’m brushing my teeth, it’s my best friend. (I don’t waste a minute of reading time!) Basically any time you want to read hands-free, this thing is the tops. In fact, it’s gotten to the point where I can’t be bothered to hold my book open at any time, even when I’m just lazing around in my reading chair. In cooler months, I just prop the Book Gem up on my leg, but when it’s warmer and I’m bare-legged, it’s uncomfortable to do so, plus I get weird marks on my legs. I’ve therefore been eying up this Thai Book Rest for a long time now, thinking that in conjunction with my Book Gem, I’d be the most comfortable (and lazy) book reader in the world. However, it’s made of silk and even if silk were a vegan product, it wouldn’t be a practical one for a book rest in my opinion. And it’s $38, which I find a bit extravagant. I tossed around the idea of making myself something like this, but as I have mentioned here, I am really, really bad at sewing.

However, after a brainstorming session with my mom via email this week, I got it into my head I was going to try to make my own book pillow, and when it all went pears (as I fully expected it to do), I planned to say the heck with it and throw away $39 on this non-silk book seat I found. Lo and behold, however, I managed to make a book rest without screaming, without crying, without cussing, without kicking my sewing machine, and without needing to kill anyone. Without, even, going to that horrible hell-on-Earth Jo-Ann’s, as I happen to have a large fabric stash from countless other projects abandoned in frustration and a couple of bags of polyfill from I don’t know what, but there they were. So it was free! I’m so impressed with myself!

I haven’t had much of a chance to use it yet as I just finished it up at 1 am last night (it only took a couple of hours, though), however, I can tell you that Brachtune doesn’t think much of it. She thinks the only thing that should be on my lap is herself. I think it’s going to work out very well despite Brachtune’s disapproval. Now I need to make a waterproof version for the pool! I spent many hours floating around reading last summer and intend to do so in complete comfort this year!

And finally, I think telling Brachtune how beautiful she is a hundred times a day has finally gone to her head. Brachtune is so vain she probably thinks this post is about her.

I came home the other night and found her admiring herself in the mirror, and she didn’t even get up to come greet me; she just went right on staring at herself. Which is unusual because most cats won’t look at themselves in the mirror – and I’ve never seen her do it before. But if I were as pretty as she is, I’d stare at myself in the mirror all day too.

Brachtune’s so pretty, oh so pretty…vacant!

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