I know I was right in the middle of sharing the saga of making a wedding cake…but then I remembered what time of year it is. That’s right. Thanksgiving is coming.
And during the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, I like to focus on delicious side dishes and breads and pies…because let’s face it: vegetarians often get short shrift on Thanksgiving. When the big day is all about a big bird, and half of your relatives can’t live without bacon in their stuffing, sometimes the bountiful table in front of you doesn’t quite translate into a feast.
(I should, however, offer some thanks to my own relatives, who are super gracious to me even though I am the lone veggie in their meat-loving midst.)
Because Thanksgiving is fast approaching, and I, like many of you, am scouring recipes and cookbooks for the perfect things to bring to the table, I definitely want to share some easy meatless side dishes with you! That way, on Thanksgiving, no matter what your palate prefers, you can do what my family always does: LOAD UP.
As a vegetarian, I often miss out on foods that other people rave about. Sometimes there is an easy substitution, like a delicious veggie burger. But sometimes, as with pot pies, I more often find that vegetarian versions are disappointing or weird than satisfying and comforting.
No doubt, to turn a meaty classic into a delicious vegetarian dish can be a challenge! It usually requires about a thousand more ingredients and a lot of extra time. Building a balanced flavor that is as hearty and satisfying to a carnivore as to a vegetarian is involved!
Part of this is definitely personal prejudice on my part. I’m sorry, but a potato is a starch! And, to be honest…peas are pretty darn close to a starch. So if those are the only “vegetables” in an already creamy and crusty pie, you’ve kind of lost me. If I am going to spend hours making crust and stirring fillings and then baking a pie, I want to be eating something absolutely stuffed with a rainbow of vegetables (and therefore nutrients), as thanks for my trouble!
Cue this pot pie, full of hearty Fall vegetables: butternut squash, carrots, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower are all at their best and brightest in the cool months! Add some browned mushrooms and onions for a nice, savory base, plus the most deliciously herby and peppery crust, and I honestly think you couldn’t ask for anything more!
So last time, I shared the inception of this wedding cake with you. To recap: the bride and groom requested a 3-tier cake, each tier consisting of pumpkin spice cake, a thin cheesecake filling, and Baileys cream cheese frosting on the outside.
It’s a tall order! Not only is a wedding cake a nerve-wracking, complex thing to take on, but I embraced the additional step of baking cheesecakes to fill the layers, rather than filling with a simple frosting or ganache.
Have you ever make a cheesecake filled cake? It actually isn’t as hard as it sounds, but it does require extra time and a mountain of extra dishes. The cheesecakes are typically baked in advance and then frozen, which makes them firm enough to handle without crumbling or smushing during assembly.
I may have been somewhat MIA over the last several weeks, but I promise I have not been idle. I have been hard at work on a wedding cake for a good friend of ours!
When the idea first came around, it was almost a joke. You see, I have a frustrating tendency to volunteer for everything. And even to make up events so I can then volunteer to do everything. It’s a sickness.
So as the groom-to-be was teasing me for volunteering to make a dairy-free Sweet Sixteen cake several months ago, he suddenly asked, “Hey, do you want to bake our wedding cake?”
My baby turned 2! I am still not sure how this is possible, but every day he is chatting incessantly and singing songs and creating new things and just delighting us. (What a big difference from what he was doing two years ago!)
For example, this morning, he wanted to play with play-doh, and as I was getting it out, he announced, “Don’t eat play-doh,” (which, as you may guess, is a rule for a reason…) and then proceeded to build a layered birthday cake with little straws for candles.
Yeah, the birthday event really made an impression on him!
This year, we went to a local farm park to celebrate Jake’s birthday with family and some of his friends. Frying Pan Farm Park has a working dairy farm, a collection of antique tractors and farm equipment, a ton of animals to check out (and, bonus, the pigs and goats recently had babies), as well as open spaces to run around, a carousel, and two sets of playground equipment. It’s the real deal for kids of any age!
Some time in September—because you are planning ahead—you diligently buy two bags of candy to give out at Halloween. (Naturally, you buy the good kinds, the chocolate kinds you actually like, because last year only four children and one group of ridiculous teenagers came to your door…and if there’s going to be leftover candy, you at least want to enjoy it, right?)
You carefully shove the two small bags of candy to the back of the tallest shelf in the pantry, and then you studiously ignore them for three weeks.
Then…one night, you open the Reese’s, because you are stressed, or emotional, or peckish…and before you know it, you have to go buy two whole new bags of Halloween candy.
And, to make matters worse, now you have awoken your sweet tooth, and it wants more candy!
After several days of an insatiable desire for dessert, I decided it was time to make a dessert I wouldn’t feel guilty eating, one that would even do a little good while it quenched my desire for Reese’s cups: peanut butter oatmeal balls.
Before you run out and buy every jar of Nutella in the store (and don’t think I haven’t contemplated that), let’s try a healthier yet equally delicious version of the incomparable chocolate-hazelnut combination: date balls.
Have you ever heard of gianduia? Maybe you’ve seen this flavor nestled among other exotic-looking scoops (stracciatella…nocciola…) at a nearby gelato store. Gianduia is the original chocolate and hazelnut confection, made from hazelnut paste, cocoa, and sugar. Apparently, hazelnuts are enormously popular in Italy. Italians know the good stuff.
I absolutely love chocolate and hazelnuts together, and I’m really going to miss these date balls when the price of hazelnuts skyrockets!