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Vegan for the Holidays

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Vegetarians in Paradise
Ask Aunt Nettie

We're delighted to share our Aunt Nettie with you. She's agreed to answer any questions you might ask about vegetarian food, its preparation, and even clean-up tips. But we have to prepare you. She just might want to come right over to your house and help you fix dinner.

To send any questions to Ask Aunt Nettie, .

Dear Aunt Nettie,

My family is coming over for a Hannukah party and I really need an easy dessert. I'm not much of a baker--is there something really simple I could make? Also, what would you suggest for a vegetable dish besides steamed veggies, which I always overcook.



Howdy there Melanie,

Well, darlin' in my kitchen there's always somethin' goin' on the stovetop or tucked inter the oven. Most times them fixin's is easy as pie an' mighty fine tastin' if I must say so myself.

Here's a compote recipe that's so speshul yer family will think yer a gourmet cook. To top it off, this l'il ole compote is made with pears an' cranberries, so it's perfect fer this season.

Now I figgured I had ta do somethin' extra ta make the compote really out of the ordinary, so I come up with a recipe fer Chocolate Toasts. Now, they's not really toasts. They's acshully a kinda soft skinny bar cookie, but I sure liked that name, Chocolate Toasts. An you tuck two o' them Toasts inter each bowl o' compote an yer family's gonna holler an' shout like you done won the door prize at the Hoot Nanny!

Now fer that vegetable dish. Yer gonna cook up a veggie stir-fry in 5 minutes flat an' I betcha it won't be overdone. Jes before servin', y'all put them veggies inter the skillet, turn on the timer fer 5 minutes, and start a-stirrin'. When the timer stops, why you stop too! An' them veggies are gonna be beautiful--you'll see, darlin'.

Yer ever lovin' Aunt Nettie

The convenience of this delicious cranberry-season compote is that it can be prepared in stages. The Chocolate Toasts, which are actually soft, thin bar cookies, can be made several days ahead and stored in the refrigerator. The compote can be made two days ahead and refrigerated. And to make this dessert extra special and give your guests that pampered feeling, gently warm the compote just before serving.

Pear Cranberry Compote


    Chocolate Toasts
    1 cup (240 ml) walnuts
    1 cup (240 ml) pitted dates
    3 tablespoons golden raisins
    1/4 cup (60 ml)plus 1 tablespoon water
    3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder

    2 fresh Anjou or Bosc pears, cored, quartered, and sliced
    1/2 cup (120 ml) plus 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
    1 cup (240 ml) fresh cranberries
    1/3 cup (80 ml) black raisins
    1/4 cup (60 ml) plus 2 tablespoons lemon juice
    1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 1/4 cup water

    1 tablespoon cornstarch
    1 tablespoon water

    3 tablespoons toasted, coarsely ground walnuts or hazelnuts

  1. To make the Chocolate Toasts, preheat the oven to 350 (Gas Mark 4) degrees and line a jellyroll pan with parchment.
  2. Combine the walnuts, dates, golden raisins, water, and cocoa in a food processor and process until almost completely pureed. You may have to stop the machine several times to redistribute the ingredients until everything is well incorporated and the nuts are broken down to a fine, but slightly textured meal. The mixture will be very thick.
  3. Spoon the crust mixture into the prepared baking pan and use the back of the spoon to press it evenly over the bottom of the pan to form a rectangle approximately 8 inches by 9 inches (20 cm by 23 cm).
  4. Bake at 350 degrees (Gas Mark 4) for 15 to 20 minutes or until the toast is set but still soft. Remove and cool. The toast will firm as it cools. Cut into 3-inch (7.5 cm) squares and set aside until ready to serve.
  5. To make the Compote, combine the pears, brown sugar, cranberries, raisins, lemon juice, cinnamon, vanilla, and water in a 3 or 4-quart (3 or 4-liter) saucepan. Cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Immediately, turn the heat down to the lowest setting, and steam 10 minutes or until the pears are softened.
  6. Combine the cornstarch and water in a small cup to form a thin paste and add to the bubbling pear compote a little at a time, until thickened to the desired consistency.
  7. To serve, spoon the compote into a small dessert dishes and garnish with the coarsely ground walnuts or hazelnuts. Finish by tucking 2 squares of Chocolate Toast into the Compote, either into the center or at the edge of the bowl of each serving. Makes 4 to 5 servings.

A stunning, picture-perfect vegetable medley with bright green colors and an accent of intense orange is a no-fail dazzler. Guests are often impressed and frequently ask how it's possible to keep the vegetables looking so bright. The secret is the brief stir-fry technique that keeps the veggies looking brilliant and appealing. By cutting and chopping the veggies a day ahead and refrigerating them in heavy-duty plastic bags, you can easily serve an enticing array of farm-fresh vegetables along with special-occasion fussy dishes.

Vegetable Medley Stir-Fry


    1 broccoli crown, cut into florets
    1/2 pound (225 g) French green beans
    1/2 pound (225 g) Brussels sprouts, quartered
    6 shiitake mushrooms, sliced, stems discarded
    1 carrot cut into thin matchsticks
    2 to 4 tablespoons water
    1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
    Salt and pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a large, deep skillet and cook and stir about 5 minutes just until crisp tender. Makes 4 to 5 servings.

Note: As a winter medley, add 1/2 cup (120 ml) chopped cooked fresh chestnuts. Other seasons, vary with 1/2 cup (120 ml) sliced water chestnuts, 1 cup (240 ml) chopped cauliflower, or 1 cup (240 ml) diced yellow summer squash.

If You Haven't Met Aunt Nettie. . .

Our Aunt Nettie has a head like a hard disk. It's filled with gigabytes of information about food and cooking. And she's just itchin' to share her learnin' with city folk who live in mortal fear of the stovetop.

Aunt Nettie grew up on the farm. She did not eat out of a can or reach into the freezer. There was no microwave to pop her food into. Everything she made was from scratch. All the food she ate was natural, without pesticides. It was grown right there on the family farm, and she had to cook to survive. At eighty-three years young she still leaps and bounds around the kitchen and can shake, rattle, and roll those pots and pans with the best of them.

Nowadays, Aunt Nettie just shakes her head and complains, "Nobody cooks anymore. They have no idea about puttin' a meal together." She's on a mission. She wants to help those younguns eat better so they can grow up healthy like her own eight kids.

Click here for past Ask Aunt Nettie Columns

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