Friday, December 5, 2008

How to Avoid My Failed Holiday Dinner

I’ve left it to other, more competent food bloggers to post about their fabulous Thanksgiving menus. Let me offer something different by being just slightly bitter. And learn from my mistakes.

1. Do not try more than one or two new recipes. Last Thanksgiving was my first one as a vegetarian and since I was eating with Brian’s family early in the day before heading off to my family’s house, I didn’t cook. I just ate tons of macaroni and cheese. The following day, Brian and I roasted a Tofurky, which was just fine but didn’t knock our socks off. This year I wanted it to be special so I searched for recipes high and low and changed my mind a dozen times. I settled on roasted seitan with cornbread stuffing. I’ve made seitan before and I’ve made cornbread before but never in this way. The stuffing was great, but not stuffing-like. It just tasted like mashed cornbread with onions and celery. No matter how much sage I added, I couldn’t get it to taste like Thanksgiving. Other cornbread stuffing recipes use half cornbread, half regular bread. I think my mistake was going fully cornbread.

The roasted seitan fell flat flavorwise and I didn’t help matters by overcooking it. The good thing about it being nearly burnt was that it created a nice crispy skin. Also, they weren’t pretty like on Vegan Yum Yum. In fact, they looked like very large turds. It was certainly good enough for Brian and me to eat but the one nonvegan brave enough to try it threw it out behind my back. Ouch.

Basically, I made too many new things. Things that may have turned out great had I made them once or twice before under less time-constrained situations.

2. When making vegan foods for a crowd of nonvegans, utilize reliable vegan sources. This means, don’t veganize a coconut cashew chocolate tart from Bon Appetit. Sure, it will be tasty because you can’t go wrong with coconut, chocolate, and 2 sticks of Earth Balance. But soy creamer may not be the best substitute for half and half so the tart will congeal to the pan rather than form a tart you can easily cut into.

3. Don’t rely solely on the Internet for recipes. The internet has a wealth of information but you get what you pay for. Anyone can post a recipe that you can print out for free. That doesn’t mean it’s been tested for accuracy and quality and edited for clarity. Cookbook recipes are thoroughly tested and combed through many times over by experienced and knowledgeable editors. I’ve had mostly positive results with Veganomicon, You Won’t Believe It’s Vegan, Eat Drink and Be Vegan, and The Joy of Vegan Baking.

4. Spend more time planning how you’ll cook rather than on what you’ll cook. Cooking during the holidays and for a large group is more about time management than culinary prowess. My family has not grasped this concept, which is why we eat at 8:30 PM and starve (and drink alcohol) for hours before dinner.

5. Get over yourself. Having family and friends over is about seeing them; it’s not about reenacting a restaurant on opening night. Besides, Brian was really the only other person I had to impress and he will eat almost anything I make. He thought the seitan roast was good enough and good enough is fine for the holidays.

6. When in doubt, ditch your family and make reservations. After checking out Blossom’s Thanksgiving menu, this option seems to be the most appealing. So, next weekend Brian is taking me there to celebrate my birthday (December 25. Yes, that day) And how am I spending my actual Christmas/birthday? I’m going to spend the day with just Brian, cooking food in my own organized and timely fashion, eating vegan rugelach from The Joy of Vegan Baking and easy chocolate croissants from Nigella Express (they are vegan if you use Pepperidge Farm puff pastry!), going out to see Marley and Me, and just relaxing.


Sky said...

Oooh, please share pics of your chocolate croissants. This whole vegan puff pastry idea is new to me! :)

Taylor said...

Aww,, lovely. That's why Thanksgiving is all about comfort foods, and foods you know and love. It's no time to be breaking out fancy new recipes. Impressive effort, though. Have a great birthday/Christmas dinner!