« Brain food from the heartland

by Louie b. Free (Contact)   | 347 entries


A knock-your-socks-off festive holiday beverage, this unique take-off on eggnog lights up with a tangy edge and an inviting powder puff pink color thanks to the season’s bountiful cranberry harvest. The nog is quickly assembled in the blender, but you may want to plan ahead for multiple batches when serving a crowd.


Yield: about 3 1/2 cups (840 ml) or 5 punch-cup servings
1 1/2 (360 ml) cups fresh cranberries
2 cups (480 ml) vanilla soymilk
1/2 cup (120 ml) plus 2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon guar gum
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
Rinse the cranberries in a strainer under running water and place them in the blender.

Add the remaining ingredients and blend on high speed for a full minute or until the cranberries are completely broken down and the
nog becomes creamy and thick. There may still be tiny flecks of cranberries visible even after blending thoroughly.

Pour the nog into a pitcher and chill until ready to serve. Refrigerated, the Spiced Cranberry Nog will keep for 2 to 3 days. Makes
about 3 1/2 cups (840 ml) or 5 punch-cup size servings.
Keep a cup or two of cooked chestnuts on hand and you’ll be ready assemble a tasty, gourmet appetizer in minutes. This bruschetta, with its cheery red-orange hue, needs no unusual ingredients to tease it into a flavorful starter. Mother nature knows chestnuts add the perfect touch to create a delicious first course. Serve with plenty of napkins—it’s a juicy experience.


Yield: 1 1/2 cups
1 1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons chopped carrots
1 cup chopped cooked chestnuts
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne
1 French baguette
Extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh mint leaves
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and have ready a large baking pan.

Combine the bell pepper, carrots, chestnuts, lemon juice, salt, ginger, pepper, and cayenne in the food processor and process for a full
minute, or until thoroughly pureed. You may have to stop the machine once or twice and scrape down the sides to incorporate all the ingredients completely. Set aside.

Cut the baguette into 1/2-inch slices, place them on the baking sheet, and brush them lightly with the olive oil. Just before serving,
warm them in the oven about 8 to 10 minutes, or until lightly crisp.

Remove the baguette slices, top them with a generous spoonful of Carrot Chestnut Bruschetta and place them on an attractive serving
platter. The finishing touch is a light sprinkle of minced fresh mint leaves.
For a hearty one-dish meal, enrich this soup with the cashews and fresh corn. Brimming with creamy butternut squash, it’s a gustatory delight. Although butternut squash is available year-round, its flavor is best in autumn.


Yield: about 6 servings
1 large butternut squash, about 2 1/2 pounds (1 kilo)
1 cup (240 ml) raw or unsalted dry-roasted cashews
3 ears sweet corn, cooked, or 2 (15-ounce) cans corn, drained
2 medium onions, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1/3 cup (80 ml) water
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper
2 to 4 cups (480 ml to 1 liter) water
2 tablespoons minced fresh herbs (dill, basil, or parsley)
1/4 cup (60 ml) pomegranate seeds (optional)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees (Gas Mark 6). Place the whole squash on a dry baking sheet, and bake for 1 hour, or until soft to the touch.

Grind the cashews into a coarse meal in the food processor, or process them in an electric mini-chopper/grinder or coffee grinder for a
fine meal, depending on your texture preference. Set aside.

With a sharp knife, cut the corn kernels off the cobs and set the kernels aside.

Combine the onions, carrots, celery, water, and garlic in a large stockpot. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat to
medium-high. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft and transparent, adding more water if needed. Add the corn
along with the salt, nutmeg, and pepper.

When the squash is cool enough to handle, cut it in half lengthwise and discard the seeds. Scoop out the flesh and process it in the
food processor or blender until smooth. Add to the stockpot along with the ground cashews.

Stir in enough of the water to reach desired consistency. Simmer for 5 to 10 minutes to blend the flavors. Adjust the seasonings, if

Ladle into soup bowls and garnish with the herbs and pomegranate seeds, if using.
To give the soup a more dominant corn flavor, use the drained liquid from the canned corn in place of some of the liquid.
An ideal vegan Thanksgiving dish, this elegant torte features the pleasing textures and savory flavors of wild rice, mushrooms, nuts, and sage. Served with a robust mushroom sauce on the side, it makes a lovely presentation, while adding a hearty main dish to the meal.


Yield: 6 to 8 servings
3 1/3 cups (800 ml) water, divided
2/3 cup (160 ml) wild rice
2 1/8 teaspoons salt, divided
3/4 pound (340g) red or white rose potatoes, unpeeled, scrubbed, and cut into 1-inch (2.5             cm) cubes
1 cup (240 ml) water
1/8 teaspoon salt (optional)
1/2 cup (120 ml) coarsely chopped pecan pieces
1/4 cup (60 ml) coarsely chopped walnut pieces
1 (14-ounce) package vegan ground sausage
3/4 pound (340g) portabella mushrooms, chopped (about 4 large mushrooms)
1 large onion, diced
1/3 cup (80 ml) water
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon hickory liquid smoke
1 1/4 teaspoons salt or to taste
2 ripe tomatoes, sliced
Mushroom Gravy
½ pound 225g) sliced button mushrooms
1 3/4 cups (415 ml) plus 3 tablespoons water, divided
1/4 cup (60 ml) soy sauce
1/4 cup (60 ml) dry red wine
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons water
To make the torte, lightly oil a 9-inch (23 cm) springform pan, line the base with parchment paper (for easier cleanup), and set it aside.
Combine 2 cups (480 ml) of the water, wild rice, and 3/4 teaspoon of the salt in a 2-quart (2 liter) saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn the heat down to medium-low and steam for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the rice is tender. Drain any excess liquid and set the rice aside.
Combine the potato cubes, 1 cup (240 ml) of the water, and 1/8 teaspoon of the salt in a 2-quart (2 liter) saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn the heat down to medium and simmer for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the potatoes are fork tender. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the potatoes to a medium bowl, mash them, and set them aside.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees (Gas Mark 5.) Toast the pecans and walnuts in a 10-inch (25 cm) skillet over high heat, stirring constantly for 1 to 2 minutes. Immediately transfer them to a dish to cool.
Combine the vegan sausage, mushrooms, onion, the remaining 1/3 cup (80 ml) water, olive oil, poultry seasoning, and pepper in a large, deep skillet. Cook over high for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the onion is transparent, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon or paddle to break up the sausage chunks. Drain and reserve any excess liquid. Add the remaining 1 1/4 teaspoons salt and hickory liquid smoke
to the sausage mixture and mix well.
Add the mashed potatoes to the skillet along with the toasted nuts and cooked wild rice. Mix well to combine the ingredients thoroughly.
Adjust seasonings if needed.
Press the mixture firmly into the prepared springform pan, and attractively arrange the tomato slices over the top, covering most of the surface. Bake uncovered for 1 hour. Allow the torte to stand for 15 to 20 minutes before removing from the pan.
Prepare the Mushroom Gravy while the torte is baking. Combine the mushrooms, 1 3/4 cups (415 ml) of the water, soy sauce, red wine, and lemon juice in a 2-quart  (2 liter) saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn heat down slightly and simmer for 5 minutes.
Combine the cornstarch and remaining 3 tablespoons of water in a small bowl and stir with a spoon to make a runny paste. Add the paste to the bubbling sauce, a little at a time, stirring constantly for about 1 minute, until the sauce has thickened to the desired consistency.
To Serve the Torte, run a clean flatware knife around the edge of the springform pan, release the springform collar, and set the base with the torte on a platter. Serve the gravy in a gravy boat on the side.
To ease the feast-day preparations, make the torte the day before, store it in the refrigerator, and reheat it at 350 degrees (Gas Mark 4) for 15 to 20 minutes just before serving.
The preparation comes together more quickly if you cook the wild rice before beginning the torte or even a day ahead.
Add a gourmet touch by serving the torte on a footed cake plate and garnish the edges with sprigs of fresh herbs and orange slices.
A tasty stuffing recipe is an ideal addition to your culinary repertoire to serve as a side dish or to stuff vegetables like eggplant, peppers, or squashes.  


Yield: 6 to 8 servings
2 pounds fresh chestnuts in the shell, cooked and peeled, or 4 cups peeled cooked chestnuts
2 cups water
3 teaspoon salt, divided
1 cup buckwheat, toasted or untoasted
3 medium onions, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup water
4 slices whole wheat bread, toasted and cubed
4 stalks celery, chopped
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/3 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1/3 cup pumpkin seeds
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons crushed dried sage
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
Freshly ground black pepper
Break the chestnuts into coarse chunks, put them into a large bowl, and set them aside. Combine the water and 1 teaspoon of the salt in a 2-quart saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the buckwheat, cover, and return to a boil. Turn the heat down to low and steam 12 to 15 minutes. (Since buckwheat absorbs water quickly, check halfway through the cooking time to be sure there is sufficient water. Add more water, if necessary.)

Combine the onions and the 1/4 cup water in a deep skillet. Cook and stir over high heat until they are nicely browned. Add more
water as needed to prevent the onions from burning. Transfer them to the bowl with the chestnuts.

Add the cooked buckwheat to the chestnuts along with the bread cubes, celery, green onions, pine nuts, pecans, pumpkin seeds, olive
oil, garlic, remaining 2 teaspoons salt, sage, oregano, marjoram, thyme, and pepper. Toss well. Adjust the seasonings if needed.

To use as a side dish, transfer the stuffing to a 2-quart casserole dish, cover with aluminum foil, shiny side down, and bake at 350
degrees for 30 to 40 minutes.
Substitute cracked bulgur wheat and pecans for the buckwheat and chestnuts.        
Substitute barley and walnuts or slivered almonds for the buckwheat and chestnuts.
Perk up your holiday meal with a dazzling relish that tastes as good it looks. Quick to assemble and easily prepared a day or two ahead, this little meal accompaniment adds that a touch of pleasing sweetness to a savory meal. The art of balancing flavors is easy when you invite tart cranberries and sweet persimmons to the dinner table in the form of a relish to complement both savory and sweet dishes. Toasted nuts put the final touch on this simple condiment.


Yield: about 3 cups (720 ml)
2 cups (480 ml) fresh cranberries
3 ripe Fuyu persimmons
¼ cup (60 ml) organic sugar
¼ cup (60 ml) water
½ cup (120 ml) toasted cashews, coarsely chopped
6 pitted dates, minced
1/3 cup (80 ml) black raisins
1 tablespoon pine nuts, toasted
Dash ground cinnamon
1 cinnamon stick
Pick through the cranberries and discard any that are spoiled. Wash and dry the cranberries and place them in the food processor. Pulse-chop until they are minced but not pureed. Transfer to a large bowl.

Remove and discard the persimmon stems. Cut 1 slice of persimmon, cut the slice in half, and set both halves aside for the garnish.
Cut the remaining persimmons into eight wedges. Place them in the food processor and pulse-chop until they are minced. Transfer
them to a medium bowl.

Remove ½ cup (120 ml) each of the minced cranberries and minced persimmons and place them in the food processor. Add the organic
sugar and water and process until completely smooth. Pour into the bowl with the minced cranberries.

Add the minced persimmons and the cashews, dates, raisins, pine nuts, cinnamon, and cloves, and mix well to distribute the
ingredients evenly. Spoon the relish into an attractive serving bowl and garnish with the reserved persimmon slice, dash of cinnamon,
and the cinnamon stick.
Toss showy red cranberries, walnuts, and raisins into a pie crust and the result is a stunning dessert that features a zippy sweet-and-tart flavor. This tantalizing treat is an ideal, easy-to-prepare, make-ahead holiday dessert. When cranberries come to market in late October or early November, buy several packages and enjoy combining them with sweet or dried fruits to temper their tartness.


Yield: 6 to 8 servings
1 recipe Nutty Wheat Pie Crust
1 cup (240 ml) raw walnuts, coarsely ground
1 12-ounce (340g) package fresh cranberries, divided
1/2 cup (120 ml) golden raisins
1/2 cup (120 ml) organic sugar
1/2 cup (120 ml) light brown sugar  
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (Gas Mark 4) and have ready a 9-inch (23 cm) metal pie pan.

Place the walnuts into a large mixing bowl and set aside.

Sort the cranberries and discard any spoiled ones. Wash the cranberries in a strainer and drain them well.

Place 1 cup (240 ml) of the cranberries into the food processor and pulse-chop them coarsely. Transfer them to the bowl with the
walnuts and add the remaining whole cranberries.

Add the raisins, organic sugar, brown sugar, and almond extract and toss well.

Combine the cornstarch, lemon juice, and water in a small bowl or cup, and stir to make a runny paste. Add it to the cranberry mixture
and stir thoroughly.

Spoon the filling into the prepared pie shell and bake for 45 to 50 minutes. Cool about 30 minutes. Serve warm, or cool completely and
refrigerate until ready to serve.
Pumpkin pie is a Thanksgiving must if you cherish the long-standing tradition that began in the early 1600’s. Though many believe pumpkin pie was served at the first Thanksgiving in 1621 sometime between September 21 and November 9, that may not have been the case. While pumpkins were commonly harvested in autumn, the feast was actually limited to simpler fare that may have included Indian pudding made from pumpkin.

Here’s a recipe that captures the spicy taste and aroma of a traditional, well-seasoned pumpkin pie but features butternut squash instead. The Pilgrims would have really appreciated this treat to top off their Thanksgiving meal.


Yield: 8 to 10 servings


1 cup (240 ml) whole almonds

1 cup (240 ml) whole wheat pastry flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon organic sugar

4 to 6 tablespoons water

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (Gas Mark 4.) Place the almonds in a 10-inch (25  cm) non-stick skillet and toast over high heat for 1 or 2 minutes, stirring constantly to avoid burning. Immediately transfer them to a dish to cool.

When the almonds are cool, toss them into the food processor and process them to a fine meal.

Transfer the meal to a bowl and add the pastry flour, salt, organic sugar, and enough water to hold the mixture together.

Spoon the crust mixture into a 10-inch (25 cm) pie pan and press with the fingers to form the crust along the bottom and sides of the
pan and set aside.
2 cups (480 ml) cooked, mashed butternut squash
1 12.3-ounce (350g) box extra firm silken tofu
1 1/4 cups (300 ml) organic sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Pinch of salt
3 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons water
Place butternut squash, silken tofu, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, clover, and salt into the food processor, and process until    smooth and creamy.

Combine the cornstarch and water in a cup or small bowl and stir to make a smooth paste. Add the paste to the food processor and
process until well incorporated.

Spoon the filling into the prepared crust, and use the back of the spoon to spread the filling to the edges.

Place the pie in the middle of the oven and bake for 40 to 50 minutes. Remove and cool completely.

Cover the pie with an inverted 10-inch pie pan or plastic wrap, and refrigerate until ready to serve.
To prepare the fresh squash for the pie, select a large butternut squash, about 2 1/2 to 3 pounds (2 to 2.5 kilos) and wash it. Cook the squash using one of two methods, either baking or steaming.
To Bake: Place the whole squash on a dry baking sheet covered with aluminum foil, shiny side down. Bake at 450 degrees (Gas Mark 8) for 1 to 1 /4 hours or until tender when gently squeezed. Remove from the oven and cool. When cool enough to handle, cut the squash in half, discard the seeds, and scoop out the flesh. Mash the squash with a fork or puree it in the food processor. Measure the 2 cups (480 ml) needed for the pie, and reserve the excess for a dinner side dish.
To Steam: Slice the squash crosswise into 1-inch (2.5 cm) thick slices, discard the seeds, and place the slices in a steamer pan with plenty of water underneath. Cover the steamer pan, and steam over high heat until the squash is fork tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Peel off the skin, and mash the squash with a fork or puree it in the food processor. Measure the 2 cups (240 ml) needed for the pie, and reserve the excess for a side dish or a delicious butternut squash soup.
 If you don’t have a steamer pan, use a large stockpot. Put about 1/2-inch (1 cm) of water in the bottom, arrange the slices of squash in the pot, cover, and bring it to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, and steam about 15 to 20 minutes, until the squash is fork tender.
Classic recipes for pie crust can be a bit persnickety and have discouraged many from making pies. This easy no-fail recipe is one you can always count on because it’s very forgiving. If it breaks, simply patch it. When forming the edges, take your time sculpting it any way you like. You’ll find the extra handling won’t affect its pleasing, light texture one bit.


Yield: 1 bottom crust for a 9-inch (23 cm) pie
1 1/2 cups (360 ml) whole-wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup (120 ml) almond meal
2 tablespoons organic sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (120 ml) organic canola oil
2 tablespoons cold water
Combine the pastry flour, almond meal, organic sugar, and salt in a medium mixing bowl and mix well.

Add the canola oil and mix with a spoon until all the flour is incorporated. Add the water and stir thoroughly until the mixture forms a
soft dough and all the water is absorbed.

Form the dough into a ball and roll it out between two sheets of waxed paper. Remove the top sheet of waxed paper, place the pie pan
over the dough, and invert the dough and pan together. The remaining sheet of waxed paper will now be on top of the crust. Remove it
carefully and trim the edges of the crust with a knife.

Set the crust aside while preparing the pie filling for a baked pie. For a no-bake pie, bake the crust in a preheated 350-degree (Gas
Mark 4) oven for 10 minutes. Cool before filling.

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