While x-mas is oftentimes an excuse to overindulge, this year I went overboard – owing in no small part to the fact that I handmade a number of gifts, including a couple tons (okay, I exaggerate, but not by much) of chocolate goodies.
But let’s begin at the ending, shall we? As in: criFSMas dinner!
I did most of the cooking the day before – which was, for us, the 23rd – so that we could be as lazy as possible the day of. I prepared a deep-dish lasagna feast with tons of veggies (green and yellow zucchini, carrots, tomatoes, mushrooms and garlic) and plenty of oozy, gooey cheese (in this case, cheddar and mozzarella Follow Your Heart). (Jump to the end of this post for the recipe!)
I also breaded and froze some vegan mozzarella sticks – my first-ever batch – so they’d be nice and ready for their date with the deep fryer next day. Spoiler: they are terribly delicious, and surprisingly easy to make. (Recipe via Hell Yeah It’s Vegan!)
We even bought a shiny new deep fryer for the occasion!
(In all honesty, I’ve wanted one for some time, but have always resisted for health reasons. Alas, the very first night we used it, Shane was already talking about deep-frying ice cream. As if I’m not already enough of a junk food vegan. Oy!)
In addition to lasagna and mozzarella sticks, we had salad and dinner rolls, which altogether proved more than enough to fill us up. Somehow, though, we managed to find a little extra room for DESSERT!
We had purchased a frozen peach pie for dessert, but the morning of the 24th, the cookies-n-chocolates gift basket I’d ordered from Sweet V Confections arrived. Rather than let these fresh goodies go stale on the counter, we decided to forgo the pie in favor of chocolate chip cookies, butterscotch chocolate chip cookies, and fudge-filled cookie sandwiches, all washed down with Silk soy milk (pumpkin spice for me, mint chocolate for Shane).
Naturally, the dogs were crazy interested in the goodie basket,
but were SOL: this was mom’s gift to herself.
(Hey, sometimes I need the reminder!)
We still have plans for that peach pie, though: along with a few frozen Tofurky pizzas, it’s slated for dinner sometime this weekend (with a side of vanilla So Delicious, natch! Unfortunately, Santa did not bring me that whipped cream whipper thingie I asked for. Sad Kelly. On the plus side, I did receive a slow cooker and Twinkie set, along with a big pile of books – including a copy of the The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur! I predict a chubbly 2011, I tell you what.)
As for the gifts I gave to others this year, I opted to make many of them myself. This is an excellent idea if you’re working on a budget, but to be honest, for me it was less about money and more about opting out of mindless consumerism. Plus, my mom is so damn hard to shop for!
While I ended up purchasing vegan goodies (specifically, Caramel Chocolate Popcorn, Mint Chocolate Cookies and Shortbread Mint Chocolate Dipped Candy Cane Cookies from The Sweet Vegan) for some of the people on my list, I created handmade gift baskets for my mother and sister.
(Yeah, so maybe Tupperware isn’t the prettiest of packaging, but it’s practical, yo! Christmas tins sit in storage 11 months out of the year; Tupperware is year-round.)
Among the goodies contained within…
Vegan Peanut Butter Cups (recipe via VegWeb):
Again, these were shockingly easy to make: simply coat a cupcake liner with a thin layer of melted chocolate, freeze for ten minutes, add the peanut butter filling (which is basically just pb mixed with powdered sugar), and then cover with more chocolate. Crazy simple, and way cheaper than buying the gourmet stuff online!
After completing a double batch of these suckers, I found myself with a little leftover peanut butter filling, so the next day I made…Peanut Butter Bites!:
Continuing on with this year’s “pleasant surprise” theme, these “bites” are child’s play: just roll a tablespoon of chilled dough into a ball, drop it into a bowl of melted chocolate, “fish” it out with a spoon, and then plop the concoction onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and freeze until hardened. (Should you find yourself with a little extra chocolate, may I recommend chocolate-covered maraschino cherries? Same process – dip and freeze.)
This is where I hit the first (and only!) snag of my month-long criFSMas baking marathon. No matter which recipe you choose, you’re supposed to form the coconut “dough” into patties, which (like the pb bites) are then dipped into a bowl of melted chocolate and transferred onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet. The snag? Chunks of coconut kept falling off of the patties and into the chocolate. Even frozen, the patties refused to stay together.
After a frustrated hour spent experimenting, I finally decided to just mix the remaining patty batter with a bowl of melted chocolate, dropping the resulting dough onto cookie sheets by the spoonful and freezing until hard. While decidedly less attractive than the patties, they taste very much the same. (As in yummy, with a delicious mix of chocolate and coconut.)
For my mother, I also made some chocolate-covered pretzel twists, as well as a few batches of pretzel rods dipped in chocolate and covered with festive green and red x-mas sprinkles. Repeat after me: melt, dip, freeze.
Finally (on the chocolate front, anyhow), Chocolate Rocky Road Bark:
There are plenty of recipes for this on the internets, but I winged it: melted chocolate, mixed with roasted almonds and diced Danies and Sweet & Sara marshmallows. Spread on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and – you guessed it – freeze until hard.
She and my sister also receive a big batch of fruit leather: apples and mixed berry, strawberry apple, apple cinnamon and apple pumpkin spice.
Incredibly addictive, and – assuming it doesn’t contain any nutmeg – suitable for your dog friends, too.
Speaking of furkids, Copper, Hash and Shayla all received their own special treats, too: homemade dehydrated sweet potato chews (not pictured) and Pumpkin Pie Dog Biscuits (recipe via It’s A Vegan Dog’s Life):
Note O-Ren ogling me from the back of the couch in the living room. The dogs were pretty much staked out there, as well as in the kitchen proper, the whole time I was baking.
If I didn’t know any better, I’d think that Ralphie was trying to trip me up, thus sending dough and pasta and biscuits flying. My skull cracked open on the bare concrete, brain and life oozing slowly from my body, I’d be rendered helpless to stop the ensuing feeding frenzy.
You know. If I didn’t know any better.
On that shiny happy note: HOLIDAY LASAGNA IN HONOR OF HER NOODLEYNESS!!!
Deep Dish Cheesy Vegan Veggie Lasagna
salt to taste
2-4 tablespoons of minced garlic (depending on your tastes)
1 12 ounce package of lasagna noodles
3 26 ounce cans of pasta sauce
2 large yellow zucchinis, diced
2 large green zucchinis, diced
4 large carrots, diced
1 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes (or 2-4 fresh roma tomatoes, diced)
2 4 ounce cans of mushroom pieces (or 8-10 fresh mushrooms, diced)
12 ounces vegan cheese, shredded (I used a 10 ounce brick of mozzarella Follow Your Heart, with a few more ounces of FYH cheddar to taste)
1. In a large frying pan or skillet, heat approximately two tablespoons of olive oil (use enough to coat the bottom of the pan) on medium. Add the minced garlic and cook on medium until a golden brown. Add the zucchinis, carrots, tomatoes and mushroom pieces; cook until tender. Transfer to a mixing bowl and set aside.
NOTE: I cooked the veggies in two batches: zucchinis and carrots, followed by the tomatoes and mushrooms, combining all in a large mixing bowl when done. Unless you have a monster of a frying pan, I recommend going this route, as the veggies will cook more evenly and are less likely to stick or burn if you haven’t loaded your frying pan to overflowing. Plus, I find that the canned veggies require less cook time than the fresh ones.
OPTIONAL: Steam your veggies for a slightly healthier dish!
2. In a large pot, bring several quarts of water – mixed with a tablespoon of olive oil and a dash of salt – to a boil. Reduce heat slightly and add the lasagna noodles, cooking according to the instructions on the package. Stir frequently but gently, so as to avoid damaging any of the noodles!
3. When done cooking, drain the pot of as much hot water as possible (preferably into a colander, so you don’t accidentally dump any noodles into the sink!). Leaving the noodles in the pot, add a quart or two of cold water to cool the noodles. Drain again and then remove the noodles from the pot, draping them over the side of the pot and in the colander to drip dry.
4. It’s time to layer the lasagna! Coat the bottom of a large glass baking pan with a thin layer of sauce. Add a layer of noodles, overlapping the edges ever so lightly. On top of this, add another thin layer of sauce, followed by a layer of veggies and modest sprinkling of cheese. Repeat this layering process until done.
NOTE: You can either choose to concentrate the veggies in the bottom layers or distribute them evenly throughout the lasagna. (I did the former, and used them in the two bottommost layers.)
5. Garnish the top of your lasagna with a final, thin layer of sauce and a sprinkling of cheese.
6. Store, covered in the fridge, until ready to bake. Cook, covered at 425 degrees F for approximately one hour (longer if you prefer a crispy top or burnt edges).
NOTE: You can go the conventional route and use aluminum foil to cover the dish, but I prefer an old cookie sheet. If you’re making this in advance, simply place a heavier dish on top of the cookie sheet to get a tighter seal while storing the lasagna in the fridge.
7. Serve warm with dinner rolls or freshly baked bread.