Saturday, December 14, 2013

Totally Necessary Food Pun Video - Show Me Where Ya Noms At

Why didn't I post this before? I'm in a state of both shock and shame.

This is Hannah Hart, y'all. And she's mad amazing. This video is not necessarily vegan-friendly, but it is deliciously pun-friendly.

I just bet... you'll be a little hooked. These lyrics are worth memorizing!


Happy December & Happy Saturday!
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Stuffed Shells with Sweet Potato (or Pumpkin!)

I started planning for Thanksgiving long before Thanksgiving even began occurring to other, normal, sane people. I also began planning Thanksgiving in England, which made me twice as crazy.

My insanity was compounded by the strange looks of various shopkeepers throughout the wild land of Cambridge. I was thwarted in my efforts to obtain two very specific (and TOTALLY NECESSARY!) Thanksgiving ingredients. More exactly, no one understood two phrases: "canned pumpkin"and "apple cider."

To be honest, I did find a single pumpkin hanging out somewhere, but being someone who's only ever used the orange gourd to make it look like a grinning fool carved with the rough, choppy strokes of a mad caveman, I wanted canned. Which, it turns out is "tinned."And no one carries tinned pumpkin because pumpkins are a thing early settlers of North America used to replace turnips -- which, for instance, formed the basis for the original Jack O'Lanterns. And I'm not replacing my pumpkins with turnips, no matter what you say.

As for apple cider! It exists neither in form nor in spirit over in England. It is not even dreamed of. I received variations on the following responses: Apple cider? Oh! You mean apple cider. Hard cider. Apple cider? Oh! You must mean apple juice, you silly American. Apple cider? Oh! Are you sure you didn't mean apple cider? You know, cider, cider?

Seriously, I had that conversation like 15 times. Like, 15.

It broke my heart, though, that a place that a) has apples, b) uses apples in various forms of drink, and c) is cold enough to warrant use of hot apple drinks neither traded in nor understood the concept of apple cider. Cider! I tried to exclaim. You know, cider! Non-alcoholic cider! Spices, seasonings! Warmth! Stove-tops! Craft shows and pick-your-own orchards and county fairs! ...Right?

I'm not trying to be a cultural chauvinist, but they just don't know what they're missing. Why can they have mulled wine but no mulled juice-of-the-apple?!


Anyway, on to my Thanksgiving plans! It was September. And in England. And I was cold and wanted pumpkin. So I used the next-best thing, which is the ever dependable sweet potato, and I concocted a delicious meal that I so enjoyed preparing that I allowed myself to take a full 2 hours. This will not take you full hours. It just took me 2 hours, because I was tired and literally watched the sweet potatoes roast in the oven while I was waiting to begin preparing the feast.

My British Thanksgiving feast in September was largely based on this Vegweb post submitted by permanentgrin, to whom I am grateful for their wonderful creativity in designing this stuffed-shell marvel.

On to the meal!

Vegan Stuffed Shells with Sweet Potato (or Pumpkin)!

Serves 4 - 5 people; recipe is easily doubled!

3 cups mashed pumpkin or sweet potato (1 med-large sweet potato)
dash cinnamon
1 tablespoon brown sugar salt, to taste
4 mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 medium-large onion, sliced
oil, for frying

1block of firm tofu, pressed
2 tsp lemon juice
4 tsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ tsp salt
4 Tbsp nutritional yeast
black pepper to taste

1/2 pound fillable pasta (I used jumbo shells)
2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
4 cloves garlic, crushed and finely minced
2 tablespoons raisins
2/3 of a package of spinach, rinsed and coarsely sliced
nutmeg, to taste
salt, to taste

½ of a small-medium butternut or acorn squash

Start by roasting your sweet potato. Set the oven to 375 F (or 190 Celsius) and slide your sweet potatoes lengthwise. Place the cut sides down on a tin-foil lined baking or roasting pan. Bake for 30 - 40 minutes, or until they are gentle and pliable.

Prepare your tofu ricotta by taking your block of tofu, pressing it to get rid of excess liquid. Place the tofu in a small mixing bowl (even a large soup bowl would do) and either crumble it with your hands or with a fork or spoon. Add lemon juice, garlic, salt, pepper and mash again until very mushy. This may take a few minutes. Add olive oil and nutritional yeast and mix. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Meanwhile, boil water for your shells; once boiling, turn the water down to simmer and leave your pasta covered for the requisite amount of time. Once it's done, drain and set your pasta aside.

Next, prepare a dry pan on medium heat and toss on your pumpkin seeds. Stirring and flipping your seeds constantly, let them continue heating until some seeds "pop" and begin to crack open, releasing a lovely aroma and generally becoming quite toasted! Once you've tired of doing this, set your toasted seeds aside.

By now, hopefully your sweet potatoes or pumpkin are cooked and cooled a bit. Peel off the outer layer and coarsely chop your root vegetable. Place these chunks in a small mixing bowl or large soup bowl and mash with a fork. Add brown sugar, cinnamon and salt and mix.

Add some olive oil to your earlier pan and, once heated, toss in a few sliced mushrooms. You may want to do this in stages in order to avoid crowding the mushrooms. Don't over-cook -- remember, you are going to still be baking everything afterward! Add your pan-fried mushrooms directly to your sweet potato mash. You may choose to add some water or soymilk to think this sauce out -- it deepens how truly "saucy" you want it to be. I chose to leave my sauce thicker and add it in dollops to the top of each individual stuffed shell, but it's your choice.

Back in your frying pan, drizzle some more olive oil and, once heated, add your onion. Cook over low heat for several minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion has moved past translucent to become yellow and caramelized. Add the garlic and cook for about 1 more minute. Now, spoon out half of this onion-garlic mixture and add it to the sweet potato or pumpkin sauce. Leave the other half in the pan.

With the heat on med-low, add your spinach to the pan along with your raisins and pre-toasted pumpkin seeds. Sprinkle in salt and nutmeg to taste. Once your spinach is just beginning to wilt, remove from heat and add in your ricotta.

Now it's time for the fun to begin.


Preheat your oven to 350 Fahrenheit (175 Celsius). Grease a glass or ceramic casserole dish and start separating our your shells. (Be very careful not to break them!)

Stuff each shell with your spinach-ricotta mixture and place it opening-up in the casserole pan. (I leave it opening-up to prevent everything from falling out, but also to allow the sweet potato or pumpkin sauce to seep in). Once every shell that can fit has been loaded into the dish, pour or dollop on your mash-sauce. You may choose to sprinkle some additional nutritional yeast and garlic powder on top, or not, as you see fit. (I didn't bother, and it was great!)

Bake your stuffed shells for 15 minutes or until heated throughout. Do not let them over-cook, as they will dry out, begin to blacken at the edges, and crack.

While your shells are baking, prepare your sides. You may choose to stir-fry some additional greens or mushrooms, cut up some bread, or prepare a salad. I chose to steam some butternut squash in the microwave (I was afraid of steaming it on the stove-top).

To do this, I cut off the "neck" of my butternut squash and wrapped the bulb in clingwrap and set it aside. Cut the neck in half and place each half face-down on a plate. Poke the skin with a fork in around 10 places and cover it with another large plate or plate-like bowl. Microwave the squash for roughly 8 minutes. You may choose to first microwave for 5 minutes, then check, then add another few minutes.

It will be very steamy and hot when it is done! Be careful. Peel or cut off the outer skin (this should be quite easy now) and chop the squash innards into cubes. Arrange these nicely on a plate along with your hot-from-the-oven, carefully-spooned-out stuffed shells and any extra sides you may have...

...and, bravo! We're done! Happy Autumn and/or Thanksgiving!! Make sure to enjoy these with plenty of friends and family, as it's sure to get them all curious about how you can make stuffed shells without real ricotta. (And the best part is that they'll still love 'em!)

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