Saturday, December 29, 2012

Nut loaf and Other Festive Fare

A few weeks ago, a dear friend of ours called and said she was coming to visit. What's more, she was arriving on Christmas eve and staying for a few days. Most years, Christmas is not something we really celebrate in any special way. We've been known to do a "Jewish Christmas"- going to a movie theater and then to a Chinese restaurant!

But the minute my friend called, I knew this year would be different. She grew up celebrating Christmas and I wanted to make the holiday special for her in some way. A few stockings went up by the fireplace. I sewed a felt garland to make the mantle more festive. And I started to plan Christmas dinner.


The festive meals in my home are quite predictable and not even that different from what we normally eat. I'll make a biryani or a lasagna. Or something crowd-pleasing like pav bhaji or aloo tikki chana chaat. I looked for something different this time and decided on a nut loaf- a vegetarian version of the meatloaf. Then I would make a couple of side dishes, and something special for dessert.

Food experts will often remind you of a golden rule of cooking: Never try a recipe for the first time when you're cooking for a special occasion. Well, I break this rule on a very regular basis. Call it beginner's luck or whatever you will, but usually I get away with it.

And that's how I made nut loaf for the very first time this Christmas, using this recipe, originally from Martha Stewart. It worked beautifully. I've seen nut loaf mentioned on blogs many many times and had some notion that they are difficult to make. Not so. It is easy as sautéing and mixing and baking.

Here is the recipe in brief, in my words. Instead of buying separate jars of the spices that the recipe calls for, spices that I rarely use, I bought a jar of poultry seasoning instead. This is a mixture of all of the spices that the recipe calls for.

1.  Saute 1 onion, 3 cloves minced garlic and a 10 oz. box of baby bella mushrooms, minced, in olive oil.
2. Season generously with poultry seasoning blend.
3. Mix. Remove vegetables to a large bowl and add the following:
(a) Nuts: Roasted and minced walnuts and cashews (2 cups total)
(b) Cooked brown rice, 1.5 cups
(c) Cheddar cheese, shredded, 2 cups
(d) Eggs, 4, beaten
(e) Cottage cheese, 1 cup
4. Bake. Season with salt and pepper and mix together well. Transfer the mixture to a well-greased loaf pan (I lined mine with parchment paper) and bake at 375F for an hour. Cool for 20 minutes in the pan before inverting on a serving platter. 

Somehow, miraculously, this seemingly hodge-podge mixture of rice and cheese (especially cottage cheese which I can't stand, usually) and eggs and nuts transforms into one cohesive and utterly delectable, savory loaf. You can't really make out the components of the nut loaf. It tastes like more than a sum of the parts. The only thing I would say is that the slices were a little delicate and prone to breaking; I possibly added more cottage cheese than I should have or maybe less of the cheddar.

To go with the rich and filling nut loaf, I made mashed potatoes- seasoned simply with butter, salt and pepper. And maple roasted brussels sprouts, which was another winner, even if I left them too long in the oven and reduced some of them to pure carbon.

Finally, I made some vegan gravy to complete the meal. Nutritional yeast has a uniquely savory, nutty, cheesy taste that makes this gravy a flavorful accompaniment for the nut loaf.
Nut loaf, maple-roasted Brussels sprouts and mashed potatoes
and vegan gravy!
Setting a festive table with berries from the backyard

When I tried to think of a Christmassy dessert for this meal, I remembered this NPR article on trifle pudding. This pudding also makes me nostalgic because my Dad made it often when we were kids, with Rex jelly and Brown and Polson custard (I know some of you will remember these brands fondly).

I assembled my trifle with layers of:
(a) Pound cake
(b) Berries: Frozen berries that were thawed and macerated in sugar and brandy
(c) Strawberry jelly (I chose a brand that does not contain gelatin)
(d) Homemade vanilla custard

The trifle was enjoyable, but next time, I'll skip the pound cake and berries and just make jelly and custard. Those are the parts that I love the best anyway.
Trifle pudding
And so that was our holiday meal- well worth the effort, and it made for excellent leftovers. We had a wonderful time with our friend, going for walks around the neighborhood to look at holiday lights, watching movies (Chak de with Shah Rukh Khan; my only Hindi movie of 2012 as it turns out), chatting over endless cups of chai. The very best kind of holiday there is, and it went by too fast.

Last night, I woke up when Lila had a bout of coughing (she's recovering from a cold) and then I found myself wide awake for an hour or so, unable to drift back to sleep as I normally do. There's so much to think about- about the year that's gone by, and about the one that's starting on Tuesday, ready or not. 

2012 treated us well as we weaved through many life changes and moments of pure joy- new jobs, new city, new home, a visit from a very dear cousin/niece and aunt/uncle in summer, the births of 3 new babies in the clan, plenty of travel (including a trip to Colorado for my cousin's wedding when Manisha and her husband took us out to dinner- and she's just as lovely and fun a person as her blog would lead you to believe). 

And of course, I have to think back and shed a tear for all the people we lost this year- some near and dear members of our extended family, others like Miri who I knew virtually but who inspired me for real, and yet others that I know of only through headlines and whose loss unfortunately showed humanity's darkest and most brutal side. 

Now 2013 is arriving as a gift, like a brand-new blank notebook whose crisp pages are yet to be filled. I think the world needs more kindness and although I'm not the sort to make resolutions with any seriousness, I nevertheless resolve to be mindful this year, and more kind, to myself and to others. 

I've also been thinking of this blog, and how best to keep up the pace of writing in this space while balancing everything else that's important in my life. And mind you, the list of all-that's-going-on-in-my-life seems to get longer all the time. For instance, I'm going to take up quilting. Sewing machine, here I come. Getting back to the issue of how best to blog regularly, here's my tentative plan. I'm going to post food related posts every Monday. It will be a round up of the week's food highlights. When I have book-related posts, I'll post them on an occasional Thursday and if I have photo-heavy posts for crafts etc., I'll post those on occasional Saturdays. I think having some sort of schedule will keep me from succumbing to Blogger's Block and leaving the blog sad and silent for weeks on end. 

See you on January 7th with the first post of the new year. For 2013, I wish you health above all, and an abundance of food, laughter and joy. Thank you for being part of the One Hot Stove family and letting me be part of your world! 

43 comments:

  1. Hi Nupur! I have been a "lurker" on your site most days..trying a recipe or two and loving it!
    I like your writing style and am amazed at your time management skills :)..given that you have so much on in your life and yet have time for Nano-wri-mo and delicious food and a baby..
    Here's wishing you and your clan a wonderful New Year and hope to see more posts from you :)

    Cheers!
    Priyanka

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    1. Thanks Priyanka and best wishes to you too. I'm going to do my best to post every week.

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  2. The year has gone by quickly, hasn't it! I guess I say that every year.
    Hope the new year bring all you wish for, Nupur, and much much more!
    Here's wishing You, V, Lila and Dalu dada a very Happy and Healthy new year.

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    1. Thank you so much for the sweet wishes and I wish you and your husband and son the same!

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  3. happy new year Nupur!!!wishing you and the blog always the best :)

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    1. Thank you for the sweet wishes- and I hope you have a wonderful new year too!

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  4. I usually end up trying new recipes on guests too. For our Christmas eve party, I made Neely's Veggie pesto lasagna & meyer lemon bundt cake, both of them turned out yumm!!
    I've always wanted to try the nut loaf, may be I'll try it in the new year. Trifle pudding looks delicious. I've brown & polson custard in the pantry, waiting to be used. Will try this recipe with jelly.
    Wish you and your family a very happy and prosperous new year.
    Looking forward to your posts on Mondays.

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    1. Oh my, pesto lasagna and lemon bundt both sound wonderful. I wish you and your family a bright and happy new year too.

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  5. Hi Nupur
    You had said in one of your NaBloMo blogs to write your heart out...and here goes! Have been a silent but regular reader of your blogs for close to 2 years now and a lot of your recipes are now family staples! Just wanted to let you know how wonderful it is to read your blogs...Best wishes to you, V, Lila and Dale for 2013 and keep them coming!

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    1. Thank you Sujana for being a regular reader, and I'm so happy you're enjoying the recipes on this blog. Best wishes for the new year!

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  6. Great post, as usual. Wishing you and your family a fabulous new year. Best wishes, Suchi (from Ozland) !!!

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    1. Thanks Suchi and wish you the best too! So you got to ring in the new year before the rest of us, eh? :)

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  7. Nupur, wishing you and your family a great 2013! Thank you for your inspirational posts.

    A

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  8. Thank you so much for your commitment to blogging...your thoughtful, inspiring, delicious posts are an antidote to that dark and brutal side of humanity that we unfortunately see so often. I wish you and your family a "lucky 13"!

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    1. Oh Bek, what a kind thing to say. I'll have to work hard to live up to your words. "Lucky 13"- I like it. Hope 2013 brings you wonderful things.

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  9. Wish you and your family a very happy new year filled with laughter, joy and health, Nupur.

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    1. Thank you PJ and I hope 2013 is a wonderful year for you too.

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  10. The nut loaf sounds delicious! I am glad you are still going to blog depsite life taking over (as it should!). I love your blog!
    Happy New Year!

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    1. Thank you, Sangeetha and thanks for taking the time to write thoughtful comments too. Happy New Year to you and yours!

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  11. Wishing you and family a happy New year! Your writing is very inspiring and your varied interests too. All the best for this year..and years to come.

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    1. Thanks for the sweet wishes. And I hope 2013 is healthy and happy for you too.

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  12. Wish you a very Happy New Year Nupur!

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  13. I find myself trying new recipes all the time when I am having friends over and luckily I've not been disappointed most of the times, I have experienced the anxiety and nervousness that goes with it but it doesnt deter me from doing it again.

    Your holiday feast looks absolutely delicious, the nut loaf is something I see myself making and I loved how you served mashed potatoes in scoops. I wish I could take a bite of the brussel sprouts, I can tell they were so good!

    Happy New Year to you and your family! I will look forward to your post on the 7th.

    Priti

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    1. The thing about many new dishes I want to try is- they are so rich and elaborate that I don't want to make them unless there's an occasion. But like you, I usually have been lucky. The brussels sprouts were positively addictive!

      Happy New Year to you!! Yay for 2013 :)

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  14. That nut loaf sounds lovely. And yes Rex jelly was the best. Trifle pudding is a favourite now again because I make it for my son. Wish you a wonderful year ahead and here's hoping you manage to juggle everything that you do so well, even better in the new year !

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    1. Trifle pudding is a hit with kids, right, with all those yummy layers. Thanks for the wishes and happy new year to you all!

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  15. Wish you, V, Lila and Dalu a wonderful new year! Not serious enough to take resolutions, but the "new eyar" feel makes me sign up for a 100 different things (at least mentally) :D

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    1. Ha ha I commit to many things and end up doing some- good enough! Happy New Year to you!

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  16. Rex Jelly, Brown & Polson were and are still the best in India. Other brands have not stood the test of time. This week we tried a different Jelly brand but can you believe, it had a salty taste in it.

    I liked your blogging itinerary and just earlier in the evening had made some mental notes on similar lines.

    Well here is to a great 2013.

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    1. Happy 2013 to you too! I'm delighted to know that these brands are still sold in India.

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  17. Hey nupur, wish you and your family a very happy 2013. Its a pleasure reading your blog not only for the recipes but for the general joie de vivre it exudes. Do hope to see several interesting posts in the new year

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    1. I'll try my best to write something interesting :) Wishing you a wonderful 2013!

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  18. Happy New year to all of your Nupur. Your holiday meal and the decorations look so festive. Looking forward to the brand new year as well :)

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    1. Hi Mandira- Happy New Year to you and your boys, all 3 of them :)

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  19. HI Nupur,
    I'm glad you plan to keep writing. I love reading everything you write. This post had me nodding along as I read. I'm always trying new recipes on company and (knock on wood) mostly things work out. I loved both rex jelly and brown and polson custard growing up (and china grass, god, how I loved that and its funny name). Turns out, my husband's grandpa was involved in developing the recipes for both for the Indian market. I was stoked to hear that from him.
    Wishing you an absolutely wonderful 2013! May your adventures continue.

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    1. Thank you Sharmila- what a nice thing to say. How interesting that your grandpa in law worked on these awesome brands!! Did your husband get to taste test them as a kid??

      I wish you a wonderful 2013 too, and look forward to reading everything you care to write.

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  20. Its January 7th!!! Happy New Year!! Eagerly waiting for your first post of 2013.

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  21. Wishing you and your family a very happy new year Nupur...your blog is wonderful and a very close part of my life..Please do not ever stop blogging :) Loads of love- Sarah
    P.S I made the potato cheese patties and it was a big hit on xmas, thank u ...I made the mixture a couple of days before and froze it and took it out on the day and added cheese. Nest time though, I think will make it on the day itself..:)

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