Valentine’s Day in Paris

Well, it’s that time of year again – time to talk about love and romance. For some reason, that usually brings Paris to mind, so let’s have Valentine’s Day dinner there, shall we? Yes, France can be a challenge to vegans. Most French food is pretty heavy on the meat and dairy. This menu, however, won’t challenge your arteries one bit. As a matter of fact, a number of the menu items are designed to improve your heart health.

The Champignons Bourguignon is an adaptation of Boeuf Bourguignon, the classic dish of beef in burgundy wine. Mushrooms have a nice “meaty” texture, and won’t weigh down your digestive system the way beef would. (Besides, who’s ever heard of “Mad Mushroom” disease?) You can use button mushrooms, or a mix of button and more exotic fungi. Use whichever ones you like best and will fit your budget. Mushrooms are low in calories and high in potassium, which can help to lower high blood pressure.

I replaced the bacon in the original recipe with miso, a fermented soybean paste that is used in Japan as a soup base. The red and barley varieties have a rich, salty flavor that mimics bacon’s richness, without the fat, calories, or the nitrites and nitrates commonly found in processed meats.

The wine in the recipe needs to be a good, dry wine. Burgundy is the classic, but I have used a dry Cabernet Sauvignon and it was delicious. It doesn’t have to be an expensive vintage – a basic table wine is fine. Don’t try using a non-alcoholic wine, though — I don’t think any of them are dry enough. This is not a sweet dish. Cooking the wine will cause the alcohol to burn off, but you will still benefit from the polyphenols like resveratrol that make wine (in moderation) good for your heart.

For good, complex carbohydrates, serve the entrée with some whole grain noodles or rice. Another must-have ingredient in any French meal is a batard (fat loaf) or a baguette (slender loaf). Even if you’ve never made yeast bread before, never fear. This recipe is very easy – you don’t even have to knead the dough. Read the recipe carefully before you start, including all the notes, and it’s nearly foolproof. You’ll be amazed at how beautiful your loaves look. (As always, e-mail me with any questions.) Spritzing the inside of your oven isn’t absolutely necessary, but it’s very exciting (the steam hisses and billows out as you close the door) and it makes the crust crisp and gives the bread a little extra lift. The bread is full of enery-giving complex carbohydrates. If you use whole-wheat flour, the fiber will help clean out your arteries and help to sweep some of the excess fat out of your system.

The salads are easy to assemble and the sweet and tart flavors complement the heavier flavors of the main course. If you want to serve this dinner in true French fashion, have the salad course after the entrée. These salads are full of antioxidants like Vitamin C, which can help prevent or reverse heart disease.

The Poires au Vin Rouge will use up the rest of a standard bottle of wine (750 ml.), or you can drink the rest of the Burgundy with dinner and have a couple of chocolate truffles for dessert instead. According to a study by Harvard University’s School of Public Health, “A 41g piece of chocolate contains about the same amount of phenol as a glass of red wine, and alcohol consumption, in moderation, lowers the risk of coronary heart disease.” The pears are lower in calories, however, and contain artery-cleaning soluble fiber.

(Speaking of arteries and romance, did you know that the arteries to your heart aren’t the only ones that can get clogged with cholesterol? Gentlemen, take note. It’s been proven that vegetarian men make better lovers longer! Get more information here: http://www.pcrm.org/health/Commentary/commentary9806.html)

Champignons Bourguignon (Mushrooms in Burgundy)

Recipe By: Lisa T. Bennett
Serving Size: 4
Preparation Time: 1:00

1 large onion, diced
1 tablespoon Earth Balance margarine
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 pound mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, sliced
2 stalks celery, sliced
2 tablespoons flour (up to 3 tablespoons)
2 cups dry red wine (Burgundy preferred)
2 cups water
1 1/2 tablespoons red or barley miso
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast (optional)
2 bay leaves
1 sprig fresh thyme (or 1/4 teaspoon dry)
1 sprig fresh marjoram (or 1/4 teaspoon dry)

Sauté onions in Earth Balance and olive oil. Add mushrooms, garlic, carrots, and celery; brown lightly. Add flour and sauté for a few more minutes. Add water to deglaze pan – scrape up any browned bits. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer for 30 minutes to one hour. Remove bay leaves and fresh herb stems (if using) before serving over wide, flat noodles (tagliatelle) or rice.
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Notes: If sauce is still too thin after 30 minutes, add an additional tablespoon of flour, mixed with a small amount of water or wine to make a thin paste. Stir in quickly and cook for at least 10 more minutes.

The miso adds a rich, salty quality that is supplied by bacon in the original Boeuf Bourguignon. The healthful properties of miso are decreased when it is boiled, but in this recipe it is used as a flavor enhancer rather than a medicinal agent.

This is excellent the next day, so it is a good dish to make ahead.

Per serving: 246 Calories; 8g Fat (37% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 22g Carbohydrate; 0mg Cholesterol; 385mg Sodium
Food Exchanges: 1/2 Starch/Bread; 2 1/2 Vegetable; 1 1/2 Fat
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Batards ou Baguettes (French Bread Two Ways)

Recipe By: Lisa T. Bennett (from an old family recipe)
Serving Size: 24
Preparation Time: 2:00

2 1/2 cups warm water
2 packages yeast (or 4 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 tablespoon Earth Balance margarine
7 cups bread flour (see notes)
canola or olive oil to oil bowl
corn meal (preferably white)
soy milk
clean spray bottle filled with water

Pour warm water into a large mixing bowl. Proof the yeast (see notes.)

Add salt and margarine to the water/yeast mixture. Stir in flour. The dough should be soft but not too wet. Remove the dough and rinse, dry, and oil your bowl. Place the dough in the oiled bowl, turning the dough so that the smooth, oiled side is up. Cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap. Let dough rise in a warm spot for about 1 hour or until doubled in bulk.

For Batards: Divide the dough into two pieces. Lightly flour your work surface and roll or pat the dough into a rectangle about 15 X 10 inches. Roll the dough, starting with the long side, into a chubby cigar shape. Pinch the seam closed along the bottom of the loaf, and taper the ends slightly. Place each loaf on a baking sheet sprinkled with corn meal. Cover each with plastic wrap (loosely) and allow to rise in a warm spot until doubled, about 30 minutes. In the meantime, preheat oven to 450 F.

After it has doubled, slash each loaf three or four times with a razor or very sharp serrated knife, holding the knife at a 45-degree angle to the top of the bread. (In other words, don’t cut the bread straight down from the top, but at an angle.) Brush soy milk over the loaves to give them a nice sheen.

Put the bread in the oven and quickly spray water all over the bread and the inside of the oven. Close the door as soon as possible. Spray the loaves two more times during the first 10 minutes, then bake for about 15 more minutes (25 total), until the loaves are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped on the back.

For Baguettes: Instead of two batards, you can divide the dough into four pieces and make slender baguettes. Roll the dough into 5 X 15 inch rectangles, and proceed as for the batards. Bake 15-20 minutes total.

Allow to cool for 5 or 10 minutes before cutting and serving with Earth Balance (if you can wait that long). Serve warm. Freeze any leftovers immediately.
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Notes: Your water should be between 85-100 F. It should feel warm to your wrist but not hot.

To “proof” yeast or make sure that it is still active – Sprinkle yeast over water, then stir it in. Add a tablespoon or so of flour to make sure yeast is active. If it bubbles within 5 minutes, then continue with recipe. If it doesn’t, your yeast is either too old (check the date) or your water was too hot and killed the yeast. If the date is still OK, then try again with more yeast and cooler water.

Your flour can be unbleached (for the most authentic French bread), whole wheat (a bit heavy) or any mixture of the two that you like. I usually go for about half and half. If you don’t have bread flour, all-purpose will do. My mom used it for years and her bread rocked! She didn’t bother with the spray bottle of water either, but it does give the bread a nice, professional lift and crispy crust.

Per serving: 151 Calories; 1g Fat (7% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 29g Carbohydrate; 0mg Cholesterol; 274mg Sodium
Food Exchanges: 2 Starch/Bread
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Mixed Greens with Orange Segments, Toasted Pecans, & Dill

Recipe By: Lisa T. Bennett
Serving Size: 4
Preparation Time: 0:15

6 cups mixed greens
3 navel oranges
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cups pecan halves, toasted
1/2 cup fresh dill, chopped
salt and pepper

Divide the mixed baby greens between four plates. Remove the orange peels with a knife. While holding the oranges over a bowl to catch the juices, remove the segments from the pith and arrange the orange segments over the greens. Mix 1/2 cup of orange juice with the olive oil and dress the salads. Arrange the toasted pecan halves and the dill over the salads. Serve. Pass the salt and pepper at the table.

Option 1: add 1/2 cup of dried cherries, dried cranberries, or fresh pomegranate seeds to the salads.

Option 2: use fresh baby spinach instead of mixed baby greens.
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Per serving: 564 Calories; 50g Fat (75% calories from fat); 8g Protein; 29g Carbohydrate; 0mg Cholesterol; 25mg Sodium
Food Exchanges: 1/2 Starch/Bread; 1/2 Lean Meat; 1 Vegetable; 1 Fruit; 9 1/2 Fat
(assuming you consume all of the dressing)

Poire au Vin Rouge (Poached Pears in Red Wine)

Recipe By: Lisa T. Bennett
Serving Size: 4
Preparation Time: 0:30

4 pears (organically grown Bosc preferred)
3/4 cup unbleached sugar
1 1/2 cups dry red wine
1 tablespoon lemon juice (freshly squeezed or bottled organic)
1 pinch salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For garnish: fresh mint sprigs

1. Remove the core from the bottom of the pear with a nonswivel peeler, a corer, or a paring knife. Peel the pears carefully with a small paring knife.

2. Pour red wine over cored and peeled pears in a non-aluminum saucepan and sprinkle with sugar. Add the lemon juice and pinch of salt.

3. Poach at a bare simmer until the pears are easily penetrated with a paring knife.

4. Drain the pears and place them in a bowl to cool. Reduce the poaching liquid until it is the consistency of thin syrup. Cut the pears in half and slice each half into a fan shape (optional, but pretty).

5. Serve hot or cold in shallow bowls, spooning the sauce around. Garnish with mint sprigs

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Notes: For Ginger Poached Pears in Red Wine, add two or three slices of fresh ginger to the poaching liquid. Remove it before reducing the syrup. Omit the vanilla extract.

The pears are much prettier (rosy pink) and easier to eat if they are peeled first. You will lose a bit of fiber, but it’s worth it.

Per serving: 311 Calories; 1g Fat (2% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 65g Carbohydrate; 0mg Cholesterol; 90mg Sodium
Food Exchanges: 4 Fruit; 2 1/2 Other Carbohydrates
(The nutritional analysis assumes that you will be consuming all of the red wine syrup.)

Bittersweet Chocolate Truffles

Recipe adapted from _The Artful Vegan_, by Eric Tucker, with dessert recipes by Amy Pearce
Serving Size: 16
Preparation Time: 0:20

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into 2-inch pieces
1/4 cup soy milk
1/4 cup orange liqueur or port wine
1/4 teaspoon chili powder, optional
1/4 cup dried cherries ,finely chopped
2 tablespoons cocoa powder, unsweetened

Place all ingredients except cherries and cocoa powder in 2-quart or larger microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for 1 minute, stir, microwave for 30 more seconds. Stir. If chocolate is still not melted, microwave in 15-second increments until chocolate is melted and smooth, stirring each time. Stir in cherries (if using) and refrigerate mixture for 2 hours or until firm.

Sift cocoa onto a flat plate. Using a melon baller or tablespoon measure, scoop out chocolate and roll into balls (or use a heaping teaspoon for one-bite size truffles). Roll truffles in cocoa and serve immediately or wrap for later use. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
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Notes: Use a high quality chocolate like Green and Black (Organic) or Scharfenberger. You can use chocolate chips, but the texture will not be as creamy.

Options: Use almond liqueur and chopped almonds and/or cherries.
Omit cherries and mold truffle mix around a whole toasted almond or dried cherry.
Mix cocoa with equal parts organic powdered sugar for coating.
Use cherry liqueur and chopped cherries.
Roll balls in finely chopped (almost ground) nuts.
Omit cherries and chili powder, add toasted coconut.
Use your imagination!

Per 1 tablespoon-sized serving (excluding dried cherries): 72 Calories; 6g Fat (69% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 5g Carbohydrate; 0mg Cholesterol; 2mg Sodium
Food Exchanges: 1 Fat