The Vegan Family

The Trendy Vegan Family Style

By Yonni Wattenmaker

Thanksgiving Un-Stuffed

In May of 2009 a doctor gave me advice that changed my life. He told me I needed to change to a vegan diet ~ forever. Cold turkey (no pun intended.)

I have been a healthy eater for all of my adult life, and ate the way so many people do ~ salads with leafy green vegetables, fresh fruit, some but not too many carbs (I’m a sucker for a great, toasty bagel) and lean protein ~ white meat chicken, fish, etc.  It turned out that after years of eating this way, it seemed I was only doing harm and there was a way I could be good to my body. I had lost my ability to metabolize animal protein and instead, that diet made me sick to my stomach, literally.  From that day forward I could not eat anything from an animal.  No eggs, just egg-replacer.  No milk, yogurt or cheese, unless they were made from soy, rice, help or almond. No poultry, meat or fish, just beans, lentils, tofu, seitan and other vegetable based proteins.  My diet had become completely plant-based.

I would be dishonest if I said the transition to a vegan menu was an easy one, but I can tell you that I have come to love it. I became so inspired that in 2010 I began my blog, The Trendy Vegan to help provide tips, recipes and even great places to dine to help others make this shift more easily than I had. Not only do I physically feel better, I enjoy getting creative in the kitchen with a more limited set of ingredients, prepare foods I never considered (like stir-frying tofu, sprinkling nutritional yeast on popcorn or making chili with TVP, a textured vegetable protein) but my son eats more healthily than he would have before. We rarely make steak anymore even though my husband and son still enjoy it, our pastas are gluten-free and vegetables make more frequent and interesting appearances on our table! One of my son’s favorite all-time mom-meals now is my vegan mac ‘n cheese. It’s just as much of a comfort food as the traditional kind but so much better for you!

As we move further into fall, can we all agree that there are two things nearly everyone looks forward to for Thanksgiving?  First, it's a time to celebrate and appreciate all of the gifts we have in our lives. Second, it's a time to be grateful for adjustable belts and elastic waistbands as we enjoy far too much food with family and friends. But let's face it, what we can't agree on is what to eat!

Yonni with her son

For the first 2 years as a vegan I dreaded Thanksgiving; everyone sitting around, stuffing their bellies with turkey (and stuffing) and cornbread and sweet potatoes with marshmallows and vegetables au gratin and pumpkin pie. And for me? Salad...some steamed green beans...fruit a vegan, I'm certainly not looking forward to turkey, or to stuffing that's been cooked in one, but there are other traditions I want to keep. Here's a stuffing that will please all of your guests. If there are concerns about nut allergies, just leave them off.  Gluten-free? Leave out the bread and just do the side-dish version, or choose a gluten-free brand.  You can even whip up some quinoa instead (pronounced keen-wah) and toss in some roasted root vegetables or some dried fruits and nuts.

My son’s been cooking with me since he was in Nursery School. Now that he’s practically a teen, it is still one of our favorite ways to spend time together. Meals don’t just have to be something you create for your family, but something you create with them. From washing to mixing to peeling and, eventually, to cutting, even the youngest kids can help out in the kitchen.

You will need:

The Root Vegetables

Just the root vegetables

2-3 large carrots, peeled
2-3 large turnips, peeled
2-3 large parsnips, peeled
1 butternut squash, outer skin and seeds removed
2 tsp cinnamon
1.5 + 1.5 tsp salt
1 tsp + 1 tsp ground sage
1 tsp ground nutmeg
2 TBSP + 1 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
Pam cooking spray
3 c baby brussel sprouts, cleaned but whole
12 roasted, shelled chestnuts, chopped
1/4 c pecans, chopped
1/8 c maple syrup
salt & pepper to taste

Set your oven to roast at 400 degrees. Chop the carrots, turnips, parsnips and butternut squash into big, bite-sized pieces (they will shrink up a little as they cook.) Toss them in 2 TBSP EVOO, 2 tsp cinnamon, 1.5 tsp salt, 1 tsp ground sage and 1 tsp ground nutmeg and put them in the oven for 30 minutes, or until fork tender, stirring every 10 minutes.

Roots and brussels and chestnuts

Roots and brussels and chestnuts, oh my!

While that's cooking, wash the baby brussel sprouts and spray them with Pam, 1.5 tsp salt and 1 tsp ground sage and then roast that, also at 400 degrees, for 10 minutes. At that point, drizzle them with the remaining TBSP of EVOO, stir in the chestnuts, and then continue to bake for another 15 minutes, or until fork tender.  (If you have a double oven, you can cut the cooking time on this dish nearly in half!)

When both vegetable dishes are done, combine them into one large bowl and gently combine them with the maple syrup, pecans and salt and pepper to taste.

For a wonderful, slightly sweet and savory side dish, you can stop there. I made it last night and it was perfect for a fall evening, and paired so well with a glass of a cabernet-syrah blend.  For stuffing, continue on like this:

You will need:
2 cups of day or two old bread. I prefer the type made from corn meal, but you can use sourdough, rye or whole wheat as well.
2 TBSP non-dairy butter
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 TBSP fresh sage, finely chopped
1 c low-sodium vegetable stock

Melt the butter in a large saute pan and add the sage and onion, stirring often. You may need to use some Pam or a drop of olive oil to prevent this from sticking.

Once the onions are sweating and turning golden brown on the edges, add in the bread to coat and then quickly add in the vegetable stock. Once the bread starts to break down and "melt" in the stock, remove it from the stove and pour all of the contents of the saute pan into a baking dish. Put it in the oven, still at 400, until it starts to brown and then combine it with the vegetables, squash, chestnuts and pecans. Serve!

The two recipes below are not mine, and my apologies to the chef as I forgot the source, but one is another great dish and full of protein in place of that typical turkey! The other is something sweet…who doesn’t want that at the end of a holiday meal?

Harvest-Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms
1 large yellow onion, small dice
1 cup cashews (I chose the raw ones)
2 TBSP olive oil plus extra for brushing
4 minced garlic cloves 
1 cup bulgur (kasha)
1 can lentils, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup breadcrumbs (I made my own from gluten free bread)
1/2 cup vegetable broth
1 tsp thyme
1 teaspoon oregano
6 portobello mushrooms, stems and grills removed
Salt and pepper to taste

Preaheat oven to 350 degrees
In a large skillet, saute the onions and cashews with the 2 TBSP olive oil over medium-high heat.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and saute until the onions are lightly browned.  Then add garlic and cook a few more minutes.
In a large bowl combine the onion mixture with the bulgur, lentils, breadcrumbs, broth and herbs.  Mix and season again to taste.
Brush both sides of the mushroom caps with olive oil and place top side down on an oiled sheet pan.  Top each with a 1/2 cup of the lentil cashew stuffing and bake for 30 minutes or until stuffing is browned and mushroom juices are flowing!

Chocolate-Pumpkin Bread Pudding
1 cup coconut milk (I used the lite)
1 15 oz can organic pumpkin
1/2 cup brown sugar plus 2 TBSP
2 1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla
10 cups cubed day old bread (I chose gluten free)
6 oz semisweet chocolate chips plus 3 oz (I used Divvies but Ghirardelli is also non-dairy)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9x13x2 baking dish.
In a blender, process coconut milk, pumpkin, 1/2 cup brown sugar, salt, vanilla and spices until smooth.  Transfer to a large bowl and toss bread cubes in the mixture, adding 6 oz of semisweet chocolate chips until the bread is coated.
Spread the mixture into the pan and sprinkle the remaining brown sugar and chocolate chips on top.
Bake for 25-30 minutes until top is lightly browned.  Serve right away or reheat for 8-10 minutes before serving.

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Twitter is @vegandthecity
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