• Sally Miller, B. S., N. E.

Finger foods you won't regret feasting on

Let's feast! Feasting goes hand-in-hand with festive seasons. Gifts are given and received, and people gather to eat more than usual.

What you choose to eat will have an effect on your digestion immediately following and for days to come.

I have been asked repeatedly how I decide my topic for this column each month. Every writer has their own process, but mine takes on the form of an idea that pops in my head either while writing the current article or immediately following. I say to myself, “I am going to write about that!”

As the month goes by, I may hear something that supports my idea, I begin my research and finish the article. I may also hear or see something totally different that calls out to me, “Write about this!”

This month, I knew I wanted to talk about feasting. I also wanted to use my new tartlet pan to have a beautiful holiday presentation on the table. Writing about plant-based, healthy, non-allergy-driven finger foods to prepare yourself and serve to your guests would be a good topic. Discussing the importance of easily digesting the food you consume should also be a part of this article.

So here you are: A really delicious gluten-free, dairy-free tart crust, filled with warm seasonal vegetables for the center of your table (recipe by greenkitchenstories.com). An array of finger foods filled with great flavor that look very much like their meat, dairy and gluten-filled counterparts, and a little advice on digesting your food during and after feasting.

I have enjoyed using nuts for the crusts that I make for pies, but I wanted this crust to stand on its own when removed from the pan. I have never been successful at rolling pie dough, so I am always looking for something easy to handle. You will need a large tartlet pan with a removable bottom. You can find this at any kitchen supply store or online.

This crust is made from almond and chickpea flour. The fresh thyme gives it the green flecks and herbal taste. I used coconut oil instead of olive oil, but I’m sure either would be fine. Make your choice of vegetables your own, or choose a different approach to your filling. You can fill the tart with either pie-ready fruit, or breakfast-ready scramble. Try a Mexican or Middle Eastern theme. The ideas are endless and it’s beautiful.

I was delighted to discover a book by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, titled “The Superfun Times Vegan Holiday Cookbook.” Vegan, holiday and having fun! I drove to the library’s Sissonville branch to pick up a copy of that book. What a great find.

Moskowitz’s philosophy is very similar to my own. “Having a holiday party? Let plants take the center stage! Finger foods are always a hit and easy to put together!” Her book is full of crowd-pleasers. It offers recipes for food that is familiar to the occasion with a fun vegan translation. She covers 17 holidays with her recipes.

I have chosen a number of her finger food recipes to share with you. It was hard for me to stop experimenting. Her book uses the word "Superfun," and having fun with food preparation is what I love. If you love it too, this book will be a hit with you. She gives some great party planning and food preparation tips. You can order her book and find out more about Moskowitz at www.isachandra.com.

A few pointers to help you with your digestion as you head out into the world of feasting:

  • Look for vegetables. Feast on finger foods.

  • Choose a small plate for your food. When your food is gone, sit for a while and see if you are still hungry.

  • Focus on socializing instead of refilling your plate.

  • There will be scrumptious sweets. Choose one and only one, unless they are small and then have two.

  • Eat the real food on the table and skip the processed stuff.

  • Stay hydrated before and after you eat.

  • If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation and only with food.

  • Take digestive enzymes with you and take one before each meal, especially carb meals.

  • Take 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar in 1 cup of water before eating to increase your digestive fire.

Health begins and ends in your gut. You have 100 trillion bacteria that need to be fed the right diet; a diet rich in polyphenols. Polyphenols are nature's molecules that help your good bacteria work for you. A good probiotic restores your gut to normal and and feeds your bacteria what it wants and where it needs it.

Let's feast! Let's give gifts! Let's honor our good fortune by sharing what we have . That's the mood of Christmas cheer and of other mid-winter festivities. It is at least part of why we eat too much.

Merry Christmas and happy New Year to all!


Winter Tart recipe is at the end of the recipe list.

Tempeh Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms

Makes 24

Tempeh ingredients:

3 tablespoons gluten-free tamari

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 8-ounce package tempeh, crumbled

Mushroom ingredients:

1 pound small portabella mushroom caps

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling

1 small yellow onion, diced very small

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 cup plain bread crumbs

1/4 cup water, plus additional as needed

1/2 cup chopped scallions

freshly ground black pepper



Preheat oven to 350 degrees. To make the tempeh, whisk together the tamari, olive oil and balsamic vinegar in a mixing bowl. Add the crumbled tempeh and set aside to marinate for at least 1 hour.

To make the mushrooms, remove the stems from the mushrooms and set the caps aside.

Roughly crop the stems and set aside to be sued in the stuffing later.

Preheat a large heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of oil and saute onion and bell pepper until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add garlic, fennel, thyme and a few grinds of black pepper. Cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

All of the marinade should be absorbed into the tempeh by now. It is okay if a little is left, but don't add it to the pan -- just lift the tempeh out.

Add the tempeh to the pan along with the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil and cook until browned, about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add bread crumbs and stir to coat. Cook until bread crumbs are toasted and a few shades darker, about 2 minutes.

Add chopped mushroom stems and water. Cook until mushrooms release their moisture and mixture holds together when pressed, about 5 minutes. Add additional water by the tablespoon as needed; the mixture should not be too dry. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper.

Fold in the scallions and set aside to cool slightly.

Lightly grease a large rimmed baking sheet with olive oil and sprinkle with a little salt. The salt goes a long way to making sure the mushrooms aren't bland.

Spoon filling into mushroom caps so it rises above rim by about 1/4 inch. Place mushrooms on the baking sheet and drizzle each with a little olive oil. Bake until mushrooms are tend and browned, 20 to 25 minutes.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Note: Tempeh makes for a succulent and meaty filling in these mushroom caps. They are a hearty replacement for meat. You can serve them at room temperature, as well as right out of the oven.

Snuggy Bunnies (Carrots in a Blanket)

Makes 36


36 baby carrots (about 1 pound)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed or 2 gluten-free frozen pie crusts, thawed

1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

Dijon mustard


Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment> Toss carrots with olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon of salt to coat. Arrange carrots in a single layer on baking sheet. Cover baking sheet tightly with aluminum foil, and roast until tender, about 20 minutes.

Remove foil, sprinkle carrots with paprika and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, and toss again. Transfer carrots to a plate. Keep oven on because you will be using it again. Discard old parchment and place new sheet of parchment on baking sheet.

Place pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface and roll it out into a rectangle approximately 11 by 15 inches. With a paring knife, cut pastry into long, thin strips about 3 inches long and 1 inch wide, depending on the size of your carrots. A little bit of carrot should be able to stick out of each side once wrapped. If using frozen pie crust, remove thawed crust from its pan and lay out on the lightly floured surface. You may have to roll into a ball and roll out as directed above. Proceed in same manner.

Wrap each carrot in pastry or pie strip and seal edge with a little water. Place each carrot seam-side down on parchment paper. Brush tops of snuggies with water and sprinkle with with sesame seeds, gently pressing seeds into the pastry.

Put carrots back in oven and cook until pastry turns golden brown, about 10 to 15 minutes. Serve with Dijon mustard.

Note: Purchase the thicker variety of baby carrots if you can. The thin ones kind of reduce to nothingness. Make sure they are just a little under 1/2 inch in diameter.

Black Eyed Peas and Zucchini Crab Cakes

Shredded zucchini creates that flakiness you expect from a crab cake< and black eyed peas provide just the right crumbly density. Old Bay Seasoning, kelp flakes and nori give them them the authentic flavor of crab cakes. They will work at your holiday buffet as a main dish equally at Christmas or New Year's Day. Makes 16.

Remoulade ingredients:

1 tablespoons vegan mayo

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon Tabasco hot sauce

2 teaspoons capers

Breading ingredients:

3/4 cup bread crumbs

1 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning

1 teaspoon onion powder

freshly ground black pepper

Crab cake ingredients:

1 15-ounce can black-eyed peas, rinsed and drained, or 1 1/2 cups cooked black-eyed peas

1 1/2 cups shredded zucchini (about 1 average-size zucchini)

1/4 cup very finely chopped red bell pepper

1 cup bread crumbs

3 tablespoons vegan mayo

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon kelp granules or finely ground nori (optional)

2 teaspoons Old Bay Seasoning

2 teaspoons onion powder


freshly ground black pepper

olive oil, for frying

baby arugula leaves, for garnish

lemon wedges, for garnish


Mix remoulade ingredients in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

To make breading, combine bread crumbs, Old Bay, onion powder and a few grinds of black pepper in a shallow bowl. Set aside.

To make the crab cakes, pulse black eyed peas in a food processor until mashed, but not pureed (the peas should still be recognizable). Transfer peas to a large mixing bowl. Add zucchini, bell pepper, bread crumbs, mayo, lemon juice, kelp or nori (if using), Old Bay and onion powder. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix everything together well.

Refrigerate until zucchini releases its moisture and mixture holds together well, about 30 minutes.

To make the patties, take a scoop of crab cake batter in your hands and form into a sphere the size of a gold ball. Gently press the ball into a disk about 1 inch in diameter. Toss in breading to coat. If breading isn't sticking, moisten patty a bit with water on your fingertips.

Preheat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add a thin layer of olive oil to the pan. In batches, cook crab cakes until golden brown, about 4 minutes per side. Keep cakes warm on a plate tented with aluminum foil until ready to serve. Scatter some arugula over the crab cakes and serve with the remoulade and lemon wedge.

Smokin' Hot Dates

Makes 36


1 cup slivered almonds

2 tablespoons refined coconut oil

1/2 cup warm water

1/4 cup seeded chipotle peppers or 1 red pepper roasted

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon salt

18 medjool dates, pitted and cut in half crosswise


Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil over high heat. Add almonds and boil for 30 minutes.

Drain almonds and transfer to a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add coconut oil while almonds are still hot so it melts; then add water, roasted peppers, lemon juice and salt. Blend until relatively smooth.

Transfer almond mixture to a sealed container and refrigerate for about 20 minutes.

Prepare a pastry bag with a small metal top or use a small spoon. Fill dates with almond mixture, letting it mound up over the top edge. Arrange dates on a flat plate and serve. Have toothpicks on the side.

Note: Fill dates with your favorite hot and spicy spread instead of making the one above. I found a perfect spread at the health food store - Chipotle Bitchin' Sauce, also made from almonds - which is superb with these dates.

Warm Winter Tart

Modified recipe from www.GreenKitchenStories.com. Makes 8 thick slices.


2/3 cup almond flour

4 tablespoons potato, tapioca or corn starch

2 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped

1 teaspoon sea salt and black pepper

6 tablespoons coconut oil (a little extra for the tart pan)

6 tablespoons ice cold water

Winter tart filling:

coconut oil or olive oil for roasting

1 small red onion, finely chopped

2 fresh sprigs of rosemary

1 leek, thinly sliced

1 cup fresh baby carrots, sliced lengthwise

1 small sweet potato, thinly sliced and julienned

1/2 head broccoli florets, chopped small

6 brown mushrooms, sliced

3 small kale leaves, stems removed and chopped

1/2 lemon juiced


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

To make almond crust, combine all dry ingredients in a bowl. Add coconut oil and ice cold water. Using your hands, work dry ingredients toward the center until dough forms. Gather dough into a ball, wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.

Press dough evenly onto bottom and up sides of a large tartlet pan. Trim dough flush with edge of pan. Prick bottom with a fork to prevent it from bubbling as it bakes. Bake until golden, about 15 to 20 minutes.

To make winter tart filling, heat oil in a roasting pan in a 400 degree oven. Add onion and rosemary, cook until tender, then add leek, carrots, sweet potato and broccoli. Roast 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables start to turn golden brown but still crispy. Add mushroom, kale and lemon juice, cook for 2 more minutes and remove from oven. (This can also be done in a skillet).

When the tart is done, remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes. Fill the tart with the winter filling and serve!

Note: Slicing may cause the tart to crumble depending on the crust you use. This gluten-free crust is a little crumbly. You can serve on a cutting board and let guests cut and spoon what they like onto small plates that can also be used for the finger foods on the table. Have forks handy.


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