November 11, 2010

Store Review: Whole Foods Market Venice, Health Starts Here Thanksgiving Supper Club, November 11, 2010


Leave it to the folks at Whole Foods to create a totally 100% vegan, health-conscious Thanksgiving meal that contains no salt, oil, or added sugar...egads! But while they emphasize health, they definitely don't skimp on the flavor. Because hey, food still has to taste good! So while those few ingredients may have been missing from the meal, the food was still rich in fiber, protein, and flavor (and in some instances, calories!).

The ceremonial bread basket, whole-wheat raisin walnut bread

First course, Roasted Winter Squash Bisque

What an amazing way to start off a wintry meal! Made with roasted butternut squash and flavored with ginger and orange zest (two things I'd never before imagined pairing), this bisque was pungent, super thick, surprisingly hearty, and incredibly warming. Literally. The stuff was served piping hot, and the temperature paired with the spicy ginger and LOTS of peppery flavor made this perfect for anyone suffering from a cold. This bisque was packed with so much flavor that I didn't miss the salt at all; in fact, I don't even think it needed any. The tart sweeteness of the dried cranberries on top was an excellent combination with the ginger and orange flavors, and the chopped pecans added a little crunch.

Buffet-style courses, clockwise from left:

"Creamed" Kale

One of my favorite recipes from these Whole Foods dinners, this dish of creamy, salty, rich, savory, sweet kale is sure to fool the carnivores. Fool them about what, you ask? Well, all that creamy, delicious, rich sauce is non-dairy! That's right, a puree of cashews, vegetable broth, and soy milk is seasoned with nutritional yeast and white miso (mmmm umami), and you've got a faux "cream" which is nothing short of delicious. There was even a bit of heat from cayenne. The kale was cooked perfectly: steamed until tender yet chewy. I'm so glad WF provides this recipe because I'd definitely want to re-create this one!
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Vegetable Stuffing with Shallots and Fresh Herbs

Reminiscent of a savory bread pudding, this stuffing was savory, perfectly textured, and very filling. The bread cubes were soft and moistened, yet retained enough firmness to not near sogginess. Mushrooms and shallots provided earthy, pungent flavors, and a whole mess of fresh herbs screamed Thanksgiving. A great pairing with the lentil loaf.
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Coconut-Orange Sweet Potatoes

Ahh, sweet potatoes...the necessary Thanksgiving side at all dinner tables. Unfortunately, this was probably one of my least favorite dishes. Don't get me wrong, the potential was definitely there: coconut, raisins, orange juice. This certainly sounded like an amazing twist on the traditional dish (tropical flavors in November? great!), but I think it just wasn't executed very well. This is another dish that could have used a little salt to really bring out the other flavors; unfortunately, it was also a bit dry.
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Cranberry-Apple Chutney

This was possibly some of the best cranberry sauce type of dish I think I've ever tasted...and so few ingredients! Dried cranberries cooked with apple, cinnamon, and amazing, so flavorful, so addictive! Seriously, I could've eaten a bowl of it by itself. It was sort of a cross between cranberry sauce and applesauce; the cranberries were soft and chewy, the apples juicy and tender. And what a great topping to add to the previously mentioned sweet potatoes!

Chestnut and Wheatberry Salad

A super simple combination of wholesome ingredients made for a great side dish. This was my first time having wheatberries, and they are definitely a tasty and hearty grain that I'd try in place of rice, quinoa, or orzo. The little grains are chewy and hearty, and provided a nice mild base for the sweet raisins and crunchy carrots. Fresh mint was also included; while I usually am not a fan of fresh mint in dishes, it really worked here and added a fresh and cool element, thereby lightening some of the heartiness of the wheatberries.
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Celebration Lentil Loaf with Mushroom Gravy

This surprisingly hearty dish was definitely one of my favorites. Lentils, with their naturally meaty flavor, were combined with bulgur wheat, oats, and mushrooms for a solid and satisfying texture. It was only a tiny bit bland (some salt would have been nice here), but what really stood out was the poultry seasoning used for flavor. I've always thought this was a great spice blend (especially for us veggies to use), and this was no exception. I also tasted a hint of parsley, and the mushroom gravy accompanying the loaf was absolutely delicious. And guess what one of the ingredients is...nutritional yeast! So you can already imagine that nutty, slightly smoky, super savory, salty, and rich flavor it had.
Get the recipe!
Get the recipe!

Dessert, Pumpkin Pudding with Macadamia Cream and Toasted Pecans

Keeping with the Thanksgiving theme, a separate and perfectly sized dessert of pumpkin "pudding" was the perfect way to end the hearty meal. Sweetened only with dates and vanilla, pumpkin was simply added to pureed bananas and served chilled. Personally, I would have added a little more sweetener (maybe some maple syrup!), but it certainly rounded out the overall healthy feeling. Pumpkin pie spice also provided the very necessary pumpkin dessert flavor. The raw macadamia "cream" that topped the pudding was, albeit slightly grainy and also not very sweet, actually quite tasty. Also sweetened with vanilla and dates, there was lots of clove flavor that really popped.

Try out some of these featured recipes at your next holiday shindig, and your guests will surely be as happy as we were! Oh yeah, and don't tell them it's "healthy" until after they've cleaned their plates.

Whole Foods Market, Venice
225 Lincoln Blvd.
Venice, CA 90291
(310) 566-9480

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