Plant-based Summerside chef's holiday cooking is inspired by her grandma

·3 min read
Plant-based Summerside chef's holiday cooking is inspired by her grandma

For chef Tara Reeves, the joy of eating during the holidays is about making meals into experiences, with family and friends gathered together.

That outlook goes back to Christmas meals from her childhood in Summerside, P.E.I., lovingly prepared by the woman to whom she credits her culinary career: her grandma.

"It was really about her creating that memory for our family. And I know she took great pride in really making that memorable," said Reeves.

Christmas at grandma's was an occasion.

Submitted by Tara Reeves
Submitted by Tara Reeves

"My grandma always did it big, just the full spread," said Reeves, who is based in Summerside and is also a holistic nutritionist.

"It was always memorable … whether it was the little drinks in the crystal glasses or the numerous desserts for after the big meal."

Reeves, who is vegetarian and eats a plant-based diet, has created two plant-based holiday dishes for CBC P.E.I. readers: a mushroom Wellington and chocolate peppermint cookies.

Submitted by Tara Reeves
Submitted by Tara Reeves

The mushroom Wellington is a vegan version of classic beef Wellington: beef tenderloin wrapped in puff pastry.

"I love the technique of wrapping anything in puff pastry," said Reeves.

"Being that I don't eat meat, I thought, 'OK, what's something that can be a real showstopper on a plant-based holiday meal table that is going to kind of give you that same feeling of, like, this is the centrepiece of the meal?'"

Reeves said this is not a simple recipe.

"However, it's totally worth the labour of love to put it together," she said.

Submitted by Tara Reeves
Submitted by Tara Reeves

"It looks amazing on the table, and the fact that it's, you know, there's no meat, eggs, dairy or anything in the recipe, but you're still getting that nice brown, crisp, shiny puff pastry."

For dessert, Reeves is sharing her recipe for chocolate peppermint cookies.

"For me personally, I find holiday recipes tend to kind of overlook chocolate," said Reeves.

That's definitely not the case here.

Submitted by Tara Reeves
Submitted by Tara Reeves

"We don't want just a little drizzle of chocolate here … we want the three types of chocolate. Give me the cocoa powder and the chocolate chunks and a drizzle."

Reeves said this is a cookie that keeps you coming back for more, with "that fudgy texture with the crunch of the candy canes."

What would grandma think?

Reeves was first inspired to try cooking and baking because of her grandma, who "was always in the kitchen."

"Nothing brings me more joy than catering, providing a meal for people, being that person to nourish people and really create that experience for people. That's why I do what I do."

Reeves said she's unsure what her grandma would think of her vegan recipes.

"I think she would think I should have just left the recipes the way they were and not made them plant-based," she said with a laugh.

"But I think she would be proud of where I've kind of taken her inspiration, in my younger years, to bring it up to speed today."

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