Virtual Vacation by the Sea and Appetizers for Two

[Giveaway Alert:  Today is the last day to enter the cookbook giveaway!  Post your comment by 12:00 midnight (Toronto time) to be eligible to win a free copy of Sweet Freedom!]

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It seems impossible, but I returned to full-time work at the college this week after two months away. (Yes, just when most college students and profs are beginning their summer off, my vacation is over. I’m just wacky that way.)

Where did the time go? Somehow, it just doesn’t feel like a “real” vacation without either a flight somewhere, a ten-hour drive, flip-flops, suntan lotion, sand in your underwear, martinis with 3 olives, holding hands as you stroll along the beach, abnormally extroverted conversations with strangers–or all of the above.  Instead, all I’ve done is stay at home attending to the usual quotidien activities that define one’s working days:  cooking, writing, exercising, walking the Girls, getting together with friends, or wrapping up a cookbook

It’s not as if I forgot about taking a proper vacation, no, no; it’s just that I never seemed to get around to it, sort of like that pile of 57 boxes that have been sitting in our basement since we moved in to this house in November, 2007.  (It’s incredible, really, how you can get along perfectly well without stuff you once thought essential, isn’t it?)

Better late than never, I say.  So with Mother’s Day upon us last weekend, the HH and I enjoyed a mini, virtual vacation (or “stay-cation,” as it’s being called in these tough economic times).   We slept in late, listened to the stereo, watched funny movies, took The Girls for an extra-long walk in a woodsy park, cooked together (though without hand-holding).  And we ate appetizers.

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[The prize: in honor of the end of the semester.]

Ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself.  Because before all that, the weekend kicked off with a trek downtown to visit Ruth of Plentiful Plants and deliver her prize from my last blog giveaway: a chocolate layer cake from a Sweet Freedom recipe (which she blogged about here).  It was so great to meet Ruth in person–now I’ve got a friendly face to attach to a name. 

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[Don't those look yummy? Recipe at the bottom of this post]

And she had the sweetest surprise for me–some cinnamon roasted chickpeas that she’d made as a gift.  And the best part? They are even ACD-friendly!! Whoo-hoo! Thanks so much, Ruth.  I’ve been snacking on them since then and will be sorry to see them gone!

And so, on to dinner.

Years ago, when my friend Gemini I got married, she and her hubby honeymooned on a small Greek island, where their days were spent wandering from ruins to quaint local taverns to dusty roads bordered by wild flower gardens and back to their B and B. Mealtimes were spent gazing into each other’s eyes, hands clasped over a small, private table by the seaside, rocks so white you had to squint just to look at them. A cornucopia of fresh, rainbow colored produce and seafood graced their plates, the cerulean sea splashing up over their sandaled toes as they ate.  I had an image of the HH and I doing something similar over a casual appetizer platter (well, without the island, hand clasping, white rocks, seafood or water part.  No matter.)

We ended up with three appetizers: Almond “Feta” (in honor of that Greek island); lupini beans in garlic and olive oil (Italy’s representative here); and Raw Sunflower and Carrot Pâté (nothing to do with the Mediterranean–I just like it).

I’d been eyeing the recipe for Almond “Feta” from last month’s Vegetarian Times ever since it arrived in the mail.  After thinking I’d lost the magazine, I finally found it again while clearing my desktop of stray papers and other debris (gee, imagine what I’d find if I ever did open those 57 boxes in our basement?). 

I’ve loved feta cheese ever since I first tasted it as a twenty-something one summer when I worked as a secretary.  One of my colleagues, a wacky, brash blonde named Dia Nicolopoulos (I mean, how could you forget a name like that?) invited me to her home for dinner. Remember the rock band Blondie?  Well, Dia bore an uncanny resemblance to (young) Debbie Harry, complete with outrageous wardrobe, carmine lipstick, raspy voice, and teetering, stillettoed walk. She had a belly laugh that could drown out a fire alarm, and when she extended that dinner invitation, I didn’t hesitate to accept. 

In a scene straight out of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Dia’s mother kept foisting plate after plate of food at me.  When I was sure I was about to burst, out came the feta. It was Dia’s mother’s own recipe, homemade from goat’s milk and bathed in a pool of opaque salted water. It was rich, creamy, salty, smooth–like nothing I’d ever tasted before, and I was smitten.   I ended up eating three servings.

And while this almond-based version does require some advance prep (you’ve got to start 48 hours before you want to eat it), it was a worthy reminder of that long-ago dinner.  With a color, taste and texture remarkably feta-like, this cheese was fantastic on its own or spread on crackers. Firm enough to cut yet not quite solid inside, it would be perfect sprinkled in bits and blobs inside a tofu omelet along with some red onion and basil.  As the HH remarked, “You know, this cheese is really good in its own right.  I mean, even if someone wasn’t particularly into the “veggie” thing, you could serve them this and they’d still like it.” High praise, indeed!

The raw pâté is my adaptation of a sunflower pâté  in Nomi Shannon’s seminal Raw Gourmet. I added a hefty serving of beta carotene via carrots, both for color and flavor.  The result was a fresh, light, with a slightly grainy texture and understated, natural sweeteness, it provided a perfect foil for the briny cheese.   

The final appetizer, lupini beans in garlic and olive oil, were an experiment I tried following a chance remark while shopping at the bulk store.  But I think these warrant an entire post of their own. . . suffice it to say that they require even more advance prep than the feta.

We completed the dinner with baby carrots, raw kale salad, and some crackers.  With nothing else to do but enjoy each other’s company as we  nibbled, it was a great way to end the evening. And while I still wasn’t quite ready to dive back into work, at least I ended my holidays in a relaxed frame of mind.  I’m already planning the next appetizer dinner. . . now, if only I could secure that Greek island setting. 

Mum, you don’t really want to go away from us for two weeks, do you?  Because, well, eating appetizers by the sea is all fine and dandy, but if you left, who would feed us??”

I thought these dishess would be the perfect contribution to Cheryl’s virtual baby shower for Sea of Book of YumCheryl asked bloggers to post foods that would be appropriate for a baby shower. Congratulations, Sea!

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rawcarrotpate

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Last Year at this Time: Swiss “Cheese” in a Mosaic Salad

© 2009 RickiHeller.com

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Comments

  1. this all looks so good!! so jealous of your virtual vacation :)

  2. Homemade cinnamon roasted chickpeas? What a wonderful gift!
    The two recipes you’ve shared today look fabulous. The almond feta is particularly intriguing; it must be delicious!

  3. Mmm, everything looks so great. I especially love those chickpeas!

  4. Ooh, thanks for the non-tofu feta recipe, I can’t wait to give it a whirl.

    I love making tons of appetizers for Jim and I to graze on, that’s the best. I’m sorry you didn’t really get a get-away, but welcome back to the land of zombies, I mean, work. :)

  5. Lucky Ruth!

    You know, I saw those cheeses in Veg Times and was tempted, but it really drives me crazy when I spend days making something that gets eaten in a half hour, so I didn’t do it. Now, seeing your photo, I’m tempted again. I used to do this sort of thing but …

    On the other hand, the sunflower spread seems reasonable. I used to make the best dips from sunflower seeds, and now I think I’ll try yours!

  6. even though I’m much more smitten with goat cheese than feta, i really want to try yours :) of course, I want to try everything you make!! glad you had a good “staycation” :)

  7. This is my favorite way to eat! I love having several appetizers to make up a tapas type meal. You can’t beat variety. The almond feta sounds divine, I used to crumble feta on my salads quite often, looks like I now have a viable alternative!

  8. Glad you had a little mini-vacation! Nothing better than spending time with the one you love, eating! Best wishes for the school year to come…

  9. I was thinking about trying to re-create a vacation in a meal myself (I was more thinking Thailand…) but your trip to the Med looks pretty great!
    Will Ruth share a little of that amazing cake?

  10. I’m always looking for new recipes – these are likely candidates for the weekend cook-a-thon at my house! Thanks!

  11. great holiday snack food – I want to try that pate! – sounds delish! I am curious about the cheese but my food processor probably couldn’t be bothered with that amount of churning (‘buy your own feta – meh!’)

    Boxes – sigh! I know all about these boxes of things you never look at but can’t live without – and I lost the latest veg times but found I had been looking at it but got confused about dates – d’oh!

  12. I have been wanting to try and make nut cheese (why does that does sound so very awful) for ages… this looks like a great recipe to start with. And all the best on going back to work!

  13. What a lovely stay-cation! The appetizers look delicious, and I’m anxiously awaiting the bean post. Your prize chocolate cake turned out so beautiful.

  14. aw!!! i’m glad you guys got to enjoy your mini vacation together! sleeping in, watching movies, and long dog walks = the best! (and the cake you made for ruth = the best, too! too awesome on her giving you some cinnamon roasted chickers – they sound so delicious! yay!) dan and i are big fans of appetizers – we’re know to order a few of them sometimes & share (instead of getting a meal). i can’t wait to try your pate & almond feta cheeze – they both look heavenly! you’re too awesome, Ricki! w00t!

  15. All of these foods sound so amazing. You take such good pictures.

    Glad you enjoyed the mini vacation. Now you just need to figure out how to teach the dogs to serve you and HH in bed.

  16. Your dishes look great.
    I have tried roasting chickpeas too many times to count and they always turn out terrible. You make me want to give it another try though. Thanks.

  17. the chickpeas look great. i make something similar but always savoury. next time i’ll give cinnamon a go!

  18. I’ve been wondering about that feta recipe- It certainly does sound and look good! If I get any time, I’ll definitely have to try it myself.

  19. Feta is like one of those cheeses that pair so well with fruit!. I love roasted chickpeas and your pictures are gorgeous! Thanks for the inspiration!

  20. Ooo that feta and pate look amaaaaaazing! Must try both. Those chickpeas too mmm.

  21. Josiane,

    Yes, it really was! Very enjoyable. :)

    Kris,,
    Yes, I liked the fact that is was non-tofu as well–not that I don’t enjoy tofu; just not in every dish! And thanks for the welcome back (I think??) ;)

    Andrea,,
    I’m usually pretty lazy with recipes, but I really felt this one was worth it. Most of the time, it’s just soaking or draining in the fridge, anyway–the actual work involved is still pretty minimal. ;)

    Shellyfish,
    I think Ruth actually did share the cake with her room mate and friends. . .but I guess France was a little further afield. ;)

    Johanna,
    At least you found your magazine again–it took me almost a month to re-locate mine!

    jessy,
    Yep, the HH and I do that, too, at restaurants–I often think the appetizers are the best things on the menu!

    Still Life,
    They’re talented, but maybe not quite THAT talented. ;)

    Michelle,
    Just curious: why didn’t they work out?

    Beth,
    Thanks so much for your comment, and for reading! I’d love to have some feta with fruit about now. . .well, any fruit, really, as I’m still steering clear.

  22. I love that carrot pate. What a great idea for a party appetizer. I need to try that for my next get together. I sounds great!

  23. Ooooh, very excited about trying that almond feta. :)

  24. Beautiful presentation of the almond feta! Sounds like it takes some advance planning but the outcome is so pretty.

  25. that pate looks great! my favorite restaurant in nyc had a lentil sunflower seed pate. it’s amazing!

  26. The feta looks so so good! Great post.

  27. I can’t wait to try your pate, Ricki!

  28. everything looks amazing!

  29. That feta dish looks wonderful! Very interesting!

  30. Yummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm..oh..sorry..I just popped one of the Cinnamon Roasted Chickpeas in my mouth before starting to type…ohh.mmmmmmm..soo good!! annnnny way, back to the comment: Ricki as usual a great read and great recipes! Ellen just doesnt know what she’s missing! Hopefully we can get her tastebuds tantilized with your goodies soon!

  31. That almond cheese looks awesome! I was wondering if it would work using walnuts in place of almonds?

    • I’ve seen nut cheeses with walnuts, but I suspect the flavor would be quite different in this case (though probably not bad. . . ). ;)

  32. How much water do you use in the blending process for the “feta?”

  33. Thanks for posting this recipe, I had a lot of fun trying this recipe out! My photos are here if anyone wants to see: http://zerbert.wordpress.com/2011/11/15/vegan-almond-feta-cheese/ I think I’ll adjust the recipe slightly next time, but it was delicious as is also!

  34. Just made the pate, except I had to sub natural peanut butter for the tahini since I am fresh out… DELICIOUS!!! Thank you for this recipe! I can’t wait to try the others, as well…

  35. I made your wonderful vegan feta today and loved it! Unfortunately I screwed up and missed the 8 hour draining step, so I just cooked it per the recipe (says 200F, hoping that’s correct because there is no Celcius temp) with all the liquids and served it as a dip to my dairy free friend and others. Everyone loved it. It made me so happy to be able to do that for her! I am sending her the recipe tomorrow. Next time I will be aware of the times and try this as a cheese, but FYI it makes a wonderful dip if you don’t have cheesecloth or the additional 8 hours to drain it. I would have mixed in chopped kalamatas but didn’t have any, so I garnished with tomatoes and dried basil. I also tried the roasted garbanzos and wasn’t as much of a fan (maybe because I used canned? Texture didn’t come out well), but your vegan feta was as good, if not better, than the real thing. I will make this again and again. Thank you so much!!!!

    • Yay! So glad you liked it. To be honest, I almost never drain it any more, either, as it doesn’t emit too much liquid anyway. I use a bit less water to begin with and then just proceed as with the recipe. It’s not thick enough to slice, but it tastes divine nonetheless. Thanks so much for coming back here to let me know (PS kalamatas sound perfect for this!). :D

  36. Ricki I made the almond feta cheese today! I used my almond pulp from some milk I made yesterday. And I dehydrated it! Thanks so much for the inspiration. Xo

Trackbacks

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