I’m still quite new to blogging, and I certainly proved it last evening. At my house was a group of six amazing women–three whom I met at my nutrition school, one from a long-ago volunteer gig, and the last as a participant in one of my (now defunct) cooking classes–and each brought at least one fantastic, high-saliva inciting food to the table. And I? Yes, I, too contributed to the culinary canvas. In fact, I added not two, not three, but four delectable dishes to the cornucopia. But did I remember to take a photo of said table, overflowing with the bounty of our kitchens? Uh, no. I was so engrossed in the captivating conversation, so distracted by the eye-catching textures and colours, interesting ingredient combinations and seductively wafting aromas that I, like everyone else, simply dug in and enjoyed.
By the time I remembered this blog and the fact that I was supposed to chronicle the evening in photos (and post it to Holidailies), it was too late. By then, only a few solitary dregs of each food lay wilted and soggy in the bottoms of platters, bowls, and casserole dishes, far too sparse and too exhausted to submit to a photo op. And for that, I hang my blogging head in shame.
As an attempt to make amends for my lack of forethought when it came to the buffet table, I will here recreate the menu for you, and even supply recipes! I did, thankfully, take a couple of photos of my own contributions before the crowd arrived, so you can have a glimpse of those.
First, the menu. What a great bunch of gals–this is the Vegan assortment they (and I) co-created:
* Garlicky Black Bean Dip
* Chickpea-mint Spread
* Mushroom and Walnut Pate (from Veganomicon), photo left
* Assortment of wheat-free crackers
* Homemade Veggie Spring Rolls with Asian Cranberry Dipping sauce (to die for–will definitely see if I can cadge the recipe)
Caesar Salad (from Veganomicon, with a twist–see below)
Edamame-Cabbage and Sesame Slaw
Stir-fried Mixed Veggies
Smoked Tofu and Veggie-Lentil Stir-Fry with Zucchini “Pasta”
Mushroom, Potato and Tempeh Stew (a twist on recipe from Vegan with a Vengeance)
Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies (my recipe–to be posted at a later date)
* Vegan Tiramisu (recipe follows!)
* Pumpkin-Chocolate Chip Loaves
* Chocolate-Cashew Bark (homemade and easy–see below)
Doesn’t everything sound amazing? And with people just coming off all that holiday excess, this healthy yet delicious meal seemed almost ascetic. Well, except the tiramisu, of course.
After the initial squeals of joy at seeing each other again, and the introductions (the nutrition crowd wasn’t yet familiar with the other two), we settled in to some wine or mineral water and the appetizers. Since I’d promised at least one main and one dessert, I hadn’t planned to contribute to this particular course. But I had a surfeit of mushrooms after preparing the stew, so decided to browse my new copy of Veganomicon and came up with the Walnut Mushroom Pate. I followed the recipe verbatim and was thrilled with the result–smooth, savory, and very rich tasting. I seem to recall a similar reicpe from my childhood, when my mother experimented with “Mock Chopped Liver” (see, I told you she was an unwitting vegetarian).
The other dip and spread, a chunky, minty chickpea mash and a smooth, slightly sweet black bean spread, were both delicious, but I think all the other appetizers were trumped by the absolutely mouth watering veggie spring rolls with Asian cranberry dipping sauce. A succulent mix of veggies in a filo crust, baked to flaky perfection, then dipped in a slightly spicy, tart sauce brimming with cranberries–it was divine.
By the time we’d cleared the buffet table of appetizers and moved to the main course, we were all anticipating the treasures this group had brought to the table. We began with a zingy vegan Caesar, also from Veganomicon (getting a lot of press in this post!). I made just one adjustment to the already more or less perfect dressing recipe, mostly to accommodate my own peccadilloes and because I felt it would taste more authentically Italian this way: I substituted roasted pine nuts for the almonds in the recipe. Like the almonds, the pine nuts offered a slight graininess to the otherwise perfectly creamy dressing, approximating the texture of grated parmesan. I loved, loved, loved the garlicky creaminess of the dressing, though I must admit it was a bit too pungent for most of the crowd, and that was with only 3 of the 4 recommended cloves!
Guests also provided some sensational stir-fried veggies and Smoked Tofu mixture with veggies, lentils, and zucchini “pasta.” The raw “pasta” is actually zucchini that’s been cut into long thin spaghetti-like threads using a Spiral Slicer. You can approximate this idea by repeatedly grating the zucchini along its length with a carrot peeler (as if you were peeling the zucchini–but keep going even once the peel is gone).
My own addition to the menu was the savory Tempeh Stew, a variation on Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s Tofu, Mushroom and Potato stew from her first cookbook, Vegan with a Vengeance. I won’t repeat the entire recipe here, but I will tell you the changes I made: first, instead of using exclusively cremini mushrooms (which looked a little drab and tired at my local grocer’s), I used half portobello mushrooms, for their meaty flavor and texture, and half regular button mushrooms. This is a quick pic of the mushies after they’d been sauteed.
The combination seemed to work pretty well, allowing for a substantial chewiness along with an earthy flavor. I also substituted tempeh for the tofu, as we were having quite a lot of tofu in other dishes and tempeh is my preference in any case. I steamed the tempeh first in a mixture of vegetable broth and a splash of Bragg’s aminos (like soy sauce) before adding it, chunked, to the pot.
The resulting mixture, right before it was covered for the final simmer, looked like this:
Simmering for an additional 30 or so minutes allowed the tempeh to absorb much of the flavor, and the potatoes to soften and soak up much of the sauce. The final product was a thickly sauced, rich tasting and lip-smacking stew that I served with some whole spelt biscuits I whipped up at the last minute–great for sloshing in the gravy.
[Later insert: This is what it looked like, reheated the following day for lunch–mmmnn!]:
We reveled in both the feast and the confabulation for about an hour before venturing to dessert–itself enough to fill the table with platters and bowls!
Absolute bedlam ensued at one point while Barb recounted a visit to an alternative energy worker, the methods of whom were new to most of us (Barb included). While treating us to her vocal imitation of the healing chant she’d heard (somewhat like the scene in When Harry Met Sally, now that I think of it), she became so animated that The Girls, who’d been sleeping peacefully in opposite corners of the living room, immediately leapt to their feet, hackles up and tails erect, snapping and growling as they dashed to the front door to see who was there. Much like the prophet Elijah at Passover, the poltergeist evaded their detection, and they circled the room, roused and disoriented, until we gave them each a treat to calm down, poor things. (“It was pretty startling, you know, Mum. She did sound rather distressed. And we just wanted to protect you all in case someone was trying to steal the food, that’s all.”)
My friend Michelle graciously brought two treats, a container of the Mocha Hazelnut cookies I previously posted on this site, as well as some delicious Mini Pumpkin Chocolate Chip loaves, another recipe of mine that I will post here anon.
I provided a variety of the Mostly Raw Chocolate Truffles from an earlier post as well as a dish I’d created for a customer’s Christmas party last year–Vegan Tiramisu. I got the idea from an old recipe in Dreena Burton’s Vive le Vegan, and adapted it with my own cake and filling. I’ll explain what I did differently from Dreena’s recipe, so you can recreate it yourself if you wish.
Dessert brought more sharing of stories and howls of laughter before everyone dispersed around 11:30 (on a school night!). It was the most fun I’ve had in ages. Thanks, ladies, for a great evening, filled with your talented culinary creations, thoroughly delightful conversation, and generous spirits.
This is a dish I created for a customer last Christmas, and I’ve used it many times since. It may be vegan, but it is definitely not virtuous. A very rich, very luscious and velvety cream filling oozes between layers of light vanilla cake drizzled with spiked coffee. The entire affair is topped off with a light whipped “cream” and then sprinkled with chocolate curls. My HH practically swooned over this one (and let me tell you, the last time he swooned over anything I did probably dates back to the Paleozoic era, just to give you a yardstick on that).
one baked and cooled 9 x9 inch single-layer vanilla cake (I used my own recipe for a spelt and agave-based cake, but I think the agave cupcake recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World would work well if baked in a square pan as well).
Filling (recipe follows)
Whipped “cream” (I use a double recipe of the soymilk-based whipped “cream” from How It All Vegan, with the following changes: I use 1 Tbsp. Sucanat instead of dry sweetener, and add 1 Tbsp. light agave nectar. The texture is very light and quite irresistible.)
Chocolate curls (made by melting dairy-free chocolate chips, spreading on a plate lined with plastic wrap, and allowing to cool; then use a carrot peeler to grate along the side and the chocolate will form little curls, as you see in the photo).
about 1/2 to 2/3 cup cold, very strong coffee or coffee substitute, mixed with an equal amount liqueur (either coffee liquer, creme de cacao, or, as we did last evening, hazelnut liqueur (Frangelico).
Filling: I altered Dreena’s original filling recipe in the following way. My version is really a combination of a cooked “pudding” blended with silken tofu.
2 packages extra-firm silken tofu (aseptically packaged, such as Mori-Nu)
1 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup pure maple syrup
1 cup Sucanat
1/4 cup soymilk (either vanilla or plain)
1/8 tsp. sea salt
1/4 cup organic cornstarch
In the bowl of a food processor, whir together the tofu and vanilla until perfectly smooth, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary.
In a medium pot, combine the maple syrup, Sucanat, soymilk, salt and cornstarch, and whisk to blend. Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture begins to boil softly. Continue to stir or whisk constantly, cooking for one minute.
Pour the hot mixture into the food processor along with the tofu and blend again until perfectly mixed and smooth. Pour into a large bowl and place in refrigerator until cool, at least two hours.
To Assemble the Tiramisu:
In a large decorative bowl, spoon some of the filling and swirl to coat the bottom of the bowl. Cut or tear the cake into thin strips or squares and lay down in a single layer over the filling. Drizzle with about 1/3 of the coffee/booze mixture. Cover with about 1/3 of the filling, and repeat with more cake, drizzle, filling, cake, drizzle and filling again, until all the filling, liquid, and cake are used up (you should have about 3 layers of each, and end with a layer of filling).
Top the last layer with a thin coating of the whipped “cream,” ensuring no filling peeks through. Sprinkle with chocolate curls. Refrigerate at least 6 hours to allow cake to absorb the liquid and for flavors to meld.
To serve, spoon into individual serving bowls, or– just to use them and because they look pretty–pull out that old set of martini glasses and use those for a decorative presentation. Makes at least 10 servings, more if your crowd is able to exercise restraint.
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