Crowd-Pleasers

Most people who read this blog probably already know this, but H and I first met while playing softball (on opposing teams) in our law school intramural league. For the past several years, we have continued to play together in the summer in an adult recreational league of greater Boston.  Dorn’s has become a staple of our summer schedule and a centerpiece of our social life as a couple.

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Dorn’s 2012

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H and me decked out in red

Since H is the captain and I am the captain’s wife, we hosted our team’s post-season barbecue at our home way out in the burbs this year.

I should first say that I really love hosting parties.  H and I have lived in our house for just under 2 years and we have now had 5 great get-togethers in it (2 holiday parties, 2 barbecues, and a Superbowl party).  But holy hell is it a lot of work.

This isn’t really anyone’s fault but my own.  You see, it really wouldn’t be that big of a faux pas to just buy a bunch of pre-made platters and stuff to serve to a crowd (and frankly I’d probably end up spending about the same amount of money).  But no, I have this compulsion to make everything myself.

So as soon as H and I set a date for this year’s Dorn’s barbecue, I started planning a menu.  Our team consists solely of wings-loving omnivores and me, plus one vegetarian (who unfortunately wasn’t going to make it).  I decided to do my traditional taco bar, with meat, yes, but also with the option of Ancho Lentils from Post Punk Kitchen (click for recipe).  This way I can have a taco (never mind that these lentils are a total crowd-pleaser, delicious to everyone, regardless of dietary preference).  Plus hamburgers and hot dogs (which I wouldn’t have to look at…grilling is H’s job).  Everything else I served, I decided, would be vegan.

I don’t have a picture of the Ancho Lentils from my taco bar, but here’s an old one of the same recipe that I ate on a sandwich with dijon mustard.  Yes, they are versatile!
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I was all freaked out because I realized we were going to have between 20 and 25 people and I’ve never made food for that many before.  So I pulled a bunch of recipes and then doubled or tripled them to make enough.  Let’s just say I overestimated.

But no matter.  For appetizers, I decided to make Olive-Rosemary Tapenade from this PureWow recipe (minus the anchovy) that had caught my eye a few months ago.  The recipe requires some intensive chopping (especially when using non-pitted olives…ugh).  I did most of it on Wednesday night and waited until Friday night (the night before the barbecue) to mix in the chopped parsley and orange zest.

Here are the prepped ingredients, packed up and ready to go on Wednesday night.
Olive Tapenade Prep
Kalamata and castelvetrano olives, red bell pepper, jalapeno, and garlic

Oh, and when I was chopping the red pepper, I found this devilish little piece inside…
Devil Tail
H: “That picture just proves that vegetables are evil.”

Here is the finished product, served with crostini that I made according to this method by Chloe Coscarelli:
Tapenade with crostiniI also made the Summer Orchard Bruschetta from Happy. Healthy. Life. (click for recipe):
Summer Orchard Bruschetta 1Also served with crostini:
Bruschetta with crostini
I love, love, LOVE this bruschetta and am going to make it again and again!

Appetizers not pictured: hummus platter (Cedar’s original with carrots and celery); Utz honey barbecue chips; tortilla chips with salsa and guacamole (thankfully I didn’t make these by hand…I used Whole Foods medium chunky salsa and Trader Joe’s spicy guacamole autentico [which is incredible btw]).  Oh, and loaded tater tots (which weren’t vegan, so I guess ALMOST everything else I made was vegan).

So that there would be stuff to drink besides beer, I made Stoli Dolis (2 pineapples, cored and cut into rings, with vodka poured over them, which sat for 5-6 days and was WAY too strong…in the future I would soak the pineapple at least 2 weeks before serving) and Strawberry-Mint Water:

Strawberry Mint Water

I got the idea back in May, when H and I went to a wedding on Nantucket.  In the hotel lobby, they had a water cooler with strawberries floating in it and it was so incredibly delicious.  My own version did not disappoint either.

Drink Station

For dishes to serve on the side of the entrees, I did my favorite Vegan Caesar Salad with Avocado and Chickpeas from Post Punk Kitchen (click for recipe).  I didn’t take a picture of the trough of salad that I served at this barbecue, but here is a pic from when I made the recipe once before:
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I also made Creamy Avocado Potato Salad from Post Punk Kitchen (click for recipe).  I like that blog, a little.

First of all, look at these stunning avocados:
Avocados

Next, here is a picture of the “dressing” all creamy and beautiful in the food processor:
Potato Salad Dressing

Finally, I forgot to take a picture of the finished product.  But it looked like fingerling potatoes with green stuff on them.

Also on the side, and not pictured (I suck) was a pesto pasta salad, which was just cooked elbow macaroni tossed with Classic Pesto from Vegan With a Vengeance and chopped cherry tomatoes.  And the corn and black bean salad that I talked about in my last post.  Oh, and corn on the cob.  I was going to also serve collard greens but there was too much food and so I didn’t.

Finally, dessert!  I served a fruit salad in a watermelon bowl, which I didn’t photograph because the watermelon shell looked kinda wonky, plus it was dark by the time we got to dessert.  The fruit salad contained watermelon (obviously), pineapple, strawberries, blueberries, and kiwi.  I was able to prep the fruit salad ingredients well in advance of the party.  Here are the latter three ingredients packed up in a very large container:
Fruit Salad prep

Because our team’s color is red, I wanted to make an appropriately colored dessert.  I chose Vanilla Cupcakes with Strawberry Buttercream Frosting from Made Just Right by Earth Balance (click for recipe).  These came out great! I mean, they’re pink, but strawberries are red, so it works, right?  [One note: I noticed while making this that the recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of baking powder and I was like…no.  That is most definitely a typo.  So I used 2 tsp. and the cupcakes turned out great, so if you make this recipe do NOT use 2 tbsp.!]

Cupcake Platter 2

They looked so pretty on my cupcake platter!

Cupcake Platter 1

Bonus: M (an honorary Dorn) came up to visit and hang out at the barbecue.

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Obligatory sisters shot

And late Sunday afternoon, after two softball games and lots of house cleanup, I used leftover watermelon (which I had frozen) and leftover Summer Orchard Bruschetta (which was already getting soggy) to make this incredible concoction for the three of us to enjoy.Watermelon Frosty 1

Watermelon Frosties for all!

All in all, the party was a ton of fun, everyone was completely stuffed and happy, and no one seemed to even notice or care that the usual cheese platter/mayo-heavy potato and pasta salad/creamy veggie dip were missing.  I think the key to this lies in choosing recipes that utilize “normal” things that everyone loves (like avocado and chickpeas).  I call these “crowd-pleasers.”

The other thing is not to broadcast that everything is vegan.  I know some would disagree with me, but I really do believe that it’s important to let the food speak for itself.  Most people think that it must be very difficult to be vegan.  Frankly, I used to be one of them.  That was before I learned how to be creative and think outside the box and really understand and appreciate all of the things that can be done with plant foods.

Obviously, if people ask me questions, I am happy to answer.  But actually, at this barbecue, the only dish I got questions about was the Caesar Salad, (i.e., “How is the dressing vegan?” Answer: “It’s made with tahini.”  I didn’t mention the nooch though.)  Usually it’d be the cupcakes (“How did you make the frosting?” “How can you bake cake without eggs?”), but not this time.

Well. Hopefully this post was long enough.

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Salad and Smoothie Spree

Today I am going to do a big old vegan food blog cliche by writing a post featuring salads and smoothies.  I embrace it.   I can’t help myself; I’ve been having so much fun with spring and summer produce!

I have the incredible fortune of living within 10 miles of 9 farmers’ markets and 36 farmstands (5 of them organic).  The bounty of gorgeous, fresh fruits and vegetables coincides perfectly with my body’s craving for lighter, more refreshing meals.  The result has been a total spree of salads and smoothies, with no room for boredom!

For example, two weeks ago, I bought the biggest head of lettuce I have ever seen in my life.  It cost $2.50 and lasted me up until this morning. And it was organic!

Salad Smoothie 005On day one, I chopped several of the leaves and tossed in some apple, carrot, and toasted pecans.

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I made a lemon-shallot vinaigrette to go with it.

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It kinda looks like a raw egg yolk, but it tasted amazing!  This was: 1/2 finely chopped medium shallot, juice of half a lemon, 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar, 1 tsp. dijon mustard, 6 tsp. extra virgin olive oil, scant 1/2 tsp. agave nectar, salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Last weekend, I bought a beautiful bunch of beets (how’s that for alliteration). On Sunday I roasted the bulbs, and used the roasted beets all week in salads.

Salad Smoothie 019Chopped farmstand lettuce, baby arugula, sectioned grapefruit, avocado, and roasted beets.  And yes, the beets stain everything pink!

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Chopped farmstand lettuce, baby arugula, cherry tomatoes, roasted beets, apple, carrot, radish, and avocado.  Also, the radish was the cutest thing ever:

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A very simple salad of organic baby arugula with organic raspberries and pine nuts, and a dressing of garlic-infused olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

I love that salad-making lets me incorporate whatever fruits and vegetables I happen to have on hand.  This has helped tremendously with my goal of avoiding wasting food.

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Today’s lunch: the end of the farmstand lettuce, organic baby arugula, cherry tomatoes, avocado, organic farmstand sugar snap peas, carrot, craisins, and hemp seeds.

Salads are obviously extremely portable, making them a great weekday bring-to-work lunch.  I love that I can do most of the prep ahead of time, either on the weekend or the night before.  It seriously saves me so much time and money.

The same is true of smoothies.  They are the perfect vehicle for incorporating a rainbow of ingredients and ensuring that I make use of the insane amount of produce I buy each week this time of year.

Like native strawberries galore:
Salad Smoothie 014

In the past I have not been a fan of smoothies for breakfast because, although they taste great, I find that they don’t keep me full for more than an hour or two.  Since at my current job I don’t go to lunch until 1:00, I need something longer-lasting than that.

During my 3-Day Detox in May, I learned that using “chia gel” (1 tbsp. chia seeds soaked overnight in 1 cup of water) as a smoothie base is a way to stretch a smoothie’s ability to count as an actual meal, likely thanks to the absurd amount of fiber contained in a small portion of seeds.

So now I’ve been having smoothies for breakfast between 3 and 5 mornings a week.  Each one is different from the next!

This smoothie contained 1 cup of chia gel, one fresh kiwi, one frozen banana, 4-5 fresh strawberries, and a big handful of spinach:
Salad Smoothie 001

Salad Smoothie 003

I love this picture of it blending all together, with the little whirlpool in the middle!

Another day, I tried a yogurt-based smoothie, using So Delicious plain coconut milk yogurt.
Salad Smoothie 009It contained 1 cup of chia gel, one frozen banana, 1-1.5 cups fresh pineapple, 3 fresh strawberries, a big handful of chopped romaine lettuce, 1/2 a stalk of celery, and about 1/2 cup of coconut yogurt.Salad Smoothie 010The color was kind of ugly but this may have been the best-tasting smoothie I’ve made yet!  The yogurt definitely enhances the flavor and texture.

I have a lot more great seasonal dishes to share in an upcoming post, using farmstand treasures and more!

Ladies Who Lunch

Or, in this case, lady who lunches, I guess.  It’s finals time.  My last finals time ever (hallelujah!).  While the light at the end of the tunnel (I’m done at noon tomorrow!!!) certainly helps, nothing can truly ease the pain and irritation caused by this time of the semester.  Except perhaps some fabulous eats.

For some reason, breakfast is always a chore for me and lunch is kind of take-what-you-get, while dinner is the main event meal of each day.  The last two weeks however have been filled with some of the most delectable lunches I’ve ever had.  I have tons of photos of them so I hope you like photos.

1) Gardein crispy tenders on a whole wheat sandwich thin with honey mustard, and kale and spinach sauteed with garlic and olive oil:
Gardein 3

By the way, this is the kale and spinach in the pan when I first put them in (kale on the right, spinach on the left):
Kale and spinach

And this is after a minute or so…amazing how much spinach wilts down in a hot pan!
Kale and spinach

2) Gardein crispy tenders on a whole wheat sandwich thin with barbecue sauce and kale sauteed with garlic:
Gardein 1

3) WildWood southwest flavor sprouted tofu burger on a whole wheat sandwich thin with lettuce, tomato, and avocado, with a side of Sabra roasted pine nut hummus and organic cucumber slices:
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4) WildWood original flavor sprouted tofu burger on a whole wheat sandwich thin with lettuce, tomato, and BBQ sauce, with a garlic dill pickle (because when is a pickle ever not the solution to all your problems?  All this time, I should have been writing “pickle” on my exams when I didn’t know the answer.)
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5) ED&BV Lemon Chickpea Lentil soup with rustic bread and Smart Balance light:
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6) ED&BV Lemon Chickpea Lentil soup with a beet medley (roasted bulbs; stalks and greens sauteed with garlic):
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I had never eaten beet stalks before and let me tell you, they are a delight.

7) Flat bread with Sabra pine nut hummus, cucumber, and tomato, with the fava beans from my last post, sauteed with garlic and olive oil:
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The fava beans were SO GOOD! I wished I had more.

8– Leftover Ancho Lentil mix from this recipe, on a whole wheat sandwich thin, with lettuce and a swirl of dijon mustard, a side of kale sauteed with garlic, and a pickle (duh):
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9) Leftover Ancho Lentil mix on a whole wheat sandwich thin, with lettuce, chopped tomato, and a side of roasted beets:
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I should have had a pickle.

Some of these were repeated one or more times. Ya know…lather, rinse, repeat.  Plus, when something’s this tasty, why change anything about it? I have to say, #3 might have been the best lunch I’ve ever had.  The WildWood southwest flavor is my favorite by far (I’ve also had shiitake and original), and my avocado was heavenly.
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So ripe and creamy.

Also, how much do you love Sabra hummus?  I’m not plugging them for any reason other than that I love them…I mean, look at this perfection:
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I loved this lunch so much that I took a couple extra beauty shots:
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A perfect burger

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MMM sabra sabrosa…sorry it’s a little blurry, I was too hungry to focus, I guess.

The next time I post, it will be posting as a non-law student! Woo!!

Me:  Someone found my blog yesterday by searching for “deformed chocolate chip cookies.”
H:  That’s a funny way to spell delicious.

Rainbows

One of the best pieces of healthy-eating advice I was ever given was to incorporate a rainbow of colors into my daily diet. Doing so provides the body with a wide and diverse variety of essential nutrients. Plus, it looks beautiful! I especially love going to salad bars and piling my plate with all the different colors. I also love putting meals together that incorporate a rainbow, and presenting them in a way that showcases their beauty. Below, some photos of rainbow meals or dishes that I’ve prepared and enjoyed. Thinking about them makes me happy on these cold winter days…


A mango and tomato salsa that Dad and I made last summer, tossed with lime juice, finely chopped onion, and cilantro–SO fresh and delicious!


I bought these absolutely gorgeous groceries and just had to arrange them nicely in a bowl…here we have avocados, lime, lemon, tomato, mango, fresh basil on the left, and fresh cilantro on the right. Pretty sure I was making guacamole that afternoon!


A typical snack for A.Cook…delicious sugar snap peas, baby carrots, and grape tomatoes. YUM.

And finally…

My rainbow of roasted potatoes! Despite the dark picture, I’m sure you can see that this dish contained red, yellow, and purple potatoes! I had never had purple potatoes before this, and though I found them a little starchier and less enjoyable than the others, it won’t stop me from eating them in the future, because really, how can you not love a naturally purple food??

Playing House

It’s unbelievable, but as of Monday, my second semester of law school is underway!  I have a pretty good schedule this time around, meaning I’ll have lots of time to cook and even get to the gym. 

I spent the last 2 weeks of my vacation doing a whole lot of nothing, which felt amazing, especially since I haven’t had a winter break since college.  I spent a good part of the last week helping out a friend who had recently undergone surgery and cooking for that friend, who is an omnivore.   It’s not my style to try to convince anyone to become vegan, and though I’m not opposed to cooking non-vegan for someone else, the fact is that I’m most comfortable with and adept at cooking vegan foods.  To that end, when cooking for others, I try to make dishes that anyone can enjoy, and I think I am usually pretty successful! 

Now, for some reason I only have photos of one entree.  There is a picture of one of them on my friend’s camera, which I’ll try to retrieve soon, and the other got eaten before its photo op.  Sowwy.

The photographed entree was Bean & Corn Tortilla Lasagna with Avocado from Eat, Drink & Be Vegan.
 

The whole shebang


A nice little portion (with lime, as suggested!)

I loved this recipe hot out of the oven.  It makes six servings and I ate two of them right away, doused with chipotle hot sauce (because I am a spicy food fiend!).  My only issue with this recipe is that it doesn’t work especially well as leftovers, which I guess I should have anticipated because of the avocado.  The weird thing was that the avocado stayed green and fresh-looking but tasted funky after 1-2 days.  The rest of it was still delicious so I just picked out the avocado.  So if I made this one again, I’d do it for a family dinner or at some other occasion where all of it would be consumed in one sitting.

Because I am a sweets lover and because I equate desserts with comfort and love, I made sure to make lots of them during my friend’s recovery.  For these, I used my beautiful brand-new copy of The Everyday Vegan by Dreena Burton! 

First, Chewy Nutty Cereal Chip Squares

These are heavenly.  Seriously, I kind of want to make some tonight.  My only complaint about these is that they fall apart fairly easily when picked up.  I might use a little extra maple syrup next time and see if that makes a difference.  For this batch, I used peanut butter instead of almond because that was what I had open in my kitchen. 

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
 

I have never been a huge fan of oatmeal raisin cookies, but these rock.   Well, okay…I actually should admit that because I didn’t have any raisins, I used chopped Turkish apricots, so really they were Oatmeal Apricot cookies.  But they still rocked.  They were so soft and chewy and flavorful.  Between me, my friend, and my friend’s roommate, they were gone in about a day and a half.  

Coconut Raspberry Squares
 

I apologize for the less-than-stellar picture, but the lighting was terrible in my friend’s kitchen.  I know they kind of look like pizza squares, but that’s not the picture’s fault; they actually really look like that.  I have to be honest and say that I didn’t love these; the flavor and texture reminded me of Passover (a holiday that I loathe) because they tasted a bit like matzoh with cream cheese and jelly. 

I have some more fun food to post about, so look for that in the next few days!