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Dinner for eight ...

Posted Nov 14 2012 9:08am

I'm always looking for ways to make cooking for a crowd pleasant and stress-free, so I can enjoy the festivities without being in a bad mood. Using the slow cooker is a great way to have the main dish cook itself so I can whip up a few side dishes at my "leisure." Ever since I tested recipes for Robin Robertson's Fresh From the Vegan Slow Cooker, I've been trying recipes that I didn't test, and so far, so good. Sunday night I made Black Bean Chili and Sweet Potato Casserole. Above, you can see it bubbling in the cooker just before I served it. The layers of sweet potato and chili were also layered with vegan cheese, and I made a recipe of Low-Fat Chipotle Cheese Sauce from Miyoko Schinner's Artisan Vegan Cheese to use for that purpose. That's what you see all gooey and melty on the top. I started preparing the casserole at one o'clock, and by one-thirty it was in the slow cooker ready to go. The cheese sauce had butternut squash as a main ingredient, and I already had that measured out from the previous night's leftovers, but still, that's a pretty fast prep time for a main dish.

The chili isn't juicy here because I photographed it the next day, cold, when there
was a little more light. I heated it before we ate it later for dinner.

We served the chili over rice, and I'd have to say it was delicious — spicy, creamy, rich and warming. The rice was a last minute decision when I realized how saucy the chili was, because I had planned to serve polenta fries, but could see they wouldn't be very useful to sop up the gravy. I suppose we could have served the chili in bowls with spoons. I still made the polenta fries, and no one complained about the two starches — the guests loved the fries! They may even have been the most popular dish of the night, so I'm glad they were included in the menu.

We also served steamed brussels sprouts, and marinated cucumber and red onion. The cucumber served as a refreshing counterpoint to the heavier parts of the meal. I used my mandoline to slice the vegetables into very thin slices and marinated them in a mixture of olive oil, champagne vinegar and balsamic vinegar. The balsamic vinegar gave the cukes a slight brown tinge, so I might choose a different vinegar next time.

I think the main reason we had the dinner was to lure people to the house to eat a dessert recipe I was testing for Laurie Sadowski's pie book. I don't want to be alone in the house with any of the pies — no way. This one was  a peach and berry crisp, and it was excellent. I'm not really a dessert person, especially a sweet and rich dessert person, but I'd be lying if I said I haven't been enjoying my dessert extravaganza. I feel lots of guilt as I work sticks of Earth Balance into flour and sugar, but what the hell. I can go back to my old ways soon enough.

Your reward for reading the post is a video of Miyoko Schinner making the cheese sauce I used in the chili recipe. I had quite a bit left over by the way, and we made nachos for dinner the next night. I still have some cheese sauce left ... but not for long.
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