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Best Laid Plans (and Recipes for Vegan Summer Entertaining)

Posted Jun 05 2011 8:49pm

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I had a lot of big plans for this week. They included unpacking completely, decorating completely (so that the new place would be cute in time for Chloe ’s upcoming visit), lots of detailed and food filled blog posts, and getting all of my new textbooks for school. I’m happy to say I’ve done none of these things to completion. I have managed to get a student ID and sign up for a student gym membership, and I have posted a little food, and I have unpacked to some degree, but I’m nowhere close to where I wanted to be. C’est la vie, right?

I was hoping that I could offset all of my guilt about failing to meet my own (probably unfair) expectations for productivity in this, my first full week as a DC resident, by successfully catering my almost-birthday party last night. With a guest list of 25 or so, this felt like a worthy challenge.

I did everything I usually do when I cook for a crowd: I made a shopping list and list of dishes in advance, I shopped in advance, I prepped two days ahead of time, and I cooked for 48 hours straight. But in spite of these very well laid plans, I found myself close to a meltdown on Friday morning, exactly 30 hours before guests were due to arrive. Here’s what was on the menu—all 100% vegan, natch:

  • Potato salad
  • Pesto pasta salad
  • Roast eggplant wraps with sundried tomato spread
  • Roast red pepper hummus wraps with romaine and beefsteak tomatoes
  • “Meat” balls with red sauce
  • Polenta cakes with quick oven dried tomato relish
  • Crostini with zesty orange cashew cheese and apple slices
  • Vanilla cupcakes with chocolate and vanilla buttercream
  • Brownies

I had roasted veggies for the pasta and eggplant for the wraps, but my first batch of meatballs had been catastrophic, the polenta wasn’t ready yet, and I had been making hummus and cashew cheese for two days without remission. I was tired, stressed, and convinced the food would disappoint. Weirdly, I think that blogging about food has made me a more self-conscious cook—I assume the expectations will be higher, so I fret a lot more.

It was in the midst of this little meltdown that Jacquie emailed to ask if she could stop by for a visit.

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Jacquie is an NYC resident now, but was born and raised in the DC area, and though she seldom blogs at her current URL, I suspect it won’t be long before she blogs again about her foodie adventures. Jacquie is a gem: outgoing, sweet, supportive, and a true lover of all things culinary. She’s also a fellow ED veteran, who shares her story triumphantly and with real courage. Even though we’ve rarely had a chance to hang out this year, I love her company, and so I was truly touched when she offered to come all the way out to outer Georgetown to help me unpack and bake vegan cookies for my party.

Fact: I’m not good at asking for help. I like being in control, feeling as though I don’t need anyone, and eschewing the slightest bit of vulnerability. So I rarely accept offers of culinary assistance. But on this day, under these strange circumstances of moving and adjustment, it felt right. And it was right: we had such fun in the Hobbit House kitchen!

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…until the vegan chocolate chip cookies refused to turn out right. We think it was too much chocolate (go figure!) and too much baking soda.

But even though our plans were a bust, Jacquie and I had a lovely time catching up, and her calm presence was a necessary counterpart to my discombobulation. Thanks, Jacquie!

Somehow, I managed to get all of the food ready in time for the party—that is, 80 wrap “pinwheels,” 30 brownies, 20 cupcakes (with homemade frosting) a party sized serving of potato salad, a giant bowl of pasta, 35 meatballs, 30 crostini, and 30 polenta rounds. Phew. By the time I finished, I was so, so excited to photograph all of the food for CR. And photograph I did, as my party guests—including Katie and Valerie , whom I was so very excited to see—looked on.

And then this morning, when I woke up, I realized to my horror that there hadn’t been a camera card in my camera when I took the pictures. A frantic dash to the camera confirmed my fears, and it took all of my self-control not to start crying when I realized that I’d missed a chance to show you all one of my best dinner party spreads.

Blogger. Fail.

This is such a weak point of mine—I can’t seem to document restaurant dining and entertaining with any regularity. But I’m going to get better, I swear.

Bereft, I spent the morning wondering if I could do anything to salvage my oversight. It wasn’t easy, since my guests ate nearly all the food (a good sign, I suppose), but I did manage to capture three of the evening’s highlights that remained in leftover form. First up? My summer roast veggie and pesto pasta:

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Choosing Raw Roast Summer Vegetable Pasta Salad (Vegan, GF)

Serves 6

For the pesto:

1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
2 1/2 cups packed fresh basil leaves, rinsed and dried
1/3 cup good extra virgin olive oil
1 large garlic clove
1 tbsp lemon zest
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

1) Grind walnuts in a food processor till finely ground. Add basil and pulse till it forms a coarse mixture.

2) Add the lemon zest, garlic, and juice, and pulse a few more times. Turn motor on and run as you add olive oil in a thin stream. I like my pesto very thick, but add more oil if you like a thinner mix.

3) Add salt and pepper to taste, and set aside.

For the pasta:

1 bag brown rice, quinoa, or whole grain pasta
2 bell peppers, chopped
1/2 red onion, sliced
1 small crown broccoli, chopped
2 portobello mushroom caps, sliced
1 block marinated tofu (optional)
10 sundried tomatoes, chopped
Olive or coconut oil spray
Salt and pepper to taste

1) Set oven to 375. Place veggies on a baking sheet and spray with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast till tender and browning.

2) While veggies roast, add pasta to boiling, salted water and cook till tender. Drain.

3) Add roast veggies to the pasta along with the sundried tomatoes tofu, if using, and add pesto by two tablespoons at a time, mixing constantly, till pasta is dressed the way you like it. I like a fairly pesto-y pasta, but feel free to go lightly with the pesto if you prefer to.

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This is a wonderful and easy summer supper, and it’s definitely tasty enough to serve to a crowd. Total keeper!

I also managed to save quite a bit of my giant urn of potato salad. This, friends, is my favorite potato salad—suitable for both vegans and non vegan devotees of the dish. Honestly, it can’t be beat; I always make a double batch!

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Gena’s Tangy Potato Salad with Fresh Basil Chiffonade (Vegan, GF)

Serves 6-8

4 lbs baby yukon gold potatoes, quartered
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
1 cup Veganaise (or Nayonaise, or any vegan mayo)
1/4 cup sweet pickle relish
2 tbsp dijon mustard
2 tsps smoked paprika
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
Salt and black pepper to taste
10 large leaves basil, sliced in a chiffonade

1) Set a large pot of water over high heat, and add potatoes once it’s reached a rolling boil. Cook till fork tender.

2) Drain potatoes, and toss with celery and onion. While they cool, mix the Veganaise, relish, mustard, paprika, vinegar, salt and pepper. Add it to the potatoes and mash with hands or with two large wooden spoons. Add only enough of the mayo dressing to coat potatoes generously; you may well have extra.

3) Serve potato salad with basil chiffonade on top. Watch your party guests go crazy for it!

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And, lucky for me, one recipe that survived into leftover mode (though just barely—it was popular!) was a wonderful white bean and pumpkin seed spread from Valerie , who was kind enough to share the recipe with me today. I absolutely loved this, and my guests did, too. I can’t wait to make it myself!

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Rustic White Bean Dip (Gluten-Free, Vegan, Soy-Free)

Makes 3 1/2 cups

2/3 cup raw almonds (whole, slivered or sliced are all fine – the key is that they be unseasoned and, if possible, unroasted)
1/3 cup shelled raw pumpkin seeds (look for the green pepitas)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tsp sage leaves
1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped coarsely
4 cups cooked white beans, or 2 15oz cans, rinsed and drained (see note on seasoning, below)
2-4 Tbsps freshly squeezed lemon juice
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1-2 tsps sea salt (see note on seasoning, below)
Freshly ground black pepper

1) Toast almonds and pumpkin seeds in dry hot pan, stirring to prevent burning, until fragrant (about 2 minutes).  Set aside to cool on a plate. Wipe pan down.

2) In same pan, heat extra virgin olive oil on medium-low heat, add garlic cloves, sage and rosemary.  Cook 1-2 minutes, until herbs are sizzling.  Flip garlic a couple of times so it begins to turn golden to all sides.  Remove from heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes.

3) While oil is cooling, grind the almonds and pumpkin seeds in a food processor until you have a fine meal, almost like a powder.  Remove garlic from olive oil mixture and process in food processor until incorporated.

4) Add olive oil mixture, including rosemary and sage, to food processor, with white beans, 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice and zest and 1 teaspoon of the sea salt.  Process until the mixture is thick yet spreadable, adding a couple of tablespoons of water if necessary.

5) Taste for seasoning and add black pepper to taste, and more lemon juice and salt. I ended up using 4 tablespoons of lemon juice and 2 teaspoons of salt total, but see the note on seasoning below, especially if you are using canned beans.  Serve with crackers, raw veggies or as a spread in a sandwich, or as a side to a salad, or as part of a lunchbox.

Note on seasoning: I used white beans I cooked in the rice cooker, with no salt or kombu (I plain forgot to use kombu, though I usually use it).  If you use canned beans I suspect you will need less salt.

If serving this dish to a crowd, garnish with pumpkin seeds. Today, for lunch, I stuffed it into romaine leaves and topped with my “quick oven dried tomato relish”—a recipe I’ll share sometime soon, when I’m over the pain of losing my photos!

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Amazing. Thanks, Val!

Even when we do our best to plan ahead, life gets in the way. When it does, it’s good to have friends who lend a helping hand (with food, kitchen assistance, love, and support), along with a sunny attitude and a remembrance that good, like friendship, is lasting. There will be other dinner parties to share with the CR audience. For now, I hope I showed you the best of my leftovers—I’ll be savoring them for days!

What was your biggest unexpected food, or blogging, fail? How did you turn it into a success?


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