Monday, June 30, 2008

Party Food (and Planning)

After dreaming of making this for many years, I finally bought a copy of the Angelica Home Kitchen cookbook so I could make the famous Lentil-Walnut Pate I've enjoyed every time I've eaten at Angelica.

I only made two alterations to the recipe, but it tasted just as delicious as I've remembered. I omitted the mirin and used umeboshi vinegar instead of paste since the paste was SO expensive that I just couldn't justify buying a package for just one tablespoon. The vinegar, on the other hand, I could use in salad dressings and other dishes.

This pate could easily be dubbed a vegan chicken liver pate -- since just about all the non-vegetarian folks at my party on Saturday asked in disbelief if that's what it was. The cooking time of the recipe says "30 minutes," but it took a lot longer for my 3 cups of onions to carmelize just right. I recommend using vidalia onions so that you get the extra sweetness out of them.

The walnuts make the pate pretty solid at colder temperatures, so, if you make this, be sure to take it out of the refrigerator about 15 minutes prior to serving. In fact, you could serve it warm, and it would be very tasty.

In the photo above, I served the pate with Trader Joe's mini rice and sesame crackers. Since Angelica serves theirs with rice crackers, why tinker with what works?

Because I think you should definitely purchase this book (or at least go out when you're in NYC and try the Lentil-Walnut Pate at Angelica Kitchen), I won't publish the recipe here.

Instead, I'll move on and share with you a bit about what I served (sorry I neglected to take any other photos) and the planning that went into Saturday's gathering.

Like most of the things that inspire me, I was awoken by the idea for this little party about 3 weeks prior to the date. I sat up in bed, in the wee hours, with my good pad and pen at the ready while the ideas came.

On the first page, at the top, I left two blanks for the date and the time. Then I made a short list of what should be included in the invitations (suggested dishes to bring and a request for folding chairs, but only from a select few. We didn't end up needing them after all). Next, I made a few notes of what I'd need for the house set-up (a list of items to pick up from the storage facility, how I wanted the chairs and tables arranged, how I wanted the flow of food to go).

The biggest portion of the first page was the "Food" section. At the top, I listed the "fixins" (ketchup, mustard, salt, etc.), utensils, plates, and other needed items. The most useful item that I remembered to include was the electric cooler. It was truly handy in keeping the soft drinks and water cold without using ice.

I divided the Food section into 4 subsections: Apps, First Course, Second Course, and Desserts.


1. Walnut-Lentil Pate and rice crackers (a big hit)
2. Chips and salsa (which nearly no one ate)
3. Guacamole (none left after the party)
4. Hummus and whole wheat pita chips (not as much of a favorite as I'd expected)
5. Grilled polenta with sautéed mushrooms/spinach/sundried tomatoes and topped with a small dollop of ricotta cheese (a HUGE hit)
6. Homemade coleslaw (also a HUGE hit -- my grandmother would have been very proud of me. She used to make her own and store it in old Sanka jars.)
7. Organic greens in a light balsamic vinaigrette (competed with a lovely salad my friend Jeanette made with goat cheese. Regrettably, I didn't get to try any of hers.)

First course:

1. Grilled veggie kabobs (with eggplant, baby onions, potatoes, mushrooms, and peppers marinated in olive oil and Trader Joe's 21 Seasoning Salute)
2. Grilled seasoned shrimp (These were very tasty and very popular -- I'd made my own Essence of Emeril for the dry rub and gently oiled them with grapeseed oil)
3. Grilled corn (I think we got a bad batch from Costco, so I'm going back to complain and get my money back)

Second course (most folks were so full, they didn't opt for this):

1. Turkey burgers and hot dogs
2. Beef hot dogs
3. Soy burgers, dogs and sausage

These items were grilled by my friend Chelsea's boyfriend Ray who is already a professional cook. He was very respectful of the veg/non-veg grilling areas.

1. Mango sorbet and coconut ice cream (I'd made these days earlier since they froze well and didn't take much time to make)
2. Miniature blueberry peach pies with tiny butterfly top crusts (they were a big hit)I had so much filling left over that I made another batch of pie crust for a separate pie I decorated with large and small butterfly cutouts. I'll be taking that to Mom's for dessert tonight.

On the second page of my party-planning guide, I wrote a list of invitees with columns for names, Yes or No RSVPs, and items they would be bringing. About RSVPs, I'm sure it's not just me, but more than half the folks didn't RSVP, which makes it difficult to plan. However, I wound up inviting a few other people along the way, so in the end, about half the number of people I originally planned to invite actually came (which is exactly what I estimated would happen in the first place).

On the third page, I divided the paper into two columns: Food Planning and House Planning. Then, I divided the columns into three sections: 2 days ahead, 1 day ahead, and the morning of. (In reality, there were several things that I did a few days earlier, but I just wanted to get it all down on paper so I wouldn't forget to prepare anything. I also added things to sections along the way as I remembered or John did. Finally, I had a section at the top for things that had to be done a week ahead, such as getting service ware from storage and confirming the guests.

That step of food and house planning was probably the most important. It kept me from being a crazy woman and gave me space to accomplish things in a practical, sensible way. It also allowed me to plan for a few things that I could give to John to do without overwhelming him with stuff. This page also allowed me to plan to give willing guests things to do (like Jeanette and Dave, who skewered the shrimp for me, then Jeanette grilled them).

On the final page, I made a shopping list. I also made a "things to get from storage" list on the back of the third page. Both were very helpful because I also designated where I would get which items. For example, I knew there were things I would buy from the Co-op. There also was a section of items that would be less expensive to buy at Trader Joe's. Finally, there were the Costco items like bottled water, shrimp, and corn.

It was important to space out some of the shopping trips so that I would be nearby the stores and not have to make an extra trip (gas is just too expensive to do otherwise!). So, there were items I picked up in advance and froze because it was convenient.

All said and done, the party was fun, the food was tasty (if I do say so myself), and folks enjoyed themselves. Best of all, I now have a customized party guide!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Thick Versus Thin

I'm actually talking about pizza crust.

Yesterday, John and I joined his uncle and aunt for lunch (and a lovely visit) of pizza in Pennsylvania. If you're from the Easton area, you've probably heard of Steve's pizza, especially the legendary Sicilian variety.

I wish I'd taken my camera out of my bag (usually I have it pretty handy) and gotten a nice shot of the unique pie. It was half the size of a "normal" Sicilian pie, and had the cheese under the sauce, but just a smattering of parmiggiano on top. I've had Steve's Sicilian before, and it's alright, but not my favorite. John, on the other hand, probably could have eaten the entire half of the pie.

His aunt ordered a thin-crust, small pie as well (for which I was grateful). John had mentioned that I enjoy eggplant on my pizza, so half the pie was scattered with eggplant. It was a cheesey pizza, with a tasty fresh tomato sauce and crispy crust.

It's not so much that I dislike Sicilian pie, I just didn't want so much bread, which is pretty much what it is.

Overall, you can count on Steve's for a good pizza that is loved and recommended by the locals.

Back here in Somerset, NJ, my favorite local pizza is the very crispy whole wheat crust found at Village Pizza on Easton Avenue. There are quite a few pizza joints (and increasingly more the closer you travel to Rutgers), but by far, I think Village Pizza is the tasty leader for thin crust. We have yet to find a replacement for our favorite Sicilian, Vinnie's, that closed a while back. They were so kind to me. When I was vegan, I would order an eggplant Sicilian with no cheese. They LOADED the thing with at least two pounds of fried eggplant. It was wonderful.

We miss Vinnie's.

What's your favorite local pizza?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Field Trip: Rudolph W. van der Goot Garden

You may remember (if you've been a very loyal reader) that I shared photos of the Rudolph W. van der Goot Garden a few years ago (scroll down about 2/3 of the page for the photos -- I've drastically changed my blogging style since then).

The garden is a lovely place in June. It's fragrance is the mixture of at least 50 different fragrant varieties of rose, plus the touchable herb garden at the far end.

This year, because the weather has been so rainy, then so incredibly hot, everything there has been growing like mad, even this gorgeous mountain laurel.

Without a doubt, my favorite roses are the ones that open as one color and gradually change to another as time passes. Here's a great example.

This rose looks like it was hand-painted or tie-dyed to make its vibrant stripes.

My friend Nancy, who accompanied me, remarked that she would love roses that took care of themselves. Apart from the seasonal pruning, shrub roses would fit her bill nicely. Perhaps these pink ones?

If you're in New Jersey, I encourage you to visit the rose gardens around the state. Now is definitely the time.

Better yet, buy a plant and start a rose garden of your very own!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Grilled Pizzas at Home, Trial 1

I'm not a big fan of hot weather, but I really do enjoy grilling on our new Weber Q.

Not long ago, I received a copy of Grilled Pizzas & Piadinas by Craig W. Priebe with Dianne Jacob. It inspired me to make the pizza shown above, topped with sauteed onions, spinach, garlic, sun-dried tomatoes and vegetarian cheese.

I used Priebe's Basic Grilled Pizza Dough recipe, and was very impressed with its grillability. It came out exactly as he explained it would in his detailed photos and directions. I was very happy that he gave step-by-step instructions because I've made pizzas in such a variety of ways, except grilled, and his was different.

As you can see from the upskirt, I got some great grill marks from the Weber. The pizza crust was thin (although I used the thicker crust variation from the cookbook) and crispy. It was a bit overpowered by the burnt grill taste, but otherwise, I enjoyed it.

I also made a simpler version with my tomato sauce and shredded real milk cheeses. It did not compare to the one with the sauteed veggies. Although I didn't try a recipe for one of the gorgeous combinations he supplies in the book (lovely photos), I'm glad I gave his basic dough a shot. It gave me the courage to try something different (and tasty) on my grill.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Savory, Filling, Vegan Casserole

One of my favorite cookbooks is Vegan With a Vengeance because the recipes are so simple to make and truly delicious. The incredibly tasty and healthy mush shown above is the Chickpea Broccoli Casserole from page 96.

Packed with yummy organic broccoli, carrots, and chickpeas, this casserole was just the ticket for an afternoon of easy one-pot cooking. I also enjoyed using the chives from my AeroGarden in something other than potatoes for a change.

In my version, I didn't completely mash up all the chickpeas because I like having a variety of textures. Although this could be seen as a plain or bland recipe, what I continue to learn in cooking is that a recipe is only as good as your ingredients. I used seasoned breadcrumbs, so there was a bit of an Italian flavor to the casserole. Also, I added minced garlic as well as ginger, which gave it such a nice zing!

And, as Isa says in the recipe, it tastes good cold as well.

So, if you're looking to add some fiber, protein, beta carotene and other vitamins to your diet in a pretty low-fat and yummy way, get a copy of Vegan With a Vengeance and turn to page 96 for the Chickpea Broccoli Casserole.