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Party Animals No. 45: Lemony Potato (or Bean) Salad

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First, let's attack the obvious: this post is about potato salad, but eagle-eyes out there may have noticed that isn't potato salad up there, but rather chickpea salad. Despite not being made with potatoes, it's good stuff.

This potato salad came along to a backyard hangout a couple weeks back, and there was no plan to mention it on MSV. Not that the recipe isn't nice, but it's pretty straightforward: potatoes, celery, capers, lemon zest, and whatever herb you have lying around (the original recipe calls for basil, but it was parsley for the potato version for the party, dill with the chickpeas shown here). It's a long-time favorite in the MSV house and goes with pretty much anything, which makes it a great side to bring when you're planning on playing a quiet supporting role at a pal's gathering. But on the way out the door, the compliments started piling up. The host asked what was in the dressing. The answer is olive oil and lemon juice, plus a little dijon and sugar. That's it.

It's a good lesson for vegan cooking and entertaining. It's easy (and sometimes fun!) to sweat substitutes, but never forget that a little extra olive oil and lemon go a long way.

Naturally, the next step was to put together a protein-packed version. Relying on the convenience of canned beans, there's not a bit of heat to apply, and this recipe couldn't be easier. Or handier to keep in the fridge. Munch on it as-is, or tuck it into wraps or pitas with summer veg and sprouts. Leave the chickpeas whole or mash them up to make them easier to turn into sandwich filling. Try it with different beans, lentils, or tempeh.

So get the recipe. For the party, the recipe was doubled, using about four pounds of potatoes. For the chickpea version, make the recipe as directed using two cans of beans rinsed and well drained. You may not need all the dressing for a bean version, since beans aren't as starchy and absorbent as potatoes (but you may want to use it all, especially if you're making it as a sandwich filling—follow your bliss), but you won't be sad to have a little extra dressing in the fridge for whatever. You'll also need less salt for beans. Otherwise, you don't need any help getting this dead-simple side onto your plate.

Back next week with a new recipe.



Party Animals No. 44: Cantaloupe, Ginger, & Chamomile Sparkling Agua Fresca

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Hello, dreamboat.

This unbelievably gorgeous cantaloupe concoction can treat you and yours on a quiet Tuesday evening, or it can be served to guests, be they longtime friends or strangers whose socks you'd like to knock off.

In case you've ever thought sweet, juicy cantaloupe wasn't quite floral enough, you can press the gas here by adding chamomile. But don't worry, you'll never feel like you're drinking a meadow. The dilution of the fruit with club soda, combined with the addition of gently spicy ginger, breezily balances everything out. You'll steep ginger in the chamomile syrup and also blend a smaller quantity of fresh root into the melon puree for a nice, well-rounded effect.

Yeah, there is syrup in here. That might mean this isn't technically an agua fresca, since it breaks the basic formula of fruit + turbinado + water + blender + cold, but it really drinks like one, light and refreshing enough to feel like you (wish you) could knock it back all day long. And while making the chamomile-ginger syrup adds one little step to the process, never doubt that it is absolutely worth it.

And if all that isn't enough, there's also the texture. Leaving the cantaloupe pulp in the drink gives it a really lovely body.

Cantaloupe, Ginger,  & Chamomile Sparkling Agua Fresca

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yields 1 generous quart

For the chamomile-ginger syrup:

1/4 cup turbinado

1/4 cup water

1 TBSP dried chamomile flowers

2 oz ginger root, sliced

For the fruit puree:

22 oz fresh, ripe cantaloupe, about half of one small-ish melon

1/4 cup lime juice

small piece peeled ginger root, 1 inch long and 1/4 inch wide (see Note)

To serve:

20 oz thoroughly chilled club soda

Begin by making the syrup. Combine turbinado and water in a small pot. Heat over medium heat, and stir until dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in chamomile and sliced ginger. Cover pot with a clean kitchen towel and let syrup steep one hour.

Meanwhile, cut the rind away from the cantaloupe flesh and discard. Cut melon into one-inch cubes and add to a large mason jar—you should get two cups. To the jar add lime juice and peeled ginger. Blend thoroughly with an immersion blender (see Note). You should now have a total of 1 1/2 cups puree (if you don't, you may need to add more or less club soda before serving). Chill.

When the syrup is ready, strain and discard solids.

Add cantaloupe puree to serving pitcher along with syrup. Stir well. Add club soda, stir again, and pour over ice. As the agua sits, the pulp will settle. Stir again before pouring if not serving all at once.

Note: immersion blenders with notches for liquid flow will tend to trap any ginger hairs, allowing you to puree the ginger piece without prep (other than peeling). If your immersion blender doesn't have notches that trap these hairs, or if you use a different blending apparatus, you may prefer to finely grate the ginger with a microplane zester before adding it to the cantaloupe and pureeing to avoid hairs in the finished product.



The Brew Mot (Pilsner, Grapefruit, Gin, and Elderflower Cocktail)

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Summer cocktails around here are supremely inviting. Something you feel like you could drink all day. That's mostly accomplished through a very light touch on the hard stuff and an emphasis on citrus. Today's cocktiail is no different.

MSV presents the Brew Mot. Essentially, it's something like a vieux mot re-imagined as a shandy. The result is heavenly. It's gently fizzy, bright and floral, and includes a little hit of Knox Whiskey Works' really nice gin. It begs to be sipped poolside. Or anywhere else it's hot.

Brew Mot

Print the recipe

4 oz fresh grapefruit juice

1 oz gin, such as Knox Whiskey Works

3/4 oz St. Germain

1/2 oz simple syrup

4 oz chilled German- or Czech-style Pilsner

Fill a pint glass (or a large Collins glass) a little less than half-full with ice.

Fill a cocktail shaker half-full with ice. Add grapefruit juice, gin, liqueur, and simple syrup. Shake to chill and strain into glass. Top with cold beer and gently stir.



Party Animals No. 43: Lemon and Herbes de Provence Almond Pate

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Listen up. Today's almond pate variety should be every vegan's first lesson in savory vegan entertaining. Or savory omnivore entertaining, for that matter. Unless you have an almond allergy (sorry, folks with almond allergies), there's little excuse not to have this creamy, rich, flavorful spread in your pie hole at every party you ever attend from now on. It's seriously gorgeous. And, thanks to store-bought almond meal, blissfully easy to make.

This version doesn't contain as much acid as MSV's garlic-white wine almond pate, but gets brightness from lemon zest, and is a little extra creamy from the addition of soy milk.

Toss in some complexity from woody and floral herbes de Provence, and you're all ready to triple the recipe and use a nine-inch springform pan to mold it so you can haul it to your next warm-weather party to feed a crowd(*). Everyone (without almond allergies) will adore it.

Or just make a single batch for days of indulgent snacks just for you and yours. That works, too.

(*The freezer shortcut offered in the instructions is not recommended for so large a wheel. Instead, refrigerate in the cheesecloth-lined springform pan four hours. Pull back the cheesecloth covering the top, invert onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, remove pan sides, then pan bottom, then peel off cheesecloth. Bake about 55 minutes.)

You can munch this at any temperature, but it's best slightly chilled (so leave it in the refrigerator until you're ready to walk out the door if you're taking it to an event). A little time out of the fridge lets the flavors wake up a bit while the last remaining chill keeps the natural sweetness of the blanched almonds from dominating.

But that's a minor detail. The important thing is that you make it. So good.

Lemon and Herbes de Provence Almond Pate

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serves 4-8, adapted from here (post includes credit links)

150g blanched almond meal

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/2 cup unsweetened soy milk

3 TBSP olive oil

1 small clove garlic

1/2 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

1 TBSP herbes de Provence

1 tsp lemon zest (from about half a large lemon)

Blend all ingredients except herbs and lemon zest with an immersion blender until smooth. Stir in herbs and lemon zest.

For a softer spread, heat oven to 350. Divide evenly between two 10-oz ramekins. Bake 40 minutes, until puffed and golden brown on top. The spread can be used immediately as a tart base before baking, or let cool before serving on a tartine or crackers.

Alternately, to mold, line two 10-oz ramekins with a double layer of cheesecloth. Divide the mixture evenly between the ramekins, fold cheesecloth over, and chill for at least 3 hours, or up to overnight. (In a pinch, chill in the freezer for 30 minutes.)

Heat oven to 350. Use the cheesecloth to lift the pate from the ramekins, carefully transfer to an oiled (or parchment-lined) baking sheet (without cheesecloth), and bake 40 minutes, until golden.

Let cool thoroughly before transferring to the refrigerator. Best served slightly chilled.



Party Animals No. 42: Big Ears Brunch 2016

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Welcome to the recap for the third annual brunch squeezed in around the most unbelievable music festival that rolls up to the MSV front door each year.

The only thing luckier than living in the middle of the action on these weekends is having a friend who brings the main dish to brunch so you don't have to sweat it:

My pal Casey brought these tempeh hand pies: squares of puff pastry stuffed with flaked tempeh spiced up sausage-style. Awfully tasty, and a totally fun brunch main.

But before those (and after coffee), festive drinks:

To the left, peach lambic and rye sangria. Sounds good, right? Alas, this is too sweet for MSV. Even with a particularly spicy rye added, there's just no escaping the cloying nature of Lindemans peach. Live and learn. And stick with raspberry or black currant.

To the right, a frosty pitcher of booze-free pomegranate-black tea punch. Rather nice.

There were also vieux mot makings available, substituting grapefruit for lemon juice since there was a good bit of grapefruit juice left from segmenting these lovelies:

Also on the table, but not pictured (oops) were almond-crusted thin green beans. Nut-crusted vegetables are the best—especially when you can eat 'em with your paws—and they make for a substantial menu item without piling on more starchy carbs. Because there were plenty of those otherwise:

It's time to thank Mollie Katzen for instructing us to toss potatoes in far more Dijon mustard than you'd think was advisable before roasting them up. It works. So well. (Those are only half the potatoes—there's no pan here that fits four pounds in anything close to a single layer.)

And oh yeah, dill. Seriously dreamy.

Finally, the baked goods tray:

That's a jar of strawberry chia jam and a bowl of blueberry cream cheese (frozen wild blueberries simmered in a bit of brandy and lemon juice, then stirred into Tofutti cream cheese—Kite Hill brand was too salty). And so we'd have something to smear all that good stuff on, two types of muffins. To the right are Isa's lemon-poppy muffins (those are roughly regular homemade size, and the others are jumbo because the MSV kitchen can only bake 18 muffins at once). To the left, gluten-free vegan cinnamon-sugar muffins:

Embarrassingly enough, without the finishing sugar. There's supposed to be a sprinkle of turbinado up top to really drive that recipe title home, but it was forgotten, and that's what we get for being human. Still tasty, though (and a successful first go at gluten-free baking for our very first gluten-free guest).

Gluten-Free Cinnamon-Sugar Muffins

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yields 12 muffins

170 g white rice flour

35 g brown rice flour

35 g blanched almond meal

1 TBSP ground cinnamon

1 TBSP baking powder

1 TBSP psyllium husk powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

3/4 cup unsweetened soy milk

1/2 cup canola oil

1/2 cup natural cane sugar (evaporated cane juice)

1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 TBSP turbinado, for topping

Heat oven to 375. Oil a muffin tin.

Sift together dry ingredients. Whisk together wet ingredients. Add wet to dry and stir just until combined. Add batter to muffin tin. Sprinkle turbinado on top.

Bake 23-25 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Let cool 10 minutes in the pan on a wire rack before loosening sides gently with a thin spatula. Transfer muffins from pan to the wire rack and let cool completely.


Back next week with a new recipe. Until then, happy brunching.



Party Animals No. 40: Coffee Liqueur Chocolate Cake & Coffee Vegan Nog

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Now that Knox Whiskey Works is up and distilling right in the heart of cool-weather party season, who could resist grabbing a bottle of KWW coffee liqueur and pouring it in everything?

Setting aside for a moment all of the simpler, entirely tempting ways you might start drizzling this into your merry-making pie-hole, first we bake. (In a moment, we drink.)

Meet the new fruit cake. Prunes, a little brandy, and a good dose of apricot preserves up top contrast a pleasantly bitter chocolate cake. The coffee liqueur is loaded in in the cake and makes the powdered cocoa taste deep and rich without the hassle of melting chocolate bars. Talk about dreamy.

Coffee Liqueur Chocolate Cake with Brandied Prune-Apricot Glaze

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serves 8-10, adapted from Bakecetera

For the cake:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (measure by spooning in and leveling off, not scooping)

1/4 cup cocoa powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1/3 cup natural cane sugar (evaporated cane juice)

3/4 cup coffee liqueur

1/2 cup apple sauce

1/2 cup canola oil

1/2 TBSP apple cider vinegar

For the Brandied Prune-Apricot Glaze:

1/2 cup prunes, quartered

1/4 cup water

2 TBSP brandy

1/2 cup apricot preserves (reduced-sugar, if available)

Heat oven to 350.

Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a mixing bowl. Separately, whisk together sugar, liqueur, apple sauce, oil, and vinegar. Add wet ingredients to dry. Whisk until just combined, then give another half-dozen stirs with the whisk to smooth it out a bit.

Spread batter into a 9-inch nonstick springform pan (or a greased and cocoa-dusted cake pan). Bake 30-32 minutes, until a tester placed into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cool 15 minutes in the pan on a wire rack. Remove the pan's sides and run a thin spatula between the bottom of the cake and the bottom piece of the pan. Remove cake and let cool completely on a wire rack.

When the cake is cool, prepare the glaze. Combine prunes, water, and brandy in a small pot over high heat. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer five minutes, stirring occasionally, until the prunes are very soft and most of the liquid has cooked off, leaving behind a thin syrup. Remove from heat and stir in apricot preserves. Continue to stir for a minute to let the heat loosen the preserves. Spread glaze over cake. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Next, a stab at vegan nog, made by someone totally ignorant about traditional 'nog (i.e. this lady). But parties call, and when some pals invited us over for a 'nog-themed gathering—and what with this new bottle of coffee liqueur still lounging alluringly on the kitchen counter—it felt sad to show up empty-handed. This concoction is thick, fluffy, boozy, nutty, and entirely inauthentic. Plus, totally tasty.

Coffee-Coconut Nog

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yields about a quart

generous 6 oz silken tofu (half an aseptic pack)

1/4 cup natural cane sugar (evaporated cane juice)

12 oz full-fat canned coconut milk

4 oz unsweetened soy milk

4 oz brandy

3 oz coffee liqueur

3/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

In a large pitcher, blend all ingredients with an immersion blender until smooth. Chill at least eight hours before serving (preferably 12-24), sprinkled with additional freshly grated nutmeg.


Merry Happy to anyone celebrating this week. Just one last recipe to go for 2015.



Cinnamon Shortbread

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Today, a classic, elegant little cookie: a crisp, light treat that shatters pleasingly under the tooth and is filled with warming cinnamon. They're great served with ice cream, dipped in chocolate, or nibbled all alone. Keep them for yourself or load them in jars as gifts.

Cinnamon Shortbread

Print the recipe

yields about 40 small cookies

1/2 cup nondairy butter

1/4 cup powdered sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp salt

1 cup all-purpose flour (measure by spooning in and leveling off, not scooping)

Cream the butter, sugar, cinnamon, and salt until smooth, pausing to scrape the sides of the bowl as needed if using a stand mixer. Add flour. Mix until fully combined and the dough begins to come together. Form into a rough log with your hands and transfer to a piece of parchment. Shape into a 10x2-inch rectangle. Roll up in the parchment and chill one hour.

Heat oven to 325. Line a baking sheet with parchment.

Use a sharp knife to cut the chilled dough into 1/4-inch slices. Working quickly, lay cookies on the lined baking sheet. Bake on the center rack until firm and browned, 17-19 minutes. Let cool one minute, then carefully transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.



Phyllo Cigars with Cream Cheese, Scallions, and Savory Nut Crumble

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The party season needs party food. Time to get a little bit fussy and put together some seriously satisfying finger food featuring irresistibly thin and flaky phyllo, dreamy nondairy cream cheese, gently sharp spring onions, and a sprinkling of MSV's own savory nut crumble for a boost in richness and depth of flavor.

For convenience and to reduce the cost a bit, these are rolled with the scallion tops in the center to add a little something green and roasted-tasting. If you're in the mood to splurge and want a little more bite, try substituting tender asparagus tips, thin broccolini stalks, or thin green beans instead.

Phyllo Cigars with Cream Cheese, Scallions, and Savory Nut Crumble

Print the recipe

yields 12 cigars

For the Savory Nut Crumble (half-batch):

2 TBSP raw almonds

2 TBSP raw walnuts

1 TBSP nutritional yeast

zest of 1/4 lemon

1/8 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

For the filling:

8 oz nondairy cream cheese, Kite Hill recommended

5 scallions

To assemble:

10 sheets frozen phyllo, thawed

3 TBSP extra virgin olive oil

Heat oven to 375.

Add all nut crumble ingredients to a small food processor and process to fine crumbs. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.

Wipe out processor. Trim the scallions and add the white parts only along with the cream cheese to the processor. Process until very creamy and scallion is pureed into the cheese. (This will also make your cream cheese easier to spread onto the phyllo. If you don't have a processor, be sure to beat the cream cheese well before assembly.)

Trim scallion tops into three-inch pieces (you'll need only twelve, though you may end up with more—save the tender green portions for another use).

Place all 10 phyllo sheets in a stack and cut them into 3x3-inch squares. You should get six squares per sheet—you won't need them all, but it helps to have extras with phyllo as insurance. Discard scraps and stack all squares into one stack—this will help keep them from drying out while you work.

To assemble, brush one square with oil and place another square on top. Brush the second square with oil and place a third square on top. Spread on a scant tablespoon of cream cheese, leaving a half-inch border. Focus and work quickly—the spreading of the cream cheese does not need to be neat or precisely even. Sprinkle a teaspoon of nut crumble on top. Slice a scallion top into thirds and lay across the bottom edge of the cream cheese. Roll up, place seam-down on a baking sheet, and brush the top and sides with a little oil. Repeat with remaining ingredients.

Bake 23-25 minutes, until golden. Let cool 10 minutes before serving.



Party Animals No. 39: Thanksgiving 2015

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MSV's real, live, all-vegan table for 2015:

  • Sangria
  • Tofu-Pecan Loaf
  • Biscuits
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Wild Mushroom-Chickpea Gravy
  • Cranberry Relish
  • Spiced Walnut-Fig Cornbread Dressing
  • Mixed Citrus Green Salad
  • Apple Cake

The tofu loaf is a slight variation on these tofu-pecan meatballs. The cranberries never get tweaked. You've seen those biscuits and dressing before (printable recipes here and here). The sangria is a bottle of Spanish grenache poured over a sliced orange, a couple handfuls of pineapple chunks, and a small chopped pear. Chill for several hours and drink it down in a fraction of that time.

The salad is 5 oz spring mix tossed in a dressing of equal parts black cherry concentrate, apricot jam, and olive oil with a dose of finely chopped mint. That all gets topped with two oranges, two grapefruit, and a handful of toasted pistachio (serves 4-6). The apple cake is from The Joy of Vegan Baking, and is always pretty. Even when you don't line up your apple slices just so.

The new kid on the table this year actually made its first appearance last year. (In fact, last year's table was such a winner, this year ended up mirroring it almost exactly.) But it's getting shared this year. It's pretty lovable: earthy, thick, and with two kinds of pepper, it's a great addition to any spud (or tofu-pecan loaf). You'll want to whip it up all winter long, holiday or no.

Wild Mushroom-Chickpea Gravy

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yield will vary based on desired consistency

1/2 oz dried wild mushrooms

2 whole black peppercorns

1/4 cup chickpea flour

2 TBSP olive oil

2 cups vegetable broth

1/2 tsp dried thyme

1/2 tsp dried sage

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/4 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

1/4 tsp ground white pepper

Use a coffee grinder to grind the mushrooms and black peppercorns into a fine powder. Heat a medium pot over medium heat. Add mushroom powder and chickpea flour. Toast, tossing very frequently, until fragrant, a couple of minutes.

Whisk together oil, broth, and all herbs and spices. Add half the liquid to the pot in a steady stream, whisking constantly. Whisk until smooth. Whisk in other half of liquid and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a steady simmer. Cook, whisking frequently, until thickened to the desired consistency. Adjust salt, if needed.


Hope anyone who gets a long weekend enjoys it. See you back here next week.



On the Town No. 2: Knoxville, November 2015

AKA that time that week spent playing tourist in-town—and mostly in-neighborhood—resulted in almost no cooking, lots of window shopping, a little gallery hopping, attending several musical performances (not pictured but tons of fun), and combing through one very cool pottery studio's fall open house (another hasty photo essay):

Back later this week with a recipe. For real, this time.



Party Animals No. 38: Halloween 2015

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Murderous cupcake toppers! They happened because Halloween was celebrated at the MSV house this year with a Clue-themed party. Since the party was dreamed up based on the styling in the movie (though all costuming interpretations were welcome), that meant for planning purposes the year was 1954, and everyone had gathered for a fairly fancy dinner. Working with that theme for a casual home party, the spread:

Working front to back:

  • Roots & Branches crackers (three varieties: plain, sesame, and black pepper)
  • white wine-garlic almond paté
  • mushroom-pecan paté
  • tart apple, cream cheese, and dijon sandwiches on store-bought seeded wheat bread
  • chocolate cupcakes a generous friend contributed
  • smoky eggplant-wrapped dates

Scroll down for drink details. The cupcakes and frosting are Isa's recipes. The original plan for the sandwiches was to use brie, but our Whole Foods was out of the Kite Hill soft ripened. A simple swap for Kite Hill cream cheese still made for a really tasty sandwich.

To make the dates, prepare eggplant strips per the instructions in this post. When cool enough to handle, wrap the eggplant around pitted dates, heat them seam-down for 10 minutes in a 400-degree oven, apply toothpicks, and transfer to a serving dish. (You'll get about 25 dates.)

The recipe for the white wine-garlic almond paté is in this post. Served here is the shortcut version where there's no fooling with molding—the paté was served directly from the ramekins. The mushroom paté was only slightly tweaked (only for convenience, and this one is too close to the original for posting the recipe here to be cool) from New Vegetarian, landed a couple months back at a local second-hand bookstore. It's dead lovely. Portobello mushrooms, toasted pecans, shallots, thyme, black pepper, and brandy all team up to make one seriously flavorful, if gray, paté.

Because there's no lily that doesn't get gilded around here, cocktails started with a couple of great syrups made from the ingredients above. That's as close as you'll get to photos of drinks today.

The two main drinks were a ginger-sage sparkling wine cocktail to start, plus rye and ginger ale. The three things offered in dialogue in Clue are champagne, whiskey, and brandy, so that's where planning started. Additionally, there was a big batch of sparkling lavender lemonade, which could be enjoyed alone or combined with gin.

In the back there are the two Mrs. Peacocks chatting with each other.

Back next week with a new recipe.



Party Animals No. 37: Chili Dinner for Mom's Birthday

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Peeking out to the left there is cornbread. To the right, a brownie recipe in progress.

It's definitely getting there.

And in the tureen, the only red chili recipe you'll ever need.

It's very good. The mushrooms sometimes don't make their way into chili around here, but otherwise, follow the recipe faithfully, and you will be rewarded.

On top there (and too far to the left of the frame to be seen in the picture up top), homemade vegan sour cream. To make your own, first make a batch of soy yogurt. Once you have that, combine two tablespoons of yogurt with one cup of soy milk and one-quarter cup of refined coconut oil. Leave, covered, on a warm counter for 24 hours. Whiz with the immersion blender after adding a pinch of salt, and that's it. Keeps for a week to 10 days in the refrigerator.

Zsu has a sour cream recipe on her site, but it calls for adding some other stuff. Which is fine, of course. It may be just the thing—let me know if you try it. But this version is so blissfully straightforward (from a dairy recipe here) that it's likely to become the go-to around here on the rare occasions we might really want some sour cream on the table. Like a chili dinner for four on a gray, rainy day. It's mild in flavor, but cool and creamy and does just what it's supposed to with no fuss.

See you next week with a new recipe.



Hash Brown Bake for MSV's Third Anniversary

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Let's begin with a confession: I created this recipe for Thanksgiving. I know that's a holiday nearly two months away, and this post is for MSV's third anniversary, but bear with me. I also know that Thanksgiving is about as insensitive and manufactured a holiday as you could dream up, but my family celebrates it. I think most holidays here get uncomfortable. Folks in the U.S. fire up the grill and crack open the brews on Memorial Day. We hit big sales at big box stores on Labor Day. National holidays are meant to recognize dramatic parts of our history, yet it's perfectly human to want to gather with friends and family when those of us lucky enough to get it find free time.

I don't think the dominant U.S. culture is particularly good at gathering with people to remember and recognize. We're trained to be optimists and told we're masters of our destinies. When someone tells us their troubles, we're prone to insist the silver lining is bigger than the cloud. Instead of recognizing, we "celebrate," with decidedly upbeat connotation. Jovially celebrating dramatic parts of our history gets inappropriate pretty fast.

To be honest, I do love Thanksgiving as a celebration of fall harvest and as a way to ease the long nights. It helps that it's a food-centric holiday, and my hobby is cooking, and I get to prepare the big meal for my small family. Most of the time, I cook for myself. In a way, I cook for you guys here on MSV. But people need people, and actually serving food to people means something to me.

I took over Thanksgiving hosting duties in my late twenties because one year neither my mother nor my boyfriend's mother, the traditional preparers, wanted to cook. I thought skipping it sounded like a bummer, so I offered to host. I've done it for years now, but I went vegan a few years in, and I'm firm about not cooking animal products in my home. The lack of tradition allows me to tweak the menu annually for variety, and also to figure out what plant dishes everyone likes best. That means by Halloween, I'm fretting about a centerpiece for late November.

My hosting dinner started out with really low stakes. I was just trying to make sure we didn't miss out on a day most of the people we knew were digging into full tables. But I'm testing early this year because this Thanksgiving feels like a bigger deal than it has been in the past.

My boyfriend's mother, Shirley, died in early September after many tough years of living with pulmonary disease. I knew her as a selfless woman who always made me feel welcome in her home (no small task when dealing with someone as lousy at conversation as I am). Even though we weren't legally family, I never doubted that she considered me part of hers. She accepted both me and my relationship with her son and genuinely appreciated them as they are, even if the shape of those might not have been easy for her to understand. She went to her grave without knowing what practicing veganism means, though I'd been doing it for nearly four years at the time of her death. And that my boyfriend and I aren't married after the better part of a decade together is probably a fact that seemed strange (possibly even wrong) to her, but one that she never asked me to answer for.

Shirley kind of hated Thanksgiving, at least in the time I knew her. Occasionally, I feel badly that I probably forced her to keep celebrating it. We might have let the whole thing drop, and I suspect that would've been all right with her. A decidedly fussy eater in general, she once announced over a holiday meal she had prepared that she hated holiday food. But her family loves it.

I didn't host Thanksgiving last year. Shirley struggled once a year with weak lungs to climb the two flights of stairs that lead to our apartment, and she'd understandably had enough of it. She instead searched out one of the buffets in town where we all went together, and I made a spread for my boyfriend and me the next day. Now, given that fall is here, one of the ways my boyfriend and his father have talked about looking ahead and spending time together in the wake of Shirley's death is planning to gather once again at our home for the Thanksgiving meal.

One of the dishes Shirley made for special occasions was a potato casserole, heady with saturated fat, topped with breakfast cereal flakes, and greeted eagerly by everyone in the family (except me, with the incomprehensible diet). I'm not going to try to make it. She liked that casserole. It was one of the few things she did eat off a holiday table(*). It would seem misguided, even ghoulish, to me to try to recreate her casserole. I'm setting this table for people I care about who are in pain. It's important to me to recognize that in whatever small way I can. But I can't quiet the urge to commemorate her when it comes time for me to host my family, and I tend to respond to life with food.

So instead I've worked out a potato dish of my own that I hope will serve a similar function to Shirley's casserole. This one keeps it simple and adds creamy fat through foods I'm comfortable working with, almond meal and soy milk. And as a replacement for the beloved thinly sliced herbed potatoes from Veganomicon I used to make for Thanksgiving, it's much quicker to throw together, a definite bonus when you're putting together a large spread. It also takes one convenient cue from Shirley's casserole by using pre-cut frozen potatoes. Though nontraditional, it's nevertheless a rich and comforting dish. It can't do a thing about the death of a family member. But it's what I need to cook right now.

This is MSV's third anniversary, and I'm grateful you guys are all here for it. In the weeks leading up to this, I persisted in testing a cake to post for today, but I finally had to admit it felt forced. A classic marker of festivity doesn't fit here right now. This fall for my family isn't really about celebration. It's more about recognizing and remembering. We have things to regret and things to be happy for. This year, fewer of us will do just that around a full table.


(*Another was biscuits, which I always made sure to include for her. Note I'm updating that recipe this year to substitute vegetable shortening for half the nondairy butter, which makes a dramatically more tender biscuit. I always used it as an omnivore, but eventually skipped buying it. I recently splurged on the shortening for a gift batch and was shocked at the difference. Sorry I fell down on those biscuits in the last few years, Shirley. You deserved better.)

Creamy Hash Brown Bake

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serves 6-8

1 cup unsweetened soy milk

1 cup blanched almond meal

1 clove garlic

1 TBSP nutritional yeast

1 TBSP lemon juice

3/4 tsp fine sea or kosher salt, divided

1 lb frozen hash browns (look for a brand that contains nothing but potatoes)

3 TBSP panko crumbs

Heat oven to 375.

In a quart jar with an immersion blender, blend milk, almond meal, garlic, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, and 1/2 tsp salt.

In a shallow medium baking dish, spread hash browns evenly. Slowly and evenly pour milk blend over potatoes.

In a small bowl, whisk together remaining 1/4 tsp salt and panko crumbs. Sprinkle evenly over potatoes.

Bake 40 minutes, until creamy throughout and browning at the edges. Switch to the broiler for a few minutes to brown the top. Serve hot.



Party Animals No. 36, Reader Request No. 1: Tomato Head's Strawberry Cream Pie (and MSV's Dead Simple Cream Cheese Pie)

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A couple weeks ago, local television station WBIR posted a recipe for Strawberry Cream Pie from Tomato Head owner Mahasti Vafaie, and an MSV reader requested a vegan version.

Happily, it isn't particularly complicated, but it's a touch fussier than the original, since you'll chill a can of coconut milk for a day in order to skim off the thick cream before assembling (a bit more on that below). In terms of actual assembly, it's every bit as simple as the original. If you aren't familiar with shopping for some of these foods, there's some detail here to prepare you.

Starting with the crust, Oreos, Newman-O's, Joe-Joe's—none of these chocolate-and-creme sandwich cookies contain dairy or eggs, so the crust is adjusted simply by using refined coconut oil.

Both Tofutti and Kite Hill brands of nondairy cream cheese worked in this recipe. (I can't recommend any other nondairy cream cheeses I've tried.) Kite Hill has a lighter texture and a more mild, fresher, and saltier flavor. It's also more expensive and only carried by Whole Foods. It's distinct and rather lovely—if there's one nondairy cream cheese to spread alone on a bagel, Kite Hill is it. Tofutti brand tastes less fresh, but a bit richer. The texture is aces, and it works great as a recipe component, like in this pie, where its stronger flavor holds up well to the coconut cream.

For the coconut cream, Trader Joe's brand canned coconut cream is the cheapest, easiest route. Once the can is chilled, you'll find nearly the whole can comes out cream, whereas with Thai Kitchen brand, you'll need two chilled cans of coconut milk in order to get enough coconut cream for the recipe. Note that Trader Joe's brand does taste more strongly of coconut. That flavor—quite assertive once the filling is mixed—will mellow a bit over the course of the pie setting. Thai Kitchen brand will provide a more subtle effect throughout.

An option for the (slightly) rushed or coconut-averse is this dead-simple no-bake vegan cream cheese pie. It's just the thing when you have a casual gathering to attend, and you can't be bothered to think much about, or work too hard at, your contribution.

With extra cream cheese and a little yogurt to fluff everything up, it's not as rich as the Tomato Head pie but has a lightness that's perfect for the warm months. It, too, uses a blissfully easy cookie crust. The pie above was taken to a party last June. A friend hosted a group viewing of a U.S. Men's National Team game during the 2014 men's World Cup, and she put together a classic suburban "all-American"-style cookout menu. Enter this red, white, and blue number to help her out with her theme.

In this version, a round springform pan is lined with parchment around the sides before adding the filling, then peeled off after setting, so there's no side crust. Naturally, make the version you prefer.

Tomato Head's (Vegan) Strawberry Cream Pie

Print the recipes

adapted from Mahasti Vafaie, via WBIR

20 Oreos

1 TBSP melted refined coconut oil

8 oz nondairy cream cheese (Tofutti or Kite Hill recommended)

1/2 cup confectioner's sugar, sifted

1 cup loosely packed coconut cream (from 1-2 cans full-fat coconut milk, chilled for 24 hours)

Topping ingredients and all recipe instructions can be found on the original recipe—use the stand mixer for the airiest texture.

MSV's Dead-Simple No-Bake Cream Cheese Pie

7 oz Mi-Del brand ginger snaps (or other cookie)

1/4 cup melted refined coconut oil

16 oz nondairy cream cheese (Tofutti recommended)

1 TBSP lemon juice

1/2 cup natural cane sugar (evaporated cane juice)

1/2 cup plain nondairy yogurt (Whole Soy Co. or So Delicious recommended)

2 pints mixed fresh berries, marinated in 1 TBSP orange liqueur or balsamic vinegar for 30 minutes, to serve

In a food processor, process the cookies to fine crumbs. Add oil and process until evenly coated. Transfer to a 9-inch round springform pan, sides lined with parchment. Press the crumbs firmly and evenly into the bottom of the pan.

Wipe out the processor well and add cream cheese, lemon juice, and sugar. Process until very smooth. Add yogurt and process until smooth, ensuring the sugar is fully dissolved. Add to prepared pan, smooth the top, and chill 8 hours. Remove side piece of pan, gently remove parchment, and serve, letting each diner top their slice with marinated berries, to taste.



Party Animals No. 35: Smoked Tofu Sandwiches & Blueberry Crisp Bars for Dinner with Pals

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When your friend with the smoker suggests a summer potluck, it's tofu time. My pal smoked the two pounds I brought: one to take home, and one to tuck into MSV's own banh mi-style sandwich to eat and share on site. Because smoked tofu isn't nearly as rich as the eggplant in that recipe, it was necessary to cut back on the acid in the condiments a touch. Only half the chile sauce went on, and a couple extra tablespoons of oil went into the herb spread. The crowd seemed to approve.

What the crowd loudly approved of was dessert. Flipping through the trusty old second-hand copy of The Wine Lover's Dessert Cookbook while planning yielded this casual and delightful blueberry number. And it was already vegan (if you choose a nondairy milk for the milk).

These bars are sweet without being sugary, the blueberries take center-stage, and, happily, they're dead-simple to make. But the real genius is combining fresh and dried berries in the filling. During cooking, the fresh berries get soft and glossy and get you that sticky little corner piece pictured above. Meanwhile, the dried berries stay intact, plumping up and tenderizing into adorable, perfectly round bits that retain a touch of chew. So smart. Make a note.

Back with a new recipe next week. Until then, happy cooking out.

About the Party Animals posts: these posts contain brief mentions of other people's vegan recipes—and/or house-created vegan recipes—for special occasions, be they big, small, casual, or dressed to impress.



Party Animals No. 34: Garlic-White Wine Almond Pate

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This week, another almond pate variation. This one packed with garlic, lemon, and white wine. Like its sweet counterpart in that post, this one's thoroughly addictive smeared on crackers or muffins, which is just how both were served at the 2015 Big Ears Brunch. (Which I had intended to blog about, but, for reasons not worth typing out, had to toss the idea of documenting with any care. Which is a shame because it featured some totally fabulous beet-lentil sliders made by a generous pal.)

So not only does the molded pate work as a star on a table of munchies, it can also do heavy lifting in a supporting role for a main dish. It works on sandwiches and begs to be crumbled into a salad. If you're in the mood to gild a lily, there should be no reason you can't knead crumbles into biscuit dough before baking.

For a simple way to really highlight this luscious spread, serve it on a bagel or as a tartine topped with herbs and veg for an any-day lunch worth lingering over.

Or expand that idea just slightly for something you can serve to guests by whipping up a tart crust and spreading the pate down before topping with herbs and any lovely thing you can grab—sauteed mushrooms, grilled asparagus or broccolini, or oven-dried tomatoes. Bake it off, pour some wine, and you're entertaining with ease.

Similarly, it makes great pizza.

It's fabulous to be able to mold the pate and serve it on a plate, but the good news is, if you don't need the firmer texture or an impressive presentation, you can skip chilling the pate before baking. That means no planning ahead. Blend, spoon into a ramekin, bake, and it's ready to go.

That works particularly well for this greens pie. Mixing the softer pate fresh from the oven into a mix of baby spinach and baby arugula allows the heat from the spread to wilt the greens just a bit before spreading the whole gorgeous shebang on pizza dough.

If green things on pizza don't work in your house, rest assured that topping a generous layer of pate (about a quarter-batch per 10-inch pie) with canned fire-roasted tomatoes and herbs makes a beautifully rich, salty, satisfying pie. And just imagine what substituting fresh tomatoes will do for the whole thing this summer.

Garlic-White Wine Almond Pate

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adapted from here (post includes credit links)

150g blanched almond meal

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/4 cup dry white wine

1/4 cup water

3 TBSP sunflower (or olive, or canola) oil

2 large (or 3 small-medium) cloves garlic

3/4 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

Heat oven to 350.

Blend all ingredients with an immersion blender until smooth.

For a softer spread, divide evenly between two 10-oz ramekins. Bake 40 minutes, until puffed and golden brown on top. The spread can be used immediately as a pizza or tart base before baking, or let cool before serving on a tartine or crackers.

Alternately, to mold, line two 10-oz ramekins with a double layer of cheesecloth. Divide the mixture evenly between the ramekins, fold cheesecloth over, and chill for at least 3 hours, or up to overnight. (In a pinch, chill in the freezer for 30 minutes.) Use the cheesecloth to lift the pate from the ramekins, carefully transfer to an oiled baking sheet (without cheesecloth), and bake for 40 minutes, until golden. Let cool thoroughly before serving.



Party Animals No. 33: Roasted Veg Dinner for Four

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Hopes of posting a new recipe this week were dashed when a bit of equipment failure in the MSV kitchen (which occurred right in the middle of preparing last week's feast, no less) meant mostly not touching anything in there for a few days until it got sorted out.

So, instead, a recap of a dinner for six that became a dinner for four when a couple of friends came over to chow down on a bunch of vegetables a couple week back. To start, sparkling wine with sage-ginger syrup. The instructions suggest adding an ounce or two of syrup, which makes for a decidedly, well, syrupy drink if you're going with a standard six-ounce pour. Even an ounce was a bit much, which could possibly be overcome with a simple squeeze of citrus, but why bother when half an ounce makes for a really lovely, subtle drink while still highlighting the wine? Remember this one for every fall and winter entertaining opportunity ever.

Then onto nibbles, both from Pure Vegan. The orange salad in the large bowl is more or less the most expensive fruit salad ever: oranges, dates, pistachios, and on. Nice, if you can afford it. Great textures, lovely seasonings. In the smaller bowl is a mix of olives and almonds warmed with garlic and thyme. Very good, naturally.

The roasted vegetables come also from Pure Vegan. Each is roasted separately with an herb: carrots with parsley, green beans with thyme, potatoes with rosemary, and pearl onions and garlic with sage, the last of which come out particularly stunning. The book suggests serving these as handheld items with a vegan aioli for dipping. For a more sit-down version here, black beans were roasted with cumin and smoked salt along with everything else, paired with rice, and everyone had a bowl to pile all the eats into, over which they could drizzle a vibrant dressing of lemon, parsley, and pine nuts.

And for something sweet to finish, poached pears and bourbon-masala chai ganache served with store-bought lemon sorbet.

Back next week with a new recipe, at last.



Party Animals No. 32: Not-Thanksgiving 2014

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Long story short, the MSV house didn't see the same Thanksgiving crowd it has for the last half-dozen years. But that didn't get in the way of breaking out the bubbly, lighting candles, tying on some festive ribbons, and cooking up a heap of food a day after most of the folks we know. And it went a little something like this:

(That's tofu-pecan meatloaf, wild mushroom-chickpea gravy, biscuits, smashed potatoes.)

(Cranberry relish, cornbread-spiced walnut-fig dressing, and a green salad with lots grapefruit and oranges and a black cherry dressing.)

Hope you've all had a generous week, whether you celebrate fall harvest or not. Below is an apple strudel waiting to be dusted with powdered sugar and served with vegan vanilla ice cream, so until next week, thanks for reading.



Phyllo Flodni (and Authenticity) for MSV's Second Anniversary

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MSV turns two! Thanks a heap for being here for it. Like last year, the format of today's celebratory post is different than normal, in that you'll get a story about the recipe. Plus, an identity. I'm Amanda. Right now, I do all the stuff around MSV, and today's recipe is several years in the making for me.

When my friend Julie fed her version of flodni to me nearly a decade ago, I was a minor mess of a person. Some of that is common to folks who are, as I was, in their early twenties—questionable laundry practices, being stuck in a serious relationship I didn’t know how to take seriously. Some of it was less common, like grappling with what I hadn’t yet recognized as chronic anxiety, including social anxiety, which contributed to my habits of working 60-hour weeks, indulging in very regular drinking binges, and being terrified of most food.

I first thought of Julie as a smartass, a really smart one, but in contrast to my inability to treat anything at all seriously back then, I discovered Julie had (and still has) an enviable intellectual curiosity and a deep capacity for sincerity in between cracking wise. She was older than I, had it together, and one year, invited me over to witness the annual tradition of her and her friend making a giant holiday pastry (you can read her writing about that here). I agreed, but, as ever, had to work late. By the time I showed up, exhausted, more than a little intimated, and probably wearing dirty jeans, Julie met me at the door, saying her friend was under the weather and had taken off as soon as the pan was in the oven.

I was embarrassed about having missed the whole thing, and my instinct was to run back to my unhappy home, but Julie was a peach about it. She asked me in, poured me a glass of wine, kept the conversation going (to this day, not my forte), and when the flodni had cooled sufficiently, cut me a slice. Still just warm, fruity, and earthy, it was a generous thing, and I was grateful. Despite a deep conviction that I didn’t deserve it, in clumsy circumstances, I felt welcomed--maybe even a little fussed over--by someone I thought a lot of, and at a time in my life when I probably hadn’t dared to eat a dessert for some time.

So flodni stuck with me. I asked Julie for the recipe two years after that first taste. She sent it to me, and I still didn’t get around to making it. It involves hand-grinding a pound of poppy seeds, after all. But a couple months ago, I realized it might be the perfect labor of love for MSV’s second anniversary. And still I didn’t get around to it. Not the way I meant to, anyway.

Really, it’s a small miracle this thing got made at all. I wasn’t sure MSV would get an anniversary post. A home project is eating up all my discretionary income, and I’ve been spending the last few months cooking large batches of inexpensive ingredients, and taking fewer chances with the fresh ingredients I do splurge on. It doesn’t make for the most interesting blogging and, for someone neither Hungarian nor Jewish, takes all the urgency out of veganizing Hungarian Jewish egg pastry.

But Julie unwittingly helped me to loosen up again. One of her funny notes from six years ago:

“For God's sake, do NOT buy the prepared stuff [poppy seed filling]. It only counts if you sweated and ground poppyseeds [sic].”

I swore she had a line about grunting being a necessary ingredient, but I wasn’t able to track that down in writing.

When I got in touch to let her know I might want to blog a version of her recipe, she offered encouragement and again provided some tips, including this note about the poppy paste:

“I use the canned shit every time now, grinding just enough of my own seeds to stave off the judgmental glare of my dead grandmother.”

[Update: So, hey, it’s 2018 now—Christmas Eve 2018, in fact—and Julie got in touch to update me on the poppy grinding process she uses now. But I want to let this story be told as it was at the time for me in 2014. Update appears at the end, just before the recipe. —A]

Priorities change all the time. I wanted to do justice to this beast, but I admitted to myself that the labor—a big part of Julie’s story about making this huge dessert every year—didn’t have to be part of mine. In fact, missing out on the labor was my story, and what was important to me about flodni was a memory of warmth in a chaotic, tiring, deeply insecure time. That memory can be celebrated—at long last—without spending tons of money and energy developing relatively niche vegan pastry. Because, hey, baking isn’t even my thing.

There’s another part of Julie’s story, a moral to the dessert: you take the bitter with the sweet. Each filling ingredient—the decidedly un-sweet walnuts, poppy seeds, and tart apple—is mixed with sugar and sprinkled with lemon before being layered between rich pastry. And when she originally sent me the recipe, she started her email with this line:

“OK, I have the wrinkled, discolored note paper before me, withdrawn from its secure place (stuck in the pages of a grease-stained Greek cookbook).”

No way using processed, pre-sweetened poppy paste diminishes any of that.

Make no mistake, history matters, and our stories matter. Knowing where a dish comes from can make us think about the circumstances it came from. It can make us feel like we’re participating in something bigger than our own small lives. But recording history is messy, and I think it’s also important to acknowledge that we’re likely viewing only part of the dish’s story. Choosing any one version to the exclusion of all other considerations shouldn’t be done unquestioningly, at the very least. I don’t believe authenticity should be pursued to the detriment of creatures weaker than I am, who rely on me to define their roles in the world, to decide how and when they live and die.

So here I present an entirely unfaithful reproduction of flodni. Changes abound, one from Julie, most from me. First, I’m cutting this recipe down to a quarter of what Julie makes. Second, Julie’s version strays from the common construction. I found most recipes include three thick layers of filling, whereas hers, which I’m using, breaks it up into six. And as the title of the recipe announces, I skipped making my own pastry altogether and enlisted convenient frozen phyllo.

Then there are the poppy seeds. There’s a specialty grinder for just this thing, but I didn’t want to insist on an appliance of that sort here. I ultimately took a cue from modern Indian cooking, grinding poppy seeds well in a coffee grinder and mixing the powder with apple juice to make a paste before finishing them off in the food processor. Julie’s grandmother gets no deference this way, and it can’t be as smooth as the canned shit, but it gets it done.

Finally, I found online a version from a bakery that included a layer of plum jam, which I found knee-bucklingly enticing, so I swapped pureed prunes for the second apple layer. I consider this the most transgressive, since it disrupts the concept of the cake, but prunes are good. For a more traditional pastry, feel free to double the apple layer to replace the plum puree. Next time, I’ll likely do just that, because apples are good, too. It’s an earthy, fruity, generous dish either way, tasting thoroughly of winter celebration.

And for what it’s worth, I managed to splash lemon juice and oil on my copy of the recipe.

WINTER 2018 UPDATE: Julie says:

I abandoned the canned stuff almost as soon as I started using it when I discovered, thanks the miracle of the internet, that my family had made the poppyseed prep unnecessarily difficult. Long epic short, I learned to bring the poppyseeds in about 3 c water per 8 oz to a simmer, turn off the stove, cover the pot, set for 30 minutes, and then repeat the same process once. Then drain through a fine sieve or cheesecloth. They're a lot easier to pulverize that way. (Also, I mix them with condensed milk, but I am sure coconut milk would work as well.)

So there you have it. Still a bit of a process, but less grunting required than her original method, and the result is smoother than my stuff, I’m sure. I’m a little embarrassed at having to be given this method by someone else. After all, if anyone knows about soaking nuts and seeds to make creamy spreads, it’s the vegans, right? But that’s why we’re all in this together. Big thanks to Julie for getting in touch to keep this recipe as generous and user-friendly as possible. Happy counterfeit-flodni making, everyone. —A

Phyllo Flodni

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serves 6, adapted from my pal Julie's grandmother

1/2 cup (about 10) pitted prunes

1/2 cup apple juice, divided, plus another 3 TBSP

1 large lemon, cut into 8 wedges

4 oz poppy seeds

8 oz shelled, unsalted walnuts

4 TBSP natural cane sugar (evaporated cane juice), divided

1 Granny Smith apple

8 oz frozen phyllo sheets, thawed

1/4 cup melted nondairy butter or olive oil

Add the prunes and 1/4 cup apple juice to a small pot. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, reduce heat to medium-low, and keep at a steady simmer for 10 minutes, or until the prunes are very soft and the juice has reduced to a thin syrup. Carefully transfer pot contents to a quart jar, add 3 TBSP apple juice and the juice of 2 of the lemon wedges. Puree with an immersion blender. Set aside.

Grind the poppy seeds thoroughly in a coffee grinder (it's easiest to do it in two batches). Grind well, making sure you get a little clumping action to be sure you're releasing the oils. Transfer to a mixing bowl, stir in 1/4 cup apple juice, transfer to a food processor with 1 TBSP sugar and process for a total of 5 minutes, scraping the bowl as needed (every minute or so). Transfer back to the mixing bowl and set aside.

UPDATE: Julie now recommends the following process to make the poppy paste. I haven’t tried it, but I trust her experience, and I’m sure it creates a smoother paste than the textured mix I let ride when I posted this recipe. To make the poppy paste, bring the poppy seeds to a simmer in 1 1/2 cups water. Turn off the heat, and let sit, covered, 30 minutes. Repeat the process once. Drain through a fine sieve or cheesecloth before processing to a paste. /UPDATE

Wipe out processor bowl and grind the walnuts and 2 TBSP sugar finely. Set aside.

Peel and grate the apple into a bowl. Stir in 1 TBSP sugar.

Grease a 6-inch cake pan and preheat the oven to 350. Wet and wring out a clean kitchen towel to place over the phyllo to keep it from drying while it's not in use (i.e. while you're adding the filling layers to the pan).

Open the phyllo and use a pizza cutter to cut it into 6x6-inch squares (the rectangular stack is long enough so that you can cut two stacks of 6x6 squares--you should have no problem just cutting through the whole stack with the pizza cutter.) Have your liquid fat in a small bowl along with a brush.

Place one square in the bottom of the cake pan, brush it well with oil, and, working quickly, add another square. Repeat until you have laid five squares in the bottom (don't oil the top square), and cover your unused phyllo with the damp towel. Add half the walnut mixture to the pan, pressing it in evenly with your hands, squeeze the juice of a lemon wedge over the top, and add 3 squares of phyllo, brushing oil in between each layer. Press in half of the poppy mixture, squeeze a lemon wedge over it, repeat 3 phyllo squares, spread on all of the grated apple, squeeze on the lemon juice, and again with the 3 phyllo squares.

Repeat with the remaining nut and poppy layers, end with the pureed prunes, and top with 4 sheets of phyllo. Brush the top sheet thoroughly with oil.

Bake until golden and fragrant, 55-60 minutes. Allow to cool completely before cutting to allow the structure to solidify.

Traditional variation: omit the prune puree and double the apple mixture to use in its place.


Thank you all so much for reading. For those of you who prefer MSV's usual brevity and anonymity, next week will be back to normal style, with a feature to give me more time in the kitchen this fall with less stress.



Party Animals No. 31: Strawberry Pasta Salad for Dinner at a Pal's

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No need to wait for tomatoes to peak when you have a fresh, tasty pasta salad that takes advantage of spring's strawberries. Perfect for any potluck, outdoor entertaining, or an easy weeknight meal, we couldn't be happier about this salad. Fresh cucumbers, gently nutty seared zucchini, a bit of basil, and a balsamic vinaigrette are all you need, but for a one-dish meal with higher protein, cooked chickpeas, edamame, or what have you will likely feel right at home in this bowl.

Fresh is best with this one, so aim to assemble the salad only an hour or so before you want to serve it. That said, leftovers can be kept for a day or two, but the strawberries will begin to break down the longer it sits. You should have no problem cutting the recipe in half if you're afraid you won't get through a full pound of pasta before the strawberries give up the ghost. (Do note that a thorough toss with your favorite creamed herb tofu spread gives leftovers a whole new life.)

And, of course, feel free to keep this recipe on hand well into the summer, because substituting tomatoes for the strawberries once they do peak doesn't sound like a bad idea at all.

Strawberry Pasta Salad

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serves 8-12 (low end as a main, high end as a side)

1 medium zucchini (about 8 oz), sliced into 6 long planks

1 medium cucumber (about 10 oz)

1 lb strawberries

8 medium basil leaves (substitute half lime basil, if available)

1 lb small dried pasta of choice


1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 TBSP balsamic vinegar, the best you can afford [see Note]

1/2 tsp dried oregano

1/2 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

Heat a countertop electric grill or ridged griddle. Cook the zucchini until striped and tender, but still firm, just a few minutes, checking occasionally to avoid overcooking. Remove from heat and set aside.

Meanwhile, seed the cucumber and slice it thinly into a serving bowl. Trim the strawberries and slice them thickly, 3-4 slices per berry for medium-large berries. Add them to the cucumbers. Slice the basil into very thin ribbons and add the chiffonade to the serving bowl. When the zucchini is cool, slice each plank lengthwise into thirds, then into 1-inch strips. Add to the serving bowl.

Heat a pot of water with a generous sprinkle of salt, and cook the pasta according to the package directions. While it cooks, whisk together the oil, vinegar, and 1/2 tsp salt.

When the pasta is ready, drain thoroughly, allow to cool for just a minute, and add to the serving bowl. Pour the dressing over, toss thoroughly to combine, and add freshly cracked black pepper and additional salt, to taste. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

[Note: if you want to use a balsamic vinegar you're not confident about, pour a little more than called for into a small saucepan and simmer until it reduces a bit and gets a little syrupy. You're now sitting pretty.]