Thursday, June 16, 2016

Weekend of Non-Stop Celebrations!

Last weekend was a 4-day fiesta of non-stop merriment, special occasions, eating, and celebrating! I was super busy, and I'm still trying to catch up with all my emails, but I have no complaints. Celebrations are fun! 

The following events were observed:
My birthday (43! woot!) ~ Two of my besties received their PhDs (!!) ~ My niece graduated junior high, my nephew graduated high school, and my other nephew had an end-of-the-school year event at his school ~ Parties were held for all the various graduates ~ my mom & my two aunts and I walked/ran in an annual 5-mile race that we do every year in memory of my grandma (their mom)

Birthday Breakfast!

The Best Way To Start My New Year: fancy breakfast!

First things first, it was my birthday. I like birthdays and I like doing as many of my favorite things on my bday as possible. This year I started off with a good workout with my trainer, and then came home and prepared a Super Special Birthday Breakfast for Mr. VE&T and myself. I love love love special breakfasts. I made a fancy summertime fruit plate because summertime fruits are the best, Puffy Pillow Pancakes (from Isa Does It) - with added blueberries, Garlic Tofu Cubes (from Oh She Glows), and of course, a big cup of hot coffee. I love blueberry pancakes, but Mr VE&T prefers plain ones... so usually I just do that. But on my birthday I call the shots, including the fruity pancake shots. They were so delicious and perfect. I like the way some of the blueberries get all gooey and cooked. I enjoyed my pancakes with my homemade vegan butter (recipe from The Homemade Vegan Pantry) and real maple syrup. Perfect! 

eating pancakes for my birthday breakfast makes me super super super happy! 

Birthday Dinner!

many years ago, this beautiful lasagna dish was a birthday gift for me from Mr. VE&T

With so many family gatherings and my usual weekday teaching schedule, I wasn't even sure if I would try to have a party for my bday. I mean, no one really needed another family gathering last weekend! ha ha. But, as the day grew closer, I was in the mood, so I decided to host my own birthday party! On the day before my birthday, I made one of my all-time favorite treats: Lasagna! In fact, you can find my recipe here on my blog on an old post called "Birthday Lasagna." Lasagna is so special and delicious, and it's also a good bit of work, so it's definitely a special occasion kind of a treat.

simple and delicious family dinner!

We had a fun and intimate family dinner - kept it nice and simple! In addition to the lasagna, I made a big bowl of steamed Romano Beans, because I am seriously into Romano Beans right now. My aunt Laura brought a huge and beautiful salad full of veggies and my salad-loving family ate so much that she had to make a second bowl of it. Woot! 

it was so funny to draw this, because I used to draw Garfield over and over again when I was a little girl! 

Even with 8 people, there was a fair amount of lasagna left over! I guess everyone was busy eating all that salad. Anyway, I was stoked, because the best thing about birthday lasagna is leftover birthday lasagna that you can eat for lunch the next day, and again the day after that. It's the gift you make for yourself that keeps on giving! 

Happy Birthday To Me!
a long time ago, this daisy platter was also a bday gift for me from Mr VE&T

The afternoon of my birthday was spent in the kitchen - baking cakes!  I made a birthday cake for myself, and a graduation cake for my PhD pal. That's a pretty okay way to spend my afternoon, since I enjoy baking. For my birthday cake, I made a really simple one-layer carrot cake. I love carrot cake so much! I used the recipe from Vegan With a Vengeance, but that recipe is called "Tropical Carrot Cake," or something like that. I used orange juice & orange zest instead of pineapple juice, replaced the macademia nuts with walnuts and pecans, and omitted the ginger altogether. I think I also reduced the sugar a little bit. 

For frosting, I made the Cream Cheese Frosting recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. I used Kite Hill Almond-based Cream Cheese. The frosting was a little sweeter than I wanted it to be, so I added a teaspoon or two of lime juice, and then it was perfectly tart -- just the way cream cheese frosting should be. When I was putting the frosting on, I wasn't sure what to write. Just writing "Happy Birthday" seemed kinda sad and writing nothing seemed sad too... but "Happy Birthday to me" was perfect! I was super happy with how yummy this cake was, and there was even some leftover. I put it in the freezer, and all week I've been cutting off little pieces. It turns out carrot cake is also delicious straight out of the freezer. 


I love having ice cream with cake, and I've been wanting to try this Snickerdoodle Cashew Milk Ice Cream from So Delicious. It was such a great combo with the carrot cake! This ice cream has a nice cinnamon flavor (but not in an over-powering way) and is full of little bits of snickerdoodle cookie dough. True confession: this is a photograph of an empty carton because that ice cream didn't last long at all. Ha ha! 

PhD Graduation Party!

a super special cake for a super special PhD pal!

Here is the other cake I made on my birthday! Like I said, two of my very beloved pals got PhDs last weekend, and after the ceremony they held a big joint celebration party along with one other friend. To make a long story short, there were already going to be two big cakes at this party, but neither of those cakes was going to be vegan. Someone needed to make sure that my friend Sophia could celebrate her amazing accomplishment with a vegan cake of her own!! That person was me!

I made the Chocolate Cupcake recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World - but intensified it with 2 extra tablespoons of cocoa powder and an extra teaspoon of chocolate extract. I used my small 5" cake pans, and made a super-cute mini layer cake. In between the two layers of cake was a raspberry buttercream made with vegan butter, powdered sugar, liquid from thawed frozen raspberries (seeds removed through a sieve) and a bunch of dehydrated raspberries ground into a powder. Whoa! It was bright red and super raspberry-ish! I used the Ganache recipe from VCTOTW and did two layers. The first layer covered up any lumps or irregularities, and I waited until that had cooled and set before smoothing on the second layer.

My berry decorations were inspired by a super beautiful and awesome and over-the-top Instagram feed @therexsa - a vegan cake baker from the East Bay. Her creations are pretty amazeballs. Sophia and I love to go to the farmers' market together and we always enjoy sampling the different fruits and berries - so this seemed like an especially appropriate way to decorate her cake. I used blackberries, red raspberries, golden raspberries, strawberries (all from the market) and even threw on a few Little Secrets vegan m&m's in their dark chocolate raspberry flavor.

baking with love!

It was okay to make my own bday cake, but it was *super fun* to make this cake for Sophia. It just feels so good to make something special for someone you love. It's lovely to think of them the whole time you're making it. Best of all, I even got to share it with her at her party, and it was crazy yummy!

Junior High & High School Graduation Party!

Open-faced BLTs with Shiitake Bacon

Next up in my weekend of festivities was a party honoring my niece and nephew and their graduations. My brother and his fiance threw a huge party and had lots of "non-vegan" options, if you know what I mean. They sometimes tease me about being vegan, but actually, they've come a long way. I promised that I would help out by bringing a bunch of food that was vegan "but wouldn't gross people out." ha ha.

Whenever I'm faced with cooking up a bunch of foods for a party, I always turn to my trusty copy of Vegan Finger Foods. VFF isn't necessarily a book for weeknight dinners, but it is such a perfect book for party foods. I really love it.

First up, I made a version of their Open-Faced BLT's. Let me just say that the shiitake mushroom bacon from this book is - to date - the best vegan bacon I have ever made or tasted. It was SO GOOD. That is very important news! The recipe called for a base layer of guacamole, but I simplified and just used avocado slices. These little creations were extremely delicious. Mr. VE&T and I considered skipping the party and staying home to eat all of these ourselves. I might have to convert this into a weeknight dinner sometime soon! 

finger foods are super fun! 

Mean Bean Taco Cups

Aren't these cute and cool? I've had my eye on this recipe, but I hadn't ever made it before. The whole thing was actually very quick and easy to make. The little taco shells baked up easily in the oven while I made the filling. The ingredients were all simple and straightforward, but the result was a delicious, light, perfectly spicy Mexi-inspired bean salad. These got great reviews from other folks too. I assembled them about an hour before I got to the party... and I was a little concerned that the taco shells might get soggy - but they never did! Woot! These are definitely a new party favorite for me.

one of my favorites!

This recipe for Tiny Tomato Pies is one of my very favorites and I think this is the 4th or 5th time I've brought these to a party. The crusts are super easy press-in crusts, and the filling is a delicious spinach-basil-tofu mixture. They're made in a mini-muffin pan and the recipe makes 24 little pies, which is a good quantity for a party! Plus, they're just so cute and a perfect nibble size - maybe 3-4 bites. I totally recommend this recipe!

Birthday Dinner Part Deux, with Friends

Summery Sandwich Fixin's 

To cap off my weekend of celebrations, one of my very close friends and her husband came over for a dinner date - as a bit of a belated birthday time together. They are such wonderful people and it always feels great to be together with them. 

When we were brainstorming what to have for our low-key dinner party, the idea of veggie burgers came up. But I guess I'm not all that jazzed about veggie burgers lately. Then I remembered one of my all-time favorite sandwiches: The Grilled Herb Tofu Sandwich with Sun-dried Tomato Pesto from The Real Food Daily Cookbook. It's especially fun because our friends are farmers who grow organic strawberries and tomatoes -- and I used the very last of my sundried tomatoes from last year's crop for the pesto!  I guess I didn't get a picture of the finished sandwiches, but here you can see all the parts - fresh sandwich rolls from the bakery near our house, a big dish of sun-dried tomato pesto, grilled tofus (after marinating 24 hours in a fresh herby marinade), sauteed red onions, and fresh greens. Such a magical combo.

enormous platter of salad goodness

Jane brought along a huge and amazing salad: fresh greens, red bell peppers, red raspberries, blanched sugar snap peas (good salad idea!), and a center of the most perfect potatoes ever -- cooked and seasoned with total perfection. Between the four of us, there was just a tiny little bit of salad left over at the end of the evening. It was too delicious to stop ourselves!

summery fruit crisp

For dessert, I made a simple fruit crisp with a mixture of peaches, apricots, blackberries, and blueberries. The topping was something I pretty much made up: some whole wheat pastry flour, oats, slivered almonds, cinnamon & nutmeg, a little bit of brown sugar. It was such a yummy and summery dessert.

A Cherry Party With Myself

my favorite

I always associate my birthday with cherries and stonefruits and after a few years of not-great cherry harvests, this year was a pretty good year for cherries here in California. Apparently, this week was the last week for cherries at our market - and only one farmer still had any to sell. I always make the most of the brief cherry season by going ALL IN for the entire duration! Non-stop cherry eating! When I heard it was the last week for cherries, I took the plunge and bought $20 worth of cherries -- many of which were eaten before I made it home in order to take this picture. What a perfect way to top off a weekend of festivities... with my own private cherry indulgences. There are still some left, and I'll be sure to savor them. Until next year, cherries! 

i love cherries!

Phew! After all that eating and cooking and celebrating, I'm really looking forward to this weekend, with many fewer commitments. I'm scheming up a weekend of working on more blog posts, lots of yoga, Sanskrit homework, dog walks, friend time, and maybe even catching up on my emails!

~ Giveaway Winner! ~
Hey! By the way! Congrats to Sarahhhhhhh for winning a copy of Vegan Richa's Indian Kitchen! woooooot! Send me an email : ameyfm (at) yahoo (dot) com and we'll get you your book! 

Monday, May 30, 2016

Vegan Richa's Indian Kitchen: Review & Giveaway!

Vegan Eats and Treats, Thali, Pune
Me in Pune, with a giant platter of S.Indian Thali, my camera for documentation, 
a giant smile of anticipation, and a big appetite. What a perfect moment.

Let's talk about Indian food. I love Indian food so much. Lucky me, I've been to India three times, and each time for 5-6 weeks. During my travels I've been pretty far north and also way down south and also in the middle. It's kinda silly to even say "Indian food" because there is such a vast array of regional cuisines and dishes across India. Every time I've been to India, I have been delighted to eat Indian food for breakfast-lunch-dinner day after day and week after week, so I know I really do love Indian food. On my first trip to India, I went with Mr VE&T. At some point on the trip he got so tired of Indian food that he just ate packaged potato chips and cookies for a few days until he was ready to try again. On our last night we were in Delhi and he even ordered a pizza. Ha ha. Let's just say, I don't have this problem. As far as 5-6 weeks of non-stop Indian food goes, I am ALL IN.

Vegan Richa Indian Kitchen
Taking selfies at the Taj Mahal with my new BFF, Vegan Richa's Indian Kitchen

So, a little while back, when my prolific internet pal Richa Hingle of the blog Vegan Richa wrote a cookbook called Vegan Richa's Indian Kitchen, I ordered a copy right away! But, for whatever reason/s, I didn't dive into it right away. But then Richa asked me about doing a review and a giveaway on my blog and that was just the kick start I needed. Now I've already made so many recipes from this book and I have about 1 million more recipes bookmarked. Just try and stop me! 

Vegan Richa Cauliflower, Vegan Eats and Treats
Cauliflower and Peas with Cilantro Onion Sauce

The first recipe I made was this Cauliflower and Peas with Cilantro Onion Sauce. This whole dinner came together really quickly and easily. It's got great flavors and is chock full of pungent spices but isn't super spicy-hot. It's also loaded with veggies (I love dinners that are almost all veggies!), and with all the peas and cauliflower, it's also pretty high protein (did you know that peas and cauliflower both have lots of protein?).

The cilantro-onion sauce was really delicious, and was prepared differently than other sauces I've made: everything was pureed in the blender and then cooked down. It was an easy method with super-tasty results. This dinner was quick, super satisfying and tasty. It's definitely a meal I'd make again. Richa suggests a few ways of serving the curry - Mr Vegan Eats & Treats had his with a giant serving of white rice (his favorite!), and I opted to have mine as a filling in lettuce leaves which I loved! I actually had some ice berg lettuce left in my fridge and this was a yummy and fun use for it.

Vegan Richa Butternut Curry, Vegan Eats and Treats
Butternut Coconut Red Lentil Curry
Masoor Aur Kaddo Ki Dal

Oh wow, soooo good. Next time I'll have to make a double batch, because we polished this batch off in a jiffy. One thing that happened when I traveled to India was that I particularly fell in love with the flavor of curry leaves. I wish I could find fresh curry leaves around here, but I can't. I only have some dried ones, which I store in the freezer. That said, even my little ol' dried curry leaves imparted their wonderful flavor to this dish. The creamy lentils and coconut milk, the chewy dried coconut, and the perfectly cooked squash gave the whole dish a really excellent texture. I made this on a stormy night with a big pot of rice and it was gloriously perfect! Warm and warming. Ahhhh.

Curry leaves, Vegan Eats and Treats
On my last trip to India, my friend and I bought several bunches of fresh curry leaves and hung them to try in our apartment. By the end of our stay, we both had a nice baggie of dried curry leaves to bring home. Ahhh. Curry leaves are so magical. 

Vegan Richa Chard and Peas
So much Yum.

Rainbow Chard and Peas in Creamy Sauce (Chard Malai Mutter) sounded like something special and different from other Indian dishes I'd made, so it piqued my curiosity. I'm so glad I made it! We both totally loved this dish - it's so interesting when familiar ingredients are combined to create a new flavor sensation, and that's what happened here. This recipe makes a lovely combination of chard and peas covered in a creamy and delicately spiced sauce. I used half frozen peas and half frozen edamame since that's what I had in my freezer (gotta use what's there!), and I also reduced the cashews from 1/2 cup to a 1/3 cup and it was still super creamy and delicious! What a special and lovely dinner. 

Vegan Richa, Dal Makhani, Chickpea Tofu, Cauliflower
topCreamy Black Gram and Kidney Bean Curry
left: Chickpea Tofu in Spicy Madras Sauce
lower right: Cauliflower & Yellow Lentils in Mint Cilantro Sauce

One day I went all out and made three things - a culinary feat which ended up lasting us for two dinners and a few lunches for me too. Ahhh! I love that! It's so fun to make a proper effort in the kitchen and then reap the rewards for so many meals after that. The best thing was that none of these dishes were complicated or hard to make and the whole project didn't take more than about 2 hours... which is pretty good actually, because I'm pretty slow in the kitchen.

Creamy Black Gram and Kidney Bean Curry
Dal Makhani
I was excited to make this recipe because in restaurants Dal Makhani always has butter or ghee in it, so I don't think I'd ever had it before. When I went to India the first time, my wonderful Indian friend Geraldine told me which dishes I could safely order as a vegan, and which ones would always have dairy, and which ones I would have to ask about. It was very helpful! I also loved making this because I got to use up my special black gram lentils which I had purchased at an Indian Grocery store a while back - an impulse purchase based entirely on how cool I thought they looked. (though she does give variations/substitutes if you don't just happen to have some black urad dal sitting around in your cupboard) This was a wonderful, creamy dal that was a nice hearty balance to the other two dishes I made. 

I'm happy to report that even though poor Mr. VE&T got tired of Indian food on our trip to India, 
he didn't get tired of any of these dishes at all! 

Chickpea Tofu in Spicy Madras Sauce
(Tofu Madras Chile Masala)
For this recipe, I had to make chickpea tofu first, and let it chill for a little while. It was my first time making Burmese Tofu, but it was so quick and easy and delicious!! We both loved loved loved this dish, and it was the first one to be fully polished off.  Lots of spices and totally excellent flavors together. Most of the dishes I've made from this book call for pretty standard and easy-to-find spices. The only exceptions would be fenugreek leaves and curry leaves -- but you could just omit them or order some online if you wanted too. This recipe definitely had some heat, but I'm not a heat machista and I did just fine. All the spices come together into a thick, rich and robustly flavored sauce. We both really love peas, so I added extra. Peas, please! 

Cauliflower and Yellow Lentils in Mint Cilantro Sauce
We couldn't decide if this was our favorite, or the Chickpea Tofu, but man-o-man was this good. I loved the creaminess of this sauce, and it was different from any other Indian dish I've made before, which was really fun. The creaminess comes from cashews, sesame seeds, coconut, and coconut milk -- what a combo!! I had some mint that one of my farmers market friends had given me and I was determined to put it to use. This recipe has really lovely spices, more on the delicate side than the heavy-handed side of things. It's got some spicy heat from the green chiles, but the heat wasn't at all overbearing, and all the other spices still came through the heat. What a lovely dish!

cashew fruit

cashew trees
cashew trees and cashew fruits in South India

By the way, do you know about cashews?? Cashews always remind me of India. When we went to South India, we were so delighted and amazed to see how cashews grow. They grow on huge bushy trees, and each and every cashew nut is suspended from a piece of cashew fruit. As you can see, the fruits are pretty sizeable, but they are also extremely delicate. The skin is thin like a nectarine, but the flavor is more delicate than a nectarine. I feel so lucky that I got to try cashew fruits when I was in India! I often remember this horticultural moment of surprise and delight when I am eating cashews. 

cashew cuties
cashew cuties

Vegan Richa South Indian Tofu Scramble
one of the best tofu scrams ever

OMG!! SO good! This recipe for Spicy South Indian Tofu Scramble has all the flavors I love from my beloved S. Indian cuisine, thrown into one of the world's quickest and most satisfying creations: tofu scramble. I added a zucchini that one of my students brought me from his garden, which was actually a very nice addition. We ate the whole thing in one fell swoop, no leftovers! I guess this recipe was technically in the breakfast section of the cookbook, but we had it for dinner. It would definitely also make a great breakfast! This recipe has excellent spices, it's quick to come together, and was a totally new-to-me treatment of a tofu scram. I loved the curry leaves in the scramble and the lime juice and shredded coconut on top!! I am already in anticipation of making this again, soon.

Chewie (Richa's dog) and Snoopy

~ Overall thoughts on this cookbook ~ 

Well, first and foremost, I loved every single recipe I made, which is really the most important thing! But beyond that, the recipes were very well-written with clear and easy-to-follow instructions. I never came across any typos or confusing wording or recipes that behaved differently from how the instructions indicated. That's the kind of thing that really builds trust for me with a cookbook. I also appreciate that the recipes are not gratuitously heavy on salt or oil, but leave it up to you if you want to omit those ingredients entirely.

Vegan Richa's Indian Kitchen also has a really good index, which I always appreciate. There are nice color pics for many of the recipes (but not for all of them), but there are also nice write-ups for each recipe, which helps you get a sense for the recipe, how to serve it, and what to serve it with. Substitutions are given for harder-to-find ingredients (for most recipes this is not an issue), as well as all sorts of variations -- for using a pressure cooker, adding different ingredients, making a recipe lower-calorie, making it soy-free, making it nut-free, etc. SO many variations are offered! I love it! This book also includes a real diversity of recipes from many of the different types of cuisines in India. So, no matter what, you are likely to find some that appeal to you. 

I already have many, many more recipes bookmarked to try:
Sweet and Spicy Baked Cauliflower
Mango Curry Tofu
South Indian Chickpea Eggplant Stew
Nepali Potatoes
Potato Veggie Balls with Garlic Fenugreek Sauce
Vegetable Jalfreezi
and on and on and on...

Vegan Richa, Vegan Eats and Treats
walkin' our dogs together

~ Giveaway! ~ 
Thanks to Richa and her publisher Vegan Heritage Press, I am happy to offer a copy of Vegan Richa's Indian Kitchen to a lucky reader (US only). To enter, just leave a comment on this post and tell me about your favorite recipe you've ever made from Richa's blog, or your favorite Indian dish, or anything else you feel like saying. Make sure I can track you down via your blogger profile or your email address, or else I will skip right over you and select another winner! Good luck! 

ps. Even if you don't win this giveaway, I really recommend this book and Richa's blog which is positively jam-packed with countless recipes (both Indian and otherwise). Such an amazing resource! 

Monday, May 23, 2016

Beany Bacon Bits by Cool Foods ~ a Review

Bean-Based Bacon Bits
avo-bacon-toast in the making

Have you seen these new Hickory Style Veggie Bacon Bits from Cool Foods? They are made of dried pinto beans and bacony seasonings!  I love bacon bits, so when they offered to send me some for review, I was quite enthusiastic. Well, I plowed straight through both baggies they sent me, and have already ordered a few more baggies to keep my pantry stocked. So... I guess you could infer that I really liked them! ha ha.

bacon bits on avocado toast

Recipe: one good piece of toast, lots of yummy avocado, squeeze of fresh lime juice, spoonful of bacon bits = happy times are here at last.

I really love the ingredients list on these bacon bits: "Pinto Beans, Sunflower Oil, Natural Flavors, Sea Salt, Enzymes." So simple! I'm not a super snoot about "pure food" and stuff like that, but I am mindful of the times when I eat more-processed or less-processed foods. I really appreciate that these bacon bits deliver all the joy a bacon bit can deliver, but are also quite straightforward and even virtuous. Also, 4 teaspoons of bacon bits are just 27 calories, which is great.

Plus, they are perfectly crunchy. The package says that the beans are "air-dried," which must be how they get such a great crunchiness out of the beans. The flavor is smoky and delicious, and is more complex than just a bunch of liquid smoke. There is the tiniest bit of bean flavor, but not at all in a bad way. It adds to the overall flavor experience. They are also sugar-free, soy-free, and gluten-free

nom nom nom

Truth be told, I ate most most of these straight out of the bag whenever I wanted a little nibble. But once I discovered how good they were on avocado toast, then I really went nuts and ran out super quickly.

bacony bits on kale salad

These veggie bacon bits are also really great on salads - their smokiness and crunchiness both add a lot! I made a few kale salads with tomato and avocado and then liberally sprinkled on the bacon bits. Such a great combo!! Basically a super easy BLT-inspired salad. I think they'd probably make a pretty good BLT actually. Maybe I'll try that next, if I can stop myself from eating my latest installment all straight out of the bag.

On their website, these 3oz baggies are $3.99 each, which I think is a pretty good deal. I can definitely tell you that I liked these a lot because I was super sad when I ran out of the bags they sent me, and I've already bought 3 more for myself. It's one thing to rave about something that you recieved for review, but it's a whole 'nother thing to go running to Google to replace it when you run out. Ha ha.

Let me know if you try them, and tell me what you think!

i really love drawing animated beans.
they're just so funny

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A Dinner Party with New Friends!

a new friend! 

Recently Mr VE&T made a new tennis friend. He's a pretty good tennis player, and there aren't bajillions of people who can play at that level with him. Someone gave him the name of a new player at the club, and she turned out to be a great player who he really enjoys hitting with. One day after practice, while chatting, he found out that she is also a vegan! So of course I got all excited and invited her and her family over -- even though I'd never met any of them! Well, to be fair, Mr VE&T thought she was pretty great and he was pretty sure we'd get along. 

It was so fun to welcome them into our home! It was a really lovely evening together with her and her husband and their two awesome kids. The kids were so cute - immediately running around the house, meeting all the pets, playing in the backyard, throwing the ball for the doggies, climbing in and out the doggie door over and over and over! ha ha. 

I always enjoy cooking for other people, but I especially love cooking for fellow vegans. When you're a vegan, people don't cook for you very often. Plus, it's just fun to make a special effort and know that it will really be appreciated. So, I had fun thinking of what to make for our new friend. But I also knew that she had two little kids, so I was conscious of trying to make kid-friendly choices in my menu planning. Nothing too unfamiliar or spicy or challenging. For example, I briefly considered pine nut cookies, but decided to go with chocolate chip. ha ha. 

vegan cheese platter

For appetizers, I had some sugar snap peas and a platter of little bread toasties and two vegan cheeses: Punk Rawk Original and the Kite Hill Ripened Cheese. I already know how much I love Punk Rawk cheeses (hint: A LOT), but I hadn't tried this cheese from Kite Hill before. The Punk Rawk cheese has a nice strong taste and is soft and spreadable, almost the texture of a thick cream cheese. The Kite Hill cheese really had a proper "rind" and creamy center like some dairy-based cheeses, but the flavor was much more mild. Between the four of us grown-ups, we had 3 who preferred the PR cheese and one who preferred the KH cheese. How cool is it that we have so many choices these days?? So cool.

salad with super good dressing

Our friends brought two nice bottles of wine and a huge, tasty salad. The dressing they made was really, really delicious - super flavorful but not heavy or overpowering. Over dinner, we were discussing cooking methods - and whereas I am a fairly devout recipe follower, our new pals are devout recipe free-stylers! So I can't tell you what recipe he used to make this dressing because I think he made it up! ha ha. I loved those big green olives in the salad. I usually buy black olives, but these were so delicious and plump and beautiful. 

we are unsophisticated people who don't even own wine glasses, so on the rare occasions that we do drink wine, we drink it out of juice glasses instead. Ha ha. be warned! 

It turns out that they really know a lot about wine (whereas I know next to nothing). They brought along two nice white wines that were really tasty. We had one with dinner, and then we had the Prosecco (fizzy white wine) with dessert. It was fun to have some nice wine with our meal! 

I was pretty sure I would like this soup because KZCakes liked it and she and I always seem to agree on foodie things. Except that she likes matcha and I just can't go there. 

We decided to be fancy and have each course one at a time, instead of putting everything on the table all at once. That was fun! So after our appetizers and salad, next up was the soup. I've heard good things about the Cauliflower Soup with Pesto and Pasta Shells from Chloe's Vegan Italian Kitchen, so I thought I'd give that a go. Plus it seemed like it would be pretty kid-friendly: the cauliflower is hidden by pureeing it into the broth, the soup is full of little pasta shells, and it's got pesto! One of my special tricks is to make a previously untested recipe when company comes over. I love to live dangerously! 

I tweaked the recipe a little bit - I roasted half of the called-for cauliflower before hand, and I also used white miso and tamari instead of plain salt -- all for a little extra umami power blast! Happily, I really liked this soup and will definitely make it again. What did our guests think? 2 grown ups and 1 kiddo loved it too (he ate his whole bowl of soup!), but one littlest kiddo didn't even want to give it a try! ha ha. No hard feelings though. I know how important it is to keep putting food on the table even if they don't try it this time around. Someday! 

Sauces 'n Love Vegan Pesto

For the pesto in my soup, I used some of this *amazing* vegan pesto from a company called Sauces 'n Love. They actually sent it to me for a review quite a while ago and I've had it saved in my freezer for safe keeping. It is such delicious pesto - and by far the freshest and tastiest store-bought pesto I've ever had. It's super packed with basil and pine nut flavor, just the right amount of saltiness (it's pretty salty, but I like pesto that way), and super high quality olive oil. It looks like they don't have an official website, but this site has some good info about them and their products. They seem to make many sauces that are vegan (and many that aren't). Based on how much I enjoyed this pesto, I would definitely be jazzed to try more of their sauces in the future. 

the main course!!

For the main course, I made a big batch of the Italian Stuffed Peppers with Fennel from Vegan Casseroles. This was a great dish to make for company because I could do all the work ahead of time and then just pop 'em in the oven at the right time. Unlike my daring escapade of making a totally-new-to-me soup recipe for company, I had made this recipe several times before. I really love these peppers - the filling is made with rice and TVP and then loads of great spices and seasonings (including crushed fennel seeds!). For the pasta sauce on top, I used half homemade sauce that I had canned up last summer and half Victoria's Vegan Vodka sauce (I love that stuff!). Happily, we had tons of these left over (there were 4 more in another smaller baking dish) - so I gave some to my parents, we had some for dinner again the next night, and I had lunch for a few days too. I love that - make the most of a dinner party with leftovers!! 

rowing my pepper boat across the high seas

yummy dessert!

I was thinking of all sorts of fancy-pants desserts I could make, but I wasn't sure how that would go over with kiddos. I mean, sometimes it's okay to go out of your comfort zone for dinner, but dessert is kinda all about the comfort zone, if you know what I mean. So, I went with chocolate chip cookies and strawberries! For the cookies, I used Jess's recipe for The Ultimate Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies from her blog Cupcakes and Kale. I had this recipe bookmarked and was happy to finally give it a go. Holy bonkers!!! These cookies came out so great. I think they are now my favorite chocolate chip cookies ever. Definitely my new go-to. They were so easy and delicious. I even used my homemade vegan butter (recipe from Miyoko's book Homemade Vegan Pantry). I also left the salt flakes off my cookies since I wanted them to be kid-friendly! 

dessert buddies dancing out their joy together

And of course, they were indeed very kid-friendly! The littlest kiddo wasn't interested in her soup or stuffed pepper, but was very interested in the cookies and berries! ha ha. After dessert our new pals told us that they've actually totally cut back on sugar since their little one is a picky eater and has been pretty much waiting all day just to eat dessert. Ooops, I was part of the problem! Next time they come over, I'll make a fun dessert that's also naturally sweetened. Fortunately there are lots of great blogs and cookbooks with recipes like that! 

It was a really fun night. I really love meeting new people and making new friends. I look forward to getting to know them better and continuing our friendships together! 

ps! Congratulations to Anne Callery for winning my Baconish giveaway! I used the random number generator, which picked comment #27. This is pretty fun, because many moons ago, Anne and I worked together! It's fun when the random number generator picks someone who I know in real life. Congrats, Anne, I hope you like the book!