An April Fool’s Birthday Party: Illusion Food

April 7, 2011
vegan meat loaf

Vegan "meat loaf" cake and "ice cream"

This year, we celebrated my friend’s birthday with a party on April Fool’s Day, April 1. It was the perfect time to try out my menu of Illusion Foods.

Some years ago, on a Food Network television show called Dinner Impossible, Chef Robert Irvine was invited to a magician’s convention in Las Vegas. His mission was to create a dinner menu of Illusion Foods.

In other words, each dish had to look like one thing, but taste like something else. He served a soup that tasted like Ceasar Salad and another soup that tasted like pizza.

With the help of chemicals like xanthan gum and liquid nitrogen, he mutated mango and chocolate to create Dessert Nachos.

He cut tortillas into triangles, baked them, and sprinkled them with cinnamon and sugar. Chocolate and some chemicals were frozen and blended to create “ground beef.”

Grated “cheese” for the nachos were made with mangoes and some other chemical that allowed it to stay somewhat pliable when frozen and grated. And the “salsa” was sauce made from strawberries and cherries.

Inspired by that show, I came up with a vegan version of his Illusion Food menu. I used the pizza soup idea and served it with grilled triangles of pizza dough.

vegan pizza soup

Vegan Pizza Soup

(Sorry, no photo of the bread. The reality of food blogging is that you often eat all the food before you remember to take a picture!)

Salad was in the shape of a centipede. I used carrot sticks for legs, and cut pieces of red bell pepper for head and stingers on the tail. The antennae were made from the tips of tiny green onions.

centipede salad

Centipede Salad--not for the faint of heart!

I should have put it on a different platter, so you could see the colors better, but you get the idea.

The main course was Cake, Ice Cream, and Sauce. The birthday girl exclaimed, when it was presented, “raspberry sauce!”

vegan meat loaf

Savory cake, ice cream, and raspberry sauce--not!

The “cake” is a vegan “meat” loaf made from nuts, vegetables, and bread, baked. The “filling” and “frosting” is a cauliflower puree.

Scoops of “ice cream” were actually mashed potatoes, and the “raspberry sauce” was a beet sauce.

Dessert had to be birthday cake and ice cream, so I tried my hand at fondant for the first time, using a vegan fondant recipe.

I cut and decorated the cake to look like a chameleon. Vegan ginger ice cream was frozen in candy molds in the shape of fish.

chameleon cake with vegan fondant

Chameleon Cake with vegan fondant and Vegan Ice Cream Fish

The party was a hit, although it did somewhat confuse one of my older friends. It’s kind of like when you see a white person speaking fluent Chinese…the image in front of you, and the image of what it’s supposed to look like don’t quite match.

So eating ice cream and cake that taste like meat loaf and mashed potatoes was a little discombobulating. But still delicious!

Black Bean Dip

March 6, 2011
vegan black bean dip

Vegan Black Bean Dip

I had forgotten about making this recipe in a normal-sized batch, and a friend reminded me today about it. So I apologize for the delay.

Yes, this is the dip that was served at Ray Baker’s memorial at the arboretum.

(If you want the dip with the hoisin sauce and lots of garlic, that’s the Asian Black Bean Dip recipe you want.

If you want the other memorial food recipes, so far I have:
Broccoli Salad
Vegan Tofu Spinach Dip
Frozen Pea Salad (with or without feta)
Russian-Korean Carrot Salad)

This black bean dip is quick to make and extremely healthy, full of fiber and antioxidants. You can adjust the cayenne to taste, or use fresh or canned chiles or chipotles or chipotle powder instead. It has a mild chile hit to it as it is.

I haven’t tried it with other beans yet, but my guess is it would be just as tasty with other types, such as kidney or pinto beans, and possibly garbanzos, too.

Here is the recipe. Please leave a comment to let me know what you think if you try this yourself.

Vegan Black Bean Dip

3 TBS canola oil
1-1/4 cup chopped onion (about 1 medium)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chopped bell pepper (about 1 medium)
1 can (11 oz) corn, drained and rinsed

1 can (15 oz) black beans, drained and rinsed
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne
1 tsp salt
3 TBS apple cider vinegar

Saute onion, garlic, bell pepper, and corn in oil until onions and bell peppers are soft, about 10 minutes.

Add to blender or food processor with the other ingredients. Blend.

Serve with tortilla chips or crudite. Makes 3 cups dip.

Crowd-Pleasing Vegan Broccoli Salad With Cranberries

January 11, 2011
vegan broccoli cranberry salad

Easy, Crowd-Pleasing, Vegan Broccoli-Cranberry Salad

Here is another one of those easy, basically dump-and-mix salad recipes. It’s a broccoli salad with cranberries or raisins, that you can make vegan very easily. I started with a popular recipe by Paula Deen, famous food celebrity.

Then I read some of the many comments and tried some of them out. All the variations I tried seemed to come out well.

The salad is a lovely mix of crunchy, creamy, salty, sour and sweet. You can substitute other dried fruits, such as dates or raisins, for the cranberries. You can use different nuts. We used pecans in some batches and almonds in others, when we made food for a memorial service and started with 24 pounds of broccoli florets.

We made some with the carrots, and some without, when we thought we had run out of carrots. I had brought liquid smoke, intending to add it in place of the bacon bits or vegetarian, fake bacon bits, but I forgot to add it. So it’s quite a versatile salad.

It has been very well received whenever I’ve served it, too. Even a friend, who doesn’t care for raw onions, ate it and didn’t complain.

You can make it vegan by using vegan mayonnaise and vegetarian bacon bits. With the combination of vegetables, nuts and fruits, the salad packs a nice wallop of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber, too.

You could go through the trouble of blanching the broccoli if you find it too hard. But I prefer the less-work method, and it’s not necessary. Hey, you burn more calories when you chew more!

Here’s the recipe.

Crowd-Pleasing Vegan Broccoli Salad

4 cups broccoli florets (about 2 stalks)
1 cup minced sweet onion
2 carrots, grated
1/3 cup chopped nuts
1/2 cup dried cranberries or raisins
1/4 cup vegetarian bacon bits
1 cup mayonnaise
2 Tablespoons white vinegar
1/4 cup sugar

Mix all ingredients together.

The only complaints about this broccoli salad I heard were from those who were making it. We were using warehouse club bags of already cut broccoli florets, and dumped and mixed them with the other ingredients.

“This broccoli is too big!” and “How are they going to eat it–with their hands?” is what I heard them saying. “Aren’t we going to cut it smaller?” “Aren’t we blanching it?”

“NO!” I said. “We don’t have time.” We had hundreds of pounds of food to make, and no time to waste cutting or blanching broccoli.

“If anyone has a problem with the food, they can come talk to me,” I said.

Of course, I couldn’t help teasing them when we ate some for dinner that night. “Where is the quality control around here? WHO is in charge of this food? Look at this broccoli tree on my plate! Don’t choke on it!”

I guess you can’t please everyone.

But they had a point. The floret I had was the size of my palm. I cut it with a knife before eating it. So if you cut the florets yourself, be as meticulous as you so desire.

I hope you enjoy this Crowd-Pleasing Vegan Broccoli Salad With Cranberries recipe. Let me know if you try other variations and how they turn out.

Frozen Pea Salad, With or Without Feta Cheese

January 11, 2011

pea salad with feta cheese

Frozen Pea Salad with Feta Cheese

In planning for the recent memorial service for my best friend’s husband, I needed some really easy, dump-and-mix recipes that tasted delicious. They also had to be made by people who don’t cook very much. And the ingredients would ideally be found at the local warehouse club, since we were cooking for 150 (that number grew to 215 by the day of the service!!)

Oh yeah, there were more variables. They had to be okay made ahead of time. They had to be okay sitting out on the buffet table for an hour or two, in case the speakers went on and on forever (there would be an open mic at the end, so anyone who wanted could say something. We had only guesses as to how long the service would last.)

Food safety was a concern for me. Food cannot sit for more than two hours at temperatures warmer than refrigerated or cooler than hot. Bacteria start to grow that can make people sick, and I wasn’t about to make anyone sick on MY watch!

They had to not need to be heated. We only had a few hotel pans and warming trays, not enough for this large a crowd.

But if we could refrigerate it as we made it, then put some of it out before the service, keep the rest at a safe temperature, and refill as necessary, that would work fine. (We ended up borrowing our own, my neighbors, and other friend’s refrigerator spaces, plus a huge cooler with ice, to keep things properly chilled.)

I found this recipe online, which used frozen peas, feta cheese, and balsamic vinegar. I altered it a bit and came up with the versions we used.

One version was close to the original, with feta cheese. The other could be for vegans, although I opted to use commercial mayonnaise, which has eggs in it. I wasn’t about to prepare gallons of vegan mayonnaise, and we couldn’t afford to buy commercial vegan mayonnaise substitute.

But I am sure you could use a vegan mayonnaise instead. Depending on your product, it might get a bit watery if the mayonnaise breaks down. But the mayo with eggs holds up fine.

Also, I developed a version made with white vinegar, in case we couldn’t get the balsamic. (I’ve planned enough dinner parties based on warehouse club ingredients, only to be shocked to find them not in stock. Then I needed to to change the menu at the last minute. I wanted to avoid that possibility this time!)

The flavor of balsamic vinegar is sweeter than white, so you will need to add some sweetener to balance the flavors.

Frozen Pea Salad With Feta

1 pound frozen peas, thawed
1/2 cup chopped almonds
1/2 cup minced sweet onion
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 TBS vinegar (white or balsamic)
1/2 cup feta cheese crumbles
sugar or other sweetener, optional*

If your peas are still a bit frozen, they will freeze the ingredients as you mix them, so they need to be mostly or fully thawed.

If you are in a rush, microwave them one or two minutes, to thaw them out enough to use.

Mix all ingredients together. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

*If you are using white vinegar, add a small amount of sugar or other sweetener, to balance the flavors.

pea salad vegan

Pea Salad (without feta cheese)

Vegan Frozen Pea Salad Without Feta

1 pound frozen peas, thawed
1/2 cup chopped almonds
1/2 cup minced sweet onion
1/2 cup vegan mayonnaise
2 TBS vinegar (white or balsamic)
salt, to taste
sugar or other sweetener, optional*

If your peas are still a bit frozen, they will freeze the ingredients as you mix them, so they need to be mostly or fully thawed.

If you are in a rush, microwave them one or two minutes, to thaw them out enough to use.

Mix all ingredients together. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

*If you are using white vinegar, add a small amount of sugar or other sweetener, to balance the flavors.

What’s the difference between long and short grain rice?

October 3, 2010

What’s the difference between long and short grain rice? And what is medium rice?

Can you use the different types interchangeably? Does size even matter?

Rice can be confusing. Not only are there grain sizes to contend with, but there are colors, varieties, and types to sort through. According to the USA Rice Federation, there are more than 120,000 varieties of rice worldwide!

Here’s a basic rice primer, so you can learn when to use a long grain, or when to stick to short.

Long grain rice tends to separate when cooked. That means your rice will fall apart, rather than stick together. Use long grain rice when you are making dishes that call for separate, loose grains, such as pilafs. It also has a firmer, dryer texture and feel in the mouth.

Chinese restaurants usually serve a side order of long grain rice with the food. So if you hate trying to pick up those grains individually with chopsticks, you might decide to use a shorter, stickier rice instead, to serve with your stir fry.

Medium grain rice is more likely to stick together. The grains are softer and moister than long grain rice when cooked. This type of rice is the preferred type in Hawaii, where the mix of cultures enjoys rice with every meal: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks!

Yes, we really do eat rice for snacks. One of the most popular local foods is musubi, a ball of cooked rice, wrapped in nori, or seaweed “paper.” Often these will have a slice of fried Spam luncheon meat on top.

Calrose rice, a variety grown in California, is a medium grain rice. This is the type to get if you want a bland, clean taste.

Short grain rice is the most sticky and soft. The grains have a bit of chewiness to them. The extra starch in them gives them these properties.

Specialty rice types
One famous type of medium grain rice is Arborio, used to make Italian risotto. The starch thickens the liquid as it cooks, creating a creamy texture that gives the dish its signature style. You can substitute other short or medium grain rice, but never long grain rice, and get a similar finished product.

Sushi is made with short or medium grain rice. This is another of the exceptions to the substitution rule. You cannot substitute long grain rice when making sushi, or everything will just fall apart and not feel right in the mouth.

Substituting rice
For the most part, if you are just making a pot of rice, or you run out of one kind of rice or another, you can relax. The different types can be substituted equally in most dishes, without ruining them. There are a few exceptions to the rule, however.

Use a short or medium grain for sushi, risotto, rice pudding, and molded rice dishes. Use medium grain for paella. Use long grain for pilafs.

Use glutinous or sticky rice to make rice cakes, or mochi. Use black glutinous rice to make Malaysian sticky black rice pudding. Use Thai sticky rice for sticky rice with coconut milk and mango, or to eat with Thai food, like those in the northern parts of Thailand, and Laos, do.

What rice to use for fried rice?
Any type can be used, but most commonly, white rice is used. It is usually kept in the refrigerator, or left out for a day, which dries the rice a bit. Otherwise, if you use fresh rice, you get a steamy, soggy mess.

If you think rice is bland, see this post to learn how to make rice more interesting.