Monday 24 June 2013

Wasn't That a Party!

Yesterday, I hosted a dinner party for my ex-husband's 60th birthday. I know. That's more than just a little weird. Why would I host a party for my ex-husband? Trust me, there were many times leading up to the party when I did question, "Why on earth am I doing this?" Sometimes, I jokingly say that I'm too nice for my own good. And that's probably a big part of it. I knew that he couldn't count on our daughter to do anything special for him, a subject which I will not discuss at this point in time. His only other close relatives, his brother and sister, are not close geographically. They live in Ontario, whereas we live in Alberta, so there's no way they could plan a party for him. So that left me, and honestly, I still can't totally explain why I did it. As an ex, I certainly wasn't under any obligation. It's not like I owe him anything. And even though I maintain an amicable relationship with him, by choice, hosting a birthday party for him was a little over the top. However, it's over and done with and it was fun. I enjoy cooking and enjoy having company, though working full-time doesn't leave me a whole lot of time or energy for it. The one negative consequence is that I now have people speculating that we're going to get back together. Well, they can speculate all they want, but that's just not going to happen.

However, that's not why I'm blogging today. No, I want to talk about the FOOD!
Here's the dinner menu:

Zucchini Spinach Lasagne (Recipes from the Weimar Kitchen, p. 63)
Sweet Potato and Caramelized Apple Casserole (Holiday Collection 2011, p. 109)
7 Layer Salad (Give Them Something Better, p. 30)
Garlic Bread (my own recipe, based on how Mom made it, with a little help from The Five Roses Guide to Good Cooking)
Frozen Peanut Butter Ice Cream Cake (Good Nutrition for Life, p. 117)
Carob Cake (Good Nutrition for Life, p. 113), topped with Peanut Butter Carob Pie filling (p. 122)

The lasagne recipe is a tried and true recipe that I've had good response to previously. I'm a little frustrated with how the recipe is composed, however. It gives a list of ingredients, amongst which is "2 c. tomato sauce (see recipe)". It doesn't even give the page number for the recipe, and when I check, there are actually two tomato sauce recipes in this book. Which one am I supposed to use? Does it matter? And I'm not happy when I have to make the tomato sauce recipe first, then add it to more ingredients to make pasta sauce. Why not just list all of the ingredients and make the whole sauce at once? So, on the very back page is a place for "notes." And here I wrote down all of the ingredients to make the sauce to do just that - skip the step of making the tomato sauce first, just make it all in one batch. I also added a note in the recipe to just use 5 - 5-1/2 cups of prepared tomato sauce for when I'm too lazy (or pressed for time) to make the sauce from scratch. The second thing I wasn't sure about in this recipe was the fact that the zucchini is added to the sauce and the spinach is layered in the lasagne. I always felt that it made more sense the other way around and that's how I've always made it, with good results. I'm sure either way, it will still be delicious. The "cheese" in this lasagne is a Cashew Pimento Cheese Spread, found on p. 33 of this cookbook. I find it annoying when a recipe calls for another recipe from the same cookbook, but fails to provide the page number. However, I don't hesitate to write the page numbers in myself. This lasagne was well-received, even though not all guests were vegan or vegetarian. Regarding the cookbook, I've made some really rockin' recipes from this book, as well as a few ho-hum ones. It's a keeper. 
The sweet potato dish is definitely yummy. When I first tried it last Thanksgiving, the comment was, "This tastes more like dessert." Just a couple of minor changes to "veganize" it: I substituted Becel Vegan margarine for the butter (I think I used Earth Balance at Thanksgiving and either way turned out great). For the whipping cream, I used Silk Creamer. While this is definitely not a vegan cookbook, lots of the dishes are readily "veganizable," and I've tried several recipes that I've been very happy with, though one or two could use a little tune-up. The main dish section is almost exclusively meat dishes, but there are two recipes that are vegan: Ethiopian Vegetable Stew and Moroccan Vegetable Ragout. I've tried the stew - very good, but very spicy hot, so next time I will reduce the cayenne, and adjust the cooking process because some things turned out "crunchy" that shouldn't have. 
The 7 Layer Salad is a fun recipe that doesn't require a whole lot of work, other than chopping and slicing vegetables. And it looks very pretty layered in the bowl. But you have to have the right bowl for this salad: tall, straight and clear glass. I found mine at a Thrift Store. Here it is:

I probably should have photographed it against a plain background, so that it would show up better, but I wanted to show off my orchids. Can you tell which one is real? It's the one on the left. It's an Ice Orchid that you water by giving it three ice cubes once a week. We'll see if I can keep it alive. It was given to me by one of the guests at the party last night. The one on the right was given to me by the daughter of a client to thank me for all the work I'd done for her mother. So, back to the recipe - the dressing can be made either using the Aioli recipe in the cookbook (and yes, it does give the page number) or a commercial soy mayonnaise, to which you add 1/2 cup of lemon juice and 1/4 cup of sugar. The first time I made this, I used the Aioli, which also has lemon juice in it, and I found it tasted too strongly of lemon juice, though I still got complimented on it. I was planning on reducing the lemon juice when I made it for the party, but was using Vegannaise instead of the Aioli, so I opted to include the full amount. I was pleased with the result, and again got compliments on the salad. The dressing turns our fairly runny, but it needs to be in order to trickle down through all the salad layers. This cookbook I've mentioned in a previous post, when I wasn't happy with the pancakes. However, after making the carob cake (discussed following), I realize that a big factor in my unsuccessful pancakes was my outdated baking powder. Whoops! Much more to explore in Give Them Something Better...
Garlic bread - who doesn't like garlic bread? Made with a 900g loaf (that's 2 lb.) of light rye bread, I used two whole cups of Becel Vegan margarine and 24+ cloves of fresh garlic. Honestly, it's been many years since I've made home made garlic bread, so I consulted both my Five Roses and Purity cookbooks. Purity only called for 2 cloves of garlic per 1/2 cup of margarine and I knew that was not enough. If I want to eat garlic bread, I want to really taste the garlic. Five Roses called for 6, so for 2 cups for margarine I used over 24. Some of them were too small to be considered full cloves. :-) Wrapped in foil and baked 30 minutes at 350 degrees, and enjoyed by all. 
I have to admit that in all my years as a vegetarian and vegan, I have tasted some pretty poor excuses for dessert. Some just tasted too "healthy" to be dessert. I want dessert to taste like dessert. Can't something be both healthy and delicious? Well, the Frozen Peanut Butter Ice Cream Cake could make a believer out of anyone. This dessert is fairly labour intensive, but it's well worth it. My only complaint is that it freezes too solid. The suggested 10 minutes defrosting time is not nearly long enough. I had it out since we sat down to eat and it still was pretty solid. And the carob layer in the middle is the hardest part of all. One of the male guests, as you can see in the picture at the beginning of this post, actually took over slicing it for me, as it required some "brute strength." But it's very tasty. I just wonder if there's a product that could be used to help keep it from turning into a rock in the freezer...
As mentioned above, I discovered that using outdated baking powder doesn't work very well. The carob cake didn't rise like it should have, and ended up quite dense. The flavour was good, but the texture was not. In order to attempt to redeem the texture, I made the Peanut Butter Carob Pie filling, poured it on top of the cake, and poked holes in the cake with a knife so that the filling could seep in. It didn't help. The pie filling was very tasty, however. I used unsweetened carob chips for this recipe and it gave it almost a dark chocolate taste. 
I bought Good Nutrition for Life primarily for the Frozen Peanut Butter Ice Cream Cake. As I have a very large cookbook library, I have many cookbooks that haven't seen much use yet, and this is one of them. But there are some promising-looking recipes in there. 
All in all, I think it was a great dinner. I believe everyone enjoyed themselves and the food, and I enjoyed making it. I have enough leftovers that I've frozen some and will be eating more for most of this week...

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