I spent this Saturday morning in a deserted coffee shop, having ventured out of the house for the first time in three days after a rough cold spell. With every sip of coffee and clandestine coconut creamer, I emerged some more from my weak, congested fog and greeted the new week a day early, country christmas music surrounding me and my to do list growing.
Monday night, Jules and I threw an intimate Italian dinner party for our club of crazy dedicated Vegan Iron Chef volunteers. I don’t have many pictures to prove it ⸺ which is truly the sign of a nice evening of food vs. inviting guests to a photo shoot ⸺ but we snuck some in, because of social media addiction, and heart to hear here: I was so excited and proud of the spread and group. I’ve been so enchanted by Thai cuisine in recent years that I don’t cook Italian feasts like I once used to, inspired by those of my heavily Southern Sicilian and Neapolitan influenced-childhood.
In many ways, I consider Vegan Iron Chef the little club that could, and I’m so appreciative of the people who have helped bring it back. It didn’t really go anywhere, throwing vegan taco and breakfast scramble cook-offs in recent years, but the Ultimate Mac & Cheese Showcase had something really special going on (and three times the number of attendees + chefs + donations, sheesh). It was this ocean storm of an event, unlike anything I’ve been a part of before. It brought me back to the rush of the second city-wide competition in 2011. As always, there was a lot that takes ya by surprise, but even more that left us positively shell-shocked, and it was all thanks to the community and that tiny group of volunteers that made it all happen.
Almost three weeks later, my life returned to normal and Jules and I stopped eating as much pasta, but not as much vegan artisan cheese. Naturally, it made sense to cook even more pasta and lay out even more vegan cheese and pickle platters (the way I largely intended to at the event, before time start zooming by) for big-hearted folks that I appreciate so.
Plus, things are even more special when you have time to make spiced kabocha-quince syrup and your wife throws down some chalkboard art and a centerpiece.
The evening’s house cocktail was a take on the Showcase’s “Fall Fashioned”: Two parts whisky (in this case, not infused), three parts ginger ale, fresh orange & lime slices, orange bitters and maybe half a part of spiced kabocha-quince syrup, which was made with coconut palm sugar and infused with cinnamon sticks, fresh ginger, nutmeg and cloves. Served over ice.
The focaccia comes from this no knead recipe, because I remain a regular no-kneader these days. I baked it stretched out on a cookie sheet vs. a smaller pan, and sprinkled with olive oil, coarse sea salt and my neighbor’s neglected rosemary.
Have no doubt that the Penne Alla Vodka is veganized from a Lidia, with Trader Joe’s soy creamer, homemade v. Parmesan (via Artisan Vegan Cheese), plenty of crushed red pepper, and the garlic pureed into the majority of the sauce.
The Kabocha Lasagna, as if I have actual notes to share, is a loose hybrid of this Martha Stewart Butternut Squash, Sage & Ricotta Cannelloni and Veganomicon’s Pumpkin Baked Ziti, with a few twists thrown in. To attempt to recollect…I puréed the roasted squash with silken tofu into a thick sauce, and added caramelized shallots and pan-fried sage leaves on top of a miso-flavored tofu ricotta, among other things. Here it is, mid-assembly,
The June before last was evidently the last time I made tiramisu, and I dare declare this go the victor. What can I say? This version’s vanilla cake (via VCTOTW + cacao liqueur), modeling itself after ladyfingers, was sliced and toasted in the style of biscotti. Lidia advised adding grated chocolate and cocoa powder between the layers, and I learned that whipping coconut cream + v. cream cheese + v. sour cream (ahhhh) + powdered sugar + vanilla makes for one heck of a knockoff mascarpone. Oh, and there’s espresso, courtesy of my oft-forgotten Bialetti, and homemade coffee liqueur in the mix (but I learned a quick lesson: go for drizzled, not soaked).