Category Archives: Party guide

Wine and Strawberries: A Lovely Frozen Dessert

Vegan MoFo

I first started getting into wine in college but I didn’t have a lot of money so I found myself buying up an inexpensive tasty young French wine called Beaujolais. It’s the reason I fell in love with wine.  And as I’ve broadened my viticultural horizons I still maintain a love for Beaujolais. Not all wine you drink has to be bold and oaky and somber and pricey, sometimes you want a fun, berry-forward wine to relax and dance around with.

Several villages in the Beaujolais region all grow gamay grapes to produce a light, fruity, unassuming wine. Located just south of the Burgundy region the differences in elevation and a warmer temperature called for a heartier, easier grape than Burgundy’s pinot. Ripening a few weeks earlier than grapes in other regions, Beaujolais crafted a new type of wine. First, there is the properly aged Beaujolais Cru which is mellow and balanced, which you can drink year round. Then there is Beaujolais Nouveau, which is entirely different and highly seasonal. Beaujolais Nouveau, fermented in just 6 to 8 weeks, created a huge following. I like to think of it as a party wine because it was initially created as a way to celebrate the end of the wine harvest in the fall but it quickly built up a huge following. Now, on the third Thursday of November there are huge parties celebrating its release.

While Beaujolais Nouveau is only drinkable for a couple months, I like to keep the party going in the summer using a nice Beaujolais Cru and some organic strawberries to create a granita which is to say a slightly alcoholic cross between sorbet and a snow cone. What more could you really ask for in a dessert?

Strawberry Beaujolais granitaI love to go berry picking in Somis at Underwood Family Farms. It’s not too far from my house, there’s no cover for picking, and they charge $1.99 per pound! It’s a total bargain seeing as buying a pint of organic strawberries costs about $3 at Whole Foods and up to $6 at the farmer’s market. They also have blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries during various summer months so I usually head home laden with 5 pounds of strawberries and 5 pounds of whatever other berry is ripe during my visit. I go picking every three weeks so my fridge and freezer are always full of perfectly ripe berries. What can I say? I’m obsessed with summer produce. If you’re even a quarter as obsessed as I am you will definitely love this recipe.

Sheet of almost frozen strawberry and wine mixture

Strawberry Beaujolais Granita

*Quick tip: When buying Beaujolais try to stay from the Louis Jadot and Georges Duboeuf brands. They are large-scale wine producers who buy up grapes from many villages within the Beaujolais region and mix them all together resulting in the unique qualities of the wine being muted.

Adapted from Bon Appetit.

Makes 8 servings


1 cup water

1 cup sugar

2 pounds (8 cups) fresh strawberries, hulled and halved

1 cup Beaujolais wine


2 cups fresh strawberries, sliced


Stir water and sugar in a saucepan over medium-high heat until the sugar dissolves. This makes your simple syrup. Set aside and let cool.

Place strawberries, Beaujolais, and syrup in a blender and blend until smooth. You may need to do this in batches. Strain the strawberry puree through a sieve and into a 13x9x2-inch metal pan. Cover the pan and place in freezer for 1 hour.

Using a fork stir frozen mixture, mashing any solid parts then return to freezer. Scrape mixture with a fork every 30 minutes to form icy crystals.

Divide among glasses or bowls and add the fresh sliced strawberries. Voilà! A simple dessert with only 3 ingredients, 4 if you count the water.

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A Mediterranean Vegetarian Tagine

I like to bring easy self-serve dishes to a party; anything that can fit into a bowl usually does the trick. This strategy pays off since it doesn’t require a lot of space or dirty lots of dishes, it’s not as fancy as tiers of complicated little bites but if the flavors are good and hearty people will go for it.

One of my favorite choices is a simple, uncomplicated Moroccan dish; I first tried this with a recipe from Bon Appetit; however I found a few elements to be too time consuming as well as a hinderance to the clean flavors of the dish. After reworking the recipe I ended up with a real crowd pleaser and the best part is that after you chop a few vegetables the hard part is over. The vibrant orange hues of this dish really stand out; the brightness matches the flavor perfectly. The rustic flavor of the turnips plays into the soft sweetness of the potatoes and carrots, balanced out by the zing of sun-dried tomatoes and olives. And my absolute favorite part of a good stew is the texture; it gives your mouth a break so you can play with your food a bit and don’t have to worry about getting anything stuck in your teeth.

Moroccan Vegetable Tagine

For a quick version, you can use store bought ground spices instead of toasting and grinding the spices yourself. An interesting fact about coriander: it’s the same thing as cilantro and in the UK the seeds and the fresh herb both go by the proper title, coriander, whereas in here in the U.S. the fresh herb/leaves are called by their Spanish name, cilantro.

If you want to make some of this ahead of time you can make the spice mixture a up to 1 week ahead and store in a plastic bag or container. You can prep the vegetables 1 day ahead and store in plastic bags or containers, just be sure to keep the sweet potatoes and turnips submerged in water to keep them from browning. You can make the couscous 1 or 2 days ahead.

Makes 6 servings


1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds

1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 1/2 cups chopped onion

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 1/4 cups 1/2-inch cubes peeled carrots

1 celery stalk, chopped

4 cups water

1 1/4 pounds red-skinned sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 pound turnips (about 2 medium), peeled, cut into 3/4-inch wedges

3/4 cup brine-cured green olives, pitted, coarsely chopped (I would advise against using canned olives as they can be quite bland)

1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes (about 1 ounce; not oil-packed), thinly sliced

1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

1 teaspoon dried or chopped fresh mint (optional)

10 ounces couscous

3 cups vegetable stock


In a skillet over medium heat toast the coriander, cumin, and caraway seeds until they start to brown, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and cool. Transfer seeds to a spice mill (or if you’re more low tech use a mortar and pestle) and process until finely ground. Add red pepper flakes, turmeric, and salt and set aside.

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add onion and saute until it starts to soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in spice blend, garlic, and tomato paste for 1 minute. Stir in carrots and celery for 2 minutes. Add water, sweet potatoes, turnips, olives, and sun-dried tomatoes and simmer for 35 minutes with lid ajar; stirring occasionally. Add parsley, cilantro, and mint; season with salt and pepper. Close lid, remove from heat and let stand for 10 minutes.

While the vegetables are simmering you can make the couscous, or you can make it beforehand. Add vegetable stock to a small pot, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, add couscous, put on the lid, and let sit for 7 minutes. Fluff with a fork and spoon onto plates, placing the stewed vegetables on top.

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What do vegans eat?

what the hell _does_ a vegan eat anyway?: King Trumpet Mushroom “Scallops” with Barbecue Miso Glaze, Parsnip Noodles with Cilantro Walnut Pesto

What the hell do vegans eat anyway? It’s an intriguing and amusing question; but more importantly, it’s a great blog for ideas. The couple that runs this blog are big on variety, experimentation and parties. They don’t always post recipes but they give enough description accompanied by lovely photos that it doesn’t take long to scrounge up your own recipe and plating ideas.

One particular post of theirs (look at the link above) I am dying to recreate, or break down and buy Matthew Kenney’s book for the recipe they used. King trumpet mushroom “scallops,” what a beautiful idea. Of any meat that I’ve eaten in the past, scallops are by far my favorite; light and buttery, like little savory pillows. Mushrooms contain an umami flavor that can hold up to a vegan scallop concoction. I can’t say that I’ve tasted the king trumpet variety, but if it’s anything like chanterelle or oyster mushrooms I can imagine how perfect this recipe will be.

Since this recipe is only at the planning stage there will be lots of kinks to work out before perfection is attained. Stay tuned and I’ll keep you posted as this goes along.

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Taco success after a lazy week

Last weekend I drove up to San Francisco for some much needed excitement, travel, fun and friends. Shopped at the Farmer’s Market at the Ferry Building where I tried some amazing fresh made tofu, hiked around Golden Gate Park, had phenomenal pumpkin curry at Marnee Thai, sampled some wine and just generally meandered around the city. It was a blast.

However, it’s funny how running around and thoroughly enjoying myself for 3 days results in complete exhaustion once I return to work and the schedule that it dictates. In short, back in LA I downshifted into lazy mode and didn’t get much writing or cooking done for the next few days. I was then pulled out of my hibernation with a brilliant idea on how to perfect recreating a taco dish from one of my favorite veg restaurants.

The veggie tacos from Natural Cafe are scrumptious; hearty, savory and warm. My numerous attempts at these tacos in the past always ended in disappointment but  I realized a few things that are imperative to this dish: first, the vegetables need to marinate for several hours, and second, they need to be roasted on high heat rather than sauteed. With this in mind I was driven to try afresh; everything seemed to finally click. I altered a marinade recipe which I use for broiled portobellos and that worked perfectly. My week culminated in success, and it tasted wonderful.

Veggie Tacos

You can swap out any of these vegetables for whatever you like/have on hand. I served these with a side of spicy black beans. Simple and perfect.

Makes 10-12 tacos


1 head of cauliflower, separated and cut into small florets

1 head broccoli, separated and cut into small florets

8 carrots, thinly sliced

4 celery stalks, thinly sliced

10 ounces porcini mushrooms, sliced

1 medium onion, sliced


3/4 cup olive oil

4 tablespoons soy sauce

8 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 1/2 tablespoons cumin

2 teaspoons garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder

Finishing Touches:

3-4 tablespoons shredded cheddar or vegan cheddar

10-12 tablespoons salsa (I used a serrano and tomatillo salsa)

10-12 corn tortillas (I used the blue corn variety)


Whisk all the marinade ingredients in a container that will fit in your fridge. Toss the vegetables into the marinade, cover and refrigerate for 6-8 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 400F degrees. Arrange vegetables on a baking sheet, discard the marinade (or save it for more tacos later). Bake for about 20 minutes or until they start to brown. At 15 minutes, you can sprinkle the cheese on top of the vegetables and return to oven.

Warm the tortillas on the stove or in the microwave. Brush each tortilla with a tablespoon of salsa, then fill with the roasted vegetables.

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An appetizer that’s practically a side dish

Beans are a staple in my diet; they provide me with the protein I need as well as delicious flavor and texture in my dishes. However, as the holiday season winds to a close I have to say I am still obsessed with pumpkin; from September through January I can’t get enough of pumpkin, its light, earthy flavor and pliability from savory to sweet gets me every year. So to blow out the Christmas season my second appetizer was a cauliflower puree and pumpkin hummus dip, courtesy of Healthy Happy Life.

This dip goes well with whole wheat or multi-grain crostini

I made a few alterations to the recipe to suit my own tastes, for instance, maple and pumpkin are a great combination but I wanted the pumpkin to have just an undertone of sweetness so that it tied with the savory cauliflower. I also wanted the cauliflower puree to have a creamier texture so I increased the amount of alternative milk.

Cauliflower Puree and Pumpkin Hummus Dip

The most obscure ingredient in this recipe is apple cider vinegar; it’s worth the buy, trust me. Apple cider vinegar can be used in vegan baking, added to water to help curb your appetite as well as taken as a shot for a sore throat.

Serves 10-12


Pumpkin Hummus:

3/4 cup canned organic pumpkin, unsweetened

1 cup garbanzo beans, drained

2 tablespoons maple syrup

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 teaspoons garlic powder

1 teaspoons apple cider vinegar (I use Bragg’s)

dash of cinnamon

salt to taste


Cauliflower Puree:

1 head cauliflower, chopped

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

3 tablespoons olive oil

pinch of salt and fine black pepper

8 tablespoons alternative milk (I used boxed coconut milk)



Preheat oven to 425F degrees. Wash and roughly chop cauliflower (should be about 8 cups). Chop onion and place both the cauliflower and onion onto 2 baking sheets. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Shake the baking sheets to distribute the oil and salt. Roast for 20-25 minutes or until slightly caramelized, then let cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 250F degrees.

In the meantime, blend all of the pumpkin hummus ingredients and set aside.

Blend the cauliflower and onion with the remaining oil from the baking sheets and gradually add the alternative milk (for a prettier presentation set aside a couple pieces of onion and cauliflower as a garnish). I did this in two batches since I didn’t want to overload my blender. Blend until smooth then place in a medium baking dish.

Place the pumpkin hummus on top of the cauliflower puree and push the center down with a knife and make large circles to make a swirl pattern. Top with the garnish and drizzle with an additional teaspoon of olive oil. Bake for 20 minutes or until the top begins to dry and crack like a crust.

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Party, indulge, skip the bellyache

I always contribute something to a party, not only because I love cooking and sharing food but also because I can control the healthfulness of the food I bring. In the case of Christmas dinner, I brought some appetizers, veggie dishes and even cookies and dessert, meaning I could eat and party with my family without a second thought as to how much fat/calories/carbs I was eating. It’s an absolutely wonderful feeling, especially when my carnivorous relatives even take a shine to my dishes, everybody wins.

The first on the veganize chart is spinach-artichoke dip. I’ve never been much for dips because I never know what is in them; I always assume either mayonnaise or sour cream, both of which are on my list of foods to avoid. The idea for this recipe was tailored to my family; most of them are not big fans of health foods so my usual fare of quinoa, kale or raw veggies were out. I wanted to brings foods that matched traditional party fare and while my version of this dip isn’t gooey and cheesy it has one special ingredient that opens up the flavors quite nicely. I guess two ingredients: tofu provides the necessary creaminess and texture that binds the dip together, a role usually filled by cheese. However, the main star of this dish is garlic aioli, it’s vegan and most importantly it has a certain zest and acidity that gives this dip its own depth and heartiness.

Spinach-Artichoke Dip

Serves 8



8 ounces fresh spinach, washed

1 10 oz. package frozen artichoke hearts, cooked and drained

1 4 oz. can diced mild green chiles, drained

2 tablespoons (or 1 small bunch) scallions, minced

1 cup firm tofu, well drained (I use organic sprouted tofu)

3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons garlic aioli (I used Majestic Garlic spread)

2 teaspoons olive oil



In a pot of boiling water, steam the spinach until wilted, about 2 minutes (I steamed mine over the artichokes while they were boiling). Transfer to colander and press any excess liquid from the spinach.

In a food processor, chop the artichokes. Then add the chiles, scallions, tofu, lemon juice, salt, pepper and garlic aioli and process until well blended. Then add the spinach and process until the spinach is lightly blended into the mixture.

Transfer to a small baking dish, cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Approximately 30 minutes before serving take the dip out of the fridge and preheat oven to 250F degrees. Pop the dip in the oven, uncovered for 20 minutes or until the top is lightly browned. Drizzle with olive oil and serve with crudités and/or corn tortilla chips.

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