Last Saturday my dad held a 'Teddy Bear's Picnic' in his garden, inviting 60 or so people (it's a big garden) to bring a hamper of food and a bear - drinks and silly games provided.
Now, my family hasn't exactly warmed to my recent dietary deviations (announcing about 3 months ago that I'd turned veggie - although now I'm pretty much vegan), and this seemed like a good opportunity to prove my case by feeding them lots of nice things. There were many logistical pitfalls to preparing a large quantity of food several counties away in one evening after work and then transporting it all to the event, but I won't bore you with that tale. Suffice to say I devised a plan to take the Friday before off work, take just ingredients up with me and pillage my mother's kitchen.
I spent an agonising evening earlier in the week with recipes, quantities and ingredients lists spilling out of my brain, never mind the elaborate operation of scheduling around work and other social commitments. I'd assumed it was a free-for-all type affair with the food, everyone brings something and we all share a bit of everything, and I was worried about having enough for myself plus who knows how many other people who may or may not eat any of it. This is the largest quantity of food I've ever attempted to cook in one job lot and frankly I can see why it is that people who work in kitchens get so stressed out.
On to the menu. My selected savouries were a wild rice pilaff (the wild card, apologies for the pun, as I'd never cooked this recipe before), dhal (cheap and good in quantity with easily freezable leftovers) and a yummy smoked tofu, spinach and lentil salad Mango and I tried a couple of weeks ago. And of course a big batch of hummus. Cakes are much easier, I know where I am with them and there's never any worry that they won't get eaten! My little sister, whose graduation it also was on Friday (in Preston, hence my non-attendance and amelioration via the magic of cake), requested carrot cake (I used the recipe from the marvellous Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World - though she didn't know that); I also did the never-fail dead easy and amazing chocolate cake with a last minute addition of chocolate mousse topping (again thanks to the cupcake book), and oat and cinnamon scones.
Wild Rice Pilaff
200g wild rice
1/2 onion, chopped
200g long grain rice
475ml vegetable stock
75 slivered or flaked almonds (I cracked them in a pestle and mortar for speed)
30ml chopped fresh parsley (which I cleverly forgot to add in at the end)
salt and pepper.
Warning: this is not a quick recipe. Boil a large pan of water and add the wild rice with a teaspoon of salt. Simmer for 45-60 minutes, until the rice is cooked. Meanwhile, melt half the margarine in a separate pan, add the onion and soften it for 5 minutes. Stir in the rice and cook for one more minute before adding the stock. Bring to the boil and simmer for 30-40 minutes, until the rice has absorbed the liquid. Melt the rest of the marg in a small pan and fry the almonds until they start to change colour. Mix the two lots of rice together in a big bowl (I made so blinking much of it I had to mix it in the biggest saucepan I could find, before decanting to a tureen and a large tupperware box) and add the almonds, raisins and half the parsley. Stir it all up, season and sprinkle with more parsley to serve.
This was pretty tasty actually, even without the parsley. The long grain rice took on a risotto-ey texture, and the whole thing was sweet and nutty.
1 tbsp raisins
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1cm cube ginger, chopped
2 green chillies (I chopped them but I can't remember if that's what the recipe said or not! Did have quite a kick so amend according to taste)
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
3/4 tsp red chilli powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 chopped tomato
teaspoon of sugar, optional
Soak the lentils for 20 mins. The original recipe (from another awesome book, ) uses chana dhal, but I used green lentils because already had some and I'm too miserly to shell out unless absolutely necessary. Fry the raisins in a bit of oil (sounds odd but it's pretty tasty!) for one minute - careful not to burn them - and set aside. Cook the lentils for 20 minutes, add half a teaspoon of salt and take off the heat. Saute the garlic, ginger, bay leaf and chillies for 2 mins, then stir in the cumin, chilli powder and turmeric. Add the tomato and sir fr2 minutes more. Add this mixture to the dhal with the sugar (if using), raisins and asafoetida (just a tiny bit, it's unbelievably pungent - stick your nose in the spice jar and you'll know what I'm talking about, you'll still be smelling it a week later!). Bring to the boil and cok until very soft, but not mushy. Garnish with coriander leaves and raisins if you can be bothered.
Smoked tofu salad
100g puy lentils
200g spinach or similar leafy green stuff (last time we forgot to buy spinach so we used lettuce instead, to no detrimental effect)
200g sliced smoked tofu
12 cherry tomatoes, halved
50g green pitted olives
4 tbsp sunflower seeds
1tbsp + 50ml tamari
200ml apple juice
1 tbsp apple concentrate
2cm cube ginger
1 tsp vegetable bouillon powder
The original recipe has some nonsense about roasting the sunflower seeds on a tray, coated with oil and the tablespoon of tamari, for aeons of time - but having neither the patience or the money for the electricity bill, we elected to dry toast the seeds in a pan, then gave them a splash with oil and tamari in a bowl whilst still hot. Boil the lentils with a bay leaf and a teaspoon of bouillon for 35 minutes. Mix the apple juice and concentrate with the 50ml tamari in a bowl, then grate in the ginger. Mix together the lentils, sunflower seeds and all other salady ingredients, then pour the liquid over.
Important lesson learned here at the weekend - I cleverly left the creation of this dish til the Saturday morning to minimise wilting/mushyness/brownness; however, I ruined it irrevocably by sploshing the (quite copious) dressing all over it a couple of hours before we had even left for the party. By the time we got there, the spinach had wilted, leaving the other ingredients swimming about in a rather unappetising soupy swill. To me it still tasted nice, but it wasn't exactly the stuff of legend - and certainly not the thing to convince my carnivorous clan of the merits of tofu and lentils. My 13-year-old niece asked what it was with a turned up nose, then ran away when I proffered some lentils for her to sample. I don't blame her really.
The carrot cupcakes... Well, as one could probably predict, I tempted fate thinking they'd be the easy part! In fact, they warrant another post entirely.
Sophie and Mango have got into the pleasing habit of trying out vegan recipes together on a Wednesday evening. This is not exactly a recipe blog, but a catalogue of trial and error, showing our successful and less than successful cooking adventures.