Plant-Based Entertaining for Everyone

I have many times had friends or family over for dinner and prepared an entirely vegan meal with great success. This was only my second time, however, throwing a large party with an extensive plant-based menu that needed to please guests all of all ages and diets. In attendance, I had several vegetarians, one gluten-free eater, and a whole bunch of standard omnivores.

I tried first, to think of foods that it seems everyone likes to eat: fruit, chips, and sweets. Then I thought about how I could make all of those items vegan (and some gluten-free, too), but tasty enough that my guests would never know it…or at least never miss the animal product varieties.

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Here’s what I served:

Chocolate peanut butter truffles: A play on my power ball formula, I used extra cocoa powder and rolled them in unsweetened shredded coconut. Guests said that they were delicious and rich: exactly what I was going for with a truffle!

Mini-fruit kabobs with cinnamon coconut whipped cream: As you know, I’ve been recently delighted to make and try coconut whipped cream in conjunction with my nice cream formula. I added ground cinnamon to this batch – yum!

Mini-chocolate chip cookies: A variation of my chip cookie formula, these were tasty, but a bit crumbly. I was surprised since I’ve made them many times before. Maybe my preggo brain forgot an ingredient?! Very possible. 🙂

Tahini dip: My creamy dressing formula kept extra thick for dipping. It was a crowd favorite.

Roasted fennel hummus: My hummus formula with fennel as the star vegetable was a gamble…and I won (or, I should say, my guests won)!

Lemon raspberry cashew mousse: Remember that failed attempt at vegan cheesecake turned mousse? I served these delightful little cups at my party and several people asked me for the recipe. I’d say they worked out ok after all.

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In addition to fresh fruit, I also served raw veggies, organic blue corn tortilla chips, and two different types of pretzels for dipping. I adorned the tables with small bowls of trail mix for extra munching and had beer and white sangria flowing. Guests seemed happy and full.

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As I mentioned when I threw Nolan’s second birthday party, I’m done serving food that I no longer regularly eat. I hate the idea of potential meat and dairy-based leftovers that threaten to throw me off the wagon (I don’t waste food, ya’ll). Stick to your guns in designing the menu for a party. Remember, guests don’t have to eat your food, but they would definitely be missing out if they didn’t!

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In case you were wondering, the party was a diaper party for Baby #2. Since it isn’t customary to throw a second shower, I wanted to have a more laidback celebration for our family’s final installment. Offering food, booze, and a good time in exchange for diapers was a win-win for all involved…and baby is stocked up for the first year or more of his/her life. Just an idea if you’re looking for a fun and easy way to celebrate a second baby or beyond. 🙂

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Cheesecake Fail Turned Happy Accident

As I mentioned in my nice cream post, cheesecake is a popular dessert among vegan cooks, chefs, and bloggers right now. Many that I follow are experimenting with recipes to create a dairy-free version of this classic dessert and are taking it up a notch by making it no-bake and sometimes, raw, too.

Turns out, a successful vegan cheesecake is not easy, and I have yet to join the ranks of those who have successfully gone before me, despite seemingly knowing my stuff. When I develop a new Fresh Formula, I do so through either through experimentation in my own kitchen, research among other vegan cooks, or a combination of both. From those that I follow, I learned that the “cheese” in such a vegan concoction is made possible with cashews and sometimes, coconut cream, two ingredients that I’ve been obsessed with of late (see my potato salad and nice cream formulas).

I developed a formula that I saw as the right balance between sweet, creamy, and decadent without going overboard in any one flavor profile. I tasted the filling as I went, making adjustments as necessary, and came up with a final product that I was sure was the cheesecake winner.

Well, everything was fine until I went to thaw my mini-cheesecakes (all of the recipes I researched stressed the need to freeze and then thaw them to secure the desired shape) and they melted. 😦 Somehow, other vegan cooks have figured out how to make these beauties hold their shape, just like a dairy cheesecake. I, however, have to yet to find success in form. What did happen, though, was amazingly delicious: mousse!

As you know, I already have one mousse formula that is tofu-based. This is a trusty standby for me as it holds its shape well and is jam-packed with protein. I’m not doing away with that mousse rendition; now, I just have more options! And, as far as protein content is concerned, nuts can hold their own, too, so I’m not “missing out” with my new formula.

This mousse formula—which I’m calling “Fruit Mousse,” as the other one is chocolate-based—does, however, contain more fat and sugar. These are natural, cholesterol-free fats and sugars, but two ingredients I try to use sparingly nonetheless. Point is, make this as a special treat and serve it at a party where you will no doubt impress the omnivores in attendance, too (that’s what I did and it was a huge hit…more to follow on that). I would recommend serving in individual containers since this mousse won’t keep its shape when sliced as a pie.

A quick note about citrus zest…You’ll notice that I’m using lemon zest in today’s mousse, in addition to lemon juice. Isn’t the juice enough? The zest packs a ton of added flavor and to me, is actually even more flavorful than the juice. Plus, I’m a huge fan of using as much of the fruit as possible, so there’s that. Finally, lemon zest, in particular, contains five to ten times more nutrients than the juice of the fruit, providing health benefits, too. Be careful when you zest not to grate your citrus fruit down to the white pith, which is bitter.

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All-in-all, while I don’t have a cheesecake in my fridge (I will keep trying!), I’m pretty happy with how my unexpected mousse turned out. One person’s fail is another person’s victory?! In this case, both of those people were me. J Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: FRUIT MOUSSE

Makes 24 mini-cups

For the crust (optional):

  • ½ cup unsweetened dried fruit (no added oil) –> I’m using 5 pitted medjool dates.
  • ¼ cup raw, unsalted nuts/seeds –> I’m using pecans.
  • 1 ½ tbsps oil or nut/seed butter –> I’m using coconut oil.
  • ¼-½ tsp seasoning (spices, salt, etc.) –> I’m using ¼ tsp cinnamon and a pinch of pink Himalayan sea salt.

For the filling:

  • 1 ½ cups raw cashews, soaked in water overnight
  • 1 cup raw fruit –> I’m using ¾ cup raspberries and the juice of 2 lemons.
  • ½ cup coconut cream
  • ½ cup liquid sweetener –> I’m using raw agave syrup.
  • 1 tbsp oil* –> I’m using coconut.
  • ½-1 tbsp combination of spices, extracts, fresh herbs, etc. (optional) –> I’m using the zest of my 2 lemons and a quick splash of almond extract.
  • 2-4 tbsps garnish (raw seeds, nuts, herbs, spices, citrus zest, dried fruit, chocolate chips, etc.) (optional) –> I’m using mini-semisweet chocolate chips (vegan).

*I only used oil because all of the cheesecake recipes I researched called for some oil. I don’t know that it is essential to mousse, so you may be able to opt out of it. I won’t know until I try making this again at some point!

If using, put all of the ingredients into a food processor. Pulse until well-combined, but sticky. Press into your individual serving vessels of choice. I originally planned to make these in a mini-muffin pan and pop them out frozen to thaw, thus why you see them that way here. Later, when I realized that the mousse would not maintain a mini-pie shape after being popped out of the pan, I transferred each mousse to an individual plastic cup, which is where I would have started my crust to begin with, had I known what was going to happen. 🙂  Place crusts in the freezer to firm up.

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Drain and rinse your cashews. Put all of your filling ingredients (except the garnish, if using) in a blender and puree until silky smooth. Pour over prepared crusts, garnish, and place in the fridge to chill. Again, knowing what I know now, I would not use the mini-muffin pan! Make sure your individual mousse cups are in a container that you can put a lid on. Remove from the fridge when you’re ready to serve.

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Wonderberries Turned Homemade Triple-Berry Jam

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When I updated you on the progress of our garden, I shared a photo of the wonderberries (AKA sunberries) that had mysteriously begun growing there.  By the time we returned from Michigan on Sunday, they were ready to harvest.  Not naturally very sweet, we knew we were going to use them to make jam.

DSC_2065As you know, I’ve been craving peanut butter and jelly this pregnancy.  Between my PB&J smoothie, PB&J atop rice cakes and graham crackers, and good old PB&J sandwiches, I’ve got my cravings covered!  The downside to many jellies and jams, however, is that they are loaded with sugar.  Today, I’m making a triple-berry jam—inspired by our wonderberry harvest—that is low in added sweetener.

First, a few definitions that will help us along the way:

PECTIN:  A natural gelling agent found in the cell walls of plants.  You can purchase pectin in powdered form to make vegan jelly, jam, or jello.  (Gelatin, which is not vegan, comes from animals, and is found in such items as gummy bears and marshmallows.)  This pectin brand is available at Whole Foods.

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JELLY:  A smooth pectin-based mixture that contains fruit juice (or, unfortunately, artificial flavors that mimic real fruit) and no chunks of actual fruit.

JAM:  A less smooth pectin-based mixture that contains mashed, pureed, or whole fruits.

Of course, I am making jam.  As mentioned in a previous post, I try to keep my consumption of juice to a minimum; whole fruits contain more fiber, which aids in preventing the conversion of sugar to fat.  For my sweetener, I’m using light agave syrup, which I first introduced to you with my coleslaw formula.  Compared to many (if not most) store-bought jams, mine contains very little added sugar and no artificial sweeteners of any kind.

I must warn you, despite containing few ingredients, making jam does contain quite of few steps, including several rounds of boiling.  Having a helper in the kitchen makes a big difference, and you can make jam in bulk to save time later on.  🙂  This jam keeps at room temperature for one year, but should be refrigerated and consumed in three weeks once a jar is opened.  Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE:  JAM

Makes 2 small jars or 1 large*

  • 2 cups raw or precooked fruit**  –>  I’m using ½ cup wonderberries, ½ cup raspberries, and 1 cup blackberries.
  • 2 tbsps sweetener  –>  I’m using agave syrup.
  • 1 tsp pectin
  • 1 tsp calcium water (prepare according to package directions)

*You can find mason jars at many retailers including dollar or 99 cent stores.

**A hard fruit like apples will be easier to mash or puree if it has been precooked, but a softer fruit like raspberries will mash easily in a raw state.

Fill a pot with water enough to completely cover your mason jars in standing position and bring to a boil.  Add both the jars and their lids.  After the jars have boiled for a few minutes, turn the heat on low and keep the jars in the hot water.

Next, peel and precook your fruit, if necessary.  Place your raw and/or cooked fruit in a bowl and mash, or, puree in a blender or food processor.

DSC_2072Combine your mashed fruit and calcium water in a pot and bring to a boil.  While you are awaiting the boil, combine your pectin and sweetener in a separate dish.

DSC_2073Add the mixture to the boiling fruit and stir an additional 1-2 minutes, until the pectin is dissolved.  Remove from the heat.

Using tongs, remove your hot jars from the other pot and bring the water to a boil again.  While you are waiting for yet another boil, pour the jam into the jars, approximately ¼ of an inch from the top.  Wipe the rims clean and seal.  Once the water is boiling, submerge the jars in an upright position and boil for 10 minutes.

Use tongs to remove the hot jars and place on the countertop to cool.  Refrigerate once opened.

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I’m Pregnant, and I want PB&J!

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If you haven’t heard via one of my social media accounts (follow me on Twitter and Instagram @jackiewitzke or on Tumblr, TheFreshFormula), I am pregnant with baby #2! We have lovingly named our mini-us Baby Dos, since we aren’t finding out the sex until birth. I’m happy to report that I’ve been feeling well overall, especially now that the exhaustion of the first trimester has passed.

When I was pregnant with Nolan, I craved macaroni and cheese, which doesn’t exactly bode well for my plant-based lifestyle. This pregnancy, I’m thankful to be craving something animal-free: good ‘ole peanut butter and jelly! So long as jelly doesn’t contain gelatin, it is naturally vegan. I buy nut butters containing only nuts, so they’re as natural as you can get, too. And as you know, I also make my own bread, so PB&J is generally a pretty healthy snack for me…

…except for the excess of sugar found in some jelly brands. I’ve handled this a couple of ways. If I purchase premade jelly, I look for all-natural varieties that do not contain high fructose corn syrup. Travis and I have also made our own jellies and jams in the past, allowing us to control the amount and quality of sweetener that goes in.

Regardless of how well I shop or prepare homemade jellies and jams, sugar is sugar. Not only does the average person need to avoid consuming an excess, but certainly a pregnant woman should. I have solved this problem by turning to an old standby: my dessert smoothie formula.

Yes, it’s here: the no-sugar-added PB&J smoothie! I derive all of the sweetness in this treat from raw fruit and medjool dates (as needed). But wait, doesn’t fruit contain sugar? Yes – thankfully, it is coupled with fiber to slow the body’s absorption and prevent the conversion to fat. A dietician that I follow (as mentioned in this previous post) eats primarily raw fruit in her vegan diet and claims that you cannot consume too much of natural sugar in this form (juice, of course, is another story, which I wrote about in the same post). So, not to worry PB&J lovers!

My favorite jelly is that of raspberries, which I’m including in today’s formula adaptation. Raspberries (as with many other berries) happen to be low in sugar, for those concerned, and contain more fiber than any other fruit. Pretty awesome, huh?!  These pictured below are frozen, not moldy.  🙂

DSC_2033Like my chocolate peanut butter banana smoothie, you can enjoy this one for dessert, but it would make for a well-balanced breakfast or snack, too. Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: DESSERT SMOOTHIE

Serves 2-3

  • 2 frozen bananas (or fresh bananas and ice)
  • ½-1 cup specialty ingredients –> I’m using ¾ cup frozen raspberries and ¼ cup peanut butter.*
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds
  • 1 tbsp ground flax seeds
  • 1 tbsp hulled hemp seeds
  • ¼-½ tsp extract of choice (optional, and amount depends on flavor intensity) –> I’m not using any.
  • Pitted medjool dates as needed for sweetness –> I’m not using any.
  • Juice or plant milk until desired consistency (start with 4 oz) –> I’m using almond.

*You could use any combination of berries and nut/seed butter.  🙂

Place all ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth, adjusting specialty ingredients as necessary.

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