Sunday, February 17, 2008

Semi-Homemade and Semi-Vegan

Imagine: You get an email telling you to rendezvous at a specific time with a mysterious stranger. You show up, enter a room pulsing with bad dance music and twenty-year-old anxiety, and approach a table staffed by harried students. They introduce you to your mystery date... and then handcuff you together. At Grinnell, this is how Valentine's Day is celebrated: with a dance called "Chains," where your friends can anonymously set you up with your true love match... or with a total stranger.

Allison and I thought, what better way to pre-party for Chains than with a small soirée for a few of our closest friends? Because we're super-busy, but also creative and charming, we decided to throw a 1950s-kitsch-themed party using almost exclusively pre-prepared and processed foods. Delicious! Or at least fast.

Our menu was:
strawberry and chocolate cupcakes with semi-vegan buttercream frosting
Lipton's onion dip
Sour cream salsa dip
assorted chips
almond-covered cheese ball with Ritz crackers
reduced-to-clear Valentine's Day candy
punch with sherbet and strawberries

Unfortunately, the spread disappeared before we could get good photos of the food. But you can see from this photo of the carnage that the party was a success - thanks Bryan for the fabulously composed pictures.

Classy! We even had requests for the cheese ball recipe. So, here it is!

Awesome Cheese Ball

(Adapted from the "Heavyset Cheese Ball" in I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence by Amy Sedaris)


8 oz pkg of cream cheese
1/2 c REAL Mayonnaise
dried dill weed
garlic powder
3 tbs coarse grain mustard
1/2 c whole natural almonds, roasted in the oven


Cream together the cream cheese and Mayonnaise. Season with spices to your taste, mix in the mustard, and refrigerate the whole concoction for a few hours. When it has become more firm, form it into a log-like shape on a plate, and cover it with the almonds, which should be arranged to evoke the idea of a pinecone. Don't ask me why.

The other major home-made success was our buttercream frosting, which we have decided, because it involved soymilk, is almost vegan.

Semi-Vegan Frosting


2 sticks of butter (no, really)
A whole bunch of powdered sugar (probably five or six cups)
1/4 cup or so of soymilk (add more to achieve spreadability)
food coloring optional


Cream the butter in a large mixing bowl with a spoon. Once it's soft, add about a quarter of the powdered sugar and a splash of soymilk, mixing everything together to create delicious frosting. Keep adding the powdered sugar and soymilk alternately until all the powdered sugar has been used. Feel free to personalize this recipe by tinting the frosting hot pink (like we did!), or any other appropriate color.

So, if you want to throw a fabulous party, the main ingredients are:

Delicious unhealthy food
The soundtrack to American Graffiti
"Apples to Apples"
Festively attired guests

Until next time, remember:

Keep it simple, keep it kitschy, and always semi-homemade!

These scones are delightful!

Let me tell you, Allison, my winter break wasn't very eventful. Mostly I sat around agonizing about my future for hours on end. Or watching Project Runway. Anyway, there were a few bright points to my vacation, one of which was a delightful tea party I went to at a friend's house. In honor of merry old England (from which I had just returned), I decided to make scones! But I made cranberry orange scones, which is kind of a fake American scone variety.

They were delicious! We ate them with clotted cream and Barefoot Contessa brand strawberry jam!

As you can see, there was quite a lavish spread--we also had custard tarts with an edible flower and raspberry garnish, fancy imported cookies, cucumber and salmon finger sandwiches, two kinds of tea, and plenty of ambiance. Most importantly, we had the necessary nourishment to sustain us through an epic gossiping situation.

Because really, what's the point of coming home from college if not to gossip about every single person you went to high school with? And with the help of Facebook, nobody can keep any secrets.

Scrumptious Cranberry-Orange Scones

(From Baking Illustrated: A Best Recipe Classic by the editors of Cook's Illustrated Magazine. I love this book because it has great diagrams and very clear directions for every basic baked item you could possibly think of)


2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tbs baking powder
3 tbs sugar
1/2 tsp salt
5 tbs cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 cubes
1 tsp grated orange zest
3/4 c dried cranberries
1 c heavy cream

Preheat oven to 425.

Place four, baking powder, sugar and salt in a large bowl, or the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Whisk together or process with six one second pulses.

(I used the food-processor method, and it worked perfectly)

If making by hand use two knives, a pastry blender, or your fingertips and quickly cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal with a few slightly larger butter lumps. If using the food processor, remove the cover and distribute the butter evenly over the dry ingredients. Cover and process with twelve one-second pulses.

(At this point, the mixture should resemble coarse, wet sand)

Add the currants and quickly mix in or pulse one more time. transfer the dough to a large bowl.

Stir in heavy cream with a rubber spatula or fork until the dough begins to form, about 30 seconds. Transfer the dough and all dry flour bits to a counter top and knead the dough by hand just until it comes together into a rough, slightly sticky ball, five to ten seconds.

Cut the scones into eight wedges. (There's a secret, special technique for getting the wedges perfect: press the dough into a lightly greased or buttered 8" round cake pan, then invert the pan on a plate or cutting surface. Presto--a perfect circle of dough to cut with a sharp knife)

Place the wedges on an un-greased baking sheet. Bake until the scone tops are light brown, 12-15 in. Cool on a wire rack.

Eat with clotted cream, God's gift to mankind. And of course plenty of jam!