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Come for the Cheesecake, Stay for the Cat House

During VeganMoFo I designated Saturday on my blog as “Sweet Tooth Saturday,” so here is a photo of the sublimely delicious (as well as quick and easy) chocolate cheesecake from Quick-Fix Vegan.  In the book, the cheesecake is made in a square pan, although it can also be made in a springform pan as in this tester photo (shown here with a drizzle of balsamic glaze — thanks, Lea!).

Today is also “Caturday” which brings us to the real star of today’s post: the custom house that Jon built for Jason, the semi-feral cat that shares our property and our hearts.  Several people asked to see photos of Jason’s house and I’m happy to oblige. As you can see in this first photo, Jon designed the roof to have a wide overhang in the front so that Jason can eat and drink in the shade when it’s hot and stay dry when it rains or snows.  The sides of the house extend in the front a bit as well, against the wind.  Jason like to relax on the flat roof in the summer.

Jon made this house with some plywood and 2x4s.  It’s solid, and the removeable roof is great for cleaning out the house.  The interior is easy to insulate during cold weather. In the warmer months I put in an outdoor chair cushion for Jason to sleep on, usually with a towel on top that I replace frequently, especially if it’s rainy to avoid dampness in his house.

In the colder months, I put one of those cat “cubes” inside and insulate around the sides and bottom.  I also place a sheet of thin silver “astronaut” blanket that I fold inside a soft towel for Jason to sleep on which creates added warmth from his body heat, even in the winter. This photo shows the inside with the roof off:

We’ve positioned the house just a few feet across from our back door so I can keep tabs on Jason and also so he can feel like he’s part of the family.  He likes to hang with Gary at the back door.

If you’re not handy with a hammer, you can buy a ready-made shelter, but even if you’re not a master carpenter, there are lots of simple house designs you can find like these from the Maryland Feline Society.  There are also some great tips for helping feral cats in the winter on Alley Cat Allies.

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French for Vegans


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In the 1980s I was chef at a small French restaurant in Charleston SC.  After that, when I worked for a catering company, many of the menus featured French cuisine. When I first went vegan in the late 1980s, I took special delight in “cracking the code” of the meat and dairy-laden French recipes into plant-based versions.
I admit I don’t cook French food very often these days. Mostly because there are several other cuisines that beat it out as favorites in our house.  We tend to gravitate to Thai, Italian, Indian, and Vietnamese dishes, interspersed with good old American.  But French, not so much. 
Last weekend we had friends over for dinner.  When company’s coming, I often like to plan a menu around a particular cuisine — usually one of our aforementioned favorites.  This time, however, I decided on French. 
We began with Kir Imperial as an aperitif — one part framboise (black raspberry) liqueur to two parts chilled sparking white wine.  They went down nice and easy served with a plate of crispy-flaky and delicious palmiers filled with a tapenade made with green olives, capers, sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes, and roasted bell pepper.
The main event was seitan bourguignon or “au vin” — chunks of seitan simmered with mushrooms, shallots, and carrot in a red wine sauce, seasoned with thyme and some herbs de Provence.  It was served with mashed potatoes and green beans provencale.
For dessert, I wanted to feature blackberry coulis made from our own blackberries, so I made a plain cheesecake to pair with it.  At the last minute, I added a couple tablespoons of lime marmalade to the cheesecake batter and — wow — that touch of citrus really added a fantastic flavor dimension.
After such a fabulous meal, I can tell you that French for vegans was definitely not lost in translation!  I may need to revisit my list of favorite cuisines….
In Other News…
I’ve been nominated in two categories in the 2011 Veggie Awards.  Why not take a few minutes to fill out the survey and vote for me in the “favorite cookbook author” category and also for my Global Vegan column as your favorite VegNews feature.  There are some great prizes this year including a vegan Caribbean cruise, a VitaMix blender, and a year’s supply of Coconut Bliss ice cream.   (thanks!)

Valentine Dinner: Part Tradition, Part Inspiration


Okay, coming up with a dessert for Valentine’s Day was easy. The great-looking strawberries in the store, plus my husband’s fondness for my vegan cheesecake, made the dessert choice a no-brainer.

What to make for dinner was another thing entirely. I knew I wanted to make something different while still keeping the whimsical “heart” theme that I try to do each year. Looking in my pantry for inspiration, I noticed a jar of hot red pepper jelly — as eye-catching and ruby-red as it was the day I bought it at the farmer’s market last summer. With the spicy-sweet pepper jelly as the catalyst for inspiration, I decided to make a sauce combining the jelly with sherry vinegar and soy sauce. The flavor reminded me of a tofu dish I had in a Thai restaurant once. I thought the spicy sweet-and-sour sauce would also go great with sautéed cabbage.

Now, I realize tofu and cabbage aren’t exactly synonymous with Valentine’s Day, but there was no turning back. I sliced a block of tofu horizontally into three slabs, got out my little heart-shaped cutter, and started making adorable little tofu hearts. I made a few out of a slice of seitan, too, and then braised them in the sauce.

In another pan, I braised some red cabbage in the same sauce and cooked up some rice. To serve, I shaped the rice into a heart and surrounded it with red (let’s call it “purple passion”) cabbage. I topped the rice with several of the tofu and seitan hearts for a yummy Technicolor meal. Sure, it’s not the most traditional dinner to serve on Valentine’s Day — that’s why I decided to make it a day early!

My Special Valentine’s Day Dinner

I decided to make my special Valentine’s Day dinner a day early so it would be available for anyone who may want to make all or part of it for their own Valentine celebration.

There’s nothing quick and easy about the prep. Lots of cutting things into heart shapes, which is time consuming, but, hey, that’s what makes it special. I have heart-shaped cookie cutters somewhere, but I can’t find them since moving last Spring, so I cut everything free-hand.

The “Here’s My Heart Salad” features artichoke hearts, romaine hearts, hearts of palm, and heart-shaped red beets. You can use your favorite dressing — I used a vegan Caesar, but a balsamic or raspberry vinaigrette would be nice to cast a rosy glow.

For the Wellingtons, I cut seitan and portobello caps cut into heart shapes and sautéed them and let them cool. I then stacked them and wrapped them in a piece of puff pastry that I shaped like a heart and baked them at 425 degrees for about 20 minutes.

At the last minute, I decided to pierce the pastry with an asparagus “arrow” (cute, huh? My husband thinks I go overboard.) The sauce is a red wine sauce.

The heart-shaped potatoes were cut out of a large russet and roasted with olive oil and salt and pepper. I placed a roasted red bell pepper heart on each slice of potato.

For dessert, I made a small plain cheesecake and then enrobed it with melted chocolate. The garnish on top is some heart-shaped cherry jam topped with a chocolate-cherry truffle, that I shaped into a heart, and “iced” with vegan cream cheese. More truffles and some dried cherries complete the effect.

Okay, so I told you about my special dinner – now I’d like to hear about your Vegan Valentines celebration.