Halloween “Corpse Cake”

With Halloween just around the corner, I wanted to share this fun “recipe” for a creepy cake that will entertain your family or party guests on the 31st.  The word recipe is in quotes because this post is less about recipes and more about a technique that I played with to make this unique confection.  It’s super easy and should be a hit with all lovers of the macabre, especially those with a sense of humor.

The idea is that you’re going to create a cake in the shape of a person; this cake person is going to be decorated in a way that makes it clear that he or she is unwell (for the rest of this post I’m going to use male pronouns because our cake was none other than Ron Swanson from Parks & Rec – more on that later); and when you cut into the cake person, it will result in a deliciously bloody mess.

The first thing you need is a pan that is at least somewhat human shaped.  I used a large, deep gingerbread form that I found at an online bake shop.  Any gingerbread person shape should work, but I’d steer clear of anything too thin as you want enough depth to allow you to pipe in oozy-ness.

Create a nice, big batch of your favorite vegan vanilla cake mix.  I can’t tell you exactly how much to make because it’s going to depend on the form you’re using,  but I’m confident you can play around with it and figure it out.  If you don’t have a favorite cake recipe, do an internet search for either Chef Chloe’s vanilla cupcake recipe (what I used – I had to double or triple it) or the vanilla cupcake recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World.  I’m recommending vanilla both for the taste and because it will show the food coloring well, but you could undoubtedly get away with using other flavors if that’s what your heart desires.

Speaking of food coloring, you’re going to need some excellent food coloring for this cake to work well.  I recommend the Americolor Soft Gel Paste variety.  This line of coloring is vibrant enough to make your baked goods dramatic without having to add so much that you alter the taste.  At this point, have your red food coloring on hand…  divide the cake batter into two separate bowls, and lightly tint one until it’s a pinkish hue and put more into the other bowl so that it’s a more vibrant red.  Carefully pour the contents of both bowls into the mold at the same time (one in each hand), and then swirl it gently together.  It should look something like this:


Bake until cooked through and slightly golden.  It will look like this:


Once your corpse has cooled, turn him out onto the platter you’re going to be serving him on.


Now it’s time for the frosting.  You’re going to need a lot of frosting because you’re going to be doing a lot with said frosting.  I kept running out and having to make additional batches (but again, I can’t tell you how much, exactly, because it will depend on the size of your corpse and how you decide to decorate him).  Make a big bowl of your favorite vegan vanilla buttercream frosting (mine is from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World).  Put a nice, generous helping of the frosting into a separate bowl, put some red food coloring into it and blend.  Use a knife to create some troughs in your person where you want it to be extra oozy and then pipe your red frosting into the troughs.  My piping kind of looked like the logo from the Blair Witch Project,  but that’s okay.


Now you need to make your special decorating frosting by taking some big dollops of the vanilla buttercream and putting them into separate small bowls and then using food coloring to create your desired effects.  I will warn you that the next sentence is pretty gross:  For our corpse, we went with blood (the red one), puss (the yellow one), and decomposing flesh (the weird purply one).  We also made a small batch of brown frosting to use for head and mustache hair.


Now that your special frostings are standing by, use your plain vanilla frosting to completely cover your corpse.  (Again, you can use whatever color you like, but we used plain vanilla because it shows the decorating treatments well and because Ron Swanson is a fairly pale fellow.)


Now it’s time to have a little fun and decorate your corpse.  Who is she or he?  How did this person die?  Our corpse was for Queenie to take to school, so I let her create the back story. We were deep in the midst of binge watching Parks & Rec at the time, and she selected a theme that came up in Season 6, Episode 5, when Ron is creating his hilarious will that leaves all of his worldly possessions to “the man or animal” that killed him.  Ben then quotes Game of Thrones and makes a reference to a boar, and Ron claims that he’d “never lose to a boar.”  We found all of this quite funny, and our corpse is what we imagined Ron would look like if he did, indeed, lose to a boar.   It isn’t pretty, but then death by boar wouldn’t be.


As you can probably tell from the photo above, the eyes were two inverted chocolate chips (flat side up), which worked nicely.  Here’s a close-up of one of the wounds:


And another.  We layered the various gross colors together for dramatic effect.


When Queenie took the corpse cake to school, we had a bit of fun with the packaging, trying to make it look at least a bit like a body bag.


Now for the disappointing part of this post:  I can’t show you the fabulous oozing effect that happened when Ron was cut open.  I wasn’t able to be there, so I’d asked various people to please take photos.  However, they ended up having too much fun cutting and gasping and eating to remember to do so until it was too late.  But I was told by many eye witnesses that Ron was a glorious, delicious crime scene of fun, and the remnants left on the tray would seem to support that.


I hope you have tons of fun this Halloween, and if you end up making your own corpse cake, I’d love to see the photos!!

Enjoy!  xo

My World Famous 3-Day Lasagne

When I have a special occasion and want to make a stunning feast, I will often turn to this dish.  The initial inspiration came from the lasagne served at Union Square Cafe in New York and featured in their book The Union Square Cafe Cookbook by Danny Meyer and Michael Romano.  While that recipe calls for goat cheese, eggs, and grated parmesan, I have, of course, veganized my version.  My attempts to do so have evolved over time, but I think it is now pretty much perfected so I’m going to share it with you.  And don’t worry, while it’s a bit labor-intensive, you won’t really be working for 3 days to get it into shape.  The name came about because there is one step that requires you to plan ahead because something needs to sit for a few days to deepen the flavors.

As with many lasagne recipes, this one is comprised of a lot of components.  Happily, they can all be made ahead, including the assembling of the dish, which is a great help for your festive occasion; since all you have to do on the night of your dinner party is pop it into the oven, you will be free to have fun with your guests.

Now for the components… let’s start with the one that gave it the title, the one that takes three days, namely the oven-dried tomatoes.  These tomatoes are delicious, juicy, flavorful wonders that can be used in place of sun-dried tomatoes in any recipe, not just this one.  You will need to get your hands on about 2 pounds of plum or Roma tomatoes and split them lengthwise.  Place them on a baking sheet with their cut side up, sprinkle about a teaspoon of salt on them, and let them sit for an hour.  Now put them into a preheated 200 degree oven and roast them for 5 to 6 hours, until they are dried but still plump (not shriveled and leathery like a store-bought sun-dried tomato).  Once they have cooled to room temperature, put them in a storage vessel along with 2 cups of extra virgin olive oil, 2 fresh thyme sprigs, 1 fresh rosemary spring (cut in two), 3 sage leaves, and 3 cloves or garlic cloves, halved.  Cover tightly and refrigerate for 2 to 3 days before using.  Note that these tomatoes will keep for up to 2 weeks if properly stored.


After they have done their thing in the refrigerator for a few days, they will look like this when you take them out and get ready to use them:


For this recipe, I make a tomato sauce from scratch.  I start by simmering onion, zucchini, garlic, red bell pepper, and red pepper flakes in olive oil until soft and aromatic, about 25 minutes.


Next, add canned plum tomatoes and about 2 pounds of fresh tomatoes, along with fresh basil, salt and pepper.  Simmer for 1-1/2 hours.



Puree this mixture with an immersion blender and voila – your sauce.


You will need to make something to stand in for the traditional ricotta of lasagne (or in the case of this recipe, the goat cheese that Union Square Cafe used).  My favorite vegan ricotta recipe is the tried and true one from Vegan With a Vengeance by Isa Chandra Moskowitz.  I love how it performs in baked pasta recipes such as this one and definitely recommend it (it’s also in Veganomicon and available all over the internet), but feel free to use any recipe or product that you happen to love.  If you go with the tofu ricotta, it will look like this:


The last time I made this lasagne, I had a bit of an extra degree of difficulty added to the recipe because one of my guests doesn’t eat soy, so I made a macadamia nut-based ricotta for her.  Problematically, Mr. Man can’t eat many nuts, so this lasagne ended up being half nut-free and half soy-free.  The macadamia ricotta recipe is from Allison Rivers Samson and here’s a link (note:  the entire baked ziti recipe is divine, not just the ricotta!):



The next component is the Mozzarella Sauce from Chloe’s Vegan Italian Kitchen by Chloe Coscarelli.  I adore this sauce (I could just about eat it with a spoon – it’s good on everything!), and I use it as a drizzle on top of the lasagne at the end.  Because it is nut based, on this particular lasagne (as you will see later), I only drizzled it on half of the pan.  But trust me, you’re going to want to slather it on everything!  Because every single thing I’ve made from this book has been delicious, I absolutely recommend that you pick it up at your library or bookstore and play with it yourself.  The mozzarella sauce recipe is on page 237 and involves cashews, lemon juice, salt, garlic, onion powder, cornstarch and magic.


The final components of the lasagne that require any effort are the veggies that will be layered throughout, specifically eggplant, zucchini and yellow squash.  Slice a large eggplant thinly and evenly, place the slices in a colander and salt both sides of each one.  Place some kind of weight atop them and let them sit for at least 30 minutes.  Rinse thoroughly, pat dry and place in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Drizzle some olive oil over the slices, sprinkle with black pepper, cover with foil and bake in a preheated 375 degree oven until very soft, about 20 minutes.


Cut one large zucchini into rounds and toss with olive oil, salt and black pepper.  Bake uncovered for 10 minutes.  Repeat with one large yellow squash.  (Do not combine the two squashes as you will be layering them separately.)


Now it’s time for assembly:

Cover the bottom of a large baking pan with tomato sauce, then put a layer of lasagne on top of the sauce.  (Note – I’ve used both no-bake lasagne sheets as well as lasagne that you need to boil first.  Either is fine.  You will just need to have the one of your choice on hand and ready to go at this point.)  Spread more sauce on top of the lasagne, enough to cover it.  Arrange a layer of eggplant (use half of your eggplant supply) and a layer of zucchini (this will be all of your zucchini) on the sauce.  Next, spread half of your ricotta.  As you can see below, half of this pan has the tofu ricotta (left), while the other half is macadamia ricotta (right).


Top this layer with some of the oven-dried tomatoes:


Beginning with a layer of pasta, repeat the above steps, only this time use up your yellow squash.  You should have used up your eggplant, your ricotta and your tomatoes. Your final layer will be a layer of pasta, a covering of tomato sauce and a slathering of mozzarella sauce:


Cover the lasagne in foil and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes.  Remove the foil and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes.  Here is the nut-based side, including the mozzarella sauce drizzle:


And here is the nut-free zone, with the tofu ricotta and no drizzle:


They’re both delicious, but my personal favorite way to build this dish is to mix everything together!  Both kinds of ricotta (in alternate layers) with tons of the mozzarella sauce drizzle is heavenly, indeed.  But just as I did, feel free to make this your own.

Since I don’t always have this much time and effort to spend on a meal, I am happy to report that I have also recently perfected what I’ve dubbed my “Everyday Lasagne,” which comes together quickly and easily.  I will be posting that soon.  In the meantime…

Enjoy!  xo

Swoon-Inducing Broccoli Quiche

Yesterday, Mr. Man, Queenie and I went to a vegan potluck and met tons of new vegan friends!  Organized by a local meetup group, it was a great event.  It was hosted by a gracious and generous family, packed full of interesting and friendly people, and featured a table loaded with seriously delicious food.  Seriously.  People went all out, which I really appreciated.  Yum.

For our contribution, I made the “Classic Broccoli Quiche” from Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s book, Vegan Brunch (page 41, if you’ve got it).  Given that this recipe is a crowd-pleaser (it was particularly fun to watch the kids devouring it), lots of people requested the details.  Happily, Isa posted this recipe to her site, the Post Punk Kitchen, and I am sharing it here.  Note that I doubled the recipe and omitted the crust, both because some people are avoiding gluten these days and because it makes it easier to cut into cute squares for potluck purposes.  Just make it in a 9 x 13 casserole dish (assuming you are doubling it, too), cook for the same amount of time, let it rest and then cut into portions.



Enjoy!  xo

Easy Play Date Snack

Queenie had a friend over the other day.  A friend who happens to be gluten-free.  Here’s what we whipped up:  home-made hummus, a variety of heirloom carrots, and some gf (rice-based) crackers.  Queenie also said her friend likes coconut water, so we had some on hand.  Easy and yummy.



Enjoy!  xo

Entertaining, Vegan-Style: Mother-Daughter Book Club

I had to share about the fun afternoon we had today!

Before we moved from LA to the Pacific Northwest, Queenie started reading a series of books entitled The Mother-Daughter Book Club.  We talked about them as she read them, and I thought that the premise was quite fun:  a group of moms and their daughters reads a different classic book each month and gets together to talk about it, along with snacks that connect, at least loosely, to the book.


I thought this would be a fun idea to try up here in our new world, and today was the kick-off meeting of our club.  Queenie picked Little Women for our first book, both because she wanted to read it and because it was the first book that the characters in the Mother-Daughter Book Club series read.


I hadn’t read this book since I was about Queenie’s age, and given how long ago that was and how many film adaptations I’ve seen since then, I was surprised at how many details I’d forgotten from the original text.  It was a real treat to spend time with and think about this book and share it with Queenie, although we just barely finished it in time… she was reading the last two chapters to me as I was preparing the snacks for the meeting!  Whew – that was close.

Queenie prepared some “Fun Facts” about the author to share with the group, and it helped launch a very fun, lively discussion.


In honor of the March sisters, we prepared an afternoon tea for our guests.




Along with fresh mint tea, we offered an assortment of finger sandwiches.  These are white bean puree and arugula on olive rolls:



This tray features two types of “eggless salad” (i.e., tofu salad) sandwiches, a curried salad with green apple, and a more traditional salad with celery and carrot:


We had one gluten-free diner, so we prepared one of each kind of sandwich using gluten-free bread for her:


This is the divine broccoli quiche from Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s Vegan Brunch, prepared without a crust for the aforementioned gluten-free friend:


And what tea would be complete without sweets?  In addition to an assortment of fresh berries, we made coconut macaroons…


… and chocolate truffles, the recipes for which came from Eric Lechasseur’s wonderful macrobiotic cookbook, Love, Eric, which means not only are they vegan, but they are free of processed sugar.  Yay.


Queenie and I had a wonderful time hosting and spending time with some of the terrific women and girls we’ve met up here.  It felt like a good time was had by all.



Teacher Gifts (aka Granola Heaven)

In moving up to the Pacific Northwest, we have been blessed at Queenie’s new school to have some truly wonderful teachers in our lives.  Each one of them is fantastic and authentic and inspiring, and we feel quite lucky, indeed.  To express a bit of our appreciation for them, I made up a few batches of our favorite granola to give them.  The response was enthusiastic, happily, so I thought I’d share the idea with all of you.

The first step is to make a big mess in your kitchen.  Okay, just kidding.  This recipe doesn’t necessarily trash your kitchen, but when you’re making multiple batches in a tiny space, it may end up looking like this.



This recipe is adapted from Vegan World Fushion Cuisine by Mark Reinfeld and Bo Rinaldi, the brilliant folks behind the Blossoming Lotus Cafe in Portland.  Yum!  Here’s what you’ll need:

Dry Ingredients:

      3 cups rolled oats

      1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

      1 cup barley flour (can sub GF all-purpose flour)

      ½ cup hemp seeds

      ½ tsp sea salt

      ½ tsp cinnamon powder

      ¼ tsp cardamom powder

      pinch allspice powder

      pinch ginger powder

Wet Ingredients:

      ¾ cup safflower oil

      ¾ cup maple syrup

      1 tsp vanilla extract

To make the recipe, mix your dry ingredients in one bowl, and then fully emulsify your wet ingredients in another.


Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ones and stir until well combined.  Spread the mixture onto a rimmed baking sheet and bake in a preheated 350-degree oven until golden brown, about 30 minutes.  I like to take it out after 15 minutes and stir it a bit and break up any huge chunks (but don’t work it too much!).


Remove from the oven and let it sit.  The granola crisps up as it cools.  Once it has fully cooled, you can store it in an airtight container for your own enjoyment, or package it up as a nice gift (but be sure to save some for yourself to nibble!).  This granola is a great snack to take with you when you travel, too.



Enjoy!  xo

Thanksgiving Feast!

My friend and fellow blogger, Sundry, asked me to share my tips for holiday cooking, which I am happy to do.  (Quick aside:  Sundry writes a very fun blog called Any Given Sundry on wordpress – check it out!)  With Thanksgiving right around the corner, I want to assure you that you can enjoy a vegan feast that is hearty and satisfying with all of the flavors that you’re used to.  No problem!  First, the visual proof:


And yes, it is every bit as delicious as it looks.  How is this possible, you ask?  In 2009, I had the good fortune of attending a series of cooking classes offered by Jessica Porter, a macrobiotic chef and cookbook author, at the home of the wonderful Sanae Suzuki and Eric Lechasseur, macro chefs extraordinaire and proprietors of Seed Kitchen in Venice, California.  One of those classes was a holiday feast menu, and it has become our annual tradition (and the culinary highlight of Queenie’s life each year – she adores it).  There are many options for vegan Thanksgiving meals, and I’ve tried quite a few of them, such as mushrooms in puff pastry, stuffed acorn squash, store-bought holiday loafs, etc., but if you’re like us, once you taste this one, you’re going to be hooked!

The menu:  home-made tofu centerpiece dish with stuffing (I’m not calling it a tofu turkey because it’s not a turkey, it doesn’t look like a turkey, I don’t want to focus on the fact that most people eat turkey… but it does stand in for that place on your plate quite nicely); yam casserole with pecan topping; mashed potatoes and gravy; steamed green beans with lemon zest; cranberry relish; and pumpkin pie.  It’s all the great flavors you’re used to, but entirely cruelty-free.  It’s also super healthy, devoid of both animal ingredients and also processed sugar, something that macrobiotic cooking eschews.  When I started making this feast, Mr. Man and I marveled at how light and happy we felt, even after stuffing ourselves!  No food comas for us.

To begin, you’re going to turn a lot of tofu into something to house your delicious stuffing.


Using an immersion blender is the easiest way to do this.  Whir and whip that tofu into a smooth, creamy puree.  Here is Queenie blending in 2010.  She is in charge of the tofu every year.


Next you will press all of that tofu into a colander that has been lined with cheesecloth.  Weigh that down and let the excess liquid drain out in the refrigerator for a day, making sure to have something to catch said liquid underneath.  You are creating a tofu dome, that you will then hollow out and stuff with the yumminess of your choice.  The stuffed dome is then basted with a mixture of soy sauce and sesame oil and slow baked to heavenly perfection.  Here are the complete instructions from Jessica Porter’s site:  http://www.hipchicksmacrobiotics.com/blog/its-that-time-again/

Be sure to invite your loved ones over to enjoy the deliciousness.


And, naturally, you must have pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving.  Or, at least, I must.  Vegan pumpkin pie?  Of course!


There are a million vegan pumpkin pie recipes out there, both searchable on the internet and in cookbooks.  I’m not yet sure which one I’ll be making this year.  I will let you know!

Two added bonuses to this wonderful feast, one that’s typical and one that’s not:

1.  Leftovers!!!  This food tastes great for days, if it lasts that long.


2.  You’re saving lives when you eat this way.  That’s something to be thankful for, to be sure.  This photo was taken at the Celebration for the Turkeys at Farm Sanctuary’s Animal Acres in Acton, California.


I encourage you to host a compassionate Thanksgiving celebration.  With food this tasty, your friends and family should be won over and you’ll have tons of fun, amazing their taste buds.  And your home will smell SO good while everything’s cooking!  If, however, you are going to someone else’s house for the holiday meal, I suggest offering to bring some dishes that work for you.  I have, upon occasion, brought this stuffed tofu dome, but an easier solution is to bring a variety of sides that will form a complete meal for you and complement the things being served by your host.

However you end up celebrating, may it nourish your body and your soul.

Enjoy!  xo