Fall 2014 Vegetarian Beer Dinner

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It’s that time again! Sixteen foodies and beer lovers gathered last weekend at our house for the fifth potluck Vegetarian Beer Dinner. I know I say this every time, but I think this was the best one yet!

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This was our first October beer dinner and there was a great summer-into-fall theme. October is my favorite month, so naturally I feel that there is a lot to about this season to celebrate. Kyle and I were married two Octobers ago and while I was setting up chalkboard signs and table linens last weekend, I definitely felt like I was preparing our wedding venue all over again. The weather was beautiful and the leaves on the trees in our neighborhood were just starting to turn colors. We were so lucky with the weather that with a few patio heaters, we were able to host the dinner outside in our backyard.

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We tried out a new game this time to greet guests while they arrived. We wrapped three bottles of brown ale in Halloween themed craft tape to cover the labels. Each guest had three numbers to correspond with the numbered bottles, and there were three jars with the names of the beers we were blind tasting: Legend Brown Ale, Smuttynose Old Brown Dog Ale, and Rogue Hazelnut Brown Ale. Taking turns, we tasted all three beers and then tried to guess which beer was in each bottle. Guests voted by placing their numbers in the jars that they thought matched their beers. We didn’t track individual answers so there were no winners or losers, but by counting the numbers in each jar we could tell that most of the crowd correctly guessed the Rogue ale, and most of the crowd mixed up the Legend and Smuttynose beers.

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We provided eight ounce jars for tasting throughout the dinner and I wrote each guest’s name on a chalk label on each jar. The graduated ounce marks on the glassware helped for measuring tasting portions for those of us who were trying to stay relatively sober through the whole dinner!

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Guests were paired up and each group explained their food and beer pairing. All dishes were vegetarian and beers were seasonal. We had several vegan and gluten-free dishes so that there was a little something for everyone. The more competitive groups campaigned for their dishes to be voted the best dish of the night during after-dinner discussion. I couldn’t choose a favorite. They were all so different and delicious.

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The lineup is as follows, and I will link up to recipes as I get them.

Vegan Meatballs in a Sweet and Spicy Mole Sauce, with Xocoveza Mocha Stout, paired by Lauren and Kyle

Tomato & Mozzarella Caprese Skewers, with Bison Honey Basil Ale, paired by Carissa, Mike and Jess

Watermelon Radishes with Burrata, with Anderson Valley The Kimmie, The Yink & The Holy Gose, paired by Paul and Leah

Channa Masala, with Hardywood RVA IPA, paired by Liz (I Heart Vegetables) and Alex

Vegetarian Pigs in a Blanket with Gourmet Mustard, paired with Lost Rhino Rhino Chasers Pilsner, paired by Lindsay (Neat As You Please) and AJ

Roasted Corn Salad from Terry Walters’ Clean Start, paired with Sierra Nevada Flipside Red IPA, paired by Adrienne (Sit Pretty Design) and Al

Apple Crisp (recipe coming soon to the EBF Blog), paired with Lickinghole Creek Brewery Virginia Black Bear Russian Imperial Stout, paired by Brittany (Eating Bird Food) and Isaac

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I can’t choose a favorite pairing for this one because everyone brought their A game and it was a truly wonderful dinner. Much thanks to Alyssa, Morgan and Isaac for bringing additional beers to share. Thanks to Jess for helping me set up the dreamy fall patio décor. And thank you, of course, to Kyle, who consistently puts up with my bite-off-more-than-I-can-chew syndrome when it comes to entertaining. But who else would bring you a seven course vegetarian beer dinner, outdoors, at the end of October, but the type of person who bites off more than she can chew?

If seven courses weren’t enough, there were s’mores waiting at the fire pit after dinner. Which brings me to one more thank you – thanks Al for sharing your amazing fire-building skills with us once again!

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Thanks to a combination of designated drivers, self control, and Uber ridesharing service (for those who lacked both), everyone got home safely, full, and happy.

Did you miss the recaps of the first four vegetarian beer dinners? Check them out here:

Vegetarian Beer Dinner I – August 2012

Vegetarian Beer Dinner II – December 2012

Vegetarian Beer Dinner III – April 2013

Vegetarian Beer Dinner IV – September 2013

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Due Stagioni and Beer Dinneroni

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This is a tale of two seasons and two pizza recipes.

Kyle and I hosted a potluck vegetarian beer dinner at our house Saturday night. The theme was Farewell Summer, Hello Fall and the guest list approached twenty, for the largest Vegology beer dinner yet. For a month, we tasted and tested beers. Two weeks before the event, we began to prepare the house, yard, and décor.  One week before the dinner party, I realized that merely a wish and a dream would not get twenty people to fit into our house and around the same table, so I placed my order with Party Perfect to rent banquet tables and folding chairs for the patio. By Friday afternoon, the only thing I had not prepared for yet was what dish to make. It was the element I was least worried about, since I’ve thrown together my dishes for the last two beer dinners at the last minute.

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As I drove home from work on Friday evening, I started to think about what dishes I could prepare. The loose guidelines I imposed on myself and the guests – “summer or fall, any kind of small plate” – were not focused enough, so I had way too many ideas floating around in my head. I started to think about transitional seasonal dishes, ones that could bring you from summer into fall, and foods that I could make ahead and reheat at party time, and then it hit me. Four seasons pizza.

Quattro stagioni is a pizza with four different ingredient sections, representing the four seasons: artichokes for spring, olives for summer, mushrooms for fall, and prosciutto for winter. I decided to make miniature pizzas, or pizzettes, and do them in two seasons, due stagioni. Because I couldn’t think of a beer that would pair well with both olives and mushrooms, I did seasoned zucchini for summer on one half, and mushrooms for fall on the other, with a basil pesto base and fresh asiago melted on top (thank you,  Dany Schutte of Ellwood Thompson’s for the cheese suggestion!). The zucchini seasoning I used was the Village Garden piquant spice blend, which can be purchased locally at the South of the James farmers’ market or the Carytown farmers’ market.

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I knew the pizzette idea was a winner. I woke up Saturday morning and floated to Project Yoga at the VMFA feeling confident. After a relaxing practice in the cool autumn-like morning sun, I purchased my ingredients, some fresh flowers for the table, and a few more pieces of décor, and headed home to prepare for the party. Kyle was at work so I had to tidy up the patio, set up the tables and chairs, decorate, clean the house, and prepare the food all by myself. Everything was going really smoothly and I even had time to practice my introduction speech for the Due Stagioni Pizzettes, and decide whether to curtsy or bow when our guests gave us a standing ovation and declared the dish the most clever and delicious thing they had ever had the pleasure of tasting.

Then, suddenly, it was forty-five minutes before party time and I hadn’t made my dish yet, three people had cancelled, and Kyle was stuck at work. I frantically sliced zucchini, rolled out and cut dough, and preheated the oven. I was still assembling my dish as guests started to arrive and I distractedly pulled it out of the oven as the first course was being served. By the time my turn came around to serve, my award-winning pizzette idea had made a spiral descent down the drain and turned out to be an oily, crispy mess. A mess that left me wishing that I had chosen a stronger beer to wash down my soggy burnt crust, instead of that light, crisp pilsner, served with a side of hubris.

I made some mistakes, and I am going to outline them here so you don’t have to make them yourself. Because the next day, I repurchased all my ingredients and made the whole dish over again to prove to myself that it would work. And it was good!

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So here are the don’ts of making miniature pizzas, besides the obvious ones (don’t wait until the last minute to test your recipe, don’t cook during your dinner party, don’t shut off your brain while entertaining in your kitchen).

  1. Don’t roll out your crust too thin. I used a thinner crust the first time, thinking that a thicker crust would swallow up or spit out the delicate toppings as it rose. On the remake, I cut out the pizza rounds from a thicker sheet of dough and it worked much better.
  2. Don’t forget that your pesto has oil in it. Don’t use too much oil when sauteing your zucchini. I used way too much oil overall in the first batch, and when I pulled the pan from the oven, the oil from the pesto and the zucchini had seeped out and formed a slick on the baking sheet.
  3. Don’t second guess browned edges. I checked on the pizzettes at one point and saw browned edges but the top of the dough still looked soft and wet, so I left them in the oven for a few more minutes. Big mistake. The pesto pizzettes turned into hockey puckettes very quickly.

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Lucky for me, we had a beautiful evening with great food and beers and excellent company. Hopefully the nightmare of the failed pizzettes haunted only me that night, as everyone else seemed to have a wonderful time. Here is a rundown of the courses we enjoyed at our fourth ever potluck vegetarian beer dinner:

Avocado and Grapefruit Salad with Crispin Cider – Liz and Alex from I Heart Vegetables – deliciously fresh and tart, with sweet dressing and two kinds of nuts for crunch, a great start to the meal.

Eggplant, Chickpea, and Potato Curry with Three Brothers The Great Outdoors – Sydney and Andrew from chic stripes – perfect as the sun started to set and the temperature began to drop, a dish with summer vegetables and fall spices to keep us warm, and a beer that reminds you of camping.

Cracklin’ Cauliflower with home brewed rye pale ale – Brittany and Isaac from Eating Bird Food – Brittany is right that this cauliflower is great at any temperature, and the flavor went really well with Isaac’s impressive home brew. I’ve made her recipe before, and it’s a keeper.

Due Stagioni Pizzettes (improved recipe below) with Victory Prima Pils – me and Kyle – thank goodness Kyle’s sense of humor and optimism pairs well with my high-strung perfectionism, so when the first attempt fell flat we could laugh it off and have another beer. . . then try again the next day!

Cauliflower “Cous Cous” Salad with Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Wild – Paul and Leah – I need to get this recipe and I’ll link to it here. We loved this pairing of a dish and a beer that both came with a twist – the “cous cous” is actually cauliflower and the beer is actually Lagunitas Little Sumpin’, with an additional wild yeast strain.

Skillet Apple Pie with Left Hand Nitro Milk Stout – Shannon and Evan from Thirsty Richmond and Boho Cycle Studio – so decadent, this apple pie was perfect, not an exaggeration, and it elevated my appreciation of this milk stout, as well as cast iron skillets. Oh, and blogger husbands, who are (in my humble opinion) the very best.

Deconstructed Apple Pie with Cider – Brock (Isaac’s brother) and Alex from Quarter Life Cupcake – I did not know that a vegan, gluten-free homemade dessert could be so good! I am officially a believer now.

And then the after-dinner bonus beers came out, including Goose Island Harvest Ale from Al (and poor Adrienne who had to stay home with a cold), Dogfish Head Tweasonale, The Alchemist Heady Topper, Goose Island Bourbon County, and more. Thank you to everyone who made this dinner special!

Due Stagioni Pesto Pizzettes

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Ingredients:

  • 12 ounces pizza dough, homemade or store bought, rolled out to 1/4 inch thick
  • medium zucchini, thinly sliced
  • 4 ounces mushrooms, sliced – both shiitakes and maitakes are good (maitake mushrooms are our favorite)
  • 1/4 cup basil pesto, homemade or store bought
  • Italian seasoning or herb/spice blend of your choice for the zucchini
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 3 ounces fresh (soft) asiago cheese, or mozzarella, grated

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Heat 1 Tbsp of olive oil over medium heat in a medium pan. Add zucchini to pan and saute until tender, adding seasoning to taste halfway through cooking. Remove from heat. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Heat 1 Tbsp of olive oil over medium-high heat in medium pan. Sprinkle the oil with 1/2 tsp black pepper. Add mushrooms to pan and saute until tender, then remove from heat.
  4. Using a 2-1/2 inch round cookie cutter, punch circles in the rolled out pizza dough and transfer to baking sheet. This should yield about 12-15 pizza round.
  5. Top each pizza round with pesto, dividing evenly among all rounds. Place two zucchini slices on one half of each round, and a spoonful of mushrooms on the other half. Top with grated cheese.
  6. Bake in preheated oven 10-12 minutes until edges begin to brown – then remove immediately!
  7. Can be reheated from refrigerated in 350 degree oven for 4-5 minutes if needed.

Vegetarian Beer Dinner III

Thanks everyone for the thoughtful comments and words of encouragement on my last post. This beer dinner recap is a few weeks late, but I cut myself some slack, since the week after the beer dinner I focused solely on preparing for my first half marathon, and I have been recovering ever since! Thank you for your patience!

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It’s that time of year again. . .

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Seasonal vegetarian beer dinner time!

A few weeks ago, I hosted a potluck vegetarian beer dinner to celebrate the flavors of late winter and early spring. Some good friends showed up with vegetarian dishes paired with seasonal beers, and we all enjoyed tasting a diverse array of delicious combinations. You might recall that this is the third dinner of its kind that we have hosted en la casa de Vegology.

Check out my recaps of past beer dinners here:

Vegetarian Beer Dinner I – Summer 2012

Vegetarian Beer Dinner II – Winter 2012

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As usual, we had notebooks for taking notes on our favorite pairings, as well as the ever-present “Beer: it’s not just for dinner” cocktail napkins. Of course there were plastic tasting glasses, because my only dishwasher is named Kyle, and I love him enough to keep him from washing fourteen glasses by hand when we already have fourteen plates and fourteen forks to take care of!

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I offered oyster crackers as a palate cleanser this time around, and they were a real hit. Someone enthusiastically commented “I only go wine tasting for the oyster crackers!” I have to say that I agree that these little crackers are one of the highlights of wine tasting in Virginia. Smile

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Our dining room was jam packed with chairs and people. I don’t know if I could have fit any more seats in there! Not only was the dining room full, but we also packed the refrigerator and a cooler full of a wide variety of craft beers. Here is the lineup: Potter’s Craft Cider, Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye, Stillwater Artisanal Ales and Brewer’s Art Debutante, Bell’s Oarsman Ale, Oskar Blues Mama’s Little Yella Pils, and The Duck Rabbit Brown Ale.

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Course 1 – Sarah (The Smart Kitchen), Liz (I Heart Vegetables) and Lindsay (Neat As You Please)

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Sarah, Liz and Lindsay put together an awesome appetizer of Apple Fennel Salad Skewers with Creamy Ginger Apple Honey Mustard Dressing (recipe). They paired this with Potter’s Craft Cider, and the complementary apple flavors were a great fresh start to the meal. Sarah won the prize for best pairing story, explaining why she wanted to use Potter’s cider (a cute guy in the tasting room had something to do with it) and how she came up with her dish (why not put salad on a stick?).

Course 2 – Adrienne (Hippie Itch) and Al

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I was super impressed by Adrienne’s made-from-scratch samosas (recipe from Skinny Bitch), that were totally vegan and bursting with flavor. Just like their pairing, the Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye, these perfectly portioned appetizers packed a serious punch, but with enough restraint that they didn’t knock you completely over, so you could really enjoy the complex flavors inside. If I can muster the patience to make this dough from scratch, I would like to try making this one at home sometime.

Course 3 – Lauren and Kyle (Vegology)

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For the entrée course, I made Spiced Red Lentil Chickpea Cakes. We all joked that Adrienne and I must have been on the same wavelength with the Indian flavors! You can follow the link above to get the recipe and to read about how I came up with my pairing. Kyle and I tasted a lot of beers before we chose this one, and we ultimately decided to serve Debutante, a saison which is a collaboration beer from Stillwater Artisanal Ales and Brewer’s Art, both from my hometown of Baltimore.

Because it was dark by the time we got to my course and I couldn’t get a great picture during the dinner, I can’t resist posting this glamour shot of the dish here:

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Course 4 – Paul and Leah

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Our friends Paul and Leah brought over a pairing that, no matter how fast you paddled or how hard you tried, you couldn’t get away from. Beets! After having this tasty Golden and Crimson Beet Salad with Oranges, Fennel and Feta (recipe), we noticed that little traces of bright pink kept showing up in subsequent courses. Check out the next two photos on this post to see what I mean – we got the beet! The beer paired with this course was Bell’s Oarsman Ale. I always thought this beer tasted a little sour (in a good way) and after reading the Bell’s description, I realize there is a better way to describe the flavor – citrusy tartness – which paired very well with the citrusy beet salad. This was one of the few dishes that I went back for seconds on, so I know it will make another appearance in my kitchen soon.

Course 5 – Bob and Ashley

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Our friends Bob and Ashley hit a home run with their comfort food pairing, which included a creamy polenta cooked with beer and Asiago cheese, with Oskar Blues Mama’s Little Yella Pils to wash it down. I begged to keep the leftovers and Bob and Ashley were too nice to say no, so I was treated to a second serving of this delicious polenta the next day (okay, the next morning. no judge!) Bob is a skilled home brewer that taught Kyle a lot of what he knows about brewing beer. Bob and Kyle’s latest home brew creations came out a little bit later, which is always a fun add-on to the tasting dinner.

Course 6 – Shannon (Thirsty Richmond) and Evan

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Shannon, the Queen of the Beer Cakes, did it again with another fantastic beer baked dessert. Even though Shannon’s oven failed to turn on the day of the dinner, Shannon found a way to get us a creative dessert. If I had found myself in the same situation, I might have just given up and picked up a pack of cookies on the way over, but Shannon persisted. Spontaneously turning her vegan cupcake recipe (similar here) into a vegan brownie recipe, she fired up the toaster oven and pulled off a brownie bar that was so good that I didn’t even miss the cupcakes (and let me tell you, her cupcakes are out of this world). She used Duck Rabbit Brown Ale in the batter and as the pairing beer.

Not 100% confident that the brownies would turn out well, Shannon also picked up a pack of Oreos (vegan!) on the way over just in case. We cleaned our plates and made a dent in the Oreos. And then there were all those leftover “extra” beers that mysteriously disappeared, one by one, as the night went on. Go team beer dinner!

Thanks to all who participated. We had a blast and I’m already dreaming up plans for the next one this summer!

What to Serve Vegan and Vegetarian Party Guests

If the December holiday party season is not in full swing for you yet, it will be soon. And with the increasing number of diet labels floating around, it can be difficult to navigate the waters of holiday entertaining. Vegetarians, vegans, gluten-free’s, pescatarians, macriobiotics and raw dieters. . . it can all get very confusing for the holiday host. What to serve? Whom to accommodate? How to label?

I was recently asked for ideas on what to serve at a party with vegetarians and vegans in attendance and I was eager to help out. I follow a vegetarian diet myself, and while I am not at all an authority on vegan food, I cook a lot of vegan meals at home without realizing it (until it hits the plate and I am struck by the absence of cheese, cream or butter). So I guess I have a few more tricks up my veggie eating sleeve than the average home cook. If you need help figuring out what all the labels mean, there is a great resource from GAIAM that gives a brief description of each diet.

Vegetarians and vegans can enjoy a variety of party foods, and accommodating them requires just a little bit of forethought. Here are my favorite vegan-friendly party foods:

  • Tofu Lettuce Wraps from Whole Foods
  • Chips, Salsa and Guacamole (some prepared guacamole includes sour cream and some chips are fried in lard so be sure to check the ingredient lists)
  • Veggies and hummus or white bean dip
  • Tofu Spring Rolls with Peanut Dipping Sauce from Eating Bird Food
  • Mexican Bean Salad from AllRecipes (a favorite in my office for herbivores and omnivores alike)
  • Olive Medley Pinwheels from Better Homes & Gardens (substitute Tofutti brand vegan “cream cheese”)
  • Mixed Nuts
  • Seven Layer Dip from Peas and Thank You (substitute Tofutti brand vegan “sour cream” and vegan cheese substitute like Daiya brand shreds)

Olive Medley Pinwheels

Also, I thought I would remind you of some of the things to stay away from to make sure you are truly serving vegan food. It usually gets trickiest with prepared and bottled or canned foods, so be sure to check ingredient lists on anything that isn’t fresh produce. If you have any other suggestions or corrections, please jump in on the comments.

  • meat and fish (of course)
  • eggs (some pastas contain egg)
  • milk, cheese, butter and other dairy
  • honey (yes, some hard core vegans avoid honey)
  • whey protein (this common ingredient is milk-derived and sometimes added to vegetarian items for protein)
  • other hidden non-vegan items to look out for on ingredient lists: dehydrated chicken or beef, anchovies or anchovy paste, chicken broth, dehydrated milk

You do not have to make a big deal about what each guest can eat, so some labels can get your message across concisely. That way you do not feel like you have to usher your guest around the food table or constantly field questions about what is “safe.” I recommend that you use small place cards or signs to label foods as “vegetarian” or “vegan”. Or you could simply list animal products and common allergens in each prepared dish, like “contains chicken” or “contains peanuts.”

I think that if you have just a few options for the vegans and vegetarians in attendance, even if it isn’t the most exciting food on the planet, they are really going to appreciate the gesture. You are already going out of your way by inviting us into your home, and throwing a few vegetables our way doesn’t hurt. However I am always extremely impressed and grateful when a party host thinks to prepare something creative and meatless that I can enjoy. Most people don’t even think to have something vegan or vegetarian friendly so you will make your guests feel welcome just by making an effort.

Happy Hosting!