Thursday, 29 March 2012

The Vegan Dinner Party - A Retrospective

I was just skimming through my old posts and I realised that I had never posted about how the vegan dinner party went.

The short answer, from a culinary point of view, is: badly.

The starter was to be leek and potato soup, the leeks and potatoes having been purchased by my fellow hostess as I was embroiled in rehearsals for a concert later in the week. Due to a variety of commitments on both our parts, I didn't get hold of these vital ingredients until an hour before the guests were due to arrive. It was at the same time that we realised neither of us had bought any fruit for the trifle.

Luckily, I had some frozen red berries in the freezer. The strawberry jelly was ready and set in its bowl so I defrosted the berries and added them to the jelly layer. Then we decamped to the kitchen to start cooking.

The risotto was fairly straight-forward. The only advance planning required was soaking the porcini mushrooms, which I had done that morning, so I threw the whole lot into my rice cooker and left it to be switched on at the appropriate moment so that, in theory, the perfectly-cooked risotto would be ready as the last soup spoon hit an empty bowl.

The soup itself presented more of a difficulty. We didn't have a large enough pan to boil all the veg at once, so it was split into several smaller pans and boiled, fried and generally blitzed into softening enough. Then we poured some (again, not all would fit) into the blender. Half of the soup blended. Then the motor burnt out.

While all this was going on, the guests were arriving. I put a chemist to work making custard with rice milk, which interestingly and not all that surprisingly was not very successful. My plan had been to use coconut milk, for its similarity to dairy milk. The supermarket had run out of coconut milk. In the end we managed a rather thin, very bright yellow custard which didn't set in quite the right way but nonetheless went nicely into the trifle. After a large amount of sampling of the soya squirty cream, that went on top too and I covered the whole lot with sprinkles and shoved it in the fridge in a desperate attempt to make it all set a bit more.

The soup was served out, rather lumpy and less like soup, more like a thick sort of stew. The general consensus, because the guests were all polite and well-brought-up young people, was that the added texture made it more interesting. I still had to run back to my room for salt and pepper, though.

The risotto emerged a rather murky brown colour without much flavour. Those of us who were not dairy-averse added grated cheese. The vegan and lactose-allergic guests assured me that it was delicious, although one admitted herself that her standards were fairly low with all the restrictions on her palate.

When the trifle was served out, it obligingly toppled over, thereby demonstrating the importance of allowing sufficient time to set in the fridge (and possibly the importance of the binding qualities of egg). Notwithstanding its appearance, it was very tasty and disappeared rapidly.

All in all, the company and conversation far outstripped the food in my opinion. Everyone was complimentary and I believe they were sincere, but no one pretended that it was the best meal they'd had all month and I wouldn't have believed them if they had. The take-home message? Stick with what you know. The soup was an unforeseen disaster which would only have been averted by owning a better blender, but the risotto was an example of running before you can walk. The week before I had cooked a very delicious vegan, gluten-free risotto with normal mushrooms, peas and yeast extract, which would have been a far better choice than the weird, unknown quantity of the porcini mushrooms. I won't be experimenting with them again in a hurry. The trifle wasn't a disaster but a simple berry dish with vegan cream would have been more successful and probably more appropriate. So not the glittering culinary triumph that I can now admit I was hoping for, but not a total failure either. Next time I'll keep it simple, and let the food speak for itself.

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