Some of you may remember last year when I did a series of posts called The Conscious Chef Challenge written after attending the book launch party for Chef Tal Ronnen‘s The Conscious Cook. What started out as a fun party led to several enduring friendships, and a challenge that would change my opinion of animal free meals forever.

Entertaining then and now
A few of my fellow party attendees asked me to prepare a vegan dinner party for them. When you have a classically trained, internationally celebrated chef like Tal preparing the food it is practically guaranteed to be scrumpdilicious, but what happens when a non-classically trained novice to the cuisine tries her hand at it? I suggested that I invite them to myhouse as guinea pigs before letting them hire me to cook for their friends.”

Trying to coordinate our schedules has been tricky, but I FINALLY got it together last night. It was one of those magical evenings with a perfect mixture of people, flowing conversation, and divine food – even Daisy was on her best behavior. The best part of all – I got to enjoy it too, the entire meal was made in advance, (we all attended a lecture before dinner), so all I had to do was heat to eat when we were ready.

“Cream” of Mushroom Soup



Gardein Beefless Bites

First Course

“Cream” of Mushroom Soup

Main Course

White Bean, Kale, & Butternut Squash Stew
Brown Rice Spaghetti
Mixed Green Salad
Homemade Balsamic Dressing
Chicken Pesto Salad
(for any die-hard omnivores)


Banana-Rum Cheesecake
Pecans & Rum Sauce

I wanted to do mostly my own takes on vegan food, but I have to admit – when it comes to dessert it is impossible to top Sarafina Magnussen’s Banana Rum Cheesecake, so I prepared an encore of that decadent treat.

Encore of the Banana Rum Cheesecake

Just as I feel it is rude to throw a dinner party without a selection for vegetarian guests, I decided we needed a chicken salad in case there were any die-hard omnivores. Then coincidentally, the lovely Kristin at Gardein emailed me an appetizer recipe to try with their product, and asked me to share it with all of you. The timing could not have been more perfect!

Gardein Beefless Bites

Servings: 6
  • 1 package Gardein beefless tips, thawed
  • 4 ounces onion marmalade
  • 1 15 ounce package pre rolled puff pastry (vegan options are available)
  • fine sea salt, to taste
  • black pepper, to taste
  • 4 ounces vegan butter
1). Bring puff pastry sheets to room temperature 2 hours ahead of time to thaw.

2). Preheat conventional oven to 400ºF.

3). Cut ¼” thawed puff pastry into 3” x 3” squares, place 1 tsp onion marmalade in center of square and top with one Gardein tip. Pull all four edges of puff pastry over the top of the beefless tip, pinch and twist to cinch the pouch.

4). Brush the outside of the pouch with 1 tsp of butter (this will help to caramelize). Place pouches on parchment lined bake pan, bake at 400ºF for 15-20 minutes until golden brown.

Note: I’m personally not crazy about onion marmalade, so I substituted 4 ounces of mango chutney for the onion marmalade, and it was delish.

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  • December 8, 2010
    11:35 am

    I'm flipping through your usual delicious recipes when I quickly scan your diners and WTF – that's not Marla Maples sitting at your table, right? OMG, the banana rum cheesecake!!!Cupcake

  • December 8, 2010
    5:46 pm

    Yes, ma'am – one of my friends brought her as his date, and she is one of the loveliest, warmest women I have ever met. Even more beautiful inside than out. That picture was actually from a dinner party I served the banana rum cheesecake at the year before – I was so hungry by the time we ate last night (we went to a lecture first, so dinner was not until 10PM) that I completely forgot to take pictures (I should get blogger demerits for that one). You would have liked that guest list too.

  • December 8, 2010
    8:06 pm

    WOW, I agree, that cheesecake looks fantastic! Is the recipe on here elsewhere??

  • December 8, 2010
    8:28 pm

    Penelope, the recipe is in the book The Conscious Cook. Since it is not mine, so I feel uncomfortable printing it here without prior permission. I will say there are loads of recipes in that book I make on a regular basis. Tal Ronnen is one gifted chef, and Serafina's recipe is sublime.

  • December 8, 2010
    8:59 pm

    Thanks Jules!!Laura Petermann

  • December 8, 2010
    9:12 pm

    For some reason (not that I've given Marla Maples a lot of real estate in my brain) I would have thought her to be a gentle person. Who don't you know Julie Anne! I'm going to source out the cheese cake recipe, yummm.We will spare your demerits if you spill your guest list…Cupcake

  • December 8, 2010
    9:13 pm

    Marla Maples is from my hometown. Known her family for years!Lara Hayes

  • December 9, 2010
    12:20 am

    Well you guys are in luck! Chef Tal's spys spotted your request, and sent approval to post the recipe for the Banana Rum Cheesecake here – ENJOY- it is off the charts yummy!Oven Roasted Banana Rum Cheesecake with Spiced Pecan Crust and Maple Rum SauceIngredientsFor oven-roasted bananas:4 very ripe bananasFor sauce:1 cup grade B organic maple syrup4 tablespoons Earth BalanceSea salt1 tablespoon dark rumFor crust:1 cup pecan nut flour½ cup spelt flour (white or whole)1 tablespoon firmly packed lightbrown sugar4 tablespoons Earth Balance,partially melted⅛ teaspoon ground cardamom½ teaspoon ground gingerPinch of sea saltFor filling:16 ounces nondairy cream cheese¾ cup firmly packed light brown sugar¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon½ cup dark rum2 tablespoons cornstarch¼ teaspoon saltTo serve:Toasted pecan halvesInstructionsstep 1: make the oven-roasted bananas:Preheat the oven to 325. Place 4 large, very ripe, unpeeled bananas on a roasting pan and roast for 15-20 minutes, until bananas are soft and skin turns dark brown. let bananas cool to room temperature in the pan in their skins. Set aside. Increase oven temp to 400.step 2: make the spiced pecan crust:Combine 1 cup pecan nut flour*, 1/2 cup spelt flour, 1 tbsp. firmly packed light brown sugar, 4 tbsp. partially melted vegan butter, 1/8 tsp. ground cardamom, 1/2 tsp. ground ginger, and a pinch of sea salt in a bowl and stir until well incorporated. Press the mixture into the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan and put in freezer for 5 minutes. Bake at 400 for 8-10 minutes, until crust is a little dry and edges are light golden. Let cool completely on a wire rack.*To make pecan nut flour, freeze the nuts overnight, then place in a food processor and pulse until finely ground. Freezing the nuts prevents them from turning into nut butter when you process them.step 3: make the filling:Peel the roasted bananas and remove any obvious strings. Puree bananas in a food processor until very smooth. Add 16 oz. nondairy cream cheese, 3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar, 3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon, 1/4 cup dark rum, 2 tbsp. cornstarch, and 1/4 tsp. salt then pulse until smooth, scraping sides of bowl periodically. Do not overprocess or cream cheese will separate and curdle.step 4: bake cheesecake:Pour the filling into the crust and bake at 400 for 10 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350 and bake another 35-45 minutes, until the top is the color of light brown sugar and center is set. A toothpick inserted in center should come out clean. Let cheesecake cool to room temperature on a rack for at least 1 hour, then cover with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator at least 3 hours, preferably overnight.step 5: make maple rum sauce:In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup maple syrup, 4 tbsp. vegan butter, and sea salt to taste and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring frequently, until sauce has thickened slightly, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in 1 tbsp. dark rum, stirring carefully, as sauce will bubble up a bit. Let cool for a few minutes then taste and add more salt if necessary. Cool to room temperature, then transfer to a squeeze bottle. if not using immediately, the sauce can be rewarmed by putting the bottle in a pan of hot water off the serve: In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup maple syrup, 4 tbsp. vegan butter, and sea salt to taste and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring frequently, until sauce has thickened slightly, about 10 minutes. 6-8 servings2 hrs prep (plus 3 hrs chilling)45 min cook

  • December 9, 2010
    1:26 am

    Whoo hoo!! I will be shopping for the ingredients tomorrow!

  • December 9, 2010
    8:19 am

    That was one amazing menu for the dinner party! Just wondering, do you think asparagus spears could be done in the puff pastry instead of the gardein beef tips? Thinking this would be an amazing nibble when friends drop by. Really trying to avoid the sugar frenzy collection of cookies, cake, etc. for friends to nosh on, heading towards hummus, veg, savory nibbles plus one or two sweets.The cheesecake looks amazing and I can almost taste it just by reading the ingredients. You always put together such interesting menus!

  • December 9, 2010
    6:03 pm

    Must must must give it a try, I absolutely love mushroom soup!Marisol Douglas

  • December 9, 2010
    8:25 pm

    Sounds yummy! Must check!Isabel Ortiz Bernad

  • December 9, 2010
    9:48 pm

    Hey, I want the recipe of that soup! I thought it would be on the site, but can't find it :(Isabel Ortiz Bernad

  • December 9, 2010
    9:49 pm

    I may publish it on a blog soon Isabel – it is not on the website, because I just wrote the recipe.

  • December 11, 2010
    1:05 am

    OMG well i guess i know what i'm doing this weekend!!! TadaaaLou Ashby

  • December 11, 2010
    1:09 am

    Ohh thanks and sorry for rushing you! It just looked so good that made me want to taste it 🙂 Thanks again!Isabel Ortiz Bernad

  • December 12, 2010
    8:15 pm

    I *completely* agree with offering folk who want to eat meat the option to do just that. Well done. I'm a veggie but sometimes have to eat fish (otherwise I don't get to eat at all) so I understand there are no absolutes. Some nice stuff here. If I could cook I'd try it but I think I'll ask my more talented partner 🙂