What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
When I was growing up, I only knew two facts about potlucks:
- Avoid whenever possible.
- If #1 is not an option, bring dip.
Seriously. I can't tell you how many crab feeds/Fourth of July barbecues/First Communion awkward silences were enhanced throughout my youth by the presence of my mother's good old-fashioned we-stopped-at-the-store-on-the-way-here-seven-layer dip. Sometimes, if we were feeling particularly fancy, we'd even get restaurant-style tortilla chips.
As a child of two working parents with not much time on their hands, I have always regarded food as something you put in your mouth until you get less hungry (or occasionally less bored, less sad or less drunk). So for us, the whole "potluck" thing always seemed like an awkward way to frame hanging out with people you may or may not be fond of.
Unfortunately, we're also all perfectionists, which means that even if we did venture into more complicated territory in terms of food supply, we'd inevitably spend the whole party eyeing people's plates and trying to see if they actually liked it or were just pretending to.
Hence: bean dip.
Much like my mom and dad, I cannot cook. At all. This is not a cute, self-deprecating statement; if I could eat the human equivalent of dog food every day without getting scurvy, I would. I can't taste things very well, I have no patience and I spend too much money on pug-face shirts to buy quality ingredients beyond lentils and sriracha sauce.
In fact, I become markedly anxious whenever I have to make food for close friends, let alone a bunch of strangers who are going to be subjected to my small talk for an hour.
As I've gotten older, though, I've realized that despite the aforementioned Rule #1, you just can't pretend to be out of town on secret business every time a potluck function rolls around. And while the chips-and-dip thing might be acceptable for suburban parents, rolling in with a two-pack of Tostitos you got at the Jewel begets a bit of a side-eye when everyone else has shown up with a prosciutto rendering of the David.
Plus, once in a while, it is actually kind of -- dare I say it -- fun to create something for someone else to enjoy, even if I can never quite turn off the impulse to watch people's faces for reactions as they eat like some sort of hyena waiting for lions to drop their kill.
So recently, I've been working on perfecting a few vegan desserts that are incredibly easy and fast. Don't worry, friends: These are not the kind of "simple" recipes that start off with flour and water and then suddenly take a hard right turn into requiring fennel and a pie bird. I am a consummate moron in the kitchen, and even I couldn't screw these up.
Chocolate Chip Cookies
We'll start as easy as possible. This is from "How It All Vegan," a.k.a. the greatest cookbook on the planet for human piles of trash like myself.
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup margarine (Earth Balance works great, although it's kind of expensive.)
- 1/2 cup oil
- 3 tbsp water (I always forget to do this. Seems OK anyway.)
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 1/4 cups flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt (I also forget this.)
- Literally all the chocolate chips in the house (Ghirardelli's are vegan, if you're stumped.)
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Obtain two big bowls. Mix all the dry ingredients (minus sugar) in one. Mix all the wet ones (plus sugar) in the other. Then slooooowly add the wet ingredients to the dry ones, mixing thoroughly, until it becomes a play-doh consistency. (If you add all the wet ingredients at once, it's really hard to mix everything evenly.) Then glop onto a cookie sheet and bake for like 7 minutes TOPS. Makes 6-12 cookies, depending on your glop-size.
The best thing about these cookies is that because they're vegan, they are perfectly safe to eat pre-baked. (Though that does make transport harder.) In fact, one might even argue that they taste better in their plasma state. It's also full of ingredients that most people usually just keep around (except maybe the Earth Balance), so you can whip up a mound of this whenever you feel the slightest bit sad.
In college, my best friend TOK and I would regularly make batches of this dough, stick it in the freezer and then just stick our hands in the bowl and eat it throughout the week like weird, sad raccoons. One Thanksgiving, we didn't leave the house for five days and ate nothing but chips, rice, beans and this delicious spackle.
I admit, I was a little wary of this one because I found it on a blog that had a lot of boudoir-style fruit photographs and it requires the use of a knife. But be not afraid! Once you get past all the chopping (itself bearable if you listen to, say, a podcast during the process), this is not a labor-intensive or complex maneuver.
- 8 apples (I know, OK? I know. Turn on some Ke$ha, it'll be fine.) -- about enough to fill 7 cups with cut pieces
- Lemon juice
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
- Much cinnamon (To taste -- I put in 1 tsp.)
- Pinch of salt
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1/2 cup oats
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 cup chopped almonds
- Another pinch of salt
- 1/3 cup melted margarine (Here's where you can use up all that Earth Balance.)
Cut the apples into bite-size pieces. Try not to weep from boredom, because the fun part's coming up. Throw all them apples into a large bowl, the bigger the better. Hurl a dash of lemon juice across the bowl, then toss in your pinches of salt, cornstarch, and cinnamon like a weird magician. Dig your hands into the bottom of the bowl and run the pads of your fingers along the apples' bumpy insides. Doesn't this make you feel alive, like when you go outside and smell the cold air before you feel it?
OK, enough of that, ya perv. Throw all those coated apples into a greased 9x9 baking dish. Then grab a different bowl and mix all your other ingredients. At this point it should have the consistency of wet sand. If it has the taste of wet sand, you've made a wrong turn. Sprinkle the topping over the apples safely nestled in their dish and bake at 375 degrees until they're golden brown (45 minutes to an hour). Let them rest for another 15 minutes after taking them out of the oven -- they've had a long day.
The nice thing about this recipe is that you can make it gluten-free pretty easily by making sure you're using safe oats and buying gluten-free flour. As a vegan, I am forsworn to battle the GFs (it's in the contract they make us sign), but I won't begrudge you choosing your sides.
Black Bean Brownies
I admit it: I saved the best for last, because once you try one of these mothertruckers you will never want to put anything else in your mouth again. I wish I were joking. I first came across these when I went to visit my dear friend Anne in St. Louis a few weeks ago; her kindly boyfriend Steve was just pulling them out of the oven when I walked in the door.
"Brownie?" he offered.
"No, thanks," I demurred, trying not to salivate. "I'm vegan."
"So are these," he said.
"Mmrgrgegshph," I said, a refrain I would continue the entire weekend while I systematically demolished the entire tray.
I returned to Chicago determined to recreate the experience in the privacy of my own home. Steve was nice enough to share his recipe (mostly based on this), which I will, in turn, share with you. But be careful. These things are seriously so freaking good that people will be angry with you for bringing them into your life. After I made them (and took a significant portion to a party), my housemates and I spent the next three days swinging wildly between trying to argue ourselves out of eating them for breakfast/lunch/dinner and then eating them for breakfast/lunch/dinner anyway. Seriously. Unreal.
No more upselling. Here's what you'll need:
- Can of black beans (15 ounce, like your standard grocery-store Goya ones.)
- 1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour (Don't fudge and use regular flour -- it doesn't seem as dense.)
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 2 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 1/4 cup cocoa
- 4 tsp instant coffee powder (NOT THE SAME AS GROUND COFFEE. DO NOT MIX THIS UP. INSTANT COFFEE.)
- 1 tsp vanilla
- Chocolate chips (Optional.)
Mix all the dry ingredients in a giant bowl. Then, take your black beans and drain them. Fill the can (with the beans still inside) with water. Drain it again. Repeat the process until the water is mostly clear. Then fill the can with water once more, dump it in a blender, and puree until smooth.
CAUTION: IF USING A SPOON TO SCRAPE OUT THE REMAINING BEAN GOO, MAKE SURE YOU HAVE NOT ACCIDENTALLY PUT YOUR SPOON IN THE BLENDER ALONG WITH SAID GOO.
Making these actually took me two tries, because when I hit "chop" the first time, I heard a noise like a banshee. My friend K-Bro, who'd come over to keep me company, gave me a Look.
"Did you leave the spoon in there?"
"No," I said, opening the lid.
Spoiler: I had.
Anyway, don't do that, you idiot. We're damn lucky the blender survived. Also, don't eat the beans if you do, because there are 100% spoon shards in there now. Just start over. Luckily black beans aren't hard to find.
When you blend your beans, don't worry if there are still some bean chunks in your mixture. Do the best you can to puree thoroughly, but it doesn't have to be perfect. Then combine your beans, vanilla and another cup of water with your dry ingredients. Mix thoroughly (with a fork is fine). Try to get all the powdery lumps out, but meh, what's life without lumps? Eventually, it should become a mostly liquid consistency, but not too watery.
Then dump all your chocolate chips in there, pour the mixture into a greased 9x13 baking pan and bake at 350 degrees until the edges of the brownies start to harden -- maybe 25-30 minutes. I actually took this batch out at 22 and the results were gooey, fudgey heaven.
And then I put sriracha sauce on them, because I am nothing if not predictable.
Now, you shall be queen of the potlucks, feared throughout the land. Tell Kate how it goes! @katchatters.