The Blooming Platter of Vegan Recipes

Peeps in Nest with Wooden EggsYield: 8 Peeps

These “Peeps” that I created–which I think look more like Toucans!–were inspired by “Ugly Ducklings” sold at a local Mediterranean restaurant called Azar’s.

I wanted to take the store-bought ones to an Easter dinner on Sunday, but the restaurant was closed and I could find no recipe, so I decided to “wing it,” so to speak.  Fortunately, the ingredients are few.

I’m so glad I did, as they are super simple and so unique!  I apologize for not having them ready to share with you in advance of Easter, but they are nice for spring in general, and certainly next year!

Resting in decorative cupcake liners and tucked, along with softly colored wooden eggs,  into their straw nest, they looked peepin’ adorable and were also a rave in the taste department!

They seem especially appropriate for spring, but the ingredients are pretty season-less, so enjoy all year when a festive presentation and a little decadent bite is in order.


Approximately 1/2 cup (or slightly less) almond paste (I purchase it in a can on the baking aisle of the grocery store)

16 pitted dates, opened out (be sure to use fairly moist ones)

1-9 or 10 ounce package vegan chocolate chips

8 whole roasted and lightly salted cashews


Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or Silpat.  Using your fingers, mold a scant tablespoon of almond paste into an egg shape.  Moisten your fingers if your paste seems dry.  Then press into one of the dates, pressing another date over the top to encase the almond paste inside, forming an egg or bird body shape.  Continue with all remaining dates and almond paste.  Cover and refrigerate them for about a half hour.  Melt chocolate in microwave in a narrow deep bowl for ease of dipping.  (For 9 to 10 ounces, I have found that 1 minute on full power, a slight stir, and then 20 to 30 seconds at full power, followed by a good whisking works in my microwave.)  Pierce each date-almond paste ball with a toothpick.  One at a time, dip them into the chocolate, covering completely, and place on prepared baking sheet.  Remove toothpicks and “patch” hole with a dab of melted chocolate if need be.  Then, one at a time, dip half of each cashew into the chocolate and attach it to the top of each “body,” slightly toward one end, with the cashew “beak” curving into the body and touching at each tip–chocolate toward the center–so that it is secure.  Refrigerate for a half hour or until chocolate is hardened.  Arrange as desired and serve.

Note: you will have some chocolate left over, but when it gets low, it is difficult to coat the date-almond paste balls.



Just-Dipped Peeps

Just-Dipped Peeps


Nest Ready for Peeps

Nest Ready for Peeps

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Ham Salad in Celery 2Yield: approximately 3 to 4 cups

This super-easy salad was a pre-vegan childhood favorite.  I remember consuming way too much of it when I was home sick from school one day.  The mere thought of it brings back feelings of nurturing and nostalgia…even more so now that I’ve replaced the ham with extra-firm tofu and finely chopped smoked almonds.  To recreate the total flavor profile that I longed for, I added a few additional spices like fennel, sage, thyme, etc., and then stirred in the requisite vegan mayo, pickle relish and lots of freshly ground black pepper.

This recipe goes together in a flash, so when the craving strikes, satisfaction is only minutes away!  Enjoy for breakfast on a toasted bagel half, in a sandwich or wrap for a brown bag or even company-ready lunch, or spread on crackers or raw veggie slices as an accompaniment to a bowl of soup for a light–and lightening fast–supper.

14 ounces extra-firm tofu (not Silken), lightly pressed and blotted with paper towels

1 cup smoked almonds, finely chopped (I use a food processor)

1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds (lightly crush with a mortar and pestle if desired, but not necessary)

1/4 teaspoon dried rubbed sage

1/4 teaspoon nutritional yeast (optional, but I think it is nice)

1/8 teaspoon dried thyme

1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

1/8 teaspoon onion powder

5 tablespoons vegan mayonnaise

1/2 of a large vegetable bouillon cube

2 tablespoons sweet pickle relish

2 teaspoons Braggs Liquid Aminos

Freshly ground black pepper to taste (I am quite generous with it in this recipe)

Crumble tofu into a medium bowl.  Add almonds, fennel, sage, nutritional yeast, thyme, garlic powder, and onion powder, and toss with fingers to combine well.  Mash bouillon cube with fingers and whisk into mayo.  Add mayo to tofu-almond mixture along with remaining ingredients.  Stir together gently until completely combined.  Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.  Serve immediately or refrigerate until serving time.  Delicious stuffed in celery sticks, mounded onto cucumber slices, or crackers, piled onto a sandwich, rolled in wrap, or heaped on a toasted bagel.

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Tempeh-Salad-as-Soft-TacoThis salad from The Blooming Platter Cookbook is a personal favorite and drew raves at a recent cooking demonstration I was invited to give for a group of women fairly new to veganism  who wanted to know more about cooking with some of the vegan proteins, like tempeh and seitan.  I knew you will love it too!

Grapes add color, moisture, and natural sweetness to this hearty salad, while nuts add depth of flavor, crunch, and nutrition. In addition to being terrific in a whole grain sandwich, the filling is also great with crackers, celery sticks, or in a lettuce wrap. Some people prefer to steam their tempeh before using in recipes to mellow the flavor – this recipe allows for that option.

And as you can see in the top photo, this salad also makes a delectable soft taco or, at bottom, a scoop of deliciousness on a bed of super-greens.
Yield: 4 servings
16 ounces tempeh
Sea salt
1 cup green seedless grapes, quartered
1/2 cup smoked almonds, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup chopped celery
2 tablespoons minced dill
6 tablespoons vegan mayonnaise
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
Freshly ground black pepper
8 slices whole grain bread

1. Preheat the broiler. Steam the tempeh for 10 minutes, if desired. Season both sides of the tempeh with salt and broil 2 to 3 minutes per side. Set aside until cool enough to handle.
2. In a medium bowl, combine the grapes, almonds, celery, dill, mayo, maple syrup, garlic powder, and salt and pepper to taste. Crumble the tempeh and add it to the bowl and combine gently with a fork to mix well. Taste and adjust the seasonings,
if needed.
3. To serve, divide the mixture onto four slices of the bread, top each with another slice of bread, cut each sandwich in half and serve.

Variation:  Make the recipe above with these substitutions: red grapes for green grapes; toasted walnuts for smoked almonds; orange bell pepper for celery; tarragon for dill.




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Beet Spread--Bird's Eye ViewYield:  approximately 2 cups

The Beet Muhummara spread in my Blooming Platter Cookbook is a rave with beet lovers and haters.  I know this both from experience and from others’ enthusiastic reports.

However, it contains bread crumbs, which is not a problem for most people, but I teach with someone who has Celiac Disease and it is a BIG problem for her.  With a birthday next week while we’re away on Spring Break, I wanted to send her home with a treat she could eat, so I created this version that is not simply Beet Muhummara sans bread crumbs, but it’s own delicious spread.

It was inspired by a really zippy dipping sauce my husband and I were served with some kicked-up tempura (baby beets, baby bok choy, Brussels sprouts, wax beans ,etc.) at a recent cooking demonstration.  The vegan batter contained just a few chili flakes and the beautiful green sauce was made with lots of cilantro, lime juice, cardamom pods, etc.

I started with beets, adding what I had on hand: cilantro from a cooking class I had taught (but not too much, as people either love it or hate it), smoked almonds because I always keep them at the ready to snack on, lemon juice, and some spices.  After tasting the spread, I decided that I really liked the flavor of the lemon, but that it also needed some lime, so I purchased one and added it.  The result was tamer in the citrus department than my inspiration because, if there is anything I would have changed about the latter, it would have been to make it slightly less tangy.  The resulting balance of flavors in my Cilantro-Coriander Beet Spread is perfect for my palate, but always feel free to adjust for yours!

4-2 to 3 ounce fresh beets (trimmed weight), peeled and quartered

1 cup, firmly packed, fresh cilantro (leaves and stems)

1/3 cup smoked almonds 2 large garlic cloves,  halved

1 tablespoon coriander seeds (whole) 1 teaspoon cumin seeds (whole)

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika (ground)

1/3 cup olive oil

Juice of 1 large lemon

Juice of 1 medium-large lime

1 tablespoon maple syrup

Sea salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Optional: 1/4 teaspoon chili flakes or to taste

Place all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process until almost smooth, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary.

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Champagne VinaigretteYield: almost 2 cups

You know, I haven’t created a lot of new recipes lately, as I have felt sort of caught between seasons: a winter that seemed bent on never ending and a spring that had several false starts.  I have certainly been eating good food, but my favorite farm market hasn’t yet opened, so I haven’t had local produce to inspire me.

But now, I do believe that spring has sprung and new ideas are emerging along with tender shoots of dormant plants and blossoms on the earliest spring-blooming trees like Bradford Pears and pink Magnolias.

Like everyone else I’m sure, I’m finding that I am craving lightened and brightened dishes, so I created this champagne vinaigrette using my beloved Italian variety known as Prosecco.  It is inexpensive and compatible with virtually everything.  Even my husband, a devoted Cab drinker, loves it.

Remember that, especially in recipes with just a few ingredients like a vinaigrette, balance is everything, so feel free to tweak the proportions until they suit your palate.

3 generous tablespoons grainy mustard

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon onion powder

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon maple syrup

1/2 cup dry/extra dry Prosecco or your favorite dry/extra dry champagne

1 cup olive oil

Sea salt to taste (avoid skimping; it needs a salt to bring out subtle layers of flavors)

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a jar or carton with a tight-fitting lid, whisk garlic and onion powders, balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, and Prosecco into mustard.  Drizzle in olive oil, whisking continually, and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Tweak any of the flavors for balance and store, covered, in refrigerator.  I like to transfer vinaigrette to a squeeze bottle with a cap.  Before serving, hold container under warm water for a few minutes to soften partially-solidified oil, and then whisk or shake vigorously.  For guests, I like to serve the dressing in a clear glass container with a spout or a spoon like the miniature sundae glass in the photo.

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Sugar-Free Maple Molassess Roll and Cut CookiesOne of my favorite yoga instructors, Angela Phillips, avoids sugar.  Feeling spring in the air and having recently purchased cute little flower-shaped cookie cutters, I wanted to take her a  “happy” to class this morning.  So, I searched online for some sugar-free roll-and-cut cookies made with maple-syrup and/or molasses, but didn’t find what I was looking for, so I had to wing it which, honestly, is more fun anyway.

Knowing that granulated sugar aerates (vegan) butter as you beat it together, I figured that the absence of sugar might make for a heavier cookie.  So, I incorporated a couple of tablespoons of cornstarch to lighten the dough–lovely!  A bit of baking soda provided extra insurance that the texture would be perfect.  Other than that, I found that 2 tablespoons of molasses to 6 tablespoons of maple syrup was an ideal proportion to prevent the molasses from hogging the limelight.  And that a little vanilla and almond extracts rounded out the flavor.  In winter months, you can spice these cookies up with cinnamon, cloves, ground ginger, and so forth.  But, for April, I didn’t really want those warm spices and the cookies are delicious without.

Feeling very proud of myself, as I got ready to decorate them, I suddenly realized that the only frostings I know how to make are made with sugar, most frequently, confectioner’s sugar.  Wracking my brain, I ultimately decided on whipped (vegan) cream cheese sweetened with a little maple syrup and flavored with a little vanilla and almond extracts plus lemon zest was perfect.  Sort of like cream cheese on a bagel.  And the consistency still allowed me to use my piping bag for an extra-pretty touch.  

Enjoy these sugar-free beauties all year…starting now!


1 cup vegan butter

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons maple syrup

2 tablespoons unsulphered molasses

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

2 tablespoons cornstarch

2 teaspoons baking soda

Pinch salt

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (I actually prefer white whole wheat)

Optional: ground spices like cinnamon, cloves, ginger

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper or Silpat.  Using an electric mixer, cream butter until fluffy.  Add maple syrup, molasses, and vanilla and almond extracts, and continue creaming until thoroughly incorporated.  Add cornstarch, baking soda, a pinch of salt and 1 cup of flour and incorporate on lowest speed of mixer or by hand.  Add remaining flour (and spices if using any), 1 cup at a time.  Flour work surface and, using about one-quarter of dough at a time, roll to a 1/4 to 1/3-inch thickness.  Cut out with cookie cutters, arrange on prepared cookie sheets, and bake for 10 minutes.  Cool completely on wire racks and frost as desired.  If using the cream cheese “frosting” below, store frosting cookies covered in refrigerator.  I like to store them in a shallow container so that the plastic wrap doesn’t smear the frosting.

Sugar-Free “Frosting”

8 ounces vegan cream cheese

1 tablespoon maple syrup

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon almond extract

Zest of 1 lemon

Optional: Food coloring/dye if desired, natural preferred and dragees

Using an electric mixer, cream all ingredients together until fluffy and pipe onto cookies as desired.  Cover and refrigerate any leftover frosting.

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Poached Pears 3The weather has been like no other winter here in Eastern, VA, so, while I made these pears quite a while ago, sunshine and my schedule did not coalesce until yesterday for me to photograph or I would have posted well before now so that if you, too, were gifted with a box of Harry & David Pears, you would have a new and delicious way to serve them.

It was a gift of these pears sent also to my parents by my cousin (he sent mine much later due to a snafu of some sort) and my mom’s craving that resulted in this recipe.  The cream-cheese orange filling makes them extra special and extra pretty.

Hopefully, now that the winter holidays are well behind us, you can enjoy this recipe with the crop of summer pears.

Hey, did you know those Harry & David pear crates make ideal tree ornament storage boxes?

Pears and Red Wine Reduction:

6 large pears (about 8 ounces each), halved lengthwise, stemmed and cored using a melon-baller or small spoon

2 cups Burgundy wine

1/4 cup sugar

1 large orange, zested (reserve zest), halved, and then sliced into 1/2-inch slices

3 cinnamon sticks

Combine wine and sugar in a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat.  Add pears, cut side down, and then tuck orange slices and cinnamon sticks between them.  Bring to a simmer and poach for 10 minutes on one side; gently flip, and poach 10 minutes on the other side.   Arrange in a serving dish or on individual plates or bowls, cut side up.  Place a dollop of filling in the hollow left when the core was removed, drizzle with Red Wine Reduction, and serve.


Vegan Cream Cheese-Orange Filling:

8 ounces vegan cream cheese such as *Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese

2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Reserved orange zest

In  small bowl using a fork, mash together cream cheese and sugar.  When almost smooth, incorporate vanilla extract and zest.


*You can also find this recipe HERE on the Tofutti website!



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Baked Apples Baklava is an example of “Switching Courses”, one of the creativity strategies named in this article. This recipe is a switch from Dessert to Breakfast, as a sweet nutty filling is tucked inside the depression left when the apple core was removed, and then the stuffed apple half is wrapped in phyllo and baked before being drizzled with an apple cider reduction.

Baked Apples Baklava is an example of “Switching Courses.” This recipe is a switch from Dessert to Breakfast, as a sweet nutty filling is tucked inside the depression left when the apple core was removed, and then the stuffed apple half is wrapped in phyllo and baked before being drizzled with an apple cider reduction.

Recently, the folks at Vegan Mainstream asked me to submit an article/blog post on the topic of my choice.

If there is one thing I hear more frequently than anything else about my approach to cooking, it is that it is “creative.”  I am humbled by such a generous assessment.  So, lest the well ever run dry, I decided not too long ago to try to become more conscious and deliberate about what, until then, had been just a natural inclination.

The result of my self-reflection was four simple strategies that I had been inadvertently returning to again and again.  And I am delighted to share them with readers in “Four Simple Strategies for Keeping the Creative Culinary Juices Flowing,” published just today:

  1. Color Substitution
  2. Crossing Cultures
  3. Switching Courses
  4. Trading Textures

Click on over to the article to find out how you too can adopt these same strategies for a near endless flow of kitchen inspiration!

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Kale PierogiMy delish Vegan Kale Pierogi with Sweet Potato Filling was published today on Go Dairy Free–and with it’s green filling, it’s perfect for St. Pat’s Day.

After a brief warm spell, we have winter storms here again in VA, so the kale and sweet potato combo–two of my cold weather favorites–will warm you from the inside out!

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011Yield: 1-8 inch square sheet cake (a 9 inch pan will make a cake that is too thin)

To make a 9 x 13 inch cake, double recipe and add a few minutes onto cooking time if necessary; avoid overbaking.)

I was introduced to the original version (vegetarian) of this cake at an Oscar’s party when I lived in Nashville.  It is a winner for sure, to be enjoyed in moderation for the occasional splurge…of course. :)

My first attempt at veganizing the recipe was quite tasty.  But the new and improved version is even more so: moister and fudgier.

When this year’s Oscar’s rolled around, I found myself craving this old-school favorite.  Remembering that I had decided my recipe could use a good tweak, I looked up photos of the non-vegan original online and compared them to the photo of my first iteration.  Yep, just based on appearance alone, I knew I needed to do better…and I did.  I’m pretty sure this one can’t be improved upon!

Note: while you are welcome to use Coca-Cola or your favorite brand of traditional root beer, you might enjoy one of the natural brands.


    • 1 cup natural sugar
    • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (I like white whole wheat)
    • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
    • 1/4 cup dairy-free margarine (such as Earth Balance)
    • 1/4 cup vegetable oil or grapeseed oil
    • 1/2 cup Coca-Cola, root beer (not diet) or a natural cola/root beer brand
    • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons dairy-free buttermilk (5 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons non-dairy milk, e.g. So Delicious Dairy Free Original Coconut Milk Beverage + 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar whisked together to curdle)
    • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar (plus extra, if needed, to yield the consistency you desire, but more sugar makes it lighter in color and less fudgey)
  • 1/4 cup dairy-free margarine
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 3 tablespoons Coca-Cola, root beer (not diet) or a natural cola/root beer brand
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped toasted pecans + more for garnish, optional (omit for nut-free)


For the Cake:
    1. Preheat oven to 350ºF and grease and lightly flour an 8 x 8-inch baking pan.
    2. In a bowl, combine the sugar, flour, cocoa powder and baking powder.
    3. In a 1-quart saucepan, combine the margarine and oil. Bring just to a boil and pour over dry ingredients.
    4. Add the cola to the batter, and whisk well to combine.
    5. Dissolve the baking soda in the vegan buttermilk and add it to the batter along with the vanilla extract. Whisk just until combined. The batter will seem a bit thin.
    6. Pour the batter into your prepared ban and bake 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean; avoid overbaking.
    7. Remove from the oven to a wire rack and frost immediately.
For the Frosting:
  1. While the cake bakes, place the confectioner’s sugar in a medium bowl.
  2. In a 2-quart saucepan, combine the dairy-free margarine, cocoa powder and Coca-Cola; bring just to a boil.
  3. Pour the liquid over the sugar, and whisk to combine until smooth.  Whisk in more confectioner’s sugar if necessary.
  4. Add the vanilla extract and pecans (if using), and stir to distribute.
  5. Spread frosting over warm cake. Garnish with pecans if desired.  When cool, cut into squares and serve.  Store, covered, in refrigerator.


DSCN0758This is the previous version…see the difference?!


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