Grazing from a table laden with buttermilk scones, cashew cream, crustless finger sandwiches, fresh rice salad, puff pastry pizza and glazed vanilla cupcakes? Oh yumilicious! And what could be a nicer way to eat with your loved ones on a Sunday afternoon?
I was really happy to have been given the honour of catering for our family celebration (an engagement) last weekend and I'm hoping that with my vegan party buffet, I did the happy couple proud. As well as my 'mum-not-in-law', of course, who 'commissioned' me.
One of the great things was that some of the family folks hadn't realised I'd made the food, and they tucked in with plenty of "mmms" and "ahhhs" before I told them everything they were eating was vegan.
Many people do have misconceptions about vegan food (thinking vegans survive off tofu and lettuce - of which neither made an appearance on my buffet!), so it is always great to surprise people and show them how delicious vegan food can be.
I was cooking for ten people, and so I chose to do four main menu items for savoury, plus a green salad, and then three menu items for sweet treats.
We had hummous and rocket finger sandwiches, cauliflower cheeze wonton bakes (my new recipe soon to be blogged about!), a roasted vegetable puff pastry pizza, an apple and celery rice salad, and a simple spinach, red onion and cherry tomato salad to go with it.
The cakes that we had included buttermilk scones (my own recipe), with a cashew cream that I whipped up and thick, strawberry jam. We also had golden vanilla cupcakes (using a recipe from the wonderful Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World) and I made a fig & walnut banana bread which was very homely and scrumptious. It's another recipe that I need to post here!
Virtually everything I made was from scratch - except the strawberry jam, puff pastry and the bread. The hummous on the sandwiches as well was home-made, a simple recipe that I make which includes sumac (a middle-eastern spice) to add a little bit of difference.
And if using chickpeas that you have soaked and cooked from dry, rather than from cans, it's one of the best budget party table inclusions that you can have.
To give you an idea - I think for enough sandwiches for a standard loaf of thick-sliced bread, and with an extra full dish left over for dipping tortilla chips - the hummous must have cost less than £2 to make? Considering the price of a small tub in the supermarket (£1-1.50) that wouldn't have even filled my little dipping dish, I think this is a bargain. And of course, it's freshly made and without anything I don't want in it!
The rice dish too, which was also gluten-free, was very cheap and simple to make, as were the scones (not gluten-free, of course!) and many other things. To be honest, the costs involved in creating a vegan buffet table are a lot less than creating one which contains animal products. If you think of how much cheese, fish and meat can cost, compared to vegetables, grains, fruits and pulses, then you can see why.
All is takes is a little imagination to conjure up a budget-friendly buffet table (cue another blog post here!), and we vegan cooks certainly do learn how to tap into the right brain for our food-spiration.
Even if you're not vegan, who says animal products have to be compulsory on a table? If the food is good enough, people will like it simply because it is good food (as I have discovered).
Time is of course the main issue for most people when it comes to creating a buffet spread, especially when catering for several. If you're on a tight budget though, making enough free time to prepare can really save you money, and may actually be your only realistic option.
But for me, cooking has become such an integral part of my life since becoming vegan that it's part and parcel of actual living, rather just something I do in order to survive and not go hungry! As much as socialising with my friends or doing my work, really.
It does help enormously that my kitchen is a joy to work in since it was refitted last year, I have to admit. Before this, I don't think I enjoyed cooking half as much. So I'm very lucky in that respect, that I now have a gorgeous kitchen to wave my culinary magic wand in.
It was great to receive the positive feedback on my food though, and this is especially good since I'm considering going into business on the catering side of things. At least casually - for a while - such as doing the spread for last Sunday.
Anyhow - I will post some of the recipes that I conjured up for Sunday's vegan afternoon tea soon - keep an eye out for them! And then I think I will write a fuller blog post on creating a buffet spread on a budget - but in the meantime, I do have a few tips below:
7 tips for planning a time & cost-effective vegan party buffet:
1. Start by looking in your cupboards to see what herbs, spices, flours, grains, sauces and so on that you already have in stock. These can help form the basis of your buffet menu, keeping costs to a minimum when you don't need to buy too many new ingredients.
2. More than enough food should be around three or four savoury items per person, and around three sweet items each - with a couple of nibbly bits and a salad. I usually make sure there will be a couple of things extra for each dish in case additional guests do turn up or people are very hungry (so I made 12 scones knowing I was serving 10 people), but don't overdo it. There was a lot of leftover food from this party.
3. Next, see what fruits and vegetables are seasonal in order to base dishes around too - whether it is winter squashes, summer salads or pumpkins in autumn. There are some year-round staples that are cheap as chips and always handy to consider like potatoes - they are filling and everyone loves potato. Apples too can be used with some imagination, like in my rice salad, which was refreshing and light.
4. You might not want to spend days on making food for your buffet, but you do want some nice, ego-boosting reactions too :) So look for easy-to-make, flavoursome recipes, maybe with one or two items that will cause some "oooohhs" and "ahhhhhs" (the decorated cupcakes and the wonton bakes, in my case). People like to have pretty things to eat, it's the way it is.
5. Which leads us to presentation - it counts. It makes food look appetising and gets the drool flowing. You don't have to spend a fortune on decor - a vintage tea party that I did last year, I used wild flowers that I'd picked from the canalside banks! Food garnishes need not cost the earth, either - a sprinkle of paprika here, some rocket leaves and cherry tomatoes there. If you have cake stands - use them! Doilies will cover cupcake patterns and make them okay for savouries :)
6. For better time-management and less stress on the day, try to make food in advance where possible, and freeze what you can. I made the scones earlier in the week and froze them, and frosted cupcakes can be frozen too! The mashed potato for my cauliflower bakes was made the day before and refrigerated, as was the cashew cream. I also roasted the vegetables for my puff pastry pizza the day before, and baked my cakes at the same time.
7. When serving, give people smaller side plates, rather than huge dinner plates! This isn't to be stingy, but it stops your guests packing a full plate and taking what they really can't eat (and having lots of waste left on the plates). With a smaller plate, you can always go back for me, and it tends to make the whole tea more sociable and longer-lasting anyway, with people enjoying their food rather than wolfing it down in a few bites.