February 15, 2011

Sweet (birth) day | Stuffed shells | Frosting with cake

Miss E prepares to blow out the candles. Note the chaos in the background.

Valentine's Day has changed for us — it's now officially known as Miss E's Birthday. That's right, the charming Miss E (our little granddaughter) was born three years ago on Feb. 14, and the day now belongs to her. Completely.

Yesterday afternoon I baked a heart-shaped cake, and we headed to Miss E's house for a birthday dinner and an orgy of present unwrapping. Too bad all the relatives who sent gifts couldn't be there to hear the shrieks and squeals. I'm talking to you Grammy and Big Poppy, who sent a pretend wooden birthday cake AND a wooden pretend pizza with all the toppings. And Uncle Lenny and Aunt Ellen — I was summarily handed the old, hand-me-down-excuse for-a-Dora as soon as the new one emerged from the box, and the usually accommodating Miss E would not trade with me. She always gives me whatever toy I want, but she wouldn't give me the new Dora.

Is this not the cutest kitchen you've ever seen?

And what did we bring her? Why, a pretend kitchen, of course. Miss E loves to do both real and pretend cooking, and she's now set to turn out delicious pretend meals whenever she wants. She can make pizza, cake, cookies (a previous gift) or anything her very active imagination dreams up. I'm sure we'll be enjoying many pretend meals with her, along with the real ones.

Miss E's mama made a delicious, real dinner that included scrumptious, creamy stuffed shells with homemade tomato sauce, and a tangy kale and cabbage salad. She got the recipe for the shells from a friend, Brenin Williams, who generously agreed to let me share it with you.

Stuffed shells or manicotti
  • 1 cup cashews
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 splash soy sauce (too much will affect color)
  • 1 teaspoons black pepper (or to taste)
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 8 ounces silken tofu (soft)
  • salt to taste
  • 14 ounce to 1 pound firm tofu, quartered
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1 cups steamed spinach (or can be cooked frozen) or sautéed mushrooms
  • cooked jumbo shells or manicotti (about 12 ounces)
  • vegan cheese, as desired
  1. In a food processor, grind the cashews until smooth. Add the oil, garlic, oregano, soy sauce, pepper, vinegar, soft tofu and salt, if using. Blend until smooth. Add a little water, if necessary, to incorporate.
  2. Steam the firm tofu three to four minutes.
  3. In a large bowl, crumble the steamed tofu into the cashew mixture with 1/4 cup of nutritional yeast flakes. Stir in the spinach or mushrooms.
  4. Stuff into manicotti or jumbo shells and place in a large casserole dish.
  5. Cover generously with your favorite tomato sauce and a sprinkle of vegan cheese, and bake at 325˚ F, until hot, about 20 minutes.
Serves six to eight.


Frosted with WHAT?

You can tell I made the cake by the lame decorations.

Now I have to say a few words about the cake and its frosting. Actually, this will be mainly about the frosting. I want to work on the cake recipe measurements and post it at another time. I got the frosting recipe here, on Diet, Dessert and Dogs. It's made from — hold onto your spoons — sweet potatoes! Well, there's other stuff in there, too, but not big globs of margarine and powdered sugar. I can't say I followed the recipe exactly, no, I can't say that, but I never would have thought to make anything like this without Ricki's inspiration. I wanted more volume, so I actually doubled the sweet potatoes but kept the other stuff pretty much the same. Ricky specifies coconut sugar, and I used jaggery* that I had purchased in an Indian grocery store, and which may or may not be the same. I used a little extra jaggery instead of stevia. And I used cacao powder instead of carob, because for some reason carob gives me a headache. I also used 56 grams of semi-sweet baking chocolate instead of 65 grams of unsweetened chocolate. I had to make the frosting in the morning, then refrigerate it all day before using it, so I whipped it with an electric mixer and added some soymilk and a tablespoon of agave to help it whip to creamy perfection when I was ready to spread it on the cake. In spite of my changes, the recipe worked wonderfully, and I loved it. Thank you, Ricki, for being so impossibly clever.

Jaggery — the pieces are about two inches high

*Jaggery is an unrefined form of sweetener that can be made from the boiled sap of sugarcane, sago palm, arenga pinnatasago palm, date palm, sugar date palm or coconut palm, with date palm being the most prized. It is usually found as a large solid cone, or as rectangular chunks, but can also be found in a granulated form. Jaggery is the most popular kind of sweetener in West Bengal, South India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Also known as known as gur in India, panela in South America, piloncillo in Mexico, hakuru in Sri Lanka, it comes in various shapes and sizes, varies in color from light to dark brown, and can range from dry to sticky. It has a rich, caramel-y flavor that is less sweet than white sugar. Coconut sugar is low on the glycemic index. The information available about the sources of jaggery is a little confusing, so I've done my best to summarize and present what I've uncovered. Coconut sugar is the latest "healthy" sweetener to hit the natural foods market.


I made this

I've been crocheting again, and Miss E received a hat for her birthday. I made the hat, crocheted a flower and attached it, then added a bit of elastic thread around the bottom so the hat would be a little more snug. I almost wanted to keep the hat — not to wear but to look at — but I managed to part with it and hand it over to its sweet new owner. Am I proud of my handiwork? Yes, in this case, I am.


Test recipe of the week
for Urban Vegan

Hot and sour carrots and lentils


It doesn't seem like it today, but could spring be coming?

Last week I took a walk with a friend, and it was a sunny, warmish, photo-friendly day. We walked the 2.8 mile path around Green Lake, which is about a block from where I live.

When we arrived back at my house, we noticed the crocus growing in my next door neighbor's terrace garden. This week the temperature is colder, it's raining, and the possibility of snow is predicted for Thursday. But still ...


  1. Happy birthday to Miss E.! The hat looks adorable. The manicotti sounds yummy and the cake and ingenious frosting scrumptious! I want to try it all. Thanks for the great ideas, Andrea!

  2. Happy belated birthday to E! The pretend kitchen is so adorable and reminds me of one my sister and I shared as kids.

    The stuffed shells sound scrumptious. I'm on a noochy pasta kick so this recipe is particularly enticing. I've also been wanting to try Ricki's sweet potato chocolate frosting--good to hear it worked out so well for you! BTW, I think the cake is cute. :)

  3. I think the cake is adorable! It's far better decorated than most people could hope to accomplish! The stuffed shells sound wonderful too.

  4. I've noticed a few crocuses too. Spring might finally be coming soon!

    Love the hat and cake idea. And the kitchen is gorgeous. Love the green.

  5. What a wonderful post, I don't know where to start! Happy birthday E and thank you for letting us take part in the celebrations by sharing the recipe for the stuffed shells.
    That hat is gorgeous! And sweet potatoes sound like a really great frosting ingredient. I can never eat them on their own, they are too sweet for me. But I can totally see them in future frostings.

  6. Very sweet that Miss E's birthday is on Valentine's Day. That is some glorious chaos, and a very pretty hat! And crocuses! That does mean spring. In my yard no flower excites the same excesses of ecstatic joy...that I won't be feeling for another six weeks at least, but still, it's coming...

  7. Miss E is absolutely adorable, and a Valentine birthday - how fun! (No future sweetheart will ever, EVER have an excuse to forget her birthday!) :-)

    The little kitchen is such a perfect gift from you! So cute - looks like Miss E is definitely following in your culinary footsteps! I wish the two of you many fun hours of cooking and baking together. :-)

    That hat is darling, and she's a perfect model for it.

    Looks like you enjoyed a delicious celebratory feast, too! The cake sound intriguing, and thanks for teaching me about jaggery! I'd never heard of it. You were brave to make so many changes to the cake recipe, especially a cake intended for such a special occasion. I'm so glad it turned out perfectly - you obviously have a gift! :-)

  8. Aimee,
    You're welcome. You should definitely follow the link and try Ricki's frosting — in its original form.

    The stuffed shells were really yummy! And the sweet potato frosting was a surprise hit.

    You are too kind about the cake decorations. :D I know my limits, though maybe someday I'll manage to decorate with something more elaborate than shredded coconut and raisins.

    The vibrant crocuses are a sign of hope, and I love seeing them.

    My cake would look very sad next to one of your gorgeous raw creations, but it tasted so good to me, I can't wait to make another.

    The kitchen is so cute and little — just like its new owner!

    I feel the same way you do about sweet potatoes — too sweet. I love them in pie, though, and now in frosting. Who would have thought of something like that except Ricki?

    The chaos was spectacular, and Miss E was beside herself with delight. It was a great night, to be sure. A friend from Wisconsin told me that the spring bulbs in her yard are under five feet of snow. Is that true for you, too?

    Wow. I hadn't thought that far ahead to Miss E's sweethearts, but what you said is so true.

    It will be interesting to cook with Miss E — she with her enormous sweet tooth and me with my sweet aversion. We'll make some compromises, I'm sure. :)

    Ricki has said that a good basic recipe can stand up to a few tweaks, and her recipes must be very good! I'll bet the original was amazing.

  9. Happy (belated) Birthday to Miss E! Her birthday cake is too cut! I'm tripping on the icing though. I will have to try that out sometime. I've never seen or heard of jaggery. They are so neat looking.

    That manicotti looks delish!!!

    OMG...that is the cutest hat ever! Miss E sports it well too. She is adorable. Seriously though...great job on the hat! Maybe you should be making those to sell! I'd sure buy one. :o)

    Those flowers are so pretty! I hope that's a sign that Spring is right around the corner!

  10. What a fun day to have a birthday on! Miss E is so adorable; I love her cute little toes in the first pic. With her little kitchen and pretend meals, I can see another up and coming great cook in the family!

    The hat is super cute; you should be proud! Looks great on Miss E too...she's a stylin' 3 year old for sure.

    The cake frosting does sound intriguing...I love Ricki's creations too, and they remind me of Melody of MeloMeals...which are on par...I remember recently she posted about a chocolate sauce made from white beans! Thank goodness for such creative an inspirational recipe people!

    Unless my wizened old Seattle weather eye is mistaken, I think Spring will come early this year.

  11. Michelle,
    Thanks for all the compliments on the hat — I might be fast enough to sell one per year. If I ever reach a point where I crochet faster than I rip out what I've done, maybe I could make a few extra ones. :) You should go look at Ricki's icing post and try her original version. I'm sure it's really great!

    Oh, you're right, Melody is another very creative cook — and so are you! Melody also posted about chocolate hummus, didn't she?

    I hope you're right about spring. Of course snow is predicted for tomorrow and Friday, so we're not there yet!

  12. Belated birthday wishes to Miss E. I absolutely love her hat.

  13. That kitchen is SO cute! But not nearly as cute as your hat and especially your granddaughter wearing the hat. Well done--I am very impressed with the hat/flower! You are inspiring me to learn how to do something crafty :-)

    The crocus is gorgeous and so spring like...I can't help but smile just looking at it. Can you believe it was 52 and sunny here today?! Spring is in the air for sure, and it can't arrive soon enough for me!


  14. lol "note the chaos" i try to avoid shots of the floor, for that reason!!!

    Happy Birthday E!

    that play kitchen is adorable!

  15. That little Miss E is too adorable! Hope she loved the mini kitchen--and the cake! So glad you liked the frosting--yay! :D

    Your stuffed shells and hot & sour carrots and lentil dish both sound terrific, too. And I had no idea that jaggery comes in little pebbles like that! Obviously not *exactly* like coconut sugar, which is granulated (sort of).

  16. awww. happy birthday Miss E! What a fun age.

    Your shells look awesome!.. and Ricki is so smart... sweet potatoes in frosting! I love it

  17. Adorable!!!! The hat, the cake and the girl :)

  18. Mangocheeks,
    Thanks. I was pretty excited about the hat and Miss E seemed to like it, too!

    If I can make a hat, so can you. Scarves are the easiest to start with since they're straight. :) Potholders are easy, too, and useful.

    Wait. Are you telling me it was 52 and sunny in Minnesota? Seriously? That's great. I used to love the Feb. thaws when we were in Wis.

    This was happy chaos resulting from present-unwrapping, but yeah, I know what you mean. I have the same problem framing shots on the kitchen table. :D

    She LOVES the mini-kitchen. The frosting is fantastic — I love it, even my warped version of it which is no longer ACD, unfortunately. I never would have thought to make frosting from sweet potatoes. I'm going to take a closer look at vegetables in unlikely guises. I even liked the taste before the chocolate went in.

    Granulated coconut sugar is just the big chunks, ground. You can buy it in chunks. With jaggery, you have to read the package to know its source.

    The shells tasted great! And yes, Ricki is VERY clever! Did you see Rose's comment, above?

    You should know about adorable girls. Thanks!

  19. Happy b-day to Miss E! Looks like a super fun day, and such wonderful gifts. Love the pretend kitchen, the real food looks awesome too! :-)

  20. Gauri Radha गौरी राधा2/17/11, 10:13 PM

    What a lovely stuffs!!

  21. Chow Vegan,
    Thanks! I kind of want one of those play kitchens, too. :)



    Love the hat too and all the yummy food!

    My livingrooms get like that after Cooper has been let loose for approx 10 minutes.

  23. Miss E looks so happy in her new hat! What a creative frosting. I'm still doing the lumps of margarine and powdered sugar thing, but maybe I'll tentatively branch out. Not this weekend though - no time to test - we're having a slumber party. The house will be full of screaming, giggling girls! Yay??

  24. Jacqueline,
    Would the kitchen be for you or Cooper? :)

    Yes, it doesn't take more than 10 minutes for Miss E to turn a room upside-down. Of course, in this case it was presents and wrappings from all the relatives.

    Have "fun" at the party! I was a little nervous about the frosting but it was delicious. I've made it twice now, and think it may become my standard frosting. Of course, I've undone all the healthy changes from the original.

  25. Great post Andrea! I have a five-year-old granddaughter too who loves to cook and bake with me. I love Miss E's kitchen! Also love the hat! I am going to try this stuffed shells recipe and I also want to make the kale salad. Thanks, Bonnie (The Veganishta)

  26. Andrea

    Yes! 52 and sunny in MN--amazing, right??!? And...now we are in for a storm that is supposed to drop 7-9 inches on us on Sunday/Monday. Sigh. So much for the "thaw"... :-(


  27. Bonnie,
    I hope you like the shells and salad as much as we did.

    Cooking projects are great to do with little ones, aren't they?

    At least you had a little break from the cold and snow. We were supposed to have cold and snow here yesterday and today but instead it was sunny and pleasant. Maybe they're wrong about your upcoming storm. :)

  28. What a great looking hat! Those shells look divine - I must try. The cake is beautiful and makes me think that I definitely need to do more baking with sweet potatoes and less with non-dairy butter/oil and powdered sugar!

  29. Happy birthday dear E, I know its little late, but still my wishes are with you :)
    Every picture is just perfect specially I like the shuffled shells and urban vegans. You managed every thing perfectly. Great sharing dear


Thanks for visiting Andrea's easy vegan cooking. I love, and read, all of your comments! Please share your thoughts.

There are a few Amazon links in the posts. Thanks in advance if you click on one.

Note: ALL THE IMAGES FROM THIS BLOG WERE ACCIDENTALLY DELETED ON 1-21-12. I'M RESTORING THEM, POST BY POST, BUT IT WILL TAKE A LONG TIME. Recipe pages you visit may be missing photos, but all the text in intact. If you find a post without images, let me know so I can fix it. Thanks!