Friday, December 30, 2011

Crostini Two Ways: Bruschetta and Navy Bean Dip

We had a delicious multigrain baguette in the house, as well as lots of leftover beans from my soup experiment, so I decided to make crostini with a couple of toppings.

Crostini is really just a fancy name for thinly sliced, toasted bread.  This recipe is a great guide.  I very thinly sliced the multigrain baguette, put the slices on a baking sheet and brushed them with olive oil, and sprinkled on the black pepper.  I let the slices toast for about 17 minutes until they were golden and toasty.

For the two toppings, I first decided to do a traditional bruschetta topping.  Since I think this mix benefits from some marinating time, I did this earlier this afternoon while my soup was cooking.  I diced a package of cherry tomatoes, finely diced a medium red onion and a made a chiffonade with few handfuls of basil.  I then stirred in three minced garlic cloves, a generous pour of olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  I was worried that I overdid it with the garlic, but the ratio ended up being fine.

For the second topping, the navy bean dip, I broke out the food processor.  First, I pulverized four cloves of garlic.  I then added in three generous cups of the cooked navy beans and a handful of curly parsley and pulsed the mixture until the beans were somewhat blended. 

Next, I added the juice of one lemon.  A trick I use when juicing a lemon is to put a mesh strainer directly over the bowl (or, in this case, the processor).  As you squeeze the lemon, the strainer will catch the seeds and the pulp, and all of your lemon juice goes right in the recipe.

I then seasoned the bean mixture with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and gave it another pulse to mix.  After scraping down the bowl, I poured some olive oil down the small feed tube, pulsing the mixture again to combine.

I then served the two toppings along with the crostini.  We enjoyed both toppings, but especially scarfed down the bean dip, which husband said was "incredibly fresh."   I saw him licking the spoon later, so I know he wasn't lying!  The bean dip would also be nice with veggies, and would provide a nice protein kick.  I think it would also be a nice sandwich spread or wrap filling, given how nice and creamy it is.

Vegetable Soup with Navy Beans

Wow, was my last blog December 18?  Holy cow.  Let me give you a quick recap of the past few weeks - our niece arrived December 19, then it was Hanukkah, husband's birthday, making a few meals (nothing I haven't blogged before) for my brother & sister-in-law, volunteering on Christmas Day at Washington Hebrew Home, a road trip with the in-laws and grandmother-in-law to visit the new baby, home yoga practice and lots and lots of naps to recover from it all.

With all this busyness and craziness, we decided we could use some serious comfort food.  And what's better comfort food in the winter than homemade soup?  Better yet, a hearty, vegan friendly vegetable and bean soup?

I've been wanting to play with dried beans for awhile.  Sure, they're a heck of a lot less convenient than canned, but the trade-offs are worth it, especially when it comes to texture and flavor.  Also, the variety of dried beans at our local Whole Foods is amazing.  They have a number of heirloom beans that I'm really looking forward to trying.  So, if you are able to plan your meals ahead, I really encourage you to give dried beans a try!

For this soup, we decided to go with a simple navy bean.  Fun fact - these beans got their name not because of their color (they're off-white), but "because they were a staple food of the  U.S. Navy in the early 20th Century."  Like other legumes, navy beans are an excellent source of fiber and protein, and are also a "good source of folate, manganese and vitamin B1 as well as the minerals phosphorus, copper, magnesium and iron."

Beans soaking
Beans cooked
I used as a guide to preparing the beans .  After picking through the three cups of dried beans, I soaked them for eight hours in nine cups of water.  I then boiled them in the soaking liquid for ten minutes, skimming foam off the top.  After ten minutes, I reduced the heat to a simmer, added a generous teaspoon of salt, and simmered the beans covered for one hour.  My husband and I tasted the plain beans when they were done and agreed that we vastly preferred them to canned!  We then put them in the fridge to use in today's soup.

One of my favorite soups is minestrone, which traditionally includes vegetables, beans and pasta.  According to Wikipedia, minestrone translates to "the big soup" and is usually made from whatever ingredients you have in the fridge.  What I ended up making was minestrone inspired, as we used up a lot of what we had in the fridge.  But, I elected to leave out the pasta at the last minute, so I'm hesitant to call it a true minestrone.

Behold the aftermath of the chopping!
To start the soup, I diced one large white onion, half a bunch of celery, three yukon gold potatoes and two zucchini.  I also sliced up several handfuls of baby carrots and minced four cloves of garlic.  I sauteed all the veg in olive oil until it was translucent, about ten minutes.  When the good brown bits started to stick to the bottom of the pot, I poured in a little bit of vegetable broth to deglaze the mix.

I then added in a large can of whole tomatoes and their liquid, breaking up the tomatoes with a spoon.  Then, I added three cups of the cooked beans.  Using the neat little herb mill my sister-in-law gave me recently, I ground up some sage and rosemary and mixed that in, along with fresh thyme, dried oregano, sea salt and black pepper.  Finally, I added a carton and a half of veggie broth.  Once the soup came to a boil, I let it simmer for an hour, which made our entire apartment, and probably the hallway, smell like yummy vegetable soup.

We had the soup for lunch today with some crusty bread.  It was warm, hearty and had a nice kick from the garlic and pepper!  Better yet, we have tons of leftovers, and I think it will taste even better reheated, as the flavors will continue to combine.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Quinoa Pasta with Quorn, Brussels Sprouts and Carrots

Since I know so many folks with gluten intolerance, I like to play around with various gluten free pastas.  Also, since I don't like to eat a lot of things made with refined white flour, I find that some of these pastas are good options in lieu of traditional boxed pasta.

Tonight, I decided to play with Ancient Harvest's Quinoa Shells.  The shells are actually a blend of quinoa and corn.  They're a little brighter yellow than your average pasta, but otherwise, the texture doesn't differ greatly, especially in a sauce.  I bet they'd be good in a soup, so I may try and make minestrone with the rest of the box.

For tonight's meal, I started with a sauce.  It was a shallot, soy-free Earth Balance and garlic base, which I deglazed with vegetable broth.  I then added the Quorn grounds.  Quorn does contain a trace amount of egg, so it's not suitable for those following a strict vegan diet.  So, if you prefer to make this dish purely vegan, but don't have a soy allergy like yours truly, any textured vegetable protein (TVP), such as Smart Ground, would be a good substitute.

I then added in some brussels sprouts I roasted yesterday, along with red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.  When I mixed the pasta in, I decided it needed a pop of color, so I added some shredded carrot to the pan.

I think I undercooked the pasta shells a bit, but I liked the contrast of the meatiness of the quorn with the carrots & brussels sprouts.  It also had a nice kick due to the healthy shakes of red pepper flakes I put in.

My Very Vegan Hanukkah: Sweet Potato Latkes and Cauliflower Latkes

Last week was a bit of a challenge on the eating front - husband and I got hit with a particularly nasty bout of stomach flu, so we subsisted on ginger ale, pretzels, dry toast and gatorade for the beginning of the week.  Vegan?  Technically, yes.  Nourishing. Not at all. So, of course, with our early observed  celebration of Hanukkah taking place this Saturday, I was going to have a chance to get back to some actual fruits and vegetables appearing on my plate.

For those of you not familiar with the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, it is the celebration of a miracle that occurred after the destruction of the temple and it's rescue by the Maccabees.  There was only enough oil to light the Ner Tamid, the eternal light, for one day.  But, the light lasted for eight days.  To celebrate Hanukkah, Jewish families light a menorah, a candleholder with nine branches - eight branches to hold candlesto recognize each day the Ner Tamid remained lit, and the ninth, the shamash, holds the candle that lights the other eight.  On the first night, you light one candle, the second two, and on and on through the eighth night, when the entire menorah is lit.   In my family, on the first night, we also say the shehechyanu, which is a prayer said on holidays or other occasions you with to note the significance of.

What, you may ask, does all this have to do with vegan food?  Well, Jews like to eat fried things on Hanukkah.  It's said to be eating anything fried in oil is a tie back to the miracle of the Ner Tamid.  Some people (aka not me, who can't tolerate the soy) celebrate by eating, I kid you not, jelly donuts.  But, I think the fried food most folks think of most when it comes to Hanukkah is latkes.

Latkes are potato pancakes that are fried in oil until they're crispy.  Traditionally, latkes are made with grated white potato, flour and egg, perhaps with a little onion for seasoning.  My versions were veganized, and also quickly pan-seared and baked to cut the grease factor.

The first recipe, the sweet potato latkes, was made was a riff on a recipe that came from what I call my mother's Jewish recipe envelope collection.  When my mother saw a Jewish holiday recipe (or any recipe) she liked, she would cut it out and stick it in an envelope.  Somehow, I ended up with the envelope full of Jewish recipes, so I can't credit the source of this recipe other than to tell you it was cut out of a pamphlet, judging by the condition of the paper, sometime between 1982-1995.

Look at all this parsley.  Nanny Sadie would be proud!
The sweet potato latke recipe called for one sweet potato, two yukon gold potatoes, one onion, four eggs a quarter cup of matzo meal and salt and pepper to taste.  I actually added a third potato and, in honor of my great-grandmother, who wouldn't dream of making a dish without parsley, a healthy handful of chopped fresh parsley.  To replace the eggs, I used Ener-G egg replacer, which, as I mentioned before, binds these types of patties more firmly than eggs in my opinion.  I also used a cup of whole wheat panko in place of the matzo meal.

To shred the potatoes, I used the shredding disc on my food processor.  I took out the sweet potato, the three yukon gold potatoes and the onion in approximately thirty seconds.  If that's not a Hanukkah miracle, I don't know what else might qualify.  After browning the latkes on both sides in some cooking spray, we decided they weren't quite crispy enough, so we threw them in a 375 oven for 20 minutes. 

I have made the cauliflower latkes before as part of my vegetarian Rosh Hashanah, but my husband's grandmother enjoyed them so much that I decided to make them again.  The last time I made them, I made them with eggs, but I used the Ener-G this time, and I also finished them in the oven.

We used our largest platter (two feet long!) to serve the latkes, and it was completely filled.  After all seven of us ate, there were three latkes left.  Three!  Lack of leftovers = recipe success. 

My personal Hanukkah miracle!
While our guests also enjoyed bagels and lox and other spreads, I was quite content with my light dinner of latkes, whole grain bread with earth balance (my husband's grandmother also opted for the bread) and a big pile of fresh fruit.

What yummy vegan treats will you be cooking up for the holidays?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Simple Spinach and Lentils with Rice and Quinoa

I know I like to make a lot of dishes that involve multiple ingredients, lots of prep and lots of pots and pans.  But, sometimes I want something super simple, but hearty, and tonight was one of those nights.

I had leftover golden lentils in the fridge, so I decided to do something with them.  I also picked up a big container of baby spinach after yoga (we go through two containers a week here), and decided I would incorporate that in the dish as well.

To start the dish, I sauteed some minced shallots in Earth Balance.  I then added some tomato paste concentrate.  When the brown bits started to appear in the pan, I added a couple of pours of vegetable broth.  I used Safeway Organic brand, which, unlike some other boxed broths, doesn't contain soy. Pacific Organic's vegetable broth is also soy-free.

I then added a few handfuls of the cooked lentils.  As the lentils integrated with the sauce, I futzed a bit with the dish, adding vegetable broth as I thought it needed more liquid, and tomato paste as it needed more color.  I then added several handfuls of roughly chopped baby spinach.  As the spinach wilted, I added even more to get even more green into the dish.

To season the lentils & spinach, I added some freshly ground black pepper and a few drops of sriracha, a Thai hot sauce that has become pretty trendy over the past few years. It's made of chili peppers, distilled vinegar, garlic, sugar and salt. Some srirachas have fish sauce as an ingredient, but the one we use, which is made by Huy Fong Foods, does not.  

Despite the fact that there was salt in the vegetable broth and and in the sriracha, I decided it would benefit from a little bit of sea salt, so I stirred some in.

I wanted some sort of grain to go with the dish, but I hadn't cooked any up in advance.  Situations like this call for microwave bagged rice.  While some microwave bagged rices and grain mixes aren't veg friendly or have lots of unnecessary additives and tons of sodium, I have found a few I like courtesy of Seeds of Change and Safeway Select.  Tonight, I opted for Safeway Select Brown & Wild Rice with Quinoa.  90 seconds in the microwave and, voila, rice

I put the rice in a bowl and then ladled in some of the spinach & lentil mixture and gave it a quick stir.  I was so happy with this dish.  The sriracha had a nice heat that pleasantly snuck up on me, and I loved the texture and combination of flavors.  The warm lentils, rice & quinoa and spinach were very filling and satisfying, the perfect dish for a cold, winter day. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Kale Simmered in Tomato Shallot Broth

Our local market always has a ton of kale, so I cook with it a lotKale is a form of cabbage - it comes in green and purple, as well as curly and flat leaf varieties.  You may also see Dinosaur Kale, which is also known as Tuscan Kale or black kale.

Kale is "very high in beta carotene, vitamin K, vitamin C, lutein and reasonably rich in calcium."  Fun trivia fact from Wikipedia - "During World War II, the cultivation of kale in the U.K. was encouraged by the Dig for Victory campaign. The vegetable was easy to grow and provided important nutrients to supplement those missing from a normal diet because of rationing."

Since still had some leftover lentil cakes,  I decided to make a quick kale side to go with them.  I sauteed some shallots and garlic in olive oil, and then added a few dollops of concentrated tomato paste.  I then added a head of flat leaf kale, ribs removed and leaves coarsely torn, and two cups of vegan bouillon.   I put the lid on and let everything cook down, seasoning it with black pepper and red pepper flakes before removing it from the pan.  The whole process took about 15 minutes total. 

I liked the flavors, especially the kick of the red pepper flakes, but if I do this again, I'd change two things.  First, I'd use a lot less liquid - it essentially became a quick soup.  Second, while the kale cooked down quite a bit, I think I'd chop it up more to make it more manageable to eat.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Golden Lentil Cakes and Rainbow Carrot Coins

The new Whole Foods that has opened by my office has become a fun place for me to play during my lunch hour.  I am especially enjoying the bulk aisle and wondering why I haven't spent more time there.  Not only is the pricing better than the packaged goods, but I can control the quantity of food that I buy and only buy the amount I need for any given cooking experiment.  Also, the variety is excellent.

This week's bulk aisle find for me were petite golden lentils, which are teeny tiny little lentils with a bright yellow hue.  When I googled them to get ideas, I mostly came up with soups, but I decided to do something a little different.

Since the lentils were so tiny, I thought it might be fun to mix them with a bunch of veggies and form a patty.   Since I was craving stuffing today for some reason, I decided to also incorporate the flavors I associate with that dish, namely celery and sage.

While I normally just describe what I cook, I actually put together some semblance of a recipe this time, which I will post below after a few notes.

One thing I did do here in 1)the name of experimentation and 2)to keep this recipe vegan, was to use Ener-G Egg Replacer as a binder.   This product is a mix of potato starch and tapioca starch, and, when mixed with warm water in the correct ratio, can function as an egg for both cooking and baking.  Thus, it's a great option for folks who are allergic to eggs, vegan or who prefer not to eat eggs.  I actually found it to be a more reliable binder than using a real egg - my patties held together quite well!

Unfortunately, the local market was out of fresh sage, so I made do with ground.

I also made a pan sauce for the patties to add additional moisture using the leftover sauteed veg, a minced shallot, vegan bouillon and lots of soy-free Earth Balance.  The brand of bouillon I used was Rapunzel, which is one of the few bouillon cubes I've found that's soy-free.

As a side dish, I made rainbow carrot coins.  My local market was selling bunches of orange, yellow, red and purple carrots, which I thought would be a fun side for the patties.  While they lost some of their vibrant color when I peeled them (especially the purple ones), they were still pretty.  I sliced them in to coins, mixed them with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roasted them for 30 minutes at 425.

And, without further ado, here's my lentil cake recipe!

Golden Lentil Cakes

 Makes 12 cakes (3-4 cakes per serving)

For the cakes:
2 cups of cooked petite golden lentils (For a lesson on preparing cooking lentils, click here)
3 small leeks, cleaned and thinly sliced
4 celery ribs, minced
1 cup of grated carrot, chopped
Ground or fresh sage, to taste
Fresh thyme to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup of fresh parsley, chopped
2+ tablespoons of Earth Balance
1 cup of whole wheat panko bread crumbs
2.5 tsp Energ-G Egg Replacer plus 2 tbsp warm water (2 eggs, beaten, can also be substituted)
Cooking spray

For the sauce:

1 cube of vegan bouillon
1/2 large shallot, minced
3+ tablespoons of Earth Balance
Fresh parsley, chopped

Heat oven to 350 degrees

Saute the lentils, celery and carrot in earth balance for 10 minutes, or until translucent.  Season throughout cooking with sage, thyme, salt and pepper.  Spoon cooked vegetable mixture into a bowl and set aside Reserve the same pan, including any stuck on cooked bits, for your sauce.

In a small pot, boil two cups of water.  Add in bouillon cube, stir and remove from heat.  Take the pan you cooked the vegetables in and add shallot and one tablespoon of the Earth Balance.  When shallot is lightly browned, pour bouillon into the pan and cook on medium heat.  Stir in more Earth Balance and fresh parsley throughout cooking, until sauce reduces (Mine took about 30 minutes to get where I wanted it.)

Meanwhile, if using Ener-G, combine the powder and water in a small bowl and mix thoroughly.  Combine lentils, cooked vegetables, fresh parsley and panko.  Stir in Egg Replacer or eggs.  Form the mixture into small cakes.   Spray a large saute pan with cooking spray.  On medium high heat, brown each side of the cakes (about 3 minutes per side - your mileage may vary.  Cook a bit longer if using egg to ensure it cooks through).  Once cakes are browned, put them in the oven for 5-10 minutes.

Serve warm, with sauce spooned over top.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Light Saturday Lunch: Couscous, Bean and Vegetable Salad

I don't think it's a coincidence that two of my favorite ways to spend my free time, cooking and knitting, are both activities I associate with my grandmother.  So, it was nice to bring together these two activities today when I hosted a few friends at my apartment today for lunch and knitting lessons.

For lunch, I prepared a couscous, bean and vegetable salad.  The couscous was Bob's Red Mill Tri-Color Pearl Couscous.  The orange and green colors in the couscous come from tomato and spinach.  As I mentioned in a previous blog, pearled couscous is larger and rounder from regular old couscous.  I happen to prefer pearl couscous, or, as it's sometimes called, Israeli couscous, to the other kind.

I prepared two cups of the couscous according to package directions (1.25 cups of water for each cup of couscous, bring water to boil, add couscous, bring back to a boil, and simmer for 10 minutes).  Since the couscous will absorb all the water, it has a tendency to stick to the pan, so stir it occasionally.

When the couscous was done, I transferred it to a bowl and immediately poured in a generous amount of my lemon vinaigrette (the same dressing I put on my salad for Wednesday's pasta and salad dinner).  A tip if you're reusing the vinaigrette & it's been refrigerated - let it come up to room temperature and shake it to help it recombine a bit.  Pouring the vinaigrette on the hot couscous helped the flavors really combine - you could smell the lemony goodness waft through my kitchen.

I then added one can of black beans (rinsed first), two handfuls of carrot shreds and a few generous handfuls of arugula.  I then seasoned the mixture with salt and pepper and let it set out at room temperature until my friends arrives.  Because of the vibrant green and orange of the arugula and carrots, the tri-color couscous didn't pop as much as I thought it might, but it was still good.

I also made some roasted brussels sprouts & shallots that folks could eat on the side.  I think I am on a mission to revive the reputation of the brussels sprout and let people know it can indeed be a tasty vegetable if prepared properly!

For dessert, we had some fresh strawberries provided by my friend Marie, as well as some vegan cookies provided by my friend Elena.  The Andean Dream Chocolate Chip Cookies are made with quinoa.  They're wheat-free, dairy-free, soy-free and made in a tree-nut free facility, so they are great for folks with allergy issues and gluten intolerance, but who are also living a vegan lifestyle.  And, they're tasty!

We also sampled Pamela's Ginger Cookies with Sliced Almonds.  These are also wheat-free, gluten-free, soy-free and non-dairy, but not appropriate for those with nut allergies.  They're chewy, gingery and tasty, which is a welcome treat after my sad discovery that the ginger snaps I've been getting have soy in them.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Pesto Pasta, Garlic Bread and Colorful Salad

My sister-in-law and her sister joined my husband and I for dinner tonight, and I wanted to put together a healthy vegetarian meal that would be quick and easy to prepare on a weeknight.

For the main dish, I decided to do a pesto pasta with grape tomatoes and bocconcini (tiny little fresh mozzarella balls).  In case you are unfamiliar with pesto, it's a green sauce made with olive oil, garlic, fresh basil, pine nuts and parmesan cheese.  If you have specific nut sensitivities, be aware that sometimes pesto is prepared with walnuts instead of pine nuts.  (I learned this the hard way, since walnuts are my most intense allergy.) 

Pesto was originally made with a mortar and pestle (which explains the name, which refers to, as Wikipedia says, "anything made by pounding").  However, I find that a food processor makes pesto incredibly easy.  This recipe gets the proportions pretty right, but taste as you go to add and subtract ingredients as you see fit.  It's also helpful to scrape down the bowl as you go so that the ingredients combine effectively.
I haven't tried to make vegan pesto, mostly because all of the vegan parmesan substitutes I've come across have either soy or walnuts.  However, I did use Whole Foods' vegetarian parmesan, which is not made with rennet or derived from cows treated with rGBh.  But, if someone would like to give it a shot, let me know how it turns out.

For the pasta, I used Barilla Plus Angel Hair.  Plus pasta is made with golden semolina and flaxseed, spelt, oats, barley, and legumes.  It is also made with egg whites, so it's not suitable for vegans.  However, if you're a lacto-ovo vegetarian, this pasta has some positives.  One serving has 17 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber, as well as 15% of the DV for iron, 28% of the DV for ALA Omega-3 and 40% of the DC for folate.

The one thing that drove me slightly batty about tonight's pasta is that when I stirred in the tomatoes and mozzarella, they immediately sank to the bottom of the bowl, which killed my presentation.  The pesto combined just fine, however.

The garlic bread I made was suitable for vegans.  During my lunch hour, I went to the Foggy Bottom Whole Foods and grabbed a whole wheat french bread.  When I got home, I made a garlic "butter" using soy-free earth balance, freshly minced garlic, parsley and red pepper flakes.  I spread the "butter" on the bread and let it toast in the oven at 350 for ten minutes.  It came out crusty and gooey, just like traditional garlic bread.

Whenever I do a big pasta dinner, I like to serve a green salad on the side.  I got a pre-washed bag of spring mix, which I topped with pre-shreeded carrots, julienned Asian pear and slivered almonds.  If you're not familiar with Asian pears, it's a round fruit native to China, Japan and Korea.  Since they have a high water content, they are typically eaten raw, rather than in baked goods.

I normally don't eat salad dressing, since it's often laden with soybean oil, but I decided to try my hand at making a vinaigrette tonight.  I used this Epicurious recipe, omitting the sugar and using Grey Poupon horseradish mustard (aka, what we have in the house).  It paired better than I expected with the salad, and we put the leftover dressing in a cruet so I can use it throughout the week.  I've learned to appreciate dry salad, but it's sure nice to have a dressing option when I want it.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Vegetarian Options for Carnivores

Awhile back, when I was asking for suggestions for future blog posts, my friend Stefanie suggested I do a post on, as she put it, "vegetarian options for carnivores like me."  Well, Stefanie, I finally got around to writing it.

This is not going to be a post on the ethics of vegetarianism, as important a discussion as I think that is.  Rather, this is a post about how to happily feed someone who is used to, for whatever reason, a meal containing meat and have them be satisfied with a vegetarian meal.  To that end, I thought about some of the dining archetypes that might initially be resistant to vegetarian dining and how I would approach each of them.

The Picky Eater - We have all met the picky eater in multiple forms.  The picky eater may refuse to eat unfamiliar foods.  They may want their food to be a starch and a protein, not touching, and refuse any vegetable but iceberg lettuce.  They may look upon my cooking . . . erm  . . .I mean "hypothetical cooking"  . . . and say "Gosh, that's a lot of green stuff!"

The key to dealing with the picky eater is to understand the root of their pickiness.  Chances are, it's one of two forms - they haven't been exposed to the food in question, or they've had it, and it was prepared in some sort of awful fashion.

For those with limited exposure to food in general, the best way to expose them to vegetarian meals is not to hit them all at once with things that scare them, like tofu.  Heck, tofu scares me for a variety of reasons.  Rather, it's best to have them try a vegetarian version of a staple that's typically prepared as a meat dish.  Chili is a great example.  Chances are, the picky carnivore in question has had chili at some point in their lives.  Heck, it may have even been vegetarian!

Some other good items for the limited exposure picky eater include lasagna and other pasta dishes; enchiladas, burritos or fajitas and hearty soups like minestrone.

By gradually exposing the limited exposure picky eater to these types of foods, they will learn that vegetarian cuisine isn't as scary as it seems, and be willing to try new things.  Case in point - when I mentioned to my husband (who will admit he is not the most adventurous of eaters) what blog I was writing tonight, he asked if I was going to tell everyone about the time I made us Seitan Hot Wings.  Ask me if he would have been talking about seitan in a positive light, or even knew what seitan was (admittedly, I had no idea before I went veg!), five or so years ago?  But, since I've gradually been introducing various vegetarian items into our meals and made food he's recognized, he's been willing to taste some of my more off the wall experiments.

Another thing to contend with when it comes to picky eaters is undoing years of vegetable mistreatment.  By this, I specifically mean boiling vegetables into a tasteless mush.  Yeah, I wouldn't want to eat that either!  Chances are, if someone doesn't "like" broccoli, it's because they ate it after it was boiled for an extended period of time, which is a terrible thing to do to a vegetable.

In the case of dealing with Post Traumatic Boiled Vegetable Syndrome, gently expose your picky eater to preparations like steaming (particularly good with broccoli and cauliflower), sauteing (mushrooms, peppers) and roasting (potatoes, brussels sprouts, beets) help bring out the best in vegetables.  One of our family members said to me at Thanksgiving this year, "It's a miracle.  You made brussels sprouts edible."  The secret?  DON'T BOIL THEM.  And, get them fresh and season them well!

Some of my vegetarian cooking experiments I recommend for the picky eater:

Vegetable Enchiladas
Black Bean Burgers
Roasted Vegetables

The Food Snob - If there is such a thing as a vegetarian food snob, it's yours truly.  I watch a ridiculous amount of Food Network.  A happy day for me is hanging out in the Whole Foods produce section.  I love going out to eat at restaurants that serve things that involve the word "emulsion."  I have eaten a mangosteen overseas, before they started showing up here in the states.

But, there are food snobs out there that believe you aren't really a foodie unless you are enjoying some sort of meat.  I remember meat, and, yes, it did taste good and there are some chefs who do amazing things with it.  But, there are also vegetarian dishes that can have the same wow factor.

Food snobs like me appreciate two things - fancy ingredients and awesome presentation.  Like the high school classmates of mine who were proud to have seen Live before they went national and liked Nine Inch Nails before Trent Reznor was a household name, we all like to think we're the first people to discover an ingredient.  So, plan your meals around something schmancy & restauranty- polenta, porcini mushrooms, celery root, farro, etc.  Make a delicious sauce by deglazing your pan with vegetable broth or wine. 

Awesome presentation also goes a long way.  To me, nothing is more boring than slab of meat, plop of starch, sad pile of veg.  I like it when food is art, and so do most carnivore foodies.  So, use the natural color and vibrancy of fruits and vegetables to create a visual dining experience.  Vegetable napoleons are a great example of a vegetarian dish that  presents well.

Some of my cooking experiments that I recommend for the food snob:

Mushroom & Celery Root Lasagna
Polenta Crusted Eggplant Parmesan
Quinoa Cakes with "Meat" Sauce
Kabocha Squash, Farro and Kale
Lasagna Cupcakes

When it comes down to it, the key to having a carnivore enjoy a vegetarian meal, really all it comes down to is to cook them something that looks great, tastes great and is full of love.   By gradually exposing the "carnivore" to delicious tasting vegetarian meals, you open folks' eyes to the worlds of possibilities in vegetarian dining.

Vegetarians - what are the most common objections you hear when you suggest a vegetarian dish?  "Carnivores," what am I missing?  What other questions do you have?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sunday Night Dinner: Stuffed Peppers

Awhile back, I mentioned that I was looking forward to making stuffed peppers, and I finally got around to it this evening.  After researching a few recipes, I decided to wing it.

There's a number of variations you can do with stuffed peppers.  You can serve them cut in half, with each side of the pepper forming a little bowl, or you can take the top off and stuff the entire pepper.  Either way, you will want to make sure you scrape out the seeds and the inner white parts.  For this recipe, I elected to cut the peppers in half, figuring that it would be easier to store and transport the leftovers for lunch.  I seasoned the insides of the peppers with salt & pepper and put them in a baking dish coated with cooking spray.

For the stuffing, I sauteed red onions and mushrooms, seasoning them with salt and pepper, and let it go until the onions were translucent and the mushrooms were soft.  I then added sliced grape tomatoes, a can of cannellini beans, and four cloves of minced garlic.  When the garlic was fragrant, I stirred in some leftover bulgur and some rough chopped arugula, and seasoned everything with Italian seasoning.  I then took the filling off the heat and stirred in some mozzarella daiya.  Once the daiya melted into the filling, I stuffed the six pepper halves and then topped them with more daiya.

I covered the dish with foil and put it in the oven at 375 for 45 minutes.  When there were 10 minutes to go, I removed the foil to let the tops get a little crispy.

Peppers, mid-assembly proces
I can see many variations on this dish, using the formula of something with a meaty texture, a grain, beans, something to add creaminess, additional veg, and a green veg.  Here are some ingredients you can use in various combinations for your own stuffed peppers:

Meaty Texture: mushrooms, vegan sausage, vegetarian grounds
Grain: bulgur, quinoa, brown rice, couscous
Beans: black beans, pinto beans, chickpeas, kidney beans
Creaminess: daiya or other cheese alternative (vegan), boccatini, cotija, feta (lacto-ovo)
Additional Veg: zucchini, corn, onions, garlic, tomatoes
Green Veg: spinach, arugula, kale, swiss chard

My peppers tonight have more of a Mediterranean vibe  I can see a delicious Mexican version with onions, vegan chorizo sausage, quinoa, black beans, cheddar daiya or cotija, corn and spinach, seasoned with cumin, garlic and cilantro, perhaps drizzled with some tomatillo salsa.  You don't necessarily need to use a meat substitute or beans or a cheesy element - feel free to add or subtract any ingredients that you'd like!

Restaurant Review: Founding Farmers Potomac

The original Founding Farmers is located right by my office, so I've been there a few times.  The second outpost of this restaurant recently opened in the Park Potomac development, which is near our home in Maryland.  My parents and I decided to check it out on Friday.

The menu is very similar to the DC location, with a focus on fresh, seasonal and regional foods.  According to one of our servers, the vegan menu that is available in DC is not yet available in MD, but there are a number of vegetarian friendly options available at the MD location.

We started with an apple, brie and onion jam flatbread that was delicious, but immediately tripped my allergies - my own fault for not asking more about how it might have been prepared.  (Side note - This past weekend has been a bit brutal food allergy wise).

For lunch, I opted for the veggie burger.  The server asked me how I wanted it cooked, which flummoxed me a bit.  But, they may have just been used to doing that when they heard "burger."  The flavor was good, but it was a bit overwhelmed by the big bun, and I ended up eating it with a knife and fork.  The accompanying fries were very good - you could taste the potato.

In addition to the veggie burger, some veg friendly entrees on the current menu include a number of the flatbreads, a roasted vegetable and avocado sandwich, a melted squash on ciabatta, the Many Vegetable Salad, and a number of pastas.  Items containing tree nuts and peanuts are noted on the menu, but no other allergens are specified, so ask your server for more details if you have any allergy sensitivities.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Blueberry Rhubarb Pie and Vegan Mashed Potatoes

My final two cooking projects for Thanksgiving were dessert and another side, both vegan!

I did an informal poll of my friends on Facebook to see what pie I should make for Thanksgiving.  My friend Matt suggested blueberry rhubarb, and I thought that sounded great.  I found this recipe to serve as my guide.

For the crust, I used the vegan Buttery Double Crust recipe from the November 2011 issue of Yoga Journal, which comes from Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero's Vegan Pie in the Sky.  The recipe isn't currently online, but it calls for flour, salt, sugar, vegan margarine, vegan shortening and cider vinegar.  I used Earth Balance buttery sticks and vegetable shortening.  Both of them contain soy, but I'm hoping that the small amount of pie I'll have won't knock me over allergy wise.  I used my food processor to make the dough for the crust, rather than cutting in the "butter" and shortening by hand.  I did cut the "butter" & shortening into small cubes first, and then put those cubes in the freezer for a bit to firm them back up.

For the filling, I essentially followed the recipe above, except I used the converted amount of truvia, rather than sugar.  I used fresh blueberries, but rhubarb is completely out of season, so I used frozen rhubarb from Stahlbush Island Farms.  I've used their frozen rhubarb before and it turns out quite well.  I also omitted the butter dotting on the filling - I was planning to use Earth Balance, but I completely forgot to add it in before I put the crust on top.

As usual, I had issues getting the crust to roll out properly.  I used the pastry board my parents  got me, and put waxed paper over the dough, but it still took me two tries to get it not to stick.  I'm sure someone has a suggestion they would be happy to share with me (hint hint!).  And, as also usual, I had to piece together the bottom and top crusts after the dough broke.  Thus, I refer to this pie as "Franken-Pie," due to the repair job I did on the top.

I did manage to do cut outs on top of the crust.  I have some small leaf cookie cutters that work well for this purpose.  I then used a knife to score the dough pieces to make them more leaf like.  Finally, I brushed the pie with almond milk to help the pie brown.  I used  my pie shield for the first 35 minutes of baking, and then removed it for the final 15 minutes.

Fluffier than they look - they're crammed in this bowl!
For the vegan mashed potatoes, I took 3.7 pounds (yes, a weird number  - that just happens to be what they weighed out to) of red potatoes, quartered them, and boiled them in our giant seven quart pot for 25 minutes.  In the past, when I've made a huge amount of mashed potatoes, I had to use multiple pots, so it was nice to only have to do them in one.  Once the potatoes were done, I used my yoga cultivated upper body strength to drain the potatoes, and then I mashed them with soy-free Earth Balance, plain almond milk and generous shakes of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Mom tasted them and said the almond milk added a touch of sweetness that she liked, and that they weren't as heavy as mashed potatoes made with a ton of dairy products.  I think I may need to re-season them when I reheat them tomorrow, but I'll play it by ear.

So, that's all of my Thanksgiving cooking!  We'll see what the verdict is when our family gets to taste everything tomorrow.  Until then, have a happy and healthy Thanksgiving!!!

Homemade Cranberry Sauce and Roasted Vegetables

I decided to attempt homemade cranberry sauce this year.  The canned stuff scares me a little bit, frankly, and fresh cranberries are everywhere, so it seemed like a good time to give it a try.

Since I had never made it before, I did some googling, and saw a number of recipes, such as this one, that included pears and ginger.  I also saw a number that included cardamom and orange zest, so I decided to incorporate both of those flavors as well.

Orange zest and I go way back - I love to include it in both savory and sweet dishes.  But, I wasn't as familiar with ginger (beyond the fact that my grandfather loved candied ginger and always kept a container next to his other favorite treat, scotch, as well as knowing that ginger ale helps with an upset stomach) or cardamom.

So, in case you too are unfamiliar with these flavors, here's a quick background.  Ginger is the root of a plant that has roots (ha - unintentional pun) in Southeast Asia.  It's purported to have medical purposes, from helping with arthritis to curing nausea (hence ginger ale).  It can lend a little spicy zing to baked goods like gingersnaps and ginger bread, and it's also found in savory soups and dishes.

Cardamom is a member of the ginger family, and is native to India and Bhutan.  You can get it in the spice section in pod form or ground.  It's most commonly found in Indian cooking, but some Scandinavian dishes also incorporate it.

Most of the cranberry sauce recipes called for sugar, which makes sense given that cranberries have a natural tartness.  I decided this might be a great time to try Truvia, which is a sweetener made from the Stevia plant.  It's naturally sweeter than sugar, but doesn't have the caloric impact.  Also, you can use it in cooking and baking.  I'm a big Splenda user, but a friend who had consulted with an Ayurveda practictioner had great things to stay about stevia, so I'm working on making the switch.   If you are swapping Truvia for sugar, you need substantially less than the recipe calls for.  Truvia provides a handy conversion chart on their website.

Anyhow, here's the resulting recipe for my cranberry sauce:

Two packages of fresh cranberries, rinsed
Four pears, peeled and diced (I used bartletts, but other recipes suggest bosc or anjou - take your pick!)
Four tablespoons of grated fresh ginger root (a microplane is helpful here)
Zest of one large orange
2/3 cup of Truvia
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
2 cups of water

Mix all ingredients in a large saucepan.  Heat on medium until cranberries pop and mixture looks sauce-like (I was just over the 20 minute mark).  Set aside until cooled and chill overnight.

I've also made my roasted squash with corn and cranberries, as well as roasted brussels sprouts with shallots.  Since I've made both of these dishes before, I won't provide extensive details, but you do get to see a picture before they went in the oven:

Brussels sprouts weren't on my original list of things to make today, but I remembered that I have missed having a green vegetable at Thanksgiving these past few years, so I took matters into my own hands.  ;)  I did omit the parmesan cheese I usually stir in as I'm making everything vegan this year.

What I'll Be Making for Thanksgiving

I love our family's Thanksgiving.   About four years or so, when my husband and I had been dating for a year, my parents and I were first included in my husband's family's Thanksgiving celebration, which includes both his side of the family and our sister-in-law's family.  It's 20 people, lots of kids, and all of our family culinary traditions coming together pot luck style - the traditional American Thanksgiving fare,  Jewish dishes and Vietnamese dishes.

Since I'm the lone vegetarian among omnivores, I am all about the sides.  So, my contributions this year will be as follows:

I always make everything from scratch.  This year, I am going to attempt to make everything vegan, including the mashed potatoes and the pie crust.  I'll post throughout the day with pictures and photos of progress!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Product Review: Amy's Kitchen Vegan Macaroni & Cheeze

With all the cooking I'll be doing over the next few days, I decided to give myself a break from cooking (and my husband a break from dishes), and try out some vegan macaroni and cheese.  I definitely still plan to try and make some from scratch, but, tonight, I decided to try a pre-made version.

Amy's makes a variety of vegetarian and vegan macaroni and cheese dishes.  The one that is vegan, but also soy-free and thus allergy friendly for me, is the Rice Macaroni with Dairy Free Cheeze.  The "cheese" in this product comes from daiya, as well as nutritional yeast and mustard powder.  It takes five minutes in the microwave and it's done.

While this may scare off folks who haven't tried any of these ingredients, fear not.  This tastes like packaged mac and cheese to me, and given how packaged mac and cheese is my ultimate comfort food, that's a strong endorsement. I'll be having this in lieu of traditional boxed mac and cheese (which is a massive allergy bomb for me anyway) when the craving strikes.

For those who follow a gluten-free diet, this is also a good alternative for you if you have a hankering for mac and cheese.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Farm Sanctuary's Adopt a Turkey Campaign and the Spirit of Thanks and Giving

Meet our turkey, Antoinette!

Happy almost Thanksgiving, everyone!  I have been making lists of all the ingredients I need for vegetarian delectables I plan to make for this year's family Thanksgiving extravaganza, and will be posting blogs about each dish.

I obviously won't be eating turkey this Thanksgiving, but I decided to celebrate Thanks and Giving by sponsoring a rescued turkey at Farm Sanctuary. The funds I donated will help with care for 25 sick and injured baby turkeys that were dropped off at the Southern California shelter on November 4.

My husband and I perused all the turkeys, and decided to sponsor Antoinette, whose tagline is "Let them eat squash!"  This is appropriate, as we love a good squash dish.

Farm Santcuary is a terrific organization.  I was lucky enough to hear Gene Baur speak a few months ago, as well as read his book.  This organization works so hard to make sure animals found in the most dire of circumstances are able to receive medical treatment, recover and live out the rest of their time as nature intended.

Me on the left, rocking the hairnet at Everything But the Turkey!

I'll also be celebrating the spirit of Thanks and Giving by volunteering at the Washington DC JCC's Everything But the Turkey event on Monday, November 21.  Monday's volunteer slots are all filled, but you can sign up for Wednesday, make a donation or purchase kitchen tools for the J to use for their Hunger Action Program.   Any way you can support the program will help DC Central Kitchen provide hundreds of meals for over 100 social service agencies in the Washington area.

I'm especially thankful for the DCJCC's community service programs, because, as many of you know, that's how my husband and I met more than four and a half years ago!

What are you thankful for this season?  How do you plan to engage in the spirit of giving?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Bulgur, Bulgur Everywhere

On my ongoing quest to try more whole grains, I decided to cook with bulgur tonight.  Bulgur is a form of whole-wheat that has been parboiled and dried while maintaining most of its wheat bran.  From a nutrition standpoint, bulgur is high in fiber and protein, and is also an excellent source of iron.  If you've had tabouleh, you've had bulgur likely without realizing it.  If you're looking for some other ways to use bulger, the New York Times did a nice article on it awhile back.

Since bulgur has been pre-cooked, it has a much shorter prep time than grains like wheatberries, freekeh or farro.  So, it's an ideal option if you don't have a lot of time.  My bulgur took about 15 minutes to cook.

While I was making the bulgur, I crumbled and browned Field Roast Grain Meat Company Smoked Apple Sage Sausage (vegan and soy-free) in some olive oil.  I then stirred in some chopped brussels sprouts and minced shallots and seasoned the mix with salt and pepper.  I then added some minced garlic, chopped grape tomatoes and a few shakes of red pepper flakes.  Since the sausage created a lot of brown bits in my pan, I deglazed it with some white wine.

I was worried that it was going to be a bit too spicy, but the mildness of the bulgur helped mellow the flavors our a bit.  Next time, I'd add more tomatoes, perhaps both red and yellow, for more color contrast.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Can't Wait to Make This and That

Since I'm working through leftovers, I'm not cooking tonight.  But, that does give me some time to browse through some recipes I would like to make sometime soon.

Sweet Potato Torte from Vegetarian Times.  I'll figure out if I want to use actual dairy for this one or find a good sub.  But, regardless, the mandoline will make slicing the sweet potatoes ridiculously easy, and I do love swiss chard.  I'll play with it.

Vegetarian Times also has a video on how to make your own seitan, which is now on my list after my amazing pan-seared seitan meal at Blossom in New York City.

Chocolate Mousse Pie from Science of Spirituality Vegetarian Life.  I don't see myself jumping on the raw bandwagon anytime soon, but I am curious about this vegan dessert, which gets its creaminess from avocado and almond milk.

The Whole Foods website has oodles of holiday recipes, including both vegan and vegetarian options.  The two that caught my eye were Harvest Stuffed Acorn Squash and Celebration Lentil Loaf.  The stuffed squash dish has walnuts,which are a big allergy no-no for me, but pecans would be an easy sub.

Awhile back, at a work function, the vegetarian option was a quinoa stuffed bell pepper.  This recipe from Chef In You looks quite similar and tasty.  Since I'm not a frozen pea fan (and they also are technically an  allergy issue for me, which likely contributes to my lack enjoying them), I'll tinker with this a bit.

Husband and I have been discussing Shepherd's Pie, and I've been searching for a recipe that will satisfy his desire for a more traditional preparation and my vegetarian adventurousness.  This recipe from Clean Eating Magazine looks like it has the potential to make us both happy.

Of course, with winter fast approaching, soup sounds like a great idea.  Healthy Bitch Daily recently sent out a vegan autumn minestrone that looks like it will hit the spot.  And, if I want to give my immersion blender a workout, I can make a vegetarian version of this butternut squash soup.

Lastly, we all know of my great love for macaroni and cheese.  Since I am eschewing packaged foods and dairy, I will be staying away from the kraft deluxe and the velveeta shells and cheese (I may need help from a sponsor here - any volunteers?).  Fortunately, I came across a great looking Fancy Mac & Cheese recipe on Daiya's Facebook page, courtesy of Natalia Eats.

Well, that's enough food to last for weeks now, isn't it?  Now, must find the time to try all these out!

What vegetarian and vegan recipes are you looking forward to trying?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Marbled Pumpkin Cheesecake

Before I decided to swear off large amounts of dairy for awhile, I signed up to make a pumpkin cheesecake for the office potluck.  In the future, I may experiment with making some soy-free, dairy-free "cheesecake," but in the sake of making sure I had something I knew was tried and true to feed my co-workers, I went with this AllRecipes marbled pumpkin cheesecake, which I've made a few times to positive reviews.

The crust is made of gingersnaps, pecans and melted butter, and is pre-baked for 10 minutes and cooled prior to filling.  The recipe calls for canned pumpkin - not pumpkin pie mix - so read labels carefully.  The marbling effect is achieved by removing 1 cup of the plain batter before adding the pumpkin, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Roasted Butternut Squash with Corn & Cranberries

A few years ago, when I was still eating meat, I used to go to Nando's Peri Peri, which specializes in Portguese roast chicken.  They also have a number of sides, including a roasted butternut squash dish I enjoyed so much that I learned to replicate it myself.  While I no longer eat chicken, I still love this squash combo.  I now make it regularly for Thanksgiving and fall family meals, as well as for my office's annual Thanksgiving Potluck, which will take place this Tuesday.

The health benefits of butternut squash are numerous.  It's a great source of fiber, Vitamin A, B-complex vitamins and minerals like iron and zinc.  Now that it's fall, you'll likely see whole butternut squash everywhere.  If you do decide to go with whole squash, make sure you have a very, very good knife, as I once wrecked an entire set of cheap knives trying to deconstruct one.  Here's a handy tutorial on how to peel and chop the butternut.

I, however, opt to use fresh-cut squash chunks, which saves me a lot of prep time (and sanity).  The chunks are still fairly large, so I do chop them in smaller pieces.  For a large crowd like my 20+ person office potluck, I used two packages.

Corn zipper in action.
I also prefer to use fresh corn - my local market still has ears available.  If you don't have access to fresh corn, frozen is an ok substitute, but defrost it first. Try to avoid using canned - the texture will be too soft.  If you're using fresh corn, using a corn-zipper is a safe and quick way to get the kernels off.  As I've mentioned before, it's a great investment for your kitchen!  For this amount, I used two ears.

I then finely chopped a medium red onion and added it in, along with a generous handful or two of dried sweetened cranberries and a handful of chopped fresh cilantro.  Make sure to use the fresh herbs here - dried won't work.

I then combine everything in a large mixing bowl and stir in a generous amount of olive oil, and season it with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Put it in glass baking dishes on a single layer (making enough for 20 meant two dishes) and let it roast for 30 minutes at 400, stirring occasionally.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Vegan Eggplant Rollatini with Daiya Cheese

I can't recall exactly what brought about my craving for eggplant rollatini this week, but I decided to indulge myself and give making it a shot.  I also decided I'd try and do a vegan version.

Eggplant rollatini involves taking thinly sliced eggplant, frying it, stuffing it and baking it in sauce.  Since I've never made it myself before I consulted two recipes to get a sense of the techniques involved.

I used my mandoline to slice the eggplant.  The advantage of using the mandoline is that you get uniform pieces and the slicing goes very quickly.  I then salted the slices and let them drain on paper towels.

I then set out to make my sauce.  I chopped a medium size yellow onion and a large handful of sliced cremini mushrooms, seasoned them with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper and sauteed them in olive oil.  I then added five cloves of minced garlic.  Since there were some brown bits on the bottom of my saucepan, I deglazed it with a bit of wine.  I then chopped up 10 roma tomatoes and added them to the pot, along with some very generous sprinkles of Italian seasoning.  When it came to a vigorous bubble, I turned the heat down and let it simmer.

I then dried off my eggplant and prepared to fry it.  Sometimes, eggplant rotini is breaded, but I didn't like how my test breaded piece came out.  So, instead, I just pan fried the eggplant plain.  I used some olive oil in the pan, but also spritzed the eggplant pieces with olive oil cooking spray.

Once the eggplant pieces were done frying, I set them aside and began work on my filling.  I had some leftover kale from earlier this week, so I sauteed that with some garlic.  Once that was done cooking, I used tongs to put a small heap on the edge of the eggplant, and topped the heap with daiya mozzarella and fresh thyme and parsley.  

I then rolled the eggplant into tight little packages and put them in a square glass baking dish.  I had a little kale & garlic left over, so I sprinkled that, along with the leftover herbs, on top.  Then, I covered the eggplant rolls with sauce and a generous sprinkle of daiya.  

I let the whole thing bake for just under 20 minutes in a 400 degree oven, the point at which the cheese had melted and the sauce was bubbling.  It was a little hard to get out of the pan - in hindsight, I probably should have used toothpicks and let it sit longer, or perhaps made a chunkier sauce or let it cook longer so it was less wet.  But, the flavors were nice and it was a filling dinner, so I am counting this experiment as a success.