Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Quorn with quinoa, arugula, and tomatoes

I've mentioned Quorn before as a meat substitute.  It comes in a variety of forms - patties, grounds, tenders, etc.

Quorn is primarily mycoprotein.  According to the Quorn website:

Mycoprotein is the main ingredient in all Quorn products. It's made from a member of the fungi family, which includes mushrooms and truffles, and is a high-quality meat-free protein that's naturally low in fat with very few calories. Mycoprotein also is high in dietary fibre, which is important for your digestive system, and has the essential amino acids your body needs, with no cholesterol or trans fats. 

There are egg whites in quorn, so it's not vegan.  But it is meat-free, so if you are a lacto-ovo vegetarian like me, I encourage you to check it out. It's also soy free, which means I can eat it without having an allergic reaction.  And, with 10 grams of protein per serving, you're getting 20% of your DV on a 2,000 calorie diet.  

Tonight, I threw together a super quick meal using the Chick'n Tenders.  I sauteed the tenders in olive oil, and gradually added chopped onion, tomato chunks, pre-cooked quinoa and arugula.  I seasoned it with cumin, garlic powder and freshly ground pepper, and stirred in some mozzarella style Daiya.  The tenders are spongier than chicken, but it's a texture I prefer to actual chicken.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Seder Cooking Part 2: Matzo Ball Soup and Apple Kugel

After Friday's epic day of cooking, we only had to make a few things on Saturday: matzo ball soup, apple kugel and the second edition of the layer cake.

My family has always  made our Matzo Balls from scratch.  My grandmother and great grandmother both had recipes.  My grandmother's recipe called for Nyafat, which, to my mother's and my great consternation, was discontinued a few years ago. When we tried to sub oil, we got more matzo chunks than matzo balls.  So, we switched to my great grandmother's recipe, which calls for oil.

Making matzo balls can be a time consuming process, but I love it.  I have fond memories of my grandmother walking up to our front door in a little black hat, while my grandfather followed behind with jars of home made chicken soup.   My grandmother, mother and I would always make the matzo balls together, so I've had about 20+ years of practice at this point.

The "rules" ok making the matzo balls are as follows:
  •   When doubling the batch, make each batch in a separate bowl.  No one knows why this is.
  •   The mixture must chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour
  •   When forming the mazto balls, you must barely touch them lest they become the dreaded "hockey pucks."
  •   Any recipe of my great-grandmother's that says parsley is "optional" really means that parsley is mandatory.  We added in some chopped fresh stuff, since we had it handy for the seder anyway.
  So, here is the step by step process of the making of the family Matzo Balls:

You can see here the two bowls for the two batches.  I can get about 13 matzo balls from each batch, which was perfect for our 11 seder guests, plus leftovers.  While some people do put seltzer in their Matzo balls, it's a McGuffin here.  It just happened to be on our counter.  You don't want to make your Matzo balls too big, as they will swell mightily when cooking.  Mine are a heaping dinner spoon full.
Fill a LARGE (I'm serious here - it should be huge) stockpot with water.  We use my grandmother's stockpot for this purpose.  Once your water is at a rolling boil, lower in your Matzo balls.   The best tool to have on hand for this is a flat skimmer with a sturdy handle.  It doesn't have to be expensive.  My skimmer was $2 at Ikea.

When you first lower your Matzo balls into the water, they'll sink to the bottom.  When they rise to the top, lower the heat and cover.  Cook for thirty minutes.  The water should be barely bubbling - if the boil is too heavy, your Matzo balls will break.  After 30 minutes, remove the Matzo balls with the skimmer.  When your soup is ready, reheat them in the soup.  I used a combination of low salt Pacific Organic vegetable broth and the leftover broth from when we made the veg mixture for the vegetable kugel.

One note - have lots of salt on hand.  I like my Matzo balls to be very salty, and even with the salt in the recipe, there wasn't enough salt for my taste, especially since we used low sodium veg broth.

The other thing we knocked out was the apple kugel.  You can see the recipe on the Maneschewitz website.  We did not include walnuts, and we soaked the raisins prior to cooking, per my mother's suggestion, so that they would not sink to the bottom of the kugel.  I'd make this even for non-passover meals - it's a pretty tasty side dish.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Seder Cooking Part 1: Vegetable Kugel, Roasted Potatoes and Roasted Brussels Sprouts.

We started our Pesach cooking today.  With full disclosure, I did make some non-veg dishes for the guests, namely beef brisket and gefilte fish.  That said, there are plenty of veg sides that will make a delicious meal for me and my non-red meat eating mother.

The three veg dishes I made today were:
Veg cooking away!

Vegetable kugel.  This is one of my favorite Pesach dishes.  Most recipes call for frozen spinach, but I used fresh.  We also added onion, celery, carrots and yellow pepper (the recipe called for green pepper, but we thought yellow would make it prettier).   After letting the veg cook for 20 minutes in broth, we strained it and mixed in an egg & matzoh meal mixture.  It then baked in the oven at 350 for about 45 minutes.

Before baking.

The finished product.

Yummy browned potatoes!
We also made roasted potatoes, which were soaked in olive oil and onion soup mix, and then roasted in a 450 degree oven for about 50 minutes.
I also made my roasted Brussels sprouts with shallots.  Tomorrow, when we reheat them, I'll stir in some fresh parmesan.

Tonight, I will make the lemon "cream" filling for my cake, and tomorrow, it's the rest of the cake and Matzo ball soup!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Quinoa with Greens & Tomatoes and Golden Beets

Every year, at Passover, I make an attempt to be semi-observant.  I don't clean all the chametz out of my kitchen or switch the dishes, but I do try and give it a few days of good old Ashkenazi (aka, Eastern European ancestry) style Pesach eating - no leavened bread, no corn, no rice, no pasta and no beans.  When I was eating meat and fish, this was a no brainer.  Visualize a lot of salads with grilled chicken, broiled salmon with veggies, etc.

As a vegetarian, Passover becomes more complicated.  I want to get my protein, but my standards - beans, chickpeas, seitan, quorn - are verboten.  Given my activity level, I know I need some protein to keep me going.  So, in addition to eggs and nuts, I intend to eat a lot of quinoa.

For those unfamiliar with quinoa,  it is a "grain-like crop grown primarily for its edible seeds" and "elated to species such as beets, spinach, and tumbleweeds."  It's also considered by some, but not all, to be kosher for Passover.  But, I say if Mayim Bialyk, who is a much better Jew than I am, includes it in her "Passover Survival Tips for Vegans," I'm eating it.

Quinoa is super easy to make.  The ratio is one cup of quinoa to two cups of water.  You can make more, but I would not cut that down any further - I found this out the hard way when I burned 1/4 cup of quinoa in 1/2 cup water. But, quinoa keeps really well in the fridge, so it's a great item to make a lot of and use through out the week. To prepare, pour it all in a pot, bring it to a boil, then bring down to a simmer for 25 minutes or so or until all the water is absorbed, stirring occasionally.

You can put anything on top of quinoa and it's good.  Some people even have it for breakfast in lieu of oatmeal or hot cereal.  I chose to use what I had in the kitchen - onion, grape tomatoes, broccoli raab and some mixed bagged greens (chard, turnip and mustard greens).  I sauteed all of that up in olive oil and mixed it with the quinoa.

I also decided to roast the golden beets I picked up a few days ago.  If you like the taste of beets, but dislike dealing with the red ones, which stain, golden beets are a great option.  I peeled mine, sliced them about 1/4 thick, and mixed them with olive oil, fresh ground pepper and sea salt.  They roasted at 400 degrees for just over 30 minutes.  I sprinkled some goat cheese crumbles on them, as the two flavors compliment each other well.  But, if you prefer to make this dish vegan, you can omit that part.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Adventures in Passover Baking Edition, aka - I screw up, I throw a tantrum, I fix it, I reclaim my title as baking wunderkind!

Yes, it all turned out JUST fine.
My cousins invited me to join them tonight for Seder.  Since I have been on a baking roll lately, I offered to make the dessert, specifically the paerve Lemon Layer Cake from last week's Washington Post food section.  Paerve was key, as my cousins keep kosher and are serving meat for dinner.

The recipe started off easy enough.  I make pastry cream all the time, so the lemon "cream" (eggs, sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest) was a no brainer.  And whipped cream icing, which is normally the source of my culinary temper tantrums, was blissful with the kitchen aid mixer.

Now, it was on to the cake.  I make cakes ALL THE TIME.  I have never effed one up.  Seriously.  Perfect track record.

I do believe we see where this is going.

The recipe called for separating the eggs.  No problem.  Then it called for combining the yolks, sugar, lemon, etc. and then beating in the matzo cake meal and potato starch.  No problem - into the mixer.  Ah, but I have to beat the egg whites in a separate bowl.  And I only have one bowl for the Kitchen-aid . . . Hmm.  I don't feel like dragging out the hand mixer.  Surely I can get these nice and frothy by hand.  So, I sat there whipping the egg whites with a whisk and feeling very proud of myself.  Look how strong my arms are - I barely feel this!  It must be all the chatarungas I do in yoga!  I don't need modern machinery!  I can whip egg whites!

Do we see where this is going yet?

If not, behold what I had 45 minutes later:

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, behold the Guiness Book of World records winner for the largest passover cookie.

Now, as a yogini, you think I would handle all of this with grace and strength.  I would acknowledge it as a teaching experience.

Not so much.

To recap - I tried to convince the fiance that I needed to start over that night.  He said that it was 10:30 and we were out of sugar and my relatives would be fine with the cookie.   Cue minor temper tantrum. 

So, I decided to instead bump up my work departure time an hour to attempt a cake remake so as not to show up at a Seder for 27 people with no dessert, or worse, a soggy cardboard cookie.  This morning, I bought eggs at CVS so they'd be at room temp by the time I got home, and, once I got back to my neighborhood, I ran to the local market for more lemons and sugar.  This time, I used the hand mixer for the batter and beat the egg whites into a veritable nimbus cloud in the mixer.

See the difference?

Not well beaten egg white cake

Well beaten egg white cake.

Cookie on the left, cake on the right.

After some time in the freezer, I was able to get the cake into two layers.  I didn't dare attempt three.

Still fairly scrawny looking, but fluffier in person.

So, after adding the lemon "cream" filling and mixing the leftover "cream" with the whipped topping and then frosting and decorating, let's look at the final result again:

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Polenta Crusted Eggplant Parmesan

Tonight, I made my version of the Polenta Crusted Eggplant Parmesan from the Skinny Bitch Ultimate Everyday Cookbook.  All of the recipes in this book are vegan and many of them are produce heavy.

This is the second time I've made this, and the recipe is a big hit.  Here are my tweaks:

--I use one regular eggplant instead of the two smaller Japanese eggplants

--I use actual parmesan and mozzarella, rather than the vegan kind.  Specifically, I got smoked mozzarella from Maplebrook Farms.

--I use olive oil instead of grapespeed oil.

--Rather than using canned diced tomatoes and vegan gravy, I make my own sauce with five fresh tomatoes (I used both red and yellow), half a white onion, a cup of mushrooms, six cloves of garlic, a tablespoon (give or take) of dried oregano, and a scant handful of chopped basil.  I saute the onion and mushrooms until the onions are translucent and the mushrooms are soft.  Then I add the garlic and saute it until it's golden.  Then I toss in the tomatoes and the oregano and let it bubble, and then let it go on low for about 15-20 minutes, until it thickens to a saucey consistency.  When it's done, I toss in the fresh basil and then remove it from heat.

This time, I did use the vegan mayo.  The last time, I dipped it in egg to get the topping to stick.  Either way works fine.  I noticed that mine don't look as "crusty" as the one in the picture, likely because I don't get as much of the polenta mixture on there.  What I should likely do is double the "breading" if I'm going to continue using a large eggplant.

We served tonight's with leftover pearled couscous and leftover steamed broccoli and cauliflower mix.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Real Simple Yellow Cake with Strawberry Filling and Vanilla Icing

The May issue of Real Simple has a neat article with multiple cakes, frostings, filings and toppings.  The recipes can be converted into sheet cakes, layer cakes and cupcakes, and allegedly there are over 256,000 potential cakes that can be made from this article.

I decided to go with the yellow cake, strawberry filling, vanilla icing and fresh strawberry topping, with the following changes:
  • I realized at the last minute we had no baking soda (oops), so I added more baking powder.
  • I accidentally liquefied the strawberries instead of just pulsing them (oops again), so I chopped up some additional fresh strawberries and added them to to the filling
  • I skipped the glazing of the topping (and you can make do with less than a quart - I had a lot leftover.  Fortunately, we like strawberries).
Here's some step by step documentation:

Cakes cooking on wire racks - I didn't drop them.  YAY.
The recipe said the cakes should take 22-25 minutes.  I felt mine needed to go a little longer in my oven.  Also, I was glad I took the time to butter the pans, add parchment, and butter again.  After the prescribed 15 minute cooling time in the pans, they slid right out onto the racks without breaking.

The filling that ate North Bethesda
 Next came the filling - thanks to my pureeing mishap, it was probably gooier than I intended.  Putting it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes before I frosted, like the recipe suggested, was a smart move.  Especially since the stuff kept falling on my feet.  I looked like something out of a George Romero movie.


The finished product!  The gooey filling make my icing a little pink, but I think it's pretty (that's what I'm telling myself anyway) and the little strawberry bits offset the pact that there is a pound of confectioners sugar in the icing. 

A couple of baking tips I used here that I generally find helpful:
  • Get a mesh strainer if you don't have one - it's great for sifting flour and confectioners sugar.  I have one with two little hooks on it so you can rest it on a mixing bowl and pour your dry ingredients right into the strainer without jugging the whole shebang.
  • When cutting parchment paper to fit a round cakepan, make little snips around the side in the shape of the circle, take it off the pan, and connect the snips.  I felt like a genius when I did this today.
  • If you are going to make your own buttercream, have a good mixer.  I tried making buttercream a few years ago before I had the stand mixer and my hand mixer made horrible, gasping sounds.  It also helps when the butter is a room temp.
  • Speaking of room temp, yes, like the recipe says, eggs and butter should be at room temp when you bake.  It really does make a difference in how well everything comes together.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


As I was rushing to get out of work in time to get to yoga class, the fiance called me to let me know he'd be home late.  And then he asked "What are we having for dinner?"


Yes, I love to cook ridiculously time consuming recipes.  But, sometimes I am:

A) Lazy
B) Facing a random assortment of things in the kitchen that seem to make absolutely no sense
C) Hungry enough to start gnawing on furniture

When this set of circumstances occurs, dinner is a Concoction.

Concoction is a term of my mother's - we can call her the Queen of the Concoction.  She can survey the fridge and the pantry, throw in whatever random things are available in no set amounts (aka "Enough"), cook it on the stovetop for no set time (aka "Until It's Done").  This, essentially is how I learned to cook, and also why my secret dream is for Chopped to have an amateur competition, because Mom and I would so take everyone down.  In fact, as I was sharing the blog with Mom, she said she liked it, but also asked "Are you just going to do recipes?" and I replied, "No, I promise to blog about Concoctions."

Behold the Concoction as it sautees and bubbles!
So, tonight, when I first walked in the door at 9:30, fiance was still at the gym and hunger was hardcore setting in, it was definitely Concoction time. 

First, I surveyed my options - we needed a grain, a protein and lots of veggies.  Since I love weirdo grains, we fortunately had a lot of options.  I decided to go with one with a shorter cooking time - pearled couscous.  Pearled couscous is also known as israeli couscous.  The grains are slightly larger and rounder than regular couscous.

As for protein, we had a ton of canned bean options.  I decided to go with chickpeas, since the couscous was taking us in a middle eastern direction anyway.

Next, I surveyed my produce options - leftover green onions from my veggie enchilada experiment, leftover celery root from the lasagna experiment, garlic cloves, mushroom slices and broccoli raab (okay - so I might have picked the last two items up at Safeway on the way home from yoga, but I didn't have to use them tonight).  In case you're not familiar with it, broccoli raab is a slender green vegetable.  And, as I learned tonight, it's not a form of broccoli.

After I chopped everything up, I heated olive oil in my large skillet and got the couscous going.  The onions went in first, followed by the mushrooms, fresh ground pepper, celery root, broccoli raab and chickpeas.  I added some leftover vegetable broth and let the whole thing cook down.  When the veggies were sauteed to my liking (maybe 12 minutes or so - I only know because that's how long the couscous took), I tossed in the couscous and shredded parmesan and, voila, Concoction in around 18 minutes.  And yes, it was tasty!
The finished product!

Ultimately, when you're pressed for time, you can eat a frozen meal, which is about as appetizing as a frozen brick and likely about as good for you, or you can make a Concoction.  So, if you are looking to make your own Concoction, here are some tips:

1.  Concoctions work well if you tend to have good stuff already in the fridge.  If the only stuff in your fridge is mustard, a leftover hot dog bun and bologna, you are not going to be happy with your Concoction.  So, start eating fresh produce, whole grains and beans if you're not already.

2.  Keep a well stocked pantry - As much as I eat fresh, there are a number of non-perishable items that aid any cook.  Canned beans keep well, and if you're leery of BPA, you can get ones that are BPA-Free.  Also, having a variety of quick cooking whole grains - quinoa, couscous, whole wheat pasta - will help you out.  If you really are in a crunch, I am also a fan of microwaveable pouches.  Seeds of Change makes a nice grain blend.  You should also have olive oil, an arsenal of spices and herbs (fresh is better in most cases, but dried works in a pinch . . . ha), and garlic cloves.  Cartons of vegetable broth are also a nice touch.

3.  Prep produce in advance - if your stuff is pre-washed and chopped, your Concoction will come together more quickly.  You can also have fresh-cut items on hand, like the sliced mushrooms I bought.  There are also fresh stir-fry mixes, shredded carrot and cabbage, chopped pepper mixes, bagged greens, etc. The faster you cook, the faster you eat.  And the more produce you eat, the healthier your meal is.

4.  Make Sure It's Pretty.  This is another edict of Mom's - "Food should be colorful."  As the saying goes, you eat with your eyes first.  The more of a variety of colors there are on your plate, the more appetizing the Concoction will be.  And, since fresh vegetables are the best way to put a lot of color in your meals, incorporating them in the Concoction will make your meal healthier.  So, you can do brown rice and mushrooms if you please, but I guarantee you'll be happier if you put in some carrots, yellow pepper and zucchini.  The trick is having all that stuff on hand in the first place, granted.

5.  Have something to put all this stuff in.  Having a lot of storage containers will facilitate both your prepped items, and leftover ingredients and additional servings of the Concoction for you to eat for lunch the next day.  We like these GlassLock containers.  They seal securely, which is important if you are bringing food to a potluck or bringing leftovers to work. 

I'll likely feature more Concoctions as the blog goes on, so stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Out on the Town - My Favorite Vegetarian Meals in the DC Area

Yes, I love to cook.  But I also love to be fed in a restaurant where people bring me wine and hot crusty bread and then do the dishes after.  Even better is when the waiter or waitress arrives with an amuse bouche, which I translate as "Tasty Two-Bite Food Present of Yumminess."

Now, one would think being a vegetarian might limit your fine (and casual and quick serve) dining options, but rest assured there are plenty of tasty treats to be had in DC.  You  may even enjoy them if you're not veg yourself.  Here are some of my favorites:

1. Dolsot Bibimbap at Mandu.  Mandu is a modern Korean restaurant on 18th & S Streets, in between Dupont and Adams Morgan.  When I was still living in Dupont, my friend Jenn and I, after our regular invigorating vinyasa yoga class, would descend ravenously upon the restaurant and howl until the waitstaff brought us the complimentary pickle tray.  We eventually think there was a picture of us in the kitchen with the words "Do not approach this table without pickles in hand.  We think they may eat you."

But, I digress.  No matter how many times we go and how often we study the menu, we always order the exact same thing, Dolsot Bibimbap.  Bibimbap is a delectable concoction of veggies and rice, with a fried egg.  The Dolsot part refers to a hot stone bowl that said concoction is served in.  When the server brings you this delectable dish, you swirl the egg with the chopsticks in the hot veggies and hot rice and mix together all of the yumminess.  If you eat meat, you can get it with beef or chicken, but the veggie version is mighty tasty on its own.

2. Roasted Baby Beets and Arugula at RedwoodRedwood is a contemporary American restaurant in Downtown Bethesda.  They have a ton of veggie appetizers and sides on the menu, but this one is my favorite, hands down.  First, I love arugula.  I can take out a large clamshell of it in a week.  Then, add roasted beets, and not just beets, but red AND golden beets.  AND, not just red AND golden beets, but red and golden BABY BEETS.  And, just when you think it can't get any more delicious . . . they put GOAT CHEESE on it. 

3.  Kobocha Squash at SEI Restaurant and Lounge.  SEI is a hip, upscale sushi restaurant in Penn Quarter.  When I started this vegetarian journey a year ago, I was still eating fish and a lot of sushi.  When I decided I was ready to give up fish, that was the end of sushi.  But, when out with my sushi loving friends at SEI, I still was able to enjoy a tasty meal of various veggie delights, including the Kobocha Squash, which is sauteed in the most amazing caramel butter.  Kobocha squash is my new celery root - I am now officially stalking it at grocery stores everywhere.

4.  Veggie Burger #1 and Veggie Burger #2 at Elevation Burger.  There are multiple Elevation Burger locations in the area.  The fiance and I are partial to the new one at Park Potomac off of 270.  I normally have to be very careful of veggie burgers due to the likelihood of a high soy content.  But, Elevation Burger's are completely soy free, made with roasted veggies and whole grains.  Veggie Burger #1 has cheese in the mix, and Veggie Burger #2 is vegan.  They both taste great with a side of french fries, which are fried in (healthierish) olive oil.  Okay, fries are not remotely healthy, but man, these are good!

5.  Haloumi Cheese Appetizer at Lebanese Taverna There are multiple Lebanese Tavernas in the DC area.  When I lived in DC, I hit the Woodley Park location, but, as a new Marylander, tend to go to the one in downtown Bethesda.  The entire menu has great vegetarian options, but I am a particular fan of the Haloumi Cheese, which is crispy and salty and chewy and cheesy all in the same bite.

6.  Spring Garden Hoagie at Taylor Gourmet.  Taylor has three locations in the area - I've been to the H Street and Bethesda outposts.  As a native Philadelphian, I am obsessed with hoagies.  DC, as you all may have noticed, is somewhat lacking in this area. However, Taylor's arrival on the scene helped make hoagies possible on a regular basis.  Run by two great guys from Westchester, these guys GET hoagies, and they also bring in Herrs Chips (if you haven't had Herrs, you don't know what you're missing).  Better yet, they have a number of vegetarian options - my favorite, the Spring Garden, pairs broccoli rabe with a sharp provolone with a garlicky dressing on an insanely good, crusty hoagie roll.  I always order the large size so I'll have leftovers and then end up devouring the whole thing.

7.  Pasta Sabrosa Special at Mamma Lucia's.   Mamma Lucia's has umpteen Maryland locations - we tend to hit the one in the Falls Grove shopping center.  Mamma Lucia is a favorite of the fiance's family, so we are there quite a bit.  I got this special once and it was so awesomely good that I asked the servers why it wasn't a regular menu item, and they told me they'd make it for me whenever I came in, and I always take them up on it.  It's orichette (or penne if they're out) with roasted red peppers, artichokes, asparagus, garlic and parmesan.  Tasty!

8.  Sabzi Salad at Sweetgreen.  Sweetgreen is a local chain of salad restaurants.  There are two in Dupont I hit regularly, as well as one in downtown Bethesda.  It's hard to pick just one favorite salad at Sweetgreen, but the Sabzi wins for me for the inclusion of beets, cranberries and quinoa.

9.  Mushroom Loaf at Eatonville.  Eatonville is a Southern restaurant at 14th & V.  I just checked the menu, and sadly, the Mushroom Loaf was nowhere to be found.  However, if they bring it back, order it with a side of Mac and Cheese.   The combination of the two is homey and delectable and some of the best comfort food I've enjoyed in recent memory.

10.  Mediterranean Plate with Falafel at Roti.  Roti has multiple locations in the area, including one a block or so from my office on 18th & Pennsylvania.  Roti has amazing falafel - a ball of mashed and whole chickpeas that, if you're lucky, are available for you to snack on while you're waiting in line.  The place is a smash hit, so the line is often out the door (I promise not to cram anymore cliches into that sentence).  I like the Mediterranean plate, which you can get with falafel and all sorts of veggie sides - tomato & cucumber salad, couscous, eggplant, hummus, etc.

* * *

In other news, I am still making my way through Sunday's lasagna.  Man, this thing makes good leftovers!  Tonight, I paired it with a fresh yellow and red tomato spinach salad with balsamic vinegar:

I've been getting a lot of greenhouse tomatoes lately - they have a nice texture, color and flavor.  Check them out the next time you see them.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Everything's Better Roasted

Well, not everything.  That said, if there's a vegetable that you're either 1)sick of  or 2)never particularly a fan of, I suggest you roast it.

I am still hacking away at last night's lasagna, but I had some veggies in the fridge that needed to be cooked before they went to waste.

My first veggie - Brussels Sprouts.  Few words seem to strike fear into the hearts of children and adults than Brussels Sprouts.  But, these delicious little creatures have gotten a bad rap.  Chances are, if you've eaten them and disliked them, they were frozen and boiled to death.  But, roasted with olive oil and shallots and a touch of parmesan, they are quite tasty.

Anyway, what is a Brussels Sprout anyway?   According to wikipedia:

The Brussels sprout is a cultivar group of wild cabbage cultivated for its small, leafy green buds, which are typically 2.5–4 cm (0.98–1.6 in) in diameter and visually resemble miniature cabbages. The sprout is Brassica oleracea, in the "gemmifera" group of the family Brassicaceae. . . Brussels sprouts, as with broccoli and other brassicas, contains sulforaphane, a chemical believed to have potent anti-cancer properties. Although boiling reduces the level of the anti-cancer compounds, steaming, microwaving, and stir frying does not result in significant loss.

If you've never prepared a fresh Brussel sprout, it's easier than it sounds.  Get a good knife, and cut off the woody stem.  Discard any yellowed outer leaves.  I like to coarsely chop mine, mix them with olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground pepper, and roast them for 20-25 minutes at 425.  Halfway through the roasting time, I stir in some chopped shallots, and, with four or so minutes to go, I stir in some shredded parmesan/asiago blend.

Second veggie - the yukon gold potato.  Why is this potato different from all other potatoes, such as a russet, a red, etc.?  There's actually a whole page of potato cultivars if you'd like to learn more.  But yukons have a more golden flesh than a russet and, at least to me, are a bit fimer.  I like to roast them with (again) olive oil, freshly ground pepper, sea salt and fresh rosemary.  The roasting time is 30-35 minutes, depending on how small you cut the potatoes (try and get them all the same size for even roasting).

Now, the roasting treatment doesn't just apply to Brussel Sprouts and potatoes.  I also enjoy roasting butternut squash, carrots, zucchini, cauliflower, eggplant and beets.  What do you need to have handy if you're going to be roasting veggies?

1.  Olive oil.  Lots of olive oil.  We go through it so much that I should really buy stock in whoever owns Bertolli.  Olive oil helps seasonings cling to your veg, and helps you develop that nice brown crust that tastes so yummy.

2.  Sea Salt.  Sea salt or other coarse salts give your food a nicer texture than table salt. 

3.   Freshly Ground Pepper.  I like this from a textural standpoint as well.  I use a kind that has multiple types of peppercorns, which adds some interesting visual contrast.

Happy roasting!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sunday Blog 2 of 2: Celery Root & Mushroom Lasagna

I've been somewhat obsessed with celery root since the fiance and I took a trip to Montreal a few summers ago.  We had a celery root salad that I can still taste if I think hard enough about it.  I've been dying to play with it in the kitchen ever since, but I just now got around to it.
Celery root - it looks ugly, but is mighty tasty!
 I mused around for several recipes that sounded intriguing, and landed on this Celery Root & Mushroom Lasagna from Food & Wine magazine.  I've had it printed out for a month, and was determined to make it this weekend.
For those of you not familiar with Celery Root, our friends at Wikpedia share that:
Celeriac (Apium graveolens rapaceum) is also known as celery root, turnip-rooted celery[1] or knob celery. It is a kind of celery, grown as a root vegetable for its large and bulbous hypocotyl rather than for its stem and leaves. The swollen hypocotyl is typically used when it is about 10–12 cm in diameter; about the size of a large potato. Unlike other root vegetables, which store a large amount of starch, celery root is only about 5-6% starch by weight.  Celeriac may be used raw or cooked. It has a tough, furrowed, outer surface which is usually sliced off before use because it is too rough to peel. Celeriac has a celery flavour, and is often used as a flavouring in soups and stews; it can also be used on its own, usually mashed, or used in casseroles, gratins and baked dishes. It can be roasted like a potato, giving it a crispy edge.

After procuring the necessary ingredients, I fully intended to make this three hour (yes, you read that correctly - three hour) recipe right when I got home from the grocery store.  But, after a much needed long nap and getting Blog #1's pie in the oven, I got a bit of a late start - around 8:00 p.m.

I love the fact that this recipe is so veggie heavy.  Pounds of mushrooms, leeks, celery root and shallots!  And, it was easy to make veg - I eliminated the prosciutto and used a vegetable broth (Pacific Natural Foods) in lieu of the chicken broth.   Also, a tip: rather than buying individual packages of herbs, you can just get a Poultry Blend, which will have just enough of the sage, rosemary and thyme (yes, I now have "Scarborough Fair" in my head).

Clockwise from bottom right: cremini mushrooms, leeks, celery root and soaked porcini mushrooms.
Now granted, despite all the produce.  healthy is not exactly how I'd describe it . . . we're talking pounds of cheese, lots of heavy cream.  But, have you ever tried to peel and chop a celery root?  It's like hacking through lumber.  I was literally sweating.   The chopping alone took about 20 minutes, so, if you find chopping tedious, this is not the recipe for you.

The aforementioned ragu.
However, if you're willing to put up with all the hacking, this recipe is tremendously rewarding.  The smell of the vegetable ragu was intoxicating - shallots and mushrooms and leeks and celery root in olive oil and butter, along with a bundle of fresh herbs . . . it was all I could do not to just eat it all while it was cooking.  It would make a terrific pasta sauce. 

After the ragu and cream sauce were done, and the lasgana noodles were boiled, the assembly began.  

The recipe called for fresh basil and fresh mozzarella, in addition to the ragu and cream sauce.

And here it is, after an hour in the oven.  It's 11:07 p.m. and I'm eating my first piece and wow, was it worth the wait!

Sunday Blog 1 of 2: Sophie's Caramel Apple Pie

It's been a busy culinary Sunday, so there will be two blogs today.

Blog #1 is baking related.  Technically it's vegetarian, and it does have fresh produce, so I feel ok sneaking it in here . . . Anyhow, I had a contest at work where I promised the winner a homemade fruit pie.  Sophie was the winner, and her flavor of choice was caramel apple.

So, I set upon making this recipe from The Washington Post.  I had made it a few years ago for my fiance's grandmother's birthday, so I knew it was tasty.

 I used Macintosh apples, even though the recipe calls for Granny smith.  Why?  Because my mother's edict is that Macintosh is always the #1 choice for baking, and Mom does know best.  The caramels are Kraft. 

For the crust, I used my Kitchen-Aid.  I made the crust last night to save time tonight (more on that later - meaning it's 10:00 p.m. and the subject of blog #2 is bubbling in the oven with 30 minutes to go and it still needs to rest 20 minutes after that  . . . a long night it shall be).

I made the topping with a pastry blender.  If you bake a lot, it's a handy dandy tool.  You can also use two knives if you prefer to do that.

I skipped doing the cutouts on the top.  I rarely roll out my pie crust thin enough (I need to work on that) to get my crust over the edge of the pie pan, much less for the extra cutouts called for here.

After an hour bubbling in the oven, here's the end result:

To the office it will go tomorrow!  Sophie, I hope you enjoy!!!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

America's Top 10 Vegan Sandwiches

My cousin Rachel sent me a great article today, "America's Top 10 Sandwiches - Veganized."   A bunch of them are off limits to me because of soy, but the following look promising:

The Cheesy Mac & Rib: I've actually eaten the macaroni and cheese sandwich from The Grilled Cheese Truck.  It is delicious, delicious crack.  If I try this version, I'd probably dumb down the sauce and figure out a way to work in Daiya.

The Vegan Pibil Torta Sandwich: This one is chock full of mushrooms, a favorite ingredient.

Fried Chicken Sandwich: When I ate chicken, my preferred way of eating it was as fried  as possible.  So, this is tempting me.  Gardein is off limits to be because of the high soy content, but Quorn makes a chicken patty I could sub here.

Brussels Sprouts Sandwich: This one is the most promising to me.  I am a big Brussels sprouts fan, and this has the most natural set of ingredients.

Thanks for the tip, Rachel! I'm looking forward to experimenting!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Vegetarian Cheesesteak - Brought to You By My Friend Seitan

My co-workers were asking me about a vegetarian diet today, specifically how I get protein.  It's a common question when you tell people you're a vegetarian, I suppose. 

Now, I'd venture to guess that most people's first suggestion about protein for a vegetarian would be tofu.  One challenge I have is that I've got a soy allergy.  It's nothing life threatening, but I do get violently ill if I have too much of it.  So, that puts tofu and a number of "fake meats" out of the picture.

That said, I really don't feel protein deprived - I eat all kinds of beans, lentils and nuts (with the exception of walnuts and hazelnuts, which make me even more violently ill than soy).  Quinoa, farro, bulgur and wheatberries are also good sources of protein.  I still eat the occasional egg and dairy product.  And, I'm a big fan of Quorn - both in the grounds and tenders styles.   (I will share a post on the glories of Quorn sometime soon - the stuff is really amazing).

But, my #1 favorite vegetarian protein source is seitan.  With a single serving having around 25 grams of protein, it's a great way to work more protein into your diet if you're concerned you're not getting enough.  I avoided seitan for awhile, because I assumed that it was soy based.  In actuality, seitan is a form of wheat gluten.  From our friends at Wikipedia:

Wheat gluten, also called seitan (pronounced /ˈseɪtæn/), wheat meat, Mock Duck, gluten meat, or simply gluten, is a food made from the gluten of wheat. It is made by washing wheat flour dough with water until all the starch dissolves, leaving insoluble gluten as an elastic mass which is then cooked before being eaten.  Wheat gluten is an alternative to soybean-based meat substitutes such as tofu. Some types of wheat gluten have a chewy and/or stringy texture more like that of meat than most other substitutes. Wheat gluten is often used instead of meat in Asian, vegetarian, Buddhist, and macrobiotic cuisines. Simulated duck is a common use for wheat gluten.

I will note that Seitan is more challenging to find in a traditional grocery store than tofu and "fake meat."  In all the grocery stores I frequent in the DC area (and man, do I hit them all - I love the grocery store!), the only place I can ever find it is Whole Foods.  That said, it does have a decent shelf life, so I will often stock up on several packages at a time when we go there.

The brand I buy is WestSoy.  I prefer the strips to the cubed version.  You can sub it anywhere you'd use strips of meat - stir-frys, etc.  But, my #1 favorite way to use Seitan is in my Vegetarian Cheesesteak.

The Vegetarian Cheesesteak came to be last Fall.  At that point, I had been "off meat" since May.  And then football season started.  As a native Philadelphian and a die-hard Eagles fan, I ate my share of Whiz Wit in my day.  And, lo, when I was looking for something to eat during MNF (that's Monday Night Football for those of you not as football obsessed as me) I missed my cheesesteaks, but not enough to go back to actually eating beef.

Enter Seitan!  When you run a knife through it roughly, it resembles cheesesteak meat.  To make the sandwich above, I saute onions in olive oil until they are golden, then add the seitan.

Once the seitan is nicely browned, I season it with red pepper flakes and add sliced peppers (I used the leftover roasted yellow peppers from Sunday's enchiladas), spinach and cheese.  I use Daiya when I want a vegan version, but since we're out of both Daiya (need to make another run to Whole Foods, as I've also cleared out all my seitan), I used what we had in the house, which was some rennet free Cabot Monterey Jack cheese (Provolone is also great on this, and more traditional, but the other eater in my house may have eaten all my provolone . . .).   I serve the whole thing on a whole wheat sub roll carried by my local market.

The result is a satisfaction of my craving for a cheesesteak without that feeling of having swallowed a bag of lead.

Good sides for this bad boy are oven roasted potato fries (425 or 450, yukon golds cut into wedges, seasoned with salt and pepper, bake until browned) or sweet potato fries (I'm particularly fond of using Hannahs.)  Tonight, since I got home on the late side from yoga and it takes our oven about 37 years to heat up, I had a side of fresh fruit - blueberries and golden raspberries.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Vegetable Enchiladas

My soon to be in-laws were joining us for lunch today, so I decided it was time for a treat: vegetarian enchiladas.

When I attempt something new, I futz around on the internet until I find a recipe that looks interesting, and then I play with it a bit.   I decided to start with this Food Network Recipe, which was from Rachel Ray's $40 a Day show.  Rather than use pre-made green chile sauce, I decided to make my own green salsa recipe using Simply Recipe's Tomatillo Salsa Verde.  And, we decided we needed some "yellow rice" on the side, so I found this recipe from TammysRecipes.com.

How Do You Raja a Pepper?
Cooking 101: Read your recipe and read it again.  So, before I started cooking, I read the at the enchilada prep and it said to prepare the peppers "raja style."  Frankly, I had no clue what this meant.  Google was my friend again here - I found this helpful article that told me to roast them, sweat them, and cut them up.  Ah, easy enough.  Even though the recipe said only to roast the poblanos, I thought it would be nice to also roast our friends the bell peppers, which I thought would add a nice flavor element to the dish.

Behold, the beautiful poblanos and bell peppers before I stuck them under the broiler:

I won't lie - I am lousy at timing things.  My mother's adage about how long things should be cooked?  "Until it's done."  Hence I never got in the habit of looking at a clock.  But I can tell you I rotated them with tongs until each side was nice and charred.  I could have probably let them go longer, but I am impatient.

So, What is a Tomatillo?
If you've gone to Chipotle, or eaten salsa verde, you've had a tomatillo.  But, since I promised my future father-in-law I'd look it up, here it is, per Wikipedia:

The tomatillo (Physalis philadelphica) is a plant of the tomato family, related to the cape gooseberry, bearing small, spherical and green or green-purple fruit of the same name. Tomatillos, referred to as green tomato (Spanish: tomate verde) in Mexico, are a staple in Mexican cuisine.

The salsa recipe gave the option of roasting or boiling them, and I decided to roast for enhanced flavor.  I also cut it down to one serrano - it was fine and had plenty of kick.  I also left out the sugar - I'm trying to use as little refined sugar as possible when I cook (baking is another story :) ) and I didn't see the need for it.

Finished Product and My Vegetarian Tweaks

  I made the following additional switches & subs:
  • For the enchiladas themselves, I swapped out mushrooms for black beans - we wanted the added protein and the color oomph.
  • Also, I was going to use yukon potatoes per the original recipe, but, frankly, I got lazy and decided not to bother.  It was fine without them.  I (meaning Balducci's) also didn't have the hoja santa or espazote.
  • For the rice, I used olive oil in lieu of butter, and vegetable broth in lieu of chicken broth.  We also used brown rice.  The tumeric got it nice and yellow - you honestly wouldn't know the difference.
I did use Monterey Jack cheese, but, if you wanted to go vegan, you could use a soy cheese or Daiya.  Personally, I'd recommend the Daiya - it does melt well and tastes more like cheese.

 Everyone had two servings, so I am considering this a success!


So, I've been saying I was going to do a vegetarian food blog for awhile now, but I've been putting it off with all sorts of excuses - I don't have time, others have beaten me to the punch, etc.  But I suppose all that matters is this.

I love food.  I love preparing it, reading about it, talking about it, and perhaps, most importantly, eating it.

One of my earliest memories is being three, standing on a chair in my grandparents' kitchen and mixing butter, milk and powdered cheese sauce into a just drained pot of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese while my grandmother stood by to make sure I didn't fall off the chair.  (This likely explains why I still crave Mac & Cheese when I'm having a bad day).  That's one of so many food memories I have that involve family and friends gathering in the kitchen to prepare, eat and laugh.

I practice yoga regularly, and I've noticed the same effects as practice when I really get going in the kitchen - a unique focus on the "now" and bliss when the process is complete, when I bring a finished dish to the table.

It's good that I mention yoga, because it's a big reason why I've chosen to no longer eat meat and limit other animal products.  When I did an intro teacher training last year, I did a lot of reading on ethical vegetarianism and I realized I couldn't bring myself to eat animals anymore.

So, where does this put me?  I'd say in a great place.  I'm having tremendous fun exploring new foods, indulging in delicious meals and blabbing about my time in the kitchen.  And since, as a proud holder of a Literature degree, I miss writing, so I'm hoping this will let me indulge that itch a bit more too.

So, what can you expect from me?
  • I cook and bake a ton - I'll share my favorite vegan and vegetarian (lacto-ovo) recipes with you, as well as what worked and what didn't
  • I also love restaurants.  I travel tons, so I will share my thoughts on my eating out experiences around the world.
  • I'll share thoughts on the books and articles about vegetarianism I find inspiring.
  • I'll share my food memories and invite you to share yours.