Sunday, February 28, 2010

make it up to you

I swooned when I first saw this Palak Daal over on Heidi's site. I found the recipe early on in the vegetarianism, and it was one that really gave me hope that not eating meat would not have to be a disaster.

With full disclaimer that I made the below changes, I found this dish to be sadly dull and almost completely flavorless save for the bits of serrano pepper that we bit down on which were quite spicy.

- To add meat to Matty's portion, I basically took all the ingredients from Heidi's recipe, added a chicken breast and cooked everything a la Chicken Baked with Lentils. As the bag of brown lentils I used (no white ones to be found) suggested a cooking time of 45 minutes, and a handful of the comments thought 2 hours might be too much, I wasn't worried that adding the chicken would wreck the cooking time.

- Way, way too much liquid. I don't even see how it could have boiled off even with the extra hour I didn't use. I ended up draining the lentils before serving.

- And maybe that's where all the flavor went. But I had tested the lentils for doneness earlier, and didn't find them to be flavorful then either.

Oh well. Thank goodness for cauliflower steaks. That's basically a whole head sliced into 1"-thick pieces, seared in a smoking hot olive-oiled cast-iron skillet for 5 minutes on each side, salted and devoured. Oh the divine deliciousness - alternately crisp and melting, dripping with olive oil and punctuated by rough grains of salt. I only managed about 6 whole slices - that number will vary depending on where your florets decide to fall apart. Obviously, I will need to buy 2 heads of cauliflower next time.

And thank the dear heavens above for this Chickpea, Mint and Parsley Spread. Use a food processor - there's not enough liquid to let a blender really do it's work, and in mere minutes, you have just the perfect spread. It didn't particularly taste like hummus, but that could have been because a) the onion I used was huge, and b) I didn't realized I only had one can of chickpeas left, and ended up with just under 2 cups drained.

This is definitely going to be a new party trick, although I'll have to take care to make sure it's clearly marked "NOT GUACAMOLE" so people aren't in for a, albeit delicious, shock. It's lightness and brightness will be the perfect complement to all the heavy smoked meats to come this barbecue season.

And while Matty and I only had 2 squares of Endangered Species Dark Chocolate for dessert tonight, here are the Cocoa Brownies we had for dessert last Friday night.

Oh yeah. Topped with Purely Decadent Coconut Milk Ice Cream. *Heart flutter.*

Matty reports that it could be more chocolate-y, but with a brownie that looks like that, I'll have to taste it myself before I can believe it. T-minus 6 days until eggs are mine - will probably have to make this Sunday night.

Friday, February 26, 2010

so little time, and so much to do

We've been trying to organize a dinner party with our friends Laura and Cary ever since she moved literally around the corner from us. A year (?!) and another move later, she was luckily still in the neighborhood, and we finally got it together to get together.

Our Friday night dinner restrictions: vegetarian (all me, of course) and done in an hour start to finish since I still had to get home from work. Unfortunately, the time restriction meant I couldn't prepare a meat option, so I tried to choose the two vegetables generally considered most "meaty" - mushrooms and eggplant. And while I failed miserably at having dinner ready by 8p as scheduled, it was extra fun to have everyone in the kitchen to chat with a glass of wine in hand as everything finished up.

Our main course was Mushroom Bourguignon served over fusilli (what with egg noodles being a no-go). I used a combination of cremini, portobello, and because they seemed to be inexpensive, oyster mushrooms. I really loved the texture contrast between all of them - the comforting familiarity of creminis, the larger-cut and firmer portobellos and the soft, almost melt-in-your-mouth quality of the oyster mushrooms. The pearl onions are a real bitch to peel - I ended up boiling for about 10 minutes to help it along, but next time, I think I have to go with the frozen, already-peeled kind. They're such a wonderful addition, but if you're strapped for time, peeling is not stress you need.

And because I couldn't quite bring myself to just serve a salad with it (and because it's cold, and salad is not cold-weather food), our vegetable was Julia Child's Ratatouille. The time crunch created a bit of a bastardized version - all steps kind of smooshed together and overly simplified, and I substituted leeks because I didn't realize I was out of onions, but I still think it made for a good final product.

3 medium zucchini
3 medium eggplant (Whole Foods just called them Italian eggplants, but maybe they're baby Italian eggplants? Whatever they're called, they should be approximately the same size and shape as the zucchini, maybe slightly larger)
1 t. salt
3 small tomatoes
3 leeks, cleaned, and sliced into rings, white and light green part only
1 small bell pepper, sliced (I had an orange one)
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Slice zucchini and eggplant into 1/2"-thick rounds. Toss with salt and set in a colander to drain for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, deal with the rest of the vegetables. Slice tomatoes along their equator and seed. (Not as hard as it sounds. Just hold them by their uncut end, give a squeeze, and fling what comes out into the trash). Slice each half into 1/2"-thick slices.

Heat about 2 T. olive oil in a 12-inch cast-iron skillet. Add leeks and bell pepper and saute until quite soft. Salt and pepper to taste. Remove to a small bowl.

Return to the eggplant and zucchini. Squeeze each slice dry and brown in a single layer in skillet. This will have to be done in batches. Remove slices to a separate bowl as they are done. Refresh olive oil as necessary.

Return a third of the leek mixture to the pan. Add a layer of eggplant and zucchini. Repeat with leeks, eggplant/zucchini and lastly, the remaining leeks. Cover and continue to cook over low heat for about 15 minutes (or until you're done with the aforementioned Mushroom Bourguignon, or a slice of eggplant grabbed from the top is done to your liking).

More on dessert in a later post. We were having too much fun for me to remember to take a photo before serving!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

i sing a song of love, julia

Sitting here eating leftovers is perfect motivation to relive Meeting #3 (for me) of the Cooking Club. (Seriously, someone come up with a name).

This meeting's theme: Julia Child. We pulled from both volumes of Mastering the Art of French Cooking as well as The Way to Cook. This was nothing like the Julia Child night I had for myself post-movie - it was grander, more delicious and way more fun.

In keeping with the general underlying theme of choosing recipes that we would never make on our own (what with each of us only having the two hands we came with), we started out with Moussaka - basically a timbale filled with sauteed eggplant and cooked ground lamb; nothing like the Greek moussaka that comes to mind when one hears "moussaka." (Can you tell I really like saying "moussaka"?)

And the reason why this recipe is crazy? Oh, you just make two sauces - one tomato, one butter-bacon (really called a brown sauce, but we all agreed that was a terrible name) - simmer them for 2 hours each and THEN assemble and bake the moussaka for an hour and a half.

(The little one in the photo was a non-lamb one we made for Hilary. I didn't partake because it still included eggs).

But what I could partake in was the Tian de Courgettes au Riz, what amounted to a stunning baked risotto with zucchini. What I found so fascinating about this dish was that it called for just blanched rice combined together with the juice from salting and draining grated zucchini (we got 2 cups and supplemented with 3 cups milk to get the required 5 cups liquid for this doubled recipe), which, by the time the oven was ready for it, had practically cooked itself. It was super tasty - comforting without being too heavy, even with all the Parmesan and whole milk.

Our other side was Julia's Cheese Souffle, a recipe we had attempted at the last meeting, but had failed to get to properly rise. Imagine my dismay when it came out beautifully puffed and smelling delectable, and I couldn't have a bite. (Damn eggs. I always thought the hardest part about going vegan would be giving up cheese, but I'm going to have to say eggs definitely trump cheese).

And finally, for something that includes no eggs (or cheese) and can jump in my belly at any time, Tarte des Demoiselles Tatin. The photo is post-baking, pre-broiling. The end result was lightly caramelized deliciousness. I'm not the biggest fan of apple pie in general, but this has won me over completely. I'm even considering making it again for a dinner party at the end of the week.

Thanks, girls, for another awesome evening!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

goodbye to you

A delicious, but bittersweet celebration today. Our dear friend Chet is leaving the country for a while, so we hosted a bon voyage party for him at our house. The weather gods were kind, and while it poured Saturday and threatened more throughout the day, for the most part, it was sunny and beautiful for the party.

Other than the fact that it might not have been pretty to force 30 people inside our baby of a house, the good weather allowed for the two mainstays when Matty and Chet join forces for a barbecue - Matty's smoked carnivorous delights and Chet's famous jambalaya.

Unfortunately for this temporary vegetarian, the 3 vegans, 1 vegetarian and 1 non-poultry eater on the guest list, that means we can all just stare longingly at Chet's jambalaya (or maybe that's just me).

I decided to do something about that. And while it's not the perfect andouille-dotted concoction that warrants double-digit helpings that Chet turned out, this Red Beans and Brown Rice with Red Wine-Simmered Seitan from Bryant Terry's Vegan Soul Kitchen made us all extremely happy. Because my local hippie mart was out of kombu, I ended up simmering the beans in a mixture of veggie broth and water for added flavor. I also seasoned the dish with a healthy amount of truffle salt, that I think really nicely rounded out the flavor.

The end result was healthy, hearty and had I not been running around, I would have eaten way more than I should have. As it was, I doubled the recipe, and all that's left is a tiny Pyrex container of the stuff. Sounds like it was good enough for the carnivores, too!

I also made a Collard Green Coleslaw that I forgot to take a photo of, but is hardly worth talking about since it's so similar to my friend Allison's Kale Slaw. It does have a very tasty dressing, although you do have to go through the trouble of bringing it to boil over stovetop. I also thought I could have done with about half the dressing amount as by the end of the bowl, the veggies were just swimming in dressing.

We're going to miss you, Chet! And don't you dare leave without sending me that jambalaya recipe!

Friday, February 19, 2010

less trouble

The last time I made cassoulet, I started a grease fire in our oven. Damn duck fat. (Well, I don't hate it that much - duck confit is already on the list for My Return to Meat-Eating).

Fortunately, this Vegetarian Cassoulet posed no such fire risk. And considering that a significant number of the ingredients come from a can, this was way easier than the 4-day affair that a regular cassoulet ends up being.

I do have a little bit of a problem comparing this to the duck/sausage extravaganza, though. If anything, it's more of a lighter chili. I don't think I liked how tomato-y it was, especially since my other experience with cassoulet didn't involve any.

That's not to say that this wasn't good. It most definitely hit the spot as we sat waiting for the skies to open up tonight. Do go to the extra effort of making and toasting bread crumbs for the topping. I thought I'd skip the process because I didn't want to drag out my food processor, but it was well worth it to have the texture contrast.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

no surprises

I've always been a person to scour menus before visiting restaurants - it's rare that I don't have a pretty firm idea of what I'm going to order before ever stepping foot inside. With my new vegetarian diet, that's finally been an actual necessity and not just an endearingly quirky need to avoid surprises.

After finding my options on the Cube menu before joining my lovely friend Kim for dinner a couple weeks ago, I happened to stumble upon the restaurant's blog, and this Carrot Risotto recipe. "Add to Favorites." Done and done.

And it was just as wonderful as I thought it would be. Sweet but not cloyingly so, rich from all those rice grains rubbing against each other, but not heavy. Not overtly carrot-y, but still fresh and virtuous. Add to that virtue by stirring in something green. In my old age, I find that I feel absolutely gross if my meals aren't accompanied by a green vegetable - today's vegetable of choice was kale that never made its way to the crisper and was instead wilting away on the second shelf of the fridge.

I made enough changes where it would be to my future benefit to notate them, so my adaptation is below.

Carrot Risotto
just under 1 lb. carrots, sliced (I have no idea how 4 young carrots make 4 cups chopped carrots, but I used about 9 carrots and still only made it up to 3 cups)
1 c. dry vermouth
1/4 c. butter
1 small onion, chopped
2 c. arborio rice
4 c. vegetable stock (I don't bother heating it up before adding to the pot)
2 oz. Gruyere cheese, grated
salt and pepper to taste
shredded kale or other leafy green vegetable (optional)

Add carrots and vermouth to a blender and puree until smooth.

Melt butter in a large heavy saucepan. Add onion and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add carrot puree and stir to combine.

Add rice and 1 c. stock. Once it has been absorbed, add remaining stock one cup at a time, waiting between each addition until liquid has been absorbed. Stir all the while.

When rice is tender, stir through cheese and greens (if using), and season to taste.

Monday, February 15, 2010

love is simple

I had big plans for my heart-shaped Valentine pasta that involved chanterelles, walnuts and brown butter, but as delicious as Matty agreed it sounded, he thought a red sauce would be more appropriate for Valentine's. Enter Pasta a la Vodka.

The recipe really couldn't be easier. I only made a few small changes - 28 oz. tomato puree instead of diced tomatoes and veggie broth instead of chicken. I thought it'd be a lot creamier than it was - I guess my idea of vodka sauce always meant super-creamy pink sauce. And obviously, I could have controlled that by simply adding more cream. However, I exercised some restraint, and the end-result was a lovely, summery-sweet sauce that was light enough to justify all the pasta we ate.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

you make lovin' fun

I've always loved Valentine's Day. Even when I was single. Even when I was in less-than-satisfactory relationships. Even that one year when an ex called on Valentine's Day to wish me a good one even though he never made the effort while we were seeing each other. Always. It's just nice to have day to focus on love. It's only a retail holiday if you make it to be. For a girl who's been consistently broke when it's come time to celebrate, it's not about who can make the biggest dent in their credit card (he bought me heart-shaped pasta; I got him a tube amp reference book), but rather, the opportunity to have an entire day to reflect on love.

And it's always been about food. Lobster and chocolate in 2009; oysters, carbonara and more chocolate in 2008; and heaven help us remember what before that as we were pre-blog at that point.

This year, due to my dietary restrictions, we had to be a little more creative. The usuals - steak, seafood, decadently eggy desserts - were out. Instead, we had Gruyere and Cider Fondue with a spread of blanched broccoli, superfantastic Brussels sprouts, Italian bread, roasted potatoes and Trader Joe's Hofbrau Brats for him and Tofurky sun-dried tomato and basil Italian "sausage" for me. (By the way, the Trader Joe's brand of soy Italian sausage has egg white powder in it. Why would you not make soy sausage entirely vegan? So weird).

This is the easiest fondue recipe I recall making - everything comes together astoundingly quickly. And if you have dippers that you can just set out and not cook (raw broccoli, cauliflower, cherry tomatoes, canned artichoke hearts, bread, etc.) it's even faster. I couldn't really taste the apple part of the fondue equation when the dipper was something a little more substantial than bread, so I may add another tablespoon of applejack next time.

And the best accompaniment to this meal? No, not any wine. Love Potion, No. 1, an absolutely delightful drink with my new favorite thing - chocolate bitters.

After completely destroying this spread, I was glad to need the extra time to finish up dessert - Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Truffles. Everything you love about the dough without the possible salmonella issue! We found it to be a bit sweet with the Wilton candy melt coating, but the ease of use and the shine with which it sets up is so unbeatable that it was worth the toothache. Next time, though, I may either leave out the granulated sugar in the dough completely or use a darker, more bitter chocolate for the shell. Or maybe not pair it with some delicious Tablas Creek dessert wine. :)

Happy Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

make it better

Last summer, my friend Laura and I went to check out a new burger place that had just opened up in town. It was a great experience, and once Matty got home from tour, I couldn't stop talking about it. Well, with another location now open near us, I finally dragged him there.

To be fair, I did not partake in the meat burger, so I don't know if it's changed from my vaunted memory of it. However, Matty was underwhelmed, and I felt guilty for having chosen to go there.

So, to make it up to him, tonight was burger night. Selfishly, I had already planned on making myself some Lentil Hazelnut Patties, so the challenge lay in finding a great burger recipe for him.

I found it in Damon Wise's Meatloaf. With a few tweaks, I got three patties that drew a, "I'd give you $9 for this burger," as well as enough for a small meatloaf that is currently baking, making the house smell amazing and will be frozen for non-vegetarian times.

Damon Wise's Meatloaf
2 T. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 red onion, minced
2 carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
3.5 oz. shiitake mushrooms, diced
2 lbs. ground beef
1/2 c. bread crumbs
1/3 c. grated Parmesan cheese
2 T. dry mustard
1 1/2 t. salt
2 large eggs

Heat olive oil in a 10" skillet. Add vegetables and saute over low heat until dark and caramelized, at least 30 minutes. Let cool slightly. Call this soffritto.

In a large bowl, combine remaining ingredients with about half of the soffritto. Combine with your hands until well-mixed.

If making burgers, form about 1/2 c. of the meat mixture into patties and pan-fry or grill. If making meatloaf, pack into a loaf pan and bake in a pre-heated 350-degree oven until internal temperature is about 150 degrees.

With the remaining soffritto, make...

Lentil-Hazelnut Patties
1 1/4 c. dry French green lentils
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 T. chopped fresh parsley
1 egg replacement
1/2 c. finely chopped hazelnuts
1/2 t. dried thyme
1 t. dried basil
1 t. ground cumin
1 1/2 t. salt
1 1/2 t. pepper

Bring about 3 cups of water to boil. Add lentils and simmer over low heat until tender, about 30 minutes. Drain and rinse.

Combine remaining ingredients and the other half of the soffritto in a large bowl. Add lentils and thoroughly combine.

I was unable to make the patties stick, so I did what I could with two very flat patties. It still made an excellent veggie burger. I'm not going to bother making patties out of the remaining lentil mixture, but I plan on drowning it in leftover mole sauce and calling it a vegetarian Sloppy Joe. Will report back after tomorrow's lunch.

Monday, February 8, 2010

best of intentions

After eating so heavily this weekend, I thought it might be wise to go ahead and lighten up a little for dinner tonight. Momofuku's Ginger Scallion Noodles seemed like a fool-proof and quick way to go.

I was initially concerned that the raw scallions and ginger would be a bit strong of a flavor - so much so that I thought about briefly sauteeing the entire mixture before tossing with the noodles. In the end, I was a little too lazy for that, so I just went with the recipe as written. Luckily, it turned out fine - perhaps the vinegar and soy sauce served to mellow the sharpness of the onions while still keeping everything lighter than it would have been if heat had been introduced to the equation.

The quick pickles sounded great, but Matty's neither into cucumbers nor pickled foods, so I opted out of them. And while we both enjoy nicely seared cauliflower, we still had entirely too much bok choy from an overly-eager farmers market purchase that needed to be used up.

A plain stir-fry bok choy side was a little too boring for me, so I decided to throw the light dinner idea by the wayside and make tempura bok choy. Super easy - mix 1 cup flour, 1 cup pale ale, and 1/2 tsp. turmeric, toss in small bok choy wedges (or individual leaves, if you prefer), then fry (I did it in a 12-inch cast-iron pan filled with about 1/2-inch of vegetable oil).

The bok choy is a lovely little snack dipped in a bit of soy sauce. It would make a great appetizer, perhaps for your Lunar New Year celebration this Sunday?

***EDIT: These noodles are absolutely stupendous cold. The bok choy, not so much.***

Sunday, February 7, 2010

i'm super

I've been waking up at a very ungodly hour every weekday since the beginning of the year as part of my gym-going regimen. While I'm stoked that I've kept it up for so long, I am very not stoked that my internal clock decides that's also an appropriate time to wake up on the weekends.

However, when I woke up at dawn this morning, I decided that I was going to make up for all the bitching and moaning I did yesterday about not having any time and suck it up and make some Super Vegetarian Chili for today's big game.

Don't be daunted by the long ingredient list or the large number of steps. Everything's pretty straightforward and you're not really spending that much active time with it. And your reward is a luscious-smelling house, and a whole lot of fairly ridiculous chili. A couple of notes to ensure your happiness:

- Definitely make sure to grind your spices well. I chomped down on a piece of coriander, and it just about ruined my day. Remember? I hate coriander. Definitely putting a spice grinder on the Rose Bowl Flea Market list.

- I ended up only needing to add a cup of water in with the beans, but obviously that will vary depending on how low your stove flame is.

- The final seasoning for me was 1/4 c. Frank's Red Hot, 1 T. molasses, 1 T. brown sugar, and no salt. Again, that's up to you and how much water you ended up having to add.

- Do you need anything other than shredded Cheddar, sour cream and Fritos scoops with this chili? Probably not.

I'm not going to lie - I am very much looking forward to the return of football season to make the full-meat version (anchovies! short ribs!), but I truly didn't feel like I was missing out today.

P.S. I'm sorry for the photo. I forgot to bring my camera to the party, so all you get is what was left in the pot when we finally dragged it home. Not that you would have gotten a cute garnished photo or anything. Remember. Cheddar. Sour cream. Fritos.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

no time for less

I have no idea where today went. I thought I was going to have all this time. My dear friend Kimmie was in town, so I was going to have brunch with her and a few other of my favorite people, go to the gym, find shoes for my sister's wedding, research a suite for wedding prep, make a fascinating 4-hour chili so that it could mature in the fridge before the Super Bowl AND make Cheese Enchiladas with Red Mole for dinner. All before going to see some music and have a birthday drink with a friend.

Well, I don't know how it happened, but so far all I've got checked off the list is brunch, gym, shoes and enchiladas. And the enchiladas were so delicious and rich and filling that Matty is napping on the couch, and it may take a small miracle to get us out of the house tonight.

I initially thought the enchiladas would be a disaster when I couldn't stop coughing after toasting the dried chiles created what felt like toxic fumes. Luckily, it was nothing a cross-breeze couldn't fix, I calmed down and let the chiles soak. Everything else was a real snap - just a matter of time and stirring.

I used a jalapeno jack cheese for the enchilada filling, and it really nicely complemented the smokiness of the New Mexico chiles. I sprinkled more over the mole topping because I thought it would look cuter coming out of the oven. And since I couldn't quite justify just eating mole and cheese for dinner (although I'd like to), I made a quick chopped salad of red and green bell pepper, radish, black beans, avocado, olive oil and lemon juice.

Matty thought the mole would have been improved with the addition of some molasses, which of course instantly reminded me that Bittman had suggested adding brown sugar at the end. And while it was otherwise very good, I'm not sure that I liked it any better than this Smoky Peanut Mole I made a while ago. And I don't recall the peanut one taking as long, but I'll have to revisit the instructions. Anyway, I'm not complaining. We've got plenty of leftovers, and I'm already imagining eating the fire out of them, perhaps when we get home tonight.

Now off to see if I can wake the sleeping bear.