Cooking French Food for Your Vegetarian

pixabella-Red-Stylised-Heart-with-Smaller-HeartsHappy February!  It’s soon to be Valentines Day, and I usually go all out and make a really romantic meal for the Hubby.  I’d love to hear how you, my dear readers celebrate your significant others, or even celebrate yourselves for a special day!

You all know, I have a vegetarian husband, for whom I will try to cook anything vegetarian style.  I have however never really been successful with the full blooded classic French dishes.  Mainly, I am half successful in creating something that has the meat replaced by something processed to be like meat, or by substituting something else for the meat.  He always says he likes it, and I am sure he does, but it always feel like I am cheating!  Flash forward to today.  I was trolling around the usual cooking sites I look at for food inspiration, and I came upon this gem, Mushroom Bourguignon (yes all those ‘g’s” are supposed to be there.)

The recipe carries all the French classical steps, braising, reduction of liquids, the mirepoix*, but it is simple, and really delicious.  For the past several years, I have raffled off a meal at work, for our internal fundraising campaign, and Beef Bourguignon is always on offer.  Perhaps I’ll change it this year and offer this dish too!

Mushroom Bourguignon

  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1lb Portobello mushrooms, stems cut off and discarded, mushrooms cut into 2 in cubes
  • 2lbs white or brown mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • 1 carrot, cut on a diagonal
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 4 gloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 cups full bodied red wine
  • 3 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 cups vegetable stock (or water if you don’t have any)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1-2 cups pearl onions, peeled (these are optional)
  • 2 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 4 Tbsp cold water

In a deep, heavy bottomed pot with a lid, heat the olive oil on medium.  I used my cast iron Dutch oven, even heat makes a huge diference.  Add both types of mushrooms, sauté until lightly browned.  They may give off some liquid, but at this point that’s good.  Add celery, carrot, onion and garlic. Sauté for a few minutes, until you begin to smell the garlic.  The aim here is to cook but not to brown the vegetables.  Add thyme, red wine, tomato paste and stock and stir gently, until the tomato paste has dissolved into the liquid. Put the lid on the pan and allow this to cook at a low heat for 20 minutes.  After that time, take the lid off and raise the heat up to high and cook until liquid has reduced, about 15 minutes.  It should be reduced by half, and taken on a more syrupy or rich consistency.  Add the optional pearl onions and cook another 5 – 10 minutes until they’re starting to turn translucent and softer.

Here we use a classic sauce thickening technique.  Mix the cornstarch and cold water together in a small dish until all the cornstarch is dissolved.  Cornstarch will make the sauce thicker and glossier than flour would, it’s more gravy like than stew like, if that makes sense.  Bring the pan to a boil, and add the cornstarch mixture to it.  Once again, the alchemy of cooking shows itself, you’ll see the sauce thicken and darken slightly.  At this point, you’re finished.

Generally I would serve this dish on egg noodles, but you can serve it with boiled or mashed potatoes, polenta, rice, whatever you love.

And remember to love the vegetarian you’re serving this to!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

* Mirepoix is a classical French flavor base of minced onion, carrot and celery.  You can not duplicate the taste of celery, and I urge you to add just a stalk, even if you don’t like it!  If not, try a pinch of celery seed, trust me you won’t be disappointed with the result.

Lentils are good for you, but they actually taste good too!

Happy March everyone!  You’ll notice that I have moved the blog to WordPress.  I heard it was an easier site to work with, and so I am trying it!  Let me know what your thoughts are on the new format and ease of use.

Although this has been the mildest winter I can ever remember, the sun hasn’t been out much here in Michigan, so the dismal look and feel of the winter is still around.  It makes me cook comforting, cold weather food and lentils really fit the bill here. I can honestly say, other than heavy, gloopy canned soup; I haven’t really eaten much in the way of lentils for most of my life.  When I started cooking for a vegetarian, I discovered the ease and variability of cooking with beans and legumes.  Then one day we were exploring around a natural gourmet food store, and I came upon a bin of these beautiful slate green lentils that were so eye-catching to me! I had to have them, so bought 2 pounds and took them home immediately!

If you follow Nigella, as you know I do, you have probably heard of Puy lentils but I had never really researched or experimented with them.  My memories were always the little cylindrical plastic sleeves you see in the supermarkets for “soup mix”.  They always have a solid chunk of lentils in them, right next to the spice that mix that you can never really put your finger on. The Puy lentils are different from them and are actually famed for being “the best”.  Typically, you see them called French green lentils.  They hold up very well to cooking and they don’t go all to mush unless you crush them when you’re cooking them.  Puy’s have a distinctive flavor, very earthy and hardy, with a bit of crunch to them, and I have grown to love them.

There are many other types of lentils, red, yellow and orange which you typically see in Indian foods and are called dal.  All of those types tend to be more tender when you cook them.  In general, lentils are very high in fiber and protein, are very easy to cook and flavor, and even these special “Puy’s” are definitely very inexpensive to buy.  So you get great bang for your buck with them.

Now, this recipe has a great deal of red wine in it, so if you’re cooking for kids, you may want to substitute the wine for some good quality, low salt vegetable broth.  And remember, if you won’t drink it don’t cook with it!  Also, when you start cooking, the liquid seems to be way too much.  It’s exactly the right amount so trust me here.  I typically start checking them at about 35 minutes, because each batch of dried lentils you get is different, so if the liquid is still covering the lentils, continue cooking for another 10 – 15 minutes.  But, once you hit the 40-minute mark, start listening for a dry pan and check every few minutes although you should resist the urge to stir them much. There will be little to no liquid in the pot, and the lentils will easily mash when you press them with a fork.  If you find there is still a lot of liquid, take the lid off, and raise the heat up to medium, and let the extra liquid boil away.  When there is virtually no liquid left, take the pot off the heat and stir in the vinegar, then taste and add salt and pepper if needed.

Puy Lentils in Red Wine

1 cup green French green Puy lentils (or any lentil, except red or yellow)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

2 shallots, finely chopped*

2 garlic cloves, sliced finely

2 bay leaves (optional)

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme (1 teaspoon fresh)

2 cups good red wine (Spanish wine is great here, maybe a nice Tempranillo)

1 ½ cups water

Coarse salt and ground pepper

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar (or apple cider, red wine, balsamic vinegar, anything with nice flavor)

Before you start cooking, rinse the lentils well, pick through them and remove any stones, leaves or stems, then place them in a bowl and cover them by about an inch with hot water and let them soak for about 20 minutes.  Once they’re soaked and slightly soft, drain them, rinse with cold water and set them aside to drain in a colander.

Heat the butter and olive oil in a large heavy pot with a tight fitting cover.  Once it’s melted add the shallots, garlic, bay leaves and thyme. Cook, stirring frequently until the shallots turn golden brown.  Be careful not to burn them, or you will have to start over.  Lower the heat to medium and add in the wine.  Bring the mixture to a boil and allow to cook for 1 minute. Add the drained lentils and then the water, stir well. Allow the pot to come to a rolling boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer until the lentils are tender, about 40 – 45 minutes. There will be little to no liquid in the pot, and the lentils will easily mash when you press them with a fork.  If you find there is still a lot of liquid, take the lid off, and raise the heat up to medium, and the the extra liquid boil away.  When there is virtually not liquid left, take the pot off the heat and stir in the vinegar, then taste and add salt and pepper if needed.

As always, comments are welcome and variations are encouraged!

*Note: If you don’t have shallots, you can use more garlic (2 more cloves) or add a small finely chopped yellow union.

Beef Wellington, without the beef….

Really that should say Veggie Wellington.  I made it for Tim and we loved it so much, and had so many vegetables left over, I made it again the following day.

When I was a kid, watching Julia Child, she made beef Wellington and put a mushroom duxelle on top.  I was so fascinated by the process that I started making the duxelles by hand all on my own.  A duxelle is very finely hand chopped mushrooms slow sauteed in butter, until you almost have what looks like browned chopped meat.  It adds so much flavor and moistness to the package that I just loved the idea.  Perhaps I should also explain, Beef Wellington is a puff pastry package of a hunk of beef (usually seared prime rib or tenderloin) with diced sauteed vegetables on it and a type of Bordeaux gravy or sauce all wrapped in the pastry.  It’s delicious and surprisingly easy to do.  But, as you know, Tim is a vegetarian, so the beef part is out.  I constructed a vegetarian version of this that is really delicious, although a little bit time consuming.  It makes a nice presentation when cut (my poor iPhone photo is above) and you can easily adapt this with any vegetable, green or cheese. 


Vegetarian Wellington

1 thinly sliced beet
1 sliced turnip
thinly sliced carrot
green beans
swiss chard (or spinach or kale)
thinly sliced zucchini
sliced mushrooms
2 cloves of garlic sliced
3 – 4 tablespoons olive oil
1 package (2 sheets) of puff pastry
Jarlsberg cheese (2 cups) shredded

Equipment needed:
covered large non-stick skillet
large ceramic baking dish
several cookie sheets for cooling vegetables
long strips of parchment paper

Heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil in skillet, heat up 1/2 of the garlic and add in the sliced carrots in batches.  Cook them until they are softened, but still hold their shape.  Do the same to all the sliced vegetables, leaving the beets for last and adding garlic and olive oil in as needed.  As each batch of vegetables is finished, put them to the side on the cookie sheets to cool.  Season each batch with salt and pepper as you cook, it should all be flavorful as you go.  Once all the vegetables are cooked and cooled, take more olive oil and oil the inside of the baking dish.  I also sometimes take strips of parchement and after I oil the baking dish, I place the strips of parchement down and hang them over the sides so you can easily remove the whole package once the top is on.  Take the puff pastry out of the  fridge and line the baking dish with one sheet of puff pastry.  Layer all the cooled vegetables one at a time in over the puff pastry alternating with layers of cheese.  When all the layers are done, take the last sheet of puff pastry and cut a circle that will cover the top of the layers.  Take the puff pastry from the original layer, seal it over the circle that you covered the layers with.  Use a fork to seal the edges and refrigerate the whole thing for 20 minutes. 

After 20 minutes, invert the whole thing over a baking sheet, use the strips of parchment to pull the whole thing out easily.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.  It will be golden brown all over, and you may see some moisture from the vegetables and cheese.  Let it cool for 10 minutes, then slice and serve.

Once again, you can substitute any vegetables. The second one I made was yellow squash, onion, potato, turnip, celery root, kale.  You can really use anything.

I have found Nirvana…!!

I have always prided myself on being able to tell a great story.  I hear it all the time, “Oh, you’re so funny, you should write a book!” And so, I have thought about writing a book of my humorous stories and becoming the next David Sedaris (a complete joke on my part!).  Alas, usually after relaying the story a time or two, it is gone from my increasingly sieve-like mind.  And so, writing a book based on my crazy life, pales as time passes.  When the world of blogging came into being, I thought in a smug, self-satisfied way that it was only for people that liked to hear themselves talk, and who were caught up in the whole “me, me, me” culture that I see popping up all around me.  It took years for me to actually stop and read people’s blogs, on topics that interested me.  Like cooking.

And so this blog was created, and I have tried to keep it up, even though I sometimes forget about it totally.  I thought about cooking myself through all kinds of books, similar to the woman that cooked her way through Julia Child’s cook book (and had a movie made about her book, about her blog…)  I don’t have enough discipline to do that, my attention span just won’t stretch that far.  My next idea was to write what I was cooking on a weekly basis, but, true to form, I can’t remember to write it all up in the blog.  So, the next idea was to create my own ingredients, and show people how easy it is to make your own stuff, and take the mystery out of all the packaged foods we buy and eat on a daily basis.

One reason why this idea was a winner is where I grew up, versus where I live now.  I grew up in New York, in Flushing, Queens in fact.  Or as my niece and nephews call it “the big city.”  You can find ANY ingredient there, at any time of the day or night.  Not so in Michigan, just outside of Detroit, where I live now.  Although there are many upsides to living here, not the least among them being, it’s fairly handy to be able to walk down the street to what is called  “party store” and pick up wine, beer or spirits and mixers on any day of the week, well into the wee hours of the morning.  That counts for quite a bit when you’re a foodie and a cocktail-er, as I am.  I am actually passionate about telling people that they can make things so much better if they make it themselves, rather that going out and buying something that may be of questionable quality, and certainly of indeterminate freshness and pureness.

And that is now my goal.  I will attempt to give people the skinny on things that I myself make, or have made, that are simple and easy and infinitely cheaper than most of the stuff you try to buy in the stores.  Today’s lesson is homemade ricotta.  Full fat, home made and delicious cheese.

Living in New York for the first 30+ years of my life, the cheery, bright yellow Polly-O Ricotta was a wonderful staple of my cooking repertoire.  With my husband being a lacto-ovo vegetarian, good Italian casseroles are a great way to keep us fed and quickly ready for dinner.   Alas, after moving to Michigan, I have come to find that there isn’t a readily available source of ricotta that I can find at any store.  And thus the use in most Michigan recipes of cottage cheese in those foods that I have grown to love and make all the time.  That to me is sacrilege and 100% unacceptable.  But, I found a shop nearby that sells what I expect is normal, out of the tub ricotta for a ridiculous price.  I use it sparingly and don’t buy it much because it’s expensive.  Imagine my surprise when I was watching The Cooking Channel and saw one of the chefs making cannolli with homemade ricotta that he had sweetened before the cheese making process.  It was a revelation!  I COULD do that and on a regular basis, and a fraction of the cost!  And so, I made it today, and made the best ricotta gnocchi (thank you, Mark Bittman) that I have ever had!  On this day, I pass along to you, the simplest recipe I have ever made (although that’s not saying much) which packs an amazing flavor punch for as few ingredients as you have to have on hand!  Enjoy, and as always, let me know what you think, or what your experiences are doing it… I can always use a critique!

(NOTE: I use full fat milk here, but once you get used to making it, you can use skim or anything in between)

Homemade Ricotta cheese:

2 quarts of full fat milk (8 cups)
1 pint heavy cream (optional)
1/3 cup of lemon juice, no pips (1/4 cup if you use the heavy cream)
1 tsp salt

Implements you will need:
2 sheets of cheese cloth, folded so you have 6 layers
Colander with many holes (mesh ones are usually best, but a metal kitchen colander is fine)

In a heavy bottomed, large pot, combine the milk and cream and on a medium heat, bring the milk to a steady boil.  While heating it stir it occasionally to prevent a skin from forming over the top.  Keep and eye on it, and when you start to see a foam form around the sides of the pan, and it starts a slow rolling boil, pull the pan off the heat and allow to cool for a minute or two and stir in the salt.  After cooling briefly, and making sure all the salt is dissolved, add in the lemon juice.  Stir it gently until well combined.  You will see the mixture will thicken slightly, and you will see a little curdling.  Once you have stirred the juice in, stop.  Let it all sit for an hour to an hour and a half.  It will seem to be turning a darker yellow, but resist the temptation to stir it.  The idea here is that you want to allow the cheese to form as large of a curd as you can manage.

While the cheese is cooling, line the colander with the cheesecloth and set the whole thing into the sink.  After the cheese has set for a while, take it gently to the sink and use a ladle to spoon the mixture into the cheesecloth lined colander.  When you have about half of it in the cheesecloth, you can pour the remaining cheese into the colander and let it drain.

DO NOT press on the cheese curds to extract liquid.  Resist this as strongly as you can, so you don’t lose valuable cheese as opposed to liquid, or whey that drains out.  You will see the cheese will start to become creamier and more solid.  I usually wait anywhere from 15 to 30 min to check where the progress is.  The goal for this is to have a creamy and very small curd cheese.  After about 30 min, I usually gather up the cheese cloth and either hang it from the faucet in the sink, or transfer the whole thing to a mesh colander, which will allow the whey to drain much faster.

It is completely up to you, how long to drain this.  If you want ricotta, then maximum of 45 minutes draining.  If you want to make something like Indian paneer, at least 2 hours until the cheese is very firm (similar to firm tofu)

Fresh ricotta will not keep long, so my suggestion would be to make it as you need it and use it soon.  It really does not freeze well at all, so keep that in mind.  It will keep for several days well covered and completely cooled in the refrigerator. 

A few notes here on flavoring.  You can very easily make this a sweet cheese for desserts by omitting half the salt and adding in 2 tablespoons of sugar in the step where you add the salt.  Remember to stir well so all the crystals melt and are fully combined, then proceed with the lemon as above.  Also, on the savory side, I made a batch of this with 3 finely chopped cloves of garlic (you may even want to grate them finely), 1 teaspoon of dried fresh basil, and a good solid grinding of freshly cracked black pepper.  Also, for the curdling agent, the lemon is a good non-flavoring agent, but I have also seen about half the amount of white vinegar used.  I have not used it myself, so I don’t know how the vinegar effects the flavoring.

OK, go forth and create cheese!

E.

Swiss chard, how I love you!

Sorry for the large break between posts, but guess what?  I got a JOB!  So – my last couple of weeks has been occupied with the whirlwind of interviewing, waiting, accepting and finally starting the new job in very short order.  The joy of a new job and adjusting to working in a non-profit is overwhelming.  We also had Tim get hired into the company he has been contracted to for a while, so all in all it’s been a very eventful couple of weeks!  So, on to my lovely recipe of the day!

One of the delights of my cooking life is greens.  I am addicted to lovely, bitter broccoli rabe, kale in any of it’s forms, garlicy wilted spinach, smokey, yummy collards and finally, the rainbow of colors that is Swiss chard.  Years ago, long before I moved to Michigan, my mother was operated on and during her recovery period, she was craving Swiss chard.  So I made it in as many ways as I could.  I make chard soup, wilted chard and I steamed it like a pro.  Then I happened to be going through my cook books and I found this recipe for Swiss chard strudel.  I know it sounds odd, a dish that usually includes apples and lots of butter, but believe me this one is anything but sweet.  The original recipe called for Jarlbserg cheese and Parmesean, and for a while I did make it that way, but I made it today with VanGogh cheese (think a cross between really sharp cheddar and an aged gouda) and a beautiful smoked blue cheese we happened upon at Hirts this morning.  If anyone reading this is ever in Eastern Market in Detroit, get yourselves to JR Hirts.  It’s a wonderland of cheeses and meats and all kinds of yummy goodies.  They even have vegetarian cheese!

On to the most delish Swiss chard recipe I know!

Swiss Chard Strudel

1 large bunch of Swiss chard, about 15 oz (washed well, drained, stems separated and chopped, leaves roughly chopped)
2 tbsp olive oil
6 garlic cloves sliced or chopped roughly
1 small onion chopped fine
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp dried basil (optional)
4 1/2 tbsp good breadcrumbs
1/2 cup shredded flavorful cheese (your choice)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (or another flavorful dry cheese)
1/2 stick good butter, melted and cooled
6 sheets phyllo dough (or good puff pastry)

In a large saute pan, heat 1 tbsp of olive oil and add the garlic and onion.  Saute until the onion and garlic until soft and fragrant, about 4 minutes at medium heat.  Stir while softening, don’t allow either to brown or burn. Add in the chard stems and saute until they are also soft, about 6 more min at medium heat.  To speed up the process you can cover the pan and walk away for a few minutes.  When everything is cooked, add in the chard leaves and stir well, making sure they are coated by the oil, add the dried basil.  The leaves will wilt but won’t cook down like a spinach, so cook them, stirring occasionally another 6 – 8 minutes.   Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool.  After cooling a few minutes, drain some of the liquid off the chard, put the mixture in a large bowl, add in 1 tablespoon of the bread crumbs, the cheeses and salt and pepper to taste, mix well and set aside.  (*Note, the cheeses tend to be salty, so go very easy on the salt, taste after you add all the cheese before you add salt.)

While the chard mixture cools, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, then prepare a large baking sheet.  Mix the remaining olive oil into the cooled butter and with a brush, lightly butter the baking sheet and place one of the phyllo sheets on it.  Butter the sheet all over and sprinkle it with breadcrumbs.  Place the next sheet of phyllo over this one, and repeat the butter and crumb process with the remaining 5 sheets.  You need to work fairly quickly here, since the phyllo will dry out quickly.  Don’t worry if there are tears in the sheets, all the layers will cover most holes and you will never even notice it after baking.

Spread the cooled chard mixture onto the phyllo sheets, spread it all over the sheet, leaving 1/2 in margin all the way around the sheet.  When you have spread it evenly, fold over the margin onto the chard.  Starting at the short end of the pastry, roll the phyllo over the filling, making a streudel shaped roll.  Lay flat on the baking sheet with the seam side down.  Use any remaining oil/butter to paint the outside of the struesel, and cut some shallow slits into the top of the struesel, to allow any steam to escape.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25 – 30 minutes, you will know it’s done when it is golden brown on the outside.  Allow to cool for 10 minutes or so, cut and serve.  You can serve this at room temperature, or hot.

Enjoy!

So, my husband is half Hungarian….

My husband, Tim is half Hungarian.  And although I have yet to visit there, I try to cook Hungarian food as much as I can for him because he loves it!  There are many, many recipes that include wonderful things like real Hungarian paprika, and also lots and lots and LOTS of sour cream.  So, when I am watching the calories, I don’t make that stuff.  In the future, I will post the wonderful recipe I found in Julia Child’s baking book for Hungarian Shortbread.  It’s lovely, and more cakey than you would think for being a shortbread, but it uses a wonderful homemade rhubarb filling that is typically Hungarian and just wonderful!

For now I am posting something that I suspect came from Hungary, but isn’t classically Hungarian that I can tell.  Tim’s mom, Pauline was a great cook and although she was gone, sadly, long before met Tim, I hear she was a great feeder of people.  When she passed away, Tim and his cousins paid tribute to her by publishing a cook book of her many recipes, titled Pudge’s Kitchen.  The majority of the recipe’s are not vegetarian, so most of them I can’t cook for Tim.  But I will tell she has the BEST bar cheese recipe I have ever had.  If you don’t know what bar cheese is, you are clearly, like me, not from the Midwest, and you are also missing something that just so darn tasty!  Now, I admit to make this you have to buy the plastic log that is Velveeta, so don’t bother ragging on me about that, just don’t make it!  I haven’t found an alternative that works, but rest assured, if I do, I’ll change this recipe.  OH, and if you are in Ireland, Galtee cheese works wonderfully for this, probably 4 or 5 boxes.

Pudge’s Bar-Cheez

One 2 lb box of Velveeta cheese, cut into small cubes
1/2 6oz jar of horseradish
dash of Tabasco sauce (or your favorite hot sauce)
1 c. mayonnaise (NOT Miracle Whip)

Melt the Velveeta in the top of a double boiler.  Remove from the head and add in the mayonnaise, hot sauce and horseradish and stir well.  Pour into the serving dishes you will be using and let stand at room temperature.  Once it is completely cooled and set, cover with plastic wrap and store in the fridge.

Spread on toasts or crackers, or dip crudite’s into it.  It is delicious and packs a mild punch with the horseradish and hot sauce!  This will last for up to a week well covered in the fridge.

Enjoy, and let me know how it comes out.