Low Carb Vegetarian Lasagne

As I mentioned, the Hubby, for digestive reasons, has gone no-carb.  Not only has be lost a great deal of weight, but the digestion and overheating issues he had are completely gone!  But, as a vegetarian, that makes his options for eating a little monotone.  So, when he was in Grand Rapids recently and had no pasta lasagne, he thought he had found something he could have!  Big surprise was, I had already made it for him in the past.

Since Hubby will be starting a new job tomorrow that’s about a 40 minute drive, he won’t be able to come home and make his lunch, so I offered to make the lasagne.  He can pack it up and take it with him for lunch instead.  I got an enthusiasic “Sure!”, and so we went grocery shopping.

In this version, I used 2 kinds of zucchini as the “pasta” layer, and in the past I have used thinly sliced root vegetables, but I also can see using cooked and chopped spinach, or cooked mushrooms, maybe a duxelle.  Any number of vegetables can be used, the key is to get them as dry as possible, because any liquid generated can’t be absorbed by  the pasta, and so to avoid a soupy mess, dry is the best way to go!  Honestly I started this on Saturday, and assembled and cook this on Sunday, but you can do it all in one go.  You can also vary the cheese you use, as well as the sauce.  For this I used a homemade tomato sauce, but I have also used a bechamel in the past and blogged the recipe.  I can see a cheddar or even a Swiss cheese, yum!

Ingredients:

  • 4 large zucchini, sliced lengthwise, as thinly as possible
  • 1 teaspoon course salt (Kosher or sea salt)
  • 1 large package of mushrooms, sliced finely
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 clove or garlic, minced or finely chopped
  • 4 – 6 cups of tomato sauce (see below for recommended preparation)
  • 24 oz ricotta cheese
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup ground fresh Parmasean cheese
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil or 1/2 cup shredded fresh
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 – 5 grinds of fresh pepper
  • 1 lb mozarella sliced into thin coins

On a tea towel or a few layers of paper toweling, lay out all the zucchini in one layer (you may have to do it in batches).  Lightly sprinkle each with some salt, and allow to sit for 15 – 20 minutes, to draw out the water in them.  Use paper toweling to dry them on both side, which will remove much of the salt too.  Set them aside in a bowl.  And as you’re prepping, check them periodically and drain away any water collected.

In a large, wide frying pan, heat the olive oil until hot, and add in the mushrooms, get them into one layer if possible, or again do this in batches.  The target is to cook the mushrooms until most of their liquid is evaporated.  I usually very lightly salt them in the pan, just a pinch spread over them.  Allow them to warm through, and as they start to let their water go, toss in the garlic.  Stir them over medium heat until they are all wilted and cooked through, then turn up the heat and stir them well until the water is almost completely evaporated.  They may start to brown a little, and that’s OK, but take them off the heat once that happens and allow them to cool.

I am always amazed at how much mushrooms cook down!

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Mushrooms pre-cooking
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Mushrooms AFTER cooking!

While the mushrooms cool, if you’re assembling this right away, in a large bowl, place the ricotta, pepper, salt and eggs, and combine well.  Stir in the basil and set aside.

Now it’s just a matter of assembling it all.  In a lasagne pan, or a deep rectangular cake pan, arrange a layer of zucchini, top with 1/2 the ricotta mixture, sprinkle a layer of Parmasean, then a layer of tomato sauce.  Lay another layer of zucchini, and gently press it into the layer below, so any air escapes.  Top with the remaining ricotta, sprinkling of Parmesean, and sauce.  Over that, layer the mushrooms, and strew with any remaining ricotta and a drizzle of tomato sauce, then layer the mozzarella on top and sprinkle all over with the remaining Parmesean.

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Allow this to sit for 20 minutes or so, and pre-heat the oven to 375º F.  Before you put the dish into the oven, tap it gently but firmly on the countertop, to force out any air bubbles.  Place in the oven and cook for 10 minutes, then lower the heat to 350º F and cook for an additional hour.  Start checking it abou 25 minutes before it’s done, to be sure it doesn’t burn on the top.  If it starts to look like it’s burning, lightly cover it with a loose tin foil tent, and continue cooking. Don’t let the tin foil touch the cheese if possible.

In order to remove as much water as possible, when the hour is over, I turn the oven off and allow the dish to sit in the cooling oven for another 20 – 30 minutes.  All you need is a nice salad and a good glass of red wine, and you have a great supper!

For the tomato sauce, there are several ways you can go. There is no shame in a bottled sauce, just remember you are trying to avoid added sugar and carbs, so a best quality sauce is recommended.  My tried and true recipe is below:

  • 1lb tomatoes from the freezer (or 2 cans best quality plum tomotoes, skinned, chopped)
  • 1 can best quality tomato sauce (I love Dellallo, but any good Italian tomatoes are good)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (1 teaspoon fresh)
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil (teaspoons fresh shredded)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup red wine (optional)

In a large, heavy bottomed sauce pot, heat the olive oil for 2 minutes at medium heat.  Add in the onions and a pinch of salt, stir well and cover for 10 minutes.  Remove the cover and stir well, allow to cook for another 10 minutes with no lid, then add in the garlic, oregano and basil, remaining salt and the pepper.  Simmer this all together until the oinions are cooked through and faintly starting to brown, then add in the tomatoes.  Stir all well, and add in the water and wine, if you’re using it.  If you use canned tomatoes, swirl the water in the cans to grab any remaining tomato.

Once everything is combined, lower the heat to low, put the lid on the pot, and allow to cook for 30 minutes, checking once in a while and to stir, so nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan.  After cooking covered for 30 minutes, take the lid off the pan and allow to bubble away for another 10 – 15 minutes, to reduce slightly.

At this point you can eat with pasta, or whatever you choose to eat it with, or allow it to cool on the stove, wrap up and use within the next few days, or freeze for future use!

Happy Cooking!


This time 1 year ago:
Smooth, Creamy Hummus

2 years ago:
Nutella Cheesecake!

5 years ago:
Homemade cocktail cherries!

 

Summer can last all year!

At least in your kitchen it can!  I have, every year for the last 20 somehow stored tomatoes for the long bleak winter.  One way is to blanch, peel, chop and freeze in freezer bags, for soup and sauce all winter long.  Another way I have tried several times, and did this year, is oven roasting them until they are almost dry, and then dousing with olive oil and stashing in the fridge or freezer.

This method preserves and intensifies the ripe flavors, and allows you to use them in several types of dishes in the future.  Honestly, I have taken them out, pulsed them or chopped them and put on crispy toast for a fast crostini snack.  The oil is delicious after they have steeped for a while, and you can even use it to make roasted tomato pesto.  I’ll add a recipe for that at the end of this post, but before we get there, we have to roast the little suckers!

My last post was the Egyptian tomato salad, and I used a gorgeous gaggle of cherry tomatoes someone had given me.  In case there weren’t enough, I bought a big basket of ripe organic tomatoes, so I could supplement if needed.  But, the little cherry tomatoes were plenty, as a matter of act we are still eating them 3 days later!  The larger tomatoes were really ripe, and I wasn’t about to put them in the fridge, so I decided to go to my roasting option.  Directions are below:

Ingredients:

  • Large ripe tomatoes (as many as you can find)
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt (may need more, depending upon how many tomatoes you do)
  • 1 cup (or more) of extra virgin olive oil

Preheat your oven to 375º Farenheit.

Slice the tomatoes in 1/4 inch slices, from stem to bottom.  Line a large sheet pan with parchment paper or a Silpat/silicone mat. Don’t use aluminum foil, it will react with the acid in the tomatoes and make them taste metallic.  If you don’t have parchement or Silpat, lightly oil the sheet pan so they don’t stick when roasting.

Arrange the tomato slices in rows, they can touch, but allow some room so they don’t stick together. Lightly sprinkle with some of the salt, have a light hand here, you’re going to intensify the flavors by roasting them, so too much salt will ruin them.  Allow to stand for a few minutes for the salt to dissolve, then put them in the oven.  I usually do two sheets at a time, so the wait time is perfect in between sheets.

Before:

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Roast them in the oven for an hour, but check at 50 minutes.  You’ll see that they are drier, and carmelized a little.  If not, roast for another 10 minutes.  They should look like this:

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Allow them to cool for 20 minutes.  Once they are cool, find the container of your choice, I usually just use a Ziplock bag, pile them in and cover with the olive oil.  Give them a stir or a squeeze to be sure the oil is evenly distributed.  You can keep these refrigerated for a long time, and if you freeze them, they will last for a year.  To use them, you can make a roasted tomato tapenade.

Roasted Tomato Tapenade:

  • 1 cup roasted tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup olive oil (you can use the oil you stored them in, YUM!)
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped (plus one cut in half for rubbing the bread)
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 10 green olives, pitted and chopped roughly
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried
  • 1 baguette or crusty bread, sliced into 1/2 inch rounds

In a blender or food processor, add all the ingredients except the bread and hold back 1/4 cup of the olive oil.  Pulse and process the mixture until it’s uniform in color, and there are no large chunks of anything.  The texture you’re looking for is thick enough to coat the bread, with some liquidness to it.  As you process, add more of the olive oil, you may need more to reach the proper consistency.

To serve, lightly toast the bread, and rub them with the half garlic to coat lightly.  Spoon the tapenade on the bread and enjoy!

This is an intense flavor, so you don’t need a great deal of it.  You can also top it with a little piece of cheese, mozzarella or some Parmesan, or even some feta!  I have also used this to toss with hot pasta, and Parmesan, it’s delicious.  This is a versatile recipe, you can change out the garlic for some onion and hot peppers, or change the herbs to basil or oregano, or a combination of both.

Every time you eat this over the winter, you’ll think about summer and the sun on your face!

 

Tomato Salad, Egyptian Style

We are at the tail end of summer and I, once again, have been a bad blogger.  I am making the effort to right that wrong by posting some lovely, easy recipes that are great for dining in the last few hot weeks of summer.  First on my list is this Egyptian tomato salad.  It’s fairly simple, but packed with flavor, and it only gets better with sitting for a while, so make it today and eat it tomorrow. I will admit, I don’t know what makes it Egyptian, perhaps the garlic and shallots?  In any case, it’s very tasty.

Table of bounty

The original version of this recipe requires that you blanch and peel the tomatoes, and you can still do that, but I find that marinating them, in particular if they are burstingly ripe, as most tomatoes are at this stage of the summer, you’ll be fine without peeling.

If you decide to peel, it’s easy enough.  In a wide deep pot, boil some lightly salted water.  Score the bottom of your tomatoes with a shallow x, as somewhere for you to grab the skin to peel away.  Once the water has come to a rolling boil, take it off the heat and pop your tomatoes in for 5 minutes.  Take them out with a slotted spoon, and plunge into an ice water bath.  Let them sit there until you’re ready to peel them.  Honestly, the peels should slip right off in your hands, fairly easily, especially if they are as ripe as they should be.  Let them sit if they are still warm until at room temperature, and proceed with the recipe.

For my attempt this time, a lovely person I work with (Thank you, Karen Tyler-Ruiz!) gave me a beautiful pint of her own garden fresh cherry tomatoes, and I am using them in addition to some big juicy ripe tomotoes I got from the farmers market.  All you need do is cut them in half.

Ingredients:

  • 1 shallot, peeled and cut into quarters
  • 1 clove of garlic, peeled and cut in half
  • 3 – 4 tablespoons olive oil, best quality
  • Kosher salt
  • fresh ground pepper
  • 5 medium ripe tomatoes
  • 1/2 lemon, for juicing
  • Maldon or Kosher course (we’re going for flaky and crunchy)
  • 1 handful chopped fresh herbs (chervil, basil, parsley, your choice)

In the bowl of a food processor, place the shallot and garlic, and pulse 4 – 5 times until chunky.  Add the olive oil and process again for 2 – 3 pulses, so everything is combined, but not pureed.  Add in the Kosher salt and pepper, stir and set aside.

Cut your tomatoes thickly, and lay on a platter in one layer.  Use a spoon to top the tomatoes with the shallot mixture, being sure they all are well covered with it.  Cover and set aside to marinate. At this point, you can chill them, but be sure to take them out and set them at room temperature for an hour before serving.  If they’re cold straight from the fridge, you miss the whole delicious flavor!

Once at room temperature, squeeze over the juice of half a lemon, sprinkle lightly with the crunchy salt and strew with your fresh herbs, and you’re all set.

I would eat this as a side dish, with grilled chicken or fish, or even a steak, but also would include some crumbled feta to make it a meal all of it’s own.  Now grab some crusty bread and a nice glass of chilled Rosé, sit out in the garden or on your patio, and enjoy!

Marinating the salad

 

A Traditional Americas Thanksgiving

Hello, dear Readers!  We have had a frenetic past 6 months. They’ve involved a surgery, we’ve moved, we’ve had a sick kitty thrown into that mix, and now we’re unpacking!  As you know, with Thanksgiving just around the corner, I am usually running myself pleasurably ragged preparing for dinner on Thursday.  This year thought, Hubby’s cousins are hosting at their house, and so I am off the large hook.  That doesn’t mean I won’t cook, just on a much smaller scale.  I am offering to bring a roasted turkey breast and pumpkin mousse/pudding so they have their favorite dessert, but dairy and soy free to accommodate the dietary needs of one of our newest, tiny family members!

As I look back on many years past, I realized that the American Thanksgiving dinner does still bear some resemblance to what we can see from historical accounts was the first dinner, with the Pilgrims giving thanks, not only for the bounty of a harvest, but also to the Native peoples that helped them get to that harvest. Where on our dinner tables are the squash, beans and corn, traditionally now called “the three sisters” of the past?  It’s more than likely they were on that first Thanksgiving table.  So, when looking for easy to freeze vegetarian entrees, I happened upon this little gem, called Three Sisters empanadas, just in time for Thanksgiving!

The “three sisters” are the trinity of beans, squash (or zucchini) and corn. They’re symbiotic crops, the beans and squash need no trellis for support, because they use the corn for it.  And so you have crops that depend upon each other in the garden.  Quite ingenious of those first Americans! I am calling this post traditional Americas Thanksgiving, because this dish is truly that, something from the Americas, both north and south.  The beauty of this dish is that you can freeze it and the dough and filling for a future feast.

The base is the squash and corn, roasted in a hot oven with oil, salt and a little chili powder.  Then you add green chilies, beans, seasonings, and let it sit.  While that happens, you can either freeze the filling, then make the dough, and freeze that too.  Or, you can shape, fill and bake them for immediate eating, later lunches or snacks, or freeze them for later!  You really can’t get more versatile than that!

On a side note, I am implementing what a lot of food blogs have started to do, which is detailing what you’ve done at this time in years past.  I realized I have blogs that go all the way back to 2007, imagine that?  There is a lot to share, so don’t skip the very bottom of the post!

Three Sisters Empanadas (adapted from The Kitchn)

Preheat the oven to 400 º Farenheit

Ingredients:

For the filling:

1/2 pound zucchini (2 medium), cut into 1/2–inch cubes

2 cup fresh corn kernels (2 medium ears) or 1 small package of frozen kernels

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste1 teaspoon of chili powder

1 small can black, pinto or kidney beans, rinsed and drained

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1 small can diced green chilis (you can use fresh if you like it hot, but then it’s 2 small chilis, seeded and 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar)

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon chili powder

For the dough:

1 cup whole-wheat flour

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

8 tablespoons unsalted cold butter, cubed

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cumin

1/4 cup ice water, plus more as needed

For the egg wash:

1 large egg, beaten

1 tablespoon water

In a large rimmed sheet pan, lined with foil or parchment, lay the corn and squash in one layer, season generously with salt, pepper and chili powder.  Drizzle the olive oil over the ingredients, and with your hands, toss everything so they’re well covered with oil and seasonings.  Place in the oven for 20 – 25 minutes, but after 15 minutes start checking so the corn doesn’t burn.  You want everything browned and a little toasted.  Depending on how fresh it is, it might be drier or full of sugar, which tends to make it burn faster.  If you feel like it, after 20 minutes, if everything isn’t already browned, give the pan a shake to redistribute and allow the other side to brown.  Once it’s done, remove from the oven and allow to cool down.  Check your email, check the mail, clean the bathroom, whatever will take enough time for the ingredients to cool off!  Once it’s cooled, place in a large bowl, and add the beans, green chilis, cumin and chili powder. Mix all together well, taste and adjust to your liking.  Then cover, and set in the fridge to mingle a little.  The mixture should be wet enough to hold together on a spoon, but not watery.

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Meanwhile, make the dough.  I used a food processor, you can use your hands, or a pastry cutter or two forks.  I find the processor is just faster. In the bowl of your processor, place the flours, salt and cumin. Pulse a few times to mix well.  Drop in the butter and begin to pulse until everything looks like lumpy cornmeal.  Then start to pulse while you drizzle in the water a few spoons at a time.  Pulse until the dough starts to cohere and ball up.  If it looks too shaggy/dry to cohere after 1/4 cup, measure out another 1/4 cup and pulse it in, 1 tablespoon at a time.  Once it’s in a ball like stage, dump it all out onto a scantly floured board and knead the dough, until it’s smooth and will hold it’s shape.  Wrap in plastic and put in the fridge to rest, 20 minutes or so.  If you’re freezing it, wrap well in plastic, then put into a freezer bag.  When you’re ready to use it, aloow it to thaw overnight or for 8 – 10 hours in the fridge, then knead until pliable.

When you’re ready to assemble, pat the dough into a log like shape and cut into 12 pieces.  If you like a thick dough, cut into 10 and cook 4 -5 minutes longer.  Roll each piece into a ball with your hands, then flatten out on a cutting board, and with a rolling pin, roll it out into a circle shape.  It should be about 4 – 5 inches in diameter and fairly thin.  This dough is fairly tough, so it can handle thin rolling.

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In the center of your dough spread a tablespoon of the filling. Pull the top of the dough over the filling and press into the bottom half, carefully pushing out any air pockets in the filling.  Then, twist the edges together and press down, crimping as you go.  Mine looked like this:

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You should get 12 out of the batch, but if you only get 10 that’s fine! Use a fork to punch some holes in the dough, so there is somewhere for the steam to go.  In a small bowl, beat together the egg and water, and use a brush to brush all over the exposed parts of the empanadas.  Place in the oven (at 400 degrees) for 20 – 25 minutes.  You’ll know they’re done when they look browner and slightly shiny.

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You can serve these with salsa and sour cream, or just eat them as they are.  They’re so good, and make a fab hand held lunch.  Think of them as home made “Hot Pockets”!

Have a lovely Thanksgiving all, and let me know what you end up cooking!!

 


What Were We Cooking?
1 year ago:

Countdown to Thanksgiving

3 years ago:

Pretzel Bread

5 years ago:

Homemade Pancake mix

Have you ever heard of Lemon Curd? If you haven’t then read on!

My mother, as I have mentioned before many times, is Irish.  And when I used to visit there without her, I’d ask what I could bring back and it was always a jar of “Little Chip” marmalade, and a jar of lemon curd.  Now, American’s might get lemon curd if I liken it to the filling for a lemon meringue pie, but seriously, this is so much better and much more liquid.  The main difference between the two is that lemon meringue filling uses corn starch to thicken it, and that sets up as a much more solid texture than curd.  It’s much more silky, almost custard-like and less jelled than the filling. It’s also refreshingly tart, but with sweetness that stops you from the pucker.  Lemon curd is just something you have to experience to believe.  You can also make lime curd, blood orange curd, pretty much any citrus will make a good curd, and I have even seen raspberry and dulce de leche curd recently!

A few Sunday’s ago, we had breakfast at Brooklyn Street Local, one of our favorite breakfast spots in Detroit.  They’re wonderful, and they have poutine, which is uniquely Canadian (although I hear they also do it well in Wisconsin) and wonderfully indulgent, plus they do vegetarian (yay Hubby) and meat eater versions.  They use locally sourced food and lots of Michigan products including their wonderful coffee.  If you’re in the D, this is for sure a place to go!   We changed our usual routine and had the scones as a sort of breakfast appetizer.  It’s not the first time I have had them, but it was for the Hubby, they are served with a local jam, and some kick ass lemon curd.  It put me in mind of a cake I made for Mothers Day many years ago.  I won’t go into the excruciating details, but suffice it to say, I can not make white chocolate ganache to save my life.  However, I made the most wonderful lemon curd for my curd loving Mom.  The cake ended up being a lovely springy sponge, with whipped cream as the frosting, blackberries as the garnish and a lovely, rich lemon curd as the filling.  I think I remember my mom loving it.  In telling the story to the Hubby, he asked in a very accusatory fashion, “Why haven’t you made it for ME?”  And so, I am.

Now, before we start, some practical matters.  It is much easier to zest a lemon before you juice it, so refrigerate the lemons after you have washed them in hot soapy water, to remove any wax that may have been applied.  Let them get good and cold.  Then use a rasp if you have one, or a box grater on the fine side and lightly grate the yellow zest off.  You can even use a vegetable peeler, but once you reach the white pith, stop.  Pith isn’t going to do anyone any good in this recipe, or indeed in most others, so stop a few seconds after you start, and move to another area.  Another traditional thing when making this is that you use a double boiler.  But this time, I am going to say don’t do that.  Just keep the flame low, and whisk all the time.  It will make for more work, but it’s less fiddly.

Zested Lemons

This is how your lemons should look after zesting, before juicing!

Some ideas for the curd are pretty simple and easy.  Spread it on toast, with butter.  Fill a cake with it.  Use it for a pie filling. Fold it together with whipped cream for a light and lemony side to fruit salad.  So, here it is, lemon curd.

Lemon Curd

4 lemons (for 3 for zest and 4 for juice)
1/2 cup lemon juice (from above lemons)
1 stick unsalted butter melted and cooled completely
4 large eggs
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt (omit if you’re using salted butter)

In a heavy bottomed sauce pan, off the heat, whisk everything together.  Don’t be alarmed if it looks curdled, that’s OK.  This is what it might loom like:

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After everything is well mixed, and the sugar is dissolved, put it on a low heat, and start stirring.  Set your timer for 9 minutes, and don’t stop stirring.

After about 8 minutes, you should start to feel a slipperiness on the bottom of the pan.  That is a great sign, it means it’s starting to gel.

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It will start to look slightly grainy, and as though it is starting to curdle, but it isn’t, that’s the zest plumping up and rising to the surface.  Keep stirring, and when your timer stops, stop stirring and see if it starts to bubble.  If so, you’re almost done!  Keep stirring for another 3 minutes or so, and you’ll see it transform from a runny yellow liquid to a smooth and creamy custard-like consistency.  It’s exactly where you want it.  Take it off the heat and pour it into a waiting glass container.  You should immediately cover this with plastic wrap and press it onto the surface all over the exposed top.  You’ll prevent a skin forming.  Then let it completely cool at room temperature.  Once it’s completely cool, you can spoon it into jars, or a bowl with a lid, and store it in the fridge for up to a week.  Mine won’t last that long, especially with Thanksgiving around the corner!

My completed bowl!

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Mushroom Stroganoff

Ok, vegetarians, come on back to the fold!  This post is one I planned to write a while ago, and so the photos are of the old kitchen. But that doesn’t make it any less wonderful!  I wrote a favorite things post a while back, and mentioned one of my go-to’s for easy every night cooking is a mushroom soup base that is vegetarian.  The product is called Better Than Bouillon. It comes in Vegetable Base, No Chicken and No Beef flavors as well, so there are lots of options flavor wise, but to do this stroganoff well, you need a really deep tasting broth.  Just as an aside, they also do kicking Ham, Beef, Clam, Fish and a Lobster Bases that are amazingly good.  And, as an aside, I am not endorsing this product for any other reason than I love it.

So, yes, this recipe is vegetarian, but I wouldn’t recommend it be vegan.  Having said that though, if you can find a vegan sour cream style product, go for it!   For the meat lovers out there, yes, this is the same recipe as beef stroganoff, just with no beef.  If you want to do beef, add browned beef cubes to this, and you’ll be away with yourself!  I often make this for myself, because I love mushrooms, and I don’t add meat, but I sometimes add fake beef strips, to up the level of protein.

I use an array of mushrooms in this, but honestly the lowly button mushroom is also great here.  For mine I used oyster, Shitake and mini portobello mushrooms.  I would stay away from enoki, they really don’t have any flavor.  I also sometimes use dried porcini or morels if I have them handy.

 

Mushroom Stroganoff

3 medium packages of mushrooms, sliced

2 cloves garlic minced finely, or crushed

2 tablespoons olive oil

pinch of salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup red wine, sherry or marsala (optional)

2 cups good broth (mushroom or vegetable, just make sure it tastes good)

16 oz container of sour cream (low fat, regal, no fat, makes no difference)

1 container/bag beef substitute (I used Gardein Beefless Tips)

1 bag of egg noodles, or rice or couscous, your preference

In a heavy bottomed pan that is cold, place the garlic and oil and turn on the heat to a medium flame.  Once you can smell the garlic, toss in all the mushrooms, and quickly stir to coat them in oil.  The mushrooms will absorb all the oil, but if you sprinkle the salt and pepper over them, stir and clamp a lid on them, they will start to cook and release their juices.  Once this starts to happen, take the lid off the pan and sauté the mushrooms so they are looking limp and cooked.

At this point, I add the wine of you’re using it, and raise the heat up so it bubbles down, all the while stirring.  If you’re not doing that, add the 2 cups of stock, keep the lid off the pan and stir well, then turn up the heat to a low boil, and keep an eye on it, stirring as you go.

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You may want to taste it at this point, for seasoning.  Adjust as you feel is necessary.  After about 10 minutes of high heat, the liquids should be reduced enough that when you stir with your spoon, you should briefly see the bottom of the pan.  Add the fake meat if you’re adding it and stir well.  This will lower the heat in the pan, so cover it and allow it to cook and heat through.  Once you get to that point, take the pot off the heat, and add the sour cream, stirring well to combine.  It may look as though it’s curdling, but it’s not, it’s just a bit shocked.  As you stir, it will all mix and turn a lovely buff color.

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At this point, I would set this aside, on a very low flame, and cook the starch you’re eating with it.  If it’s noodles, once they’re cooked and well drained, add them to the mushroom mixture and stir well.  If you’re using another grain or starch, pile it up on a plate and spoon the mushroom over it.

Yummy!  Enjoy it!

Roasted Five Spice Pork Belly

I’ll warn you now, Vegetarians, please look away!  This one is sincerely not for you!

Two Thanksgivings ago, I added 4 star anise to the turkey brining liquid.  As it turns out, although everyone loved it, I found it to be overpoweringly strong.  But, when I brined the turkey last year, I used one star anise, and it was a subtle addition.  I loved it, and no one even noticed the flavor, except for me.  So when I had cleared up last year, the day after the big feast, I still had that flavor in the back of my head (and on my tongue), so I decided that I would make the Chinese Five Spice Pork that I had made before and really loved!

My one thing I really recommend you do is to make this powder fresh.  It makes all the difference, and you can control the amount of salt that goes into it.  So this is a two recipe entry!  First, the spice powder.  You can buy it in the store much more readily these days, but why not try and make your own?  You’ll always know how fresh it is and as I said, you know exactly what’s in it.  My version of it is actually 6 things, fennel seed, cinnamon, Szechuan peppercorns (nothing like regular pepper corns, and highly recommended to get), cloves, and star anise.  Because I use this as a marinade of sorts, I also add Kosher salt to the mix.  It helps the meat absorb the flavors more easily.  I also would salt it anyway, and adding it to the grinder helps you get a finer powder. By the way, fennel seeds are a much overlooked spice.  Their little fat, green seeds are quite delicious, and are a great digestive aid.  Indians chew them after meals to help them digest and give their breath a sweet smell after all the garlic!

The ingredients are easy, but I take one additional step, before I grind it all up, I toast everything briefly in a dry hot pan.  It’s just a little extra step that I think makes the flavors really pop.

Five Spice Powder

6 cloves
2 star anise
1 tsp fennel seeds
½ tsp Szechuan pepper corns
1 cinnamon stick, crushed or shattered
1 tsp kosher salt

Place all the ingredients, with the exception of the salt, in a dry pan on high, and carefully rattle the pan so the spice mixture moves around in it.  Once you begin to smell the spices, take the pan off the heat and place the spices onto a cold plate, or even a pepper towel, and let it cool off.  Once it’s cool, pop everything into a spice or coffee grinder and add the salt, then process it until it is a fine brown powder.  There should be no lumps or shards of anything.  It will make plenty of spice for many uses, I particularly like to use it in stir fry dishes.  Store it in a jar with a tight fitting lid, or a plastic zip lock bag in a coo dry place.  A note about the Szechuan peppercorns, you may not find them everywhere, but they are available at Chinese or Asian markets now.  If you don’t live near anything like that, you can order them or buy them from Dean & Deluca here or Amazon.com here.  They are an odd flower bud, that will, if eaten straight, make your tongue tingly and a bit numb, but they are a super addition to this spice powder.

And now on to the roasted pork:

Five Spice Roasted Pork Belly

2 lb pork belly, skin on if you can find it

2 tablespoons shao hsing wine, or if you can’t find it, mirin

2 tbsp five spice powder

1 teaspoon of salt, if you are using prepared five spice

If you’re able to get skin on pork belly, pierce the skin all over with sharp skewers, or the tip of a small sharp knife.  Don’t pierce through to the meat, just the skin.  Place the pork in a plastic zip bag, and add the wine or mirin.  Make sure the entire piece of meat is covered with the liquid, and massage it in if you can, especially to the scored skin, or the fat.  Then add the five spice powder to the bag and mash it around so all the nooks and crannies are coated in it.  When it’s all covered, secure the bag, and sit it in the fridge for an hour, or up to 12 hours.  With the fresh spice powder, the flavor really is intense, so I don’t leave it in the bag for more than a few hours.  It’s up to you and how much time you have.

Once the meat has marinated, take it out of the fridge and let it rest in the kitchen counter while you prepare the oven and roasting pan.  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. I usually roast this in a square glass dish, and place a roasting rack in it.  When the oven is preheated, place the meat on the rack, pour a cup of water into the base of the dish, being careful not to wet the meat, and roast it for 1 hour.  Watch carefully to be sure there isn’t any burning.   If it does start to brown too much, lightly tent the meat.  After the 60 minutes, remove it from the oven and let it rest of 10 minutes or so.  Serve this sliced with some rice and sautéed veggies.

Delish!  And again, sorry vegetarians, this one was too good not to blog!

Hopping on the spring artichoke bandwagon

I  have read several articles in the last few days about artichokes, in particular in the New York Times, but also in some of the blogs I read.  I’ll give the links to them at the end of this post.  My favorite is from my darling Mark Bittman, who did a great video about how to peel and slice and artichoke, and made it look super easy, which of course it is!  You can view the video and the accompanying article here, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/21/magazine/i-heart-artichokes.html?ref=dining.  But, I am going to share a seriously simple, very tasty, and easily customizable recipe.  I do encourage you to look at the video attached to figure out how to pare an artichoke, or I can give you the real basics here.

Artichokes are actually the flower of the artichoke plant, which is a thistle.  The “choke” at the heart of it is actually the flower, and when it blooms, it looks like this:

220px-Artichaut2

 

Isn’t that beautiful?  I especially love the little snails clinging to the one in this photo.  It reminds me of my Grandfather Lambert’s “snail zoo” which I got to “view” when I was small and visited his house in Ireland.  He had what I have to assume was an old wooden egg crate, since my Grandmother had raised chickens for years, and in each of the egg holders, there was a tiny snail.  He told me it was his snail zoo, and I of course believed him!  I remember my cousin Michael being very excited to show me this little snail farm, but I realize now he was in on the secret, my grandfather was fooling 8 year old me with!  I can only imagine Grandpa gathering all 2 dozen snails and putting them in this egg crate for me to just find.  Such a sweet memory of the both of them, both have passed now, Michael way too soon, sadly.

So, back to the recipe!  Artichokes are a labor intensive bunch.  They’re very tough in their older phase, and you have to do a fair deal of prep to cook them. The very young small ones you find this time of year are so tender, you can wash and quarter them and deep fry, or sauté without much other prep, choke and all.  

My big secret is acidulated water.  Which really just means water with acid in it, usually citrus juice or vinegar. It stops the cut surfaces from getting black.  I usually put the acid in the water, then use the cut, juiced citrus to rub the cut surface of the artichoke before I plop the whole lot in the water.  My other secret is to remember, green is pretty, but undesirable, and white or cream is desirable.  Now, if you decide to cook this baby whole, the prep is much easier.  You use a very sharp knife, and cut straight across the lower third of the globe.  When I say this I mean the third you should have left includes the stem.  Once you make this cut, you can trim the sharp edges of the remaining green outer leaves with a sharp scissor, and that’s about it.  You can steam it for about 30 – 40 minutes until a knife is easily instead into the bottom is easily inserted and removed.  Once they have cooled it enough to easily handle, you can use a spoon to gently maneuver between the innermost leaves and the heart, and leaver the choke out, scraping the flower heart gently away.  You can eat them with vinaigrette, or the California style, mayonnaise, scraping the leaves with your teeth.

This recipe requires slightly more work.  You do the cut into the lower third, but with a paring knife, you then peel the green carefully away, until you have nothing left but the choke and the heart.  I usually cut this in half, and then use the paring knife scrape and cut out the choke and dip the whole thing in the acidulated water until you’ve pared them all.  Once you do that, you can then slice them up and once again dip them into the acidulated water again.  

While the slices are sitting there waiting for you, combine 1 cup cold water, 1 cup acid (white wine vinegar, freshly squeezed lemon juice, lime juice or last resort would be white vinegar) in a non-reactive pot.  I have added fresh lime leaves, fresh basil, sliced garlic, red paper flakes, oregano, a little salt and a great deal of freshly ground pepper.  Add the drained slices of artichoke, and on medium heat, bring it to a boil.  Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 30 – 35 minutes, the slices will still be tender, but still whitish.  At this point, I usually cool the slices in the liquid and either bottle or freeze it.  I use the slices in salads, pretty much everything.  Tonight I made pizza.  The nice thing about this recipe is it’s virtually calorie free, but high in protein.  Who woulda thunk it?

Enjoy, and as usual, let me know what you think, and what you make with this recipe!

(Edit: Here are a few of the links I mentioned above:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/23/health/baked-orzo-with-artichokes-and-peas-recipes-for-health.html?src=recg

Warm potato salad with artichokes and herb dressing

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/24/health/farfalle-with-artichokes-peas-favas-and-onions-recipes-for-health.html?src=recg)