Monday, December 7, 2009

Meatless Monday: Pumpkin Cheesecake

I had my in-laws in town for Thanksgiving, so things were a little busy for a while, what with cooking preparations; squeezing everyone into our little house; and touring here, there, and everywhere. We had lots of fun . . . and consumed monstrous amounts of food. I can't even begin to calculate the number of calories consumed in the course of their visit, but I'll tell you one thing - I don't regret one bite!

I'm happy to report that everything in our Thanksgiving meal came out excellent. There were no major mishaps with any of the dishes this year - not even with the one recipe I'd never made before. (My philosophy is that you should stretch the limits of your cooking comfort zone by making at least one new recipe each Thanksgiving). I had a pretty good idea it was going to be amazing though because my friend had already made the recipe and posted a picture of the results (see her picture above). I reasoned, "How could anything that looks that gorgeous NOT taste amazing too?!" I'm happy to report that I was not wrong, or as my grandfather used to like to say, "Seldom am I wrong, but I was right this time."

Pumpkin Cheesecake

My friend suggested the following adjustments to the recipe (which I followed):
  • Bake at 325 in a water bath for 45 minutes.
  • Turn off oven and allow to cool in oven for 60 min.
  • Cool on counter for 60 min covered.
The only other thing I did differently was to use neufchatel instead of cream cheese. You know, to make the healthy version. . . .

What? . . .
Okay, so maybe you'll have a little trouble fitting into the holiday outfit you recently purchased after eating this cheese cake (even with the nuefachatel/cream cheese swap), but that's okay because everyone knows that "no one likes a skinny Santa" anyway! ;)

Got any favorite vegetarian or vegan recipes?? Please share!

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Monday, November 23, 2009

Meatless Monday: Spinach Calzones with Blue Cheese

A couple of weeks ago, both my husband and I were really busy with work. With our limited time, I knew putting together dinners for the week was going to be a challenge. My solution was to find and print out a bunch of yummy sounding but simple recipes with limited ingredients lists. I did all the shopping at the beginning of the week. Then, each night when Matt called to say he was on his way home, I'd take a break from work and prep the ingredients for one of the recipes. When he got home, he'd take over doing whatever mixing, constructing, sauteing, etc. that was needed to finish the recipe and I'd go back to work. In this manner, we put together some tasty dishes that neither of us had to exert too much effort to make.

This next dish is one of the one's from that week's menu. It only calls for 7 ingredients, two of which (cooking spray and garlic) you'll likely already have in your pantry!

Spinach Calzones with Blue Cheese

When I think of calzone, I think of the traditional calzones I grew up eating in a very Italian suburb of Boston, the kind that look like large flat logs that you cut into slices to eat. The calzones we made with this recipe looked very different from those traditional ones, but I liked them because they were very pretty (see pic) and were sized for individual consumption.

We used gorgonzola (an Italian blue cheese) because we had it left over from two dishes we'd made the previous week. And we drizzled some fresh pizza sauce from a local Italian market on top. They were pretty good! When I make these again though, I will probably try a more traditional cheese like mozzarella or provolone and a bag of fresh pizza dough from the bakery. I thought blue cheese might be a little too strong a choice for a recipe like this, and, while the canned pizza dough is quick and convenient, real pizza dough has a better taste and texture.

Another option you might consider - make much smaller versions of these as hors d'oeuvres for your next gathering!

Got any favorite vegetarian or vegan recipes?? Please share!

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Monday, November 9, 2009

Meatless Monday: Ginger Ale

I'm not very fond of ginger, but I love ginger ale. Weird, I know. Doesn't make much sense, but I guess I rarely make sense . . . .

At the sushi bar, I always leave the neat little pile of sliced ginger on the corner of my plate untouched, and I often leave out ginger when making Chinese dishes, but, for some unknown reason, I think ginger ale is just delicious. Maybe I've been subconsciously brainwashed by marketing campaigns, but I really do find ginger ale a very crisp and refreshing drink.

I don't have ginger ale all that often, but when I do, I've always been more than happy with a can of Schweppes or Canada Dry to sate my craving - that is until this past week when my husband made me ginger ale from scratch!

Simple Syrup
  • 1 c sugar
  • 1 c water
Boil until dissolved. Let cool and refrigerate.

Ginger Liquid
  • 1/2 c grated fresh ginger
  • 1 c water
Boil 5 min. Let stand 40 min. Strain out ginger and retain liquid. Let cool and refrigerate.

You can store the simple syrup and ginger liquid separately or stir them together in one container, making 2 c of flavoring. If you mix them together, you can pour the flavored mixture about 2 fingers high in your glass. Then add ice and club soda and stir. Alternatively, you can adjust the ratio of ginger to sugar if you've kept them separate. Either way, bottoms up!

The nice thing about making ginger ale yourself using this recipe is that you can control the proportions of the ingredients per glass. For instance, my husband likes his ginger ale a little less sweet than I do, so he uses a little less simple syrup in his glass.

Another cool thing about ginger ale? Its salutary digestive effects. I know I'm not the only one who was given a glass of flat ginger ale when I was a kid with an upset stomach, right? To this day, when my stomach isn't reacting well to food but I'm still hungry, I immediately reach for ginger ale and saltines. Nothing more reliable or comforting.

I also have great memories of drinking Shirley Temples (which are non-alcoholic drinks made with ginger ale, grenadine, and maraschino cherries) at my grandparent's 50th wedding anniversary as a child. My cousins and I felt like "big kids" because we got to order drinks at the bar.

And, of course, ginger ale is a caffeine-free drink, which is great for me because my system is super sensitive to caffeine. If I have 1/2 a can of Diet Coke early in the day, I won't sleep that night, and I run the risk of getting addicted. And let me tell you, the migraines I get associated with caffeine withdrawal are UG-LY.

So, ginger ale - a nice go-to drink for all kinds of reasons. And now you can make some at home!

Got any favorite vegetarian or vegan recipes?? Please share!

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Monday, November 2, 2009

Meatless Monday: Pasta with Mushrooms & Pumpkin-Gorgonzola Sauce

Back when I was reading Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma (see an earlier post), I came across this sentence in the "Gathering: The Fungi" chapter:

"Mexicans call mushrooms carne de los muertos - 'flesh of the dead.'"
"Greeeaat. Thanks, Mike," I thought. "Way to ruin one of my favorite foods for me." But, turns out, give me enough time and, like a proverbial goldfish*, I forget all about the 'flesh of the dead' and return to shoveling forkfuls of mushrooms into my mouth at every opportunity. (Yay for bad memory!)

I was reminded of the whole 'mushroom/rotting flesh' thing today because it is the Mexican holiday Day of the Dead (or El Día de los Muertos), during which Mexicans celebrate and honor their deceased relatives and friends. I thought, what better way to celebrate than with a mushroom dish? And, since we're fresh off of Halloween and it's in season, why not a recipe with pumpkin in it too?

Pasta with Mushrooms & Pumpkin-Gorgonzola Sauce

I don't have much to add to the recipe instructions other than to say that:
  • Shitake mushrooms taste great and really complement the gorgonzola, but definitely feel free to substitute the mushroom of your choice;
  • Freshly ground nutmeg will taste so much better than jarred pre-ground nutmeg;
  • Use however much onion suits your taste; personally, I think 4 cups is overkill;
  • However, I don't think 4 cloves of garlic is overkill - again, depends on your taste; and
  • Remember to only use about 1/3 of what the recipe calls for if you're going to use dry, jarred sage; again, as with the nutmeg, fresh is better.
The cool thing about this recipe? If you've got leftover gorgonzola cheese, pumpkin, and sage (and you will if you get the usual package sizes), later in the week, you can always make the following recipe, which is also great.

Pumpkin Ravioli with Gorgonzola Sauce

This isn't as good as ravioli made from real, homemade pasta, but, on the plus side, it's also not as difficult or time-consuming to make and it should sate your craving for ravioli.

Got any favorite vegetarian or vegan recipes?? Please share!

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*I say 'proverbial' because goldfish memory actually isn't as bad as the common saying would suggest.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Meatless Monday: Lime Peanut Noodles

Last week, when I was drafting my post about PB&J, I came across the following recipe and thought YUM! I love soba noodles but hadn't had any in quite a while, and I love satay sauce in Thai restaurants but had never tried making my own peanut sauce before, so I was intrigued. I had almost all the ingredients in the refrigerator, and the cooking prep seemed super quick and easy, so I said, "Why not?!"

Lime Peanut Noodles

I know, I know. After all the hemming and hawing I did about never willfully eating another carrot or radish after the bushels of it we got from Underwood Family Farms, here I am making a recipe that calls for both. What can I say?

I wasn't so sure about this dish when I saw it coming together, but I'm happy to say, despite appearances, it tasted great. Here are the few adjustments I made or would suggest:

I substituted parsley for the cilantro (surprise-surprise!) and didn't use as much as was called for. I used a julienne peeler on the carrots. I didn't use as many radishes as it called for. It suggests cutting the cucumber and radishes thinly, but I would actually suggest chopping them finely; I think you can toss the ingredients with the soba noodles more easily that way.

Got any favorite vegetarian or vegan recipes?? Please share!

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Monday, October 5, 2009

Meatless Monday: PB&J

In this post, instead of a recipe, I offer a reminder of how easy it is to go meatless for just one day.

Feeling like there's nothing meatless in the house that sounds appetizing? Oh, come onnn. You must at least have a jar of peanut butter and a jar of jelly on hand. Who doesn't love a good PB&J now and again?? Who, I ask you?! I say there's nothing like a PB&J and a tall glass of milk to make you feel young again. So simple, so satisfying, . . . and (who knew) also very good for the environment. Check out the details at The PB&J Campaign.

Opening up and carving your knife into a new jar of peanut butter has to be right up there on life's list of simple pleasures. And there are so many different nut butters and brands to choose from! My husband likes Laura Scudder's brand peanut butter, which is an old-fashioned peanut butter with no hydrogenated oils and no trans fats. It's tasty but a little high-maintenance because the oil separates from the peanut butter in the jar and you need to stir it with every use. That's why I bought him the Witmer peanut butter mixer (model 100) as a stocking stuffer a couple of years back. Works like a charm. Others adore Nutella (a hazelnut butter). Personally, I find it a little too sweet for a whole sandwich.

If no brand satisfies you, you can always make your own nut butter from scratch too -

And there are tons of jellies and jams from which to choose as well. There is everything from the jam your grandma makes from scratch, to the tiny jars of exotic fruit preserves dressed up in gingham cloth and ribbon at gourmet boutiques, to the big-brand standbys in new squeezable bottles, to the Frankenjam concoctions of jelly and peanut butter in one jar (for the truly lazy . . . and, apparently, taste bud-impaired).

Everyone seems to have their favorite ingredients when it comes to PB&J, even celebrities. For instance, most folks know that Elvis loved fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches. But did you know that Jerry Seinfeld will only eat one kind of peanut butter? They make it at Peanut Butter and Co. If you're in the NYC area and feeling just too lazy to slap some PB&J on two slices of bread yourself, you can check out Jerry's favorite yourself at the company's sandwich shop in Greenich Village. Some of their sandwiches sound more like desserts (e.g., the Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Sandwich), but to each his own.

Me? I'm happy with a plain ol' tub of Jif. And I usually go old-school with a jar of Welch's Concord grape. But I do mix it up once in a while with raspberry, strawberry, or blackberry jelly . . . or even . . . FLUFF. Ohh, the Fluffernutter! A whole other topic for another day.

How do you PB&J?

Got any favorite vegetarian or vegan recipes?? Please share!

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Meatless Monday: Fast Food

So, as I may have mentioned, I'm in the process of moving. The prospect of doing such a thing always sounds so easy, but of course it's not. The movers come tomorrow, so I've been frantically trying to get every little trapping of my material life stuffed into boxes over the past couple of days.

Last night, I packed up the last of the kitchen items. As you might imagine, it's a little difficult to cook without pots, pans, spices, utensils, and whatnot. Couple that with the dilemma of not having very much time to eat and an inevitable evil looms in the near future . . . FAST FOOD! How's a girl to eat healthy and, today, meatless with the kind of options available at your average fast food restaurant, where sometimes the "healthy" items rack up just as much fat and and as many calories as a burger-and-fries combo meal?!

I'm not going to eat at your average fast food restaurant, that's how! In California, I've got some great options . . .

California Crisp
This small chain only has 7 locations, but they're worth seeking out. A lot of items on their menu come with chicken, but you can always ask them to hold it. Try their BBQ Chicken Wrap sans chicken. The sauce is yummy and the jicama adds a great juicy crunch. LOVE jicama.

Natural Cafe
This restaurant only has 10 locations, but, as with California Crisp, they're worth seeking out. Their menu offers a HUGE list of vegetarian options. I'm a big fan of the "Mr. Natural" - fresh, seasonal vegetables steamed and served over short-grain brown rice. I get it with sauteed tofu. I don't know what they cook the tofu in, but it is DELICIOUS!

Orean's Health Express, Inc.
Where I'm moving is relatively close to Pasadena, which means I'll finally get a chance to check out Orean's, which touts itself as "the first vegetarian fast-food take-out." Their menu is definitely more fast-food-y than the first two places I've mentioned here, offering items like burgers, dogs, burritos, and fries. Their website says they're open from 9:30a - 9:00p, but I remember trying to go at least twice when I lived in Pasadena and it being closed. If memory serves, I think both times might have been a Sunday, so maybe they're closed on Sundays. I drove by a couple of Saturdays ago when we were still house hunting, though, and saw that they were open. So, fair warning, African Burrito - You Will Be Mine!

Hopefully someday on-the-go vegetarian places will be as ubiquitous as McDonald's. Until then, . . .

If you know any good fast-food vegetarian places (or fast-food places with good veggie options), please share!

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Meatless Monday: Cucumber Soup

I'm in such denial that the summer is officially coming to a close. Well, I guess you could say I've actually been in perpetual denial since I moved to the west coast . . . but, seriously, even though the weather here will be mild in the fall and winter, there's still something about the carefree days of summer I'll miss - more BBQs, warm weather in other states I like to visit, weddings, vacations, AND light and delicious summer dishes.

One light summer treat we had recently for the first time was the cucumber soup at Il Tramezzino that I mentioned last week. I liked it so much, I immediately started looking for recipes when I got home. I found the following one on and gave it a whirl.

Cucumber Soup

This is so quick and easy to make, but there are a couple of things I would suggest doing to make it even better. First, I would recommend using either an English cucumber (as someone suggests in the 'comments' section of the recipe) or a couple small Persian cucumbers. This is important (!) . . . and I say that from experience. I started out with a regular ol' run-of-the-mill cucumber and that first batch came out yucky because the cucumber had a bitter taste to it. You won't find that with an English or Persian cucumber. Second, I would recommend adding fresh dill to the recipe - both when you blend it and as a garnish. And, third, if the sour cream is a little too much for you, you might consider using a light, plain yogurt (as many other cucumber soup recipes suggest). Fourth, the recipe calls for chicken broth, but you can substitute vegetable broth or water with equally yummy results.

This makes a fantastic side dish for a sandwich or salad lunch. Whip some up for yourself and hold on to the memories of summer just a little bit longer.

Got any favorite vegetarian or vegan recipes?? Please share!

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Meatless Monday: Rigatoni with Vegetable Bolognese

Hope you didn't think I forgot all about Meatless Mondays! Don't worry, I haven't been secretly hiding in the shadowy corners up to my molars on a leg of mutton. I've just been busy orchestrating a relocation. Sadly, the move will place us outside of convenient driving distance of Underwood Farms, so we'll have to cancel our CSA subscription (*sniff*), BUT it will place us within walking distance of a fantastic weekly farmer's market. Yay!

The CSA program has been terrific - it taught me to choose items that are locally grown and in season, I felt really good about supporting a local business, and the fruits and veggies have been so fresh - but I've really missed being able to choose which seasonal fruits and veggies I bring home every week. For instance, I won't miss suffering through multiple weeks of pounds upon pounds of carrots and radishes. So, I think switching to buying produce at a farmer's market again is going to be a great change for us.

So, as I alluded, while I was spending a lot of time on the road driving around looking at potential new homes recently, I didn't neglect my Meatless Monday pledge. We found some great meatless meals on the go at places like Il Tramezzino. (The soup and 1/2 sandwich special was perfect at $9.99. I got their cold cucumber soup and grilled Sicilian sandwich. Yum!) And we also had time to make a few of our own delicious meatless dishes at home. We had the corn soup I made a couple of weekend ago again (because it was so good, I had to have more!). And we finally got around to making a dish from the Food Network that a friend recommended to us quite a while ago. So glad we checked that last recipe out, because now I can share that experience with you now!

Rigatoni with Vegetable Bolognese

I know what you're thinking - Bolognese? Isn't a Bolognese sauce by definition a meat sauce?? Okay, sure, this recipe does stretch the limits of traditional food definitions, but with good cause. The sauce actually does do an amazing job of mimicking the mouthfeel and appearance of a meat sauce (you know, without the actual icky meat). The porcini mushrooms - with their brown color, toothsome texture, and earthy flavor - can take most of the credit for that.

I bought all the ingredients for this recipe with the full intention of making it that same day or the very next, but we found ourselves running off to house-viewing appointments every time we turned around, so my best efforts were often dashed. By the time I got around to cutting up the veggies, I discovered that my red pepper - that still looked perfect from the outside - had mold on the inside. Ewww. We didn't really have time to run out to the store to pick up a new one, so we just substituted some tomato (with the seed goop removed). Came out great! When I make this again and have a non-mold-filled red pepper to put in it, I will probably roast the pepper and remove the skin before combining it with the other ingredients (as I've recommended before).

A bonus? This is definitely a dish that improves with reheating. Yay for leftovers!

Got any favorite vegetarian or vegan recipes?? Please share!

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Meatless Monday: Sweet Corn & Squash Soup

For Christmas, my brother- and sister-in-law got me The Wine Lover's Page-A-Day Calendar. Every day, the author offers a wine recommendation or a unique fact, quotation, or multiple-choice question about wine. Some days, it's pretty interesting; others, not so much and I quickly toss the page in the recycling bin. Recently, though, I revealed the new page for the day and was inspired! The page gave a recipe for corn soup. Perfect! I had 6 more ears of sweet corn in my CSA box and didn't know what to do with them. I had already recently made cornbread, and my husband's not all that fond of corn on the cob (it just never measures up to the fresh corn from his parents' farm, . . . even though ours is fresh from a farm too), so I was left scratching my head trying to think of something new and yummy to make.

Sweet Corn and Squash Soup

The recipe on the page-a-day calendar was kind of boring sounding and didn't give solid enough directions, so I dug around on to find this one, which was perfect because it also called for yellow squash which I had in my CSA box too. I skipped the squash blossoms, added a little bit of garlic when I sauteed the onions, and added more salt and black pepper than was called for. The additional black pepper added a nice little kick. If you'd like even more kick, you could always add a little jalapeno pepper to your onions when you saute them. The wine-a-day calendar suggested adding cream, but a) I didn't feel like buying a whole container of cream when I was only going to use a small amount (I've wasted too much cream that way), and b) I thought the consistency of the soup was already nice and naturally creamy after putting it through the food processor.

It can sometimes be difficult cutting the corn off of the cob; the ears can be slippery to hold and cutting down into a bowl is awkward. My mother-in-law can take care of several dozen ears with the help of a meat slicer in less time than it'll take you to blink an eye, . . . but she's what I'd call an expert when it comes to all things corn-related, so I wasn't about to attempt that. Instead, I used a trick I learned from watching the Food Network. You tip a small bowl upside down inside a large bowl (I used the smallest and largest of my nesting bowl set) and rest the leveled bottom of the ear on the small bowl. When you cut down the side of the corn, all the kernels falls neatly around the small bowl at the bottom of the big bowl. The small bowl provides great stability for the ear, you don't have to worry about hitting the sides of the bowl when cutting or trying to cut at awkward angles, and the kernels don't fall all over the counter like they would if you held the cob higher. Great solution!

My wine-a-day calendar suggested having the soup with a glass of chardonnay. I agree that would have gone really really well. Chardonnays often go nicely with dishes that have distinct buttery flavors (e.g., I love it with boiled lobster). Next time, I might try one of our go-to chardonnays (Edna Valley, often on sale at the local grocery store), but, this time, we happened to have a bottle of pinot grigio already open, so we went with that. Not bad. In fact, I think any soft white would be a good complement. For instance, I can imagine a sauvignon blanc or fume blanc working really well too.

Got any favorite vegetarian or vegan recipes?? Please share!

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Meatless Monday: The Mission

Holy moly, people, these past few days I've been sicker than I've ever been in my life. When I wasn't avoiding food at all costs, I was lucky to hold down a few crackers or a piece of plain toast. Those are, of course, technically 'meatless' meals . . . but not exactly inspired recipes worth sharing with you.

I'm starting to feel human again, . . . but not adventurous enough to introduce my stomach to a new recipe. So, instead, I'm probably going to revisit the blog vault and remake one of my old favorite Meatless Monday recipes. Hey, I know what you're thinking - "This is the equivalent of one of those sitcom episodes where they just slap together snippets of previous episodes in a "memories montage. I feel cheated!" Well, I'm sorry, but it's either this or I may just pop open some store-bought mushroom soup. Yes, that's right - I said STORE-BOUGHT. . . . People, it's not always about culinary mastery. Sometimes, it's just about staying true to your mission, and my mission is to go meatless on Mondays.

So, instead of a recipe, I share this with you this week - a video by that reminds us all what we're doing and why:

Monday, August 10, 2009

Meatless Monday: Pasta Primavera

While I'm not vegetarian, I have a few friends who are, and I've heard from them that, bar none, the vegetarian dish they most often see on a menu is pasta primavera. In fact, sometimes it can be the only vegetarian menu option they have. So, I understand if the mere mention of the words "pasta primavera" inspires wincing, disappointment, or a yawn. It's exactly for that reason that I've avoided posting a past primavera recipe . . . until now.

Pasta Primavera

I personally didn't love this recipe, but that's not stopping me from posting about it because my husband really loved it and I think most other people will too. I didn't like it because I'm not that fond of cooked carrots, but I do recognize that they lend a nice taste to the pasta (via the carrot-boiled water) and provide a certain fresh, healthy sweetness to the dish that most people will like. If I were to make it again, I'd still boil the pasta in the carrot water, but I'd add all the carrots themselves to my husband's dish and add more peas and pattypan squash to mine.

The recipe calls for the baby carrots to be uncut and the pattypan squash to be cut into pretty big chunks, but I opted to cut the carrots and the pattypan squash into smaller pieces because I think it made the dish easier to eat. I don't know about you, but I find it annoying to have to cut things in a pasta dish when I'm eating it (just as I hate having to pull the tails off of shrimp in a seafood pasta dish). The recipe also suggests serving this dish with a fume or sauvignon blanc. I already had a bottle of mellow chardonnay open, so I used that both for the 1/4 cup needed in the recipe and as an accompanying drink and was very pleased.

Got any favorite vegetarian or vegan recipes?? Please share!

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Monday, August 3, 2009

Meatless Monday: Ratatouille

Back in June, after having had some ratatouille at Cafe Provencal, I mentioned wanting to make my own. It's taken me a little while to get around to it, but I finally did. Okay, my husband is actually the one who got around to it. . . . Technicalities. I did help . . . even if he'd say that I helped much in the same way that Remy helped Linguini in the movie Ratatouille . . . by pulling his hair.

I had envisioned making a layered ratatouille, much like Julia Child would have, but that takes a lot more time - and pans. Instead, Matt opted to try this next recipe that takes less time and can be made in one pan, care of the "Cooking for Engineers" website (he loves how intuitively they lay out their recipes). I'd still like to try the layered version of ratatouille some day, but this "cheating" version is pretty great for when you don't have as much time to devote to the preparation of a meal.


Beware: this recipe calls for A LOT of garlic. For me, that's a selling point, but, depending on your tastes, you may want to use less.

Also, as I've mentioned, I don't like skin on my peppers, so we used the same method I've talked about here before to remove the skin from the peppers. I also don't like skin on my eggplant, so we took a vegetable peeler to that. Of course, you don't have to, but I would recommend it. I would also recommend having some yummy, crusty bread on hand to serve with it.

This makes the perfect main or side dish, and it's great as a leftover because the flavors meld together even better given a little more time.

Got any favorite vegetarian or vegan recipes?? Please share!

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Meatless Monday: White Bean Salad with Creamy Lemon-Dill Dressing

In our CSA box the past couple of weeks, we've been getting bunches of green beans. They're so fresh, they *squeak* when you bite into them, and they're so tasty. I'm much more excited to be getting these on a regular basis than those blasted carrots and Easter radishes. (Seriously, I think I hit my yearly allowance for beta carotene in just two months.)

One of our go-to salad recipes for green beans is one I've shared on here before. We were tempted, of course, to make that again (because it's insanely good!), but falling back on favorites too often just deprives you of the opportunity to find new favorites. Sure, sometimes you try something new and it's awful, but "no risk, no reward." That said, I still wanted to mitigate my risk.

Since I'm a sucker for the dill in the recipe I mention above, I was drawn to this next recipe because it's dressing also contains dill - even though no green beans are called for. The green beans would just have to keep another day.

White Bean Salad with Creamy Lemon-Dill Dressing

As I discussed in last week's post, not following a recipe exactly doesn't always have to end in disaster. Last week, by accident, I didn't follow the recipe. This week, I couldn't follow the recipe exactly . . . because I hadn't planned ahead well enough.

I hadn't looked at the recipe for a couple of days, but I still thought I remembered all the ingredients. So, I just headed off to the grocery store and picked up the couple of things I thought I needed. I thought I was good to go. Turns out . . . not so much. I obviously planned on skipping the shrimp, but how did I miss the red onion, watercress, and fennel bulb??

It was too late to go back to the grocery store (we were starving!). So, it was time to improvise! Watercress became arugula fresh from Matt's garden (which lent a similar tangy, peppery flavor). Red onion became Texas sweet onion from our CSA box (I'm thinking, probably an improvement on the recipe!). And kohlrabi provided the crunch that the fennel would have . . . without the icky fennel taste (icky to me anyway). The verdict? Criminally good! And the best part? The creamy lemon-dill dressing. And we didn't have to feel bad about eating it because it's made with fat-free yogurt - a non-guilty pleasure!

Not interested in this salad but hankering for a simple summer salad? Check out this article posted last week by the New York Times. 101 recipes!

Got any favorite vegetarian or vegan recipes?? Please share!

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Meatless Monday: Pan-Roasted Corn-and-Cumin Corn Bread

Over the past month, I've been reading Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma, which discusses the "politics, perils, and pleasures of eating." I'm about 2/3 of the way in now and have learned a lot (despite Pollan's clunky writing style) about industrial vs. self-sustained farming and the ubiquitous of corn in our American diet. I started the book on a flight to the Midwest, which was interesting timing because we spent 4 days of our trip on my inlaws' farm. Their type of farming falls in line with what Pollan would consider industrial farming - i.e., bad for the environment and for consumers' health. It was awkward to be reading about crop chemical run-off getting into the water reserves as my father-in-law tried to downplay officials' warnings about high algae counts in the nearby lake. (He wanted to take us out on his boat.) Part of me wanted to recommend the book to him (I mean, why not? He suggested The Dawkins Delusion to us!), but I thought better of it because there are parts of the book I find offensive and am sure he would too - e.g., this quote from a farmer who practices self-sustaining farming:
"Part of the problem is, you've got a lot of D students left on the farm today. . . . The guidance counselors encouraged all the A students to leave home and go to college. There's a tremendous brain drain in rural America. Of course that suits Wall Street just fine; Wall Street is always trying to extract brainpower and capital from the countryside. First they take the brightest bulbs off the farm and put them to work in Dilbert's cubicle, and then they go after the capital of the dimmer ones who stayed behind, by selling them a bunch of gee-whiz solutions to their problems."
I don't think my father-in-law would take kindly to being referred to as "dim." He and my (college-educated) brother-in-law are very smart people and farm their land intelligently and responsibly. My mother-in-law is one in a line of farmers (or farmer's wives) who also happened to be valedictorians of their classes, and she and her husband produced two PhD sons. These people should not have to defend their intelligence and Pollan should be ashamed for perpetuating the stereotype of the "country bumpkin."

. . .

In any event, it was also funny to be in the Midwest reading about the evil's of industrial corn farming at the same time that the first few ears were ripe enough to pick and eat. People, there is nothing better than eating such fresh, sweet corn. And, when we returned to California, we found more fresh corn in our CSA box. How could I bring myself to eat corn without feeling guilty after everything I'd just read? Easy. The corn at my in-laws' house and from my CSA box wasn't the industrial type of corn that travels hundreds of miles or goes through a mirade of processes to turn it into different chemical compounds. I was eating it directly:
"To eat corn directly (as Mexicans and many Africans do) is to consume all the energy in that corn, but when you feed that corn to a steer or a chicken, 90 percent of its energy is lost - to bones or feathers or fur, to living and metabolizing as a steer or chicken. This is why vegetarians advocate eating 'low on the food chain'; every step up the chain reduces the amount of food energy by a factor of ten, which is why in any ecosystem there are only a fraction as many predators as there are prey."
This is what I decided to make from some of the corn we got in our CSA box - a great side for any Mexican dish or chili:

Pan-Roasted Corn-and-Cumin Corn Bread

As can sometimes happen, I made a big blunder when putting the ingredients of this recipe together and somehow managed to forget to add a key ingredient - flour! Yikes! I also didn't have an 8-inch pan that was safe to go from the stove to the oven, so I was spreading the corn bread mixture out a little more thinly in an 11-inch pan. The result was something less like bread and more like . . . well, I don't know really. It was thinner, certainly, and a little crispy. And, you know what? I REALLY LIKED IT! Oftentimes, messing up a recipe can lead to disastrous results (like the time I mistook the powdered sugar for the flour when making turkey gravy for Thanksgiving - Ooh Nelly, yes, it was as bad as it sounds), but every so often, you get lucky. Yay for happy accidents!

So, feel free to make your own corn bread as the recipe suggests or to skip the flour as I did. If you cook it like I did, though, you'll just want to leave it in the oven for less time. I think I took mine out at the 15-minute mark. Whichever way you choose to make it, I think you'll like the results. The roasted corn and cumin work well together to create a different flavor than you experience in your typical corn bread - not drastically different, but just different enough to be refreshing, I think. Yum.

Got any favorite vegetarian or vegan recipes?? Please share!

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Free FOOD INC. Screenings

Chipotle is sponsoring free screenings of Food Inc. Check out their website to find theaters/times near you!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Meatless Monday: Arugula Salad with Zucchini Carpaccio & Parmesan

My husband and I just got back from being on vacation in the Midwest for almost 3 weeks. Being away for that long was fun, but it left us missing many of the comforts of home. We were happy to return to our own bed, our mentally challenged but ever-sweet cat, . . . and our CSA box.

During many parts of our trip, we found ourselves on long stretches of highway that offered precious little in the way of civilization between destinations. Not a good situation for hungry travelers to find themselves in. This, of course, meant we ended up eating fast food on more occasions than I'd care to admit (or care to remind myself).

I know I've complained on a few occasions about our CSA box (like - What on earth am I going to do with yet ANOTHER bunch of Easter radishes? . . . No, seriously, any ideas??), but this trip left me jonesing for Underwood Family Farms' fresh lettuces, succulent strawberries, crisp green beans, and so much more. (The green beans I got with my dinner one night . . . were floating in water and BACON BITS. The menu made no mention of meat being included in this side dish; silly me for not assuming!).

We had just started getting zucchini and summer squash in our CSA box when we had to cancel pick-ups for the duration of our trip. (What a tease!) We were eager to get back and have more, and this next recipe is one good reason why.

Arugula Salad with Zucchini Carpaccio & Parmesan
  • Arugula
  • Zucchini
  • Parmesan
  • Salt
  • Lemon juice
  • Extra virgin olive oil

This salad is kind of an amalgam of a few different recipes we've tried before, so I don't have real measurements or quantities to share with you, so you'll have to rely on your own culinary judgment and personal preferences to come out with the right proportion of ingredients for you. But that should be easy because this is a really simple recipe.

I'm borrowing the steps for preparing the zucchini from an old 2006 L.A. Times article (written by Russ Parsons), the link to which I just can't seem to locate right now:

"1. Rinse and cut the ends from the zucchini. Cut the zucchini in lengthwise quarters and then crosswise into one-third-to one-half-inch slices. Do not slice thinner or the zucchini will turn mushy during salting.

2. In a mixing bowl, toss the zucchini slices with the salt to coat well. Turn the zucchini into a strainer and position it over the bowl to catch the liquid that drains. Set aside for 30 minutes. You'll see when the zucchini is ready because the sharp cut corners will soften.

3. After 30 minutes, discard the liquid that has collected in the bowl and wipe the bowl dry. Rinse the zucchini well under cold running water until it tastes only slightly salty. Pat the zucchini dry in a kitchen towel and return it to the mixing bowl."

4. Arrange a bed of arugula in each of the salad bowls you're serving. Distribute the zucchini slices evenly over the top of the arugula. Shave pieces of Parmesan on the top (as much as you'd like).

5. Drizzle extra virgin olive oil and squeeze lemon juice over salad. (I suggest using a light hand with both.)

6. Eat!

The zucchini preparation may seem like a bit much, but it's so worth it. It really brings out the nutty flavor in zucchini and complements the Parmesan and spicy arugula really well. (I know - nutty? Zucchini? Trust me, you'll see [or, rather, taste] what I mean, and you'll LOVE it.)

Got any favorite vegetarian or vegan recipes?? Please share!

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Monday, July 6, 2009

Meatless Monday: Jilted Eggs

Sorry for the lapse last week. It was one of those days when I decided that vacation meant vacation and couldn't be bothered with anything other than leisure activities with some of my favorite people. But that doesn't mean that Meatless Monday wasn't on my mind.

While visiting with relatives, my husband and I thought it would be nice to make brunch for everyone one morning, and it didn't take much debating before we decided on this next dish.

Jilted Eggs

You can think of this dish as a more sophisticated and tastier version of a McMuffin. I love it because I don't have to worry too much about breaking eggs while trying to flip them. Once they're in the baking dish, you don't really have to manipulate them. And the other ingredients can be chopped up lickety-split. You can just pop it in the oven and turn your attention to preparing other things like a nice fruit salad and the perfect pot of coffee.

We made the recipe just as it is written, but you should feel free to experiment because this sort of recipe leaves you lots of room to play. After the egg and milk are in the dish, you can pretty much substitute or add whatever you like. For instance, next time I make this, I'm thinking I might try some mushrooms and/or spinach instead of the basil and tomato.

If you try this and make substitutions, please feel free to post a message in the comments to let us know what your results were like!

Got any favorite vegetarian or vegan recipes?? Please share!

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Meatless Monday: Tomato Pie

A couple of weeks ago on, I read about a challenge they issued to chefs and then to their general audience called "How Low Can You Go? Submit Your $10 Meals":

"The challenge: Feed a group of four for under $10. Bonus points for dishes that seem more expensive."

Many news stations and sites have been running the topic of "these tough economic times" into the ground with story after story of how this downturn has affected different segments of the population, but they haven't often really captured the plight of the people who are affected most - those living at or below the poverty level and the working poor. Seriously, I remember listening to the radio as I was driving somewhere a couple of months back and NPR themselves ran some story about siblings who were "struggling" to figure out how to invest their money because they were no longer going to be able to rely on their trust funds (or some such equally ridiculous problem). Oh, boo-hooooo. (For a good article that echoes this sentiment see a recent NYT piece by Barbara Ehrenreich [famed author of Nickel and Dimed].) So, looong story short, I was happy to see this $10-meal challenge that seemed to be acknowledging that practical solutions to everyday problems are needed if we are really going to help those hit hardest by the current economic climate.

Tomato Pie

I had to fight my every instinct to make this recipe because it reminded me too much of a deep-dish pizza, and we all know that real pizza has a thin, crispy crust! (Yes, I'm goading my friends from the Midwest to protest here. You like how I did that there? Goad? Goad - "to drive [as cattle] with a goad"? Livestock? Midwest? Oh never mind.)

Once I stopped thinking about the pie as any kind of pizza and focused on how much I LOVE tomatoes, I got kind of excited about this dish. I broke out my hand-dandy mandoline (you know how much I love using that) and had a neat pile of slivered tomatoes and onions in no time. Preparing the handful of ingredients and constructing the layers was super easy. . . . It was baking the crust that proved difficult.

The recipe suggests either using baking beads or another pie plate on top to keep the crust from getting too puffy. I didn't have baking beads, so I used another pie dish. Seemed like a reasonable solution, but I quickly noticed that the second dish was keeping the middle of the crust from cooking properly. I removed the second dish and then had to bake it a little longer. The problem was that then the bottom and the edges got a little overdone and the middle, that did end up cooked, ended up too puffy - just what I was trying to avoid. I'm wondering if the author of the recipe actually tried the 'second pie dish' alternative herself before recommending it . . . After the crust cooled off a bit, I had to moosh it down by hand so I could fit in all the layers of onion and tomato, but it worked okay.

Despite the crust debacle, the final product came out pretty good. (Both my husband and I had seconds.) That said, though, I probably will make some adjustments next time I make this, and maybe this advice will help you make a better dish your first time around with this recipe:

One obvious adjustment I'll make will be using baking beads, but I'll probably also try heirloom tomatoes for a richer tomato flavor and texture, a little less onion, and a LOT less mayo. (Seriously, an entire cup of mayo is far far too much.) And I'll probably only make it again when I am indeed cooking for at least four people (as the challenge suggests) - you don't want leftovers because it's not a dish that's that great reheated (because the texture of the crust won't hold up). Which isn't to say it's not a great dish. Plenty of really great dishes don't make good leftovers. . . . But I might argue that this dish should not have been one of the winners of the NPR contest because leftovers are a mealtime staple for the financially strapped. Not saving leftovers is wasting food and money, and eating subpar leftovers just isn't fun for anyone.

Got any favorite vegetarian or vegan recipes?? Please share!

To see other "How Low Can You Go?" challenge-winning recipes, visit

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Meatless Monday: Caramelized Pear and Sage Crostini

About a month ago, the mister and I were trying to decide what to bring to a gathering at the house of our friends. Our friends mentioned that someone else who was coming was planning to bring a pear-flavored cocktail, so I thought "Perfect!" when I saw this recipe. Not only did it look like it would go really well with that drink, but I was also excited because the prep work sounded easy, there were only a few ingredients listed, I could make everything ahead of time, and it seemed like it would travel well. Killer bonus? It turned out to be delicious.

Caramelized Pear and Sage Crostini

This recipe is so simple to make. You can easily be done with the whole thing - chopping to topping - in about half an hour. I'm telling you, you can't go wrong. We liked it so much ourselves, we couldn't wait for an excuse to make it again and so had it at a gathering at our own house a couple of weeks later.

After the crostini were toasted, we let them cool off for about ten minutes and then put them in a Ziploc bag. And, after the pear mixture was cooked and had cooled, we scooped that into a disposable plastic container. When we were ready to go, we just popped those two things and the little tub of crumbled blue cheese in a bag and were off. At our hosts' house, we microwaved the pear mixture for a minute, scooped it and the blue cheese on top of the crostini, sprinkled them with salt and pepper, and voila! Done.

My one complaint about this recipe? It's almost scandalous that there is no mention of blue cheese in its title! Blue cheese is such a crowd-pleaser, and it complements the subtle flavors of the pear and sage so well.

Got any favorite vegetarian or vegan recipes?? Please share!

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Monday, June 8, 2009

Meatless Monday: Eastham Turnip-Potato Gratin

In my continuing quest to find new yummy recipes for turnips, I came across this recipe the other day - another that combines potatoes and turnips in such a delicious way you will definitely be asking for seconds. I couldn't resist giving it a test-drive because it's named after a town in my home state of Massachusetts - a town in which a good friend of mine lives. The recipe says, "The Cape Cod town of Eastham is noted for its extra-sweet turnips . . . ." I would add "extra-sweet friends, too!" Awww, sappy, I know. Sorry, but I'm in that kind of a mood.

Eastham Turnip-Potato Gratin

I wasn't sure how well I would like the Gruyère in this recipe, but it was so so good - stinky, but tasty. I used more than the recipe suggests (probably because of my extra layers - see below), and I was not disappointed.

The recipe also says you can either use a mandoline or a sharp knife for the slicing. Since this recipe takes about 1 1/2 hours to make, NOT counting slicing time, I would definitely recommend using a mandoline if you have one. Of course - and this should go without saying - JUST BE CAREFUL! The only things you want to be shaving off are turnips, potatoes, and time! And, of course, if you don't want to dedicate so much time to one side dish in one day, you can always make up the layers a day ahead of time too.

I set my mandoline for a thinner slice than the recipe suggests, so I ended up with more layers, but I think it came out really nicely that way. The texture was just perfect. When I pushed my fork through those layers, I just knew that that 1 1/2 hours of cooking time had been worth it.

I am really inspired now to try to recreate a layered ratatouille I had at a little French restaurant last year. (More fun with the mandoline!) So, look for that post in the coming weeks!

Got any favorite vegetarian or vegan recipes?? Please share!

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Monday, May 25, 2009

Meatless Monday: Ginger-Sesame Grilled Tofu Steaks

Sorry for the lapse last week. When life gets busy, some things inevitably slip. But I'm back this week with an extra-yummy recipe to make up for it.

A lot of people, when they think of the grill, think STEAK! Now vegetarians can too! Tofu steaks, that is. I'd never thought of grilling tofu - I just didn't think it was the right consistency to survive grilling intact (like some fish) - but I was wrong, . . . and I've never been more happy to be wrong!

Ginger-Sesame Grilled Tofu Steaks

The vinaigrette marinade for this dish is to-die-for! Once you try it, I would venture to guess you'll be trying it on all kinds of things. In addition to marinating the tofu and lime in it, as the recipe instructs, we also marinated some onion in it before grilling it. And we heaped giant spoonfuls on our rice too. Seconds? Yes, please.

While the tofu does hold up well enough on the grill, you still need to be careful with it. Make sure you put enough cooking spray or oil on the grill grates (before turning on the gas, please!) before you start and be gentle with your tongs when you're flipping those suckers, and you'll be just fine.

The only part of the recipe with which I struggled was the basting instructions. It said to baste occasionally as you grill, but how often is 'occasionally' supposed to be when the tofu is only supposed to cook for 2 minutes on each side? If you've marinated the tofu well, I would argue you don't really need to do any basting because, for us, doing so just meant that the tofu wasn't browned by the end of 4 minutes. Or maybe it was because 'medium heat' on our grill was not quite as hot as the 'medium heat' for which the recipe called. So, my advice to you would be to be flexible with how closely you follow the recipe when you're cooking this one. If it's not brown at the end of 4 minutes, cook it longer and/or maybe turn up your heat. If it looks like it's cooking too quickly or getting dry, baste away.

I would also recommend grilling the tofu steaks with the lime slices on them. Otherwise, you're just placing the lime on top of the tofu when you plate the dish and the lime doesn't really get a chance to impart its flavor on the tofu well enough. (You can't really squeeze slippery, marinated lime slices over the tofu and rice effectively afterward. Trust me on this one.)

Got any favorite vegetarian or vegan recipes?? Please share!

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Monday, May 11, 2009

Meatless Monday: Hibiscus Enchiladas & Grapefruit Margaritas

With spring in full swing, many folks are rolling up their sleeves and getting their hands dirty in their gardens. In warm places like the west coast where I live, we're already seeing the fruits of those labors with gorgeous flowers to look at and fresh veggies to eat. . . . Or is that fresh veggies to look at and gorgeous flowers to eat?

One time, I had fried squash blossoms as an appetizer (yum), but this past Cinco de Mayo marks the first time I ever had flowers as the main ingredient in an entree. I was a little skeptical at first, but I needn't have worried - it was incredible!

Hibiscus Enchiladas

As the recipe indicates, we started out with dehydrated hibiscus (jamaica) flowers that needed to be boiled to rehydrate. The water became so dark red and the aroma so strong, I was concerned it wasn't going to be something I was going to like. And then I tasted a piece after it cooled off and wondered how something so sweet was going to work in an enchilada. I was also scratching my head because I'd only ever made enchilada recipes that involved baking, and these enchiladas were supposed to be simply 'assembled.' Hmmmm. My husband and I were so concerned about a potential FAIL, we actually halved the recipe (so we wouldn't have a boatload of something we didn't end up liking) and put a call in to the the bullpen to get the PB&J warming up just in case. But, as I mentioned, we needn't have worried.

The sweetness of the hibiscus and the onions and peppers really complemented each other well and provided a nice contrast to the spiciness of the chipotle sauce, which was sooo good. It had a nice full flavor and just enough heat to add complexity without setting of any fire alarms. You can, of course, make it hotter if you like, and you can always cut the fire with more of the sour cream and queso fresco if need be.

Herbalists claim hibiscus is good for, among other things, reducing high blood pressure. Something else good for reducing your blood pressure? . . .

Grapefruit Margaritas

On Cinco de Mayo, it only seemed fitting to have a drink with a Mexican influence, and what could be more Mexican than tequila? This recipe is a nice twist on an old standard - and much more interesting than popping the top off a boring old Corona. I squeezed fresh grapefruit juice for our drinks, but, if you're not interested in doing that much work for your drink, you can, of course, just use some from a bottle; it'll be a little sweeter, which you might prefer anyway. If you do go the bottled route, I recommend Simply Grapefruit.

Got any favorite vegetarian or vegan recipes?? Please share!

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day

Last August, a Palestinian poet with whom I was not that familiar passed away. His name was Mahmoud Darwish. As I read some of the articles about him, I came across his poem "My Mother" and was struck by a couple of the stanzas. In honor of Mother's Day, I share them with you now:

I must be worth my life
At the hour of my death
Worth the tears of my mother.

I might become immortal
Become a God
if I touch the depths of your heart.

I know a lot gets lost in anything translated, but I still appreciate the beauty of the sentiment in this poem, especially on a day like today when I think of all that my mother has done for me, all the love that she has given me and continues to give. Happy Mother's Day, Lois.