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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