Saturday, November 30, 2013

Thanks for the Veggies

I've been doing some experimenting lately with different flavors and trying to replicate that feeling one gets from those Thanksgiving Day foods. With luck, I stumbled onto some recipes that I was able to tweak to what I think works well.

I found an incredible recipe from River Cottage Veg cookbook. In fact, the entire book is well worth owning as I've made many wonderful things from its contents. But the Chestnut and Sage Soup recipe results in what I've come to call Thanksgiving in a Bowl. It's worth owning the cookbook if only for that recipe.

That leaves a few more things to make a meal, doesn't it? My typical vegetarian Thanksgiving consists of veggie pot pies, two kinds of potatoes, and of course a vegetable side. Then there's dessert.

I love a good pumpkin pie. However, good has been a little tough to come by since one canned pumpkin manufacturer has made it too easy to open a can and dump it into a prepared crust. So this year, I went on a quest to create a better pie.

One entire morning and three pies later (let's just say thanks to the unreadable dials on my current oven, a new stove is due in in three weeks), I was done burning things and had come up with a darn good pie. I'll confess I was too tired and frustrated to really appreciate the full flavor of the pie (maybe because my hair still smelled of burned crusts), but the slice I had the next day was pretty great. Here's what I've come up with:

Lori's Bombshell Pumpkin Pie

2 cups pumpkin (canned is fine)
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
2 tsp. ground ginger
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. salt
2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
2/3 cup milk
4 large eggs

Process the first seven ingredients for about a minute. Move it to a saucepan and heat to a low simmer, stirring constantly, for 3 or 4 minutes. Whisk in milks and bring back to a low simmer. Add eggs to the processor, then with it running, add the pumpkin mixture. Process until all ingredients are blended.

Pour into hot pie crust and back about 20-25 minutes at 350 (keep an eye on it). I started it at 425 for five minutes, then notched it down. May take some experimenting with your oven, but test with a knife -- if it comes out clean, it's finished.

I put a great whipped cream on top. I used about a cup of heavy cream, a tablespoon of brandy, and a tablespoon (or more, depending on your sugar tolerance) of confectioners' sugar.

I found the best Crust Recipe here.

Saturday, August 10, 2013


I love the opportunity to get back into cooking. It was pushed aside last year when my work nearly doubled and I couldn't find time to eat, let alone cook.

This year is much calmer after a surgery and recovery. And now children who had moved out are visiting, giving me ample excuse to turn out some more recipes. Today's recipe was inspired by a bottle of chianti. Let me explain.

I've been dabbling in becoming a wine aficionado -- not seriously, but just for fun and enjoyment. I was reading my World Atlas of Wine and I was reading about different chiantis and which were considered the best. Naturally it wasn't the one I had. I like buying them with the little basket attached, but apparently, that's good but not great wine. So I hopped over to the store and got a chianti classico. Then the dilemma -- what to serve with it?

Paella, of course.

Since the kids were home, I decided that dessert was in order, too. However, after making guacamole and paella, the last thing I wanted to do was make some complicated dessert. I opted for ice cream. With peach sauce. The peaches right now are exquisite, too.

Here's the successful result:

Peach Sauce with Brandy
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
6 whole cloves
2 fresh peaches, chopped
2 Tbl. brandy (I used French brandy)
1 Tbl. corn starch

Heat sugar, cloves, and water in a small saucepan until sugar is melted. Take out the cloves. Add the cornstarch (mix it with a little water first) and then add the brandy and the peaches. Heat just slightly, then take off the heat, put it in a bowl, and chill it. Spoon it over ice cream. If you want, you can heat it again before serving (I nuked until it was warm).

Monday, November 26, 2012

My Favorite Wines

Sometimes, a good meal is enhanced even further thanks to the drink you serve with it. At least that's been my experience. Likewise a bad wine -- and I've suffered through a few of those, as well. Those aren't wasted, either. I simply use them for sauces and cooking (unless they're really bad, and then they're poured down the drain).

I've been buying a variety of wines lately, and by accident (and recommendation of the clerk in the store), I've come across some absolute favorites.

DiSeno Torrontes (Argentina, 2011): One of the smoothest, nicest whites I've had (and I don't care for whites in general). There's a floral taste, along with bit of fruit (apricot comes to mind). Just a pleasure to drink. And cheap -- I paid $8.99 a bottle.

Seven Daughters White Blend: This was a fun one. It's blended from --you guessed it -- seven different whites. It's got texture, fruit, and spice. Cost me about $13.

Ghost Pines Chardonnay (Sonoma County, 2010): Thank you to our neighbors for bringing this one to the Halloween party. A satisfying wine with a balanced fruity taste. Won't set you back too much at $16.

Cesari Mara Ripasso (Veneto, 2009): I've read mixed reviews on this $20 bottle, and frankly I'm surprised. I found this when I couldn't find a suitable replacement for the pricey Amarone I wanted. At one-tenth the price, this ripasso is exquisite. I've bought several bottles over the years, and it's my go-to choice when I want a great red.

Barefoot Merlot (Modesto, Calif.): I can't believe it's possible to get an award-winning merlot for $6 a bottle. This stuff is solid. There's a good hint of cherry, and there's a tiny undercurrent of chocolate. Maybe that's why it's one of my favorite reds.

Sterling Vintner's Collection Meritage: Okay, not my absolute favorite, but a nice choice for every day. It's a blend, so you get five different reds in one, and the aftertaste can be a tad astringent at times, though I've had very good bottles.

What are some of your favorites?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Gourmet the Meatless Way

On  a recent trip out west, we stayed at this lovely house near the ocean. The owner must be a true foodie, for that kitchen was the best-equipped rental I've ever encountered. Spices galore, a stockpile of pots and pans, great appliances, and cookbooks.

One in particular caught my eye. It contained recipes from inns across the country. I decided to give the baked French toast a try.

WOW. It was easy and with fresh ingredients, it was fantastic. That prompted me to buy the book, and when I got home, the book was waiting.

I was trying to find a way to make this meat-heavy cookbook more vegetarian friendly. So I started with one of the fish dishes -- sesame crusted salmon. I tweaked, and this is the result:

Sesame-crusted Tofu with Apple-Mango Salsa

1 package tofu, drained and sliced into eight pieces
2 Tbl. soy sauce
2 Tbl sesame oil
2 tsp. rice vinegar
1/2 tsp. freshly grated ginger

Mix together the soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger and vinegar in a covered container. Place the tofu slices in this, turning to coat it all. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours to a day.

Meanwhile, make the salsa.

1 mango, peeled and diced
1 apple, peeled and grated
1/2 jalepeno, seeded and minced
1/2 poblano, seeded and minced
1 Tbl. fresh cilantro
1/4 cup diced onion (Vidalia works well)
1/2 Tbl. brown sugar
1 tomato, seeded and diced

Mix ingredients in a bowl and cover. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Now for the cooking:
1/2 cup bread crumbs (I use plain whole wheat)
2 Tbl. black sesame seeds
2 Tbl. white sesame seeds
salt and pepper to taste

Mix together in a shallow pan or bowl.

Heat non-stick pan or iron skillet over medium-high heat. Dredge tofu through the bread crumb mixture, then fry in the lightest layer of oil for about 4 minutes on each side. Transfer to your plate, top with some salsa, and enjoy!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Luscious Loaf

There's something about fall that causes this palpable shift in what we crave and what our bodies are telling us to eat. The moment the leaves turn, I want apples, squash, pumpkin and savories. Even in the middle of a 75-degree day, I'm wishing for meatloaf.

I remembered the tastes I liked best about traditional meatloaf and ramped it up a bit. There were some leftover baked beans sitting in the crockpot, so I dumped them in. The result was unexpectedly terrific.

Meatless Loaf with Baked Beans

1 cup or less ketchup (I used bottled "tomato sauce" from the Indian store)
1/2 package veggie burger crumbles
1 green pepper, chopped finely
1 cup or more canned vegetarian baked beans
1 cup soft bread crumbs
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1 egg, beaten
2 Tbl. fresh basil (or 1/2 tsp. dried)
1 Tbl. fresh thyme (or 1/2 tsp. dried)
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oven to 325F/165C. Grease a loaf pan or an 8x8 pan.

Mix together all ingredients in a large bowl, adding ketchup a little at a time. Make sure your final product clings together and isn't too soupy. If it is, add a bit more of the bread crumbs.

Put it into the pan and bake for 45 minutes. At this point, cover the top with some more ketchup, if you like, and cook for 15 minutes longer.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Sweetest Potato

I love sweet potatoes. But I'm a little tired of eating them candied, sugared, or casseroled. So why not soup?

Here's my version of sweet potato soup that got rave reviews here at home. It's super low fat, and it's got this great mixture of flavors that make you feel like you're being treated instead of deprived of fat.

Sweet Potato Soup
Oil for frying (or water if you want to go oil-free)
1 large yam or sweet potato (about 3 cups), peeled and cubed
3 cups vegetable broth
1 Tbl. maple syrup
1/4 tsp. frehly ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. Adobo seasoning
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper

Topping ingredients:
1/2 cup apple sauce
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1 Tbl. lemon juice
2 Tbl. maple syrup

Heat the oil or water in a saucepan and add the potatoes and Adobo seasoning. Brown and cook for about 5 minutes.

Add broth, maple syrup, and spices. Cover and cook until potatoes are soft.

In the meantime, mix together the topping ingredients. If you'd rather use fresh apples, dice a pie apple, such as a Granny Smith.

Puree the soup. Now either add the topping directly or spoon it on top of the soup after it's in the bowl.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Vacation with the Carnivores

Probably the toughest meal situations I've had to deal with have revolved around family. My parents and siblings are die-hard carnivores, though my sister is much more vegetarian-friendly than the rest. Mom tries to cook for me, but she still thinks roughing it means going without meat in her spaghetti sauce.

So it's up to me. We spend time at their cottage in Ontario. I bring the food and I cook. Not much of a vacation for me, but it's how we manage to eat as a family without forcing tofu on my parents. Here's what I cooked this year:

Progresso soup for the evening we arrived

Mark's Favorite Chili

My Risotto with Smoked Gouda

However, Dad can't eat cheese and doesn't like rice. Plus, I take my ingredients along, so I have to have non-perishable things. You can't take fruits and vegetables across borders, so I do buy those when I get there, but the fewer things I need to buy, the better.

And did I mention they have a great stove, but a hand pump for water? If we want hot water to wash dishes, we haul it across the cabin from the bathroom sink (the only real plumbing is in the bathroom), so we try to keep dishes to a minimum.


Here's what I think I'll take along next time:

Tortilla Pie

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed (15 oz)
1 10-oz package frozen corn, thawed (or 1 can)
1 cup mild salsa
2 cups Pepper Jack cheese, grated
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
4 10-inch tortillas

Preheat to 450 F.

Mix all ingredients except tortillas and oil together in a bowl. Heat a skillet to medium-high heat. Brush both sides of a tortilla with a little oil - heat until golden on each side for one minute.

In an oiled casserole dish or baking pan, put one tortilla, then top with some of the filling. Alternate two more layers the same way, ending with a tortilla. Press the top tortilla down gently to meld the layers a bit.

Bake for 12 minutes. Cut into wedges.