Wednesday, December 31, 2008

What a Crock!

I did it - I broke down and bought a crock pot. My third one in my life, the other two disappearing after divorce and moves here and there. I can honestly say my last one - a massive Rival with removable crock - just vanished. I have no idea where it is now. But at the time I figured I'd probably not use it again, so I forgot about it.

But something strange is happening - people are beginning to use crock pots again. Not just a little, either. Pick up any food magazine and you'll see recipes for crockpot dinners, breakfasts, etc. I caved in yesterday when I picked up a veggie cookbook and there was an entire section on crock pot meals. I can't ignore that!

I'm glad I didn't. For some things, crock pots are great. They allow food to cook slowly, bringing out even more flavor in the ingredients. Yesterday's experiment was a new twist on an old favorite - Lentil Soup. I tried some new ingredients to give it a bit more oomph in the flavor department. This is now on our list of favorites.

Crockpot Lentil Stew

1 Tbl. olive oil
1 cup brown lentils
3 carrots, sliced
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1 cup cubed butternut squash
1 c. red wine
2 cups vegetable broth
1 to 2 cups water
2 tsp. Herbes de Provence

Saute onions and carrots in olive oil until onions begin to soften. Add wine and saute until wine is reduced to at least half a cup. Pour into crock pot. Add broth, water, squash, herbs, and lentils and stir. Cook on high for 4-5 hours (or switch to low and cook longer if yours tends to burn everything). Season with salt and pepper.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


There's this crepe restaurant in town that serves the most amazing vegetable paella I've ever eaten. And that steaming dish of paella, served in its own cast-iron pan, has had me on a mission for the last month to find both a perfect paella pan and to perfect a paella recipe that is completely vegetarian. (I suspect my favorite restaurant has used chicken stock.)

I'm still minus the pan, which means I'm minus that wonderful thick "crust" on the edges of the paella, but I've finally hit on a combination of ingredients that drench the thing in flavor (minus chicken stock, amen).

My Paella

1 Tbl. olive oil
2 carrots, sliced thin
1 cup corn
1 can diced tomatoes (soup-can size)
1 cup brown rice
2 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1 can artichoke hearts, drained
1/2 tsp. saffron threads
1 cup frozen peas, thawed

Saute carrots in oil about 3 minutes. Add corn, tomatoes and artichokes and heat another 2 minutes. Add rice, broth, and saffron. Bring to a boil. Cover and lower heat, simmering 40-50 minutes. Add peas and steam for a few more minutes.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Emptying the Fridge

I bought cauliflower? Really? No one here is a huge fan, but there it sat in the veggie drawer. Now what? I know when I bought it I'd had a plan, but the plan was lost in the brain matter and the cauliflower sat there staring at me, threatening to turn black if I didn't do something soon.

When in doubt, soup. This one turned out fantastic - and I may have converted a few non-cauliflower believers with it. Unlike a lot of "cream of cauliflower" creations, cheese is not a main ingredient, though it adds that extra layer of taste.

Cauliflower Soup with Cheese

1 head cauliflower, separated into flowerettes
2 Tbs. butter
1 Tbs. oil (I use olive)
1/2 cup sweet onion, chopped
3 leeks, chopped
3 sticks celery, chopped
1/4 cup flour
3 cups vegetable broth
1 cup milk
4 oz. Gruyere cheese, cubed
White pepper (or black if you're not picky about the color) to taste

Steam about a cup of the cauliflower and set aside. You'll be putting this in the soup after you puree it, so steam it to your preferred level of crunchiness.

Heat butter and oil in soup pot at medium heat and add onions, leeks, celery and remaining cauliflower. Cook until onions are clear and veggies are fairly soft. Stir in flour thoroughly (no lumps!), then add broth slowly, stirring well between each addition. Add the milk last, then reduce the heat to low, partially cover it and simmer for 20 minutes. Make sure to stir it often lest your milk and flour burn on the bottom.

Blend the soup in a blender on a low speed (to avoid splashing and burning). Return to pot and stir in cheese (if you choose to turn on the burner, make it very low so as not to scorch the entire thing). Add pepper and stir. Ladle into bowls and add the reserved cauliflower flowerettes to the bowls.

I served this with buckwheat (kashi), which we stirred right in. It's definitely not a main course because of the lack of protein, but it goes well as a "side" for all sorts of dishes.

Monday, December 15, 2008


With the Firebird Festival party over, I'm concentrating again on the holidays. Gotta feed both the meat eaters and the veggies, which means yours truly is in the kitchen most of the freakin' season. The past few years, he and I have eaten some terrific pot pies to go with the Chestnut Stuffing I make for everyone. I'm thinking something new for this year, but it's hard to pass these up - they're so easy to make!

If you're using dried mushrooms (or any canned mushrooms), reserve the liquid from reconstituting or the can. You'll need it.

Holiday Pot Pies

Cooking spray
1/2 c. porcini mushrooms (or your own favorite - I used dried ones I "revive" in water)
1/3 c. chopped onion
3 stalks celery, sliced thin
1 Tbl. fresh thyme, chopped
1 container of Ray's Wheat Meat (or 1/2 lb. of beef, if you're a meat eater)
1 1/2 c. cubed butternut squash
1 c. green beans, cut
1 c. frozen corn, thawed
3 small red potatoes, sliced or cubed
1/2 c. dry white wine or cooking wine
2-3 c. vegetable broth
1 sheet frozen puff pastry
4 to 6 single-serve ramekins

Spray medium-sized pot with oil. Cook mushrooms, onion, celery, and thyme, covered, about 10 minutes on low, stirring to make sure nothing sticks or burns. Uncover and add wine and simmer, reducing liquid, for about 2-4 minutes. Add vegetables and broth/mushroom liquid. Cook for 10 minutes, reducing the liquid once again. Add seitan and heat until seitan is heated through.

Using a little of the liquid, mix in some cornstarch/flour in a separate cup and add this to the pot. Simmer another few minutes, stirring constantly, until it's thick and bubbly.

Spray ramekins with oil. Pour in about 1 cup of the veggie mixture. Set aside on a baking sheet.

Unfold puff pastry sheet. Using a dough cutter (I use the top of an unused ramekin to get the size right, then a knife to cut it out), cut as many circles from the dough as you have ramekins filled. Cut a small hole in the center of each circle (for ventilation). Place pastry on top of filled ramekins.

Bake in a 425-degree oven for 15 minutes until the pastry is browned.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Fillo or Phyllo? Who Cares As Long As It's Good?

Many thanks to Gina for a fantastic recipe I made for lunch yesterday. Thanks to a can of canellini beans, this was one filling bowl of soup!

I'm back to sniffing out things to serve guests for our party. I came across phyllo dough shells and now I'm on the prowl for something to put in them. I'm leaning toward a meatless mincemeat filling with apples, chestnuts, and dried fruits, but who can resist filling them with cheesecake or something equally sweet and decadent?

Anyone have any favorite mini tart recipes?

Friday, December 5, 2008

Bring on Tuscany!

Just a short break in my quest for appetizers for the Firebird Festival. We had this casserole a few nights ago. It's high in flavor and low in fat. And talk about fast! You chop onions, peppers, and a bit of parsley, put it all in a bowl with the rest of the ingredients and pop it in the oven. The tough part is waiting until it's finished! The original came from 1,001 Low-fat Vegetarian Recipes by Sue Spitler, but as always, I've modified.

Tuscan Bean Bake
1 can small white beans, rinsed
1 cup vegetable stock (I use my own homemade)
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 tsp. ground sage
1 tsp. rosemary
5 or 6 sundried tomatoes, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 cup chopped parsley

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a 2-qt. casserole, pour beans, stock, onion, pepper, sage, rosemary, tomatoes, salt and pepper. Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Mix breadcrumbs and parsley together and press onto top of casserole and bake, uncovered, another 20 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed.

This puppy serves about 4 people and has an amazing 250 calories, no cholestrol, and just makes you feel good all over!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Chowder Head

My great-uncle Gallagher has this favorite phrase for those of us kids who weren't thinking with a full brain - he calls us "chowder heads." And he does so with that devilish grin that makes you feel like part of his inner circle, even if you are a chowder head.

Maybe it's because I was researching some family stuff two nights ago, but he popped into my mind as I was thinking about what to make for the Firebird Festival party. Why not corn chowder? I can serve it in a cup so it's not messy or cumbersome, and if we're heading out into the cold, what better way to ward off the chill?

Here's a version I've yet to perfect, but I've certainly given it a go and love it.

Creamiest Corn Chowder on the Planet

1 onion, diced
1 red pepper, diced
2 c. vegetable broth
1 medium potato, grated (I used Yukon gold)
1 can cream-style corn
2 c. frozen corn, thawed
3 c. milk (or soy milk for vegan)
1/4 c. chopped parsley
1/2 tsp. turmeric
2 sun-dried tomatoes, diced
salt and pepper to taste

Spray a little nonstick cooking spray in a soup pot. Fry onion, pepper, and tomatoes for 5 minutes. (I use a little oil to start, then add water to steam them once there's a little flavor. Cuts down on the fat.) Add broth and potato and cook uncovered until the broth reduces a bit. Stir in canned and thawed corn and milk. Heat until hot, but not boiling. Make sure to stir constantly so nothing sticks. If you want to make it thicker, you can add 1 c. of cream, but since we shy away from added fat, I'd suggest flour or cornstarch instead. Serves about 8.

For me, reducing liquids such as broth and wine bases is a great way to thicken a soup without adding flours or creams. It takes just a few extra minutes and it really helps if you're watching your weight.

Also, I'm a big fan of reducing oils and using water to "fry" with instead. Once I fry for a minute or two and the veggies take on the frying "flavor" I add water to speed up the softening and reduce any additional oil I might add.

Do you have any tips to make food lower in fat or calories?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

I'm a Won Ton Woman

It's true - I spent the better part of Sunday afternoon making yet another appetizer "test" for the upcoming Firebird Festival pre-party here at the house. This one's easier than it sounds. The reason it took me a few hours was because while mixing and wrapping, I was also fielding phone calls from my youngest, who was having fun finding a taxi to take her from hotel-to-campus. Long story. Boring, too. 'Nuff said.

Anyway, I've found a perfectly good won ton mixture that I think is a hit. You can add water chestnuts too, if you like. Whatever suits. I've made these for dinner before (and served them with bok choy and rice).

Won Ton and Peanut Dipping Sauce

1 bunch of asparagus
3 Tbs. fresh ginger
1 Tbs. fresh chives, cut up
1/2 cup frozen edamame, thawed
4 Tbs. soy sauce
1/2 tsp. red curry paste
1 tsp. (more or less) sesame oil
1 tsp. (more or less) rice vinegar

Make your dipping sauce first (recipe to follow).

In food processor, pulse ginger until it's minced. Put in bowl. Cut up asparagus and chives and add them and the edamame, soy sauce, oil and vinegar to processor, pulsing until chopped. Add to ginger. Mix in curry paste. Using won ton wrappers, put about a tsp. of mixture in the center of the wrapper. Moisten the edges and fold over to make a rectangle. Seal edges. To cook, place the won ton in a steamer basket and steam about 6 to 8 minutes tops. Serve hot with dipping sauce.

Peanut Dipping Sauce

1/2 to 3/4 cup coconut milk
1 tsp. red curry paste
1/4 cup smooth peanut butter
2 Tbs. raw sugar (or brown sugar)
1 Tbs. lemon juice

Whisk milk and curry paste in saucepan. Add peanut butter and whisk until smooth. Stir in remaining ingredients and heat over low-to-medium heat, stirring often. Cook for about 5 minutes until it's heated through.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Like a Phoenix Rising

Never mind holiday shopping, post-Thanksgiving laziness in the kitchen, and the general feeling that now, things are about to get busy. We're preparing for the annual Firebird Festival. Since leaving a small town in a remote area of the state for a larger one in the suburbs of Philly, I've longed for a town celebration to match the one I grew up with - the Moon Landing Celebration. I mean, really. If your town is named Apollo and it's in Armstrong County and you hear that a man named Armstrong flying in an Apollo mission walks on the moon, aren't you going to have a party?

But back to the Firebird Festival. It's held in mid-December and the residents gather in the center of town, where a massive wooden phoenix is set ablaze to the beat of native drumming. It's invigorating, which is good given the cold weather. This year, we've decided to host a pre-bird burning party, and my wheels are already turning. What to serve people who are about to head into the cold?

I'm starting with appetizers. This one's so simple, and the hot pepper gives you just enough heat to ward off a chill -

Chipotle Canapes

1/2 cup cream cheese
box of Triscuits (or your favorite crackers)
1 or 2 radishes, sliced thin
About 8 fresh chives, chopped
1/2 of ONE chipotle chili in adobo sauce, minced (no sauce - you'll regret it if you do!)
salt and pepper to taste

Mix together the cream cheese, chives, and chipotle chili. Add salt and pepper. Spread on crackers and top with a radish slice. Serve. Makes about 3 dozen crackers.

See? Simple. One thing to note - don't make these too far in advance. We brought some back from a party and within about 12 hours, they were soggy. Not sure what the "tray life" is on these, but they're so easy to make you can wait until last minute.

More festival party food tomorrow....

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Berry Good

When Mom was asking me for the cranberry sauce recipe, I went digging. Alas, nowhere to be found. But I remembered most of the ingredients, so I did an online search to try piecing together the recipe. Here's what we've come up with - and Mom concurs:

Orange-Cranberry Sauce

1 1/2 cups water
2 cups sugar
3 cups clean, picked-over cranberries
1 medium orange, chopped fine
1 tsp. ground ginger
dash of cinnamon
dash of cloves
dash of cardamom powder

Wash the cranberries and remove stones or stems. Peel and finely chop the orange.

Combine the sugar with 1 cup of the water in a medium saucepan and heat until sugar dissolves. Add cranberries, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes, uncover, and simmer for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the remaining 1/2 cup of water, chopped orange, ginger, cinnamon, and cardamom powder, then simmer for 20 minutes, stirring often. Chill until ready to serve. You can make this up to three days ahead.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Low-fat Chowder?

Since it was gawd-awful cold here yesterday morning (according to the spouse - to me, it was a typical western PA morning transplanted in southeastern PA) and since we'd spent a mighty frigid day in Manhattan on Saturday, I decided it would be a good soup day. Since the youngest is home from college, I am once again challenged to find something to fill her meat-loving body. To say she's picky is an understatement. She has a reperitoire of ONE meat - chicken - and one vegetable beyond an iceberg-lettuce salad - broccoli. Corn doesn't count; everyone loves corn! I swear I raised her better, but she's stubborn.

I knew she liked potato soup and hated mushroom soup (see? she's impossible). And any hint of it being vegetarian-specific has her in a mood. The fact that we were able to go to Angelica Kitchen with her was a large sacrifice for her, I'm sure. She didn't fuss, though she did look as though we were trying to kill her (and in fact uttered that a few times over her salad). And yes, we had to find her "real" food afterward. Ugh.

Anyway, potato soup was yesterday's menu. Thanks to a few moments of "Oh lord, I've forgotten to stir!" it turned out to be the best I've made. Here's how I wowed even the picky one:

Low-fat, High-taste Potato Chowder

1 celery stalk, sliced small
2 Tbs. (more or less) onion, diced
2 Tbs. fresh chives, cut about 1/2 long
1 pat butter (less than a Tbs)
2 tsp. celery salt
2 cups vegetable broth (I used homemade blended and unstrained so all the veggies remains are still in there)
2 large-ish potatoes, skins on, cubed (I used red-skinned potatoes, but you could use Idaho, if you prefer)
1 cup fat-free milk
Fresh ground black pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a soup pot and saute celery, chives, and onion over medium heat to avoid burning butter, until veggies are soft. If you like, add a touch of water to help with softening the veggies while not burning things. Add 1 cup of the vegetable broth and continue sauteeing until the broth is reduced to about 1/2 cup (or until you remember you forgot to stir it). Add potatoes and the other cup of broth and cook on low heat, covered, until the potatoes are soft. I let it cook about 15 minutes. Turn off heat and stir in milk.

Take some of the soup (I took the majority of the potatoes and left just a few chunks) and blend on low in a blender for a few seconds. Return to the pot and stir in. If you have to, heat it up on low with the lid on just until it's hot. This makes a very creamy, thick soup without having to add any flour or cream.

I'm guessing there are about 350 calories in this and maybe 15 grams of fat. Not much, as there is very little butter (only to give it flavor) and fat-free milk. In fact, if you don't like butter or are vegan, skip that altogether. I've not worked with soy milk enough to know how it heats up, but since this milk is stirred in at the end, you should be fine.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


That's what my youngest used to call cookies. Well, she still calls them that - even at 20, she's a "coobie" fan.

She came home from college Friday evening and naturally, Mom had her favorites waiting for her:


Mix thoroughly:
1 c. softened butter (not melted)
1 1/2 c. sugar
2 eggs

Sift together and stir in:

2 3/4 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. cream of tartar
1/2 tsp. salt

Roll into balls the size of small walnuts. Roll in a mixture of sugar and cinnamon and place on a buttered cookie sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes at 400 degrees.

And try not to eat them all in one sitting. :-)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Patties from Heaven

I love recipes that are good to eat and make you feel good well after you've eaten. This one's no exception - it combines low-fat, low-calorie ingredients and yet still is filling.

Rice Corn Cakes and Black Beans

1 cup instant brown rice
1 Tbl. fresh chives, snipped small
1 cup fresh or frozen corn
1 cup plain breadcrumbs
salt and pepper to taste
2 egg whites (or Egg Replacer)
1 15-oz. can black beans, rinsed
1 cup diced tomatoes
1/2 tsp. cumin
dash red pepper flakes

Cook rice according to package adding chives. Take off heat and add corn, breadcrumbs, salt and pepper. Cool for about 5 minutes.

Whisk egg whites/replacer in bowl. Add rice mixture and mix. Shape into patties (about 6). Spray skillet with cooking spray and saute patties about 4 minutes on each side.

In a separate pot, combine beans, tomatoes, cumin and red pepper flakes and heat, stirring occasionally, until hot.

Put some beans on plate, then top with rice corn cake. I added steamed broccoli to the beans on the plate.

(about 350 calories, 8 grams of fat, and somewhere around 12 grams of protein - my esitmates)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

essen Sie Ihr Sauerkraut

It didn't matter that Gramma was an Irish/Scottish mix (her father was the Gallagher; her mother was the Leslie). She married a German/Irish man and that meant you'd better be making sauerkraut. I remember most the smell - that gawd-awful rotting stench coming from the basement, which she tended to daily, skimming scum from the top with great detail and care. I remember her making it, using that big wooden mandoline to grate the cabbage and the wooden tamper to pound down the alternate layers of cabbage and salt into the big crock. She made a ton of it, and even as a kid I thought it was one of the best tastes on the planet.

Luckily, I'd paid attention while she made it, and subsequently as my mother learned from her mother-in-law how to make it. During my first marriage, I was heavily into canning everything in sight. And sauerkraut was right up there. I showed my own kids how to make it, and I have photos of them tamping the cabbage carefully so as not to pound the bottom right out of the crock.

After years of sauerkraut drought (Gramma passed away in 1989 and Mom stopped when Dad filled the garden with Christmas trees), I decided a few weeks ago to resurrect the tradition. My husband, who is nowhere near German, has never had a good homemade sauerkraut, which in my opinion has robbed him of experiencing real stuff, not the swill you get in the stores. We're about three weeks away from his first taste of it, but oh, the anticipation!

It's simple, really. And the days of skimming scummy water from the top of the crock are over - I've found an equally simple method of preventing any scum and any loss of the top layers of kraut (about 2 inches is lost in the traditional plate-weighted-with-a-brick method). I've included the recipe below. If you start it now, you'll have some for Christmas and New Year's!

Traditional Sauerkraut

Before you start, figure out where you're putting the crock and make sure you're able to move it there once you're finished. It should be in a dry, cool place, such as a basement or a laundry room. Don't put it in the garage if you live where the temps dip below 40 at night.

cabbage (here it's tricky - you can use one head, which yields about a pound and a half of kraut, or go for broke and use 5 heads, making about 10 pounds)

Salt (I prefer pickling salt)

A crock (Mine is 5 lbs., which keeps me under control)

A wooden mallet (do NOT use anything metal! the taste will transfer and ruin the whole deal)

Slice your cabbage very thin using either a mandoline or a knife. Put a thin layer of cabbage in the bottom of the crock. Sprinkle about a Tbs. of salt on top, then use the wooden mallet to tamp down the cabbage, which brings out the juices in the cabbage, as does the salt. Note: this process will be the most time-consuming. Be patient and tamp away! Repeat the process, layering and tamping, until the crock is about 3 inches from full.

Fill a small trash bag (such as a bathroom trash can would use) with about 4 cups of water. Double bag it. (It's important that you do not use Ziploc bags. The bag has to be quite flexible, and Ziplocs have very defined corners.)

Place the bag on top of the cabbage, which seals out all the outside air (which typically causes the water to get scummy). Make sure the crock and cabbage are placed in a cool, dry place and for safety's sake, put a towel or a sheet of plastic under it!

In six weeks, scoop kraut out of crock, rinse if desired, and cook and serve. Or can it following traditional canning instructions.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Kitchen Gadgets I Can't Live Without

I do like shiny objects, but I'm less inclined to love them beyond the store shelf unless they prove useful to me in some way. Anything that makes my life easier and gets dinner on the table faster works for me. I'd be like a one-armed woman without my blender, for instance. And I think life without the panini maker would be dull as dirty dishwater.

And don't you love the gadgets, the little things you can tuck away that come in handy in a pinch? Here are some of my favorites:

Food Chopper. This is the one I have, and it's in my dish strainer more than it's in the drawer. I use it for everything. It chops the daylights out of veggies!

Apple Wedger. When he first saw this, the husband thought it was a waste of space. Then he tried it. Now he thinks it's the best invention. I got this one at Pampered Chef.

Bamboo Cutting Boards. I feel so eco-friendly using these. They don't hold any odors and they last forever. I got mine at TJMaxx on sale, but they are Totally Bamboo brand.

My Next-to-Favorite Serving Bowl. I got so excited when he gave me this bowl from Anthropologie. It replaces my grandmother's bowl, which has been retired from daily use to preserve it for my kids.

Kitchen Timer. Have you ever seen a grown woman dance? Don't ask me why, but I couldn't contain myself when he gave me the timer along with the bowl. I love this timer. That it's magnetic makes my life so much easier. The retro vibe is just icing on the cake.

Mini Food Processor. Mine's this one and I use it frequently, much to my husband's dismay (he hates cleaning it - I say what's to clean?).

What are your favorites?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Cheese Steak Withdrawal

I live in the land of cheese steaks. Mind you, I went veggie way too early, for I have never had either a Pat's or a Geno's authentic Philly cheese steak (shame on me). But thanks to some wonderful contributor on, I now have what could be a rival to the best - a veggie version and one that pleases even my meat-eating kids.

Again, I've adapted this to fit with our tastes.

Seitan Cheese Steaks

1 container of Ray's Wheat Meat (I get this at Whole Foods)
2 cups vegetable broth
1 tsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
cheese slices (I use provolone, but you can use vegan cheese if you prefer)
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 chopped green pepper
1/2 cup chopped mushrooms
steak rolls

Cut seitan into strips or other small chunks per your own preference. Put into covered bowl with broth and soy sauce. Let it marinate while you saute the vegetables.

Saute vegetables until soft. Set aside. Add seitan to skillet and brown. Add the marinade to the skillet, reducing it until it's thick. Turn off heat.

Pile seitan into steak rolls and add sauteed veggies and a slice of cheese on top. If you want to melt the cheese, give it a zap in the microwave. Serve with plenty of napkins!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Holiday Stuffing

Let's face it - that first Thanksgiving without turkey makes you feel like you're twisting in the wind. What the devil will you eat? Fear not. You can have it all, including mock turkey (never tried the Tofurky, but I did try my own creation, which failed miserably). Last year I hit upon a stuffing that had everyone at the table wanting more - and since our kids are meat eaters, that's saying something!

Chestnut Stuffing

1 bag cubed stuffing (I use Pepperidge Farm)
1 stick butter, melted
olive oil
1/2 cup onion, diced
3 celery sticks, diced
1 to 2 Tbl. ground sage
1 1/2 c. vegetable broth
1 can of chestnuts, chopped (8 or 10 oz.)
chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil (as much as you like - I used 1 Tbl.). Fry onion and celery until onion is clear. Add to bowl with bread crumbs. Add the remaining ingredients, mixing until all the stuffing is moist.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes in a loaf pan or 2-quart casserole, covered tightly with foil.

If you like carrots, add them when you're sauteeing veggies.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

What to do with Leftover Squash and Coconut Milk

I'll admit I was a little nervous trying this combination. This was a case of use-the-stuff-in-the-fridge. In this case, it was some leftover parsley, butternut squash, and half a can of coconut milk. What a creamy, rich flavor this turned into! Here's what I did:

Creamy Butternut Squash Soup

1 cup chopped butternut squash
1/2 green pepper, chopped
1/2 cup cheap merlot wine
3/4 to 1 cup coconut milk
1 1/2 to 2 cups vegetable broth
2 Tbs. fresh parsley, chopped
freshly ground pepper

Spray bottom of soup pot with cooking oil (I used Pam because it was on hand). Heat pot and add squash and pepper and saute for 5 minutes. Add red wine and reduce (about 5 minutes). Add vegetable broth, parsley, and coconut milk and heat until the veggies are soft. Add salt and pepper to taste.

I also added 1/3 cup rehydrated TVP. You can even add seitan or edamame, if you like.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Saucy Wench

Since meat is usually looked upon to carry the flavor of a meal, I've been on the lookout for some sauces that wake up the senses a bit. I played around with this particular sauce until I hit on something that worked. Mind you, it's a deep flavor and the day you make it it'll have a bolder flavor than if you refrigerate it and use it later. I recommend trying it both ways. I loved it on Day Two much more than on Day One.

Chocolate Wine Sauce

1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 tsp. fresh rosemary (MUST be fresh - otherwise, it's like tossing in sawdust)
2 cups red wine (I used Three Blind Moose merlot, but any cheap merlot will work)
2 cups vegetable broth
2 Tbl. tomato paste (no added flavors, please)
2 Tbl. cocoa powder
1 chopped carrot
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 stalk chopped celery

Saute the veggies until soft. Add the liquids and tomato paste, bay leaf and thyme. Simmer uncovered until this is reduced to 1/2 c. of liquid. Strain out veggies and add rosemary and cocoa. Serve over something substantial, such as seitan cutlets or chickpea steaks. You can also return the veggies to the sauce and eat them, too!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Mark's Favorite Chili

Maybe it's the weather today, which is damp and cold, but I'm in the mood for chili. I made one for my husband the other day that was such a hit he begged me to write it down. Here you go. Note that even though this has no tomato in it, I still consider it chili. Why? Because I add chili powder. That's all that ties this to chili.

Mark's Favorite Chili

2 carrots, chopped small
2 celery stalks, chopped small
1 green pepper, chopped small (see a pattern here?)
1/2 cup red wine (I used cheap stuff - Three Blind Moose)
1 can kidney beans, rinsed
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. chili powder
2 cups vegetable broth
1 tsp. oregano
salt and pepper to taste

Saute the vegetables for 5 minutes until they soften a bit. Add wine and reduce for five more minutes. Add the remaining ingredients. Enjoy!

You'll notice that I don't use onion or garlic. He's not a fan. Feel free to add them with the other veggies if you like. You can even add some seitan or TVP (textured vegetable protein) to this for some more texture.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Drinks Anyone?

During a trip to Italy, we happened into a small food joint behind the touristy sections of Verona. We ordered a glass of amarone. Since then we've been on a search for that same fantastic glass of wine we had in that hole-in-the-wall in amarone country. We bought a horrifically expensive bottle (okay, $40, which is considered low-end on the amarone price scale) that tasted like a $5 bottle of swill that the liquor store can't unload. He decided we weren't going to be able to find that wine again and if we did, we'd never afford it.

I don't give up that easily. Up until that moment in that restaurant in Italy, I wasn't much of a wine drinker. I shied away from it, not sure what to order and afraid of looking dumb to those in the know (which is why I can't bring myself to order Zinfandel in public, though I do like the lightness of it sometimes). So I searched. I sampled. I searched some more. Lo and behold, five years later (I told you - I don't give up easily) I found what could be the rival of that very wine. In fact, I'd venture to say it's better. And lord, is it cheaper.

It's an Italian wine from the same region - Verona. It's Cesari Mara Vino di Ripasso. At my state store (in PA, we can't buy this stuff willy nilly - liquor must be controlled lest we all want it!), I turned to a clerk and asked, hoping he'd have a suggestion or a clue. I asked the right person. He not only knew amarone brands well, he knew what tasted most like it and what would be an excellent albeit cheaper alternative. Amen. For $19.99 instead of $119, I'm pleased. The texture is amazing, and it's one of those wines that just leaves you feeling like you've experienced something. Forgive me - I'm not a wine expert. I'm just a gal who enjoys tasty stuff, and this hit the spot very nicely. It went very well with this tortilla casserole I put together, which I found on the Yahoo! Food website and adapted to fit what I had on hand:

Tortilla Casserole

1 Tbl. olive oil
1/3 cup diced onion
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can diced tomatoes (soup-sized can)
1 carrot, diced
2 cups frozen corn, thawed
1 tsp. ground cumin
salt to taste
6 tortillas, cut into quarters
1 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray lasagna baking dish with cooking spray.

Heat oil and saute onion and carrots until onion browns a little. Add beans, tomatoes, corn, cumin and salt and cook until heated through.

Line bottom of dish with half the tortillas. spoon half the veggie mixture on top, then top with remaining tortillas and the remaining veggies on top of that. Sprinkle cheese over top, cover with foil, and bake 15 minutes. Remove foil and bake ten more minutes or until the cheese is melted.

Why Vegetarian?

My poor mother. For years she's been worried about me, concerned I'm nutritionally bankrupt because I don't eat meat. "But what do you eat?" she beseeches, trying to understand how anyone could shy away from a t-bone steak for any other reason than the price.

It's okay. I understand her confusion. Had anyone asked me ten or twenty years ago if I'd stop eating meat, I'd have laughed and said "Pass the steak sauce." But here I am, a lifelong carnivore, and I'm living quite well without meat on my plate.

Don't worry - I don't preach my cause to anyone who doesn't want to hear it. That's not why I'm here. I'm here to share recipes and tips with other cooks, carnivore and otherwise. I won't try converting you by browbeating you or demeaning your personal choice. That's just wrong no matter what your ideals are.

I will give you the explanation that I feel much better, much healthier, and I haven't been sick in ages. I do attribute diet to that. Whether it's lack of meat or lack of processed foods, who can tell? But I made a choice eight years ago to try this vegetarian thing. After a few false starts, I learned how to cook vegetarian, which if you're first starting out, that's the hardest thing to overcome.

So stick around. Let's share recipes! To you non-vegetarians, please feel free to post your recipes here in the comments section. Many times we vegetarians can adapt a recipe to make it meatless (unless it's pot roast or braised pork chops, but you get the idea). If you have questions, ask! It's just me and my recipes and my hope that you'll find some of them just as delicious as a meal containing meat.

Oh, the ground rules - sorry, gotta have them. No sniping. No one - and I mean no one - who is either vegetarian or not, is welcome to pass judgment on anyone here for their choices or preach or attack. Any of that is considered out of bounds and not cool at all. This is neutral territory for everyone. I'm keeping comments open, but if things get ugly (and I trust you guys), I'll moderate them.

Let me start with one of my favorites - stew baked in a pumpkin. I saw a version of this in the latest Vegetarian Times magazine, but I have a different way of approaching it.

Stew Baked in a Pumpkin

1 4-6 lb. cooking pumpkin
1 Tbs. olive oil
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 small red bell pepper, chopped
2/3 c. edamame
1 1/3 c. frozen mixed vegetables (carrots, beans, and corn)
1/3 c. red wine
½ c. vegetable broth
2 oz. shredded sharp cheddar cheese
4 oz. seitan, cut into pieces
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350°.

Heat oil in soup pot and add celery, carrots, onion and red pepper. Cook until soft. Add red wine and reduce. Add vegetable broth, edamame, mixed vegetables and seitan and cook until broth is reduced and absorbed. Note: make sure there is very little liquid left. The pumpkin has more than enough as it cooks. Don't worry - it's not going to dry out!

Clean seeds and strings from pumpkin and lid, saving lid. Rub inside with 1 Tbs. oil and sprinkle with salt. Add cheese to bottom of pumpkin. Add stew (should be thick, not watery) to pumpkin. Replace pumpkin lid, cover stem with foil to prevent burning, and bake at 350 for 1 ½ - 2 hrs. or until pumpkin is fork tender. Cool for a few minutes, then scoop stew and pumpkin into bowls.