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....