Monday, February 23, 2009

Rocking the Risotto

A quick update on the 50 Million Pound Challenge that doesn't consider vegetarians - I got a note back from the doctor in charge of the food plan and he tells me this:

"Unfortunately, we can't change the diet that's currently on the website. We understand that many people have different dietary restrictions and requirements, but we currently lack the ability to alter the plan. However, you might want to try the 4 Day Diet which can be modified to meet your needs. Many vegans and vegetarians have found success with this plan as it has been better suited for their eating style since it allow substitutions and is more flexible."

The 4 Day Diet? Yea, you have to purchase that. While I truly appreciate the doctor's response, once again I'm left wondering why we vegetarians are overlooked by a meat-eating world (and a medical community) that is constantly expressing interest in cutting out meat from their diets. The eternal conundrum.

Perhaps if they ate more risotto, they'd understand. Mind you, I don't make a lot of risotto because it seems to be the only thing some restaurants can serve that's truly vegetarian. I appreciate the offer, but after five restaurants in a row, I begin to see the "offer" as more of an easy cop-out instead of truly understanding the vegetarian population. Whatever. Let's just say the doctor's note put me in a mood. It's certainly not as bad as the "vegetarian" meal I was served at a wedding a few years ago. I ask you - could YOU survive on a pile of white rice and three broccoli stalks?

Anyway, I've been wanting to make risotto, but not just any risotto. I looked for recipes, but nothing was really speaking to me. So I concocted this one, and my husband fell in love with me all over again (so he says). ;) I used smoked Gouda, which turned a good dish into an amazing one.

Cheese Risotto with Smoked Gouda

1/4 cup chopped onion
1 cup arborio rice
2 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup white wine (I used Riesling)
1/2 cup grated or shredded Parmesan
1/3 cup smoked Gouda, diced small
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In a large saucepan, heat onion in 2 Tbls. water, covered, until onion is soft (2 minutes). Add rice, broth, wine and salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until rice is al dente. Turn off heat and add cheeses, stirring well.

Can anyone explain how to make risotto without standing over it? Even then the darned stuff sticks like glue to the bottom of the pan. What do you do?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

My Version of Fast Food

I worked a little later yesterday, despite trying to get away from the computer at 3. I was here until nearly 5:30. When I got up, I realized I hadn't given one thought to what dinner might be. Time to go quick-and-easy. But do you sometimes feel that you can't make something either quick or easy that tastes good?

Since I'm not a processed-food user (or eater), opening a can of soup isn't going to work. I dug through my recipes and there on top was a white bean soup that saved the night. It took about 15 minutes to cook thanks to the potatoes, but we were eating by 6. Amen. Soup saves the day again!

Actually, I have a few soup recipes that are fast and perfect for when you're tired and don't want to take forever to get something good on the table. Here are a few:

Tomato Soup
4 tomatoes, chopped (I prefer Roma, but whatever is on hand is great)
1 or 2 Tbl. of fresh dried basil (or a small handful of fresh basil, chopped)
1 Tbl. sugar
2 tsp. salt or to taste
1/2 to 1 cup water

This recipe requires you to measure less, eyeball and taste more. Don't get hung up on amounts so much as how it tastes. It's literally 10 minutes from start to eating.

Heat all ingredients in saucepan until tomatoes are soft. Put all in blender and puree until smooth. If you like a thicker soup, serve as is. If not, press mixture through a sieve (I use a handheld metal colander). Serve.

White Bean Soup
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 Tbl. olive oil
2 carrots
1 medium-to-large potato, cubed
2 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup water (or more broth, if you like)
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. parsley
Dash Herbes de Provence (or toss in some thyme)
fresh ground pepper
1 can cannelini beans, drained and rinsed well

In a saucepan, heat oil and add onions and carrots. Saute until onions are soft. Add the rest of the ingredients, cover, and cook until potatoes are soft. If you want to make it creamy, try processing a cup of the soup and mixing it in to the rest of it.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Frustrated Foodie

Have you seen the commercials for the State Farm-sponsored 50 Million Pounds Challenge? Great idea - sign up online and get tips, online support, and a month's worth of menus handed to you for free. Only...what about vegetarians? See, the menus are full of meat. And while I usually just substitute where I can, how do you substitute for a sirloin? Tofu? Beans? How much is that sirloin worth in terms of calories and fat?

It just seems shortsighted to me that a doctor-supported plan would neglect a sizable portion of the population in this weight loss program. I'm disappointed, State Farm. I was hoping that, like Weight Watchers, you understood that some of us don't eat meat. Weight Watchers does a great job of responding to that, but perhaps that's because they're in the business of weight loss - State Farm is merely dabbling. It could've been a great program, but I'm afraid I can't participate.

For those of you who do eat meat, please check it out at 50 Million Pounds.

Monday, February 16, 2009

What To Do with a Gazillion Eggplants

In our neighborhood we have a produce market called, aptly, Produce Junction. It's a great place to buy fresh veggies and fruits. Only trouble is where you might want to buy oh, 3 tomatoes, you're actually expected (required) to buy a few pounds. It's cheaper, but it requires some pre-planning so there's no waste.

Alas, there was no pre-planning involved last week when he stopped by after work and came home with a bag of 24-30 baby eggplants. My first thought was "Great!" because it's tough to find baby eggplants. Then I saw the bag. Oops. Now what?

Here's what - ratatouille and eggplant soup. Mind you, ratatouille is going to be an easier sell with the kids thanks to the movie, but even my husband curled up a lip at the thought of eggplant soup. But he went for seconds. And thirds. It was a hit.

1 eggplant (or 12 baby eggplants if your husband brings home a huge bag), sliced thin
1 small onion, sliced very thin
1 green pepper, sliced thin and chopped to about 1 inch
3 Roma tomatoes, sliced thin (I use Roma because they're meatier)
1 Tbls. thyme
2 Tbls. dried basil (I used what came from our garden - make sure it's really aromatic)
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 to 1/2 cup olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put sliced eggplant in colander. Salt and let stand for about 30 minutes. This releases some bitterness (if any) and a fair amount of excess liquid. Rinse thoroughly and pat dry on paper towels.

In a square casserole (8x8), spray a small amount of cooking spray, then put a thin layer of onion. Top with eggplant. Top that with pepper, tomato, and then sprinkle on basil and thyme, salt and pepper. Repeat until you're out of veggies. Make sure to end with tomatoes and then the spices.

Drizzle the oil on top (don't drench) and bake, uncovered, for an hour. Make sure to check on it occasionally and press down on the top once in a while to compact the veggies. Serve hot. This goes great with veggie dogs or lentil meatloaf.

Eggplant Soup
1 eggplant (or 8-10 baby eggplants)
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 green pepper, chopped
1 Tbl. olive oil
4 cups vegetable broth
salt and pepper (I used white pepper, but black pepper works, too)
1 large roasted red pepper (from a jar - or about 3 Tbls)
1 tsp. sugar

Pierce eggplant skin a few times. Under broiler, bake eggplant for 20 minutes. Cool. Scoop out eggplant pulp and chop (if using larger eggplant).

Meanwhile, heat oil in large saucepan. Saute onion and green pepper until soft. Add eggplant and broth. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Blend soup in blender until smooth. Add salt and pepper, roasted red pepper and sugar.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Is There Anything Better Than Spinach?

Like I promised, today's the day I share my latest find - a spinach au gratin that's baked in the oven.

I love when I find a recipe that allows me to buy more fresh spinach. I love when that recipe is low in fat. This from a girl who used to hate spinach - LOATHE spinach. Now it's to the point where he says "Can we not have spinach again?" No problem - you cook then! LOL

Anyway, I was leafing through one of my favorite cookbooks - 1,001 Low-fat Vegetarian Recipes by Sue Spitler - when this one jumped out at me. It went great with the meatless loaf from yesterday. In fact, to me it was the bigger hit. Of course! Per usual, I've modified slightly to make this work for me:

Spinach Au Gratin

1 bag fresh spinach, washed
1/4 cup onion, chopped
1 tsp. butter
1 Tbl. oil
2 Tbl. flour
1 cup fat-free milk
1/4 cup fat-free sour cream
Freshly ground nutmeg
salt and pepper
1/8 cup Parmesan cheese
1/8 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

Wash spinach and put it directly into saucepan. Cover and cook on medium for 4 minutes, until wilted. Drain.

Heat butter and oil in saucepan. Fry onion until clear. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Add milk and whisk. Bring to boil, whisking constantly, until it thickens. Take off heat. Add sour cream and mix.

Set aside 1/4 cup of mixture. Add spinach to saucepan and mix. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper. Pour into smallish casserole dish (I used 8-by-8). Top with remaining sauce and sprinkle first with Parmesan and then with cheddar.

Bake at 375 degrees for 8 minutes.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Crockpot Meat-less Loaf

It was a nice lazy weekend (we don't get those too often) so I hauled out the recipe books. I wanted a nice meat-less loaf recipe that would go in the crockpot. Alas, none. So on to the web - again, many nice recipes, but none with crockpot directions. I did find one with lamb involved, so I bastardized my own version of a meatloaf and used the web-found cooking directions. Here's what I made:

Crockpot Meat-less Loaf

1 package ground meatless meat (I used a Gimme Lean one, about 16 oz)
1 cup cooked lentils (French lentils)
1 carrot, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1/3 cup onion, diced
1/2 green pepper, diced
3 sundried tomatoes, diced
2 Tbls. white wine
Cooking spray
1 egg
1 1/2 cup plain bread crumbs
1/2 cup vegetable broth
1/2 tsp. marjoram
1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 tsp. basil
1/2 tsp. crushed bay leaf
salt and pepper

Spray skillet with cooking spray. Heat, then saute diced veggies until the celery is soft, about 8 minutes, adding wine after 4 minutes. Set aside to cool a little.

Meanwhile, mix together the ground meatless soy and the lentils. Add spices and vegetable mixture. Mix, then add bread crumbs and egg. If it's too moist at this point, add a little more bread crumbs.

Press into the bottom of a crockpot. Add a thin layer of Tomato and Red Pepper Sauce (below). If you don't have that, don't bother with anything. Heat on high for an hour, then turn to low and cook for 8 hours. (If you can't let it pre-cook at high, just crank it up when you get home. )

Serve with tomato and red pepper sauce, below.

Tomato and Red Pepper Sauce

1 can (15 oz) diced tomatoes
1 large roasted red pepper, drained and chopped
1/2 tsp. basil
1/2 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. freshly ground pepper

Blend all ingredients in a food processor. Heat in microwave and spoon over cooked meatloaf.

If you do this correctly, it'll look like it's burning on the sides. It is, but it gives you that wonderful meatloaf-y crust.

Originally, I used 1 cup of vegetable broth, but I recommend cutting it back as it was too watery and I had to cook it with the lid off.

I served this with a Creamy Spinach Au Gratin, which I'll share with you tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Getting My Irish (Stew) Up

It snowed here last night - absolutely beautiful to wake up to (especially since I work from home). But with the snow came a cold spell, so even though I was saving this recipe for St. Patrick's Day, I'm figuring today's a good day for it.

I can't take credit for this one entirely - the original showed up in a Vegetarian Times issue not long ago. But I've made it my own with a few changes while trying to stick closely to the original (because it really was so darned good). Full credit to VT for the idea.

Irish Stew

Nonfat cooking spray
1 tub Ray's Wheat Meat (or your favorite seitan)
2 carrots, sliced
1 Tbl. flour
4 slices Fakin' bacon, sliced into strips (I use one that looks like Canadian bacon)
1 tsp. fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp. dried thyme (use fresh if you can)
1 cup stout beer (I use Belhaven Scottish Ale, but Guinness works, as does any good brown ale)
2 cups vegetable broth
1 cup butternut squash, cubed,
1 Yukon potato, cubed (I prefer the potato)
1/2 cup frozen edamame

Spray a soup pot with oil and heat. Stir in carrots and cook for about 5 minutes. (add a little water if it begins to stick, but not more than a few Tbls.) Add flour and cook for 2 minutes.

Add seitan (without draining), bacon, and thyme. Stir and cook for 2 more minutes.

Add beer and bring to a boil. As it boils, scrape the bottom of the pan frequently. I tend to reduce the liquid to a little over 1/2 cup. Add broth and potato/squash. Simmer for 20 minutes.

Add edamame and cook 5-10 more minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

I serve this with mashed or boiled potatoes. Because you add flour to this, it usually gets thick enough to serve on a plate.

Meat eaters - this one's easy to convert. Just substitute beef cubes for the seitan.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Sometimes, You Just Need a Drink

Oh boy, did I have a day today! A client issue that refused to clear up may mean that I have to turn my back on a lucrative, ongoing gig. But I'm of the opinion that sometimes things happen as hidden blessings. This situation may be just that as it will free me up to find more lucrative jobs (I'm a freelance writer by day - food fanatic by night).

So I did what anyone would do in times of stress - I exercised like mad, meditated, and then mixed up a pitcher of sangria. Here's my favorite way to make it, which I think makes it good enough to be lethal. Careful! If you use too much sugar, you'll end up with too much buzz, and then an unwelcome headache.

One note - I've made this with both white wine and red. I prefer the white (lower calories) for summer, but either will work for you.

Sangria the Right Way

1 bottle red wine, preferably merlot or pinot noir (I buy fairly cheap ones)
2 peaches, sliced thin
1 lemon, sliced thin
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup club soda
1/4 cup passion fruit juice (I've used guava juice with excellent results)

Pour wine into 2-quart pitcher. Add sugar and stir well. Add sliced fruit, juice, and club soda. For a deeper flavor, don't add club soda until you've let this mixture sit in the fridge for an hour or so. This allows the fruit flavors to really come out before you drink it.

Drink with care and please, drink responsibly. If you'd prefer non-alcoholic, this is great with a sparkling white wine substitute.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Game On!

If you're not nailed to the television for the Super Bowl today, perhaps this post won't be your favorite. Likewise if you're not rooting for the Steelers, I'm not sure you're in the right place. ;))

Today I sit 300 miles from Pittsburgh and all the fever that envelopes the city and nearly all of western PA whenever their team goes to the big game. My daughter, who attends college there, said the restaurant where she works is closing at 6 today. In fact, most businesses will, as well. There's no point staying open - no one is out. If they're not glued to a television, they've claimed their spot at the local watering hole for game time. Kids in the area will enjoy a two-hour delay tomorrow morning. School districts know - they'll be up late tonight. Most of the area is swathed in black and gold and everyone from Gramma on down to newborns are wearing the colors and waving the towels.

I miss it. Alas, I'm not anywhere near the rallies and the excitement. I'm here in Philly, where the only mention of the game is a cursory "In sports, the Steelers and Cardinals will play in the Super Bowl. Locally, no games are scheduled." Thanks. Thanks for the support.

At any rate, I'm five hours from the best tailgate parties on the planet, but that doesn't mean I'm not eating! I've already made my chili. My guacamole (recipe below) is in the fridge. I'm even making cheese un-steaks. The food, to me, is as important as the game (or the commercials).

My guac is one I created after eating what I still believe is the best ever at my wedding reception. Since the caterer refused to give up her secret recipe, I began experimenting, trying to hit on the perfect combo. While hers is now a distant memory, mine has won a few rave reviews. The secret (and yes, I share my secrets) - corn and roasted red peppers.

Because the chips I use have plenty of salt already, I cut down on how much I put into this. You won't miss it.

Guacamole Heaven

2-4 hass avocados
1/4 cup diced onion
2/3 cup frozen corn
2 roasted red peppers (I use jarred)
2 Tbs. sliced jalepeno rings (again, I use jarred ones)
1/4 tsp. ancho chili pepper (McCormick's)
1 Tbl. butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper
garlic powder

Heat skillet (I usually start with a small amount of oil, then add the butter) and melt butter. Add chili pepper powder, garlic powder, jalepeno rings and then corn. Saute until corn is cooked, about 5 minutes. Set aside. Add onion to the skillet and saute until it's clear, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

Hollow out the avocados into a bowl. If you like, dice them. I don't. I use the "random slice" method, which means I just stab at it until it looks smaller. Dice the red peppers and add to the avacado. Add the corn mixture and the onion. Stir until mixed. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cover and cool in the fridge. Serve with tortilla chips.