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Archive for the ‘Vegetarian’ Category

Three onion casserole fresh from the oven.

We decided to spend both Christmas and New Year’s weekends at home this year. We’d traveled for Thanksgiving and that was enough for us. On top of the two long weekends, I also had two personal days at work that I needed to use before the end of the year – so I ended up with two 4-day weekends in a row. For someone who loves to cook, this was pure luxury! Definitely not an opportunity to be wasted – and I tried not to, as I will try to recap in the next couple of posts.

In the spirit of taking a festive approach to this opportunity, I sat down with one of my most appropriately festive cookbooks: The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook. Doesn’t the name just say it all? This book does not contain heart- or waistline-friendly recipes. But how often do you have an excuse to cook really decadent party food? (As opposed to a beautiful-yet-healthy potluck dish, for example?) For those rare times when you do – this book does not disappoint.

And indeed, it was not long before I was mentally bookmarking various ideas, but I finally found the one. The one I could not imagine NOT making for a long holiday weekend. It had the simple name of Three-Onion Casserole and was billed as an ‘accompaniment.’ But don’t be fooled: this dish’s size (it filled a 9×13″ pan above the brim), cost (almost $50 worth of ingredients, most of them various kinds of cheese) and flavor (wine, garlicky boursin, herb-flecked dill Havarti, and slow-roasted leeks and onions topped off with crusty, deliciously browned Gruyere) are no side show. If you were to bring this beautiful, fragrant and filling casserole to a winter party, your brilliance and generosity would not soon be forgotten. I didn’t; I just made it for the two of us, for New Year’s weekend.

One more note about this dish: it is labor-intensive, perhaps only suited for one of those 3- or 4-day weekends when cold weather has you trapped indoors anyway. There is simply no way to make light work of slicing this many onions, nor do Havarti or Gruyere typically come pre-grated. Just hang in there and get it done; you will be richly rewarded. It may seem completely inconceivable, but Tomas and I ate this whole casserole by ourselves. Eventually. I think it took about a week… but boy, those leftovers made for the best lunches ever. Like extending the holidays right into the work week.

Three-Onion Casserole (adapted from The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook, 1985)

3 Tbsp unsalted butter

2 large yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced

2 large red onions, peeled and thinly sliced

4 leeks, tough green ends cut off, well rinsed and thinly sliced

1 1/2 cups grated Havarti (I used Dill Havarti and enjoyed the extra boost of herbs. I was unsure of how much solid cheese to buy at the store, but found that a smallish 1/2-pound block of Havarti made more than enough)

2 packages (5 oz. each) Boursin, crumbled

1 1/2 cups Gruyere, grated (one 1/2-pound block was enough; I couldn’t tell and bought two, which cost me dearly but gives me an excuse to make fondue soon)

1/2 cup dry white wine

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9×13″ baking dish with 1 Tbsp of the butter. Layer a third of each of the onions in the bottom of the dish and season with salt and pepper. Top with the grated Havarti. Create another layer of onions, seasoning again with salt and pepper. Top this layer with the crumbled Boursin, distributing it as evenly as possible. Layer the last third of the onions and leeks on top and top with the grated Gruyere. Dot the remaining 2 Tbsp of butter on top and pour the white wine over all. Bake for 1 hour, covering the dish with aluminum foil after 30-45 minutes or when it is sufficiently browned to prevent the top from burning. Serve immediately (but makes fabulous leftovers).

A mound of onions and cheese (way more than I had imagined - I had to switch dishes to try to fit all the food that this recipe generated!)

The Silver Palate cookbook says that this makes 6 servings, but perhaps that was in 1985. I would argue that it could easily feed 12 people if they help themselves to fairly generous portions. This would be a great side dish for any kind of steak or filet, but I enjoyed it with brussel sprouts, good bread and sweet potatoes.

You might only want to make this once a year, but I can imagine it becoming quite an addictive tradition at that time of year…

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This incredible recipe is apparently originally from Food & Wine Magazine, though I am sure that I first  found it somewhere else – another take-off, no doubt, but I can see why. I made this for Thanksgiving two years ago and promptly made it again for Christmas. Last year, I made something different (still sweet potatoes, but with ginger and coconut) – and I missed the heck out of this recipe and wished I’d made it instead. This recipe produces a super-smooth, lusciously creamy, sweetly fragrant sweet potato puree that has a most tantalizing vanilla aroma. I admit I am a real vanillaholic, but I just can’t find any other sweet potato dish that comes anywhere close to this one.

It’s amusing to me, now that I have this online recipe journal, how often I look up a recipe here when I can’t remember where else I’ve got it written down. So, in the spirit of archiving my favorite cooking experiences digitally, and of adding my voice to the many out there who have already enthusiastically endorsed this recipe – here it is, with credit to the various versions floating in cyberspace.

I should note that the two versions I’ve seen use either heavy cream (Food and Wine) or half and half. I’ve made it with half-and-half both times so that is what I am posting here, but I have no doubt that the original version is even more decadent and wonderful, and frankly I can’t wait to try it that way too.

4 lbs sweet potatoes

1 cup half-and-half or whipping cream

4 Tbsp butter

1/2 vanilla bean

salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400°. Poke the sweet potatoes several times with a fork and bake for 35-45 minutes, until tender. Let cool, then peel and transfer to a food processor. Puree until fairly smooth. (I had to stop several times and dig around in the Cuisinart to dislodge stubborn chunks of sweet potato; I finally just went on to the next step and added the cream, which loosened things up nicely). 

While the sweet potatoes are roasting, heat the cream or half-and-half in a small saucepan with the butter. Split the vanilla bean down the middle and scrape the seeds into the cream mixture; drop the bean pod in as well. Stir well and heat just until it simmers. Remove from heat and let it steep until the potatoes are done. 

Remove the vanilla bean from the cream mixture. With the food processor on, carefully pour the vanilla cream into the sweet potatoes and process until smooth. Season the sweet potato puree with salt and pepper, transfer to a bowl and serve.

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Here I go with the coconut milk again. It’s just such a versatile ingredient; the more I use it in new and creative ways, the more I realize how many ideas I haven’t tried. Before the year is up, I definitely want to try it as the main ‘cream’ ingredient in a pumpkin pie as well – I’ll hopefully report back on that very soon.

But I digress. Today I want to report on a dish that is so simple and yet so scrumptious that I have been craving it nearly every day since making it at least a couple of weeks ago. It was devoured so quickly that there are no pictures to show this time – but I hope to recreate it soon (seeing as I can’t stop thinking about it) and then update this post accordingly. It’s a baked rice pudding made with a purple jasmine rice blend – gorgeous, white and purple-streaked grains of long sweet rice. I found a box of it in my pantry that had been patiently waiting for literally over a year for me to come up with some fancy-pants way of incorporating it into a trendy Thai or fusion-inspired dish – another one of many shi-shi ingredients that I cart home with me from Whole Paycheck in a moment of inspiration and then stash in the cupboard for months on end until true inspiration strikes (coupled with energy and an actual recipe, preferably) and I dig it out and use it. Just as often, I have to report that such ingredients languish even longer, and in some cases even go totally stale. I am not great at shopping for only the items I need for the coming week or month; something like purple jasmine rice pops out at me from a store shelf and I can’t just LEAVE it there. It’s way too gorgeous, and novel, and exciting. I simply must bring it home where I can look at it every time I open the cupboard door and feel that tingle of anticipation (ooh, right, I have purple rice! Maybe next week/month/year I’ll think of something to make with that…). This box of purple rice was part of my scenery for entirely too long. But THIS recipe has guaranteed that it will now be a regular staple in my home – complete with an actual recipe and the strong inclination to use it!

Inspiration struck at a potluck party I went to in honor of a Will Allen Growing Power weekend that I was volunteering with in Denver last month, put on by Feed Denver and hosted by The Urban Farm – two wonderful and innovative urban farming education and training organizations. The weekend was a creative and inspirational gathering of committed activists, educators, farmers, permaculturists and more. I met amazing people and took part in the construction of a hoophouse from scratch; it was an empowering experience to see it rise from bare dirt and mud on a snowy weekend, going from a pile of fencing and lumber materials to a finished structure in just a few short hours. Anyway… the potluck. One of our volunteers brought along two pie plates filled with a lusciously dark purple, dense, chewy, creamy confection topped off with slices of apple. It looked like rice, but I couldn’t be sure of anything with that crazy color going on. No idea if it was sweet or savory until I put it in my mouth. And what a sweet surprise it was! It was all I could do to keep from gobbling way more than my fair share of the dish; I had to settle for pointing and rolling my eyes and gushing about how fabulous it was. Clearly I was not the only one who felt this way about the dish; both pie plates full of purple rice surprise were vaporized in short order and we were left staring wistfully at the crumbs, wondering what it was we’d just eaten and loved so much.

Fast forward to a couple weeks ago  when for some reason I came across a recipe for a savory coconut rice on 101 Cookbooks (which I will definitely have to try sometime soon) that used the same exact brand of purple jasmine rice blend that I have. As the lightbulb went off in my head, I started Googling more recipes for purple rice, and it hit me that THAT’S WHAT I HAD at that party! If I just add some eggs, and sugar, and bake it all in a pie dish… I scrambled to crank open my last two cans of coconut milk, mix up some eggs, and get this thing in the oven. And boy, was it worth it. Chewy, creamy, sweet, dense, sugary goodness. I CANNOT WAIT to make this again.

Now mind you, I did not have pure purple rice, and the photos and recipes you will find online are for real purple rice. I had this lovely blend. I don’t know how much that affected the outcome of my particular experiment – but I do know that the color was not quite the deep, rich purple-black that you may see featured in other recipes. Suffice it to say that this works great with this blend, and quite likely with all manner of other rice blends or varieties. The purple just makes it extra exotic, if you ask me. But it may well make a difference in taste, so one of these days I will try it with the REAL purple rice. This, however, is damn good.

Purple Coconut Rice Pudding

2/3 cups purple rice or purple Jasmine rice, soaked for 2 hours and drained

2 cans full-fat coconut milk

6 Tbsp butter, room temperature, cut into pieces

1/2 cup sugar (I found an organic, Fair Trade sugar at Costco that has made me feel SO much better about baking lately!)

3 eggs

1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Add the drained rice and 2 cans of coconut milk to a pot on the stovetop, and bring to a boil with a dash of salt. Simmer for 25 minutes, stirring to keep from sticking. Remove from heat. Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, cream the white sugar and butter together and add the eggs one at a time, beating as you go. Run the beater for 5 minutes, then stir the egg/sugar mixture into the cooled rice/milk mixture and mix well to combine.

Coat a 9-inch deep dish pie plate (or other suitable baking dish) with cooking spray or butter and pour in the rice mixture. Sprinkle the top of the pudding evenly with the brown sugar. Bake at 350 degrees for 35-45 minutes or until done. For me, the pudding looked obviously done when the brown sugar on top had caramelized to a nice, sticky dark brown, and the pudding itself had set quite solidly.

This dish ages very nicely overnight and makes for an immensely tasty breakfast, snack, or dessert the next day. Try to save some for at least that long.

I did not in my case add any sliced apples, but it sounds like a perfectly lovely idea and I’ll try to think of it next time.

A final note on my own version of this dessert is that my backyard eggs, wth their super-orange yolks, have a tendency to turn things really weird colors. The brownish-purple hue that this pudding took on just after I mixed the coconut milk/rice mixture with the egg/sugar mixture was not, shall we say, appetizing or particularly photogenic. Never you mind about this, if it happens to happen to you. You won’t give a damn when you are shoving the end result in your face late at night in the privacy of your own home.  I imagine that using REAL purple rice, instead of a partially white blend, might also cover up this eggy color and make it a non-issue. This is the ultimate in comfort food though – not much to look at, but unforgettably delicious in that warm, filling, god-I-hope-there’s-more kind of way.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go out and buy more purple rice and coconut milk.

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It was well past the first or even the second frost when I dug up 5 pounds of fresh carrots from my garden. I forked them out of the ground on a warm day when the soil in my raised beds was nice and soft, and they came out juicy and plump, ready to be eaten straight up or added to something wonderful in the kitchen.

5 pounds is a lot of carrots. There are even more out there in the ground; when I had filled a bowl, I had to stop and hope the rest would hold for another day. We did what we could to polish them off: sliced them into a tangy Asian sauce with water chestnuts, corn, peas and other veggies; ate them straight up; chopped and roasted them with potatoes and brussel sprouts; diced them into a hearty lentil soup; and at least 2 pounds of them ended up in this creamy, sweet, tropical soup.

Most carrot soups are either a simple, ginger-carrot puree (a delicious combination), or a less exciting, but incredibly comforting, cream and carrot soup (vaguely French, I suppose). Something or other had gotten me thinking about making a carrot soup with coconut milk instead of cream. I wasn’t sure where to start so I fished around for ideas on the internet, got a general picture of where I was going with this, and went to work.

The earthy, garden-fresh carrots were to die for, of course. Fresh ginger added the spicy counterpoint that is so beloved in most carrot soups, and 2 generous cans of rich, creamy coconut milk gave it a luxurious texture and a tropical note that delivered an element of sweet surprise to the palate. I wish I could have made even more (though I was able to use a LOT of carrots) – it’s all gone now, and I would give anything to have a container stashed in the freezer someplace. I’m already craving it again.

I apologize for the terrible photo, but as I was boxing up the last morsel of this soup for lunch, it finally occurred to me to take a picture!

Creamy Carrot & Coconut Soup

At least 6 large carrots, scrubbed and roughly sliced

2 large onions, peeled and diced

2 tsp fresh ginger, minced

3 tsp curry powder (I don’t actually keep curry powder around because most true curries are mixed from scratch, so I used a saffron-based spice mix with whole cumin seeds that is quite tasty – but anything in the general curry powder family should do nicely)

3 1/2 cups vegetable broth (or water with a good bouillon, like Better Than Bouillon which I have found at Whole Foods Market)

2 14 oz cans coconut milk (I use the ‘full fat’ kind, it’s got much better body)

Saute the onions, carrots and ginger with the curry powder until the vegetables are translucent and beginning to soften. Add the vegetable broth and cook for at least 25 minutes, until carrots are soft.

Allow to cool slightly, then puree in a food processor or blender, working in batches. Better yet, if you have a handheld immersion blender, you can puree it in the pot. Return soup to pot and turn the heat back on.

Stir in 2 cans of coconut milk until the soup has completely reheated and is well combined.

Season to taste with salt.

This soup could be served hot or cold. It was deliciously warming in winter, but I suspect the bright notes of ginger and the tropical hint of coconut would make it a fine, light summer soup as well, even chilled. As a bonus, this recipe is fully vegan, yet lusciously creamy. It’s hard to stop after just one bowl.

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When your garden gives you something this tender and sweet… no recipe is needed.

Shell peas and baby Nantes Little Finger carrots from the garden, June 20.

Shell peas and baby Nantes Little Finger carrots from the garden, June 20.

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To shell peas most effectively: peel the tip at the non-stem end of the pod (on the right in this photo) up over the rounded end of the pod to pull out some of the string - just enough to get it started is fine.

To shell peas most effectively: peel the tip at the non-stem end of the pod (on the right in this photo) up over the rounded end of the pod to pull out some of the string - just enough to get it started is fine.

I've started pulling in this shot; it's just enough to split the beginning of the seam here. Anywhere else and it will still be hard to work with; this is the magic "end" of the pod!

I've started pulling in this shot; it's just enough to split the beginning of the seam here. Anywhere else and it will still be hard to work with; this is the magic "end" of the pod!

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Any questions?

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Fresh salad greens, including leaves of sorrel.

Fresh salad greens, including leaves of sorrel.

Sorrel is one of those herbs that I put in my garden because someone described it to me and it sounded good, although I couldn’t remember ever having eaten it. I figured eventually I’d try it and be glad I added it to my collection.

In the last two years, I’ve added small fresh leaves to my garden salads and loved the lemony taste that they added to the mix. I’ve also discovered that my chickens LOVE sorrel and will decimate it in short order if given the chance! I’m hoping to add a few more plants just for that reason – I’ll bet it’s splendidly good for them, and it will give me a chance to snip off more than just the most bedraggled of the leaves to share with them. However, I’ve cooked with it or explored any other possible uses until somehow, for some reason, I came across the idea for sorrel soup.

I modeled my experiment after this recipe for one basic reason: I had all the ingredients on hand. Most of the lovely-sounding recipes out there called for a potato (and often cream) and I just didn’t have a potato (or cream) at the moment. And I don’t know about you, but I just don’t want to go to the store for a potato! I end up spending $30-40 and bringing home all sorts of other things I don’t need like bread, ice cream, or some kind of funky condiment – when all I wanted to do is try a new fresh treat from the garden.

After searching high and low for a recipe that was even easier than those calling for cream and potatoes, I found what I was looking for. I’ve adapted mine from the Gastronomer’s Guide version to be vegetarian and to accomodate the fact that for now, I just have one good sorrel plant – I cut the entire plant for this recipe and it gave me about half what I figured the original recipe needed (and I’m amazed at how rapidly it’s growing back!). This recipe is so basic, all you need is olive oil and some eggs. And the way I ended up making it, it makes a really small serving – just enough for two people to enjoy it as a refreshing lunch, an appetizer, or a light summer supper with some crusty bread and a salad.

 Sorrel Soup

1 bunch (about 1/2 pound) sorrel leaves, washed and trimmed of stems
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large shallot, chopped
3 cups vegetable broth
3 teaspoons sugar
coarse sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 large or 2 small eggs, beaten
several dollops plain yogurt

Heat oil in a medium pot or saucepan. Add shallots and saute over medium heat until translucent and beginning to turn golden. Tear sorrel leaves into large pieces and toss into pot a handful at a time. Cook, stirring often, until sorrel breaks down into a soft “sauce” and turns greenish-brown (this goes quite quickly!). Add broth, bring to a boil, and simmer 15 minutes.

Blend the soup with an immersion blender or in small batches in a food processor (working carefully so as not to burn yourself!). Return to pot and add sugar, salt and pepper to taste, then slowly stir in the beaten eggs and stir until fully cooked and dispersed into soup. Cook soup for a couple more minutes. Ladle into bowls and top off with 1-2 Tbsp plain yogurt for each serving.

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This lovely soup is very light and lemony (which is probably why it pairs so well with the egg and – in my opinion – with the tangy yogurt; it reminds me of the recipes for the Greek soup Avgolomeno). We polished it off in no time and I wished I had more for the next day, but the speed of the sorrel’s regrowth in the garden is promising many more opportunities to enjoy this simple and healthy soup throughout the growing season. Next test: will it freeze well? (I bet yes, as long as you freeze it just after pureeing it and add the eggs later!).

Check out these other great-sounding and easy sorrel soup recipes:
Terra Brockman in the Chicago Food Examiner

Gabrielle Hamilton of Prune, in New York Magazine

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Here I go with the quiche again. It must have something to do with the spring vegetables, fresh eggs sitting on the kitchen counter, and occasions constantly arising where I need to feed a bunch of people easily (i.e. potlucks, people visiting for brunch, a busy week needing several meals prepped at once). Perhaps quiche is the spring garden version of the ever-utilitarian casserole: a vehicle for quickly tossing together a medley of fresh produce that’s easy but looks and tastes like it was a serious effort.

In any case, this is basically a variation on the theme that I started with the very popular Swiss Chard and Onion Quiche last year. It’s so easy to just substitute any other tasty pairing of vegetables and other garnishes, but this one came out well enough that it merited writing up.

Essentially, use the same recipe as for the Swiss Chard quiche (use this ratio of eggs, milk and cream for any quiche actually) but instead of the onions, chard, cheese and nutmeg, add instead:

  • two good-sized handfuls fresh-picked asparagus (washed, trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces and sauteed for several minutes in olive oil until bright green and just beginning to be tender with slightly browned edges)
  • several forkfuls of honey goat cheese (I found this beautifully flavored goat cheese at Costco, but you can also use regular goat cheese or, if you’re enterprising enough, mash in some honey with a fork before dropping it into the quiche in small clumps)
  • a handful (I’d say about 2 Tbsp) sliced almonds, lightly toasted

Prepare a single crust and chill for at least 30 minutes or more. Once you’ve taken it out, rolled it flat and arranged it in your pie plate, assemble your quiche. Pour the sauteed asparagus into the bottom of the crust and season liberally with salt, pepper, and a pinch of cayenne.  Sprinkle most of the almonds over the asparagus, reserving one small portion for the final garnish. Dot the honey goat cheese on top of this until well distributed. Pour the egg and cream mixture (explained here) over it all carefully. Dot a few more bits of goat cheese on top, sprinkle with the last few almonds, and bake as directed here.

This will, as all quiches do, keep very nicely in the fridge for quick lunches and snacks throughout the week. The honey goat cheese really makes it – it’s worth either tracking it down or improvising some of your own!

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