Monday, January 2, 2012

Sun Dried Tomato Tapenade

Ordering the vegetarian option at a large event can make you wish you'd grabbed a peanut butter sandwich before leaving home. This proved true recently when a friend was served a plate of pasta drowning in a cream sauce that was exactly the same shade as the pasta itself. There was not a vegetable on the plate. The only vegetables served came with the meat and fish meals. OK, I understand that when caterers are dealing with the challenges of preparing several hundred meals, the extra effort required to create an appetizing vegetarian dish for the few who request it might not be a priority. But there is really no good excuse for serving a second-rate meal when it's so easy to prepare top-notch meatless fare. Pasta can be a great vegetarian go-to option that is simple, tasty, attractive, and appetizing.

On our first night in Boston, my intrepid husband and I braved the rain and walked across the Neponset River bridge to Dorchester in search of Venezia, an Italian restaurant on the nearby waterfront. Out journey took us on an excursion under the expressway and through one of the old, edge-of-Boston neighborhoods that made me feel nostalgic and happy despite my damp socks. My iPhone GPS was not being helpful, and I was about to head to the pizza place that I could see across the highway when a woman on her porch came to our rescue. Just a few more blocks and we found our destination snugged up against the waterfront. We were seated at a window where we had a spectacular view of the storm, which conveniently cleared up in time for our walk back to the hotel.  The Cavetalli Scicilian was delightful, the cannolis were fresh and rich, and the service was excellent. This was the night before the beige pasta dish was served to my friend, so I was acutely aware of other pasta possibilities. This recipe was inspired by that wonderful meal. The sun-dried tomato topping is a wonderful rustic tapenade, so this simple dish can serve multiple purposes. Toss with your favorite pasta, or serve with crackers, crostini or crudites. Buon appetito!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

No-Bake Vegan Pumpkin Pie - Gluten Free

I fully intended to grow pumpkins this fall, but with the extended summer weather I was fooled into believing I still had time to plant. I waited too long. Fortunately, the great pumpkin shortage of 2009 is over and canned pumpkin is available at the grocery stored. Unfortunately, Hurricane Irene ruined much of the pumpkin crop in the northeast, so you might want to stock up now if pumpkin recipes are a part of your holiday cooking tradition.

This pie is one result of my search for plant based foods that my father will eat and actually enjoy. The crust recipe is made from dates and nuts and comes from the Engine 2 Diet, by Rip Esselstyn, a top professional triathlete and now a professional firefighter. The filling is based on a recipe from Love Veggies and Yoga, with a few alterations. It's topped with a cashew cream whipped concoction that tastes as rich as dairy cream, without the dairy. If you plan to make cashew cream, you should begin the night before you intend to use it. If you like it, make a good sized batch. It keeps for several days in the refrigerator, and it can be frozen, too.

Take it out of the freezer at least 30 minutes before serving. The filling is substantial enough to serve at room temp, where I think you get the most out of the pumpkin and spice flavors.

No-Bake Vegan Pumpkin Pie Recipe

Monday, October 10, 2011

White Bean Soup with Herbs

Fall is finally in the air here in North Central Florida and this earthy, flavorful soup is a perfect way to celebrate the cooler temperatures. It's easy to make, and if you use canned beans you can have it on the table in about 30 minutes. This soup gets its flavor from the unbeatable trinity of a carrot, celery, and onion mire pois, along with the addition of lemon and a splash of Marsala wine.

The optional topping comes from Michael Chiarello.

White beans are high in fiber and low in fat. They are appropriate for a diabetic diet, and are a good source of other nutrients, as well. Combine with rice or other whole grains for a complete protein.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Preserved Lemons

Preserved lemons are said to be the "secret ingredient" that gives Moroccan and Middle Eastern foods that special flavor that can be so elusive. They can be used in many dishes, from main meals to desserts. I've been meaning to make them for a long time and when I saw them again recently on a cooking show (wish I could remember which one), I decided the time had come. Although you can order these online, or find them at a specialty market if you are lucky enough to have one of those nearby, they are easy to make yourself. Of course, you have to wait a month before you can use them, but I figured that would give me plenty of time to find recipes to make using these flavorful fruits.

Recipes abound for making these, and I researched multiple sources, but I want to give special credit to Sprouted Kitchen for the clear, simple to follow directions and beautiful photographs. It's a simple process requiring only a large Mason jar, a bag of Meyer (or other) lemons, some salt, and a few spices if you are so inclined. Not all recipes call for the additional spices, but I could not resist the urge to add a few extras.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Vegetable Paella

This is a dish for when you have a little extra time to spend preparing dinner. It is not difficult, but it has several steps, as all paellas do. Traditional paellas are cooked over an open fire of aromatic pine and orange branches, which imparts a smoky undertone. We are using smoked paprika to suggest the fire roasted flavor. Traditional paellas are also a dish cooked by men.
The foundation for this recipe comes from Fresh and Fast Vegetarian: recipes that make a meal, by Marie Simmons.We took liberties with the vegetables and substituted green peas and green olives for green beans. On our second attempt, the amount of water added to the rice was reduced significantly. Those amounts are reflected in this recipe. The goal is to attain a crispy bottom, so it is important that the rice maintains its integrity. It cannot be wet or mushy. You will want to monitor this for yourself and adjust the amount of water you use so that you can get that crispy bottom.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Banofee Pie

My brother Larry is a very dynamic person. He is charming and witty, a brilliant lawyer, a collector of fine British automobiles, and an aficionado of fine wines. He is an award winning trumpet player, and an international man of mystery. He is also an excellent cook. So when he sent me a recipe, along with its entire history, and followed that up with a phone call the very same day, I knew that Banoffee Pie was coming to my kitchen soon.
This dessert is said to have originated in England at The Hungry Monk restaurant in East Sussex, UK. Bananas and toffee combine to create Banoffee, a rich, sticky, and heavenly combination embraced by a Graham cracker crust and topped with a cloud of homemade whipped cream. Invite company when you make this. It is far too tempting to keep it around the house for long.

With only 5 ingredients, this recipe is as easy as can be. Making the toffee, though, can take time. What the British call toffee is better known in Florida as Dulce de Leche, or milk candy in Spanish. It is often made by submerging an unopened can of sweetened condensed milk in a pot of boiling water, and allowing it to simmer for 3 hours. By that time, the milk has darkened and become a sweet, thick confection. Sounds exciting. And maybe a little scary. Cooking for Engineers offered a microwave approach, but the mention of liquid napalm made me nervous. I settled for the comfort of a familiar double boiler. I should also tell you that when I bought the sweetened condensed milk, I also bought a can of Nestle's Dulce de Leche. Hey, it's the same thing...they just did the 3 hour cooking in a can for me. I made the toffee in the double boiler, and it was delicious. Then I opened the ready made can and guess what? Just as good. I can now whip this up in no time.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Fire-Roasted Beet Timbale with Wild Rice

This is perfect, even if you don't like beets. You can substitute butternut squash for the beets and have an equally delicious dish. (Or be crazy and do the beets and squash together -- it looks a bit like a traffic light but more festive.) This timbale is the perfect meal because it is easy enough to make on a weeknight, satisfying, and impressive enough to serve to company.

Beets are often paired with goat cheese, and I love the combination. Gary prefers feta. Both cheeses work well with the roast vegetables. Make it vegan by eliminating the cheese and lightly dressing the timbale with your favorite vinaigrette.

Preparation and assembly are a snap.There's some cooking time involved, but you are free to go and do other things. The beets can be prepared a day ahead and reheated or served cold, but I like them best when they are hot off the grill. They can also be roasted in the oven for about the same amount of time at 350F.

The following quantities are per timbale
1 med beet (about 2 1/2" across)
1 cup prepared wild rice
1/4 cup goat cheese or feta cheese
2 teaspoons pistachios, shelled and very coarsely chopped
handful of arugula or watercress

  • Heat up the grill. When coals are hot, push all the coals to one side.
  • Wash and trim beets. You can grill them peeled or with skins on. They caramelize more when peeled and the sugars can rise to the surface. They are milder roasted with skins on.
  • Wrap in a sealed foil packet. 
  • Place on grill away from coals. Cover, making sure to leave the vents open.  Check back in 45 minutes to an hour. Turn the package over and wait another 30 - 40 minutes. Check by carefully unwrapping a small bit of the foil packet and inserting a knife into the beet. Beets should not be too soft, but they should not be crunchy, either. You'll know.
  • Prepare wild rice according to package directions. Change it up and substitute your favorite quinoa recipe for the rice.
  • Assemble:  
    • Set a 3 inch round tube mold on a serving plate. Press in 1 cup rice or quinoa.
    • Spread cheese on top of grain.
    • Sprinkle on about 2/3 of the nuts.
    • Top with chopped roasted beets or butternut squash.
    • Garnish with remaining nuts and arugula.