Thursday, December 30, 2010

Curried Tomato Bell Pepper Soup

This spicy, colorful soup is a personal favorite and one I often serve to guests. This recipe has evolved over time, but was inspired by a member's recipe in the old Cooking Pleasures magazine. Curried Tomato-Bell Pepper Soup is the original name. It's a bit cumbersome, and also leaves out out half the other good ingredients, like ginger, and garlic and pumpkin. Yes, this soup is thickened with pumpkin, which contributes a great deal to the texture and color. If you want to soup to be smooth, you will need to blend it, but it tastes just as good chunky.

This makes a big batch of soup - 11-12 cups - so note the stopping point in step #2 that allows you to save all or part of it for later.

PREP TIME:  10 minutes (use a food processor to chop the veggies)
COOK TIME: < 30 minutes

2 Tbs Olive oil
3 cups chopped onion (try different kinds, I used yellow and red)
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbs. curry powder (or make your own)
1 Tbs fresh ginger, chopped
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
4 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1 29 oz can diced tomatoes, undrained, or 3 cups fresh tomatoes, chopped
1 Tbs tomato paste
1 15 oz can pure pumpkin
1/2 cup Marsala wine or dry white wine
1 1/2 cups diced bell pepper - red, green, yellow or orange
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup heavy cream, half and half, or soy milk.
cilantro, parsley, or lemon slices for garnish

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Ravioli with Walnut Cream Sauce

I am locked in an ongoing internal debate about how much packaged/prepared food is really OK to include in recipes shared here (or in any meal that we actually intend to eat). On the one hand, this is supposed to be a place to experiment with realistic vegetarian fare. Elaborate menus can be wonderful, but everyone needs some quick tricks to pull out of the hat at the end of a long day, and the convenience of packaged foods is undeniable. On the other hand, we don't want to be guilty of what Gary calls "mixing foods together" or MFT. MFT usually involves ingredients like Velveeta, Campbell's cream of something soup, Cool Whip, Lipton's Onion Soup Mix, canned tuna, and frozen peas. Actually, leave out the Cool Whip and add some egg noodles and I think you have my sister-in-law's recipe for tuna casserole, the ultimate in MFT fare, where every single ingredient is prepackaged, tossed together and baked.

Although I know that a lot of people like that tuna casserole, I'm not all that comfortable with it. It's kind of like painting by numbers. The result is predictable and reliable, but somehow not quite "real". It's the kind of thing you imagine at church dinners in Lake Wobegon, right next to the amazing green Jello mold.  It might be OK, though, to include some carefully chosen prepared foods that we can enhance with our kitchen wizardry before they make it to the table. Maybe we don't have to make every single thing from scratch....


1lb packaged ravioli, we used Monterey Pasta Company's Spinach & Cheese variety from the refrigerator section at the grocery store.
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped, divided
3T butter
2 gloves garlic, minced
1 cup 2% milk
1/4 cup heavy cream (so why the 2% milk, right?)
1/2 T rosemary, chopped
2 T fresh basil, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste
freshly grated Parmesan orAsiago

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Baked Fettucine

In 1986, Bolla wines published a cookbook call The Joy of Pasta. My father found a copy at the Mt. Dora library book sale last year and slipped it into my Christmas stocking. It is a treasure trove of pasta recipes, some simple, some elaborate. It is clearly from the time when pasta was enjoying the food trend spotlight. The recipes cater to neither low carb nor low fat diets. Instead, they approach ingredients with a gleeful abandon, resulting in some wonderful and unusual outcomes.

Baked fettuccine takes macaroni and cheese from a familiar and humble favorite to an extravagant showstopper that includes Fontina cheese, butter, and heavy cream. Although it is substantial and delicious enough to be a main dish, its calorie content suggests that it may be more prudent as a side dish. We found ourselves going back for "just one more bite" more than once. This recipe easily serves 6-8.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Bell Peppers Stuffed with Wild Rice, Pine Nuts & Currants

Colorful bell peppers can be stuffed with a variety of ingredients to create just the right taste for a holiday dinner. The ingredients we used here were inspired by our vegetarian stuffed grape leaves, but all kinds of nuts and fruits can be combined to complement these beauties. Try substituting sunflower or pumpkin seeds for the way-too-expensive pine nuts; use cranberries instead of currants. Alter the taste with the addition of cheese, mushrooms, and other sauteed vegetables. The possibilities are nearly endless.

These are substantial enough to serve as a main dish.

1 cup wild rice, uncooked
1 3/4 cups vegetable broth, divided
4-6 bell peppers
2 Tbs olive oil
2/3 cup onion, chopped
2 cloved garlic, chopped
handful of fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 cup zante currants
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Spoon Bread

Ryan and I published our first recipe in 1995 in the Hidden Oak Elementary School "Look Whoo's Cooking" PTA cookbook. Hidden Oak's mascot, as you have probably guessed, was an owl. The recipe was an old family favorite given to me by a very gracious Southern lady. It is equally at home on the table with a holiday meal or with a weeknight dinner. It is not upscale, gourmet, or nouveau. It is, however, irresistibly good.

Spoonbread is an old Southern classic found in a variety of shapes and forms. For those of you not familiar with Southern traditions, think Paula Deen, Charleston, and Gone with the Wind. Unpretentious, warm, welcoming, Southern food represents some of the very best of American cuisine. It is designed to make diners feel satisfied, and it allows plenty of room for the cook to be creative.

Feel free to substitute fresh Silver Queen corn from the cob for the canned variety when you can get it. I have also used my friend Billy's corn meal in place of the muffin mix. My intrepid husband requests the addition of peppers to keep his bandmates happy. Don't be afraid to try some substitutions when baking.

1 egg, beaten
*8 oz sour cream (I like Daisy because it has no artificial ingredients)
10 oz grated Cheddar cheese, divided (do yourself a favor and get the good stuff)
1 14 oz can corn, drained, or 14 oz Silver Queen corn cut from cob
1 14 oz can creamed corn
*8 oz ricotta cheese (lowfat OK)
*2 Tbs butter, melted
1 Tsp olive oil
1 box Martha White, Jiffy or similar corn muffin mix

*Recent events have encouraged me to review this recipe and reduce its total fat content at least a little.  I reduced the sour cream from 12 oz to 8 oz, and reduced the cheddar cheese to 10 oz. Butter has been cut by half. Lowfat (2%) ricotta was substituted for the previous full-fat cheese, and I have cut the number of eggs in half. We made the revamped recipe tonight, and we like it just as well...perhaps even a tiny bit better. Don't get us wrong...this is still a rich, indulgent dish. Enjoy it in small quantities.

Preheat oven to 350. Combine all ingredients except for about 3 ounces of cheddar cheese in an 8x8 baking dish. Bake for 50 minutes. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top for the last 10 minutes.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Ciabatta - Italian Bread

When we lived in Boston, my mother would sometimes send my brother and me "down the square" to pick up a couple of loaves of Italian bread fresh from the oven at Messina's. Messina's served absolutely wonderful pizza by the slice (square, thin crust) and made fresh bread every day. If they made other things, I don't remember. That pizza and bread was enough for me. The smell of the baking bread was heavenly, and that pizza, served in a big square of wax paper, was a special treat. It cost 25 cents. Mr. Messina was from Sicily and talked like my grandfather.

Matthew and I would walk the 4 or 5 blocks to the square -- a sort of downtown area for our Roslindale neighborhood -- and pick up two loaves of bread, hot from the oven and wrapped in long paper bags. I would hug them to me on the walk home as I nibbled on the top of one of those irresistible loaves. My mother never seemed to mind that I did that. Apparently she did something similar as a young girl in England.

The smell of bread baking in the oven is like a giant hug. It evokes all kinds of warm memories, and makes the house smell pretty good, too. 

Ciabatta, also kown as Italian Slipper Bread because it is shaped something like a bedroom slipper,  is a simple bread, with lots of air holes. It is intended to be light, but there is considerable variation. It is the bread most often used in Paninis. It makes wonderful toast. It's crust is crisp and floury, but the inside is light. Try making it yourself. It's very easy, although it takes some time. Most of the time involved is waiting. There is not a whole lot of work.

This recipe makes two loaves.

Vegetarian Holiday Dishes

This is not my dog...but it sure looks like him.
With Thanksgiving behind us we are rapidly approaching the holidays. Invitations to gather are plentiful, and food takes center stage. For many of us, there are traditional holiday foods, and to vary from these seems somehow to break the unwritten -- but nonetheless fully understood -- rules of the holiday season. Honestly, I cannot remember a Thanksgiving or Christmas without our traditional lasagna. It's just the way things we do things in my family.

So, if proposing a change to the usual fare is likely to cause resistance, imagine the response when you mention that you're planning a vegetarian feast! Someone may even suggest that "vegetarian" and "feast" don't even belong in the same phrase. Don't believe them for a minute. For the next two weeks we are devoting our efforts to feast-worthy vegetarian fare that is right at home at the traditional holiday table.

If you have a dish you'd like to share, please get in touch.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Red Lentil Curry

I found these red lentils at a Mediterranean market and they were simply too beautiful to leave on the shelf. When you purchase a food item only because of the way it looks, with no real idea of what you will do with it, the challenge is to find a recipe that will make the endeavor worthwhile. These lentils are smaller and less substantial than the more common brown lentils, so they do not necessarily lend themselves to the same types of dishes. I'm a fan of curries, so that seemed like a good place to start. This is an easy main dish served over rice or Indian flat bread. This recipe serves 4-6.

2 1/2 cups water
1 tsp each: ground ginger, turmeric, cumin seeds
8 oz red lentils
2 medium potatoes, cut into chunks
3-4 tomatoes, peeled and diced
1 yellow onion, diced
1/2 green bell pepper, diced
2 Tbps butter
2 tsps or more red curry powder
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 cups fresh spinach (optional)

  • Bring water to a boil and add ginger, turmeric and cumin seeds. 
  • Add the red lentils and lower heat to simmer, about 5-7 minutes. 
  • Add the potatoes and cook until lentils become soft.
  • Stir occassionally to prevent sticking.
  • Heat butter in a skillet and saute onion and pepper until onions begin to brown. 
  • Add curry powder and cook for another minute or two.
  • Add the garlic and tomatoes.
  • Add the lentil mixture. 
  • Cook for another minute or two.
  • Add fresh spinach, if desired, cook until just wilted, and serve over rice.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Brussels Sprouts with Brown Butter and Sage

Brussels sprouts. Is there any other vegetable so certain to evoke a response? Love 'em or hate 'em, everyone has an opinion. Fortunately, I come from a pro-sprout family. We all enjoy these bright green gems. When my son was 7, he tricked one of my sprout-hating friends into eating an entire bowl by betting he could eat more than she could. She simply could not believe that any child would willingly eat these tiny cabbages and took the bet. I forget what the stakes were, but for my son the payoff was getting her to eat them at all.

This is a recipe that he found in Real Simple. He's made it for Thanksgiving for several years, and it seems like it is here to stay. It's simple, but delicious. These sprouts are crisp, brightly colored, and savory.

The recipe is easily adjusted for quantities.

2 lbs Brussels Sprouts, washed, trimmed, and sliced in half
3 Tbs butter
6-8 fresh sage leaves, coarsely chopped
1 tsp kosher salt
ground black pepper, to taste

  • In a large saucepan, bring about 1 1/2 cups salted water to a boil.
  • Add sprouts to boiling salted water and cook just until they turn bright green and are a little bit tender. 
  • Remove from heat, drain and set aside.
  • In a skillet, melt the butter over medium heat and cook until it begins to brown, but be careful not to burn it.
  • Add the sage leaves and cook until fragrant.
  • Add sprouts, salt and pepper, toss to coat. Cook until heated through -- about 5 minutes.
  • Serve hot or at room temperature.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Butternut Squash & Potato Pancakes

Fall is in the air (finally) here in north central Florida, and butternut squash with its deep orange color and nutty flavor lends itself nicely to autumnal dinners. These savory pancakes are definitely dinner fare. The original recipe is from the Vegetarian Times. I added an extra egg and the breadcrumbs. The original recipe calls for frying the pancakes in oil. I am addicted to my Cuisinart Griddler, so a set the panini/grill setting to medium-high, put a schmear of butter on each pancake, and grilled them for about 5 minutes.

2 cups grated butternut squash (about 1 lb)
2 cups grated potatoes (peeled or unpeeled)
1/2 cup red onion, diced
2 tsp salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp dried sage
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
2 large eggS, beaten
3 Tbs unbleached flour
1/4 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
Ground pepper

Place squash, potatoes, onion and 2 tsp salt in colander. Drain for about 15 minutes, pressing water from vegetables. I highly recommend squeezing the vegetables by hand to remove as much liquid as possible, and maybe even blotting them with a towel.

Preheat panini press or griddle to medium-high.

Transfer vegetables to a mixing bowl and add garlic, sage, nutmeg and egg. Mix well. Add flour, breadcrumbs and pepper, mix again.

Form into patties. They will be a little loose. Place on griddle with a bit of butter on top.
Serve hot with a dollop of sour cream and a warm fruit chutney.
Makes about 6 pancakes. (The VT recipe said these quantities would make 20 pancakes. Ours were about 3 inches across.)


Friday, November 5, 2010

Vegan Shepherd's Pie

This is dedicated to my friend Stace, who moved away to California and is now residing in the beautiful state of Colorado, which is where she has wanted to be all along. When we met at a vegan restaurant for our  farewell luncheon, I ordered the Sheep's Pie, a vegan version of the well-known comfort food Shepherd's Pie. It was tasty. There were carrots and broccoli and mashed potatoes, but it lacked the substance of a Shepherd's Pie. My mother was a Brit, and I grew up on this classic comfort fare. Was there really a way to make it vegan and still satisfy that urge for a full bodied casserole that would leave me satisfied?

Add some barley for substance, and lots of mushrooms to replace the meat. We chose white mushrooms  for their mild flavor, and black mushrooms for drama. Julia Child's Brown Sauce  made with a full-flavored mushroom stock  transforms the veggies into a heart-warming, rib-sticking casserole that will conjure visions of British Pubs and roaring fires.

The traditional Shepherd's Pie was a way to use leftovers, so there were plenty of variations. Experiment with different vegetable combinations. If you are grilling or roasting vegetables, make some extra to use in your casserole. Otherwise, Vegan Shepherd's Pie can be too time consuming for a weeknight supper. This Vegan Shepherd's Pie will satisfy the urge for the traditional casserole, but I recommend that some of this be prepared ahead of time so you have it on hand.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Mushroom Stock

Mushroom stock provides a savory foundation for many recipes. Because it has a very distinctive flavor, use it in dishes that will benefit from its substantial contribution.It's easy to make in a large quantity, so  you can keep some on hand. Freeze it it you won't use it in a few days.

Asian markets have the most wonderful dried mushroom assortments at very reasonable prices. Adjust spices as you like.

1-2 T olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
2 shallots cut into several pieces
2 small carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
8 oz white mushrooms
4 garlic cloves, smashed
2 oz dried shitake mushrooms, reconstituted
1/2 teaspoon peppercorns
1 bay leaf
6 sprigs parsley, coarsely chopped
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 fresh sage leaves
9 cups cold water

Heat the oil over medium heat in a deep pot.
Add the onions, shallots, carrots, celery and white mushrooms, stirring frequently, until onions become translucent and mushrooms begin to release moisture.. About 3-4 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another minute.

Add remaining ingredients. Cover and simmer for two hours. Strain, pressing liquid out of vegetables. Discard vegetables.

Quick Vegan Brown Sauce

Also from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, this quick brown sauce is great when time is short. It is really nothing more than stock thickened with cornstarch or arrowroot. As Julia says, it has no culinary interest at all unless the base (stock) is excellent.

You will need
A 4 cup saucepan
A wire whip or whisk

2 T cornstarch or arrowroot
2 cups of excellent stock

Optional: 1/4 cup Madeira, port, or cognac

Blend the cornstarch or arrowroot with 2 tablespoons of cold stock, then beat in the rest of the stock. Simmer for 5 minutes or until sauce has cleared and thickened slightly. Season to taste. If adding wine or cognac, simmer for 2-3 minutes until alcohol has evaporated. This sauce may be set aside and reheated when needed.

Vegan Basic Brown Sauces with Thanks to Julia Child

This is a classic French sauce from Julia Child's cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking. If you don't have two hours to spend making it, skip straight ahead to the Quick Vegan Brown Sauce.

For about 1 quart of Brown Sauce you will need

A heavy-bottomed 2qt saucepan
A wooden spatula or spoon
A wire whip

1/3 cup each: diced celery, carrots, onions
4 T olive or canola oil (reduced from original recipe)

4 T flour

6 cups boiling mushroom stock
2 T tomato paste
A medium herb bouquet: 3 parsley sprigs, 1/2 bay leaf, 1/4 tsp thyme tied in cheesecloth

Cook the vegetables slowly in the oil for about 10 minutes.
Blend the flour into the vegetables, stirring constantly over moderately low heat 8-10 minutes or until the flour turns a golden brown. (This is a vegan roux.)

Remove from heat. With a wire whip or whisk, immediately blend in all the boiling liquid at once. Add the herb bouquet.

Simmer slowly, partially covered, for 2 hours or more. Add more liquid if the sauce thickens too much.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Green Onion Chimichurri

This recipe comes from the Maya Grill at the Disney Coronado resort. I had dinner on my own there one night at a recent conference. It was pricey, but not more than the dinner menu at my two favorite restaurants: Blue in Flagler Beach, and The Goblin Market in Mount Dora.

I opted for an appetizer (good) and a salad (beautifully presented) with a glass of a dry Argentinian white wine, Terrazas de Los Andes Reserva Unoaked Torrontes 2007. The wine was a find, and I recommend it if you like dry white wines. I was also served three pretty little rolls and a dish of green dipping sauce. This was the real hit of the evening.

I had not brought a book, or a crossword puzzle to pass the time between ordering and eating, but I had my trusty iPhone in my purse. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to annoy my son with numerous text messages and photos of my food. He's a good sport, and generally humors me. He's a good cook, too. Apparently my picture snapping and texting drew the attention of the manager, who hustled over to make sure all was well. When I complimented him on the lovely green sauce, he offered me the recipe. It was already printed up, so I don't think I am sharing any secrets here. Chimichurri is most often used as a marinade for grilled meats, but I have found it to be just right for grilled vegetables.

Makes 10 Servings

10 oz (weight) Green onion, chopped
20 oz (weight) Green pepper, chopped
10 oz (weight) Parsley, chopped
  5 oz (weight) Garlic, minced
  8 oz (volume) Olive oil
  4 oz (volume) Lime juice
  1 oz (weight) Coarse black pepper
  1 oz (weight) Salt

Blend all ingredients. Refrigerate until needed. Use creatively.

Monday, October 25, 2010

I'm Coming Back,..Really

I have recipes ready to post, I swear!

While you are waiting so patiently, check this out:

Wordle: My 5 Year Plan
I made it at Wordle.
See you soon.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Citrus Poppyseed Dressing

1 tsp lemon zest (a little less works just fine, too)
1 tsp orange zest
Juice from one lemon, about 2 Tbs
Juice from one orange, about 1/2 cup
2 Tbs olive oil
2 Tbs olive oil
2 tsp rice vinegar
scant 1/2 tbs poppy seeds
1 tsp honey
pinch of garlic powder
salt to taste

Combine ingredients in a jar with a tight fitting lid and shake well. Taste, adjust seasonings as desired. Depending on the amount of citrus juice, you can add a bit more oil or vinegar to balance the flavors. Add more honey if you want additional sweetness. In addition to adding flavor, the honey helps keep the dressing from separating. Using lime and/or grapefruit juice changes this dressing into something new and different.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Pasta with Spinach, Mushrooms and Cream

Quick, easy, elegant.
This is for my friend Drew, an enthusiastic cook and a fan of many cuisines. Although he is usually an adventuresome soul, the idea of vegetarian cooking makes him uneasy. I understand this: no one wants to eat weird food. This is a good time to remind everyone, including myself, that the goal of Vegetarian Skinny is to discover vegetarian meals that are made up of familiar foods. You won't find much here that your grandmother didn't recognize as normal, completely edible food. I promised no tofu, and I am sticking to that!

Many Italian dishes are vegetarian, although we don't give them that label. Eggplant Parmesan, Pasta Puttanesca, Pasta e Ceci, and Pasta Primavera are examples of common Italian recipes that do not include meat. My father recently gave me an old pasta cookbook he found at the Mt. Dora library book sale. It is wonderful. Here is my first installment from this gem of a cookbook. Enjoy!

Pasta with Spinach, Mushrooms and Cream

8-10 oz fresh spinach, washed and cleaned
1/2 c water
1/2 lb fresh portabella or white mushrooms
juice of 1 lemons
3 Tbs butter
1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tbs marsala wine
1/ cup heavy cream
freshly ground plack pepper
1/2 lb bowtie pasta (or other shape if you prefer)
4Tbs freshly grated Parmesan cheese

  1. In a deep skillet or large saucepan, bring water to a boil. Add spinach. Cover and steam for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally until just wilted. Do not overcook. Drain well and set aside.
  2. Wipe mushrooms with damp paper towel, trim stem ends and slice thinly. Add lemon juice and mix well.
  3. Melt butter in skillet and add garlic and marsala. Coll for 3 minutes, then add mushrooms. Cook 5 more minutes, then add cream, stirring often. Bring mixture to a boil, add some salt and pepper liberally. Remove from heat.
  4. Cook pasta al dente according to package directions. Drain well and return to cooking pot. Add spinach, then mushroom and cream mixture. Put in individual plates, top with Parmesan. 
Optional:  Garnish with chopped walnuts or pine nuts.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Chocolate Mint Dessert

This is really cheating. I did not make a single thing here, just combined two pretty wonderful foods in a pretty dish. If you don't have some beautiful delicate dessert bowls, use martini glasses. Drama is good.

Haagen Dass 5 Ingredient Mint Ice Cream
Thin Mints Girl Scout Cookies, frozen if possible

Sprigs of fresh spearmint
You know what to do

Note: I buy 6 or 8 boxes of Girl Scout Thin Mints every March, and hide them in cupboards, the freezer, containers, you name it. I like to pretend that I am hiding them from Gary which is mostly true. I remember most of the hiding places, but I do love it when I discover there is one more sleeve of these chocolate treasures. Still, I have never managed to have enough to last until they start selling them again.

If you don't have Thin Mints stashed in your pantry, try Ginger Snaps, Belgian Butter Wafers, or a couple of chunks of extra dark chocolate. Perfect for a hot summer night.

Thai Coconut Lemongrass Soup

We are back! If I had known we'd be gone so long I would have posted a "See you in September" kind of note. Somehow, I always forget just how hectic the second half of summer is for my office and I don't really see it coming. Anyway, we've been cooking a little, trying to come up with recipes that are easy and pleasing, with just enough style to feel satisfied if company drops in.

A few weeks ago we took my brother and his fiancee to one of our favorite spots in Daytona -- Zen Bistro. This is a small, family run restaurant off Beach Street. The food is great and the price is right. We wanted to recreate the coconut milk lemongrass soup (Tom Kha Gai). This came pretty close. Enjoy!

*As one reader pointed out, Fish Sauce is not vegetarian. There are vegetarian versions, though, available in Asian food markets. You can make your own substitute, too, using a combination of kelp and soy sauce (for that fishy flavor) or using a mushroom stock/soy sauce blend that will add that kick to the recipe. You can still enjoy a vegan version of this soup.

TOM KHA GAI -- Spicy lemongrass soup with coconut milk.
Many recipes call for shrimp to be added in the last minute or two of cooking. We left it out for obvious reasons.

2 13 oz cans of coconut milk
2 cups water
1 inch piece of galangal, grated (use more ginger if you cannot find this)
1 inch piece of ginger, grated
4 stalks lemongrass, bruised and coarsely chopped
6 fresh basil leaves, torn (use 8-10 kaffir lime leaves if you can find them)
1 lb shitake mushrooms, sliced
1/4 cup lime juice
3 Tablespoons vegetarian fish sauce or substitute*
1-2 teaspoons brown sugar (add more if you like)
1- 2 teaspoon red curry paste
2 Tablespoons sliced green onions
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
red chili powder to taste for medium or hot

In a large pot, bring the coconut mile and 2 cups of water to a simmer .
Add the galangal, ginger, lemongrass, and basil. Simmer about 10 minutes, then strain coconut milk into a clean pan. Discard the seasonings.
Simmer shitake mushrooms in coconut milk for about 5 minutes.
Stir in fish sauce, lime juice, and brown sugar. Add curry powder to taste.
Ladle into serving bowls. Garnish with green onions and red pepper flakes.
Some of your guests may prefer more heat...add it with the red chili powder.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Summer Pie

My sister-in-law Norma is a wonderful Southern cook. She has a gift for comfort foods. She has also lived in many far-flung places, and has incorporated ideas from all of her experiences into her wonderfully creative cooking. Many times she has spoken to me about her Tomato Pie and its beautiful simplicity. Recently, she sent me the recipe, along with a good dose of inspiration. Tomato Pie sounded fabulous, but I have been recently obsessed with the output from the herb garden. And I had a ton of fresh produce from the Farmer's Market in the fridge. Norma's inspiration arrived at the perfect moment. Her Tomato Pie is the foundation of this Summer Pie and my tribute to my talented sister-in-law.

1 pie shell (make it or buy it, up to you)
4 plum tomatoes, sliced
1/2-3/4 cup thinly sliced red onion rings
4-6 oz sliced mushrooms
a handful of fresh basil, chopped
3/4 cup finely shredded mozzarella cheese
2 oz Gruyere Swiss cheese, cut into small pieces
3/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup mayo

Preheat oven to 350
Combine cheeses, sour cream and mayo.
Line a 9" pie plate with a pie shell.
Layer onions, tomatoes, basil and mushrooms (in this order) in the uncooked pie shell.
Spread cheese mixture on top.
Bake for about 15 minutes until vegetables have heated and release some juices, and pie shell becomes nicely browned.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Stuffed Ancho Chiles

These ancho chiles, stuffed with plantains and garnished with Mexican crema, were featured on a recent Rick Bayless show, Mexico One Plate at a Time. They looked just right for entertaining, the ingredients list included a tempting combination of savory and sweet, and I just happened to have a package of dried ancho chiles in the pantry. Although the recipe was not offered on Rick's web site, Masa Assassin had recreated it on his Mexican food blog. I have adapted it from there, mainly because of the availability of ingredients here in North Central Florida. I also halved the recipe.

One of the challenges of vegetarian cooking (at least for me), is creating a meal that feels nutritionally complete. This does. They are also pretty filling. These are definitely a knife and fork dish, so keep that in mind if you are serving them at a party.

1 pkg dried ancho chiles (about 6/pkg)
2 very ripe plantains
1 onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 onion, chopped
1 cup chopped tomatoes, plum or cherry
6 oz Mexican cheese - I used a melting cheese
1/4 cup +1 Tbs Piconcillo (Panela in photo -- grated brown sugar cane-- ok to substitute dark brown sugar)
olive or canola oil

Mexican crema (or really good sour cream)

The Chiles
Dissolve 2 Tbs grated brown sugar cane in hot water. Add the chiles, making sure to cover them with hot water. Push them down gently with a wooden spoon to make certain they are submerged.  Soak for 5 to 10 minutes, checking frequently after 5 minutes. Chiles should be supple, but not falling apart.

Remove chiles from water and carefully slit one side, making sure not to remove the stem. Remove seeds and veins. Be gentle. Try not to tear the chiles.

The Filling
Bake plantains at 350 for 10 -12 minutes. I started off baking these in their skins, but quickly decided to go for more carmelization and stripped the skins off. When done, chop into small cubes.

Heat about 3Tbs oil in a deep skillet.
Sautee onions and garlic until fragrant and onions are translucent.
Add tomatoes, cook 5 minutes.
Add plantains, cook another 10 minutes.
Add remaining grated brown sugar, a pinch of salt, and a pinch of pepper.
Mix well.
Remove from heat.
Add queso and mix again.

Fill each chile with 2 - 3 Tablespoons of this wonderful filling. Fold slit edges over and place face down on plate. Garnish with Mexican crema and parsley.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Gorgonzola Stuffed Dates

 Tapas, or appetizers, are a great way to introduce people to a wide variety of meatless treats.

Salty, tangy Gorgonzola is the perfect counterpoint to the sweetness of the dates. The crowning walnut adds texture and visual appeal. These are rich. 3-4 per person is ample. Reduce as needed. This is pretty simple, so just keep the proportions the same and you'll be OK. Don't overfill the dates.

  • 3 oz cream cheese, softened (low-fat ok)
  • 3 oz good Gorgonzola, crumbled
  • 1 Tbs orange juice
  • 8 oz pkg pitted dates (about 36 dates)
  • 36 walnut pieces
In a small mixing bowl, blend cream cheese, gorgonzola, and orange juice.Spoon mixture into a resealable plastic bag, squeezing it toward one corner of the bag. Cut of the tip of the bag at the corner.

Separate the dates along the slits used to pit them. You may occasionally need to create an opening using a paring knife. Squeeze about a teaspoon of the cheese mixture into each date and top with a walnut piece.

May be made one day ahead and refrigerated. Serve at room temperature.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Vegetarian Moose

Adrienne has finally launched her blog, The Vegetarian Moose. Adrienne is an excellent cook, and has been a vegetarian for many years. Moose is one of her three Great Danes. Check out her incredibly good Pumpkin Bread recipe. The guys in the Blues Agave Band give it two thumbs up.

Spinach and Garbanzo Beans

Eureka! Quick, easy, delicious, comfort food. What more can you ask for? I have made this twice in the past week, and taken leftovers for lunch. Smoked paprika adds a warm, well -- smoky -- flavor. It is not your mother's paprika. The recipe is super flexible, so have your way with it. Leave out the bread, add more tomato sauce, do what you will.Let me know what you discover.

I love this as a main dish. Serve it with pita chips or a good, rustic bread with olive oil. It is also ideal for a tapas party dish. This recipe comes from Smitten Kitchen.

  • 4 T olive oil, divided
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups good bread, crust removed, cut into 1/2 inch cube 
  • 1/2 t cumin
  • pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 T white wine vinegar (or red)
  • 1 can garbanzo beans (chickpeas) drained and rinsed
  • 2/3 cup tomato sauce ( I had an open jar of "Hot Sicilian", a current favorite)
  • 1 10 oz package pre-washed spinach
  • smoked paprika to sprinkle on top, optional
  • lemon juice to drizzle on top, optional
  1. In a deep skillet, heat 2 T olive oil. Fry the bread cubes until they are golden (about 3-4 minutes) then add the remaining olive oil, garlic, cumin, and crushed red pepper.
  2. Transfer to blender or food processor, add vinegar, and process to a coarse, crumbly paste.
  3. Return to skillet. Add garbanzos and tomato sauce. Cook, stirring occasionally, until beans are hot and thoroughly coated.
  4. Add spinach to mixture in pan. Stir gently until spinach is just wilted (more if you prefer). 
  5. Drizzle with lemon juice and add a dusting of smoke paprika, if you like.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


When you live in a college town, pizza is what's for dinner, lunch, and frequently breakfast. It is the "free food" that lures students to attend meetings. It is the anti-anxiety agent at last minute cramming sessions. It is the foundation of many local entrepreneurial ventures, frequently founded by our own graduates who apparently absorbed the message that pizza is a product whose popularity is practically guaranteed. In Gainesville, we have our revered pizza traditions: Leonardo's where the staff is as exotic as the pizzas; Gumby's -- started by two UF students and now operating in 13 states;   Piza Vito, a real Italian style chain, also run by a UF graduate. There are at least a zillion pizza places here, and you never, ever hear of a single one going out of business. Hmmm...

So, you might wonder, why must I make my own pizza when I am surrounded by such pizza abundance? Why not just pick up the phone and make the call? Why dirty the dishes when you can just toss the empty box away? Here are some of my reasons, feel free to add your own:

  1. Good pizza is really easy to make at home and it looks beautiful. It's a good creative outlet.
  2. Pizza is the perfect vegetarian food - with all the possible toppings, no one ever misses meat.
  3. I want that first hot, melty, goolicious bite on my plate and ready for my mouth within a short minute of it's liberation from the oven.
  • 1 pkg pizza dough
  • 1 1/2 cups of homemade tomato sauce (or my current favorite in a jar: Hot Scicilian)
  • 4-8 oz of fresh mozzarella, sliced (or use 4-8 oz of shredded mozzarella)
  • 1/2 cup good parmesan or parmesan-reggiano
  • baby spinach
  • mushrooms
  • kalamata olives
  • sun dried tomatoes
  • a few tablespoons Gorgonzola, crumbled
  • anything else that sounds good to you

    Preheat the oven to 450. If using a pizza stone, it should be in the oven while it preheats. You will need to transfer your shaped dough onto the hot stone. If you use a round metal pizza pan (with the holes), there is no need to preheat the pan.

    I use a pizza dough from my local supermarket. That's what makes it easy. OK, I know what you're thinking..."She doesn't make her own dough!" Would you feel better if I said I had my local baker whip up a batch of their special pizza dough for our dinner tonight? These people are professional bakers and the dough if freshly made. Sometimes you can have your cake and eat it too. This lets me (and you) have a great meal without hours of preparation. You don't have to make everything from scratch, if someone else is willing to do some of the work for you. Impress your friends by learning to toss the dough.

    Shape the pie into either a 12-14 inch circle (easy using the technique shown in the tossing video), or stretch and roll it into a rectangle. Try to keep the thickness even, leaving a raised ridge around the edges.

    When I use a pizza stone, I like to bake the crust for about 5 minutes and then add the toppings. This is not necessary, but I like a super crispy crust. If using a pizza pan, I add the toppings to the uncooked pie crust.

    Fill a large ladle with sauce. Starting in the center, swirl this gently from the center to the outer raised edge of the crust creating a spiral shape of sauce. (I learned this from watching Rocky in Flagler Beach. He makes a killer spinach pie.) You want enough sauce to provide a tomato-y embrace for your toppings, but not so much that your crust will be soggy. Err on the side of caution. Less is more.

    Now arrange your toppings in an eye-catching arrangement. When I use a shredded cheese, I like to follow the Sicilian tradition of placing the cheese on top of the toppings. Do it your way. It's fun.

    Bake the pie for about 10 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the cheese is melting. Serve with a salad and a glass of chianti. Life doesn't get better than this. Buon appetito!

    Saturday, March 13, 2010

    Is is cheating to eat "vegetarian sausage"?

    When I started this, I was only trying to see if a vegetarian diet could provide the "Ooh-Aah" factor we love in food. As it turns out, incredibly rich, scrumptious vegetarian meals are easy. Just add cheese. It hurts me to look at that wonderful Calzone and feel my ateries clogging up. That calzone was heaven on earth. But my father's recent adventures in the cardiac zone have caused me to re-evaluate my culinary efforts toward meatlessness.

    At the outset, I promised no tofu (because I don't like it). I wanted to use only whole foods. I thought that vegetarian "meat" was cheating. You know, the "vegetarian" breakfast sausage, the "meatless" steak tips, the "vegetarian" andouille sausage for gumbo? I thought if you don't eat meat, then why in the world would you eat something that tastes like meat? My father's health situation caused me to rethink this. For someone who needs to make lifestyle changes, but does not really want to give up the things he loves, this could be an option. We tried one of those vegetarian sausage patties this morning. Compared to a real sausage patty, the vegetarian patty had 18 fewer calories and 4 fewer grams of fat. Carbs and fiber were about the same. It's doubtful that anyone would mistake the vegetarian patty for the real thing, but the calorie and fat savings make it a fairly attractive option. We tried MorningStar Farms. Here's a link to a coupon if you'd like to try it yourself.

    Greek Style Spinach Pie - Spanakopita

    The first time I made this it took hours, mainly because there was such a big variation in the recipes I found. Apparently, Spinach Pie is one of those recipes that everyone makes their own way. Sort of like my Nanny Mary's lasagna...we all ate it growing up, and we all make it a little bit differently now, and we all claim it is the authentic recipe. (All refers to my four brothers and me.) There was also a lot of variation in quantities, and many were not clearly defined. This is my recipe which uses an ingredient list compiled from several other recipes. I cannot vouch for its authenticity, but I believe the spirit of the real thing is present here.

    2 10 oz bags pre-washed spinach
    1 leek, chopped
    1 bunch green onions, chopped
    1/2 sweet onion, chopped
    1/2 red onion, chopped
    6 Tbs pine nuts
    1 1/2 cups parsley, chopped
    6 Tbs dill, chopped
    4 Tbs fresh mint, chopped
    1 pkg fillo dough, defrosted as directed (I used one roll from a 2-pack)
    1/4 cup melted butter
    olive oil
    kosher or sea salt
    nutmeg, ground

    1. Thaw fillo dough as instructed on package.
    2. Toast and chop pine nuts. (Toast in hot, ungreased skillet until just brown)
    3. Chop washed and drained spinach, onions and herbs.
    4. Heat 3-4 Tbs olive oil in large skillet.
    5. Saute onions until softened.
    6. Add spinach, stirring frequently. When spinach wilts it will release some liquid. When this starts to bubble, add parsley, dill, mint, pine nuts, nutmeg, salt and pepper.
    7. Cook for about 10 minutes.
    8. Transfer to colander and allow to drain for 2-3 hours.
    9. Crumble feta and add to spinach mixture. Mix thoroughly.
    10. Preheat oven to 350. Brush bottom of a 9x12 baking dish with olive oil.
    11. Lay a sheet of fillo dough in the bottom of the pan.
    12. Brush with melted butter.
    13. Continue to add sheets of fillo, brushing all but the final sheet with butter. I used 11 sheets on the bottom.
    14. Add spinach mixture on top of fillo. Spread evenly. Add remaining (about 11) fillo sheets on top of mixture, brushing with butter as before. Brush the very top sheet with olive oil.
    15. Using a sharp knife, cut the top layer of fillo only into serving size pieces. This makes it much easier to cut later. Do not cut through the bottom layer of dough.  
    16. Bake 30-40 minutes until golden.
    17. Let stand at least 20 minutes before cutting and serving. This dish is meant to be served warm or at room temperature, rather than piping hot. 

    Fillo dough comes in two individually wrapped rolls per package. Set one out to thaw a few hours before assembling your pie. The other can go back in the freezer.

    Onions should measure about 2 cups when chopped. Use your intuition.  Add or subtract as you wish. You can use any type of onion, but the combination of different flavors honors the complexity of this traditional dish.

    Toast pine nuts in a dry skilled over medium heat, shaking the pan frequently. Don't overdo it. Take them off the heat the moment they start to turn golden. About 6-8 minutes. You'll know. Chop them or place them between wax paper and crush with a rolling pin.

    Use prewashed spinach. It is ready to use and dry!

    Chop all ingredients first and assembly is a snap.

    Make certain filling is well drained. You don't want any extra liquid in this dish.

    Friday, March 12, 2010

    Roasted Squash Seed

    Remember the Warm Butternut Squash with Chickpea Salad? Squash seeds make a good snack tossed with a little salt and roasted. These are tossed with a volcanic salt and some pepper. They are worthy of serving to company, don't you think?

    Clean pulp from seeds. Do not rinse (you won't need to use any oil). Toss with your choice of seasonings. Spread evenly on a baking sheet.

    Roast @ 250 for about 45 minutes. You can roast them while you are cooking other things (like the squash) but you need to watch them very closely. If they start to pop, you can be certain it is time to take them out of the oven.

    Monday, February 8, 2010

    Warm Butternut Squash & Chickpea Salad

    This wonderful recipe has been posted on many food blogs. Following the trail in reverse led me to Casa Moro, a London restaurant specializing in Moorish cuisine. Casa Moro also offers several cookbooks. You can believe they are on my list of books to acquire. Since I do not yet have the cookbooks, these measurements and instructions are adapted from  Smitten Kitchen where I first discovered the dish.

    This warm salad has become a personal favorite because it combines some of my favorite ingredients. Lemon, garlic, and olive oil blend with tahini in a come-hither dressing, while the warm and substantial squash is lightened and brightened by cilantro. Everyone knows chickpeas and tahini go together. For me, it's a meal in itself.


    1 medium butternut squash (about 2 lbs), peeled, seeded and cut into 1 1/2" pieces.
    1 medium garlic cloved, minced
    1/2 tsp ground allspice
    2 Tbs olive oil
    1 15-oz can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained
    1/4 c red onion, chopped
    1/4 c cilantro, chopped

    1 med clove garlic, minced
    1/4 c lemon juice
    pinch of salt
    3 Tbs well-stirred tahini
    2 Tbs olive oil
    2 Tbs water, plus more to taste

      1 Preheat the oven to 425°F.
      2 In a large bowl, combine the butternut squash, garlic, allspice, olive oil, and a few pinches of salt. Toss the squash pieces until evenly coated. Roast them on a baking sheet for 25 minutes, or until soft, but not squishy. Remove from the oven and cool.
      3 Meanwhile, make the tahini dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together the garlic and lemon juice. Add the tahini, and whisk to blend. The tahini separates at first when added to the lemon - just keep whisking, it will smooth right out.  Add the water and olive oil, whisk well, and taste for seasoning. The dressing should have plenty of nutty tahini flavor, but also a little lemony tang. You will probably need to add more water to thin it out.
      4 To assemble the salad, combine the squash, chickpeas, onion, and cilantro or parsley in a mixing bowl. Either add the tahini dressing to taste, and toss carefully, or you could serve the salad with the dressing on the side. I hold out some red onion and cilantro to sprinkle on top after mixing. Serve immediately. Crunchy pita chips are a good accompaniment.

      Make 4 servings.

      Sunday, January 31, 2010

      Spinach-Cheese Calzone

      Oh. Wow. This calzone has no business being anywhere near a blog with the word "skinny" in its name. It is a perfect dish to convince your skeptical friends that "meatless" does not mean "monotonous."

      A giant Spinach-Cheese Calzone in all its gooey glory.

      This savory creation is from Molly Katzen's Moosewood Cookbook. The original recipe calls for 3 Tbs minced fresh basil in place of the black olives. I was out of basil, but had a can of olives on hand. The olives added a subtle richness, and a bit of texture. They also serve as a reminder that it's perfectly acceptable to use convenient ingredients, and that doing so does not diminish the end result. Not everything needs to be made from scratch all the time, and using unglamorous canned olives in place of their fancier cousins actually worked very well. In keeping with this novel idea that good food can be easy, I used pizza dough purchased in the bakery at my local market. Feel free to make your own dough if the spirit moves you.

      • 1 pkg pizza dough
      • 1 Tbs olive oil
      • 1 cup minced onion
      • 1 lb spinach, stemmed and minced
      • 1/2 tsp salt
      • generous amounts of black pepper
      • 4 or 5 medium garlic cloves, minced
      • 1/3 cup black olives, sliced
      • 1 lb ricotta cheese
      • 2 cups shredded mozzarella
      • 1/4 cup grated parmesan
      1. Allow dough to rise in its wrapper for one hour.
      2. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add onion and saute over medium heat until translucent ~ about 5 minutes.
      3. Add spinach, salt, and black pepper.  Cook, stirring, over high heat just until spinach wilts. Add garlic and cook for about 2 more minutes.
      4. Combine cheeses and olives in a mixing bowl. Add the spinach saute and mix very well.Taste to correct seasonings.
      1. Preheat oven to 450. Grease a baking sheet.
      2. Punch down the dough. Divide into two sections and roll out on a floured surface into 1/4" thick circles.
      3. Place half the filling on one half of each circle, leaving a 1/2 inch rim. Moisten the rim with a bit of water (use your fingers), fold over the empty half and crimp the edges like a pie crust. A fork is useful for a good uniform crimp. Then poke a few holes in the top.
      4. Arrange the calzones on the baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes until crisp and golden brown.
      5. Serve hot.
      Notes:  Divide the dough into up to 6 circles to make individual calzones. Reheat in the oven. Cover loosely with aluminum foil to keep them from over-browning. Experiment with different fillings.

      Saturday, January 23, 2010

      Penne Rigati with Grilled Baked Vegetables

      This recipe came from a wonderful old Italian cookbook discovered by my intrepid husband. The book is filled with recipes from Italy's northern Emilia-Romagna region. These dishes intrigue me because they are different from the southern Italian cooking that I grew up with, but they share the warmth and comfort offered by all rural Italian cooking. This is the kind of comfort food that is welcome at any occasion.

      This is a layered vegetable casserole that can be served alone, or over pasta as a main dish. It is flavored with a battuto, a finely chopped mixture of herbs. Tradition calls for the herbs to be chopped with a mezzaluna, but your food processor will work just fine. The original recipe calls for 2 oz of anchovies, but we substituted an extra clove of garlic and black olives to create a flavorful, vegetarian combination. Dry cured black olives are available at Italian delis, and have a wonderfully rich, smooth flavor.

      The cheese is important to this dish. Young pecorino is mild and nutty. Stay away from the aged, salty cheeses like Romano. Ask for it as "young pecorino". Cheese shops stock several ages of pecorino.

      Assemble the vegetable casserole early in the day if you like. Keep it covered and refrigerated until about 1 hour before serving.

      • 4 red bell peppers
      • 2/3 cup loosely packed fresh Italian parsley leaves
      • 3 large cloves of garlic
      • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
      • 6-10 dry cured black olives (or Kalamata), chopped
      • extra virgin olive oil
      • salt and ground black pepper
      • 5 small onions sliced vertically about 1/4" thick
      • 3 medium zucchini, slices into long strips, about 1/4" thick
      •  1 lb Penne Rigata (a ribbed, tubular pasta)
      • 12 oz young pecorino (sheep's milk cheese), shredded
      • 1 lb penne rigati pasta (ribbed tubes)
      • 6 - 8 quarts salted water
      1.  Roast the peppers until well seared on all sides. Skins will blacken. A wood or charcoal fire is the most authentic approach, but feel free to use the broiler. Place the peppers in a paper bag and let rest for 30 minutes. Peel, seed, and dice. Set aside.

      2. Prepare the battuto. Chop parsley, garlic, basil, and olives until they are almost a past. Set aside, covered.

      3. Lightly oil the onions and zucchini (keep them separate) so that they will brown, and sprinkle them with salt and plenty of pepper. Brown quickly on both sides over high heat in a skillet.

      4. Spread the onions in the bottom of a glass baking dish. Top with zucchini. Use a fork to steady the vegetables and cut them into small pieces.

      5. Sprinkle the battuto on top of the vegetables. Top with the roasted peppers.

      Preheat the oven to 375. About 20 minutes before serving, drizzle 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil over the vegetables. Bake 20 minutes, or until the oil bubbles around the edge of the baking dish.

      Prepare the pasta according to package directions. Drain thoroughly. Add the baked vegetables and aboout 1/3 of the cheese. Toss, taste and add salt and pepper to taste. Pass the remaining cheese at the table.

      Monday, January 18, 2010

      Blue Corn Muffins

      My friend Billy Allen gave me the blue cornmeal that became the focal point of our New Year's Day dinner. We had the requisite black-eyed peas and greens, but the Blue Corn Muffins stole the show. Billy is a great guy, down-to-earth, smart, dedicated to his family, and a model of sustainability. He and his family grow much of their own food, and he is always looking for ways to improve the crop, but not at the expense of the environment. A real conservationist, Billy has devised a number of ways to save water not only when it comes to growing plants, but also in subdivisions of the future. He grew and ground the corn meal, so that made it extra special.

      Blue Corn Muffins

      1 cup blue cornmeal
      1/2 cup all-purpose flour or any flour
      1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
      1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)
      1 tablespoon honey
      1 teaspoon finely chopped jalapeno (optional)
      1 egg beaten
      1 cup milk

      Combine liquids and slowly add to combined dry ingredients. Oil pan.

      Bake at 425 F. for 15-20 minutes, until top and sides become golden brown.

      This recipe will make 6 large muffins or one 8-inch square pan of cornbread.

      Adapted from Gourmet Sleuth

      Saturday, January 9, 2010

      Ginger Brandy Cheesecake

      Wow! I rarely make desserts, but this recipe was irresistible. I made this for Christmas Eve.

      I am excited to finally own my very first spring form pan. This one is Nordic Ware, and was only $10.00. It did not leak one drop.

      I discovered that cheesecake - at least this one - is not very difficult, and it is not very complicated, but for some reason, it took me forever to assemble the ingredients. I am attributing that to a lack of organization, and do not think it is an accurate reflection of the difficulty level of this recipe.


      2 cups ginger snap crumbs (make them in a food processor or blender)
      5 Tbs melted butter
      Mix together well. Press into botton of a 10" springform pan. (I used a 9 inch and it turned out fine.)

      12 oz cream cheese, softened, lowfat OK
      1 1/2 cups sour cream or yogurt or a combination
      4 eggs (can omit some or all yolks)
      1/4 cup honey or sugar, adjust to taste (I used honey)
      1/4 cup brandy or cognac (they are the same thing)
      2 Tbs finely grated ginger (I use a little hand held cheese grater)
      a dash of salt

      1) Preheat oven to 350
      2) Whip everything together until smooth.
      3) Pour onto crust in springform pand. Bake for 40 minutes or until center is firm to the touch and edges are slightly brown. Cool completely before removing pan rim and glazing.

      GLAZE (optional, but delicious!)
      2 Tbs cornstarch
      3/4 cup orange juice
      2 Tbs honey or sugar
      1 Tbs brandy or cognac
      1/2 tsp orange rind
      candied (crystalized) ginger cut into strips (optional)

      1) Place cornstarch in a small saucepan. Whisk in the orange juice.
      2) Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until smooth and glossy. About 5 minutes.
      30 Remove from heat, whisk in remaining ingredients except the candied ginger. Pour hot glaze onto cooled cheesecake, spreading it evenly. Garnish with candied ginger strips. Chill thoroughly before serving.

      About Vegetarian Skinny

      I am not yet a vegetarian. I am famous for my Christmas standing rib roast and big-as-your-head meatballs. Fortunately for me, I am also a big fan of vegetables, because recent events have nudged me toward exploring something new. Would life be significantly different if I gave up meat?

      It started like this: In the past couple of years, I have met lots of new people who are vegetarians. I did not meet them all at once or in one place. It just happened that an increasing number of people in different parts of my life did not eat meat. As I became more aware of meatlessness as a possibility, I began seeing inviting vegetarian menu options all over the place. Also, almost without exception, my vegetarian friends seemed healthy and fit both mentally and physically. I know there are many factors that play into this, but this is a food blog, not a sociology paper. I call this state of being “vegetarian skinny”, and I decided to try it for myself.
      Secondly, I am a cook. So I was intrigued by the challenge of creating a meatless menu that my husband would enjoy and could also be suited to entertaining. (Please note, my husband is a pleasure to feed. He gamely tries every experiment I have ever asked him to eat.) Ironically, I was looking for a braised short ribs recipe in “Gourmet” magazine, when I got totally creeped out by a “Beefscapes” advertisement. It made me feel the same way 6th grade Biology class did when I learned what eggs really were. I could not eat eggs for ages after that. I actually wrote to the Beef Council about it, but they seemed to think that everyone else liked the ads. Then a vegetarian friend loaned me a copy of the fabulous Moosewood Cookbook and I’ve been on a roll ever since. 

      Finally, I just read In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan. This is a thought-provoking read about what has happened to our “food” and the quality of the Western diet. At one time my work was connected to the food industry, so I can attest to much of what he is saying.

      VegetarianSkinny is not meant to try to convert anyone, but rather to find satisfying meatless options for everyone. So, as a means to creating new possibilities and perhaps seeing some health benefits, I will be working on putting together a series of tantalizing vegetarian recipes that are comprised of readily available and easily recognizable ingredients.

      See you soon!

      pan-seared polenta

      The wonderful thing about greens is that there are so many different kinds. Whether you stick with familiar spinach or venture into more esoteric varieties, greens are packed with vitamins, easy to prepare, can be dressed up for the most elegant dinners, and they taste great. Greens are a good source of iron and vitamin K. They also come prepackaged. Use this recipe for any kind of greens. Here are some of our favorites:

      • Beet greens: with their ruffled green leaves and deep red stalks, beets are beautiful. They pack an unbelievable energy boost. Feeling a bit tired? These are the greens for you.
      • Turnip greens: tangy, but subtle flavor. Substantial without being overpowering. Matte, dark green leaves with lots of texture.
      • Collards: a Southern New Year's Day tradition along with Black-Eyed Peas. A tougher leaf than turnip greens, so require a little longer in the pan. Collards are best after the first cold snap, which sweetens them up a bit.
      • Swiss Chard: rivals beets for beauty with rich green leaves and bright red stems. Cook stems first, as they take longer than leaves.
      • Spinach: with its smooth, glossy green leaves, spinach makes a pretty presentation. Don't overcook this frequently abused leafy green veggie.
      Sauteed Greens

      Yield: 2 servings
      • 1 T. Olive Oil
      • 1/2 cup chopped onion (red is attractive)
      • 1/4 cup nuts (pine nuts, walnuts, sugared pecan pieces)
      • 1 lb greens
      Optional finishes:
      • drizzle a small amount of sesame oil on cooked greens and toss
      • add crumbled Feta cheese and toss (especially good with pine nuts)
      Heat olive oil in skillet. Saute onion on medium-low heat until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add greens and saute until just wilted. Add nuts, toss and saute for another minute or two, taking care not to let the greens get mushy. Greens should be tender, but still retain their individual leaf shapes.

      Greens make a great side dish, but can become a main dish if served over rice or another grain.

      Pan-Seared Polenta with Spicy Tomato Basil Sauce

      Polenta is an ancient cornmeal dish that was eaten by peasants in Europe and by the native people in the Americas. It is very similar to the cornmeal dishes found in Africa. Although it is frequently referred to as a Traditional Italian dish, it was eaten only in Northern Italy and can honestly be claimed as a traditional dish in many countries.

      Despite its humble origins, polenta was "discovered" by the in crowd and is frequently found at the most la-de-da soirees. Isn't it great when something is healthy and stylish at the same time? How often does that happen?

      Polenta is essentially corn meal mush. A bit like grits, really. It makes a wonderful foundation for flavorful sauces and toppings. You can make it at home, and I will do that next time. It is a time consuming process, so for this experiment, I purchased an Italian polenta that comes in a giant tube like the cookie dough comes in. It had been a long week, and I wanted something good, but reasonably quick.

      This was our first experience with polenta, and we both knew immediately it would not be our last.
      Pan Seared Polenta with Spicy Tomato Basil Sauce

      Spicy Tomato Basil Sauce
      • 1 can (28 oz) crushed tomatoes, divided
      • 1/4 cup pine nuts
      • 1 tablespoon olive oil
      • 1/2 sweet onion, diced (any onion can be used)
      • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
      • 3/4 teaspoon fennel seeds, finely crushed
      • crushed red pepper, to taste
      • 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped and divided
      • 1/4 cup wine (dry white or red both work well)
      • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
      Place 1 cup crushed tomatoes in blender. Add pine nuts. Blend until smooth, about 1 minute.

      Heat oil in large skillet or heavy pot. Add onion, garlic, fennel seeds and crushed red pepper. Saute about 5 minutes or until onion is soft. Add the remaining crushed tomatoes, half the basil, the oregano and the wine. Add the tomatoes and pine nuts from the blender. Cook 5 to 6 minutes so that the flavors blend. Stir in remaining basil. Serve over pan seared polenta. Garnish with basil leaves and good Paremsan cheese.

      Pan Seared Polenta
      • 6 - 8 polenta rounds, sliced about 3/8" thick
      • 1/3 cup bread crumbs
      • 1 egg, beaten
      • olive oil
      Dip the polenta slices in egg, then dredge in bread crumbs. Saute in olive oil, about 4-5 minutes on each side, until golden brown.

      Adapted from bon appetit January 2010