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.