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.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Cashew Cream

This is the BEST thing to happen to vegetarian cooking, ever! Cashew cream is a versatile ingredient and a vegan substitute for butter, milk or cream. Whipped up with a little vanilla and sugar, it makes a wonderful dessert topping. Added to soups, you have all the texture and richness of cream, without the dairy product. It even makes vegan mashed potatoes just as comforting as their traditional counterparts.

A great dairy substitute
I discovered Cashew Cream in Tal Ronnen's cookbook, The Conscious Cook. Since then, it has become a staple in our kitchen. Freshly made, it will keep for about 3 days in the refrigerator, but it freezes well. Freezing can make it a bit lumpy, so give it a whirl in the blender once it has thawed.

Cashew cream is made with raw cashews and water. Raw cashews have little flavor, but with just a little nudge, they happily take on the personality of other ingredients. They contain enough fat to provide the creamy texture needed to fill out many recipes, and they provide a foundation for delightful sauces, soups, and even vegan "cheeses". This recipe is reproduced verbatim from The Conscious Cook. It is also published on Tal Ronnen's web site. If you are not already familiar with his creative cooking, I encourage you to visit.


2 cups whole raw cashews (not pieces, which are often dry), rinsed very well under cold water

  1. Put the cashews in a bowl and add cold water to cover them. Cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight.
  2. Drain the cashews and rinse under cold water. Place them in a blender with enough fresh cold water to cover them by 1 inch. Blend on high for several minutes until very smooth. (If you’re not using a professional high-speed blender such as a Vita-Mix, which creates an ultra-smooth cream, strain the cashew cream through a fine-mesh sieve.)
  3. To make thick cashew cream, which some of the recipes in this book call for, simply reduce the amount of water when they are placed in the blender, so that the water just slightly covers the cashews.
Makes about 2 1/4 cups thick cream or 3 1/2 cups regular cream
Prep time: 10 minutes, plus soaking overnight.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Falafel Salad with Tzatziki (Cucumber Sauce)

Featured on Meatless Monday!
Honestly, I am a falafel newbie. Don't ask me how this wonderful treat escaped my attention for so long, I simply do not know. Falafel, a food of humble origin, has attained status at the most discerning tables simply because it is so straightforward and honest. Despite it's being 100% vegan, falafel satisfies all of our cravings for something tasty, substantial, savory and FRIED! Frying sure takes the "skinny" out of any recipe.

We grilled this falafel, and saved a ton of calories in the process. We greased up our Griddler with a healthy layer of olive oil (top and bottom), turned it to Medium-High (panini setting with flat griddle plates), and grilled our patties for about 12 minutes.

This falafel does not use egg. Some cooks claim that traditional falafel contains neither egg nor tahini, although several recipes I looked at called for sesame seeds. Everyone knows that chick peas and sesame seeds are meant for each other, so why not save a step and just toss in the pureed sesame seeds in the form of tahini? Besides, I had some serious concerns about whether or not these patties would hold together in cooking. The tahini added just a little bid of a binding agent. Everything held together beautifully, though. Dinner was a very satisfactory success.

You will need a food processor, blender, or a bit of patience for chopping

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Roasted Baby Artichokes

Roasted Baby Artichokes
I love artichokes. My Italian grandmother would serve the big ones at holiday dinners, and the kids usually got half each. Lucky for me my cousins were not nearly so fond of the giant green globes as I was, and with a little strategy, I could make a trade or two that would place me smack dab in the middle of artichoke heaven.

Artichokes have a special allure; they possess an exotic mystique that practically challenges you to unlock their secrets. They are regal looking vegetables, with a big presence. To the uninitiated, the can appear just the teensiest bit formidable. It is no wonder that the artichoke is held in high esteem and served for special occasions. But the truth of the matter is that the giant artichokes can be messy to eat, and therefore are truly best enjoyed when no one is watching you. Baby artichokes let you bring all the delicious elements of artichokes to the table, without having to deal with the discarded leaves and thistle. You can eat the whole baby artichoke.

Make sure you trim enough outer leaves off the baby artichokes to achieve a tender finished dish. The idea for this came from Bitchin' Camero , but I have made adjustments to the amounts of garlic and oil to emphasize the artichoke flavor, and added a tangy lemon juice finish that complements the smooth artichoke and oil.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Quick & Easy Spinach Turnovers

After work last Friday I made a beeline for home. Nothing was going to divert me from the most direct route away from work to the refuge of my favorite chair, a glass of wine and a good book. I did not stop at the market, or even make the customary call to say I was on the way. If I had a plan for dinner, I don't remember it. Fend for yourself seemed like a good approach to the evening. As it turned out, company was coming for an impromptu happy hour. For some reason I cannot simply throw a bag of chips in a bowl and set it out. For one thing, I rarely have a bag of chips around -- they tend not to last long around here. But I did have a package of phyllo dough in the freezer and a fresh bag of spinach. That, along with a few staples and some dried spices, was sufficient to put together a quickie version of Spanokopita, or a spinach pie. In fact, these single serving editions had the advantage of being finger food. They also took only a fraction of the time the traditional dish takes. A variety of other fillings comes to mind, too.

They are best served at room temperature, or just slightly warmer. Leftovers make an easy lunch. 

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Jamaican Rice with Pigeon Peas and Cocunut Milk

When one of my many brothers recently married, I was asked to assist in planning the reception menu. While I was delighted to do this, it would not be right to leave out another of my many brothers, who happens to be an absolutely amazing chef and the host for the reception party. In fact, it seemed that in the case of this particular party we needed to include absolutely everyone in the planning. For a while it felt like "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" and then I remembered that a lot of my life feels like that, except that we are Italian, not Greek. There are similarities.

The reception menu was truly a combined effort. I come from a large family, and everyone of us has lots of ideas, which we feel the need to express loudly and often. Do not misunderstand: this can be a very valuable tool in the right hands. With everyone donating ideas, it is not difficult to snatch up enough of them to put together a menu with an actual theme while giving everyone some say in the menu. That is exactly what happened when we put together this event. I really wish I had it on video. It would be an excellent demonstration of effective decision making amongst team members who have wildly varied ideas and only a ghost of a common theme: Hawaii.

And that, friends is how I come to offer you a recipe for Jamaican Rice with Pidgeon Peas. Hawaii is an island, Jamaica is an island, and my brother and new sister-in-law have visited both. 'Nuff said.

For many years I worked for a man from Jamaica whose wife was a wonderful cook. She made jerk chicken for my wedding a decade ago, and I always enjoyed her rice and peas. She didn't share recipes, but she did have occasion to eat my rice and peas and gave it her stamp of approval. Enjoy.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Stuffed Mushroom Trio

What could appeal more to the intuitive cook than an easy, attractive dish with practically limitless ingredient possibilities? Stuffed mushrooms were a delectable staple dish on my Italian grandmother's holiday table. They were always meatless, and always a special treat. Her mushrooms were the small ones, stuffed with a bread crumb and herb mixture, and meant as an accompaniment to the main courses. But the giant portabello mushroom caps available everywhere offer a variety of vegetarian and vegan main dish options. We filled these three with different ingredient combinations and made sure to include a vegan option, which turned out to be our favorite.

We actually made these mushrooms a few weeks ago, but never posted them simply because we didn't measure anything. That has made it very difficult to provide much more than a general idea of quantities, which is the way I frequently cook, anyway. I do understand that lots of people really want those specific details, so we'll do our best to provide some approximations. When it comes to filling the mushroom caps, though, just approach it with a sense of abandon. I mean, how can you really go wrong?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Citrus-y Ricotta Pancakes

Happy New Year!

The holidays are such interesting times when you look beyond the gifts and the big dinner with family. In this college town life is very different for one week each year, and today is the last day of that week. The students have gone home, so the town is a little empty, the traffic is lighter, everything seems a bit calmer and kind of slow, but in a relaxed and comfortable way. It's a rare opportunity to enjoy the moment or just take time to think without worrying too much about what needs to be done next. Maybe that's why we only consider our goals once a year, in the form of New Year resolutions. The rest of the year we are just too busy to do that kind of thinking.

This morning I have exactly two goals in mind: 1) try to put a little more "skinny" in the recipes; and 2) not to leave the house today. That means feeding us with ingredients on hand. It's a good way to use up items you bought for holiday cooking. The citrus-y pancakes may not exactly meet the intent of goal #1, but they fit #2 perfectly. We combined lemon and orange zest and juice in this batch, but lime or kumquat zest would work well, too. These are light, fragrant, moist pancakes. Serve with your favorite syrup, fruit, or my favorite -- a sprinkle of sugar and squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

This will make 12-14 pancakes using a 1/4 scoop of batter.

Ready to flip
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 cup ricotta cheese
2/3 cup milk
1 Tbs lemon/orange zest
1/2 t cinnamon
dash of nutmeg (optional)
1/2 T sugar

2 eggs, separated