30 January 2008

Just Like Grandma Used to Make

This recipe is something of a tribute to my late grandmother, along with being a fairly obvious case of Empty Pantry Syndrome. My grandmama was my Daddy's mother, and her food was always the sort of simply, down home country cooking you associate with grandmothers. I don't remember her cookies, but she did make a fantastic squash casserole, and also a broccoli casserole that I vaguely remember involved Campbell's cream of mushroom, broccoli, and some sort of a crumb topping (and perhaps Cheddar cheese). She and my Grandaddy lived in Charlotte, so I didn't know her quite as well as my Grandpa who lived in Raleigh (and whose name will certainly come up when I blog after my birthday tea party). We did try to visit once or twice a year, though, and I still donate to Salvation Army on her behalf whenever I see the little red kettles.
What I came up with was a bit different, because I was constrained by ingredients. I didn't have any Campbell's on hand, so it was a choice between Wolfgang Puck or Amy's. I went with the Amy's, which was tasty, though surprisingly salty. I also had to go with Parmesan cheese, as it was the only variety I had available last week. For the crumb topping, I actually did consult the internet for an idea, which was probably a mistake. The recipe I looked at suggested melting two thirds of a cup of butter and mixing with a cup seasoned breadcrumbs. I used the same amount of butter and a mixture of dried herbs, crushed Ritz crackers, and wheat germs. It was very wet and mealy, and though it did make for a tasty, buttery topping, it could have been a wee bit healthier.
So the recipe isn't really a recipe, but I'll give it to you anyway. Pour a can of soup in a baking dish. I used a 9-inch square casserole dish, and due to the size probably should've gone with two cans of soup. This made a very thin layer. Cook a bag of frozen broccoli and throw in with the soup. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Top with the above described crumb topping and spread out evenly as possible. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes or so, or until the topping is golden brown and the soup is hot. For something so impromptu, I thought it was pretty good. Cheesy and buttery, but with broccoli so you don't feel like you're killing yourself. Next time I would use a less salty cream of mushroom, though.

Speaking of soup, don't forget! AVF #2 entries are due February 22nd! Also, if anyone knows anything about Is My Blog Burning, can you leave me a comment? This is the second time I've tried submitting and gotten an error, and then e-mailed my submission and gotten no response. If anyone would be willing to submit the event for me, or knows of another food blog event listing I could use, please let me know! Thanks!

27 January 2008

AVF #2: A Vegetarian Feast-in-a-Pot

I'm happy to announce the second round of A Vegetarian Feast! This round's theme is "Vegetarian Feast-in-a-Pot." To warm folks up this winter, we're blogging about our favourite meatless soups, stews, chilis, hotpots, and anything else I haven't thought of that goes in a pot, on the stove. If you aren't sure if a dish qualifies, just ask. It probably does.

Rules are simple: post on your blog, don't include any meat, fish, or poultry, and e-mail your post to me at judithavory@gmail.com OR reply to this post with a link. Deadline for this round is Friday, February 22nd, and I will be posting the round-up Sunday the 24th. Please tell your friends, or post about this event on your blog, so that we can get people excited about cooking meatless! And as always, just e-mail me or leave a comment if you have questions.

24 January 2008

Vegan Baking Makes Everything Better

This is the second time I've been amazed by how much better a vegan recipe is than the dairy one. Granted, this is a completely different recipe than the last time I made oatmeal cookies, but still I'm amazed by how much more I like this version. They're still chewy (I guess you can't really have a crisp oatmeal cookie) but these are moist and delicious and just sticky enough to hold together, rather than crumbling or tasting dry after a few days.

The basic recipe came, I think, from the vegan_cooking community on LiveJournal, though I'm not entirely sure. I found it in my recipe file and went with it because I didn't have any eggs but really wanted to use the oven, as the wind chill was -24 Farenheit last weekend when I baked them, and I really needed to warm up my apartment. I deviated a little from the recipe because I didn't have whole wheat flour, and I used cinnamon applesauce instead of plain (which I actually think was an improvement). The recipe suggested adding chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, or nuts, but I wanted to use some more of my chocolate covered toffee pieces.

So the basic idea is this. Mix together 1/2 a cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup white sugar, 1/2 cup applesauce, and 1 t vanilla. You'll get a dark, grainy liquid. Then in another bowl, mix 3/4 cup flour, 1/2 t baking soda, 1/2 t cinnamon, 1/4 t baking powder, and 1/4 t salt. Stir the dry into the wet, a little at a time. You may need some arm strength toward the end. I like to dump a little of the flour mixture into the centre, then incorporate from the centre out, scraping the sides of my bowl before I add some more. Stir in 1-1/2 cups quick-cooking oats and 3/4 cups toffee chips (or chip/nut of your choice). Drop spoonfuls on a greased cookie sheet (note: these are really too soft to try to use foil) and bake 8-10 minutes at 375, or until the bottoms are a nice medium coppery brown. Cool on a rack.

20 January 2008

Easy Peasy Pasta

With the start of the spring semester, my research assistant position, Quire rehearsals, and other miscellany in my life, it's been important for me to come up with some good, nutritious lunches that are easy to pack and reheat in the law building. For the first half of the week, I went with what is probably the best meal you can eat as a vegetarian (beans, brown rice, and steamed mixed vegetables), but after a few days of that I was craving something slightly more exciting. The great thing about this pasta recipe is that it's cheap, easy, and very easy to alter. Admittedly, fresh veggies would have been better than canned and frozen, but nevertheless it was tasty and probably cost less than a dollar per serving.

So here's the basic idea. First, I put some water on to boil and cooked half a box of mostaccoli pasta until just tender. While that was happening, I cooked a package of frozen broccoli in the microwave according to instructions. You could also do it on the stove, honestly I think it takes the same amount of time either way. When the broccoli was done, I threw it in my pasta drainer, along with a can of mushrooms. Fresh really would have been better, again, but beggars can't be choosers. Then I tossed my cooked pasta in and gave it a nice shake to make sure everything was well drained before returning it to the pot over low heat.

Next, in went the last of a bag of shredded cheddar, a healthy handful of grated Parmesan, and maybe about a third a cup of sour cream. Everything got stirred around until well mixed and the cheese was melted, and there you have it. The ideal version of this recipe, incidentally, comes from my mother. You want to use plenty of Cheddar instead of a cheese mixture, and she uses spaghetti usually for the pasta. The veggies are some sauteed onions and fresh mushrooms, and it's absolutely magnifique. One of my favourites growing up as a kid. You could also substitute spinach and garlic, fresh tomatoes, or a mixture of different coloured bell peppers. Whatever floats your boat, really!

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day to readers in the States, and Happy Human Rights Week to everyone! If you have anything to spare, Amnesty International can always use your help.

12 January 2008

It's Party Time!

Blog party, that is.

I've missed the last couple of blog parties, much to my dismay, as I just love Dispensing Happiness and her fabulous foodie events. But this time, I couldn't not participate. The theme is vegetarian, which was meant to be a selfish endeavour so that our lovely hostess could sample all the tasty treats, but in fact it's generous as well, for I too am definitely looking forward to some new recipes!

One of the challenges to being a vegetarian, and especially to using vegetarian recipes, is that cookbook authors tend to call for rather fancy ingredients. All the authors have their little bundle of favourites - some like tahini, for others it's miso paste or pine nuts, or maybe saffron - but for a vegetarian on a budget, this can be quite disheartening. My mission, therefore, was to come up with a drink and an appetizer that anyone could make on a fair-to-middling budget, and enjoy as well!

Grilled Tortilla Wedges with Fancy Mustard

Lettuce, tomato and cheese. Tomato, cheese and lettuce. How many times have you heard these three sandwich ingredients recited? They're the staple of any vegetarian sandwich diet, and no matter how much you try to experiment and come up with fancy lunch ideas, you come back to that particular trifecta. Well, I for one was determined to do something interesting with lettuce, cheese, and tomato, something that would be appropriate for a party and taste good to boot. So, I did a little rummaging around my cupboards and came up with this recipe.

I had some flour tortillas left over from several nights of burritos, but I didn't really want to make a wrap. I hate how the ingredients in a wrap tend to shift around and fall out of the bottom, and how it always seems so insubstantial. So, I thought I'd try something a little more like a quesedilla, and use some of the shredded Cheddar cheese I've been trying to consume in the process. I also wanted to try one of the fancy food items I picked up before the holiday from Prairie Table, so I selected this Stonewall Kitchen Bourbon Molasses Mustard. It's sweet, but much tangier than a honey mustard, and very grainy.

The process itself is pretty simple. I cut one eight-inch flour tortilla into four wedges, and then made a couple of sandwiches with my cheddar cheese. Then I plopped them on my nifty stovetop griddle. You can purchase these for about ten bucks at Bed, Bath, and Beyond, and the cool thing is that one side is flat and the other has grill marks, so you can grill veggies and bread but also make pancakes on the reverse side. The only thing I *don't* like is that it's a pain to clean. Anyway, I cooked my wedges for a few minutes each side over medium heat, no oil or anything, flipping when some grill marks appeared and the cheese was starting to melt. Make sure you tuck any stray cheese back inside when you flip it. If you don't have a griddle, you can use a plain skillet, you just won't have grill marks.

Once the cheese was completely melted, I sliced up a small tomato so that I got two thick slices out of it, and popped those on the griddle. Then I spread a healthy portion of mustard on top of each tortilla wedge, and stuck a couple butter lettuce leaves on top. Once the tomatoes were cooked on both sides, I plopped them on top of the lettuce, and sprinkled with a little salt, pepper, and dried oregano. Of course, you can adjust the seasoning as needed, or use spinach instead of lettuce, or a different cheese, or another favourite mustard. This is a great recipe for experimenting!

Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie

This drink doesn't go with my appetizer at all, but I hope you will all forgive me. I've been wanting to make a smoothie for breakfast for quite a while, and I also don't really want to spend the money on alcohol right now, so this is my "mocktail" contribution. It's a little like a thick milkshake, but if you add more milk and less of the other ingredients, maybe some crushed ice, you'd have more of a drink. Anyway, to start, you want to freeze a banana. I learned the hard way that freezing the whole bunch in their skins is kind of a dumb idea. But if you do this, you can salvage the banana - just let it thaw a few minutes, then score the skin with a knife and cut the banana in half. From here, you can stand it up on one end and peel like a potato.

I didn't take measurements with this, because I was basically experimenting, but this is the jist. I cut my banana into four pieces and popped it in the Cuisinart, pulsing until I had some coarse frozen banana crumbs. Then I added two pretty big spoonfuls of peanut butter (next time, I'd stick with one regular sized, as this is what made it very thick), a spoonful of wheat germ, and some milk. I pulsed until it was starting to incorporate and then blended until smooth. I had to keep adding milk until I reached the desired consistency - again, less peanut butter would have helped that. Still, it was nice and smooth and tasted great. You could add honey if you like, but I didn't need it. Also, the peanut butter was reduced fat and the milk was skim, so it's not bad for you at all!

Thanks again to Dispensing Happiness for hosting! I can't wait to see what veggie creations everyone came up with!

07 January 2008

Two Weeks of Eating

I'm back!

I hope everyone had a fantastic holiday. I'm back in Iowa with my computer, which appears to be working though I am somewhat sceptical. Rather than attempting to type out lots of recipes, I'm going to tell you the story of my past two weeks in photos, with a couple of recipes embedded therein. Enjoy!


December 19th

Before leaving Iowa City for the holidays, I decided to take a 10% off coupon to Prairie Table gourmet food shop and do one last splurge before Christmas. Prairie Table is an excellent, if pricey, store that carries wine, cheeses, meats, gourmet foods and baking products of all kinds, and kitchen appliances. I came away with quite a lot, as well as a membership in their rewards program. I got some white wine vinegar with herbes de provence, Fig and Walnut Butter, Horseradish Mustard, Bourbon Molasses Mustard, and Blue Cheese Herb Mustard (this would be a bad time to point out that I don't even like mustard that much, right?) I also picked up these three mini Vosges bars. I love Vosges - they're very mild, and honestly I can't usually tell the difference between flavours, but the spices really bring out the flavour of the chocolate.

December 22nd

This wasn't much of an eating day, but it deserves an honourable mention for the adventure of it all. I had two cookies for breakfast and then got into a cab at seven am, bound for Cedar Rapids airport. At the airport, I found out that all flights were cancelled. All. They didn't think anything would be leaving due to fog before one pm, on any airline, going anywhere, and after that all seats were booked. They said they might be able to get me out on the 26th. What? No way! Of course, I was not the only one in this position, which is why I have this lovely photo of sunset at the Minneapolis airport. Myself and three other women on the flight rented a Rav-4 and I drove us to Minneapolis, despite extremely heavy fog and then, later in the trip, blowing snow. It was certainly an adventure. I managed to get a later flight, which meant I didn't get home till midnight, but hey, I got home. To console myself, at about four 'o clock I indulged in meal two of the day - my beloved portobello sandwich with roasted red pepper soup and fries with honey mustard at TGI Fridays. Mm, mm good. I even got Joe, my favourite waiter. Ask for him if you're ever there!

December 24th

Since I knew mom would be cooking up a storm on Christmas Day, I decided to prepare one of my own contributions the night before. Mom had asked for a "cranberry or orange relish or something," and while flipping through a handy French desserts book at Daddy's house (the title is just Desserts, published by Marabout), I found a recipe for apricot compote. Actually, it's apricot cardamom compote, but there was only ground cardamom at the grocery store, so I improvised. The first step is to soak 300 grams of apricots in 750 mL of water for four hours, so I let the water do its work and then came back for the active part of the preparation.

The apricots along with their water get thrown in a saucepan and combined with 3 T powdered sugar, 3 T slivered almonds, a cube of ginger about a centimetre square, grated, four cardamom pods, and a cinnamon stick. Since I was missing the cardamom, I used two cinnamon sticks and about eight cloves. Bring gently to the boil, stirring, and when the sugar dissolves lower the heat and simmer until the syrup has reduced by about half. Keep in mind that this will take a while. I also added a minibottle of E&J brandy to my concoction, because when cooked fruit is involved, I can't resist the alcohol.

To serve, you're supposed to chill and then spoon into bowls and top with edible silver flake. I find this absolutely ridiculous. The finished product is tasty, but quite thick and goopy, and it makes a lot. It's very sweet, so the majority of it we didn't manage to eat. I would recommend cutting the recipe by a third, which would be fairly easy to do.

December 25th

Christmas morning! Which means, in my world, time to start making dessert. I started preparing for my planned sabayon (recipe from that same French book) by beating the heavy cream (250 mL) to soft peaks and chilling, sticking a big bowl of ice in the freezer, and eating some of this fantastic bread to keep my energy up. It's called Becky's Bread, and our neighbour Nancy always brings us a loaf of sourdough at Christmas time. Mmm, mm!

The preperation starts with the egg yolks. Six of them need to be warmed in the top of a double boiler over medium heat with 3 T powdered sugar... but the key is warmed. I killed half a dozen eggs with the first go because I let the water come to a bare simmer over medium and the bowl was too hot, so they started to scramble, even with constant whisking. Don't worry if your water isn't actually simmering. The eggs should only be warm to the touch at all times, and don't stop whisking or scraping down the sides. Once the mixture is smooth, a little foamy, and adheres to the spoon when you lift, you can add 125 mL of sweet Marsala. Keep whisking, constantly scraping the sides, until you have a nice thick, creamy mixture. This will take about five minutes. When you get there, take the double boiler off the heat and grab your bowl of ice. Set the bowl of the double boiler over the ice and whisk constantly while it cools. This will be another five minutes or so, or until it's just a little warm to the touch. At this point, it's safe to stop whisking and you can get out your whipped cream. Gradually add the custard to the cream, folding it in gently, until everything is incorporated, and chill three or four hours before serving.

I chose to go ahead and assemble my desserts before chilling, because I wanted it a wee bit fancier for our holiday meal. I used these great tall crystal goblets that my mom has, and plopped four or five fresh blackberries in the bottom of each. Then I spooned the sabyon over top and loosely covered the goblets with seran wrap before putting them in the fridge. The recipe is for four servings, but with the big goblets I managed to make it three. It's dense, but still light enough for this to be realistic.

After the desserts were in the fridge, my work was done, so I took a little break before Daddy arrived, ready to open presents. Incidentally, I did very well. I'm super excited about my Norton's Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry, and in food related news, I got a Student's Vegetarian Cookbook and a knife sharpening set. Also, a Pierre Herme book is backordered for me, and I used some Christmas money to get Chocolate & Zucchini and a book for hors d'oeuvres for my planned birthday tea party. Whoo! While we did presents, we ate cheese ball, which is a high fat but delicious family tradition, and cashews.

Once presents were taken care of, Mom started cooking. Though there was honey baked ham for the parentals, it was easy to ignore. This is the entree, a dish of baby potatoes and pearl onions, baked with butter and herbs. It's very tasty. White wine was also involved. I always approve of white wine. Mom also made some stuffed mushrooms, which are one of my favourites. She found some large white mushrooms and used Pepperidge Farm stuffing, which does not involve chicken broth (unlike Stovetop).

For our first course, we had this tasty salad. The greens were fresh from Mom's garden - even though it does get cold in North Carolina in the winter and they're at "exceptional" drout level, Mom's still able to grow a bit in her heated boxes in the backyard. Also featured in the salad are apples, walnuts, and raspberry vinaigrette.

I was in charge of the hollandaise - that's a lot of butter! We made it out of a package, but I should point out that both of us can make hollandaise from scratch. We like to serve it over steamed asparagus, especially at Easter. I tried to take a picture of the asparagus but all I got was a lens full of steam.

Here is my plate - served on my Grandmother's china, which I love. We have asparagus with hollandaise, a lonely stuffed mushroom, a dinner roll, potatoes and onions, and the apricot compote. In the glass there is Chardonnay, which I don't normally like but this wasn't bad at all.

Finally, the desserts. I think everyone approved. I'm rather indifferent as to Marsala, but the taste was interesting and of course much diluted by the egg and the cream. The blackberries were also a nice touch. Health-wise, it's not great but not abysmal either. Each person gets two egg yolks, a tablespoon of sugar, about 40 mL of Marsala, and about 80 mL cream. That's not so bad... right?

December 31st

For the New Year, I hopped on another plane and made my way to Baltimore to see a bunch of my friends who live in the area. I stayed with a couple of friends who we'll call B&N for privacy's sake. B is a freaking amazing cook, and always very accommodating of my vegetarianism. Before the festivities even got started I got to partake in some really awesome food, including my first ever taste of pomegranate and some really tasty gluten free cereal (N has a gluten allergy). Anyway, we started the evening out with a bevy of amazing appetisers. Pictured are miniature dill pancakes (gluten free!) and potato wedges with a really tasty yoghurt dip. There was also cranberry relish, roasted elephant garlic, and the ever-popular baked Brie.

For the actual dinner, B cooked up quite a feast, and most of it vegetarian. I've been crafty and taken all the pictures to avoid showing the great big pork loin, though I did find it rather amusing when B was trying to come up with a way to substitute Worcestershire to make the marinade vegetarian, and then realised this was unnecessary because she was marinating pork! Pictured here is the big tasty bowl of lentils, and behind the glasses, my little bowl of vegetarian stuffing, made with nuts, which was amazing. Also in the background is a big green salad.

Here we have a big bowl of mashed sweet potatoes, some more cranberries, and the applesauce, which was an interesting recipe that involved horseradish. The jury was mixed on this one, but I thought it provided an intriguing bite. Also a big plus for me was the vegetarian gravy. The 15-minute hunt in the grocery store for boullion cubes was well worth it, because stuffing just isn't stuffing without gravy, in my opinion.

For dessert, we had these fabulous little chocolate orange custard cups. For each serving, use an ounce of chocolate and half an egg. Separate the eggs and beat the whites to stiff peaks. Melt the chocolate, remove from heat, and cool slightly before whisking in the yolks (so as not to cook them). Combine chocolate mixture with the whites and a bit of orange oil. Serve in shot glasses. They taste just like a chocolate orange and are amazing.

This is Molly, modelling the potatoes. We consumed a lot of red wine that night, not to mention champagne and Irish coffees. Molly was therefore in a very good mood, and wanted to show you all our fabulous vegetarian food, as well as her fabulous dress. Molly's dog, Lester, is not a vegetarian, but he was hankering for those potatoes as well. For breakfast, Molly made the leftover potatoes into pancakes, with just a bit of salt and pepper and melted Cheddar cheese on top. They were fabulous. Another friend had the brilliant idea to make French toast out of Danish, and B made crepes which we had with lemon juice, butter and sugar. This is my new favourite way to have crepes. I highly recommend it.

January 5th

Time to come home, and therefore time for some more airport food! I had to make a little stop at A&W, because I can't resist the rootbeer floats. This time I had a "Freeze" instead, which is a float mixed together and costs 30 cents more. For the labour of mixing, I guess. I also tried the genuine Wisconsin cheese curds. They may or may not be genuine, but how can you go wrong with fried cheese?

Everytime I go through RDU, I have to stop at A Southern Season's satellite store for some Southern treats. It's in the Southwest part of the terminal, and I was flying Northwest, but the hike was worth it. I picked up Key Lime Bark (too sweet and tastes like regular limes), pecan pralines (amazing!), Grits Bits (haven't tried them yet but I couldn't resist), peach and pumpkin butter, and (unpictured) Kudzu Blossom Jelly for my friend Rita who was picking me up at the airport here. Who knew Kudzu produced anything useable, let alone edible?

January 6th

The final photo is of my breakfast. A family friend made this amazing spiced grape jelly and gave my mom and dad each a jar. Naturally, I stole Daddy's when I realised how good it is, and I'm going to write her for the recipe soon. I'd really like to start canning my own stuff, but I haven't gotten around to it yet. The best way to enjoy this stuff is on a Thomas's Hearty Grains bagel, which is 100% whole wheat and much better than most healthy things, toasted with cream cheese. That's what I call breakfast!