Thursday, January 20, 2005

What's cooking lately

Posted by Hello

Not much really. I mean, we're obviously eating dinner every night and I'm packing lunches every day. But it's been crazy busy and my chances to experiment have been few. We've been to several dinner parties and birthday parties - so lots of eating but very little of it prepared by me. It's been a nice break.

Last night we had a mushroom risotto with oven roasted brussels sprouts. I made the risotto with some leftovers from a dish I make called Portobello Mushroom Bake. I made a basic risotto and then stirred in the leftover mushrooms, some nutritional yeast and some vegan parmesan. Some salt and pepper. It was hard to believe it was a dairy free risotto! The brussels sprouts were roasted in a very hot oven in some margarine (the Earth Balance, non-hydrogenated kind...) and then tossed with fresh Meyer lemon (from my yard) and capers. It is a much maligned vegetable that really shines prepared this way.

Portobello Mushroom Bake

1/2 cup almonds
1/4 cup olive oil (I actually use less and increase the water)
1/4 cup Braggs Liquid Aminos
1/4 cup water
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp dried oregano
4 large portabello mushrooms, stems removed
1 medium onion, sliced

Preheat oven to 425. In a blender or food processor, blend the almonds until powdered. Add oil, Braggs, water, vinegar, garlic, rosemary and oregano and blend until well combined. In a large baking dish, place the mushrooms upside down and top with onions. Pour sauce over and bake for about 45 minutes. Serve over rice. Friends I've given this recipe to like to double the amount of sauce - it's really good.

The evening was topped off with a new episode of ABC's "Wife Swap." I swear it's like a car accident you just can't help but watch. Last night a meditating vegetarian mom from California switched with a neatnik New Jersey mom who cooked lots of meat-filled Italian meals. I've got to hand it to the veg mom - she handled the meat cooking much better than I would have. But like she said - the other mom prepared this food with love and she was going to do the same. And then she got reamed by the MIL for not keeping the kitchen clean while she cooked (I would have wanted to smack her upside the head with one of those pork chops). Low brow television just doesn't get any better than this.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Coming to terms with mushrooms

About 10 months ago I came to the realization that there were a lot of vegetarian recipes out there using mushrooms. And I couldn't stand them. To me they were the spongy little things getting in the way of the croutons on my salad. They were the slimy nuisance on my pizza. But like I said - when you're talking vegetarian cooking there's a lot of mushroom consumption going on.

So I set out on a mission to learn to like mushrooms. I've done this before - there were foods I wouldn't go near when I was growing up. Fresh tomatoes, eggplant, onion - these were all things I had to learn to like. How hard could it be?

My sister-in-law made a really nice mushroom soup one time when we were over. It was pureed so there were no pesky pieces of actual mushroom to detract from the wonderful flavor of the soup. Another time she sauteed mushrooms until they were really well done and splashed them with balsamic vinegar and lots of pepper. I actually didn't hate them. It was clear - I liked the flavor but not the texture.

The first time I cooked portobellos they were awful (to me). Hubby ate them, claiming they were delicious. Still too spongy for this girl. I'm nothing if not persistent and kept trying. I had a grilled portobello mushroom sandwich at one of the Downtown Disney restaurants that was awesome! Of course, the fact that I was dining with my friend Laurel who I don't get to see often and the 4 teenage girls I was traveling with had been sent off with money and instructions to find their own dinner probably helped. Oh, and the pint (or two) of pale ale didn't hurt. But I left there having been won over.

For Christmas dinner I made mushroom pot pies. I didn't really have a recipe - I just sort of made it based on pot pies I've made in the past. We were celebrating Christmas at my sister-in-law's house and I told her I would bring a vegetarian main course. When offered some mushroom pie, my nephew, who is 7 said "it sort of extends the idea of what a pie should be." Fair enough. But I realized when I did my shopping and piled cremini and portobello mushrooms into my cart that I can honestly now say I Like Mushrooms. Mission Accomplished.

Mushroom and Ale Pie

4 portobello mushroom caps
4 8 oz. pkgs sliced cremini mushrooms
1 large onion, diced
1 lb baby cut carrots
1 lb buttergold potatoes (or small red potatoes), cut into 1" pieces
4 cups mushroom broth
1 stick earth balance margarine
½ cup flour
1 12 oz bottle ale
2 tsp kitchen bouquet
½ tsp. dried marjoram
2T. Dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil
Crust for 2 - 9" two crust pies (I buy ready-made at Whole Foods)

Saute mushrooms over medium high heat in about 1 tablespoon olive oil. Continue to cook them until they release their moisture - at this point add the onion and cook until the mushrooms turn golden brown. You will probably need to do this in two batches. Set aside when browned.

In the meantime place the carrots and potatoes in the mushroom broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the vegetables are cooked - tender but not overcooked. Reserve the mushroom broth.

Melt margarine in a large saucepan. Add flour and stir together to make a roux. Stir for a minute or two until it begins to brown. Slowly add the mushroom broth and the bottle of ale, stirring constantly. Once it is mixed and slighty thickened add the marjoram, kitchen bouquet and dijon mustard. Stir in the mushrooms, carrots and potatoes. Season liberally with salt and pepper. There's your filling.

Divide evenly between two pie pans and cover with top crust. Crimp edges to seal, vent top crust. I bake these for about 45 minutes in a 425 degree oven. You'll need to watch the edges and cover them with foil if they get too brown.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Wacky Cake

Here in California it rained constantly over the weekend. Actually at one point it was raining in just half of the backyard. We watched as the cloud moved by and took the rain with it. It was very cool. Our very princessy dog really needed to heed the call of nature but we were only able to coax her as far out as the patio. Once the raindrops started hitting her she retreated as if she'd been caught in a hail of bullets. Did I say she was a bit of princess? I kid you not, my husband and daughter were outside trying to get her to walk under an umbrella.

It was the kind of weekend where you just want to hibernate. My daughters had plans to go to the mall and actually decided against it. If you know any teenage girls you know this is of some significance! So Saturday evening my 13 year old daughter decided she wanted to bake something. She picked the recipe called Auntie Bonnie's Wacky Cake from the "How It All Vegan" cookbook. In a sort of Freaky Friday moment she set to work in the kitchen while I had the rare chance to sit on the couch and watch television (VH1's "25 most cheesetastic tv stars" - I wasn't going to squander this precious moment of relaxation on news or something cerebral). I had to help her find a few ingredients in the pantry but other than that it was all her own project. She even brought me the bowl and spatula so I could eat the last of the batter in the bowl (the beauty of vegan baking is you can eat all the cake batter and cookie dough you want and not worry about salmonella).

I think there are probably 50 different versions of wacky cake recipes floating around out there. Some people call it crazy cake. I'm not sure, but I believe it is a depression era recipe - when eggs and milk were scarce commodities. I guess the lack of eggs and milk is what makes it crazy but it also makes it the perfect cake for a vegan.

I know waiting for the cake to cool was the hardest part. And there was a little trouble getting it out of the pan. But finally it was ready to frost and serve. It was a wonderful cake and she was a very proud baker. She served us all and we sat down as a family and watched VH1's "My Coolest Years - Rich Kids." Ah, such quality time. Who says you can't have your cake and eat it too?

Here is the recipe for Wacky Cake as she made it:

1 1/2 cups flour
4 T. cocoa or carob powder
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 T. vinegar
5 T. oil
1 cup cold water

Preheat oven to 325. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the sweetener, vanilla, vinegar, oil, and water and mix together gently until "just mixed." Pour into a lightly oiled cake pan and bake for 45-50 minutes. Test with a fork to see if done. When cooled, ice and serve.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

On becoming vegetarian

"What do you eat?" That's what everyone says. Actually they say "how do you know you're getting enough protein?" followed by the "but what do you eat" question. So I reckon if I get it down in a blog I can just say "read this" and you'll know.

I've never liked eating meat. I mean, that's what I grew up with but I didn't enjoy it. I don't think I even knew what a vegetarian was. You know, pot roast on Sundays, chicken, hamburgers, meatloaf. The usual. Oh, and the occasional it-must-be-a-few-days-until-payday creamed tuna on toast. If I'd known about Child Protective Services I'd surely have given them a call. But I just never like the whole meat thing. Back then, it had very little to do with any ethical position it just grossed me out.

After I got married I got very interested in cooking. I love cooking, entertaining, trying new recipes, exploring new cuisines. We didn't eat a lot of meat but we certainly weren't close to being vegetarian either. I gamely made roast turkey for Thanksgiving (I'd shake it over the garbage can to get the stuff inside to come out - there was no way I was going to stick my hand in there), grilled hamburgers in the summer. But I didn't like it.

Finally a few years ago, while trying to cut up some chicken without actually touching it (it's not easy, try it) I realized I just couldn't do it anymore. That night I asked my family if they would be willing to go along with a vegetarian diet. I promised them I wouldn't make weird stuff and that they would still eat very well. Much to my surprise they said yes.

So here we are - nearly three years later - well fed and happy.