Saturday, January 23, 2010

Yancey's Fancy Mexican Frittata

The name of this frittata comes from the cheese I used - I had a wedge of cheese in the freezer that I'd bought at Costco - I tend to overbuy for parties and will freeze things rather than having them sit in the fridge.  It is called Yancey's Fancy Jalapeno/Cayenne Cheddar - so naturally I needed to use it in something where the heat would be appropriate.  I also happened to have a lot of eggs on hand so the decision to make frittata was pretty much made for me.  I was really happy with the way this turned out and I have to credit the cheese - the flavor was so good.  I don't know that a regular pepper jack would work as well - the cheddar really gave it a lot of flavor.  I think in the future I'd do a mixture of pepper jack and cheddar as I don't think this is something I can easily get again.   I also have a wedge of their horseradish cheddar and am looking forward to trying that out as well.  I started out this week determined to cook as much as possible from what we had on hand and haven't been to the store since Monday - we have one blood orange in the fruit bowl and nothing but lemons and limes in the fridge (but fresh oranges from our tree) - time to get to the store!

Yancey's Fancy Mexican Frittata

6 large eggs
4 oz grated Yancey's Fancy Jalapeno/Cayenne Cheddar
 (or a mixture of pepper jack and cheddar)
1/2 cup milk (I used rice milk)
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 small tomatoes, diced
olive oil, salt and pepper

You will need an oven-proof skillet for this recipe.  Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Saute onion in a teaspoon or two of olive oil over medium-high heat until the often is softened and begins to brown.  In the meantime, whisk eggs with milk and then add in about 2/3 of the cheese and the tomatoes - season with salt and pepper. Once the onions are browned, pour the egg mixture over the onions and cover the skillet.  Cook on the stovetop over low heat until the edges of the frittata begin to brown and look set.  Remove cover, sprinkle the remaining cheese on top, and place the skillet in the oven and bake until the frittata is set in the middle - about 10 minutes.  Finish under the broiler until the cheese on top is browned and bubbly.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Vegetarian Tortilla Soup (from 101 Cookbooks)

I am married to a soup lover and am mother to both a soup lover and a soup hater.  Now that it is just two of us here at home, soup no longer feels like a form of punishment for dinner.  With all the stormy weather we've been having, last night was the perfect night for soup.  Even better - I had the soup itself already in the freezer - all I needed to prepare were the toppings.

I've tried several tortilla soup recipes over the years and I usually like them, but not enough to make the same recipe again.  Until we tried this Vegetarian Tortilla Soup recipe from 101 Cookbooks.   It is soup perfection.  Truly.  I can't think of any soup I love more.  I've made a lot of recipes from 101 Cookbooks - her style of cooking really appeals to me and I have had nothing but success.  But this...it is amazing.  I usually top the soup with just the tortilla strips, goat cheese and oven roasted tomatoes.  I always double the soup base so that I have extra to put in the freezer - an immersion blender is a very handy thing for this recipe.

Vegetarian Tortilla Soup Recipe - www.101cookbooks.com

As I mention up above, if I'm treating this like a one bowl meal, I'll toss in some tofu (smoked or browned in a skillet) and some shredded chard as well. Heat alert: I call for 1 teaspoon of spicy red chili powder at the beginning of this recipe - keep in mind that some chile powders are stronger than others. If you (or your family) are worried about the soup being too spicy, scale back. The worst thing you can do is make the soup too spicy too early in the process. If you start out light, you'll be able to adjust the amount of spiciness toward the end. If you like your soup spicier, add more chile powder toward the end. One last note, this is another soup where seasoning is so important. If you haven't seasoned it properly with salt, it is going to taste very flat.

6-8 corn tortillas, cut in half and then into matchstick-thin strips
a big splash of extra virgin olive oil
fine grain sea salt

20 small yellow or red cherry tomatoes

another splash of extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large white onion, chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon cayenne or other spicy red chili powder
1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes
6 cups vegetable broth (or water)

a few sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup of goat cheese, crumbled

Gently toss the tortilla strips with a glug of olive oil and salt. Turn them out onto a baking sheet, arrange them across the pan and bake in a 350F degree oven for 10 minutes or until golden and crispy. Set aside.
Halve (or quarter) the tomatoes lengthwise and put them in a small roasting pan, oven proof dish, or rimmed baking sheet. Toss with a bit of olive oil and a pinch or two of salt. Bake in a 350F degree oven for 40-45 minutes (less time if you use smaller cherry tomatoes), or until the tomatoes are shrunken and golden around the edges. The tomatoes keep nicely in a jar for days (refrigerated), so you can do this part in advance if you like. Set aside.
Now for the soup itself - in a big pot over medium-high heat cook the garlic and onions in a splash of olive oil along with a couple pinches of salt for just a minute or so. Stir in the spices and then the tomatoes. Cook down for about five minutes or so, it should thicken a bit. Remove from heat, add one cup of the broth and puree with a hand blender (or puree in a traditional blender). Add the remaining 5 cups of broth and puree until smooth. Bring the soup back up to a simmer and cook for another 10 minutes.
Serve the individual bowls topped with plenty of tortilla strips, the roasted and sun-dried tomatoes, and some crumbled goat cheese. Alternately, as I mention up above, you can finish with sliced avocado, cilantro, white onions, and a squeeze of lime. If you like a creamier soup base add a splash of half and half, or stir in some extra goat cheese.
Makes about 6 servings.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Risotto with roasted fennel and blue cheese

I've been trying really hard to shop in my pantry/refrigerator before heading to the store.  We have a lot of food.  Here in Northern California were are having non-stop storms (I fully expect Noah to knock on the door any minute to pick up a pair of Vizslas for his ark) - given the weather, I wanted to to just hit the store once for some fresh fruit and vegetables and then hermit myself away with our tax folder.  I shudder just writing those two words.

Anyway...I had a box of DeCecco Riso (carnaroli rice), a few fennel bulbs and half a container of crumbled blue cheese.  This is what I came up with:

Risotto with roasted fennel and blue cheese

1 lb carnaroli or arborio rice
8 cups vegetable stock
1 cup white wine
olive oil
1 tablespoon butter (optional)
1 large onion, chopped
3 bulbs fennel, cut into thin wedges
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
4 oz crumbled blue cheese

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Toss the fennel wedges with some olive oil, a pinch of salt and a grind of black pepper.  Place on a rimmed baking sheet in the oven. Give it about 10 minutes in the oven before you start the risotto because you want to make sure the fennel is done before you finish the risotto!  To make the risotto, melt butter in a large skillet and add one tablespoon olive oil (or just use 2 tablespoons olive oil).  Add the chopped onion and saute over medium flame until the onion is soft and translucent.  Add the rice and stir so that all the grains are coated with the olive oil.  Add wine.  Once the wine is absorbed begin adding vegetable stock about 1/2 cup at a time, gently stirring until it is absorbed before adding more.  You may not need all 8 cups so by the time you've added six cups or so start checking the rice to see if it's tender or not.  I'm not a constant stirrer of risotto but I do give it a fair amount of attention.  Once the rice is tender and no longer chalky (at least 20 minutes) stir in the parmesan, blue cheese and roasted fennel.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

We also had a simple salad of baby lettuces, walnuts and pomegranate seeds - the pomegranate was from our yard.  Considering it is a young tree and we only had five pomegranates this year it's a big deal!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Tofu bacon BLT with avocado

Just because a person becomes a vegetarian doesn't mean there aren't certain foods they still think about...I can't tell you how many years it's been since I've had a piece of real bacon - it's been a long time.  But I used to love BLT's.  When I was a kid I didn't like tomatoes so I always had bacon and lettuce.  Eventually I came around on tomatoes and started adding avocado as well.  There are faux bacon products out there and they aren't bad - but they aren't great.  So whenever I get a craving for a good ol' BLT I turn to this recipe that is all over the internet.

Tofu Bacon

1 lb firm tofu
spray oil
for each frying pan batch:
2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
1 tsp. liquid smoke
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast

Slice tofu into thin strips - the thinner you get it, the crispier it will be.  Spray a large frying pan generously with oil and place over low-medium heat - add tofu in single layer.  Let it cook for about 10 minutes.  Don't mess with it - just let it cook.  After they start to get browned around the edges, turn the tofu pieces over and let them cook on the other side for about 10 minutes.

 While the tofu is cooking mix together the soy sauce and liquid smoke. Once the tofu is browned and crispy, remove from the heat and toss in the soy sauce mixture.  Once everything is coated add in the nutritional yeast (you may not need all of it).  Keep tossing until all the pieces are coated.  That's it.  I tend to cook mine in two or three batches and have found that the 2 tablespoons soy sauce isn't enough for a whole pound of tofu.  So make more accordingly for your own taste.

This recipe can be gluten-free if you use a GF nutritional yeast and a wheat-free tamari.

I'm not saying that the average person off the street would think this tastes exactly like bacon....but it makes an awesome BLT for those of us for whom bacon is but a distant memory!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Polenta Gratin with Spinach and Mushrooms

It has been so gray and dreary here.  It is winter after all, but still...we've had fog for days on end.  We had two days this past week where the sun was shining and the temperatures were leaning toward 70.  It was a lovely reminder of what we have in store in a few months.  But it was just a teaser as we are back to the same old gray.

This weather has definitely made me feel like cooking soups and stews, casseroles and cookies.  I had a log of prepared polenta in the fridge and got online to find a new recipe to try.  I came across this gratin at foodandwine.com.  I substituted vegetable broth for the chicken broth, used just cremini mushrooms and used swiss cheese instead of the Gruy√®re because I already had some in the fridge.  Comfort food at its finest!

Polenta Gratin with Spinach and Mushrooms

2 tablespoons olive oil
12 oz. sliced cremini mushrooms
1 large shallot, minced
8 oz prewashed baby spinach
1/2 teaspoon thyme
pinch of nutmeg
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3/4 cup vegetable broth
1/2 cup cream
One 18 oz log of prepare polenta, cut into 1/4" slices
3 ounces swiss cheese, shredded (1 cup)

Preheat the oven to 350°. In a large nonstick skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the mushrooms and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 6 minutes. Add the shallot and cook over moderately low heat for 3 minutes. Add the spinach, thyme and nutmeg and cook over high heat until the spinach has wilted, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. 
Spread the spinach evenly in a 2-quart baking dish

                         In a small saucepan, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour over moderately high heat. 
Add the stock and cream and whisk until thickened, about 5 minutes. Season lightly with salt and pepper and pour over the spinach. Arrange the polenta slices on top of the spinach in overlapping concentric circles, pressing to submerge the polenta slightly. 
Sprinkle the swiss cheese on the polenta, cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes.  Preheat the broiler. Uncover the polenta and broil 6 inches from the heat for about 2 minutes, or until golden. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


I've had many version of fattoush, the Lebanese salad with crisped pita bread.  Some have a long list of ingredients, others are more simple.  It's really a flexible thing and subject to personal taste and what you have in your vegetable bin.  I have several cookbooks with recipes (I've had the Paula Wolfert version which is delicious) but I found this one online that called for cilantro - which I happened to have on hand.  I had all the other ingredients as well so this is what went on the table.  Even though we've mostly had cold weather (relatively speaking, I know...) I was in the mood for a big salad and this definitely hit the spot.  

Fattoush Salad 
from www.insalatas.com

3/4 cup vine-ripened cherry tomatoes, halved
3/4 cup English cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced in 1/4 inch cubes
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onions (about 1/2 of a small red onion)
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro (about 1/2 a bunch)
1/4 cup finely chopped mint (about 1/2 a bunch)
6 cups hearts of romaine lettuce (about 3 hearts), torn roughly by hand
2 pieces of pita bread
2/3 cup sheep’s milk feta cheese
1/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives (about 12 olives)

Lemon vinaigrette:
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic (about 1-2 cloves)
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
3/4 teaspoon toasted and freshly ground cumin (see below)
2 ounces olive oil
5 ounces extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Serves 6 as a side dish

To make the pita chips, preheat oven to 350˚.  Trim edges off of the pita, keeping a circle shape, so that the pita can be split into two halves.  Cut each half into 6 triangles and arrange on a baking sheet. Toast for approximately 12 minutes, or until the pita chips crisp up and are golden brown.  Turn baking sheet halfway through baking. Set aside and cool.  
Break the chips into large pieces.

To make the vinaigrette, in a small saucepan over medium-heat, toast cumin until aromatic and light brown, approximately 3 minutes. Toss occasionally to prevent burning.  Let cool and set aside. Grind in a spice grinder until cumin becomes almost like powder. In a medium bowl, whisk together the garlic, lemon juice, rice wine vinegar, cumin, extra virgin olive oil and olive oil.  Season to taste with generous amount of salt and black pepper. Set aside.
To serve, toss romaine hearts, cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, mint, cilantro, red onions and olives with the vinaigrette in a large bowl, making sure that the leaves are well coated with the vinaigrette.  Divide the salad among 6 chilled salad plates. Serve immediately.

Fattoush on Foodista

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Pappardelle with Roasted Winter Squash, Arugula and Pecans

There's so many blogs right now that are full of "cooking from the pantry" challenges.  I try to cook from the pantry as often as I can and just fill in with fresh fruits and vegetables as needed.  So in the spirit of cooking from the pantry I took a look around and found  I had a package of DeCecco Pappardelle pasta in the cupboard.  I got online to look up a recipe and came across this one from Cooking Light.  As luck would have it (and because our house is weird) - I happened to have both a butternut squash and some arugula.  I didn't have pine nuts - they are so expensive I tend to buy precisely what I need for a recipe and no more.  I did have pecans though so that's what I substituted - I also substituted dry sage for the fresh.

I actually doubled the recipe - not because the two of us can eat that much - but because my butternut squash yielded exactly 8 cups diced which was exactly twice what the recipe called for.  Same with the pasta.  I'd much rather have leftovers than half a squash and an opened package of pasta.  I'd read the reviews and noted that several people had commented that it was rather dry - I reserved more of the cooking water than they'd called for and still found it to be too dry and at the end tossed it with a bit of olive oil which helped immensely.  I'd rather eat a little less and have it taste great than soldier on with a dry pasta dish.

Pappardelle with Roasted Winter Squash, Arugula and Pecans
based on recipe from Cooking Light

  • 4  cups  (1-inch) cubed peeled butternut squash
  • 2  tablespoons  balsamic vinegar
  • 2  teaspoons  olive oil
  • 1/2  teaspoon  salt, divided
  • Cooking spray
  • 8  ounces  uncooked pappardelle (wide ribbon pasta) or fettuccine
  • 1  tablespoon  butter
  • 2  tablespoons  pine nuts
  • 1  tablespoon  chopped fresh sage
  • 2  garlic cloves, minced
  • 2  cups  trimmed arugula
  • 1/2  cup  (2 ounces) grated fresh Asiago cheese
  • 1/2  teaspoon  coarsely ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 475°.
Combine squash, vinegar, oil, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a large bowl; toss well to coat. Arrange squash mixture in a single layer on a jelly-roll pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 475° for 25 minutes or until tender and lightly browned, stirring occasionally.
While squash bakes, cook pasta according to the package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain in a colander over a bowl, reserving 1 tablespoon cooking liquid.
Melt butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add pine nuts, sage, and garlic; cook 3 minutes or just until the pine nuts begin to brown, stirring occasionally. Place pasta, reserved cooking liquid, pine nut mixture, and squash mixture in a large bowl; toss gently to combine. Add remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt, arugula, cheese, and black pepper; toss gently to combine. If dry, toss with additional olive oil Serve immediately.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Stuffed Baby Eggplants

Every now and then, the small market where I shop will have these little eggplants.  I had nothing particular in mind when I bought them but they were too cute to pass up.  Our Christmas dinner was at my sister-in-law's house and I'd said I'd bring a vegetable or two.  Problem was, the day got a little busier than I'd planned and at 2:45, with a 4 pm departure looming, I hadn't started cooking.  I had the eggplants and also had Brussels sprouts on the stalk.  I had a basic idea of what I wanted to do so quickly scoured the internet for a recipe to use as a guideline for the eggplants.  I found a recipe on the Vegetarian Times website that was pretty much what I had in mind and I followed it loosely.  Below is how I made it.

Stuffed Baby Eggplants

8 small eggplants
olive oil
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 15 ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup bread crumbs
cinnamon, oregano
2/3 cup feta cheese

Preheat oven to 450. Cut eggplants in half, leaving stem intact.  Scoop out the inside of the eggplant, leaving about a 1/4" shell.  Coarsely chop the eggplant that has been scooped out.  Spray a cookie sheet with oil and put the eggplant shells face down.  Spray the tops with a bit more olive oil and put them in the oven while you prepare the filling.

Heat a small amount of olive oil in a saute pan and add the garlic.  Give it a minute and then add the chopped eggplant.  Cook this until the eggplant is softened and cooked throughout - about 6-8 minutes.  Then add the drained tomatoes, the walnuts and breadcrumbs and season with salt, pepper, oregano and a dash of cinnamon to taste.

Remove the eggplant shells from the oven and turn them over for stuffing.  Evenly distribute the filling among the shells and top with feta cheese.   Bake for about 30 minutes, until the shells are softened and browned and the feta cheese is browned and bubbly.

I covered these loosely with foil (with a vent so they wouldn't steam on the long drive) and then gave them just a few minutes more in the oven before dinner.  They survived the drive and the reheating just fine.  We had a couple leftover that were delicious leftover as well.

These could easily be made gluten free with a GF breadcrumb option.  Vegan, leave off the feta or substitute with a crumbly tofu "feta"

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Pad See Ew

We have a wonderful Asian market not far from us.  It is the place to go for vegetables, sauces, noodles etc.  While it's not far away, it is in a busy part of town so I try to make the most of my visits there and stock up on non-perishables each time I go.  I went a few days ago and they had the fresh, wide rice noodles - the ones just perfect for Pad See Ew.   I think Pad See Ew is just about my favorite Thai dish.  It's actually pretty easy to put together - a simple sauce, some garlic, broccoli, egg and noodles.

I really like the recipe from Nancie McDermott's "Real Thai" cookbook.  I have had the best results with this recipe and last night in particular, the dish was fantastic.  I usually make this dish with tofu but I happened to have on hand some vegetarian "meat" from the Asian market.  The ingredients are listed as whey, mushroom stem and vegetarian seasoning.  This particular item goes well with the Pad See Ew as the seasoning seems to be a ginger/sweet flavor.  The recipe is as follows:

Pad See Ew (Kwaytiow Paht Si-Yu) (adapted from Nancie McDermott)

2 tablespoons dark sweet soy sauce (or 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce and 1 tablespoon molasses or sugar)
1 tablespoon fish sauce (I substituted Bragg's but if you like fish sauce, by all means use it)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3-4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped garlic
4 cups Chinese broccoli, cut into 2-inch by 1-inch strips, or 3 cups small broccoli florets
1 pound firm tofu or vegetarian "meat" substitute, thinly sliced
1 pound soft, fresh flat rice noodle sheets, cut lengthwise into strips 1 inch wide (even though I had fresh noodles I had them sitting in a pot of hot water to separate and soften them)
2 eggs, lightly beaten

Combine the soy sauce, fish sauce (or Bragg's) and pepper in a small bowl and place next to the stove with all the other ingredients.

Heat a wok over medium-high heat.  Add 2 tablespoons oil and swirl to coat the surface.  When the oil is very hot, drop a piece of garlic into the pan.  If it sizzles immediately, the oil is ready.  Add the garlic and toss until it begins to turn golden, about 15 seconds.  Add the broccoli and stir-fry until tender, bright green and shiny, about 2 minutes (a little more if using regular broccoli).  Remove from pan to a platter.
Add a little more oil to the work, swirl to coat, and heat for 15 seconds.  Add the beef (or tofu or veg "meat") and stir-fry.  When browned, remove from the pan to the platter with the broccoli.

Add about 1 tablespoon oil to the wok and heat for 15 seconds.  Add the egg and let it sit for a minute or so and then toss until the eggs are cooked.  Drain the noodles and then add them to the wok.  Stir in the soy sauce mixture.  Once the noodles and eggs are covered with the sauce, add in the vegetables and meat/tofu.  We like it spicy so we added ground red pepper to our individual servings.

Working with rice noodles can be frustrating but this time everything worked perfectly.  The recipe actually calls for stir-frying the noodles and then making a space in the middle and adding the egg.  I did the egg first and then added the noodles - which seemed to work well because it gave the noodles some place to land without sticking to the wok. The whole dish went together very quickly.
 It received two thumbs up all around and was just as good leftover for lunch today.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Fog and oranges

Today was a bit gray and very foggy but it's been long enough since the last rain that we figured the trails wouldn't be too muddy and the dogs needed to get out for a walk.  So we went on our favorite hike - it's only about three miles but it is really hilly (steep!) and gives both the dogs and us a good walk.  It was so green everywhere and the dogs loved it:

But the best part was picking a couple of oranges from the tree in our front yard as we walked back up to the house:

We've only had these trees for a few years and this is the first year we've had more than just one or two oranges.  We've had Meyer lemons for several years but we are so excited to finally have our own wonderful oranges.

Tomorrow I'll be back in the kitchen!

Saturday, January 02, 2010

I (still) Love My Ducks!

So the Rose Bowl didn't go quite the way we'd hoped.  But we had a great day with friends and in the end that certainly matters more...right?   We made a couple of appetizers - the ever popular kashk-e bademjan which I've blogged about before here and a vegan version here, as well as the rice paper veggie rolls I blogged about here.  True to tradition, the kashk-e bademjan was decorated with onions, garlic and kashk to reflect the spirit of the day.

I also made my first attempt at a cookie bouquet.  You've probably seen them before - giant cookies decorated for a particular event - birthday, get well, etc and arranged in a bouquet of sorts.  I had some extra sugar cookie dough on hand and decided to use it up making these.  It really wasn't that hard - I dug through my cookie cutters to find ones that would work (which reminded me once again of the ridiculous number of cookie cutters I own - where did they all come from?).  I rolled the dough out and for each cookie I cut two of the same shape.  I first put one down on parchment paper and then placed a wooden skewer on top - almost to the top edge of the cookie, and then placed another cookie on top and sort of pressed them together into the stick.

I ended up baking them longer and at a lower heat to get them cooked all the way through without getting too brown on the bottom.

For decorating I used a royal icing and then purchased a tube of fondant for writing.  I had a new galvanized bucket that I weighted down with a large can of tomatoes and then put in two blocks of florist's foam.  I tried to camouflage all of that with some tissue paper and then stuck in some silk roses for good measure.  It didn't turn out to be a good luck charm but it was still a fun project.