Tuesday, December 27, 2011

My Christmas Feast

Yam and Navel Orange Salad
Like many other families, our holiday meals have always been ruled by tradition and habit: not only do we serve the same dishes over and over, the same women prepare the meals year after year. Our table would feature a turkey (ham if we were celebrating Easter), mashed potatoes and gravy, a plain stuffing, deviled eggs, a vegetable tray loaded with canned black olives and pickles, yams covered in sugar, a sweet salad with Jell-O as one of the ingredients, and depending on which side of the family I was feasting with, a bowl of cucumbers drowning in white vinegar. I cannot forget the pies. There are always pies. I have to add that one of my grandmothers is a master pie maker. When Pa was little Grandma Pie Master baked pies and sold them to make extra money.

The prime rib before cooking.
While Z. spent the holiday with his family in the Northwest, I visited the state that I fondly refer to as the Old Country, good ol' Wyoming. This year we broke some traditions. Pa and I prepared dinner. Not only was the venue different, we prepared dishes that showed off each of our respective culinary abilities and tastes in food. Pa  made an amazing prime rib roast that he covered in crushed peppercorns and slow cooked in a braising liquid of balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, Worchestershire sauce, garlic, and other seasonings. I created the side dishes.

Please pardon the pink plate; it is the only platter in the house.
Grandma Pie Master and I are the only two who love yams and expect them every holiday meal. She always prepared them with lots of brown sugar and covered in marshmallows. I wanted to share another way to enjoy yams. I made one of my favorite dishes from The Choosy Beggars (who by the way, are hilarious), Sweet Potato and Navel Orange Salad. This is a dish of contrasts. I love the tart vinaigrette with the sweet yams which cuts the spiciness of the chili pepper and red onion and the orange sections and juice tie everything together. Pa who hates yams and laughs at me every time I share my love of yams, tried my salad and ENJOYED himself. Try this recipe!

Pa had a recipe waiting for me when I arrived that he wanted to make for our meal. He wanted to make the Pioneer Woman's Brussels with Balsamic and Cranberries. I was more than happy to oblige; I already knew the beauty that is fresh brussels sprouts with balsamic. This dish turned out great. The tart, chewy cranberries were a great addition to the brussel sprouts. I went a step further and added a couple of handfuls of chopped toasted pecans. Excellent!

We had to have pie. Since I was co-leader of this meal, I really wanted to show off a little and make something unusual for my family. I made Guy Fieri's Rustic Pear Tart. My grandma has always added a drizzle of white vinegar to her crust to make it tender so I was drawn to Guy's use of buttermilk rather than ice water. I made a slight change and used half butter and half vegetable shortening. Grandma Pie Master was going to be eating this pie. I had to have a flaky crust, which I did with the shortening but still had the flavor and tenderness of a butter crust. I thoroughly enjoyed the spices used in the pear mixture but I did add 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract to the pears since vanilla and pears is one of my favorite flavor combinations. Enjoy!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Barley Risotto-Style

Barley was on of the first grains after brown rice I purchased when I moved out on my own because this grain was slightly familiar and CHEAP. Well, I did not have a clue what to do with barley and was discouraged by the long cooking time so most of that first package of barley eventually ended up in the garbage can.

This fall after many years of a barley-free pantry I decided to give barley another chance for several reasons. First, barley is still cheap, less than $1 a pound at all the stores in my area. The large, toothsome grain will be a nice alternative to some of my other favorite whole-grains. I know barley still requires an extended cooking time but many of my current favorite meals have a similar cooking time, time is not an issue.

I make my granola with a combination of oats, rye flakes, and barley flakes. Recently, I made a batch of granola with the ingredients I had on hand, which were oats and rye flakes. The granola was good but lacking. Then I made a batch with my three favorite grains. The barley flakes are delicious and I had missed their flavor. Realizing how delicious barley really is, I decided to give the kernels another chance.

I love taking a homely, pedestrian ingredient and applying more elegant or fussy techniques to it. I am only familiar with barley that has been thrown into the soup, adding a pleasant flavor but probably more as a filler. I chose risotto as my first barley recipe for good reason. I knew I could add lots of flavor to this humble member of the grass family.

Any number of vegetables could be used in Barley Risotto-Style. I would always include garlic and some other allium relative, such as shallot, leek, or onion. Shallots or leek are worth the extra cost in this instance. The nuances of their flavors come out in a dish like risotto where onion would be fine but could be overpowering.

If this dish were a side, I would probably not include the beans. This risotto was going to be my dinner so I wanted the protein. White beans would be traditional but I went with kidney beans. I think the kidney bean is under appreciated. Not only are kidney beans a good source of iron, the flesh of the bean becomes very creamy.

The other secret ingredient to Barley Risotto-Style is the white wine. The wine perfumes and flavors the barley with a flavorful brightness that citrus or vinegar cannot provide. I prefer sauvignon blanc for its crisp, bright flavor. In this case, I used a chardonnay I really enjoy that does not have the typical oaky-flavor of chardonnay. Enjoy!

Barley Risotto-Style

6-8 cups water, stock, or a combination
1 cup white wine
1 cup barley
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 leek, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and finely diced
4 oz mushrooms
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Garnish **
  1. Place the water or stock in a small sauce pan, bring to a simmer, and keep warm.
  2. In another larger sauce pan, heat olive oil over medium-low to medium heat. Add leek, carrot, and mushrooms, and garlic. Cook until vegetables are soft.
  3. Add barley and cook until aromatic, about 3-4 minutes.
  4. Add wine and cook until wine has been absorbed.
  5. Stir in 1 cup of water or stock at a time, stirring occasionally until the liquid is absorbed. 
  6. Once 4-5 cups of liquid has been added, add liquid 1/2 cup at a time, as needed, until the barley grains are cooked but still firm. The total cooking time may take around 45 minutes or longer.
** If you desire, garnish with freshly chopped parsley. If you would like a creamier risotto, add either 1 tablespoon butter, or 1 ounce grated Parmesan cheese, or 1 tablespoon cream, or any combination.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Recipe Review: Pumpkin Cupcakes

Source: Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero

I think I have had an unconscious obsession with orange food this fall based on how many orange dishes I have made. Or, the most likely case is I like to base my meals around the brightest, most colorful produce of the season I can afford, which in the fall means many of my veggies will be orange.

A friend who eats vegan deserts due to food allergies shared this recipe with me. I love recipes like this because all of the ingredients are already in my pantry, except the milk but there are many options for this. To keep the cupcake dairy-free use soy milk or a nut milk. Other substitutions include fruit juice, apple or orange would be tasty, or water. In my vegan baking experiments, I have occasionally used water instead of milk but I think the milk results in the best product. In my case, I may not always have dairy milk on hand but I always have half-and-half for my coffee. In a bind, I use equal parts half-and-half and water.

The wet ingredients.
I have made this recipe three times with yams instead of pumpkin and loved every batch. To do this, I pricked a fresh yam several times with a fork, cooked it in the microwave until done (the amount of time needed varies with the size of the yam), and let it cool until I could remove the skin. I then mashed the yam with a potato masher. I used 1 cup of mashed yam in the recipe and held onto any leftovers for a different use.

The dry ingredients. From top left going clockwise: cinnamon with nutmeg, baking soda, baking powder, salt, whole-wheat flour, and all-purpose flour.

Z. hates yams so he has not tried these cupcakes. He suggested I try substituting the yams with white potatoes. Making potato cupcakes will be my next culinary adventure. Potato donuts are amazing so potato cupcakes should be great, too.

I have included the recipe for my slight adaptation of the Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World Recipe. * is placed next to each ingredient that I have adapted or changed. Also, I did not include the recipe for the frosting recipe. I think this cupcakes are delicious and perfectly sweet without. You will have to get their book to find the recipe. Enjoy!

Yam Muffins, adapted from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero

1 cup cooked mashed yam *
1/3 cup canola oil
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour or 3/4 cup all-purpose flour plus 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour (my preference!)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon *
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon (I suggest 3/8 teaspoon) salt
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line muffin pan with liners or spray with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. In a medium bowl, stir together mashed yam, oil, sugar, milk, and vanilla.
  3. In another bowl, combine the remaining ingredients. Sift the dry ingredients into the yam mixture. Stir until combined.
  4. Fill each muffin about 2/3rds full. Bake about 22-24 minutes, or until done.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Corn Chowder

I actually created this recipe at the beginning of August when the weather was warm. I was missing snuggling up to a warm bowl of soup. I wanted this soup to be light and refreshing while taking advantage of the season’s lovely produce. What I created was my version of corn chowder. This would be a great soup for this chilly weather. The bright flavors and colors will cheer up any dark, cloudy day.

I try my best to create delicious meals from ingredients that I already have on hand. This recipe reflects what was in my refrigerator, pantry, and what produce was a good buy at the market. Here are some suggestions for some delicious additions or substitutions:
  • Pre-cooked shredded chicken
  • Shrimp
  • Cook a few slices of bacon in the pot you will be using, when finished remove and set aside. Use the bacon drippings to cook the vegetables. Garnish each bowl of soup with a little crumbled bacon.
  • Bell peppers, any color
  • Celery
  • Cauliflower
  • Yams
  • Potatoes
  • Other types of beans
  • Spinach
  • Fresh herbs like cilantro or parsley
  • Grill the veggies before adding them to the soup
Corn and Vegetable Chowder, serves 3 for dinner

1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 onion chopped
1 jalapeno, seeds removed and diced finely
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, chopped
1 small zucchini, or 1/2 -1 cup chopped 
1/4 cup all-purpose flour 
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin 
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 14 oz. can stock or broth (vegetable or chicken) 
1 1/2 cups milk 
1 can corn, drained and rinsed 
1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
    1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium-low to medium heat. Cook onion and jalapeno until onion is soft and translucent, about 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add garlic and cook until soft, 4-5 minutes.
    2. Add longer cooking vegetables like carrot, cook 4-5 minutes. Add zucchini, cook 1-2 minutes. 
    3. Do not leave the stove for this step and have liquids ready to add to the pot. Add the flour, coating all the vegetables with the flour. The flour will soak up all moisture and the pan will probably look dry. Cook about 30 seconds. Add spices and cook another 30 seconds, any longer and the mixture will burn.
    4. Add stock, milk, and remaining vegetables. Add precooked chicken at this step and if using precooked shrimp, cook just long enough to heat, about 2-3 minutes.
    5. Bring to a gentle boil, turn heat down to low and let simmer for 10-15 minutes. Enjoy!

    Monday, November 21, 2011

    Recipe Review: Baked Quinoa Patties

    Source: Heidi Swanson, 101 Cookbooks

    I have finally made a meal with the quinoa that has been in my pantry for the past year. I was really excited to buy the quinoa (I got a pretty good deal on the stuff) but must not have been that excited to cook the seed.

    Quinoa, pronounced Keen-wah, is a seed that has been cultivated for thousands of years in the Andes of South America. What peaks my interest in quinoa is the high protein content and abundance of minerals. This little seed is pricier than some of my other favorite grains but quinoa can be found at most supermarkets and grocery chains these days.

    Previously, I had only eaten quinoa in salad-type dishes. This is a great way to use a whole-grain and I certainly enjoy salads I wanted something with a little more bite to it. Much like couscous, I find quinoa to be overwhelmed and lose its texture when overwhelmed by a vinaigrette or sauce. I did a little searching and kept finding this recipe for quinoa patties. I decided this recipe might do the trick!

    I was very happy with how my dish turned out. I did not have to fry the quinoa patties to get a nice golden, crunchy shell. I took advantage of the produce I already had in the refrigerator to add extra flavor. I added half a grated onion, a few cloves of garlic, scallions, and some chopped cilantro.

    The recipe calls for bread crumbs. I do not keep bread crumbs on hand and I did not feel like making some homemade bread crumbs. Instead, I used a combination of old-fashioned oats and flour. I used 3/4 cup of oats and 1/4 whole-wheat flour to help bind everything together. Enjoy!

    P.S. If you are cooking just for one, as I was in this case, I would consider either making a half-batch or being prepared to freeze leftovers, which I did.

    Baked Quinoa Patties, adapted from 101 Cookbooks

    2 1/2 cups cooked quinoa, at room temperature *
    4 large eggs, beaten
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/3 bunch cilantro, chopped
    3 cloves garlic, minced
    2 scallions, white and green parts, chopped (or substitute fresh chives)
    1/2 onion, grated
    1 teaspoon cumin
    1/4 teaspoon turmeric
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    1 cup whole-grain bread crumbs **
    1 tablespoon olive oil or cooking spray, as needed
    1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
    2. Coat a baking sheet with olive oil or spray with nonstick cooking spray.
    3. Combine quinoa and eggs in a bowl.
    4. Add salt, cilantro, garlic, scallions, onion, cumin, and turmeric. Mix well.
    5. Add baking powder and bread crumbs, combine. Allow mixture to sit for a few minutes. If mixture is too dry, feel free to add another beaten egg.
    6. Form into twelve 1 inch patties. Arrange on a baking sheet with space between each patty. Bake about 20 minutes until bottoms are brown then flip and bake for another 5 minutes. Serve.
    * To prepare quinoa, combine two cups of well-rinsed uncooked quinoa with 3 cups water in a suace pan. Bring to a boil, cover, decrease the heat, and simmer for 25-30 minutes, until the quinoa is tender and you can see the little "tail" of the quinoa.

    **In place of the bread crumbs, 3/4 cup of old-fashioned oats and 1/4 cup flour (all-purpose or whole-wheat) may be used.

    Wednesday, November 16, 2011

    Caramelized Onion, Spinach, and White Bean Pizza

    Spinach was my inspiration for this recipe. Every couple of months the nearby market has fresh spinach on sale for $1 a bag and I always try to take advantage of the sale. I might occasionally indulge in curry, such as Go Ducks! Curry but most often I make salads with the spinach using either my homemade balsamic vinaigrette or an Asian-inspired dressing. I wanted to take a different route with this spinach and make a new dish that made use of familiar ingredients.

    I have seen or read numerous recipes for a caramelized onion tart that uses a puff pastry crust. I thought I could make that tart even a little more special with some spinach.  I love caramelized onions and I love sauteed spinach so together this would just be even better! My next thought turned to the crust. I thought I could make a more substantial meal with a pizza crust.

    A pizza always has some sort of sauce. I began pondering what kind of sauce I could put on my pizza that I now knew would feature spinach and caramelized onions. I was also thinking about adding some sort of protein, which my pizza still lacked so including white beans came to mind. By pureeing the beans I could boost the flavor by adding extra virgin olive oil and lots of garlic. I now had sauce and protein on my pizza!

    Sauteed Spinach with Garlic
    I found half a can of beans provided enough "sauce" for the whole pizza. Some ideas for those leftover beans are to puree the whole can for some white bean hummus, add the beans to a salad or soup, mix with some sauteed vegetables for pasta, or add to a pot of rice.

    The next time I entertain I will by serving this pizza. My Caramelized Onion, Spinach, and White Bean Pizza is one of the more elegant dishes I have made. The pizza can be assesmbled in advance and finished cooking when guests arrive. The aroma from the cooking pizza is enticing. Enjoy!

    Caramelized Onion, Spinach, and White Bean Pizza

    Pizza crust
    Extra virgin olive oil, divided
    1-2 onions. cut into thin half-circles
    1 10 oz bag of fresh spinach or one brick of frozen spinach, defrosted and drained
    5 cloves garlic, grated or minced finely
    1/2 can or 1 1/2 cups cooked white beans, drained and rinsed
    2 teaspoons lemon juice
    Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
    Red pepper flakes, to taste, optional
    1. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat on the stove. Add onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until caramelized, 25-30 minutes. Season liberally with salt and pepper.
    2. To prepare beans, place beans in a food processor. Add garlic and season liberally with salt and pepper. Add lemon juice and enough extra virgin olive oil to puree the beans. Set aside.
    3. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees.
    4. Prepare pizza crust, whether homemade or otherwise. Sprinkle a baking sheet or pizza stone with cornmeal if desired or spray a baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray. Brush crust with olive oil and bake for 10 minutes.
    5. To prepare spinach, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a pan. Add spinach, stirring occasionally, cook until wilted. Season with salt and red pepper flakes.
    6. Spread bean mixture over prepared pizza crust. Spread spinach evenly over the crust then spread onions evenly over the spinach layer.
    7. Bake until crust is golden brown.
    * A tangy cheese like feta or goat cheese would be excellent crumbled over the top of the pizza.

    Wednesday, November 9, 2011

    Spring Rolls

    I love, love, love our spring rolls! One, these rolls are delicious (which I will discuss further, of course) and two, Z. is the person who introduced me to spring rolls. He kept talking about these little rolls that he would occasionally get when he went out or more often, procure from the Safeway hot deli. So, curious I tried a spring roll and loved the crispy, flaky wrapper and the delicious vegetables. Eventually, we started making our own. I still remember the first time we made spring rolls. We were in my tiny little kitchen in Eugene and Z. had driven down to spend the weekend with me.

    Spring Roll v. Egg Roll

    I am not entirely sure of the differences between a spring roll and an egg roll. As far as I understand, spring rolls will probably have a vegetable filling and egg rolls will have meat. I do know the wrappers are very different. A spring roll wrapper is very delicate and becomes slightly flaky when cooked. When we have used spring roll wrappers we have used two wrappers. For these pictures, I used wonton wrappers because I could not get my hands on spring roll wrappers. I have never found spring roll wrappers at the conventional market, only at the Asian market. I decided to try wonton wrappers this time. I do not think there is any turning back. I was able to brown the rolls very easily and quickly. The moral of the story is I am calling these spring rolls.

    What Makes these Spring Rolls Special?
    The combination of vegetables. We keep the filling very simple but use tasty, flavorful vegetables. I like a combination of cabbage, shredded carrot, and scallions. The white parts of the scallions add a mild onion flavor without overpowering the rest of the filling. The green parts of the scallions add a fresh almost herbal flavor.  

    Bean threads. The bean threads add another layer of texture. And, something happens to the flavor when the cabbage and the bean threads combine. They are great together! 

    These rolls can be frozen and made at a later time. Place the rolls on a baking sheet in a single layer and place in the freezer until frozen. Then, the rolls may be placed in freezer bags or stacked in a container. Particularly when using the wonton wrappers, this is the best way to store uncooked rolls. I tried stacking the uncooked rolls in a container layered with waxed paper. The trapped moisture made the wrappers gooey and very hard to work with. If I had initially frozen the rolls, I would have avoided this problem. Enjoy!

      Cheap Not Frugal Eats Spring Rolls

      Note: The amount of vegetables will depend on the number of rolls you would like to make. Extra filling can easily be turned into a stir-fry.

      1 package spring roll wrappers or wonton wrappers
      1/2 green cabbage, chopped 
      3 carrots, grated
      1/2 bunch scallions, chopped
      Bean thread noodles
      Red chili flakes to taste
      Kosher salt
      Canola oil for frying
      1. If wrappers are frozen, set out at room temperature until thawed.
      2. Meanwhile, heat 1-2 tablespoons oil in a large high-sided skillet. Add cabbage and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender. Add carrots and scallions, cook until warm. Season with chili flakes and salt to taste. Set vegetable mixture aside to cool.
      3. Prepare bean noodles according to package directions.
      4. When vegetable mixture is cooled, begin assembling spring rolls. Make sure not to over-stuff the rolls. Place a portion of bean thread noodles on a wrapper (if using spring roll wrappers, consider using two wrappers for each roll). Then, place a portion of the vegetable mixture on the noodles. Wrap like a burrito, using a little water to moisten the edges to seal.
      5. If not cooking right away, place in a single layer on a baking sheet and place in the freezer until frozen. They may be stored or cooked.
      6. To cook, heat 2 tablespoons oil in a skillet. When hot, place rolls in the skillet, leaving space between each roll. When browned on one side, flip. Try to brown on all sides. Serve plain or with dipping sauce of your choice.

        Saturday, November 5, 2011

        Roasted Ragout of Winter Squash and Chickpeas

        I have one more acorn squash recipe for all of you. In a dish, I like to combine opposite flavors, particularly spicy and sweet. In this case, the sweetness of the squash is balanced by the heat and earthiness of the Indian spices I used.

        I took my inspiration from garam masala, that warming spice blend of cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, among other possible spices. When creating this meal, I loved the idea of using garam masala because the spice mix utilizes several spices many of us associate with the fall and winter seasons.

        I included turmeric because I knew turmeric's earthy flavor would echo the earthiness of the squash. I was thinking smoking bacon would certainly complement the squash but I was not cooking with bacon that evening so I did the next best thing I could, which was to use smoked paprika. I added plenty of red chili flakes to contrast with the sweetness that is created when vegetables are roasted. What was missing was a hint of brightness or acidity, so I used some fresh tomatoes. Garnishing with plenty of fresh cilantro brings the dish together. Enjoy!

        Roasted Ragout of Winter Squash and Chickpeas

        Oil, enough olive oil or canola to coat the vegetables
        1/2 acorn squash, peeled and chopped into bite-sized pieces
        1 onion, cut into half-circles
        1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
        2-3 roma tomatoes, seeds removed and chopped
        4 cloves garlic, minced
        2 teaspoons garam masala
        1 teaspoon turmeric
        1 teaspoon smoked paprika
        Red chili flakes, to taste
        Kosher salt, to taste
        1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
        2. Combine all ingredients except tomatoes and cilantro in a casserole dish.
        3. Bake about 15 minutes then add tomatoes to the pan. Continue cooking until tomatoes are warm and squash is tender, about an additional 10-15 minutes, depending on the size of the squash.
        4. Serve with chopped fresh cilantro.

        Monday, October 31, 2011

        Dinner for One: Spaghetti Pie

        Z. does not say this as often as he used to but when I told him about my Spaghetti Pie he replied, "You can take the girl out of Wyoming but you can't take the Wyoming out the girl."

        I thought I was being clever by drawing on an old Italian tradition of combining leftover pasta with eggs, as well as taking advantage of the pantry. No pasta on hand, no problem. Cooked rice could be used in place of the pasta.

        I used vegetables that I already had on hand, which meant I used onion, garlic, and broccoli. If using fresh broccoli, I would suggest blanching the broccoli for about 3 minutes before combining it with the onion mixture. I used frozen broccoli so I placed it in a colander under hot water and combined the defrosted broccoli with the onion mixture in the warm pan.

        We keep a jar of broken spaghetti pieces in the chance that we would like to make pilaf or use the pasta in tomato soup. I measured two cups of broken-up pasta. My Spaghetti Pie was composed of pasta bound together by an egg mixture. If I had wanted more of a quiche with some pasta, I would have used 3/4 to 1 cup pasta pieces. Next time, I plan on using 1 to 1 1/2 cups of spaghetti pieces to have an equal mix of pasta and egg. The recipe below reflects this change. Enjoy!

        Spaghetti Pie

        1 tablespoon olive oil
        1 1/2 cups dry spaghetti, broken into 1-inch pices
        1 small onion, chopped finely
        4 cloves garlic, minced
        1 cup frozen broccoli, defrosted
        1 tomato, seeds removed and chopped
        3 eggs
        1 cup milk
        1/4 cup cheese of choice
        salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper to taste
        1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
        2. Grease a pie pan or a small baking dish.
        3. Cook pasta according to package directions. When done, drain, and drizzle with a small amount of olive oil, and mix, coating each strand with oil so they do not stick together.
        4. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a pan. Add onion and cook until soft and translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Add garlic and cook another 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
        5. Add broccoli and tomato, cook until tomato becomes soft, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Season with salt and pepper.
        6. In a bowl, whisk eggs and milk, season with salt and pepper (or cayenne).
        7. Combine pasta and vegetables.
        8. Pour pasta-vegetable mixture into prepared baking dish.
        9. Pour egg mixture over pasta-vegetable mixture. Make sure all the pasta and vegetables are covered. Sprinkle cheese evenly over the top.
        10. Bake 25-30 minutes until eggs are set and cheese is golden brown.

        Friday, October 28, 2011

        Apple Sauce Bread...Ace's Banana Bread Revisited

        It was a recent lazy Sunday morning that I really wanted some of my homemade banana bread. The problem was I did not have bananas or canola oil. And, I really did not want to leave the apartment. I realized I may already have everything I needed to make a loaf of bread.

        A few months ago I had stocked up on some applesauce with the intention of vegan baking. I knew that I could probably use the applesauce in place of the bananas with no problem. I like to use 3 bananas in my bread, which is about 1 cup smashed. I used 1 cup of applesauce in its place.

        Turns out, the apple sauce made a great substitute. The apple sauce provided a mild apple flavor that was barely noticeable. For those who hate the flavor of bananas, like Z., this is a nice compromise.

        I only had the issue of no oil to deal with. I have tried making my banana bread several times with yogurt in the past. I had used regular, low-fat yogurt. I was not entirely pleased with the results. The bread needed a longer cooking time due to the watery yogurt, resulting in a tough crust. My attempts at changing the amount of yogurt was not successful.

        I had a container of Greek yogurt I had been holding on to for cooking purposes. Greek yogurt is a very recent discovery for me (I first tasted Greek yogurt in the last year or so). I love the stuff. Greek yogurt is incredibly thick and creamy, even the low-fat versions feel decadent.

        I used 1/2 cup of Greek yogurt (the same amount of oil I would have used) and was very happy with the results. I did not notice a difference in the cooking time or the moistness of the bread.

        I made one more change to this bread: I added 1/2 cup oats to the batter and sprinkled about 1/8 cup oats on top of the bread. I am kicking myself that I had not tried this sooner. I already love adding a few oats to my pancakes because they add a slight nutty chewiness to the texture.

        I was surprised at how much spiced this bread needed; I did not realize how much flavor the bananas added. I included cinnamon and a pinch of cardamom in the bread. Grated nutmeg or pumpkin pie spice would be a great addition. Just a friendly reminder because I may have failed in this regard, make sure to add enough salt. Enjoy!

        Monday, October 24, 2011

        Acorn Squash Soup

        I knew that with my abundance of acorn squash I wanted to make a soup. I have only seen butternut squash soup with that lovely orange color but never tried it. I thought I could accomplish something very similar with the more readily available and cheap acorn squash. My soup turned out delicious and satisfying!

        I peeled and nicely diced two whole acorn squash. This took forever. Okay, maybe not forever but probably a good hour was dedicated to the squash. Looking back, I realize how unnecessary all that work was because I roasted the squash then pureed the soup so the shape or size the squash started at did not matter. If I had planned on not roasting the squash and just simmering the vegetable in the stock then the diced squash would have been an acceptable choice.

        Next time, I will cut the squash in half, scoop out the seeds, and then spray the halves with non-stick cooking spray. I will roast them on a baking sheet in a 400 degree oven, until tender, about 1 hour. This is how I prepared the squash for my pie. I found that after the squash was cooled the skin came off very easily.

        I added a few different types of vegetables to this soup but I imagine a simpler soup would still be delicious. When I baked the squash before, I found the baked squash to be much sweeter than I had anticipated. To add balance, I added a peeled, cored, and chopped apple to the soup. I picked a variety that has a little tartness.

        I love a little heat in my food. I used a little harissa paste because this spice could do double duty: add some spicy heat while adding more flavor due to the other spices in the paste. If you do not have harissa paste (I found mine at the Cost Plus World Market), a few dashes of cayenne would do the trick.

        I had a plan for adding more spices but got distracted as I was cooking and forgot. My initial plan was to add a little garam masala. The garam masala Z. and I use is a combination of black pepper, two types of cardamom, caraway seed, clove, cinnamon, bay leaf, mace, cumin seed, and saffron. I thought the clove and cinnamon would hint at the spices frequently found in fall's earthy cuisine and the rest of the spices would add delicious flavor. But then, my plan changed. I thought I would add a cinnamon stick and a couple of cloves to the simmering stock and vegetables which I would remove before pureeing the soup. This would add a mild taste of spice while giving the soup a heavenly scent. Well, I did not do this but it sounds like a great idea. Enjoy!

        Roasted Acorn Squash Soup

        2 tablespoons olive oil
        2 acorn squash, halved, deseeded, and roasted until tender
        1 onion, diced
        3 carrots, diced
        3 stalks celery, diced
        1 tart apple, peeled, cored, and chopped
        4 cloves garlic, minced
        2 teaspoons harissa paste
        About 1 quart liquid, water or stock or a combination
        Freshly ground black pepper and kosher salt to taste
        1. Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium-low heat. Add onions, stirring occasionally, cook until soft, about 10-12 minutes.
        2. Add carrots, celery, and apple, stirring occasionally, cook until tender, about 5 minutes.
        3. Add garlic and harissa paste, cook until garlic is tender, about 3-5 minutes. 
        4. In batches, puree roasted acorn squash with the vegetable mixture with enough liquid to blend easily. Be careful! Add puree to a pot.
        5. Once all vegetables are pureed, add enough liquid to reach the desired consistency. The amount of liquid will vary depending on the consistency of soup desired. Season with pepper and salt to taste.

        Monday, October 17, 2011

        Ace's Adventures with...Chayote Squash

        I have finally tried chayote squash! This was a nice surprise. If I had known had tasty and versatile this little gem was, I would have been using chayote far sooner. The flavor seemed to be a cross between the stalk of a broccoli crown and zucchini. The texture is crisp, much like a radish.

        If you are looking for something crunchy and mild to a salad, consider chayote.

        I was planning on making a salad that used edamame and corn but other than that, I had no idea what I wanted to add. I took a stroll through the produce section of the market for inspiration. Not only did this particular market suddenly carry chayote, it was a great deal at $0.50 each. I picked one up, not knowing exactly how to use the fruit.

        I did a little research and found that chayote can be used both raw and cooked and the seed is edible, as well. Perfect! My salad began to take shape. Here is what I created:

        Chayote and Edamame Salad

        1 cup edamame, prepared according to package directions
        1 can corn, drained and rinsed,
        1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
        1 chayote squash, diced
        1 small red onion, finely diced
        2-3 carrots, diced
        1 chile pepper of choice, deseeded and minced finely
        2 cloves garlic, finely minced
        1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped
        2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
        3 tablespoons rice vinegar *
        freshly ground pepper and kosher salt to taste

        *I used rice vinegar but lime juice would be a tasty substitute.

        Combine all in ingredients in a large bowl and let marinate 30 minutes in the refrigerator before serving.

        A few thoughts, of course:
        • Followed exactly, this recipe makes a huge salad. Feel free to adjust as needed.
        • Edamame is a great source of protein. Edamame can be found in the freezer section of the market, in the pod or de-shelled. I use the de-shelled variety. Edamame has a very mild flavor. Honestly, I do not think it has much of a taste but I love the color. The little beans are such a cute shade of bright green! The texture is nice, too. The bean has an initial bite but then gives way to its slightly creamy interior.
        • If I were making this as a side dish, I would have left out the kidney beans
        • I enjoy salads like this just the way they are, while other times I combine the salad with my favorite whole-grain for a nice dinner. Enjoy!

        Sunday, October 9, 2011

        Vegan Acorn Squash Pie

        It even looks like a real pie!
        I have a fascination, nearing the border of obsession, with vegan baking. I love reading about and looking over recipes for vegan baked goods. I have only known deserts like pies and cookies and muffins to be loaded with eggs and butter or other tasty ingredients. I am intrigued by the alternatives, not because I am vegan, I am excited that there are other ways to accomplish desert.

        Last week, acorn squash were $0.50 EACH at one of the markets in town, so of course, I bought 4. I had no idea what I was going to do. I made three dishes that I will be sharing, one of which was pie. I was very skeptical about using acorn squash to make what I have always known as pumpkin pie but now I am a believer.

        Seriously, this was the best pumpkin pie I have ever eaten. I hope my Grandma S., my dad's amazing mother who is famous for her pies, never reads this. Using her phrase, she would slap me silly. I am not the only one who thinks so. Z. is out of town so I had two of our friends over for dinner and they loved this pie!

        This is all that remains after a delicious meal with friends
        I think there are a few reasons why this pie is so good. The first is the flavor. I love pumpkin pie but I think acorn squash has a lot more flavor. This is my first pie made from fresh squash and my life will never be the same. I had no idea that using fresh squash would make such a difference. Preparing the fresh squash did not take nearly as much effort as I thought. The squash was so tender after roasting that after removing the flesh from the skin, I was able to use a potato masher to mash the pumpkin to the proper consistency rather than going to the effort of processing the squash in the food processor.

        After roasting some acorn squash for dinner the other night, I realized this squash is incredibly sweet so the pie did not need very much added sugar. This let the flavor of the squash be the star of the pie. The lack of eggs also helped the flavor of the squash shine through. There was nothing in the pie to temper or hide the flavor of the squash.

        The ingredients

        While researching pumpkin pies, I learned that because this is a custard pie that a crust is not necessary. I just did not feel like making a crust and I could not bring myself to buy a prepared crust from the store. One of the crust-less pie recipes suggested adding apple slices to add substance. I picked an apple variety that I knew to be slightly tart when raw so it would not be overwhelmingly sweet when baked. The apples were a hit!

        Ready to go into the oven.

        If nondairy milk is something you do not normally drink, there are a few alternatives. Regular milk would be just fine as long as you are not sharing this pie with a vegan. Or, in my case, I purchased a single-serving 8 ounce box of vanilla soy milk.  I really wanted to add vanilla but did not have any in the pantry so the vanilla soy milk did double duty.

        I have no idea where this recipe first appeared. While searching, all of the recipes for vegan pumpkin pie without tofu were variations of this recipe. I found the recipe in the Vegetarian Times archive, as well as numerous blogs, like here, here, and here. After reading some of the comments, I was concerned that my pie would not be set up enough after only spending a couple of hours in the refrigerator, so I only added 1/2-3/4 cup of soy milk. I was very pleased with the result. The other change I made to the original recipe was to reduce the amount of sugar. I added 1/2 cup granulated sugar. This was the right amount for myself and my guests. Enjoy!

        Crust-less Acorn Squash Pie

        1/2-1 apple, such as a Fuji or Granny Smith, peeled, cored, and cut into wedges
        2 cups pureed acorn squash *
        3/4 cup non-dairy milk, such as soy milk
        1/2 cup sugar
        1/4 cup cornstarch or arrowroot powder
        1 teaspoon vanilla (or omit and use vanilla soy milk)
        1/2 teaspoon salt
        1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
        1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
        1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. and spray a pie pan with non-stick cooking spray.
        2. Place apple slices in a single layer in the bottom of prepared pie pan.
        3. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients until smooth and blended. Pour mixture over apple slices carefully and smooth top.
        4. Bake 10 minutes.
        5. Turn oven temperature down to 350 degrees F. Bake until filling is set, about 50 minutes.
        6. Cool on wire wrack then cool in refrigerator at least one hour. May be made a day ahead and refrigerated overnight.
        * To prepare squash, preheat oven to 400 degrees F., cut in half, and scoop out seeds. Place squash halves on an oiled baking sheet. Bake 30-40 minutes, or until very tender. The skin comes easily when the squash is cool. Scoop out flesh and either process in a blender or food processor until smooth, or smash with a potato masher until smooth.