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.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Recipe Review: Mujadara

Source: Aarti Sequeira

I have been looking forward to making a dish called mujadara for quite some time. Mujadara has some of the my favorite ingredients: onions, brown lentils, and rice all of which are also frugal pantry staples! But I was always reluctant until I watched someone else make the recipe on tv. I was concerned about the cooking the lentils and rice together and the resulting texture. I finally made Aarti's version because she simmered the lentils separately first before finishing them with the rice.

The rice was simmered for 30 minutes and sat on the stove for 5 minutes without the heat. I followed the directions even though that is a little longer than we normally cook our basmati. The rice was just slightly softer than I would have preferred but was not a big deal. Next time, I will be cooking it for about 5 minutes less.

Do not skimp on the onions! The recipe calls for setting aside about half of the caramelized onions and then simmering the rice and lentils with the remaining onions. At the end, you serve the rice with the reserved caramelized onions. This was my favorite part! The sweet, caramelized flavor went very nicely with the slight spiciness (I went heavy on the cayenne) of the rice and lentils.

I used yellow onions because they were exceptionally nice. I thought they browned up just as well as red onions would have.

The spices were very simple and probably spices most of us already have in our cupboards. I loved the cinnamon, especially the scent it gave the dish. Do not worry, the cinnamon scent and flavor was understated and delightful.

I saw the recipe served 6 but I was not convinced with just one cup of lentils and 3/4 cup of basmati rice. This made a huge amount of food! Z. and I have frozen rice before and the reheated leftovers tasted just fine so I made sure to freeze a large portion for those evenings when I just cannot manage to cook. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Cheap Tip Saturday 10/1

Cheap Tip: Frugal Travel Tips

Traveling can be an expensive endeavor. There are a number of factors that influence the cost. Presented below are a few tips and tricks that I have learned along the way.

Airplane Tickets
  • Start looking early. This gives you a chance to see what the average price looks like over a period of time. When the price shifts, you will be more knowledgeable as to whether the shift is to your advantage or not. 
  • Look at many different sources such as the airline ticket search engines, as well as the airlines themselves. I always thought the search engines would give me the best price but after doing some research, I have now purchased several plane tickets directly from the airline.
  • Use airline miles to help pay for your ticket. There are many ways to accumulate and maximize the number, including credit card promotions.
  • Do not check luggage. Of course this is not always possible nor do I suggest carrying more than necessary into the cabin of the plane. 
Hotel Room
  • Some hotels have promotions that reward you with a free night after staying a certain number of nights. Others, such as Holiday Inn, gives you points that can be redeemed for a free or discounted room. 
  • Food expenses can change very drastically once you hit the road, especially if you are used to preparing most of your meals at home. If you are somewhere with the proper facilities, you can prepare some meals yourself. When I visit friends, one my favorite past-times is to prepare a meal for them in their own kitchen. One less restaurant bill to pay and I think it is a lot of fun. 
  • Pack snacks. Enough said?
  • Use public transportation if possible. This is much easier and possible in a metropolis. I suggest doing some research into what forms of transportation are available, maps, and schedules beforehand. If staying somewhere for more than a day or two, a pass may be a great option. With a pass, you pay a set price to use the designated transportation as much as you like within a specific time frame. For example, while in San Francisco Z. and I both purchased a three-day Muni Passport for $21. This pass gave us unlimited rides on the Muni, the streetcars, and the cable car. Just the cable car cost $6 each way! The pass turned out to be a great deal for us.
City Pass
  • A city pass allows you to pay one set price for admission into several attractions in a number of major cities. I highly recommend this if you are making your first visit to a city and would like to see its most famous landmarks. Here is a little more information about the City Pass.