Sunday, November 30, 2008

Roasted Vegetables with Pecan Gremolata


I picked up the recipe for Roasted Vegetables with Pecan Gremolata from my mom's November 2006 issue of Bon Appétit. It was definitely a surprise hit! My family is a proud clan of meat-eaters, so I almost always expect to have massive amounts of my veggie dishes left over after the party. But people really enjoyed this dish, and (unfortunately for me) there was hardly any left once the guests were through with it. People who didn't even know what a parsnip or a turnip was, liked it! If I had known, I probably would have doubled the recipe--it was just THAT good :)

The only significant change I made to the recipe was that I omitted the Parmesan cheese from the gremolata, since I'm still a few days away from finishing my 3-month no booze, cheese, or pasta challenge. If I were making this at my own house, I may have subbed vegan parm, but alas my mom didn't have any! It was perfectly fine without it, though.

Roasted Vegetables with Pecan Gremolata
Yield: Makes 8 servings

1 pound medium carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise, then crosswise
1 pound medium parsnips, peeled, cut in half lengthwise, then crosswise
1 pound turnips, peeled, halved, cut into 1-inch-thick wedges
1 1/4 pounds brussels sprouts, trimmed, halved
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided

3/4 cup pecans
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 ounce)
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, divided
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon peel
1 small garlic clove, minced

Preheat oven to 425°F. Toss carrots, parsnips, turnips, and brussels sprouts in large bowl with 3 tablespoons oil. Transfer to rimmed baking sheet; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast until vegetables are tender, tossing often, about 1 hour. [This only took about 25-30 minutes in my mom's convection oven. So in that case, the indicated timing was way off.] Transfer vegetables to large platter; cool.

Using on/off turns, chop pecans in processor until coarsely ground. Transfer ground pecans to small bowl; stir in grated cheese, parsley, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, lemon peel, garlic, and 1 tablespoon oil. Season gremolata to taste with salt. Drizzle vegetables with remaining 2 tablespoons oil and remaining 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Sprinkle gremolata over vegetables just before serving.

Bon Appétit, November 2006

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Thanksgiving 2008

It was another successful Thanksgiving at my Mom's house this year! Per usual, she had a huge bash. It wasn't as big as years past, since none of our cousins from out of town didn't come this year :( However, even though it was only the Chicago clan in attendance, we still had a crowd of over 25 people!

The above is (most of) our Thanksgiving spread, which included all the potluck items everyone brought. I was rather proud of my own vegetarian contributions! For the party, I prepared Roasted Vegetables with Pecan Gremolata; Apple, Sage, and Quinoa Stuffing (modified from the recipe I learned at the Vegetarian Thanksgiving class at the Chopping Block); and two Field Roast Celebration Roasts.

I was also a fan of the tomato tart that my mom made:

Of course, Thanksgiving wouldn't be complete at my mom's house without the ham and dessert!

All in all, it was a fun evening spent with family. We had lots of food, conversation, and Wii :) Look for upcoming posts for my reviews on the dishes that I contributed to the dinner!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Oranges with Caramel and Cardamom Syrup

Finally, here is the fourth and final recipe of Challenge #9: Cooking Light (part 2)! I've saved the best for last, since this was definitely the culinary highlight of the evening :) We chose to make Oranges with Caramel and Cardamom Syrup for dessert, and it turned out absolutely fantastic, despite a few changes to the recipe.

The original recipe called for full-fat Greek yogurt, but we decided to substitute fat free Greek yogurt in order to increase the protein and decrease the fat in the dish. It's a lot thinner and less decadent than full-fat yogurt, but it still turned out very well. In fact, I'd be more inclined to repeat the recipe more often using this change. At the time, we also didn't have time to let the oranges soak overnight as indicated by the recipe. We were still able to get the flavor of the syrup, but I'd imagine it would be more intense had we let them soak. I'll definitely try it out in the future and see if it's worth the extra pre-planning to do that step. As it was, it still turned out really well!

Below is the original recipe, with our notes and changes (and pictures, of course!)

Oranges with Caramel and Cardamom Syrup
Yield: 6 servings (serving size: 5 orange slices and 3 tablespoons yogurt mixture)

1/2 cup water
2 cardamom pods, crushed
6 tablespoons sugar
5 medium navel oranges (about 2 1/4 pounds)
1 cup whole-milk fat-free Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons honey
1/8 teaspoon orange-flower water
Mint sprigs (optional)

1. Combine 1/2 cup water and cardamom in a small, heavy saucepan; bring to a boil. Remove from heat; cover and let stand 20 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve over a small bowl; discard solids.

2. Combine 1 tablespoon cardamom water and sugar in pan over medium heat, and cook for 9 minutes or until sugar is melted and barely golden (do not stir). Increase heat to medium-high, and cook for 1 minute or until mixture darkens to a deep amber. Remove from heat; carefully pour remaining cardamom water down the side of the pan. Return pan to medium-high heat; stir until well blended. Remove pan from heat.

3. Peel oranges. Cut each orange crosswise into 6 slices. Arrange slices on a rimmed platter; pour hot syrup over oranges. Cover and chill overnight for 30 minutes [though, as I said, this was only due to our time constraints. I will try soaking overnight next time].

4. Combine yogurt, honey, and orange-flower water in a small bowl. Serve yogurt mixture with oranges. Garnish with mint sprigs, if desired.

Jeanne Kelley, Cooking Light, OCTOBER 2008

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Sesame Quinoa with Tofu

And now, for recipe #3 out of 4 for Challenge #9: Cooking Light (part 2)! We wanted to do Sesame Quinoa with Tofu in order to boost the protein of our meal. And because it looked really tasty :) Luckily, it was!! This turned out to be the quickest, easiest, and best-tasting main dish of the evening. I would definitely repeat it again, and recommend it for everyone else to try out as well.

The recipe is fairly basic, and it definitely has an Asian-inspired flavor. It's easy enough to follow as written, but could be simplified even further by skipping the step that calls for browning the quinoa. I did not see any reason do this. One thing I like about the simplicity of the recipe is that it can be modified based on personal preference. I would love to try it again with different modifications, such as adding Sriracha, Sambal Olek, Korean red pepper paste, jalapenos, sesame oil, or peanut oil. Any of those variations would be perfect served with steamed or sautéed vegetables. Mmmm, I'm getting hungry just thinking about it!!!

Sesame Quinoa with Tofu
Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 1 cup)

8 ounces extra-firm tofu, drained
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 cup uncooked quinoa
1 1/2 cups Vegetable Stock or water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Place tofu on several layers of heavy-duty paper towels; let stand 20 minutes. Cut into 1/2-inch cubes.

Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add tofu and seeds; sauté 3 minutes. Remove tofu mixture from pan. Add quinoa to pan; cook 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add stock and salt; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes.
Place in a large bowl. Add tofu mixture, green onions, soy sauce, and pepper; toss.

Peter Berley, Cooking Light, MARCH 2002

Spaghetti Squash with Edamame-Cilantro Pesto

Here is the second recipe out of four for Challenge #9: Cooking Light (part 2)! We chose the Spaghetti Squash with Edamame-Cilantro Pesto for two reasons. The first was that my friend had a spaghetti squash he wanted to cook. The second was that we were looking for ways to add protein to our meal. The squash/edamame recipe was perfect for those two goals! Too bad they did really go well together :(

This was actually my first time cooking spaghetti squash. It was so easy to make, I will definitely do it again! Since it comes out as strands when you scrape it out, it makes a great substitute for spaghetti, and in the future, I'll incorporate it into some Italian-style dishes. This recipe appeared to be Italian style, except that the "pesto" was flavored with cilantro rather than basil. This made it taste a bit Mexican, which gave me the sudden urge to mix salsa and avocados with it to make a higher-protein guac. I still don't think it would have went well with the squash as a guac substitute, but I may use that idea to make a taco salad or something in the future.

We followed the recipe almost to the letter. Our only substitution was vegan parmesan for the dairy parmesan.

Spaghetti Squash with Edamame-Cilantro Pesto
Yield: 6 servings (serving size: 1 1/2 cups squash, 1/2 cup edamame pesto, and 2 teaspoons cheese)

2 (2 1/2-pound) spaghetti squash
Cooking spray
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1 1/4 cups chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup vegetable broth
1 tablespoon extravirgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound frozen shelled edamame (green soybeans), thawed
1/4 cup (1 ounce) grated fresh Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350°.

Cut each squash in half lengthwise; discard seeds. Place squash halves, cut sides down, on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 1 hour or until tender. Cool slightly. Scrape inside of squash with a fork to remove spaghettilike strands to measure about 8 cups. Place in a large bowl. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt; toss gently to combine. Cover and keep warm.

Place cilantro, broth, oil, pepper, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, garlic, and edamame in a food processor; pulse until coarsely chopped.

Serve edamame pesto over squash; sprinkle with cheese.

Didi Emmons, Cooking Light, MARCH 2005

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Zucchini and Fennel Soup with Roasted Red Pepper Puree

Alright, folks! This is the first in a series of four posts to catalog the recipes my friend and I submitted for our group blog for Challenge #9: Cooking Light (part 2). We did the challenge in two parts--part one was my entry, and part two is his entry (which we only did because the deadline was extended). So yeah, I'm blogging about his entry :-P

Anyways, this first entry is our take on Zucchini and Fennel Soup with Roasted Red Pepper Puree. We chose this recipe because our friend challenged us to use fennel in our menu (which I officially dub as Lake's Fennel Challenge). Unfortunately, the recipe wasn't very good. The red pepper puree was very plain and did not have much flavor. The green soup was fairly decent, but looked rather ugly. I would have preferred a few more spices to add depth to the flavor, but unfortunately my palate isn't refined enough to figure out what it needed. I also tried blending the two halves together, hoping it would salvage the soup, but that made it taste even worse. If I were to repeat the recipe, I'd only do the green part, but do some heavy research as to which spices might help compliment the flavor.

Below is the recipe. We didn't do any modifications besides substituting vegetable broth for chicken broth (we were cooking for 3 vegetarians--ourselves included--and a vegan.)

Zucchini and Fennel Soup with Roasted Red Pepper Puree
Yield: 6 servings

6 red bell peppers
1 1/2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
Cooking spray
2 cups thinly sliced onion
3 cups thinly sliced fennel bulb (about 1 bulb)
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
4 1/2 cups (1/4-inch) slices zucchini (about 1 1/2 pounds)
4 garlic cloves
3 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth [used vegetable broth instead]
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Preheat broiler.

Cut bell peppers in half lengthwise; discard seeds and membranes. Place pepper halves, skin sides up, on a foil-lined baking sheet; flatten with hand. Broil 20 minutes or until blackened.

Place in a zip-top plastic bag; seal. Let stand 20 minutes. Peel and cut into strips. Place peppers in beaker of an immersion blender [we used a regular blender]; add oil. Puree until smooth. Transfer puree to a bowl. Stir in 1/8 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper.

Heat a large, heavy saucepan over medium-low heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add onion to pan; cover and cook 5 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Add sliced fennel and fennel seeds to pan; cover and cook over medium-low heat 8 minutes or until sliced fennel is tender. Increase heat to medium-high. Add zucchini and garlic to pan, and cook 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add broth; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

Place vegetable mixture, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper in beaker of an immersion a regular blender; puree until smooth. Pour 1 cup soup into each of 6 bowls; top each serving with 1/3 cup pepper puree.

Jeanne Thiel Kelley, Cooking Light, MAY 2005

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Vegetarian Thanksgiving at the Chopping Block

This Sunday, a friend and I took a Vegetarian Thanksgiving demonstration class at the Chopping Block (Merchandise Mart Suite 107). It was fun, educational, and DELICIOUS! We had a blast watching the chef cook our meal. For a demonstration class, it was very interactive; she was very friendly and encouraged us to ask questions, take pictures, and help out (only one person took her up on that offer, haha.) AND since we were signed up for a class, anything we purchased at the store that day was 15% off. That's a pretty sweet deal!!

I'm looking forward to trying out the recipes we learned. My only complaint was that the recipes used a lot of butter and cream. For a vegetarian class, I would have liked to have seen more vegan-friendly and health-conscious dishes. I'll probably tweak the recipes we were given to make them a bit more figure-friendly ;)

This was actually my first cooking class ever, so I wasn't sure exactly what to expect. I got to the Chopping Block about 10 minutes early. Luckily they had a cute little store of gourmet cooking items, cookbooks, and ingredients that I could browse. The sous-chef came out and invited all the students that were already there into the "classroom".

They had complementary water & coffee to drink, as well as a cheese & pepper-jelly with crackers for people to snack on before the class started. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to try the cheese since I'm in the middle of a cheese-less challenge :-( We were also allowed to purchase wine or mimosas to enjoy during the class. The chef came out an introduced herself to everyone. She seemed genuinely interested in getting to know the students there!

During the next 2-1/2 hours, she showed us how to make 5 dishes suitable for a Thanksgiving feast. The meal consisted of a mushroom and tempeh tart; acorn squash with apple, sage, & quinoa stuffing; a potato, turnip, & caramelized onion gratin; mustard & maple glazed Brussels sprouts; and a sweet potato pie.

We even learned how to make pie crust (for the tart and the pie), as well tips and tricks of the trade. She even had one of the students come help her roll out pie crust for practice!

All the food I tasted was amazing!! The tempeh & mushroom tart was fantastic. It had a fairly mellow flavor, and the crust just melted in my mouth.

The squash with quinoa was sweet and savory. The spices and curry she used in the quinoa complemented the sweetness of the squash and raisins in the dish. It had a very robust taste to it.

Unfortunately I was unable to try the gratin, since it was just potatoes, cream, and cheese. Being lactose intolerant, I would not have enjoyed that dish anyways! My friend, however, tolerates dairy just fine, and he thought it was delicious.

I love Brussels sprouts, so that dish was my favorite of the day. Even my friend, who normally hates Brussels sprouts and mustard, loved this dish. Maple syrup was used in the glaze, and the sweetness really cut the bite from the sprouts and the mustard. All three flavors worked well together.

And of course, the sweet potato pie made a nice end to our meal. She used crystallized ginger in the recipe, and its flavor came out in every bite. This gave the pie a unique taste compared to traditional sweet potato pies.

All in all, we had a really great time! We learned a lot, and had fun doing it. I liked that it was a demonstration class because I feel like I may not have been able to pay attention as much to all the tips and tricks if it were a hands-on class. They have a vegetarian class at least once a season, so I will most definitely be coming back to check out what they have in store for us next time! My friend and I were even considering their vegetarian bootcamp - 3 straight days of instruction about vegetarian cooking. Either way, we're looking forward to our next trip to the Chopping Block!

Mushroom & Tempeh Tart
Pie or Tart Dough
Acorn Squash w/Apple, Sage, & Quinoa stuffing
Potato, Turnip, & Caramelized Onion Gratin
Mustard & Maple Glazed Brussels Sprouts
Sweet Potato Pie

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Demera: An Ethiopian Gem in Historic Uptown

My first trip to Demera (4801 N Broadway Street) was pretty fantastic! It's an Ethiopian restaurant in Uptown, located conveniently a half block from the Lawrence redline stop. It sits amid some of Chicago's most famous historical landmarks--within half a block from the Aragon, the Riviera, the Green Mill, and the closed-down Uptown Theater. I give the food outstanding recommendations!

I met up with two friends this afternoon for a nice Saturday brunch to check out the restaurant. One of my friends had been there before, and she wanted us to try it out! The restaurant itself was very cute, decorated with ethnic art. There was even a set-up for live music!

We started the meal by placing an order of the Buna, which is some STRONG Ethiopian coffee. We were pretty hungry, so we also ordered the two types of sambussas, a crusty dough with filling, as appetizers. The vegetarian sambussa was filled with lentils, veggies, and spices, while the spinach sambussa is self-explanatory ;-) The sambussas came with a red sauce served on the side. Both were very good, reminiscent of Indian samosas. The sauce was a nice compliment and had a sweet and spicy flavor.

For the main course, we each picked a vegetarian entree to share, even though both my lunch partners were omni! We ordered the Ye-Misir Wot (a red lentil dish), the Shiro (blended and spiced legumes), and the Gomen (spiced collards). All three were very good! I'm definitely looking forward to coming back and having these dishes again!!

The food came out on the same platter, atop an injera tablecloth, with sides and a salad separating each dish. Injera is a spongey pancake-y bread made out of fermented teff flour, and it has a sourdough-y taste. It comes in large, flat pieces, and is generally used as the plate and silverware for the meal. I love injera, but it's very filling. Generally, all of the injera should be eaten with the meal, but we had too much food between the three of us! Next time, we may just order a combination platter (Demera Messob) instead of an individual dish for each person.

The Buna (coffee) did not actually come out until the end of the meal. I'm unclear whether it just takes that long to make it, or if that's the traditional time to serve the coffee. It came out in a Jebena (clay coffee pot) and was served in tiny handle-less coffee cups, similar to Chinese tea cups. The coffee was very dark, strong, and thick. I liked mine black, but the friend who I was sharing the pot with preferred sugar in hers.

I really enjoyed my experience at Demera. It was a cute little restaurant in a pretty cool neighborhood. The food was fantastic, and I'll look forward to coming back to try the other things on the menu. . . Or at least re-visit all my new favorites. There was not a thing I tried that I didn't like!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Cooking Light Challenge - Part 2!

We had so much fun doing the Cooking Light Challenge last week that when the deadline was extended, we took advantage by taking on another "Iron Chef" challenge night. This time, it was my friend's turn to find recipes for us to use, and he'll be the one reporting our results to our group blog. I'll report my own take on things here!

This round, we did the following recipes:
Zucchini and Fennel Soup with Roasted Red Pepper Puree (Cooking Light, May 2005)
Spaghetti Squash with Edamame-Cilantro Pesto (Cooking Light, March 2005)
Sesame Quinoa with Tofu (Cooking Light, March 2002)
Oranges with Caramel and Cardamom Syrup (Cooking Light, October 2008)

Unfortunately, these recipes did not turn out as well as last week's :( But we did have a good time, and perhaps we can use some of the things we've learned for future cooking challenges! The quinoa dish and the oranges were very good, and I'd definitely put them both on my list of recipes to do again. The soup was fine, but I'm not dying to repeat it. The squash with edamame-cilantro pesto ok, but tasted a bit odd together. It would definitely need some tweaking before I eat it again.

The links above will take you to my more detailed review on each recipe--complete with commentary, changes, and pictures :) Hopefully something will interest or inspire you (or at least, tell you what to avoid!) Happy cooking!!

Cousin's Incredible Vitality

I had the pleasure of trying out Cousin's Incredible Vitality (3038 W Irving Park Rd) this past week. According to their website, they're an Organic Living Foods and Vegan Eatery, which basically means they're just a raw vegan place. The food was fairly good, and the waitress was friendly and helpful. I may go back once in a while for the novelty of it, but this trip confirmed the fact that the raw vegan lifestyle is definitely not for me!

It was really cold when I went (yay for Novembers in Chicago!!), so the first thing I did was order a "jug" of their warm Longevity Tea. According to their menu, it's the "Healthiest Tea on Earth"! The tea came out in a French press, plenty for two people. It was nice and warm, which was good for the cold, but it had an artificially sweet taste that I wasn't sure I liked.

Per usual, I was starving when we got to the restaurant, so we ordered a "mezze sampler" trio of appetizers. We chose the thin crust mini flaxseed pizzas, the fak'n bacon poppers, and the mujver. Unfortunately they didn't have the mujver, so we ordered the hummus instead. All three were very good, and I'd highly recommend all of them!

For the entree, I couldn't decide whether to try out their moussaka or the burrito. Since they were out of moussaka anyways, it made that decision easy, so I ordered the burrito.

I thoroughly enjoyed the first half of it! But by the time I got to the second half, I'd gotten tired of it. Even though I wasn't full, I didn't end up finishing it. I think it was just too big, and the taste of it just got old after a while. If I come back, I'll probably just opt to get 3-4 appetizers as my main course so that there's more variety on my palate.

Of course, I had to order dessert! They brought out a dessert platter to choose from, and I got to apple "cheesecake". It was ok, but not too spectacular. I much preferred the raw pumpkin "cheesecake" I had at Chicago Diner.

All in all, it was a fairly pleasant experience. The tea and the dessert were fine, but nothing that I'm not dying to come back for. The appetizer platter and the first half of my burrito were fantastic! On my return trip, I'd be interested in trying out other things on their menu. I'll probably opt for an appetizer platter and/or a trip to their all-you-can eat salad bar.