Friday, October 14, 2011

Roasted Pears with Balsamic Glaze

Sorry for the lack of picture with this one! As I'd mentioned in my Sunday Dinners post, these were just fun get-togethers with friends, so we weren't all that strict with taking photos of all our food, or even remembering which recipes we used!

Fortunately for you (and us, so we can re-create it!), I did jot down the recipe we used for this delicious dessert. It's actually pretty simple to make, and fairly healthy as far as desserts go! And it should be, seeing as we got the recipe from a Weight Watchers cookbook! In any case, it's a nice, light dessert for when you want something sweet and slightly rich after a meal :)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

North African Chickpea & Vegetable Tagine

Here, I present you with the tagine recipe we made at last week's Sunday dinner! We borrowed the recipe from a Weight Watchers cookbook, but with a few variations:
  • We doubled the recipe. Both her husband and I are fairly heavy eaters, and her college best friend was also visiting from London, so we had company!
  • My friend accidentally picked up chicken broth instead of veggie broth. With two vegetarians as the table (myself included), I rejected the idea of adding this. Instead, I added an equivalent amount of water, along with a tablespoon of tomato paste and some salt & pepper. The dish was really good, so that's a WIN!
  • We added some chopped portobello mushrooms, just because my friend had some and wanted to use it up.
  • We used quinoa instead of coucous because the nutrition profile was better.
  • We skipped the pistachios because my friend didn't want them, but totally forgot to add the mint (we noticed this after dinner, as the chopped mint was still on the chopping board. Oops.) 
The dish ended up being delicious, and my friend's big, meat-eating, tomato-hating husband approved of it! Definitely a good recipe in my book :) Next time, I may just use the tomato paste method instead of veggie broth since it turned out so well. I also like the addition of the portobellos and the replacement of the couscous with quinoa. I might leave out, or reduce the amount of zucchini/squash; or perhaps just pick smaller ones, since they didn't add all that much to the dish. I will definitely do the mint and pistachios next time, just to see how it would change the flavor of the dish. Also, doubling the recipe yields a LOT of food. Next time, a single recipe is probably good enough for 4, especially when served with a starter salad and dessert ;-)

North African Chickpea & Vegetable Tagine
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1 (15.5 ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed & drained
2 large tomatoes (about 1 pound), chopped
2 large carrots, cut on diagonal into 1/2-inch slices
1 (14.5 ounce) can reduced sodium vegetable broth
2 zucchini or yellow squash, sliced
3 tablespoons unsalted pistachios, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 cups hot cooked whole wheat couscous (we used quinoa)

Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until lightly browned, about 6 minutes. Add garlic, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, and cayenne; cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add chickpeas, tomatoes, carrots, and broth; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

Stir zucchini into skillet; cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 minutes. Transfer tagine to serving bowl; sprinkle with pistachios and mint. Serve over couscous.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Spinach Poppyseed Salad

Originally a strawberry spinach salad, this salad has seen various incarnations in my own hands, as well as during our Sunday Dinner series. I'd originally gotten the idea to create this salad when I worked at the Medical District and would frequent The Original Ferrarra Bakery for lunch. It is somewhat of a misnomer; though they are definitely still a bakery with a long history, they have also opened up a restaurant which is very popular among those that live and work nearby.

One of my favorite things to get was their strawberry spinach salad. It featured the obvious strawberries and spinach, as well as a generous serving of gorgonzola, pecans, and a poppyseed dressing. I haven't yet figured out how to replicate their dressing, so I usually just buy mine at the store... but that could be another challenge in the future!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Precision Nutrition

Before I start posting the recipes to this week's Sunday dinner, I wanted to talk a little more about the plan I'm following. I've been trying to make sure I'm being compliant with the Precision Nutrition guidelines in addition to following the exercise program. So all the recipes I chose are should fit, I think (hey, I'm just learning!) One thing I like about the program is that it stresses that at first, you just have to *try* to follow the guidelines. If you're not exactly sure, that's ok, since the idea is that you're easing yourself into it, and at least you're becoming *more* compliant that you were before reading the book and starting the plan!

The thing I like the most about Precision Nutrition is that it also give exercise recommendations based on your goals. So it really is a complete system! Since I'm trying to lose fat, I'm following the month-long Woman's Guide to Body Transformation. Since this is a food blog, I won't go into too much details about the workout program (I'll save that for my training blog). But it does go a little bit into detail about the Precision Nutrition system, way at the bottom of the guide where it talks about the nutrition portion of the body transformation program.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Sunday Dinners

A good friend of mine recently got married and has since developed an interest in learning how to cook good, healthy meals. Prior to getting married, she often ate out, ordered in, or resorted to boxed prepackaged microwavable meals. As a fun thing to do together, she has enlisted me into cooking with her from time to time, usually once or twice a month. We generally pore over recipes, decide on a menu, go grocery shopping, and then prepare our home-cooked meal for her husband and any other friends we invite over for the evening. It's definitely a fun way to hang out on a Sunday afternoon/evening!

It occurred to me that all this time, I should have been blogging about our creations! So as part of my holiday challenge, I'll start posting pictures & recipes of our dinners, especially the ones that turned out particularly well and/or those that fit within my Precision Nutrition diet standards! This week, our dinner consisted of a spinach salad, a chickpea and vegetable tagine, and roasted poached pears with a balsamic glaze.

I'll post recipes for the dishes we did this week, as well as some of the recipes we'd done before, if I can find them ;-) If I can't, I'll just post pictures, and we'll all just WISH I remembered how to make them again :-P Though, please excuse the picture quality, as most of these Sunday dinner pictures were taken on my iPhone!

Stay tuned for this week's recipes!!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Grocery Shopping!!

Ok, I'm a huge nerd. One of my favorite things to do when starting a new diet is to go grocery shopping! It makes me feel pretty empowered to stay on track-- since I already bought the food, I may as well eat it!

I've complied a list of my favorite things to buy while dieting. Obviously, I also have condiments and spices in my kitchen, but these are the items that I make sure to keep re-stocking on a regular basis. Most of the stuff on Berardi's Precision Nutrition Superfood list are already on the grocery list, so yay me! I must be doing something right ;-)

- Omega-3 Eggs
- Egg whites or Egg Beaters
- Greek Yogurt, Friendship Whipped Cottage Cheese
- Tempeh, Tofu, Seitan (especially Field Roast & Uptons Naturals)
- Beans (black, pinto, kidney, garbanzo)

Fruits & Veggies
- Dark, Leafy Greens (spinach, kale, collards, turnip greens mustard greens, etc)
- Lettuce (usually mesclun, though sometimes butter or bibb)
- Tomatoes
- Red, Yellow, or Green Peppers
- Broccoli/ Cabbage/ Cauliflower/ Carrots
- Berries
- Citrus fruits

- Olive oil, grapeseed oil
- Avocados
- Flax Seeds
- Nuts, Nut butters

Pantry Staples
- Cocoa powder, coffee, dark chocolate
- All-fruit spread, honey, raw sugar, maple syrup
- Quinoa, steel cut oats, rolled oats
- Whey protein

Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Different Kind of Holiday Challenge for 2011

Hey, loyal readers! If you're still out there, sorry for the absence! I'd totally meant to pick up where I left off blogging about my trip to New Orleans last February, but got a bit sidetracked with life in the process :( Now it's October, and I've realized that my New Year's Resolutions have gone the way of most: uncompleted!

To be fair, I'd been battling a running injury which actually turned out to be a biking injury that manifests only while running. So while I'd thought I was resting it and letting it heal by not running and biking instead, I was actually making it worse! By the time I'd realized what was happening, half the season was over, my injury had gotten progressively worse, and I was barely running at all. A whole lot of yoga and massages later, it's still not 100% better, but signs are improving, as I did a 6-mile run last weekend- my longest run since June!

Since my New Year's Resolution will not come to fruition for the first time in 5 years, I decided to challenge two friends to a different kind of Holiday Challenge.... A diet and fitness challenge!

My personal challenge is to lose 7% body fat by New Year's Eve, which comes out to about a half a percent a week. I started last week, and I've already lost 0.6%, according to my Omron Body Fat monitor! I plan on posting the trials and tribulations of my food journey here in this blog, while recounting my exercise adventures in my training blog.

As a guideline to what I'll be eating, I'm planning on using the plant-based version of Precision Nutrition to plan my meals and help me get leaner. I'm looking forward to trying it out and blogging about my journey this holiday season!

Related post cross-posted in my training blog.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Coffee and Beignets at Cafe Du Monde!

Right on Decatur Street in the French Quarter, across from Jackson Square is the famous Cafe Du Monde! We stopped by several times to enjoy their coffee and beignets over the course of our 4-day stay in New Orleans! We always left there over-caffeinated, with bellys full of fried dough, and powdered sugar all over our noses and pants :-P But we kept coming back for more! Sooooo delicious!

The beignets come out warm and covered with powdered sugar. There is no real way to eat them without ending up covered in powdered sugar, but it’s definitely worth it! It’s almost reminiscent of funnel cakes that you would get at amusement parks, except in the shape of warm dough balls. The outside has a crisp crunch to it, while the inside is warm and soft. Heaven!

I had my beignets with black coffee, though I think most folks order the cafe au lait. In New Orleans fashion, the coffee is served with chicory, which suits my tastes just fine!

The cafe itself is actually a pretty cool place to chill out and relax on lazy afternoons. You can sit in the covered patio, safe from the sunlight, or for Chicagoans like us visiting in February, there are plenty of park benches nearby you can sit on to soak up the sun. It’s definitely a nice place for people-watching, as it faces Jackson Park, which is often populated with artists, musicians, and carriages.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Central Grocery, Home of the Original Muffuletta

Honestly, I’d never even heard of a muffuletta until I landed in New Orleans! As we were meeting up with friends who’d flown in the night before, we decided the first order of business was to eat since we were starving from our flight. Our friends told us lunch definitely had to be muffulettas at Central Grocery. When we got there, I finally found out what this meant: ginormous circular sandwiches the size of a pan pizza on circular, sesame-seeded Italian bread, filled with various Italian deli meats, Swiss & provolone cheese, and a unique olive salad. Apparently they’re the THING to get when in New Orleans!

That’s when my skepticism kicked in. It looked like a small, family run grocery store with a deli counter, the type of place that would get confused if you asked for any modifications of their traditional-style offerings. However, I was told that this was a FAMOUS family run grocery store, home of the ORIGINAL muffuletta (it even said so in big signs everywhere) and that I HAD to have one even though I don’t eat meat. Since this was a trusted friend, I let him & another friend handle the situation as he sent the rest of us off to find a table in the back.

About a minute later, the helper friend came back with a giant package:

….which apparently had a giant, meat-filled sandwich inside:

She said they were still making the vegetarian one, so our other friend was still at the counter waiting for it. A good 10 minutes later, he finally came back bearing my sandwich (sorry for the poor picture quality; the lighting was not that great inside the store, but the pictures using flash looked even worse):

Apparently the sandwich assembly line was so efficient at making regular muffulettas that it was a big disruption in the production process to tell them not to put the meat in. My friend said that the counter guy who took his order had to go back there an make it himself, hence the long delay!

The sandwiches were so big, we comfortably split the two sandwiches between four people. Honestly, though, I can’t say I was all that impressed with the sandwich; however since they had to take out a main component, I won’t blame them that my sandwich was lacking. They compensated for the lack of meat by adding extra cheese, which, being mildly lactose intolerant, would not have been my number one choice for substitutions. I definitely would have preferred more of the olive salad instead! I can tolerate a slice or two of cheese just fine, but this much cheese in my sandwich makes me a bit queasy:

However, I definitely see the appeal of those sandwiches and would be curious to see what a better approximation of a vegetarian muffuletta would taste like. My sandwich definitely would have lacked the flavor and substance of an “original” since the salty Italian meats were merely taken out rather than substituted with something similarly substantial & salty. Perhaps in a future cooking challenge, I’ll have to make this sandwich myself with the arsenal of vegetarian deli meats I have at my disposal! Of course, I would have no clue where to find muffuletta bread in Chicago, so this might actually also become a baking challenge!! And let’s not forget the the olive salad, which I felt was probably the most unique thing about the sandwich, taste-wise. I personally hate olives, but didn’t mind them at all in the sandwich.

So yeah, if I do decide to take on this muffuletta-making challenge, it looks like I’ll have my work cut out for me, as a lactose-intolerant vegetarian who doesn’t habitually eat bread and hates olives!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

An Urban Foodie Does the Big Easy

Laissez les bons temps rouler!!

I'd mentioned a few weeks ago that I was taking a trip down to New Orleans with some tri club friends to do the Mardi Gras Half Marathon, with one friend doing the full marathon! While the race wasn't my best, I had a great time while down there and got to indulge in some of the food and culture of the Big Easy!

Since it was my first time down there, I was left at the mercy of friends who knew the city. It was definitely fun trying out some of the more well-known establishments, but I'll admit it that without being in control of where we went, was hard finding vegetarian-friendly options that weren't completely boring. Plus, since the trip was centered around a long-distance race, it was also harder to be adventurous with food choices, especially the day before the race.

If I come back to do the race again in the future, I would definitely consider planning a week-long stay post-race so that I can more thoroughly explore and enjoy the city and its cuisine without fear of ruining race day! It would also be nice to explore the city again now that I'm more familiar with the layout. With more time, I would also be able to explore more veg-friendly restaurants (assuming they exist!)

Since this blog is supposed to document the "Adventures of an Urban Foodie", I thought this might be a good opportunity to take a short break from recipe-posting to blog about my Urban Food Adventures in a different city! Food definitely tends to be the center of most cultures, and I've found one of the best ways to explore a new city is to immerse yourself in its cuisine! So for the next few posts, I'll take you on my Urban Adventures in the deep south exploring the heart of the Big Easy via its stomach :)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Crisper, Drier Papas Bravas

This batch of Papas Bravas turned out much better than our first attempt! I thought the texture was more on par with what I’d expected, though it was still less crispy than I’d seen at restaurants. The flavor was delicious! Funnily enough, it wasn’t the overwhelming type of delicious where you know the second you put it in your mouth... Instead, it’s the kind of delicious where you take a bite, appreciate it for what it is, then realize later that you’ve been snacking on them all evening and can stop yourself from going back for more! For that, I’m certain we have the spice blend nailed down.

The only shortcomings we still have to address are the mouth-feel and the appearance. While firmer than our last batch, this one still didn’t have the crispiness we wanted. Also, the spices look like they burned on the outside of the potatoes. We think we can address both these issues by first roasting the potatoes in just oil and salt at a lower temperature until tender, then coating them in the spice mixture and broiling them briefly to crisp them. Hopefully this will give us both the taste and texture we’re looking for!

Papas Bravas, Take 2

1 lb 2 oz baby new potatoes
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp paprika
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp sea salt
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley


Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Place the potatoes in a strong plastic bag and bash with a rolling pin to crack them. Add the oil, paprika, chili powder, cumin, sea salt, and parsley to the bag, then shake well to mix.

Empty the potatoes on to a baking sheet and spread out into a single layer.

Roast for 40 minutes, shaking the tray occasionally, until cooked through and nicely browned.

Monday, February 28, 2011

BaBaReeba-equse Spinach and Manchengo Stuffed Mushrooms

Once again, this dish was inspired by Cafe Ba Ba Reeba. This is one of David’s favorite dishes there, though I honestly can’t remember if I’ve had it. So for this, I let David take the reigns since he knew what “we” were going for (and clearly, by we, I mean he!) He found this recipe online, and made a few tweaks. For one, he omitted the bacon; secondly, he added manchengo cheese to the recipe in an equal amount to the Parmesan that was already in the recipe. I thought they tasted pretty good!

BaBaReeba-equse Spinach and Manchengo Stuffed Mushrooms

2 tablespoons butter
1 (10 ounce) package frozen chopped
12 large mushrooms
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
⅜ cup heavy cream
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup shredded manchengo cheese
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons butter, melted


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Butter a 9x13 inch baking dish with 2 tablespoons butter.

Place frozen spinach in a medium saucepan with 1/4 cup water. Bring water to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and cook spinach covered 10 minutes. Uncover and stir. Remove from heat and drain.

Remove stems from mushrooms. Arrange caps in the baking dish. Finely chop stems.

Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat, and mix in onion and garlic. Cook 5 minutes, or until tender, then mix in bacon, spinach, chopped mushroom stems and heavy cream. Bring cream to a boil. Remove from heat and mix in Parmesan & manchengo cheeses, salt and pepper.

Stuff mushroom caps generously with the mixture. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons melted butter. Bake in the preheated oven 30 minutes until lightly browned

Friday, February 25, 2011

Sun-Dried Tomato & Roasted Red Pepper Stuffed Mushrooms

While searching for a good stuffed mushroom tapas recipe online, we stumbled across this recipe. Although they were nothing like the stuffed mushrooms we knew and loved from Cafe Ba Ba Reeba, they looked delicious! So we decided to try out the recipe, even though it wasn’t exactly what we were looking for.

When we ended up making these mushrooms, though, we originally thought they were a failure. They were as beautiful as they were in the picture, but honestly, the mushroom caps lacked flavor, and the stuffing felt like it belonged better on a bruschetta rather than stuffed inside a cooked mushroom. Nothing about the taste and texture worked.

However, we kept them overnight and served them at a Super Bowl party the next day. To our surprise, they tasted much better! Allowing the flavors to meld together overnight and soak into the mushroom caps really helped the dish immensely! In the end, I would call it mildly successful, though I did have several issues with the recipe.

First, the recipe had you chop the sundried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, the pine nuts, and the mushroom stems. This is actually much more work than necessary. The sundried tomatoes were particularly difficult, since the texture made them challenging to chop, and the oil made it a much messier task than it needed to be. If I try this recipe again in the future, I would definitely use a food processor to coarsely chop everything.

Another problem I had with the recipe was that it was poorly written. The ingredients were out of order, and the directions were all over the place. It’s really hard to follow, and I had to re-read it several times just to make sure I wasn’t forgetting any steps or ingredients.

The directions on the recipe were also written in a way that was hard to understand. For example, in many place, the directions say to “cook the mushrooms until they are dry”. In these instances, the only ingredients in the pan are mushrooms and oil, so it was unclear whether it meant to cook them until the mushrooms absorbed the oil, or until the mushrooms release water, then that dries up? I originally took it to mean that the oil was to be absorbed, but that may be why my mushroom caps ended up undercooked and underflavored. However, from experience, I know that once mushrooms release water, they are close to done cooking, and heating them further would risk overcooking them! So even now, I’m not sure what the directions had wanted me to do!

So, anyways, although the recipe ended up not being a complete disaster, I won’t re-post it here until I’ve resolved at least some of the issues I had with it. That is, if I decide it’s worth the effort!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

An Emeril-Inspired Vegan with a Vengeance Tortilla Espanola

Last week, we made an Emeril-Inspired Tortilla Espanola that was seriously to die for! It was definitely the best dish from last week’s challenge. However, it was our first challenge recipe that we’d ever used that we didn’t try to veganize or give vegan alternatives for. Also, my friend Lake, who always used to help, guide, and challenge David & myself in our food adventures before he moved away to NYC, is a vegan. Since he was the cause and inspiration for many of our challenges, it seemed like a shame that we wouldn’t be able to share ALL our successful new creations with him the next time he comes to visit.

In fact, after seeing our pictures from last week, he challenged me to make him a vegan cheese omelet the next time he visits from New York. Not to be defeated by a challenge, I accepted and started brainstorming ideas on how to make it work. I was convinced that I could not only make a veganize a cheese omelet, but I could also veganize the tortilla recipe I used last time... And it turned out I was right!

I’ve made many incarnations of scrambled tofu before, as a substitute for scrambled eggs. I figured that might be the starting point for turning an egg omelet into a tofu omelet. I had a feeling that if you treat soft tofu like eggs and mix it with soy milk, and seasonings, then add a little flavor and yellow color in the form of nutritional yeast, mustard, or turmeric, this might give me the dish I was looking for. I also feared that pan-frying might break up the tofu mixture, so I thought it might be better to bake it like a fritatta rather than an omelet.

Serendipitously, however, Dave & I happened to find an exact recipe for a vegan tortilla espanola in the cookbook Vegan with a Vengeance. It was almost exactly what I was thinking of doing, except she used saffron as the color/flavor agent rather than nutritional yeast, and it was for a tortilla espanola rather than a plain cheese omelet. Great! To make it more similar to the one we made last week, we added soyrizo to the recipe and substituted re-hydrated hash brown potatoes for the potatoes in the recipe.

It turned out so well that it was actually difficult to tell the difference between the two omelets at first glance. It was a little more obviously during the taste test, but only because we were scrutinizing everything we tasted. The tofu omelet crumbled a little easier and was softer than the egg. It also had a few areas that were more bland than others. However, when we ate the leftovers the next day, we noticed the flavors were more evenly distributed. Perhaps aging the omelet a day helped meld the flavors. It could also be that the egg omelet required us to allow the egg to sit with the soyrizo, salt, pepper, garlic, potatoes, and onions for about 20 minutes before cooking. If the tofu mixture were allowed to do the same, the flavors might have been able to infuse throughout the omelet a little better.

Emeril-Inspired Vegan with a Vengeance Tortilla Espanola

a small pinch of saffron
3 tablespoons plain soy milk
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for spraying
1 medium-size onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
4 medium-size Yukon Gold, unpeeled, halved and sliced into 1/4-inch slices
OR 1 -4.2 oz carton dehydrated hash browns, reconstituted (3 cups shredded potatoes)
7oz vegan chorizo
1 1/2 pounds soft tofu, drained
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon salt
dash of cayenne pepper

Place the saffron threads in a small cup and gently press the threads with the back of a spoon a few times; don't crush completely. Warm the soy milk in a small saucepan till just about boiling. Remove from heat and pour over the saffron; stir briefly and set aside for a minimum of 25 minutes. The longer the saffron soaks in the soy milk, the more flavor and color will be released.

Preheat oven to 375F. Pour 1/4 cup olive oil into a 10-inch cast-iron skillet. Add the potatoes and onions. The pan should not be completely full; there should be about 1/4 inch of space left on top; remove some potatoes if it appears too full. Gently toss the onions and potatoes in oil to coat. If using fresh potatoes, place in the oven and roast for 30-35 minutes, stirring on occasion, till onions are very soft and the potatoes are tender. If using rehydrated hashbrown potatoes, saute onions and potatoes on stove top until tender.

Meanwhile, in a food processor blend till smooth the drained tofu, garlic, and remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add the soy milk mixture to the tofu mixture along with salt and cayenne pepper. Blend till creamy.

When the potatoes and onions are tender, remove from heat. In a separate pan, saute chorizo until heated through, add to potatoes and onions. Pour the tofu mixture into the pan and gently fold the potatoes, onions, and chorizo into the tofu mixture. With a rubber spatula, smooth the top, making sure to make the center slightly more shallow than the outside; this will help ensure the center cooks evenly.

Bake for 50 mixture to 1 hour till the top is deep yellow and lightly browned in spots, and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool at least 20 minutes before cutting.

To cut, run a knife along the edges, and press down on the omelet while slicing. Excellent both warm and at room temperature. Serve with Garlic Aioli.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Tapas Challenge, Take 2

Although the tapas challenge we did last week was an overwhelming success, we decided we wanted to fix a few shortcomings from last week’s challenge, as well as do a few more tapas that were weren’t originally able to do. In that vein, we decided to make a drier, crispier version of Papas Bravas, opting to pre-season the potatoes this time rather than coating them in a spicy tomato sauce. Also, we wanted to try our hand at veganizing the Tortilla Espanola, just to see if we could.

Finally, we wanted to do a simple stuffed mushroom recipe, reminiscent to the ones served at Cafe Ba Ba Reeba. However, while researching recipes, we found another stuffed mushroom recipe that was nothing like what we were aiming for, but still looked delicious! Since 4 recipes is an even number, we decided to try making both!

Recipes of everything to follow! Stay tuned! For now, here are some summaries of what we did and how they turned out....

Vegan Tortilla Espanola
Holy Moly! Our non-vegan version was definitely the hit last week, and the vegan version definitely lived up to the same standards! We even RE-made the non-vegan tortilla to compare the vegan one to, and it was amazingly similar! Our friends had a hard time distinguishing which was which, both in terms of appearance as well as taste!

Papas Bravas, a drier version
The Papas Bravas we made last week turned out a bit mushier than we would have liked. This week’s rendition of it was very delicious, and I couldn’t stop eating them! My only complaint was the appearance, as some of the spices appeared to burn on the outside of the potatoes.

Spinach and Manchengo Stuffed Mushrooms
The spinach-manchengo mushrooms were very delicious and savory. It’s a shame, though, since I’m not that sure they were very diet-friendly, considering how much butter and cheese went into them! I guess they’re not that bad for you if you only have them from time to time!

Sun-Dried Tomato & Roasted Red Pepper Stuffed Mushrooms
These mushrooms also turned out well, but only after the second day. Right when they were made, they lacked a bit of flavor. However, after letting the flavors soak overnight, they were much better as leftovers the next day! If we ever wanted to serve these at a party, we would definitely have to change how they were made, so that they would be up to our standards for our guests.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Decadently Dense Milk-Infused Chocolate Cake

This cake is officially our most delicious “failure” to date! We set out to make vegan chocolate tres leches cake, inspired by a cake that used to be on Cafe Ba Ba Reeba’s dessert menu. Unfortunately, it’s been off of the menu for years, and I’ve never had the chance to try it. However, a reliable source (in the form of David, my cooking challenge partner) insists it was their most delicious dessert and that it’s a crime that it’s no longer on the menu. So for the Tapas challenge, we set out to re-create this legendary cake.

What we ended up with, however, was a very dense, decadent chocolate cake that did not soak in the milk sauce. In essence it tasted like a flourless chocolate cake, even though we used flour; and although we made it with three milks, it failed to be a tres leches cake! However, it was very delicious, although perhaps slightly too chocolatey & decadent (according to David, who’s had Ba Ba Reeba’s version of the cake; I loved the chocolate level as it was!). I think we learned enough during this challenge that we should be able to successfully make it next time.

Never having made a tres leches cake before, let alone a vegan chocolate one, we used our web-savviness to look up recipes for tres leches cakes, vegan tres leches cakes, chocolate cakes, and any combination of the above. We ended up choosing to combine two recipes: one for a vegan tres leches cake, and one for a chocolate tres leches cake.

We used the vegan tres leches cake recipe for the actual cake, except adding in the ½ cup of cocoa powder that the chocolate tres leches cake called for. For the milk sauce, we followed the chocolate tres leches recipe. Since it was a non-vegan recipe, we had to substitute one serving of soy milk powder plus serving of soy milk for evaporated milk. For the condensed milk and heavy cream, we just used vegan alternatives which were ordered from Pangea.

The transition between the two recipes is almost certainly where our cake went wrong. The vegan tres leches recipes expressly states that the milk mixture must be boiling before pouring over the cake, otherwise it won’t absorb! However, since we were using the non-vegan chocolate tres leches recipe for the milk mixture, we followed its instructions to pour non-boiling milk mixture over the cake. The difference, however, is that the cake in the non-vegan recipe is not allowed to cool completely before the milk is poured onto it. In both recipes, either the cake or the milk was hot, allowing the milk to soak into the cake. When we combined the recipes, we poured a cold milk mixture onto a cool cake, which might explain why it didn’t soak properly.

When we try making this cake again, we’ll definitely heat the milk to boiling before pouring it onto the cake! We’ll also scale back the amount of cocoa powder we used, to allow the milk flavor to come through a bit more, rather than being overpowered by chocolate!

Our Most Delicious Mistake Ever: A Decadently Dense Milk-Infused Chocolate Cake!
For the cake:
1 ¾ cups pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon sea salt
⅓ cup Earth Balance whipped spread
1 cup vegan sugar
⅔ cup filtered water
2 teaspoons real vanilla extract
1 tablespoon cider vinegar (unfiltered)
½ cup cocoa powder + xx cups water

For the milk sauce
1 (12 ounce) can evaporated milk
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
5 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted
⅓ cup heavy whipping cream

For the Chocolate Ganache
1 ½ cups heavy whipping cream
12 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons vanilla

Preheat oven to 350'F. Grease and flour an 8 inch cake pan. Line the pan with parchment.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and baking soda. In a separate smaller bowl whisk salt, margarine, sugar, water, vanilla and vinegar until blended. Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture, whisking till smooth. Pour the batter into the cake pan.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan for 5-10 minutes. Remove the cake and allow it to cool.

Cut the cooled cake in half horizontally so that it forms two thin layers and put the bottom half of the cake back into the cake pan and the top half in a separate cake pan. Punch holes in both halves of cake with wooden skewer.

Combine the ingredients for the milk sauce and pour evenly over the two layers. Allow mixture to soak into the cake for at least 30 minutes.

To make the ganache, in a small, heavy saucepan on medium heat, stir the cream and chocolate together until chocolate is melted and mixture is blended. Add vanilla and stir for 1 minute.

When ready to assemble, run a spatula around the inside of cake pans and slightly under layers to loosen. Be very careful, as cakes will be very moist and more difficult to handle.

Place the serving platter over one pan and invert, releasing the cake onto the platter. Pour approximately ⅓ of the ganache over the layer and spread with spatula.

Using your hand or a spatula to hold second layer in pan, invert onto frosted layer and carefully lift pan away. Set the cake on a rack over a jellyroll pan and pour the warm ganache over the cake, smoothing with a spatula to completely coat top and sides of cake.

Let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes and scape any excess frosting from the jellyroll pan back into the saucepan.

Heat excess frosting, stirring until smooth. Cool slightly and again pour over the cake, smoothing with a spatula over top and sides. Refrigerate until glaze is set.

Let cake stand at room temperature for at least 15 minutes before serving. Garnish with fresh strawberries or dust lightly with powdered sugar.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Endive with Bleu Cheese, Walnuts, & Membrillo

Refreshing, delicious, and SO easy to make, this salad has everything going for it! For one thing, all the ingredients are in the title, except for a little red wine vinegar and olive oil that we used to toss the salad in. The hardest step is probably just finding the ingredients, especially for the vegan version. Once all the ingredients are put together, they make for such a crisp, fresh, and unique salad!

The sharpness and saltiness of the bleu cheese works amazingly well with the sweetness of the membrillo. Taste-wise, the endive doesn't contribute much, but its fairly rigid structure and its clean crisp texture balance the softness of the cheese and membrillo. The walnuts also add a little bit of crunch and weight to the salad. It's such a simple salad, but the flavors and textures are so complex!

If you’re veganizing this recipe (which we did), I think the hardest ingredient to find is a bleu cheese substitute. We went with Sheese brand, since they make fairly good subs for use in salads (READ: they don’t melt well but taste great when eaten cold, as is). This was ordered through Pangea. Of course, if you're not veganizing the recipe, use your favorite bleu cheese (stilton, roquefort, gorgonzola)!

Beside the endive, the most noticeable ingredient in the salad is the membrillo, which is a Spanish quince paste. It has the texture and flavor of a solid jelly that holds its shape very well. When used in the salad, its sweet, fruity flavor becomes the main focus, but its fairly solid texture allows the sweetness to be contained in manageable portions. Here are some pictures of our membrillo. We bought ours at Whole Foods, but if you can’t find it there, you can always order it online at a specialty shop. In a pinch, you may also try substituting in roasted figs or other dried fruit to approximate the texture and flavor of the membrillo. Though, if you do this, I would suggest first roasting the figs or cooking them slightly on the stove top to soften them.

The rest of the ingredients are pretty easy to come by, so if you’re not veganizing this recipe (or if you are and happen to keep a stock of various Sheese varieties on hand), this is a pretty quick salad to make as long as you know where to find your membrillo!

Endive with Bleu Cheese, Walnuts, & Membrillo
3 heads Belgian endive
½ cup walnuts, chopped
½ cup blue cheese, crumbled
4 oz membrillo, cubed
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Trim off the bottoms of the endive and separate the heads into leaves. Choose the best 24 leaves to use as the base of the salad and arrange them on serving platter (do not use the hearts). Chop remaining endive leaves into small pieces.

In a small bowl, toss chopped endive hearts, walnuts, blue cheese, and membrillo in the vinegar and olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. You my either fill the endive "boats" by placing approximately 2 tablespoons of the salad into each endive leaf, or simply distribute the salad on top of the pre-arranged endive leaves.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Four Vegan Aiolis

Aioli is a sauce that originated from the Provence region of France and is traditionally made from garlic, salt, and oil using a mortar and pestle. The word aioli comes from the French word for garlic, ail, though it is also popular in the Catalan region of Spain, where it is called allioli (from all i oli, Catalan for garlic and oil). Because of its popularity in that region, it is commonly served alongside many tapas dishes. Although purists insist on making this emulsion strictly using garlic and oil, many now use egg to allow for easier mixing. However, many purist chefs pride themselves on their aioli-making techniques and turn their noses down on egg-containing aiolis, calling them “garlic mayonnaise”.

Now, we’re not at all purist aioli-makers, but we WERE interested in finding an easy-to-make aioli that is vegan (and obviously, by virtue does not contain egg) and that didn’t require us to grind garlic until our arms fell off.

Luckily, we happened to stumble across just the right blog post, courtesy of VeganGrandma, who included her recipes for vegan aioli as part of a larger recipe. We decided to try all the combinations it described in her post; we did both the quick & easy recipe, which just required using store-bought vegan mayonnaise as a base (pictured above in the background), as well as the homemade cashew recipe (in the foreground). We made both recipes in the traditional garlic flavor (pictured above on the left) as well as the tomato alternative (on the right). We just followed the directions as listed, and everything worked great! Even the made-from-scratch recipe was almost as easy as the quick method; it just required a few more ingredients.

From the picture, it's easy to see that the cashew aiolis were thicker, heartier sauces that retained their shape fairly well. On the other hand, the mayo-based aiolis were definitely more liquidy and runny. We decided we generally liked the taste and texture of the homemade, cashew-based aioli better, but the quick & easy method also works in a pinch! Of course, if purists shun egg-based aiolis, I’m sure they would also shun cashew-based ones.... Good thing we’re not purists, and this works well for our purposes! We'll definitely be using both these recipes again in the future!

I’ve recopied the recipes below. Enjoy!

Two Ways to Make Vegan Aioli (Garlic Mayonnaise)
Courtesy of VeganGrandma

The Quick & Easy Aioli
4 cloves of garlic, peeled & chopped
1 cup vegan mayonnaise

Place ingredients in a blender. Blend until smooth.

A Made-From-Scratch Aioli:Vegan Cashew Aioli
makes 1 cup

½ cup raw cashews
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (O.K., sometimes I cheat and use bottled.)
¼ cup water
½ cup canola oil (or any neutral tasting oil)
pinch of salt
3 or 4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped (use more or less depending how garlicky you like it)

Place the cashews into a blender. Process until the cashews are ground as finely as you can get them.
Add the lemon juice and water and process until smooth. Add the oil slowly, and process until the sauce is thick and creamy. Add the salt and process a minute longer.

Taste for seasonings and adjust if needed.

Tomato aioli: replace garlic with 2 tablespoons tomato paste.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Papas Bravas

Papas bravas are one of the staple dishes we order whenever going for tapas. At Cafe BaBa Reeba, they come out hot, crispy, and spicy, and served with a tomato aioli sauce to cool the palate. We tried our hand at it, but unfortunately, it didn’t turn out as good as we’re used to! The potatoes ended up being soggier than we would have liked, and it definitely wasn’t as spicy as we were used to! The recipes we based our dish off of came with good reviews, and the final product did taste ok, but it just wasn’t the crispy, spicy, delicious potatoes we were hoping for.

We’ll definitely use what we learned here to try to make it better next time. We’ll try roasting the potatoes next time to try to get it crispier. Also, we may coat the potatoes with the spice mixture rather than putting it in a sauce that makes it soggy. Stay tuned for future versions of this recipe!

Papas Bravas
1 lb potato, cut into 1-1/2 inch pieces
oil for frying (canola & olive)
salt and pepper
1 small onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 tomatoes, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped

Place potatoes loosely in basket of deep fryer. Fry at 425°F for 10 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked and crispy. Salt & pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce by heating 1 tbsp olive oil in a frying pan. Add the onions and sauté for a couple minutes. Add the remaining ingredients except the parsley and let simmer for 10 minutes or until the mixture is thick.

Serve the sauce over the potatoes as is, or purée it in a food processor or blender, if you prefer a smoother texture. Garnish with the parsley and serve with tomato aioli (recipe to follow).

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

An Emeril-Inspired Tortilla Espanola

This dish turned out ridiculously AMAZING! A Spanish tortilla is actually an potato-filled omelet rather than the small flatbreads we normally think of. Just about every tapas place I've been to has its own version of Tortilla Espanola (also sometimes called Torta Espanola). Most are filled with potato and onions, and served with a garlic aioli. We went a step further and added some vegetarian chorizo, a very flavorful sausage that is usually made of pork. Honestly, I feel like our version didn't lose anything by subbing the soy version for the meat. It was THAT delicious!

This is actually one of the few challenge recipes we've done that we didn't try to veganize. We figured we'd see if the vegetarian version worked, then if there was still interest, we'd veganize it in the future. Since this DID end up going well, we will definitely be trying one or more vegan versions that (hopefully) won't end up just being scrambled tofu!

For the recipe itself, we adapted a recipe from the kitchen of one of my favorite chefs - Emeril! Here's the link to the original recipe. We made two major changes. The first, obviously, was to substitute soy chorizo for the meaty variety. I'm a huge fan of Melissa's Soyrizo, but I also know Trader Joe's also has its brand, as well as a few others. The important thing, I think, is to make sure to get the kind that resembles ground sausage, rather than varieties that are more solid and resemble sausage links. Here is what we used:

Our second change was done more to save time and energy than anything else. We decided that instead of peeling and slicing our potatoes thinly, we would just use reconstituted freeze-dried hash brown potatoes. These were unseasoned and uncooked, so we just used them as if they were raw potatoes that we had shredded ourselves. It worked like a charm! Obviously, if we ever made these for a party or for guests, we would go through the trouble of using real potatoes; but in a pinch, this worked great! To give you an idea, here's a picture of what we used:

The greatest thing I love about this recipe is how it would be so easy to incorporate into my routine. It's actually pretty healthy for you, especially if you substitute eggbeaters for the eggs, and maybe use a combination of Melissa's Soyrizo and Upton's Naturals Chorizo-Style Seitan, which has more protein and less fat than Soyrizo. Also, using the hash browns makes this dish very quick and easy to make! I could see myself making an omelet every Sunday evening, and then having an awesome breakfast all week!

Anyways, now that I've gone on and on about how I love this recipe, here it finally is:

Tortilla Espanola
Inspired by Emeril:

¼ cup olive oil. divided
4 large Idaho potatoes, peeled and cut into ⅛-inch slices, about 3½ lbs
OR 1 -4.2 oz carton dehydrated hash browns, reconstituted (3 cups shredded potatoes)
1 large onion, chopped
7oz vegan chorizo
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon garlic
pinch red pepper flakes
1 recipe Garlic Aioli (recipe to follow)

1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add potatoes alternately with the onions, a little at a time & stirring as needed, until all the potatoes and onions are in the skillet. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are tender but not brown. Remove from heat and set aside.

2. In the same skillet, add the vegan chorizo with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Cook over medium-high heat, breaking up the sausage pieces periodically, until browned, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat.

3. In a large bowl beat the eggs until slightly foamy. Add the salt, garlic and red pepper flakes. Stir to combine. Add the potato-onion mixture and the chorizo to the eggs; stir gently to combine. Let sit for 15 minutes.

4. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over high heat in a clean 9 or 10-inch nonstick skillet and, when very hot (smoking), add the egg-potato mixture. Using the back of a spoon or a spatula, spread the potatoes evenly in the skillet, pressing down to condense. Reduce the temperature to medium-high and cook, shaking the pan often to prevent sticking.

5. When the omelet begins to brown underneath, invert a plate of the same or slightly larger diameter over the skillet and, working quickly and very carefully, invert the skillet to release the omelet onto the plate. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the skillet, then slide the omelet back into the pan and cook until beginning to brown on the second side. Continue cooking the omelet, flipping occasionally, until golden brown on both sides and cooked through. Transfer the omelet to a platter and set aside to cool.

6. Slice and serve either warm or at room temperature with garlic aioli.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Veggie Paella

Although it most certainly NOT a tapa, we included a vegetarian paella on our tapas challenge menu. Paellas tend to be the showcase entree at most Spanish restaurants, and Cafe Ba Ba Reeba, the inspiration for this challenge, is no exception! Unfortunately, there is no vegetarian option there, so I can't speak for how good their paellas are. Mostly, I really wanted to try my hand making a veg paella after seeing a recipe online from the USA Triathlon twitter page. It's got great sources of protein and carbs, making it a perfect staple for training!

Unfortunately, the USA Triathlon recipe was also not vegetarian, as was another paella recipe we acquired from Kargie's mom. So as a first draft for our own version of the dish, we combined features we liked from both recipes, and made vegetarian substitutions as necessary. The result turned out really well, considering most of the flavor from the original recipes came from their respective meat & seafood components. It was pretty easy to make, and in the future I'd like to try a making a healthier version by substituting either quinoa, brown rice, or other whole grain for the white rice. As a first version, though, I thought our paella was pretty darn successful!

Here's what we ended up doing:

Vegetarian Paella

2 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 16oz tub of chicken-style seitan, chopped
7oz vegan ham, small dice
1 cup onion, chopped
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 cups white rice
2 teaspoon Spanish paprika
3 cups chicken-style vegetarian broth
½ cup dry white wine
½ teaspoon of saffron threads, OR ¼ teaspoon ground saffron
⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 bay leaf
¼ teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper to taste
1 cup frozen peas
15-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained

1. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a 12-inch non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add seitan chicken and veggie ham. Stir fry until lightly browned, about 3-5 minutes. Set aside.

2. Heat remaining oil. Add onion, garlic, and red pepper. Cook until slightly softened, about 5 minutes.

3. Add rice and paprika. Stir well. Cook 2 minutes.

4. Add broth, wine, saffron, cayenne, bay leaf, salt, and pepper. Stir well. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Stir again, then simmer, covered, until rice is almost tender, about 14 minutes.

5. Stir in seitan chicken & veggie ham, frozen peas, and diced tomatoes. Mix well and cook on medium heat until peas are heated through.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Tapas Challenge

One of our favorite traditions to celebrate the New Year is to ring it in with a 2-3 hour long dinner at one of our favorite Spanish restaurants - Cafe Ba Ba Reeba. We enjoy sharing tapas with friends and catching up right until the midnight, when we celebrate further with a very loud round of Auld Lang Syne. So now that all the recipes for our holiday dinners have been posted and we've declared our resolutions for the upcoming year, it's now time to celebrate the new year by eating tapas!

Of course, I'm being a bit facetious; anyone trying to celebrate the New Year right about now needs a new calendar ;-) But we did spend New Year's Eve ringing in 2011 at Ba Ba Reeba. Around mid-January, we decided our first challenge of the New Year would be to re-create some of our favorite tapas dishes! So although it's now mid-February, I'm posting the results of our first Tapas Challenge!

Below are the dishes we prepared. Recipes for each individual dish will be posted shortly. We weren't able to do all of our favorites, so we're planning on doing another tapas challenge soon... both to try out the rest of the recipes we wanted to do, and also to try to fix some of the issues we encountered this time around.

Happy Eating, and Happy Valentine's Day :)

Endive and Membrillo Salad
I love this salad! On New Year's Eve, this was seriously all I was eating all night! The soft sweetness of the membrillo, combined with the pungent bleu cheese, and the crispness of the endive all work together in harmony in you mouth. The best part is that this salad is just so easy to make. The hardest step is finding all the ingredients!

Tortilla Espanola with Garlic Aioli
We knocked this one out of the park! This was one of the few dishes we've made that we didn't try to veganize. However, we did vegetarianize a meaty version of this dish, and it turned out really delicious! For a future Tapas challenge, we would definitely try to make a vegan version of this dish and see if the recipe holds up!

Papas Bravas with Tomato Aioli
This dish ended up with good flavors, but the way the recipe worked caused our potatoes to be a bit soggy. At Ba Ba Reeba, they're nice and crisp, which these most decidedly were not. Not to be deterred, we're definitely already coming up with solutions for the next challenge in order to improve upon this result!

The paella turned out well. We referenced two separate recipes--neither of which were vegetarian--when coming up with ours. In general, I'm not a fan of white rice since it's nutritionally void of anything useful, so to improve up this recipe, I'd like to make another version using quinoa as the base. Knowing how our recipe turned out, I'm certain the flavors will work!

Chocolate Tres Leches Cake
Honestly, this may have been one of the most delicious cakes I've ever tasted! The only problem was that, although we DID use three milks, it didn't end up being a tres leches cake! I think we used too much cocoa, and the cake was so dense that the milk didn't seep in. Also, the ganache we used as a frosting was too rich. So although we succeeded in making a very successful rich decandent chocolate cake, we failed in making a chocolate tres leches cake :( We'll definitely keep this recipe for the future when we want to make a good chocolate cake, but for the next challenge, we'll work on lightening up the cake and getting the milk to soak in!

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Joy of Cooking Mince Pie, Veganized

For a change of pace, we wanted to try something a little different for our third pie in our 2009 Holiday Dinner Pie Quartet. Our quartet was really more like two sets of two, with the sweet potato pie being very similar to the pumpkin pie. So, to go with our apple pie, we went with a fruity, warm mince pie, whose recipe we also found in The Joy of Cooking.

Again, to adjust it for our guests, we veganized the recipe by switching out butter with a vegan alternative. And since we were making so many pies, we just used the same pie dough recipe we were using for our other pies. If you're so inclined, you could look up the version they list in The Joy of Cooking to go along with their mince and apple pies!

As with the apple pie, this recipe calls for cooking the filling on the stove top before filling the pie. This minimizes any shrinking the fruit will due during baking, allowing for a pie full of fruit without any gaps or overflowing juices!

Mock Mincemeat Pie

1 recipe pie dough
1 ½ cups seeded raisins
4 medium-sized tart apples or a combination of apples and green tomatoes (3 cups)
grated rind of 1 orange
juice of 1 orange (½ cup)
½ cup cider or other fruit juice
¾ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon each cinnamon and cloves
2 to 3 tablespoons finely crushed soda crackers
1 tablespoon brandy


Cut raisins into pieces. Peel, core, and slice apples.

Combine raisins and apples in saucepan over medium heat. Add orange rind and juice, and cider.

Cover these ingredients and simmer until the apples are very soft. Stir in sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and crackers until well-blended. If the apples are dry, use a smaller amount. This mixture will keep for several days.

Shortly before using, add 1 tablespoon brandy.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line pie pan with ½ recipe pie dough. Fill it with mock mincemeat. Cover with a pricked upper crust or with a lattice. Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake about 20 minutes longer.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Wild Mushroom & Green Bean Casserole w/Herbed Croutons

For last year's holiday dinner, we decided to try our hand at green bean casserole, one of the more traditional side dishes found at holiday tables across the country. However, we couldn't just do the usual Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup with French's fried onions. For one thing, cream of mushroom is not vegan, and since we have a vegan and many lactose-intolerants on our guest list, that recipe just would not do. Also, we wanted a little bit of a dressier version of it for our schmancy party ;-)

We ended up following Tyler Florence's Green Bean Casserole, using vegan subs for both the Parmesan and the heavy cream. It ended up being a delicious and beautiful dish! In the future, we may try topping it with friend onions rather than the croutons. It worked as is, but the onions might put it over the edge!

Wild Mushroom & Green Bean Casserole with Herbed Croutons

3 pounds green beans
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 loaf crusty Italian bread
3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 pounds mixed mushrooms (such as button, cremini, shiitake), sliced
2 shallots, sliced
1 cup heavy cream


Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add a big pinch of salt and the green beans. Cook for about 5 minutes, the beans should still be crisp, they will be cooked more in the oven. Drain them and set aside. Butter a baking dish large enough to hold the green beans with 1 tablespoon butter and set aside.

Heat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Tear the bread into 2-inch pieces, put them into a bowl, and add 1 tablespoon chives, 1 tablespoon thyme, 1 tablespoon rosemary, 2 tablespoons Parmesan, and 3 tablespoons olive oil. Stir well to coat and spread onto a baking sheet. Bake just until the bread just starts to turn golden, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.

Meanwhile, melt the remaining butter and olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and shallots, season with salt and pepper, and cook until the mushrooms have released their liquid, about 10 minutes. Pour in the heavy cream, add the remaining thyme and chives, and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the green beans and stir well. Put the green bean mixture into the prepared baking dish, top with the croutons, and sprinkle on the remaining Parmesan. Bake until everything is hot and bubbling, about 20 to 25 minutes.