Monday, July 16, 2012

Pickled-Marinated Mushroom antipasto

Well it's been awhile since I've posted anything new; with the heat and health issues, cooking sometimes takes a back seat. But I'm back, and I've got a few new goodies to share.

This is a great appetizer for summer get-togethers. It is made 24 hours (or more) in advance, and only uses a minimal amount of cooking time.

8 ounces regular white mushrooms, cut in 1/2 if small, 1/3 or 1/4 if larger
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup white distilled vinegar
1 Tbs. sugar
2 Tbs. fine sea salt
Pickling spice: a handful of mixed peppercorns, 4 torn up bay leaves, 1 star anise pod, 1 Tbs garlic powder or 2-3 crushed cloves of garlic, dash of cayenne pepper, 1 Tbs dried dill or 4 Tbs fresh dill, 1 tsp. citric acid or 3 Tbs fresh lemon juice

*From your local gourmet deli case, buy 8-10 oz of mixed pitted olives [green, kalamata, black]

 *8-12 oz crumbled feta cheese

Bring the water, vinegar, salt, sugar and pickling spice to a boil in a stainless steel or other non-reactive pan (my non-stick cookware worked just fine). Add the mushrooms and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Allow to cool, then store in the liquid in a covered bowl in the fridge for 8-12 hours before serving. You can double the recipe by removing the first batch of mushrooms with a slotted spoon, then boiling another 8 oz. in the liquid for another 5-10 minutes.

Serve chilled with an olive mix and feta cheese cubes or crumbles for a yummy Mediterranean style anti-pasto.

CopyCat Recipe: Outback's Bushman Bread

One of the best parts of going out to Outback Steakhouse is the Bushman bread (you know, that lovely dark brown loaf with sweet butter) which is served complimentary to your party. But, if you're a vegetarian, a STEAKHOUSE isn't going to offer a lot of options that are satisfactory. And, if you have a large family or are on a tight budget, going out isn't really an option. Therefore, making this bread at home and serving it with your meals is a great option. While you may spend a little bit to get the ingredients together initially, you can then make a large number of loaves of bread with the ingredients you now have on hand.

This recipe is designed to make the dough in a bread machine, then finish it off in a conventional oven.

    1 packet active dry yeast
    1 cup warm water [110-120º F]
    2 Tbs. butter or vegan margarine (softened)
    1/3 cup honey or agave syrup
    1/2 Tbs. sugar [brown or white]
    1 1/2 cups wheat PASTRY flour
    1 1/2 cups high-gluten bread flour [I substitute 1/4 cup of wheat gluten for AP flour]
    1 1/2 tsp instant coffee (1 packet Starbucks Via coffee - Breakfast Blend is great)
    1 Tbs. mild molasses
    3 tbsp cornmeal

    1 Tbs Milk or soy-milk
    handful rolled oats

In a separate bowl, mix together the bread flour, wheat flour, cocoa, sugar, coffee, & salt.
 It’s very important you place the ingredients into you bread machine in the following order: Water, butter, honey, sugar, & molasses, then dry mix & yeast.  This will keep the yeast from activating with the warm water until after it’s begun mixing.

    Run your bread machine on the “dough” setting until complete.

    Place the dough in a glass bowl covered with a towel and let rise in a warm dry area for about an hour. A warmed oven, turned off works well.

    Separate the dough into two equal parts and roll out into oval loaves.

    Place on a parchment paper covered baking sheet dusted with cornmeal. Brush the tops of your loaves with a little whole milk or half-and-half, and sprinkle with rolled oats.

Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes or until the crust makes hollow sound when tapped.

Serve warm with softened butter. YUM!

Friday, May 4, 2012


This recipe came from a "what do I have on hand to make a delicious, nutritious vegetarian dinner" moment. I am one of those people that stalks the bulk foods section at Oliver's Market to check out what kind of goodies are there. It's a great way to try new foods without having to buy a huge package of something if I don't like it. One day I decided "hey Lentils are pretty; I think I'll buy some," even though the couple times I had lentils they were pretty lame. So they sat in my cupboard for a couple months (they're dried -- they're not gonnna waste away) until tonight.

Makes 6 one cup servings.


1 cup of lentils - I mixed green and red together
6 cups of vegan chicken stock, vegetable stock, or regular chicken stock
1/4 cup dehyrdated onions or 1/2 cup fresh minced white onion
3 to 6 oz. tomato paste: Whole Foods' 365 brand tube is perfect
1 15oz. can diced peeled tomatoes (no salt added)
4 to 8 oz. frozen chopped spinach
1 12 oz. can tomato sauce
1/2 cup water if needed

All Spices to Taste:
3-6 Tbs cumin (I like mine a little more bitter)
2 Tbs garlic powder
1 Tbs onion powder
1-2 Tbs mild yellow curry powder
cayenne pepper to taste
sea salt to taste, if needed

1)  Bring the stock to a boil. Add dehydrated onions and lentils, and garlic and onion powders, and cook on high for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to medium.

2) Add the tomato paste, spinach, and can of tomatoes with the juice. Stir in the cumin and curry powder, starting with a moderate amount; you can always add more seasoning. If you overseason, you can add more water and let the soup reduce down. Let cook covered over medium heat for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

The lentils for this dish are best after they take on the texture of cooked black beans. It also gives them time to soak up the flavors of the spices and tomato base. Keep tasting as you stir. Add more cumin, curry, and salt if needed. Also watch the liquid. The lentils are greedy and will soak up a lot of the liquid, but it will also evaporate from cooking, so if it starts to look like a paste instead of a stewy-soup, you need to add water or broth.

3) Top with a dallop of greek-yoghurt or sour cream, and enjoy! I'm also eating mine with a side of Mediterranean pita, warmed up with a little olive oil in a hot pan -- but any crusty Italian or Mediterranean type bread would be delicious with this soup.

4) For you carnivores, mini-meatballs, small bits of greek flavored chicken sausage, leftover lamb, goat, pork, or some shredded chicken would work well in this stew-soup.

(FYI also good at room temperature! I know cuz it got cold while I was typing this!)

FYI #2 : This is great for people dieting or on low-glycemic diets; the fiber and protein counts in lentils are astronomical, the lycopene from the tomatoes is cancer fighting, and there's no fat because we didn't sautee or fry anything. Ok ok, so the sour cream or yoghurt add some fat, but you don't HAVE to put it on. :)

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Vegetarian Twice Baked Potato with Bacon

Oh yeah, you read that right - with bacon! Ok ok, so they're bacon-bits -- crunchy bits of soy protein artificially flavored to taste like bacon, but hey, in this recipe, they actually work better than real bacon because they're SO crunchy before they're mixed into the potato mix, and don't get rubbery like real bacon can. This is one of those eye-ball and taste recipes, so my measurements are approximate.

P.S.: DO NOT try to make this a low-fat recipe; this is a splurge dish. I cannot vouch for the results if you use low-fat/non-fat substitutes.

mmmm yummy twice-baked potato stuffed with goodies.

4 russet baking potatoes, scrubbed clean
4 scallions (green onions) sliced very thin, 1 Tbs reserved
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp black pepper (I omit)
3 Tbs butter
1/4 cup sour cream (give or take)
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup artificial bacon flavored bits
3 cloves of garlic, crushed (or 1 Tbs garlic powder)

Bake the Potatoes, The First Time:

1) Heat your oven to 450ºF.

2) Pierce the potatoes with a fork about six times on each side - this will allow moisture to escape and make the insides nice and fluffy.

3) Cook directly on the rack for 45 to 60 minutes until the potato "gives" when you squeeze it with a hot pad.

4) Turn the oven heat down to 375º. Remove potatoes from oven and cut all potatoes in half length-wise like boats (see photo above) and allow to cool until they can comfortably be handled.

Mix up all the good-stuff:

1) Carefully scoop out the soft flesh of the potatoes into a mixing bowl, leaving enough to hold the shape of the potato and not collapse the skin. If you scoop out too much (ha) you can shape some foil around the potato skin to give it support til you refill and bake the skins. Sprinkle a little salt and/or pepper into the skins for flavor if you like to eat potato skins when all the good stuff is gone.

2) Gently mash with a fork; it shouldn't be too smooth, but fluffy and a little lumpy. You want to work kind of quickly so that the warmth of the potato flesh melts the goodies together in the bowl.

3) Cut your butter into little cubes and toss into the bowl with the salt and/or pepper and gently mix through the potatoes.

4) Throw in the scallions, garlic, bacon bits, and sour cream, and mix. If the mix is dry and crumbly, add a little more sour cream and taste.

5) Finally, add almost all of the cheese and stir. At this point, taste again to see if you need to add more salt. I used salted butter, and of course the bacon bits and cheese were salty, so I didn't have to add much at all. I really just used a pinch or two of coarse sea salt from our own Sonoma Coast.

6) Refill your potato skins and top with more scallions, bacon bits, and of course, CHEESE.

7) Arrange in a 9x13 baking pan and cook in the 375º oven for about 20 minutes. Serve while piping hot.

Tips and Adjustments:

If you serve both halves per person with a side of steamed broccoli, it can serve as a main dish, or you can serve just one half as a side to your favorite dish.

Try mixing up the cheese that you put into the mix; a nice pepper-jack or a creamy blue-cheese would make a great addition. I wanted to use parsley but I forgot to get fresh herbs, and the dried parsley just doesn't seem proper for this recipe.

**Note: Vegan cheese may or may not work in this recipe - I have heard that true vegan cheese does not contain casein, the protein that helps cheese to melt.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Vegetarian Burrito with Homemade Refried Beans

One of my favorite things to do is try to recreate my favorite restaurant dishes at home. Not only can I save some money by cooking at home, I can alter it even more to my own tastes. Sonoma Taco Shop has one of my favorite south-of-the-border dishes, a vegetarian burrito that is loaded not only with beans and cheese, but delicious pan-grilled vegetables that until I tried it, would never have thought that they "belong" in a burrito. Sadly, the nearest Sonoma Taco Shop restaurant to me now is up in Santa Rosa on Brookwood, near Memorial Hospital.

On the day I decided to do this at home, I was searching my cupboard for a can of refried beans, and I couldn't find it (turns out my mom had used them the day before). Luckily for me, we keep a good collection of canned beans on hand, like black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, and pinto beans. I also keep a healthy assortment of herbs and spices in my kitchen for creating.

The Beans
*1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
*1/2 Knorr vegetable bouillon cube, crushed
*2 Tbs butter or olive oil
*2 Tbs tomato paste (I buy tomato paste in a tube instead of cans)
*1 cup warm water
garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, chili powder to taste
a hint of cayenne pepper (
less than 1/8 teaspoon)

The Veggies
*1/2 red onion in thin half-moon slices
*red or yellow bell pepper, sliced in strips
*1/2 cup broccoli florets, cut into bite size pieces
*2 julienne carrots (cut into strips like your peppers)
*1 zucchini, julienne in strips
*2-4 cloves of garlic, pressed, minced, or chopped
*2 tbs butter or olive oil
*1/4 tsp kosher or fine sea salt
*optional - 4 Tbs fresh chopped cilantro or 1 Tbs dried cilantro flakes

Other Stuff
*Burrito size tortillas (whole wheat, flour, or an herb flavored tortilla would be great)
*shredded cheese/s (jack, pepper jack, medium cheddar, or your favorite Mexican blend - I love Trader Joe's finely shredded mix for about $2.79)
*sour cream
*pico de gallo or salsa of your choice (Calavo sells a great mild salsa called "salsa Lisa" that I love. You usually find it in the fresh produce or fresh deli area of your store.)

Refried Beans:
1) Drain and rinse the canned beans and pulse them in a food processor a few times; they should still be quite chunky, just broken up. Alternatively, you can mush the beans up with a fork in a bowl.

2) Heat your butter or oil in a sturdy pan over medium-high heat; add the beans and start stirring. Add the bouillon seasoning and half the hot water, and keep stirring. It should look kind of like a smooth bean soup right now; if not, add the rest of the water. Bring just to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer with tiny bubbles and lots of steam.

3) Start adding the spices - I do this by eyeballing about 1 tsp. each, with a little more cumin. Also add the tomato paste at this point. Keep stirring. You'll want to cook out most of the water we added, concentrating the flavors into the beans. If you don't stir, though, you will burn the beans. Taste, and adjust the spices as needed to make them taste yummy to you.

4) The beans are done when it's a smooth paste that surrounds bean chunks, and is kind of a reddish-orange color. Remove from heat and scoop into an oven safe bowl, cover with foil, and keep warm in the oven.

The Veggies:

1) Wipe down the bean pan with a paper-towel and return to medium-high heat. Heat the oil or butter and add all your veggies to the pan with the garlic, and a just little bit of fine sea salt or kosher salt, and the cilantro, if using.

2) Gently cook the veggies, stirring with a wooden spoon. Don't let them burn, but if you let the broccoli get some dark spots, it tastes really delicious. If you're using zucchini, you may want to hold them off to the side for about 5 minutes, then throw them into your pan for the last 3-5 minutes of cooking.

3) Remove from heat when the carrots are soft enough to eat; not crunchy but not mushy either.

Build the Burrito

1) Heat the tortilla for about 15 seconds in the microwave; alternatively, you can wrap a stack of tortillas in foil and heat them in the oven at 325º while you're cooking the vegetables and beans. Heating the tortillas will keep them from breaking when you fold them over the ingredients.

2) Spread some cheese over the tortilla, then spread hot beans on top. Add your vegetables, more cheese, sour cream, and salsa.

3) Roll it up and enjoy. You can also place it in a hot skillet with a little cooking spray, seam side down to make a grilled burrito.


Add rice of your liking to the burrito for a different texture - Mahatma's yellow saffroned rice is pretty good.
Add guacamole for a creamy flavor and healthy fat instead of the sour cream
Mix a little ranch dressing powder and hot sauce into the sour cream
Mix your salsa and sour cream together for a different dressing
Use frozen pepper strips - if you do, cook them first, so that you can get the extra water to cook off and then add the other veggies, so that they can get those yummy grill/burn marks

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

French Onion Soup

A classic, French onion soup generally combines caramelized onion and a rich beef broth, topped with a delicious crusty crouton and bubbly broiled cheese. It's satisfying, homey, and easy, and can be served either as a starter or as the main dish. I find it comforting on evenings when it has been cold and cloudy and windy/rainy. This is also one of the cheapest soups you can possibly make.

*2 to 3 yellow onions, sliced very thinly into half moons
*4 to 6 cloves of garlic, chopped
*2 Tbs olive oil
*Pinch of fine sea salt or Kosher salt
*3 cups of HOT water
*1 Tbs (to start) Better Than Bouillon No Beef vegan stock base
*1 to 2 tsp. evaporated cane juice/granulated sugar (to taste)

slices or shreds of Swiss, Gruyere, or low-moisture mozzarella cheese

1) Heat the oil over medium heat in a large sautee pan, and add your onions, garlic, and the salt. Cook about 20 minutes, stirring regularly, as the onions cook to a translucent, then caramelized state. You can add 1/2 tsp. of sugar to help the caramelization of the onions and to bring out their natural sweetness.

2) Mix the no beef base into the hot water and taste to check the flavor; you don't want it to be too salty. Pour the hot water over the onions. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer.

3) As the onions simmer in the broth, keep tasting the soup. You want a delicate balance of the sweet onions and the salty broth, but you don't want either to take over the soup.

4) Ladle into individual ramekins. Top with a handful of croutons and a generous portion of cheese. Place under the broiler (low) for about 5-7 minutes until cheese starts to get bubbly and golden. Carefully remove from oven and enjoy.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Meatless Shepherd's Pie

I love Shepherd's pie. It's a great way to use up veggies that are still ok, but looking a little wilty, to create a hearty dinner that is similar to a pot pie. By doing this, you're cutting down on the waste in your kitchen as well because they may not be PRETTY vegetables, but because they're cooked down into a hearty sauce, it doesn't much matter. My mom and I decided to do some creating in the kitchen on this because we had a frozen Marie Callendar's pie crust that puffed up when we were making pies for her office for Pi Day (a post for another time).

As a vegetarian, it takes some creative cooking to make foods taste like they're "supposed" to taste. For this recipe, I use a vegan beef flavored base. Check out the review on my blog here.

This is a "use whatever vegetables you have on hand" recipe which basically makes a vegetable stew in a pie crust topped with herbed mashed potatoes. My favorite would be a mushroom mix (crimini, white, portobello, and trumpet) with garlic, leeks and yellow onions.

This one used the following for the filling:

*Crimini Mushrooms (sliced)
*Yellow Onions (half moon slices, then quartered)
*Garlic (6-8 cloves, roughly chopped)
*Red bell pepper (diced)
*haricots vert (fresh green beans) (rough chop)
*carrots (sliced into "chips" or coin shapes)
*celery (rough chop)
*frozen peas (add at the end)
*frozen corn (add at the end)

2 -3 cups boiling water
2 Tbs. Better than Bouillon Vegan No Beef stock (more or less based on your personal tastes)
1-2 Tbs corn starch dissolved in 1/4 cup hot water or broth

1-2 lbs of potatoes (new, red, yukon gold, peeled russets, whatever you like for mashed potatoes), boiled in salted water
4 Tbs butter or margarine
1/4 cup sour cream or sour cream substitute
1/4 cup reserved boiling liquid
1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley
1/4 cup fresh chopped scallions or chives
salt and pepper to taste

Lazy way 1 - buy a vegan frozen pie crust and pre-bake it according to the directions. Keep an eye on it so it doesn't puff up in the middle.
Lazy way 2 - make a box of vegetarian stuffing, put it in the bottom of a round dish and up the sides, then bake it off for about 20 minutes at 350.

1) Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a rolling boil, add your chopped potatoes, and cook til fork tender; drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the water, and place in a mixing bowl or back in the pot to be mashed. Mix in the water, the butter, sour cream, scallions, and parsley, and mash til smooth enough to feed through a piping bag with a large tip.

2) Over medium-high heat, sautee all but the frozen vegetables in some olive oil and sea-salt until they are soft, but not mushy.

3) Mix the vegan beef base into the hot water, and pour over the vegetables. Bring to a boil. Ladle out 1/4 cup of broth (give or take) into a small bowl and stir in the cornstarch. Pour back into the vegetables and broth, and cook til it has thickened up like a stew or gravy. Repeat this step if you need to thicken it more. Just be sure to cook out the cornstarch taste.(I think a little thicker is better since it won't soak the pie crust). At this point, stir in your frozen corn and peas.

4) Pour the veggie-gravy mix into the cooled pie crust. Using either a cookie scoop or a piping bag (I used the cookie scoop on this one) start topping the mixture with the mashed potatoes in a decorative design. If you scoop the potatoes, you can gently press them down and make them look like scallops on top of the pie.

5) Top the potatoes with a generous dose of paprika to aid in browning. I also sprayed a little bit of Pam on top to help it get a crunchy golden-brown color.

6) Bake at 375º for about a half hour or until the potatoes are golden, and the gravy is bubbling around the edges.

Serve up with a dollop of sour cream and any left-over chives/scallions/parsley.

Add vegetables of your liking; I think eggplant would be good in this. You can, of course add meat or the meat substitute of your choice (Gardein supposedly makes a delicious meat crumble). By changing the beef base and certain veggies, you could make this a "chicken" pot pie instead.

Some shredded sharp cheddar cheese in the potatoes would be yummy too.

You could also put these in small ramekins and bake individual sized pies for each family member.