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.

"Beef" Stock Review

I love the "Better Than Bouillon" stocks for making soups, sauces, and gravies. They have incredible flavor and ease of use, and they truly are better than bouillon cubes.

One of my current favorites is the No-Beef Vegan stock. Somehow, they are able to take roasted vegetables, concentrate them down, and create a dark, rich, delicious base that tastes like beef, without the fat and animal content of the regular beef base. I found it at the local health food market (but not Whole Foods, surprisingly) for somewhere between $4.99 and $6.99 for the 8 oz jar. I know that sounds expensive, but it's a very, very concentrated product, which makes at least 2 1/2 gallons or about 36 cups of broth depending on how strong you make your liquid.

This product has an unopened shelf-life of 2 years from production date; once opened, it needs to be used by the "best by date". Although it says "refrigerate after opening" on the jar, the company website specifically says it does not need to be refrigerated after opening, so if you forget to get it back in the fridge, you're still ok, and not out the money you paid for it.

This is a product I definitely intend to keep regularly in my kitchen. I may even purchase it by bulk and sell off extras at my cost to friends who have a hard time finding it.

I would bet money on the No Chicken Vegan base being just as good; doesn't your mouth just water thinking of a creamy-chicken flavored casserole or chicken gravy on biscuits?

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Best White Bread for the bread machine

I love my bread-maker. It is so convenient and easy. I love the smell of baking bread. I love that when I put the ingredients in the little metal bucket, I know a beautiful, smooth, wonderful loaf of bread is going to come out. And seriously, what could be easier?

I tweaked this recipe from last night before I went to lay down to rest. The result was a delicious loaf of bread that looked and tasted like a professional baker made it. The secret? I didn't have bread-flour on hand but I did have All Purpose Flour and my vital wheat gluten from the seitan post. So...I substituted in about 3/4 cup of vital wheat gluten into my flour and it came out beautifully. I also substituted grapeseed oil (from Trader Joe's, $3.49 for 16 oz) for the vegetable oil. It's lighter and healthier for you, and organic evaporated cane sugar because it hasn't been (possibly) refined with charred animal bones to make it bright white. I buy mine in the bulk section of my market for a little over $2 a pound, versus upward of $5 to $7 a pound pre-packaged.

* 1 cup warm water (~110º F)
* 2 Tbs. organic evaporated, unrefined cane sugar

(if you have to buy packaged, Florida Crystals is supposed to be a good one. Click on the link and go to page 3 for a 55 cent off coupon)
* 1/4 cup grapeseed or safflower oil (or canola if you must - do not use corn or olive oil)
* 2 and 1/4 cups all purpose unbleached flour
* 3/4 cup vital wheat gluten (all good vegans/vegetarians should have this on hand anyway)
* 1 teaspoon fine sea salt or kosher salt
*1 (.25 oz) package of dry active yeast - don't use the rapid rise

(these directions are specific to my bread machine; if yours has different directions, please follow them)

1) Add the water, sugar, and oil to your bread machine pan.

2) In a bowl, mix the flour, the wheat gluten, and the salt, and whisk together; your flour will now be light and silky (it's kinda fun to feel that smooooooth feeling), and carefully add it to the top of the water/oil mix.

3) Make a small well in one of the corners of the flour being careful not to allow the water to come through, and pour your package of yeast into the well.

4) Shut the lid, and use the Basic or White bread setting with the lightest crust color. Walk away.

5) When the bread is done, use a pot holder to remove the pan and turn the bread out. Slice and spread with butter and/or jam, honey, etc. Snarf it down. Repeat.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Megan's Vegetarian/Vegan Chili

I love chili, but I wanted to prove a great chili doesn't need meat. This one starts with a beautiful rainbow of fresh vegetables that flavor the chili with a depth you don't get from a meat base. I also wanted to try to control the amount of salt in the seasonings. If you cannot find salt free, look for low sodium products
This is a hearty chili, and can be tailored to your own family’s tastes.

One medium yellow onion, diced Two carrots peeled and diced
1 yellow and 1 red or green bell pepper, diced Three to six cloves of garlic, minced
3-4 ribs of celery, chopped 4 medium fresh tomatoes, diced and roasted
One 28 oz can salt free diced tomatoes* 2-3 Tbs salt free tomato paste (buy the tube)*
Two small cans salt free tomato sauce* 2 tablespoons oil (grapeseed or olive oil
12 to 16 oz water or low salt veggie broth (or bean cooking water, if you started with dry beans) One cup each, or One 16 oz can each: Black beans, Dark Kidney beans, Pinto beans and Light Kidney beans or Pink beans
Two or three small zucchini, diced


*Kosher salt (has a better taste, and is easier to control than table salt)
*Ground cumin
*Ground chili powder (regular, not ancho)
*Garlic powder
*Onion powder
*Cayenne pepper (just a dash to start)

1) Heat oil in a large soup pot. Add onions, celery, carrots, bell pepper, garlic, and a small amount of kosher salt. Cook until onions are translucent and carrots and peppers are crisp-tender. Keep stirring so that the garlic doesn’t burn, otherwise it will take on a bitter taste.

2) Add all remaining ingredients, including the broth or reserved bean cooking liquid, except the zucchini. (Be sure to drain and rinse the beans if using canned. If you use dried beans, you’ll need to soak them overnight in cold water, then simmer them on the stove for 60-90 minutes before starting the chili – the beans in this recipe all need the same soak and cooking time. Use about 1/3 cup of each dried bean before the soak to equal one cup rehydrated).

3) Begin adding your spices. To start: 1 Tbs each cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, and smoked paprika; 1 to 2 tsp KOSHER salt; 1-2 dashes of cayenne. Since you do not have to worry about meat in this recipe, you can sample the flavor of the chili as it cooks down. You may need to add salt or more cayenne depending on your tastes. I like lots of chili powder and cumin in my chili, but 1 to 2 light dashes of the pepper is plenty of spice for an entire pot.

4) When the chili has cooked for about 40 minutes, the flavors should be well developed. Add the zucchini now and stir for about 2-3 minutes. It will soften quickly.

Serve with your choice of toppings: Cheese, red onion, sour cream, chives, corn bread, etc.


consider adding some frozen corn, diced turnip or parsnip, canned green chilis, jalapeño peppers, or other hearty veggies when you are sautéing in the beginning – add lentils at the same time as the spices for more protein; add rehydrated tvp for a meaty texture – use your imagination.

Homemade "Wheat Meat" a.k.a. Seitan

Seitan, pronounced SAY-tan, is an ancient meat substitute dating back centuries. Back then it took a lot of work to "wash" a wheat dough to keep just the gluten (wheat protein). Nowadays, we're blessed with the ability to purchase "Vital Wheat Gluten" (get it from the bulk area of your store and you'll save big over buying the prepackaged stuff) to make this meat substitute.

This recipe is a little more time consuming than others that I have posted, but I think you'll like it. It also uses some "unusual" ingredients, but you can order all of them online at Bob's Red Mill if you don't have an easily accessible market like Whole Foods or Oliver's like we do here in California.

You'll notice I do not call for any salt in this recipe; that's because all the salt should come from your simmering broth. Otherwise, you'll have inedible, overly salted fake meat.

*3/8 to 1/2 cup of vital wheat gluten
*1/4 cup nutritional yeast
*1/2 cup garbanzo bean (chickpea) flour
*1 Tbs onion powder
*1 Tbs garlic powder
*1 tsp smoked paprika
*2 tsp ground thyme
*2 tsp ground oregano
*1 tsp ground dry mustard
[alter the spices/herbs to your own liking]
*1-2 cups warm water or flavored low-sodium broth (or regular broth, watered down)
*4 cups flavored broth for simmering

1) Mix all the dry ingredients in a large bowl, using a whisk to make sure all ingredients are evenly dispersed.

2) Using a wooden spoon, slowly add 1 cup of warm water/broth to the dry ingredients, and mix well. Add more water/broth until the dough is an ugly brown sponge-like product. If it looks too wet or sticky, add a little more of the garbanzo flour to even it out.

3) Knead the dough for about 5 minutes. The more you work this dough, the more of a meaty texture it will get because the kneading activates the gluten (protein). This is also why you don't overwork bread doughs - tough and chewy not good for bread.

4) Shape into thin patties or nugget shapes and drop into SIMMERING broth. Allow to simmer for about an hour. Keep checking to make sure your liquid hasn't boiled away. Also, keep it on a simmer to gently cook the seitan.

5) Allow to cool and drain in a colander. If the seitan is kind of spongey and wet, simply squeeze out the excess liquid in a flour sack towel.

6) Pan fry, bread, sautee, stirfry, or grill your creation with your choice of veggies, sauce, etc. I like them like chicken nuggets with barbecue or sweet and sour sauce.

This is vegan if you use vegan broth.
This is not vegan if you, like me, like regular chicken broth or Knorr Homestyle Stock.
Beef flavored broth will yield you a more beefy flavored seitan.

"Cream" of Crimini Mushroom Soup

This was inspired by the mushroom soup sold at Oliver's Market (which is great!).

*1 lb. sliced crimini (baby bella) mushrooms
*1/2 medium yellow onion, sliced very thin in "rainbow" shapes
*2-3 cups unsweetened milk substitute of your choice (almond, rice, coconut, hemp, soy)
*2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
*2 Tbs. butter [or Earth Balance] for sauteeing
*4-6 Tbs. butter [or Earth Balance] for the roux
*1/4 cup unbleached white flour
*3 Tbs Spice Hunter Onion Mix [I get it for $2.49 at Oliver's Market; from Amazon it's a set of 6 for $5.99 each]
*Kosher salt to taste
*pepper to taste

1) Sautee up your mushrooms, garlic, and onions in butter with a little salt (or garlic salt). Remove to a bowl and set aside after they're cooked.

2) Heat up 2 cups of your milk substitute in the microwave until it's warmed through.

3) In the same pan over medium heat, allow the second measurement of butter(4-6 Tbs) to melt, then slowly sprinkle in the flour and cook it with a wooden spoon until it's golden brown.

4) Slowly add the "milk" in a steady stream to the butter/flour mix while stirring. Let it combine and try to press out any lumps that form. When your mix is smooth but thickening, add your mushroom/onion mix back to the pan.

5) Bring to a simmer, and let the flavors combine. Now is a good time to add 1 Tsp. pepper, 1 Tsp. salt, and the dried onion mix. When the dried onions have been rehydrated, your soup is ready to serve. I stirred in about a Tbs of sour cream into my bowl and it was creamy, dreamy, and yummy.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Decadent Scrambled Eggs

(yes this is my breakfast today)

Scrambled eggs. The all American breakfast. And yet, so easy to mess up, surprisingly. Scrambled eggs should be fluffy and moist, but all too often they come out kind of flat and dry. My first theory is that the quality of your eggs truly matters. I only use organic brown cage-free vegetarian fed hen eggs. (whew). They truly have a different taste than the mass-farmed white eggs. Yes, you pay a little more for the eggs, but isn't it worth it for great taste and happy hens?

From Whole Foods market's website regarding their private label eggs (365 Organics): All of the hens that provide our Private Label eggs are kept in a hen house which offers complete mobility. They have room to run around on the ground and usually their feed is placed up on a ledge. They can move freely between these spaces. The hens are provided with as much natural light as possible for 16 hours per day. Artificial light is used to supplement natural light, when needed, to fulfill the 16 hours per day. There are no hens on 100% artificial lighting.
Ok, off my soapbox about eggs.

My second theory is that people use too high of heat to cook their eggs, forcing them to work too fast and rough, and not letting the eggs set properly.

Serves 1
*2 organic brown eggs
*1 tsp. water
*1 Tbs. organic heavy whipping cream
*2 tsp. salted butter
*Lawry's seasoning salt to taste
*1 oz. freshly shredded medium cheddar cheese

1) Using a wire whisk, beat the eggs with the water and cream in a small bowl until well blended.

2) Heat the butter in a non-stick pan over medium heat. Not high, not low. Medium. It's important because too little heat and the eggs won't set correctly, and too much and they'll cook too fast, then get overly done.

3) Starting from the center, use a plastic or silicon spatula and gently drag the eggs around the pan. Gently work the eggs off the sides to the center and keep working in circular motions. At this point, sprinkle some Seasoning salt into the eggs and incorporate it throughout your mixture. You can flip the eggs over when they're about halfway cooked, and keep working them until they're fluffy and no obvious moisture remains to make them look shiny or slimy.

4a) You can add the cheese into the pan and cook it through the eggs for about 20 seconds.
4b) You can place the eggs on a microwave safe dish; taste a little bit to see if they need more seasoning. Then, sprinkle the cheese over the top and microwave for 20 seconds.

5) Serve with your choice of sides - toast, bacon, sausage, fruit, etc.

For every additional 2 eggs, increase the butter by 1 tsp, the water by 1 tsp, and the heavy cream by 2 tsp.

Consider topping your eggs with salsa, avocado, sour cream, bacon bits, tomato slices, basil, etc.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Vegan Cream of Broccoli Soup

We all know broccoli soup is a comfort soup. We also know heavy cream is not so good for us. With this flavorful soup, no one will know that there is no cream unless you tell them. And of course if you want to use the yummy stuff like cream and butter, go for it. I'll give you the substitutions at the end.

(PS: I am not a vegan, but I live with one - I just add my dairy on the side to my own dish so I don't contaminate the whole soup)

1 lb of broccoli crowns, cut into florets and equal size stem pieces

4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth

1 large yellow or white onion, diced in equal size pieces
4 oz silken tofu
1 tsp. garlic powder

Special Tools: Blender or Immersion Stick Blender; bowl of ice water big enough for the onion and broccoli

1) Bring the broth to a boil and wisk in the garlic powder. Add the onions and broccoli and cook for about 4 to 6 minutes until the broccoli is crisp tender. You do not want mushy broccoli.

2) Pour your soup through a colander and reserve the broth. Quickly transfer your broccoli/onion mix to the ice bath to "shock" the broccoli, keeping it bright green and stopping to cooking process. Allow the vegetable broth to cool as well.

3) Add the broccoli/onions to your blender with 1 cup of the broth. Blend on medium speed. Add the tofu and as much broth as you need to create a smooth blended soup.

) Blend the broccoli/onion mix with 1/2 cup heavy cream, 2 Tbs butter, and as much broth as needed to create a smooth blended soup.

4) Return to the pot and heat. You can reduce down the liquid (boil it away) if you accidentally added too much broth, but be careful not to let it burn. Add salt and pepper to taste.

5) TOPPINGS!!!! I love a nice medium to sharp cheddar cheese shredded on top, a few red onion dices, and of course, full fat sour cream. Yum! Also good are some nummy garlic butter croutons made from left-over white sandwich bread.

Vegan Black Bean Soup

Black beans are so yummy. They're inexpensive. They're shelf-stable. They're a great addition to food storage. And making them from their dried state, though it takes a little forethought and planning, is way better than using canned beans and is way easy. This soup is spicy, and yummy, and can be used to get more protein and fiber into your family's diet without adding fat or processed ingredients.

The pre-planning part of this recipe requires an overnight soak of the black beans. Before you go to bed, put about 1/2 to 1 cup of dried black beans with 6 cups of COLD water in a tupperware container with a lid. Place in the fridge and let them do their thing. In the morning, dump the beans in a colander and rinse them. You can't use this liquid for cooking because it is full of dissolved starches from the bean that cause "intestinal discomfort" - code for gas pain - and will make the beans basically inedible.

Cook the beans in 6 cups fresh water in a heavy pot for 60 to 90 minutes. Don't boil the beans, but rather bring the water up to JUST a boil, then turn down the heat so they simmer. Beans are done when you can easily smush them between your fingers.
Reserve the cooking liquid.

*the prepared black beans (or 2 to 3 cans of no-salt added black beans, drained and rinsed)
*2 to 3 cups of reserved cooking liquid
*1 large or 2 small yellow onions, diced
*2 Tbs. no-sodium tomato paste
*1/2 package McCormick's 30% Less Sodium Taco Seasoning
homemade taco seasoning mix: 1 Tbs. each chili powder, cumin, onion powder, garlic powder; 1 Tsp. each paprika, ground oregano, fine sea salt; 1 dash (and I mean a dash) of cayenne pepper
*3 cups low or no-sodium vegetable broth (or 5 cups if you started with canned beans)
*1 Tbs. olive oil
*Kosher or sea salt

Special Equipment: Immersion Stick-Blender or Regular Blender

1) Heat the oil in a stock or soup pot. Gently sautee the onions with a pinch of salt until they are soft and begin to take on a light caramel type color.

2) Add the beans, the reserved cooking liquid, the vegetable broth, and either the homemade or packaged seasoning (remember to only use 1/2 the package, because the spice is strong). Let the liquid come almost to a boil.

3) Stir in the tomato paste; let cook for about 10 minutes.

4) Remove from heat. Allow to cool a bit then CAREFULLY use the immersion blender to blend the soup to a nice smooth consistency. Alternatively, you can carefully transfer the soup in batches to a blender and blend til smooth. Add salt as needed.

5) Un-vegan this soup with yummy toppings: Sour cream and cheddar cheese and chopped onions. Or use the vegan options. Serve either as the main dish, or as a starter.

Million Dollar Mac and Cheese

Macaroni and Cheese. Cheese and Macaroni. It's a delicious treat. It's a comfort food. It can also be made really, really badly. I mean, who hasn't in their life eaten a box of THIS STUFF? Yellow death. Loaded with preservatives and salt, it's horrible for you and in all honesty, doesn't really taste that great unless you doctor it up with some real melty gouda, some scallions or shallots, and a bread crumb topping. Even then, it's still pretty foul.

In this post, we'll learn how to make REAL homemade Mac and Cheese with quality ingredients. It's delicious, gooey, cheesey, and has a lot of FLAVOR and really doesn't take much time. It uses a French technique, but never fear. It just sounds impressive. I guarantee your family will want to lick the casserole dish when you're done with this meal.

(for a family size meal):

  • 1 lb. Pasta (rotini, mini-penne, rigatoni, Macaroni shells or elbows - something bite-size that will hold on to the sauce)
  • 1 1/2 cups Shredded Cheese (sharp cheddar, smoked gouda, pepper jack, Parmesan, Romano...choose something with a strong taste that will stand up to the pasta - make a mix if you want to)
  • 2 Tbs. butter
  • 2 Tbs. all purpose flour
  • 1 cup non-fat or low-fat milk
  • salt
  • pepper
  • panko bread-crumbs

1) Prepare the Pasta

Bring lightly salted water [you need to salt the water to infuse a little flavor into the pasta since we won't be doing anything else to it] to a boil and add16 oz (by weight) dry small pasta - I used mini-Penne pasta, but you can use traditional macaroni, shells, or small rotini, rigatoni, or another smaller pasta. Cook to desired doneness. I like mine a little beyond "al dente" which literally translates to mean "to the tooth." It means the pasta is not hard, but has some resistance and is a little chewy. I prefer mine softer than that.

2) Make your cheese sauce
This sauce starts with a béchamel, one of the Mother Sauces of French cooking. Don't be intimidated, however; it is surprisingly easy to create this sauce.
You will need
2 Tablespoons of butter
2 Tablespoons of All Purpose flour
1 cup of non-fat milk (warmed in the microwave)
1 cup (or a little more) of your favorite shredded cheese* [I used shredded colby/jack]
Salt and Pepper to taste.
*Note: The stronger cheeses, like sharp cheddar or smoked gouda will give a cheesier taste, but the Colby/Jack mix works well too.

We start this sauce with a roux, which is just equal parts butter and flour. Over medium heat in a non-stick pot, melt the butter, being conscious not to let it burn! Once the butter is melted, use a wisk and blend the flour into the butter. Keep stirring, being sure not to let the roux darken, otherwise your sauce will take on the wrong color and perhaps a burned taste. It should take on a very light caramel color.

After about 2 minutes, we turn the roux into the béchamel by SLOWLY adding the milk, about a quarter cup at a time, into the roux. KEEP WISKING or you will get a lumpy sauce. (Note, this sauce will be thick, so if you like it thinner, add 1/4 to 1/3 cup more milk). Reduce the heat to medium-low and stir often, especially the bottom of your pot, until it thickens and JUST begins to boil (anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes). At this point, I add my pepper and salt.

Pull off the heat and add 1 cup of your cheese, a couple handfuls at a time, stirring vigorously to melt it. It will be thick, and cheesy and gooey (mmmm gooey). You may be asking about the other 1/2 cup of cheese. HOLD ON!

3) We Move to the Oven

Spray an oven safe dish with cooking spray. Pour your cooked pasta into the dish, and spread the cheese sauce over the pasta, stirring it together to incorporate all the pasta into your sauce. Smooth it out and top with a very thin layer of bread crumbs. Spread the last 1/2 cup of cheese on top, then load it into a 375 degree oven for 20-25 minutes. It is done when topping is golden brown and sauce is bubbly.

Let set on the counter for about 5 minutes so everything is cohesive and cools enough to be safe, then dish up. Waiting on this gooey treat is the hardest part!

TIPS/Add Ins:

Add frozen peas, spinach, finely diced cooked carrots, small florets of pre-cooked broccoli or cauliflower, etc. when you mix the cheese sauce into the pasta to increase the vegetables in this dish. Your kids will eat it up because who doesn't love veggies smothered in cheese sauce?

Add 1/4 cup of silken tofu to boost the protein in this dish. (Blend 1/4 cup of the milk and tofu in the blender before mixing it into your roux)

Add 1/4 cup of diced chicken or ham if you're into that kind of thing; I don't eat meat.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Healthy Eggplant Parmesan

Hi guys. Thanks for stopping by. In future posts, I'll try to take photos and post them, especially for difficult or tricky steps of recipes, and of course, a photo of the finished product.

So I love...LOVE...LOVE Italian food. But much of it is really food that is meant to be eaten for celebrations or, in other words, from time to time or special occasions. There are ways to healthify these delicious dishes, however. This recipe doesn't use any frying, and incorporates some fresh veggies (or fungi and fruit, I guess).

  • 1 medium to large Italian eggplant, peeled, then sliced in rounds about 1/4 inch thick (TIP: get rid of the end pieces - you want to see seeds in all the rounds because this is the tender part)
  • 3/4 cup unflavored PANKO breadcrumbs (click here for a 75 cent off coupon)
  • 2 Tbs. Italian seasoning
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 to 2 eggs beaten (or 1/4 cup egg beaters)
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 jar of Prego Fresh Mushroom Italian Sauce (or your favorite flavor)
  • 4 to 6 oz mozzarella cheese (Precious or Kraft taste best)
  • 2-3 Tbs. grated Parmesan cheese**
  • 1 roma tomato, diced
  • 1/2 cup chopped crimini a.k.a. "baby bella" mushrooms (or white, if you prefer)
  • 1 tbs butter or olive oil
  • cooking spray
  • FRESH Basil (8-10 large leafs, cut on a chiffonade)


  • sautee pan
  • 9x12 rectangular pan (or smaller if you can fit all the eggplant rounds)
  • wooden spoon
  • 2 shallow bowls (one for panko and one for the egg)
  • 1 quart size zip-top baggie
  • a sharp knife (duh, but you'd be surprised!)
  • vegetable peeler (duh, redux)
  • cookie pan lined with foil or parchment paper
  • colander
  • paper towels or clean flour-sack (ie lint free) towels

The Pre-Steps (Mise en place/Everything in Place)

  1. Peel and slice the eggplant. Sprinkle both sides lightly with Kosher salt and place in the colander in the sink. This process is called "sweating" the eggplant. It draws the excess moisture out of the eggplant, reducing the bitterness, and allowing for a crispy "oven-fried" eggplant. Walk away for 2-3 hours. Come back and rinse your eggplant then thoroughly dry them with the paper towels or flour sack towels.
  2. Season your breadcrumbs with 1/2 tsp. of salt and all the Italian herbs. Place in one of the shallow bowls.
  3. Beat your egg/s with a little water, and place in one of the shallow bowls.
  4. Put the flour in the zip-top baggie.
  5. Spray the lined cookie sheet with cooking spray.
  6. Preheat your oven to 375º.

Ok, Let's COOK!

  1. Put the eggplant in the bag with the flour and *shake shake shake* til they're all evenly coated.
  2. Working with one "wet hand" and one "dry hand", gently dip each round into the egg batter, then coat each side with Panko bread crumbs and place on your cookie sheet. Lightly spray the top of the coated rounds with cooking spray and bake for 8 minutes. Flip them over, and cook for another 8 minutes.
  3. While the eggplant is baking, heat oil/butter in your sautee pan and add your mushrooms and a pinch of kosher salt. When the mushrooms have softened, toss in the diced tomato and cook til heated through. (I love this part, it smells soooooo good)
  4. Pour some of the jarred sauce into the bottom of your pan, and if necessary, thin with 1 to 2 Tbs. water*, then mix in the mushrooms and the tomatoes, and a sprinkle of the Parmesan.
  5. Lay out the rounds of the eggplant on top of the sauce, then spoon more sauce on top of each slice of eggplant. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese, the fresh basil, and either lay very thin slices or sprinkle shredded mozzarella over the entire pan of eggplant.
  6. COVER with foil and bake for 20-25 minutes at 375º.
  7. Dish up and devour while hot and gooey.


*I found that the sauce was a LITTLE thick, and definitely needed thinning so that the eggplant would soak up all the flavors

**Please please please don't use the green can of shelf-stable Parmesan; invest $3.99 for an 8 oz container of FRESH grated Parmesan from the refrigerated pasta section - it will last a long time and reduce the amount of salt you have to add to your food because of the natural flavor of the cheese.

***You could also bread and bake zucchini or yellow long-neck squash with this method, but it still needs to be sweated like the eggplant though probably not as long (30 minutes to an hour). I would also cut it in half, then into 3 inch long, 1/4 inch thick strips, and I would NOT peel it.