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.