Eat Simpler

My friends Megan and T.J. gave me a book called Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison a while ago. It’s part cookbook, part gardening book, and part manual to plants. It’s a gem, and you should add it to your bookshelf immediately. You can learn the scientific names for all your favorite vegetables as well as an abundance of fun facts like this: the tomato was thought to be an aphrodisiac when it was introduced to Europeans, earning it the name pomme d’amour (love apple).

Last night, I made Deborah Madison’s cauliflower with saffron, pepper flakes, parsley and pasta. I was looking for a simple, comforting dish that wouldn’t require too much prep. I have found saffron to be difficult to cook with in the past because it is so easily overwhelmed by other flavors. However, not only did this dish allow the delicate saffron to shine through in flavor, it also imbued the meal with a lovely yellow hue.

Madison suggests using shells, but since I’m making a feeble attempt to eat gluten-(almost)-free, I used Trader Joe’s brown rice fusilli.  Here’s my version, slightly modified. I used a bit less than a full head of cauliflower, and I didn’t boil it first as Madison suggests because I wanted to keep my dishes to a minimum. I also didn’t have fresh parsley on hand, so I used to a heaping helping of dried parsley.

Deborah Madison Cauliflower Saffron Pasta

Saffron Cauliflower Pasta

Ingredients
1 cauliflower (about 1 lb), broken into small florets
2 Tbs olive oil, plus more for tossing the pasta
1 onion, finely diced
2 pinches of saffron threads (I was pretty liberal with my saffron)
1 large clove garlic, minced (I used a cube of Dorot)
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)
sea salt
1 teaspoon dried parsley or 4 Tbs finely chopped fresh parsley
8 ounces of pasta
Grated aged cheese such as parmesan or crumbled feta

Directions
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and prepare the pasta according to package directions.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and saffron and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft. Add the garlic, pepper flakes, and the parsley. Give everything a good quick stir, then mix in the cauliflower, making sure it gets coated in the seasonings. Add 1/2 cup of water, and season with salt. Cook until the cauliflower is tender.

When the pasta is cooked al dente, drain it and add it in with the cauliflower mixture. Turn off the heat, add a little more oil, and integrate everything together. Add parmesan and season with additional salt and red pepper flakes as desired.

 

 

Spiced Vegetable Stuffed Peppers

This week got off on a good start. Menu planning helps keep my life sane during the week and gives me a chance to enjoy a glass of wine at the end of the day. I saw another blog post about my favorite enchilada recipe (Veganomicon’s Potato Kale Enchiladas) the other day that really resonated with me. The blogger said her kitchen looked like the Swedish Chef just got through with it before she was even done cooking. Can I get an “Amen?”

When I plan ahead, I like to make lots of batches of rice and freeze them, I plan meals with similar base ingredients, and I prep vegetables well before it’s time to cook. But this magical “when I plan ahead” experience is rare at best. (See my last post for more on this lack of planning.)

Tonight’s meal is one that I’d recommend, but it’s only suitable for a busy weeknight if you take shortcuts. I made the filling for these stuffed peppers with spiced vegetables yesterday when I had time. I also cooked lentils and rice the day before for a more complete meal (read: enough food to feed my hungry husband). BONUS: This meal is not only vegetarian, but it’s also gluten free. (And Bryant, if you’re reading this, you might as well stop now because I broke your cardinal rule to never buy yellow or red peppers. Sorry.)

stuffed peppers

Spiced Vegetable Stuffed Peppers

Ingredients

4 large, evenly shaped bell peppers (yellow or red)

2 large russet potatoes, cut into small cubes

1 small onion

2-in piece of fresh ginger

3-4 garlic cloves

1-2 fresh green chillies (any variety will do, just pick the one that suits your spice level)

4 T canola oil

1 eggplant, peeled and cut into small cubes

1 tsp cumin seeds

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

a pinch of cayenne

salt and black pepper

Directions (Preheat oven to 375 degrees)

1. Cut the tops off the peppers. Then remove and discard the seeds. Cut a thin slice off the base, if necessary, to make them stand upright.

2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the peppers and cook for about 5 minutes. Remove the peppers from the water and drain as soon as they are done pre-cooking.

3. Cook the potatoes in the boiling water for 10-12 minutes. Drain when tender.

4. Put the onion, ginger, garlic cloves, chillies in a blender or food processor. Add a teaspoon of water to blend if the mixture sticks to the walls of the food processor.

5. Heat half the oil in a large, deep, non-stick frying pan and cook the eggplant until it is evenly browned on all sides, stirring occasionally. This takes about 10 minutes if you use medium heat. Remove the eggplant.

6. Add the rest of the oil, and cook the potato as you did with the eggplant. Set the potatoes aside.

7. Add the cumin seeds to the same hot frying pan. Cook briefly until the seeds darken and add the turmeric and coriander. Stir in the onion and garlic puree and cook until the onons begin to brown. This will be pretty quick.

8. Return the potatoes and eggplant to the pan and mix everything together, adding salt and pepper and the pinch of cayenne.

9. Place the peppers on a lightly greased baking sheet and fill them with the vegetable mixture. Cook in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes. If the peppers still need more time, you can turn the broiler on at this stage, but monitor them closely.

Serve with lentils and rice and garnish with fresh mint or cilantro.

 

The Night We Ate Everything: Part 3

Okay, so my idea to blog recipes every day last week was a little ambitious. I haven’t forgotten, though, and I’m going to make this a giant recipe-filled post. Get ready.

With Memorial Day around the corner, these recipes make great food for any summer kick-off picnic. The orzo salad is a great appetizer that travels well. Zuccanoes can be cut into smaller pieces (especially when you use non-gigantic zucchinis) to make healthy finger food. And this carrot cake is a dessert everyone will rave about.

Uncle B’s Orzo Salad

Bryant made enough of this orzo salad to last us a week. But we didn’t complain. It made for a great lunch and keeps well in the refrigerator.

2 cups orzo or other small pasta
1 bag of baby spinach
3 Tablespoons lemon juice
3 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon dried oregano
1 cup flat leave parsley, chopped
1 can pitted black olives
3 roma tomatoes, chopped
1 small red onion, diced
1 peeled and seeded cucumber, chopped
1 block feta, cubed
Salt and pepper to taste

Boil pasta in salty water until tender. Drain the pasta and mix with the vegetables. Add the lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and spices and gently stir in the cubed feta. Chill prior to serving.

Zuccanoes (or, in my case, Zucchini Boats)
(adapted from Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook)

4 medium-sized zucchini
1-2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium-sized white or yellow onion, minced
1 pound mushrooms, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup slivered almonds
3 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup grated swiss or cheddar cheese
A handful of fresh herbs or a few pinches of dried herbs (any combination of parsley, dill, marjoram, basil or thyme)
½ cup bread crumbs
Salt and pepper to taste

(A note about the filling: you can adapt this filling as much or as little as you like. Add rice if you have some cooked, substitute walnuts for almonds, toss in a few small tomatoes or make a vegan version with no cheese.)

Cut the zucchini lengthwise down the middle and use a spoon to scoop out the insides, leaving a shallow space for the filling. Mince the zucchini insides and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a medium-sized nonstick skillet. Add the onion and a sprinkle of salt. Saute the onion for several minutes before adding the mushrooms and the zucchini insides. Turn up the heat and stir continuously for 8-10 minutes so that the vegetables brown nicely and the liquid evaporates.

Add the garlic, nuts, lemon juice and tomato paste and stir for another minute or so. Turn off the heat and add the cheese and herbs. Season with salt and pepper. Scoop the filling into each hollowed zucchini and top with a sprinkling of bread crumbs.

Put the filled zuccanoes on a baking sheet and into an oven preheated to 350-375 degrees. Bake until the zucchini is heated through and the filling has a nice brown crust (about 25-30 minutes).

Carrot and Olive Oil Cake
(from Celia Brooks Brown’s New Vegetarian with adapted frosting recipe)

I have to say, this carrot cake is divine. I was so disappointed when it was gone. It was incredibly easy to make, and would be even easier if you buy pre-shredded carrots. The cake looked a little dry when I took it out of the oven, especially in the center, but it turned out to be incredibly moist

1 cup olive oil
2 ½ cups sugar
4 eggs, beaten
1 ⅔ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans
1 pound carrots, peeled and grated, about 3 ½ cups (I pulsed my carrots into small chunks in my Vitamix, and this worked surprisingly well)

For the frosting:
1 8-ounce block cream cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 Tablespoons butter, softened
3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar or more to taste
a pinch of salt

Grease a 9-inch springform cake pan.

Put the olive oil, sugar and eggs in a bowl and stir until well mixed. Sift the flour, baking powder and baking soda into a separate bowl. Add the spices. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the egg and oil mixture. Stir until well-blended. Add the walnuts and carrots and mix well.

Pour the batter into a prepared cake pan and bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan, then run a knife along the edge to loosen it before removing the side of the pan from the base.

To make the frosting, mix the butter, cream cheese, vanilla, and salt together until creamy. Gradually add the confectioner’s sugar. Taste the frosting and add more sugar if needed.

Spread the frosting onto the cooled cake and serve. Enjoy!

The Night We Ate Everything: Part 2

The thing about our vegetarian feast that made it so special was that each course was bursting with flavor. So many things I eat now have been acquired tastes. I now love olives and Gorgonzola cheese and mushrooms. Each of these foods adds pizzazz to a meal.

My favorite cookbook is New Vegetarian by Celia Brooks Brown. I’ve yet to make a single dish from this book that I didn’t love. I have to admit, though, I was skeptical that such simple stuffed peppers could be so splendid.

But the Piedmontese Peppers on Gorgonzola Polenta turned out to be as beautiful to look at as they were to eat. Creamy, tangy polenta makes the perfect bed for oven-roasted bell peppers filled with olives, capers and tomatoes.

If you make this dish for a dinner party (which I suggest you do), be sure to double or triple this recipe. I used a box of instant polenta to save time, and the entire box made enough polenta squares for 4 bell peppers.

Piedmontese Peppers with Gorgonzola Polenta
Recipe courtesy of Celia Brooks Brown’s New Vegetarian: Bold and Beautiful Recipes for Every Occasion

For the Piedmontese Peppers
2 red bell peppers
2 ripe plum tomatoes, cut into quarters (or 4-6 cherry or grape tomatoes cut in half)
8 kalamata olives, pitted
1 tablespoon capers
2 garlic cloves, sliced
8 basil leaves, torn
1/4 olive oil
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
sea salt and freshly ground pepper

For the Gorgonzola Polenta
3/4 cup polenta or coarse cornmeal
2 tablespoons butter
4 oz Gorgonzola cheese (the original recipe only calls for 2 but add more especially if you prepare a full box of instant polenta)
sea salt
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary (also not in the original recipe, but a delicious addition)

To Serve
Arugula leaves (we didn’t have any arugula, and this was still a complete entree)

Cut each pepper in half lengthwise. Do not remove the stems as this will help keep the peppers shape. Cut out the seeds and discard.

Put the hollowed out peppers in a roasting pan. Divide the tomatoes, olives and capers between the pepper halves. Tuck in the garlic slices and torn basil and spoon the oil and vinegar over the top. Season well with salt and pepper.

Roast in a preheated oven at 400 degrees for 30 minutes or until tender and just blackened around the edges.

Meanwhile, to make the polenta, put 2 cups water in a heavy-bottom saucepan, add a pinch of salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and sprinkle in the polenta or cornmeal, stirring well with a wooden spoon.

Cook, stirring, until the mixture begins to pull away from the sides of the pan, about 15-30 minutes (depending on the quality and type of polenta) or according to the package instructions. The polenta should be thick and lump-free.

Add the butter and salt, if needed, and stir well. (Do not overseason the polenta–the cheese is quite salty already.) Add the Gorgonzola and mix thoroughly.

Transfer to a shallow tray or wooden board (dampened to prevent sticking)* and spread into an 8-inch square. Let cool until firm. The polenta can be made several hours ahead or the day before, then cooled and refrigerated until needed.

Cut the polenta into 4 squares, put on a nonstick baking sheet and cook under a very hot broiler until the cheese begins to bubble and melt. To serve, transfer the polenta to warmed plates, top with the bell peppers, and serve with arugula.

*I cut out a step by pouring the polenta directly onto a baking sheet lined with a silpat mat. I even was able to broil the peppers briefly on a silpat mat. I recommend broiling everything for a few minutes so it all gets a nice crispiness. Bryant’s cooking tip: You gotta put some stank on it.

Shahi Paneer

Up until recently, the only way to get an Indian meal in this town was to make it myself. Now that a family-owned Indian restaurant moved into town, I don’t have to make my own from scratch every time I have a hankering. However, I still enjoy whipping up an Indian feast from time to time. Particularly now that TP and I are trying to save money (and calories) by eating out less frequently.

Over the weekend, I made my own paneer. It’s such a delicate process and requires so much monitoring, that I wasn’t able to photograph the step-by-step directions. However, you can see how to do it in this post. Or, if cheesecloth is as bizarre a concept to you as Lunchables are to me, feel free to buy paneer at an Indian grocery store should you be so lucky to have one nearby.

Shahi paneer is Indian cheese in a rich cashew cream sauce. Before you balk at my calorie comment from earlier, know that I make this dish with one percent milk, and it doesn’t sacrifice the creaminess of this dish.

I found a good recipe for shahi paneer on the website Show Me The Curry and modified it. And by “modified it,” I mean I cheat. I know that this probably means my shahi paneer isn’t authentic, but it’s a good substitute for the real thing.

Ingredients:

1 onion
1-inch piece of ginger, peeled
1 14 1/2-ounce can of diced tomatoes or tomato sauce
3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup cashews
2 green chili peppers, diced
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons coriander
2 teaspoons garam masala
3/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon sugar
salt to taste
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 cake of paneer, cubed
cilantro for garnish

Here’s how I cheat: I grind the onion and the ginger together in my Vita-Mix. You can use a food processor, too. Heat about half the oil in a wok and add the onion ginger mixture over medium high heat. After about 5 minutes add the garlic and chili peppers.

After a few more minutes add the tomato sauce. If you’re using diced tomatoes, puree them in the food processor or blender at this point. If you have some chunks left, that’s okay. They’ll just add a little more body to the sauce. Add your spices to the sauce.

While the sauce simmers, blend the cashews and the milk. Again, if the cashews aren’t completely pulverized, this will add texture to the sauce. Reduce the heat, and stir the cashew cream into the tomato sauce. At this point, I like to put several ladles (about half the sauce) back into the Vita-Mix and blend it to oblivion. This makes the sauce extra creamy but still keeps some of that delicious texture I mentioned earlier.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the cubed paneer and stir frequently to prevent burning.

Once the paneer is a golden brown on the edges, scoop out with a slotted spoon and gently add to the sauce. Serve sprinkled with cilantro over rice or with naan.