Pumpkin couscous + Mail!!

November 30, 2010 § 10 Comments

 

I recently got the chance to spend some time with my lovely friend P. out in the desert. We hiked, hot-tubbed and ate, because eating is what we love to do best. We’re both veg. these days, so our first night at the restaurant in the resort proved to be a bit of a challenge. Items on the menu that looked vegetarian, turned out not to be so on further questioning, and since we hadn’t given advance notice concessions couldn’t be made and we just settled for truffled mac ‘n cheese for dinner. I know, life could be worse. It was also one of the best mac ‘n cheeses I’ve ever had. Very creamy, very rich, and full on flavor thanks to the truffle oil and assortment of mushrooms. On our last night the chef made a vegetarian pumpkin risotto just for us, which he served in a baked pumpkin, which I loved. I’ve been wanting to recreate it at home ever since, so today was my attempt, although I warn you mine was nowhere near the quasi-spectacle (my glee is partial to food served in food containers) of the original.

 

This was my absolute first time working with pumpkin. Never carved one for Halloween or made a pumpkin pie, so this was an experience. I started by cutting a top off of the pumpkin of about 1/3rd of the area. I then scooped out the seeds. Saved those, seasoned them and then baked them for about 10 minutes to snack on later. I then rubbed my two large pumpkin pieces with olive oil and salt and pepper then baked them with the hole sides facing down for about 15 minutes which is how long it took for the meat to become tender. Once tender, this pumpkin meat is ripe for cooking. I just scooped it out and used it in the Pumpkin Couscous recipe I found. When the couscous was done I spooned it into the cavity of my baked pumpkin and served! The presentation is interesting, but I have to admit that I’m not a big fan of pumpkin…yet. I’ve got to figure out how that chef made his pumpkin shell so tender but sturdy…and yummy. I think its hard to hate a creamy risotto, and easier to dismiss a wholewheat couscous, but that’s the price you pay when you’re trying to keep the daily food intake on a level that won’t permanently damage the waistline.

Pumpkin Couscous
(adapted from Epicurious, serves two)

Meat from a small pumpkin (should be about 2 cups)
1 tbsp olive oil
2 small shallots minced
2 cloves garlic minced
3/4-1 cup water
1/2 cup milk or half and half
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup whole wheat couscous
2 handfuls of fresh spinach
1 tbsp. parsley (fresh is best)
crushed red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste

Scoop out the innards and season (w. olive oil, salt and pepper) before baking face down for 15 minutes at 350 degrees

Over medium heat, saute shallots and garlic until the shallots are translucent. Add the crushed red pepper flakes, baked pumpkin meat and sautee for 3-5 minutes. Add the spinach and 3/4 cup of water and then let this mixture cook until the spinach wilts. Don’t forget to season!! Add the milk and couscous and allow this to simmer until the couscous absorbs the liquid (add the last 1/4 cup of water if necessary). Sprinkle with grated parmesan. Serve.

My new vintage cheese cloche, or lemon bar storage, I should say =)

I also received a small surprise in the mail today!! A few weeks ago I won the Birch+Bird giveaway hosted by City Cradle Design. Lily + Rachel from Birch+Bird were nice enough to giveaway a $50 credit to their Etsy store, which I won. Winning things is quite an immediate mood elevator, and I highly recommend it =) I picked out their vintage cheese cloche, due to its brownie and lemon bar storage functionality, which I just received today along with a nice note from Lily + Rachel and recipe cards b/c they know I’m a kitchen girl!! Thanks to Lily + Rachel and to City Cradle for hosting this awesome giveaway.

Thai Curry Carrot Bisque & Goat cheese Corn Muffins

November 18, 2010 § 6 Comments

My Culinary To Do list is growing out of control, so I decided to kill two entries by making a nice meal for lunch today. Two things I’ve been wanting to cross off my list have been Spabettie’s Goat cheese corn muffins and Vegan Good Eat’s Blood Orange Carrot bisque. The point of the exercise is to gain experience by following recipes when facing an inspiration downturn. In this case, I didn’t have one of the primary ingredients for the Blood Orange Carrot bisque, namely the orange. So instead, I made a Thai carrot curry soup of my favorite flavor combo (inspired by my Ginger Carrot salad): citrus, ginger, garlic, onion, Thai spices and peanut butter. I suppose the recurring presence of peanut butter in my Thai food gives away my national heritage =)

The goat cheese is somewhat visible. One can never have too much chevre, only too little

I had to take a short trip to get the corn meal for the corn muffins, the recipe for which I halved, but followed practically to the T otherwise, aside from one substitution I made to include a flaxseed/water egg replacer instead of the Ener-G version. I recently visited a health food super store here in my area where I went in search of Ener-G egg replacer. Instead I came home with a bag full of flaxseeds, which I’m told act as an egg substitute if you soak them in water. As an aside, in the bin right next the flaxseeds I noticed that pine nuts were selling for 36.99/lb!!!! Can anyone vouch for the normality of that price? I had no idea. Anyway, now that I have ‘eggs’ I’m ready to go nuts, beginning with these corn muffins. I have to say, I didn’t dig my version too much. You can even tell from the picture that my attempt is pretty dry. Spabettie’s look so much more moist and appetizing. I don’t know where I went wrong here. My plan is to find a good, egg-less cornbread recipe and to revisit the exercise. I love my moist dairy-filled baked goods, and I think this will be a great dish to take to the Thanksgiving dinner I’m attending that won’t be off-limits to the gluten-free crowd.  

Goat cheese Corn Muffins
(from Spabettie, makes 6 muffins)

1 cup cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsps baking powder
1 ‘egg’ (I used 1 tsp of flaxseed + 3 tsps of water)
2 tbsps maple syrup
1 cup milk
2 tbsps olive oil
2 tbsps honey goat cheese


Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Combine dry ingredients. Add the wet ingredients and stir until all of the ingredients are incorporated. Pour half the ‘batter’ into muffin cups (if you use the aluminum baking cups you don’t need to use a cupcake baking pan, you can just throw the muffin cups onto a baking sheet). Add a small bit of goat cheese to each cup (as pictured). Cover with the remaining muffin ‘batter’. Bake for 10-20 minutes.

Thai Curry Carrot Bisque
(makes two servings)

1/2 onion chopped
2 garlic cloves chopped in fourths
2 tsp ginger
2 cups of chopped carrots and celery
1/2 cup water
3tsp liquid amino
3 tsps peanut butter
1/4 can of coconut milk
salt and pepper to taste
2tbsp olive oil
1 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

In a soup pot, bring the olive oil to medium heat. Then add the onions and garlic. Let these cook until the onions start to caramelize. Add the carrots and celery. Season with salt and pepper. Then add the water and liquid aminos (which together act as a vegetable broth). Let this simmer for a good 10 minutes, whilst adding the peanut butter, turmeric and lemon juice. When the carrots have become tender, add the coconut milk. This is the point at which I’d do a tasting and second round of salt and pepper seasoning. Once seasoned to your taste, turn off the heat and use an immersion blender to puree the soup.

Enjoy this fun video from PES. It’s an animated recipe demo.

Eggless Spinach and Goat-cheese Soufflé

November 14, 2010 § 21 Comments

Dave and Linda from Monkeyshines in the Kitchen chose Soufflés as our November 2010 Daring Cooks’ Challenge! Dave and Linda provided many of their own delicious recipes plus a sinfully decadent chocolate soufflé recipe adapted from Gordon Ramsay’s recipe found at the BBC Good Food website.

Of course, being a lacto vegetarian, I wasn’t able to use any of those recipes!!

This was my first month participating in the Daring Cooks’ Challenge, so I couldn’t sit this one out, even though this is probably the worst possible challenge for a vegan/lacto vegetarian. On the positive side, I guess the challenges can only get less stressful from here on out!! In search of an eggless soufflé recipe, I scoured the internet. All of the ‘eggless’ versions required gelatin (which is collagen from animal bones), so that didn’t quite work out for me. Every single vegan version I found contained tofu, and I was not keen on eating a chocolate tofu concoction, so I settled on a savoury flavor. I didn’t follow any particular recipe, or any recipe at all. I kind of just felt my way through the process after looking at the pictures of some of the other challengers’ processes (what the consistency should look like before putting it in the oven, etc), and reading the ingredient lists of the vegan versions. One of the challengers just blended a panang tofu curry and baked it. This, quite frankly, is what inspired me to not give up (so thank you!!).

I ended up sautéing a tofu scramble with frozen spinach and goat cheese, and then mixed in a multi-grain pancake/milk batter. I then blended this mixture until it formed a liquid, filled my lightly oiled cup, and baked on 350 degrees for 25 minutes. There were a couple of failed iterations before settling on this one finally. Because it was a test batch, I ended up not having enough ‘batter’ to fill the cup to the brim, which is actually essential to see proof that it rose (key component to soufflé-ing). To compensate, I tried to photograph the innards so you can see the liquidy center surrounded by the cooked, spongy outer ring. I am not a fan of puréed savoury food, so I probably would never again make a savoury soufflé. I would, however, LOVE to make a chocolate soufflé. Only, I wouldn’t dream of using tofu to make it. I will experiment with egg replacers to see what I can come with. But, in the meantime, please accept my humble soufflé.

Garlic Spinach Mac ‘n Cheese

October 21, 2010 § 10 Comments

A while back I caught an episode of Iron Chef America centered around spinach. I can’t remember who the contestants were, but one dish cooked that night has stayed with me ever since and has been begging me to recreate it in my kitchen. In an homage to that calling, I bring you a spinach mac ‘n cheese, with a heavy dose of garlic thrown in as my own spin on the dish.

Garlic Spinach Mac 'n Cheese enjoyed w. condiment

Mac ‘n cheese has been both a handicap and a love of mine for many years now. College opened the door to culinary freedom for me. It also presented the first time in my life that I was able to cook rubbish food (my mother is an amazing cook who tends to make everything from scratch, and she can probably count the number of times she’s had a box of mac n’ cheese in her pantry).

While on my own I went a little wild, indulging in the classic Kraft version many times a week, and enduring the ensuing stomach aches (true story). There was a brief hiatus between me and my beloved mac ‘n cheese until I moved into a job where I basically couldn’t leave my desk at all during the workday. I would scour Walgreen’s for the one-serving microwave packs and upped the ‘gourmet’ quotient with chopped tomatoes or frozen spinach. Now that I’m in the saddle with a serious string of culinary work behind me (tell me you can sense the sarcasm), I decided to reprise the dish with the Iron Chef spin in mind.

I can only give an approximate range on the ingredients, this was one of those throwing random things in the pot sessions. If any of you have follow-up questions, please feel free to post them, and I’ll do my best to get back to you with more accuracy (I wouldn’t mind making this one again!). And by the way, it was delicious. The whole tray was gone by the end of the night.

Garlic Spinach Mac ‘n Cheese
(serves 4)

-A bit less than half a pound of elbow macaroni
-2 cloves of minced garlic
-Somewhere around 6 tsps of Earth balance margarine (tried to keep it low-fat)
-Around 3 tsps of flour
-1 cup of pasta water (saved from cooking the elbow macaroni)
-4 tsps of half and half
-1 small handful of grated mozzarella cheese
-2 small handfuls of grated cheddar cheese
-2 tsps of grated parmesan cheese
-2 cups of frozen spinach (thawed)
-salt and pepper to taste
-red pepper flakes (as much as you can handle)
-2 handfuls of breadcrumbs

Cook the elbow macaroni. Save 1 cup of the pasta water.

In a separate vessel, melt the Earth balance on medium heat in a large frying pan. Add the minced garlic. Let the butter soak in the garlic for a short bit. Smell the wonderfulness. Let that make you happy and hungry. Whisk in the flour followed by the pasta water and half and half. This mixture should become a bit thicker, I believe this is called a roux. Add the cheeses, whisking along the way. Make sure all of the ingredients are incorporated without lumps. Add the spinach and incorporate well. Season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. When the sauce tastes amazing, add the elbow macaroni. Delicately fold the sauce into the pasta until all is well mixed. Pour into a glass baking dish. Dust breadcrumbs over the top and broil on high just until the breadcrumbs turn a golden brown.

My note of caution to you is that this main dish, though wonderful, is a slab of fat. To be fair to your body, have it with a side of steamed broccoli and a salad.

Creamy Shiitake Spinach Orzo

October 14, 2010 § 13 Comments

Hey, sorry to post and run but…

Here’s a quick dish I threw together as a last minute lunch for my friend who came to visit me today!! I was looking to use up the last of my shiitake mushroom loot and some orzo in a creamy dish that might complement the overcast sky and colder temps, and as a result came up with the following (the sun is out now so I’m happy and out the door!!):

Creamy Shiitake Spinach Orzo
(makes 2 hearty main course servings)

2 cloves of garlic minced
1/2 an onion finely chopped
1 cup of frozen spinach
8 shiitake mushrooms, cut into small pieces
1 cup of cooked orzo
2 tsps parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
2 tbsps milk
3-4 tsps water
oil for pan frying

Cook the onions and garlic on medium heat in an oiled frying pan. When the onions are translucent, add the frozen spinach along with about 3-4 tsps of water. Let the water cook off a bit, then add the shiitake mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper. Let this mixture cook for about 2-3 minutes, then add the milk and cooked orzo, and mix on low heat. Mix in the parmesan cheese, and finally turn off the heat and let the orzo sit covered for about 5 minutes. Serve and enjoy!

Rustic Spinach + Feta Tart

October 8, 2010 § 7 Comments

Now that I’ve plowed through the “tarts are hard” barrier, I can’t help myself. I make them all the time!! The rustics are incredibly easy, and very similar to the experience of making a pizza. It simply requires making the dough, spreading the ingredients on the surface, and folding up the sides. I can’t even honestly call this an oversimplification.

On this particular occassion, I tried a slightly different recipe for the shell than the one used in my earlier plum tart. Although I used less butter in this recipe, the crust was much more delicate and flakier. This may be because I assembled my tart at room temperature and baked it for less than the prescribed 50-ish minutes. I refrigerated the dough overnight and cut it in half to make a full two-course meal (1st course: Spinach Feta Tart; 2nd course: Walnut Peach Tart, for recipe see my Rustic Walnut Plum Tart and simply switch out the plums for two peaches). Operating this way, by relegating prep time to the night before, resulted in a seamless 1hr cook/bake time, that left me just enough time to bake, eat and make it out the door for the evening 😉

Rustic Spinach Feta Tart
(makes about 3 main course servings)

Tart shell:
(this will make enough dough for two medium sized tarts)
1 + 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 + 1/2 sticks butter
1/2 tsp salt
3-6 tsps ice water

Filling:
2 cups frozen spinach, thawed
3 cloves minced garlic
1/2 white onion, finely chopped
anywhere from 0 – 1/8 tsp red pepper flakes, depending on your tolerance for heat
salt and pepper to taste
6 tsps feta cheese
4 tsps cream cheese
1 small tomato, sliced for topping
oil for cooking
a few small chilled butter squares for topping during the baking process

In a heated and lightly oiled frying pan, add the minced garlic and onion. Cook on medium heat until the onions are translucent. Add the spinach, and season with the red pepper flakes and cracked black pepper. Add a pinch of salt, but not too much as the feta cheese is very salty. Cook for about 5-7 minutes. Once finished, let the mixture sit aside until reaching room temperature. 

The spinach filling spread over the surface of the dough, leaving an approx. 1 + 1/2 inch border

In a separate bowl, mix the feta and cream cheese. Season with cracked black pepper.

This is what the tart should look like just before baking. Notice how the sides are folded over the filling (although, this is the peach tart I cooked on the same day, same principles of constructon apply)

To assemble: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. On a floured surface, roll out half of the dough in a circle that is between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick all around. It needs to be just thick enough to handle without falling apart. The trick I like to use here is to roll out my dough on a large wooden cutting board with a piece of wax paper between my rolling pin and my dough. Both the wax paper and cutting board sides should be floured. When you are ready to transfer to a baking sheet, simply turn over the full contraption with wax paper side facing the baking sheet and then lift off the cutting board. Once this is done spread the spinach on the surface of the rolled dough, leaving about a 1 + 1/2 inch border clear for folding (see picture). Add the cheese layer over the spinach layer, and finally top with sliced tomato in a concentric pattern. Fold the sides over the center. Top with chilled butter squares and bake on 425 degrees for about 35 minutes or until the tart is golden brown and you see that the cheese has melted.

Pan seared tofu fillet on a bed of ginger carrot salad (Vegan)

September 28, 2010 § 6 Comments

pan seared fillet of tofu served over ginger carrot salad

I used to find Iron Chef difficult to watch because of the cutting of the fish heads and sometimes live animals being slaughtered. My interest piqued when the show’s producers decided to present a special vegetarian episode. There was also a spinach episode way back with Cat Cora (maybe?) that featured spinach mac & cheese. What’s not to love about that??!! So, Chef Michael Symon now does a show on the Cooking Channel that breaks down three courses from an Iron Chef episode. Again, if you’re sensitive to seeing dead animals, this program is not for you. But if you can kind of put that aside, he relays inspiration and creativity through breaking down the amazing out-of-the-box Iron Chef dishes in steps.

...for sure the 2nd best thing I've ever made, taste wise

It’s one of these episodes that served as the inspiration for this dish. He performed the operation on a fish (tearsob, Cat??!) but the whole time it just looked like a little white piece of silken tofu. And all I could think was, how am I going to recreate this dish in my own kitchen (minus the fish of course). I also recommend shows like these (there are also instructive videos on Bravotv.com that break down the winning dishes from Top Chef…love chef Voltaggio’s video on Kevin’s unique version of the Singapore Sling which won him Top Chef!!!) for presentation, which is parallel to outlining. When you have an approximate for presentation of your main ingredient, the rest is fill in the blank, e.g. hmm, I need a base of unruly vegetables, etc.. 

For the base (can’t remember what Symon used), I decided to make a carrot salad. I just had carrots lying around and have been wanting to make a carrot salad for a while. I decided to go Asian, just in staying true to the tofu. So, the carrot salad is infused with hot chili sesame oil, ginger and garlic. 

Ginger Carrot Salad
Measurements are approximate, the quantities here will make about 2 plates (as shown above) 

1+1/2 shredded carrots
1 tsp grated ginger
1 clove of grated garlic
1 stem of green onion finely chopped
1 tbsp of sunflower seeds
3 tbsps of hot chili sesame oil (if you find you need a bit more oil, fill in with sesame oil or extra virgin olive oil)
salt and pepper to taste
juice from half a lime 
 
Mix. Cover with a plastic wrap and refrigerate. You will love this. The aroma will hit you in the face and you’ll have a hard time not eating it all on the spot. The longer you let this marinated mixture sit, the stronger the flavor will be. 

Pan seared tofu fillet in ‘butter’ lime sauce
1 pkg silken tofu
tempura mix
corn starch
all purpose flour
oil for the pan
salt and pepper 

2 tbsp earth balance
grated lime peel (the shavings from one lime is enough)
salt and pepper 

This process may be a bit difficult to translate. I started by cutting the tofu into fillet-like pieces (see picture). Then, thoroughly dried each piece in a paper towel. I created a mixture (unknown quantities, just a little of this and that) of corn starch (probably a tbsp), flour (probably two tbsps) and tempura flour (equal parts as flour). I coated each of the tofu pieces in the dry mixture (see picture), then put them into an oiled frying pan on medium heat (the pan should already be warm), adding salt and pepper to taste to each side. Once both sides were cooked w. a golden brown finish, I set them on a cooling rack and added the butter and lime peel to the pan to create a sauce. When serving I spooned this sauce over the tofu fillet, which I served over couscous (see below). Hope you enjoy. This was definitely one of my best so far. Bar is raised now!! 

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