Monday, August 31, 2009

Experimentation Sunday: Freezing Tofu

Okay, this is why I love the Internet. You can find anything. I've been looking for information on how to cook tofu and came up with nothing on my favorite food websites (Allrecipes and FoodTV). Instead, I find a three-year-old blog post. I've read about freezing tofu but never could really figure out how to do it best. After her tutorial, I've found it to be a piece of cake.

Why freeze tofu? As I've learned first-hand in my attempt at Senegalese Tofu, it doesn't get firm just from cooking it. Freezing firm tofu changes the texture and makes it toothier, chewier, and better at soaking up flavors, a far cry from the squishy cheese texture you find in the tub.

First, you have to drain the tofu. Some people say to press it first, and I guess that would help, but you could also press it after. This is what I've done, and I'm inclined to say it doesn't matter when you do it as long as you do it.

If you want to divide it into serving portions, do so now.

Freeze in a baggy overnight, or as long as you desire. This is the time-consuming part; you have to plan ahead to freeze and thaw the tofu before you use it. I think I'm going to try to keep some on hand now that I know how tasty and easy this is.

Don't worry that the tofu turns yellow in the freezer. It'll change back as it thaws.

I thawed mine by leaving on the counter. You can also leave it in the fridge or place the block in hot water. Reviews are mixed on thawing it in the microwave; I've not tried that (yet). The thawing tofu will be watery if you didn't press it prior to freezing, but you can just pour the water out of the bag or press it between towels after it's thawed.

I'll be sharing the results of our frozen tofu dish shortly. I was very, very pleased.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Thai Coconut Soup

I was looking for a good coconut soup recipe and found this one, but I think it's always hardest the first time you try a recipe. The soup was tasty, but I really wish I'd added more carrots and mushrooms. I also had to double check whether the recipe says to cook this in a large stockpot, because that was just overkill.

I'm always torn about whether I should record my failed dishes, whether I should write about what I eat at restaurants, whether I should write about the things that everyone (probably) knows about. In the end, and maybe there should be some sort of mission statement to come from this, I decide to write about these anyway. This dish is far from a failure; in fact, it was so promising that I'm eager to try it again, with improvements. I may also, though, look for a coconut curry soup recipe. The good news, though, is that it's really easy, and the most challenging part was finding new ingredients. I suspect my supermarket lemongrass was not fresh, but I wasn't sure what to look for. I also have to figure out how to store the leftover ginger.

1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic
1/2 onion, sliced thin
1 carrot, sliced thin
1 cup sliced shiitake mushrooms
1 jalepeno pepper
1-1/2 cups vegetable broth
12 oz coconut milk (my can came in 14 oz, so I just used it all)
5-6 thin slices of fresh ginger
5-6 1-inch slices of lemongrass
Juice of 1 lime
1 package tofu, frozen and thawed, then cubed
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped

First, heat the oil in the pot and add the onion, garlic, carrots, and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook for an additional minute.

Add the rest of the ingredients (except cilantro) and cook over low heat for 15 minutes.

As for the ginger? You can wrap it in a towel and put it in a bag in the fridge, or else freeze it. Refrigerated ginger should keep 3 weeks, according to my search results.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Portobello and Black Bean Enchiladas

I love enchiladas. I love the texture the tortilla takes on when it's baked in sauce. I don't love eating a slab of cheese as my entree.

Doesn't that look good? Sure, it fell apart. Doesn't change the taste!

I found this recipe for enchiladas with vegetarian filling, with the bonus that they'll be just as tasty with no cheese added. I do put a little bit of shredded cheese in each enchilada and sprinkle some on top, but that's it. That's all it needs.

First, you'll want to chop all your veggies.

- 3 large portobellos, sliced
- 1/2 onion, diced
- Green or red bell pepper (I used a mix because I had the peppers already on hand)
- 1 large can black beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 small can green chiles

Cook the mushrooms for a few minutes in a little bit of oil, then add the remaining veggies and beans. Cook until tender. Add the green chiles last.

The remaining ingredients:
- 1 large can enchilada sauce
- Shredded Monterrey Jack cheese
- 6 flour tortillas

The recipe says to use cooking spray on the baking dish, and that would really help. My enchiladas fell apart when I tried to serve them.

Pour some enchilada sauce on the bottom of the dish. One at a time, dip both sides of the tortilla in a plate of enchilada sauce, add the veggie filling, cheese if desired, and then roll. I have luck pressing one enchilada against the side of the dish, then stacking the rest. Pour the remaining sauce over the top of the enchiladas.

Cover with foil and bake at 350F for 45 minutes. The foil helps keep in some steam to cook the enchiladas. Remove foil, top with cheese, and let sit in hot oven while cheese melts.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Glossary: Cincinnati Portion of Cheese

I've been toying with the idea of including definitions, mostly just to include any potential readers in terms that have become common between me and my eating partner. I think this is a more likely occurrence than my actually defining food products or cooking terms, and probably more entertaining as well. Although I'd like to tell you precisely what seitan is, you'll easily find a definition if you want one, and I'm no cooking expert to teach actual technique.

So we begin with a term I've already used a couple of times in the blog: the Cincinnati portion of cheese, plus the cheese layer and the cheese inspector.


Upon our arrival to the 'Nati, we embarked upon intense restaurant exploration. No, we never ate at Skyline, the chili restaurant whose signature dish is pictured above, but if you'd like to read about what it's like, take this outsider's view. Skyline even had an ad campaign telling people they can get 50% more cheese for free, just for asking for it.

We have run into our share of restaurant dishes that replace meat with cheese, and we've affectionately termed this the Cincinnati portion of cheese. We first encountered what we call the cheese layer at a Mexican restaurant that seemed to have melted an excessive of cheese beneath each of our entrees. Although we do include cheese in the meals we make at home, we don't use nearly that much. We make jokes about what would happen if the cheese inspector came to our house and didn't find enough cheese.

I'm going to round this out with a couple of photos of a recent night out to Covington's Keystone Bar (holla, Pennsylvania!). I'd wanted to go there for macaroni and cheese, and I was experiencing a severe cheese craving. Although my craving could well be satiated at any number of local eatieries, I tried the mac & cheese as well as the spinach and artichoke dip at Keystone. The dip was great; the macaroni was mediocre. There were jalapeno flecks throughout, which did not jive with my tomato and mozzarella topping. I was enthralled by the promise of macaroni and cheese with your choice of toppings, but mine was just weird. Alas, behold the cheese:

Another salad: Napa & Ramen

I've had a few variations of the napa cabbage and ramen noodles salad in my life, most recently as one of the sides at Salt of the Earth. I looked up some recipes online and of course made some adjustments. One that I found had you melt butter and toast the ramen in butter, but there was just too much butter, so here's my version, with a few variations. I took a few notes from this recipe, especially reducing the amount of oil and total amount of dressing. Maybe my head of cabbage was just too small; I didn't need all the dressing I made.

1 head napa cabbage, shredded
6 green onions, chopped

2 Tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
1 package (3 oz) ramen noodles, broken into pieces
2 Tablespoons sesame seeds
1/4 cup slivered almonds or cocktail peanuts

1/4 cup vinegar (I used regular white vinegar; other recipes call for rice or cider)
1/2 cup oil
1/3 cup white sugar
2 Tablespoons soy sauce

Combine the shredded cabbage and the green onions.

Melt the butter in a skillet and add the ramen, sesame seeds, and nuts. Toast lightly until the nuts are fragrant. Cool. In my photo I used the oven as one recipe instructed, but I'd go the skillet route next time. I think that gives the same effect with more control and less energy.

Mix all the dressing ingredients.

Combine the crunchy ingredients with the greens and dressing just prior to serving. I put leftovers in three separate containers in the refrigerator to combine and eat later and it was just perfect. Yum!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Don't vegetarians just eat salad?

Of course! Just as often as the next person. For me, making a salad is a good way to clean out the fridge.

Tonight we ate salads with leftover fresh veggies from the fridge in anticipation of going to The Pub to play trivia, have some beers, and possibly eat some fries. Turns out we got a half order of fried pickles instead, but that's okay.

We've been eating sandwiches recently with the plenitude of fresh veggies available, especially ripe homegrown tomatoes. Throw in some peppers, cucumbers, and sprouts and you're good to go! This is an at-home variety of the Subway sandwich, also known as the road-tripping vegetarian's fallback. It's a tasty sandwich, but certainly a last resort unless you're dying to take your chances on the pre-sliced veggies waiting for you in the salad bar fridge.

Anyway, after a few sandwiches, you'll find yourself with lots of veggies left over. Toss in some beans or croutons (or tortilla chips!) and if you're feeling adventurous, BacO's are vegetarian. Ick.

Yes, iceberg lettuce. Red onions and green bell peppers. Alfafa sprouts and diced cucumbers.

For me: canned black olives, tomatoes, and a sprinkle of cheese.

Beats the wimpy garden salad by a mile!

Oh wait -- that's already vegetarian! Part 2

Yesterday I shared my veggie lasagna, which is a very easy recipe and yet still one I've perfected through trial and error.

Here's another recipe that can be adapted for your personal taste Pot Pie! It's popular at our house. I always imagine Pot Pie! ending with an exclamation.

You'll need: 2 cans condensed soup, like cream of mushroom; fresh veggies: 3-4 small red potatoes, 1 carrot, 1/2 onion, 2-3 stalks celery, 15 mushrooms; frozen veggies: peas, corn, lima beans, green beans - whatever you like and whatever you have. Top with crescent rolls or biscuit dough.

I think the fresh veggies really make this meal for me, but again this is the labor intensive part with the peeling, chopping, dicing, and slicing. I start by peeling and dicing the potatoes, then cooking them in a skillet with a small amount of margarine. I usually cover them and cook them for about 10 minutes to give them a good head start and reduce the oven time. After 10 minutes, I add the chopped onion, carrot, and celery and cook for another 5 minutes. Finally, I add the sliced mushrooms and cook for another 2-3 minutes.

In your casserole dish, empty the soup cans. I used Campbell's low fat cream of mushroom. I add a little salt and pepper, but be careful not to over-salt as the soup is salty already. Add the fresh veggies from the skillet and be sure to include any liquid as well to help thin out the soup. Finally, mix in the frozen veggies and use as little or as much as you like.

Bake at 350F for about 30 minutes. This is usually enough time if the potatoes are already cooked on the stovetop.

Remove the casserole and turn up the oven to the temperature on your directions for your topper. Normally I use crescent rolls, but this time I used biscuits made from an SM pouch mix. Yummy!!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Oh wait -- that's already vegetarian! Part 1

This weekend, we enjoyed some unnaturally cool weather. Eerily cool. So what's a girl to do? Well, I actually went to brunch at Melt again and tried a new dish (too bad I didn't bring my camera! I had the Hashville Plate, with tempeh hash and okra garnish!)

Correct answer: Turn on the oven!

We made two dishes that are normally reserved for wintertime when the hour-long bake doesn't turn the house into a furnace. Up first? Lasagna!

Mmm... doesn't that look tasty? This dish is so quick and easy to make that it feels almost silly to write out directions, but I'll tell you how I make mine.

I make lasagna quick and easy by using jarred sauce and no-bake noodles. I do cook the veggies on the stove and drain any excess liquid. I'll toss in whatever sounds good: eggplant, spinach, mushrooms, carrots, squash, you name it.

First: heat 2 cloves garlic in a teeny bit of olive oil. Add a bag of baby spinach and cook until wilted. Salt lightly and place in strainer; press out liquid.

Second: cook other veggies. Tonight I used eggplant, sliced lengthwise, and mushrooms. This is key: strain the veggies! If you don't, your lasagna will be watery.

Third: beat 1 egg in ricotta cheese. I also add salt, pepper, and dried oregano.

Now it's time to build a lasagna! I use a loaf pan. Start with a generous amount of sauce in the bottom, then layer a piece of pasta, the veggies, some of the ricotta mix, and mozzarella, then start over! I get 2 layers into my loaf pan, so it's easy to measure out using half the veggies at a time.

Bake at 375F for 50-60 minutes, or according to your package directions.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Salt of the Earth

Over the weekend we stopped for lunch at one of those places that isn't quite like anything else, Salt of the Earth, on Red Bank Road in Cincinnati. They don't have a website that I could find, and in searching saw a review on Yelp that mentioned that the vibe was a little "off". I can't decide whether I agree. Generally the staff is helpful and friendly, but the first time I was there I remember waiting around for help and not being sure what to do. It's part deli with cold food to go, part grocery with gourmet foods to take home if you cook, and has a small menu of sandwiches and salads. The wooden tables, ceiling fans, plants, and pantry/ wine selection make for a nice atmosphere, though, and it's certainly a nice surprise in contrast to the office park surroundings.

I almost always order the veggie sandwich. It's delicious, if not healthy, and comes with a choice of side. My husband generally gets the bleu slaw, a coleslaw with bleu cheese, but I find it too reliant on the mayonnaise. I usually opt for whatever looks good in the deli case, sometimes a bean salad, couscous, or even fruit.

Served on a plastic plate, you've got fried eggplant, roasted red pepper, fresh spinach, a Cincinnati-large portion of tangy goat cheese, and balsamic vinaigrette sandwiched between sweet bellagio bread. This is a super sandwich.

Salt of the Earth on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Black Beans & Rice

When I was a kid we used to eat red beans and rice with some sort of red sausage in it. Surprisingly, this recipe does not have fake meat in it, although now I think I might need to try some red beans and rice with soyrizo. Hmm...

Instead, I have some really good seasoned Cuban black beans from a recipe my aunt passed along via Food & Wine Magazine, and I add in all sorts of good veggies and some cheese. The recipe starts with dry black beans, bell pepper, onion, garlic, salt, oregano, and bay leaf, and finishes with red wine vinegar and white wine. These beans were very, very tasty. If you're in a hurry (don't be!) you can use canned black beans, rinsed and drained. This was what I always used prior to my recipe enlightenment.

Besides the beans, the part of this dish that is most time consuming is the
rice itself. I rinse my rice, then boil for 12 minutes, then let sit covered for 30 minutes.

For veggies I usually use a green bell pepper, onion, mushrooms, and frozen corn. This time I used a red bell pepper because it was on sale. The mushrooms and corn are my favorite part of this dish. I saute the veggies until the desired doneness -- I don't like mushy or overcooked bell pepper -- and then mix everything together along with some shredded white cheese. Yum!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


What's that stand for?

Fake Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato

Yet another attempt to turn meat-eater items into a yummy veggie lunch. The sandwich was really, really good. We picked up some perfect homegrown tomatoes at Findlay Market and sliced them thick, letting some of the juice run off and capture the rest with a generous salting. I put on mayonnaise, iceberg lettuce, and a few slices of Morningstar Farms veggie bacon. All between two pieces of soft white bread.

Honestly, I couldn't taste the bacon and wouldn't have missed it. We did this because we bought a package out of curiosity and had a bunch left over. The sandwich was good because I was digging those old school pleasures -- the white bread, iceburg, and mayo. The tomato was the star.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Meatless loaf

I've already written about my view of meat substitutes. They're helpful in bridging the veggie/ non-veggie gap. So why would I make an entree out of this stuff? It's pretty good.

I was looking for a new recipe a while back and stumbled across this on Allrecipes. Since that first time I made it, we've made a few modifications. I should also add that this stuff is really good as leftovers. Maybe the next modification will be preparing it ahead of time.

This really turned into a meat and potatoes meal, again, although I did use fresh green beans. With a little oil, some salt, and some vegetable broth powder they were quite tasty!

Meatless Loaf

1 package Lightlife ground beef style

1 package Morningstar crumbles

1 onion
, diced
2 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons vegetarian Worcestershire, if you have it

Bread crumbs, or Ritz crackers

Ketchup, mustard, and brown sugar

Mix these ingredients together with your hands. I recommend leaving everything out on the counter for a while so you don't freeze your fingers with the frozen crumbles and cold ground stuff. I don't have measurements for the ketchup or crackers, I just like to make sure that everything binds together pretty well.

Press into a loaf pan and top with a sauce made from ketchup, mustard, and brown sugar. Microwave this to melt the sugar and pour on top. I usually use about 1/2 cup ketchup, 1/4 cup brown sugar, and a generous squirt of mustard, probably just over one tablespoon.

Bake at 350F for 45-60 minutes. I usually turn off the oven after 45 minutes and let it sit in the hot oven for the last 15 minutes.

You can probably see all the onions in my photo. We both like onions, plus it breaks up the veggie product, but you can certainly use less. The original recipe calls for 1/2 of the Lightlife ground, but I started using the whole thing because the other half was always going to waste. It's pretty tasty. I also omit the milk the original calls for and instead squirt in enough ketchup to moisten everything. The orignal recipe also calls for seasoning with salt, pepper, and sage, which I never do. I find the veggie products salty already and I just don't have sage. I know it's traditional for meatloaf, but --surprise!-- I never enjoyed meatloaf.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Summer Corn Soup

I found this recipe on a "healthy cooking" calendar at work. We've been eating a good bit of fresh corn this summer and I was excited to try this recipe. Once I got the corn off the cobs, it was pretty easy, and we both really liked it. I think I'd do it again!

1 sweet onion, finely diced
10 ears of corn, kernels removed
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 cups vegetable broth
1-2 teaspoons cumin

Saute the onion in the oil for a few minutes to get it started cooking. Add all the corn and saute for another 5 minutes. Add the broth and cumin and simmer for 15 minutes.

There are two places where the way I cooked this varied from the recipe. First, the recipe called for chipotle added with the broth. I think that might have been good; I just didn't have any. Second, the recipe says to put the soup in the blender and strain before serving. I put about half in the blender and left the rest un-pureed. I liked having some whole corn kernels in the soup. With this method, I do recommend dicing the onions finely.

The soup was really sweet and of course had a strong corn flavor. It was just interesting enough to not be too corny.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Success at last! Crostini and toppings

Part of tonight's dinner includes two recipes I found online. First, I wanted to use some fresh tomatoes to make my own bruschetta. I found this recipe and followed it practically verbatim except I let the tomatoes cool after the parboil. Second, I made a spinach and bean dip I saw on Everyday Italian. It was good, and my husband loved it, but it wasn't as great as I was expecting it to be.

I served both toppings on crostini, which I made in a very simple way. I cut a baguette into 1/2-inch slices, dipped one side into olive oil, places the slices oil side down on a tray, and baked at 450F for 5 minutes and turned off the oven.

Fresh tomato and basil bruschetta:

Ingredients: about a pound of plum or Roma tomatoes; 2-3 cloves garlic; handful of fresh basil leaves; 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil; 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar; salt

I used four large Kentucky plum tomatoes I found at the grocery store and was really pleased with how it tasted. This was also the first time I'd used a lot of the basil I've been growing in a pot in the back yard.

1. Bring a pot of water to boil, then turn it off. Put in the tomatoes and leave t
hem for one minute. Drain. Peel the tomatoes, remove the watery pulp, and dice them finely. This was really easy to do, even removing the skins, after the parboil. 2. Mince the garlic cloves and chop the basil and add to the diced tomato. Salt the tomatoes generously. You can add some pepper too if you like. 3. Add the vinegar and oil and mix everything together. Serve with crostini.

I'm not going to recreate the spinach dip recipe here because I included the link to the recipe. I think the dip was better when it was still warm, and afterward just tasted a little weird. I was really expecting to like it because I love cannellini beans and I usually can't find too many uses for them. Maybe it's just that I'm not used to eating spinach at room temperature unless it's in a creamy spinach dip. I did like pulling out the food processor to make it! In its defense, it was on the "healthy" show, and it was super easy to make. I would consider making it for a group, so if you're ever invited over -- watch out!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Bar food: Allyn's veggie burger

Yes, another eating out post. It's been a rough week, so I was craving some beer and fries. Allyn's Cafe serves sandwiches, "Next-Mex", a variety of meats, and salads. They also have an extensive wine and beer list and even have a wine shop for taking bottles home.

In some future visit, I'll want to try their tofu fajita wrap, and in the past I've gotten the portobello sandwich and been pleased. This visit, however, was all about the veggie burger. We both enjoy a good veggie patty, and Allyn's is good. I do appreciate a token veggie burger on a bar menu, but it's better when it's not the same frozen patty I can get at the grocery store. After
my first attempt at homemade patties in my pre-blogging days, I have an even greater appreciation for the homemade patty!

Black beans, carrots, seasoned breading, onions, spices, grilled in a patty form
with choice of fixings, chips or fries.

This is a really tasty burger. The black beans are whole and the seasoned breading seems to have a cornmeal base, so it's almost like a big hushpuppy that's not fried. I know my photo looks cheese-heavy, but it's no Cincinnati portion of cheese -- just a single slice of provolone melted over top. I tried to take a photo of the burger partway through eating it, but it didn't turn out.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Comfort food: Tacos!

This recipe for replacement taco filler includes fake meat. I use Morningstar Crumbles.

I have two reasons for writing about fake meat. First, my eating partner really digs it. He calls himself a flavor man, or a sauce man, and will tolerate a variety of carriers for his flavor. I hardly ever ventured beyond an occasional Gardenburger before eati
ng with him. Second, even though I haven't eaten meat in nearly 10 years, I don't consider this diet to be a restrictive. I'll eat whatever I want to eat. It just happens to be the case that when I want something with meat, I change my mind before it comes time to chow down. That doesn't mean that I am happy just leaving out the meat with no replacement.

So today's tip is how I replace ground meat in tacos.

Believe it or not, I still had to experiment and perfect this recipe, and I think I have it down to something we both like.

Cook 1 large onion, chopped, and sliced mushrooms (white or baby bellas) in a small amount of oil. Spinkle store-bought low-sodium taco seasoning over the vegetables; usually the mushrooms have put out enough water that I don't have to add additional water. I use a whole packet for 2 bags of crubmles or a half a packet for one bag of crumbles. Using low-sodium is key; it was always too salty when we used the regular kind.

Once the mix is incorporated, I put the crumbles on top and put a lid on it. They thaw and cook, and I usually just heat them through and then leave covered on the stove for the flavors to soak up. If needed, I'll heat again before serving.

Voila! Replacement taco meat. Great with all the fixings.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

What do I eat when I don't cook?

I have debated whether to post about eating out, and I've decided that it might be fun to share some of my favorite restaurant dishes as they come across my lips. Generally when I cook, I'm using or adapting a recipe from a cookbook, a website, or a cooking show, if I'm not taking the "semi-homemade" route. There are, however, a few times when I've taken a restaurant recipe and tried to recreate it at home. One in particular I'm thinking of is the T.B.M. Melt from Cosi, which I love but can't get locally. There are many other times when the combination of ingredients or the tools or skill involved prohibit me from trying the dish at home.

This morning I went to brunch at Melt, a restaurant that has a focus on vegan food, although they offer a variety of non-vegan food as well (both meat and dairy). The first time we went there was for dinner, but we've been back for sandwiches as well as brunch. This morning I made the mistake of leaving home without checking their hours, only to find that they open at 11 a.m. We walked around Northside Cincinnati for about 15 minutes and then were the second people in the door when Melt opened. After we ordered we witnessed a non-stop line of hungry brunchers.

I got the Rosemary Redskin Mess, which includes redskin potatoes topped with thinly sliced, well-cooked green bell peppers and onions, mushrooms, fresh spinach, tofu scramble, roma tomatoes, and vegan cheez. They are now offering this with eggs and re
al cheese, although I went for the tofu. This also comes with your choice of side -- I got fruit, and it was delicious: melon, grapes, and pineapple.

My husband got the veggie bacon and egg biscuit and it was delicious as well; I tried a few bites and the biscuit was simply incredible.
The fake bacon was good too; much better than what I've been able to buy in the grocery stores. Although I've not been much for fake meat, I'm not one to dismiss it either. After all, it seems to be what keeps us happy!

Friday, August 7, 2009

New recipe: Bean and Ricotta Casserole

The weather has been cool enough this week that I've been willing to turn on the oven and attempt a casserole. This one was pretty good, even if it wasn't pretty. Anything with ricotta in it always catches my eye.

Actually, I eyeballed the measurements and was a little confused by this recipe. I got it from a large veggie cookbook my mom gave me way back, The Passionate Vegetarian. I
left off the breadcrumbs on top. I think there was one ingredient which was never used. I also found it funny that it called for nutmeg "to taste" to be mixed with ricotta and raw egg. I'm not going to taste that! The closest I can come is whether I want a little or a lot, but I have no idea!

It may be because I just finished reading Julia Child's My Life in France, or even just that I'm trying to actually follow a recipe rather than just toss some food together, that I have this new scrutiny. I know I would fail if she were to judge my write-ups by her standards. I also have a real appreciation for TV and demonstration cooks because so far the best recipes I've tried have come from watching or adapting TV chefs.

Three Bean and Ricotta Casserole

1 cup rice, cooked. I follow this recipe for great rice.
3 cups cooked beans. I used the dry Ham Beens mix, soaked them overnight, and cooked them 4 hours in the Crock Pot. Yes, this includes more than three beans, both
in quantity and variety.
1 tub ricotta, mix with:
1 egg
salt, pepper, and nutmeg
1 yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
Mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

Frozen green peas
Oil for skillet

This recipe is a layering of 4 distinct prepared mixes. The photo is the casserole with the first scoop taken out to show the layers. My casserole dish was too small -- I had to leave out some peas and it spilled over a little when the ricotta and egg expanded. I mention below, too, that I'd use less rice next time. You can see I made a mess scooping out, too. Oops!

1. Press the cooked rice into the bottom of a casserole dish.

2. Spread the cooked beans over the rice.

3. Mix the ricotta with the egg, salt, pepper, and nutmeg, "to taste". Spread this over the beans.

4. Heat the oil in a skillet and cook the onions, garlic, and mushrooms. Rinse the frozen peas in hot water to thaw, then pat dry. Add to the mix in the skillet and spread across the ricotta.

5. Cover tightly and bake at 350F for 40 minutes.

I'm glad I gave this recipe a try and I may try it again. Personally I don't think the rice was necessary, at least in the quantity I included, and the casserole as a whole was much better when I mixed it together on my plate, but I can see that it would need to be baked in layers. I really liked the peas, mushrooms, onions, and garlic. Maybe I could make that to go with mashed potatoes sometime. Yum!

A different kind of experimentation: Green Cooking

The other night I made a typical dish for us and something I do pretty frequently: pasta and veggies. The experimental part of this was something I heard on the radio over the weekend and was almost afraid to try because I was sure it would not work. Well, I was wrong.

I heard
Kate Heyhoe on The Splendid Table discussing cooking green, basically discussing how you can reduce the amount of energy you use when you cook. Well, she suggested a way of cooking pasta that reduces the amount of time your burner is on by half or more and I wanted to give it a try. I was almost convinced that the pasta would turn out gummy, mushy, or all stuck together even if it was cooked. Surprisingly, that was not the case.

Bring the water to boil and add pasta and salt as usual. Then boil uncovered for two minutes, the cover and turn off the burner. Let rest in the hot water for the remainder of the cooking time according to package directions. Drain and serve as usual.

I can't believe it worked!

We ate this with a mix of veggies and a little sauce from a jar. I cook whatever I want in one pan and it usually works out pretty well. I used onion, mushrooms, zucchini, red bell pepper, and broccoli. Once everything is cleaned and cut, I just cook it for about 5 minutes with a little olive oil and margarine mixed together and salt lightly. As long as I get the mushrooms and onion on the bottom of the pan, they cook through and I like the other veggies to be firm. Yum!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Cooking for a group

Once a month, I help to serve dinner at the Ronald McDonald House. It's always a challenge for me to prepare a large quantity of food that the families staying in the house will appreciate without resorting to serving things that I would not buy, cook, or eat. Not only must I worry about the appeal of the dish, but I seem to have trouble with proportions in doubling or tripling recipes as well as having the equipment to carry out the feat of cooking.

Tonight, the meal is "breakfast for dinner" and I'm making a frittata recipe that I have for dinner myself sometimes. These simple ingredients come together quite nicely and this is my favorite frittata recipe of any that I've tried.

This is, in a way, another kind of cheaters food. I say that mostly because I use frozen spinach.

Spinach Frittata
12 eggs

1 package frozen spinach, thawed and drained

Mushrooms, cleaned and quartered

Cherry tomatoes, halved


Shredded Swiss cheese

When all the ingredients are prepared, saute the mushrooms for a few minutes for them to be tender. I then place them in a greased dish. Place the tomato halves on top. Sometimes I also like to use red bell pepper in place of the tomatoes. I don't
cook the bell pepper or the tomato.

Place all the eggs in a large bowl and break the yolks, mixing gently. Then add the spinach, using a fork to incorporate it with the eggs. Add the Swiss and some salt to taste -- maybe a teaspoon.

Pour the egg mixture over the mushrooms, which by now should have cooled so as not to cook the eggs on contact. Mix gently over the mushrooms and tomatoes and bake at 400F for about 30 minutes or until set. I originally wasn't sure of the timing for such a large batch, and it took longer than I expected but I made it out of the house in time.

Typically I'll adjust the recipe and use 6 or 8 eggs and eyeball the veggies. The frittata is just as good when it's reheated later.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Experimentation Sunday

I try to use a day off of work, or even any weekend day, to try a new recipe or try something a little bit more involved than the easy suppers I toss together after work.

This weekend I pulled out a cookbook my aunt gave me, The Ethnic Vegetarian, and decided to try an African-inspired supper. I made Senegalese tofu, North African orange salad, and Moroccan zucchini pancakes. I'm not sure if I didn't follow the recipes precisely or what the problem was, but the tofu was tasty even if it didn't turn out as it should have. The zucchini pancakes, on the other hand, were a flop I will not describe here. It's possible that I would have done better to shred or grate the zucchini rather than putting them in the food processor as the recipe instructed. I also used the 3 eggs the recipe called for and the pancakes (okay, mush) tasted eggy - ick!

On with the recipes worth reporting on! First, I made the dressing for the orange salad so that I could refrigerate it:

1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup olive or salad oil

Serve over salad greens (I used Romaine), red onion slices, and orange wedges.

Next, I made the marinade for the tofu. I don't think I've ever put such strange ingredients together.

Senegalese Tofu

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup peanut butter (the recipe calls for chunky, but I used what I had = smooth)
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 sweet onion, chopped
1 serrano chile pepper (the recipe says minced, but I left it in large chunks to flavor the marinade and then removed them)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 springs fresh thyme, finely chopped (again, I used dried herbs here)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 pound firm silken tofu, cut into 1/2-inch slices

Mix all the ingredients together and pour over tofu slices. My marinade was very chunky and didn't cover the tofu; furthermore, stirring the mix broke the tofu into pieces. So I simply placed a spoonful of the marinade over each slice. This says to marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes. I happened to leave it out longer, in hopes that the marinade would spread. I removed the serrano before broiling the tofu.

Broil the tofu for 3-5 minutes or until lightly browned. Well, the peanut butter was already brown, so I just timed it and the turned it over, broiled on the other side for 3 minutes, and that was that. The tofu was flavorful, if still soft, and we both agreed the recipe is one to try again with a few modifications. My husband suggested including nuts, which actually would have been present if I used the chunky peanut butter, and I would chop the onion into much smaller pieces.

And this, my friends, is what you get from Experimentation Sunday.