Saturday, October 31, 2009

Butternut Squash Soup

This was a very time-consuming recipe, and unfortunately I'm not so sure it was worth it. Again, maybe I didn't follow it exactly (I left out some of the optional ingredients, particularly marscapone and half and half). My biggest failure was just not reading the whole recipe. If I had read it closely, I would have seen that you are supposed to toast the coriander seeds and then grind them. I just added them to the roast and wound up with broken coriander shells in the soup -- serious disappointment -- but I ran it through a strainer. It's okay now.

Thursday night I roasted the squash in the oven. I got a huge butternut squash and wrestled off the rind, scooped the seeds, and cubed it. I melted butter and seasoned it with molasses, sugar, and balsamic vinegar. I seasoned it with red and black pepper, coriander seeds, sage, cinnamon, and salt. I let this all roast for an hour and it was smelling good and looking promising.

I let it cool slightly, ran it through the food processor, and popped the batch in the fridge for later. I actually have enough of this puree to make a second batch of the soup, so I have half of it in the freezer now, coriander pellets and all.

Yesterday, which turned out to be the warmest day of the month, I made the rest of the soup with celery, onion, and carrot; a cinnamon stick; and broth. This part of cooking it went pretty quickly and finished with a quick run through the blender.

The recipe I found says to add half and half or marscapone, but I left mine without the dairy (although I did use real butter in the roasting). This was pretty good, but it didn't wow me after all the effort I put into it. I think I'll look for another recipe to try if I want to make this kind of soup again. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Homemade pizza!

When Alex and I first met, we made pizza pretty frequently. Actually, I think our second or third date was making pizza in my apartment. We actually got better and better at homemade pizza as we learned what ingredients made it too wet, how much sauce to use, and so forth. But, sadly, we haven't made pizzas at home since we moved to Cincinnati. At all.

There are two reasons for this: first, we've got more good pizzas than we need here. There's Dewey's, Mio's, and sometimes we get the delicious thin-crust Tuscan six-cheese from Papa John's. We've also been eating frozen pizza from time to time, too. Second, back in Philly I would buy really good pizza crusts from a nearby Italian market. I might be able to search for a good pizza crust here, but so far haven't had any luck.

So tonight, I decided to try making my own dough. My first project was to find a dough recipe that didn't tell me how to use my mixer and dough whip attachment. Don't have that. So I used this recipe from Mario Batali and did it all by hand. It wasn't too difficult at all. I substituted 2 cups of whole-wheat flour and used 1 cup of all-purpose, and I was a little worried after I let it rise, but it rolled out nicely. I couldn't have been happier, especially since I don't have a rolling pin and used a drinking glass instead! I also used half as much yeast as the recipe called for, only because I bought yeast at the store and didn't pay attention ahead of time to how much it required. I used all I bought.

I split the dough in half and made two pizzas. One had pesto, red and green bell peppers, thinly sliced cremini mushrooms, and red onions. The other had tomato sauce (from a jar), shredded Italian blend cheese, mushrooms, and fake pepperoni. Both were really, really, really good. The pizza crusts were great, especially the one I rolled out most thinly. I used some pinot noir I already had open and honey, and it was slightly sweet and really complemented the wheat. Yum, yum, yum. This was time-consuming, but not too difficult and really worth it.

Vegan pesto and pepper pizza

Cheese and fake pepperoni pizza

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Homemade seitan - take two

I have had the second half of my first batch of homemade seitan sitting in my freezer ever since I first made it. Although my first attempt at cooking it was pretty good, it wasn't quite like store-bought seitan. In any event, I'll be testing a new recipe soon because I don't see a reason to make the same one again if it was only pretty good. I'm striving for perfection here.

The biggest difference between the packaged stuff and my own is the texture. This time I sliced the seitan pieces into strips, coated them in barbecue sauce, and baked in the oven. Turned out great -- as you can see, we'll have enough of this for another meal!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Restaurant: Mango's in Houston

I knew I'd only have one night to go out to eat while I was in Houston and I wanted to take this opportunity to try something new. Little did I know that I'd enjoy the incredible mushroom ravioli at Macaroni Grill or the best vegetarian option at a wedding I'd ever had (besides other all-veg weddings) -- a really good vegetable napoleon dish.

I searched the web for vegetarian restaurants and among the many that came up, Mango's caught my eye immediately because of the name. When I looked at their menu, I knew that we had to go there. The boneless buffalo wings enticed me and the variety of sandwiches cemented my insistence on going there.

These buffalo wings are tofu, naturally boneless, of course. They were fried and doused in buffalo sauce that with just the right amount of heat. The pesto dressing was a good accompaniment. They also offer these wings as a sandwich, or with spicy or mild barbecue sauce instead of the buffalo.

Their Thursday night music act was canceled, which was probably a good thing for my visit as I didn't realize that this was more of a music venue than restaurant, at least at night. We ordered at the bar and sat outside on the front porch. Although it was a chilly night, this was a better option than the inside which had only a few tables and smelled of lingering smoke, even though the place was empty (the other patrons were on the back porch).

Alex and I went along with my parents, which afforded us the luxury of trying a second appetizer and sampling four sandwiches.

Curry fries. The curry was great -- toss these crisp fries with the sauce for a real treat.

Grilled eggplant hoagie. The hoagie rolls were very good, and I also liked to the roasted tomatoes topping this sandwich. It came with the same cilantro garlic pesto dressing as the wings and other sandwiches.

I got the white bean garlic burger, which was also really good with a little kick of spice, but I didn't care for the crusty ciabatta and ended up eating the patty with a fork. I got the avocado for a little extra and swapped my fries for a salad with a tasty white wine vinaigrette and pumpkin seeds. Yum!

Alex got the "City Boy" Po Boy, which is a fleshless veggie pulled pork style sandwich served with lettuce, tomato, and onion, with three jalapeno slices across the top. I'm guessing this was setian, and it was really good with a good barbecue sauce, although it was slightly spicy as well (and I didn't even touch the jalapeno).

Besides the cigarette smell (I forget there are places where they still let you smoke indoors!) the only disappointment we had was that they didn't serve Bud Lite. Now, I can understand that not everybody has that beer, but it was printed on the menu. My father was pretty disappointed. He got his Boca burger (not pictured) and a glass of water and did just fine. I got the Saint Arnold's amber beer and really enjoyed it; we went to the brewery "tour" on Saturday and had a pretty good, if crowded, time.

I wish I could find a place like Mango's here. The only all-vegetarian restaurants I've been to have been fancy-schmancy (Horizons), or Indian or Chinese. So this was really, really, neat for me to find this unexpected gem in Texas. Plus, the people who worked there was so nice and patient with us newbies. I want to go back and try the "Viet-Now" tofu sandwich and I want to go back for brunch.

Mango's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Houston, we are eating ... and eating

I'm in Houston for my brother's wedding. I am going to have a post on some super-yummy food I ate at the all-vegetarian restaurant, Mango's, but otherwise I've been having big breakfasts, a portobello wrap at Jason's Deli, and some Greek appetizers at Yia Yia Mary's. Last night at the rehearsal dinner I had the best mushroom ravioli at Macaroni Grill, a chain I've visited before but never had that amazing dish. I highly recommend it.

Funny thing is, I've been eating more than normal, plus it's all really good, but I don't think I'll be telling you much about it at all. It's just not that interesting to share.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Restaurant: Randazzo's, or the best pizza ever

I keep suggesting to Alex that he do a guest post, but I am beginning to think that will never happen. He would write about this perfectly; I don't have the same affection for this pizza the he does, so I can't honestly describe it as enticingly. That said, I can't write off this delicious pizza as something he just has pleasant memories of enjoying. It really is good.

Randazzo's Pizza, 1826 South Street, Philadelphia

I have a vague memory of going to Randazzo's shortly after we met, Alex telling me that this is the best pizza ever and warning me not to burn my mouth on the cheese. At that point, I was probably somewhere in between disgusted at how much pizza he ate and a little nervous about reaching for a third slice. I can't say that we've gone back regularly, but we go back pretty often and it's certainly on his must-visit list when we return to Philly.

The cheese is perfect, the crust is perfect, the sauce is perfect. The cheese pizza is the best. I didn't know what "plain pizza" was until I moved to Philly, but they mean cheese. So we got a large plain and ate more of it that I'm willing to publicize. I also got a slice of veggie, which looked really good, and was probably very good, it just couldn't stand up to the legendary cheese. I don't know that this photo really gets the point across, so I'll leave you with a story that shows how special this pizza is.

Testimony: last October we were in Philly and made plans to meet up with a friend in Jersey to watch the Phillies. We were going to pick up a pizza, and this friend mentioned that there's a place near her house we can call. No... Alex insisted that we bring Randazzo's. Her dad also ate some of the pizza, and 10 months later she was calling me to get information on where to get that pizza because her dad was asking for it. As a relative newbie to Randazzo's, that's certainly my favorite story to tell about the pizza. So, again, try them if you're around!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Resturant: Buckley's in Delaware

I'm a little too busy for cooking this week, so I'll be sharing the meals from Philadelphia from last week. Normally we try to enjoy some of our favorite haunts when we return, but this wasn't really that kind of trip. After a hard day working on Saturday, we were trying to decide where to go for dinner. We considered the convenient byo Thai restaurant in the suburbs we used to like, which attracted us with its parking lot and the chance to compare the candy-sweet Cincinnati Thai food to something else, but I wasn't really feeling Thai food.

I had a craving for a burger and fries or Italian food. We were watching network TV and saw the weather report. (I don't always pay attention to the weather, but they mentioned there was 100% chance of rain, and that really caught my attention. There really was 100% rain, though, so I appreciate their honesty and accuracy.) Back to the point ... Alex saw Kennett Square on the weather map and he put on a funny face, stretching his eyes and looking intently at me, waiting on me to guess what he was thinking. Kennett Square is the mushroom capital of the world, claiming to produce more than half of the world's mushroom crop. It's true that when I get packaged mushrooms, they sometimes say they're from Kennett Square, PA.

Back to my point again: we've been to a restaurant near Kennett Square a few times for a real delicacy for us: mushroom burgers. These aren't like a grilled porotbello sandwich or Boca's mushroom burger. These are patties of chopped mushrooms and that absolutely delicious and well worth the long drive to Centerville, Delaware to Buckley's Tavern.

What I have to tell you next is one of those things that even surprises me -- I did not check to see that mushroom burgers were still on the menu. If we'd had internet access at his mom's house, I would have checked that the downtown bar I wanted to go to still served veggie burgers, or that the Thai place was still BYO, but I didn't even think to check that Buckley's still has mushroom burgers.*

The meal wasn't a total bust. We asked our waiter what happened to the mushroom burgers, and he kindly offered to check with the chef. At this point, I was getting excited, thinking we'd lucked out and would get something that wasn't on the meny. Upon his return, he said he'd only been working there for three months and was unfamiliar with them and the chef said they take six hours to prepare. Whatever. I found a description on the web from an outdated menu:

Wild Mushroom Burger Asiago cheese and roasted garlic vegetarian burger, pesto aioli

I can't believe this wasn't a big enough seller in the Mushroom Capital!

We ordered four appetizers and had a really good time. At least we sat by the fireplace and could keep an eye on the baseball game. First, I got the wild mushroom soup, which was turned out to be chicken even though the waiter knew we were looking for meatless food. I think they guy was a little bothered by us, because after he took our order we never saw him again. Another waiter came the rest of the night.

The other dish that disappointed was the Cheesehead Mac & Cheese. The menu says it's aged cheddar, brie, and Gruyere, topped with breadcrumbs and shallots. Alex polished this off, but I didn't like it after a few bites. It was more oily than cheesy and really just bland.

Now, on to the things we like. My favorite was the wild mushroom flatbread, pictured below. This is a crisp flatbread spread with marscapone and goat cheese, then topped with marinated mushrooms and a balsamic glaze. This was served on top of some arugula and was, I repeat, the highlight of my meal. Well, that and the Yuengling.

We also got the shoestring sweet potatoes, which are thin fries served with a spicy and sweet mustard dip. These were pretty good.

In all, I guess it's just as well that we won't even be tempted to make the hour drive to Delaware to return to Buckley's. I think the next time we get back to town, we'll branch out and try some new places. I'm open to suggestions.

Oddly enough, I ran into the same situation the next day when I checked the date of the bread, eggs, and orange juice out of Alex's mom's fridge, but not the cheese. We ended up eating feta that expired four months ago! Well, I noticed it didn't taste right and gave my plate to him... he ate it all.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Vegetarian Road Trip!

We set out on the 570 mile journey to Philadelphia last Wednesday and had energy and enthusiasm, enjoying a midweek reprieve from work and nice, if chilly, traveling weather. We stopped for lunch when we were less than two hours from home, figuring that we'd have better luck getting a good meal in our bellies in the Columbus suburbs than in rural eastern Ohio.

Find a good meal we did -- we stumbled upon Feta Greek Kuzina in a shopping center in Pickerington, just east of Columbus. We went in looking for a quick lunch, taking a cue from the drive-thru, but inside was a sit-down restaurant. We were in and out in about half an hour, and the food was well worth it. Too bad this place isn't near us so we could return for a longer visit. If we could come back hungrier, we would try an appetizer and linger over dessert.

When we sat down, we were brought a spicy pesto dipping sauce and warm pita triangles. A waitress told us they grow their own herbs for this sauce, and it was little spicier than normal today because they left in some of the pepper seeds. We both really enjoyed it, I'll have to look into a recipe for this and try it next spring when my basil comes back.

There were several vegetarian options, including salads, sandwiches, and pasta dishes. I ordered the falafel salad, which was a large helping of lettuce, bell peppers, tomato, onions, cucumbers, banana peppers, kalmata olives, feta, and parsley, with four falafel patties on top and a creamy garlic house dressing and hummus. This was a lot of food; in fact, I gave one of my falafels to Alex and had plenty to eat with the remaining three. It was printed on the menu, and the waitress warned me, that the olives had pits in them; I guess they must have had some problems with this in the past.

I really liked the falafel. It wasn't greasy, and it was just spicy enough to be flavorful. I'm also a huge fan of all the veggies in the salad. After tasting Alex's sandwich with the dressing already mixed in, I'm thankful mine was served on the side.

Alex got the feta sandwich and rice pilaf, which he really enjoyed. It was basically my salad, minus the olives and falafel, wrapped up in pita. I found it to be a little overdressed, but that might be part of the appeal for Alex. That garlic dressing was very good. He also told me he really liked that the foil is twisted up like a fish tail, mirroring the wacky fish plates we ate from.

Sadly, this was the food highlight of the road travel part of our trip. We didn't eat again until we arrived, and on the way back we were tired and eager to be home, so we stopped at the vegetarian's last resort: Subway. Don't get me wrong, those sandwiches are good and fresh and I expect them to be available every few exits. We stopped at a location inside a truck stop, though, and the guy asked me three times if I was sure I didn't want meat on my footlong. Another person working in the booth came over to see what the "Veggie Delite" is because she'd never heard of it, either. I am not kidding. Alex remarked that this is how Jared got skinny.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

So maybe they were right ...

... about vegetarians just not having enough choices. I've mentioned before that I'm spoiled in surrounding myself with vegetarians and veggie-friendly folks, that I just don't go to places that don't have a good option for me, and -- probably most importantly -- I rarely find myself hungry away from home.

These past two days I've been working from the office in the Philadelphia suburbs. I'm staying at my mother in law's house on an unexpected visit. Thankfully, rather than having to take off from work, I'm able to travel into the office, but of course that presents me with the same challenges that are just a regular part of most people's lives. Waking up two hours before work to shower and commute. Actually getting dressed. Either packing a lunch or dealing with what's in the cafeteria.

Which brings me to my food-related point.

Eating in the office caf doesn't really work for vegetarians. I left for work at 6:45 a.m. (usually I'm still asleep then!), so I was hungry for the early lunch at 11 and there was a good selection out at the salad bar and I could make this more filling. Otherwise I could have gotten cheese pizza or egg salad (ick). I did remember to bring lunch the second day.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

This is how we do it: Philly Cheesesteak

From veggie cookie

I have never actually had a Philly cheesesteak. I'll sheepishly admit to having the artichoke sandwich from Penn Station along with a huge portion of those fresh-cut, skin-on fries. Yum, yum, yum. But even in my pre-veg days, I never tried a cheesesteak. I did once have a middling seitan sandwich imitating a cheesesteak in Reading Terminal Market, but I remember it being chewy and tough.

Alex, of course, is a fan of the real thing. That's my Philly boy for you.

So in honor of the Phillies in the playoffs, we made cheesesteaks at home. I cooked up some veggies to go with the Lightelife steak style strips, and the sandwich was a winner. I sliced red onion, mushrooms, green bell pepper, and cooked these with the fake meat in a skillet. To make it authentically Philly-style, put some cheese on top of your veggies, then place the bread on top and cover for a minute or so to steam the bread.

Honestly, I'd prefer to eat the veggies in a sandwich on their own, but Alex gave the steak strips a thumbs-up.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Sunday Dinner: Not-fried not-chicken

I've been trying to keep a block of tofu in my freezer so I'm always ready to cook some. Before I learned how to freeze tofu, I'd be tempted to pick up some at the grocery and cook it the same night. Now that I'm prepared, I find that yellow block staring at me whenever I open the freezer, challenging me to try something new and exciting.

Okay, even if it's not the tofu speaking to me, I want to try something new more often. Sometimes that's a little scary and there have been a few times I was ready to cook a frozen pizza if my meal didn't turn out. My proposed solution? Try something different that's much like something familiar.

So tonight, I give you not-fried not-chicken with smashed taters and gravy and green beans.

I drained, froze, thawed, and pressed a block of firm tofu. I sliced it into 1/2-inch slabs short ways, which gave me about 9 slices. Some weren't perfect. I made a marinaded this all day and then breaded and oven baked it.

Marinade: 4 tablespoons soy sauce; 2 cloves of garlic, pressed or smashed or chopped; a few drops of hot sauce; and a little water and nutritional yeast or broth to thin things out and spread across each tofu slab. I noticed in making this that the first pieces of tofu got all the sauce and were over-flavored but other pieces were lacking in the marinade. It's easy to tell which ones got the flavor because they darken with the soy sauce and the others stay white.

Breading: 1 cup bread crumbs, 1 cup crushed cornflakes, 1/4 cup flour, 1 teaspoon each: paprika, basil, sage, pepper, and salt.

Preheat the oven to 400F. This time I really did preheat the oven. I also made sure everything would be ready to serve as soon as the tofu came out of the oven.

Press each tofu slab into the breading mixture. If you'd like to dip the breaded slab into egg, then re-bread, more breading will stick to the tofu. I found that mine were plenty breaded with what stuck to the tofu, and once I tried to dip breaded tofu into egg and the breading fell off into the egg, pretty much making the process unsuccessful.

Spray the tops of the tofu with cooking spray. Again, this is a step I've been skeptical of the last time I did an oven-baked no-fry, but I bought some better quality cooking spray and have been pleased with the results. Bake for 10-12 minutes, the flip, spray again, and bake another 10-12 minutes.

These guys smelled like fried chicken, without the gross chicken smell. Topped with a little vegetarian gravy made from a pouch mix and served with the potatoes and beans, this is a regular Sunday dinner.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Down on the farm

Yesterday we went to a farm about half an hour north of the city, Irons Fruit Farm. I'd been searching the web for a good farm to visit to get some apples and maybe do a corn maze. Although this farm offered you to pick your own apples, we bypassed that for the large corn maze and picked up a few apples from the store. The best thing we found, though, was completely unexpected -- apple fritters.

They have a bakery and we also tried the apple cider doughnut and a fried apple pie, but those fritters were absolutely heavenly. We split one after our long walk through the corn and waited in line again to get a second one to bring home. I took this photo in the early morning light -- I'm still playing with my camera -- but it was really good this morning with some coffee. The pastry was so moist and fresh, it pulled apart revealing sweet sticky syrup and apple and cinnamon.

We had to take a hayride to the corn maze. The driver wore this hat with donkey ears and a mane. He also warned us we might have to push the trailer through the mud.

Alex punching our cards in the maze. We found all six boxes!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Banana Bread and trying vegan baking

There is a wealth of information on the web for vegan baking. I figured a good place to start was with banana bread because the batter should be easy enough to adjust; plus, I'm taking advantage of the colder fall weather to use the oven more often. I'm always happy to reduce the animal products I use in cooking, and this was just great the way it was.

This is a super-easy banana bread that's pretty healthy except all the sugar in it. After making this, I'm not sure what the recipes that call for oil and butter are getting from that addition.

Here's how I did it: mash 4 ripe bananas with 1/2 cup applesauce, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and 3/4 cup sugar. Separately combine 2 cup flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Throw in some pecans or walnuts if you want. Bake at 350F for one hour.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Shepherd's Pie

I've never actually had shepherd's pie, so I have zero basis for comparison on this one. I wanted to make a casserole type thing because sometimes it's so nice to prepare all the food, then toss it in the oven for a while and use that time to relax or do other stuff. Sometimes right after I cook I'm not too hungry.

From veggie cookie

A pie of kasha and bulgar wheat with carrots, onion, and mushrooms, topped with mashed potatoes.

I used this recipe from Allrecipes because I wanted to try something made from vegetables and grains, not prepackaged meat substitute. I'm not going to spell out the recipe again here; check out the website for more information. It took a little time to prepare the buckwheat (kasha) and bulgar, but everything was pretty simple, if time consuming. I think it turned out pretty well, but next time I'll use less grain and more carrots and mushrooms. Maybe I'll toss in some peas, too. I'm not sure if those traditionally go in shepherd's pie, but I think they would be really good with the potatoes and give a little more color to the dish. The mashed potato topping was very good, and everything went well together.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Restaurant: Cosi

I first went to Cosi years ago, by accident, looking for a quick lunch in downtown Philadelphia. Over the years, they've reproduced and now have more locations in Philly than anyone, even me, really needs. We used to get Cosi sandwiches, salads, and pizzas pretty regularly, even putting up with some subpar service at my suburban location to enjoy the unique foods.

Cosi is a quick food place, one of those chains where you order at the counter and then take a number to your table so the person bringing your sandwich can find you. However, since moving to Cincinnati and being Cosi-less, this place has become an obsession for Alex and me. Whenever we're in a town that has a Cosi, we stop by (so far, this has only been Columbus and Lexington, plus our trips back to Philly). It is that good. Plus, the Cosi we visit in Lexington has Southern charm and hospitality, a far cry from the sometimes dirty, sometimes slow, sometimes get your order wrong shops in Philadelphia.

We were in Lexington last night and stopped by Cosi. We shared a salad and a sandwich, plus we took an extra sandwich to go. We ate it cold, in the car, on the drive home from our concert. Still good.

From veggie cookie

What's so special? For me, it's the T.B.M. Melt. Tomato, Basil, Mozzarella. Yum. First, the Cosi signature is their bread. It's freshly baked flatbread that's chewy and lightly salted. They stretch and bake the dough right in the store. We've tried to recreate the T.B.M. Melt at home and made some pretty good sandwiches, but this bread is unlike anything else I've had. Top it with sundried tomato spread, tomato slices, basil, and fresh mozzarella, then melt it. It's heavenly.

They also have a great signature salad. I wasn't feeling it last night, but Alex proclaimed it's his favorite salad above others we enjoy. It's mixed greens, a lot of romaine, grapes, pears, Gorgonzola, pistachios, and dried cranberries with a "sherry shallot" vinaigrette. It's really good, and also something we've tried to recreate at home, but as infrequently as we go I like to stick to the T.B.M. Melt.

So yes, this little fast food place is one of our favorites. I'm not ashamed of that.

Monday, October 5, 2009

"Party" squash casserole

I visited my aunt and uncle over Labor Day and we had this dish for supper; when I back to get a little more, the entire casserole was gone. I snapped a photo of the recipe card, partly to have a copy of the recipe to try at home and partly as a memoir of my grandmother's cooking. I gathered up what yellow squash I could find now that it's early fall and gave it a try myself.

From veggie cookie

Start by boiling 5 medium squash with a bit of salt until they're tender, then drain and mash.

Meanwhile, combine the rest of the ingredients. I put them right into the casserole dish. What a strange mix! I think this is a recipe that I would not dare to try just from reading it.

1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup shredded cheddar
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon sugar. Looking back at the recipe, I am almost sure that I forgot to put in the sugar.
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Cracker crumbs or bread crumbs for topping

Mix everything except the crumbs in the casserole dish, top with the crumbs, and bake at 350F for 35-40 minutes.

I enjoyed this, but it's certainly the kind of casserole you don't eat a big serving of. I think next time I'll have to reduce the mayonnaise. I really like the pecans in the casserole and I don't think I noticed the bell pepper much at all. I did stick to the measurements, so there was a tiny amount of bell pepper compared to the other ingredients.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Meatless Jambalaya

This is another recipe I got from Angela Shelf Medearis' The Ethnic Vegetarian -- and this one is very good. I've made it before, but I think this was before I really knew what seitan was. I couldn't find any, and so I substituted tempeh, which really didn't do the trick. This is a one-pot meal made entirely on the stovetop. There's a fair amount of chopping and a variety of ingredients, but it's not too difficult and well worth the time.

From veggie cookie

This is a variation of Creole jambalaya, which starts with meat, then adding vegetables, tomato sauce, and rice. It's flavored with creole seasoning, which includes paprika, garlic, black pepper, onion, thyme, cayenne, oregano, and bay leaf. I used Morningstar link sausages, which aren't vegan, but otherwise this recipe could easily be made vegan.


2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons margarine
8 ounces seitan, drained and sliced
12 ounces soy link sausage, cut into thirds
3 ribs celery, chopped
2 medium green bell peppers, chopped (I used a leftover red bell pepper and one green)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 cups uncooked long-grain white rice
3/4 cup tomato sauce
2 tablespoons Creole seasoning
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups vegetable broth

Heat the oil and margarine in a large pot or skillet over medium heat. Add the seitan and sausage and cook for three minutes or until lightly browned. With the oils, the seitan does indeed brown, which is a pleasant surprise. Remove the soysage and seitan and set aside.

Cook the celery, bell peppers, garlic, and onion for about 8 minutes or until the onion is tender. I happen to like my bell peppers not quite so tender, so I add them later. Stir in the rice, tomato sauce, seasonings, and broth and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally.

Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until the rice is cooked. Remove the bay leaves and add the sausage and seitan, stirring to combine, and cook another 5 minutes or so just to warm them. Cover and remove from heat; let stand 5 minutes before serving.

I really like this recipe, and after taking another look over the cookbook, I really like the whole cookbook. The explanations are wonderful; she begins with a description of the ethnic dish, describes the substitutions she's making, and provides really clear and thorough instructions on how to cook it. I'm certainly learning more about what makes a good recipe as I cook more dishes and stray from the meals I grew up eating. I think I'll be scouring this book for even more dishes to try.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Restaurant: Indigo Casual Gourmet

Indigo Casual Gourmet is one of those places that I can't help but go back to, even when I feel like I know better. I've had some great meals there, as well as some awful meals there. I think what it comes down to is that they have a few good items, and really that's all it takes. I had a friend once who always knew what she wanted to order at restaurants; if she was in the mood for a certain dish, she'd go to the restaurant and not bother with a menu. Indigo isn't quite like that for me, but I'm usually disappointed when I stray from my standard meals.

Why the pitiful introduction? Well, I've been reading other reviews of the restaurant and now I'm nearly ashamed to admit that I like it. While I agree with the comments that it can be overpriced, overcrowded, and that some of the dishes are a little less exciting on your plate than as described on the menu, they have a few really great items that keep me coming back. I am now, however, asking myself whether I would frequent this restaurant as much if I didn't live so close. We take a 20-minute walk to Indigo, enjoy Wine-down Wednesdays featuring half-price bottles of wine, and then walk home.

The menu features pizzas, pastas, and sandwiches, with a few salads and calzones thrown in. Plenty of selections are vegetarian or can easily be made vegetarian, and they mark these on the menu with two carrots in the shape of a V. Adorable. One of my favorite appetizers is so delightfully simple that I should make it at home: the sundried tomato crostini. It's a toasted baguette, split longways, rubbed with garlic butter and then topped with sundried tomatoes, sweet red onions, and melted mozzarella cheese. You see, at home, I'd think twice about both buttering my bread and topping it with cheese. Delicious. We didn't order this today because it just seemed excessive.

I got my favorite dish, the grilled veggie wrap. It's a little messy, but oh-so tasty. Grilled eggplant, zucchini, portobellos, tomatoes, with smoked mozzarella and pesto. The bread is chewy and does a pretty good job holding everything together. I love, love, love this sandwich. In this photo, you see I got the side of chips. I think I'll stick with the fries next time -- nothing against the chips. Whenever I order anything else on the menu, I find myself longing for this. I've tried various pasta dishes and had a bad experience with an undercooked portobello in the bistro sandwich and a cold calzone.

Alex ordered his favorite sandwich, the veggie sub. He likes that it has both mozzarella and cheddar (this is Cincinnati, after all, so you have to serve plenty of cheese). It's also got banana peppers, green bell peppers, and mushrooms, all toasted together. He has the oven-baked fries on his plate, which are just fantastic. They bake the fries in individual portions on wire sheets to get them extra crispy.

In all, I've had some inattentive wait staff, but that doesn't bother us while we linger over a bottle of wine, and these sandwiches aren't too pricey. And considering how packed the patio is on half-price wine night, I'd say Indigo shouldn't be too concerned about the lack of support from the web writers -- although some of the criticism (cold food!) could be a basis for improvement.

Indigo Casual Gourmet Cafe on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 2, 2009

Another batch of Cheater's Chili

From veggie cookie

I made this easy chili in the Crock Pot with a large sweet onion, Bush's chili starter, a little extra chili powder, Morningstar crumbles, crushed tomatoes, and kidney beans. Serve with Trader Joe's cornbread and shredded cheddar. The cornbread tasted like cake; not bad, but a guilty pleasure.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

On Cooking: Permanence vs. Adaptability

I haven't been cooking a lot this week. We went back to Allyn's for my version of comfort food -- fries and beer (and a veggie patty too), and made yet another frittata and the lasagna I shared in a photo post. Last night we grabbed Potbelly sandwiches and headed down to the ballpark; tonight I'm throwing chili into the Crock Pot and running some errands. This is the kind of cooking rut I was hoping to avoid, but I think a slump is bound to happen and I'll be cooking again this weekend.

So, I'm taking this opportunity to write about how we cook. I'm not yet really committed to any particular way, and maybe it would be best for me to actually choose a method and really make it work for myself.

Typically, I don't follow a recipe precisely. In my Brazilian Black Bean Soup, I used a whole can of coconut milk. What would I do with the rest if I only used a cup? This means, of course, that I didn't actually make the wonderful soup carefully crafted by the wonderful chef at Horizons. So, I said I made it, but based on the facts, I'd have to admit that I made something like it -- not the soup itself.

Like many others out there, I saw the movie Julie & Julia, and I read My Life in France. I can completely understand why Julia Child wasn't too keen on Julie Powell's goal to cook through Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Two things impressed me in reading Julia Child: first, that cooking was something for servants and chefs and most "regular" people had no interest in it (contrast that with today's FoodTV, etc.); second, that cooking is a science and a cookbook should have exact measurements and instructions. Ideally, that makes sense, and I think most agree that this precision is necessary in baking, for instance. However, realistically, I don't measure most things. I cook sometimes without a recipe. When I made my frittata, I didn't even set a timer, I just checked on it until it was done. Occasionally, this fails me. I'll end up with a salty pot pie if I don't taste it along the way, or I'll overfill my pan or wok when I use too many vegetables.

Even so, I still find the guidance of a recipe helpful. I don't even know whether I aspire to have the ability to put together delicious dishes on the fly like on Top Chef. And even just keeping track of the recipes I try is part of why I started to blog. I've never made recipe cards like my grandmother did, and I'm not really a fan of cookbooks, either. They're bulky, they're an investment, and I don't like the (inevitable) spine creasing, or worse -- food splattering. I'm still looking for the one I like best, and I have a few I cook from occasionally.

A photograph of my grandmother's Party Squash recipe. If I can scrounge up some decent summer squash, I want to make this again this summer. I'll have to look for some chetter cheese, too.

My main alternative, so far, has been to get recipes from the web. I love Allrecipes, I find helpful things on, and sometimes I just do a Google search for information. I'm on the lookout for a good vegetarian blog, and nothing has really struck my fancy yet, although I've found many, many good vegan blogs.

The way a person cooks could probably be (and quite possibly has been) grossly overgeneralized into some kind of a personality quiz. Beyond what your cooking style says about you, there are real implications to the various ways of finding and tracking recipes.

Do you find security in the permanence of a classic cookbook? Tried-and-true, just like momma made it.

Do you prefer the convenience of searching the web for a recipe that suits your needs or ingredients? Try doing a web search for your ingredients and find out what you can make. Even if you're not trying to toss together a meal with what's in your pantry, the comments on web recipes are really helpful in improving the original dish.

Do you like the adaptability of handwritten recipes you add notes to, or even putting notes in your cookbooks? My mom always gave a star rating to recipes she'd tried and also put in notes to help improve its performance in the kitchen next time.

How about the inspiration you'll find in a blog or magazine -- especially one accompanied by a gorgeous photo* -- and the feeling that you really must try this recipe soon?

*Possible future post on food porn. I don't like it, but I may keep my complaints away from this blog.