Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Sweet Potato, Chard, and Lentil Curry

This is a warm, comforting, mild - and healthy! - curry that makes a nice change from all those heavy, starchy, traditional western "holiday" foods that many of us have been eating this past month or so. I made this the day after our first proper blizzard of the year, which just happened to occur on St Stephen's Day. Served with saffron basmati rice and a dry-fried lotus root curry (recipe to follow, once it's been rationalized and typed up), it made a perfect meal on a cold winter's night when the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even.

Sweet Potato, Chard, and Lentil Curry
~ 4 cups lite coconut milk (2 cans)
~ 3 cups broth (I'm currently addicted to the Better Than Bouillon "No Chicken" flavor)
~ 2 tbsp. oil
~ 1 tsp. black mustard seeds
~ 1 large onion, chopped
~ 1 tbsp. each: minced garlic, fresh ginger
~ 1 tbsp. curry powder
~ 1 tsp. each: cumin, fenugreek, salt
~ 1/2 tsp. cayenne (more to taste)
~ A few grinds of black pepper
~ 3 tomatoes, chopped
~ 4 sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1" cubes
~ 2 cups lentils, soaked (the longer they soak, the quicker they'll cook)
~ 1 large bunch Swiss or rainbow chard, chopped

~ In a large beaker, combine the coconut milk and broth and bring to almost boiling (a few minutes in the microwave).
~ In a large, deep pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat and add the mustard seeds. Stir them about a bit, and wait until they start to pop (be careful!).
~ Add the onions, garlic, ginger and dry seasonings. Stir to combine and cook about 5 minutes, until the onions are glassy and the whole mess is fragrant.
~ Add the tomatoes, and cook another minute or two before adding the sweet potatoes and 2 cups of the coconut milk/broth mixture.
~ Cover and cook over medium heat, about 10 minutes.
~ Add the soaked, drained lentils and the remaining coconut milk/broth mixture. Combine thoroughly, cover, and bring to a boil.
~ Lower the heat to simmer, crack the lid about an inch, and cook for 25-30 minutes, until the lentils are cooked and the sweet potatoes are tender.
~ Stir in the chard, allow it to just wilt, and serve hot, ladled over basmati rice.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas, and a very happy new year!

Many thanks to all the people who have the patience to read my ramblings, who take the trouble to try my recipes, and who spare the time to offer such wonderful support and feedback. I wish everyone a very happy holiday season, and all good things for 2011. (And, as Tiny Tim observed: God bless us, every one!)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Wintry, Shroomy Stroganoff

About a week ago, after picking up our - beautiful, fragrant, eight-foot-tall! - Christmas tree, we stopped to refuel at the monthly all-you-can-eat buffet at our local Loving Hut ( Before leaving, we checked out the (rather dizzying) array of fake meat in the freezer case, and eventually came away with a package of May Wah "vegetarian pepper steak." In considering what to do with it, it occurred to me that  - since it's been really, really cold here lately - something involving noodles might be in order, and "beef" stroganoff sounded perfect. A quick Google search revealed that there are about a million recipes available, but I basically started with the one in the Fannie Farmer Cookbook and went from there. Since the original is extremely timid (a tablespoon of minced onion? Seriously?), I had some upgrading to do, but the end result was extremely satisfying, and gets my unqualified recommendation for those bleak, mid-winter nights when you want a hearty, homey dinner like Mama used to make. We liked the May Wah stuff, but if you don't have access to it, you could easily substitute some other vegan "meat" like seitan, Gardein, reconstituted soy curls, or just skip it altogether and use extra mushrooms, which to my mind are really the main point of this dish, anyway. It's very filling, so you're sure to have leftovers unless you're feeding an army; stroganoff is usually served over noodles, but a fluffy bed of mashed potatoes would work just as well. Since no plate looks right without something green on it, I steamed some string beans to have on the side, drizzled with melted Earth Balance and lemon juice. And Bob's your uncle: dinner!

Wintry Shroomy Stroganoff
~ 1 tbsp. Earth Balance
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 large onion, diced
~ 1 lb. fake "beef," sliced thin
~ 1 lb. mushrooms, sliced (2 lbs., if omitting beef substitute)
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, parsley
~ 2 tsp. each: paprika, dill
~ Pinch of nutmeg
~ A few generous grinds of black pepper
~ 1 tbsp. vegan Worcestershire sauce
~ 1 cup vegetable broth
~ 2 cups vegan sour cream or plain, unsweetened soy yogurt
~ 1 lb. noodles, cooked and drained according to package directions (vegan "egg"-style noodles would be perfect), or a big batch of your favorite mashed potatoes

~ In a large, deep skillet, melt the EB and the olive oil together, then saute the onions over medium heat, about 5 minutes.
~ Add the "beef" (if using) and cook about 5 minutes more.
~ Add the seasonings and the mushrooms, stir to combine, and cook - you guessed it! - 5 minutes.
~ Add the broth and the Worcestershire sauce, cover the pan, and allow to simmer for 10 minutes.
~ Stir in the sour cream, mix thoroughly, and remove from heat.
~ If using noodles, toss them with a little margarine or oil, salt, pepper, and parsley.
~ Place the noodles (or mashed potatoes) on plates, ladle the stroganoff on top, and serve garnished with a little extra parsley and a grind or two of black pepper.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Tofu Scrambly Breakfast Hash

Recently, tofu scramble and I have been enjoying a sort of passionate second honeymoon. It's not that we were ever properly estranged, or even got to the point where counseling was called for; it was more that I'd become distracted by other things. (Oh, all right, I'll admit it: I've been seeing other brunches, but it wasn't serious.) In the last month or so, however, I've been eyeing the scramble in a fresh and attractive light. I don't know if it's been working out or what, but suddenly the appeal of a skillet full of mashed tofu and veggies, generously dusted with nooch, has gone through the roof, and - to exhaust the metaphor (phew!) - I'm interested in exploring all kinds of exciting new possibilities.

This particular interpretation is really more of a scramble/hash amalgam, but this should by no means be seen as a mésalliance, since its end result was altogether more "love child" than "bastard." It came about because there was a big bunch of neglected kale in the refrigerator; when considering (yet another) scramble for breakfast, I thought I might as well toss it in. In the event, the kale sort of overwhelmed the measly 1/2 pound of smoked tofu we had on hand, so I chopped up a few Field Roast sausages, added them to the mix, and cooked the whole business to a crispy fare-thee-well. The finished product was tasty, and - yes! - nutritious, without losing that hearty, filling, warm-you-up-from-the-inside feeling you get from the best diner breakfasts. We had ours with roasted potatoes, and toast with our own home-made marmalade, which made the perfect fuel for a day of pre-holiday preparations. (And, tofu scramble? I promise to never again lose touch with how much you mean to me!)

Tofu Scrambly Breakfast Hash

~ 2 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 large onion, chopped
~ 2 carrots, diced
~ 1 small (or half of a large) green bell pepper, diced
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, paprika, poultry seasoning
~ A few generous grinds of black pepper
~ 1 tsp. hot sauce (more to taste)
~ 1 head kale, stripped, cleaned, and chopped fine
~ 1/2 lb. smoked tofu, mashed (or use plain, firm tofu; I just happened to have smoked)
~ 2 vegan sausages, chopped (we had Field Roast Italian, but suit yourself!)
~ 1/3 to 1/2 cup nutritional yeast
~ 1/4 to 1/2 cup plain, unsweetened soy milk, as needed to prevent sticking

~ In a large skillet, saute the onion and carrot in the olive oil over medium heat, about 2 minutes.
~ Add the garlic, the bell pepper, and the seasonings, and cook another 2-3 minutes.
~ Add the kale, combine thoroughly, and cook until wilted.
~ Add the mashed tofu and the sausage, and cook about 5 minutes more.~ Stir in the nutritional yeast, raise the heat to medium-high, and cook another 10-15 minutes, stirring every couple minutes or so. If things get sticky, add a little of the soy milk to get things moving again. You want a crust to just begin to form on the bottom, at which point you mix it all up and let it happen again.
~ Serve hot with your preferred accompaniments.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Easy As Pot Pie

Here's a health to the ox and to his right eye, 
Pray God send our master a good Christmas pie, 
A good Christmas pie as e'er I did see. 
In the Wassail bowl we'll drink unto thee.
 ~ The Gloucestershire Wassail

It is my firm and considered belief that (almost) anything can be improved upon by being encased in, topped with, or otherwise surrounded by a layer of pastry. This universal truth lies at the root of my abiding passion for pasties, samosas, empanadas, and anything en croute, to say nothing of that classic example of Mom's Home Cooking, the pot pie. My mom was what I can only call a dab hand at pastry, and she made chicken or beef pot pie pretty often when I was little, probably because it was a good way to use up leftovers. Oh, god, how I loved those biscuity top crusts; if I could have managed it, I would happily have stolen the entire "lid" for myself, and left the filling for everyone else (minus most of the gravy, of course).

Considering my love for savory pastries of all types, one might imagine that I developed a facility for making them at an early age, but one would be mistaken; as with many things at which my mother excelled (gardening, sewing, knitting), the pie crust gene seemed to have passed me by. Until recently, when I've been emboldened to roll up my sleeves and roll out - if not in - some dough, in the hope that practice might in time make perfect. While I still wouldn't attempt some fancy-pants thing like pâte à choux, I'm happy to report that I can now provide  my household with all the pasties, biscuits and savory pies our greedy, carb-obsessed little hearts might desire.

This particular pie came about as a vehicle for the leftover mushroom gravy from Thanksgiving, and a worthwhile vehicle it proved. You could obviously use whatever "beef" substitute you fancy (seitan, Gardein, etc.), but I will say that soy curls are particularly good here because of their capacity to absorb liquid and flavor; similarly, you could toss in whatever veggies you have on hand, especially if you have leftover bits and pieces you want to use up. Pop this in the oven, make a batch of mashed potatoes, and in relatively short order you can be digging into a cold weather comfort meal par excellence: easy as (pot) pie!

"Beef" Pot Pie
The Filling
~ 1.5 cups soy curls
~ 3 cups mushroom gravy
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 large onion, chopped
~ 1 tbsp. garlic, minced
~ 2 carrots, cut into 1" slices on the diagonal
~ 2 stalks celery, diced
~ 2 bay leaves
~ 1 tsp. poultry seasoning
~ Black pepper to taste
~ 1/2 cup frozen green peas

~ Preheat the oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit, and coat a casserole dish with cooking spray.
~ In a beaker, combine the soy curls and the gravy.
~ Cover and bring to a boil in the microwave, or in a pot on the stove top.
~ Allow to sit, covered, for at least an hour (the longer the better), until the liquid is mostly absorbed.
~ In a large, deep skillet, heat the oil and saute the onions and garlic over medium heat, about 2 minutes.
~ Add the carrots, celery, and seasonings, and cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
~ Add the soy curls and mushroom gravy, and the frozen peas, combine thoroughly, and cook another 5 minutes or so, until everything is hot.
~ Remove the bay leaves, and transfer the mixture to your greased casserole. Set aside while you make...

The Crust
~ 2 cups all-purpose flour
~ 1/2 cup cold vegan margarine or shortening (I use a frozen stick of Earth Balance)
~ 8-12 tbsps. ice water

~ Put the flour in a mixing bowl, and cut or grate in the cold margarine or shortening. Mix with your fingers until you get a texture like course crumbs.
~ Add 8 tbsps. of the ice water and mix; add as much additional water as necessary to make a rough, slightly sticky dough.
~ Form the dough into a ball, then turn it out onto a floured board, and use a rolling pin to shape it fit your casserole dish. Carefully transfer the pastry on top of the filling, crimp around the edges to seal, and poke a few holes in the top with a fork.
~ Brush the top with a little plain, unsweetened soy milk, and bake at 375 for 20-25 minutes, until the filling is bubbling and the crust is golden brown. (NB that ovens vary - and mine tends to be a bit slow - so keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn't burn!)
~ Allow to sit briefly before serving hot (accompanied, in a perfect world, by mashed potatoes).

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Killer (Glazed) Tofu

Fast food feels fuzzy
Cause it's made from stuff that's skuzzy
I always thought I was such a nerd
I refused to eat that strange bean curd
I wouldn't eat it, WOW! But it ate you!
Ah eeh ooh, Killer tofu.
Oooh eeh ooh, Killer tofu!

So sang The Beets, in the early '90s cartoon series, Doug. It's a catchy tune, but one that paints an inaccurate picture of tofu's agenda and/or capabilities: to my knowledge, there have been no known cases of tofu killing or eating anyone. On the other hand, "that strange bean curd" gets eaten a lot as a staple of many Asian cuisines, and of vegetarian diets all over out little blue planet. (Tofu brings magic happy!) At my house, we love us some tofu, and use it for all kinds of things: cashew ricotta, scrambled, pureed with chickpea flour to make frittatas, or as its own adorable self in a variety of dishes from miso soup to po' boys or vegan "fish" and chips. This sticky, sweet, slightly spicy glazed tofu is an easy way to turn out something pretty impressive in a short amount of time, making it perfect for a weeknight. Whip up some steamed rice and stir-fried green beans or bok choy, and you will have a - dare I say it? - killer dinner on the table in less than half an hour.

Killer (Glazed) Tofu
The Glaze
~ 2 tbsp. cold water
~ 1 tbsp. cornstarch
~ 1/2 cup orange juice
~ 1/4 cup soy sauce
~ 1/4 cup rice vinegar
~ 2 tbsp. toasted sesame oil
~ 1 tsp. hot chili oil (or 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes)
~ 2 tbsp. agave nectar
~ 1 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 tbsp. grated ginger

~ In a small bowl, mix the cornstarch and cold water; set aside.
~ In a saucepan, combine all remaining ingredients, bring to a boil for about a minute.
~ Stir in the cornstarch mixture. whisk to combine, and remove from heat.

The Tofu
~ 1 lb. extra firm tofu, drained, pressed, and cut into cubes
~ 2 tbsp. canola oil
~ 4 scallions, thinly sliced
~ Salt and black pepper

~ In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the tofu cubes, sprinkle with salt and black pepper, and cook about 10 minutes over medium-high heat, turning occasionally to make sure each cube gets browned all over.
~ Add the scallions and cook another minute or two.

~ Pour the sauce over the tofu and give the whole business a stir to make sure everything is coated.
~ Turn the heat to low, cover, and cook another 10-15 minutes, until the sauce has formed a sticky glaze.
~ Serve over steamed rice. (We had ours with Szechuan green beans: highly recommended!)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thanksgiving Leftover Samosa Pancakes

Well first of all, I just want to say how happy I am to have completed my third Vegan Mofo! I love being vegan, and having the opportunity to participate in this great event with so many wonderful, creative people makes me even prouder to be a member of this community (nay - dare I say it? - movement). This feeling of pleasure and pride is only exacerbated by my honest amazement at having managed to post - yes! - every single day, in the midst of everything else on my family's agenda, both individual and collective. 

Secondly, I freely admit to being exhausted. Between PhD applications, the first holiday without my mom, one kid in college, another in the school play, my partner's Horrendous Semester From Hell, and all this cooking/blogging, it may be time for a little take-out chez nous. So don't be surprised if I go back to posting only once a week or so as the remainder of The Blessed Holiday Season prepares to grab us all by the throat and beat us into (jolly! merry! joyous!) submission.

But (and thirdly)That doesn't mean I won't be cooking and - when worthy of the gentle reader's attention - sharing some new and interesting food. It just means that we all have other stuff we need to do, too. (Okay, kids?) And so. At the end of a month of traditional, western comfort foods, in the interest of giving you Something Completely Different, I hereby present my solution to a metric fucktonne of leftover mashed potatoes and butternut squash. Bon appetit, happy Vegan MoFo, and God bless us, every one! 

Thanksgiving Leftover Samosa Pancakes
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 tsp. mustard seeds
~ 1 tbsp. each: minced garlic, grated ginger
~ 1 onion, finely chopped
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, curry powder, garam masala, cumin
~ A few generous grinds of black pepper
~ 1/2 cup frozen peas
~ 2 cups mashed potatoes
~ 1 cup mashed winer squash or sweet potatoes (or more potatoes, depending on your leftovers!)
~ 3/4 cup chickpea flour
~ Oil for cooking

~ In a skillet, heat the oil over medium heat, then add the mustard seeds. When they begin to pop, add the onions, garlic, and ginger, and cook about 3 minutes, until golden.
~ Add the seasonings and the frozen peas and cook about 3 minutes more.
~ Mix in the potatoes and squash, and cook a few minutes, until any liquid has cooked off.
~ Remove from heat, then stir in the chickpea flour, combining thoroughly to make a stiff batter.
~ When the batter is cool enough to handle, heat a few tablespoons of oil in a skillet (cast iron is great). Form the batter into patties about 3" across and fry in batches of four over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes each side.
~ As each batch is finished, transfer them to your preheated baking sheet to keep warm until you've used up all the batter.
~ Et voila: Thanksgiving leftovers, yet not Thanksgiving leftovers! The perfect antidote to the impending onslaught of (yet more) Traditional Holiday Foods.
~ Shantih.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Nigella's Back-from-the-(Vegan)-Bar-Snack

This is another Food Network-inspired offering from the Domestic Goddess of Podge, Nigella Lawson. As I've mentioned previously, Ms Lawson inspires in me a heady combination of bewildered astonishment and rapt fascination, and dishes like this one contribute to that response. While we're not supposed to approve of this sort of thing, one can't help admiring the unbridled gusto - liberally laced with doubles entendres - with which she approaches food and drink.

To hear her tell it, she starts each day with a raging hangover, which she treats with elaborate breakfast cocktails and massive plates of carbohydrates and fat, while testing the elasticity of one her innumerable cashmere cardigans. (Not that there's anything wrong with that!) According to Nigella, the prototype of today's recipe is the sort of thing she whips up in the small hours after stumbling home from some über-posh watering hole(s) on her Stella McCartney kitten heels.

Of course, her version includes the bits and bodily fluids of all sorts of animals, so I've substituted more compassionate alternatives. She also calls for cooked potatoes, which she suggests one keep always at the ready - something my mother usually did, actually - but I just nuked a few in the microwave, because I am too lazy to plan ahead. The sauce can be made with whatever vegan cheddar you have available; I happened to have Daiya on hand, and my dog eagerly licked out the saucepan, which I consider a clear sign of approval! This dish makes a very substantial breakfast, brunch, or whatever-you-like all on its own, or - if you are louche gluttons like us - it pairs nicely with crusty toast and a Bloody Mary. (You know that Nigella would want it that way.)

Nigella's Back-from-the-(Vegan)-Bar Snack
The Sausagey Bit (PHWOAR!)

~ 2 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 large onion, roughly chopped
~ 5 mid-sized potatoes, baked, cooled, and cut into chunks
~ 3-4 vegan sausages, sliced into 1" rounds (I used apple & sage Field Roast)
~ 1/2 tsp. each: poultry seasoning, smoked paprika
~ A few grinds of black pepper

~ Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and coat a mid-size casserole with cooking spray.
~ In a large, deep skillet, heat the oil, and saute the onions on medium heat about 3 minutes.
~ Gradually add the potatoes and sausages, stirring with each addition, then sprinkle the whole business with the poultry seasoning, paprika, and pepper.
~ Continue cooking for about 15 minutes, flipping with a spatula every few minutes so that things have a chance to get nicely browned on the bottom (Nigella would probably say "on their bottoms," because that's what she's like).
~ Turn off the heat and allow to sit while (Nigella would say "whilst") you make...

The Saucy Bit (know what I mean?)
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil (or other oil)
~ 1 tbsp. flour
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, Coleman's dry mustard
~ 3 cups plain, unsweetened soy milk, heated
~ 1 tsp. Marmite (or 2 tsp. HP, Daddy's, vegan Worcestershire, etc.)
~ 2 cups grated vegan cheddar

~ In a saucepan, heat the oil over low heat, then stir in the flour, salt, and Coleman's mustard to make a roux. Add the Marmite, and a splash of the soy milk and stir until smooth, about a minute.
~ Begin gradually adding the soy milk and cheese in batches, stirring with each addition to prevent lumps.
~ When all the milk and all the cheese has been added and everything is smooth and lovely, cook the sauce a minute or two more, then give one last whisk and turn off the heat.

And now...
~ Tip the potato/sausage mixture into your casserole, and pour the cheezy sauce over the top, making sure that it's evenly distributed.
~ Sprinkle the top with a little extra paprika, then bake at 450 for 20 minutes, until browned and bubbly.
~ Allow to sit about 5 minutes before serving.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Simple Stewed Apples

Tsk! Look at this apple. He is so well and truly stewed that I doubt he'll remember any of this in the morning. I propose a more wholesome, family-friendly approach to the stewing of this ubiquitous fall/winter fruit, and it's a particularly nice way to use up apples that are a bit past their prime. (Alas, perhaps that's what's driven this poor fellow to drink; how much better for all concerned had he simply consented to become a lovely side dish! But I digress.) I usually make stewed fruit to accompany breakfast foods like pancakes or French toast; if allowed to cool slightly, it would also be a good topping for ice cream. Unlike most recipes - if this can be called a "recipe" with any justice - mine doesn't add any sugar, so it's not overly sweet, and makes a nice accompaniment to a wintry dinner like chickpea cutlets with mashed potatoes, etc. (In fact, I mixed some leftovers from Thanksgiving brunch in with that evening's roasted vegetables, where they met with a universally positive reception.)

Simple Stewed Apples
~ 6-8 apples, cored and chopped (I never peel them, and neither should you!)
~ 2 tbsp. Earth Balance, or other vegan margarine
~ 1/2 tsp. each: cinnamon, salt

~ In a large skillet, melt the margarine over medium-high heat and add the chopped apples.
~ Add the cinnamon and salt, stir, and then cover the pan.
~ Turn the heat to medium-low, and cook about 25-30 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so. You want them to have a chance to get just a little brown around the edges, without letting them stick to the pan. If things do get a little sticky, you can add a few tablespoons of water or apple juice to deglaze the pan.
~ Serve hot alongside whatever you like; this is also nice with pears, or in a combination.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Best Mushroom Gravy

Okay, you guys: this is absolutely, hands-down, and without any question whatsoever the best mushroom gravy I have ever tasted. (As an added bonus, it is also idiot simple.) I was getting ready to start the gravy for Thanksgiving dinner, having purchased the necessaries for my mushroom gravy, when it occurred to me that a smooth texture might be nice, as opposed to the somewhat chunkier rendition I usually make. It struck me that - just as many curries begin with a paste of onions, chilis, etc. - making a puree of the vegetables might be the best approach. What can I say? The end result was like the distillation of shroominess; the very essence of rich, earthy, autumnal goodness. Suffice to say that I've found my new go-to recipe. The menu for today's lunch? A mountain of stuffing, surrounded by an ocean of gravy; possibly augmented by a small, offshore island of cranberry sauce. Yum.

Happy (day after) Thanksgiving!

The Best Mushroom Gravy
~ 1 10 oz package mushrooms, roughly chopped (I used babybellas)
~ 1 onion, roughly chopped
~ 2 tbsp. garlic, minced
~ 1 tsp. each: sage, marjoram, rosemary
~ A few grinds of black pepper
~ 2 tbsp. olive oil
~ 2 tbsp. flour
~ 2 tbsp. Better Than Bouillon "No Chicken" flavor
~ 6 cups strong mushroom broth (commercial, or made by soaking dried mushrooms in 6 cups boiling water for at least an hour, then straining. I did this with black trumpets, and it rocked)

~ Place the mushrooms, onion, garlic, and seasonings in a food processor, and reduce to a paste.
~ In a large, deep skillet or saucepan, heat the olive oil, then add the mushroom puree. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.
~ Bring the mushroom broth to a boil, then stir in the bouillon, and mix thoroughly. (If you've made your own mushroom broth, discard the soaked mushrooms, or reserve them for some other use; they won't be needed here.)
~ Add the flour to the mushroom mixture, stir to thicken, then gradually begin adding the mushroom/bouillon broth, whisking constantly to prevent lumps. Continue cooking, stirring often, for about 10 minutes, or until you have a smooth, brown, deliciously mushroomy gravy.
~ Serve hot, on top of everything.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Baked Winter Squash

First of all, I have to note that today, November 24th, is not only the 54th anniversary of my partner's parents, Jim and Mary Lou (who remain adorably and inspiringly in love), but the 6th anniversary of our beloved doggie, Lucy, coming to join our family. All in all, an auspicious date, and one with an important connection to today's post, since my middle son - one of Lucy's first and very best friends - loves winter squash. Acorn, pumpkin, butternut...rather like myself with bread stuffing, give him a bowlful, and he's happy to make a meal of it. In fact, there's a family story about him being at my parents' house, aged about six; upon seeing some leftover squash in the refrigerator, he asked if he could have a bowl for an after-school snack. My mom noticed that he was eating it very slowly, and asked if he'd prefer something else, to which he replied, "Oh, no, it's so good; I'm just savoring it!" At various times, I experiment with different preparations - for example, the great recipe for "Hungarian Squash" in the original Laurel's Kitchen, and winter squash in any coconut curry is a match made in heaven - but at the holidays, baked and mashed with the simplest of seasonings is the way to go for us; as the saying goes, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." (As per usual, this makes enough for a family meal, so go ahead and halve it if you like; then again, who ever complained about leftovers? NB that you could also apply the same treatment to pumpkins, or to any other winter squash; we just happen to like butternut!)

Baked Butternut (or other winter) Squash

~ 2 large butternut squashes, halved and seeded
~ 1/4 cup olive oil
~ 1/4 cup maple syrup
~ Salt and pepper to taste
~ Pinch of nutmeg
~ Earth Balance or other vegan margarine

~ Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
~ In a bowl or beaker, combine the olive oil, maple syrup, salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
~ Split the squash in half lengthwise, and remove the seeds. Score the flesh of the squash, making 1/2-inch deep cuts through it one way and then the other (in a sort of checker-board pattern).
~ Rub the skin side of the squash halves with a little extra olive oil, then rub the insides with the oil/syrup/seasoning mixture.
~ Arrange cut side up on a cookie sheet, then cover with foil, and bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes.
~ Remove the foil, and bake another 20-25 minutes, until the flesh is tender when pierced with a fork.
~ When the squash is cool enough to handle, use a spoon to gently scoop the flesh from the shells into a large bowl.
~ With a potato masher, mash to a pulp - isn't this fun?! - then add the amount of margarine you see fit. (I know I usually tell people how much of stuff to use, but like mashed potatoes, I see this as a matter of individual taste. We like our squash pretty "buttery" - say 3-4 tbsps. - but you may feel differently. De gustibus non est disputandum, eh?)
~ Taste for seasoning, and serve hot - remembering to savor it!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Roasted Root Vegetables

Before anything else, I have to mention that today is my oldest son's birthday. As Sandy Denny once asked, "Who knows where the time goes?"; let's just say that I think we're both feeling a lot better today than we were all those years ago, and it is impossible to imagine my life without him. So: happy birthday to the first great love of my life!

Holiday Side Dish Week continues, with a dish that never fails to appear - with minor variations - at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Sweet potatoes, carrots, and onions are a constant, but after that, pretty much anything goes: brussels sprouts, beets, asparagus, cauliflower, fingerling poatoes, parsnips, even (if you happen to roll that way, which we don't) turnips....if it grows underground, chances are it will respond well to being rubbed with oil and spices and then roasted in the oven.

Roasted Root Vegetables

~ 1/4 cup olive oil
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, thyme, tarragon, rosemary (and/or any other herbs you may prefer)
~ A few grinds of black pepper
~ 4 large sweet potatoes, cut into chunks
~ 1 lb. carrots, cut into 2' slices on the diagonal
~ 2 large onions, coarsely chopped
~ 1 lb. asparagus, cut into 3" slices (not technically a root, but nice all the same)

~ Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
~ Place the chopped onions, carrots and sweet potatoes on a large, rimmed baking sheet or casserole, then pour the oil/seasoning mixture over them.
~ Now (this is the fun part!), get in there with your hands and make sure that everything is well coated.
~ Cover with foil and cook about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
~ Uncover, stir, add the asparagus, and combine thoroughly with the other vegetables. Continue cooking another 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until everything is roasted to autumnal beauteousness. Serve hot.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Classic Sage and Onion Stuffing

"Eked out by apple-sauce and mashed potatoes, it was a sufficient dinner for the whole family; indeed, as Mrs Cratchit said with great delight...they hadn't ate it all at last! Yet every one had had enough, and the youngest Cratchits in particular, were steeped in sage and onion to the eyebrows!"

This Thursday is, of all the good days in the year, Thanksgiving here in the US. That being the case (and since I'm hosting/cooking), this week's MoFo posts will be largely devoted to dishes that appear on my family's holiday table, year after year. Thanksgiving, as we all know, is a day set aside for the ostensible purpose of expressing our gratitude for the bountiful good fortune with which we have been blessed; this generally translates to the consumption of an enormous meal in the company of family and friends. Of course, it is also associated with genocide and/or cultural imperialism - to say nothing of the systematic slaughter of millions of turkeys, who have very little for which to be thankful - but since my theme is supposed to be traditional foodstuffs, let's just get this party started with a giant pan of baked carbohydrates, shall we?

As the reader is certainly aware, the "it" in the quote above refers not to a Thanksgiving turkey, but to a Christmas goose - which Dickens describes as "the rarest of all birds; a feathered phenomenon," and "the theme of universal admiration" in the Cratchit household - but both are traditionally accompanied by sage and onion stuffing, which gets a fair bit of attention in the text. This is as it should be, since my own favorite part of Thanksgiving dinner was always the stuffing (in our family, Christmas meant roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, and horseradish, which is another subject for another post); if left to my own devices, I'd have happily made a meal of it, optimally surrounded by a lake of gravy.

My mother's rendition was a very traditional, old-school recipe, and was always baked separately, since my restaurateur father considered cooking it inside in the bird to be unhygienic (it's also greasy and disgusting). As an adult, I've stuck with essentially the same method; I just substitute margarine for butter, and vegetable broth for the chicken stock my mom would have used. Suffice to say that if you're looking for something sophisticated or adventurous to spice up your Thanksgiving table, this is probably not the recipe for you, but "eked out" by mushroom gravy, this bread stuffing remains one of the tastes of my childhood, and I can still make a meal of it!

Classic Sage and Onion Stuffing
~ One large loaf good bread, lightly toasted and crumbled (a baguette is nice)
~ 3 tbsp. olive oil
~ 3 tbsp. Earth Balance
~ One ginormous onion (or two normal-sized), chopped
~ 4-5 stalks celery, diced fine
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, sage, marjoram, parsley
~ 1/2 tsp. each: thyme, rosemary
~ Pinch of mace or nutmeg
~ Lots of freshly ground black pepper
~ About 3 cups vegan "chicken" broth; more or less as needed (I swear by Better Than Bouillon)

~ Preheat the oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit, and coat a casserole with cooking spray.
~ In a large, deep pot, heat the oil and margarine and add the onions. Cook over medium heat until turning golden, about 5 minutes.
~ Add the celery, garlic, and seasonings, and cook 5 minutes more, until the vegetables are tender and fragrant.
~ Stir in the toasted, crumbled bread and mix thoroughly, then add as much of the vegetable broth as you need to get a moist stuffing consistency (you might not need it all, but do bear in mind that it will dry out as it bakes, so it should look a bit mushier than you might imagine it ought to do).
~ Cover with foil and bake at 375 for 20 minutes.
~ Raise the heat to 400, remove the foil, baste the top with a little extra broth, and cook another 15-20 minutes, until the top is golden and crispy. Serve hot with all the usual trimmings (gravy, cranberry sauce, mashed potato, Tiny Tim, etc.).

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Scalloped Potatoes and Vegetables

No sun - no moon!
No morn - no noon -
No dawn - no dusk - no proper time of day.
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member -
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! -

~ Thomas Hood

I find November remarkable for the stripped-down quality of the light, and for its overall spareness: the leaves have fallen from the trees and been (mostly) raked away, the branches and the ground are bare, and everything seems to be waiting for the first snowfall to shift things definitively from fall to winter. There's a stark beauty about this time of year that puts me in a pleasurably moody, Brontë-esque frame of mind; hence the photo of Top Withens, the ruined Yorkshire farmhouse whose windswept situation has long been associated with the setting for Wuthering Heights. As the text tells us, "'Wuthering' being a significant provincial adjective, descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed, in stormy weather. Pure, bracing ventilation they must have up there, at all times, indeed: one may guess the power of the north wind, blowing over the edge, by the excessive slant of a few, stunted firs at the end of the house; and by a range of gaunt thorns all stretching their limbs one way, as if craving alms of the sun." (How awesome is that? Talk about atmosphere!)

So, with the moors on my mind, and winter drawing on apace, it's back to the comfort food chez nous. I made this for an unusually outrageous (even for us) weekend brunch, but it would make an excellent holiday side dish, or a substantial main course for a more ordinary dinner. I hereby issue my standard disclaimer that this is A. seriously, er, "fortifying," and B. makes a lot, but it's also the sort of thing that reheats nicely, so why not make a huge pan of it on Sunday, and feed off it for a few days? With all this vegetabley, potatoey, cheezy goodness going on, it's hard to imagine that even a twisted misanthrope like Heathcliff could have stayed grumpy when presented with a plateful; if only Nelly Dean had left off gossiping long enough to bestir herself in the kitchen, things might have ended differently for him and Cathy!

Scalloped Potatoes and Vegetables
The Filling
~ 1 package tempeh bacon, cooked and crumbled (or a batch of your favorite home-made version)
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 large onion, chopped
~ 1 lb. mushrooms, sliced
~ 1 tsp. salt
~ 1/2 tsp. each: marjoram, tarragon, rosemary
~ Black pepper to taste
~ 1 10 oz. package fresh spinach, chopped
~ 6-7 large baking potatoes, sliced (as Mr Creosote would say) wafer thin

~ Preheat the oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit and coat a 9 x 13" casserole with cooking spray.
~ In a skillet, heat the oil and saute the onion over medium heat, about 2 minutes.
~ Add the mushrooms and seasonings, stir, and cook 5-7 minutes, until the mushrooms are fragrant and have released most of their liquid.
~ Stir in the chopped spinach by handfuls, mixing with each addition until just wilted, then stir in the crumbled tempeh bacon.
~ Set aside while you make...

The Cheezy Sauce
~ 2 tbsp. Earth Balance (or other vegan margarine)
~ 2 tbsp. flour
~ 1 tsp. salt
~ Black pepper
~ Pinch nutmeg
~ 4 cups plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 1/2 cup plain soy yogurt
~ 2 cups grated Daiya cheddar (or other vegan cheese)
~ Paprika for garnish

~ In a saucepan, melt the Earth Balance over low heat, then add the flour, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Cook over low heat for a minute or two, stirring to make a roux.
~ Gradually add the soy milk, stirring constantly to prevent lumps, then add the yogurt and Daiya. Cook, stirring, 5-7 minutes, until thickened and smooth.
~ Reserve 1.5 cups of the sauce, and add the rest to the vegetable mixture, making sure everything is well combined.

The Assembly
~ Arrange 1/3 of the thinly sliced potatoes in the bottom of your greased casserole, making sure there are no gaps.
~ Ladle half the vegetable mixture over the potatoes, then repeat with another layer of potatoes, and the remaining vegetables, ending with a layer of potatoes.
~ Pour the reserved sauce over the potatoes, smoothing and pressing down slightly with a spatula, to make sure the sauce oozes between the layers a bit.
~ Cover with foil and bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, until bubbling.
~ Remove the foil, sprinkle the top with paprika, then return to the oven and bake another 20-25 minutes, until browned.
~ Allow to set up (about 10-15 minutes) before serving.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Hünkar Beğendi

The name of this Turkish eggplant dish is variously translated as "the sultan swooned," "sultan's delight," or even simply, "the sultan liked it," but whatever it means, there is no question that this stuff is delicious. It's traditionally made with stewed lamb ladled over the spiced eggplant puree, but my version is every bit as swoon-worthy, with then bonus of being kind to our frolicking woolly friends. Because really - as the good people at Food Fight put it - what kind of asshole eats a lamb?

Hünkar Beğendi
~ 2 large eggplants
~ 2 tbsp. lemon juice
~ 1 tsp. salt
~ A few grinds of black pepper
~ 3 tbsp. vegan margarine (I used Earth Balance)
~ 3/4 cup plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 1 tsp. garlic powder
~ 1/2 tsp. each: smoked paprika, cinnamon
~ Dash nutmeg
~ 1/2 cup plain soy yogurt

~ Preheat the oven to 425 fahrenheit.
~ Slice the eggplants in half, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and place cut side down on an oiled baking sheet.
~ Bake for 40-45 minutes, until the skins are blackened and collapsing and the flesh is completely soft. Set aside and allow to cool.
~ Scoop out the pulp and transfer to a saucepan, discarding the skins.
~ Add the lemon juice and salt, and simmer over low heat, stirring often, for about 10 minutes.
~ Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, melt the margarine, add the flour, and allow flour to brown, stirring constantly.
~ Add the margarine/flour mixture to the eggplant and combine thoroughly.
~ In the microwave or a small pot, mix the soy milk, garlic powder, paprika, and nutmeg, and bring to almost boiling.
~ Slowly add the milk mixture and continue stirring until you get a thick porridge-like consistency.
~ Stir in the yogurt and cook another minute or two.
~ Serve hot over rice pilaf.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Soy Curl Fajitas

We're three caballeros
Three gay caballeros
They say we are birds of a feather
We're happy amigos
No matter where he goes
The one, two, and three goes
We're always together.


Today I'm breaking out of my recent "traditional comfort food" groove to bring you yet another excellent use for those beloved and muy versatile staples of the vegan larder, soy curls. Fajitas are more exciting than enchiladas or burritos because you make them yourself, and more exciting than tacos (which are also very hands-on), because they sizzle! This can be a really fast and yummy meal if you put the soy curls in to marinate before you take off for whatever you do in your "real" life. Then when you get home, all you have to do is cook them up, saute your veggies, roll everything into tortillas with some salsa and guacamole, and - ¡Ay, caramba! - dinner is served.

The Soy Curls
~ 2 cups Butler soy curls
~ 1.5 cups water or vegetable broth
~ 1/2 cup orange juice
~ Juice of 1 lime
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 2 tsp. each: chili powder, cumin
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, smoked paprika, cilantro
~ 1/2 tsp. cayenne (more or less to taste)
~ 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
~ A few generous grinds of black pepper
~ 2 tbsp. olive oil

~ In a beaker, combine the broth and seasonings, then add the soy curls.
~ Cover and bring to a boil in the microwave, or in a pot on the stove top.
~ Allow to sit, covered, for at least an hour (the longer the better), until the liquid is mostly absorbed.
~ In a large, deep skillet or wok, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
~ Add the soy curls and any remaining marinade, and cook, stirring frequently, until all the liquid has cooked off and they're getting slightly "charred," about 10-15 minutes.

The Vegetables
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 large onion, sliced into crescents
~ 1 each: red, green, yellow bell peppers, thinly sliced

~ Heat the olive oil in a skillet or wok, then saute the onions and peppers over high heat for about 15 minutes, until wilted and just starting to brown.

You also need...
~ Flour tortillas, warmed
~ Guacamole
~ Vegan sour cream
~ Salsa

~ Bring the soy curls and vegetables to a - dare I say it? - sizzle.
~ Now spread some guacamole on a tortilla, top with soy curls, veggies, salsa and sour cream.
~ Roll up the tortilla to enclose the filling and eat!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Giving Thanks (Or: Desdemona Does Tofurky)

Looking back on this month's posts, I can't help noticing the preponderance of traditional western "comfort foods" among the recipes: nary a curry or a miso soup in sight. In fact, my partner quipped that in our case, Vegan MoFo might as easily be called MoPo - Vegan Month of Podge - and he's absolutely right (not that he's complaining).

On reflection, I think there are several factors to account for this urge to produce stolid, hearty dishes baked in casseroles and/or amenable to being coated with gravy. The most obvious is the onset of colder weather and earlier sunsets, but there's also the recent loss of my mother, the completion of my MA thesis and degree, the departure of one son for college, and my decision to apply to PhD programs, all of which underscore the transitional nature of this past year.

As an old friend used to say, "we're always going through the changes," and never has that seemed truer than in 2010. My crystal ball has become a snow globe, and while the future is filled with exciting possibilities, the fact remains that it will be awhile before the picture clears, and I have a better sense of how that future will actually look.

So you don't need to be Sigmund Freud to figure out what's going on here, right? Unsettled times lead us to lean more heavily on the elements in our lives that seem most reliable: family, friends, pets, home, hearth, and the things (including food) that we associate with those reassuring touchstones. That this feeling should intensify as the holidays approach is unsurprising, and my hope is that my eldest and youngest sons' birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's - all of which were spent with my mother last year, and from which she will now be conspicuously absent - will have enough pleasant moments to carry us through the more difficult ones, and allow time to reflect thoughtfully on what remains, even as we acknowledge things that have changed.

What does any of this have to do with Tofurky? Well, I've found that many omnivores consider it axiomatic that when "turkey day" comes around, vegetarians and vegans get excited about eating Tofurky; the New Yorker even ran an ad last year (for something wholly unrelated, which I don't remember) featuring a family welcoming their son's herbivorous fiancee into the fold by presenting her with a turkey made of tofu.

Now, I have nothing against Tofurky or other meat analogues, and I like a big plate of ersatz chicken at Grasshopper or the Loving Hut as much as the next girl, but I confess that my approach to vegan holiday meals has just been to cook stuff we like, which generally means all the "usual" stuff, sans the meat. However, during an epic grocery shop with my hilariously funny youngest son - seriously, I should make him come along every time for sheer entertainment value - we spotted a Tofurky in the frozen hippie food section, and somehow the thing wound up in the cart, and from thence (within an hour or two) in the oven.

The whole thing felt a bit silly, but I decided to approach the experience in the spirit of scientific enquiry; I confess that my first thought upon unwrapping the thing was, "What the hell?" For the uninitiated, an uncooked Tofurky resembles nothing so much as a beige, yet-to-be-steamed Christmas pudding, and I feel certain that if Mrs. Bob Cratchit had been with me, she would have recommended we douse it with brandy and set it alight, "like a speckled cannonball...bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top."

Instead, I read the singularly unhelpful directions, and quickly determined to blaze my own Tofurky trail, put together a simple marinade/basting sauce in which to bathe the weirdly spherical object, and popped it into the oven. Between bouts of basting, I made some rice pilaf and old-school green beans almondine from the NY Times Cookbook, heated the gravy, and - since cylindrical condiments seem appropriate for a spherical main course - opened up a can of cranberry sauce; by the time the dinner hour rolled around we had a proper mini-facsimile of a "traditional" holiday dinner.

The verdict? It was actually pretty good, and while I'm sure that owed more than a little to my marinade/basting technique, I wouldn't mind repeating the experience every now and again. That said, Tofurky will not be forming the centerpiece of our meals this (or probably any) holiday season; if there is one point on which my extended family is united, it's an insistence on home-made food, particularly for special occasions.

Although my mother never got used to the absence of turkey (or whoever the "main course" happened to be) on my plate, she was happy to tuck into the roasted root vegetables, bread stuffing, and the rest of the "holiday" foods I produce, year after year. Without question, this year's table will have a big, deep, empty space - much larger than the 5' tall woman who ordinarily inhabited it - but the food will still be made by my hands, and those of her other children (and grandchildren), rather than the good people of Turtle Island Foods.

So, what have we learned? Well, maybe that our culture's atavistic attachment to certain foods at certain times of the year can lead us to eschew a sublime white bean cassoulet for a ridiculous (if somewhat yummy) processed food, simply because it rhymes with "turkey." And that the uncertain feelings provoked by the loss of a loved one can make us want to revisit the foodstuffs that make us feel cherished and cared for, be they noodles, casseroles, muffins, and/or pies.

As this more-than-usually demanding holiday season approaches, it feels important to acknowledge what has brought comfort in the past, while figuring out how to negotiate the brave new world of the future. And if the gentle reader - supposing that s/he still is reading - feels like checking out a Tofurky, I highly recommend that you proceed as follows and let me know what you think. Gobble, gobble; and God bless us, every one!

Desdemona's Wacky Tofurky Experiment
Basting Mixture
~ 1/2 cup olive oil
~ 1.5 cups water or vegetable broth
~ 1 tsp. vegetarian stock concentrate (I use Better Than Bouillon)
~ 1 tsp. Liquid Smoke
~ 1 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1/2 tsp. each: sage, marjoram, thyme
~ A few generous grinds of black pepper

~ 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
~ 2 carrots, cut into 2" pieces
~ 2 stalks celery, chopped into 2" pieces

~ Preheat the oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit
~ Place your unwrapped Tofurky in a casserole, the pour the basting mixture over. Ladle the liquid over the top a few times to coat.
~ Add the chopped vegetables, baste the Tofurky a few more times, then cover tightly and cook at 350 degrees for about 2 hours, basting every 30 minutes to prevent it drying out.
~ After 2 hours, uncover, baste again, and raise the heat to 400. Continue cooking another 15-20 minutes, basting every 5 minutes, until browned. Since this was an experiment, I went the whole hog (so to speak) and used the Tofurky "giblet" gravy. It was perfectly serviceable, but next time I'll make my own; use whatever gravy suits your fancy!
~ Serve cut into slices, accompanied by whatever you consider "traditional": mashed potatoes, stuffing, butternut squash, roasted brussels sprouts, cranberry sauce, something that incomprehensibly involves marshmallows and/or canned soup...go crazy, and be thankful!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Gingery Mashed Fruit Muffins

As anyone with even a cursory acquaintance with this blog (or blogger) knows, I'm inordinately fond of making muffins. They're fast, easy, endlessly adaptable, notoriously forgiving, make the kitchen smell wonderful, and impart that nice feeling of "Hey, I just baked something!" without a huge investment of time or effort. This recipe is particularly good for using up fruit that's just a little past its prime. The day I typed this up, I just happened to have a rotting banana and some mushy Bosc pears on hand - mmmm! - so in they went, but you could easily substitute whatever superannuated fruit you may have lying around. With the addition of some fresh ginger and chopped apple, these turned out moist, fluffy, and filled with fruity, gingery goodness; the perfect breakfast or snack with peanut butter, jam, or just on their own.

Gingery Mashed Fruit Muffins
~ 3.5 cups whole wheat pastry flour (or all purpose, if you prefer)
~ 1.5 tbsp. baking powder
~ 1/2 tsp. baking soda
~ 1 tsp. cinnamon
~ 1/2 tsp. each: salt, nutmeg
~ 2 apples, chopped into small dice
~ 2 cups mashed, over-ripe fruit (I used a banana and 2 pears)
~ 1/4 cup canola oil
~ 1/4 cup maple syrup
~ 6 oz. plain or vanilla soy yogurt
~ 3/4 cup apple cider (or juice)
~ 2 tbsp. ground flax seed
~ 1-2 tbsp. minced fresh ginger (depending on how gingery you like things)
~ 1 tsp. vanilla extract

~ Preheat the oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit and lightly coat two muffin tins with cooking spray.
~ In a large bowl, sift all the dry ingredients together. When well combined, add the diced apple and toss to coat with the flour mixture.
~ In a separate bowl or beaker, combine the mashed fruit and all remaining ingredients.
~ Make a well in the dry ingredients, add the wet mixture, and mix with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula (don't overmix!).
~ Spoon the muffin batter evenly into your greased muffin tins, and bake at 375 for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Makes two dozen warm, friendly muffins.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Desdemona's Outrageous Layers of Italianate Yum

This ginormous pan of carbtastic goodness happened because I couldn't choose between making eggplant lasagna or penne with mushrooms and spinach. I finally decided to combine the two ideas and see what happened, and the result was like the love-child of lasagna, eggplant parmesan, and creamed spinach. (Please don't vex me with biological minutiae: the ways of foodstuffs are not our ways.)

And what a happy little cherub it is: a layer of pasta tossed in creamy vegetable sauce, topped with slices of baked, roasted - or even fried - eggplant, Veganomicon cashew ricotta, and marinara sauce, then baked in the oven until browned and beauteous. Who wouldn't want to adopt this protégé and...well, eat it? (Okay, I think we've taken this metaphor far enough, but you take my point.)

I realize that this recipe looks like a lot of steps that will keep you in the kitchen all day, but it only took about two hours from start to finish; it was also remarkably un-heavy, considering the number and variety of ingredients. More proof - as if any were needed - of the magical properties of vegan food: did you think it was a coincidence that Strega Nona's enchanted cooking pot is always full of pasta?

Desdemona's Outrageous Layers of Italianate Yum
The Vegetables
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 large onion, chopped
~ 3 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 10 oz. mushrooms, sliced
~ 1 tbsp. dried basil
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, oregano
~ 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
~ A few generous grinds of black pepper
~ 1 lb. frozen spinach, thawed

~ In a large, deep skillet, heat the oil and saute the onions over medium heat, about 3 minutes.
~ Add the garlic, mushrooms, and seasoings, and cook about 5 minutes, until the mushrooms are giving up their juices.
~ Stir in the thawed spinach and combine thoroughly; cover the skillet and cook 5 minutes, until the spinach is just cooked.
~ Remove from heat while you make...

The Sauce
~ 1 lb. penne pasta
~ 2 tbsp. olive oil
~ 3 tbsp. flour
~ 1 cup grated Sheese or other vegan cheese (I used a combination of blue and cheddar flavors, but anything would work)
~ 2 cups plain, unsweetened soy milk

~ Cook 1 lb. penne pasta according to package directions; drain and set aside.
~ In a saucepan, heat the oil over low heat, and stir in the flour to make a roux.
~ Add 1/2 cup of the soy milk, stir until smooth, then add the grated Sheese and mix.
~ Gradually add the remaining soy milk, stirring constantly, and cook until the mixture thickens and there are no lumps remaining, about 3 minutes.
~ Add to the cooked vegetable mixture, then combine with the cooked pasta and set aside while you carry on with...

The Cashew Ricotta
~ 1 cup raw cashews, soaked in boiling water at least 30 minutes
~ 1 lb. extra firm tofu
~ 1/4 cup lemon juice
~ 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 tsp. each salt, basil
~ Fresh black pepper
~ 1/4 cup nutritional yeast (NB that this is my addition to the original recipe; I have a nooch jones)

Directions~ Drain the cashews, combine with remaining ingredients in a food processor, and blend to a smooth, delicious paste. (Easy, wasn't it?)

You'll also need...
~ 1 big-ass eggplant, cut into slices and baked, roasted, or (gasp!) breaded and fried as you would for eggplant parmesan (I confess that I used 2 packages of those Dominex frozen eggplant slices; highly recommended for taste and convenience)
~ 2 cups marinara sauce, homemade or jarred, your call

The Assembly
~ Transfer the pasta/vegetable/sauce mixture to a large, greased casserole dish, then arrange the eggplant slices on top in an even layer.
~ Layer the cashew ricotta over the eggplant, smoothing with a rubber spatula (don't worry about it being super-tidy; we're not frosting a cake here!.
~ Spoon the marinara over the whole business in a thin layer, then cover with aluminum foil and bake at 375 for 20 minutes.
~ Raise the heat to 400, remove the foil, and bake another 15-20 minutes, until slightly browned on top.
~ Allow to rest about 10 minutes before slicing.