Saturday, August 21, 2010

(Fully) Loaded Jacket Potatoes

Check out these potatoes - one way or another, they're ready for anything. The first is fully loaded with all the necessary tools to retrieve the fabled Spud of the Covenant (clutched securely in his manly [?] hand), while the second is...well, just kind of loaded. Either way, we are reminded of the endless versatility of that quintessence of comfort, the humble - yet withal noble - Solanum tuberosum.There's just something happiness-inducing about potatoes, whether mashed, roasted, fried, as the fluffy topping for a cottage or shepherd's pie, or, as they appear here, baked and stuffed with all kinds of salty, fatty, creamy goodness.

That said, I should come right out and admit that if you're looking for "health food," it might be best to close your browser window right now and go elsewhere, because this is without question the most packaged-food-laden recipe ever to appear on this blog: I would be (almost) ashamed to post it at all, except for the fact that these things are so damned good. We usually make them for over-the-top weekend brunches, but we recently had them for dinner, alongside breaded seitan cutlets and green beans almondine (we were going for an early-'60s, Mad Men vibe, including pineapple rightside-up cupcakes for dessert, courtesy of my partner's daughters), and this batch was so particularly outrageous that I decided to cross that invisible line into "processed crap," and type it up. I say we had them as an accompaniment to several other dishes, but be forewarned that this is the most filling "side dish" you're likely to encounter - I ate one potato half, the smallest cutlet available, a tiny scoop of green beans, and was Thanksgiving-level full (in a good way, but I'm just sayin'). Of course, this is actually a fine thing, since the inevitable leftovers will provide you with an excellently substantial breakfast the next day. So without further ado, I give you the loaded potato: the tuber that keeps on giving.

Loaded Jacket Potatoes
~ 6 large baking potatoes, scrubbed and baked (oven or microwave is fine; just wrap them in foil if you're using the oven, so the skins don't blacken), cooled
~ 2 tbsp. Earth Balance, or other vegan margarine
~ 1/4-1/2 cup plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 1/2 cup Tofutti sour cream or cream cheese, or a combination
~ 1/2 cup cheddar flavor Daiya (or other vegan cheese), shredded
~ 1 pkg. Lightlife tempeh bacon, cooked and crumbled
~ 2 tbsp. nutritional yeast
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, paprika, dried parsley
~ 1/4 cup fresh chives, chopped fine

~ Preheat oven to 425 fahrenheit.
~ Scoop out the cooked potato into a large mixing bowl, being careful to leave the skins intact.
~ Mash well, then add the remaining ingredients, mixing thoroughly with each addition (go ahead and add a bit more of anything you like to taste. We're aiming for a very creamy, whipped potato texture here.
~ Carefully scoop the filling back into the skins, and arrange them on a lightly oiled baking sheet.
~ When all the filling has been equally distributed, sprinkle the tops with a little extra parsley and paprika, if you're feeling decadent, a drizzle of melted margarine.
~ Bake at 425 for about minutes, until browned and beauteous (everyone's oven is different, so check occasionally to make sure they don't burn).
~ Allow to cool 5 minutes before serving to a chorus of rapturous yummy sounds. If you really want to go crazy, you could even top them with a dollop of vegan sour cream; I won't judge!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

White Bean and Mushroom Stew

I love cooking shows, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that they invariably feature things I would never actually consider eating. The fun part is getting an idea for something I would eat, and then figuring out how to accomplish it; this is especially true when the inspiration is a recipe chock-full of objectionable ingredients, which was certainly the case with the prototype for this dish. One recent Saturday, it was Laura Calder making Belge-Ette de Veau (Belgian Veal Stew) on French Food at Home that got me thinking, "Hmmmm, take out the crème fraîche, 5 tablespoons of butter, and 4 pounds of veal shoulder (seriously? To paraphrase the good people at Food Fight: what kind of asshole eats a calf?), add some more herbs and vegetables, and we might have something going on here." The result was an unqualified success: a thick, filling stew that came together quickly and - with roasted potatoes and sauteed asparagus with hollandaise sauce on the side - made a lovely supper. I encourage you to try it, especially as autumn approaches and the weather cools off; your family will thank you, and so will the baby calf who gets to stay with his mama, instead of winding up in your stewpot!

(NB - I used canned beans because I had them in the cupboard, but soaked, dried beans would probably be even better; I'd cook them ahead with a few herbs, then just add them at the point in the recipe where I call for the canned ones.)

White Bean and Mushroom Stew
~ 2 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 lb. pearl onions, peeled and halved
~ 2 tbsp. garlic, minced
~ 1 cup carrot, diced
~ 1 lb. mushrooms, sliced
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, thyme, marjoram
~ 1 tbsp. dried tarragon
~ A few generous grinds of black pepper
~ 2 15 oz. cans cannelini (or other white beans), drained
~ 2 cups vegetable broth
~ 2 tbsp. Earth Balance, or other vegan margarine
~ 2 tbsp. flour
~ 1/2 cup plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 1 cup chopped, fresh parsley

~ In a large, deep pot, heat the oil and saute the onions over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
~ Add the garlic, carrots, mushrooms, salt, thyme, tarragon, and the pepper, and cook another 5 minutes.
~ Pour in 1 cup of the broth, bring to a boil, then cover and cook for 10 minutes.
~ Add the beans and the remaining broth, and cook for 20 minutes more, partially covered (put the lid on, but crack it about an inch).
~ In a saucepan, melt the margarine over low heat, then add the flour, stirring to make a roux. Pour in the soymilk, and whisk for a few minutes until the mixture has thickened.
~ Add the soymilk mixture to the stew, stir to combine, and cook another 15-20 minutes, until quite thick.
~ Stir in the fresh parsley, combine thoroughly, remove from heat, and serve.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Meatloaf Masquerade, Part Deux

It's been over a month since my mother died, and I continue to be astonished at just how weird that is. I like to flatter myself - what else is new? - that I've been holding up reasonably well, but this is not an easy process. Not that one expects that it should be easy, but then again what should we expect? The loss of a parent is by definition a Great Big Existential Deal, and when it happens it's hard to feel at anything but a loss. I'm working hard to find the grace, the wisdom, the enhanced connection with life, the universe, and everything, or even just the educational value in this, but it remains a major emotional challenge (or, as one eloquent friend puts it, AFGE: Another Fucking Growth Experience).

Which is why I am now going to talk about meatloaf.

#1: Not the "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" Meatloaf, because that would just be gross.
#2: Not the cheap-ground-beef-mixed with-ketchup meatloaf, because that would be (improbable though it may seem) even grosser.
#3: Not the gussied-up, "meatloaf masquerade" en croute referred to in my most recent post, because there is no way I could ever hope to match Julia's unbridled blood lust.

No, I'm thinking about meatloaf more as a concept, an idea, a signifier, if you will, of "Mom's home cooking." The sort of thing that would be in the oven when you came in from playing on a chilly afternoon, asking what was for dinner. That the response - "Meatloaf, you love it" - left no room for rebuttal was part and parcel of childhood mealtimes. (I'm reminded of a passage from Marilyn French's seminal feminist novel, The Women's Room, in which Adele, the archetypal harassed 1950s housewife, reflects, "To children, food was everything...their whole evening rose or fell according to what they were to have for dinner." Which is just as true today as it was back then.)

Now, let me just come right out and say that I always hated meatloaf. Of course, I was a notoriously picky eater, and the list of things I hated was longer than the list of things I didn't, but even my siblings agreed that our mother's meatloaf pretty much sucked; this was surprising, because she was an amazing cook. My father's rendition was a bit better - and provides the general model for today's recipe - but it's not the sort of thing I would have actively craved or requested.

So why am I veganizing it? A question to be asked. I suppose it comes down to an urge to get in the kitchen and make something stereotypically "homey" at a time when I'm redefining exactly what that means. What can I say? The humidity had (temporarily) broken, all of my kids were at home, I had submitted a draft of my final thesis chapter, I wanted to make something that said "old school dinner," and this was the result. In a perfect world, I would have mixed up some martinis, tidied the house, put on some lipstick, and run a comb through my hair while dinner was in the oven, but in the event I only got as far as the first part. (I can only take this June Cleaver thing so far, okay?)

Please note that I used mashed up vegan meatballs for the "meat," because that's what was on hand, but you could easily sub Gardein, Gimme Lean, Trader Joes' "Beefless" Ground Beef, Boca Crumbles, or whatever you prefer. This recipe will make one big or two smaller loaves, and is pretty filling. We ate it with sauteed carrots and (what else?) mashed potatoes on the side, for a reasonable facsimile of a dinner my mom would have made back in the day. Except that my meatloaf is delicious, so there should be no grumbling or crestfallen expressions when it appears on the table!

Not My Mom's Meatloaf
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 cup chopped onion
~ 1/2 cup each: finely minced celery, carrots, green bell pepper
~ 1 tbsp. garlic, minced
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, marjoram, chili powder, parsley
~ 1/2 tsp. oregano, thyme, basil
~ 2 12 oz. packages vegan meatballs, thawed and mashed (Nate's and TJ's are good)
~ 1 cup vegetable broth
~ 2 tsp. vegan Worcestershire sauce
~ 1 tsp. Liquid Smoke
~ 1 6 oz. can tomato paste
~ 1/2 cup quick-cooking rolled oats
~ 1/2 to 1 cup prepared spaghetti sauce (depending on your tomato jones)

~ Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and coat a loaf pan with cooking spray.
~ In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and saute the onions, celery, carrot, and bell pepper for about 7 minutes over medium-high heat, until softened.
~ Add the garlic, salt, marjoram, chili powder, parsley, oregano, thyme, and basil; cook another couple minutes.
~ Add the mashed meatballs, tomato paste, Worcester sauce, Liquid Smoke, and the broth. Stir to combine and cook five minutes, until well incorporated.
~ Stir in the oats, and cook another 5-10 minutes, until you have thick "sloppy joe" texture (you can add a little water if it gets too thick, but remember that you want it to set up and be sliceable after baking).
~ Transfer the mixture to the prepared loaf pan, pour the spaghetti sauce over the top, cover with foil, and bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes.
~ Remove the foil, raise the heat to 400, and bake another 15 minutes, until browned.
~ Allow to stand for about 10 minutes before serving with mashed potatoes, and something old-school (sauteed carrots and/or green beans come to mind).