Sunday, September 23, 2012

Crowd-Pleasing, Cheater-Face Eggplant Parmesan

Serve my loved ones a dinner made from packaged foods? Moi? Despite what may seem a preponderance of podge among my posts (I've been reading The Faerie Queene, and am accordingly all about alliteration; so sue me), I generally cook with whole foods, and most of our meals are quite healthy. It's just that the more extravagant, time-consuming, and/or high concept stuff tends to make it on to the blog, because who really wants to read about a bot of lentils, brown rice, and kale, right?

Well, today I present a recipe so packed with pre-packaged, processed products (damn you, Spenser; I can't stop myself!) that I'd be embarrassed to share if wasn't so extremely popular at my house. Seriously: every time I make this stuff, it disappears within a day or so, which is why I've taken to making such a ginormous quantity. So you can certainly halve the recipe if your home contains fewer people or a less gluttonous population. Then again, it makes amazing leftovers, and who doesn't like to come home and find a ton of food in the refrigerator? Anyway, served with some pesto linguine and a green salad, this casserole ranks high in the "everybody's favorite dinner" category; throw in some garlic bread, and you're well on the way to Happy Tummy Nirvana. And you can always cook that kale tomorrow!

Crowd-Pleasing, Cheater-Face Eggplant Parmesan
~ 4 packages frozen, breaded eggplant slices, baked in the oven according to directions
~ 1 quart marinara sauce
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1/2 cup finely diced onion
~ 1 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1/2 tsp. each: salt, basil, oregano
~ A few grinds of black pepper
~ 2 cups plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 2 cups shredded vegan mozzarella (I use Daiya or Teese)
~ 1/2 cup vegan parmesan, divided

~ Preheat the oven to 425 degrees fahrenheit and coat a large casserole with cooking spray.
~ Pour a little of the marinara sauce into the bottom of the casserole and spread it around.
~ Layer the eggplants slices in such a way that they are partially overlapping, until the casserole is completely filled.
~ Pour the marinara sauce over the top and set aside.
~ In a large skillet, sauté the onions in the oil over medium heat until very soft but not brown; about 8 minutes.
~ Add the seasonings and the soy milk and cook another minute or two.
~ Stir in the mozzarella and 1/4 cup of the parmesan, and cook over low heat for about 3-4 minutes, until the cheese is melted and you have a thick, smooth sauce.
~ Pour over the waiting eggplant and marinara, and smooth ever so carefully with a spatula.
~ Sprinkle the top with a little oregano and the remaining parmesan, and bake uncovered at 425 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown (not too brown!) and bubbling.
~ Allow to rest about 15 minutes before slicing.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Pumpkin Currant Spice Bread

Dear Great Pumpkin,

You must get discouraged because more people believe in Santa Claus than in you. Well, let's face it; Santa Claus has had more publicity, but being #2, perhaps you try harder. Everyone tells me you are a fake, but I believe in you. (P.S.: If you really are a fake, don't tell me. I don't wanna know.)

So writes Linus Van Pelt in his annual appeal to the Great Pumpkin, the god of his peculiar idolatry. While his faith in the superpowers of anthropomorphic squash render him eccentric in the sight of his friends (at one point, he remarks that there are three things he has learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin), I can't help feeling that Linus would fit right in here in Massachusetts, where pumpkin worship is the order of the day at this time of year.

Setting my well-established longing for Blighty aside, there's plenty to love about living in the "new" England, and this is particularly true in the fall. If one must be on this side of the Atlantic, the cool temperatures, brilliant foliage, and seasonal produce - not to mention the abundance of colonial graveyards to explore on chilly afternoons - combine to make our part of the country pretty idyllic. And of course there are pumpkins: lots and lots and lots of pumpkins. Beginning in September, these cheerful orange emblems of autumn are everywhere - a ubiquity continues right up to Thanksgiving, when they are rudely supplanted by jolly snowmen, fat, bearded men in red suits, and pimped-out evergreens (which is fodder for an entirely different post). Autumn in New England means pumpkins piled high at farmers' markets, perched on doorsteps, and reproduced in their thousands on sheets of primary school construction paper. In culinary terms, they are baked into pies and muffins, stirred into casseroles, soups, and curries, and pressed into service to add that ineffable seasonal something to all those weird, "limited edition" beers and flavored drive-thru coffees. In short, resistance is futile. So even if you don't subscribe to Linus' belief that "this is the time of year to write to the Great Pumpkin," you can still embrace the pleasantly spooky spirit of the season and surrender to that pulpy orange siren song by filling the kitchen with its aroma of delicious, spicy autumnal goodness. 

Pumpkin Currant Spice Bread 
Dry Ingredients
~ 2 cups all-purpose or white whole wheat flour
~ 1/3 cup dark brown sugar
~ 1 tbsp. baking powder
~ ½ tsp. baking soda
~ 1 tsp. each: cinnamon, ground ginger
~ ½ tsp. each: salt, cardamom, mace
~ ¼ tsp. each: nutmeg, allspice, ground cloves
~ ¾ cup dried currants

Wet Ingredients
~ 1 15 oz. can pureed pumpkin (2 cups)
~ ¼ cup canola oil
~ 1 tbsp. each: freshly grated ginger, blackstrap molasses
~ 1 tsp. each: vanilla extract, almond extract
~ 3/4 cup plain, unsweetened soy or rice milk

~ Coat a loaf pan with cooking spray, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and put the currants in hot water to soak for 10-15 minutes.
~ In a large mixing bowl, sift together the dry ingredients.
~ Combine the wet ingredients and mix thoroughly.
~ Drain the currants and add them to the dry ingredients; mix them around until they are coated with the flour mixture (this will keep them from sinking to the bottom of your batter).
~ Add the wet mixture to the dry, and mix thoroughly.
~ Transfer the batter to your ready and waiting loaf pan, and bake at 350 in the center of the oven for 45-60 minutes, or until a knife or toothpick inserted comes out clean. (Ovens vary wildly; mine tends to be a bit slow, so just keep an eye on things!)
~ Remove from the oven and allow the bread to cool in the pan for at least 15 minutes before slicing.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Beef(less) Stroganoff

"...the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail

Unwillingly to school."
~ As You Like It, 2/7.147

Why, yes - it is the first day of school! And in honor of this auspicious occasion and the associated change of seasons, I present a recipe for something that is not a salad. As we bid summer adieu and embark on a new semester, comfort foods become increasingly appealing: the evenings draw in, thoughts turn to warm sweaters and falling leaves, and there are few things that say "cozy autumnal dinner" like a plate of creamy, mushroomy stroganoff. In previous posts, I've talked about what seminal texts Mollie Katzen's Moosewood Cookbook and Anna Thomas' The Vegetarian Epicure (to which we owe the image above) were  for me as an adolescent vegetarian just beginning to explore the kitchen. Both books feature a strong Eastern European influence, and I still love the earthy flavors in those long-ago-bookmarked recipes (although I've since replaced the eggs and dairy with more compassionate alternatives). This one has everything you need to feel hugged from the inside, and it also has the quick preparation time so attractive on busy weeknights. So what are you waiting for? Go hang up your new backpack, change out of your school clothes, and start cooking - it'll be dark soon! (NB that although this dish is traditionally served with noodles, it's also good with rice, and we've had extremely happy results spooning it over mashed potatoes.)

Beef(less) Stroganoff

~  2 cups plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 1 tbsp. bouillon (I like Better Than Bouillon's "no beef" flavor)
~ 1 bay leaf
~ 1 tbsp. each: Earth Balance, olive oil
~ 1 medium yellow onion, diced
~ 1 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 10 oz. package brown mushrooms, sliced (I used baby bellas)
~ 2 tsp. dill
~ 1 tsp. each: sweet paprika, smoked paprika, parsley, marjoram
~ 1/2 - 1 tsp. salt (depending on the saltiness of your bouillon)
~ A few generous grinds of black pepper
~ 1 tbsp. flour
~ 1 tbsp. vegan Worcestershire sauce
~ 1 tsp. Marmite
~ 2 8 oz. packages Gardein or Trader Joe's beefless strips
~ 1 cup plain, unsweetened non-dairy yogurt 
~ 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped fine


In a bowl or beaker, combine the soy milk, the bouillon, and the bay leaf. Cover and microwave until hot, and set aside.
~ In a large, deep skillet, sauté the onions and garlic over medium high heat for about three minutes.
~ Add the mushrooms and dry seasonings, and cook another 5-7 minutes, until the mushrooms have released their moisture.
~ Add the flour and stir for a minute or two.
~ Remove the bay leaf from the soy milk/bouillon mixture, and begin adding to the vegetable mixture, stirring constantly.
~ Add the Worcester sauce, the Marmite, and the "beef." Turn the heat to low and continue cooking about 10 minutes, until slightly thickened.
~ Stir in the yogurt and fresh parsley, and cook just long enough to make sure the whole business is heated through. Serve over noodles, rice, or mashed potatoes.