Saturday, October 26, 2013

Mushroom Pie

It's no secret that I lurve me some savory pie, and this one is exactly the kind of mumsy, unapologetically podgy comfort food designed for a cold, gloomy afternoon when the world seems like something to be kept firmly outside. At such times, the most reasonable course of action is to curl up with a big slice of pie, eked out by mashed potatoes (or champ), mushy peas, and maybe some greens and/or carrots to satisfy honor and the vegetable gods. (Pro tip: for maximum effectiveness, such a meal is best eaten in one's pajamas. Now isn't that better?)

Mushroom Pie
~ Crust for two-crust pie (homemade or store bought)
~ 1 tbsp. canola oil
~ 1 large yellow onion, chopped
~ 1 small carrot, diced
~ 1 stalk celery, diced
~ 2 10 oz. pkgs. mushrooms, sliced (I used baby bellas)
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, thyme, sage, marjoram
~ 1 tsp. each: Marmite, vegan Worcestershire sauce, English mustard
~ 1/4 cup each: flour, nutritional yeast
~ 1.5 cups plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 1 tsp. corn starch
~ 1/4 cup frozen peas

~ Preheat the oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit.
~ Whisk 1/2 cup of the soy milk together with the cornstarch and set aside.
~ In a large, deep skillet, sauté the onion over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes.
~ Add the celery and carrot and cook about 5 minutes more, stirring occasionally.
~ Add the garlic, mushrooms, and dry seasonings. Stir to combine, and continue cooking for about 10 minutes, until the vegetables are soft and the mushroom are giving up their liquid.
~ Stir in the Marmite, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, and peas and cook another minute or two.
~ Add the flour and nutritional yeast, and begin gradually adding the remaining cup of soy milk, stirring constantly.
~ Add the reserved soy milk/cornstarch mixture and combine thoroughly. Continue cooking 5 minutes more, until the mixture thickens. Remove from heat and allow to cool for about 10 minutes.
~ Fill the bottom pie crust with the vegetable mixture (it will be very full), and top with the remaining crust, being sure to crimp the edges together well to seal.
~ With a sharp knife, make a few small gashes in the top crust, and bake at 400 degrees for 30-40 minutes. (Bear in mind that ovens vary wildly, so keep an eye on it; go ahead and cover it with foil if it browns too quickly.)
~ Remove from the oven and allow to rest about 15 minutes before slicing.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Chickpea Flour Omelets

Chickpea flour - also known as besan, gram flour, and garbanzo bean flour - is the magical fairy dust of the vegan kitchen. Not only is it packed with protein and other good stuff, it has a rich, nutty taste that lends itself to brunchy things like frittataspancakes, French toast sweet and savory, and makes a perfect crispy coating for frying and/or baking stuff.

Today's offering is yet another breakfast/brunch dish - so sue me: I like spending half the morning cooking and the other half eating - but it could easily be served for dinner with some extra veggies on the side. These light but substantial omelets take their inspiration from a recipe that Vegan Richa posted awhile back, to which I've made a few alterations My main changes were to omit the oat flour, add nutritional yeast, change/increase the seasonings, and cook the vegetables separately rather than mix them into the batter raw. I also went for the folded "half moon" effect, which was a bit delicate but turned out beautifully. As you can see, this recipe has a distinctly Indian feel to it, but you could easily change up the filling and seasonings to produce an entirely different vibe if you like; the sky's the limit! I'm thinking that next time I'll replicate the beloved western omelet of my childhood with grilled onions, peppers, vegan cheese (and maybe some mushrooms, because a little fungus make everything better).

Chickpea Flour Omelets
The Batter
~ 4 tbsp. ground flaxseed
~ 2 cups warm water
~ 1 1/3 cup chickpea flour
~ 1/3 cup nutritional yeast
~ 2 tsp. baking powder
~ 1 tsp. each: curry powder, kala namak (or kosher salt)
~ 1/2 tsp. each: cumin, chili powder, garlic powder
~ 1/4 tsp. turmeric
~ A few grinds fresh black pepper

~ In a large mixing bowl, whisk the ground flaxseed with 1 cup of the warm water until frothy. Set aside to rest for about 5 minutes.
~ In a separate bowl, combine all remaining ingredients except the additional cup of water. Add this dry mix to the wet flaxseed mixture by 1/2 cupfuls, whisking with each addition and adding the remaining cup of water until you have a smooth batter. Set aside while you make...

The Filling
~ 1 tbsp. canola oil
~ 1 small red onion, small dice
~ 1/2 bell pepper, small dice
~ 1 small carrot, small dice
~ 1/2 cup frozen spinach
~ 1/3 cup frozen peas
~ 1/2 cup crumbled coconut bacon (optional)

~ In a large skillet, saute the onion, pepper, and carrot over medium heat for 5-7 minutes.
~ Add the spinach and peas, cover the pan, and cook another few minutes until wilted and bright green respectively. Stir in the coconut bacon (if using), remove from heat, and transfer to a small bowl.

And now...
~ Preheat the oven to 200 degrees and place a nonstick baking sheet inside.
~ Wipe out the skillet, coat with a generous shot of cooking spray, and set over medium heat.
~ Ladle about 1/3-1/2 cup of batter into the middle of the pan, allowing it to spread out ever so slightly. ~ After a minute, sprinkle a few spoonfuls of the filling over the batter; cover and cook about 5 minutes, until set around the edges but still a bit moist in the center.
~ Using a thin spatula, very carefully fold one side of the omelet over the other to form that classic half moon shape. Transfer the finished omelet to the baking sheet in the oven to keep warm.
~ Repeat until all the ingredients are used up (this should yield seven or eight omelets).
~ Serve immediately with a dollop of chutney and homefries, toast, or whatever brunchy accompaniments strike your fancy.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Baked Pasta with Squash and Spinach

October is my favorite month. I love its cool temperatures, its bright blue skies, its colorful, crunchy leaves, and the delightful air of mild spookiness that pervades New England as the evenings draw in earlier and Hallowe'en approaches. (Which makes it especially perfect for one of my most beloved activities: tromping around old cemeteries. Hence the photo.) I also love the ubiquity of root vegetables, which come in all sorts of interesting, knobbly shapes, colors, and sizes, and are perfect for roasting, for making soups and stews, and for transforming into comforting, carbohydrate-laden casseroles like today's recipe, which combines baked winter squash, pasta, and spinach in a creamy sauce with a crispy topping. Just the thing for a chilly autumn evening.

Baked Pasta with Squash and Spinach
~ 1 lb. penne (or other sturdy pasta, such as ziti)
~ 1 winter squash (I used butternut)
~ 2 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 large onion
~ 4 cloves garlic, minced
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, thyme, sage, marjoram
~ Dash nutmeg
~ Several generous grinds black pepper
~ 2 cups plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 1/2 cup nutritional yeast
~ 2 cups shredded vegan mozzarella
~ 3/4 lb. chopped, frozen spinach
~ 1 tbsp. hot sauce (I'm currently addicted to Frank's)
~ 1/2 cup chopped, toasted walnuts
~ 2 tbsp. each: wheat germ, nutritional yeast
~ 1/2 tsp. each: salt, paprika

~ Preheat the oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit and coat a large casserole with cooking spray.
~ Split the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the sides. Rub the cut sides with a little olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and bake (cut side down) for 50-60 minutes, until easily pierced with a fork. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
~ In a large, deep skillet, sauté the onion in the olive oil over medium heat for 10-12 minutes, until quite soft. Add the garlic and seasonings and cook another minute or two.
~ Add one cup of the soy milk and the 1/2 cup of nutritional yeast. Stir to combine and begin gradually adding the shredded mozzarella, stirring with each addition until melted.
~ Add the remaining soy milk and continue stirring until you have a smooth sauce. Add the chopped spinach and cook another few minutes until it wilts.
~ Turn the heat to low and scoop the flesh from the cooked squash; discard the skins and mash the squash with a fork. Add to the simmering sauce and combine thoroughly; cook another 5 minutes, stirring often, and remove from heat.
~ Cook the pasta according to package directions and drain, reserving one cup of the cooking water.
~ Return the cooked pasta to the cooking pot and add the squash/spinach sauce, making sure everything is happily commingled. If it looks a bit thick, you can add some of the reserved pasta water to get the consistency you want.
~ Transfer the mixture to your waiting casserole and smooth with a spoon or spatula.
~ In a small bowl, combine the walnuts, wheat germ, remaining nutritional yeast, salt, and paprika. Sprinkle evenly over the pasta and cover with foil.
~ Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes, and then remove the foil and raise the heat to 400 degrees.
~ Continue cooking another 20 minutes or so, until the topping is golden brown.
~ Remove from the oven and allow to rest about 10 minutes before serving.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Apple and Pear Brown Betty (or something)

Up the apples and pears, and across the Rory O' Moor,
I'm off to see my dear old Trouble and Strife.
On the Cain and Able, you will always see
A pair of Jack the Rippers and a cup of Rosy Lee.
What could be better than this?
A nice old cuddle and kiss,
All beneath the pale moonlight.
Then some Tommy Tucker and off to Uncle Ned.
Oh, What a luverly night tonight.

My mother loved music hall songs like the one quoted above, and I can never think of apples and pears together without turning them into stairs. Although she grew up in Birmingham, far from the sound of Bow bells, my mother always loved Cockney rhyming slang, and learned about a million of these popular songs from her grandfather, who was by all accounts a bit of a lad. My mother would have called this dish a Brown Betty,  and it is in the fine tradition of crumblescobblerscrisps, and other versions of baked fruit with some type of crunchy topping. This one came about because I had an urge to bake, a plethora of apples and pears - doesn't that roll trippingly off the tongue? - but very little else to work with.  Although my mother's version would have used a ton of butter and fine, homemade breadcrumbs (if a jar of wheat germ ever saw the inside of her kitchen cupboard, it could only have been because I was still at home), I think she'd have applauded my ingenuity and thrift in producing a dessert for five people with little more than a handful of slightly overripe fruit. Whatever you choose to call it, this is one of those ridiculously easy dishes that come together quickly and never fail to please. And since it's not too sweet, it's as suitable for breakfast tomorrow as it is for dessert tonight, so Bob's your uncle!

Apple and Pear Brown Betty 
~ 5 large, unpeeled apples, cut into approximately 1" cubes
~ 5 large, unpeeled pears, cut into approximately 1" cubes
~ 1/2 cup each: wheat germ, all purpose flour, finely chopped walnuts
~ 1/4 cup brown sugar
~ 1/2 tsp. each: salt, cinnamon
~ 1/4 tsp. each: ginger, nutmeg
~ 1/4 cup very cold Earth Balance (or other vegan margarine)

~ Preheat the oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit and coat a 9 x 13" casserole with cooking spray.
~ In a mixing bowl, sift together the wheat germ, flour, sugar, and spices. Chop the margarine and add to the dry mixture. Mix together until it forms a texture like soft crumbs (full disclosure: I just get right in there and do this part with my fingers).
~ Place the cubed fruit in the greased casserole and arrange the topping over it evenly.
~ Cover with foil and bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake about 20 minutes more, until the fruit is soft and the topping is golden brown.
~ Serve hot with vanilla ice cream, yogurt, or - best of all - custard.