Saturday, October 24, 2015

Herb and Olive Muffins

For me, olives are a prime example of how our tastes can change in adulthood (see also: parsnips and brussels sprouts, which means there's hope that my lifelong aversion to turnip, swede, and rutabaga may yet abate). Until I was about thirty, I considered all olives - black and green alike - to be nasty little nuggets of pure evil. I liked the oil extracted from them, but olives as themselves elicited no love from me. But somewhere along the line that all changed, and now I can't get enough of the wee darlings, whether in cooked recipes, in green, pasta, and/or potato salads, in martinis (obviously), or just on their own.

This fondness is enthusiastically shared by my whole family, so a batch of these muffins disappears in about 48 hours. In fact, it seems like I'm always baking them these days, which is fine because they are delicious. Fresh-baked muffins make a perfect snack, and are welcome additions to breakfast or brunch, but they are also so simple and fast that you can easily whip up a batch to have with dinner (they make a particularly nice accompaniment to Greek lentil and avgolemono soups).

Herb and Olive Muffins
~ 1.5-2 cups plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
~ 1 tbsp. ground flaxseed
~ 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
~ 2.5 cups all-purpose flour
~ 1 tbsp. baking powder
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, dill, basil, parsley
~ 1/2 tsp. each: baking soda, thyme, oregano, white pepper, garlic powder
~ 1 generous cup chopped black olives (I use kalamata)

~ Preheat the oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit and coat a muffin tin with cooking spray.
~ In a beaker, combine 1.5 cups of the soy milk with the vinegar, flaxseed, and olive oil; whisk vigorously for about a minute.
~ In a large mixing bowl, sift together the dry ingredients (flour through garlic powder), the sprinkle in the olives and toss well to coat.
~ Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and stir in the wet mixture, adding up to ½ cup extra soy milk as needed to get a relatively smooth batter.
~ Spoon the batter evenly into your prepared muffin tin, and bake in the center of the oven at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. (Ovens vary wildly and mine tends to be slow, so proceed accordingly.)
~ Remove from oven and allow the muffins to rest in the pan for 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Mexican-Inspired Spaghetti Squash

Ebony canned black beans,
Ruby-hued tomato,
Make a sauce, bake the squash;
Thrill me with a marrow.
(With apologies to Crosby, Stills, and Nash)

Now that autumn is officially here in New England, the markets are overflowing with various types of squash, and we love them all: from the last zucchini and patty pans of late summer to the butternuts, acorns, pumpkins, and mighty blue hubbards that help make the colder months more palatable. 

As its name suggests, spaghetti squash is set apart from its brethren by its distinctive (and admittedly rather weird) texture; when roasted or baked, its flesh comes away from the skin in long, thin strands, and is often substituted for noodles by the health-and/or-carb-conscious-and/or-gluten-intolerant-and/or-averse. It also differs from its seasonal cohort in that it doesn't have much flavor, so many people think of it as bland and watery. But I've found that these very qualities make it an ideal candidate for stuffing: simply combine the strands of squash with more assertive ingredients, stuff the whole business back into the shell with a tasty topping, and bake.

I'm planning to mess around with other flavor profiles for the filling as the season progresses;  mediterranean and good old-fashioned sage & onion both seem like good candidates. But for today's recipe I used the type of filling I'd usually make for tacos or enchiladas to transform a boring old squash into a delicious, filling - yea, verily, even exciting - meal.

Mexican-Inspired Spaghetti Squash
~ 1 largeish spaghetti squash, halved and seeded
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 4 large scallions, sliced
~ 1 small carrot, diced
~ 1 small green bell pepper, diced
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen
~ 1 cup chopped, fresh tomato (I used quartered grape tomatoes)
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, oregano, cumin, chili powder, marjoram, smoked paprika
~ ½ tsp. each: cinnamon, thyme, white pepper, cayenne
~ Dash nutmeg
~ 1 cup cooked black beans (homemade or canned)
~ 1 cup chopped, fresh cilantro
~ ½ cup shredded vegan cheddar (I used Daiya)
~ ¼ cup nutritional yeast
~ ⅓ cup plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 1 tbsp. hot sauce (I used Frank's)
~ ½ tsp. Liquid Smoke
~ Guacamole, salsa, and/or vegan sour cream to serve (optional)

~ Preheat the oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit.
~ Line a baking sheet with foil and coat it with cooking spray. Sprinkle the cut sides of the spaghetti squash with salt and pepper and place them cut side down on the pan. Bake for 45-50 minutes, then remove from the oven and allow to cool.
~ In a large skillet, sauté the scallions, carrot, and green pepper over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes.
~ Add the garlic, corn, tomato, dry seasonings, and black beans. Continue cooking for about 10 minutes, stirring often, until the tomatoes have broken down a bit and everything is fragrant.
~ With a fork, scoop out the "spaghetti" strands from the cooked squash and add them to the skillet. Stir in the fresh cilantro and combine thoroughly.
~ Pack the filling - yes, all of it! - back into the stopped-out squash halves and nestle them snuggly in a rimmed baking dish coated with cooking spray. You can press down with a spatula or wooden spoon to get it all in there.
~ In a small saucepan, combine the cheddar, nutritional yeast, hot sauce, and Liquid Smoke and cook over low heat, stirring often, until the cheese melts and you have a thick sauce.
~ Carefully distribute the cheese sauce over the filled squash halves and sprinkle with a little paprika.
~ Bake at 375 for 20-25 minutes, until the topping is brown and bubbly. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 5-10 minutes before slicing; if you like, you can top each serving with a dollop of guac, salsa, and/or sour cream. (I got three helpings - so six in total - from each half, and served it along with rice pilaf and a big salad. Everyone at my house was happily full!)

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Pumpkin & Broccoli Pasta Bake

I made this casserole when I was in a baked macaroni and cheese sort of mood, but lacked a few ingredients and the inclination to go grocery shopping. Using the awesome power of my imagination, it occurred to me that a pumpkin-based sauce with the same seasoning profile might get us to a similar place, and the end result was more than good enough to merit a blog post of its very own.

Pumpkin & Broccoli Pasta Bake
~ 1 lb. pasta (I used fusilli)
~ 1 pound fresh or frozen broccoli, cut into bite-size pieces
~ 6 cups plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 2 tbsp. "no chicken" bouillon
~ 2 bay leaves
~ 1 tbsp. each: prepared mustard, vegan Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce (I like Frank's)
~ 1 generous tsp. Marmite
~ 2 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 ginormous yellow onion, diced
~ 4 cloves garlic, minced
~ 1 tsp. each: sage, thyme
~ 1/2 tsp. each: smoked paprika, white pepper
~ Dash nutmeg
~ 1/2 cup nutritional yeast
~ 2 cups grated vegan mozzarella (I used TJ's)
~ 1 15 oz. can pureed pumpkin (about 2 cups)
~ 1 cup breadcrumbs, store bought or homemade
~ Dash each: salt, black pepper, paprika

~ Preheat the oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit and coat a casserole with cooking spray.
~ In a large beaker, whisk together the soy milk, bouillon, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, and Marmite. Add the bay leaves, cover, microwave until hot (you can also do this in a large saucepan, obviously), and set aside.
~ Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan and sauté the onion over medium heat for about 10 minutes, until quite soft but not browned.
~ Add the garlic and dry seasonings and cook about 5 minutes more, until fragrant.
~ Stir in the nutritional yeast and then gradually add the soy milk mixture, stirring continuously.
~ Gradually add the mozzarella and the pumpkin puree and keep stirring, until the cheese melts and you have a smooth, pumpkin sauce. Taste for seasoning, remove the bay leaves, and set aside.
~ Boil the pasta according to package directions; add the broccoli in the last two minutes of the cooking time and then transfer the whole business to a colander to drain.
~ Combine the cooked pasta and broccoli with the pumpkin sauce.
~ Transfer the mixture to your greased casserole and top with the breadcrumbs, a sprinkle of salt, pepper, paprika, and a good shot of cooking spray.
~ Cover with foil and bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and return to the oven for another 15-20 minutes, until browned and bubbling.
~ Remove from the oven and allow the casserole to rest a few minutes before serving.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Roasted Eggplant, Chicken, and Orzo Soup

The temperatures here in New England have begun plummeting south, with the result that breaking out the old soup cauldron suddenly seems like The Best Idea Ever. Today's recipe came about when I had an unused eggplant on my kitchen table and soup on my mind. A quick search yielded a Serbian recipe that was a like a cross between old-school chicken and avgolemono, to which I added more vegetables, a wider variety of seasonings, and a handful of orzo because it seemed like right thing to do. The lemon juice and fresh parsley lend a nice brightness to this otherwise pretty wintry soup, and while it may not boast much - if any - Serbian street cred, it does make a comforting and perfect meal on a chilly night.

Roasted Eggplant, Chicken, and Orzo Soup
~ 1 large eggplant, cut into 1" cubes
~ 1 package vegan chicken, cut into ½" pieces (I used Beyond Meat strips)
~ 2 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 large red onion, diced
~ 1 large stalk celery, diced
~ 1 large carrot, diced
~ 1 small red bell pepper, diced
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 tbsp. smoked paprika
~ 1 tsp. each: cumin, chili powder, oregano, marjoram, dill
~ ½ tsp. each: ginger, turmeric, cayenne
~ Dash cinnamon
~ 8 cups no chicken broth
~ ½ cup orzo
~ 1 cup plain, unsweetened soy (or other non-dairy) milk
~ 2 tsp. cornstarch
~ Juice of 1 large lemon
~ 1 cup chopped, fresh parsley

~ Preheat the oven to 450 degrees fahrenheit.
~ Coat a large baking sheet with cooking spray and place it in the oven for a few minutes. When the pan is hot, arrange the eggplant cubes in a single layer and give them a good shot of cooking spray and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Roast for about 20-25 minutes, flipping them at the halfway point. The eggplant should be tender and quite brown.
~ Transfer the eggplant to a dish and arrange the "chicken" pieces on the same baking sheet. Lower the heat to 400 and return the pan to the oven for 10 minutes; remove and set aside.
~ In a large pot, sauté the onion in the olive oil over medium-high heat for 5 minutes. Add the carrot, celery, and bell pepper and cook 5-7 minutes more, until softened.
~ Stir in garlic and dry seasonings (smoked paprika through cinnamon) and cook another minute or two, until fragrant.
~ Add the broth, raise the heat to high, and bring just to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, covered, for 10-15 minutes.
~ Add the roasted eggplant, chicken pieces, and orzo to the pot, stir to combine, and continue cooking for 15 minutes.
~ In separate bowl or beaker, which together the soy milk, corn starch, and one cup of broth from the cooking pot. Add this mixture to the soup and cook about 5 minutes more.
~ Remove from the heat, stir in the lemon juice and fresh parsley, and serve hot.