Tag Archives: vegetarian

Crusted Acorn Squash

baked 3I don’t like Halloween. There, I said it. Please don’t hurl a pumpkin at me. I know it’s an unpopular sentiment but I have to lay it all out there. What’s not to like, you may ask? Adorable children dressed in costumes, tons of candy and a great party atmosphere. How could anyone hate that? I think most of my enmity stems from the pumpkin.

Pumpkin guts kind of unnerve me. Cut the top off the pumpkin and I become perturbed. I do not want to handle those slimy seeds. Sure, you can carve an adorable face, but the next day, after all the fun and games, someone has to deal with the  leftover carcass. It has to be cut up and composted or put in the garbage. November 1 is just so depressing!

Add to that the fact that, by the time the big day arrives, I have eaten roughly half my body weight in miniature Kit Kat and Coffee Crisp chocolate bars. I thought I had come up with a clever way of handling the calorie loading by trying to outsmart myself, and only buy chocolate bars I didn’t like. (There are very few of those!) I started buying Mr. Big bars.Cadbury_Mr_Big_Label94_enlThat led to a whole other problem. Once word got out that we were giving out full size candy bars, vans started pulling up to the house, unleashing hordes of kids from other neighbourhoods. Now, not only did I have to smile and pretend to be happy to see my neighbours and their kids, I had to spend the evening interacting with random strangers! Plus, I discovered that, say… I do like Mr. Big bars after all.

Luckily for me, and all our neighbours, my husband loves Halloween. He buys and carves the pumpkin and answers the door and makes small talk with everyone. God bless him!

So, when I came across a recipe for Crusted Pumpkin Wedges in Yotam Ottolenghi’s fabulous book, Plenty, I immediately crossed out the pumpkin and proceeded to make it with acorn squash! There was also an adorable butternut squash at the market that day, and I bought it as well. It looked like it wanted to hug the acorn squash. I have nothing but love for squash!butternut hugs acorn 2I left the acorn squash unpeeled and sliced it. They looked like flowers.sliced squash The topping is made from dried breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, lemon zest, garlic, parsley and thyme. I had no Panko breadcrumbs so I made breadcrumbs from some rye bread that I had in the freezer.

rye bread crumbsgrating cheese

chopping parsleybrushing with oilThe topping gets applied quite thickly to the squash, and then it is pressed on to help it adhere.ready for oven The baked squash was so delicious. The sweetness of the tender squash was perfectly balanced by the salty crunchy topping. I would probably even love this with pumpkin! baked 2

Click here to print recipe for Crusted Acorn Squash.

baked 5

Chili Hand Pies

Just the words “Hand Pie” make me smile. Could there be anything more adorable and appealing than a little pie you eat with your hands? To be honest, I’m not a huge fruit pie fan. Perhaps it’s because of my peach pie blunder.   Or maybe it’s just that if I’m going to ingest copious amounts of butter and sugar, I’d rather partner it with chocolate or caramel rather than fruit. Plus, there’s something about a fruit hand pie makes me think of McDonald’s deep-fried apple pies. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

But stuff something savory in pastry and I’m all over it!

I was watching The Chew last week and Carla and Clinton teamed up to make Chili Hand Pies. They had way too much fun making them, and I wanted in on it. I think it would be so much fun to have the cast of The Chew over for drinks! Cooking dinner for them would be too much pressure, but I know that certainly after a few cocktails, they’d all be in my kitchen with me cooking away. Michael would be laughing while he prepared some porky goodness, Mario would be grating Parmesan Cheese over everything and Clinton would surely keep the cocktails flowing.

My sisters just read the last paragraph and I know they are thinking that I am turning into my mother, having imaginary parties with my TV friends.

Carla and Clinton did a Beef Chili. I decided to do a vegetarian version, substituting Veggie Ground Round for the beef. I also added some onions to the chili and ramped up the heat, using 3 kinds of peppers: fresh jalapeno, diced pickled jalapeno and ancho chili powder. You want the filling to be quite spicy because the pastry crust is quite mild.

The dough is made with cornmeal. They recommended cutting the butter into small slices, but I took it right from the freezer and grated it into the dry ingredients. This is a wonderfully supple dough and rolls out without any problems. I used a 5 inch tin to cut out my circles. Use whatever you have on hand. Smaller ones would also be a wonderful hors d’oeuvre. You can make the chili and the pastry a day ahead and refrigerate them separately. I rolled out all my pastry circles and stacked them between sheets of waxed paper, before chilling. That way, the next day it was all ready to assemble and bake.

Onions, garlic, red pepper, jalapeno pepper, cumin, chili powder and salt form the flavour base.

Make sure you let the chili cool before mixing in some grated cheddar.

Don’t overfill them or you will have trouble sealing them. You can simply press the edges with the tines of a fork, or get fancy and roll the edges like a rope. 

Cut a few slits so the steam can escape. 20 minutes in a 400 degree oven, and they are ready to serve.

Click here to print the recipe for Chili Hand Pies.

Vegetarian French Onion Soup

Last weekend was one of those rare ones when Canada and the U.S. get their act together and both have a long weekend at the same time. Here in Ontario, Monday was “Family Day”, and in the U.S. where my daughter goes to school, it was President’s Day. Family Day, in case you are interested is one of those made-up holidays, created by the Liberal Party of Ontario, in an effort to suck up to voters. Truthfully, we all need a day off mid-February. With apologies to T.S. Eliot, February is the cruellest month.

So, last weekend the whole family was together under the same roof again, if only for a few days. I feel so content when we are all together. Granted the contentment wears a bit thin when the two oldest make their younger brother laugh so hard he almost chokes to death.

Tuesday morning my fridge was empty and my countertops were covered in a fine layer in flour, butter and chocolate and I wasn’t even pissed off!  Since my daughter lives in a college residence, when she comes home, she likes to bake. And it fills me with great joy to see her creating.

She baked a milk chocolate cake for her best friend’s birthday.

She baked The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie for her sorority sisters.

And she baked chocolate cookies filled with peanut butter for her residence suite mates.

Sorry, got a bit sidetracked by all that chocolate.

While all the family was home, I did a bit of cooking myself. I had never considered making French Onion Soup before. I knew that the foundation for a really great French Onion Soup was homemade beef stock. Since we have a vegetarian in the family, I make most of my soups with vegetable stock. And I never imagined that vegetable stock would have the oomph and body necessary for French Onion Soup. And then I discovered the roasted vegetable stock created by Mark Bittman. That man is pure genius! It has almost all the depth and richness of a beef stock. The secret is roasted vegetables (including mushrooms) and soy sauce!

The other key to an authentic French Onion Soup is cooking heaps of onions, low and slow. A mandoline does a great job slicing the onions nice and thin.

.

Two pounds of sliced onions are cooked over a low heat for almost 45 minutes, until they shrink down to a caramelized pile of sweet oniony goodness. Be patient. Do not turn up the heat in order to finish sooner. You will have bitter blackened onions.

Make sure you use a good sturdy bread and toast it well before topping it with cheese. I used a combination of Gruyère and Cheddar.

When you break through the top layer of gooey cheese and crusty bread, your patience in taking the time to caramelize the onions slowly, is rewarded with a sweet and mellow broth.

Click here to print recipe for Vegetarian French Onion Soup.

Vegetarian Chili

I have been making this vegetarian chili on a regular basis for almost 10 years now. You would think I would be sick of it, but I’m not. Perhaps it’s because I top it with crushed tortilla chips and shredded cheddar and then pop the whole bowl in the oven until the cheese is hot and bubbly. A dollop of sour cream and some spring onions don’t hurt either!

When my daughter was 11 years old, she came home from camp and announced that she was now a vegetarian. Of course I thought it was a phase and figured she would grow out of it. After a year of subsisting on mainly cheese and peanut butter, I figured I better begin researching alternate protein sources for her. I started cooking with tofu and she really liked it. Problem was, the rest of the family, especially me, couldn’t stand it so it meant making two different dinners. And then I stumbled across this product.

Consisting of soy and wheat protein, it basically has not much taste, but is loaded in protein. I figured I could make a chili, loaded with spices and vegetables and use the veggie ground round for texture. I added some rice and beans for more bulk and protein and came up with a delicious vegetarian option that everyone would eat without too much grumbling. Several years later I got the brain wave to top the chilli with crushed tortilla chips and grated cheddar cheese. I put the whole thing in the oven for about 10 minutes until it was all hot and bubbly. After that, everyone was really happy!

If you can chop vegetables and open cans, you can make this. I thought it was a fairly foolproof recipe until my daughter’s friend, Christina, who requested this every time she ate at our house, decided to make it herself. She had just moved into her first apartment at university and sent me an e-mail for the recipe. A few days later, my daughter told me that the recipe did not turn out. Christina had burned it. I just could not fathom how this had happened. The recipe uses 3 cups of water as well as liquid from the canned tomatoes. How could it possibly burn with that much liquid?

Upon further interrogation, the answer became clear. She looked at the mixture in the pot after adding the canned tomatoes and decided that it already looked liquidy enough. She decided she did not need to add the water. What she didn’t factor into the equation was that she had also added a cup of raw rice. Rice absorbs liquid and swells to three times its original volume as it cooks. (She is not a science major!) Without the extra liquid, the rice had nothing to soak up and it just burned. She was so embarrassed so I decided to share my Jell-O fiasco with her so she wouldn’t feel so badly.

My earliest cooking disaster was back in the 70’s when Jell-O molds were all the rage.  My mom used to make whipped Jell-O desserts.  My favourite was a red Jell-O and frozen raspberry concoction that had sour cream or whipped cream folded into it.  It had a mousse like consistency.  Sometimes, when she was feeling a little exotic she would make a green Jell-O and crushed pineapple variation. When that happened, I had to call my friend Corrie, immediately.  It was her favourite.

I begged my mom to let me help her make the Jell-O dessert. She had everything laid out on the counter.  She gave me my instructions, “When the water boils, add two packages of lime Jell-O”.  She went upstairs to get the fish-shaped mold and left me alone. In a few minutes, clouds of steam were billowing out of the kettle so I added the Jell-O powder – right into the kettle!  Suffice it to say, it was a while before she let me help her again. My story left Christina feeling a little bit better about her burned chili, and since that time she has gone on to make it successfully, many times.

Begin with chopped onions, red and yellow peppers. Sweat in olive oil for a few minutes and then grate some garlic into the pot.

Add canned beans (white or black or both), canned corn, canned plum tomatoes, which have been coarsely chopped, rice, water and spices. My favourite way to chop canned tomatoes is to dump them out into a large bowl and squish them with my hands. For my chili, I used cumin powder, and a combination of Ancho chili powder and New Mexico chili powder (mild). Then add some white long grain rice and more water. Let the whole thing simmer for about 30 minutes.

After about half an hour, add diced zucchini and the veggie ground round. Cook for an additional 10 minutes and then spoon unto heatproof bowls. Top with crushed tortilla chips and grated cheddar and bake in a hot oven until the cheese melts.

Click here to print recipe for Vegetarian Chili .

Spicy-Sweet Green Beans

I wish you were here with me right now in my kitchen. Because I am about to tell you about some of the most amazing green beans I have ever eaten. And I’m not sure my writing and photography skills will be sufficient to convince you. If you were here beside me to smell them and taste them, I could make a believer out of you.

Now you may be wondering why I am raving about green beans. I can almost hear you now, in that disbelieving tone, “Come on, really? Green beans? Is she that hard up for healthy January recipes?”

This recipe came to me in a quiet e-mail from my sister Faith. It was actually a forwarded e-mail from her friend Kerry. Subject line read: Green Beans. The message was a simple one liner, “You’ll love these” and then on the next line was the link to the recipe.

I happen to love green beans. I think they are the Rodney Dangerfield of vegetables. They simply do not get the respect they deserve. They are the perfect canvas for carrying any flavour profile. They are healthy and I think they’re quite pretty to look at. I eat them at least twice a week and I’m always on the look-out for new ways to dress them up. So my sister had my attention.

When I clicked on the link I knew right away this recipe was a winner. When it comes to the plethora of on-line recipes floating around out there, you must always consider the source. And this time the source was Mark Bittman. Or Bitty as I like to call him ever since I heard Gwyneth Paltrow call him that on their PBS series “Spain – On the Road Again.”

Mark Bittman, New York Times Food columnist and author of several cookbooks, including the culinary bibles “How to Cook Everything” and “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian”, has yet to steer me wrong. As I went down the ingredient list of this recipe, I started to get excited. Almonds, garlic, dried hot chiles, olive oil, shallots, honey and soy sauce. How could it be anything but spectacular?

The green beans are cooked in boiling salted water for about 2 minutes. Please try salting your vegetable water if you have never done this before. It really makes a difference. Your vegetables will not taste salty, just well seasoned and way more flavourful than if you salt them after cooking. Once the beans are cooked to crisp tender, about 2-3 minutes,  shock them  in ice water to stop the cooking. Costco has been carrying the nicest Kenyan green beans lately (those skinny green beans sometimes referred to as called haricots vert) so I used those.

I used whole, unblanched almonds. I toasted them first, as I believe you get the best flavour from toasted nuts. I think untoasted nuts are a crime! (Sorry, just a little pet peeve of mine) Toasted almonds, garlic, dried red chiles and a bit of olive oil get turned into a paste in the Cuisinart. The recipe calls for 1 or 2 dried hot red chiles. I didn’t have whole dried chiles, just red pepper flakes, so I used about a teaspoon of the flakes. I like spicy but not painful hot, so a teaspoon was perfect for me.

Chopped shallots are sautéed in a bit of olive oil and then the almond-garlic-chile paste gets added to the pan. Honey and soy sauce follow and then the green beans are bathed in this heavenly paste. I couldn’t stop eating them right out of the pan. They possess the perfect balance of flavour and texture. Crunchy from the green beans and almonds, a bit f heat from the red pepper, salt from the soy sauce and sweet from the honey.  This recipe is pure genius. Really! And eating more vegetables and less meat will make Bitty really happy!

Click here to print the recipe for Spicy-Sweet Green Beans.