Friday, March 31, 2006

Asparagus & Leek Soup

Most recipes that use leeks as a main ingredient tend to be very similar - leeks with potatoes and/or cream, cheese, white sauce. I have to say I love a rich and creamy leek gratin, but I wanted to try something lighter, something different.

As I had just bought a large bundle of wonderful asparagus, I was excited to find this very favorably reviewed Asparagus & Leek soup recipe at

This very simple recipe produced a elegant, creamy soup, bursting with flavor. We tasted it before adding light sour cream and it was deliciously creamy already. I'd skip the sour cream next time as I felt it muted the flavor a little and was really unnecessary.

I substituted vegetable stock for the chicken stock and had to adjust the seasoning at the end. Also note that this recipe only produces two bowls of soup, so double the recipe if you're feeding more that two as an appetizer.

Spaghetti Squash with Gruyere and "Bacon"

I have a bad habit of buying squash and letting them sit around for months. I find their variety, their colors and shapes, very appealing and, when I see them in the store, I want to take them home so they can look pretty in wicker baskets in my kitchen.

So yesterday, when I came home with three large squash (two acorns and a spaghetti) and realized I already had a butternut I still hadn't used, I knew I needed to take immediate action. I chose the spaghetti squash because I'd never cooked one before.

I have to tell you the transformation of the spaghetti squash from squash to spaghetti is completely miraculous. If you haven't cooked one of these, you absolutely must try it!

Here's the two cooked halves of the squash - all I've done to the one on the right is run a fork over it and whoa - you got spaghetti!

Why does this happen? The fibers in this squash are so tough that even with extensive cooking they don't break down, thus producing the spaghetti like strands.

The spaghetti squash tastes bland on its own, but responds just like spaghetti to sauces and flavors. We had the squash two ways, with a cheesy marinara sauce and with grated gruyere and Morningstar Bacon strip crumbles. Both were delicious. I preferred the gruyere and bacon version because it had a wonderful smoky depth that was strikingly different (the marinara version was more normal and pasta-like).

Spaghetti Squash
Preheat the oven to 375. Cut the squash lengthwise and scoop out the seeds and inner strands. Spray a cookie pan with light oil and place the squash cut side down. Bake for 45 minutes. Turn the squash over, add a dab of butter, and bake for an additional 10 minutes until the flesh is tender. Allow the squash to cool.

Take the squash and run a fork along the flesh. The squash will miraculously turn into spaghetti!

Warm the squash with butter or olive oil and salt and pepper.

1. Add grated gruyere and top with bacon bits.
2. Serve with marinara and Parmesan or feta.


Thursday, March 30, 2006

Stilton and Watercress Tarte

Stilton is an English blue cheese, often referred to as the "King of Cheeses", due to its velvety smooth taste and consistency. It is made in only three counties in England (Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire) and is a "protected cheese", originally by an association, and now by a European Commission Standard. It is a popular cheese board choice and delicious served with oaty crackers and port. Stilton is also commonly paired with walnuts.

I was planning to make Stilton and Watercress pasta, until I came across a tarte variation in Rose Elliot's The Complete Vegetarian Cuisine. The crumbly tarte crust seemed a much more appealing partner for the King than slippery pasta. The resulting tarte is rich and peppery with a real blue cheese bite. It was delicious both hot and cold and would make a great picnic item. I served it with a salad of romaine lettuce and avocado with an Orange Muscat Champagne Vinegar - Olive oil dressing, a small bowl of walnuts, and a bottle of Pinot Noir.

Stilton and Watercress Tarte (adapted from The Complete Vegetarian Cuisine by Rose Elliot):

1 premade 9 inch pie deep frozen pie crust
2 eggs plus 1 egg yolk
1 1/2 cups of half & half
1 cup grated stilton
1 medium bunch of watercress, stems removed, chopped
Salt & Pepper

Preheat the oven to 375. Beat the eggs and egg yolk with the half and half and season with salt and pepper. Spread the grated cheese over the base of the pie crust and top with the chopped watercress. Pour the custard over the cheese and watercress and bake the tarte for 35-40 minutes, until the custard is set.

For more information on Stilton and tons of recipes, visit the official Stilton website.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Green Veggie & Sesame Tofu Fried Rice

"Tofu, with its gentle yin cooling quality, helps to calm the mind and the soul and encourages clarity. The gentle style of the saute is another calming and settling influence..."— John Sandifer, Zen and the Art of Cooking

I wanted a dinner that I could sink my teeth into. Something fresh and vibrant, crunchy and comforting, something I could throw together haphazardly, that required no embellishment, planning, or forethought.

This fabulous green stir-fry was just what I needed. It was very green and light, tasty, but not rich. It was a great way to use the Hodo Soy Sesame Tofu strips and the plethora of green vegetables patiently waiting in my fridge to release their chi.

This was a ten minute dinner, full of goodness.

1 tbsp vegetable or peanut oil
3-4 stalks of asparagus, thick ends removed, cut into 2" diagonals
3/4 cup frozen peas
I large bunch broccolini, chopped
6 white mushrooms, wiped and sliced
1/3 cup snow peas
1-2 tbsp sesame oil
1 cup cooked rice
1 egg, beaten
4 oz sesame tofu, sliced into thin strips
sesame seeds to top

Parboil the asparagus for 2 minutes, then add the peas for one minute longer. Drain.
Heat the vegetable oil in a wok or large frying pan until medium hot. Add the broccolini and cook 2-3 minutes (4-5 minutes if using broccoli) until cooked. Add the asparagus, peas, snow peas, mushrooms and cook 2-3 minutes . Add the sesame oil, rice and tofu to the mixture and cook 1 minute. Add the beaten egg, stir until the egg sets and serve topped with sesame seeds.
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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Portobellos Stuffed with Bean & Potato Puree

As I jostled my way through the ever-crowded produce aisle at Trader Joe's, my eyes alighted on the last package of Stuffing Portobello's. I made my move - gave them a quick squeeze to check for firmness - and started to dream of summer.

In the past, I've always stuffed these baby ports (and other small mushrooms) with breadcrumbs and pesto. That's a fabulous and indulgent combination that works very well for parties and BBQs. Yummy though they are, pesto portobellos are high in fat and offer no protein to justify. This time, I wanted the ports to be the main attraction of the meal and so started musing about high protein fillings. A white bean puree with mushrooms seemed like a winning combination of tastes. I chose a recipe from the indulgent The Vegetarian Bistro by Marlena Spieler. While the recipes in this book tend to be high in fat using cream and cheese extravagantly , her recipe for Brandade aux Legumes called for 2-3 tbsp olive oil.

The bean puree worked wonderfully with the mushrooms and I have plenty left over to serve with crudite or to wow hubby with a new sandwich spread. (The "wow" would come from the extreme garlicyness of this puree, which mellowed considerably with the cooking in this recipe.) I used a drop of balsamic vinegar with the mushrooms to add richness and a topping of pesto breadcrumbs, feta, and pine nuts to make it special.

The other cool thing about this recipe is you can easily make the puree ahead of time and then have an elegant dinner ready in 20 minutes.

Bean & Potato Puree (adapted from The Vegetarian Bistro by Marlena Spieler):
1 potato, peeled and cubed
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp butter
1 cup of canned white beans, rinsed (if desired, save bean liquid to thin puree)
1-2 tbsp half & half, milk, olive oil or bean liquid to thin puree (I used half & half)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
lemon juice
pinch rosemary
chopped parsley
salt and pepper
cayenne pepper

Cook the potato with the bay leaf until tender and mash with butter or olive oil. Add the beans to the potato mixture and mash, thinning with desired liquid. Cook the onion and 2 cloves of garlic in olive oil until tender. Combine with the potato bean mix and puree with lemon juice, rosemary, and parsley and the final garlic clove. Thin as needed. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and cayenne.

1/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs
basil olive oil
lemon juice
crumbled feta
pine nuts

Combine breadcrumbs with lemon juice and tiniest amt of basil olive oil. Mix with feta and pine nuts.

Stuffed Portobellos:
Pre-heat the oven to 400. Remove the stems from the mushrooms and wipe clean or peel, as desired. Brush the mushrooms lightly with oil and set out on a baking tray. Put a drop of Balsamic Vinegar inside each mushroom. Fill with a tbsp. of bean puree and sprinkle with topping. Bake for 15-20 minutes.

I served these with a salad of spinach, tomatoes, and white mushrooms and soft dinner rolls.

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Monday, March 27, 2006

Farmers' Market Finds: Hodo Soy & Gourmet Tortillas

While visiting the San Rafael Farmers' Market at the Civic Center this weekend, I noticed a new stall selling soy products. The stall was crowded and everyone was enjoying the samples and buying the products from the enthusiastic and friendly vendors. The company is Hodo Soy Beanery and their products are currently available at the San Francisco, Berkeley, and San Rafael Farmers' Markets. I sampled their soy meatballs, tofu jerky, sesame tofu strips and teriyaki tofu strips. The meatballs and jerky were tasty, but the tofu strips were real standouts. The tofu strips are very fine strips of tofu that have a texture reminiscent of a very thin egg omelette. I purchased the sesame version, which is wonderfully smoky and light:

The teriyaki version was also very good, but spicy in taste rather than smooth.

I also took home a bag of their tofu puffs - deep fried tofu that can be added to stir fries, soups, etc. They're a little oily but very fluffy, light and textured. They were so good I found myself eating them straight out of the bag! Here's a close up:

I also tried a tiny taste of their Chocolate Soy Mousse which was very yummy and getting rave reviews. My tofu puffs were $4 for an 8oz bag and the sesame tofu strips were $6 for a 10 oz container.

I'm already sold on soy products, but I thought the Hodo Soy products were delicious and truly gourmet.


What's so special about this quesadilla?

It's flavor ... can you guess?

OK — here's a really big clue:

"An _____ ___ without some cheese
Is like a kiss without a squeeze."

That's right - this tortilla is apple pie flavored!

A sweet new flavor from the Madrid Santa Fe Trading LLC ((877) LetsWrap), out of Sacramento. These are absolutely delicious and kids (big and small) love them. Madrid Santa Fe Trading's gourmet tortillas come in many wonderful flavors including garlic butter (#1 seller), jalapeno salsa, rosemary olive, tomato basil, spinach onion, black bean garlic as well as homestyle wheat and flour. I've tried them all and they are all good. They're always super fresh and come with heating instructions and quick recipe ideas on the package. They keep in the fridge for up to four weeks and freeze for up to six months. I purchased mine at the San Rafael Farmers' Market at the Civic Center where I got two bags for $5. If you want to try the apple pie ones, don't go too late as this flavor sells out!

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Indian Dinner: Cauliflower Curry with Red Lentil Dal

My best friend at university was English-Indian and I was very fortunate to watch and learn from her cooking (and to eat it, of course). When I decided to cook Indian food for friends this evening, I looked at recipes but modified them based on my memory of my friends cooking. Tonight I made a curry with cauliflower, potato, chickpeas, and peas and a red lentil dal. The results were wonderfully fragrant and tasty with very gentle heat.

We started off with a new item from Trader Joe's - Tandoori Masala Papadums ($3). These tasty chip-sized papadums are spicy and really have that papadum taste.

The dal recipe is from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone and is very simple. Cook a cup of well-rinsed red lentils in 3 cups of water and 1/2 tsp of salt, then add flavor with a puree of ginger, garlic, cilantro stems, and jalapeno. Add richness by finishing with a 2 tbsp of coconut cream (the creamy top of coconut milk).

The curry recipe was inspired by a recipe from the American Institiute for Cancer Research's The New American Plate Cookbook. Their recipe was a little low fat and under-spiced for me so I adapted it, as follows:

1 tbsp oil
1 tsp butter
1 red onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic crushed
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
2 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp minced ginger
1/4 fresh jalapeno, finely chopped
I potato, peeled and cut into small cubes
1 cauliflower, small florettes only
3/4 can light coconut milk
1 cup frozen peas
salt & pepper
cilantro leaves or chopped cilantro

Melt the butter with the oil and cook the red onion and garlic for 3-4 minutes over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds, coriander seed and cook 2 minutes. Add the curry powder, ginger, jalapeno and cook 1 minute. Add the potato, cauliflower, and coconut milk, cover, and simmer for 6 minutes. Add the peas, cover and cook 4 more minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve with cilantro.

The curry and dal were served with raita:

Raita adds a cool, clean element to an Indian meal. I made mine with plain yogurt, but you can also substitute sour cream or creme fraiche. Grate 1/2 an English cucumber (skin and all), mix the grated cucumber into the yogurt, and top with powdered cumin (you can also add salt, as desired).

The meal also included Trader Joe's Naan (Indian bread), mango chutney, and fresh, roasted peanuts. You can always substitute flour tortillas for the naan.

For afters, mango ice cream!

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Saturday, March 25, 2006

Super Sesame Slaw

I have to admit, I really like those creamy coleslaw dressings, but today I wanted something lighter. I had two beautiful cabbages, one green and one purple and I wanted something sesame. So I whipped up a sesame-ginger dressing and this slaw came out smokey and light and fabulous. This would be great in rice paper with tofu, but I think we're going to finish this before dinner time!

Here's the recipe:

3 medium carrots, cut into 3" pieces and grated
1 1/2 cups purple cabbage, grated
1 cup green cabbage, grated
1/2 cup peanuts (optional)
Chopped cilantro (optional)

1 1/2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 tbsp mirin
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp. minced ginger
1 tsp honey
1 tbsp sesame seeds

Combine the grated carrots, cabbage, and peanuts and toss in your serving bowl. In a small bowl, beat together all the dressing ingredients. Pour the dressing over the vegetables, top with additional sesame seeds and chopped cilantro.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Give Me Strength Soup - Mexican Flavors

Give Me Strength Soup is a concept rather than a recipe. This is a soup to make when you feel: battered by the world, fed up with the rain and cold, like your mono is coming back, really tired, grumpy, and generally out-of-sorts.

Give Me Strength Soup has three requirements:
1. Lots of protein (to give you physical strength)
2. Spiciness and heat (to rekindle your warrior spirit)
3. Color (to remind you that life is art)

Soup is a wonderful food for many reasons. It's also a food you can easily make your own, with all your favorite comfort foods. This Give Me Strength Soup features Mexican flavors.

For protein, I included red lentils, tofu, black beans and garbanzo beans. I'll also add a grated cheese topping this evening.

For spiciness and heat - my fiery friend the jalapeno - a combo of freshly chopped and nacho sliced from a jar.

For color, I included carrots, green peppers, black beans, cilantro, and purple cabbage. The purple cabbage was inspired by the bold Purple Cabbage and Sweet Potato Soup this week at Gluten-Free Goddess.

I added rutabagas, potatoes, and rice for comfort.

Here's the recipe:

2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
3 gloves garlic, minced
1 large potato, peeled and chopped in 1" pieces
1 medium large rutabaga, peeled and chopped in to 1/2" pieces
2 carrots, sliced
1/2 large green pepper, chopped
1 cup purple cabbage, chopped
1/2 large fresh jalapeno, finely chopped
5 cups water or vegetable stock
1/3 cup red lentils
10 oz can diced tomatoes & green chilies
15 oz can organic black beans, rinsed
6 oz tofu (cut into squares)
1 cup cooked rice
1/2 cup+ chopped cilantro
Salt & Pepper

In a large cauldron, melt the butter, add the olive oil and the red onion. Cook the onion for 3-4 minutes, then add the rutabaga, potato, carrots and garlic. Cover and cook on medium heat for 5-6 minutes. Add the purple cabbage and jalapeno and cook 1 more minute. Add the water and red lentils and bring to a boil. Season as desired. (Optional: Puree the diced tomatoes and green chilies.) Add the tomatoes. Lower the heat to low and simmer for 25 minutes. Add the black beans, and tofu and cook for 8-10 minutes. Add the rice and cilantro. Cook 2 minutes and check seasonings.

Ladle the soup into a large bowl and top with your choice of sour cream, grated cheddar, salsa, tortilla strips and nacho jalapenos.

Find a zen spot where you have a pretty view and won't be disturbed. Eat.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Sweet Sushi

Look at this wonderful item I found at our kindergarten bake sale! This sweet sushi is made with rice crispy treats, gummy worms, and fruit tape. The one below includes a swedish fish. I don't know who made these, but what a great idea!

Postscript: Look what cookiecrumb of I'm Mad and I Eat fame found: Hostess Sushi+recipe links from Thanks!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Mushroom Ragout with Scrambled Eggs

I picked up some fresh shitake, oyster, and white mushrooms at our little farmer's market this morning and lunch was mushroom ragout on toasted baguette with scrambled eggs. Simple, fresh food really is the best. I didn't have any white wine for the ragout so I used a squirt of lemon juice to balance the flour.

The ragout is made by frying some chopped shallots for 4 minutes, then adding the chopped mushrooms. Cook until the mushrooms release their juices, add a little flour, and generous amts. of salt and pepper. The mixture will thicken. Add a tbsp of half & half and a squirt of lemon juice (white wine would be better) to thin and cook on low heat for a minute or two. Mixture should not be pasty or liquidy. Remove from heat, toss in some chopped parsley, and serve on toasted baguette.

My method of scrambled eggs: Melt tsp butter in a saucepan with rounded sides over lowest heat. Beat the eggs with a little milk (or half& half), season, and pour into the saucepan. Turn heat up to medium low and stir with a wooden spoon until set.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Linguini with Pesto, Potatoes, & Green Beans

Here's a very easy dinner that combines comfort food with a salute to sunnier days. If you use a pre-made pesto (I used Trader Joe's), you only need one pot. This dish was inspired by a recipe from The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen by Donna Klein. She has a great vegan pesto recipe called Poor Man's Pesto that I have often enjoyed.

3 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into eighths
6-8 oz green beans, trimmed and cut into 2" pieces
12 oz dried linguini
7 oz pesto
feta and pine nuts for topping, if desired

Boil a large pot of salted water. Add the potatoes and green beans and return to the boil for 3-4 minutes. Add the linguini and cook for 7-8 minutes. Drain. Add pesto sauce and serve with pine nuts, olives, and feta. Your done!

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Monday, March 20, 2006

Shepherd's Pie with Boca Ground Burger

Shepherd's Pie is a traditional British dish where ground, cooked lamb is covered with a layer of mashed potato and baked until the potato crust if slightly brown and crisp. The dish dates back to the 18 Century and is now commonly made with ground beef. (Technically, the dish with beef is called a Cottage Pie, but it seems to go by Shepherd's Pie these days. There's also a Fisherman's Pie, made with fish).

I've tried a number of recipes over the years, mostly with lentils. It's definitely an attractive dish to reproduce for vegetarians - although a good version is hard to achieve. The lentil versions, while tasty, just don't have the right texture and you've got to serve Shepherd's Pie with ketchup and this doesn't really work with lentils. With all the new fake meat products out there, I decided to try another version with Boca Ground Burger.

The Boca Ground Burger can be found in the freezer section and each box contains three one-cup pouches. A 1/2 cup serving has 0.5g of fat, 0 cholesterol, and 13 g of protein. I used two pouches for two larger individual sized ramekins, which was more than I needed.

One challenge is to get that hearty beefy flavor. I used marmite dissolved in hot water and a little red wine to impart that richness.

How did it taste? It was good and very good once I added ketchup! Don't even think about having this dish without the ketchup - honestly. My main concern was that the Boca Ground Burger would dissolve into a glutinous goo, and, while there was a loss of texture from the 35 minutes of baking, it still had a chewy ground meat texture. It could have been heartier tasting - next time I'll probably add more marmite and red wine. If you're marmite-averse, use soy sauce instead. I also felt mine had too much onion- I'd cut back to 1/2 onion next time. It's not the perfect Veggie Shepherd's Pie recipe to my taste. I'm thinking a combo of Boca Ground Burger and lentils might be my next attempt.

Here's the recipe I used:

2 tbsp butter
1 onion, diced
1 large clove garlic, minced
I large carrot, diced small
1 tsp marmite dissolved in 1/2 cup boiling water
2 pouches of Boca Ground Burger
1-2 tbsp red wine
salt and pepper
mashed potato

Preheat the oven to 400. Melt the butter is a non-stick pan and fry the onion for 4 minutes. Add the carrots and garlic and cook for 4 additional minutes. Add the marmite water, the Boca Ground Burger, the red wine and cook gently for 2-3 minutes. Season and remove from heat.

Butter two individual ramekins (mine are 8" by 5") and fill to 3/4 full with the Boca mixture. Spread or pipe the mashed potatoes over the top until completely covered. Bake for 30-35 minutes. If potatoes are not browned , finish under the broiler.

Serve with ketchup and your green vegetable of choice (peas are good!).

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Sunday, March 19, 2006

Zucchini, Leek, & Goat Cheese Pizza

Don't you love it when you find a recipe that calls for several ingredients you need to use soon? That's exactly what happened to me with this pizza. This pizza made a light, refreshing change to the usual heavy fat pizza. Zucchini, leek and goat cheese pizza, adapted from Pizzeria by Evan Kleiman.

1-2 tbsp olive oil
2 Seven inch zucchini, juliened
3 baby leeks, white parts sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 oz crumbled goat cheese (I used Trader Joes)
Trader Joe's plain pizza dough
salt & pepper

Put pizza stone in the oven and preheat the oven to 450 (for 30 mins). Dredge your board with flour and roll out pizza dough into a 12" round pizza.

Heat the oil in a frying pan and add zucchini, leeks, and garlic. Cook for 5 minutes on medium heat. Turn off the heat, season, and spread evenly over your pizza dough. Spread crumbled goat cheese over the zucchini mixture. Cook on the pizza stone for 9-10 minutes.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Pine Nut & Chickpea Soup

I saw Deborah Madison make pine nut and chickpea soup many years ago at a cooking demo to promote her (then) new book The Vegetarian Table: America

I was intrigued by this bizarre-seeming recipe, bought the book, and waited in line to get it signed by the author. Pine nuts in a soup - what a great idea!

I love hummus but, to be honest, I've always had to kind of force myself to cook with chickpeas and strictly limit their quantity. The chickpeas are pureed in this soup and I love it! The pureed pine nuts impart a wonderful nutty richness to this warm, creamy soup. Top with jalapenos, serve with pita chips and this soup is a meal, made in a flash!

While Madison's soup inspired mine, my recipe (and soup) is quite different.

Here's the recipe:

2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 med. carrot, diced (very small)
1 small potato, diced small
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 cup canned chickpeas
Salt and pepper
32oz vegetable stock
jalapeno to serve

Melt the butter and oil and cook the onions for 4 minutes. Add the carrot, potato, and pine nuts and cook for 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 2-3 minutes longer. Add the vegetable stock, chickpeas and cumin and seasoning. Bring the mixture to a boil, cover, turn the heat to low and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Puree with an immersion blender until smooth. Check the seasonings and serve topped with jalapeno.

I've seen many great looking recipes for chickpeas on blogs lately. Here's a few favorites:

Friday, March 17, 2006

Irish Chocolate Whiskey Cakes

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Another recipe from In An Irish Country Kitchenby Clare Connery, this time for Chocolate Whiskey Cake. Her recipe is for one large cake and the book includes a lovely photograph of her beautiful cake, decorated with heavy cream and chocolate shavings.

I decided to make lots of little cakes using a mini muffin pan. I wanted delicious little mouthful cakes and also wanted to make two versions — with and without the whiskey. That way the kids could enjoy them too.

The cake is made with eggs, sugar, cocoa, and self-raising flour - no butter. The whiskey versions are cut in half and sandwiched back together with apricot jam and whiskey. The cakes are then covered in a chocolate whiskey cream. In the picture above, the frosting was still wet, but it sets to be a chocolate coating. I made the biggest mess ever frosting these babies, but it was so worth it!

These little cakes tasted absolutely divine. Although I put a lot more whiskey on the cakes than the recipe called for, its undetectable. But who cares? These send you straight to chocolate heaven!

Here's the recipe for the chocolate whiskey cream:
8 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp whiskey
1 tbsp heavy cream
1 small egg, beaten (I used 3/4 of a large egg)

Melt the chocolate chips in a bowl over a saucepan of boiling water. Add the butter and mix well. Add the whiskey and mix. Take off the heat. Add the cream and beaten egg together and stir like crazy until the mixture is smooth. Spoon over cakes covering the top and sides. Allow to cool and then put in the fridge to set (20 mins minimum). Keep cakes in the fridge.


Thursday, March 16, 2006

Parsnip Pancakes

I've never done much with parsnips. I'm not keen on them mashed, they're too sweet. I like them roasted with other root vegetables, but they're really an afterthought and I wouldn't miss them. And they don't go with cheese, a serious strike for me.

I like the idea of parsnip chips, but when I came across a recipe for parsnip cakes in my favorite Irish cookbook, In An Irish Country Kitchenby Clare Connery, the recipe looked so easy, I thought I'd give them a try.

The recipe was simple. Cook and mash the parsnips, season, add a little flour, form into small patties, dip in beaten egg and breadcrumbs and fry in butter until golden brown on each side. The mixture was very soft so I recommend keeping the pancakes small (about 2" across) to make sure they keep together. I used the back of my spatula to press the cakes down as they cooked. Definitely drain off any surplus oil before serving.

They were absolutely delicious! Frying them with the egg and breadcrumbs made them much more savory, yet the parsnip's distinct sweetness was there. I added a little creme fraiche with chives to make them pretty.

They were delicious on their own, but I plan to serve them at dinner with veggie sausages, bacon, and baked beans.
(Later note: These were so good that we scoffed the lot as appetizers.)

p.s. I've started a new blog called Culinary Quotes.If you have a favorite culinary quote, feel free to email it to me. If I post it, I'll list you and your blog as the source.

p.p.s. If you have a young brood of future foodies, check out my review of Food for Thought, a cool concept book for kids with a food theme, at BookCarousel.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Rutabaga & Leek Soup

So, who's afraid of a rutabaga?
Rutabagas, a yellow-orange fleshed cousin of the turnip, get their name from the Swedish rotabagge. In England, we call them Swedes and serve them mashed with butter and salt, just like mashed potato. I have to admit that I love rutabagas mashed and will eat them on their own (hey, I also was a kid who loved to eat cabbage). I'll take a rutabaga over a turnip anyday - they're much sweeter and a pretty orange-yellow color.

I was excited to try Deborah Madison's recipe for Leek and Rutabaga Chowder in her book Vegetable Soups from Deborah Madison's Kitchen,partially because it was a new way to cook rutabagas and partially because it would give me another opportunity to use my brand new immersion blender. The soup basically calls for rutabagas and leeks (and a potato) to be cooked in butter with herbs, then cooked in a vegetable stock until semi-tender. You then puree half the mixture and serve with smoky croutons.

On tasting the soup, I thought it was a bit thin tasting and added some half-and-half to add some richness. I probably added 1/4 -1/3 cup and it made a huge difference. I served the soup with creme fraiche, topped with paprika and finely ground smoky mesquite seasoning, and watercress. Madison's smoky croutons called for Smoky Spanish Paprika, but I couldn't find it. I thought the mesquite seasoning worked well in a very tiny amount. Too much and it overwhelms this mild, sweet, and delicious soup. The creme fraiche was perfect - I can't imagine serving this soup without it.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Greens-stuffed Manicotti

Here's another delicious way to eat your greens on a cold evening. Manicotti are stuffed with a tender mixture of chard, spinach, mushrooms, and shallots, then baked with a cheesy sauce.

When I first made this recipe 10 years ago, I remember thinking it was tremendously involved. It took three different pans to prepare.I went out and purchased special ramekins just like the ones in the picture in Georgeanne Brennan's The Vegetarian Table: France. (This is a wonderful vegetarian cookbook with many awesome recipes.) But the resulting meal was so sublime, it was well worth the extra clean up.

Brennan talks about the first time she had ate this dish as a student in Aix-en Provence:
"Cannelloni, I discovered, were pasta rolls, filled and sauced and then topped with cheese. They came out of the restaurant's little kitchen bubbling hot in individual ramekins, the sauce and cheese forming a sort of crust. I learned to dip my bread into the sauce while I waited for the cannelloni to cool. "

I was inspired to make this recipe when I found large manicotti shells at the grocery store. I had a big bunch of organic rainbow chard in the fridge, just waiting for inspiration. Here's my adapted recipe:

4-6 large manicotti shells, cooked

2 tbsp butter
3 shallots, finely chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
6 mushrooms, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 bunch of rainbow chard leaves, chopped
4-6 oz baby spinach

fresh bread crumbs

Roux (Sauce):
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
3/4 cup milk

2/3 cup Swiss or Gruyere, grated

Cook the manicotti shells according to the instructions. Place on a plate wiped with olive oil to avoid sticking.

Make the filling:
Melt the butter in a saucepan and cook the shallots for 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 more minute. Add the mushrooms and cook 2-3 minutes. Add the chard leaves and cook 3 minutes. Add the spinach and cook 1-2 minutes. The greens should be wilted.

Make the roux:
Melt the butter and add the flour. Cook, stirring rapidly for 2 minutes (the mixture should be foaming). Add the milk and turn up the heat. Cook until thickened.

Finish the filling:
Add the breadcrumbs and a little of the roux to the greens until you have a loose paste.

Using a small spoon, stuff the manicotti with the filling. Place the stuffed manicotti in butter indiviual ramekins.

Cheese the roux:
Reheat the roux and add 3/4 of the grated cheese. Beat until smooth. If the sauce is stiff, add some more milk (or water). Add a shake or two of cayenne and pour the sauce over the stuffed manicotti.

Top with remaining cheese, dot with butter, and bake at 350 for 15 minutes. Turn the oven on to broil and broil for 2-3 minutes until orange-brown blisters form on the top of the sauce. Serve with baguette and wine.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Lentils in a roast potato base

Here's a vegetarian Sunday roast recipe that really worked! Beluga lentils were braised with carrots, shallots, and garlic in red wine. Baby spinach was stirred in right at the end. The lentils are served in a roast potato base and topped with feta.

But I couldn't come up with a decent name for this delicious creation. I welcome your input on this (potato boat or canoe have already been vetoed).

My inspiration, you're wondering?

The lentil recipe is based on Deborah Madison's Wine-braised Lentils (I'm not sure which collection). My inspiration for the roast potato base is a recipe by Gary Rhodes (British Chef) called Cheesy Fondant Potatoes on a Bed of Soft Leeks from the March 2002 Good Food magazine (put out by the BBC). Rhodes potato bases were filled with a cheese and onion mixture with eggs and looked fabulous. My issue was with the estimated 49g of fat per serving.

So I reproduced the look of the potatoes and then roasted them in the oven. I was pretty intimidated by the required art, but it was much easier that I thought. The recipe is listed "For the keen cook" - hey, I'm keen.

The great thing about the potato base is you can fill it with whatever appeals. I'm already imagining the following: garlicy white bean with greens, steamed tofu and veg with sauce, any quiche custard of choice, chickpeas with tomatoes and olives, pesto green beans, champ or colcannon. Yum!

Here's the recipe:

Potato base:
1 large russet potato per person
2 cups water
1/2 cup milk
1 bay leaf
2 + garlic cloves
olive oil
butter (optional)

Put the water, milk, bay leaf, garlic cloves, and pepper into a wide saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and let the mixture steep.

Peel your potatoes and keep them in a bowl of cold water to avoid them discoloring. Using your peeler, shape the ends of the potatoes so they are nicely rounded. Cut a shaving of potato off one long side so the potato has a stable base. On the top side of the potato, use a sharp paring knife to cut an oval shape down into the potato, leaving about 1/2 '' around the edges (err on the side of edges being too thick). To remove the cut oval of potato from the top, cut the oval into quarters and use your knife to "pop" out one quarter and then cut out the others. I then used a zester to remove and shape the inside (this worked great). Then I tidied up with a grapefruit spoon (which has serrated edges). You'll then have something that looks like this:

Put the potato back in the water and repeat with each potato.

Heat your oven to 400. Put olive oil into an ovenproof dish large enough to hold your potato bases and put it in the oven to warm up as your oven heats.

Turn the milk mixture heat on to lowest simmer and carefully place the potato bases into the milk mixture. Simmer very gently for about 10 minutes until the potato is just becoming tender. Carefully remove the potato bases with a slotted spoon and put on a plate to cool for a moment. Carefully remove any liquid that is trapped inside the crevice.

Put the bases bottom down into the hot oil in the ovenproof dish,dot the centers with butter or a little oil, and cook for about 25 minutes. When the bottoms are starting to brown and crisp, turn the bases upside down to crisp the top and pour the hot oil over the sides. Check in 10 minutes and try to turn the potatoes on their sides and cook for 5-10 minutes each side.

Take the ovenproof dish out and let it sit for 5 minutes. Remove the bases onto a plate with a paper towel to absorb any extra oil. Place on a foil-covered baking sheet and keep warm in the oven at lowest heat (but not for too long).

Lentil Filling (serves 2-4):

1/2 cup beluga lentils
2 cups water
1 large carrot, diced into small cubes
3-4 large shallots, diced
2 tbsp olive oil
2+ cloves garlic, 1 crushed, 1 sliced
1/2 -2/3 cup red wine
1/2-2/3 cup water (match wine)
salt and pepper
8oz baby spinach ( other greens may be substituted but adjust cooking time)

Put 2 cups water in a saucepan and add lentils. Bring to a boil and cook for 3-4 minutes. Drain lentils.

Heat up olive oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan. Add the shallots and carrots and cook for approx. 5 mins over med. heat (Ok to brown a tad). Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the wine, water, salt and pepper, cover, and bring to a boil. Turn heat down immediately to minimum and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the spinach, a handful at a time and stir. It will wilt almost immediately ( if using kale or another green, estimate up to 10 mins). Adjust seasoning.

Place potato base on serving dish. Using a small slotted spoon, fill the crevice with the lentil mixture. Top with crumbled feta (or goat cheese) and serve immediately.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Goat Cheese & Asparagus Pizza

I've made this pizza a number of time to rave reviews. Talk about a different way to use asparagus! I found the recipe on Epicurious. I use Trader Joe's plain pizza dough and used quite a bit more asparagus. Otherwise, I followed the recipe:Recipe on

Friday, March 10, 2006

Zucchini Tian

tian: A French word describing a shallow, earthenware casserole, as well as the food that it contains. A tian can be any of various dishes, but originally referred to a Provencal dish of gratineed mixed vegetables.-- The New Food Lover's Companion by Sharon Tyler Herbst.

Here's the perfect vegetable dish to welcome in the spring. This tian is light and tasty, yet substantial enough to be the center attraction of a meal. It can be eaten hot or cold. It's fast, easy, and economical -- a great way to use up leftover rice and eat your greens.

The tian invites experimentation so feel free to change the cheese choices and vegetables. I didn't think of it until I started eating, but pine nuts would be a great addition to this recipe. I strongly advise you to use fresh breadcrumbs (packaged will give you a much inferior dish).

Serve with crusty bread and a salad.

3 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 large cloves garlic, crushed
1lb zucchini, chopped
6 oz spinach
3/4 cup cooked rice
2-3 oz Swiss or Gruyere, grated
1/3 cup feta, crumbled
3 eggs, beaten
salt and pepper

fresh breadcrumbs
grated Parmesan

Preheat the oven to 350.
Butter an earthenware dish (mine was 8" x 11").
Heat the oil in a large frying pan and cook the onion until soft. Add the zucchini and garlic and cook for another 5-6 minutes. Put the spinach in a colander and pour boiling water from a kettle over it. Let it cool and drain, then transfer to a chopping board and chop. Add the spinach, cooked rice, cheeses, and eggs and stir until well combined. Season with salt and pepper then transfer mixture to your prepared earthenware dish. Top with fresh breadcrumbs and grated Parmesan. Bake for 30 minutes until topping is light brown.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Teatime Tarts

I had the morning to myself and decided to bake up a storm! These delicious tarts are made with a wonderful variant on the traditional shortcrust pastry, the French pate brisee. I used a recipe for pate brisee au sucre by master baker Andre Lerch of Patisserie Lerch. The recipe can be found in Paris Boulangerie Patisserie: Recipes from Thirteen Outstanding French Bakeries by Linda Dannenberg. This is one of my favorite cookbooks - there are so many excellent recipes in this book for cakes, breads, sandwiches, sweet and savory tarts. There's even recipes from the famous La Maison du Chocolat!

The pate brisee au sucre produces a rich, sweet pastry shell that is crisp and reminiscent of shortbread. An egg is used instead of water to bind the dough, sugar is added, and also a tiny amount of baking powder. It's not the easiest dough to work with as it's quite fragile and will fall apart on you. It was perfect for the little individual tart pans I used.

And, yes, those are pine nuts in those tarts.

Here's a closer look:

Precious pine nuts, the nuts used to make pesto, make tasty sweets too!

I found a very easy recipe to bind the pine nuts to the shell in a book called Boulangerie by Paul Rambali. You simply heat up equal parts of honey and cream in a saucepan just until warm, spoon a little of the liquid into the shell and then pack in the pine nuts. I used Marshall's Farm Natural Honey.

I also used the honey and cream mixture with sliced apples:

It was a fabulous combination. The cream and the honey really enhance the apple's flavor. I'll add a little Calvados next time.

Also on the plate are small apricot tarts, based on another recipe from Andre Lerch. The apricot tarts have a cake-like batter that puffs up around the apricots and absorbs their juices to prevent the crust from getting soggy:

With the pastry I had left over, I made tiny jam tarts:

Actually, the one on the right is made with Lyle's Golden Syrup, not jam. When I took the golden syrup tarts out, the filling was totally liquid, but once cooled, it set perfectly. I also tried one with Nutella (a chocolate hazelnut spread) as a filling. It didn't melt to fill out the tart shell like the jams and ended up not looking that pretty. Once cooled, the Nutella was quite hard. It was a big hit with the kids, though, so sorry, no picture.

Which was my favorite? Nope, I can't decide.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Steamed Tofu & Vegetables with Cheese-Jalapeno Sauce

This is one of my favorite meals. And it's one that follows the seasonal produce and can be infinitely varied with the choice of vegetables and sauce. I often make this with a spicy peanut sauce, but cheese jalapeno is my fav. This meal is simple and a wonderful way to make tofu and vegetables the center attraction. Even non-veggies like this one. The key - fresh organic produce.

Here's the recipe for this version (serves 2):

8 oz Firm tofu - I always use Wildwood Organic Tofu (super firm). Tofu is so varied, but this one is perfect.
1/2 head cauliflower
1-2 large heads of broccoli
3-4 smaller carrots

Slice the tofu into 1 inch cubes/rectangles/triangles. Separate the cauliflower and broccoli into medium florettes (save the stalks for soup stock). Scrub the carrots and cut diagonally into slices. Put the veggies and tofu into a steamer basket and steam gently until veggies are crisp-tender.

While veggies are steaming, make the sauce:
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp flour
1/2 cup milk
1 cup grated cheddar
chopped jalapenos

Melt 1 tbsp butter in a saucepan on med-low heat. Add 1 tbsp flour and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add 1/2 cup milk and keep stirring. Turn up the heat and stir frequently until the sauce begins to thicken (don't let it boil). You can play with the amount of milk you add - if it gets too thick just add more milk (or water). Turn off the heat and add the grated cheese. Beat until the cheese has melted and is thoroughly incorporated. Add the jalapenos.

Serve the tofu and veggies over rice. I highly recommend Trader Joe' s frozen Brown or Jasmine rice - it tastes great and is done in the micro in 3 minutes so there's less chance of over-steaming the veggies (one of those English cooking phobias). Alternately, serve over mashed potatoes (awesome) or, for the brave, mashed rutabaga (heaven).

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Leek and Goat Cheese Tarte

Today I needed a contrast to the winter soups. This recipe is my come hither look to spring. A very indulgent way to eat leeks. Use the small, slim leeks if you can. The rich creamy custard is tangy and so tender it just barely holds together. When you are eating this, you will not want to do anything else.

I found the original recipe in Deborah Madison's Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating From America's Farmers' Markets.

Here's my adapted version:

3-6 leeks (six small - less than 1 inch in diameter)
1 tbsp. butter
6 oz goat cheese
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup creme fraiche
1/2 cup milk
salt and pepper
9 inch frozen pie crust

Preheat the oven to 375. Clean the leeks by splitting them lengthwise and soaking them in water for a few minutes to remove any grit. Slice the white parts thinly. Melt the butter in a pan and cook the leeks for 10 minutes until tender. Season.

Combine the beaten egg and goat cheese in a bowl with a large whisk. Add the milk and creme fraiche combine. Season. Add the leeks to the custard and pour into the frozen pie crust. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the custard is set.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Caldo Verde (Portuguese Green Soup)

Caldo Verde ("green soup") is a famous Portuguese soup, traditionally made with Portuguese green cabbage and spicy sausage (like chorizo or linguica). As the dark Portuguese cabbage isn't typically available, kale is a widely used substitute (collard greens can also be used). I found a recipe for Caldo Verde in Williams-Sonoma Soup For Supper, a really great book that has a wide and interesting collection of soup recipes and also some yummy companion recipes for salads, biscuits, and even dessert.

I tried using a product called Soyrizo, a meatless Soy chorizo product, for the sausage. Unfortunately, the Soyrizo wasn't in solid sausage form and even after careful frying, it wasn't a good substitute to add to a soup (it broke apart). Frankly, I found the chorizo way too spicy for this mild and tasty soup. I much prefered my variation - adding a little chopped jalapeno, chopped cilantro, and serving with sour cream.

Here's my adapted recipe:
3 potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 lb or more kale
3 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
salt and pepper to taste
32 oz vegetable stock
1/2 cup cilantro, finely chopped
chopped nacho sliced jalapenos
sour cream

Heat the oil and cook the onion gently until tender. Add the thinly sliced potatoes and minced garlic and cook for 5 minutes. Add the vegetable stock, salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, then turn down to lowest heat and cook for around 20 minutes until the potatoes are almost tender. Remove the thick stalks from the kale and slice the leaves finely. Add to the soup and cook for 5 minutes. Don't overcook at this point. The kale should be bright green and just tender. Adjust the seasoning and serve immediately with finely chopped cilantro, jalapenos and sour cream. This soup doesn't keep because the kale's greeness will fade.