Count Broccula's veg-head ramblings

My home experiments with vegetarian cooking. Focused on seasonal produce with some vegan stuff thrown in for good measure. I may include random other food-related stuff as I please.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

PIcalilli circus

More detail later, but here's the recipe exactly as my mom wrote it:


4 pounds green tomatoes
6 medium onions, washed and peeled
2 green bell peppers
1 red bell pepper
½ cup salt

2 cups sugar
1 pint (2 cups) cider vinegar
2 Tablespoons celery salt
4 Tablespoons mustard seed
1 Tablespoon whole cloves
2 Tablespoons cinnamon

Chop green tomatoes, onions and peppers in food processor. Using a large glass or ceramic bowl, layer the chopped vegetables, sprinkling the salt over the layers (4 or 5 layers.) Place a plate on top of the vegetables (to force out the excess water) and put aside for 3 or 4 hours. After the elapsed time, drain the liquid off of the vegetables using a colander or strainer. Rinse the vegetables with water to take the salt off.

Heat the sugar and vinegar until dissolved and add the vegetables and spices. The whole cloves and cinnamon should be wrapped in a piece of cheesecloth or other cloth before being placed in the pot. Cook everything on a low simmer for approximately 30 minutes. Either put into jars and place in the refrigerator or use the sterile canning method.

The tips your grandmother gave were as follows:

If you prefer, you can substitute “pickling spice” for the celery salts, mustard seed, cloves and cinnamon. It’s available in the spice section of the store and she said that she has made it that way lots of times and it is good. However, she also said that when you use those, you do have to use cheesecloth or a cloth bag.

This is better if you don’t eat it right away but let it marinate for a few weeks. She said that she has heard of people leaving the vegetables soaking in the brine overnight but she feels that this is too long and that a few hours works fine. She also said to be sure to use green tomatoes, not ones that have started to ripen. Apparently once they have started to ripen, they are softer and don’t work very well.

She also said that it’s easy to chop the vegetables in the food processor but you should use a setting that doesn’t pulverize things…the vegetables should be finely chopped, in small pieces.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Avgolemono (lemon rice soup)

Okay, I think it's traditionally rice, but most of the recipes I looked up called for orzo instead (a small rice-shaped pasta), and my Greek friend said she preferred orzo as well, so I went with it.

Last time I attempted avgolemono, it was an unmitigated disaster*. It is one of the only things I have ever made that I really couldn't force down. So I decided I'd go with a recipe and stick to it carefully. I chose this one, and I don't think I altered a single thing.

It was SUPERB. In fact, I announced that I was going to add this soup to my rotation, and my husband cheered. He declared it silky, buttery, hearty, and satisfying.

I made a loaf of whole wheat bread as well, and it was a very satisfying dinner.

*Long story short, I forgot that California lemons are like four times as big as lemons elsewhere, so when it said "juice of two lemons," it was way too much lemon. It tasted rather like one of these, but with rice:

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Greek week!

Monday is almost always pizza day around here. I made Greek-za this week -- our normal pizza with a little bell pepper and feta and a lot of Greek olives added. I also really jazzed up the tomato sauce with the oil I had used to cook some garlic cloves. But pizza is pizza, right?

Last night I made spanakopita. I used a Cooking Light recipe, more or less, because I know it can be a very fattening dish. The main difference is using cooking spray instead of butter between the sheets of phyllo. It doesn't affect the texture, but it doesn't have the same rich, buttery taste. It made up for it, though, with the addition of sun-dried tomatoes. I based my dish on this recipe, with just a few changes.

First, I didn't like the idea of rice in the dish, so I used just a cup of low-fat ricotta. I also doubled the spinach, since I freaking love spinach. Instead of one big strudel, I made three medium-sized ones. It came out great! The crust was nice and flaky, the tomatoes had a nice tart, chewy texture, and there was spinach for days!

I also served a Greek salad on the side. My friend Althea gave me her recipe, which was sort of a suggestion rather than amounts, so I'll give you the same...

Cucumber, tomatoes, red onion, big chunks of feta, black olives, capers (if you like them). Mix oil and vinegar for the dressing (I used good olive oil and cider vinegar, and I tend to go heavy on the vinegar). Black pepper.

She didn't suggest any herbs, but I had some fresh flat-leaf parsley, and I thought it might be a nice addition. I leave the veggies in pretty big pieces, more than one bite each. I actually added just a little salt to the dressing (1/2 tsp?), but you wouldn't have to. The feta and olives provided plenty of salty flavor. (I used kalamata, but you could use black olives.)

Tomorrow night I'm doing avgolemono (lemon and rice or orzo soup), and Friday I think it's a big mezze platter. Althea suggested I try a green bean dish, and I may, but it will depend on how much time and work I'm putting into everything else. I try pretty hard to get dinner on the table quickly, and I certainly don't want my family to starve while we're waiting for green beans to cook.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

In love with my new bread book

Okay, so I found this article online with a bunch of recipes. The idea is that you mix up the ingredients for bread dough, then leave them in the fridge and tear off a hunk whenever you want to make bread. No proofing the yeast, no kneading... The article references a book, which I bought after making a few of the recipes from the article. I was so pleased and it was, indeed, so easy, that I plan to keep some bread dough in the fridge all the time!

Although it's called "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day," it's not actually five minutes from fridge to hot bread (I know you know that), but it is only about 5 minutes of labor, and the rest is resting and baking time. And it makes REALLY good bread. I used about half whole wheat, and everyone who has tried it agrees that it's fantastic.

And here is how easy it is, in a photo essay:

3 cups lukewarm water (just run the tap).

1 1/2 tablespoons yeast.

1 1 /2 tablespoons salt.

6 1/2 cups flour.


When it looks like this, stop. (Less than a minute.)

Leave it on the counter for two hours, then throw it in the fridge. The next day, it looks like this:

Later on, just hack off about a third* of it, and with floured hands, form it into a ball by tucking the sides into the bottom. Then let it rest for 40 minutes. Pre-heat the oven to 450, throw the bread onto a baking stone (if you have one -- I guess I baking sheet would work, too), and cook for 30 minutes.

There's some fancy little touches, like you can cut a design in the top with a serrated knife, or you could put seeds on top, or you could cook it on cornmeal (I don't like the way cornmeal smokes, so I put it on parchment paper)... I've used the dough for pizza crust and pecan sticky rolls, and both were delightful.

It keeps for two weeks in the fridge.

* They say to use 1/4 of the dough at a time, but it makes a pretty small loaf, and a much smaller pizza than we're used to.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Pecan sticky rolls!


I've been looking at this web site with an article about baking artisan bread in five minutes a day. I actually just bought the book, because I've been so pleased with how it has worked so far.

The basic idea is that you mix up the ingredients for bread dough (no proofing the yeast or anything, just throw it in), let it rest for a while, then put it in a big container and throw it in the fridge. It lasts for two weeks, and any time you want to make a loaf of bread, you grab a hunk, shape it into a ball, let it rest for a while, then bake. Voila!

The great thing, though, is that you can also use the basic recipe for pizza crust, cinnamon twists, pitas, naan, and more. I made the dough on Saturday and made the pecan sticky rolls on Sunday morning.

It was pretty easy -- I mixed sugar and butter in a cake pan and added pecan halves. Then I rolled out the dough into a rectangle and added a butter/sugar/cinnamon/chopped pecan mixture, then rolled it up. Then I sliced it, put the slices in the cake pan, rested it for 40 minutes, then baked it for 40 minutes.

Sweetie declared them better than those we got at Busy Bee Bakery in Point Reyes, and that's saying something, as we went back there almost every morning that we stayed in Point Reyes!

I will totally keep this recipe on hand; it would be great for when family or friends are visiting, or for a morning after a sleepover for Z and some of her friends.

Chard, not charred, burritos

I've been trying to cook from a recipe once a week, and this week I turned to Jack Bishop. He has several cookbooks, and I actually consult Vegetables Every Day most often, but A Year In a Vegetarian Kitchen is a lovely book, too, and is the one I used this week.

The recipe was for chard and rice burritos with tomato-chipotle salsa. It called for rainbow chard, if that was available, and I scored!! The rainbow chard at the organic guy's stand at the farmers market was like an explosion of beauty. In fact, the recipe called for only 1 pound, but it looked so good that I bought almost 2 pounds. I used it all tonight and it wasn't too much, since we all had seconds!

Essentially, you just make rice, saute down some chard stems and an onion, add garlic and the chard leaves, and wrap 'em up in a tortilla! The salsa recipe that came with it was really... simple. I guess that could be positive or negative, depending on your perspective. It was just tomatoes and a chipotle and a bit of oregano, essentially. I perked it up wish some salt (which neither the salsa or the burrito recipe called for), but it would have benefitted from lime juice or cilantro. Not that it was bad, just awfully plain. I actually substituted the canned chipotle with a fresh scotch bonnet, since we had some.

Anyway, I quite liked it, and the baby ate all of hers, and Sweetie had seconds. It wasn't spectacular, but it tasted fresh and healthy and filling. I'd make it again.

Here are the chard stems in the food processor. Rainbow, indeed!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

British food (yes, really)

I'm doing occasional theme weeks with my kid, and this week is London (her interest was spurred by her grandparents' recent visit there). When I did Paris week, we ate petit palmier cookies, fancy espresso drinks, crepes, ratatouille, chocolate mousse, brie... it was lovely. I started looking for British-y foods and came up with things like toad-in-the-hole. But whatever, I ran with it.

On Saturday I made pasties. I didn't use a recipe, though I had consulted several. It went something like this.

2 sheets puff pastry, thawed.
1 Tbs olive oil
3 med carrots (diced)
2 med potatoes (diced)
1/2 med cauliflower (diced)
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 large zucchini (or, if you're being British-y, courgette), diced
1 cup vegetable stock
1 egg yolk

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. In a large saucepan, heat the oil, then add the diced vegetables and saute for about five minutes (I added the courgette last so it didn't get mushy). Add the stock and cook until potatoes and carrots are almost tender. Lay the puff pastry dough on a large cookie sheet (or two, if you don't have a gigantic one like I do) and add half the vegetable mixture to one half (leaving space around the edges). Fold the other half of the dough over and crimp the edges with a fork. Repeat with the other sheet and the rest of the vegetable mixture. Beat the egg yolk with a small amount of water and brush the tops of both pasties with the egg wash. Bake for 40 minutes.

When we ate them, they were pretty tasty, although the stock wasn't quite salty enough to really add the proper seasoning to the mixture. If I were to make it again, I'd be a lot more generous with salt, pepper, and perhaps fresh parsley. My husband and I both added a bit of sriracha sauce to the final product, but that's just us...


Next up was shepherd's pie. Just reading the descriptions of the most popular British foods sent me into a carb overload, and I figured I was going to need about ten more pounds of potatoes if I intended to make this, bangers and mash, and bubble and squeak. I decided to throw tradition to the wind and make a nouveau fusion Southwestern shepherd's pie... or something like that.

I diced two large sweet potatoes, boiled them in salted water for about ten minutes, then drained them. I added just a splash of milk, about 1/4 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp cayenne, 1 Tbs harissa paste, and 1 tsp sea salt. (I think that was all, anyway -- I was in an experimental mode.)

Then I also diced two orange, two white, and two purple carrots, a medium yellow onion, a green bell pepper, and another zucchini. I chopped some shiitake mushrooms and got frozen peas and corn out. Then I sauteed them all individually, briefly and haphazardly, and added them to a Pyrex dish, where I eventually mixed them, threw in a rinsed and drained can of kidney beans, and added about 2 Tbs of soy sauce, about a Tbs of liquid smoke, and a bit more sea salt. I put the mashed sweet potatoes on top, then reconsidered my initial decision not to add cheese, and grated some cheddar on the top. Then I baked the whole thing at 350 for about 40 minutes (the first 30 with the lid on and last ten with the lid off). Surprisingly, it was pretty good! In fact, my husband said that if I made sweet potatoes like that all the time, he would like them. I was glad to have added the kidney beans, because they gave it a nice, filling texture.

Tonight I made toad in the hole. I honestly didn't even know what it was. I had seen an episode of Top Chef Masters where someone's TITH failed miserably, so I knew it involved sausages, but I wasn't really sure what the, well, "hole" was. I bought Lightlife veggie smoked sausages, and the recipe I consulted said to cook them in the Pyrex dish for about 8 minutes at 450 degrees first, then make the batter (eggs, milk, flour and oil). Then you pour the batter over the sausages and put it back in for 20 minutes.

It rose just as it was supposed to and looked quite attractive. And my daughter maimed it, eating more sausage than she ever has at a sitting. But Sweetie and I just weren't into the egg batter stuff. I mean, it seems to be one of those acquired tastes that may be a cultural thing. I wished it were more biscuit-y, and he wished it were potato-y. Neither one of us liked the eggy, almost custardy sponge that it actually turned out to be. On the other hand, the onion gravy I served with it was a huge hit, and so easy! Heat 1 Tbs of olive oil in a 12" saucepan. Slice one medium onion and saute over medium high heat until brown. Add 1 Tbs of flour, stir well, and cook for 1 minute. Add 1 1/4 cups water and 1 cup vegetable stock and cook down, stirring up the brown stuff from the bottom of the pan, until it's the desired thickness.

I happened to also make peas tonight. I got a big bag of peas from the farmer's market, shelled them, blanched them in boiling, salted water for about 15 seconds, and then dotted them with butter and salt. They were perfect.

Tomorrow night is our traditional sandwich night, but check back soon for my adventures with bangers and mash and bubble and squeak. Then I think I'll take a break from themes. The next one needs to be Vietnam or India or something.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Wild mushroom pilaf and fresh pitas with halloumi

I decided to embark on a new task. As you know, I rarely cook strictly from recipes, and even when I do, I tend to make substitutions left and right. I decided I'd like to try cooking from a recipe once a week. Sweetie liked the idea, and since today is my free-est day this week, he suggested that I try it tonight. I couldn't think of what to make, so I pulled down a few favorite books, the Vegetarian Times cookbook, Crescent Dragonwagon's Passionate Vegetarian, Jack Bishop's Vegetables All Year, and Faye Levy's Feast from the Mideast. I was having trouble deciding, but Sweetie requested bulgur (after the chile rellenos, he is apparently a fan!). That narrowed it down, and I quickly settled on Wild Mushrooms with Tomatoes, Basil, and Bulgur Wheat from the Levy book, not least because I had all the ingredients on hand.

The title nearly says it all, although it also contains onions and bell pepper. I also added a can of chickpeas, just to bulk it up to make it a good entree for three. It was good, although it wasn't particularly well-seasoned. All it had was salt and pepper. I will happily eat the leftovers, and I would even make it again, although I might alter it by adding some additional seasonings, possibly za'atar or fresh mint. Actually, sumac might liven it up nicely.

I then made pita bread. I have made it before from another recipe, but this time I used one from the Levy book. It was incredibly dry dough, and I added water twice and still wasn't able to incorporate all the flour. Probably won't use that recipe again. Nevertheless, when it got done it was good. I bought some halloumi cheese at Trader Joe's (NB: they call it "frying cheese" on the label at TJ's, but I am pretty sure it's halloumi) and sliced it, then threw it on a hot griddle until it turned brown on both sides. Then I put a little harissa on each pita half, put a slice of the cheese on top, and put on a dollop of tomato jam. That particular flavor combination just popped into my head, but it was a really good one! Try it if you have the stuff (and goodness knows that you don't have to make your own pitas).

So there was my recipe adventure! Stay tuned for more... perhaps I'll actually stick with something!