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.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


As you (my only follower, my dear sweet husband) well know, I rarely blog on here anymore. But it happens that tonight I made a big dinner and it seemed to encompass the three methods of cooking that I most often use. I follow a recipe fairly closely, but make substitutions as I see fit. I make stuff up entirely using techniques and flavors I know will work together. And I steal ideas, improvise, and consult a number of sources to create my own version of a recipe I know. And if there's any way to do so, I'll make stuff easier and lower in fat.

The Spanish rice I made is a good illustration of the first method. The recipe is my mom's, which she got from some neighbors of hers many years ago. It goes something like this:

Heat oil in a pot. Brown two cups of rice in the oil. Add a medium chopped onion and stir for one minute more. Add 3 1/2 cups boiling water, two 8 oz cans of tomato sauce*, 1 Tbs minced garlic, 1 tsp cumin, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring it back to a boil, then stir, cover, and cook on the lowest setting for 25 minutes.

I did that... more or less. Like, we really like garlic around here, so I did four big cloves. And I used sea salt, since that's what I've been using lately. And I had a bunch of tomatoes I processed on Saturday that I needed to use, so I pureed those instead of using canned tomato sauce. Oh, and I try to keep the fat down, so I used cooking spray instead of oil. It came out great (although it needed a bit more salt, actually). And that usually works for me. I'll use a recipe, but substitute an ingredient or two -- often times, more than I did here. And you come up with some pretty good results! If you're not an experimenter, this is an easy way to start. Don't like cinnamon? Substitute (a little less) nutmeg or allspice. Think a little bell pepper might add something to the soup? Throw it in. Baking is less flexible than cooking, but there's still room there -- substitute whole wheat flour for regular, coconut oil for butter, or change the spices up.

The second dish I made was the made-up kind. I saw nopales at the farmers' market and thought I'd just improvise. Originally, I thought I might put them in the chile rellenos, but then I thought they might make a nice side salad. I did consult the internet to see how best to cook them (chop, boil for 25-ish minutes, rinse with cold water), but then I just went with what felt right. I had a bunch of sweet corn, so I took it off the cob. I like it raw, but I felt like it might add a nice texture and flavor roasted, so I tossed the kernels with some olive oil and threw them under the broiler for a few minutes (keep a careful eye out if you do this). I put the nopales and corn in a bowl and thought they looked a little lonely, so I opened a can of black beans, rinsed and drained them, and added about half of them to the bowl. Then I threw it a little cumin (since I had it out), some lime juice, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. I was a little worried, because I had heard that nopales could be a bit slimy (and when I cut them, they were -- just like aloe), but they weren't in the salad at all. My husband and daughter both seemed to really like the salad. Not that I don't lose some with this method, too, but if you keep it pretty simple, you are almost sure to have a winner. Like, think about what other Mexican or Southwestern ingredients could be added here. Red bell pepper. Another kind of bean. A veggie like chayote squash or a summer squash. Oregano, chile powder, garlic... Throw some stuff together and see what happens. I do the same thing with Asian flavors all the time. Hoisin, soy sauce, chile-garlic paste, ginger, sesame oil, plus mushrooms, tofu, various veggies...

And finally, the chile rellenos were an experiment that pulled together several ideas. First, let me tell you how I made them, then I'll tell you where I stole the ideas from.

Blacken 6 poblano peppers (or other large, sweet peppers) on all sides under the broiler, on the grill, or over a gas burner.
Throw them in a plastic or paper bag and let them rest. When they are cool, remove the skins. Then cut a slit about 3/4 of the way lengthwise down only one side and remove the seeds and veins.

Put 1 cup bulghur wheat in a bowl. Cover with 1 cup boiling water. Let stand for 30 minutes. Then add 1/2 cup dried currants.

Season wheat-currant mix with salt and cumin to taste.

Either cut several 3/4" x 3/4" x 5" sticks of the cheese of your choice, or do what I did, and use individually wrapped string cheese sticks (what can I say, we get them at Costco by the boatload). Tuck the cheese into the peppers, then spoon in bulghur mixture.

Dredge peppers in flour, then dip in an egg wash. Put them on a skillet over medium heat until the egg is set. Turn until egg is set on all sides. Serve! (Or, that's what I SHOULD have done, according to the chile-relleno-making web site I consulted. In actuality, I could not figure out how to close the damned peppers back up and keep the stuffing in, so I just dredged and egged the bottom and put them on the skillet on that one side. It worked okay, although it didn't give that eggy coating that restaurant rellenos usually have.)

Okay, so here's what I was thinking. Tower Cafe serves chile rellenos with a ton of cheese, pine nuts and currants. I like them a lot. But eating that much cheese is not really an option for someone trying to lose 30 lbs.

Roxy serves chile rellenos with quinoa inside. I really like the texture, but actually, quinoa is pretty high in calories, too.

I made some substitutions. The bulghur would give me the texture I liked without the calories. The currants could stay. And I'd use a little cheese, but not a big ol' melty blob. Actually, I also had the confidence to not worry too much about the eggy coating, either, because both of those restaurants serve their dishes with something other than the traditional egg batter.

I know I am exceptionally lucky not to have picky eaters on my hands, but my daughter was gnawing on poblano pepper and asked for seconds on the bulghur mixture. When my husband saw that there was extra, he asked for some, too. That's right -- seconds all around on the bulghur wheat. I know there are some families that would balk at the very name bulghur, so I appreciate the opportunities I have here to experiment.

Anyway, that was Mexi-night! Nopales salad, chile rellenos, and Spanish rice, my style. And it was a hit.

*There's a line in there about filling the cans half-way with water, then adding that water to the pot. I just added another 8 oz. If you make this rice, be aware that it will appear soupy on the top at the end of 25 minutes, but just stir it up -- it's all good.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010



I've been making a ton of jam. I made two batches of pear-ginger conserve (as my big bag of pears got ripe). I found myself with an excess of nectarines and plums last week and made nectarine-plum. And we finally have enough garden tomatoes for tomato jam!

For the tomato jam, I searched for my recipe from the canning class, but I just couldn't find it. Instead, I went here:
I did make a few changes. I used crushed red chili peppers instead of a serrano (I wasn't really prepared -- I just did it off the cuff). I threw in a star anise, because it was looking at me when I raided the spice cabinet. I did peel all my tomatoes. Oh, and I used cider vinegar. I also more or less tripled the recipe, since I love giving my homemade stuff away as presents, and most of the recipes I found didn't really make much. I'm making it as we speak, so I don't know how it is yet. I do know it's taking a lot longer than 45 minutes to get to a nice consistency, but that's probably because of the volume.

When I made the first batch in the class I took, it came out pretty sweet, but it made a really nice topping for bread and cheese -- like a baguette with some brie and the tomato jam on top.

As for the nectarine jam, I followed this recipe pretty closely. Except, of course, instead of apricots, I used nectarines and plums (probably a few more nectarines than plums). And I didn't peel these, because I like the color and don't mind the texture of plum or nectarine peels. Of note: the recipe calls for both water and lemon juice, but then never instructs you to add them. I added the lemon juice only and skipped the water, and I did so just after I brought it to a boil. Also, I prefer a not-as-sweet jam, so I used the low-sugar pectin and only about 4.5 cups of sugar.

This jam came out divine! It is the most beautiful rosy color, and it is sweet, but not overly. I mentioned something about giving this away and keeping a jar for ourselves, and my Sweetie said "I hope we're keeping more than one jar!"

And finally, the pear-ginger conserve is fantastic, too. So fantastic that although I had initially planned to make only one batch and can the rest of the pears in halves, I ended up just making another batch. A Facebook friend sent it to me, and it was exactly the kind of thing I was in the mood for. The only change I made was that I couldn't reach my damn lemons (we've picked all the low-hanging fruit), so I used dried sour orange peel.


Time: 30 minutes preparation; 50 minutes cooking; 15 minutes processing.

4 Lbs. ripe pears, peeled and chopped (about 9 C)

3 C. sugar

½ C. lemon juice

4 tsp. grated lemon zest (no white pith)

¼ C minced crystallized (or candied) ginger—get it at Trader Joe’s, yo.

1 cinnamon stick

Prepare 6 half-pint canning jars (run them through the dishwasher and leave them in the hot machine, or wash the jars in hot soapy water, rinse, and hold in hot clear water)

Combine pears with remaining ingredients in large saucepot. Cook, stirring frequently, until sugar dissolves. Cook rapidly until thick, stirring to prevent sticking, about 30 minutes. Mixture will mound up on spoon. Remove cinnamon stick.

Pour into prepared jars, seal, and process:

* Fill jars with hot mixture, leaving ¼ inch headspace between the top of food and lid
* Run a wooden spoon around the jar between the food and the glass to release any trapped air bubbles.
* Wipe the rim clean. Place lid on jar and screw bands securely, but don’t use force.
* Place the jars in a large stockpot or canning pot, leaving enough space between jars for water to circulate.
* Add boiling water to cover jars by 2”. Return to a full boil.
* Cover pot and process for fifteen minutes.
* Carefully remove jars with tongs or jar lifter and allow to cool.

Test seals—there should be an indentation in the lid. Refrigerate any unsealed jars.

This came out VERY gingery, and I liked it a lot. I liked it on waffles and toast, but I think it would also be good on something like a pork chop.