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, 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!

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Rustic-ass pasta sauce

An internet acquaintance just e-interviewed me about organic eating and eating on a budget. Although I already sent my answers off, this meal qualifies nicely.

1 Tbs olive oil
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves minced garlic
4 medium tomatoes, very roughly chopped
3 Tbs red wine (I used Barbera, but it doesn't matter)
~20 assorted olives, pitted and halved
1/4 tsp marjoram
1 tsp dried red chili flakes
large pinch sea salt
1 tsp minced fresh stevia, or sugar to taste
~20 cherry tomatoes
3/4 cup loosely packed basil
crumbled feta to taste

whole wheat pasta, any shape (I used spaghetti), cooked according to package directions.

I heated the oil over medium heat, then threw in the onion and stirred it around until it was brown, about 5 minutes. I then added the garlic and cooked for about one more minute. Then I added the chopped tomatoes and wine (reserve the cherry tomatoes) and brought it to a low boil, then turned it down to medium-low.

While I simmered it, I pitted the olives* and threw them in. I also added the marjoram, chili flakes, salt and stevia, and gave it all a good stir. I then put the pasta water on to boil. When it boiled, I put the pasta on and set the timer. At the same time, I dumped in the cherry tomatoes. When five minutes were remaining on the pasta, I tore the basil into big chunks and stirred them in as well.

When the pasta was done, I drained it and added it into the sauce. I then crumbled the feta on top and served it.

It was very tasty, and would have been good with some bread to sop up the extra. I did have a reason for putting the cherry tomatoes in so late, by the way. I just love them when they're hot, but still whole, and they kind of explode when you bite into them. I didn't want them to simmer down to mush with the chopped tomatoes. I wanted the different textures.

Anyway, this meal was so cheap and mostly organic because the pasta was $8 at Costco for 8 packages, and I only used half a package. Making it, yes, 50 cents for dinner for three. The tomatoes were all from the garden. We keep Trader Joe's mediterranean olive blend on hand for snacks, so although they cost a few bucks, it wasn't as though I bought them just for this. And the feta was on hand as well, since we use feta frequently. The tomatoes aren't strictly organic, but we've never used pesticides, so they're pretty darn good. The pasta actually was organic and whole wheat. Costco -- who knew?

*I bought a cherry pitter this spring thinking I could use it on olives, too. I can't. The small ones are too small and the big ones are too big, and even the medium ones end up losing a lot of olive meat in the process, so it's really not worth it. I just smash them with the flat side of a knife, then tear out the pit with my fingernails. Add the pitter to the list of kitchen gadgets that aren't really worth the drawer space, like a garlic press (grate cloves on the tines of a fork), egg separator (your fingers are the best egg separator around), and lemon reamer (a fork works fine).