Sunday, January 31, 2010

Vegetarian inspiration - some would call it an addiction.

I don't just like cookbooks, I love them. Love, love, love them!
My vegetarian project gave me an excellent excuse to buy some more.
In all fairness, I did have a few already, but to be inspired for an entire year, I figured I could add some more.
And so I did.

I have heard some fantastic stories about Jack Bishops Italian Vegetarian. Some even says it's the best vegetarian cookbook out there today. I can't wait to dig into this one. I have been reading it for a couple of days and I have to admit, it looks very promising.


Arto Der Haroutunians cookbook Vegetarian Dishes from the Middle East has gotten rave reviews. I have read a little in it and it looks promising. I also love Middle Eastern food, so I can't see how this can go wrong.


More Easy Beans by Irish Ross and Jacquie Trafford also got rave reviews from the readers on Amazon.com. I have been looking for some good and tasty bean recipes because I don't think I'll be comfortable spending this year eating mock meat. I don't hold anything against mock meat, but I have asked myself why someone would go vegetarian and then continue eating fake meat when there are so many wonderful legumes and vegetables out there.
I have a strong faith in this book. It has a ton of information about beans and legumes in the beinning of the book, and a great explanation on reasons for gas after eating beans. *LOL*


This cookbook, New Vegetarian by Robin Asbell, is my wild card.
To be honest, I bought this book because of the lovely picture on the cover. How could anyone who is seriously interested in cookig, walk past a picture like this?
For the record, the picture displays a Grilled Vegetable Sformato.


The Roasted Vegetable by Andrea Chesman is another cookbook in the rave review-category. I don't think I have read one negative thing about this book. I also like roasted vegetables in general. I really hope this book will turn out to be a good investment, because I need more recipes on roasted vegetables.


The Modern Vegetarian by Maria Elia is a beautiful cookbook. Just beautiful!
The recipes are more gourmet than the recipes from the other cookbooks, and it's definitely a cookbook for when you are going to entertain for friends or family. But boy will they be entertained! I can't wait to start cooking from this book!


Larousse Gastronomiques book on Vegetables and salads is a part of the Larousse Gastronomique, the world's most famous culinary reference book.
This book holds 600 salad and vegetable recipes, together with 80 recipes for sauces, dressings, pasrty, butter and stock. It's a great cookbook for when you need the basics - which I often do.


I have no idea why I bought this book. Delicious Jamaica by Yvonne McCalla Sobers is a small book (150 pages), but holds a lot of recipes. I have never been to Jamaica, and I have never eaten a jamaican dish. Add to that the fact that this book has no illustrations whatsoever, I think I'm in for an interesting ride with this one.


The Conscious Cook by Tal Ronnen looked so promising in the store, but after reading it a little closer, I'm disappointed already. Even before I have cooked as much as a single meal from it.
Why, you might ask?
Because I like cookbooks that uses ingredients that most of us can buy in the store. Many of the recipes uses cashew cream, which can be made from raw cashews. Well, I can't get raw cashews where I live.
Then there is a recipe that asks for Earth Balance. What the heck is Earth Balance??
Then there's the coffee extract, the hazelnut milk, juniper berries, agave nectar - and not to forget the mock meat.
In all fairness, this is a vegat cookbook as opposed to the others who are vegetarian cookbooks, but I don't see why I should need all these exotic ingredients and a wild kitchen science project (=mock meat) to satisfy my palate.
I have to admit, I will surprise myself if I ever cook anything out of this cookbook.

Can spinach soup cure a sore throat and an aching body?



This is not a great way to spend a Sunday. I think I'm getting a cold. My throat is sore, my body aches and I'm freezing cold.
I have buried myself under a blanket with a hot cup of tea, and I'm planning on staying under this blanket until I feel better. Or at least for another hour or so.

I made spinach soup last week and it was really good, and I'm think I might make it again today. It's so easy to make, it's hearty and tastes great. What more can you ask for in a simple soup, really?

Spinach soup

1 pound fresh spinach, rinsed and stalks removed (if you are using baby spinach, you don't have to bother about removing the stalks)
4 cups vegetable stock
1 cup heavy cream (or half a cup of heavy cream and half a cup of milk if you want to use less fat)
1 tbsp dried basil
juice from one lemon
salt and pepper to taste.

Hard boiled eggs if youlike them in your spinach soup.

Saute the spinach in a pot with a little oil.
After a few minutes, the spinach will collapse. Then you add the vegetable stock and basil, and bring the soup to a boil. Let it simmer for a few minutes. Add cream, and add salt and pepper to taste. Bring soup to a boil again, remove it from the plate and add the lemon juice.
NOTE: Don't bring the soup to a boil after you have added the lemon juice. The lemon juice will make the cream (or milk) separate if you bring it to a boil.

In blender or food processor, puree until smooth. Serve immediately.
I serve my soup with a hard boiled egg in the middle of the soup bowl. You could cut the egg in two to showcase the yellow wgg yolk. It would look beautiful against the green soup. But on this particular day, I was very hungry and my main priority was to get myself fed.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The vegetarian project - day #30


My first month as a vegetarian is coming to an end, and I have to say, it's been pleasant so far.
I did forget about the entire vegetarian project one Saturday morning when I had toasted bagels with salmon and creme cheese, and then there was the four meatballs at the party last weekend, but all in all, it's been easier than I imagined.
I have to add that I have eaten most of my meals at work or at home, but the few times I have eaten out, I have been lucky to find vegetarian options on the menu.
That said, I'm not very impressed with the restaurant menus. I regularly eat out with friends and co-workers who are allergic to gluten and dairy, and the options aren't very many on the average restaurant menu. One should think, that in this time and age when allergies are common, that restaurants would have a more versatile menu. In restaurants, I have come to rely on soups and salads. Most restaurants can come up with a leafy green salad and a vegetable soup on relatively short notice.
But I recommend calling a restaurant in advance if you are going out for dinner in the evening. Usually restaurants are crowded that time of day, and I don't think it's fair to the cook to come up with something on such a short notice. Especially if you go out with a larger crowd.

I decided to celebrate my first month as a vegetarian with Italian biscotti. I love, love, love biscotti.
I also make them because so far in my life, I have had no luck in making cookies. I can't make a chewy cookie to save my life. They all come out hard as stone - and believe me, I have tried e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g - so I took the easiest way out and opted for biscotti (they are dried after they are baked to make them really hard. In other words, they fit my cookie personality like a glove!)

These biscotties are my favorite. They are made of saffron and chocolate, my two favorite ingredients. They also contain orange zest which gives them a slight edgy taste. I think they're perfect, and I hope you like them too.
The recipe is from a magazine named Saveur.



The reason I baked so many is that I'm going to a friends house for dinner tonight, and I plan on bringing her biscotti as a hostess gift. I mean, I would love it if anyone did that for me.

Saffron Chocolate Biscotti

Saffron Biscotti

3 cups flour

2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1 cup sugar

4 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened

1 tbsp. orange zest

1 tsp. saffron, lightly crushed

2 eggs

1/4 cup milk

3.5 oz. dark chocolate, chopped
Pearl sugar, for garnish


1. Heat oven to 325°. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside. In a large bowl, using a handheld mixer on medium speed, beat together sugar, butter, orange zest, and saffron* until pale and fluffy, 1–2 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition; add milk and mix until combined. Reduce mixer speed to low and add dry ingredients in 3 additions; mix until just combined. Mix in chocolate, then transfer dough to a work surface.



2. Quarter dough, transfer each quarter to a parchment paper–lined baking sheet, and form each into a 12" x 1" flattened log; sprinkle each log with 1 tbsp. pearl sugar and refrigerate for 20 minutes. Bake 1 sheet at a time until lightly browned around edges, 30–35 minutes. Transfer baking sheet to a wire rack and let cool for 15 minutes; repeat with remaining dough logs.


3. Reduce oven temperature to 300°. Transfer each log to a cutting board and, using a serrated knife, slice the logs into 1"-thick slices. Return slices to the baking sheet, cut sides up and spaced evenly apart, and bake 1 sheet at a time until light brown and dry, 15–20 minutes; transfer to a wire rack to let cool completely before serving.


MAKES ABOUT 40 COOKIES

* My biscotti didn't come out as yellow as I wanted them to be (the saffron contains a strong color that make the biscotti turn yellow-ish) so next time I make these biscotti, I'll try to dissolve the saffron in the milk before adding the milk to the dough to bring out as much color as possible.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

I'm on a soup roll



I have found that soups are easy, fast, nutritious and tasty. And they keep me warm on cold winter nights. What more can you ask for in a dish, really?

I found some beets in the store the other day. I have never cooked with beets before, so I was pretty excited. And a little scared. I have heard numerous stories from people who have cooked with beets, telling me that their kitchen looked like a slaughterhouse afterwards. My kitchen is all white, so I was a little concerned but as it turned out, I had nothing to be concerned about. The whole process went without accidents and my kitchen is still white.

I found this recipe in Bon App├ętit, and I served it with freshly made sourdough bread with butter.

I madse a few changes to the original recipe. These were:

The only change I did was:

1) I baked the beets in the oven - in water - for an hour instead of in the microwave.
2) I doubled the amount of Chinese Five Spice, and I added a little more ginger than the recipe said.
I served the soup with a dollop of plain yogurt.

Here's the recipe:

Five-Spice Beet Soup

Yield: Makes 4 servings

4 2-to 2 1/2-inch-diameter beets, scrubbed, trimmed, unpeeled, each cut into 6 wedges (about 3 1/2 cups)
3 cups vegetable broth, divided
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium-size red onion, thinly sliced (2 cups)
1 celery stalk with leaves, stalk chopped, leaves sliced
2 teaspoons grated peeled fresh ginger (I doubled the amount of ginger)
1/4 teaspoon (or more) Chinese five-spice powder*(I also doubled the amount of spice)
Sour cream or plain yogurt


Place beet wedges in 4-cup glass measuring cup. Add 2 cups broth; cover with paper plate and microwave on high until tender, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat oil in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and chopped celery stalk; cover and cook until almost tender and translucent, stirring often, about 12 minutes.

Add beet mixture and 1 cup broth to onion mixture; cover and simmer 4 minutes. Mix in ginger and 1/4 teaspoon five-spice powder. Transfer to blender; cover and puree. Season soup to taste with salt, pepper, and additional five-spice powder, if desired; rewarm if necessary. Ladle soup into 4 bowls. Top with dollops of sour cream or yogurt.

*A spice blend available in the spice section of most supermarkets.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Day 24 - The meat experiment



My vegetarian friends outside are thriving on seeds and nuts thesee days. The weather has been good, and I need to fill the bird feeders once a day. These small creatures sure eat a lot!
I have been good so far, or until last night, that is.

I went to a party last night. I hadn't told the hostess about my vegetarian project in advance, I was a little curious about what we would be served.
When they announced that we'd have Spanish tapas, I thought all was well for a minute, but that was soon to change.

The tapas bar offered Manchego cheese drizzled with honey, green leaf salad, prawns (which I'm allergic to), meatballs, ham, beef stew (is that really tapas-food?) and fried onion rings.
My problem was, I hadn't eaten in 10 hours, and I was literally starving. I love cheese, but cheese drizzled with honey is more of a dessert food than dinner in my book.

I had a lot of green leaf salad and I had two servings of bread.
It didn't help, so I decided to have four meatballs. I dis this for two reasons: I was at a party and I was not about to ruin my hostess' night by not eating what she was serving us. Second, I was curious to see how my body would react to meat after a month off meat (except the fish accident last weeken).

The meatballs tasted okay. They were served in a really spicy tomato sauce, so I didn't really taste the meat. But they made me fuller than I have been in a long time. It felt like I was carrying a stone in my gut.
I don't know if this incident can be related to the meatballs, but later in the evening it was almost like I had gotten a stomach bug. My stomach got really upset, and it was very uncomfortable.

I am a lot better today, thankfully, and I started my day with freshly squeezed orange juice, a cup of tea and a toasted bagel with creme cheese. A perfect Sunday vegetarian lunch if you ask me.

Vegetarian fast food (dinner in 10 minutes)



Some days I'm home so late for work, the thought of spending an hour cooking dinner could drive me over the edge. (Yeah, I'm a little edgy when I'm hungry.)

This dish can be made in 10 minutes flat, and it's really good too. Actually, it's one of my favorite dishes.

You'll need:

1 bunch of fresh asparagus
salt (I use Malsdon salt)
4 eggs
butter
2-3 Tbsp freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Cut off the dry ends of the asparagus.
Steam the asparagus for 5-6 minutes in a poy.

Fry eggs in the butter until done. Some people like a runny yolk, while other want it cooked through. I like mine runny.

Divide the asparagus on two plates. Sprinke a couple of pinches of salt over them. Place two fried eggs onto each plate, on top of the asparagus. Sprinkle parmesan on top.

It's good, it's healthy and I could totally see myself living on just this one dish. It is really that good!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Greek Briami - or Roasted vegetables



This dish is one of my favorited vegetable dishes. I got the recipe years ago from my Greek friend Evelyn, who is a fantastic cook.

Briami is something so simple as zucchini and potatoes roasted with herbs and oil in the oven. I sometimes add a fennel if I have some, but the original recipe is also good as it is. I have never had a reason to twist or tweak this recipe.
I serve the Briami with a slice of feta cheese on the top, and a basket of fresh bread on the side. It tastes delicious, and when I close my eyes, I imagine sitting on a Greek island with the Greek sun over my head.


Evelyn's Briami
(serves 6)

Pre-heat oven to 420F

10 good-sized zucchini, washed and scrubbed
and cut crosswise into 1/4 inch slices
7 large-sized potatoes, peeled and cut
crosswise into 1/4 inch slices
5 garlic cloves, sliced thin
2 very large onions,
peeled, cut in half, each half cut into
thirds (large wedges)
3 large tomatoes, peeled and cut into
quarters
1/3 lb of hard cheese (I use Parmesan or Manchego)
3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons oregano
3 tablespoons cut mint
3 tablespoons cut cilantro (optional)
salt and pepper

Put everything in a very large baking pan.
Pour water, olive oil on top and add herbs.
Season generously. Put your clean hands in
the pan and give all the veggies a toss so
herbs, and oil and salt and pepper go on
everything.
Roast in 420F oven for a couple
of hours, stirring everthing up a couple of
times to allow veggies on bottom to come up
and brown nicely too.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Bummer!!!



I unintentionally ate fish yesterday.

Yes, you read that right.
This is what happened:

I woke up - dead tired as usual because I'm always tired in the morning. I went down to the kitchen and made myself a cup of tea and toasted a bagel.
In the meantime, The Husband cut up some smoked salmon and cut up onion rings.
We brought our breakfast (uhm...brunch) out to the living room and ate while we watched a movie.
Out of habit, I piled smoked salmon and onion rings onto my bagel and ate it!
But the worst is, it didn't hit me until eight hours later that I had actually eaten fish!

I'm shocked. I'm speechless. I have no excuse, but I promise I will do better.
If I am to break my own project rules, it should at least be intentionally, right?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Restaurant food

I had dinner out on Thursday night.
The occasion was a seminar I was at, so the food was pre-ordered for our arrival.
I called in the day before and changed my order to vegetarian, which the restaurant was okay with.
And they did a great job too. I love it when the kitchen makes an effort to make vegetarian dishes tasty and good, like a true food experience.
First, we all got a cup of cauliflower soup as a starter. It was thick and creamy, just like cauliflower soup should be.

While the others got fish, I had pickled mushrooms with cauliflower puree and dill. The sweetness of the puree worked very well with the acidity of the pickled mushrooms. The presentation was nice too:



The main dish this night was grilled eggplant with a sun dried and capers sauce, served with a fondant potato (baked first, then fried in fat).
I ate all the eggplant, but the potato was a little bit too much. Also, I was getting a little full at this point.


I think the chef did a great job. I felt that he (- or she) did make an effort to please me, and I really appreciate that.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

No meat so far



I'm almost two weeks into the new year, and I've had no meat so far.
You could say that twoo weeks isn't much to brag about, and so far it's been pretty easy since I've had most meals at home. But it takes more planning since we are one meat eater and one vegetarian in this house. The meat eater has made it very clear that he has no intentions of giving up meat.
Yesterday I had lunch with two co-workers at a restaurant. The menu offered two vegetarian options: Classic french onion soup (au gratin), and a ratatouille on a bed of mushroom risotto. I chose the latter, and it was very good and tasty. But all the other dishes either contained meat, fish or shellfish.

I had completely forgotten that I have a two day seminar coming up. We're starting tomorrow, and we will be staying at a hotel for two days. I called the hotel today and asked if I could pre-order a vegetarian dish for lunch and dinner, and they were very okay with it. That was such a relief. Now I don't have to think about planning any meals for two days. The next meal I need to cook is dinner on Friday. I haven't decided what to make yet, but I have a couple of pounds of red beets in the fridge that I need to use soon. I think I'll start there, and work them into a meal. Somehow! ;-)

Monday, January 11, 2010

New York Mayor wants less salt in restaurant food



First New York City required restaurants to cut out trans fat. Then it made restaurant chains post calorie counts on their menus. Now it wants to protect people from another health scourge: salt.

On Monday, the Bloomberg administration plans to unveil a broad new health initiative aimed at encouraging food manufacturers and restaurant chains across the country to curtail the amount of salt in their products.

The plan, for which the city claims support from health agencies in other cities and states, sets a goal of reducing the amount of salt in packaged and restaurant food by 25 percent over the next five years.

Link to NYTimes: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/11/business/11salt.html?hp

Salt has been linked to high blood pressure and obesitry, and I think the new York Mayor is doing everyone a favor by starting this campaign.

“We all consume way too much salt, and most of the salt we consume is in the food when we buy it,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, the city health commissioner, whose department is leading the effort. Eighty percent of the salt in Americans’ diets comes from packaged or restaurant food. Dr. Farley said reducing salt from those sources would save lives.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Vegetarian lasagna



Have you ever tried to take a picture of baked lasagna, successfully?
Whatever ligt, angle and cheese used as topping, the lasagna always comes out as a goey mush.
It could have been improved with some grean lettuce leaves and tomatoes, but unfortunately, I had neither on hand today.

Luckily, most of us have had lasagna before so we know that this goey mush is indeed a great mix of tomatoes, cheese and delicious velvety pasta.

I start making my lasagna by cooking a tasty vegetable tomato sauce. I layer it with lasagna plates and ricotta cheese. Somtimes, when my local food store is out of ricotta (- or I'm too cheap to use ricotta since it costs twice as much as the alternative) I'm known to use cottage cheese that I mash with a fork instead. If you want my honest opinion (- if you don't, stop reading here), it works just as well. The strong flavors in the vegetable tomato sauce will overpower the delicate and distinctive taste in the ricotta cheese. It's the texsture I'm looking for in this dish.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
While oven is heating up, make the lasagna.

Tomato sauce.

1 Tbsp canola oil
2 small or 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
2 carrots, peeled and cut into small pieces
2 celery sticks, rinsed and sliced

1 small boc (1/2 cup) tomato puree
1 cup frozen spinach
1 can (1 pound) chopped tomatoes
2 Tbsp dried oregano

Salt and pepper to taste

2 1/2 cup ricotta cheese (1 1/2 pound)
lasagna plates
1 medium ball of mozarella cheese
2 Tbsp grated parmesan

Saute onion in the canola oil until transludent. Add carrots and celery sticks, and saute on medium heat for 5-10 minutes.

Add tomato paste, stir well until the onion, carrots and celery pieces are coated well.
Add chopped tomatoes, oregano and salt an pepper. Let boil for 20 minutes, or until carrots are almost done.
Add the frozen spinach. When the spinach is well blended into the sauce, the sauce is done.

My lasagna form is a deep 8 x 4 inch baking dish. Use whatever size that pleases your crowd.

Start with the vegetable tomato sauce.
Layer half of the tomato sauce in the bottom of the dish. Cover with lasagna plates. Spread half of the ricotta cheese over the lasagna plates. Make sure it's spread out evenly. Reserve 1/2 cup of the tomato vegetable sauce on the side, and spread the rest over the ricotta cheese. Cover with lasagna plates, and spread the reserved tomato vegetable sauce on top. This is done to make sure there will be enough moist to bake the lasagna plates througly since the ricotta cheese don't hold enough moisture.
Spread the ricotta cheese on top, cover dish with aluminum foil, and bake for 20 minutes in the oven. After 20 minutes, remove the aluminus foil, spread the mozarella cheese on top, and sprinkle parmesan cheese on top of the mozarella cheese. (I add parmesan as neither the ricotta nor mozarella cheese holds a lot of taste. The parmesan adds an extra flavor that goes well with the tomato and vegetable sauce).

Bake for another 10 minutes, or until the cheese on top is melted and had taken on a golden color.

Enjoy!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Curry Lentil Soup

This soup is perfect for cold days. It's a classic combination of curry, garlic and ginger, and it tastes great.
(From Cuisine at Home)

CURRY-LENTIL SOUP

"Curry powders vary in spiciness - use more or less depending on how hot you prefer your soup."

INGREDIENTS:

1 yellow onion, finely diced
2 T. garlic, minced
2 T. fresh ginger, peeled, minced
1 T. curry powder
1/2 t. crushed red pepper flakes (I used 1/8 tsp very hot red pepper flakes)
Pinch of sugar
4 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup red lentils
Juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup heavy cream (coconut milk also works)
Salt to taste

Garnish- I never serve the soup with garnish on weekdays, only when I serve it to guests).

1/4 cup sweetened, shredded coconut, toasted
1/4 cup dry roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
2 T. scallions, coarsely chopped
2 T. coarsely chopped fresh mint leaves

DIRECTIONS:

Saute onion in melted butter in a large saucepan over medium heat, 3-5 minutes.

Add garlic, ginger, curry powder, red pepper flakes, and sugar; saute about 1 minute.

Add broth, lentils, and lime juice. Simmer, uncovered, until lentils are soft, 15 - 20 minutes. (I simmered it about 30 minutes). Remove soup from heat.

OBS: DO NOT bring the soup back to boil after you have added the heavy cream. The lime in the soup will cause it to separate. Re-heat soup slowly over low heat and don't let it boil.

Stir in cream and salt.

Garnish soup with coconut, peanuts, scallions, and mint. (I omitted this).


Makes 4 Cups

From Cuisine at Home