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Goat Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms

stuffed mushrooms

I looked up at the building I work in today–a gray, gothic monolith of stone, covered in gnarled leafless vines–and I thought, if ever a monster were to choose his home, he’d choose a building like this. On a day like this. Early winter monotone and windy. Dead leaves still clinging to some trees, but mostly empty branches. Few people walking, with the collars upturned on their dark overcoats.

Maybe the holidays come at this time every year so that we’re too busy to notice things changing. Grass dying, streets becoming quieter. We drink a lot of egg nog and let twinkly lights mesmerize us, then we come out on the other side to a quiet, wintry world. Especially for me–I get to go home for a week in LA, then I’ll come back to a transformed Chicago. Frozen tundra.

I like the holidays, despite the dizzying busyness of them. We’ve had one snowy morning so far, and all the lights are up on the houses. I’ve decorated cookies. I’ve shopped for presents and stocking stuffers. I’ve bought my ticket home. I have a promise of egg nog on Saturday (thanks, Joel). I’m adequately entrenched in this holiday business, and I can’t wait for my trip home. I’m even looking forward to the frozen tundra afterward. This has been an incredibly busy and rich and wonderful year, but I’m looking forward to the quieter season.

Until then, it’s that time of year when you need something to bring to holiday parties. Kasia asked me the other day what she should bring to one, and I immediately thought of these mushrooms, which are tasty, easy, and crowd pleasy. She did, and they were a hit.

Truly, you can stuff anything in a mushroom and get away with it, but this combination plays to mushrooms’ strengths. Goat cheese, thyme, mushroom stems, bread crumbs, parmesan. The tanginess of the goat cheese makes these feel lighter than some other iterations of stuffed mushrooms. You could add crab or sausage to this mix, but I think those flavors would overpower the earthiness here. And nothing complements mushrooms more than thyme.

mushrooms

For a big party, you might want to double the recipe.

stuffing mushrooms

Goat Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms

1 lb. button or crimini mushrooms, cleaned
1 large clove of garlic
a few sprigs of thyme, destemmed
about a 1/2 c. goat cheese
bread crumbs
parmesan cheese
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375.

Remove the stems from the mushrooms and set aside. Roast the mushroom caps for 10 minutes on a cookie sheet. Drain any water that may have collected in the well of the caps.

(You can use a food processor or chop and mix all by hand for the next steps.) Meanwhile, drop the garlic into a food processor to chop. Add the mushroom stems, the thyme, and process. Then the goat cheese, about 2 tbsp. bread crumbs, and salt and pepper. Process until you have a paste.

Fill the mushroom caps with the paste. Top with a sprinkle of breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese on each one. Put back in the oven for about 10 or 15 minutes, until the top is golden brown.

Any extra is really good as a pate on a baguette!!

Ginger-Orange Muffins

ginger orange muffins
Speaking of Matt, he does these cookbooks. Every year, for the last ten years, he and Rachel have culled recipes from their brains, their cookbooks, and their friends and family to create a smorgasbord of vegan (and later, vegetarian) delights.

Now, I’ve been on a muffin kick lately. Aren’t they sort of the perfect breakfast? They are fast and cheap to make, they keep you full until lunch, and you can make them as healthy/sweet/savory as you’d like. I have been trying to swim in the mornings before work, and muffins make it a lot easier to get out the door in a timely manner. So, Matt suggested I try the Ginger-Mandarin Muffins from volume 2 of his cookbooks. According to Matt, the recipe came from Pablito, the farmer who gives them their produce every week. Also according to Matt, “They are mind-blowing.”

And I can attest: mind adequately blown. I made a few substitutions and added coconut–and they were fantastic! I also de-veganized them, as I really like butter (which I’m sure they’ll forgive me for, since they now eat dairy too). I also skipped the glaze at the end, because they are beautifully sweet without it. The results: moist and full of flavor. All the other slowpokes are gonna eat my dust in the pool tomorrow morning!

Ginger Orange Muffins

1/2 c. butter
1 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 c. milk
1/2 shredded coconut
1 tbsp. fresh ginger, grated
1 navel orange or 2 mandarin oranges
1 tsp. baking soda
2 c. flour
optional for the glaze: 2 tbsp. powdered sugar

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Cream butter with the sugar and eggs. Combine with the milk, coconut, ginger, and the orange zest. I used a food processor so that the coconut was pulverized and not in large shreds anymore.

In a separate bowl, sift together the baking soda and flour. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix until just combined.

Spoon the batter into greased muffin tins, then bake for 25 to 30 minutes.

If you’d like to make the glaze, dissolve the powdered sugar with 1/4 c. of the orange juice. When the muffins are finished baking but still warm, drizzle them with the juice mixture.

Guest Blogger: Matt’s Wild Rice, Kabocha, and Vegetable Pilaf

My good friend Matt has been self-publishing a vegetarian/vegan cookbook with his wife, Rachel, every year for Christmas for the last ten years. Needless to say, he is a veritable treasure trove of amazing recipes. Thankfully, all my prodding and pleading has finally led to a guest post! Here he channels the idea of fall (I say “idea” because, you know, he lives in Oakland) into a gorgeous medley of deliciousness.

When not cooking, Matt's being a great dad to Oslo (who's now a wee bit older than in this pic, but just as cute!)

Kate and I have had a long running discussion of just what the order the seasons take out here in Northern California. After much debate, we’ve settled on “Spring, Winter, Indian Summer, Fall.” Given that it was 84 degrees here in the Bay Area last weekend, but just 70 by Tuesday, it feels like Indian Summer is on its way out, and Fall (which runs from November to March), is picking up speed.That means that we’re just starting to get a hint of our fall veggies in our CSA box, and fall means squashes! 

wild rice pilafSquashes are a fun vegetable because they’re so flexible; depending on our mood and the weather, we will use the many kinds of squashes we get to make soups, pupusas, curries or many other kinds of dishes. But sometimes, when you’re first getting reacquainted with your seasonal foods, it’s nice to just keep it simple.

This recipe relies on a roasted kabocha squash, with just a bit of allspice to bring out the earthiness, plus the always-needed salt and pepper. The rice pilaf, we threw together with whatever vegetables we had on hand, and we were lucky enough to get fresh-picked cranberry beans in our box last week as well, which gave the meal more heft.

Wild Rice, Kabocha, and Vegetable Pilaf

1 c. wild rice or wild rice mix
3 c. broth
1 clove garlic, peeled but whole
1 large or two small kabocha squash, seeded and sliced or cubed
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, diced
1 dozen crimini mushrooms, quartered
1/2 c. peas, frozen or fresh
2 c. cooked white beans (we used cranberry beans, but cannelini or great northern beans would work well too)
1 teaspoon rosemary
1 tsp. thyme
1 tsp. sage
Allspice
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil or butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a rice cooker or saucepan, combine the rice, broth and whole garlic clove. Cook until the rice is done.

Once the squash is sliced or cubed, lay flat on a lightly oiled baking sheet, sprinkle with salt, pepper and allspice. Bake for 20-30 minutes, turning over or stirring once, until easily pierced with a fork.

While the squash cooks, sauté the onions, garlic and carrots in 1-2 tablespoons of butter or oil, until the onion is translucent. Add the rosemary, thyme and sage and cook for one minute more, while stirring. Add the mushrooms, peas and beans, stir for one minute, then cover and cook for 7 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are cooked. You may want to add a little bit of water or broth to prevent sticking.

Serve immediately, either after combining the rice and vegetables in the skillet, or separately.

Guest Columnist: Angela’s Cheap-Ass Dinners

My friend Angela knows how to make a mean meal on a few measly dollars, and wants to share her wisdom with you. She’ll be blogging her thrifty, sassy heart out here for us on occasion. Today she brings you: Taco Bowl. This tasty concoction will provide you with a snappy dinner for two and only set you back about $13. Total.

Taco bowls make me think of faux Mexican fast food, a la Taco Bell, or an out-of-touch Midwestern homemaker experimenting with Kraft cheeses and Velveeta. Taco bowls are not authentic Mexican food, and as a staunch supporter of my little neighborhood Mexican grocery store, I feel a bit like I’m letting its super-friendly employees down. But everyone knows the best food is usually a guilty pleasure, and this one happens to be both delicious and cheap. So here’s my recipe for a homemade taco bowl.

Perfect for cranky, crummy Monday nights.

Ingredients:

1 small spanish onion – $0.30
2-3 cloves of garlic – $0.50
olive oil
Cumin powder – $2
2 cans black beans (Goya is best), drained and rinsed – $2
1 can vegetable or chicken stock – $1
1 tablespoon mole – $3/jar
Corn tortillas – $0.33
3 or 4 tbsp. canola or vegetable oil
Your favorite salsa – $2
Cilantro – $1
Limes – $1

Makes 2-3 servings.

First, you must make the mole.  In a small pot, heat the 3 parts stock and 1 part mole paste on medium-low heat until the mole is totally dissolved. Taste, and go ahead and add more mole paste if you’d like.  In the meantime dice your onions and mince your garlic, and in a medium pot, sautee both in olive oil until the onions are soft and translucent.  Add as much cumin as you can stand (I love the stuff, so I used about 3 or 4 teaspoons), and let cook over low heat for about a minute.

Add the beans to your onion, garlic and cumin mixture, and stir so that the beans and onions are well mixed.  Add the mole, and stir again. Cover the beans and increase the heat to medium. Let it come to a bubbling boil, stir, cover, and then bring to a low simmer.  Let it simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the beans are softened, increase the heat to medium and uncover it so that most of the excess liquid boils off, 15-20 minutes.  This will make the beans like a thick porridge and not soupy.

Next, heat the canola or vegetable oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat.  Tear your tortillas into 2-3 inch strips or triangles, and add to the oil.  Using tongs, flip the tortillas over so that both sides are a golden brown, and then place them on a paper towel to soak up the excess oil.

By this time, your black beans should be thick and mushy, and your tortilla strips should be crispy.  Scoop a helping of the black beans into a bowl, add some tortilla strips on top, and garnish with cilantro, salsa and fresh lime juice.

Greek Cucumber Salad Sandwich

The theme of my summer has been eating outdoors, thanks to this highly useful and necessary purchase I made in July:
This pimped-out cooler makes picnicking a snap, and very quickly became the MVP of the season. My summer, which officially came to a close last week (boo), was filled with a bounty of delicious, simple meals that were packed into the cooler and then unpacked at one of Chicago’s lovely outdoor spaces. I have the good fortune of living a block from Humboldt Park, which is a 207-acre greenspace filled with ponds, baseball fields, gardens, and a weekly impromptu classic-car parade. Pimped-out cooler made it super easy to transform a weeknight dinner into an outdoor excursion, complete with entertainment (baseball and soccer games seem to happen every night of the summer).
picnic at humboldt park
Luckily my partner-in-outdoor-eating agrees that there’s no reason to eat indoors if the weather allows. One day, I came home from work to a packed cooler and a Brandon with a plan. You may know that there’s no quicker way to my heart than to cook for me, but cooking for me AND taking it outdoors is a sure win. So he earned some big points with this delicious picnic, comprised of tangy Greek cucumber salad sandwiches and a crisp white wine.
greek cucumber salad sandwiches
The weather was perfect, with a blue sky and gentle clouds. The sun set behind the baseball field as the kids finished their game.
Maybe it’s cruel to post this summery recipe on a day like today, with gray, cold rain, and no end in sight. But I’m not ready to put pimped-out cooler away for the year yet; consider this an incantation asking the weather to let me squeeze in just a few more picnics. If you get the chance, make these sandwiches and eat them outdoors. They’ll transport  you back to a lazy August afternoon, make you forget about the rain.
Greek Cucumber Salad Sandwich
Adapted from Epicurious.com 

2 1/2 pounds Japanese, Persian, or English hothouse cucumbers
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup labneh (Lebanese yogurt cheese) or Greek-style yogurt
3/4 cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons salt-packed capers, rinsed well, roughly chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint leaves
1 tablespoon (or more) fresh lemon juice
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 9×7 inch loaves focaccia, halved horizontally, or 8 ciabatta rolls
Extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. If using English cucumbers, split lengthwise and remove seeds (leave other varieties whole). Arrange cucumbers on a parchment paper–lined baking sheet, cut side down. Brush with melted butter. Roast cucumbers until crisp-tender, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel–lined plate; chill until cold.

Cut Japanese or Persian cucumbers lengthwise in half. Cut hothouse cucumber halves lengthwise in half. Slice crosswise into 1/4 inch-thick pieces. Whisk Greek yogurt and next 5 ingredients in a large bowl. Stir in sliced cucumbers and 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Season filling to taste with salt, pepper, and more lemon juice, if desired.

Brush cut sides of focaccia or rolls with olive oil; place on a baking sheet and toast in a 400° oven until just crispy and lightly browned, 3-5 minutes. Divide filling among focaccia bottoms, cover with tops, and cut each into 4 sandwiches (or divide filling among rolls).

picnic sandwich

Green Bean-Pomegranate Panzanella

Chicago is deep into an epic heat wave, so I’m guessing none of you wants to turn on your oven. I haven’t wanted to either, which is why, I suppose, I have a whole stable of salads and slaws to post here. Are you sick of them yet?

I’ll start with this updated green bean panzanella that I made for a beach trip last week to the Indiana Dunes. Kasia came to visit me, and, being the Bay Area softy (sorry, tootsie pop!!) that she is, the heat was hard for her to bear. What choice did I have but to pack a cooler and whisk her away to the water? Brandon joined us, we piled in the car, and crossed state lines.

The Indiana Dunes are a beautiful stretch of sandy beach nestled amongst dunes and hiking trails on Lake Michigan. After growing up near the Pacific, the experience of swimming in a large, saltless body of water is still surreal to me. It looks as endless as an ocean, so I keep expecting the back and forth pull of waves. It’s strange to have nothing to fight against. And it’s most especially strange that it is quiet. The noise of the water is the most defining characteristic of being on a California beach. When Jen asked me the other day to choose a body of water that described me (she was giving me some sort of personality test), I chose the Pacific. But, the endless placid lake has grown on me, and I was supremely happy to be there on a beautiful, sunny day.

Of course, it wasn’t entirely placid when we were there–hundreds were splashing around in it. Hoards of people had flocked to the shoreline, with radios and umbrellas and picnics of their own. As I lay in the sun, I let the voices ripple over me, catching a few stray words here and there, but mostly just torrents of human noise. Not quite the ocean, but still, it was soothing. Full tummies, good company: we had a marvelous day.

Green Bean Pomegranate Salad

1 lb. green beans or haricot verts, rinsed and ends snapped off
2 medium beets, roasted and peeled
1 pomegranate worth of seeds
5 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
1 day-old baguette, sliced

Vinaigrette
approx. 1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. white wine vinegar
1 tsp. dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, finely minced
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 450 and roast beets, skin on, for 1/2 an hour  until they are soft and cooked through. Let them cool and then remove the skins (or cheat and buy the pre-boiled beets from Trader Joe’s, which is what I did here). Chop them into 1/2-inch-sized chunks and add them to a large bowl.

Heat a heavy-bottomed skillet on high and warm grapeseed oil until it is hot (grapeseed oil has a higher smoke point and is better for cooking over high heat than olive oil). Toast the bread slices. Add to the large bowl with the beets.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and prepare an ice bath in a separate bowl. Parboil the green beans for a minute or two, then, with a slotted spoon, move them immediately to the ice bath. Let them cool down, then drain. Add to the large bowl with the beets and bread.

Halve the pomegranate and squeeze out the seeds into the bowl. Crumble the goat cheese.

To make the vinaigrette: start with vinegar, mustard, garlic, and salt & pepper in a small bowl. While whisking, slowly drizzle in until the liquids emulsify. Mustard contains pectin and, when you add it to a vinaigrette, you get a lovely, creamy emulsification. You can continue adding olive oil until you reach your desired consistency.

Toss the salad with the vinaigrette and set aside in your fridge or cooler. By the time you get to the beach, the bread will have absorbed all the flavor from the vinaigrette and the whole thing will be divine.

Beet Slaw

I thought the weather and I had come to a tacit understanding: I toughen up, make it through the gunk of winter; it gives me a few months of summer during which I can live relatively unmolested by it. But after a freak hailstorm that caused EIGHT THOUSAND DOLLARS worth of damage to my car last week, all bets are off. You hear me, weather? I don’t think you’re so cool anymore! I’m gonna complain my eyes out if I feel like it.

It happens to be a nice day today, so I’ll spare you any further grumbling. The humidity is low, the sun is high. I’m in an office, but dreaming of sponging up some sunshine soon. Here’s a recipe that’s perfect for a picnic, and’ll get you out of the kitchen quickly. Tristan showed me this a few months ago. You can eat the slaw on its own, in a salad, over brown rice, or stuffed in sandwiches. It’s tangy, sweet, fantastic. Beets are in the same family as spinach, chard, and quinoa, and are jam-packed with phytonutrients–their health benefits are matched only by their deliciousness.

Beet Slaw

3 small beets (or equivalent), peeled and shredded
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 tbsp. dijon mustard
2 tbsp. orange-champagne vinegar (or white wine vinegar with a little orange juice)
salt and pepper
olive oil

In a bowl, whisk the garlic, mustard, vinegar, salt, and pepper together. Drizzle in the olive oil until all the liquids emulsify. Pour over the shredded beets. Will keep for about a week in the fridge.