Monday, January 23, 2017

Crab Mornay En Croute

Sacre bleu! 

In our current, ever-more-bizarre world, carbohydrates often feel like our best defense. (Regular exercise is also key for this coping strategy to remain effective; resistance needs to be quick on its feet!) I made today's recipe one recent evening - in the mood for something nostalgic and a bit naff - and it absolutely hit the spot. NB that the "crab" mixture has multiple applications: a perfect filling for puff pastry, it's also an excellent stuffing for baked mushrooms, makes a nice dip for crudités, crackers, and/or crusty bread, and would be equally good in a sandwich, or served on English muffins under some melted vegan cheese for brunch.

Crab Mornay En Croute
~ 1 package puff pastry, thawed (Pepperidge Farm is vegan)
~ 2 packages Gardein crabless cakes, cooked and mashed
~ 1 tbsp. each: canola oil, vegan margarine (I use Earth Balance)
~ 1 cup chopped scallions, shallots, or a combination
~ 2 cups chopped brown mushrooms
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, tarragon, mustard powder
~ ½ tsp. each: white pepper, marjoram, cayenne
~ Dash nutmeg
~ ¼ cup dry sherry
~ 1 tbsp. flour
~ 1.5 cups plain, unsweetened soy milk

~ Cook the crabless cakes according to package directions; mash and set aside, then turn the oven down to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
~ In a large, deep skillet, combine the oil and margarine over medium-high heat and saute the scallions/shallots for about a minute. Add the mushrooms and seasonings and cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms have released their liquid and started to brown.
~ Pour in the sherry to deglaze the pan, making sure to get any bits that may be sticking. After about a minute, add the flour and a little of the soy milk and mix well until the vegetables are coated.
~ Gradually add the remaining milk and stir well; turn the heat to low and simmer for about 5 minutes, until the mixture begins to thicken.
~ Stir in the mashed crab cakes, combine thoroughly, and continue cooking for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool to room temperature.
~ When the crab mixture is cooled,  arrange the thawed puff pastry sheets on a nonstick baking sheet and divide the filling between them, spreading it evenly along the lefthand third of each sheet.
~ Fold each sheet over the filling to form an envelope, carefully crimping the edges to seal.
~ Prick the tops of the pastry several times with a fork, and bake at 375 degrees for about 25 minutes, until puffed and golden brown (ovens vary wildly, so check occasionally).
~ Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Leek & Parsnip Soup with Mushrooms

In times like these, with the world getting weirder by the minute, sometimes you just need to shut the door, get into your pajamas, and curl up with a big bowl of soup. I whipped up a pot of this one on a frigid January night and it was exactly what was called for: hearty yet light, earthy yet sweet, a perfect vehicle for crusty bread, and an all-round, comforting hug for body and soul. My only regret is that I didn't make three times as much, because it was so popular (even my once-picky-and-suspicious son declared it "fucking delicious") that there's hardly any left over. Live and learn!

Leek & Parsnip Soup with Mushrooms
~ 2 tbsp. olive oil
~ 2 large leeks, chopped
~ 2 stalks celery, diced
~ 2 lbs. parsnips, diced
~ 2 large potatoes, diced
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, thyme, white pepper, smoked paprika
~ ¼ tsp. each: nutmeg, cayenne
~ ⅓ cup dry sherry
~ 7 cups "no chicken" broth (or other good vegan stock)
~ 4 bay leaves
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 lb. brown mushrooms, sliced

~ In a large, deep pot, saute the leeks and the celery over medium-high heat for 3-4 minutes.
~ Add the parsnips, potatoes, and dry seasonings, and mix to coat the vegetables. Continue cooking for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
~ Stir in the sherry to deglaze the pan; cook another minute or so, until some of the alcohol burns off.
~ Pour in the broth and the bay leaves, cover the pot, and bring just to a boil. Turn the heat down to low and cook for 30 minutes, giving it the occasional stir.
~ After 30 minutes, fish out the bay leaves and puree the soup with an immersion blender until the mixture is completely smooth. Keep the soup hot over low heat.
~ Now get a large, non-stick skillet screaming hot and cook the sliced mushrooms in the remaining tbsp. of olive oil until brown and slightly crispy. Stir the cooked mushrooms into the soup and serve hot.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Roasted Eggplant & Coconut Milk Curry

Goodness gracious, but it's been a long while since I've posted! As ever when these droughts occur, I've been insanely busy with Other Stuff, which means that even though people at our house are still eating, I tend to fall back on old standbys, and when/if I do conduct an experiment, I lack time and energy to rationalize the quantities, type things up, and post. But today I have something new, to kick off the new year. (Let us pass over the various horrors that have occurred in recent months, avert our attention from those looming on the horizon, and concentrate - at least for a moment - on our stomachs, shall we?)

I present to the gentle reader a simple and delicious curry, concocted on the sort of dark, rainy winter day when a warm kitchen is the only sensible place to be. I served this dish alongside a simple yellow dal (to which I added sautéed mushrooms at the very end), South Indian coconut rice, onion naan, and a shocking variety of chutney and pickle. There are lots of eggplant curries in my repertoire, but usually the vegetable breaks down to become one with the sauce; this recipe calls for roasting the eggplant first, which helps it keep some structural integrity. In fact, this strikes me as the kind of dish that would lend itself to many vegetables; next time I may add roasted potatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, and/or cauliflower to the mix, so I encourage you to do the same if fancy strikes you that way.

Happy new year, and bon appétit!

Roasted Eggplant & Coconut Milk Curry
~ 1 large eggplant, cut into 2" chunks
~ 2 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 tbsp. coconut oil
~ 2 tsp. panch phoran
~ 1 large red onion, diced
~ 4 cloves garlic, minced
~ 1 tsp. fresh grated ginger
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, cumin, garam masala, ground coriander, chili powder
~ ½ tsp. each: cardamon, turmeric, white pepper
~ ¼ tsp. each: nutmeg, cayenne (more to taste)
~ 1 14 oz. can diced, fire-roasted tomatoes
~ 1 14 oz. can full-fat coconut milk
~ ½ cup chopped, fresh cilantro

~ Preheat the oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit.
~ Toss the eggplant pieces with the olive oil to coat and spread out on a large, rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and roast at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, then turn them over and roast for 10-15 minutes more, until golden and softened but not falling apart. Set aside to cool.
~ In a large deep skillet or pot, melt the coconut oil over medium-high heat and add the patch shoran; cook for about two minutes, until the seeds begin to crackle.
~ Add the chopped onions, stir well, and lower the heat to medium. Cover the pan and cook for 10 minutes, until quite soft but not brown (add a splash of water if things start getting sticky).
~ Stir in the garlic, ginger, and dry seasonings; cook for about a minute, then add the tomatoes and coconut milk. Mix to combine and raise the heat just long enough to bring the mixture to a boil. Lower the heat to simmer and allow the sauce to cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
~ Add the roasted eggplant, stir well, and continue cooking over low heat for 30 minutes, until the sauce has thickened and coated the eggplant.
~ Stir in the fresh cilantro, remove from heat, and serve over basmati rice.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Pasta with Baked Eggplant and Summer Vegetables

Sorry for the long hiatus. It's been a busy summer with lots of traveling, and when we have been home - and, as ever, loyal attendees of local farmers' markets - our meals have tended more towards salads and simply prepared vegetables than ambitious cooking projects. But with summer's all-too-short lease nearly run out and a new semester bearing down upon us, it's time to get back in the kitchen and rattle those pots and pans.

The prototype for today's dish came from my partner's daughters, who were inspired by Nigel Slater's baked aubergine pasta in the  Guardian. They came up with the idea of adding the beans, lemon juice (genius), and pine nuts, and over the course of a couple years I've made additional changes to arrive at the recipe below, which - if I say so myself - is completely and utterly delicious: perfect for those evenings when temperatures are just beginning to cool and the refrigerator is stuffed with late summer produce.

Pasta with Baked Eggplant and Summer Vegetables 
~ 1 lb. penne pasta
~ ⅓ cup good, extra-virgin olive oil
~ 1 large eggplant, cut into 1" cubes
~ 1 large yellow or zucchini squash, cut into ½"quarter moons
~ 1 large red onion, sliced into strips
~ 1 large red bell pepper; cut into 2" strips
~ 1 heaping cup grape tomatoes, halved
~ ¼ cup minced garlic
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, smoked paprika
~ 2 tsp. oregano
~ 1 tbsp. dried basil
~ A few generous grinds of fresh black pepper
~ 1 15 oz. can white beans (about 2 cups)
~ Juice of 1 large lemon
~ A good handful each of torn, fresh basil and toasted pine nuts

~ Cook the pasta until al dente; drain and set aside.
~ Preheat the oven to 425 degrees fahrenheit.
~ Pour the oil into a large casserole and place in the oven for a few minutes to heat up.
~ In a large bowl, toss the eggplant cubes with a little salt and pepper; add them to the casserole and bake for 10 minutes.
~ Reduce the heat to 400 degrees, and add the red onion, bell pepper, tomatoes, garlic, and dry seasonings. Mix to combine and return to the oven for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
~ Add the cooked pasta and the canned beans (including their liquid). Stir well and bake for another 10-15 minutes.
~ Remove from the oven, stir in the lemon juice, taste for seasoning, and scatter the fresh basil and toasted nuts over the top before serving. This dish is equally good eaten hot, at room temperature, or even cold straight from the refrigerator.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Creamy Lentils, Leeks, and Mushrooms with Cheesy Polenta

Even with spring officially sprung here in New England, we still get some chilly days and properly cold nights, and on such occasions today's recipe is exactly what's called for. Packed with lentils and veggies, this hearty stew is among my notions of a perfect meal: nourishing, healthy, and comforting, especially when ladled over a pile of warm, cheesy polenta. (Mashed potatoes, rice, or some other grain would also work, but trust me: you want the polenta.) Since this dish is also quite filling, you're almost sure to have leftovers, which is excellent news because it's the sort of thing that only gets better as it sits.

Creamy Lentils, Leeks, and Mushrooms 
~ 3.5 cups vegetable broth
~ 1 cup brown lentils
~ 2 bay leaves
~ 1 lb. mushrooms, sliced
~ 2 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 large leek, sliced
~ 1 large carrot, diced
~ 4 cloves garlic, minced
~ ½ tsp. each: salt, thyme, marjoram
~ A few good grinds black pepper
~ 1 tbsp. vegan Worcestershire sauce
~ ½ cup plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 1 tsp. cornstarch
~ ½ lb. frozen spinach

~ Bring the broth and bay leaves to a boil in a saucepan and stir in the lentils. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook for 20-25 minutes, until the lentils are softened but not falling apart. Remove from heat and set aside.
~ Coat a large skillet with cooking spray and cook the mushrooms over medium-high heat until browned and fragrant. Sprinkle with salt and transfer to a plate.
~ Add the olive oil to the skillet and cook the leeks and carrot over medium heat for 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic, dry seasonings, and Worcestershire and cook another 30 seconds or so. Pour in the lentils (along with their cooking liquid) and stir well.
~ Whisk the soy milk and cornstarch together and add to the pot. Continue cooking another 10 minutes, or until the mixture has thickened a bit.
~ Remove the bay leaves, add the frozen spinach, and cook another few minutes until the greens have just wilted.

Cheesy Polenta
~ 6 cups "no chicken" broth
~ 1.5 cups polenta (I used Bob's Red Mill)
~ 1 cup grated vegan cheese (I used TJ's mozzarella)
~ ½ cup nutritional yeast
~ 1 tsp. garlic powder
~ ½ tsp. white pepper

~ In a large saucepan, bring the broth to a rapid boil.
~ Pour in the polenta and, whisking constantly, add the remaining ingredients.
~ Continue cooking - don't stop whisking! - for 10-15 minutes, until you have a smooth, creamy, cheesy porridge.
~ Ladle generously into wide, shallow bowls and top with lentils.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Avocado Pesto with Penne and Broccoli

This creamy green sauce is so delicious that its ridiculous healthiness comes as a complete bonus. In fact, it's so good that I fully intend to make it a regular alternative to my (also delectably nutritious) standard pesto recipe. Or I may throw caution to the wind entirely and conflate the two to have the best and greenest of all possible worlds! But for now I recommend you head to the store, pick up some avocados and some pasta, and get busy in the kitchen. Your mouth, your stomach, and anyone lucky enough to eat dinner at your house will thank you.

Avocado Pesto with Penne and Broccoli
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 small red onion, diced
~ 1 small red bell pepper, diced
~ Salt and pepper
~ 2 ripe Haas avocados, chopped
~ 2-3 packed cups chopped, fresh basil
~ ½ cup nutritional yeast
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ ¼ cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, oregano
~ ¾ cup plain, unsweetened vegan milk (I used cashew)
~ 1 lb. penne
~ 1 head broccoli, cut into bite-sized florets, with the stalks chopped

~ Heat the olive oil in a skillet and sauté the onion, bell pepper, and chopped broccoli stalks (not the florets!) over medium-high heat for 8-10 minutes, until they are softened and beginning to brown. Sprinkle with salt, a few generous grinds of black pepper, and remove from heat.
~ In a blender or food processor, combine the avocados, basil, nutritional yeast, garlic, lemon juice, salt, oregano, and milk. Puree until smooth.
~ Boil the pasta in salted water according to package directions; about two minutes before the end of its cooking time, add the broccoli florets. Reserve about a cup of the cooking water and drain.
~ Return the cooked penne and broccoli to the pasta pot and stir in the sautéed vegetables and the avocado pesto. Combine thoroughly to make sure all the pasta is coated, adding a little of the reserved cooking water if it seems too thick.
~ Taste for salt, add a few more grinds of black pepper, and serve immediately.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Fish Pie with Cheesy Mash

“I'm hungry, not tired; I want to eat heaps."
"That's good.  What'll you have?"

"Fish pie," said she, with a glance at the menu.

"Fish pie! Fancy coming for fish pie to Simpson's. It's not a bit the thing to go for here…Saddle of mutton," said he after profound reflection: "and cider to drink. That's the type of thing. I like this place, for a joke, once in a way.  It is so thoroughly Old English. Don't you agree?"

"Yes," said Margaret, who didn't. 

This is just one of many points in the narrative when Margaret Schlegel should tell Henry Wilcox to stuff his saddle of mutton, his cider, his mercantile values, his hypocrisy, and his whole colonialist enterprise up his smug, condescending backside. I'm afraid you'll have to wait for my Forster fanfic - Howards End II: The Revenge - to read that exchange, but in the meantime I present a fish pie I feel certain my socially conscious, forward-thinking girlfriend Meg would have enjoyed. (Although it takes a very different interpretive approach, Sesame Street's appropriation is also worth a look.)

I think of this scene whenever I see fish pie on a menu, which happens quite often in the UK and Ireland, where this comfort food staple is found everywhere, as everything from a high-concept gastropub deconstruction to a podgy Sunday restaurant lunch, to say nothing of the countless variations made by home cooks. (That said, a glance at Simpson's current bill of fare shows that it no longer features in their cavalcade of culinary carnage, which just goes to show that even "Old English" things change, Henry, so STFU.) 

Anyway, I'd been thinking of taking this dish on for awhile, and a recent snowbound April Sunday (Mother Nature really needs to get herself some help) inspired me to dive in. I generally tackle these self-imposed challenges as follows: if it's something my parents, friends, or other family members made/make, I take that as a starting point. If not, I research a few "classic" recipes as models and construct a conflated good parts version to suit our ethics, tastes, and available supplies. 

Unsurprisingly, fish pie recipes vary wildly: some call for all fish - some smoked; some not - while others insist upon a combination of fish and shrimp. A number of versions include various vegetables (onions, leeks, celery, carrots, peas; a few especially worthy souls use spinach, which is taking things too far even for me), while others declare their presence anathema. White sauce? Cheese sauce? Thickened stock? Plain mashed spuds or cheesy? Or how about Nigel Slater's iconoclastic crumble topping? (Heresy!)

Verily, I say unto you that the possibilities seemed endless, but what I wanted was a pie version of my mother's poached fish in white sauce, which was always accompanied by (but not topped with) mashed potato. Ultimately I chose this recipe as a basic guide, and then proceeded to tinker. The result was universally declared to be a huge success, hitting all those reassuring notes that make one rise from the table feeling happily well-fed, well-loved, and that everything will be all right, but without the imperialist wankery that would have accompanied its Simpsonian prototype, had Margaret been permitted to order it.

…a little comfort had restored her geniality. Speech and silence pleased her equally, and while Mr. Wilcox made some preliminary inquiries about cheese, her eyes surveyed the restaurant and admired its well-calculated tributes to the solidity of our past. Though no more Old English than the works of Kipling, it had selected its reminiscences so adroitly that her criticism was lulled, and the guests whom it was nourishing for imperial purposes bore the outer semblance of Parson Adams or Tom Jones.

Quite. (Bite me.)

Fish Pie with Cheesy Mash
The Filling
~ Double recipe good white sauce
~ 2 packages Gardein mini crabless cakes
~ 1-2 tbsp. canola oil
~ 1 medium onion, small dice
~ 1 carrot, small dice
~ 2 tsp. dried parsley
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, marjoram, mustard powder
~ 1 sheet nori, lightly toasted and crumbled (optional, if you want more "fishiness")
~ ½ cup frozen peas

~ Prepare the crabless cakes according to packaging directions. While they are baking, prepare the white sauce, and then set the cooked cakes and finished sauce aside to cool.
~ In a large, deep saucepan, heat the oil and sauté the onion and carrot over medium heat for 10 minutes, until softened but not browned.
~ Add the parsley, salt, marjoram, mustard powder, and nori (if using). Stir to combine, and then pour in the prepared white sauce.
~ Raise the heat to high and bring almost to a boil, stirring constantly. When the mixture is nearly boiling, reduce the heat to low and allow to simmer for 5-7 minutes, until it thickens a bit.
~ Roughly chop the cooked crab cakes and add them to the saucepan along with the frozen peas. Continue cooking another 5 minutes and then remove from heat, setting aside to cool for about 15-20 minutes.

The Cheesy Mash
~ 10 large Yukon Gold potatoes, diced
~ 1.5 cups plain, unsweetened soy or other vegan milk
~ 1 tsp. no chicken bouillon
~ 1.5 cups shredded vegan cheddar (I used Daiya)
~ Dash mace
~ Salt and pepper to taste

~ Cook the potatoes in salted, boiling salted water for 20 minutes, until tender but not falling apart.
~ Drain the potatoes, reserving ½ cup of cooking liquid.
~ Return the drained potatoes to the pot and mash roughly.
~ In a separate microwaveable bowl or beaker (or stovetop saucepan), combine the milk, bouillon, cheddar, mace, salt, and pepper. Heat this mixture to nearly boiling and whisk until the cheese is melted and everything is well incorporated.
~ Add the milk and cheese mixture to the potatoes and mash it all together until relatively smooth. (We're not going for a whipped texture, but neither do we want big hunks of unmashed potato.)

The Assembly
~ Preheat the oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit and coat a 9 x 13" casserole with cooking spray. Place the casserole on a baking sheet to catch any errant drips.
~ Spread the filling in the casserole dish and top with enough mash to cover, smoothing with a spatula to ensure that it's distributed evenly. (I have no desire to make windows into mens' souls, so suit the depth of the topping to your personal taste. That said, you will almost certainly have some left over to serve on the side. Or not.)
~ Run the tines of a fork through the topping and sprinkle lightly with a little paprika and dried parsley. 
~ Bake the pie for 25-30 minutes, until the mixture is bubbling and the mash is a beauteous golden brown.
~ Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10-15 minutes before serving. We ate our pie with cubed, roasted butternut squash, noochy kale, and the extra mashed potato for what I must say was a pretty perfect repast.