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.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Crescent City-Inspired Quasi-Gumbo

I am freshly returned from this year's Shakespeare Association of America meeting, which was held in that most splendid, strange, and wonderful of cities, New Orleans. While there, I took many long walks along the river and through the French Quarter, ate some fabulous food,  participated in a great seminar - two whole hours on Arden of Faversham! - heard terrific papers, had any number of stimulating conversations with friends old and new, and am now suffering that heady mix of intellectual overstimulation and physical exhaustion that follows any conference.

And of course it's always a treat to be in New Orleans, which is unlike anyplace else on earth. (The ginormous Shakespeare head borrowed from a local Krewe's Mardi Gras float and the jazz funeral to honor the quatercentenary of Big Willie's passing added a certain mad je ne sais quoi to the whole enterprise.) 

But now I'm home, this business is well ended, and to expostulate what scholarship should be, what Shakespeare is, why day is day, night night, and time is time, were nothing but to waste night, day, and time. Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit, and tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes, I will be brief and get to today’s recipe, which is my homage to that great Crescent City on the banks of the mighty Mississippi. And while I make no claim to authenticity - I realize that proper gumbo starts with a brown roux, which I could not be arsed to make - I will say that this flavorful stew conjured up a nice, warm Louisiana vibe on a chilly New England afternoon.

Crescent City-Inspired Quasi-Gumbo
~ 3 tbsp. olive oil, divided
~ 1 large sweet potato, diced
~ 1 medium onion, diced
~ 1 medium green bell pepper, diced
~ 3 stalks celery, diced
~ 2 cups frozen okra
~ 1-2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1-2 tsp. Tony Chachere's salt-free Creole seasoning
~ 2 tsp. dried parsley
~ 1 tsp. each: thyme, smoked paprika
~ ½ tsp. cayenne pepper (more or less to taste)
~ A few generous grinds black pepper
~ 2 bay leaves
~ 1 package TJ's vegan chorizo, crumbled (I find this quite salty, so haven't added extra salt to this recipe, but your mileage may vary with another type of sausage)
~ 1 14 oz. black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
~ 2 cups water
~ 2 cups no chicken broth
~ 1 tbsp. each: vegan Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce
~ 1 tsp. Liquid Smoke
~ 2-3 cups chopped greens (spinach, kale, collards, mustard greens, or a combination) 
~ 2 tsp. gumbo filé powder
~ ½ cup chopped fresh parsley

~ Preheat the oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit and coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.
~ Toss the diced sweet potato with 1 tbsp. of the olive oil and a little salt and pepper. Arrange in a single layer on the baking sheet and roast for 20-25 minutes, turning once at the midway point. Remove from oven and set aside.
~ In a large, deep pot, heat the remaining 2 tbsp. oil and sauté the onions, celery, and bell pepper over medium-high heat for 5-7 minutes, until softened. 
~ Add the okra, garlic, and dry seasonings, stir to coat, and continue cooking about 5 minutes more.
~ Stir in the crumbled sausage and black-eyed peas, mix well, and then pour in the water, broth, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, and Liquid Smoke. Cover the pot, bring the whole business to a boil, and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Crack the lid just a little and cook for an hour, stirring occasionally.
~ Add the cooked sweet potato, the leafy greens, and the filé powder. Mix well and cook another 10-15 minutes.
~ Taste for seasoning (see my note above in re: salt) and serve hot over white rice, topped with fresh parsley.

Friday, January 29, 2016

VCTM (Vegan Chicken Tikka Masala)

Today's recipe is my take on the ubiquitous curry that has apparently supplanted fish and chips as Britain's "national dish." Most cuisines that achieve popularity beyond their native countries and cultures undergo some hybridization in the process (witness putatively "Chinese" American dishes like General Tso's Chicken, or Mexico's north-of-the-border culinary incarnation, Tex-Mex), and this is certainly true of the sub-continental cooking styles of former British Colonies.

In the case of CTM - as the cognoscenti call it - its origins are both murky and hotly contested, but the dish's status as a go-to, crowd-pleasing takeaway and/or hangover cure attests to its enduring  popularity, however shaky its pedigree may be. And for the purposes of this blog post, whether CTM was invented for a Mughal emperor, a Glaswegian restaurant menu, or Something Completely Different is wholly beside the point, since questions of "authenticity" are immaterial in a chicken recipe where no chickens are harmed or eaten.

I used Beyond Meat grilled strips for the "meaty" base because 1. that's what I had in the house, and 2. I knew from experience that they stand up to baking and to sauce. That said, I feel sure  TJ'sGardein, or May-Wah would work just as well, so go ahead and suit your own tastes and/or the contents of your larder. For that matter, well-pressed firm tofu would also be good, although I'd increase the marinating time so it could soak up more flavor. What I was really after was that particular sweet, spicy, tangy flavor balance you find in the best tomato-based curries, and if I say so myself, I nailed it on the first go. The inaugural batch was gobbled up with hardly any leftovers, and I've already had requests from two of my kids for the recipe and repeat appearances, so I call that a success!

VCTM (Vegan Chicken Tikka Masala)

~ 1 tsp. each: salt, cumin, fenugreek, garam masala, chili powder
~ ½ tsp. each: coriander, turmeric, asafoetida
~ ¼ tsp. each: cinnamon, cardamom, cayenne pepper (more to taste)
~ 1 9 oz. package Beyond Chicken (or other vegan chicken), cut into 1” pieces
~ ½ cup plain, unsweetened soy yogurt
~ 1 tbsp. coconut oil
~ 1 tsp. each: cumin seeds, black mustard seeds
 1 tbsp. each: grated ginger, minced garlic
~ 1 yellow onion, diced
~ 1 red bell pepper, diced
~ 1 14 oz. can diced, fire-roasted tomatoes (including liquid)
~ 3 tbsp. tomato paste
~ 1 cup water
~ 1 cup lite coconut milk
~ 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
~ ½-¾ cup chopped, fresh cilantro

~ In a small bowl, mix together the dry seasonings until well combined. Whisk about ⅓ of the spices with the yogurt, and place in a bowl with the vegan chicken pieces. Stir well to coat, cover the bowl and set aside for at least 30 minutes.
~ Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray and place it in the hot oven for about 5 minutes. Arrange the marinated vegan chicken in a single layer, and bake for 15-20 minutes, giving it a stir at the halfway point. Remove from the oven and set aside.
~ In a large, heavy-bottomed pan, melt the coconut oil and fry the cumin and mustard seeds over medium-high heat until they just begin to splutter and pop.
~ Add the ginger and garlic and cook about 30 seconds before stirring in the onion and bell pepper. Add the remaining dry seasoning mixture and a splash of water; mix to coat and continue cooking for a minute or two, stirring constantly.
~ Add the canned tomatoes, tomato paste, and water, and mix well. Cover the pan, bring just to a simmer, and then turn the heat to low. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10-15 minutes, until you have a rich, fragrant gravy.
~ Stir in the coconut milk and the baked vegan chicken, mix well, and continue cooking another 10 minutes or so.
~ Stir in the lemon juice and the fresh cilantro, and taste for seasoning. Serve hot with steamed basmati rice and/or naan bread, and some spicy pickle and chutney alongside.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Wintry Mushroom & Barley Risotto

Well, after a freakishly warm and dry start, we find ourselves properly stuck into winter at last, complete with sub-freezing temperatures, punitive wind chill factors, and an honest-to-goodness blizzard on the horizon. In times like these, our best defense lies in carbohydrates, and today's recipe delivers them in the form of one of my favorite grains; with its warming combination of barley and mushrooms, this is a hearty dish that will help you feel better about Life, the Universe, and Everything even as you contemplate the frozen landscape outside and put on yet another layer.

Wintry Mushroom & Barley Risotto
~ 1 package dried mushrooms (porcini, oyster, shiitake, maitake; you choose)
~ 6 cups "no chicken" broth
~ 2 large bay leaves
~ 3 tbsp. olive oil, divided
~ 1 lb. mixed fresh mushrooms, chopped (I used 50/50 enokitake and king oyster, but plain old portabellas would do)
~ 1 generous tsp. Marmite
~ 1 large onion, small dice
~ 2 cups pearl barley
~ ½ tsp. each: salt, sage, crushed rosemary
~ A few hefty grinds of black pepper
~ 1 cup dry white wine
~ ½-¾ cup fresh, chopped parsley

~ Several hours before you plan to cook the barley, combine the dried mushrooms, broth, and bay leaves in a large, covered pot and heat to almost boiling. Allow this mixture to steep for as long as possible to extract the maximum shroomness before straining out, chopping, and reserving the reconstituted mushrooms.
~ Coat a large, non-stick skillet with cooking spray and cook the chopped, fresh mushrooms in over medium-high heat, adding them in small handfuls to avoid crowding the pan. Once the mushrooms are all brown and fragrant (this should take about 10 minutes), stir in 1 tbsp. of the oil and the Marmite and make sure they are coated with umami goodness. Remove from heat and set aside.
~ In a large, heavy bottomed pot, heat the remaining 2 tbsp. olive oil over medium heat, add the chopped onions, and sauté for 10-12 minutes, until they are quite soft but not browned (add a splash of water or broth if necessary to prevent sticking).
~ Add the barley, salt, sage, rosemary, and pepper, and stir to coat. Continue to cook, stirring, for a few minutes, until the barley gives off a faint toasty smell.
~ Stir in the wine and cook, stirring, until it mostly absorbed.
Fish out and discard the bay leaves from the broth, and begin adding liquid by cupfuls, stirring until the barley soaks it up. This process takes a bit longer than it does with rice, but it's also more forgiving, so you can step away from the stove for a few minutes between stirs to refill your wine glass, throw together a salad, pet your doggie, or whatever. 
~ Continue adding broth every 5-7 minutes or so, until you have achieved a creamy, risotto-like texture that retains just a little bite. This should take about 35-40 minutes in total, but - as with most things - your mileage may vary.
~ Stir in the cooked and reconstituted mushrooms and the chopped parsley. Combine thoroughly, taste for seasoning, and serve hot.