Friday, December 31, 2010

Toasted Coconut Muffins

I used to think ill of dried coconut. The only use I could see for it was on one of those grinning Easter bunny cakes with jellybean accents and licorice whiskers. But I have had a bag of unsweetened coconut flakes in the cupboard for a while now, and much to my surprise, this has been an ingredient I use a lot.

While working on a recipe for a decked-out Thai coconut milk rice pudding, I circled back to an old standby, banana-coconut muffins. The good thing is they are so much better than regular old banana bread! They are the muffins you can pretend to be eating for breakfast on your imaginary island vacation instead of facing the abstemious reality that follows New Year's Eve.

Toasted Coconut Muffins

3/4 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup AP flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/4 cup cane sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
2/3 cup unsweetened coconut flakes, toasted

1/3 cup brown rice syrup
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1 egg
1/3 cup coconut milk
1/3 cup sour cream
5 tbsp. soy margarine, melted or 2 tbsp. coconut oil, melted
2 tbsp. dark rum
2 tsp. vanilla

For the topping:
3 tbsp. light brown sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes, chopped (not toasted -- this will happen in the oven)
1/4 cup pecans, chopped
pinch of sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk the dry ingredients -- don't forget to toast the coconut at 350 for about 10 minutes! -- and set aside. Now stir the wet ingredients together. Combine wet and dry ingredients, but don't overmix. Brush your muffin pan with canola oil and fill the cups almost to the top. Mix the 4 ingredients for the topping and sprinkle this over the muffins before you put them in the oven. Bake for 25 minutes.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Roasted Kuri Squash Soup + Ras El Hanout

Over the holidays, the amount of items in our fridge began to dwindle. We ran out of butter, there were no more greens, and only a few odd pieces of cheese could be found. It looked like all we had was jam, milk, a few beets, and some box wine. How pathetic!

I began to see it as a challenge: make an awesome meal with what you have. I started to piece it together. I found a few things that could constitute a spring roll: rice noodles, a roma tomato, and a half-block of tempeh rounded out by a few sweet cabbage leaves pulled from the garden.

The best thing I discovered was a forgotten kuri squash hiding in a crisper drawer. I'd never tasted kuri squash, and so I bought it a few weeks ago out of curiosity. Now was its time to shine. So, I tossed it with some ras el hanout that the wife gave me for Christmas. The aroma instantly filled the house, and I knew I was onto something.

Roasted Kuri Squash Soup + Ras El Hanout:

1 kuri squash (peeled, seeded, sliced)
1 tablespoon ras el hanout seasoning
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic
2-3 cups water
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
1 Not Chick'n bouillon cube
1 teaspoon white miso paste

In a 350 degree oven, roast the kuri squash that has been tossed in olive oil and ras el hanout until soft and the edges begin to caramelize. (This should take about 30 minutes.) Place roasted squash, olive oil, garlic, water, vinegar, bouillon, and miso into a blender and blend until smooth. Warm mixture in a pot on the stovetop until heated through. Garnish with pistachios and sriracha.

So, now we're curious: what do you make when you cook out of the pantry?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Cornbread Crepes + Smoky Black-Eyed Peas

Cornbread is a Southern tradition, but I never can seem to get it exactly right. I'm either unwilling to put enough fat into it to make it moist or unable to follow a recipe properly. You'd think as a Mississippi-born Southerner, my skill would be inherent, but it missed me somehow.

Honestly, I think it's just that I can't bake. I need to be able to taste things and adjust them as I go. So I figured out a way to use grits, something I can make, into cornmeal pancakes. They are perfect, delicate little cakes that are more akin to hot water cornbread or johnny cakes than traditional Southern cornbread, and they're served with smoky black eyed peas, sweet arugula salad, and aged cheddar.

In the South, it's tradition to have cornbread, greens, and black-eyed peas on New Year's Day. The story as to why we do this (everyone does this!) varies depending on who you ask, but it's supposed to bring luck in the coming year. Try this creative, meat-free spin on a classic Southern dish this New Year's Day for luck, health, and happiness.

Cornbread Crepes:

3 cups milk
1 jalapeno (diced)
1 shallot (diced)
salt & pepper to taste
2/3 cup yellow corn grits
knob of butter
2 eggs (beaten)
2/3 cup water
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup flour
olive oil

Bring milk up to a boil and add jalapeno, shallot, salt, pepper, and butter. Stir in the grits but add them slowly to avoid lumps. Reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for 25 minutes stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. Remove grits from heat and allow mixture to cool. Mix remaining ingredients. The result should be like a pancake batter. Heat a non-stick griddle to medium-low heat. Ladle batter onto the non-stick surface to create 3-inch pancakes. Cook each for about 4 minutes on the first side and 2 minutes on the second. Makes about a dozen.

Smoky Black-Eyed Peas:

1/2 white onion (diced)
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup mushrooms (diced)
2 cups dried black -eyed peas (soaked)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon hickory smoked salt
black pepper
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons vinegar
2 1/2 cups water
1/8 cup ketchup
1 Not-Beef bouillon cube

In a soup pot over medium-high heat, sauté onion in a tablespoon of olive oil. Once onion is translucent, add the wine and reduce until most of the liquid has evaporated. Add remaining ingredients except the bouillon cube. Bring mixture to a boil then reduce to a simmer for 30 minutes. Add the cube and simmer another 15 minutes or until the peas are soft.

To serve, spoon peas over the corn cakes and top with any fresh greens. This is perfect topped with a slice of aged white goat cheddar from Bonnie Blue Farms.

(If for some reason, you want to skip the cornbread component entirely, try pairing your beans and greens with -- yes, really -- my good old vegetarian pork rinds!)

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Pistachio Cocoa Spice Cake

Christmas Day is also a big birthday time around here, and a new cake is always dreamt up and requested by TCV. This year, the cake seemed like it would be pretty simple: it had to be not too sugary and pistachio-chocolate. Online, there are lots of pistachio cake recipes, but most are very, very disgusting. Call us uppity if you will, but we are not going to ask that anyone mess around with green food coloring or a box of yellow cake mix, so further research on pistachio cake was necessary.

This recipe was my starting point. I made it into a marble cake, a kind I hadn't thought about in a while. I used cocoa powder instead of flour to coat the buttered pan and chose some spices other than cardamom. Theo's gingerbread spiced holiday candy bar is something I've tried recently and liked a lot, so I used it for the cake's ganache glaze.

Pistachio Cocoa Spiced Cake

1 cup shelled pistachios
1 cup AP flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. each of clove powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup plain yogurt or sour cream
1 tsp. vanilla paste
1 cup cane sugar
3/4 stick butter + 1/8 c soy marg
3 eggs
1/3 cup Dutch process cocoa powder

For preparing the bundt pan:
1 tbsp. butter
1/8 cup cocoa

Chocolate spice glaze:
1/2 of a gingersnap spice chocolate bar
1 tbsp. milk
(+ powdered sugar for dusting the cooled cake)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Blend the pistachios in your food processor. Add flour, baking powder, spices, and sea salt and pulse to combine. Set aside. Cream butter and sugar in a stand mixer. Next, whisk the milk, yogurt or sour cream, and vanilla. Now you have the three main parts of the recipe to combine. Start the mixer and add the dry ingredients to the creamed butter along with the milk mixture. Take out a cup of the cake batter and whisk in the cocoa powder.

Prepare your bundt pan or cake pan by buttering it and dusting it with cocoa. Pour in all of the pistachio batter and dot it with the cup of cocoa batter. Swirl a knife this way and that way through the cake batter to marble it. Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Let it cool and gently remove it from the pan by turning it upside down onto a plate. Use a sifter to dust it with powdered sugar. Make your glaze by barely heating the chocolate bar and milk; let it cool a bit then use a spoon to drizzle it over the cake.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Vegetarian Chicken + Dumplings

Our grandmothers made chicken and dumplings all the time like it was nothing. One would appreciate a little begging before she got out the flour and the milk; the other shrugged and made just dumplings after 3 of the grandkids went vegetarian at the same time. We love our sweet grandmothers, and we got a huge part of our love of cooking from them. This is a dish that really brought us back.

Vegetarian "Chicken" Stock:

olive oil
1 onion
1 Not Chick'n bouillon cube
8-10 cups water
1/2 bunch parsley
2 carrots
3 ribs celery
1 red pepper
10 cloves garlic
4 sprigs thyme
1 tablespoon white miso paste

In a food processor, pulse the carrots, celery, pepper, and garlic until evenly chopped. (This helps extract more flavor from the vegetables.) Over medium heat in a large soup pot or dutch oven, brown the diced onion in a few tablespoons of olive oil. Add the bouillon cube and stir. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer for 30-45 minutes. Strain and set aside.

Vegetarian Chicken + Dumplings

1 package chicken-style seitan (torn into bite-sized bits)
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
black pepper
pinch of garlic powder
6 cups vegetarian "chicken" stock

In a large soup pot or dutch oven, melt two tablespoons of butter over medium high heat. Toss the seitan with the flour, and then sear the seitan in the butter until crispy. Turn once and brown the other side. Add a pinch of garlic powder and black pepper. Pour stock over the seitan and reduce heat to low.

Parsley + Olive Oil Dumplings:

2 tablespoons baking powder
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 cup minced flat leaf parsley
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup milk

In a medium mixing bowl, mix dry ingredients and then the wet ingredients; stir just enough to mix because if you stir too much, the dumplings will become tough. Bring the six cups of stock and chicken up to a slow boil. Drop dumpling batter into stock one spoonful at a time. You should have 10-12 dumplings. Place lid on soup pot and reduce the heat to simmer for 15 minutes without disturbing the pot.

This is the garnish for the dumplings: dice a carrot, celery rib, and 1/8 cup of parsley, and then mix diced vegetables with a drizzle of olive oil, a splash of champagne vinegar, a pinch of sugar, and a pinch of salt. Mix to incorporate. To serve, spoon 2-3 dumplings and a few pieces of seitan along with some broth into a soup bowl and garnish with the fresh vegetable mixture.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Handmade Holiday Gifts

We love it when people give us gifts that they made. One of the most memorable things we received last year and used in everything was a jar of hand-pressed olive oil. It was just about the best thing I have ever tasted. I also fondly remember some canned peach and coriander chutney from years past. These are the thoughtful things that make the holidays great. So in lieu of overdoing the shopping this week, why not make a thing or two for people to remember and request in years to come? Here are some of our favorites:

Hot Sauce: This is about as simple as it gets. Get ahold of your favorite small, dried peppers, de-stem them, pack them into a soy-sauce bottle, and then funnel in some vinegar. I recommend tabasco peppers or Thai bird chilies. I use white vinegar, but you could use apple cider vinegar or champagne vinegar if you want to try something different. The vinegar will become infused with the heat and flavor of the peppers overnight, resulting in beautiful-looking hot sauce. The cool thing is that when the vinegar runs out, you just refill it, and the process starts all over again.

Saffron + Recipe: For our family Christmas gift this year, we put together a neat little package that contained an envelope of red saffron and a saffron egg drop soup recipe printed on a nice sheet of card stock and tied up with a red ribbon. You could do something similar with curry powder or lavender. It makes for a beautiful presentation, it's inexpensive, thoughtful, and easy to carry. It's a fun way to encourage people to get in the kitchen and cook.

Vanilla Extract: Simply split about 12 vanilla beans straight down the middle and drop them into half a handle of vodka. It takes a month or so for it to transform completely; however, if you get the process started now, you can simply bottle it and date it to let the recipient know that it will ready for use in a few weeks. If you'd like to try something different, use rum or bourbon in place of the vodka. Your homemade vanilla extract may be something incredibly tasty to add to a holiday cocktail, but that's for you to find out.

Citrus Sugar: This is really easy and smells so good. Microplane the rind of some unwaxed, organic lemons, limes, oranges, or grapefruits and mix it in with cane sugar. This would be a great drink rimmer, dessert topping, or iced tea addition. (Last year, we made vanilla sugar, and people tell me that they're refilling it and using it still. Same process: split 1-2 vanilla beans and pour sugar over them. It doesn't take long to permeate.)

Jams, Sauces, and Infused Oil: If you have a little more time on your hands, you can always can something so that no one has to be in a rush to use it. Jam is pretty easy to make: just use 4 cups fruit, 1/2 to 2/3 cup sugar, and lemon juice or pectin. We also love cinnamon persimmon sauce and basil oil. (However, pickling cucumbers, okra, or beets is easy if you want something quicker.)

Granola: This is somewhat healthier than all the cookies and candy floating around right now. I based it on a simple Woman's Day recipe. (And I like this presentation in big jars a lot.)

1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup brown rice syrup
1/3 cup canola oil
2 tsp. vanilla
2 cups oats
1/3 cup sliced almonds
1/3 cup pecans
1/3 cup pepitas/pumpkin seeds
1 tablespoon sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk the sugar, syrup, oil, vanilla, and salt. Add dry ingredients and combine. Spread it out on a baking sheet. Bake it for 10 minutes, stir it up, and then bake it for 10 more minutes. It should be toasted and ready by then. It'll last about 2 weeks. You also can add chocolate chips once it's out of the oven -- just let them melt, stir, and refrigerate to harden.

*Penzey's Spices, World Market, and kitchen supply stores are good sources for containers, and any big grocery store should have jars.

Are you giving any handmade gifts this year?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Roasted Butternut Squash Fettuccine + Goat Feta & Thyme

This unassuming little pasta dish packs quite a flavorful punch. The roasted garlic and minced olives hiding in the dressing add a depth of flavor that goes very well with the sweetness of the roasted squash. All I can say is that this is my favorite pasta dish I have made since apple, kale, and walnut ravioli. It's a keeper.

The fun of pasta is that it is a blank canvas that calls for you to paint with really any flavors. Mix whatever vegetable is fresh and in-season with some garlic and olive oil, and there u have it, a new pasta recipe. The possibilities are truly endless. What are your own favorites, BTW?

Roasted Butternut Squash Fettuccine + Goat Feta & Thyme:

1 medium butternut squash (peeled, seeded, diced)
6 cloves garlic
olive oil
salt & pepper
10 kalamata olives (minced)
1 large shallot (diced)
1 large (or two small) tomato (peeled, diced)
pinch of sugar
a few dashes of champagne vinegar
handful chopped parsley
4 sprigs of thyme (stems removed, plus more for garnish)
1/2 pound fettuccine
3-4 ounces goat milk feta (crumbled)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss diced butternut squash and whole cloves of garlic in a few tablespoons of olive oil, spread out on a rimmed baking sheet, then season with salt and pepper. Place baking sheet into preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until the edges of the squash begin to caramelize.

In a large bowl, mix the olives, shallot, tomato, sugar, vinegar, parsley, thyme, a pinch of salt, some black pepper, and a few tablespoons of olive oil. Remove the squash from the oven and allow it to cool. Smash the roasted garlic with the side of your knife and stir the paste into your dressing. Cook pasta. Toss pasta and butternut squash with the dressing. To serve, use tongs to transfer pasta to plate, garnish with crumbled goat feta and thyme leaves.

*Veganize it: Replace the goat feta with toasted pine nuts.*

*Switch it up: Use kuri squash, penne pasta, and rosemary to create something a little different*

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Chubby Vegetarian Gift Guide

So, It's one week until the big day...and you still don't know what to get for your kitchen nerd. Well, I have or have had nearly every kitchen gadget known to mankind. I kind of love that stuff. Really any tool that makes preparing a meal faster and easier is a gadget that I love. Most of my favorites are very inexpensive and would make great stocking stuffers.

Here is a good Idea: get several little kitchen tools and gadgets and make a "chef's toolbox" for your favorite home chef. They will love it, and you will reap the benefits by making it possible for them to cook yummy food for you.

Cook's Toolbox (Gifts under $30):

Or you could get the one you love some unusual spices to try. Here are some things I keep in the cupboard for inspiration:

For the more serious cook, you could get him/her an impressive machine or tool; these are pretty indispensable:

Everything on this list is something that I use in my kitchen. I have links to Amazon for everything, but many of the items can be found locally -- especially the spices, salts, and oils.

So, now we're you have any cooking or food-related gifts that you would heartily recommend?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Warm Brussels Sprouts + Apples w/ Smoky "Bacon" Bits

This is my own version of a dish my sister-in-law, Bianca, brought over for Thanksgiving. We both brought brussels sprouts, 'dueling brussels,' as I called them. Her wonderful dish featured the unforgettable combination of blue cheese and Brussels, so I copied it for this version here. I added warm apples and smoky, bacon-y mushroom bits.

And I think that's real take away from this recipe, the "bacon" bits. I plan to use this little innovation on salads, potatoes, sandwiches, or wherever a nice little hit of salt and smoke would the possibilities are endless.

Smoky bacon bits:

6 cremini mushrooms (diced)
olive oil
toasted sesame oil
hickory smoked salt
black pepper
brown sugar

In a medium pan over high heat, bring 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of sesame oil up to temperature. Once the oil starts to smoke, toss the mushrooms into the pan. Sprinkle in a few pinches of hickory smoked salt and continue to cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until color is deep brown. Remove mushrooms with a slotted spoon or spatula allowing residual fat to remain in the pan. Sprinkle mushrooms with a pinch of brown sugar and some cracked black pepper.

12 large brussels sprouts (quartered, blanched in super-salty water, cooled)
2 small pink lady apples (cut away from the core, sliced, squeeze of lemon)
smoky "bacon" bits
2 ounces blue cheese (crumbled)
olive oil or butter
salt and pepper

In a large pan over medium-high heat, sear the brussels sprouts in a tablespoon of olive oil or butter until they start to pick up some color. Toss in the apples and bacon bits. Cook until just warmed through. To serve, drizzle the top with a little honey, add crumbled blue cheese plus salt and pepper. This can be eaten warm or at room temperature.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Spaghetti Squash, Green Zebra Tomato Sauce, + Parmesan Croutons

Spaghetti squash is a natural wonder. When you bake it and scrape out the meat, it comes out all stringy like angel hair pasta. The taste is amazing. It can easily be dressed in any sort of sauce for any sort of mood, just like regular pasta. The difference is that it's lighter in texture and nowhere near as chewy.

I added a contrasting texture with the crunchy parmesan croutons that worked out really nicely. This is a little trick I picked up from my buddy Ben Vaughn of Au Fond Farmtable. He keeps crunchy rye bread crumbles in his mies en place to add texture whenever a dish needs it. The crumbles pick up the flavor of the dish and soften considerably while still adding a chewiness and a crunch. This is a good lesson to learn especially in vegetarian cooking where the textures can all run together sometimes.

Green Zebra Tomato Sauce:

7-10 medium green zebra tomatoes (peeled, halved)
4 cloves garlic
1 shallot (diced)
1/2 cup white wine
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon white miso paste
2 sprigs thyme
lemon zest
salt & pepper
olive oil

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Place garlic cloves and tomatoes in a rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and place into the oven for 25 minutes. Now would be an ideal time to roast the spaghetti squash as well. In a skillet over medium heat, sauté shallot in olive oil until translucent and then add wine. Add the roasted tomatoes and garlic along with the other remaining ingredients. Cook on low heat until tomatoes have broken down and sauce is thick.

Parmesan Croutons:

2 cups day old bread (diced)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup parmesan (grated)

Toss bread with oil and place into the oven for about 8 minutes. Once the bread starts to turn golden, toss bread with grated parmesan and return to the oven until cheese is toasted. Remove from oven and set aside.

Spaghetti Squash, Green Zebra Tomato Sauce,
+ Parmesan Croutons:

1 large spaghetti squash (halved, seeded)
green zebra tomato sauce
parmesan croutons
parmesan, salt, pepper, and parsley to garnish.

Drizzle squash halves with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place cut-side-down on a baking sheet in a 350-degree oven for 25 minutes or until edges start to brown. Once squash is done, remove the meat by using a fork to scrape it out. It is at this point you will see why it's called spaghetti squash. Toss squash with tomato sauce, pile on two serving plates, garnish with croutons, salt, pepper, fresh parsley, and a little more parmesan.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Vegan Egg Salad Sandwich

My pimento cheese is hard to beat, and I make a mean almond butter, banana, and honey sandwich, but sometimes you just gotta switch it up and see what happens. So I put this faux egg salad together for the wife's lunch last week, and it was a hit.

The secret to a good vegan egg salad is that familiar sulphur-y taste that real egg salad has to offer, and that is where the black salt comes into the picture. This particular salt gets its color from a very high mineral content, and the flavor is very eggy to say the least.

That salt coupled with the crunch of the vegetables, the texture of the crumbled tofu, and the color of the turmeric makes for a winning combination. Plus, this version won't stink up the room.

Vegan Egg Salad:

1 block firm tofu
1 cup celery (finely diced)
1 cup cucumbers (seeded, peeled, finely diced)
1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
1/3 cup vegan mayo (Nasoya, Spectrum)
Champagne vinegar (just a splash or two)
Lemon zest
Black pepper

Simply crumble the tofu into a mixing bowl with your fingers. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well to incorporate. Serve on toasted bread with arugula and (peeled!) tomato.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Vegetarian Pot Pie in a Kabocha Squash Bowl

Call it pandering if you wish, but I decided to make a mash-up out of the two most popular posts on The Chubby Vegetarian: Unreal Chicken Pot Pie and Kabocha Squash Redemption Stew. No matter the reason, the result is fantastic. This is a delicious way to eat your veggies. The filling is perfumed with parsley, lemon zest, and thyme, and the crust is rich and crispy. The whole thing rests inside of an edible bowl made from sweet roasted squash. This is the a great wintertime recipe to try this weekend.

Olive Oil Crust:

1 1/2 cup AP flour
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup ice water

Add the flour and salt to the food processor and start it. Slowly drizzle the oil into the feeder tube. Add the water a little at a time until you see the dough come together into a ball. You will not need all of the water. Cover with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rest for 20 minutes in the fridge.

Pot Pie Filling:

2 cup cremini mushrooms
1 white onion
1 Not Chick'n bouillon cube
1 cup white wine
2 celery ribs
1 parsnip
2 carrots
1 medium potato (peeled)
1 bell pepper
1/2 cup peas
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
1/2 cup chopped parsley
3 sprigs thyme
lemon zest
salt & pepper to taste
olive oil

Cut all of the vegetables (except the peas, silly) into a neat, medium dice. Sauté mushrooms in a few tablespoons of olive oil over high heat for just a few minutes until they get some color on them. Set mushrooms aside.
In a large soup pot or dutch oven over medium heat, sauté onions in a few tablespoons of olive oil until translucent. Add the bouillon cube and the white wine; continue to cook until most of the wine has evaporated. This should take about 5-8 minutes. Add the mushrooms and other vegetables to the mix and stir well. Push the mixture off to one side of the pot so that you have some surface area on the bottom of the pot. Add the butter and flour and whisk them together. Once the butter and flour mixture begins to turn golden, stir it all together, and then add the milk, parsley, thyme, lemon zest, salt, and pepper. The vegetables will be warm but not cooked through. This is good because they will cook more in the oven. Set mixture aside.

Vegetarian Vegetable Pot Pie in a Kabocha Squash Bowl:

1 large kabocha squash (or several smaller ones)
1 olive oil crust
pot pie filling
olive oil
1 egg

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Cut the top 1/3 off of your squash with a sharp knife. Be careful not to cut yourself! Scoop out the seeds and membranes. Drizzle the inside of the squash with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Allow squash to cook for 25-30 minutes. With a slotted spoon, heap filling into the squash cavity. Roll crust out to about 1/8 inch. Top squash with crust and cut it into a round slightly larger than the squash using kitchen shears. Crimp the edges and place into the oven for 30 minutes. Remove from oven, brush with beaten egg, sprinkle with salt, and return to oven for another 20 minutes or until top is golden brown. Strain the vegetables out of any left over filling and reserve the gravy at the bottom of the pot.

To serve, pour a little gravy into the center of a serving plate, slice squash into quarters, and place one quarter of the squash on a plate.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

King Oyster Mushroom Scallops over Ponzu Soba Noodles

As most of you know, I'm not a fan of processed food. There was a moment of desperation, and in that moment, starving and unable to think, I purchased a can of sriracha peas. They looked harmless enough, so I read the label. Nothing too offensive, I thought to myself, so I cracked them open right there in the aisle of the Target. They were...interesting. I think that they are mostly garlic powder, but they also had an intense saltiness, heat, and a hint of sweet. I knew I could use them for something: a crunchy coating on some tofu. Or even better, use them as a dredge for my king oyster mushroom scallops.

Ponzu Broth:

1 Not-Beef bouillon cube
2 cloves garlic (thinly sliced)
3 green onions (sliced, white parts only)
zest of one orange
2 tablespoons mirin
1 tablespoon sesame oil
splash of Braggs or soy sauce
3 cups water

Bring all ingredients to a boil then remove from heat. Make sure the bouillon cube has completely dissolved.

King Oyster Mushroom Scallops over Ponzu Soba Noodles

2 king oyster mushrooms (sliced into 1 inch segments)
olive oil
salt & pepper
1/4 cup sriracha peas (pulverized in the food processor)
ponzu broth
2 serving dried soba noodles
2 carrots (shredded with a julienne peeler)
3 green onions (green parts, sliced on the bias)
chili oil (like La-Yu)
Braggs or soy sauce

Score the tops of the mushroom slices. Drizzle each with olive oil, sprinkle with black pepper and a little salt, and lastly, dust each mushroom with the sriracha pea crumbs. Bring broth to a boil and add noodles. Once they are soft, add the carrots and remove from heat. Sear mushrooms in olive oil over medium-high heat for 3 minutes per side. (Do not overcook the king oyster mushrooms as they will become tough.)

Remove mushrooms from the pan and arrange them onto a bed of noodles and carrots. Garnish the dish with green onion, chili oil, Braggs, and another dusting of the sriracha peas. And then, try to look coy when someone thanks you for the wonderful seared sea scallops.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

All-Vegetarian Dinner at Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen

It's impossible to overstate how excited I am about this upcoming four-course vegetarian feast (plus an amuse) put together by two very talented chefs, Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman of Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen in Memphis. The All-Vegetarian No-Menu Monday event is planned for January 31st, 2011.

"We decided to put this dinner together for our vegetarian customers who come here often," Andy said. "It'll be a night just for them."

"No Menu Monday," as they call it, is a unique culinary event that takes place on the last Monday of each month. As you might've guessed, you aren't presented with a menu until the end of the meal. Each course arrives to the table as a surprise. Each "No Menu Monday" has a theme such as "Swine and Wine" or "The Feast of Seven Fishes."

I've been in the kitchen with Andy and Michael during "No Menu Monday" service, and I can tell you that the creative energy is palpable. "It's without a doubt the most fun we have in the kitchen," Michael told me recently. "We're especially excited about working with all vegetables," he continued.

They explained that they have been experimenting with different textures and flavors, and that they see an all-vegetarian menu as an interesting challenge. "We want to create dishes that are so good that people don't miss the protein," Andy told me. "We want to use several preparations of the same vegetable in a single dish," Michael hinted. "I'm intrigued," I told the guys.

At this point they were both being very cagey because they didn't want to ruin any surprises. Suddenly, Andy jumped out of his chair and said, "I'll show you this one thing we're working on." Michael tried to stop him as he ran toward the kitchen. He returned with a lexan container. I can't disclose what was in it, but I have never even heard of anyone doing preparation like that before in my life. All I can say is the food at this dinner is sure to be memorable.

All-Vegetarian No-Menu Monday
Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen
Monday January 31st
Cost: $45
+ wine pairing: $20
For reservations, call 901.347.3569.

(I have already made my reservations. They are limiting seating to 50, so make your own reservation right now.)

Hand-Cut Pappardelle + Smoky Tomato Sauce

Even the simplest dishes are elevated when everything is homemade. Just for kicks, try this next weekend: a couple of hours spent not just opening jars, not just tearing into cans, not just ripping open packaging, just dealing with raw ingredients plus the know-how to forge them into an extraordinary meal.

Smoky Tomato Sauce

8 roma tomatoes (peeled and quartered)
1/2 white onion (finely diced)
1 rib celery (finely diced)
1 carrot (finely diced)
1 cup white wine
2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons champagne vinegar
zest from 1 lemon
pinch of salt & pepper
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup water
1 clove garlic
olive oil

Turn oven broiler on high. Drizzle quartered, peeled tomatoes with olive oil and stick them under the broiler until the edges are black, then remove them from heat and set aside.
In a skillet over medium-high heat, sauté onion, carrot, and celery in a few tablespoons of olive oil until the onion is translucent. Mix the wine, sugar, vinegar, salt, and pepper together; use that to deglaze the pan. Cook mixture until most of the liquid has evaporated. Add the tomatoes, paste, and water. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Add sliced garlic and a few extra tablespoons of olive oil a few minutes before serving.


3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 semolina flour
3 eggs

In a large bowl -- or on the countertop -- make a pile out of the mixed flours. Form a well in the center, crack the eggs into the well, and mix flour and eggs until a dough forms. Continue to knead for 3 minutes. Dough will be smooth. Cover and allow dough to rest for 15 minutes. Roll pasta into sheets using a pasta machine. Roll it down to a number 5 on the pasta machine. Using a pasta cutter, cut strips out of the pasta sheets.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta for just two minutes. Remove pasta from water and place into the sauce. Toss to coat pasta. Garnish with parmesan cheese, parsley, black pepper, and sea salt. We had this with a salad of arugula, goat cheese, and shallots dressed in olive oil, a tiny pinch of hickory smoked salt, and balsamic vinegar.

Friday, December 3, 2010

St. Jude Marathon

Thank you to everyone who donated to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital on our behalf. Team Suzanne, my Memphis Marathon team, raised over $3,400 which will go to treating and curing the children who come to St. Jude.

We have raised money for St. Jude three years in a row, but yesterday I did something I have never done before. I volunteered my time at St. Jude. It was the most amazing experience. I and many real chefs helped the children assemble and decorate gingerbread houses that will be used in a holiday display. I got to meet some of the children that your money is helping like Emma, Rachel, and Shiva. I was moved, and I'm grateful for the opportunity.

Tomorrow I will put all of those training miles to use and run my heart out for 26.2 miles. If you can come downtown and cheer the runners on, please do. It really means a lot to have people out there yelling for you...particularly around, say, mile 22.

It's not too late to donate. If you are moved to do so, click HERE. You can read more about why I run, and there is a quick, simple donation form you may fill out. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Smoky & Sweet Eggplant Bacon

"This tastes like greasy bacon," I heard from across the table. Indeed it does, I thought to myself as I downed another piece. This smoky treat was a great addition to whole-wheat biscuits and folded eggs on a lazy Sunday morning. There was a time when I made breakfast similar to this every morning, but now that it's a rarity it seems like even more of a treat. So, If you've never had eggplant for breakfast, then it's time to treat yourself to it now. Make extra --this stuff would be great on vegetarian BLT or on top of your favorite veggie burger or pimento cheese sandwich.
6-8 strips leftover grilled eggplant (1/8 inch thick, drizzled in olive oil, & grilled)
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/8 cup sesame oil
brown sugar
black pepper

Over a medium flame, heat vegetable and sesame oil in a frying pan until you see the oil shimmer. Dredge the strips of eggplant in the flour. Pan-fry each strip of eggplant in the oil for about 3 minutes per side or until golden. Remove strips and palace on a paper towel or paper bag to drain. While strips are still warm, sprinkle each with a little brown sugar, black pepper, and a little hickory smoked sea salt. This will give your "bacon" the old familiar smoky, salty, sweet triple-punch you were used to. (This can also be made with fresh eggplant, but leftover grilled eggplant just adds another layer of smoke.)

Saffron Egg Drop Soup

How did I get here, you may ask? How does one arrive at a Chinese/Spanish fusion soup? Okay, I'll tell you. I began by thinking about egg drop soup and how my family and I would go out to lunch after church every Sunday. Most weeks, we'd end up at Nam King on Summer Avenue in East Memphis. It was here that my dad would order something like deep fried chicken feet just to watch us all squirm; I would always order egg drop soup.

I was fascinated by the texture of the egg, and I loved the crunchy fried noodles that came on the side. The thing I remember most is the color of the broth: such a deep yellow it almost seemed like a cartoon drawing of what the soup should look like.

With this recipe, I wanted to recreate the color, and I did that by using saffron threads in the broth. This way, I felt like I had committed to a Spanish flavor profile replacing the crunch of the fried noodles with the crunch of diced vegetables.

The result was pretty amazing. This hearty soup is a must-try recipe for anyone who is looking for a little adventure. I think you'll love it.

Saffron Broth:

5 cloves garlic (crushed)
2 ribs of celery (roughly chopped)
1 red onion (roughly chopped)
2 carrots (roughly chopped)
1 Not-Chick'n bouillon cube
1 cup white wine
lemon zest
orange zest
6 cups water
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
sherry vinegar
olive oil
salt & pepper

Over medium-high heat, pour 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil into a soup pot or dutch oven and add the vegetables. Next, add the bouillon cube and stir. Once the vegetables start to turn golden in color, add the white wine to deglaze the pot. Allow the mixture to cook until most of the wine has evaporated, and then add the zest, water, saffron, and about a teaspoon of sherry vinegar. Secure the lid and reduce heat to a simmer for 30-45 minutes. Strain the vegetables out of the broth. Return the broth to medium heat to reduce by about 20 percent. Add black pepper and salt as needed.

Saffron Egg Drop Soup:

red pepper
purple onion
green tomato
fresh parsley (or cilantro)
sherry vinegar
saffron broth
3 eggs (beaten)
manchego cheese
olive oil
salt & pepper

Finely dice equal amounts of the pepper, onion, and tomato and place into a mixing bowl. Finely chop parsley and add it to the mixture along with a pinch of salt, a tablespoon of olive oil, and a splash of sherry vinegar. Set this mixture aside; it is the garnish for the soup.

Bring the broth to a rolling boil. Add beaten eggs to the boiling broth -- one small spoonful at a time -- until all the beaten eggs are used. (This 'splintering' is really cool to watch!) To serve, spoon egg and broth mixture into a bowl, top with a spoonful of vegetable mixture, then grate a bit of the manchego on top.