Monday, March 30, 2015

Penne with Tempeh, Caramelized Shallots and Goat Cheese

Guys, let's talk about tempeh.  That's TEM-pay.  No, not tofu.  Even I as a vegetarian can agree that tofu isn't always the most appetizing thing.  I'm still not quite sure how soybeans turn into that.  No, this is tempeh.  Also soybean-based, but its more of a cake than a marshmallow.  You can still see the beans.  The texture is much more meat-like than you'd expect.

I was intrigued by tempeh ever since I heard about it a year or so ago.  I knew, however, that my family would not be as excited to try it out, so I waited for a night when I was home alone.  For my birthday, Alex gave me this awesome cookbook called The Meat Lover's Meatless Cookbook: Vegetarian Recipes Carnivores will Devour.  Isn't that an amazing idea for a cookbook!?  The recipes all look super intriguing and delicious, including this one.   I figured, even if the tempeh is gross, you have penne, goat cheese, and caramelized shallots to make up for it!

But then the tempeh was not gross.  Far from it.  It has made me a tempeh believer.  It gets marinated in soy sauce, dijon mustard, sesame oil, minced garlic, and lime juice (doesn't that sound like a marinade that you'd eat anything in!?).  Then it gets fried.  Hello?  Delicious marinade?  Fried?  What's not to like about this tempeh?  Trust me, if you aren't a fan of the texture of tofu, this is not like that.  It's got more of a meaty bite to it.  And the flavor is incredible.  The marinade really sinks in, and gets seared into it.  I kept thinking it would make a kick-ass sandwich.  I've never even said those words together, but that's what marinated tempeh makes me do.

The final dish altogether? Totally amazing.  I even got Mark to eat it despite his balking over the tofu.  Then I brought some to work for Laura to test, and she agreed that tempeh is far better than she expected.  It reheated well and I ate all the leftovers with gusto.  All I know is that there's another package of tempeh in my refrigerator right now and I cannot wait to try it out again!

Recipe:

penne with tempeh, caramelized shallots, and goat cheese
from  The Meat Lover's Meatless Cookbook: Vegetarian Recipes Carnivores will Devour by Kim O'Donnel
makes 4 servings

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 clove garlic, minced
juice of 1/2 lime
1 teaspoon hot sauce of your choice (optional)
1 8-ounce package soy tempeh, cut into 1-inch strips
vegetable oil for pan-frying
2 - 3 shallot bulbs, sliced thinly (about 1/2 cup)
a few sprigs worth of fresh thyme leaves
salt and ground black pepper
12 ounces short pasta, such as penne, rotini or ziti
3 ounces soft goat cheese
3 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
a small handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped roughly

Instructions:

1) Marinate the tempeh: in a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, mustard, sesame oil, garlic, lime juice, and hot sauce (if using).  Place the tempeh in a shallow dish in a single layer and pour the marinade on top, ensuring complete coverage.  Let the tempeh sit in the marinade at room temperature for a minimum of 20 minutes, or in the fridge for up to several hours.

2) Remove the tempeh from the marinade and gently pat with paper towels to minimize splattering when frying in hot oil.  Pour the oil to a depth of 1/4 inch into a wide skillet and heat over medium heat.  The oil is hot enough when it surrounds the tempeh with bubbles.

3) Gently add the tempeh and turn with tongs or a fork, until golden brown on both sides, about 3 minutes.  Add more oil as necessary and allow to heat sufficiently before adding more tempeh.  Transfer the tempeh to paper towels and allow to cool slightly.  Sprinkle with salt.

4) Lower the heat and add shallots.  Add more oil if need be, but be careful, you don't want shallot mixture to be overly greasy.  Cook over medium-low heat, so they soften, sweeten and reduce but not brown, about 15 minutes.  Add the thyme and salt and pepper to taste.  Remove from heat.

5) Meanwhile, boil water for the pasta and prepare according to the package instructions. Crumble the tempeh into small pieces and add to the shallot mixture, stirring to combine.

6) In the bottom of a serving bowl, place the goat cheese.  Drain the pasta when ready (saving a few ounces of pasta water just in case the end result needs thinning) and pour into the bowl over the goat cheese.  With two wooden spoons, coat the pasta with the melting goat cheese.  Add the tempeh mixture and the parsley, stirring gently until well combined.  Garnish with Parmigiano-Reggiano, if you like.  Serve hot.




Sunday, March 29, 2015

Buttery Spritz Cookies

Happy Cookie Sunday!

In my next Cookie Sunday installment, I bring you buttery spritz cookies.  I first used my cookie press back in December to make the pomegranate spritz cookies, and I was hooked.  You make the dough, but then there's no rolling, fussing, cutting, or hard work to get your cookies to look pretty (and we all know I struggle with that).  You simply choose your "stencil," put the dough in the press, and start clicking the trigger.  I had Mark choose the design for these buttery spritz cookies.  Thus we have these delightful little flowers.

This recipe makes a huge amount of cookies.  They looked lovely on the island all week and Mark took them to work every day.  I sent over quite a few to my mother, who was hooked on them.  They're just kind of addicting.  They're crunchy, buttery, and sweet, and small enough that it feels okay to eat multiple in one sitting.

Should you want to get real fancy, you can decorate the cookies with sprinkles, colored sugar or melted chocolate.  Depending on what you want to use, there are 2 chances to add your decor: before or after baking.  Next time I will probably add some colored sugar before I bake them just to add a little bling, but they certainly don't need it!

Recipe:

buttery spritz cookies
from Taste of Home
makes 90 cookies

Ingredients:
1 cup butter, softened
1 1/4 cups confectionary sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

Instructions:

1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  In a large bowl, cream butter and confectionary sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in egg and extracts.  Combine flour and salt.  Gradually add to creamed mixture and mix well.

2) Using a cookie press fitted with the disk of your choice, press dough 2 inches apart onto ungreased baking sheets.  If desired, decorate with colored sugar and sprinkles.

3) Bake 6 - 8 minutes or until set (do not brown).  Remove to wire racks to cool completely.  If desired, dip baked cookies in melted candy coating and decorate with sprinkles.  Let stand until set.


Saturday, March 28, 2015

Healthy Mexican Casserole with Roasted Corn and Peppers

Sorry that my posting lately has been sporadic!  How can I be so busy?  I don't have kids and I only work one job, but lately I feel like I get home late every night and haul my exhausted self right to bed.  Two classes, lots of appointments, family parties, going out with friends... somehow I am busy and my blog posts need to elbow their way in there.

Before I post for today, can we talk about the fact that it's snowing?  A lot?  Like, I left my car in the driveway instead of the garage last night and it's totally covered?  Ugh.

Anyway back to the food.  Mark likes Mexican, so I have been trying to cook lots of it lately.  This recipe caught my eye, mainly because for some weird reason, I have two bags of corn tortillas in my fridge, and I am not sure why.  Also, it was healthy and vegetarian and sounded delicious.  Perfect storm.

Here is the weird part.  The recipe has the words "roasted corn and peppers" in it, but I am pretty sure that is a lie.  You actually roast them in a skillet on the stove with cumin and chili powder.  Yeah, I know, I am pretty sure that is called sautéing too.  My veggies were a whole lot more sautéed than pan-roasted.  Maybe that's a skill I have to work on, but to me, when you have veggies, oil, and high heat, you're sautéing (or burning to a crisp quickly if you aren't careful).  Maybe next time I will actually roast these guys in the oven so I feel like less of a fraud.

But then everything else is fabulous.  This casserole is layers of corn tortillas, the "roasted" peppers, corn, and onion, refried beans, enchilada sauce, and Mexican shredded cheese.  What's not to like?  The recipe recommends serving it with guacamole, which I didn't have but totally want to try next time.  I think it would be fabulous with sour cream or Greek yogurt as well.  Mark had third helpings of this casserole, and I ate the rest of it for lunch throughout the week.  Definitely tasty, healthy, and easy!

Recipe:

healthy Mexican casserole with roasted corn and peppers
from Pinch of Yum
serves 12

Ingredients:
2 red bell peppers
2 green bell peppers
1 jalapeño or 2 chipotle peppers
1/2 red onion
2 cups frozen corn
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons cumin
salt to taste
2 cups Mexican cheese
18 - 20 corn tortillas
1 can refried beans
2 cups red enchilada sauce

Instructions:

1) Pan roast the vegetables: dice the peppers and mince the onions.  Heat a large nonstick skillet with a little bit of oil over high heat.  Add the onion and peppers, sprinkle with chili powder and cumin, and stir.  Let the veggies rest, stir again; rest and stir until you get  anise browning on the outside of the peppers.  Remove and set aside.  Repeat the roasting process with the corn, sprinkling with chili and cumin, removing from the heat when browned and roasted on the outside.  Sprinkle with the roasted veggies with a little bit of salt and toss to coat.

2) Prep the ingredients: grease a 9x13-inch baking pan and preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Cut the tortillas into thin strips.  Put the refried beans in a bowl and mix with a little bit or water to make them easier to spread.

3) Assemble: spread a little bit of sauce on the bottom of the pan  Layer in order: half the tortilla trips, all the beans, half of the veggies, half of the sauce, half of the cheese.  Cover with the other half of the tortilla trips, veggies, sauce and cheese.

4) Bake: cover with foil (sprayed with cooking spray) and bake for 15 - 20 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese is melted.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Honey-Sweetened Spiced Banana Muffins

These pretty little gems were another installment of Muffin Monday.  I make muffins every Monday for Mark to bring to his staff meeting Tuesday mornings, since they're having a tough year in there.  I also knew most of them were finishing up their final weeks in the school's Biggest Loser Competition, so I have been looking for healthy muffin recipes.  This one piqued my interest for a few reasons.

First, it's from Kitchen Treaty, my vegetarian blogger extraordinaire who has the One Meal Two Ways category.  Second, it's made with both whole wheat and all-purpose flour, so you get the benefits from the whole wheat without them being dry and dense.  Third, there's no sugar in the recipe.  These muffins are sweetened only by a third cup of honey - and the natural sugars from the bananas.  Lastly, they're spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger, so the bananas have some fun things to spice them up with.

I ended up topping some of them with walnuts because I know lots of the transition staff members are nutty (I mean that in every way possible).  I got lots of thank yous and appreciative texts, so I think they went over well at the meeting.  Healthy, lightly sweet, and tasty: what more are you looking for in a banana muffin?

Recipe:

honey-sweetened spiced banana muffins
from Kitchen Treaty
makes 12 muffins

Ingredients:
2 cups white whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 medium very ripe bananas
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup honey
1 egg
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Instructions:

1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Grease 12 standard cup muffin tins or line with liners.

2)  In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and salt.

3) In a medium bowl, mash the bananas.  Stir in the butter, honey, and egg.  Mix well.  Add the milk and vanilla and mix until blended.

4) Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and, with a wooden spoon or spatula, mix until just incorporated.

5) Divide batter between muffin cups, about 1/3 cup batter each.  Bake until the tops spring when you touch them and a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean, about 12 minutes.

6) Muffins keep in an airtight container or zipper bag at room temperature for 3 - 4 days.  They also freeze well!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Red Lentil Soup

This soup is so much more awesome than the name implies.  Red lentil soup doesn't suggest all the flavor packed into it, with the brightness of lemon and the spice of garam masala.  It doesn't explain the presence of carrots, onions and celery (or leeks, in my case, since I was out of celery).  It doesn't speak of bay leaves or the fact that this soup has so much flavor, it doesn't even need garlic.

It just makes you think of red lentils, and if you're not like me, you may have no idea that lentils even came in red.  Red lentils are actually quite different from the more common green or brown lentils.  They are pre-split, so they cook much faster than their counterparts.  They also turn to mush, so they're perfect for soups.  They add protein, fiber, and a nice yellow color (yes, it's weird, but red lentils turn yellow when they cook).

Back to the soup itself.  The recipe is kind of like a blank canvas, because it suggests dressing it up however you want.  Top it with gremolata or Greek yogurt.  Spice it up with Italian herbs or a seasoning blend.  It also suggests the teaspoon of garam masala, which I am immensely glad that I decided to add, because I can't even slightly imagine the soup without it.  I will be posting it as a mandatory ingredient!  I know Indian food isn't for everyone, but this soup is.  It's not overly Indian-y, just super tasty, hearty, warming, quick, easy, healthy, and wonderful.

Recipe:

red lentil soup
from The Kitchnn
serves 4

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large carrot, diced
2 large ribs celery, diced
1 small yellow onion, diced
1/4 teaspoon salt, plus additional to taste
1 cup red lentils
4 cups water or low-sodium broth
1 whole bay leaf
2 tablespoons lemon juice from 1/2 large lemon

Instructions:

1) Ina  medium saucepan or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the carrot, celery, onion, and 1/4 teaspoon salt, stir to combine, then cover and let the vegetables sweat until the onions are soft and translucent.

2) Add the lentils, water or broth, and bay leaf.  Bring up to a boil, then turn the heat down to low and let simmer, covered, until the lentils begin to fall apart, about 20 minutes.

3) Turn off the heat, stir in the lemon juice, and add salt to taste.  Ladle into bowls and serve.  Leftovers will keep refrigerated for 5 days and reheat well.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Sopes

Behold: the sope.

Sopes are basically thick fried corn tortillas made by simply combining masa harina (a type of corn flour laced with lime) and water.  The dough is flattened and fried into a thick little cake, and then the options are endless.  You can top it with whatever you'd like.  Want to stay vegetarian?  Top it with some homemade refried beans.  Want meat?  Treat it like you'd treat any taco; may I suggest Mexican shredded beef?  Top either version with salsa, cheese, guacamole, sour cream, queso fresco... I wasn't joking when I said the options are endless.

Here are some reasons why the sopes are amazing.  First, they are gluten-free.  I was able to have Maggie over for dinner, and with everything being homemade, I could be sure they were all safe for her, including the sopes. Second, they're slightly crunchy on the outside from being fried, but they are thick enough that the middles are still soft.  Third, Rachael compared them to the Old Mill's corn fritters and, after eating them for dinner, then ate some for dessert with maple syrup!  Not gonna lie, we all did the same.

Please note: this masa harina that I speak of is not just corn flour.  It took me forever to find it at Market Basket in the Latin section, but it's there.  The difference, as I mentioned, is the lime added to the corn kernels as it is dried and treated. I suppose corn flour could work, but the taste would be different.  Just search the section with all the Goya drinks.

Sopes will definitely make another appearance in my kitchen.  Upon more sope research, I see that traditionally, they are supposed to have sides that are pinched up.  Oops.  Something to strive for next time, I suppose!  You should probably try these the next time you planned on having taco night.  Skip the taco shells and take a few extra minutes to make sopes instead.  Your family will adore you for it. They won't even mind if you make them take pictures of their sopes and tell them it's a sope photography competition.  Honestly.

Recipe:

sopes
from Yellow Bliss Road

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cup masa
1 cup warm water
1/2 teaspoon salt
cooking oil
toppings

Instructions:

1) Stir the masa, salt, and water together until a dough forms.  With lightly floured hands, knead the dough for a few minutes.

2) Divide the dough into golf ball-sized portions and roll into ball shapes.

3) Press each ball lightly between your hands and use your fingers to flatten into a disc.  The dough should be between 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick.  Pinch the edges all around the outer edge of the disc to create a raised edge.  Keep the extra dough in the bowl covered with a wet paper towel to keep the dough from drying out.

4) Heat about 1/2 to an inch of oil in a skillet over medium heat.  You will know it's ready when a drop of water sizzles in the pan.  Place masa discs into the hot oil and cook until lightly browned, turning once.  The edges should be nice and crispy and the center should be soft.

5) Remove from oil and place on a paper-towel-lined plate.   Add toppings and serve immediately.




Sunday, March 15, 2015

Slow Cooker Refried Beans

What do refried beans taste like?  Not much.  They're just sort of mushy cardboard, to put it nicely.  Not that I am bashing refried beans: I use them all the time.  But I never noticed how bland and flavorless they are... until I made my own.

As I posted yesterday, I threw a Mexican dinner party where I made sopes (next post, I promise).  The carnivores topped their sopes with Mexican shredded beef, but I wanted to make a vegetarian topping for myself, so I decided to try out making my own refried beans.  Part of the reasoning behind this, besides wanting beans for myself, is that lots of canned refried beans aren't gluten-free for Maggie (what? Why is there wheat in our beans?!).  I figured making my own would be safer for Mags, more delicious for me, and frankly wouldn't take that much work, because I found a slow cooker recipe.  Plus, I always feel extra accomplished when I cook using dried beans.  So cheap, so easy - remind me again why I rarely do it?

The dried beans boil away for 15 minutes, and that's the hardest part of this recipe, frankly.  Then you just toss them into the slow cooker with water, onion, garlic, jalapeño (it just adds flavor; these aren't spicy at all), and salt.  That's it.  Forget about it for the next 4 - 6 hours while you make Mexican shredded beef in the meantime (or, I suppose you could make whatever you want!).

When they're ready, the beans and veggies get pureed in a food processor with some of the water they cooked in and a tablespoon of the liquid from pickled jalapeños (I thought that was cool).  Voila!  Refried beans.  This was such an easy recipe, with such a good end result, that it makes me wonder why I used canned refried beans, ever.  The next time I need them, luckily, I have a nice big container of them in the freezer (apparently they freeze really well!).

Even though I made refried beans mainly for my own vegetarian option, all the carnivores tried them too.  They ended up topping their sopes with both refried beans and shredded beef, which made me happy.  Everyone agreed they're much better than the canned version.  I love when I find a good, easy DIY recipe for something we never think twice about picking up in a grocery store.  Go buy a giant bag of dried beans for pennies and try this out.  Trust me.

Recipe:

slow cooker refried beans
from Mel's Kitchen Cafe
makes 8 cups refried beans

Ingredients:
1 pound dry pinto beans (I used kidney), rinsed, stones and shriveled beans removed
1 teaspoon salt
1 medium white or yellow onion, peeled and cut into large chunks
4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 jalapeño, seeded and membranes removed, chopped
1 tablespoon white vinegar, or same amount of liquid from a jar of jalapeños or banana peppers
salt to taste

Instructions:

1) Place the rinsed beans in a medium or large saucepan and cover with water by at least an inch.  Bring the beans and water to a boil and cover, cooking for 15 minutes (be aware that the beans will expand as they absorb water and cook, so make sure your pan isn't overly full to begin with or else you'll have an overflow problem; it's safest to start with a larger pot).

2) Remove from the heat and drain the beans.  Place the beans in the slow cooker and cover with about 2 inches of water.  Add the salt, onion, garlic, and jalapeño.  Cover and cook on high for 4 - 6 hours, or on low for 8 - 10 hours.

3) When the beans are tender, ladle out 1 to 1 1/2 cups of the cooking liquid and reserve.  Drain the beans and veggies in a colander until most of the liquid is gone but there are still a few drops (you don't want the beans bone dry).

4) Place the beans and veggies and 1 tablespoon vinegar or jarred pepper liquid in a food processor or blender.  If you need to do this in batches, make sure to split the vinegar among your batches).

5) Depending on how well you drained the beans, add about 1/4 cup liquid, more if needed, and process until the desired texture is reached.  Add more liquid if needed.  Taste beans and add additional salt if needed.

6) To freeze, let the beans cool and spoon the in 1 - 2 cup amounts into freezer Ziploc bags.  Press them flat, remove as much air as possible, and seal.