Monday, May 25, 2015

New Vegetarian: Omelets & Empanadas

Okay, first off, omelets and empanadas are obviously not new, magical vegetarian recipes.  Instead, New Vegetarian refers to one of the first vegetarian cookbooks I ever bought.  Let me start off by saying that the title is deceptive, unless in fact they were referring to how this is some sort of new-age vegetarian book.  The recipes are not for beginners, or really even your average cook.  Almost every last recipe has some odd, can-only-be-found-online ingredients, and figuring out how to substitute them can be a massive pain.  But I've done it.

Thai Omelet

We'll start off with a recipe that is different to mess up: a Thai-style omelet.  The description in the book says something about how most restaurants serve something more like a "frittata with veggies".  I think Thai restaurants have better authority on a Thai omelet than a random chef, but whatever.  Pretty much you take tofu, jalapeños, cabbage, scallions, and a few other things, stir fry them, then place them inside an omelet.  Pretty straight-forward.

I, of course, made a bunch of substitutions (I hate carrots.  Seriously), and then made too much filling.  And adding that much cheese on top of the omelet made it look disconcerting.  Regardless, though, the meal was a success.  I've made this before and knew it was good, and found once again that the instructions for making the omelet are very helpful.  I'm hopeless when it comes to maneuvering eggs; I can't even boil them correctly.  So for me to be able to made a foldable omelet is nearly miraculous.

Taste-wise, it's an omelet.  No complaints.  8/10; it's a good hearty meal, but it's nothing special.

Sweet Coconut Empanadas

Oh, this recipe.  I have a bone to pick with this recipe.

In addition to bragging about omelets, this book spends the page before the dessert recipes talking about how people always assume vegan dessert recipes are dry and flavourless, and how the average baker is confused or some such by having to make desserts without eggs or lard.  That's a load of crap, but I haven't tried many of the dessert recipes, so I gave this one a try.

Sad trombone.

It is not the sheer ugliness of this recipe that gets me.  Oh no.   I ran out of freakin' filling.  I NEVER run out of filling.  I always have too much.  I followed this recipe exactly, and I was not even HALFWAY THROUGH making the empanadas when I realized I was about to run out.  I don't know how in the world that happened.  The recipe said 2tbsp of filling per empanada, which was a lot, so I wonder if it was a typo or something.  You'd think someone would catch it.  Those pretty strawberries are there because I last-minute substituted strawberries to fill the remaining empanadas.  And made too many, of course.

And their method for making the actual empanadas (make a cone of the dough and put the filling it)?  Totally useless; the dough is too sticky and flimsy, so I pretty much had to put the filling on there, then just wrap the dough around it.  No cone was happening here.  Finally, the "coconut caramel" sauce was NOT caramel.  It was much too liquidy.  Maybe I didn't cook it long enough, but I don't think that was it.  Thug Kitchen has a very good caramel coconut sauce recipe that I've made successfully, so it's not the concept that is off.  I think the recipe just sucked.

As for the taste, meh.  I preferred the strawberry ones, to be honest.  And -- surprise, surprise -- the empanadas were much too dry.  Another recipe I've tried from this book -- Upside-down mango cake -- had the same problem.  Go figure, considering the boasting about moist vegan recipes.

My coworkers really enjoyed the recipe, so I guess it wasn't an utter failure.  I still don't plan to ever make it again.  4/10.

In conclusion: you can probably skip New Vegetarian unless you want the challenge of five billion substitutions.  I may try a few more recipes to put up here, but I really don't use it much compared to my other, easier books.

I hope to make something tonight since it's a long weekend and I've been utterly lazy, so maybe you will see something up here soon!


Monday, May 18, 2015

Strawberries & Cream Cake Roll

Whoa now, what's this? A post, from Brittany, onto Dinner Time?

I make no guarantees this will happen again, but I seriously keep taking pictures of food and never talking about them. So it's about time I do so it doesn't look like I have a food fetish.

Strawberries & Cream Cake Roll

It's been so long since I updated that I'm pretty sure I have never mentioned Farmers' Market Desserts, a lovely book chocked full of recipes involving fruit. I am a huge fan of fruit, but especially of cooked fruit, because I love things that are warm and juicy (maybe I do have a food fetish). I've made various recipes from this book with general success, but then I had a bumpercrop of strawberries I knew I could not finish on my own.

And thus I decided to try out a recipe that appears on the back of the book and generally looks gorgeous: the Strawberries & Cream Cake Roll. This required me to dice, slice, bake, roll, etc., and I'm sure anyone who followed this blog knew that presentation was not my strong point.



It's been a long time since I made this, but I remember it being a hell of a lot of work -- I may have halved the recipe or something because I remember being worried about the cake part, and also I probably substituted Greek yoghurt for the creme fraiche/sour cream, because I never have either around. I remember the actual cake roll part being a massive aggravation because I used the technique suggested by the recipe and it just did not want to work for me. Yet when I saw how lovely it looked on the plate, I had to share it on Facebook.

And taste-wise? Massive success. My coworkers (that photo was taken at work, hence the different surroundings) devoured it within an hour or so, and it's hard to go wrong with strawberries. I don't remember much about it, probably because I made it in August 2014 and I barely remember to refill my car's fuel tank. I think this was a recipe that actually was worth the massive effort and overhaul, unless the one I am taste-testing right now (it'll show up on here eventually. New Vegetarian, you have betrayed me once more!)

Rating: 9/10. Apologies this post isn't full of my usual snark and knowledge, but I was chopping strawberries because I ran out of FILLING for the recipe I'm testing (NEW VEGETARIAAAAAAAAN!) and wanted to make a quick replacement. Which sadly, may have been a better choice than the original recipe.


Saturday, November 16, 2013

Meat Recipe Converting: Tomato Bulgur Soup with Tofu & Crumbles

Some recipes just rely on meat or meat products. You can't really make a steak vegetarian. A New England Clam Bake without the clams is missing something rather vital to the recipe. Sure, there are a lot of meat substitutes these days and still more being made, but really, becoming a vegetarian may just mean giving up your favourite foods, because there is no real substitute.

It's been six years since I left meat behind, and at this point, even shrimp has finally stopped calling to me. I've found myself using fewer of these meat substitutes as well. But limiting myself to JUST vegetarian recipes is not necessarily my only option. And in these posts, "Meat Recipe Converting", I will be taking very meat-laden dishes, and turning them into vegetarian lovelies.

These posts will focus on recipes that cannot be easily converted to vegetarian. They aren't ones where you substitute veggie broth for chicken. These are ones where the meat is a key part of the meal, and thus, converting requires creating almost a whole new recipe.

Algerian Green Wheat Soup with Meatballs becomes...

This recipe comes from a large book of soup recipes called Best Soups in the World, and it features soups from all over the world. I adore this book; it is complete with good food, interesting information, and classic chef snobbery. The recipe that caught my attention, Algerian Green Wheat Soup with Meatballs, is a meat-heavy tomato soup with one of my favourite underutilized grains: bulgur (substitute for the original freekeh, but eh).

Converting a recipe like this may look as easy as just replacing all of it with tofu or vegetables, but this uses two very different kinds of meat, and replicating that sort of texture/blend requires a bit of thought. And so...

Tomato Bulgur Soup with Tofu & Crumbles

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THere are two aspects of this soup that need to be replaced:

1) The broth is chicken-based.
2) The main chunky parts of the soup are two meats, one grain.

As such, here are the ingredients I used:

1lb firm tofu
7tbsp unsalted butter OR oil
2 medium onions, chopped
2lbs ripe tomatoes, chopped OR 2 cans 14.5oz chopped tomatoes
1tsp cayenne pepper
1tsp salt, if even that (I'm sensitive to the taste of salt)
6 cups vegetable broth OR 6 cups water flavoured to taste with concentrated broth. Or any mixture thereof.
1 cup freekeh or course bulgur
2tbsps tomato paste
1 package Morningstar Farms Grillers Recipe Crumbles (one of the few meat subs I still buy; very versatile and great if you're too lazy to flavour and crumble tofu or tempeh)
Black pepper to taste

The instructions to follow are a shortened version of the original recipe:

1. Add onions, tomatoes, cayenne, and salt to butter or oil and cook, stirring, for 10 minutes. You can add the tofu at this stage as well if you like firmer tofu. Pour in cups of broth and increase heat to a simmer. If you didn't add the tofu to sautee, you can add it here as well, to let it soak up the flavour of the broth.

2. Similar to step 3 in the original recipe, however, don't throw away any of the solids. Also don't grind up your tofu if you added it in the first step at any point. Grind up all of the solids if you like a thicker soup; grind up half if you want a thinner soup and like having vegetable chunks in your soup. Return blended broth and solids to pot, heat until boiling, then add bulgur and tofu. Lower heat to simmer. Halfway through cooking the bulgur, add the recipe crumbles (you can just add these frozen, or you can brown them in a pan first). Cook until bulgur is ready (as the recipe says, tender but chewy).

And there you have it. I didn't make meatballs with the crumbles because I am embarrassingly bad at making meatballs, stuffed rolls, etc; they just fall apart in the broth for me. But if you're more talented than I am, I'm sure they'd come out fine. Also I'm sure freekeh would do just as well as bulgur, especially since freekeh is the original ingredient in the first place.

As for taste? Good! The tofu absorbed the flavour very well, and the crumbles make a good contrast to tofu's texture and flavour. The broth was good if a bit thick. The flavour was nice and hearty. Overall, it's a great comfort food, especially on a cold or dreary day. It stays decent as leftovers as well. And if you replace the butter with oil and sub the crumbles for something else (crumbled tempeh?), pretty sure it's vegan!

8/10 from me. Of course, you're welcome to try out the original meat recipe as well. I'm sure it's as good as the vegetarian recipe, if not better because it's, well, the original.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Stuffed Acorn Squash

Taking a break from Good & Bad posts, this is a recipe I made back in March. However, it does not really have a true counterpart that I can compare it to; I looked through my photos, but did not see anything that could really stand up as its equal. Thus, back to a more traditional post. And this one, like one or two I've had before, is more BASED on a recipe than actually following it.

Stuffed Sun Island Acorn Squash

Hari linked this recipe and I treated it with some skepticism. First off, I don't even KNOW where you can get a sun island squash around here, and furthermore, squash isn't my favourite thing. But I saved it anyway, since I do love mushrooms, and one day at the hippie grocery store I found some in-season squash. In particular, they had some large acorn squash, perfect for stuffing.

Had I only changed the squash type, we'd be good. But I didn't. This recipe is like that recipe only in that they both involve stuffing squash with vegetables and mushrooms. The rest is drastically different:

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As this photo very much shows. So! This will be more of a legitimate recipe post.

Ingredients 1 large acorn squash
A handful of cherry tomatoes (who needs REAL measurements? Just use whatever seems like it'd fit. Any leftovers will be tasty eaten alone).
~1cup or so of raw mushrooms (if you use dried or canned, lower the amount slightly, since raw mushrooms shrink quite a bit.)
1-2 cloves of garlic (whatever suits you. I love garlic so I usually bump it up in recipes.)
Dried hearty herb of your choice (I think I probably used either oregano or basil, since I don't generally have thyme on hand)
Butter and/or olive oil
Crumbled goat cheese of your choice

First, scoop the insides out of your squash, but save the seeds! Rinse the seeds off to get them free of squash tendrils. Then, similar to the recipe linked, preheat your oven to 350F, wipe the inside of the squash with oil, then put it in the oven until the edges brown; this can take a while depending on the size of your squash.

From there, take your butter/oil and heat it in a pan, then add your mushrooms, tomatoes, garlic, and herbs. You only want these to be partially cooked; near the end or separately (whichever you prefer), add the seeds to toast for a couple of minutes. They don't usually pop for me, so just use your best judgement. Mix the goat cheese in after you saute everything, then stuff that squash full of the mixture.

Pop the stuffed squash back in the oven until it is wrinkled or, if your squash is a superhero like mine, until it looks like it is slightly drying out at the edges. Eat leftover filling while waiting for squash to be done. Serve with side of your choice; I chose roasted fingerlings because I needed to use them up anyway.

So how is the taste? Pretty good! The acorn squash can be tricky to eat since the skin is more like plate mail for the fruit, but the filling is tasty and lends itself to many vegetables, spices, etc. I'm not sure how smart an idea it was to stuff a squash with cherry tomatoes -- they take up a lot of room! -- but I didn't have zucchini so I went "Close enough." THe seeds also didn't add as much as I wanted; I think maybe they should be roasted alongside the squash initially, then mixed in. Perhaps that will improve the mouthfeel. Hard to go wrong with goat cheese, though.

I imagine almost any variation of mushrooms would do the job -- shiitake, bella, whatever -- but in terms of vegetables I recommend something with a good water content so it won't dry out. Pretty much ANY sturdy squash that can be squashed could be used.

Perhaps someday I will find sun island squash and legitimately try out the recipe. But until then, this will have to do, and it does just fine to me. 8/10.


Monday, November 11, 2013

Good & Bad: Pumpkin Cheddar Mac & Cheese vs. Pasta Presto's Red & Yellow Cherry Tomato Saute

I know I've mentioned this before, but I am a huge pastaholic. I attribute it partially to growing up in a very Italian part of Connecticut, which to most parts of the country probably sounds a bit strange (aren't we more known for our Puritan rudeness?). Waterbury, CT is the place I refer to; I grew up in one of its suburbs, and thus grew up in a place where even chain restuarants like Olive Garden and Bertucci's have to step up their game if they want to survive. Let me tell you: the SF Bay Area is woefully lacking in real, GOOD Italian food. The two places I've found are a walk-in-and-order place, and a super-expensive place. No middle ground.

So today's post shall deal with that most wondrous of comfort foods: pasta.

Pumpkin Cheddar Mac & Cheese

Hari, of course, was the one to find this recipe; really, this blog probably wouldn't exist if it weren't for Hari. I am not the biggest fan of pumpkin OR mac & cheese, but this still intrigued me. After all, there's a truly odd list of ingredients in there. Whole wheat pasta! Honey! Pumpkin puree! Allspice! It's like someone tried to turn pumpkin pie into mac & cheese.

Pasta Presto's Red & Yellow Cherry Tomato Saute

I stumbled upon this cute little recipe book when exploring Ithaca, NY's used bookstore on the Commons. It had been marked down from $10 to a mere dollar, so of course, as a pasta lover, I had to snatch it up. It is a series of sauces that you can quickly make and serve over pasta. I've made quite a few of them, including converting some of the meat ones to vegetarian. This one recipe, though, I make often when the summer bumpercrop of cherry tomatoes shows up.

Since this is an older recipe book when the internet was barely a thing, I'll give a quick list of the contents, but not the full recipe for copyright reasons:

Olive Oil
Garlic Cloves, chopped
Red & Yellow cherry tomatoes
Fresh Parsley (I use dried and it's fine)
Fresh Chives (I don't use and it's fine

Pumpkin Cheddar Mac & Cheese vs. Pasta Presto's Red & Yellow Cherry Tomato Saute: GO!

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(Fun Fact: I made this a year ago.)

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(Fun Fact: This may not be the recipe I think it is, but it looks close enough.)

So as I mentioned, I'm not a big fan of pumpkin or mac & cheese. Furthermore, as I recall, I had to use mozarrella or something like that since I didn't have cheddar. Also pretty sure I had to sub the ground mustard for something else. Basically, the test could very well be my fault. But? It tasted like pumpkin to me. Overwhelmingly so; I didn't taste any of the spice or the cheese, just the faint sweetness of pureed pumpkin. Now, if you love pumpkin, that means this recipe will probably work out fantastically for you! But if I were to make it again, I'd half the amount of pumpkin. Also probably use cheddar instead of mozarrella but that's a whole different story.

As for the tomato saute? I recently discovered that I love cooked cherry tomatoes, especially if they are cooked whole. Then you bite into them and they release hot delicious juice into your mouth... I don't get why I didn't discover the wonders of these guys until... This year, maybe last? So this recipe, which depends entirely on the quality of your tomatoes, gives them a chance to shine. The spices don't matter much here; I've substituted basil, I've not used them at all, etc. What matters is that you use top-quality, fresh cherry tomatoes, or this will be a failure. Use the best olive oil you have as well. A recipe with this few ingredients relies on all of them being top-notch.

So for those of you who live in places with legitimate growth seasons (or really just real seasons), you're going to want to make this during the height of summer. For those of us in places with tomatoes year-round, so long as the crop is good, you can make it.

For what it's worth, I think the pumpkin mac & cheese would pair easily with gluten-free pasta, since most of the flavour is in the sauce. By contrast, you need to either really love the taste of gluten-free pasta or just have some godly stuff for the tomato saute, since that sauce is much lighter.

Pumpkin Cheddar Mac & Cheese: 7/10 (again: everything went fine, just not my cup of tea*)
Pasta Presto's Red & Yellow Cherry Tomato Saute: 10/10


* This is my cup of tea:
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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Good & Bad: Poaches Eggs & Fried Croutons vs. Food Network's Eggs Benedict

When it comes to creative food dishes, I struggle the most with breakfast. For some reason, my mind has latched on breakfast consisting of maybe a few basic foods: eggs, protein sides, and grains. Despite the fact that this obviously opens up limitless opportunities, I tend to be stuck thinking that my only option is eggs, eggs with veg bacon, or cereal. The last Good & Bad unintentionally showed off two unique approaches to a grain-based breakfast; this one, again unintentionally, highlights eggs.

Poached Eggs & Fried Croutons

This recipe was introduced to me by Hari, I think, and what caught my attention was the mushroom duxelle -- I'm sure this blog by now has highlighted my love for the fungi. Croutons are not something I keep in the house, so I knew I'd have to make those from scratch, but I don't usually back down from such challenges.

Food Network's Eggs Benedict

Ah, the classic Eggs Benedict. I had an eggs benedict of sorts at a diner that combined goat cheese and spinach with eggs benedict, and it was a match made in heaven. This isn't that level of creative, though -- this is just classic eggs benedict, done Food Network style. Perhaps it's unfair to use a professional recipe against something on a random blog... But this network is the same thing to feature Guy's Grocery Games, so I think it's a fair comparison.

Poached Eggs & Fried Croutons vs. Food Network's Eggs Benedict: GO!

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Those poached eggs on top of the croutons may be the best poached eggs I've done. Seriously. I don't think I could replicate that with hours of training.

Now, how did these recipes fare? Both decently. The problem with the eggs & croutons was, once again, that it did not impress me. I was expecting a much richer taste from the mushrooms, and also was very apprehensive about cooking mushrooms for so long. Why do so many recipes call for cooking mushrooms for 10-15 minutes? What is the goal? I do not understand.

As for the croutons, well, you can see my stable of whole wheat being used there. I'm sure if I followed the directions and used french bread, it would have worked out better.

Now, for the eggs benedict... First off, that weird pink flat stuff is veggie bacon, Morningstar Farms to be exact. I really like their stuff; they make a wide variety of veggie meats, though their veggie burgers are meh. Their breakfast foods and BBQ veggie ribs are awesome though. And so how did they fare in this recipe? Pretty good! Like any eggs benedict, the hollondaise sauce is what makes the dish hit or miss. This was my first time making hollondaise, which is why it looks rather goopy and unattractive up there, but the flavour was pretty solid; as I recall the lemon juice and yolk weren't quite mixed as well as they could be, but it didn't really detract from the tastiness. I also think that's all on me and not the recipe; you should have seen my first attempt at homemade French-style ice cream.

So which wins? Really, they're both decent recipes. I'm more partial to the eggs benedict because it was just pure fatty comfort food, but I am sure if you used French bread that the other recipe would come out fine. But for me, it's hard to beat that combination of carbs, egg, and butter.

Poached Eggs & Fried Croutons: 6/10 (giving benefit of doubt)
Food Network's Eggs Benedict: 8/10 (note sure if the Hollandaise fail was them or me, but either way tasty)


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Good & Bad: S'More Stuffed French Toast vs. Bulgur Breakfast Cereal

So in between my lately very busy schedule of playing on virtual pet sites, running around at work, and annoying my cat, I've been cooking up storms of dinners and lunches and cookies to bribe my coworkers to love me (I'm QA. I have to do SOMETHING). However, I've also become piss-poor at socialization, which explains why this blog basically stopped updating.

But! I'm going to try and get back into it. To help me catch up, I'm going to do a series of Good & Bad posts. These posts are basically going to present two different meals, with one coming out as the victor. I'm going to keep them to, say, two breakfast foods rather than breakfast vs lunch, but otherwise, it'll be random glory.

So let's begin.

Food One: S'More Stuffed French Toast

Doesn't this recipe look and sound like indulgent perfection? I Know when Hari shared it with me I immediately made it my goal to find vegan marshmallows and recreate this recipe. I love sweets, especially chocolate, and so this sounded like some sort of amazing dream food.

Food two: Bulgur Breakfast Cereal

Putting this recipe right after one starring copious amounts of sugar almost seems unfair to me. But having a giant bag of Goya bulgur, I'm always looking for different ways to use it, and my body's opinions of oatmeal can be best summarized as "the toilet". So this recipe seemed intriguing.

S'More Stuffed French Toast vs. Bulgur Breakfast Cereal: GO!

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Pictures are worth a thousand words each, especially if it loooks like you set things on fire before the photo.

Now, despite its charcoal top, you can see delicious melted chocolate oozing from the center of the whole-wheat bread. And as I recall (this photo dates to January!), it wasn't that the French Toast tasted bad. You can't really go wrong with chocolate and marshmallows. The problem was that it was underwhelming. There was a lot of set up and effort that went into making these things (and perhaps into just finding vegan marshmallows alone). Assembling the sandwich, dipping it into the egg mixture without the whole thing giving up, then actually cooking it, again without everything giving up? It's hard. Maybe too hard for me in the morning judging by the burn, but hard! So I wanted it to taste like goddesses singing outside my door, and it just didn't deliver.

The bulgur cereal, however? Very good and hearty. First off, it is the easiest thing to make, which is great if your morning function limits itself to pushing buttons and tripping over a hungry cat. It's also very versatile -- I didn't have the flaxseed it called for, so I just threw in white chocolate chips, because that's how healthy I am. I also didn't use raisins because I don't like them, but that's what's great about this recipe. As long as you have the basics of bulgur, water, salt, and brown sugar, I am fairly certain you could put pretty much anything sweet into this, and it'd work out. Also I just have a major softspot for "cooked" dried cranberries.

So between these two? The humble bulgur cereal came out on top for me. Simple, variable, doesn't require dipping sandwiches in batter and trying to fry them. That being said, if you tried it with smaller slices of bread, you may have much better results.

S'More Stuffed French Toast: 4.5/10
Bulgur Breakfast Cereal: 8/10