Category Archives: VEGETARIAN RECIPES

MEXICAN PINTO BEANS

I love dried beans. They are so terribly multitalented and the best part – they are really, really good for us. Let me count the ways! Source – Huffington Post, Bonnie Taub-Dix

  1. Beans contain an abundance of soluble fiber, which can lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. In other words, they are heart healthy.
  2. Beans are low in fat (only 2-3 percent) and contain no cholesterol.
  3. Beans pack protein. Half a cup provides 7 grams of protein, the same amount as 1 ounce of chicken, meat, or fish. Beans are a terrific source of protein for vegetarians and vegans.
  4. Beans balance blood sugar. With a low glycemic index, beans contain a beautiful blend of complex carbohydrates and protein. Because of this, beans are digested slowly, which helps keep blood glucose levels stable, which in turn helps curtail fatigue and irritability.
  5. Beans cut the risk of cancer and chronic diseases. Scientists recommend that adults consume 3 cups of beans per week to promote health. Beans contain an abundance of antioxidants which prohibit (and in some cases even prevent), the oxidation of other molecules in the body. The benefits of antioxidants are very important to good health, because if free radicals are left unchallenged, they can cause a wide range of illnesses.
  6. Beans help our bodies stay regular. Filled with fiber, beans can promote regularity by preventing constipation. To maximize the benefit, always accompany high-fiber foods such as beans with ample amounts of water.
  7. Beans give us that “full” feeling. Because beans are metabolized more slowly than other complex carbs, they may aid in weight loss by keeping us feeling full without being excessively high in calories.
  8. Beans are convenient and inexpensive. Canned or dry, beans are a breeze to purchase, prepare, and store. They are also the least expensive source of protein, especially when compared to fresh meat.
  9. Beans are rich in nutrients. They contain a powerhouse of vitamins and minerals, such as copper, folate, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, potassium, and zinc. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans refer to many of these important nutrients as “shortfall nutrients,” meaning most of us aren’t getting enough of them.
  10. Beans are very versatile. They can be incorporated into a main dish (chili), side dish (rice and beans), appetizer (soup) or snack (dip). It’s easy to be creative when you have pinto beans, kidney beans, black beans, black-eyed peas, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), split peas, and lentils, etc. etc. in your pantry.

Now that you know the health reasons behind incorporating more beans into your diet, let me share with you the real reason I eat beans. They are just plain delicious! And this recipe, which is really simple to prepare, is a good example. But before you get too excited, I need to mention that this dish is never going to be the star of any Mexican meal. Think of this dish like you would the back-up singer in a band. Creates another level of enjoyment for the audience, would be missed if not on the stage, but not the reason you came to the concert in the first place.

Or think of how you order a meal in a Mexican restaurant. You never order “whole beans with an enchilada on the side”. Of course not. You order an enchilada which almost always comes with a side of beans! So this is that side of beans that is good on its own, but is really on the plate to compliment the enchilada, or tamale, or whatever!

And that’s exactly what happened last evening. I made Cheese Enchiladas with Red Chili Sauce, (on this site) and served these beans on the side. What a yummy meal. BTW, the Red Chili Sauce for the cheese enchiladas is absolutely the best Mexican red sauce I have ever tasted. I’ve been making it now since the mid 70’s, and like I said, I have never tasted one better. Even the restaurants in New Mexico, Arizona, or Colorado can’t make a red sauce as flavorful as this one! (And yes, I can boast about this sauce, because I didn’t invent it. I received it from my late friend Jan W.)

So, break out the tequila, put on a mariachi CD, and whip up a Mexican dinner for your family and/or friends. Don’t forget the Guacamole! (Recipe also on this site). Salud!

  • 1 lb. dry pinto beans (about 2½ cups)
  • 8 c. water, divided, or more as needed
  • 1 lg. bay leaf
  • ½ tsp. cumin
  • ½ tsp. smoked paprika
  • ½ tsp. granulated garlic
  • ½ tsp. onion powder
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper (not too much)

Pour beans into a colander. Run water over the beans and remove any rocks, dirt, or misshaped beans. Add beans to a large covered pot. Pour in 6 cups of the water and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer on low for 1 hour. Stir periodically.

After an hour, add the remaining 2 cups water, bay leaf, cumin, smoked paprika, granulated garlic, onion powder, chili powder, cayenne pepper, salt, and black pepper; stir to combine. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer on low heat for an additional 60 to 90 minutes, stirring occasionally. Beans are done when they are soft and the liquid is creamy. (Add more water if the beans aren’t tender but most of the liquid has evaporated. If you have too much liquid, remove the lid and simmer gently until you achieve desired consistency.) Adjust seasonings as required.

 

CHILI RELLANOS CASSEROLE

OK, there are days (I hate to admit this) when I simply don’t want to cook dinner. All I want is to go out to eat! Practically anywhere! Just – out! And really, there need be no good reason for my lethargy towards dinner preparation on these days. I just know I don’t want to cook, mainly because my inspiration level is on empty.  Plus nothing sounds good. On those days what I need is for someone else to give me dinner suggestions (menu), do the prep work (cook), and clean up the mess (kitchen help). Not that Mr. C. doesn’t do the dishes after meals. He does. Actually, he is a marvel at efficiency when it comes to meal clean up. It’s just that some evenings I don’t even want him to spend time in the kitchen. I know – crazy.  So usually, on these occasions, we simply go out.

But then there are the times when I can’t even decide where I want to go. And the thought of putting on lipstick and driving more than 15 minutes seems way too onerous to even contemplate. (There aren’t an abundance of good restaurant choices near our home you see.) So when this happens, and it’s happening more regularly the older I get, I usually bite the bullet and fix the easiest and most delicious thing I can think of to prepare. And this dish fits the bill perfectly.

Now after looking at this recipe you are going to want to say to me “Patti, that looks like the most fattening conglomeration of ingredients I can imagine putting in my mouth”. And you know what? You’d be right! It is a cholesterol bombshell! But you know what else; it is heaven in a pan. And this heavenly concoction can be thrown together in under 15 minutes. (Of course there is the baking time. But who cares. While the casserole is in the oven you’ll have plenty of time to relax and have a nice adult beverage.)

So what to fix to go along with this caloric wonder? Well how about chicken dinner sausages, fresh from your freezer? And a simple little green salad with olive oil and vinegar dressing. Again, quick, easy, and delectable.

So the other evening when inertia had me firmly in its grip, I fixed this casserole, grilled some defrosted sausages, and made a simple little salad of romaine, red onion, tomatoes, marinated black olives, and lots of basil tossed with a simple vinaigrette. The whole meal took less time to prepare than the time I had already spent thinking about where I might want to go for dinner. Isn’t that pathetic?!?! (The things you learn about me through this blog.) Luckily for you, whatever I’ve got can’t be transmitted through the internet. So you can safely catch my drift, but not my silliness! Tiddely Pom*

  • 3 c. (12-oz.) grated Monterey or Pepper Jack cheese
  • 1½ c. (6-oz.) grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 (7-oz.) can diced mild green chilies, drained if packed in water
  • 1 T. flour
  • 2 T. milk
  • 2 eggs

Combine the cheeses and place half of the mixture in a lightly greased 9×13-inch pan. Sprinkle the green chilies over the cheese. Sprinkle on the remaining cheese.

Whisk together the flour and milk. Add the eggs and beat until smooth. Pour over the cheeses and egg mixture.

Bake in a pre-heated 375 degree oven for 50-60 minutes or until firm and brown on top, sides, and bottom. Remove from oven and let sit for 5-8 minutes. Cut into small pieces for appetizer bites or larger pieces when serving as a side dish or main course.

*Don’t know the term Tiddely Pom? Look it up.

BRIAM (GREEK VEGETABLE BAKE)

For any of you who routinely hear “you should eat more vegetables” or say to yourself “hey dummy – you really need to start eating more vegetables”, this is the dish for you! This Greek favorite is sooooo tasty that you or any vegetable challenged family member or friend who might be partaking at your table won’t even notice that this dish contains 6 different types of vegetables and two healthy herbs. (Oregano – contains potent antioxidants and anti-bacterial properties, as well as fiber, iron, manganese, vitamin E, calcium, omega fatty acids, and vitamin K. Parsley – vitamin K, vitamin C, vitamin A, folate, and iron.) They will be so busy gulping it down, that before you can ask if they like the dish, they are going back for seconds.

And the best part, the dish is actually better the day after (or two or three days after) it is prepared. Perfect for someone who wants to do a bunch of cooking on the weekend for dinners throughout the week. Also perfect for dinner parties when other dishes you are planning might require last minute attention.

You just throw this dish in the oven for a short time before you plan to sit down to dinner. Lovely.

So do yourself and your family and friends a favor. Go Greek for an evening. Fix some Greek Ground Turkey Meatballs with Tzatziki, Hummus, Pita Bread, Briam, and Greek Marinated Olives. Spread your table with a cheerful table cloth, and sit down for a leisurely meal together. (No cell phones, etc. allowed!) If you can eat “al fresco” – all the better! And even if you make this dish just for yourself, consider yourself blessed. You get to eat every delicious morsel of this veggie dish all by yourself. (Kind of like me with fried zucchini. But that’s a story for another day!)

  • ¾ c. extra-virgin olive oil, divided plus more for drizzling
  • 1 lg. red onion, chopped
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1 (14.5-oz.) can diced tomatoes with juice (Italian, if possible)
  • 2 tsp. tomato paste
  • 2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 2 T. finely chopped flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
  • 2 peeled Yukon Gold potatoes, sliced 1/8-inch thick
  • 2 medium sized zucchini, sliced ¼-inch thick diagonally
  • 2 small eggplants, partially peeled, cut in half lengthwise, and sliced ¼-inch thick
  • ½ basket cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • crumbled feta

Heat ¼ cup of the olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet and add the onion. Cook gently until the onion is tender and translucent, about 20 minutes. Add the salt and pepper; stir in the garlic. Cook for another minute or two, until the garlic is fragrant. Remove from heat and whisk in remaining ½ cup olive oil, canned tomatoes, tomato paste, oregano, and parsley. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning. You may need more salt. (Don’t worry if the sauce appears oily. That’s what you need for this dish.)

Lightly oil a deep (approximately 9×13-inch) baking dish. Spread a very thin layer of the tomato mixture in the baking dish and top with half of the potato slices, half of the zucchini, and half of the eggplant. Spread half of the tomato sauce over the veggies. Repeat the layering – again ending with the sauce. Arrange the halved cherry tomatoes over the top, cut side down. Finish by drizzling a small amount of olive oil over the cherry tomatoes, followed by a light seasoning of salt and pepper.

    

Cover with foil or a lid and bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 75 minutes. Remove the foil or lid and bake uncovered an additional 30 minutes, or until the potato slices are tender.

Cool to just above room temperature and serve, or refrigerate overnight. (Best served slightly warmed the next day.)

Wonderful sprinkled lightly with crumbled feta cheese.

 

EASY CHINESE DUMPLINGS/POTSTICKERS ANYONE?

I love good Chinese food. (I know, I’ve said it before!) But in all honesty, what I enjoy the most is Dim Sum (點心). According to Wikipedia, dim sum is described as “a style of Chinese cuisine (particularly Cantonese but also other varieties) prepared as small bite-sized portions of food served in small steamer baskets or on small plates. Dim sum dishes are usually served with tea, and together form a full tea brunch. Dim sum traditionally are served as fully cooked, ready-to-serve dishes. In Cantonese teahouses, carts with dim sum will be served around the restaurant for diners to order from without leaving their seats.”

When we lived in Bellevue, going to a Chinese restaurant that served dim sum was easy. Just a short 20 minute ride from our house to the International District and we were in dim sum heaven. But now that we live (on a good traffic day) 75 minutes away from the district, we are not so prone to jump in the car for a lunch time excursion.

But that doesn’t mean that I don’t still love dim sum. It just means that if I want dim sum, I pretty much have to make it myself. And believe it or not, as frightening as that sounds, it’s doable! All you need is a little time, confidence, and a few readily available ingredients. (Well, at least in the 3 recipes I’m sharing with you today!)

So go ahead. Be brave. Put on your big kid pants and get out to your kitchen and prepare a treat that everyone will love. Just make enough while you’re at it. They freeze beautifully. Just don’t cook them before you freeze them. Simply lay them out on a lightly greased baking sheet. Allow them to freeze solid individually, then bag them up. Then any time you want dim sum for lunch or have a yen for appetizers before dinner, take a few out, steam as directed below, and enjoy. (No need to defrost before placing in the steamer.)

And please know that if you live close by, I am always available as a taste tester. I take great pride in being considered approachable and I’m always more than eager to assist in the quest for fine cuisine.

CHINESE PORK AND SHRIMP SHU MAI (DUMPLINGS) WITH GINGER-SOY DIPPING SAUCE 

  • ½ lb. ground pork
  • ½ lb. chopped fresh shrimp
  • 4 diced water chestnuts
  • 2 green onions, very finely minced
  • 3 fresh shiitaki mushrooms, minced
  • 3 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in hot water for 30 minutes, then drained and minced
  • 1 T. rice wine or dry sherry
  • 1½ T. cornstarch
  • ½ tsp. sugar
  • 2 tsp. low sodium tamari or soy sauce
  • 2 tsp. sesame oil
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper (not too much)
  • 24-30 round won ton wrappers 

Combine pork, shrimp, water chestnuts, green onions, and mushrooms together in a bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the rice wine, cornstarch, sugar, tamari, sesame oil, salt, and pepper. Add to the pork mixture. Place a tablespoon of the mixture in the center of each won ton wrapper. Gather the sides up around the filling so that it looks like a tiny purse. Allow some of the filling to show at the top. If you have trouble, dab a little water on the skin so that it sticks together better.

Place onto a lightly greased baking sheet. Repeat until all the filling and wrappers have been used. Place shu mai in the refrigerator or freezer for 1 hour. Lightly coat your steamer rack(s) with cooking spray. Place the cold shu mai onto the prepared steamer racks, 1-inch apart. Cover steamer, and cook dumplings for 15-20 minutes or until the wrapper is tender and the filling is cooked completely. Serve with Ginger-Soy Dipping Sauce.  (See recipe below)

VEGETABLE POTSTICKERS WITH GINGER-SOY DIPPING SAUCE (Vegetarian)  

  • 3 T. vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp. minced ginger
  • ½ lg. onion, finely chopped
  • 1 lg. garlic clove, finely minced
  • 1 c. shiitake mushrooms, chopped (you can use part re-hydrated dried mushrooms)
  • ¾ c. finely shredded green cabbage
  • ¼ c. finely shredded carrot
  • 2 green onions, finely minced
  • ¼ tsp. white pepper
  • 1 tsp. sesame oil
  • 5 tsp. Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
  • 1 T. GF tamari or soy sauce
  • ½ tsp. sugar
  • 1 pkg. round won ton wrappers

In a wok or large skillet over medium heat, add the oil and ginger. Cook for 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add the onions and stir-fry until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for one minute. Add the chopped mushrooms and stir-fry for another 3-5 minutes, or until the mushrooms are tender and any liquid released by the mushrooms has cooked off.

Add the cabbage and carrot and stir-fry for another 2 minutes, or until the veggies are tender and all the liquid released has been cooked off. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

When cool add the minced green onion, white pepper, sesame oil, Shaoxing wine, tamari, and sugar. Taste and adjust seasoning.

To assemble, scoop 1 scant tablespoon of filling onto the center of the wrapper. Fold the wrapper in half to form a half circle. Using a fork, crimp the edges together. (Make sure to seal as tightly as possible.)

Place onto a lightly greased baking sheet. Repeat until all the filling and wrappers have been used. Place potstickers in the refrigerator or freezer for 1 hour.

Lightly coat your steamer rack(s) with cooking spray. Place the cold potstickers onto the prepared steamer racks, 1-inch apart. Cover steamer, and cook dumplings for 12-14 minutes. Serve with Ginger-Soy Dipping Sauce. (See recipe below)

Thanks to the Woks of Life website for the main gist of this recipe.

SHRIMP SHU MAI (CHINESE SHRIMP DUMPLINGS) WITH GINGER-SOY DIPPING SAUCE

  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • ½-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • ¼ tsp. lime zest
  • ½ lb. lg. uncooked shrimp, peeled, deveined, and coarsely chopped
  • 1 tsp. low sodium tamari or soy sauce
  • ½ tsp. rice wine vinegar
  • ½ tsp. sesame oil
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 tsp. white pepper
  • 1 green onion, very finely minced
  • 20-24 round wonton wrappers

Place garlic, ginger, and zest in a food processor and pulse 6 to 8 times or until finely ground and well combined. Scrape down sides of bowl.


Add half of the shrimp, Tamari, vinegar, sesame oil, salt, and pepper to the food processor and process until a smooth paste just comes together. Pour mixture into a mixing bowl and fold in the minced green onion and remaining shrimp.


Place scant tablespoon of the mixture into the center of a wonton wrapper. Gather the sides of the wonton skin up around the filling so that it looks like a tiny purse. Allow some of the filling to show at the top. If you have trouble, dab a little water on the skin so that it sticks together better.

Place onto a lightly greased baking sheet. Repeat until all the filling and wrappers have been used. Place shu mai in the refrigerator or freezer for 1 hour. Lightly coat your steamer rack(s) with cooking spray. Place the cold shu mai onto the prepared steamer racks, 1-inch apart. Cover steamer, and cook dumplings for about 20 minutes. Serve with Ginger-Soy Dipping Sauce. (Recipe below.)

GINGER-SOY DIPPING SAUCE

  • ½ c. low sodium tamari or soy sauce (use GF tamari or soy sauce for vegetarian)
  • 2 T. rice vinegar
  • 1 T. sesame oil
  • pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 finely minced green onions
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1 T. finely minced fresh ginger

Combine all ingredients.

 

MEXICAN BLACK BEAN AND RICE CASSEROLE

Basically, I don’t like Mexican rice. Of course, as with almost everything, there are exceptions. One exception is my recipe for Mexican Rice (on this site) because it contains no tomatoes. (I don’t particularly like the taste of rice and tomatoes together.) So mainly when I place my order in a Mexican restaurant, I request no rice. But I do dearly love the combination of rice and beans. So recently I decided to work up a rice and black bean dish (sans tomato) with a decidedly Mexican flavor. And this recipe is the result.

Of course I have known for decades that rice and beans form a complete protein, so obviously this dish is perfect for vegetarians. But for those of us who are omnivores but appreciate a break from meat periodically, this dish is so filling and delicious, the lack of meat is not even noticed. And as a replacement for the mandatory Mexican rice and blob of refried beans served on every gigantic “be careful the plate is hot” entrée platter in America, there are very few rivals. (Well maybe in the Southwest, but sure as shootin’ not here in the Pacific NW!)

So next time you get a hankerin’ for Mexican food, give this dish a try. It is creamy and full of flavor. Absolutely perfect for children and adults alike. And please feel free to add your own spin to this dish. Just don’t add tomatoes. That would defeat all the hard work I put into researching and refining this dish, and that would make me sad.

  • 2 tsp. butter
  • 1 c. uncooked long grain white rice, washed thoroughly and drained  
  • 1½ c. vegetable broth
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/3 c. finely chopped onion
  • ¼ tsp. kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper (small amount)
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1 can black beans – rinsed and drained
  • ½ c. sour cream
  • 1 (4-oz.) can diced green chiles  
  • 1 c. shredded cheese, divided (I use a combination of mozzarella and sharp cheddar)
  • ½ tsp. dried oregano (Mexican oregano is the best)
  • 2 tsp. chili powder

Heat butter in a medium sized covered saucepan. Add rice and sauté until all the rice is covered with butter and starting to brown. Add broth, garlic, onion, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes or until liquid is almost absorbed. Add lime juice to rice, re-cover pan and continue to simmer for 2 additional minutes. Lightly fluff rice with fork and stir in black beans. Cover and heat additional 3 minutes or until beans are heated through. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, whisk together the sour cream, green chiles, ¾ cup of the cheese, oregano, and chile powder. Gently stir into the rice mixture. Adjust seasoning. Scoop into a buttered casserole dish and sprinkle with the remaining ¼ cup cheese. Bake in a pre-heated 350 oven for 30 minutes or until the cheese on top is melted.

(And yes I know brown rice is better for us than white rice. But under the circumstances, I believe you should cut me some slack because of all the nutritional value contained in the black beans. Thank you.)

 

FRIED RICE

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Yesterday while trying to decide what to fix for dinner, I remembered that I had some cooked white rice in the fridge. When I serve rice, it’s usually brown rice or some kind of pilaf. But the night before I had served a chicken curry, and I like curry best over white rice. (FYI – For my curry recipe, go to Curry Sauce for Chicken, Shrimp, Beef, or Lamb.) So with about 2 cups of cooked rice literally staring me in the face, I decided to make fried rice.

I have been making this recipe for decades. It is so tasty and the best part is that you can use as many or as few veggies as you happen to have on hand. I didn’t have any fresh mushrooms for example, so I used dry mushrooms. (Actually I prefer dried mushrooms in fried rice anyway. So no problem there.) Then I simply used the combination of veggies listed below, because they were what was in my veggie drawer. But you could add celery, bean sprouts, Fried Tofu (see recipe below), edamame, broccoli, or any other vegetable your little heart desires or you simply need to use up. (Soup and fried rice have a lot in common when it comes to using up fresh vegetables that scream at you every time you open the veggie crisper drawer!)

And the amounts listed below are merely a guideline. If you are crazy nuts about peas for example, add as many as you like. Hate mushrooms, leave them out. This recipe should be used as a simple road map to preparing a delicious side dish that is simple to make, inexpensive, and pretty to boot. And it goes well with just about any type of meat.

So do yourself and your family a favor. Get your wok out of storage, or your largest fry pan from its resting place, and build a treat for your family. Fried rice is simply an amazing dish. Kids don’t even realize they are eating veggies when they are gulping down this rice with its subtle Asian flavor. And what parent doesn’t like a little harmless subterfuge when it comes to providing their offspring with nutritious food? Or wife for that matter trying to get cruciferous veggies down her husband’s throat. (Not mentioning any names here, but I’m pretty sure you can figure out to which husband and wife team I am alluding!)

  • 2 eggs
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt, divided
  • 3 T. vegetable oil, divided
  • 3 tsp. sesame oil, divided
  • ½ c. chopped yellow onion
  • ¾ c. chopped button mushrooms or ½ c. chopped dry mushrooms, rehydrated and squeezed semi-dry
  • 2 c. cold cooked rice
  • 1/3 c. shredded carrot
  • ½ c. diced zucchini
  • ¾ c. finely sliced green cabbage
  • 2 T. vegetable, chicken, or beef broth
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 T. Tamari, or more to taste (use GF Tamari to make this a GF dish)
  • ¼ c. frozen petite peas or fresh peapods, sliced
  • ½ c. sliced green onions

Beat eggs with ¼ teaspoon of the salt. Heat 1 tablespoons of the vegetable oil over medium heat in a wok or large fry pan. Pour in beaten eggs. Stir eggs continuously until cooked dry and separated into small pieces. Remove from pan and set aside.

Add the remaining 2 tablespoons vegetable oil and 1 teaspoon of the sesame oil to the pan. Turn burner to medium heat. Add the yellow onion, mushrooms, and rice to the pan. Stir fry for 5 minutes. Add the carrot, zucchini, and cabbage; stir fry for an additional 4 minutes. Add the broth, remaining ¼ teaspoon salt, pepper, and Tamari. Stir to mix well. Add the peas, green onion, cooked eggs, and remaining 2 teaspoons sesame oil. Bring up to heat. Adjust seasoning and serve immediately.

Please note: If you want to include meat in your fried rice, add as much cooked meat or cooked shrimp as you would like along with the peas, green onions, etc.

FRIED TOFU

  • ½ block extra firm tofu
  • 2 T. cornstarch, or more as needed
  • 2 tsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp. sesame oil

Wrap tofu in a clean, absorbent towel and set something heavy on top, such as a cast iron skillet, to press out the liquid. Let sit for a few minutes. Cut tofu into ¼-inch slices and coat with cornstarch.  Combine the vegetable oil and sesame oil in a medium frying pan. Bring oil to medium heat and fry the tofu until both sides are a nice golden brown. Remove from pan and drain on a paper towel. When cool cut into bite size pieces. Set aside. Add to the fried rice along with the peas, green onions, etc. Stir gentle so the tofu doesn’t break up.

 

SAVORY KALE AND MUSHROOM STRATA (BREAD PUDDING)

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I am always trying to come up with new and exciting side dishes. And especially side dishes that can be prepared ahead of time. So in trying to come up with a non-potato or rice dish to serve our hungry and discerning home concert guests this next Sunday, I thought about a savory bread pudding. And although I have two other delicious recipes for savory bread pudding on this site, Savory German Bread Pudding with Mushrooms and Wild Mushroom Bread Pudding, I wanted a strata that included kale and Gruyère cheese.

So never being one to leave well enough alone, I made some changes to a recipe I found on the New York Times web site. (I don’t know why I can’t just leave a recipe as is. But for whatever reason, most of the time I find it impossible to not tinker with a new recipe!) And in this case, I think the changes worked well.

The kale gives the strata a nice boost of color and vitamins, and the combination of cheeses lifts the overall flavor from mediocre to marvelous.

So if you too are bored with potato or rice side dishes, give this recipe a try. It’s easy to prepare, beautiful to look at, and delectable. It would also make a wonderful change from regular dressing at Thanksgiving or Christmas time. The pudding is flavorful enough to stand on its own, but if someone simply had to pour turkey gravy over it (that would be me!), the pudding would not be hurt in the least! (As if good turkey gravy ever hurt anything in the first place!)

  • 2 T. extra virgin olive oil
  • ¾ c. diced onion
  • 4 c. kale (stemmed, washed, cut into bite sized pieces, and dried in a salad spinner)   
  • ½ lb. button or crimini mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, coarsely chopped
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ lb. rustic bread, cut into cubes (I like to use rustic sour dough bread)
  • scant 2 c. grated Gruyère cheese
  • scant 1 c. grated Parmesan cheese
  • 4 lg. eggs
  • 2 c. whole milk, or more as needed
  • 2 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • ½ tsp. ground nutmeg

Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large frying pan. Add the onion and kale; cook until the onion becomes translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook for about 2 minutes. Add the garlic, thyme, salt, and pepper and cook for 1 minute. Remove from the heat, and set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, combine the bread cubes, the mushroom and kale mixture, and the Gruyère and Parmesan cheeses. Pour into a buttered large casserole dish or baking pan.*

Whisk the eggs, milk, mustard, nutmeg, a pinch of kosher salt, and some fresh ground pepper together. Pour over the bread mixture. Press down just a bit so bread cubes are mostly covered by the liquid. (If the bread cubes stick up above the liquid, add just a bit more milk.) Let sit for at least an hour before baking uncovered in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 40 to 50 minutes, or until puffed and very lightly browned. Remove from oven and serve warm.

ROASTED MUSHROOM LASAGNA WITH BÉCHAMEL SAUCE

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Since I knew I was going to have a large crowd (41) for last Sundays JazzVox concert, I decided to fix a big ole Italian meal. Complete with appetizers – Caponata Alla Siciliana, Marinated Goat Cheese, and Crab and Artichoke Dip. (I didn’t get a picture of the Crab and Artichoke Dip, so I am going to have to make it again very soon before I can post the recipe. Oh the sacrifices I must make for this blog!) Followed by Lasagna Bolognese, vegetarian Roasted Mushroom Lasagna with Béchamel Sauce (this recipe), romaine salad with Italian Salad Dressing (soon to be published), and Herb and Garlic Focaccia (again – soon to be published). And for dessert, Italian Dream Cake and Glazed Italian Lemon Cookies. Look for the cookie recipe in the near future also.

And for those of you who are looking at the menu and saying to yourself “is this woman crazy making all that food”, I offer a simple response. Yes she is! I mean – yes I am!

But if you are going to lavish food on 41 hungry people, 10 of whom are teenagers, you simply need to fix a large quantity with multiple choices. And what better dish or dishes to feed a large crowd than lasagna? Now granted, lasagna is not a quick dish to prepare.  But none of the steps taken individually are difficult to construct. It’s just that there are a stinkin’ lot of steps! (I sound like I’m trying to persuade you not to make this lasagna, but that’s not the case. But, I’m also not going to lead you down a primrose path! (For those of you who are too young to know the meaning of “being led down a primrose path”, it means “being led to a life of ease and pleasure”.) Or as Lemony Snicket* would define it “being in and out of the kitchen in less than 30 minutes”. Simply not going to happen!)

But if I do say so myself, it is time well spent. The lasagna is creamy, herby, and full of mushroom flavor. And it’s vegetarian. So next time you need or want a veggie main dish, give this lasagna a try. It’s just really, really good.

*For a wonderful read that contains more vocabulary words and definitions (some real, some just for the circumstance) than your average grade school English primer, check out one of Lemony Snicket’s books in the charming children’s series “A Series of Unfortunate Events”. If all of the 3 R’s could be taught in such a delightful way, there would be a lot more children achieving than left behind. And if Lemony Snicket were telling you about this recipe, he would undoubtedly tell you not to make this dish. That you should try a recipe that was simpler and quicker to prepare. That you should fix a dish that you knew you would like. That you would be upset with the final product. But then, he tries with all his might to dissuade youngsters from reading his books too if all they like are happy endings. (His books never have a happy ending!) But unlike his books, this recipe does have a happy ending. It’s called a happy mouth. Enjoy!

  • ½ onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2 lbs. mixed mushrooms (cremini, button, Portobello, shiitake) sliced between ¼-inch and ½-inch thick
  • 2 T. extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 T. unsalted butter, divided
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 T. finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • ½ c. flour
  • 6 c. milk (whole milk is best)  
  • ¼ tsp. kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp. white pepper or black pepper to taste (white pepper actually has a sharper flavor than black)
  • 1 lb. lasagna noodles* (I like Culinary Circle Authentic Bronze-cut Lasagna noodles)  
  • 1 c. grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1½ c. grated mozzarella cheese 
  • 1½ c. grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 T. chopped Italian parsley

Place the onion and mushrooms on a large low sided baking sheet.  Drizzle with olive oil. Cut 2 tablespoons of the butter into small pieces and place on top of the mushrooms. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Using your hands, toss the vegetables together until they are evenly coated with the oil, butter chunks, and seasonings.

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(Before the mushrooms are roasted.)

Place in a pre-heated 400 degree oven for 20 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and browned. (Turn once during the baking process to ensure even browning.)  Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the fresh rosemary. Stir. Set aside.

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(After the mushrooms are roasted.)

Meanwhile to prepare your béchamel sauce, melt the remaining 6 tablespoons of butter in a heavy saucepan over low heat. Add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute of until the garlic gives off its aroma. Whisk in the flour and cook for a couple of minutes or until the roux starts to turn a delicate golden brown. Slowly whisk in the milk and bring to a slow boil, stirring the entire time. Boil for one minute as the sauce continues to thicken. Remove from heat and whisk in the salt and pepper. Set aside. Reserve 1 cup of the béchamel sauce. (This will be spread on the lasagna half way through the baking process.)

Before cooking the noodles, have all the other ingredients prepped and ready to go. Cook the noodles in boiling salted water until al dente (firm to the bite). Drain the noodles and run under cold water. Drain again.  

To assemble:  Spread ½ cup béchamel sauce in a buttered 10×16-inch baking pan.  Arrange 1/3rd of the lasagna noodles over the sauce. Spread half of the roasted vegetables over the noodles, followed by half of each kind of cheese, then half of the béchamel sauce. Repeat, beginning with another third of the noodles, remaining roasted veggies, and remaining half of each cheese, except the Parmesan. Save out about a quarter cup. Layer on the remaining noodles. Carefully cover the pan with foil that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray and bake in a pre-heated 375 degree oven for 30 minutes. Remove the foil; spread the reserved 1 cup béchamel over the top and sprinkle with the reserved quarter cup of Parmesan cheese. Bake uncovered for an additional 15-20 minutes or until the lasagna is bubbly and lightly browned on top. Remove from oven, lightly cover with the foil you used earlier, and allow the lasagna to sit about 15 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with the parsley just before cutting into portion sized pieces.

*Hint: when deciding how many noodles to cook, spread the bottom of your pan with a single layer of uncooked noodles. Triple that number and you have just the right amount. (Seems too easy, doesn’t it?)  

 

ZUCCHINI PANCAKES

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I think of all the vegetables, I like zucchini just about the best. And I think that’s because it is so versatile and of course so tasty. Not to mention – inexpensive. Especially in the summer when you can easily grow your own, or beg your neighbors for any extra zucchini they might possibly have just laying around. (Like your neighbors aren’t going to be thrilled that someone is actually asking them for zucchini. So much nicer for them than having to leave “care-packages” of zucchini on people’s front porches in the dead of night!)

As I was saying, zucchini is a marvelous vegetable. So when I happened to be watching the Food Network a couple of days ago and saw Ina Garten make these pancakes, I was hooked. Of course, I had to change the ingredients up a bit, because that’s what I do! But the bones of the recipe are strictly Ina.

I just figured, and rightly so I feel, that seasoned salt, olive oil instead of vegetable oil, additional onion, a bit of Parmesan cheese, and a dollop of sour cream could not possibly hurt the basic recipe. And I do believe it made a difference.

So if you too are zucchini lovers, or even if you aren’t particularly fond of this mild mannered, non-presumptuous vegetable, give these pancakes a try. They make just a stunning side dish. Plus they are different. And what cook doesn’t love serving something different to their family and friends?

So get thee to the store and buy yourself some zucchini. You will be amazed at how easy the batter comes together. And the fact that the pancakes are so versatile. They go perfectly with any type of meat. And they contain (but you don’t have to announce this to your children) a green vegetable. (In some cases, sneaky is OK. I believe this is one of those times!)

  • 7 T. all-purpose flour, or more as needed
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. seasoned salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ c. finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 lg. eggs
  • 2 med. zucchini (a healthy ¾ lb.)
  • 3 T. finely minced red onion
  • unsalted butter
  • olive oil
  • sour cream (Mexican crema agria is the best), opt.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, seasoned salt, and pepper. Stir in the Parmesan until all bits are coated with the flour; set aside. Whisk the eggs in a good sized bowl. Grate the zucchini using the large grating side of a box grater*. Add to the eggs along with the onion. Stir well to mix the ingredients. Stir in the flour mixture only until thoroughly combined. The batter should be fairly thin (like regular pancake batter).

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But if the batter is too thin, add additional flour 1 tablespoon at a time. Note: Do not prepare the batter ahead of time or it will get soggy and won’t fry up properly.

Heat a very large fry pan over medium heat. Add equal amounts of butter and olive oil to liberally coat the bottom of the pan. When the butter and oil are hot, drop heaping spoonful’s of batter into the pan. (Make sure they are not touching. Kind of like kids in the back seat of a car.) Cook the pancakes about 2 minutes on each side, or until each side is brown and crispy. When the pancakes are done, serve immediately, or place on an oven-proof plate and keep warm in a pre-heated 300 degree oven. If your pan is not large enough to fry all the pancakes at once, wipe out the pan with a dry paper towel, add more butter and oil to the pan, and continue to fry the pancakes until all the batter is used. (The pancakes can stay warm in the oven for up to 30 minutes.) Serve hot with a dollop of sour cream.

*If you grate the zucchini ahead of time, place in a colander to allow liquid to drain. Then squeeze lightly just before adding to the eggs.

 

SEAFOOD AND FRIED TOFU LO MEIN

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I love one dish, one pot meals. And I wish I could tell you this was one. (Well, it is a one dish meal. But as hard as I tried, there is just no getting around the fact that your kitchen help is going to have several bowls and a couple of fry pans to wash after dinner.)

Now in my case, Mr. C is our after meal kitchen clean up crew. And he knows, from years of dish washing experience, that I have washed as many bowls and utensils as possible as I went along. But with this recipe, every part of the dish comes together at the very last minute. So there is no time to wash dishes, much less take a sip of martini (for that matter). (Not that I would have experience drinking a martini while fixing dinner you realize. Right! Only about 25 years of experience, but who’s counting……)

Anyway, regardless of the number of bowls and pans involved with this Lo Mein, you are going to love diving into a plate of this yummy homemade Asian inspired noodle dish. And unlike Lo Mein prepared in a restaurant, there is a lot less salt and fat, and not a sprinkle of MSG to be had. Plus you can make it with as many or as few veggies as you like. (When I fixed this last evening, I used the veggies listed below, because that’s what I had on hand. But next time I can see myself adding or substituting red bell pepper, those darling little corn cobs that come in a can, a small amount of broccoli, or maybe some re-hydrated dried mushroom pieces. This is a “clean your vegetable bin” kind of dish. In other words – the best kind of dish.)

So if you too are a Lo Mein lover, give this recipe a try. And to you or anyone else in your family who gets stuck with the dishes, please accept my apology.

Oh – one last thing. This is a Lo Mein, rather than a Chow Mein because the noodles are not fried. Same kind of noodles are used for both dishes, but in an effort to keep the fat content as low as possible, I decided the cooked noodles really didn’t need to be stir fried in additional oil. (Another positive proof that I am on your side in the quest for healthier eating.) Your welcome!

And yes I do know that tofu is not always used in either Chow Mein or Lo Mein. But we happen to love it. Plus it’s just one more source of protein. Actually, if you wanted to make this an almost* vegetarian dish, you could simply substitute vegetable stock for the chicken broth, and skip the seafood altogether. The tofu could absolutely hold its own as the requisite protein component. It’s good that way!

*Oyster sauce has a bit of oyster extract

Tofu:

  • 1 lb. firm tofu
  • 3 T. low sodium Tamari or soy sauce
  • 6 T. cornstarch, or more as needed
  • 2 T. vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp. sesame oil

Sauce:

  • 2 T. water
  • 2 T. cornstarch
  • 1½ c. low sodium chicken broth
  • ¼ c. oyster sauce
  • 3 T. GF low-sodium Tamari or low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 T. sesame oil
  • 2-3 tsp. Sriracha

Veggies and Seafood:

  • 2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
  • 1 large carrot, shredded
  • 8 thinly sliced white button mushrooms
  • 2 c. Napa cabbage, finely shredded or 1 c. finely shredded regular green cabbage
  • 2 large garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 2 tsp. minced ginger
  • 8 green onions, white and green parts, sliced
  • 12-15 peapods, sliced in 3rds
  • 1 lb. mixed seafood* (shrimp, scallops, calamari, etc.)
  • 2 T. vegetable oil (needed when veggies are stir-fried)

Noodles:

  • kosher salt
  • 6 oz. chow mein or Chinese egg noodles (I use Sun Luck chow mein noodles mainly because I can buy them at my local grocery store)

Preparation: (Complete each step below before actually cooking the Lo Mein)

Tofu – Remove the tofu from its watery container. Using paper towels, gently squeeze as much liquid as you can from the block of tofu. Cut into 32 pieces and place in a flat pan. Pour the soy sauce over the tofu cubes, turning as required to coat all surfaces. Leave for about 5 minutes.

When ready to fry, coat all sides with corn starch. Heat the vegetable and sesame oils in a large fry pan. Add the tofu cubes and fry until all sides are crispy and golden brown. Remove from heat and set aside until needed.

Sauce – Whisk together the water, corn starch, chicken broth, oyster sauce, Tamari, sesame oil, and Sriracha in a small bowl and set aside.

Veggies – Cut all the veggies as instructed above. Set aside. Combine seafood in a bowl and set aside.

Lo Mein assembly: In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the noodles according to the package directions. While the noodles are cooking, heat the 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a very large fry pan or wok. Add the celery, carrot, mushrooms, and cabbage to the hot oil and cook for 3-4 minutes. (You want the veggies to be crisp tender.) Add the garlic, ginger, green onions, and pea pods; cook for 1 minute. Finally add the seafood and cook until almost done.

Add the sauce and cook only until thickened. Drain the noodles and add to the fry pan along with the fried tofu. Remove from heat when all ingredients are hot. Serve immediately.

*You can use chicken, beef, or pork instead of seafood. Just add in place of seafood and cook only until done.