Saturday, December 29, 2007

Christmas Meals

I was so absorbed cooking and being a host for Christmas, that I didn't take very many photos. Above is a photo of our Christmas lunch, but before the table was finished being set. My mom made the gorgeous quilt that is in the center. It's great that she thought to bring it with her, because it adds so much to the table.

From the top to the bottom there is wine, French lentils with a creamy mushroom sauce, coleslaw, whipped white beans with black truffle oil, quinoa pilaf, tomato and cucumber salad with dill dressing, babaganoush (eggplant), and greens with walnuts and nutmeg. Also on the table is a goblet of lemon-lime spritzer for me, since I don't drink alcohol. Another drink, not pictured, that we had following dinner was coquito, a traditional Puerto Rican drink featured on my friend Madelyn's blog. There was freshly baked bread being cut in the kitchen that hadn't made it to the table yet, as well as a pumpkin soup. Actually, the soup never made it to the table; we ended up eating it for lunch the following day with some of our savory ciabatta bread and a salad.

For Christmas Eve dinner we made individual pizzas with a selection of toppings on homemade 100% whole wheat crust.

Christmas Snacks

Here are some photos of some of the snacks we made for the holidays. Above are homemade wholegrain crackers with a homemade cream cheese spread.
Above are almonds and pecans that I roasted with maple syrup, cinnamon and ground nutmeg and cloves.

Above are low-sugar roll-out cookies decorated with natural ingredients: shredded dry coconut, chopped pistachios, chopped dried cranberries and cherries, and maple sugar dyed with currant juice.

I forgot to get a photo of our chocolate fondue that was served with chunks of fresh fruit: bananas, pineapple, apples, strawberries, and pears.
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Leek and Mushroom Quiche

We had a very nice Christmas with family and friends. For Christmas breakfast, I made a quiche. I used the recipes provided by Smitten Kitchen at this link for Leek and Mushroom Quiche. I ended up using a 12 inch quiche pan instead of a 9 inch, so I had to guess how to alter the recipe so that the crust and filling would fill the pan. But it worked out fine, and the important thing is that it was delicious!

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Saturday, December 22, 2007

Chocolate Chip Banana Nut Cookies

I am really looking forward to having family over for Christmas. I have been preparing menus and making preparations. But, I have gotten a late start at making Christmas cookies. Since I have lost around 40 pounds, I really do not want to fall back into old patterns of eating during the holidays. So I am making some less traditional recipes that use less sugar. Here is one that produces cookies with plenty of flavor and a nice texture, but only calls for a cup of chocolate chips (rather than a whole bag) and a 1/2 cup of sugar.

Chocolate Chip Banana Nut Cookies
makes around 3 dozen

1 1/2 cups flour (I used a mixture of whole wheat and all-purpose)
1/2 teaspoon soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar (I use maple sugar) or more if the bananas aren't super ripe and sweet
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup mashed very ripe bananas (about 2 bananas)
1 3/4 cups oats
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

1. Cream the butter with the sugar, add the egg and vanilla and beat until incorporated. Mix in the mashed banana.
2. In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, soda, salt, and cinnamon. Add to the butter mixture, bit by bit, until thoroughly combined. Stir in the oats, then the chocolate chips and nuts.
3. Place one tablespoon of dough per cookie on a cookie sheet. Flatten slightly. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, until golden. Cool for five minutes on the cookie sheet, then transfer the cookies to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Note: I find this dough forms great cookies if you put the raw dough in the refrigerator to chill it slightly before forming the cookies and baking. The cookies may need an additional minute or two of baking if the dough is quite cold.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Holiday Ciabatta Bread

In the previous entry, I showed photos of the process of making both sweet and savory ciabatta breads. But, the previous entry focuses on the savory version. So, here are photos of the chocolate and fruit-filled ciabatta that we made on the same day. To see my photos of the Chef's Choice class at Johnson & Wales making this bread, click here.

We added chocolate chips and dried cranberries, figs, dates, raisins and pecans to this dough. We shaped it into thin loaves.

After they baked, we let them cool thoroughly and then we wrapped them in paper to give as gifts. This bread is great sliced, toasted and topped with butter, peanut butter, jam or cheese.

Making Vegetable-Filled Ciabatta Bread

This ciabatta is great for making panini style sandwiches. Inside these loaves we have mixed in sauteed red pepper, sun-dried tomatoes and mushrooms. We learned how to make both sweet and savory ciabatta at the Chef's Choice Artisan Bread Class at Johnson & Wales. These photos show DH and I making it at home.

The day before making the bread we assembled the above biga for a large batch of dough. It contains bread flour, spelt and rye flours, salt and a tiny bit of active dry yeast. After sitting on the counter overnight, it had grown to the size shown above.

We added to the biga more flour, water, salt and a tiny bit more active dry yeast. The bulk of the rising power of the bread is coming from the biga. Then we divided the dough into two parts. The tubs above contain the two different kinds of ciabatta we made. In the top tub, the dough contains dried fruit and chocolate chips. In the bottom section of the tub, the dough contains the sauteed mushrooms, red pepper and sun-dried tomatoes. Below is a close-up of the savory ciabatta dough.

The doughs sat on the counter to continue to develop. Two different times, we stretched and folded the dough. Then we shaped the dough into the desired loaf styles. We placed the loaves onto floured parchment paper that we had placed on the top of upside-down sheet pans.

Then we placed heavily floured cloths over the top of the shaped loaves. We used brown rice flour for this purpose.
We let the loaves sit for their final proofing under the floured cloths until they were ready to bake. Then we removed the cloths and slid the loaves, parchment paper and all, into a hot oven to bake on a pizza stone.

Maple-Oatmeal Scones

In the latest issue of Vegetarian Times (January/February 2008) there is a recipe on page 57 for Maple-Oatmeal Scones. What I like about the recipe is that it is mainly sweetened with maple syrup rather than white granulated sugar. These scones are especially good with a bit of maple butter spread on top before eating.

Maple-Oatmeal Scones, adapted from Vegetarian Times
makes 16 small or 8 larger

3/4 cup currants (I substituted with 1/2 cup chocolate chips, 1 teaspoon vanilla and the zest of one tangerine)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I used 1 cup spelt and 1/2 cup barley flour)
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar (or use maple sugar to reinforce the maple flavor)
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup maple syrup

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Coat baking sheet with cooking spray, or line pan with parchment paper. If using currants, place them in a bowl, and cover them with boiling water. Set aside.
2. Whisk the flours together with the baking powder, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter pieces and rub the flour into the butter with fingers until the mixture resembles a course meal.
3. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the milk and maple syrup (and optional vanilla). Stir the milk mixture into the flour mixture bit by bit until the dough just comes together. Drain the currants and stir into the dough (or add chocolate chips and zest instead).
4. Transfer dough to a floured surface or the parchment paper and pat the dough to one inches thick. If you want round scones, first pat the dough into a rectangle and then use a biscuit cutter to cut out the scones.. Then place on a sprayed baking sheet. If want to have pie slice-shaped scones, pat the dough into a circle on the parchment paper-lined baking pan, then slice it into slices with a knife, without separating the pieces. Bake for 15 to 17 minutes, or until light brown on top.
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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Eggplant Lasagna

In recent years, we have had Eggplant Lasagna for Christmas. Not everyone that we share Christmas with is vegetarian, so the lasagna has been a nice choice. Not only will it feed many people, but it is also something that non-vegetarians and vegetarians can eat happily together. I haven't decided yet what I will make this year though. So if anyone has any suggestions, please feel free to share.

Vegetarian Eggplant Lasagna

1 package whole grain lasagna noodles
1 eggplant, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 small package fresh mushrooms, sliced
2 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
dash of wine (or up to 1/4 cup)
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning blend
1 28oz can organic crushed tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste
1 15 ounce container ricotta cheese or cottage cheese
1 egg, slightly beaten
parsley, chopped
1/2 cup Parmesan, grated
1 package of grated mozzarella or mixture of melting cheeses

optional additions: saute in step 2, along with the other veggies: grated carrots, red bell pepper, or chopped zucchini, etc.

1. Place the peeled and chopped eggplant in a colander, sprinkle with salt and set in sink to drain. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Boil lasagna noodles according to package directions, drain.

2. Meanwhile, chop the rest of the vegetables. Heat olive oil in a skillet and fry the onion until transparent. Add the eggplant, mushrooms and garlic and saute until tender. Add a dash of wine and stir. Add the crushed tomatoes and Italian seasoning and bring to a simmer, uncovered. Simmer at least 15 minutes to develop flavors. Salt and pepper to taste.

3. In a bowl, stir together the ricotta or cottage cheese, the egg, the chopped parsley and the grated Parmesan. Set aside.

4. Oil lightly a rectangular baking pan. Assemble the lasagna in alternating layers: tomato sauce, ricotta or cottage cheese mixture, shredded mozzarella, noodles, then more sauce, more cheeses, noodles, etc until all the pan is filled and ingredients are used. The top layer should be just tomato sauce and mozzarella.

5. Bake for at least 30, but up to 45 minutes, until bubbly and the cheese on top becomes golden and crusty. Remove from oven and let stand for about 15 minutes before cutting and serving.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Vegetarian Split Pea Soup

I have been making soups and stews to eat along with our homemade bread. Pictured above is Split Pea Soup with a salad and some of our Pain de Campagne. The salad has lettuce, freshly grated Parmesan, walnuts and dried cherries with a raspberry vinaigrette.

I hope this isn't too confusing, but I am giving the soup recipe below with two different options for seasonings. One option is for a curried soup and the other is for an herbed soup. The curried version of the soup recipe is adapted from a recipe we learned at the Conscious Gourmet cooking class. The other seasonings are merged from several other vegetarian pea soup recipes I have.

Vegetarian Split Pea Soup

1 cup uncooked green split peas, sorted and rinsed
4 or 5 cups water
1 stalk kombu sea vegetable
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 leek, chopped OR 1 small onion and 1 small stalk celery, chopped
1 large carrot or 2 small, chopped

salt and pepper to taste
optional garnishes: chopped parsley, chopped scallions, lemon juice or umeboshi vinegar

Seasoning option A (for herbed soup: add at step 2)

  • 1/2 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1/2 teaspoon marjoram
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme

Seasoning option B (for curried soup: add at step 4)
(note: this is a lot of flavor, so adjust levels to your taste or you can also omit some of these ingredients)

  • 1 tablespoon butter or oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon


1. Place 3 cups of the water, the split peas and stalk of kombu in a pot and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer until soft. Depending on the size and freshness of the peas, this could take up to 1 1/2 hours, but also could be a lot sooner. There may be some white cloudy residue that floats to the top near the beginning of cooking; if so, skim it off and discard.

2. Meanwhile chop the vegetables and then heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a saute pan. Add the onion or leek and saute until soft. Add the carrot and celery and if using the seasonings from Option A, add them. Continue to saute for a few minutes so the flavors start to develop. Set aside.

3. If the peas start to need more water, add it a cup at a time, to maintain the soupy consistency you desire. I like my split pea soup to be rather thick, but other people like a thinner soup. When the peas are mostly tender, add the sauteed vegetables and simmer for thirty more minutes or until the carrots are soft. The kombu will also become soft and will break into small pieces on its own. If any of the pieces of kombu are large by this time, either remove them or cut them into small pieces.

4. (Skip this step if you are using seasoning option A). For seasoning option B: Heat the tablespoon of butter or oil in a small saute pan. When hot, add the Option B spices and stir. The spices will foam slightly and will release their aromas. Set aside. Add the curried seasonings to the peas during the last 10 minutes of simmering.

5. If the soup is lumpier than you desire, you could blend part of it in the blender to make it smoother. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve. Garnish each bowl with a sprinkle of lemon juice or umeboshi vinegar and parsley or scallions, if desired.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Anadama Bread

Since yesterday's post featured breads from Peter Reinhart's Bread Baker's Apprentice, today I am showing a photo of a loaf we made using a recipe from Reinhart's latest book, Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavor. This is Anadama Bread, and it contains only whole grains: a mixture of cornmeal and whole wheat. If we had more closely followed the recipe, we would have baked it in a loaf pan. But, instead we put it in a banneton for its final rise, and then just baked the dough directly on our pizza stone. I like how rustic it looks. We wouldn't have gotten that look if we had baked it in the loaf pan. Beauty aside, the important thing is that it tastes so good!

Note: if you zoom into the picture, you may notice a purple tinge to the bread. That is because we used blue cornmeal.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Update on Bread Baking

DH and I took some bread baking classes at Johnson & Wales recently,and we have been really enjoying practicing what we learned. So here are a couple of photos of some breads we have made since the classes. Over the Thanksgiving weekend we made four or five different types, but I don't have any photos. I have no idea how that happened!

The loaves in the photos are all using recipes from Peter Reinhart's Bread Baker's Apprentice. The first photo features Pain de Campagne. The photo directly above is Pain a l'Ancienne.

Here is our current collection of wild yeasts that we are cultivating for our breads. They are stored in our refrigerator, but have to be fed from time to time to keep them going. Some are 100% rye, some 100% whole wheat and others are traditional sourdough. Some are thick with the consistency of dough while others are more thin and liquid. Different breads need different yeasts.

The breads we have made that we think have turned out the best were the ones that fermented slowly in our refrigerator. The next day, we take the dough out and put it on the counter and turn on the oven. In about an hour, the oven is super hot and the bread has woken up but it is still not quite room temperature. Just before putting it in the oven, we score it with a serrated knife. Once in the oven, the dough produces steam from going into the hot oven and gets a great crust.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Beluga Lentils with Oyster Mushrooms

Above are oyster mushrooms, which I am now able to find occasionally at my neighborhood grocery store. They were on sale recently, and I couldn't resist pairing them with beluga lentils, seen below.

I suppose it is obvious why these lentils are called beluga; not because they are as big as whales, but because they resemble caviar. Thankfully they are not priced like caviar! The reason I have the lentils on the sheet pan is because that is how I sort through legumes before cooking them, to look for rocks and twigs and such.

The recipe is a combination of a couple of lentil recipes I use, one from the August 2004 Bon Appetit and the other from my sister. Don't worry if you can't find beluga lentils or oyster mushrooms though, because the recipe would be good with any type of lentil or mushroom.

Beluga Lentils with Oyster Mushrooms and Greens

  • 1 cup beluga lentils, uncooked
  • 1 cup low sodium vegetable broth OR add an extra cup of water to the two cups below
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 bay leaf OR part of one stalk of kombu sea vegetable (to keep with the theme)
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1/2 of one onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • one small package of oyster mushrooms, sliced
  • a dash of wine (any kind you are drinking or cooking sherry)
  • a few cups of steamed greens (could substitute spinach)
  • up to 1/3 cup marscapone* OR a bit of cream
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Steam the greens, set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, place the water and broth in a pot and add the bay leaf or kombu and the lentils. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 15 or 20 minutes, or until tender. Discard the bay leaf. If you used kombu, it may have broken apart into pieces. If so, that is fine, it is edible. Set aside.
  3. Heat oil in a saute pan and fry the onion until transparent. Add the mushrooms and garlic and saute until tender. Add a dash of wine and stir to deglaze the bottom of the pan. Stir in the marscapone or cream and a bit of the broth from the lentils to make a sauce. Simmer on low.
  4. Drain the rest of the pan of lentils, discarding the rest of the broth. Then add the drained lentils to the mushroom mixture. Stir then simmer a few minutes to blend the flavors. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve.

*marscapone cheese is Italian cream cheese

Shown served over basmati rice.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Storing Greens

This time of year, I have been getting a wide variety of greens in my weekly basket from my CSA farm. As soon as get my greens home, here is what I do to keep them in top shape until I get a chance to cook them. Since I usually get quite a large bunch, I have cut the top off a gallon milk container and I put a bit of water in the container. I place the stems of my greens into the container as if they were a bouquet. Then I cover the top of the greens with a tan plastic grocery bag and place it in the refrigerator. The greens will stay crisp and fresh for a long time. They can last weeks in this manner, depending on the type of greens. If I have a smaller bundle of herbs or greens, I will use a small empty jar to hold them instead of the large gallon jug.

Pasta with Creamy Sage Sauce and Vegetables

I haven't been able to post as many entries lately as I would have liked. I cut my hand pretty badly, had to have stitches, and haven't been able to type. (It was a home improvement accident, not cooking related). But, here is a recipe I promised my parents I would post. I had the pleasure of having them over to dinner last week, and I served them this dish as a part of the meal. I forgot to take a photo of the actual food I prepared for them, but I found these two photos in my album that are essentially the same dish. The presentation in the above photo has penne pasta and some wilted spinach in addition to the usual ingredients of the recipe. Below I used tri-colored multi-grain elbow macaroni. So, as you can see, it is a versatile recipe.

Pasta with Butternut Squash and Mushrooms in a Creamy Sage Sauce

Your favorite pasta cooked al dente (I recommend multi-grain)
1 small butternut squash
1 small package fresh mushrooms, sliced (Porcini or Shitake or your favorite)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
2 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
fresh sage, chopped (approximately 10 leaves)
1/2 cup cream (or mixture of milk and cream for less fat) or amount needed for saucy consistency
1 tablespoon butter
salt and pepper to taste
grated Parmesan cheese to top

1. Peel the butternut squash, cut it in half, discard the seeds, and chop it into cubes. Coat the cubes lightly with olive oil. Place in baking pan and roast in a 400 degree oven for about 30 minutes, or until tender. Set aside.
2. Boil water and cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
3. In a saute pan, heat the olive oil. Add the onions and saute until caramelized.
4. Add the mushrooms and garlic and saute until the mushrooms are tender. Add a bit of salt, if needed, to draw out the juices of the mushrooms.
5. Add the sage and the cream and butter and bring to a simmer. On low heat, add the butternut squash and continue simmering until the sauce has a nice consistency and the flavors have developed. Salt and pepper to taste.
6. Toss the pasta with the creamy vegetables and serve with freshly grated cheese.

Note: if you want to add some fresh spinach, add it right after the mushrooms are tender. Saute it until wilted. Then add the cream, etc.
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