29 December 2011

Vegan Casserole Love

It's that most wonderful time of year -- that time of year when one's place of work puts on its party shoes and busts out the punch bowl. Or is it only my place of work still clinging to the godawful sherbet punch tradition? Please tell me other worker bees in other hives suffer similarly.

Anyway, we had a holiday party last week and my department was charged with procuring the main dish. We voted on rotisserie chickens all carved up and prettily plated by the local market, but I felt I should bring something extra for all the vegetarians among us. Also, I'd seen a great recipe in Faith Durand's Not Your Mother's Casseroles (Harvard Common Press, 2011) for "Sweet Potato, Chard, and Coconut Milk Casserole" and I desperately wanted to try it out. I love sweet potatoes and have developed a real liking for Swiss chard since I tried to out in our vegetable patch this summer.

Swiss Chard Stems, Sliced

I used a beautiful bunch of rainbow-colored chard in this casserole. Seriously, the colors of the stems were just phenomenal -- the yellow so bright it nearly glowed neon. Alas, the red stems bled when cooking and changed the yellow and white chard to muddy pinks. It all ended up soaked in coconut milk and covered with sweet potatoes, anyway.

Swiss Chard Sweet Potato Casserole

And did the casserole meet my expectations? It exceeded them! The flavors worked so well together -- the coconut milk was creamy, but not unctuous, and the slight bitterness of the chard paired well with the starchy, sweet taste of the potatoes. Everyone else seemed to like it, too. The casserole dish was scraped clean well before the end of the party and three of my coworkers asked for copies of Durand's recipe.

(And this year's punch was 100% sherbet-free!)

27 December 2011

Gravy Guilt

Because I did not make most of our Christmas dinner feast, but purchased it ready-to-heat from Truffles Bakery, guilt motivated me to overcompensate by making not only a gravy for our herb-rubbed beef tenderloin, but also a sauce.

For the gravy, I used Betty's recipe for "Red Wine Sauce" which is a great, easy recipe I've made many times. It's my go-to beef gravy recipe. I make mine using the "expert tip" to add a ¼ cup port to the sauce, because port makes it even more delicious. Make sure you use a dry red wine and port you really enjoy drinking -- I used Little Penguin pinot noir (not dry, but whatever) and the last of my Cockborns "Special Reserve" port. Also, since my shallots were on the larger side of medium, I only used two.

Red Wine Sauce, Ingredients

For the sauce, I used Betty's recipe for "Horseradish Cream Sauce." It's any easy recipe -- just five ingredients -- and is best made the night before to give the flavors a chance to mingle.

Horseradish Sauce Ingredients

On Boxing Day, we made very nice sandwiches from leftover horseradish sauce, dinner rolls, and tenderloin. I also reheated slices of tenderloin in some of the leftover gravy for supper with leftover potatoes and carrots. The remaining gravy and vegetables will be used in Wednesday's shepherd's pie and that will be the end of our Christmas feast.

26 December 2011

Oh, The Christmas Noms!

Christmas Dinner, Plate

I know I cooked it and am therefore bound to be a little biased, but this year's Christmas dinner was pretty darn delicious. Tender roasted beef tenderloin with rich gravy, crunchy-tender butternut squash gratin, buttery parsleyed carrots, garlicky green beans, decadently rich potatoes au gratin. So yummy! And so many leftovers (which, as we all know, is the best part)!

Cheater-pants Christmas Dinner

I bought a large pan of potatoes au gratin and a small pan of butternut squash gratin from Truffles Bakery to make our Christmas feast that much easier. Both pans went in the oven at 350°F and cooked for the same amount of time so there was no need to shuffle pans around the oven or try to keep finished dishes hot while other dishes cooked which is what usually happens and is very annoying as I have a small kitchen and warm spots are always at a premium.

Anyway, the gratins were done at 25 minutes, but I then broiled them for a few minutes to give them a really lovely, bubbly, golden crust. The potatoes au gratin where decadently cheesy and creamy -- a little bit went a long way -- and perfect paired with roast beef tenderloin and port-wine gravy. But, as great as those potatoes were, it was the butternut gratin that stole the show! The tender cubes of naturally sweet, golden squash paired with the crunchy, savory cheese and breadcrumb topping was very, very good. We kept eating it, trying to identify all the ingredients and probable preparation methods so we could reverse engineer it later!

Butter & stuff for veggies

For vegetables, I sliced four large carrots into thick coins and then cooked them in a pot filled with about an inch of boiling water until they were very tender (about ten minutes). Then I turned off the burner, drained the carrots, returned the pan to the still warm burner and generously seasoned the carrots with salt, pepper, parsley, unsalted butter, and sugar. Yes, I sugared the carrots! My paternal grandmother always seasoned her cooked carrots with a little sugar and it does make them taste better.

I cooked a pound of green beans pretty much the same way -- dumped them and six sliced garlic cloves in a pan with an inch of boiling water and cooked them until they were very tender (again, about ten minutes). Then I turned off the burner, drained the beans, returned them to the still warm burner and generously seasoned them with salt, pepper, parsley and unsalted butter. No sugar in the green beans, because that would just be weird!

Carving the Roast Beast

The tenderloin took much longer than I had anticipated. It came from the bakery already seasoned with salt, pepper, and fresh herbs, rubbed with extra virgin olive oil and seared. All I was supposed to do was let the the tenderloin come to room temperature and then roast it in a 350°F oven until it reached the desired level of doneness. It took almost an hour to reach medium (bright uniformly pink center). I can only guess it was still too cold inside when I put it in the oven and should have sat out on the counter for two hours, not one.

Anyway, The Husband did a nice job slicing the tenderloin and it tasted really good. Tender, beefy, yum!

Christmas Dinner, Table

24 December 2011

Hello, Coquito! Good-bye, Eggnog!

Last week, one of my coworkers gave me a wee little Mason jar full of coconut-rum deliciousness. While I love a little spiked eggnog at Christmas, I swear to cake this stuff beat it flat. It is truly the nectar of the gods and I knew I had to have the recipe.

Happily, my coworker is a generous person and was pleased to share her recipe with me. It makes a lot, but she says it will keep about a week in the fridge. Not that it will remain undrunk for so long! I've made a batch for Christmas Eve and I expect it to all be gone by the end of Boxing Day!

Coquito Ingredients

A Librarian’s Coquito

1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 can evaporated milk
2 cans cream of coconut
1 tsp vanilla or coconut extract
3 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg or mace
½ tsp cloves
2 cups white rum

Blend first seven ingredients together with an immersion blender. Blend in 2 cups white rum. Serve well chilled. If you think the coquito is too thick, thin it with a little milk before serving.
While my coworker recommended Coco Lopez cream of coconut, I only found Goya cream of coconut in my grocer’s ethnic aisle and had to make do. Similary, I couldn't find coconut extract (just coconut "flavor") so I used Penzeys Mexican vanilla and its strong, rich fragrance and flavor did not disappoint. I also used Pineapple Jack Pineapple Coconut Rum as my coworker recommended a pineapple or coconut flavored white rum and I thought "why not both?"

23 December 2011

Frosty Feijoas

For my second foray into Feijoa Land, I modified a recipe I found on the Sloat Garden Center Blog for "Feijoa Smoothie." I know my photo shows honey, but I omitted it as I decided the ice cream would provide enough sweetness. I also used less milk and more ice cream than the original recipe to give my drink a more shake-like consistency.

Feijoa Shake

Feijoa Shake

2 feijoas
1 cup milk
1 single serve cup Häagen-Dazs vanilla

Cut feijoas in half and scoop out the flesh. Blend all ingredients together using an immersion blender. Drink.
The shake smelled strongly of feijoa -- a perfumy blend of honeysuckle and pine -- but tasted mostly of vanilla. The flesh of the feijoa gave the shake a slightly gritty texture which was a little weird. Overall, it wasn't a bad shake, but I'm not rushing to make another one from my remaining feijoas.

I must admit I'm having a grand time with my immersion blender. I keep wondering how I got by without it and everything is starting to look blendable. Indeed, this has become my cry:

20 December 2011

Fiddling with Feijoas

December's selection from Melissa's Exotic Fruit club arrived last week and it was ... Feijoas! Feijoas??


Feijoas, also known as "pineapple guavas" or "guavasteens," are an egg-shaped citrus fruit with a pear-like texture and a creamy, apple-ish flavor. They smell faintly of pine and honeysuckle. Rather like with a kiwi, the skin is not eaten but the seeds are and I ate my first feijoa the same way I would a kiwi -- sliced it in half and spooned out the insides. It was an interesting taste experience and I wouldn't have minded eating three or for more, but I'd been sent a case of sixteen! What could I do with these feijoas that would help me eat them up before they went bad?

This, for starters:

Feijoa Pork Tenderloin

I made a batch of "Simple Feijoa Sauce" from Sloat Garden Center's Blog. I marinated a pork tenderloin in it for the better part of a day, then roasted the pork in a 425°F oven for about 25 minutes. I served the pork with noodles and buttery carrots.  The feijoas gave the sauce a mild apple-y flavor which I enjoyed, but the seeds made it a little gritty which I wasn't that keen on. The Husband thought the pork tasted like cherries, so ... not something I'd make again.

The sauce was very easy to make:

halved feijoas
Halve four feijoas and scoop out their insides.

Feijoa mustard sauce, step 1

Feijoa mustard sauce, step 2
Add brown sugar & mustard. Blend all the things!

Feijoa mustard sauce, step 3
Smear all over pork tenderloin and let sit.

11 feijoas to go! What's next? Curry!

18 December 2011

Slow Cooker Sunday: Gingery Carrot Soup

This weekend I made Betty Crocker's "Slow Cooker Gingered Carrot Soup" to use up a surfeit of satsumas and carrots. Since this soup cooks for 10 hours on low, I started it Saturday night before I went to bed and then finished it Sunday morning. I thought this soup was really delicious -- gingery, yes, but that's exactly what I wanted in a midday pick-me-up. It's a thick and creamy soup that just needs a bit of salad and a chunk of crusty bread to make a satisfying meal!

Gingery Carrot Soup

Ingredients: baby carrots, chopped red onions, low-sodium chicken broth, juice from freshly squeezed satsumas, heavy cream, brown sugar, 6 cubes Dorot frozen crushed ginger (1 cube =  1 teaspoon), white pepper, salt.

Gingery Carrot Soup: Step 1

Before going to bed, I dumped the baby carrots, diced onions, and low-sodium chicken broth into my slow cooker. I only used one container of broth (4 cups), because I worried about overfilling my slow cooker. I figured I could always add more broth at the blending stage, if the soup was to thick.

I set my slow cooker on to low, put the lid on, set the kitchen timer for ten hours, and went to bed.

Gingery Carrot Soup, Step 2

In the morning, I turned off the slow cooker and added heavy cream, satsuma juice, brown sugar, 6 cubes Dorot frozen crushed ginger, and white pepper to the carrots.

Finished Gingery Carrot Soup

Pureed all the vegetables with my immersion blender and seasoned it with a little salt to taste. I did not add any extra broth as I didn't feel it needed it. I let the soup cool and then portioned it out into 1-cup serving containers for the work week.

17 December 2011

Easy-Peasy Peas & Potatoes

Threw this side dish together one night after work, when I realized I didn't have quite enough frozen peas to go 'round. So simple and tasty that I wonder why I didn't think of it sooner!

30 Minute Supper

Place potatoes in a small saucepan, barely cover with water, and bring to a boil. Cook over medium heat until just tender. Add frozen peas, cover, and cook until tender. Drain, add unsalted butter, black pepper, dehydrated chives, and parsley flakes. Return saucepan to warm burner and toss vegetables gently until butter melts and vegetables are evenly coated.

15 December 2011

Return of the Chestnuts

For my second foray into chestnut cookery, I made Schmooed Food's "Golden Chestnut Soup" as it looked to be an easy recipe and I had most of the ingredients on hand.

Chestnut Soup

Ingredients: roasted chestnuts, olive oil, carrots, celery, onion, fresh thyme, bay, salt, pepper, nutmeg, water.

I am so happy I made this soup! It smells heavenly and is simply ohmygoddelicous. I could happily have sat down and ate the entire pot in one sitting.  I almost wished I had more chestnuts so I could make more soup! I gave a container to my vegan coworker and, days later, she is still talking about how good it was and how she might just have to acquire some chestnuts ...

Overall, I'd say Jennifershmoo's roasting instructions worked better than Martha Stewart's -- roasting at a higher temperature really made the chestnuts easier to peel. (I also found that squeezing each nut before peeling helped loosen the husk and pellicle).

12 December 2011

Holy Chestnuts, Batman!

For my birthday, The Husband subscribed me to six months of Melissa's Exotic fruit club. November's selection was chestnuts. Two pounds of chestnuts. I have no experience cooking or eating chestnuts. What was I going to do with them? I searched library cookbooks, my cookbooks, and the internets for tips on cooking chestnuts and recipes to use them in. In the end, I settled on Martha Stewart's recipe for "Caramelized Chestnuts and Brussels Sprouts" and Shmooed Food's "Golden Chestnut Soup" (I Vegan Lunch Box).

Sunday afternoon, I made Stewart's recipe and it was both delicious and, surprisingly, a lot of fun to prepare. Yes, roasting and peeling chestnuts is fiddly business. Yes, stemming, trimming, washing, and halving two pounds of Brussels sprouts can be tedious. But, do you know what Brussels sprouts and roasted chestnuts resemble? Tiny brains! Yes, my dears, I amused myself by pretending I was preparing zombie food. It was so hard not too spear a tiny brain roasted chestnut with a knife and brandish it at The Husband, moaning "braaaains."

In my research, I'd encountered terrible stories about chestnuts explosions -- cooks who either forgot to score their chestnuts or did not score them deep enough so that, when cold air entered the hot oven as the door was opened, hot chestnuts exploded like small, nutty bombs. Therefore, I was extremely careful about scoring mine and sawed deep crosses into them using a serrated bread knife.

Scoring Chestnuts

Unfortunately, I did not roast them long enough and about half were pretty darn impossible to peel. Properly roasted, the husk and pellicle peel back from the nutmeat and it's easy-peasy to get the nutmeat out. Improperly roasted, the husk doesn't peel back very much, the pellicle sticks to the nutmeat and there's a lot of swearing it the kitchen.

Roasted Chestnuts

In the end, I did manage to get all but one peeled. Most remained whole (as per Stewart's recipe), but a few were broken into halves or thirds. It made for a less impressive presentation, perhaps, but did not ruin the taste of the dish.

Delicious Brussels Sprouts

And it was a delicious dish! Tangy -- sweet and a little sour -- with just a little crunch from the chestnuts and no bitterness at all from the firm, yet tender Brussels sprouts.

It would, no doubt, make an excellent Christmas side dish for someone less lazy than I. Truffles Bakery is providing much of this year's Christmas feast as, while I want to feed my family and guests good food, can't be arsed this year to get up at 6 am on Christmas morning to start cooking. Nor do I wish to be rushing around Christmas Eve, prepping a million dishes, when I could be cuddled up under the Christmas tree with The Husband, surreptitiously rattling boxes.

10 December 2011

Tomato-tastic Presents!

For the third year in a row, Muir Glen sent me a limited edition Reserve kit. Besides the awesome little basket (which I look forward to using in my vegetable garden next summer), I received Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes with Green Chilies, No-Salt Added Diced Tomatoes, Reserve Harvest Sunset Organic Fire Roasted Red & Yellow Diced Tomatoes, Reserve Harvest Sunset Organic Red & Yellow Diced Tomatoes, and a recipe booklet.

2011 Limited Edition Reserve Tomatoes

I don't know how Muir Glen found me or why they send me free products, but I hope they never stop. Muir Glen is the only brand of canned tomatoes I use these days as they're organic, high-quality, and so very flavorful -- sweet and ripe-tasting, that taste as if they were just picked and processed yesterday.

If you've never ordered a Muir Glen Reserve kit before, I suggest you do so rightnowthisminute. $15 dollars gets you a beautiful basket of tomato goodness!

Legalese: I am not affiliated with Muir Glen Organics nor was I compensated for gushing over their Reserve kit. All opinions, such as they are, are my own.

08 December 2011

Slow Cooker Sunday: Mustard Mushroom Pork Loin

I made this slow cooker roast last Sunday, when I was feeling lazy and wanted someone else to do the cooking for me! Happily, Mlle. Slow Cooker was up to the job!

Sunday Slow Cooker Supper
Slow Cooker Mustard Mushroom Pork Loin

2 lb boneless center cut pork loin
2 Tbsp Stonewall Kitchen Horseradish Mustard
8 oz sliced button mushrooms
Handful crushed dried sliced onion
Handful dried parsley flakes
Freshly ground black pepper

Add mushrooms to bottom of slow cooker insert, sprinkle with onions, parsley, and pepper. Top with pork loin (fat side up -- if it's very fatty, trim it to a thin skim coat of fat). Smear loin with mustard. Cook on LOW 6 hours.
Served this roast with boiled potatoes, garlicky green beans, and a fast gravy I made by thickening some of the pot juices.

07 December 2011

Mix A Week(ish): King Arthur Flour Cranberry-Sunflower Granola Bars

I bought two boxes of Cranberry-Sunflower Granola Bar Mix last year, because I was on a granola bar kick at the time. Unfortunately, I did not realize how heavily saturated the mix would be with sesame seeds. I'm not as brave (or stupid?) as I once was and try to avoid consuming nuts and seeds when I can, because my body just isn't built for such things. So what should I do with these mixes? Make them and take them to work, obviously!

Granola Bar Ingredients

It was not difficult to make these granola bars -- I made the chewy version using maple syrup, vegetable oil, and 1½ cups dried fruit blend leftover from last year's fruitcake -- and making them couldn't have taken more than 30 minutes, from box to oven. They smelled delicious and looked quite lovely when they came out of the oven. I didn't taste them, but at the rate they disappeared from the staff room, I would guess my coworkers liked them pretty well.

(While I'd planned to make both boxes, my intentions were greater than my motivation and I only made one box to take to work. This worked out fine as one of my coworkers liked them so much I just gave her the other mix when she asked for the recipe).

Menu Plan Wednesday, 7 December

It's Menu Plan Monday ... Wednesday edition!

Roasted chicken sausages with cheese and potato pirogi topped with fried mushrooms and sour cream.

Monday Supper

Grilled chicken salad with light creamy Italian and satsuma mandarins.

Fish "tacos" served with chopped cucumbers and tomatoes tossed with ranch dressing. Ingredients: frozen fish sticks, whole wheat tortillas, 0% plain Greek yoghurt, garlicky Green Mountain Gringo salsa, shredded lettuce, shredded Cabot 50% reduced fat cheddar.

Fish Stick "Tacos"

Leftover pork roast with roasted butternut squash and satsuma mandarins.

"Beef, Barley, and Vegetable Stew" from Maryana Vollstedt's The Big Book of Casseroles with homemade rolls (presuming I don't botch it). Ingredients: beef, onions, garlic, carrots, celery, salt, pepper, thyme, rosemary, pearl barley, low-sodium beef broth, dry red wine, mushrooms.

Tuna burgers with green beans. Ingredients: homemade rolls, Whole Foods wild caught yellowfin tuna burgers, cucumber, tomato, light Ranch dressing, parsley, ground black pepper.

"Jamoke Casserole" from Maryana Vollstedt's The Big Book of Casseroles with buttery parsley carrots. Ingredients: lean ground beef, onion, bell pepper, Muir Glen Organic diced tomatoes, celery, low-sodium tomato sauce, sugar, salt, chili powder, multigrain elbow macaroni.

06 December 2011

Deliciously Simple: Roasted Butternut Squash

Earlier this week I made "Roasted Butternut Squash With Apple Cider Glaze" from Andrea Chesman's excellent Serving Up the Harvest: Celebrating the Goodness of Fresh Vegetables (Storey, 2007). I love winter squash and am always looking for new ways to prepare my favorite, butternut squash. Chesman's recipe tempted me as it looked simple, used flavors I enjoy, and only called for six ingredients.

I did make a few adjustments to the recipe:
  • My squash weighed a scant 2 pounds so I adjusted the oil to 1 tablespoon and only used 1 cup of cider.
  • I didn't have any fresh shallots, so used 1 teaspoon of dehydrated minced shallot.
  • I had no fresh sage and instead used 1 teaspoon Bell's Seasoning.

Peeled Butternut
Peel the butternut squash.

Halved Butternut
Cut it in half & scoop out the seeds.

Cubed Butternut
Cut the halves into ½-inch cubes.

Seasoned Butternut
Toss cubed squash with oil, salt, and pepper. Spread across large, greased jelly roll pan.
Roast in 350°F oven for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure even roasting.

Meanwhile, bring cider and shallots to boil.
Allow to reduced by ⅔. Remove from heat, stir in Bell's Seasoning.

Roasted Butternut
Remove squash from oven and transfer to a serving bowl.
Pour cider reduction over squash and gently stir until combined.

Chesman says to serve the squash immediately, but I made it ahead and just reheated it as I needed it.

02 December 2011

Breakfast is what you make of it

Friday morning I looked in the fridge and there was no yoghurt. I'd been eating 0% lemon Chobani Greek yoghurt with satsumas for breakfast all week and had eaten them all. No yoghurt! What to do? There was milk and cereal, but cereal fails to fill me enough that midmorning break time doesn't become a struggle against the dark, seductive pull of the staff room vending machine.

I stared into the fridge. There were eggs and salsa. Hmm. There were tortillas somewhere. I supposed I could make a breakfast wrap. Then I opened the freezer to check for turkey sausage, a box of frozen vegetables fell out, and I was inspired to do something completely different.

Fast Breakfast

I microwaved the package of Green Giant Antioxidant Blend (broccoli, carrots, red and yellow bell peppers) for 3 minutes. While they cooked, I beat 2 eggs with a splash of 1% milk. When the microwaved dinged, I mixed the vegetables into the eggs and microwaved everything for another minute. Served it all topped with Green Mountain Gringo's roasted garlic salsa and fresh ground black pepper.

It wasn't pretty, but it was delicious and filling.