Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sauteéd Kale with Nuts
As I rearranged and cleaned out the refrigerator this morning, I found a bag of kale tucked behind some larger things that I'd forgotten about this week. I do believe I intended to make a white bean and kale soup, but forgot all about it. A reminder that it's smart, practical and economical to write up a menu or at best, a list of things you plan to make each week based on the fresh produce you find at the market. I usually do. Or at least make a mental note of meals I'll prepare with the goodies on hand. Even with the best of intentions, the kale was forgotten. To prevent another lapse and a loss of good produce, I decided to wash and steam the bunch of kale on the spot, intending to have it as a side dish with my lunch.
I sliced up a small yellow cooking onion and started that in a sprinkling of water in a shallow sauté pan. Once the onions had begun to soften a bit, I added the washed and chopped kale, then covered the pan for a few minutes. When the kale had begun to wilt down, I removed the cover and drizzled on about a generous teaspoon of olive oil, a bit of sea salt and some freshly ground pepper. Tossing it all about in the pan with a pair of tongs, the kale was ready within minutes. In fact, it really got away from me and didn't turn out as bright green as I usually make it. But nonetheless, it was mighty tasty!

I had some toasted walnut pieces and pine nuts from previous meals in a plastic bag in the fridge. They made a super topping adding flavor, crunch and great nutrition. The dish of kale, a piece of whole wheat pita and a pouring of Cabernet made a wonderful lunch.
Letting one interesting vegetable star at mealtime is a nice change. Fuss-free meal preparation makes eating well easy.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Baked Eggplant
Isn't it amazing? Here's a lowly eggplant bought on the cheap — .60! A little creative breading courtesy of a lesson from Cook's Illustrated, and a bit of leftover marinara sauce. Abra Kadabra—two meals for one person, or a dish to serve two. Your choice.

Sunday dawned clear and sunny but I was nursing a bit of a head cold and once again felt the need for comfort food. A green smoothie, then lots of freshly squeezed orange juice mixed with acerola cherry powder was the mainstay of the morning. But as lunch time approached, the old "feed a cold; starve a fever" wisdom kicked in. What to eat?

The fridge held several possibilities. Half a quart of leftover marinara sauce was inviting. How best to use it? I'd picked up a small eggplant at the produce market earlier in the week and it was crying to be used. Its sell-by-date was fast approaching.

Some time back, I learned to bread eggplant in a manner that uses little oil and produces a crunchy-crisp result. The lesson came from watching Chris Kimball on PBS. I've done this oven roasted eggplant method many times and I love it. But when I checked the cupboard for panko or even plain bread crumbs, I came up pretty empty handed. All these months of eating mostly raw and certainly nothing fried, meant I'd not kept stock of things like bread crumbs. I did find a few tablespoons at the bottom of the panko box and another few tablespoons of mixed Italian bread crumbs, and fortuitously, I just happened to have the end of a loaf of homemade whole wheat bread. Turned out to be a winning combination. I quickly turned the bread into crumbs in the food processor and mixed the three different types of crumbs together to produce about a cup and a half of crumbs to do the job of breading the eggplant. Another example of improvising. But for ease of assembly, go the easy route, use panko crumbs.

Here's How:

Set the oven to pre-heat at 400° and place a baking sheet in the middle third of the oven. Coat the sliced eggplant, first in white whole wheat flour, then in eggwash (I used an organic, free range, Omega 3 egg - not exactly vegan!) and then in the crumb mixture. Place each breaded slice on a rack. Once that is done and the oven is hot, carefully remove the hot baking sheet from the oven, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, then tilt the pan to cover. The breaded slices are then placed on the hot sheet and into the oven they go for 15 minutes. Then carefully turn each slice and continue baking for another 15 minutes.

The eggplant I used produced 8 -1/2" slices. I figured they would fit comfortably in a 13 x 9 baking dish. I warmed the marinara sauce, thinning it a bit to extend it, and placed a light coating in the bottom of the baking dish. When the eggplant slices were done, I placed each in the dish. Six fit in one layer, and the remaining two sat top and center of the bottom layer, right over the spaces. The idea is not to crowd the dish keeping the crisp coating from getting soggy during the final baking.

I placed a tablespoon or so of sauce on top of each slice and then returned the dish to the hot oven for another 20 minutes. The final dish was super even without cheese. Remember, dairy is a no-no if you're seeking a healthful lifestyle. Extra sauce can be passed at the table.

Another economical meal that sacrifices nothing in the way of flavor in favor of a healthy meal.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Peppers and Potatoes

A vegan's idea of comfort food is a wee bit different than that of the average omnivore. I remember the days when pot roast with gravy rang my bells. As an adult it was deliciously transformed into a slow cooked boeuf bourguignon. The gravy enriched with a full bottle of burgundy. Granted, a cheap bottle!

Mac and cheese wasn't one of the addictive meals I grew up with, so as an adult, it never became the sentimental 'go-to' comfort dish it was for so many of my friends. But I loved baguettes stuffed with potatoes, onions, peppers and sausage. I gave up the sausage, and have forgone the big, white crunchy baguette — but I still indulge with the potatoes, onions and peppers.

I no longer fry them up in a lot of oil, but instead, roast them off in a hot oven with just a wee bit of olive oil. Stuffed in a whole wheat pita pocket (home made) that's slathered with hot spicy mustard, this is, to me at least, a feast! Real comfort food.

Fresh from the oven - 2 russet potatoes, 1 large red bell pepper, 1 sweet onion, a small jalepeño pepper and a couple of sprigs of fresh rosemary with a dusting of sea salt and freshly ground pepper— a super side dish or a fabulous sandwich stuffing!

Whole wheat pita bread - simply made with flour, water, yeast and salt.

Humble comfort food - just what's occasionally needed.
Easy on the budget while delivering a big taste treat.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Lentil Chili to the Rescue

While there have been colder places around the country since the beginning of the new year, it's been too cold for my taste here in Orlando recently. The frosty air that lasted throughout the day, not just early morning as usual in the winter, had me at the kitchen counter, knife in hand, making many mounds of mirapoix as the flavor starter for one soup after another.

Years ago, I occasionally made a big pot of lentil chili following Molly Katzen's instructions from one of her Moosewood cookbooks. I no longer have that particular volume and a search online didn't produce the same version. The one I recall, had a headnote cautioning to be sure to use the full amount of garlic cloves listed, as once cooked, the chili would not be overpowered by 10-12 cloves of garlic.

While hunting in cyberspace for Katzen's version, I found a link to
Heidi Swanson's Pierce Street Vegetarian Chili. It too had an abundance of garlic, but in addition some wonderful heat generating components which were absent from the Katzen recipe.

A quick survey of my pantry and fridge, assured me I had the necessary ingredients to give lentil chili a try. Heidi's recipe makes a giant pot of chili (serves 12). I used approximately half the amounts called for and omitted the chickpeas. The main ingredients in my version included 2 cups lentils,1/2 cup bulgur wheat and 1/2 cup pearled barley.

I appropriately cut back on the accompanying flavorings, but was generous with the garlic (not shown in the image above). The result? A fabulous taste treat. Warm, nurturing, and palate pleasing. Especially if served with a generous drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar.

As Mikey used to say: "try it, you'll like it".

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Roasted Butternut Squash with Rosemary

With frigid temperatures hovering for days here in Orlando, it's been a great time to turn on the oven. For those eager to shed a few pounds, eat healthier, or just serve a different side dish, roasted butternut squash is a great choice—colorful, full-flavored and economical, a trio of reasons to give it a try. Not to mention turning on the oven!


Peel the thin hard peel with a vegetable peeler or paring knife, cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the few seeds with a spoon, scraping up the soft web-like strands surrounding the seeds. Then dice the squash. Toss with a generous tablespoon of olive oil, salt and freshly ground pepper and use either a sprig of fresh rosemary or a teaspoon of dried. Roast the seasoned cubes in a shallow roasting pan in a 425° oven for about 40 minutes until tender. (pierce with the tip of a paring knife to test for doneness). Turn and re-toss after 20 minutes to allow for even cooking and slight browning.