Category Archives: Vegetable Dishes

Post Dental Surgery – Cauliflower and Gorgonzola Soup

“Granola. That’s the food of death.” Those were words I had never expected to hear in my life. Having just come out of dental surgery a few moments earlier, however, I was getting the lowdown on what I could and couldn’t eat for the next few weeks while my gums heal. Thusly, I was told on no uncertain terms to steer clear of my usual yogurt-and-granola breakfast combo, at least until I’d seen the dentist again. Where did that leave me?

“Soft foods,” he said, “soft foods for at least the next two, in your case, I’d say, three days. And no biting into anything or chewing on the side of the mouth where I worked.” Ggrreeaaatt. So, what was I going to eat? How was I going to eat?Did he not know how hard this was going to be? I’m not exactly a fan of mushy things; I want food to have texture and taste. I have vivid memories of the Cream of Wheat that they tried to serve us at summer camp being turned out of its serving dish like a Jello mold. (Maybe it’s a consistency thing, as I’m not fond of gelatin things or stuff in aspic either.)
I started the next day with eggs, then a lunch of “don’t-shoot-me-I’m-not-a-deer” orange mac & cheese from the company cafeteria – for all my food snobbiness, I will still eat this – and ended with dinner of oatmeal with slices of a very ripe banana. This is a far, far cry from my normal day’s eatings.
By the second day, I was a bit light-headed (too many carbs and too few calories with the painkillers and antibiotics I was taking) and [shock] a bit turned off to eating in general. This was probably due to the fact that my teeth were hurting, and I didn’t even feel like cooking for myself.

After picking the egg salad off of a breakfast sandwich and tearing a croissant into little pieces to try to melt it in my mouth (see, this is what years of dissolving communion hosts in one’s mouth have done), I was starting to think that this eating thing was getting to be too much of a chore. After a lunch of the same oatmeal-and-banana combo from the dinner the night before, I was sure of that.

With the temperatures finally turning to winter and my inability to really chew my food, I decided to try a recipe recommended on Slashfood (www.slashfood.com) for some culinary respite and relief. Last week they showcased Cauliflower and Gorgonzola soup made by Heidi Swanson at 101 Cookbooks (www.101cookbooks.com/archives/001549.html).
Here’s my effort at this recipe:
During cooking
Blending it smooth
Uummm….lunch
I definitely used the chicken broth option, so as to get some more protein into my system and provide some defense against the cold. Being a big fan of robust cheeses, I used the full cup of Gorgonzola. The cauliflower just needs something that strong to match its blandness.
Kitchen Witch Tip:
To blend the soup during the final steps, I used probably one of the few pieces of heavy machinery that I own (aside from the ice cream maker and food processor), one of the best inventions ever as a time-saver and water-conserver: my hand blender. If you make soups or sauces that need pureeing, this is the gadget for you.
It saves the time, mess and effort of pouring hot, chunky liquid into blender to make it smooth, only to have to pour it back into the same pot to heat it up for serving. With a little practice and control, you can easily avoid splattering (as with an electric hand mixer). Part of the trick is to remember to allow the ingredients to cool down before blending them.
Buon appetito!

Pumpkin Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

Pumpkin Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting
Ah, it’s that time of year again. The magazines are filled with recipes for turkey with trimmings, side dishes galore, and pies, pies, pies. There’s hints for watching one’s waistline while not offending that aunt who brought over her favorite casserole, tips for trying to make those family favorites into lo-cal treats, and the inevitable pseudo-science articles about the sure-fire way to cook a turkey without giving everyone food poisoning.
I have a confession to make, however. There is one thing I just can’t stand about this holiday: Pumpkin Pie. This is a bit odd for two reasons: a. I love sweets and have been known to eat pies and b. I like pumpkin. I just don’t like the concoction that is usually presented at every standard Thanksgiving buffet. It’s just too cloying, too gelatinous, too something.
I can’t really put my finger on it, but each year I have the same problem of how to refuse to eat someone’s culinary contribution to the feast. So, my quest has been to look for recipes that present an alternative point of view to the pie. For years, I’ve searched out other options.  Personally, I’d like to see Thanksgiving Day dinner start off with a pumpkin soup, rather than end it with pumpkin pie. Somehow, I think that that would showcase this seasonal vegetable in a better light. [As a point of reference, I also want to have a ban imposed on that canned gel stuff that does nothing to show cranberries in their best light or flavor.]
Then a story on one of the websites I check out on occasion, Leite’s Culinaria, caught my eye. The cover page mentioned a Pumpkin Cake with Maple-Cream Cheese Frosting*. Hmmm…..Let’s see. This sounds as though it has possibilities. Then, I started to read the reviews of those who had tried to make this dessert (a familiar habit for those who tap into epicurious.com for recipe resources). Even better, I thought, everyone seems to give it rave reviews.
Because I was really looking for something that I could bring to work for those of us who would have to staff the office until the closing hours of business on Wednesday, long after our bosses have already left for their holiday, I converted the recipe into cupcakes. I also took the suggestion of someone else who had tried it and topped them with pecans (it must be that Southern influence).
As you can see from the photo, it makes a lovely, portable result. The cake is light and moist and the frosting is just nicely sweet. The flavor is not too heavy or overly spiced (something that happens with the offending pie filling). Even my non-pumpkin fan roommate enjoyed it.  All in all, I add my four forks to this recipe. It’s a keeper. As someone who likely had a bunch of family at that first Thanksgiving so many years ago, I have no problem adding this treat to my recipe library.
Buon appetito!

*I think that, next time, I might try to incorporate the nuts into the batter. Also, it seemed to me that this batter might also make great waffles or pancakes, albeit with a few tweaks. And, yes, I used canned pumpkin. I managed to find an organic brand at the grocery store.

More Toasts – Trio of Bruschette

Bruschetta tipica
Peperonata con mozzarella e pesto
Gorgonzola con miele
A few folks have given me feedback and their opinions about my last post. Most haven’t posted them to the blog so I’ll summarize. As I suspected, one half of the couple in my family who favors what I’ll term as “pasty bread” – so light as not to really be classified as Toast, per se – wrote back about her preference. We did agree about the whole jam and butter thing, though.

Two folks were on the side to try to convince me to buy a toaster oven. While I will acknowledge a greater degree of flexibility for making cheesy, melty things than with a toaster, I think I’ll just stick with the oven in that regard. Toaster ovens were actually banned, along with hot plates, from my university because they are a fire hazard due to the open heating element.Someone did actually set off a dorm smoke alarm when I was there – not me, just for the record – so I don’t really have a great memory of these appliances. Besides, in my wee NYC apartment kitchen we have room for only one major, counter-occupying device and the microwave trumps the toaster oven. So, the toaster is what we’re sticking with for the moment.

However, for the past few weeks, I feel as though we’ve been at a standoff, the toaster and I. It is now playing games with me. The plastic level has done summersaults only once. The latest thing is that it isn’t really toasting. It comes out that pale shade that others favor.
Then, that means I have to double-toast it, which is extra crispy-crunchy, not my ideal texture, but edible. Then, of course, I turned it way up and it charred one of the last pieces of good, farmer’s market bread that I had left. Arrggghhhh!!! Can’t win. Kitchen equipment is not supposed to be this aggravating!
So, for the moment, I’ve decided to go off toast, at least with the toaster. I’m going to use the broiler instead. It’s a bit trickier to get it to just the right shade of golden brown, but I’m up for the challenge. Besides, that way, I don’t have to face my reflexes being assaulted every morning by that wayward lever.
As I was on my toast kick, it made me pull out a few recipes that I had tucked away. With the weather getting warmer, a dinner of various small things, complemented by toasted bread, would make a great entertaining idea (as when a friend of mine and I took some of these things to visit another friend of ours who had just had her first child) or just a wonderful meal al fresco.
Peperonata (my version omits tomatoes and onions usually found in it)
Prep Time: 30-45 minutes
Serving Size: 6-8 adults as appetizer, depending upon size of peppers
Ingredients:
2 Red Peppers, cored, deseeded, and cut into quarters
2 Yellow Peppers, cored, deseeded, and cut into quarters
2 Tbsp extra virgin Olive Oil
1/2 tsp aged Balsamic Vinegar
2 small cloves Garlic, minced finely or crushed in a garlic press
1 tsp dried or fresh Oregano
Assembly:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C, Gas Mark 6). Place peppers in one layer on baking sheet. Place in broiler. Let cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until the skin of the peppers is black in some places. You need to watch them carefully to make sure that they do not burn.
This is the trick to peeling the peppers. As soon as you pull them out of the oven, place in a plastic bag and tie the bag shut. Let sit for 15-20 minutes. This will steam the skin off of the peppers and enable you to peel them more easily.
Untie the bag. The peppers will be soft and pliable. Make a slit at the darkest part of the skin. It should have started to lift away from the pepper itself. Start peeling at this point, towards the edges. Making sure not to leave any of the skin behind. Cut the peeled peppers into strips about 1/4-inch wide.
In a bowl, mix together olive oil, vinegar, garlic, and oregano. Add peppers and stir until they are coated with the olive oil mixture. Serve with grilled or toasted bread.
Special Shout-Out: Entertaining Tip
This goes out to my friend Rob, who asked about getting away from his usual proscuitto e melone appetizer:  On large white plate or platter, pepperonta in three or four around the cheese (depending upon how many people you are serving).
In between these, mound thinly sliced proscuitto. Slice small cherry tomatoes in half (if you can find garden-ripe red and yellow ones of various sizes, these would look the nicest) and dot around the rim of the plate in alternating colors.
Place a basket of grilled or toasted bread on the table you’ve brought into your gorgeous English garden and serve to your guests. Drinks of choice would be a lightly chilled, light Italian red wine, bellinis or proscecco. Your guests are sure to swoon over it.
As your main then, you can opt to serve something as simple as a lightly dressed mesclun salad and pasta with pesto. Dessert can be fresh seasonal fruit accompanied by freshly whipped cream. There! Not a melon in sight.
Buon appetito!

Kids+Peas or Fork Tacos for Dinner

Food isn’t just about stuffing one’s face. It is about drawing energy and sustenance as well. Many folks have very vivid recollections about eating various dishes and their time and place. As I’ve already mentioned, quite a few of my family memories growing up also have links to specific food items, like this recipe for Fork Tacos, eaten with chips and a fork, not in taco shells.

Kids. Notoriously fussy eaters. My parents didn’t normally let us get away with being picky. We were of the eat-it-or-you-can-go-to-bed-hungry generation. I noticed that, later on, with my younger siblings and my cousin, who was even younger than all of us, they started to cave and even made separate kinds of potatoes to suit them. I think that we’d drained them by the time the younger crowd came around.

You’ll have to ask my mother about “The Great Pea Stand-off of 1976.” The three oldest of us decided that we weren’t going to eat the hard, overcooked peas that were in our heated up, previously frozen dinner – not that we were really enamored of them in any form, mind you. So the “You’ll go to bed now and eat them for every meal until you finish them” card was played by my parents. It was their right and was also probably straight from the Parents 101 Handbook. Just as with every inalienable right and free will, it was also ours not to eat them. Thus, my folks got to find out just how stubborn our gene pool really is.

Let’s just say, the little green legumes weren’t really any better looking and somewhat more shriveled by the next morning. My sister recalls trying to cut one with a fork and it went shooting across the table it was so hard, like a little bb. We didn’t budge. We were sort of a mini-union (and very advanced for our wee years), taking a stand against poorly prepared vegetables. We balked at breakfast. We stalled at lunch. In effect, we launched a culinary slowdown, if not an actual strike.

By dinnertime, we’d worn our parents down and could claim success. It was short-lived, however, as this food item never seemed to disappear completely from our diet. When we learned about Pyrrhic victories later on in school, I could reflect upon our having won that dinnertime battle and having lost the vegetable war. On the other hand, I don’t remember ever having a stand-off with them again about anything we ate. I think they might have realized that they needed to be a bit more flexible regarding our food choices.

So, in honor of the picky ones and still adamant about not eating improperly cooked food, I’m sharing a recipe that lets kids choose how to put together a meal that hopefully parents will find acceptable as well. The key to following the recipe is to read it through all the way at least once prior to trying to make it. Another hint is to assemble all the ingredients in their raw form before chopping or measuring anything. There are few things more frustrating than being part-way through trying to make something and realizing that an ingredient or two is missing.

Deconstructed aka “Fork” Tacos
These made an appearance after a scouts’ camping trip and then shortly thereafter entered the rotation at our house. Supporting ingredients are optional depending upon the tastes of your child/ren. The preparation process can be sped up with the aid of an able “sous-chef.” For a child who is old enough, it is also a good way to teach him/her knife skills. In the case of the main ingredients, I’d allow 1/3 to 1/2 cup per person, per serving. For the supporting ingredients, I’d allow 1/8 to 1/4 cup.

Prep Time: Allow an hour pulling things out of the refrigerator to putting dishes on the table. If you have assistance with chopping and prepping, it can take about 1/2 an hour.

Ingredients:

Your favorite brand of Tortilla chips (any flavor will do)
1 lb. ground Beef (or ground turkey or cut up chicken)
1 packet Taco Seasoning or family favorite Mexican spice mix
1 16-oz. can refried Beans
2 cloves Garlic, chopped
1 4.5-oz. can chopped, Green Chilies
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 dash each Salt, Pepper, ground Cumin, ground Coriander
1 package Cheddar or mixed Mexican cheeses, finely grated

Assembly:

Cook meat and taco seasoning according to directions on the back of the packet. Prepare beans by heating up 2 tablespoons (Tbsp) olive oil, adding 2 cloves chopped garlic and 1 4.5-oz. can chopped green chilies. Sauté for 5 minutes before adding the beans. Mix together, cook for another five minute, and adjust salt, pepper, and ground cumin and coriander to taste. The supporting ingredients can be prepared at the same time as the meat and beans are cooking.

Supporting Ingredients:

Tomatoes, chopped
Green onions (white and tender green parts), chopped
Green pepper, chopped
Red pepper, chopped
Avocado, sliced or chopped
Lettuce, chopped
Black olives, chopped or sliced
Sour cream
The Key: The Assembly Line (see photo below and above)
Chips – Meat – Beans (if using) – Cheese – Toppings
To Serve:
Place everything in bowls, each with its own serving utensil. Everyone takes a plate and is allowed to prepare and organize his/her plate as he/she deems appropriate. Some parental supervision is needed to ensure that there is at least some chips-meat-cheese balance, although creativity and food exploration is encouraged. This is a great dish as it has lots of colors, textures, and flavors. Use tortilla chips to scoop everything up and dig in!

When your child/ren get to college, then he/she/they can decide to make a meal out of a jumbo-sized package of tortilla chips or a bowl of cereal with milk. You’ll never know the difference!

Buon appetito!