Sunday, August 28, 2011

Gazpacho, Day 92, 8/28/11

Yes, I know it's been a while since I posted anything.  School is back in full swing and anyone that works in a school can tell you exactly how exhausting the first few weeks back are...  I come home and all I want to do is sit on the couch with the pups.  If I'm lucky I don't fall asleep at like 5:30, instead I watch a couple of programs on the dvr, eat something, do a few things around the house and before I know it, it's bed time.

The question everyone has been asking me lately is whether or not I'm going to continue being a vegetarian.  And the answer is, yes.  It's not always easy, but I still enjoy it and I am going to stick with it.  Forever?  I don't know.  But it definitely is going to last longer than just the summer.  Sorry, Nathan.  I don't think my brother is looking forward to Thanksgiving with me as a vegetarian.

Eating school lunch as been a challenge so far.  I ordered a chicken-less Chicken Wrap one day and I think the cafeteria ladies thought I was crazy.  So I received a large tortilla with shredded cheese in it.  I added some rice, veggies and ranch dressing and it was actually pretty good.  I've asked Miss Janet to read the the contents on several boxes in the kitchen and report back.  So far, if something could have meat products in it, like country gravy mix or refried beans, at my school, it does.  :-(  And I've eaten more peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch in the last week and a half than I have in the previous 3 years combined.  Literally.  But I've also had cafeteria Cheese Pizza and Bosco Sticks for the first time and they weren't nearly as bad as I had imagined.

Now with school back in session, I won't post nearly as much as I did over the summer.  But every now and again, especially over breaks, if I make something particularly unusual or delicious, I'll blog about it.

Anyway, back to why I'm writing today:  Gazpacho.  This is a recipe that I have to share before the weather cools down too much.  It is so refreshing and delicious to eat when it's hot outside because it's a Spanish raw veggie soup that is served cold.  My family likes to make a few big batches of it each summer.  And since summer is also when you can find the veggies at their best, it's perfect!  My mom and I made some last weekend and she let me bring the leftovers home!  What a great lady!  Plus, she was such a good sport, stopping to let me take pictures, as we made it.

So these are the main ingredients:  tomatoes, green peppers, cucumbers and onions.  Notice these are also common garden veggies in this area, so if you've got a neighbor or co-worker that is giving away the extras from their garden, this is a delicious way to use them! 

We used 8 good sized tomatoes, 2 medium cucumbers, 2 green peppers and 1 large onion.

You're going to puree all of these veggies in a food processor or blender.  So you start by getting everything ready for that.

You'll want to peel the cucumbers and then use a spoon to scrape the seeds out of them. 

Of course, you'll need to remove the seeds from the peppers and get rid of the papery layer on the outside of the onion, too.

Then chop all 3 into large chunks so they'll blend a little easier.

You'll want to process each veggie on it's own for the best results.  Since they each have their own texture and density, if you try to mix them they won't puree as uniformly.  As you can see, we don't mind if the veggies are a little chunky, you can blend more or strain your results if you want it really smooth.

The tomatoes are a little bit more labor intensive to prep, but they aren't difficult.  They need to be cored and peeled before you blend them up.  And for those of you, like me, that would be tempted to skip peeling the tomatoes, we've tried that before and we weren't happy with the results.  The tomato skin doesn't blend up all that well and it's a pretty unpleasant texture in the soup.  I promise this trick my mom taught me makes peeling your tomatoes a breeze. 

Bring a large pot of water up to a boil.  Once it boils, you can turn it down, it doesn't need to continue to boil, it just needs to stay nice and hot.  Drop in a few of the tomatoes and let them sit in the hot water for a minute or 2.  Then pull them out and run them under cold water.  The cold water will stop them from cooking, and it will cool off the tomatoes so that you can handle them.

The hot water makes the tomato release it's skin a bit.  Use a paring knife to cut out the core and easily peel the tomato skin off in large pieces.

Here are all 8 of the tomatoes cored and peeled and it didn't take much time at all.  Cut your tomatoes into wedges and run them through the food processor as well.

My mom's recipe says to add a can of tomato juice.  And if we happen to have one, we will, but we've also used a little tomato sauce and some extra water or a can of diced tomatoes.  On this day, we used a can of diced tomatoes, but I think my preference is a can of V-8.

The liquids to be added are 2/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil, 2/3 cup water and 1/4 cup red wine vinegar. 

The last couple of things you need to add are a heaping Tablespoon of kosher or sea salt and 3 or 4 finely diced garlic cloves.  Then stir everything together and give it a taste.  If it needs a little more salt, add a little more.  Finally, put this in the refrigerator for at least an hour or two before you serve it.  It's so much better when it's nice and cold.  And, of course, that makes it so refreshing on a hot summer day.

Very traditional Gazpacho has some day old bread blended up with the vegetables and is topped with croutons and finely diced chunks of the veggies that are in the soup.  Some variations on Gazpacho have diced egg or ham on top.  But in my family, we skip the bread and just use lots of croutons.  We put coutons in the bowl first, add the soup on top and then add a few more croutons for good measure.  This is summer in a bowl to me.

These vegetables are at their peak of flavor in the summer months and the addition of the acidic vinegar with the rich olive oil make this dish perfection.  The longer this concoction sits in the fridge, the more the flavors develop.  It only gets more delicious with time.  Enjoy!

Thanks to everyone who bothered to read My Vegetarian Adventures and encouraged me in my endeavor this summer.  You went on the experience with me!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

2 breakfast ideas with unusual names, Day 77, 8/13/11

There are a handful of people that I know regularly read my blog.  Larry is one of those people.  The last time I saw Larry, we chatted about food and my blog and he specifically requested some breakfast recipes.  He suggested a veggie omelet and I was thinking maybe a frittata.  Being that frittatas are usually just eggs and veggies with a little bit of dairy, they are very popular entries in vegetarian cookbooks and I just haven't decided where to start.  Do I want to do Greek, maybe something with mushrooms or the traditional Spanish Tortilla style...  I don't know.  But I'll be working on a frittata soon.  In the meantime, I thought I'd share a couple of meatless breakfasts from my childhood.

I guess this first recipe came to my family from a babysitter that I used to go to when I was 3 or 4 years old.  My dad dropped me off there one day on his way to class and she told him that she was going to make Toad in the Holes for the kids...  My dad asked what the heck she was talking about and she passed on the recipe.  I remember my dad making these and feeling like it was such a treat.  We didn't eat breakfast that often, but when we did, it was almost always a bowl of cereal.  This was no bowl of cereal, and I was always so excited to have one.  And, I'm pretty sure the unique name added to the allure for me as a child.

You start by using the top of a drinking glass, like a cookie cutter, to make holes in your bread. 

Then butter both sides of your holey bread and put it in a pan that's heated to just below medium to "grill" it, like you would for a Grilled Cheese Sandwich.  

After the first side of the bread is nicely browned, flip it over and gently break an egg into the middle of the hole.  You may want to add just a touch of butter to the pan before adding the egg to help keep it from sticking.  Season the egg with a little bit of salt and pepper and let it cook for a few minutes.  You want the bottom of the egg to be completely cooked and set-up.  Then flip it very carefully and allow the top part of the egg to cook.  The egg should be "over easy" when you're finished so only let it cook briefly on that side, maybe 3 minutes.

Here I plated it up with some plum tomatoes that I just halved and seasoned with salt and pepper.  They added a lovely acidic contrast of flavor but you could accompany a Toad in the Hole with just about anything.

To start eating this, gently puncture the yolk with your fork and flip open a little hatch so that you can get to all of that delicious runny yolk on the inside.  Then use the rounds you cut out of the bread to dip in and soak it up.  Yuuuummm.  To me, almost nothing tastes as rich as a warm runny yolk.  Of course you can toast your bread rounds if you'd prefer.  And if you're one of those people that doesn't like eggs cooked over easy, you can cook your egg through, but I wouldn't recommend it.  :-)

I can remember sitting at the table, as a child, in anticipation of receiving my Toad in the Hole, bread round in one hand and fingers crossed on the other, just hoping my dad hadn't accidently cooked the yolk through.

I googled "Toad in the Hole" before writing this blog to find out if they are a common breakfast item for others or if members of my family are the only ones that make these.  What I found is that it's not "common" but other people definitely make these.  I also learned that there is an English dish called a Toad in the Hole that resembles hot dogs laying on top of a thick pizza crust.  I guess it's actually large sausage links on a Yorkshire Pudding batter.  So maybe you're familiar with that type of Toad in the Hole??

 Anyway, this next one is uniquely an Iwert concoction.  At a party my mom attended when she was in high school, her friend made a peanut butter stuffed French toast that she enjoyed.  Apparently she replicated it at home and over the years, it evolved into what we call it a Peanut Butter Thing.  Yes, I did say, a Peanut Butter Thing.  So, maybe we're not the most creative people, but we get a giggle out of the name every time.  Basically it's a grilled cheese sandwich with peanut butter in the middle instead of cheese.  There are a few Grilled Peanut Butter and Jelly (or Banana) Sandwich recipes out there, but none of them are quite the way we do it.

So you start by buttering 2 slices of bread.

Drop one of the slices of bread, butter side down, into a pan on about medium- medium low heat and spread peanut butter on the other side of the bread.  Put the second slice of bread on top, butter side up, and allow it cook until the bread has browned nicely.

Give it a flip and let the other side of the sandwich "grill."

And here's where our Peanut Butter Thing is different than the others.  Instead of having jelly on the inside, the sweetness comes from drizzling maple syrup over the top.

It's difficult to see in this picture, but the warmed peanut butter is so delicious, it just oozes out when you cut into it.  And the syrup adds a sweetness to the sandwich in an unexpected way.  I also considered this to be a wonderful treat for breakfast as a child, but we enjoyed them so much, they were often requested for dinner as well.  Give a Peanut Butter Thing a try some Saturday morning for brunch.  You'll love the warm gooey peanut butter.

Larry, I hope you enjoy a Toad in the Hole or a Peanut Butter Thing for breakfast soon. 

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Bruschetta Salad, Day 70, 8/6/11

I was so excited to receive arugula in my Door to Door Organics order this week.  My brother loves arugula and talks about it often.  But I had never had it (or so I thought,) and this was going to be my opportunity to try it.  I sent my brother a text when I received my order and asked him what I should do with it.  He responded that he likes it with pasta...  So after a few texts back and forth I had decided what I was going to make.  Whole wheat pasta with fresh corn, snap peas and arugula in a spicy garlic cream sauce.

As I cleaned the arugula, I noticed its unusual shape and decided it was possibly the salad green that Granite City uses in their Grilled Chicken and Bruschetta Salad, that I am currently obsessed with.  This salad comes with the most delicious bread that I order extra of, and of course, I request no chicken.  I've eaten it twice in the last couple of months, but I think about it all the time.  Seriously.  It's just delicious! 

I thought quickly about what other ingredients I had in the house and right then and there, my plan completely changed.  Bruschetta Salad it is.

Start by thinly slicing 1/4 of a medium onion.  I'm pretty sure Granite City actually uses shallots, but I didn't have any of those in the house and as it turned out, the onion worked just fine.

Put the onions in a small container and add a combination of balsamic and red wine vinegars for the onions to marinate in.  You'll want to let the onions hang out in the fridge for a few hours so they can take on all the tart, yummy flavor of the vinegars.

I think brushetta is typically made with balsamic vinegar, but the second I opened the bottle, I knew that smell wasn't quite right.  So, I opened the red wine vinegar that was sitting behind it, since it's a purplish color too, and the dressing on the salad is a deep purple color.  The red wine vinegar smelled like the salad I remember.  I combined the two, balsamic and red wine vinegar using a ratio of approximately 75% balsamic vinegar and 25% red wine vinegar.

Tear the arugula into bite-sized pieces in a large bowl and add the marinated onion pieces while reserving the vinegar mixture. 

Add 3 sliced roma tomatoes and some blue cheese crumbles to the bowl.  I would've thought that feta would go better with bruschetta, but Granite City uses blue cheese and I love blue cheese so that's what I went with.

Pour the vinegar mixture into a small glass bowl and add extra virgin olive oil, 1 grated medium garlic clove and some black pepper.  Whisk this together to make the dressing for the salad.  I think the next time I make this, I'm going to try adding a smidge of honey for a little bit of sweetness.

Pour a small amount of the dressing over the veggies and cheese, then toss.

Granite City uses a baguette sliced on a steep diagonal for their delicious bread.  Unfortunately, I didn't have a baguette.  But I don't let a missing ingredient or two stop me from making something when inspiration strikes.  I just find a way to make it work.

What I did for this venture, was toast 2 slices of regular whole grain bread and then rub each with a clove of garlic that I sliced one end off of.  I've seen this garlic rubbing technique used on several cooking shows but this was the first time I had ever tried it.  I was surprised how much garlic flavor was taken on by the bread.  It really works.

After the garlic, I spread each slice of bread with non hydrogenated margarine and sprinkled on just a tiny bit of grated parmesan cheese.  Finally, I cut the bread slices into thirds.

I love to eat this delicious salad by piling the prefect bite onto the bread and eating it all together.  It's really the best way to eat it.

The dressing gives the salad a wonderfully tangy flavor, that makes your taste buds feel alive.  The bread cuts the tartness of the dressing perfectly and the arugula adds a mildly peppery flavor.  Arugula doesn't have the overwhelming earthy flavor that you get from some dark greens.  It works perfectly in this salad, where it isn't just a vessel for dressing as is sometimes the case with lettuce.  The arugula adds its own subtle flavor that I would've had a very difficult time putting my finger on if I wouldn't have just stumbled upon it like I did.  I now understand why Nathan raves about it as he does- it's delicious.

My version of Granite City's Grilled Chicken and Bruschetta Salad (sans chicken) is darn close to the original.  And, I enjoyed it so much that as I'm typing this, I've already made it twice, and I just received the arugula 4 days ago.  It's a winner!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Mexican Stuffed Peppers made with "Crumbles," Day 67, 8/3/11

Stuffed Peppers is a dish my mom would make when I was younger.  Her version, which I think is pretty traditional for Stuffed Peppers, had a filling of ground beef with a little onion, white rice, tomato paste or sauce and a few seasonings.  While I like this version of peppers just fine, one day about 10 years ago when I made Stuffed Peppers myself for the first time, I decided to give the filling a Mexican twist.  And, I haven't made them the other way since. 

I've always made my Mexican Stuffed Peppers with ground beef.  That's kind of against the rules when you're a vegetarian, however, so for the first time, I used the Morningstar Farms Meal Starters Grillers Recipe Crumbles in place of the hamburger.  This was actually my first time working with the Crumbles- and they weren't a let down.  They are a textured veggie protein that you purchase frozen, and can use in place of ground beef in recipes.  They have a hearty meaty texture that makes for a satisfying meat substitution.  And they are so much healthier for you than ground beef.  The package says they have 75% less fat than ground beef and only 80 calories per serving.  And with a 12 oz package equal to 1 pound of raw hamburger, they cost about the same as low fat ground beef.

For the filling, start by heating some olive oil in a pan over medium heat and add 1/2 of a medium diced onion.  After the onions have softened a little bit, add 1 can of black beans that have been rinsed and drained, some minced garlic and a 12 oz package of  Morningstar Farms Meal Starters Grillers Recipe Crumbles.  Season with salt and pepper and stir everything together.  Let this cook for a few minutes while stirring occasionally to break up the frozen Crumbles.

This would be a great time to add some cooked brown rice to the mixture.  I completely forgot to add rice this time, but I think it's a nice addition.  In fact, that first time I made Mexican Stuffed Peppers, I made them as a means of using some leftover rice.  Also, I usually add some frozen corn, but I knew that I was making Creamed Corn Pudding as the side, so I didn't include any corn in the filling this time.

Add a can of Rotel.  Don't drain the Rotel.  You want that liquid included in the filling mixture.  After I pour the Rotel into the pan, I even add enough water (or beer) to the can that it is about 1/3 full and then swish the water around to pick up any extra little pieces of tomato and green chili on the side and dump that into the pan, too.  I think the addition of some liquid lets you to cook the mixture on the stove longer and provides the opportunity for the flavors combine more.  And if you don't have any Rotel in the house, salsa works just as well.

You'll add some Mexican seasoning now too.  You could use one of those seasoning packets for tacos or burritos if you'd like, but I like to make up my own.  The seasoning packets are usually loaded with salt and if I do the seasoning myself, I can personalize it to my perferences.  I use cayenne pepper, the Aldi seasoning blend I like, chili powder, and cumin.  I love the smoky flavor of cumin, so I always twice as much cumin as everything else. 

Stir everything together and let it cook on low for about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

At this point, you're going to get 3 peppers ready for stuffing by cutting them in half and cleaning out the stem, seeds and ribs.  Add a little shredded Pepper Jack cheese to the bottom of the pepper. 

I only had 2 peppers in the house at the time so that's what you'll see in the pictures, but you'll definitely have enough stuffing mixture for 3 peppers.  In fact, if you add some brown rice and/or corn to the mixture, you could easily fill 4-5 peppers.  It's up to you.  When I used to make this with grounded beef, I would use 2 peppers and freeze the extra stuffing mixture in two of the freezer Ziplocs for some quick stuffed peppers on a couple of later dates.  I don't know how well the Crumbles will freeze, but I'm giving it a try.  I'll let you know.

Then fill each pepper half with the stuffing mixture and place them in a microwave safe casserole dish. 

Add a little water to the bottom of the dish and cover it with plastic wrap.  The water and plastic wrap will work together to steam the peppers in the microwave. 

I've learned through experience that topping the peppers with cheese after you stuff them usually doesn't turn out too well.  It either sticks to the plastic wrap and pulls off of the pepper when you remove the plastic wrap or melts off of the pepper and falls down into the water you're steaming them with.  I wait until after they've cooked to add any cheese on top.

Microwave your peppers for about 6 minutes on high and then check them to see if they are at crunchiness level that you like.  If you like them really crunchy still, check them at 5 minutes.  If they're too crunchy for you at 6 minutes give them another minute or so in the microwave.

I topped my peppers with a diced green onions and a little bit of queso fresco.  Queso fresco is a Mexican cheese that you can crumble.  It's flavor is very mild, like a dry crumbly mozzarella.  Of course, any cheese on top would be delicious.

I really didn't miss the ground beef in the peppers at all.  The Crumbles really are a great substitution and I love the Mexican twist on Stuffed Peppers so much more than the original.  And I can tell you first hand, that Creamed Corn Pudding is a great side for these Mexican Stuffed Peppers.  Enjoy.

UPDATE:  The filling that I made with Crumbles did freeze really well.  :-)  In fact, I think my second round of peppers was even better than the first!