Friday, January 14, 2011

Vegetable Shepherd's Pie

This recipe was sent to me by my favorite personal chef (whose food I've never eaten), Debbie Burgess of the Hungry Fox Personal Chef Service in Lancaster. Because it was posted on a closed personal chef forum, I feel I can't publish the recipe here.
The real kicker to this vegetarian (well, not quite, because it has Worcestershire sauce in it) dish is the entire bottle of red zinfandel it has in the sauce. It has a way of adding zip to the vegetable broth which, in my opinion, usually needs something added to it to make it rich.
The recipe took me 2 entire episodes of "Little House on the Prairie" to watch, so it is a little mini-marathon of cooking. But well worth it!
The vegetables are typical winter fare: carrots, parsnips, leeks (and onions), cremini mushrooms and frozen peas.  A can of cannellini or navy beans also adds substance. The potato topping is enhanced with an aromatic butter mixture of garlic, basil and parsley.
Now I need to say here that I have never in my life made shepherd's pie before. In fact, I'm pretty sure I've only actually EATEN it maybe once or twice. So my problems with the mechanics of the recipe probably stem from my inexperience making (or eating) it.
For the topping, the recipe called for boiling "4 large potatoes." Well, that's fairly subjective. And I kind of think I ended up with a bit more potato than was perfect because the amount of liquid it called for adding to it really made a nice batch of mashed potatoes, but was a little thick for spreading on top of the filling. Maybe if I'd thinned it a bit I could have been able to spread it easier. But I think if I were to change the topping recipe, I'd give a measurable amount of cooked and mashed potatoes.
For the filling, I really ended up with too much liquid and it wasn't thick enough. It called for a 750-ml bottle of red zin or burgundy, which you cooked down to a cup. But then you added 3 cups of vegetable broth and the beurre manie, which was 3 Tablespoons flour/3 Tablespoons butter, really had a lot of liquid to thicken. I made another batch of 1T/1T and it helped, but I ended up using a slotted spoon to take the vegetables out of the pot and put them in the casserole, and then pouring liquid in until I felt I had the right amount. I ended up with a little over 1/2 cup of the liquid left. I think if I were change this part, maybe I'll add only 2 cups of broth and then pour more in if needed.
All in all, this is definitely a recipe I'll make again. The vegetables were wonderful, the sauce silky smooth. The garlic and basil in the potatoes really were wonderful additions. The guys loved it and so did I. If I find out at some point that the chef publishes the recipe, I'll be sure to come back to this post to point you to it.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Butternut Squash Soup

Originally uploaded by Food Fanatic
As a vegetarian, I don't have a lot of use for my subscription to Fine Cooking magazine anymore. For Christmas I asked for (and received) a sub to Vegetarian Times.
I'd saved all my copies of FC, and so went through them and gave most of them to my friend Jeannie, who teaches Family & Consumer Science at my school. The only ones I kept whole were the holiday baking issues. But I did tear out a page or two of some of that I thought appealed to me and might be likely candidates for my kitchen.
So tonight I made Butternut Soup with Cumin & Coriander. My only adaptation was that I used vegetable stock rather than chicken. The soup is simply delicious! It's not something to whip up on a weeknight unless you want to try it with frozen squash. This recipe is made with roasted squash, which takes about 90 minutes to achieve in the oven.

2 T olive oil
1 T unsalted butter
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 t kosher salt
3/4 t ground cumin
1/2 t ground coriander
1-141/2 oz can diced tomatoes with their juice
Freshly ground black pepper
Flesh of a roasted 2-lb butternut squash*
3 C vegetable stock
GARNISH: plain yogurt or heavy cream, minced fresh parsley

*Roasting the squash: Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Rub with olive oil, sprinkle with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. Roast in a 400 degree oven for about 90 minutes, or until dark brown and very tender. Let cool and then scoop out the flesh

Heat oil and butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and salt. Saute for 2 minutes and then cover and let sweat until translucent, about 3 minutes. Uncover and cook, stirring, another 3 to 5 minutes, until the onions start to brown.
Add the cumin and coriander and cook, stirring, for about 30 seconds. Add in the tomatoes and season with pepper. Bring to simmer, cover, and let cook for about 10 minutes.
Add the flesh of the squash, breaking it up a bit. Add the vegetable stock, bring to a simmer, cover, and let simmer for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, uncover, turn off the heat, and let cool a bit. Using an immersion blender, blend the soup gently, careful not to splatter hot soup.
Season to taste, warm up if needed, and serve.
Makes about 6 cups.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Melting Day

Originally uploaded by Food Fanatic
It's the first melting day here in the Carolinas. We got about 6 inches of snow Monday and then a nice coating of ice after that. The cold temps have allowed a lot of that to stick around. Today, however, the sun is out and the temps are to get above freezing.

We have not had school all week, and I imagine we'll have delays tomorrow. Ours is rural county for the most part, so we have worry about road conditions in the outlying areas.

So I've watched a few movies, did a little reading, laundry, floors, and actually DUSTED (gasp!). I've also baked a bit and now am very low on ingredients. I'll probably go out this afternoon to grocery store.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Sugarless Banana Bread

Banana Bread
Originally uploaded by Food Fanatic
This is my second year of staying away from refined sugar between January 1 and February 14. Doing so makes me feel righteous, but mostly it encourages me to find ways to cook and bake with more natural sugars, such as agave, maple syrup and honey.

Today the Carolinas and Georgia (and probably points beyond, but I don't care) are socked in and slammed shut with snow. Apparently it started falling around 3 a.m. and we don't anticipate it stopping today. We did not have school today anyway, as it's the teacher workday between semesters, but I as a staffer was scheduled to work.

So it was just me and a few overripe bananas this morning. I don't care much for banana bread as a rule because it's so sweet and, well, banana-ey. I like starchy bananas.

I commenced googling for banana bread made with no refined sugars and found this recipe on for sugar FREE banana bread:

3/4 c. mashed bananas
1/3 c. vegetable oil
2 lg. eggs
1/2 c. water
1 tsp. vanilla
2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 c. chopped nuts
Beat together mashed banana, oil, eggs and water until creamy. Add flour, baking soda, baking powder and spices. Beat well. Stir in nuts. Spoon batter into oiled and floured 9 x 5 inch loaf pan. Spread batter evenly. Bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes or until a knife inserted comes out clean. Cool completely on wire rack before slicing.
(recipe here)

The bread baked up beautifully, as you can see, with an excellent crumb:
Banana Bread2

HOWEVER...definitely needs some sweetening. If I make it again I think I'll work some maple syrup into the recipe. But for today I drizzled a small amount on my slice and was quite satisfied. It's nice to be able to control the sweetness.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Free Music!

There's a lot of free music out on the internet. And I mean legal free music. Stuff the artists offer for free, either out of philanthropy or in an effort to gain exposure.

Since I bought an iphone I've been particularly interested in owning music. I've never been one for buying a lot of music because I usually get tired of something after playing it 49-11 times and then I don't go back to it for years. I also have gotten a lot of free Christian music from my husband, who gets advance copies of some albums at his work. And I subscribe to Napster, where I can download all the music I want and listen to it as long as my subscription is up-to-date. Up until a few weeks ago (when Napster launched an iphone app), I needed to own all the music I put on my iphone.

Enter the free music sites.
Spirit Voyage , a website devoted to Kundalini yoga, offers a free music track every Friday. Through "Free Music Friday" I have discovered many artists I'd not known about before, including Ashana, whose soaring voice and crystal toning bowls offer a transcendent musical experience.

I also found Noisetrade, which offers music from all sorts of genre. They suggest you make a donation per song, but only require that you give a little information: your name, email address and zip code. This helps them get their music out there and they end up benefiting by having greater turn outs for their concerts. You can also promote the free music on your Facebook page to help them out.

I've also been following The Free Christian Music Blog, which has exposed me to artists I've not heard of before. And FreeCCM also has some great stuff. I just downloaded a new song by Chris Rice called "O Freedom." Yesterday I downloaded an entire 18-song Christian song compilation album from Compassion International by signing up at New Release Tuesday.

Most of these, obviously, are Christian. But a quick Google for free music can yield many other genre. Give it a shot!