Oct 15, 2011

Recipe: fancy vegetarian shepherd's pie

One benefit of learning French is that I now have more recipes available to me. And man, this recipe is SO GOOD. It's not something I would ordinarily make, but I tried it around this time last year and was impressed. It was way tastier than I expected, but I knew I wanted to make some adjustments for next time. I finally got around to making it, and I'm impressed with my adjustments too.

First, you have to forget that it's shepherd's pie. If you're expecting a ground beef, pea/carrot/corn, and potato dish that's all mushy and homogenous, don't even bother. I grew up loving the M&M Meat shepherd's pie and have been trying to replicate it with ground round or lentils since giving up beef. It doesn't work. This recipe doesn't try to be that kind of shepherd's pie, and it's better for it.

Second, the recipe has a lot of ingredients, ranging from eggplant to oats to nuts to squash to fresh herbs. And it takes forever to make, since there's chopping, baking, slicing, grating, mashing, scraping, and two phases of sautéing. But it's totally worth it. Just make sure you set aside an afternoon.

As for my adjustments. The original recipe calls for pine nuts. Pine nuts are expensive, and I'm cheap, so I decided to substitute walnuts. Close enough. Also, having the middle layer composed of just spaghetti squash (as per the original recipe) was somewhat disappointing. It was very bland, and almost watery. So I figured a different kind of squash (acorn, butternut, or pepper) would work, or maybe sweet potato. I opted for a mixture of spaghetti squash and sweet potato, and it was pretty tasty, although still the blandest of the layers. Suggestions on this point are welcome. So far I've considered adding margarine, but that's probably not the healthiest option... For the cheese layer, I supplemented the old cheddar with marble because I'm selfish and wanted to save some of the old cheddar just for snacking. :)

Some other notes: The recipe makes a lot of food, so I decided to freeze most of it. I baked all of it at the same time and then put some of the dishes in the freezer (after letting it cool a bit, of course). I figured if I'm running the oven for 50 minutes anyway, I might as well bake all of them at the same time. We'll see how it goes when I thaw and reheat one of them in a few weeks. Also, I used a small spaghetti squash, so my middle layer was pretty thin, which you can see in the photos. I was OK with this since it is the blandest layer, but it could probably have been thicker to improve the healthiness of this meal (i.e. increase the ratio of veggies to bread/potato).

Fancy Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie
Ease: 2 easy
Time: 5 time consuming
Ingredients: easy
Source: modified from Recettes du Québec

  • 1 cup oat flakes
  • 2 cups bread chunks
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped (original recipe used pine nuts)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 Tbsp fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped (original recipe uses fresh thyme)
  • 1 sweet potato (original recipe didn't have sweet potato)
  • 1 spaghetti squash
  • 1/4 cup butter or margarine
  • 1 medium eggplant, cut into 1/2" pieces
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 6 potatoes, thinly sliced (original recipe used Yukon gold; I used baking potatoes)
  • 2 cups old cheddar cheese, grated (I supplemented with marble)
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  1. In a bowl, mix the oats, bread, and milk. When the milk is absorbed, add the sunflower seeds, nuts, eggs, and herbs. Set aside.
  2. Cook the sweet potato in whichever way you like. I chopped mine into large chunks (skin on) and cooked in the microwave for 10 minutes. Peel and mash.
  3. Cook the spaghetti squash: Cut the squash in half, clean out the seeds and guts (reserve the seeds to roast like pumpkin seeds!), then cook the squash in a shallow baking dish for 35 minutes at 375 F. Using a fork, remove the flesh into the bowl containing the sweet potato. Add salt and pepper. Mix well.
  4. In a large frying pan, melt half of the butter and then sauté the eggplant and onions until cooked. Remove and set aside.
  5. In the same frying pan, melt the rest of the butter and brown the oat/bread/nut mixture. Add the eggplant mixture back, mix and cook 4 more minutes.
  6. In whatever sized baking dish(es) you like, layer: the oat/bread/eggplant mixture, then the squash/sweet potato mixture, then the sliced potatoes, and top with the cheese.

  7. Cook in a 350 F oven for 50 minutes until the potatoes are cooked and the cheese is bubbly and a bit browned.

Oct 10, 2011

Recipe: two-ingredient carrot-pumpkin cupcakes

I've never really been a dessert person, but Pinterest has introduced me to all sorts of tantalizing baked goods, like these no-bake sinful Cookies & Cream bars. I've never made fudge in my life, but this Orange Creamsicle fudge is enough to make me want to try! And then I remember that I'm sometimes a lazy cook, and 7 ingredients is really way too much. :)

A recipe that's gotten a lot of air time on Pinterest, and also among my online friends, is the two-ingredient pumpkin cake with apple cider glaze. I had actually tried this months ago with chocolate cake mix, but I was using it as a vegan cake, so was trying to hide the pumpkin. This recipe makes the pumpkin the centre stage, which makes it a much more autumny recipe. I have been itching to try it again with a different cake mix, and decided carrot might work. But you could use anything really. Yellow seems to be most popular.

I, as usual, prefer to put my own spin on the recipe. I find glazes too sweet (and unnecessary sugar/calories), but the cake would be probably a bit too simple on its own without the glaze. A friend of mine said she added pumpkin spice to the mix, so I opted in that direction by adding a few spices. The cardamom was a flash of inspiration because I used cardamom in an indian-flavoured creamed spinach recipe last night. That said, I'm still calling it two-ingredient because the spices really are optional. The cake would be quite simple/subtle-tasting on its own, but it would still be decent. And if you're a glaze/icing fan, you could do the apple cider glaze from the original recipe, or some cream-cheese icing if that's your bag.

The original recipe is for a sheet cake, but I went with cupcakes. One could also do those oh-so-trendy mason jar cakes, and apparently one commenter made cake cookies. The cookies made me curious so I tried those with the mix that didn't fit in my 12 cupcake pan + 3 mini-cake pans.

How did they turn out? Well.... they weren't the best cupcakes I've ever tasted. They were more like muffins, they definitely had a lot of spice to them, and they were VERY MOIST. Almost like they were undercooked, but since there's no egg to cook I didn't worry about it too much. I double-checked the recipe and apparently I used nearly DOUBLE the amount of pumpkin that you're supposed to use. I thought it was easier to mix than my previous chocolate attempt. Le sigh. In any case, I probably won't make these exactly like this again even if I do adjust the pumpkin amount, but I think it's useful to share my failures too. Next time, I'll use yellow cake mix, less pumpkin, and probably only make the cake cookies - I like my dessert in bite-sized pieces. The recipe I've provided below is how I should have made it; not how I did make it.

Two-ingredient Carrot-Pumpkin Cupcakes (and Cake Cookies)
Ease: 1 very easy
Time: 1 very quick
Ingredients: very easy
Source: Big Red Kitchen

  • 1 box carrot cake mix (other cakes can be used, see notes above)
  • 1 15oz / 443mL can of pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling! and not a 796 mL can of pumpkin!)
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon (optional)
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg (optional)
  • 1/8 tsp ground allspice (optional)
  • 1/8 tsp ground cardamom (optional)

  1. Add cake mix (and spices) to a bowl.
  2. Add pumpkin.
  3. Mix well (dry cake mix tends to hide at the bottom). Note that the mixing can take a long time and is quite tiring. But it does mix, so do not add extra liquid!
  4. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  5. Grease cupcake pan / cookie sheet.
  6. Spoon mix into pan / sheet.
  7. Cook for cupcakes for ~20 minutes, cookies for less. (I don't know the exact time since my recipe was wonky).

Oct 9, 2011

Recipe: toaster oven mini zucchini pizzas

This is the time of year for "too much zucchini", so I've been on the search for zucchini recipes. Pinterest has been particularly useful in this search. So far I've tried dill zucchini chips (not good at all), zucchini fries (meh), and zucchini pizzas (finally, a win!), and a vegetable soup (also meh, but I think that was my fault and not the recipe's). I think that I might just not like zucchini all that much... Perhaps I should have opted for baked goods that hide it better...

In any case, I've decided to post my version of the zucchini pizzas, since I seem to have a problem following recipes without modifying them. In this case I had a good excuse: I don't pepperoni, and I don't have a grill!

Toaster Oven Mini Zucchini Pizzas
Ease: 1 very easy
Time: 1 very quick
Ingredients: very easy
Source: Kalyn's Kitchen

  • Zucchini, the fatter the better
  • Olive oil
  • Sauce of your choice: alfredo, BBQ, pizza, thai, etc.
  • Cheese of your choice: mozza, cheddar, parm, etc.
  • Veggie toppings of your choice: bell peppers, onion, mushrooms, fresh basil, etc

  1. Slice zucchini into 3/4" slices. I had a fat zucchini so I did my slices widthwise, but you could also make long and skinny pizzas with lengthwise slices.
  2. Place the slices on a cooking sheet, and brush the tops with olive oil. Broil in a toaster oven for 8-10 minutes.
  3. Flip the slices over and top them with the sauce, toppings, and cheese.
  4. Broil again for 5-7 minutes, or until the cheese has started to bubble and brown.
  5. I suggest eating these with a fork and knife, and carefully... No one likes the hot-cheese & roof-of-mouth combination.

Jul 11, 2011

recipe: vegetarian sushi (this time with recipe!)

Kyle had a craving for sushi so we're making it again, just one week after the first time. And it was just as good this time around! I'm actually writing out the full recipe this time, mostly because we finished our package of nori that has the instructions... and I want a permanent record ;)

These instructions are based on what we made tonight.

Vegetarian Sushi
Ease: 4 not very easy (well, it's a bit complicated at first but it gets easy with practice!)
Time: 4 somewhat time consuming (rice preparation, filling preparation, and rolling all take a while)
Ingredients: can be tricky to obtain
Source: general instructions were on the back of our nori package, Yaki Sushi Nori, which be bought from the International Food Market on Wyandotte. Our ideas for the fillings came from previous experience with sushi restaurants.

  • 1/3 a block of tofu
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 1.5 tsp hoisin sauce
  • 1 tsp tempura sauce
  • 1/2 tsp hot chili oil
  • enough water to cover tofu
  • 2 cups sushi rice (we bought ours at International Food Market)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 Tbsp cooking sherry (our instructions call for Mirin, Japanese Sweet Rice Wine)
  • 1 pc Kombu (dried kelp - we omitted this because we didn't know what it was)
  • 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 2.5 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • nori
  • 1 avocado
  • ~ 1/3 - 1/2 of a cucumber
  • 1 carrot
  • Special Equipment: sushi rolling mat
  1. Cut and marinate tofu: Mix together the soy sauce, hoisin sauce, tempura sauce, and chili oil (or whatever sauces you'd prefer to use for your marinade). Cut the tofu into long strips about 1/3" x 1/3" x the longest dimension you can get. Add the tofu to the marinade and then add enough water to bring the marinade up and cover the tofu. Set aside.

  2. Cook rice: Rinse rice in cold water several times until water runs clear. Add the measured water, the sherry, and the Kombu (if you're using it) to the rice and let sit for 30 minutes. If you're using Kombu, remove the Kombu before cooking the rice. Next, cook the rice until done (we used an electric rice cooker so just pressed "on" and it was done when it popped up). Once finished, remove from heat and let sit 10 minutes. Then fluff with wooden spoon.
  3. Prepare sushi vinegar: While rice is cooking, mix together the rice wine vinegar, the sugar, and the salt. Warm in the microwave for 20 seconds to help dissolve everything.
  4. Prepare fillings: While rice is cooking, prepare the fillings (except the avocado - leave that until last) Tofu: Sauté the tofu in a bit of oil and about half the sauce. Turn down the heat and let the rest of the sauce boil off. Carrot: Using a potato peeler, create long strips of carrot. Avocado and cucumber: Peel & remove seeds from cucumber, then cut into long matchstick-like strips. Cut the avocado the same way.
  5. Prepare rice: After rice has been fluffed, spread it in a shallow pan and sprinkle the sushi vinegar over the rice. Toss with a wooden spoon so that the vinegar is evenly absorbed. Apparently using a fan at this point helps cool the rice to handling temperature and prevents sticky rice. Now you're ready to roll :)

  6. Make maki sushi! Place one sheet of nori on a rolling mat. Moisten fingers and spread rice evenly over bottom 2/3 of nori sheet. I prefer small sushi pieces, so I usually only use about 1/2 cup of rice, which makes a layer about 1/3" thick (but with lots of holes that I can still see the nor through). Make a long indentation across the rice, about 1/3 of the way up the nori (so it splits the rice layer in half - top and bottom). Fill this indent with your ingredients (see below for flavour combos). Lift the mat over and tuck it around the fillings, squeezing a bit to compress the rice. Then continue rolling while releasing the mat as you go. (at this point, Kyle feels the need to give his whole roll a good squeeze. I found that mine worked well enough that I didn't need the extra squeeze. You'll find a technique that works for you).
  7. Cool them: I put the "sushi logs" in the fridge for at least about 45 minutes, because I prefer them a bit cooled and it makes them easier to cut.
  8. Cut them: Then, you cut your sushi into pieces of your desired size.
  9. Serve with soy sauce, ginger, and wasabi. Mmm wasabi.
Serving size: This last batch made 10 thin logs of sushi, each log making up to 12 small pieces (like, really small pieces). For example, this photos below shows the sushi made from 4 logs.

Jul 2, 2011

recipe: vegetarian sushi

OK well I'm not doing a full sushi recipe... I just wanted an excuse to post photos of my very first homemade sushi!! It's very exciting.

I only started liking sushi recently, when I went to a restaurant in Québec called Metropolitain (or Eddie Sushi Bar). There, I tried the cucumber rolls and the avocado rolls and I fell in LOVE with the avocado ones. There was a brief period after that where I would crave the avocado rolls. Anyway, I've been back to that place again once or twice, and I've eaten at a couple of all-you-can-eat sushi restaurants. Some are more miss than hit, even with the avocado rolls :( Not to mention expensive.

I remember my friend and old roommate Erin making sushi at home once, and it didn't look TOO hard, so I wanted to give it a try. Kyle and I picked up the necessary materials on our last trip to International Food Market: a rolling mat, nori (the seaweed sheets), sushi rice, wasabi paste, and pickled ginger. Aaaand we've been putting it off since then. It's intimidating!

I put it on our "weekly meals" list for the week, and we tried it out today, since we knew we'd be home for a while. It took about 3 hours from start to finish, although a lot of that was just waiting. We followed the instructions for cooking the rice and rolling the sushi that were printed on the nori package. Here are the approximate list of steps:
  1. Rinse rice and then soak for 30 minutes
  2. Prepare fillings
  3. Cook rice, then let sit for 10 minutes.
  4. Mix rice with sushi vinegar (rice vinegar, sugar, and salt) and cool a bit while stirring.
  5. Roll sushi!
  6. Cool for about 1 hour (the cooling is optional but it made it really easy to slice nice pieces)
  7. Slice sushi & serve!

Here were our fillings: everything was long thin matchstick type pieces except for the carrot, which was long strips that we obtained with a carrot peeler.
  • Avocado (of course)
  • Cucumber (one of Kyle's favourites)
  • Vegetarian California roll (avocado, cucumber, and carrot)
  • Stir-fried tempura tofu (recipe below)
  • Deluxe: stir-fried tofu, avocado, cucumber, and carrot

I enjoyed all of them. They tasted as good as any restaurant, and Kyle even said the tofu tasted better than the tofu sushi we've gotten from restaurants. Yay us. I must say that the tofu was my least favourite, only because it had too much "savoury" taste and not enough "freshness" that would come from a veggie. I preferred the deluxe better because it had the extra veggie-ness.

This makes me want to have a sushi party :D

Recipe: Stir-fried tempura tofu (for sushi)
It's not much of "recipe" since I didn't measure amounts, but it was something like...
  • tofu, cut into matchsticks
  • soy sauce
  • hoisin sauce
  • tempura sauce
  • hot chili oil
  • water
Mix together and let sit for 1-2 hours.
Stir fry tofu in sesame, chili, & corn oil with a spoonful of the marinade sauce.
Let cool; set aside.

May 12, 2011

recipe: faux tuna (chickpea) salad

I read about this recipe from a Craftser newsletter. Weird, I know. I've been wanting to make faux tuna salad basically since I obtained the student vegetarian cookbook and saw a recipe there. However, that recipe requires kelp powder, which I have found impossible to find. So when I saw this non-kelp powder recipe, I got really excited and decided to give it a try.

I have a policy of trying a recipe the way it's written before I make any of my own modifications, but I abandoned that policy with this one. I had a couple of flashes of inspiration that could only make it better. First, I added a dill pickle. I think I was inspired by my sandwich making days back at Laurier. Second, I added a bit of nori. I shied away from sushi for so long because I don't like the taste of nori... I think it tastes like fish. But now I like sushi, and Kyle and I bought some sushi making ingredients, including nori. I crumbled up a bit and threw it in there. It didn't take much before the nori became overwhelming though, so be careful. My third flash of insight was kind of random. I was making myself a sandwich at some point after the first day, and I decided to try mustard. Even though I only put three tiny dabs of mustard on a sandwich/wrap, I think it somehow pulled the recipe together and made it more tuna-y.

Some notes: When I ate the salad on the first day, I found the flavours hadn't mingled well enough yet, so I definitely recommend letting it sit overnight. Second, I found that the apple chunks were too big and distinctive, so I'd cut them small for my next try.

Faux Tuna (chickpea) Salad
Ease: 1 very easy
Time: 4 somewhat time consuming (lots of chopping + needs to sit over night)
Ingredients: pretty easy to get (except Nori, which is optional)
Source: I found it on Craftster, but googled and found it posted here. Turns out it's originally from a book called Vegan with a Vengeance, but the one I linked above is somewhat modified. I changed it once again.

  • 1 19 oz. can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1.5 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 Tbsp of mayonnaise
  • 1/3 cup onion, diced
  • 2/3 stalk of celery, diced
  • 1/2 granny smith apple, finely diced
  • 1 dill pickle, diced
  • black pepper to taste
  • up to 1/4 tsp Nori, chopped/crumbled finely (optional)
  • bread or tortilla wraps
  • garnishes like lettuce and tomato
  • mustard (optional)

  1. Mash chickpeas with a fork.
  2. Add vinegar, salt, and mayo.
  3. Add veggies up to the pickle.
  4. Season with a bit of black pepper.
  5. Chill overnight (I tried it after about 1 hour and the flavours hadn't blended enough!)

May 2, 2011

recipe: spice cookies

I bought some molasses cookies from Dollarama the other day and was so addicted to them it hurt. They have iron, so that's a plus... but they also have sugar and of course preservatives. I decided to try baking some at home to see if it's possible to make yummy ones. Then I will try to make a healthier version.

I found a recipe off Allrecipes and modified it as per the comments/reviews and tried it out this past Sunday. It's not terribly original on my part since I'm just copying... but they turned out SO WELL that I am posting the recipe anyway. I'm also changing the name because "molasses cookies" just sounds lame.

Spice Cookies
Ease: 1 very easy
Time: 3 somewhat quick (all baking takes long!)
Ingredients: easy to get
Source: Inspiration from AllRecipes.com

  • 3/4 cup margarine, partially melted
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 c molasses
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 3/4 tsp ground ginger (1/2 tsp + "some more")
  • 1 Tbsp white sugar extra

  1. Mix wet ingredients: Mix margarine, sugar, egg until smooth. Add molasses and stir.
  2. Mix dry ingredients: Combine flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves and ginger.
  3. Blend dry mix into wet mix.
  4. Cover and chill at least 1/2 hour (original recipe recommended 1 hour).
  5. Preheat oven to 375 F. Roll dough into walnut sized balls and then roll in sugar (note that I only rolled one side of the balls to reduce sugar). Place cookies ~ 2" apart on ungreased cookie trays.
  6. Bake 7 minutes until tops are starting to crack. Watch closely because the longer they cook, the harder they get. 7 minutes yields a soft cookie that stays soft at least one day (speaking from experience)

Apr 24, 2011

recipe: chicken brine

My life has been pretty intense since moving to Quebec and starting my PhD, so trying new recipes and blogging about them has been near the bottom of my priority list. That said, things are starting to stabilize and Kyle and I hope to start trying new recipes again, so I'm hoping to make the recipe posting to be a regular thing again!

I know it's strange to see a chicken-related recipe on my blog, since I mostly post vegetarian recipes, but I like to cook roast chicken for Kyle at least once a year because it's his favourite meal since when he was a kid. We usually cook it on holidays when we're not visiting family. Today, it's Easter. I'll be posting my brine recipe, my rub recipe, and my stuffing recipe.

When I first decided to roast a chicken for Kyle, I called upon my sister for help since she is more experienced in the ways of "normal" home-style cooking. She recommended that I brine it. Brine? WTF? Isn't that just salt? Well, I did some research on Allrecipes and sure enough brining is kind of popular. So I tried it and the chicken was really good (this coming from someone who doesn't like meat) so... I can consider myself a brine convert. The brine recipe is pretty flexible since it's just used to soak the chicken and then you discard it. The first one we made had clementine wedges and peel, lemon juice, dried onion, and rosemary. For my second one, I used fresh onion, fresh lemon, dried thyme, and sugar. And this is my third one, and I've mixed it up again.

Lemon-pepper Chicken Brine
Ease: 1 very easy
Time: 2 quick (just some chopping)
Ingredients: easy to get
Source: Inspiration from AllRecipes.com.

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced/chopped
  • 1 medium onion, sliced thinly
  • 1 medium/large lemon, sliced thinly
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1/t poultry seasoning
  • 1 tsp + extra black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar
  • tea leaves from 1 used teabag (from my morning tea)
  • 1/3 cup salt
  • 15 cups of water (enough to cover the chicken)

  1. Add onion, garlic, lemon, and spices (including tea) to a pot/container that is large enough to hold your chicken.
  2. Measure out the salt, take some and rub it onto the chicken. Pour the remaining salt into the pot.
  3. Rub some coarsely ground black pepper onto the chicken (if you have a pepper grinder).
  4. Add the water to the pot and mix everything around to dissolve the salt.
  5. Add the chicken to the water carefully.
  6. Store the chicken in the fridge for at least 1 hour but not longer than 5-6 hours.
  7. Remove the chicken from the brine, discard the brine, rinse the chicken under cold water, and pat dry. For crispier skin, allow the chicken to dry some more by storing in the fridge overnight.