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.