Saturday, November 19, 2011

Aunt Lauren's Vegetarian Crock Pot Mushroom & Kale Stew with Quinoa

Way back in Crocktober, my lovely aunt Lauren (also the creator of this yummy fruit and nut quinoa idea) sent me her recipe for a crock pot stew involving fresh sliced mushrooms, a variety of dried mushrooms, kale, parsnips and quinoa for serving. She even mailed me a big box of dried mushrooms to make it with - is that sweet, or what? And while Crocktober is over, my love for the crock pot is not, so I'm going to share her recipe with you anyway.
Because I'm using a teeny 2 qt machine and we are pretty sure that hers is a 5-quarter, I cut her recipe in half. 2 quarts is kind of absurdly small, I realize, so it might make more sense for you to use the original, so I'll give you her original measurements:

5 medium parsnips, peeled and chopped into 1-inch chunks
4 large leaves kale, cut lengthwise and chopped
2 cups veggie stock (or chicken)
2 tbsp cornstarch blended with hot water, as needed (about 2/3 cup)
1 1/2 large onions, chopped, or a bag of peeled "pear onions" from Trader Joe's
1 8 oz box sliced fresh mushrooms 
1 cup of mixed dried mushrooms 
1 can reduced fat cream of mushroom soup
1 smashed garlic clove
1 1/2 large onions, chopped, or a bag of peeled "pear onions" from Trader Joe's

Cooked quinoa, for serving
Fresh parsley, coarsely chopped, for serving

1. Break your dried mushrooms up into smaller pieces (so you don't need to chop them later), and soak in 2 cups hot water for about 5 minutes. Drain, pouring carefully so as to remove grit while leaving mushroom liquor.
2. Combine all ingredients except kale, cornstarch and water in the crock pot. Cook on "low" for 8-10 hours. 
3. One and one half hours before serving, add kale. A half an hour later, stir in cornstarch and water mixture. Leave the lid cracked and continue to cook for about another hour to hour and a half to thicken.

Lauren is a very smart woman. The changes I made were more logistical than creative - So, just so you know, if you come home around 8:30 hungry and tired from work, you can turn the crock to "high" to hasten broth-thickening while you cook your kale with the quinoa on the stovetop instead of leaving that extra time for everything to cook together in the crock. It is probably better Lauren's way, but life happens. The only "creative" change I made to her recipe is adding a little fresh parsley for garnish, which I do recommend.

If you know where to find dairy-free cream of mushroom soup, you can easily make this vegan. And, if you're not the hugest fan of parsnips (like I know Brady isn't), you can use cubed potato instead. And I have to say, now that I know how easy and convenient is is to cook with dried mushrooms, and the rich flavor you get from the variety, I think I'll be working my way through this box in short order.

Quote of the Day: I travel the world, and I'm happy to say that America is still the great melting pot - maybe a chunky stew rather than a melting pot at this point, but you know what I mean. ~ Philip Glass

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Pizza with Fig Preserves, Caramelized Onion, Goat Cheese, and Cured Meats Optional

There is an incredible pizza place in Boston, on Beacon Hill, called Figs. They make a pizza that is out of this world, with sweet-tart, seeds-and-all fig preserves, caramelized onion, fresh cheeses (and prosciutto optional) on a yummy thin crust. I've only eaten it twice in the past two years, but I still have dreams about it, and I'm only partially joking. Sadly, most of us cannot live in Boston, though it is still on my personal Bucket List. But for now, I thought I would take a stab at a very liberally interpreted make-it-yourself version that anybody could put together, using pre-made pizza dough, goat cheese, caramelized onions and prosciutto or bacon, if you like.

For starters, I don't think I can write a better tutorial on caramelizing onions than Elise at, so I won't burden you with a paraphrased version. It takes a while, but it's very straight foward. I love onions any way I can get them, but caramelizing is such a simple way to bring out their natural sweetness. The only change I made to Elise's instructions is the addition of a smashed garlic clove about ten minutes into the cooking time, which you can remove before assembling your pizza, if you don't like the idea of getting a mouthful of roasted garlic. I hear some people don't like that.

1 ball pizza dough, or 1 roll-out sheet of thin-crust pizza dough
1 large sweet onion, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, smashed
About 3-4 tbsp fig preserves (I used Kadota Fig Preserves made by Trappist; there are several common kinds of figs, but any sort will work)
3-4 ounces goat cheese, cut into chunks
Slices of prosciutto or large crumbles of cooked bacon or pancetta (optional and to your taste)

1. Caramelize your onions, adding the garlic about 10 minutes in. If you're using bacon or pancetta, cook that now, too.
2. Spread or roll out your pizza dough, and spread with fig preserves. Sprinkle with chunks of goat cheese, and add slices of prosciutto or large crumbles of bacon if you're using meat, and onions. Do not ignore the corners!
3. The exact cooking instructions will depend upon the dough you've chosen. Canned, roll-out crusts may require a brief pre-baking before toppings are added. A refrigerated dough that you flatten out yourself may not tell you this, but it will also work much better with a few minutes of pre-cooking before toppings are added.

Wow. Now that this pizza came out so deliciously well, I am not ashamed to tell you that I used a canned, Pillsbury thin-crust roll-out dough. So, don't feel bad if you want to do the same. You're in good company. And also you won't get super-frustrated and perfectionist-ey like I do every time I try to stretch pizza dough, so there's that.

I'm still not entirely sure whether Figs uses a simple fig puree or a fig preserve, and obviously bacon cannot compete with prosciutto, but let's be honest. This is still a delicious pizza. It's an absolute confection. If it were one of the seven deadly sins, this pizza would be "lust." As Brady put it, it is "both carnal and sweet at the same time." Yes, he was definitely talking about the pizza.

Serve this baby with a salad of mixed baby greens, thinly sliced red peppers and a balsamic vinaigrette, and you will not be disappointed. We enjoyed our dinner with a beer from one of the best local breweries in our area, Cabin Fever Ale (a medium-bodied, English-style pale ale) made by the Berkshire Brewing Company. Any beer with a nice balance of rich malt and hoppyness will be a great match.

EDIT: If this pizza looks good to you, you'll also enjoy this Double-Decker Pear, Havarti and Alfalfa Sprout Sandwich on Cinnamon Raisin Bread.

Spiced Apple Cider from the Crock Pot

To tell the truth, this was intended to be the last post of Crocktober. But, as we found ourselves in MA with no power on that particular day, the cider didn't quite happen. So here it is, a bit late, but hopefully better late than never.

This afternoon I set up the crock before we took off for an Autumn drive-then-walk in the woods, and it was warm and yummy by the time we got back. And what could be nicer to come home to? Also the apartment still kinda smelled like bacon from this morning. A pretty winning combination, if you ask me.
It was a pretty nice walk.
 This cider is seasoned with yummy fall spices, tangerine zest, and just a little bit of honey. If you're craving a sweet, coffee house-style cider, try Crockpot 365's Crock Pot Caramel Apple Cider, which is made with caramel syrup. Of course, buying a pre-mixed tin of mulling spices is never a bad idea (many of which can be used both for cider and for red wine), but the odds are pretty good that you already have everything you need for my version.

Setting up the 5-quart crock.
1/2 gallon unsweetened apple cider (this is an estimate; we had a gallon jug that was maybe a little more than half full)
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (to taste)
1 tbsp honey
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 pinch each ground allspice and ground cloves
Grated zest of 1 ripe tangerine or orange

1. Combine all ingredients in crock pot, and heat on "low" for 2-4 hours, or until cider is well-warmed and flavors have diffused. (If you're squeamish about the zest solids, you can pour it through a wire strainer to get the bulky stuff out but leave the spices behind).

This is so seasonal I almost can't stand it. Almost.
Of course, this being a chilly Autumn night, we eventually turned our spiced cider into - as my Dad would say - an "adult beverage" with spiced rum. This would be a great party beverage, too. Just heat it up a couple of hours ahead of time, then keep on the "warm" setting with a ladle at the ready, either as a festive punch or an equally festive non-alcoholic beverage. (I don't know whether or not the alcohol would cook off, but I think I would add the rum just before serving, just to be sure).

Quote of the Day: An apple a day keeps the doctor away. ~ Dreamt up by American apple growers in the 1900s who were concerned that the temperance movement would cut into their hard cider sales. [Source]

Friday, November 11, 2011

Thanksgiving Essentials: Honey-Sweetened Cranberry Sauce and Maple-Whipped Sweet Potatoes

Hello readers! So, I know it's been a while, but this weekend I find myself in western MA with Brady  - which means a real kitchen with all my gadgets and an actual food audience - so it it seemed like a good time to jump on the holiday bandwagon. This was very fortunate timing for Brady, as his MAT colleagues had a lovely Thanksgiving potluck shindig this weekend as well. I would like to think that I did him a favor cooking two things for us to bring, but I've missed cooking for people other than myself, so I can't act like it was some huge hardship.

And also.. I'm sorry. I'm sorry for the complete lack of photos in this post, but those of you who have ever tried to cook something and bring it to a party still warm can relate: those last few minutes getting out the door are a bit nuts. So you will just have to believe me when I tell you that the sauce and the potatoes were both colorful and lovely. Or better yet - make them yourself if you don't believe me!

Cranberry Sauce (Vegan)
I am not ashamed to admit that usually, can-shaped cranberry sauce is my preference. I love the stuff. But, when arriving at somebody's house for a party, I thought cranberry jell-o might be considered a bit.. gauche. So, here is a simple recipe that is cool, refreshing, festive, and a great relish compliment to all those rich holiday sides. This makes a rather large batch, since I was serving about 12 people, but can be easily halved:

2 12-oz bags fresh cranberries
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup 100% orange (pulp is ok), cranberry juice (not cocktail), or tangerine juice
1 tsp grated orange or tangerine zest
3/4 cup honey

Autumnal spices - ground cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, allspice, etc (optional)

1. In a medium-to-large saucepan, combine water, zest and honey, and bring to a boil.
2. Rise cranberries, picking out any shriveled or ugly-looking berries, and add once liquid is boiling. Bring back to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook uncovered for about 10 minutes. (You can also add a dash of cinnamon or nutmeg, or a pinch of ground clove or allspice at this step, if you want to).
3. Remove from heat and cool fully at room-temperature, then refrigerate for up to one week. (Sauce will thicken as it cools).

The orange adds a more mellow citrus flavor to the tart cranberries, and with the honey it is a nice balance of tart and (barely) sweet. I had tangerines on hand, so I used the juice and zest from one in place of the orange, which worked out great. And of course, I certainly feel better about using honey than a refined white sugar. If you can be convinced to deviate from the can-shaped variety, I recommend it!

Sweet Potatoes (Vegetarian)
This recipe comes from Martha Stewart's impossibly-perfect-yet-so-elegantly-simple recipe for Maple-Whipped Sweet Potatoes, which calls for oven-roasted potato flesh and a few staple additions to make some seriously beautiful potatoes with minimal effort. Again, this is a pretty big batch, but close to all of it was eaten by 12 people:

7-8 medium sweet potatoes
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
Coarse salt and ground pepper

1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Prick sweet potatoes all over with a fork; about 6-8 times each.
2. On a rimmed baking sheet, bake potatoes until very tender when stabbed with a fork, about 1 hour. When cool enough to handle, halve the potatoes lengthwise, and scoop out the flesh, discarding the skins.
3. Transfer potato flesh to a food processor, add butter and syrup, and process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper, and serve warm.
4. (Or, if you're in a party-travel situation, transfer sweet potatoes to a large covered baking dish, cover with aluminum foil, wrap in clean cotton dish cloths, and hope they stay mostly-warm through the 20 minute drive to the party. If needed, you can always reheat them, uncovered, later on).

These were super, super tasty, and got lots of compliments. And it's not exactly quick, but definitely easy, and surprisingly light in texture. I did end up reheating them quickly when we arrived, but that's more because we got lost on the way than anything else. They were keeping my lap quite toasty until that third wrong turn...

We had a great evening with some great people, and as potlucks go it was exceptionally "lucky" - everybody brought something delicious that they had made, the hostess roasted a beautiful turkey, and a good time was had by all. Enough to make you thankful to know good people, even if you don't know them all that well. Thanksgiving success.