I’ve been so busy this weekend! I did cook several things (including the items in the bento above), though, so hopefully some new posts will be coming later this week. Until then, here’s a tease of my lunch tomorrow. :)
It seems that just about every Sunday I have a tradition now of making food for the week and packing it up in cute (albeit nowhere near masterful) bento. During a hard day at work, there’s nothing quite like cracking open a healthy lunch that was made with care, even if you made it for yourself. :)
This week, I’m trying to get back on the healthy-eating, part-time vegetarian bandwagon after St. Patrick’s day threw me off. ^~^”
P.S. If you like this post, my blog, Japanese cuisine, or just general pleasantry in the world, please consider donating to Doctors Without Borders to help support their efforts in Japan and during other disasters and conflicts throughout the world. They’ve proven themselves over the years to be a well-organized, helpful, and responsible non-profit. Even $10 would help! (What would you do with that extra $10 anyway?)
I think I’m a pretty good cook, but I’m still never certain if it’s just me that loves my food or if everyone else actually thinks it’s good too. Thursday was a good sign when this vegetarian cottage pie recipe that I made up disappeared first at my St. Patrick’s Day dinner party…with both vegetarians (vegetarians for life *and* vegetarian converts) AND meat lovers gobbling it up. Kinda crazy!
The secret to this recipe is getting the right texture for the filling, somewhat like ground beef. I used a mixture of 1 part crumbled tempeh to 1 part crumbled extra firm tofu to 1 part finely chopped mushroom mix (1 part shiitake mushrooms to 3 parts crimini/baby bella mushrooms). The flavor mix of the mushrooms and tempeh almost creates a very earthy flavor.
For this recipe, I recommend using a dish that can be put used on both the stove and in the oven (like a Le Cruset– thanks mom!), but you could probably make it in a pot then put it in a casserole dish. The recipe will seem kind of complicated, but once you get going it’s pretty easy. Just remember to do all your prep (making the mashed potatoes, vegetable chopping, mushroom chopping, getting all your supplies out) before you turn on any heat!
I can’t say this recipe is a perfect, exact replica of what I made. It probably needs some fine tuning, but it’s also pretty forgiving. You can add more liquid or butter or whatever as you go along, just keep tasting it to see if it tastes right to you. Since there’s no meat, you don’t have to worry too much about getting ecoli or salmonella!
Infamous Vegetarian Cottage Pie
(makes enough for 2 pies, or 1 1/2 large pies, feel free to scale or make extra to freeze)
- 1 block tempeh (~8 oz)
- 2 small block (1/2 standard tofu package) of extra firm tofu (~6 oz)
- 4 fresh shiitake mushrooms (you could use reconstituted dried, but the flavor will be stronger) chopped very finely
- 14 crimini/baby bella/brown mushrooms (chopped very finely)
- 4-6 tbsp soy sauce (prefer a mixture of regular and dark soy for color)
- 4 shallots
- 2/3 stick butter
- 1/2 cup of white flour
- 1/3 cup vegetarian Worcestershire sauce (most Worcestershire sauce contains anchovies; if you’re a lacto-ovo-pesco vegetarian, I guess you could just use regular W. sauce. I used chinese black vinegar; if you use that, use more than the W. sauce.)
- 3 tbsp vinegar (preferably cider or red wine)
- 2 cups vegetable broth
- salt & pepper to taste
- 3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley (Italian), dried is not a good substitute
- 1 tbsp dried thyme (or more fresh)
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh sage (more if dried)
- 1 onion, largely diced (2″ pieces)
- 4 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and roughly minced
- 1 carrot, diced medium (1″ cubes or smaller)
- 1 cup frozen peas (defrosted and drained)
- 2 green onions, chopped roughly. Leeks could would work too.
For the topping:
- 2-3 cups Mashed potatoes (I made mine with unpeeled boiled yukon golds with butter, milk, salt, pepper added until a thick rough consistency)
- Paprika for color
Prepare the mashed potatoes beforehand. I like mine with the skins on– it has more vitamins and more textural intrigue– but if you’re paranoid, you can peel the potatoes. I took about 6-8 potatoes and cut into large chunks (I cut mine into 4 to 6 pieces depending on the size) and boiled them until they were soft when stabbed with a fork. Then I drained off the water, let them dry for a bit, then threw them in a bowl and mashed them with about a stick of butter, some milk (maybe a cup?), and salt and pepper using a pastry cutter (I don’t have a potato masher). Voila!
First prep all of the vegetables. I put the mushrooms together and ran them through the food processor until finely chopped, but you could do this with a knife too, it’ll just take more time.
Prep the ground protein. Tempeh, if not frozen, is very easy to crumble into a ground meat like texture using your hands. Just make it so there aren’t any big chunks. I crumbled one package of tempeh (apparently 8 oz) with 1 small package of extra firm tofu (if you’re using a package like one of these from House Foods, I’d use half the package– 6 oz) crumbled finely using my hands.
Season it with soy sauce, a little brown sugar (optional– helps offset some of the bitterness of the tempeh), mix it well, add the mushrooms and some salt and pepper. Set aside.
In your stove top safe, oven proof dish (or just a pot), add the butter and shallots and sautee until the shallots are clear and slightly golden/carmelized (over medium/medium-low heat). You can see here that I tried browning the ground protein/mushroom mix first– I don’t think that’s really necessary, so I’m omitting that now.
When the shallots are done, add the flour to the butter/shallot mixture and turn the heat down a little bit.
Using a fork, mix the flour into the butter with a fork until it absorbs all of the fat (as in a roux). Mush it around to make sure there are no lumps, just a very thick slightly browned paste. Keep the heat on medium low. This paste will be used to thicken the gravy/sauce.
Add the Worcestershire sauce and vinegar. If you tried to brown the protein mixture like I did, you’ll need to use the sauce to deglaze the pan. If not, just mix it thoroughly into the flour/fat mixture using a fork, making sure there are no lumps.
Now gradually mix in the vegetable broth, integrating it into the paste that you made before. Make sure that the floury mixture mixes thoroughly with the broth using the fork, because this creates a gravy. You want this gravy to be thick. If it’s too thin, add more flour and make sure it gets mixed in to where there are no lumps. If it’s too thick (paste-like rather than gravy-like), add more broth or even just water.
If you’re just using an oven-safe dish, you can just smooth this down and put the mashed potatoes on top, sprinkling with paprika. If you’re not baking in what you just cooked in, transfer the filling to the oven-safe pan and smooth it on the bottom, then add the potatoes and paprika. I try to use slightly more filling than mashed potatoes.
Because everything is pretty much already cooked, you just need to broil it for 10-15 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Let cool a bit before serving.
This will be the second or third day of sleep deprivation, I’m not entirely sure. Last night was due to contemplation about my future, having just received acceptance from one graduate school. Tonight is the onset of preparation for my annual St. Patrick’s Day dinner party, the celebration of the palest 1/4 of my heritage. Tonight meant starting the process of an awesome stew to feed at the very least 12 (luckily stew is one of those things that really is better left over, so I can keep it in the fridge for a day or two and reheat it thoroughly).
Tomorrow will be more preparation (making the base for vegetarian cottage pie, prepping vegetables, boiling potatoes, and hitting up the gym so the fact that I may have enjoyed tasting these things and sipping on a beer won’t show in my thighs. Thursday, of course, is S-day, with moderated debauchery in the form of a massive dinner party (my neighbors have been warned/invited). Friday I’ll be amazed if I’m still alive.
Granted, I’ve never been to Ireland, but the internet is fabulous place that lets us all reconnect with our past in interesting and often culinary ways. Here’s my synthesis of how to create a decent Irish lamb stew for 12 people:
Irish Lamb Stew
You’re going to need a very large stock pot for this one. There aren’t any potatoes, because I usually serve potatoes as a side since it’s an excuse to make champ.
- 6 lbs leg of lamb (boneless), cut into 2-3″ cubes. Could use lamb stew meat if where you live is fancy enough to carry cheap cuts of lamb. (I had to drop $35 for the leg…)
- 3 tbsp butter
- 3 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 leek (washed carefully and sliced into 1″ pieces)
- 6 turnips (2″ dice)
- 1 parsnip (1″ rounds)
- 4-6 carrots (1″ rounds)
- 1 yellow onion (3″ dice)
- 1 celery root (2″ dice)
- Frozen peas (1 c)
- 2 cups pearl barley (optional)
And for the seasoning/sauce:
- 1-2 c Worcestershire sauce (ok, so I didn’t have any, so I had to use Chinese black vinegar…I’m a horrible person, but it works in a pinch even if it’s a bit thinner. It’s also vegetarian!)
- 2/3 c flour
- 2 bottles of beer (anything will do, as any alcoholic Irish person could tell you)
- Salt (kosher or sea)
- Black pepper
- Parsley (preferably Italian)
- Bay leaves
- 5 or so cloves of garlic (I also threw in a shallot just ’cause)
- A whole hell of a lot of water
- Maybe more flour
Cut the lamb into cubes and toss in a bowl with generous amounts of salt & pepper.
Heat up the pot with the butter & vegetable oil until it’s visibly bubbly. Throw in the lamb cubes. You’re going to need to stir this a lot and drain off the water about every 5-10 minutes (save this in a pot or bowl!!). Draining off the water is important, otherwise your meat will never brown. Keep cooking until the lamb has a nice dark brown color on at least a few sides of each cube. Remove lamb to a bowl or somewhere, saving fat in the pan.
Add to fat Worcestershire sauce, and the reserved lamb juice that you had drained off. Use this to deglaze the pan. Throw in the leeks and cook them until the leeks are nice and soft. Add in the 2/3 cup of flour, move it around so it absorbs all the juices and creates a roux (a paste-type thing). Add beer to the roux, stirring frequently. Taste this and add salt and pepper as needed. Note that you want this sauce to taste a little more bitter/salty than you would think, because the parsnips, turnips, carrots, and onions all bring a lot of sweetness to the stew.
Now you add the lamb back in, along with the vegetables and spices (thyme, sage, etc.) Add garlic. Add a lot of water, enough to cover all of the contents. This is when I threw in the barley, too.
Let simmer for ever and ever and ever and ever (we’re talking hours here), until there’s noticably less water and it looks like a stew and the meat is tender. You can add more flour if you need to to thicken the sauce more, but I’d advise whisking it into a paste separately at least with some water, to keep it from making lumps. A second batch of roux using lard or butter would be better still.
A slow cooker would be great for this, but unfortunately, who really has room to store a slow cooker big enough to hold food for 12 people?
I know it’s kind of mean to post something on a food blog without photos, but I wanted to share things for my own reference, as well as others’ enrichment. I couldn’t take pictures since it got eaten quickly!
Yesterday I made a strawberry mango pie, with strawberries I’d gotten at the farmers’ market the previous weekend and prepped (washed, removed tops– shoutout to Bryant for his help!) and then froze. I was a little apprehensive about strawberry pie because I’d seen so many failed ones before that were just liquid bombs, but some research on the internet turned out to be very helpful.
Tips for Successful Strawberry-Mango Pie
- Clean/top, then freeze strawberries
- Procure dried, unsweetened mango. (I got mine from Trader Joe’s– “Just Mango”)
- Day of pie baking, defrost the strawberries (I did this in a pot on low heat). Let the strawberries drain in a strainer over a bowl or pot for a while, mushing them around a little bit. Reserve the excess liquid.
- Mix into cold strawberry liquid a couple tsp fresh lemon juice and 3 tbsp cornstarch. Mix until there are no lumps, then heat up in a pot just a little bit. Mix in about 1/2 to 2/3 c white sugar, depending on how tangy of a pie you want, until dissolved.
- Cut up dried mango slices into 2-3″ pieces in a bowl. Mix in strawberries.
- Add cornstarch-strawberry mixture to strawberry/mango slice mixture. Stir well, use to fill pie crust (I did a double-crust pie, based on the Joy of Cooking recipe, but all unsalted butter with no vegetable shortening– I did an egg wash on the top to make it all shiny).
The dried mangoes absorb some of the juice from the strawberries and keep it from being too liquidy. The cornstarch also helps. I didn’t cut the strawberries up at all either, so it was very obviously a happy strawberry pie. Overall this pie was slightly (but not too) tangy, and actually quite amazing. It was, I humbly report, the first pie to be completely eaten up at a Pie Potluck of sorts. :)
I can’t eat Indian food every day, and despite my recent part-time vegetarian kick (made it 4 days this week!), I was not able to force myself to finish the massive amount of dal I made. Somehow, though, I was inspired to make bhindi masala.
I’m not sure why (especially given my previous vehement dislike of okra) , but bhindi masala has always been one of my favorite Indian dishes. The meaty, curryish dishes are good, but I will always find myself wanting to order this dish of deliciously sauteed okra, tomatoes, and spices. Reading the Indian cookbook I bought, I thought to myself: cooking this really cannot be that hard.
So today I Googled it, and after a few times of being corrected on the spelling by monsieur Goog, I found a nicely illustrated and well-written recipe over at “Honey, what’s cooking?”. Being a little impatient, I didn’t let it cook long enough, and didn’t exactly follow the recipe to a T. I also omitted the nigella seeds (which the author seems to indicate aren’t really necessary anyway) and the mango powder (still haven’t found a source nearby) and used less oil. It came out pretty much fantastic and very close to what I’ve had while eating out, albeit a little crunchy (required some microwaving). It made my tummy very happy. A nice big bowl was less than 300 calories.
Now that I know how to make this for myself, I think I’ll make it more often! Thanks, “Honey”!
Eating okra in Indian food makes me wonder if folks in Southern areas of the US would like Indian food and vice versa– both have peppers, onions, heat, okra, legumes…who knows!
Tonight I made an incidentally low-calorie, low-carb, vegetarian dinner for myself while making some soup for a sick friend: egg flower soup.
Egg flower soup is actually quite simple to make, but looks very elegant and tastes really delicate. I think, in the authentic version, the soup most often contains spinach, but you can really use whatever vegetables you want. I use carrots, frozen peas, frozen corn, onions, and green onions.
My recipe for this soup can be found at Calorie Count, but since you’re reading my blog I’ll tell you the two secret ingredients: a little bit of five spice powder (about 2 tsp) and a dash of soy sauce. You want to let the veggies simmer for a bit in the broth to make sure that the carrots get tender. I think the recipe probably actually makes more like 4 servings, I just anticipated 2 because I was hungry when I wrote it up. XD
If you want a non-vegetarian version, use chicken stock. You could also brown some chicken first then add the stock.
I managed to get some allspice from the grocery store so I can start cooking from the Delicious Jamaica cookbook, but I forgot the thyme. I loosely followed Sobers’ recipe for a wet jerk marinade, substituting a little oregano for the missing thyme and adding some garlic (not sure why on that one). Overall it came out decently, but I think I need to follow the recipe more closely next time.
I cooked up some tempeh in the jerk marinade and it came out okay…while tempeh has a great texture and absorbs flavor readily, it also has a bit of a bitter flavor that’s best masked by sweeter or saltier sauces. As a result, the jerk seasoning on tempeh didn’t quite work as well as I’d hoped; I’d recommend using tofu instead. The most amusing part of this I suppose is the fact that tempeh is Indonesian, jerk seasoning is Jamaican and the wehani rice with fennel seeds is vaguely Indian inspired.
So I’m still trying to continue this part-time vegetarian kick. It’s gotten harder lately, especially when going out to eat. I realize how much meat I really used to eat– chicken sausages for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, then some sort of meat dish for dinner. It really doesn’t seem necessary to me to have meat at more than one meal a day, but this is easier said than done.
One of the main problems I have with vegetarianism in America is the whole attempt at “fake meat”. If you substitute something in for meat into dishes you already loved with meat, you’re pretty much always going to be disappointed. At least, that’s how it is for me. Take a dish that you already love and take out an integral part of the flavor and replace it with something with a completely different or weaker flavor– it’s just not going to work out.
My approach has instead been to try making dishes where I have no preconception of them needing meat, and also learning to appreciate the flavors of other protein sources– especially legumes. The second part of this approach has been looking for vegetarian recipes from other culinary traditions that I don’t have much experience with so that I won’t be so disappointed with the lack of meat.
You might see that this sort of pointed me in the direction of Indian food. India has a very long culinary tradition of vegetarianism, unlike America. This tradition has had a long time to refine itself and as a result it has many fabulous dishes that work without meat in them. My friend who grew up in a household that made heavy use of Indian cuisine suggested checking out Laxmi’s Vegetarian Kitchen . This book is packed full of information and is quite well-written; it’s very honest and it almost feels as if the author is speaking very candidly and openly to you. She even offers suggestions for western substitutes for ingredients in some cases. It has a ton of recipes for all sorts of things, but the one thing it is significantly lacking is pictures. It does have detailed descriptions of all sorts of Indian ingredients, but pictures would be helpful to be able to identify spices and ingredients easily. Thank god for Google.
Indian cuisine is fairly easy, it seems– if you have all the ingredients. That’s the kicker. We have lots of ethnic markets around this area, but it’s hard for me to make it 10 miles to hit up the Indian grocery. Also, my shelves are already packed full of so many spices that it’s hard to find room for say, 15 additional spices (cumin, asofedita, coriander, mustard seeds, fenugreek, cardamom, tumeric, fennel seed, dried mango powder, chili, kari, tamarind, cloves, and so on… for more info, Julie Sahni has a good reference for spices.) that I wouldn’t normally use. I picked up some spices at a natural foods store, but when I went to make something it seemed I was always lacking in some other spice. Each Indian recipe seems to require at least 5 different spices. It’s kind of daunting… so anyway, I’ve just taken Indian food as an inspiration and started winging it. The results have been decent and get me to eat legumes more often. I just won’t feed any Indian friends anytime soon, because I’m sure my food would make them wince.
I’ve also been looking into other vegetarian ethic cuisines. After some Amazon.com searching, I picked up Delicious Jamaica by Yvonne McCalla Sobers . I’m not a big fan of this cookbook. Maybe it’s just because as far as I know, I have absolutely no source of Jamaican ingredients nearby. I think I’ll have to peruse the spice aisle at the grocery store and see if they have allspice. This cookbook is also lacking in photos or drawings, but it does have calorie/nutrition information and a lot of unique dishes that seem like they have great potential for being delicious. It also has some tidbits about Jamaican culinary history which are sort of interesting, but a little dry. Overall, though, I don’t really seem to sense any particular organizational system to the book. It sorta just seems to be a bunch of recipes thrown together, willy-nilly.
See, now my problem with cookbooks is that I actually almost never cook from the recipes…I only use them for inspiration. I wonder if anyone else has this problem. Hopefully I’ll actually make use of some of the recipes, but if not, I only spent like $10 total on the two used books.
I hope to have some more recipes and photos for you all soon, but until then…be leguminous!