Saturday, March 27, 2010

Crescent Zucchini and Squash Pie

When I told Brett that we were trying a new recipe called "Crescent Zucchini and Squash Pie" he was anything but enthusiastic. In fact he was probably dreading it. But, we both agree that, despite the name, this recipe turned out to be really tasty!

I got this recipe from Simple and Delicious magazine several months ago and just now got around to trying it. I think I was scared of it. The reason I chose it is because it has crescent rolls, lots of cheese, and probably the most inoffensive vegetable around.

I started by cutting up an onion and lots of zucchini and yellow squash. This all got sauteed with some butter until they got tender.

Then I spread crescent roll dough out into the bottom of a pie plate. This was not as easy as the recipe makes it seem. And because of my deep hatred of mustard, I left it out. I also forgot to grease the pan, but this turned out to not be that big of a problem. Even low-fat crescents seem to have enough grease.

Then I grated a gob of Jack and Mozzarella cheese and mixed it with 2 eggs, salt, pepper, and dried basil. I left out the parsley flakes and dried oregano because I think they smell weird.

Once the zucchini mixture had cooled a little bit, I mixed it in with the cheese mixture, and then poured it into the pie plate.

It baked at 375 degrees for 25 minutes and then needed to go a little bit longer because it was still a little soupy. I had to cover the "crust" edges with foil so they wouldn't burn.

The final product was really good. The only problem was that the crescent rolls in the middle of the pie plate were still a little doughy. This dish was a little rich and lasted us two nights. I think next time I might put less salt too.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Vermont Maple Syrup

I've always been a Log Cabin Syrup girl. It is maple flavored corn syrup and I think it's yummy. However, I know that it is completely fake and therefore felt the need to try the real thing. Brett and I knew that moving to New England would eventually involve a maple syrup expedition to Vermont and the time finally came last weekend.

Maple syrup runs from late February to early April when the temperature gets above freezing during the day but still drops below at night. We missed this target by a little bit considering that it was in the high 60's on the day that we went. We also missed the boiling demonstration at Harlow's Sugar House by an hour or so.

But we did not miss the tasting. They had four grades of maple syrup: Vermont Fancy, Grade A Medium Amber, Grade A Dark Amber, and Grade B. We started with the lightest (Vermont Fancy) and made our way to the darkest (Grade B). They get progressively stronger in flavor and by the time we got to Grade B it tasted almost like molasses. We decided on a bigger jug of the Grade A Medium Amber, a tiny jug of Vermont Fancy, and some maple candies for Brett's mom.

Of course, we had pancakes the following day.

The syrup was much thinner than Log Cabin and it soaked into the pancakes very quickly. The flavor was awesome. It was milder than I'm used to, but so REAL. And that's a good thing.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Potato and Fennel Ravioli

Over the rainy weekend Brett and I decided to make homemade ravioli again. The last time we made it we had to hand roll the pasta dough and it ended up being too thick. This time we had our pasta machine to help with the rolling (although it is not an easy process) and we decided to go with a roasted veggie filling.

I had seen a recipe with potato and fennel filling, but they were boiled. I wanted the extra flavor from roasting. I cut up a couple of red potatoes, one very small onion, and one fennel bulb, and threw in two cloves of garlic. I drizzled everything with olive oil, sprinkled salt and pepper, and baked them for 1 hour in a 350 degree oven. I was taking a big risk here because neither of us had ever had roasted fennel before. But when it came out of the oven we both tasted it and actually liked it!

I pureed the roasted veggies in my mini food processor which did not go well at all. It made a really sticky, thick mess and somehow got up inside the blade holder and down onto the base. I have no idea how, but it was a mess to clean up.

Brett was in charge of making the pasta dough. After I ruined it the last time we tried, he has forever earned the job of pasta maker in our household. We decided to go with the second thinnest setting because our filling was pretty thick.

With the sheets all rolled, I began scooping tiny balls onto the pasta dough using the squares on our rolling mat as a guideline.

I brushed egg wash onto the edges and between the balls and then covered it all with another, slightly larger, pasta sheet. I pressed carefully and tried to push out most of the air. Then I used a pastry cutter to cut the ravioli apart. They were so cute!

We boiled them for a few minutes even though they rose to the top almost immediately. I have no idea how to tell if they were over or under-cooked.

Since Brett is picky about his sauces, we dressed them simply with butter and parmesan cheese. They tasted very good! We decided that the dough could have been a little bit thinner.

The next day we made ravioli again because we had a lot of leftover filling. We did make thinner sheets, however the sheets were too thin and unmanageable at times. We need an in between setting!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Bad, Worse, and I Can't Believe That's Dinner

The past couple of weeks as an official vegetarian have gone surprisingly well, but not without a couple of hiccups. I ordered French Onion Soup at Panera Bread and was half way through the bowl before I realized that it was most likely made with beef broth. I also couldn't resist sharing a shrimp tempura maki roll at Ginger Pad (our favorite restaurant in the area.) Brett has also modified his status to "at-home vegetarian" because they cater lunches at his workplace quite often and because all the best things on restaurant menus contain meat.

I have tried a few "vegetarian" recipes out of vegetarian cookbooks that I either own or checked out at the library and I've got to say, "YUCK, YUCK, YUCK!"

First we have Sweet Potato and Black Bean Stew. It didn't help that the sweet potatoes were a little crunchy, or that the jar of Pace was not appealing to me. The best part of this was the cornbread that went on top. We attempted to eat leftovers and failed miserably.

Then we tried Potato Medley which was so bad that I either deleted the pictures or was too horrified to even take pictures. Potatoes were cooked in oil with some green pepper, broccoli, and peas. It was under-seasoned so I kept adding salt and it was still under-seasoned. I just gave up and decided that it was not good. The leftovers are still in the fridge a week later. I think they will be headed for the trash now.

Most terrible of all (although Brett would probably vote for the Potato Medley) was the black bean burgers. As I was making this the words, "What have I done?" kept crossing through my mind. I pulsed some black beans in my mini food processor and then mixed that with some bread crumbs and green chiles. To say that it didn't look very appetizing would be an understatement.

It was nearly impossible to form this pile of ... goo into patties because it was so moist and sticky, but I managed and then coated them in cornmeal.

They went into a non-stick pan and actually did begin to resemble burgers.

Except I didn't have any buns.

Brett threw his on sliced bread and actually ate two! I got one down and made it about halfway through the second one before I had to stop. The leftovers immediately went in the trash, and you KNOW how much it pains me to throw food away.

Better luck next time!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

It's Still Just Oatmeal

I've been hearing about steel-cut oats for a while now. They are more nutritious than rolled oats, have a more firm texture, and I had heard that they taste better too. I'm not a big fan of oatmeal. I will eat it, but that doesn't mean that I like it. It is mushy and slimy and doesn't taste good without brown sugar. I guess I thought that steel cut oats would magically not taste like oatmeal. I don't know how I delude myself into these ideas.

It's still just oatmeal!

Slimy, mushy oatmeal.

I had made a big pot, and after choking down a small bowl I seriously considered throwing the leftovers away. But if it's remotely edible I will not throw anything away, so into the fridge it went. And, surprisingly, the next day it was much better. It had firmed up and lost some of it's slime. The texture felt kind of like rice pudding. I almost enjoyed it. But it was still just oatmeal.

Bottom line: If you like oatmeal then you'll probably like steel-cut oats. If you don't like oatmeal, don't expect any miracles, you probably won't like steel-cut oats.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Omnivore's Dilemma

When I finished reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan I was overwhelmed. There is so much information and emotion wrapped up in that book to adequately cover in a blog post, so I will only give you a few highlights, with my strong recommendation that you read it yourself. If you are at all interested in food, eating, the environment, or the moral implications of our decisions, you will find this book intriguing and enlightening.

As the menu planner and primary grocery shopper in my home, I am having a hard time doing those jobs in my post Omnivore’s Dilemma life. Michael Pollan forces us to think before we eat. I am fairly certain that this was the goal of the book- to make Americans think about where our food comes from. Here’s a hint: “the grocery store” is not the correct answer.

The correct answer is generally (but not always) “farms.” But not all farms are created equal. Most use chemical fertilizers and pesticides that strip the soil of its natural nutrients and poison the water supply. Some farms are “organic” by USDA standards (which some might consider too lenient) and still fewer are “organic” in a more traditional sense. Industry and fossil fuels have infiltrated just about everything we eat, from fruits, veggies, and grains, to beef, pork, and poultry. Industry has interfered with natural processes to turn a profit. Instead of cows grazing on ample pastures for a couple of years before being slaughtered, cows are fattened with corn over five months on a crowded feedlot. And the beautiful grasslands they used to graze on are transformed into more cornfields to fatten livestock and (unbeknownst to some of us) humans. It is more cost efficient for companies to raise livestock faster on less land, but the moral, environmental, and public health costs are often not considered. It needs to become profitable to raise crops and animals through healthy, natural methods and the only way this will happen is if people express demand for these products (or conversely, lack of demand in irresponsibly raised products.)

So how has this affected my grocery shopping?

I’ve stopped buying meat. I cannot endorse a system that crushes the true spirit of the livestock or that grossly pollutes the planet that I love and live on. This may be a temporary state of vegetarianism until I find a responsible local farmer, but even if or when that happens I know that I do not need to eat meat every day.

I’ve started buying some organic foods. Even though most organic foods that you’ll find in the store are what Pollan calls “industrial organic” he considers them a step above regular foods simply because that is a patch of land that does not have chemical fertilizers or pesticides on it. Apples are the number one fruit that we buy, so now I buy organic apples for twenty cents extra per pound. Call me crazy (Brett does) but I feel like they taste better! I also bought some Stonyfield organic yogurt on sale for cheaper than Yoplait! I love the packaging!

I’m still researching the best eggs and milk to buy. I just can’t bring myself to pay twice as much for organic milk if I’m not sure that my regular milk cows are being mistreated. As for eggs, I stood in front of the egg section for ten minutes trying to figure out what would be best. Cage-free? Organic? Vegetarian fed? I went with cage-free because I hated the image of laying hens crammed six to a cage so they can’t even move. According to the book, chickens left to their own devises like to eat grubs, so that’s why I didn’t go with vegetarian fed. I’m just not sure if that was the right decision.

The bottom line is: Read The Omnivore’s Dilemma! It will make you think about what you eat, pay attention to food in new ways, and seek change in this country’s agricultural habits.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Breakfast Burritos

Officially becoming a vegetarian has prompted me to think of new, tasty ways to get protein into my body. Truthfully, I probably wasn't getting enough protein anyway, but because my mom gave me a distinctly worried look when I told her about my plans to go vegetarian and because I love being responsible, I'm paying more attention to my protein intake.

Beans and eggs are two tasty, protein-rich options that so obviously lead to breakfast burritos. I've only had a breakfast burrito once, when I was tailgating at a Chargers game, but it was very good. I tweaked the formula just a little- subtract bacon, add pinto beans. And instead of eating them for breakfast, of course, we ate them for dinner.

The pinto beans were my favorite part. I sauteed some garlic in a little bit of olive oil, added a can of drained, rinsed pinto beans, and added a few shakes each of chili powder and cumin. Soooo good.

Brett decided to improvise homemade hashbrowns. He grated a potato, dried it off, and threw it in some hot oil. It was going pretty well... until the smoke alarm went off. We were on such a good streak too! I think it had been three or four months since it had gone off. When the hashbrowns were finished, they were very oily, but with a little bit of salt they tasted amazingly like the triangle hashbrowns they used to serve in the cafeteria my freshman year of college. Next time we'll probably just use the frozen kind, or research a few recipes.

I grated Jack cheese while Brett scrambled a few eggs.

Then we loaded up our tortillas. Mine closed up nicely, even though I forgot the salsa at first.

Brett's was a monster and wouldn't even close!