Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Easy Marinara Sauce

I love making things from scratch that a lot of people buy prepackaged, and pasta sauce is definitely one of them. It tastes so much better to add my own ingredients and make it to my specifications than to buy a jar of sauce, and I always have the ingredients in my pantry anyway.

I like to add some embellishments sometimes, including balsamic vinegar or a handful of Parmesan cheese. As it stands, though, this is vegan.

This can be turned into pizza sauce by cooking and reducing further to remove additional water.

You get to see it below in my favorite application, which is as a pizza sauce!



Easy Marinara Sauce

Enough for 1 lb of pasta or four medium pizzas

2 Tbsp olive oil

1 large onion, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 28 ounce can tomatoes (or two 15 ounce cans)

1 Tbsp Italian seasoning

1/2 cup red wine


Heat the olive oil in a large sauce pot over medium and add the onion. Sauté for 10 minutes, or until starting to brown. Add garlic, cook for an additional 30 seconds, then add tomatoes, Italian seasoning, and red wine. Cook for 10 minutes, then blend with a stick blender or move to a regular blender and puree.

To make a pizza sauce, return to the sauce pot and cook for an additional 15-20 minutes or until reduced.

This freezes beautifully in individual portions.

Note: This can also be turned into a vodka sauce by exchanging 1/4 cup vodka for the red wine and adding cream as desired.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie with Herbed Mashed Potatoes

Ever since mid March when I picked up a literally Costco-sized bag of potatoes at said warehouse store, I’ve been trying to find new recipes for them. I’ve never really been much of a potato person; bread is truly my starch of choice. So it’s been a bit of a challenge – the baked potato soup was just ok, the baked potatoes with broccoli and fresh cheese sauce garnered praise from Mike, but I think this has been the best dish so far.

Since going vegetarian almost three years ago, it’s something I’ve tried to work with on and off (even trying a lower carbohydrate cauliflower version), but each time it’s been too soupy or too bland. This time, I reduced the liquid I added by quite a bit, added flour, pumped up the savory additions to the vegetable layer, and added a thin layer of sharp cheddar to the top. It was a happy ending to meal I felt I was forcing myself to cook, rather than defaulting to what I call “lazy dinner” – cheese, crackers, fruit, and hummus.

I do try not to use meat substitutes TOO often, but I like the texture of Boca Crumbles in this dish. You can use other veggie crumbles or even chopped up veggie burgers work well.

I still have a lot of potatoes to work with. I’m thinking there’s gnocchi or lefse in my future…


Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie with Herbed Mashed Potatoes

Serves 10-12 with a side vegetable

4 large Russet potatoes, peeled and chopped

2 tbsp olive oil

2 medium onions, chopped

3 cloves of garlic, minced

12 ounce package of vegetarian crumbles

1 carrot, peeled and sliced

6 stalks celery, sliced

8 ounces baby portabella mushrooms, sliced

3/4 cup frozen peas

2 Tbsp flour

2 Tbsp barbecue sauce

1 tsp soy sauce

2 tsp dried thyme

1/2 cup water

2 tsp vegetarian “beef” flavored bouillon base

1/3 cup marsala wine or red wine

3 Tbsp unsalted butter

1 cup milk

1/4 cup finely chopped mixed herbs (basil, oregano, rosemary, etc - your choice)

2 ounces sharp cheddar, finely shredded

Salt and pepper to taste


Pre-heat the oven to 400 F and spray a 9x13 baking dish with nonstick spray.

Fill a large pot halfway with water and add the potatoes. Heat on medium high, bring to a boil, and let cook until potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork.

While the potatoes are cooking, add olive oil to a nonstick pan. Turn heat to medium and add onions and sprinkle with salt. Cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally and allow to brown. Add garlic and the next four ingredients, stirring to combine. Let cook for five minutes, then turn off heat and add frozen peas. Sprinkle flour over vegetable mixture and quickly stir to ensure there are no lumps.

Combine the next six ingredients in a small bowl, and stir into vegetable mixture. Taste and add salt and pepper to adjust seasonings.

Once the potatoes are tender, drain and return to the pot. Add butter, mash completely, then stir in milk and herbs. Add salt to taste.

Pour the vegetable mixture into the baking dish, then smooth mashed potatoes over, making sure to seal the sides. Evenly sprinkle cheese over the top. Place into the oven and cook for 30 minutes. Turn oven to 450 F and cook for an additional five minutes, or until the top is beginning to brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for ten minutes before serving.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Nana’s Stuffed Artichokes

When my brother and I were growing up, our nana loved to cook for our family. One of our favorite things of hers was stuffed artichokes; it was always such a treat when my mom came home from my nana's house with a Tupperware containing fresh, steaming stuffed artichokes. When my brother and I were younger, we didn't like them very much, so my mom was dismayed when we finally developed a taste for them.

Since moving away from home, I'd only had one chance to have my nana's artichokes. They're the thing of legend in my family, so my brother and I have been trying to make them for years. Every spring we've looked for the perfect artichokes, try working out a recipe, and get disappointed when it doesn't taste the same. Ultimately, most of the issue is in the preparation and having the patience to gently fill the artichokes. This time, I sat down, put on some music, and got to work. And, while it doesn't taste exactly like my nana's artichokes, they're pretty close, and pretty amazing. And yes, I do use garlic and onion powder here – they work very well in this application.

Mike doesn't quite like stuffed artichokes...yet? Maybe someday it'll be my turn to be dismayed when I have to share!




Nana’s Stuffed Artichokes

Note: this does take time, patience, and a steady hand. It’s more of a weekend recipe than a weeknight recipe.

Serves 4

1 tbsp lemon juice

4 cups breadcrumbs (homemade preferred)

2 tbsp Italian seasoning

2 tsp garlic powder

2 tsp onion powder

1 tbsp kosher salt (or 1/2 tbsp table salt)

1/2 cup fresh grated parmesan

4 large artichokes

Olive oil

Vegetable broth

Salt and pepper to taste

Melted butter for dipping

Fill a large bowl with cool water and lemon juice. This is to keep the artichokes from browning when cut.

Combine the breadcrumbs through the next five ingredients in a medium mixing bowl. Each artichoke will be filled with a quarter of this stuffing mix. Set a large stock pot on the stove so that the filled artichokes can be placed directly into the pot.

Wash the artichokes. Starting with one artichoke, slice off the stem at the bottom of the artichoke, peel, and place in the bowl. Lay the artichoke on its side on a cutting board and cut off the top of the artichoke, revealing the top of the “choke,” which is inedible. With scissors, snip off the sharp spine from each leaf. With a sharp-edged spoon (a grapefruit spoon works well here), dig the choke out, scraping all of the fuzzy parts from the heart. This doesn't have to be perfect, but the more that's scraped out, the easier the heart will be to eat in the end. It does take some effort and patience. Once the artichoke is cleaned and trimmed, place into the bowl with lemon juice and water. Repeat with the remaining three artichokes.

Once the artichokes are prepped, remove one from the bowl and drain. Fill the center with the stuffing. Moving around the artichoke and using a small spoon, fill each leaf with stuffing. You'll have to spread the leaves out by hand to be able to fit stuffing amongst all of the leaves. This also takes some patience and the artichoke must be handled gently. Once the artichoke is filled, place onto the bottom of the pot. Repeat with the remaining three artichokes.

Once the artichokes are filled and in the stock pot, drizzle olive oil all over the artichokes. Fill the stock pot with vegetable broth until it comes halfway up the sides of the artichokes. Pour about 1/4 cup additional vegetable broth down the center of each artichoke to ensure that the stuffing is moistened. Remove the stems from the bowl and place around the artichokes in the pot.

Turn the heat below the stock pot onto medium high and cover. Once the broth is simmering, reduce the heat to medium and keep covered. Cook the artichokes until a leaf comes off easily when pulled, or about 45 minutes. Remove each artichoke from the pot gently with a large slotted spoon. Allow to cool slightly before eating. These also store and reheat very well.

Serve the artichokes with a dipping sauce, if desired. An easy one is to combine melted butter with an equal amount of vegetable broth from simmering the artichokes. Garlic aioli also complements artichokes very well. Eat the artichokes by removing a leaf, gripping by the top, and scrape your teeth to pull the "meat" off. It's terribly ungraceful and messy, but delicious! Once the leaves are gone, trim the heart and eat. The peeled stems also taste just like the heart.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Red Lentil and Spinach Soup with Lemon Coriander Yogurt


I was in the mood for lentils the other day, but not anything very heavy or too strongly curry flavored. On top of that, I was craving more “spring” flavors, especially because it’s finally starting to warm up here in Orlando. Scratch that, it went from winter to summer over the course of a week! We have such odd weather in Florida during the spring – but then I’d rather have that than shovel snow.

I decided to go for a light curry flavor here and pair it with lemon and spinach. The lemon keeps it fresh-tasting, while the yogurt cools down the slight heat from the curry powder – I use Penzey’s Hot Curry Powder. The red bell pepper garnish gave it a nice crunch with a little sweetness. Cilantro would also be great as a garnish, as coriander is the seed of cilantro. I love using frozen spinach in a soup like this; it defrosted nicely after I pureed the lentils and onion, with no extra work cleaning and chopping.

The result is a fresh tasting, light soup with bright flavors. This also reheats well and can be served the next day if you have leftovers.


red lentil spinach lemon soup


Red Lentil and Spinach Soup with Lemon Coriander Yogurt

Serves 4


2 Tbsp olive oil

1 medium onion, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tbsp good quality curry powder

1 Tbsp garam masala

1 1/2 cups red lentils

6 cups vegetable broth

10 ounces frozen spinach

Zest from one lemon, with 1 tsp set aside

Salt and pepper to taste

1 large red pepper, chopped, for garnish



1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

1 cup Greek yogurt

1 tsp coriander

1 tsp lemon zest

Salt and pepper to taste


Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large stock or soup pot. Add onion and cook until translucent, about five minutes. Add garlic, curry powder, and garam masala and cook for one minute. Add lentils and vegetable broth and cook until lentils are soft, about 25-30 minutes. Using a stick blender, puree the soup (you can also transfer the soup to a regular blender if you don’t have a stick blender; return the soup to the pot afterward). Add spinach and heat through until fully defrosted. Stir in lemon zest and salt and pepper to taste.

While the lentils are cooking, combine yogurt ingredients and set aside.

Ladle the soup into bowls and top with a spoonful of the yogurt and chopped red bell pepper.