Posts Tagged ‘vegetarian-friendly’

This past week, even though it’s still rather warm here in Southern California, I’ve definitely noticed the changes that mark the movement of Summer into Autumn.  They’re very subtle, and someone who hasn’t lived here for most of their lives wouldn’t necessarily notice–how the morning air is just a few degrees cooler, the afternoon light tilts just slightly casting a warm glow across the skies, even though it’s still 85 degrees outside.  With the seasonal nestiness kicking in, my thoughts have been moving to some of my favorite things to make–roasts, braises, and the like.  Tonight, I made some last minute plans to have friends over for dinner, so I wanted some uncomplicated dishes that I knew I could put together easily–a Roast Chicken with root vegetables cooked in the pan; a salad… but what about dessert?

Yes, even with living a primal lifestyle, dessert can and does come into the equation.  The occasional sweet thing is not verboten, and with a little tweak here and there, you can make something spectacular.  Here at El Rancho, I had a bag of pears sitting on my counter that needed some attention, and I KNEW what I had to make.

Taking the firmest of the pears, they got the peeling and coring of their lives.

A vanilla bean was split down the middle and scraped of its insides (wow, that sounds awfully violent, doesn’t it?) and blended with some melted butter and local Orange Blossom Honey.  After the pears took a little bath in this magical syrup, they were nestled in one of my favorite roasting dishes and put in the oven for an hour.

What came out:

And I’m not joking when I tell you these smelled amazing when they came out of the oven.  The pears with the honey, vanilla and a splash of lemon just works.   What’s fantastic is that the juices mix with the syrup and caramelize into this sauce you could pretty much wear as a perfume.  It’s so simple, but one of these guys with a spoonful of whipped crème fraiche and a handful of fresh raspberries… okay, words don’t do it justice.

I admit:  not the greatest picture.  Not gonna apologize for it, either–that pear was warm, the crème fraiche was melting, and I needed to PUT IT IN MY MOUTH.

Honey-Vanilla Roasted Pears

  • 4 firm pears, peeled, cut in half and cored
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup butter, plus extra for pan
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
  1. Preheat oven to 375°.
  2. Butter roasting dish and arrange pears cut side up
  3. Split vanilla bean and scrape seeds.
  4. Add seeds to a small saucepan with the honey, butter, lemon juice and melt on low heat until butter has melted and created a syrup.
  5. Tuck the remaining vanilla bean with the pears, pour syrup over the pears, making sure some of the syrup is in the core of each pear.
  6. Roast for about 30 minutes, then turn over and roast another 20-30 minutes until the pears are fork-tender.
  7. Turn the pears cut side up again, and brush juices over the tops.
  8. If you’d like a little extra browning like I did, turn broiler on low and broil the tops for 3-5 minutes.
  9. Serve warm with whipped crème fraiche or if you’re feeling decadent, some great vanilla ice cream.

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Every year, my mom and I are on a mission to have me make tons of homemade jams and treats to give out for the holidays.  She’s the financial backer while I do all the hard labor in the kitchen–I don’t mind.

Really, I don’t.  Don’t look at me like that!

In the last conversation I had with her a few days ago, I told her I was switching gears from all the late summer fruits to autumn flavors such as Brandied Apple Butter.  She asked, why not make a cranberry relish? And wouldn’t you know, I thought that was brilliant.   I have a deep love of cranberries that goes all the way down to the shameful admission that I wouldn’t even turn down the canned jellied cranberry sauce.  However, it seems that here at El Rancho Destructo, I am the only one who feels this way, so I usually make my cranberry sauce the way I like it:   Jezebel Sauce (cranberries with horseradish and dijon stirred in).  I decided I should make a batch of something cranberry, so with a few bags in hand, I pulled out things that I knew would be delicious and came up with something that even Choo thinks it could turn him to the Dark Side of these tart little berries.  Granny Smith apples, oranges, red wine and dried cranberries knock this sauce out of the park–and I really think the dried cranberries are what make this special, by bringing up the intensity of the cranberry flavor with very little of the tartness associated with the fresh ones.

I can’t tell you how easy this one is, too–throw everything into the pot, simmer it for a while, and DONE.  How easy is that?

Cranberry & Apple Relish

  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1- 12 ounce bag fresh cranberries
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 teaspoon fresh orange zest, finely grated
  • 2 tart apples such as Granny Smith or Pippin, peeled, cored & chopped
  1. Add all ingredients into a large saucepan and on medium heat, bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally.
  2. Simmer until fresh cranberries have burst and apples are tender, but have not lost their shape.
  3. Pour into bowl, cover and chill.

*Note:  if canning this sauce, add 1 tablespoon lemon juice.

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Growing up, there were two uses for pumpkins:  pie and jack o’lanterns.  I never heard of pumpkin in soups or curries or quick breads, and can you imagine, the little pumpkin-pie-lover that I am, to be opened to those possibilities?  Of course, I still love carving pumpkins for Hallowe’en:

We’ve had a surfeit of pumpkins and other winter squashes coming in with our CSA box–Long Island Cheese Pumpkins, Butternut Squash, Delicata Squash–perhaps not great for carving, but absolutely delicious when roasted and pureed into soups, and in this case, a savory tart.  It’s rich stuff, with butter and sour cream and sweetened ever-so-slightly with caramelized onions and the natural sugars that develop with roasting squash.  I’ll admit something to you–because I was baking this on Hallowe’en evening, and along with getting ready for the Big Night, I cheated and used a Pillsbury Pie Crust.  I KNOW, I KNOW, I can make pate brisee and it would have been so much better, but I was in a time crunch you guys!  Anyway, it was a huge hit with Choo, who shares my love of all that is pumpkin.

I used a blend of a few different squashes–I had roasted a pan full of pumpkin, butternut squash, and delicata to help clear some counter space earlier in the week.  Roasting winter squashes is incredibly easy:

  1. Preheat oven to 400°
  2. Cut squashes into large pieces, scrape out seeds and stringy pulp.  You can peel them, but it’s really not necessary–the flesh can be easily scraped out after roasting.
  3. Toss in just enough olive oil to coat pieces lightly, and if using squash for savory dishes, add a head’s worth of garlic cloves.
  4. Roast in oven for 45 minutes to an hour, until flesh is browned and tender.

If you have extra puree, then it’s fine to store in the freezer in an airtight container.

Even though I served it for dinner, this tart would make an excellent Autumn brunch dish–it would go perfectly with a mixed greens salad with fall notes (pomegranate seeds, candied walnuts, chevre, etc.).

Savory Winter Squash & Caramelized Onion Tart

  • 1/2 batch of Pate Brisee (or one refrigerated pie crust if you’re a cheater like me)
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 large Maui Sweet onion, sliced
  • 3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 1/4 cups roasted squash puree, any combination of pumpkin, butternut squash or delicata
  • 5 cloves roasted garlic
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 Tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 10-12 fresh sage leaves (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 425°
  2. Roll out pate brisee and line a 9″ tart pan.  Cover and refrigerate lined tart pan for 20 minutes.
  3. Blind bake tart crust for 10-12 minutes.  Blind baking is done by lining dough with a layer parchment paper and filling crust with pie weights such as dried beans, rice, ceramic beads.  Set aside to cool slightly and turn oven down to 350°
  4. Melt butter in a skillet on medium-low heat and add onions.  Gently cook until soft and add thyme.  Slowly cook onions on low heat until caramelized, about 20-30 minutes.  Remove thyme branches and set aside.
  5. In a food processor, add squash puree, roasted garlic cloves and caramelized onions (and any melted butter remaining in the pan) and pulse until smooth.
  6. Add sour cream, eggs, cream, salt and pepper to food processor and pulse until incorporated fully, scraping sides down with a rubber spatula at least once.
  7. Pour into prepared tart shell and decorate with sage leaves if desired.  Bake for 30-35 minutes until center is set and top is browned.


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You guys!  It RAINED today!  Ok, fine, it was just a drizzle, but I am thrilled–thrilled–I tell you!  And when it rains, you know what that means.

Soup!  Hearty, comforting, fortifying soup that warms the toes and makes you feel all cozy on the inside.  And, from my last post, you know I’m on a mission to eat more vegetables on a daily basis.   An easy way to do that is to make a soup loaded with vegetables and plenty of flavor from chicken stock and a fat dollop of pesto.

The great thing about minestrone is there really isn’t a set recipe–use some seasonal vegetables, add some beans (Canellini is the usual, but red kidney beans or fava beans would work well), tomatoes, a little pasta or rice, and some homemade chicken or vegetable stock and you’ll have yourself a fine soup.   And, once all your vegetables are chopped, this comes together really quickly–especially if you’re cheating like me and using canned beans (gasp!).  This recipe makes about 4 quarts–about 8 dinner-sized servings of soup, but it freezes very nicely for lunches.

BBB Garden Minestrone Soup

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 small onions, diced
  • 2 leeks, sliced into half-moons
  • 1 cup sliced celery
  • 1 cup peeled and sliced carrots
  • 4-5 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 large red bell pepper, 1/2″ dice
  • 5 small Yukon Gold or Red potatoes, 1/2″ dice (appx. 1 1/2 cups)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2-14 ounce cans diced tomatoes
  • 6 cups chicken (or vegetable) stock
  • 3 medium zucchini, sliced into half-moons
  • 1-14 ounce can Canellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup whole wheat pasta–any small pasta will do, such as shells or fusilli
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Optional:  Pesto or grated Parmesan cheese
  1. Heat a large soup pot on medium heat and add oil.  Add onions, leeks, celery, carrots, thyme and bay leaf.  Sweat vegetables for 4-6 minutes, until onions are translucent and glossy.
  2. Add bell pepper, potatoes, garlic, tomatoes, and chicken stock.  Raise heat to medium-high and bring soup to a low boil and simmer for 10 minutes.
  3. Add zucchini, beans and pasta and simmer for another 10-12 minutes, until pasta is tender.
  4. Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve with pesto or Parmesan cheese.

(I told you it was easy!)

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It’s time to admit that Summer is on its last legs;  Kiddo starts Kindergarten in a matter of days, the Valley is giving its last oven blasts of heat, and the farmer’s market is packed full of the last of the summer produce.  The peaches, my dear readers, THE PEACHES on display are amazing, and I couldn’t help but pick up a few.  They are so juicy and bright with that perfect balance of acid and sweet.  I had bought some peaches about 2 weeks ago from the supermarket (I know, I KNOW) and they were so… sad.  Mealy and flavorless, and I hated to waste them, so they ended up in our morning smoothies where I could barely taste them.

I’ve seen versions of this salad hitting the rounds in magazines and food blogs, and I knew I had to make this for today’s lunch.  A bed of mesculun, a few heirloom tomatoes, red onion sliced paper-thin, juicy wedges of ripe peach, and a nice drizzle of homemade balsamic vinaigrette make this a fantastic, easy summertime lunch.  If you were feeling sassy, this would be nice with a sprinkling of feta or chevre, or if serving this for dinner, a piece of grilled fish would be a great match.  We had this with a glass of Casa Nuestra 2009 Riesling which was just right–any crisp and fruity white would be an excellent accompaniment.

Heirloom Tomato & Peach Salad

Serves 2 as a main dish, 4 as a side

  • 6 cups Mesculun or any mixed salad greens or arugula
  • 3-4 heirloom tomatoes (depending on size), sliced
  • 1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 large peach, sliced into 12 wedges
  • Balsamic Dressing as needed

On a platter, layer salad greens, tomato slices, onion and peach.  Drizzle with balsamic dressing and serve.

(How hard was that?  Now go make it!)

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After a few weeks of perfectly warm and sunny weather, we folks here in Southern California got hit with a bit of rain today.  Big deal, you’re probably thinking to yourself if you live anywhere but here, but here in Los Angeles, it’s kind of odd when it rains after the end of March.  We really don’t know what to do with ourselves. 

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the rain.  It’s still coming down as I write this, and since both Choo and Kiddo are in bed dreaming big dreams, I have everything turned off so I can listen to it. 

Still, the funniest thing I overheard today, while in the parking lot of the local u-pick farm and farmstand was a man worrying over the whole family getting pneumonia while spending the morning in barely drizzling 58° degree weather.  Yeah, we’re a city of weather wimps. 

It was a perfect day for me to go stomp around in the fields;  I picked a nice mess of fava beans, some red leaf lettuce, and a bag full of leeks.

I love that shade of green.  This was a new experience, pulling leeks out of the ground.  It really was incredibly satisfying to do it, to tell the truth.  By the way, for my Southern California readers, we were at Underwood Family Farms in Moorpark.   We get out there about twice a year, once around this time, and again in the late summer–luckily, they do the farmer’s market circuit, so I see them at the Calabasas, Encino, and Hollywood farmer’s markets–it’s an easier trip.  Highly recommended, especially if you’ve got kids.

I digress.  Back to soup!

I pulled out seven slender leeks, which, once home, were washed, trimmed, and sliced into thin half-moons. 

These were tossed into a soup pot with a few tablespoons of melted butter waiting for them.  This soup calls for the leeks to be cooked on a low heat, slowly, until they’re glossy and soft, and you know that if you pulled out a bite of them, they’d melt in your mouth. 

When the leeks are tender, after about 15 minutes, a few sprigs of thyme get tossed into the pot.

I don’t know about you, but I really like fresh thyme.  The one thing I don’t like about it is trying to strip the leaves from the stems–it’s one of those fiddly jobs that just gets in the way of things.  But, you know what’s great?  When making a soup or a stew with fresh thyme, it’s okay to just throw the whole stem in during the cooking process.  The heat and the simmering will cause the leaves to come off the stem, and all you need to do is just fish the stems out at the end. 

To these lovely leeks, add four large-ish peeled and chopped russet potatoes.  I like using russets for this soup for the fact that they do fall apart, creating a thick texture.  The one warning is to not overcook and overwork the potatoes–depending on how big the chunks are, the simmer time shouldn’t be more than 15-20 minutes–just long enough so the potatoes are tender and will easily crush with the back of a spoon. 

Once the potatoes are in, then chicken stock (or vegetable stock) is added, just enough to cover the potatoes.  In this case, a quart was the perfect amount.  Bring the pot up to a boil, then turn down to low to simmer for about 15 minutes. 

Now, I used an immersion blender–I feel like I get more control on pureeing than what I get out of a regular stand blender.  If you don’t have an immersion blender, don’t fret, you can use a regular blender, but only puree about half of the soup, and smash some of the larger chunks of potato.  Only pulse the blender a few times to smooth it out–if the potatoes are overworked, what will happen is too much of the starch in the potatoes get released, and you’ll end up with wallpaper paste.  This is a soup where chunks are good and are to be expected. 

This is, also, where you put in some half and half.  Or heavy cream, if you’re daring.  Or low-fat milk, if you’re not.  Season with salt and pepper to taste. 

My perfect end to a rainy Sunday: curling up on the couch with a blanket and a steaming bowl of soup, and watching The Simpsons with the family.

Potato-Leek Soup

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cups thinly sliced leeks (white and light green parts–appx. 6-7 leeks)
  • 6-8 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 4 large russet potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1 quart chicken or vegetable stock (low-sodium or homemade), more if needed
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  1. In a large soup pot, melt butter on low heat.  Add leeks and sweat for about 15 minutes, until soft and tender, stirring occasionally.
  2. Add thyme sprigs, saute for one minute.  Add potatoes, and add enough stock to just cover contents of the pot. Bring heat to medium-high and bring to a boil.  Turn down to low, and let simmer until potatoes are tender, about 15-20 minutes.
  3. Turn off heat, and with an immersion blender, pulse to puree soup, but still leaving somewhat chunky. 
  4. Stir in half & half and return to a low heat for a few minutes.
  5. Season with salt & pepper to taste. 

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Something I haven’t mentioned in these past few weeks, is that Choo and I are doing what we call The Lenten Meatless Challenge.  We’re not actively Catholic (but from Catholic upbringings), but we often like to use the time of Lent to instill new habits in our lives.  Now, I’ve mentioned before that we’re both pretty committed carnivores, but let’s face it, we know that meat production in the US is ecologically damaging.  We’re not giving up meat by any means, but we do want to incorporate more meatless meals–it’s healthy to eat more vegetables and it’s nicer to both the earth and our bank accounts. 

During this whole process over the past few weeks, I’ve made some real effort in making some very delicious vegetarian meals.  A co-worker passed on a recipe that sounded interesting, and with a few of my own personal tweaks, made one heck of a dinner.

I’ll tell you,  as much as I love an enchilada (oh, man, there’s this one place near where I work that makes these awesome seafood enchiladas, all creamy and crabby and shrimpy and cheesy…), I really am not a fan of making them.  There’s the whole assembly line needed:  the frying pan to fry every tortilla before dipping in sauce, the bowls of fillings and not to mention the whole fiddly process of rolling filling into the tortillas. 

But.  BUT.  It’s so, so, so worth the effort and the dirty dishes.  And, one of the greatest things about enchiladas:  they can be frozen.  One of the best things you can do when you make enchiladas is to make a double batch–one for dinner tonight, and one to get wrapped up tightly and frozen for an easy dinner in a few weeks, which means all of the deliciousness with none of the fuss.  

This makes two 9 x 13 pans of enchiladas, or, in my case, one 15 x 10 and one small casserole dish.  Of course, the recipe is easily halved if you don’t want to make the double batch. 

Sweet Potato & Black Bean Enchiladas

  • 2 pounds sweet potatoes
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon each salt & pepper
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can of Herdez Salsa Casera or Rotel Tomatoes & Chilies
  • 2-15 ounce cans black beans, drained and rinsed
  • juice of 2 limes
  • 1/4 teaspoon each salt & pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 20 corn tortillas
  • oil for frying
  • 2-28 ounce cans mild red enchilada sauce
  • 2 cups shredded Mexican blend cheese
  • 1-4 ounce can diced mild green chiles (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 400°.  Rinse sweet potatoes and pierce with a fork;  place on foil-lined sheet pan.  Roast sweet potatoes until very soft, approximately 45 minutes to an hour, depending on size.  Set aside to cool.  Reduce oven temperature to 350° when done.
  2. Once cool enough to handle, peel sweet potatoes and smash with chili powder, salt, and pepper.  Set aside.
  3. In a large skillet over medium heat, add oil and saute onions until translucent and tender.  Add garlic and salsa and simmer until liquids reduce. 
  4. Add black beans, lime juice and cumin; stir to combine. 
  5. Prepare two 9 x 13 pans by first pouring 1 cup enchilada sauce into each pan. 
  6. Heat a small skillet with a thin layer of oil.  Have close by a lipped plate or cake pan with a thin layer of enchilada sauce.  Start by lightly frying a corn tortilla until soft, then place on plate with enchilada sauce, turning it over to coat the tortilla on both sides. 
  7. Spoon out approximately 2 tablespoons’ worth of sweet potato mixture and 2-3 tablespoons of the black bean mixture, spreading out in a line through the center of the tortilla.  Gently roll tortilla with filling and place into prepared 9 x 13 pan. 
  8. Repeat steps 7 and 8 with all 20 tortillas, filling pans.  Add oil to frying pan or enchilada sauce to plate as needed.
  9. Pour remaining enchilada sauce over enchiladas, coating evenly.  Top with shredded cheese and diced chiles.
  10. Bake in 350° oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until cheese is melted and sauce is bubbly. 

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