Wrestling with Recipes – Vegetarian

Wrestling with Recipes – Vegetarian

Sorry about the lack of blog posts the last couple of weeks. I’m finding healing takes up a lot of energy! I am, however, getting a lot of work done on my latest book, so that’s a plus.

But as I get stronger, I am at last cooking again and enjoying it. Getting adventurous. So, yesterday I made this terrific recipe that ended up being more of a pain than it needed to be. (Afterwards, I was a zombie. And it wasn’t the wine I drank that made me a zombie! I guess I need to cook something less ambitious for now.)

Cover of Vegetarian Cook BookI’d bought this book called Vegetarian, over 300 healthy and wholesome recipes chosen from around the world, pubbed by Metro Books with Nicola Graimes listed as the Consultant Editor. (If you click on the link, it’ll take you to Amazon.)

So there’s no one driving Chef force behind the recipes, which may account for the rather randomness of it. And while this is a Vegetarian cook book, they use a lot of dairy and eggs and cheese throughout, which surprised me. Plus there’s NO nutritional information, so don’t go looking for it.

There is, however, a comprehensive introduction and discussion on the basic vegetarian whole food diet, the essentials you need for good health, and over 100 pages on The Vegetarian Kitchen and what to stock and why. Interesting reading, and I’m glad I picked it up in the bargain bin when Borders was going out of business. (Sniff…I miss my Borders!)

Anyway. I’d found this meal in the book called Potato Rosti and Tofu with Fresh Tomato and Ginger Sauce (pg. 312). Since we’re trying to eat a couple meals a week meat-free, and since I have a back yard full of tomatoes, this looked like a good start.

My first hangup? The recipe called for 3 3/4 cups of tofu, cut into 1/2 inch pieces. How do you buy 3 and 3/4 cups of tofu? I went by weight, only later realizing that weight doesn’t equal – well, never mind. I wish they had just said buy one 16 oz block of Tofu. I ended up buying 32 ounces of tofu (two 16 oz blocks) – which frankly was 16 ounces too many (but they were on sale, so I lucked out).

Then the recipe had me marinating the cut-up pieces in a TERRIFIC marinade – but there wasn’t enough marinade, so I had to double the recipe. (I’m finding that to be true very often. Is it just me? Or do recipes tend to skimp on marinade amounts?) After an hour of marinating, scatter on a cookie sheet then bake until crispy, 20 minutes in a 400 degree oven. Um, let me just say – there is no way, even with turning, that you’ll get crispy tofu in an oven. No way. The only way, in my experience, to get crispy tofu is to fry it. If I’m wrong I’d love someone to explain how to do it! My tofu, after baking, was still soft (and yes, I used extra firm).

The rosti was fun – 2 lbs of potatoes cut in large chunks and boiled, cooled, then grated into shreds. Season with salt & pepper, then form by hand into potato cakes, and fry in a thin layer of oil for 6 minutes per side. This recipe made more than we needed, and we ended up using the leftovers for dinner tonight – but would be spectacular with breakfast, as well.

Then there’s a sauce – you add the marinade to 8 chopped up tomatoes and some olive oil in a hot pan, and cook the heck out of it. The recipe called for me to strain the sauce to get rid of the skins, but by that time I’d been in the kitchen far too long to do such nonsense. (By the way – this is a long slog in the kitchen. Easily two hours, with minimal time to just sit and stare at nothing. This is not a recipe you want to make on a busy weeknight with the kids screaming in hunger.)

Two rosti, a scatter of tofu, and topped with the delish sauce. Add a tossed green salad, and it was a wonderful meal. EXCEPT – when I make this again, I will split a cake of tofu in half width wise, then cut in quarters before marinading. None of this 1/2 inch crap. After marinating, I’ll probably dip it into some – oh darn, forgot the name of it…rice based dry stuff – anyway, dip it in that and then fry it quickly for the crispy.

I might add an egg to the rosti, just to keep the potato cakes from separating so easily in the pan. That was a minor headache.

All in all, the men loved the dish. LOVED it. It was a light and yet filling meal, with an label for Alexander Valley Vineyards ChardonnayAsian flair that everyone appreciated. The hubby and I shared half a bottle of Alexander Valley Vineyards 2010 Chardonnay, regularly $18.00 but on sale for $11.99 at Vons. A terrific addition to the meal, though a Sauvignon Blanc would have worked as well.

This is the first recipe I’ve made out of this book, and I think before I make another one I will read the recipe carefully and see where the traps are for the unwary cook. I’d much rather change something up as I go, than buy ingredients I don’t need.

Wrestle Factor (time + grrr moments):  ~ High ~  
Taste/Likeability Factor: ~ High~
A Remake? ~ Yes, Absolutely, With Variations ~

Do you have cookbooks that you always have to “fix” the recipe? Or are you a slave to how it’s written? AND – What’s your favorite cookbook? With the advent of the internet, I do a lot of last minute “what do I want to make tonight” searches, but I still prefer to skim through a cookbook in my lazy time and think of filling happy bellies. What about you?


Thanks so much for stopping by! If you like this post, do let me know. I’m thinking about having a regular feature on recipes if there’s any interest. Of course, I may do it anyway, because I’m like that, lol! Cheers, and remember to drink responsibly!

Smashed Potatoes and Decadent Hot Chocolate

Smashed Potatoes and Decadent Hot Chocolate

On the surface of things, Smashed Potatoes and Decadent Hot Chocolate don’t seem to have much in common. But if you delve a little deeper, you’ll find the connection.

Both mashed potatoes and hot chocolate can be made via the instant, just-add-water type. Which isn’t bad if, say, you’re camping. They can both be quite tasty, depending.

But when made from scratch, when you put the time in, so to speak, you come out with something indescribably delicious. A crispy, buttery-fluffy potato, and a rich, dark chocolate drink that is akin to what they must serve in Heaven. (Or at least in some nifty Paris bistros!)


If you need a side dish that is a step above ordinary, this is it. Hearty, filling, and a taste

Yukon Gold Potatoes

treat, it all starts, of course, with the potato itself. I use fresh, hard, baby yellow potatoes, or baby reds if I’m in that mood. They both work. Slightly bigger than the baby potatoes work as well; you just need to cut them a bit smaller. I’ve never used russets or baking potatoes for this; I assume if you peel them and chop them into similar-sized chunks, they’d work fine.

Ingredients: Baby potatoes, butter, sea salt (or Kosher salt)

Kitchen ware needed: One sauce pan, one baking pan with sides (either a jelly roll pan or a 9 x 13 pan), and one slightly smaller pan of the same type (or a cast iron skillet).

Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Scrub the potatoes well. If they are true babies, cut them in half. If they’re a little bigger, cut them in quarters. Your goal is to get them all about the same size so they cook evenly. Put them in the saucepan, fill with water, and boil until they are fork-tender about 10 – 15 minutes. Drain.

Put potatoes, still steaming, into the jelly roll pan.  Crowd them together in the center of the pan, as much as possible, so they’re all touching. Take your slightly smaller pan (or your cast iron pan – anything heavy that you can put your hands into) and make sure the bottom of the pan is clean – you might even want to lightly spray it with cooking spray. Set the second pan on top of the first pan (I put the pan with the potatoes on the floor) and, with all your weight, press down on the second pan so it “smashes” the potatoes to about half to  3/4 of an inch thick.  Spread butter on top of the potatoes; sprinkle with sea salt or Kosher salt. Put in oven for 20-25 minutes. If your potatoes are done before the rest of the meal is done, just turn off the oven and keep the door closed. The potatoes will crisp more while you finish up.

Is this calorie-free? No. More butter makes it taste better. But it’s a fabulous side dish that you can wow your friends with. To make it fancier, sprinkle some freshly chopped parsley on top. Serve directly from the oven to your guest’s plates. They will thank you for it.

thanks to dancingbranflakes.blogspot.com for the photo!

Decadent Hot Chocolate

Perfect for the Holidays, or any day where it’s chilly outside, the powdered stuff will get you by. It’ll do in a pinch. But when you want to see how it feels to be Royalty, have your kitchen slave whip you up some of this  bundle of delicious goodness, and you’ll feel your holiday stress melt away.

Ingredients: 1 cup high quality 60% cacao chocolate (I use Ghiradelli – but regular choc chips are fine) 4 cups milk, 3 Tlb powdered baking cocoa, 3 Tlb white sugar, 1 cup heavy whipping cream.

Put chocolate in a pan, and add just enough milk from your 4 cups to float the chips a bit. Heat until chocolate is melted through, stirring the entire time. Once melted, add the rest of the milk a little at a time, keeping the heat on medium (don’t boil!). Then add the powdered cocoa, one Tlb at a time, whisking it in. Do the same with the white sugar. Once that is incorporated, slowly add the 1 cup heavy whipping cream, stirring the entire time. Continue to stir until the chocolate is hot again. Then drink and be glad you are human!

This goes beyond mere hot chocolate. This will put you into Holiday Nirvana. Turn the Christmas lights on, put the carols on, and get the wrapping paper out – no chore is too much to handle when you’ve got a cup of Decadent Hot Chocolate by your side!

Again, not calorie-free. But sometimes, during the crazed holiday season, we need to treat ourselves.  It is seriously rich – maybe start with a small espresso-sized cup. It also is a fabulous addition to coffee – say, half chocolate and half coffee. It also goes really well with cinnamon cookies that my hubby made – pure heaven! (But that’s another post!)

I hope you enjoy.  To see the original post, and how we came to steal this recipe, please hop here…

Coming up: This Friday, I talk about affordable wines. More reds – three really good ones, and a chameleon wine…see you then!

Demon Soul is available for the Kindle and the Nook, as well as in paperback! It makes a great Christmas present, lol!



Comfort Food in Trying Times

Comfort Food in Trying Times

When the world is in an uproar, there’s something about cooking that, for me, is comforting. Even better is when the recipe takes simple ingredients and a bit of work – chopping, stirring, cooking time over an hour or so. This past weekend I indulged and cooked two fairly simple dishes that took some time.

On Saturday, I was scrolling for “healthy vegetable recipes”, and came across one for Mushroom Sugo over at Simply Recipes. Intrigued, I looked further, and they had me at the first sentence…”The onions cook for a long time…” bingo. Just what I was looking for.

(Doesn’t this look yummy? And it’s NOT a beef dish!)

Scanning the ingredients – dried porcini mushrooms, onions, carrots, celery, garlic, parsley, a bunch of other fresh herbs, wine, etc – I could almost smell the rich scent in my kitchen. So when it came time to head off to the store to buy my new dishwasher, I took the recipe with us.

Unfortunately, the dishwasher drama took longer than I thought it would. Then finding Porcini mushrooms was another epic drama – three stores. THREE. In Southern California, no less.

But finally, I got home with everything I needed, and I began chopping. Whoops, change that to mincing, which takes four times as long as chopping. Half way through the forest of vegetables I had to mince, I was now thoroughly irritated with myself and everyone around me (except the cat). I had envisioned starting the dish around two in the afternoon, never mind the fact that we didn’t even set out to shop until 3:30p. Mincing onions that needed to cook for 40 minutes at 6:30p wasn’t my idea of a good time.

Anyway – the onions eventually turned a deep goldeny brown color, all the other vegetables were minced in good order, everything got put into the pot at the appropriate time, and finally – finally! – I was able to sit back, exhausted, and enjoy the scents wafting from the covered pot on the stove. It needed to simmer for 90 minutes.

What I received, as a thank you for all that chopping? A wonderful, thick, gravy-like bit of vegetable nirvana. I served it over rotini and backed it with a terrific Zinfandel, but it would be fabulous on top of a broiled chicken breast, or as a sauce on mashed potatoes. The porcini liquid (from soaking the mushrooms) added a richness usually found in beef dishes, and the flavor from all those onions, carrots, celery and garlic melded with the mushrooms to make a winter night glow. I definitely give this recipe a “You Gotta Try It!”

On Sunday, I made Braised Root Vegetables and Cabbage with Fall Fruit – wanting to stay in that hearty-but-healthy mode – from Food & Wine’s website. A medley of onions, carrots, radishes, turnips, Savoy cabbage, apples and pears, it was surprisingly mellow and tasty, and nothing needed to be minced – so it was quick to chop those vegetables, too. Ten minutes on the stove top and half an hour in the oven, and it was a fabulous complement to our steak dinner. On Monday night, it did double duty – heated up, it went great over pasta with a sprinkling of fresh parmesan cheese. This recipe, too, gets a “You Gotta Try It!”

So there you go – two hearty vegetable recipes. I swore the next time I made the Mushroom Sugo, I’d make a triple batch, teach the teens how to mince, and then freeze most of it for heating up in the depths of deadlines – but that would also mean getting a bigger refrigerator/freezer. Which is a different posting, all together. Until next time, here’s to eating healthy and drinking responsibly!

The Autumnal Equinox comes September 23rd – it’s time to get ready.

~ Demon Soul is available for the Kindle and the Nook! Get your copy today!~

What’s in a Recipe?

What’s in a Recipe?

Cooking. Recipes. I used to follow them  to the letter, until I had kids. Then shortcuts started happening, or I didn’t have the exact ingredients, or I just thought it might taste better if…

My husband is still a slave to the recipe, no matter what it may be. Which is better? Someone who follows a recipe down to the last quarter teaspoon of water in the pan, or someone who is creative as they cook?

It all boils down (pun intended) to the recipe itself. The trick is finding the right one – and I still go by instinct rather than solid knowledge when I look for a recipe.

For instance, about three months ago hubby decided he’d make a fish chowder. For some reason I wasn’t home that day, so he found a recipe online and made this chowder. When I got home the next evening, he stood at the stove, reheating his creation from the night before.

“Fix this,” he said to me, and thrust the spoon into my hand. “It was bland and boring last night. Please, make it taste better.”

I sipped. He was right, bland and boring. But once you’ve added the cream to the chowder, there’s not much more you can do to it. I tried; I added creamed corn and some thyme, and a little bit of sherry. That brought the chowder up to not-bland and not-boring, but certainly not the chowder he was trying to recreate (from a restaurant we’d eaten at in Monterey in early March).

Time rolled on, until this past weekend. Fish Chowder, says the husband. I agreed to make it if he bought the fish. And it was my turn to hit the internet for a recipe.



Photo from http://simplyrecipes.com


Most of the flavor of a good seafood chowder comes before you add the fish and the cream. The recipe I ultimately found had all the ingredients it needed to be tasty – olive oil and butter, onions, dry white wine, potatoes, clam juice, Old Bay seasoning and thyme, for starters.

The New England Fish Chowder recipe that I found from Simply Recipes had everything I needed. The interesting thing about this recipe? If I wanted to omit the fish and add shrimp, clams, and crab, that too would taste amazing. Because most of the flavor is in the base of the chowder, not the fish itself. Two cups of clam juice was what it took to make this chowder lip-smackingly good.

The recipe itself calls for Pacific Cod, as its a sustainable fish here in the west. I used Tilapia because it’s cheap. I also, at the last minute, threw in a pound of cut-up raw shrimp just before the Tilapia was cooked – the shrimp cooked up in a minute or so and added nice color to the chowder (and as the shrimp was on special, $5 a pound, I didn’t totally blow the grocery budget).

Overall, it was a winner. We had the leftovers last night, and I didn’t have to do a thing to make it taste better! Oh, and we had a Chenin Blanc wine to go with it. Decent pairing, but I would have preferred an oaky Chardonnay.

Some people may think fish chowder is a funny recipe to make during the summer – but days can be foggy and cool here in June, and sometimes a hearty fish chowder can both warm you up and still make it feel like summer, with that taste of the sea.

What are some of your favorite summer dishes?

~   ~   ~

Have you read DEMON SOUL yet? You can find it at Crescent Moon Press or Amazon.com. Happy Reading!


Blogging Out and About

Just wanted to let you know – I’ll be at Rochelle Weber’s website all this week. As well, tomorrow I’ll be over at Castles and Guns with another interview.

Plus…I’m finally getting the blog up to speed, based upon a class I took in Blogging by Kristen Lamb (now, don’t laugh! Some of us need more help than normal, lol!). In a week or two I plan to be blogging at least twice a week – Gardening and Cooking on Mondays, and All About Affordable Wines on Fridays.

Hope you come back soon and check it out!