Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Product Review: Gourmet Garden Herbs

These things are a little bit pricey, but they're awesomely convenient (no herb chopping! Dump it straight in the pot and/or skillet!) and they last for a long time compared to straight-up fresh herbs.

For future reference, in my recipes whenever I refer to an herb "pureed in a tube" or "chili paste" this is the stuff I'm talking about. We keep Chili, Garlic, Ginger, Italian Herbs, Basil, and Lemongrass on hand, because those are the ones we use most often.

Buy some. Buy them now. :)


Snow Day - Red Pepper and Chile Soup w/ Onion-Mushroom Paninis

Well Saturday it snowed, and the snow stuck for the first time in almost a decade in my part of the world. We sat around all day in our pajamas playing video games and playing with the Two Monks barn cats, which got to come inside for the day to get out of the cold.

To celebrate a lovely lazy snow day (and satisfy our lack of desire to cook anything complicated) we went with soup and sandwiches for dinner. This is a spinoff of "Red Pepper and Chile Soup" from Easy Vegetarian Meals. Of course I totally changed the recipe, 'cause that's the way I roll, yo.

Despite my housemate's belief that I am obsessed with soups, he could not help but gobble this up too. It's that good. Get ready to convert your soup haters. This ain't the Campbell's your momma made ya.

Note: We used a bit too much chili paste in our soup, so it was very hot. Edible, but sweat-breaking-out-on-the-bridge-of-your-nose hot. I reduced the chili paste in this version of the recipe as a result. The addition of the coconut milk (NOT in the original recipe whatsoever) gave the soup a great terra cotta color and cut the chile a bit, but not enough.

Another Note: I think this recipe would be even better if the red bell peppers were roasted first (or if you got roasted red bell peppers from a jar and chucked them in) but we had no jarred bell peppers and we were too hungry/lazy to roast our own. Apologies. Feel free to go the extra mile in my stead - I cook vicariously through you!

Red Pepper and Chile Soup

- 2 1/2 cups vegetable stock
- 1 red bell pepper (seeded and sliced)
- 2-3 roma tomatoes (sliced)
- 3 cloves of garlic (smashed)
- 1 large white onion
- freshly ground black pepper and salt (to taste)
- 1 tsp. cumin
- dash of dried oregano
- dash of smoked paprika (I'm in love with this stuff)
- 1 1/2 tsp. fresh basil (we used the pureed-in-a-tube kind)
- 1 cup of So Delicious coconut milk
- 1 tsp. chili paste (more or less to taste)
- dash of garlic salt
- dash of white sugar (to balance out the hot/salty flavors)

Onion-Mushroom Paninis
- 8 slices of bread (we used plain old sliced white bread)
- 1 bag of shredded Swiss (or non-dairy equivalent)
- A large handful of button mushrooms (chopped small)
- 1/2 white onion (chopped small)
- glug of olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- enough Earth Balance or other margarine to butter the bread


1. Throw all soup ingredients together in a pot and bring to a boil. Use enough ground black pepper to get a good pretty speckle going on through your soup. Once boiling, reduce heat and add the coconut milk; let this mixture simmer for about 20 minutes.

2. While your soup is coming to a boil, heat up a small skillet and start sauteeing your onions and mushrooms in olive oil for the paninis (med-high heat should be about right). Season well with salt and pepper; you can add other seasonings to them at this point, but we didn't. When all the onions and mushrooms are nice and cooked and caramelized (be sure to give the onions long enough to get transluscent and brown) remove the onions and mushrooms from the skillet and pour any excess olive oil out.

3. Take your soup (which should be ready by now) and let it cool for a few minutes before pouring it into a blender. Pulse until the soup is completely smooth and incorporated. It should be a bright orangey-tan color with flecks of black pepper throughout. Beautiful! Pour the finished soup back in the pot to warm off while you finish making the sandwiches.

4. Assemble the paninis by buttering the bread on the outsides, putting down a layer of cheese, a layer of onion-mushroom mixture, and then another layer of cheese. Start frying these up in your hot oiled skillet, mashing them down a bit with your spatula to get that flatbread look.

5. Once your sandwiches are done, serve it up and eat! Serves two.

We served this meal with Vegan Yum Yum's Chili Almond Asparagus, which is a staple in our household. The link to that recipe is here: http://veganyumyum.com/2009/05/chili-almond-asparagus/

Happy snow day!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Italian Trinity: The Holy Grail of Spaghetti (with Mediterranean Salad and Crunchy Parmesan Garlic Bread)

Spaghetti is one of those recipes which everyone makes a slightly different way. In my house growing up it was the one recipe that was constantly on the receiving end of tweaks and experimentations (alongside beef stroganoff).

This is the Holy Grail of spaghetti. Seriously. It is salty and savory and rich, loaded with artichoke hearts, bell peppers, purple onion. It will make you feel like a member of the mob - you will feel the instant urge to carry a .45 and wear dark trenchcoats. I can just see a pot of it bubbling away on the corner eye of a basement stove in Hell's Kitchen or Little Italy, presiding over a hungry den of scum and villainy.

The recipe was loosely based off of Ree Drummond's Spaghetti with Artichoke Hearts and Tomatoes. Ree Drummond is The Pioneer Woman, and she is the bomb. Check out her site: http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/

I changed this one up a bit though, for several reasons. Pioneer Woman used heavy cream, which I don't EVER have in the house. (Mrs. Drummond would probably think I was nuts.) However, we DID have Tofutti's Better Than Sour Cream, so that's what I used instead. We also added Smart Round vegetarian hamburger because I wanted SPAGHETTI damn it, not some chick artichoke dish. I wanted Marlboro Man spaghetti (except vegetarian - is that an oxymoron?).

And also, just because I can't help myself, I threw in a bazillion new things and changed the cooking methods. Don't be daunted by the sheer number of ingredients - most of them are spices.

PS: This recipe is best served with Crunchy Parmesan Bread and Mediterranean Salad, the recipes for which are both below. Serve the Trinity, it's a rule.

PPS: This spaghetti uses garlic. Tons and tons of garlic. If you are one of those people who thinks garlic is scary, use less I guess. I totally recommend you use the entire batch. Why? It's all roasted, which makes it nutty and mellow and scrumptious. Plus nobody should be afraid of garlic, it's God's gift to the culinary world.

Note: Notice there are no pictures. Pictures are totally what make a food blog, and I realize this because I drool over food blog photos all the time. All that macro yum. But alas, I have no digital camera, and thus you will all have to pull yourselves up by your Depression bootstraps for the time being and use your collective imaginations. Imagine a sauce that Marlon Brando would take intervenously and you sort of have an idea of what we're talking about here.


- 1 purple onion, chopped
- 3-6 cloves garlic, roasted and mashed (depending on how far away you need to stay from vampires)
- 1 roma tomato, chopped
- 1 green bell pepper, sliced and diced
- 8 white button mushrooms, sliced (or you could use portobello, I won't judge)
- 1 jar of artichoke hearts, marinated and quartered
- 1 package Smart Round vegetarian burger (or any other meat for you omnivores)
- 1 jar of pasta sauce (I used Prego's Roasted Garlic and Herb)
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg (don't be afraid)
- 1 tsp. capers
- 1 large dollop Tofutti's Better Than Sour Cream (or real sour cream)
- 2 spoonfuls of olive bruschetta
- sea salt and pepper
- dash of dried oregano
- dash of smoked paprika
- dash of seasoning salt
- two dashes of garlic salt
- splash of red wine
- 1 1/2 tbsp. Italian seasoning (I use the tubed puree)
- 1 1/2 tbsp. basil (I use the tubed puree)

- whichever kind of pasta floats your boat (I used rotini)
- dash of olive oil
- sea salt and ground black pepper

- 1 loaf of French or Italian bread
- 3 tbsp. Smart Balance (or butter)
- liberal amount of Parmesan cheese, grated
- 6 cloves roasted garlic
- sea salt and ground black pepper

- Romaine lettuce (enough for your crew)
- a generous handful of artichoke hearts (I got a second smaller jar just for this purpose)
- 1/2 purple onion, diced finely
- 2 spoonfuls of olive bruschetta
- 2 roma tomatoes, diced
- grated Parmesan to taste
- ground black pepper


1. First things first, preheat your oven to about 350-400 degrees. Take two or three bulbs of garlic (depending on their size) and slice the ends off with a knife, leaving the interior of the garlic bulbs exposed. Put the bulbs of garlic on a baking sheet with a rim and hit the garlic in a few splashes of olive oil, being sure to wet them down as well as possible (you want to keep the garlic moist while it roasts so it doesn't burn and turn yucky). Once your garlic is effectively doused with oil, shove it in the oven and forget about it for awhile. This is the easy part.

2. While your garlic is roasting, put out an iron skillet and set the head to med-high, pouring a little splash of olive oil here too. Toss in your diced purple onion, your mushrooms, and your green pepper, seasoning liberally with salt and pepper. Add your Italian seasoning, your garlic salt, and then let this mix saute for awhile, being sure to give it a stir every once in awhile to make sure it doesn't burn. You want this to cook down really, really well - all caramelized and delicious. Trust me, don't rush. This is spaghetti, it's not a race.

3. While your garlic is roasting and your onion-mushroom-pepper mixture is sizzling, pour your jar of pasta sauce in a large Dutch oven and add chopped tomato, olive bruschetta, artichoke hearts, sour cream, and red wine. Season with the bay leaves, capers, nutmeg, and smoked paprika. Put this pot on low-med (2-3) for awhile, cover it, and forget about it. Stir occasionally to make sure the bottom sauce doesn't get too hot and stick, but you shouldn't have the heat up that high, just high enough to make it bubble a bit.

4. While your garlic is roasting and your onion-mushroom-pepper mixture is sizzling and your sauce is bubbling, you might want to go ahead and make the salad. Tear some Romaine lettuce into forkable pieces, toss in your olive bruschetta, tomato, raw purple onion and your artichoke hearts (pour a generous glug of the artichoke marinade into the salad greens!). Sprinkle some Parmesan on there like the good fairy. There, it's done. Put it aside to marinate and get delicious.

5. Scrape the finished onion-mushroom-pepper mix into the spaghetti sauce. Use the still-hot iron skillet to begin frying up your ground-whatever. I used Smart Round, you use whatever you want. (But if you use animal products, I recommend you drain off the rendered fat when it's finished frying.) Season the "meat" with salt, pepper, seasoning salt, and basil. Once it's finished, toss that in the pot too and stir rigorously. Then leave it alone.

6. Your garlic might be getting close to roasted at this point. You need to check and see. If the garlic is brown and mushy and smells completely awesome, it's ready. If it's not, shove it back in and wait. Try to be patient. (It's hard with this dish.)

7. When your garlic IS roasted, mash it up with a fork and put some in the spaghetti sauce. Reserve the rest for your bread.

8. Go ahead and put on a pot of boiling water now. Season it with salt, pepper, and olive oil. When it's boiling, throw in your noodles. Fish them out when they're done and let them chill in a colander. Hopefully that'll be right about the time you're letting your Parmesan bread cool.

9. Now that we have roasted garlic, it's time to make the Parmesan bread. Slice up your loaf of French bread to 1 in. pieces and butter them. When they are buttered, spread each with a layer of roasted garlic (I aimed for about one largish clove of garlic each.) Now sprinkle lots of Parmesan cheese on top. Be generous. Then salt and pepper those sweethearts. Shove them back in the still-warm oven on the same pan you used to make the roasted garlic, but try and remove some of the garlic "wrapper" from the pan, otherwise it will char and be a straight mess when you bake the bread. Start the bread off at 300 degrees, then blast right before serving at 450 degrees for maximum crunch.

There you have it. Pasta, bread, and salad. The Italian Trinity. This could theoretically serve 6 people, but I'd sort of limit it to 4 or 5, as the sauce is so good I couldn't help eating it by the spoonful to "taste test it" as it cooked, and you KNOW everybody's going to want seconds.

Meal verdict: 5/5 stars. It was scrape-your-plate-with-a-piece-of-bread-to-catch-the-last-little-dribbles-of-sauce good. Definitely one for the books.