Saturday, December 29, 2012

Graham Cracker Candies

Graham Cracker Candies can be made from items most of us have in the pantry but what makes them even more appealing is how easy it is to whip up a batch. They provide a nice contrasting texture to holiday cookie trays and even with nuts my kids can't resist eating them. The original recipe is hand-written in a family cookbook and it calls for half margarine and half butter, but we almost always make them vegan with just margarine which necessitates the need to boil off the water that makes up some of margarine's mass. These are called 'candies' for a reason; while they are a crunchy, somewhat toffee-like, nutty, sweet treat, they are also rather high in fat, which is a key element in all the best candy.

15-20 graham crackers, broken into quarters
1 cup margarine
1/2 cup white sugar
Sliced almonds or chopped pecans
2 Tablespoons Turbinado sugar (optional)

  1. Heat oven to 325-degrees.
  2. Line a 9x13 cookie sheet with as many graham cracker quarters as the pan will hold.
  3. In a small sauce pan, combine sugar and margarine and bring to a boil. Boil over medium-high heat approximately 5 minutes until most of the water has evaporated.
  4. Pour sugar mixture over crackers making sure to coat them all, use a pastry brush to spread the syrup evenly if needed. 
  5. Sprinkle the crackers with the nuts of your choice, adding as many or as few nuts as you desire. Top with the turbinado sugar.
  6. Bake 10 minutes. Crackers should be bubbly and appear somewhat mushy in the pan. Wait 2 minutes for them to set up and absorb and liquid before removing them to a cooling rack. 
  7. Cool completely before storing them in an air-tight container. 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Vegan Borscht with Mock Tofu Sour Cream

Borscht is yet another recipe from my mother-in-law's kitchen and it is a family classic. We eat this all through the winter as it is a perfectly satisfying vegetable soup. I will admit that I do not like beets, not even a little bit; too earthy for my palate (I think they taste like dirt) but none of those loamy undertones come through in this soup. Besides the fact that this vitamin-packed vegan version with the mock sour cream and fresh dill provides a flavor punch that sets borscht apart from other vegetarian soups, it also trumps them in beauty too, since the beets add such a lovely rich red backdrop.

Vegan Borscht

2 medium onions, chopped
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
3-4 medium carrots, cut into chunks
4 stalks celery, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
6-8 potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
3-4 cloves minced garlic
1 medium head cabbage, chopped
2 cans (14 oz) stewed tomatoes
2 beets, or 1-2 cans cooked beets, pureed
1 can great Northern white beans, rinsed and pureed
2 vegetable bouillon cubes
4 ounces Vodka (optional)
1 bunch fresh dill, thick stems removed, chopped fine
dash of cayenne pepper
salt and black pepper to taste
  1. In a large stock pot, cook the chopped potatoes until half done.  Drain and reserve the water.  Puree half the potatoes to use as thickener.
  2. In stock pot, saute the onion in vegetable oil until translucent.  Add carrots, celery, bell pepper, half the chopped cabbage and half the potatoes, add garlic last, tossing in pan to coat.  Allow to fry in pan approximately 10 minutes, vegetables should begin to cook through.
  3. Add stewed tomatoes, pureed beets, white beans, and potatoes.
  4. Measure 4 cups of the potato water, combine with bouillon cubes,add to pot and bring to simmer to finish cooking vegetables.
  5. Add cayenne, salt and pepper to taste. 
  6. Cook just until the vegetables are tender. Incorporate the remaining chopped cabbage and allow to cook a few minutes to soften. Add the vodka, allowing the alcohol to cook off. 
  7. Stir the dill in last to retain the freshness and flavor potency.
  8. Serve with mock sour cream (recipe below) or real dairy sour cream and crusty sourdough bread. Leftovers reheat well. Serves 8-10.

Mock Sour Cream

In food processor blend until smooth: 
12 ounces Mori-Nu Silken firm tofu
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons honey
1/2 tsp salt

Friday, December 21, 2012


Cioppino is seafood comfort food.  While the name may impart notions of complicated haute cuisine technique, the reality of preparation could hardly be more simple. Traditionally this is a fish stew made from the catch of the day,where the fishermen's extra bits were tossed into a wine and tomato based stock, served shells and all with a thick piece of bread to sop up every drip of the tasty stock.

Since we do not have the luxury of standing dockside, our version relies on what we can afford from the supermarket, which typically comes flash frozen in our part of the country. Even with these limitations, this cioppino really hits the spot, no matter which combination of seafood bits we can find to fill the pot. Leftovers...well, I wouldn't know what you do with those, we never have had any, but I'm sure they would reheat well on low.

1/2 cup margarine
2 onions
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 14.5 ounce cans stewed tomatoes
4 cups water
3 Tablespoons Better than Bouillon No Chicken Base
1 bunch fresh parsley, chopped
2 bay leaves
1 Tablespoon basil (dried or fresh) chopped
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1 cup clam juice
1 1/2 cup white wine

Seafood of your choice (but this is what we can usually get):
1 1/2 pounds shrimp, peeled and  deveined
1 1/2 pounds bay scallops
1 1/2 pounds crabmeat
1 1/2 pounds cod fillets, cubed
may also add 18 small clams and/or mussels, cleaned and debearded

In a large stockpot over medium heat saute onions and garlic in margarine until soft.  Add tomatoes, breaking up chunks as possible, and all remaining ingredients except the seafood to the pot.  Cover and simmer on low to bring flavors together for approximately 30 minutes.  Increase heat and add the seafood, bringing the pot to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer for 5-7 minutes until clams open and seafood is cooked through.

Ladle soup into bowls and serve with a warm crusty bread.  Makes 8-12 large servings.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Cream(less) Mushroom & Wild Rice Soup

This vegan version of cream of mushroom and wild rice soup is based on the recipe recently published in Cooks Illustrated magazine January/February 2013. I love their scientific approach to cooking and have learned a great deal from the techniques and tips they publish. I highly recommend a subscription especially if, like me, you like to experiment since they go to great lengths to test and document what worked, what didn't, and why.

Honestly, I am not a big mushroom fan but for some reason as winter is setting in, I thought this soup looked mighty satisfying and it seemed the recipe might be easy to convert to vegan. Turned out I was right and the entire family agreed, so it has earned its place on the blog simply because everyone voted that they would like to eat it again. So here it is, my vegan version of Cook's Wild Rice and Mushroom Soup.

4 1/4 cups water
1 teaspoon thyme
1 bay leaf
1 garlic clove, chopped fine
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
1 cup wild rice

Heat oven to 375-degrees. Combine all the above ingredients except rice in a medium-sized oven safe saucepan and heat on top of stove to a boil. Add rice and return to boil, cover pan and bake in the middle of the oven for 35-50 minutes until rice is tender.

4 Tablespoons margarine
1 1/2 pounds cremini/button/baby bella mushrooms mixed, trimmed and sliced
4-5 medium shallots or 1 small onion, chopped fine
3 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1 teaspoon tomato paste
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
2/3 cup dry sherry
1/4 ounce dried shitake or oyster mushrooms, ground fine using spice blender
6 cups water
2 Tablespoons Better than Bouillon No Chicken Base
1 cup almond milk
1/4 cup non-dairy creamer
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup minced fresh chives/parsley or both
Squeeze of fresh lemon

While the rice cooks, melt margarine in Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Saute shallots and garlic, and add mushrooms with tomato paste until a fond begins to form on the bottom of the pan. Deglaze the pan with the sherry and soy sauce, scraping the fond from the bottom of the pan and simmer, reducing the liquid until the pan is nearly dry.

Remove from heat to wait for rice to finish cooking. When rice is cooked, strain excess liquid into soup, reserving rice (discard the bay leaf.) Add the ground mushrooms, water, Better than Bouillon, and bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Add almond milk. In a small bowl mix the non-dairy creamer and corn starch together until no lumps are visible. Add the rice and cornstarch mixture and cook until thickened, about 2 minutes. Add green herbs and a squeeze of lemon. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a crusty, hearty bread.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Vegan Fudge

A gal needs her chocolate fix; at least this gal does - and this fudge delivers!  Quick to whip up in just minutes, (okay, it takes an hour to set up in the fridge...but there's always the spoon and bowl to 'clean up' while you wait) this sweet treat seems to disappear at our house just about as fast as we can make it. Vegan fudge is another recipe from my mother-in-law who makes this regularly for us during the holiday season; usually with a choice of nuts, either walnut or pistachio, but pecans or even peanuts are equally tasty. Of course the kids' favorite is without nuts entirely, which is mighty good too!

4 cups (1 pound) powdered sugar
2/3 cup cocoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup soy/almond/rice milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup margarine
1/2 cup chopped nuts of choice

In large microwave-safe bowl combine powered sugar, cocoa, and salt.  Stir in milk and vanilla, mix well.  Slice the margarine into thin pieces and place across the top of the mixture. Microwave on high (100%) for three minutes.  Beat with mixer or wire whisk until smooth; stir in nuts.  Spread in buttered square baking pan.

Alternatively, reserve half the nut mixture prior to incorporating into the fudge to press the reserves into the top of the fudge for a more impressive nutty appearance.

Refrigerate one hour or until firm. Store in refrigerator.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Chocolate Walnut Chocolate Chip Cookies

I have a cookbook philosophy (okay I have a philosophy about almost everything....) which I have proudly passed down to my children: cookbooks are for writing in!  In fact my books increase in value with every scribble that is added. Since I tend to stray from recipes as they are written, if I have any hope of recreating the dish, I need to make notes; the more detailed the better since I am not as young as I used to be!  Secondly, I need to know if I have made something before if it was any good or not, the last thing I want to do is repeat a disaster.

The recipe for the cookies pictured here is based on one published in Cookies! A Cookie Lover's Collection, a cookbook I have turned to so many times that the binding is now giving out.  Well over half the pages have notations and some are fabulous, like this one left by my teenage daughter on the 'Chocolate Brownie Cookies' page:
NOT GOOD.  Funny Taste.  Dry - not only does the cookie taste like sawdust, but the batter tastes like Play-Doh. 
Needless to say, I did not use that recipe for theses delicious cookies!  The note made me chuckle, proud to be passing on my love for cooking and the moxie to call it like it is (and document it just that way!)

These chocolate/chocolate chip cookies were a huge hit with the men in the family because they are loaded with chopped walnuts.  While they have the classic drop cookie texture, the cookie dough is not 'death-by-chocolate' rich, something we happened to appreciate once in a while since that means you can eat one or two more. Nearly any combination of chocolate chips can be used but the ones pictured here were milk chocolate and "everyone loved them" which is exactly what I wrote at the bottom of the page!

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 3/4 cups flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup chocolate chips, any combination of white, milk, or dark
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts

Heat oven to 375 degrees.

In a stand mixer combine sugars and butter and mix on medium speed until light colored, add eggs, and vanilla mixing until well-blended.On low speed, carefully add flour cocoa, baking soda, and salt, until a soft dough forms. Stir in chips and walnuts. 
Using a 2 Tablespoon ice cream scoop, measure dough and drop onto baking sheet approximately 3 inches apart.
Bake for 9-11 minutes or until the middles are set and no longer appear wet. Allow to cool one minute before removing from the pan. Cool completely on wire rack and store in air tight container.
Best served with a nice tall glass of milk.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Sesame Noodle

This is one of those dishes you can whip up in the time it takes to heat the water and cook the noodles; that alone makes it noteworthy enough to blog about. With the addition of tahini (a personal favorite of mine) this vegan dish hits those satisfaction and health-nut marks high,  providing not only a shot of protein and fiber, but many other nutrients including calcium and the healthy fatty acids omega-3 and omega-6. The crunch of raw vegetables enhance the dish but I find the noodles satisfying on their own, so don't let an empty veggie drawer keep you from trying this dish. For a kick of heat, add a hot chili oil at the table.

1 pound package spaghetti
1/3 cup tahini
2 Tablespoons honey
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 teaspoons rice vinegar
1/4 cup Mirin, sweet rice wine
2 teaspoons Thai chili sauce
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 Tablespoon ground ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup green onion, sliced
1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds

1 cup vegetables of your choice: red pepper, carrots, cucumber, red onion julienned (all optional)

  1. In a large pan, cook spaghetti as directed on package just to al dente.
  2. In medium-sized bowl whisk together tahini, honey, soy sauce, rice vinegar, Mirin, chili sauce, sesame oil, ginger, and garlic.  
  3. Toss with hot spaghetti, add in green onions and vegetables, top with toasted sesame seeds. Salt to taste.
  4. Serve warm or cold.

Blueberry French Toast

We love breakfast casseroles at our house since they tend to feed many with very little effort. This one is always a hit with guests and a favorite of ours because it is so easy to make. Served with a side of sausage or bacon, this bread pudding is a perfect addition to any brunch buffet. The leftovers are even more fabulous the next morning fried over medium heat in butter on both sides until heated through.

12 slices day-old bread, cut into 1-inch squares
2 (8-ounce) packages of cream cheese, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
12 eggs
2 cups milk
1/3 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
  1. Lightly grease a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish. Layer half of the bread cubes into the bottom, evenly distribute the cream cheese over the bread. Top with the remaining blueberries and bread.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk eggs with milk, honey, and salt. Pour over the bread mixture. Press the bread cubes down into the wet milk mixture until all chunks are submerged.  
  3. Cover and chill for two hours or overnight.
  4. Bake the french toast at 350 degrees covered for 45 minutes, uncover and bake an additional 25-30 minutes until it's puffed in the center and golden brown. 
  5. Serve topped with blueberry sauce (below).
Blueberry Sauce

1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 cup cold water
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
1 Tablespoons butter

In a medium saucepan, combine sugar and cornstarch. Add cold water and mix well.  Bring to a boil over medium heat. Boil, stirring constantly for 3 minutes or until the color changes from opaque to clear. Stir in blueberries, reduce heat and simmer another 8-10 minutes until blueberries burst, remove from heat and stir in butter. Serve over warm Blueberry French Toast.

Monday, December 3, 2012


Kibbeh is a delicious Lebanese dish somewhat similar to American meatloaf in that the meat is extended to feed more by adding a grain. Unlike American meatloaf where bread or cracker crumbs are used (and soak up those great meat juices) Kibbeh relies on whole grain wheat in the form of bulghur. Bulghur is chopped and roasted whole wheat and can be found at finer grocery stores, ethnic markets, cooperatives, and specialty stores all around the country. The addition of whole grain gives the dish an ethnic flare, but the flavors are not so pronounced or unusual as to turn off the average ‘Meat and Potatoes’ American. Serve Kibbeh with any vegetable side dish of your choice, but always with a dollop of plain yoghurt, since the tartness of the yoghurt is the absolute perfect accompaniment. Kibbeh is a clever way to sneak whole grains into the family diet, but it also great for family gatherings since it travels well, can be made ahead, and is equally good hot out of the oven or at room temperature.


3 oz. unsalted butter
3 1/2 oz. pine nuts
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 lb. lean beef or lamb  
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2  teaspoons ground allspice
1 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
3/4 to 1 teaspoon sea salt

Over medium-low heat in a large, shallow fry pan, melt butter and add pine nuts.  Stir constantly until pine nuts are golden brown, do not leave unattended, as pine nuts are easy to burn. Remove from pan and set aside.
Increase heat to medium and add onion to pan with the residual butter and cook just until soft and transparent.  Add the lean ground meat, being sure to break up any lumps and cook just until no longer pink.  Remove from the heat, season with cinnamon, allspice, pepper and salt to taste.  Stir in the pine nuts.  Allow filling to cool in pan.


2 medium onions, peeled and quartered
2 lbs. ground chuck or ground lamb
14 oz. fine burghul (chopped and roasted whole wheat)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground allspice
1 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
2 teaspoons sea salt

¼ cup cold butter, sliced thin

small bowl of water

  1. Preheat oven to 400º F.
  2. In a medium sized bowl, add the burghul and cover with cold water and carefully pour off to rinse, repeat. Wash the wheat 2-3 times in this manner being careful not to pour out the burghul with the excess water. On the last rinse, pour off as much water as possible and squeeze out the excess water by hand, reserving as much of the burghul as possible.
  3. Add the raw ground meat, cinnamon, allspice, pepper, salt and water. Mix together by hand, then run the mixture through a meat grinder with a medium hole grinder plate once or twice.  Alternatively use a food processor in small batches to thoroughly integrate the bulghur into the rmeat, be careful not to over process and turn the mixture to paste.  
  4. Grease the sides and bottom of a deep 12” diameter round pizza pan with butter or non-stick spray. Alternatively, a 9”x13” baking dish can be used.
  5. The recipe is assembled in three layers: a bottom layer of kibbeh, a middle section of stuffing, and a top layer of kibbeh. To begin, divide the kibbeh mixture into two equal parts.

  6. Layer 1: The raw meat is easier to work with wet hands, so moisten hand and begin to layer in the first half of the kibbeh mixture into the bottom of the greased pan. It works well to flatten small pieces gently between your palms to about ½-inch thick, overlapping sections a bit until the entire bottom of the pan is covered. Smooth the top of the mixture with wet hands to create an even layer.

    Layer 2: Spread the stuffing evenly over the bottom layer of kibbeh.

    Layer 3: Flatten and lay pieces of kibbeh on top of the stuffing in the same fashion as the bottom of the pan. The top layer will take a bit more effort since the stuffing creates a more uneven surface, so use wet hands to create as smooth a top layer as possible.

  7. Cut the pie into quarters, use a sharp knife to make shallow incisions through the meat, to goal is to score the kibbeh in a geometric pattern creating either diamonds or squares in a decorative manner; this makes the presentation more appealing, but also allows the butter to penetrate through to the lower layers as it melts.  Prior to placing in the oven, evenly place the sliced butter over the top of the kibbeh. At this point the kibbeh can be refrigerated and cooked later, bring to room temperature before baking or increase bake time as needed.
  8. Bake at 400° for 30 to 40 minutes in the middle of the oven.  Kibbeh should have a rich brown top when done, if the meat has pulled away from the sides of the dish and it is bubbly but the top is not yet browned, place it under the broiler to enhance the color a bit, but be careful not to burn it.
  9. Serve warm or at room temperature with a side of labneh, Arabic yoghurt (plain Greek yoghurt is delicious too.)

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Pad Thai

Sweet and sour, spicy and fresh, few dishes pack a flavor punch like pad thai! The garnishes alone are a symphony of textures and flavor; fresh cilantro and green onion, salty peanuts and crispy bean sprouts, all accented with a squeeze of bright lime; it is easy to see how pad thai is right at the top of my favorites list.  Make no mistake, this is a time consuming recipe to prep, but it comes together in only a few minutes of actual cook time. While traditional pad thai would have the addition of egg and use fish sauce instead of oyster like our version, we have made slight modifications due to dietary restrictions. The dish suffers very little because of these substitutions and has become a huge favorite of ours. The recipe as written here makes 8-10 large servings.


5 Tablespoons tamarind paste
2 ¼ cups water
½ cup oyster sauce
2 ½ Tablespoons rice vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper*
3 Tablespoons sesame/vegetable oil

Re-hydrate tamarind paste by bringing water and tamarind to a boil in a small sauce pan.  Allow to boil for 2-3 minutes, then remove from heat and steep at least 10 minutes.  Push the pulp and water through a mesh strainer until only the tamarind seeds remain, discard seeds.  In a small mixing bowl combine strained tamarind with all the remaining sauce ingredients, set aside. *Taste the sauce to test for heat, add more cayenne pepper if more spice is desired, hold back on the cayenne if heat-sensitive.


20 oz dried rice noodles (width of linguine)
32 oz medium/large shrimp , cleaned, peeled, deveined
2 Tablespoons sesame/vegetable oil
2 ½ Tablespoons garlic, minced
½ cup shallot (may substitute yellow onion), chopped fine
1 cup peanuts, chopped
6 cups bean sprouts
12 green onions, white and top greens, sliced thin
1 bunch cilantro, leaves only, chopped
Lime wedges for serving

  1. Soak noodles in warm tap water, until pliable and limp about 20 minutes. Drain noodles and set aside.
  2. In large skillet heat oil over high, add shrimp and cook just until opaque. Transfer to plate and set aside.
  3. In remaining shrimp liquid/oil in hot skillet, sauté garlic and shallot/onions until cooked through. Add noodles and toss to coat.
  4. Pour sauce mixture over noodles, increase heat to high and toss constantly until noodles are evenly coated and cooked through, about 3 minutes.
  5. Add shrimp to heat through, remove from heat and add green onion and bean sprouts.  Garnish with cilantro and peanuts at table and pass lime wedges.
  6. Serve immediately and invite enough friends to consume the entire batch, pad thai does not reheat well.  

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Unlike Greek Baklava, the Lebanese version of this delightful pastry is far less sweet due to the substitution of sugar for the honey. This is my mother-in-law’s recipe; she really is the expert baklewa baker at our house, making trays and trays of it as gifts for good friends and business associates (it’s good to do business with our family!) Everyone gives it the highest praise, stating it is by the far the best they have ever tasted and we are asked repeatedly for the recipe. So friends the day has come, we are sharing both the recipe and the tricks that make our version so very special.


3 cups sugar
1-1/2 cups water
1 Tbs. lemon juice
1 Tsp. Orange Water

In a medium-sized sauce pan, combine sugar and water, stirring until sugar is dissolved.  Over medium heat bring the sugar syrup to a boil for 5 minutes.  Add lemon juice and orange water and boil 5 minutes longer.  Remove from heat to cool.  Once cool, refrigerate until cold. The syrup can be held in the refrigerator for several days prior to preparing the pastry.


4 cups walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 package. Filo dough, thawed
1 lb. unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 300-degrees. Unroll filo dough, covering it with a towel to keep it from drying out and allow it to come to room temperature.

Place the walnuts, sugar and cinnamon in a food processor and pulse until the nuts are a uniform, fine chop (do not over process.)  Reserve one cup of this nut mixture, and return it to the food processor for a few more pulses, these nuts are to be a finer grind for the top of the baklewa, the courser chopped nuts used in the middle between layers of filo.

Brush a 9x13 pan with melted butter and begin to layer the filo dough, brushing each sheet with melted butter until half the filo package has been used to fill the bottom of the pan. Spread the nut filling evenly over the filo and continue to layer the remaining filo in the same manner by brushing each sheet with butter.

Cut the top layer of filo into rows approximately 1 ½-inch wide, cutting in the opposite direction on the diagonal to create a diamond shape. Do not cut through to the nut and bottom layers.

Bake in 300-degree oven for 45-50 minutes until golden brown. Remove from the oven and immediately pour the cold syrup over the hot baklewa. The filo dough will soak up all the syrup as it cools; do not be alarmed if it looks like too much syrup.  Cool completely and use a sharp knife to complete the cut started prior to baking by cutting through the nut and bottom layers.  Serve at room temperature.  Store any uneaten baklewa in an air-tight container in the refrigerator.

Individual pieces can be placed in decorative paper cupcake liners for a more festive display on holiday platters or for packaging and gift giving. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Pumpkin Bars

The lowly pumpkin bar is the one dessert I instantly associate with autumn, but with the punch of vitamin A that these pack; why not eat them all year long?  Our version differs from mom’s recipe only that we increased the frosting to cake ratio but kept the spices light exactly as I remember them from my youth. These rarely last a day at our house, they are just too hard to resist!

Pumpkin Bars:

4 eggs
1 2/3 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 (15 ounce) can solid pack pumpkin
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350-degrees.  Mix eggs, sugar, oil, and pumpkin in a large bowl.  Add flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt to the pumpkin and mix well. Pour into an ungreased jelly roll pan (12-in x 17-in) and bake 15-20 minutes.  Cool completely before frosting.


12 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 ½ cups powdered sugar
¾ cup butter
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1½ tablespoons milk

Beat cream cheese, butter, sugar, and vanilla in a mixing bowl.  Add enough milk to spread on cool pumpkin bars.

Store in refrigerator.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Spicy Shrimp Chowder

Coming up with a title for this recipe I found myself asking the question: what is the difference between bisque and chowder?  It turns out that it is all in the chunks.  Bisque are generally pureed or strained for a silky smooth consistency with a  focus on extracting the flavor of the ingredients, while chowder is chunkier like stew. The broth of this soup could easily satisfy if pureed and strained for a bisque-like consistency, but realistically, this is a hearty, soul-warming, cozy up to the fire kind of soup and the chunks just make it all the better.  Why mess with that?

The only inspiration I recall for creating this recipe is that I got hungry for this flavor profile and this is the result of satisfying that craving. Spicy Shrimp Chowder has since become a favorite with the family and guests alike.  I have had other seafood chowders but never one as rich and full-bodied as this one.  The fat content can be adjusted by cutting back on the cream cheese or by using a low fat cream cheese option, alternatively use milk instead of half and half, or really live large and switch it up with heavy cream (which is how I prefer it!)  The dairy adds richness and hides the time-saving use of bouillon, which does not need to be vegetarian; chicken broth makes this soup even better.  This is a great soup to serve a large crowd, cook the vegetables up to the point of adding the half and half to thicken and refrigerate.  Bring the soup back up to heat, and finish the preparation as written. Shrimp can add significant saltiness to any dish, so taste for final seasoning just before serving.

Spicy Shrimp Chowder:

¼ cup butter
½ onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 ribs celery, sliced thin
2 carrots, sliced thin
½ yellow/red pepper, chopped
1 tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon paprika
Red pepper flakes, pinch
1 pound baby red potatoes, cut into bite sized pieces
Water, enough to cover vegetables
Dried Ancho pepper, whole (optional)
2 cups half and half
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 pound shrimp, medium or larger, deveined and butterflied

Saute onions, garlic, celery, carrots, and peppers in melted butter. Season with cumin, chili pepper, paprika, and red pepper flakes, tossing with the vegetables to toast them before adding the potatoes and water just to cover all vegetables.  Flavor with the bouillon and bring to a slow simmer, cooking until vegetables are tender.  When vegetables are tender, remove the re-hydrated Ancho pepper from the pot, squeezing it to extract as much flavor as possible. 

Wisk the cornstarch into the cold half-and-half, and add the cream cheese cut into cubes; allow to sit at room temperature while the vegetables cook.  Combine with the soup and bring to a simmer, the soup will thicken slightly; continue to stir as the cream cheese melts.  Add the shrimp and cook until shrimp are pink.  Taste and season as needed with salt and pepper.  Serve immediately with a crusty or cheesy bread.

Serves 4-6 as main course

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Peanut Butter Cookies (Vegan)

Big cookies may appeal to some, but I’m a little cookie fan all the way!  Somehow eating many little cookies is far more enjoyable than eating one giant one, after all, who wants to stop at just one?  My daughter Sophia makes these for us regularly, and since it is impossible to stop at just one (or two, or three) she’s doubled the original recipe (and made it vegan) with the hope that there will be a few left to enjoy the next day.

These little gems are crunchy on the outside and perfectly chewy on the inside.  The oatmeal and peanut butter hold these together even without an egg, and they cook up tender and moist in the center (if yours don’t, cut back on the bake time) without being greasy.  Don’t have egg replacer?  Substitute corn starch and mix it with the water instead.

1 cup margarine, room temperature
1 cup white sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 cup peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ teaspoon  egg replacer mixed with 3 Tablespoons water
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup rolled oats
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream together margarine and sugars; add peanut butter, vanilla, and egg replacer, stir until well blended.   Add remaining dry ingredients, mixing until well combined and chocolate chips are evenly distributed.

Use a 1 tablespoon sized ice cream scoop and drop cookie dough on a 9 x 13” cookie sheet.  These cookies do not spread much, so 20 fit on the pan without baking into one another.  Bake for 10 minutes in preheated oven until edges start to brown.  Cool 5 minutes before removing from cookie sheet, place on rack and allow to cool completely.

Recipe makes 80 small cookies.

Vegan Pecan Sticky Rolls

Sticky and sweet, loaded with pecans, these rolls are the ultimate comfort food.  Make no mistake, these are packed with fatty goodness, so don’t make them every day, but on special occasions, they sure fit the bill!

These rolls are made the night before and allowed to rise in the refrigerator overnight and then baked the next morning.  This is a big batch of rolls; feel free to cut it in half if you don’t need to feed an army like I usually do.  My pan is a restaurant size 18"x12" but two 9”x13” pans would work if you don’t have a bigger pan.

The Dough
36 ounces flour (approximately 8 cups)
2 ½ teaspoons yeast
½ cup sugar
½ cup margarine, melted
1 teaspoon salt
22-24 ounces liquid, warmed (80 degrees Farenheit), soy/rice milk or water

Place flour in a large bowl and make a well in the middle.  Add sugar, margarine, and yeast in the well, sprinkle the salt around the edge.   Slowly pour the liquid into the well with the other ingredients and begin to incorporate them into flour.  Mix them until the dough pulls together and then turn out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, approximately 10 minutes.

Place dough in an oiled bowl and turn to coat.  Cover, and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled, about an hour.  Alternatively the dough can be made far in advance and allowed to rise in the refrigerator until needed.

Sticky Pecan Sauce
1 cup margarine
1 ½  cups brown sugar
2 cups pecans, chopped
In a medium sized saucepan melt the margarine and brown sugar together, whisking until smooth.  Spray the pans intended for baking the rolls with cooking spray.  Pour the sugar sauce into the bottom of the pan and sprinkle with chopped pecans.

The Filling
1 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 cup pecans chopped
½ cup margarine, melted
Mix the brown sugar, ground cinnamon, and pecans in a bowl with a fork to break up any chunks.  Melt the margarine in the sauce pan and set aside for final assembly. 

The Assembly
Turn dough out onto floured surface and roll into a rectangle approximately 24”x18”.  Pour the melted margarine over the dough and brush it to out evenly to within ½-inch of the edge.  Sprinkle the filling evenly over the margarine.

Begin to roll the dough from the narrow side, so that the finished roll is 24-inches long.  Brush the open edge with water and pinch the seam to seal it well.  Divide the roll in half, cutting it with a sharp knife.  Cut each in half again, leaving four equal length sections approximately 6-inches long.  Divide each quarter into 5 equal pieces and arrange in pan.  Press each roll lightly into the syrup.  Cover the rolls with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator overnight.  

In the morning, fill a shallow baking dish with warm water and place on the floor of the oven.  Set the oven to 200 degrees.  Once the oven comes up to temperature turn it off immediately and place the cold rolls, plastic wrap removed, in the oven to proof.   The rolls should be double in size from the night before, approximately 30 minutes.  

Remove water pan and rolls from oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Bake rolls for 20-25 minutes until the syrup is between rolls is bubbly and the tops are a deep golden brown.  Do not undercook the rolls, since the syrup can leave the rolls tasting doughy.  

When done, allow to set for 3-5 minutes, run a knife along the edge of the pan to loosen any stuck rolls.  Carefully turn out upside down onto large cutting board or platter.   Be cautious as the sugar syrup is very hot!  Allow to cool 15-20 minutes before serving.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The PiX FiZ Signature Tofu Sandwich

Tofu, arugula, pickled onion, tahini sauce pita sandwiches.
These tofu sandwiches might just convert even the staunchest meat eaters to soy protein, at least this once!   Each element in the sandwich is essential; providing a delicious variety in complimentary flavor and texture.  The fried tofu firms up in the cooking process, giving it a more substantial meaty texture and the tang of the pickled onion is perfectly set against the peppery arugula, all accented  with the boldness of the tahini enhanced sandwich spread.  

Every part of this recipe can be made ahead, however the tofu benefits the most from an overnight marinade (but it is tasty enough if made in a hurry with no marinade time too.)  Tofu sandwiches travel well if made ahead, wrapped well, and placed in a cooler; making them perfect for any vegan picnic.  If you steal this recipe and serve it in your upscale vegan sandwich shop, that is fine, but you really must keep the name (and tell me all about it!)  

Fried Tofu
2 pounds firm tofu
1 tablespoon sesame oil
½ cup soy sauce
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon basil, dried or minced fresh
½ teaspoon cayenne

Drain tofu on paper towels, pressing lightly to remove excess water.  Combine all remaining ingredients in a large Zip-lock bag.  Cut tofu into bite sized cubes.   Add to the Zip-lock, tossing to coat evenly with each addition to ensure cubes do not stick to one another.  Seal bag by lightly pressing out excess air and marinade tofu in refrigerator for as long as time will allow, up to 24 hours.

To fry tofu, pour out Zip-lock ingredients into a large non-stick skillet and set on medium-high heat.  Allow the liquid to come to simmer, arranging tofu in one layer as much as possible, and reduce liquid until absorbed.   Add 2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil to the pan once the liquid is absorbed and fry the tofu, stirring cubes to evenly brown them on all sides.  If some of the cubes break apart in the cooking process, just scrape the parts off the bottom of the pan and add a little more oil if needed to keep the tofu from sticking.   The tofu is done when the moisture cooks out so that it firms up a bit and develops an even brown, fried appearance.   Allow to cool, best when not eaten hot. 

Pickled Onion
2 large red (white or yellow can also be used) onion, sliced thin
½ cup apple cider vinegar
½ cup water
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
pinch red pepper flakes

Place thinly sliced onion in a canning jar or heat resilient bowl.  Combine all ingredients except onion in a medium sauce pan and bring to a boil.  Carefully pour the hot liquid over the onions and cover with lid.  Allow to cool to cool prior to refrigeration or use.   Store pickled onions in refrigerator. 

Tahini Sandwich Spread
¾ cup Vegenaise
½ cup Annie’s Naturals Goddess dressing
1 tablespoon Balsamic vinegar
¼ cup tahini
2 teaspoons spicy brown mustard
Blend all ingredients together and refrigerate until use. 
Note:  If Annie’s dressing is unavailable in your area, there is an online recipe here that can be used as a substitution.

Assemble the sandwiches on toasted pita bread, placing a small handful of arugula in the center, fried tofu and pickled onions next and enough tahini sandwich spread to make it really messy to eat.  Enjoy!
Recipe makes 6-9 sandwiches.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Tofu "Egg" Salad

This is an excellent vegan sandwich, totally satisfying protein, but when something like pickled onions, fresh tomato and arugula are added, it becomes just about perfect. 

1 lb firm tofu, well drained
2 tablespoons minced onion
2 tablespoons minced celery
2 tablespoons Vegenaise
1 tablespoons sweet pickle relish
1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon yellow mustard
½ teaspoon turmeric
¼ teaspoon fresh dill weed
1 tablespoon fresh parsley
salt and black pepper to taste

Allow tofu to drain on paper towels to remove excess moisture.  Crumble the tofu with hands into a large bowl.

In a small bowl blend together all remaining ingredients and pour over tofu.  Mix well and allow flavors to come together in the refrigerator for several hours before serving.  Tofu salad is excellent on crackers, toast, and fresh bread.  

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Seafood Wontons

These would be excellent with pork, but not everybody eats pork, so this recipe is my version of a meatless wonton.  I have served these to meat-eaters and they were completely fooled by the fake sausage.  The addition of the shrimp protein adds a meaty chew to the filling making it nearly impossible to discern these from the real deal.

This recipe is enough to fill two packages of wonton wrappers.  That is a lot even for our family of nine. My girls and I usually make these in two batches, freezing half the filling for another time.  The wontons can be made ahead and frozen so that they are available anytime a wonton craving strikes.

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
14 oz pkg GimmeLean sausage
2 teaspoons ginger, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon shallot, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 lb medium raw shrimp (41-50 count)
1/2 can water chestnuts (about 8 whole)

2 pkg wonton wrappers
vegetable oil for frying

In a large fry pan, heat the toasted sesame oil over medium-high heat.  Add the GimmeLean sausage, breaking  it into chunks and fry until slightly golden brown.  Allow to cool.

Pulse ginger, garlic, shallot, and oyster sauce in food processor until minced.  Add the shrimp and chestnuts, and pulse 3-4 times to coarsely chop.  Working in two batches, remove half the seafood mixture and pulse with half the sausage just until incorporated.  Remove to bowl and repeat with the second batch, repeating to blend together.  Stir the mixture in a bowl to bring the two batches together.
Fill each wonton wrapper with a scant 1 teaspoon of filling, folding into desired shape and thoroughly sealed.  

These wontons are excellent steamed as potstickers or as dumplings in a savory broth.  Our favorite way is fried.   When folded properly they fry up easily with almost no splatter.  Fry at 350-degrees until golden brown, 3-5 minutes.

Serve with sweet and sour sauce and Chinese mustard.

Sweet and Sour Sauce

¾ cup cold water
1 ½ tablespoon corn starch
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
3 tablespoons ketchup
2/3 cup sugar
Dash soy sauce

Wisk to combine all ingredients in a medium sauce pan.  Bring to boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally.  Cook until the sauce turns translucent.  Serve warm or at room temperature. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Blanched Spinach with Tahini

I modified this recipe from Cecilia Chiang’s excellent cookbook, The Seventh Daughter. This dish is addictive; I make twice what we need and eat it cold for breakfast the next day.  I love it, but to be honest, most of my family members do not.  Oh well, too bad for them, and extra good for me (literally, I can eat two or more bags of spinach fixed this way!)  

I’ve made this with raw spinach (and I like it that way too) but blanching the spinach really does make it much more appealing, as it masks that ‘chalky-coat-your-teeth’ feeling that some people experience when it is raw. I use a salad spinner to blanch the spinach as I find it much easier than the usual method of plunging it in boiling water and removing it to an ice bath.  My method also removes extra water in the spinning process, where traditional methods would require squeezing it between towels.

2 tablespoons tahini (sesame seed paste)
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
2 teaspoons sugar
1 ½  tablespoon rice vinegar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
Whisk all ingredients together until smooth.  The tahini may be thick and lumpy at first, but more whisking will soon bring the dressing together.

2-3 bags baby spinach
2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
Boil the water.  Add the salt.  Rinse and clean the spinach using a salad spinner with warm water. Dump out the water used to clean the spinach and carefully pour the boiling water over the spinach. Replace the salad spinner’s lid, placing the spinner in the sink and while holding the lid on tight, spin the spinach and the salted water until the leaves appear wilted.   Use caution when pouring out the hot water and then spin the spinach again to remove any remaining water. 

1-2 tablespoons sesame seeds
Toss the dressing with the spinach to coat well.  Taste and salt if needed.  Garnish with sesame seeds.

Serve at room temperature.  Refrigerate leftovers.  Feeds 6 as a side.  

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Avgolemono with Meatballs

Traditionally Greeks eat an ‘Easter’ soup called Mayeritsa made of lamb intestines and heart which is as much about practicality as it is symbolic meaning for the holiday.  At some point my future may include roasting a whole lamb and using the intestines for traditional soup, but for now, my culinary experience has yet to mature to tripe, so I’ve adopted this recipe, modified from Greek Cuisine by Vefa Alexiadou.  

Ground lamb can be rather expensive, especially in the spring, so when I prepare this for a large party (and I always do) I substitute half of the ground lamb for a ninety-percent ground beef.  I typically make this soup for 30+ guests, and all of it can be made ahead and assembled with ease at the last minute.  The chicken stock can be made weeks in advance, defatted and frozen.  In fact, I even cheat and use store-roasted chickens, deboning and saving the meat for another recipe and then cooking the vegetables and bones to make the stock for this soup. 

The meatballs can be made at any time and frozen.  They can even go straight into the soup frozen but will require additional cooking time.  My preferred method for cooking the meatballs is to cook them the day before, remove them from the broth, and then cool and defat (skim the fat from the top of) the liquid a second time for a cleaner flavor.  To serve, bring the broth to a simmer and add the meatballs, let them come up to heat and then finish with the lemon-egg mixture.  

This soup is incredibly satisfying with its delicious chicken stock base, the bite of the lamb and rice meatballs, the creaminess of the egg laden broth, and that unexpected bright lemon accent.  The flavor profile is unique and addictive; few can pass up the opportunity for a second (or even third) helping. 

Note:  The addition of the egg essentially turns this soup base into an emulsified sauce similar to a hollandaise.  Leftovers should be reheated slowly over medium-low heat in a double boiler to avoid curdling.

4-6 Servings
Ingredients List
30+ Servings

roasted and deboned chicken, skin and fat discarded, leaving wings and other joints with plenty of meat available to flavor the broth.
6-8 cups
cold water (enough to cover the ingredients in the pan)
12-16 cups
onion, quartered
medium carrots, rough cut
celery ribs, rough cut
½ bunch
flat-leaf parsley, stems and all
1 large bunch

Combine all ingredients in a large stock pot and slowly bring to a simmer.  Remove impurities from the stock as it simmers by skimming the top to remove the scum that accumulates during cooking.  Simmer on low for approximately 6 hours; regularly skim the top of the pot to remove impurities.  Strain through a fine sieve and discard solids.  Place container in ice bath to bring the temperature down quickly and place in refrigerator to continue to chill.  Once cold, remove all fat that has floated to the top of the container.  Stock can be frozen at this point.

1 lb
ground lamb, beef and/or veal or any combination
6 lb
¼ cup
 converted white rice
1 ½ cups
3 Tablespoons
parsley, finely chopped
1 large bunch ( ¾ to 1 cup)
2 Tablespoons
dill, finally chopped
1 large bunch ( ½ to ¾ cup)
2 Tablespoons
olive oil
½ cup
1 teaspoon
2 Tablespoons
½ teaspoon
Black pepper
1 Tablespoon

Flour to dredge

In a large mixing bowl combine all meatball ingredients except flour and knead the mixture a few minutes to thoroughly combine.  Using a small ice cream scoop, measure out equally portioned meatballs, roll them in hand, and dredge each in flour.  Arrange them neatly in rows on a cookie sheet to make counting them easier (if the need for dividing into equal portions is needed.)

To cook meatballs bring the stock to a simmer and drop meatballs in a few at a time.  Simmer on low for 20 minutes.  Remove them from the stock if not serving immediately, allow stock to cool and defat a second time if holding to serve later.  Finish the soup with the avgolemono.

¼ cup
lemon juice
1 cup

Soup should be hot and meatballs (added back to stock if removed) cooked through.  Test soup base for salt and add if needed.  Beat the eggs lightly and add lemon juice a little at a time, beating continuously.   Remove soup from heat.  Carefully ladle the hot stock into the egg/lemon mixture whisking vigorously to temper the eggs before adding them to the pot.  Repeat the process for larger batches until the egg mixture is heated through, then add to the pot and stir to combine.  Serve immediately.