Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Most Beautiful Word In the English Language is Butternut

Recipes: Butternut Squash Soup with Celery and Apples
Vegetable Stock

Ah Fall. With the heat of those sultry summer days fading into blustery fall nights, my hunger for crisp and cool salads has turned into a craving for buttery steaming soups. After all, my cold-blooded body needs more than just sweaters and scarves to keep me warm.

My favorite kinds of soups around this time of year are actually not soups, but stews. Chili con carne (with extra carne!), beef bourgeon, beef barley, and a dish my mom calls "Dana Dinner," which is beef, carrots, and onions stewed together and served over mashed potatoes. These are the hearty meals that really warm a girl for the cold fall and winter months. Especially during fall my appetite revs up as if my body is preparing for hibernation. Just in case my coat isn't warm enough, I can add some extra layers from the inside out.

But, maybe all that red meat isn't so good for my heart. So I tried to come up with a soul-sastifying vegetarian soup that might be a good substitute for my beefy fall appetite.

Fall gives us some of the best flavors for cooking and eating. I love the fruits and vegetables that come in season this time of year more than any other season. Apples, multi-colored potatoes, dark leafy greens, sweet potatoes. Don't forget th
e dried fruits and nuts that pair so well with the squashes. But perhaps the most delicious of all the fall veggies is the butternut squash. I know most people would argue that pumpkin is the quintessential fall flavor, but for me the butternut squash is more versatile. Pumpkins belong in the pie I eat on Thanksgiving, while butternut squashes can be eaten in soups, pastas, salads, stews,.... the list goes on. Also, you can substitute it for any recipe that calls for pumpkin and I find that it's a little easier to work with.

Butternuts (besides fun to say!) are high in potassium, vitamins A and C, and fiber. Because of the fiber they are going to keep your stomach full and happy, and the nutty flavor will satisfy your mouth. Other flavors that mix well with butternuts are apples, celery, fennel, almonds, parmesan, sage, cinnamon, tomatoes, Moroccan spices, etc.

Now, a butternut is not going to be any substitute for meat but it has a great flavor to savor all on its own. Maybe that's one of the real challenges of cutting meat out: enjoying the taste of vegetables without the addition of meat. In any case, I've come up a recipe for butternut squash soup that captures the essence of the squash. Now you can get acquainted with this delicious fall favorite all on your own.

Butternut Squash Soup with Celery and Apples

Vegetable Stock (recipe to follow) 8 cups
Olive Oil 1/4 cup
Medium Butternut Squash, peeled and pulp and seeds removed small diced 1
Apples, small diced 2 (I used Gala, but Granny Smith would be nice here too)
Celery, small diced 6-7 stalks
Medium Onion, small diced 1
Garlic, minced 4 cloves
Rice Wine Vinegar 1/4 cup
Cinnamon 2 tsp
Cayenne Pepper 1 TBS (I like it spicy, but add less if you prefer)
Salt and Pepper, TT

Garnish: Sauteed Sliced Mushrooms, Fried Celery Leaves or Fried Sage Leaves (Thank you MOM!), and Shaved Parmesan Cheese

(Obviously, if you omit the cheese the recipe will be Vegan)

1. Prep all the vegetables. Be sure to save mushroom stems and celery and onions ends for your vegetable stock. That way you won't waste as much and your vegetable stock will be delicious. Also you can save the leaves from the celery for your garnish.

2. Heat olive oil in a large pot. I used my Mom's cast iron pot and it was barely big enough, just to give you an idea of how large the pot needs to be. Add prepped vegetables (squash through garlic including apples) and sauté for 3-5 minutes. Add enough vegetable stock until it just covers the vegetables. You may not need to use all 8 cups of stock, depending on how many prepped vegetables you ended up with. Save the rest for thinning out the soup later. Cook over medium heat on a simmer until the vegetables are cooked.

3. While the soup is cooking, heat 1/4-1/2 cup of oil in a sauté pan over high heat. Fry celery leaves (or sage leaves) in the hot oil for 1 minute or until leaves crisp up. Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve. You can sauté the mushrooms at the same time.

4. When the vegetables are cooked, place soup in a blender or food processor and buzz until smooth. Depending on how long your machine is, blend the soup in batches making sure there is an even mix of vegetables and stock in the machine. Strain soup through a fine strainer into a clean pot.

5. Bring soup back up to a boil and add cinnamon, cayenne, vinegar, salt and pepper. Adjust seasonings and thickness if necessary.

6. Place soup in bowl and serve with garnishes. Enjoy!

Water, cold 8 cups
Onion, small diced 1 Large
Carrots, chopped 3 (washed, can leave the peel on and you can use the ends)
Celery, chopped 1 stalk
Mushroom stems As many as you have!
Parsley Stems 3-6
Thyme, Fresh 5 sprigs
Peppercorns, Black 10
Bay Leaves 2
Cheese Cloth

1. In a large pot, bring the water and mirepoix up to a boil. Skim any scum from the top of the stock and reduce to a simmer.

2. In the cheese cloth, make a sachet out of the rest of the ingredients. Place in the stock and continue simmering for 30 to 45 minutes.

3. Strain into a clean pot. The stock should be clear and a dark-ish amber color.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Umami: The Fifth Taste

Recipe: Exotic Mushroom Tart

There are only five definable tastes that humans are able to recognize. Taste is different from flavor. While flavor is the inherent and distinctive quality of food that is perceived with our other senses, taste is defined as the sensation recognized in our brain as food comes into contact with our taste buds. While flavors are diverse and multiple, tastes are boiled down to a distinct five: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami. It’s easy to recognize the first four tastes. Sweet is recognized as you bite into a pillowy cupcake or soft piece of dark chocolate. Salty is most apparent in a bag of potato chips, popcorn, or pretzels. Bitter is prominent in dark peppery greens and Sour is the taste you experience as you bite into a fresh lemon.

The previous four tastes are easily defined. Umami on the other-hand is unfamiliar. It comes from the Japanese word umai, meaning delicious, and is not easily translated into the English language. For me, it is the savory feeling of richness and fullness found in food.

In order to feel satiated after a meal, all of the tastes should be balanced in the dish. You can leave a meal hungry, if your tastebuds weren’t satisfied. Since umami is most commonly found in meat, that is why it’s hard to feel full after a vegetarian meal. But don’t fear my readers! Umami is found in vegetables and non-meat items too:



Soy Sauce



Aged and Fermented foods

I found the following recipe in Professional Vegetarian Cooking by Ken Bergeron. I’ve edited it significantly though so don’t go searching there if you’ve forgotten my website. It is the perfect umami meal. The meatiness of the mushrooms, mixed with the wine and the soy sauce, will make your forget the absence of meat in this meal. Enjoy it with some sautéed dandelion greens with caramelized onions and tomatoes. Dandelion greens are deliciously bitter, but the sweetness of the tomato helps your taste buds deal with the bitterness. Finish it up with a squeeze of lemon and some salt and pepper, and you’ve got a balance of tastes that will satisfy your palate and your stomach.

Exotic Mushroom Tart


For the pie dough:

AP Flour 12 oz

Salt 1 ½ tsp

Butter, chilled 6 oz

2 eggs

4 tsp water

½ cup mixed fresh herbs (I used thyme and parsley from my garden, but use whatever you want. Have fun!)

2 cups Parmesan

Egg Wash

Vegan option: Omit the eggs and the parmesan and substitute ½ cup Vegetable Shortening for the butter

For the Filling:

Onions, small diced 1 ½ cup

Carrots, small diced 1 ½ cups

Parsnips, small diced 1 ½ cups

Shallots, minced ¼ cup

Olive oil 2 TBS

White Wine, dry ½ cup

Exotic Mushrooms, such as shitake, oyster, enoki, lobster 10 cups

Fresh Thyme 2 TBS

Fresh Rosemary 2 TBS

Soy Sauce 2 TBS

Salt, Pepper To Taste

Note: To save on money, you can buy more of a cheaper variety of mushrooms (such as baby bella or button) to mix with the exotic mushrooms. The flavor won’t change much, but you’ll still get to enjoy the expensive ones!


For the pie dough

1. Mix the flour and salt together.

2. Cut the butter into small cubes. Mix it in with the flour salt mixture, using your fingertips, until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs. Add the herbs.

3. Making a well in the center, mix in the water and eggs until the dough just comes together. Add more water if too dry. The dough should not be too sticky, so be careful.

4. Kneed out on a floured surface until the dough is smooth, about 1 minute.

5. Wrap in plastic and chill at least 30 minutes until use. Meanwhile, prepare the filling.

For the filling:

6. Sauté the onions, carrots, parsnips and shallots with the olive oil for about 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and sauté another two minutes. Add the white wine and let it reduce to au sec (or almost dry.)

7. Add the remaining ingredients and sauté another 5 minutes, or until almost all the juices have evaporated. If the filling is too wet it will make the tarts soggy.

To assemble:

8. Preheat oven to 400°F. Roll out dough on a floured surface until it is between ¼ - 1/8 inch thick. Using a 6-inch cookie cutter or other circular object with a 6-inch diameter (I used a cup), cut out circles and place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. You can continue to roll out the dough as much as you need to until most of it is used up. If the dough gets too warm, place it back in the fridge to chill it down again.

9. Fill the circles with ¼ to a ½ cup of the mushroom mixture. Crimp the edges of the circle up, until it looks like a cute little coin purse. Brush the circles with the egg wash (Vegan substitute: use oil), and sprinkle with the parmesan.

10. Bake until the crust is a deep golden brown. Eat and enjoy!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Bacon No More - First Post!

To preface, I am not a vegetarian. In fact I have no intention of ever becoming a vegetarian. I simply love meat too much. I love the flavor, the texture, and the satisfying feeling of satiation that only a meat-filled meal can give. Meat has always been the central component in our family meals. Life would not be worth living without the Fourth of July Hamburger, Thanksgiving Turkey, or Christmas Ham. Or bacon for that matter.

Yet, despite all the reasons to love meat, I question why it is such a necessity in my life. Why does an animal need to loose its life, in order for my family to have a successful Thanksgiving? Maybe I have been reading too many books such as Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals, but damn the life (and death) of a farmed animal sounds brutal. I can’t help but wonder what those animals must be feeling in those moments before death, whether they be killed in a humane or inhumane way. I do feel a certain connection to animals, and I’ve always had trouble separating that connection from the food on my plate. Then, I remind myself that eating meat is just part of the circle of life, and plus it’s delicious!

So I am left with, as Michael Pollan says, an “ominvore’s dilemma.” I can continue eating meat and wildly ignore the horrible way it got to my table. I can cut meat out of my diet and be slightly miserable forgoing things like sweet, smoky, crunchy, delicious bacon. Or, I can do what I am trying to do, only eat meat that I know has come from a humane, sustainable source. Though I feel that this is going to be very, very hard. I expect failure. But, I'm still going to try.

This choice brings some problems. I am a poor twenty-something recent college graduate, and I don’t quite have the money to eat grass-fed organic straight-from-the-farm kind of beef that I desire. Also, there is no way to guarantee that the meat I eat at restaurants follows my dietary choices. So, I have no choice but to eat more vegetables. But, a steak is not an even trade for a salad. How am I supposed to feel full on a meal of carrots and spring mix?

That’s why I’m here. To create recipes for other like-minded meat-lovers who might want to try an alternate diet. Recipes that are flavorful, satiating, and overall so good that you won’t miss the meat on your plate. But don’t expect meat to be missing from this blog, entirely. When I find some affordable sustainable humane meat (and the source can be guaranteed), I’ll put it on my plate and share how I did it.