Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Mashed potatoes and rutabaga, lentils with roasted mushrooms, cabbage salad

"Neeps and tatties" is the hilarious Scottish name for this mashed potato and rutabaga dish, I discovered when googling what to cook with a rutabaga. How could you read about something like that and not cook it immediately? Coupled with the fact that my cooking pal on this post, Jess, is a mashed potato connoisseur, it seemed like a great choice. We're currently at that weird part of Spring here in Philly where it's in the mid forties at night, thus cold enough to still eat some of our favorite comfort foods before full summer sweatiness of 100% humidity means that all recipes will be chosen purely based on how long any kind of heating element needs to be on to make them (i.e. preferably, 0).

Here's Jess artfully showing off what a rutabaga looks like. Should this blog become only about cooking with pals? Sure seems like it! Thanks 2 Jess for cooking with me and bringing really yummy mango sorbet for dessert, perfect pal hang! PS if this cabbage salad seems gross to you, honestly get out because this is only the beginning of raw cabbage salad season. So I guess just, prepare for that...plus it's delicious! One of us had 3 helpings ^_^

Neeps and tatties:

Enough potatoes (preferably yellow) to fill 5 C of ~ 1 inch cubes
Enough rutabaga to fill 4 C of ~ 1 inch cubes (see above picture for how much we used, I'd say around 2 lbs of each vegetable)
1.5 C full fat buttermilk, or whatever dairy thing you prefer. You could mix a little yogurt into whole milk, or just use whole milk. But we really liked the tangy flavor from the buttermilk
3 tbsp of unsalted butter, or more or less to taste
1 tsp kosher salt, or to taste
fresh ground black pepper

Bring your largest possible pot about 2/3 of the way full of water to boil. We elected not to peel the potatoes but of course you can, and you should certainly wash and peel the rutabaga. Dice both potatoes and rutabagas into 1 inch cubes, but keep them separate because they have different cooking times. When the water comes to a boil, add a generous amount of salt and carefully add in all of the rutabaga. Boil, covered, for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, add the potatoes and boil for another 15 to 20 minutes, until both the rutabaga and the potatoes can be very easily pierced with a fork. Drain the pot and let drain in the sink / continue to heat and fluff for a good five minutes. Meanwhile, measure out the buttermilk and get the butter ready. Now, this is important -- transfer the neeps and tatties a.k.a potatoes and rutabaga back to the pot you cooked them in, or a serving bowl, and add the buttermilk first without adding any butter. This is apparently what keeps the potatoes fluffy and prevents butter from pooling up. Mash with a masher or a fork until all the milk is incorporated, then add the butter and continue to mash and stir until it's all melted in. Then add the salt and pepper, and you're done! Easy!

Lentils with roasted mushrooms

This dish is a really easy one to throw together, and I love serving it with the mashed potatoes because it's very savory and almost meaty tasting. You could use any kind of lentil here and any kind of mushroom, you'll just be cooking both separately and throwing them together with some butter, garlic, herbs and mustard so truly nothing can go wrong.

1 lb cremini mushrooms, or your preferred type or a mix
1 C dried lentils, we used the small brown kind
1 clove garlic, diced finely
1 tbsp butter
1 tsp creamy Dijon mustard
handful of fresh parsley
olive oil

Set out a small sauce pan with lentils and 4 C water. Bring to a boil and continue cooking on medium to low heat, covered, for around 20 minutes or until the lentils are fully cooked but not falling apart.

Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 400 degrees (you see what I mean about this being an early Spring, not a late Spring or Summer recipe). Wipe mushrooms clean with a damp paper towel and separate stems and caps. Cut mushrooms into slices and dice caps finely, and place in a baking dish that will comfortably hold them all. You'll want it to be something pretty sturdy with some depth (so, not a cookie sheet), because the mushrooms will release a lot of liquid in the oven. Toss mushrooms with around a tablespoon of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and roast in the oven for about 20 minutes or until you see lots of liquid in the bottom of the dish and the mushrooms have shrunken in size significantly.

As lentils and mushrooms are finished (hopefully you can time it so they're done at around the same time) add them to a large serving bowl and toss with the butter, mustard, herbs, diced garlic, salt and pepper. All done! Make sure when you add the mushrooms to really pour in all of that liquid that the mushrooms release because the lentils will soak it all up, and it makes the whole thing taste amazing.

Red cabbage slaw

This is really my go-to salad choice, always. I think I have probably extolled the virtues of slaw elsewhere on this blog or / every day to you in person if you are my friend but this salad is honestly everything I look for. There's a vinegary bite that's well balanced between sweet and salty, cabbage always stays crunchy, and shallots are delicious. This simple slaw is a good balance to rich neeps and tatties (no, I won't stop saying it). One note, you might prefer more or less dressing here depending on preference or how large your cabbage is (ours was pretty small), so just double or half as desired -- or if you prefer a creamy dressing for a coleslaw type of effect, you could add a tablespoon of plain yogurt in to the mix here too. I like to use red cabbage because it's prettier and usually comes in smaller head sizes, but any kind of cabbage would taste good here.

1/2 red cabbage
1 small shallot
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Slice cabbage in half and remove tough core -- I do two diagonal cuts and sort of remove it as a triangle wedge from the bottom, but it's also easy to cut the cabbage into quarters and cut out the core on a bias. Slice cabbage into smallest shreds you possibly can. I guess some people use a food processor or a mandolin slicer but I've never found that necessary, just a steady hand to cut sort of ribbons from one quarter at a time. Mix all dressing ingredients together separately, then pour over cabbage slices, toss, taste for salt and pepper and enjoy! You might want to let it sit for just a minute before serving so that the cabbage can soften just slightly in the dressing.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Vegetarian lasagna for pals

The recipe that I'm about to post will seem like it's not for the faint of heart; there are many, many steps. But each step is simple and can be accomplished with a variety of homemade and store bought ingredients. Maybe you're more adventurous than I am and you have pasta-making skills and want to roll your own lasagna noodles, or maybe you're more pressed for time than I was and you use jarred marinara sauce and frozen spinach. Ultimately, I suppose that somebody would be able to tell the difference in a side by side comparison of lasagnas -- but nobody's going to do that, and everybody is going to be so, so thrilled that you made them a lasagna that they won't say a word. I put this lasagna together with love for my pals Andrew and Rachel who just welcomed a lil tiny baby into their house, and I can imagine that activities like cooking are eons away from their minds. So maybe you have a friend going through a stressful and busy time, or maybe you just love your friends so much that you gift them giant hulking trays of pasta and cheese. Either way, this recipe is special and the end result is tasty, small in dimensions but stacked tall so it'll be easy for your pal to stick in their fridge, easily reheated and freezes extremely well. I have some suggestions at the bottom of the recipe for how to gift this lasagna and step by step pics for how to assemble. Of course you can make this lasagna for yourself as well, and actually you could double the recipe without all that much extra effort and assemble two at once, one for you and one for your pal!

This is one of those recipes where having all of your ingredients in front of you before you begin is essential, and you don't want to start assembling the lasagna before everything is ready and laid all out for you, just to help you stay organized. I've laid out a plan for making homemade marinara sauce, using the kinds of noodles that require parboiling, and using fresh spinach and mushrooms. If you follow what I laid out here, you should really only end up with a half dozen dirty dishes--! I know you don't believe me, but it's true. This was essential in my planning, which other folks without a dishwashing partner surely understand.

My general plan:
1. start marinara sauce and set it to simmer (sauce pan)
2. cook spinach (your very largest pasta pot and a strainer)
3. cook mushrooms (use the spinach pot)
4. boil water for noodles (use the spinach/mushroom pot)
5. put together ricotta mixture (large mixing bowl)
6. grate the pecorino cheese (small mixing bowl)
7. boil noodles and drain (spinach/mushroom pot and a strainer)
8. assemble lasagna (lasagna pan, I used a disposable aluminum one because this was a gift)

See!? Not so bad. OK, here it goes:

Marinara sauce:

1 tbsp olive oil
1 yellow onion
2 garlic cloves
1 or 2 carrots, enough for ~ 1 C when grated
1/4 C red or white wine (optional)
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes (I used the kind with basil in them already)
handful of chopped fresh parsley and oregano (optional)
1 C whole milk (optional but really nice in the lasagna)
salt and pepper to taste

Dice onions fine, mince garlic cloves and grate the carrot on a small or medium setting on your box grater (or alternatively, dice fine). Add olive oil to your sauce pan and heat on medium heat. When the oil's hot, add the onions and a pinch of salt and cook stirring occasionally until translucent, about four minutes. Add the carrots and garlic and cook for another minute. Add the wine, stir and let it evaporate for a minute, then add the tomatoes. Bring to a boil (but keep an eye on it because the mix will be somewhat thick and you don't want sauce everywhere as it's bubbling), then lower to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes. Turn off the heat and add salt and pepper to taste (for the lasagna, err on the side of less salt because there will be a lot of other, seasoned components in the dish), and stir in the milk and herbs, and set aside somewhere out of the way.


18 oz of fresh spinach (volume isn't super important here; I would avoid baby spinach because I think it's stringy when cooked up, I used bags of spinach from the grocery store which came in 9 oz quantities. Shoot for a pound of spinach, and a little more or less doesn't change things much. This was a very high spinach to ricotta ratio at the end)

Rinse spinach thoroughly in a strainer. No need to get all the water off, it will help steam the spinach faster. Turn heat to medium under your big pasta pot and add all the spinach, stirring / being patient as it all gradually wilts down. Cook until just wilted and bright green, and drain spinach back into the strainer and immediately run cold water over it. This should make it cool enough to handle, and you'll want to squeeze as much water out of the spinach as you can. Set spinach aside.


1/2 lb any kind of mushrooms, I used cremini 
Small amount of chopped parsley and/or oregano (optional)

Wipe out spinach pot but don't go crazy with washing it. Add a small splash of oil and season with a pinch of salt, and cook mushrooms on medium heat until they release some liquid and get color on them, about 5 or 6 minutes. Turn off heat and pour mushrooms into a glass bowl, toss with a little chopped parsley and oregano if you're using it elsewhere.

Lasagna noodles:

Your package of noodles will give you the most accurate instructions on how to prepare them. Mine had to boil for 4 minutes, then drain. Yours might be the no boil kind, which you often soak in a little bit of milk ahead of time. Just follow whatever instructions you need to get the noodles ready to assemble the lasagna. If you're rolling homemade noodles -- you're on your own, because I've never done that before! I used 9 noodles in total from my 12 oz box, which was around half the noodles in the box.

Assemble the lasagna:

All of the components prepared above PLUS:

Ricotta filling: 

1 C full fat ricotta
1 egg
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 C fresh parsley, chopped coarsely
2 tbsp fresh oregano, chopped coarsely

and, 1 C grated parmesan or pecorino cheese (keep separate from filling)

Mix all of the above ingredients together in a large mixing bowl and set aside for a minute. Take your cooked spinach and squeeze in a kitchen towel or against the edges of the strainer (or I just used my hands) and try to get as much water out of the spinach as you possibly can. This will help keep the lasagna from getting too watery. Then mix the spinach in thoroughly with the ricotta and set aside. Gather all of your lasagna components around you, including the baking dish. I used a deep square pan from the grocery store, which came with its own lid making this all even easier when it came time to carry the lasagna to my pals.

Coat the inside of the pan with a little bit of olive oil. Spoon about 1/4 C of the marinara into the bottom. Next layer lasagna noodles, overlapping one another slightly, to line the bottom of the pan. Then take 1/2 C of the ricotta mixture and 1/4 C of the marinara and dollop across the surface of the noodles, as evenly as you can. Sprinkle with 1/4 C of grated cheese. Cover this layer with another layer of noodles and repeat, this time adding the mushrooms with the ricotta, until you've filled your pan to the top (the lasagna will sink a little as it cooks, so it's ok to fill it up pretty full). These suggestions got me a generously filled, 3 layer lasagna, but if you're using a bigger pan, you might want to adjust the filling amounts and do just two layers.

Bake the lasgana on top of a cookie sheet at 350 degrees, covered with aluminum foil for 40 minutes and uncovered for about 15 minutes or until the cheese has melted on the top and the whole thing is really bubbling.

To prepare this as a gift for someone like I did, you have some options! You can gift it unbaked, cooked, and frozen either unbaked or cooked, all depending on what your friends would prefer. If you freeze it, make sure to either defrost the lasgana in the fridge for several hours before baking, or plan on double the baking time (warming up an already baked lasagna should take about 30 minutes at 350, and probably an hour if its frozen). To gift it unbaked, ask your friends to bake it within a day and store it in the fridge until they do, or freeze.

Wow! Congrats to you for making your way through my lasagna novel. Basically, the point being that there's not actually a lot of technique or difficulty to putting one of these together, it just takes some time.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Grilled mushroom and beet sandwich

Cooking dinner with a pal is one of my most favorite ways to spend an evening -- sharing stories and gossip and silly jokes with the conversation seemingly always heading toward dinner-inappropriate topics, and dinner time getting pushed back later and later because of all the gabbing (hence the discrepancy in the amount of natural light in the above two pictures, haha!). I was so glad that Talia wanted to brighten my Wednesday and cook with me, contributing some pretty beets and peeling a million carrots and chopping mushrooms and eating her sandwich open-faced so I could show you guys what it looks like on the inside while cooking at the bottom of the post! Talia and I like to cook together when we hang out, and she eats a mostly vegan diet ("mostly" here meaning, with the exception of cakes and sweets ;)) so I always have a good time making and thinking through predominantly animal product free recipes.

This meal was inspired by Wednesday being CSA day and also by beet neglect. Talia said that the beets she had would be best roasted because they'd started to go a little soft, as beets and carrots tend to do, so I ditched a plan I'd initially had for a raw salad (soon!) and decided to make a sandwich. It's like a grilled cheese but with no cheese (although a goat cheese would go really well here!). But the mushrooms are fairly rich and between that and grilling the sandwich we didn't miss the cheese at all, and the whole thing held together really nicely. 

This sautéed mushroom recipe is one of those recipes I have that I follow to a T every time, and every time it comes out perfect. I made it on a whim as a solution to my own mushroom neglect a few years ago out of Mark Bittman's great cookbook How to Cook Everything Vegetarian and have made it innumerable times since then. I'll often double it because cremini mushrooms are cheap through my CSA and eat leftovers on toast, so I thought it would make a great sandwich filling. I had an inkling that the beets would go well texturally and round out a sandwich with a sweet component but I wasn't expecting the end result to be so tasty! Meat eaters among you are no doubt rolling your eyes but it's salty, savory, sweet and crunchy all at once, which are hallmarks of an excellent sandwich for me. The salad is a simple one of raw carrots much like last week, with dressing recipe below. You could easily make this vegan by replacing the butter in the mushroom recipe with more oil (so 1/4 C olive oil total).

Roasted beets:

Any amount of beets, probably one medium sized beet gives you enough slices for two sandwiches
Splash of vegetable oil or cooking spray

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Rub or spray a sheet of aluminum foil large enough to wrap all the way around your beet(s) to create a packet with oil. Wrap up the beet completely in the foil, or bundle several beets together. Roast on a cookie sheet (the beets might lose a bit of liquid and bubble over so you'll want that sheet underneath them) until you can easily pierce the beet with a fork, this took us about 50 minutes. We jumped ahead here and started the mushrooms and salad prep. When the beets are cooked to your liking, carefully place them in a strainer and immediately run under very cold water, or you can shock them in an ice bath. Slice tops and bottoms off the beets and do your best to peel off the skin once they're cool enough to handle (the water should help cool them and loosen the skin). Slice into about half inch thin disks, or quarter moons if the beet(s) are very large. Set slices aside. 

Sautéed mushrooms, adapted only slightly from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman:

1 lb cremini mushrooms, or any mix of mushrooms
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt, or to taste 
A few cracks of fresh ground black pepper or about 1/4 tsp
1/4 cup white wine (can be omitted or replaced with red wine)
3 garlic cloves
Handful of Italian parsley leaves, from about a quarter of a bunch 

Wipe mushrooms with a barely damp paper towel, gently removing dirt clumps and brushing away any other debris. Separate caps and stems when possible. Slice mushrooms into longest possible thin slices and chop stems finely. Heat oil and butter in a pan large enough to hold all your mushrooms on medium heat. (Keep in mind it'll be easiest to use this pan to grill the sandwiches later). When the butter is just melted add mushrooms and salt and pepper and cook stirring occasionally for 15 minutes. Add garlic and wine and cook stirring more frequently for another 5 minutes or until no liquid is left in the pan. Throw in parley, stir off of the heat and empty mushrooms into a heat proof bowl and set aside (but keep the pan on the stove to finish the sandwiches). 

Assembling sandwiches:

Bread slices 
A little bit of butter
Your favorite mustard, we used creamy Dijon 

Stack the bread slices the way that the sandwich will be put together and butter the outsides of both slices (this might not be necessary if there's still a lot of oil and butter left in your mushroom pan and the pan is nonstick). Turn the slices out onto a plate or cutting board so that you're looking at what will be the inside of the sandwich and scoop some sautéed mushrooms on. We used 2 tbsp per sandwich, approximately. Then top with as many slices of beets as you'd like / will fit on the sandwich. Spread a generous amount of mustard on the empty slice of bread. Put the sandwich together and heat the same pan you used for mushroom sautéing on medium high heat. Carefully place the sandwich and cook for about five minutes or until crispy and golden brown, then flip with a spatula and do the other side. We had enough mushrooms to make two heaping sandwiches with leftovers to make one more!

We served this with another carrot ribbon salad like last week's, made from two large carrots, and a dressing of: 

The juice of one lemon 
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp creamy Dijon mustard
Small handful of Italian parsley