Meat Free Mondays – Vegan BBQ Sandwich

When I cook vegan, it  can sometimes be a drag. I tend to use the same ingredients over and over again — lentils, chickpeas, black beans, quinoa, rice and so on.

Soy CurlsThat’s why it was such a thrill to discover soy curls. These are tiny dehydrated twists made of soybean and nothing else. They will stay fresh practically forever, especially in the freezer, and require only a quick steeping in hot water in order to be rehydrated.

They can be substituted in any recipe that requires shredded meat, such as this vegan BBQ sandwich recipe.

The taste of soy curls is neutral like chicken breast, so they enthusiastically take on the flavor of  whatever other ingredients you prepare them with. Their texture is sort of like pulled pork, but without the globs of fat or stringiness (or the saturated fat).

Butler soy curlsThe only downside is that soy curls are not yet widely available. I had to mail away for them from a vegan grocery store on the West Coast after I found this recipe and wanted to give it a try. But they are quite inexpensive — I paid $4.15 for a 10 oz package, but that results in about 1.5 pounds of actual edible product once you add water — especially when compared to meat.

Plus, they are made from the whole soybean, are all natural, contain no preservatives or additives and are high in fiber.

Seriously, what’s not to love?

To make things even better, this recipe is made with a Sriracha Barbeque Sauce.

sriracha sauceSriracha — also known as “Rooster Sauce” due to the big rooster on the package — is a Thai spicy-sweet hot sauce and currently is my favorite obsession food.

I’ve been putting it on everything, but I especially love it over a couple of scrambled eggs inside a warm tortilla with a little queso fresco. (I literally had that for breakfast every day last week!)

Vegan BBQ Sandwich

1/2 package Butler Soy Curls, rehydrated according to the package instructions

1 Red Onion, slivered

1 Green Bell Pepper, ribs and seeds removed, diced

8 oz Portobello Mushrooms, diced

For the Sriracha BBQ Sauce

1/2 cup Organic Ketchup

2 TBS Molasses

2 TBS Bragg’s Liquid Aminos

1 TBS Cider Vinegar

1 tsp Agave Nectar

1 Garlic Clove, minced

1 tsp Liquid Smoke

2 tsp Sriracha Sauce

Fresh Ground Black Pepper to taste

1. In a non-stick skillet, water sauté the onion, pepper and mushrooms until onions are softened, about five minutes, stirring occasionally.

2. Add the soy curls and sauce and cook until most of the sauce is absorbed by the soy curls and they begin to brown a little, stirring occasionally, about five minutes.

3. Serve on pretzel bun with pickles on the side.

soy aminos natural soy sauce substituteSoy aminos is a liquid protein that is used as an all-purpose seasoning and tastes like soy sauce. It is made from soybeans and includes a bunch of essential and non-essential amino acids, and is much better for you than sodium-rich soy sauce.

Agave nectar is a natural sweetener extracted from the core of the blue agave plant, the same cactus that is used to make tequila. It’s tastes like honey and is 25% sweeter than sugar. I’ve been using it a lot anywhere I would use sugar or honey, such as in breads, sauces and salad dressings.

Meat Free Mondays – Vegan Pizza

Veganism is something I think I could do, with one exception: Pizza.

My love for pizza is well-documented. I could eat pizza seven nights per week … and before I was married, I often did!

Vegan Pizza

Vegan Pizza

Living in Chicago, we have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to great pizza places. There are many world-class pizza places within delivery distance to my house: Palermo’s in Oak Lawn, Louise’s in Crestwood, Papa Joe’s in Oak Lawn, Lou Malnati’s, Vito and Nick’s (featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives), Home Run Inn, and Phil’s, to name a few.

Even the second-tier pizza places — Conte’s, Leonardo’s, Fox’s, Augustano’s, etc. — are far superior to the best pizza offerings in most cities. I’m not saying this to brag: It’s just the truth. Chicago is known for its great neighborhood pizza places.

Turning my back on pizza in Chicago would be like somebody in Indianapolis swearing off auto racing or somebody from Kansas City refusing to eat barbecue: It’s too hard because it’s what defines that city.

So when I found out that soy-based mozzarella “cheese” was an actual thing, my hopes that vegan pizza could be a reality were raised.

I found a place online called Food Fight Grocery where I could buy it — along with a lot of other cool vegan stuff — and placed my order. A few days later it arrived.

I have to admit that this tube of soy-based mozzarella sat in my refrigerator for a couple of weeks before I worked up the nerve to actually try it. I mean, what if it was really good? That would mean the final obstacle to my going completely vegan would be removed.

After all, the package stated that it tastes and melts just like real dairy-based mozzarella and that it even had the same stringy texture.

Finally, I tried it. Using my standard vegetarian pizza recipe — including the homemade whole wheat dough I always use —  I put together my pie.

057The first sign that something wasn’t right with this “cheese” was that you couldn’t grate it like you can fresh mozzarella. It wouldn’t hold together well enough to withstand the grater. It was too watery. So instead I had to cut it into discs.

Then, when I cooked the pizza, the cheese only melted slightly and wouldn’t get brown and bubbly, not even when I turned on the broiler for a couple of minutes. It stubbornly stayed the same white color.

Finally, it came time to taste it. The flavor, while mozzarella-esque, lacked the buttery undertones that real, fresh mozzarella has. In fact, it didn’t have much flavor at all.

The texture was similar to mozzarella, but despite what the packaging claimed, it didn’t have the stringiness and gooey texture we’ve come to associate with high-quality dairy-based mozzarella. While it wasn’t exactly like putting tofu on pizza and calling it cheese, it was close enough that I don’t think I’ll try it again.

In a way, I’m relieved because I don’t think I’m ready to commit 100% to vegan — or even vegetarian — lifestyle. Still, I enjoy cooking vegan much more frequently than ever before and am continually seeking out new recipes — especially on such great blogs as Becky’s at VegHotPot — so that I can cut down drastically on the amount of animal protein I consume.

But nothing will ever take the place of my Chicago pizza.

Thank God!

Meat Free Mondays – Homemade Pierogi

Back in the late 1970s, the parish I grew up in commissioned a family photo book. Every St. Catherine of Alexandria family was invited to show up at the school at an appointed time to have their portrait taken by a professional photographer.

???????????????????????????????When my family arrived, we were hustled into a makeshift photo studio set up in an empty classroom and posed by the photographer in front of a screen. Apparently, we were too dour, so he tried to lighten things up by making us laugh.

“How many Polish people does it take to ….”

My father stopped him right there. “A word of warning,” he said, channelling his best  Dirty Harry. “You probably don’t want to be telling Polish jokes in this parish, pal. It’s mostly Polish people.”

The photographer promptly shut up and snapped the picture.

It’s easy to take for granted how engrained Polish culture is in our community. Although we weren’t Polish — the McCulloughs are most definitely Irish — there are neighborhoods and even entire towns around my house where some of the signs on businesses and storefronts are in both English and Polish — and the rest are in just Polish.

Enter any number of stores around here and it’s like walking into a business in downtown Krakow or Warsaw. All the products are imported from Poland, Polish is the spoken language, and all the signs and prices are in Polish.

When I was a younger man, I married a Polish girl. My daughter is half-Polish. One of my favorite memories from that marriage was when my ex-wife’s relatives would come over to our apartment laden with bags and boxes of wonderful, steaming Polish foods they had just bought from stores on Milwaukee Avenue, the heart of Chicago’s Polish community.

Like corned beef for the Irish or pasta for the Italians, if  it’s not the national dish, pierogi is at least the food that best represents the cultural identity of Chicago Poles. Pierogi from various Polish delicatesans are compared, contrasted and debated as if they were United Nations resolutions rather than stuffed dumplings.

Everybody has their favorite place for pierogi, and they are willing to argue vehemently for hours as to why their choice is the best.

And that’s just the beginning of the debate. There’s the various stuffings to consider: Potato, sauerkraut, cheese, fruit and an infinite variety of others. And the personalized topping preferences: Sour cream, applesauce, browned butter.

Frozen Pierogi are sold in every grocery store in Chicago, but it would be scandalous to serve them. Not when there are so many excellent places to buy handmade pierogi. That would sort of be like serving frozen pizza to somebody from Chicago. It’s simply not done.

An even better option is to make your own pierogi. They are supremely simple to make and the end result is fresher and often even better than anything you can buy.

Pierogi can be stuffed with anything, making them perfect for burning out leftovers. They freeze really well, so you can make a big batch and throw them in the freezer, taking out only a few at a time as you need them.

Here’s my simple, quick pierogi recipe. Although by no means authentic — my first marriage didn’t last long enough for me to be admitted to that secret society — it is a reasonable facsimile.

At least for an Irishman.

Pierogi

2 cups Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

1/2 tsp Salt

1 large Egg

1/2 cup Sour Cream

1/4 cup Unsalted Butter, room temperature

1. To make the dough, in a medium mixing bowl, mix together the flour and salt. Add the egg to the flour and stir together with a fork. The dough will be quite clumpy at this stage. Work in the sour cream and soft butter until the dough comes together in a slightly rough, slightly sticky ball. Using just your fingertips, knead and fold the dough without adding additional flour until the dough becomes less sticky but still quite moist. Wrap the dough well in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 to 60 minutes, or up to 48 hours.

???????????????????????????????2. You can fill your pierogi with whatever you like. I used leftover mashed sweet potato that had been mixed with a little butter, salt and pepper. Fill the pierogi by rolling half the dough 1/8″ thick. Use a 2″ round cutter — I actually used an inverted drinking glass — to cut circles of dough. Repeat with the other half of the dough. Save the scraps: These can be snipped into small pieces and added to simmering soups.

3. Place 2 tsp of filling on each round of dough. Gently fold the dough over, forming a pocket around the filling. Pinch the edges of the pierogi to seal, then seal again with the tines of a fork.

4. Fill a large stockpot with salted water and bring to a boil. Drop about 10 pierogi at a time into the pot so they have room to float without sticking. When the pierogi float after about 10 minutes, they’re done. Remove them to side plate. Once they are cooled, you can tranfer them to freezer bags and place them in the freezer for another time, or cook them right away.

5. To finish the pierogis, place a saute pan over a medium heat and drop about a TBS of whole butter into it. When it reaches the foaming stage, sauté a few dieced shallots or onions in the butter then add the drained pierogi . Cook until browned and crisped. Serve hot with sour cream, applesauce, browned butter or any other condiment you like.

Holiday Cookies – Pecan Sandies

Well, my intention was to start a new series featuring different holiday cookie recipes. But seeing as that it’s already less than two weeks until Christmas, that idea is pretty much shot. At least for this year.

019Unfortunately, my ambition got ahead of my common sense, so my cupboard is stuffed with cookie ingredients such as butterscotch chips, different kinds of nuts and sprinkles.

My enthusiasm also was dampened after one of my experiments failed: I thought I would make those peanut butter cookies that have the Hershey kiss stuck in the middle, but all I had were those red and white swirled candy cane flavored kisses.

Take my advice: Don’t ever try this. Peanut butter and candy canes don’t go together! Plus, the candy cane kisses have much lower melting temperature than the chocolate kisses, so it ended up being kind of a red and white striped blob.

Every year, I forget how busy December gets. There are so many things going: Holiday shopping, parties, other obligations. Plus, work always seems to pick up just when you the other parts of your life require more attention.

That’s why many people set aside one day or a weekend to cook all of their holiday cookies, rather than making a batch here and a batch there. I should try that next year.

At least this recipe for pecan sandies has the benefit of  being fast and easy. It’s basically a butter cookie recipe with chopped pecans added in. And I stuck an uncut pecan peice in the middle for decoration.

Unlike the peppermint kisses disaster, they were delicious.

Pecan Sandies

1 stick unsalted butter

1/3 cup Powdered Sugar

2 TBS Light Brown Sugar

1 tsp Vanilla

3/8 tsp Sea Salt

1 cup plus 2 TBS All-Purpose Flour

1/2 cup Toasted Pecans, chopped medium fine

Plus a few Pecan peices for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 325F. Using a Kitchen Aid or hand blender, cream the butter and sugars together until smooth. Mix in the vanilla and salt. Then slowly add the flour and pecans and mix on low until a stiff dough is formed.

2. Using a melon baller or just two teaspoons, scoop the dough into a ball and place on an greased baking pan.

3. Dip the bottom of a glass in flour then use it to flatten out the cookies. Stick the pecan garnish in the middle of each cookie and bake about 15 minutes or until the cookies are set and just starting to brown on the sides.

Cool the cookies completely on wire racks. Store in an airtight container. This recipe makes about 24 cookies.

Meat Free Mondays – Szechuan Vegetables

It’s been said that if you have Chinese food in China, it bears no resemblance to the version sold here in the US.

The flavors are bolder, the ingredients are more diverse, and the dishes that are spicy would probably be banned in this country as a public health hazard.

Szechuan cooking in particular is known for its spiciness, as well as its liberal use of garlic and chili peppers. It originates in the Szechuan province, which is in the southwestern part of China, and frequently features the Szechuan pepper, also known as the “flower pepper”.

This pepper has a citrusy flavor, is intensely fragrant and very, very hot. So hot, in fact, that is causes a “tingly-numbing” sensation in the mouth.

I enjoy spicy foods and wanted to replicate the Chinese restaurant standard Szechuan Vegetables in my own kitchen. Sadly, I’ve never had the authentic dish, only the watered down version sold to Americans. Yet I enjoy the spicy combination of stir-fried vegetables, pungent garlic and ginger sauce, and of course the tiny peppers bring heat to the dish.

I usually don’t eat the peppers themselves — unless I accidentally slip one into my mouth — but just their presence in the dish brings the spicyness quotient up several degrees.

I found an enormous bag of dried chile de arbol at the local Mexican produce market for only $2.38, so I bought it so that I would have essentially a lifetime suppy of the lovely spicy peppers. Unfortunately, the tiny, red peppers I purchased had their ribs and seeds removed, rendering them substantially less hot.

Still, the combination of all the different vegetables in this dish combined with the sauce I whipped together made this Westernized version of Szechuan vegetables an easy and delicious mid-week treat, despite its lack of heat.

Szechuan Vegetables

2 TBS Canola Oil

1 handful Chiles de Arbol (or Szechuan peppers, if you can find them)

1/2 White Onion, sliced thin

1/2 Green Pepper, ribs and seeds removed, julienned

1 Yellow Bell Pepper, ribs and seeds removed, julienned

1 Jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed, julienned

1 cup Savoy Cabbage, sliced thin

2 Garlic Cloves, crushed

1/2 cup Shittake Mushrooms, stems removed, rough chop

1 Large Carrot, peeled and sliced thin

2 cups Broccoli Crowns

3 Green Onions, rough chop

1 TBS Fresh Ginger, minced

2 TBS Soy Sauce

1 TBS Oyster Sauce

1 TBS Granulated Sugar

1/2 cup Water

1 TBS Corn Starch

Sea Salt

Fresh Cracked Black Pepper

1. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add carrots and boil until soft, about 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add broccoli to the boiling water and cook until bright green, about 3 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon and set aside.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together soy sauce, oyster sauce, ginger, sugar, water and corn starch. Set aside.

3. Put a wok or a large saute pan over a high flame. When hot, add oil. When smoking, add the peppers and fry them for a few seconds to release their heat, then add onions, peppers and cabbage and cook until soft, about 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add mushrooms and garlic and cook until mushrooms are wilted, about 2 minutes, then add carrots, broccoli and green onions and cook until heated through, about 1 minute. Add soy sauce mixture and cook until it thickens, about 2 minutes, stirring constantly.

4. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve over freshly steamed white rice.

Traditional Szechuan cuisine is composed of seven basic flavors: sour, pungent, hot, sweet, aromatic and salty. Hopefully, someday I will be able to travel to China and try all of them.

Meat Free Mondays – Two Vegan Soups

I’ve been running into veganism around every corner lately.

 

Corn chowder (left) and Vegan split pea (right)

Corn chowder (left) and Vegan split pea (right)

Veganism is like vegetarianism except even more restrictive because not only can you not eat meat, but you can’t eat dairy products either. The benefits are  supposed to be include better health, including not only prevention of disease but the reversal of many serious medical conditions like diabetes, heart disease and even cancer.

These benefits are explained in a documentary called “Forks Over Knives”, which was recommended by Somer, the excellent blogger who writes VedgedOut. She suffered from ulcerative colitis, an autoimmune condition that caused her considerable pain. The treatment resulted in substantial weight gain, severe acne and other health issues.

When she went on an entirely vegetable-based diet, however, not only did her symptoms go away, but her condition reversed itself. Now she’s a marathon runner and you can read her inspiring story here.

The film is available on Netflix and, while it’s not most professional-looking documentary I’ve ever seen, its message is powerful and effective. It documents a number of case studies in which people who faced serious, even fatal, health conditions literally had their lives saved by veganism.

Still, I struggle with the concept of being a vegan. I could probably live without meat if I had to — Sandi and I rarely eat anything other than chicken and ground turkey anyway — but it’s the dairy, especially cheese, that I would miss.

For example, I can’t imagine a life without pizza, which I could eat seven days per week (something I occasionally would do back when I was still single).

Still, the concept fascinates me, so much so that when we found ourselves Wicker Park — a hip, young neighborhood on Chicago’s North Side last week — we tried a vegan restaurant called Native Foods Cafe. It apparently is a small chain with a handful of stores in California, Chicago and a few other places.

I was not expecting the food to be as delicious as it was. The atmosphere was great, the people who worked there were gracious and seemed very happy, and the place was bustling.

When I returned home, I found a blog written by the amazing Becky at VegHotPot, who wrote a roundup of her best vegan recipes that she wrote about during vegan awareness month last month, all of which looked and sounded wonderful.

Then, a few days later, my older brother announced he was switching to a vegetable-based diet for health reasons. It’s like all the planets are aligning at the same time.

So while we’re not committing to 100% veganism, we’re going to try to incorporate more vegan dishes into our diet and see how it goes, starting with these two vegan soups.

Both were super easy to  make and very delicious, so much so that I didn’t even mind having soup for dinner two nights in a row.

So I’ve ordered a bunch of vegan ingredients that I couldn’t find at my local groceries from an online store and will be preparing a number of vegan dishes in the coming weeks, including a pizza made with vegan mozzarella “cheese”. Obviously, I will let you know how they turn out.

In the meantime, here are recipes for meat-free smoky split pea soup (which is adapted from one I found on Vedged Out’s blog) and a really great vegan corn chowder. Enjoy!

Smoky Vegan Split Pea Soup

1 Red Onion, small dice

4 Carrots, peeled and small dice

3 Garlic Cloves, crushed

1 Russet Potato, peeled and medium dice

1 tsp Dried Thyme

1 tsp Dried Oregano

8 cups Vegetable Stock

1 TBS Liquid Smoke

1 lb Green Split Peas

2 Bay Leaves

1 TBS Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 tsp Sea Salt

Fresh Cracked Black Pepper

Dash Cayenne Pepper

1. Put a soup pot over a medium heat. When hot, add EVOO. When smoking, add onion, potato and carrot and sautee until onions are translucent, about 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 second.

2. Add the remaining ingrediets and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the peas absorb all of the liquid, about 40 minutes. Remove bay leaves and serve.

The split peas continue to absorb moisture, making the soup even thicker the next day. If you prefer a smoother soup, you can use an immersion blender or let the soup cool and blend in a food processor or blender. This soup also can be made in a crock pot. Just let it cook on low until the moisture is absorbed, about 4 to 6 hours.

Incidentally, Liquid Smoke is an all-natural product that is 100% vegan.

Chunky Vegan Corn Chowder

2 TBS EVOO

1 Onion, diced

1 Garlic Clove, crushed

2 cups Vegetable Stock

6 Red Potatoes, diced

1 cup Baby Carrots, chopped

2 15.25-oz cans Whole Kernel Corn

1-1/2 cups Soy Milk

1 TBS Garlic Powder

2 tsp Sea Salt

1/2 tsp Fresh Cracked Black Pepper

1/4 cup Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

1/2 cup Soy Milk

1. Place soup pot over a medium heat. When hot, add EVOO. When smoking, add onions, carrots and potatoes and cook until onions translucent, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds, then add all remaining ingredients except 1/2 cup soy milk and flour. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until potatoes and carrots are tender, about 20 minutes.

2. In a mixing bowl, whisk together flour and the remaining soy milk. Increase heat so soup returns to a boil, then whisk flour mixture into the soup and cook until soup is thickened, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

So now I’m going to be on the lookout for great vegan recipes. If you have any, can you please share them with me? I’ll do the same. Thanks!

Meat Free Mondays – Lentil and Pumpkin Soup

It’s that pumpkin time of year!

Every autumn, there’s a three or four week period where pumpkins are everywhere and in everything, from our spiced lattes to our breads and bagels.

Lentil and Pumpkin Soup

Lentil and Pumpkin Soup

This year there must have been a bumper crop, because pumpkins are cheaper than I’ve ever seen them. Yesterday, I paid $2.98 for an enormous pumpkin the size of a basketball, which I quickly chopped in half, seeded and roasted off for its delicious and versatile meat.

In this vegetarian recipe, I used pumpkin as a thickening agent for a pretty traditional lentil soup. Lentils are are a type of bean — also known as a pulse – that are in the legume family.

Lentils are a staple of many vegetarian diets because vegetarians and vegans don’t eat animal protein, so they must supplement their diet with plenty of protein-rich lentils.

Lentils also are one of the oldest of all known foods, having been part of the human diet since at least the Neolithic periiod. They were one of the first foods that humans grew themselves, rather than gathered in the wild, with archeological evidence showing that they were eaten 9,500 to 13,000 years ago.

What I like about lentils are their versatility and their flavor. They make excellent cold salads, can be added to other dishes to contribute density, and can be mashed up, combined with other vegetables and be used as a veggie burger. They also can be served as a side dish, and, as seen here, they make delicious, hearty soups.

Lentils come in a variety of colors, including brown, red and green. Their flavor is sort of like a combination of kidney beans and peas. They have a meaty texture to them when cooked.

Unlike other dried beans, lentils don’t have to cook forever before they are done. Just simmer them in liquid for about 45 minutes and they are ready to eat. Dried lentils should be cooked in a 4:1 liquid ratio. So if you are cooking one cup of lentils, you should use 4 cups of water or other liquid.

Lentil and Pumpkin Soup

1  cup Dried Lentils

15.5 oz can Vegetable Stock

2 cups Water

1TBS Extra Virgin Olive Oil

2 Carrots, peeled and chopped

1 White Onion, medium dice

2 Celery Stalks, medium dice

2 Garlic Cloves, minced

1/2 tsp Smoked Paprika

10 oz can Diced Tomatoes

1 Bay Leaf

1-1/2 cups Cooked Pumpkin

Sea Salt

Fresh Cracked Black Pepper

1 oz Queso Fresco (for garnish)

1. Fill a soup pot with water and add lentils. Stir them around to clean them, discarding any beans that float to surface. Drain and set aside.

2.Place the pot over a medium fire. When hot, add EVOO. When smoking, add onions, celery and carrots. Stir and cook until softened, about two minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds, then add lentils, paprika, vegetable stock, water and bay leaf. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer, cover and cook about 30 minutes.

3. Add tomatoes, replace cover and cook until lentils are soft, about another 15 to 20 minutes. Add enough pumpkin to thicken the soup to desired consistency, season to taste with S&P and continue cooking just until pumpkin is heated through, about five minutes.

4. Remove bay leaf, ladle into bowls, garnish with queso fresco and serve.

I actually cooked my lentil and pumpkin soup in my new crock pot, combining all the ingredients — except the tomatoes and pumpkin — and cooking on low for 8 hours. I just threw the tomatoes for the last hour and thickened it with the pumpkin at the end. It turned out wonderful.

A programming note: For those who have been wondering why there have been long absences in this blog recently, there are two reasons: 1.) My freelance writing business has picked up substantially (yay!) and 2.) Sandi and I spent a long, relaxing weekend on Siesta Key, Florida, with my family earlier this month.

I’m  glad to be back in the saddle, however, and promise to try to be more consistent with my blog writing. Thanks for your patience.

 

Meat Free Mondays – Butternut Squash Enchiladas

Enchiladas in our house is almost a weekly tradition, but these Butternut Squash Enchiladas took the whole concept and turned it on its head.

That’s because our enchiladas typically are stuffed with leftover chicken, pork or beef combined with beans, rice, cheese and a zesty red enchilada sauce. They are a great way to get a second day out of any leftover protein.

Butternut Squash Enchiladas

Butternut Squash Enchiladas

But this recipe for Butternut Squash Enchiladas comes from one of my favorite bloggers, Becky, over at Veghotpot, who was one of the first vegetarian writers I discovered after my daughter, Maggie Mae, announced she was becomine a vegetarian last year.

It contains, no meat, no cheese, no beans, no rice and no enchilada sauce. Are you sure that’s even an enchilada, Becky?

While it certainly is different from the enchiladas we are accustomed to, it was delicious and probably a lot healthier as well. Sandi described the flavor the best, noting that it was a nice balance between the sweetness of the butternut squash and the zestiness of the salsa and tomatoes.

The only problem I had was finding butternut squash. Being a hard squash, they usually are available year-round, but I had to visit three stores before I finally found one at Aldi’s. Earlier, I had panic-bought an acorn squash and planned to substitute before Sandi shot that idea down, noting that the flavor pairing would be off. As usual, she was right.

As it turns out, the recipe contains no cheese because Becky is apparently lactose intolerant. (She offers some amazing cheese substitute recipes in her blog today.) But I didn’t miss the cheese at all, especially after I topped my enchiladas with my homemade guacamole and some fat-free sour cream.

Butternut Squash EnchiladasLast week, Becky announced that for the second year in a row she would be participating in the Vegan MoFo Challenge, in which bloggers pledge to write at least 20 blogs featuring vegan recipes, ie. not only no meat, but no cheese, egg or other animal products whatsoever.

For a fleeting moment, I considered the idea, but in the end I love my meat and cheese too much to make that kind of commitment. Still, I will be carefully watching what she posts, especially when they are amazing recipes such as this one for Butternut Squash Enchiladas.

Butternut Squash Enchiladas

1 Butternut Squash, peeled, seeded cut into quarter-sized slices

1 White Onion, rough chop

3 Garlic Cloves, rough chop

1 TBS Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 TBS Cumin

1/2 TBS Chili Powder

Sea Salt

Fresh Cracked Black Pepper

1 cup Salsa

10 oz can Diced Tomatoes

4 or 5 Whole Wheat Tortillas

1. Preheat oven to 375F. Combine squash, onion, garlic, oil, cumin and chili powder in a mixing bowl, season with sal and pepper, toss and pour out into a baking pan. Bake until squash is soft and onion is carmelized, stirring once or twice, about 40 minutes. This can be done ahead of time.

2. Combine the salsa and tomato sauce in a mixing bowl.

3. Spray a 8-inch square baking pan with pan spray. One at a time, spread a generous amount of the squash mixture in a tortilla, top with the salsa mixture and roll into an enchilada. Place seam side down in the baking pan. Repeat until all the squash mixture has been used. Top with the remaining salsa mixture, cover with foil and bake at 375F for 30 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking another 10 minutes so the top gets crispy.

Remove from oven and serve immediately with guacamole, extra salsa and fat-free sour cream on the side.

 

Wine on Wednesdays – Cameron Hughes Lot 313

When I picked up this bottle of Cameron Hughes Lot 313, I had no idea what a “field blend” was. With a little research, I discovered that it is an old school way of making wines.

In the old days, winemakers would grow a bunch of different types of grapes — such as cabernet, zinfandel, syrah, etc. — in one field. Then at the end of the season, they would pick whatever grapes were the best, crush them and make a wine out of them.

Every year, the mix of grapes would be different because weather conditions, pests and other factors would determine which varietal would be at its most mature at the time of harvest. While it was a way for winemakers to connect more closely with the pairing of the soil and the sun, it also could be kind of a crap shoot what kind of wine they would get. Some years, these field wines would be just okay while other years they would be transcendent.

Cameron Hughes is a wine negociant out of San Francisco who sells ultra-premium wines under five different brands, one of which is the The Lot Series. While technically Lot 313 is not a field wine because the grapes didn’t come from the exact same field, it is a homage to the technique of creating field wines.

And even though it’s labeled as a California red wine — which means the grapes could have come from anywhere in the state — the grapes in Lot 313 were all grown in Lodi, one of the best wine-growing regions in the country for zinfandel grapes, among others.

When I first tasted Cameron Hughes Lot 313, my initial reaction was, “Wow! What a fruit bomb!” There is nothing subtle about this wine and it’s not for the faint of heart.

Cameron Hughes Lot 313 is a powerful wine with lots and lots of fruit flavor, mostly raspberry but with a little strawberry in it as well. It’s not super tannic — in other words, it won’t pucker your face — but there is a distinct peppery flavor in it at the end.

I drank this right after opening it, but I think it would have benefited from being allowed to breathe for about 30 minutes. Next time, I’ll do that.

Still, it was a robust wine with unexpectedly pronounced fruit flavor. I enjoyed it on its own, but I think it would be a great pairing with boldly flavored foods, such as lamb, venison or something with a whole lot of garlic in it.

It is 71% Zinfandel (my favorite California grape), 10% Petite Syrah, 10% Syrah, and 9% Carignane, which is a grape used in a lot of Italian winemaking but which isn’t that big here in the US. It is 14.5% alcohol.

It also was affordable. I paid $7.64 for the bottle at my local wine market, but that included a 15% discount for buying more than six mixed bottles at a time. For that price, Cameron Hughes Lot 313 gives you a whole lot of wine for your money.

So if you are looking for a great-tasting wine that will blow off the back of your head, or if you want to pay homage to the concept of field wines, check out Cameron Hughes Lot 313. Apparently, they don’t make huge batches of wines in The Lot Series, so you will have to grab it fast if you want to try it.

 

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

If I were to guess, I would have said that the pineapple upside down cake became popular during the 1950s, when Hawaii became a state and all things Hawaiian were all the rage.

In reality, this decorative and delicious cake has been part of American culture for much longer than that. In fact, the concept of cooking a cake in a cast iron pan then inverting it onto a plate has been around since the Middle Ages.

Originally, nuts and chopped fruits such as apples and cherries were placed on the bottom of the pan, but pineapple slices became the norm around the turn of the 20th Century after Jim Dole, owner of th Hawaiian Pineapple Company (now Dole Pineapple) perfected a way to tin sliced pineapple so they could be shipped back to the mainland.

In an effort to popularize the super sweet fruit, the Hawaiian Pineapple Company sponsored a recipe contest, asking people to submit creative ways to serve pineapples. After the company received more than 2,500 recipes for pineapple upside down cake, it launched a national ad campaign to promote the cake and an American icon was born.

There are two ways to make pineapple upside down cake: the easy way and the hard way. With the easy way, you use a yellow cake mix. For the hard way, you make the cake yourself, which is the route I took.

You can buy special pans with rounded bottoms that are made exclusively for pineapple upside down cake, but because this was only the second time I’ve made this cake — and the first time was in culinary school — I decided to go with my tried and true cast iron skillet. Besides, it was more old school.

Pineapple upside down cake is by no measure a healthy dessert. It’s chocked full of butter, brown sugar and eggs. Not to mention the psychdelic-red maraschino cherries. Those things can’t possibly be good for you.

Still, a little decadence is good for you occasionally. At least that’s whay I’m going with.

 

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Sandi enjoying her Pineapple Upside Down Cake as Isabel and Bud look on expectantly.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

1/4 cup Butter (1 stick)

2/3 cup Brown Sugar

20 oz can Pineapple Slices, undrained

Maraschino Cherries

2 Eggs, separated

3/4 cup Granulated Sugar

3/4 cup All-Purpose Flour

1/8 tsp Salt

1/2 tsp Baking Powder

1. Melt the stick of butter in a cast iron skillet over a low heat. Remove from heat and spread the brown sugar evenly over the bottom of the skillet. Set aside.

2. Drain the pineapple, saving the juice. Arrange the pineapple slices in a single layer on the bottom of the pan. Place a maraschino cherry in the center of each pineapple slice. Set aside.

3. Beat the egg yolks on medium speed until thick, about two minutes. Gradually add the granulated sugar, beating well.

4. Heat 1/4 cup of the pineapple juice over a low heat. Gradually add the juice mixture to the yolk mixturre, beating until blended.

5. In a mixing bowl, combine the AP flour, salt and baking powder. Add the dry ingredients to the yolk mixture, beating at low speed.

6. Beat the egg whites on medium-high until stiff peaks form, about three minutes. Fold beaten egg whites into the batter until combined, then spread the batter over the pineapple slices.

7. Bake at 325F for 45 to 50 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool cake in the skillet about 30 minutes, then invert onto a plate. Make sure the surface of the plate is larger than the diameter of the skillet.

If you make your pineapple upside down cake using the easy way, follow steps 1 and 2, and then just follow the directions on the cake box.