Monday, July 19, 2010

Mexican Polenta Stuffed Peppers

I picked these as my "tricky/time-consuming" recipe for the weekend, only to discover they are actually easy and quick enough to do on a weeknight! When I brought one to work for lunch everyone though I was a culinary wizz because of their delightfull looks. huzzah.

Serves 4 to 6.

5 large bell peppers (any color)
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
sprinkling of salt

4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup polenta cornmeal
1 1/2 cups corn kernels
1 tablespoon olive oil or butter
1 1/2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup chopped spanish olives

1 16-ounce jar of your favorite salsa
1 15-ounce can of black beans, drained
1/4 cup chopped cilantro (optional)

Preheat oven to 450ºF. Cut the peppers in half lengthwise and remove the seeds, but leave the stem ends on so the peppers will hold their shape (whoops, I forgot this part). Brush the pepper halves with oil, inside and out, and sprinkle lightly with salt. Place cut-side up on an oiled baking sheet and roast in the oven until tender but still holding their shape, about 15 minutes.

While the peppers roast, in a heavy saucepan, bring the water, salt, and red pepper flakes to a boil. Add the polenta in slow, steady stream while whisking. Cook on medium heat, stirring often, until thickened. Stir in the corn, oil or butter, 1 cup of cheese, and the olives. Remove from the heat. (I put the olives on the side to avoid complaints!)

Fill the roasted pepper halves with the polenta mixture. Sprinkle the tops with the remaining cheese and return to the oven for 5 to 10 minutes, until the cheese is melted. Meanwhile, combine the salsa, black beans, and cilantro in a saucepan and bring to a simmer.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Vegetarian Disclosure

I <3 Vegetables. I always have. I used to request to have all the veggie and fruit sides in the high school cafeteria instead of just the bread roll. I also used to feign occasional vegetarianism to get out of eating dad's overly-frequent burger dinners.

I also <3 Meat. Burgers, lamb, pork, seafood, poultry! (a favorite), there is something primal about hunting, preparing and eating it.

However, I consider that it's best to eat relatively little meat, and that fruits and vegetables are anti-cancer and anti-aging magic bullets. The meat processing industry deeply concerns me (though I wonder if it's as bad here in Australia as it is in the U.S.) As well as the over-fishing of our oceans.

So it recently occurred to me that I could start to develop a bit more of a vegetarian repertoire in the kitchen. I tentatively asked my Spaghetti Bolognese husband how he felt about this, and his reply was:

No, just kidding, he was actually into it. Shocking!

(Or maybe not that shocking, given the amount of times I try to cook a flesh of some kind and ask.... does this look done to you? Where is my meat thermometer? ... )

Newly rejuvenated, I began looking for renowned vegetarian cook books and recipes. Moosewood came highly recommended so I picked up two of theirs. And the Deorah Madison one got nearly 5 stars on Amazon out of 227 customers, so I figured I'd try that.

MR Cooking for Health - $24.00 AUD
Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone - $39.00 AUD
both from: Book Depository (with free shipping!!)

MR Simple Suppers - $42.00 AUD - at Borders in-store with 40% off.

I still love my meat, but I'm cooking with a lot more vegetables at the moment.

And trying to figure out what tofu is really all about....

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Thai Butternut Squash Soup + squash baking tips

This one is for my dad because I think he will like it, but I also think he'll be disturbed by one particular ingredient, and I like disturbing the poor gentleman.

(slightly adapted) from Moosewood Simple Suppers

1 cup light coconut milk
1/2 teaspoon Thai red curry paste
4 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups vegetable stock
1 Keiffer lime leaf (optional but I did it)
half a fresh butternut squash for: 4 cups chopped, cooked butternut squash (or 2, 12 oz packages of frozen cooked winter squash)
1 lime
2 cups fresh baby spinach
chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

Pan-fried Tofu
1/2 cake FIRM tofu (about 8 ounces)
1 tablespoon soy sauce (I use reduced salt variety)
1/2 teaspoon Thai red curry paste
1 teaspoon vegetable oil

I could not find frozen or pre-cubbed squash so I simply grabbed a giant butternut squash. (If you're using fresh squash, you only really need a half, as I discovered.)

Method I used to bake the squash - Preheat oven to 350F. Wash the squash. Cut the bastard in half, being careful. Coat the squash's exposed flesh with olive oil. I put the bastard cut side up into a roasting pan, and filled the pan with 1 inch of water. Bake for 1 hour. It really worked! Squash came out DONE and tasty (I had a bit with some sugar on top right out of the oven.)

Onto the soup - In a soup pot, whish together the coconut milk, curry paste, sugar, salt and broth. Add the lime leaf and freshly baked squash (or frozen squash), cover, and bring to a simmer. Cook, covered, until heated through, or if using frozen squash, about 15 minutes until squash is thawed.

Meanwhile, prepare the Pan-Fried Tofu. Cut the tofu into small cubes, delighting in it's texture, and put them in a bowl. Toss with soy sauce and the curry paste. Heat the oil in a small skillet on medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the tofu and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Set aside.

Lightly grate the lime peel and juice the lime. Add to the simmering soup. Stir in the spinach and tofu and cook just until the spinach wilts. Add more sugar or salt to taste. Serve the soup garnished with cilantro if you like. (I used parsley, don't judge me.)

Variation: replace the tofu with 1/2 lb of shrimp if you like, either pan frying them like the tofu, or putting them in the simmering soup for 4-5 minutes before you add the spinach. After watching this Ted video on the ocean though, I'm not very likely to go for the shrimp option. Thanks for ruining my favorite seafood choice, TED. (I still eat them, just with shame now.)


As I went too large with my squash selection, I had lots leftover and visions of squash pies and breads flew through my head. I ended up just making this pumpkin bread recipe, from here.

Hope someone makes this delicious soup!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Scrambled Tofu with Greens & Raspberry Chipotle Sauce

(adapted) from Moosewood Restaurant: Simple Suppers

This one goes out to Daniela :)

2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 cups greens (I used chicory, the recipe recommends kale, chard or collards)
1 cake firm tofu (approx 500g)
2 tbsp soy sauce

Raspberry Chipotle Sauce
1/3 cup raspberry jam
2 teaspoons minced chipotles in adobo sauce (sourced from the amazing Chili Mojo)
1-3 teaspoons lemon juice

Heat the oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Saute onions for a couple minutes, until beginning to soften. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Stir in the greens, let them wilt a bit. (Chicory is quite bitter, so I let them wilt a LOT.)

While the greens wilt, in a bowl, mash the crap out of the tofu with the soy sauce. (Moosewood suggest a gentle fork will work; I used a knife, then a husband, and finally went for a husband/ potato masher combo.) Increase the skillet heat to high, stir in the mashed tofu and cook for 6-8 minutes, until the tofu just begins to brown.

While the tofu cooks, make the RC sauce. In a small saucepan, stir together the fruit spread, chipotles and 2 tablespoons of water. Simmer until hot and saucy! Stir in lemon juice. Add more water if too thick.

Serve the scrambled tofu topped with sauce.

Moosewood suggest to serve with rice; we just used buttered toast.

And dessert: vanilla Moo Premium Yoghurt topped with pomegranate seeds.