Tag Archives: vegetarian

And Then There was Pizza

20 Jan

One of the things I asked Tre to think about early on was the Top 5 things he couldn’t live without despite dietary restrictions. Although this sounds like a tedious exercise geared at grimly reminding Tre of all the things he can’t have, it has really become a “to do list” for me in terms of finding viable substitutes for classic favorites. As mentioned before, positive thinking is highly encouraged when adapting to new dietary restrictions and I can say with confidence that in the 4 months since Tre’s official diagnosis, the bereavement process has somewhat stabilized. Nonetheless, the reality is that pizza made the Top 5 list a total of three times so it’s a challenge I’ve grappled with since the beginning.

Coming out of the oven, the grape flour pizza looked alright...

Early on, Tre and I were gifted with pizza crusts that were made by a vineyard in the Niagara region from the leftover grape debris of their fermentation process. The remaining grape skins, seeds, leaves, stems were dehydrated and ground into a stone colored flour and then pre-baked into neat little pizza crusts that were entirely gluten free. The concept was novel and I’d hoped beyond hope that these crusts would not have a strange nuance of fruitiness to them. Not to be brutal in my opinion, but the resulting dish may have been the anti-pizza. Although it looked attractive enough, the crust was flat, dense, and chewy and the overall experience had a pungent air of what I would describe as “footiness” (having to do with feet) both in smell and taste.

This was quite a blow to both my and Tre’s esteem, and having failed so miserably at a first attempt at pizza, I shelved the idea indefinitely.

Then one day while entertaining the organics section at my grocery store, I decided to take a closer look at a few of the “gluten free” flour options available. I’d almost entirely dismissed the gluten free section noting that the majority of these products used rice, soy, and corn as typical additives — all of which are on the “no fly” list for Tre — but I decided to give it the benefit of the doubt and recheck a few labels. To my surprise, the gluten free “all purpose flour” I’d grabbed was also free of corn, rice, and soy fillers and instead boasted potato starch, sorghum, bean flours, and tapioca among other things all on the clear list for Tre. I ended up buying a 2lb bag with the intent of finding some purpose for it in my cooking.

What I’d purchased was Bob’s Red Mill “Gluten Free All Purpose Flour” and despite lukewarm feelings towards Bob’s almond flour (it was not fun to work with, there, I said it) I decided to give this all purpose flour a shot. A quick visit to the Bob’s Red Mill site and I was able to uncover a myriad of recipes centered around this WCRS-free flour. What I stumbled upon amazed me, namely a recipe for a pizza crust. I couldn’t believe I’d found a crust recipe that was free of all the things Tre couldn’t have and I almost instantly went to work creating what would be his first pizza in over 3 months. The results were excellent and Tre and I were both happy to have a homemade pizza that stood up to the pizzas we used to enjoy.

This is a closeup of the pizza crust. It actually looks legit!

The whole pizza right out of the oven.

Gluten Free Pizza — Adapted from the recipe at Bob’s Red Mill

Pizza Toppings

  • 1 8oz can tomato sauce or other pizza sauce
  • 2 cups all natural mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • Optional: pepperoni, onion, peppers, sausage, whatever you like to top your pizza with!

Directions: Be sure to use NON METAL bowls

Couldn't quite get it to spread all the way out on the pizza sheet but this ended up working well enough.

 

  1. In a small bowl, combine yeast, sugar, and water and let stand about 5 minutes.
  2. In a large bowl, combine flour, xanthan gum, and salt. Add egg, oil, and yeast mixture to dry ingredients and mix until thoroughly combined. Use a hand mixer/blender/food processor or a spoon but be careful not to come into too much contact with the dough as xanthan gum will stick if you mix by hand. Add water by the tsp (no more than 3) to loosen mixture if needed. Allow the dough to sit and rise in a warm room for a half hour.
  3. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease a pizza sheet. Scoop the dough onto the pizza sheet and using wet hands and a spoon, spread out into a disk shape and smooth. Patch any holes in the dough.
  4. Cover dough with sauce and toppings to your liking. Bake for 18-22 minutes or until cheese begins to look crispy.

Dinosaur Ratatouille: Add a Little Heat

20 Dec

Growing up, there was a definitive point in the year when my mom’s cooking would switch from light summer fair to warmer, more substantial late fall dishes — a trend that would carry into the coldest days of New York winters. November, December, and January were met with large pots of beefy stews, steamy oxtail soup, aromatic chili, roasted root vegetables, and hearty cassoulet all served piping hot in the comfort of our small city home. It was the quintessence of winter, warm and robust meals, meaty, saucy, and spicy all to take the chill out of the air with snow falling as early as October.

My countertop, the garden. All my vegetables, laid out and ready to be prepped for my favorite winter-dish.

Of all the foods my mom prepared, one vegetable dish — made popular by the Disney movie whose name it shares — was my favorite. Ratatouille, made traditionally in the vegetarian paradigm of the Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca, is the perfect marriage of spices and vegetables that never comes off as bland or uninteresting. While ratatouille runs in the same vein as chili, with its fragrant seasoning and twang of spicy heat, this dish is both meatless and beanless.

My tower of eggplant.

I don’t typically cook all-vegetarian meals, at least not entrees themselves. I reserve my veggies for side dishes or light snacks and let the noble meats pull the weight in my cooking. What makes ratatouille so special though is that there are so many different types of vegetables involved that this dish is interesting enough to stand on its own. Eggplant, a vegetable favorite of mine with its meaty texture and ability to take on just about any flavor, is the ingredient that really helps pull this dish into the realm of hearty and filling.

While my Moosewood Cookbook recipe for ratatouille has served me well for a number of years, I really wanted to spice this dish up for Tre’s inaugural tasting. Naturally gluten-free  and free of corn, rice, and soy I knew that ratatouille would be good for a few dinners and lunches. But I wanted a taste that was unique from the recipe I’d grown to love. Looking to my culinary inspiration, the Dinosaur BBQ, and their smoky, tangy arsenal of sauces, I decided to create a little twist on this old favorite.

Dinosaur Ratatouille

  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 medium size onions, chopped
  • 1 medium eggplant peeled and cubed
  • 1 large zucchini, cubed
  • 1 green bell pepper, cubed
  • 1 red bell pepper, cubed
  • 3 small vine tomatoes, diced (or one 14oz can diced tomatoes, drained)
  • 1/3 cup Dinosaur Sensual Slathering Sauce
  • 1 tbsp Dinosaur Garlic Chipotle Pepper Sauce

This calls for a LARGE pot!

 

Directions

  1. In a a large stockpot heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic, onion, and bay leaf and cook until onion begins to go transparent, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add eggplant. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally until eggplant begins to soften.
  3. Add zucchini, bell peppers, tomatoes, and both sauces. Stir to combine well. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until bell peppers and zucchini have softened.
  4. Remove from heat and serve.

Guacamole: A New Kind of Condiment

2 Dec

One thing that Tre and I have made consistently every week since his diagnosis is, you guessed it, guacamole. We’re lucky to have a local grocery store with an almost constant stock of fresh avocados all year round and it makes me sad that so many people pass up this wonderful fruit. Guacamole has made appearances here on this blog in my beef and turkey swiss burger recipes. But behind the scenes, it goes on everything from cold cut sandwiches (with almond flour bread) to carrot sticks for a quick snack. Since I intend to keep guacamole as a regular part of our diet and will surely have it make cameos on the blog going forward, I figured it was time to post the official recipe.

Here is a batch of guac all packaged and ready for storage. Tre and I will make guac every Monday or Tuesday and eat it throughout the week. We enjoy it most as a dip for carrot sticks but have been known just spoon it out of the bowl from time to time.

 

Between the two of us, Tre and I go through about 2 avocados a week worth of guac. Instead of buying pre-made guacs laden with preservatives and salt, or envelopes of powdered ingredients that I can’t even pronounce, Tre and I take the 15 minutes required for preparation to make our own guacamole from fresh, ripe avocados.

Avocados are praised for their health benefits and are often cited as not only being a great snack, salad topper, and dip ingredient, but also a healthier alternative to run-of-the-mill condiments like mayonnaise. Avocados are loaded with vitamin K, fiber, folic acid, potassium, protein, and healthy calories among other things and have been linked to weight loss, cardiovascular health, and lower cholesterol. While some people simply substitute avocado slices in for typical condiments on their sandwiches, I like to take it a step further and create a thick, spicy guacamole for a topper. I could literally go on and on about how much I love guacamole, but by all means, here is the recipe

Guacamole — Yields about 1 cup. We double the recipe for a week’s supply

  • 1 large ripe avocado, pitted and skinned
  • 1 tbsp lemon or lime juice
  • 1 tbsp red onion, minced
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • Dash crushed red pepper
  • Dash cayenne pepper to taste (very hot so add in small increments)

Directions

  1. In a medium sized bowl begin to mash pitted and skinned avocado with a fork or potato smasher. Add lemon juice and onion and mix until well combined.
  2. Add salt, garlic powder, and onion powder and combine with a fork. Begin to add crushed red pepper and cayenne pepper to taste to build up heat. I recommend about 1 tsp crushed red pepper and a very small dash of cayenne. Combine all ingredients and let the guacamole sit for about an hour to combine flavors. Mix again with a fork and serve.
  3. To refrigerate, plate the guacamole in a smaller bowl. Stretch plastic wrap over the top and pat it down until it is in contact with all the contents of the bowl. This will help prevent browning (oxidation) of the guacamole and drying.

Note: Guacamole will almost always brown slightly when stored for any period of time. This is due to oxidation of the avocado when it is exposed to air. The lemon juice in the recipe not only adds to the flavor, but also slows the oxidation. The color does not mean that the guacamole has gone bad but you do want to keep track of how many days it is stored. This recipe has an approximate refrigerated shelf life of about 6 days when stored properly with plastic wrap.

My First “Salad” Post: Greens and Beans

15 Nov

I hate salads. Salads of the green, leafy persuasion. Top it off with a gooey slice of tomato or shreds of brownish-purplish cabbage and you have created the absolute last thing I would ever want to consume for sustenance. There. I said it. Sorry Mom, sorry god, but it’s true. I hate making salads, eating salads, ordering salads, you name it. There is nothing I despise more than being half way through a salad, especially if it’s the whole of my meal, and realizing that the dressing on the first bite was the only gratifying part of the whole experience. I am perplexed by the fact that no matter how much salad I choke down, what’s left on the plate doesn’t seem to decrease ever. I will not ever order a salad as an entree at a restaurant, and will only consider consuming a small side salad if it comes with dinner simply to make an example of it. And of course, you will not ever see salad greens in my shopping cart for any reason ever… which was why Tre was so shocked to see me place a bag of escarole on the belt at Wegmans this Sunday. Without shame, he pointed at the bag and accusingly muttered “what is this!?”

I hate salads. I’ll say it again because I think of them as being little more than a foliage mechanism by which we consume salad dressing since it’s societally unacceptable to simply drink it out of the bottle. Enter what I call “Green Guilt.” No, it’s not some marketing ploy aimed at making the nightmarish task of wrangling up my recyclables and dragging them down three flights to the curb morally gratifying. It’s the feeling that I’m not getting as much “foliage” as I should simply because I’m fundamentally opposed to salads. That’s not to say I don’t eat vegetables, quite the contrary. Tre and I basically live on carrots, celery, potatoes, and peppers. Onions and garlic cameo in almost every one of our meals. Eggplant and mushrooms are some of my favorite meat substitutes. Not to mention I have a penchant for cooking with fresh herbs instead of their dried and powdered counterparts. But when it comes to the most essential and proverbial vegetable dish, salads, I opt for almost anything else.

Just how I like my salads... about to be cooked!

The escarole in my cart wasn’t going to be let off so easily, not without my hand at making it into something I actually consider palatable. For some reason, the magic of cooking transforms the salad experience for me from foliage grazing to eating a meal that was intended for human consumption. Instead of making a salad, I decided to give greens and beans an honest shot at winning my affection. Greens and beans is a phenomenal side dish, especially in the fall when you crave meals that are altogether served hot. Some people describe greens and beans as being bland in flavor, but I’m assuming they just aren’t using enough garlic. The simple version I cooked up has a mild, yet distinct garlic flavor making it the perfect complement to a spicy Italian sausage or as a topper for a basic pasta — which was how my mom used to prepare it for us.

Greens and Beans

  • 7 oz (about 4 loose cups, or one prepackaged bag) escarole or other dark salad green such as kale, spinach, or mustard greens.
  • 1 medium sized onion, sliced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 1 cup chicken stock, more or less depending on amount of greens
  • 1 can cannellini beans, drained
  • 1 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
  • Dash of crushed red pepper
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Directions

  1. In a large, deep pan, heat olive oil over low heat. Add onions and garlic and cook until they start to become transparent, about 5-8 minutes.
  2. Add chicken stock and crushed red pepper to the pan and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 5 minutes or until liquid has somewhat reduced. Add cannellini beans, stir, and return to a boil.
  3. Once mixture is boiling, add the greens to the pan. Using tongs, toss the greens in the liquid until they begin to wilt. Simmer uncovered until the liquid is mostly absorbed. Remove from heat and serve with parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.

After the greens have wilted, this dish is still green.

I like to minimize the amount of time the greens are cooked so they maintain a slight crispness while absorbing some of the other flavors. Reducing cook time also helps preserve the nutrients of the salad greens.