Seared Grape Tomatoes with Balsamic (Vegan)

This is a bastardization of a delicious tomato sauce our friend Anthony makes. I once asked him how he made it and he said nonchalantly, “Oh, you know, sear the tomatoes and add some vinegar. Balsamic, sherry, red wine, whatever.” I, however, have never succeeded at achieving either his exact sauce or his nonchalance. But I think my version isn’t too bad. Makes a great topping for Savory French Toast, or pasta, or bruschetta, or just chomped plain. Also it’s really easy and takes just a few minutes.

Seared Grape Tomatoes with Balsamic

  • 4 oz grape tomatoes, halved (or cherry tomatoes – whatever)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Balsamic to taste (about 2 – 3 tbsp, or a few light shakes of the bottle)
  • Chopped basil or parsley as garnish, if desired

Heat a medium skillet on medium-high. When it is hot, toss in the tomatoes, stirring constantly. Cook until they begin to darken and soften, about 3 – 5 minutes. Add a few splashes of balsamic and continue to stir a bit longer until the liquid is reduced. Stir in a dash of salt and pepper. Serve immediately and garnish if desired.

Fresh Flower Ravioli (Vegetarian)

So. I adapted this from a recipe I found in an aphrodisiac cookbook that I bought at the Haight Street Goodwill in San Francisco. Man, does that sound smarmy!!! Honestly, I wasn’t trying to be creepy by buying a (used – ewww!) aphrodisiac cookbook, it just so happened to be focused on a number of my favorite ingredients: mushrooms, avocado, asparagus, artichokes, chili pepper, etc. Are all these foods aphrodisiacs? Color me skeptical. Meanwhile, if you’re wondering why I was at the Haight Street Goodwill, it’s because I had fled to San Francisco to visit my bestie while J was gone in an attempt to take my mind off his absence. And I just so happened to be in the Haight. And I love thrift stores. And if you’re wondering why I made this so-called aphrodisiac recipe while J was gone, it was because I wanted to see if it was any good before spending the time to make it for both of us. Not for aphrodisiac purposes, mind you, just for dinner. Come on people, my parents might be reading this! Anyway, don’t judge me. Eat some flower ravioli and give peace a chance.

Fresh Flower Ravioli

  • 24 wanton wraps (Note: Wanton wraps are not vegan.)
  • 8 c. vegetable broth
  • 8 oz edible flowers, chopped, stems removed (They sell these in the herb section at most organic markets and also often at farmer’s markets.)
  • 2 tbsp basil sliced width-wise (This is called a chiffonade, in case you’re interested.)
  • Water in a small prep bowl (You will use this to seal the ravioli with your fingertips.)
  • 1 tbsp melted butter or a bit of olive oil (if desired)
  • Additional herbs if desired
  • Grated Parmesan to taste

Have the bowl of water nearby. Take a wanton wrap and arrange a small amount of the herbs & blossoms in the center (about a teaspoon or a pinch or two). Fold the wrap over to form a triangle pouch around the flowers. Dip your fingers in water and press the wrap edges firmly together. Run your finger along the edges to seal them. Fold the outer corners inwards if necessary to create a good seal (it will look a bit like a wanton – hey, that’s why they call them wanton wraps). Repeat this until you have about 24 triangles (creates two servings).

Meanwhile, boil the vegetable broth in a large pot. When the broth is boiling, drop in 12 triangles and boil for about three minutes. Lift out quickly with a slotted spoon. Repeat with the remaining triangles. When the triangles are done, you may brush them with melted butter or olive oil using a basting brush, if desired. Season with sea salt and ground black pepper to taste. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan.

Steamed Artichokes with Balsamic Mayo Dip (Vegan)

Yes, balsamic vegan mayo. Vegan mayo is one of a few wonderful dairy substitute products that make it possible for me to serve rich and creamy things without having to resort to extreme measures, like whipping my own tofu. I love vegan mayo, and I love the fact that it allows me to enjoy a balsamic mayonnaise dip with my artichoke that I would probably not enjoy as much if it were real mayo. Because let’s face it; no matter how much you love mayo, when confronted with it face to face, it looks kind of … oogy. The truth is that people enjoy mayonnaise the most when they don’t have to look at it.

With the balsamic mayo dip for artichokes, however, you do have to look at it, so it’s a good thing this one is vegan and not so sketchy-looking. In my case, I use Vegenaise brand fake mayo, however there are other varieties available, the most common being Nayonaise. Regardless of which brand you prefer, however, either will do the trick. Also, you always have the option of using real mayonnaise, and I’m sure it would be delicious. Though you may want to avert your eyes. 😉

One more thing before I begin – you will need a steamer for this. If you don’t have one, I urge you to buy one soon – they make it so much easier to cook so many things. Oh, the vegetables you’ll steam!

Oh, and I lied, there is actually one more last thing. This is not my original recipe, just a veggie version of another recipe I found. I’ve added a bit more direction and some vegan modifications.

Sssssssteam heat!

Essential kitchen accoutrement

Steamed Artichokes with Balsamic Mayo Dip

  • 2 artichokes
  • 2 lemon slices
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1/4 c. vegan mayo or mayo
  • 1 – 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar (to taste)

For this recipe, it’s best to work with artichokes whose leaves have popped a bit; the really tightly closed ones are harder to clean and trim.

Rinse the artichokes under cool running water thoroughly, being careful to clean out any debris that may have gotten lodged down into the leaves. Cut off the rough end of the stem, being sure to leave about 1 – 3 inches of stem (the stems are super tasty!). Depending on which type of artichoke you have, you may wish to trim the tips off the leaves. This is mostly cosmetic, as you won’t be eating the tips, but for some of the spinier varieties, it may be worthwhile to minimize your own pricked fingers. To trim the leaves, just grab one, position your scissors and snip the tip. Simple as that.

Once your artichokes are ready to go, grab a large pot and steamer. Fill the pot with just enough water to touch the bottom of the steamer and add the lemon slices, bay leaves and crushed garlic to the water (under the steamer). They will lend a very subtle flavor to the choke. Place the steamer in the pot and position the artichokes in the steamer. Cover. Bring the water to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Pay attention to the water level while it simmers and make sure it doesn’t get down too low. I usually keep a tea-kettle of water cooking on the stovetop, ready to pour in a bit of water every 5 – 10 minutes or so.

The artichokes will need to steam for 25 – 45 minutes, depending on age, size, how well you keep the water level consistent, etc. When a fork easily pierces through the stem, they’re done. If in doubt, pull off a leaf and taste it. In my opinion, it’s better to have an overcooked artichoke than an undercooked artichoke.

Balsamic Mayo

Whips up in a jiff. Spoon the mayo into a small bowl (eg, a prep bowl or ramekin). Add the balsamic and whip with a fork. You may need to adjust the mayo/balsamic ratio to taste.

Serve alongside our prepared artichokes as a dipping sauce. Mmmmmmmm!

How To Eat an Artichoke

There are 3 tiers or artichoke goodness:

  • The leaves
  • The choke
  • The stem

The leaves and stem I think are self-explanatory, or at least, require minimal explanation. Pull the leaves, dip the bottom if you like, put the leaf in your mouth and drag your teeth across the bottom. Discard. When you get to the stem, just chow down. Yum! But before the stem comes the choke …

As for the choke. There are all those little spiny things. Don’t eat those. You can either scrape the spinies away with your spoon, or slice them off entirely with a knife. I have no strong opinion, except that scraping them is kind of fun. J sure loves it, to be sure. But it takes a bit of a knack, and if you’re impatient, you may want to just cut them out. Once the spinies are gone, feel free to bite right into the heart; it’s the best part of the choke, I think. If that isn’t a metaphor for the ages.

Chik’n Marsala (Vegetarian)

Chik'n Marsala, Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Fiddlehead Ferns

Two presentations of Chik'n Marsala, Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Fiddlehead Ferns. Recommended wine pairing: Pinot Noir or Chardonnay

I guess I was feeling nostalgic for home on my dad’s birthday (4/08), because I was trying to decide on something new to cook for dinner and thought, “Hey, I should make vegetarian chicken marsala!” See, my dad used to make it all the time while I was growing up. But I don’t think it had occurred to me until just that moment how much I’ve always missed it.

So, I did some research on different recipes and came up with a general plan, then ran my ideas by my dad. He had some suggestions, and this recipe is the culmination of  it all. J and I really enjoyed it, but I will probably tweak the sauce a bit in the future, so stay tuned for updates. And by all means, if you try it yourself, please let me know what you think.

Oh yes, and one more thing. Apologies to my vegan compadres, but I used Quorn vegetarian chik’n filets in this one, which are made with egg products. Unfortunately Quorn is the only brand I am aware of that offers an actual unseasoned filet. (All the vegan varieties are either pre-seasoned or breaded. Sob.) And since its veganhood was already compromised, and since we just happened to randomly have butter in the house (long story), I went ahead and made it with butter too, though you could certainly skip the butter if you prefer. And if you find any unseasoned vegan chik’n filets out there in the world, please let me know.

Chik’n Marsala

  • 4 Quorn chik’n breasts
  • Enough flour to lightly coat the chik’n
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Fresh ground sea salt and black pepper
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 lb crimini mushrooms, sliced (My dad had suggested using shiitakes to stand in for the meat flavor of the chicken, which I agree would have been a good choice, but the shiitakes at the market were looking pretty sad, so I went with criminis this time. Either will suffice.)
  • 1/2 c. marsala wine
  • 1/2 c. vegetable stock (I used a mushroom-based stock.)
  • 2 tbsp butter (Optional, though I recommend it for a smoother, more balanced sauce. More on this below.*)
  • 1- 2 tbsp lemon juice

Mix up a bit of flour, salt and pepper in a bowl big enough to pseudo-bread the chik’n filets. Dip the filets in the flour to lightly coat them. Keep the flour nearby in case you need it to thicken up the sauce at the end.

In a large skillet on medium-high heat, heat the olive oil. Place the filets in the pan and fry about 5 minutes on each side, until they are golden brown. Remove from the skillet and place on a platter in your oven or microwave to keep them warm.

In the same pan on medium heat, add the mushrooms (heat a bit more oil first, if necessary). Toss in oil and saute for a minute or two, then cover until they juice, stirring occasionally per my standard mushroom protocol, about 3 – 5 minutes. Remove cover and continue to cook until the juice is reabsorbed. Season with salt and pepper to taste, being mindful that the soup stock may have additional salt.

Add shallot and garlic and saute just a bit longer, until the shallot is slightly softened. Add the marsala and lemon juice and cook for about a minute to reduce. Add soup stock and simmer for a couple minutes more to further reduce.

This is when you should add the butter, if you so choose. Personally I had been on the fence about the butter up until this point, but the sauce was not as thick as I wanted it to be, so I went ahead and used it. The addition of the butter made the sauce much richer and smoother, and also had the effect of bringing the flavors of the wine and mushrooms into better balance. It would have been fine without it, but for those of you who don’t mind butter, I’d recommend it.

If, after all this, the sauce is not quite as thick as you’d like, stir in a bit of flour (I used about a teaspoon) to reach desired consistency (I know, using flour is cheating, but whatever. Life is too short to wait around for every single sauce to reduce). Return the chik’n filets to the pan and simmer gently to reheat. Voila, dinner ees serfed.

Note that I decided to serve this dish with garlic mashed potatoes (recipe coming soon) and fiddlehead ferns. But any combination of starch and green vegetable would be excellent companions. Try rice and broccoli. Try pilaf and asparagus. Try orzo and green beans. Or any combination thereof. Or try something else entirely, you are certainly not limited to starch and greens. Whatever floats your boat, my friends, I’m sure will be divine.

Mushroom Spinach Arrabiata (Vegan)

This is a very fast and easy pasta of the variety that I usually make if I haven’t been to the store for a while and/or I’m feeling lazy. That is because I pretty much always have all of the ingredients on hand,* and also because it’s really fast and easy to make. Oh wait, I already said that. Did I mention it’s fast and easy? But how about quick and simple? Anyway. As an aside, if I were dispensing unsolicited advice on general kitchen-keeping, I’d say try to usually have these ingredients on hand. With these basics, there are many different dishes which can easily be thrown together on a moment’s notice.

Mushroom Spinach Arrabiata

  • 1/2 lb mushrooms (I like button or baby bella, but any kind will do)
  • 4 tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 6 c. uncooked spinach
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 2 – 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 can stewed tomatoes, chopped, with sauce
  • Oregano (or you could just use a generic Italian seasoning blend – Trader Joe’s has a pretty good version)
  • Red pepper flakes, to taste (I use a lot)
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 1/2 package of pasta (follow cooking directions)

Saute mushrooms on medium heat for a couple minutes, then covered for a few minutes more until they juice. Remove cover and continue to cook until liquid is reabsorbed. Add garlic and onion and saute until onion is softened.** Add tomatoes and spinach and cook until spinach is fully wilted and tomatoes are mushy. Add stewed tomatoes and seasonings to taste. Continue to cook until the sauce is thick and pasta is done.

Serve immediately with pasta. Makes  approximately 4 servings.

*You can omit any of the fresh vegetables if you don’t have them.

**J prefers this sauce to be pureed with the onions and fresh tomatoes for a smoother sauce. If that is your preference too, then simply start by sauteing the onions & garlic before the mushrooms, add the tomatoes and tomato sauce, then blend in a food processor until smooth. Saute the mushrooms separately per my directions above, add the spinach and saute until it wilts, then add the pureed sauce to the mixture and cook until it’s hot.