Saturday, February 22, 2014

Post 250 and the Wonderpot

In July 2009 when I started this blog at the encouragement of friends who wanted my recipes, I didn't realize I would still be making weekly posts 250 weeks later. Today's entry for the vegetarian Wonderpot amazes even me. Not only because it is a very inexpensive and easy to make recipe, but also because I still have a number of recipes to make and share with you. Who knows where the end will be? Who knew I made so many different things? I do repeat favorite dishes pretty regularly at home, but every recipe on the blog is unique. So what are the top posts? In order they are shown below.

Julian's Top 5 Most Popular Posts to Date
Julia Child and the Two Fat Ladies are still going strong. A lot people want to know more about Osso Bucco and Sugar Snap Peas, which I would not have guessed. I would have said I might have run out of recipe ideas by now. But I'm glad that about 100 people a day read the blog and send me comments and requests. I'll keep posting so long as you keep reading. For now, let's get to the Wonderpot!

Julian's Italian Wonderpot
So this dish is a called a "Wonderpot" because it is both very inexpensive to make (about $6-$8 per recipe, which serves 6 adults) and very easy to prepare. It all goes in the one pot mostly at the same time save for the final garnish. It's great for college kids cooking their first meals as well as for those of us who indulged a bit too much during the holidays and want to lighten their dinner by eliminating meat and fats. (We've been trying to do the 'meatless Monday' thing for the past year.) It's also a simple, quick and satisfying dinner on work nights.

There are many versions online mostly varying in the ingredient list, with similar preparation techniques. I've tried several and prefer this one from Budget Bytes, although I too made a few variations from the original. Mostly I tried to amp up the flavor and use the entire box of pasta. If you haven't ever tried a Wonderpot, give it a go. I'm sure you will enjoy it!

Ingredients (serves 6 adults)

4 cups vegetable broth (32 ounces)
1 cup water or more broth if available
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 pound (16 ounce box) fettuccine
3/4 cup black olives, thickly sliced
2 14.5 ounce cans diced tomatoes, un-drained
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 Tablespoon dried basil
1 Tablespoon dried oregano
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
freshly ground pepper to taste
pinch of salt
10 oz. package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed to remove moisture.
Sprinkle grated Parmesan cheese

Add the  vegetable broth and water to a large pot. Break the fettuccine in half and then add it to the pot. Also add the canned tomatoes, olive oil, onion, garlic, basil, oregano, red pepper, and black pepper. Make sure the ingredients are submerged under the liquid, place a lid on top of the pot, and then turn the heat to high. Allow the pot to come up to a rolling boil over high heat then remove the lid and turn the heat down to medium.

Pasta is under the other ingredients initially.
Allow the pot to continue to boil over medium heat, without a lid, for 10-15 minutes, or until the pasta is cooked and most of the liquid has been absorbed. Stir the pot every few minutes scraping along the bottom to prevent the pasta from sticking.  Avoid over stirring which can cause the pasta to become mushy. Ensure the pot remains at a low boil while cooking.

After the pasta is tender, add the spinach and olives. Heat through (1-2 minutes) and serve with grated Parmesan.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Shepherd's Pie ~ Updated Technique Provides Superior Flavor

My friend Diane, who now lives in Scotland, tells me that a meat pie with a mashed potato crust is really a 'cottage pie' unless you make it with mutton or lamb. So I thought I better do some research to make sure I had the title correct as I make mine with ground beef, as is now common in much of Europe, Canada and the USA.

Julian's Shepherd's Pie
As it turns out, the term cottage pie is known to have been in use in 1791 when the potato was being introduced as an affordable crop for the poor and a "cottage" meant a modest dwelling for rural workers. In early cook books, the dish was a means of using leftover roasted meat of any kind where the pie dish was lined with mashed potato as well as having a mashed potato crust on top. The term "shepherd's pie" does not seem to appear until 1877 and since then it has been used synonymously with "cottage pie", regardless of whether the principal meat was beef, mutton or lamb. So I'll continue to call this dish 'shepherd's pie' even though I'll be using ground beef.

Thick rich sauce with peas and carrots.
I had my first shepherd's pie at the Elephant & Castle in Toronto some 20 years ago where they use a combination of ground lamb and ground beef. Since then have been making my own version. In fact, each winter I make some type of pot pie, be it creamy chicken and biscuits or even rich crab pot pies with puff pastry.  These are satisfying hearty one-dish meals that only need a salad or dessert to complete the dinner. However, upon reading the November 2012 issue of Cook's Illustrated, I decided to try their new technique to deepen the flavors of this favorite comfort food, as I use ground beef instead of cut pieces of meat that brown nicely and provide a deeper flavor (but requires 3-4 hours to prepare.) Seems as though the chefs at Cook's Illustrated had the same issues and worked to solve the problem. Kevin, never really a fan of my prior versions, found this one to be quite flavorful and an improvement, so I'm sharing it with you only slightly modified based no my own experience and tastes.

Note that I used large individual ramekins for this dish as I typically do with pot pies.  You may also use a large pie plate or finish the dish in the skillet, provided these are broiler safe.

Ingredients (serves 4 to 6 adults)

Read Up on Perfect Mashed Potatoes
1 1/2 pounds ground beef no less than 93% lean
2 tablespoons  plus 2 tsp water
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/2 pounds red-skinned potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
4 tablespoons melted butter
1/2 cup milk
1 large egg yolk
8 scallions tops (green only), chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil
6 ounces mushrooms, chopped
Click to Enlarge
1 medium Spanish onion, chopped
8 scallions white parts, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup Marsala wine or ruby port
2 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups low-sodium beef broth
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoons dried thyme (2 sprigs fresh)
2 carrots, chopped
3/4 cup frozen peas (optional)
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons water
paprika for garnish

1) Toss the ground beef with 2 tablespoons of the water, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1/4 teaspoon of pepper, and the baking soda in a bowl. Let it all sit for 20 minutes.

Julian's Red-skinned Mashed Potatoes with Scallions
2) In a saucepan, add the potatoes, cover with water, add 1 tablespoon of salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and for 8 to 10 minutes, until potatoes are tender. Drain the potatoes and return them to the pan. Toss over low heat until the moisture has evaporated, approximately one minute. Remove the pan from the heat, mash the potatoes with a potato masher or beaters. Stir in the melted butter. Using a fork, whisk together the milk and egg yolk then add the mixture to the potatoes. Using an electric mixer, blend together until smooth but not pasty.  Stir in the scallions and add salt and pepper to taste. Cover and set aside.

Peas Added and Ready for Toppin
3) Heat the oil in a broiler safe 10-inch skillet (not a non-stick skillet) until hot (shimmering) but not smoking. Add the onions and mushrooms with a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook 4 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally. The vegetables should begin to soften, and there should be brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Don't be concerned about sticking as browning on the pan will help to develop flavor. Add the tomato paste and the garlic and cook for 2 minutes more. Add the wine and continue to cook, scraping up the dark brown bits from the pan. Continue to cook for about three minutes, until the wine has evaporated. Add the flour and cook for about a minute, stirring. Add the broth, Worcestershire sauce, thyme sprigs, bay leaf, and the carrots. Bring the mixture to a boil and scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Reduce the heat to medium low and add the beef in about 2 inch chunks and bring the mixture to a simmer. Cover and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, breaking up the meat chunks halfway through. Add the optional frozen peas and cook until just heated through, about 3 minutes. Mix the cornstarch with 2 teaspoons water in a small bowl and add it to the mixture and simmer for 30 seconds to thicken the sauce. Remove from heat. Remove the thyme if you used fresh and the bay leaf, then add salt and pepper to taste.

4) Place an oven rack 6-7 inches from the broiler and heat the oven on broil. Place the mashed potatoes in a large plastic bag and cut one corner to create a one inch hole, or use a large icing bag with large tip. Transfer the meat mixture into to ramekins or baking dish, or leave it in the skillet. Pipe the potatoes on top of the filling to completely cover the mixture. Make ridges on the surface with a fork if you didn't use a decorator tip. Sprinkle with paprika. Put the skillet on a rimmed baking sheet and broil for about 15 minutes. The potatoes should develop a slightly browned crust and the filling should be bubbling. Allow to cool slightly before serving.

Julian's Individual Shepherd's Pies Ready to Serve

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Lentil and Sweet Potato Stew - What is curry powder?

With the new year well underway we are all watching what we eat and trying to be more healthy. This is a great winter stew that is completely vegetarian, flavorful and filling. Each dinner portion has only about 350 calories, but you will go away with your appetite satisfied, especially if you pair it with a salad and a crusty piece of bread. I got the original recipe from Martha Stewart Living and have since made some minor variations.

Julian's Lentil and Sweet Potato Stew with Garden Salad
Lentils are the basis for this stew. If you haven't cooked with them before they are ideal as they don't require pre-soaking and cook quickly, unlike other legumes. There are plenty of hearty winter vegetables and an Indian curry seasoning, which warms the heart without being overpowering.

If my use of the word 'curry' has confused or scared you, don't worry. I'm talking here about seasoning, not a traditional Indian curry dish, which is generally understood to mean vegetables or meat cooked with spices in a gravy. Curry is the anglicised word from the Tamil word kari or kori (கறி) meaning 'sauce'.  Kari was commercialized by the British East India Company in the mid-17th century where it found the flavors along the coast of southeast India. Here, they became familiar with a spice blend used for making kari dishes called kari podi or curry powder. So the term went from meaning a sauce to a spice blend, as this was the business of the British East India Company. You can purchase curry powder as a pre-made spice or you can make your own using the recipe below. Note when purchasing curry powder that there is no standard formula, so different brands will use somewhat difference spice mixtures and quantities. The most classic ingredients are shown below.

Curry Seasoning
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
2 tablespoons cardamom seeds, toasted
2 tablespoons coriander seeds, toasted
1/4 cup ground turmeric
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon cayenne

You may combine and use the above as needed in your recipes. I prefer a powder as is most commonly purchased, so I crush the above using my mortar and pestle. This is however, not necessary if you don't mind some larger pieces of the spices in your finished dish.

Ingredients (serves six)
2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 garlic clove, minced
2-3 teaspoons curry powder
16 ounces dried brown lentils, rinsed
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
8-10 ounces fresh green beans
1 15 ounce can diced tomatoes with their juices
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
salt and pepper, to taste
low-fat yogurt for serving

Clean, chop and measure vegetables and spices as noted on the ingredient list above.

In a large saucepan,heat oil over medium-high heat.  Add onion, carrots, celery and bay leaf.  Saute stirring often until vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and curry powder and cooking while stirring about one minute.

Add 7 cups water and the lentils and bring to a boil. Reduce to a low simmer, cover and cook 10 minutes. Add sweet potatoes and cook covered, until lentils and potatoes are just tender, about 15-20 minutes.

Stir in green beans and tomatoes with the juice. Cook until green beans are tender but still have a slight crunch, about 5 minutes. Discard the bay leaf and remove from heat. Stir in the chopped cilantro and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve topped with a dollop of yogurt.

A big pot of Julian's delicious winter stew!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Heart Healthy Valentine Muffins

Make these whole-wheat, sugar-free muffins (sweetened with honey and carrots) to show your loved ones you really care this Valentine's day!

Whole wheat, carrot, honey, applesauce muffins. Yum!
You'll be surprised at just how good and easy they are. They are amazingly sugar free, but no need to tell your loved ones this little secret, as they will never know. They are sweet and delicious, with or without the optional walnuts. They have a nice crumb but are not chewy and rough the way some whole-grain baked goods can be. They are easy to assemble, bake quickly and make a lovely presentation. The carrots and unsweetened applesauce keep them moist for nearly a week when not refrigerated. On top of all of that, each muffin is only 150 calories, so they can be enjoyed guilt free by those that are still following New Year's diet resolutions.

Ingredients (makes 12 muffins)
1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
click to enlarge
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup honey
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
3/4 cup carrot, shredded (about half a large carrot)
1/2 cup, chopped walnuts, (optional)
sanding sugar for decoration (optional)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Line a muffin pan with liners and set aside.

In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and salt.  Shred the carrots using a fine grater, such as a cheese grater or a food processor with the fine grating blade. If you grate them very fine as shown below, they practically disappear in the muffins and no one will know they are there.

Using a cheese grater to grate the carrots.
In a large electric mixing bowl beat the butter until creamy. Using a spatula, wipe down the sides and on medium speed, beat in the honey, egg and vanilla. Wipe down the sides again, and turn the mixer to its low speed. Slowly add in the flour mixture until well combined. With the mixer still on low, mix in the applesauce followed by the carrots until just combined. Add 2/3 of the optional nuts and mix in gently. Reserve the remaining nuts for the topping.

Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups. I used my No. 40 cookie scoop, and it took about 1 1/2 scoops per muffin. You can use a spoon or other device to fill the cups as well. Sprinkle the tops with the optional nuts and some sanding sugar for decoration, if you desire.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean and the muffins are beginning brown.

Julian's Heart Healthy Muffins