Oh, hey there! Have a summer vegetable tart!

So my last posts on this blog were in March. Well, then. Here’s what I’ve been up to since then:

  • April: On the road 12 out of 30 days.  What does my house look like?
  • May: Please allow me to hide in my house until I leave the state for another week and then madly prepare for a board orientation for the day job.
  • June: Did I mention I was taking a stats class over the summer?  No Monday or Wednesday nights for you!  Oh, and most of your other nights are doing homework, lol.
  • Also June: You know what would be a great time to run a major conference? While you’re taking an intense summer stats class!
  • July: Stats class.  Oh, and running another major conference, because that’s just brilliant timing.
  • August: What better time to screw up my meds? (No thanks, insurance company.) I spent most of August hiding under a rock. (Except for the weekend I spend running around Gen Con dressed as one of the iconic characters from the Pathfinder RPG.)

I can’t say I’ve been making a ton of food until the last few weeks, and even then it’s been “easy mode” – baba ganouj, grilled corn and X meat.  Spouse has been taking on a lot more of the cooking than usual.  But I’m loving the summer produce that’s available.  Ohio’s peach crop was frost-killed this spring and lots of stuff has been later than usual, but we’re seeing lots of melons, peppers, eggplant, tomatoes (finally), squash, and even some cucumbers still – as well as the first apples of the season.

Last night I made this roasted vegetable tart with odds and ends lying around the house, and it was both easy and tasty.

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Here’s how it went:

  • One single-sheet pie crust (or two if you want to make a huge one).  I made mine from this recipe (the food processor does make it easy!) plus a half-teaspoon of extra-fine garlic powder for a bit of extra savory yum.  You could also use store bought pie crusts, puff pastry, or phyllo dough following the package instructions.
  • A medium bowl of summer veggies: I used two small eggplant, one medium yellow summer squash, one onion, four small sweet peppers, and a handful of cherry tomatoes which had all split on the vine due to the ridiculous amount of rain we got yesterday.
  • Some cheese.  I used goat cheese; you could also use feta, gruyere, parmesan, whatever.
  • Some kind of savory spread.  I used some olive tapenade that I got at Aldi a while back; you could also use bruchetta topping, hummus, a spreadable cheese or cheese-and-egg base, baba ganouj, whatever.

Slice/dice your veggies (except the tomatoes), toss them in a bit of olive oil, salt, and a splash of balsamic vinegar (or not).  Roast them at 425° for about 15 minutes or until they’re nice and tender.  Your onions should be translucent but nothing should be caramelized or burnt (unless you want them caramelized, in which case go a little longer.)

Do whatever you need to do with your dough situation to make it a single flat piece.  Or you could do several small tarts, in which case you want several small flat pieces.  Moral of the story: flat.  Spread your flat piece(s) of dough with the savory spread, but unless you’re using a pan which your dough fills edge to edge, you might want to stop a little before the edge.

Spread out your roasted veggies on your prepared dough-and-savory-spread situation.  You’ll want them a little bit layered, but not so high that they aren’t going to cook through.  Maybe 1″ high, tops.  I had leftover veggies, and I threw them in the fridge to make an awesome roasted veggie pita with later this week.

Put any tomatoes you plan to use on top.  You don’t have to slice small cherry/grape/pear tomatoes, but you might want to slice larger ones.  Apply cheese.  Fold up the edges of your dough, if that’s an appropriate thing to do with the type of dough you’re using.

Throw the whole thing back in the oven (still at 425°) for about 15 minutes or so, until the dough is a nice golden brown, the cheese is browned and/or bubbly depending on the type of cheese you chose, and it smells awesome.  Go find something engaging to do while it cools for 10 minutes (otherwise you’ll try to eat it too soon and burn the heck out of the roof of your mouth).

This thing is awesome warm and also awesome at room temperature, making it great for really hot days.  I suspect you might also be able to adapt this into a kind of hand-pie recipe and take them out picnicking.

Oh, and I realize it’s not Friday.  Too bad; you get food on Labor Day instead.

 

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Foodie Friday: Vegan Joes

Hey, look at me, actually posting a Foodie Friday on a Friday. It’s like maybe I sneakily wrote two posts this past weekend and scheduled one to go out ahead so I actually have something up on time for once. Who knew?

Anyway, let’s talk about Joe. In fact, let’s talk about several Joes. Vegan ones. Vegan Joes.

So I love sloppy joes – not gonna lie. They’re quick, easy, tasty, and a nice protein blast for gym days. But good ground beef is expensive, and for reasons that I haven’t really gotten into yet on this blog, I only buy good meat. So when I found this tasty recipe for sloppy joes that swaps out lentils for the ground beef, I was pretty much sold.

Lentils are awesome. They’re little, inexpensive, quick-cooking, buy-in-bulk-and-store-forever, protein-packed legumes. They come in a bunch of colors, from the thin red ones that melt away when you cook them to plain old brown ones to fancy marbled french puy ones to crazy black ones. There’s probably more out there – go to town. I usually keep a bin of brown lentils (usually the cheapest) in my pantry for things like this (or for this amazing mushroom-lentil pot pie that you should totally make if you haven’t yet).

The really awesome part about this particular recipe – originally from the Veganomicon – is that it’s super flexible. It calls for an onion and a yellow pepper. I usually have onions on hand; I rarely have yellow pepper – but it doesn’t matter! I’ve used just about everything else instead – from celery to turnips to eggplant to sweet potatoes. Today’s candidate was zucchini, left over from the package I purchased to make veggie lasagna a while back:

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First, though, you need to start your lentils. One cup lentils plus 4 cups water is the standard. In my world this translates to “some” lentils and “enough water to come to the second knuckle of my first finger.” I’m a really precise person when it comes to cooking. Bring to a boil and then turn them down and simmer. They’ll take about 20 minutes – just enough time to get the rest of everything going.

So, you chop up your onion and your zucchini a bit more finely than you normally would. The weirder your extra veggie, the more finely you want to chop it. (The turnips, for example, I chopped pretty darn small.)
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Put olive oil in your favorite big skillet or saucepan.  This is my favorite skillet.  It’s the most expensive pan I own, and it’s also my favorite – every time I use it, I’m always happy about it.  Worth every dollar.  It’s very sturdy, thick enough to distribute heat evenly, and 100% stainless steel – so I can throw it in the dishwasher, or the oven, or use a scrubby on it to get stuff off (unlike every other skillet in the universe, which is covered with useless, potentially-toxic, lifespan-dimishing, not-dishwasher-safe teflon).  And it has an extra handle opposite the long handle so I can carry it to the table.  And a lid.  Amazing.

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Add your onion and other vegetable, and sauté over medium-high heat until the onion is cooked enough to eat.  When it’s sautéed to your liking, add your seasonings – oregano and chili powder, according to the original recipe, but you can use whatever floats your boat.  Remember, adding your spices and herbs to the oil now (as opposed to the finished stuff later) makes the flavors better.  This is also a good time to point out that chili powder and other “hot” spices get hotter from this treatment – so you maybe want to go easy.

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Ok, rant time.  One of the big reasons I don’t eat more vegetarian or vegan food is because evidently the entirety of humanity that chooses not to eat meat has decided that they must make all of their food spicy instead.  No meat = must be spicy.  It’s like the veg*n cop-out: “This dish would be bland without meat, but I’m too lazy to put actual flavors in it, so I’ll just dump in all these chilis instead.”  Spicy food makes Lyz cry, but because flaming fiery pain is evidently the only flavor available in most veg*n cooking, most recipes are right out, brain-meltingly bland, or require me to figure out how to make them tastier.  (Usually I end up adding bacon or cheese – a pro strat for vegetarian food, right?)  This recipe, for example, calls for THREE FREAKING TABLESPOONS OF CHILI POWDER in a FOUR-SERVING RECIPE.  That’s almost ONE TABLESPOON PER SERVING.  DO YOU WANT ME TO DIE??

So I used a little less than one tablespoon in the version I made, and I often put in other spices as the whim strikes me.  See, doesn’t this look amazingly delicious?

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Then you’ll need some tomato paste and sauce. I was making a bit bigger of a batch here, so I’m going to use a little more than the recipe calls for – two cans of tomato sauce and one full can of paste. These little cans are stupidly cheap at Aldi and keep forever (the ones I used today expire in December… of 2015) so you should always have a few on hand.

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Add your tomato products to your skillet:

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And stir them up real good. Add some maple syrup (about two pancakes’ worth) and some plain yellow mustard (about two hot dogs’ worth). Bring them to a simmer and let them hang out and meld and become wonderful.

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Your lentils should be getting done around now. You’ll know when they stop being crunchy and are instead a texture really not unlike browned ground beef.

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Dump those into the skillet of goo, and mix them in. If you have a few minutes, let them hang out there together to soak up all the tastiness. (The book recommends 10 minutes.)

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I used this time to slice up this amazing fresh loaf of bread my spouse made. This bread, as it turns out, is not vegan, and so if you’re intent on keeping your dinner vegan, use vegan bread, rolls, buns, tortillas, rice, or just eat it plain.

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I gave up on eating sloppy joes on buns a long time ago. Now I eat them open-faced with a fork, because I’m old and have no sense of fun in my life anymore. But I do put home-canned bread-and-butter pickles on them, because they are amazing things and really go very well with sloppy joes.

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Bonus points – this recipe keeps *very* well in the fridge, so you can make a whole bunch and then use the leftovers for lunch at work during the coming week.  And it’s cheap – I think this whole giant skillet may have cost a total of $5 in ingredients.

Foodie Friday: Stupid-Simple Butternut Squash Soup – with Bonus Biscuits!

Well, then. Hello, Sunday! The weather here has only gotten better insofar as it no longer hurts your face to go outside – it’s still mostly gray, sloppy, and cold. My day job is still bonkers, and because that wasn’t enough for my crazy self, I also took on a pretty big freelance gig with a pretty tight turnaround. Such is my life.  I hope you can all forgive me.

Thankfully, I have a spouse who is willing to make dinner.

On the one night this week I did get to cook myself, I wanted easy, warm, and cozy food. I’m also still working on a budget, and I still have a vegetarian in the house. (Vegetarians are great; I just need more practice at cooking veggie-friendly food.) So of course, I decided that soup is the way to go.

Butternut squash is warm and cozy no matter what you do with it.  Soup is kind of a cop-out with this wonderful veggie, but it’s such a delicious cop-out that I don’t mind.  It’s very quick – maybe 30 minutes start to finish? – and very flexible.

So, we start with Le Butternut Squash:

These things last forever, by the way.  Buy enough in the fall to last until the following May, and just store them somewhere cool and dry.

These things last forever, by the way. Buy enough in the fall to last until the following May, and just store them somewhere cool and dry.  I use about one a month.  (Bonus points, sometimes they’re hilariously phallic!)

So you want to start by peeling and cubing your squash.  First, I want to say that peeling any other squash is a royal pain in the ass, so don’t even try it with anything else.  Second, the only way to peel butternut squash is with a very sharp steel or ceramic peeler – then it’s actually pretty easy.

This is probably ~4-5 cups of squash cubes.  You can buy pre-cut squash if you'd like.

This is probably ~4-5 cups of squash cubes.

You can also buy this stuff pre-cut at the grocery store these days.  Or, if you want to DIY but don’t have a sharp peeler, you can halve the thing longways and either roast it with a little olive oil, S&P (350°) for about 45 minutes (drool), or nuke it for 5-10 (fast!).  These latter two options have an extra bonus of reducing the simmer time for the soup itself.

Ok, squash get!  Now chop up an onion:

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And throw it into a soup pot (also known as a kettle, pasta pot, or very large saucepan) with some olive oil over medium-high heat.

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Then throw in the squash, assuming you haven’t otherwise cooked it yet:

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You’re gonna cook this stuff for a while, maybe 5-10 minutes or more, until the onion is translucent and maybe juuuust beginning to brown. Stir occasionally – you want the heat high enough to do something but low enough that you don’t have to stand there tending it the whole time.  You can use this intermediate time to do something like make a salad or whip up a batch of biscuits.  Hmm…biscuits…

Once your onions look tasty (the squash won’t look anything more than a bit soft/wet on the sides – it won’t brown), add about 4 cups of broth.  If you have pre-cooked your squash, now is the time to add it. I used vegetable broth made from Better than Bullion, but I’ll often use homemade chicken stock.  Bring that up to a boil and then turn it down to simmer for 15-20 minutes.  Put a lid on it if you have one handy.

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You may need more or less liquid depending on how much squash you have. You want just enough that your squash cubes are just covered.

It was about this time that I decided I wanted biscuits with my soup – nice cheesy herby biscuits. So I started working on those. They’re easy-peasy – you just take your favorite biscuit recipe (even Bisquick) and stir in some shredded cheese and herbs when you mix the wet and dry ingredients.

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Shredded smoked gouda, and dried parsley, dill, sage, and savory. Savory, as it turns out, is a cranky little plant and will stab you if you try to rub it to break it down, so don’t try to rub it with your fingers.

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Dry ingredients!

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Wet ingredient!

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They’re mixed together! It’s biscuit dough!

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Biscuit dough on the baking tray! Here’s where you want to learn from my mistakes – if your biscuits have cheese in them, use parchment paper on your baking sheet.

Then I decided I wanted decadent biscuits, so I brushed them with melted garlic butter.

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Into the oven with those bad boys – whatever your biscuit recipe tells you.  Mine took a little longer than advertised.

When those get close to being done in the oven, you want to blend up and season your soup.  I have a stick blender that I totally love for this kind of thing, but you can use a regular blender, too – just let the soup cool a bit and be careful.  I blend the everliving daylights out of mine, since I like a silky velvety soup like the ones I ate in Australia a few years ago.

Now, seasonings.  Salt and pepper is almost mandatory, but from there, you can do wherever you’d like. For an eastern style, try adding some coconut milk, ginger, and curry powder.  You could do a southwestern hint with lime juice and chili powder.  A sweet-style soup might have a bit of maple syrup and maybe some cloves, mace, or allspice.  You can add some cream or crème fraîche or yogurt if you’d like a creamier soup.  I ended up using salt, pepper, and just a hint of ginger and curry – just enough to add some flavor complexity, not enough to make it taste like squash curry.

You may have to reheat the soup a bit depending on how much stuff you put in it and how cold it was.  Do that.  Then serve this soup with your wonderful cheesy-herby-buttery biscuits.

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Le Wonderful Soup. This pot may have been overkill, but better too big than too small.

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And the biscuits, in all their cheesy-herby-golden-brown-glory.

Foodie Friday: Cheap Soup

Winter here in Ohio has been rough this year.  This is what it looked like out my window today:

There's a water main break over on that corner, hence the giant piles of ice.  It's supposed to be fixed by 1/31!!!…...

There’s a water main break over on that corner, hence the giant piles of ice. At least they’re going to have it fixed by 1/31! … … …

So of course I want warm, comforting, cozy food.  Who wouldn’t?

As it turns out, I also have a vegetarian houseguest this week, so my normal go-to comfort foods (pot pie, roasted chicken, braised beef/bison/vension) are right out.  No problem, I have lots of vegetarian go-to recipes.  We made veggie lasagna earlier this week (guess how many pictures I took?) and that wonderful lentil-mushroom pot pie with gouda biscuit topping which you should totally make if you haven’t yet.

But, as it turns out, I’m also on a budget, so I have my go-to low-cost comfort foods.  This recipe is a favorite fall-back.  It’s largely based on Poor Girl Eats Well’s Smoky Split Pea Carrot Soup, but (as with all my food) I don’t actually measure anything, and I throw in whatever sounds good at the moment.

You start with (you’re never going to guess this): some chopped veggies!  In this case, I started with garlic, an onion, and the most sad pathetic wilted limp floppy carrots you’ve ever seen, from the bottom of my fridge.

See that purple-skinned carrot on the edge?  I grew that one!  It's the last of my summer garden carrots.

See that purple-skinned carrot on the edge? I grew that one! It’s the last of my summer garden carrots.

It didn’t seem like quite enough, so I added these two hakurei turnips from the same bottom of my fridge.

They've been patiently hanging out since CSA season, which ended the first week of December.  Held up better than the carrots.

They’ve been patiently hanging out since CSA season, which ended the first week of December. Held up better than the carrots.

You could add all kinds of things here – potatoes, parsnips, celery (celery root?), jerusalem artichokes, salsify, maybe even rutabagas or a golden beet.  I think I’d stick with root vegetables, and I’d stay away from normal red beets unless I wanted split pea borscht.

Olive oil in a pot, start the onions and garlic first.  Add your spices now (cumin, salt and pepper, and smoked paprika – yeah!) so the flavors bloom some.

 Bonus smoky flavor if you, like me, let your onions burn a little bit.  It's a feature.  Really.  You can trust this faceless person here, right?


Bonus smoky flavor if you, like me, let your onions burn a little bit. It’s a feature. Really. You can trust this faceless person here, right?

What’s that, Lyz? Bloom?  Well, the flavor from spices comes from the essential oils in each spice, so you can really get way more out of your spices by adding them into your starting-saute and letting them sizzle for a few minutes.  Don’t overdo it – burnt spices are awful – and remember that it’s not as effective with herbs (and doesn’t do a damn thing with salt).

Add the carrots (and turnips or whatever else you’re using), your split peas (rinsed and picked over, please!), and enough water to cover everything by an inch or so.  You could also use broth, stock, or add in some bullion here – I didn’t, because I currently don’t own any vegetarian soup base.  You could also add a ham bone (my butcher carries WONDERFUL smoked ham hocks for dirt-cheap) and/or some chopped-up ham here, if you were inclined to do so.  Just remember, ham is not vegetarian.

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Bring it up to a simmer and let it go for a while.  PGEW suggests 20 minutes, which I have never found to be enough.  I let mine go for closer to an hour tonight and it was lovely – but you could probably stop somewhere more like 40 minutes and be fine.

Now, while you’re waiting for your dinner to cook, let’s talk about split peas.  Split peas are cheap, hearty food – lots of fiber and protein, plus some iron to boot.  They come in two colors (at least!) – the typical green ones, and also in yellow.  The yellow ones are theoretically a little sweeter, which sounds pretty good.  However, the green ones come at something ridiculous like 69¢ for a pound at Aldi, and you cannot beat that price – so I’ve actually never tried the yellow ones.  (Have you?  Let me know how they are!)

Since your soup is obviously not done following our little pea chat there, go make some biscuits or get some bread to go with this soup.  I got my spouse to make some herb-garlic-cheese dinner rolls, but even refrigerator biscuits or grocery store rolls/bread would be fine. Heck, sliced bread is fine.  Go to war with the bread you’ve got.

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Let’s assume that the soup has cooked for its allotted time by now.  Your peas should be tender, not crunchy – crunchy peas are a total bummer in this soup, not that I’m sure there’s ever a time and place for crunchy split peas.  Take about half the soup out, and blend one half or the other (or more or less, it’s up to you) with your favorite blending implement – if necessary.  Mine just sort of smoothed out as I stirred it.   (Incidentally, this is a good time to take out the ham bone if you put one in.  We’re not playing “Will It Blend?” here.)

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Then recombine your two parts of soup.  You may need to add liquid, adjust seasonings, or reheat it some if it’s gotten cool while blending.  If you didn’t add chopped ham before and you’ve changed your mind, this is a perfectly good time to throw it in and heat through.  Top with your favorite soup toppings: bacon bits (not vegetarian!), crème fraîche, croutons, shredded cheese, toasted bread crumbs, crispy fried shallots, whatever.  Or nothing.  Nothing is a totally valid soup topping.

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Eat.  Warm.  Cozy.  Bread.  Blankets.  Kittens.  Sleep.