Saturday, March 14, 2009

An exquisite vegetarian menu

If you want an excellent vegetarian menu you can ask nobody but Mrs. Vegetarian Authority herself: Deborah Madison.

What Julia Child is to French cooking, Deborah Madison is to vegetarian cooking—a demystifier and definitive guide to the subject. After her many years as a teacher and writer, she realized that there was no comprehensive primer for vegetarian cooking, no single book that taught vegetarians basic cooking techniques, how to combine ingredients, and how to present vegetarian dishes with style. Her most recent cookbook, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone teaches readers how to build flavor into vegetable dishes, how to develop vegetable stocks, and how to choose, care for, and cook the many vegetables available to cooks today. Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone is in every way Deborah Madison’s magnum opus, featuring 1,400 recipes suitable for committed vegetarians, vegans (in most cases), and everyone else who loves good food. For nonvegetarians, the recipes can be served alongside meat, fish, or fowl and incorporated into a truly contemporary style of eating that emphasizes vegetables and fruits for health and well-being.

Deborah Madison's complete bibliography also includes Renewing America's Food Traditions: Saving and Savoring the Continent's Most Endangered Foods and Vegetarian Suppers from Deborah Madison's Kitchen. Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone and The Savory Way were both named the Julia Child Cookbook of the Year by the IACP. Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone also received a James Beard Award, as did Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America's Farmers' Markets and This Can't Be Tofu! was a Beard nominee. The Greens Cookbook, now a classic, was her first book. A contributor to many magazines, Deborah Madison received the M.F.K. Fisher Mid-Career Award from Les Dames d'Escoffier in 1994. She lives in New Mexico with her husband, Patrick McFarlin. Her newest book What We Eat When We Eat Alone will be released in May.


Makes 3 ½ cups

Avocado pureed with buttermilk (low-fat) and yogurt (with the cream on top) yields a pale green soup laced with masses of minced herbs, textured with cucumber, and garnished with slivered radishes, herbs, and green pistachios. All in all, it’s a fine soup for a hot day, and although the recipe makes just a scant quart, it will be enough for four or more servings.

2 cups low-fat buttermilk
1 cup yogurt, preferably whole-milk
1 large avocado, peeled and pitted
1 cucumber, peeled and seeded
1 large garlic clove
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
3 slender scallions, white parts plus a bit of the green, finely minced
3 tablespoons chopped dill
1 tablespoon snipped chives
1 tablespoon minced marjoram or oregano
1 tablespoon minced tarragon
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
½ jalapeno chile, seeded and chopped
Zest and juice of 1 lime
½ teaspoon sweetener, such as agave syrup, to taste

To Finish
Finely sliced chives and chive blossoms
Thinly slivered radishes
Dill, mint, and cilantro sprigs
1/3 cup shelled pistachios or walnuts

1. Puree the buttermilk, yogurt, avocado, and a quarter of the peeled cucumber in a blender until smooth, then pour it into a bowl.
2. Mash the garlic with ½ teaspoon salt and stir it into the puree along with the scallions, herbs, chile, and lime zest. Season to taste with salt, pepper, lime juice, and sweetener, if needed. Seed and finely dice the remaining cucumber and add to the soup. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled. Just before serving, taste and correct the seasonings.
3. Ladle the soup into bowls, then cover the surface with the chives, radishes, herb sprigs, and pistachios.

Agave Syrup: For those who don’t like using refined sugar, organic or not, agave syrup offers and alternative. It’s sweeter than sugar but has a low glycemic index. While there’s more to it than pure sweetness, its flavor is not a pronounced as that of honey or maple syrup. Derived from agave, the same plant used for making tequila, the liquid form of the syrup is easy to add to foods as it dissolves instantly. Agave syrup can be found in natural food stores.

Serves 6 generously

After a damp spring day spent visiting the organic vegetable gardens on the UCSC campus in Santa Cruz, a town that is unusually committed to using its local produce, it was time for dinner. There is always a moment during asparagus season when you want something hearty, and this was the day. Fortunately, the chef had the dish for it -- a golden bread pudding studded with asparagus.

I like to simmer the milk with green garlic (immature garlic whose leaves are still green) for flavor. If you live where fresh chanterelles or morels are in season as well as asparagus, here's a good opportunity to use them. But dried chanterelles or morels from the previous year are delicious, too.

1 head green garlic
3 cups milk
a 1-pound loaf good firm white bread, cut into thick slices
1 to 2 pounds asparagus, preferably fat ones
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large shallot, finely diced
1/2 to 1 pound chanterelles or morels, cleaned, and coarsely chopped
4 large market eggs
1/2 cup chopped parsley
3 tablespoons chopped tarragon or marjoram
2 cups grated Fontina or Gruyère cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Lightly butter or oil an 8- x 12-inch gratin dish. Coarsely chop the garlic, add it to the milk, and bring to a boil. Turn it off and set it aside to steep.
2. If the bread isn't stale, lay it on a sheet pan and bake until golden and crisp (but not hard); otherwise your pudding will be mushy. Break it into chunks, put it in a large dish, and strain the milk over it. Let it sit while you prepare the vegetables. Occasionally turn the bread so that it soaks up as much of the milk as possible.
3. Peel thick asparagus up to where the tips begin. Slice it on the diagonal, about 1/3 inch thick, then soak in cold water for a few minutes. (It's not necessary to peel thin ones.) Fill a skillet with water and when it boils, add salt to taste and the asparagus. Simmer until bright green and partially tender, about 3 minutes. Drain, then rinse with cold water to stop the cooking.
4. Melt half the butter in a medium nonstick skillet. Add the shallot, cook for 1 minute, then add the mushrooms. Cook over high heat until they brown in places, exude their liquid, and are tender, after several minutes. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
5. Break the eggs into a large bowl and beat them until smooth. Add the herbs, 1 teaspoon salt, and plenty of pepper. By now the bread should have soaked up most of the milk. Add the bread and any milk that is left to the bowl, along with the asparagus and mushrooms plus any juices, and two thirds of the cheese. Toss well. Pour the mixture into the prepared dish, even it out some, and dot with the remaining butter. Scatter the remaining cheese over the top and bake until puffy and golden, about 45 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes, then serve.

serves 4

There’s no crust, but you can’t argue with this handsome pie, which is rimmed with the black edge of the cast-iron skillet rather than with pastry. It’s excellent for those seeking protein-rich dishes, and it’s so quick to put together you’ll have to wait for your oven to heat up.

Serve this skillet pie in wedges with sides that match the season. In summer, look to roasted peppers plus a few olives; in spring, a shaved fennel salad; in winter, luscious braised black kale. This also makes a good appetizer, served, of course, in smaller portions, or part of a mezze plate. A lusty Zinfandel from Sonoma would partner well with the cheese.

3⁄4 pound feta cheese, preferably sheep’s milk
1 pound ricotta cheese
4 to 6 eggs
1⁄4 cup flour
3⁄4 cup milk
sea salt and freshly ground white pepper
1 tablespoon chopped dill

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Mix three-quarters of the feta with the ricotta in a medium bowl, without worrying about getting it perfectly smooth–you’ll want some chunks. Beat the eggs into the cheese, then add the flour and milk. Season with 1⁄2 teaspoon salt, pepper, and dill.

2. Butter a 10-inch cast-iron skillet or an earthenware baking dish. Pour in the batter and crumble the remaining cheese over the top. Bake until golden, 35 to 40 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve with your chosen garnish.

Serves 6

A spectacular-looking dish for minimal effort--perfect for the holidays. Look for onions with crisp, papery skins. They're fine without the herbs, too.

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 large yellow onions, halved and peeled
Salt and freshly milled pepper
4 sage sprigs and several thyme sprigs
1 cup dry white wine or water

Heat the butter and oil in a wide skillet, then add the onions, cut sides down. Cook over medium-high heat until well browned, about 15 minutes. Check their progress occasionally--those on the outside of the pan usually take longer to cook, so partway through switch them with those in the middle. When browned, turn them over and cook on the curved side for a few minutes. Season well with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 375° F. Line the bottom of a 10-inch earthenware dish such as a round Spanish casserole with the herbs. Place the onions, browned side up, on the herbs and pour in the wine. Cover with aluminum foil and bake until tender when pierced with a knife, 1 hour or slightly longer. Serve warm with or without the Quick Vinegar Sauce for Onions.

Makes 4 modest servings

If you're longing for the kind of tree-ripened apricot you tasted in California or France but have only underripe fruit available, this recipe offers an approximation. Baking greatly improves the slightly green fruit we find in our markets, almost ripening it in the oven. But include some ripe apricots as well if you can. Their flavor is incomparable, and they break down to make a little sauce for the dish.

When I first made this recipe, I didn't use the bread crumbs but, following the advice of Elizabeth David, set the apricots in a pan over a piece of vanilla bean, added a little water, sprinkled them with sugar, and baked them. The apricots tasted wonderful, but they collapsed completely and looked rather unappealing. The covering of bread crumbs helps protect them and makes a fragile, buttery crust. It's a little like eating warm fresh jam with toast. The simpler version though, uses no butter. The cooked fruits are delicious served chilled with Ricotta Cream Cheese (page 353).

1 1/2 pounds fresh apricots
4 to 5 tablespoons vanilla sugar (page 407) or plain sugar plus a 2-inch vanilla bean
2 tablespoons water
2 cups fresh bread crumbs made from white bread
1/4 cup melted unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Wash the apricots, slice them in half, discard the pits, and toss them with the sugar. Put the water in the bottom of a glass pie plate or baking dish. If you're using the vanilla bean, slice it in half lengthwise and lay it in the water; then set the apricots on top. Toss the bread crumbs and melted butter together; then spread them over the apricots. Bake until the bread crumbs are just lightly browned and the fruit tender, about 25 minutes. Let the dessert settle and cool before serving it warm with a pitcher of cream or a bowlful of lightly whipped cream sweetened with sugar and a drop of vanilla.


Lodge 10.25-in. Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet
Lodge 10.25-in. Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet: link
Make hash browns or fry bacon and eggs using the pan that Grandma used - a good old-fashioned cast iron skillet. This one is particularly nice because it's already seasoned and ready-to-use once you get it. It's coated with a special vegetable oil formula that's been baked-on in a very hot industrial oven. The high temperature allows the oil to penetrate deeply into the cast iron surface creating that prized heirloom finish, saving you the time and effort of doing it on your own. Heavy and durable, it's designed to last for years, offering exceptional heat retention.


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