Sunday, December 2, 2012

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup:

The MetamoRphosis

I have a confession to make. I'm not proud it but it is what it is and I feel I must be perfectly honest about the origins of this post. When I set out to do this, it was supposed to be a recipe for a "roasted butternut squash mash". 

Here's the story in a nutshell.  A few weeks back I made a butternut squash soup. While it was good, my wife both agreed it lacked that certain "jue nue say qwa" . Oh, and too much pepper! But like I said, it was decent and it didn't go to waste. 

Of all the recipes I reviewed, I liked the idea of roasting the squash as opposed to the peeled, chopped and boiled version. So that's what I did and it was amazing right out of the oven. Even before it ever made it to a state of soup-dom. So I thought to myself, if I just mashed this, it would make a fantastic side. But that was for another day. Today was to be that day. I figured I'd roast the squash just like I did for the soup and kinda do like I'd do if I was making mashed potatoes. It turned out okay. But again, lacking the "je ne sais quoi" (that's the correct spelling, folks). It was a tad lumpy and stringy. Probably could have used a food mill but I don't have one, so that shot that idea. I know! Food processor. Pulsed it a few times until it was smoother but now it was too thin. Definitely not post-worthy. 

So then I thought I'd just scrap the whole blog post until next week. But, from the smoky rubble of failure, emerged a daffodil of an idea (per my search of Google, the daffodil is supposed to represent hope). Poetic, huh? So I tossed the lot of it into the Vitamix, added more liquid and, walla, it was a soup to behold (and by the way, it's voila. With a V. Please don't say walla around me again). Boy...I'm in a mood. Calm down Justin. Find your happy place.

So, the story has a happy ending. Actually, a very happy ending. I started out with a solid idea that backfired, went to shizzle and then bounced right back, ultimately making a soup better than the soup I made when I was trying to make soup. Geez, how many times have I seen THAT movie? Life is good. 


4-5 pounds of butternut squash - raw (I used one large that was just a cut above 4 pounds)
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
6 gloves of garlic, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 1/2 tsp salt (or to taste) (divided)
1 cup whipping cream
1 cup vegetable broth
1 1/2 Tbsp chopped fresh sage


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 

Cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Line a baking sheet with foil and place your squash on it cut-side up. Melt your butter in the microwave for 45 seconds or just until it's melted. Brush the squash with the butter and pour the remaining butter in the pit where the seeds were, dividing between the two halves. Put the garlic in with the butter. Sprinkle the squash with the pepper and 1/2 tsp of the salt. Bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours until the squash is fork tender. 

Once done, remove the squash from the oven and pour the butter and garlic that was in the pits of the two halves into a small saucepan. Set the squash aside and allow to cool for 10 minutes or until you can handle it with your hands. To the sauce pan, add the cream, broth and sage and bring to a simmer. Simmer for just a few minutes allowing the flavors to meld a bit.

Scoop the meat of the squash out of the skin and into a blender. Then add the cream mixture and the remaining tsp of salt. Blend until smooth. The squash has probably cooled quite a bit by now so you may have to gently heat the soup a little more in the sauce pan to serve.  

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Vegetarian Lasagne:

Layered With Love

Layered with love? How cheesy is that title? Well let me tell you friends and neighbors, it's real cheesy. Three kinds of cheesy to be exact. Hehe, stepped into that one, didn't you?

In my humble opinion, lasagne is the quintessential comfort food. It's oozing with melty cheeses, it's got thick noodles that are as filling as all get out, and it's packed full of flavor. Lash that together with a hunk of warm garlic bread, a glass of Sangiovese and you are in Heaven.

Now, you can go many different directions with lasagne. And there are three quarters of a million different recipes out there. Trust me. I counted them. All of them. Me? I like the kind with the red sauce as opposed to the cream sauce types. I'm not saying I don't like both, just that if you put them both in front of me, I'd naturally gravitate toward the red sauce lasagne. And of course, since this is a vegetarian blog site, it's gonna have to be, well, vegetarian. 

My aim, when making these dishes, is to please not only myself, but of course, my wife as well. We don't disagree on too many things. That's one of the things that has made our marriage last for so many years. But when it comes to mushrooms, it's like Peter Griffin vs. the chicken, Spy vs. Spy, Wile E. Coyote vs. The Roadrunner. I love mushrooms and will demand that I'm buried with some. She, on the other hand, thinks they're slimy and therefore gross. The compromise? I leave them in large enough chunks so she can easily pick them out...... Smily face. Or as she would say, slimy face.   

While I was doing my research for this recipe, I came across a very interesting tidbit of info. This may already be common knowledge, but it's a new one on me. I always spelled lasagne with an "e" at the end. However, when I searched for it, the suggestion was to to spell it with an "a" at the end. Both look right to me but I always just used the "e" when I wrote it. As it turns out, both are correct. Lasagna is the correct spelling for one noodle, whereas lasagne would be the plural. It would stand to reason, at least from my perspective, that lasagne would be the correct spelling for the dish as well since the dish calls for several noodles. But I suppose that's up for debate.  

This particular recipe is adapted from a number of different recipes. However, its’ greatest influence came from a recipe written by an Allrecipes contributor by the name of John Chandler. This was originally a meat sauce lasagne recipe but I have made the appropriate changes to make it vegetarian. Yes, there seems to be a lot of ingredients here but I'd be willing to bet that you already have many of them in your pantry. And the extra effort you put into this dish will be well rewarded. 


1 (28 oz) can of crushed tomatoes
1 (15 oz) can of tomato sauce
2 (6 oz) cans of tomato paste
1/2 cup of water (you can use veggie broth if you have it on hand)
2 Tbsp white sugar
1 1/2 tsp dried basil leaves
1 tsp fennel seeds (do not leave this out!!!)
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1 Tbsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
4 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley, divided
1/2 cup minced white or yellow onion
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small eggplant, peeled, quartered lengthwise, and sliced into 1/4 inch slices
1/2 a medium zucchini, cut in half lengthwise and sliced into 1/4 inch slices
1/2 chopped green bell pepper
1/2 pound baby portabella mushrooms, sliced (you can use crimini if you want) 
12 lasagna noodles
16 oz ricotta cheese
1 egg
1/2 tsp salt
1 pound mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese


In a Dutch oven, combine crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, and water. Season with sugar, basil, fennel seeds, Italian seasoning, 1 tablespoon salt, pepper, and 2 tablespoons parsley.

Now add the onion, garlic, eggplant, zucchini, bell pepper, and mushrooms. Bring to a simmer over a medium high heat. Once simmering, lower heat, cover and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally (about every 10 minutes or so).

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook lasagna noodles in boiling water for 8 to 10 minutes. You want them fully cooked but you want them al dente. Drain noodles, and rinse with cold water. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, combine ricotta cheese with egg, remaining parsley, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

To assemble, spread 2 cups of sauce in the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish. Arrange 6 noodles lengthwise over sauce. Spread with one half of the ricotta cheese mixture. Top with a third of mozzarella cheese slices. Spoon 2 cups sauce over mozzarella, and sprinkle with 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese. Repeat layers, and top with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Cover with foil.  To prevent sticking, either spray foil with cooking spray, or make sure the foil does not touch the cheese.

Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes. Remove foil, and bake an additional 25 minutes. Cool for 15 minutes before serving.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Musical Fruit:

Mexican Bean Stew

I'm not sure if it's a "Mexican thing" or if it's just me but I can most assuredly tell you that I love beans. And I own it. I'm a card carrying bean fanatic. I could eat them most any day and not get tired of them. As such, I'm always on the lookout for a good bean recipe. As far as I'm concerned, you can't have too many bean recipes. 

I read recently that the pinto bean is one of New Mexico's official state vegetables along with the chile. That's a pretty killer combo if you ask me. The article went on to say that the Incas and Aztecs first began cultivating this bean over 5000 years ago. They made their way to Europe with the Spanish explorers in the 15th century who in turn, along with the Portuguese, traded them in Africa and Asia. This resulted in the Phaseolus Vulgaris, or "common bean" as they are referred to, being the most widely used bean today. 

But none of that matters really. What really matters is what they taste like rolled up in warm, homemade corn tortilla. With maybe a little cilantro, onion, hot pepper sauce, and a splash of lime. Oooh. They're actually cooking on stove top as I'm writing this and I'm starting to make myself hungry. Better stop that for now because they got a solid hour and a half to go. 

And, as luck would have it, my wife is not a fan of beans. This means that every bean I make, I eat. Mine!! All mine!!! If she were here, she'd tell me that this was my "only child syndrome" rearing its' ugly head. Only child syndrome or not...mine!!!!!

This recipe is really quite simple. Although it takes over two hours to make, you're only in the kitchen for maybe ten minutes. I swiped this recipe from the cooking show Mexican Made Easy. When I make food, I'm usually not too thrilled with the recipes I dig up so I'll take bits and pieces of several recipes and kinda create my own. This one, however, is pretty much right on the mark. The only thing I did differently is that I added veggie broth to the mix instead of straight water. 


3 cups dries pinto beans
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 white onion, diced
2 bay leaves
3 cup vegetable broth
water (to be determined)
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste 


Combine the beans, garlic, onion and bay leaves in a medium to large pot. Add veggie broth and about 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil over a medium-high heat. Once boiling, reduce heat, cover, and simmer until the beans are tender. About 2 hours or so. 

Every 20 minutes, check the beans. Stir them and add water as needed. About a cup at a time. When done, the beans should be somewhat soupy, similar to a chile or a thick stew.  

Ladle into a bowl and garnish with Mexican crema, cilantro and chopped white onions. Alternatively, you can drain them a bit and use them as a filling for soft tacos.

Monday, November 5, 2012


The Green Ones

Enchiladas have been a favorite in my family for many many years. My grandma has been making them longer than I have walked this Earth. And they are wonderful, let me tell you. When she makes them, my dad, uncles, and my aunt all go nuts almost to the point of violence. Well, not really, but you get the picture. It's an event. It's something to behold. It's bigger than all of us. 

The problem I have now is that her enchiladas are filled with beef. And since I no longer eat my fellow Earthlings, I had to come up with an alternative. I fancy my standards pretty high when it comes to the culinary arts. If it isn't amazing, why waste your time, right? That being said, I needed something that might rival my grandma's legendary enchiladas. (Grandma, if you're reading this, they'll never be as good as yours) Now, I don't know if mine are even close but they are pretty freakin' good if I might say so myself. 

You can fill an enchilada with a million different things and make them taste good. But the most important component of a good enchilada is the sauce in which you cover it. I have searched the world (wide web) over for a decent enchilada sauce. The vast majority of those out there are tomatillo based. And this is all well and good but in my humble opinion, tomatillos are a touch too twangy. Say THAT 5 times fast! Now, I'm not adverse to a touch of twang. But gosh twang it, to much twang is twagic. Okay, I've gone too far. Sorry.
So I did what any desperate dude would do in a situation like this. I looked at the ingredients list on the the back of a can of Las Palmas enchilada sauce. The main ingredient? Green chile peppers!! Not a tomatillo to be found.

My brain did, however, tell me that no tomatillos at all is probably not the right way to go. After all, why would 90% of all the enchilada sauce recipes out there call for them if it wasn't right? Right? A little twang is good but we needed to counter-balance it with a bit of mild chile pepper flavor.

The plan of attack was to make a tomatillo based sauce and, also, to make a chile pepper based sauce and do a side-by-side comparison. The tomatillo sauce was fantastic. However, it was a bit twangy. How did I not see that one coming? The chile pepper sauce was also fantastic but it need a bit of.....I dunno.....twang. 

Eureka!! A combo!! Half tomatillo, half chile pepper. 

This recipe will make roughly 20 enchiladas depending on how well you portion your filling. I like to make extra so I have leftovers for days. You can easily cut this recipe in half if you want a smaller batch. However, if you choose to go full throttle, you're gonna need two baking dishes to accommodate the 20 enchiladas.


For The Sauce:

2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 pound Anaheim peppers, rough chopped and seeded
2 poblano peppers, rough chopped and seeded
1 pound tomatillos, quartered
1 medium onion, yellow or white
5 garlic cloves
1-2 jalapenos, chopped
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp salt (I use a seasoning salt called Johnny's. Better flavor than salt and less sodium)
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp cumin powder
1 Tbsp sugar
1 1/2 cups veggie stock

For The Enchiladas:

1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 half red bell pepper, julienned 
1 half yellow onion, julienned 
1 tsp black pepper
2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese, shredded and divided
2.25 oz sliced olives (you can also used diced if you prefer smaller pieces)
2 15 oz cans of black beans 
1 15 oz can of vegetarian refried beans
1/2 cup of cilantro leaves, chopped (from about 10 sprigs)
24 corn tortillas


To Prepare The Sauce: 

Heat oil in a large skillet to a medium high heat. Add the anaheims, poblanos, tomatillos, onion and garlic. There will quite a bit of veggies here so you may have to do it in 2 batches. Blacken the veggies a bit in the skillet making sure not to over burn them. See the photo above. This is how they should look when they are done. That blackened parts on the veggies will give your sauce a little bit of smokiness that really adds depth. 
Next, place the cooked veggies along with the remaining sauce ingredients and blend until it's smooth. Pour the sauce into a sauce pan and heat on a medium high until it begins to simmer. Turn down the heat and continue to simmer on low for about 10 minutes, stirring every couple of minutes or so. 

To Prepare The Enchiladas: 

Heat the oil in a skillet. Add the bell pepper, onion and black pepper. Saute for about 3-5 minutes. You want the veggies cooked about halfway but still a little crisp. Remove from heat and add to large bowl. Add 1 cup of the cheese, the olives, black beans, refried beans, and cilantro to the bowl. Combine the contents of the bowl with your hand or a spoon until evenly distributed. You'll want to "fold" these ingredients together being careful not to smash the veggies and the black beans.

Take a half cup or so of the enchilada sauce and spread it around the bottom of your baking pan. This will help your enchiladas from sticking to the pan after baking. 

Wrap your tortillas in a kitchen towel and heat them in the microwave for 30-45 seconds. I do them in batches of five so they are not all heated at once. This way you can heat five, assemble five, then heat five more and so on. You want them warm so they are pliable and you can easily wrap your ingredients in them without breaking the tortilla. Some people might fry them in oil to achieve this but it just adds too many unneeded calories. Once you have your first five tortillas heated, take one and dip it into the sauce to coat. Then, add your filling to the center of the tortilla and roll it up. Place it into the pan and repeat this process until all the enchiladas are assembled. 

Once all are assembled, spread some more of the sauce onto the top of the enchiladas to cover them a bit. Don't feel obligated to use all of the sauce. This recipe may make a bit more sauce than you actually may need or prefer. Then take the remaining cheese and sprinkle it evenly over the top of the enchiladas. Cover the pans with aluminum foil and bake at 350 for about 20 minutes. 

Additional Tips: 

Traditionally, enchiladas are topped with shredded lettuce. I usually put the lettuce on the plate under the enchiladas and serve them immediately before the lettuce wilts. I personally prefer Romaine or iceberg lettuce. It gives a little crunch with each bite and the contrast of the warm enchiladas to the cool lettuce is quite nice. 

You can also top them with avocado, sour cream, Mexican crema, fresh diced tomatoes, etc. Me? I just like the enchiladas over the lettuce only. I don't like to smother them with too much other stuff. This way, I get the full flavor of the dish. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012



The Rustic Delight

One of my favorite things on this Earth is guacamole. I'm quite certain I could eat it every day and never get tired of it. It's such a simple and easy thing to make. Not too easy to mess up but stranger things have happened. I've have some pretty funky guac in my day.

I'm always dumbfounded when I hear people say they hate it. Or that it tastes gross. I don't know why that shocks me but it does every time. I always think there's something wrong with that person. I wouldn't think that if they said soup or cereal or lasagne. But guacamole? Come on man! I know, it's kinda weird, but I yam what I yam. A ga ga ga. (sorry for the lame Popeye reference). On my way home the other day, I was listening to the radio and there are these two deejay's in the afternoon that were going on about how they hate it. Both of them. That's downright un-American, if you ask me. I actually switched over to the pop station. And if you know me at all, that's a pretty powerful statement. 

In days of old, I was the type of guy who'd buy of those guacamole flavor packets they usually sell right next to the avocados in the supermarket. And they served their purpose for the times I used them. But I've always had a much greater sense of accomplishment when I was able to create something on my own, without the assistance of a flavor packet full of a mysterious powdery substance. Yeah, it takes longer, there's more effort, it requires thought, etc. But in the end, it's so much better. 

Before writing this post, I scooted about the internet to see if I could find any interesting tidbits regarding this amazing treat. But alas, I wasn't able to dig up anything too remarkable. From what I was able to gather, and I'll make this quick, it was invented by the Aztecs and dates back over 500 years. Several sites mention that the Spaniards first came across it when they paid their little visit to the Aztecs. Curiously enough, that too was about 500 years ago. Who knows how long the Aztecs were making it before then. Oh yeah, and the word guacamole is derived from two Aztec words meaning "mashed testicles". Mmm mmm good!  

For the record, I like my guac a little more rustic. I like it chunky and I like the occasional crunch of a green onion or a little piece of jalapeno (which I totally forgot to put on the plate in the photo above, duh). I've had the guacamole that is mashed completely smooth and it's ok but I think a superior guac has texture. It's mashed but only about halfway. And then there's the question of lemon vs. lime. Me? I prefer the lime. I like the flavor a bit more and it gives me an excuse to make margaritas with the leftovers. Of course, the 28 limes I bought may have been a bit of overkill but hey, my blender sports 3 horsepower. Grunt grunt (sorry for that lame Tim Allen reference).

Now, before you make this guacamole, throw out all your other guac recipes because this will be your new "go to" recipe. Trust me. 


6 medium avocados (5 if they are larger) 

juice from 1 half a lime
1 tsp of salt (I use a seasoning salt called Johnny's. Better flavor than salt and less sodium) 
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp of hot pepper sauce (Tabasco, Tapatia, etc.)
1/2 cup of cilantro leaves, chopped (from about 10 sprigs)
2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2-3 green onions, chopped
1-2 jalapenos, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced

To make the guacamole: 

In a bowl, add chopped avocados, lime juice, salt, pepper, and hot pepper sauce. Using a potato masher, mash the contents into a rough mash. Leaving the mixture half mashed and half chunky. 

Add the remaining ingredients and fold them in using a spoon, being careful not the mash the avocado any further. 

Serve with chips you stole from the Mexican restaurant.  


Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Stuffed Pepper: A Story of Quinoa

Oven Roasted Stuffed Poblano with Chipotle Asado Sauce

People tend to take two steps back when I tell them I am a vegetarian. There was one woman that looked at me literally from my head to my toes, back to my head, then back to my toes again before exclaiming "You are a vegetarian?!!" While I can admit, I don't fit the physical profile, I do find it humorous that some folks think it's so truly odd. When I told my doctor, however, he maintained his composure. A true professional. Although, his eye did flutter a bit as he held back his surprise. His advise was to see a dietitian to discuss how to be a vegetarian and still get all the good things I need in order to eat a more balanced diet. Cool.

After my visit with the very nice dietitian lady, I came away with all kinds of good info, booklets, pamphlets, and ideas. One of which was quinoa. Quinoa, she told me, is an excellent source of protein and it seems I'm not getting enough of that based upon the food diary she requested I bring with me to the meeting.  Now, I've heard of quinoa. Saw it on some random vegan website or maybe it was a cooking show on Food Network. Don't really remember. But I figured what the hell? Worst case scenario, it sucks. And then I don't buy it anymore. Man, was I surprised. Not only do I dig, I really dig it. And trust me, this isn't the poor sad vegetarian trying to convince himself that quinoa is good. I truly mean it from deepest sub cockles of my heart. 

So now I'm excited, right? I find this recipe for Stuffed Poblanos. Stuffed with what you ask? My new bff, quinoa. So I make the recipe and love it. When my wife and I try a new recipe, we always ask each other if it's a "do-over". In other words, will we make this again? This one is definitely a do-over. Aside from my new found love of quinoa, the chipotle asado sauce was one of favorite parts. It takes on a nice bite from the chipotles and the whipping cream gives it just the right level of richness. In fact, the base of this sauce, has the potential to grow into a nice salsa. I'll definitely have to play around on that one on another post. 

I had to laugh because the next day, I was telling a friend about this dish and she crinkled her nose at me when I said the word quinoa. Then I said the word poblano and her nose crinkled even more but this time she added the tilted head, similar to how a puppy looks at you when it's thinking "huh?" I quickly changed the subject as I knew this one was a lost cause. Not everyone is ready to take on quinoa. Apparently, and I say this facetiously, it's only for the connoisseurs. The true foodies. And those in the know...know. Quinoa rocks. 

This recipe is an adaptation of the one I found on the Food Network website. I made some simple changes to make a few of the ingredients easier to find and also to try to make it a bit healthier. I was able to drop quite a few calories per serving with this version and it's just a tasty as the original.  


For the Stuffed Poblano

5 fresh poblano chiles

1 Tbsp olive or vegetable oil
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced1 cup quinoa, rinsed
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded and remainder julienned
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
4 ounces shredded pepper jack cheese
1/2 cup egg whites
leaves from 4 sprigs fresh thyme
salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the Chipotle Asado Sauce

6 ripe Roma tomatoes, quartered

1/2 small yellow onion, julienned
3 clove garlic, peeled
1 1/2 Tbsp canola oil
saltfreshly ground black pepper
leaves from 4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 chipotle chiles in adobo
1/2 cup heavy cream 

To make the Stuffed Poblano:
Preheat oven to "broil" and roast the chiles until skin blackens, making sure to turn frequently. Remove chiles from the oven and place into a stainless steel mixing bowl. Peel the outer skin, being careful not to tear the flesh of the chile. With a sharp paring knife, make a long slit the length of each chile and then gently remove and discard all of the seeds. Set the chiles aside while you make the filling.
Heat the oil in a 4 quart saucepan over medium high heat and saute the onion until translucent. Add quinoa and toast for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Add salt, pepper, and 2 cups of water to the quinoa. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until water is absorbed and quinoa is tender. Turn out onto a baking sheet and allow to cool. In a clean pan, saute the mushrooms in butter over high heat. Season lightly with salt and freshly ground black pepper and allow to cool. In a bowl, combine the cooled quinoa and mushrooms with pepper jack cheese, eggs, thyme leaves, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stuff each of the chiles with the filling mixture until they are very full and then set aside while you make the sauce.
To make the Asado Sauce:
Preheat an oven to 400 degrees F.
Quarter the tomatoes and then place into a stainless steel mixing bowl and combine with the onions, garlic, oil, salt, pepper, and thyme. Turn onto a baking sheet and roast in the preheated oven about 15 to 20 minutes or until the tomatoes and onion start to turn black. Remove from the oven and process mixture in a food processor along with the chipotles. In a 4-quart saucepan, combine the processed onion-tomato mixture with the heavy cream and heat over medium-low heat for about 20 minutes. Reduce heat to low and keep the sauce warm until you're ready to serve.
To serve:
Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F.
Place the stuffed chiles into the oven and roast for 20 minutes or until heated through. Ladle enough of the warm asado sauce on 5 dinner plates to form large pools and then place 1 stuffed chile on each plate and serve.