Sunday, March 24, 2013

Vegetable Pot Pie

Vegetable Pot Pie:

Ever So Comfortable

Before I get into this, I want to come clean. This is a total comfort food. Typically, comfort foods are not those you might find on the "healthy choices" menu. But sometimes, we don't want to simply feed our bodies. We want to feed our souls. Sometimes it's nice to just eat something without the constant thought of whether or not it has too much saturated fat, sodium, or cholesterol. So today (but today only) I declare: "Caution be damned! Let's live! Let's feed our souls with reckless abandon! Then after that, let's go to the pub and get hammered!"

I have mentioned, in past postings, the tale of an epic battle with my wife over mushrooms. I love them in spaghetti sauce. On salads. Sauteed and strewn atop an omelette. Marinated, skewered, and grilled. Any application you can think of, I'll probably dig it. However, she will never "dig it", as it were. So, alas, sometimes I just gotta give in, if only to make her happy, and leave them out.......or do I?


While there are no mushrooms in this recipe, I do use a mushroom stock. It adds that certain level of "meatiness" to the dish. For me, this is necessary in a dish that is typically protein-centric. When I first went vegetarian, I tried all the faux meats. The Tofurkeys, The tofu dogs. And quite frankly, I was appalled. Shocked even. Are these people seriously trying to pass this stuff off as edible? Then it occurred to me, if I'm going to be a vegetarian, why would I spend my days trying to fill the void of meat with things that are mechanically manipulated to resemble meat....but aren't meat? That's when the light went on and I had a moment of clarity. If I'm going to be a vegetarian, I am going to own it, dammit!! That being said, there is ONE exception to my rule which is perfectly acceptable, in fact, logical, natural and holds true to my new found belief. I can and should use foods that have naturally occurring "meatiness" to them....that level of savoriness that's comforts the craving that results from years of focusing my meals around meat. One example, mushrooms. Umami.

The stock in this dish is one of the shining stars. To me, it's important. You can use regular vegetable stock and get a great dish. That is certain. But the "over the top" version will have the mushroom stock. You can buy it in stores but it's not always available. You'd have to check higher end markets and find it there. Or you can just make it on your own. Hell, if you're gonna do it, jump in head first and do it right, man. 

Like many of my other recipes, this is the Doctor Frankenstein approach to cooking. It's made up of the bits and pieces that I liked from about 10 other recipes. One of which was a recipe I wrote several years ago for chicken pot pie. Some of that recipe still applies even though it's all veg. 

To give you a little more of the story, after I finished the dish, my wife and I sat down for dinner. I explained to her that I didn't put chunks of mushrooms in the pie. So we sat and ate. I asked her if she liked it. She said: "Yes, it's really good". After we finished our meals and I looked over at her plate. I could do nothing more but smile and think of how much I truly loved her. She had picked out all of the potatoes. 

Vegetable Pot Pie


  • 1 1/3 cups vegetable shortening, chilled
  • 4 2/3 cups all purpose flour, DIVIDED
  • 4 tsp salt, DIVIDED
  • 1/2 tsp thyme, dried
  • 1/2 tsp  rosemary, dried leaves, chopped
  • 1 cup water, ice cold
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 bulb fennel
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 3 medium carrots, diced
  • 2 stalks celery stalks, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 medium potatoes, diced
  • 1 1/2  cups milk
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp celery seed
  • 1 cup peas
  • 1/4 cup chives, fresh, chopped
  • 1/4  cup Italian parsley
  • 1 Tbsp white vinegar
  • 1 egg, beaten


1. Measure out the vegetable shortening and put it in the freezer to chill.

2. Preheat the oven to 425 F.

3. Put 4 cups of the flour into a mixing bowl along with 2 teaspoons of the salt, thyme and the rosemary. Mix to combine.

4. To the flour mixture, add the chilled shortening in 1 to 2 tablespoon dollops to break in it up. Then, using a pastry blender, cut the shortening into the flour until the shortening forms pea sized balls.

5. Then add the ice water, a quarter cup at a time, and mix until the a dough forms. Mix just long enough to form the dough but no longer. Divide the dough in two halves, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

6. Meanwhile, melt the butter over a medium high heat in a heavy bottomed pot. I use a dutch oven. Once the butter is melted, add the fennel, onion, carrots and celery and cook until just soft, about 4 minutes. Then add the potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 6 minutes. TIP: If the ingredients begin to stick to the bottom of the pan, add about a 1/2 cup of water to help stop that.

7. Sprinkle the remaining 2/3 cup of flour over the vegetable mixture, stir to coat, and cook until the raw flavor is gone, about 1 to 2 minutes.

8. Slowly add the stock and the milk, stirring constantly until the mixture is smooth. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.

9. Remove from the heat and add the peas, chives, parsley and the vinegar. Add the remaining two teaspoons of salt. But as always, you can use as much or as little of the salt as you desire.

10. Take your dough from the refrigerator and roll out 1 half of the dough on a floured surface. Make sure it larger enough to cover the bottom of your pan. I use a 9 by 12 baking dish so try to find comparable in size. Spray the pan with cooking spray and then line the bottom of the pan with the rolled out dough, making sure you also line the walls of the pan. Turn your filling into the dough lined pan and distribute evenly.

11. Roll out the second half or your dough thick enough to cover the top and place it over the top of your filling, crimping it with your fingers to the bottom half of the dough.

12. Whisk the egg in a bowl and brush the dough with the egg. Then cut slits in to dough top to vent. Place the baking dish in the oven until the crust is golden brown and the the filling is bubbling, about 30 to 35 minutes.

13. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes and serve.

Servings: 9

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Mushroom Stock:

Ever So Magical

Let me start this post with something corny. What did one mushroom say about the other mushroom?........"He's a fungi to be with."  Ba Dum Tshhhh!

Now get up off the floor from laughing so hard. Really. It wasn't that funny. What's the matter with you?

Mushrooms. What can I say about mushrooms....ummmm....they rock. Plain and simple. However, they are the subject of epic battles between my better half and I. She does not prefer them, to say the very, VERY least. In fact, "does not prefer" doesn't quite capture her true feelings about them. A better illustration might involve a photo of her (cute) crinkled nose, squinted eyes, her tongue hanging out, coupled with this sound: "Blechh!" However, for me, as a now vegetarian and former meat freak, the hearty flavor they impart always seems to satisfy that crave for something "meaty". I dunno, let's call it umami. Yeah, that's a good word for it. Hence, they're essential in filling that gap. But who am I kidding? I loved them as a meat eater as well. I'm no stranger to a mushroom burger, let me assure you. 

The more I distance myself from the world of prepackaged and processed foods, the more I enjoy exploring the world of scratch cooking. For example, you can use canned stock for any dish that calls for stock. And store-bought stock is fine, it'll get you there. But the problem with that is that you never really have a true understanding of your creation. I mean from the ground up. It's missing that extra little bit of love that the dish deserves. You see, each and every dish you make will soak in all the love you can give it. It'll add that element of freshness to your meal. Of personal satisfaction. A certain sense of accomplishment. And the best part of the whole thing is that all the love you put into it is only on loan. Trust me. At the dinner table, you'll get every bit of it back. I think McCartney said it best: "In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make". Not sure if he was talking about mushroom stock but, hey, stranger things have happened, right? 

This is my personal hybrid of about 20 different recipes. It's a great combo of all ingredients. However, as with any recipe, you should feel free to fool around with it all.  Especially the mushrooms. You may question why I only use button and crimini mushrooms (which I understand are basically the same vegetable). And that's valid. In this recipe I used a half and half combo of crimini and white button mushrooms. Why? First of all, I'm whimsical, unpredictable, and most desirably enigmatic. In fact, I'm downright irresistible. But you already knew this. And if, perchance, you didn't already know, read this post again, at which time you will have read this post already and, therefore, already know. What? I'm confusing me.

Secondly, I'm not a multi-millionaire. Let's face it, shrooms ain't cheap. You can get just where you need to be by using the common mushroom. If you want to add shiitake, portabella, porcini, enoki, oyster, morel, etc, by all means, go ahead. It's your thang. But to spend $20 bucks on two quarts of stock might be a bit pricey for most folk (such as myself). I like the $10 dollar range a tad bit better.

Mushroom Stock


  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 leek, halved lengthwise, rinsed, and sliced crosswise into 1-inch pieces (white and pale green parts only)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, large dice
  • 1 rib celery, chopped
  • 6 clove garlic, crushed
  • 2 pounds white/crimini mushrooms, quartered
  • 6 Italian parsley sprigs, chopped
  • ¼ cup fresh chives, chopped
  • 3 sprigs fresh rosemary (2 tsp dried rosemary)
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ cup Marsala wine
  • 12 cups water


1. Heat the oil in a large heavy bottomed pot over a medium heat until shimmering. Add the carrots, leek, onion, and celery. Stir frequently until onions and leeks are softened, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, about 1 minute. 

2. Add the mushrooms, parsley, chives, rosemary, thyme, bay leaf, peppercorns and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms start to release some moisture, about 4 minutes. 

3. Add the Marsala and cook until evaporated, about 5 minutes. 

4. Add the water and bring to a boil. Drop the heat and simmer until the stock is reduced to 8 cups, approximately 1 hour to an 1 hour and 20 minutes. Strain the stock, preferably using a chinois. If not, line a strainer with cheese cloth and strain the liquid. Press the solids with large spoon to extract the final liquids / flavor. 

Yield: 8 cups 


Monday, March 11, 2013

Mexican Rice:

A.K.A. Arroz Mexicano

Many people refer to this dish as Spanish rice however it's actually not made in Spain. Go to Spain and ask for it. They will look at you all cock-eyed. Looks like this one is a Mexican dish through and through. And quite a tasty one at that.

I've been eating Mexican rice all my life. Growing up in a (mostly) Mexican family, it was something my grandma always had on hand. That and her refried beans. Those are very good memories, let me tell you. However, these days, I gotta abstain from such delights because she cooks the rice with chicken stock  and the beans are made with bacon fat. But, as the old saying goes, "necessity is the mother of invention". Which goes hand in hand with the saying "where there's a will, there's a way". That being said, I have embarked on this little mission of mine to make food taste just as good as, if not better than, the original meat-centric dishes. And think of all the little creatures still wandering this good Earth that will thank you for their lives.

I love cruisin' past farms and seeing those cows out there. I yell at them, "I don't eat you!!". They look at me like I'm crazy. One day, I'm gonna have a farm where I can save these poor bastards. I'm gonna have an old folks home for cows, goats, dogs, cats, and whoever wants to come and chill at the crib. 

As I build my Mexican recipe collection, this was obviously one the first recipes I had to get right. I tried several different recipes and combos thereof before I came across this one. I happen to love this recipe. It's lighter in color than some of the recipes I've run across that, to me, call for way too much tomato. I like to keep it simple. I don't want chunks of tomato, peas, corn or anything like that in my rice. Yes, you read it right...peas and corn. What? Oh no he di'int put peas in his rice! Just give me a milder tomato flavor infused with straight rice. Save the peas for your fried rice, people. Or better yet, put them in a pot pie (coming soon to blog near you).   

This is a side dish. That much is definitely true. But it's also a great one to roll up in a tortilla with some beans, diced onion, cilantro, a splash of lime juice and something spicy. Knock 'em back with a cold brewski and it doesn't get much better than that.........Crap, now I'm hungry. 

Arroz Mexicano


  • 4 Tbsp vegetable oil (I like to use peanut oil)
  • 2 cups long grain white rice
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 cup diced onion
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 4 cups vegetable stock


1. Rinse the rice in a strainer under cold water until the water runs clear, about a minute to a minute and a half. Then let it drain very well. This is going to help stop the rice from being sticky and should help it to fluff up nice. 

2. Heat the oil in a pot over a medium high heat. Add the rice and fry until the rice begin the brown just a little.  Add the cumin, salt and onions and continue to fry for another minute or so. 

3. Add Add the tomato sauce and vegetable stock to pot and bring to a boil. 

4. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover the pot and let simmer until all the water is absorbed, about 15-20 minutes. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Habanero Hot Pepper Sauce:

Slow Burn

I have always had an affinity for all things hot. Ever since I can remember, I have doused my food in hot sauce, salsa, pepper sauce and whatever else that would give my meal a kick. When I was much younger, it was all about the heat. The hotter the better. I mean, what better way to draw attention to yourself than to eat the hottest peppers around. It's obviously the measure of a man, right? The hotter the sauce you can eat, the more manly you are?........
Young men can be foolish. I remember the first time I ever saw a habanero pepper. It was probably about 10 years ago. I was at my brother-in-laws house. He had a few of them on the counter and asked me if I'd ever heard if them before. I told him no as I popped one in my mouth. He did that "nooooo" thing as his he reached forward as if to snatch it back out of my mouth. I said "Don't worry dude, I'm a REAL man. I can handle it". And I did too. But I'll admit, I did tear up a bit and the second he left the room, I guzzled down the beer I'd been drinking. I never did that again. I can look back on it now and smile. It was a good time back then and I learned a lot from it. The difference now is that I got nothing to prove. And that makes life much easier. 

But times have changed. My hair is bit grayer. My belly is tad larger. I nap more often that used to. One thing I learned from those days is that heat is not the end. Sure, heat is all well and good and don't get me wrong, I still love a good burn. But it's only one little part of a much larger and much prettier picture. 

For me, these days, the most important element to any hot sauce, above anything else, is the flavor. That's why I did my searching for a good sauce that contained habaneros. Yes, they are hot. I got that. And believe me, there are much hotter peppers out there. If fact, habs are on the milder side of things these days compared to nasty little beasts such as the Bhut Julokia. Google it, just don't eat it. 

I like habs because underneath all that fiery exterior lies a sweet little thing with so much love to give. Unfortunately, it seems most folks never get past that exterior. But trust me, if you can, you'll soon realize they are fruity. There's an element of citrus. They are truly are wonderful. 

This recipe was inspired by a recipe written by one of my favorite bloggers, Lisa Fain of The Homesick Texan. Oddly enough, the recipe was actually found on another site: Serious Eats. I did change it to my liking. I'm a bit more anal about measurements so I dialed those in a little more. Also, I made this one a bit brighter, saltier and wetter. I wanted it to play more like "hot pepper sauce" than a salsa. So the outcome here is completely different then the original recipe. Hope you like it.

Habanero Hot Pepper Sauce


  • 1 Tbsp olive oil (or vegetable oil)
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 2 medium roma tomatoes, quartered then cored
  • 1/4 yellow onion, sliced
  • 6 habaneros, halved
  • 3 garlic clove, crushed
  • 3 Tbsp lime juice (use fresh limes, not that bottled crap)
  • 2 Tbsp white vinegar
  • Salt to taste (I use 2-3 tsp)
  • 1 cup water


1. Heat the oil in a skillet on medium heat. Add carrots and saute for about 5 minutes. Add the tomato, onion, habaneros, and garlic. Continue to cook, stirring frequently until the tomato starts to break down, about another 4 minutes or so. 

2. Place the contents of the skillet into a blender. Add lime juice, vinegar and 1 half cup of the water. Blend until smooth. Continue to add water until you reach the desired consistency. 

3. Add the salt to taste


My favorite thing is to splash this sauce on my eggs and wrap it up in a tortilla. 

This goes good on tacos as well as being served with chips.