The. Best. Idea. Ever.

I love pasta. Love it. With tomato sauce, even more. Add some cheese, a ragu, a Bolognese, braised meat (back in the day), cream sauce, broth… I am far from fussy when it comes to preparation. Pasta, and bread alike, are just comfort foods in my world. Pair them with something horribly naughty, like salted butter and a glass of rustic red wine and I’m set.

Bah… but it sticks to my ass, the pasta. I often feel bloated after eating it as well, and in the end, wonder  if it’s even worth the indulgence. So what to do? How can I have a faux Bolognese if the pasta itself makes me feel gross? Replace it with something else (dare I say it… something BETTER!!?)

IMG_1791

Squash or courgette – sliced into fat ribbons or passed through a spiralizer (I am assuming there as I don’t have one, myself) make for a lovely “pasta” dish. The texture is eerily similar. The taste mild. I try to cook the slices for just the right amount of time (maybe a few minutes) in order to leave it firm, but not crunchy. The worst-case scenario is overcooked, which I’ve also done, and it’s mushy.

So, the above photo is my interpretation of a summer pasta. I made a light white wine sauce with fresh herbs, tossed in tomatoes and peas, and then topped it with (too much by the looks of it) shaved Italian cheese.

I don’t think you can make a recipe for this… but it’s easy enough to wing it and come up with your own ideas. I’ve done it now a myriad of ways… white cream sauce with peas (love’em!) and mushrooms, seared tuna and white wine, shrimp and white wine, spicy with soy chopped meat (sort of a Bolognese, but with mad heat).

Usually what I do, is make the sauce and other components in a wok, and then when it’s nearly finished, I plop in the entire wad of stripped courgette, toss it into the mix and put the lid on. After 4 minutes or so, I toss it again, and that’s it. It still cooks a bit from pot to plate to mouth, so it’s almost always worked out perfectly… except the mushy time.

Because I like it hot

I live in the Netherlands, and this year so far we’ve had 6 months of winter, 1.5 months of spring, and a week of summer. In the past few days, the temperature has gotten upwards of 33 degrees celsius and it’s uncomfortable no matter what you wear or what you do – unless you’re fortunate enough to find some airco. When I saw a recipe for a chickpea wrap in a sauce of sriracha, I have to admit that I was sort of sceptical as to whether it was an appropriate choice – all things considered, but I went ahead with the dish and really, I have no regrets about that decision. This is a fantastic recipe, which I found at Olives for Dinner. The most unfortunate thing in this case is that I forgot to photograph the end result. These things happen when you’re racing to pull all the last-minute details together (like forgetting to go out to the garden for fresh cilantro) and you have hungry dinner guests.

What did I change from Erin’s recipe? (and I say Erin because it’s the closest thing I could find re: her name) A few things. For one, I didn’t slow cook mine, but rather I simmered it for about an hour whilst preparing the rest of the meal (and some fantastic popsicles, which I felt might be well received in the heat and with a burning mouth – and I was right!) Anyway, I don’t have access to Earth Balance here, and I also feel uncomfortable about using some dairy replacements, so I did add a tablespoon of pure butter to my chickpeas. I had some leftover herbed goat cheese that needed to be eaten, so I tossed that in as well. I believe it was about 3 tablespoons, and what it did in the end was thicken the sauce a little. Ah and I also don’t have access to Tofutti so I used fat-free plain kwark with my avocado and it was really awesome. I did add some soy “chicken” bits to the dish to add a meaty element for my meat-eating dinner guests and whilst browning them in a separate pan, I gave them a few sprays of Liquid Smoke. The jury is still out on Liquid Smoke, as I feel that it has some sort of artificial taste that doesn’t sit well with me, however, I LOVE smoked anything (this is a lie, as I don’t eat smoked fish, for example, or smoked pork, so I’m using exaggeration to stress my fondness for it. You get it, right?) and sometimes, I just want that flavour in my food.

And – how was it? It was SPICY! Everyone had seconds, complimented the avocado sauce, and said they’d want to have it again. It ended up working well with the sweltering heat, since we were all sweating anyway, and what’s a little runny nose?

Is there anything I’d change about this dish? Not really. I might add some lime to the avocado and serve a sweet, sliced baby tomato and cucumber salad on the side. I did this last night and really, it was nice to have something to cool my palate. I’d also suggest serving this with homemade lemonade or something with a fresh flavour that’s soft on your tongue.

Overall – this scored an 8 out of 10 and it’s going into my recipe book. I think I have a new appreciation for the uses of sriracha and will be a bit more ballsy about it moving forward. As a sauce – it ROCKED! Thanks Erin!

Buffalo Chickpea Soft Tacos with Avocado Sour Cream

My nemesis… homemade veggie burgers

I’ve decided that I’m going to try several recipes that I have on hand and review each one here. I’ve tried veggie burgers in the past, and consistently what I struggle with, is texture. I think that’s a common dilemma… how do you get the burger to stay in one piece when grilling it?

Here’s my first try: The Protein Powerhouse by Veggie & the Beast Why did I start with this burger? To be honest, it’s because of the high protein content. I eat a mainly vegetarian diet and despite having loads of greens on most days, I’m not cutting it in the protein department. I also love beluga lentils, and thought they would add such fantastic texture. This recipe is actually spot on, in that it made the amount of burgers specified, plus a baby burger. The texture of the burgers when wet was thick, dense, and slightly sticky but I had no problem forming them, even without refrigerating the batter for an hour, as suggested. To make them I used a tart pan, and flipped them once whilst cooking.

 burger patty

Since this makes 11.5 burgers, I froze the remaining patties and take them out whenever I fancy one. They’re great with a salad, which is really handy for when I’m at work and want a filling lunch that will satiate me until the evening.

The end result was also quite dense and filling. I left the beluga lentils slightly firm which I’m happy about as the burgers had a wee crunch, along with the walnuts. I’ve never used “flax egg” before, so I’m not really sure if it made a difference, but the burgers were quite resilient to being flipped and later eaten. How could these have been improved? I must admit, that one thing I miss from a beef burger is a bit of grill flavour and charring on the outer bits. Could you grill these and achieve a similar result? I’m not sure. Katie does make the suggestion in her post, and I think it might be worth a try. Here is my meal, to celebrate my 1 year anniversary with E, with homemade sweet potato fries and a lovely bottle of red wine procured on a recent trip to Sardinia. Perfection? Pretty damn close! Thanks Katie, for the recipe.

burger dinner

Ever made a quinch?

That’s what my mother calls them… you may know it as a “quiche”. I’m not really fond of eggs, but I can manage them in a quiche as long as it has really delicious and flavorful ingredients. To me, less egg, more veg and cheese is ideal. So, I found myself attending a small party over the holidays and wanted to make something special, and decided to try it out. I deliberated over using a nice quiche dough mix that I found at the Eko Plaza or making one from scratch. I have horrible luck with dough. My pizza making endeavors never really pan out… so I really didn’t know if this was going to be a good time to try again but I did. Well, E did. We do most of our cooking together, or at least share the prep work. This crust from Life’s a Feast is really very easy. In fact, I made it this week on my own and it was a breeze.

Pastry Crust for Quiche (Makes about 8 x 4 1/2 –inch (11 cm) individual quiches):

  • 1 3/4 cups (245 g) flour
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp sugar
  • 12 ½ Tbs (180 g) unsalted butter, cubed (yes, that’s no typo. 12 1/2 tablespoons!)
  • 4 – 6 Tbs cold water

Place the flour, salt and sugar in a bowl. Add the cubes of butter, tossing to coat with flour. My butter was pretty soft and I cubed it small so it’s very easy to mash it into the mixture as you toss them in. Using the tips of your fingers and thumbs, rub the butter and flour together rapidly, as if pushing the butter into the flour, until the mixture is crumbly and it resembles damp sand. Do not overwork this mixture as the butter will melt and start to clump; it will be blended better later.

Add about 4 tablespoons of the cold water and blend vigorously with a fork. Add more water, up to 2 more tablespoons, but only as much as needed, onto the dry flour and continue to stir up from the bottom until all of the dry ingredients are moistened and the dough begins to pull together in a shaggy ball. Once you add the water, the dough starts to form into a ball right away.

Scrape the dough out onto a floured work surface. With the heel of one hand, rapidly smear and push the dough onto the surface and away from you, about a tablespoon of dough at a time, smearing it onto the work surface. This will complete the blending of the butter and the flour. Don’t over analyse this instruction. Just put the dough on the surface and use the hell of your hand to push it away from you, working small. You’ll see if there are any spots where the butter hasn’t mixed. I think because I used softer butter I didn’t have much of an issue here.

Scrape the dough up and gather it into a ball. Knead gently and briefly, just enough to make a smooth ball of dough. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate until firm enough to roll out easily, about 15 minutes.

Now is the time to:

  1. Butter your baking pan
  2. Prep the filling for your “quinch”
  3. Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C)

For my filling, I decided to use this roasted tomato and feta recipe as a base, but I ended up changing it quite a bit.

Roasted tomato and feta quiche photo

Basic Quiche Filling: for 12 x 4 ½-inch quiches(make 6 then refrigerate the rest of the batter for a day or two for a new batch with different flavors)

  • 3 large eggs *
  • 1 cup heavy cream, light cream or part cream/part milk *

                * for 6 quiche use 2 large eggs + ½ cup cream

  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Dash nutmeg
  • Cherry tomatoes – 2 or 3 per quiche worked well on my individual tart sizes. You will have to decide how many you’d like in a larger one, but I’d suggest that you not skimp on that as the roasted tomato flavour really makes this quiche outstanding
  • 3 ½ oz (100 g) feta cheese, coarsely crumbled or chopped (for 6 quiches) – I used herbed Chèvre (goat’s cheese) instead as I thought it would pack more flavor and I was right! For my mini quiches, I placed one round slice in each, and gently mashed it with a fork
  • Handful of rocket (arugula, rucola, roquette), coarsely chopped – I used spinach, cooking and salting it gently in a touch of water over medium heat. I drained it well and then added a bit to each tart
  • Handful pine nuts I opted out on these as I do not fancy them
  • Sliced black olives – My own addition

Now, IF you are going to use roasted veg in your quiche, why not do this part at the beginning, before you start your dough? You can put your oven to an appropriate roasting temperature, and do the following:

Start by roasting the cherry tomatoes: Stir together 2 tablespoons olive oil with 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar in a glass baking dish or pie plate. Season with a little salt and pepper and add 2
peeled and crushed garlic cloves. Toss the cherry tomatoes into the flavored oil and roast for about 20 minutes or until the skins are split and shriveled and the tomatoes start to show signs of roasting (a bit golden). Remove from the oven and allow to cool while preparing the rest.

Assuming you have all your veg roasted, chopped, and prepped for use, prepare your liquid filling: Measure out the cream or cream/milk in a large measuring cup and whisk in the eggs. Season with salt, pepper and a dash of nutmeg (totally do the nutmeg. It makes such a difference). Doing this in a measuring cup or glass with a spout or pouring lip is ideal for pouring into individual or mini quiche/tartlet tins avoiding a mess. I used a ladle with a lip, which was perfect for the mini quiche cups.

Place your mini quiche tins on 1 larger pan, and start adding your filling. Place your cheese in each cup. I lightly mashed mine with a fork. Add in 2 or 3 roasted cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, a few olives, and a bit of spinach. Now whisk the quiche batter so it is blended and pour carefully into the shells. Fill up each shell
only about ¾ full as it puffs up and rises as it bakes. Sprinkle each quiche with pine nuts (if you’d like).

Slide the whole baking tray with the filled quiche tins into the oven and bake for about 40 minutes or until the filling is puffed up and set. The top – or at least the edges – should be a deep golden color.

Via: Life’s a Feast