Black bean and tomato tart with two cheeses

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Disclosure: I received a gift card to offset the expense of the ingredients used in this recipe. By posting this recipe I am entering a recipe contest sponsored by the California Milk Advisory Board and am eligible to win prizes associated with the contest. I was not compensated for my time.

And with that out of the way, onto the content…

I’ve mentioned our love of cheese-based baked comfort dishes in the past, and this past winter I’ve found that a casserole, tart, or even frittata is a great meal for a “special” but manageable Sunday dinner. During the week we’re generally to cramped for time to wait for a main dish to bake, but on Sundays there’s a bit more time available. But, I still like to spend most of my Sunday kitchen time getting things prepped for the week ahead, which is where a simple baked dish gets truly perfect. I stick it in the oven, set the timer, and forget about it while going about the rest of my business. M. is completely taken with the idea of a skillet casserole, tart, or pie too!

So when I heard that the California Milk Advisory Board was looking for recipes featuring California cheeses, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to share one of the skillet pies we’ve been enjoying recently. It features a substantial crust of polenta and cottage cheese, and a hearty filling of black beans, tomatoes, and a blend of more cottage cheese plus a California Dry Jack that I discovered a few months back at our favorite place for cheese, the Milk Pail (they have a HUGE cheese selection, including a substantial selection of local California options).

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The dry jack cheese has a firmer texture than the run-of-the-mill jack you find in most grocery stores, with a slightly “nuttier” flavor. It’s not a super strong cheese, but it does have a distinctive, if subtle flavor. I mixed it with cottage cheese in the filling to add a bit of moisture and creaminess, not to mention a substantial protein boost. And, living in California, it was easy for me to find a California version!

Black bean and tomato pie with two cheeses
serves 8-12

Ingredients
For the crust:
2 c. polenta meal
2.5 c. water
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. cottage cheese

For the filling:
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, cut into 1/2″ dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp ancho chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
20 ox cherry tomatoes, halved (or use regular tomatoes, cut half of them into thick slices and dice the other half).
5 c. black beans
1 c. cottage cheese
1/2 tsp. salt, or to taste
8 oz. California Dry Jack cheese, grated

Method

1. In a medium sized saucepan over medium heat, combine the polenta, salt, and water. Bring to a boil, then turn heat to low and cook, stirring frequently, for 10-15 minutes, until all water has been absorbed. Stir in cottage cheese, cover pot, and remove from heat. Allow to cool while you prepare the filling.

2. In a 12″ cast iron skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the onions and saute until soft and slightly translucent, 8-10 minutes. Add the garlic and saute for 4-5 minutes longer, until the onions are just starting to brown. Add the chili powder, cumin, and red pepper flakes, stir together to combine ingredients, then remove from heat. Place onions in a large bowl, wipe out and lightly grease the skillent, and start oven preheating to 350F.

3. Add cottage cheese and 4 oz jack cheese to the onion mixture and stir to combine all ingredients. Add black beans and 1/2 tomato mixture.

4. By this time, the polenta should be cool enough to touch and semi-solid. Place polenta in the greased skillet and press into a crust. Pour the bean, tomato, and cheese filling into the crust, then arrange the remaining 10 oz. tomatoes on top.

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5. Bake for 30 minutes, then add the remaining 4 oz of cheese and bake for 15-20 minutes. Remove pie from oven and allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.

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P.S. I realize I’ve fallen off the deep end with sharing recipes lately, but I’m hoping to have a bit more free time starting next month–I have lots of dishes I want to share still!

Creamy date-sweetened spiced cocoa (vegan)

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Something is finally pulling me out of my little blogging hibernation of the past few weeks–my inaugural post for the Recipe Redux! For those of you not familiar, the Recipe Redux is a monthly recipe challenge “focused on taking delicious dishes, keeping them delicious, but making them better for you”. I’m pretty excited to participate!

February’s theme for the Redux was beverages. Earlier this month we had our first really good rain of the winter (a very VERY good thing), and I mixed up this spicy and lightly sweetened cocoa as an antidote to the cold and damp. I added a little hazelnut butter into the mix, which elevated the cocoa to an entirely new level of luxuriousness. It made watching the rain come down that much more enjoyable–winter weather is generally best for viewing, not participating in, right?

This recipe is a little labor intensive, what with the toasting of hazelnuts and the multi-step grinding process, but the good news is that the cocoa paste/base will keep for a while (at least a week) in the fridge, or you can freeze it. So if you’re so inclined, use your next homebound weekend to make a double or triple batch, then break it out as needed through the rest of the winter.

Creamy date-sweetened spiced cocoa (vegan)
serves 4

Ingredients
1/4 c. hazelnuts
8 pitted deglet noor dates
1/2 c. cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. chili powder
3 c. almond milk (if making cocoa immediately)

1. Toast the hazelnuts: Place nuts in a skillet over medium heat. Stir frequently for 5-7 minutes, or until skins turn dark brown and begin to flake off. Remove nuts from heat and place in a piece of paper or a tea towel. Twist the nuts in the paper/towel and rub for ~30 seconds. The skins should have largely fallen off.

2. Place the skinned nuts in a food processor fitted with the metal S-blade and process until a nut butter has formed, 5-10 minutes. Add the dates and process for 30 seconds. Scrape down sides and repeat until a relatively homogenous paste has formed. Add the cocoa, cinnamon, nutmeg and chili powder and process until dry ingredients are completely incorporated. The mixture should hold together if packed, but will form small granules otherwise:

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3. If making the cocoa base for later use, pack the mix into 8 slightly rounded tablespoons (2 per serving). If making cocoa immediately, heat the almond milk until it is almost boiling. Pour ~1/4 c. of almond milk into the food processor with cocoa base and blend to form a thick sludge. Add the remaining milk and blend for 20-30 seconds, until the base is fully incorporated. The cocoa will be slightly frothy.

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Serve warm and enjoy!

You can see other recipes for the February Recipe Redux by clicking below:

Sesame nori crackers (vegan, gluten free)

Sesame nori crackers

I love reading other food blogs. Often, it’s just because I love seeing (and trying) other people’s great recipes. But sometimes another food blog also kicks me off towards trying something new of my own. Case in point, last week Gena put together a great post on packing your own healthy and vegan lunch. The post included some photos and descriptions of her lunches, and one of the items was described as a raw cracker with nori. I’d been having salty crunchy foods on the brain all week, and the mention of nori immediately sent my mind over to those little puffed rice snacks that sometimes come wrapped in nori. Obviously, my Friday afternoon was going to be spent making some nori crackers (un-raw variety).

Sesame nori crackers

I’m doing a pretty strict elimination diet right now in a bid to wean myself off sugar (for the curious, I’m using the diet plan outlined in Alejandro Junger’s book Clean as the template), so crackers with wheat flour were going to be right out. Also, no eggs to bind things together. I’ve tried making vegan crackers with straight almond flour in the past and they’ve always lacked structural stability (I probably need to use a finer grind of almond flour instead of cheaping out and making my own all the time). I went looking for some other ideas and lo and behold, another of my favorite bloggers has a recipe for vegan gluten free crackers that use a mix of rice flour and almond meal. I didn’t have any rice flour, but I did just become the proud owner of this massive container of rice protein powder. That could work, right? High protein, salty, crunchy snack food, here I come!

It took a little playing around, but I did finally wind up with a cracker with that salty, tangy flavor I was going for. Using the rice protein powder also worked out really well–the crackers weren’t as grainy as some of my previous all-almond crackers, and they held together really well too (I’m sure the flax meal also contributes to that). They aren’t quite like crackers made from wheat (obviously), but I’d say they compare favorably with any of the store-bought gluten free crackers I’ve tried. P

Sesame nori crackers

Sesame nori crackers
Makes aproximately 30 crackers

Ingredients
1/2 c. unflavored brown rice protein powder
1/2 c. raw almonds
2 tbsp ground flax seed
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp sesame oil
3 tbsp tamari sauce
1/4 c. + 1 tbsp water
1/4 c. sesame seeds
2 sheets dried nori seaweed, cut into small strips or pieces

Method
1. In a food processor fitted with the metal S-blade, combine all ingredients except the sesame seeds and nori. Grind until mixture takes on the consistency of a thick paste. Add the sesame seeds and incorporate with a few quick pulses. Remove dough from processor and allow to sit for at least 15 minutes (this step will allow the flax meal to absorb excess liquid and make the dough less sticky).

2. Press dough out onto a sheet of parchment paper, forming a rough rectangle about 3/4″ thick. Spread 1/3 of the seaweed pieces across the dough, then fold dough into thirds. Repeat this step twice more to incorporate the remaining nori. Continue pressing and folding dough until nori is incorporated throughout dough.

3. Preheat oven to 400F. Layer a second piece of parchment paper across the top of the dough and roll to desired thickness (mine were a little over 1/8″). Use a butter knife or a pizza cutter to cut dough into squares. Transfer the bottom sheet of parchment paper, with crackers on it, to a baking sheet. Bake at 400F for 8-12 minutes, until crackers are slightly browned. Remove from oven and allow too cool. Crackers will firm up and become crisper with cooling.

Curried red lentil soup

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Come January, I always seem to be craving foods that are a little lighter, “cleaner”, healthier, whatever. This soup is one result of those cravings. I made a big crockpot of it on New Year’s day, had some friends over for dinner, and served it alongside a salad of mixed greens and lemon tahini dressing. I cooked up another batch today, so it seemed an appropriate time to share the recipe.

I can’t speak for everyone, but I find lentils, while delicious, cheap, and nutritious, can get a little heavy and stodgy on their own. This recipe breaks up the lentils with a slew of vegetables, then fires and brightens with the addition of Thai chilis and a dash of lime juice. Coconut milk adds a creamy finish that separates the dish from your stereotypical cheap student fare (without actually breaking the grocery budget, excellent). If you’re feeling yourself held a little too closely in winter’s grip, this soup is sure to loosen it’s hold with a shot of delicious at the dinner table.

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Curried red lentil soup
Serves 8-10

Ingredients
3 c. dried red lentils
4 tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions, cut into 1/2″ dice
4 cloves garlic
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 3/4″ dice
3 zucchini or yellow squash, cut into 3/4″ dice
2 stalks of celery, cut into 3/4″ dice
3 Thai chili peppers, finely diced
2 tbsp yellow curry powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
8 c. vegetable broth
1 14-oz can coconut milk.
Juice of one lime

Method

1. Soak lentils in cold water overnight (you can skip this step, plan on extending the cooking time by 10-20 minutes, and adding additional liquid). When ready to make the soup, place lentils in a large soup or stockpot

2. In a large skillet, heat 2 tbsp of the olive oil to medium heat. Saute the onions until soft and slightly translucent, 6-10 minutes. Add the garlic and saute 2-3 minutes more. Transfer onion and garlic mixture to stockpot with lentils.

3. Add 1 tbsp oil to skillet, saute carrots for 8-12 minutes, until soft and with a few browned edges. Transfer to stockpot. Repeat with zucchini and celery.

4. Add chilis, curry powder, cumin, and coriander. Turn heat to medium and stir all ingredients together until evenly coated with spices. Continue stirring for 2 minutes more. Add broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook soup, covered, for 25-30 minutes, until lentils are cooked through and soft. Add coconut milk and lime juice and allow soup to heat through. Remove from heat and serve.

Tahini lemon dressing

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There’s something about having a 4lb jar of tahini in your fridge. You just start wanting to add it to everything. Hummus (no surprise there), cookies (a little less typical), and today, salad dressing.

Normally I’m not a huge salads-in-winter person, but when the produce market keeps putting 3lbs for $3 bags of salad greens front and center at the entrance, well…habits can change.

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This dressing is a riff on a recipe that I first saw in my old standby, Vegan with A Vengeance, but I’ve played around with the preparation and simplified things by using the microwave rather than the stovetop to “cook” the garlic. All you purists out there, use the stovetop, but I like the speed and ease that the microwave provides.

Tahini lemon dressing
makes ~1/2c. of dressing

Ingredients
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed or finely minced
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
juice of 1 lemon (~2 tbsp)
3 tbsp tahini
1/4 c. water

Method
1. In a small microwave safe bowl, heat the oil on high power for 30 seconds. Add the garlic (be careful handling the bowl, it may get very hot), and microwave for 20 seconds more. Allow to cool for at least 1 minute.

2. Add the balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, and tahini to the oil and garlic. Stir together, the tahini will initially seize up and become stiff, continue stirring until the mixture is smooth. Add 2 tbsp of water and stir until smooth again. Add the remaining 2 tbsp of water if needed (this will depend upon your preferred dressing consistency).

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Add to salad and enjoy!

This dressing will keep in the fridge for several days, you may need to thin it out with a little more water or olive oil if it stiffens up after refrigeration.

White bean and butternut bake (gluten free)

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M. and I are back on the west coast, after a relaxing week visiting family and old friends back in NC. We woke up on New Year’s Eve at 4AM, hopped a non-stop flight, and arrived home just before midday. Needless to say, we were completely knackered and did not stay up to ring in the New Year. But we did manage to polish off the last of this casserole (stored in the freezer after the November batch cook day) for our final meal of 2013.

M. and I both love cheesy baked casseroles and lasagnas, and this dish was devised as a healthier twist on that favorite theme. I blended ricotta with white beans to create a creamy filling, layered it with sauteed onion and slices of butternut squash, then topped with parmesan and put the whole concoction into the oven. I also used this recipe to experiment a bit with the sage + squash combination I seem to find popping up everywhere these days. I was initially dubious, but after having made this casserole a few times, I’m definitely realizing I should have gotten over those doubts earlier! It’s an unexpected but delightful taste pairing.

I made this casserole using our 12″ cast iron skillet as the baking vessel, but you can also use a 13 x 9″ covered baking dish as a substitute if you prefer.

White Bean and Butternut Bake (gluten free)
serves 8-10

Ingredients
1 butternut squash (~4 lbs), peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2″ slices
2 c. cooked white beans
1 c. ricotta cheese
1 tsp salt
8-10 twists of freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, cut into 1/4″ dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp dried sage leaves
4 oz. parmesan cheese, grated

Method
1. Place squash slices in a microwave safe dish with 2 tbsp water, cover, and microwave on high power for 6 minutes.

2. Combine white beans, ricotta, pepper, and salt in a food processor fitted with the metal s-blade, and process until smooth. Taste, and add more salt or pepper if needed.

3. In 12″ skillet, heat the olive oil. Saute onion for 12-15 minutes over medium heat, until beginning to brown and caramelize slightly. Add the garlic and sage and saute for 3-5 minutes more. Remove onions from pan and begin oven preheating to 400F

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4. Lightly oil the skillet or baking dish, then arrange a layer of squash on the bottom. Top with 1/3 of the bean and ricotta mixture, and 1/2 of the onions. Repeat this layering twice more, omitting the onion on the final layer. If there are any remaining squash slices, arrange them on top of the dish, then top with the grated parmesan.

5. Bake, covered for 45 minutes. Uncover and continue baking until parmesan is beginning to brown, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.

Curried cauliflower and sweet potato soup (vegan)

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Last week, the almost unthinkable happened. It got cold here. Temperatures dipped below freezing overnight! I wore a heavy wool sweater and my fleece-lined winter raincoat and a scarf and gloves to walk to work! We broke out the fuzzy slippers and the hot water bottles and generally hunkered down. And I made soup.

I love soup at almost any time of year, but when it’s cold out (and all you hardier types in areas where there is “real winter” can stop laughing at my reaction to a little flirting with the freezing point now, thanks), soup can especially hit the spot. Some how a hot bowl of liquid just warms you up that much faster than a hot plate of solids.

Of course, for your extra cold weather, you want an extra warming and satisfying bowl of soup. For this recipe, I add a hefty dose of spicy Thai chilis, and temper them with a can of coconut milk. Cauliflower to make sure we’re still getting some vegetable matter in, and sweet potato for a hint of sweetness and a nice dose of starch (vital when your body is fighting to maintain homeostasis, right?). Blend it all together, and the result is a thick, velvety soup with a sneaky kick of heat (for those of you who prefer a milder soup, I’d suggest adding just one chili pepper, then increasing the heat in individual bowls with a little hot sauce as desired).

M., who has a pretty low tolerance for consecutive nights of the same dinner, actually requested that we eat this soup for dinner on Monday, he loved it so much on Sunday night. The weather’s warmed up again this week, but I’ll have this recipe filed away and ready to deploy for the next little freeze. For those of you who are still feeling winter’s grip, try this to help you through.

Because we’re almost always freezing some part of our soups and trying to maximize available freezer space, the recipe below doesn’t contain a lot of liquid and may come out too thick for some tastes. Feel free to dilute individual bowls with a little more hot broth before serving to achieve your desired consistency.

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Curried Cauliflower and Sweet Potato Soup
serves 8

Ingredients
2 tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions, roughly diced
3 cloves garlic
3 Thai chili peppers (the very small green kind)
3 tbsp curry powder
1 tsp asafoetida powder*
1 sweet potato (about 6 oz), peeled and cut into 8-10 pieces
1 head of cauliflower (approx. 2 lbs), cut into pieces ~2-3″ long
4 c. vegetable or chicken broth
1 14-oz can coconut milk
salt, to taste

*This spice can be a little tricky to find, I’ve had success at Indian groceries or natural foods stores with a good bulk spice section. If you can’t find it, the soup will still taste fine without.

Method
1. In a large pot, heat the olive oil to a medium heat. Add the onions, stir to coat with oil, and allow to cook until onions are soft and slightly translucent, about 8-10 minutes

2. Add garlic, cook for 1-2 minutes. Add chili, curry powder, and asafoetida, cook for 1-2 minutes.

3. Add sweet potato and cauliflower, stir to coat with spice and onion mixture. Add broth, cover pot, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and allow soup to simmer, covered, for 20-30 minutes, until cauliflower is cooked and will fall apart with a firm touch from a wooden spoon.

4. If you have an immersion blender, puree the soup right in the pot. If not, transfer soup to a mixing bowl, then use a food processor to puree batches of soup, returning each pureed batch to the pot. Be careful not to overfill the food processor (I try not to cover the top of the central knob piece on the s-blade).

5. Add the coconut milk to the pureed soup and allow to heat thoroughly (avoid boiling the soup after adding the coconut milk).

Thin with broth if desired, serve hot.