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My First Vegetarian March 7, 2013

Posted by Toy Lady in baking, random stuff.
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A long, long time ago, I had a very dear friend who was a vegetarian.  I don’t know why Deb was a vegetarian, whether it was for health reasons, or moral concerns, or what, but in all the years I knew her, as far as I know, no meat  (not even bacon!) ever passed her lips.

In fact, I believe she even fed her dogs a diet of scrambled eggs and veggies!

I’d never really cooked for a vegetarian before – I mean, what do you feed them?  Bean sprouts?  Salad?  Baked potatoes?

And Deb was no help – she was kind of a “grab something from the frozen section” kind of gal – she even ate those “Not Dogs” and stuff!  So I knew, if I invited her,  she’d appreciate a home-cooked meal – if I could only figure out what to cook!

Well, it took me a bit to figure out something that we could both enjoy (we all know how I feel about fake food!) – after all, this was before the internet was around and Meatless Mondays became All The Rage!

So I dug through my “favorite” recipes (I wasn’t going to make my friend something I didn’t like myself!), and I decided on this wonderful pasta dish.

It’s fantastic, and actually, now that I’m thinking about it, I think I’m going to need to make it again soon!  It’s got tomatoes and white beans and artichoke hearts and sausage.

Um.

Obviously, I had to do something about the sausage – something that didn’t have “soy” in its name (see above about fake food).

So I thought about it some more and decided to swap out the sausage for (wait for it!) eggplant.

Sound a little weird?

Well, what I did was I  tossed the eggplant – one of the most vegetarian of vegetables, I think – I tossed it with a bit of flour and lots of seasonings – Italian seasonings.

I think I had some sage and some fennel and some crushed red pepper, maybe even a little parm.  Basically, I breaded the eggplant, browned it, and pretended it was sausage.

No, pretend meat is not the same thing as fake food.

My friend loved it.   She loved the fact that I’d made the effort, yeah, but she actually enjoyed the food, too!  I was so proud of myself – I’d taken a meat-heavy dish, tweeked it, and fed it to a vegetarian!

I was thinking about Debbie the other day – I went looking in the archives for a “meatless” recipe – these days, we try to go meatless once a week.  And in the folder, I found this recipe for a Swiss chard, ricotta and sausage pie.

I have no idea what it was doing in the “meatless” file, but there it was, sausage and all!

So. . .

I thought about that eggplant dinner, and I thought about the metric ton of dried beans we still have downstairs.  (I will admit to maybe – just possibly – going a little overboard when I saw the bean guy last fall.  A bit.)

So what we did was we swapped out the sausage for beans – slightly mashed, well-seasoned beans – and a bit of extra virgin olive oil.  After all, one of the things sausage has going for it is that it’s not dry.  Mashed beans . . . not so much.

We also had a mess of kale in the freezer – no need to buy chard!

Plus, kale is my favorite green these days!

I wanted something a little more exciting than a plain pastry, though – after all, seasoned or not, I was giving up a lot of sausage-y goodness for beans.  We need flavor, darn it!

Plus, with the beans and kale, I wanted it to at least feel healthy, you know?

We whomped together this crust – whole wheat flour (extra points for being healthy),  parmesan cheese and a bit of garlic (now that’s not boring!).  And as an extra bonus, the crust that I trimmed from the pie was used as “pill pockets” for the Jar’s pills – he does take 7 pills a day, you know!

So all in all, I’ve got to say I was pleased with this pie.  It was very good – and it was just as good reheated, which is a good thing, because it was lunch for, I think, 3 days for me!  I might, if they were in season, chop a couple of fresh tomatoes and add them to the filling, but I wouldn’t miss them if they weren’t there (which they weren’t).

Go ahead and take a look at this printable recipe – I think it’s a great place to start.

Not for the Faint of Heart January 25, 2012

Posted by Toy Lady in baking, Big Lug.
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I’m going to warn you now.

This may be one of the most disgusting things you’ve ever seen.

It’s certainly one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever done – and I lived on a farm.  And cooked in a restaurant.

The only person who’s not grossed out by this is the dog.  Which, I guess, is a good thing, since this is an experiment in a dog treat.

See, here’s the thing.

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The Jar has had some . . . issues in his obedience class.  He’s taken a dislike to any other dog, to the point where all these people with their adorable little puppies are afraid of him.  It’s bad enough that he will be repeating the Basic class yet again  - because he can’t be trusted off-leash in the Advanced class.

Third time’s the charm, right?

Anyway.

One thing that we need (NEED!) for these classes is a treat that will be so irresistible that The Jar won’t care that there might be other dogs in the room.

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You know what dogs like, maybe better than almost anything else in the world?

More than barbecue?

More than roasty pork?

Even more than chicken that’s been cooked all day?

Liver.

They like liver.  They might even like it better than dead woodchucks, but I’ve never done a side-by-side comparison, and I hope I never do.

So my thought was to take some liver and lighten it up with some whipped egg whites.
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Maybe it wouldn’t be so disgusting that way.

So while I was processing half a pound of liver in the Cuisinart, Peeps was whipping egg whites – four of them – to stiff peaks.

He got the better end of the deal, let me tell you.

Me, I put the food processor parts in the dishwasher when I was done.  Processed liver is beyond disgusting.

PhotobucketSince I’ve never made, um, liver meringues before (how gross is THAT?), I thought to lighten up the liver with a bit of egg white – kind of the way you would for chocolate mousse.

Only it’s liver.

Eeeeew.

But anyway, we folded the liver into the beaten egg whites, and stirred just until it was combined.

PhotobucketThen I treated the mixture like drop cookies (again, eeew) and dropped balls (sort of) onto lined sheets.

I kind of think of it as puppy cookies.

I even let him lick the bowl, as you saw above.

What, I want to wash that stuff out of the bowl?  Let the dog earn his keep, that’s what I say.

And so, I stuck a couple of trays of liver cookies into a heated oven – about 350 degrees.

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And let them cook for maybe 10 minutes or so.  Then shut the oven off and let the cookies continue to cook until the oven has cooled – think “liver meringue cookies.’

And yes, I know, it’s kind of gross.

The dog stood guard over the oven, because apparently it smelled THAT GOOD.

I just didn’t see it.

In fact, I’d caution against opening the oven door at all until, say, the next morning.
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At which point you’ll find chewy little disks of livery goodness that will have every dog in obedience class wishing they were coming home with you.

And, with a little luck, The Jar will care more about the liver meringue  cookies than about that little yellow lab puppy that’s hopping around and being a general nuisance, but is too cute for words.

Here’s hoping, anyway – his next Basic class starts in a couple of weeks.

December’s Third Thursday December 15, 2011

Posted by Toy Lady in baking, random stuff, Third Thursday.
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Welcome to December’s Third Thursday – it’s December already!

Now while I don’t have any special holiday baking that I’m doing right now, I guess one could consider these Gingerbread Scones to be holiday-ish.

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I’ve been reading Elly Says Opa for a while now – Elly’s a young mom – I remember when she “announced” her pregnancy!  I think her little boy is at least a toddler now, though he may be ready to start school for all I know.

I’m kind of bad at keeping track of things when I get busy.

So here I was, earlier this week, wondering what the HECK I was going to do for Third Thursday.  I mean, I have been working late every day for, oh, about a month now,   Elly posted a list of some of her favorite holiday recipes, and oh, hey, gingerbread scones?

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We love scones.

And it appeared that we had everything on hand to try these – which is always a plus on a weeknight when I’ve already worked 2 hours late.  The LAST thing anyone wants to do is stop at the store on the way home, you know?

As you probably know, scones are basically a variation of baking powder biscuits – which are totally not hard.

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First, we mix up the dry ingredients – in this case, 1-3/4 c.  flour, 3/4 c. rolled oats, 1/3 c. brown sugar (yes, I know sugar usually counts as a liquid), 2 tsp. ground ginger,  1-1/2 tsp. cinnamon, 1/8 tsp. ground cloves, 1/4 tsp. salt, 2 tsp. baking powder and 1/4 tsp. baking soda.

And meanwhile, we take a stick (1/2 cup.) of cold butter, and chop it into little bits.  I like to cut it into tablespoons, then cut those tablespoons into quarters.

Cut the butter into the flour mixture – you can use two knives, but honestly?

I don’t know how that works.  I went to the local restaurant supply and invested the $2 in a pastry cutter.  Seriously.  If you ever make biscuits (or scones) just do it.

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Then it’s time for the liquids.

To 1/2 cup of buttermilk (I don’t even remember when we got the buttermilk – or for what – but it wasn’t lumpy, and it wasn’t furry, so it was still good!) so to the buttermilk, we add 2-1/2 tablespoons of molasses (I JUST picked up a quart of baking molasses last weekend, too!) and 1 teaspoon of vanilla.

My parents brought us back a quart of vanilla  from Mexico – I won’t lie, it was probably the best vanilla we’ve ever had.

But DUDE, a quart?  Goes a long way.

(We’re actually working on our second quart.  Not to mention the homemade stuff we’ve always got brewing.  We like our vanilla.)

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So . . . the scones.  Just like biscuits, you add your liquid to your dry, and give it a quick mix.

You don’t want to overmix it – just moisten the flour mixture enough so you can dump it onto the counter and knead it a bit.

Knead gently half a dozen times until everything (mostly) sticks together.

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I divided my dough in half and patted it into two rounds.

Then I sliced each round into 8 wedges – I wanted small-ish scones.  After all, any minute now, the Holiday Cookie Gifts are going to start flooding into the office.

The last thing we want when they show up is to be all full of scones, you know?

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Now here is where Elly and I kind of parted ways.  Rather than an egg wash, once the scones were placed (not touching) on a lined baking sheet, I   brushed a bit of cream on their little tops.

Then I sprinkled them with some maple sugar.

See, I don’t have patience for glaze – you’ve got to sift the sugar (which, really, who has time for that?) and then you want to drizzle and wait for everything to set. . .

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And glaze is just so sweet.

One of the vendors at our public market has maple syrup, maple candy, and, of course, maple sugar.

So I went ahead and sprinkled my unbaked, cream-brushed scones with a healthy pinch of maple sugar.

Maybe not as visually stunning as a nice glace, but much simpler, and, in the long run, slightly healthier.

Heh, look at me, using a stick of butter, brushing with heavy cream, and sprinkling with sugar, THEN talking about healthy!

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So yeah.

I baked the little guys at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes until they were nicely golden.  It’s kind of hard, though, to tell when something flavored with molasses and cinnamon has browned.  So I  tested them with a toothpick, just like a cake, to be sure they were done.

And at 20 minutes, they were perfect.

I took a bunch to work to share, and Peeps took a bunch to work to share.  His container came home empty – they were a big hit.

Unfortunately, the cookies started coming into my office today, so the  less-glamorous scones kind of got forgotten.

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That’s okay, though.  More for me.

And these scones were quite good – not quite gingerbread, but very tasty – not too sweet, with just a  touch of maply goodness on top, and just perfect with a fresh cup of coffee.  Or tea, if that’s how you roll.

If you’d like to play along, leave a comment with a link to (or a description of) your Third Thursday project – tell us what you’re up to!  For loose (really loose!) guidelines, or if you want to check out some past Thursdays, they’re right here!

November’s Third Thursday November 17, 2011

Posted by Toy Lady in baking, random stuff, Third Thursday.
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Welcome to November’s Third Thursday – November!

If I were a good blogger, I’d be blogging about Thanksgiving sides, or maybe even how to roast a turkey.

Though honestly?  If you’re cooking Thanksgiving dinner this year, you’ve probably already got your menu set, and if you’re not, you don’t care, right?

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However, maybe you’re a guest at a family dinner, and you want to bring something non-intrusive, but still welcome.

Or perhaps you have an actual food assignment.  (Or am I the only one who gets those?)

So anyway.

My food assignment is usually “rolls” and it’s often “rolls and . . . ” where “. . . ” could be pie, or it could be some vegetable – but it usually includes bread of some sort.

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So anyway.

Every year about this time, I like to pay special attention to the King Arthur Flour Blog – I read it regularly, but they really do shine when it comes to breads and rolls and that sort of thing, don’t they?

And we really need nice breads and rolls around the holidays.

Or, you know, when your mother-in-law is coming to town and you need something nice to go with vegetable soup.

PhotobucketSo it just happened that one day King Arthur featured their Butterflake Herb Loaf -a delightfully rich potato bread (I used 1/4 cup of instant potato flakes to the dough – how easy is that?) filled with an herby filling.

The original recipe used a butter-herb filling, but there were alternate versions – including pesto and even a maple sugar-butter filling.

I had a container of pesto in the fridge, and I thought the basil-y pesto would be excellent with vegetable soup.

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It was truly a beautiful dough to work with – rich and cooperative – it was a happy dough that rolled out nicely and worked and played well with others.

So I rolled the dough out and used round cutters to cut it into a dozen 3-and-a-half inch circles.

I spread HALF of each circle with about a teaspoon or so of pesto, then folded each into a little half-moon shape, and layered them into a sprayed loaf pan.

PhotobucketActually, two loaf pans – six folded circles fit into each pan nicely.

And yeah, sure, it may not look too impressive before it’s baked – after all, it’s raw dough pesto sandwiches.

BUT.

Let those babies rise a bit, bake them, and the next thing you know, you have pre-sliced, pre-seasoned, pull-apart bread.

Bread, I might add, that goes mighty nicely with any vegetable soup you’d care to try.

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Also – and I’m just sharing my experience here – I couldn’t help noticing that over the course of the next couple of nights, it appeared that the Boy put a pretty good hurt on what bread was leftover.

Probably because it was THAT GOOD.

Definitely check out the King Arthur Blog if you ever like to do anything remotely baking-like.  Those people know their stuff.

If you’d like to play along, leave a comment with a link to (or a description of) your Third Thursday project – tell us what you’re up to!  For loose (really loose!) guidelines, or if you want to check out some past Thursdays, they’re right here!

Just a bit of an oops October 6, 2011

Posted by Toy Lady in baking, Food, random stuff.
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This actually isn’t the post I’d planned for today.

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See, things have been a little, well, we’ve had our hands full lately.  There are moments when I feel we’re just barely holding things together.

Bi-weekly trips to New Jersey.

The Dynamic Duo.

Speaking of which – weekly obedience classes.

Work – crazy work.

Sigh.

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So anyway, once a week, when I upload (download?) photos (get them off my camera onto the computer), I try to sort through them then, make a list of the ones I want to use, and write the numbers down, so I can go back, get the ones I want to use for the current blog, and it’s all good.

Unless I, uh, upload the wrong list.

Then I have plans of talking about chick peas and kale, when what I’ve got is photos of chicken pot pie.

Yup, that’s right.

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Well, mostly, anyway.  It’s actually chicken and leek pie (with potatoes), and it’s encased in a shortcrust parmesan pastry crust.

I came across this recipe a while back, and, well, we all know that I love leeks, so I not just bookmarked it – I printed it.

And the last time Peeps was at his mom’s, suffering through pizza and White Castles, I was making the filling for one of the most comfortable of comfort foods.

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Only . . . it turns out that the recipe is written in Australian.

Now I don’t have a problem with Australia – not at all.  But you know, they evidently do things in metric.

I’m old school – I like real measurements.  I understand pounds.  I have no idea what a gram looks like, except that it’s really really small.  (It is, right?)

So I’m  looking at the recipe, and I read “6 x 150g chicken thigh fillets, chopped” and I think, “so. . . I’ve got a package of chicken thighs in the freezer.  Cool.”

Um, for future reference, 6 x 150g is 900 grams (about 2 pounds in real weight) – twice as much chicken as I had defrosted.

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Fear not, though!

See, over the years, I’ve learned a thing or two in the kitchen.  One of the things I’ve learned is how to stretch the protein in a meal.

And another thing?  How to fake it.

After all, what kind of chicken pot pie doesn’t have potatoes?

Australian pie, that’s what kind.

And we’re Yankee-Doodle-Dandy Americans around here.  And we put potatoes in our chicken pie.  Yeah.

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Since it was the weekend, and we weren’t planning on eating this until later in the week, I stashed the already done filling in the fridge until we were ready for it.

Why, it was practically instant chicken pot pie!

Peeps was kind enough to whip up the crust (with ridiculous amounts of both butter and cheese – it was a fine pie crust!) and then we put it all together – lined the pie plate, filled it with well-cooled filling, and topped it with another layer of crust.

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Actually, no, I’m not trying to kill us.

But I’m not going to lie – this was a very indulgent meal for us.

And it was not made better by the fact that, since the filling had been sitting in the refrigerator for 3 days, it was very, very cold.

And it took a very, very long time to cook through.

And, by the time we deemed it done, we were very very hungry.

Starving.

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Yeah, don’t eat this pie when you’re starving to death.  It’s way too easy to eat way too much with that decadent crust.

Or to go back for seconds.

Wow, it was good – the chicken and leeks (and potatoes!) always pair well, and it’s all held together with a flavorful cream sauce, but I’m not going to lie.  It’s that incredible pastry – the crumbly, buttery, cheesy crust – that just makes the dish.

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