Idiot’s Guide to Roasting Garlic

I’ve known of roasted garlic for a long, long time. I’ve loved it for nearly my entire life, as I’ve been told that as a toddler I would spread 2 or 3 cloves on a little cracker and beg for more.

Despite this, I never attempted at roasting garlic until a couple of weeks ago at the ripe ol’ age of 26. Little did I know how insanely hands-off it is! You have no excuse to make this yourself. Grab a dollar, buy a few bulbs of garlic, and get to it!

How to Roast Garlic

What you’ll need:

  • 1 bulb of garlic
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • dash of sea salt
  • aluminum foil

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Cut off the tips of the bulb of garlic to expose every clove, like so:

Peel all of the dry skin from the bulb. Place on a square of aluminum foil that will be large enough to completely encase it.

Drizzle the top with the olive oil and sprinkle the salt evenly on top. Completely close the foil around the bulb and place in the oven. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until the garlic is completely soft and the little cloves are golden.

Remove the cloves and do with them what you please! Mash to make a garlic spread for bread, crackers, and toast. Whisk into room-temperature butter and re-cool to make garlic butter. Add to any recipe you think could use the melt-in-your-mouth flavor of roasted garlic, such as pasta, mashed potatoes, hummus, atop your favorite grilled meats… anything is better with a little (or a lot of) garlic!

Vegan “Cheez” Sauce

I have a go-to vegan “cheez” sauce recipe that I can make in about 2 minutes that is loosely based off of a recipe from Alecia Silverstone’s The Kind Diet. It’s basically a couple of tablespoons of non-dairy milk, about double that amount of nutritional yeast, a dash of tamari soy sauce, and a dash of dry mustard. Whisk it up and put it on anything; I usually use it in wraps, on sandwiches, in salads, and just to dunk chips in.

When I was making real-deal (non-vegan) mac & cheese a few weeks ago, it started with making a roux of flour and butter, adding milk and cheese, then putting it on macaroni before baking it. I thought to myself, “Why can’t I use all vegan ingredients for this?”

So I did last week, and it worked out great! You can definitely tell it doesn’t taste the same as regular home-made cheese sauce, but my boyfriend couldn’t tell that it was vegan, so it must not have been too far off!

Vegan “Cheez” Sauce
Makes about 1 cup of sauce.

  • 1 cup non-dairy milk of choice (I used unsweetened almond)
  • 2 tbsp vegan butter (I used Earth Balance Soy-Free)
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1 tsp dry mustard
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • dash of sea salt

Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Slowly whisk in flour and half of the milk. Bring to a boil and continue to whisk until the roux gets solid enough that it starts to pull away from the sides of the pot. It will look something like this:

Lower the heat to medium-low and whisk in remaining ingredients. Let simmer until it reaches your desired consistency.

Use with macaroni, as a dip, on tacos, or anywhere else you’d normally use cheese sauce!

I mixed about half of this sauce with four servings of mostly-cooked macaroni, put each in individual ramekins, drizzled some more of the sauce on top of each, and baked at 350 degrees F for 15 minutes. It made a fantastic dinner and went great with a spinach salad!

I’ll post another delicious recipe soon that uses this sauce in another way…!

Chicken and White Bean Soup

This winter has been crazy. With the exception of a light dusting of snow on the night of January 1st and an ice storm a few weeks ago, it’s been ridiculously mild. As I write this entry, it’s a sunny and gorgeous Sunday afternoon and the high for today is 45 degrees F. (Last week, we had two days where it hit 60 degrees F, and most days were in the mid-50s!)

Without a frigid winter, my motivation to make and eat soups and stews has been nearly non-existent! Soups are supposed to warm you on a cold night, heat you from the inside out, and make you remember that each winter day that passes is one day closer to spring and summer.

With two local, free-range, hormone-free, Amish chicken breasts in the freezer, some organic chicken broth in the pantry, and my stash of canned beans on the shelves, I had originally thought of making a green chili for dinner Saturday night. Without any onions or peppers in my inventory, I realized as it all simmered in my Crock Pot that it wasn’t much of a chili at all — it was a nice-looking soup. With the many spices I added, it had plenty of spicy heat that doubled-up on the temperature heat.

Perfect for a winter night… but be prepared to sweat if it’s more than 25 degrees F outside!

Chicken White Bean Soup
Makes four to six meal-sized servings.

  • One 4-cup carton of organic chicken broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 frozen boneless skinless chicken breasts (organic, free-range, etc.)
  • 1 can organic white beans (such as great northern, white kidney, etc.)
  • 2 tsp chili powder (less if you want it less spicy)
  • 1 tbsp dried cilantro
  • 1 tsp dried mustard powder
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • fresh-milled black pepper, to taste
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp minced garlic

In a small pan, heat the olive oil on medium heat and add minced garlic. Cook until golden brown. De-glaze the pan with the 1 cup of water, scraping up any garlic that has stuck to the pan.

Place the chicken breasts in the crock pot and sprinkle the garlic powder on the entire surface of each breast, rubbing it in a little bit. Add the garlic-water mixture and all remaining ingredients. (If the chicken isn’t submerged, add some water until they are. If you add more than a cup of water, add 1/4 tsp salt to the pot.) Cook with the Crock Pot set to “high” for 2-3 hours or until chicken is cooked all the way through.

Remove chicken breasts and shred with two forks. Return shredded chicken to the crock pot, stir, lower heat to “warm” setting, and let cook for another 20-30 minutes.

Serve while hot.

NOTES:
– If you use fresh chicken breasts instead of frozen, the cooking time will be lesser. Just keep an eye on it.
– Cooking time can vary depending on the size of the chicken breasts you use. Mine were very thick, so it took about 2hrs to 2hrs 15mins for mine to cook all the way through. If yours are bigger, it will take more time; smaller, it’ll take less time. Again, keep an eye on it.
– If you want to add veggies, go ahead! I just didn’t have any on me. Carrots, onion, celery… whatever! Add the veggies with the other ingredients.
– This is great on its own with some bread and/or a salad on the side.
– You can add rice to the pot, too, if you’d like. Just put whatever rice you’d like about 45 minutes after you start cooking, when the liquid in the Crock Pot is hot.

Half-Homemade

Some days when I come home, I’m completely in the mood to cook something new and exciting. The problem is, however, that my personality is one that loves to plan and think of new things to try or do, but following through on these brilliant ideas is tough…

…and usually doesn’t happen. (I’ve mentioned this before.)

My barely-used sewing machine (and the quilt I started 4 months ago that is still incomplete). The juicer I bought because I swore I’d juice every day, which I sold (unopened!) about a month later. When I went to bartending school two summers ago and have only bartended twice since then.

A life of half-assing things, some may say… but, as I try to make clear on this blog, it’s all about trying things! Life would be so boring if I didn’t!

So, Monday night dinner. I wanted to do something new, make something tasty and unique. I’d had a failure Saturday morning trying to make a breakfast bread pudding — let’s just say that the milk/egg liquid started to boil over and spill out of my ramekin, resulting in my afternoon spent cleaning the oven. Ugh.

Deterred, I was not. The remnants of a tasty loaf of sun-dried tomato/basil bread from a local bakery were very stale. I had a couple of fresh, cage- and hormone-free, local eggs. I had a bit of the previously-used horseradish cheddar in the fridge, begging to be used.

I basically winged it, and was really happy with the end result: a savory, cheesy, tasty bread pudding!

Then I lost my mojo, and refused to take more than 5 minutes to make the rest of my meal that would accompany my awesome creation. No surprise there! (This is exactly why I keep “emergency” cans of soup in my pantry, frozen veggie burgers in my freezer, and so many cans of beans I swear I’ll never go hungry even on the laziest of days!)

Simply Savory Bread Pudding Mini-Loaf
Serves three.

  • Roughly 1.5 cups of stale bread, cut into 1×1 inch cubes
  • 1 egg (organic, free-range, hormone-free is best!)
  • 1/2 cup whole milk (organic, hormone-free again!)
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheese
  • dash of salt
  • dash of freshly-ground pepper
  • dried parsley and garlic powder to taste

Heat oven to 375 degrees F and lightly grease a small loaf pan (mine was about 8x4x4, I think) with butter. Put bread pieces in the loaf pan.

In a small bowl, whisk the egg, milk, and spices until combined. Add the cheese and stir. Pour mixture on top of the bread and let sit for about 5 minutes or until bread has absorbed the liquid. Press down lightly.

Bake for 20 minutes or until top of loaf is golden. Turn off heat in the oven and let the loaf sit inside for another 5 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for another 5 minutes to make slicing easier.

Serve alongside soup, salad, and/or a protein to make a complete meal!

My canned vegetarian vegetable soup and a small salad went nicely with this bread pudding! Half-homemade is just fine for me!

New Food #2: Leeks

New Food #1 was tea… and I think it’s going to stick! I just drank tea with my breakfast! Goodbye, coffee, perhaps…??

On to day two!

At the local market, I bought a lot of veggies: some that I enjoy (carrots, spinach), some that I don’t (onions), and some that I’ve never had before (leeks).

I bought leeks because I’ve read some good leek recipes lately that I’d like to try. I’m not a huge onion fan (I only enjoy them when they’re cooked down to the point of not being crunchy anymore) and leeks have always reminded me of onions. The mind is sometimes irrational!

Firstly, I had no idea what a leek looked like, other than it kind of looks like green onion or a big bunch of chives. I asked a local produce vendor if they had leeks so that they could actually point them out to me… I wonder if they caught on that I was clueless! I learned online to look for a few things with your leeks:

  • roots still in tact
  • strong stalks
  • strong green tops that don’t droop

Also, leeks are dirty veggies, but unlike other dirty veggies like potatoes, yams, onions, etc. you can’t just scrub the outside. Leeks get dirt in between each of the leaves, so cleaning them is a bit more involved… but not hard!

First, I cut the roots off, removed the outer one or two leaves and rinsed them under cold water in a colander.

Next, I cut the leeks lengthwise starting about an inch and a half from the root (white part) all the way to the tips. Now it’s much easier to get in between each of the leaves to get it all clean!

Recipe time!

I had read of a cleansing (yet plain) leek soup in the book French Women Don’t Get Fat, but all it is is leeks boiled in water without any seasoning. You drink the broth throughout the day for two days, eating the leeks with lemon juice as snacks. Uh, no thank you!

They had another soup recipe in the book that inspired me to create this really satisfying soup that has flavor, texture, nutrients, and is very versatile. The sweetness of the broth with the tangy-tasting caramelized leeks throughout make this an interesting soup!

Vegetable Soup with Caramelized Leeks
Yield 4-5 servings.

  • 4 large carrots, cleaned, peeled, and roughly chopped
  • 1/2 large sweet (yellow) onion, peeled and chopped in 4 chunks
  • 3 large leeks, cleaned and roughly chopped (white and light green parts only!)
  • water
  • salt, pepper, dried herbs to taste
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 1 tbsp butter or margerine

Clean and chop all of the vegetables and put them in a pot. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Lower heat and let simmer uncovered for 40 minutes.

Remove about 1/3 cup of the cooked leeks and let them drain on a paper towel. Set aside.

Using an immersion blender, blend the rest of the vegetables and the water until completely smooth. (You can use a blender if you want, but make sure the vegetables have cooled a lot so you don’t burn out your blender’s motor, or burn yourself!) Season with salt, pepper, and herbs to taste.

Put the reserved leeks in a pan on medium heat, stirring constantly.

Add butter and wine. Let cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally until golden brown. Add salt and pepper if desired.

Serve with a small spoonful of the caramelized leeks in each bowl atop the soup. It looks pretty! You can also just mix in all of the caramelized leeks throughout the soup if you’d like.

I feel that this soup could be made into a meal itself if you add some whole wheat pasta (fusilli, gemelli, ditalini, or other small extruded shape) and/or adding sliced sausage! It’s very versatile!

5 Reasons Why I Haven’t Blogged in 5 Days

…inspired by this post.

  1. I took Friday off from work. No real reason, other than the obvious fact that vacation days and three-day weekends are awesome. Also, I didn’t use enough vacation days this year and they will all disappear at the end of December… so, like everyone else at work, I’m rushing to use them all up!

    I slept in, went for a bike ride downtown, ate here, shopped here, and listened to Christian evangelists yell at us while I enjoyed my grilled cheese sandwich here.

    I took a glorious nap when I got home!

  2. I was busy busy busy giving tours in the morning on Saturday. Needless to say, after 5 hours on my feet I took another glorious nap! But, before I did, I ate here… yes, for both breakfast and lunch!
  3. I packed. A lot.

    More about this in a future post!

  4. Sunday = football… preceded by a little bit of shopping. I’ve tried drafting blog posts while watching my beloved Giants, but I can’t focus and/or come close to spilling adult beverages on my laptop. Not safe at all!
  5. We have no food. Well, obviously that’s not entirely true, but we don’t have much going on in the kitchen lately. The boy and I are planning on going grocery shopping today so maybe – just maybe – we’ll be able to eat something that didn’t come from a box or from the freezer.

    Then again, not everything boxed and bagged is all that bad…

Wannabe Vegan Pho
Makes one serving.

  • 3 oz firm tofu (I used Trader Joe’s Sprouted Tofu), drained and patted dry
  • Black pepper
  • Garlic powder
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Salt
  • Non-stick, 100% natural cooking spray
  • 1 oz soba noodles (rice noodles can be substituted)
  • 1 cup Pacific Natural Foods Vegetarian Pho Base
  • 1 cup water
  • Toppings of your choice: traditionally cilantro, fish sauce, sriracha, bean sprouts, etc.

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F. Cut tofu into 2″x1″x1/4″ rectangles and place the pieces on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Spray the top of the tofu pieces with non-stick spray and sprinkle salt, pepper, garlic, and cayenne pepper on top. Rub into each piece, place the sheet into the oven, and bake for 20 minutes, flipping halfway through. Turn off the oven and let the tofu sit for another 5 minutes inside the oven.

In a small pot, heat water and pho base until it boils. Add noodles and lower heat to medium-low. Let cook for 3 minutes or until the noodles are done. Add the tofu pieces and let simmer for 2 minutes.

Serve in a bowl topped with whatever you’d like! All I had on hand at the time was sriracha and dried cilantro… but it was still delicious!

Hamburger Helper… All Grown Up!

For decades, Hamburger Helper has been one of my favorite dinners. We didn’t eat it much in our home when I was a kid, but on those days when mom didn’t want to cook and dad didn’t want to spend money on Chinese or pizza, we’d bust out a box of Hamburger Helper, defrost a pound of ground beef from the freezer, and soon enough we’d be enjoying a high-sodium, saturated fat laden, cheesy, hot, abso-freaking-lutely delectable dinner.

As recent as college (wow, has it already been 3 and a half years since I graduated??) I would make and enjoy Hamburger Helper on my own terms… which was much more frequently than when I was a kid! My boyfriend and I would easily polish off a box of the stuff between the two of us. And, yes, each box has 5 servings… at about 330 Calories each… you do the math!

Now that I’m a bit less naive, I understand that this stuff isn’t exactly the best thing for you. Although wisdom comes with age, a change in certain tastes does not! I still long for that yummy dinner that I adored so much way back when! Well, it’s time to make my Hamburger Helper grow up.

I’ve been a fan of Trader Joe’s Soy Chorizo for a long time. Though salty, a little goes a long way and its texture and flavor are absolutely identical to real chorizo. I knew this would be better than plain seitan for this dish because of the spice and flavor it adds to everything it is with.

As far as the cheese sauce, I needn’t look any further than The Kind Diet‘s vegan “cheez” sauce. I use this recipe so often that I am almost to the point of needing to buy nutritional yeast in bulk! I don’t follow her recipe exactly, but the ingredients are pretty much the same.

As far as the pasta goes, I could’ve gone with macaroni… but where’s the fun in that? We happened to have fusilli pasta (little bowties) on hand and figured this would be a great, grown-up alternative to the plain ol’ macaroni we’re all familiar with.

“Meat”? Check. “Cheez” sauce? Check. Pasta? Check.

image

Vegan Non-Burger Helper
Makes 3 servings.

  • 3 cups fusilli pasta (or macaroni)
  • 1/2 Trader Joe’s Soy Chorizo
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened soy milk (or other non-dairy milk)
  • 1 tsp dry mustard
  • 1 tbsp tamari (or regular soy sauce)
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 2 tbsp Earth Balance (or other vegan margarine)

Prepare pasta according to directions. While pasta is boiling, heat Earth Balance in a large pan on medium-high heat until melted. Add minced garlic and cook until garlic is fragrant and turns golden, stirring constantly to avoid burning. Add all remaining ingredients except pasta, whisking until combined and hot. If the sauce is too thick or begins to dry up, add a bit more soy milk one tablespoon at a time; if it is too thin, add more nutritional yeast 1-2 teaspoons at a time. Lower heat to medium-low and add pasta. Stir until pasta is completely coated in the sauce. Serve hot.

Note: If you plan on storing this and reheating it later on, be sure to add at least 2 tbsp of milk per serving when reheating, because the sauce will dry up while reheating if you don’t!

To say that this was a trip down memory lane was an understatement. I’ll never have to buy another box of Hamburger Helper again!

Sweet Potato Trio: Part II

So, the other day I had a minor fail. It was an edible creation, but that baby food consistency of what I hoped would be soup made it a little unappealing.

Time for a renaissance.

The reason why I love cooking more than baking is that when you cook, even if you mess up you can fix it (most of the time). A baking disaster is almost impossible to fix, but as you will see below, with a little bit of creativity, you can turn a minor cooking faux pas into a delicious creation (or two)!

Curried Sweet Potato & Zucchini Stew
Makes approximately 4 servings.

  • 3 cups of leftover curried sweet potato stew *
  • 2 cups of vegetable broth or stock
  • 1 zucchini, cut into cubes
  • 2 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 2 tsp dried cilantro

In a large saucepan, brown the garlic in sesame oil on medium-high heat until fragrant and barely golden brown. Add cubed zucchini and cook until zucchini begins to soften and get browned on some sides.

Add sweet potato, vegetable broth, and cilantro stirring until completely combined. Continue to stir until soup begins to boil, then lower heat to medium-low, cover, and let simmer for 5 minutes.

Serve hot.

* NOTE: You can use store-bought pureed sweet potatoes or plain sweet potatoes that you’ve processed yourself. If so, add 1.5 tbsp of yellow curry powder, 2 tsp of smoked paprika, a good tablespoon of garlic powder, and a tablespoon of cumin. Follow the rest of the directions as written.