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Thank You Jeanne Lemlin

February 4, 2009

I often get asked for cookbook recommendations. Usually it’s for someone who is new to cooking or new to vegetarianism or both. I never hesitate. Quick Vegetarian Pleasures is the one to buy. If you are just going veg, it is a wonderful book because nothing is aggressively vegetarian – that is to say, nothing too weird. Everything will sound good to you. If you are new to cooking (vegetarian or not), it is a wonderful book because everything is easy, everything comes out exactly as promised, and – true to the title – everything is relatively quick.

I credit the author, Jeanne Lemlin, with putting me on the path of being a good cook. Quick Vegetarian Pleasures was the first book I bought after college and once I knew that if I wanted to eat well, I was going to have to make the food myself. I knew what I liked (almost everything), but didn’t know how to make it. I picked up this book because every recipe looked like something I wanted to eat. I slowly but surely worked my way through the book and every single thing I made turned out. It gave me a lot of confidence and made me want to branch out and try more and more ambitious dishes.

Fast forward 16 years (yikes) and I am a personal chef. I have around 80 cookbooks. They are spread throughout my kitchen on shelves and in cabinets. I have my “heavy rotation” shelf and the three Lemlin cookbooks I own are permanent residents. I still use her books on an almost weekly basis. This week alone, without meaning to, all the main courses (and some of the side dishes) I made are from her books. I don’t worry when I make something new that it won’t turn out or the proportions will be off. Her servings are generous – just like I like them – and her recipes are foolproof.

This pie is one I have made over and over and just love everytime I make it. It is kind of like a quiche, but over the years I have tweaked the recipe so that my version is more like a bunch of vegetables held together by a few eggs. You could certainly increase the eggs to 4 and reduce the veggies to make it more quiche-like. One of the things I like best about this is that there is a minimal crust which requires nothing more than buttering your pie plate and sprinkling it with breadcrumbs. This is a real time-saver and very non-intimidating for those who are scared of making crusts.

Broccoli and Red Pepper Pie
Adapted from
Main Course Vegetarian Pleasures
Serves 3

Olive oil
1 medium onion, diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

Sea salt

1 small red pepper, cored and diced

1 large bunch of broccoli, cut into small florets

tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
of a 14 oz. can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 tbsp. butter, softened

cup plus 1 tbsp. bread crumbs
3 eggs

whole milk
cup grated Parmesan cheese
tsp. dried oregano
Freshly ground pepper

1 cup grated cheese (
DN: The recipe calls for Muenster but I usually use what I have on hand.)

1. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the onions and red pepper plus a good pinch of salt, and saute until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and stir for another 2 minutes.

2. Stir in the broccoli, crushed red pepper flakes, and chickpeas. Pour on 2 tbsp. of water, cover the pan, and cook for about 7 minutes, or until the broccoli is tender yet still bright green. Remove the cover and cook away any remaining liquid. Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool.

3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. To make the “crust”, butter a 9-inch pie plate with the butter. Sprinkle 1/4 cup of the bread crumbs on the bottom of the pie plate. Rotate to cover the bottom and sides of the plate with the crumbs.

4. In a large bowl, beat the eggs. Beat in the milk, Parmesan cheese, oregano, a good pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Stir in the vegetable mixture. Spoon half the mixture into the pie plate. Sprinkle on the 1 cup of cheese. Spoon on the remaining mixture, then sprinkle the remaining tablespoon of bread crumbs over the top.

5. Bake 35-40 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center of the pie comes out clean. Let sit 5 minutes before serving.

(Vegetable mixture can be made one day ahead and stored, covered, in the refrigerator. Pie can be made 4 hours ahead and served at room temperature.)

Birthday Cake for the Birthday Boy

February 7, 2012

By many peoples’ standards, we spoil our children.  We have a basement full of toys, bikes in the garage, an X-Box and other gaming things, and lots of movies to watch.  We go on nice vacations.  Both boys have plenty of clothes to wear and ski gear (though we rent skis and boots).  Their chores consist of bringing over their plate after dinner and cleaning up their rooms.  They get a lot of hugs and kisses and treats after dinner.

But.  We are sticklers about manners and being polite and respectful to adults and kids both older and younger.  We try to encourage awareness about how lucky they are without being morbid about it.  About once a year we go through our toys and clean out things they are not using to give to children who are less lucky.  They are old enough to understand that we can go look in a toy store but we are not going to buy anything.  (Unless they are with dad, who usually caves.)

This year Spencer is getting two birthday cakes.  This is the first year that we are having a real true party for him.  I’m not the mom who treasures throwing themed birthday parties for my kids complete with perfect invitations and favors.  I try and farm the party part out.  Seeing as Spencer is the second child, we tried to get away with just doing family for as long as possible.  There have been years where we have been in Sun Valley over his birthday (spoiled!).  But this year we are home, he turned five, and we are doing a trampoline party (spoiled!).

Spencer wants a Batman cake for the party which we will be getting from the same bakery as Graham’s cake.  Mommy doesn’t do Batman cakes.  Or she could, but it would end up looking like a gerbil cake or a blob cake which wouldn’t make him very happy.  For his “real” birthday cake, we sat down with several of my baking books and paged through options.  “I want that one!  Or wait, I want that one!  No, that one!”, is kind of how the conversation went.  I thought we were going with a lemon cake with a meringue frosting when he spied a cake in Flour that sealed the deal.  I guess to him it just looked like a birthday cake.  That may have been because there are birthday candles on the cake in the photo.  At any rate, I was glad to make a traditional cake that I knew he would like.

I feel like some of my cookbooks are kind of like the good guy friend in college who patiently listens to your love life failures, all the while secretly hoping you will actually notice him.  Flour has been sitting on my shelf for about a year now.  I made a couple ho hum things from it in the first few weeks after purchase and then moved on to brighter shinier things.  I knew it would house some good birthday cake ideas and this perfect birthday cake was in there waiting for me all this time.  Actually, not perfect, but pretty darn good.  The cakes themselves were very crummy and the frosting kind of set up too much after I put the cake in the refrigerator with the crumb coat, but the taste and the look was pretty close to perfect.  According to the birthday boy, that is.

One Year Ago:  Macaroon Brownie Bars, White Chocolate Tiramisu, Red, White, and Green Lasagne
Two Years Ago:  Olivetta Loaf, Spicy Smoky Chili
Three Years Ago:  Roasted Orange Pepper Soup, Mushroom Enchiladas, Broccoli and Red Pepper Pie, Chocolate Chip Cupcakes

Yellow Birthday Cake with Fluffy Chocolate Ganache Frosting
Makes one 8-inch layer cake (serves 8-12)

I’m giving you the (very wordy) recipe as written in the book.  A couple of tips.  The cake cools completely in the pans, presumably because it is large and thick, so be sure to grease them well and use a parchment round in the bottom of the pan.  I always refrigerate my cakes with a crumb coating for about 30-60 minutes, but I think the frosting hardened up too much during the waiting time.  So be sure to follow her advice and just frost the cake right after the crumb coating.  She recommends using non-fat buttermilk but I can never find that so I just used low fat.

1½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
3 eggs
3 egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 cups cake flour
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk

Fluffy Chocolate Ganache Frosting
12 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
¼ tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. vanilla extract

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350ºF.  Butter and flour two 8-inch round cake pans.  (DT:  Don’t forget the parchment here!)

Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a handheld mixer), cream together the butter and granulated sugar on medium speed for 3 to 4 minutes, or until light and fluffy.  (This step will take 8 to 10 minutes if using a handheld mixer.)  Stop the mixer a few times  and use a rubber spatula to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl and the paddle to release any clinging butter or sugar.

In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, and vanilla just until combined.  On low speed, slowly pour the egg mixture into the butter mixture and mix just until incorporated.  Scrape the bowl and paddle again, then beat on medium speed for 20 to 30 seconds, or until the mixture is homogeneous.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  On the lowest speed, add about one-third of the flour mixture to the egg-butter mixture and mix just until barely combined.  Immediately pour in about half of the buttermilk and continue to mix on the lowest speed until the buttermilk is almost thoroughly incorporated.  Stop the mixer and scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl well.  Again on the lowest speed, add about half of the remaining flour mixture and mix just until barely combined.  Add the rest of the butter milk and mix just until combined.  Be careful not to overmix.

At this point, it is best to finish the mixing by hand.  Remove the bowl from the  mixer stand and, using a rubber spatula, fold in the remaining flour mixture until the batter is just homogeneous.  As you fold, be sure to incorporate any batter clinging to the sides and bottom of the bowl.  Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cake pans.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the ops are golden brown and the cakes spring back when pressed in the middle with a fingertip.  Let cool completely in the pans on wire racks.  (The cooled cakes can be tightly wrapped in plastic wrap and stored  in the freezer for up to 1 week.  Thaw at room temperature, still wrapped tightly in plastic wrap.)

To make the ganache frosting:  While the cake layers are cooling, put the chocolate in a medium heat-proof bowl.  In a small saucepan, scald the cream over medium-high heat (bubbles start to form around the edge of the pan, but the cream is not boiling).  Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let sit for about 1 minute, then slowly whisk together the chocolate and cream until the chocolate is completely melted and mixture is smooth.  Let sit at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours, or until completely cool.  (Or refrigerate the ganache until cool, about 30 minutes, whisking every ten minutes.)

Fit the stand mixer with the paddle attachment (or use a handheld mixer) and beat the butter on medium-low speed for 10 to 15 seconds, or until smooth.  Add the confectioners’ sugar, salt, and vanilla and continue to beat on medium-low speed for about 2 minutes, or until the mixture is fluffy and smooth.  Stop the  mixer a few times and use a rubber spatula to scrape the bowl and paddle to release any clinging butter or sugar.  On medium speed, add the cooled ganache and beat for about 2 minutes, or until completely combined.  Stop to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl.  Turn up the mixer speed to medium-high and beat for about 1 minute, or until the frosting lightens in color and thickens.  You should have about 4 cups.

Remove the cooled cakes from their pans.  (Be sure they are completely cool.  If they are even the slightest bit warm, the frosting will melt and you will have a mess.)  Using a long, serrated knife, trim the top of each cake to level it (the layers will have rounded a bit in the oven; the trimmed scraps make great nibbles).  Place one cake layer on a cake plate or cake pedestal (if you have a revolving cake stand, use it.)  Spoon about 1 cup of the frosting on top and use an offset spatula to spread it evenly to the edges.

Carefully place the second layer top-side down (so the even sharp edges will be on the top of the finished cake), on top.  Spoon about 1 cup of the frosting on top and spread it over the top and down the sides of the cake, smoothing the frosting as well as you can and covering the entire cake with a thin layer.  This the crumb coat which will keep any loose crumbs from migrating to the surface of the finished cake.  Spoon a heaping cup of frosting on top of the cake, an spread it evenly across the top and down the sides.  This is the finishing layer of frosting.  If desired, spoon any remaining frosting into a pastry bag fitted with a small round or star tip and pipe a decorative line along the top and/or bottom edge of the cake.

The cake can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.

Vegetable Enchiladas

July 25, 2011

Randy has been in his new job for over six months now.  In that time, I can count on two hands the number of times he has traveled for work.  Maybe even one hand.  That is huge for our family.  Before he left Microsoft, he was sometimes gone three weeks of the month.  The boys thought it was strange when he was here during the week.  He was exhausted, I was exhausted.  It was a life that was not sustainable and the travel is one of the reasons he changed jobs.

Now, when it is time for him to fly out, he can’t remember where the business suitcase is.  He has to look hard for his passport.  It takes him more than ten minutes to pack because he is out of practice.  The boys get confused as to why he is not here for dinner.  It is all so much better.  I don’t mind a business trip here and there – it gives us a little break from each other and a chance to miss one another.

Last week, before Randy left town, I decided to make his favorite kind of food.  I figured it would be nice to give him a good send-off and I was ready to try a new Enchilada recipe. I have a favorite but we had some sun last week and mushrooms didn’t feel very summery.  As with that one, this recipe gives you a filling but not heavy dinner – one that just begs for refried beans, lots of guacamole, and cerveza.

Two Years Ago: Asparagus Ragout and Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

Vegetable Enchiladas
Adapted from Quick Vegetarian Pleasures
Serves 4-6

The Sauce
1 28-ounce can tomato purée
½ cup heavy cream
1/3 cup finely chopped cilantro
1 large garlic clove, minced
¼ tsp. kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

The Filling
Canola oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 ear of corn, kernels cut off with a knife
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried epazote (optional)
1 4-ounce can chopped green chiles, drained
1 14-ounce can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

8 8-inch flour tortillas
1 cup grated Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese

Make the sauce
Combine the tomato purée, heavy cream, cilantro, garlic, salt, and pepper.  Set aside.

Make the enchilada filling
Preheat the oven to 350ºF.  Place a sauté pan over medium heat.  Pour in just enough canola oil to coat the bottom of the pan, then add the onion.  Sauté until just beginning to soften, about 5 minutes, then add the zucchini, corn, and dried herbs.  Cook until tender but not mushy, about 7 minutes.   It’s ok if the zucchini gets a little brown.  Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the chiles, beans, cilantro, and salt and pepper to taste.  Allow to cool slightly.

To assemble the enchiladas, pour a layer of sauce over the bottom of a large casserole dish (or 2 smaller ones).  Spoon one eighth of the bean mixture along the center of a tortilla, then roll the enchilada up.  Place seam side down in the baking dish and repeat with the remaining tortillas.

Spoon the remaining sauce over all the enchiladas, and sprinkle the cheese over top.  Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes.  Remove the foil and bake for another 5 minutes.  Allow to sit for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Sweet Potato Tian

March 4, 2011

The other night, after dinner and while Randy and I were watching TV, a fast food ad came on.  Suddenly my husband’s eyes were glued to a hamburger.  This was not just a hamburger, it was one that had several patties, bacon – you know, meat.  And my husband, his belly full of plant-based goodness said, “Oh my god, that looks so good!”  Which gave me pause.  I mean, I know he eats meat, that he likes meat and I’m totally fine with that.  But if that triple stacked burger looked good to him, how would, say, a sweet potato tian look?

As it turns out, really good.  Randy loved this meal and so did I.  In fact, because it makes a generous portion, he has eaten it three times – willingly! – in the past two days.  And I think I finally got beyond Randy’s sweet potato prejudice.  You know, that “sweet potato = mushy dish with marshmallows on top” thing.  I use sweet potatoes often in my cooking and he always likes them but I do notice that his eyes glaze over a bit when I mention them.  Not anymore.  He declared this a “once a week” meal which is just about the highest praise I can expect from him.  He suggested that I tell you all that this dish is “addictive”.  Wow.  But it is pretty darn good.

You may look at the ingredients and think – really?  But the magic of the vegetable combination, the heat of the oven, and a fresh breadcrumb topping can do wonders.  I added to the recipe by using some herbs and some Parmesan in the bread crumbs and I think those are necessary additions.  I always have some kind of bread in my freezer and this time I was surprised to find my only option was one with kalamata olives.  I thought it would make strange breadcrumbs but truthfully, I think it added to the overall goodness.  And a hint of purple color.

Sweet Potatoes Previously on Dana Treat: Spicy Sweet Potatoes with Lime, Southwestern Sweet Potato Gratin
One Year Ago: Brownie Chunk Cookies and Honey Nut Squares
Two Years Ago: Smoky Cashews and Pappa al Pomodoro

Sweet Potato, White Bean, and Pepper Tian
Adapted from Vegetarian Classics
Serves 4-6

I’m not a huge green pepper fan, but it is very mellow after baking.  Substitute with another red or a yellow one if you prefer.  I tend to shy away from large amounts of garlic, but the heat is great here. I filed this under quick and easy.  It does spend a fair amount of time in the oven but it is so quick to put together, I think it is a good weeknight meal.  You could certainly make it ahead of time and just serve it room temperature.

3 medium-large sweet potatoes, peeled, quartered lengthwise, and sliced ¼-inch thick
1 15-ounce can white beans, rinsed and drained
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 green bell pepper, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 medium red onion, cut into 2-inch chunks and sections separated
6 ounces cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. dried sage
3 tbsp. olive oil

3 slices country bread
1 tbsp. olive oil
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 375ºF.

Combine all the vegetables along with the garlic, beans, herbs, a large pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper in a large bowl.  Drizzle with the 3 tablespoons of olive oil and toss well.  (The vegetables can be prepared to this point up to 4 hours in advance.)  Pack the mixture into a 2½ or 3 quart shallow baking dish and flatten the top surface.  Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes.  Uncover, give everything a good stir and bake for another 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the fresh breadcrumbs.  Place the bread in a food processor and pulse until you have crumbs.  Turn them out into a bowl and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  Stir to coat the bread with the oil and then add the cheese.  Combine well.

Remove the tian from the oven.  Spread the crumbs all over the top.  Return the tian to the oven and bake 15 minutes more, or until the topping is a rich golden color.  Let sit 10 minutes before serving.

My First Cannoli

February 9, 2011

Here is where I admit that up until a couple of days ago, I had never eaten a cannoli.  My parents were both born and raised in New York and they had the luxury of eating things like real bagels, good profiteroles, late summer tomatoes, and cannoli.  My mom has a cousin who used to come visit us every summer and they would bring 4 dozen bagels with them to store in our garage freezer.  I’m sure that if the other things on that list weren’t so perishable, my mom would have requested she bring those too.

So, cannoli were not a part of my childhood.  If I were the type to go nuts over cheese in my desserts, I would have made them long ago.  But truthfully, this is not my kind of treat.  If you are a regular here I think you know what my kind of treat is.  But I am telling you about these cannoli for several reasons.

1)  Someone at Saturday’s yoga retreat sat me down and said, “If you do not post the recipe for these cannoli, I will never speak to you again.”  Strong words.

2) One of my new favorite “Food and Graham” stories happened while preparing these.  I don’t mention this often enough but Graham is a great eater.  He has a huge appetite and really loves food.  He is eager to try new things.  Something he hasn’t seen before makes him wonder what it tastes like.  Spencer‘s response is the opposite.  Anyway, I was chopping crystallized ginger for the filling and Graham asked for a taste.  I gave him a cube of it, he took a little bite, and then asked for three more pieces.

3)  I got this recipe off Epicurious.  Our computer is in our study which is not right next to the kitchen.  I was the end of a LONG cooking day when it came time to prepare these.  I took a quick glance at the recipe and then went back to my food processor to finish it.  I had a nagging suspicion that I had forgotten something in the filling but was too lazy to go back and double check.  Finally, once the filling was in the bowl, I took a quick taste and thought it was fine for, you know, a cheese filling, and into the refrigerator it went.  Then I checked the recipe.  Sugar.  I didn’t add the full 2 cups of powdered sugar that the recipe called for. I tasted again.  I’m no expert, but cannoli are not supposed to be super sweet, right?  It tasted just about right to me and everyone loved this without the sugar.

So there you go.  Cannoli.  Discuss.

Now.  The recipe makes enough filling for 25 regular size cannoli.  For reasons that are too boring to explain, I only bought 12 shells.  I cut each cannoli in half so everyone could have one but I still had tons of leftover filling.  I brought it back home with me, wondering what I was going to do with it.  And then, an unexpected opportunity came my way.

This is Spencer’s birthday cake.  Once again for reasons that are too boring to explain, I did not make enough frosting.  I was left with just enough to very lightly frost the outside of the cake but  not enough to frost all of the cones.  (The chocolate you see is the buttercream mixed with melted chocolate.)  As I was contemplating driving to the store to buy some frosting in a can (shudder), I remembered my leftover filling.  So that is what is adorning half the cones.

This cake is pretty darn cute and the cake part itself, which is the part I care about, was super moist and flavorful.  If you are interested in making it, I direct you to this recipe.  In the comments, most people hated the frosting, so I made a simple buttercream from The Cake Bible.  Just do yourself a favor and make sure you have enough frosting…

And now, back to the cannoli.

One Year Ago: Olivetta Loaf and Spicy Smoky Chili
Two Years Ago: Broccoli and Red Pepper Pie

Dried Cranberry and Ginger Cannoli
Adapted from Bon Appétit
Makes 25

This recipe originally called for dried cherries but I only had cranberries.  If you would like to add the sugar that I forgot, add two cups – one in each batch.

4 cups (2 pounds) fresh ricotta cheese
1 cup mascarpone cheese
Zest of 1 orange
½ tsp. vanilla extract
¾ cup minced crystallized ginger
¾ cup minced dried cranberries (or cherries)
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
25 purchased cannoli shells
Chopped pistachios

Working in 2 batches, blend first 4 ingredients in processor until smooth; add ginger and cranberries and process until finely chopped and well incorporated.  Using on/off turns, mix in chocolate just until blended (do not purée).  Transfer filling to a large bowl.  (Filling can be prepared 1 day ahead.  Cover and refrigerate.  Bring to room temperature before continuing.)

Working in batches, transfer filling to pastry bag without tip.  Pipe into shells.  Dip ends in chopped pistachios.  Chill at least 2 hours and up to 6 hours.

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