vegetarian improvisation

Generally when I cook I pull out a recipe – usually from my Living Cookbook database. I may not follow the recipe exactly, I generally don’t follow the recipe exactly, but I have it there. Sometimes, though, I don’t feel like selecting a recipe and I don’t feel like shopping for ingredients.

macaroni and cheeseI was in that kind of mood last week. Add to that the fact that I’m still supposed to be avoiding red meat and I ended up doing some vegetarian improvisation. On Thursday I made my own macaroni and cheese. I cooked the shells, threw them in a casserole dish along with two remaining slices of pepper jack, added shredded cheddar, and  topped it all with panko drizzled with garlic butter. I baked it for fifteen minutes. It turned out well.

For Friday dinner, we had some spinach and mushrooms in the fridge that needed to be used before they went bad. I cooked a cup brown rice, threw in the spinach along with mushrooms which I had sliced, added to that shredded cheddar and there was dinner.

Not elegant or fancy, but nutritious, easy, and inexpensive. As the tagline from the old Smooth Jazz TV program (I hate smooth jazz!)  used to say, “Life is like jazz. It’s best when you improvise.”


impromptu gazpacho

I have been following through on my plan to do more vegetarian cooking. As I wrote previously, it has to do with the fact that I’m not allowed to have red meat for the time being and my perception that I can’t fix poultry for dinner each and every day. I could, yes, but I certainly don’t want to. The vegetarian approach also fit in nicely with Earth Day, as I reflected on Monday while noting all the various celebrations reported online.

gazpacho soupIt was in fact on Monday that I made a Cajun Skillet Beans recipe from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home. The recipe included beans (I used garbanzo), celery, bell pepper, tomatoes, Dijon mustard, honey, and a lot of spices. The spice mix included thyme, basil, oregano, black pepper, and cayenne. I used hot chili powder rather than cayenne.

Terry and I both enjoyed the dish. There wasn’t enough left over for a second meal for two, so I was struck by an idea. On Tuesday at lunch time, a relatively warm day, I used our Vitamix to purée the leftover mixture that I had stored in the fridge. It made for a marvelous cold gazpacho soup (I know, that’s redundant). I added to that a slice of garlic bread from my home-baked sourdough loaf.

It made for a very tasty lunch.


grilled chicken kebabs with pineapple salsa

I was looking for something different for a Saturday dinner and for something that I could grill on our new stove-top grill pan. I found this recipe for grilled chicken kebabs with pineapple salsa in my database, which originally appeared in Shape magazine in September 2010.

pineapple chicken kebabsThe marinade called for pineapple, garlic, rosemary, salt, and pepper pureed in a blender. The salsa consisted of diced pineapple, tomato, spinach, garlic, cilantro, and salt. I omitted the cilantro and salt in the salsa. I cooked the chicken on the grill pan along with pineapple pieces, forgoing the skewers. I also cooked rice as a side, which turned out to be completely unnecessary.

It made for a very tasty Saturday evening dinner.


Manhattan clam chowder

Manhattan clam chowderTerry recently said that she wanted to have Manhattan clam chowder, so I pulled up this recipe from my database, which originally appeared in the Cooking Light issue of May 1999.

It’s really quite straightforward, calling for garlic, a chopped and peeled baking potato, oregano, black pepper, diced tomatoes, and clam juice along with the clams. Terry added cumin and chili powder and a couple of slices of microwaved bacon.

I took care of the garlic bread. It made for a really nice dinner on a cold evening.


chocolate chip cookies

I originally had this chocolate chip cookie recipe in my bulky three-ring binder, and it got transferred to my Living Cookbook database when I made the conversion. It’s from the old Yahoo Vegetarian Group and was written by the group owner, the incomparable Donna.

I followed Donna’s ingredients, but went my own way with the instructions.

The ingredients:

¾ cup sugar
¾ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 cup butter or margarine, room temperature
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 cup coarsely chopped nuts (optional)
1 package (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips

chocolate chip cookiesThis time around I doubled the batch. I was making the cookies for Terry’s physical therapy team after she completed treatment.

I mixed all of the dry ingredients in my Kitchen Aid stand mixer and then threw in the wet ingredients. I next added the chocolate chips and then walnuts which I chopped using the chopping attachment for my immersion blender.

I used a soup spoon to place the dough onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper and baked at 375° for twelve minutes.

They turned out great!


crock pot whole chicken

I have written about this before, but it bears revisiting. This is an incredibly simple way to get multiple meals. The great thing about cooking a whole chicken in your slow cooker is that you put the chicken in the crock pot and turn it on. It’s (almost) that simple. You don’t need to add any liquids because the chicken provides plenty of liquid.

crock pot whole chickenMost recently I bought a six-pound chicken at the grocery store. I pulled out the giblets and the neck and I rubbed it with a combination of za’atar seasoning and smoked paprika. I really prefer the Trader Joe’s whole chicken without the giblets, but the nearest Trader Joe’s is half an hour away in a very congested shopping district. I simply don’t have the culinary skills to work with those parts. (I can’t help but think of the Dan Aykroyd parody of Julia Child on Saturday Night Live: “Save the giblets!”)

I cooked the chicken on low for eight-and-a-half hours. Next time I need to remember to rub the spice mix under the skin. Otherwise it turned out great.

The chicken cost a little less than twice what we pay for a rotisserie chicken at the grocery store. We generally get two meals out of a rotisserie chicken. This one yielded four: that evening’s supper plus three bags sealed up in the FoodSaver and put in the freezer. The math certainly works.

I have a number of recipes in my database that call for using rotisserie chicken. The crock pot chicken is, certainly, a perfectly fine substitute for that, and I don’t have to worry about going out and finding a rotisserie chicken. I just pull it out of the freezer.

There’s a lot to be said for chicken in the slow cooker.


tortilla soup

tortilla soupTortilla Soup was a Mexican remake of the Taiwanese (I believe) film Eat Drink, Man Woman. What was interesting to me was that aside from some changes in cultural references, it was almost a line-for-line remake.

That’s not what I’m talking about here, however. I’m talking about Terry’s tortilla soup. She has made tortilla soup before, but not this particular recipe.

The recipe called for rotisserie chicken, breast and thigh. I had made chicken on our stovetop grill a couple of nights before, and I had extra, we she used that. It specified a poblano chili, but the store didn’t have that so I bought another variety. The recipe included onion, which she omitted as Terry is allergic to onion. She did, however, throw in some frozen corn.

The result was a really tasty winter’s evening meal.