Lentil Shepherd’s Pie

In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s fall.  In Vancouver we’re still having warm days, but the rain is picking up, and the leaves are starting to come off the trees.  That means it’s time to switch from salads to comfort foods, and one of the things I miss most being vegetarian is a good shepherd’s pie.  It’s an easy thing to make, but getting enough protein can be difficult if you’re just using mixed veggies.  So I came up with the idea of replacing ground beef or lamb with brown lentils.  I think the brown ones hold up a bit better than green ones, and they retain a bit of bite, which I like.

lentils

I totally winged this one, and the result was nothing short of amazing…in my humble opinion.  Unfortunately it didn’t photograph well, but I find un-photogenic foods often taste the best.  I also haven’t fully raved about my new Kuhn Rikon pressure cooker on the blog yet, but let’s just say the mashed potatoes that have been coming out of my kitchen lately are some of the best ever.  I decided to pack even more veggies into my shepherd’s pie and threw in a parsnip for fun this time.

Anyways, let’s get straight to the good stuff cause I gotta get back to work.  Here’s my recipe for Lentil Shepherd’s Pie with Parsnip Kale Mash.

For the mash:

  • 3-4 big yukon gold or russet potatoes
  • 1 large parsnip
  • 1 small bunch kale, washed, stemmed and chopped
  • 3 tbsp. butter (use less, use olive oil, whatever makes you happy here)
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Make the mash however you usually do, the parsnips and potatoes take the same amount of time to cook and are happy to take a hot bath together.  Add in the butter, milk and kale when they’re done and whip them to perfection (if you were like me and had some leftover creme fraiche in your fridge you would also add that).  In my pressure cooker I did them on the second red ring for 6 minutes and used the natural release method (yes, I am aware there are funny jokes to be made about these instructions). Set them aside and keep warm.

For the base:

  • 1 cup brown lentils, rinsed, picked over and cooked until they are tender but retain some bite (about 15 minutes)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 2-3 carrots, chopped
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cups chopped cremini or white button mushrooms
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 3 cups vegetable stock or water

Saute the onion, celery, carrots and mushrooms over medium heat for 7-10 minutes until tender.  Add the garlic and bay leaves and cook 2 more minutes.  Season with salt and pepper at this point, and add the tomato paste.  Cook out the tomato paste a bit until it’s bubbly, then add the wine and simmer it down to reduce slightly.  Add in the drained lentils and 2 cups of stock.  Simmer for 20 minutes, adding more stock if it dries out.  Continue cooking until lentils reach desired doneness.  Cooking times may very with green lentils as well.

Once everything is ready and seasoned to your liking (don’t forget to remove the bay leaves), put the base into a 9 x 11 glass casserole dish and top with mashed potatoes. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes and let stand another 10.  I drizzled a bit of white truffle oil on top, and you could also grate some Parmesan cheese.

You could make individual pies for a dinner party if you wanted…otherwise this casserole keeps really well in the fridge, and would also freeze well.

Bon Appetit!

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Foggy Fall Food

We’re in the midst of one of the most beautiful and perfect fall’s I’ve ever experienced. A string of sunny crisp days, and clear, but not too cold nights is more than any girl can ask for. But the past few days have been a bit different; the city has been completely socked in by fog.  Thankfully I also enjoy a good foggy day, and last night, I took some cooking inspiration from fluffy grey cloud blanketing downtown.

I decided to make my own applesauce!  There’s nothing more appropriate for a foggy fall day than warm applesauce, loaded with cinnamon and nutmeg.  My friend Laura recently told me how she does applesauce in her slow cooker, so I figured I’d try that.  The result was perfect and it made my apartment smell absolutely amazing while it simmered away. My husband and I had to use every ounce of restraint to not dig in before it had cooled enough not to scald us.  But that was just part one!

Part two of last night’s meal was the star of the show.  Earlier in the month, as the weather turned I had a hankering for Ina Garten’s Pan Roasted Root Vegetables.  But as a vegetarian I was a bit lost as to what to serve them with, because usually I would serve them with roast chicken.  So I went out, bought a free range, very expensive bird, and unfortunately wasn’t the least bit satisfied.  But last night inspiration came to me and I decided to make oven roasted root vegetables and serve them over warm quinoa with a shallot dressing.  I wasn’t sure how it would turn out, but the silence at my dinner table said everything (usually we’re a very chatty bunch).

So here’s a couple recipes that you can modify and make your own to your little heart’s content.  They embody everything I love about the fall, and go nicely with a big glass of red!

Slow Cooker Apple Sauce

  • 10 apples, peeled, cored and cut into wedges (I used a mix of granny smith and gala)
  • 1/4 c brown sugar (more or less depending on how sweet you like it)
  • 3 cinnamon stick
  • 3-4 long strips of lemon zest
  • 1T ground nutmeg

Throw everything in your slow cooker and simmer on high for 3-4 hours, stirring occasionally, because you don’t want it to stick to the sides and burn!  Next time I’m going to try adding some dried cranberries and see how that turns out.  It’s seriously so good that you’ll want to eat it over vanilla ice cream.

photo

Roasted Veggies and Quinoa

  • 4 cups cooked quinoa (warm)
  • 2 parsnips, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 3 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • Turnips, rutabaga or celery root peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 4 handfuls brussels sprouts, par boiled and halved
  • Red onion, sliced, but not too thinly
  • Fresh parsley for garnish

Turn your oven on to 450 and toss the veggies with some olive oil, salt and pepper on a sheet pan.  Roast for 10 min, turn, and roast another 10-15 min. until easily pierced with a fork.  Be careful not to over cook them.

When the veggies are done, add them to the quinoa with any drippings or browned bits form the pan.  Add your dressing, lots of options here.  I used a pre-made shallot vinaigrette from Whole Foods that was delicious, but if I’d had to go from scratch I would have done oil, honey, dijon and red wine vinegar as my go to.  The warm veggies will soak up a good amount of the dressing so you’ll use more than you might think.  It reheats beautifully for lunch the next day as well!

photo (1)

Although these are both incredibly simple recipes, I wanted to share them, because I think a lot of people try to overcomplicate cooking, and are displeased with the results.  These aren’t fancy, but they taste great, take almost no active time to make and are pretty healthy and balanced.  To me the fall is all about rustic food that tastes good, warms the heart, and sends you to bed feeling full and content.  Mission accomplished!

Butternut Squash Soup with Black Lentils & Goat Cheese

I was initially fearful of my first fall as a mostly vegetarian after being in the groove of one dish summer salads and mezze plates for many months.  The idea of an entire season without shepherd’s pie, spaghetti bolognese or goulash still scares me a little bit.  But over the weekend as the weather turned cooler and the leaves really started to turn I remembered that it was finally soup season!

fall

To celebrate on Sunday night I made a delicious minestrone with kale, chick peas and a bunch of veggies that were hanging out in my fridge about to go bad.  And last night I decided to go off the rails, taking inspiration from a recipe I had every intention of making from my favourite blog, Smitten Kitchen.  The original recipe was for a spicy squash and lentil salad.  I loved the idea of the sweet squash, the bite of the black lentils and the smooth texture of the goat cheese, but I didn’t want a salad that would be served at room temperature.  In the end I turned out a velvety smooth butternut squash soup, with black lentils for colour, texture and extra protein, topped with goat cheese and sage.

squash

lentils

Unfortunately the presentation was sorely lacking, so you’ll have to excuse my lack of photos, but here’s my recipe, my very own from start to finish!  I’ll be ready to write my cookbook in no time!

Ingredients:

  • About 2 lbs. butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed, (use more if you’re not sure, you can always add more stock to thin things out if it’s too thick)
  • 1/2 cup black lentils, cooked and drained
  • 2 tbsp. roughly chopped fresh sage leaves
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Crumbled goat cheese (as much as your little heart desires), I used about 1/3 of a log

What you do:

Toss the squash with salt, pepper and a bit of olive oil and roast in the oven at 425 for 20-25 min. turning once.  You want the squash to be tender, but not completely mushed. When it’s done, put the squash cubes into a large pot, add the veggie stock and bring to a boil.   Add the sage and season with salt and pepper.  Simmer for about 5 minutes.  Then puree the mixture with an immersion blender, or run it through your blender.  Once it’s been pureed, add extra stock to get the desired texture, and then add the cream and stir to combine.  Don’t let it boil once you add the cream.

When you’re ready to serve, place a couple spoon fulls of lentils in each bowl and pour the soup over top. Add more lentils to the top centre, to get the desired quantity.  Remember lentils are quite filling, so don’t go overboard.  Sprinkle with goat cheese, top with a bit more fresh sage if you like, or some good olive oil and sit down to enjoy a steaming hot bowl of the best butternut squash soup you’ll ever try!

It would be a fun dish to serve at a Halloween party, because the black lentils against the orange soup are quite festive!  I served mine with a simple green salad and crusty olive bread.  Instead of the sage, you could go back to Deb’s recipe and add the smoked paprika for a totally different flavour profile.  I might try that next time, and there will indeed be a next time for this one.

Being a Vegetarian on Sundays is Hard

Fall is pretty much upon us in Vancouver.  The weather is still warm, but the light is different, there’s a slight chill in the air and the atmosphere has a hazy, misty quality to it.  Simply put, it’s a beautiful time of year to live here!

fall-in-vancouver

It also means that gone are the days of summer salads, late dinners on the patio, and thinking “I don’t feel like cooking so I’ll have some tomatoes and cheese for dinner”.  It gets dark around 8, and by 7 my body is craving something hearty.  It’s a bit daunting because this is my first fall (my favourite season by far) as a vegetarian.  Spring and summer were totally manageable, but going meatless in the fall will be quite the accomplishment.

We probably haven’t met, but one thing you should know about me is that I love football. I’m not a die hard for any particular team, but if I don’t have plans on a Sunday, I’m most likely to be found enjoying the game on my couch, with a cold beer in hand.  A by product of this home body behaviour is lots and lots of cooking.  On a typical Sunday during the regular season I’ll spend at least 4 hours actively cooking or baking.  Yes, my co-workers love me!

Sunday-Football-Specials

But what am I to do without my go to’s like shepherd’s pie, spaghetti Bolognese and turkey meatloaf?  No wings on the bbq, or ribs on Superbowl Sunday this year.  So yes, being a vegetarian on Sundays is hard.  But not quite as hard as I thought.  I’ve recently discovered that you can make a hearty, delicious and satisfying vegetarian meal that even a meat eating, Budweiser drinking man would love on a Sunday.  For the opening Sunday of the season today I made mixed bean chilli.  

It was a labour of love, in that I had to soak the beans overnight,  boil them for about 90 minutes this morning, and then leave them in the slow cooker on high with everything else until 5pm.  The result of my advance planning was an amazing and authentic meatless chilli.  The secret ingredient is coco powder.  Inspired again by Deb Perleman’s recipe on Smitten Kitchen, here’s my slow cooker version of her 3 bean chilli.

3 beans

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup each: dried pinto, black and red kidney beans (soaked over night, and boiled until almost cooked (90 min approx.)
  • 2 15 ou. cans diced tomatoes with juices
  • 1 small can tomato paste
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 1 tbsp unsweetened coco powder
  • 2 tbsp good quality chilli powder
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  •  2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (add more if you want a but of heat

Add everything to the slow cooker and turn it on high, cook until the beans are tender and completely cooked (about 3 hours). Reduce to low and simmer until you’re ready to eat. Serve with any and or all of the following: diced green onions, cheddar cheese, sour cream, chopped pickled jalapeno peppers and tortilla chips.  You could also serve it over rice to get your complete protein.  

If this isn’t a touchdown then I don’t know what is!  We finished off the meal with large pieces of Ina Garten’s Plum Tart Tatin (from Barefoot In Paris) which I made yesterday with fresh plums that reminded me of my childhood so much I almost cried.   

plum cake

So that’s one Sunday down, 15 more regular season Sundays to go, which I’m now seeing as 15 opportunities to try something new, fabulous and veg!

Crabby Crab Cakes

It’s that time of year, when it starts to get dark all of a sudden, it’s a wee bit chilly in the mornings, and you debate wearing tights to work.  For me the start of fall not only represents a change in seasons, but a complete shift in what I want to eat and drink.  Long gone are the days of salads and Pimm’s on the patio.  Now it’s time for soups and stews…and bring on the cab sav!

But tonight, it was quite warm when I got home, and the sun was still shinning so I decided to make one last summer meal.  Crab cakes are always a favourite, but for some reason I haven’t made them in ages.  I used to do them with canned crab, but it just wasn’t doing it for me, so I picked up some lump crab meat at Costco that was sort of vacuum packed. The quality was surprisingly good and for the price I got a lot of mileage out of it.  Obviously if you can get fresh crab that’s the way to go, but for most of us that’s hard to come by.

I’ve experimented with all sorts of recipes for crab cakes over the years and I never seem to be 100% happy with them.  So now I just make them, with whatever I have, that sounds good, just the way I like.  And they always turn out great!  So try your own, or use my guidelines. Note that measurements are by no means precise.  In my opinion the key to great crab cakes is fresh herbs, lemon, and when you make your cakes, you have to first form them almost like a meatball, and then flatten them out so they stay together once you fry them. Oh, and instead of breadcrumbs which get soggy and tend to taste like cardboard, use panko, a Japanese breadcrumb product you can get almost anywhere nowadays.

Crab Cakes My Way:

  • 1/2 lb. lump crab meat
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 C mayonaise
  • 2 T dijon mustard
  • 1-1/2 C panko
  • Fresh herbs (I like dill or for some Asian flavour try green onions), as much as you like, roughly chopped
  • Seasoning salt (I use a spice blend from friends that unfortunately isn’t sold in stores, but Old Bay works just fine) and pepper to taste

Use your hands to mix all the ingredients together in a large mixing bowl.  Then once you’re happy with the consistency (more panko may be required), decide what size cake you want.  I usually opt for a small to medium sized cake that’s nice and thin.  I find they cook better without burning.  But if you’re feeling ballsy, go for one of those big thick restaurant style cakes and see how you fare.  You can also do mini’s that are fun for parties!

I pan fry my crab cakes with a little grape seed oil because it has a higher smoking point and is less likely to burn.  Cook them until they’re nicely browned on both sides, then pop them in a 350 degree oven to keep them warm while the others cook up.  When you’re all done, serve them with some lemon, caper, basil mayo, or if you want something with a bit of kick try a Thai red curry mayo.  Making fancy mayo isn’t hard, you basically just add the ingredients I’ve listed above to Hellmann’s!  People are always so impressed when I pull out fancy mayo dips and sauces, but they are so easy!

So enjoy the last of the summer sun; here in the northwest we’ve got a long winter ahead.