Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tuesday, October 20th

I’m sorry that it’s taken me an entire week to get this blog entry up, but I’ve been slammed with some projects, and it’s taken me all week to finish the leftovers and digest all of the really dairy rich dishes that we had on this Guest Chef Night. It was the first time in Frugal Foodies history that we had a virtual guest chef, Cecile Poyet, who wasn’t able to make it up from San Jose. She joined us via space phone, authentic French accent and all, and led us in veggie versions of some famous French dishes. As mentioned, it was a very rich meal, and one that I wouldn’t recommend eating on a daily basis. Here’s what we had:

French Onion Soup—this was a very flavorful soup. The base was a combination of veggie broth and white wine, and the equal parts of each was a bit too winey for me. I also think that they onions had a bit too much bite, either because they could have been cooked more or sliced a bit more thinly. But regardless, it was very tasty, and any soup topped with bread and melted cheese can’t be a bad thing. I give it a score of 5 bucks.

Warm Goat Cheese Salad with Walnuts—this was my favorite dish of the night until I got to the dessert. Any salad that has bitter greens, fruit, nuts, and cheese is alright by me, but it was the dressing that put it over the top. I had two critiques of the salad in that the breaded cheese patties, for me could have been a bit smaller—more bite size—and the dressing should have been put on the arugula and peaches before being topped with the cheese patties and walnuts. These two things could have really put this salad over the top, but still, I give this very yummy salad a score of 6.5 bucks.

Ratatouille—I was surprised to learn from Cecile that traditional ratatouille has meat in it. That’s crazy since I always had the veggie version of it, even before I was a vegetarian. In any case, this was a tastier dish the day after, and the drawback for me on the night of as the group of cooks added a bit too much spice—not in the recipe—to it for my liking. Ratatouille depends on perfectly cooked veggies and the group did a good but not perfect job on this. All in all, I thought that it was a good but not great dish, and give it a score of 5 bucks.

Bouchees a la Reine—this was the piece de resistance as a veggie version of sweetbreads in puff pastry. I liked many pieces of the dish but there was still something missing for me. First, I would have liked to have seen the puff pastry get really tall for presentation purposes, though it was very tasty even at half height. The fake sweetbread filling was made up of mushrooms and tofu in a white sauce, and though I would have never put them together, I thought that the tofu and mushrooms were a great combination, at least the way that they were prepared. But the sauce was far too bland for me, and that really hurt the dish. It could be spiced up in a number of ways, with chili, cheese, or sour cream as possibilities, and that would have made a world of difference. Still, I give the dish as score of 5.5 bucks.

Bittersweet Chocolate Fondant—this dessert got a bit overdone, but it was still out of this world. Had the cooking been right on, I do believe that this dish could have received the first perfect 8 score. Wowza! The batter was really wonderful but what brought this dish close to perfection were the squares of chocolate imbedded within each fondant, perfectly melted within the baked batter. Each bite exploded with liquefied dark chocolate. And this dish was great even days later after popping it in the microwave for thirty seconds. If you like chocolate, this dish is not to be missed. Just don’t overcook it. I give it a score of 7.5 bucks.

Overall—this was a pretty good night at Frugal Foodies, though when you put all of these rich dishes together, perhaps it’s a little too much. Still, it was a fun venture into French cuisine, especially for us vegetarians who can’t always enjoy all the treats outside of French fries. The overall score was 29.5 bucks, and it’s clear to me that with a few tweaks, this night could have scored as much as five bucks higher. Here are the recipes….

French Onion Soup

From the Guest Chef night of Cecile Poyet

3 medium-sized onions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon butter
2 cloves garlic, finely minced or pressed
1 tablespoon of flour
Broth made with 4 cups of white wine and 1 liter of vegetable broth
1 bay leaf
pepper and salt
6 slices of bread
4 tablespoons of grated cheese

1. Sautee the onions in butter, stirring regularly for 15 minutes. Add the flour and garlic, let the onions turn golden, then add the hot broth. Add the bay-leaf and cook for another 12 to 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
2. Meanwhile, grill the bread either in the oven, on a grill or in the toaster.
3. Pour the soup in an ovenproof casserole, placing the slices of bread on top and covering with the grated cheese. Brown at 425 degrees for ten minutes. Alternately, melt the cheese on the bread in the oven and serve next to the soup.

Serves 8

Warm Goat Cheese Salad With Walnuts

Adapted from the Guest Chef night of Cecile Poyet

1 bunch arugula (or lettuce), rinsed and dried
2 fresh peaches - peeled, pitted and sliced
1 (4 ounce) package goat cheese, crumbled
2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon of honey
1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar

1. Arrange the arugula and peaches in a large salad bowl. Set aside
2. In a skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Stir in breadcrumbs. Cook and stir until slightly golden. Drop the goat cheese slices into the breadcrumbs a few at a time, and turn to coat in the breadcrumb mixture. Repeat for all of the goat cheese, removing the cheese once coated. When done, place them atop the arugula and peaches.
3. In the same skillet you used for the goat cheese, roast walnuts in olive oil for a few minutes.
4. Meanwhile, make the dressing by melting the honey in a microwave. Add mustard and stir with a whisk. Add olive oil, balsamic, and salt and stir well.
5. Place walnuts on salad, and drizzle with dressing.

Serves 6


Adapted from the Guest Chef night of Cecile Poyet

1 medium sized onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium or large eggplant, diced
2 tomatoes, diced
2 medium zucchini diced into large chunks
Herbs (basil, thyme, 1 bay leaf)
2+2 tablespoons of olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste.

1. Sauté the onion and red pepper in olive oil until tender. Add garlic and tomatoes. Stir in the herbs, add salt and pepper. Simmer, covered for 30 minutes
2. In a separate pan, sauté diced eggplant and zucchini in olive oil for 3-5 minutes. Add a cup of water or broth and simmer for another 10-15 minutes until vegetables are suitably soft. Remove from heat and add to the rest of the vegetables.
3. Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold.

Serves 6

Bouchées a la Reine

From the Guest Chef night of Cecile Poyet

6 round puff pastries
½ beaten egg
1 box of tofu, diced
4 cups Vegetable broth
1 box of mushrooms
1 onion

Sauce Ingredients
5 tablespoons of butter
3 cups of milk
1/3 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cups of butter
Salt, pepper, nutmeg
Juice of ½ lemon

1. Pre-heat oven at 350F.
2. Place puff pastry onto a non stick oven dish, then brush the pastry all over with beaten egg. Place in oven for 15 - 20 minutes or until golden brown. When done, take out puffy pastries and remove their top, hollowing out the core. Set aside.
3. Meanwhile, boil tofu in broth for about 10 minutes. Drain the tofu and set aside.
4. Meanwhile, sauté onions, mushrooms and seasonings (salt and pepper) in 2-3 teaspoons of butter for 6 minutes. Add the tofu cubes to the sautéed onions and mushrooms. Cook for an additional 10 minutes.
5. To make the sauce, heat the butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat until melted. Progressively add the flour and stir until smooth. Over medium heat, cook until the mixture turns a light, golden sandy color, about 2 to 3 minutes.
6. Meanwhile, heat the milk in a separate pan or microwave.
7. Add the hot milk to the butter mixture 1 cup at a time, whisking continuously until very smooth. Cook 8 minutes, stirring constantly, then remove from heat. Season with salt, pepper, nutmeg, and lemon juice.
8. Mix together sauce and mushroom stuffing. Fill the puff pastries with this mix.

Serves 6

Bittersweet Chocolate Fondant

Adapted from the Guest Chef night of Cecile Poyet

3.5 oz dark chocolate
10 chocolate squares
3 eggs
1/3 cup sugar
¼ cup butter
1 T flour
Additional flour and butter for preparing ramekins or muffin tins

1. Pre-heat the oven to 500°F.
2. Melt the dark chocolate—not the squares--in a bain-marie, then add the butter. Remove from heat.
3. Meanwhile, in a bowl, mix together the sugar, eggs and flour. Incorporate the chocolate and mix well.
4. Pour 1/3 of the mixture into five buttered and floured ramekins (or into muffin tins). Put 2 chocolate squares in the middle of each ramekin, then cover them with the remaining batter.
5. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes.

Serves 5

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Tuesday, October 13th

Last night was October’s vegan night, and I decided to reprise some recipes from a previous night that I had not yet reviewed. Or better stated, I reused two recipes from before and added two others, all from a corny but fairly good cookbook called “Famous Vegetarians and Their Favorite Recipes”. And it turned out to be a decent night with one doozy and the other three better than average. In any case, here are the reviews:

Chickpea Soup—Leonardo da Vinci is in the news for a newly discovered masterpiece today. I’m sorry to say that it was for a painting and not for this dish. At first when I tasted this soup, I thought, ‘this is interesting’. Then as I ate more, I just thought, ‘this is bad’. So I’m sorry that I substituted this soup recipe on a cold and rainy day. Didn’t make the blues go away, and you should not cook this at home. Because it was interesting in the first bite, I give it a score of 1.5 bucks.

Walnut Rissoles—this is one of the repeat recipes and I think that it’s a solid one. It’s got a lot of good stuff all clumped together, kind of like vegan meatballs, chock full of protein. We baked them instead of deep-frying and they were still good that way. I think that the way to make these really good would be to serve them with some gravy or even a raspberry sauce, something gourmet and California cuisine-ish like that. But as is, I give it a score of 5.5 bucks.

Vegetable Korma—this seemed to be the real winner of the bunch, both because it had good flavor and because the vegetables were cooked perfectly. And because it was one of Gandhi’s all-time faves. What’s nice about this recipe is that it has a vegan/veg ingredient choice, and it’s one where I think either one would be just fine. Not an easy dish, but it’s worth the work. I give it a score of 6.5 bucks.

Apple Fritters—these were not actual apple fritters, which happen to be some of my favorite things in a donut shop, but more like dough-dipped apple spears. Strange thing is that they were not sweet enough for me and they were too much about the apple and not enough about the greasy dough. For most, I’m sure that this was a plus, but I think that I would have liked the doughnut shop version, and I think we could have pulled it off. I got to taste the fritters as they came out of the fryer, and they were certainly not bad, but they didn’t age quite as well. I’ll have to make a note that deep-fried desserts don’t work out so well within the Frugal Foodies format, but deep-frying is almost always good, so I give it a score of 5 bucks.

Overall—again, not a bad meal, and the overall score will suffer since we had a small group and only made four dishes. With this said, the meal scored 18.5 bucks, and that’s more than twice what the people paid. They did have to cook their food and then clean up afterwards—and what a lovely clean-up job they did—so who knows if they really got what they paid for. But as soon as they start making that korma again and again, the night will be one they will not soon forget. Anyways, here are the recipes…

Chickpea Soup (Leonardo da Vinci)

Adapted from Famous Vegetarians and Their Favorite Recipes, by Rynn Berry

45 oz canned chickpeas
2 T flour
1 t olive oil
20 grains of crushed peppercorn
1 t cinnamon
3 pints water
2 t sage
2 t rosemary
2 t parsley, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Drain garbanzo beans, retaining the juice, and put beans into a soup pot. Heat vigorously over medium-high heat with flour.
2. Once flour has browned slightly, add oil, peppercorn, cinnamon and water. Bring to a boil. Season with herbs and salt and pepper to taste.
3. Add in garbanzo juices if desired. Serve warm or hot.

Serves 6-8

Walnut Rissoles (Henry Salt)

Adapted from Famous Vegetarians and Their Favorite Recipes, by Rynn Berry

2 oz margarine or oil
1 small spring onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, diced
2 t marjoram and thyme
1 T all-purpose flour
½ c apple juice
½ lb grated walnuts
1 t nutritional yeast
4 oz whole-wheat bread crumbs
Corn flakes, crushed
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Melt the margarine in a saucepan. Add the onion, celery, marjoram and thyme, and fry gently. Stir in the flour, and then add the juice, yeast, walnuts, and bread crumbs. Cook for about ten minutes, stirring constantly, and then remove from heat.
2. Once the mixture has cooled, form into round shapes and roll in crushed corn flakes.
3. Bake in oven at 350 degrees or fry gently in a frying pan.

Serves 4

Vegetable Korma (Mahatma Gandhi)

Adapted from Famous Vegetarians and Their Favorite Recipes, by Rynn Berry

1 c unroasted cashew nuts
½ c mashed tofu or yogurt
1 c grated coconut
¼ c water
1 c cauliflower, separated into flowerets
1 c peas, hulled
1 c string beans, cut into half inch lengths
1 c carrots, diced
1 c potatoes, peeled and diced
6 t peanut oil
6 whole cloves
1 stick cinnamon
4 cardamom seeds
2 c large white onions, chopped
1 t turmeric
1 t ground coriander
1 t ground cumin
2 c unpeeled tomatoes, cut into ½ inch cubes
2 t salt
Cilantro, chopped

1. Using a blender, masher, or mortar and pestle, combine the first four ingredients into a smooth paste.
2. Place all the vegetables in a heavy stockpot and barely cover with water and simmer until the vegetables are soft. Remove from heat and strain.
3. Heat the oil in the pot and sauté the spices until they start to sizzle. Add the onions and sauté until they are brown. Add the tomatoes and cook for five more minutes. Add the cashew paste, vegetables, and half of the fresh cilantro. Mix well until all the vegetables are well-coated, and heat for five minutes.
4. Remove from heat and serve with remaining cilantro.

Serves 6-8

Apple Fritters (Henry Salt)

Adapted from Famous Vegetarians and Their Favorite Recipes, by Rynn Berry

4 medium cooking apples
4 oz all-purpose flour
2 t baking powder
1 t cream of tartar
½ C apple juice
1 t vegetable oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Oil for deep-frying

4. Peel and core the apples and cut them into wedges about one half inch thick. Set aside.
5. In a bowl, combine the flour with the baking powder and cream of tartar. Add the apple juice and stir vigorously with a spatula. Once thoroughly mixed, add the vegetable oil.
6. Dip the apple wedges into the batter and deep-fry them until golden brown.

Serves 4

Alternately, cut the apples into smaller chunks and combine with more batter to make larger fritters.