Tag Archives: vegetables

Sing a song of sixpence

If you look in the branches, you can see those pesky little robins, who made a mess of my front porch but gave me a great idea for dinner.

You never know where you’ll get the inspiration for a meal. Last night’s dinner came from a flock of robins that I spotted perched yesterday morning on our storm-damaged crape myrtle tree — that is, the idea for the dinner came from them. A lot of people around our Capitol Hill neighborhood — and over into the Southwest Waterfront area — have been noticing that we seem to be invaded by flocks of robins just before a snowstorm hits. Seeing as how we had four storms in a matter of 10 days, we have all been seeing a lot of robins lately. Personally, I am beginning to wonder if they are harbingers of snow, and so I am suspicious now when I see them.

As my husband and I went outside in the midst of yesterday’s blizzard to begin doing battle with the snow piling up on our sidewalk, we noticed even more robins on our neighbor’s dogwood tree, which stretches across our front garden. When we came back up to the house later on, the flock of birds suddenly flew out from our front porch — we thought perhaps they were taking refuge from the storm and were feeling sorry for the little things until we actually walked up onto the porch and saw that they had decided to use the floor as a toilet. As if we hadn’t just had enough fun cleaning up another foot of snow. Jokingly, my husband said “We should catch those stupid birds and put them in a pie!”  At least, I think he was joking.

And, thus, dinner was born. Now I can’t get that old nursery rhyme out of my head: “Sing a song of sixpence/Pocket full of rye/Four-and-twenty blackbirds/Baked in a pie.”

Pot pie is one of those things that people don’t really make, maybe because it is associated with frozen t.v. dinners. But it is incredibly easy to make and really satisfying on a cold winter’s night. What I love about it is that you can literally clean out your refrigerator — all those bits and pieces of leftovers are perfect for a pot pie, and the transformation gives them new life. My pot pie included some leftover barbecue, herb-seasoned french fries, breakfast sausages, and carrot sticks, to which I added some vegetarian “chicken”, onion, green bell pepper, and frozen corn.

Being pretty tired from seemingly endless days of digging out from snowstorms, I went the quick route with the pie crust, using a food-processor method which takes a cup of flour, a stick of chilled butter, a little salt, and some ice water — the whole thing comes together in about two minutes flat. You can make pie crust in a food processor, as long as you don’t work the crust too hard; they tend to get tough if you spend too much time mixing and kneading.

If the idea of making a pie crust from scratch is going to keep you from making a pot pie, then just buy a ready-made pie crust. There are several good varieties out there; I have used the Trader Joe’s one a couple of times (it does not contain lard, as many others do) and it’s a pretty nice crust. If you want to try the food processor crust, here’s the link for the recipe by Alton Brown of the Food Network:

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/pie-crust-recipe/index.html

This recipe calls for a combination of butter and lard, but I just made it with 8 tablespoons of butter (1 stick).

Once you actually make a pot pie yourself, you will realize what a crowd-pleaser it is. What could be more cozy than a steaming slice of savory pie as the wind is howling around the eaves and you are plugging the drafts under the door with old towels? So make a pie, snuggle up with your family far away from the storm, and dream sweet dreams of springtime and flowers.

Now wasn't that a dainty dish to set before the king?

Cozy Pot Pie

This is not going to be a standard recipe, so bear with me. Making a filling for pot pie is not rocket science, so I’m just going to give you some general guidelines. You’ll need about 1-1/2 cups of protein and about 3 cups of vegetables. Here are some suggestions for the filling:

Protein: Chicken, beef, turkey, sausage, to name a few. I remember as a kid in New England that pot pies also often had fish in them — of course, that’s when cod was still readily available. Any kind of chunky fish would work, though, such as salmon, tuna, or swordfish. In the mid-Atlantic area, pot pies often feature crab and ham.

Vegetables: Obviously potatoes, carrots, and onions. Also, peas, green beans, corn, broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, leeks, and just about anything else you like. Fennel bulb is fabulous in a pot pie (a nice alternative to celery), and so are chunks of apple. I would stay away from tomatoes, or use them sparingly, simply because they tend to be a little watery for a pot pie.

Secret ingredient: I like to throw in chunks of cheese as I’m filling the pie pan (don’t cook it with the filling beforehand). I used an Irish Guinness Cheddar in last night’s pie — yum.

A pot pie filling should be pretty much cooked before it goes into the pie pan. The protein should be completely cooked, and the vegetables should be partially cooked (they’ll finish cooking in the oven). Start with sauteéing the onion in olive oil until it becomes translucent, then add the protein and brown it slightly. Then add the other vegetables one at a time, about a minute apart, stirring frequently. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, along with any other herbs and spices (I like to use thyme, paprika, and a smoked chipotle powder). While over medium heat, add about half a cup of milk and stir to thicken. Allow to simmer over low heat and add another half cup of milk until you get the right consistency. You want the sauce to be a little juicy but not too thin, otherwise it will drown the crust.

As to the crust: You should have enough dough for two crusts. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Roll out half the dough (leave the other half in the fridge for now) into a circle large enough to fill your pie plate,with about an inch hanging over the edge. Fold the additional dough up to the edge of the pan and crimp with a fork or your fingers. Line the bottom of the crust with a piece of parchment paper and fill with pie weights or raw beans (this keeps the crust from creating air bubbles). Bake for about 15 minutes, then remove the weights/beans/parchment and bake for another 5 minutes. This is called blindbaking — basically, cooking the crust about half-way.

To assemble the pie: Now that you have blindbaked the crust, you can add the filling. It should be a heaping mound — don’t worry about that, because it will settle in the oven. Roll out the other half of your pie crust, lay it over the top of the whole shebang and crimp the edges together with those of the bottom crust. Cut three or four slits in the top to allow the heat to escape. Brush the crust with heavy cream or an egg wash (one egg mixed with a teaspoon of water). Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until the crust is golden and you can see the filling bubbling up between the slits in the crust. Let the pie sit for about 10 minutes before serving.

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She’s writing about lasagna? Really?

If that's not love, I don't know what is. You can almost smell its bubbling cheesy warmth.

When you’re a vegetarian, you eat a lot of lasagna. For some reason, non-vegetarians (omnivores) become completely stumped by what to feed people who don’t eat meat, so the fallback is generally a lasagna. Luckily, I love lasagna, so this is fine with me, and the result is that I rarely make it at home.

Lasagna is a classic, though — great for feeding a large crowd, perfect for potlucks, and a clever way to get veggies into picky eaters. I actually suggested a vegetable lasagna to a friend the other day when she was telling me about how her teenaged son, who has always been a pretty good eater, is suddenly craving carbohydrates and doesn’t want any vegetables (I think it’s a growth spurt thing). The perfect solution is definitely a vegetable lasagna — packed with noodles and cheesy goodness, the layers can be laden with vitamin-rich produce, so that growing boy can get real nutrition out of every mouthful.

I promised you a recipe, so here it is, with a few prepatory notes.

1. Sometimes in the store you’ll see boxes of “no-boil” lasagna noodles, and I am all for anything that saves me from having to boil a big stock pot full of water. However, any kind of lasagna noodles can be “no-boil” — you don’t need a special kind. If you want to try the no-boil method, then mix 1/2 cup of tomato sauce with a 1/2 cup of water and pour that into the bottom of your baking dish, then assemble your lasagna in the usual way, using the dried noodles and topping each layer of noodles with slightly soupy tomato sauce. When you get to the top, leave off the last layer of cheese and cover with aluminum foil, baking for about 45 minutes at 350 degrees . Then pull off the foil, throw on the cheese, and bake for another 15 or 20 minutes at 375 degrees until it is nice and bubbly.

An assortment of odds and ends can add up to a perfect lasagna.

2. Go through your refrigerator and look for whatever odds and ends you can throw into that lasagna — waste not, want not. In yesterday’s lasagna, I threw in several spoonfuls of olive tapenade along with about a cup of millet that was in the freezer (don’t be scared about millet — it’s just a grain, like couscous, and I made something with it a while ago and froze the remainder because I figured it would come in handy some day).

3. If you have leftover cream cheese or goat cheese, cut it up into bits and throw that into a layer for just that little bit of extra yum. I did find a cup of mashed sweet potato — left over from another meal last week — and I was pretty excited about spooning that into a layer, but, sadly, when I opened it up, it was starting to sour. Oh well — my fault for not paying attention to the leftovers in the fridge.

4. You’ve probably heard this before, but lasagna is actually better when you make it ahead — the layers get a chance to kind of sink into each other and suck up each other’s tasty juices, leaving you with just a luscious casserole that surely tastes the way true love would taste if it had a flavor.

Vegetable Lasagna

1 box of lasagna noodles (cooked or uncooked, your choice)

3 cups of tomato sauce (jarred, canned, or homemade, but have extra if you decide to do the “no-boil” lasagna)

4 cups of shredded cheese, any variety (I like to mix it up between mozzarella, sharp cheddar, and parmesan, although fontina is also fab)

1 15-ounce container of ricotta cheese, mixed with one beaten egg

Vegetables (this is your opportunity to be creative: go for it! Some suggestions are spinach, mushrooms, carrots, sliced beets, green peas, zucchini, eggplant, peppers, sweet potatoes, onions, water chestnuts, soybeans, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and just about anything else)

Olive oil, herbs, salt and pepper (I like dried tarragon and oregano, about a teaspoon of each sprinkled over the last couple of layers, plus maybe a little smoked paprika and a dash of nutmeg)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Building the lasagna

Here's the lasagna in process; you can see bits of peppers and spinach and carrots peeking from the lower layers. One more layer went on top of the one pictured here before it was complete.

How to construct a layer:

Place a layer of noodles on the bottom of the pan (follow instructions above for no-boil method). Sprinkle about 1/2 cup of sauce (add more if you like your lasagna extra-saucy) over the noodles, then dot with several spoonfuls of ricotta cheese mixture. Top with one of your vegetables, sprinkle with about 3/4 cup of cheese, and a little salt/pepper/etc. That’s a layer!

Keep building your layers to the top of the pan, leaving a little room to add your final layer of cheese — you want to reserve about 1-1/2 cups of cheese for that final layer, and you may want to sprinkle about 1/2 cup of grated parmesan over the top. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle on your herbs, and throw it in the oven. It’ll take about an hour, maybe a bit longer, to reach that perfectly toasted golden goodness. Let it sit for about 15 minutes before slicing.

Cut piece, not the Yoko variety.

In all its luscious glory, each layer is like a little temptress, teasing you to discover the secrets of the perfect lasagna.

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