Tomato Bread Soup

bread soup 2.jpgThis is an uncomplicated comforting soup to eat on a cold early spring day.  It's warm and filling without being heavy.  My mother said the pieces of bread in the soup were like eating clouds.  Seriously, I'm not kidding you, she really said that.  Best thing?  It gets even better by the second day. 

If you have a lot of home canned tomatoes this is an excellent recipe to make with them.

Tomato Bread Soup
serves 8


1/2 cup olive oil
1onion, diced
2 quarts diced or stewed tomatoes (use the juice too)
1 quart vegetable broth
1/4 cup red wine
8 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 tsp salt
1 tsp dried oregano
30 grinds of pepper
1 day old baguette, torn into small pieces


Heat the olive oil in a soup pot on med/high heat, then add the onion and saute until it slightly browns.  Add the tomatoes, broth, red wine, salt, oregano, and pepper.  Turn the heat down to med/low. 

Cook for twenty minutes.

Remove from the heat and puree the soup with an immersion blender OR let it cool down and then blend it in a blender and then return it to the pot.

Put the soup back on the stove, bring to a brief boil, then turn the heat to low and add the bread to it.  Stir it in well and let it cook for ten more minutes.  The bread should be completely saturated and soft but not disintegrated.  If you used particularly hard stale bread you may need to let it cook a little longer.

It is very good just like this but I like to serve it with grated Parmesan.

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Recipe notes:  You can substitute commercially canned diced or stewed tomatoes - use 2 28 oz cans in place of the quarts.  It's not precisely  the same number of ounces but it won't hurt the recipe at all.  If you use fresh oregano then use a tablespoon of minced in place of the tsp of dried.  If you make this in the summer time you can use 4 1/2 pounds of fresh tomatoes with the seeds squeezed out. 

If you object to cooking with wine (or don't have any on hand) you can substitute red wine vinegar for it - don't leave it out if you're using home canned.  If you use commercially canned tomatoes you can leave out the wine or vinegar all together, though I don't think you should. 

Don't cut down on the olive oil amount.  This is such a simple soup and the olive oil adds a very important richness to it.  It's not so very much per person when divided into 8 portions.

This recipe isn't gluten free but I'd love it if one of my gluten free friends would try making it with gluten free bread and tell me if it's good! 

This is a vegan recipe.

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Spinach and Nettles Spanakopita (crustless)

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spanakopita 2.jpgThe egg rose to the top there making this look more like a quiche.  I believe this happened because my greens were still a little too wet.  It's not at all like a quiche.  When making it in a pie dish this didn't happen.

I have eaten a lot of spanakopita in my life.  I'm just saying this right now so you will understand that I know what it tastes like.  I wanted to make a crustless version of spanakopita and shared this ambition with my mother who at once let me know that without the crust it simply can't be spanakopita.  I argued that what makes a spanakopita spanakopita isn't the crust but the filling of spinach and feta and onions and dill. 

After some fruitless brangling over this it was revealed that my mom just doesn't see the point of spanakopita without the crust because she loves the crust.  I got the distinct feeling that if I put a plain wilted spinach leaf on a succulent nest of golden filo she would accept it as the real deal.  I'm not a dab hand at working with filo so I made a spanakopita with a buttery pate brisee for her.  She did agree that the filling was exquisite and tasted exactly like spanakopita.

Next I made it without a crust and she saw the point of it after all. 

Just as I was experimenting with this recipe spring happened.  With early spring in Oregon comes nettles season!  I don't love the taste of stinging nettles.  Lots of people rave about it but I think it tastes like sea weed, that's one of the few vegetables I truly can't tolerate.  I'm motivated to keep trying to find ways to use nettles because of their dense nutritional content.  Nettles have been eaten in early spring by people for hundreds of years (possibly forever, but definitely for hundreds) in soups and teas.  At the end of winter people who didn't have access to luscious produce from Chile were really in need of a boost to their steady diet of dried/stewed meats and root vegetables. 

At last I have found the recipe to use them in where the taste doesn't come through but I get the benefit of the the nutrition.  I added two cups of dried nettles to the spinach (and chard when I don't have enough spinach) and it still tastes exactly like traditional spanakopita.  After I go on my first foraging hunt for fresh nettles I will make this again and report to you how much fresh to add to this recipe if you can get your mitts on it.

If you like your spanakopita with a crust you can just use this recipe as your filling.

My mom couldn't stop eating it.  Cause it's that good.  Argument solved. 

pot of spinach 2.jpgTwo pounds of spinach seems like a lot.  Until it's all cooked.  This big pot full becomes insignificant.

dry nettles 2.jpgIt's nettle season right now in some places and I ought to have made this recipe with fresh nettles so I could tell you how much to use if you have fresh on hand.  However, I haven't gotten out to forage yet so I'm using what I dried from last year.  Notice that I haven't crushed my dried nettles nor have I tamped them down.

squeezed cooked greens 2.jpgSee how little it looks?  Still, divided in six this is one heck of a good serving of greens!

Spinach and Nettles Spanakopita (crustless)

Serves 6 - 8 if made in a pie dish
Serves 4 in 8oz ramekins


2  lbs spinach (or mix of spinach and chard)
2 cups dried nettles
3 cups water
1/4 cup olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
1 1/2 tsp dried dill
1 tsp salt
30 grinds of pepper
8 oz feta (crumbled)
2 eggs
1 tbsp butter (for greasing the baking dish)


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Wash and stem your fresh greens (especially if you use some chard).  Bring the water to boil in a large pot and add all your greens and dried nettle to it.  Boil the greens (be sure to stir them well so the nettles get immersed) until tender (about ten minutes). 

Drain the greens in a colander (and save the boiling water for use as soup stock for later).  When the greens are cool enough to handle squeeze all the water out of them that you can.  Chop and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a medium sauce pan.  Add the onions and saute until translucent.

In a medium sized bowl whisk the eggs, dill, salt, and pepper with a fork until well mixed.  Add the greens, onion, and feta and stir again until completely mixed.  Spoon into a buttered pie dish or buttered ramekins and bake for 40 minutes. 

spanakopita diff view 2.jpg

Recipe Notes:  (Oh, you thought there were plenty of notes in the beginning?)  I like this best cooked in the pie dish.  Alternatively you could use a square baking dish and cut it in squares.  You could make this with any greens that cook up really tender, so what I'm saying is PLEASE DON'T USE KALE.  Traditional spanakopita is all spinach (hence the name "spinach pie") but I made this twice with a mix of spinach and chard (because I didn't have enough spinach) and it was just as good.  You could, if you're a big fan of kelp flavor, do this dish entirely with nettles. 

This recipe is gluten free.

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Russian Pot Pie

cooked Russian 2.jpg
This is the perfect dish to serve after a hard day chasing yak on the tundra!

Eastern Europe isn't especially famous for its vegetarian food.  Occasionally I like to check out Russian, Ukranian, and Croatian cook books from the library.  Most of them were written and photographed so long ago that the photographs are somewhat dreary.  Still, I am attracted to the culture (and culture clashes), the food, and the architecture of Eastern Europe. 

I did research about Ukranian and Russian food while writing my first (unpublished) novel "Jane Doe" and was fascinated by solyanka, a soup with pickles in it.  I feel sure I will one day make a meatless version of it.

This dish was inspired by a recipe I tried first many years ago from the cookbook "Vegetarian Epicure" by Anna Thomas.  I don't even have the book anymore and don't remember how she made it or exactly what was in it but what I got from her recipe for a Russian style pie was the combination of marjoram, cabbage, and mushrooms with hard boiled eggs.  I have been making different versions of this combination for a long time and finally decided to make it into pot pies and change the marjoram to dill.

I don't have a pie crust recipe prepared for you but if you don't already have your own favorite try this Simply Recipes pate brisee, it's almost the same as the one I use.  You need enough pie dough for one crust and you'll need 6 8 oz ramekins or other single serving dishes if you want to make the pot pies.  If you don't want little pies you can make this as one single big pie.

Russian Pot Pie

makes 6 pot pies


Enough pie dough for one crust, portioned into 6 pieces
6 hard boiled eggs

1/4 cup olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
1 lb button mushrooms, sliced
1 head cabbage, chopped small
1/2 cup water (appx)
1 1/2 tsp dried dill
1 tsp salt
30 grinds fresh pepper
16 oz sour cream


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan on med/high, add the onions and cook until they just start to become translucent.  Add all the mushrooms and cook until they are completely soft.  Add the cabbage, dill, salt, pepper, and the water and put the lid on the pan, removing every couple of minutes to stir and make sure the pan hasn't gone dry.  If the cabbage isn't tender yet but is starting to brown, add a little more water. 

When the cabbage is tender turn the heat down to low and add the sour cream, stirring it in well.  When heated through, remove from heat.

Put your ramekins on a baking sheet to catch any overflowing juices from the pies.  Fill each ramekin halfway with the cabbage and mushrooms.  Slice and layer a hard boiled egg into it.  Fill to the top with more mushroom and cabbage.  You should have enough to fill all six to a rounded mound, but if not, that's okay.  It will vary depending on the size of your cabbage.

Roll out the six pieces of dough into circles just a little bit bigger than the circumference of the ramekins.  Lay the dough on top of each one pushing the edges against the edge of each dish to seal it shut.  Use a small sharp knife to make little slashes in the dough to let the steam out while cooking.

Bake in the oven until the crusts are turning golden (about 45 minutes).

Recipe Notes:
  I've made this with marjoram instead of dill and loved it both ways.  I have also made it without the sour cream which Philip and I loved but my mom thought it was too dry.  As I've mentioned before, I use a light sour cream but only because Tillamook makes a really flavorful one. 

This could be vegan if you use a vegan crust, leave out the egg, and don't use the sour cream.  That might not sound good to some people but what is most important in this dish is the cabbage, mushrooms, and seasonings- it's really good right from the pan so I encourage my vegan friends to come up with their own version.  If you wanted it to have some protein I would add some white beans which won't take away from the other flavors but would make it more hearty. 

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Tofu Stroganoff

dressed stroganoff 2.jpgI have never had Beef Stroganoff because my mom raised me as a vegetarian.  I have no idea what the traditional dish should taste like but this recipe is my version of the dish my mom came up with as a vegetarian alternative.  I have settled into a routine of making it without thinking about it and it has quietly evolved over the years.  As I've been making it recently I couldn't remember if I used to put garlic in it.  I love garlic but if it was ever part of the original dish my mom created, I can't remember.  What I offer here is the version I'm making right now. 

Even if you like to eat meat, why not try this version the next time you need to feed someone who doesn't?  It's comforting, satisfying, and easy to make. 

tofu squares 2.jpgTofu Stroganoff Recipe


1/4 cup olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 1/2 lbs crimini or button mushrooms, sliced
1 block firm tofu
30 grinds black pepper
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried marjoram
16 oz sour cream
1/4 cup soy sauce
8 oz whole wheat egg noodles


In a large pan saute the onion on med/high heat in the olive oil until transparent.  Add the mushrooms and stir occasionally until they are slightly browned.  While the mushrooms are sauteing, boil salted water in a pot for the pasta.

Add the tofu to the saute pan along with the pepper, thyme, and marjoram.  Stir well and cook for about five minutes.  By this time your water should be boiling, add the pasta to it and cook until just tender.

Turn the heat down to low and add sour cream and soy sauce to the mushrooms and tofu and stir in well.  When you've drained your pasta add it to the saute pan and stir it all together.  Serve and eat!  But don't burn your tongue. 


le fake stroganoff 2.jpg

Recipe notes:  I cut my tofu into roughly 3/4" cubes because I don't want the tofu hidden.  If you prefer you can cut the tofu much smaller so that it's not as visibly noticeable.  I would avoid using a soft tofu, however, as it will dissipate.  For those people who like more texture to their tofu an extra firm tofu will work well.  I used whole wheat egg noodles but you can make this dish vegan if you use rotelli pasta and use a sour cream substitute.  If you want to make this dish gluten free, simply use gluten free pasta in place of the wheat pasta.  One last note: I rarely use "lite" versions of products but I accidentally bought Tillamook's lite sour cream once and it was so good I've continued to buy it.  That's not what my mom used when I was growing up and if the brand of sour cream you buy is mild to begin with the lite version may be too bland for this recipe.     

Vegan Black Bean and Winter Squash Burrito

good burrito 2.jpg
I have never eaten a vegan burrito before in my life.  Burritos are one of those things that may as well say CHEESE in neon above them.  However, I have been wanting to make more vegan meals because having blocks of cheese around the house is not so good for me.  If it's there I will eat it.  I will snack on it at all hours.  If I'm up and there's cheese it's the best thing in the world to snack on.  Except that it isn't.  That's not the only reason, cheese is expensive.  I often tell myself that since I don't buy any meat it's okay that cheese is expensive, but that's a lame reason to buy anything.  Lastly, I have a few vegan friends and I want to have a really good collection of recipes I can make for them that will satisfy all of us.

It is hard for me to face a cheese-less burrito.  At least, it was before I made these.  The main thing is to make some chimichurri sauce.  It adds such fantastic flavor and the tanginess completely makes me forget that there is anything else I could want in it.  If you don't normally eat vegan I suggest you give these a try.  You can easily halve the recipe if you don't like making large quantities.  I froze most of mine so I can grab a quick healthy lunch when I haven't got time to cook. 

Vegan Black Bean and Winter Squash Burrito

makes 8 burritos


2 cups black beans (cooked)
2 cups winter squash (mashed)
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups Mexican style rice
1/2 cup chimichurri sauce
8 flour tortillas


Mix together the black beans, winter squash, cumin, and salt in a medium sized bowl. 

the filling 2.jpg
In a cast iron skillet (or regular large skillet) warm up a tortilla and spread out 1/2 cup of the beans and squash down the middle making sure to leave a couple of inches at either end for folding up.

Add 1/4 cup rice on top of the beans.  Make a little well down the middle of it and add 1 Tbsp of the chimichurri sauce to it.  Putting it in a well in the middle of the ingredients helps prevent it from running out of the burrito as you fold it up.

Folding a burrito is simple but after trying to write instructions out I think it would be easier to provide you with links to instructions.  Please don't microwave your tortillas.  I have found two videos for different ways to fold them:

The video by David Windsor Foods

This tortilla rolling gem:

I will take pictures of the process myself and make a separate post for it.

Recipe Notes:  Make the Mexican rice!  You can use plain but if you do, have extra chimichurri sauce on hand and use a little extra in each burrito.  But really, just make the Mexican rice, you won't regret it.  A bowl of rice with some salsa and maybe a little cheese (or not) is so good to have on hand.  Any kind of rich dry winter squash will do such as butternut, sweetmeat, or hubbard.  And whatever you do, don't make fun of my burrito photo.  Burritos are not pretty food!

Mexican Style Rice Recipe
Chimichurri Sauce Recipe

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Chimichurri Sauce Recipe

chimichurri sauce 2.jpgMost chimichurri sauce has either a little or a lot of parsley, many have cilantro in varying amounts, and a few even have oregano or other curious herbs.  This chimichurri sauce is the closest I could come to recreating one from memory that I had at a catered birthday party which then haunted me for weeks; it has more cilantro than parsley and no other green herbs.

This bright tart sauce is an excellent foil for beans and rice, which is how I like to eat it, but is most commonly used to accompany meat such as steak.  I plan to try it brush on grilled vegetables and as a marinade for tofu. 

Chimichurri Sauce


1 cup cilantro, finely minced
1/4 cup parsley, finely minced
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 small red onion very finely diced  


Combine all ingredients in a jar or a dressing bottle and shake well.  That's it. 

Alternatively you can make a slightly creamier version by using an immersion blender.  Blend everything but the onion together.  Once it has achieved a creamy texture add the onion and shake well before using to make sure the onion is evenly distributed.


Recipe notes:  don't double this unless you think you can use it fairly quickly.  The pretty bright green will darken, as it has in my photograph, by the next day.  Fresh herb dressings are best used within a couple of days.  If you like things spicy you can add a tsp of crushed red pepper or a pinch of ground cayenne.

This recipe is gluten free only if your vinegar is specifically gluten free.
This recipe is vegan.

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Mexican Style Rice

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close bright mex rice 2.jpgLast year I learned to make Mexican style rice from a cookbook called "The Vegtetarian Table; Mexico" by Victoria Wise.  Since then I have adapted it and this summer I managed to freeze a few batches of the tomato puree that goes into to make it easier to make on a whim.  It's easy to adapt this to your own tastes by omitting the cilantro, for example, or making it spicier. 

One of the main things I changed with this recipe is the method for cooking the rice.  I tried it Wise's way a few times but I dislike the results when rinsing the rice first so I simply make my rice the way I've been making rice for twenty years now except for the one step of adding the puree to the rice before the water.

This Mexican style rice is very clean tasting, unmuddled by too much oil, salt, or any lard, yet it has full flavor and is satisfying to eat with just a little chimichurri sauce.

mex rice plain 2.jpgThis picture was taken before adding the cilantro- it's very good this way too but I can't get enough cilantro so I prefer adding it in.  Plus-green is pretty!

Mexican Style Rice


2 med sized tomatoes
1/2 yellow onion
1 jalapeno pepper (can use a whole pickled one if you don't have fresh)
1 garlic clove
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup long grain Basmati rice
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 cups water or broth
1 bunch cilantro, minced


In a food processor puree the tomatoes, onion, pepper, garlic, and salt until completely smooth.

In a medium sauce pan heat up the olive oil on medium high heat and add the rice to it.  Stir the rice continually for a few minutes until you see the grains turning a little white (don't let them brown!), then add the puree and keep stirring so it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan.  When most of the liquid is absorbed into the rice, add the water. 

Turn the heat up to high until the water reaches a boil then turn it down to a simmer (low heat), cover, and let it cook for 20 minutes. 

Remove the lid and if all the liquid has been absorbed* remove from the heat.  Add the minced cilantro and fluff the rice with a fork.

mex rice first view 2.jpg
More recipe notes:  I always make rice with plain water but if you like you can use vegetable, chicken, or beef broth.  This is an all season recipe if you use canned tomatoes in the winter and spring.  If you preserve your own whole tomatoes and have medium sized ones then simply substitute those for the fresh.  Most tomatoes that are canned whole are roma tomatoes which are smallish, so if you're using commercially canned tomatoes use four of them instead of just two.  I don't buy fresh hot peppers in the winter or spring so I usually use pickled jalapenos in place of them which I really enjoy for their slight tang. 

This recipe is gluten free
This recipe is vegan

*When I cook rice with plain water the cooking time is always exactly 20 minutes but because of the slightly variable nature of the size of tomatoes and onions I have found that occasionally this recipe needs a little extra time to cook off all the liquid.  Mexican rice is supposed to be moist but there shouldn't be any water in the bottom of the pan.

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Cooking basics: How to Bake Acorn Squash

blond acorn 2.jpg Baking squash might seem too ridiculous to an experienced cook to explain but considering how many people I've met who've never baked their own pumpkin for pie, I think it's important to cover the basics.  I like to think that if I died before teaching my son how to cook, he could come to my homesteading blog to learn how to do the basic things that mothers tend to teach their children in the kitchen before they ever set eyes on their first cookbook.

I would like to say, then, that there is no life instruction too ridiculous to teach a person who doesn't already know it. 

cut lengthwise 2.jpgAcorn squash are usually a dark green on the exterior (the ones in these pictures are mutants from a local farmer!) and medium to light yellow on the interior.  Their flesh is somewhat stringy and a little on the watery side compared to sugar pumpkins or other large squash. 

1.  Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

2.  Cut your acorn squash lengthwise.  Try to cut it into two even halves.  You can see that I didn't completely succeed with one of mine!

stringy 2.jpg3.  Using a strong metal spoon scrape the seeds and the most fibrous part of the squash cavity out. 

facing down 2.jpg4.  Place face down on a sturdy baking sheet.  Preferably not a non-stick.

baked 2.jpg
5.  Bake until tender.  How long this takes will vary depending on the size of the squash and the thickness of the flesh but it should take somewhere around 45 minutes.  To test done-ness: you will be able to stick a knife into the skin with no resistance when it is done.

Things to consider:

Some people like to brush the undersides of the squash with olive oil.  You may do this if you like but it is unnecessary.

Many people like to cover their squash with aluminum foil.  This is also not necessary and I would recommend you don't do this to prevent waste in the kitchen.  I've heard some people say that it helps cook the squash faster by holding heat in but at least with regards to acorn squash you get the same effect by cooking them face down in halves. 

You can cook the squash at 350 degrees and just expect it to take a little longer.  I cook all my squash at 375 degrees which I think lessens the over-all cooking time without overcooking it too fast which a higher temperature might do.

What now?

Stuff them:
  They're perfect for stuffing because a half a squash is a good single serving size.  If you fill it with grains and beans you will have a complete protein and with some salad on the side you will have a very nutritious meal.

Dress them:  While still hot add a tablespoon of butter, a sprinkling of salt (about five shakes from a shaker) and some grinds of fresh pepper (also about five), then eat it.  Simple good food.  You can do this right in the skin or if you prefer you can scoop the squash out of the skin and then add the butter, salt, and pepper.

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Polenta with Spinach, Onion, and Garlic

hot sauce spiral 2.jpgWhat's the difference between polenta and cornmeal?  Nothing.  Polenta is boiled cornmeal.  You can make polenta using a fine, medium, or course grind of cornmeal which will determine how long it takes to cook.  The coarsely ground polenta will take at least 45 minutes to cook, sometimes longer.  I personally prefer a medium to fine grind because it's silkier but a lot of my friends and family prefer the coarser grinds for the grainier texture.

This is a versatile dish.  It goes well with almost anything.  I make my polenta different almost every time using what I have on hand as my inspiration.  When it's first cooked it's soft and porridge-like, perfect for spooning into a bowl with a heap of sauteed greens and garlic, but when it cools it firms up so I always pour it out onto a baking sheet, smooth it, and when it's cooled I cut it into squares or use a biscuit cutter to cut it into circles and store it in the fridge for frying up later.

This particular batch made one dinner and several breakfasts.

best breakfast 2.jpg
Polenta with Spinach, Onion, and Garlic


1 1/2 cups polenta
6 cups of water
4 cloves of garlic
1 tsp salt
30 grinds fresh pepper

1 lb spinach, washed and chopped
1 onion, diced
2 tbsp olive oil

To prepare leftovers for breakfast:
2 pieces of cut polenta
2 eggs
1 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
Sriracha hot sauce

two slices of jack cheese


In a large sauce pan bring the water to a boil.  As soon as it boils turn it down to low heat and whisk the polenta into it, this is important because the whisking keeps the polenta from making lumps in the water.  Whisk really well to incorporate.  Press the garlic into the polenta, stir well, and then put the lid on the pot and let it cook.

Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan on med-high heat.  Add the onion and saute until translucent, then add the spinach and toss until well wilted, turn the heat down a little and put the lid on the pan to encourage steaming and stir every couple of minutes until the spinach is tender.

Stir the onion and spinach into the polenta, add the salt and pepper and stir well.  It is ready to spoon into bowls now unless you are using the coarse grind of cornmeal.

For the coarse grind you will need to let it continue to cook.  Total cooking time for coarse grind should be a minimum of 45 minutes, though some people swear it takes no less than an hour and a half (Italians do, anyway).  To check for done-ness taste a small cooled spoonful, if it's done it will not be gritty.

To prepare leftovers for breakfast:

Heat the olive oil in a medium saute pan.  When hot, place two slices of polenta (pictured above are rounds I cut with a biscuit cutter) into the pan and crack two eggs next to (not on) the polenta.  The polenta is done when it is heated through and slightly browned.  The eggs are done when you say they are done.  Sprinkle the eggs with some salt and pepper.

If you like cheese you can stack a piece of polenta and and egg with a slice of cheese between them.

I highly recommend eating this with Sriracha hot sauce.

Recipe notes:  To make the breakfast vegan you can eat the sauteed polenta with beans (seasoned black beans would be very good) or with seasoned sauteed tofu.  This is a great and balanced breakfast- grains, greens, and protein.  I ate it for a week and it was the best thing about my day.  Yeah, hard week.

This recipe is vegan (if not using the egg or cheese for the breakfast leftovers)
This recipe is gluten-free.

the macro shiny brie 2.jpgI don't often make hors d'oeuvres but I've noticed that when I don't provide something to snack on while making Thanksgiving dinner everyone starts getting edgy and unthankful. 

I'm not a person who gets up at the crack of dawn to brine a turkey, partly because the thought of shoving my hand up a dead turkey's "cavity" to remove its innards isn't something I can handle before 5pm (when the experience can be fortified with strong drinks), but mostly I don't make turkey because I'm a vegetarian.  In fact, I don't labor in planning Thanksgiving dinner much at all.  A day or two before my family gathers (we're a very small group) my mom and I discuss options.

This is the exception.  I have been planning to make this again since I made it twice last fall.  I took notes last year on the improvements I wanted to make and have been looking forward to making it again ever since. 

the cherry factor 2.jpgPeeling shallots takes a lot of time.  The ones from the store are slightly easier than the ones I grow myself which have a thin dry skin that doesn't like to come off.  I made my sister do the peeling last year so this year I performed an experiment in an attempt to improve the tedium of peeling.  Garlic roasts well in its papery skin and squeezes out afterwords very easily, so why not roast the shallots in their skins the same way? 

I peeled all of the bigger cloves and left the rest.

shallot experiment 2.jpgUnfortunately, the experiment didn't prove successful.  Yes, shallots can roast well in their skins but they are just as difficult to remove when they're sticky as when they're dry.  Most importantly, the bulbs that were skinned first got browned nicely whereas the ones left in their skin were browned on the skins only.  So the lesson is: peel your shallots.  Even though it's a pain in the butt.  Better yet, assign a minion to do the peeling.

This appetizer takes time and effort to make.  It's worth it.

godlike food 2.jpgCiabatta, Caramelized Shallots, and Brie with Sour Cherry Sauce


2 lbs of shallots, trimmed and peeled by your minion
1/2 cup olive oil

Sour Cherry sauce:
1 quart sour cherries, pits removed and chopped in half
4 cups sugar
(Alternatively: 1/2 jar sour cherry jam loosened up with water)

1 loaf of Ciabatta bread (or other good quality rustic bread)
2 wedges of Brie cheese, room temperature (Camembert is a good substitute)

the setup 2.jpgMethod:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Spread the shallots out on a baking sheet, drizzle all of the olive oil over them, then sprinkle with salt and grind some pepper on them.  Put on a rack in the middle and bake for up to an hour and a half, making sure to turn them with a spatula every ten to fifteen minutes.

Sour Cherry Sauce:

Add the sour cherries and the sugar to a medium sized sauce pan.  If the cherries are frozen, let them thaw enough to start liquefying the sugar before turning the heat on.  Once the cherry juice starts mixing and dissolving the sugar turn the stove on to high heat.  Bring the cherries and sugar to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and cook for 20 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent scorching.  Remove from heat and let cool until everything else is ready.  As it cools it will thicken.

When the shallots are done (they should be browned but not scorched, see picture above) remove them from the oven and put them in a bowl with a couple of forks for serving.

Pour the cherry sauce into a bowl and provide a spoon for serving.

Slice the Ciabatta bread in appetizer sized pieces (each slice cut in four pieces worked well for me but you can cut them bigger if you like) and arrange them on a plate. 

Place the brie on a plate with knives.

If your guests are unfamiliar with or worried about the presence of fruit near their cheese and bread, go ahead and serve them up a piece before they have time to think about it. 

Each piece of bread gets a generous bit of cheese, a shallot or two, and a small spoonful of sour cherry sauce. 

sans cherry blood 2.jpgRecipe Notes:  If you can't get your hands on sour cherries, cranberries would make an excellent substitute.  The important thing is to make a sauce that is both tart and sweet.  The shallots are sweet by themselves so using a fruit that is just sweet will result in a somewhat vapid experience.  A red currant sauce might be good here too.  Please don't use sweet cherries.  They don't work. 

About the rind of the cheese:  I don't eat cheese rind.  I will dig into a wedge of brie completely gutting it, leaving just the velvety moldy exterior like a cheese-hungry termite which has caused some gasps of shock from others.  Some people view it as a crime to eschew the rind.  Some simply view it as the act of a philistine.  I've been told by many people that the French ALWAYS eat the cheese rind, however, I was finally gratified to find out from an actual French person that this isn't true.  He said many French people don't care for the rind either and it is a question of personal taste, not a point worthy of hysteria or snobbery.  I included the rind in these pictures and then fed them to my rind-eating relatives.  I think the rind is picturesque and since most people I know eat it, it seemed natural to include it for the shoot. 

The heat and cooking time: You can cook the shallots in less time at a hotter oven temperature but the results will not be quite as good.  Less heat keeps the shallots form scorching and consequently takes longer.  A good caramelization time.  Give it the time. 

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Recent Comments

  • angelina: We ate it up very fast! read more
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