Don’t forget that today is the last day to tell me your favorite bad for you comfort food. No recipe needed just leave a comment and you are entered for one of two gift certificates to PersonalChefToGo.com!
Friday night was date night for me and my wife and she REALLY wanted to see Twilight. We compromised for our date night. First, we went to go to Spin (which I like) and then we went to see Twilight (which she liked.)
While I could talk about Twilight for a while, BlogWellDone.com is not a movie review site. Thus, I shall spare you my feelings about the movie as a piece of cinema. However, there was one part I found particularly disheartening. Not irritating and it did not make me mad, just disappointed.
Twilight and Vegetarianism
The main character of the movie, Bella (the lovely damsel), is vegetarian (yay!!) and the vampires who drink only animal blood are called vegetarian (which is, a little perverse since to qualify for vegetarian status they have to eat animals as if humans aren’t animals…) I could let that slide, though. Who am I to lecture a vampire about terminology? They have supernatural strength. And fangs. And a unique sense of style that just doesn’t look good on me.
Anyhow, the part of the movie which actually got my to talk back to the screen (a habit I normally reserve for watching Jayhawk football and basketball games) was when Edward (our handsome hero) told Bella that being a vampire vegetarian was like eating tofu. “Sure”, he said. “You can life on tofu your entire life, but you won’t be satisfied.”
Twilight Could Have Promoted a Healthy (Vegetarian) Diet
A million things popped into my head about the relative amounts of saturated fat in meat vs. tofu, the differing amounts of unnatural hormones in tofu and meat, etc. It was also obvious that Edward had not read my blog, which was, of course, really disheartening.
Still, it really did bother me that a movie that has grossed as much as Twilight and has attracted as many young teenage girls as it has is going around insulting a vegetarian diet. In an age of teenage obesity and eating disorders, where girls are maturing much faster due to hormones in their food, why take a shot at a vegetarian staple? Why not encourage healthy eating habits?
So, there’s my soapbox. Thanks! Next up, a recipe. I promise!
Image courtesy of StephanieMeyer.com.
PS…to be fair, I have NOT read the book. The book may be more veg*n friendly.
The holidays are in full swing. There are Christmas pagents to attend and presents to wrap. Trees have to be decorated and malls braved for the perfect Christmas gift… you know the perfect Christmas gift for that crazy uncle you only see once a year…
Okay, maybe that’s just me.
Cooking Is the LAST Thing I Want to Do
Anyway, what all of this means is that if you are like me, standing over a stove and eeking out dinner is probably no where on the ol’ list of priorities. Calling for takeout sounds so much better.
What you need is a personal chef and since I cannot possibly keep up with the volume (ha ha), fortunately PersonalChefToGo.com is here to help. PersonalChefToGo.com offers several meal plans geared towards singles, couples, and families on the go. Meals arrive every weekend via FedEx in specially lined containers and the food can be stored in the fridge for a while or frozen up to 30 days and lose no taste. (Did I mention they are healthy, too?)
And for those of you sweating Christmas meals, PersonalChefToGo.com also has holiday dinners which will arrive at your door.
So, If you need a personal chef, I have two $25 gift certificates to PersonalChefToGo.com that need a home, which I am willing to barter for some suggestions. 🙂
Just leave me a comment with your favorite oh-so-not-good-for-you comfort food. The more fried, greasy, sugary or cheesy the better! Also, if you blog about this contest or Twitter about it, leave a second comment with “EXTRA” in it. Anyone with “EXTRA” in their second comment will also be eligible for a special mystery prize and a high five.
In the hopes you can get your certificate in time for a holiday meal, I will be picking winners at random on Tuesday morning… so get to commenting!!!
Vegetarian Stuffed Shells: The Right Place at the Right Time
So stuffed shells has been one of those dishes that has been a family favorite since my wife and I were dating. I threw it together one night because I thought it might be fun to take traditional lasagna stuffing and put it into shell pasta. My wife loved them. For a while they were the best dish she ever had (or so she said…)
However, stuffed shells require stuffing and, frankly, lasagna speaks to my inner lazy so we do not eat them that offen. Still, we do keep a box of shells around just in case.
Just in case happened this weekend. Normally, we do grocery shopping on the weekends, but last week we just never made it to the store. So come Sunday night, the pantry was bare. No fresh fruit. A few onions formed the bulk of the fresh veggie supplies… We had no bread that was not stale, no milk, no yeast… We were sunk.
What we did have was some Rondele Garden Vegetable spreadable cheese and frozen spinach, a can of tomato sauce, and of course, the abovementioned shells. And thus, we had dinner.
You will need: (meat items are highlighted in orange):
- 2 1/4 tablespoons, salt
- 2 tablespoons, garlic powder
- 1 large box of shell pasta
- 1 package, frozen spinach
- 3 tablespoons, olive oil
- 1 white onion, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 package faux breakfast sausage or real sausage
- 1 tablespoon, breadcrumbs of smashed crackers
- 1/2 container of Rondo veggie spread
- 2 12.5 oz cans of tomato sauce
- 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese
Preheat the oven to the 350 degrees.
If you are using real sausage, put it in an oven safe dish and bake for 20 minutes. Once it has been cooked through, drain the grease. If you skip this step, all you will taste is sausage grease.
Make the Shells
Add two tablespoons of salt and all the garlic powder to a pot and add enough water to cover the shells. Bring the water to boil and add the pasta. Follow the cook time listed on the box.
Make the Vegetarian Filling
Take the spinach out of the freezer and let it thaw.
While the pasta is boiling, heat a skillet over high heat. Add two tablespoons of olive oil. When it is hot, add the onion, the rest of the salt, and the garlic. Cook until the onions are translucent. Then add meat (faux or not) to the skillet and cook until fully browned.
Add the spinach and the breadcrumbs to the mixture and cook until the spinach is heated through. Turn off the heat, add the Rondo and stir until well mixed.
Pull out a large baking dish (my wife used a thirteen inch baking dish) and cover the bottom with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and about half of one can of tomato sauce. Then stuff each shell with one heaping spoon full of mixture (do not overstuff unless you want exploded shells.) Put the shells in the baking dish open side down.
Once you are done stuffing all the shells, cover with the rest of the tomato sauce and mozzarella and bake until the cheese is melted and slightly brown.
More Italian Tomorrow
Tomorrow we’ll be talking lasagna and then I think I’ll try bread gnocchi. Then maybe I’ll take the plunge and we’ll do real vegan gnocchi. Until then, enjoy!
Me and Marinara
The funny thing about me and spaghetti sauce is that I did not grow up in an Italian household. If I had to point at one nationality for our home, I would said “Kansan” which is a lot like Missourian, but we have better college teams. Still, despite the lack of an Italian grandmother who could pass on her famous meatballs the she brought over from the old country, in my house we ate A LOT of Italian food: lasagna, spaghetti, linguine, meatballs, and so on…
Still, despite all that, we do not have a tradition of the slow cooked Sunday gravy that made me drool during so many Sopranos episodes. This is why, as I have come into my culinary own, I have had to strive to figure out to make slow cooked spaghetti sauce like the one to the right. It took a while (and a few wasted cans of tomatoes) before I finally got it right.
San Marzano Plum Tomatoes
I thank Mario Batali for helping me get to the promised land on this one. I have watched enough Molto Mario that I now know when it comes time to make marinara, there’s only one place to turn: San Marzano whole tomatoes. There is nothing wrong with Hunt’s if you cannot find San Marzano, but these premium plum tomatoes that come from Italy have a richer taste and seem to be juicier, which is perfect when making marinara sauce.
Like I said, if you cannot find them (I could not for years until Whole Foods started carrying them and I was not going to pay Dean and Deluca prices for them) go with whole Hunts tomatoes. I find they are the best non-San Marzano brand.
Okay, anyway, recipe time…
Recipe: Elegant Marinara
You will need: (meat ingredients written in orange)
- 2 pounds ground chuck or 2 packages faux hamburger
- 2 tablespoons dried oregano
- 4-6 strips of bacon, cut into rough pieces
- 2 tablespoons olive oil (you will need 4 if cooking with meat)
- 1 large white onion, finely diced
- 6 cloves garlic, finely diced
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flake
- 1 teaspoon salt + more to taste
- 2 teaspoons black pepper + more to taste
- 2 28 oz cans whole plum tomatoes
- 3-4 leaves fresh sage, chopped or 1 tablespoon dried
- 6-8 leaves fresh basil, chopped or 2 tablespoons dried
- 2 tablespoons dried parsely*
* Please use English (not flat leaf) parsely. The parsely is only there to make the sauce look pretty. That’s why I use dried parsely…it brings no flava to the party! Look at the picture above. See the green? That’s parsely…
If you want to make this with meat, preheat a skillet over medium heat. Add the hamburger, break up with a wooden spoon and add the oregano. Cook over medium heat, stirring every few minutes until the meat is thoroughly browned. Wash with water and drain the fat if you are watching your weight.
If you are using faux meat, cook with oregano.
In a good size skillet or pot, heat the olive oil over high heat. Add the bacon and cook until the fat has run out, usually 4-5 minutes. Remove the bacon and discard.
Add two tablespoons of olive oil, even if you are cooking with meat. When the oil is hot, add the onions, garlic, red pepper flake, salt, and pepper. Cook for 4-5 minutes until the onions start to turn clear.
Add the plum tomatoes and their juice. Now, you may notice they are still basically perfect little balls. I highly advise against cooking them that way. They might explode into little red balls of hot liquid, which means you need to burst them before the heat can. You can either prick them with a fork or a knife or you can do the Mario Batali (and Chris Perrin) method of reaching in and squeezing them with your hand. Just beware organic shrapnel!
Once the tomatoes are no longer spheres, bring them and their juice to a boil. This may take up to 10 minutes. Cover partially, leaving a hole for steam to escape (see the picture to the left). Reduce the heat to medium and boil for 15 minutes.
Add the sage, basil and parsely and continue to cook for another 10-15 minutes or until the sauce has reached the required thickness.
If you are cooking with meat, add the hamburger back in and stir until warm.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
- The resulting sauce is going to be pretty chunky. There are a couple of ways around this. First, you can use a potato masher or an immersion blender or a regular blender to break up the tomatoes. The choice is yours. Me, I keep things chunky.
- If you are a compulsive stirrer like myself (you know, you can’t let the pot sit on the stove without giving it a stir) this is your recipe! You basically cannot overstir the sauce and frequently stirring will keep the tomatoes and onions from burning on the bottom.
- I intentionally kept this sauce a little bland. It’s a template. Do with it what you want! It’s yours now. Me, I’ll add 2 tablespoons of garlic powder, another 2 teaspoons of red pepper flake, 2 teaspoons of black pepper, and a healthy pinch of salt.
Okay Carissa, you asked for it…
Egg Nog Bread Pudding with Tequilla/Orange Sauce
So the other night on Twitter, I got to talking with the abovementioned Carissa about egg nog bread pudding, which I promised I would write up the recipe for. True to form, it took me a few days to get around to it, but late is better than never, right?
I love this recipe. When I created it, I took a basic bread pudding recipe and decided to see how much I could gild the lily (to steal a term from Mario Batali). With egg nog only being available around Christmas time, I figured why not? This is obviously a holiday dish and why eat low cal for the holidays? Right?
So beyond using the egg nog, there’s bananas and raisins because they taste awesome in bread pudding and lots of cinnamon. However, the version in the picture above uses povotica, which is a Polish Christmas bread loaded with sugar and butter and all the things that make life worth living. (Unless your one of my vegan readers when I would highly suggest vegan banana bread, but that’s another recipe…)
No Rum Sauce? Why Tequilla/Orange Sauce?
Good question. Part of it goes back to the whole guilding the lily thing. I thought tequilla/orange sauce for bread pudding sounded really good. Plus, I was out of rum. However, rum can easily be substituted in the recipe below. (Hopefully that’s okay…)
Anyway, now to the recipe.
Egg Nog Bread Pudding
2 cups of egg nog
1 cup of skim milk
3 cups of diced bread
1/2 cup of sugar*
1/2 orange, zested (optional)
2 bananas, diced
1/4 cup of raisins
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 tablespoon cinnamon
Handful of pecans (optional)
* The amount of sugar is almost totally dependent on the sweetness of the bread you use. For my povotica version, I used 4 tablespoons of sugar because the bread and egg nog are so sweet. Also, no matter what type of bread you choose, remember the egg nog has sugar, too.
This one is real easy, I promise.
- Preheat oven to 350.
- In a bowl, whisk the eggs until the are combined. Add the egg nog, milk, sugar and orange zest. Beat together until well combined.
- Add the rest of the ingredients and stir gently to combine.
- Pour into a buttered 9 by 9 glass baking dish. Top with pecans.
- Bake for 1 hour or until an inserted knife comes out clean.
Bread pudding is always better if it has a little sauce on top. Here’s the one I use. However, there is a caution flag on this one.
I really, really liked this sauce, but I like sipping tequilla. If that’s not you, cut down the tequilla or use a different alcohol.
You will need:
4 tablespoons butter at room temperature
1/2 cup egg nog
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons of corn starch
1/4 cup water
Juice of one orange
1/8 cup tequilla (or more ;))*
*If you are serving this to minors, you can use 2 tablespoons of rum extract for an alcohol flavor.
- In a sauce pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Once melted, add the egg nog, milk, and sugar. Bring to a boil.
- Mix the corn starch and water together and then add to the milk mixture. Stir constantly until the sauce thickens.
- Reduce the heat to medium low.
- Add the orange juice and the tequilla and stir for 3-4 minutes.
Pour on top of the bread puding and enjoy!
This is my holiday endulgence…now, what’s yours?
Bread Pudding Notes
- If you want your bread pudding to turn out EXACTLY like mine, start off using a bowl with a crack in it until you get to the step about adding the bread…
- If you still want to do it like I did, set the oven to broil and don’t realize it until after you start to smell burning and realize your pecans are a loss…
- If you’re still with me, one thing I noticed was that the top of my bread pudding still looked wet. It was not. In fact, it had set first and just looked kind of glazed.