Recession Chic

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Spinach Lasagna for the Vegetarian in All of Us December 1, 2010

Filed under: Cooking 101,Dough Diaries — karakrautter @ 4:39 PM
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After almost a year of making my own pasta, I finally felt ready to try to make homemade lasagna noodles. For many years around the holidays (or any celebration) my best friend’s mom would make the most amazing lasagna — complete with homemade noodles. So, after the chaos of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, I thought that our Sunday night meal should be a warm, comforting vegetarian lasagna.

Here are the photos of the process:

1. First layer of sauce and noodles

2.Yummy spinach and ricotta layer

3. More sauce and mozzarella cheese

4. The final stage fresh out of the oven

5. The first slice…yummm

I was shocked at how good it was and how relatively easy it was to put together. The homemade noodles were the perfect texture — not too soggy and able to hold its own against the cheesy, delicious filling. I will definitely do this again!

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Cooking 101: Vegetarian Enchiladas September 9, 2010

Filed under: Cooking 101 — karakrautter @ 10:10 AM
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As a native Texan and a lover of spicy food, I’m almost always in the mood for Tex-Mex or Mexican food. However, other than fajitas, I rarely cook it. The other week I decided it was time to break that cycle and cook one of my favorite dishes, spinach enchiladas with verde salsa.

The whole ordeal was so much easier than I originally thought, mainly because I already knew the exact flavors I wanted to incorporate. Here’s what I used:

  • frozen spinach (thawed), sautéed with garlic, salt, pepper and queso fresco
  • corn tortillas, warmed in a paper towel
  • quality verde salsa (thanks HEB)
  • fresh avocado slices with cilantro and lime juice
  • more queso fresco

 

Mini Quiches for a Long Weekend Away September 3, 2010

Filed under: Cooking 101 — karakrautter @ 8:48 AM
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Last weekend I escaped from city life (and my home office) to my family’s cabin near the Frio River. With cooler temperatures, stunning views and no TV or cell signal, the cabin is one of my favorite, simple getaways. Now, simple living never has to mean boring food.

Before leaving Houston I did some meal planning to make sure I would have everything I needed to cook in a pared down kitchen (though, during our Bucky’s pit stop I had to pick up some salad dressing and butter). Knowing that my favorite bakery on the way to the cabin would already be closed by the time we got there, I also made sure we would have some tasty breakfast treats.

Sweet treat – the chocolate brioche I blogged about earlier

Savory treat – mini goat cheese and grape tomato quiches

Now, we all are quite familiar with the bite-sized frozen quiches that appear at the holidays and showers, but these  require a little more than preheating an oven. I got the idea from The America’s Test Kitchen baking book to circle-cut the pie crust and use a muffin pan to create little individual quiches.  These were just right for breakfast at the cabin since there isn’t an oven but a fantastic toaster oven that warmed the quiches to perfection. Since they were so easy to customize and make ahead of time, I think this will be added to my list of party ‘finger’ foods.

 

Fresh Pasta, Fresh Pesto – Perfect for Summer August 18, 2010

Filed under: Cooking 101,Dough Diaries — karakrautter @ 8:44 AM
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The Cooking Channel is the best thing about TV this summer, hands down. Classic reruns of the original Iron Chef, Julia Child and hours of cooking shows (not reality TV) from talented chefs (not Rachel Ray or Sandra Lee). This weekend I was reminded of the greatness of simple meals with fresh ingredients.

Since I finally have a blender with a food chop option (instead of the sad mini chop from my college days), fresh pesto on some homemade pasta sounded like the perfect dish for a hot summer night. From an older episode of Jamie at Home, I realized that I’ve been working way too hard to make my pasta noodles. Although it makes some sense to use the dough hook on my Kitchen Aid mixer, using a food processor to create the dough is far more efficient. The processor roughly combines the egg and flour, creating a bread crumb consistency which requires far less water to form the dough.

For the pesto, I chose the classic recipe (garlic, basil, pine nuts, olive oil and Parmesan) and added tomatoes for a little extra color. Below are photos of the raw pasta and the completed dish.

 

Cooking 101: Straightforward Sichuan August 6, 2010

Filed under: Cooking 101 — karakrautter @ 8:21 AM
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When traveling to China in June, one of my favorite parts was experiencing real Chinese food. As a vegetarian it was a little challenging at times to find something to eat, but I quickly discovered that egg and tomato on noodles was often a safe bet.

While in Shanghai, I had some of the best food of the trip (big thanks to my boss who ordered for us) and some of the best Asian eggplant I’ve ever eaten. Now, the dish was ‘vegetarian’ — but in Asia that often means tofu/veggies and pork. Yes pork. Even after eating around the meat, I still loved it because the sauce was just the right thickness and finished just a little sour.

When I saw this recipe for Sichuan-Style Braised Eggplant right after getting back, I knew I would need to try to recreate some of the great food flavors from China. The recipe gives a lot of great substitutions for some of the harder to find ingredients. And, if you don’t eat pork like me, I substituted Morningstar Beef Crumbles for the meat to add protein to the dish. To round out the meal, I steamed some broccolini and served it with some white rice with a little rice vinegar to add a little punch of flavor. Not gonna lie, I was pretty pleased with all of it — as was my dinner companion.

 

Cooking 101: Perfect Fudge Brownies July 30, 2010

Filed under: Cooking 101 — karakrautter @ 8:59 AM
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After a long, stressful day, all I want to do is bake.  Since I was young, baking has been such a comfort to me and the best way to get my mind off of the chaos of the day. This week I needed to bake, and fudge brownies sounded just right. I think a lot of people assume that making brownies from scratch (no box mix) is super complicated, but it’s actually very straightforward.

From the amazing America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book, I chose a beginner friendly brownie recipe and discovered several great tips to make them even more delicious and simple.

  • Cutting and serving brownies can often be the most challenging part of making your own brownies. A ‘foil sling’ at the bottom of the baking pan (lining the pan with two pieces of foil to help lift the cooked brownies out) makes serving simple and cleanup a snap,
  • Ina Garten suggests it as does the America’s Test Kitchen, add a little instant espresso to the mix. What a little lemon juice or zest can do to pasta and fruit desserts, the espresso does for chocolate. Oh, and if you have any extra chocolate chips, just throw them in the batter. The brownies won’t be a smooth, but it provides a crunch without nuts.
  • Afraid of having a bunch of brownies sitting around the kitchen calling your name all day? Wrap of half in plastic wrap and foil and store in the freezer. Also, I used a larger pan to make thinner, snack-sized brownies. Just remember to reduce the time in the oven by about 15 min.

 

Cooking 101: Steaming Mussels and Seafood July 22, 2010

Filed under: Cooking 101 — karakrautter @ 7:24 AM
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I went back to Austin for a few days last week to finalize things with my renters, spend a little time at the office, but mainly see my brother who was visiting from overseas. As different as he and I have always been, we’ve both always enjoyed cooking. As adults, cooking is a creative outlet we still love to talk about. During the week we had a ton of delicious food (he made pizza from scratch, dough in all!), but my favorite was the whole family effort for our Latin dinner. My brother made some of the tastiest sangria, my dad served up margaritas, my mom was the best sous chef for me as I pulled together seafood paella for everyone.

This was the first time I’ve ever made paella, which is strange since I love rice and one-pot wonders. I did a meatless variation of this recipe from Foodnetwork.com and added mussels. It was amazing! The technique was very similar to risotto, but my biggest learning from this cooking adventure was how simple it is to steam seafood. With such a flavorful base, the scallops, shrimp and mussels absorbed all the seasoning and cooked up in just minutes. I always thought that cooking mussels would be more challenging, but you can just steam them in a large pan with your sauce and wait for their shells to pop open.

Here’s a snapshot my mom took of me hard at work…you can’t really see much of the paella, but it’s there.

We over bought on the seafood, so my parents sent me home with enough uncooked seafood to prepare another meal. During my drive from Austin to Houston I decided it was time to pull out the pasta maker and create a light, summer seafood pasta dish.

The sauce: Garlic, olive oil, whole peeled tomatoes, Italian seasoning

The pasta: Fettuccine – much better than the first try at this noodle

Again I steamed the seafood in the sauce, added the pasta and topped with flat leaf parsley and Parmesan. Super delicious!