Recession Chic

a down economy does not = ugly shoes

Spaghetti with Vegetarian Meatballs February 7, 2011

Filed under: Food & Drink — karakrautter @ 11:05 AM
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Texas Winters are something to behold. Freezing temps, ice, snow during the week and then 65 degrees and sunny on the weekends. Planning meals during this season can be a bit challenging because a warm soup may be perfect for a chilly Tuesday night, but if you wait until Thursday — no one will eat it with you. However, the solution can be pretty simple: comfort food. If it’s cold or even just mild outside, a warm bowl of love will always fit the bill.

My ‘Jeffrey’ will happily eat almost every type of food, as long as it is prepared well. Over the past 6 months he has really fixated on one particular dish when we go out for dinner, spaghetti bolognese. Now, for most cooks, this wouldn’t be a hard thing to try to replicate at home. But, as a vegetarian I really wanted to create something we both could enjoy. Mission vegetarian meatballs.

One of my new favorite meat substitutes is LightLife (in the produce section, near the tofu). Since it is refrigerated instead of frozen, you can do a lot more seasoning and cooking rather than just warming up the veggie protein. I used Gimme Lean Beef as my base for the meatballs and added one egg, panko bread crumbs, Italian herbs, red pepper flakes and Parmesan cheese. After forming them, I pan-fried the meatballs in a little butter and set aside in the pan.

When it was time to boil the pasta, I added some spicy tomato sauce to the meatballs and heated.

The whole process was quite easy to do at the end of a work day. And, with a simple mixed green salad, it was the perfect, filling meal. Of course I loved it, but more importantly my non-vegetarian dinner companion was impressed with the flavor of the ‘meatballs’ and took home all the leftovers.

Behold the bowl of yum.

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Ultimate Chocolate Cupcakes January 17, 2011

Filed under: Food & Drink — karakrautter @ 9:49 AM
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After an extended business trip to NYC (thanks, snow), I was super excited to have a relaxed weekend at home and get back in my kitchen. Sunday afternoon I decided it was time to get moving on the perfect chocolate cupcake.

From one of my new cookbooks, The Best of America’s Test Kitchen 2011, I was immediately drawn to their ultimate chocolate cupcakes. Bittersweet chocolate, fresh coffee, ganache and vegetable oil caught my eye as key ingredients for a flavorful, moist cupcake. And, wow, I was right. I was stunned at how great they turned out.

However, I didn’t stop there. I used the ‘cupcake plunger’ my mother gave me for Christmas to remove a part of the center of the cake and fill it with ganache. Also, there was a recipe for vanilla Swiss buttercream that I couldn’t pass up. Unlike traditional buttercream, you warm the egg whites and sugar while whipping them to prevent a grainy texture and create a lighter icing. Oh, and a little natural vanilla bean gave it an additional punch oh flavor and authentic vanilla look.

Now I just need to find some folks to share them with before I eat them all!

 

More Focused In the Kitchen for 2011 January 5, 2011

Filed under: Food & Drink — karakrautter @ 1:27 PM
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Looking back on all my blogs from 2010, it’s clear that my cooking strategy was more about experimentation rather than refinement. So for 2011, my goal is to be more focused in the kitchen and get better at preparing the following:

  • Cupcakes: As far as desserts go, cookies have always been my forte. I’ve done a few rounds of different kinds of cakes and icing but still haven’t found the best go to recipe. I got some great advice last year about weighing my dry ingredients and I got an awesomely retro kitchen scale.
  • Artisan bread: Last year was a good start to this, but I realized that I need a real broiler pan. Most of my bread was good yet a little dense. When baking some ciabatta bread in my mother’s kitchen (with a real broiler pan) the difference was staggering. My makeshift broiler pan couldn’t hold enough water to really steam the dough.
  • Grilling: Apartment living makes this a challenge, but I got a new Le Creuset grill pan for Christmas to make indoor grilling more of a reality. Below is a photo of my first go at it.

I found some delicious-looking swordfish fillets at the HEB which appeared to a perfect protein to grill with my new pan. The fish was amazing looking and tasting. There is nothing better than real grill marks.

 

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!

 

Thanks, Ina! November 22, 2010

Filed under: Food & Drink — karakrautter @ 5:45 PM
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So many of my meals over the past year have been inspired by the wonderful Ina Garten. I can’t keep track of all the times I’ve said “I want Ina’s life.” One of the best parts of my lunch break is watching Ina cook on the Food Network at 12:30pm.

Some of the best dishes I’ve made have been inspired by or come directly from Ina’s Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics. Every dish I’ve made from this cookbook has been delicious and I hope to make all the recipes eventually. Below are two of my favorites so far. Thanks Ina for the inspiration!

Roasted Tomato Caprese Salad – an AMAZING and easy appetizer.

Baked Shrimp Scampi – My own ‘Jeffrey’ requested this dish after seeing Ina cook it on her show. And, like Jeffrey, it is one of his favorite dishes now!

 

Chicken (two ways) with Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Couscous November 11, 2010

Filed under: The Meat Apprentice — karakrautter @ 5:29 PM
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Ok, so chicken two ways may be a little deceptive, but it seemed like the best way to describe how I fix a vegetarian/omnivore-friendly dinner. However, the meat was not the inspiration behind dinner the other night — the brussels sprouts were. Just like a really fabulous pair of shoes often inspires a great outfit, I believe a memorable meal can arise from a great veggie idea.

I love brussels sprouts, seriously. Hands down, they are my favorite vegetable. I never had them growing up since my Dad isn’t a fan, but at some point in college I came across the veggie in the freezer section and my life forever changed. Funny enough, I’ve discovered that a lot of people my age really like brussels sprouts and they seem to appear on menus more often.

My favorite way to prepare, and the easiest way in my opinion, brussels sprouts is by roasting them. I found a great recipe for roasted brussels sprouts with caramelized onions and went to town building out the rest of the meal.

Here are some tips for making some amazing roasted brussels sprouts:

  • Half the sprouts and be generous with olive oil and salt and pepper. They can be really bland (like cabbage), so be sure and season well.
  • Throw in some scallions or onions to add some more flavor.
  • Roast in stages, and add a little more oil each round. The first round, bake them for 15 min. with just the olive oil and salt and pepper. Second round, flip the sprouts and add the scallions, baked for 10 min. Last round, sprinkle a little brown sugar and vermouth, bake for 7-10 min.
  • That’s right, use vermouth. Great advice from Cooking Light to add a little herbiness and brightness.

Since the oven would already be on, I decided to bake a chicken breast and a chik’n cutlet with a little lemon pepper seasoning and olive oil. For the starch, couscous with toasted pine nuts and parmesan to round out the rustic plate.

Lucky for me, my meat-eating dinner companion also has an unnatural love for brussels sprouts and could appreciate the inspiration behind the meal.

 

Tex-Mex Sunday: Tortilla Casserole November 9, 2010

Filed under: Food & Drink — karakrautter @ 2:44 PM
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From the looks of this blog and Facebook, I’d fallen off the face of the online world at the end of September. That’s a fairly accurate statement. I guess I got a little social media overloaded and needed a time out.  Feeling all better now.

October was a crazy month, but I was still busy in my kitchen…there’s just no photographic evidence of it all. I explored cooking curry for the first time, experimented with tofu and Asian flavors, discovered some great meat and fish marinades and baked fresh pita bread and naan. Enough reminiscing, let’s get to the meal that kicked off my re-commitment to blogging.

Tortilla casserole never really caught my eye. Was it because it was called casserole? Was it because it sounds like something they served in my elementary school cafeteria? Maybe. Regardless, a few years back I finally tried a tortilla casserole at a great Mexican food place in Austin, El Chile because it sounded really good and was vegetarian. That dish served as the inspiration for this Sunday night meal and a recipe for chilaquiles from Fonda San Miguel helped me pull it together.

In order to keep the casserole from being soggy, I quartered and lightly fried the corn tortillas. For the red sauce I combined a 5 pepper enchilada sauce and some of my favorite salsa. I also added some black beans to help add a little more protein and texture. I layered the tortillas, shredded monterey jack cheese, red sauce and beans into the dish and topped with some crema. The dish baked for 45 min at 400 degrees and was warm and filling.

Oh, and to make this a balanced meal, I did a green salad with fresh avocado, tomatoes and a homemade creamy cilantro-lime dressing. Pretty and delicious!