Vegetarian French onion soup

I have been thinking for months that I needed to find a recipe for French onion soup made without beef broth, but the other night when we stopped into this cute French restaurant before our movie (The King’s Speech, loved it) I decided I finally had to do it.

I found this recipe. It sounded good (and easy), and despite my lack of adorable miniature crocks, I decided to make it in regular old soup bowls.

For once in my life I actually followed a recipe to the letter. Well, I substituted some olive oil so I didn’t use all butter, but other than that I really did stick to it.

First you cut a massive amount of onions into strips, and saute them with a bay leaf. The aroma is amazing.

Then you cook them down some more until the onions are nice and soft.

Here’s where the genius part comes in. The secret ingredient is molasses. Not only does it turn the soup that signature brown color, but it brings another layer of sweetness.

I am not wild about bread these days, but I figured if you are going to eat bread you can’t get much better than a locally made artisan baguette.

When I turned over the bread bag I noticed the key ingredient (sour starter), which makes bay area bread so good.

Toast the bread chunks before you add them to your bowl. My formula is 400 degrees for 5-10 minutes, but if you can broil things without burning them, that works too.

Fill your bowls with soup, top with a slice of bread and a slice of cheese (I tried to find gruyere but ended up with provolone), and broil until the cheese gets nice and bubbly. Just make sure your bowls are broiler-safe!

We also had a mixed green salad — I think it’s always a good idea to have some kind of veggie side with dinner to keep you from filling up on main-dish seconds.

Unfortunately I thought this bagged salad from Trader Joe’s tasted like I had pulled up a bunch of weeds from the back yard. Blech. But I am not a huge bagged salad fan. I guess I have learned my lesson!

Anyway, the soup turned out fantastic, and I will definitely make it again. I wasn’t sure you could veganize the real thing, but now I’m a believer.

South Indian black eyed peas

The other day I was flipping through our many public access channels and came across a show about healthy South Indian cooking. I scrambled to write down some recipes, but only got parts of them, so I attempted to recreate this one at home.

I had to reach into the depths of my spice shelf to find some of the ingredients, and I was surprised to find that we actually had them (probably not the freshest, but they worked in a pinch).

I had also never cooked with black eyed peas before, if you can believe it. I guest most beans are pretty much the same, and you could probably substitute whatever beans you had on hand for this.

I thought this turned out really great, and I will definitely make it again. The tomato-y sauce, turned orange by a pinch of turmeric, reminded me of so many Indian dishes I’ve had in restaurants. We poured this over slices of day-old bread, which soaked up the sauce perfectly, but I’m sure it would be great over rice or naan.

South Indian black eyed peas

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cans black eyed peas, drained
1/2 large onion sliced
1 medium tomato sliced into chunks
1/4 fresh mango sliced into chunks
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 whole hot chiles
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon black (or yellow) mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
Salt to taste
1 cup tomato sauce

Start by heating a deep skillet over medium-high heat and add the oil. When it’s hot drop in the chiles, mustard seeds and fenugreek. Pretty soon the seeds will start popping like popcorn so watch out!

Next drop in the onions and saute until they’re translucent.

Now you can add your tomato and mango chunks and let them soften and cook down a little.

Turn down the heat to medium and drop in the rest of the spices, the garlic, and the tomato sauce.

Stir all that together, then dump in the black eyed peas.

Cover the pan, and let it simmer over medium heat for 10-15 minutes. Remove the chiles before serving.

Bubble bread!

Remember when I said we had our bubble bread over Thanksgiving since we wouldn’t be home for Christmas? Well, I decided I couldn’t live without it on Christmas day, so I asked my mom for the recipe and we’re going to make it.

Tradition calls for making it in a bundt pan so you can turn it over and have a perfectly shaped round of goodness. I don’t think we’ve ever even used our bundt pan, so we’re going to try it this time. Add veggie sausage and mimosas — perfect Christmas morning!

Christmas Morning Bubble Bread

from the depths of the Mason family recipe box

1 package frozen dinner rolls (24 Parker House style rolls)
2 sticks butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
2 t. cinnamon
1 cup pecan pieces

Melt 1 stick of butter and mix it with the brown sugar. Pour into an ungreased bundt pan (or 2 smaller baking pans). Sprinkle nuts over the brown sugar mixture.

Melt the other stick of butter. Combine sugar and cinnamon in a separate bowl. Dip each frozen roll in butter, then roll in sugar mixture and arrange in pan.

Mix leftover butter and sugar mixture and drizzle over top.

Cover and let rise overnight (we usually just set it inside the oven so it’s ready to go). It will probably get huge. Don’t worry, it’s supposed to.

For this one we added some extra rolls and baked them in a huge rectangular pan.

In the morning, bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Cool for 15 minutes, then invert rolls onto a serving plate.

*Edited to add some new photos, using the bundt pan.

Rolls, after they have risen overnight.

Bundt pan, fresh out of the oven after baking.

Inverting the pan onto a plate. It takes a few shakes to get it loose.

Mmmmm, the finished product.

World’s easiest apple tart

When you get home from vacation you are pretty much always guaranteed at least two things: you will have 800 emails and nothing in the fridge. But I was craving something fall-ish last night, and we did have one sheet of puff pastry in the freezer and half a bag of apples. Sounds like a tart to me!

I googled a bit until I found this recipe, which was the closest I could find to what I wanted to make. But really you don’t even need a recipe. Just do this:

Thaw out your puff pastry sheet and then unfold it on a non-stick cookie sheet. Peel, core, and thinly slice two apples. Arrange them tightly in the center of the pastry.

Then tuck in the corners. It doesn’t have to be fancy — you’re going for rustic here.

Sprinkle some cinnamon and sugar all over the top.

Then bake for 40 minutes at 400 degrees. When the tart comes out of the oven, drizzle on some agave nectar or honey, or brush it with some jam. And that’s it!

Watermelon basil pops

I made two popsicle recipes for a story recently, and I thought I’d share this one with you because it’s so easy. And they’re really good!

The hardest part was tracking down a popsicle mold. Even though it’s still hot, everyone is moving to their fall inventories.

The one I ended up with is a little dorky, but I did learn that you can make adult-looking popsicles in shot glasses.

The original recipe called for cilantro, but since I had a basil tree growing in my side garden, I decided to switch out the herbs.

Watermelon-Basil Pops
adapted from Self Magazine

3 cups seedless watermelon, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tablespoon honey
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
4 basil leaves

1. Dump all the ingredients into a blender and pulse to combine. You might need to stir the mixture a little at first.
2. Pour the watermelon puree into popsicle molds and freeze for at least 3 hours. If you have trouble releasing the pops, dip the mold in warm water first.

Unfortunately, the pulp kind of sank to the bottom, giving these a kind of Bomb pop appearance, but they still tasted really good.

Ratatouille revisited

I decided yesterday that with our garden veggie haul it was time to make ratatouille. It’s not the most beautiful of dishes, but it’s one of the best ways to enjoy your produce. And it’s sort of like a relish. You can put it on anything!

The recipe I use is an adaptation from Julia Child, so I think it’s legit.

But this time it was different. I got to use my brand new mandoline slicer!

Friends, you have got to get one of these. I feel like I just went up a level as a cook or something.

I used it to make 1/8-inch zucchini slices. I zipped through a whole zucchini in a matter of seconds.

Unfortunately my eggplant was too soft to use in the mandoline. But I look forward to making many slices and strips in the future. I’m thinking it would make a cold noodle salad a lot better.

So for ratatouille, you roast the zucchini and eggplant slices in the oven while you saute onions, peppers and garlic. Meanwhile you peel and slice your tomatoes, and separate the juice. Then you add the tomato slices to the peppers and onions, cook a few minutes, then add the juice and turn up the heat until most of the juice evaporates.

Then you layer it up in a casserole dish like a lasagna and bake for about half an hour. The recipe calls for turning up the heat partway through baking, but I didn’t think it was necessary.

In fact, I don’t think you really even need to separate the tomato juice and pour it on later. I think you could probably throw everything into the pan and cook it at once and it would still come out good. Just try to remove all the tomato seeds.

If I had to do it over I think I’d double the recipe, too. It’s a lot of work for one tiny pan of veggies. Even if it is a relish, Mike and I still eat it like it’s at least a side dish.

DIY microwave popcorn

This was like a revelation for me. And it’s so simple it’s ridiculous.

I have been addicted to these little packs of lime and salt popcorn for snacks.

But then I read something (maybe in Readymade?) about how you can make your own microwave popcorn in a paper sack.

So I tried it, and it worked. And then I felt dumb for not thinking of it myself.

Here’s what I did:

I got a bag of regular paper lunch sacks and some popcorn kernels (these were tiny, so you might have to adjust the time for bigger kernels).

I put 1/4 a cup of kernels in a sack and drizzled on about a tablespoon of vegetable oil.

Don’t worry if your bag gets oily. It’s supposed to.

Then I microwaved it for two minutes, stopping it when I heard the kernals slowing down (it was about a minute and a half).

The popcorn came out just fine. I got a lot of old maids the first time, but haven’t since. I tried popping it for a minute and 45 seconds once, but then I got a bunch of burned kernels.

After it comes out, salt it generously. You could also use it to make a snack mix or caramel corn or popcorn balls or whatever your heart desires!

Roasted beets with goat cheese

This has been my go-to side this week, now that we have fresh beets in the garden.

I’ve always found beets to be a little too strong tasting. I’ll eat a few, but then I’ll start to pick them out. But this recipe has given me a whole new appreciation for beets. I think the difference is that I finally cooked them long enough to caramelize, so they became more sweet than beet-y, if that makes any sense.

The addition of goat cheese and a drizzle of balsamic dressing just makes them even better.

The only sad part is that our beautiful chioggia beets lose most of their color when roasted. But I still get to enjoy the swirled patterns every time I cut one open.

So all you do for this recipe is wash the beets (as many as you want), trim the ends and cut off the greens.

Then you can peel the outer layer of skin if it’s too rough.

Cut the beets into 1/4-inch slices, place them on a cookie sheet and drizzle on a little olive oil. Bake for 25-30 minutes at 400 degrees. You will be tempted to take them out too soon, but don’t. You want them soft, with slightly curled edges.

When they’re done, let them cool a few minutes, and cut the slices into 1-inch pieces. Sprinkle goat cheese on top (I like Northern Prairie Chevre’s black pepper version) and drizzle with a little balsamic dressing.

The weekend

I caught an organizing/decorating bug this weekend. One of the projects I had been meaning to try was making a paper pouf out of newspaper. It took a couple tries to get a good one, but I think it ended up looking really cute. I made two for the wall above our TV, which has been crying for some decoration for a long time.

If you want to make one, here’s how:

-Stack 8 full sheets of newspaper in a pile and cut them into a 15×20-inch rectangle.
-With the 15-inch side facing you, start folding the pile up like an accordion. Each crease should be about 1 1/2 inches tall.
-When you get to the end, either twist a piece of wire or tie a piece of string around the center of the accordion.
-Trim the ends into a pointy shape. You’ll probably have to cut through the layers separately because the paper’s pretty thick.
-Spread the layers apart until you have what looks like a flower.

I also got new collars for the dogs. Reggie is quite proud of hers.

Found these cute little glass votives at a garage sale. They will make perfect little sampler candles, I think.

Also, I had to take a picture of my dinner the other night (black bean burgers). It just looked like summer to me.

Zucchini pesto bake

Later this summer when you’re either digging zucchini baseball bats out of the garden, or receiving them from friends, you’ll be glad to have this recipe. It’s really easy to make, and it also makes use of pesto, which I always have a lot of in the summertime. Luckily I still had some in the freezer from last year when I made this.

Zucchini pesto bake
adapted slightly from Beaverdale Living magazine

1 pound zucchini (I used 3 medium ones)
1/4 cup pesto
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 pound plum tomatoes
10 slices provolone cheese

Slice both the zucchini and the tomatoes into 1/4-inch slices lengthwise. Microwave the zucchini in a covered dish for four minutes. Pat them dry in a few paper towels.

Spread the zucchini slices with the pesto until they’re covered on all sides.

In a small casserole dish, layer half the breadcrumbs, then half the zucchini, half the tomatoes, and half the cheese slices. I had to tear one of the slices in half to cover it properly.

Then add another layer of zucchini, tomatoes and cheese, and top with the rest of the breadcrumbs.

Bake in a 375 degree oven, uncovered for 30 minutes.