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Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie

Can I have a car air freshener in Shepherd’s Pie??  For Shirley’s birthday, my boss decided we’d all make an ethnic food and share during lunch.  There was everything from Thai food to Polish to my Irish Sheppard’s Pie (mutilated, as Brandon says, because I made it vegetarian and it is usually rich with meat).

You should buy:

  • 1 1/2 cups low-sodium cream of mushroom soup
  • 1/3 cup dry red wine
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 ounce portabella mushrooms
  • 3 pounds russet potatoes, peeled, and cut into large dice
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 2 pounds cremini mushrooms, stemmed and quartered
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 3 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 Tbsp. sage leaves
  • 1 Tbsp. thyme leaves
  • 1 tsp. cayenne
  • 1 Tbsp. black pepper
  • 2/3 cup heavy whipping cream

With a whisk, whip together the cream of mushroom soup, your choice of dry red wine (I used a cheap brand, but the addition of wine really perked up the adult taste buds), tomato paste and flour. When the liquid is creamy and smooth, set aside for some time to let the flavors meld.

Chop up your potatoes and place in a large, covered, boiling pot of water.  Cook until they almost fall of a fork when poked, about 20-30 minutes.

In a frying pan, melt a tablespoon of butter. Add in a handful of mushrooms (don’t overcrowd them, just enough to evenly cover the bottom of the pan) and cook over medium-high heat until the mushrooms are browned on both sides.  Place in a separate bowl, and then repeat until all of the mushrooms are completely browned.

Melt another tablespoon of butter in the now empty pan and toss in your onion, celery, garlic, carrots and seasonings. 

 Cook until the vegetables are soft and the onions become translucent, about 6-8 minutes.

Add the wine, mushroom broth mix to the pan making sure to scrape the sides of the pan and bottom to keep from burning. Simmer for 3 minutes.  Plop in the mushrooms and cook at a simmering stage until thick and darker maroon in color, approximately 8 minutes.

Strain the liquid from the potatoes and return to the pot.  

Mash together the potato chunks, 2 Tbsp. butter and cream with an electric hand mixer for about 5 minutes or until smooth and whipped. Season with salt and pepper.

In a pie dish, 9″ x 9″ baking dish or mini bread loaf pans, spread the vegetable mixture over the bottom.

On top, dot the potatoes all the way across to the edges.  Take your fork and sporadically dip in and out of the top of the potatoes to create little peaks and valleys. These will become a crunchy texture in the oven.

Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 20-30 minutes. The vegetable mixture may bubble, breaking the potatoes away from the sides.  If you like the top more crunchy and browned, turn on the broiler and heat for 5 more minutes.

I chose to cook this in disposable mini bread tins for the sole purpose of reheating them at lunch in the toaster oven. They fit perfectly.  I tossed them in the oven to cook before leaving for work and by lunch, they only needed about 5 minutes of reheating.  I drove all the way to work (just under an hour) to work smelling this deliciousness and somehow managed to dispel the urge to pop open a pie and dig in.  The mix made about 7 minis: one for my mom, two and a half for lunch, and three for people to take home.


Just the smell was enough to make someone do a happy dance.  The mushrooms (could have been chopped smaller) mixed with cream of mushroom soup helped to make a hearty, thick vegetarian version of this hodgepodge of a dish.  The potatoes fill your stomach right up, as Irish food is known for, and the butter and cream helped to flavor the bland starch some.  I used Lucky Duck Shiraz, a cheap wine, but it supplied the distinct, incomparable oomph necessary to make a meat dish turned vegetarian work.  The potatoes just melt in your mouth, and dissipate some of the saltiness of the cream of mushroom soup.


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Couscous Stuffed Tomatoes


When in need of an extra vegetable that can sub as a main meal for the vegetarian coming to your party, reference back to this recipe.  I made these for Christmas and was in no way missing out during dinner.


What you’ll need:


  • 8-10 medium tomatoes
  • 1 box couscous
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1/2 onion
  • 1 cup 2 different kinds of mushrooms
  • 1/2 cup fresh spinach
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 tsp. cayenne
  • 1 tsp. Italian seasoning
  • 1 package mozzarella cheese


Wash the tomatoes then start by cutting the tomatoes in half and spooning the center out into a bowl.  I used a melon baller, which worked perfectly for this task. Set aside for later.


Next, fry the onions, mushrooms and garlic together with a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a frying pan.  Cook until the mushroom turn dark brown in color and the onions become translucent, about 5-8 minutes. Everything should smell of garlic.

Toss in your greens and spices (spinach, basil, pepper, cayenne, Italian seasoning) next then cook until the basil shrinks, about 2-4 minutes.


While your vegetables are cooking you can start the couscous. Cook according to the directions replacing the water with vegetable broth.  When the couscous is almost complete, stir in the sun-dried tomatoes until thoroughly heated (I used canned sun-dried tomatoes that were already softened).  When I made this I used two boxes of couscous because I doubled up on the amount of tomatoes, but this is not necessary.  One box was plenty and the condensed vegetable medley would have provided more flavors.


Next mix together your vegetables, couscous and tomato pulp in a mixing bowl.


Stuff the couscous blend into the tomato halves and place on a roasting pan.


Top each tomato shell with a healthy amount of cheese. Here you can experiment using parmesan, mozzarella, white cheddar or even fresh mozzarella slices. Another tasty option would be to mix parmesan inside the couscous mix and top with mozzarella.


Bake in the oven at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 25-30 minutes.


To brown the top, broil for 3-5 minutes.


This was an excellent main course for Christmas for the vegetarian in our small group (me).  My uncle stated that when he spooned in a piece of basil with his grains it made a huge difference in adding much-needed flavor to the boring couscous.  The tomatoes mush, somewhat, when cooked allowing your fork to slice right through scooping up bits of grains, cheese, vegetables and tomato. 


I took both the left over couscous medley, tasty just on its own, and whole tomatoes to lunch for the next week. Two was more than enough to keep me going until dinner. The couscous, similar to when you cook it, puffs up in your stomach keeping you full for quite a while with a healthy carbohydrate. To make this gluten-free simply substitute in quinoa for the couscous.

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Andrew’s Veg-Friendly Puttanesca Sauce

Andrew claims there is more than one vegetarian-friendly recipe in his repertoire, and I’m sure hoping because this recipe was out of this world.  Next time, the sous chef gets to help out with more than cutting the onion and garlic and stirring.

While at the store, pick up:

  • 1 can tomato paste
  • 1 can tomato sauce
  • 1 jar Kalamata olives
  • 1 Tbsp. capers
  • 1 box Rigatoni
  • Sea Salt
  • 1 cup mushrooms
  • 1/2 onion
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup Cabernet Sauvignon (more for drinking)
  • 1 loaf of bread +butter and garlic

Start by prepping the onions, mushrooms and garlic by roughly chopping. 

Sauté the onion with oil for 2 minutes or until the onions begin to turn translucent. 

Add in the mushrooms and cook for another 2 minutes.  Turn down the heat, toss in the garlic and cook until aromatic. 

Meanwhile, in a saucepan, begin cooking the pasta and sprinkle in a little sea salt to the water.

Pit the olives and slice a knife lengthwise through the batch a few times for a chunky chopped look. 

Heat them in the sauté pan for a few minutes.


Top with the tomato sauce and tomato paste.  Stir until hot.


Drain the pasta, adding 1/4-1/2 cup of the starchy water to the sauce.  The starch will thicken it.  Continue stirring to it from splattering and sputtering all over the oven-top.  Pour in the wine, stirring for another minute or so.  Mix in the drained pasta and top with a few capers.

See my previous Garlic Bread recipe for the remaining ingredients.

Rigatoni holds little chunks of mushroom and olives inside its short tube whilst squishing out warm tomato sauce onto your taste buds with each bite.  The big globs of mushrooms and olives created a thickness and texture to the sauce, segregating it from bland store-bought Ragu.  Even though there is no meat in the sauce, the mushrooms create a smooth, unseasoned meat consistency and flavoring to the meal.  The olives, kalamata ones in particular, add in the salty twang (like the capers) with a meaty heartiness.  Paired with sweet, yet tart, acidic tomatoes, you end up with a well-rounded palate for dinner.  Don’t forget to add in a glass of wine and garlic bread.

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Parmigiano Reggiano Spinach Artichoke Dip

I was on appetizer and wine duty this Thanksgiving.  Despite my efforts to narrow it down to just one appetizer, I was only able to diminish myself to two.  This hot, cheesy dip is perfect for the vegetarian in the group to chow down on before the rest of the Turkey day meat lovers stuff their bellies with turkey, ham, gravy, stuffing and bacon-infused green bean casserole.

Inside the pie dish, you’ll need:

  • 1 10 oz. package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
  • 1 14 oz. artichoke hearts,  drained and chopped
  • 1/2 8 oz. package cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup light mayo
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/2 tsp. sriracha
  • 2/3 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano (or just Parmesan)
  • 1/4 cup shredded mozzarella

Start by preheating the oven to 350 degrees Farenheit.


Start by mixing together the creamy, liquid ingredients like the cheeses, mayo, sriracha, sour cream and garlic.

The sriracha gives the combo a vibrant pinkish, orange color.


Next, add in the drained spinach and artichokes.

Pour your light green  concoction into a baking dish.


I chose to use a glass pie dish for display purposes, but you can use an 8″ x 8″ square pan or any other dish.

Bake in the center of oven for 20-40 minutes or until the cheese starts to brown and bubble.

Serve with Hint of Pepperjack Tostitos, multi-grain crackers or Pepperidge Farm Cheese Crisps.

This dip, best served when steeping hot, was even better than the spinach dip you may order as an appetizer when out at, say, T.G.I. Fridays.  The artichokes were plentiful (which I always find restaurants to jip on), and the spinach wasn’t too  irony tasting,  a delicious pair with the creamy cheese and mayo.  The sriracha gave our taste buds a slight kick in the pants. For a party of 9, we only demolished half of this filling spread.  I finished the rest the next few days for lunch with the Pepperidge Farm Cheese Crisps. They added another salty sweet aspect which was to die for.

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Hummus Trio

I LOVE hummus. What better way to greet friends coming to town than by making three kinds of hummus and setting it out upon their arrival?

To make the regular hummus:
1 can chickpeas (garbanzo beans)image
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1/2 cup tahini
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 lemon, squeezed
1 Tbsp. cumin
1 tsp. cayenne
1 Tbsp. ground black pepper
paprika, extra chickpeas,  for garnish

To make roasted red pepper hummus, add:

1 jar roasted red peppers
1 extra Tbsp. cayenne

To make the black olive hummus add:

1 can black olives
1 extra Tbsp. ground black pepper

Start by draining the chickpeas, holding back on a Tbsp. or so of liquid.  Add this to the food processor along with the lemon juice and tahini.image
Give the beans a few quick pulses and add the remaining ingredients.  Blend well on high for about two minutes, less if you like a chunky, more if you like your dip smooth.  image
If the hummus is dry and clumping, add in more olive oil, as needed.

WARNING: This “original” hummus interpretation may leave you breathing garlic for several hours after your brush your teeth, but it is so worth it.  Spread it on a sandwich, dip in some pita chips or my all-time favorite: blue corn chips. It’s easy to make, so if you are on appetizer duty for the holidays, this won’t break the bank (in which you can leave out the tahini, which can be pricy, and add in a little more olive oil).  I like hint of cayenne spice in mine, which is a nice addition to the mediterranean mix of lemons and cumin.image

While making the roasted red pepper version, the jar will have a garlic clove inside the red peppers. Add that in with the original two cloves of garlic.  imageThis version comes out much smoother and watery than the regular, so you won’t need to add as much olive oil as the previous rendition.image

The roasted red peppers, though still garlicky, came out surprisingly sweet. By adding in more cayenne, your mouth turns from sweet to heat.  I also really enjoy how this variant is almost creamy in texture. It’s due to the fact that the jarred red peppers soften over time in the preserves.  The blue corn chips were extra enticing with the palatable nature of this dip because they also have a hint of sweetness.  Multi-grain tortilla’s would also create a pleasing taste combination.  The bright orange color of this version is alsoimage

For the black olive version, drain the olives well and add in with the chickpeas. Add in the rest of the ingredients.  This one will be a tad more moist than the original, but not much more, so you may need to add in more olive oil.image

If you enjoy savory foods, the black olive hummus is for you.  The addition of the salty black olives to the wholesome chickpeas, garlic and cumin union creates an authentic Mediterranean flavor palate (Try Kalamata olives for the real deal).   The olives chunk up, and never really break down to a smooth solid, but the specks of black throughout the beige background spark a slight visual interest just asking your mouth to dive in.

imageSay your hosting a party, just whip these three up, place them in matching decorative bowls with three kinds of dippers (pretzels, blue corn chips and pita chips).  Accessorize your hummus with extra chickpeas, sliced black olives, paprika, or a few chips.  Set out when your guests are ready to arrive.  For their benefit, also set out Lifesaver Wintergreen Mints or York Peppermint Patties




Filed under Appetizers, Food, Gluten-Free

Black Olive Baba Ghanouj

I love suggestions on new recipes to try. It never occurred to me to actually make homemade Baba Ghanouj (a.k.a. Baba Ghanoush). I usually just buy it from somewhere like Pita House or Falafil Hut (It’s a really weird holt-in-the-wall restaurant. Hit or miss every time I’ve gone.  The employees will pull change out of their pockets and they forget half your order).  Eggplant lovers definitely should try to cook this.

At the store, buy:

  • 1 eggplant, about 1 lb.
  • 3 Tbsp. Tahini (try Valli Produce or Caputo’s)
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 Tbsp. Olive Oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 2 Tbsp non-fat Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 can black olives
  • 1 1/2 tsp. Cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne
  • 1 Tbsp. black pepper

I’ve never cooked eggplant before as I haven’t found a recipe yet that sparks my taste bud’s interest.  Apparently it is a lot like cooking squash. Easy enough.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Farenheit. Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise, place on a foiled baking sheet and poke at it all over with a fork as shown below. Cook for around 20-30 minutes until the eggplant looks shriveled and softened, like aged skin. 


In the meantime, in either a blender or food processor (depending on how smooth you like your dip) add all ingredients.   As usual, I am in love with the Pampered Chef Garlic Press, and this will save you from sticky, smelly fingers.  A more authentic version would use Kalamata olives, but black olives are a little easier on the wallet and to find in the store.


When the eggplant has cooled, scrape out the insides tossing the skin away.  Here’s where I found squash, especially spaghetti squash, much more appealing.  It will mush out with your fork in little spaghetti like strings. The eggplant just clumps out like a semi-hard, half-cooked potato would. 


You can either scrape the pulp of the eggplant into a bowl or directly into the food processor/blender.  Blend on high for 2-5 minutes until you find your desired creaminess.  Since I used the food processor and added olives, my spread came out smooth but chunky.  This was probably from the ingredients, other than the eggplant and olives, having a liquid or creamy, even texture to them. image

Finally, disperse out the Baba Ghanouj uniformly in a large but not thick glass tray.  Drizzle olive oil on and top with parsley, paprika or cumin for garnish.


Serve with wheat bread Sandwich Thins cut into triangles, pita bread , veggies, naan or pita chips. 

I personally liked the wheat bread Sandwich Thins because it had a sweet taste to add to the cuisine, and took away from the eggplant essence. If you actually prefer to taste the eggplant in the side dish, this is probably not the route to take.  I’d try carrots or pita bread which is more bland and will accentuate the dip flavor.image

I thought this would be the perfect thing for my mom to eat while she’s unable to chew anything crunchy and feeling  swollen.  Unfortunately, she isn’t a fan of Mediterranean flavor combinations like cumin, lemon juice yogurt and tahini. I, too, still haven’t found an eggplant meal that is appealing – yes, a vegetarian that despises eggplant.  But this was edible.  But, as a new wine connoisseur, I thought why not branch out on my food too. The day-old version was actually better than the freshly made, still warm form.  The spices had a chance to seep into the other ingredients. It was also cold, which personally, I found more pleasing. 

I did bring my leftovers to Dani for her in-favor-of-eggplant-meals opinion. She loved it. She put a large lettuce leaf on a plate, topped that with half hummus, half Baba Ghanouj and placed homemade Falafel balls on top (which is another recipe I need to try).

The addition of olives helped bring a salty, hearty taste to the slightly sour lemon juice, greek yogurt and  pungent eggplant. It only had a hint of the eggplant flavoring in it, and the addition of the spices was a must.  The tahini mellowed out the bitter eggplant and sour lemon leaving a manageable thick appetizer, or side salad if you’re in Egypt, a staple in the attempt of Mediterranean dishes.


Filed under Food, Gluten-Free

Vegetable Cannellini Black Bean Soup

It’s soup season! What better way to get the warm fuzzies this fall/winter than to eat a toasty bowl of this delicious soup?

The ingredients:

  • 1 bag of Lipton Rice Sides Cheddar Broccoli
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 3 cups water
  • 1/2 cup frozen broccoli
  • 1/2 cup frozen corn
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1 red Roma tomato, diced
  • 1 yellow tomato, diced
  • 1 Habanero, diced and seeded (if you like the heat, leave the seeds)
  • 1 can cannellini beans
  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 garlic clove
  • dash of cayenne
  • 1/4 tsp. curry
  • 1/4 tsp. chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp. allspice
  • 1 Tbsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • dash of cumin

Start by cooking the rice side according to the directions on the package.  imageIn a large saucepan toss your frozen vegetables with a Tablespoon of water and sautée.  You can also use fresh vegetables, just make sure to cook them long enough or you’ll be biting into a rock while sipping your soup.  While these are cooking, dice your vegetables and toss them in to soften.  Start with the onion and end with the tomatoes.  imageWhen the vegetables are all cooked to a desired flaccidity, combine in the cannellini and black beans.  Pour in the liquids.  Heat until the liquid starts to simmer.  imageYour vegetables will continue to cook in the liquid.  Keep the burner at medium-low and sprinkle in the curry powder, cumin, chili powder, cayenne, allspice, pepper, and garlic. Let those meld together in the soup for five minutes.  Stir in your rice side. By using only one cup of vegetable broth and mostly water with a rice side, the seasoning in the rice packet will fuse with the water creating a broth of its own.image

This was exactly what my stomach was craving on a chilled, rainy fall day.  I love how broccoli florets mush in your mouth when you take a bite.  The rush of warm liquid pushes out of the vegetable tossing an array of spices onto your tongue.  The rice and beans create a hearty meal, leaving you full and satisfied. Mix and match your favorite vegetables, canned, frozen or fresh.  Dip in a loaf of Asiago cheese bread or pita chips for a finishing touch.



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Filed under Appetizers, Food, Lunch/Dinner