Category Archives: Cookbook Challenge

Cookbook Challenge #4 and #5

It’s time to recap two cookbook challenges I had last week. One was a complete disaster (#4) and one was totally boss (#5). I’m now two cookbooks done and only have 9 more to get through and 17 more recipes to finish!

Let’s talk about the kitchen disaster first. I tried making Isa Chandra’s Samosa smashed potato cakes from her Vegan Brunch cookbook and it failed miserably.

The mixture looks like it would hold!

The mixture looked promising. Looks can be deceiving.

I followed the recipe exactly and even used a blog online that also referenced the recipe and it still failed. The only difference was I didn’t use 4 pounds potatoes because we didn’t need 30 of these potato cakes for just us two. But that shouldn’t have made a difference. Whenever I make any kind of savory cake, I almost always use cooked quinoa, Panko or even an egg as the binder. Since this recipe was vegan, I couldn’t use the egg, but it suggested using flour. Which I used. It still turned into a gloppy, horrible mess, but it tasted great.

Following the recipe method of frying them. Yuck!

Following the recipe method of frying them. Yuck!

Again, this looked promising! They just wouldn’t hold so when I would flip them (waiting almost 6-7 minutes per side; double the time suggested in the cookbook!), they turned into a mess. So I decided to try it again but without any oil in the pan.

More promising - still didn't hold.

More promising – still didn’t hold.

Since it was like samosa filling, it was totally boss. I’m just disappointed the end result couldn’t be classified as food. So we ended up getting takeout since it was already like 8 by that point. Lame. Screw the cookbook. Use Panko or quinoa next time. Lesson learned.

But moving onto Friday, we had our successful recipe! I found the risotto and pea recipe from Giada’s Everyday Italian cookbook and decided to make it. Except, learning my lesson from the disaster the night before, I just made my own version of it. I used my mushroom risotto for two recipe but added peas. Simple enough and oh so delicious.

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I’ve sort of perfected my risotto making process and now it’s foolproof. I do like the addition of peas, too. I didn’t think I would, but it was actually really good. And it reheated well the next day, too! You can’t go wrong with risotto though. It’s probably one of my favorite foods and since I don’t get to eat it all the time, when I do, it’s the most glorious experience. Truly.

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Mushroom Risotto with Peas
 
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Combining my risotto recipe with the peas from Giada de Laurentiis
Author:
Recipe type: risotto, main dish, vegetarian
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 1 1 oz. package dried porcini mushrooms (Earthy Delights brand or similar) – soaked in hot water to reconstitute
  • 4 cups low sodium vegetable broth
  • 2 teaspoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 medium shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 8 oz. Cremini mushrooms, wiped clean, stems removed and sliced
  • 4 oz. shiitake mushrooms, wiped clean, stems removed and sliced
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • ½ cup white wine (Pinot Grigio or similar)
  • ½ cup frozen green peas
  • 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated
Instructions
  1. Start by adding the dried porcini mushrooms to some hot water to reconstitute them. Set aside for 20-25 minutes.
  2. Next add 4 cups of low sodium vegetable broth to a medium saucepan and bring to slight simmer over medium heat.
  3. In a large, deep skillet heat the 1 teaspoon oil and 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat.
  4. Add the shallot and cook for 3-5 minutes or until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.
  5. Next add the sliced cremini and shiitake mushrooms and cook 8-10 minutes or until tender and most of the water has evaporated.
  6. Remove mushrooms from pan to bowl and set aside.
  7. Heat the other teaspoon of oil and tablespoon of butter in same pan.
  8. Add the arborio rice and stir until slightly toasted.
  9. Add the white wine and cook for 1-1½ minutes or until alcohol evaporates.
  10. Then add the broth ½ cup at a time, stirring the rice, and let it thicken. When you notice the liquid is almost absorbed, add another ½ up of broth. Continue this until the broth is used up.
  11. Add the cooked mushrooms to the pan.
  12. With a slotted spoon, take the porcinis out of the water and add them to the pan.
  13. If you need to use more liquid, you can use the mushroom water.
  14. The risotto is done when it is thickened and the rice is cooked and no longer hard – about 25-28 minutes.
  15. Add the frozen peas and cook for 1 minutes to heat through.
  16. Stir in the Parmesan cheese last.
  17. Serve immediately
  18. Optional garnishes: freshly chopped parsley or shavings Parmesan cheese

Cookbook Challenge #3 – Mushroom Bolognese

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Look at me go. I’m down 3 recipes and still have….19 to go! I’ve finished the two recipes from Isa Chandra’s Appetite for Reduction, so I moved onto a cookbook I own that now doesn’t suit my diet whatsoever: Everyday Italian by Giada de Laurentiis.

First off, I’m not the biggest fan of Giada. I don’t know if I ever was, but I was gifted this cookbook probably because I wanted cookbooks from all types of cuisine and figured “Hey! She’s bone thin and seems relatively healthy, I’ll get her cookbook.” Except, her cookbook isn’t made up of the healthiest recipes, definitely not lower carb and she only eats like 2 bites of food a day so no wonder she’s bone thin.

Either way, I figured I should tackle this cookbook next since carbs are my enemy and I need to just get it over with. So I made a version of her mushroom bolognese.

I forgot how much I love Italian food. I also forgot how heavy it can be. And I also forgot that carbs aren’t my friends and eating a lot of them in one sitting after not doing so for months did not make my stomach feel happy. I just felt full. Talk about carb binging.

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Nonetheless, it was done. Now I can check it off my list and go scouring through the book to find another recipe to make. Maybe I’ll just stick to something simple, like a vegetable appetizer.

Mushroom Bolognese
 
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A heartier version of Giada de Laurentiis’s recipe.
Author:
Recipe type: sauce, main dish, mushrooms
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 8
Ingredients
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 pound (2 8-oz. containers) mushrooms: I used creminis, shitakes and oysters – wiped clean, stems removed and thinly sliced
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, finely chopped
  • ½ cup red onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 15-oz. can whole, peeled tomatoes
  • 1 15-oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Instructions
  1. Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
  2. When the oil is hot, add the onion and red bell pepper and cook until tender, about 5-8 minutes.
  3. Add the minced garlic and cook for another minute.
  4. Remove peppers and onion from pan and transfer to a bowl and set aside
  5. Add the remaining teaspoon olive oil, then add the mushrooms and cook until softened and tender – 5-10 minutes.
  6. When the mushrooms have reduced in size and most of the water has evaporated, add the peppers and onions back to the pan.
  7. Add the tomato paste, whole tomatoes and crushed tomatoes to pan and stir well.
  8. Add dried oregano, thyme, salt and pepper and stir well.
  9. Cover and let simmer for 20 minutes, or until thickened.
  10. Serve over pasta of choice and enjoy.

 

 

Cookbook Challenge #2 – Quinoa Pilaf

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I brought Isa Chandra’s Appetite for Reduction cookbook to work with me and read through it as I had my morning cup of coffee. I ended up looking at her recipe for cranberry-cashew biryani and knew I needed to make it.

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However, as much as I love her recipes and love that in this cookbook everything is 400 calories or less per serving, I wanted to change the recipe to fit my taste buds better.

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My sister and I were emailing each other all day talking about recipes, our mom’s recipes, cooking and planning my visit to Chicago in March (hooray!). I told her about this recipe and how I wanted to change it to fit my dietary needs. She reminded me that “biryani” is actually all spice. It does not usually have dried fruit in it, and I wanted to use some kind of dried fruit. So we both realized what I wanted to make, was really a pulao or pilaf.

The biggest changes I made were the cooking process in general, using quinoa over Basmati rice to help keep it low-carb for me, and using dried apricots instead of cranberries.

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garam masala made fresh

If you didn’t know, apricots and cumin are two of the most yummy flavors when combined. Next time you make a curry dish with cumin, add a little dried apricot in there – your world will change completely.

This dish turned out amazing. How do I know that? When REB got home from class and had it for dinner, he said, and I quote, “Whole Foods should have this in their hot bar.”

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This is how I know this recipe is a keeper. And how I know he’s a keeper too ;)

Quinoa Pilaf
 
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A low-carb twist on classic Vegetable Pulao that uses Indian spices, mixed vegetables and dried fruit. Adapted from Isa Chandra (and my mom)!
Author:
Recipe type: vegan, vegetarian, main dish
Cuisine: Indian, vegetarian, vegan
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • ¾ cup quinoa
  • ¼ cup dried apricots, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1½ teaspoons minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons grated ginger
  • 1½ cups frozen mixed vegetable blend (my blend has carrots, peas, green beans and corn kernels)
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala (I make mine fresh, but you can use store bought)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 cup water
  • ¼ cup unsalted whole cashews, toasted
  • Cilantro (optional garnish)
Instructions
  1. In a rice cooker or medium pot, cook quinoa according to packaging instructions. I used ¾ cup quinoa, with 1½ cups water in my rice cooker.
  2. Add the chopped dried apricots directly to the quinoa so they cook together — the quinoa took about 20-25 minutes to cook in the cooker. May take longer on stovetop.
  3. When the quinoa is cooked, pour into a bowl and set aside
  4. In a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat, heat olive oil.
  5. Add the mustard and cumin seeds, cover the pot with a lid and let the seeds start to pop.
  6. Next add the minced garlic and grated ginger and cook for one minute.
  7. Add the frozen mixed vegetables, garam masala, turmeric, salt, red pepper flakes and stir well for one minute.
  8. Add the tomato paste and water and stir.
  9. Cover the dish and let it come to a boil and reduce so the curry is slightly thickened and most of the water is gone- about 3-5 minutes.
  10. While the curry is boiling away, toast the cashews in a small, dry pan until golden
  11. When the curry has reduced, add the cooked quinoa to the skillet and stir well to combine all the flavors. Give it a taste and adjust your spices if needed.
  12. Toss in the toasted cashews.
  13. Serve immediately with pickle, chutney or additional curry dish.
  14. Optional garnish: chopped cilantro

 

After doing the math, I found that this recipe was only 229 calories per serving, almost 5g of fiber and almost 8g of protein. I think next time I might add some garbanzo beans or mushrooms to up the ante on the protein.

What are some of your favorite cookbook recipes?

Cookbook Challenge #1 – Isa’s Quinoa Salad

Remember that list of 31 things I want to do before I turn 30? The 31 Before 30 list? Yeah, I kind of forgot about it, too. I always do this to myself. I make an awesome list, set of goals, or even resolutions and usually only get 75% done.

So I happened to take a peek at the list, scrolled through it, and came to number #25 and literally said, “Oh shit.”

Read it and weep, Aparna:

Prepare and cook at least two recipes from each cookbook I own.

Now for any normal person, this is not a big deal. This is actually something very easy to accomplish for most. But for someone like me, who constantly forgets she owns cookbooks because she either alters recipes she finds online, puts a twist on her mom’s recipes, or creates new recipes all together, this is a problem.

I don’t even own a lot of cookbooks. I own, like….[counting] 11 cookbooks. So this should be easy. That’s 22 recipes I need to get done in a year. Well, at least 22 recipes (damn technicalities).

The only one I’m kind of pissed and/or worried about is cooking from The Pioneer Woman’s cookbook aka ALL MEAT, BUTTER, FAT AND CARBS RAWR. Quite frankly, I’m not as big a fan of hers as I used to be, and I don’t even know why I have this cookbook or ever wanted it. Her demeanor, her show and her overall premise is not very appealing to me nor do I relate to it in any way. [Pause for gasps and people leaving blog]

But I digress…

So as I was perusing through this cookbook, and on the phone with REB as he was driving home from work, we were playing the “what should we make for dinner?” game. It’s a game we hate and one we play almost every night. I mentioned I was reading Isa Chandra’s cookbook to him and maybe an idea for dinner would come from it. He seemed intrigued. Actually, he didn’t, but he did say, ” Yeah, that sounds good.” I’ll take that as intrigue and interest.

I love Isa Chandra. I love that I relate to her food aesthetic and I love her recipes. I looked through her cookbook and post-it’ed the hell out of it with recipes I want to try. And while on the phone with REB, came across this recipe, which we happened to have almost all the ingredients for in the kitchen.

Isa’s Quinoa Salad with Black Beans and Toasted Cumin Seeds was perfect. Everything in the Appetite for Reduction cookbook is 400 calories or less per serving, uses fresh ingredients and is full of proteinalicious recipes! REB and I are newbs to quinoa, and we can’t get enough of it. It’s easily becoming our favorite substitute for pasta or rice. Plus, anything with cumin seeds? Duh. Has my name all over it.

So one recipe down, 21 (excuse me, at least 21) to go!

Quinoa Salad w/ Black Beans and Toasted Cumin Seeds
 
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Our twist on a low-cal, full-of-protein, fresh-ingredient salad! Adapted from Isa Chandra
Author:
Recipe type: main dish, vegetarian, quinoa
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 2 cups cooked quinoa, cooled
  • 4 on-the-vine tomatoes (it’s all we had. I would prefer Roma), finely diced (remove some excess liquid if you can)
  • ¼ teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted in dry pan
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • ⅓ cup scallion, chopped
  • 1 can (15 oz.) black beans, drained and rinsed
  • ¼ teaspoon salt (more if you need it – we didn’t)
  • Juice of two limes
Instructions
  1. Cook quinoa according to directions on package. Once cooked, put into a mixing bowl, and let it cool.
  2. In a dry pan, toast cumin seeds until aromatic. Remove from heat and set aside.
  3. In a separate large mixing bowl, add chopped tomatoes, lime juice, honey, olive oil and cumin seeds and mix.
  4. Stir in the cooled quinoa, add the salt, scallion and black beans.
  5. Enjoy at room temperature or cold!
  6. Optional garnish: chopped scallion or cilantro
  7. Vegan option: use agave nectar instead of honey