Friday, June 29, 2012


I will be putting this blog on hold for the next five weeks because I am in France taking a language course and doing research for my dissertation.  See you all when I get back in August!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Vegetarian Pot Pie with Biscuit Topping

I got this recipe from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker cookbook. It seemed really interesting... I mean, pot pie in the crock pot? Interesting idea. So I thought I'd try it last September 6.

This recipe has a lot of prep that you have to do, but one of the great things about this cookbook, that I think I mentioned the last time I talked about it, is that it tells you what you can make ahead of time so that it doesn't take as long on the day of.  For example, this one says that you can "complete steps 1 and 2," then "cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days. When you're ready to cook, complete the recipe."

First, you take dried portobello mushrooms and crumble them into a bowl with your fingers.  Then add hot water to them to reconstitute the mushrooms and let them soak for about 30 minutes.  You strain the mushrooms but save the liquid for later.

On the stove, you cook chopped onion, celery, and carrots in some oil until soft. Then add most of the rest of the ingredients (garlic, thyme, salt, and pepper).  As per usual, I didn't use any salt.  Then you add some flour to the liquid and mix it in. The recipe says that you can add dry sherry or vodka if you want, but I didn't do this. You add the liquid from soaking the mushrooms and then pour it all in the slow cooker. At this point you turn the slow cooker on and cook it on low for 4 hours or high for 2 hours.

While you're cooking the pot pie "filling", you make the biscuits using flour, baking powder, salt, butter, and milk.  You form them into balls.  After the "filling" has cooked for 4 or 2 hours, depending on the temperature setting, you mix the final three ingredients into it: peas, cream, and parsley.  Then you drop the biscuits in and cook them on top of the "filling" mixture.  The biscuits are cooked on high for about an hour.

In the description for this dish, the recipe says, "This tasty dish has real robustness thanks to the dried portobello mushrooms. All you need to add is a tossed green salad," so I took their advice and that's how I served it.  Interestingly, this is one dish where the number of servings actually is the amount of servings that you get because you only make 4 biscuits. But you have to make the servings of the "filling" pretty big to get 4 out of it, so one of the many recommendations that I would make with this recipe is actually to make more biscuits than just four.  Maybe do 1 1/2 times the recipe so you get six biscuits.  Because, the issue is that this recipe is just okay and you really can't eat that much of the "filling" each time you sit down, so making smaller servings might make it better.

I would probably change a lot in making this recipe again, because it wasn't all that great as written.  First, the recipe has you chopping everything into tiny little pieces, which makes it more like a soup when you're eating it and you taste more of the cream sauce than the vegetables, which makes it difficult to eat a lot. So, I would not crumble the mushrooms and just reconstitute them whole so there are bigger chunks and you can taste them more.  I'd also make sure that the onion, celery and carrots are chopped into large pieces instead of the small ones that the recipe recommends.

Second, I would definitely add some more spices to it.  And probably use the sherry.  Definitely more pepper and thyme than they recommend. But I'd probably also add some more spices to make it more interesting.  Maybe marjoram? Basil? Oregano? If anyone has any suggestions about what spices might spruce this up a bit, I'd love to know.

Now in terms of cost, this one is a bit pricey per serving if you had to get everything. The big ticket item is the sherry, but the baking items all together would be around $9.00 or so. So the total would be $8.77 per serving for four servings and $5.85 per serving for six.  But, of course, I didn't use the sherry and already had most of the items for the recipe, which is part of the reason why I wanted to try it initially. I only bought the mushrooms, celery, peas, cream, parsley, and milk. So as I purchased it, I only paid $3.46 per serving (and if I had stretched it into six servings in would have only been $2.30).

The calories are high-ish for this recipe because of the heavy cream and biscuits. Counting the sherry it would be 425 calories per serving for four servings and 348 calories for six serving and since the recipe only calls for 2 tbsp sherry, it doesn't really add all that many calories.

I think overall my evaluation of this recipe is: meh.  I think that you could switch some stuff up and make it a bit more tasty, like I suggested above, but it was definitely not my favorite.  On the bright side, it wasn't like the soup I made back when I was doing my master's... for that one I wrote in the cookbook: "NOT GOOD. DO NOT MAKE AGAIN." This one wasn't that bad, but I've made better things in the crock pot. And because of the higher calories and the overall price, I probably wouldn't recommend it for the grad student lifestyle.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Spiced Cauliflower and Potatoes

One of the many awesome cookbooks that my mother-in-law has given me is The Indian Slow Cooker: 50 Healthy, Easy, Authentic Recipes and the first recipe I tried out of this was the Spiced Cauliflower and Potatoes. Now one note about this cookbook: a lot of the recipes require some unique spices, but I've found that if your local grocery store doesn't have what is needed, try You're definitely going to need to stock up on some standard Indian spices like garam masala, which is in almost every recipe. Also, a lot of the recipes call for saffron, which can be really expensive.  In the introduction, it says, "For decades, saffron was the world's most expensive spice by weight."  I found it prohibitively expensive in my local grocery store, but Trader Joe's has it at a much more reasonable price, so check there.  I actually have avoided the saffron recipes so far because I didn't get it until recently, so you'll have to wait for any of the recipes that use saffron.

The recipe is pretty easy to make once you've chopped all the ingredients.  You'll need to cut up the cauliflower, potato, onion, tomato, fresh ginger, garlic, and peppers (Thai, serrano, or cayenne). The spices in this recipe include cumin, red chile powder, garam masala, salt, and turmeric, with a little bit of vegetable or canola oil. As most people who read this blog regularly know, I didn't add the salt.

You mix the ingredients all together and then cook the cauliflower on low for three hours. The recipe recommends mixing it once during cooking: "Mix once or twice during cooking, especially in the beginning. Eventually the cauliflower will release enough liquid to prevent anything from sticking to the sides of the slow cooker."

This is what the dish looked like before I turned it on.

And this is what it looked like after cooking.

As you can see in the picture above, you mix in some chopped cilantro. The recipe suggests serving this dish "with roti or naan and a side of onion and cucumber salad."  As you can see from the picture to the left and below, I served it over basmati rice, the naan you can get from Trader Joe's, and a salad. This was a really good recipe, but I made it too spicy.  I didn't get all the seeds out of the peppers so it ended up super spicy. Obviously it wouldn't have been as spicy if I had taken all the seeds out.  But, I thought it was still good.

The good thing about this dish is that it makes a lot of servings.  This cookbook doesn't give you any approximation about the servings, but rather how many cups of food you make. This recipe makes 7 cups.  I ate it for a while, however, so I'm going to estimate that I got 8 servings out of it for the purposes of my calculation. In terms of calories, the cauliflower dish by itself is only about 122 calories per serving.  I'd estimate rice at between 100 and 150 calories (depending on how much you serve -- 1/2 cup is about 100 calories, but people often serve themselves more) and the Trader Joe's naan is 190 calories per piece. So the total (not counting the salad) is about 412 to 462 calories per meal.  This one really keeps the calories down for those days when you spend the entire day in the library and no time in the gym!

For cost per serving, the real bulk of the cost is getting some of the spices that you may not normally have on hand. My grocery receipt included cumin ($2.99), red chile powder ($7.99), garam masala ($4.49) and turmeric ($3.29) -- basically all the spices needed for this recipe. The first time you cook from this book you'll be spending a bit more to get the spices, but subsequent recipes will cost less per serving because you'll already have the spices on hand.  For everything you need for the recipe, I estimated about $4.34 per serving (I only paid $3.54 per serving, but I didn't have enough naan to serve every time). If you already have the spices it would only be $2.00 per serving (and keep in mind, I included the rice and naan in this calculation) and only $1.44 with the things that I already had on hand!  So basically, you could feed yourself for over a week with this meal at only $2.00 per meal!  Really helpful for those of us on a grad school budget!