Oven Fries, BLTs, Watermelon Feta Salad, and a Tart

We’re enjoying summer while it lasts at Chez Raché. This weekend’s cooking festivities included…

Fresh Fig Tart with Rosemary Cornmeal Crust and Lemon Mascarpone Cream

A Fresh Fig Tart with Rosemary Cornmeal Crust and Lemon Mascarpone Cream from Epicurious.com. The flavor combinations in this tart are outstanding, especially the rosemary and creamy lemony filling. It’s the fresh figs that disappointed me. Maybe they just didn’t live up to the hype I created for such an expensive ingredient. Not the delicacy I imagined. I will make this again with another fruit.

I lost points for execution on the crust. I strongly suspect that I am overworking it, resulting in the dense crusts I’m producing, not the light-and-flaky crusts of my dreams.

At least it looks pretty.

Noah made perfect oven fries: crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside.

Oven Fries

No points lost for execution on these. And he receives extra credit for the dipping sauce: mayonnaise, smoked paprika, and garlic. We make this stuff up as we go.

We also used the mayo on these awesome BLTs.

BLT and Watermelon Feta Salad

Made with applewood smoked bacon, greenleaf lettuce, tomatoes, and caraway-seeded sourdough. On the side is a Watermelon, Feta, Black Olive, and Fennel Salad from The Figs Table by Todd English. The salad was just okay; we thought it had too many red onions.

This wasn’t the only sandwich of the week. I also enjoyed a delicious Tofu Dill sandwich on fresh-baked bread at The Red Herring.

Tofu Dill Sandwich

And because it was my birthday last week, the colleagues in my office treated me to fresh pastries from Pekara Bakehouse.

Borthday Pastries from Pekara Bakehouse

I chose the fruit tart in the left foreground. Someday I will make a crust like that.

Mushroom Omelet

Mushroom Omlette

I think this is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten for breakfast: an omelet with sliced baby portobello mushrooms, rehydrated morel mushrooms, thyme, salt, pepper, and freshly-grated Parmesan cheese.

This is a few weeks old. I’ll be catching up with some more photos of this weekend’s dishes in the next few days.

Rosemary Pork Loin

I adopted some rosemary a few weeks ago. It lives in a pretty little pot in my living room, and I catch myself idly nibbling on the fronds when I’m talking on the phone. The scent permeates the air as soon as it’s touched, and it was almost overwhelming tonight when I snipped off a few whole branches to make this Rosemary Pork Loin.

Here’s the cast of characters (minus the fresh black pepper):

the cast of characters: pork loin, rosemary, sage, garlic, and kosher salt. Not pictured: freshly ground black pepper.

…pork loin, rosemary, sage, garlic, and kosher salt.

I’m fortunate to have a great neighbor who landscapes with herbs (I plan to do the same myself this fall), so I had access to fresh sage – two kinds to choose from, actually. I chopped several leaves of sage (about 10) along with the rosemary (about 1 tbsp), crushed some garlic (4 cloves), added a little kosher salt, and smashed it all together into a paste with a mortar and pestle.

rosemary, sage, garlic, and salt in a mortar and pestle

I should use this tool more often. It makes me feel like a mad kitchen scientist.

I added a generous amount of black pepper and a bit of olive oil (2 tsp?) to the mixture, rubbed it on the pork loin, then roasted it for about 45 minutes at 400 degrees. I turned it after 30 minutes, and started with the fat side down.

rosemary pork loin

I think it turned out okay.

(Inspired by Roast Pork Loin with Garlic and Rosemary, from Epicurious.com – originally from Bon Appétit, July 1999.)


The Morel of the Story is…

…they make everything they touch insanely delicious. (Dessert may be an exception, but I haven’t tried that… yet.)

morels in a jar

I have most of a quart jar of these delicious dried morels. I think of them as The Truffle of the Midwest. Some would say they’re almost as difficult to find. My dad gave me these, and they keep for many months in a tightly-sealed Ball jar. It only takes a few of these dried delights to add earthy complexity to any dish.

Chicken Tenderloins with Mushroom Sauce


For tonight’s dinner, I thinly-sliced and sauteed about 8 oz. of baby bella mushrooms in a bit of butter, added a handful of fresh thyme leaves, and crumbled in two dried morel mushroom halves. (I should have added one more half.) I added white wine to deglaze, seasoned with kosher salt and black pepper, and reduced it all a bit.

chicken in a skilletAfter removing the mushroom sauce from the pan, I added a bit of olive oil and seasoned some chicken breast tenders with salt, pepper, and fresh thyme leaves.

After they had cooked nearly through, I added the mushroom sauce back to the pan with the chicken, and garnished with fresh chopped chives from my front yard.

I served my portion with greens, topped with a basic vinaigrette (one part vinegar, three parts oil) to which I added some sun-dried tomato and balsamic mustard.





Corn and Chives


The boys had two ears of corn left over from the weekend. I had leftover curried roasted carrot soup.

So good!



Samosa Potato Salad

"This is the best potato salad I have ever had."

Everyone who tries it

samosa potato salad

This is what happens when a favorite Indian street food and a favorite picnic dish collide in my thoughts at 3 a.m. The amount of cayenne can be varied to alter the spiciness, but the 1/4 teaspoon called for in the recipe adds just enough for most tastes, while keeping the other flavors balanced. Use a good quality curry powder.


3 lbs. small yellow potatoes, diced into bite-sized pieces
2 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 C yellow onion, diced (about 1 medium onion)
4 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
1 3/4 tbsp curry powder
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tbsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp lime juice
1 1/4 C mayonnaise (use Vegenaise to make it vegan)
3/4 C fresh cilantro, chopped
1 C green peas, cooked

In a large pot, boil potatoes in lightly salted water just until tender. Drain and set aside.

Return pan to medium heat; add olive oil. Add onions, ginger, curry, coriander, cumin, cayenne, and salt. Saute until onions are tender and spices are fragrant. Remove from heat. Add lime juice, mayonnaise, and cilantro.

Combine peas, potatoes, and onion mixture in a large bowl. Stir to combine. Chill for an hour before serving.

The Tell-Tale Tart

The Tell-Tale Tart

My entry, The Tell-Tale Tart, won the prize for Funniest/Punniest entry in this year’s Edible Book Festival, sponsored by the University of Illinois Library. It’s based on the short story by Edgar Allan Poe, of course.

Here’s a bit of background on the festival, from the Library website:

Around April 1st, bibliophiles, book artists, and food lovers around the world gather to celebrate the book arts and the (literal!) ingestion of culture. Participants create an “edible book,” which can be inspired by a favorite tale, involve a pun on a famous title, or simply be in the shape of a book (or scroll, or tablet, etc). All entries will be exhibited, documented, then EATEN!

The tart is filled with strawberries, strawberry glaze, and a human heart sculpted from marzipan. Despite the gruesome appearance, it’s totally vegan. Marie Callender’s frozen pie crust saves the day! I STILL can’t seem to make a decent crust. I’m still trying, but this is one of the things I’m willing to cheat on for now.

Several people were grossed out by the realistic human heart nestled in a sea of glistening, gelatinous goo. Their disgust really touched… my heart. *rimshot* Those who were able to get past the realism found the combination of strawberries and almonds to be quite tasty. I guess they… took a piece of my heart along with them. *rimshot*

“Thank you very much, I’ll be here all week. Please tip your waitstaff.”

My fabulous prize included not one but TWO rubber chickens: a full-size chicken and his keychain-sized cousin.

This great idea was courtesy of my literature-loving friend, Noah. The original idea involved making the heart beat somehow, which would have been even more awesome. Thank you!


I believe Amelia (Common Ground deli manager extraordinaire) when she says tamales aren’t that much work… if you make them with a friend (or co-worker, in her case).

I’ve made the latest batch on my own, and if took much less time than it did a few years ago when I made them for the first time. After rolling about 30-40 of them, I can see how boredom would set in. I had enough stamina to last through about one package of husks.

Here is a video that’s as close to my favorite rolling technique as I’ve seen. I prefer to leave more space (1/2 inch?) from the open “top” of the tamale since the dough expands when cooked. I like this method because there’s no tying involved. If you fill your steamer with tamales standing on the closed end, they will stay closed.

The dough recipe I used comes from Veganomicon. I used canola oil instead of corn oil, which turned out alright. The ingredients are simple and quick to mix.

My filling was a simple mixture of coarsely-mashed pinto beans, baked and diced sweet potatoes, tomato paste, cumin, and ground chipotle peppers. Next time, I’ll make smaller batches of a variety of fillings. I’ll also use double the amount of chipotle (2 dried peppers, freshly ground, with most of the seeds) since the relatively bland dough mutes the filling’s flavors. If you try your filling by itself and it seems spicy enough, it won’t be once it’s inside the tamales. Add more spice.

The “sauce” for these tamales was Green Pumpkin Seed Mole from Veganomicon. I used fresh roasted tomatillos instead of canned – about 5 tomatillos, but I think it could have used 7 or 8. I like tomatillos a lot, and they’re so easy to use. I’ll be making green sauces more often!

To roast the tomatillos, remove the paper skins, rinse, cut in half horizontally, and broil on a lightly-oiled sheet pan until some black spots appear.

This mole also makes a good spread for sandwiches or dip for fresh vegetables. Like any other Veganomicon recipe, it makes a ton – so enjoy the leftovers.

Tamales freeze very well and work great for packed lunches. Toss them into a bag or container, and either re-steam or microwave in their husks to reheat.

Sauerkraut Kielbasa Soup

vegan sauerkraut kielbasa soup

1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 cloves minced garlic
1/2 tsp paprika
2 carrots, thinly sliced
3 cups cubed potatoes (yukon gold or red)
1 package Tofurkey Kielbasa – sliced lengthwise, then into 1/2-inch pieces
16 oz sauerkraut, drained (I like Hengstenberg, it’s made with white wine)
10 cups water
3 tbsp + 1 tsp Better Than Bouillon No-Chicken broth concentrate
1/4 tsp ground marjoram
1 tsp parsley flakes
1/4 tsp fresh-ground black pepper, or more to taste

In large pot or dutch oven over medium heat, saute onion until translucent, stirring occasionally. Add garlic and saute until fragrant. Add sliced kielbasa, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned.

Add remaining ingredients. Bring to boiling, cover, reduce heat and simmer 45-50 minutes (or longer), until carrots and potatoes are tender.

Makes about 12 servings.

Vegan Spinach Balls (revised)

vegan spinach balls

Spinach balls are a family-favorite appetizer. The original recipe calls for eggs, butter, and parmesan cheese. These are veganized with golden flax meal (Omega 3’s!), nutritional yeast in place of parmesan cheese, and Earth Balance Buttery Sticks. The whole cup of Earth Balance (see update below) hardly qualifies them as health food, but they have a lot of protein and no cholesterol, unlike the original.

UPDATE (2/5/12): I reduced the amount of Earth Balance in the recipe to 3/4 cup, with good results. I think I could reduce it even more. The amount of nutritional yeast has also been modified to compensate for the lower amount of moisture. They still disappeared at our latest party.

Vegan Spinach Balls

Makes about 48 balls

2 boxes frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained well
4 cups Pepperidge Farm Herb Seasoned stuffing
2 cups minced white onion
6 tbsp golden flax seed meal
3/4 cup water
1 3/4 cup Earth Balance Buttery Sticks (1 1/2 half-cup sticks), melted
3/4 1/2 cup nutritional yeast flakes
2 tsp granulated garlic (not garlic salt)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly-ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. If you don’t have parchment paper, grease your cookie sheets well.

In a large bowl, whisk flax seed meal with 3/4 cup water. Let stand until mixture thickens.

Add melted Earth Balance, spinach, onions, garlic, salt, pepper, and nutritional yeast. Mix well. (It will be thick.)

Add stuffing mix and stir well. You may have to add a bit more water if the mixture is too dry.

Using a tablespoon-sized measuring spoon, or a small ice cream scoop of equivalent size, roll approximately 2 tbsp of the mixture into a ball. If the mixture gets too sticky, wet your hands a bit to make the process easier. Repeat for the rest of the mixture. You should have about 48 balls.

Bake for 20 minutes, until balls are golden. Remove from oven, and let stand for 5 minutes before removing from cookie sheet. Balls will be soft when they come out of the oven, but will firm up as they cool.


Fast food, fat profits: obesity in America

I’ve been working on a post for many weeks on obesity, and it’s mostly summarized with this video.

If this pisses you off – and it should – remember to vote with your dollars. Stop eating fast food. Eat more vegetables. Teach someone how to cook. Support local farmers.

Each dollar you keep from the corporate food machine is one less that they have to buy away our future.