Friday, September 19, 2008

Vegetarian meatloaf

I know, that title is an oxymoron to say the least... probably blasphemous to all you meat-and-potatoes people out there! If you've ever watched the TV series "Six Feet Under", it reminds me of the episode in which Lisa serves a tofu loaf concoction for dinner and Claire flushes it down the toilet. I might have done the same thing as a teenager. But now that I don't cook meat anymore (besides fish, but the idea of fish loaf makes me feel mildly nauseous), I've been determined to find a rough equivalent that both BFFT and I will actually touch with a 10-foot pole. Part of it comes from the fact that meatloaf was the first dish I ever learned how to make... and the only dish for quite awhile. (Actually, until I started grad school I could barely even boil water. Don't get me started on the specifics of my abysmal culinary skills. Then you might hear my egg-white story, which could scare you away from this blog and make you doubt my credibility forever! I'll save that for another time in the very-distant future, perhaps. ;-)) So I've always had a special fondness for it. Anyway, after a few attempts I finally came up with something blogworthy! The recipe is my own, but I did borrow certain parts from Moosewood Cookbook (they have a decent recipe for carrot-mushroom loaf) and my mom (who taught me how to make meatloaf so I could be a semi-decent housewife).

Lentil Loaf


8 oz lentils (any kind)
8 oz carrots, grated or food-processed (is that a real adjective?)
1/3 to 1/2 c minced onion (any kind)
1/3 to 1/2 c minced pepper (I like to use Anaheim chiles but if spicy doesn't sit well with you, bell pepper is probably a good substitute)
1 c grated cheddar cheese
1 egg, beaten
1 c bread crumbs
3-4 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 T fresh ginger
2 t dried parsley
1 t cumin
1/2 t cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to take
1/4 c milk (more if needed)


1. Put lentils in a medium-sized saucepan and cover with 1 inch of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 20-30 minutes, or until tender.
2. Mash cooked lentils with a fork, pastry blender, or other tool. (This step is important! Otherwise the loaf will fall apart.)
3. Grate or process carrots and cheese.
4. Combine all ingredients except milk in a large bowl.
5. Add as much milk as necessary to moisten.
6. Scrape mixture into a loaf pan.
7. Bake in a 400-degree oven for 30 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

This isn't the best picture. Okay, it borders on awful. (Once I get my own digital camera my photography skills will improve!) But do loafs ever look that appetizing anyway?

Picture notwithstanding, the loaf turned out so well that BFFT had no idea it didn't come from a recipe book! And Stella leaped onto the dinner table for a kiddie-sized (I mean kitty-sized... I really am a crazy cat lady!) portion as well, although there was no way that would happen. She's not allowed to eat people food. Here she is, if for no other reason to actually show you something pretty on this post. Wait, on second thought here's a picture of both Stella and Claude, plus some random ugly lady in the background. (BFFT caught me - um, the lady - on camera right after she got out of bed in the morning.) I didn't want Claude to feel left out, because after all, he's sitting at the top of his cat tree watching as I type this.

As BFFT and I like to say, Stella (the one on the right) is a 14 on a scale from 1 to 10. And Claude "has a great personality". He also loves to help me out in the kitchen... in other words, he can haz recipeez. Har-dee-har-har. (Oh my gosh, did I really write that? I am officially an old fuddy-duddy, or maybe just plain dorky.)

Now, off to a dinner party! I will try not to be too much of a dorky fuddy-duddy while I'm there.

(Oh, and for the record, I was just kidding about my mom teaching me to be a semi-decent housewife. I'm not even mediocre.)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

And now, for a little pick-me-up

Tiramisu is apparently Italian for "pick me up". I've never come across a tiramisu recipe that has failed to mention this, which is one reason that I was a little skeptical when I set out on my most ambitious dessert-making endeavor to date. Why, after all, would one need to justify a perfectly good recipe - much less a dessert recipe - with this phrase? Don't get me wrong, I like tiramisu and will hardly protest when others serve it to me or order it to share. (I actually don't refuse desserts unless they come before dinner, which in my opinion is a cardinal sin. And as BFFT will testify, I'm terrible at sharing them unless I can be assured that I'll get at least 50%. But those are discussions best saved for another time, assuming you're not too scared off by my sweet-tooth-schoolmarmish tendencies to keep following this blog.) Nevertheless, I had a hard time discerning why so many people I love and respect, my best girlfriend Danielle and my mother-in-law among them, tout it as their favorite. Until last Friday night, that is.

I must admit to being intimidated enough by the idea of homemade tiramisu to have stayed away from it throughout my 5+ years of cooking experience. This was mostly because I'd heard (and knew from experience trying mediocre versions at various restaurants!) how easy it is to mess up. But BFFT also didn't help matters much when I told him about my dessert plans and he responded with, "Uh, you might want to sample it first before giving it to other people." Nor did a certain dinner party guest of ours who reacted by asking if I was sure I didn't want him to bring dessert. Well, in the face of all that doubt, I went ahead with a recipe I found in the November 2007 issue of Cooks Illustrated magazine. The key, as Danielle once said and I made sure to abide by, is to avoid soaking the ladyfingers too much. Otherwise you risk ending up with a pile of soggy mush, which thankfully didn't happen in this case.

Tiramisu (serves 10-12)


2 1/2 c strong brewed coffee, room temperature
1 1/2 T instant espresso (I used instant coffee and it turned out fine)
9 T dark rum (I used light rum; Bourbon would probably be tasty too)
6 large egg yolks
2/3 c sugar
1/4 t table salt
1 1/2 lb mascarpone cheese
3/4 c cold heavy cream
14 oz dried ladyfingers
3 1/2 T cocoa powder


1. Stir coffee, instant espresso, and 5 T rum in wide bowl or baking dish until espresso dissolves; set aside.

2. Using a hand mixer, beat yolks at low speed until just combined. Add sugar and salt and beat at medium-high speed until pale yellow, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, scraping down bowl with rubber spatula once or twice. Add remaining 4 T rum and beat at medium speed until just combined, 20-30 seconds; scrape bowl. Add mascarpone and beat at medium speed until no lumps remain, 30-45 seconds, scraping down bowl once or twice. Transfer mixture to large bowl and set aside.

3. In now-empty bowl (no need to clean), beat cream at medium speed until frothy, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. Increase speed to high and continue to beat until cream holds stiff peaks, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes longer. Using rubber spatula, fold one-third of whipped cream into mascarpone mixture to lighten, then gently fold in remaining whiipped cream until no white streaks remain. Set mascarpone mixture aside.

4. Working one at a time, drop half of ladyfingers into coffee mixture, roll, remove, and transfer to 13 x 9 inch baking dish. (Do not submerge ladyfingers in coffee mixture; entire process should take no longer than 2-3 seconds per cookie.) Arrange soaked cookies in single layer in baking dish, breaking or trimming ladyfingers as needed to fit neatly into dish.

5. Spread half of mascarpone mixture over ladyfingers; use rubber spatula to spread mixture to sides and into corners of dish and smooth surface. Dust 2 T cocoa over mascarpone.

6. Repeat dipping and arrangement of ladyfingers; spread remaining mascarpone mixture over ladyfingers and dust with remaining 1 1/2 T cocoa. Wipe edges of dish with dry paper towel, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate 6-24 hours. (I followed Danielle's advice to chill it overnight.)

Now that I've tasted the end product for myself, even I am inclined to think that there might be something special about tiramisu after all. For the record, BFFT said it was the best he'd ever had, as did at least one of our dinner party attendees. And the guest who "offered" to bring dessert ate two huge pieces! So I'm not being self-congratulatory here... indeed, I attribute most of that recipe's success to (1) not oversoaking the ladyfingers and (2) including lots of rum (either because the rum tasted good or we were too inebriated to notice that the tiramisu didn't!).