Painless Portabella Pizzas

Mushrooms.

My frequency of using them causes them to be more mush than ‘shroom in my ice-box.  So my experiences with portabella remain limited, even novice.  I’m a level 1 ‘shroomer.  Hence, this inspiration comes from the back of a mushroom container.  Clever huckstering in the marketplace to prompt the purchase of additional ingredients!  That Grocers Guild has a groove for guile…

But simplicity!  This could only get easier, and less tasty, by removing ingredients.

  • 4 portabella mushroom caps, gills removed (But why a spoon, cousin…)
  • olive oil
  • minced garlic (or finely chopped/diced)
  • 1-2 tomatoes halved (stem to ‘the not-stem end’) and sliced thinly
  • mozzarella cheese
  • salt
  • pepper
  • (red pepper flakes)

So simple.  So simple.

Stoke your stove to rage the oven up to 400F.  Kindly assault the concave side of the decapitated mushrooms with olive oil.  Decorate with gobs of garlic, sprinkles of salt, and puffs of pepper.  Trim with tomato (this is where I found the halved tomato made this easier).  Muffle with mozzarella.

12-15 minutes singing in the steely stove should bring these to melted mozzarella magnificence.

Of course, if you enjoy these with pain, ravage with red pepper flakes at your discretion.

Tenser’s Vegan Disks

Yes, I know that I have made this joke before. I don’t care, it’s funny anyway. Novelty as a benchmark is the primary rhetorical fallacy of the 20th Century.

Besides, we’re going to use pita, not tortilla, this time.

At a loss for what to do with left over, stale pita bread? Tired of making pita chips to choke down with hummus? Me too.

Here’s a quick, easy solution to the problem.

The quickest, easiest way is to cheat and do the following things:

  • Go to Trader Joe’s and get a container of these:
    • Bruschetta (in the chill case in a white plastic tub)
    • Artichoke antipasto (glass jar)
    • Olive tapenade (either glass jar or clear plastic tub in chill case)
  • Acquire jar of simple vinaigrette salad dressing
  • Combine the three items from Trader Joe’s with just enough dressing to make the result easily spreadable

If you’re a bit more committed than this, get tomato, onion, garlic, fresh herbs like cilantro, parsley and basil, artichoke hearts [1], olives (mostly black and/or kalamata), olive oil, dressing vinegar (not white), and basic seasonings, and chop everything up finely (either by hand or in a food processor) and combine to recreate something similar to what is described above.

Variations on this topping can be made by including roasted red pepper spread (either including or removing the artichokes) and/or capers.

Spread the result of either approach onto old pita bread which are arranged on a baking sheet and slide into a 250 degree oven. Yes, that’s very low heat. The goal here is to drive moisture out of the bread and the topping without scorching the bread.

When the bread is nearly, but not quite, completely stiff, slide them back out of the oven, and top each disc with either a spring mix salad or simply baby spinach, change the oven into a broiler, and return the tray for just a couple of moments to wilt the greens.

I find it easier to slice the discs prior to cooking, rather than after, either in half or fourths. but you could just as easily serve the discs intact and let your adventurers sort it out for themselves.

What you end up with is something very much like a “fully loaded” veggie pizza, without any cheese. However, the oily texture and umami of the preserved vegetables ensure you won’t miss it.

 

If you’re interested in a dish which is not vegan, but is Lenten, you can add chopped, pre-cooked, crab or shrimp between the vegetable spread and the salad greens just before going under the broiler. 

 

[1] I don’t recommend buying fresh artichokes, steaming them and breaking them down yourself, it is an enormous amount of work and the results are rarely as good as what you can get in a jar (or can).

Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beholder

Beholder

Beholder

I have said it before, and I will say it again after this: I am not a vegetarian, let alone a vegan.

I have said it before, and I will say it again afte this: I am a huge snob when it comes to food and drinks.

Amusingly, this latter point crops up in some not so snobby ways, like “what is the best pizza” or “what is the best cheeseburger” not just “what is the best 18 year single malt scotch”. What it means in the upshot is that I have strong opinions both on how to correctly define various food terms, and on what the near Platonic actualization of that term then may be — whether you want them or not.

Being from New Jersey, and thus wedged between that holy junkfood trinity of Philadelphia, New York City and The Jersey Shore [1], I have especially strong views on the word “pizza”. A strong case can be made that of all the styles of pizza to be found throughout the United States, “New York style” is the closest to the Neapolitan original (yes, pizza is really a genuinely Italian food, believe it or not), and since this is the style one generally finds throughout the heavily Italian immigrant populated regions around the holy junkfood trinity, most notably the highly lauded “boardwalk pizza” of the Jersey Shore, those of us who grew up eating this style have a tendency to insist that this is “pizza” and that all else is at best inferior and at worst (like Chicago style) not pizza at all.

I say all this, and mention once again in passing that I am not a vegetarian/vegan because I am about to discuss something we cooked the other evening for dinner, and I am going to very deliberately not call it a pizza. While it did involve a traditional dough (purchased in a small, frozen ball from the grocer), fresh tomatoes, fresh basil, fresh oregano, fresh “blushing beauty” bell peppers, and was cooked in a rocket hot oven on top of ceramic tiles, it did not have any cheese on it. None. And because of this, it was not a pizza.

So call it a veggie flatbread. And we had it on a whim, mostly. It wasn’t a fasting day in the Church cycle that required us to skip the cheese, we aren’t deliberately watching our dairy fat intake or anything like that. We just tried this to see how it would be.

In addition to the already mentioned items, all from my organice community garden plot, we also caramelized a red onion.

My primary concern was whether or not the veggies would stick to the dough without cheese. They did. Mostly. If I had rendered the tomatoes more into sauce, it is very likely this would have bound everything to each other, and the dough.

Tonight we are making another attempt, this time with a chunky sauce of fresh tomato and oregano, faux sausage crumble, black olives, and cheese.  In other words, we’re making pizza.

pizza

pizza

The really important thing here, when you have your oven up to 550 degrees and you’re cooking directly on ceramic tiles, is to actually sit and watch the thing cook after the first 10 minutes or so. I used a timer to do 10 minutes, and then a second timer to do an additional 5, which was about 2-3 minutes too long. Much of the crust without toppings on it was burnt. Thankfully, the crust was overwhelmed with toppings, so the loss was minimal.

My plan tonight is to do the first ten minutes, add the cheese, then watch from there rather than using timers.

[1] Please note that the cast of the TV show of that name are not from New Jersey. Most are from New York, at least one is from Rhode Island, and in any case, the entire show is set in a location that residents of New Jersey universally despise precisely because people like that from New York have completely overrun the place. When a resident of New Jersey says “the Shore” they are more likely to mean Wildwood, Ocean City, Atlantic City &c. rather than Seaside Heights.

Garbanzo and Spinach Mixup

This recipe (http://www.simpleveganrecipes.co.uk/index.html?recipe=recipes/vegan-chickpea-spinach-recipe.html) was the first I made from this cookbook.  I managed to get a bit ambushed by not reading the ingredients list right and wondered where all the spices came from — for me, they’re a little understated in the ingredients list.  But I can be a bit pedantic when it comes to that.  The result was very good.  This is a repeat for certain.

Original recipe:

  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 tins chickpeas
  • 8oz (200g) spinach
  • Cumin seeds
  • Chilli powder, ground coriander, cumin powder
  • Lemon juice

Boil water and cook spinach until soft. Drain and chop.

Heat some oil and fry 1 tsp. cumin seeds. Add chopped onion and cook until brown.

Add cooked spinach and chopped tomatoes. Add some salt, 1/2 tsp. chilli powder, 2 tsp. coriander, 2 tsp. cumin, 1 tsp. sugar, 1 tbsp. lemon juice.

Stir in chick peas and 6 fl. oz. (150ml) water.

Cover pan and simmer for 10 minutes.

My rewritten “For Level 1 Wizards” recipe:

  • 8oz (200g) spinach
  • 1 onion, julienne cut
  • 1t cumin powder
  • 3 tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 cans chickpeas (normal, soup-can sized cans)
  • 1/2t salt
  • 1/2t chili powder
  • 2t coriander
  • 2t cumin
  • 1t sugar
  • (1t sesame seeds)
  • (1t minced garlic)
  • 1T lemon juice
  • 6oz water

Combine dry spices and set aside [1].

Steam spinach until soft.  Watch carefully when steaming as this shouldn’t be cooked to serve, but merely wilted.  Drain and chop.

Heat 1T olive oil in a large pot.  Add onion and cumin.  Cook onion until slightly fried — beyond sauteed.

Add cooked spinach, tomatoes, dry spices, and lemon juice.  Stir in chick peas and water.  Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

My minor improvisation was not using cumin seeds.  Nothing dramatic, but I’m sure I missed something in the flavor.  One thing I would add in the future would be some toasted sesame seeds (1t) and, of course, minced garlic (1t).

[1] Something I finally learned is to prep all my dry spices in advance.  Measuring out 5 dry spices, then the lemon juice and the water is a tad annoying compared to tossing them in all at once.  Small bowls (be they specifically for this or the little custard bowl — I prefer the latter) are invaluable for this.

Tomato Soup of Vegan Defiance

I found some vegan cheese in the hopes of having a good old grilled cheese and tomato soup lunch.  My bread is vegan [1] and I reckoned that tomato soup would be as well.  HA ha HA ha HAaa…  Most tomato soups have some form of milk in them.  Sitting right next to my tomato soup is cans of stewed and diced tomatoes (T is for tomato, after all…).  So I declared “Oh, yeah?!” at the pre-packaged soups, grabbed a large can of tomatoes and headed for my modern fire pit.

The list of ingredients for this was rather random.  As I recall, it went something like this:

Can ‘o tomatoes; that’s a good start.  Milk kinda creams this so how about some Silk soy milk.  But then we need some flavor.  What do I like with tomatoes?  Basil and oregano should work.  Perhaps a little salt and pepper as well.  Oh, and garlic is nice too, so garlic powder, come on down!

What I should have done was check tomato ingredients for salt.  Many canned tomatoes have salt added.  Thankfully, I did not add too much.  Having selected my components, now came the mighty incantation.

Empty can of tomatoes, juice and all into a 3+ quart pot.  The pot should have enough room for the contents and enough depth to withstand splattering.  Add 1/4c soy milk (SWAG).  Break out the magic wand [2] and transform the chunky puddle into a creamy puree (could also do with a blender).  Set pot on burner at medium heat and add remaining spices “to taste”.  If I was to guess at the amounts, I probably added 1/2t basil, 1/2t oregano, 1/8t salt, 1/4t pepper, 1/2t garlic powder.

Stir occasionally until steamy hot.  Serve and enjoy.

It was good enough to try again; definitely good enough and fast enough to make to consider skipping canned tomato soup altogether.  I need to work on the slight sharpness of the tomatoes without adding sugar.  I know that works, but I dislike the idea.

Some slight changes I would try would be (a) use minced garlic and puree it with the tomatoes and soy milk, (b) add 1T of of olive oil, (c) experiment with other spices such as celery seed, cumin, and onion powder.  Perhaps if I were very clever I might sauté some onions and then puree those with the liquids.